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3/17/2008
IS CAPITALISM AND THE CONSERVATIVE RATIONALE FOR IT DEAD?
CATEGORY: Government

I hate economic news. Much of it is so dry I want to set a fire to it just to be entertained. Not understanding a lot of it also makes following it a bore.

But neither am a I a complete idiot. I can read and comprehend economic news if the subject is laid out and explained by someone who knows what they’re talking about.

Enter Brad DeLong who I have taken to reading lately given that the end of the world as we know it might be upon us. I used to read Kudlow but the guy was so relentlessly upbeat I got an overdose of sugar and had to swear him off for a while.

DeLong is a happy medium between Paul “The Sky is Falling” Krugman and Larry “Don’t worry be happy” Kudlow. Krugman has been predicting catastrophe for so long they kicked him out of the Cassandra Club for being wrong so often. Kudlow has been seeing the light at the end of the tunnel for so long that he’s been declared legally blind.

And forget trying to make your way through MSM business reporting. Unless you want to feel like your brain has been dropped in a vat of molasses where everything is murky and hard to navigate, stay away. Stay far away.

Which brings us to Mr. DeLong who has a lot of kewl graphs to explain the few real stats that he uses to amplify what he’s talking about. If you are reasonably intelligent and don’t mind re-reading a post a couple of times, I highly recommend his commentary for those of us who have trouble understanding capitalism’s more arcane forms.

We all know about the sub-prime mortgage crisis which is pretty easy to grasp. Greedy lenders gave a lot of money to risky borrowers evidently believing that housing prices would continue to go up 7% a year forever. The debate over bailing out the industry has been interesting. Do we reward companies who took a flyer on bad risk loans? Or do we reward the borrowers who didn’t read the fine print and got themselves in over their heads?

Rewarding stupidity or ignorance is not the way of capitalism. In a perfect capitalistic society, those who make their own bed should lie in it - even if it means a company goes belly up or people have their houses foreclosed on.

But what kind of capitalistic society would allow a multi-gazillion dollar corporation who may have overextended itself because its risk assessors got it wrong, collapse and take the entire financial system with it?

Mr. DeLong explains the dilemma:

Yet we are still in significant trouble. Why? Especially “why” because nothing terribly bad has happened to the real economy: unemployment has not risen much, production and incomes have not fallen, wildfires have not annihilated all the houses of California’s Riverside County driving their inhabitants into Bushvilles in the arroyos of the California desert–normally we would require that something bad have happened to the real economy before the financial side is in such a state.

We are in such a state because:

* Quantitatively- and analytically-sophisticated Wall Street teams greatly overestimated their capability to assess and manage risk.

* Institutions greatly overestimated the extent to which the QaASWSTs (risk managers) were assessing risk as opposed to simply writing out-of-the-money puts they could not value and claiming they had lots of alpha.

* Investors greatly overestimated the extent to which institutions understood what their teams were doing.

And now we have something significantly worse than a financial-accelerator-deleveraging creating a credit crunch.

In short, if I may be so bold as to sum up Mr. DeLong’s analysis, the huge investment companies who manage the hundreds of funds that invest in securities were overconfident in their ability to manage everything from the risk of mortgage securities to the effect the bursting of the housing bubble had on the value of their portfolios.

They just got it wrong, that’s all.

So sorry. We’ll try harder next time, we promise. But in the meantime, would you please, Mr. Bernanke, pull our asses out of the fire?

The Federal Reserve took dramatic action on multiple fronts last night to avert a crisis of the global financial system, backing the acquisition of wounded investment firm Bear Stearns and increasing the flow of money to other banks squeezed for credit.

After a weekend of marathon negotiations in New York and Washington, the central bank undertook a broad effort to prevent key financial players from going under, including the unprecedented offer of short-term loans to investment banks and an unexpected cut in a special bank interest rate.

As part of the deal, J.P. Morgan Chase, a major Wall Street bank, will buy Bear Stearns for a bargain-basement price, paying $2 a share for an institution that still plays a central role in executing financial transactions. Bear Stearns stock closed at $57 on Thursday and $30 on Friday. J.P. Morgan was unwilling to assume the risk of many of Bear Stearns’s mortgage and other complicated assets, so the Federal Reserve agreed to take on the risk of about $30 billion worth of those investments.

The Fed “is working to promote liquid, well-functioning financial markets, which are essential for economic growth,” Chairman Ben S. Bernanke said in a conference call with reporters last night. Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr., who was deeply involved in the talks though not a formal party to them, indicated support for the actions.

We are bailing out lenders who made risky loans. We are bailing out some homeowners who should never have received the kind of loan so dependent on the rising value of their investment and a sellers market. We are bailing out Wall Street giants who failed in correctly assessing the risk in buying certain kinds of securities. And the Fed is pouring cash into the financial system to head off any problems in the near future.

Is this capitalism? Not the sort that conservatives are always talking about.

And DeLong thinks that eventually, we may have to bail out a lot more homeowners at the bottom in order to stabilize things at the top:

If the U.S. government has a vehicle to buy up (at a discount from face value) and then manage home loans that look shaky, and if it can set the price of such loans, it might be able to do so in a way that not only rescues the financial system but makes money for the taxpayer.

[snip]

If I were working for the Treasury right now, I would be saying: make this happen on Monday. There isn’t time to set up a new bureaucracy–a HOLC, which is what Alan Blinder wanted to do as of three weeks ago. So use an existing bureaucracy: Fannie Mae. If I were Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, I would spend the weekend building a legislative vehicle to introduce Monday morning on an emergency basis to give Fannie Mae the resources and the mission to undertake this mortgage rescue operation, and I think Fannie Mae is the right institution for the task: why does it have its government-sponsored status and guarantee if not to be used for purposes like these at times like these?

And if I were Ben Bernanke and Tim Geithner, I would be spending this weekend thinking about how to first thing Monday morning punish bear speculators on Bear Stearns, Lehman, and others by pushing their CDS spreads back to more normal levels. It seems to me that people on Wall Street need to be taught that betting that the Fed will not intervene to stabilize or that its interventions to stabilize will be unsuccessful is an unhealthy thing to do.

Basically, DeLong is arguing for Fannie Mae to come in and scoop up a lot of this bad paper and manage it on its own with the risk devolving to the government, rewarding both the little guy and the big guy for risky behavior.

Let’s remember what is at stake in a financial meltdown. We’re talking about hundreds of billions of dollars - real money, not government fantasy money. Those billions come from the money taken out of your paycheck for a 401K or some other retirement vehicle. It’s that $500 you put into a mutual fund every quarter or the dividends you invest in a risky bond fund. It’s the retirement savings of little old ladies and little old men. A meltdown would mean catastrophe for a lot of people.

So, the government must intervene and reward everyone who screwed up by bailing them out of trouble.

Was it trouble that could have been foreseen? I don’t really know enough to say for sure but common sense tells me that if banks and most mortgage companies turn someone down for a home loan and then your company goes ahead and lends the money anyway, it would seem pretty certain that both lender and borrower are aware that this is something more than just an iffy proposition. We don’t want a financial system where there must be a dead certainty that the borrower will not default. But neither do we want a crapshoot like a lot of these mortgages apparently were. Isn’t there a happy medium somewhere?

As for the Wall Street investment companies who bought these mortgage securities one might want to inquire as to how we got into this mess given that risk analysis is a large part of what these people do. DeLong points out that the risk managers got it horribly wrong. What’s to stop these guys from doing something equally stupid in the future?

If we’re going to throw true capitalism out the window - and make no mistake, that is what we’re doing with these bail outs - then the conservative rationale for capitalism goes with it.

Low regulation, open and free markets, individual and corporate responsibility - this is the conservative mantra when defending and promoting capitalism. I subscribe to this view of economics because it works as any resident of a capitalist country could tell you.

But now we are faced with the largest bailout in history and must question those comfortable assumptions. Maybe we need new regulation to prevent this from happening again. Maybe we need better monitoring and thus less “free” markets by the government. And what good is “individual and corporate responsibility” if the economy would be prostrate if we followed that dictum and just allowed economic Darwinism to rule the day and watch as millions lost their savings and millions were thrown out of work?

This entire post is probably making some of you more knowledgeable readers chuckle at my ignorance but how capitalistic a country can we really afford to have? And if the conservative rationale for capitalism is undermined in this fashion, what can replace it?

Perhaps on the micro level, capitalism will survive. But in the great, big, globalized world out there where governments can intervene in markets at the drop of a hat it’s difficult to see how true capitalism can flourish.

By: Rick Moran at 12:53 pm | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (19)

SHOULD WE IGNORE REVEREND WRIGHT?

There are hundreds of black preachers across America who, to one degree or another, sound off like Reverend Jeremiah Wright and rail against white America for oppressing Blacks. I have no doubt that, at times, the rhetoric takes on an American hating tinge given the history of African Americans in this country over the last 400 years.

The question isn’t whether Wright is in or out of the mainstream of black preachers but rather what exactly candidate Obama believes? John McCain, after all, is extremely friendly with Pastor John Hagee, a controversial preacher whose anti-homosexual statements and what some consider anti-Catholic rants have landed him in hot water more than once.

I can see some conservatives heads exploding - “There is no equivalence between Hagee and Wright!” This is true - except in the narrow sense that both Pastors are used by political opponents to make it appear that the other candidate shares their preacher’s hateful views. McCain and Obama have disavowed the hate speech coming from their pastors so we can safely assume that they, in fact, do not agree with the more problematic positions taken by their preacher friends.

And I think we can give Obama the benefit of the doubt and say with some certainty that he does not agree with his spiritual advisor’s view of white America nor does Obama’s view of America match that of Wright. Just looking at his political career could tell you this. Obama has never played “the angry black radical” in his decade in politics. He has never given any hint that he supports the idea that the government created the AIDS virus to kill black people or any of the other loony conspiracy theories spouted by Wright.

Therefore, what’s the big deal about Reverend Wright? Why should it matter what he believes? Isn’t it more important to find out what the candidate believes?

As for Wright, the founder of so-called Black Liberation Theology” says we white people just don’t get it.

From Newsmax:

Apologists for Wright have said that what he says is normal in black churches, and many blacks claim such preaching cannot be understood by whites.

“If you’re black, it’s hard to say what you truly think and not upset white people,” the New York Times quoted James Cone as saying. Cone is a professor at Union Theological Seminary and the father of what is known as black liberation theology.

(Note: I will not link the Newsmax story until independent verification of its thesis is forthcoming.)

I suppose for some African Americans, the above might be true. But is anyone seriously suggesting that Obama subscribes to those views?

I don’t see how. There is simply no evidence that Obama is a race mongering radical. So it is not what Wright believes that has Obama in trouble today. It is what the candidate himself has said by way of explanation that could be his downfall.

Obama has pleaded innocent. He says he was never in the church when Wright was making those horrible statements. He says he was unaware his pastor of 20 years even held those views:

The statements that Rev. Wright made that are the cause of this controversy were not statements I personally heard him preach while I sat in the pews of Trinity or heard him utter in private conversation. When these statements first came to my attention, it was at the beginning of my presidential campaign. I made it clear at the time that I strongly condemned his comments. But because Rev. Wright was on the verge of retirement, and because of my strong links to the Trinity faith community, where I married my wife and where my daughters were baptized, I did not think it appropriate to leave the church.

This is a lie. And as we have seen with the Rezko caper, Obama is very good at it.

In fact, Obama knew full well what flights of rhetorical fancy Wright was capable. He canceled Wright’s scheduled invocation at his presidential announcement speech, explaining to his friend:

According to the pastor, Mr. Obama then told him, “You can get kind of rough in the sermons, so what we’ve decided is that it’s best for you not to be out there in public.”

The idea that Obama didn’t know that Wright was a hate mongering, anti-American race baiting radical is absurd. And as more of Wright’s past utterings come to light and the probability that either through Wright’s writings or preaching Obama knew full well what kind of preacher he was grows, the candidate will find himself trying to parse his own statement of defense into smaller and smaller bits until he looks and sounds like Bill Clinton (”It all depends on what the meaning of “is” is.”)

Just 48 hours ago, I thought the Obama-Wright story had a good chance of blowing over. But Obama is going to find out, like all politicians before him, it’s not so much the transgression that gets you but lying about it will bring you down everytime.

By: Rick Moran at 8:06 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (17)

3/16/2008
IRAQ 5 YEARS GONE
CATEGORY: War on Terror

In my 54 years of life on earth, I have come to see war in rather stark and uncompromising terms:

1. War is waste.

2. There is nothing moral about any war except working to end it in victory as soon as possible.

Spare me your attempts to praise or condemn the decision to go to war based on some moral framework. Standing on the mountaintop preaching to the rest of us about how “immoral” it was to go into Iraq or how “Just War” doctrine applies is supercilious at best and ultimately irrelevant. History will have her way with us, judging whether the decision to invade Iraq was correct or incorrect. In that respect, morality plays little or no role. And those who pretend to know how the future will unfold as a result of our actions can easily be dismissed as charlatans - and that includes everyone from internet pundits to so-called experts who endlessly expound on the dire future in the region because of our invasion.

The fact is no one knows what the Middle East will look like 10 years or 5 years or even 2 years from now. Other forces are at work that may make our efforts in Iraq a positive contribution to stability in the region or the catalyst for cataclysm. I have too much respect for history to hazard much of a guess on where we’ll be in Iraq in 5 years or what the region will look like. Who would have guessed that the end of the Viet Nam war would lead to a peace and stability in east Asia - the first in more than a hundred years - that would allow economic powerhouses like South Korea and Hong Kong to prosper as never before while creating conditions for huge growth in places like Indonesia, Malaysia, and Viet Nam itself.

That peace was purchased with the blood of 58,000 Americans and rests to this day on the opening to China by Nixon - an event that almost certainly would never have taken place if we were not in Viet Nam. By beginning to remove the basis for conflict between China and America, we eventually brought peace and growing prosperity to billions.

Who could have foreseen the emergence of the Asian economic dynamo? Certainly not the protesters in the street. And few if any hawks were in favor of Nixon’s historic trip to China. The future is always a puzzle and those who claim prescience must deal with the hard reality that they are more often extraordinarily wrong than right.

Seen in that context, was the Viet Nam war a moral or immoral conflict? Truth has many fathers at times and to ignore the effect of the war on the region in order to claim some imagined moral high ground is intellectually dishonest. We fought the war for the right reasons (according to our lights) but failed to take into account those other historical forces at work 40 years ago, including one even more powerful than Communism - anti-colonialism.

In our ignorance, we failed to see that rather than liberators, we were seen by most Vietnamese in both the north and the south the same way the French were viewed - colonial occupiers. This made any government we supported illegitimate in the eyes of almost everyone. In the end, we went from fighting Communism to bolstering a cruel dictatorship. Yes, we killed a lot of Communists (and civilians), winning every major engagement but were forced to leave when it became obvious that there would be no end to it. The South Vietnamese government was in control at the point of our bayonets and there was absolutely no prospect for them to ever claim legitimacy with the South Vietnamese people.

We are still in danger of making the same mistake in Iraq. Five years gone and the Iraqi central government is still a mess although there are recent signs that some understanding of what needs to be done is finally taking hold. The Iraqis are learning about compromise - something foreign to them since they have absolutely no experience in working with other sects, other tribes. To say they have no sense of nationhood would not be entirely accurate. They appear to love their country but place its well being farther down on their list of loyalties - well after what mosque they worship in and who their tribal benefactors might be.

The American army meanwhile is killing a lot of terrorists but we’re also bolstering a regime to which some Iraqis only give conditional support and obeisance. I asked Iraqi embed Bill Ardolino (whose “Inside Iraqi Politics” series is a must read) about the effective control of the central government over the rest of the country. He thought that they were doing a better job lately but that there were still pockets of resistance to their authority in the south and some Sunni provinces. That matches pretty much what other embeds have been reporting.

Is the Iraqi government a failure? Not yet but it’s balanced on a knife’s edge. At this point, as with the rest of Iraq, things could go either way.

But here we are again. Our bayonets are guaranteeing a regime that is not very popular and would dissolve into incoherence and confusion - or worse, be overthrown - if we weren’t there. Hence, 5 years later we are well and truly trapped in a brier patch of our own making. The rank incompetence commented on by both hawks and doves in today’s New York Times “Reflections on the Invasion of Iraq” is instructive only because it reveals an almost universal belief that the period from the time the statue fell until the new counterinsurgency strategy developed by General Petreaus was implemented turned out to be wasted due to incompetent leadership and poor planning.

There’s no other way to say it except Bush blew it. And his incomprehensible decision not to change strategy sooner while sticking with a secretary of defense whose lies about how well things were going in Iraq echoed the worst of what the government was telling the American people during the Viet Nam war was a monumental error in judgement.

The President’s mistakes will be paid for by the next Chief Executive. I have no doubt both Clinton and Obama are sincere about wanting to leave Iraq. But I would say to my liberal friends if you believe they will be able to just walk us out in the six months promised by both, you are radically mistaken. If you have listened to them, both have said as much - that all depends on what the military says and conditions on the ground. Given those caveats, I have no doubt we will have a sizable contingent of combat troops in Iraq until the Iraqi army is big enough and trained well enough that they can take over completely. That will almost certainly take longer than 6 months and may be years in the making.

The only certainty about the outcome of the war we have today is that it will end eventually. And years from now, when the veil of history is uncovered and we glimpse what effect the Iraq War had on us, on the region, and on the rest of the world, I suspect there will be some surprises. Clio is a mischievous mistress and works very hard to make those who try and predict her verdicts look like fools.

By: Rick Moran at 9:57 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (16)

3/15/2008
DEMOCRATS WILL BE FINE BY NOVEMBER (PROBABLY)
CATEGORY: Decision '08

The “strike” at Daily Kos of pro-Hillary bloggers upset that Obama commenters are being meanies has brought out the rabbits feet and lucky coins of many conservatives as they are frantically rubbing those talismans while chanting “The Democrats are imploding. The Democrats are imploding.”

Would that it were so. Rather than the stresses of the campaign “tearing apart the Democratic Party,” I think what we’re really seeing is a reordering of the liberal blogosphere - an extremely small fringe of the Democratic party whose influence is growing but not decisive in any way. This reordering is being mirrored in the conservative blogosphere and constitutes a battle between realists and idealists.

Hillary Clinton and John McCain are an anathema to the idealists because of their perceived impurity on some cherished issues. They are suspected of being closet conservative/liberals because of their willingness to work with the other party on some issues or, in Hillary’s case, the major beef seems to be that she just isn’t quite liberal enough and takes positions on some issues apparently because she wants to (gasp!) get elected.

This would be an impossibility if she swallowed the progressive agenda whole - something that is lost on the netroots who believe that voters who disagree with them are either evil Republican Rovebots or stupid, ignorant, inbred, goober chewing, bible thumping, gun toting, yip-yips who are too dense to know what is good for them.

McCain is suspect because of his willingness to skewer Republicans and conservatives at the drop of a hat and a perceived coziness with the press. And yet many conservatives such as myself, plan on pulling the lever for the Senator from Arizona despite the fact that like Hillary, McCain does not hew to the idealist’s line 100% of the time.

The Kos “revolt” (I hardly call a couple of dozen writers leaving a website that gets 800,000 hits a day a “revolt”) is not indicative of any large scale civil war in the Democratic party. But it does reveal an interesting scramble among the netroots. My feeling is that there are a lot more realists in the conservative blogosphere than there are on the left. I don’t know whether that is a function of the polarization that Hillary Clinton seems to engender but it certainly shows that the relatively few supporters Hillary has on the lefty blogs are being more and more isolated as the race goes on.

Come November, I expect the Hillary supporters to be voting Democrat even if Obama is on the ticket - something that despite his recent troubles is looking pretty certain at this point. Clinton will not overtake Obama in the pledged count and Obama supporters are the ones more likely to stay at home if their candidate is not on the ballot. Ergo, talk of a Democratic party schism is just that - interesting fodder for the blogs but not very likely by the time November rolls around.

Realism will trump ideology almost every time in both parties.

UPDATE

The New York Times did extensive interviews with the Super Delegates and confirm that unless the Wright/Rezko scandals start to really hurt Obama, he will almost certainly be the nominee. The vast majority of them have rejected Hillary’s “electability” argument and are leaning strongly toward Obama’s “will of the people” meme.

Hillary supporters, being realists for the most part, will eventually - reluctantly - accept this bitter pill and will almost certainly pull together with the Obama camp to help the party win in November.

Does all this make an Obama-Clinton ticket more likely? A week ago I would have said “no chance.” But stranger things have happened when a party is as divided as the Democrats. It may come down to a situation where both sides would refuse the marriage but be forced into a partnership. This would only happen, I believe, if the delegate controversy goes all the way to the floor of the convention. At that point, the only solution that would satisfy would be the forced fusion of both camps.

By: Rick Moran at 9:23 pm | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (9)

OBAMA: JUST ANOTHER LYING WEASEL OF A POLITICIAN

How many lies must Obama tell before he falls off his perch as an “Agent of Change” and comes back down to earth and is recognized as a gifted but flawed politician, no better and no worse than McCain or Hillary Clinton for that matter?

Lying about one’s personal affairs in order to avoid taking a political hit is an art form that most politicians must eventually master if they are to survive. All of us have some kind of skeleton in the closet whether it’s our own or someone close to us. Beyond that, innocent situations can be twisted by opponents and unfriendly media into the appearance of wrongdoing. Eventually, just about everyone will come face to face with a situation where a choice will present itself; tell the truth and risk the wrath of the voters or lie and hope no one catches you.

In Obama’s case, he has lied about the extent of his relationship with Tony Rezko from the beginning. And yesterday, the chickens came home to roost.

Prior to yesterday, Obama described his relationship with Rezko in casual terms:

Mr. Obama says he never did any favors for Mr. Rezko, who raised about $150,000 for his campaigns over the years and was once one of the most powerful men in Illinois. There is no sign that Mr. Obama, who declined to be interviewed for this article, did anything improper.

Mr. Obama has portrayed Mr. Rezko as a one-time fund-raiser whom he had occasionally seen socially. But interviews with more than a dozen political and business associates suggest that the two men were closer than the senator has indicated.

[snip]

When Mr. Obama first fielded questions about Mr. Rezko last fall, he said they had had lunch once or twice a year and had socialized with their wives “two to four times.”

(6/14/07)

A “one time fundraiser?” Occasional socializing?

That was then. This is now:

Trying to put his past with Antoin “Tony” Rezko behind him, presidential candidate Barack Obama on Friday said he never thought the nowindicted Chicago businessman would try to take advantage of him because his old friend had never asked for a political favor.

But in a 90-minute interview with Tribune reporters and editors, Obama disclosed that Rezko had raised more for Obama’s earlier political campaigns than previously known, gathering as much as $250,000 for the first three offices he sought.

[snip]

Rezko helped bankroll all of Obama’s subsequent campaigns except his presidential bid. Rezko was on Obama’s campaign committee in his failed run against U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush and gathered between $50,000 and $75,000 of the estimated $600,000 raised in that race, Obama said.

Rezko also was on the finance committee for Obama’s 2004 U.S. Senate run. “My best assessment is that he raised $160,000 during my U.S. Senate primary,” he said, adding that those funds had been given to charity.

At first, Obama claimed that Rezko raised no more than $50,000 for his campaigns - which was a lie. Any politician who doesn’t have a good idea how much an important fundraiser like Rezko raises for him wouldn’t be winning many elections. The figure rose to $150,000 and now stands at $250,000.

Any bets on how high that number will eventually go?

Beyond that is the extent of his friendship with Rezko - something both Obama and the campaign have sought to minimize since day one by simply telling outright lies about how well the two men knew each other.

Even Obama’s statements about the purchase of his house were full of falsehoods as far as the reason Rezko went in on the deal.

At first, Obama downplayed the entire matter:

“I don’t recall exactly what our conversations were or where I first learned, and I am not clear what the circumstnces were where he made a decision that he was interested in the property,” Obama reportedly said.

“I may have mentioned to him the name of [a developer and] he may at that point have contacted that person. I’m not clear about that,” he said.

(11/2/2006)

That was then. This is now:

But they talked about the upcoming sales. “He said, ‘I might be interested,’ ” Obama recalled. “My response was, ‘Well, that would be fine.’”

Obama added: “This is an area where I can see a lapse in judgment.” He said his motivation was “if this lot is going to be developed, here’s somebody I knew. So I didn?t object.”

[snip]

In his first accounts of the purchase, Obama did not divulge that tour. He said Friday that he simply didn’t feel the information was salient and insisted the tour didn’t mean he and Rezko coordinated their purchases.

Is this plausible? Your friend of 20 years is buying the lot next to your dream home (although the sellers insist they gave no “discount” to Obama they also said that they wished to sell both the lot and house at the same time which Obama confirms in the Trib interview) and you don’t “coordinate” the sale in any way? This after touring the property with your friend and discussing possible development of the lot next door?

Obama is asking us to take an awful lot on faith - faith in his truthfulness.

Finally, in the matter of Reverend Wright, we are asked to believe that in a 20 year relationship with the pastor, he never once uttered the kind of vicious racial and anti-American statements that were revealed yesterday:

The statements that Rev. Wright made that are the cause of this controversy were not statements I personally heard him preach while I sat in the pews of Trinity or heard him utter in private conversation. When these statements first came to my attention, it was at the beginning of my presidential campaign. I made it clear at the time that I strongly condemned his comments. But because Rev. Wright was on the verge of retirement, and because of my strong links to the Trinity faith community, where I married my wife and where my daughters were baptized, I did not think it appropriate to leave the church.

Is that true? Rich Lowry did a little digging:

Before he ever thought he would have to deploy Clintonesque spin to try to get himself out of a campaign controversy, Barack Obama wrote (an achingly good) memoir. In the book, Obama makes it clear that Wright when he first got to know him was pretty much the same Wright we’re getting to know now (the one that Obama is at pains to say is on the verge of retirement). Wright was striking some of the same notes, saying racially venomous things and attacking the bombing of Hiroshima. Note this passage about the first sermon Obama heard from Wright, the source ultimately of the title of Obama’s second book and one of the central themes of his presidential campaign:

“It is this world, a world where cruise ships throw away more food in a day than most residents of Port-au-Prince see in a year, where white folks’ greed runs a world in need, apartheid in one hemisphere, apathy in another hemisphere…That’s the world! On which hope sits!”

And so it went, a meditation on a fallen world. While the boys next to me doodled on their church bulletin, Reverend Wright spoke of Sharpsville and Hiroshima, the callousness of policy makers in the White House and in the State House. As the sermon unfolded, though, the stories of strife became more prosaic, the pain more immediate. The reverend spoke of the hardship that the congregation would face tomorrow, the pain of those far from the mountaintop, worrying about paying the light bill…

Is it possible Barack Obama forgot the things that Reverend Wright preached? Or, more frighteningly, is it possible that Obama can’t recognize hate speech and anti-American rants when he hears them?

And then there’s this curious comment from his Wright “Mea Culpa” quoted above:

When these statements first came to my attention, it was at the beginning of my presidential campaign. I made it clear at the time that I strongly condemned his comments.

“At the time?” People are still digging but no one seems to be able to come up with any comments “condemning” anything Wright has ever said that occurred anywhere near the beginning of his campaign for president. He condemned s Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan’s anti-Semitic statements (not the man) when it became known that Wright’s Church bestowed the “Rev. Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr. Lifetime Achievement Trumpeteer” named after Wright’s church’s magazine that featured the racist demagogue on the cover:

“I decry racism and anti-Semitism in every form and strongly condemn the anti-Semitic statements made by Minister Farrakhan,” Obama said in the statement. “I assume that Trumpet Magazine made its own decision to honor Farrakhan based on his efforts to rehabilitate ex-offenders, but it is not a decision with which I agree.”

(1/15/08)

This is certainly a long time after “the beginning” of his presidential run - almost a year.

And what do we make of this excerpt from his book Dreams of my Father where he specifically mentions Wright’s “radical” reputation:

In his 1993 memoir “Dreams from My Father,” Obama recounts in vivid detail his first meeting with Wright in 1985. The pastor warned the community activist that getting involved with Trinity might turn off other black clergy because of the church’s radical reputation.

What exactly did Obama think Wright’s “radical reputation” was all about?

Obama’s statement published at Huffingtonpost is at best a careful dissembling of the truth and at worst a tissue of lies as this piece at American Thinker makes clear:

We noticed on the videotaped sermons that when Rev. Wright fires up the crowd, they jump to their feet. A Harvard-trained lawyer like Obama inserting the phrase “sat in the pews” knows exactly what he is doing. If he was on his feet applauding and shouting approval like so many other Trinity congregants, then this statement becomes true, if utterly misleading.

It is time for the Obamamaniacs to wake up and come down from the mountaintop. Support him for president if you must but base it on his positions on the issues and his abilities not on his perceived messianic visions of a new kind of politics - “post racial” or “post partisan” or any other unique attribute that his leadership supposedly will bring out.

Barack Obama is just another politician - devious when he has to be, vague when it suits him, and a liar when necessity calls. May this incident involving Reverend Wright open the eyes of most of those who have lost themselves in Obama’s rhetorical fog so that they can see who and what they are supporting for President of the United States.

By: Rick Moran at 1:04 pm | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (14)

3/14/2008
DOES OBAMA LOVE AMERICA?

Every once and a while (usually on a Friday so fewer people will read it), I write a post that is so politically incorrect, so outrageously provocative that I cringe when re-reading it at a later date. Not because it’s badly written (an impossibility on this site my long time readers will attest) or because the arguments are poorly made. Rather, I blanch at the audacity with which I plunged willy nilly into an issue that had liberals rending their garments and wailing in anguish that anyone would be so presumptuous as to challenge some cherished orthodoxy.

I actually hate controversy, preferring vanilla to rocky road as a rule. But questioning orthodoxy will always get you in trouble - a consequence of offending people’s sense of the way the world is or should be.

Sometimes, I’m wrong to do so if only because there are some 800 LB gorillas in the room you just don’t poke with a stick. Other times, my heart is in the right place but I end up being completely (or deliberately) misunderstood.

No matter. The question that I would like to examine in a serious manner is whether we can really believe that the probable Democratic candidate for President of the United States loves the country of his birth.

Having tossed that bomb allow me to fling another; does it really matter one way or another?

The legitimate questions that can be raised about Obama’s true feelings regarding the United States are due entirely to statements made by those that the candidate himself has informed us have had the most impact on his life; his wife, his pastor, and his mother. Couple that with what appears to me to be a dalliance with radical politics in his youth where Obama stoked the anger and rage in the ghettos of Chicago by painting a picture of America as oppressor when he was a community organizer, and the picture that emerges is of a man with decidedly mixed feelings about this country.

Who can blame him? I think if I grew up a black man in this country - even in the same economic circumstances - I might very well have a conflicted view of America. Some of my conservative friends would disagree but there has been real, honest to God oppression visited upon African Americans - I mean third world, tinpot dictator, intolerable, cruel, manifestly evil oppression. I remember when I was a liberal back in the 1970’s thinking that if I were a black man, I’d probably be a commie.

You cannot read a social history of the United States and come away with any other notion except it is a remarkable testament to the power of ideas and the fact of American exceptionalism that African Americans have fought and died in our wars, built our infrastructure, contributed to the scientific and technical achievements that have made us the envy of the world, and vastly enriched the culture - all the while being denied the simplest, most common rights and privileges enjoyed by the majority white population.

This is the world into which Barack Obama was born, raised, matriculated, and set out to make a life for himself. Even while some things were changing as far as those rights were concerned, no government could peer into men’s hearts and change the insidious evil of racial hatred. The government can mitigate the effects of racism. But it cannot cure the illness itself.

I digress because it is so easy to forget, especially when looking at Obama, that every black American carries the burden of the past with them no matter what heights they achieve in life. And with that burden is the knowledge that America’s schizophrenia regarding race - a country boasting of its freedom and liberty while failing to grant equal rights to some - weighs most heavily on those who have yet to climb the ladder of success.

But Barack Obama the candidate has given no sign that he is conflicted or or that his love of America is any less passionate than you or I. In fact, I would say that Obama is the first liberal since Hubert Humphrey who can give a 5 Star, 4th of July, patriotic stemwinder of a speech and make you believe it. But that speaks more to Obama’s oratorical gifts. What can we deduce about what he truly thinks of America from those who have had the largest impact on his life - people he himself has said that he admires and trusts.

First, his mother. I don’t care what her politics were. I am more concerned with what she thought of America. This moving article in today’s New York Times profiling Obama’s mother reveals a woman that could easily be defined as an internationalist in the strictest definition of that term:

“She was a very, very big thinker,” said Nancy Barry, a former president of Women’s World Banking, an international network of microfinance providers, where Ms. Soetoro worked in New York City in the early 1990s. “I think she was not at all personally ambitious, I think she cared about the core issues, and I think she was not afraid to speak truth to power.”

[snip]

Those choices were not entirely surprising, said several high school friends of Ms. Soetoro, whom they remembered as unusually intelligent, curious and open. She never dated “the crew-cut white boys,” said one friend, Susan Blake: “She had a world view, even as a young girl. It was embracing the different, rather than that ethnocentric thing of shunning the different. That was where her mind took her.”

There is much more in the article that points to a strong willed woman who loved her son and wanted the best for him. But running through the narrative is this sense that she was a woman whose heart was far away from the United States - that she saved her love not for nations but for the ethereal notion of the brotherhood of man.

There is nothing inherently wrong with this, of course. But it raises questions about Obama’s own feelings about the United States. How were they developed? Did his stint at the exclusive prep school in Hawaii inculcate a sense of his “Americanism?” Evidently not:

“I doubted what Indonesia now had to offer and wearied of being new all over again,” he wrote in his memoir. “More than that, I’d arrived at an unspoken pact with my grandparents: I could live with them and they’d leave me alone so long as I kept my trouble out of sight.” During those years, he was “engaged in a fitful interior struggle. I was trying to raise myself to be a black man in America.”

I can’t shake the notion that this statement about raising himself to be “a black man in America” is revealing of Obama’s conflicted feelings about the country. Having spent so much time out of the country, shouldn’t he have been concerned about “raising himself” to be an American rather than a black American? It may be a small point but I believe it is revealing nonetheless.

Obama’s struggles with his black identity will lead to his embrace of a pastor who can, at best, be called “conflicted” about America and a wife whose own feelings about America can be called into question.

And let me tell you something — for the first time in my adult lifetime, I am really proud of my country. And not just because Barack has done well, but because I think people are hungry for change. And I have been desperate to see our country moving in that direction and just not feeling so alone in my frustration and disappointment.

These words are not shocking coming from a black woman given history and circumstance. But they are troubling coming from the wife of a candidate for Presdent of the United States. What influence has she had on her husband’s thinking? Has she clarified or even reinforced his doubts about America or has he simply dismissed her misgivings?

Right about now those of my friends on the left whose heads have not exploded are probably doing a little seething. But I would say to those liberals who have come this far with me that these are perfectly legitimate questions to ask and seek answers. Obama has made it clear that his wife has helped him in his quest for a black identity. She has been the bridge to Obama’s self-acceptance into the African American community. Someone who has given Obama so much must have some influence on him.

Speculation? Or logical deduction? I suppose that depends on how open your mind might be.

One doesn’t need an open mind to glean what is in the heart of Obama’s long time preacher, friend, and confidante Jeremiah Wright:

“The government gives them the drugs, builds bigger prisons, passes three-strike laws and wants them to sing God Bless America.

“No! No No!

“God damn America … for killing innocent people.

“God damn America for threatening citizens as less than humans.

“God damn America as long as she tries to act like she is God and supreme.”

Obama’s statement on these and other incendiary remarks is frankly unbelievable:

“Let me say at the outset that I vehemently disagree and strongly condemn the statements that have been the subject of this controversy,” he said in the statement. “I categorically denounce any statement that disparages our great country or serves to divide us from our allies. I also believe that words that degrade individuals have no place in our public dialogue, whether it’s on the campaign stump or in the pulpit. In sum, I reject outright the statements by Rev. Wright that are at issue.”

Obama said he never personally heard Wright preach the statements at the center of the controversy, but that he first learned of them when he launched his presidential campaign.

Are we supposed to accept his statement that Obama was unaware of the Reverend’s beliefs until last year despite the fact he has known him as a friend and accepted him as a spiritual advisor for nearly two decades? Or are we to believe that Reverend Wright hid these views from his congregation since Obama attended services at the church on a regular basis?

Get beyond the repudiation of the words and sentiments of Wright and what is Obama saying? For more than a year, he has has been attending the church of a minister that he knew spouted outrageous anti-American sermons.

These are the things that make us question Obama’s true feelings about the United States. I am sure that he does not share the views of Wright nor perhaps of his wife either. But deep down, where only the candidate really knows and could tell us, what does he really feel about this country? Those who had the most impact on his life have made plain their conflicted feelings about America. Does Obama share this?

And ultimately, does it really matter?

I think that depends on the individual voter, doesn’t it? After all, I’m sure many of Obama’s African American supporters do not put as much stock in Obama’s relative depth of feeling about America than many others would. And spending 10 minutes perusing some liberal websites would be equally revealing with regard to the conflicted feelings about the United States felt by some on the left.

If Obama were, in fact, conflicted about America would that interfere with his ability to do the job of president? I don’t see how. It doesn’t make him any less loyal or patriotic - at least in the sense that he wouldn’t commit treason or sell out the country to foreigners. It certainly wouldn’t interfere with his ability to be a good executive.

So in the end, it really doesn’t matter to a lot of people what Obama really thinks about America. To some, like Mona Charen, it is nevertheless troubling:

Obama’s book is strewn with hints of his far left sympathies, as when he tells an African cousin who complains about the hardships of life in Kenya that things are no better in America. Or when he suggests that the lives of poor black young men in the inner city are blighted by white racism. He never says it explicitly, but it’s there.

He has been very friendly with Rashid Khaladi, the fierce anti-Israel professor who took Edward Said’s post at Columbia.

My own theory, FWIW, is that Obama acquired his far left views at least in part to make himself as authentically black as he could to compensate for having a white mother. His mother, of course, was very left herself. But looking the way he does, and having been raised among only white people (mother and maternal grandparents) he felt the need to better identify with his black heritage. That struggle is what the book is all about.

One can have sympathy for his psychological predicament . But that sympathy certainly does not extend to electing him president of a country that I sincerely believe he does not love.

Charen is unable to prove that Obama can’t do the job based solely on whether or not he loves America. I’d never vote for the guy in a million years. But whether he truly loves America as deeply as I do is far down the list of reasons why.

By: Rick Moran at 6:38 pm | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (25)

HILLARY’S SCORCHED EARTH CAMPAIGN
CATEGORY: Decision '08

Hillary Clinton’s campaign is starting to remind me of the orders General Grant gave to General Sheridan for the 1864 Shenandoah Valley campaign.

Angry that a confederate army led by Jubal Early had been able to use the Valley both as a granary for the southern armies and a sheltered invasion route of the north, Grant created the 40,000 man Army of the Shenandoah and put the bulldog Sheridan in command with two specific orders; kill Early’s army and “consume and destroy all forage and subsistence, burn all barns and mills and drive off all stock in the region.” Valley residents who complained about the wholesale destruction were told, per Sheridan’s instructions, “that they have furnished too many meals to guerrillas to expect much sympathy.”

Grant explained in a letter to Army Commander in Chief Henry Halleck that he wanted Sheridan to “eat out Virginia clear and clean as far as they go, so that crows flying over it for the balance of the season will have to carry their provender with them.” Grant got down to more specific details in his further instructions to Sheridan, saying that he “should make all the Valley south of the Baltimore and Ohio railroad a desert as high up as possible. I do not mean that houses should be burned, but all provisions and stock should be removed, and the people notified to get out.”

The Clinton campaign has declared total war - on Obama, on the party, on the media, on basically anyone who is in their way. It is a campaign quite unlike any the Democrats have seen since perhaps 1860 when Stephen Douglas refused to step aside for the good of the party and ended up driving the Dixiecrats out of the convention to put up their own candidate thus assuring the election of a Republican.

No one will walk out of this year’s Democratic convention (we think). But Hillary Clinton’s tactics from here on out are apparently designed to cleave the Democratic party in two and bulldoze her way to the nomination by any means necessary.

And just in case she falls short, she is going to damage Obama to the point that he will be “unelectable” in November.

Jonathon Chait:

As I said, Obama was running well ahead of Clinton in head-to-head matchups a few weeks ago, and now they’re tied. After several more weeks of Clinton reinforcing McCain’s message against Obama, Clinton will probably be performing better than Obama against McCain. This is the point I made in my TRB column. She needs to convince the remaining uncommitted superdelegates to split for her by about a 2-to-1 margin. The only way she can get a split like that is if she can persuasively argue that Obama is unelectable. And the only way she can do that is to make him unelectable. Some people have treated this as an unfortunate byproduct of Clinton’s decision to continue her campaign. It’s actually a central element of the strategy. Penn is already saying he’s unelectable. It’s not true, but by the time the convention rolls around, it may well be.

MyDD on Obama’s unelectability:

With this in mind, the most sensible conclusion I seem to be able to infer from Penn’s statements are that after the Clinton campaign gets done with Obama he won’t be able to win a national election — in other words a promise from the Clinton campaign to make Obama unelectable.

Don’t get me wrong, there is definitely room for the two campaigns to hit one another on legitimate bones of contention or to make the case that their candidate is relatively stronger. And both candidates should be and need to be scrutinized so that the Democrats can put their best foot forward in November. But when a campaign begins lashing out senselessly, as appears to be the case in this instance, it simply must be put to a stop — for the good of the party and for the good of the nation, which cannot afford to go through the third Bush term with a McCain presidency.

Would it be too much to read into this theme the unspoken reason for Obama’s unelectability? Is the Clinton campaign playing their final and most devastating race card by strongly hinting that America simply will not elect a black man president?

I don’t think it can be anything else. It goes hand in hand with the rest of the campaign’s tearing down of Obama, marginalizing him as being too inexperienced and not tough enough while Hillary’s surrogates do the dirty work. Was Geraldine Ferraro’s statement about Obama basically being an “affirmative action” presidential candidate so off the cuff or was it a deliberate, planned ploy using a liberal icon like Ferraro to raise perhaps the most devastating questions about Obama’s abilities? Can even the Clintons be that devious?

Logic would say no but the idea shouldn’t be dismissed entirely. Desperate people do desperate things and in order to stave off elimination, the Clintons are proving themselves as proficient as the Huns in laying waste to the political landscape.

Is this damaging what Andrew Sullivan calls Obama’s “post racial” appeal? In Mississippi, Obama received 90% of the black vote while Clinton got 75% of the white vote. That’s the white Democratic vote (with about 12% GOP crossovers). It remains to be seen what will happen in Pennsylvania on April 22 but with Governor “A black man can’t win in Pennsylvania” Rendel, you can bet that the Clinton campaign will bend every effort to portray Obama as a one trick pony - a candidate unable to win the white working class vote while gaining 90% majorities from a racial group the Democrats have in the bag already.

Obama’s dilemma is if he plays Hillary’s game by even acknowledging the charges of unelectability, he falls into the trap of joining the debate. For Obama, there can be no discussion of the matter. It is a ridiculous charge on its face and so far, his campaign is treating it as such.

But what happens if in the next three states - Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Indiana - Obama fails to win a majority of white votes? In Virginia, Obama won 52% of the white vote. But in the southeastern part of the state in counties bordering North Carolina, Hillary Clinton rolled up huge majorities. And Indiana could also prove difficult for Obama given the economic downturn in that state which lately seems to have favored Clinton.

By exacerbating the racial divide in the Democratic party, Hillary Clinton may indeed make Obama unelectable. And there’s no guarantee that the strategy will sway the Super Delegates and make her the nominee especially since she will probably be trailing in the delegate count and popular vote. But none of this seems to matter. As far as the Clinton campaign can see, this is their only avenue to the White House and by hook or by crook, whether they bring the Democratic party down or not, they’re going to take it.

By: Rick Moran at 7:42 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (13)

3/13/2008
REZKO-OBAMA: BEYOND “GUILT BY ASSOCIATION”
CATEGORY: Obama-Rezko

For a United States Senator, Barack Obama has been doing a lot of explaining about the company he has kept for the last 17 years or so.

Take some Joe Blow Alderman off the streets of Chicago and examine his friends and acquaintances and you’re bound to come up with a couple of unsavory characters that straddle the line of legality with regard to city contracts or their business dealings.

But Obama is not some regular Machine pol juicing the way for his ward heeling friends so they can grow fat and rich at taxpayer expense. He is a United States Senator and the Democratic Party’s frontrunner for President of the United States. One would think a higher standard might be in order regarding such a man’s associates.

One would think.

The constant refrain of Obama defenders is that he is being unfairly criticized because his problematic friends and acquaintances represent nothing more than “guilt by association.” Taken on a case by case basis, such a defense might ring true. But Obama’s problem is that he has so many friends and associates where “guilt by association” is the explanation given by his campaign that one begins to wonder when we can declare the candidate just plain “guilty” of using horrendous judgment and question whether his connection to some of these characters actually goes beyond innocence of wrongdoing.

WILLIAM AYERS, TERRORIST

Former Weather Underground member and unrepentant terrorist bomber William Ayers was one of Obama’s earliest political supporters. Neither Obama or Ayers will comment on the extent of their relationship but it is clear that they have had contact several times over many years. They have participated in several forums at the University of Chicago together where Ayers is a professor and even served on the same Board of Directors overseeing the far left Woods Fund.

“Guilt by association?” Some enterprising journalist might want to ask Obama what he was doing paling around with an unreconstructed radical who spent 10 years on the run from the FBI and whose views on America or so out of the mainstream as to make him a pariah even among liberals. He must have found something attractive about Ayers to continue what was described by a friend of both men as a “friendship.” He may disavow the tactics used by Ayers but how about his ideology?

A politician can grow and change their views on a variety of subjects. This may be what happened to Obama over the years as his radicalism may have been tempered by both the reality of running for office and a sincere re-examination of his worldview. But shouldn’t his long term relationship with this despicable character call into question at the very least Obama’s judgment?

When decent folk would never dream of associating in any way with such a man as Bill Ayers, what does that say about the candidate? He could have refused appearing in the same forums with him. He could have turned down the spot on the board of the Woods Fund. But he didn’t. And so far, no explanation has been given by the campaign beyond “guilt by association.”

REVEREND JEREMIAH WRIGHT

An even stronger case can be made that Obama’s relationship with this anti-Semitic, Farrakhan supporting, race baiting preacher should be seen as beyond an innocent interpretation of the “guilt by association” theme. Wright heads up a church chosen by Obama after what he himself calls a long search specifically because of the preacher’s sermons and his beliefs.

What are those beliefs?

Sen. Barack Obama’s pastor says blacks should not sing “God Bless America” but “God damn America.”

The Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Obama’s pastor for the last 20 years at the Trinity United Church of Christ on Chicago’s south side, has a long history of what even Obama’s campaign aides concede is “inflammatory rhetoric,” including the assertion that the United States brought on the 9/11 attacks with its own “terrorism.”

In a campaign appearance earlier this month, Sen. Obama said, “I don’t think my church is actually particularly controversial.” He said Rev. Wright “is like an old uncle who says things I don’t always agree with,” telling a Jewish group that everyone has someone like that in their family.

Let me ask you, gentle reader, does anyone in your family talk like this?

“We bombed Hiroshima, we bombed Nagasaki, and we nuked far more than the thousands in New York and the Pentagon, and we never batted an eye,” Rev. Wright said in a sermon on Sept. 16, 2001.

“We have supported state terrorism against the Palestinians and black South Africans, and now we are indignant because the stuff we have done overseas is now brought right back to our own front yards. America’s chickens are coming home to roost,” he told his congregation.

Now if you or I had heard our minister or priest utter sentiments like that, what would you have done? I believe it is not beyond imagining that most Americans would have gotten up from their seats and walked out of the church never to return.

And Obama’s reaction?

Sen. Obama told the New York Times he was not at the church on the day of Rev. Wright’s 9/11 sermon. “The violence of 9/11 was inexcusable and without justification,” Obama said in a recent interview. “It sounds like he was trying to be provocative,” Obama told the paper.

Again the question must be raised. Rather than simply repudiating the comments, what is the front runner for the Democratic nomination for President of the United States doing attending this church? What in God’s name is Obama thinking when he hears this kind of rabid anti-Americanism spewing from the mouth of this racist demagogue?

“Guilt by association?” Or guilty of stupidity and arrogance? When an overwhelming majority of citizens would go far beyond “repudiating” Wright’s remarks and want nothing whatsoever to do with him, it calls into question Obama’s fitness for the office of President when he makes mealy mouthed explanations as he did to the Times. Can we afford someone as president who might actually sympathize, although not agree with the Ahmadinejad’s of the world when they start spouting their hateful rhetoric against America? Will he see them as simply trying to be “provocative?”

He’s heard it before and did nothing. Why would we expect him to stand up for America when his country is being trashed by the dictators of the world like Hugo Chavez?

TONY REZKO & ASSOCIATES

Here is where Obama’s relationships go far beyond “guilt by association” and enters the realm of deliberate obfuscation and perhaps even lying.

Obama’s ties to this scam artist and crook go far beyond what he told the New York Times - that he saw Rezko a couple of times a year and that he socialized with Rezko and his wife about 4 times a year.

Mr. Obama has portrayed Mr. Rezko as a one-time fund-raiser whom he had occasionally seen socially. But interviews with more than a dozen political and business associates suggest that the two men were closer than the senator has indicated.

The New York Times certainly has a gift for understatement. An FBI mole, John Thomas, who was working the Rezko case as a partner of one of Rezko’s associates had this to say about the extent of how many times the two men saw each other:

Sources said Thomas helped investigators build a record of repeat visits to the old offices of Rezko and former business partner Daniel Mahru’s Rezmar Corp., at 853 N. Elston, by Blagojevich and Obama during 2004 and 2005. …

Both politicians relied on Rezko for fund-raising connections. Obama was in the thick of his successful run for the U.S. Senate in 2004. Now in the glare of a presidential campaign, Obama has donated to charity $157,835 from contributions to his Senate campaign that he has linked to Rezko.

This is the kind of lie that will come back to haunt Obama as the Rezko trial proceeds. At every step Obama has sought to hide, to minimize, to dismiss his relationship with Rezko as a one sided affair - that of an eager Chicago fixer wanting to get close to an up and coming state senator. Instead, the picture that will almost certainly be revealed during Rezko’s trial is that Obama and Rezko were close associates with Rezko being a crucial part of Obama’s rise in politics while Obama for his part, aided Rezko in his business dealings.

How? By the time honored political tool known as “the drop by.”

Suppose you are a property developer meeting with foreign businessmen trying to convince them to invest in your plan. Suddenly, a United States senator shows up at your meeting to greet the foreigners, do a little backslapping, and thus give legitimacy and “juice” to the developer making it easier for the foreigners to trust him. The senator is in and out in just a few minutes. But the impact of his visit is not lost on the foreign businessmen.

This is exactly what Obama did for Rezko on several occassions:

While it is not clear what Mr. Rezko got from the relationship, he liked to display his alliances with politicians, including Mr. Obama.

In one instance, when he was running for the Senate, Mr. Obama stopped by to shake hands while Mr. Rezko, an immigrant from Syria, was entertaining Middle Eastern bankers considering an investment in one of his projects.”

The above via Rezko Watch who adds this:

This “dropping in” appears to be very much a part of a tit-for-tat, the exchanging of political favors between Rezko and Obama—Rezko raised funds and contributed to the political ascendance of Obama. In exchange, Obama obligingly “dropped in” while Rezko just happened to be entertaining Middle Eastern bankers whom he wanted to impress with his connections and that he’d like to have as investors in his real estate developments in Chicago.

This is a favor done for a friend. It is not illegal. It is not even unethical - except it flies in the face of Mr. Obama’s contention that he “never did any favors” for Tony Rezko. That statement is at the very least a shading of the truth. And it was made to hide the extent of his relationship with a very unsavory character.

And it isn’t just Obama’s relationship with Rezko that is at issue. The candidate has yet to explain the extent of his relationship with several Rezko associates who donated money to his campaign - all at the behest of Rezko. One contribution had to be returned by Obama because Rezko reimbursed the donor out of his own pocket.

All of this, according to the Obama campaign and numerous apologists, is simple “guilt by association.” They claim that Obama has no connection to Rezko’s activities for which he has been indicted and is standing trial.

Except, of course, that Rezko was using the money he extorted from companies wanting to do business with the state and then turned around and made political contributions using that same money to Obama and other Illinois politicians.

In the government’s case against Rezko, prosecutors allege kickback payments were diverted to others to make campaign contributions to Obama’s 2004 Senate campaign because Rezko had already made the maximum federal contribution. Obama is not named in the government’s document but his campaign has not disputed that Obama is the politician who received the money from Rezko allies, something backed up by campaign disclosure records. Money linked to the straw donations has already been contributed to charity, Obama aides said.

Obama has returned more than $150,000 of that money. There is probably more but it is admittedly difficult to find given the lengths to which Rezko went to conceal his activities. And the ultimate question that hangs over Obama like the Sword of Damocles:

What did he know and when did he know it?

Rezko, Auchi, Alsammarae, Wright, Ayers - these are at least some of the shady and corrupt characters we know about who have had contact with both Obama and Rezko. The candidate refuses to address the extent of his relationship with any of them.

When do we get beyond “guilt by association” of these people with Obama and start to wonder about just who this man is who is marching toward the nomination and a better than even shot at the White House?

UPDATE

In an unbelievable example of serendipity, Bob Owens posted on the exact same subject at almost exactly the same time. The title of his post? “Guilt by Association.”

Great minds and all that…

By: Rick Moran at 1:24 pm | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (21)

3/12/2008
THE GREAT ALL-AMERICAN HOOKER HUNT
CATEGORY: Media

I can’t tell you how proud I am of our media today.

With the world in its usual state of near hysteria over this or that problem dictator or American action, (or when Israel lifts a finger to defend itself), our media has chosen to initiate what can only be called the greatest quest/crusade in at least the last week. It is as fierce and as fervent as Ahab’s obsessive search for the Great White Whale - without the uplifting literary flair of a Melville.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you “The Question of the Hour:” WHO IS KRISTEN?

ABC is hot on the trail:

A voluptuous brunette escort named Kristen, who advertises her availability online “for discriminating gentlemen,” says she is not the “Kristen” linked to New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer.

The online ad for Kristen, featuring provocative semi-nude lingerie photos, includes an update, “I am not the person the Daily News has mentioned in relation to the Spitzer case.”

The online posting is one of thousands ABC News found online of young women of all types and races who offer themselves for “escort” and “tryst” services.

Now that’s a job I wouldn’t mind having. Going through “thousands” of online pictures of young women all offering to put that special smile on your face - for a nominal (or gargantuan) fee, of course.

Conversation heard around watercooler at ABC headquarters in New York:

EMPLOYEE #1: “Sheesh! What a day. Gibson’s been busting my balls about this Iraq story. He wants it “edgier.” How about you?”

EMPLOYEE #2: “Christ! I’m still stuck with that stupid ‘drugs in the water supply’ story.’ Talk about bor-ing. What about you kid?”

EMPLOYEE #3: “I just spent the entire morning going through thousands of online photos of half naked women in lingerie trying to set up dates just to find out if they’re the ones who played “Hide the Salami” with Governor Spitzer.”

EMPLOYEE #1:

EMPLOYEE #2

EMPLOYEE #1: “We’re in the wrong department.”

Alas, even if the charms of the young woman ABC contacted above have set your heart aflutter and male juices flowing, I hate to disappoint you but this particular “Kristen” is booked solid until the middle of the month:

E-mails sent to the Kristen site were returned with this message: “Thank you for contacting me. I am currently unavailable through mid-March. Please try me again after March 15th. I look forward to connecting with you then. Kristen.”

ABC can relax. As can every other major media outlet in the United States who almost certainly called every escort, hooker, prostitute, call girl, and crack whore in the state of New York looking for the Madonna of street walkers - the one, the only, the TRUE Kristen.

She was lost. And now she’s been found:

PageSix.com can reveal a portfolio description from the Emperors Club web site which could depict the “Kristen” mentioned in the Governor Eliot Spitzer prostitution case.

The 5-foot-5-inch brunette likes dining at fancy restaurants and will show up wearing very high heels.

The governor is expected to resign this morning.

Ah! Mystery solved. And such prose! Such inspired writing! Almost makes me want to take her around the world myself.

After seeing her picture, I see what’s to like. One can hardly blame Spitzer for falling head over heels for this Jezebel. If I had an extra $5 grand, I just might take a flyer on her. She could even ditch the high heels. Jeans and T-shirt is good enough for Bennigans.

Wouldn’t it be interesting to add up all the man hours spent by the media the last couple of days looking for this woman? I’ll bet the tab gets into the 7 figures. And all to interview the poor girl and ask the one burning question that everyone of us is on the edge of their seat waiting to hear answered by her:

What was it like doing the slap and tickle with the (former) Governor of the State of New York? What kinky stuff was he into? And please be specific.

The publication or news outlet that can answer those questions will increase their sales or viewership by 50%. What a coup. What an elevating example of the value and importance of our media. It makes us ask the question “What would America be like without a free press?”

Judging by the way most outlets are handling this story, we’re finding out quicker than we might like.

By: Rick Moran at 5:43 pm | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (3)

GOP GAMING THE DEMOCRATS
CATEGORY: Decision '08

If you’re a Democrat, you should be absolutely outraged, incensed, and weeping with frustration at the prospect of tens of thousands of Republican voters entering your primaries in order to support the candidacy of Hillary Clinton.

These GOP pranksters are not voting for Clinton because someone put something in the water thus turning them from being rabid dog Clinton haters into slavish Hillary bots. Rather they are trying to keep Barack Obama from winning the nomination believing that Hillary will be easier to beat than the charismatic Obama.

For myself, I’m not so sure. My own guess is that Obama is going to be damaged goods by the middle of summer thanks to his relationships with Tony Rezko and his crooked cronies. He would be a much easier general election target for McCain who will be seen as a paragon of virtue next to Obama.

Regardless, Rush Limbaugh has been pushing this campaign for Republicans to game the system and vote for Hillary in Democratic primaries. What’s even worse for Democrats is that it seems to be working:

I have to say, I’m mystified by the large number of Republicans turning up in the Mississippi Democratic primary to vote for Hillary. They more than doubled their share of the 2004 Democratic primary, up to 13%. They were among Clinton’s best demographics groups — she won 75% of Republicans — and made up a significant portion of her overall support.

Typically, it’s been the reverse: Republicans in the North turned out for Obama. And it’s certainly contrary to conventional wisdom that Southern Republicans bear special fondness for Hillary.

I’ll be interested in what the local press has to say about this. I don’t have a clear grasp of Mississippi’s traditions in crossing party lines, and there was no real GOP contest here, which may have increased the numbers.

There are smart people who think this is strategic voting, aimed at producing the weaker candidate — something Rush Limbaugh, in particular, has gleefully espoused.

This is a fun theory, but before it takes root, a couple of notes of skepticism. First, this is all based on quite small samples in exit polls.

Second, Rush wasn’t campaigning for Hillary in Mississippi.

Are you trying to tell me that 13% of Republicans in the state of Mississippi worship and adore Hillary Clinton? Are you nuts?

The Jed Report has an interesting breakdown showing the impact of GOP voters on Texas

As the number of Republicans in the primary has increased, Hillary Clinton’s share of the Republican vote has skyrocketed, going from a 69-31 deficit in January and February to a whopping 75-25 lead in Mississippi. Although Barack Obama’s share of the Republican vote declined, his absolute percentage did not change much, hovering around 3-4%. In other words, he was simply winning a smaller percentage of a larger pie.

In the abstract, there’s nothing wrong with receiving votes from Republicans in the Democratic primary — as long as those votes come from Republicans who are truly committed to a Democratic candidate. That appears to be the case with Barack Obama, who consistently does well among Republicans and independents in public opinion surveys.

Hillary Clinton’s support from Republicans, on the other hand, is coming from Republicans who will not support her in the general election. They are simply wreaking havoc in the Democratic primary, hoping to further divide an already divided party, and perhaps even help Hillary Clinton win the nomination.

How likely is it that these voters are Republican mischief makers and not true blue Hillaryites? Check the sun this evening. If it sets in the west, there’s a pretty good chance that there are tens of thousands of Republicans who are getting a huge kick out of throwing a monkey wrench into the Democratic primary process.

Dirty play? What, in this campaign? You’re kidding right? I give you Kos himself on the eve of the Michigan Republican primary:

Next Tuesday, January 15th, Michigan will hold its primary. Michigan Democrats should vote for Mitt Romney, because if Mitt wins, Democrats win. How so?

For Michigan Democrats, the Democratic primary is meaningless since the DNC stripped the state of all its delegates (at least temporarily) for violating party rules. Hillary Clinton is alone on the ballot.

But on the GOP side, this primary will be fiercely contested. John McCain is currently enjoying the afterglow of media love since his New Hamsphire victory, while Iowa winner Mike Huckabee is poised to do well in South Carolina.

Meanwhile, poor Mitt Romney, who’s suffered back-to-back losses in the last week, desperately needs to win Michigan in order to keep his campaign afloat. Bottom line, if Romney loses Michigan, he’s out. If he wins, he stays in.

And we want Romney in, because the more Republican candidates we have fighting it out, trashing each other with negative ads and spending tons of money, the better it is for us. We want Mitt to stay in the race, and to do that, we need him to win in Michigan.

That hasn’t stopped some whiners on the left from complaining about GOP dirty tricks:

It’s only going to get worse — Republicans will change parties when there is closed primaries and in open primaries, they will cross-over and vote for Hillary Clinton in increasing numbers.

Effectively, this emerging pattern calls into question the validity of any voting from here on out, even in closed primaries. There’s just so much lead time before the next contests that Republicans have plenty of time to register as Democrats and monkey with our primary.

Imagine just how effin’ hard it will be to make sure revotes in Florida and Michigan don’t end becoming a huge clusterf**k…

The problem is that Republicans whose only goal is sabotage our nomination process are going to make this seem closer than it really is. And that’s going to embolden Hillary Clinton to continue to make more attacks on our eventual nominee. And it’s going to further divide the party. And maybe even cost us the election.

The Kos gambit proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that if the shoe were on the other foot, the netroots would be having a gay old time organizing and getting their minions to the polls to vote for one Republican or another. I hardly think the crocodile tears being shed here should make any Republican feel sorry for the Democrats and the pickle they are in - trouble entirely of their own making.

From their cockamamie caucuses to the perfidious proportional representation plans to the very idea of so many Super Delegates having the nomination in their hands not to mention the Michigan and Florida fiascos all point to a party besotted with political correctness, sacrificing winning on the altar of “fairness” and “diversity.” How “fair” is the caucus system really? And “diversity” is just another way to pander - again, at the expense of what elections are all about; winning.

We ain’t playing “Go Fish” here, folks. This race is for keeps. If the Democrats ever start acting like that is the case, Republicans will stay away and Democrats will come up with a viable nominee.

Otherwise, Democrats will continue to be toyed with while the GOP chortles with glee over what magic they have wrought.

By: Rick Moran at 12:55 pm | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (25)