Right Wing Nut House



Filed under: Bailout, Chicago East, Financial Crisis, Media, OBAMANIA!, Politics — Rick Moran @ 9:28 am

The game of softball has two incarnations. Most of the country plays the 12″ variety that features a fairly hard ball that the player needs a leather glove in order to catch it.

But around these parts, when one says “Let’s play softball,” we are talking about a great big 16″ “mushball” that you don’t need a mitt to catch it and is easy to hit. Much more conducive to playing spinoff games like “Beer Ball” and other variations, the game is marked by the painlessness involved in catching the ball due to its lumpen shape and forgiving texture.

Hence, the term “softball question” which apparently has its origins in questions asked certain Machine politicians in Chicago in the 1970’s. The exact date and origin of the term are unknown but anecdotally, I recall the great Chicago columnist Mike Royko using the term to describe the witlessness of Chicago beat reporters at City Hall who were a most incurious lot when it came to Machine corruption. This may have been unfair of Royko due to Mayor Richard J. Daley’s notorious hatred of reporters and the vengeance he would take against any who crossed him.

But the reference is to the 16″ variety which, unlike the more popular 12″ game is played with a true “soft ball” and is seen mostly in Chicago and its surrounding suburbs and ex-urbs.

No doubt Barack Obama is very familiar with the 16″ variety of the game. And after last night, he is now intimately familiar with the term “softball question:”

Question: Thank you, Mr. President. Earlier today in Indiana, you said something striking. You said that this nation could end up in a crisis without action that we would be unable to reverse.

Can you talk about what you know or what you’re hearing that would lead you to say that our recession might be permanent when others in our history have not? And do you think that you risk losing some credibility or even talking down the economy by using dire language like that?

Batter up! Play ball!

Announcer: Here’s Obama at the plate. So far the president is 0 for 3 with two strikeouts and a weak pop-up to the second baseman. He’s also been credited with a sacrifice when he lifted a medium deep fly ball to left field that advanced catcher Hillary Clinton to third.

Here’s the first pitch … it’s an underhand delivery from Jen Loven of the Associated Press who couldn’t decide whether to rush to the plate and kiss the batter or simply grovel at his feet. Obama takes a mighty swing…and misses!

Obama: That’s why the figure that we initially came up with of approximately $800 billion was put forward. That wasn’t just some random number that I plucked out of — out of a hat. That was Republican and Democratic, conservative and liberal economists that I spoke to who indicated that, given the magnitude of the crisis and the fact that it’s happening worldwide, it’s important for us to have a bill of sufficient size and scope that we can save or create 4 million jobs.

I doubt too many conservative economists recommended a bill that contained such a lopsided ratio of spending to tax cuts. He is either being disingenuous or lying. I have seen plenty of conservative economists say we need a stimulus bill but of “sufficient size and scope?” That’s one on me and it would be helpful if the President could give us the names of those economists. Not just to check his story but also to scream at any fools who would have recommended such idiocy.

But back to the game…

Announcer: Obama steps out of the box for a moment. He adjusts his immaculate uniform - evidently his cup is slightly out of place. He daintily spits into his government-funded, Taiwanese built spitoon that he insists on bringing with him to the plate (life must be hell for Barak ever since his wife forced him to quit smoking and switch to chewing tobacco). Time is called as Obama insists that the spitoon be emptied and out comes a stimulus funded worker, the Designated Spit Chucker, to take care of the problem.

Obama steps back in. The rookie looks nervous as his spikes paw at the dirt. He squeezes the bat and awaits the pitch from Karen Boeing of Reuters. Here it comes …oooooh a brushback pitch that narrowly misses Obama’s enormous ear:

Question: Thank you, Mr. President. I’d like to shift gears to foreign policy. What is your strategy for engaging Iran? And when will you start to implement it? Will your timetable be affected at all by the Iranian elections? And are you getting any indications that Iran is interested in a dialogue with the United States?

Obama gives us all a lesson in how to say absolutely nothing in 1000 words or less.

And my expectation is, in the coming months, we will be looking for openings that can be created where we can start sitting across the table, face-to-face diplomatic overtures, that will allow us to move our policy in a new direction.

There’s been a lot of mistrust built up over the years, so it’s not going to happen overnight. And it’s important that, even as we engage in this direct diplomacy, we are very clear about certain deep concerns that we have as a country, that Iran understands that we find the funding of terrorist organizations unacceptable, that we’re clear about the fact that a nuclear Iran could set off a nuclear arms race in the region that would be profoundly destabilizing.

So there are going to be a set of objectives that we have in these conversations, but I think that there’s the possibility at least of a relationship of mutual respect and progress.

As long as Obama is willing to grovel at the feet of the Iranian government by “apologizing” for all the naughty things we’ve done in Iran without them having to apologize for their support of Hezbullah and Hamas, then I have no doubt that a relationship of respect and “progress” (whatever that means) can be achieved.

Just tell our diplomats to be careful what they say. Iran has already committed one act of war in taking and holding our personnel as hostages. No doubt they would probably find it efficacious to have a repeat performance.

Let’s pick up the game where we left off…

Announcer: Obama is getting up slowly and dusting himself off after the high heat put him on his ear. He glares at the pitcher but restrains his inclination to go after her with a bat. Obama appears to be disgusted that his uniform is dirty and may call for his valet to brush him off. I believe - yes - he is asking the ump for permission but Nester is having none of it. He points to the box and orders Obama to resume.

Obama looks determined now. His steely gaze is concentrated on Chip Reid of NBC as he goes into his windup. Here’s the pitch…it’s an eephus pitch that Obama slams deep to left. Back she goes…back…back…IT’S OUTA HERE!

Thank you, Mr. President. You have often said that bipartisanship is extraordinarily important, overall and in this stimulus package, but now, when we ask your advisers about the lack of bipartisanship so far — zero votes in the House, three in the Senate — they say, “Well, it’s not the number of votes that matters; it’s the number of jobs that will be created.”

Is that a sign that you are moving away — your White House is moving away from this emphasis on bipartisanship?

And what went wrong? Did you underestimate how hard it would be to change the way Washington works?

Not only does Reid set the ball on a tee for the president, he actually gets him started toward trashing his opposition while being able to appear “bi-partisan:”

As I said, the one concern I’ve got on the stimulus package, in terms of the debate and listening to some of what’s been said in Congress, is that there seems to be a set of folks who — I don’t doubt their sincerity — who just believe that we should do nothing.

Now, if that’s their opening position or their closing position in negotiations, then we’re probably not going to make much progress, because I don’t think that’s economically sound and I don’t think what — that’s what the American people expect, is for us to stand by and do nothing.

There are others who recognize that we’ve got to do a significant recovery package, but they’re concerned about the mix of what’s in there. And if they’re sincere about it, then I’m happy to have conversations about this tax cut versus that — that tax cut or this infrastructure project versus that infrastructure project.

But what I’ve — what I’ve been concerned about is some of the language that’s been used suggesting that this is full of pork and this is wasteful government spending, so on and so forth.

First of all, when I hear that from folks who presided over a doubling of the national debt, then, you know, I just want them to not engage in some revisionist history. I inherited the deficit that we have right now and the economic crisis that we have right now.

There may be some lonely back bencher (Ron Paul) who may want to “sit back and do nothing” about the economic crisis but to try and say that this opinion is even a minority opinion in the GOP is a lie and he knows it. And this is even worse:

Number two is that, although there are some programs in there that I think are good policy, some of them aren’t job-creators. I think it’s perfectly legitimate to say that those programs should be out of this particular recovery package and we can deal with them later.

But when they start characterizing this as pork, without acknowledging that there are no earmarks in this package — something, again, that was pretty rare over the last eight years — then you get a feeling that maybe we’re playing politics instead of actually trying to solve problems for the American people.

I’m sorry but $4.2 billion for “neighborhood stabilization activities” - much if which would go to ACORN and other partisan Democratic organizations smacks of a Hugo Chavez type of political program where organizing people at the neighborhood level, getting them dependent on those government programs earmarked for the purpose, and then when election day rolls around, actually paying ACORN and their sister organizations to get the grateful citizens to the polls would cement the Democratic majority in many states where big cities make up a sizable segment of the vote.

Here are 49 other “destimulating facts” about the bill (many of which I agree with Obama should be included but many others we can clearly do without).

It’s not that we expected the press to challenge Obama and ask him tough questions. There’s no opportunity for follow-up and the president calls on the reporters like a teacher calling on students in class. The modern presidential press conference has become a drama starring the President of the United States and featuring recognizable talking heads from the various networks, bit players from the dead tree media, and a cast of hundreds of extras. It is a political speech disguised as a press conference and the transparent willingness of the press to play their designated roll was nauseating.

No questions about Gitmo? What about Obama’s keeping some Bush era policies on rendition and the Terrorist Surveillance Program? Poor Glenn Greenwald has his panties in a twist because Obama won’t let the terrorists free in downtown Washington with an apology for inconveniencing their jihad by incarcerating them for a few years.

The fact is, there was not one question that discomfited him, not one challenge to a decision he has made. No questions about his cabinet picks who have backed out or his breaking his pledge not to put lobbyists in positions where they would have jurisdiction over the areas where they lobbied, or any questions on breaking his promise to wait 5 days before signing a bill into law in order to get feedback from his adoring public.

Announcer: Obama is circling the bases in triumph, women are swooning in the stands, men are weeping, and reporters are running next to him trying to get his autograph. Our hero-savior-president has triumphed and his enemies have been temporarily silenced.

Ain’t softball a grand game?



Filed under: Bailout, Financial Crisis, Government, PJ Media, Politics — Rick Moran @ 8:15 am

The chances of deep sixing the stimulus monstrosity and starting over again are as near to absolute zero as you can get in politics. The reputations of Speaker Pelosi, Harry Reid, and the president himself are on the line and a defeat of the conference report in the senate (still a possibility after the House tries to restore many of the cuts made by the senate), would be very damaging to that triumvirate, especially the president.

But if ever there were a case where the leaders of the Democratic party should swallow their pride and take the hit on their credibility by tearing up this piece of legislation and starting over, this is it.

Not much of a chance of that happening what with Obama going on national TV tonight and a cloture vote scheduled in the senate tomorrow. So Obama will probably ratchet up the fear mongering to heights not seen since Democrats ran commercials accusing Republicans of wanting to kill poor children and force old people to eat dog food. It is one thing to tell us the truth about our dire economic straits. It is quite another to try and make people believe that only by passing his $900 billion panic panacea will we avoid “catastrophe.”

And what are the consequences of all these dark nostrums being purveyed by a candidate who usually spoke in optimistic and hopeful language on the campaign trail?

Brad Blakeman, a senior aide to Mr. Bush from 2001 to 2004, said the new president’s language is immature.

“It’s not presidential. An American leader needs to be hopeful and optimistic - and truthful. Everything he says is parsed; everything he says is searched for deep meaning. When he goes to ‘DefCon 5′ on the economy and says that we’re on the brink of catastrophe, it’s absolutely insane.”

With his fiery rhetoric, the new president runs the risk of terrifying consumers and investors, which could depress the economy even further. While the economy is bad, it is a far cry from Great Depression levels, when as many as 30 percent of Americans were unemployed, compared with the 7.6 percent now.

Every president must walk a rhetorical tightrope when talking about the economy, a lesson Mr. Bush learned quickly, being bashed just after taking office for delivering somber news. The United States was just entering a mild recession - it had been in one, it turns out, for about nine months - and the new president said so.

Liberals went berserk.

“Every time we turn around, this guy is bad-mouthing the economy. Is that lifting our spirit or dumping on it in order to sell his tax cut?” liberal comentator Bill Press said on CNN. Newsweek’s Jonathan Alter, in an article headlined “Thanks Ever So Much, President Poor-Mouth,” said, “Even if Bush turns out to be right in his predictions of gloom, that doesn’t mean he was right to make them.” The New York Times lectured Mr. Bush, saying that presidents were supposed to be “cheerleaders for the nation’s economy.”

Of course, when Bush began to tout his economic accomplishments in the lead up to the 2004 election, he was skewered for being too Pollyanish and for not being “realistic.” So much for being a “Cheerleader” for the nation’s economy.

I made this point in my PJ Media column today:

That’s right. The candidate of “Hope and Change” has decided to be a president who espouses “Fear and Loathing.” Fear of financial Armageddon unless we do as we are told and blindly give in to his $900 billion panic panacea for the economy and loathing of the opposition — an opposition Obama unfairly portrays as opposing him out of spite and because a popular talk radio host is telling them what to do.

It is a far cry from the way Franklin Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan handled economic crises that in some ways were more dire than what Barack Obama is facing today. Both men came to office at a time when the American spirit was limping and lost. Both men were confronted with unprecedented economic problems (double digit inflation and interest rates in 1981 were an impossibility according to the books).

And yet, both men eschewed fear mongering and sought to lift the people out of themselves in order to bring back hope and allow the natural optimism of the American people to come to the fore. Arguments rage to this day whether FDR’s massive spending helped or hurt the economy. And Reagan’s tax cuts began a spiral of deficits that, save for a brief period in the 1990s, fostered a climate of “let the kids pay for it” on Capitol Hill.

But few can argue that FDR and the Gipper didn’t succeed in changing the dynamics of the crisis they were facing by inspiring the people to believe in themselves again and that better times were ahead.

Obama does not want Americans to believe in themselves. He wants them to believe in him…”

Now let’s be realistic and grant President Obama some leeway in this matter. A leader uses every tool at his disposal in order to succeed in getting the public behind him. And fear mongering is one way - the dirty, easy way - to accomplish that goal. A much better way to is to inspire hope and optimism in the future, “lifting the people out of themselves” as I say in my column. But if Obama can’t find the words then he is left with trying to scare us into supporting him.

The problem is that if the stimulus doesn’t work - and there are many smarter than you or I who say it won’t in its present form - then the American people will feel betrayed. If catastrophe occurs after warning that the way to avoid it was to pass his stimulus bill, only the true Obamabots will stick with him because he will have lost everyone else. He has promised relief if the bill is passed and when it is not forthcoming, his credibility will take a hit from which it will never recover.

The risks for Obama are considerable. He and the Democrats will have no one else to blame if the package fails to boost the economy. Obama himself has said his first term can be judged on whether it succeeds, whether it creates or saves the 3 million to 4 million jobs he promises.

And if the economy fails to show marked signs of improvement — a possibility indeed — Republicans will have a megabillion-dollar “I told you so” in their pockets, just in time for the 2010 midterm elections and Obama’s own reelection bid in 2012.

Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said the fallout from a Democrat-only bill will be “squarely in the president and the Democratic leadership’s lap.”

The flip side of that risk belongs to Republicans. The economy may very well create 4 million new jobs in the next few years. It would create 3 million in the worst of times anyway. Obama has set the bar so low that if he succeeds (even if the unemployment rate continues to go up) the GOP is toast in 2010.

But the real problem remains the rank cynicism of Obama in carrying on with business as usual despite his promises to change things in Washington. His personnel problems, his refusal to even listen to Republicans who pointed out some $150 billion in pure pork in the stimulus bill, and his ceding responsibility for the crafting of the bill to Nancy Pelosi and David Obey - two of the most far left liberals in the House - all show a leader both unsure of himself and a betrayer of the public’s faith in him. Couple this with his exaggerated rhetoric and dire predictions regarding the bail out measure and you have a president whose biggest boosters are even starting to ask questions about his competency.

After a distinctly rocky start to his presidency, he has admitted he “screwed up” and is returning to one thing in his political career that he has perfected – campaigning. In Elkhart, Indiana, today and Fort Myers, Florida, tomorrow, Mr Obama will try to seize back control of the political agenda with question-and-answer sessions with voters in two of the swing states that gave him victory.

Already, however, he is struggling, and the product he is now selling is not himself but a near-trillion-dollar economic “stimulus” package loaded with pet Democratic spending projects that has awakened slumbering Republicans in Congress and is now supported by barely a third of Americans. In between the Indiana and Florida stops, he will return to the White House for a prime-time press conference in which he will appeal directly to citizens and seek to rekindle the magic of his campaign.

Which President Obama will turn up remains to be seen. Last week, he began as a wide-eyed bystander buffeted by events as he lost his key confidant, Tom Daschle, amid an uproar over $128,000 in unpaid taxes for a chauffeur and limousine. Mr Obama and his advisers believed the oversight did not matter because the over-arching virtue of the new White House could not be doubted. He was wrong and seemed out of touch in believing that ordinary people would not notice the contrast between the practice of politics as usual and his campaign slogans against it.

The White House is now in damage-control mode. After Robert Gibbs, Mr Obama’s spokesman, was lampooned by Jon Stewart on The Daily Show as a non-answering automaton in the mode of President George W Bush’s press secretaries, former campaign strategist David Axelrod was dispatched to television studios to make the stimulus case. However, this was tinkering around the edges.

As Jimmy Carter found out to his detriment, these early weeks and months in the White House set the tone for the entire term of office. Carter spun his wheels for 3 months, causing even the Washington Post to ask who was in charge. Carter first tried an energy package which got bogged down in committee. He then tried a little stimulus of his own but he allowed the process to get so out of control that he eventually scrubbed the whole plan. In short, nothing was done. Carter had wasted the first three months of his presidency and could never get the momentum back. He was basically judged a failed incompetent before the cherry blossoms had bloomed in the tidal basin.

Obama goes before the press tonight to try and save his stimulus and perhaps even his presidency. He may eventually get his bill. But it will almost certainly be a straight party line vote with one or two Republicans in the senate jumping ship. And then?

More bailouts as Treasury Secretary Geithner will be forced to go back to Congress this week and beg for more TARP money to save our banking system. And then it will be the automakers turn again in the spring, and the the states again next fall, and who knows what other industries who are too big to fail or who are generous with their donations to Democratic candidates will be able to milk the taxpayer in this crisis.

Will every bailout bill be a “catastrophe” if we don’t support it? How often can Obama go to the well and drink from the cup of fear and loathing before the people simply tune him out and identify as him as just another partisan politician?

Sooner than he could possibly dream.



Filed under: Bailout, Financial Crisis, Politics — Rick Moran @ 10:34 am

With all the brouhaha over the stimulus bill, a far more important plan is being formulated under most of the media’s radar by the Obama administration that will radically alter the banking system in the country while perhaps staving off a depression.

The first $350 billion of the TARP program has done absolutely nothing to improve the economy as banks have hoarded the cash rather than even slightly freeing up credit that would help get the economy moving again.

The problem is that all those mortgage backed securities and credit derivatives that grew out of the housing boom have lost so much value no one knows what - if anything - they are worth. So the Treasury Department has hit upon a risky, radical idea that would take those assets off the hands of banks and in one fell swoop, put their balance sheets in the black.

That is just one of the ideas that Mr. Geithner has come up with to deal with the potential catastrophe that is staring us in the face; bank failures in the thousands that would very likely pull the economy into the depths of a depression.

The risk, many economists say, is enormous.

 ’Bad Bank’: The prospects for the creation of a so-called “bad bank” have gone back and forth in recent days. A government-funded “bad bank” would buy toxic assets from bank balance sheets. But there are many hurdles.

 For example, how much would the government pay for those assets — pay too much, the taxpayer takes a hit; pay too little, and the banks do. Plus, many analysts believe that to be truly effective, a “bad bank” would need far more money than is available.

 However, the Wall Street Journal reported Saturday that Treasury may use private sector money for the bulk of the financing. And speaking on “Fox News Sunday”, Summers said Geithner believes he can bring “substantial private capital” to the plan.

The government would also have to purchase shares in the bank:

 Many believed that the bad bank model would have required far more resources than presently available under the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP.

 In order for the bad bank plan to work successfully, the government would not only need to price and buy the bad paper, a difficult task in itself, but it would have to make large purchases of common stock to make up for the markdowns of the toxic paper on bank balance sheets.

This seems to be the major hurdle for newly installed Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Senior Economic Adviser Larry Summers.

 Buying so much stock also could trigger a de facto nationalization of the banks.

There is also a plan to insure a bank’s assets:

Insuring assets: The Treasury Department has already done this for Citigroup and Bank of America. Here’s how the Citi arrangement — announced last fall - works, for example: Citi is on the hook for the first $29 billion in losses on the covered assets, which includes mostly loans backed by residential and commercial mortgages. Citi covers 10% of losses above that amount, with the government shouldering the rest.

In a bailout scheme announced last month, the United Kingdom used the same approach.

Such a plan helps ease the pain on banks, but will not force the banks to fully recognize the extent to which assets their holding have lost value — an important step in the recovery process.

Or, the Administration may simply use the $350 billion to bail out banks on a case by case basis:More bank injections: This idea isn’t dead yet. Banks still need capital, and TARP fund still has some cash. Treasury may make more direct investments, though they would surely come with more strings attached, such as a requirement that banks boost lending, for example.

How about some really bitter medicine for the patient? Some debt/equity swaps:

Debt/equity swaps: Geithner could also require that debt holders in banks needing assistance “swap” their stake for stock. Existing shareholders would be wiped out and current creditors would give up some of their debt claims in exchange for ownership of the restructured firm. In addition to being fairer, swapping debt for equity would reduce the amount of debt weighing on the economy.

Now for the scary part; many economists don’t believe that any of this will work, that somehow those toxic assets are going to have to be bought up and removed from the balance sheets of banks. The cost will be $3-4 trillion (some believe that it may be double that figure).

The point is, the banking crisis is far from over and may yet take us down unless something is done. One thing is for sure, that $350 billion in TARP money isn’t enough. Eventually, Geithner is going to have to come before Congress and present a bill for saving the banks.

At that point, we may have no choice but to bite the bullet and mortgage the future in order to save it.



Filed under: Politics, conservative reform — Rick Moran @ 3:04 pm

What conservatives have yet to do is confront the large but inescapable truth that movement conservatism is exhausted and quite possibly dead. And yet they should, because the death of movement politics can only be a boon to the right, since it has been clear for some time the movement is profoundly and defiantly un-conservative–in its ideas, arguments, strategies, and above all its vision.
(Stan Tanenhaus writing in The New Republic)

Second in a series. Part I is here.

Can you define “big government?” How about “small government?” And by “define” I don’t mean listing federal departments you wish to deep six. Nor do I mean coming up with a budget number for the feds that we can get our minds around.

I am talking about defining the relationship between a citizen and the federal government in a republic living now, in the 21st century, in an industrialized society of 300 million people and how those incontrovertible facts reflect on the basic principles of conservatism.

This should be easy for us conservatives, right? We’ve been pounding on the theme of reducing the size of government for 50 years or more so one would think we have a good idea what we’re talking about when we demand the government be “small.”

In fact, outside of railing against a lot of things the feds spend money on, most conservatives don’t have a clue what they mean when they demand the government shrink in size. In my debates with my good friend Ed Morrissey, it usually comes down to a question of federalism and how the feds have appropriated duties and responsibilities that the states would be better off handling. In other words, we should grow the size of state government rather than the national government. (Ed does not make that arguement specifically but it is a logical extension of his contention regarding federalism.). Ed is a believer - as are most conservatives - that the closer to home government decisions are made, the more control the individual citizen has over those decisions.

In the abstract, I find nothing wrong with this thinking. The nearly forgotten 9th and 10th Amendments to the Constitution make very plain that this was, in fact, the Founders intent; all powers not enumerated in the Constitution were reserved to the people and “the several states.”

Over the last century, the Supreme Court has changed all of that by vastly - incredibly in some cases -expanding the “enumerated powers” found in the Constitution. Hence, the very idea of federalism has been subsumed in order to find justification for federal regulation of business, social engineering such as school desegregation, and privacy rights such as those used to justify legalizing abortion among others. In truth, the federal government has not grown at the expense of state power but has grown because it became possible for it to become larger. Being something akin to a force of nature, the federal government expands simply because it is allowed to. Legally, politically, even culturally, there has developed a consensus that the national government should be as big as it needs to be in order to provide the services that Congress can dream up or the people demand.

Must that be the case? Can we simply do without a lot of services the federal government provides? Or can we slough off responsibility for the perfomance of those services to the states?

The latter is tempting, isn’t it? But in practice, would we want 50 different health insurance plans, 50 different water quality standards, or air pollution rules? How about some states banning consumer products for being unsafe while others allowed the same ones to be sold within their borders?

It would be the Articles of Confederation on steroids, a nightmare of confusion and dangerous to our health to boot. It would adversely affect commerce as well as making state governments more powerful. Being ruled by one tyrant a thousand miles from home is not better than being ruled by a thousand tyrants one mile from home. Power weilded by the state would still limit choices for those of us who value independence and freedom over dependency.

As much as conservatives clamor for shrinking the size of government drastically, it is simply not going to happen. No embracing of federalism or eliminating departments like education and energy, or convening another Grace Commission , or even electing a conservative majority will result in a return to a pre-Great Society nation.

Does this mean conservatives should all become liberals and embrace the welfare state, excesses and all?


Buckley had begun to give serious thought to Chambers’s equation: “how much to give in order not to give up the basic principles.” The reason was a rapid sequence of election campaigns–Goldwater’s for president in 1964, Buckley’s own for mayor of New York City in 1965, and Reagan’s election as governor of California in 1966. Each episode had reinforced a political home truth: The right had a chance of prevailing, but only if it attracted the broad base of voters who were non-ideological and, in some cases, not even attached to either major party. To attract these voters in the middle, the GOP had to acknowledge that most were as dependent on big government as Chambers’s Maryland neighbors had been. What was more, amid the upheavals of the ’60s citizens wanted government–specifically the federal government–to exert the authority Burke and Disraeli had claimed for it. It made no sense for conservatives to attack “statism” when it was institutions of “the State” that formed the bedrock of civil society. In 1967, when Reagan, soon after his election, was being accused of having sold out his anti-government principles–not least because he had submitted the highest budget in state history–Buckley wondered what exactly critics expected Reagan to do, “padlock the state treasury and give speeches on the Liberty amendment?”

In essence, Reagan did not govern in California and Washington as an ideological conservative. Reagan governed as conservatively as he could, as reality dictated. He recognized the world he lived in and governed accordingly. It angered some of the idealogues back in the day that Reagan compromised with the Democrats on most major issues. But Reagan’s pragmatism was born out of a belief that “half a loaf is better than none” and that the nation’s business was more important than ideological spats with the Democrats. He rarely compromised his principles but even there he was flexible enough to put the business of the country first.

Did these compromises make Reagan any less of a conservative? In fact, Reagan accomplished much for conservatism. He almost single handedly altered the debate in this country over social spending where taxpayers were allowed to ask whether one program was really necessary or whether another should get such a huge increase. The very conservative principle of prudence was introduced into the debate over spending for social programs -a unique and important achievement that is with us to this day.

Reagan governed as conservatively as the times allowed. The question that has been haunting me these last few years is how can an ideology that pushes the notion of “smaller government” and a repeal of the underpinnings of the welfare state actually succeed in those efforts, much less get elected? How can conservative ideology possibly be relevant when it refuses to acknowledge the reality of the times in which we live and set impossible goals like shrinking the size of a government from which the overwhelming majority of Americans demand services that conservatives would like to eliminate?

This is not the way back to majority status but rather a death sentence. It is my belief, that notions of government, big and small, are irrelvant to the question of conservative government. That is to ask, can conservatives govern conservatively within the parameters set by the real world problems associated with the welfare state? Can taxes and spending be cut, entitlements reformed, social security and medicare saved, business be watched while allowing them the freedom to thrive, and still look to the basic needs of the poor and the middle class while balancing the budget and providing for the national defense?

I believe it can be done although not to the extent that most movement conservatives would demand. But it doesn’t matter because until we can embrace the idea that we will never roll back the welfare state to pre-Great Society levels, never repeal the New Deal, never undo the progress that has been made in softening the rough edges of American society, we will continue to be a small, embittered minority, out of power and out of luck.

The way back is going to require a painful admission that we’ve been living in a dream world when it comes to believing that “small government” or dramatically reducing its scope was possible in a nation of this size, containing so many people with so many interests and needs. Rather, we should be looking for ways to apply conservative principles to the real world governance of such a hugely rich and diverse country. Not “big government,” not “small government,” but a solid and rational conservative government that would reflect - as much as possible - the notion that the government that governs least governs best and that wherever possible, the independence and freedom of the citizen should be respected and fostered. This is what separates us from liberals and I believe it the key to a conservative revival.

How that translates into reality, I have no idea. I have no road map or list of instructions I can give. But I agree with Burke who wrote “We must all obey the great law of change. It is the most powerful law of nature, and the means perhaps of its conservation.”

Tomorrow: conclusion


Filed under: Bailout, Financial Crisis, Government, History, Politics — Rick Moran @ 9:07 am

“Those who cannot remember the past, are condemned to repeat it,”
(Essayist, philosopher, novelist, and non-historian George Santayana)

One of the things I find fascinating about the debate over the stimulus bill is that proponents claim that they have learned the lessons of history both from FDR’s New Deal and the more recent Japanese “Lost Decade” in that while massive government spending didn’t work to bring those economies out of a serious tailspin, this stimulus bill will do the trick.

The reason? The sheer size of the monstrosity will act like a defibrillator and shock the economy back to life. Proponents advance the idea that neither FDR or the Japanese were bold enough in their spending on infrastructure to do any good. What is needed is truly gargantuan government outlays over a long period of time.

Paul Krugman has been advancing this theory as have those who are responsible for pushing the plan forward. Treasury Secretary Geithner:

In a nutshell, Japan’s experience suggests that infrastructure spending, while a blunt instrument, can help revive a developed economy, say many economists and one very important American official: Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner, who was a young financial attaché in Japan during the collapse and subsequent doldrums. One lesson Mr. Geithner has said he took away from that experience is that spending must come in quick, massive doses, and be continued until recovery takes firm root.

Moreover, it matters what gets built: Japan spent too much on increasingly wasteful roads and bridges, and not enough in areas like education and social services, which studies show deliver more bang for the buck than infrastructure spending.

“It is not enough just to hire workers to dig holes and then fill them in again,” said Toshihiro Ihori, an economics professor at the University of Tokyo. “One lesson from Japan is that public works get the best results when they create something useful for the future.”

There is $80 billion in funding for education over the next two years in the current stimulus bill But when you consider the current budget of the entire Department of Education is $59.2 billion, one begins to see the truly massive size of this “stimulus.”

This $80 billion will go to:

Education for the Disadvantaged
Impact Aid
School Improvement Programs
Innovation and Improvement
Special Education
Rehabilitation Services and Disability Research
Student Financial Assistance
Student Aid Administration
Higher Education
Institute of Education Sciences
School Modernization, Renovation, and Repair
Higher Education Modernization, Renovation, and Repair

Building new schools and rehabbing old ones is probably legitimate spending on infrastructure that will pay off immediately and long term. Student aid? With the credit crunch, another legitimate outlay.

Special education is underfunded nationwide but why include it in a “stimulus bill?” Because otherwise the amount being asked - $13 billion - would never make it out of committee much less survive as a separate entity. Hence, they tack it on to the stimulus and threaten “catastrophe” for the economy unless we pass it.

What about spending for higher education? If one dime goes to Harvard we should scream bloody murder. There’s a school with a multi-billion dollar endowment. If they want improvements in their campus or if they want to invite some performance artist who will smear feces all over himself and spout rancid poetry, fine. Let them do it on their own dime.

Ditto for most of the bigger schools out there who have rich and generous alumni. Something is wrong if these institutions get any money from the taxpayer when they are sitting on massive amounts of money in the form of endowments and building funds.

And as far as this stimulus funding “School improvement programs,” do we really want the guy who ran the Annenberg Schools Project in Chicago - a massive waste of $100 million in private funds that didn’t improve Chicago schools one iota - telling America how to improve their schools? And let’s not even bring up his Education Secretary, a former Superintendent of those same Chicago Schools. His stellar credentials include running a school system where barely half the kids graduated from high school and where reading comprehension skills were so bad that it was estimated 30% of high school graduates were functionally illiterate.

The point being, what kind of “lesson” did these jamokes learn from the Japanese and New Deal efforts to jumpstart the economy using government funds? Maybe we should ask the Japanese:

Most Japanese economists have tended to take a bleaker view of their nation’s track record, saying that Japan spent more than enough money, but wasted too much of it on roads to nowhere and other unneeded projects.

Dr. Ihori of the University of Tokyo did a survey of public works in the 1990s, concluding that the spending created almost no additional economic growth. Instead of spreading beneficial ripple effects across the economy, he found that the spending actually led to declines in business investment by driving out private investors. He also said job creation was too narrowly focused in the construction industry in rural areas to give much benefit to the overall economy.

He agreed with other critics that the 1990s stimulus failed because too much of it went to roads and bridges, overbuilding this already heavily developed nation. Critics also said decisions on how to spend the money were made behind closed doors by bureaucrats, politicians and the construction industry, and often reflected political considerations more than economic. Dr. Ihori said the United States appeared to be striking a better balance by investing in new energy and information-technology infrastructure as well as replacing aging infrastructure.

Japan’s experience also seems to argue for spending heavily to promote social development. A 1998 report by the Japan Institute for Local Government, a nonprofit policy research group, found that every 1 trillion yen, or about $11.2 billion, spent on social services like care for the elderly and monthly pension payments added 1.64 trillion yen in growth. Financing for schools and education delivered an even bigger boost of 1.74 trillion yen, the report found.

I can see spending money on some of these education projects, but $80 billion over two years? Sounds to me like an invitation to massive waste. But then, this payoff to the teachers unions (who love to tinker with new ways to make our children ignorant) isn’t necessarily meant to jumpstart the economy but will pay off in the long term. And as Rahm Emanuel has said, “Why waste a crisis?” Use fear mongering to scare people into supporting a bill that spends hundreds of billions in tax monies on programs that otherwise would either not get passed or not receive half the amount earmarked for them in this stimulus bill.

Another huge outlay in this bill is money to the states. This would be funneled through a variety of departments so it is hard to put a number on the total amount but it is well over $300 billion. A lot of this will be targeted monies to education and health care programs. Some of it will be of the “no strings attached” variety which has politicians like Mayor Daley of Chicago licking his chops. Along with money for extended unemployment benefits which is needed in this economy (Note to my rightie friends: There are no jobs out there at the moment - MacDonald’s isn’t even hiring), a case can be made to include a large portion of these funds in a stimulus bill to deal with the crisis.

Here’s the problem: If Mr. Keynes is in charge of our fiscal policy - and he clearly is - what does this mean for the future?

Beyond that, proponents of Keynesian-style stimulus spending in the United States say that Japan’s approach failed to accomplish more not because of waste but because it was never tried wholeheartedly. They argue that instead of making one big push to pump up the economy with economic shock therapy, Japan spread its spending out over several years, diluting the effects.

After years of heavy spending in the first half of the 1990s, economists say, Japan’s leaders grew concerned about growing budget deficits and cut back too soon, snuffing out the recovery in its infancy, much as Roosevelt did to the American economy in 1936. Growth that, by 1996, had reached 3 percent was suffocated by premature spending cuts and tax increases, they say. While spending remained high in the late 1990s, Japan never gave the economy another full-fledged push, these economists say.

They also say that the size of Japan’s apparently successful stimulus in the early 1990s suggests that the United States will need to spend far more than the current $820 billion to get results. Between 1991 and 1995, Japan spent some $2.1 trillion on public works, in an economy roughly half as large as that of the United States, according to the Cabinet Office. “Stimulus worked in Japan when it was tried,” said David Weinstein, a professor of Japanese economics at Columbia University. “Japan’s lesson is that, if anything, the current U.S. stimulus will not be enough.”

In other words, prepare yourself for Stimulus II and probably III, IV, and V. This is the US of A and by God, we don’t do anything half-assed.

It apparently doesn’t matter that this kind of spending didn’t work in the 1930’s or in Japan in the 1990’s. But we are going to plunge ahead anyway and in what can only be termed a radical departure from sanity, we are going to ignore Mr. Santayana - who after all wasn’t even an historian - and double or triple down holding 16 while the dealer has a Jack up. Even if we win, we lose because it ain’t our money we’re betting with. And if we lose, the bottom falls out and the US probably defaults.

Santayana should have stuck to poetry and philosophy.



Filed under: Ethics, Government, History, Politics, conservative reform — Rick Moran @ 12:50 pm

What conservatives have yet to do is confront the large but inescapable truth that movement conservatism is exhausted and quite possibly dead. And yet they should, because the death of movement politics can only be a boon to the right, since it has been clear for some time the movement is profoundly and defiantly un-conservative–in its ideas, arguments, strategies, and above all its vision.
(Stan Tanenhaus writing in The New Republic)

First in a series.

I hope I am forgiven by my regular readers for leaving behind arguments over stimulants, diuretics, laxatives, and other government remedies for what ails us while I return once again to the theme of making this site a “Blog of Self-Discovery” or, the “Writings of the Self-Absorbed Man” if you prefer. In truth, after more than 4 years of struggle, I am in many ways, more of a stranger in my minds eye than I was when I began this journey of self criticism; challenging everything I believe, forcing me to justify the underlying assumptions of my philosophy to my own satisfaction.

Although it should be the goal of any examined life to make such a quest a lifelong pursuit, it is a journey that is best begun when one is young, I think. At age 55, one has lived too much, experienced too much, seen too much, lived and loved and lost too much to retain the suppleness of mind that can process and absorb the terabytes of information we mainline every day. Can we recognize what all of this data is doing to us, how it is changing us, why it challenges our long and comfortably held assumptions as new insights are gleaned and new directions in thought are explored?

For those handful of you who have taken seriously my earnest but woefully inadequate attempts to put into words the “velocity of my thoughts” on the nature of man, of conservatism, and the threads of history and the evolution of man’s relationship to the state that seeks to find a complementary connection between them, please bear with me over the next few days as I attempt to explain the insights that have been granted to me recently. I hope by sharing them, some small part of the joy and satisfaction I received from the opening of new vistas, new horizons on this journey will help assuage your craving for acquiring knowledge for knowledge’s sake - learning for the simple happiness that comes from knowing.

I was pleased to discover that even at this point in my life, I could read something and have it reach out and slap me in the face with the power of the ideas contained therein. This essay by Sam Tanenhaus in The New Republic has, in one fell swoop, crystalized much of my thinking that has been taking shape over the life of this blog while connecting many of the unordered, incoherent threads of criticism through which I have vainly sought to explore my personal philosophy.

Also assisting in this process was Andrew Sullivan who has cataloged what appears to me to be a similar journey to my own on his site and in the pages of leading journals of opinion and news. I am well aware of the distaste most of the right has for Sullivan (Tanenhaus, who edits the New York Times Book Reivew, is no catch either for righties) and yet, when the filter of politics and ideology are removed, what you are left with are ideas and concepts - take them or leave them. There is much with which to disagree from both men, but rejecting their thoughts out of hand and in their totality smacks of a deliberate effort to remain ignorant - a tale too often told on the right in recent years. Not being open to new ideas and new ways of looking at the world has been our downfall both philosophically and electorally.

Tanenhaus has written what he calls “an intellectual autopsy of the movement” which dovetails with the title of his essay, “Conservatism is Dead.” What has died, Tanenhaus believes, is the post World War II strain of conservatism that grew into a “movement” in the 1950’s and ’60’s, reaching its apex, he believes, in the late 1970’s. He carefully separates this “Movement Conservatism” from the classical conservatism of Burke, Disraeli, and Matthew Arnold, seeing the movement as something of an antithesis to Burkean logic which eschewed ideology altogether in favor of a society that favored both “conservation and correction.”

The author takes us on a guided tour of the history (his version) of “movement conservatism” and where it’s failures to adhere to classical conservative thinking led to a gigantic contradiction - one I have explored in depth elsewhere - between the natural center of gravity of classical conservatism’s mandate to eschew the “totalizing nostrums” and ideological purity of revolutionary politics, and the rebellious revanchism of the Goldwater-Reagan “counterrevolutions” which sought, at bottom, to undo the New Deal and Great Society.

The story of postwar American conservatism is best understood as a continual replay of a single long-standing debate. On one side are those who have upheld the Burkean ideal of replenishing civil society by adjusting to changing conditions. On the other are those committed to a revanchist counterrevolution, the restoration of America’s pre-welfare state ancien regime. And, time and again, the counterrevolutionaries have won. The result is that modern American conservatism has dedicated itself not to fortifying and replenishing civil society but rather to weakening it through a politics of civil warfare.

One might legitimately ask what conditions led to this contradiction. It takes two sides to make a war and Tanenhaus doesn’t excuse the radical left of the 1960’s from contributing to the growth of this backlash:

As liberals unwittingly squeezed themselves into the stereotypes conservatives had invented, conservative intellectuals began to look like prophets for identifying a self-appointed “managerial elite” (Burnham’s term from 1941) that was leading a “liberal revolution” (Kendall’s, from 1963). The poor–believers in the American dream, content to struggle upward on their own–had become “a project” for technocrats intoxicated with nostalgie de la boue. In his book Maximum Feasible Misunderstanding, Moynihan–disillusioned with the programs he helped instate–ridiculed the pretensions of social scientists, “who love poor people [and] … get along fine with rich people” but “do not have much time for the people in between.” “In particular,” he wrote, “they would appear to have but little sympathy with the desire for order, and anxiety about change, that are commonly encountered among working-class and lower middle-class persons. The privileged children of the upper middle classes more and more devoted themselves, in the name of helping the oppressed, to outraging the people in between.” The absurdities of “social engineering” became sport for observers like Tom Wolfe, who satirized their excesses in Mau-mauing the Flak Catchers: “So the poverty professionals were always on the lookout for the bad-acting dudes who were the ‘real leaders,’ the ‘natural leaders,’ the ‘charismatic figures,’ in the ghetto jungle.”

This liberal overreach combined with the right’s new sophistication promised a new period in U.S. politics, one in which conservatives, fortified by Burkean principles, might emerge as the most articulate voices of “civil society,” separating out the strands of true reform, which drew on inherited values, from “liberal-left” attempts to make those values extinct. Perhaps the Great Society could be retooled, tamed into a legitimate extension of the New Deal. But, to accomplish this, the right would have to deal honestly with capitalism and its many ambiguities.

Dealing honestly with capitalism wasn’t in the cards for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was a fervent belief by the movement that entrepreneurs are gods and the “American system” was a self correcting mechanism where a level playing field for all economic actors was a a virtual given. “Bigger is better” was not necessarily a battle cry of the Movement but the dangers inherent to gigantic, international corporations to the very free markets that were enthusiastically espoused were largely ignored.

There have been harsh critiques of capitalism that have, of course, turned the tables in an equally exaggerated way and painted the businessman as a combination Beelzebub and Babbitt. How much of the Movement’s unquestioning support of capitalism was in response to the latter view espoused by many on the left to this day? Tanenhaus seems to acknowledge that the Movement’s failings were not born in a vacuum; that the whole idea of a “counterrevolution” is that there is something to counter in the first place.

So what happened? What sidetracked the movement from adopting Tanenhaus’s “Burkean principles” and becoming a partner with government in building not only a “just moral order” but a “civil society” as well?

One reason is that the most intellectually sophisticated founders of postwar conservatism were in many instances ex-Marxists, who moved from left to right but remained persuaded that they were living in revolutionary times and so retained their absolutist fervor. In place of the Marxist dialectic they formulated a Manichaean politics of good and evil, still with us today, and their strategy was to build a movement based on organizing cultural antagonisms. Many have observed that movement politics most clearly defines itself not by what it yearns to conserve but by what it longs to destroy–”statist” social programs; “socialized medicine”; “big labor”; “activist” Supreme Court justices, the “media elite”; “tenured radicals” on university faculties; “experts” in and out of government.

“A state without the means of some change is without the means of its conservation,” was a warning by Burke that accepting the reality of government was paramount to stability. Tanenhaus avers that the Movement ” placed an idea of the perfect society over and above the need to improve society as it really existed” which describes perfectly the Utopian moral universe of many on the right who believe only through God can America prosper and achieve the pinnacle of a perfect moral order - a world where gays would still be in the closet, abortions performed in back alleys or not at all, everyone would pull their own weight, and school children would be taught the Bible in public schools. Removing God from the equation was unthinkable because only through the Creator was true harmony possible.

It is a determinedly myopic view of modern industrialized society that has caused many, less ideological conservatives to revolt. This has led to the spectacle of the Movement imposing “litmus tests” and enforcing a stifling ideological purity, something Tanenhaus argues convincingly is very unconservative.

And it highlights perhaps the greatest problem with modern Movement conservatism: It’s lack of a coherent, positive agenda setting out what it supports that would improve a modern society. “Tax cuts, less regulation, and a strong national defense” are catch phrases and bear little on the realities of living in a 21st century industrialized democracy of 300 million people. Tanenhaus recognizes this dilemma for conservatives - that being against everything means that you can’t be for anything - and how this principle has led to the slow strangulation of the Movement over time. He tells the story of one of the lions of the old guard, Whittaker Chambers whose own intellectual journey from Communist to conservative was so consequential to 20th century thought:

But, if it’s clear what the right is against, what exactly has it been for? This question has haunted the movement from its inception in the 1950s, when its principal objective was to undo the New Deal and reinstate the laissez-faire Republicanism of the 1920s. This backward-looking program mystified one leading conservative. Whittaker Chambers, a repentant ex-communist, had passed through a brief counterrevolutionary phase but then, in his last years, had gravitated toward a genuinely classic conservatism. He distilled his thinking in a remarkable sequence of letters written from the self-imposed exile of his Maryland farm, and sent to a young admirer, William F. Buckley Jr. When their relationship began, Buckley–a self-described “radical conservative”–was assembling the group of thinkers and writers who would form the core of National Review, a journal conceived to contest the “liberal monopolists of ‘public opinion.’” Buckley was especially keen to recruit Chambers. But Chambers turned him down. He sympathized with the magazine’s opposition to increasingly centralized government, but, in practical terms, he believed challenging it was futile. It was evident that New Deal economics had become the basis for governing in postwar America, and the right had no plausible choice but to accept this fact–not because liberals were all-powerful (as some on the right believed) but rather because what the right called “statism” looked very much like a Burkean “correction.”

Chambers witnessed the popular demand for the New Deal firsthand. He raised milch cattle, and his neighbors were farmers. Most were archconservative, even reactionary. They had sent the segregationist Democrat Millard Tydings to the Senate, and then, when Tydings had opposed McCarthy’s Red-hunting investigations, they had voted him out of office. They were also sworn enemies of programs like FDR’s Agricultural Adjustment Act, which tried to offset the volatility of markets by controlling crop yields and fixing prices. Some had even been indicted for refusing to allow farm officials to inspect their crops. Nonetheless, Chambers observed, his typical neighbor happily accepted federal subsidies. In other words, the farmers wanted it both ways. They wanted the freedom to grow as much as they could, even though it was against their best interests. But they also expected the government to bail them out in difficult times. In sum, “the farmers are signing for a socialist agriculture with their feet.”

It is this schizophrenia that has marked the skein of conservatism from Taft to Bush; people actually want government to do for them, just not everyone else. And to make matters worse, they don’t want to pay for it - a singularly unhappy outgrowth of conservatives telling them on the one hand that government is the problem and on the other, showering them with tax cuts while the beneficiaries of this largess want social welfare programs to make their lives easier. No matter what legerdemain is performed, the numbers will never, ever add up to anything even approaching a zero balance. You can spout supply side nostrums from here to Christmas and not make what we spend match what we take in.

Deep down, I really think even Movement conservatives know this but are reluctant to abandon the contradiction because if they do, a chasm opens beneath their feet and the stark reality of being wrong about a fundamental tenet of Movement conservatism stares them in the face. Infallibility is another by-product of the Movement, as Tanenhaus points out, and the dreadful consequences of opening a crack in the dam might mean catastrophe if further self-examination revealed other weak points in their thinking.

Tomorrow: Small government, big government, or the right government?



Filed under: Bailout, Blogging, Financial Crisis, Government, Liberal Congress, Politics — Rick Moran @ 8:04 am

Previous to the elevation of Pope Obama I to the throne of St. George, ideological battles were marked by some pretty tough accusations being flung by the right against the hard left. Among the charges were that the hard left was actually praying for failure in Iraq as well as hoping for an economic downturn, believing that this would bring them electoral success.

I know this was a widespread meme on the right because I wrote similar stuff myself. Was it true? On some level, I’m sure it was. The almost gleeful portrayal of our struggles in Iraq - dwelling obsessively on whatever negative news was coming out of that bloody country at the expense of the small steps being taken in the right direction marked most hard left blogs as being uninterested in presenting a balanced and realistic view of the war to their readers but rather a partisan, hateful, picture that included George Bush as a horned devil, our servicemen as barbarians, and Republicans as bloodthirsty war mongers.

There was also a celebratory mood on hard left blogs whenever some piece of dire economic news hit the wires. The belief that the Republicans would be brought down only through failure and tragedy was widespread on the left and even some of the less radical liberal sites were not immune from advancing this theme.

Not that much has changed today: Except, the accusations are now coming from the other side:

It occurred to me while reading Politico’s interview with Dick Cheney, that the GOP’s plan to regain political viability in the short term rests on two disaster scenarios: the failure of the financial rescue efforts (stimulus, TARP, and other bailouts) to stave off complete economic collapse and a new mass casualty terrorist attack — both of which they are positioning themselves to blame Obama for.

Without one of those two, they have to figure it’s going to be a long time wandering in the political wilderness. Now think about the curdling effect, the blight on the soul that comes with rooting for such disasters to befall your country. The rot is now eating at the party’s very core.

The more things change…

As proof that there is so little original thinking on both sides that arguments over policy can be interchangeable with minimal substituting, here is Elana Schor writing at Josh Marshall’s TPMDC on charges made by the right that Obama will “cut” defense spending:

The short answer is no. But conservative columnist Tony Blankley still does his part today to flog an already tired line of faux-skepticism about the Obama administration’s alleged plans to “cut” defense spending in the upcoming budget.

Blankley claims that while total Pentagon spending for next year is in line for an 8% increase, the wild card of continuing Iraq and Afghanistan expenses raises the specter of a defense cut under Obama. It’s almost as if he hasn’t been keeping up with TPM alum Spencer Ackerman, who demolished this talking point as hogwash two days ago.

(Robert Kagan was the first right-leaning pundit out of the gate on this one.)

The tale is a simple one: Pentagon officials, aiming to start budget negotiations from a wildly advantageous point, submitted a spending estimate that wasn’t completely vetted by the departing Bush administration. The Obama folks knocked the number down to a more realistic number — that still reflects a higher military budget.

Sound familiar? Substitute the words “food stamps” for “military spending” and you have the exact same argument being made by Republicans when Democrats accuse them of trying to force the poor to live in the street and eat dog food. “Spending is going up in actual dollars. It’s only the projected increase that is being cut,” was the conservative defense of the meaningless reductions in projected outlays for social programs from Reagan through Bush 43.

It’s eerie, isn’t it? Now that the world has been turned upsisde down and “bottom rail is on the top,” there has been an almost seamless transition to both sides using the same arguments their opponents used in previous years over the same or similar issues. It’s even weirder that the towering irony of the whole thing has gone over the heads of both sides without even musing their hair.

Now, I can be as partisan as the next blogger when the situation calls for it so it’s not like I am washing my hands of responsibility in the matter. I can play the game as well or better than any lefty out there. But besides the bodaciously delicious irony of the whole thing, there is a troubling revelation that needs to be discussed; the paucity of ideas and lack of original thought by both sides in debate over the weighty issues of the day.

Political debate - or what passes for debate in this world of media talking points and one line zingers - accomplishes nothing today. It isn’t just the rancorous partisanship that prevents a serious discussion of the weighty problems that confront us. It is the failure of the political class to project their ideas outside of the extremely superficial and predictable framework of simple minded ideology that has us talking past one another instead of communicating back and forth. There is no effort to stand for a while in our opponent’s shoes or even examine an issue for points of commonality upon which any compromise is to be based.

At bottom, this is a failure of imagination. No one is asking either side to abandon principles or betray one’s party. But what real political debate accomplishes is that both sides must constantly re-examine and justify their positions, bringing fresh insight to bear that might lead to a closing of the gap between the two sides and form the beginnings of a political understanding.

As superficial and half hearted as it has appeared to me, President Obama should still be commended for reaching out to Republicans on his stimulus bill. I think it is not enough but is that his fault? He seems constrained by his own base who view any outreach effort as both a waste of time and dangerously naive. But what Obama appeared to be doing was trying to alter the framework of ideology that grips both parties and makes our politics so poisonously partisan. He opened the door - with the chain still on to be sure - not to give in, not to dictate, but to listen. It seems such a small thing but in the end, it forced him to rethink his own position on the bill and find additional justifications for it. It was a political act that served a higher purpose.

Did it do any good at all? Republicans have their own base to worry about and clearly, there will be little or no middle ground to be found on the stimulus bill. Nor should there be. It would take a great leader to abandon what has been crafted by the president’s allies in Congress and start over. What the Democrats are doing with the stimulus is actually proposing 4 or 5 bills that have been combined for reasons not having to do with legislative logic or stimulating job growth but because the president feels he can leverage his enormous popularity to pass items unrelated to jumpstarting the economy and because those unrelated items would have a hard time being made into law at a later date. The president is using this primal legislative thrust of the stimulus to make an end run around not only the GOP but the American people as well.

But the bill is out there and Obama is committed. And when a president invests as much in something as Obama has invested in the stimulus, he will do everything in his considerable power to pass it. It may end up being an exercise in partisanship but he can’t worry about that now. His credibility as a leader is on the line and any stumble so soon out of the box - as Carter’s stumbles on energy during his first months - could doom his presidency to irrelevancy.

So despite a manful effort to force the GOP to rethink their position on the stimulus, in the end Obama is trapped by history and his own needs as a leader. It will be interesting to see how the president reaches out to Republicans in the future. Will this experience have soured him on the whole idea of “post partisanship?” Or will he gamely make the effort on future issues like health care and card check?

That will depend on how much he really believes that he can change the tone and tenor of debate and get the two sides to listen to one another.



Filed under: Bailout, Blogging, Financial Crisis, Government, Media, Middle East, Politics — Rick Moran @ 7:57 am

The pages of punditdom are full today of breathless questions about the Obama White House. Is Obama an incompetent empty suit as the right was charging all those months? What happened to the candidate who so confidently talked of hope and change, igniting a grass roots political effort this nation has never seen? Is the Obama Administration already “in trouble” - whatever that means?

Rule Number 1 for success as a serious commentator on politics is never get too far ahead of the pack. In this respect, it appears that many of my fellow bloggers - especially on the right side of the sphere - are sipping some heavy duty koolade. A couple of missteps by the newbies at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and we’re already talking about an “Epic Fail” for the Obama presidency? Let’s hope not. If Obama “fails” it will mean this nation will go into an economic tailspin the likes of which haven’t been seen since Clark Gable was the bees knees and Al Jolsen could wear blackface and sing about his “Mammy.”

Actually, I am exaggerating a bit. But there is no doubt the subtext of many analyses is that Obama is not inspiring much confidence so far and that in some areas - personnel selection, Congressional relations, and foreign policy - he has shown a troubling lack of basic competence. In vetting his cabinet, controlling the debate on his stimulus bill, and moving to assure the rest of the world, Obama has stumbled, froze, and failed to engender confidence in his leadership overseas.

It must be pointed out that there is nothing new in this, that a new president and his people have to get the kinks out of their operation as they power up. Talk of “hitting the ground running” is all well and good but, as Theodore H. White pointed out in his brilliant Making of a President series, all Administrations eventually face a period as Obama and his people have faced the last 72 hours. That is, the “well oiled machine” of the campaign runs smack into the reality of governing a nation. New faces and personalities with new responsibilities take time to mesh. This is made especially obvious in their Congressional outreach operation and the seemingly incomprehensible surrender of the process on the stimulus bill to Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid. The Democrats loaded up what is essentially an infrastructure and jobs bill with so much outrageous pork having nothing whatsoever to do with stimulating anything (except perhaps the saliva glands of Democratic constituencies) that Republicans in the House were able to safely band together and reject it. Support for that monstrosity in its current incarnation is dropping like a stone, a fact not lost on Senate Republicans or Democrats.

The fact that so many items have already been dropped from the measure shows that the White House simply didn’t think this thing through very thoroughly. Allowing liberal Democrats to lard up the bill with goodies for teachers, unions, feminists, and other loyalists and then using the economic crisis to try and ram it down the throats of the country has been exposed and it doesn’t make the Administration look very good. The Senate could pull Obama’s chestnuts out of the fire and radically alter the package, reducing its cost substantially while doing a better job of targeting tax cuts and infrastructure improvements where it will do the most good. If that occurs, the Administration would do well not to fight it but rather embrace the alterations in the Senate and then try and convince Pelosi and House Democrats to go along with the changes.

At least the stimulus bill is salvageable. But what about the rash of personnel problems being experienced by the Obama White House? Two cabinet nominees have already withdrawn with another presidential appointee Nancy Killefer also walking the plank. That doesn’t include a tax dodging Treasury Secretary and an Attorney General who has proven adept at playing politics at the Justice Department when it suits the goals of the man in the Oval Office. (See Marc Rich and Puerto Rican terrorists.) There has also been a rash of appointments where the president has gone back on his promise not to hire lobbyists for his administration. Politico counts 12 former lobbyists so far which gives a whole new meaning to “Hope and Change” - as in, “I hope no one will notice what a hypocrite I am by hiring all these lobbyists who won’t change much of anything.”

Amazingly, the only appointee who has had relatively smooth sailing so far is - Hillary Clinton? But don’t worry. With Bill Clinton on the loose, something is bound to pop up to embarrass everyone. The smart money is on women trouble but I’d lay odds that it will be a money issue that explodes in Obama’s face.

Perhaps even more troubling than the withdrawals and the reasons for them is the fact that the Obama people apparently knew of both Geithner and Daschle’s tax problems before announcing their names. This wasn’t a matter of bad vetting, just a tone deaf approach to the process. How could they possibly think that no one would care that the Treasury and HHS Secretaries are tax scofflaws.

And while we’re on the subject of insensitivity, the Administration’s response to the suffering of people in the Midwest as a result of the winter storm may not have reached the Katrina level of “Heckuva job, Brownie” but has certainly not been Obama’s finest hour. His aide David Axelrod brags about how warm the Oval Office is while people are shivering in unheated homes? The president dines on exotic steak while some can’t get out of their driveways to go to the grocery store? He has chosen to remain virtually silent on the tragedy, quite rightly fearing comparisons with Katrina. Meanwhile, a week after the storm winds stopped, there are still tens of thousands without power in Kentucky alone. The National Guard has just now made it to Western Kentucky and officials are going door to door to hand out welfare checks.

My ironic post on the storm’s aftermath and the failure of FEMA to alleviate suffering in a timely manner scooted over the head of most lefties without even musing their hair. The feds are not to blame for this suffering, Mother Nature is. But I found the schadenfreude irresistable in that it was the left who chose to politicize natural disasters and Obama will almost certainly have his own “Katrina moment” eventually.

And Obama’s initial steps into the foreign policy arena have not been without a slip or two. His interview with Al-Arabiya TV - the first interview he granted following his inauguration - was chock full of moral equivalence and a curious detatchment about Iran’s ambitions, undercutting his own sanctions policy at the UN in the process.

But the reported rift between Obama and the military brass may prove most damaging in the long run. Obama cannot simply say “I won” to Petreaus and the Chiefs - especially since he promised to listen to the commanders before committing to a hard timetable for withdrawal from Iraq. Well, he apparently thinks it better that he keep a campaign promise to the anti-war crowd than follow the advice of his generals. This is his prerogative, of course. And it may end up being a tempest in a teapot. But the potential for trouble between Obama and the military when we have a war to win yet in Afghanistan does not bode well for the future.

But given all these pratfalls and miscalculations, Obama is still in good shape with the people who elected him. They are much more willing to stick with him than right wing pundits and mainstream media critics who seek to create a little news by trying to rain on the president’s honeymoon. He still has plenty of time to right the ship. And admitting mistakes is a good first step.

But if the president continues to stumble over the next few weeks, then he can expect the tenor of the criticism directed against him to change. America doesn’t have time to break in a new president. Fairly, or unfairly, Obama will not have the luxury of a long, leisurely shake down cruise for his Administration. He has already lost a significant amount of goodwill with his faux pas. Given the enormous challenges we face, it would behoove the new Administration to get its act together sooner rather than later.


As usual, Ed Morrissey and I are on something of the same wavelength this morning.



Filed under: The Rick Moran Show — Rick Moran @ 6:14 pm

You won’t want to miss tonight’s Rick Moran Show,, one of the most popular conservative talk shows on Blog Talk Radio.

Tonight, the insults will be flying and the laughter downright contagious as I welcome Jazz Shaw to the show. We’ll talk about a rather “taxing” week in politics and other good stuff. Also joining us the first half hour will be Fausta Wertz who will answer the question, “Just what are the Iranians up to in Nicaragua?”

The show will air from 7:00 - 8:00 PM Central time. You can access the live stream here. A podcast will be available for streaming or download shortly after the end of the broadcast.

Click on the stream below and join in on what one wag called a “Wayne’s World for adults.”

The Chat Room will open around 15 minutes before the show opens,

Also, if you’d like to call in and put your two cents in, you can dial (718) 664-9764.

Listen to The Rick Moran Show on internet talk radio


Filed under: "24" — Rick Moran @ 3:23 pm


There have been many memorably awful performances by actresses in film and TV. Everyone has their own list of women paid good money to appear in major motion pictures or top rated TV shows who couldn’t act their way out of a paper bag.

But there is something extra special crummy about the performance of Jeanane Garofalo as FBI Agent Janis Gold. I mean really now, are we going to have to put up with Garafolo’s character much longer? Can’t one of Dubaku’s thugs break into FBI headquarters and put us all out of our misery by kidnapping her or simply accidentally discharging his weapon in her general direction? Perhaps my views are colored both by her execreable politics as well as a face even a Pizza Hut owner couldn’t love. But every time she opens her mouth, I am pulled out of the show and realize that there are few actresses on planet earth who are so bad they actually make you wonder who they slept with to get the part. In Garofalo’s case, we should probably send a sympathy card to whoever that was.

As far as other actresses who should never have been let near a film camera, who could forget the all-time worst performance in movie history - any movie that featured Sharon Tate. Tate had a rack that could drop a moose but that didn’t mean she could emote. Valley of the Dolls - so campy a train wreck that it’s actually fun to watch - featured Miss Tate in various stages of undress that didn’t hide anything. Too bad they couldn’t have hid her inability to act from the world.

Then there was the statue-like performance of Sofia Coppola in Godfather Part III. No, not statuesque. For a woman to be described thusly, they should have some kind of shape. Unfortunately, Sofia’s rather lumpen body type didn’t cut it. Not even low cut dresses that managed successfully to take our attention away from her face (where her gigantic schnoz threatened to steal the scenes) could salvage what even Andy Garcia couldn’t accomplish; getting a wooden indian to talk back to you.

Finally, there was the performance by Jane Fonda in Barbarella. Not a bad actress later in her career, her turn as the futurustic sex goddess was so lifeless you almost wanted to call 911 and have them shock some animation into her performance. A truly classic bad movie in the most awful sense of the genre, the pre-Hanoi Fonda was in a couple of these sex clunkers that passed for soft porn back in the 1960’s. Then, of course, after her betrayal of our POW’s, Jane became a Hollywood star, worthy of Oscar consideration for her turn as a prostitute in Klute. Same Jane, same no-talent, except now she was taken seriously for her “courage” in “speaking out” against the Viet Nam war.

Don’t ya just love Hollywood?


Our FBI is two steps behind the CTU Alumni when they pick up Prime Minister Maboto’s trail by identifying the vehicle in which he is being transported. Meanwhile, Janis, with all the emotion of a three toed sloth, tells Larry that she may have discovered a fragment of the code used by the CIP module to penetrate the firewalls. Larry is dubious but Janis promises to “stay on it unless it gets cold.”

The CTU Alumni have tracked the Prime Minister to a rather ugly office building in downtown Washington. Anyone who has ever been to our nation’s capitol might not be aware of the fact that there has not been a decent looking building constructed in that town since Abe Lincoln’s time. The office structure where Maboto has been taken looks like either a boomerang sitting on edge or a child’s unordered toy box. No matter, the gang disembarks with Renee going in the front door while Jack, Tony, and Bill sneak up to the roof and wait by the door.

Renee works her womanly wiles on the guard at the desk to get past him and goes up stairs to open the door to the roof. Splitting up, Tony and Bill work their way down to the third floor where Dubaku’s suite of offices are located while Jack and Rene will attack from the floor above. Chloe directs Jack to lift some panels that are conveniently located on the floor directly above Dubaku’s nerve center. The crawl space looks like a tight fit and no one can explain how Jack and Renee can walk across the panels of a dropped ceiling without arousing the suspicions of Dubaku’s thugs directly beneath them.

At FBI headquarters, Janis is in competition with the computer to see which of them is the better actress. The computer certainly is more interesting to watch given all the flashing lights and stuff. All they need is a voice interface and they could do away with Janis’s character entirely. But Janis, running her code fragment through a search engine, discovers that very same fragment is being directed at a computer in Kidron, Ohio where a large insecticide plant is Dubaku’s target. She figures it out and gets on the horn with John, the plant manager.

John immediately gets in Janis’s good graces by calling her “honey.” Janis ignores the endearment (or Garofalo is such a horrid actress she couldn’t figure out how she was supposed to react) and asks the plant manager if anything is amiss. Oh, nothing out of the ordinary, John seems to say. Just that three of our ultra-important, can’t do without, safety valves are acting up. Nothing to worry about, happens all the time. Barely worth mentioning.

Janis announces in the most dramatic voice she can muster - which is about the same as you or I giving the time of day - that the plant is under a terrorist attack. Sure enough, they can’t shut down the tanks and the pressure begins to build. We are informed that unless the pressure can be relieved, there will be an “atmospheric release.”

Larry informs the White House and Kamin brings in the Homeland Security Secretary to brief the president. They interrupt her in the process of putting the finishing touches on a speech to the nation about the terrorist attack that caused the two planes to collide. The final line in the speech - “They deserve your prayers and outrage,” would never make it into any speech a real president would give. The press would criticize her for “fostering anger and hate.” All they can do is wring their hands and hope for the best.

Things are getting dicey at the plant and John decides to take matters into his own hands. He plans to release some of the pressure by opening an emergency valve but needs Janis’s help with the schematics. Making his way to the valve room, John mentions that Janis better have the plans up, calling her “honey” again. This elicits the first flicker of life from Garofalo who no doubt in real life would be offended by someone calling her that - even if they were in the midst of an heroic act. “Normally I don’t let people call me ‘honey’ but we can deal with that later,” she says. John speaks for all of us when he shoots back “Sounds like you need to lighten up.”

At Dubaku’s headquarters, the show makes up for its mild mannered beginning in one slam bang, in your face firefight. It starts when Bill and Tony take out the two terrorists manning the front desk. Those shots set off a melee in Dubaku’s nerve center with terrorists scrambling to get their guns and Dubaku ordering that the CIP device be disconnected. When things are at their most confused, Jack and Renee crash through the ceiling and the gun battle begins in earnest. In near darkness, the flash of the muzzles supplying most of the light, CTU Alumni does themselves proud in taking out a slew of terrorists. Nicholls, under orders from Dubaku to take Maboto to the car, meets an inglorious end when Renee puts a bullet in his back. She rescues the Mabotos’ and ushers them out the door.

Jack, whose trigger finger must have been real itchy after so little action, got a lot of target practice in - first with his pistol and then with an automatic rifle. He accounts for 5 of the 13 terrorists taken down in the expertly crafted and shot gun battle. The CIP device is destroyed in all the hub-bub never to bother the US again - right? Could Dr. Phlox have made a spare? He had plenty of time. Stay tuned.

Dubaku is escaping. In a storage room where Dr. Phlox has been held prisoner, Dubaku wires up the good doctor with explosives and skeddadles out the back door. Jack and the team find the room, throw open the door, only to be confronted by the harmless alien whose love of exotic animals and even more exotic cures on Enterprise made him the only character worth watching on that travesty of Star Trek entertainment. Jack sees a wire hanging from poor Phlox and screams “Cover!” while the bomb goes off and even an alien with medical knowledge far in advance that of earth would have a hard time putting all the Phlox pieces back together.

The FBI is still clueless even after the terror attack has been averted. They know nothing and Larry is demanding answers. Hillinger is the poor unfortunate who gets his head taken off and he tells Larry that just because the object of his dreams is probably dead doesn’t mean he should be yelling at him. Larry lies and says his real concern is the tens of thousands of Americans whose lives are at risk. He tells Hillinger to get Janis to find where the terrorists were transmitting that signal.

This Hillinger did and it elicited an actual response from Janis. Janis is supposed to be affected by the death of John who successfully opened the temporary valves to relieve pressure but heroically lost his life in the process (from what we can tell, she cares as much as if some varmint passed away on her porch). Hillinger tells her to find where the terrorists were sending the signal before mourning John. Well, it was either a rare piece of acting or she was in childbirth because she said through clenched teeth, “I know - I’m on it.” No baby so we assume it was an attempt to “act.”

At CTU East, Jack convinces Bill and the gang that they can no longer act alone in the matter, that they have to find Dubaku and they need more resources for that. Besides, someone has to tell the president of the United States her administration is more crooked than Ulysses S. Grant’s. Maboto calls President Taylor and cryptically tells her that he will be over in 10 minutes.

After hanging up, Taylor calls in her national security advisor Ethan Kamin and tells him about Maboto’s escape and that he will be coming to the White House. She tells him to bring them to the South Entrance. Kamin scurries off and you have to wonder, is Ethan in on the plot? I think it is evident we are going to find out next week. If Maboto and Bill have a hard time getting to the president or are attacked, we’ll know for sure.

And the First Gentleman? With Gedge dead and AWOL as far as the Secret Service knows, they send out an APB for him and Taylor. The other bent agente Vossler, hurries over to Sam’s apartment and catches Taylor just as he is about to escape. He calls Dubaku who tells him to bring the First Gentleman over to his place.

Dubaku lives in a non-descript apartment and has apparently made some friends while here in America. A woman who works at a diner he frequents and who he appears to be dating stops by to remind him of dinner at her place. Of course, that will give Jack the perfect opportunity to sneak in and rescue Taylor - but not for a few hours yet. Watch as Henry kind of disappears after next week as some plot threads and characters are known to do over the years.

As they are going out the door to meet the president, Tony announces he will not be going with them. Of course he can’t, he’s wanted by the cops. Jack agrees but only if Tony promises to turn himself in after this is all over. Yeah, right. Tony has no intention of doing that. He is going to rejoin the conspiracy - something he and Jack both see in each other’s eyes. Both know that there will be a confrontation later. And given the nature of the show, it can only end with Jack killing Tony to save the country.


A correction from last week. I forgot to include Sam in the body count.

I counted 18 terrorists getting it at Dubaku’s headquarters with Jack accounting for 5.

The plant manager gives up his life.

Phlox is sent into orbit.


SHOW: 302

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