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3/31/2009
THE RICK MORAN SHOW: THE NEW GM (GOVERNMENT MOTORS)

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

Tonight, I will welcome my good friends Ed Morrissey of Hot Air and Jen Rubin of Commentary Mag for a discussion of the new GM (Government Motors) as well as look at the question “Is Obama a socialist/radical/communist?”

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

By: Rick Moran at 2:48 pm | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (2)

BOND VS. BOURNE: CONSERVATIVE VALUES TRIUMPH

I got the idea for this post from a piece on Andrew Breitbart’s Big Hollywood entitled “Bond Forever, Bourne Forgotten” where John Scott Lewinski reports on Entertainment Weekly’s “All Time Coolest Heroes in Pop Culture.”

The list is a triumph for conservative values - with some notable exceptions. Placing Harry Potter at #4 was probably a sop to the success of the franchise but the “kids as heroes” theme is more suited to Saturday morning TV than iconic film making. True, Harry fights evil but the last couple of films he has demonstrated a debilitating introspection bordering on narcissism where he wonders whether he is, in fact, as evil as the dark lord who wants to kill him. As Potter reaches adolescence, he is cursed with the doubts and confusion that roil the psyche of most teenager’s and cause all kinds of trouble including bad decision making and an attraction to “the forbidden.” While this makes for excellent filmaking (the movies are an example of pop culture at its best), I question whether Potter should be included on such a heroic list.

Heroes do not question their motivations. By definition, moral clarity is is at the center of their heroic nature and is why the life lessons their deeds impart are so important. There are no tragic heroes in EW’s list which is probably as it should be. Hollywood’s Dream Machine has had our heroes living happily ever after for 100 years and any break with that tradition has been usually met with audience resistance.There are exceptions, of course, but few producers wish to back a project where a nearly pure hero meets their end.

There a few others on the list that should raise eyebrows including Nancy Drew (#17), Bufffy the Vampire Slayer from the TV series (#8), Roxy Brown, Pam Greir’s Blaxploitation film character (#13) and Sydney Bristow from Alias (#20). Not coincidentally, they are all women which, I believe, cheapens Ellen Ripley (Alien) high ranking (#5). Out of that bunch, I might have put Greir’s character in the bottom 5 and tossed the rest. It appears that an ubiquitous form of political correctness infected this list to some degree but not so much as to totally delegitimize it.

Others on the list are mis-ranked in my opinion. Jack Bauer at #16? Superman (Christopher Reeves) at a lofty #3? Christian Bale’s Batman at #18? And perhaps the most egregious mis-ranking of all - Gary Cooper’s Will Kane from High Noon at a lowly #14. By contrast, aside from the aforementioned Superman at a much too high #3, there is Han Solo at #7, Mad Max at #11 and Captain Kirk at #12. I would have crowded all of those selections somewhere near the bottom with the exception of Solo who I would place somewhere between 10-15.

Of course, it’s all in fun and we shouldn’t get too exercised over a few additions made for politically correct reasons or a few mis-rankings due, no doubt, to the personal preferences of EW editors.A few months ago I took a stab at a “heroes list” by developing my “10 Favorite Mythic Heroes of all Time.” The list was almost entirely made up of literary and legendary heroes with a couple of exceptions including John Wayne who appears nowhere on the EW list and featured the pulp fiction icon, Edgar Rice Burrough’s John Carter of Mars as my #1 mythic hero.

I didn’t consciously seek out mythic heroes who reflected my conservative values but my choices could hardly have been otherwise. Running down the EW list, I was amazed to find that to one degree or another, most of the icons on that list held to the best of conservative values to see them through their ordeals. Aside from having no trouble identifying which side they should be on in the struggle of good versus evil, most of the heroes on that list demonstrated core beliefs that are usually ascribed to conservatism.

Perhaps the most obvious trait in most of these heroes is their desire to bring order to chaos by battling the agents of evil. A related theme is their desire to preserve traditional society (or the status quo) as recognizable evil seeks to alter society (or community) for the worse. It bears mentioning here that conservatives are not against change as long as it is firmly rooted in values and traditions of the past. The change being sought by most of these heroe’s antagonists would be achieved after tearing down tradition and fomenting an alien way of life that would be demonstrably inferior to what it was replacing.

The “lone hero” motif is also prevalent among the chosen. This has been a staple of Hollywood for as long as the film industry has existed and hearkens to an American past where icons like Daniel Boone, Davey Crockett, Kit Carson, and the lone Mountain Man battled Mother Nature and native Americans in order to bring white civilization and justice to the frontier. One can argue how heroic in real life those men truly were but their mythic status, sealed by eastern writers in the cheap dime novels of the time (the “Hollywood” of the 19th century) who fictionalized their exploits to a public eager for American heroes, gave us larger than life figures to look up to and admire.

This kind of rugged individualism - in many cases on the list, man against “the system” or a pitiless bureaucracy - is perhaps the most celebrated conservative trait in American history. So it is not surprising that so many heroes in the EW rankings would be of that mold.

Our heroes on the list also celebrate a belief that human nature is a constant and that a just moral order is necessary for a society to survive. Evil exists because unless his passions are governed by enduring moral precepts, man gives into the temptation to try and dominate his fellows. This is what historian Page Smith referred to as a “Classical Christian Consciousness” that has been at the heart of conservatism since the founding of the republic. John McClane may be a foul mouthed lout, but his fight with terrorists is as much a battle against nihilism - a concept alien to his strong identity as a New York City cop - as it is to save his wife. Jack Bauer may be a thuggish brute but his sense of duty is eternally connected to his belief that society must be protected from the Visigoths that seek to sack and burn America.

This is not to say there are no heroic liberals in pop culture who probably should have been on that list. I would have included Neo from the Matrix franchise whose selflessness and desire to sacrifice himself for the greater good represents the best values that a classically liberal hero should aspire. Another liberal icon not on the list would be Jason Bourne (actually a totally made up character having little in common with the literary figure created by Robert Ludlum). But Bourne exhibits a brave and compelling sense of self sacrifice and personal morality even if he is wildly conflicted about the moral ambiguity of being an assassin.

And that brings me to the #1 hero on the EW list. James Bond is the anti-Bourne - at least as far as how the two characters have been transferred to celluloid. In his Big Hollywood piece, Lewinsky makes some salient points about the two heroes:

Damon or Greengrass seem obsessed with attacking the James Bond films and the character himself every chance they get. Mixing up a bitter soup of professional envy at Bond’s legacy and success, personal insecurity at producing movies beholden to Bond and (of course) self-righteous political arrogance, both artists froth at every opportunity to brand Ian Fleming’s creation a soulless killer. Ignoring Bond’s efforts to battle terrorism and global crime, they stamp him a militarist imperialist misogynist.

That’s a lot of “ist”s to heap on a fictional character, and the Damon/Greengrass vitriol festival seems unwilling to turn the same critical eye toward their own non-corporeal screen creation. While Robert Ludlum’s character is an impressive and skilled killing machine, the movie Bourne is gloomy, bitter, self-absorbed and motivated only by personal revenge and the desire to be left alone (a trait of questionable heroic value).

But Bourne fights predominantly middle-aged white men in suits who are part of the military and intelligence establishments. Combine that with the character’s inherent narcissism, and he’s the perfect screen hero for the hard left.

But EW left him out of their Top 20 — a decision that could indicate Bourne is already fading into also-ran spy status as Daniel Craig and the Bond franchise flourish

Ian Fleming and Robert Ludlum crafted the personaes of their two heroes in very different times. Ludlum especially would have been horrifically disappointed in the way Hollywood brought his brooding, conflicted, and yet gentle and compassionate David Webb/Jason Bourne to the screen.

The most egregious sin was making Bourne a real assassin and not the CIA cutout who was created to smoke out the world’s #1 terrorist - Carlos the Jackal. Ludlum, an actor and producer, had little or no knowledge of real CIA operations which is why his villains always worked for rogue elements in the government and intelligence services usually manipulated by some faceless corporation. But the cutout Bourne (who never assassinated anyone, only taking credit for the killings by others through a complex gaming of the terrorist underworld), battled inner demons caused by his amnesia more than any regret at the lives he was forced to take when he went on the run with his beloved Marie. It was she (who he ended up marrying and not leaving at the bottom of some river in India) who never stopped believing that at bottom, he was a good man and not a cold killer. (See the miniseries The Bourne Identity from 1988 which is more faithful to the literary Bourne in many respects but which suffers by featuring the rather tepid performance of Richard Chamberlain in the title role.)

By contrast, the last two actors to play James Bond have nearly gotten the character right (and the early Sean Connery efforts also reflected an identity closer to Fleming’s vision than the clowns who played him subsequently). Both Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig have a certain coldness about them that Fleming would have accepted. Brosnan was a little more playful than the literary Bond but had a much more pronounced sense of fatalism than any other actor who has portrayed the icon. Craig, on the other hand, obviously read and absorbed the literary Bond better than all of them; The sense of danger when he enters the room (that was an aphrodisiac to women), the smoldering violence that exists just below the surface, and a Jack Bauer-like sense of duty all combine to make Craig’s portrayal ring truer than other Bond portrayals on screen.

But the movie icons Bourne and Bond also reflect differences in the cultural touchstones each uses to exhibit their heroic qualities. Early incarnations of the screen bond fought the criminal enterprise SPECTRE which exceeded even the KGB in evil intent. Only later did Bond join the cold war and battle communists which is not inherently a conservative motif but given the times, certainly represented the thinking of most conservatives as opposed to most liberals. Bond was battling the evil of communism and, like Jack Bauer, had a clear moral mandate to kill while fighting that war.

Bourne, on the other hand, kills solely in self defense and not for any greater good - unless you believe exposing CIA operations a “greater good” as most on the left clearly do. There is also no moral certitude in what he does unless you consider his personal desire for revenge against those who “turned him into an assassin” after he had volunteered to be one a moral justification for going after Treadstone and Blackbriar. Bourne becomes the epitome of liberal angst and uncertainty by first, wanting to apologize to the families of his victims and on top of that, refusing to take personal responsibility for his own life choices in volunteering to “save American lives” by becoming a killer. It’s not his fault he’s an assassin. It’s Treadstone’s. And while this loopy logic might sit well with many on the left, it weakens his moral arguments to take down the rogue operations while negating any claim Bourne might have to the kind of moral superiority over his enemies that Bond clearly demonstrates.

Bond does not lose sleep over killing his targets although his internal conflicts are paralyzing at times. I think that Judi Dench’s “M” is the perfect foil for Craig’s Bond in that she appears to program Bond to carry out his missions by expertly pushing his psychological buttons. In the end, Bond performs and succeeds due to his own innate abilities and trust that his cause is just. It is anachronistic in these times but that’s what makes him so effective. Inevitably, his belief in himself is his greatest weapon.

Admittedly, Bond is #1 more because of enduring popularity of the films and legendary status of the character, not because his actions are animated by conservative principles. But for all the complaining we conservatives do about Hollywood not making movies with conservative themes, the “coolest heroes” on the Entertainment Weekly’s list remind us that such is not always the case.

By: Rick Moran at 9:01 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (7)

3/30/2009
LIBERAL AUTHORITARIANISM AND EARTH HOUR

Got up this morning and shoveled 4 inches of Global Warming off my driveway.

I updated the old weather joke because it actually did snow 4 inches last night — a “Midwest Express” that roared through the plains bringing a springtime blast of winter’s dying breath. We are likely to have a couple more of these little surprises before we can officially celebrate the advent of the warming season. It better get here quick. Opening Day is a week from Tuesday.

I also altered the cliché above in honor of “Earth Hour” - one of those earnest, silly liberal attempts at “raising the consciousness” of people about one cause or another. Who can forget such planet altering events as “Hands Across America” or “Live Aid” concerts, or the “Let’s Give More Money to Africa so the Kleptocrats can fatten their Swiss Bank Accounts” concert? The total impact on public policy and probably on people’s “consciousness” was about the same as watching an episode of “Dancing with the Stars” — without the advantage of seeing scantily clad women twirling and dipping like Whirling Dervishes.

The attempt to raise the profile of Global Warming as an issue was apparently a success — at least among the left. I asked an elderly neighbor whether he was going to participate in Earth Hour by shutting off his lights for 60 minutes. When he discovered that the event was to take place at 8:30 local time around the globe he just shrugged his shoulders and said, “Betty and I are already in bed by then. Maybe I should turn off the TV?”

I assured him that the target of this protest were electric lights and not essential stuff like TV’s. He thought perhaps he would turn off the nightlight in the bathroom but then he wondered if the Earth Hour folks would cover his medical costs if his wife stumbled and fell in the dark. I didn’t have an answer for him and just let it drop.

Of course, Global Warming deniers celebrated Earth Hour a little differently and probably had more fun with their participation given the circumstances. Many on the opposite side of AGW debate decided to turn every single light in their houses on for that hour. The response was declared to be “stupid” by leading lights of the left.

“Stupid” as opposed to what? Believing that it makes one iota of difference to anyone, anywhere, anytime that turning off your lights for an hour does anything except make the participant feel a false sense of moral superiority not to mention an obnoxious piety about an issue that, despite claims to the contrary, is still open for scientific debate?

Pardon me but the very idea that Earth Hour will show anybody anything, prove anything to anybody, raise the consciousness of anyone who doesn’t already have their consciousness raised on the issue, change any minds, alter the science, frighten politicians, or “help save the planet” is idiotic and bespeaks a frightening ignorance that is more dangerous than global warming itself.

I have news for my buddies on the left; Earth Hour was “stupid” - an insult to common sense, a slap in the face to reason and logic, and a as far from “reality” as the “reality based community” has ever strayed. It was a pointless waste of time and effort and calling your opponent’s counter-protest” “stupid” was more revealing of your inner demons on this issue than you realize.

Of course, all protests are “stupid” unless liberals start them. They are the arbiters of what is worthy of protest and what isn’t. They are the judges as to whether a protest is legitimate or whether it is “stupid.” Hence, all protests not started by liberals are, by definition, illicit by nature. In fact, by trying to delegitimize protests not given the liberal seal of approval, and dismissing them as “stupid,” the left demonstrates its love of authoritarian tactics in dealing with its opponents.

The AGW deniers “protest” was actually a clever way to mock the event — something that flew so far over the heads of Earth Day supporters that it didn’t even muss their hair on the way by. And there was plenty to point a finger at and laugh. First and foremost, the schoolboy earnestness with which these events are planned and executed, accompanied as they are by grandiose claims of importance and significance. Is it stupidity or hubris that makes the left think that ordinary people care one whit what they think is important? Yes all sorts of government buildings and landmarks as well as “socially conscious” corporations dimmed their lights for Earth Hour but how many individual citizens in various countries did the same? Grandiose claims of a billion people participating cannot possibly be proved — which is why AGW advocates are using that number. It might not even be close to the truth but it sure sounds impressive, doesn’t it?

Using their logic, I can claim that 100 million Americans participated in the counter-protest mocking Earth Hour and I would have the exact same legitimacy in making that assumption as they have in saying that a billion people dimmed their lights at 8:30 on Saturday night. The only difference is I’m not an AGW proponent which means my estimate is automatically “illegitimate.”

Being humorless twits that many in the AGW movement have shown themselves to be, the concepts of irony and sarcasm are as alien to them as if they originated on the moon. Hence, the idea of turning one’s lights on instead of off makes the counter-protestors dangerous and not simply trying to make an attempt at humor — a somewhat lame attempt I’ll admit but a better response to global warming than the United Nations is set to announce.

It seems the UN has got it in its head that it can run the economies of the entire planet. The same folks who ran the Oil For Food program for Saddam and ended up stealing more money than in any other caper in human history are proposing to “reorder” the economies of the world and save us all from rising temperatures.

This 16 page note that will be distributed at the climate change conference in Bonn next week and will form the basis for action when the “Copenhagen Accords” replace the Kyoto treaty in 2012 is the most draconian, sovereignty-destroying, illiberal plan ever devised by the UN. Every nightmare the right has ever had about the UN will come to pass if even part of this plan is adopted.

Now, it is not likely much of this plan will actually be adopted. The idea of the UN dictating to the United States, or any other industrial democracy, which economic policies they are to follow, from which new power plants they will permit to taking the power to impose tariffs away from our Congress, is ludicrous.

But it is instructive as to what the AGW crowd thinks they can get away with in the future. The plan calls for a reduction by the US of 20-40% of its emissions by 2020 and 90% by 2050 — an impossible goal that would destroy our economy. That result is secondary to the idea that the United Nations would have the power to regulate our energy consumption, our energy industries, and all industries that produce anything by burning fossil fuels.

As I said, a mad plan that has no chance of being ratified by the Senate — today. What the future will bring is anyone’s guess. A few more years of hysteria over AGW and it is foreseeable that people will be willing to give up anything in order that the United Nations save them. And the longer this economic crisis continues, the more likely people will be willing to give up their sovereignty. Like President Obama relying on the crisis to pass his left wing agenda items that have nothing to do with economic recovery but everything to do with “reordering” America, the world body will seek to use a crisis that they themselves manufacture in order to grab control of the world’s economy. And they will be cheered on by the very people who believe any protest not deemed by them as legitimate is by definition, invalid.

This streak of leftist authoritarianism manifests itself most noticeably in the debate over AGW. Stifling debate by threatening to try as criminals people who disagree with them, declaring an end to the scientific method by saying that the debate about AGW is “over,” spreading lies about skeptics by positing the notion that they are all being paid by oil and coal companies, attempting to ruin the careers of scientists who disagree with them, and seeking to censor scientific studies that challenge AGW orthodoxy — all point to a desire by AGW advocates to control minds by not allowing any dissent.

The fact that these tactics are generally supported by liberals is indicative of their own doubts about the efficacy of climate change and their desire to close their own minds to any information that would cause them to doubt, or otherwise alter their perception about the debate over AGW. This makes leftists not only authoritarians but stupid ones at that — a very dangerous combination that the United Nations appears to be counting on in order to make their plan a reality.

Personally, I am agnostic on the issue. Free people deciding freely to reduce CO2 levels while the jury is still out on climate change is fine with me. We should rely on the scientific method, one of the crowning glories of the western world: observation, hypothesis, predictions, experimentation.

To date, the authoritarian left has prevented this from dominating the global warming discussion. Perhaps it is due to so many of their observations proving to be wrong, or their hypotheses not panning out, or their experiments blowing up in their faces, or their predictions not coming true.

In that case, it is understandable why the left has taken to doing everything in their power to stifle free speech and debate over global warming.

 This article originally appears in The American Thinker

By: Rick Moran at 4:09 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (16)

3/28/2009
OBAMA’S AFPAK PLAN JUST ABOUT RIGHT

I am not a military expert. But those that are seem generally pleased with President Obama’s new Afghanistan/Pakistan strategy.

An exception to that is Michael Yon:

The President’s words were disappointing. He talked about our goal to reach a force level of 134,000 Afghan soldiers and 82,000 police by 2011. This is not even in the neighborhood of being enough. Further, the increase of 21,000 U.S. troops is likely just a bucket of water on the growing bonfire. One can only expect that sometime in 2010, the President will again be forced to announce another increase in U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

If there were not people like Gates and Petraeus up there, my gut would say to pull out. It is only my faith in the military, and what I saw them accomplish against heavy odds in Iraq, that gives me hope.

I would add to Petreaus and Gates the name of Richard Holbrooke. This is one tough dude who also has the courage and ability to think outside the box. Here he talks about corruption and the huge challenge facing both the US and the Karzai government in dealing with the problem:

I would just point you to the fact that no American chief executive has spoken about corruption this way ever before in open. Isn’t that a fair statement, Bruce? And on the way out, a former Assistant Secretary of State, who many of you know, but I better not give his name, since he isn’t…said to me, I’ve been waiting six years to hear a speech like that, and the emphasis on corruption is essential. You’ve all been reporting it for years. We view it as a cancer eating away at the country and it has to be dealt with. And obviously we’re not going to lay out how we’re going to deal with it. To some extent, we don’t know yet. There’s so much dispute about it. Senators have talked about it, including senators who are now President, Vice President and Secretary of State. And they bring what they said as senators to this issue.

And speaking for myself, I’ve written about it a lot. I don’t take back anything I ever wrote as a private citizen. Now we’ve been offered the extraordinary challenge of trying to deal with this problem. And we’re here to say, it is at the highest levels. Why? This isn’t baksheesh. We’ve got to make a distinction between ordinary problems that happen in every society. This is massive efforts that undermine the government. President Karzai himself has said this, and we need to work on this. It’s a huge recruiting draw—excuse me, huge recruiting opportunity for the Taliban. It’s one of their major things they exploit. But I can’t lay out to you how exactly we’re going to do this. We’re just starting out. And by the way, we’re in the middle of an election campaign in Afghanistan, which complicates everything enormously.

Holbrooke has shown in the past a unique ability among diplomats; to speak the brutal truth when necessary. If anyone can get Karzai to start dealing with corruption, it’s Richard Holbrooke.

And that goes double for speaking truth to power in Pakistan where it appears we are finally going to have a policy that directly and closely links what is happening in Islamabad with our military efforts in Afghanistan. I understand the Bush Administration’s reluctance to take this step for the last few years. Pakistani politics is a minefield even in normal times and Bush depended heavily on former President Musharraf to keep the factions from causing the country to descend into the kind of chaos we see now. But in the end, it was a shortsighted policy because Musharraf couldn’t hang on forever. Eventually, he was forced by blunders of his own making to make concessions on political parties and elections. That pretty much sealed his fate.

But what is going on there now is more akin to a circular firing squad with us smack dab in the middle. There is no nation with a more anti-American population in the world than Pakistan but at the same time, there are few governments in the world that need American assistance more. This has caused something of a schizophrenic response by Islamabad to our non-authorized Predator attacks in the NWFP where the writ of Pakistani law doesn’t run anyway. They condemn them but there is some evidence that at least a small faction in the Pakistani intelligence service, the ISI, is helping us with intelligence and targeting al-Qaeda. Of course, at the same time, there appears to be another ISI faction assisting the Taliban in their incursions into Afghanistan - something that has been going on for years.

Clearly, Holbrooke has his work cut out for him. One of his first tasks will be to answer the question “Who’s on our side?” The faction-ridden government of President Zardari is having trouble enough staying together without pulling at that scab too hard. Pakistan has their own fish to fry in Afghanistan, seeing that country as within their own sphere of influence. Their desire to assist us is limited by that fact as well as the recognition that any overt cooperation on their part will be met with violent opposition in the streets.

We can encourage Islamabad’s efforts to fight al-Qaeda but we must recognize the government’s decision to negotiate with tribal leaders that are friendly to the Taliban is an internal matter and probably not subject to any entreaties on our part for them to desist. At the same time, the Obama Administration’s decision to continue the Predator attacks begun under Bush (perhaps soon to be augmented by incursions into Pakistan by Special Forces) without seeking the permission of Islamabad is the right one for both countries.

Meanwhile, the strongest statement yet from President Obama laid down clear goals for the Afpak theater:

“I want the American people to understand that we have a clear and focused goal: to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al-Qaida in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future,” Obama said. “That’s the goal that must be achieved. That is a cause that could not be more just.”

This is a very tall order and I can see where Michael Yon doesn’t think there is enough muscle behind the tough rhetoric. But what the president did offer was a multi-pronged strategy that augments what President Bush was doing while changing the emphasis slightly to placing more urgency on training the Afghan military and increasing civilian reconstruction teams:

The president, who declared last weekend an “exit strategy” was needed for Afghanistan, never used those words in announcing his plans on Friday. His strategy is built on an ambitious goal of boosting the Afghan army from 80,000 to 134,000 troops by 2011 — and greatly increasing training by U.S. troops accompanying them — so the Afghan military can defeat Taliban insurgents and take control of the war.

That, he said, is “how we will ultimately be able to bring our troops home.”

There is no timetable for withdrawal, and the White House said it had no estimate yet on how many billions of dollars its plan will cost.

The essence of Obama’s strategy is to set clear goals for a war gone awry, to get the American people behind them, to provide more resources and to make a better case for international support. He is heading next week to a NATO meeting in France and Germany, where he expects allies to pledge more help of their own.

And his words that bound Afghanistan and Pakistan together showed a marked departure from the past:

He tied Afghanistan and Pakistan together as one conflict, pledging regular three-way diplomacy with both countries and intensive outreach to the world for help in the region. He pledged to send in 4,000 forces to train the Afghan army and police force. He is sending in hundreds of U.S. civilians — agricultural specialists, educators and engineers — to help a poor, broken country try to build itself up from the provincial level.

The president promised that the U.S. will hold itself and others accountable by using benchmarks, although those measures are just starting to be shaped.

And showing the frustration of many in American government, Obama spoke bluntly about the leadership of the government it is trying to help.

He said Pakistan must no longer expect a “blank check” for its U.S. aid and must be willing to take on extremists within its borders. He suggested that the U.S. would strike terrorist targets in Pakistan if the country did not do so itself, saying he will insist that action be taken “one way or another.”

On Afghanistan, he said the U.S. would not “turn a blind eye to the corruption that causes Afghans to lose faith in the own leaders.”

Can it work? I would say our chances of seeing more success than failure in Afghanistan went up considerably with this plan. I am anxious to see these “benchmarks” the Administration will use to measure success but I imagine they will be modest and fully achievable. But the key is the president. I am very happy to see him using his rhetorical gifts to tell the American people how important this conflict is to our security (”For the American people, this border region has become the most dangerous place in the world.”) and that he appears to have the best people in government to work on the problem.

Combine that with the continued superior performance of our combat troops and I think we have a recipe for at least a modest success in Afghanistan that would drive the Taliban into the hills and make their incursions from Pakistan more difficult and less frequent. Much depends on what progress we can make with the Pakistani government, an admittedly difficult proposition. But I have some faith that Holbrooke can accomplish his mission and get the Pakistanis to engage those extremists who won’t talk to them (or who go back on their agreements) while continuing to target al-Qaeda and blow them to Kingdom Come wherever they hide.

By: Rick Moran at 8:35 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (19)

3/27/2009
GOP BUDGET BALONEY
CATEGORY: Government, Politics

My friend Jennifer Rubin, true to her kindly and expansively beneficent nature, is  being generous to a fault when she says of the GOP’s overly generalized spending proposals released yesterday that it proves there is life in the Grand Old Party:

While they have yet to spell out exact figures or provide the comprehensive budget itself, the “Republican Road to Recovery” does preview their plan and goes some distance toward shooting down the Democrats’ spin that Republicans have “no ideas.”

Calling the document a “preview” is like going to a PG-13 rated movie to watch the sex scenes: There isn’t much to see and what’s there is usually shrouded in darkness or hidden by the sheets.

It’s nonsense, of course, as Ezra Klein rightly points out:

If you’re having a bad day, I highly encourage you to spend some quality time with the Republican budget proposal. It’s reads like what would happen if The Onion put together a budget. “Area Man Releases Proposal for 2010 Federal Spending Priorities.” (Though, to paraphrase William F. Buckley, it turns out that I’d prefer a federal budget written by an area man than the first six names on the House Republican Leadership roster.)

Ezra, unlike Jennifer, can be wickedly ungenerous and downright mean when he wants to be. In this case, however, he may be on to something. He highlights the fact that this “plan” is something akin to the million monkey theory of government - and the monkeys never were able to figure out arithmetic:

There are no numbers. Let me repeat that: The Republican budget proposal does not say how much money they would raise, or spend. The Oxford English Dictionary defines a “budget” as “an estimate of income and expenditure for a set period of time.” This is not a budget. It talks about balancing the budget but doesn’t explain how. It advocates tax cuts but doesn’t estimate their costs. It promises to cut programs but doesn’t name them. The threat going around the Capitol is that some impish Democratic chairman will ask the CBO to try and score the Republican proposal.

In fact, the backstory on this idiocy is even more entertaining than a budget with no numbers. There is, in the works, a Republican budget alternative that will apparently be offered by ranking minority member on the Budget Committee Paul Ryan next week and whose staff has been slaving for weeks pulling together credible numbers and receiving input from many sources. It is designed to be a detailed and realistic alternative to what the Democrats have put out there so far.

But the Ryan amendment was being crafted on a parallel track with the “Road to Recovery” document which is nothing more than political pablum - and rancid oatmeal at that. The R to R was apparently a GOP leadership project pushed by Mike Pence who is pushing something else as well - his own personal presidential ambitions:

Ryan, the ranking Republican on the budget committee, plans to introduce a detailed substitute amendment for the Democrats’ spending plan next Wednesday — and still intends to do so.

But he and Cantor were reportedly told by Boehner and Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence (R-Ind.) they needed to move more quickly to counter Democrats’ charge they were becoming the “Party of No,” according to House GOP staffers.

The 19-page document, prepared by Pence’s office, was distributed two days after  President Obama criticized Republicans for trashing his detail-crammed 142-page budget outline without producing a credible alternative.

“In his egocentric rush to get on camera, Mike Pence threw the rest of the Conference under the bus, specifically Paul Ryan, whose staff has been working night and day for weeks to develop a substantive budget plan,” said a GOP aide heavily involved in budget strategy.

“I hope his camera time was gratifying enough to justify erasing the weeks of hard work by dozens of Republicans to put forth serious ideas,” the person added.

Tellingly, Eric Cantor is also objecting to Pence’s vapid effort at “blueprinting” what Ryan’s staffers are getting eyestrain trying to make into a serious legislative document.

Cantor and Ryan were reportedly “embarrassed” by the document — believing it was better to absorb a week of hits from Democrats than to be slammed for failing to produce a thoughtful and detailed alternative.

The goal, aides say, was to make Obama’s team eat their words by producing a “killer” alternative with far less spending and greater tax cuts.

I’m not even a real Republican anymore and I’m embarrassed too. By releasing this empty suit of a budget proposal, the GOP has cut the legs from underneath Ryan and doomed his alternative by making it irrelevant.  Not that it would have passed. But given the times, I daresay it would have at least gotten some kind of a hearing by the media who would have been forced to report on GOP projections for spending and revenue as a serious counter to the Obama plan.

But thanks to Pence and the leadership nervously jumping the gun by wrongly believing that getting something out there - anything - was better than waiting for Ryan’s staff to finish their work, they have condemned the amendment to little more than a cursory inspection by the media and hence the public. Ryan’s amendment will be old news next week since the outline of what will probably be in there (since the two sides didn’t coordinate their efforts, God knows what differences there might be) has already been released and laughed at.

What a pathetic exercise. And these guys think they’re going to waltz to victory in 2010 on the ruins of an Obama economy?

They don’t deserve anything except a seat on the back bench.

By: Rick Moran at 6:24 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (18)

3/26/2009
ALZHEIMER’S: THE PERSONAL IS POLITICAL

Sometime in the next 20 years, there is a better than average chance that I will develop Alzheimer’s disease. By better than average, I mean that the average American male has a 9% chance that he will get the disease in his 3 score and 15 year life span - a percentage that rises the longer you live. Thanks to the courage of my brother Terry, who took a DNA test to discover whether he had any of the genetic markers that would make him more likely to develop Alzheimer’s and discovered the increased risk to himself, I am reasonably certain that this risk is also present in my 9 brothers and sisters.

Terry took the test for his own, personal reasons and chose to share the results with Nightline viewers last night. (you can watch the two part video here and here). Allow me to brag a bit about my little brother and say that I believe his report is one of the most extraordinary pieces of TV journalism you will see on any subject in recent memory. Informative, interesting, emotional, affecting, and very personal, his 10 minute report covers a wide range of issues from exciting scientific advances to the journey of one Alzheimer’s activist whose husband and mother suffers from the disease.

For those not familiar with Terry’s work, I would point you to his interviews with both candidate and President Obama, his trips to Iraq and Afghanistan where he became one of the few reporters to venture beyond the Green Zone to get the story, and earlier in his career, a trip to the Balkans where he told the searing story of the Serbian rape camps among other horrors. To say I am proud of what he has accomplished doesn’t describe the feelings of love and admiration I have for him and his family.

Terry also wrote a companion piece on the ABC News website that goes into excruciating detail about my mother’s battle with the disease:

My mom, Margaret Louise Moran, had 10 children and lots of grandchildren and she led a joyful and active life until she was stricken by Alzheimer’s in her mid-60s. I saw her descend, in fear and rage, into the hell of forgetting and confusion and the total loss of identity the disease brings.

The worst thing for me, I think, was that I could tell my mother knew what was happening to her; she had watched it happen to her mother. She was terrified as the disease tore apart her mind. I remember sitting with her one morning, for hours, as she said over and over to me, “I want to kill myself. I am going to kill myself. I wish I could kill myself.” For hours. My mom.

So I know the heartbreak. And I know the fear — the fear that what happened to my mom might someday happen to me. Or worse, to my daughter.

That story is repeated millions of times across America as Alzheimer’s turns from being a tragedy into an epidemic. It is estimated that the number of people who will be afflicted with the disease will increase by 50% in a few years as the baby boom generation reaches the at risk age of 65. Those who live to be 85 have a 50% chance of being diagnosed with the disease.

These figures are grim. But they simply cannot reveal the quiet desperation of Alzheimer’s caregivers, trapped in their own hellish world where a parent, or spouse, or grandparent is, for all intents and purposes, a walking corpse with no memory of the love and laughter shared over a lifetime - not a flicker of recognition, a familiar touch, a meaningful look. Instead, a blank, uncomprehending stare or, toward the end, constant, agonizing screams. Is she in terrible pain? Or are there flashes of self awareness somewhere deep in her consciousness where she recognizes her condition and wishes her ordeal to end?

This, repeated millions of times every day across the land. The pain that this disease inflicts on families is heightened by the stigma attached to it - incomprehensible while looking at it from a distance -and the wrenching decisions faced every day by loved ones who must deal with the rising economic and psychic costs of Alzheimer.

My brother Jay took care of my mother during her long goodbye. We were lucky there. Many families simply cannot afford or endure the nightmare. Jay would sit with her for hours on end, listening to her regress back to childhood, saying the same things over and over again, telling the same stories. She spoke a lot about her late husband, about World War II, about childhood friends.

Then came the anger, the lashing out, the gradual deterioration of all memory until there was nothing left; no joy, no humanity, no hope. You fight to maintain her dignity but it is a losing battle. Eventually even that is gone.

All that’s left is the screaming in the dark.

We were additionally fortunate to have found 3 angels to help care for her the last few years of her life. Three Philipino nurses who combined professional efficiency with hearts of gold and who helped relieve some of the crushing burden. Needless to say, few families are able to afford this kind of care which makes the work of the scientists to discover a cure or, more likely, develop preventative drugs all the more vital.

Terry’s report featured a couple of these scientific warriors who hold out hope for a breakthrough in the near future. So much has been discovered about the disease in the last 5 years that pharma companies and other researchers now have some specific targets to direct their efforts. This extraordinary study of 678 nuns and the effects on the brain of aging that has been going on for more than 20 years has led to many insights for Alzheimer researchers to concentrate. New tools have also been developed to peer into the brain and unlock some of its secrets.

These efforts are taking place at a time when the federal government is considering a cut in spending on Alzheimer’s research. This study (PDF) that was just released by the Alzheimer’s Association predicts that as many as 10 million baby boomers - 1 in 8 - will develop the disease in their lifetime. This presents monumental problems for our health care industry although there appears to be some hope down the road:

Dr. Gary Kennedy, director of geriatric psychiatry at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City, worries that there won’t be enough trained medical professionals to deal with the projected rise in Alzheimer’s patients.

“We are not training enough generalists or specialists in geriatrics, whether it’s medicine, psychiatry, family medicine, nursing or social work in the numbers we need to deal with people with dementia,” he said.

However, Kennedy also thinks the projected number of Alzheimer’s patients contained in the new report may be too high. Baby boomers are healthier, more active, better educated and wealthier than their parents, he noted, and this may help delay the development of the disease until the end of their natural lifespan.

Also, new medications may make Alzheimer’s manageable by slowing its progression, Kennedy said.

“Probably within the next five years we’re going to have medications that alter the course of the illness,” he said. “When that happens, you’re going to see pushing back of the disability of the illness even further. So we don’t have to cure Alzheimer’s disease, we just have to find interventions that are going to delay the disability.”

And this draft report (PDF) released by the Alzheimer’s Study Group during a Congressional hearing last week calls for a massive government research effort to increase funding for Alzheimer’s research which now stands at $640 million. Considering the fact that we spend 8 times that amount on cancer research and 5 times more on research into heart disease, an increase and not a cut in funds dedicated to wiping out this scourge should be in the offing.

What can be done? Terry has some ideas:

I believe the only way we are going to defeat Alzheimer’s is through passionate political advocacy — that’s what works in this country to mobilize public support and public resources to fight diseases. Think of the courage and commitment of those who have led the struggles against HIV/AIDS or breast cancer or other afflictions. They raised their voices, they made us listen.

But the victims of Alzheimer’s cannot speak for themselves as the disease takes them from us. They cannot march or testify or write books. And there is a sorrowful stigma attached to Alzheimer’s; it is a private ordeal, spoken of in hushed tones, shunted away in care facilities or behind closed doors where exhausted family members keep silent about the deepest indignities and worst horrors they witness and endure. And so the advocacy suffers.

There is simply too much defeatism around this disease. It is time to stand up and fight. There have been tremendous scientific advances in understanding Alzheimer’s in recent years, and there are now scores of drugs being tested to treat and even cure it. After so many years of despair, there is hope on the horizon.

Readers of this site know that making the personal the political is hardly my style. I am constantly complaining when the left does it and further, I believe that making politics into a personal quest to be detrimental to the political culture generally speaking. Personalizing politics has done a lot of damage to the national polity because it injects emotion into political debate where logic and reason should suffice.

But perhaps that has been a shortsighted attitude on my part. I suppose if I were being discriminated against because of my race, or gender, or sexual orientation, I might take that personally and my politics would almost certainly reflect that. Similarly, I take it personally that the government wishes to cut funding for Alzheimer’s research and the disease itself is not getting the attention it deserves. Considering what our family went through with my mother’s ordeal, I can hardly see it otherwise.

So in this case, the very personal is very political. And I thank Terry for showing us the way.

By: Rick Moran at 7:39 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (13)

3/25/2009
OBAMA HASN’T SHEATHED HIS SWORD OF FEAR QUITE YET

With Democrats retreating on some of President Obama’s agenda items, the President went on TV last night to try and drum up some grass roots support for his budget and bail out policies.

It’s getting to be a tough sell - both for Congress and the American people. I thought the president did a good job of presenting his case, boiling down complex ideas and concepts into digestible chunks. He did less well in responding to some very pointed questions from the press on AIG, the mess at Treasury, and the building perception that he is taking the country somewhere it doesn’t want to go.

But all in all, I’d grade Obama’s performance a solid B-. And I’m sure, he’d take that grade and run given the dismal fortnight his Administration has endured.

It struck me watching our president last night(and was reinforced after reading the transcript), that President Obama knows about as much economics theory as I do - perhaps less. Ordinarily, this wouldn’t matter because my knowledge of the “dismal science” is slightly above that of a three toed sloth and trying to come to grips with what our government has been doing lately is something akin to watching the above mentioned sloth attempt to climb down from a tree; an extremely slow process with no guarantee I’ll ever make it.

Surely the president couldn’t have been serious when he said this:

Finally, the most critical part of our strategy is to ensure that we do not return to an economic cycle of bubble and bust in this country. We know that an economy built on reckless speculation, inflated home prices, and maxed-out credit cards does not create lasting wealth. It creates the illusion of prosperity, and it’s endangered us all.

The budget I submitted to Congress will build our economic recovery on a stronger foundation so that we don’t face another crisis like this 10 or 20 years from now.

We invest in the renewable sources of energy that will lead to new jobs, new businesses, and less dependence on foreign oil. We invest in our schools and our teachers, so that our children have the skills they need to compete with any workers in the world.

We invest in reform that will bring down the cost of health care for families, businesses and our government.

And in this budget, we have — we have to make the tough choices necessary to cut our deficit in half by the end of my first term, even under the most pessimistic estimates.

Returning to “an economic cycle of bubble and bust” is, I’m afraid, historically unavoidable. If you are going to have free markets, you are going to have periods of prosperity and periods where the markets “correct” imbalances. If Obama wishes to repeal the business cycle, he will need to throw the idea of free market capitalism under the bus - something he has shown great eagerness to do.

As for the rest, how renewable energy companies will avoid being caught in the business cycle he doesn’t deign to tell us. Presumably, these companies will be subject to the same market forces that all other start ups are which means most will fail while the precious few winners will thrive. And since no western country has yet figured out how to get the cost of health care under control without rationing, it’s no wonder that Obama didn’t mention it since most Americans would recoil at some of the practices found in nation’s as diverse as Canada and Japan.

But all this is beside the point. With most inside the beltway pundits having determined Obama’s “honeymoon” is over, the president’s ability to dominate the agenda and pretty much get almost everything he wants is slipping away. His personal popularity remains very high which counts for a lot (despite his supporters ignoring his request for the most part last weekend to sign up their neighbors for Obama’s army). The three million contributors to his campaign are still there, waiting to be activated to put pressure on Congress to enact his ambitious and ruinously expensive agenda. So far, they have been quiescent. It is way to soon to tell whether it’s because the Administration hasn’t made a supreme effort to motivate them or because they were a mirage all along. We shall see.

Even if the president can’t get his supporters off their duffs to lobby for him and even if his short lived honeymoon may be coming to an end, the president still has one weapon in his arsenal that he will apparently continue to use in order to get his budget passed.

And that weapon is fear:

At the end of the day, the best way to bring our deficit down in the long run is not with a budget that continues the very same policies that have led us to a narrow prosperity and massive debt. It’s with a budget that leads to broad economic growth by moving from an era of borrow and spend to one where we save and invest.

And that’s why clean energy jobs and businesses will do all across America. That’s what a highly skilled workforce can do all across America. That’s what an efficient health care system that controls costs and entitlements like Medicare and Medicaid will do.

That’s why this budget is inseparable from this recovery: because it is what lays the foundation for a secure and lasting prosperity.

The fact is, his budget does continue “the very same policies that have led us to a narrow prosperity.” It just shifts the wealth around a bit. To believe that this will lead to an era of “save and invest” is ludicrous. And if it does, our prosperity will be very narrow indeed. Will Obama’s budget change people’s attitudes about “maxing out their credit cards” and piling on debt? I would say that a psychiatrist is called for at the White House if our president believes that.

The “save and invest” model was excellent for the 1950’s and 60’s when America was the workshop of the world and manufacturing was such a huge component of our economy. The American brand was so dominant that people could afford to put something away every week at 2-3% in a savings account because economic growth wasn’t as dependent on spending. Dollars churned through the economy mostly in the same community they were invested.

But we don’t make much here anymore and markets are now global. The economy is based - for better or worse - on consumer spending. More savings and investment would be very good as well as the notion that Americans shouldn’t go into hock up to their eyeballs. But what Obama is calling for is a massive reordering of economic priorities. And since he can’t realistically expect his budget to do that, he is simply fear mongering when he tries and connect the budget to the recovery.

It’s the only weapon he has used since he took office to get what he wants. He successfully frightened Congress into passing his stim bill (which no one read). He has used the specter of economic collapse to bail out his friends in the UAW. And he has deliberately fostered the notion that everyone agrees with him that all of these steps are necessary to “save” the economy. Opposition to his policies are politically motivated and insincere with the GOP hoping for catastrophe.

It has been effective in the past so why not go to the well again on the budget? But his act may be wearing a little thin with Congress and the people themselves may be tiring of listening to their own president trying to scare them into making it his way or the highway.

One thing appears certain - he has a helluva fight on his hands with a budding coalition of Republicans and blue dog Democrats who may eschew Obama’s fear mongering for crafting a budget that they can be re-elected on in 2010. By then, all the fear mongering in the world by the president will not hide the damage he has done to the economy or the violence he has done to the free market.

By: Rick Moran at 8:25 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (20)

3/24/2009
THE RICK MORAN SHOW: “TAKE TWO PROZAC AND CALL ME IN THE MORNING”

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

Tonight, we’ll discuss a Victor Davis Hansen article (and others responding to it) that deals with the question “Are Americans depressed over the Obama Administration?” Joining me will be Jazz Shaw of The Moderate Voice and Fausta Wertz of RealClear World.

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

By: Rick Moran at 5:07 pm | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (7)

3/23/2009
IS OUR NATIONAL WILL ‘WILTING AWAY?’

An interesting discussion piece in today’s Washington Times by Big Hollywood’s Andrew Breitbart that tries and make the case that Americans today, compared to the “Greatest Generation” that fought World War II, are a bunch of weak willed wimps, enamored of wealth and privilege while being frightened of our own shadow. In short, we are a bunch of self-indulgent philistines who lack the capacity to deal with the numerous crisis in our midst.

We’ve all heard this rant before - as I’m sure the “Greatest Generation” heard it from their elders back in the 1930’s and the generation before them, and on backwards to the founding of the republic where as early as Washington’s administration, ministers were bemoaning the loss of the “revolutionary spirit” and the desire by a majority of the populace for “material possessions” rather than seeking spiritual uplift. I guess it goes without saying that the more things change, the more likely the previous generation sees a danger that American values are threatened.

The question: Is it truer today than it was in the past? Has something “gone out” of America in the last decade or two?

Breitbart cites 9/11 as clear evidence that something has:

Signs of our collective weakness emerged after 9/11 when only part of the American population took seriously that we were at war with an evil and motivated enemy determined to destroy our way of life. Since then, al Qaeda has refused to quit despite debilitating losses.

Clearly, our national will is wilting away.

Following the tragic lead of Europe, too many Americans no longer want to engage our external threats head-on. And on the domestic front, we are confronting the economic crisis of our lifetime with the same full-steam-ahead spending-spree mind-set that got us into the mess to begin with.

We say: Let’s create more government dependency, reward the incompetent and print more money.

That’s doubling down on stupidity.

We are a trust-fund nation (picture Tori Spelling in the Lifetime Channel role of her career) whose BMW has run out of gas in the middle of the Mojave Desert after a pointless 115-miles-per-hour joy ride. The credit cards are maxed out. We’re out of cell phone range. And dad, who just got taken by Uncle Bernie Madoff, wouldn’t take the call anyway.

I would say that Mr. Breitbart is off base. Much more than a “part” of the population wants to confront al-Qaeda. The question up for debate - and still being debated - is what is the best way to go about doing that? There are those of us who believe that we must hit them militarily and keep hitting them no matter where they hide. Many others believe that this strategy “creates more terrorists” and wants to see a more studied approach to the threat that would rely almost exclusively on intelligence and law enforcement actions to break up terrorist cells before they can strike.

Is one approach “wimpier” than the other? Is the law enforcement path less in tune with our values and national character? I have been struggling with this question since 9/11 and I still don’t have an answer as far as which path would keep us safer although the biggest drawback to the law enforcement/intelligence argument is that it isn’t proactive enough, that it presupposes we will be hit and that the response to terrorism should be grounded in bringing the perpetrators to “justice.” In the nuclear age, this is myopic in the extreme which is why I come down on attacking al-Qaeda and keeping them constantly off balance and unable to mount a serious attack.

But that’s not the question. Breitbart is positing the notion that people who oppose this kind of war lack intestinal fortitude and other qualities that made the World War II generation the “Greatest.” I reject that idea as silly - turning a political/policy argument into a litmus test for who better represents the “real America.” (Liberals and others who support the police/law enforcement approach are equally silly when they accuse those of us who support a more proactive approach as being “warmongers.”) Ideally, a combination of the two policies would probably work best although it is never that simple.

But the argument over how to confront terrorism after 9/11 is symptomatic of something much deeper and Breitbart continuously misses the boat when he lays out arguments like this in describing the Baby Boom generation:

We are a trust-fund nation (picture Tori Spelling in the Lifetime Channel role of her career) whose BMW has run out of gas in the middle of the Mojave Desert after a pointless 115-miles-per-hour joy ride. The credit cards are maxed out. We’re out of cell phone range. And dad, who just got taken by Uncle Bernie Madoff, wouldn’t take the call anyway.

The silent generation, which learned valuable lessons from the Depression and World War II, is not here to guide us through these difficult times. The narcissistic baby boomers, who probably think this song is about them, are now firmly in charge. And that’s the rub.

It’s a clever metaphor but hardly the point. Mr. Breitbart hasn’t been paying attention because what he is describing is nothing new. Since the mid 1980’s, Americans have been in hock up to their eyeballs and the economy has been wholly dependent on how willing consumers have been to pile on personal debt. There is nothing new in Americans buying more house than they need or can afford nor is there anything earth shattering in the extraordinary number of citizens who try and escape their bad personal financial decisions by declaring bankruptcy which has been on the rise for a quarter century. It’s not just the boomers who have become irresponsible but their children and now grandchildren.

We are coming up on the 64th anniversary of the end of World War II. In those 64 years America has seen the rise of democratic socialism in the form of a very large and intrusive welfare state that has destroyed the notion of “self reliance” and substituted dependency for the underclass. What of the rest of us? Are we, as Breitbart suggests, a “trust fund nation?” Andrew must lead a very sheltered life. I look around me and see my neighbors struggling - in good times and bad - to make their way through life, raising their children, finding happiness wherever they can, and still believing in an America that he and I would definitely recognize.

These and tens of millions of other families outside of Andrew’s Hollywood bubble have not abandoned the ideals of prudence, independence, self-reliance, and the American way of life. They have not given up on helping their neighbor. They refuse to yield on moral questions about which they feel passionately. They haven’t completely lost faith in our institutions although the last several years has tested that faith.

There is a small percentage of irresponsibles who do not share these values and have totally abandoned them. And yet Mr. Breitbart sees fit to lump the rest of us in with these profligates? Is it because so many voted for Obama?

When the going gets tough, the weak go on Leno.

I can’t get out of my head that the leader of the free world gave the British prime minister 25 films on DVD that don’t even work in U.K. machines.

I can’t wrap my head around the fact that the commander in chief tried (for a minute anyway) to require injured warriors to pay to have private insurers take care of their treatment.

I can’t believe the president would allow the likes of Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid to dictate the terms of his budget - and Barney Frank and Christopher Dodd, the symbols of government kowtowing to Wall Street - to be spokesmen for his financial bailout.

And did President Obama really produce a YouTube video to appease President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the mullahs of Iran?

Yes, he did.

These aren’t beginner’s mistakes. These are his core incompetencies.

So because we voted an incompetent into office, this proves that our “national will is wilting away?” Pardon me if I am completely unimpressed.

What Mr. Breitbart is really railing against are our elites. Many of them have indeed become overly cynical, hypocritical, greedy, grasping and acquisitive. There has been a massive failure of leadership in America - both parties, the business world, in organized labor, the intelligentsia, and most especially, the political class that includes politicians, bureaucrats, big media, and the loosely defined gaggle of academic intellectuals, policy wonks, and think tankers who play such a large role in actually governing the country. To say that they have all let us down is an understatement. Be as partisan as you like but no one can escape blame for our current mess.

It seems our elites have got it in their head that once they reach a certain level of achievement in America, they have a license to rob, cheat, and steal everything that isn’t nailed down. This sense of entitlement is perhaps the most damaging aspect of modern America. And I would say to Mr. Breitbart that this is a cross-generational phenomenon and not confined to the boomers. The president of the United States is making the argument that it is “greed” that is to blame. Such simple minded idiocy we might expect from a sophomore in high school (or a liberal). Greed is a symptom of the much larger problem that we refuse to face; a loss of faith in our institutions and, more directly, in each other.

At bottom, we don’t know who we are anymore. The old verities - as comforting as an pair of old shoes - don’t describe what we have become the last 50 years; a modern, industrialized nation, wired from one end of the continent to the other, that has destroyed regional differences (which played such a huge role in our development) and united us as we have never been united before. What does “self reliance” mean when we depend so much on government for such mundane things as making sure we have clean water to drink or safe highways, or bridges that won’t collapse, or prevent us from buying products that might kill or injure our children? You can claim “self reliance” all you want but how meaningful is it when you can’t even turn on the faucet without the help of government?

We have yet to translate these American values into modern nomenclature. The values aren’t anachronistic, only the way we define them. This is something I have been preaching for many months as I have struggled to redefine conservatism for my own aggrandizement. I’m not sure how to go about doing it, only that it needs to be done. We are, most of us, looking at an America through a spyglass that is giving us a view of the past, not an America is it exists today. And the biggest rub is we wouldn’t know how to describe it even if we could see it. There are no touchstones, no signposts that can aid us in coming to grips with this brave new world.

The practical effect of this is it has unmoored so many and set adrift the idea of a shared American experience so that morals and values become meaningless. This leads to excesses in our culture, hedonism, a catering to our own pleasures, and a destructive selfishness that goes beyond simple minded ideas of “greed” and warps the fabric of our national polity.

All of this, for lack of leadership.

Breitbart believes he has the “answer:”

The last time I felt this hopeless was when the Democratic Party and its cohorts in the media sold us on the false premise that we lost the war in Iraq. In the process, they also sought to demonize the very man that led us out of our peril.

His name is Gen. David H. Petraeus.

Less than two months into the Obama presidency, which appears to be lost somewhere in the Mojave Desert, I have decided to try to soothe my anxieties by placing my hope in a political surge.

In the election of 2010, Republicans should run heroic veterans of Operation Iraqi Freedom who exhibited the will and fortitude to defeat the enemy and to rebuild a torn nation, even while too many of their fellow countrymen wrote them off.

And in 2012, the man President Obama’s staunchest allies called “General Betray Us” should come in with guns blazing and defeat the man whose only weapon to lead us to victory is a teleprompter.

Generals make lousy presidents, generally speaking and politically inexperienced generals have been disasters. The exception is Eisenhower who lived and breathed politics for 3 years as Supreme Allied Commander, working the miracle of keeping a coalition together that featured ultra-capitalist and ultra-marxist states, not to mention maintaining a good relationship with some of the prickliest, most outsized personalities in world history including FDR, Churchill, Stalin, and DeGaulle. Ike was born to be president and made a damn fine one.

But Petreaus? He may in fact be an improvement as far as leadership is concerned over the current occupant of the White House (whose interview on 60 Minutes was almost surreal in the way he giggled about economic disaster), but it is ridiculous to believe the good general is the answer to a prayer. General Petreaus would almost certainly be just as dependent on a teleprompter as President Obama given his extraordinary lack of experience in the political arena. And the fact that Obama depends on the device isn’t the problem; it’s that we were sold a bill of goods on how articulate he was without one. How Petreaus would be an improvement in that regard is immaterial to whether he could do a better job with the economy. Since we don’t have a clue what the General thinks on that issue, the whole idea of him running for president is moot.

None of this deals with the core problem I mentioned above - of an America that is in the midst of a gigantic upheaval of which we have yet to come to grips. I imagine time will be the balm that soothes our distress. This is generally true of all big historical changes. But in the meantime, we are apparently in for a very rough ride, being led by a president with his own ideas of what values and traditions are important in America. He will decide which are important enough to save and which should be tossed under the bus.

By: Rick Moran at 7:49 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (28)

3/22/2009
I HAVE COME NOT TO PRAISE CAPITALISM BUT TO BURY IT

tombstone-1

Tell me I’m being hysterical. Tell me I’m getting my panties in a twist over nothing. But that sound you hear is the death knell of capitalism as we know it.

The government is in the process of ordering levels of compensation for all. For those who believe regulators will stop with determining all “executive compensation,” I pity your naiveté and ignorance. Once government demonstrates it can do something, it has no reason to stop at some arbitrary point. Why? When has it ever done so in the past? It may not happen under President Obama, or even in the next decade or two. But some reason or justification will eventually be found to regulate and dictate the compensation of everyone and they will base that action on what the Obama Administration has proposed:

The Obama administration will call for increased oversight of executive pay at all banks, Wall Street firms and possibly other companies as part of a sweeping plan to overhaul financial regulation, government officials said.

The outlines of the plan are expected to be unveiled this week in preparation for President Obama’s first foreign summit meeting in early April.

Officials said the proposal would seek a broad new role for the Federal Reserve to oversee large companies, including major hedge funds, whose problems could pose risks to the entire financial system.

It will propose that many kinds of derivatives and other exotic financial instruments that contributed to the crisis be traded on exchanges or through clearinghouses so they are more transparent and can be more tightly regulated. And to protect consumers, it will call for federal standards for mortgage lenders beyond what the Federal Reserve adopted last year, as well as more aggressive enforcement of the mortgage rules.

The administration has been considering increased oversight of executive pay for some time, but the issue was heightened in recent days as public fury over bonuses spilled into the regulatory effort.

The officials said that the administration was still debating the details of its plan, including how broadly it should be applied and how far it could go beyond simple reporting requirements. Depending on the outcome of the discussions, the administration could seek to put the changes into effect through regulations rather than through legislation.

“Relax you stupid conservative,” I can hear some of you saying. “This is simple oversight.”

The key is in that last graf I quoted above; “…how far it could go beyond simple reporting requirements.” They are already thinking beyond “oversight” and looking for “control.” And once the government can determine how much money one worker can make, they can determine what all workers make. All they have to do is gin up enough outrage at the “exorbitant” salaries paid to office managers, store managers or customer service managers as compared to clerks and secretaries and before you know it, we’ll have regulators determining your salary.

Could never happen here, right? Why not? Who’s going to stop them? Do you seriously believe that because you don’t want the government mucking around with your compensation that it will matter one iota? Perhaps you even support the idea that government should determine everyone’s wages. I think you will be enormously disappointed. With incentive virtually gone, our workforce will end up doing exactly the amount of work that will keep them employed and no more. And if you think that is the ticket to create a new kind of economy that will build wealth and create jobs, I’ve got a factory in North Korea I’d like to sell you.

Tigerhawk gives a little perspective on the Administration’s plan to regulate executive salaries:

First, this will do nothing to encourage executives in American public companies to take the risks necessary to restart the economy.

Second, executive compensation at public companies, including banks, did not cause the present economic troubles. This is but another “crisis” not to be wasted by people who want to effect social change.

Third, we are going to drive many of our best people out of public companies into private companies, or (perhaps worse) management will become dominated by people who are trained in process (lawyers and accountants and such). We are also going to deter private companies from going public (as has already been happening with the steep decline in initial public offerings in recent years). It does not seem to me that we should exacerbate either of these trends.

Fourth, you can cure “excessive” executive compensation by having the United States Congress or the attorney general of the state of New York determine what public company executives should make, or you could simply repeal the Williams Act and other state law obstacles to hostile takeovers. In a liquid market for corporate control, big, fat executive paychecks will become “synergies” if they do not earn a decent return.

Executive salaries and bonuses did not cause the economic meltdown. Regulating the matter won’t restart the economy. The only reason to try and dictate compensation is because they can. They have successfully demagogued the issue to the point that people are making death threats against AIG executives who had absolutely nothing to do with the trading in derivatives that caused all the problems, whose only “crime” is that they work for the company in some capacity. Way to go, Mr. President.

Like all other “opportunities” in this crisis that the Obama Administration is taking advantage of by scaring people half to death or now, ginning up murderous rage against “the rich,” Obama is putting the remaking of America ahead of economic recovery. Liberals have been railing for years against people making “too much” money especially compared to the rest of us. Now that they have the opportunity and the sheer gall to do so, they are going to do something about it. The fact that it will contribute nothing to the recovery and everything to Obama’s idea of “change” will not matter in the end. The effect will be the same; opening a door to exessive government control of decisions that should be made by individual companies.

For all its many faults - especially as it has been practiced for most of the last century - the world has known no greater engine of prosperity since civilization began than American capitalism. Much more than Thomas Jefferson or Andrew Jackson, American capitalism created the “common man.” It gave him a stake in the success or failure of both the macro and micro economy in which everyone participates. This self interest drove the American workingman to feats of productivity never before seen. It greatly expanded the “middling classes” and showered goods and possessions on them that were only reserved for the rich in most other countries. It created more wealth, more freedom, more human happiness than has ever been achieved anywhere else.

Yes, it also created suffering, misery, inequality, and great sadness while sending many to an early grave and others to live in abject poverty. American capitalism has always been about winners and losers and the idea that you can have one without the other is a mirage, a phantasm. Like life, it isn’t fair. Some risk takers are rewarded beyond avarice while others crash and burn. And playing by the rules is no guarantee that you will succeed.

So yes, regulate these markets that caused the meltdown to ensure it won’t happen again. And play your little power games with the bonuses of those getting bail out money. But, as Roger Simon points out, if you’re going to want everyone to play fair, perhaps you should look to your own house first:

I want it all out there. Total transparency, including Timothy Geithner’s TurboTax printouts and Christopher Dodd’s Irish real estate holdings. [Doesn't Dodd remind you of Claude Rains in "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington"?-ed. Worse.]

In other words, Mr. President, you want “increased oversight,” let’s have it - for everyone! That includes some of your creepy allies. Otherwise, you’re a hypocrite. Stick it.

[You forgot Charlie Rangel!-ed. I forgot a lot of people. Harry Reid and the Vegas connection! That too.]

Arbitrary exclusions to oversight like those above make the tyrannical proposals by Obama even more problematic.

By: Rick Moran at 9:41 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (21)