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9/23/2009
DOES THE WORLD LOVE US ANY MORE WITH OBAMA AS PRESIDENT?

Does the world love us any more with Obama as president?

I’m sure they do - except in places it really, really, really matters like Moscow, Tehran, Damascus, Beijing, and Caracas. The leaders in those capitols probably don’t love Obama anymore than they loved George Bush. The question of whether they respect the US and our power is a whole other question.

It’s easy to get our allies to love us. First, the fact that Obama is not George Bush is no doubt a huge plus. Secondly, anything George Bush did, just do the opposite. Third, acknowledge their superior wisdom with regard to foreign affairs - especially those issues that affect them directly. Fourth, subsume American interests to those of other nations who, after all, are smarter and know what’s best for us. Fifth, confess the error of our ways and promise that we won’t do anything ever to get anyone mad at us.

There’s more: Promise to unilaterally disarm. Acknowledge America’s moral failings for the last 60 years. Deny America is any better or worse than any other nation. Finally, pretend that the United Nations is a place for serious people and that everyone - including the thug nations of the world - should be able to dictate what America should do.

Yes, there are a few exaggerations there. Yes, I had a little fun with our president by trying to highlight what I consider is his completely wrong headed approach to foreign affairs. But within that sneering sophistry is more than a kernel of truth. The question is, what has the president accomplished with his new “smart” foreign policy.

Our allies like Obama. As politicians, they are perfectly aware of his popularity among the majority of their citizens and love to have their picture taken with him, hoping some of his radiance will rub off on them.

But when push comes to shove and Obama has wanted to lead, where has he taken them? Or, have our allies around the world simply gone their own way anyway, despite his eloquent importunings?

No help for our troops in Afghanistan. Failure to convince the Europeans to overstimulate their economies. Bad reactions to Obama’s stances on the war in Georgia, increased NATO membership, Turkey’s bid for EU membership, additional sanctions on Iran, and the clown show that the release of al-Megrahi turned out to be. No go on carbon caps, economic development for Africa, third world debt relief…

Well, you get the picture. It’s great that our allies love us but where has that gotten us? What tangible benefit has accrued to our interests so far that would prove Obama’s approach to foreign policy is superior to anyone’s, much less that of George Bush?

Yes, but at least they’re not marching in protest when the American president comes for a visit. They’re not saying nasty things in newspapers.

Oh…wait:

Simply put, Barack Obama is loved at the UN because he largely fails to advance real American leadership. This is a dangerous strategy of decline that will weaken US power and make her far more vulnerable to attack.

As we saw last week with his shameful surrender to Moscow over missile defence, the president is perfectly happy to undermine America’s allies and gut its strategic defences while currying favour with enemies and strategic competitors. The missile defence debacle is rightly viewed as a betrayal by the Poles and the Czechs, and Washington has clearly give the impression that it cares little about those who have bravely stood shoulder to shoulder with their US allies in Iraq, Afghanistan and the wider war on terror.

The Obama administration is now overseeing and implementing the biggest decline in American global power since Jimmy Carter. Unfortunately it may well take another generation for the United States to recover.

The author of this piece, Nile Gardiner, is a lonely voice these days. And he’s missing the point. At the moment, we have foreign policy by gesture in the US. If there is a coherence to it, I haven’t spotted it yet. But it sure is dramatic and that’s what’s important to liberals who have been itching for 40 years to give it a try.

It has been and still is the contention of the left that we are the to blame for many of the problems in the world and the way to make progress in dealing with these thorny issues is for America to act humbly, subscribe to international solutions offered by the UN and other supra-national bodies, make friends of our enemies, prove our goodwill by subsuming our national interests when they conflict with another’s, and generally agreeing with the rest of the world about what kind of nation we are.

Obama seems to have decided that this foreign policy by gesture is just the ticket. What have some of those gestures gotten us?

We had the gesture of letters to the closed minded, American hating rulers of Iran (who promptly spit in his face). We had the gesture of his European tour where the president lectured the old world like a hectoring school marm about anti-Americanism (incorrectly attributing it to our actions rather than the simple fact that being a huge country, our interest are very broad and that protecting those interests, by necessity means we step on a lot of toes). We have the gesture of his Cairo speech to Muslims, telling them their religion is wrong to hate infidels. We had the gesture of Hillary’s “reset button” that didn’t work out so well with the Russians. We had the gesture of more outreach to the Iranians that again, was promptly thrown back in our face.

We had the gesture of the grip and grin with Hugo Chavez who just recently asked the Russians to help him develop his nuclear industry. We had the depressing gesture of the president refusing to acknowledge the legitimacy of the Iranian protests as a sop to terrorist supporting thugs who gunned down their own citizens in the streets. And we had the despicable gesture of the US refusing to support the legitimate, constitutional government of Honduras who replaced a clear stooge of Chavez to protect themselves after the stooge illegally tried to hold a referendum that would have made him president for life.

All of these little unilateral gestures and more have been the modus operandi of the Obama foreign policy. Have they made us safer. Are American interests more or less at risk? Are our adversaries more or less likely to advance their own interests at the expense of ours? Just what has Obamalove gotten us?

Is there a pronounced difference in whether the rest of the world is following our lead than when Bush or anyone else was president? Does Obama even want to lead? He seems to want to lead in the Israeli-Palestinian nutcracker but he has alienated 95% of the Israeli population in doing so while picking up precious few brownie points with the Palestinians.

What’s the plan? Where’s the payoff?

Yeah…but it sure is nice to be loved again.

By: Rick Moran at 11:42 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (24)

FIVE YEARS BLOGGING
CATEGORY: Blogging

No, it doesn’t seem like “just yesterday,” or feel like anything but what it is; 5 years of blogging at The House.

I feel every one of those years. With more than 3,200 posts - most of them essay length or longer - my fingers hurt just thinking about it. My head hurts when I reflect on all that thinking. And my soul is tired to its core.

Not looking for sympathy here. Just telling you how it is. Writing a daily journal for 5 years where you expose your deepest thoughts and emotions, leaving yourself open to the slings and arrows of experts at invective and the put down would tax the constitution of anyone. The last 3 years have been especially hard as I have been at odds with many of you (and many more who no longer read me) over fundamental matters of philosophy as well as specific issues.

There have been many times - too many to count - that I just wanted to throw in the towel and close up shop. I have lost many friends, many larger bloggers who used to support this site and give me much encouragement have fallen away. I get little respect from anyone I care about and less notice from those I do.

Heh - now it IS starting to sound like a pity party. OK - enough of that. The real question is why? Why, if blogging makes me miserable sometimes, if I’ve lost the respect of people whose opinion matters to me, if my readership is a pittance of what it once was, and if just about everytime I write something, the most vile, hurtful things are said about me, do I keep plugging away, day after day?

In an odd way, I am driven to do it. Not because I feel I matter and am making a difference. My ego is large but not that big. But because I simply feel I have something to say about contemporary America and conservatism that needs to be said. And, as I have pointed out many times, this site acts as a combination confessional and canvas where I spread my thoughts out in all their incoherence, their imperfection, their confusion, their conceit, and attempt to glean the essence of what I really believe.

It is the “examined life” I seek. A hubristic effort, no doubt, but one worth striving for. I am driven to write about it not so much to share it but to fulfill a very deep need that I think resides in all of us; the drive to know ourselves. The intense curiosity we all have about who we are, what we believe, can be addressed only be a healthy dose of self-criticism and self-examination. Sometimes, it is painful. Sometimes I reject what is so obvious to others but hidden from me. Sometimes I learn the wrong lessons or even lie to myself as we all do at times. But it is the process that is rewarding - addicting I guess. And that’s why I am still blogging after 5 years.

Some might be curious about how I think blogging has changed in 5 years. There are many more of us. There are fewer individual bloggers such as myself. There are a lot fewer links from everyone to be had - not quite sure why that is so although it is quite noticeable. I think bloggers just starting out will have a harder time gathering an audience than I did. Beyond this, social networking sites have augmented blogs - they will not replace them. And the business of blogging - making money at it - has gotten a lot tougher.

I have, in the past, thanked a lot of people when acknowledging this anniversary. They seemed to get fewer every year so I won’t do that now (thanks Ed). The cynic in me wants to tell you all to go to hell because I don’t care if you read me or not. But that wouldn’t be true and you guys know it. I may be a pill. I may be a curmudgeon. I may lash out at commenters, returning insult for insult, tit for tat. But for those who have been with me from the beginning and to those who joined me along the way, I do sincerely, and humbly thank you.

Rick Moran
Proprietor

By: Rick Moran at 8:38 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (18)

9/22/2009
THE RICK MORAN SHOW: AFGHANS, ARTISTS, AND ARSES

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 welcome my good friends Fausta Wertz and Jimmy Bise for a discussion of the situation in Afghanistan, the NEA scandal, and Zelaya’s return to Honduras.

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 4:19 pm | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (1)

IS GLENN BECK ‘THE ENEMY?’
CATEGORY: Politics

A darn good question from Stacy McCain that deserves an answer from at least one of us who never tires of trying to promote rationalism (if not pragmatism) among conservatives, and trashes Beck and many other talk show hosts who represent the dark underbelly of conservative paranoia.

I think there is something to the notion that, while on specific issues, this is something of a conservative country, the culture and history of America is that of a liberal (classic) democracy. We have created a society with a huge impetus to improve ourselves both as a country and individually. De Tocqueville recognized this and marveled at it.

The overriding key that drives American history has been the desire for human liberty. The second has been “change.” The United States stands still for no one, no group, no ideology. No country has experimented more with government . No nation has absorbed and assimilated more immigrants, enthusiastically adopting what pleases us from the newcomers while sloughing off the rest. No country has reinvented itself so many times.

For about 150 years, there was no “conservative movement” in America. Instead, there were reactionaries who stood athwart social progress toward ending slavery, granting women’s rights, ending child labor, allowing workers to organize, and the like. Identified more as “traditionalists” or “capitalists,” or Buckley’s “individualists,” it must be said that for a variety of reasons, our ideological ancestors did not cover themselves in glory. But they still served a vital purpose; they usually kept the pace of change from overwhelming the traditions and institutions that make America “America,” allowing change to take place gradually and within the context of a treasured past.

I bring this up because by any yardstick you want to use, America is in the process of changing. Demographically, we are getting younger, browner, more educated, and most importantly, less wedded to traditional institutions. Our economy is changing - has been changing - for 30 years, from an industrial, to a service economy, to now a tech economy with global competition. It is my belief, and the belief of a few others, that once again, conservatism must rise to the occasion by “standing athwart history yelling stop.” Be it in government, out of government, or as the government, we have a sacred trust to fulfill to guide this change down traditional paths without losing the essence of who and what we are.

Obama and the liberals don’t like who and what we are and wish to go too far in “remaking” America. On this we all agree. But is Glenn Beck “standing athwart” history or is he simply screaming nonsense into the void, pandering to the basest instincts of conservatives, rejecting rationality in favor of paranoid conspiracy mongering that doesn’t advance the cause one iota but garners him plenty of ratings and money?

To say that “the left does it too” is perhaps the most irrational statement of all. Aping the absolute worst in your political opponent is insane. Did their radical, screaming base help or hinder them in 2008? Note that, like some crazy uncle, Democrats marginalized their crazies just long enough for the voters to think they were a moderate party. GOP corruption didn’t help nor did the utter futility of the McCain campaign. The tactics that some on the right want to emulate or think isn’t harmful to the cause ignores the lessons of 2008.

Perceptions matter. A hard truth that everytime I say it I am accused of cowering in fear of the left. It’s not fear, but the simple political reality that has been true in American politics since the beginning; giving your opponent the golden opportunity to define conservatives for the voters in such a way that makes us look like mindless, ranting, fearful paranoids who believe in cockamamie conspiracy theories and celebrate and lionize people like Glenn Beck will not win us any elections. Period. The 30% of you who don’t believe this or reject it because you think it doesn’t matter are kidding yourselves. And you’re dragging conservatism down with your blindness.

Is Glenn Beck “the enemy?” He is the enemy of anyone who believes in reason, in logic, and in rational thought. In that sense, he can take down a hundred Van Jones and ACORNS and still be a blot on the political landscape. It doesn’t matter if he is a conservative or not. Conservatives have adopted this scheming, manipulative fakir and it will redound to our sorrow in the end.

By: Rick Moran at 3:15 pm | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (21)

CONSPIRACY MONGERING, PARANOID TV HOST IS NO CONSERVATIVE

Yes, but is Glenn Beck good for the conservative movement?

After all, even if the man who seriously wondered whether the fasces symbol on the back of a 1917 dime meant that the US government under Wilson was promoting fascism is a little excitable, and, by his own admission, a “clown,” many rock ribbed conservatives seem to have adopted this paranoid waif as one of their own.

Peter Wehner believes that spells trouble for conservatives:

I say that because he seems to be more of a populist and libertarian than a conservative, more of a Perotista than a Reaganite. His interest in conspiracy theories is disquieting, as is his admiration for Ron Paul and his charges of American “imperialism.” (He is now talking about pulling troops out of Afghanistan, South Korea, Germany, and elsewhere.) Some of Beck’s statements—for example, that President Obama has a “deep-seated hatred for white people”–are quite unfair and not good for the country. His argument that there is very little difference between the two parties is silly, and his contempt for parties in general is anti-Burkean (Burke himself was a great champion of political parties). And then there is his sometimes bizarre behavior, from tearing up to screaming at his callers. Beck seems to be a roiling mix of fear, resentment, and anger—the antithesis of Ronald Reagan.

I understand that a political movement is a mansion with many rooms; the people who occupy them are involved in intellectual and policy work, in politics, and in polemics. Different people take on different roles. And certainly some of the things Beck has done on his program are fine and appropriate. But the role Glenn Beck is playing is harmful in its totality. My hunch is that he is a comet blazing across the media sky right now—and will soon flame out. Whether he does or not, he isn’t the face or disposition that should represent modern-day conservatism. At a time when we should aim for intellectual depth, for tough-minded and reasoned arguments, for good cheer and calm purpose, rather than erratic behavior, he is not the kind of figure conservatives should embrace or cheer on.

Wehner is about where I was on Beck 6 months ago - a superficial reading of the man based on his outrageousness rather than making a close examination of both his stagecraft and what he sincerely believes is his “philosophy.” Since then, I have tuned in several times in order to get a better feel for where he’s coming from.

It does no good to point out the dichotomies in Beck’s on-air personae - the rational mixed with the illogical and unreasonable - because the reality Beck has created for his legions of fans encompasses the whole smash of semi-serious critiques of Obama and liberals with a passionate, heartfelt objectivism that breeds an “us vs. them” universe taken to extremes where absolutely anything is possible. How many times have I seen Beck look right into the camera and refer to some outrageous exaggeration of what Obama and the Democrats are up to and say “This is part of their plan.”

I see this “government by conspiracy” theme repeated in comment threads across the internet, and while Beck is certainly not the only pundit to advance it, he seems to be the one getting the most mileage out of it. By making opposition to liberals a cause to “take back the country” from socialists and Marxists, Beck has drawn what amounts to a “Grand Unified Conspiracy Theory” that apes the worst of what Ron Paul supporters were advancing during the campaign last year. The rich and powerful are in league with Obama and the liberals to steal our money, turn the US into a Marxist state, and rig the system so they will remain in power indefinitely.

No doubt, Beck was right about Van Jones, ACORN, and the bunch gimlet eyed radicals Obama has been peppering the government with since he got into office. But, my children, this is not conspiracy; this is politics. Obama throwing sops to his radical base by tossing a few fellow travelers and pinkos into positions of marginal responsibility is hardly indicative of the International Communist Conspiracy (does it still exist?) making inroads into the highest levels of the US government. Nor is there any evidence that there is some kind of “plan” to turn us all into good little communists, or take over the American economy, or hand us over to al-Qaeda, or “destroy the country,” or enslave us in some kind of Obama-manufactured socialist paradise.

From what we’ve seen of this crew, they aren’t smart enough to pull something like that off. Jesus Lord, look at the problems they’re having getting health care reform passed. And these are the revolutionaries who are going to remake America into some kind of Marxist Utopia?

I will ask the same question of Beckites that I asked of liberals when Bush was president; how can someone be extraordinarily incompetent and stupid while at the same time demonstrate Machiavellian cleverness in amassing power to become a dictator? Paranoid thinking throws logic out the window and allows those afflicted with it to find it perfectly natural to believe in two obviously mutually exclusive concepts.

Why Beck’s following among conservatives? Basically, his rabid opposition to Obama and liberals tends to obscure the objectivist streak that runs through much of his more rational critiques of the left. I like Dan Riehl’s take:

Only a media that doesn’t know what one is, or is more interested in defining them to be what they want them to be, as opposed to what they really are, would mistake Glenn Beck for a conservative. He isn’t and never has been that, so far as I’m aware.

[...]

What he has always reminded me of most is Larry “Lonesome” Pines played by Andy Griffith in A Face In The Crowd. And, unfortunately, no, that one didn’t end very well for many of the people involved.

And that brings us to Beck’s stagecraft, and as Riehl points out, his resemblance to the manipulative, darkly cynical personality of Larry Pines. The homespun, down to earth charm that was the public face of Pines masked a coldly calculating mind that sought to turn his radio celebrity into political power. I’m not saying that Beck wants to run for office. He’s too smart for that. But his stunts - and perhaps some of his more outrageous, exaggerated claims about Obama and the left - are extremely effective drama, worthy of anything any Communist propagandist ever dreamed of.

But this goes to the heart of the Beckian phenomenon: Does he really believe everything he says? Or is he just cynically manipulating the fears of his mostly conservative audience, playing to their paranoia about Obama that is also being stoked by other talk show hosts on the right?

Time’s David Van Drehle isn’t sure of the answer himself:

No one has a better feeling for this mood, and no one exploits it as well, as Beck. He is the hottest thing in the political-rant racket, left or right. A gifted entrepreneur of angst in a white-hot market. A man with his ear uniquely tuned to the precise frequency at which anger, suspicion and the fear that no one’s listening all converge. On that frequency, Frankowski explained, “the thing I hear most is, People are scared.”

[...]

His fears are many — which is lucky for him, because Beck is responsible for filling multiple hours each day on radio and TV and webcast, plus hundreds of pages each year in his books, his online magazine and his newsletter. What’s this rich and talented man afraid of? He is afraid of one-world government, which will turn once proud America into another France. He is afraid that Obama “has a deep-seated hatred for white people” — which doesn’t mean, he hastens to add, that he actually thinks “Obama doesn’t like white people.” He is afraid that both Democrats and Republicans in Washington are deeply corrupt and that their corruption is spreading like a plague. He used to be afraid that hypocritical Republicans in the Bush Administration were killing capitalism and gutting liberty, but now he is afraid that all-too-sincere leftists in the Obama Administration are plotting the same. On a slow news day, Beck fears that the Rockefeller family installed communist and fascist symbols in the public artwork of Rockefeller Center. One of his Fox News Channel colleagues, Shepard Smith, has jokingly called Beck’s studio the “fear chamber.” Beck countered that he preferred “doom room.”

It might be accurate to say that Beck is dumb like a fox and doesn’t actually subscribe to half of what he proposes. That’s not the half I’m worried about. If he wants to manipulate the emotions of his emotionally overwrought audience by creating an alternate reality where any cockamamie dot connecting is possible, more power to him and American capitalism. If millions of Pet Rocks could be sold, it should be obvious, as the equally cynical H.L. Mencken once said, “No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people.”

I would add to that the caveat “about some things.” And one of those things is an apparent weakness of ours that knows no ideological boundaries, but manifests itself in our desperate desire to believe things about the political opposition that is demonstrably untrue. Whether Beck taps that undercurrent of resentment and fear deliberately or whether he has had the good fortune to fall into his success, doesn’t matter. The effect is the same; mindless and distorted opposition that plays into the hands of our political enemies and makes rational discourse impossible.

Stacy McCain thinks this opposition to Beck by people like Wehner is based on “envy” due to Beck’s overwhelming success, and what he has referred to in the past as “careerist” impulses among some conservatives who seek to climb the ziggurat of power in Washington by trashing “the grass roots.”

The GOP establishment in Washington has a surfeit of such parasitical careerists, who think that the Republican Party is about them, and not about all those millions of grassroots people who are, in fact, the conservative movement.

Wehner’s attack on Beck is framed as if the problem is political or ideological, but in fact the problem is Wehner’s own envy and ambition, which poisons his soul. And we know where that kind of attitude leads.

I wonder how Stacy can glean “envy” from Wehner’s discourse - perhaps he has been vouchsafed an ability us lesser mortals have been denied. I know that if I were a religious man, I would hit my knees every night and thank the Lord that, as muddled as my thinking can be at times, I am saved from the affliction of illogic and paranoia from which Glenn Beck apparently suffers.

How success automatically makes one impervious to criticism, I have yet to figure out. And what it has to do with whether Beck is a manipulative cynic also escapes me. I guess Stacy is saying that because Beck is hugely successful, this is proof that he is a logical, reasoned, thoughtful man - or perhaps he’s merely “effective.” If that’s the case, then we have reached a point in our political discourse where instilling fear and loathing using wildly exaggerated, over the top charges of conspiracy on the part of the opposition is the best path to power.

Is there nothing wrong with that picture? For millions of conservatives, apparently not.

By: Rick Moran at 10:19 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (22)

9/21/2009
SHOULD NEWSPAPERS GO NON-PROFIT?

There is little doubt that the nation’s newspapers are in deep trouble. And not just a few rags here and there. The entire industry is in the process of going extinct with the exception of a few papers funded by individuals with very, very deep pockets and can absorb the millions in losses incurred by running a modern, metropolitan daily newspaper.

Why this is so, is a trickier question and not conducive to simple, one sentence answers. You can say the internet is killing the daily newspaper and that would be true, but not the whole story.

You can say blogs are killing newspapers and you would be indulging in wishful thinking. They have certainly affected newspapers but most bloggers need newspapers more than newspapers need blogs.

You can say political bias is killing newspapers and you would be picking nits. Bias in reporting only makes the political class angry. No one else really notices or cares.

You can say that the standard business model for the daily paper does not reflect the reality of the marketplace and you would be correct - except most papers have already tried to adapt to the internet age and are finding it very tough going.

The number one reason newspapers are dying is because they cannot compete in a rapidly changing information marketplace. The print editions are not as immediate as television. The web editions are hard to navigate and difficult to find the information for which you are looking. Advertising revenue for both is dropping as marketing whizzes use social networking sites and techniques to drive conversation about products and services that were once full page ads. The huge falloff in revenue from classified ads moving to websites like Craig’s List has also contributed to the decline.

People’s reading habits are changing. Audio books and Kindle are revolutionizing the way we read and web sites like Memeorandum make it a simple matter to pick out information that the reader feels is necessary to know or in which he is interested. Newspapers are becoming superfluous - an unwanted appendage that doesn’t fill any need except that of tradition and continuity.

Blogs and message boards do a better job of informing about sports, style, even business. Ditto for what used to be called “opinion journalism” and is now simply ranting, for the most part. Such opinion columnists don’t marshal arguments, illuminate options, and recommend a course of action. They have - with very few exceptions - become creative writers, trying to outdo blogs in their use of colorful invective and snarky sarcasm.

If Rupert Murdoch gets his way and readers are forced to pay for the privilege of accessing on-line newspaper content, it will only hasten their demise. The New York Times “firewall” experiment proves that. Not enough people are willing to pay to read opinion - even if they are usually in agreement with the columnist. They can get pretty much the same thing for free on blogs. And sometimes, the writing and thinking is superior to that which is found at newspapers, online or otherwise.

That leaves paying for “news” stories. This presupposes that no one will step in and offer for free what these newspapers want to charge money for. The Army of Davids who would eagerly dive into the void and “report” on various news stories using what they discover on local blogs, YouTube, or even Twitter would doom to failure any attempt for newspapers to alter their revenue plans to include charging for online access - even if it’s only a “nominal” fee.

I love newspapers - both online and dead tree. But they belong to another age, much like the elegance of a horse drawn carriage or the friendliness of a Mom and Pop grocery store. What exactly is it that newspapers do that would justify their continued existence?

“Investigative” reporting? Most newspapers don’t do that anymore - too expensive. And even if a paper has an investigative reporting department, is that reason enough to pay for the privilege of access when these stories make up such a small percentage of news reported during the course of a year?

“In-depth” analysis of issues? Anyone who is interested in an issue or a story can find a dozen websites ranging from think tanks to university professors who would do an equally good job of giving context, history, and analysis to any issue.

There are niche areas where newspapers could thrive. I can see an ESPN or IDB, or Wall Street Journal remaining viable as long as their price for access was reasonable and commensurate with the value of the content. Ditto for websites that report on fashion, or movies, or any other department found in daily newspapers. I wouldn’t doubt it if there weren’t already websites that contain obituaries. Many would pay for access there too.

But why pay to read about New York sports teams in the New York Times? If you’re from New York, you could get equally good coverage and analysis on any of a dozen blogs. Sports talk radio would give the sports fan access to the same news with the bonus of it being free.

As long as newspapers were the gatekeepers for information and commanded the attention of the masses, they could charge advertisers enough money to make a profit. But with such diluted information streams coming from all points, and advertisers finding alternatives that are cheaper and actually promise to promote their products better, newspapers have become entities in search of a mission. They are casting about desperately, trying to manufacture reasons to remain relevant. And no one - not readers or advertisers - is buying it.

Nothing I’ve written so far is news to anyone who follows the newspaper industry. Nor is the idea that somehow, the government must step in and “help” newspapers survive. Direct subsidies would be ridiculous. The government should not be in the business of subsidizing opinion. The slippery slope there is so obvious a 3 year old could see it.

But what about indirect subsidies in the form of tax breaks for newspapers that reorganize themselves into non profit organizations? The Hill reports:

The president said he is “happy to look at” bills before Congress that would give struggling news organizations tax breaks if they were to restructure as nonprofit businesses.

“I haven’t seen detailed proposals yet, but I’ll be happy to look at them,” Obama told the editors of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and Toledo Blade in an interview.

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) has introduced S. 673, the so-called “Newspaper Revitalization Act,” that would give outlets tax deals if they were to restructure as 501(c)(3) corporations. That bill has so far attracted one cosponsor, Cardin’s Maryland colleague Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D).

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs had played down the possibility of government assistance for news organizations, which have been hit by an economic downturn and dwindling ad revenue.

In early May, Gibbs said that while he hadn’t asked the president specifically about bailout options for newspapers, “I don’t know what, in all honesty, government can do about it.”

Obama said that good journalism is “critical to the health of our democracy,” but expressed concern toward growing tends in reporting — especially on political blogs, from which a groundswell of support for his campaign emerged during the presidential election.

“I am concerned that if the direction of the news is all blogosphere, all opinions, with no serious fact-checking, no serious attempts to put stories in context, that what you will end up getting is people shouting at each other across the void but not a lot of mutual understanding,” he said.

The president obviously doesn’t spend 10 hours a day on the internet like the rest of us. If he did, he would have known that there are many websites and blogs that already offer mostly unbiased analysis and fact based opinion. The idea that these qualities are solely the province of old school journalists found in the newsrooms of America is absurd.

Sadly, many on both the right and the left read only those blogs and websites that reflect their partisan tilt (this is less true on the left but there is still a very significant percentage of liberals who will read only liberal blogs.) It is not that the kind of information the president is talking about isn’t already available, it is that the number of people interested in non-partisan or less partisan reading is relatively small.

And perhaps the president would like to tell us how newspapers have promoted “mutual understanding?” Newspapers have historically promoted their own biased viewpoints, from Hearst to Ochs. Until relatively recently, newspapers were basically organs for one party or the other. Some still are.

If newspapers believe they can investigate corruption, fairly analyze politics and culture, and offer fact based opinion pieces that seek to inform rather than inflame, then by all means give them the tax breaks.

But you and I know that won’t happen. In fact, it is the profit motive that restrains newspapers from being too overtly biased in their reporting. Currently, newspapers must attract as many people as possible regardless of their political biases or party affiliation. If they were to go non-profit, what would be the incentive to be fair? There would be some, of course, who would respect the idea that they were in the business of informing their readers in as neutral a way possible of the issues and politics that are newsworthy. But such nobility would be even rarer than it is today. Without the incentive to make money, newspapers would de-evolve and revert to their past practice of being openly partisan or ideological. Remove the profit motive and you remove the one thing that governs content.

In the last 5 years, I may have read half a dozen dead tree newspapers. My reading habits have changed and the time spent perusing a newspaper could be better spent googling what I want to know. That’s the bottom line and I see no way that newspapers - online or traditional paper editions - will ever to be able to overcome the problem that the meteor has already struck Chicxulub and there is nothing they can do to save themselves from catastrophe.

By: Rick Moran at 9:47 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (14)

9/20/2009
MY BELOVEDS FACE THEIR URLACHERLESS FUTURE

1-52

The date April 2, 2009 will live forever in Chicago Bears lore. On that date, the franchise pulled the trigger on the most significant trade in many a year when they acquired Pro-Bowl QB Jay Cutler from the Denver Broncos in exchange for former third string QB Kyle Orton.

It was almost too good to be true. In fact, if the trade had occurred a day earlier on April Fools, it is likely most fans wouldn’t have believed it. They would have chalked it up as one more cruel joke Bears management played on fans over the last couple of decades when it comes to drafting or acquiring starting quarterbacks.

The team has had 29 different QB’s since Jim McMahon and his Punkadelic Freak Show pulled up stakes at Soldier Field and moved on to greener pastures. This record of absolute, embarrassing futility has probably never been surpassed, nor is it likely to be. Bears “saviors” drafted or traded for at the QB position have included:

* Mike Tomczak, a second stringer at Ohio State coached by a guy who is famous for saying, “Only 3 things can happen when you pass the ball and two of them are bad.”

* Jim Harbaugh, a product of Michigan whose collegiate career was spent handing off to brilliant running backs

* The eminently forgettables; Peter Tom Willis, Will Furrer, Steve Stenstrom, Moses Moreno, Henry Burris, … must I go on?

* Rick Mirer - bust. Erik Kramer - former Detroit Lion (nuff said). Jim Miller - best of the lot but couldn’t stay healthy.

Shane Matthews was drafted from the national champion Florida team. Had an arm like spaghetti and a head filled with oatmeal. Cade McNown was drafted from USC. He was under the impression he had been drafted to play running back. Both were gone within 3 years of being touted as “The next Jim Harbaugh.” Seriously.

Trades that didn’t quite work out; Kordell Stewart who also believed that the QB position was to be filled by a running back; Chris Chandler, who wasn’t too bad but who was such a delicate flower, if a defensive lineman sneezed in his direction, he would be injured and out for the season; and Brian Greise whose daddy may have been a Superbowl QB but had the arm strength of the girl who won the 9-10 year old Punt, Pass, and Kick contest.

Then there was Wonder Dog. It’s not easy to discuss Rex Grossman for me. I really thought he might be “it.” He had all the tools except one; a headfull of brains. For 3 years (he was hurt for 2 more) he was the most inconsistent QB in NFL history. It was a running joke in the media prior to each game he started whether “Good Rex” or “Bad Rex” would show up.

In the end, “No Rex” became the battle cry of the Soldier Field faithful.

As for Kyle Orton, he was never supposed to be anything more than a backup. He too, never panned out, despite doing well as a rookie and, like many a Bear QB, looking like a Hall of Famer in September and October.

But when Autumn falls away and the winter winds begin whipping off Lake Michigan, turning Soldier Field into a nightmare of cold, snow, and ice, Bears QB’s begin to look like the foliage in Grant Park; dull, gray, and dead. And this is where Jay Cutler comes in.

The 25 year old QB played in snowy Denver for three seasons and has eye popping arm strength which will come in handy later in the season when being able to rifle a ball through the gales that swirl around Soldier Field will come in mighty handy. My Beloveds have never had a QB with Cutler’s abilities - and that includes Sid Luckman, the only Bear QB in the Hall of Fame. He also brings some intangibles to the position that haven’t been noticeable in years. Leadership, a fierce desire to win, and a sixth sense that allows him to read defenses correctly.

Forget his horrible game in Green Bay. This guy can play QB and it will be fascinating to see him develop chemistry with a very young, but talented group of receivers.

But all of this is overshadowed, of course, by the loss last week of defensive captain Brian Urlacher. Coupled with the injury to veteran Pisa Tinoisamoa who signed with the team after 7 excellent seasons with St. Louis, what was once a Bears strength - the linebacking corps - will now struggle to fill the gaps on the run and make the Cover 2 work.

Urlacher is, quite simply, irreplaceable, and without him, My Beloveds will probably finish under .500.

But at least the offense will improve. And who knows? Perhaps the defense will surprise. The defensive line has improved significantly thanks to the addition of line coach Rod Marinelli who has instilled confidence and desire in a unit that performed very poorly last year. But huge question marks remain in the defensive backfield with unproven rookie Al Afalava at strong safety and little known 3rd year man Kevin Payne at the other safety spot. Also, former all rookie team member CB Nathan Vasher has lost all confidence and appears to be a liability while the team’s best cover guy Peanut Tillman has been injured and is playing at only 75%.

On offense, RB Matt Forte is ready for an explosive year and will run behind a marginally improved offensive line. The addition of the aging Orlando Pace may not pan out while the addition of Frank Omiyale from the Panthers as well as a healthy Chris Williams should open a few more holes for Forte. Whether they can protect Cutler is the nub of the matter. They better, because if Cutler goes down Bears fans will be treated to the incompetent stylings of Caleb Hanie, a second year man who has never played a down of professional football when it matters.

The receivers are all young (Hester is a third year man) and all very inexperienced. This was painfully driven home several times in the Green Bay loss. But speedsters Johnny Knox, Hester, and Juaquin Iglesias can get deep and will be prime targets for Cutler once they get to know each other a little more. Tight ends Greg Olsen and Desmond Clark will no doubt play a huge role as the season goes on. Both have tremendous pass catching ability and Olsen especially may have a break out year.

Special teams appear to be their usual spectacular selves with dead eye kicker Robbie Gould set for another Pro-Bowl year. Will Devin Hester return to his former glory and return kicks for TD’s? He may have to if the Bears expect to win ballgames this year.

I am fully prepared to be disappointed in this season. I guess the best I can hope for is some exciting, close games with the offense clicking. Other than that, I am not hopeful that My Beloveds will be able to squeeze out many victories with a crippled defense and so many question marks all over the field.

SEASON PREDICTION: 6-10

Today’s Steelers game:

Got a bet going with Ed Morrissey who is a huge Steelers fan so Go Bears!

Prediction: Steelers will run for over 200 yards and Big Ben will avoid the pass rush. Bears will score enough points to keep it close until toward the end of the 3rd quarter when Steelers will pull away.

Final: Steelers 31 Bears 20

UPDATE II: Stars are born

It looked like my prediction about the Steelers pulling away at then end of third quarter was going to come true. But the Steeler’s kicker Jeff Reed missed a relatively easy 37 yarder that would have given them a 10 point lead and the momentum shift was huge.

Jay Cutler made the plays. Johnny Knox showed that he is going to be a threat for years to come. The offensive line played barely well enough. And Robbie Gould hit the game winner - as cool a customer with the game on the line as anyone in the league.

But it was the defense that stepped it up after that horrible first quarter and kept Big Ben, Hines, and the rest of the Steeler weapons in relative check. Typical Lovie defense, they played “bent not broke” for the rest of the game, stuffing the run, (except for 3 or 4 long gainers), keeping everything in the passing game in front of them, sacking Big Ben 3 times.

Cutler? Other Bears QB’s in the past led the team to last second wins. But the 25 year old proved that he has an ineffable quality to rally the offense to step up their game a notch and make the plays to keep drives going. Hester made two catches in traffic on third down. Knox proved he is a weapon after the catch. Olsen proved he can take a hit and keep on ticking. And third stringer Kellen Davis made up for some early drops with a stellar catch in the end zone for the Bears’ second score.

Still don’t like the defense. Steelers pounded the middle and Hillenmeyer ain’t no Urlacher. But he got some help from the nickel back Manning on several passing downs so hopefully, the adjustments without the all-pro middle linebacker will continue.

An extremely satisfying win - especially since Ed Morrisey must now link to this post as the loser of our bet. Ed should have stuck with rooting for Favre and the Vikings.

Today - he is rooting for the losing team.

By: Rick Moran at 9:29 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (10)

9/19/2009
STREAM OF CONSCIOUSNESS SATURDAY

A lot of things have happened this week that have entered the airy cavity sitting atop my neck and floated around waiting to be recognized as conscious thought.

I can imagine all these little snippets of inner dialogue waiting patiently in some line, bitching about how slow a goose I am at moving them from the dark of my subconscious where they effect my thinking in mysterious ways, to the light of consciousness where I can examine them, caress them, milk them for their illuminating properties.

It’s easy to allow emotion to crowd out valuable insights that appear from time to time. At best, we recognize through reflection that perhaps we shouldn’t have written this, or said that, or made a mistake in judgment when analyzing something else. You end up wishing you hadn’t snapped back at your spouse, or yelled at your kid, or dismissed a co-worker’s attempt to be friendly.

I could start a blog and fill it with such reflections without any trouble - as could most of you, I’m sure. Learning from our mistakes is the essence of being human - probably the major factor in the rise of Homo Sapiens. Don’t get too close to that mammoth or you won’t come home from the hunt. Going after a Saber Tooth cat alone is not a good idea if you want to pass your genes on to the next generation. Trial and error not only advanced human evolution, it forms the basis of modern science and has led to the astonishing outpouring of creative thought we see today in everything from computers to razor blades.

Some venues do not allow for such errors. Political blogging is one of them. As ideology is set in stone and cannot be changed or challenged on either the right and the left, variance with the established themes and theses is not only frowned upon but punished severely. Here, “getting it wrong” does not mean that you are necessarily “incorrect,” only that you are in disagreement with the vast majority who march in ideological lock step. Deviate from the shining path and you are cast out as an apostate.

No matter. I came to the conclusion years ago that I could try to be honest with myself and my beliefs, incurring the wrath and disapprobation of those who consider themselves guardians of the Ya-Ya Conservativehood by challenging the underlying assumptions of their excessive and blindered ideology; or toe the line, betray my true beliefs, and enjoy the warmth of fellowship found in their ever narrowing definition of the “true conservative” path.

Lest some believe I am nailing myself to a cross by wallowing in self pity and whining about conservatives - most anyway - not taking me seriously, allow me to disabuse you of that notion. I celebrate my freedom from conformity every fu**ing day. I will lord it over those who, when confronted with a new issue, a new attack, feel lost and alone until they are told by others how they must think, be it Glen Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin, or other “movement” leaders.

To be fair, most conservatives don’t really need to wait for the word coming down from on high. All they have to do is unthinkingly, uncritically, hold a mirror up to whatever the left is saying about an issue and simply reverse the image. That’s what the Limbaughs of the world do anyway. There’s no reason or rationale to it. That comes later - at least the rationale - as the right congratulates those whose “insights” are the most vitriolic and hateful.

The ideological screen through which most opinion on the right is washed has become internalized so that favorite themes regarding the left - unpatriotic, hate America, socialists, communists, liars, traitors - can be pulled off the shelf and slapped on to any “analysis” to make it conform to the “right thinking” brigades of hysterical paranoids who believe themselves guardians of Reagan’s legacy or, in extreme cases of delusional thinking, of conservatism itself.

(I hasten to add that there are exceptions to be found in the writings of some conservatives like Ed Morrissey, Allahpundit, Victor Davis Hanson, and several other independent thinkers on the right. But as a general rule, I believe my analysis stands.)

In this way, ideology at the expense of rational thought is celebrated and rewarded.

And yes, we find the exact same kind of irrational, nonsensical paranoia on the left. There is no difference. One is not worse than the other, except perhaps there is a bigger responsibility generally recognized throughout history for the majority to treat the minority with respect. But this hasn’t been true in American politics for decades so why bother discussing it?

Barack Obama, to his credit, said yesterday that opposition to his policies is not based on race, but on the fear of change:

In a number of interviews that will air in fuller form Sunday morning, the president also addressed the tone of a heated summer debate over health-care, and the contention of one former president that much of the criticism Obama faces is because he is black.

Some of the most heated opposition to the president’s initiatives are not racially motivated, Obama suggested in response to comments that former President Jimmy Carter had made earlier this week, but rather reflective of the turmoil that is common “when presidents are trying to bring about big changes.”

“Are there people out there who don’t like me because of race? - I’m sure there are,” Obama told CNN’s John King. “That’s not the overriding issue here.”

Instead, Obama maintained, it is concern about sweeping government change that has fueled much of the “passion.”

“It’s an argument that’s gone on for the history of this republic,” Obama told NBC News’ David Gregory. “Wbat’s the role of government?… This is not a new argument, and it always invokes passions.”

He is absolutely correct, of course. Not sure that “fear” is exactly the right word to describe what conservatives are feeling. Anyway, I am very glad he said this. But we must demand he go much farther in condemning the wild, out of control explosion of charges being made by his supporters that tar opposition to his policies as motivated solely by race. I realize this is very difficult for him to do because he benefits politically by this ridiculous, false, and hateful rhetoric coming from the left. But as long as his allies continue to deliberately, knowingly, and smugly raise the issue of race and use it as a political club, he will be seen as giving such deceitful arguments credence by the wink and the nudge.

In response to a comment from my brother Jim on my Mary Travers remembrance post, I tried to make the point that there are acceptable and unacceptable ways to engage in political combat, and they all boil down to this:

I joke about lefty folkies, of course - more playing to stereotype than reality. But we are of a generation that perhaps learned valuable lessons about civic disagreements and how they can truly lead to bloodshed unless we all remember that we are Americans who love our country and wish only the best for it. If only we could all start from that premise, I think a lot of the ugliness in our politics would be muted and we could get down to the business of truly addressing some of the problems facing the country today.

Does believing this make me any less passionate in my opposition to what I see are the wrongheaded, dangerous polices and politics of Barack Obama? Does not calling the president a Communist or Marxist disqualify my opinions because they are not hateful enough?

To some, yes. And those who cannot see what this kind of rigid, uncritical, self-defeating thinking is doing to our country - both right and left - may live to see the day where useful dialogue and reasoned debate become an impossibility and our country dissolves into weak, divided, quarreling bunch of ideologues who prevent us from facing vital challenges both at home and abroad.

By: Rick Moran at 6:34 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (17)

9/18/2009
THE GOOD AND THE BAD OF OBAMA’S EURO-MISSILE DEFENSE PLAN

There seems to be a little overreaction to President Obama’s change in policy with regard to missile defense in Europe.

First, it is apparent there should have been better preparation before just dropping this in the Poles and the Czech’s laps. While there had been talk for months about altering the deal that would have set up radar and interceptors in both those countries, the reversal yesterday apparently caught the two nations nearly flatfooted:

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk confirmed today that he declined last night to take a call from the U.S. informing him of the decision to scrap planned missile-defense bases in his country.

Two U.S.-based sources close to the Polish government said Thursday that Tusk also rejected a call from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton — on the grounds that, as the head of the government, he should speak to the president.

“Hillary called — and the reason he turned it down was because of protocol,” said a source.

Questions about the exchanges surfaced in the Polish press after Obama reached the Czech prime minister late last night to warn of the policy change, but did not speak to the Pole until this morning. And the static offers a glimpse at the distress beneath the diplomatic facade being offered by Eastern European leaders.

The interceptors will be replaced with upgraded Patriot-type missile batteries (SM-3) stationed aboard ships originally and then deployed on the ground - possibly in Poland and the Czech Republic anyway.

Both President Tusk and Prime Minister Klaus put their political hides on the line, bending over backward to accommodate Washington’s plans for missile defense on the continent. To cut their legs from underneath them no doubt didn’t sit well with either man.

And this unilateral sop to Russia smacks of appeasement. Every move we make to strengthen the security of former USSR states is met with blustering from Putin. Now the Russian strong man has gotten what he wanted without giving up anything at all in return.

It seems to me that in Iran, Venezuela, and now Russia, the president seems perfectly willing to make these unilateral gestures without asking for anything as a quid pro quo. No doubt it pleases our adversaries that they receive these gifts without having to reciprocate. But it begs the question of why this eagerness to throw away perfectly good bargaining chips?

I understand it is necessary at times to make these kinds of unilateral moves but with Obama, it seems to be a habit - and a bad habit at that. In his eagerness to begin dialogue with these states, he apparently feels that we must atone for our former enmity by making unilateral gestures of “goodwill” that will encourage talks. There are other, smaller and less important things we can give up rather than something like Missile defense that is roiling the capitols of Europe as I write this, or as with Iran, a virtual guarantee that we will not attack.

As for the policy change itself, I am not convinced it is a catastrophe or anything close. At Arms Control Wonk, Jeffrey Lewis links to an explanation for the change by Gates:

Since [2006], two important developments have prompted a reassessment of our approach in Europe. First, a change in our intelligence community’s 2006 view of the Iranian threat: The intelligence community now assesses that the threat from Iran’s short- and medium-range ballistic missiles, such as the Shahab-3, is developing more rapidly than previously projected. This poses an increased and more immediate threat to our forces on the European continent, as well as to our allies.

On the other hand, our intelligence assessment also now assesses that the threat of potential Iranian intercontinental ballistic missile capabilities has been slower to develop than was estimated in 2006.

The second development relates to our technology. Over the last few years, we have made great strides with missile defense, particularly in our ability to counter short-and-medium-range missiles. We now have proven capabilities to intercept these ballistic missiles with land-and-sea-based interceptors supported by much-improved sensors.

These capabilities offer a variety of options to detect, track and shoot down enemy missiles. This allows us to deploy a distributive sensor network rather than a single fixed site, like the kind slated for the Czech Republic, enabling greater survivability and adaptability.

We have the right system being deployed that matches the threat. That should be the bottom line, shouldn’t it? I see the strategic implications of the Bush plan but are those considerations paramount? Or is the whole idea of missile defense really just for show?

Lewis has an excellent backgrounder on the development of the Iranian medium range missile and how North Korea and China are assisting them. He describes some secret Iranian memos that detail how this cooperation is benefiting them in their quicker than expected progress on perfecting the medium range Shahab 3:

The memos cover, in a somewhat sketchy way, a lot of ground. Perhaps the most important aspects are those that deal with how several countries collaborate in either developing missiles or selling missile technology to Iran. The memos use codes for the different collaborator countries but I think I know the meanings of the codes. If my understanding is correct, they indicate that representatives from North Korea and China have been present at all phases of production and flight testing. Iran has also gotten important help from Russia, though Russians do not appear to have been as ubiquitous as the Chinese and the North Koreans. The evidence from the memos indicates that this help is on the governmental level rather than “rogue” individuals. This includes Russian help though Russia has been particularly vocal in its denials of such assistance. Despite these denials, the evidence of foreign assistance, both images of engines and turbopumps that are obviously of Russian origin—either their actual production or at the very least their designs—and these internal Iranian memos, make the case overwhelmingly.

The strong implication in the memos is that this assistance was sought by Iran to reduce the risk of project failure. (See my discussion, on paths proliferators might take.) However, the exchange of technology is not automatic, as it would be in a shared development program. Iran appears to have decided that it will try to solve problems as they come up in an effort to develop indigenous capabilities. Under this acquisition strategy, transfer of technology or know-how, even the exchange of opinions, must be approved on what appears to be a case by case basis by a central authority. This could be an explanation for why North Korea’s U’nha-2 failed during its third stage even though it appears to use the Safir’s second stage; a stage that Iran had problems with but eventually got to work. The solution to that problem under this type of collaboration would not have automatically been shared and either North Korea did not ask for it or Iran refused to share it.

So the immediate threat to Europe does not come from any ICBM the Iranians might develop years from now but rather their short and medium range missiles they are making good progress in perfecting. That makes the deployment of the SM3’s a logical and prudent change in plan.

Lewis doesn’t see us doing Russia any favors by deploying the SM-3 but the obvious gloating from Moscow would seem to belie his sanguine analysis. Perhaps from a strategic standpoint, Moscow could care less but the idea that the American president has caved in to their constant demands to not deploy in Poland or Czech Republic might make Putin much more difficult to deal with in the future. That seems to be the analysis of some

The Administration’s likelier motive for scrapping the interceptors is that it hopes to win Russia’s vote at the U.N. Security Council for tougher sanctions on Iran. Maybe the Russians have secretly agreed to such a quid pro quo, though publicly they were quick to deny it following yesterday’s decision.

And as Russian opposition leader Garry Kasparov has noted, Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin benefits by keeping the Iranian crisis on a low boil, because the threat of a Middle East crisis drives energy prices up while putting U.S. interests at risk. Russia also likes spooning out dollops of diplomatic help at the U.N. in exchange for material Western concessions. This time, the concession was missile defense. Next time, perhaps, the West can be seduced into trading away the pro-Western government of Georgia, or even Ukraine.

That’s hardly an idle fear. It has been the tragic fate of the countries of Eastern and Central Europe to be treated as bargaining chips in the designs of their more powerful neighbors. Their inclusion in NATO and EU was supposed to have buried that history, but Russia’s new assertiveness, including its willingness to cut off energy supplies in winter and invade Georgia last year, is reviving powerful fears. Officials in Warsaw surely noticed that President Obama cancelled the missile system 70 years to the day that the Soviet Union invaded Poland as part of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact with Nazi Germany.

They may have noticed it but reading anything into Obama’s action that would smack of betrayal? Certainly on the political level that might be true. But it would be wrong to say that Poland is any less secure with the SM-3’s than they would have been with the interceptors.

I agree on one level this is a bad decision, and was handled badly by the State Department and the White House. But looking at it from the standpoint of advancing our interests and protecting our allies, I see little to fault.

By: Rick Moran at 9:48 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (28)

MARS ROVER SPIRIT IN TROUBLE
CATEGORY: Science, Space

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Spirit photographs silica deposits at the bottom of Gusev Crater (2007)

“The Little Rover that Could,” they call it. Designed to last 3 months, both NASA Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity have passed the 5 year mark of operations on the surface, much to the delight of Mars buffs and scientists alike.

Since landing in January of 2004, the two rovers have revolutionized our knowledge of the red planet. And their ability to survive and thrive through several crisis have earned them the reputation of being plucky machines as well as intrepid explorers.

They have climbed hills, descended into craters, peered inside dozens of rocks by using their unique drilling instruments, and wandered far and wide searching for signs that would confirm the theory that Mars was once much warmer, and wetter, and thus more friendly to the idea that some kind of life may have evolved there.

They have confirmed that water once flowed in liquid form on Mars - perhaps their most significant achievement. They have also been able to determine that the Mars magnetic field was once strong enough to deflect deadly solar rays. This discovery makes the possibility that life may have arisen at one time on Mars more than a theoretical possibility. (Other clues discovered by the Mars Orbiter and the lander Phoenix have confirmed and augmented these discoveries.)

They have found no sign of any life, past or present, but that was not really part of their mission profile. Instead, they have allowed us to vicariously walk the surface of Mars as if we were part tourist, and part geologist. They have sent back a quarter of a million pictures and more than 36 gigs of data from the surface of Mars - enough to keep scientists around the world busy for a decade. And they have enriched our understanding of the forces that shaped the red planet.

Now, however, the rover Spirit may be at the end of the road. Already operating on much reduced power due to dust on its solar panels, the little rover now appears to be stuck fast in some very soft Martian soil and is unable to get any traction:

Spirit has certainly outlived expectations. It became embedded in soft soil at a site called Troy in early May, more than five years into a mission on Mars that was originally scheduled to last for three months. The rover team suspended further driving attempts with Spirit while evaluating how to free it.

The engineers are trying to figure out how to move Spirit while avoiding putting the rover’s center of gravity directly over a rock that is touching or nearly touching the machine’s underbelly. Other added tests are using a lighter-weight test rover than the one used for most of the testing this summer. A complete “dress rehearsal” test of the extrication strategy judged to hold the best chance of success is planned in the test setup at JPL before the team commands Spirit to begin driving. That test and subsequent review of its results are expected to take several weeks.

Moves by Spirit will not begin before October, according to current plans.

A dust storm that had reduced the electrical output from Spirit’s solar panels by nearly half during late August still has some lingering effects on the skies above Spirit, NASA said.

Scientists figured out that the rover was sitting directly over an exposed rock by pulling a unique maneuver and peering underneath the rover itself with its camera. With its power supply dying, scientists feel they must extricate the machine in the next few months or it will be curtains for Spirit:

“We are proceeding very cautiously and exploring all reasonable options,” said John Callas, NASA project manager for Spirit and its twin, Opportunity. “There is a very real possibility that Spirit may not be able to get out, and we want to give Spirit the very best chance.”

Callas and colleagues at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory have been testing ideas on a twin of Spirit at the California facility, in a pit designed to simulate the surface of Mars. It’s tricky though, because of the difference in gravity of the two planets. The rover team is also refining a detailed computer model of rover mobility, calibrated with results from testing and measurements from Mars.

“The computer modeling will allow us to connect the results from tests performed in Earth gravity with what to expect from the rover in Mars gravity,” Callas said in a statement Monday.

For a mission that originally cost $820 million - a bargain as far as planetary exploration is concerned - it is reasonable to say that we sure have gotten our money’s worth out of both rovers.

Meanwhile, the rover Opportunity keeps plugging away. Spirit’s twin recently cracked open a Mars meteor, looking for clues about how thick the Martian atmosphere might have been when the cosmic piece of junk struck the surface.

Here’s hoping they can save Spirit and help it dig itself out of trouble. If not, what a ride that little rover that could has given us.

By: Rick Moran at 8:58 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (3)