Right Wing Nut House



Filed under: Decision 2012, Palin, Politics, cotton candy conservatives — Rick Moran @ 10:45 am

It’s pretty hard whether you are a Republican or Democrat, not to have a strong opinion about the abilities - or lack thereof - of Sarah Palin. The problem, as I see it, is that most on both sides paint the former Alaska governor in cartoonish colors thus making them incapable of evaluating her politically or personally in any kind of reasoned, rational way.

While my opinion of Palin hasn’t changed since it became clear that her depthless intellect and lazy habits of mind made her extraordinarily unready for national office, the more I see of her, the more I want to understand her appeal - and figure out what drives the left nuts about her.

Some on the left and right compare her to Ronald Reagan. That’s just not happening for me. The only similarity I can see is a superficial likeness in the way that people respond to her rhetoric - a pale echo of the Gipper’s soaring imagery and heartfelt sincerity when speaking about “that America.”

“That America” is not necessarily the “real America.” America is many things to many people. We all define our own “American” reality. I daresay that an African American’s America is slightly different than the America of a conservative southern Christian. Neither vision is wrong or evil. Our reality is shaped by our experience, our upbringing, our schooling, our friends and family, and outside influences.

Reagan - and to a less successful degree Palin - sought to hack into the American memory where most of our mistakes and crimes of omission and commission are either blocked by a firewall or deleted. What’s left is the “shining city on a hill” - the aspirational notion of an exceptional nation inhabited by exceptional people; self reliant, fiercely independent, contemptuous of government/authority, and bound by a citizen-government compact that doesn’t allow deviation from the template that was laid down when America was a coastal republic of 7 million people.

Change - dynamic, incremental, or otherwise - is virtually unknown in “that America.” Reagan was enough of a pragmatist to realize that it was impossible to repeal Johnson’s Great Society and FDR’s New Deal. But now Sarah Palin comes along and, while very short on specifics, hints at just such a revolution; a willy-nilly federalism capped by what Ambinder calls in this brilliant article, a “relitigating” of the social contract that has been the basis for life in America for the last 50 years:

Palin, writes Jonathan Raban in an excellent essay in the New York Review of Books, has an “exceptionally canny political instinct for connecting with her own kind.” It has been noted that her conservatism is resentment-based, and is fueled and nourished by the specter of elite mistreatment. (Palin is savvy enough to tease back.) But it is more than that. More than a list of grievances, Palin mixes Nixonian derision for those who think they know better with an aspirational dimension that motivates the middle class to vote. Out of the tony leagues of Washington and New York, she is — well, an Idahoan by birth, an exurbanite mother, able to expurgate the Republican Party of its own cosmopolitan tendencies. (This is one reason why the McCain campaign could not tend to her.) She is, as my friend @thetonylee says, “a hybrid of Nixon and Buchanan.”

The only presidential candidate who is able to put the boots to Obama and get away with it. What’s she running for? Not the question. What’s she running against? Not just Rockefeller Republicanism and the media, or pointy-headed law lecturer presidents, or Katie Couric: she wants to relitigate a bunch of issues that once were settled but now seem to be unraveling. The unrestricted embrace of immigration and the dilution of an American culture. Overweening Greenism. A complicated socially engineered tax code. A much larger role for government (embraced by the president who said that the era of Big Government Was Over and his successor, who was a Republican). The rule of experts. Even the concept of bipartisanship itself.

Ambinder is convinced that the way she is projecting herself smells suspiciously like she is a candidate in 2012. I think she wants to be but is being very cautious. She is leaving her options wide open, which is very smart, while making small moves on the national stage to both test the waters and leave herself an exit should the situation change in the next 10 months.

She can do this because she is the most popular Republican in the country right now. Even though a clear majority of Republicans don’t want to see her as president, an even larger number say that Palin “shares their values.” A majority of the GOP also believes that Palin represents a “new direction” for the party.

What is that direction? Ambinder:

In Searching for Whitopia, Rich Benjamin defines of a geo-racial balkanization that gives Palin-like candidates a natural base: towns like Couer d’Alene Idaho, with a “diversified economic base,” a pro-business regulatory environment, a commitment to “quality of life” issues, and — a 95% ethnic homogeneity. Coeur D’Aleners were migrants from the California of the 1990s; they live now in Colorado and the suburbs of Phoenix and are slowly pushing their way around the Sunbelt. Benjamin notes the “cultural, ancestral and implicitly racial” bond to their communities. The new residents come looking for land and living space; the long-time residents just want as little disruption as possible. Right now, there is enormous disruption. It is the same disruption that Democrats believe redounds to their benefit; depressed wages, exotic financial deals, government spending cuts (which feeds the disruption), what one Palin watcher calls the “downstream effects” of a country that has lived beyond its means for 60 years.

George W. Bush never spoke this language. He was an evangelical convert, more influenced by his advisers Catholicism than by, say, Palin’s Assembly of God charismatics. She is pure in ways the rich son of Connecticut could never dream of.

These simple folk of Idaho aren’t so simple. They get their news from talk radio and new media; and Palin speaks in 140-word epigrams: fragments that are icky to the ears of more polished speakers but convey meta-data — she understands this. What’s most appealing about Palin to these exurbanites, I think, is that the big Elite Crucible tore her apart — and she rose again, stood up, straightened her dress, and is now confronting her tormentors.

Palin speaks to a restlessness among conservatives who are uncomfortable with change. In the tea party movement, there is much hearkening back to a time when Americans didn’t need government so much (more realistically, government simply wasn’t there). While the fringes of the movement may not support much of any kind of government at all, the majority of tea partiers appear to be much more pragmatic in their criticism.

They may see a need for government in some areas but beyond anything else, they want the president and Congress - both parties - to adhere to founding principles. There is no reason this can’t be done while change occurs. Respecting individual freedom, acknowledging personal responsibility, adhering to the concept of constitutionally limited government, and following the rule of law are all under attack, and have been under both Democratic and Republican presidents.

I like to think that the linchpin that holds these principles together is prudence. And no one can make the argument that any of the last 3 presidents have demonstrated prudence when it comes to governing America.

Russell Kirk on prudence; one of his Ten Conservative Principles:

Burke agrees with Plato that in the statesman, prudence is chief among virtues. Any public measure ought to be judged by its probable long-run consequences, not merely by temporary advantage or popularity. Liberals and radicals, the conservative says, are imprudent: for they dash at their objectives without giving much heed to the risk of new abuses worse than the evils they hope to sweep away. As John Randolph of Roanoke put it, Providence moves slowly, but the devil always hurries. Human society being complex, remedies cannot be simple if they are to be efficacious. The conservative declares that he acts only after sufficient reflection, having weighed the consequences. Sudden and slashing reforms are as perilous as sudden and slashing surgery.

It’s almost as if Kirk read the health care reform bill. Or the prescription drug benefit. Or even the AUMF resolution. We have an imprudent government and as such, it has rejected First Principles in favor of the temporary political aggrandizement of the elites.

Palin articulates this uneasiness, tapping into the resentment held by those who don’t want their old shoe America to disappear. The people sense things are moving too fast, careening out of control. The budget and deficit are symptomatic. It is the abandonment of prudence by the governing elite that has unhinged the forces of change and no one appears to be in control - or care much where we end up.

She wants to take us back to a place and a time that never really existed except in the imaginations of “that America.” It won’t work - it never has worked. Reagan was able to capture this yearning, but governed prudently and pragmatically. In that sense, he was always a disappointment to the “true believers” who thought he had been captured by Jim Baker and the inside the beltway elite. “Let Reagan be Reagan” was the plaintive cry of the James Watts, Richard Vigueires, and other movement conservatives who placed their hopes in drastically rolling back government on Reagan’s shoulders. The Gipper decided that governing and winning was better than slashing and burning, while going down to defeat.

That may be the real danger of a Palin presidency. She is not pragmatic nor do I sense much prudence in her either. That would require self-reflection - something that she clearly has eschewed in favor of “going with her gut” on all except calculating her own personal, political future. Basically ignorant not because she is stupid but because she is lazy, the half formed opinions that spout from her during her speeches may be enough to satisfy her legions of worshipers but, as we are finding with President Obama, translate poorly into a governing philosophy. If Palin were to beat the odds and win, no doubt we would see a continuation of the “perpetual campaign” that passes for leadership and governance from Obama.

So might she win?

Not a single other Republican presidential candidate can build a crowd like Palin, can run against something like Palin (be it Washington, the media, the McCain campaign or Obama); no one speaks to the resentment/aspirational conservatives like she does; no one’s life has better exemplified the way they perceive their struggle against the elite. We like to think about presidential primaries in paradigms, but candidates who fit with the times often find ways to completely subvert established paradigms.

Yes she can.



Filed under: The Rick Moran Show — Rick Moran @ 5:04 pm

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

Tonight, I welcome Ed Lasky and Larrey Anderson of American Thinker and Fausta Wertz for a discussion of several issues of importance currently generating interest on the net and elsewhere.

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.”

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

Listen to The Rick Moran Show on internet talk radio


Filed under: Blogging, Government, History, The Rick Moran Show — Rick Moran @ 11:52 am

Some might believe the idea of writing 1500 words about toilet paper to be a complete waste of time. Of course, that means that reading 1500 words about toilet paper would be an even bigger waste of time. But before you click away from what, on the surface, would seem to be a throwaway post, I want to engage your mind and stir your soul about the importance, the efficacy, and the sheer wonder of this absolutely essential household product.

Have you ever contemplated what our civilization would be like without toilet paper? We’d be stuck using old copies of the New York Times or Washington Post - sort of like spreading shi*t on sh*t, although if newspapers wish to survive, perhaps they could start a movement to ban bathroom tissue. Think of the extra millions of copies newspaper companies would sell. People might not read them, but in our modern society, products with more than one purpose have a better chance of surviving.

Still think I’m off my nut?Au contraire, bon ami. I believe there is a direct correlation between the economic health and spiritual well being of a society and the quality and selection of the bathroom tissue it offers.

It is unknown when humans even began to care about cleaning themselves after defecating. The fossil record is silent on the issue and archeological evidence from paleo-human campsites is lacking.

It was probably some Cro-Magnon woman who got tired of sleeping with a stinky man and pointed out the advantages of cleaning oneself after doing his business. Since we all know that women’s stools don’t smell, this is logical (neither do women stink when they sweat, or perhaps men don’t notice it because female perspiration is an aphrodisiac to most of us).

It was the Chinese who first figured out in the second century AD that their invention of paper had applications far beyond the ordinary purpose of being a surface upon which writing might be stored and shared. A fanatically clean society, the use of paper to wipe one’s bum must have seemed a much better option to the Chinese than bamboo grass which, unless you are careful, is capable of cutting the flesh like a Ginsu knife. (The Greeks apparently used a sea shell to scrape the area clean. Try that without letting out a yelp of pain.)

Paper was used in various forms and shapes by succeeding cultures. But it was a highly discriminatory product. Only the rich could afford paper while the middling classes and poor were stuck with other, decidedly less comfortable and efficient products.

It took American ingenuity to invent egalitarian toilet paper. Wikpedia says it was a fellow by the name of Joseph Gayetty who developed the first commercially available TP in the world in 1857. The product had a few drawbacks, however. It came in small sheets for one. Then there was the problem of splinters, since the process of manufacturing soft, smooth, quilted, or multi-ply paper was a few decades away. It doesn’t take much imagination to experience the pain that would be felt if one were to be unfortunate enough to have a splinter lodged in your anus. True love would be your wife assisting you in removing it.

It wasn’t until 1935 when Northern Tissue advertised “splinter-free” bathroom tissue that the modern technological age began and industrial society was poised to reach its peak of perfection. I shudder to think that I might have been born in an era without Charmin or other premium brands of TP.

It should be noted that there is still something of a stigma attached to the product. Why this is so relates to our shame regarding any discussion of the private parts of the body. That, and the indelicate nature of what the product is used for. But really, when you think about it, why should shame be attached to a wonderfully useful product for which everyone has need? There isn’t a soul alive or dead who could honestly say that they were indifferent about the necessity of utilizing this product. It as universally essential to daily life as Hellman’s Mayonaise or Plochman’s Yellow Mustard.

Hopefully, this attitude is changing thanks to a groundbreaking series of commercials for Charmin TP that features animated bears who are actually seen almost using the product. That, of course, is the final barrier that needs to be broken. Once the Charmin Bears are seen wiping, we will have a new normal for bathroom tissue commercials. There will be a scramble among Northern, Scott, and the other giants of the industry to show their product in use. I await this day with much anticipation for it will be then that toilet paper can come out of the water closet and breathe the fresh air of a deserved, respected notoriety.

We have few jokes about toilet paper in our culture. That’s because of its ubiquitousness, as well as the superb quality of the tissue that is generally available even to the poorest among us. I did find a rather funny Chuck Norris/Jack Bauer truism. Playing off the idea that some toilet paper has celebrities printed on the roll:

They once made a Chuck Norris toilet paper, but it wouldn’t take sh*t from anybody.

Socialist societies overflow with TP jokes. That’s because when such a basic necessity is part of a command economy, there will never be enough and its quality will be a joke. This brings to mind P.J. O’Rourke’s masterpiece Holidays in Hell where his visit to the Soviet Union in the early 80’s was painted as a nightmare of shortages, and standing in line for hours just to purchase a couple of rolls of toilet paper.

This incredible report from a sociologist in Russia describes how the Stalinist state designed one kind of toilet paper:

My view is that the development and usage of toilet paper has a much neglected ‘cultural’, as opposed to crudely ‘economic’, aspect. I remember using something called ‘Izal’ - a sort of hard, crumply, medicated affair, prone to splitting under excessive pressure. It was clearly designed and manufactured by an anally retentive Methodist sworn to clean living, clean air and clean bums. It came in boxes especially designed to keep use of paper to a minimum. Each sheet had to be withdrawn singly and was usually the devil’s own job to extract. Sort of thing one found in the lower middle class household of Stalinist persuasion that I inhabited during my childhood years…. It never did me any harm, honest.

And Obama wants our government to have a big say in the design of cars?

If you read between the lines of this old Russian joke about toilet paper, you can catch the utter helplessness that people feel in a society that is incapable of addressing their most basic comforts:

A woman walking in the street is carrying a bag full of rolls of toilet paper.

A passer-by opens his mouth, “Hey, mother, where did you buy it?”

“Buy? Are you crazy? Where could I buy it nowadays? They are five years old. I am taking them back from the cleaners.”

And, of course, there are dozens of variations on the newspaper Pravda (Truth) being better utilized for duty in the water closet than actually finding out what was going on in the Soviet Union at the time. Those humorous anecdotes also say something profound about a society where attacking the state by smearing excrement over its propaganda organ is a way to fight back against the stultifying nature of Communism.

In contrast, the bidet - that most elegant and efficient of hygienic aids - would probably make the average Soviet citizen of the period contemplate bloody revolution. But frankly, I’ve never gotten the hang of the contraption and prefer the less ritzy, but more utilitarian paper alternative.

I hope you come away with a greater appreciation of bathroom tissue, and a more enlightened grasp of the spectacular successes of American society after reading this. If not, I’m sure you can find some shells somewhere.



Filed under: GOP Reform, Politics, Tea Parties, conservative reform — Rick Moran @ 11:16 am

Should the tea party movement be seen as a phenomenon as large and consequential as another Great Awakening?

Glenn Reynolds thinks so:

I attended this past weekend’s National Tea Party Convention in Nashville, Tennessee, and I came away feeling that I had seen something important. The Tea Party movement is part of something bigger: America’s Third Great Awakening.

America’s prior Great Awakenings, in the 18th and 19th Centuries, were religious in nature. Unimpressed with self-serving, ossified, and often corrupt religious institutions, Americans responded with a bottom-up reassertion of faith, and independence.

This time, it’s different. It’s not America’s churches and seminaries that are in trouble: It’s America’s politicians and parties. They’ve grown corrupt, venal, and out-of-touch with the values, and the people, that they’re supposed to represent. So the people, once again, are reasserting themselves.

Mr. Reynolds is incorrect. The Great Awakenings were very much about politics - so much so that the First Great Awakening is seen as the first stirrings of what historian Page Smith refers to as an “American consciousness.” For the first time in colonial America, a clear distinction was widely sensed between the highly stratified society in England and America’s more egalitarian, less class oriented social structure. It had a profound impact on most of the Founders who saw “moral behavior” as the true value in evaluating an individual’s worth, not his class.

The importance of this political awakening cannot be underestimated. Before we could sever our ties to Mother England, the colonists had to make the leap of logic that we were a separate people deserving of our own country. The Great Awakening was not only about renewal and reform of religion and its institutions, but also the notion that the unmistakable hand of God was at work in forging a new people, a new “race,” unsullied by the infection of aristocracy and class-based social conventions.

Admittedly, Mr. Reynolds used the term “Great Awakening”more as a metaphor than a straight comparative concept to describe the tea party movement’s importance in America.

But even as a metaphor, it doesn’t hold water. The tea party movement may be more popular than the Republican party with voters (more than both parties by independents) according to this Rasmussen poll but it is hard to see how this nebulous, self-described “bottom up” political movement can translate those good feelings into the kind of massive political power that it would take to upset the establishment in either party.

This is especially true since, despite protestations to the contrary, at least some of the tea party organizational structure is being absorbed into the Republican party - as it was always intended by establishment politicians who fed the nascent movement over the last year with cash and organizational resources. The tea party embrace of Scott Brown’s candidacy in Massachusetts revealed to what lengths some in the movement had been co-opted.

Brown’s “fiscal conservatism” runs a mile wide and an inch deep, as he will shortly prove as he takes his seat in the senate. As an alternative to the clueless Coakley, he was fine. But to imbue the senator with qualities that he has never demonstrated in his political career was either the product of wishful thinking or deliberate self-delusion. Brown is plenty conservative enough - for Massachusetts. But it is at least possible that if the Democrats re-work health care reform, he might vote in favor of it. And if the Democrats jigger cap and trade, he could vote for that too. He may even be persuaded to vote for a modified card check bill.

Brown, of course, played to the sunny side of conservatives during the course of his campaign, giving tea partiers what they wanted to hear while downplaying some of his more problematic positions on the issues. That’s politics, children. This is a politician who no more wants to “shrink” the overall size of government than any other inside the beltway, establishment legislator. A rebel, he is not. An independent conservative, he is. And what he means by “independent” is that he rejects conservative litmus tests that would pigeonhole him as the kind of revanchist politician favored by many in the tea party movement.

If Brown has been elevated to hero status despite his true colors being decidedly less conservative/libertarian than some of his supporters give him credit, what about the impact the tea party movement might have on Republican politics?


And the biggest action item that she presented the crowd with wasn’t to support Sarah Palin, as most politicians would have asked, but to challenge incumbents in primary races. Primary battles aren’t “civil war,” she said. They’re the kind of competition that produces strength in the end.

This seemed to resonate with what I heard from conference attendees. Over and over again, I heard from Tea Party Activists that they were planning to take over their local Republican (and, sometimes Democratic) party apparatus starting at the precinct level and shake things up.

The sense was that party politics have been run for the benefit of the party insiders and hangers-on, not for the benefit of constituents and ideals. And most of the conference, in fact, was addressed to doing something about that, not to worship of Sarah Palin, with sessions on organizing, media skills, and the like.

First of all, I doubt whether “most politicians” would have addressed the convention asking if they could be their leader - at least none with any brains. Most tea partiers have made it clear time and time again that they wish no “leader,” but rather want to remain a nebulously organized entity with ill defined goals. Most politicians would know that and, like Palin, steer clear of overtly trying to hijack the movement for their own ends.

And primary battles aren’t “civil wars” unless that is the perception advanced by the media. ‘Nuff said there. I love the civil war going on in Florida right now with a real up and coming conservative Marco Rubio taking it to the too comfortable Bush/Republican establishment. Sometimes, civil wars are good in that they clear away the deadwood and infuse new ideas, new personalities into a party.

But Florida is an open seat race and hence, a perfect battleground for this sort of thing. Not so in some other races where a GOP incumbent would be challenged by a tea party conservative. Certainly there are allowances to be made when a conservative goes against a moderate in primaries, although just as an example, I don’t think that J.D. Hayworth is the best choice to face off against John McCain.

My point is that it is lunacy to support every insurgent against every perceived RINO across the board. Like Scott Brown, some of those moderates are the best you’re going to get from the GOP in that state. Unless you think like Jim DeMint - that it would be better to “have 30 Republicans in the Senate who really believe in principles of limited government, free markets, free people, than to have 60 that don’t have a set of beliefs…” then you have reconciled yourself not only to minority status, but also the passage of Obama’s far left agenda. The fact that Scott Brown does indeed have a set of beliefs - except they are at odds with DeMint’s narrow, parochial view of conservatism - won’t stop a lot of tea partiers from pushing for candidates who are simply too far to the right to win a statewide contest.

Yeah - but you’ll sure show them moderate RINO’s somfin, huh?

How prevalent is this attitude among the vast tea party universe? Hopefully, there are practical heads who will recognize that picking and choosing one’s fights is better than trying to nuke the party establishment because they fail some rigid, ideological benchmarks artificially imposed from outside a district or state. Questions like “How limited should government be?” will be answered differently by different conservatives across the country. Penalizing those who fail to live up to some conservatives’ ideas of a 19th century American template for “limited government” will only bring failure to the movement’s efforts.

This “Awakening” that Mr. Reynolds writes about may come about eventually. If it does, it will be the result of hard, slogging work performed by activists who eschew any kind of leadership model and rely on enthusiasm and fervent belief in their cause. It’s been done before. Look at the Democrats prior to 1968 and then view the party after McGovern’s debacle in 1972. The rioters in 1968 ended up sitting on the convention floor in 1972. And they didn’t get there because they were invited by the old-line, southern dominated Democratic party establishment.

We need more good conservatives in both parties. But is the tea party movement the right vehicle to realize that goal?



Filed under: Science, Space — Rick Moran @ 10:38 am

These pics of the dwarf planet Pluto are not only really, really kewl, but how they were created is pretty kewl too.

After more than four years of processing on 20 hand-built computers, the best views ever captured of Pluto are now available.

Working from 384 images taken by the Hubble Space Telescope in which the image of Pluto itself was just a few pixels across, astronomer Marc Buie and his team at the Southwest Research Institute stitched together the maps of Pluto you see here.

“It also shows you what I consider to be my best guess for what the true color of Pluto would be if you were puttering around near it in a spacecraft,” Buie said in a NASA teleconference.

Pluto has mostly been in the news in recent years for its demotion from planet to dwarf planet and subsequent attempts to get it lumped back in with the bigger, round objects of the solar system.

But astronomer Mike Brown of the California Institute of Technology, aka @PlutoKiller on Twitter, said the question of the classification of the celestial body doesn’t merit the attention it’s gotten.

“That’s really not an interesting question to ask,” said Brown, who was not involved with the research. “It’s a great place to study.”

Specifically, what’s fascinating to Brown and Buie is the tremendous amount of change that has been observed on Pluto, particularly between images obtained in 1994 and 2003. Based on the new processing of the photos, there has been more change on Pluto than Earth or Mars.

“You’re looking at the surface in the solar system where there are the biggest changes we’ve ever seen,” Brown said.

First, the series of pictures:


They’ve already discovered one dwarf planet that is bigger than Pluto so it would seem the re-classification of the former 9th planet was a good idea.

But given the fact that even Hubble can only resolve the tiny body to what amounts to a faint smudge, these pictures are awesome. Also, given what scientist Mark Buie had to work with as far as funding to get this project done, I think some consideration for a Nobel might be in order:

The computing power necessary to turn the pixels of Pluto into the global map seen above is considerable. Buie hand-wrote all the code in a combination of IDL, a scientific programming language, and C. But when he finished and began to crunch the data, it appeared that it would take decades for the calculations to complete.

So, he took the funding he had and scraped together 20 computers to do the work in parallel.

“I bought these little shuttle boxes and a processor and memory. I got [the price] down to $450 per computer and I had enough to buy 20 computers and have them all grind,” he said. “That’s about the cheapest supercomputer you can manage.”

His team’s handiwork includes this little video of Pluto rotating:

It’s been a while since I wrote about the New Horizon’s spacecraft that recently passed the point where it is now closer to Pluto than it is to earth. It is the fastest moving object ever created by man, speeding toward a swing around Jupiter to get a gravity assist at more than 31,000 MPH. The previous record was held by Voyager I which is now approaching the outer reaches of the heliosphere.

I wrote of the mission back in 2005:

One of the most amazing things to me, a 51 year old amateur space nut, is that the missions NASA has launched to the planets over the last 40 years have been conducted largely under the radar of press coverage and interest by the American people. This state of affairs will probably be looked on 500 years from now by historians with some measure of astonishment. They will marvel at the fact that mankind’s initial attempts to explore their solar system neighborhood would have been met with a collective yawn by a media that routinely reports every pimple that breaks out on Brittany Spear’s face but can’t find the time or effort to describe the wondrous, almost magical efforts to answer questions that have been asked by humanity since our ancestors were loping effortlessly across the African savannah.

Who are we? Why are we here? Are we alone?

In a very real sense, NASA’s New Horizon’s mission to Pluto and the Kuiper Belt beyond will close the first chapter in our quest to solve some of the most fundamental mysteries of the universe. And the fact that this effort has been given such short shrift by our celebrity-obsessed, trivia reporting media reveals much about our manic efforts to remain ignorant about matters so sublime in their implications for adding to the encyclopedia of human understanding that one could actually question the collective sanity of the human race if not for the fact that there are plenty of examples already.

Pluto is such a bizarre object, some of its characteristics are science fiction-like. Scientists are guessing that it’s so cold on Pluto, that the atmosphere actually freezes on its outward leg away from the sun so that it descends to the planet’s surface. This may spell trouble for New Horizons because if that is the case, it will almost certainly obscure any surface features we might be able to photograph.

But it is the last leg of the mission that promises to expand our understanding of the origins of the solar system tremendously. After the Pluto flyby, New Horizons is scheduled to continue onward to the mysterious Kuiper Belt. Objects in the Belt are thought to be left over from the very early days of the solar system’s existence. Studying them may make us revise our theories on how the planets formed.

The Pluto flyby is scheduled for July, 2015.



Filed under: Government, Homeland Security, Science — Rick Moran @ 8:57 am

Ever wonder how secure our stash of nuclear weapons are at bases all over Europe?

I never did - before today.

Hans Kristensen writing at the Federation of American Scientists Security Blog:

A group of people last week managed to penetrate deep onto Kleine Brogel Air Base in Belgium where the U.S. Air Force currently deploys 10-20 nuclear bombs.

Fortunately, the people were not terrorists but peace activists from a group known as Vredesactie, who managed to climb the outer base fence, walk cross the runway, breach a double-fenced security perimeter, and walk into the very center of the air base alongside the aircraft shelters where the nuclear bombs are thought to be stored in underground vaults.

The activists penetrated nearly one kilometer onto the base over more than an hour before a single armed security guard appeared and asked what they were doing. Soon more arrived to arrest the activists, who later described: “The military blindfolded for hours, they forced us to kneel in the snow, arms outstretched at 90° and threatened us if we intend to return to the base in the months to come.”

The activists videotaped their entire walk across the base. The security personnel confiscated cameras, but the activists removed the memory card first and smuggled it out of the base. Ahem…

Here’s the video of their exploits:

Absolutely unbelievable. The video shows the activists strolling into the top secret area where the nukes are kept in bunkers. They deface one of the bunkers with some signage and then continue walking the length of the restricted area.

A child could have penetrated what passes for security at the site. And the fact that they actually had to wait in order to achieve the object of their little excursion - to be arrested - places what happened during this incident in the realm of black comedy.

Jeffrey Lewis of Arms Control Wonk has more:

It looks like the activists approached Kleine-Brogel from the farms to the south of the airbase. Indeed, another group hopped the fence in November 2009. Apparently, they planned to go out on the runway and get arrested just like the previous group in November 2009. But, according to the group’s website “to their surprise, they were able to walk for over an hour on the runway.” (One of the press reports suggests it was forty minutes.)

The base is surrounded by signs indicating that the area is patrolled by guard dogs, but Milou was nowhere to be found.

Eventually, they noticed an open gate to the area where US nuclear weapons are believed to be stored. Belgian peace groups had previously identified the area based on a map handed out an airshow. (As you can see from their website, they had very good maps.)

It looks like this was a side gate — apparently it had been left open to keep from freezing shut — so the activists were able to enter the secure area and approach one of the hardened aircraft shelters from the rear. If you could get inside, it would look something like this.


Lewis adds, “They then walked the length of the plaza — having traversed both the width of the base, and now the width of the secure area for nuclear weapons — when security force finally showed up.”

The Belgium security guy was clueless. Evidently, his weapon was unloaded and he seemed annoyed that his routine had been disturbed.


The reality is that significant shortcomings exists in the security of European airbases where US nuclear weapons are stored. That was made absolutely clear to me on my visit to SHAPE — and it was reported in the 2008 Air Force Blue Ribbon Review. Host-nations are supposed to provide security but they often cut corners. This is basically confirmed by the Belgian commander of the base, who explained that he just doesn’t have enough security forces:

Onze luchtmachtbasis is in totaliteit 450 hectare groot. Een derde is bosgebied waarin ik me drie weken kan bevinden zonder te worden gezien. Vandaar dat we onze bewaking, gelet op onze getalsterkte, concentreren op enkele gevoelige zones.

That works out to, more or less, “Our airbase is 450 hectares in size. A third is wooded areas in which I could stay perfectly well for three weeks without being seen. That is why we concentrate our surveillance on a few sensitive zones where there are aircraft and equipment.” (The translation is by the Open Source Center.)

If the Belgian commander concentrates security on “a few sensitive zones where there are aircraft and equipment…” how in God’s name did these activists go undetected for an hour? Is this what the bloke considers “concentration” of his security forces?

God help us.

Lewis isn’t shy about telling us how to rectify the situation:

As excuses go “It’s a big, wooded base and I don’t have that many troops” doesn’t cut it. In fact, when we are talking about nuclear weapons, it frankly sucks. When it comes to securing nuclear weapons, the United States Air Force has standards for both denial and recapture. If the Belgians and other NATO members won’t provide the forces and equipment necessary to meet both standards, then it is time to put the weapons on a US airbase.

The most direct route to securing US nuclear weapons in Europe is to immediately - like yesterday - consolidate all remaining forward deployed nuclear weapons to just one or two US airbases in Europe. Take your pick from Aviano, Incirlik, Lakenheath and Ramstein. This would immediately improve the overall security of the weapons, while starting a dialogue about whether forward-deployed weapons are really essential to maintaining NATO’s nuclear character twenty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall. This is a point that several of us made in a letter to the President

Our European allies have always been of two minds with regard to basing nuclear weapons on their soil. Privately, they wish the arrangement to continue while publicly, they assure their restive left wings that they want the nukes out. We’ve been dealing with this kind of two-faced policy for almost half a century so I suppose we should be used to it.

But unless our allies are going to get much more serious about securing these weapons, perhaps it would be safer to do as Lewis and his colleagues have suggested and move all the nukes currently stored on sites where there is local security responsibility to a couple of US Air Force bases. The price for a security breach involving terrorists or organized criminal elements would be just too high.

This is actually reminiscent of a US Air Force scandal from a couple of years ago where a shocking lapse in security occurred in this country:

A B-52 from the 5th Bomb Wing at Minot was supposed to transfer unarmed air-launched cruise missiles to Barksdale to be decommissioned, but munitions loaders accidentally attached nuclear-armed missiles to the pylons. The missiles were flown to Barksdale and sat unguarded on the tarmac for several hours before anyone realized what happened, some 30 hours after the mistake was made.

The 5th Bomb Wing commander, two group commanders and the 5th Munitions Squadron commander were relieved of their commands.

The Secretary of the Air Force and the Air Force Chief of Staff also eventually were canned as a result of this, and a couple of other nuclear screw-ups. Gates sent a message at that time that this kind of laxity with nuclear weapons would not be tolerated. The lesson apparently took because we’ve had no such lapses since then - at least, none of which we are aware.

Those weapons in Europe are being targeted by the START talks. Given the questionable need for nukes that are forward based in Europe today, perhaps, in the end, getting rid of them would be the best option.



Filed under: Blogging, Ethics, Politics, Too Big To Fail — Rick Moran @ 11:39 am

It should be clear to all of us by now that the single driving factor in this economic downturn was the meltdown in home values. All the talk about how the big banks screwed us over is relevant only as it relates to the massive devaluation of our largest personal asset; our homes. If home values had stayed relatively stable, or come down at a reasonable rate, the bank crisis may have been manageable. It may have been seen as a bad couple of quarters rather than the catastrophe it became.

But that didn’t happen so here we are. And where we are may very well precipitate another huge devaluation of homes which would then lead to another round of bailouts and takeovers. This is because according to most experts, there is still slack in home values that has yet to be taken in; that our homes are still overvalued despite dropping 30-35-40%.

This has created a situation that is evidently not unprecedented except in scale; people with “underwater” mortgages - where they owe more than their house is worth - simply mailing the keys to their domicile to the bank and walking away from their mortgage obligations. Many simply stop payments and dare the bank to foreclose and evict them. Others find cheaper quarters by either renting, or taking advantage of cheaper mortgages.

There were a few of these walkaways during the housing bust of the early 1990’s. But today, nearly 5 million mortgages - about 10% of all residential mortgages in the country - are underwater (defined as a mortgage where the value of the house is 75% or less than the principle). And while no one is keeping track, one outfit has estimated that a half million people took the walkaway route last year.

Financial advisors are at the point of actually urging their clients to walkaway. Sure, their credit rating will take a hit. Better that than pouring money down a black hole where you will never realize any return on your investment.

There are a couple of ethical questions associated with walkaways that need to be addressed; one is personal, the other is an apparent double standard in the application of society’s disapproval.

Case in point; a New York developer walked away from paying the loan on 11,000 apartments in Manhattan:

The rules are different, though, for the walkaway of all walkaways.

That title is reserved for what happened to one of New York’s trophy properties, the 56-building Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village complex. Spanning 80 acres on Manhattan’s east side, it’s the largest single-owned residential area in the city. Its red brick buildings, built by Metropolitan Life in the 1940s for World War II veterans, are still a haven for the city’s middle class.

Commercial real-estate firm Tishman and its partner, investment firm BlackRock, paid $5.4 billion to buy the property from MetLife in late 2006 — right at the market’s peak. They hoped to make money by converting rent-regulated apartments into luxury condos and raising rents.

Then the housing crash hit. The value now: $1.8 billion.

And you thought you overpaid for your house.

“They made assumptions that things would grow to the moon, and things certainly did not,” said Len Blum, a managing partner at investment bank Westwood Capital.

Tishman said last week that it was turning the property back over to creditors to avoid filing for bankruptcy protection. In recent weeks, Tishman failed to restructure $4.4 billion in debt, and couldn’t find another buyer, according to a statement from the company.

Will Tishman come in for less disapprobation than a homeowner who walks away from a mortgage where he is paying 40% more than the house is worth? It’s a certainty that banks are treating Tishman differently than the ordinary homeowner:

Walking away isn’t risk-free. A foreclosure stays on a consumer’s credit record for seven years and can send a credit score (based on a scale of 300 to 850) plunging by as much as 160 points, according to Fair Isaac Corp., which provides tools for analyzing credit records. A lower credit score means auto and other loans are likely to come with much higher interest rates, and credit card issuers may charge more interest or refuse to issue a card.

In addition, many states give lenders varying degrees of scope to seize bank deposits, cars or other assets of people who default on mortgages.

Even so, in neighborhoods with high concentrations of foreclosures, “it’s going to be really difficult to prevent a cascade effect” as one strategic default emboldens others to take that drastic step, says Paola Sapienza, a professor of finance at Northwestern University. A study by researchers at Northwestern and the University of Chicago found that as many as one in four defaults may be strategic.

The double standard is easy to understand, less easy to justify. The fact is, a bank is less apt to severely penalize someone who owes them billions as opposed to someone who is into them for a few hundred thousand. The “sin” may be similar, but repentance is more complicated. It’s as if a rich man and a poor man both stole a loaf of bread; the poor man was forced to knee walk up a rocky mountain and say the rosary while the rich man got away with saying one our father, one hail mary, and a glory be (old line catholics will recognize that penance immediately).

Ideally, the same sin should engender the same penance or punishment regardless of wealth or social station. But in this case, we hold people and corporations to different standards of behavior and hence, different attitudes toward walkaways.

But it is the personal ethics of abandoning a promise to repay monies loaned in good faith by a lending institution based on your past history of good credit and timely repayment that is of most relevance for us. What happens when so many walk away from their obligations not because they can’t pay but because paying what they owe is a bad personal financial decision?

We can all sympathize with the walkaway and wonder if we’d do the same in their situation. But from an ethical standpoint, this is really rotten. By walking away, these homeowners are making it more difficult for the rest of us to get a homeloan or refinance our existing home. This is an inherently selfish act in that the walkaway fails to take into account the effect on the community and society.

And then there’s the prospect if there are enough walkaways, a tipping point will be reached and all that bad paper that is still on the balance books of major banks will cause another meltdown necessitating still more bailouts and takeovers when home values go into another death spiral.

What happens if five million Americans decide to stop overpaying their mortgages and mail the keys back to the bank? There would be a sharp decline in housing values. There would be another downward leg to the financial crisis, with a big hit to the capital of banks and other institutions holding large mortgage portfolios.

I think the housing decline would be a healthy thing, as this market is still overvalued. I don’t believe we would see a deflationary spiral, a widespread collapse of debt values, and a descent into a full-fledged Great Depression II. This was the great fear when the bubble first started popping in late 2006.

But since late 2008, the Bernanke Doctrine has showed that the modern Fed has the tools to keep this from happening. Administration officials can say whatever they want, but Too-Big-To-Fail is still reality.

What of the decline in individual purchasing power, the so-called adverse wealth effect, that would come with lower housing values? It would be muted because making mortgage payments on an overvalued house diminishes purchasing power just as badly.

But the net effect of the Great Walkaway would still be a strong downdraft in the overall economy.

I don’t for a moment believe that 5 million people will strategically default on their mortgages. But who can guess where the tipping point might be? Who can be sure that 1 million or 2 million such defaults wouldn’t crash the economy again?

All because people selfishly took stock of their personal financial situation and decided it was OK to saddle the rest of us with what is, after all, their problem. I say they have no ethical right to do it and that Congress should make it easier for banks to collect from these voluntary deadbeats.

Not surprisingly, Congress will treat these people as victims and no doubt either bail them out (one estimate is it would take about $750 billion to pay off the difference between what underwater borrowers owe and what their houses are worth), or make some accommodation with credit reporting services to give these strategic deadbeats a pass. Encouraging irresponsibility has been the hallmark of the Obama administration housing policies so why should we expect anything to be different here?

For the vast majority of us who have suffered a big hit on the value of our homes but continue to remain faithful to our obligations, this whole walkaway phenomenon is a slap in the face. We are being played for suckers. And it’s depressing to think that rewards will accrue to those ethically challenged scofflaws who don’t play by the rules but come out smelling like roses anyway.


Filed under: PJ Media, Politics — Rick Moran @ 8:32 am

My latest at PJ Media is up. It’s a recap of the Illinois primary races for governor and senator, with some analysis thrown in.

A sample:

Illinois held its primary on Tuesday and the usual run of rogues and rascals vied with each other for the opportunity to make their fame and fortune purloining the public purse. Since the opportunities for graft and corruption in the state are nearly endless, one wag suggested that instead of the winners posing for the traditional picture taken in victory, they should make things easy on the voter and get their mug shot picture taken at the same time.

The Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor is Scott Lee Cohen, a pawnbroker and cleaning supply distributor by trade who financed his campaign from his own personal fortune. Cohen was arrested in 2005 on domestic battery charges, which were thrown out when his accuser failed to show up in court. This upstanding citizen could be a heartbeat — or an impeachment inquiry — away from the governor’s office. Just ask current Governor Pat Quinn, who slipped into the top job from his lieutenant governor’s post when disgraced former Governor Rod Blagojevich was impeached for, among other things, trying to sell the Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama.

Perhaps it is symptomatic of the times that both the Republican and Democratic gubernatorial primaries ended the night too close to call. The fact is, there was not much excitement generated by any of the top-tier candidates for either governor or senator as evidenced by the paltry turnout of less than 30% of eligible voters. This compared to a usual primary turnout of more than 35%.

But if passions were at a low ebb, election night made up for it with some real nail-biters.

Another tidbit on Cohen; he apparently lied to everyone about the nature of the attack on his girlfriend - who was arrested and convicted of prostitution a few months prior to the attack. Cohen claims he never touched her.The police report says he held a knife to her throat.

Who ya gonna believe? The pawnbroker or the police? In this town, that’s a tough call.



Filed under: Birthers, Politics — Rick Moran @ 12:08 pm

The problem with being associated with a party made up of very large numbers of kooks, loons, paranoids, nitwits, and ignorant twits is that after a while, you begin to question your own sanity, your own grasp on reality. You begin to wonder if there isn’t, in fact, something wrong with you rather than the other way around.

Indeed, if a majority are nutzo and you aren’t, who’s to say what’s reasonable, or rational? Sounds like a Rod Serling script. If he didn’t write it, maybe I should give it a shot.

A new poll of more than 2,000 self-identified Republican voters illustrates the incredible paranoia enveloping the party and the intense pressure drawing lawmakers further and further away from political moderation.

The numbers speak for themselves — a large portion of GOP voters think that President Obama is racist, socialist or a non-US citizen — though, when considering them, it is important to note that a disproportionate percentage of respondents are from GOP strongholds in the South (42 percent) as opposed to the Northeast (11 percent). Also note that this is a poll of self-identified Republicans, which means that independent Tea Party types are not included.

Stein is being fair by excluding the tea party movement from this madness, although my guess would be that many if not a majority are at least nominal Republicans like myself. We just don’t know if they are more or less wacky than their erstwhile compatriots in the GOP.

At times, it’s like being in an inside out nightmare, where otherwise perfectly sane, rational people look at you as if you’re from another planet if you don’t agree that the president is deliberately trying to destroy the country, or wants the terrorists to win.

I want to believe it when many on the right tell me that the paranoid fringe is just that - a small subset of believers who are over-represented on the internet. This may even be true in some sections of the country like the northeast. But even if you believe that Research 2000, a reputable polling company, would collude with the Daily Kos in cooking the books on Republican attitudes toward the president, you can’t escape the uncomfortable feeling if you visit as many websites, and read as many comment threads as I do that it is a false hope to think this kind of deranged thinking is limited to a small number of outriders on the right:

# 39 percent of Republicans believe Obama should be impeached, 29 percent are not sure, 32 percent said he should not be voted out of office.

# 36 percent of Republicans believe Obama was not born in the United States, 22 percent are not sure, 42 percent think he is a natural citizen.

# 31 percent of Republicans believe Obama is a “Racist who hates White people” — the description once adopted by Fox News’s Glenn Beck. 33 percent were not sure, and 36 percent said he was not a racist.

# 63 percent of Republicans think Obama is a socialist, 16 percent are not sure, 21 percent say he is not

# 24 percent of Republicans believe Obama wants “the terrorists to win,” 33 percent aren’t sure, 43 percent said he did not want the terrorist to win.

# 21 percent of Republicans believe ACORN stole the 2008 election, 55 percent are not sure, 24 percent said the community organizing group did not steal the election.

# 23 percent of Republicans believe that their state should secede from the United States, 19 percent aren’t sure, 58 percent said no.

# 53 percent of Republicans said they believe Sarah Palin is more qualified to be president than Obama.

Majorities - sometimes vast majorities - of Republicans believe, or are not sure (too embarrassed to say so, knowing how ridiculous it makes them look?), that Obama wasn’t born here, that he’s a racist, that think he’s a socialist, that believe he wants the terrorists to win, that believe ACORN stole the 2008 election, and think that Sarah Palin is more qualified than Obama to be president.

One bring spot; Only 42% of Republicans believe, or aren’t sure, if their state should secede from the union. That’s a relief, although think of all the flag making companies who would experience a boom if we dropped a few states and had to order millions of new star spangled banners.

Republicans and conservatives will be angry at me for highlighting this poll. Methinks they are misdirecting their rage. Perhaps they should try being angry at themselves and their fellow lobotomized inmates for eschewing reality and allowing their worst impulses to take over their thought processes, sending them headlong into the dark without lamp or lantern where they lose themselves in their own paranoid imaginings.

To make things even more depressing, they will come here and defend their beliefs. Not so many birthers anymore (after all, they only want to see Obama’s real birth certificate). But they will write volumes about how Obama really is a racist, or a socialist, or how his policies are designed to destroy the country, or saddest of all, how his sympathies lie with the enemy in our War on Terror.

Hofstadter found this recurring theme of self justification for paranoid beliefs back in 1964:

A final characteristic of the paranoid style is related to the quality of its pedantry. One of the impressive things about paranoid literature is the contrast between its fantasied conclusions and the almost touching concern with factuality it invariably shows. It produces heroic strivings for evidence to prove that the unbelievable is the only thing that can be believed. Of course, there are highbrow, lowbrow, and middlebrow paranoids, as there are likely to be in any political tendency. But respectable paranoid literature not only starts from certain moral commitments that can indeed be justified but also carefully and all but obsessively accumulates :evidence.” The difference between this “evidence” and that commonly employed by others is that it seems less a means of entering into normal political controversy than a means of warding off the profane intrusion of the secular political world. The paranoid seems to have little expectation of actually convincing a hostile world, but he can accumulate evidence in order to protect his cherished convictions from it.

Anyone who has spent 5 minutes reading a birther screed recognizes this instantly. The same can be said for many who write about Obama’s socialism (fascism), or his secret Muslim sympathies. They will lay out their irrational case as rationally as you please, using “evidence” of questionable provenance (usually some other fellow conspirator’s writings). The point is not so much to convince you they are right, but to reinforce their own beliefs, their own worldview. So armed, they will try to enter into discussion with those a little less beholden to their paranoid universe and either meet with laughter or a less than charitable dismissal of their cockeyed beliefs. Rather then deterring them, it reinforces their belief that they have a corner on wisdom; that only they can see through the smooth talking, seemingly normal enemy and peg him for the true villain he is.

Before I leave this subject, might I suggest that Kos and Research 2000 conduct a similar poll of self described Democrats asking questions about Bush; Did he perpetrate 9/11? Was he seeking dictatorial powers? Did he take us to war for oil? Did he want black people to die after Katrina? Or how about questions about the GOP: Are a majority of Republicans racists? Homophobes? Are they warmongers?

I could think of half dozen more questions that I have absolutely no doubt would reveal a large - perhaps as large as the percentage of Republicans who believe loony stuff - who would answer “yes” or “not sure” to those questions. And that presents us with a problem, doesn’t it? If a majority of both parties aren’t grounded in reality, how can we expect the people they elect to be any better at grasping the truth about the opposition? If a majority of both sides are paranoid about the other, there really is very little hope that we can ever come together to get anything vital done.

And that should cause the rational among us to fear the future.



Filed under: The Rick Moran Show — Rick Moran @ 5:58 pm

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

Tonight, I welcome Monica Showalter of IDB and technology writer Charles Martin to talk about the budget, and the latest on Climategate.

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.”

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