Right Wing Nut House



Filed under: Decision '08, History, Politics, War on Terror, health care reform — Rick Moran @ 10:03 am

Just when you think you’ve seen just about everything in politics, one party or the other bites you in the ass to let you know that authoritarian tactics fit easily and comfortably over the democratic template laid down by the Founders.

It really is seamless at times. Witness the Tom DeLay move to keep the vote on the Medicare drug benefit open for hours (the rules say 15 minutes) while he and Hastert twisted arms, legs, and probably some more private parts of the bodies of GOP members in order to get the votes necessary for passage.

True, a minor glitch in the democratic process - just a little authoritarianism where rules are broken willy nilly for the sake of the momentary goal. There are other examples from the time the GOP ruled the roost in the House and DeLay was a power unto himself. A junior Mussolini that one, complete with the strutting kind of arrogance so beloved of Il Duce.

But nothing in my more than 30 years of observing politics could prepare me for what the Democrats may end up doing in order to pass health care reform:

The twisted scheme by which Democratic leaders plan to bend the rules to ram President Obama’s massive health care legislation through Congress now has a name: the Slaughter Solution.

The Slaughter Solution is a plan by Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY), the Democratic chair of the powerful House Rules Committee and a key ally of Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), to get the health care legislation through the House without an actual vote on the Senate-passed health care bill. You see, Democratic leaders currently lack the votes needed to pass the Senate health care bill through the House. Under Slaughter’s scheme, Democratic leaders will overcome this problem by simply “deeming” the Senate bill passed in the House - without an actual vote by members of the House.

So is this just a partisan take on the matter? They can’t really be serious about passing health care reform by waving a magic gavel, could they?

There is a serious lack of reaction to this story on the left. Perhaps their email list hasn’t been able to reach a consensus on how to respond yet. Maybe they’re as taken aback by the breathtaking, undemocratic nature of the ploy as most of the rest of the planet. John Dickerson of Slate - no flaming liberal but hardly a man of the right - matter of factly lays out the scheme, appearing to applaud its utilitarian nature:

One method for accommodating the situation (first reported in CongressDaily) would allow the House to vote on the Bill B and, after doing so, simply consider the Senate health care bill (Bill A) as passed. There would be no actual up-or-down vote on the underlying bill. This would be the legislative equivalent of the economist’s old trick of assuming a can opener.

Actually, it’s an economist’s old joke, John, not a trick - which I suppose is quite revealing of how seriously you take the idea of the Democrats passing a bill that will affect 300 million Americans and fundamentally alter the relationship between the citizen and the government, and not allow members to express their preference in an up or down vote.

But, of course, that’s the point of this little whiff of Politburo politics; it’s to allow Democratic members to lie through their teeth to their constituents:

This approach would serve two purposes. First, Democrats who think the Senate bill doesn’t sufficiently limit abortion rights would never have to be on record as having voted for it. (Because the Senate abortion language can’t be fixed in Bill B for procedural reasons, some Democratic aides say there is talk about a later bill that would handle these issues.) Second, if the Senate didn’t fulfill its end of the bargain by voting on Bill B—remember, it’s already passed Bill A—then House Democrats would be able to say: I never voted for that crummy Bill A. In fact, I only voted for that nifty Bill B to fix it.

I mentioned this is Politburo politics, which is actually an insult to the commies. At least they have a rigged vote. We don’t even get that on Obamacare.

I think it fairly obvious that Nancy Pelosi does not have the votes, and likely will never get the votes, to pass the senate bill as is. Firedoglake has the latest whip count (based on publicly stated positions) at 191-195 meaning Pelosi needs a near miracle. She needs 24 votes of the remaining 40 “persuadables” to win. And they wouldn’t be talking about “deeming” a bill as passed if she thought there was any hope of achieving 216.

The real sticking point, ironically, is that House Democrats don’t trust their colleagues in the senate to follow through and take them off the hook by ramming House Obamacare amendments through via reconciliation. In fact, the GOP is talking about a weird ploy of their own; they may vote with pro-choice Democrats in the senate to kill any change in the abortion language wanted by Stupak and his gang of 12. If they’re serious, that alone might trigger a revolt among House members who don’t think the senate is serious about reconciliation.

I’m actually excited to see the Democrats try this. What are all those good government liberals going to say? How is the White House going to spin this as a victory for the people when the people’s representatives haven’t even been consulted on the final product?

What are the voters going to think? I don’t think much at all. This is far too arcane a topic to interest anyone but process junkies. By November, the Democrats will have dressed this pig up in a nice prom dress, smeared some lipstick on the porker, and presented it to the American people as a triumph. Many will shrug their shoulders, accept what government is giving them, and move on with their lives.

Voters are going to be a lot more upset with Democrats about jobs and the economy than they will ever get upset with them about how they managed to move this monstrosity through Congress and get it signed into law. But those who might take a dimmer view of this tactic will lament the loss of the fundamental fairness to the minority it represents. We now officially have a tyranny of the majority.

I hope the Democrats don’t complain too much when Republicans pull crap like this on them when they’re back in power.



It is difficult to be on the outside looking in when it comes to the exercise of power. For 8 years, it caused hysterical derangement on a very large slice of the left who tried to promote the idea that George Bush was a fascist, or a theocrat intent on establishing an authoritarian “regime” - the word most often used even by “respectable” liberals. America does not have “regimes” - not now, not then, not ever. But you can’t tell that to liberals who, for 8 long, tiresome years, bored us to death with their paranoid fantasies about George Bush. The draft, the Haliburton nonsense, the “lies” about WMD, the “lapdog press,” the “stolen” elections - all this and more, told and retold on the web, and even sometimes in respectable publications (not to mention the halls of Congress); paranoid delusions that only grew wilder and more sensationally idiotic as time went on.

Nor can you convince many conservatives today that entire segments of their overall critique of President Obama are hysterically exaggerated fantasies, nonsensical assumptions and “truths” that bear no resemblance to the facts. The left today has their own delusions; about conservatives, Republicans, and the motives of both. But it is conservatives who, by pushing these ridiculous fallacies about the president, are swallowing the barrel and pulling the trigger on their chances to rally the country behind them and take back the government.

I have been virtually told that I don’t hate Barack Obama enough; that if I don’t parrot these birdbrained “facts” about the president, I am actually a supporter of his or, at best, a simpleminded dupe who just can’t see what kind of evil man he is.

Worse, by highlighting these imbecilic talking points, or going after cotton candy conservatives and others on the right who are shooting conservatism in the foot with their derangement, I am a traitor. Better to lie and march to the beat of the same drum in order to defeat the forces of darkness who besmirch our republic with their loathsome plans.

Sorry. I don’t do lockstep. Nor am I enamored with illogical, unreasonable, and patently false arguments about Obama that serve only to prove that there are many on the right who have lost themselves in overhyped agitation - a delirium tremens that no amount of Chivas can help.

What really flips my gibbet is that this guy Obama is such an easy target for rational, penetrating criticism. He’s a clown sitting above a dunk tank just waiting for an accurate missile to send him to a well deserved soaking. Instead, so many on the right are missing so wildly they end up smacking themselves in the nose with their own throws.

There is an objective reality in which most Americans live. It’s a place where people are human, not cartoon cut-outs of evil. It’s a place where there is a connection between actions and rhetoric. And it is a place where facts are facts, not exaggerated, paranoid flakes of fancy seen through a broken mirror of ideology and fear.

Here then are 8 popular myths and exaggerations about Barack Obama that are routinely pushed by the right. Having been a comment moderator for three conservative sites, I know them by heart and can attest that at the very least, a large number of conservatives believe this nonsense.

1. Obama is sympathetic to Moooooslims and favors them at the expense of America

This has variations from Obama is a closet Muslim, to Obama wants to establish Sharia law, to Obama is actually a terrorist. One or all of these jumbo baloney sandwiches passes for wisdom among many on the right, including a prominent blogger who is worried that the 2 million Muslims in America are sneaking up on the rest of the 299 million of us and wish to make us all into dhimmis.

2. Obama is a socialist/Marxist.

I put this one to rest right before the election here.

Obama is a liberal. He’s a far left, garden variety, 100%, fully inspected La-La Land lefty. Are his policies “socialist?” Sure. I guess. Some of his policies ape programs initiated by socialist governments. National health insurance for one.

But the same could be said for Social Security, Medicare, and a host of Great Society programs still with us today. The social democracies of Europe that so enamor the left are not “socialist” countries - not by a long shot. The means of production are still in the hands of private citizens, even though those governments - and soon, our own - make it difficult for private enterprise to succeed. It makes no sense to call what Obama is doing “socialist” if you wish to adhere to the strictest definition of the word. And if you’re not going to stick with how a word is defined and make up your own definition, why bother with the English language at all?

It is quite simply an exaggeration to say that the president is a socialist.

3. Obama hates America.

Glad that so many of my friends on the right have been given the gift of insight into someone’s heart.

In truth, the president loves America as most liberals love it; in an abstract, intellectualized manner. It would perhaps be more accurate to say the president loves what America could be, rather than what she is now. I happen to believe you can love both Americas but many on the right are steadfast in their belief that America can do no wrong, while probably the same number on the left believe she can do no right. It is a different kind of love, but a love nonetheless, and to posit that the president of the United States hates his own country is, on its face, absurd.

4. Obama wasn’t born here/not a natural born citizen/is hiding the origins of his birth/is the spawn of the devil/is the antichrist.

Debunked too many times, in too many places to waste any time here except to say that about 30% of conservatives have “questions” about Obama’s origins.

A winning issue for 2010.

5. Obama is deliberately trying to destroy America.

This is a favorite of Rush Limbaugh. The “reasoning” goes, Obama wants to destroy America so that everybody becomes dependent on the federal government for their very lives. This will create a permanent Democratic majority because everyone knows that people who are dependent on government vote for Democrats.

I can’t argue against the notion that the president’s policies have the potential to harm America greatly. I have argued such in the past. If that happened, I am sure the president would be as disappointed as the rest of us. No doubt, he would blame it on Bush.

But there is no politician who would ever deliberately destroy the country that just elected him. Where’s the advantage? I daresay that voters would give a good goddamn about dependency and throw the majority party who ruined their lives out into the street.

This is so absurd on its face and yet so prevalent a notion on the right, is it any wonder I question the sanity of conservatives sometimes?

And then there’s a related myth…

6. Obama is deliberately preventing a recovery.

This is a variation on #5 but the “reasoning” is a little different. Obama needs a “crisis” to pass his agenda.

He’s had a crisis, his agenda lies in tatters, and he is proven so incompetent he can’t even take advantage of the worst economic crisis in 80 years to push through a Congress his party owns lock, stock, and barrel anything except an $800 billion stim bill he didn’t write and had little to do with passing.

7. Obama wants to kill your grandma.

We have Sarah Palin to thank for this one. It is the one myth in the health care debate that refuses all applications of reason and logic, and is persistently advanced despite all evidence to the contrary.

The slippery slope argument is even bogus. It is impossible to connect the dots from A to Z, as I explained here. But Saracudda says it’s true so it must be.

8. Obama goes around the world “apologizing” for America’s sins

If you’re not grown up, or well read enough, or have been asleep for the last 50 years, you know that there are several things that America should be apologizing for. But here, we have a gross exaggeration of what the president was doing by highlighting our shortcomings (I don’t believe the words “apology” or “We’re sorry” ever crossed his lips.)

The president acknowledged errors - at least, errors from his perspective - that America committed not only during the Bush administration, but prior to that as well. He also acknowledged them because his audience perceived our actions to be in error - whether we think them right or wrong.

But almost in the same breath, Obama castigated his audiences from London to Cairo for their reflexive, knee jerk anti-Americanism. Tony Blair and John Howard actually said it much better than he did. But our professorial president used a common rhetorician’s gimmick of forcing the audience to listen to him by agreeing with their perceptions about America and then hammering them for their own shortcomings.

It was an effective technique and certainly won him a lot of friends overseas among the common folk. But it is inaccurate to say that he “apologized” for our past. In fact, he frequently went out of his way to say that he had no apologies for our ideals or principles. It appears to me that many on the right heard what they wanted to hear and closed their mind to the rest. Hence, this myth - as widespread as it is - doesn’t stand up to the facts.

The unhinged nature of some of the criticism directed at the president reflects badly on the entire right. When you consider that Obama is a duck in a shooting gallery that a pie eyed prostitute could hit with her eyes closed, it is a mystery why so many seek to misrepresent and exaggerate what this president has done and what he stands for.

Keep your eye on the target and allow logic and reason to guide your criticisms. Leave behind the paranoia, the fear mongering, and the hysteria. That’s the losers argument. Let objective reality animate your commentary and people will actually start to listen rather than turn you off quicker than a Tim Robbins movie.



Filed under: The Rick Moran Show — Rick Moran @ 5:10 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 Larrey Anderson and James Lewis of American Thinker and Monica Showalter of IDB to talk about the delusions held by Democrats about health care reform and the status of the process as the bill moves toward passage.

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, Ethics, History, Politics, health care reform — Rick Moran @ 11:25 am

Greg Sargent touting President Obama’s speech in Philly as he tries to “close the sale” on health care reform:

One striking thing about the speech Obama just gave at the big health care rally in Pennsylvania is how many times he stressed that if reform passes, voters will begin enjoying the benefits this year.

Though he didn’t say it directly, it’s an obvious effort to put some spine in wavering Congressional Dems by urging them to understand that they’ll have something to run on this year if they vote for reform. Here’s the key part:

Within the first year of signing health care reform, thousands of uninsured Americans with preexisting conditions would suddenly be able to purchase health insurance for the very first time in their lives.

This year, insurance companies will be banned forever from denying coverage to children with preexisting conditions.

This year, they will be banned from dropping your coverage when you get sick. And they will no longer able to arbitrarily and massively hike your premiums. Those practices will end.

If this reform becomes law, all the new insurance plans will be required to offer free preventive care to customers starting this year. Free checkups so we can catch preventable diseases.

Starting this year, there will be no more lifetime restricive annual limits on the amount of care you can receive from your insurance companies…

It would change fast: Insurance companies would finally be held accountable to the American people

Before examining the reality, let’s look at the rhetoric. Is it true that those with pre-existing conditions will be able to purchase health insurance “for the very first time in their lives?” Only if the condition existed for their entire lives or came upon them in adolescence before they had the ability to buy insurance. In fact, most pre-existing conditions occur after someone enters adulthood which means the idea that they never had the opportunity to purchase insurance is a crock.

And how about that “free” preventive care? And you wonder why we’re running a $1.4 trillion deficit? Of course, there is nothing “free” about nationalizing insurance or ordering insurance companies to offer a specific coverage. The bottom line is that those who don’t use the health care system will be paying for those who do. I predict this crazy idea hitting the auto insurance industry soon, where those with multiple drunk driving convictions demand the same rate of insurance and coverage as a teetotaler.

It would be more accurate to say that the preventive care coverage is mandated as part of the insurance plan that companies must offer. It is hardly “free” since we’re all paying for it. In short, the customer is paying for preventive care whether he wants to or not. We get a lot of this already from state insurance boards who demand insurance companies cover many procedures the overwhelming majority of policy holders will never use.

But what is the reality of all those goodies we are going to get the first year of Obamacare? An interesting development occurs when sick people pay exactly the same amount for insurance as healthy people; “insurance” is no longer insurance and becomes a government entitlement whose management and cost is farmed out to private industry.

For some reason, insurance companies have an aversion to going bankrupt. Don’t ask me why. They must be old fashioned or something to believe that they aren’t in business to get Democrats re-elected but rather to make a little money for their shareholders. Since that won’t be possible even in the first year under Obamacare, look for insurance companies to be screaming for rate increases in everybody’s premiums which will cause enough heart attacks in customers that Obama will be forced to activate the Death Panels 3 years early just to handle drain on health care resources.

This entire debate has taken a topsy-turvy turn. I’ve got history on my side when I say what Matt Welch says here:

The Senate promised more than $300 billion in such cuts. Furthermore, the CBO scores bills in 10-year windows. So the Senate delayed more than 99 percent of the reform package’s spending until 2014, thus allowing the decade of 2010–2019 to clock in under the magic $1 trillion number. Add to all that chicanery the fact that every major health care entitlement expansion in U.S. history has vastly exceeded initial cost projections, and you have ample reasons for why Americans believed, by a margin of more than 3 to 1, that health care reform would exacerbate rather than improve the deficit.

It should be up to the proponents of health care reform to prove that their schemes will not meet the fate of past entitlements - every single one of them - that exceeded spending projections by laughable margins.

And when I say laughable, I mean real loony toons, cross-eyed Mary, monkey wanking, impossibly incorrect margins:

Congress has a long history of dramatically underestimating Medicare costs. “At its start, in 1966, Medicare cost $3 billion,” wrote Steven Hayward and Erik Peterson in a 1993 Reason article. “The House Ways and Means Committee estimated that Medicare would cost only about $12 billion by 1990 (a figure that included an allowance for inflation). This was supposedly a ‘conservative’ estimate. But in 1990 Medicare actually cost $107 billion.”

Why, I say to reform advocates with as much sincerity and passion as I can muster, should things be different this time? What evidence do you have that history won’t repeat itself and we will be embarking on an insane fiscal course that will lead to the actual ruin of the United States? The burden of proof, as I said is on you. History has taken the measure of other entitlements and shown projections of costs to be ludicrous and silly.

With Democrats poised to prevent their labor allies from paying a tax for their gold plated health care plans, their extraordinary nebulous disingenuousness on “waste and fraud” savings to be found in Medicare, and the non-existent “doc fix” that is supposed to save $500 billion over 10 years - how in God’s name can you stand in front of the American people and make a case that this reform bill won’t add to an already out of sight deficit?

You can’t, which means you are either deluding yourselves or Obama and the Democrats are lying outright.

Welch thinks its the latter:

Obama’s dishonesty, by contrast, seems to spring from a different place. As a man who has spent most of his career wowing people with his words and very little of it converting those words into deeds, he has an activist’s gap between rhetoric and reality and a radio broadcaster’s promiscuous carelessness with cutting rhetorical corners. Sure, it’s not technically true that the administration’s day-one lobbying reforms served “to get rid of the influence of…special interests,” as he claimed in a January radio address (to the contrary: federal lobbying in 2009 set an all-time record), but it’s easy to imagine that the president feels his combination of tighter employment restrictions for ex-lobbyists and stricter disclosure requirements for current ones is, in the context of the Manichean fight between “the people” and “special interests,” good enough for government work. The perfect shouldn’t be the enemy of the good, and the critics who complain are just opportunistic literalists grasping for any club to beat back the march of progress. No need to give them an inch.

But there’s a less charitable explanation too. During the president’s nonstop gabfests before, during, and after the State of the Union speech, he kept repeating the fiction that the medical industry’s “special interests” were significantly to blame for scotching his health care legislation. In fact, the administration and Congress negotiated with those interests every step of the way, receiving crucial buy-in and millions in campaign contributions. Pro-reform lobbyists outspent anti-reform lobbyists on advertising by a factor of 5 to 1. There’s a three-letter word for blaming the defeat of his bill on health care lobbyists, and it rhymes with pie.

In his speech yesterday, Obama picked a familiar target; insurance companies who he thinks the government should hold accountable to their customers:

President Obama struck a populist tone, setting up the health insurance industry as his main target.

“We can’t have a system that works better for the insurance companies than it does for the American people,” he said.

Citing big rate increases for buyers of individual insurance policies in some states — 40 percent, 60 percent, even 100 percent — Mr. Obama sought to focus attention on provisions in the legislation that he said would protect consumers from the worst excesses of insurers, give people more choice among insurance policies, insure most people who do not have coverage, and put downward pressure on health care costs.

Boiling down his proposal to a few sentences, Mr. Obama asked, “How many people would like a proposal that holds insurance companies more accountable? How many people would like to give Americans the same insurance choices that members of Congress get? And how many would like a proposal that brings down costs for everyone?

Obama missed his calling. He should have been an insurance company Customer Service Rep.

Holding insurance companies more accountable might make people feel better when Obama sticks it to them but how does it improve the situation if it drives them out of the business of insuring all but the wealthy in 5 years? Also, the idea that Joe Blow will get the same health care coverage as a Member of Congress is snicker-worthy. If that were true, Members of Congress would be opting in, not passing laws to exclude themselves from the plan. And only a real Pollyanna - or the village idiot - believes that this reform package will “bring costs down for everyone.”

I would like to give Democrats the benefit of the doubt and say that they are actually kidding themselves about what reform will actually do when the rubber meets the road and the plan is being enacted. But I can’t. They know there are horrendous, unsolvable problems, with this bill. They know their cost cutting provisions are bullsh*t. They know it will substantially increase the deficit. They know it will mean less health care for most of us. They know it will mean less innovation in the pharma, bio tech, and other industries. They know it won’t put any downward pressure on the costs of health care. And they know that this massive thrust to control an unbelievable 1/6 of the economy - never before seen in peacetime - is beyond a riverboat gamble that it will work and enters the realm of a wing and a prayer.

They can’t actually believe what they are saying about it, can they? Of course not.



Filed under: Government, Politics, conservative reform — Rick Moran @ 11:41 am

I am one of the few who still see Andrew Sullivan as a conservative, albeit one whose philosophy is made wildly inconsistent by his misreading of President Obama. The reason is evident if you bother to read a lot of what he writes instead of cherry picking his paeans to the president, or react to his potshots at movement conservatives.

Sullivan appears to believe in a modified Burkean conservatism that, at its most essential, preserves what is best about society while embracing change that is logical and acts as a spur to rescue tradition from becoming too hidebound. His is not a conservatism that believes government can improve society so much as intelligent, non-ideological government can create conditions where society can improve itself.

But always, Sullivan tries to convince us that his is a pragmatic conservatism that is completed by supporting the “centrist” Obama and his supposedly non-ideological approach to government. Quite simply, this is a crock.

The reasons for Sullivan’s fanciful portrayals of Obama as a politician who is capable of rising above all the grubby little wars between liberals and conservative partisans are probably complicated. Part of it, I’m sure, is the amount of prestige and personal energy he has put into supporting the president. Beyond that, perhaps Sullivan simply sees what he wants to see in the Barack Obama - a selective and not very astute analysis of who and what this cipher of a man purports to be.

The most hyperpartisan of liberal organizations - Americans for Democratic Action - do not give 100% ratings to a centrist. Neither does NARAL (100%), nor the Citizens for Tax Justice (100%), NEA - Grade “A”, and ACORN (100%).

The flip side is also revealing. If Obama were any kind of a centrist he wouldn’t get a 4.5 conservative rating from the non-ideological National Journal A “0″ on economic policy), an 8% from the ACU,, or another “0″ from the National Right to Life Committee.

Lest there be any doubt, I would recommend that Sullivan apply “the prudence test” to Obama’s legislative agenda. Is the kind of massive dislocation involved in the health care reform bill a prudent way to improve American health care? In any way whatsoever? Any definition of prudence I have ever seen would make what Obama is doing with reform incredibly imprudent. Ditto his cap and trade proposals, card check, and massive, out of control spending. This is not a prudent man and the Democrats are not a prudent party. Prudence being the rock upon which conservatism finds its most pragmatic, and realistic outlet, it begs the question how anyone who lays claim to the “pragmatic conservative” title as Sullivan does can do so with a straight face.

It is intellectually dishonest to make any claim that Obama is non-ideological or centrist based on his votes. Anyone who prefers to judge a politician by what they say rather than how they vote is either too naive to make a living commenting on politics or deviously disingenuous in the extreme. And yet, here’s Sullivan telling us that Obama is what this country needs:

I believe that although Obama is indeed a liberal in the sense that he believes government really can and must improve the lives of its citizens, he is much much more like a real conservative than his detractors on right and left. The change he still represents at home is an abandonment of this ideological, red-blue abstract form of politics toward a realistic, pragmatic, reasonable center. Abroad, he represents an attempt to defuse the dangerously polarizing religious and cultural warfare that is fomenting terrorism, and further fusing religion and politics in so many places across the world. In this sense, I regard him as a vital, indispensable figure standing against the forces of ideology and religious warfare, whose failure could lead to catastrophic consequences for our future.

Is Sullivan paying attention to what is going on in the world? The Israeli-Palestinian divide is worse today than when Obama took office directly as a result of his ill considered lurch toward the Palestinians and his incomprehensible policy of placing pressure on our best ally in the Middle East to make concessions it doesn’t feel it can do safely. Is religious fervor any less in Pakistan today than it was before he took office? Has the progress being made by Islamists in Turkey been blunted by any rhetoric or policy of this administration?

At some point, Sullivan has to wake up and smell the rancid coffee being brewed by the Obama administration overseas. Our president may be personally popular with ordinary people, but his relationships with other leaders leaves a lot to be desired. Good arguments can be made for his outreach to Iran, Syria, and other dangerous regimes (arguments I reject), but there too, we see nothing but abject failure from the president.

Domestically, can Sullivan see no vicious partisanship, no ideological fervor in Obama’s obsession with pushing the imprudent and destructive health care reform initiative through Congress? His insults, belittling, and arrogance toward the opposition is not the mark of someone very interested in non-partisanship. Apparently Sullivan is only listening when Obama makes his claims regarding bi-partisanship and closes his ears to the president’s haughty dismissiveness when those admittedly few ideas emanating from the other side are presented.

His maddening blindness when it comes to the true nature of Barack Obama notwithstanding, Sullivan is still one of the best at getting to the heart of what is wrong with conservatism today. But his decidedly un-pragmatic view of the president taints his otherwise outstanding analysis of the problems of the right. It’s almost as if he has compartmentalized his feelings for Obama so that he can freely dissect conservatism without being burdened with the reality that Obama represents a true anti-conservatism replete with an overly developed ideological worldview that is dangerously augmented by an arrogant belief in his own superiority, going so far as to totally reject the advice of his generals, his cabinet secretaries, and many wise old heads in the foreign policy arena.

I happen to agree with Sullivan that most criticism of Obama from the right is wildly off base, excessively ideological and partisan, while maintaining a curious detachment from the essential conservatism of Burke, Kirk, Oakeshott, and Buckley among others.

Here Sullivan remarks on a point I made last week; that conservatism has changed little, if at all, and that simply because the right’s electoral prospects have improved thanks to the the mismanagement of Obama and the Democrats, doesn’t mean that “victory” will have any meaning beyond the shallow, short term political gains that will probably be realized:

This narrative is a reflexive and easy one; it echoes the inanity of “Who Won The Day?” Politico-style analysis; it has turned political journalism into sports journalism; it avoids historical context in favor of constant cultural and political amnesia. It takes the mind of the American people as an etch-a-sketch, shaken anew every electoral cycle. It infects left and right.

Just look at Frank Rich’s column today, which like MSNBC to FNC, which is the same dynamic, and the same understanding of politics, and its purposes. In this worldview - which is now the worldview in American political analysis - ideology has infiltrated everything, it has saturated public and private, it has invaded even something sacred like religious faith, in which the mysteries of existence have been distilled in writing or even understanding the churches into a battle between “liberals” and “conservatives.”

The right may celebrate in 2010, but what of 2012 and beyond? Without a realistic agenda to challenge the Democrats, conservatives will be dead in the water.

This goes back to my points about conservative governance. A utilitarian, pragmatic approach to government is desperately needed. Only real conservatism can supply that commodity. It is an approach solidly grounded on First Principles without treating the Constitution as the revealed word of God. Flexibility, deftness, a firm handle on the rightful functions of government and the determination to fund those functions - as well as having sense enough to leave the rest to the private sector or individuals - could be a very popular way for conservatives to achieve and hang on to power.

As it stands now, conservatives have boxed themselves into an ideological corner by opposing anything and everything that smacks of a government solution to health care, energy dependence, and the changing role of America in a rapidly changing world. Clinging to a treasured past at the expense of marching boldly into the future is not very conservative. But that is the current state of the right and Sullivan is at his best in articulating those problems.

I don’t know what demon has possessed Sullivan to blind him to President Obama’s obvious and painful shortcomings. But I think more people on the right would listen to him if he could see his way clear to being slightly less enamored of the president’s rhetoric and see this cynical poseur for who and what he truly is.



Filed under: The Rick Moran Show, War on Terror — Rick Moran @ 2:25 pm

Adam Gadahn, the first person charged with treason by an American court in 50 years, has been captured in Pakistan.

Gadahn was arrested in recent days, two officers who took part in the operation told The Associated Press. A senior government official also confirmed the arrest. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information.


An intelligence source confirmed the report to NBC News, adding that Gadahn was detained in Sohrab Goth, a suburb of Karachi, and was later moved to the capital Islamabad.

The arrest is a major victory in the U.S.-led battle against al-Qaida and will be taken as a sign that Pakistan is cooperating more fully with Washington. It follows the recent detentions of several Afghan Taliban commanders in Karachi.


Indeed, but whose custody is Gadahn being held? If ours, that’s super good. If Pakistan’s, not so good. We have no extradition treaty with Pakistan and the thought of the government doing any favors for the US would send thousands into the streets protesting. That’s the main reason Pakistan won’t turn over the Afghan Taliban leaders to us - at least, that’s the story they’re sticking to.

Allah (from 2/20):

It’s so hard to tell what’s kabuki and what’s not in these Pakistan/Taliban stories that I’m half-inclined to stop blogging them altogether. For instance, is this proof that the skeptics are right, that Pakistan’s holding the Taliban’s number two as a bargaining chip vis-a-vis Karzai? Or is it just propaganda aimed at the anti-American Pakistani population, with Islamabad fully intending to hand over Baradar et al. to the U.S. in the guise of “deporting them to Afghanistan”? Or could it be that Pakistan’s technically telling the truth about not handing them over while secretly allowing U.S. interrogators full access to the prisoners, a la some European CIA “black site”? (The Times story that broke the news about Baradar claimed that American agents are part of the team that’s questioning him.)

I strongly discount the last, and the Pakistanis have already refused to hand over Baradar to us. The Pakistan Supreme Court ruled earlier this week that Baradar and his friends won’t even be sent to Afghanistan:

The Lahore High Court also banned extraditing four other unnamed Taliban chiefs reportedly seized recently, the BBC reported.

The order was in response to a petition filed by a rights activist to prevent the detainees from being sent abroad.

“The high court has ordered that none of the leaders should be handed over to the (United States) or Afghanistan,” Tariq Asad, a lawyer handling the petition, told the BBC.

“The court has also said that none, other than Pakistan intelligence or security officials, should be given access to the Taliban leaders,” he said.

Details of Baradar’s capture “remain murky,” The New York Times wrote at the time. But officials said that it had been carried out by Pakistan’s military spy agency the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence with CIA operatives helping out.

Apparently, we can’t even question the terrorists anymore.

Even if the operation to capture Gadahn was carried out by the CIA, the fact that the arrests took place on Pakistani soil probably means similar treatment by the courts for the traitor.

So NBC’s ridiculous claim that Gadahn’s capture should be “taken as a sign that Pakistan is cooperating more fully with Washington,” is blowing smoke. A Leopard can’t change its spots and the ISI will not change its nature. While there are some high ranking ISI officers who are friendly with the CIA and cooperate, the organization itself is a fiercely nationalistic arm of the government and sees helping the Americans in any way as a betrayal of Pakistani values. There were almost mass resignations in the military when the Pakistani government was considering accepting the American aid package that contained caveats for where the money must be spent. Congress ordered the cash be used to bolster anti-terrorism capability while the military wanted to use the money to kill Indians by improving their abilities in the Kashmir. The heart of the dispute was that the Pakistani military did not wish to be seen as an American puppet force. A political crisis ensued that threatened the government at one point.

How this capture of another high value target will play out remains to be seen. The fact that Gadahn is an American national might make a difference. But given the sensitivity with which the government has shown toward these situations, I wouldn’t bet on it.

UPDATE: Maybe not

Massive confusion in the press now as one Pakistani intel guy sourced by CBS News says that it is not Gadahn:

Earlier it was reported by Pakistani media that intelligence agents had arrested Adam Gadahn, the American-born spokesman for al Qaeda, in an operation in the southern city of Karachi.

It was further reported by the Associated Press and Reuters that Gadahn had been arrested, sourcing security officials.

CBS News was told by sources in the Pakistan government that it was Gadahn, even after U.S. officials refused to confirm it was the California native for whom a $1 million reward has been posted.

Now, CBS News’ Farhan Bokhari in Islamabad writes that earlier reports the detained individual was Gadahn proved false. According to a Pakistan security official who spoke with CBS News on condition of anonymity, the arrested individual is in fact “a Taliban militant leader who is known as Abu Yahya.”

The official said evidence compiled from an interrogation of the suspect and information exchanged with U.S. officials verified the man’s identify.

The reassessment only added to the confusion surrounding the arrest of a man earlier described by other unnamed Pakistani security officials as Gadahn.

“In the light of our latest information, I can say, this is not looking like Gadahn. But it is still the arrest of an important Taliban militant,” said the Pakistani security official who spoke to CBS News late Sunday.

In the AP story linked above, the reporter quoted a “senior government official” that it was indeed, Gadahn. In addition to AP, Reuters, CBS, the New York Times, and the Washington Post independently confirmed that it was Gadahn.

I am going to eat a huge steak dinner, purposely not watch the Oscars (we will watch LOTR Return of the King instead) and then go to bed.

I hope they have this sorted out by morning.



Filed under: Politics — Rick Moran @ 11:28 am

If the election were held today, I think it likely that both the House and Senate would flip to the Republicans. I have never heard the American people so riled up. And I’m not even including the tea party people. I mean that if you try to talk politics with anyone, the tangible expressions of disgust, anger (even rage), fear, and genuine loathing of Congress and the economic elites that most people feel got us into this mess is evident.

Conventional wisdom - especially on the right - informs us that these attitudes by voters are indicative of a GOP sweep; a can’t miss, ironclad, lock it up and put it in the history books certainty. And if the election were held today, such might be the case.

But the election is still 8 months away. And there are certain factors that could very well work to rob the Republicans of the kind of sea change election that would turn control of one or both chambers over to them.

First, if the Democrats actually get their act together and pass national health insurance, is that automatically the kiss of death, as Howard Dean hinted in remarks earlier this week? Again, conventional wisdom says yes, that the Democrats are toast if national health insurance becomes a reality.

But this fails to take into account a likely rise in premiums by insurance companies that might be used by Democrats to buttress their case that for premiums to come down, the government has to step in. Besides that, polls have shown that individual aspects of health insurance reform - at least as they are explained in the poll questions - are very popular. It should be stressed that the Democrats are not just going to sit idle and do nothing as they watch their majorities slip away. They are going to defend themselves, they have plenty of cash to do it with, and running ads that outline the specifics of Obamacare might change a few people’s minds about it.

And at least some opposition to national health care is because there are those who don’t think it goes far enough. I daresay that this group will not be voting for the GOP anytime soon and will probably - grudgingly - end up accepting Obamacare as passed.

Polls also show that people are almost as mad about the tortuous process used by Democrats to pass reform as they are about the bill in general. Once the bill is passed, the “process” argument disappears and people are free to focus on what the Democrats have done for them. I think the difference between those who support reform and those who don’t will narrow considerably.

This won’t mean that health care reform as an issue will be off the table. It will still play to the GOP’s advantage in that it will drive much of the Republican party to the polls, and anger right leaning independents. But the Democrats have a chance to blunt the worst of the blowback on this and I see no reason why they shouldn’t have some modest success in doing so.

What about the economy as an issue? It is doubtful that employment will rebound much at all between now and November. But as long as things don’t get any worse, there’s a reasonable chance that blame for the bad economy will be a wash between the parties. This CNN poll taken last month reveals 4 times as many people blame Bush for the bad economy than they do Obama.

This is evident if you talk to ordinary people about our economic situation. If you ask someone who is to blame for the bad economy, the overwhelming majority answer “Wall Street” or “the rich.” If you ask specifically which party is at fault, people are apt to get mad at you. They see such a question as a “partisan” question and either say they don’t care, or will split between Obama and Bush. While his positive numbers are down, a surprisingly small number of people I’ve talked to blame Obama.

This is good news for the president because it shows there is still a reservoir of support that he can reclaim if the economy improves a little. We saw something similar in 1982 when the economy was almost as bad as it is today, and Reagan’s approval was hovering around 40%. But few people blamed Reagan for it. The Gipper went on to win 49 states as you recall.

The one area that may really trip up the Democrats is corruption. The recent rash of resignations, retirements, and ethical problems will, if played right by the GOP, undermine the Democrat’s message that they deserve to be kept in the majority in Congress. However, with health care reform and the economy being such significant issues, there’s a decent chance that corruption as an election issue will not resonate quite the same way for Republicans in 2010 as it did for Democrats in 2006.

The one intangible that could make or break the race for both parties is President Obama. His fortunes will rise and fall with the performance of the economy. If the Democrats can manufacture the perception that the country is on the right track, Obama might not be such a drag on local races. The opposite is true, of course, If things are only marginally better, Democrats will suffer.

All of this might be moot anyway and I may be full of it. But I don’t think overconfidence is warranted by Republicans at this point in time. With 8 months to go, there’s a lot of history to be made before Americans go to the polls and figure out which party is more capable of getting us out of this mess.



Filed under: Ethics, Government, Homeland Security, Politics — Rick Moran @ 10:58 am

There are times that I want to take some of my fellow conservatives by the scruff of their neck and shake some sense into them. Or at least kick their behinds until some semblance of reason penetrates their thick skulls.

The blow up over the 7 Department of Justice lawyers who represented terrorists at Gitmo and elsewhere is mostly idiotic - especially the name given to them; the Al-Qaeda 7. I say mostly idiotic because AG Holder might have avoided any controversy at all if he had simply responded to a simple request from a senator and released the names of the detainee advocates and listed what actions they took in that capacity.

But Holder, who has continually stiffed Senator Charles Grassley over requests for information on the IG scandals and the New Black Panther party mystery, really screwed the pooch here. Any neophyte political hack could have told him that trying to hide their identities by refusing a reasonable request for information from a senator would lead to the kind of hysteria on the right that Holder was covering for “terrorist sympathizers” in his department.

As it turns out, the activities of the 7 DoJ lawyers on behalf of their clients (with perhaps one exception) didn’t even rise to the level of eye-brow cocking. And despite the fact that it is now clear that none of the 7 are a national security threat, the exaggeration and hyperbole about the “terrorist sympathizers” continues.

It would be one thing if any of these lawyers while in private practice acted as Lynn Stewart, the convicted terrorist lawyer who assisted her client, the “Blind Sheikh” Omar Abdel-Rahman, in smuggling messages out of prison that could have incited violence in Egypt. This lefty, loony toons nutjob actually sided with the terrorists.

But the DoJ lawyers who have come under hostile fire from the right don’t come anywhere near that standard. A couple of examples:

An extensive review of court documents and media reports by Fox News suggests many of the seven lawyers in question played only minor or short-lived roles in advocating for detainees. However, it’s unclear what roles, if any, they have played in detainee-related matters since joining the Justice Department.

Before joining the Justice Department, Jonathan Cedarbaum, now an official with the Office of Legal Counsel, was part of a “firm-wide effort” to represent six Bosnian-Algerian detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, according to the web site of the firm WilmerHale.

That effort brought the case Boumediene v. Bush to the Supreme Court, which reaffirmed the right of detainees to challenge their detention.

But, according to a review by Fox News, Cedarbaum’s name appears only once in court records of detainee-related cases. Specifically, he’s named as part of the WilmerHale legal team in a 2007 filing with the Supreme Court, and he was joined in that filing by Eric Columbus, a former WilmerHale attorney who is now senior counsel in the Office of the Deputy Attorney General.

Alongside Cedarbaum in the Office of Legal Counsel now is Karl Thompson, who while working for the firm O’Melveny & Myers became one of seven attorneys to represent Omar Khadr, a Canadian citizen who was captured in Afghanistan in 2002 and transferred to Guantanamo Bay.

But, according to court documents, Thompson was only part of Khadr’s defense team for seven months, from October 2008 to May 2009.

These are not wild-eyed lefties who were looking to betray the United States. Call them naive perhaps, but they worked for solid, respected law firms and the minimal actions they performed on the behalf of their detainee clients hardly justifies the wild eyed righty hysteria that is surrounding these revelations. The exaggerated claims - that the 7 lawyers worked for “al-Qaeda terrorists” is, on its face, a crock:

More than five years before that, Joseph Guerra, now Principal Deputy Associate Attorney General at the Justice Department, was one of five lawyers from the firm Sidley Austin to help three civil liberties groups, including the self-described “conservative” Rutherford Institute, file a detainee-related brief with the Supreme Court.

The brief urged the justices to hear the case of Jose Padilla, a U.S. citizen who was held as an “enemy combatant” before the Bush Administration decided in 2006 to prosecute him in a civilian court.

Does assisting civil liberties groups in the US make one an “al-Qaeda sympathizer?” The government couldn’t prove that Padilla was al-Qaeda, dropped charges against him for plotting to build a dirty bomb, and ended up with a shaky conviction of Padilla aiding terrorists that many who have followed the case closely believe could very well be overturned on appeal.

Many might believe that taking the axiom “everyone in America deserves a defense” to such an extreme to be wrong and immoral. But Padilla is an American citizen and if Jeffrey Dahmer deserved a decent defense under our rules, then certainly Padilla did as well. The other attorneys performed similar tasks for their clients - most of them acting in a more direct fashion in that they filed briefs directly on behalf of the detainees.

The principle at stake was not sympathy with al-Qaeda but the Constitution’s guarantees for those held in American custody. The fact that those rights were so ill-defined during the previous 8 years is the fault of Congress, who could have resolved the detainee rights issue, but chose instead to let the courts handle the matter. We might have had a system that gave the detainees certain rights like habeus corpus, the right to an attorney, and a limited ability to view evidence against the defendant, while fashioning the tribunals in such a way as to allow for some leeway given detainees, if Congress had done its job. Instead, the detainees have been in legal limbo for the most part, relying on the pro-bono efforts of civil liberties attorneys.

Not surprisingly, some of those same attorneys are now working at DoJ. To question their loyalty, or commitment to the law, is absurd. But what we can and should question, is their ability to perform their jobs in an unbiased manner.

Holder still won’t tell us if any of these lawyers are working on detainee cases, and if so, in what capacity. We have the right to demand the strictest adherence to ethical standards when it comes to prosecuting those in our custody who are bona fide terrorists and could do harm to the US or our friends. So why the secrecy?

In a recent letter to Grassley, Assistant Attorney General Ron Weich said nine Justice Department lawyers in total previously represented terror suspects, contributed to court briefs in detainee-related cases or otherwise helped advocate for detainees.

Weich acknowledged in the letter that Principal Deputy Solicitor General Neal Katyal previously represented a Guantanamo Bay detainee and that National Security Division Attorney Jennifer Daskal previously worked for Human Rights Watch, which advocates on behalf of detainees.

Weich declined to identify the other lawyers, but he insisted that no political appointee at the Justice Department “would permit or has permitted any prior affiliation to interfere with the vital task of protecting national security, and any suggestion to the contrary is absolutely false.”

He also said that any suggestions of a “conflict of interest” are “an apparent misapprehension” of legal standards, adding that all political appointees have taken pledges to meet ethical standards.

Asked whether any of the seven previously unidentified lawyers now work on detainee-related issues, Miller declined to comment.

It appears that, at least on one case, a DoJ lawyer sought advice from career prosecutors about conflict of interest:

As for the two lawyers who were named by Weich in his recent letter to Grassley, Daskal has “generally worked on policy issues related to detainees” while at the Justice Department, said Weich, adding that her detainee-related work “has been fully consistent with advice she received from career Department officials regarding her [ethical and legal] obligations.”

Weich said Katyal “has not worked on any Guantanamo detainee matters, but has participated in litigation involving detainees who continue to be detained” elsewhere.

It is asking an awful lot of even a good lawyer to set aside previous advocacy for a client and dispassionately carry out their duties at DoJ. In a well run department, one would think that even the appearance of ethical problems would be cause to reassign an attorney. Holder is either clueless, or arrogant in his dismissal of criticism. Judging by his actions in connection with requests for information from Senator Grassley, I’ll choose the latter.

It’s ridiculous to claim that the “al-Qaeda 7″ are a security risk. And the right does the cause no good by going off half cocked and calling DoJ “The Department of Jihad.” All conservatives are doing by employing these McCarthyite tactics is obscuring and taking attention away from the real issue at stake; whether attorneys who advocated for detainee rights have any business working on their cases at DoJ.

That, and Holder’s intransigence with Congress, arrogantly secretive manner in this and other cases, as well as the AG’s ultra-wrong call on the KSM trial are the real issues.

The rest is a crock.


At least one conservative has got their head on straight:

Finally, it is appropriate to criticize lawyers who defend terrorists and terrorist suspects. Contrary to what Walter Dellinger would like us to believe, these lawyers have no professional obligation to represent terrorists and terrorist suspects. They did so by choice and this choice, like all others, is fair game for criticism.

However, it is entirely inappropriate to suggest that these lawyers share the values of terrorists or to dub the seven DOJ lawyers “The al Qaeda Seven.” Unfortunately, this is what a video released by the organization Keep America Safe does.

I would rather give up my law license than represent Osama bin Laden’s driver, for example. And I take a very dim view of the decision by Deputy Solicitor General Neal Katyal to undertake that representation.

However, I would not deserve to have a law license if my personal views on this matter caused me to launch vicious, unfounded attacks on lawyers who exercise their right to represent despicable clients.



Filed under: Blogging, Decision '08, Environment, History, Iran, Media, Politics — Rick Moran @ 9:34 am

I first became aware of blogger Al Weisel (AKA “Jon Swift”) when I started my “Carnival of the Clueless” linkfest back in 2005. Al submitted a post each week almost from the beginning.

I have to admit to being had by the Jon Swift character. I never read his submissions closely, scanning them for the essence of what he was writing about, and thus was totally unaware for a couple of months that he was skewering conservatives. It wasn’t until I read on some other blog that he was a satirist that I actually began to read what he wrote with that in mind.

I don’t necessarily feel bad or stupid about it. I apparently wasn’t the only conservative unable to divine the author’s intent. In truth, what Al and others on the left sometimes see as right wing nonsense is occasionally anything but. However, his unerring eye for absurdities on the right, and a pitch perfect ear that regurgitated conservative talking points to make them sound ridiculous, placed him in a class all his own as a satirist.

Al Weisel died on February 27. 2010. The tragedy of his death at age 46 was compounded by the circumstances; he suffered “2 aortic aneurysms, a leaky aortic valve and an aortic artery dissection from his heart to his pelvis,” according to his mother who posted the news on his long defunct blog. And he was stricken on the way to his father’s funeral in West Virginia.

Good satire needs to be subtle enough to sound plausible while giving broad hints that lets the reader in on the fun. It is a tightrope few are creative enough, disciplined enough, and talented enough to walk. Al managed it with apparent ease. At all times, he maintained a sincerity so believable, you occasionally did double takes on what he wrote to make sure he was poking fun at you.

I was an occasional target of his saucy barbs, to which I responded with my usual good humor. The fact that Al was amenable to correcting some of the stuff I complained about always impressed me.

Eventually, we struck up a sort of odd email relationship. Whenever I was a subject of one of his satirical lances, he would email me - usually including a pithy comment. I would banter back in kind (although with less joie de vivre and not half as much talent). I was pleased that he invited me to participate in his “Best Blogs of 2007″ roundup. Not too many conservatives could say that.

Eventually, he mostly stopped linking because we were usually on the same wavelength when it came to criticizing conservative lunacy; me screaming about it and he parodying it. I can’t say I missed being the target of his razor sharp wit and poison pen. But he was a joy to read if only to marvel at the elegance and clarity of his writing.

As with many such email relationships over the years, we fell out of touch. The news of his passing has opened the floodgates to memories from my early days of blogging and has helped me recall how every day seemed a challenge to be joyfully faced.

Can’t say that anymore. Age and burnout eventually take their toll on a blogger’s constitution. Al doesn’t have to worry about that anymore. And I have no doubt that he’s already skewered St. Peter in The Heavenly Times for something he said when Al talked his way past him and through the pearly gates.


Ed Morrissey has an old Blog Talk Radio show of his that featured me on the first half hour and Jon Swift the last half hour.



Filed under: Media, Science, Space — Rick Moran @ 11:40 am

Recent images of Pluto taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. Note the change in features - totally unexpected.

Last night, the PBS science program Nova reminded us what a real scientific debate looks like.

Remarkably, there was a kind of political element to the debate as well as pressure groups advocating for one side or another. But the important thing was that there was respect among scientists and lay people for opposing points of view. No charges of one side or the other being in the pay of corporations. Neither side referred to the other as “Nazis.” And yet, there was real passion and belief animating the debate - and a healthy skepticism from both sides that is the hallmark of true science.

The subject of the debate was the “former” planet Pluto and whether it should be restored to its place in the heavens as one of nine “wanderers” (which is what the Greek word for “planet” means), or whether the decision in 2006 by the Astronomical Union to demote Pluto should be confirmed.

“Pluto Files” was hosted by a national treasure. Neil deGrasse Tyson, the director of New York’s Hayden Planetarium, has assumed the title, “The People’s Scientist” that had been vacant since the lamented death of Carl Sagan in 1996. He is literally all over the tube these days with appearances on science shows produced for the History Channel, the Discovery Channel, the Science Channel (part of the Discovery Network), Natgeo, and other PBS productions.

I wish we had a dozen Tysons for other scientific disciplines. He, like Sagan, makes the subject matter under discussion lay-friendly. He makes learning fun. He comes across onscreen as approachable, and gives the impression that you can ask any question - no matter how stupid - and he would give you an answer.

His ability to take enormously complex subjects and distill their essence into tolerable, bite sized nuggets of information that everyone can understand is a gift. Or perhaps he works at it more than other scientists. In truth, there is some grumbling among other scientists about popularizers like Tyson. They have the attitude, many of them, that the lay population doesn’t need to know where their billions of dollars are going, what scientists are doing with our tax dollars. They believe that it’s too much trouble to explain to those who pay the bills what their experiments and studies are all about.

This may be true to a certain extent. But there are many scientists who at least try to help us understand the universe and our place in it. Tyson is quite simply, the best.

But it was Tyson who pretty much set off this debate over Pluto’s status by removing the “cosmic body” as he calls it, from the display of planets at the Hayden Planetarium in 2001 when the facility opened. When the New York Times got wind of the demotion and published a front page story, all hell broke loose. Tyson got thousands and thousands of emails and letter protesting his decision. One of them, from a little boy:

Dear Mr. Tyson, I think Pluto is a planet. Why do you think Pluto is no longer a planet? I do not like your anser!!! Pluto is my faveret planet!!! You are going to have to take all of the books away and change them. Pluto IS a planet!!!!! Your friend, Emerson York.

At about the same time, two astronomers who had been looking for other objects in the Kuiper Belt (the location in the solar system where Pluto lies), discovered several round, icy, planet-like bodies - one of which was even bigger than Pluto.

This precipitated a meeting of the IAU in 2006 where the infamous decision demoting Pluto to “minor planet” or dwarf planet was made. In many cases, a decision made by a governing body would satisfy all but the most curmudgeonly contrarians. But for whatever reason - and Tyson offers a few during the show, including the idea that Walt Disney naming the goofy dog after the planet probably contributed to Pluto’s popularity - both the public and surprisingly, hundreds of astronomers objected.

All of this set up Tyson’s journey across the country to unravel the mystery of people’s love affair with Pluto. His trip took him to Harvard where he faced off with a scientist who disagreed with him. He went to Walt Disney World to hug a costumed Pluto.

And then, he traveled to my adopted hometown of Streator, Illinois. Clyde Tombaugh, the discoverer of Pluto back in 1930, was born in Streator and the townsfolk here revere him as a hometown boy made good. Tyson conducted interviews at the barber shop and next door coffee shop with people passionate about keeping Pluto’s designation as a planet. Indeed, the state of Illinois (and Tombaugh’s adopted home state of New Mexico) have passed laws proclaiming that while Pluto passes over those states, it is a planet. I kid you not.

Tombaugh is a quintessential American character. He was a farm boy with no college education who built remarkable homemade telescopes out bits and pieces of farm equipment - real Rube Goldberg stuff. To satisfy his passion for the stars, Tombaugh made his way west and got a job at the Lowell Observatory outside of Flagstaff, AZ cleaning the giant telescope. After a few years, he worked his way up to researcher and the observatory brass thought he would be an excellent choice to look for, what at the time was called, “Planet X.”

Since the discovery of Neptune in 1846, perturbations in that planet’s orbit inferred the existence of another planet. Dubbed Planet X by Percival Lowell, the rich astronomer who built the observatory, a fruitless search ensued for 9th planet for the next 80 years.

Tombaugh turned out to be the perfect choice for this thankless task. He was patient, dedicated, and eager to contribute. It was mind numbingly dreary work as night after night, he would expose photographic plates on the same section of sky and then, using a device called a blink comparator, he would patiently and with great diligence, click back and forth between two developed plates looking for a moving blur in the background.

Tombaugh struck paydirt on February 8, 1930. He confirmed the discovery and then measurements were taken to confirm that Pluto did indeed have an orbit outside of Neptune. His discovery made him world famous and garnered him a scholarship to college. He taught astronomy until his retirement in 1975.

Almost from the start, there were questions about Pluto’s status. It’s weird orbit took it inside Neptune’s for a time. It was very small, barely larger than earth’s moon. And then the questions really began once other Kuiper Belt objects were imaged and cataloged. This led to the controversial IAU decision and some serious blowback from astronomers who have not taken Pluto’s demotion lying down:

Within days of the announcement, a petition signed by hundreds of scientists rejected the IAU decision. On his way back to New York, Tyson stops at John Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Lab in Baltimore, Maryland, where he meets Alan Stern, a staunch Pluto supporter and one of the world’s leading experts on Pluto. Stern is the principal investigator of the New Horizons mission—a nine-and-a-half-year voyage to Pluto, which launched in 2006. Stern’s assessment of Pluto is that it is a new kind of planet, a dwarf planet. “It looked like the solar system consisted of four terrestrial planets, four giant planets, and misfit Pluto,” says Stern. “But today, instead, we see a solar system with four terrestrial planets, four freakishly giant planets, and a whole cohort of Pluto-like objects that turn out to be the dominant class of planet in our solar system.”

The spacecraft New Horizons is streaking toward Pluto, the fastest object ever built by man. It’s current speed is over 38,000 mph and will fly by the minor planet in July of 2015. At that point, we may be in for a huge disappointment. Pluto is so far away and gets so cold that it is very possible that its atmosphere actually freezes and descends to the planet’s surface due to its weight, obscuring any features we might make out. The spacecraft might be blocked from seeing the surface via visible light but the craft also has the capability of imaging in the infrared and ultraviolet as well. At the very least, we’ll get some idea of mountains and valleys that might exist on Pluto.

None of this will settle the debate over whether Pluto is a planet or not. And watching the back and forth between Tyson and those who disagree with him, you are struck by the contrast between those who passionately believe in climate change and the climate skeptics. It makes you wish that the debate over global warming could be carried out this professionally, and with due regard for the scientific process and the welcoming of diverse viewpoints.

It will never happen. The investment of the climate change scientists in maintaining their position is far greater than any astronomer engaged in the defense of the planet Pluto. Still, the debate over Pluto is indicative of real scientific inquiry and not the politically motivated and manipulated results we appear to be getting from climate change scientists.

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