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2/5/2011
CLIO’S INTERVENTION

1-1

Clio, the muse of history, can be a bitch of a mistress. Just when you think the world has settled into a nice, ordered regimen with the “March of Progress” proceeding at a stately pace, along comes the Countess of Chaos, the Mistress of Mayhem to throw all of our pretensions about controlling events into a cocked hat and teach us a lesson in humility, if not in respect for the gods.

Egypt; Land of the Pharaohs, cradle of civilization, crossroads of empire, and more recently, a linchpin in the strategic position of the US in the Middle East, has had enough. Enough of oppression, enough of dictatorship, enough of grinding, endless poverty, enough of being beaten down and ground to powder by a pitiless state.

In short, they’ve had enough of Hosni Mubarak and want him out.

Americans are of two minds regarding Clio’s intervention in Egypt. The idealists are swooning with joy over what appears as of this writing to be the possible exit of President Mubarak and the historic chance for democracy to flower in the ancient Nile valley. The realists are sounding the alarm about the probable participation in a post-Mubarak government of the Nazi-inspired, anti-American, anti-Israel, anti-Semitic Muslim Brotherhood. The push-pull of these two forces on American policy has always been part of our national life, so it’s not surprising that when historic events explode across our TV screens and computer monitors, that an acrimonious discussion would break out about what the US should do now, and how we should handle what comes next.

Clio is silent in this debate. She doesn’t do the future. She’ll occasionally lift her skirt and slyly reveal the broadest of hints about what is to come based on what we know of the past and what we can see of the present. But our vision is a clouded one; so much that is unseen, unperceived, and just unknowable.

Our hearts our with the protestors, urging them on, praying for their safety, and marveling at their otherworldy courage. This is the patrimony given to us by the Founders that every generation of Americans is charged with keeping safe; the belief that liberty must eventually spread across the world and that anything we can do to aid in that sacred mission must be done. We have spilled an ocean of blood and spent a king’s ransom a thousand times over to advance this cause. It is in our DNA and there’s no use fighting it.

But prudence dictates that we also be mindful of the future and the catastrophe that is possible if Islamists were to take a leading role in the formation of any “Unity Government” that emerges following a collapse of the old regime. Clio gives us hints about the outcome of any such folly. Before there was Lenin, there was a Karensky; before Hitler, Von Papen; before the Sandinistas, there was a “Junta of National Reconstruction” with the Sandinistas a minority; and before there was a radical Islamist state in Iran, there was the “moderate” government of President Banisadr. In each case, the hopes and dreams of the people were shattered when ruthless men with guns blew up the moderate intent of those whose earnestness and good hearts were no less than we find in Egypt today.

So it is with a mixture of awe and trepidation we watch as Clio pulls back the curtain on events in Egypt. As for the future, the Greeks believed that the threads of our life were spun by the Fates and everything that happens to us has been preordained. We can’t afford to be such fatalists. We are not helpless as the movement of peoples and ideas rolls forward, flattening the past and changing the landscape to reflect a new reality. In the case of Egypt, however, it might be true that our ability to effect events to our advantage will occur after President Mubarak is gone, rather than having us standing in the way of the juggernaut as it steamrolls the dictator and the remnants of his odious rule.

Titanic historical forces are now loose in the Middle East. Other nations - Jordan, Yemen, Syria. Qatar - are trying to forestall the wave by changing personnel, making symbolic liberalizing gestures, and overusing the word “reform.” I doubt whether their own citizens are buying it. As the spirit Dave Bowman keeps telling us toward the end of the movie 2010, “Something wonderful is about to happen.”That “something” is the awakening of a long oppressed people who have finally realized that the power to be free resided in the strangest of all places - within their own hearts and minds. The revelation itself is as liberating for the Arabs today as it was for English colonists 235 years ago who threw off the shackles of their own tyranny to begin the world anew.

There will probably be much disappointment across the Arab world when the wave recedes and the hard, slogging, grinding, work of creating a civil society where none existed before is undertaken. The kinds of governments thrown up by these protests will have a hard time meeting the stratospheric expectations of the citizens who braved the worst their oppressors could throw at them to will themselves to freedom. There will be triumphs and setbacks. Some governments will no doubt be freer than others. More blood will need to be spilled before the hopes and aspirations of so many can be fulfilled, and the liberty - however they perceive that term - so hard fought is to be fairly won. That is the way of the world, though we wish it were not so.

Many in Egypt have lived a lifetime this past week. But that mischievous minx Clio is just getting started.

By: Rick Moran at 9:01 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (0)

1/10/2011
DEATH BY METAPHOR

Michael Daly writing in the New York Daily News:

Palin would no doubt say that she was only speaking in metaphor, that she only meant her followers should work to unseat Giffords and 19 other Democrats who had roused her ire by voting for health care.

But anyone with any sense at all knows that violent language can incite actual violence, that metaphor can incite murder. At the very least, Palin added to a climate of violence.

Palin should have taken it as a warning of what might happen when a Tea Party hothead dropped a gun while heckling Giffords at an earlier Congress On Your Corner event, more than a year ago.

No doubt Palin is not even bothering to defend her use of metaphors because “figures of speech” are just that; a way to colorfully enhance language to make it more interesting and memorable. If I were to say, “Hang Michael Daly from the highest yardarm!” no one with a rational brain cell in their head would actually believe that I was advocating violence against Mr. Daly - despite the fact that a swift whop to the nose with a rolled up newspaper is in order for his clueless rant about metaphors inciting violence.

Similarly, as Jack Shafer points out, the use of military metaphors in politics is so pervasive as to make any criticism of it both bizarre and hypocritical:

For as long as I’ve been alive, crosshairs and bull’s-eyes have been an accepted part of the graphical lexicon when it comes to political debates. Such “inflammatory” words as targeting, attacking, destroying, blasting, crushing, burying, knee-capping, and others have similarly guided political thought and action. Not once have the use of these images or words tempted me or anybody else I know to kill. I’ve listened to, read—and even written!—vicious attacks on government without reaching for my gun. I’ve even gotten angry, for goodness’ sake, without coming close to assassinating a politician or a judge.

From what I can tell, I’m not an outlier. Only the tiniest handful of people—most of whom are already behind bars, in psychiatric institutions, or on psycho-meds—can be driven to kill by political whispers or shouts. Asking us to forever hold our tongues lest we awake their deeper demons infantilizes and neuters us and makes politicians no safer.

Indeed, at the risk of sounding crass, the only reason this brouhaha erupted was because a nutcase coincidentally got a gun and shot a congresswoman. Otherwise, Sarah Palin’s “bullseye” map had long been forgotten and dropped off the radar of our political conversation.

This begs the question of when Mr. Loughner could have been exposed to the map and why it took him many months to become inspired enough by it to act out his fantasy. Is this a slow motion incitement by metaphor? Why the delayed reaction - even if you accept the preposterous notion that Loughner saw the bullseye map in the first place. Someone on the left might want to explain this to the rest of us before they continue with the “Palin has blood on her hands” meme. Where did Loughner see the bullseye map? When? How could a mind without logic or reason, logically process the bullseye map - as in the suggestion of cause and effect being posited by many liberals - and become inspired to kill?

If you’ve read Loughner’s YouTube blather and incoherent ranting, you wonder if any such logical assumption can be made:

If I teach a mentally capable 8 year old for 20 consecutive minutes to replace an alphabet letter with a new letterand pronunciation then the mentally capable 8 year old writes and pronounces the new letter and pronunciation that’s replacing an alphabet letter in 20 consecutive minutes.

I teach a mentally capable 8 year old for 20 consecutive minutes to replace an alphabet letter with a new letter and pronunciation.

Thus, the mentally capable 8 year old writes and pronounces the new letter and pronunciation that replaces an alphabet letter in 20 consecutive minutes.

Every human who’s mentally capable is always able to be treasurer of their new currency.

If you create one new currency then you’re able to create a second new currency.

If you’re able to create second new currency then you’re able to create third new currency.

You create one new currency.

Thus, you’re able to create a third currency.

You’re a treasurer for a new currency, listener?

You create and distribute your new currency, listener?

There’s more, but if you believe that this tragically broken mind can process information the same way that you or I do then you’re as illogical as Loughner.

Note also that much of the narrative about this incident being caused by conservatives using violent language, threats, and metaphors was formed within a couple of hours of the shooting. In other words, before anything was known about the killer - even his name - the meme had been set, the narrative formed, the smears unleashed despite the fact that motive, state of mind, or even the political affiliation of the killer was published.

This appears to be another case of liberals not letting a crisis go to waste. Already, there has been a move to introduce gun control legislation in Congress. If someone can show me how this tragedy could have been prevented unless guns were banned entirely, I would love to see that fantasy.

And as a sign of the times, Democrats are already using the tragedy to raise money. On the linked page, right next to the letter asking Democrats to send well wishes to Rep. Giffords, is a great, big blue button encouraging people to donate. That link appears in an mass emailing sent by “21st Century Democrats” with this partisan appeal:

We also know that Sarah Palin and Rep. Giffords’ opponent used violent imagery last year urging her opponents to “target” her. Last spring, after she voted to expand health insurance coverage to working families and cut drug costs for senior citizens her office was violently attacked.

Members of 21st Century Democrats helped elect Rep. Giffords in 2006 and re-elect her 2010 because she wasn’t afraid to fight for working people — or listen to them at the neighborhood supermarket. She voted for health care; Wall Street reform, job creation, and much more.

She stood with us — and we need to stand with her in her toughest hours.

Makes you want to pull out your hanky, doesn’t it? Oh, and while you have your hand in your pocket, could you also take out your checkbook and give generously?

You really can’t blame them. They are only following the dictum about not letting a crisis go to waste - perfected by Rahm Emanuel and his boss, the President of the United States, who himself, once used a very colorful metaphor in giving advice to his supporters about how to “debate” the opposition:

“If they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun,” Obama said in Philadelphia last night. “Because from what I understand, folks in Philly like a good brawl. I’ve seen Eagles fans.

Politics is not tiddlywinks. It is a full contact sport that oftentimes makes the MMA look like a tea party (metaphor deliberate). Efforts to curb “violent metaphors” - a matter of opinion with which reasonable, rational people recognize as accepted speech - is really about curbing speech by the opposition. Liberals don’t expect anyone to take their violent metaphors seriously when they use them. Only the tragic coincidence of a shooting spree by an individual whose reason has abandoned him has given the left a blatantly political opening of which they have shamelessly and to their great discredit, cynically taken advantage.

By: Rick Moran at 8:48 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (0)

12/20/2010
ADOLESCENT LEAKER UPSET THAT HIS POLICE FILE WAS LEAKED
CATEGORY: Ethics, Politics

Lawyers for Julian Assange are livid that police files detailing his sexual dalliances with two women who accuse him of rape were published by the Guardian.

The Guardian was one of the news outlets to which Assange made the Wikileaks cables available.

Julian Assange doesn’t understand “irony:”

Lawyers for Julian Assange have expressed anger about an alleged smear campaign against the Australian WikiLeaks founder.

Incriminating police files were published in the British newspaper that has used him as its source for hundreds of leaked US embassy cables.

In a move that surprised many of Mr Assange’s closest supporters on Saturday, The Guardian newspaper published previously unseen police documents that accused Mr Assange in graphic detail of sexually assaulting two Swedish women. One witness is said to have stated: “Not only had it been the world’s worst screw, it had also been violent.”

Bjorn Hurtig, Mr Assange’s Swedish lawyer, said he would lodge a formal complaint to the authorities and ask them to investigate how such sensitive police material leaked into the public domain. “It is with great concern that I hear about this because it puts Julian and his defence in a bad position,” he told a colleague.

First of all, it’s not a smear if it’s the truth. Left out of all media reports on the encounters Assange had with these women is that while he did have consensual sex on a couple of occasions with both females, he also sexually assaulted them at other times in that they repeatedly told him to stop his advances - and he refused. There is also the issue that the women requested he wear a condom and he refused. Apparently, that constitutes rape in Sweden.

Secondly, Assange was and is a hacker. Hackers are born without an empathy gene. They don’t care if they hack private information, violating your privacy in the most intimate way imaginable. It never enters their brain that what they are doing harms someone. They are anti-social in this respect in that they don’t see you as a human being with emotions and an ability to feel pain at being violated.

Of course, this gives the lie to Assange’s oft stated reason for releasing the cables; he’s for “transparency.” He wants to expose “the conspiracy” that exists but that really doesn’t conspire. What’s that you say? Here’s Assange’s “manifesto” where gobbledygook and adolescent thinking rule the day:

Can we find a value that describes the power of a conspiracy?

We could count the number of conspirators, but that would not capture the difference between a conspiracy and the individuals which comprise it. How do they differ? Individuals in a conspiracy conspire. Isolated individuals do not. We can capture that difference by adding up all the important communication (weights) between the conspirators, we will call this the total conspiratorial power.

Sophistry on a stick. Note the juvenile understanding of human behavior. People don’t act the way he says they do, no matter how many terms he makes up (”total conspiratorial power?”). His decidedly deterministic worldview has been proven wrong many times over as reality has trumped the notion that individuals are motivated to protect their “class” or group and act in concert to face threats to their status. That is nonsense, as any student of recent history can attest.

This justification is a beard for his real motive in leaking cables; Julian Assange wants to watch the world burn.

Like a 10 year old child focusing the light from the sun through a magnifying glass on to a grasshopper, Assange is fixated on seeing how much damage he can wreak on the world by his actions. There is nothing noble in this. It is, in fact, quite ordinary; your run of the mill arsonist or terrorist holds a similar desire. What sets Assange and his hacker friends apart is that now they have the ability to do incalculable damage to the peace of the planet - so much so that their actions may cost lives and perhaps one day, may start a war - a possibility raised by the very real problem that these leaked cables could provoke a misunderstanding of motives and intent that only leads to a rise in tensions. Lighting a match in a gasoline dump appeals to the anarchist in Assange which is why he doesn’t appear to care.

By his own acknowledgment, Assange seeks to destablize a world he fantasizes is run by this conspiracy that isn’t a conspiracy. A civilization that is unstable will make life miserable for tens of millions of people. But like Mao, Pol Pot, Lenin, Hitler, and others who sought to change the world, the lives of individual humans means nothing to Assange who now must face the fact that two female admirers who share his far left political views have the potential to send him to jail for a very long time.

He can watch the world burn from inside his cell if he is so inclined.

This post originally appears on American Thinker

By: Rick Moran at 7:34 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (1)

12/2/2010
WIKILEAKS: THE INTERNET AGE JUMPS THE SHARK

My latest piece is up at Pajamas Media and in it, I ask the question: is too much openness and transparency a good thing?

As sample:

I would imagine most of those reading this article treasure the idea that the internet is one of the last bastions of almost total freedom on earth — a place where anything and everything goes, where the sublimely beautiful rubs elbows with the most profoundly depraved, and where radiance and raunch can occupy the same space, at the same time, thus defying the physical laws of the universe.

It is the the last outpost in the Wild West complete with gunslingers, banditos, highwaymen, and the occasional offended aboriginal. All of this freedom and openness comes at a huge cost, however: we, the meek and mild-mannered townsfolk, have yet to get around to appointing a sheriff in a white hat to protect us from the likes of Mr. Assange and his merry band of nihilistic knaves .

At the moment, the bad guys seem mostly interested in knocking off the rich ranchers and cattle barons who can afford to hire armies to protect them. Tweaking the tail of the lion by dumping diplomatic cables on to the internet or publishing the cell phone numbers of politicians and bureaucrats is serious mischief-making but doesn’t threaten our privacy or well being directly.

What about 10 years from now? Can the concept of “openness” and “transparency” be taken too far? Suppose an Assange-like messiah arises who declares that personal assets, bank accounts, credit card numbers, Social Security numbers, tax returns and other very personal information have no business being hidden from view; that privacy itself is an authoritarian construct; and that everybody should know everything about everyone else. Only then can we all be truly “equal.”

By: Rick Moran at 10:55 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (0)

11/23/2010
WALTER MITTY GOES TO WAR

One of the best short stories ever written - later made into a movie starring Danny Kaye - was The Secret Life of Walter Mitty which featured a mild mannered daydreamer who put himself into heroic situations in his fantasies. Thurber’s deft touch made the character into a tragic figure, but sympathetic as well, while revealing the fate of non-conformists in a conformist society.

It appears that Walter Mitty has resurfaced in Afghanistan as a lowly shop owner from Pakistan impersonating a deadly Taliban commander in peace talks with the Afghanistan government and NATO. While there are certainly elements of comedy to the story, the idea that our military could be fooled like this is a little frightening.

Makes me want to throw my ashtray through the monitor:

A man purporting to be one of the Taliban’s most senior commanders convinced both Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the NATO officials who flew him to Afghanistan’s capital for meetings, but two senior Afghan officials now believe the man was a lowly shopkeeper from the Pakistani city of Quetta.

His daring ruse has flummoxed those attempting to start a peace process with a determined Taliban adversary.

“He was a very clever man,” one of the officials said.

The man claimed to be Akthar Mohammad Mansour, the second-ranking Taliban commander after Mohammad Omar, and he met with Karzai and Afghan officials at least twice in recent months to discuss possible peace negotiations, according to the Afghan officials.

He was flown to Kabul on British military aircraft for the meetings and persuasively portrayed himself as a fighter who spoke for the movement, the officials said. But after showing photographs of the man to those who know the insurgent leader, the Afghan officials have concluded that he was an impostor.

Is this tragicomic? Seriocomic? Or a frightful glimpse into the attitudes of the highest levels of command in Afghanistan?

I see where many of my fellow conservatives are trying to make this incident into a metaphor for Obama administration incompetence and stupidity. Sorry, but that’s a stretch. Besides, there much better examples of that - including what many on the Democratic side of the Hill are calling the worst, the most incompetent congressional liaison shop in history.

This is more a reflection on the mindset of the civilian leadership and military brass in Afghanistan than any general competency issue in the administration. Sure, the administration appointed some of these guys, but this is a failure of individuals in Afghanistan, not Washington. The incident is the result of simple, blatant carelessness: Everybody thought the other guy had vetted the negotiator and all assumed he was who he said he was. The fact that he wasn’t shows a frightening breach in security. How close did this guy get to Karzai? To Petreaus?

This is pure speculation but I sense that the incident shows that the leadership prosecuting the war has either lost hope, or is infected with defeatism to the point that they don’t care as much as they should. It’s no secret the brass doesn’t like the president’s timetable for withdrawal and given the fierce opposition they are getting in Kandahar, they may feel the cause is already lost. The Taliban is in the ascendancy, the war for the hearts and minds of Afghans is going badly, and Karzai is off the reservation. Whatever progress they are making on the ground is coming at a high price in American lives, and there appears to be no guarantee that once the Americans leave, those towns and villages won’t revert to Taliban control.

The faux negotiator is a symptom of what’s wrong with our efforts in Afghanistan. And the lack of respect for our intel people demonstrated here can mean nothing but trouble:

“One would suspect that in our multibillion-dollar intel community there would be the means to differentiate between an authentic Quetta Shura emissary and a shopkeeper,” ssaid a U.S. official in Kabul who did not know about the particulars of the Mullah Mansour case. “On the other hand, it doesn’t surprise me in the slightest. It may have been Mullah Omar posing as a shopkeeper; I’m sure that our intel whizzes wouldn’t have known.”

While there is speculation - almost certainly done to cover the asses of the brass - that the shopkeeper was an ISI plant introduced to see how far Karzai would go in concessions, that theory seems less an attempt at rationalization and more a casting about for straws.

Frustration and defeatism; can anything be done to turn it around?

By: Rick Moran at 12:08 pm | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (0)

11/16/2010
THE CONSPIRACY TO MAKE AMTRAK PROFITABLE

I am not generally given to positing conspiracies of any kind but the actions of the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) in their use of full body scanners and pat downs of airline passengers got me thinking.

Sherlock Holmes said, “[W]hen all other contingencies fail, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” Of course, in my youth, it was a neck and neck race for supremacy between Holmes and Dick Tracy for best detective, and Tracy never said anything half as profound but was a better brawler and wore a much better looking hat. Then again, Dick Tracy wasn’t a coke addict, and had the misfortune of seeing Warren Beatty play him in the movies while the legendary Basil Rathbone was one of the original Holmesian thespians. (Robert Downey, Jr. doesn’t count because he didn’t portray Sherlock Holmes as written, as imagined, or as dreamed in Conan Doyle’s worst nightmares.)

What, then, can we deduce from the TSA’s absolute stupidity in riling up the public with their nudie scanners and “gropes?” It is my firm belief that there is more than meets the eye with this gambit. In fact, I have come to the conclusion that the scanners, the groping, the drastic slowdown for passengers going through security, the maniacal pat downs of 3 year olds, and the manner in which this has all been foisted on the traveling public leads me to believe that there is a conspiracy afoot to benefit someone or something else.

Consider the fact that these measures are not designed to make us safer. They are not used to make it less likely a plane will be hijacked or blown up in mid air. Israeli security expert Rafi Sela, the former chief security officer of the Israeli Airport Authority, says that they are, in fact, a gigantic waste of money:

“I don’t know why everybody is running to buy these expensive and useless machines. I can overcome the body scanners with enough explosives to bring down a Boeing 747,” Rafi Sela told parliamentarians probing the state of aviation safety in Canada.

“That’s why we haven’t put them in our airport,” Sela said, referring to Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion International Airport, which has some of the toughest security in the world.

There hasn’t been a hijacking that originated in Israel for almost 40 years. But what do they know?

So if the machines and groping won’t keep us safe, or lessen the likelihood of an attack, and if the machines don’t add to efficiency in getting passengers through the security checkpoint, “whatever is left, however improbable, must be the truth.”

What’s left is a conspiracy to make Amtrak profitable and force the public to beg the government to build high speed rail.

All of these actions by the TSA are designed for one reason: to drive people away from flying and put them on Amtrak trains to get to their destination. And once people realize how inefficient and just plain slow Amtrak trains are, the high speed rail boondoggle will start looking mighty good to a public desperate to move faster than a 1953 East German Trabant.

Think about it. Would any sane, rational government agency open themselves up to such unrelenting, hostile criticism without an ulterior motive? I mean, really - who pats down terrified three year olds who are screaming “Don’t touch me?” This kind of thing terrifies parents and starts making Amtrak look like a damn fine option at this point.

Then there is TSA’s relentless pursuit of Mr. “Don’t touch my junk” Tyner who not only refused a nudie scan but balked at the leering TSA employee who wanted to pat down his genitals. The agency wants to talk to this guy - while making the not so subtle allusion to the idea that if you fool around with TSA, be prepared for the consequences.

After reading this, I had to look around and assure myself that I was still in the good ole USA and not some post modernist’s idea of a gulag:

Tyner, 31, was on his way to South Dakota on Saturday to go pheasant hunting. He was chosen for a full-body scan and opted out because he thought it was invasive. He was then informed that he would be subjected to a body search. He told the TSA agent, “”You touch my junk and I’m going to have you arrested.”

Tyner likened the proposed search procedure to a “sexual assault.”

When he tried to assert his rights, Tyner was told by a TSA supervisor on tape, “By buying your ticket you gave up a lot of rights.”

[...]

According to Aguilar, Tyner is under investigation for leaving the security area without permission. That’s prohibited, among other reasons, to prevent potential terrorists from entering security, gaining information, and leaving.

I wonder if Tyner’s cell phone video hadn’t gone viral if the TSA would be looking for the guy at all?

This is just more evidence that something else is going on with TSA. You can’t tell me that any government agency can be so stupidly vulgar and overbearing that they would track down the inoffensive Mr. Tyner in order to send the message that you don’t mess with the TSA’s “junk.” Nobody is that dense, right? Therefore, after eliminating all contingencies like stupidity, cluelessness, arrogance, corruption, and just plain loutishness, we must deduce that a conspiracy has been hatched in the troubled bowels of our government to redirect travelers away from airports. And logically, what other means of transportation can people use except trains? No one really wants to drive from Chicago to Orlando; trust me, I’ve done it and if you’ve got two screaming kids in the car, suicide becomes an option about the time you hit the Tennessee border.

Nope, it’s Amtrak for sure. As the most recent data for the passenger rail outfits shows, they desperately need an infusion of cash paying customers.

In 2009, 41 of 44 Amtrak routes lost money. The New Orleans to Los Angeles route - the “Sunset Limited” - was subsidized to the tune of $462 per passenger. Other routes were not so free and easy with the taxpayer’s coin but all told, Amtrak subsidies amounted to an average of $32 per passenger. Now suppose a couple of million more passengers were to hitch a ride on “The California Zephyr,” (Chicago to San Francisco) or the wistfully named “Twin Cities Hiawatha” (Chicago to Minneapolis). Suddenly, Amtrak starts turning a profit. It becomes a going concern. And most importantly, it proves that it can run the coming high speed rail system that President Obama dreams will make us all forget about airplanes anyway and ride the bullet trains to glorious energy independence and green jobs.

One problem; the ignorant galoots who currently can’t make Amtrak a profitable venture will still be in charge when high speed rail rolls around - or their equally hopeless successors. Nothing succeeds like success or fails like bad management. Amtrak has not been lacking in that department.

There may be another explanation for TSA’s curious behavior but I’m not seeing it. Given all that we know, what are you going to believe - that the TSA is terrorizing passengers, violating our Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure, pushing the boundaries of modesty and propriety, and acting like arrogant bullies because they don’t know any better?

“Whatever is left is the truth.” All Aboard Amtrak!

By: Rick Moran at 1:01 pm | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (0)

11/6/2010
OLBERMANN’S RAW DEAL

My latest is up at Pajamas Media and I address the Keith Olbermann suspension from the point of view of MSNBC’s hypocrisy:

This makes the NBC News policy against “journalists” giving money to their favorite candidates inexplicable. Who are they kidding? According to Politico, NBC isn’t alone in this exercise in serio-comic absurdity:

NBC has a rule against employees contributing to political campaigns, and a wide range of news organizations prohibit political contributions — considering it a breach of journalistic independence to contribute to the candidates they cover.

How can you “breach” something that exists only in the minds of arrogant popinjays who think that journalism is a “calling”? One assumes the humanity of reporters — normally — and therefore they cannot be immune from the biases shared by everyone else. Editors, whose job description includes removing as much bias as possible from a story, generally share the point of view of their reporters and are either too lazy or too blinded to their own prejudices to recognize bias when it pops up in someone else’s work. In the end, journalists are about as “independent” as Eastern Europe was during the Cold War. You don’t have to scratch very far below the surface to reveal the nauseating hypocrisy that is contributing to the end of journalism as we know it.

Olbermann’s punishment does not fit the crime. He violated company policy — a policy rooted in fantasy and outmoded notions of journalists as ink-stained cavaliers of fairness and justice. It may be elevating to believe in “independence,” but it isn’t practical.

And this is just cause to kick Olbermann off the air? And why now? William Kristol wonders if NBC’s parent company, General Electric. isn’t trying to curry favor with the new GOP majority in the House. More likely, as Bryan Preston points out, since Olbermann’s ratings have been tanking, his prickly presence in the newsroom has caused enormous friction with both on-air and behind-the-camera staff. MSNBC President Phil Griffin may have taken the opportunity afforded by Olbermann’s transgression to send the Kos-darling packing, ridding himself of this meddlesome high priest of hyperbole.

By: Rick Moran at 11:21 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (0)

10/18/2010
THE ONLY VICTIMS IN THE FORECLOSURE MESS WILL BE TAXPAYERS

I took a stab at analyzing the latest economic meltdown for PJ Media; the foreclosure scandal and its many moving parts.

A sample:

In this respect, the two competing narratives involving the foreclosure mess may both be successful in demonizing pet targets like big banks or ACORN. But as far as reflecting the reality of the problem, both narratives come up considerably short.

On the left, it’s heartless, greedy banks foreclosing illegally on tearful, innocent homeowners, throwing children and grammas out in the street for no reason hardly at all. On the right, it’s sinister forces manipulating the system in order to allow deadbeat homeowners to remain in houses as a result of nothing more serious than a paperwork snafu, despite the fact that they should long ago have been foreclosed upon and evicted.

Compassion versus personal responsibility. Class warfare versus the politics of resentment. As political narratives, both succeed in playing to the emotions and preconceived notions of their respective partisans. But as commentaries on what is actually happening, they are wildly off base.

By any measure, we are facing an extremely serious crisis that not only affects foreclosures, but mortgage securities, the financial viability of banks that are still “too big to fail,” and, most importantly, the rule of law in America. Silly, pretentious attempts to gain political points in this crisis will only make it more difficult to act when the crunch comes.

Is a crunch coming? The uncertainty alone is already affecting the housing market, bank stocks, the credit markets, and the economy in general. And until a way can be found out of this mortgage quicksand, it is likely that those trends will continue, threatening to throw the economy back into recession and perhaps even initiating another financial meltdown similar to the one we experienced in September of 2008.

I have come to the conclusion - or let’s say I agree with a notion advanced by other conservatives - that the real path to the economic collapse we’ve been experiencing began when the financial services industry moved outside it’s traditional role of funding start ups and supplying a haven for money, and into a Las Vegas style, wild west format where nothing is out of bounds and “caveat emptor” are words to live by.

We can trace this curve back to the day that Wall Street’s big banks were granted permission to operate as consumer banks. Glass-Steagall may have been cumbersome, but it acted as a firewall against the manipulation of the financial system so many of these huge banks participated in.

Mortgage bonds, for instance:

This is where things get positively evil. The investment banks didn’t mind buying up loans they knew were bad, because they considered themselves to be in the moving business rather than the storage business. They weren’t going to hold on to the loans: they were just going to package them up and sell them on to some buy-side sucker.

In fact, the banks had an incentive to buy loans they knew were bad. Because when the loans proved to be bad, the banks could go back to the originator and get a discount on the amount of money they were paying for the pool. And the less money they paid for the pool, the more profit they could make when they turned it into mortgage bonds and sold it off to investors.

Now here’s the scandal: the investors were never informed of the results of Clayton’s test. The investment banks were perfectly happy to ask for a discount on the loans when they found out how badly-underwritten the loan pool was. But they didn’t pass that discount on to investors, who were kept in the dark about that fact.

I talked to one underwriting bank — not Citi — which claimed that investors were told that the due diligence had been done: on page 48 of the prospectus, there’s language about how the underwriter had done an “underwriting guideline review”, although there’s nothing specifically about hiring a company to re-underwrite a large chunk of the loans in the pool, and report back on whether they met the originator’s standards.

In any case, it’s clear that the banks had price-sensitive information on the quality of the loan pool which they failed to pass on to investors in that pool.

Note that this potential financial Armageddon is mostly unrelated to the foreclosure crisis but the exposure of the big banks and mortgage bond holders to massive lawsuits by investors is very real and could precipitate another meltdown - if the foreclosure crisis doesn’t cause one first.

I would say to my conservative brethren who pooh-pooh the idea of financial reform that the thought of many dozens of Bernie Madoffs out there getting away with fraud while having the potential to cause another crisis should alter your perception. This isn’t capitalism. It is an abuse of the system and cries out for regulation to fix it.

By: Rick Moran at 8:15 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (0)

9/22/2010
THE DECIDEDLY UNCONSERVATIVE NATURE OF THE TEA PARTY ESTABLISHMENT

This article originally appears on The Moderate Voice

The Tea Party movement is a nebulous mass of citizenry, uncoordinated, not centrally directed, with no discernible “leadership,” and actually rejects the hierarchical organizational model for a fierce, unbridled independence.

Your mama.

If recent events in Delaware as well as the growing electoral involvement of the tea party movement tells us anything, it is that an identifiable tea party establishment has emerged to make war on those they suspect of ideological impurity while mindlessly defending their candidates from attacks no matter how flawed, or how ridiculous those candidates may be.

In short, the tea party establishment has become what they profess to hate the most; a self identified elite who are more interested in maintaining their position at the top of the tea party ziggurat than in stopping the far left agenda of the Obama administration or in promoting conservative principles in their candidates.

I hasten to add that the vast majority of tea party folk are sincerely interested in reform, are probably a little more pragmatic on the whole than their elites, and have acted as a spur to getting good conservatives (in many cases) to run for office. It is not their fault that a certain segment of the conservative punditocracy now purports to speak for them in the shrill tones of the ideological purist who protects their position at the top of the tea party pyramid by trashing other conservatives who don’t agree with them 100% of the time as “RINO’s or worse, “ruling class” or “establishment” Republicans.

Rush Limbaugh:

Now, they may have talked about it, but it certainly isn’t reported. What’s reported is that these guys are going, “Oh, woe is us, oh, woe is us. Coulda had a Castle seat, coulda won it, coulda been a contender.” And Scott Brown going on and on and on, “There’s no more room for moderates.” Mr. Brown, let me tell you something. Look around you in the Senate. You are surrounded by moderate Republicans, Mr. Brown. You’re surrounded by ‘em. Not only where you live but in the Senate, surrounded by ‘em. You got moderate Republicans in Maine. After this election you’re still going to be surrounded by moderate Republicans in the Senate. What are you talking about? No more room for moderate Republicans in the Senate? The question is whether there is room for Reagan conservatives anymore in the Republican Party. That’s the question. That’s what this is all about.

Fascinating. Limbaugh isn’t the only establishment tea party leader to raise the spectre of poor little conservatives being “surrounded by moderates” in the senate. This is utter nonsense - a shibboleth that goes to the heart of the meme that “moderates” lost the 2008 election (independents, scared off by the radical social cons, gave the election to Obama). There might be 7 “moderate” senators in the GOP caucus. And that’s using the tea party establishment’s definition. When 80% of the caucus is made up of conservatives far to the right of Ronald Reagan, one begins to wonder why Limbaugh and other tea party elites have to create an enemy to destroy. Isn’t Obama and the Democrats enough of a foe on which to concentrate their firepower?

The next time a tea party elitist talks about the GOP senate being lousy with RINO’s, I demand they name names. Who do they think is a “moderate” besides the obvious targets? There better be a lot more than 6 or 7 in order to make good on their observation about the senate being full of moderates. I’m sure we will be surprised to learn who they believe doesn’t measure up to their ever narrowing definition of conservative. More than likely, many senators they believe are RINO’s would hold views to the right of Reagan.

Indeed, it is not that these senators are necessarily moderate that upsets the tea party establishment. It is that they dare work with the Democrats to craft legislation and assist in governing the country - as their constituents demand that they do. I find it endlessly fascinating to compare the reactions of the hard right and hard left to members of their respective parties who take to heart the definition of “public service” and try to work with the other side to get things done for the country. The very act of compromise is enough to brand the lawmaker as one who has “no principles.” Both excessively ideological camps scream “betrayal” and “traitor” if a member dare defy their strictures against fraternizing with the enemy. The fruit of any such compromise is to be rejected out of hand.

Obviously, to even the most simple minded adolescent, this is not how to run a country of 300 million people made up of every race, creed, religion, and special interest on the planet. Not everyone can support one faction’s idea of how a piece of legislation should work, or who it should cover, or how much it should cost. The essence of governing in a democracy is compromise and adults interested in the welfare of the United States recognize that singular fact. In the process of compromising, political deals are made, backs are scratched, favors called in, and threats and cajoling are used to pass an imperfect, flawed piece of legislation that the president may or may not sign.

It is childish to believe that all of this rigmarole is somehow “corrupt” or the means used by the “ruling class” to oppress us. It is messy, inefficient, unsatisfying, and irredeemably venal. But it works - mostly. And it used to work a lot better. We all better pray that we reacquire the ability to craft livable compromises considering the stupendous challenges this country faces with regard to the debt, the budget, our security, and the security of the planet. Otherwise, we simply won’t survive.

But none of this matters to the tea party establishment. We know who they are. Limbaugh, Levin, Malkin, Erickson,, Riehl, Stacy McCain, and several other prominent conservatives who have abandoned their principles by supporting the fatally flawed, radically unconservative Christine O’Donnell.

It seems as if every revelation about O’Donnell’s past that trickles out, the tea party elites become even more enraged at conservatives who point to her shortcomings, more defensive, more dismissive of critics. They have a lot invested in O’Donnell - the narrative of tea party success must be maintained at all costs, even to the point that their own conservative principles regarding excellence, character, honesty, wisdom, prudence, and prescription are tossed aside lest their criminal candidate be seen as less than a champion of the cause.

Charges about “the ruling class” being against O’Donnell ring particularly hollow. Conservatives don’t do “class” in any way, shape or form. To bring any kind of class argument into the picture demonstrates an abandonment of conservative principles in the name of political expediency. And the even more fantastical argument that O’Donnell is no more flawed than any other candidate is wrong on its face, but particularly revealing of the tea party establishment’s desperation.

Conservatism is a way of living and of organizing society - not a political ideology, although in the real world, it is impossible to separate the two. The danger in being excessively ideological is that it becomes necessary to abandon principle in service to maintaining ideological purity. Hence, we have the spectacle of so-called tea party conservative elites railing against “class,” demonstrating imprudence in advocating against reasonable governance, wildly exaggerating criticisms of people who agree with them 90% of the time, and holding to the false notion that they are “standing on principle” in desperately defending an indefensible candidate.

Praytell what “principle” is served by supporting someone who actually believes in the radically unconstitutional notion that you can legislate morality? Or who steals from her own campaign war chest to personally enrich herself? Besides the “principle” of trying to maintain an establishment position in the internet tea party hierarchy, there doesn’t seem to be much left to consider.

By: Rick Moran at 11:15 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (1)

9/11/2010
THE TEARS NO LONGER COME

After writing 5 different articles on the anniversaries of 9/11, I felt that I had said all that I could say about the event and my reactions to it. Hence, I repost what I consider one of the best pieces I have ever written - my remembrance from 9/11/2006.

As the years fly by, we are gradually starting to place 9/11 in context; carefully moving the memories of that horrible day into a corner of the mind where we can look at what it means more analytically, and with less emotion. This is good - and bad. It is good because you cannot move forward when the open wound of such a seismic event looms large in your conscious mind. But it is bad because we forget some of the details of that day that have forever changed us as a nation.

The falling towers, the smoldering Pentagon, and that hole in the empty field in Pennsylvania should never be forgotten, but as each year passes, the edges of those memories dissolve and blur into the background, salving the wounds we suffered that day while allowing us the luxury of wondering if we “overreacted” or if the cost of protecting ourselves from a repeat of 9/11 has been worth it.

Those are side issues. The importance of 9/11 will always be how it affected us personally. For some, the awareness raised by the attack caused a titanic shift in their politics, as some liberals were “mugged by reality.” Others went in the opposite direction. Personal politics aside, however you view the subsequent actions of the US government, you cannot argue that a sea change didn’t take place in our attitudes toward Muslims and the Muslim world.

The fact that these changes are still playing themselves out - that bigotry, as well as more complete efforts to understand the Muslim world walk hand in hand - can be seen in the mosque controversy and the latest effort to prove how spectacularly ignorant some Americans can be in wanting to burn the Koran. I think the efforts at understanding and tolerance are beginning to win out, but it will be years before history renders her verdict on that score.

It is true that 9/11 turned our politics upside down. It is also true that the farther away we move from that day, the less it matters. Other issues now engage us, and what was once thought vital to America is now seen as an afterthought. No more “War on Terror” or “Islamic extremists” - as if redefining the words used to describe that battle we are in makes a whit of difference. We will either fight the war or try to ignore it. Either way, we are likely to pay a price.

And someday, we will have another date to remember in the context of America being attacked by terrorists. And probably more after that. I wonder if they will matter as much to us as 9/11?

I hope I’m not here to find out.

***************************************

This article originally appears in The American Thinker

On this 5th anniversary of the attacks on September 11, 2001, we Americans are engaged in the helpful process of taking stock, carefully toting up the pluses and minuses in our imaginary ledgers of where we are as a nation. Perhaps we even take some time to calculate the political cost/benefit ratio of how this particular anniversary will color the election in November. And if we’re in the mood, we may even listen to some of the testimonials given by politicians and read the editorials in the great newspapers that hearken to us a remembrance of the evil perpetrated against America on that day.

For myself as hard as I try to recapture the emotions that roared to the surface that day, bubbling up from a place I never knew existed - so raw, so real, so utterly bereft and the same time feeling a closeness with my fellow Americans I had never felt before - what I can no longer do is weep. I can no longer weep for the widows, the orphans, the brave and selfless first responders who charged up dozens of flights of stairs, giving their lives so that others could live. I can no longer weep for lives cut short, for loved ones whispering their tearful goodbyes on doomed airplanes, for heroic citizen-warriors who fought our first pitched battle in the skies over Pennsylvania (and won). And I can no longer weep for America with the realization that these attacks meant we were at war and that many a young American would lose their lives defending us.

It isn’t faulty memory that prevents the tears from coming. I remember September 11, 2001 clearly, as beautiful a day in the Midwest as it was in New York. I was on a short vacation and got up early as has always been my wont to watch a movie I had rented on the VCR. When the movie ended, I turned off the TV and puttered around the apartment for a while. I distinctly remember doing the dishes and cleaning the kitchen.

Thinking to catch some NFL previews for the coming week, I flipped on the TV and saw the smoking towers. It didn’t register at first. How could it? In the background, I could hear CNN droning on. Something about airplanes and terrorists.

It still didn’t register. And then, not 2 minutes after I had flipped on the TV, the first tower began to collapse. By this time I had begun to grasp what was happening and watched in absolute horror as the once proud symbol of America’s greatness was reduced to a smoking pile of rubble in just a few seconds. I stared and stared at the screen, barely aware in the background that someone was screaming. I was actually briefly annoyed. Can’t they move that person away from the microphone, I wondered.

It was then I realized that I was doing the screaming.

The tears flowed often that day. When the second tower collapsed, a sadness so profound, so beyond tears, engulfed me and I fell into a state of absolute numbness - a defense mechanism initiated by the brain I’m sure, protecting my psyche from being damaged by the overwhelming and powerful emotions engendered by watching my fellow citizens incinerated and crushed.

That feeling of not being able to feel was interrupted several times during the day. Some pictures showing the gaping hole in the Pentagon and the rescuers working frantically brought more tears as did some of the images of ordinary New Yorkers whose entire world came crashing down that day along with the towers. You just never knew when the tears would start to flow. The image of young girl in Pennsylvania laying a teddy bear at the instant memorial for flight 93 that had been started by nearby residents. Frantic people who had loved ones in the towers trying to get to lower Manhattan but being blocked because the danger was just too great. The still picture of a dead Father Judge, Chaplain to the Firefighters in the city, being carried away so gently.

What finally caused me to turn the coverage off for a while was when Members of Congress gathered on the steps of the Capitol and, following heartfelt speeches by the Speaker and Minority Leader, a lone voice in the back began to sing God Bless America. Totally unscripted and without precedent, several dozen Congressmen tearfully joined in. Veteran CNN correspondent Judy Woodruff, as tough and as professional as they come in the news business, nearly broke down on live TV describing it.

It was at that point that I wondered: Will we ever be happy again? Will we ever be able to laugh and dance and sing the joyous, confident notes that have marked the American people as the most dyed in the wool, overarching optimists the world has ever seen?

How can we look to the future when the gaping, oozing wound at Ground Zero reminds us that we are not invulnerable, that for all our military might, our economic power, our cultural dominance, our gigantic footprint on the modern world, America can be laid low by a bunch of fanatics?

The answers seemed not to be forthcoming on that day. But gradually, as our national leaders recovered their equilibrium and especially as President Bush seemed to find a purpose and direction for our emotions, we eased back into our daily routines, finding comfort and solace in the ordinary tasks and challenges that take up space in our lives, allowing us to find a haven from the winds of history that blew through New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania on that horrible day of blood and death and fire and smoke.

Every once and a while in the months that followed, we would receive a reminder that would bring those same emotions we felt on 9/11 to the surface. But a scab had formed over the wounds inflicted upon America that day and much of the power and grief we felt had faded like an old, weathered photograph gathering dust in the attic so that we could look 9/11 in the eye and not flinch. Yes, there were still moments of pathos and pain. I would tear up when the brave workers at Ground Zero would find the body of a firefighter or policeman and the sad, solemn procession carrying the remains to the waiting ambulance evoked memories of the cost of that day. But in retrospect, most of us were following the preparations for war and much of what we endured on 9/11 as a nation became simply part of the “mystic chords of memory” that bind all of us who lived through those awful hours.

When the first anniversary of the attacks came and went, it seemed proper that we should try our best to move on from the tragedy and get down to the business of fighting and winning the war. A people at war cannot afford powerful emotions. They must steel themselves against anything that can deflect them from the course that leads to victory. But after celebrating the vanquishing of the Taliban during the first anniversary and Saddam Hussein’s Iraq on the second, the date itself began to take on a new meaning. The third anniversary was unavoidably marked by politics as it occurred during the height of the Presidential election of 2004. Try as we might, it was difficult to summon the grief and the outrage that had marked the first two anniversaries. And last year’s memorial was extremely subdued, almost as if some wanted to forget the day altogether.

Through it all, the memory of the emotions that tore at the nation’s soul and caused an ocean of tears to flow receded slowly into the background, like a tidal wave that washes over a shoreline and, retreating slowly back into the sea, reveals a new landscape. We have barely explored this new world, many of us preferring the old one and finding comfort in the words of those who wish to pretend the catastrophe never happened. But while we may not be able to summon the demons that caused the anger, the sadness, and the tears 5 years ago, we should now be able to call forth the angels who can aid and protect us from our own folly; the fearful belief that the job is too big, too fraught with uncertainty for us to even try and win through to victory.

It is to this endeavor that we can rededicate ourselves on this 5th anniversary of 9/11. The tears may be gone, unable to bridge the mists of time and the healing salve of forgetfulness. But the cause remains. The purpose lives. And while our tears may have dried, the reason we wept in the first place will never, ever be forgotten.

By: Rick Moran at 9:22 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (1)