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Last week when the Heller decision came down, Chicago’s Mayor Richard Daley suggested that the states should repeal the 2nd amendment.Now those of us fortunate to live in Chicago or its beautiful suburbs and ex-urbs have gotten used to hizzoner’s moods. Daley can be sarcastic in front of reporters and can usually be counted on to deliver at least one colorful quote.

Whether he really means it when he says we shoud tear up the Constitution is suspect. Daley, who came out of the womb a politician (his father Richard J. Daley was Mayor of Chicago for two decades), no doubt realizes it would be political suicide to even suggest such a stupid thing.

Then there’s the Chicago Tribune. While Daley might have as excuse for proposing the wipe out of gun rights in that he was emotional about what will probably happen to a similar law in Chicago, the Trib has no such reason for what they write here under the headline “Repeal the Second Amendment:”

No, we don’t suppose that’s going to happen any time soon. But it should.The 2nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is evidence that, while the founding fathers were brilliant men, they could have used an editor.

Funny, I was going to say exactly the same thing about the Trib – which makes the rest of their editorial all the more ironic:
If the founders had limited themselves to the final 14 words, the amendment would have been an unambiguous declaration of the right to possess firearms. But they didn’t, and it isn’t. The amendment was intended to protect the authority of the states to organize militias. The inartful wording has left the amendment open to public debate for more than 200 years. But in its last major decision on gun rights, in 1939, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously found that that was the correct interpretation.

On Tuesday, five members of the court edited the 2nd Amendment. In essence, they said: Scratch the preamble, only 14 words count.

In doing so, they have curtailed the power of the legislatures and the city councils to protect their citizens.

Why is it the default position of the anti-gun crowd that allowing law abiding citizens the opportunity to defend themselves will place them in greater danger? The illogic – on its face – of this position is astounding.The gun control crowd readily admits that handgun bans like that struck down in DC and soon to be history in Chicago do not, in the slightest, prevent criminals from getting guns. All the handgun bans do is keep them out of the hands of law abiding citizens who wish to use the weapon for self defense – against criminals who can get guns regardless of what stupid law is passed by idiot politicians.In short, where is the logic in saying citizens who are now able to possess handguns legally are in more danger from criminals who could always get handguns regardless of what law was on the books?


No matter. How’s this for pretzel logic by the Trib:

We can argue about the effectiveness of municipal handgun bans such as those in Washington and Chicago. They have, at best, had limited impact. People don’t have to go far beyond the city borders to buy a weapon that’s prohibited within the city.

But neither are these laws overly restrictive. Citizens have had the right to protect themselves in their homes with other weapons, such as shotguns.

Some view this court decision as an affirmation of individual rights. But the damage in this ruling is that it takes a significant public policy issue out of the hands of citizens. The people of Washington no longer have the authority to decide that, as a matter of public safety, they will prohibit handgun possession within their borders.

Oh really? Is that a fact? Let’s follow this by the numbers.

1. Handgun bans don’t work. Criminals can easily still get guns.

2. Handgun bans are fine anyway because citizens can use a “shotgun” to “protect themselves – even though I would have a hard time fitting a shotgun in my nightstand (no children in the house) not to mention spraying the house with buckshot if I was ever forced into using it thus endangering a loved one.

3. Public policy decisions are taken “out of the hands of citizens” (they mean “anti-gun citizen groups”). And if it were a matter of “public safety,” being placed “into the hands of citizens” wouldn’t allowing the purchase of handguns fill that bill nicely?

The Trib can be counted on as being one of the few major newspapers in the country to occasionally endorse Republicans for office and they have a stellar record of reporting on the corruption of city government, digging deep to ferret out dirty aldermen, judges, policemen, and others.

But this editorial is just plain silly. Not to mention the fact that any politician who would propose such insanity as repealing the second amendment better have a one way ticket back home because the chances of his being sent back to Washington would be slim and none.

This article originally appeared in The American Thinker

By: Rick Moran at 11:44 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (14)


Peter Beinart, one of the more thoughtful men of the left, has a sterling piece in Time Magazine that I’m surprised hasn’t gotten a little more play among blogs.

It’s a piece about patriotism – how liberals and conservatives view the word and the concept and how patriotism is playing out in the presidential race. Beinart suffuses his piece with an obvious love of country which makes the words ring all the more real and true.

It’s always hard to be analytical about an emotional subject – perhaps even more so when trying to look dispassionately at patriotism. And because patriotism is, in many ways, wrapped up in our own personal identity, if we have difficulty recognizing how someone might define the concept, we are more than likely to reject that individual’s claim to being a patriot. Instead, we see hypocrisy or dark forebodings of authoritarianism or super-nationalism.

Beinart successfully traverses this emotional minefield and emerges with a reasoned discourse on the differences between how liberals and conservatives define patriotism. He then ties it neatly into presidential race by demonstrating how Obama’s and McCain’s patriotism may be different but still represents two sides of the same coin – love and devotion to the United States.

I found the entire exercise intellectually and emotionally satisfying – especially since I took a stab at the same subject matter last October and came up with what I thought at the time was one of the better things I had written on this site. Re-reading it, I see how close Beinart’s thinking is to my own views on patriotism (except for a more expansive view regarding American exceptionalism on my part). But Beinart goes several steps further in his analysis to include the dangers inherent in both definitions of patriotism. At bottom, Beinart has successfully shown how both the right and left understanding of patriotism is valid and a necessary complement to the other.

I hold out little hope that many readers (at least those who leave comments) on this site or most sites on the internet would grant Mr. Beinart the legitimacy of his thesis. The patriotism issue is just too emotionally charged and too closely identified with the war for most of us to let go of our petty vindictiveness and grant the opposition the one thing both sides crave the most; recognition that they are acting with the best interests of the United States uppermost in their hearts and minds.

I’m not saying everyone should abandon political combat and move into some loathsome kind of Obama-led paradise where everybody agrees about everything and our great national debates on the war, the energy crisis, the budget, or social issues would suddenly be stilled as we all recognize the error of our ways and come together to hold hands around the great American campfire. That sickening kind of political heaven might be attractive to the ignorant but idealistic young and a segment of the left that sees opposition to its policies the same way the Catholic Church viewed Martin Luther.

But it is not for me. I will continue to battle the left with anger at times but also humor, sarcasm, and satire – hopefully vouchsafing the genuineness of their beliefs and yes, their patriotism in opposing me.

For Beinart, patriotism on the right can be too simple:

That’s why conservatives tend to believe that loving America today requires loving its past. Conservatives often fret about “politically correct” education, which forces America’s students to dwell on its past sins. They’re forever writing books like America: The Last Best Hope (by William J. Bennett) and America: A Patriotic Primer (by Lynne Cheney), which teach children that historically the U.S. was a pretty nifty place. These books are based on the belief that our national forefathers are a bit like our actual mothers and fathers: if we dishonor them, we dishonor ourselves. That’s why conservatives got so upset when Michelle Obama said that “for the first time in my adult lifetime, I am really proud of my country” (a comment she says was misinterpreted). In the eyes of conservatives, those comments suggested a lack of gratitude toward the nation that—as they saw it—has given her and the rest of us so much.

Conservatives know America isn’t perfect, of course. But they grade on a curve. Partly that’s because they generally take a dimmer view of human nature than do their counterparts on the left. When evaluating America, they’re more likely to remember that for most of human history, tyranny has been the norm. By that standard, America looks pretty good. Conservatives worry that if Americans don’t appreciate—and celebrate—their nation’s past accomplishments, they’ll assume the country can be easily and dramatically improved. And they’ll end up making things worse. But if conservatives believe that America is, comparatively, a great country, they also believe that comparing America with other countries is beside the point. It’s like your family: it doesn’t matter whether it’s objectively better than someone else’s. You love it because it is yours.

I would take issue with Mr. Beinart only in his belief that “Conservatives often fret about “politically correct” education, which forces America’s students to dwell on its past sins.” That’s only half of it. What conservatives object to is dwelling on America’s past sins at the exclusion and in lieu of telling our national story. I confess to being a little out of the loop regarding the content of “social studies” textbooks but a few short years ago, there was too much emphasis on the struggles of oppressed minorities to rise above the bigotry, sexism, and hatred in American society to reach for the promise that America offered and not enough on the remarkable, even miraculous nature of our origin.

Washington and Jefferson especially received short shrift in the textbooks I examined. How can anyone possibly know America without examining Washington as closely as we might examine Martin Luther King? Or celebrate Jefferson as much as Elizabeth Cady Stanton? The conservative critique of education today decries not just the “politically correct” interpretation of American history but the underlying message being taught; that what those dead white European males did in first fighting for independence and then cementing our freedoms and rights in the Constitution isn’t as vital or important to history as the struggle for civil rights or women’s rights. To say that this is a back-asswards way to teach history is an understatement.

But Beinart nails it when he talks about conservative’s love of the past and how we see patriotism as something of our patrimony; a concept inculcated by parents and, increasingly less so, the public schools. And he is spot on when he ascribes part of this to our rather dim view of human nature.

The difference between liberal and conservative on this point is profound and has been at the bottom of every political argument in our history. It goes back to the debate over the Constitution – between those who possessed what historian Page Smith referred to as a “classical Christian conscience” and those who believed in the values and precepts of the enlightenment.

Smith believed that the Constitution is infused with elements of both but that the classical Christain conscience dominates. It is the belief that man is inherently evil and will do mischief to his fellow man unless restrained by law and governance. (Smith ascribed a belief in original sin and man’s corruptibility as prerequisites for the classical Christian conscience.) Most of the Federalists ended up in this camp if only because they saw a need to restrain the passions of the common man and keep a strong hand on the tiller of state.

The Jeffersonians had a much more expansive and benign view of human nature. They believed in the perfectibility of man and, like true children of the enlightenment, saw man as basically good but error prone. By applying rational and reasoned concepts to government, Jeffersonians believed man was perfectly capable of governing himself as long as sensible laws were enacted to govern his passions.

One can immediately see the basics of the liberal-conservative schism in this debate over the shape of our constitution. And if you were to extrapolate a bit, you can even see how two definitions of patriotism could emerge from the competing philosophies. In Beinart’s piece, he ties the conservative view of respect for the past – defining Reagan as a magician who could summon feelings of past American greatness – with McCain’s ambitions:

McCain is a little rougher around the edges. Unlike Reagan, who during the Second World War only played soldiers on the big screen, McCain has actually seen combat. And as it did Bob Dole, the experience has made him a little more ironic and a little less sappy. (Dole tried to play the Reagan role in 1996, asking Americans in his convention acceptance speech to “let me be the bridge to an America that only the unknowing call myth,” but he couldn’t pull it off.) But if McCain isn’t Reagan, he still exemplifies many of conservative patriotism’s key themes. He followed in his forefathers’ footsteps; he put aside his hell-raising youth and learned to obey. He served his country in Vietnam, an unpopular war whose veterans we honor not because their service necessarily made the world a better place but simply because they are ours.

On one key issue, though—immigration—McCain’s view of patriotism differs from that of many on the right. Conservatives tend to believe that while Americans are bound together by the ideals enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, they are also bound together by a set of inherited traditions that immigrants must be encouraged—even required—to adopt. And they fret that if newcomers don’t assimilate into that common culture, they won’t be truly patriotic. McCain rarely discusses the dangers of mass immigration, but for many conservatives, the fact that some immigrants eat vindaloo or bok choy rather than turkey on Thanksgiving isn’t charming; it’s worrisome. They see multiculturalism as the celebration of various ethnic cultures at our national culture’s expense. And when that celebration is linked to the claim that America’s national traditions are racist—as it sometimes is on college campuses—conservatives begin to suspect that multiculturalism is leading to outright disloyalty. That’s why conservative talk radio and Fox News went berserk a couple of years back when some immigrant activists paraded through America’s cities waving Mexican flags. It confirmed their deepest fear: that if you let people retain their native tongue and let them spurn American culture for the culture of their native land, they will remain politically loyal to their native land as well.

A slight correction to Beinart’s description of the Mexican flag dustup. Of course it wasn’t because Mexican’s were only carrying Mexican flags. It was that they had elevated their own flag above the American flag – something I challenge Mr. Beinart to find in a St. Paddy’s day parade. Beyond that, the signage accompanying the flags were not mentioned by Mr. Beinart – signs clearly stating the belief that California and the southwestern United States was Mexican territory and that someday it would revert back. Reconquista may be a joke to liberals and the open borders crowd but the non-assimilation of tens of millions of Mexicans – people who are actively resisting the pull of the melting pot – is not funny.

But taking Beinart’s thesis on McCain’s appeal to patriotism, I believe he has accurately identified why there is an attraction to the Arizona senator by many conservatives. No, McCain is not a down the line man of the right. But his life story – his values, his upbringing, and his otherwordly courage in a life and death situation that he endured for 5 years resonate powerfully with many whose faith in America finds voice in men like McCain. He is an authentic American hero. And regardless of how one might feel about his immigration policies or other problematic political positions he has taken, there is that link with the past – that McCain is just the latest in a long line of heroes who sacrificed so much for this country.

So why can’t the left see it “our” way and not be so harsh and judgemental when it comes to the sins of our past? This is the way I described the difference between liberals and conservatives regarding patriotism last October:

I think it is apparent that some on the right love America in a different way than some on the left. Think of the right’s love of country as that of a young man for a hot young woman. The passion of such love brooks no criticism and in their eyes, the woman can do nothing wrong. They place the woman on a pedestal and fail to see any flaws in her beauty, only perfection.

On the other hand, love of country by many liberals is more intellectualized – perhaps the kind of love we might feel for a wife of many years. The white hot passion may be gone and her flaws might drive you up a wall at times. And it is difficult not to dwell on her imperfections But there is still a deep, abiding affection that allows you to love her despite the many blemishes and defects they see.

It isn’t that most on the left love America any less than those on the right. They simply see a different entity – a tainted but beloved object that has gotten better.

And here’s Beinart on how the left defines patriotism:
If conservatives tend to see patriotism as an inheritance from a glorious past, liberals often see it as the promise of a future that redeems the past. Consider Obama’s original answer about the flag pin: “I won’t wear that pin on my chest,” he said last fall. “Instead, I’m going to try to tell the American people what I believe will make this country great, and hopefully that will be a testimony to my patriotism.” Will make this country great? It wasn’t great in the past? It’s not great as it is?

The liberal answer is, Not great enough. For liberals, America is less a common culture than a set of ideals about democracy, equality and the rule of law. American history is a chronicle of the distance between those ideals and reality. And American patriotism is the struggle to narrow the gap. Thus, patriotism isn’t about honoring and replicating the past; it’s about surpassing it.

One of the major reasons I love history is that America is, at bottom, the most schizophrenic nation imaginable. As long ago as 1765 in the midst of the Stamp Act crisis, wise old Samuel Johnson, the English man of letters who compiled the first English language dictionary, wrote to a friend “Why is it we hear the loudest yelps for freedom from the drivers of Negro slaves?”

Johnson nailed the historical dichotomy that continues to this day. We are nation in love with peace who have fought uncounted wars and battles just since the end of World War II. We are a nation with a Statue of Liberty who welcomes immigrants with the stirring words “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, ...” who then turns around and puts up signs “No Irish need apply” or “English only spoken here.”

What many see as hypocrisy – including much of the left – I see as a profound disconnect from reality. It’s only hypocrisy if you don’t really believe what you’re saying. The amazing thing is we Americans believe with all our hearts in peace and in welcoming immigrants (perhaps most amazing of all, we believe that “all men are created equal” in spite of mountains of evidence that we have never practiced it) despite the actions of our government which can be quite bellicose at times as well as America possessing a long tradition of nativism.

So I can understand the left’s concept of feeling a patriotic duty to make America live up to her best ideals. I can appreciate where that notion comes from and applaud the effort – except for when the left demonstrates a lousy sense of timing and a gross mischaracterization of conservative beliefs:

From my piece:

Having said this, I should point out that the insufferable way in which the left seeks to claim some kind of moral superiority for their view of patriotism by belittling and demonizing the way the right expresses their love of country is unconscionable. There are those on the right who accuse the left of lacking in patriotism – something I have abhorred in the past and will continue to do so. Many conservatives defend dissent even in time of war as a patriotic exercise especially those who have their own beef with the way the war is being run. But I have yet to see anyone on the left take a fellow liberal to task for questioning the methods by which conservative choose to express their love of country.

Indeed, the very idea of a heartfelt expression or outward manifestation of patriotism smacks of “nationalism” to these liberals. And that perhaps, is the real divide between conservatives and liberals when it comes to a definitional framework regarding the use of the word “patriotism.”

Beinart thinks “nationalism” is a grievous sin as well:
By defining Americanism too narrowly and backwardly, conservative patriotism risks becoming clubby. And by celebrating America too unabashedly—without sufficient regard for America’s sins—it risks degenerating from patriotism into nationalism, a self-righteous, chest-thumping ideology that celebrates America at the expense of the rest of the world.

Does nationalism celebrate America “at the expense” of other nations? Or are those feelings of unease by the left the manifestation of something more basic?

My piece:

It should go without saying that liberals despise the concept of nationalism. In this, they are not entirely off base. Most of the evils of the 20th century can be traced to nationalistic impulses in Germany, Japan, the old Soviet Union (Despite their “all men are brothers” rhetoric, the Soviets never had any intention of allowing independent communist states. Their expressed desire was that the revolution be controlled by Moscow.), and the early 20th century saw nationalist movements destabilizing the Austria-Hungarian empire as well as super-nationalistic sentiment in Europe leading the continent to war.

But whether deliberately or not, the left confuses that virulent kind of nationalism with the simple expressions of patriotism most Americans see as harmless and uplifting. Yes there are those on the right who have a “my country right or wrong” attitude where a mindless form of nationalism has taken over and a creeping authoritarianism is expressed by a slavish devotion to a man like Bush. There are also aspects of militarism at large in these quarters where the military can do no wrong and any criticism of the armed forces is tantamount to treason.

I am not denying any of this. I am simply saying that this is a small minority of Americans (whose numbers are blown all of out proportion thanks to the internet). For the left to paint all conservatives and all Americans who express their love of country in a more demonstrable fashion than liberals as xenophobes and simple minded, brainwashed automatons is outrageously arrogant. It stinks of class warfare as much as it animates any criticism for the right’s overly nationalistic impulses. According to many on the left, that kind of patriotic display is reserved for the rubes in flyover country and can safely be ridiculed as the mouthings of ignorant, bible reading, goober chewing yahoos who are too stupid to “vote their own interest” we are told after every election won by a conservative.

What Beinart and other liberals describe as “nationalism” is, I am convinced, nothing more than feelings of discomfort with the more emotional, outward displays of patriotism you often find in Middle America. As Beinart and I agree that the left intellectualizes their patriotism, it stands to reason that grown men weeping at the passing of the flag or even the wearing of a flag pin might cause those on the left to be reminded of all the sins America has committed and that such outward displays are stupid, foolish, and for some liberals, cynically hypocritical.

In some ways, this is an elitist, coastal view of America that many on the left are guilty of and the reason they have continuously lost national elections with two exceptions since 1968.

There is, in fact, nothing wrong with believing America is a different place, a special place compared to other nations. Does that mean loving America “at the expense” of other nations? Damn straight. And the intellectual basis for that feeling can be found in American exceptionalism.

Again, my words:

The idea of American Exceptionalism has taken a beating in recent years because of this overt fear on the part of the left that believing America to be special smacks of the kind of nationalism that had Europe marching off to war in 1914 or Germans goose stepping under the Brandenburg Gate in 1939. Nothing could be further from the truth. You don’t have to read Howard Zinn or Noam Chomsky to rid yourself of the notion “my country right or wrong.” And if that is the only education you allow yourself about America and her past, I pity you. Nor do you need any special knowledge vouchsafed those lucky lefties who are able to see through Bushitler’s lies in order to oppose the President on many issues. Unless you are a blind, mindless partisan, such wisdom comes from picking up the daily newspaper and reading it every once and a while.

In short, the privileged moral position the left seeks to occupy on the question of patriotism is an arrogant lie – a belief that those who are more nationalistic in their expressing love of country are not only wrong but dangerous. I hate to disabuse my lefty friends of this notion that patriotism can only be defined as the last refuge of scoundrels but the kind of nationalism expressed by most on the right is in fact healthy and sincere form of patriotism. There is not a whiff of authoritarianism or militarism except in the fevered minds and paranoid imaginings of those who either don’t understand the right’s patriotism or refuse to recognize it as genuine.

Tough words but I believe I speak for many conservatives in uttering them. Beinart may be able to define the differences in patriotic sentiment between liberals and conservatives but many of his friends on the left see only unsophisticated “chest thumping” as manifestations of conservative patriotism while ignoring the feelings of good, decent, people who only understand that they are grateful for having been born in a country they consider the greatest, the most compassionate, the most blessed place on earth.

Yes, there is a religious aspect to the idea of American exceptionalism – that God carved out this land between the oceans and placed upon it the salt of the earth. But as an atheist, I see a much more secular explanation; that fate and the brilliance of a pitifully small number of men combined to present us with a form of government that has allowed the individual to flourish as never before in human history. If this makes us a better place than anywhere else, we should make no apologies and instead, revel in the exceptional nature of our existence.

Beinart can be forgiven his small errors because he so beautifully brings out and celebrates these differences in patriotic sentiment while showing why both the liberal and conservative understanding of patriotism is vital to a healthy country. His piece won’t stop the arguing. But it may initiate dialog that could lead to a glimmer of light so that both sides understand each other a little better.


Comment moderation is off since I will be gone overnight. Please be gentle and don’t do anything I wouldn’t do. If you do, be careful. And if you’re not careful, name it after me.

By: Rick Moran at 9:01 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (33)

CATEGORY: Government, Politics

House Democrats held one of their Kangaroo Court-type hearings yesterday ostensibly on Administration decisions regarding detainees and, specifically, the approved torture techniques that the government authorized interrogators to carry out against prisoners.

I say ostensibly because anyone out there believing that the House Democrats were truly interested in getting to the bottom of anything probably also believe in Santa, the Tooth Fairy, and a World Series Championship for the Cubs in 2008. Please don’t insult our intelligence by claiming otherwise.

In fact, almost all high profile hearings on the Hill now degenerate into the most ridiculous posturing and preening by Members who rather than seek the truth, seek to score pure political points.

Truth be told, the Administration makes an unbearably easy target.

But those on the receiving end usually play along by being polite, pretending to be respectful of the power and duties of Congress, and are expected to sit there and take their medicine as they are raked over the coals by ignoramuses who are usually laughably ill prepared. We saw it with the Petreaus hearings as each Congressman got their chance to spout and then would ask the same question over and over; when are we leaving Iraq. Petreaus, maintaining as much dignity as he could muster, tried to come up with different language to use in answering the question, playing the game of trying to make the Member look good for the TV cameras.

But yesterday, we saw what happens when two of our branches of government are at war – and politics and policy don’t matter as much as the personal dislike felt by the two sides for each other.

Testifying yesterday were the Devil and the Devil’s Familiar. John Yoo is the guy who wrote a memo trying to legally justify torture – a dubious and ultimately incoherent attempt to excuse the inexcusable. Also in the dock was David Addington, Chief of Staff to Vice President Cheney and suspected of all sorts of misdeeds and wrong headed thinking.

They were both reluctant witnesses having been subpoenaed by the Committee – a waste of good paper as it turns out because Addington especially decided to act the part of a 15 year old smart ass kid being interrogated by the cops. He lounged in his chair as if he was at a bar. Every ounce of body language, every fiber of his being screamed contempt for his interlocutors. His voice dripped with sarcasm and malignant scorn.

Dana Milbank – something of a contemptible creature himself – recognized Addington’s performance as akin to his writing; “nasty, brutish, and short:”

There he sat, hunched and scowling, at the witness table in front of the House Judiciary Committee: the bearded, burly form of the chief of staff and alter ego to the vice president—Cheney’s Cheney, if you will—and the man most responsible for building President Bush’s notion of an imperial presidency.

David Addington was there under subpoena. And he wasn’t happy about it.

Could the president ever be justified in breaking the law? “I’m not going to answer a legal opinion on every imaginable set of facts any human being could think of,” Addington growled. Did he consult Congress when interpreting torture laws? “That’s irrelevant,” he barked. Would it be legal to torture a detainee’s child? “I’m not here to render legal advice to your committee,” he snarled. “You do have attorneys of your own.”

He had the grace of Gollum as he quarreled with his questioners. In response to one of the chairman’s questions, he neither looked up nor spoke before finishing a note he was writing to himself. When Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) questioned his failure to remember conversations about interrogation techniques, he only looked at her and asked: “Is there a question pending, ma’am?” Finally, at the end of the hearing, Addington was asked whether he would meet privately to discuss classified matters. “You have my number,” he said. “If you issue a subpoena, we’ll go through this again.”

A bundle of joy, that one.

The left likes to throw around terms like “imperial presidency” because it makes them sound smart when they talk about their political enemies. In truth, most of what they complain about – signing statements (where there has not been one single instance of the president invoking), a “unitary executive” that even they can’t define, and “tearing up the Constitution” which again, they come up short when asked for examples (Habeas Corpus is alive and well thank you and was in danger only in the fevered imaginations of the left).

But Addington is a tool for acting like an idiot and Yoo wasn’t much better. The more Addington gave the Democrats attitude the more desperate they became to have their talking points confirmed. At times. they didn’t even bother getting confirmation from the witnesses. They simply put words in their mouths and falsely claimed that the witnesses had “confirmed” the absolute worst of the charges against the Administration:

Far left radio station Pacifica carried the proceedings live–with unhinged commentators and callers griping afterwards that Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and his fellow witch-hunters didn’t stab their pins in far enough.

The two-hour hearing was an absolute travesty. Nadler and the Dems shamelessly badgered and harangued the witnesses; Yoo, polite to a fault, repeatedly attempted to answer questions, only to be cut off by foaming jerks who twisted his words or indignantly claimed he was “conceding” some point that he had just established himself.

Malkin’s description is 100% accurate as anyone who watched the hearing could testify. Frequently cutting off Yoo’s answers was one of the most despicable tactics I’ve seen in a while. Of course, it didn’t help that Yoo was doing his best to obfuscate the issues but, as James Joyner points out, most of the questions had little to do with the subject matter the hearing was supposed to be about:
Then again, it’s easy to have contempt for this particular process. Unlike Phil, I’m not an attorney. But it seems to me that these are precisely the kind of answers one ought expect from a hostile witness presented with inane, hypothetical questions.

Congress has every right — indeed, a duty — to investigate suspected wrongdoing on the part of the executive branch. But it’s far from clear how this set of questioning was supposed to be helpful toward that end. The man is an adviser to the vice president, not a would-be Supreme Court Justice. What difference does it make what his pet theories of executive power are? What matters is what actions the president and his team actually took.

Wouldn’t it have been far more useful, then, to ask specific questions about specific activities that took place in Addington’s presence? Indeed, it appears that, in the rare times that was the case, Addington was much more forthcoming.

As I said, a farcical exercise.

And Addington? He repeated his incredible assertion that the Vice President is not part of the Executive Branch:

Cohen asked Addington to explain his curious theory that the vice president is not part of the executive branch. Addington explained that the vice president “belongs to neither” branch but is “attached by the Constitution” to Congress.

“So he’s kind of a barnacle?” Cohen inquired.

“I don’t consider the Constitution a barnacle,” Addington said reproachfully

This is a man seriously in need of a remedial course in the organization of the government of the United States. And the idea that he is serious about believing that nonsense makes one dread what other “advice” he gave to Cheney about Constitutional issues.

The final idiocy of the hearing occurred when Rep. William Delahunt (D-MA) expressed the desire that al-Qaeda was watching the hearing – all the better to come after Addington and kill him. He didn’t say that but the meaning was absolutely crystal clear:

Cheney’s Cheney continued to dole out the scorn (“You asked that question earlier, today, and I’ll give you the same answer”) until Bill Delahunt (D-Mass.), the last questioner, inquired about waterboarding. “I can’t talk to you—al-Qaeda may watch these meetings,” Addington said.

“I’m glad they finally have a chance to see you, Mr. Addington,” Delahunt joked.

“I’m sure you’re pleased,” Addington growled.

Milbank incredibly and dishonestly refers to Delahunt’s wish to see Addington in the clutches of al-Qaeda as a “joke.” Others, perhaps less of a lickspittle than Milbank, disagreed:

I almost drove off the road when Delahunt sarcastically told Addington that he was “glad” al Qaeda finally got the chance to watch him on TV. He can spin it all he wants, but the gloat in his voice is unmistakable.

Indeed, Malkin has the video and Delahunt’s wish was not made in jest but was spoken as a devout hope – the inference more than clear.

Shocking? Not terribly. The hearing had been building to something like this for a couple of hours. Still, actually watching a Member of Congress wish for the death of his political enemy elicited feelings of nausea – like watching a plane go down with you in the cockpit.

Addington, and to some extent Yoo, refused to play by the rules. They didn’t allow the petty ass Congressmen to walk all over them. They weren’t the polite, obeisant servants of the people executive branch employees are supposed to be (Yoo teaches at Stanford now). But Addington could have at least made a small effort to respect the notion that Congress – for all its flaws and stupidities – had every right to interrogate him and that copping an attitude of disdain for that idea did a disservice to his boss and to our republic.

What a gross, depressing, spectacle the two sides made of themselves yesterday.

By: Rick Moran at 6:33 pm | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (10)


The hysterically exaggerated, intellectually dishonest portrayal of the workings of the NSA surveillance program by many on the left is something I have catalogued on this site since its existence was revealed by the New York Times way back in December of 2005.

To be honest, the netroots have made themselves ridiculously easy targets for ridicule.

My own reservations about the program remain. Reasonable, honest people can debate how this program skirts the law and may – depending exactly how it works which is something that to this day remains hidden – cross the line of legality. The fact that debate raged in the Justice Department over the legality of the program with many career prosecutors opposed while others supported it should demonstrate to any reasonable person that at worst, the Terrorist Surveillance Program was an extremely close call.

Not so scream the netnuts. To the hysterical three year olds who make up the “reality based community,” facts don’t matter nor does it cross their infantile minds that such a surveillance program is even necessary. The program is illegal – no debate is allowed.

To such an incurious crowd we are now about to hand the reigns of government.

What is most worrisome is that they have so much invested in denying the reality of the terrorist threat – that the whole thing was dreamed up by Bush to seize power and become dictator – that one can legitimately question just how serious these mountebanks will be about national security. No doubt they will be relentless in their pursuit of terrorists – after we’ve been hit again. Cold comfort for those Americans who die as a result of their “terrorists are innocent until they commit an overt act” mindset.

Holy Christ! Even Barack Obama thinks the NSA surveillance program is indispensable to our national security. Of course, Obama has no better idea that the program is or was illegal despite his claims to the contrary. He is simply “playing the rubes” in the netroots community as Ian Welsh tells it at Firedoglake:

The FISA Cloture vote just passed. The Senate will now consider the motion to proceed with the bill, then they’ll head to the bill itself (corrected procedural details, h/t and thanks to CBolt). Various motions will be put forward to strip immunity, odds are they will fail. Then a number of the 80 who voted to restrict debate will vote against FISA so they can say they were against the bill. However this was the real vote, and the rest is almost certainly nothing but kabuki for the rubes.

Obama and McCain were both absent, as was Clinton. Unimpressive, but unsurprising, though I suppose I’m disappointed by Clinton (Obama has made it clear he didn’t intend to try and stop the bill.) Clinton and Obama will claim there was no point since it wasn’t close. But, with their leadership, it might well have gone the other way.

The folks who actually voted for the Bill of Rights are listed below. Remember, after the debate there’ll be a larger number of people who vote against this bill, but this was the real vote, and those Senators are just playing the rubes.

In less stressful, less partisan times, it may have been possible to debate the necessity for this surveillance program and even whether or not it actually steps over the line of legality, although how any definitive answers could have been arrived at with key parts of the program still classified and unknown to all but a very select few in government would have been problematic indeed.

So instead, we get ignorant rantings about the Constitution being torn up while brave liberals manned the battlements trying heroically to save American democracy:

A few weasel words from there, but Obama is totally cool with the precedent of the government giving a slip of paper to a corporation allowing them to break the law. He’s cool with the premise of “we were just following orders” that was shot down at Nuremberg being revived. He’s cool with if the President does it, then it isn’t illegal. He’s cool with a bunch of the other really dangerous aspects of the bill, including the vacuuming up of every communication that leaves or enters the United States without even the caveat that they be related to terrorism. He’s cool with a national surveillance state.

Just plain cool with it.

Gee. If all that is true, I am going to turn in my Captain America outfit and move to Brazil. Maybe Lambchop has a spare room he can let me stay in.

Of course, the above is wildly exaggerated – childishly so. Nice touch raising the spectre of Nazis, don’t you think? Battling fascism has always been the counterpoint to righties bravely battling Sharia law here in the US. Neither exists in the real world but boy is it goddamned heroic to see yourself doing it.

The only germ of truth in dday’s idiotic rant above is the “vacuuming up” of communications – a data mining program evidently carried out by the NSA with the assistance of the Telecoms. It is unclear whether this is a separate program or part of the NSA surveillance made public by the Times. But the USA Today reported back in May of 2006 that this data mining project includes a massive number of purely domestic calls as well. The program may have been confirmed by internal AT&T documents.

Question: Did the Telecoms violate the privacy rights of Americans by handing over records to the government of purely domestic calls? Once again, the nuance of the issue escapes the potato heads on the left who are licking their chops at the prospect of massive class action lawsuits against some major corporations that could easily bankrupt them as the legal fees alone could run into the hundreds of millions of dollars.

The Supreme Court decided a case that many experts believe bears directly on the privacy issue:

The U.S. Supreme Court has drawn a legal line between collecting phone numbers and routing information, and obtaining the content of phone calls. In a ruling in 1979, the court said in Smith v. Maryland that a phone company’s installation, at police request, of a device to record numbers dialed at a home did not violate the Fourth Amendment.

“We doubt that people in general entertain any actual expectation of privacy in the numbers they dial,” Justice Harry Blackmun wrote. He noted the court had said “a person has no legitimate expectation of privacy in information he voluntarily turns over to third parties.”

As I said, another gray area where technology and perceived necessity have outstripped – temporarily – the law’s ability to be absolutely clear about the line that must be drawn.

So instead of reasoned debate, we’re stuck with these wild charges that bear little resemblance to what the actual situation is much less the important questions raised by the actions of the Administration in developing and carrying out these programs.

The left just isn’t satisfied with opposing problematic programs. They have to ratchet up the rhetoric to unbearable levels of sophistry and stupidity in order to be seen as saviors of American civilization, standing alone in thwarting the evil machinations of Bush who, after all, is planning another 9/11 attack before the election so that he can cancel it and seize power indefinitely.

Their self image just couldn’t bear the thought of being reasonable and discussing the issues rationally. Too boring. Too vanilla. Only by playing the drama queen will their psyches be assuaged and their egos be satisfied.

Eventually, thankfully, Bush will be gone and chances are they will have Obama to kick around. But somehow, I just don’t see them getting so all-fired upset at a President Obama if he were to continue these surveillance programs or even expand them. At that point, all the nuance involved disappears and a new light of reason and rationality will shine on this debate. The “reality based community” will accept the reality that one of their own is in charge – which is what this whole thing has been about to begin with.

By: Rick Moran at 8:12 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (12)


If I were you, I would go immediately to my favorite gas station and get in line now. Because if, as some (Many? Most?) Democrats desire, there is a government take over of the refinery business in America, we can be sure of only one thing; a lot less gas will be manufactured and at a higher price.

I would ask my lefty friends the following; name one – just one – government enterprise that was ever run so efficiently that it could compete with market driven companies? And what makes you think the government will suddenly acquire the wisdom found in the markets and be able to adequately supply 300 million people with enough refined petroleum products so that the economy doesn’t collapse in a heap at your feet?

I’ll say this, the Democrats sure are ambitious in implementing a plan to socialize America. You’d think they would have started with something easier – like, say, the banking industry. Banks don’t make anything tangible, they just have a lot of money.

If not banking, maybe the fast food industry. Now there’s a group of companies crying out to be taken over by government. Their products already suck so the government couldn’t ruin them. And anyone who has been to a Burger King around dinner time can attest to the gross inefficiency with which they deliver a meal to the customer. I have been going to Burger King for 40 years and have yet to get exactly what I ordered. Besides, with government in control at McDonalds, maybe they could finally lose the clown and get a decent mascot – like maybe a greasy french fry or frozen beef patty.

But no, the Democrats had to get ambitious and want to take over an industry where the margin for error is less than zero and the consequences for screwing up are life and death. Sorry everyone in the Northeast but we goofed ever so slightly and you are going to run out of heating oil about half way through the winter. Might we suggest having a lot of sex to keep warm? Great fun and very educational for the kiddies.

Mess up at a bank and it’s just a few million in taxpayer dollars. Screw the pooch at a fast food restaurant and someone doesn’t get their order of fries with their Happy Meal. But make a mistake in the refining industry about how much gas or heating oil will be needed down the road and you have something approaching catastrophe on your hands. One must possess breathtaking arrogance to believe that government could do as good or better than profit driven companies in determining the needs of the market at any given time.

But to our Democratic Socialist friends (Can we start calling them that now? Can we?), the point is not supplying the American people with gasoline or heating oil but rather control – control of the industry so that it functions for “the benefit of the people.”

How often have we heard that battle cry in history? And oh how miserably those who have uttered it have failed to deliver promised benefits. From Lenin to Castro to Mugabe, the nationalization of industry to benefit “the people” has been a spectacular economic disaster. In the end, production in nationalized industry always declines. In the end, the industry has always fallen into ruins.

Why Democrats want to experiment with nationalizing the most efficient, the most successful market based industry in the history of the world – the oil and gas industry – is beyond comprehension. It is almost magical that tens of billions of barrels of oil taken from the ground or the sea every year can be transported in a few days to refineries here in the US and through a complex process turned into gasoline and other products which are then whisked around a continental nation of 300 million people to fill up automobiles or trucks not to mention supply raw material for the tens of thousands of products from chemicals to plastics without which our economy would grind to an ignominious halt.

And Democrats want the government to take over this process? Sheer idiocy.

Goldstein draws the frightening – and depressing – conclusion:

The question then, is this: have the American people, either through progressive bromides or an educational system that has been battling to turn government into a secular godhead, become so dumbed down that they will fail to recognize explicit calls for communism when they see them? I honestly don’t know. But I will say that the fact that they’ve managed to pit Obama against McCain — two nannystatists with progressive tendencies — in the presidential election, makes me fear the worst.

For more than 100 years, a titanic struggle has been going on between those who worship at the altar of collectivism and those who wish to make freedom of the individual paramount. Even a cursory look around the western world today would tell you that collectivism is winning, that forced altruism, nationalization, and a retreat on individual freedoms has now taken hold in Europe.

Meanwhile, conservatives in this country have been fighting a rear guard action against the creep of socialism, promoted shamelessly now by both parties to the point, as Goldstein states, we now have two major party candidates for president who are enamored of the nanny state. Despite Goldwater, despite Reagan, despite a supposedly conservative takeover of the House and Senate, and despite 8 years of a “compassionate conservative” president, the slide toward collectivism has continued – aided and abetted by a Supreme Court that seems to be making things up as they go along rather than using the Constitution of the United States as a guide.

This open call for nationalizing a vital industry – something that if done at the height of liberalism’s power back in the 1960’s and early 70’s would have been laughed off even by most Democrats – sickens me.

I despair for the future. In 10 years time, will we be able to recognize anything of the United States after the Democrats have transformed it?

By: Rick Moran at 7:24 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (26)

CATEGORY: Government, Politics

As both the right and left engage in their favorite pastime – The Blame Game – when it comes to assigning responsibility for the mess we’re in with gas prices, I’ve been doing a slow burn about both sides’ singular avoidance of placing blame on the one group who truly deserves it.

Every red blooded American who has voted over the past 30 years – Republican and Democrat – for federal lawmakers who promised, in effect, that this day would come bears the primary responsibility for high gas prices.

We the voters made concious and deliberate choices to elect presidents, members of Congress, and state legislators who ran on a platform that condemned nuclear power and swore to oppose the building of any more plants. If, over the last 30 years, we had replaced the majority of our oil and coal burning plants with nuclear powered generators, we could have saved about half a million bbl a day or 5% of the total imports of 10 million bbl a day.

That doesn’t sound like much but the “speculation premium” added to the current price of oil – about $40 according to the Wall Street Journal – is based on a perceived tightening of the market by 2-3%. There’s a good chance that premium wouldn’t even exist with the savings realized by using safe, clean nuclear power.

We, the voters, also made conscious and deliberate choices in electing everyone from members of Congress to local selectmen who would oppose the building of new refineries. “Not in my backyard” was the refrain of the last 30 years which has seen exactly zero refineries built in this country and 50 refineries closed down. Incredibly, we import about 3.5 million bbl of finished petroleum products every day. This lack of refining capacity has put pressure on our ability to stockpile gas, deisel, and other products that would also dampen speculation and give us a much needed cushion in supply that would stabilize oil prices.

We the voters also made conscious and deliberate choices to elect members of Congress, governors, and state legislators who promised not to drill offshore of all but a handful of states. How much oil is there just waiting for the drill bit? The government estimates around 20 billion bbl which sounds like a lot but only represents the amount of oil we would use in about 3 years. But other estimates from oil companies and other energy experts puts the amount of oil offshore considerably higher. The point isn’t that it would supply ALL of our needs for just a few years. It could never be pumped out that fast anyway. But no one doubts that it could make a sizable dent in our current 10 million bbl a day fix we need from other countries.

A word about the Bakken field which has been receiving some press lately (for obvious reasons). There is a huge disparity between government estimates of how much oil is under South Dakota and Montana and how much there is according to independent energy groups. The government says 21 billion bbl. Other scientific studies put the number at 500 billion bbls. As contrast, Saudi Arabia has proven reserves of about 260 billion bbls.

What has scientists and drillers so excited about this huge field of oil is that recent advances in oil drilling technology may make a large part of that field available for exploitation. To give you an idea, as recently as 1995, the government claimed the field contained only 150 million bbls of recoverable oil. To raise that estimate to 21 billion bbl astonishing.

The key is a breakthrough in drilling technology known as “sideways drilling.” Apparently, most of the oil is unavailable unless that technology is used to exploit the find. At the moment, no one knows how much of this light, sweet crude could contribute to our stocks of oil. But they are finding ways to extract more and more of the find all the time which can only bode well for the future.

This doesn’t help our immediate pain which brings me back to where the blame should lie for this fiasco. We voters made perfectly rational and logical choices to elect politicians who refused to drill offshore, in ANWR, on federal lands – anywhere one spotted owl or caribu might be affected.

There is nothing wrong with this, I might add. There are many among us who continually pat themselves on the back for being good stewards of the land, fighting the good fight against greedy oil companies who would rape the land and coastline in the name of profit.

These same people are much less willing to pat themselves on the back for getting us into our current dilemma. Again, there is nothing basically wrong with being in favor of protecting the environment at all costs – the most obvious cost being cheap gasoline. The question is why are we not accepting responsibility for what is clearly something that is our collective fault.

It has been proven that environmental protection is a luxury that only rich nation’s can afford. We have been willing to pay this price both because it is the right thing to do and because we could afford a small loss in economic growth in exchange for cleaner air and water as well as protecting wildlife.

But times change. The world is changing. And unless we can find a way to balance legitimate concerns about the environment with our need for more oil, the present situation will continue and get worse. This means that environmentalists have to acknowledge that the policies they support are leading us to ruin while the pro-drilling crowd must acknowledge that we can’t go drilling everywhere there’s a drop of oil to be found.

And we the voter have to start electing politicians to office who are realistic about what needs to be done. Can we maintain our committment to a clean environment while increasing our domestic oil supply? I think it can be done – if the political will to do it can be found.

By: Rick Moran at 7:36 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (17)

Conservatism Today linked with Assigning Blame (Correctly) for High Oil Prices...
CATEGORY: Government

I hate economic news. Much of it is so dry I want to set a fire to it just to be entertained. Not understanding a lot of it also makes following it a bore.

But neither am a I a complete idiot. I can read and comprehend economic news if the subject is laid out and explained by someone who knows what they’re talking about.

Enter Brad DeLong who I have taken to reading lately given that the end of the world as we know it might be upon us. I used to read Kudlow but the guy was so relentlessly upbeat I got an overdose of sugar and had to swear him off for a while.

DeLong is a happy medium between Paul “The Sky is Falling” Krugman and Larry “Don’t worry be happy” Kudlow. Krugman has been predicting catastrophe for so long they kicked him out of the Cassandra Club for being wrong so often. Kudlow has been seeing the light at the end of the tunnel for so long that he’s been declared legally blind.

And forget trying to make your way through MSM business reporting. Unless you want to feel like your brain has been dropped in a vat of molasses where everything is murky and hard to navigate, stay away. Stay far away.

Which brings us to Mr. DeLong who has a lot of kewl graphs to explain the few real stats that he uses to amplify what he’s talking about. If you are reasonably intelligent and don’t mind re-reading a post a couple of times, I highly recommend his commentary for those of us who have trouble understanding capitalism’s more arcane forms.

We all know about the sub-prime mortgage crisis which is pretty easy to grasp. Greedy lenders gave a lot of money to risky borrowers evidently believing that housing prices would continue to go up 7% a year forever. The debate over bailing out the industry has been interesting. Do we reward companies who took a flyer on bad risk loans? Or do we reward the borrowers who didn’t read the fine print and got themselves in over their heads?

Rewarding stupidity or ignorance is not the way of capitalism. In a perfect capitalistic society, those who make their own bed should lie in it – even if it means a company goes belly up or people have their houses foreclosed on.

But what kind of capitalistic society would allow a multi-gazillion dollar corporation who may have overextended itself because its risk assessors got it wrong, collapse and take the entire financial system with it?

Mr. DeLong explains the dilemma:

Yet we are still in significant trouble. Why? Especially “why” because nothing terribly bad has happened to the real economy: unemployment has not risen much, production and incomes have not fallen, wildfires have not annihilated all the houses of California’s Riverside County driving their inhabitants into Bushvilles in the arroyos of the California desert—normally we would require that something bad have happened to the real economy before the financial side is in such a state.

We are in such a state because:

  • Quantitatively- and analytically-sophisticated Wall Street teams greatly overestimated their capability to assess and manage risk.
  • Institutions greatly overestimated the extent to which the QaASWSTs (risk managers) were assessing risk as opposed to simply writing out-of-the-money puts they could not value and claiming they had lots of alpha.
  • Investors greatly overestimated the extent to which institutions understood what their teams were doing.

And now we have something significantly worse than a financial-accelerator-deleveraging creating a credit crunch.

In short, if I may be so bold as to sum up Mr. DeLong’s analysis, the huge investment companies who manage the hundreds of funds that invest in securities were overconfident in their ability to manage everything from the risk of mortgage securities to the effect the bursting of the housing bubble had on the value of their portfolios.

They just got it wrong, that’s all.

So sorry. We’ll try harder next time, we promise. But in the meantime, would you please, Mr. Bernanke, pull our asses out of the fire?

The Federal Reserve took dramatic action on multiple fronts last night to avert a crisis of the global financial system, backing the acquisition of wounded investment firm Bear Stearns and increasing the flow of money to other banks squeezed for credit.

After a weekend of marathon negotiations in New York and Washington, the central bank undertook a broad effort to prevent key financial players from going under, including the unprecedented offer of short-term loans to investment banks and an unexpected cut in a special bank interest rate.

As part of the deal, J.P. Morgan Chase, a major Wall Street bank, will buy Bear Stearns for a bargain-basement price, paying $2 a share for an institution that still plays a central role in executing financial transactions. Bear Stearns stock closed at $57 on Thursday and $30 on Friday. J.P. Morgan was unwilling to assume the risk of many of Bear Stearns’s mortgage and other complicated assets, so the Federal Reserve agreed to take on the risk of about $30 billion worth of those investments.

The Fed “is working to promote liquid, well-functioning financial markets, which are essential for economic growth,” Chairman Ben S. Bernanke said in a conference call with reporters last night. Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr., who was deeply involved in the talks though not a formal party to them, indicated support for the actions.

We are bailing out lenders who made risky loans. We are bailing out some homeowners who should never have received the kind of loan so dependent on the rising value of their investment and a sellers market. We are bailing out Wall Street giants who failed in correctly assessing the risk in buying certain kinds of securities. And the Fed is pouring cash into the financial system to head off any problems in the near future.

Is this capitalism? Not the sort that conservatives are always talking about.

And DeLong thinks that eventually, we may have to bail out a lot more homeowners at the bottom in order to stabilize things at the top:

If the U.S. government has a vehicle to buy up (at a discount from face value) and then manage home loans that look shaky, and if it can set the price of such loans, it might be able to do so in a way that not only rescues the financial system but makes money for the taxpayer.


If I were working for the Treasury right now, I would be saying: make this happen on Monday. There isn’t time to set up a new bureaucracy—a HOLC, which is what Alan Blinder wanted to do as of three weeks ago. So use an existing bureaucracy: Fannie Mae. If I were Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, I would spend the weekend building a legislative vehicle to introduce Monday morning on an emergency basis to give Fannie Mae the resources and the mission to undertake this mortgage rescue operation, and I think Fannie Mae is the right institution for the task: why does it have its government-sponsored status and guarantee if not to be used for purposes like these at times like these?

And if I were Ben Bernanke and Tim Geithner, I would be spending this weekend thinking about how to first thing Monday morning punish bear speculators on Bear Stearns, Lehman, and others by pushing their CDS spreads back to more normal levels. It seems to me that people on Wall Street need to be taught that betting that the Fed will not intervene to stabilize or that its interventions to stabilize will be unsuccessful is an unhealthy thing to do.

Basically, DeLong is arguing for Fannie Mae to come in and scoop up a lot of this bad paper and manage it on its own with the risk devolving to the government, rewarding both the little guy and the big guy for risky behavior.

Let’s remember what is at stake in a financial meltdown. We’re talking about hundreds of billions of dollars – real money, not government fantasy money. Those billions come from the money taken out of your paycheck for a 401K or some other retirement vehicle. It’s that $500 you put into a mutual fund every quarter or the dividends you invest in a risky bond fund. It’s the retirement savings of little old ladies and little old men. A meltdown would mean catastrophe for a lot of people.

So, the government must intervene and reward everyone who screwed up by bailing them out of trouble.

Was it trouble that could have been foreseen? I don’t really know enough to say for sure but common sense tells me that if banks and most mortgage companies turn someone down for a home loan and then your company goes ahead and lends the money anyway, it would seem pretty certain that both lender and borrower are aware that this is something more than just an iffy proposition. We don’t want a financial system where there must be a dead certainty that the borrower will not default. But neither do we want a crapshoot like a lot of these mortgages apparently were. Isn’t there a happy medium somewhere?

As for the Wall Street investment companies who bought these mortgage securities one might want to inquire as to how we got into this mess given that risk analysis is a large part of what these people do. DeLong points out that the risk managers got it horribly wrong. What’s to stop these guys from doing something equally stupid in the future?

If we’re going to throw true capitalism out the window – and make no mistake, that is what we’re doing with these bail outs – then the conservative rationale for capitalism goes with it.

Low regulation, open and free markets, individual and corporate responsibility – this is the conservative mantra when defending and promoting capitalism. I subscribe to this view of economics because it works as any resident of a capitalist country could tell you.

But now we are faced with the largest bailout in history and must question those comfortable assumptions. Maybe we need new regulation to prevent this from happening again. Maybe we need better monitoring and thus less “free” markets by the government. And what good is “individual and corporate responsibility” if the economy would be prostrate if we followed that dictum and just allowed economic Darwinism to rule the day and watch as millions lost their savings and millions were thrown out of work?

This entire post is probably making some of you more knowledgeable readers chuckle at my ignorance but how capitalistic a country can we really afford to have? And if the conservative rationale for capitalism is undermined in this fashion, what can replace it?

Perhaps on the micro level, capitalism will survive. But in the great, big, globalized world out there where governments can intervene in markets at the drop of a hat it’s difficult to see how true capitalism can flourish.

By: Rick Moran at 12:53 pm | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (19)


I cross posted my “McCain Proving Himself a Canny Campaigner” article over at RedState and former FEC Commissioner and a great friend of bloggers Brad Smith was kind enough to respond to my argument that Obama would be crazy to forgo privately financing his campaign in the general election.

Smith alerted bloggers back in 2005 to some of the more onerous requirements of McCain-Feingold while sounding the alarm over how the FEC might interpret the law. So I was pleased to receive such expert instruction on the ins and outs of campaign finance from someone intimately familiar with the process.

First, Brad left this comment:

The Tax Subsidy May be worth it by Brad Smith

The tax subsidy for the general election, if the candidates take it, is about $85 million. It is a MUCH better deal for the general election than for the primary. That’s why even Bush took the general election subsidy.

Think about it – $85 million, to spend between the end of the GOP convention on September 4 and the election on November 4. That’s a healthy $1.42 million per day. By comparison, through the end of 2007, Obama had been campaigning for over a year and spent about $85 million.

Additionally, because the subsidy comes with no strings attached, there are no fundraising costs. Typically, fundraising costs can eat up about 20% or more of the funds raised. In other words, to get $85 million to spend, you would have to raise more like $100 million. Obama’s total amount raised in all of 2007 was just over $100 million. At this point, he is raising about $1 million a day, but is probably spending about that much, too. Let’s suppose he wraps up the nomination after March 4 (a dubious proposition), he will still need to spend probably $300K a day through the summer. If the Democratic battle extends all the way to the convention, or even June, Obama will likely have to devote all his fundraising to the primary.

Now, you can start raising the general election money now, true, but Obama is still battling Hillary for the nomination, and he’ll need to raise other money to stay on the airwaves between the time he might wrap up the nomination and the Democratic Convention ending on August 28.

And it gets tougher. Even subsidized candidates can raise money for a “GELAC” account, “General Election Legal and Accounting.” This is privately raised but will typically total about $20 million. McCain can certainly raise that for the general. So McCain would have to match that $20-30 million McCain raises for his GELAC, plus the $100 million for campaign expenditures, just to match a subsidized McCain in the General Election.

In short, it is not at all clear that Obama can raise enough to battle for the Dem nomination AND fund his GELAC account AND raise still more for the general in an amount in excess of $100 million, which would be about what he would need to have parity in the general election with a subsidized McCain.

In the end, I don’t think this will matter a whole lot.

Brad Smith
Professor of Law
Capital University Law School

My response:

Thanks for your input, Brad by Rick Moran

But if Obama can raise $30 million a month – mostly from an online donor base – I would think that he would be stupid to limit himself to the $85 million in federal funds that would be available to him after July 1 when he might have $100 million by that date if he chooses to go the private route.

This is assuming he wraps up the nomination in April.

He would then have an additional two months of fund raising before the convention. Is there any reason he couldn’t raise $150 million?

I see your point about overhead but we’re talking money raised in amounts undreamed before. The temptation may just be too great.

But Brad pointed out one salient point I had not considered; monies for the general election couldn’t be spent until after the conventions:

He’s raising a million a day for the primary by Brad Smith

The federal funds for the general are not available to him until the end of the Democratic Convention on August 28. Until then, he has to raise money privately. Assuming, as I calculated, he really needs about $120 million from the end of August to election day to be competitive with a subsidized McCain, he has to raise about $2 million a day, minus anything he can save up for the general election before then.

Meanwhile, before the end of August he must raise money to fund his primary battles and his expenses of staying visible etc. through the convention? Plus he’ll have the hassle of raising funds, taking up time that could go to other events. You’re talking about him probably raising another $200 million total, maybe more, between now and November. I’m not saying he can’t, but I’m not sure he can, either. That’s nearly double what he raised in his first year of campaigning.

Even Bush and Kerry took the subsidy for the general. There’s a first time for everything, but I’m not sure that Obama’s fundraising capacity is really that great.

Another way to look at it is this: Barack has to keep spending now to fight Hillary. So he’s got to be spending more than McCain. Beyond that, between now and the general election, can he outraise McCain by $100 million? He’s not close to that big an advantage for the last year – why can he do it over the next 8 and a half months?

Brad Smith
Professor of Law
Capital University Law School

Brad Smith makes a very compelling case for Obama taking federal funds rather than trying to raise money for the general election outside of those limits.

By the way, Brad is also the Chairman and Co-Founder of The Center for Competitive Politics, a non profit group:

CCP’s mission, through legal briefs, studies, historical and constitutional analyses, and media communication is to educate the public on the actual effects of money in politics, and the results of a more free and competitive electoral process.

I expect most of us who blog will be bookmarking this site for its potential as a vital reference for information on campaign finance.

By: Rick Moran at 12:47 pm | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (2) Political News and Blog Aggregator linked with McCain still fighting for conservative GOP support...

This article originally appears in The American Thinker

I am not much of a policy wonk. Rarely do I don my pointy hat and delve into the mysteries of exactly how government tries to run our lives. Usually it is enough for me to spout generalities while railing against bureaucrats, liberals, and eager beaver do gooders who often act as surrogates for government policy in lieu of direct intervention by agencies.

No, I have eschewed covering policy for the most part. I am not smart enough and fear if I cram my head with too much of that stuff, other more important things will dribble out of my ears. Why take a chance on losing vital information like what Eva Longoria likes to do in bed or the name of Britney Spears’ favorite psychiatrist?

But I’ll take that chance by delving into what promises to be the number one controversy that will hit the blogosphere if a Democrat is elected president next November; mandates and the drive to coerce the American people into buying health insurance.

What is a health insurance mandate? Basically, it is government forcing you to purchase insurance even if you don’t want it or feel you have no need for it. The principle is based on the idea that those who do not have health insurance are getting a “free ride” from the rest of us when they get sick or injured. Since hospitals are forced to treat you even if you have no money, the cost of treating your sorry butt if you are uninsured is born by the rest of us who carry insurnace or, in 85% of cases, by local, state, and federal government. As a result, health care costs skyrocket and premiums become more expensive.

Apparently around 21% of people who don’t purchase health insurance are young, single, healthy workers who can afford individual premiums but refuse to cover themselves. This drives the price of health insurance up even more because it leaves older, less healthy people in the insurance pool who are more likely to need health care.

So the thinking is if we get everyone covered under an insurance program, premiums will come down and we will be able to get health care costs under control.

And we all live happily ever after…

Not exactly. For instance, what do you do with people who despite the gentle entreaties of government, refuse to buy insurance? No Democrat will give a straight answer to this question and for good reason; the only cost effective, efficient way to round up the health insurance deadbeats is to garnish their wages or assess a penalty by using the IRS to enforce the law. The idea is that taxpayers would provide proof of insurance when they file their tax return. Scofflaws would have the premium come out of their refund or the IRS could simply bill them for the amount owed. Failing to get the money that way, wage garnishment would be in the offing.

But there is a huge problem with using the IRS to ensure we’re insured; nearly 18 million low income tax payers aren’t required to file a tax return while another 9 million Americans refuse to do so. That’s 27 million Americans who could potentially fall through the cracks of any enforcement regime. One plan advanced by The New America Foundation would mandate that all Americans file a proof of insurance with the IRS whether they pay taxes or not. But that plan doesn’t allow for people who simply refuse to file. And, after all, some of the uninsured are elderly, homeless, or mentally ill. Others may have changed their address multiple times.

Perhaps looking at compliance rates for other mandates might give us an idea of what we might expect with health insurance strictures. Most of us are mandated to pay for auto liability insurance. Compliance varies but ranges from between 66% – 96% depending on the state. Also, in states where there is a childhood immunization requirement, compliance reaches an average of 77%.

Authors of this paper published in Health Affairs journal found several factors affecting the rate of compliance with mandates:

“Compliance is easy and relatively inexpensive; penalties for non-compliance are stiff but not excessive; and enforcement is routine, appropriately timed, and frequent.”

Using the above criteria, one can see problems immediately. For instance, has government ever made anything “easy and relatively inexpensive?” Even if mandates started out that way, there is every reason to believe that the cost would rise swiftly with more and more rules promulgated and exceptions made.

And those who have dealt with the IRS can attest better than I whether any enforcement done by the agency is “routine” or “appropriately timed.” Congress and others have been trying to change the corporate culture at the IRS for years and have failed utterly. It seems far fetched to expect the agency to change in the matter of collecting for health insurance.

Both Democratic candidates would probably use the IRS to enforce their idea of universal coverage. The difference is that Hillary Clinton’s plan specifically calls for mandates to coerce people and businesses to purchase insurance while Obama’s plan relies on a somewhat more voluntary (and probably less successful) belief that making insurance affordable will automatically cause the vast majority of those who don’t have insurance presently to buy some.

Both plans would call on healthy insureds to subsidize unhealthy insureds by ignoring such supposed trivialities as pre-existing conditions or other actuarial criteria. Instead of those who are more likely to use the health care system paying more in premiums, those less likely to be sick are asked to pay the same amount as those actually using the system. It’s like telling someone with three drunk driving convictions and a history of accidents that he doesn’t have to pay any more in insurance than someone who has never had so much as a speeding ticket.

Both plans would subsidize those who can’t afford health insurance through tax credits or direct federal subsidies. As mentioned previously, most poor people do not pay any taxes at all which would make a tax credit an interesting exercise in government coercion. Those who currently don’t need to file a tax return would be forced to do so in order to claim the tax credit.

Even a direct subsidy as proposed by Obama has problems. One must assume a mechanism to insure that the subsidy is spent on health insurance and not some other less vital household expense like food or cable TV.

Both candidates offer plans that would coerce businesses to give health care benefits to their employees. Which is more draconian? Both would penalize businesses through increased taxes if they failed to cover their employees. Obama would give a break to the very small business by making them exempt. Clinton would offer a tax break to smaller businesses to encourage them to offer insurance. If they don’t, they pay a penalty.

Obama’s plan differs from Clinton’s not only on mandates but also by his proposing a “National Health Insurance Exchange” – nanny statism run wild:

The Obama plan will create a National Health Insurance Exchange to help individuals who wish to purchase a private insurance plan. The Exchange will act as a watchdog group and help reform the private insurance market by creating rules and standards for participating insurance plans to ensure fairness and to make individual coverage more affordable and accessible. Insurers would have to issue every applicant a policy, and charge fair and stable premiums that will not depend upon health status. The Exchange will require that all the plans offered are at least as generous as the new public plan and have the same standards for quality and efficiency. The Exchange would evaluate plans and make the differences among the plans, including cost of services, public.

Why doesn’t the government just take over the health insurance industry? Under this “Exchange,” all market forces would be corrupted because of interference by this quaisi-government board of inquisitors.

Both plans make grandiose claims about bringing down the cost of health care through “preventive” measures. Unfortunately, that idea has limited use both for improving health and bringing down the cost of health care.

Ezra Klein, who has written extensively on the health care issue from a liberal perspective, outlines the problems with preventive care:

First, the impacts of preventive medicine are often overstated. It’s not that cleaning up the air or putting everyone on a gym regimen would greatly improve health—but people don’t follow gym regimens, and business doesn’t let you clean air. Furthermore, not all interventions are created equal. Better parenting might be beneficial, but it’s unlikely to be more effective—either on economic or biological grounds—than the use of statins, or hypertensive drugs, or daily tablets of aspirin. There are a lot of highly effective medical interventions which are very, very cheap. But our system is very poor at incentivizing their use.

Meanwhile, the reason doctors are constantly prescribing statins along with admonitions to exercise and eat better is because using public policy to change diet and exercise habits is really, really, hard, unless you’re prepared to be very heavy-handed (i.e, outlawing trans fats in restaurants, setting portion limits, etc). Indeed, part of the problem with preventive health measures is that, rather often, they don’t work very well. Like with traditional health care, some things really succeed (stripping lead out of gasoline, giving people antibiotics), and lots of things…don’t. And that’s to sidestep the weird reality that what drives health care politics is concern over money which, in fact, is quite rational: Folks don’t want to go bankrupt, and smart politicians don’t want the government to lose all space for spending on other priorities.

All of these measures to bring down the cost of health care and insure more Americans basically come down to this; government coercion on a level rarely seen in America. And it only promises to get worse. Neither the Clinton or Obama plan will cover everyone simply because people – millions of people – will refuse to take part. The Massachusetts plan which mandates people buy insurance is failing to cover those who don’t have insurance simply because half of them refuse to sign up – despite the penalties:

A group of doctors and health policy analysts, including a number of Obama advisers, pointed out in a letter released Thursday that Massachusetts, the only state with an insurance mandate, has thus far failed to enroll nearly half of its uninsured despite imposing a modest first-year tax penalty of $219 (the fine increases significantly this year). Because the Massachusetts program is less than a year old, it is not yet possible to fully judge the effectiveness of its mandate.

Mr. Obama raised the Clinton campaign’s ire late last week by charging in a voter mailing that “Hillary’s health care plan forces everyone to buy insurance, even if you can’t afford it… and you pay a penalty if you don’t.”

And that brings us back to questioning the efficacy of health insurance mandates – not as a vehicle to solve the problem of “free riders” or those who can’t afford the cost of health insurance. The rock bottom, basic reality is that in a free society, when government forces people to do something they do not wish to do, liberty is lost and individual rights are trampled upon.

The arguement that “We already have mandates for auto insurance among other things so what’s the big deal?” doesn’t hold water either. Every additional mandate initiated by government cuts into the notion of individual responsibility and substitutes collective will. The Congressional Budget Office put it thusly:

An individual mandate has two features that, in combination, make it unique. First, it would impose a duty on members of society. Second, it would require people to purchase a specific service that would have to be heavily regulated by the federal government.

As this Cato Institute policy analysis points out, mandates are a “slippery slope” to national health care insurance. And the plans offered by both Democratic candidates promise little in the way of relief while virtually guaranteeing that the quality of health care for the average American will go down.

In future years – as with all government run health care plans in the industrialized world – costs will rise, benefits will go down, and some form of rationing health care services will be inevitable.

There are free market solutions to many of our problems with affordable health insurance and rising health care costs. But in the rush to pile the responsibility on the back of government, no one seems willing to even try them. The Democrats have successfully spun the narrative that only government can solve these problems, that the market doesn’t work and that therefore, only mandates and “Exchanges” can save the American family from the health care monster.

If one of them is elected next November, we will probably see the biggest change in the American citizen’s relationship to government since the income tax amendment was ratified. Intrusive, coercive government polcies will become the law of the land. And we will be poorer in liberty and individual freedom because of it.

By: Rick Moran at 8:05 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (12)

CATEGORY: Government, Politics

Hillary Clinton touring a Las Vegas neighborhood yesterday:

Clinton said unscrupulous lending leads to bad mortgages, which lead to foreclosures, which lead to people with nowhere to go and vacant neighborhoods that can go rapidly downhill.

First of all, what’s wrong with this picture?

We have the evil lender.

We have the heartless bank.

We have “bad mortgages.”

Which lead to heartless capitalists foreclosing on the poor, unsuspecting homeowners.

There’s something missing in all of that and I will bet you only a conservative could find it.

(Answer below the fold)

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By: Rick Moran at 8:40 pm | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (10)