The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Sunday, November 30, 2008


Less than 72 hours after still another major terrorist attack, and we’re beginning to hear left-leaning journalists, academics, and other apologists for the Jihadist cause use moral equivalence to justify the events in Mumbai. Using comments like “India’s Moslems are discriminated against” or “Israeli bombs kill women and children too” or America’s imperialism is the new crusade against Islam” they subtly defend the “militants” (a word that softens the murderous intent and the barbarity of the people its applied to) while giving lip service to a condemnation of violence.

Whether it's a subway in London, an office complex in New York, a train in Madrid or a hotel in Mumbai, the intent of the Islamofascists who perpetrate barbaric acts of terror is clear—to murder and maim in a way that (in their delusional mindset) will cause the West to capitulate and submit to their brand of Islam. Melanie Philips comments:
The atrocities demonstrated with crystal clarity what the Islamist war is all about – and the western commentariat didn’t understand because it simply refuses to acknowledge, even now, what that war actually is. It does not arise from particular grievances. It is not rooted in ‘despair’ over Palestine. It is not a reaction to the war in Iraq. It is a war waged in the name of Islam against America, Britain, Hindus, Jews and all who refuse to submit to Islamic conquest. … The Islamists want to murder as many Americans, Brits, Hindus and Jews as possible. That is because they are waging all-out war against civilisation.

And for those who are impressed with the “military precision” with which the murderers performed their heinous acts, consider that their intent was not to make demands but rather to commit mayhem. Worse, they did not simply kill, they tortured their victims (and please spare me imbecilic comparisons to Abu Graib in which no one died or was permanently injured and in which everyone involved was a combatant). Rediff India Abroad reports:
Doctors working in a hospital where all the bodies, including that of the terrorists, were taken said they had not seen anything like this in their lives.

"Bombay has a long history of terror. I have seen bodies of riot victims, gang war and previous terror attacks like bomb blasts. But this was entirely different. It was shocking and disturbing," a doctor said.

Asked what was different about the victims of the incident, another doctor said: "It was very strange. I have seen so many dead bodies in my life, and was yet traumatised. A bomb blast victim's body might have been torn apart and could be a very disturbing sight. But the bodies of the victims in this attack bore such signs about the kind of violence of urban warfare that I am still unable to put my thoughts to words," he said.

Asked specifically if he was talking of torture marks, he said: "It was apparent that most of the dead were tortured. What shocked me were the telltale signs showing clearly how the hostages were executed in cold blood," one doctor said.

The other doctor, who had also conducted the post-mortem of the victims, said: "Of all the bodies, the Israeli victims bore the maximum torture marks. It was clear that they were killed on the 26th itself. It was obvious that they were tied up and tortured before they were killed. It was so bad that I do not want to go over the details even in my head again," he said.

Militants, huh? Freedom fighters for the oppressed, no doubt? One word covers this behavior and although it's impolitic, I'll state it—evil.

In the relatively long periods between major attacks, too many of us forget who we’re dealing with and the barbarity of their actions. In a few months many of us will forget Mumbai, until the next major terrorist event causes us to shake our heads and look for answers that have been there all along.

Update (12/01/08):

In an article today, Ralph Peters sums up the "answers" rather nicely:
You can't reason with faith-drunk sadists. The terrorists who attacked New York City and those who struck Mumbai want to kill people. Slaughter is the only thing left that validates their faith.

All the complexity of counterterror operations comes down to three essential requirements: Superb intelligence, ruthless determination and tremendous patience.

Intelligence helps you find the enemies you need to kill; determination means you kill them - and patience means accepting that even a successful fight will take decades, if not generations.

The horrific attacks in Mumbai had nothing to do with the Bush administration. They didn't even have anything to do with India's current government. Those horrid strikes were about the catastrophic, homemade failure of the cultures that produce Islamist terror and the blood ecstasy to which terrorists are addicted.

Thursday, November 27, 2008


Richard Fernandez of the Belmont Club presents and interesting analysis of the recent Islamic terrorist atrocities in Mumbai:
The attackers are exploiting the fact that both India and the US need Pakistan’s cooperation to fight terrorism based within its borders. With Obama planning to send 20,000 more men to Afghanistan, Islamabad’s cooperation shipping military supplies through its ports is more important than ever. And because India is unlikely to seek war with Pakistan, New Delhi also needs Islamabad’s help in suppressing terrorists. In an article in Foreign Affairs, Obama outlined his Afghan/Pakistan policy:
I will join with our allies in insisting — not simply requesting — that Pakistan crack down on the Taliban, pursue Osama bin Laden and his lieutenants, and end its relationship with all terrorist groups. At the same time, I will encourage dialogue between Pakistan and India to work toward resolving their dispute over Kashmir and between Afghanistan and Pakistan to resolve their historic differences and develop the Pashtun border region. If Pakistan can look toward the east with greater confidence, it will be less likely to believe that its interests are best advanced through cooperation with the Taliban.

In other words, Obama had hoped India would mollify Pakistan by making concessions in the East so that Islamabad would agree to crack down on the Taliban and al-Qaeda in the West — even provide money to boost the economies of the NWFP. Now that the “teenage gunmen” [Fernandez’s allusion to the politically-correct newspaper characterization of the Islamofacists who perpetrated the Mumbai attack] have made Indian concessions to Pakistan politically impossible, we can expect those overtures to be suspended, but they will resume the moment public anger subsides. Over time, this sort of policy will come to resemble that existing between Palestine and Israel, with India playing the role of Israel. Diplomats will keep hoping that if India makes enough concessions to Pakistan then the “moderates” will gain the upper hand, crack down on the “extremists” and conclude a grand diplomatic bargain. The absence of a viable alternative means that the diplomats will keep trying this formula, however often it fails, because they have nothing else up their sleeves. Those “teenage gunmen” have got New Delhi and Washington over a barrel and know it. The events in Mumbai are unlikely to change the situation in the region. On the contrary, they suggest that such attacks will become depressingly common, much as the rockets raining down on Israel have ceased to become news.

And so, diplomacy, negotiations, and concessions with barbaric fanatics who themselves are incapable of meaningful negotiation or concession move forward.

Those who value “peace” feel better with this approach, but in the end, peace is never achieved. Instead, we rely on the hope that “the ‘moderates’ will gain the upper hand, crack down on the ‘extremists’ and conclude a grand diplomatic bargain.”

Sound familiar? Maybe ‘futile’ is a better word.

Getting a Grip

All of us who have temporarily seen our balance sheets spiral downward have real reason to question the rank stupidity, voracious greed, and total lack of responsible behavior by everyone involved in the sub-prime credit scandal. Whether it’s the California farm worker whose $14,000 per year salary justified a $500,000 delayed interest home loan; the dishonest mortgage broker who gave it to him; the regulators and politicians who looked the other way; the Wall Street investment banker who consolidated that dysfunctional loan with millions of others and sold them to insurance and banking executives who were more interested in year-end bonus than in fiduciary responsibility, we have good reason to condemn them all. As a consequence, many of us have adopted a dark view of the near-term future.

And yet, on this Thanksgiving day, it’s time to take a breath, recognizing that the hysteria fed by 24 hour news cycle does not serve us well. Victor Davis Hanson asks us all to remain calm:
Get a grip. Much of our current panic is psychological, and hyped by instantaneous electronic communications and second-by-second 24-hour news blasts. There has not been a nationwide plague that felled our workers. No earthquake has destroyed American infrastructure. The material United States before the September 2008 financial panic is largely the same as the one after. Once we tighten our belts and pay off the debts run up by Wall Street speculators and millions of borrowers who walked away from what they owed others -- and we can do this in a $13 trillion annual economy -- sanity will return.

Gas, now below $2 a gallon, is still falling, saving Americans hundreds of billions of dollars. As housing prices settle, millions of young Americans will buy homes that just recently were said to be out of reach of a new generation.

If it was once considered a sign of economic robustness that homes doubled in value in just a few years, why is it seen as a disaster that they now sell on the way down for what they did recently on the way up? If we were recently terrified that gas would reach $5 a gallon, why do we now just shrug that it might fall to $1.50?

Unemployment is still below 7 percent; it was around 25 percent when Franklin Roosevelt became president. Less than 20 banks have failed, not the 4,000 that went under in the first part of 1933.

We all wish Barack Obama to succeed as president. But there is no more reason to panic and circumvent the Constitution for his early assumption of office than there was for Bill Clinton to prematurely step aside in November 2000 in favor of then President-elect George Bush.

Our economy will survive. Small businesses will grow into large ones. Young people with ambition, enthusiasm, and intelligence will succeed. And the “American Dream?” Although it’s a bit hobbled at the moment, it’s alive and well. I guess that’s sufficient reason to give thanks.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


As we move just a bit further into the 21st century, it seems that the international shipping community has become terrorized by an artifact of the 17th and 18th centuries—seaborne piracy. During 2009, Somali pirates have attacked more than 90 vessels and have commandeered 35. They are currently in possession of 17. Hundreds of crew members and billions of dollars in cargo have been have been held hostage.

Somalia is a failed state—lawless, chaotic, corrupt, and totally broken. And yet, pirates from this failed state terrorize shipping lanes that account for more than 10 percent of the world’s shipping traffic.

Obviously, piracy is a violation of international law, and yet, the pirates seem to be operating with impunity. Actually, it’s a 21 century thing. The West is compelled by its own sense of moral superiority to avoid direct and violent action against these scum, relying instead on a corrupt and ineffective U.N. that seems paralyzed when it faces a problem that requires more than talk or resolutions. Bret Stephens comments:
What about international law? Article 110 of the U.N.'s Law of the Sea Convention -- ratified by most nations, but not by the U.S. -- enjoins naval ships from simply firing on suspected pirates. Instead, they are required first to send over a boarding party to inquire of the pirates whether they are, in fact, pirates. A recent U.N. Security Council resolution allows foreign navies to pursue pirates into Somali waters -- provided Somalia's tottering government agrees -- but the resolution expires next week. As for the idea of laying waste, Stephen Decatur-like, to the pirate's prospering capital port city of Eyl, this too would require U.N. authorization. Yesterday, a shippers' organization asked NATO to blockade the Somali coast. NATO promptly declined.

Then there is the problem of what to do with captured pirates. No international body similar to the old Admiralty Courts is currently empowered to try pirates and imprison them. The British foreign office recently produced a legal opinion warning Royal Navy ships not to take pirates captive, lest they seek asylum in the U.K. or otherwise face repatriation in jurisdictions where they might be dealt with harshly, in violation of the British Human Rights Act.

When piracy was at its zenith during the 19 century, the British navy would summarily hang any pirate captured on the high seas. Barbaric? Well, the number of piracy incidents dropped dramatically once this policy was instituted.

But today, we must protect the human rights of the pirates. Again from Stephen’s article:
Today, by contrast, a Navy captain who takes captured pirates aboard his state-of-the-art warship will have a brig in which to keep them securely detained, and instantaneous communications through which he can obtain higher guidance and observe the rule of law.

Yet what ought to be a triumph for both justice and security has turned out closer to the opposite. Instead of greater security, we get the deteriorating situation described above. And in pursuit of a better form of justice -- chiefly defined nowadays as keeping a clear conscience -- we get (at best) a Kenyan jail. "We're humane warriors," says one U.S. Navy officer. "When the pirates put down their RPGs and raise their hands, we take them alive. And that's a lot tougher than taking bodies."

Like international terrorism, international piracy uses our own humanity against us, and as a consequence, the world becomes incrementally more chaotic every day. We can feel very smug as we use human rights excuses as a reason for refusing to stop thugs who commit piracy on the high seas. But in the end, all of us pay.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Real "Hope"

As the economy tumbles into a long and deep recession; as the stock market loses 40 percent of its value; as doctrinaire and incompetent politicians grapple with ill-conceived bail-out programs and “stimulus” packages that will do little good and may actually create harmful unintended consequences; as unemployment numbers shoot upward; as a new President tries his best to address a collection of economic problems that would make FDR shudder, it’s awfully easy to take on a dark world-view and an even darker short-term outlook.

A commenter at The Belmont Club named “Programmer” comments:
Hope, you say? Hope! What is hope? Well laddy, I’ll be telling ye what hope is! Hope is a young guy quitting Harvard and taking his version of BASIC around until Altair bought it, then keep on marketing until other platforms bought it, which eventually led to Vista!

Hope is two guys working in a garage and finally hitting big when they sold their first 50 computers to a Byte shop. This, of course, led to the iPhone, etc.

Hope is: In 1945, Sam and Helen Walton moved to Newport, Arkansas to breathe life into an old Ben Franklin store. It had been doing poorly and was in need of new ownership. Sam Walton was just the man for the job.

Hope is: Out in America right now, right this darn minute, somebody, or probably a whole lot of somebodies) is/are working on ideas that are the next big ideas. The next wave. The next waves. Robots! Nanobots! Cold fusion! Longevity! Teleportation! Safe desktop nuclear reactors. Just like the desktop computer boom, just like the dot com boom, like the oil boom, the railroad boom, like…, like…, well you get the idea. Stop all this gloom and doom. The present is a infinitely small edge of now sweeping through time, but it is remarkably solid. We cannot reach back through it and change the past, only observe it dimly receding into dust, We cannot break throught the present to see the future, only make guesses guided by what we observe in the vanishing past and learn in the now. So brace yourselves, place your bets, and get ready for what’s coming. President elect Obama is right about one thing, for sure. Change is coming. YeeeeeeeHawwwwwww! What a ride!

Too often, we hear Left-leaning politicians state that the American dream is dead and that the middle class is broken. To listen to these class-warriors, our only hope is big government and a growing stream of entitlements that will bankrupt an already burdened country. “Programmer” disagrees, arguing that our real hope is the millions of Americans who don’t look for handout and instead rely on their own intelligence, ingenuity, and drive to build a better life for themselves and their families. I think “Programmer” may have it exactly right.

At the Core

As the economy spirals downward, it seems that blame is ideological. On the Right, the problem is loan policies implemented in the 1990s contrived by Democrats that forced banks to create mortgages for people who had no ability to repay them. On the Left, the problem is greed on Wall Street and a lack of oversight precipitated by a Republican aversion to regulation. In this case the ideological views are both correct.

But it's difficult to argue that the beginnings of the problem, its true core, can be traced back to something called the CRA, best summarized in a prescient article published in The City Journal (hat tip: Richard Fernandez) in the winter of 2000:
The Clinton administration has turned the Community Reinvestment Act [CRA], a once-obscure and lightly enforced banking regulation law, into one of the most powerful mandates shaping American cities—and, as Senate Banking Committee chairman Phil Gramm memorably put it, a vast extortion scheme against the nation's banks. Under its provisions, U.S. banks have committed nearly $1 trillion for inner-city and low-income mortgages and real estate development projects, most of it funneled through a nationwide network of left-wing community groups, intent, in some cases, on teaching their low-income clients that the financial system is their enemy and, implicitly, that government, rather than their own striving, is the key to their well-being.

The CRA's premise sounds unassailable: helping the poor buy and keep homes will stabilize and rebuild city neighborhoods. As enforced today, though, the law portends just the opposite, threatening to undermine the efforts of the upwardly mobile poor by saddling them with neighbors more than usually likely to depress property values by not maintaining their homes adequately or by losing them to foreclosure. The CRA's logic also helps to ensure that inner-city neighborhoods stay poor by discouraging the kinds of investment that might make them better off.

The Act, which Jimmy Carter signed in 1977, grew out of the complaint that urban banks were "redlining" inner-city neighborhoods, refusing to lend to their residents while using their deposits to finance suburban expansion. CRA decreed that banks have "an affirmative obligation" to meet the credit needs of the communities in which they are chartered, and that federal banking regulators should assess how well they do that when considering their requests to merge or to open branches. Implicit in the bill's rationale was a belief that CRA was needed to counter racial discrimination in lending, an assumption that later seemed to gain support from a widely publicized 1990 Federal Reserve Bank of Boston finding that blacks and Hispanics suffered higher mortgage-denial rates than whites, even at similar income levels.

With the benefit of hindsight, ever member of Congress, every banking regulator and every Wall street Master of the Universe should have been force fed this city journal article until they gagged. Continuing The City Journal piece:
The result of all this activity, argues the CEO of one midsize bank, is that “banks are promising to make loans they would have made anyway, with some extra aggressiveness on risky mortgages thrown in.” Many bankers—and even some CRA advocates—share his view. As one Fed economist puts it, the assertion that CRA was needed to force banks to see profitable lending opportunities is “like saying you need the rooster to tell the sun to come up. It was going to happen anyway.” And indeed, a survey of the lending policies of Chicago-area mortgage companies by a CRA-connected community group, the Woodstock Institute, found “a tendency to lend in a wide variety of neighborhoods”—even though the CRA doesn’t apply to such lenders. …

This policy—”America’s best mortgage program for working people,” NACA [a Boston-based community organizing group] calls it—is an experiment with extraordinarily high risks. There is no surer way to destabilize a neighborhood than for its new generation of home buyers to lack the means to pay their mortgages—which is likely to be the case for a significant percentage of those granted a no-down-payment mortgage based on their low-income classification rather than their good credit history.

The actions of unscrupulous mortgage lenders, incompetent politicians, and greedy, corrupt Wall Street money managers all flowed out of the CRA—a program designed with the best of intentions that turned into a catastrophe that has robbed millions of hard-working Americans of 30 - 40 percent of their retirement savings and an equivalent percentage of their net worth. All because ideology overcame common sense.

Sadly, it’ll happen again, and maybe sooner, rather than later. Sigh.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


Nancy Pelosi and Harry Read, along with the entire Michigan delegation to Congress and hundreds of other politicians talk breathlessly about the need for U.S. taxpayers to “save” the big three U.S. automakers. The MSM tells us that 3 million jobs are at stake and that the rescue of the credit and banking system justifies saving the big three automakers.

But it seems that no one wants to talk about the industry’s abysmal record on fuel efficient, environmentally clean vehicles, it’s overall lack of 21st century innovation, it’s utter capitulation to UAW demands that have created an untenable pension and health care systems, it’s bloated work force, aging factories, and grossly incompetent management.

Thomas Friedman comments:
How could these companies be so bad for so long? Clearly the combination of a very un-innovative business culture, visionless management and overly generous labor contracts explains a lot of it. It led to a situation whereby General Motors could make money only by selling big, gas-guzzling S.U.V.’s and trucks. Therefore, instead of focusing on making money by innovating around fuel efficiency, productivity and design, G.M. threw way too much energy into lobbying and maneuvering to protect its gas guzzlers.

This included striking special deals with Congress that allowed the Detroit automakers to count the mileage of gas guzzlers as being more than they really were — provided they made some cars flex-fuel capable for ethanol. It included special offers of $1.99-a-gallon gasoline for a year to any customer who purchased a gas guzzler. And it included endless lobbying to block Congress from raising the miles-per-gallon requirements. The result was an industry that became brain dead.

No one, including me, wants to see hundreds of thousands of auto industry employees on the street, and no one, including me, wants to see one of the few manufacturing industry’s left in the U.S. shut it’s doors. But the big three have serious structural defects that will not be cured by a bailout. In fact, it can be argued that a bailout will exacerbate the structural defects, unless it is very carefully controlled (and not by auto-industry execs or members of Congress).

What to do? Friedman quotes Paul Ingrassia of The Wall Street Journal:
“In return for any direct government aid,” he wrote, “the board and the management [of G.M.] should go. Shareholders should lose their paltry remaining equity. And a government-appointed receiver — someone hard-nosed and nonpolitical — should have broad power to revamp G.M. with a viable business plan and return it to a private operation as soon as possible. That will mean tearing up existing contracts with unions, dealers and suppliers, closing some operations and selling others and downsizing the company ... Giving G.M. a blank check — which the company and the United Auto Workers union badly want, and which Washington will be tempted to grant — would be an enormous mistake.”

I would add other conditions: Any car company that gets taxpayer money must demonstrate a plan for transforming every vehicle in its fleet to a hybrid-electric engine with flex-fuel capability, so its entire fleet can also run on next generation cellulosic ethanol.

It’s important to note that GM execs are not the only ones to blame for this mess. If the big three are to survive, their employees (read: the UAW) are going to have to accept extreme pain. The union’s greed and stupidity along with management’s incompetence have created a failed industry.

Rather than laying off hundreds of thousands, any bailout should mandate pay cuts across the board, factory workers to managers to any executives that do remain with the company. A bailout should mandate greater employee contributions to health care and to pension funds.

Some would argue that isn’t fair. But neither is the company’s and union’s request that the taxpayers save them from their own failures.

Update (11/13/08):

It appears that President elect Obama has doubled down. Bloomberg reports:
Nov. 13 (Bloomberg) -- President-elect Barack Obama is pushing Congress this year to approve as much as $50 billion to save cash-starved U.S. automakers and appoint a czar or board to oversee the companies, a move that would require President George W. Bush's support, people familiar with the matter said.

Obama's economic advisers are now convinced that if General Motors Corp. doesn't get a financial lifeline soon, it will have to file for bankruptcy by the end of January. And if the companies don't get almost $50 billion, Obama will be dealing with the issue again by next summer.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Free Choice

Picture this. You live in a small town and there’s a referendum that would clear cut a local forest to put up a new chain store. The forest has been there for centuries and you’re against the idea. Your neighbors, however, are for it. Normally, the referendum would be decided in a special election. You’d all go down to the polling place and, as usual, vote in private. Your vote would be your secret, unless you decided to share how you voted with others. While you vote, no one would be looking over your shoulder, no one could coerce you to change your mind. But what if the rules changed and your neighbors (the ones who vehemently support the destruction of the forest) could demand that you vote openly in their presence, all the while trying to convince you to vote their way. Maybe you’d be strong enough to resist, but what about others, could they be coerced to vote against their beliefs?

Secret ballots are an American tradition. But apparently, big labor and many of the Democrats in Congress think that should be changed, at least when union membership is on the line. Froma Harrop comments:
The first campaign promise Barack Obama should break is to push through the Employee Free Choice Act. That harmless sounding piece of legislation would let union organizers do an end run around secret-ballot elections: Companies would have to recognize a union if most workers signed cards in support of it.

We're not children here. We know how those majorities can be reached. There's repeated harassment, bullying and more inventive tactics, such as getting workers drunk, then sliding sign-up cards under their noses. Meanwhile, any strong-armed tactics by employers can be dealt with.

Unclear is why unions even want to go there. Their decline is one reason for the falling fortunes of American workers, particularly those without college educations. Unions have an interesting product to sell. Surely, they can persuade workers to support them in the privacy of a voting booth. That's how Obama and the enhanced Democratic majority in Congress got where they are.

Former Democratic presidential nominee George McGovern, a pro-labor liberal, has come out against the so-called card-check provision. He calls it "disturbing and undemocratic."

The ridiculously named “Employee Free Choice Act” is anything but. It is indeed "disturbing and undemocratic," and it is a travesty that any elected official, not to mention a significant majority of the Congress, would vote for its passage.

In yesterday's post, I mentioned that an objective observer would start counting “marbles” as the Obama administration starts its difficult job of governance. The degree to which Barack Obama supports the “Employee Free Choice Act” is one of those marbles. Let’s watch and see.

Monday, November 10, 2008


Many of my friends and relatives voted for Barack Obama and are now ecstatic that he has been elected. It’s nice to see.

Knowing that I had grave reservations about candidate Obama, many of them have addressed the issue with me. At this point the conversation is predictable.

Always with a probing smile (and some degree of good natured smugness) the friend or relative asks, “So what do you think about Obama's win?”

“He ran a brilliant campaign and the people have spoken. He’s the President!” I say. “I wish him well. The country needs solid leadership.”

At this point, the friend or relative cants their head slightly. “So you’re no longer worried about him?”

I pause for a moment. “No, I didn’t say that. He’s the same guy he was two weeks ago. I just think that he deserves the benefit of the doubt.”

At this point, the friend or relative usually goes into a brief critique of John McCain and/or a full blown rant on Sarah Palin, as if to convince me of the righteousness of Obama’s election.

“I smile. “All of that is moot, isn’t it? Barack Obama is President and now we’ll just have to see who he picks as his advisors and cabinet and what he does over the next four years.”

Probing still, the friend or relative looks for signs of derangement. “So you’re worried about what he’s going to do.”

“Well, let’s just say that I’m watching closely to try to understand who he really is,” I say calmly.

The friend or relative frowns. “So … you’re worried he’s too far left. That’s crazy, he’s just too smart and pragmatic for that. He’ll surprise you.”

“Nothing would make me happier.”

Over the next two months, we’ll begin to get an inkling of who the real Barack Obama is and how he’ll govern. Richard Fernandez (Wretchard) of the Belmont Club uses a wonderful metaphor to describe the process:
Imagine you are presented with an urn which is said contain an equal number of red and yellow marbles. You can’t look inside but you can reach in and draw marbes. So you pick out a red, a red, a red, a red and a red. Despite your efforts to shake the contents round, you keep pulling out reds with only the very occasional yellow. Now what’s the probability the urn was correctly labeled as containing an equal number of red and yellow?

Students of stats can calculate the answer if they knew the numbers of reds and yellows drawn at apparent random. But the exercise is not unlike watching Obama announce his cabinet. Obama is a labeled moderate. A transformative person. Right. Now we watch him announce his cabinet. Appoint his key officials. Each appointment is like a marble from an urn conveying information about the true value of Obama’s political soul, not the labeled value. It’s early days yet. But keep track of the marbles. Even if you can’t convince anyone else what the sample means, at least you will know, from empirical evidence, what the probable truth is.

So far, Barack Obama has selected only one or two “marbles” from the population of people who will become his close advisors and cabinet. But as more marbles are selected over the coming months, we’ll begin to have a clearer view of whether the new President's "moderate/pragmatist" label is accurate or not.

So far, we don’t have enough information to begin to analyze the results. But that’ll change soon. The President-Elect’s long time supporters and the MSM will label him a “moderate”, a pragmatist, and a bipartisan/transformative politician regardless of the picks that are made. But a clear-eyed analysis of each “marble” may lead objective observers to another conclusion. Let the counting begin.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008


Barack Obama is the 44th President of the United States. The President-elect ran a brilliant campaign that captured the imagination of the majority of American voters. As the first person of color to be elected to our highest office, Obama eloquently stated:
If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.

Indeed. His election is a historic first.

Our country is faced with enormous challenges. At home, a deep recession, tied to a historic market collapse demands an economic reboot—no easy task for any administration. Internationally, rogue regimes and transnational Islamic terrorists will undoubtedly test the new Obama administration in ways that may not be easy to predict.

In thinking about the coming Obama presidency, I can’t seem to shake the image of Shepard Fairey’s iconic Obama poster. You know, the red and blue posterized image of Barack Obama staring out into the mid distance with a single word under his face—HOPE.

I HOPE that Obama does well and that my reservations about him were overblown and incorrect. Nothing would please me more than to see him address the problems we face with intelligence and good judgment. The country needs that.

I HOPE that he’ll select advisors who are wise before they are ideological. Because wisdom is the only way we’ll be able to navigate the obstacles that are ahead of us. Ideology, on the other hand, is a lot like a rip current. It will drag us in the wrong direction, and the harder we fight it, the more dire our situation will become.

I HOPE that he’ll mature very quickly as he takes office, recognizing that government cannot and will not solve all of our problems. The strength of our country does not come from government, it comes from individual initiative, personal responsibility, and community. Big government tends to stifle those things, even as it offers a security blanket that is very enticing to some.

I HOPE that he’ll recognize that wealth in America is NOT a zero sum game. Millions of now successful children of lower middle class families are proof of that. We didn’t ask for or receive the redistributed wealth of the rich. Instead we studied and worked very hard, saved and took risks, made our own way, and as a consequence, created some small measure of wealth on our own. In our success we created the opportunities for others that big government cannot create—real jobs with real potential that are “funded” not by taxpayers but by individual initiative.

I HOPE he’ll recognize that just as force is not necessarily a strength, talk is not necessarily a solution. There are some who use talk as a weapon of misdirection. They meet, and talk, and smile, and talk, and promise, and talk, and then talk some more. But behind the scenes, they’re doing more than talk and most of what they’re doing is duplicitous. Talk is okay, but sometimes, action is the only path that will avoid disaster.

I HOPE that he’ll come to understand that the United States of America is NOT the cause of Islamofascism, or the genocide in Darfur, or African starvation, or global warming, or corruption in South America or any of the hundreds of ills that pervade the planet. And more important, since we are not the cause, we are also not the sole cure.

I HOPE that he’ll learn that our country’s interests do not always align with those of our allies and trading partners and that as President of the United States, his first priority is to protect our national interests, even if that upsets others.

I HOPE that he’ll avoid appeasement at all cost. It will NOT mollify those who hate us or wish us ill. It will only project weakness and lack of resolve. And the perception of weakness is how wars start and people die.

I did not vote for Barack Obama, but I wish him well. As a person who believes that the center of politics offers the best road forward, I will hope that his promises of bipartisanship will be kept. That his claims of good judgment will be verified as the months and years pass. That his charisma will morph into effective leadership for all Americans. If those things happen, his election will have been a good thing, maybe even (as Colin Powell remarked) a “transformative” event.

Today, Barack Obama remains a cipher—we have elected an image rather than a person with a lifetime of accomplishments. In the months and years ahead, we’ll know whether the image is reality or just a mirage. All we can do is hope.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

In Memoriam

My father died at 94 last week and we've spent the intervening time in Connecticut with family. For the past 15 years, my dad suffered the ravages of Alzheimer's disease. We lost him in small increments as the years passed.

My dad was a kind and gentle man who believed that ethics and honesty were paramount in all human endeavors. He will be sorely missed.