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

Friday, October 29, 2010


In my deep blue congressional district, our incumbent congressman, a liberal Democrat who has won by wide margins in the past, is in a tough reelection battle because of his unwavering support of the Obama agenda. He’s now running an attack ad (over and over and over again) that characterizes his opponent as an “extremist” and as a close friend of the outlaws motorcycle gang. These allegations are, shall we say, extreme (and laughable) in and of themselves, but nevermind.

It seems that this year’s Democratic playbook is to characterize as an “extremist” anyone who believes in smaller government, deficit reduction, lower taxes, and reduced federal spending. Notably absent in our incumbent congressman’s campaign is any detailed discussion or cogent defense of the “achievements” that the current majority party has put in place over the past two years.

Jonathan Karl of ABCNews comments:
In one typical example, Democratic ads have transformed Kentucky Republican House candidate Andy Barr into "a convicted criminal" -- complete with images yellow police tape and fuzzy video of crime scenes. Not mentioned is his crime: As a college student 19 years ago, he was caught using a fake ID during spring break.

As you watch this year's ads -- and I've been watching all too many lately -- you'll notice a striking difference between Democratic and Republican attack ads: Democrats are attacking over personal issues, Republicans are attacking over policy.

There are, of course, many exceptions, but the overall trend is clear. Democrats are hitting their Republican opponents over past legal transgressions, shady business deals and even speeding tickets. Republicans are hammering Democrats over "Obamacare," Nancy Pelosi and the economy.

With an election debacle for the Democrats rapidly approaching, we listen to our President (remember: the man who told us he was going to usher in a new era of bipartisanship) suggest that “fear and anger” are driving some voters to make bad decisions (i.e., vote against his supporters in congress). Really?

Might it be possible (as poll after poll indicates) that a majority of the electorate (including a significant majority of those in the Center) is less than enthusiastic about the current version of health care reform, stimulus spending, taxpayer funded corporate takeovers, cap and trade, or financial regulation, not to mention the threat of ever-increasing spending and higher taxes at the federal level?

I find it interesting that the MSM never characterizes as “extremists” those who support a complete government takeover of healthcare, unbridled government spending to “create” jobs, taxpayer takeovers of more and more businesses, ill-advised energy and environmental legislation, ineffective financial reform, higher taxes on the "rich” and unconstrained government spending. Nah, those folks are called “activists” and are never demonized for being irresponsible. Interesting.

On the other hand, if you take a look at the polls and observe next week’s mid-term election, I suspect the results may indicate who the electorate believes are the real extremists, after all.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Iran and the Bomb

Michael J. Totten is clearly the best journalist reporting from the Middle East, and there’s something interesting about him. He’s completely independent, supported by the donations from readers of his blog. His insightful, objective, and in-depth reporting shows us exactly what is missing from the biased, inaccurate, and incomplete MSM “reporting” in the region. Read him—you’ll improve your understanding of the region dramatically.

A few days ago, Totten interviewed Martin Kramer, a renowned scholar who specializes in the geopolitics of the Middle East. The interview is quite long and focuses on the impact of a nuclear Iran on the politics of the Levant, the Persian Gulf, and beyond.

Here are just a few quotes from the interview (all words are Kramer’s):
”The Iranians have a structural interest in creating doubt and uncertainty in the Persian Gulf. They have a larger population than any other Gulf state, and they don’t have the share of oil resources that Saudi Arabia has. So their first objective would be to create a climate of uncertainty.”

“Iran wants to create uncertainty there because oil is the only thing it has. Iran has nothing else — some carpets and pistachio nuts, and that’s it. Their population continues to grow, their needs continue to grow, and their grand ambitions continue to grow. So this, I think, is the first thing they would do with it. All it takes is to create a crisis or a succession of crises.”

“…if Iran also has nuclear weapons they will increasingly hedge. Things they allow Americans now — such as basing rights for operations in the Persian Gulf and beyond — will become more and more difficult to negotiate if Iran opposes them. So we would see an erosion of the American position in the Persian Gulf.”

“And like I said, they’re [the Iranians] less interested in justice for the Palestinians than they are in this [control of the Persian Gulf region]. They remind me a bit of Saddam Hussein. He said at one point that he would burn half of Israel, yet turned around and instead burned a lot of Kuwait. He wasn’t as interested in being admired by the Palestinians as he was about controlling resources. The Gulf is always very much a resource game. So that would be the first objective of the Iranians. But, of course, Iran also wants to wage proxy wars elsewhere.”

“A big country like the United States disperses its assets across a vast continent when facing nuclear adversaries. A small state [Israel] can’t do that. But within this small state is a prime Muslim holy place, the liberation of which is championed by the Iranians, and it’s in Jerusalem …

If there’s a shift of Israel’s assets from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem [because it will be less likely to be a nuclear target], the struggle over real estate up here becomes even more acute. There will be less leeway for Israeli concessions. Concessions are difficult to make in any case. Local security issues can be, in way or another, finessed, but once they play out in this mega arena of confrontation between nuclear states, flexibility diminishes quickly. It would create tremendous pressure on Israel to maintain its right to decide the future of different pieces of turf close to the city.”

The irony of the situation is that President Obama’s foreign policy places an Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement as paramount, and at the same time, seems considerably less aggressive about stopping Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. Yet, Kramer believes that a nuclear Iran will make Israeli-Palestinian peace harder, not easier and will roil the entire region and potentially, the entire Western world.

There’s much, much more in this important interview. Read the whole thing.

Saturday, October 23, 2010


As a consequence of the latest Wikileaks release of hundreds of thousands of classified military documents, the mainstream media continues to emphasize civilian deaths during the Iraq war, as if fighting a war in which our enemy purposely embeds itself within the civilian population is possible without unfortunate and tragic collateral deaths.

There is, however, a more important story arising from the documents—the active and deadly participation of Iran. Iran’s complicity in thousands of deaths inside Iraq has been well-recognized over these many years, but had been dismissed as “Bush-era propoganda" by many on the Left. Now, Iran’s duplicitous behavior is somehow gaining more credence because the accusation is bolstered by a far-Left, anti-war website.

Wired reports:
No one would accuse WikiLeaks of being pro-war. Not when the transparency group titled its single most famous leak “Collateral Murder.” Not when its founder, Julian Assange, said that its trove of reports from the Afghan conflict suggested evidence for thousands of American “war crimes.”

So it’s more than a little ironic that, with its newest document dump from the Iraq campaign, WikiLeaks may have just bolstered one of the Bush administration’s most controversial claims about the Iraq war: that Iran supplied many of the Iraq insurgency’s deadliest weapons and worked hand-in-glove with some of its most lethal militias.

The documents indicate that Iran was a major combatant in the Iraq war, as its elite Quds Force trained Iraqi Shiite insurgents and imported deadly weapons like the shape-charged Explosively Formed Projectile bombs into Iraq for use against civilians, Sunni militants and U.S. troops.

One report from 2006 claims “neuroparalytic” chemical weapons from Iran were smuggled into Iraq. Others indicate that Iran flooded Iraq with guns and rockets, including the Misagh-1 surface-to-air missile, .50 caliber rifles, rockets and much more.

As the New York Times observes, Iranian agents plotted to kidnap U.S. troops from out of their Humvees — something that occurred in Karbala in 2007, leaving five U.S. troops dead. (It’s still not totally clear if the Iranians were responsible.)

None of this is a surprise for those of us that view Iran as a significant problem in the Middle East and a vicious enemy of the United States. It should, however, inform the actions of the Obama administration in its dealing with this Islamist country. A country that purportedly exports “neuroparalytic” chemical weapons (a clear violation of international law) cannot be trusted and should not be allowed to develop nuclear weapons. It should not be appeased and cannot be negotiated with in good faith.

And yet, President Obama continues to suggest that Iran can be a “partner” if only it would tell us that it is abandoning it’s nuclear program. As I’ve said many times in this blog, that position gives new meaning to the word naïve.

Update: (10/23/10) As an example of the oikophobic coverage in Left leaning publications, consider this headline of the left-leaning Nation magazine— “WikiLeaks' Release on Iraq Arrives—Highlights Torture & Civilian Deaths.” Comically, Iran is mentioned in only one short sentence at the very end of the Nation’s lengthy article: “The Times reports includes one from Michael Gordon, who has pounded this drum for years, focusing on Iran's alleged aid for Iraq's militias.” Gee, that’s informative and complete. Can’t risk making a vicious Islamist government look bad. Wouldn’t be politically correct. No, there’s no agenda, is there?

Friday, October 22, 2010

Kick the Can

Our President and many of his supporters on the Left want to remake America as a social democracy in a European mold. At the same time, Europeans themselves have moved to curtail entitlements (France) and spending (England) in an effort to reduce ruinous deficits. Driven by the near financial default in Greece, each of these countries is enacting painful spending cuts and deficit reduction measures.

The Christian Science Monitor comments on England’s efforts:
British budget cuts unveiled today are the most severe in decades, promising to eliminate the country’s deficit in five years.

What lessons do they hold for the fiscally challenged United States?

The race to a zero deficit in London is faster than in almost any other Western capital. Indeed, President Obama has warned that cutting too quickly could crash today’s struggling economies in another recession ditch.

But British Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron and his Liberal Democrat coalition partner, Nick Clegg, are willing to take the risk. They’re cutting almost 500,000 public-sector jobs and slashing spending at government agencies by an average of 19 percent. Mr. Cameron, in the driver’s seat, and Mr. Clegg, right next to him, are up on two wheels as they round a hairpin turn that leads to fiscal probity.

The next five years will show whether they can pull this off safely. But even while that question remains hanging, two big conclusions can already be reached about this British experiment and how it might apply across the Atlantic.

First, it’s clear that where there’s political will, there’s a political way – even on a subject as contentious as reducing government spending.

Even before the British parliamentary elections in May, the leaders of the three main parties all campaigned on eliminating the country’s highest peacetime deficit by the end of the next parliament. They were scared into this position by the great Greek debt debacle of the spring, which roiled the international financial markets.

The Greek tragedy helped win voter acceptance in Britain, as has a generally even-handed approach to the cuts. No one is spared – not the banks (which will see a permanent tax based on the size of their balance sheets); not middle- and upper-income families (they will lose child benefits). The pension age will rise sooner than expected, affecting everyone.

It’s important for Americans to understand that the European leaders of social democracies (the epitomy of the “big government” solution championed by our President) have finally come to the conclusion that big government is unsustainable and that cuts (and the pain that ensues) are essential for national survival. Yet, MSM coverage of European problems has been sparse and almost never discusses the underlying budgetary reasons for unrest in Greece, France, Portugal, Spain, or the UK. It’s as if the MSM doesn’t want Americans to look down the road a few years and see themselves.

In order to avoid the problems that Europe now faces, we need to act now while solutions still exist and the pain they precipitate is manageable. Democrats and Republicans have to act now, but I suspect they’ll just kick the can down the road … again.

Thursday, October 21, 2010


Remember when anthropogenic global warming (AGW) was a hot topic in the media? Many on the Left, upon hearing Al Gore’s dire predictions of a 20-foot rise in the oceans, became hysterical, believing that carbon emissions were systematically destroying the planet. Their solution was the most significant transfer of wealth (via carbon taxes) from rich nations to poorer ones in human history. Never mind that the data was sketchy and (as we’d learn) doctored to produce a desired result; the science was tenuous at best; the computer models were inaccurate and/or tendentious, and AGW's leading proponents had an agenda that was far from scientifically objective.

AGW became a religion, and anyone (including yours truly) who had the temerity to question its orthodoxy was deemed a “climate denier.” As a consequence, “deniers” were demonized by the MSM, major politicians, the Hollywood elite, and many, many proponents on the Left. We were, as Richard Fernandez writes in another of his brilliant essays, “blasphemers” because we were politically incorrect.

In his essay, Fernandez comments on National Public Radio’s summary firing of liberal commentator Juan Williams for expressing his nervousness when he encountered men in Muslim garb on an airplane. His comments were politically incorrect, but past history provides a reasonable background for his nervousness. A commenter, “cfbleachers” at The Belmont Club addresses this:
I think it helps to break down precisely what was said here, what was not said, what was done, and what was not done.

Juan Williams said that when he got on a plane, he felt “nervous”, if there were male Muslims identifying themselves as Muslims first.

Why would this reaction take place? Because a segment of the Muslim population, has declared war on America and has hijacked planes, hidden explosives in their shoes, hidden explosives in their underwear, and have targeted airports and airplanes as a specific target of their murder of civilians?
It would seem that his fear has a rational basis.

He did NOT say that when he got into an elevator with a Muslim or went into a store with a Muslim or passed a Muslim on the street, that he felt fear or apprehension. He said that he felt it specifically in the area where a segment of male Muslims have targeted Americans for acts of mass murder.

He did not say that he was offended by Muslim garb. Or that the burqa offended him.

NPR then, apparently, has a zero tolerance for fear of mass murder. There can be no other explanation. When an identifiable group declares war against America, seeks to mass murder our citizens, openly declares that they will continue to try to mass murder our citizens…in the name of their RELIGION…then, whose side is NPR on when ANY of our citizens feels fear of this very real threat?

Does the FBI say that the threat is not real? No, they don’t. Does Homeland Security say that the threat is not real? No, in fact…they tell Americans to be EXTRA VIGILANT when going to airports and getting on airplanes.

In NPR’s eyes, Mr. Williams blasphemed. No matter that he is a staunch defender of civil rights, a rational liberal voice, and a long-time contributor to NPR. He blasphemed, and he had to be removed—no debate, no discussion, no understanding.

In the Alice and Wonderland world of the politically correct, facts that don’t fit an accepted meme are disregarded if possible and shouted down when necessary. Eyes are squeezed shut and the listener (in this case, NPR) shouts “la, la, la, la” as loud as possible until the unwanted information abates.

Fernandez comments:
The trouble is, the blasphemy is only obvious from a certain perspective. If you’re an outsider then you are walking blindfolded through a cultural minefield. So it is probably with some trepidation that the morally infirm must regard the rise of anti hate-speech and blasphemy laws in the legal codes of the 21st century … If there are just some things the blasphemers don’t instinctively “get” or which they wrongfully assume is protected under such quaint notions as freedom of speech, then too bad …

Yeah, too bad.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

A Failure to Communicate

With the exception of people like past party Democratic chairman, Howard Dean, who is whistling in the cemetery, Left-leaning commentators cannot help but admit to the coming election tsunami that is about the inundate Democratic candidates for the House and the Senate. But undaunted, they’ve begun to spin a narrative that has been magnified by much of the MSM—Barack Obama’s programs and “accomplishments,” as terrific as they are, have fallen flat because the public simply doesn’t understand them. It’s really all a failure to communicate, nothing more.

If only the President was better able to explain the benefits of big-government job creation, we’d all applaud the $700 billion stimulus and see how well it has succeeded. If only the President was more forceful in his defense of higher taxes on the “rich,” we’d all recognize that these tax increases will dramatically increase government revenues and reduce the debt, while moving us quickly toward social justice.

But somehow, the great communicator has failed, or maybe it’s just that those of us who question his judgement simply don’t get it—we’re not sophisticated enough to appreciate the subtleties of the Obama doctrine. Then again, maybe not.

Linda Chavez suggests that communication has very little to do with the coming tsunami:
In his first year in office, the president gave 411 speeches, sat for 158 press interviews, conducted 42 news conferences, and visited 30 states, according to a compilation by CBS News.

Failing to communicate was not the issue.

The president's problem is that he has neither experience in, nor understanding of, the private economy. He has worked exclusively in the nonprofit and government sector.

He has an unlimited faith in government and limited trust in private industry. And the president surrounds himself with people who share his myopia.

When the president visited plants from Buffalo to San Francisco on his much-touted jobs tours during the spring and summer, he was there to tell workers that government saved or created their jobs.

But that is not how it's done. Job creation happens when individuals take personal risks: A man notices that all his friends and neighbors have garages stuffed with junk they don't want and starts a new business with $700 in startup capital and an old beat-up truck. A few years later, Brian Scudamore's 1-800-GOT-JUNK has 100 franchises across the country.

Chavez goes on to relate the stories of other successful entrepreneurs, each taking personal financial risk to create wealth, but far more importantly, to create jobs—lots of jobs.

In the President’s worldview, government is the center of the job creation universe. “Corporations” are somehow suspect and rapacious. The Chamber of Commerce (a national business organization) is an evil political force. And all work against social justice, Obama’s apparent raison de etre.

Again from Chavez:
But government can never be as efficient as the market. Scudamore, Fields, and Dell [three successful entrepreneurs] might just as well have failed as succeeded.

When entrepreneurs fail, they've lost their own money and that of investors who have freely chosen to take the risk.

Government programs, however, play with other people's money -- since government has no money of its own. When government programs fail, the consequences aren't born by the people making the decisions but by the taxpayers.

Maybe that’s part of the problem. Maybe politicians should put their own money—their personal fortunes—behind the programs they advocate. If they succeed, we’ll double their fortune, but if the programs fail, they’ve bet our money (often, without our approval) and lost it. It might be appropriate to have them lose all of theirs.

Yeah, I know, that isn’t really possible, but it’s a nice thought, nonetheless.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


I’d be willing to bet that you have no idea who Muhammad Badi is. If the MSM was doing its job, you’d know, but, Badi’s recent speeches don’t fit the narrative that asserts that al Qaida is the only Islamist group that we need worry about, that they’re a tiny fringe group, and all other elements of Islam are, well, moderate.

So who is Mohammad Badi?

First, some background, beginning with The Muslim Brotherhood. According to Wikipedia:
The world's oldest and largest Islamic political group, it [the Muslim Brotherhood] was founded in 1928, in Egypt by the schoolteacher Hassan al-Banna.

The Brotherhood's stated goal is to instill the Qur'an and Sunnah as the "sole reference point for ... ordering the life of the Muslim family, individual, community ... and state". Since its inception in 1928 the movement has officially opposed violent means to achieve its goals, with some exceptions such as in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or to overthrow secular Ba'athist rule in Syria (see Hama massacre). This position has been questioned, particularly by the Egyptian government, which accused the group of a campaign of killings in Egypt after World War II.

The Muslim Brotherhood has a very conservative view of Islam, and some argue that its basic philosophy provided the underpinning for al Qaida. They are the philosophical founders of radical Islam (Islamism)

But because it disavowed violence (at least in theory), the Muslim Brotherhood has gotten relatively little play in Western media.

Mohammad Badi is the new Supreme Leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, and he is exhibiting far more radical and violent tendencies than his predecessor. In a recent speech (in Arabic) he stated:
"The improvement and change that the [Muslim] nation seeks can only be attained through jihad and sacrifice and by raising a jihadi generation that pursues death just as the enemies [the USA, Israel, the West] pursue life."

So, a heretofore “non-violent” branch of Islamist thought is now moving toward violence. Badi believes that violent jihad (death vs. life) is the answer to the question (quoting Barry Rubin : “Why is it—especially since we are a superior people (Arabs) with a superior religion (Islam)--are we behind the West?”

Rubin notes what Badi's excludes as part of the answer:
Not through solving problems by compromise; not by ending foreign conflicts; not by better educational systems that are open to science and other imported ideas; not by modernizing Islam; not by granting equality to women; not by democracy; not by human rights. No and no and no. But only by: “…jihad and sacrifice and by raising a jihadi generation that pursues death just as the enemies pursue life."

Some might argue that Badi’s rhetoric is just that, words and nothing more. In fact, that’s the MSM narrative that seems to cover any unpleasant comment by any Islamist leader, whether it’s Mahmoud Amadinejad, Hassan Nasrallah, or Mohammad Badi, among many others. These men have millions of followers and additional millions of silent supporters within Islam. They advocate extreme violence and zero-religious tolerance.

It’s time that we listen to them and understand that they’re deadly serious. But that can only happen if the media lets us know what they’re saying.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


David Brooks asks a fundamental question in the NYT: Why is it that major government projects that we used to be able to fund without difficulty have become too costly to initiate or complete today? The answer is “demosclerosis.” He writes:
New Jersey can’t afford to build its tunnel, but benefits packages for the state’s employees are 41 percent more expensive than those offered by the average Fortune 500 company. These benefits costs are rising by 16 percent a year.

New York City has to strain to finance its schools but must support 10,000 former cops who have retired before age 50.

California can’t afford new water projects, but state cops often receive 90 percent of their salaries when they retire at 50. The average corrections officer there makes $70,000 a year in base salary and $100,000 with overtime (California spends more on its prison system than on its schools).

States across the nation will be paralyzed for the rest of our lives because they face unfunded pension obligations that, if counted accurately, amount to $2 trillion — or $87,000 per plan participant.

Those of us in the Center have argued that big government will have severe unintended consequences. We’re beginning to see those consequences impact our lives. We need better infrastructure at local, state and federal levels, but we simply can’t afford it because entitlements have grown without bound.

Public pensions are akin to an entitlement and because they’re unfunded they are a long term burden on our children and grandchildren. Public pensions (like the mortgage debacle of the last few years) are a disaster waiting to happen. Again from Brooks:
In states across the country, elected leaders raise state employee salaries in the fat years and then are careful to placate the unions by raising future pension benefits in the lean ones. Even if cost-conscious leaders are elected, they find their hands tied by pension commitments and employee contracts.

In Brooks” words: “All in all, governments can’t promote future prosperity because they are strangling on their own self-indulgence.”

During this election we’re hearing both Democrat and Republican political candidates suggest that if elected, they’ll reduce the spending, and in-so-doing, they’ll eliminate the "self-indulgence" that Brooks discusses.

But at the same time, we listen to a President and current congressional leadership who are so ideological that they believe entitlements should increase in the name of “social justice.”

The battle is joined. The question is who will win.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Change the Subject

Barack Obama is a lawyer, and over the past week he’s applied a well-worn lawyer’s creed. When your client (in this his administration) is guilty (in this case, of malefeasance, bad decision-making and overall political ineptness with regard to jobs creation and the economy), change the subject.

The New York Times reports:
PHILADELPHIA — With his party facing losses in next month’s election, President Obama pressed his argument Sunday that the opposition is trying to steal the election with secret special-interest money, possibly including money from foreign companies.

In a speech to a large rally here and in a new television advertisement, Mr. Obama and the Democrats escalated their efforts to present the Republicans as captive to moneyed interests. But Republicans and their allies fired back, dismissing the assertions as desperate last-minute allegations with no evidence to back them up.

Even the Times, a true and generally unquestioning ally of the President, found his unsubstantiated allegations to be a bit much. The President’s comments have been coordinated with a DNC national TV commercial that suggests: “They’re stealing our democracy, spending millions from secret donors to elect Republicans to do their bidding in Congress.” A bit later, the ominous TV voice says, “It appears they’ve even taken secret foreign money to influence our elections.”

Not a shred of evidence is presented to substantiate this, but what is far more ironic is that real evidence of foriegn campaign contributions did surface during the Obama presidential campaign. Takes one to know one. The Washington Examiner provides a few details.
Here’s The Washington Post on this back in October 2008:
Sen. Barack Obama’s presidential campaign is allowing donors to use largely untraceable prepaid credit cards that could potentially be used to evade limits on how much an individual is legally allowed to give or to mask a contributor’s identity, campaign officials confirmed. Faced with a huge influx of donations over the Internet, the campaign has also chosen not to use basic security measures to prevent potentially illegal or anonymous contributions from flowing into its accounts, aides acknowledged.”

And here’s our own Washington Examiner editorial from the time:
“Then there’s the question of whether foreign nationals are contributing to the Obama campaign. There is more than enough evidence to warrant a full-scale investigation by the Federal Election Commission, including the $32,332.19 that appears to have come from two brothers living in a Hamas-controlled Palestinian refugee camp in Rafah, GA (that’s Gaza, not Georgia). The brothers’ cash is part of a flood of illegal foreign contributions accepted by the Obama campaign.”

The MSM generally chose to ignore hard evidence of foreign contributions to candidate Obama (as they chose to ignore any fact that reflected badly on their candidate, and it was never fully investigated. And today, when the unemployment rate has been 9.5 percent for 14 straight months, President Obama seems more concerned about the Chamber of Commerces’ fund-raising tactics than correcting his many strategic mistakes in dealing with the economy.

David Zurawik comments:
Here is what's so appalling to me: The ad makes the totally unsubstantiated charge that the Chamber of Commerce is taking money from foreign interests and using it to "steal our democracy." And worse, President Obama is out on the campaign trail, according to the New York Times, creating an echo chamber by making the same reckless claims just as the ad hits the airwaves. And when CBS newsman Bob Schieffer Sunday asks David Axelrod if there is any proof for the claim, the senior Obama aide says they don't need proof -- it's up to the Chamber of Commerce to prove it isn't true.

The Democratic National Commitee is using the same sort of tactic and logic that Sen. Joe McCarthy used in the 1950s: Level a headline-grabbing and unsubstantiated charge, like the State Department is filled with communists, and then say it is up to the State Department and the employees so charged to prove it is not true.

Barack Obama promised us all a “new kind of politics”—bipartisan, transparent, you know, all that good stuff. How’s that working out for all of us?

Friday, October 08, 2010

New Security

In a fascinating op-ed piece in the NYT, William Cohan suggests a practical and effective approach for controlling the excesses of Wall Street. You remember, the excesses that have come very close to destroying our economy.

Cohan begins by recounting the early days of Wall Street, when every financial firm was a partnership, not a corporation. The senior partners were personally liable for the risks that the firm took. Their fiduciary responsibility (to their clients and in the creation of investment products) was driven by self interest—they didn’t want to take irresponsible risks because if things went bad, their net worth would go to zero.

Cohan has very little faith that the 2000 page Dodd-Frank financial reform bill will have any real effect, other than creating massive new government bureaucracies and little else.

Here’s what Cohan suggests:
… I propose that each large Wall Street firm create a new security that represents — and is secured by — the entire net worth of its 100 top executives. This security would be subordinated to all other creditors as well as to all preferred and common shareholders; in other words, if a firm goes bankrupt, this security is the first to be wiped out.

Had such a security existed at the time of the collapse of Lehman Brothers, the net worth of the top 100 Lehman executives — no doubt totaling several billion dollars — would have been collected after liquidating everything they owned and paid to Lehman creditors, who under the current system will be lucky if they get back 10 cents on the dollar.

Wall Street’s first reaction to this idea — aside from profanities — will be that it cannot possibly be done. Or that it would somehow threaten the sanctity of our capital markets.

But, in fact, it can and should be done. Indeed, Wall Street has all the intellectual capital it needs in its own archives to construct such a security: in the old partnership days every partner signed an agreement requiring him (and rarely her) to put his net worth on the line every day. Surely, clever Wall Street lawyers can draft a 21st-century version of the old partnership agreement.

Whether the progressives in the Obama administration like it or not, most people act in their own best interests, and Wall Street people exemplify this. They wouldn't like it much, but Cohan’s approach would work. He writes:
Pretty harsh, right? Maybe, but Wall Street deserves no sympathy. Had this security, or something like it, been in place at every Wall Street firm five years ago, there would have been no mortgage bubble, no financial crisis, no deep and unsettling economic recession with nearly 10 percent unemployment, no need for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, and no need for Dodd-Frank or Basel III.

Heh. And I suspect the geniuses in the Obama administration and the Congress could draft the legislation to implement the new security in considerably less than 2,000 pages.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Poison Fruit

About a year ago, President Obama and his Attorney General, Eric Holder, argued and then insisted that known terrorists be tried in civilian courts using criminal law. Exhibiting a level of naïveté that was astounding, they argued that we would somehow impress the Islamic world with our efforts to provide mass-murdering thugs with the whole array of constitutional and judicial protections afforded to our citizens—even as the terrorists themselves worked to kill our citizens in large numbers.

But effecting a moral preening stance that has become the Obama administration’s trademark, the President and his AG plodded onward. Holder suggested repeatedly that he would easily gain convictions while the President smiled and nodded in the background, convinced that his strategy would create new friends and neuter our enemies.

Yesterday, we say the first results of this approach. The New York Daily News comments:
The disastrous folly of trying Al Qaeda enemy combatants in civilian court stands proven beyond a reasonable doubt in the case of the first Guantanamo detainee brought to New York to face justice.

There is abundantly conclusive proof that Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani participated in the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania that killed 224 people, including 12 Americans. At least 5,000 were wounded.

He was indicted that same year while a fugitive. In 2004, the CIA caught up with Ghailani in Pakistan. By then, he had gone on to train with Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, serve as Osama Bin Laden's bodyguard and meet some of the 9/11 hijackers.

These facts come courtesy of Ghailani's own mouth. He revealed them under interrogation while in clandestine CIA custody before transfer to Guantanamo. Therein lies the legal absurdity.
But since Ghailani's confession was achieved using extreme measures (which some in the media and political elite have now defined upward to be “torture”), the government couldn’t and did not introduce it into evidence in the criminal trial. That’s not the problem. Again, from The Daily News:
So, years later, come time for opening statements in Kaplan's courtroom, prosecutors chose not even to try entering a word of Ghailani's testimony into evidence. Instead, they hung their case largely on one Hussein Abebe, a Tanzanian who was prepared to testify that he had sold five crates of explosives to Ghailani.

Bad move. [Judge] Kaplan yesterday barred Abebe from taking the stand because the FBI tracked him down based solely on information provided by Ghailani under "coerced" questioning.

This ruling was distressingly inevitable.

The judge used the longstanding legal doctrine of disallowing evidence culled from illegal police activities—"the fruit of the poisoned tree” in legal jargon.

It’s difficult to determine whether Holder et al will gain a conviction in this case, but rest assured that defense attornies will use the "poison fruit" argument in every terrorist trial.

But no matter, in the midst of derisive laughter at a system that allows known mass murderers to walk on legal technicalities (that were never meant to be applied for terror crimes), I’m certain that the outliers in the Muslim world will be duly impressed and decide to make nice. After all, President Obama believes it, so it must be so.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Not Serious

In a side bar to an article in the Financial Times that discusses the President’s inability to convince his own party to increase taxes on the “rich,” Edward Luce provides a sidebar that identifies the “cost” associated with maintaining the Bush Tax Cuts – actually a set of income tax rates that have been in place for the past 10 years.

  • It would cost about $3,300bn to make all of the Bush-era tax cuts permanent.

  • It would cost $700bn less over 10 years to extend all of those tax cuts except for families making more than $250,000 a year.

  • A permanent extension of all the Bush tax cuts could boost US economic growth by 0.5 to 1.4 per cent in 2011.

  • Extending all the Bush tax cuts except to the wealthy would boost US growth by 0.4 to 1.1 per cent in 2011.

  • People in the upper income brackets – earning more than $200,000 as individuals or $250,000 as families – make up 2-3 per cent of the US population.

It’s actually fascinating to watch proponents of class warfare—the President included—discuss the continuation of an existing, ten-year old tax rate structure as a “cost.” In actuality, discontinuing the current rate structure costs nothing. If implemented, it would simply take additional money out of our of the economy, give it to Washington and then allow the federal government to spend (waste?) it on any number of government programs.

The President questions the seriousness of those who oppose increasing taxes by suggesting that they can’t be serious about deficit reduction. To coin a phrase, "those who live in glass houses … etc., etc."

It has taken the Obama administration only two years to increase the national debt to historic levels—and Barack Obama questions the seriousness of others?

Maybe it's time for the President to show some leadership—not by raising taxes, but by making a serious and all-encompassing effort at reducing discretionary spending and entitlement costs. I suspect he’d get more than a little support from those who he suggests aren’t serious.