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Friday, January 30, 2009

The Ayers Resurrection Tour
Posted by: MichaelW
 
If Obama is the messiah, does that make Bill Ayers Lazarus? By that I mean, is there any doubt Ayers would be wasting away in obscurity without Barack Obama? Instead, the unrepentant terrorist turned ill-qualified college professor has regained whatever notoriety he had lost:
Ayers, co-founder of the '60s Weather Underground radical anti-war group, drew an angry and vocal group of protesters who condemned his appearance at St. Mary's Soda Center, where he drew cheers and boos from the crowd of about 500.

The controversial author and education professor at the University of Illinois was repeatedly characterized as an "unrepentant terrorist" by GOP vice presidential candidate Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin during the presidential campaign.

"I was going to propose that Sarah Palin and I have a talk show called 'Pallin' Around,' " Ayers said in his opening comments, which got laughs. Then, looking around at the standing-room-only crowd, he added: "Had it not been for the recent presidential campaign, there would be 22 of you here."

That may actually be a little high. Even in Berkeley I doubt he would have generated more interest beyond a few professors who remembered him from the glory days.
Ayers is in California on a tour to promote a new book on race relations that he wrote with his wife, Bernardine Dohrn, a fellow former leader in the underground movement who is now a Chicago lawyer and law professor. Ayers said he plans to return to the Bay Area with Dohrn later this month to speak before the Middle East Children's Alliance in Berkeley.

His appearance at St. Mary's "Against the Grain" lecture series to explore the topic of "Trudging Toward Freedom" drew sharp criticism from conservative and religious groups.

According to the report, some of those angered by Ayers' appearance adopted the typical lefty tactic of disrupting his speech. It's stupid when lefties do it and stupid here as well, regardless of how odious the speaker is.
Ayers delivered a wide-ranging address on social justice and education, but his effort outraged some 150 protesters - most marched outside, and others sat in the audience and occasionally disrupted his speech with yelling before they were escorted away.

"I don't know what they're protesting actually, but if the last few months are any indication, they're protesting a cartoon character that shares my name and likeness, but it's not me," he told The Chronicle before his speech, adding that the McCain-Palin campaign had attempted to turn him into a "monster."
Historical revisionism at its best. Whatever. Ayers will always be able to fool the useful idiots who simply want to believe the worst about America. Generally these are the ones who believe that capitalism is the literal incarnation of evil and hate America for being the nation most identified with it. To these people, Ayers is a hero for attacking the heart (as they see it) of the hated enemy.

To those who live in reality, however, Ayers is nothing more than a petty man of little worth and even less integrity. He is the egotistical embodiment of the Boomers' worst aspects, and a failed terrorist to boot. He may enjoy some renewed interest amongst the useful idiots, but he'll never have any political worth other than being a liability.

Certainly Bill Ayers should worship the ground that Obama treads upon. Absent his Presidency, Ayers would have no public life whatsoever.

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Permalink | Comments ( 0 ) | TrackBacks ( 834 ) | Category: The Left

 
QandO
 
Michael Steele New RNC Chairman
Posted by: MichaelW
 
Congratulations to Michale Steele for winning a tough race for the RNC Chair. It took several votes, but I think the RNC made a good choice:
Meet the new chairman of the Republican National Committee: Former Maryland Lt. Governor Michael Steele, who defeated South Carolina party chairman Katon Dawson by a 91-77 margin on the sixth ballot.

"As a little boy growing up in this town — this is awesome," Steele said bluntly in accepting his victory.

Steele came six votes shy of the magic number 85 on the fifth ballot, and was able to get over the top after Michigan chairman Saul Anuzis dropped out to make it a clear two-man race. Steele is now the first African-American chairman of the RNC.
I don't know a whole lot about the other candidates except that Chip Saltsman proved himself to be politically tone-deaf (regardless of being unfairly treated in the process), and that allegations surrounding Katon Dawson (which appear to be unfounded) would only serve to cement the view of the Republican Party as the home of racism.

Michael Steele, on the other hand, served as Lt. Governor in Maryland, and I'm familiar with his stances on things like taxes, spending and government intrusion into people's lives. He tends to be against the government getting too involved although he has been in favor of affirmative action in the market place, as well some SoCon positions. He's not a libertarian's dream by any stretch of the imagination, but I think he's a good enough friend of freedom to help steer the GOP back towards small-government principles. Of course, now that he's in charge, he may prove to be just like every other pol.

The big story, naturally, will be that the RNC elected an African-American as its chair, the first time that has ever happened (for either party, I believe). I think that's great, but I am doubtful that it will make much difference. Having Colin Powell and Condi Rice appointed to powerful positions in the Bush Administration never did anything for the GOP, so I'm not sure why having a black RNC chief would do more. Nevertheless, it does bespeak of change within the Party, and that's probably a good thing. Many black people are actually pretty socially conservative, and it would seem that they would feel much more at home in the GOP. However, Republicans have been so successfully branded as the party of racists that its somewhat understandable why blacks shun it en masse.

In any case, I think the RNC chose well this time. Now we'll just have to see how he performs. Good luck, Chairman Steele.
 

Permalink | Comments ( 0 ) | TrackBacks ( 18 ) | Category: Politics

 
QandO
 
Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Lie That Would Not Die
Posted by: MichaelW
 
Ah, the good ol' days of BDS. Remember that Thanksgiving when Pres. Bush made a surprise visit to the troops in Iraq? The one immortalized forever by the picture of him seeming to offer a turkey platter to some soldiers standing in the chow line?



It was also the one where Bush was accused of cynically using a fake turkey for a photo-op in order to appear much more concerned about the troops than he actually was. Indeed, check out the caption to the picture above:
Bush has also had his share of turkey while in office, shown above bringing a turkey to troops in Baghdad, Iraq. However, the turkey was only for the photo op - it wasn't real.
Credits: Martinez/AP
Published: 01/28/2009 11:11:27
It's part of a pictorial essay by the New York Daily News titled "George W. Bush: The lamest duck ever?"

Since he's no longer President, the media taking shots at Bush is sort of uncouth, but also sort of uninteresting. The man's not even yesterday's news for crying out loud.

What's really bothersome, however, is that the lie continues unabated that Bush was voguing with a fake turkey. It's been well documented for quite awhile now what actually happened, but the media can't seem to ever catch up to the truth. I guess that's why they're still so concerned with news from several years ago.

Oh well, plus ça (hope and) change, plus ça meme chose.
 

Permalink | Comments ( 0 ) | TrackBacks ( 39 ) | Category: Media

 
QandO
 
Monday, January 26, 2009

Obama and "Advisor B"
Posted by: MichaelW
 
Could there be some toxic spillover to the Obama Administration from the Blagojevich scandal? Even as Bob Woodward hints that the First Family may have some nanny/tax issues waiting in the tall grass, there may be another more dangerous figure looming in the bushes. His name is Frederick Yang, but until a few days ago a lot of people only knew him as "Advisor B":
A partner in a prominent, Washington-based political consulting firm is among those secretly recorded discussing ways Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich can cash in on President Barack Obama's old Senate seat. Frederick S. Yang, a top executive at Peter D. Hart Research Group Associates, is identified by prosecutors in the Blagojevich criminal complaint as "Advisor B," Michael D. Ettinger, a lawyer representing the governor's brother, said Thursday. Robert Blagojevich, who has not been charged with a crime, runs his brother's campaign fund.

The Hart firm has represented dozens of Democratic governors and members of Congress. The revelation that a key executive at the company was captured on FBI wiretaps working with the governor could embroil one of the nation's most respected and influential polling and consulting groups in the Blagojevich scandal.
When the transcripts of Balgojevich's clandestinely recorded statements were released back in December, I suggested that the identity of Advisor B would be pivotal to discovering whether the Obama team was at all involved in the Governor's games:
In addition to the very likely fact that Obama's office was co-ordinating with the Illinois Governor with respect to the Senate vacancy, the President-Elect's connection to so-called "Advisor B" may raise some uncomfortable questions. Advisor B promises to become a person of greater interest as this story unfolds, based on the following passage from the government's affidavit (at pg. 68) [HT: texasdarlin]:
On November 12, 2008, ROD BLAGOJEVICH talked with Advisor B. ROD BLAGOJEVICH discussed with Advisor B his idea for a 501(c)(4) organization. Advisor B stated that he likes the idea, but liked the Change to Win option better because, according to Advisor B, from the President-elect's perspective, there would be fewer "fingerprints" on the President-elect's involvement with Change to Win because Change to Win already has an existing stream of revenue and, therefore, "you won't have stories in four years that they bought you off." ROD BLAGOJEVICH said that he likes the 501(c)(4) idea because he knows it will be there in two years when he is no longer Governor, whereas Change to Win might not be.
(my emphasis)

Advisor B is described earlier in the affidavit as "a Washington D.C.-based consultant" (pg. 60) with whom Blagojevich and his co-defendant assistant (John Harris) discussed a plan to trade favors with the President-Elect and the SEIU in exchange for the Governor appointing Obama's preferred candidate to his Senate seat
Now that we know who Advisor B is, the question becomes "what contacts does he have with the Obama team?" As it turns out, plenty.

Yang is associated with two prominent D.C.-based Democratic consulting firms: Peter D. Hart Research Associates and Garin-Hart-Yang Research Group. Both Yang and the Garin-Hart-Yang Research Group were subpoenaed by the U.S. Attorney's office, among 41 others. Between Yang and the two consulting groups, there are numerous contacts with the Obama team.

Most directly, Paul Harstad is Obama's polling consultant. "During the 1980s he was senior vice president at Peter Hart Research and Garin-Hart Research in Washington, DC." That's not damning in and of itself, but it is significant. Even if there were no other connections to Obama, through Harstad, Yang had someone to reach out to on behalf of Blagojevich. However, Yang wasn't limited to Harstad.

The world of political consulting can be a bit murky. Not in a nefarious way (although that happens too), but in a business-building way. After all, you never know if an enemy of a client will need your services at some point. Indeed, Geoff Garin, one of Yang's partners, has worked for Republicans as well as Hillary Clinton:
The man that Hillary Clinton brought in to replace controversial strategist Mark Penn got his start in politics 32 years ago in Pennsylvania, the very state that is so crucial to her presidential hopes now. Back then, however, Geoff Garin was working for a Republican.

[...]

In the meantime, he has become one of the most well-regarded and sought-after Democratic pollsters, giving campaign advice to a host of Senators, including Illinois's Richard Durbin, New York's Charles Schumer, Vermont's Patrick Leahy and North Dakota's Kent Conrad. He also did work on Hillary Clinton's 2000 Senate campaign. "On the Democratic side," says one campaign veteran, "he is a totally trusted person."

According to reports, someone else with whom Garin is closely associated is David Axelrod, popularly referred to as Obama's Karl Rove (my emphasis):
The message seemed effective. Pollster Geoff Garin, president of Peter D. Hart Research Associates in Washington, which has worked with both of Axelrod's businesses, says his research showed that after the advertising campaign, ComEd customers were more supportive of a rate hike than customers served by other electric utilities elsewhere in Illinois.
Again, this information is not damning, but it does serve to tie Yang (as "Advisor B") closely to the Obama team. Not only did Yang have an inside man in Harstad, his partner and consulting firm were both associated with Obama's political guru, David Axelrod. It seems pretty clear that Yang spoke with authority when he said that "from the President-elect's perspective, there would be fewer 'fingerprints' on the President-elect's involvement with Change to Win because Change to Win already has an existing stream of revenue and, therefore, 'you won't have stories in four years that they bought you off.'" And to top it all off, the job that Blagojevich was angling for with Yang's help was coming through a deal with the SEIU. And you'll never guess whom the SEIU depends upon for it's D.C. consulting services:
The union organization that figures in the complaint, Change to Win, is a 6 million-member coalition of unions that was started in 2005. Its members include the Service Employees International Union, the Teamsters and the United Farm Workers of America. Tom Balanoff, an official at SEIU's Local 1 in Chicago, has been identified as the SEIU official mentioned several times in the Blagojevich complaint, including being identified as "an emissary" for the appointment of Jarrett.

SEIU is listed as a client of Peter D. Hart Research, which has conducted surveys for Change to Win, according to a union news release.
At this stage it is very difficult to say whether or not the Obama team actually did anything wrong (or "inappropriate" to use Obama's term). In fact, it may turn out that Blagojevich did nothing legally improper, even if his every move stank to high heaven. It has become quite clear, however, that if there was something scandal worthy in the Obama teams machinations concerning his vacated Senate seat, Frederick "Advisor B" Yang will play a prominent role in ferreting out what that something was.
 

Permalink | Comments ( 2 ) | TrackBacks ( 11 ) | Category: Scandals

 
QandO
 
Obama Supreme Court Picks
Posted by: MichaelW
 
Although it's awfully early to start this sort of prognostication, Tom Goldstein ponders who might be in the Supreme Court pipeline for Pres. Obama:
In my opinion, if there is an appointment this summer - which principally means that some otherwise serious candidates will not yet have had the time to be appointed to a court of appeals and develop experience there - there are three reasonably clear front runners, and one dark horse candidate. All are women, for the simple reason that there is only one woman on the Court now and I cannot imagine that the President will conclude that he cannot find a highly qualified female nominee.

The three obvious candidates are Elena Kagan (SG), Sonia Sotomayor (CA2), and Diane Wood (CA7). The sleeper candidate is Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm.

All four were born between 1950 and 1960. Diane Wood is the most respected as a judge. But she is the oldest (born 1950), and as a consequence a seat this summer would likely be her one shot. Kagan and Granholm have the advantage of being the youngest (born in 1960 and 1959, respectively). Granholm has experience dealing with legislatures and actually representing people, as well as law enforcement experience as the state's attorney general. Sonia Sotomayor has the advantage that she would be the first Hispanic nominee to the Court; she also served as a trial judge. She and Judge Wood have the longest written track record, but not one that would present any obstacle to confirmation with this Senate.
The only potential nominee on that list with whom I'm familiar is Diane Wood, a 7th Circuit Judge. She's a liberal but sober judge in my estimation, and would probably rule more along the lines of Souter rather than Ginsburg. However, I'm not sure she is of the same intellectual calibre as either Souter or Ginsburg. That's not to say that she's unintelligent or incapable of handling the job — in fact, Wood is quite smart. Instead, I think as a Justice she would bring to the Court a pragmatic, workmanlike attitude that is more in line with Justice Alito, rather than the scholarly approach seen in the likes of Ginsburg or Scalia. The advantage would be that she is much more predictable in her rulings since such judges tend to lean more on precedential value than novel legal theories.

I don't know much about Sonia Sotomayor. She was originally nominated to the Southern District for New York by Pres. George H.W. Bush as part of a package deal with Senators Moynihan and D'Amato (essentially making her a Moynihan appointee). Later she was raised to the Second Circuit amidst much sturm und drang from conservative interests, some of whom allegedly identified Sotomayor as an "judicial activist." Ed Whelan noted one particular case where she possibly sought to bury the case of some fireman who claimed they were discriminated against:
In Ricci, 19 white firefighters and one Hispanic firefighter charged that New Haven city officials engaged in racially discriminatory practices by throwing out the results of two promotional exams. As [Second Circuit judge (and Clinton appointee) José] Cabranes puts it, "this case presents a straight-forward question: May a municipal employer disregard the results of a qualifying examination, which was carefully constructed to ensure race-neutrality, on the ground that the results of that examination yielded too many qualified applicants of one race and not enough of another?"

The district judge, Janet Bond Arterton, issued a 48-page summary-judgment order ruling against the firefighters. Summarizing Arterton's opinion, Cabranes clearly finds highly unusual that Arterton could grant summary judgment for the city officials notwithstanding her acknowledgement that the evidence was sufficient to enable a jury to find that the city officials "were motivated by a concern that too many whites and not enough minorities would be promoted." Further, Cabranes finds it remarkable that such a "path-breaking opinion" was "nevertheless unpublished."

On appeal, Cabranes's account indicates, the judicial effort to bury the firefighters' claims got worse. In a case in which the parties "submitted briefs of eighty-six pages each and a six-volume joint appendix of over 1,800 pages," in which two amicus briefs were filed, and in which oral argument "lasted over an hour (an unusually long argument in the practice of our Circuit)," the panel, consisting of Sotomayor and fellow Clinton appointees Rosemary Pooler and Robert Sack, "affirmed the District Court's ruling in a summary order containing a single substantive paragraph"-which Cabranes quotes in full and which gives the reader virtually no sense of what the case is about. Four months later, just three days before Cabranes issued his opinion-and after the panel evidently knew that it had evaded en banc review-"the panel withdrew its summary order and published a per curiam opinion that contained the same operative text as the summary order, with the addition of a citation to the District Court's opinion in the Westlaw and LexisNexis databases."

[...]

Cabranes and his five colleagues clearly believe that Sotomayor and her panel colleagues acted as they did in order to bury the firefighters' claims and to prevent en banc and Supreme Court review of them. Cabranes's opinion expresses his "hope that the Supreme Court will resolve the issues of great significance raised by this case" and his judgment that plaintiffs' claims are "worthy of [Supreme Court] review."
I'm not sure what that case tells you about Sotomayor, or that it's even fairly leveled against her (she was just one of three judges on the panel). However, I think it's pretty likely that Sotomayor would be a reliably liberal ear on the Court.

As for Elena Kagan, who is Obama's nominee for SG despite having no appellate experience, from what I understand she is regarded as quite brilliant. Her work as dean of Harvard Law School has also been universally lauded. However, what sort of Justice she would make is difficult to answer. I think she's clearly qualified, and she's not been particularly political in her scholarly writings as far as I can tell. It's probably no great leap to assume that she falls on the liberal side of issues, but that apparently has not translated into being easily labeled as such. From the New York Times:
Ms. Kagan, 48, is dean of Harvard Law School. She has a powerful and varied résumé and has produced a substantial paper trail. But she has provided few clues about where she stands on the great legal issues of the day, notably the Bush administration's broad assertionsof unilateral executive power in areas like detention, surveillance, interrogation and rendition.

[...]

Most of Ms. Kagan's legal writings are dense, hedged and moderate. But in a 1995 review of a book on Senate confirmation fights, she made a statement she may come to regret.

"When the Senate ceases to engage nominees in meaningful discussion of legal issues," she wrote, "the confirmation process takes on an air of vacuity and farce." But she also described "the safest and surest route to the prize." The trick, she said, is "alternating platitudinous statement and judicious silence."
With the Senate safely in Democratic hands for at least the next two years, I seriously doubt that Kagan would face any challenge whatsoever in confirmation hearings for the Supreme Court. And owing to her age and academic experience, not to mention her appointment to the Solicitor General post, my best guess is that Kagan is the odds-on favorite to be Obama's first nominee.

Of course, all this speculating on who the nominee will be is rather meaningless without considering who will be replaced:
The retirement would almost certainly be a member of the Court's left - Justice Stevens or Justice Souter. (Justice Ginsburg has made her intention to stay clear.) None of the likely replacements would reshape the Court in the slightest, including by laying the foundation for a shift in jurisprudence through dissenting opinions. None is a visionary and committed progressive. Each is on the left, but none is regarded as a classic liberal in the Warren-Court mold. Their ideology is more likely to resemble Souter, Ginsburg and Breyer on the left or Kennedy or O'Connor on the right; not Marshall or Brennan.
I agree with Goldstein in that, given who is most likely to step down, the new Justice will not substantively change the jurisprudence of the Court, no matter who Obama nominates. However, because she would be more in the intellectual/academic strain in her judicial temperament, I do think that Kagan would have potentially much more influence on the thinking of the Justices than either Wood or Sotomayor, and she may have more persuasive power over Kennedy and Roberts.

Again, it's a little early in the game to make any well-informed predictions. It may turn out that none of the Justices want to leave any time soon. If Obama were to lose his re-election bid, then he could be the first President since Jimmy Carter to have no nominations to the Court. If an when he does get the chance, however, I think Kagan gets the nod.
 

Permalink | Comments ( 4 ) | TrackBacks ( 4 ) | Category: Legal Affairs

 
QandO
 
Thursday, January 22, 2009

Questioning Geithner (Updated)
Posted by: MichaelW
 
Treasury Secretary nominee, Timothy Geithner, faced questioning from the Senate Finance Committee yesterday, but other than the grilling from Sen. Jon Kyl it was little distinguishable from slow-pitch softball practice.
Geithner came in with a carefully prepared confession of error. "These were careless mistakes," he told the committee. "They were avoidable mistakes. But they were unintentional." Geithner explained that when he first went to the IMF in 2001, he somehow believed - he didn't explain exactly how - that he was not required to file those Social Security and Medicare taxes. As he thinks about it today, he said, he realizes that the IMF informed him repeatedly, and precisely, about his obligation. But back then, he just didn't get it. "Looking back, it was very clear," Geithner said. "If I had thought about it more carefully at the time, and I'd asked more questions - I would have gone back and asked a bunch more questions about that, and I would have approached it differently."

As the hearing went on, Geithner repeated that explanation several times, whether it answered the question he had been asked or not.
What questions Geithner would have asked to convince himself that he owed the taxes was never made clear, but Kyl was rather upfront with how he saw things:
The IRS has a three-year statute of limitations on offenses such as Geithner's, Kyl said, which meant that, after that 2006 audit, Geithner was obligated to pay for 2003 and 2004 but not for '01 and '02, which were too distant in time. Kyl wanted to know whether Geithner, when he paid for '03 and '04, knew that he also would have owed for '01 and '02 were it not for the statute.

"When you found out what you had done wrong, it is incomprehensible to me that you did not immediately realize that you had done it wrong for the entire time that you had been at the IMF," Kyl told Geithner.
Geithner continued to evade the questions like they were his taxes:
Geithner simply wasn't going to answer. "Senator, again, as I said, the IRS told me what my obligations were," he said. "I met the obligations."

Kyl became visibly frustrated. "Would you answer my question rather than dancing around it, please?" he asked.

Kyl's demand forced Geithner to open up, just a little. "Senator, I did not believe when I settled that audit and paid what they said I owed that I had obligations to go back," he began. "I did not think about that until I was going through the vetting process.I had not thought about it in the intervening years. No occasion to think about it. And I might not have thought about it unless I had gone through the process."

"Okay, that's a relatively clear answer," Kyl said, "the answer being no, you didn't think about it until it became important in connection with your nomination."
Kyl then basically called Geithner a liar and issued a veiled threat:
"Okay," Kyl concluded. "Rather than me asking for any additional testimony, review carefully what you said, and if you think it needs to be modified - because you're under oath here - if it needs to be modified in any way, please provide that for the record." The message could not have been clearer: Kyl simply didn't believe Geithner's story and was giving him one last opportunity to change it.
Judging by Geithner's answers to the effect that he admits being told by the IMF that he owed the taxes, and that he was reimbursed for taxes that he did not pay, I have only one question. Who did you think you were screwing, Mr. Geithner, the IMF or the IRS?

UPDATE: I guess evading taxes isn't such a big deal after all:
The Senate Finance Committee on Thursday approved the nomination of Timothy Geithner as secretary of the Treasury on an 18-5 vote, despite lingering doubts from Republicans on the panel over irregularities in the nominee's tax records.

Mr. Geithner, president of the Federal Reserve's New York regional bank, is expected to win quick confirmation by the full Senate, with lawmakers from both parties saying the critical Treasury post should not be left vacant as the nation confronts a severe financial crisis and a deepening recession.
Geithner is apparently too important to fail.

For more on that reasoning for confirming Geithner, see Capt. Ed.
 

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QandO
 
Places Not To Visit
Posted by: MichaelW
 
I would stay as far away from any street named after Mumia Abu-Jamal as possible. Especially one in France. There's not likely to be much police protection available.

[Counter-petition here]
 

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QandO
 
Irony
Posted by: MichaelW
 
Does it bother anyone else that the questionable Constitutional implications of the botched inaugural oath were serious enough to warrant a redo, but that the plainly and unambiguously unconstitutional appointment (and confirmation) of Sen. Hillary Clinton to the Secretary of State post barely merits a yawn?

Or how about the fact that tax cheats are routinely punished unmercifully, and that Joe Biden famously deemed as unpatriotic those who seek to reduce their taxes by as much as legally possible, but Congress is in the process of approving a flagrant tax cheater to the post of Treasury Secretary (in charge of the IRS no less) and the sitting Chairman of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee has been flouting tax laws for quite some time now?

Maybe it's just me.
 

Permalink | Comments ( 8 ) | TrackBacks ( 1 ) | Category: Government

 
QandO
 
Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Fickle
Posted by: MichaelW
 
Reportedly, Caroline Kennedy is begging off her nearly certain appointment:
Caroline Kennedy announced early Thursday that she was withdrawing from consideration for the vacant Senate seat in New York, startling the state's political world after weeks in which she was considered a top contender for the post.

[...]

Caroline Kennedy announced early Thursday that she was withdrawing from consideration for the vacant Senate seat in New York, startling the state's political world after weeks in which she was considered a top contender for the post.

Ms. Kennedy believed that the job was hers if she would accept it, the person said, but aides to Mr. Paterson would not comment on whether that was true.
Whatever. Personally, I've never been really sold on the whole experience thing, so I didn't care one way or the other. But, I think it's fairly obvious that Caroline feared the appointment would degrade her otherwise sterling standing amongst the liberal hoi polloi.

Or perhaps she learned that she wasn't going to get the appointment after all. Better to quit than get fired, I suppose.

Donklephant weighs in on the last point:
Supposedly, Kennedy doesn't want the appointment any more, due to the poor health of her uncle, Senator Edward M. Kennedy. But Ted Kennedy has been very sick since the outset of the Lady of Camelot's pursuit of the high office. More likely, Dame Caroline learned that the Governor intends to appoint someone else and was given time to gracefully withdraw and avoid further embarrassment.

Only two days ago, there were reports that Kennedy had the Senate seat sewed up.

In her brief mini-campaign, Dame Caroline failed abysmally to garner public support or to convince anyone other than close friends that she had any particular qualifications for the job, as I noted in a series of posts here, here, here and here.
It's probably just as well. New Camelot has taken up residence in the White House, so representatives of the ancien régime would likely be somewhat regarded as out of place and unnecessary. A royal victim of "Hope and Change" of course.
 

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QandO
 
Brave Souls
Posted by: MichaelW
 
It is rare to see this sort of bravery on camera, much less in the news. The following gentlemen will likely tell most of our readers nothing that they haven't already heard elsewhere, or surmised through their various information gathering. But, even while these three men are speaking about the knowledge they've attained through the years, please keep in mind how dangerous it is for them to be doing so. And listen carefully to what they have to say:

movie"



[HT: Paige Dragonfly Perkins]
 

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QandO
 
Monday, January 19, 2009

Return of the Magic Negro
Posted by: MichaelW
 
Perhaps you will recall the high dudgeon that the left/MSM worked itself into over one of the 41 songs that Chip Saltsman included on a gift CD to RNC members. It was titled "Barack the Magic Negro" and was not well-received by the oh-so-tolerant left.

No matter that the song was based on an Op-Ed piece by lefty Hollywood critic David Ehrenstein.

And no matter that the song was nearly two years old.

It was also irrelevant that the term "Magical Negro" was coined not as some insult to Barack Obama or black people, but as a literary critique of a tendency for blacks to be portrayed in certain roles (think Sidney Poitier in "Guess Who's Coming To Dinner").

Just as it was completely ignored by the mouth-breathers that the song was a parody directed not at Barack Obama or even the literary critique employed to analyze Obama's white supporters, but instead at the double standards of the left when it comes to matters of race.

All that mattered was that the media had "caught" Chip Saltsman in what was perceived as a moment of candor, proving once again that Republicans are nothing but racist buffoons who laugh at n***** jokes with one another when they think no one's listening. The incident was chalked up to yet more evidence that the GOP had not evolved past the good ole' boy days of all-white country clubs and segregated drinking fountains. Why? Because Chip Saltsman included a song on a CD that had the word "negro" in it.

With all of this in mind, imagine my surprise this morning, while listening to NPR's Morning Edition, when I was briefly transported into a different dimension. One of the segments this morning featured a discussion of a chapter in an upcoming book about Obama [ed. - Are there any upcoming books not about Obama?]:
Jabari Asim, author of What Obama Means, explores connections between the president-elect and a variety of oversimplified black movie characters who critics have mockingly called "magic negroes."
Further imagine my confusion when not one single word was mentioned about Chip Saltsman, the song, or the brouhaha generated by the media just a few weeks ago. Instead, Obama is once again compared to the "magical negro" character, and we're told how this is bad only insomuch as it is limiting of the almost-inaugurated President (according to the author, Barack is even better than the magic negro characters. He's super-magical!).

What's truly embarrassing for NPR about this is that less than three weeks earlier it was busy shaming Chip Saltsman over the song, and roiling dissension amongst the Republican Party:
Flap Over 'Magic Negro' Song Roils RNC

In the search for someone to lead the Republican Party out of its political wilderness, the winnowing has begun.

Former Tennessee GOP Chairman Chip Saltsman appears on the brink of elimination from the competitive race for the national party chairmanship after sending GOP committee members a Christmas CD that contained the parody song "Barack the Magic Negro."

[...]

Saltsman's stumble comes at a time when the Republican Party is struggling to define the role of loyal opposition to the nation's first African-American president. The party is uncomfortable with the minuscule share of the black vote it received in 2008, as well as the lack of African-Americans among GOP officeholders. No black members of Congress are Republican, and only a few black Republicans are in statewide office or on the Republican National Committee itself. Black membership in the Democratic National Committee is just over 21 percent, according to the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies.
That same day, December 30th, Talk of the Nation looked at the same subject:
Chip Saltsman, one of the candidates for chair of the Republican National Committee, sent a CD full of song parodies to several RNC members - including a song called "Barack the Magic Negro." The term "magic negro" dates back to the 1950s. Used today, is it satire or racism?
Hmmm. That last question is an interesting one. I wonder which NPR decided it was in today's illuminating look at the "magical negro"-ness of Barack Obama?

In fact, maybe the whole thing was a satire of how there's a double standard in the media when it comes to Republicans and conservatives on matters of race. Perhaps NPR host Steve Inskeep was cleverly mocking the self-important tones, and affected seriousness rampant amongst the navel-gazing lefty media types. He wasn't really discussing how white guilt help propel Barack Obama into the White House. He was skewering the arrogance and Neo-syndicalism of the mainstream media, in how it routinely demonizes those with the "wrong" ideologies by jumping on any potentially twistable sound-byte, no matter how harmless in reality, that can be used as evidence of evil motives, and yet laud the very same terms when used by those with the "correct" views. NPR wasn't being absurdly hypocritical, but instead profoundly satirical. The more I think about it, that must be the case.

Well played, NPR. Well played.
 

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QandO
 
Beware the cure
Posted by: MichaelW
 
Writing for Forbes.com, Brian S. Wesbury and Robert Stein try to direct a little sunshine on to what's an otherwise gloomy economic outlook. Their prognosis? The worst of the recession is behind us, and it's all sunny skies ahead. The authors rely on some current trends for the prediction that the economy is in the midst of recovery, such as the statistical rise in real wages and purchasing power:
Despite this, hourly wages rose 0.3% in December and were up 3.7% from December 2007. With the Consumer Price Index (CPI) expected to decline by 1.2% in December (data released this Friday), real (or, inflation-adjusted) wages likely increased 1.5%. Moreover, those real wages are likely up 4.8% from a year-ago, the fastest increase since 1972.

In addition, the real purchasing power of workers' cash earnings (total hours multiplied by real hourly earnings) actually increased by about 0.3% in December, putting it about 0.1% ahead of where it was a year ago. In other words, declines in energy prices, as well as some other prices, have roughly offset the damage to consumer purchasing power caused by job cuts and fewer hours for the remaining workforce.
Glenn Reynolds isn't so sure:
Seems more likely that the recession is just getting started. The "stimulus" seems mostly good for padding the wallets of the well-connected, so I don't see a lot of benefit there. But maybe I'm overly pessimistic.
I'll go out on a limb and say that the good professor Instapundit is just the right amount of pessimistic.

However, I also think that Wesbury and Stein may be correct that the recession is winding up. Unfortunately, that doesn't mean a anything given that our federal government is preparing to embark upon the Mother Of All Spending Sprees.

Regardless of where we are in the economic cycle, I'm quite certain that whatever cure the government comes up with will be quite a bit worse than the sickness it seeks to heal.
 

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QandO
 
Thursday, January 15, 2009

FISA Appeals Court Releases Ruling
Posted by: MichaelW
 
In a rare ruling, the intelligence appeals court found that the federal government was within constitutional bounds with respect to warrantless surveillance:
The court decision, made in August 2008 by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review, came in an unclassified, redacted form.

The decision marks the first time since the disclosure of the National Security Agency's warrantless eavesdropping program three years ago that an appellate court has addressed the constitutionality of the federal government's wiretapping powers. In validating the government's wide authority to collect foreign intelligence, it may offer legal credence to the Bush administration's repeated assertions that the president has the power to act without specific court approval in ordering national security eavesdropping that may involve Americans.

The Aug. 22 appeals court decision upheld a secret ruling issued last year by the intelligence court that it oversees, known as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance, or FISA, court. In that initial opinion, the secret court found that Congress had acted within its authority in August 2007 when it passed a hotly debated law known as the Protect America Act, which gave the executive branch broad power to eavesdrop on international communications.
The rightosphere is claiming vindication for President Bush, but Steve Benen disagrees:
The New York Times originally reported that the FISA court's ruling offered "legal credence to the Bush administration's repeated assertions that the president has constitutional authority to act without specific court approval in ordering national security eavesdropping." But based on the additional reporting, that's just wrong. The decision has nothing to do with the president's inherent authority, and everything to do with Congress' ability to shape surveillance law, giving the White House far more authority than it was previously allowed.

Put another way, the case was about the legality of the Protect America Act. It cleared the court's examination. But as A.L. explained, this doesn't lend "credence" to the administration's legal arguments at all.
Benen's correct that the ruling specifically ruled on the Protect America Act, but the FISCR went further then that. It actually ruled definitively on the question of whether there is a foreign intelligence exception to the Fourth Amendment's warrant requirement (pg. 17 [pdf]):
... we hold that a foreign intelligence exception to the Fourth Amendment's warrant requirement exists when surveillance is conducted to obtain foreign intelligence for national security purposes and is directed against foreign powers or agents of foreign powers reasonably believed to be located outside the United States.
Among the reasons stated as supporting this holding is that:
... there is a high degree of probability that requiring a warrant would hinder the government's ability to collect time-sensitive information and, thus, would impede the vital national security interests that are at stake ... Compulsory compliance with the warrant requirement would introduce an element of delay, thus frustrating the government's ability to collect information in a timely manner.
The FISCR goes on to make clear that it is not giving the government "carte blance" (the reasonableness requirement must still be met), but as a matter of constitutional law the ruling makes abundantly clear that warrants are not necessarily mandated when matters of national security are at stake.

I haven't digested the entire ruling yet, but from what I've read so far the FISCR sure does appear to validate the

arguments advanced by the Bush Adminstration for its warrantless surveillance program.

Based on the above, I think that Anonymous Liberal's analysis on the ruling is also incorrect (my emphasis):
From the moment the NSA program was first disclosed in December of 2005, the issue has always been whether the president has the "inherent authority" to disregard a statute like FISA that purports to place restrictions on his ability to conduct surveillance of Americans. The Bush administration claimed it had such powers, despite overwhelming legal authority to the contrary. When Congress passed the Protect America Act, it statutorily authorized the President's subsequent surveillance activities, assuming he stays within the rather wide confines of that law. The court here has merely upheld Congress's prerogative to pass such a law. There's nothing here that lends any credence whatsoever to claims of law-breaking authority made by the Bush administration over the last few years.
The issue as expressed by AL is certainly how Bush's opponents tried to frame it, but that's not exactly how it all went down. Bush argued that the Executive holds certain powers that cannot be circumscribed by an act of Congress, such as the means of conducting national security, which may or may not comport with the Constitution as expounding upon by the Supreme Court. But the foreign exception to the Fourth Amendment was always part and parcel of the argument, as was the need for timely collection of intelligence. They consistently argued that requiring a warrant in each instance before surveilling a suspect would cost the United States valuable intelligence that was necessary to protect our national security interests. The FISCR validated that reasoning without so much as hairs-breadth of wiggle room. Since the Bush Administration really only needed one of their arguments to work, the fact this appeals court ruled definitely on the foreign intelligence exception would seem to vindicate them.

As I said above, I haven't gone through the entire opinion yet, and my analysis above is subject to change. But for now, I think that the rightosphere has justifiable reasons to crow.

UPDATE [Dale]: I don't intend to "crow", but I would point out my analysis from December, 2005, which now appears to be essentially vindicated at both the trial and appeal level.
 

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QandO
 
No Drilling In ANWR Ever?
Posted by: MichaelW
 
Congress wants to put the arctic region of Alaska off limits to oil production permanently. The Udall-Eisenhower Artic Wilderness Act was reintroduced in the House on January 6th. It provides for placing the "Arctic coastal plain" under the aegis of the National Wilderness Preservation System so as to prevent any drilling activities in the are whatsoever.
Inclusion of Arctic Coastal Plain- In furtherance of the Wilderness Act (16 U.S.C. 1131 et seq.), an area within the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in the State of Alaska comprising approximately 1,559,538 acres, as generally depicted on a map entitled 'Arctic National Wildlife Refuge—1002 Area Alternative E—Wilderness Designation' and dated October 28, 1991, is hereby designated as wilderness and, therefore, as a component of the National Wilderness Preservation System. The map referred to in this subsection shall be available for inspection in the offices of the Secretary of the Interior.
The Wilderness Act essentially bans all permanent human activities from areas designated as "wilderness" ans it specifically provides:
... there shall be no commercial enterprise and no permanent road within any wilderness area designated by this chapter and, except as necessary to meet minimum requirements for the administration of the area for the purpose of this chapter (including measures required in emergencies involving the health and safety of persons within the area), there shall be no temporary road, no use of motor vehicles, motorized equipment or motorboats, no landing of aircraft, no other form of mechanical transport, and no structure or installation within any such area.
There are some exceptions to the rule, even for mineral exploration and extraction. However, the Act banned the issuance of any new drilling rights.
Provided, That, unless hereafter specifically authorized, no patent within wilderness areas designated by this chapter shall issue after December 31, 1983, except for the valid claims existing on or before December 31, 1983.
The upshot of all this legislation is that if the Udall-Eisenhower bill eventually becomes law, the most fertile area of ANWR with respect to oil and natural gas will be entirely off limits.

Predictably, Gov. Sarah Palin was not amused [HT: Gateway Pundit]:
"I am dismayed that legislation has again been introduced in Congress to prohibit forever oil and gas development in the most promising unexplored petroleum province in North America - the coastal plain of ANWR, in Alaska.

"Let's not forget: Only six months ago, oil was selling for nearly $150 per barrel, while Americans were paying $4 a gallon and more for gasoline. And today, there is potential for prices to rebound as OPEC asserts its market power, and as Russia is disrupting needed natural gas to Europe , for the second time in three years.

[...]

The governor made the following points:

* Oil from ANWR represents a huge, secure domestic supply that could help satisfy U.S. demand for more than 25 years.

* ANWR sits within a 20 million acre refuge (the size of South Carolina ) but thanks to advanced technology like directional drilling, the aggregated drilling footprint would be less than 2,000 acres (about one-quarter the size of Dulles Airport ). This is like laying a two-by-three-foot welcome mat on a basketball court.

* Energy development is quite compatible with the protection of our wildlife and their habitat. For example, North Slope caribou herds have grown and remained healthy throughout more than three decades of our oil development. Most of the year, our coastal plain is frozen solid and thus characterized by low biological productivity.

* ANWR development would create hundreds of thousands of good American jobs, positively affecting every state by providing a safe energy supply and generating demand for goods and services.

* Development here would reduce U.S. dependence on unstable, dangerous sources of energy such as the Middle East , and would decrease our huge trade deficit, a large percentage of which is directly attributable to oil imports.

* Incremental ANWR production would help reduce energy price volatility. Previous price disruptions demonstrate how even relatively low levels of oil production influence world prices.

* Federal revenues from ANWR - cash bids, leases, and oil taxes - would help reduce the multi-trillion dollar national debt, and we'd circulate U.S. petrodollars in our own country instead of continuing to send hundreds of billions of our dollars overseas, creating jobs and stronger economies in other countries.
Palin's points about energy independence and national security are well taken. To be sure, drilling in ANWR won't free us from dependence upon hostile, petrodollar regimes any time soon. And it's not terribly likely that we can ever rely entirely on our own resources for energy. But it certainly would do more good than harm to open these areas up for exploration and extraction. Sen. Larry Craig helps illustrate just how ridiculous the Congressional proposal is:


Indeed, it seems more and more people are getting the point that placing our nation's vast amounts of natural resources off limits only serves to hurt the American people [HT: Hot Air]:
On the eve of the Sundance Film Festival, filmmaker Robert Redford got some very bad reviews today, not from movie critics but from black ministers. They came from around the country to attack his environmental views and to stand up in favor of oil and gas drilling.

Redford's critics chose the Broadway Theatre in downtown Salt Lake, hoping to draw a few of the cameras that would normally be covering the film festival. The ministers said they were here to speak up for the poor, but critics claim that some of the organizations involved are actually fronts for industry. .

It's a national coalition arguing that more drilling would lower energy costs for the poor.
Gas prices may be cheap right now, but they will go back up soon enough. And with the record cold much of the country has been experiencing, heating oil and natural gas prices will become a much bigger issue. As the prices for these goods rise, expect a corresponding rise in the chorus of voices demanding that we open up areas that are now closed to drilling.
 

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QandO
 
Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Classic Capitalism
Posted by: MichaelW
 
Does it say something about the primacy of capitalism that it's so inextricably connected to the world's oldest profession? Probably not.
A San Diego woman who is auctioning off her virginity said she has now received a bid of $3.7 million, according to a published report.

Natalie Dylan, a 22-year-old San Diego woman, said she got the idea for the auction after her sister was able to pay for her college education after prostituting herself for three weeks, according to the London Telegraph.

Dylan has a degree in women's studies. She told the paper she hopes to pay for an advanced degree in family and marriage therapy with the proceeds from the auction.
Someone snarked:
I'm amazed... this must be the first woman's studies graduate ever with the possibility of actually making money.
To be fair, she has seems to understand basic economics much better than most women's studies types:
She told the Telegraph that she doesn't think she's the only one who will be benefit from the auction.

"I think me and the person I do it with will both profit greatly from the deal," Dylan told the paper.
For that matter, she understands it better than nearly everyone in Washington or writing for a major news publication.

I have to wonder though, how hot must this woman be to justify $3.7 Million? I understand some blokes place a high value on virginity, but doesn't this seem a little extravagant? As long as their both happy I guess.

I'm also curious about the legal ramifications of this business deal. Leaving aside the obvious problems with prostitution laws, how does the Purchaser verify the Seller's goods are, er, intact? And how does the Seller compel payment, since the Purchaser could easily claim fraud (i.e. "those goods were used, not new!")? Where would they enforce such an agreement? In Nevada? Another country? What's the penalty for a default? Are there liquidated damages (no pun intended)? What if a child results from the tryst? What are the liabilities? What if the Purchaser gets stage fright and ... umm ... can't close the deal on the appointed date? Will there be a rescheduled closing, or is he just out his deposit? What would be the penalty if the Seller backs out at the last minute? Will she have an understudy? A standby crew? What if he closes too early? Will the Purchaser be allowed to assign all or a part of his interest in her "goods"? And, since this is purportedly her first "sale", will there be an impossibility clause if it turns out that the Purchaser's vehicle won't fit comfortably in her garage?

I could go on, but I'm pretty sure that these questions never get answered because the deal never gets done ... so to speak.

[HT: Bob Owens]

UPDATE:
I pondered above "how hot must this woman be to justify $3.7 Million?" Ask and your questions will be answered. I guess real estate ain't dead after all. Still, $3.7 Million? I guess ...
 

Permalink | Comments ( 20 ) | TrackBacks ( 0 ) | Category: Freedom and Liberty

 
QandO
 
Thursday, January 08, 2009

Propaganda
Posted by: MichaelW
 
There's really no other word for what is passing as "news" out of Gaza recently.

On my way into work this morning, for example, I was treated to "reporting" of Ayman Mohyeldin, an Al Jazeera correspondent, who happens to be one of the few journalists in the besieged territory. The interview was conducted on NPR's Morning Edition program and purported to bring us a look at what's actually happening on the ground. Instead I was informed that the Israeli's have acted almost indiscriminately in their campaign against Hamas terrorists, and that within Gaza "there is no safe zone."

Most striking in what was an otherwise standard anti-Israel biased report was the comparison by Mohyeldin of the early-warning systems available in Israel to the lack thereof in Gaza. Mohyeldin exasperatedly informed listeners that Gazans were essentially sitting ducks for the Israeli attacks because (a) there was no warning infrastructure (sirens, etc.), and (b) the Israelis have assaulted every square inch of the territory without mercy. Neither Mohyeldin nor the NPR interviewer mentioned that Israelis have been bombarding areas of attack with leaflets, phone calls and even sound bombs, all intended to clear the area of civilians prior to any actual explosives touching down. Of course, when your enemy actively uses the civilian population as a means towards its own ends, the results are predictable:
Israel's notifications to civilians in Gaza to leave populated locations before they are bombed are cynically used by Hamas for organizing human shields, a new study says.

The study by the Terror and Intelligence Information Center shows that when the IDF warns Arab civilians of an impending attack in their neighborhood, Hamas uses the information in order to organize the civilians into human shields in the hope of protecting the targets from the IDF's wrath.

Hamas's de facto prime minister Ismail Haniyeh and other top terrorists, including Nizar Riyan, who was killed in the course of Operation Cast Lead, have publicly boasted of using the warnings as "intelligence" and then using civilians, including women and children, as human shields to protect the homes of terrorists.
Getting back to the NPR story, I must admit that I was flabbergasted at the sheer propaganda being passed off as "news" in that report. That not one mention was made of the lengths Israel goes to in order to prevent civilian casualties, including the early warnings that Mohyeldin helpfully informed us the Palestinians lack, all while lamenting how "there is no safe zone" in Gaza, serves to underscore just how biased the reporting has been.

And for those who would suggest that perhaps Mohyeldin was not aware of any such early warnings from the Israeli's, he's commented on them in his other reporting:
Earlier on Thursday, thousands of Palestinians fled their homes in the southern Gaza Strip as Israeli forces bombarded Rafah after dropping leaflets to warn local residents about an impending blitz.

Witnesses said that homes, suspected smuggling tunnels and a mosque were hit in the area along the Egyptian border early on Thursday.

The leaflets warned that that the Israeli military "will bomb the area due to its use by terrorists to [dig] tunnels and to stock up" on weapons.

Hundreds of tunnels are believed to cross under the Egyptian border around Rafah allowing Palestinians to smuggle in basic supplies, in short supply due to the Israeli blockade, and weapons.

An Israeli army spokeswoman said the military dropped the flyers "as in the past to avoid civilian casualties".

[...]

Al Jazeera's Ayman Mohyeldin, reporting from Gaza City, said the flyers would have frightened the civilian population of southern Gaza.
So, according to Mohyeldin, Gazans are more afraid of leaflets than bombs? Interesting reporting there.

Sadly, for those who don't seek out news from sources other than MSM outlets (New York Times, NBC, NPR, CNN, etc.), this is exactly the sort of information that's being offered as the "truth" about what's going on in the Gaza Strip. Eventually, just like "I can see Russia from my house!" the narrative becomes accepted, or too embedded with factual content to ever be fully exposed as a myth. Of course, that may also be one of the reasons why the internet has surpassed print media as a source of news, and its quickly gaining on TV.

One last point for those tempted to spout the latest media narrative about why the reporting out of Gaza has been so awful. If you think that Israel is preventing reporters from entering Gaza so that it can conduct its war crimes out of the view of a responsible press corps, then please ask yourself, "Why haven't they entered through Egypt?" Even NPR's David Folkenflik had to acknowledge that the IDF was not solely responsible for the media blackout of the war zone, albeit with typical MSM spin:
Peled notes that Egypt is not allowing journalists to enter Gaza from the territory's southern border, either. Yet there may be another cause to the restrictions: Israeli officials have long complained that Palestinian activists and terrorist groups manipulate foreign journalists by claiming Israeli atrocities.
See what he did there? One of the statements is a fact (which goes unaddressed), while the other is pure speculation posing as fact. The speculation diverts attention away from the factual content, and back towards the preferred narrative — i.e. Israel bad. Nevermind that the speculative statement is a complete non sequitur (Israeli claims of manipulation may be a reason that Egypt has closed its borders to journalists?). The only important thing is maintain the narrative.

 

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QandO
 
Monday, January 05, 2009

Automatic Congressional Pay Raises Explained
Posted by: MichaelW
 
Eugene Volokh gets to the bottom of the mystery:
On June 18, 1912, Congress passed a law entitled,

An Act to provide for the support and maintenance of bastards in the District of Columbia.
Could also be why there are so many lawyers there. [/rimshot]
 

Permalink | Comments ( 0 ) | TrackBacks ( 0 ) | Category: Humor

 
QandO
 
Climate Change: Ebb and Floe
Posted by: MichaelW
 
"This? This is ice. This is what happens to water when it gets too cold."
— Chris Knight (Val Kilmer), in Real Genius (1985)


Yet another predicted indicator of climate doom bites the dust:
Rapid growth spurt leaves amount of ice at levels seen 29 years ago.

Thanks to a rapid rebound in recent months, global sea ice levels now equal those seen 29 years ago, when the year 1979 also drew to a close.

Ice levels had been tracking lower throughout much of 2008, but rapidly recovered in the last quarter. In fact, the rate of increase from September onward is the fastest rate of change on record, either upwards or downwards.


In fact, if you look at the chart reproduced by DailyTech, you will find that the variance in seasonal sea ice has been fairly small over the past thirty years. So, although the average amount of sea ice in the past decade has trended below the thirty year average, it was never by much (2-3 million sq. km ("MSK") at most). The amount of sea ice at any given time in that period has ranged from roughly 15 MSK to 23 MSK. Accordingly, taking any particular point along that scale because it varies from the mean, and using it to mean anything terribly significant, is probably not very helpful. That goes for proving that the the ice cap is melting as well as for showing that everything is hunky dory.

However, it is interesting that we now have almost exactly the same amount of sea ice as we did in 1979, despite the repeated assertions that the planet is melting. Obviously the warming that we've witnessed was not too great, or we wouldn't be right back where we were at the dawn of the Reagan era. And, again looking at the chart, it's also fairly obvious that the trend is relatively flat. At worst, there is a rather flat arc in the trend of deviation from the thirty year mean, with a high point in the late 80's and early 90's. Overall, however, the trend seems to be a rather consistent amount of average sea ice.

As to why there was so a rapid build-up of ice, one could either consult their expansive knowledge of cheesy-80's-movie trivia, or rely on "experts":
Earlier this year, predictions were rife that the North Pole could melt entirely in 2008. Instead, the Arctic ice saw a substantial recovery. Bill Chapman, a researcher with the UIUC's Arctic Center, tells DailyTech this was due in part to colder temperatures in the region.
Personally, I thought Val Kilmer's delivery was better.

And let's not forget the real world consequences of the failed predictions from global warming alarmists:
In May, concerns over disappearing sea ice led the U.S. to officially list the polar bear a threatened species, over objections from experts who claimed the animal's numbers were increasing.
I'm sure those polar bears will be coming off the threatened species list any day now. Either that or the seals comprising a large part of the polar bear diet will have to go on the list, making those "threatened" bears now a threat. Irony: a dish best served cold.
 

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QandO
 
Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Media Alert
Posted by: MichaelW
 
I have been graciously invited to speak on Rob Port's radio program (the "Say Anything Show") tomorrow morning at 9:30 Central Time. Rob runs the Say Anything Blog out of North Dakota, and I encourage any of you who have not visited to do so (although I'm expecting that most of our readers are already familiar with Rob). For anyone within listening distance, the program is broadcast on AM1100 WZFG out of Fargo/Moorhead. Rob also has archives of his show on the sidebar at his website.

So for anyone who wants to hear me blabber on about the "Barack the Magic Negro" kerfuffle please drop by, and even if you don't, please visit Rob's site.
 

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QandO
 
"Barack The Magic Negro" Fallout
Posted by: MichaelW
 
I really didn't want to comment on this whole kerfuffle, primarily because it's so ridiculous, but I find it incredibly interesting how the controversy has boiled over at the expense of simple facts.

For those who don't know, Chip Saltsman is vying for the RNC chair and distributed a 41-song CD to members whose votes he seeks. Among the songs was a parody of a March 2007 David Ehrenstein Op-Ed titled "Barack The Magic Negro" (the Op-Ed was called "Obama the Magic Negro"). Ehrenstein's article uses a cinematic convention known as the "Magical Negro" to contemplate Obama's bid for the Democratic Party nomination:
But it's clear that Obama also is running for an equally important unelected office, in the province of the popular imagination - the "Magic Negro."

The Magic Negro is a figure of postmodern folk culture, coined by snarky 20th century sociologists, to explain a cultural figure who emerged in the wake of Brown vs. Board of Education. "He has no past, he simply appears one day to help the white protagonist," reads the description on Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magical_Negro .

He's there to assuage white "guilt" (i.e., the minimal discomfort they feel) over the role of slavery and racial segregation in American history, while replacing stereotypes of a dangerous, highly sexualized black man with a benign figure for whom interracial sexual congress holds no interest.

As might be expected, this figure is chiefly cinematic - embodied by such noted performers as Sidney Poitier, Morgan Freeman, Scatman Crothers, Michael Clarke Duncan, Will Smith and, most recently, Don Cheadle. And that's not to mention a certain basketball player whose very nickname is "Magic."
Ehrenstein goes on to analyze the Obama's campaign in the context of charges that he is not "black enough":
The only mud that momentarily stuck was criticism (white and black alike) concerning Obama's alleged "inauthenticty," as compared to such sterling examples of "genuine" blackness as Al Sharpton and Snoop Dogg. Speaking as an African American whose last name has led to his racial "credentials" being challenged - often several times a day - I know how pesky this sort of thing can be.

Obama's fame right now has little to do with his political record or what he's written in his two (count 'em) books, or even what he's actually said in those stem-winders. It's the way he's said it that counts the most. It's his manner, which, as presidential hopeful Sen. Joe Biden ham-fistedly reminded us, is "articulate." His tone is always genial, his voice warm and unthreatening, and he hasn't called his opponents names (despite being baited by the media).

Like a comic-book superhero, Obama is there to help, out of the sheer goodness of a heart we need not know or understand. For as with all Magic Negroes, the less real he seems, the more desirable he becomes. If he were real, white America couldn't project all its fantasies of curative black benevolence on him.
Frankly, the Op-Ed was an interesting and informative look at how the Democratic community was receiving the young Senator's candidacy, and how "authenticity" played into his support.

Shortly after the piece appeared in the L.A. Times, Rush Limbaugh teed off on it:
The problem, Ehrenstein says, is he's not real. Al Sharpton's real, Snoop Dogg is real, but Barack Obama is not real. He's just there to assuage white guilt. In other words, the only reason Obama is anywhere is because whites are willing to support him because they feel so guilty over slavery. Now, before you reject this, Shelby Steele has written a great book about the whole concept of "White Guilt" and how it is allowing our society to become more and more passive about any number of transgressions that the country has made from its inception. Here's the close: "Like a comic-book superhero, Obama is there to help, out of the sheer goodness of a heart we need not know or understand. For as with all Magic Negroes, the less real he seems, the more desirable he becomes. If he were real, white America couldn't project all its fantasies of curative black benevolence on him."

So, those of you white people out there who are supporting Barack Obama, you are racists. That is the point that David Ehrenstein is making. You're attempting to assuage all of your white guilt by supporting Obama, is worthless, because you're just exhibiting racism because you know he's not a "real black." As Biden said, he's "clean," and "articulate." What else did he say? Good-looking, articulate, one of the first. But he's not real. This is more of the drivel and the bilge that we get from the Drive-By Media. In order to be a real black, you gotta be a Sharpton or you've gotta be a Snoop Dogg. You gotta be a Ludacris or something like that. Obama can't possibly fill this role because nobody knows anything about him and we don't want to know anything about him. The only thing that matters is he's black and he sounds good and it allows you white racists to assuage your guilt. There is white racism out there, much of it is on the left where the plantation mentality still resides.

He also rather presciently keyed in on the use of the "Magic Negro" term:
"Now, let me ask you a question. The term "magic negro" has been thrown into the political presidential race and the mix for 2008, and the term magic negro, as applied to Barack Obama, has been done by an LA Times columnist David Ehrenstein. Do you think, if I keep referring to Obama as "the magic negro" from this day on, I will eventually get the credit and/or heat for this? Magic negro. It is a term, and it's exactly as described here. Its purpose is to allow whites the guilt-free support. But in Barack's case, it's only because he isn't a "real black." The LA Times, by the way, is not first with these types of columns. The LA Times has two or three columns like this: "Is Barack Obama Black Enough?" And so forth. So there's a racist component out there on the editorial page of the LA Times that's obsessed with the race of Barack Obama — and as with all leftists, while they are obsessed with race, they're accusing everybody else of being racists.
Afterwards, a parody songwriter (Paul Shanlin) who does work for Limbaugh produced the song in question, which is sung to the tune of "Puff the Magic Dragon" and in the voice of Al Sharpton:
Barack the Magic Negro lives in D.C.
The L.A. Times, they called him that
'Cause he's not authentic like me.
Yeah, the guy from the L.A. paper
Said he makes guilty whites feel good
They'll vote for him, and not for me
'Cause he's not from the hood.

See, real black men, like Snoop Dog,
Or me, or Farrakhan
Have talked the talk, and walked the walk.
Not come in late and won!

Oh, Barack the Magic Negro, lives in D.C.
The L.A. Times, they called him that
'Cause he's black, but not authentically.
Oh, Barack the Magic Negro, lives in D.C.
The L.A. Times, they called him that
'Cause he's black, but not authentically.

Some say Barack's "articulate"
And bright and new and "clean."
The media sure loves this guy,
A white interloper's dream!
But, when you vote for president,
Watch out, and don't be fooled!
Don't vote the Magic Negro in -
'Cause -

'Cause I won't have nothing after all these years of sacrifice
And I won't get justice. This is about justice. This isn't about me, it's about justice.
It's about buffet. I don't have no buffet and there won't be any church contributions,
And there'll be no cash in the collection plate.
There ain't gonna be no cash money, no walkin' around money, no phoning money.
Now, Barack going to come in here and ........
Note that song delivers almost verbatim exactly the same critiques as the Ehrenstein Op-Ed, and is specifically targeted at race-hustlers like Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, as well as at the racist undertones in the left's contemplation of a Barack Obama candidacy. As Ehrenstein pointed out:
And what does the white man get out of the bargain? That's a question asked by John Guare in "Six Degrees of Separation," his brilliant retelling of the true saga of David Hampton - a young, personable gay con man who in the 1980s passed himself off as the son of none other than the real Sidney Poitier. Though he started small, using the ruse to get into Studio 54, Hampton discovered that countless gullible, well-heeled New Yorkers, vulnerable to the Magic Negro myth, were only too eager to believe in his baroque fantasy. (One of the few who wasn't fooled was Andy Warhol, who was astonished his underlings believed Hampton's whoppers. Clearly Warhol had no need for the accouterment of interracial "goodwill.")

But the same can't be said of most white Americans, whose desire for a noble, healing Negro hasn't faded. That's where Obama comes in: as Poitier's "real" fake son.
In short, Ehrenstein accuses whites supporting Obama of being racist for seeking to put the "right" kind of black man in a position of power merely to assuage their own guilt, and without actually doing anything for the black man. Limbaugh took the analysis and ran with it, and when Shanklin's friend Chip Saltsman included the infamous parody song on his Christmas gift to RNC members he ignited the current brouhaha.

With the history out of the way, let's first consider what Saltsman did:

Was it racist? No. It's simply absurd to conclude that a song parodying race-hustlers and liberal columnist accusations is racist, especially when the song indirectly defends Barack Obama from charges that he is not authentically black. Moreover, Saltsman didn't write the song, and the writer didn't really either since most of the content comes directly from Ehrenstein's piece.

Was Ehrenstein's Op-Ed racist? I sure don't think so, although it certainly does stereotype white people. It may not be a very good analysis, but it was informative nonetheless, and had some interesting points to make about white liberal voters.

Has the media and the leftosphere taken this story out of all sense of proportion and unfairly characterized Saltsman, Republicans and the song itself? Of course.

Was Saltsman wrong to include the song on his gift CD? Yes. Unequivocally. Even if there's nothing wrong with the song itself, and even if the media and leftosphere have been completely unfair, shouldn't Saltsman have anticipated the reaction? He's a former congressman, and has apparently been around politics for quite some time. Why didn't it occur to him that in the month immediately following a huge Democratic victory at the polls, when the Republican brand is at an all time low, that playing into the stereotypes that many have of the GOP (whether deserved or not) may have generally undesirable consequences? In a purely theoretical sense Saltsman should not have to defend himself in the least, and it is the unbearably intolerant left that should be held under the microscope in this controversy. But theory is meaningless when one is trying to resurrect a tarnished and battered image and he chooses a facially racial parody song as the vehicle to do so. In a word, that was just dumb.

How ever this stupid sideshow turns out really makes no difference to me. Politico is now reporting that the backlash may have actually increased Saltsman's chances of becoming the RNC chair rather than killed them altogether. I don't know if that's true or not, and I really don't care. Who wins the party's chairmanship is not my concern. However, if the next chairman is as tone deaf as Saltsman, then we had better get used to one-party rule for awhile. Perhaps a long while.
 

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QandO
 
Monday, December 22, 2008

Uninformed Snark
Posted by: MichaelW
 
As if to underscore how blind the Joe Gandelman post that McQ dismantled was — i.e. that right-wing rhetoric is cranking up unprecedented nastiness — FireDogLake revs up its BDS engines and sets the phasers to kill.
Today's headline news, in all its various establishment media permutations, was full of stories about Still-President George W. Bush paying a visit to wounded soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center this morning. A couple added that this was the site of one of his administration's most serious scandals.

[...]

When I heard the story, I smirked and shook my head in disgust, figuring it was just another lame, lame duck attempt at legacy burnishing.

Well, it was that, but it was so much more. . . or less.

It turns out, as is now being reported, that Bush had an MRI this morning at Walter Reed for a chronic pain in his left shoulder. Yes, that's right. Bush went to WRAMC because he wasn't feeling well.

I suppose it's a chicken and egg thing. . . kind of. It certainly would have looked bad if word had gotten out that Bush was at the medical center and didn't stop in to look after the men and women who owe their disability checks to his vainglorious boondoggle. But would George W. have gone out there at all if he hadn't had his own needs to look after?

My guess is a certain "no."
(my emphasis)

The author of the above post, Gregg Levine, does his level best to deliver the snark, painting President Bush as a cowardly, insincere boob who lacks any empathy or compassion for the troops. According to Levine, Bush is so cowardly and uncaring that he simply wouldn't ever visit the troops if he didn't have to.
Bush, even at his most "engaged" was never big on confronting his mistakes-especially ones made so (pardon this) flesh. The man was, is, and will forever be a reality chicken.

Now, as anyone looking at an unemployment check will confirm, the decider has decided he's decided enough. He's over it, done his bit, given what he can give. You don't like him being president any more? Fine, he just won't be.

So, while it's just me s'posin', I'm going to say that if Bush hadn't felt the need, there's no way he goes to Reed.

Which might have been just fine with the brave men and women confronting reality every day. . . whether they choose to or not.
Unfortunately for Levine, he's picked the wrong day to let his BDS get the best of him:
For much of the past seven years, President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney have waged a clandestine operation inside the White House. It has involved thousands of military personnel, private presidential letters and meetings that were kept off their public calendars or sometimes left the news media in the dark.

Their mission: to comfort the families of soldiers who died fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and to lift the spirits of those wounded in the service of their country.

On Monday, the president is set to make a more common public trip - with reporters in tow - to Walter Reed Army Medical Center, home to many of the wounded and a symbol of controversy earlier in his presidency over the quality of care the veterans were receiving.

But the size and scope of Mr. Bush's and Mr. Cheney's private endeavors to meet with wounded soliders and families of the fallen far exceed anything that has been witnessed publicly, according to interviews with more than a dozen officials familiar with the effort.

"People say, 'Why would you do that?'" the president said in an Oval Office interview with The Washington Times on Friday. "And the answer is: This is my duty. The president is commander in chief, but the president is often comforter in chief, as well. It is my duty to be - to try to comfort as best as I humanly can a loved one who is in anguish."

Mr. Bush, for instance, has sent personal letters to the families of every one of the more than 4,000 troops who have died in the two wars, an enormous personal effort that consumed hours of his time and escaped public notice. The task, along with meeting family members of troops killed in action, has been so wrenching - balancing the anger, grief and pride of families coping with the loss symbolized by a flag-draped coffin - that the president often leaned on his wife, Laura, for emotional support.

"I lean on the Almighty and Laura," Mr. Bush said in the interview. "She has been very reassuring, very calming."

Mr. Bush also has met privately with more than 500 families of troops killed in action and with more than 950 wounded veterans, according to White House spokesman Carlton Carroll. Many of those meetings were outside the presence of the news media at the White House or at private sessions during official travel stops, officials said.
Oops.

It was a rather juvenile rant from Levine in the first place, but doing so on the very day that hundreds of non-public meetings with families of the fallen and with wounded soldiers are disclosed just makes him look rather petty and absurd. I guess that's what happens when you're part of the reality-based community.
 

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QandO
 
Saturday, December 20, 2008

Rime of the ancient narrator
Posted by: MichaelW
 
Is there any doubt that any decent summation of the subprime mess and its ensuing financial crisis would have to mention the roles played by Barney Frank, Chris Dodd and Franklin Raines? Surely there will be many players discussed in the history books, but these three individuals will necessarily play starring roles. Thematically underpinning their roles will be the Community Reinvestment Act, including its invigorating amendments made law in the mid-90's. But history is not now, and the New York Times seems determined to keep it at bay for as long as possible.

In its latest article regarding the causes of the subprime mess, the Gray lady channels Peter Pan, painting a picture of Neverland for the world to see rather than growing up and facing reality. The title of the article really says it all: "Bush's Philosophy Stoked The Mortgage Bonfire."

Without even reading the article it's easy to surmise that the NYT will attempt to lay the entire financial crisis we currently face squarely at the feet of George W. Bush and conservatism. It's common knowledge that Bush often touted the historic highs of home ownership during his presidency as something of which he took great pride. Today, we also commonly know that a good number of those people should not have been given mortgages in the first place. What the NYT wants to add to that common knowledge base is the idea that Bush and conservative, laissez-faire principles were the ultimate cause of the meltdown.
Eight years after arriving in Washington vowing to spread the dream of homeownership, Mr. Bush is leaving office, as he himself said recently, "faced with the prospect of a global meltdown" with roots in the housing sector he so ardently championed.

There are plenty of culprits, like lenders who peddled easy credit, consumers who took on mortgages they could not afford and Wall Street chieftains who loaded up on mortgage-backed securities without regard to the risk.

But the story of how we got here is partly one of Mr. Bush's own making, according to a review of his tenure that included interviews with dozens of current and former administration officials.

From his earliest days in office, Mr. Bush paired his belief that Americans do best when they own their own home with his conviction that markets do best when let alone.

He pushed hard to expand homeownership, especially among minorities, an initiative that dovetailed with his ambition to expand the Republican tent - and with the business interests of some of his biggest donors. But his housing policies and hands-off approach to regulation encouraged lax lending standards.
According to the NYT, we would not be in this mess if not for Bush's cronyism, political aspirations and belief in free-market principles. Strangely, the article fails to mention Barney Frank, Chris Dodd, or even Maxine Waters, who famously uttered, "We do not have a crisis at Freddie Mac and particularly Fannie Mae under the outstanding leadership of Frank Raines." (For more, see here, here and here.) And mismanager supreme Franklin Raines only surfaces (well more than halfway through the lengthy article) to play the part of an ally in the dastardly schemes of President Bush:
At the time [in 2003], Fannie and Freddie were allies in the president's quest to drive up homeownership rates; Franklin D. Raines, then Fannie's chief executive, has fond memories of visiting Mr. Bush in the Oval Office and flying aboard Air Force One to a housing event. "They loved us," he said.

So when Mr. Falcon refused to deep-six his report [warning of a financial meltdown led by Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac practices], Mr. Raines took his complaints to top Treasury officials and the White House. "I'm going to do what I need to do to defend my company and my position," Mr. Raines told Mr. Falcon.
So, you see, if not for Bush's meddling, Raines reign would have ended precipitously and the mortgage mess would have been averted. Or something to that effect.

To be fair, the NYT piece does note the fact that Bush pushed for something to be done about Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, but only to introduce the idea that the president backed off of doing anything substantive and eventually let the financial system come crashing down around his ears:
Mr. Bush did foresee the danger posed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government-sponsored mortgage finance giants. The president spent years pushing a recalcitrant Congress to toughen regulation of the companies, but was unwilling to compromise when his former Treasury secretary wanted to cut a deal. And the regulator Mr. Bush chose to oversee them - an old prep school buddy - pronounced the companies sound even as they headed toward insolvency.

As early as 2006, top advisers to Mr. Bush dismissed warnings from people inside and outside the White House that housing prices were inflated and that a foreclosure crisis was looming. And when the economy deteriorated, Mr. Bush and his team misdiagnosed the reasons and scope of the downturn; as recently as February, for example, Mr. Bush was still calling it a "rough patch."

The result was a series of piecemeal policy prescriptions that lagged behind the escalating crisis.
Nevermind that the last sentence completely undermines the narrative that Bush's policies "stoked" (i.e. caused) the mortgage meltdown (how can policies that "lagged behind" the problem cause the problem?). There is much in the article that is logically at odds with the narrative. And pay no heed to the failure to mention that it was Democratic congressmen pronouncing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac as completely healthy. Such facts are merely a distraction.

What the NYT seems to think is most important is that a small-government, hands-off approach to the issues at hand, manifested by a trust in free market principles, is understood to be the culprit. Bush's "laissez-faire" approach (as it's called later in the piece) must be unmasked as the real villain in this financial tragedy. In short, the economic straits in which the world finds itself are the direct result of market failures aided, abetted and "stoked" by an incompetent leader who eschewed the prescient advice of his "good" advisors while heeding every whim of the "evil" ones. Yet, what's never explained is how a crisis stemming from White House goals for increasing homeownership, and its policies for using government to achieve those goals, can possibly be a failure of the market.

The reason such an explanation is lacking is because the battle space must be prepared for more government intervention. The blame for our current woes must be squarely pinned on private concerns and anti-statist principles. If, instead, government meddling in the affairs of the private sector is understood to be the problem, then the inevitable government solutions coming down the pike will receive less than a sympathetic hearing. Indeed, any culpability government may have had in the crisis is chalked up to a failure of leadership and misguided policies. The stormy financial seas are therefore the unmitigated fault of Bush in this media narrative, and the his albatross will be fastened tight around the free-market philosophy's neck.

One can only hope that history serves the same justice upon the purveyors of such a farcical narrative, as the purveyors have visited upon the truth.
 

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QandO
 
Monday, December 15, 2008

Auto Industry Campaign Donations
Posted by: MichaelW
 
When Corporation A gives umpteen million dollars to Party X, the typical conclusion is that Party X is in the pocket of Corporation A. That is, so long as X = Republican.

Last week, the L.A. Times pondered in amazement that political campaign contributions from the Big 3 go predominantly to Republicans, and yet it is Republicans who killed their much needed bailout. No matter that the last part is false. The LAT just can't seem to grasp how it is that special interests aren't getting their money's worth:
By standing in the way of an auto industry bailout, GOP senators appear to have bitten the hand that fed them.

Over the last decade, General Motors has given $1.50 to Republican candidates for every $1 it has given to Democrats. That same pattern has been followed by Chrysler and Ford, which year after year have favored the right side of the aisle, sometimes by more than a 3-to-1 ratio in dollar terms.

Since 1990, the auto industry as a whole — including suppliers, dealers and manufacturers — has cut $100 million in checks to Republicans, compared with just $34 million to Democrats.

On Thursday night, the carmakers discovered just how little loyalty that investment strategy had bought them.

Efforts to get through even a watered-down version of the $14-billion aid package were stymied by Republican senators, many of whom contend that GM and Chrysler — the most troubled U.S. automakers — should simply go bankrupt.
You'd almost think that congressmen are supposed to vote how the monied interests direct them to. At least that what the LAT seems to think. Personally, I always thought it was a sign of integrity when politicians voted in a way that ran counter to the interests of their campaign coffers. But apparently that's not so.

All of which makes the numbers produced by the LAT to illustrate their point all the more interesting:


What many will notice first is that, for the most recent election cycle, the Big 3 gave mostly to Democrats. That shouldn't be surprising since businesses tend to give more money to those in power, or expected to be in power, rather than choosing one party and sticking with it.

The other striking data from the chart are the UAW contributions. Over the past four cycles, the UAW not only gave more money overall than the Big 3 combined, it filled the campaign coffers of the Democrats by an amazing (yet unsurprising) 99-1 margin. With that much political muscle, it's hard to understand how the unions can possibly be depicted as the weaker party when it comes to bargaining power. However, if you thought those lopsided campaign donations would raise any suspicions at the LAT, you'd be wrong:
This year, for the first time on record, Detroit's spending slightly favored Democrats. But since 2000, overall spending by the Big Three has steered 61% of contributions, or $7.2 million, to Republicans, according to Federal Election Commission data compiled by the Center for Responsible Politics.

Democrats, meanwhile, have looked to the United Auto Workers for support. Since 2000, the union has given $12.5 million to Democrats compared with only $94,540 to Republicans.
Got that? Almost twice as much money has gone to the Democrats, and yet it is the Republicans who are under scrutiny in this article because they didn't do what their political benefactors wanted them to.
"It's highly doubtful that political giving ever played a factor in an individual member's position," GM spokesman Greg Martin said.

But on Capitol Hill, the cold calculus of money is never too far from any issue.

A study released Thursday by the Center for Responsive Politics suggested that in the House of Representatives, where the bailout passed this week, there was a direct correlation between votes and campaign cash: Those who voted in favor of the plan received, on average, 8% more money from the auto industry than those who did not.

In the Senate, other forces may have been at play.

Some of the loudest opponents to helping Detroit were senators whose states are home to car factories of foreign brands, including Sen. Richard C. Shelby (D-Ala.), who has Mercedes, Hyundai and Honda plants in his state but no Big Three facilities.

At the eleventh hour, Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) put forth a bill that sought to wrest new concessions from the United Auto Workers as well as from corporate bondholders. He has received $234,860 from the auto industry throughout his career, but Tennessee is also home to several Nissan plants and the Japanese automaker's U.S. headquarters.
Notice the sentence I bolded above, and specifically note what you're not being told: i.e. just who those Representatives that voted for the bailout were. In order to further cloud the issue, "the auto industry" is named as the donor of campaign funds, without separating out the carmakers from the UAW. Obviously that is because far more Democrats voted for the bailout than Republicans, and Democrats receive far more money from the vaguely-named "auto industry" than Republicans do. Any such clarifications would ruin the narrative, however, that Republicans are mean, selfish, corruptible, and disloyal.

The question begged by the article, and yet never asked or explored, is how the UAW-backed Democrats have responded to the bailout. Over the past eight years their party has raked in over $12.5 Million from the union, and the Democrats have vociferously gone to bat for them on the bailout. While their loyalty to their benefactors may be beyond reproach, isn't their loyalty to the American people looking a bit strained? How does delivering exactly what the UAW wants, despite what the majority of the American people deem desirable, square with the commitment of Democratic congressmen to represent The People? Could there possibly be anything newsworthy to the fact that Ron Gettelfinger has basically used the Democrats like well-trained seals in a Congressional three-ringed circus in order to benefit his members, and regardless of what the consequences are for the Big 3, much less the American taxpayers?

The answers to those questions might make good news indeed, but don't count on reading anything of the sort in the LAT. They're still too busy scratching their heads over those disloyal Republicans.
 

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QandO
 
Friday, December 12, 2008

All the President-Elect’s Men
Posted by: MichaelW
 
Hopefully dovetailing with McQ and Billy below, I think I can explain why Obama has been dissembling regarding the Blagojevich scandal. In addition to the very likely fact that Obama's office was co-ordinating with the Illinois Governor with respect to the Senate vacancy, the President-Elect's connection to so-called "Advisor B" may raise some uncomfortable questions. Advisor B promises to become a person of greater interest as this story unfolds, based on the following passage from the government's affidavit (at pg. 68) [HT: texasdarlin]:
On November 12, 2008, ROD BLAGOJEVICH talked with Advisor B. ROD BLAGOJEVICH discussed with Advisor B his idea for a 501(c)(4) organization. Advisor B stated that he likes the idea, but liked the Change to Win option better because, according to Advisor B, from the President-elect's perspective, there would be fewer "fingerprints" on the President-elect's involvement with Change to Win because Change to Win already has an existing stream of revenue and, therefore, "you won't have stories in four years that they bought you off." ROD BLAGOJEVICH said that he likes the 501(c)(4) idea because he knows it will be there in two years when he is no longer Governor, whereas Change to Win might not be.
(my emphasis)

Advisor B is described earlier in the affidavit as "a Washington D.C.-based consultant" (pg. 60) with whom Blagojevich and his co-defendant assistant (John Harris) discussed a plan to trade favors with the President-Elect and the SEIU in exchange for the Governor appointing Obama's preferred candidate to his Senate seat:
During the call [on Nov. 7], ROD BLAGOJEVICH, HARRIS, and Advisor B discussed the prospect of working a three-way deal for the open Senate seat. HARRIS noted that ROD BLAGOJEVICH is interested in taking a high-paying position with an organization called "Change to Win," which is connected to Service Employees International Union ("SEIU").22 HARRIS suggested that SEIU Official make ROD BLAGOJEVICH the head of Change to Win and, in exchange, the President-elect could help Change to Win with its legislative agenda on a national level. Advisor B asked why SEIU Official cannot just give the job to ROD BLAGOJEVICH. HARRIS responded that it would be just a big "give away" for SEIU Official and Change to Win since there are already individuals on the Change to Win payroll doing the functions of the position that would be created for ROD BLAGOJEVICH. HARRIS said that Change to Win will want to trade the job for ROD BLAGOJEVICH for something from the President-elect. HARRIS suggested a "three-way deal," and explained that a three-way deal like the one discussed would give the President-elect a "buffer so there is no obvious quid pro quo for [Senate Candidate 1]." ROD BLAGOJEVICH stated that for him to give up the governorship for the Change to Win position, the Change to Win position must pay a lot more than he is getting paid right now. Advisor B said that he liked the idea of the three-way deal. ROD BLAGOJEVICH stated that he is interested in making $250,000 to $300,000 and being on some organization boards. Advisor B said they should leverage the President-elect's desire to have Senate Candidate 1 appointed to the Senate seat in order to get a head position with Change to Win and a salary. Advisor B agreed that the three-way deal would be a better plan than ROD BLAGOJEVICH appointing Senate Candidate 2 to the Senate seat and getting more done as Governor.
Of course, none of the above means that Obama did anything wrong, and in fact may not even evidence any wrongdoing by Blagojevich. But it certainly suggests that Advisor B thought s/he could go to the Obama camp with a deal that didn't involve "fingerprints" and deliver some sort of value to the Illinois Governor in exchange for appointing Valerie Jarret (who is widely considered "Senate Candidate 1"). Advisor B's familiarity and confidence on this issue, if and when explored in greater detail, may not implicate Obama in anything illegal, but it just might reveal him to be the typical Chicago pol that many suspect he is.

And there's the rub. Regardless of how clean Obama is on the specific issue of Blagojevich selling the Senate seat, other issues will arise as the case moves forward that may not reflect so well on The One. In addition, there are a lot of actors involved, some of whom are close to the President-Elect (such as, perhaps, Advisor B). The chances of Obama completely sidestepping this mudpuddle without getting at least a little dirty is remote. However, when you promote yourself as the candidate of change, sent to Washington in white linens, atop a glistening, silver unicorn to break the cycle of "business as usual," then any splash of mud, no matter how small, will ruin the visage.

Obama's incentive to distance himself from Blagojevich then, aside from normal political instincts, is to save the message of "hope'n change". Without that message, Obama is just another politician who will be judged on the results of his leadership rather than the loftiness of his rhetoric. And, like the Wizard of Oz, Obama probably does not want anyone to look behind that (rhetorical) curtain.
 

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QandO
 
Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Cerberus Starting to Get Some Attention
Posted by: MichaelW
 
As I wrote about last week, one thing in particular that truly stinks to high heaven regarding the Big 3 Bailout is that Chrysler's parent, Cerberus Capital, has more than enough money to fund whatever the ailing carmaker needs. If they aren't going to do so, then why should the taxpayers?

It seems that the stench is finally getting some attention:
Why is Cerberus, one of the world's richest private equity firms, begging for a bailout?

When I wrote about the bailout blunders of the auto industry two weeks ago, I thought the Big Three had most likely topped out on the political outrage meter. But that was before the shady story of Cerberus, the uber-connected private equity firm that owns Chrysler, reared its three ugly heads over the weekend.

Buried on the business page of The New York Times Saturday were the details of Detroit's biggest snow job yet—literally as well as figuratively. Turns out that Cerberus CEO John Snow, who spent three-and-a-half lackluster, and some might say lap-doggish, years as President Bush's second Treasury secretary, is leading a who's who of crony capitalists in a lobbying campaign for a taxpayer bailout to "salvage Cerberus' investment in Chrysler."

That's right. Not to save the jobs of Chrysler employees or America's disappearing manufacturing base, mind you, but to prevent "one of the world's richest and most secretive private investment companies" from having to take a relatively modest financial hit and use some of its own capital to prop up the smallest of the major automakers.
There's a lot more at the link, so RTWT.

Of course, the focus on Cerberus does not mean that Chrysler is singularly unworthy of taxpayer funds. Chrysler has a bountiful source of funds available to it, so it simply has no need to go begging for our money. GM is unworthy for the following reason [HT: HAHL]:
December 10, 2008 Stat of the Day

In 2007, Toyota sold 9.37 million vehicles.

In 2007, General Motors sold 9.37 million vehicles.

In 2007, Toyota made $17.1 billion.

In 2007, General Motors lost $38.7 billion.

(Source: Mises Blog)

That's right. For the same volume of cars sold, GM managed to run into the red $38.7 Billion while Toyota earned over $17 Billion in profit. There's more:
That was the second best sales total in GM's 100-year history and the biggest loss ever for any automaker in the world.

For Toyota, that was roughly $1,800 in profit for every vehicle sold. For GM, it was an average loss of $4,100 for every vehicle sold.

Collectively, Detroit's Big Three automakers are currently losing about $5 billion per month, with Ford, General Motors and Chrysler, respectively, burning through $2 billion, $2 billion and $1 billion in cash every 30 days.
So Chrysler already has a sugar daddy, and the entire lot of the Big 3 can't manage to turn a profit, even when GM records its second biggest sales volume ever. Aside from purely principled reasons as to why a bailout is a horrible idea, the facts above plainly show that the Big 3 simply don't deserve our financial support.

Build a better car at a reasonable price and you will have all the financial support you need. Until then, your business model just doesn't cut it in this industry, and it needs to go the way of the dodo.
 

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QandO
 
Friday, December 05, 2008

Cerberus Goes To Washington
Posted by: MichaelW
 
I think I've discovered why the dead are leaving Detroit at such a rapid pace. The guardian of the gate to the underworld has gone to Washington begging for table scraps.

This week, America's "Big 3" automakers again visited Congress, 34 Billion gallon hat in hand, seeking federal bailout money.
The Big Three automakers appealed to Congress for billions in emergency aid Thursday by touting overhauls to their business models, but skeptical lawmakers may be looking to impose even more-severe changes — possibly including a corporate merger — as part of the deal.

The latest developments come after a top economist warned that the $34 billion that General Motors, Ford and Chrysler are requesting is just the beginning. Lawmakers are divided over whether the government should intervene and how.
As dubious as the Wall Street bailout was, this request for corporate welfare is even more consternating. At least with the financial rescue orchestrated by the Fed there was a plausible argument that some mixture of questionable government policy, greedy loan originators, irresponsible rating agencies, and care-free counterparty insurers combined to create a poisonous elixir too powerful to be swallowed by the whole economy alone. Even if one does not agree with how the elixir's ingredients of blame are apportioned, there is little doubt that allowing the poison to run its course could have been (will be?) catastrophic to the economy at large.

In the case of the automakers, however, the fault clearly lies with them. Either produce cars people want at a price they will agree to or go out of business. That's how markets have always worked absent interference, and that's how it should work here as well. It's true that the Big 3 are hampered by sclerotic UAW contracts that raise their labor costs far above what non-unionized plants in America incur. But, again, that's the nature of the beast. Either find a way to deal with it or get out of the game.

A majority of Americans seem to get the point above:
The CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll, conducted by telephone on Dec. 1-2 with nearly 1,100 people, showed that 61% of those surveyed oppose government assistance for the major U.S. automakers.

[...]

A full 70% of respondents indicated that a bailout is unfair to taxpayers.

In addition to being unfair, the poll showed that a majority of those surveyed think a bailout would not help the economy.
I wonder how many more Americans would oppose the bailout if they knew who they were really being asked to rescue.

The case of Chrysler is particularly galling. That ailing company is owned by one of the richest hedge funds in the world, Cerberus Capital, and is home to more than a few Washington insiders, such as former VP Dan Quayle, and former Treasury Secretary John Snow, who was elected chairman of the company in 2006. How many Americans think handing over their hard-earned money to political bigwigs and multi-millionaires is unfair? I'm willing to bet it's a lot higher than 70%.

Indeed, how high would the number climb if people knew how much money Cerberus claims to make each year? From it's own website:
Cerberus holds controlling or significant minority interests in companies around the world. In aggregate, these companies currently generate over $100 billion in annual revenues.
Certainly the hedge fund does not receive all of that revenue, but it earns a healthy enough portion of it to commit $7 to $16 Billion of it to save it's own subsidiary.
Chrysler now is seeking a $7-billion bridge loan from the federal government to keep its business going, as well as an $8.5-billion loan from the U.S. Department of Energy to help make more fuel-efficient vehicles.
Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) has been thinking along the same lines and questioning why Cerberus refuses to use its own money to bailout the carmaking company it owns.
Corker spent much of his time sparring with Nardelli over the privately-held company asking for taxpayer help.

Cerberus invested $7.4 billion in August 2007 to acquire majority control of Chrysler from Daimler AG.

[...]

"Cerberus owns 80% of this company and has cash — lots of cash — that they are unwilling to put into this company," Corker said.

He also accused Cerberus of simply trying to buy time in order to merge Chrysler.

"It troubles me a little bit knowing that basically all we're really doing is providing a little capital for y'all to hang around long enough to get married," Corker said.
Strangely enough, begging Washington for money runs counter to Chairman John Snow's own prescription for Chrysler. Just last Summer, Snow stated:
Private investment is no magic elixir, but in certain cases like Chrysler, we believe it offers simply the best hope for restoring competitiveness to sectors of the U.S. economy that need it most. And stronger, growing companies are the best way I know of to provide job security, increase employment, raise living standards - and keep America's economy strong.
Oh what a difference a year makes.


Cerberus Capital is named for the three-headed hell-hound assigned to guard the gates of Hades. In Greek and Roman mythology, the spirits of the dead could pass on to the underworld, but Cerberus stopped them from leaving and kept the living out. Hercules (Heracles), as the last of his twelve labors, was tasked with capturing the beast without weapons. Upon successfully doing so and presenting his prize to Eurystheus, "[t]he terrified king trembling with fear, asked Heracles to take the monstrous beast back to the underworld, and if he did he would free the hero of his labors." Most fittingly in these circumstances, Cerberus also appears in Dante's Divine Comedy as guardian of the gluttons confined to the Third Circle of Hell.

Who will play Hercules this time? Who will send this hound back to guard its gluttons and will Congress then release us from our labors on its behalf? If polls are to be believed, then the American people have no qualms about leaving beast to tend to the dead. Perhaps our leaders will show a smidgen of the same fortitude.
 

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QandO
 
Wednesday, December 03, 2008

What Does the Chambliss Victory Really Mean?
Posted by: MichaelW
 
After narrowly missing an outright electoral victory on Nov. 4th (garnering only 49.8%), Chambliss managed to win a runoff by a wide margin on Tuesday. Predictably, pundits around the web are now trying to decipher just what that win means.

Some miss the mark entirely:
Last time I checked, 41% was a failing grade. Not so in the Senate it would appear. No, now that Chambliss has won, apparently having just 41 votes in the Senate is REALLY great news for Republicans and bad news for Democrats, especially President-elect Barack Obama.

On AC360 earlier David Gergen declared:

I think this actually puts a lot more pressure on Barack Obama to govern much more from the center and not from the left. He is going to need Republicans now, he is going to need a bipartisan approach...
Right, a 41 vote minority should by all means have Barack Obama shaking in his boots.
I didn't hear Gergen's interview, but he's right that Obama won't be able to get every piece of legislation he wants passed since the Republicans have (barely) maintained a cloture-proof (i.e. filibuster-protecting) margin of votes in the Senate. Of course, that doesn't mean that the Republicans will be able to close ranks on every vote, as it's almost assured that Senators such as Susan Collins of Maine will cross over on some bills. But Chambliss' victory does force Obama (really the Democrats) to govern more from the center than otherwise.

DKos is much more realistic about the race:
What yesterday's election definitely taught us is something we already knew — that Democrats generally perform better the higher the turnout. Too many of our core constituencies are low performing ones — racial and ethnic minorities and young voters. Obama got them out, and made Georgia close. Martin did not, and he got blown away in what is still a Red state.

Throw in the fact that Democrats acted like the mission had been accomplished (Obama couldn't be bothered to lend too much of a hand), and there was little reason for his supporters to put in a similar effort. It may have been smart politics for Obama, since it's hard to see how he could've helped close that much of a gap anyhow, but the example is set at the top. If Obama acts like a race isn't worth his time, then neither will his supporters.
The fact that Obama didn't lend much of hand to Martin is curious. Conservatives will tend to think it was because he didn't want to go mano-y-mano with Sarah Palin, especially when his candidate was coming from behind. I'm not so sure as it seems much more plausible that he was simply too busy running his transition team to be bothered with politicking for a marginal pick-up that wouldn't appear to change anything in the Senate. Winning the seat was always a longshot, and throwing your hat into the losing ring after two years of steady campaigning couldn't have looked too appetizing. And that's not to mention the fact that he just beat her in the Presidential Election pretty soundly, with many analysts claiming that Palin actually drove swing voters to Obama. Chances are then that he wasn't terribly worried about going up against her in Georgia.

On the other side of the spectrum, Erick Erickson sees the Chambliss win as another feather in the cap of Palin Power:
Both Sarah Palin and Barack Obama campaigned in Georgia. Palin flew all over the state rallying Republicans. Obama flew under the radar heavily targeting black voters, demanding support for Martin, and running heavy radio advertising on urban stations.

Ladies and Gentlemen, black voters turned out for Obama, but not for Obama's candidates. Remember that for 2010.

But folks, remember this too: Sarah Palin asked Republicans to turn out and they did. Of all the Republicans who campaigned for Chambliss, she was the only one that went all over the state for him. And it paid off.
Other than retaining the power to filibuster, Palin's influence on the outcome may be the most important aspect of the runoff. Judging from the numbers a week ago, Palin's presence appears to have turned a narrow four-point margin into a 16-point blowout. Some conservatives, and most Democrats, are discounting her impact on the race, although Chambliss himself says she's owed a lot of thanks. Having seen the passion she inspires in the GOP base, I tend to think that Palin is more important to the party's future electoral success than she's given credit for (a stance that apparently makes me "smitten" with her according to the NYT).

Meanwhile, Capt. Ed tends to think that the lack of Obama's presence in Georgia was a bigger factor in the blowout.
Momentum? That's an overstatement, but it does call into question the Democrats' standing after the Obama phenomenon. At least in Georgia, Obama had a lot more coattails than anyone credited. I originally predicted that Chambliss would win by six or seven points without Barack Obama driving the turnout model, but his absence created a difference of 13 points between the two elections. If that same dynamic holds true across the country in 2010, Obama may have an extremely disappointing midterm election and could find himself with at least one chamber of Congress under opposition control for the second half of his term.
Aaron Blake writing for The Hill echoes Capt. Ed's analysis, although he also notes that the Palin effect may have been significant:
Chambliss's margin of victory looks to exceed almost all runoff polling on the race, suggesting that the turnout models used in the polling overshot Democratic turnout without President-elect Obama on the ballot.

Martin appeared to suffer mightily from a lack of African-American turnout, which dropped from 30 percent of early votes four weeks ago to around 20 percent in the runoff.

[...]

The result could also speak to Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's (R) continuing appeal to her party's base, which is the focus of runoff turnout operations. Palin made several stops for Chambliss on Monday, just a month after she concluded a disappointing Election Day as McCain's running mate.
So was it an Obama fade or Palin Power that gave Chambliss such a boost? Most likely a combination of both. Preventing a filibuster-proof majority in Congress may have played some role as well according to Rasmussen:
Interestingly, nine percent (9%) of those who plan to vote for Martin say the prospect of a 60-Democrat Senate makes them less likely to vote for him. Only 2% of Chambliss voters who say it makes them more likely to vote for Martin.

Regardless of which factor had the most influence on the outcome, the Chambliss win pretty clearly shows that both Obama and Palin are important to winning elections for their respective parties. However, while Obama's impact is more obvious and accepted, Palin's is often derided or downright ignored, something I find inexplicable in the case of the GOP which is rather devoid of star power right now. Like or not, she's the only small-government conservative with any national presence, and possesses a political attitude for which the party base has been starved.

Getting away from the horse race aspects of Chambliss' victory, Chris Bowers offers some intelligent analysis about what it means in the big picture. Referring to Nate Silver's look at the numbers, Bowers highlights some concerns for Democrats:
Nate brings up a more disturbing possibility: Democrats are already in the hot seat in the mind of the electorate, and will lose seats in both 2010 and 2012 unless they make real progress turning the country around. In other words, if Democrats can't fix the nation's problems, the country will actually turn back toward Republicans, and there will be no two to four year grace period as I have previously surmised. The reason Nate's thesis is so disturbing is that a new Democracy Corps poll shows he is probably correct.
Prior to Nov. 4th, we made much the prediction that whomever won would be facing a daunting task over the next four years. Voters' memories are notoriously short. If the economy hasn't changed much, or gotten worse, in the next couple of years, then 2010 and 2012 will be an interesting year for Democrats. The Democracy Corps poll cited by Bowers suggests as much:
Q.32 Now I'm going to read you some pairs of statements. After I read each pair, please tell me whether the FIRST statement or the SECOND statement comes closer to your own view, even if neither is exactly right.

32 (SPLIT A) I'm more concerned that Congress will prevent Barack Obama from making the kinds of changes he thinks are needed, by playing politics and catering too much to the special interests
OR
I'm more concerned that the Democratic Congress will be too much of a rubber stamp for Barack Obama, and will push through Obama's programs whether they are good or bad

Agree first statement: 42%
Agree second statement: 49%

33 (SPLIT B) I'm more concerned that Republicans in Congress will obstruct Barack
Obama's agenda and prevent him from making the kinds of changes he thinks are needed.
OR
I'm more concerned that Democrats in Congress will be too much of a rubber stamp for Barack Obama, and will push through Obama's programs whether they are good or bad.

Agree first statement: 43%
Agree second statement: 48%
Bower's take on the above:
So, last night's results and the Democracy Corps poll showed that the country isn't going to dump on Republicans forever. There is no grace period when the country will still vote for Democrats just because they hate Republicans. Democratic hopes in 2010 and 2012 rest entirely on our governing record during the next two to four years.
Of course, Republican filibusters are going to played up as obstructionism to the "change we need", which talking point will be exploited with abandon if the economy is still in the tank in 2010.
In two years time, simply being a Democrat will no longer good enough to be elected. We have been hired in huge numbers to solve problems without Republican interference. If we can't do that, then the country will sour on us, too. As such, the way back for Republicans is straightforward: hope that Democratic governance does not turn the country around.
Ouch. If Republicans do take such a tack — i.e. openly rooting for the failure of Democratic policies, and wishing economic ill upon the electorate — then I expect Democrats will effectively drive the "obstructionist" wedge home, much like Republicans did to Democrats in relation to the War in Iraq.

My reading of the tea leaves says that the Chambliss election is little more than an exclamation point on the influence of Obama and Palin on their respective voter bases, and that the economy drives the next elections. If people aren't generally better off in two (or four) years, then the Democrats will be severely challenged in the mid-term elections, and possibly the next Presidential Election. Since it's exceedingly unlikely that the Democrats won't get at least some of their policies implemented, despite the filibuster threat, they won't have Republicans to blame anymore. Judging by some of the polls, people are wary of one-party rule in Washington, so they may be looking for any excuse to toss one house or the other to the Republicans if the Democrats can't deliver. Unless spending trillions of dollars more than the government has actually works, then come November two years from now the voters may do just that.
 

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QandO
 
"When she walks in a room, folks just explode"
Posted by: MichaelW
 
Sen. Saxby Chambliss won re-election in Georgia last night by a huge 16 point margin (at the time of this post), and heaped a great deal of credit on Sarah Palin:
"I can't overstate the impact she had down here," Chambliss said during an interview Wednesday morning on Fox News.

"When she walks in a room, folks just explode," he added. "And they really did pack the house everywhere we went. She's a dynamic lady, a great administrator, and I think she's got a great future in the Republican Party."

Chambliss said that after watching her campaign on his behalf at several events Monday, he does not see her star status diminishing within the party.

The Republican also thanked John McCain and the other big name Republicans that came to Georgia, but said Palin made the biggest impact.

"We had John McCain and Mike Huckabee and Gov. Romney and Rudy Giuliani, but Sarah Palin came in on the last day, did a fly-around and, man, she was dynamite," he said. "We packed the houses everywhere we went. And it really did allow us to peak and get our base fired up."
While many people still seem to write Palin off, based more on a caricature of her than anything substantive, the Republican base is as fired up about her as ever. Will that popularity last? It's hard to say, but it would do the Republican Party a lot of good to understand why she's so popular rather than dismissing her as some backwoods, country hick who can't hack it in the Big Leagues. The truth of the matter is that the GOP can't survive in the Bigs without her.
 

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QandO
 
Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Obama’s "Nixon to China" Approach To Governance
Posted by: MichaelW
 
Over at Obsidian Wings, publius theorizes that Obama's cabinet picks are designed less as a means of governing like a centrist than as a means to move the country left:
But a second, more optimistic, interpretation is that Obama is planning big change, and has decided these individuals will be the most politically effective advocates of reform. Let's call this the "Nixon to China" interpretation.

Let's assume, for instance, that Obama is in fact "throwing long." That is, he wants big change - e.g., new multilateral diplomacy; negotiations with Syria and Iran; and even cuts to the grotesquely-large and corrupting military budget. If these are truly his goals, then voices like Clinton and Gates and Jones will be powerful advocates indeed. It's not merely that they'll provide political cover across the national political spectrum. They'll also provide political cover to nervous Democrats who remain afraid of their own shadow on these issues. Winning over the latter is a precondition of winning over the former. (For instance, you can't have talks with Iran if half the Senate Dems are on TV saying it's a bad idea).

Same deal with the economic team. Who better to provide political cover (both nationally and within the party) for a massive public works program than a bunch of old Rubinites?

It's an interesting theory. At it's core, publius' idea is that Obama is merely co-opting centrist (and center-right) leaders in order to use their influence to buy the American public into his broad plans for creating a more progressive government. Ironically enough, this is what many on the right feared in the first place (and why a solidly Democratic government was always less tolerable than just Obama taking the White House) — i.e. that Obama would play to the center, but actually govern from the left. Publius may have gleened how the President-Elect intends to accomplish that goal.

However, when you bring potentially rogue players onto your team, you may not be able to execute the game plan you originally intended:
Of course, there is a risk to the Nixon to China strategy - namely, you might get a Nixon without a China. There's a very real possibility that these individuals (given their prior history and ideological leanings) will thwart this type of reform - or at least hesitate to really push for it. But if - just if - Obama can keep them on board, then these selections will prove to be an enormously savvy and effective strategy.
Regarding that last point, on a recent QandO podcast, Dale, McQ and I pondered why the hyper-partisan, legislation-driving, Rahm Emanuel was made Chief of Staff, which position did not seem particularly suited to his talents. I suggested that as co-ordinator of and liason to the cabinet and agency heads, Emanuel's talents are intended to be employed in corralling support for Obama's policy positions, and minimizing any dissent amongst the ranks. Publius theory would seem to support that idea.

Whatever it is that Obama truly intends to accomplish over the next eight to ten years, can there be any doubt that the direction will be decidedly and sharply left? And when both progressive and conservative bloggers infer the same endgame from Obama's moves, why should we doubt it?

The "Nixon to China" analogy is actually quite apt here, and equally foreboding. Recall that after the Sino-Soviet split, Nixon correctly saw improving relations with the Chinese as a way to gain a distinct advantage in the Cold War. The Soviets realized this too and eventually backed down somewhat (ushering a period of détente), while the new American-Chinese relations fostered an economic partnership that has become quite symbiotic. Similarly, recent GOP infighting has laid bare the thin gruel holding the different factions together, thus creating an opportunity for some of them to be peeled off and bought into Obama's vision. The social conservatives may anticipate that such coalitions will cast them out into the wilderness for a generation or more, but I doubt they will moderate their positions at all. If Obama can effectively trade some support regarding national security positions for the domestic/social engineering policies he wants to enact, there may be little to any formidable resistance to things like universal health care, a new Works Progress Administration, or drastic wealth transfers for quite some time to come.

There's little question at this time that the political pendulum has peaked and begun moving left. Frankly, I would argue than other than parts of Reagan's time in office, the pendulum base was tilted so as to ensure that it never passed much farther than barely center-right before swinging back to the hard left. Either way, there's nothing wrong with this sort of shifting political momentum, and indeed it's probably much more healthy than having to endure sudden and violent lurches to one side or the other. However, I seriously wonder if the electorate knows what's in store over the next several years if Obama gets his (apparent) wish? This swing to left will be quite hard, and accomplished at perhaps a greater velocity than we're used to. Can we withstand the ramped up g-force (as in "government")? I suppose only time will tell.
 

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QandO
 
Monday, December 01, 2008

Clinton Appointment Unconstitutional
Posted by: MichaelW
 
Amidst the hullabaloo surrounding Barack Obama's tapping of Senator Hillary Clinton for the post of Secretary of State a particularly important bit of information has been lost. Namely, the Constitution.
No Senator or Representative shall, during the Time for which he was elected, be appointed to any civil Office under the Authority of the United States which shall have been created, or the Emoluments whereof shall have been increased during such time
Art. I, Sec. 6 forbids the appointment of any congressman to a job such as Secretary of State where an increase in the "Emoluments" (meaning "salary" or "benefits of employment") for that job was approved during the congressman's immediately preceding term. Obviously, the point of the prohibition was to prevent federal legislators from creating sinecures for themselves at the expense of the public largess. As it so happens, the salary for the Secretary of State was increased during Clinton's term, but by Executive Order, making her appointment unconstitutional.

According to Prof. Michael Stokes Paulsen (via Eugene Volokh), how the salary was increased does not make Clinton's appointment any more legal:
Are there any legitimate escape hatches to this constitutional bar? Let's consider them quickly. First, does the fact that the emoluments of the office were increased by executive order, pursuant to a general authorizing statute, take the case out of the Emoluments Clause rule? Plainly not. The clause is written in the delightfully ambiguous passive voice that we always discourage in our law students. "shall have been encreased ... by whom, exactly?!" The clause does not limit the application of its rule to direct statutory enactments.

In the world in which legislation may be accomplished by delegation of general quasi-lawmaking authority to executive branch officials, there is no difference in legal principle between a direct legislative enactment and an executive order pursuant to specific legislative authorization. If pay increases may be accomplished, legally, by executive order, then those increases in emoluments fit within Article I, section 6's rule. If those increases occurred during the time for which Hillary Clinton was elected to the U.S. Senate, they disqualify her, regardless of when the general statutory authorization for such increases was enacted.

But wait! Wasn't the (probable) purpose of the Emoluments Clause to prevent congressional self-dealing in the form of creation of offices (or increasing their emoluments) and hoping to profit thereby by being appointed to such office? And isn't that purpose plainly inapplicable here? Perhaps. But the content of the rule here is broader than its purpose. And the rule is the rule; the purpose is not the rule.
Interestingly, Prof. Paulsen's analysis (and that of John O'Connor who is quoted below) leads to same result regardless of whether the salary increase comes via specific action by Congress or the President, or if by automatic operation of federal statute:
As I understand it, 5 U.S.C. § 5303 provides for an automatic annual increase in certain federal salaries, including the salary of the Secretary of State, unless the President certifies that an increase in salaries is inappropriate. The salary of the Secretary of State has increased during Senator Clinton's current Senate term, which does not end until 2012. Therefore, under a straightforward application of the Emoluments Clause, Senator Clinton is ineligible for appointment as Secretary of State because the emoluments of that office "have been encreased" during Senator Clinton's current Senate term, and this disability continues until the end of "the time for which [she] was elected, or until January 2013.

I do not believe it affects the analysis that the salary increase occurred as a result of an Executive Order or that the statute creating these quasi-automatic salary increases was enacted prior to Senator Clinton's current term. By its plain language, the Emoluments Clause applies when the office's salary "shall have been encreased," without regard to exactly how it was increased. Indeed, an early proposed draft of the clause included language limiting it to an increase of emoluments "by the legislature of the U[nited] States," and was later revised to encompass any increase in emoluments. It is worth noting that several Framers thought, without much explication, that the clause was too lax as initially drafted. The clause also does not require that a Senator or Representative have voted for the increase.
Prof. Volokh disagrees somewhat in that he thinks the so-called "Saxbe fix" may effectively render such appointments constitutional based on his reading of "increased":
Here's my very tentative thinking: I think the phrase "the Emoluments whereof shall have been encreased during such time" is ambiguous. It could mean "shall have been increased at least once," or it could mean "shall have been increased on net." If you're thinking about buying a computer, for instance, and you ask "Has the price of this computer been increased during the last year?," it seems to me quite possible that you would mean "Has it been increased so that it now costs more than it cost a year ago?," rather than "Has it been increased at all, even if the price hike was entirely rolled back a month later?" In fact, the "on net" reading strikes me as more plausible than the rival reading.
My reading mirrors that of both Paulsen and O'Connor, specifically since the plain meaning of the phrase "have been increased" indicates an action was taken to increase the "Emoluments" rather than referring to any sort of net gain. However, I basically agree with Prof. Volokh that the spirit of the law is not being broken, even though I think its pretty undeniable that the letter most certainly is. I'm also of the opinion that a Constitutional amendment that codifies the "Saxbe fix" is both desirable and necessary. Nevertheless, until such an amendment is ratified, appointments like that of Clinton to Secretary of State are plainly unconstitutional.

The question now is, what happens next? If and when Clinton is confirmed by Congress, in direct violation of the Constitution, what remedy is available if any?

There is a real question as to whom might have standing to challenge the appointment since, until Secretary takes some official action that directly affects the life of some American citizen, it's nigh on impossible to identify what harm is being redressed. You might think that every citizen is harmed when the Constitution is ignored (a position to which I'm sympathetic), but such a position would grant every one of us standing whenever any one of us had our rights violated, which would be an entirely unruly and unworkable state of affairs. By the same token, however, it seems like each one of us is harmed when Congress breaks what is essentially a contract between it and the governed, and that there should be a legal means of redress. My guess is that rather than any direct challenge to Clinton's appointment, we may instead see challenges to her authority and/or to the results of her carrying our the duties of the office:
Created in 1789 by the Congress as the successor to the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Department of State is the senior executive Department of the U.S. Government. The Secretary of State's duties relating to foreign affairs have not changed significantly since then, but they have become far more complex as international commitments multiplied. These duties-the activities and responsibilities of the State Department-include the following:

* Serves as the President's principal adviser on U.S. foreign policy;
* Conducts negotiations relating to U.S. foreign affairs;
* Grants and issues passports to American citizens and exequaturs to foreign consuls in the United States;
* Advises the President on the appointment of U.S. ambassadors, ministers, consuls, and other diplomatic representatives;
* Advises the President regarding the acceptance, recall, and dismissal of the representatives of foreign governments;
* Personally participates in or directs U.S. representatives to international conferences, organizations, and agencies;
* Negotiates, interprets, and terminates treaties and agreements;
* Ensures the protection of the U.S. Government to American citizens, property, and interests in foreign countries;
* Supervises the administration of U.S. immigration laws abroad;
* Provides information to American citizens regarding the political, economic, social, cultural, and humanitarian conditions in foreign countries;
* Informs the Congress and American citizens on the conduct of U.S. foreign relations;
* Promotes beneficial economic intercourse between the United States and other countries;
* Administers the Department of State;
* Supervises the Foreign Service of the United States.

In addition, the Secretary of State retains domestic responsibilities that Congress entrusted to the State Department in 1789. These include the custody of the Great Seal of the United States, the preparation of certain presidential proclamations, the publication of treaties and international acts as well as the official record of the foreign relations of the United States, and the custody of certain original treaties and international agreements. The Secretary also serves as the channel of communication between the Federal Government and the States on the extradition of fugitives to or from foreign countries.
In these times of the War on Terror, illegal immigration concerns, international treaties regarding climate change, and general globalization, the Secretary of State will have her hand in just about every important issue affecting American lives. Sooner or later someone will find that the Secretary's official actions have affected them personally, claim that she acted without proper authority, and attempt to have the offending action declared null and void. I don't know what official actions would give rise to such a claim, but if one were to be made, I think this would be the only viable avenue to (indirectly) challenge the appointment.

Meanwhile, Congress will have acted in blatant disregard of the Constitution (yet again), and nothing will be done about it. Not exactly a shocker, but dismaying nonetheless.
 

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