Wednesday, July 30, 2008
McCain vs. Obama: A self-image comparison
"In war and peace, I have been an imperfect servant of my country. But I have been her servant first, last and always. Whenever I faced an important choice between my country's interests or my own interests, party politics or any special interest, I chose my country. Nothing has ever mattered more to me than the honor of serving America, and nothing ever will.
"If you elect me President, I will always put our country first. I will put its greatness; its prosperity and peace; and the hopes and concerns of the people who make it great before any personal or partisan interest.
"We are going to start making this government work for you and not for the ambitions of the powerful. And I will keep that promise every hour of every day I am in office, so help me God."
Obama was waxing lyrical about last week's trip to Europe, when he concluded, according to the meeting attendee, "this is the moment, as Nancy [Pelosi] noted, that the world is waiting for."
The 200,000 souls who thronged to his speech in Berlin came not just for him, [Obama] told the enthralled audience of congressional representatives. "I have become a symbol of the possibility of America returning to our best traditions," he said, according to the source.
On Wednesday morning, House leadership aides pushed back against interpretations of this comment as self-aggrandizing, saying that when the presumptive Democratic nominee said, "I have become a symbol of the possibility of America," he was actually trying to deflect attention from himself.
Tuesday, July 29, 2008
In memoriam: Bary Edward Eagleson (11/20/56 to 7/15/08)
Two weeks ago, my family lost a very good friend. I've been searching sadly for words since then to write about him, and I'm not satisfied with these, but I don't want to delay making this post any longer, and they'll have to do.
Odds are, you didn't know him. If you and your family are lucky, though, you've known someone like him.
I'll start with these dry words from the Houston Chronicle, which I'll reprint here in full:
BARY EDWARD EAGLESON, age 51, passed away suddenly on July 15, 2008. He was a beloved husband, father, brother, son, and friend, and he will be sorely missed. He is survived by his wife, Guinn Blackwell-Eagleson; his sons, Jonathan and Christopher Eagleson; his siblings, Angela Nash, Amy Adkins, Gary, Hodge, and Alexander Eagleson and William Moult; his nieces and nephews, Nicole Adkins, Kyle, Erica, and Erin Eagleson, Benjamin and Daniel Nelson; and his mother, Lilly Eagleson. Bary was an active member of St. Philip Presbyterian Church, 4807 San Felipe, where a memorial service will be held at 10:00 AM on Saturday, July 19. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to United Campus Ministry of Greater Houston, 208 A.D. Bruce Religion Center, The University of Houston, Houston, TX 77204, or to your preferred charity.
Published in the Houston Chronicle from 7/18/2008 - 7/19/2008
It's not that there's anything wrong with what's said here. It's just that there was so much more to the man and his life than a standard obituary can reveal.
My family has known the Eaglesons since their oldest son, Christopher (who'll be a junior at Rice University this fall), and my oldest son, Kevin (who'll be a junior at the University of Houston this fall), were kindergarten classmates. Chris and Kevin were debate partners at Bellaire High School, and they've stayed close even though they're now attending cross-town rival universities. I know Bary was proud to see Chris at Rice, whence Bary obtained his civil engineering degree in 1978. Like his dad was, Chris is a member of Lovett College there.
In February of this year, I posted about my younger son Adam's accomplishment at a high school wrestling competition, and my post included photos of the Eaglesons' younger son, Jonathan. He and his parents joined my family that night for a celebratory dinner. Jonathan's teammates and their parents recognize Jonathan as a true star on the wrestling team, an inspiration for the rest of them — certainly including both Adam and my older daughter, Sarah (who are, respectively, a class behind and ahead of Jonathan). Watching Jonathan wrestle, it came as no surprise to learn that Bary and his brothers had wrestled back in their high school days too, and Bary obviously retained his enthusiasm for the sport. Indeed, Bary was not only the Bellaire wrestling team's No. 1 Fan and videographer, but essentially an uncredited and unpaid extra coach. I was looking forward to sharing some of the driving and cheering duties with him in the coming school year, during which I had hoped some of his knowledge of the sport might rub off on me.
Even my youngest daughter, Molly, has hung around with one or both of the Eagleson boys at my ex's house so often that Molly looks up to them as de facto big brothers. And I know my ex and I both embrace them as if they were our sons, just as our four kids have always been embraced by Bary and Guinn. They are all such fine kids, such good friends to one another.
Sarah said to me last week, after the funeral, that if she'd ever been in any sort of crisis or emergency in which for some reason, she couldn't reach me or her mom, she'd have called Bary. I'm pretty sure there are several other kids whose last names aren't Eagleson or Dyer, but who also had him at the top of the "parental backup" column in their mental lists of emergency contacts. Bary was a positive, vital role-model for them all. In short, his very untimely passing will affect many more families than just his own.
I was entirely unsurprised to see that St. Philip Presbyterian Church — where the Eaglesons worship, Bary was an Elder, and Jonathan is a Youth Elder — was filled to capacity for Bary's funeral service. It was standing-room only, even after additional folding chairs had been brought in alongside every row of pews.
Just before the funeral service got under way, I watched Bary's brother Hodge set up a video camera and tripod. My first reaction was, "Oh, drat, he ought not have to be doing that, someone else should take care of that." But then it occurred to me that Hodge is probably a lot like Bary, and if Bary had been there alive and in person, nobody could possibly have talked him out of shooting the video; he'd rather have been doing that than sitting on his hands, watching someone else do it. And if someone else had to do it, I'm sure Bary would have wanted it to be one of his brothers.
Pastor Bill Poe spoke warmly and familiarly of Bary, his family, and their faith and role in the church. One anecdote he told involved Bary's entirely tranquil reaction when someone who knew Guinn — or, more precisely, who knew her as the Rev. Dr. Guinn Blackwell-Eagleson, the Executive Director of the United Campus Ministry of Greater Houston, who has served as a Presbyterian Minister of Word and Sacrament in the Houston area for more than 20 years — managed to refer to Bary as "the Pastor's wife."
Bary's twin brother Gary then told — with humor and joy that I know to be characteristic of the Eaglesons — tales of Bary's youth, and of his relationship to his family both as a boy and a man. Bary was not only a beloved brother and son, but a favorite uncle to his nieces and nephews. And Gary proved not only that there is a segment of the human genome which transmits an affinity for painfully bad (which is to say, deliciously bad) puns, but also that it is a dominant gene, one that afflicted not only Bary but most likely his entire family.
Then Bill Canney, a co-worker from Aspen Technology, used words like "patient," "exuberant," and "upbeat" while describing Bary's professional life and his close relationships with both colleagues and clients. On at least one occasion when Bary had made a house-call to help a client revamp some software, the client's personnel later confessed to having secretly switched Bary's coffee to decaf, just so the rest of them could keep up with his energy level.
So far there are over three dozen tributes to Bary posted on AspenTech's Advanced Control & Optimization User Group Forum: "A geek's geek and a fine friend," reads one, and I know he'd have laughed and embraced that description. "The ultimate 'Can Do' guy," says another post. A client's post is titled "A Brilliant Engineer, Loyal Colleague & Dear Friend." Yet another: "Rare combination of Brilliant Worker & Great Teacher." It seems, in short, that I'm far from the only person who has felt compelled, despite the shock, to try to write something to mark Bary's passing in some personal way. That we may feel ourselves inadequate scribes does not detract from how remarkable his inspiration was, such that it's provoked us all to try.
This portrait drawn by others fits together neatly with what we knew, but my family and I didn't know Bary Eagleson through exactly their same contexts. Instead, we knew him, through our kids, as the beloved and ever-involved father to his own kids. So, just as those who spoke at his funeral testified how Bary was a worthy and invaluable brother and son and colleague and friend, I add my own testimony. It comes both from first-hand observation over a very long time, and from the compelling inferential proof provided by his two fine sons, whom I have been privileged to observe grow into spectacular young men. And it is simply this:
Bary Eagleson was one heck of a dad. Ultimately, that is about as high praise as any man can hope for.
I very much wish now that I had known Bary even better — that I had made more effort to do that. It always seemed like there would surely be more time for that.
But there aren't any such guarantees, at least not in this world. My assumption was wrong, and that opportunity is gone.
I know the Eagleson family is much comforted by their faith. That is altogether fitting and proper. Their knowledge that they will be reunited with him in the next world certainly must be a greater and more lasting balm than any words that I or anyone else could write or say. Yet they surely cannot help but feel, as a gaping and unexpected hole in the fabric of their lives as lived in this world, the sudden absence of a husband and father whose youthful, dynamic presence we all took for granted.
Bary's sudden death was just a gob-smacker, the kind of stunning blow that you can't ever be prepared for. His life, lived very well but not long enough, is an inspiration, but his sudden death has knocked a whole bunch of people for a loop.
Two weeks later, I'm gradually concluding that yet another way in which Bary's life was valuable was displayed, paradoxically, by his sudden death: We're each one of us, and each one of our cherished friends and loved ones, never more than an unexpectedly burst blood vessel away from death. That's part of the package deal we know and experience as "life." And if we let that important fact slip our minds, we'll likely fail to make the most of what we have of it.
Thank you, Bary, for your sacrifice to help remind me, and so many others who your life touched, of that rough, unpleasant, and invaluable lesson.
We miss him. We mourn him. Guinn, Christopher, and Jonathan — when you read this, use it as a reminder that Jeanne, Kevin, Sarah, Adam, Molly, and I all love you, and we cherish your presence in our lives. May God bless you and keep you. You'll always be in my prayers.
Regardless of his ranking among Senate liberals, Obama is the Most Dangerous Liberal in America
Ramesh Ponnuru on The Corner links Josh Patashnik at The New Republic, who — contra the ranking by National Journal, which tagged Obama as the "Most Liberal Senator of 2007" — links a "separate and more elaborate ranking system, developed by highly regarded political scientists Jeff Lewis and Keith Poole," which asserts that Obama is merely "the 11th most liberal senator in 2007 and 21st most liberal in the previous Congress." Patashnik's key sentence (link in original, bold-face mine):
Obama clearly belongs to the party's liberal wing rather than its centrist contingent — he's essentially said as much — but he's not close to being the Senate's left-most member.
Most of Patashnik's piece is devoted to criticizing the National Journal's system for ranking, and some of his criticisms are probably valid. I'm not embracing that system, nor the Lewis and Poole system, and indeed, I'm intensely skeptical of them both.
For one thing, Lewis and Poole rank John McCain as being more conservative than either of my home-state senators, and that's ridiculous. In the non-mathematical, entirely subjective Beldar Index, McCain's leadership of the group of GOP senators who capitulated to Democrats in the Gang of Fourteen deal on judicial nominees, for example, counts a whole lot more than a "typical" Senate vote, even though the joke of a written agreement memorializing that deal wasn't itself counted as a floor vote. So, too, the Beldar Index gives disapproving weight beyond just the floor votes cast to McCain's leadership on so-called "comprehensive immigration reform" that would have granted effective amnesty to illegal aliens without ensuring border security first. But both of those episodes are indeed genuine, undeniable examples of McCain actually "working across party lines" — something Obama claims to champion, but has actually never done in the U.S. Senate, at least not at any risk to his standing in his own party.
(A third example, on which I actually agreed with McCain, was his championing the cause of normalization of relations with Vietnam during the Clinton Administration; his Democratic Party counterpart in that effort, John Kerry, took no risk of political heat from that, but McCain certainly did, and to this day there are POW families who fervently insist that McCain "sold them out.")
I've often faulted McCain for lack of consistent adherence to conservative principles, but I've never faulted him for lack of courage. Contrast that to Obama's astonishing number of "present" votes as an Illinois state senator. Contrast that to Obama's craven refusal to cross MoveOn.org, dKos, and the other Angry Left netroots in any important respect before he'd sewn up the Democratic nomination.
Nevertheless, there certainly have been quite a few GOP senators who've been consistently to McCain's left — Sens. Olympia Snowe (R-ME), Susan Collins (R-ME), Gordon Smith (R-OR), and Arlen Specter (R-PA) immediately pop to mind, and good arguments can be made for a handful of others. Are there also Democratic senators who have been to Obama's left on a more or less consistent basis? I don't think so. The Beldar Index gives Obama at least a tie for "Most Liberal" along with Ted Kennedy (D-MA), Russ Feingold (D-WI), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), and Tom Harkin (D-IO).
But I don't think it actually much matters whether Obama has been "the Most Liberal Senator." Frankly, he's never been effective as a leader in the Senate. However liberal a member of the Democratic Party's "liberal wing," he's never led that wing in any successful endeavor, and in fact, since 2007, he's missed so many votes that as a practical matter, he's been among the liberal senators who are least dangerous to conservative causes.
What's important is simply this: Both on matters of domestic policy and national defense/security, Obama is absolutely, positively, and without any doubt the most liberal of the major-party presidential nominees. In terms of his practical real-world dangerousness, once he became a major party's presidential nominee, Barack Obama catapulted over liberal Senate lions like Kennedy, silly liberal House wannabes like Nancy Pelosi, bloated has-been liberals like Al Gore, and other ruthless liberal would-be presidents like Hillary Clinton.
Regardless of his rank among Senate liberals, Barack Obama is now the Most Dangerous Liberal in the United States. And that's the bottom-bottom line of the 2008 presidential election.
Sunday, July 27, 2008
Palin versus Obama at Landstuhl
Some politicians only bother to undertake good deeds when they can bring their campaign reporters and photographers. Others are more decent and less craven.
In July 2007, Gov. Sarah Palin (R-AK) traveled to a U.S. military base in Kuwait to visit Alaska National Guard soldiers who provide logistical support for our operations in Iraq. On her return trip, she stopped to visit wounded troops at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany.
Although most of the many photos I've re-published of Gov. Palin have come either from press sources or the Alaska gubernatorial state website, the particular photograph I re-published of her at Army Private James Pattison's bedside (which I include again below) was taken by an official U.S. military photographer (Airman 1st Class Kenny Holston) and published on the internet on the website of the Alaska Department of Military & Veterans Affairs.
As far as I know, although Gov. Palin helped lead her high school basketball team to the state championship, she did not attempt a three-point basketball shot on her trip to the Middle East and Germany. Nor did she presume to solicit support from the citizens of Berlin.
But here are a couple more pictures of her visiting injured Alaskan soldiers at Landstuhl, again from the same military photographer and website:
Above, Gov. Palin visits with Army Sgt. Maj. Clifford Docktler.
Above, Gov. Palin visits Army Pfc. John Kegley.
Friday, July 25, 2008
Questions about Obama as a foreign affairs rock-star versus subcommittee chairman
When the Democrats gained majority control of the U.S. Senate in January 2007 based on the results of the 2006 elections, Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) was named chairman of the Subcommittee on European Affairs of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Its jurisdiction is formally defined to include the following matters (boldface mine):
The subcommittee deals with all matters concerning U.S. relations with the countries on the continent of Europe (except the states of Central Asia that are within the jurisdiction of the Subcommittee on Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs), and with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the European Union and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Matters relating to Greenland and the northern polar region are also the responsibility of this subcommittee.
This subcommittee's responsibilities include all matters within the geographic region relating to: (1) terrorism and non-proliferation; (2) crime and illicit narcotics; (3) U.S. foreign assistance programs; and (4) the promotion of U.S. trade and exports.
Yesterday, Sen. Obama spoke at length in prepared remarks to an enormous crowd in Berlin. No less than eight paragraphs in the speech, each beginning with the phrase "This is the moment," contained exhortations to America's European allies to cooperate with America — specifically, an America soon to be led (he presumes) by Barack Obama as its president — in achieving a broad range of important goals. For example:
This is the moment when we must renew our resolve to rout the terrorists who threaten our security in Afghanistan, and the traffickers who sell drugs on your streets. No one welcomes war. I recognize the enormous difficulties in Afghanistan. But my country and yours have a stake in seeing that NATO’s first mission beyond Europe’s borders is a success. For the people of Afghanistan, and for our shared security, the work must be done. America cannot do this alone. The Afghan people need our troops and your troops; our support and your support to defeat the Taliban and al Qaeda, to develop their economy, and to help them rebuild their nation. We have too much at stake to turn back now.
Besides our joint anti-terrorist efforts through NATO in Afghanistan, Sen. Obama's exhortations included strengthening global institutions; fighting terrorism elsewhere in the world; promoting nuclear nonproliferation; promoting the European Union and its cooperation with Russia; promoting "free and fair" international trade; promoting peace between Israel and Palestinians and among Iraqis; stopping global warming; and giving hope to those "left behind" by globalization. The subjects addressed in Obama's Berlin speech, in fact, closely paralleled the all of the subjects for which his Senate subcommittee has been given specific responsibilities.
So why has Sen. Obama presided over only one subcommittee meeting since he became chairman — and that one not until April 8, 2008, over fifteen months later? And why was that meeting limited to discussion of the pending nominations of five ambassadors (to Finland, Slovenia, Cyprus, Bulgaria, and NATO)?
Does anyone seriously doubt that Obama's main reason for presiding over even this one hearing was in an attempt to shut up those of his critics (including Hillary Clinton) who'd been harping for months and months over his apparent stupor as chairman? Once Obama had wrapped up the Democratic presidential nomination and he'd obtained, via the April 8th hearing, some fig-leaf he could point to as evidence of his work as a subcommittee chair, then Obama went back to AWOL status, and thereafter even the routine business of considering more European ambassadorial nominations had to be shunted back to the full committee level.
Given this history: Why, besides his rock-star charisma, should our European Allies take Sen. Obama as being remotely serious about, or competent to deal with, any of these matters? He's paid no substantive attention to them in his real job as a U.S. Senator, despite these matters having been explicitly placed within his senatorial responsibility at the beginning of January in 2007.
Why should American voters consider Obama's spewing of paragraph after paragraph of platitudes while campaigning for president of the United States in Berlin, Germany, to be an indication of his fitness to deal with foreign affairs as POTUS? Shouldn't they look instead to the real work — or rather, the utter absence of any real work — he's done on foreign affairs as a U.S. Senator with a seat and an important subcommittee chairmanship on the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee?
Let's be charitable to Sen. Obama and assume that there might be other members of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee who've been as negligent and inattentive as he's been. Doesn't that still mean that Sen. Obama is, at best, tied for last place as the very worst and most irresponsible member of the U.S. Senate in dealing with foreign affairs?
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Did Bobby Jindal claim to have performed an exorcism?
In comments to a post on Outside the Beltway entitled McCain to Pick VP This Week: Romney or Jindal?, someone commenting under the name "Hal" quipped: "McCain/Jindal '08: Because The White House Needs An Exorcist!"
Now, that's typical moonbat twaddle that I'd ordinarily ignore, but a couple of comments down, another blogger, Dr. Steven Taylor, whose integrity I respect, chimed in with a comment saying: "Not just a belief in exorcism, btw, but as Hal alludes, Jindal claims to have performed one." (Italics his.)
That's completely wrong, and I left a comment saying so. But I became curious, which in turn, led me to track down and read Jindal's entire 1994 article in the New Oxford Review (accessible by subscription or $1.50 one-time fee here), "Physical Dimensions to Spiritual Warfare." In it, Jindal described his presence at, and complex reactions to, an event involving a fellow student who some present concluded had been possessed by a demon which some present attempted to exorcise. In succeeding comments, I added quotes and links — including some incidental opinions about Gov. Bill Richardson (D-NM)'s lack of serious foreign policy credentials and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act — in what turned into a lengthy argument with "Hal," who eventually demonstrated that he can't or won't distinguish a "Hail, Mary" from an exorcism ritual.
Fairly read, Jindal's article is a well-written and moving description of his own confusion, concern, self-doubt, and fears as he was struggling with issues both spiritual and concrete. But as for his participation in — much less performance of — a purported exorcism, these paragraphs seemed to me to convincingly refute any such suggestions (boldface mine):
Knowing that I was doing Susan no good, I quickly retreated to the opposite side of the room. Susan proceeded to denounce every individual in the room, often citing very private and confidential information she could not possibly have known on her own. It was information capable of hurting individuals — attacking people, as she did, by revealing their hidden feelings, fears, and worries. The night was just beginning!
The students, led by Susan's sister and Louise, a member of a charismatic church, engaged in loud and desperate prayers while holding Susan with one hand. Kneeling on the ground, my friends were chanting, "Satan, I command you to leave this woman." Others exhorted all "demons to leave in the name of Christ." It is no exaggeration to note the tears and sweat among those assembled. Susan lashed out at the assembled students with verbal assaults.
Though I attempted to maintain a stoic attitude and an expressionless face, my inner fear must have been apparent to all present. I was the only one present who remained silent and apart from the group.
I repeated to myself that such things do not happen to normal people. I had attended a charismatic church once, out of curiosity, but had merely seen a congregation dance wildly, pray enthusiastically, and speak in a language that sounded like gibberish. I wondered how the horror unfolding before my eyes could make any sense. I desperately wanted it all to end, but could not leave.
Then the fear and doubts began. Though I have experienced the normal periods of questioning, I have never come so close to abandoning my faith as I did that night. I could not pray to God. I tried as hard as I could, but I couldn't. Out of desperation, I called upon the saints to articulate my prayers and rescue me from this living nightmare. Though I had never prayed with the saints before, I began to understand the Church's teaching of the unity within the One Body. I pleaded with the saints in Heaven to offer God the prayers I was unable to formulate.
These paragraphs describe an informal spiritual ceremony, a lay attempt at something like exorcism (no clergy were present), that Jindal watched, found intensely troubling, and prayed about — not something that he led or even participated actively in, but something that he deliberately stood physically and spiritually apart from. In a later paragraph he emphasizes that he does "not have the answers" to questions like "Can a Christian be 'possessed'?" And his final paragraph eloquently summarizes his own inconclusive reactions to the purported possession and exorcism (boldface mine):
I left that classroom with a powerful belief in Mary's intercessions and with many questions about spiritual warfare; I also learned a lasting lesson in humility and the limits of human understanding. Was the purpose of that night served when so many individuals were inducted into the Church? Did I witness spiritual warfare? I do not have the answers, but I do believe in the reality of spirits, angels, and other related phenomena that I can neither touch nor see.
It is inconceivable that someone who claims to be an exorcist himself, or who is representing that he "performed" or even participated in a successful exorcism, could write that paragraph. The article thus not only fails to support Steven Taylor's assertion, but refutes it. Nevertheless, you can read my exchange back and forth with "Hal" if you'd like to see how anti-religious bigots with few scruples for the truth can and will mock someone of faith like Jindal.
I'll repeat here, however, one more sentiment that I stated there:
I have zero doubt whatsoever that were Jindal to become McCain's Veep nominee, and were the netroots to continue to harp on this issue, Jindal could very effectively shame them for doing so with every American who has an ounce of decency and an ounce of respect for the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, regardless of their personal religious beliefs.
Looking more deeply into this particular episode deepens my respect for Gov. Jindal, whose own words are indeed his own best advocate, even when he's describing his own very subjective doubts, fears, and hopes.
UPDATE (Tue Jul 22 @ 6:10pm): Prof. Bainbridge quotes Dr. Joyner's original post, which refers to Jindal's "belief in things like exorcism," without further comment on the exorcism subject, but he goes on to quote from U.S. News & World Report an impressive list of facts about Gov. Jindal and his qualifications in urging Sen. McCain to pick him as the GOP Veep nominee. Separately, in comments here and on his own blog, Dr. Taylor has walked back from his statement that Gov. Jindal claims to have performed an exorcism, but he still asserts that Gov. Jindal "partially participated" in one, which I think is still an overstatement. Nevertheless, my regard for Dr. Taylor remains intact. Finally, I ran across this on Catholic doctrine regarding exorcisms, and I can't vouch for its accuracy or authority, but it appears to include a warning about lay attempts at exorcism issued by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who of course is now Pope Benedict XVI. Basically, such "imprecatory exorcisms" (as distinguished from more general prayers to be freed from the influence of demons) may only be done by a priest with permission of a bishop. Unless we presume that Jindal was attempting an act forbidden by official Catholic dogma, then, it seems to me that this is yet another reason to doubt that he was voluntarily attempting to participate in a lay exorcism, much less perform one himself.
Monday, July 21, 2008
And the band marched on
On Outside the Beltway, Dr. James Joyner posted today a story (with an embedded video clip that, alas, appears to have already been zapped from YouTube) entitled Army Band Hit By Skydiver, Marches On. It reminded me of an incident that I witnessed in Austin at the Texas/Texas A&M football game during Thanksgiving Weekend in 1974.
I was a high-school senior visiting the UT-Austin campus where I planned to enroll the next year. And I already had my application on file to join the Longhorn Band's trumpet section (following in the footsteps of my older brother), so I was certainly looking forward to the halftime performance of the Showband of the Southwest (not pictured below!).
It was a cold, blustery day, and the portents were grim. A&M entered the game as heavy favorites with only one prior Southwest Conference loss (to SMU) and a high national poll ranking. The Longhorns' season, by contrast, was already a comparative disappointment that included a remarkable loss to Baylor in Waco. Eaking out a tie for second place and spoiling the Aggies' post-season bowl plans was the best we UT fans could hope for. But the Texas/Texas A&M game was, after all, a yearly rivalry that dates back to 1894, the third-longest among NCAA Division 1-A teams. Whatever's happened earlier in the year, neither school ever has any difficulty in gathering up enthusiasm to play the other.
If I recall correctly, the Ags fumbled the opening kickoff and it was returned by UT for a touchdown. The Horns kicked off again, and on the Ags' first or second play from scrimmage, Texas intercepted and ran it back for a TD. Again Texas kicked off, but after another Aggie fumble, their stunned defense managed to hold the Horns to a field goal. Thus was the highly-favored A&M team down by 17-0 less than two minutes into the game. The game went on to be a UT rout, 32 to 3. With the loss, the Aggies' Cotton Bowl plans evaporated, and in fact they went to no bowl game at all that year. (The Horns went on to the Gator Bowl, which but for the lesser bowl prestige, the LHB vastly preferred to yet another trip to Dallas for the Cotton Bowl anyway).
The Aggie Band, however, insists that they have never lost a half-time, no matter what the scoreboard reads. And by some very specific and narrow standards, that's probably true. Although we in the Longhorn Band often kidded and teased the Fightin' Aggie Band, beneath that we held a genuine respect for their great tradition and their marching precision. As to their creativity and their overall musicianship, eh, not so much. But they did the particular things which they prided themselves on doing very well indeed.
In particular, the Aggie Band drills and drills on marching in big, traditional block-band formations — none of this modern stuff with curved lines! Precise six-to-five strides, straight lines, and sharp corners are their stock-in-trade every year. Per a Wikipedia entry:
The Fightin' Texas Aggie Band (also known as The Noble Men of Kyle or the Aggie Band) is the official marching band of Texas A&M University. Composed of over 400 men and women from the school's Corps of Cadets, it is the largest military marching band in the world. The complex straight-line maneuvers, performed exclusively to traditional marches, are so complicated and precise that computer marching simulations say they cannot be performed.
Almost always, the final rank of the Aggie Band is filled with spectacularly polished sterling silver-finished sousaphones (which are basically tubas reshaped by John Phillip Sousa for marching) that gleam in the sunlight. All the members of the Aggie Band make crisp military turns, but the sousaphone players execute two exaggeratedly sharp 90-degree turns during every counter-march: Stomp-WHIRL!-stomp-WHIRL!
The photo above is from the 2007 Texas/Texas A&M game, and I think their uniforms as shown there may have changed substantially since 1974. But this photo gives you some idea of how impressive their merging rows of marching brass can be — especially those sousaphones, which are generally carried by especially beefy young men.
On this ill-fated day for the Aggies in 1974, however, one of their bandsmen — a senior, so identifiable by his beautiful and highly polished riding boots, and by his position on the far west of his rank, closest to the home-field press box — had apparently failed to tighten carefully the set-screws that attached his sousaphone's bell to the rest of the instrument. Or perhaps he had assembled it perfectly, but there was a materials failure in the screws or the flange. In any event, as his rank finished one of the Aggie Band's signature counter-march maneuvers, he snapped off one crisp 90-degree stomp-and-pivot, performed the second stomp, and immediately executed the second whirl — at which moment his instrument's entire bell detached itself from the rest of the tubing that wrapped around his body and was flung violently into the air.
The bell sailed a good ten yards in the air, vivid silver flashing against the green astroturf. It landed on an edge, twirled in a circle, and finally rolled to a rest. The entire Aggie Band continued marching down-field without it. The poor senior remained on that same exposed, trailing corner of the block formation, looking oddly decapitated. The 60,000+ Texas fans rose as one, howling with laughter and pointing. But to the Aggie senior's credit, he kept his composure, pretended nothing had happened, and finished the rest of the performance without a missed turn or any other screw-up.
After the Aggie Band finished in its traditional manner — a mass, screaming charge to the sidelines upon an abrupt cut-off in the "Aggie War Hymn" — that silver sousaphone bell still remained on the field, just outside the near hashmark at about the 20 yard-line. The crowd waited. And waited. Wally Pryor, the Memorial Stadium announcer and the Voice of the Longhorn Band, waited too. The Longhorn Band, as representatives of the home team, was to perform next, but the LHB drum major was not about to lead it onto the field while that silver bell remained. The Aggie Band had put it there; the Aggie Band was going to have to see to its removal, and there weren't going to be any distractions permitted.
Finally, some poor Aggie Band underclassman was dispatched to run out onto the field and retrieve the bell — again to laughs, jeers, and cheers from the hugely amused and highly partisan fans. The competition with the Aggie Band always sharpens up the LHB's own marching, and on this day, they both entered and left the field triumphant.
"Pooo-oooor Ag-gies," the Longhorn crowd sang near the end of the game. I sang along and laughed too, but I certainly empathized more with the poor Aggie sousaphone-playing senior than with the Aggie football players. I hope that guy, whoever he was, went on to a great career and a great life, and that he has a great sense of humor. If, as is likely, he served as an active-duty military officer, I would bet that everyone and everything under his command remained button down and screwed on tightly.
Sunday, July 20, 2008
MSM covers up both Obama's arrogance and imprecision in interview gaffe during Afghanistan/Iraq trip
Today on CBS's Face the Nation, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., in Afghanistan, told the paparazzi-pursued correspondent Lara Logan that "the objective of this trip was to have substantive discussions with people like President Karzai or Prime Minister Maliki or President Sarkozy or others who I expect to be dealing with over the next eight to 10 years.
"And it's important for me to have a relationship with them early, that I start listening to them now, getting a sense of what their interests and concerns are."
The notion that Obama will be dealing with world leaders for eight-to-ten years, possibly up through July 2018, suggests that either (a) he believes that not only will he be elected and re-elected, but the 22nd amendment will be repealed and he will be elected for a third term, OR (b) he was speaking casually and just meant two terms.
If Barack Obama is this cocky and this sloppy now, when he's not yet even the official nominee of his party, then just how much more insufferable and how much more reckless will he be if he actually does become president of the world's only remaining superpower?
Why does this report appear on ABC News' political blog, "Political Punch" — where, at best, it will be seen by a few thousand political junkies who get their news from the net — instead of as a headlined story on ABC News' homepage?
The ABC News homepage's "top story" about Obama today is actually an AP report entitled "Barack Obama Meets Afghan President Hamid Karzai," and it makes no mention of the gaffe — but it does manage to quote another of Obama's statements from the same CBS News interview in which he made the "eight-to-ten years" remark, so the AP writers must have heard the gaffe. Similarly, MSNBC manages to quote from the CBS News interview, but found neither the Senator's arrogance or imprecision newsworthy. The New York Times also manages to quote other lines from the interview without revealing Obama's blunder. Ditto for the Washington Post.
And as for CBS itself, the Tiffany Network, the network of journalistic standards personified by its long-time anchor Dan Rather? Well, over there it's: "Scoop? What scoop?" CBS News' own website article about the interview includes the gaffe as part of a transcript of Obama's full interview with Logan (as does its ten-minute embedded video clip) but its prefatory news analysis doesn't bother to point out the fact that the would-be next president of the United States either doesn't know how long he might serve (absent a constitutional amendment), or else doesn't care enough to be precise in describing the potential outside limits of his service in that office.
And the CBS Evening News played parts of the interview in an almost six-minute clip, but Obama's gaffe somehow found its way onto the editing room floor rather than onto the air again. Ironically, the last two minutes of the CBS Evening News clip is all about how the media are giving Obama almost twice as much coverage as McCain. It ends with a solemn warning that with this level of intense scrutiny, Obama's slip-ups "could hurt his candidacy and give him the kind of media coverage he doesn't want."
Oh, please. The peals of laughter from the editors who included those lines in the segment — after cutting out Obama's gaffe — must have been extremely dangerous, perhaps risking the rupture of several internal organs.
For pete's sake, the gaffe was in response to a question about whether Obama is too inexperienced in foreign affairs — which would include being too gaffe-prone when speaking without a teleprompter — to "lead the country at war as commander in chief from day one." Can't he reasonably be expected to answer that question without screwing up? And if he can't, isn't that in itself newsworthy?
I don't think Jake Tapper is the only MSM reporter smart enough to know that presidents can only serve two terms in office. I don't think he's the only one smart enough to figure out that two times four is eight, not "eight to ten."
I know I'm not the only person around who remembers the media hurricane that began immediately after Gerald Ford's remark about Poland in the 1976 presidential debates, and that lasted through (and possibly tipped the outcome of) the 1976 presidential election. That gaffe, however, played directly into the narrative of the leftist elites and the mainstream media, who treated this as Gerald Ford helplessly confirming Chevy Chase's previous SNL impersonations of Ford: Poor man, too many blows to the forehead boarding Air Force One.
Imagine if McCain had been either this cocky or this sloppy in a major interview with a national media outlet on a trip being covered round-the-world like the Second Coming. Is there any chance that a McCain gaffe like this could have failed to be quoted in headlines in every mainstream media news outlet?
UPDATE (Mon Jul 21 @ 7:30am): Andrew McCarthy points out that "the truly scary thing about what the Messiah said is that he no doubt figures it's Maliki and Karzai who will be out of power within ten years, not him."
Friday, July 18, 2008
"Most popular politician in the country," a hockey mom from Alaska, is indeed in "the realm of the possible" as McCain's Veep choice
It's not quite all-Palin all-the-time at BeldarBlog, but I'll forgive you if you draw that conclusion. I'm as hungry for inspiration as anyone else who's planning on voting for McCain next fall, so the natural subject on which to seek inspiration is his pending choice of a running mate.
Apropos of which, from today's WaPo Politics Blog, "The Fix," comes this analysis as part of the Friday Veepstakes Line:
McCain's choice is whether to throw a "short pass" or a "Hail Mary."
The short pass candidates are people that McCain is personally close to or would fit an obvious need for him. Choosing a "short pass" candidate would be a signal that McCain believes he can win this race without fundamentally altering its current dynamic. Among the "short pass" names are: Govs. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota and Charlie Crist of Florida, former governor Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, former Rep. Rob Portman of Ohio and South Dakota Sen. John Thune.
The "Hail Mary" option would suggest that McCain believes that he has to shake up the race with an entirely unexpected and unorthodox choice that would carry great reward and great risk. It's the opposite of a safe pick. Among that group: Govs. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Sarah Palin of Alaska.
Columnist/blogger Chris Cillizza goes on to handicap both the Veepstake races thusly (with each number one ranking representing his view of the current most likely pick):
DEMs: (5) Hillary. (4) Slow Joe Biden (D-DE). (3) Sen. Jack Reed. (Who? Oh, yeah, the senior senator from Rhode Island, who's accompanying The Chosen One and erstwhile GOP straight man/clown Chuck Hagel to Iraq and Afghanistan.) (2) Gov. Tim Kaine (D-VA). (1) Sen. Evan Bayh (D-IN) (my Dem Veep-nominee prediction from last year).
GOP: (5) Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (yay!). (4) Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.). (3) Former Rep. Rob Portman (R-OH). (2) Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R-MN). (1) Former Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA).
Further on Gov. Palin, who's new to his lists this week, Cillizza writes (boldface mine):
Palin's name doesn't appear on many vice presidential lists but if you believe that McCain needs to make a totally out of the box choice, she fits the bill. Palin, elected in 2006 on a reform platform, may well be the most popular politician in the country, and her story — former high school basketball star and beauty queen, mother of five including a newborn with Down's Syndrome — is the sort of narrative American voters could fall in love with. Plus, picking Palin would send a message to disaffected Democratic-leaning women that McCain is paying more than lip service to the notion of changing the face of the Republican party. (Previous ranking: N/A)
The main problem I have with Cillizza's analysis is the "Hail Mary" metaphor — a sports analogy that refers to a game-ending play required by desperate circumstances, and hence a play that actually is quite predictable. I agree that McCain has to "shake up the race," and that he "can[not] win this race without fundamentally altering its current dynamic," but I don't agree that choosing Gov. Palin would carry "great risk." Instead:
Where she's objectively weak — lack of decades of experience, lack of foreign policy experience — McCain himself is overwhelmingly strong already.
Where they dove-tail — as fiscal conservatives, and as self-styled reformers and mavericks unafraid to take on established interests within their own party — they're likely to find very receptive audiences. By pairing her own record with his, they would have a powerful rebuttal to the "McSame" label that Obama needs to pin on McCain.
Where he's objectively weak — lack of executive experience (running something larger than his own campaign or a naval aviation squadron), lack of trust among movement conservatives, and most of all, lack of excitement to counter Obamamania — Palin is objectively strong.
McCain doesn't need a gravitas transfusion, and he can certainly hold up his end on foreign policy. On those counts, McCain himself can outmatch both Obama and whatever reassuring figure Obama picks as his own Veep nominee. But McCain desperately needs a connection to both younger and more jaded voters who are likely to simply tune him and his entire campaign out altogether — regardless of its policy content or his personal character. And Gov. Palin could and should become their joint campaign's voice — an overwhelming positive, enthusiastic, and knowledgeable voice, from a personal background that both figuratively and quite literally represents the future — on what's likely to be the number one domestic issue this November: the price at nations' gas pumps in particular, and its energy policy in general.
I'm glad that MSM outlets like the WaPo are adding to the Palin buzz, as is my home-state senator John Cornyn (who recently included a Palin op-ed on energy and ANWR on his own campaign blog). But I'm even more heartened to see that Gov. Palin is shown aboard the McCain campaign bus, amidst other speculated GOP Veep nominees, in JibJab's new video, Time for Some Campaignin'. (I also love Obama riding the pretty unicorn over the Rainbow of Change.)
When asked about her Veep prospects last week at the National Governors' Association convention, Gov. Palin didn't exactly deny that she's received inquiries from the McCain campaign, but she brushed off the reporter's inquiries with a rhetorical question (ellipsis in original):
AK Gov. Sarah Palin (R): “I can’t say that I’m on the short list. They, the officials in the campaign, haven’t told me I’m on any short list. … I really doubt that such a thing would happen. Gotta keep this in perspective: I’m a hockey mom from Alaska. Do you really think that it is even in the realm of possibility?”
Palin also says she invited McCain to visit ANWR.
Not all long bombs are Hail Marys, where your best hope is a prayer and a lot of luck. Sometimes you throw the bomb, the unexpected and unconventional long pass, all the way down the field even when it's not the fourth quarter and even if you're not behind. Sometimes you do it precisely because it's unexpected, maybe on a first-down from mid-field in the second quarter, because you believe it's the best way to score. Picking Palin would not be desperate politics; rather, in this context, for this campaign, it would be smart and aggressive politics.
McCain picking Palin is indeed in the realm of the possible. But better yet, it's in the realm of the genuinely inspirational.
Sunday, July 13, 2008
Obama picks Hagel as his travel buddy for Iraq
Last year, I wrote of Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE):
It's not that I think he's unpatriotic. It's that I think he's too stupid to be left alone in a room with a book of matches.
So to demonstrate his bipartisan bona fides, and to illustrate his willingness to seek wisdom and judgment from across the aisle as well as from
MoveOn.org his own party caucuses,
who has the Chosen One selected to accompany him on his historic fact-finding tour to Iraq?
Yes, in addition to a reliable piece of deadwood from his own party who can be guaranteed not to outshine the star of the trip, Obama has chosen the Republican senator whose own amply demonstrated past bad judgment about the Iraq war most closely duplicates Obama's own.
It's a pity that Bozo the Clown died, but in all likelihood, Obama will be happier with Bozo the Senator along anyway. If Obama's still cadging cigarettes in secret on this trip, however, let's hope, for the safety of everyone around them, that he keeps the matches or cigarette lighters safely out of Hagel's reach.
UPDATE (Mon Jul 14 @ 10:40am): I didn't know that in January 2007, Hagel was quoted as saying that the surge would be "the most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam, if it's carried out." Given that position, Mickey Kaus asks: "Is [Obama] trying to deflect attention from his own poor surge judgment ("the surge has not worked") by bringing along as a lightning rod someone whose judgment was even worse than his?"
Saturday, July 12, 2008
R.I.P. Dr. Michael DeBakey and Tony Snow
I've heard this morning already news of the deaths of two Americans, one prematurely and the other after a full life, but both remarkable men.
Dr. Michael DeBakey was a legend who forever changed both cardiovascular medicine and the City of Houston. Exactly three years ago this week, I was in the cardiac care unit at The Methodist Hospital, and as such I was the very direct beneficiary of the legacy he built there and at its affiliated medical school, Baylor College of Medicine. And he died there last night, of natural causes, at age 99 — after a full life of singular professional distinction. I doubt any single physician or scientist is likely to have so phenomenal an impact on medical science in the 21st Century as he did in the 20th.
Tony Snow, by contrast, died far too young, struck down at age 53 at the peak of his career. I cannot help but think that his death to cancer was a tragic loss not just to his family and friends, but to our entire country. But for his illness, I wonder how much more effective the Bush Administration's second-term communications with its constituents might have been.
Friday, July 11, 2008
Gramm's right, McCain's wrong, but Gramm and I will both vote for the grumpy old man anyway
Okay. I understand why it's politically expedient to throw Phil Gramm under the bus.
But Gramm — who has a PhD in economics, who taught that subject at Texas A&M for many years before entering the U.S. Senate, and who knows damn well what the definition of a "recession" is, and that under that definition we still haven't been established to be in one (except according to pseudo-economists who are eager to throw long-established bright-line definitions overboard in order to get press interviews) — is exactly right.
So this, by McCain, is a disgraceful act of disloyalty by a man who should know better.
What McCain ought to have said:
Sen. Phil Gramm is a professional economist, and under the classical definitions of that academic discipline that define the term "recession," he's unquestionably correct. I've known him personally as a close friend for many years, and I value him as an advisor, in large part because he also understands how broad economic measurements taken for the country at large can still be dramatically at odds with what jumps out at us in our everyday lives. In our everyday lives, paying more than $4 per gallon of gas makes us feel poor, even though hundreds of millions of over-taxed Europeans would think that's a bargain. In our everyday lives, someone whose spouse has just lost his job because the company he worked for has moved its manufacturing plant to China feels like her family isn't just in a recession, but a depression, regardless of what the nation-wide statistics say.
I've said over and over again that I'm not satisfied with how our economy is doing, and I intend to make serious changes when I'm president, starting with our energy policies. I need the American public to rally behind me, to whip this do-nothing and always-say-no Congress into shape. Phil Gramm's been taken out of context here, but I count on him to continue giving me economic advice. Regardless of what the press may say, I know he knows both the theory of economics and the practical reality of hard times. And I'm going to rely on his expertise and challenge him to provide every bit of his creativity in returning our economy to its peak performing condition, which has been and will again be the envy of the entire world.
McCain is a grumpy old man. I would bet good money some handler told him he needed to denounce Gramm's remarks, and maybe even Gramm, and McCain gave in when in his heart, he probably knew he ought not. I'm going to vote for McCain, but if I spent a week in his company, while I suspect at the end of it we'd end up good friends, we'd likely have also had at least two shouting matches en route thereto, because I lack the patience and good judgment of someone like John Cornyn. Neither of us would have changed our minds.
I hope McCain is elected, but if he is, I fully expect to harbor these same feelings at the end of his presidency.
UPDATE (Fri Jul 11 @ 11:10pm): Several of my commenters have pointed out, and I agree, that Gramm was off base in referring to Americans as "whiners." I suspect he was trying to say something to the effect that many Americans have absorbed the mainstream media's consistent overly-pessimistic portrayal of the economy, and are therefore more pessimistic than either the national statistics or their own circumstances and experience would justify. This is emphatically true with respect to the Laurie Davids of the world, who bash Bush for ruining the American economy while they continue using the ample proceeds from record-setting premium cable TV programming to fly Gulfstreams to Davos. And nationally, from the top of the economic pyramid to the bottom, we're more acutely aware of some economic changes than others: Most of us wince at the $4+/gallon pump prices for gasoline, yet we don't feel a corresponding and offsetting amount joy from being able to buy an incredibly advanced DVD player at Walmart for less than $70.
So yeah, there's a kernel of truth even to the impolitic "whining" comment. Yet McCain's pronouncements on the economy are almost indistinguishable from Laurie David's or, for that matter, Barack Obama's. That's a capitulation to an over-reaction, and it does the American public a disservice.
I'm not at all suggesting that McCain run as Herbert Hoover. But neither should he let Obama run as FDR. For pete's sake, it's not 1929 (which my father still remembers), nor even 1979 (which I still keenly remember!). Our economy is still, quite literally, the envy of the world, the standard to which all others aspire but none has matched.
Instead, my advice to him is this: "Man up, McCain, on economic issues like you have on national security and foreign policy issues. You're a warrior, seeking to lead a nation of strivers. Quit buying into Obama's victimology vibe. (And quit being a jerk to your friends like Gramm. To use a metaphoric example that will make sense to those who've read your book, McCain: You just stole Gramm's washcloth, and you should be ashamed.)"
McCain should say: "I shall go to Alaska! (And I will take along the press!)"
I tend to agree with Hugh Hewitt's characterization of Richard Baehr's opinion piece entitled How McCain Could Win as "best column of the day." In particular, regular readers will recognize some of these same arguments as having previously appeared on this blog, among other places, but Baehr stitches them cogently and concisely (boldface mine):
So who would help the ticket most as a VP selection? One interesting choice would be Alaska's very popular Governor, Sarah Palin. She would be an immediate media sensation and rob the Obama campaign of its monopoly of saturation media infatuation. Given the way the media was perceived to have ganged up on Hillary Clinton, there might be much greater care about avoiding doing it again with Palin. Of course Palin would be challenged for her youth and inexperience in foreign policy matters. But the reality is that Palin, unlike almost all US Senators (including Barack Obama), has actually run something, and with 84% approval for her job as Governor, seems to be running it well. Jimmy Carter, Michael Dukakis and Bill Clinton all ran for President directly from service as Governor. Raising the experience issue with Palin would be a risky strategy for the Obama campaign. After all, Palin would only be running for the #2 spot, and Obama, with arguably less of a track record, is running for the top spot. Palin would also be very effective in helping focus the energy issue, and the need to explore and drill for what we have in this country. [Gov. Palin] could take McCain to ANWR and give him reason to shift on that issue.
I want to re-emphasize and expand quite a bit on that last point. (Included is a map, and another picture of the photogenic Gov. Palin.)
Remember that in 1952, Dwight Eisenhower's entirely successful campaign position on the then-raging Korean War, and indeed on Cold War foreign policy generally, boiled down to one sentence in one famous speech: "I shall go to Korea."
So campaign travel, or even campaign promises to travel, can be awfully important. Now, of course, Sen. McCain has already been to Iraq many times since the 2003 toppling of Saddam's regime. But there's speculation that Barack Obama will use his upcoming trip to Iraq as a basis for pivoting, or at least swiveling somewhat, on his previous hard-line "out of Iraq in 16 months" campaign promises. He'll say that he's returned to the U.S. with a better appreciation for the "situation on the ground" in Iraq, by which he'll really mean he's finally paid attention to experts like Gen. Petraeus (whose presentations and evaluations he's previously scorned when given in their Senate testimony here).
I believe Sen. McCain should likewise travel to Alaska, where he can not only be tutored by experts like Gov. Palin, but he can also assess both the "situation on the ground" and the actual, literal ground.
Now, I don't know how much time, if any, Sen. McCain has spent in Alaska. Simply getting anywhere there by air from anywhere in the Lower 48 will impress upon the traveler how remote it our 49th state actually is, and how vast. Once across the state line, however, surely he'd want to be hosted by the state's governor, so he and his press entourage should naturally stop in Juneau or Anchorage to pick up Gov. Palin.
To travel from either of those cities to the southern border of the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve (pictured right: click to enlarge, because the to-scale red rectangle that represents the proposed development area is comparatively tiny), Sen. McCain, Gov. Palin, and the press corps would still have to cross even vaster territory that is still mostly unpopulated and undeveloped. En route, Gov. Palin could help Sen. McCain and the press corps acquire an education about, and overfly examples of, environmentally sensitive energy development already being done in other parts of Alaska. They certainly could see plenty of Alaska's still undeveloped and magnificent natural beauty.
And even after they crossed into ANWR, they'd still have to travel quite a long way to get to the northern coastal areas that are under discussion for potential energy development. And when they finally get there (probably having switched to much smaller aircraft en route), John McCain and the press will have had a first-hand chance to compare those almost lifeless and mosquito-infested mudflats to the rest of the magnificent Alaskan wilderness they'd seen previously.
At that point, Sen. McCain, and perhaps members of the press, may be suddenly struck with an epiphany (as was Jonah Goldberg when he also went there; check out his photos, too): Just because something is "pristine" doesn't mean that it's "precious" or "delicate," and these particular mudflats are neither.
Let Sen. McCain and Gov. Palin then hold a joint, televised press conference — during the Continental 48's prime time, because it will still be nice and bright there in July near the Arctic Circle, with no TV lights needed. Then and there from the ANWR mud flats, let Sen. McCain announce himself as Convert No. 1 in new GOP Vice Presidential Nominee Palin's campaign to explain to Americans how we can choose not be victims in the present-day energy market. Let him promise that among her other roles, she'll be the energy czar in a McCain-Palin Administration.
Then let him sit down, and let Sarah talk.
Let her explain to the public — in the simple, vivid language of a smart, practical hockey-mom turned state governor — how we can help solve our future and our current energy problems by making intelligent, prudent decisions to expand onshore and offshore drilling in and around the U.S., including in Alaska and ANWR. Let her explain how that's only part of the solution; you also have to clear away unnecessary and unreasonable barriers to transportation of existing types of energy, and to encourage research into new types of alternative energy sources so the market can work there too.
Let her explain how, by contrast, the Obama campaign's energy "program," such as it is, is all about victimology. (Obama's energy themes: We're victims of the bad oil companies, who need to be taxed; we're victims of global warming, so we need to cap our lifestyles and tax ourselves more heavily; we were victims of reckless resource exploitation in the past, so we must be frugal victims, falling behind growing economies like China's and India's, as we prohibit even responsible development today.)
Let her explain how, as a life-long hiker, camper, hunter, and fisher in Alaska, she rejects the false choice between being a good steward of the environment and making responsible use of the resources contained in our own vast, rich nation.
And then let the Obama campaign spin in small, sputtering circles, wondering how they lost their mojo and why the number of hyperventilation cases at his
rock concerts campaign appearances is dropping so rapidly.
Wednesday, July 09, 2008
Funniest thing I've heard this month
Fox News reports that lots of blog posters on my-obama-dot-whatever have written there that, based on Obama's policy reversals on such things as FISA telecom immunity, they've been calling his party headquarters demanding refunds of their campaign contributions.
Refunds. From the campaign. Seriously.
(They'd have much better chances calling their telecoms to ask for refunds for something, anything.)
Sunday, July 06, 2008
Brilliant idiocy on energy from Democratic über-policymaker Robert Reich
A short piece entitled "Short Straw Economics" in today's NYT Magazine (h/t Althouse) contains questions to and answers from Robert Reich. Reich was Secretary of Labor for the Clinton Administration. He's currently in exile from government as a professor of public policy at UC Berkeley. And the odds are good that he'd show up as a cabinet member again in an Obama Administration. Here's what Reich has to say on the most timely topics of public energy policy today (boldface in this blockquote, as in the original, indicates the NYT reporter's questions):
What do you make of the argument that the only way to lessen our dependence on foreign oil is to tap more oil wells here — in Alaska and off the coasts of Florida and California? When you consider that the oil we pump goes into a global oil market, offshore drilling makes no sense. We take the environmental risk, but we’d have to share the negligible price gains with Chinese consumers and every other user around the world.
Then why do you think President Bush asked Congress last month to lift the longtime ban on offshore oil drilling? If I had to guess, I would say that President Bush is very close to the oil companies and wants whatever they want.
And what they want is license to drill? I think they would like as many licenses and permits as possible granted during the Bush administration. They know they would have a harder time with a Democratic White House.
That first answer tickles the hell out of me.
He's correct that because of the world-wide energy market, in which barrels of oil are fungible as long as the market is operating with a reasonable degree of freedom, Americans would indeed share with the rest of the consuming world the lower resulting costs from decisions made now to drill ASAP onshore and offshore in America. In other words, Americans would become to the rest of the world the way that Texans and Louisianans are now to Californians and Floridians — i.e., exploited. ¡Qué lástima!
(We Texans and Louisianans try to use that word "exploited" in a good way, though: offshore drilling, done responsibly, brings not only energy to America but jobs and economic benefits to the adjacent onshore states, which is one reason the Texas economy right now looks a hell of a lot better than the California economy. We invite Californians and Floridians to join us in the responsible exploitation of all our coastlines, which is only fair, instead of continuing to get a free ride at our expense.)
What this very smart man is ignoring in his first very glib answer, though, is something so huge that he can't have just forgotten about it. And only by ignoring it can he so cheerfully lie to you through his teeth in his second and third answers.
Short of invading and occupying all or at least most of the nations in OPEC by military force, we can't dictate their production and pricing decisions. And OPEC is a cartel whose existence confirms its member countries' fervent desires to control the supply, and therefore the price, of oil to the extent they can get away with it. It has not, historically, been a totally successful cartel, however, precisely because there are non-OPEC sources of oil — among which is, and always has been, the United States of America.
Reich's policy — and all of the Democrats' policy, including their presidential nominee Barack Obama — will continue to restrict American competition to OPEC. In their preferred future world, as our existing resources dwindle, OPEC's market share will grow. With that growing market share will also grow OPEC's power to be a successful cartel.
And as we saw in the early 1970s, the foreign policies of OPEC members (and for that matter, non-OPEC producing countries that are as friendly to us as Canada and Mexico right now) emphatically does not track our own. If there's a sudden political crisis that again turns today's merely painful energy prices into an actual international energy unavailability, the degree to which we're hosed (and forced to compromise our national sovereignty as a result) will be inversely proportional to the amount of domestic onshore and offshore production then available from the United States and its territorial waters.
Until Reich and his comrades actually succeed in vesting power in the People's Republic of Berkeley and then the Sovereign Soviet Republic of California, however, the State of California, at least in theory, doesn't have a foreign policy that deviates from the United States' own. And until then, domestic production from offshore California would translate directly into domestic security from those who might suddenly wish us (or our friends like Israel) ill.
Our energy policy isn't, or ought not be, just about prices at the pump. It's about, or should be about, national security as well.
Reich knows all this. Indeed, he cleverly reinterpreted the question, which asked about "dependence on foreign oil," into being a question about lowering prices at the pump. Only with the question thus recast could he ignore the "dependence on foreign [countries]" aspect.
He relies upon his readers being either too stupid or (more likely) too partisan to figure this out, though. And for many of Reich's and the NYT's readers, unfortunately, he's right. They'll blithely buy into his song and dance about corrupt Dubya and the evil American oil companies (he'll be intentionally blurry about companies like BP and Shell). They'll rejoice with him when the Democrats ride to the rescue on America's energy problems by driving evil Dubya and the Rethuglicans out of the White House. In fact, Reich and the Dems — who have no actual energy policy except taxation and suffering — are counting on short, stupid sound bites like these to soothe Americans' energy worries and get Obama into 1600 Pennsylvania, whence all other Democratic Party jobs will then flow like mana from heaven, even if domestic oil and gas production more and more flows like cement during those years.
Being, metaphorically, a self-created and -preferred urban eunuch himself, Robert Reich will cheerfully counsel his Democratic masters to put my testicles or yours (or your other sensitive metaphorical bits, if you're not testicularly fortitudinous like me and Hillary Clinton) into OPEC's vise. His ideal population is docile, and they ride on mass transit anyway, where their movements can be monitored and controlled by people like him, who know best. Not that Reich or his buddies still have a complex about being short, by the way. Not at all.
(I can't resist a final comment: In any kind of public debate, Sarah Palin could eat Robert Reich's lunch on these issues. Hell, she could take away the little twerp's lunch money and drink his milkshake to boot.)
The important point that Kennedy v. Louisiana proves about Boumediene v. Bush
This is a post in which I attempt to connect some dots between two awful Supreme Court decisions. As usual, I meander a bit en route. You can skip to the numbered paragraphs and the bold-faced stuff near the end if you grow impatient.
Friday night, on the anniversary of our nation's independence, I much enjoyed the televised presentation from Washington of the Marine Drum and Bugle Corps and the National Symphony playing a series of John Phillip Sousa marches. Some of them — "The Washington Post" and "Semper Fidelis," and of course "The Stars and Stripes Forever" — I still have (mostly) memorized from my trumpet-playing days in the Longhorn Band during college and law school. Thus, the fingers on my right hand twitched as I listened, and in my imagination at least, I could still hit and hold all the high notes, and my double- and triple-tonguing was immaculate. I'm a fan of many, many types of music, and that includes marches like Sousa's written for the classic military band.
Inevitably, I was reminded of the old cliché: "Military justice is to justice as military music is to music." Military music and military justice are splendid indeed, and their learned practitioners are certainly worthy of respect. But they aren't to everyone's taste, and (to pick another artistic metaphor) they tend to be rendered on a more limited shape and size of canvas, using a more limited palette of colors. Sousa isn't famous for emotional violin solos or jammin' electric lead guitar riffs.
I'm reasonably certain that I never heard a single professor do much more than briefly mention the Uniform Code of Military Justice while I was at law school or taking my bar review course. I've never been in the military, and I lack the special legal training that military lawyers receive when they join any service's Judge Advocate General's corps. The bits and pieces I know come from a couple of real-life cases back in the early 1980s and the mid-1990s that required me to dip a civilian toe, as consulting civilian counsel, into the edges of those waters (to switch metaphors once again). One of those cases involved allegations that a male Army officer had raped a female Army officer, and the other involved a homicide among enlisted personnel that may or may not have been criminally culpable. Both cases potentially involved capital charges — indeed, the alleged rape case also involved allegations of oral sex, which was treated as "sodomy" under the UCMJ at the time and was also potentially a capital crime. Even all these years later, taste and privilege issues still prevent me from going into more detail about either case, even though each was among the most fascinating I've ever seen. But regarding military law in general and the UCMJ in particular, I'm perhaps a step ahead of the average American civilian courtroom lawyer or judge in that I'm quite confident about how little I know that I would indeed need to know to be an effective JAG lawyer on a regular basis.
I'm therefore completely unsurprised that in connection with the Supreme Court's decision late last month in Kennedy v. Louisiana, both sides, all the amicus briefs, and all nine Justices and their respective law clerks missed the 2006 passage of an amendment to the UCMJ which made child rape potentially a capital offense. Probably none of those lawyers themselves had been JAG lawyers, nor had they dealt with UCMJ capital cases, and they just didn't think to look at that unique and slightly obscure subset of American jurisprudence through which Congress directs our military forces how to maintain their own system of justice in parallel to the civilian justice system. Yes, someone should have thought of it; yes, it's embarrassing to them all that nobody did.
The Supreme Court's legitimacy depends not only on the substance of its rulings but also on the quality of its deliberations. That's why we think the court needs to reopen this case — even though we supported its decision. The losing party, Louisiana, still has time to seek a rehearing, which the court could grant with the approval of five justices, including at least one from the majority. The court could limit reargument to briefs on the significance of the UCMJ provision. We doubt the case will come out much differently; we certainly hope not. But this is an opportunity for the court to show a little judicial humility. Before the court declares its final view on national opinion about the death penalty, it should accurately assess the view of the national legislature.
There assuredly will be a motion for rehearing filed, and even if there's not, the Court could consider reconsidering the case on its own, sua sponte. But only a naïve wanker would expect the Emperor of America, Mr. Justice Anthony Kennedy, or any of the other four Justices who joined his opinion for the majority, to actually change their votes. At most, those five will permit limited supplemental briefing by both sides. There won't be additional oral argument. And in short order, Justice Kennedy will write a short supplemental opinion. It will announce the denial of rehearing. It will try to explain why the laws that America, through its Congress and president, has chosen to apply to its own uniformed sons and daughters are nevertheless absolutely meaningless data points in the SCOTUS' determination of America's "evolving standards of decency."
Regular readers will know that I'm a strong proponent of the death penalty for appropriate cases. Were I a state legislator, however, I probably would not support its imposition for any sort of rape case. But nobody's elected me to a state legislature, and a majority of the state legislators of Louisiana, along with its then-governor, came down in favor of giving juries the option of imposing the death penalty for the most egregious child rapes. I condemn this Supreme Court ruling, as I have all of the Supreme Court's recent Eighth Amendment decisions that purport to be based on "evolving standards of decency." That entire line of cases is a transparent lie, and an example of the most pernicious sophistry that lawyers can create: How else but through double-talk and evil magic could the least representative branch of either the federal or state governments strip the most representative branches of their intrinsic power to weigh, and then determine, what community standards are to be, and whether and how they ought to "evolve"? (Insert obligatory references to Orwell and Goebbels here.)
In his confirmation hearings, Chief Justice John Roberts talked repeatedly of the importance of "judicial modesty." In this ruling, as in several others in the past few years, Anthony Kennedy has not only joined but led the liberal wing of the Court down paths of gross judicial immodesty. What was Roberts talking about? He was talking about the exact opposite of what Kennedy's busy doing.
The abundantly plain truth is that rulings like this one come from nothing more or less than Anthony Kennedy's sense of how things ought, in general, to be. He's acting as an emperor, not a judge. And the fig leaves of judicial reasoning in which he's surrounding his decrees become increasingly transparent with each such ruling.
Kennedy v. Louisiana is a clear example of the imperious judiciary, but in the big picture, it's not nearly as important as Justice Kennedy's travesty of a majority opinion this Term in Boumediene v. Bush. In that decison, with no directly supporting precedent and a trampling of such close precedent as was on point, Justices Kennedy, Stevens, Souter, Ginsburg, and Breyer extended American constitutional rights to foreigners held by the American military on foreign soil who are alleged to have engaged in illegal warfare against America entirely from abroad. But even though it lacks international or national security significance in and of itself, Kennedy v. Louisiana does indeed prove an important point about Boumediene and the Justices who decided it — a point that I haven't seen anyone else note yet:
It is impossible to dispute that during the course of this Term, Justice Kennedy and all eight of the other members of the SCOTUS were obliged, by the necessity of making a ruling in Boumediene, to consider the ins and outs, the nuts and bolts, and all of the pros and cons of the comprehensive statutory system — passed by majorities of both houses of Congress and then signed by the president — for the express purpose of providing both substantive and procedural justice to the detainees held at Gitmo and elsewhere during our nation's waging of the Global War on Terror.
That system was expressly modeled upon, and in most of its substantive and procedural complexities it adheres to, the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
Every member of the Court, and every one of their law clerks and staff members — including each of the five Justices in the Boumediene majority — have now been conclusively proven by their screw-up in Kennedy v. Louisiana to be utterly ignorant of even such important details about the UCMJ as what crimes under it are punishable by death.
Friends and neighbors, the same Justice Kennedy who's been shown a fool on UCMJ matters in the civilian Kennedy v. Louisiana case could not help but be equally a fool on remarkably similar matters in Boumediene v. Bush. Five of the same Justices who didn't know enough about the UCMJ to know that it currently allows for capital punishment for child rapes nevertheless felt righteously, omnipotently competent to plunge themselves and the rest of the civilian federal courts into overturning — and then taking over, via their habeas corpus powers — the UCMJ-based system for determining the fates of these military prisoners.
The emperor is not only naked — he's now shown himself to be capable of stupid and ugly acts, too.
Wednesday, July 02, 2008
Why committing now to begin drilling ASAP will indeed affect the oil price now
I wrote last week, without bothering to do any online research or include any links, about why under basic economic principles, what we do now (or choose not to do now) affects present expectations about the future supply of oil, and why those expectations do indeed affect the current price of oil.
Now Martin Feldstein — a Harvard economics professor who was chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under President Reagan — has an essay in the Wall Street Journal making exactly the same points in commendably simple language.
This really is basic economics. It's intuitive. It's entirely within the potential grasp of the average voter who's even moderately interested in testing the validity of the Dems' insistence that "we can't drill our way out of this."
How much of an impact on today's prices we can have by changing the market's expectations about supply and demand in the future — well, that is in large part a question of how definitive and credible the changes are that we make today. Half-measures aren't going to make very significant changes in those expectations. But bold ones will.
Tuesday, July 01, 2008
Palin would give voters grounds to consider the 2008 GOP Veep nominee on more than the three traditional occasions
Writing in the New York Observer, Steve Kornacki methodically disputes the purported benefits that Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty might bring to the second slot behind McCain on the GOP's 2008 ticket. I came away with a better impression of Gov. Pawlenty's appearance last Sunday on ABC's "This Week with George Stephanopoulos" than Kornacki did — Kornacki says his repetition of McCain talking points was "utterly formulaic," and that "on television Pawlenty looks, sounds and acts like a generic, uninspiring and thoroughly forgettable politician" — but then again, my more positive impression may have been mostly the product of my extreme distaste for that most slippery and slimy of Democratic talking heads who was appearing opposite him, Rep. Rahm Emmanuel (D-IL).
One of Kornacki's observations, though, jumped out at me — and indeed, struck me as being a mostly valid piece of conventional wisdom that may nevertheless not be true of all of McCain's potential Veep nominees:
Most voters will probably think about McCain’s vice presidential candidate only three times: when McCain announces his choice, when the VP candidate addresses the Republican convention, and during the VP debate in the fall.
I think those are indeed the three occasions on which most Veep nominees do get the most public attention and thought. And the corresponding piece of conventional wisdom, as a corollary to this one, is that the guiding principle of Veep selections should be to avoid a major blunder. Conventional wisdom, in other words, is very much in keeping with the opinion of FDR's one-time vice president John Nance Garner of Texas, to the general effect that the vice presidency is not worth a "warm bucket of [spit]."
But is this really true? Does it have to be true forever?
Maybe so. As things have actually turned out during my own lifetime, vice presidential nominees haven't ended up counting for much. John Edwards, picked by John Kerry as an utterly conventional choice to help carry southern states, couldn't even carry his home state in 2004 and, if anything, drove up the Democratic ticket's negatives in ways that helped produce an all-time record GOP turn-out. A recession that, with the benefit of hindsight, we now know had already ended by Election Day and the third-party candidacy of political kook Ross Perot did far more to defeat George H.W. Bush's reelection than either his own re-nomination of widely (if unfairly) lampooned Dan Quayle or Bill Clinton's pick of the cataclysmically dull Al Gore in 1992. And the Reagan-Bush ticket in 1984 would doubtless have swamped Walter Mondale even if he hadn't picked, in an obvious political ploy, a poorly vetted and objectively unqualified Geraldine Ferraro as his Veep nominee. Even as razor-close as the 2000 election was, few think that it was influenced in any meaningful way by the Cheney versus Lieberman match-up.
But maybe not. I'm thinking that all that history, and the conventional wisdom that attends it, could be overturned if McCain makes a bold choice this year. And yes, gentle readers, I'm talking of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin — again. (My past pro-Palin posts, with many pix, are here, here, and here.)
Unlike Mondale's selection of Ferraro — a congresswoman from New York whose only distinguishing credential besides her lack of a Y-chromosome was her husband's shady real estate dealings — McCain's selection of Palin can be easily justified on grounds other than political pandering to identity politics. Simply put, Palin is one of the rising stars of the GOP without regard to her gender, but based instead on her record as a capable and articulate state chief executive — especially with respect to energy matters, which promises to be the number one domestic issue of 2008.
Palin's positions on energy have been central to her rapid advancement in Alaska, but they're also pitch-perfect for a national audience: Demonstrably pro-environment (with the credibility of an avid and lifelong hunter and fisher). Demonstrably pro-development (with the credibility of someone who's spouse has actually been a blue collar production operator on the North Slope). Demonstrably pro-competition and independent (with the credibility of someone who's also tweaked the major oil companies' noses and set them to competing against one another in transparent public bid processes). And demonstrably anti-corruption (with the credibility of someone who rose to office by exposing the too-cozy good old boys of her own party and then beating them at the polls like rented mules).
Even as I'm writing this, Gov. Palin has half the Alaska Legislature meeting in special session in remote Barrow, Alaska, the actual source of the oil revenues that fund 90% of Alaska's state budget. They're holding hearings on her natural gas pipeline proposal that would increase competition among the big oil companies doing business there and permit Alaska's own major population centers, along with the Lower 48 states, to benefit more directly from its energy resources. Simultaneously, she's acting with the governors of California, Oregon, Washington State, and the premiere of British Columbia Province to form the Pacific Coast Collaborative for cooperation on environmental matters.
In short, she can credibly claim to have done more even just this week to address the need for more domestic energy supplies, without environmental betrayals, than Barack Obama has in his entire lifetime.
(As far as I know, the only specific energy proposal Obama's made has been to impose a windfall profits tax on American energy companies, which would cripple them in world-wide competition; and he's also vaguely suggested that we should submit the American economy and American lifestyle to some sort of referendum among the very foreign countries who'd quite literally kill to achieve American-type economies and lifestyles.)
Hoover Institute research fellow Bill Whelan makes a persuasive case for Palin, as quoted in Investor's Business Daily:
Whelan says McCain faces a balancing act in trying to appeal to each of his "three constituencies: conservatives, independents and the political press corps."
His job is made harder by the public's low regard for congressional Republicans and the party's few experienced big-state governors.
While he doesn't see any perfect fit, Whalen does see logic in naming Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.
If Obama doesn't pick Hillary Clinton or another woman as his running mate, a Palin pick would be "mud in your eye to Democrats," Whalen said.
A former basketball star and mother of five who has strong reform credentials, Palin "is a People magazine story waiting to happen," Whalen said.
While I don't advocate that McCain pick Palin mainly or even in large part because of her gender, there surely can be no doubt that the nomination of a major-party vice presidential candidate who's a woman, but who's been chosen primarily on meritorious grounds irrespective of her gender, would be an historic and thrilling moment.
In short: If McCain wants a Veep nominee who's a real asset to the ticket, and who will explode Kornacki's conventional wisdom about the three times voters will focus on his vice presidential pick, then I think Sarah Palin's just the dynamite to do that.
UPDATE (Tue Jul 1 @ 11:50pm): I was too flip in my earlier description of Obama's energy policy. If you look at his campaign webpage on energy matters, you'll see that he doesn't just want to raise taxes on energy companies. No, indeed, there's more to his plan that just that. He also wants to issue dozens of new federal decrees (m.p.g. mandates to the automobile companies, for example), establish new government bureaucratic programs, have lots of meetings at the United Nations (because, of course, developing nations like China and India will decide to match American sacrifices and curtail their development just because Obama asks them nicely, and he's not, after all, named George W. Bush), and generally throw hundreds of billions of federal tax dollars at government-favored technologies (yeah, look how well that's working out with ethanol).
Now, I'm not saying Barack Obama's a communist. But he is a big-government liberal, and this is exactly the sort of unrealistic, idealistic, and anti-capitalistic "command economy" nonsense that drove the Soviet Union into extinction. For the most part, Washington is the problem, not the solution, to our energy problems. The market will provide practical solutions that actually work, if only Washington will get the hell out of the way. Obama's "energy policy" is among the most vaporous and unrealistic of his many, many big-government programs, and it's one that can be effectively exposed as claptrap if but only if the GOP can counter it through an articulate spokesperson. If there's a better candidate for that role than Sarah Palin, I don't know who it would be.