Tuesday, March 31, 2009
Barack Obama: multi-cultural success, fiscal disaster
This is an interesting article about President Obama on Politico.com. The gist is that because "his background is more exotic than the typical president," he therefore has "more touchstones and cultural reference points than any predecessor — and he is not shy about invoking them in all manner of forums to make all manner of points":
As candidate, he often seemed to be carefully editing his biography, emphasizing the parts that were resonant and reassuring to an American audience: his family roots in Kansas, being raised by his single mother and doting grandparents in Hawaii.
As president, he evidently feels much more liberated to invoke other parts of his personal story when they can be used for effect.
“I have Muslim members of my family. I have lived in Muslim countries,” he told the Arab news organization Al-Arabiya in an interview.
That comment would not likely have been heard during 2008, when Obama was laboring to combat an inaccurate but widespread perception that he was himself Muslim.
Either writer Carol Lee or one of her editors was correct in ensuring that the qualifier "family" preceded that "roots in Kansas" phrase, but it's still misleading and (in my opinion) an implied libel of the good people of Kansas. I got sick and tired during the 2008 campaign hearing and reading about the "Kansas values" that Obama supposedly absorbed. Obama never lived in Kansas, his mother only lived there briefly as a child, and even though his grandparents were born and lived parts of their lives there, they also lived in Texas, California, and Washington State — and of course in Hawaii. But you damned sure never heard the Obama campaign talk about Obama's inherited "Texas values" — no more than you did about his "Kenyan values" from his father.
And the flip-side of these "diverse roots" is not mentioned in this article, no more than it was by the Obama campaign. I wrote about it last summer in response to a Peggy Noonan essay which suggested that both candidates shared a "lack of placeness":
[W]hat Ms. Noonan misses — what's so different between McCain's and Obama's respective geographic "placelessness" while growing up — has to do with the vastly different reasons for their families' constant moving, and what those reasons entailed for the people they grew up amongst. Barack Obama's young life, and the people around him then, were filled with unconnected randomness. John McCain's young life, and the people around him then, were filled with deeply shared purpose.
McCain knew both his father and his paternal grandfather very well as real-life men — men who were often physically and sometimes emotionally distant, but not truly absent. Indeed their metaphysical presence in his life was constant and obvious. Obama, by contrast, can only remember meeting his father once, briefly, when he was 10, and he never met his paternal grandfather at all. They had no presence in Barack Obama's life while he was growing up; they were only dreams and stories and faded photos, with an occasional letter.
And the contrast continues with the other adults in the two candidates' young lives. While Obama at least had a long-term relationship with his maternal grandparents, even that came at the expense of being effectively abandoned to their care by his own mother — hardly an ideal situation. Indeed, the adults around young Obama seemed in his book to be tied to nowhere and nothing — and outside of their immediate family (and sometimes not even that), to nobody. Obama was both a literal and figurative "step-child," someone whose main self-identity came to be in his apartness, someone who was continually trying to find himself, someone whose struggle for even a racial self-identity was far from the worst of his self-identification problems.
I'm sure that our new POTUS can indeed pluck anecdotes from his very interesting and unusual life to serve many rhetorical purposes. But that still leaves him lacking in what the country needs today: not rhetoric, but correct decisions; not anecdotes, but wisdom.
I don't care a whit that he can "relate" to many different audiences when — not yet full three months into his first term — he, his partisans who run the Congress, and the Federal Reserve have already "spent, lent or committed $12.8 trillion, an amount that approaches the value of everything produced in the country last year." (H/t InstaPundit.)
Thursday, March 26, 2009
Rahm Emanuel, "former investment (cough*scoundrel*cough) banker"
Hugh Hewitt points to a Chicago Tribune article which points out that Obama Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel "made at least $320,000 for a 14-month stint [as a board member] at Freddie Mac that required little effort," and probably many tens of thousands more from stock sales. But it was another bit of that article which happened to catch my attention (emphasis mine):
Though just 49, Emanuel is a veteran Democratic strategist and fundraiser who served three terms in the U.S. House after helping elect Mayor Richard Daley and former President Bill Clinton. The Freddie Mac money was a small piece of the $16 million he made in a three-year interlude as an investment banker a decade ago.
Not an hour earlier, while catching up with the March 3 issue of The New Yorker, I'd read this Ryan Lizza puff piece on Emanuel, which reported (emphasis mine):
When Emanuel left the Clinton Administration, in 1998, he moved back to Chicago, took a job as an investment banker, and in less than three years earned nearly twenty million dollars.
So which numbers about Emanuel's income are correct?
The New York Times wrote last November that "[i]n his two-and-a-half-year stint as a[n investment] banker [at Wasserstein Perella (now Dresdner Kleinwort)], Mr. Emanuel ... made $16.2 million, according to Congressional disclosures." But Nina Easton, writing in Fortune back in September 2006, said that Emanuel's stint at Wasserstein Perella "netted him more than $18 million in just over two years."
Whether it was $16.2 million, "more than" $18 million, or "nearly" $20 million, and whether it was in three years or less, and whether the reports of his earnings do or don't include his salary, fees, stock options, and other compensation as a member of the board of Freddie Mac, I have a more fundamental question about Emanuel:
How does a former Arby's meat-cutter, who went to Sarah Lawrence College for its ballet dancing program and whose master's degree is in communications and fine arts — someone without a degree in business, much less an MBA or a track record in the business world, someone whose entire adult life had been spent as a famously sharp-knived political operative — suddenly transform himself into an "investment banker" who's capable of earning several millions of dollars each year? Since when did raising funds for a congressional election or trading pork-barrel votes to push a legislative proposal become any sort of qualification for structuring a convertible debenture indenture or running a hostile tender offer?
If you believe Emanuel earned that money based solely, or even mostly, on work accomplished through honest business talent, then you must also believe in unicorns — and we all understand why you're an Obama supporter.
One of Lizza's quotations of Emanuel is particularly chilling, then, precisely because I think it is accurate:
[Emanuel] explained his decision [to finally give in to Obama's requests that Emanuel become Obama's White House chief of staff] in pragmatic terms: “If you got into public life to affect policy, and to affect the direction of the country, where could you do that on the most immediate basis? Everybody knows: chief of staff.”
Just keep that in mind as you hear the torrents of anti-business demagoguery continue to pour from the White House and the Democratic Congressional leadership over the next weeks and months. And then ponder the invisible strings that must have been (and may still be) attached to an entry-level job which netted its recipient somewhere between $16 and $20 million in somewhere between two and three years.
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
Fisking Obama's latest attack on the GOP
From a short report, mostly comprising direct quotations, at Politico.com:
President Barack Obama chided Republicans for criticizing his agenda without being able to name priorities of their own.
“The Republican Party right now hasn’t sort of figured out what it’s for,” Obama said during a Monday interview with regional press, according to a transcript posted Tuesday by the Louisville Courier-Journal.
“As a proxy, they’ve just decided, ‘We’re going to be against whatever the other side is for,’” he said....
If one ignores the Obama Campaign's rhetoric and the Obama Administration's rhetoric, and instead focuses on the Obama Administration's actual domestic proposals and actions, then without any doubt, the simplest, most consistent, most principled, and most conservative approach any Republican leader, state or federal, can have taken since the Obama inauguration has been to oppose the Obama adminstration. There may be a few exceptions, but they're trivial. The best way to get things right as a conservative on matters of domestic policy, in other words, has been to presume that Obama is absolutely wrong in every respect, and vote against him. When the leaders of our country are marching us off a fiscal cliff, then simply being against what they're proposing is indeed an adequately comprehensive political philosophy, at least until we've backed away from the cliff.
“What you’ve seen is the Republican Party trying to position themselves as fiscally conservative after eight years of being in power and not being particularly fiscally conservative,” Obama said.
“I understand their efforts to brand themselves in that fashion. I just want to make sure that when it comes to solving this current economic crisis that we don't get so caught up in short-term politics that we're missing the big picture.”
That "big picture" — which itself is incredibly generous to Obama, since only fools and idiots (or members of the Congressional Budget Office) can give any credence at all to the notion that once Congress has set precedents for significant domestic spending, that spending will ever be dialed back in any meaningful way — tells one at a glance why the Obama Administration will be a disaster for the American economy and, ultimately, the American electorate. Indeed, the only one of these deficit projections that is reasonably certain is the single most frightening one for the current year!
If that graph doesn't make you want to vomit, you're either a socialist or you're in a coma.
Sunday, March 22, 2009
Beldar & daughter catch the Houston Dynamo's season opener
Last night, I attended my first-ever professional football game — errr, well, perhaps I should say professional fútbol game — along with my youngest daughter, Molly, and several members of her middle school soccer team. It was the season opener for the Houston Dynamo, the 2006 and 2007 Major League Soccer champions.
As arranged by their coach, Sarah Rogers, Molly and her teammates (along with several other young teams) were invited onto the Robertson Stadium field at the beginning of the game to make a "spirit tunnel" to welcome the visiting-team players to Houston — in this instance, last year's MLS champion, the Columbus Crew.
Molly and I could have a good time going just about anywhere, but I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed the game. The amount of sheer athleticism — speed, body control, and ball-handling dexterity — was obvious even to as unsophisticated a fan as I am. Having the big-screen monitor in the south end-zone on which to watch replays of the most spectacular moments was also a big plus, since it's all too easy to be looking around elsewhere at the particular moment something spectacular happens.
The crowd was a much broader cross-section of Houston than you'd typically see at a Rockets or Texans game — and much more family-oriented. And with just over 16,000 in attendance, Robertson Stadium was full enough to feel like there was a "big crowd," and yet there was enough room for people (including their kids) to wiggle and spread out a bit.
And it was a happy, friendly crowd — with everyone enjoying a beautiful clear spring evening, and lots of very good-natured home-team spirit. All in all, in comparison to other professional sporting events I've been to, I think this was probably the most ... mellow.
Of course there were pretty young women — not limited to the Dynamo Girls who danced at halftime.
The game ended in a 1-1 tie, and it seemed to me that both teams were indeed pretty evenly matched. To invoke a Darrell Royalism, a tie may be like kissin' your sister, but losing is like having to kiss your grandmother, and this was better'n that.
Molly and I resolved to see more Dynamo games this year, and to drag some of her siblings along next time to get them exposed to the sport at this level too.
Saturday, March 21, 2009
So you think we're better off spending money on pork than on keeping the F-22 Raptor production lines going?
Without air superiority, America isn't a superpower. It is exactly that simple.
"No one would dare challenge America in the air," say those who want to slash defense spending. "We don't need more cutting-edge aircraft because the ones we already have are sufficient to intimidate all of our possible opponents."
I'm sure the crewmen on the deck of the nuclear aircraft carrier USS Stennis were close enough to check for signs of "intimidation" on the faces of the "two Russian Ilyushin IL-38 'May' maritime patrol aircraft [that] overflew the USS Stennis by an altitude of 500 feet" as it led a carrier strike group off the coast of South Korea just last week. But our sailors might have needed binoculars to eyeball the "two Russian 'Bear' long range bombers [that] overflew the USS Stennis and the flagship USS Blue Ridge multiple times at an altitude of 2,000 feet" on the following day.
So how is the Obama Administration going to respond to this Russian provocation?
Probably by cutting the "funding of the last 40 F-22 Raptors (numbers 204-243) presently scheduled for construction," according to Aviation Week.
The F-22 is the world's only operational "fifth-generation" air superiority fighter, featuring stealth, super-cruise (non-afterburner powered) supersonic speed, range, maneuverability (aided by advanced thrust vectoring), efficiency (requiring less maintenance downtime than older stealth aircraft), total situational awareness and airspace data integration, and unmatched lethality — the total package, the fighter jock's wet dream. It's the kind of machine we make better than anyone else, and it's quite possibly the best current example of American technical know-how of any sort. The successor to the venerable F-15 Eagle, the Raptor stands poised to achieve the same kind of phenomenal air-to-air combat record over the next three decades that the Eagle has earned in the last three — so long as our Raptors are not overwhelmed by vast numbers of less capable, but still dangerous, fourth or fourth-and-a-half generation fighters of the sort currently being researched and produced in Russia and China.
Without absolute air superiority, America cannot conduct even humanitarian operations in dangerous parts of the world. Without absolute air superiority, our ability to project conventional power against rogue state actors — and yes, I'm thinking of one whose president's name sounds like "After Dinner Jacket," and who very much wants some nuclear toys in the worst possible way — dries up. And as America's options diminish, so do those of the entire free world. As pointed out in a recent op-ed by Dr. Rebecca Grant, an airpower specialist at the Lexington Institute,
What's of concern is whether the United States is shaping the force to meet the demands of conventional deterrence in the next 20 years. Decisions made now affect the health of the conventional deterrent because competitors are moving ahead with sophisticated systems at a pace not seen since the Cold War.
If the U.S. Air Force's F-22 fleet remains stuck at 183 aircraft, it will put future conventional deterrence abilities at risk. Commanders may not have enough of these specially designed aircraft to defeat threats with confidence, and the overall fleet life will be used up years before it should be, due to heavy tasking.
Right now, the United States has the ability to stay ahead in the conventional deterrence game by upgrading its air power with the unique capabilities of the F-22. When production ceases, the door will close. It would take many years and billions of dollars to begin a new program to surpass the F-22. Long before then, the United States could see its policy options cramped by the limits of its own military power.
Yes, I know the F-22 isn't a carrier-based fighter, and yes, the Stennis' F/A-18s intercepted the Russian planes on their way in-bound and could have splashed them at any time. Yes, I know overflights like these have been going on, in varying degrees, for decades. But that doesn't make them routine. That doesn't mean the Russians aren't sending us, and the world, an important signal.
Yes, the last enemy air attack on surface targets that resulted in an American soldier's or sailor's death was in the Korean War, more than 55 years ago. But if the Russians wanted to be sufficiently provocative — if they wanted to prove Joe Biden right, big-time, in his predictions about young and inexperienced Pres. Obama being "tested" early in his administration — one twitch of a Russian pilot's thumb on a pickle switch last week could have ended that particular streak pretty dramatically.
Anyone who thinks we'll be able to maintain air superiority anywhere and everywhere we like with no more than a few dozen super-advanced fighters like the F-22s that have already been delivered is an idiot. Yes, the F-22s we do have — and the incredible pilots we have to fly them — are amazing. But they're not invincible, and they can and will be overwhelmed, someday, if they're fielded in insufficient numbers. And you don't replace these machines in a month, or in six months, or in two years. We can't just switch over some Chrysler factories from making mini-vans and tool 'em up to make F-22s after the ones we have now are shot down.
You don't think Hugo Chavez would send a steady stream of oil tankers to China in exchange for a collection of fourth-generation aircraft that would let him plausibly claim an ability to deny America air superiority — even temporarily, even if only during a crisis elsewhere — in our own hemisphere?
Hundreds of billions in the just-passed "stimulus act" are dedicated to projects whose economic stimulating effects are dubious at best, and that are not only not "shovel-ready," but years from even beginning. But the F-22 production lines aren't just "ready," but on-going. With the lead times involved, we need to commit now to avoid them grinding to a halt in a matter of months. And if we shut down the current F-22 production lines, we'll not only lose high-paying defense jobs (plus the secondary jobs they fund) — Lockheed Martin estimates that "95,000 jobs are at stake" — we'll lose the opportunity to enjoy the lower average per-unit cost that comes with larger and continuing production runs, a factor that was important to the initial planning for these aircraft.
We daren't put F-22s into the hands of, say, our "friends" the Saudis, but we've got absolutely reliable allies like Australia who need, and who'd very much like to buy, F-22s from us now, before the F-35 multi-purpose fighter (planned for broader distribution among American allies) comes online. Two U.S. studies have reportedly assessed the risks of F-22 technology being compromised through sales to Australia, the U.K., or Canada as being minimal. So let's sell a squadron to Oz, and see if the Brits and Canadians are also interested!
And Obama will indeed be able to find true bipartisan support if he extends F-22 production. Michael Fumento wrote in the Washington Times on March 1, 2009, that "[l]ast month, 44 U.S. senators, including Edward Kennedy and John Kerry, sent the president a letter requesting an additional order of unspecified size to prevent the planned 2011 shutdown." Those two names are almost enough to make me re-think my position, but this may be one of those occasions when constituents' job concerns have actually motivated the two Massachusetts senators to do the right thing.
There are at least four Russian aircrews who are probably still working off a week-long celebratory drunk before returning to their training. They almost certainly have new medals, and they're sharing with their buddies some snapshots of American naval aircraft and vessels for which they needed no telephoto lenses. Have no doubt: The training they will return to is expressly designed to prepare them to sink American ships and shoot down American aircraft. And the militarists in their government — and those in the Chinese government, and those in every other country in the world who'd like to see the end of American air superiority — are celebrating with them.
Ronald Reagan damn sure knew how to address that problem, and indeed military spending helped pull us out of the recession of the early 1980s. And Obama desperately needs to find a dose of The Right Stuff somewhere; this could be it. The Obama Administration and Congress ought to respond to this Russian provocation by redirecting some of the most obviously wasteful spending from the "stimulus" package to guarantee continued production of the Raptor, in quantities that won't leave us gambling on American air superiority against any challengers or circumstances.
(All photos in this post are © Lockheed Martin, but I hope they won't mind my "fair use" of them for this public commentary. At least two of them were shot in Alaska — you know, at those air bases where we keep our best fighters to regularly intercept military aircraft from Russia — a real and genuine potential threat from a real and serious potential enemy, no matter how many people make ill-informed and bigoted jokes about whether Sarah Palin can see them from her porch or not.)
Thursday, March 19, 2009
When will Obama succumb to the pressure and begin to Wag the Dog?
Conrad 'Connie' Brean: And it's most certainly NOT about the B-3 bomber.
John Levy: There IS no B-3 bomber.
Conrad 'Connie' Brean: I just said that! There is no B-3 bomber. I don't know how these rumors get started!
— Dialog from Wag the Dog (1997)
Through adroit triangulation, fierce stonewalling, the constant spin of the perpetual campaign, and other, related tactics, William Jefferson Clinton managed to bounce off of scandals and crises. He did so throughout his presidential campaign. He continued to do so throughout his first and much of his second term in office.
Barely two months into his first term, by contrast, Barack Obama has yet to even finish making subcabinet nominations to the single executive department (Treasury) most acutely critical to surviving his first major crisis ever. And Obama shows early signs of being coated not in presidential Teflon but in Velcro. If not for the fact that most of Obama's foreign policy blunders so far must be laid at the feet of the State Department, which is in turn presided over by Slick Willie's wife, then the Clintonista wing of the Democratic Party — the folks who don't take it for granted that Obama will be renominated in 2012 — would surely be crowing more overtly about how badly Barack Obama's first few weeks in office have compared to Bill Clinton's.
Obama has dispelled his mystical (and entirely unproven) aura of competence with breathtaking rapidity. I began my mental planning for this post by asking myself: "Self, of all the functions which the Constitution and our modern systems of government entrust to the POTUS, which ones do you still have even a modicum of confidence that Barack Obama is capable of performing? (As compared, say, to the modest but hopeful list which you, as a pretty skeptical conservative, would have constructed for him on his Inauguration Day?)"
Yes, Obama has proved this week that he's capable of reading aloud from a teleprompter, without faltering, not only his own speech but even the speech intended for the Irish Prime Minister.\*/ And he's proved that his adoring media are still so much in the bag for him that they'll cover that up for him. But of the medium- and up-sized potatoes on every POTUS' plate, which ones do I confidently still expect Barack Obama to be competent to handle?
I'm genuinely open to more suggestions in the comments. But I could only come up with one: I'm pretty sure he won't arbitrarily and suddenly launch a nuclear strike on Russia. And that's it. That exhausts my list of things I'm confident that Barack Obama won't screw up as POTUS, and I reserve the right to revise my opinion on that.
That abysmally short list led me to the further recollection and reflection, again comparing the current clown crew to the Clinton Administration:
Just like Barack Obama, Bill Clinton had utterly no experience for, and seemingly little interest in, his role as Commander in Chief at the start of his administration. Other than stepping on seemingly everyone's toes with the ham-handed policy that became "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and then systematically gutting military budgets, Bubba didn't actually exercise much authority in that capacity for a long time.
But after enough domestic Teflon had chipped away — and especially after Slick Willie's own magnificently tragic, tragically magnificent self-destructive instincts had left his DNA on Monica Lewinsky's blue dress — Clinton's previous scandal and crisis diversion strategies had lost most of their magic. And that's when Bill Clinton tried repeatedly to transform himself into a combination of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and Captain America:
August 17, 1998:
After testifying to a grand jury, Slick Willie admits to national TV audience that he had engaged in an "inappropriate relationship" with Monica Lewinsky and that he had lied to the entire country about it.
August 20, 1998:
Commander-in-Chief Clinton announces Operation Infinite Reach, a series of cruise missile strikes on supposed al Qaeda targets in Afghanistan and Sudan to retaliate for the bombings of American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania on August 7, 1998
December 19, 1998:
After a nine-week Congressional inquiry, Slick Willie becomes the second POTUS in American history to be impeached by the U.S. House of Representatives.
December 16–19, 1998:
Commander-in-Chief Clinton launches Operation Desert Fox, a "major four-day bombing campaign on Iraqi targets ... officially undertaken in response to Iraq's alleged failure to comply with United Nations Security Council resolutions" and its "interference with United Nations Special Commission inspectors."
February 12, 1999:
The Comeback Kid is acquitted in the Senate.
April 12, 1999:
Slick Willie held in contempt of court by U.S. District Judge Susan Webber Wright.
March 24, 1999,
to June 11, 1999:
Commander-in-Chief Clinton commences Operation Allied Force, the NATO bombing of Serbian forces to stop the ethnic cleansing in Kosovo.
The entirely non-fictional technique documented in tabular form above had been postulated in a 1993 book by Larry Beinhart, American Hero, about fictionalized politicians' capitalization on the 1990-1991 Gulf War. But the book had then been updated by David Mamet and Hillary ("no, not that Hillary") Henkin into a brilliant Oscar-nominated screenplay — the outrageous but all-too-plausible story of a Clinton-inspired (albeit pre-Lewinsky) fictionalized POTUS with an out-of-control libido, and more specifically, the incredible efforts required of his staff to divert national attention from his resulting Oval Office sex scandal. Re-named Wag the Dog, the movie was directed by Barry Levinson. It was shot in 1997 and released on January 9, 1998 — only days before Matt Drudge first brought public attention to the Lewinsky scandal on January 17, 1998. The movie is accurately summarized (albeit with spoilers and no surplus of polish) in this imdb.com synopsis:
The movie starts with a scandal at the White House where The President is accused of fondling a young girl scout visiting the Oval Office just a few weeks before an election. Being the third party observers, we know the truth, he's guilty. Robert DeNiro plays "Conrad Brean" the spin doctor who's job it is to engineer a way and a means to divert the news of the scandal. He brings in Hollywood producer Stanley Motts played by Dustin Hoffman to create an artificial for television only war to distract the American public and let the President get on with the job at hand, protecting the free world.
We, like the American public, get caught up in the events of a fictional war produced in the basement of the White House with computers and blue screens, actors and scenarios. Soon they even release a mental patient who once served in the military because he has the right last name, "Shoe" to portray a war hero of the conflict. They release him because they have a show song from a nostalgic old tune that contains his name, a war tune now to drum up sympathy and national support for the war effort. It doesn't take ten minutes of the movie before we, like the cast of characters and the public in the movie have forgotten about the young girl in the oval office.
And in case you're wondering, UsingEnglish.com tells us this about the origin of the idiomatic movie title:
To "wag the dog" means to purposely divert attention from what would otherwise be of greater importance, to something else of lesser significance. By doing so, the [less]-significant event is catapulted into the limelight, drowning proper attention to what was originally the more important issue. The expression comes from the saying that "a dog is smarter than its tail," but if the tail were smarter, then the tail would "wag the dog."
So how long will it be before Obama can no longer resist the urge to put on a leather flight jacket and get some deck time aboard one of our magnificent aircraft carriers? Can they hurry up the sea trials on CVN 77 — the USS George H.W. Bush — so they can claim some more bipartisanship and be sure to have plenty of fiber optic bandwidth for the visuals and computer processing power for the CGI?
With Clintonista eloquence, both the SecState and the White House Chief of Staff have been quoted recently as vowing never to let a good crisis go to waste. But it's only a half-step from there — and a damned familiar half-step, a slick sideways shuffle that Hillary Clinton could do in her sleep even on a bad hair day, without having to hit either the "reset" or "overcharge" button at Foggy Bottom — to manufacturing a crisis.
I would place a sizable bet that even now, Rahm Emmanuel has his minions out searching for a suitably-2009 version of Sergeant William "Good Old Shoe" Schumann (played by Woody Harrelson in 1997) and aspiring young actress Tracy Lime (played by Kirsten Dunst in 1997) to build his video footage around. Perhaps this time the guy will be a hard-boiled cop-turned-soldier — fighting overwhelming odds behind enemy lines after being shot down over the Netherland Antilles — just so he can capture and bring to justice those who stole his 401k and pension funds to use as as bonuses for AIG executives. This time, she'll be a ravished, ravishing mortgage foreclosee wandering the ruined, abandoned neighborhoods of her native Georgia — with suitable and studied ambiguity about whether it's the Eastern European or American-South one — whose desperately clutched bag of Tostitos can be CGI-enhanced into ... not a kitten this time, but a slightly cracked ol' piggy bank. And the HuffPo and Newsweek can run a joint online/print exposé revealing that all those nasty securitized mortgage derivatives were actually bundled and released on an unsuspecting world by — who else? — Dick Cheney's paramilitary brokerage agents, operating jointly out of Wall Street and super-secret Halliburton black ops bases in South Ossetia.
If they play this just right, this conflict will generate major "awards ceremonies buzz" from day one. I'm thinking the first ever joint presentation — probably to the POTUS himself — of a simultaneous Best Leading Man Oscar and a Congressional Medal of Honor, with tuxedoed and tap-dancing Barney Frank and Hugh Jackman presiding jointly over the ceremonies. Rahm — don't delay, baby, go ahead and get the Temple of Obama props back out of storage and book the L.A. Colosseum!
\*/UPDATE (Thu Mar 26 @ 9:05pm): Apparently the AP misreported the details of the teleprompter foul-up during the press conference with the Irish Prime Minister; in context, it appears that Obama was making a joke about the teleprompter operator's earlier substitution of his (Obama's) speech when Premier Brian Cohen had begun his remarks, rather than actually reading Cohen's speech. (H/t Instapundit.)
Monday, March 16, 2009
While I wasn't blogging, I was lecturing lawyers on ethics
I had many distractions from blogging during my hiatus, but one was preparing a continuing legal education paper and lecture. I like lecturing on ethics topics. That's not because I consider myself an expert on legal ethics. I'm not — and indeed, I begin every such lecture with full disclosure that I'm nothing more than one of the audience members' peers who's tried to practice in an ethical fashion for almost 30 years now.
But it's appropriate, I think, for the rank-and-file members of a profession that is almost entirely self-regulated and self-policed to interact at least some of the time with one of their own, rather than an "expert" (perhaps from academia), on ethical topics. It's useful to bounce around some ideas, do some of the "issue spotting" exercises that we all remember so well from law school, and see whether (to use some very tired but appropriate clichés) we're speaking the same language, working from the same page, and playing in the same ballpark.
In particular, I'm genuinely interested in the way that the traditional Canons of Ethics and their modern-day equivalents find application in the day-to-day practice of law, particularly in civil litigation matters of the sort I handle. And — although I know that there will be dissenters from the statement I'm about to make — after such CLE teaching expeditions, I'm generally reassured and comforted about the degree to which my fellow professionals seem to share with me a common understanding of our basic ethical responsibilities.
So last December, I called up the good folks at one of Houston's several local law schools, South Texas College of Law, to volunteer my services. South Texas runs a monthly luncheon series called "Just Ethics" on the second Friday of every month, each of which delivers a nicely catered lunch plus 1.0 hours of CLE credit for ethics education (toward the satisfaction of any Texas Bar active member's required 3.0 ethics hours each year). I volunteered to be the speaker for February (with my speech to be replayed again on video at the March session).
For my specific topic, I chose Insurance-Generated Ethical Concerns in Business Litigation. The main reason I picked that topic this year was that the Texas Supreme Court recently decided a very significant case on that subject, Unauthorized Practice of Law Committee v. American Home Insurance Co., 261 S.W.3d 24 (Tex. 2008), which had been working its way up through the system since back in the days when Bill Clinton still had a law license and lived in the White House, Barack Obama was a state senator and part-time con-law lecturer, and George W. Bush lived in the Texas Governor's Mansion.
As it happened, not long after I'd volunteered to speak for the February "Just Ethics" luncheon presentation, South Texas asked me to fill in on short notice for a genuine expert on legal ethics — William J. Chriss of the Texas Center for Legal Ethics and Professionalism in Austin — who'd been scheduled to present a paper and speak during their three-day Texas Insurance Law Symposium in January. Chriss left big shoes to fill, and I don't think I did a very good job of it. I think even the title of his proposed presentation, in fact, may be the best one I've ever seen for a CLE ethics talk: "Ethical Challenges of the Brave New World of Litigation: How to Cope with the Death of Perry Mason." Whatever good I may have done, I'm quite sure I didn't equip any of the lawyers in the audience to cope with the death of Perry Mason. I even failed in my effort to use as my "time's-up alarm" the Perry Mason theme music that I have as a favorite ring-tone on my cellphone. But in any event, I ended up preparing and giving essentially the same speech twice (and then once more by video), albeit to three different audiences. And we all survived (and got our CLE credit).
Broadly speaking, the UPLC v. American Home Assurance case represented the State Bar of Texas' attack on the growing national practice by major liability insurance companies of using either "captive law firms" (all of whose business comes from one such company) or the insurers' own staff-attorney direct employees to defend their insureds on claims and lawsuits filed by third parties. The UPLC took the position that so doing constituted the illegal practice of law by those corporate insurers themselves, and that it also required unethical conduct (mostly but not exclusively of the "aiding and abetting" variety) on the part of the individual lawyers so employed.
The insurance companies won this protracted battle, for now anyway. But the case came up in a pinched, odd procedural context — no lawyers were parties by the time it went up on appeal, so no one's license was at stake, and the factual record from the cross-motions for summary judgment in the trial court was laughably thin from both sides. There are good reasons to question whether their win was as broad as originally interpreted, and indeed in many respects, Justice Hecht's majority opinion forms a road-map for private-party plaintiffs who may wish to sue their insurers and/or their insurers' staff-lawyer employees for ethics-related malpractice whenever there's been a judgment above policy limits. If you're genuinely interested, you can read the paper I prepared in connection with the speech, the bulk of which is devoted to that case.
The paper doesn't contain, however, a long-winded first-person war story with which I started each speech — a story that might be entitled, "How, as a Young Whippersnapper, Dyer Got His Law Firm Fired from Sixty Cases in One Day by Its Best Client's Insurance Company Because Dyer Was Being Too Damned Ethical." It's basically a whistle-blower story from a multi-party multi-million dollar wrongful death lawsuit, a story that (as my suggested title hints) is still somewhat painful to me over 20 years later.
But even though the insurance companies involved are now long out of business and their culpable personnel long since retired, and even though the client has been restructured under a different name, and even though I'm probably the only one around who still remembers it in much detail — and even though I think it is indeed instructive, and I've told it to dozens of young lawyers as a cautionary tale, and I still think in hindsight that I didn't do a damned thing wrong, and I would do it all exactly the same way if I had it all to do over again — it's a story that I'm still not comfortable blogging about. Sorry for the long tease here. Maybe in 20 more years. (Of course, by then, it'll be too late for Julia Roberts, or even Matt Damon, to play me in the movie version.)
The moral of the story, though, I can tell, and it is this:
Don't forget, young corporate defense-lawyer Jedi, that your actual client is the named defendant — and not the insurance company who pays your firm's bills but whose interests may not always coincide with those of your actual client! This was a time when there was a personal and professional cost to me from "the zealous pursuit of my client's interests within the bounds of the law." But that's part of the job, and if you can't deal with that prospect, you ought to find a different profession.
Sunday, March 15, 2009
It's "Morning-After in America"
I've taken a multi-week hiatus from blogging during the Obama Administration's honeymoon, but David Broder has declared the honeymoon to be officially over now.
(Many thanks to those who've sent me encouragement or expressed concern via comments or emails during my silence. I'm fine; so's my family; I've just been focused on things other than blogging.)
I wish I had something terribly original, or even derivative-but-clever, to say about the events of the last several weeks, but I don't. I will offer one small observation, though, about one of the prominent sideshows of that period:
I don't care whether, or in exactly what sense, Rush Limbaugh or anyone else "wants Obama to fail." The reason: I'm already certain that the policies and actions which Obama has undertaken, and therefore he, will fail regardless of whether you or I or Rush Limbaugh are "rooting" for them. I can't yet predict exactly when and how, no more than I could predict exactly when and how the Soviet Union would eventually fall apart; but the ultimate result is even more certain, and for reasons that are indeed related.
No, I'm not calling Barack Obama a communist. But he shares with them the ridiculous self-confidence that they, or anyone, are smart enough to manage an economy through government action, and an inadequate appreciation for the likelihood that government action will make things worse rather than better. Almost every single thing that Obama has done in his short time in office will end up making us less prosperous, less secure, and less free.
For every moderate, conservative, or libertarian who voted for Obama because you couldn't develop any enthusiasm for McCain and you bought into the notions that Obama was a "moderate" and "extremely competent," I have one word, and one value judgment: Suckers! Shame on you, because you willfully blinded yourself to the mountains of contrary evidence by donning the political equivalent of beer-goggles. Your reckless gamble on untested hopey-changitude is going to cost us all for the next four years. Repent at your leisure.
Despite my outrage, however, and my contempt for the Administration and the Democrats in Congress, I remain fundamentally optimistic. America is strong enough to survive even the blundering, irresponsible novice now living at 1600 Pennsylvania. There will be a huge cost and much unpleasantness. But we got through Jimmy Carter. We'll get through Barack Obama.