Tuesday, May 26, 2009
Beldar's initial take on the Sotomayor nomination
Elections have consequences and, as he's prone to remind us, Obama won. I firmly believe that the President of the United States has the right to choose who he wants as his nominees to the Supreme Court, and that the Senate, in its advice and consent role, ought to confirm those nominees unless they're objectively unqualified. Of course that is not the rule Obama, Biden, or Clinton followed as senators; but notwithstanding their perfidy, and the fact that such perfidy is more typical of their party than of the GOP, I still think the GOP senators did the right thing when, for instance, the Senate approved President Clinton's nomination of Ruth Bader Ginsburg by a vote of 96 to 3 in 1993. And yes, of course John Roberts ought to have been confirmed as Chief Justice by at least that kind of margin, and yes the Dems who voted against him are unprincipled hyper-partisan bastards. So what else is new?
(An aside, apropos of very little: When I was puttering around my father's house during a visit to my hometown in January, I happened upon an unbound issue of the Texas Law Review — specifically, Volume 57, No. 6, dated August 1979. It was on my non-lawyer father's bookshelf — and it's certainly the only legal periodical to be found anywhere in the house — because it contains my one and only published law review article (or, more technically, my "student note" that I wrote as a second-year law student and new member of the Review). I hadn't looked at that issue, though, since some time in the early 1980s, and I had quite forgotten that one of the lead articles in that issue was entitled "Ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment: A Question of Time." The author? Ruth Bader Ginsburg, then a professor at Columbia Law School.)
In any event, there's never been any chance that President Obama would nominate a replacement for Associate Justice David Souter of whom I would thoroughly approve, or mostly approve, or even much like. Nor has there ever been a realistic chance that someone with the minimal objective qualifications could be effectively filibustered, much less defeated in an up-or-down confirmation vote, given the current composition of the Senate. As a practical matter, the most that conservative GOP senators could realistically hope for is to nudge whoever Obama nominated out onto some long and slender limbs during her confirmation hearings — possibly generating some pithy sound-bites that can legitimately become grist for the public mill when the GOP asks the American public again in 2010 and 2012, "Do you really want the Democrats to have such a free hand in putting this kind of person onto the federal bench?" And that's still a goal that's definitely worth pursuing, especially if the GOP members of the Judiciary Committee can treat their own rampant and chronic cases of "senatoritis" (that is, making speeches rather than actually asking pithy and comprehensible questions which will genuinely probe the nominee's beliefs and judicial temperament).
Based upon what I know of her so far, in U.S. Circuit Judge Sonya Sotomayor, Obama seems to have passed the "minimum objective qualifications" bar. This is no surprise, no more than the fact that this is a blatantly racist and sexist selection made to appease the Democratic Party's loathsome identity politics. However, Karl Rove made a good point on one of the Sunday talking head shows this weekend when he pointed out that the Obama Administration can't possibly have vetted her (or any of the other finalists) nearly as thoroughly as the Bush-43 Administration had vetted Roberts and Alito, so I reserve the right to change my opinion if some significant disqualifying facts pop out now that she's under everyone's microscope.
Beyond that, my main reaction to the Sotomayor nomination is actually a sigh of relief. This is guesswork on my part, mind you. But from what I know of them, my strong gut hunch is that either of the other two purported "finalists" whose names had been floated in the press — newly confirmed U.S. Solicitor General Elena Kagan or U.S. Circuit Judge Diane Wood of the Seventh Circuit — had significantly greater potential to become extremely effective in influencing Mr. Justice Anthony "Sweet Mystery of Life" Kennedy. (Indeed, the potential nominee I feared the most, and for that very reason, was Obama buddy Cass Sunstein, who I think would have absolutely owned Anthony Kennedy within his first six months on the Court.) Had Obama chosen someone likely to become particularly influential with Justice Kennedy, that could have made a significant, and oftentimes outcome-determinative, difference on some substantial portion of the very close decisions on the Court over the next several years, even if we assume that the new junior-most Justice will mostly vote as we expect Justice Souter would have done. I don't think Justice Souter has been especially effective in influencing Justice Kennedy, however, and I don't have any reason to believe that Judge Sotomayor, if confirmed to the SCOTUS, will be either.
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
Supermax prisons' no-escape record doesn't answer concerns about moving Gitmo terrorists onto U.S. soil
I'm already very tired of hearing the stupidest new talking point of the mainstream media: "Why worry about bringing terrorists from Gitmo to the mainland U.S., when we've never had a single escape from a federal 'Supermax' prison?" Duh. This is the sort of 9/10/01 thinking, the sort of "treat global terrorism like a domestic law enforcement problem," that is going to get people killed.
The risk isn't just, or even primarily, that the terrorists will escape, or that they'll misbehave while in custody, although those are indeed considerable risks that ought not be dismissed out of hand. Nor is the risk just, or even primarily, that being on U.S. soil will strengthen the prisoners' potential legal claims and defenses — although that's a considerable risk, too.
Rather, the most serious risk is that the same type of terrorist organization that mounted a simultaneous four-plane multi-state flying bomb assault on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon on 9/11/01 would welcome the opportunity to assault any holding facility on American soil, or whatever community was closest thereto, in an attempt to force the captured terrorists' release. Simply put, friends and neighbors: Any holding facility for radical Islamic terrorists on American soil would be a target and a potential "rescue mission" for which al Qaeda or its like would delightedly create dozens or hundreds of new "martyrs" from among their own ranks.
Right now — as has been continuously true since the first prisoners were shipped there after we began operating against the Taliban in Afghanistan — these terrorists' would-be "rescuers" can't assault Gitmo without first getting to Cuba and then defeating the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps at sea, on land, and in the air. That's not the kind of fight they want; those aren't the kind of logistical hurdles they can ever overcome. Keeping all the captured terrorists at Gitmo, in other words, has played directly to our strongest suit as a nation — our superb, unparalleled, and highly professional military strength as continuously projected in a place of our choosing without risk of collateral casualties among American civilians.
But once the scene shifts to American soil, we lose virtually all of that combination of power and flexibility, and surrender back to the terrorists all the advantages upon which they regularly depend. Getting into the U.S., or using "sleepers" already here? In a fight against some local sheriffs or prison guards armed mostly with revolvers and tasers (perhaps supplemented with shotguns or even a few assault rifles, but no heavy weaponry at all)? With the fighting to take place in or even near any American population center? Can the Obama Administration possibly be so stupid as to forfeit all of our own advantages, and give all of the terrorists' advantages back to them? Can they do that for no better reason than to placate the idiots on the Hard Left who still have failed to heed the warnings on those Viagra/Levitra commercials? (Their hard-ons for George W. Bush have lasted now for substantially more than four hours — indeed, for more than eight years! — but they're still not seeking immediate medical, which is to say, psychiatric, attention.) I'm very afraid that the Obama Administration's answer to these questions may remain: "Yes we can!" (Followed by, "Shut up! We won.")
If instead you distribute the current Gitmo prisoners among many American locations, you still forfeit all of the advantages of Gitmo, while simply multiplying the number of potential targets that we have to protect, and without significantly diminishing the potential propaganda rewards to their would-be terrorist rescuers from even a single assault. Their international publicity coup would be about the same — humiliating the "Great Satan" again on its own soil — whether they sprang two prisoners or two hundred. And for that matter, their PR purposes don't require them to actually succeed in the rescue attempt, just to get a lot of non-terrorists killed too.
As for why domestic history with merely criminal organizations isn't instructive: The Mafia, or the Colombian drug-lords, or whatever other allies there may be of those who've been successfully held in Supermax and other American civilian prisons, generally aren't willing to engage in mass suicides to free their incarcerated compadres. Nor are they inclined to try to kill thousands of American civilians in the process of effecting a rescue. "Terrorism" is a sideshow for them, a temporary and small-scale means to generate financial profit. And while they have money and access to at least paramilitary weapons, they don't have the kind of rogue state support (think Iran and potentially North Korea) that may be available to our enemies in the
Global War on Terrorism — ummm, errr, Global War on Man-Caused Disaster-Creators.
Security for the terrorists now being held at Gitmo, in short, isn't just a question of "keeping them in." It's necessarily a question of keeping them where they can't get to others and others can't get to them — or anywhere remotely close to them.
Thursday, May 14, 2009
Obama's budget: "Smart people" decided "what we need to do," with no limits and no concern about revenues or deficits
It's a couple of weeks old now, but I just caught up enough in my magazine reading to reach Ryan Lizza's article in the May 4th New Yorker entitled Money Talks, a report on how the Obama Administration has gone about preparing the federal budget. And as is so often the case in New Yorker articles, what stuns me about this one is its reporting of facts that strike me as extraordinary and alarming, but which apparently fail to register on the Left's consciousness as being anything abnormal. (If they're noticed at all by the Left, they're considered admirable.) Consider these two paragraphs tucked into the middle of the article (boldface mine, italics in original):
The initial discussions were highly abstract. The first Obama budget, [OMB Deputy Director Robert] Nabors told me, “was being designed with an eye toward what do we need to do to put the economy back on a more sustainable path? What do we need for economic growth? And what do we need to do in order to transform the country? Those were our overarching principles.” The budgeteers took a hyper-rational approach, attempting to determine policy and leave the politics and spin for later. He went on, “One of the things that would probably surprise people is that this wasn’t an effort where anybody created a top-line budget number and said, ‘This is the number that we have to hit, and that’s just that, and we’ll fit everything else in.’ Or, ‘We can’t go higher than x on revenue,’ or, ‘We can’t go higher than y on spending.’ It was more of a functional budget than anything else: ‘This is what we need to do. These are our principles. These are our core beliefs. And as a result this is what our budget looks like.’”
Nabors compared the process favorably to his experience on Capitol Hill, saying, “One of the things that was really surprising to me is the amount of value that was put into analytics and academics, and thinking constructively about a project. I’m not saying that people completely ignored the Hill reaction or the public reaction, but we began with: ‘This is what smart people are saying about this, and this is why.’"
Got that? You understand now how the Obama budget came about? Based on their "core beliefs," the "smart people" simply decided "what we need to do," and that's how much the federal government will now spend — with no effort being made to base the budget on what revenues the government may take in, and with no "top-line budget number" to limit the appetites of those "smart people" as they set about to vindicate their "principles" by hurling huge chunks of federal cash in their general direction. (Or did Nabors really mean "principals"?)
In other words, from the mouth of a senior Obama Administration official, as reported in a respected Leftist publication: There was no budgeting process, there was just a spending spree driven by political beliefs.
So thanks, Mr. Lizza, for those direct quotations. They explain a lot, and they completely validate conservatives' worst fears. You almost certainly intended this reporting to paint the bold new Obama team as principled and sublimely competent architects of a fair new society. It's darkly amusing to me that you can't see that you've instead confirmed them to be worse than the worst caricature of spendthrift Democrats that any fiscal conservative of either party has ever dreamed up.
(The balance of the article is equally terrifying, for essentially the same reasons. E.g.: "[A] balanced budget is not something that is fiscally conceivable without fundamentally just deconstructing the federal government" and "Obama’s budget assumes that, even after the recession passes, the government can live with deficits indefinitely." It's a tedious tale of unrelenting irresponsibility, the proud internal newsletter of an asylum written after the inmates have taken over.)
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
Beldar on Posner on conservatism
U.S. Circuit Judge Richard Posner of the Seventh Circuit is a fine jurist, and a profound thinker and writer on matters economic and legal. To the extent he and Barack Obama rubbed an occasional elbow as part-time faculty at Chicago Law School, he's probably as close to a "conservative" as the latter encountered — but that's very much a comment on the particular brand of economic (which is to say, important but restricted) conservatism associated with that law school and its host university. Nevertheless, Judge Posner has earned wide respect, and so I read with interest and an open mind this post on his blog in which he attempts to explore the question of whether the "conservative movement" is "losing steam."
Unfortunately, as Judge Posner has softened and dialed back his focus to consider, as he puts it, the "conservative movement" beyond the matters of his particular expertise and experience, he's offered up a very shallow critique that's essentially indistinguishable from that which a particularly bright member of the mainstream media — but someone informed only by the mainstream media, and disinclined to dig beneath its canards and biases — would create while ostensibly trying to stand in the shoes of conservatives:
By the end of the Clinton administration, I was content to celebrate the triumph of conservatism as I understood it, and had no desire for other than incremental changes in the economic and social structure of the United States. I saw no need for the estate tax to be abolished, marginal personal-income tax rates further reduced, the government shrunk, pragmatism in constitutional law jettisoned in favor of "originalism," the rights of gun owners enlarged, our military posture strengthened, the rise of homosexual rights resisted, or the role of religion in the public sphere expanded. All these became causes embraced by the new conservatism that crested with the reelection of Bush in 2004.
What an incredible non sequitur in the very first sentence of that paragraph — as if the Clinton Administration had been an instrument, rather than an opponent, of "the triumph of conservatism"! Bill Clinton, of course, has never acted out of any other principle than what would promote the career of Bill Clinton, and he famously "triangulated" himself into claiming credit for welfare reform and (compared to what came later and to the Democratic Party's reflexive defaults) fiscal sanity. But to mention Bill Clinton's name in the same context as Goldwater, Rand, Kirk, Buckley, Friedman, Hayek, Kirkpatrick, or Reagan is a terribly bad joke.
So, too, is it to assert with a straight face that "the essentially conservative policies, especially in economics, of the Clinton administration, and finally the election and early years of the Bush Administration, marked the apogee of the conservative movement." Bill Clinton won't be remembered in history for a few years of budget surplus (enabled jointly by the economic boom resulting from the transition to an information economy and taxation and spending policies forced upon him by a GOP Congress), nor for welfare reform (enacted, again, despite the resistance of most of Clinton's own party), but for disgracing the presidency with a tawdry sex scandal which he turned into perjury and obstruction of justice, leading to his impeachment. Just a few lines earlier in this same post, Judge Posner had already written, mostly accurately, that the conservative movement, as exemplified by Reagan,
included the free-market economics associated with the "Chicago School" (and therefore deregulation, privatization, monetarism, low taxes, and a rejection of Keynesian macroeconomics), "neoconservatism" in the sense of a strong military and a rejection of liberal internationalism, and cultural conservatism, involving respect for traditional values, resistance to feminism and affirmative action, and a tough line on crime.
Now, I can understand how Judge Posner came to list those features of Reagan conservatism in that particular order, given Judge Posner's own specialties and interests. But — with due respect to him — "respect for traditional values" isn't just a minor sub-branch of "cultural conservatism." Rather, it is the basic and fundamental explanation for almost everything else that can be properly described as "conservative," and it was the specific source of conservatives' profound revulsion to Bill Clinton as a national leader and a man, regardless of what policies Clinton's pollsters had persuaded him to support in any given week or month.
And note, too, how Judge Posner completely buys into the labels the Left puts on conservative positions. I, for example, consider myself an ardent feminist because I believe my daughters should have rights and opportunities equal to those of my sons; I don't know any conservative who disagrees. My respect for women and women's rights likewise leads me to honor and respect not only those women who choose to work outside the home, but those who choose (whether forever or just for a time) the traditional paths of mother and homemaker. But if one accepts without further scrutiny a definition of "feminism" which embraces so-called "comparable worth" philosophy — that is, which requires equal pay for work that in fact is not comparable, but of demonstrably lesser value — well then, yes, all proponents of genuinely equal rights for the sexes are redefined to become "resistan[t] to feminism." And the precise same analysis applies to racial preferences under the guise of "affirmative action." Until one looks beneath, and then rejects, these misleading labels, one cannot recognize how profoundly hostile the associated concepts are to individual rights and liberties. I wish Judge Posner would re-read Orwell's "Animal Farm" because he's lost sight of how ludicrous it is to insist that some animals are "more equal" than others.
Judge Posner is, I would stipulate, a moral man, as evidenced in small part by his inclusion in his list of "conservative movement" principles the "respect for traditional values." And even if he under-rates the importance, to both the movement and the nation, of that respect for traditional values, I doubt that he fundamentally objects to the notion that morality may properly inform and guide policy. Yet because he is not religious, Judge Posner slights and then disrespects the extent to which religion, too, may properly inform and guide policy — as distinct from dictating it. Count me in solidarity with my blogospheric friend Prof. Stephen Bainbridge, who felt compelled to disassociate himself from "the implicit assumption in Posner's post (as in so much else of his work) that religious discourse is inherently anti-intellectual (or, at least, non-intellectual)." Prof. Bainbridge points out that "a renewed conservative intellectualism would be deeply engaged with Catholic Social Thought," and that's exactly the right word to use — "engaged." Public policy decisions ought not be dictated by, nor married to, any religion or school of religious doctrine; but neither should those debating public policy be reflexively hostile to or dismissive of concepts and arguments that may have originated from a religious believer or an exercise of faith.
Either as a moral man, or as a Christian, I can be appalled by the slaughter of unborn children in Planned Parenthood's abortion mills — and I can likewise, as either, be concerned about the plight of the girl or woman who desperately wants off the path she finds herself on to motherhood. Both my moral and my religious views may properly play a part in my thinking and argument as I participate in a civil and reasoned analysis of either the public policy (very difficult) or the constitutional law (much clearer) of the ever-present debate over abortion rights. That doesn't make me "pre-occupied" with that particular topic, however, and it certainly doesn't disqualify my arguments on it. What ought to define the "conservative movement" is an easy, confident openness to ideas and principles, without the rigid notion so common among statists (poorly self-styled as "progressives") that any idea or principle which may be rooted in or even congruent with religion is necessarily a political heresy. Just as we recognize that racial preferences and welfare demean individual dignity and ultimately promote their own bigotry, we should recognize that reflexive hostility to religion and the religious is another form of bigotry.
These are the sort of intellectual blind spots — or, less charitably characterized, the sort of incidents of intellectual flabbiness and complacency — that can and should be forgiven in a man who's done so much else of real value in his genuine areas of expertise. I wage no jihad against Prof. Posner and his blog post, and I'd be glad to have him as a consistent tent-mate! But I welcome the day, if it comes, when he will recognize that on areas outside his own particular expertise in economics and antitrust law, he's let his intellect become stratified by adopting and then parroting double-speak from the Left. Regardless of whether it has "lost or is still losing steam," there's no doubt whatsoever that the "conservative movement" is currently out of power and reduced to "loyal opposition" status. But if Judge Posner's convinced that the "conservative movement" includes the likes of Bill Clinton and is hostile to daughters having the same employment opportunities as sons, then with due respect, I'm not looking to Judge Posner as the best forecaster of when, whether, or how conservatism and conservatives may return to a more powerful position.
Sunday, May 10, 2009
Great competitors among Rockets and Greyhounds
Most Houston sports fans, including me, are reveling in one of the most satisfying Houston Rockets wins in many years — a thorough drubbing of the perpetual rockstar team of the NBA, the Los Angeles Lakers, by a final score of 99-87 that somewhat conceals the Rockets' overall domination (including a 29-point lead in the early fourth quarter). The Rockets are still decided underdogs. But for all the reasons I'm normally not a big fan of the NBA, I particularly enjoyed this game.
With the Lakers already leading the playoff series 2-to-1 and Rockets star Yao Ming out for the remainder of the year with a broken foot, the Rockets were widely expected to politely roll over and die. Instead, they thoroughly embarrassed the Lakers with a combination of aggressive and consistent defense, textbook hustle and teamwork, and unlikely heroes — chief among them point guard Aaron Brooks with 34 points and forward Shane Battier with 23 points, 15 of them on 3-pointers. Four different Rockets were in double-figures, even though arguably the most high-profile Rocket on the floor, guard Ron Artest, had a poor offensive day (only 4 for 19 for 8 points). The Lakers gave up 11 turnovers, most of them early in the game when the outcome was at least arguably still in doubt, and they let their frustration show with two technical fouls. With his teammates' help, Battier — who in my humble opinion is the smartest and most underrated player in the NBA, and therefore among the most appealing underdogs to root for — also held Kobe Bryant to a pathetic 15 points, turning the Lakers' superstar into a complete non-factor. Very sweet!
But even that was not, to me, quite as sweet as the performance on Friday of the Johnston Middle School Greyhounds in the HISD-wide "Name That Book" competition. The third-place finish city-wide, on the heels of a second-place result at the initial competition during the previous week, marked Johnston's best showing in sponsor and JMS librarian Delores Sellin's memory. And among the celebrants was my youngest, Molly, fourth from the left (with the purple sleeve) in the photo below:
Happy Mother's Day to all mothers out there, and especially to my ex. (The promised review of the new Star Trek movie will probably have to wait until next weekend; we rearranged some schedules to guarantee her some extra snuggle-time with four kids who are increasingly hard to get all together in one place at one time.)
Saturday, May 09, 2009
In anticipation of my going to see the new movie tomorrow, I have this simple question for you all:
Thursday, May 07, 2009
Even in this long winter of discontent for conservatives, I am optimistic about America. Even this early on, it's obvious to me that the Obama Administration is wearing clown shoes. Just like Hollywood tries to make Tom Cruise look 6' 2" through creative camera angles, shot composition, and discretely hidden wooden boxes and ramps, the mainstream media will continue to try to make the Obama Administration look competent and successful. But they can't fool most of the people all of the time. It's already clear to America's grass-roots conservatives where the GOP went wrong in 2006 and 2008, and when new faces in the party return to classical principles with clear and steady voices, enough additional voters will respond. There will be disaster repair to do, and that for quite a while. But I'm still mostly optimistic about America in the long term.
I wish I were as optimistic about the world, but it seems to me that we're re-living 1934. Or is it 711?
I have no doubt whatsoever that in articles like this one, Mark Steyn is being an alarmist. But as much as I'd like to, I can't find any reasonable basis to argue that Steyn's ringing a false alarm (emphasis mine):
So it will go. British, European, and even American troops will withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan, and a bomb will go off in Madrid or Hamburg or Manchester, and there will be nothing left to blame except Israeli “disproportion.” For the remnants of European Jewry, the already discernible migration of French Jews to Quebec, Florida, and elsewhere will accelerate. There are about 150,000 Jews in London today—it’s the thirteenth biggest Jewish city in the world. But there are approximately one million Muslims. The highest number of Jews is found in the 50-54 age group; the highest number of Muslims are found in the four-years-and-under category. By 2025, there will be Jews in Israel, and Jews in America, but not in many other places. Even as the legitimacy of a Jewish state is rejected, the Jewish diaspora—the Jewish presence in the wider world—will shrivel
... It may be some consolation to an ever-lonelier Israel that, in one of history’s bleaker jests, in the coming Europe the Europeans will be the new Jews.
Please read the whole thing.
Outside Europe, though, in the tiny country they've reclaimed on the Mediterranean's east coast, the old Jews will still have the familiar role they had in Holocaust 1. "Never again" is going to have to be modified to read "Never (quite that slowly) again." The new holocaust will turn millions of Jews (and others) into smoke and ashes in a matter of seconds, minutes, and hours, not weeks, months, and years. Such Jews as are left, there or (mostly) in America, will have the ruinous "comfort" of Israel's retribution in a similarly compressed timetable, with Tehran left in a mix of smoking radioactive ruins and green glass that will make Berlin circa May 1945 look positively lush and undamaged. Thereupon those mullahs who love death as we love life will re-declare their own victory. And as history is repeated and we re-write it, the question will be asked again: "Who could have prevented this, given who had the capabilities (if not the requisite moral clarity and courage)?" The answer will, ironically, be identical to the title of Steyn's recent book: America Alone.
Iran will have its bomb before the end of Obama's first term. After that, it's a dice throw: I'd guess maybe two chances in twelve that it gives a bomb to "plausibly deniable" terrorists who'll explode it in America, against maybe seven chances in twelve that the target is Tel Aviv. Maybe you count the number of spots on the dice differently, or you think it will be during the term of the POTUS elected or reelected in 2012 that Iran gets its bomb, or you think that the bomb will instead have come directly from Pakistani stockpiles. But whatever tweaks to the probabilities you'd like to apply, you must admit that almost all of the plausible scenarios carry risks so huge that they make mockery of the phrase "Never again."
I don't want to bask in the self-righteous glow of I-Told-You-Soism as I replay clips from Bush-43's Greatest Hits — "grave and gathering dangers," the "Axis of Evil," and most of all, the urgent warnings that we must at all costs prevent "the world's most dangerous weapons" from falling into the hands of "the world's most dangerous regimes." But I have zero confidence — I laugh aloud, in the blackest and bleakest of humor — at the notion that the Obama Administration will do anything except embolden our, and Israel's, enemies, and I believe instead that The One and his minions (including Hillary) will end up actually abetting and accelerating Iran's acquisition of weapons of mass destruction.
I understand how the American Left has deluded itself into mass denial of these probabilities, even though they have no answer to alarmists such as Steyn. What I — as a male American WASP who admires Israel, counts many Jews among his very best friends, and has tried to raise his own children to appreciate the horror of the Holocaust — genuinely can't understand, and don't anticipate that anyone will ever be able to forgive in hindsight, is how a large majority of American Jews are letting themselves be so deluded. My saying that may make some of them angry, and they may argue that I have no standing to kvetch. But I reject that; everyone has standing to say "Never again," because by virtue of being human everyone has the right and the moral obligation to reject inhumanity on that barely imaginable scale.
The only strings preventing the United States from ensuring that Iran doesn't get nuclear weapons are those we have used to tie ourselves down. The longer we wait to break them, the greater the cost will be, and we've waited so long already that the costs now would be fearsome indeed — fearsome in comparison to anything except the probable future that will be brought about by our failure to act. When we fail to act, the costs will be incalculable, and there will be so much blame to go around that I'll still flagellate myself for having done nothing much more than writing a rant like this one. "That was it, Grandfather? You pointed out Obama's clown shoes on your blog?" And I'll nod, and then hang my head and weep.
Wednesday, May 06, 2009
Review: Lowry & Korman's "Banquo's Ghosts"
I adore a good spy novel. When I was in grade school, my mother (of all people) turned me on to Ian Fleming's James Bond books. (She had to telephone the local librarian to confirm that it was okay for me to check books out of the "adult" section.) And I've liked, and read, the genre ever since.
But I've grown sick to death of tendentious and preachy books like those John Le Carre has been turning out lately. I won't ever buy another of his books, and I frankly wouldn't bother to cross the street to spit down his neck if some jihadist had cut off his head and set his corpse on fire. I'm just out of patience with the moral relativism crowd; there is good and there is evil in the world, and while I don't pretend that everything American is or has always been unmitigatedly good, I have no patience left for the fools who insist that everything American is and has always been evil, or mostly evil, or more evil than good.
That combination ought to put me squarely in the target audience for Banquo's Ghosts by Rich Lowry and Keith Korman. Mr. Lowry is, of course, the successor as editor in chief at National Review to the late and truly great William F. Buckley, who was also a spy novelist of some renown with his Blackford Oakes series. In this fictional endeavor, as in his punditry, Mr. Lowry has large shoes to fill. I hope he keeps trying, and he's done a good job with this effort, but I'm confident that he can do better.
I'm sad to say that this novel badly needed a better editor. Although I was previously unfamiliar with Mr. Korman's work, I've found Mr. Lowry's nonfiction prose to be consistently quite good. Most of this prose is entirely competent, and there are lyrical, even brilliant bon mots and allusions scattered throughout this book that I'd guess are products of his creativity. But this edition is also filled with non-dialog sentence fragments and inconsistent punctuation. That's a practice which, especially in spy or detective fiction, is not an unforgivable sin by itself; but it becomes unforgivable when, as here, it's both carried to excess and the fragments sometimes leave genuine doubt about their antecedents (and therefore their meaning). And when I pay for a hardbound book written by two American authors and published by an American label, I don't expect to see "mold" spelled "mould." Bad editing causes me to subtract one star.
But this book did not disappoint when it comes to moral clarity. Its twin targets Iran and the American Hard Left media/intelligentsia/glitterazzi are well and truly skewered. Messrs. Lowry & Korman could certainly succeed if they were assigned to "deep cover" as writers for The Nation or the HuffPo or the WaPo or even dKos. The plot line is creative and fast-moving, if somewhat shaky and disjointed at times. Without going too deeply into spoiler territory, however, I suspect most readers would agree with me that the ending is ultimately the least credible portion of the entire novel. I think Lowry and Korman pulled their punches and for that, I must subtract another star.
The book clearly was written with the anticipation of one or more sequels, however, and there are indeed several characters who I'd enjoy reading more about. This is a commendable first effort, which I award three stars out of a possible five. And yes, when the sequel comes out, I'll buy it too.
UPDATE (Sun May 10 @ 6:05pm): On reflection, I regret making the snarky remark about my extreme lack of regard for John le Carre because of his recent books. I aspire to a higher tone on this blog, and I think I generally have maintained that since 2003. That most on the Left consistently permit themselves to fall into such a corrosive hatefulness is no excuse for my doing so. Ironically, I credit so-called comedienne Wanda Sykes' hateful remarks about Rush Limbaugh at last night's White House Correspondents' Dinner for reminding me of this.
Sunday, May 03, 2009
OMG! Like, before he was 30, Obama was a law review editor! ZOMG-OMG!!1!
From the New York Times:
Many American presidents have been lawyers, but almost none have come to office with Barack Obama’s knowledge of the Supreme Court. Before he was 30, he was editing articles by eminent legal scholars on the court’s decisions.
I'm sure the ghost of William Howard Taft, who'd been a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit before he became POTUS, and who later (between 1921-1930) became the Chief Justice of the United States, is duly impressed that for one year in the early 1990s, Barack Obama edited law review articles about Supreme Court decisions. I'm sure the ghosts of Richard M. Nixon (No. 3 in his class at Duke Law and a name partner in a major New York law firm) and Gerald Ford (top quarter of his class as a scholarship student at Yale Law) or for that matter, Bill Clinton (Yale Law grad, former regular faculty member at the University of Arkansas Law School) are all just overwhelmed by the thought that a part-time non-tenure track lecturer who taught seminar classes in the basement at Chicago Law School, and who allowed his own law license to become inactive in 2002 (but who nevertheless continued to permit his part-time law firm to hold him out to the public as "of counsel" until 2004), is now going to pick the next member of the SCOTUS.
Almost every law review editor edits "articles by eminent legal scholars on the [Supreme C]ourt's decisions." Law reviews publish more stuff about SCOTUS decisions than about everything else put together. Obama, having interrupted his education for several years between college and law school, was unusually old to be a law student and, thus, unusually old to be a law review editor. By comparison, I was editing manuscripts by eminent legal scholars on the Supreme Court's decisions when I was 21, which made me a bit younger than the average law review editor. Big deal.
Besotted nitwits. In next Sunday's edition of the NYT: "Obama learned to tie his own shoes (with hardly any knots!) before he was eleven!" Surely he is The One!
Another well-crafted but foolish paragraph of Peggy Noonan's with which I disagree
Peggy Noonan can surely do better than allusions to '70s soft-rock hits like this one, even when she's right on the substance:
... [Obama's] presentation [during the past week] was low-key, authoritative, and had the look and feel of moderation. When you can give this impression while some of your decisions—for instance, on the legitimate cost and reach of government—are not, actually, moderate, you are demonstrating a singular political talent.
He is subtle and likes to kill softly. As such, he is something new on the political scene, which means he will require something new from his opponents, including, first, patience.
Well, yes, patience is needed, because even the next congressional elections aren't until November 2010, and Obama's not up for re-election until November 2012. But preparation is needed too, along with patience. Where Ms. Noonan goes badly astray this time is this:
[Republicans] have had a hard week. Someday years hence, when books are written about the Republican comeback, they may well begin with this low moment, and the bolting of Arlen Specter to the Democrats. It is fine to dismiss Mr. Specter as an opportunist, but opportunists tell you something: which side is winning. That's the side they want to be on.
Oh, Ms. Noonan, you're far more out of touch than even Arlen Specter is! We don't know yet we must have patience to learn, but aggressively prepare to seize the opportunities to affect whether Pennsylvania voters will send a Republican or a Democrat to the U.S. Senate in 2010. But dear Ms. Noonan, bless your heart and your woefully myopic east-coastal blue-state-infected viewpoints, the "side [which] is winning" for sure, the side which for sure caused Arlen Specter to betray his vows and defect to the Democratic Party, is the side of the true conservatives whom Arlen Specter recognized were certain to oust him in the GOP primary. He doesn't know, and no one yet knows, whether he can win the Democratic Primary, or the general election if he gets the Dems' nomination. But he knew we all know, Ms. Noonan! why don't you? that he was going to lose the next race in which he was scheduled to run, that being the GOP primary.
Can you not tell the difference, Ms. Noonan, between fleeing from a battle one is certain to lose, and instead fleeing to a side that is certain to win? No one yet knows which side will win, which is to say, no side is certain to win. But Arlen Specter was certain to lose if he accepted the verdict of his own party on his performance. How could you miss that? How can you expect us to take seriously any of your other advice for the GOP when you're that blind?
There is a certain breed of Republican which is convinced that to become more competitive, GOP candidates must become even "more moderate" than John McCain or Arlen Specter. We could call them Noonarians; we could call them Frumarians; we could call them Parkersonians. Or we could call them RINOs. I will continue to voice my objections to their blather and oppose their ideas, but I will not call them apostates, and if they return to the Reaganite Big Tent, I will welcome them upon their return. Some day, perhaps we will all laugh together when we re-read the ridiculous things they wrote while they were in the thrall of Obamamania, things like "The task for conservatives is not so much to oppose the president, but to help him see." They'll blush, I hope, but feel no greater pain. (Surely by then their therapists will have cured them of their mania to finger-comb their hair for chunks of vomit.)
But they must get a grip first. They must forswear despair and the compromise of desperation. They must adhere to at least a few first principles, among them a faith in fiscal conservatism, free trade, federalism, and a robust foreign policy unapologetic for American exceptionalism and devoted to the maintenance and support of the world's preeminent military (not for its own sake, but for what it ensures and protects).
Ms. Noonan, you once were wise enough to sniff out an impostor, a poseur, a fraud like Arlen Specter, and to recognize when a piece of political trash like him was moving in the wrong direction. The Specter defection is indeed likely to be remembered by posterity as a turning point, but it will be one in which conservatives will be seen in hindsight to have taken a deep breath, then exhaled to clear a foul and traitorous stench before patiently buckling down to battle, and ultimately defeat, Barack Obama and his Hard Left minions. Buckle down, Ms. Noonan. As Lady Thatcher famously said, now's no time to go wobbly in the knees.
Saturday, May 02, 2009
Why I celebrate Chrysler's petition for Chapter 11 reorganization
Count me as one person entirely unsurprised to read that representatives of the Obama Administration were making outrageous and improper threats to the Chrysler bondholders whose refusal to capitulate ended up in Chrysler's Chapter 11 filing. White & Case bankruptcy lawyer Tom Lauria gave a radio interview to Detroit talk radio host Frank Beckman, portions of which are transcribed here, in which he said:
One of my clients was directly threatened by the White House and in essence compelled to withdraw its opposition to the deal under the threat that the full force of the White House Press Corps would destroy its reputation if it continued to fight. That’s how hard it is to stand on this side of the fence.
Beckman: Was that Perella Weinberg?
Lauria: That was Perella Weinberg.
And Obama himself actively participated in the shakedown:
Peter A. Weinberg and Joseph R. Perella are part of a band of Wall Street renegades — “a small group of speculators,” President Obama called them Thursday — who helped bankrupt Chrysler.
That, anyway, is the Washington line.
In fact, Mr. Weinberg and Mr. Perella, with sparkling Wall Street pedigrees, are the epitome of white-shoe investment bankers. And their boutique investment bank, a latecomer to Chrysler, played only a small role in the slow-motion wreck of the Detroit carmaker.
But now the two men, along with a handful of other financiers, are being blamed for precipitating the bankruptcy of an American icon. As Chrysler’s fate hung in the balance Wednesday night, this group refused to bend to the Obama administration and accept steep losses on their investments while more junior investors, including the United Automobile Workers union, were offered favorable terms.
In a rare flash of anger, the president scolded the group Thursday as Chrysler, its options exhausted, filed for bankruptcy protection. “I don’t stand with those who held out when everyone else is making sacrifices,” Mr. Obama said.
Chastened, and under intense pressure from the White House, the investment firm run by Mr. Weinberg and Mr. Perella, Perella Weinberg Partners, abruptly reversed course. In a terse statement issued shortly before 6 p.m. Thursday, Perella Weinberg Partners announced it would accept the government’s terms.
It was too late.
What made Perella Weinberg ultimately give in, when others like Oppenheimer Funds refused? One word: Vulnerability (emphasis mine):
Representatives for Perella Weinberg, which is advising the government on a wide range of banking issues, initially defended the firm’s decision to rebuff the government’s offer.
(Recall that I blogged on March 26 of this year about the odd fact that Obama's chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, had earned somewhere between $16-$20 million in something between two and three years as an investment banker at Wasserstein Perella & Co. when the Clinton Administration went into exile in 2001, even though Emanuel had zero education, training, or experience as an investment banker or any sort of businessman. And yes — that's the same Perella; he'd moved on to Morgan Stanley by the time Emanuel was at Wasserstein Perella & Co., but it's such a small world, isn't it?)
Glenn Reynolds and Ed Morrissey note the White House press corps' silence — which might be read to imply acquiescence — about being used as part of this threat. And I agree that that's an interesting facet of the story.
The bigger story, however, is that the Obama administration is engaged in a colossal abuse of power whose magnitude far exceeds a mere subversion of the White House press corps. Barack Obama has become Guido, the thug who everyone knows has not only a nasty habit of, but a nasty taste for, breaking kneecaps. And the beneficiary of his current shakedowns are the United Auto Workers.
Obama is counting on the fact that many, probably most, Americans don't know or care about basic principles of corporate finance. But the fact is that all investments — stocks, bonds, notes, commercial paper, CDs, demand deposits, mutual fund shares, whatever — are legal contracts whose very nature is defined by the way they structure and allocate risk of default and prospect for profit.
On the simplest level, for example, in general, people who buy equity in a business, typically by purchasing shares of its common stock, have the greatest potential upside if the business is profitable because they're buying a percentage interest in it, and if the pie keeps getting larger, so too will their slice of the pie. Someone who instead merely loans money to that business — by buying, for example, notes or bonds or debentures that are, at bottom, fancy IOUs — generally forgoes that upside potential, and instead takes only a promise for repayment plus some specified and limited amount of interest. But in general, those who invest by loaning money to businesses also have less risk, because in bankruptcy proceedings — again, speaking on the broadest of terms, and as a general rule — creditors who are owed money by the bankrupt company's estate are ranked, and then paid or otherwise accommodated, before any equity owners (shareholders) get anything. And as a consequence, it's very typical for creditors to get pennies on the dollar, perhaps plus some shares of equity in a reorganized "new" post-bankruptcy company, while the shareholders have been wiped out completely.
And among creditors, there are also rankings. Those who've insisted upon and gotten collateral for their loans — making them "secured creditors" — generally forewent higher interest rates in exchange for the pledge of that collateral. Those who have no collateral, but merely a general, unsecured claim for repayment, are "unsecured creditors." They relied only on the company's general credit-worthiness and, to a lesser extent, the better treatment that even general unsecured creditors get in bankruptcy as compared to equity holders.
I repeat, this is all basic to the entire system of business investments. If these core principles are disturbed, there will be no more capital markets — no ability to buy shares of stock or corporate bonds, no way for growing companies to expand by selling equity or taking on debt.
What the Obama Administration has been trying to do, however, has been to cajole or — it's now becoming more clear — threaten people who carefully bargained for less risk, and who thereby had to settle for lower rewards all along, into voluntarily forfeiting the protections they bought and paid for in the event of the underlying business' insolvency. Primarily through Chrysler's pension and retiree health-care obligations, the UAW is a creditor of Chrysler, but one whose position is less favored by the bankruptcy laws than the investors (debt holders) represented by companies like Oppenheimer Funds or Perella Weinburg. Unlike the UAW, their clients negotiated, bought, and paid for the rights not to have to have to make the same "sacrifices" that equity holders or general unsecured creditors would be compelled to make under the bankruptcy laws. But Obama insists — on pain of presidential demonization and worse — that these so-called "renegades" and "speculators" (who've actually been guilty of nothing other than greater prudence) make those sacrifices anyway, and that they do so specifically in order to benefit the UAW!
This goes beyond populism or pro-unionism. Barack Obama is engaged in an assault on not just the entire system of business in the free world, but on the American rule of law upon which it is founded. And that, gentle readers, is why I celebrated Chrysler's Chapter 11 filing. Instead of backroom deals made through strong-arm tactics, whatever happens now will take place under the disinfecting sunlight of the United States Courts. And that will, in turn, help frustrate Barack Obama's scheme.
Oh, I fully expect that even in bankruptcy court, the Obama Administration will continue to work hard to tilt the playing field to favor the UAW and to disfavor everyone else. It will continue to at least try to call most of the shots as Chrysler struggles toward a reorganization plan. And it's not inconceivable to me that Obama will try to enlist Congress' cooperation — custom "tweaks" of the Bankruptcy Code — in an effort to do so.
But it's going to be harder for the Obama Administration to continue making these unconscionable threats now that there is at least some due process structure that must be followed. And while the federal government is frequently involved in one way or another in bankruptcy proceedings, I can confirm to you from personal experience that it doesn't always get its way there. (But that's a long story I'll save for another day.)
UPDATE (Sat May 2 @ 8:00pm): As has often been disclosed elsewhere on this blog and on my professional website, although bankruptcy court litigation has been only an occasional part of my practice, I was a litigation partner at Weil, Gotshal & Manges from 1989-1991. WG&M has long represented General Motors; I did trivial amounts of work for GM when I was at WG&M; and WG&M will likely be its bankruptcy counsel when and if GM also files for Chapter 11 protection. Oppenhemier & Co. was also a WG&M client when I was there, and I represented it from time to time on non-bankruptcy related matters. But I don't currently represent anyone with an actual or potential interest in either the Chrysler or (potential) GM bankruptcies, and my current practice mainly focuses on representing small businesses — some of whom are debtors and some of whom are creditors, but all of whom respect and abide by the rule of law that Barack Obama is trying to undermine.
UPDATE (Sat May 2 @ 8:45pm): Count the usually sane Steven Pearlstein of the WaPo as one of those blood-thirsty fans who are cheering Guido the Kneecapper from the galleries (emphasis mine):
The creditors are right when they say that Obama offered a sweetheart deal to Chrysler's employees and retirees, who as unsecured creditors would have stood in line behind banks and hedge funds in a liquidation and would probably have received nothing. It's also true, as the unhappy creditors point out, that it was the above-market wages and benefits negotiated by the United Auto Workers that helped to bring Chrysler to the brink of bankruptcy in the first place.
But those arguments are really beside the point. If the U.S. government wants to lend billions of dollars to help save the jobs, pensions and health benefits of hundreds of thousands of workers, that is certainly its prerogative. And it doesn't have to extend the benefits of that bailout in equal measure to the banks and hedge funds that stupidly lent $6.9 billion to finance a highly leveraged buyout of a long-troubled automaker.
Shorter version: Screw the law, screw your contracts, screw what's fair and who's to blame we won. Now Pappy Obama is gonna give and give to the UAW, using a combination of tax dollars (just a bit), deficit spending (quite a bit), and money that, by law and all the rules upon which our business system was built, should go to people who loaned money to Chrysler when no one else would, but on terms that were supposed to protect them from this kind of thuggery.
Disgusting. And tragic.
[W]hen did it become the government's job to intervene in the bankruptcy process to move junior creditors who belong to favored political constituencies to the front of the line? Leave aside the moral point that these people lent money under a given set of rules, and now the government wants to intervene in our extremely well-functioning (and generous) bankruptcy regime solely in order to save a favored Democratic interest group. [That's exactly the moral point Pearlstein, quoted above, honestly but eagerly discarded and then defecated upon. Beldar]
No, leave that aside for the nonce, and let's pretend that the most important thing in the world, far more interesting than stupid concepts like the rule of law, is saving unions. What do you think this is going to do to the supply of credit for industries with powerful unions? My liberal readers who ardently desire a return to the days of potent private unions should ask themselves what might happen to the labor movement in this country if any shop that unionizes suddenly has to pay through the nose for credit. Ask yourself, indeed, what this might do to Chrysler, since this is unlikely to be the last time in the life of the firm that they need credit. Though it may well be the last time they get it, on anything other than usurious terms.
The reason I think they might be simply naïve is that unless the Obama Administration's desires and efforts are indeed checked by the disinfecting sunlight of the bankruptcy court and the rule of law, not even someone permitted (contrary to law) to lend money to Chrysler on usurious terms will do so. If the federal government can get away with stripping your creditors of all of their contractual protections collateral-smatteral! hah! to effect a massive transfer of wealth from them to the government's current favorites, then it doesn't matter if you're paying 50% or 150% interest per annum: No one will lend any money on any terms.
I'm wondering if Ms. McArdle (who I adore as a fine writer and a fine thinker, a libertarian economist of the first rank) is still laboring under the delusion that the Obama Administration gives a rat's patoot over the "long term" or the "integrity of the marketplace" or the "rule of law." Her point is entirely valid, just as it would have been entirely valid to lecture John Dillinger on how he and his loved ones would ultimately be better off living in a society whose would-be bank robbers restrained their inclinations and instead worked hard and invested for the long term. But valid doesn't mean effective, and that argument wouldn't have worked on Dillinger. It won't work on
Guido the Kneecapper Obama either, because there are still massive amounts of loot yet to be redistributed from those who've earned it to those who merely want it (and can be relied upon to vote a straight Democratic ticket).
Doesn't Ms. McArdle understand? Obama won. If he and his friends at the UAW had any care for the long term and the national good, they wouldn't have methodically killed the golden goose that was supposed to fund all those pension and health care obligations in the first place.