Friday, October 02, 2009
Blame where due
Of course, it's entirely George W. Bush's fault that Chicago didn't get the 2016 Olympic Games.
UPDATE (Fri Oct 2 @ 12:32 p.m.): I wrote the one-sentence post above as a joke, based just on reading a news headline on my Blackberry over lunch. But when I turned to the New York Times' report on the International Olympic Committee's decision which reportedly left the U.S. bidders "stunned" and refusing comment, Chicago having been considered "a favorite" and certainly unlikely to be eliminated in the first round of voting I found that our chattering classes are already hard at work laying the groundwork for the finger-pointing that I thought would be only parody (italics mine):
The 10-person Chicago bid team, led by the president and Mrs. Obama, put on a presentation heavy on emotion and visual images without getting too deep into he details of the bid.
“To host athletes and visitors from every corner of the globe is a high honor and a great responsibility,” Mr. Obama whose Chicago home is a short walk from the prospective Olympic Stadium. “And America is ready and eager to assume that sacred trust.”
In the official question-and-answer session following the Chicago presentation, Syed Shahid Ali, an I.O.C. member from Pakistan, asked the toughest question. He wondered how smooth it would be for foreigners to enter the United States for the Games because doing so can sometimes, he said, be “a rather harrowing experience.”
Mrs. Obama tapped the bid leader Patrick G. Ryan, so Mr. Obama could field that question.
“One of the legacies I want to see is a reminder that America at its best is open to the world,” he said, before adding that the White House and State Department would make sure that all visitors would feel welcome.
And from the Chicago Tribune's telling of the same tale (italics again mine):
The city's presentation ended at 2:52 a.m., with President Obama answering a final question from the floor.
The question: Sometimes foreigners entering the United states can go through a rather harrowing experience. With the influx of so many thousands of people during the Games period, how do you intend to deal with this?
Obama responded: "One of the legacies I want to see is a reminder that America at its best is open to the world."
He pledged the "full force of the White House and the State Department to make sure not only that these are successful Games but that visitors all around the world will feel welcome and will come away with a sense of the incredible diversity of the American people."
Perhaps with the Bush administration in mind, he added: "One of the legacies, I think, of this Olympic games in Chicago would be a restoration of that understanding of what the United States is all about and the United States' recognition of how we are linked to the world."
Yes, in the Gospel According to Barack, all in America before The One was darkness and evil, but now all is hopey-changitudinous goodness. Even direct intervention by The One Himself wasn't enough to overcome the lingering poison of Boooooosh!
From the first NYT article quoted above, however, we can find an entirely sufficient factual rebuttal to this particular "Blame Dubya" argument: "New York’s bid was eliminated in the second round of voting for the 2012 Olympics." Even in 2005, then post 9/11, with Dubya still at the helm nationally, and with both Hillary Clinton and Michael Bloomberg leading the presentation the U.S. fared better in the I.O.C.'s deliberations, at least making it to the second round of voting.
UPDATE (Sat Oct 3 @ 7:45 a.m.): One of Rich Lowry's email correspondents complied a fabulous "Top Ten" list of reasons why Chicago didn't get the Olympics, and guess what's Number One? Elsewhere, InstaPundit links Dana Loesch, who links CMR.com quoting disgraced U.S. Senator Roland Buris as saying "that the image of the U. S. has been so tarnished in the last 8 years that, even Barack Obama making an unprecedented pitch for the games could not overcome the hatred the world has for us as a result of George Bush." Examiner.com also attributed the same statements to Burris, but someone on Burris' staff had the good sense to scrub the Bush-blaming from his official press release congratulating Rio de Janeiro for winning the competition. (Jokingly or not, the WaPo's Dana Milbank in turn blames ... Burris!)
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
NY appellate court throws Gunga Dan vs. CBS lawsuit out of court in its entirety
Just before last Christmas, in my most recent post about Dan Rather's much-publicized lawsuit against CBS, I explained that CBS' lead lawyer — my former law partner Jim Quinn — was operating under an unfortunate set of circumstances, as a result of which it was virtually certain that the case wouldn't shed any further or more definitive light on the Rathergate saga:
The problem ... — as I noted at length when Rather first filed his case, here ["The complaint that Sonnenschein's New York office has filed on Dan Rather's behalf ... is a nicely buffed and polished piece of garbage"] and here ["individual decision-makers within CBS may have overwhelming vested interests in ensuring that the facts are not thoroughly probed in court"] — is that Quinn's hands are effectively tied by the fact that his client was spectacularly gutless in its dealings with the psychotic prima donna who for so long occupied its anchor chair. Quinn's defense for CBS News won't be that Rather and Mapes and their entire team were incompetent, biased frauds who committed the worst kind of journalistic malpractice to change the outcome of a presidential election and then, when caught, tried to cover it up. CBS had ample, compelling, even glorious "good cause" to fire Rather no matter what time term remained on his contract or what other terms it contained to guarantee his preeminence at the network.
But CBS didn't do that. Instead, it convened the Thornburgh-Boccardi Panel, whose ultimate report was far from a bare-knuckled or clear-eyed assessment of the culpability of Rather and CBS News' top brass. CBS News eased Rather out, rather than immediately throwing his sorry butt on the street.
And now, instead of defending itself against Rather by using the awesome mechanisms of the law to prove, once and for all, the essential truths of Rathergate — including the indisputable fact that the Killian memos were pathetically obvious forgeries — CBS News' defense is not that Rather is a crazed scoundrel and a national disgrace, but that CBS fully performed its contractual obligations to Rather.
When I wrote that, Quinn had already persuaded the trial judge in New York state court to throw out major portions of Rather's claims without letting them go to a jury trial. New York procedural law permitted Rather to appeal that partial victory by CBS, and for CBS to cross-appeal the trial judge's refusal to throw out the rest of the case. Today, the intermediate New York appellate court, known as the Appellate Division (First Department), turned the trial judge's knockdown into an outright knockout — agreeing with Quinn (and Weil Gotshal & Manges partner Mindy J. Spector and associate Yehudah L. Buchweitz) that all of Rather's claims must be thrown out without a trial.
The 19-page opinion is dry and dull, which I'm sure is exactly what CBS and its lawyers preferred. After its introductory paragraphs, it contains essentially nothing about Bush, the Killian Memos, or the Rathergate controversy. Instead, the appellate court systematically demolished each of Rather's contract and tort claims, one after another, on what appear to be solid if unexciting grounds compelled by prior New York state-law precedents. At bottom, the appellate court concluded that it is indisputable that CBS lived up to its contractual obligations, and likewise indisputable that Rather couldn't show any damages of a sort recognized by New York law.
Rather's lawyers will doubtless seek rehearing in the Appellate Division, and when that is refused, they'll seek further review by the top appellate court in the New York state-court system, the New York Court of Appeals. I haven't read all of the briefing that led up to today's decision, and the briefs attacking and defending it haven't been drafted yet, but my educated guess at this point is that today's ruling will almost certainly hold up.
Thus (probably) ends the only lawsuit that could, under different circumstances (i.e., if CBS hadn't been so gutless), have given Dan Rather the thorough-going and definitive public crucifixion that he so richly deserved. I'm certainly not displeased to see my former colleagues so decisively win this case even before it went to trial, and I'm happier still that Rather undoubtedly spent a decent-sized fortune on paying his own lawyers. But as with the near-contemporaneous SwiftVets controversy from 2004, I'll always wish there had been an opportunity for the underlying facts to have been thoroughly and methodically probed through the civil justice system — by well-resourced and highly motivated parties, well-represented by superb counsel, each armed with the power to compel the production of documents and testimony, all under oath and in the harsh disinfecting glare of open court proceedings. John Kerry never made good on his or his surrogates' threats of litigation, and the target of Rather's malice, President Bush, would never have sued Rather, Mapes, or CBS even if their conspiracy had succeeded in tipping the election.
Sound arguments can be made that — my appetite for courtroom combat notwithstanding, and my belief that the civil justice system could have produced numerous significant "Perry Mason moments" in both — it's for the best that these two national controversies largely remained political, rather than spilling over into the courts. In any event, as the current publicity over Roman Polanski's re-arrest and possible extradition proves to all who have any moral compass whatsoever, there's a portion of the American public, mainly on the American left, who will essentially ignore even a sworn in-court confession by a monster who drugged and then raped (vaginally and anally) a child. Similarly, not even Rather or Kerry 'fessing up under oath could have persuaded some, or perhaps most, of the Bush-haters, because they long since had stopped being amenable to any evidence or any rational argument.
Friday, September 25, 2009
In the Obama Administration, closing "Guantanamo was everyone's part-time job"
If you need another reason to question the Obama Administration's basic ability to provide the single most important function of the federal government — keeping America safe from foreign enemies — read this WaPo story.The Spin
True to form, the WaPo's writers and editors carefully withhold the screamingly obvious judgment that drips from the facts they report, and indeed, they try hard to spin things in a pro-Obama way. Thus, the article starts with a gentle bit of chin-rubbing:
With four months left to meet its self-imposed deadline for closing the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the Obama administration is working to recover from missteps that have put officials behind schedule and left them struggling to win the cooperation of Congress.
Mere "missteps" — does that kind of imply something mild, like an uneven sidewalks problem? Well, back in WW2, the good soldiers of the American military came up with an acronym for the kinds of "missteps" described in the WaPo article: "Let's recover from this situation," our soldiers would say very politely, "because at present, the situation is FUBAR'd." In this exact same sense, the Battle of the Bulge was a "misstep."
The facts reported by the WaPo go on to show that when the White House senior officials acknowledge that they're "behind schedule" on closing down Gitmo, that's actually a nice euphemism for "everything's totally screwed up and there is no actual 'schedule,' just a ridiculous, arbitrary deadline that's going to be missed and that may never be met at all, ever."
And as for the "struggle for cooperation" with Congress — wouldn't "struggle" imply something whose outcome was at least close? Readers have to dig down to paragraph 24 to be reminded that "in May, the Senate decided, by an overwhelming vote of 90 to 6, to block funding for shutting Guantanamo Bay — Obama's first major legislative setback as president."The Fall Guy Goes Under the Great Bus of State
The WaPo gamely repeats — without comment or the Bronx cheers it actually deserves — White House counsel Gregory B. Craig's insistence that
some of his early assumptions were based on miscalculations, in part because Bush administration officials and senior Republicans in Congress had spoken publicly about closing the facility. "I thought there was, in fact, and I may have been wrong, a broad consensus about the importance to our national security objectives to close Guantanamo and how keeping Guantanamo open actually did damage to our national security objectives," he said.
Got that? Dubya is responsible both for creating all problems and for misleading the poor Obamites into thinking that they'd be easy to solve. But nothing — nothing — is ever the fault of The One and his minions, at least not to hear them tell it.
But despite the fact that this and all other evils are obviously all Dubya's fault, lest someone else — like, uh, everyone else in America who's not part of the First Family or the White House staff — become interested in assigning responsibility for events subsequent to January 20, 2009, the good angels of the Obama Administration have demonstrated, once again, that they do know very well how to throw one of their own under the wheels of the bus:
Craig oversaw the drafting of the executive order that set Jan. 22, 2010, as the date by which the prison must be closed.
"It seemed like a bold move at the time, to lay out a time frame that to us seemed sufficient to meet the goal," one senior official said. "In retrospect, it invited a fight with the Hill and left us constantly looking at the clock."
"The entire civil service counseled him not to set a deadline" to close Guantanamo, according to one senior government lawyer.
Thus Craig is clearly being set up — with or without his consent, and it's quite possible that he's been importuned to fall on his sword and is doing so willingly — as the fall guy. And where will he land?
Three administration officials said they expect Craig to leave his current post in the near future, and one said he is on the short list for a seat on the bench or a diplomatic position. Craig has long made clear his desire to be involved in foreign policy, but he declined to comment on his plans.
How likely is it that Roger Craig will be the next Ambassador to, say, China, the United Kingdom, or Bermuda? I'd say only slightly better than the odds that the Obama Administration will meet President Obama's own the outgoing White House counsel's own self-imposed deadline for closing Gitmo:
Still Holding Your Breath for Gitmo to Be Closed?
After the congressional setbacks, Craig orchestrated the release of four of the Uighurs, flying with them and a State Department official from Guantanamo Bay to Bermuda, a self-governing British territory whose international relations are administered by Britain.
The transfer produced a diplomatic rift. British and U.S. officials said the Obama administration gave Britain two hours' notice that the Uighurs were being sent to Bermuda. "They essentially snuck them in, and we were furious," said a senior British official.
The move also caused friction between Britain and China, which seeks the Uighurs for waging an insurgency against the Chinese government.
And so how close, then, did the Obama Administration come to meeting its goal before Mr. Craig became tire fodder for the Great Bus of State?
In coming weeks, officials say, they expect to complete the initial review of all the files of those held at Guantanamo Bay.
The scariest part of all this is that these are facts revealed by the Washington Post. If the pro-Obama WaPo can't put any better face on what's going on inside the Obama Administration's prosecution of the Global War on Terror (whatever they've renamed it to this week), how much chaos must there really be behind the scenes?
My absolute favorite quote could be expanded beyond the Guantanamo Bay closure difficulties to describe the entire Obama Presidency to date:
"Guantanamo was everyone's part-time job," said a senior official, one of several interviewed for this article who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.
Amateurs. Incompetents. Ideologues. Full-time politicians turned half-wit government officials. Brilliant leftists who, confronted with the real world, are exposed as clueless idiots and children.
It's going to be a long time until January 2013. Will the millions of American voters who should have known better, but who were taken in by Obama's sham, have stopped thinking 'Wow!' by at least November 2012?
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
End legislative malpractice by amending the Constitution
From University of Tennessee constitutional law professor Glenn Reynolds, aka InstaPundit, an item with which I fiercely agree (ellipsis his):
Sounds like something you’d ask in a third-grade civics class. But an odd editorial in today’s Washington Post takes to task “a group of well-meaning professional activists — and, so far, over nearly 60,000 online petitioners” who have demanded that members of Congress sign a pledge “never to vote on any bill unless they have read every word of it.” While the activists “have a point,” the Post concedes, their “proposal would bring government to a standstill.”
That’s not a bug, it’s a feature ....
Every time I deal with a federal statute in the context of giving legal advice to a client — which is an utterly basic function of being a lawyer — I have to actually read and then understand the statute. My failure to do so would be malpractice per se — something absolutely indefensible, something never excusable under any circumstances. As soon as I admitted or it was otherwise proven that I didn’t read and understand the statute, the only question in a malpractice case would be the size of the damage award against me.
But if that’s an utterly basic function of being a lawyer who merely advises private clients on how the law may or may not apply, shouldn’t it be an even more basic function of a law-maker, a legislator, who creates the laws that apply to an entire country?
By no means am I saying that all legislators therefore must be lawyers. (They certainly already have staff lawyers to help them if they need or want such help.) But if an educated layman, with careful and close study, still can’t parse through the language of a bill and figure out what it does, and how it does what it does, then that says something awful and disqualifying about the legislator, the bill, or both.
A simple pledge, though, would be about as credible and enforceable as Obama’s promises that health care reform won’t add a single dime to the budget — which is to say, a cruel and illusory farce capable of taking in only the most simpleminded and naïve.
Accordingly: I would genuinely support a Constitutional amendment which required every Congressman and Senator, upon casting every vote, to swear under penalty of perjury — with existing perjury criminal penalties, PLUS instant disqualification from office — that he or she had read every word of everything he or she voted upon. Not just a summary (although they could read summaries too, if they chose) or a recommendation (again, fine as a supplement, but not as a replacement). Enforcement to be by a mechanism where 10% of either chamber’s members could indict and prosecute any member of either chamber for an alleged violation, trial to be held within 30 days on national TV, finder of fact to be a jury of 51 randomly selected voters (one from each state plus the District of Columbia), conviction and expulsion (without appeal) to be based on a simple majority vote.
For a bullet-proof practical defense — and indeed, perhaps even a prophylactic "safe harbor" provision written into the amendment or its enabling legislation to guard against unfair and untrue accusations — every legislator only needs a video camera to record him or her with an over-the-shoulder view of the text he or she is reading and the pages he or she is turning, perhaps with a side-shot of the notes he or she is taking too. The videos can be posted on C-SPAN or YouTube along with congress.gov.
Note well: This is, and should be, a completely non-partisan "good government" issue. But I'm relatively sure which party's politicians would bitch and moan the loudest and fight the hardest.
Sunday, September 20, 2009
Obama's arrogance hits new heights, with no limit in sight
The President of the United States and his senior staff have bragged to the New York Times that they have asked the sitting governor of the State of New York, David Paterson, to drop out of the 2010 New York gubernatorial race.
Speaking for attribution but not under their own names, "two senior administration officials and a New York Democratic operative with direct knowledge of the situation" have executed this attempted political assassination of their co-partisan from the East Coast's most populous blue state. And they made clear that they are not acting on some sort of frolicsome detour from their official duties, nor as power-drunk and -mad rogues acting without knowledge of their principal. Rather, their symbolic kiss of death to Paterson's campaign was, they insisted, "proposed by political advisers to Mr. Obama, but approved by the president himself."
The Times, of course, ran the story at the top of its Sunday front page in the featured right-column slot on both its NYC and national editions. The headline is "Obama Requests That Paterson Drop Campaign." As I write this, the online version is also the lead story on the main page of the Times' website.
The sub-headline reveals the lame, sad, but honest basis for Obama's decision: "Governor Lags in Polls." Yes, Paterson has committed the ultimate sin among the present day's "pragmatically progressive" Democrats, one far worse than his predecessor's well-publicized indiscretions with high-priced callgirls. Therefore commandeth The One, through his holy minions: "Now get thee under the bus, Paterson!"
I am no fan of Gov. Paterson's. I can't argue with the crass political calculations that may have prompted Barack Obama and his senior advisers to conclude that Paterson's continued presence in the 2010 race would harm the political fortunes of the Democratic Party and, most especially, the nation's Top Democrat.
But the sheer presumptuousness of this bit of overtly manipulative kabuki theater — the unmitigated arrogance, the craven Constitutional malice this ugly scheme encompasses — simply stuns me.
They are shameless, in the most literal sense of that word.
Wednesday, September 09, 2009
Beldar summarizes Obama's health care address to Congress
Once upon a time on a magic day when the calendars all said "Oh, nine! Oh, nine! Oh nine!" King Canute rode on his Magic Pony down the aisle of the Wizards' Castle until he reached the pretty blue carpet at the bottom. Even though he wasn't at the seashore, when he climbed down from his pony, the waves and waves of applause made King Canute think he was. So he ordered the sea to cease its lapping at the shore, for its waves to stop rolling, and for the government operation of health care through Medicare and through the King's "public-option plan," and through all the other ways that government has regulated and will regulate the rest of the health care industry to be perfectly efficient and effective. Perfect! Yay! The Democrats all cheered and gave him many standing ovations to demonstrate their belief that indeed, the sea will soon go absolutely still, and our government will now and forever after do superbly that which no government before, including our own, has managed to do even adequately even for one day.
The King announced that henceforth, because he and his Magic Pony are very smart and will show us how, everyone can get more of everything, and everything will be better than it is now, but it will all cost less money than even just some of us are spending now. Brave, clever King Canute! No King will ever again have to worry about the sea moving, or about health care. Why didn't we make him the King way back when Good King Ronny was getting old? Oh yeah, now I 'member: It's 'cause King Canute was still doing cocaine back then, when he was just Prince Barry. It's good that he stopped that, and that he learned to think and speak so clearly now, especially about how to save money! Yay! Nobody is more believable than King Canute when he promises to save money and cut government spending!
King Canute said that there are "details still to be worked out" drawing an appreciative laugh from the other politicians present, who sympathized with the King for his gigantic mistake of accidentally going off-script to tell the truth for a moment. But the TelePrompter of the United States regained control over the scene and the speech, and so there were no further accidental encounters with reality. Thank goodness for the TOTUS!
And the King's "public-option plan" will be especially clever, since it will be better and cheaper than everything the private companies offer ('cause the Magic Pony will pay all its expenses and won't take away any profits). But don't worry the King promised that the public-option plan will only be available to those without insurance! Thus did the King solve the old problem of those who complain when others pee in the pool. Now surely only people who really feel the need to pee will decide to pee in the pool, and now surely no companies or individuals that are having trouble paying for insurance will decide to become "without insurance" so they can get into the government-subsidized public-option plan. Therefore, no one in the pool needs to worry about ever being touched by pee, nor to worry about the public-option plan turning into a government health-care monopoly with single-payer socialized medicine like they have in Merrie Olde Englande. "Whee whee whee!" shouted the happy Democrats, "Slippery slopes are fun!" ("Pee pee pee," muttered the grumpy Republicans, "We see where this is going.")
Thereupon King Canute did a happy dance to make everyone feel happy, and then he acknowledged the many cheers, and he remounted his Magic Pony and rode back up the aisle. Most of those on the right side of the aisle, and even a few of them on the left, noticed that the Magic Pony had left behind a steaming, fragrant gift on the pretty blue carpet. Most of them on the left thought the gift was dessert, so they gobbled it up while insisting that it was really, really yummy. But they saved a piece for you. Do you want it?
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
Thoughts on the death of Edward M. Kennedy (1932-2009)
I extend my condolences to the family and friends and partisans and allies and admirers of Sen. Edward M. ("Ted") Kennedy (D-MA) upon his passing.
Alas, my first two reactions to the news were not flattering to him, and indeed they are likely to annoy many of those to whom I've just extended my condolences.
My first thought (premised on Christian faith) was that Teddy Kennedy's four decades of dodging his proper responsibility for the death of Mary Jo Kopechne — however slight or (as I suspect) culpable that responsibility actually was — are finally over. May justice finally be done, whatever that may be, by Him to whom such final judgments are ultimately reserved.
My second thought involves a comparison with the current occupant of the executive mansion at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue — an address at which brother John famously lived, and to which father Joseph and brothers Joe Jr., Bobby, and Teddy all famously aspired.
Teddy's most serious run at the presidency, against Jimmy Carter in 1980, represented a deliberate and thoughtful rejection by a majority of the Democratic Party of a candidate who was all bi-coastal style and sizzle, a media favorite wrapped in romance and dynasty, but whose actual record was still then pitifully thin and whose character had already been repeatedly proven to be deeply flawed. One line from Teddy's convention speech — "For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die" — is still remembered over anything said by the Democrats' actual nominee from that campaign. And of course said nominee, the Dems' incumbent — who had already, in my judgment, become the worst American President of the 20th Century — went on to a well-deserved crushing defeat by Ronald Reagan.
Although it could still be prompted to go on the occasional drunken bender by that kind of vaguely poetic but ultimately content-free rhetoric from someone like him, however, as of 1980 the Democratic Party still had better sense than to entrust the country's fate to a shallow scoundrel like Teddy Kennedy, no matter how much that went against the media's romantic "Camelot restored" narrative and the fervent desires of the Hard/Angry Left. Yet by 2008 — their decency and sensibilities having been fatally compromised in the meantime by a serial liar and sexual predator who they also rallied to defend — the Dems had become utterly shameless, utterly irresponsible, and utterly besotted with another shallow but romantic scoundrel who had only a fraction of the governmental experience that even Ted Kennedy ca. 1980 could claim.
More than mourning the man who's just passed from the living, then, I mourn the passing of those times. Contrasting the Dems' rejection of Ted Kennedy in 1980 to their embrace of Barack Obama in 2008 makes me mourn the end of the time when the Democratic Party was a party of mostly grown-ups instead of mostly idolaters and haters, the time when as a party the Dems could soberly and seriously reject a glamorous media-hyped figure as its national candidate. I know not when or if we shall ever see the return of such responsible men and women to a position of power in the Democratic Party. (In the meantime, they'll be the few but perhaps vital minority of Democrats who are muttering to themselves, with entirely justified and increasing panic: "But nine trillion in deficits? Seriously?")
Tuesday, July 07, 2009
"Sotomayor & Associates" ... meh, who cares?
Nothing has happened since May 26 to make me change my initial take on Pres. Obama's nomination of U.S. Circuit Judge Sonia Sotomayor to fill Justice Souter's seat on the Supreme Court. (That take, in short, was this: Obama would never nominate anyone of whom I approved, and Judge Sotomayor, if confirmed, will vote the same way as Souter has, but be no more effective than Souter was (and perhaps less so) at swaying the Court's swing vote, Kennedy, in close cases. Republicans should use every opportunity to demonstrate how disastrous it is for the country and the Constitution to have liberal Democrats like Obama in a position to pick politically liberal and judicially activist SCOTUS Justices. But expecting to defeat Sotomayor's nomination is unrealistic unless something big and new comes up from her past, and I'm very grateful Obama didn't nominate someone who'd be much more effective.)
Now it appears from a NYT story that between 1983 and 1986, on behalf of some friends or friends of friends, Sotomayor wrote a few wills, incorporated a few businesses, or helped skim the closing documents for a few condo sales under the exaggerated firm name of "Sotomayor & Associates" while she was really a full-time employee of the Manhattan D.A.'s office or another law firm.
I agree with my blogospheric friend and fellow lawyer Andrew McCarthy that it doesn't take a sophisticated legal analysis for anyone, lawyer or layman, to recognize that claiming to be "Sotomayor & Associates" — when you really don't have any associates — is stupid and misleading. It ought not be done. (On this topic more generally, see also Eric Turkewitz, Jim Lindgren, Glenn Reynolds, John Steele, and the Washington Times,)
I very, very seriously doubt, however, that lawyer Sotomayor's transgression in exaggerating the size of her firm ever actually misled anyone. As small potatoes go, this one is pea-sized or smaller. And as misrepresentations with disastrous public consequences go, this one is utterly microscopic in comparison with, for example, almost any one of Obama's presidential campaign promises, or his own claims to have had significant experience to prepare him for that office.
(Personal disclosure: My own solo law firm — likewise an unincorporated sole proprietorship whose name is only a d/b/a (albeit one duly registered with Harris County) — is carefully designated "Law Office of William J. Dyer" on my letterhead, pleadings, website, and elsewhere to avoid implying more than one regular place of business, more than one lawyer, or any incorporated status that would potentially limit or complicate my personal liability for debts of the law practice. It's a traditional name, but terribly stuffy and boring. I'd rather simply use "Dyer Legal" to correspond with my business internet URL, but the State Bar of Texas — for reasons that are entirely opaque and directly contrary to the square holding (at footnote 12 & accompanying text) of at least one federal district court opinion adopted by the Fifth Circuit — considers that to be an impermissible "trade name" which might mislead the public into thinking that I'm making some representation about the quality of my legal services as compared to other lawyers, which Texas lawyers are forbidden to do. I think state bars in general, including my own, have historically done pathetically bad jobs of preventing genuinely misleading information about lawyers and their services from being spread in the marketplace. I also think that they've almost completely defaulted in their obligations to instead ensure that meaningful and accurate information — information which would help promote informed consumer decisions, and which would tend to drive out misinformation — is constantly available to the public in usable forms. There ought to be no commercial market for an advertising-sponsored legal information-gathering and -distributing service like Avvo.com, for example, because state bars, individually or (better) collectively, ought to have already done all that and more, and have done it much better, via the internet. Which is to say, on this set of legal ethics/public interest issues, I'm a self-interested, grumpy curmudgeon, but not entirely a traditionalist. I do care about these issues, in other words, but I don't think they matter much in the context of the Sotomayor nomination.)
Thursday, June 04, 2009
POTUS as the Great Defender of the Faith
Did you have the same reaction that I did back in 2001 when — in an official speech specifically directed to the Christian world during one of his trips to the Middle East, a speech whose official theme was "A New Beginning" — President George W. Bush firmly rejected the constitutional separation of church and state, and instead proclaimed that his official duties included the defense and promotion of one religion (emphasis mine):
So I have known Christianity on three continents before coming to the region where it was first revealed. That experience guides my conviction that partnership between America and Christianity must be based on what Christianity is, not what it isn't. And I consider it part of my responsibility as President of the United States to fight against negative stereotypes of Christianity wherever they appear. (Applause.)
That was actually today, not 2001. It was President Obama, not President Bush. And it was Islam, not Christianity.
It's fine for an American President to try to understand, respect, and avoid giving unnecessary offense to Muslims, in or outside of America. But pandering to them is unseemly. And pretending that "fight[ing] against negative sterotypes of Islam wherever they appear" is "part of [the] responsibility [of the] President of the United States" is grotesque. Did our self-proclaimed former professor of constitutional law actually read this speech before he delivered it from his teleprompter? If he did, then that raises the question: Has he actually read his present job description, or the rest of the Constitution and its amendments?
UPDATE (Mon Jun 8 @ 7:40pm): As commenter K~Bob mentioned below, Houston-based talk-radio host (and AM Operations Manager for Clearchannel AM stations KTRH, KPRC, and KBME) Michael Berry, guest-hosting for Mark Levin on his syndicated national radio show last Friday, twice referenced and read approvingly from this post on the air. Mr. Berry was kind enough to phone me today and also to send me a link to a podcast of the broadcast, for all of which I'm genuinely grateful!
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.)
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.
Sunday, May 03, 2009
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.
Thursday, April 30, 2009
Lines that cannot have come from a conservative's pen
Quoth Kathleen Parker (italics hers, boldface mine):
As a recovering obsessive-compulsive, the past 100 days have been a torture of quantification. How’s he doing SO far? Is he the change we’ve been waiting for? Is Barack Obama really a centrist, as so many (including I) had hoped? Or is he one of them dadgum fascist-Marxist-commie-Moozlems?!
Obama is who he said he is—a pragmatist. It just so happens that pragmatism under present circumstances demands/justifies/warrants what are rather socialist solutions. The president is in the unique position of being able to say with face straight and heart true: I’m not a lefty ideologue. It’s just that Republican leadership has left us in the sort of economic free fall that only Big Government can rescue.
Sister Parker, you're hopelessly lost. Put the pen down. If you ever want to be taken seriously again by anyone who genuinely is conservative — or who even understands conservatism as an abstract proposition — then you need to go back to first principles. (Hint: They may be found in many places, but they are emphatically not found in Das Kapital.) And then you need to study history, including recent history.
But right now, you're so far gone that you're incapable of embarrassing us, or further embarrassing yourself. You're just a disgrace, with all the grace and credibility of a loud fart in church.
But no. This isn't an isolated toot that just slipped out, this is a full-fledged attack that would have made John Belushi blush:
... But my truest sense of Obama is that he thinks hard about each issue and that his mind is open. He is still finding out how to be president, listening instead of talking; watching and measuring, as children from disrupted childhoods learn to do.
The task for conservatives is not so much to oppose the president, but to help him see. Show him a better idea and he will consider it....
Ms. Parker, your harmless savant, your open-minded savior, has just proposed and passed a budget that quadruples an already unconscionable federal deficit just for this year. And with his co-conspirators of the Democratic Party, he has committed us to a spending spree that, in constant dollars, exceeds what this country spent on World Wars 1 and 2, the New Deal, the Marshall Plan, and the Iraq War combined. This is what you call "listening instead of talking"?
If this is what he does when he's still "finding out how to be president," then God save the universe from what he'll do when he "grows up"!
Please, Ms. Parker, please stop. You're becoming like the drunk girl at the frat party with such a crush on the frat president that she's unaware there's still vomit in her hair.
Is there no genuine conservative in Ms. Parker's life who can mount a compassionate intervention?
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
The Obama Administration and the Democratic Party have just welcomed a hand grenade, sans pin, on board their bandwagon. Anyone who ever counts on Arlen Specter for anything is likely to be disappointed. There have been many precedents to prove this: The only thing Specter has ever been reliable at is being unreliable. Now there's a super-precedent.
As a legal concept, "super-precedents," of course, are a ridiculous figment of Arlen Specter's addled imagination. But Specter's latest display of craven opportunism has finally persuaded me that "ass-clown" is a legitimate compound word.
Friday, April 17, 2009
Libs scrape the bottom of a stinky, stinky barrel to recycle Spitzer
Anyone who actually believes that disgraced whoremonger and cosmically comical hypocrite Eliot Spitzer has "mastered the art of the recovery," and that he's now been "rehabilitated," is simply delusional. Anyone who's trying to persuade you of that is someone with an extremely liberal agenda — and someone who's in an ill-concealed panic because they see how thin their team's bench is in New York State, ostensibly the preeminent power among the East Coast Blue States.
Nobody has ever liked Eliot Spitzer. Even coming from a state famous for producing rude people, and a profession famous for producing insufferable SOBs, Eliot Spitzer has always stood out mostly for his rudeness and insufferability. In fact, every time I see a picture of him, I'm inevitably reminded of one of my favorite extremely crude lawyer jokes — the one that begins, "Why do all lawyers wear neckties?" (I'm not going to link the answer, you'll have to Google it.)
Eliot Spitzer was never anything but a publicity-crazed jerk even before we learned of his interstate sex trafficking as "Client No. 9." He was a populist demagogue as New York's attorney general — the self-styled "Sheriff of Wall Street" never had anything but the vaguest regard for the rule of law he was sworn to uphold, and he obviously considered himself entirely above it. Finally promoted to the state's top elective office, he instantly became a scandal-plagued failure as New York's governor.
The truth is that Eliot Spitzer has no friends. But he has enemies who have enemies, and the latter don't have anyone more appealing than him to promote at the moment.
At least with the campaigns to rehabilitate Pete Rose or Darryl Strawberry, for example, those guys had genuine talent to partially offset and redeem their tragic flaws. Spitzer is 100% tragic flaw, without even the redeeming benefit of Joe Biden-style hair plugs. Does anyone seriously believe that if Spitzer were all alone in a hotel room tomorrow night — somehow assured that neither press nor law enforcement nor his long-suffering wife were watching — and "Kristen" tapped on his door again with a "90 minutes for $5k" proposition, Spitzer would slam the door in her face?
As H.L. Mencken famously wrote, "No one ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public," and Spitzer still has the family fortune that allowed him to spend tens of thousands of dollars on callgirls without blinking an eye, so he's in no danger of going broke anyway. But I suppose the best that can be said for the "Spitzer rehabilitation campaign" is that if the Democrats and the voters of New York are stupid enough to buy into it, they deserve exactly what they get — and no one can doubt that they knew exactly what recycled garbage they're buying.
Friday, April 10, 2009
The world will little note, nor long remember, the angle of Obama's bow from the waist to King Abdullah; but ...
I'm in a particularly crusty mood at the moment, and this post may draw disagreement from many or maybe even most of those who read it. That's okay. I've just been working up to a rant, and I have to let it out.
In March 1936, my father was a 14-year-old in rural Lamesa, Texas, and he was fairly preoccupied with working toward the rank of Eagle Scout. Thus, he may, or he may not, have paid any attention to the national and international news of that month. The Hoover Dam was completed, and that certainly was a good and noteworthy demonstration of American engineering prowess. On St. Patrick's Day, they had a terrible flood in Pittsburgh. Daytona Beach hosted the first-ever American stock car race. Manhattan's Metropolitan Museum of Art paid an estimated $300,000 — a shocking sum — for Titian's "Venus and the Lute Player." And TIME magazine had already observed with respect to the upcoming presidential election that the incumbent administration of Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt was
approach[ing] the November election in a high state of hope. The head of the firm, despite sporadic booing, remains extraordinarily popular with customers who must be resold. His health holds up as well as his glowing confidence. His campaign will be simple: "Things are getting better & better. We planned it that way. Let's have four years more of Democratic Recovery." The Party debt has been cleared away and millions of voters living on government bounty will not be allowed to forget who feeds them. And, above all, the Republicans have no one candidate now in sight who can fire the country with personal enthusiasm.
Across the Atlantic, the Royal Air Force conducted the first test-flight of the Spitfire Type 300. King Edward VIII, having succeeded King George V in January of that year, was deeply in love with Wallis Simpson — a not-quite-yet divorced American — but was still a few months away from his decision to abdicate the throne to marry her. He drew mixed press reviews from his participation on behalf of British and Commonwealth manufacturers at the British Industries Fair outside London: some thought he had compromised his dignity by pulling up his pants leg to display, and roundly endorse, his "ingenious 'Munrospun Sock[,]' into which [was] woven its own garter."
I'm sure if there had been an internet in March 1936, English-language bloggers would have blogged about all of these things. Would my dad have been among them? Not likely, unless there had also been a blogging merit badge available for him to earn.
But with the hindsight available a mere three and a half years later, it would be crystal clear to everyone in the world that the most important event of March 1936 had occurred on the seventh day of that month when — in clear and unambiguous violation of the 1919 Treaty of Versailles — German military forces suddenly reoccupied the Rhineland. Either France or Britain could have immediately and decisively crushed the German forces — not only throwing them out of the Rhineland but almost certainly causing, as a consequence, the toppling of the German government led by Chancellor and Führer Adolf Hitler. Either nation had ample military force to enforce the Treaty at minimal military risk, but neither had the political spine to do so.
There and then, the civilized world forfeited its last clear chance to prevent, at minimal cost and with unquestionable righteousness, the horror that became World War Two. By the time my father enrolled at the University of Texas in September 1941, most of the world was already at war, and he entered an accelerated NROTC program designed to churn out naval officers to fight and, if necessary, to die on the oceans bordering both of America's shores.
Perhaps when we all have the benefit of similar hindsight, you will pardon me, friends and neighbors, that I have not already blogged this week about whether Barack Obama did or did not bow to the King of Saudi Arabia. (He did, which was stupid and beneath the dignity of the POTUS, but at least he's had the minimal sense to brazenly lie about it now.) And maybe you'll forgive me in a few years, gentle readers, for failing to obsess during the past week or so over the outcome of the close special election in New York's 20th Congressional District, or the considerably more distressing probable last gasps of Norm Coleman's efforts to keep (it pains me to even type these words) Al Franken from taking one of Minnesota's seats in the U.S. Senate. In the long run and the big picture, even in a Senate teetering on the edge of a filibuster-proof majority, Al Franken is going to be no more consequential than Edward VIII's socks, either with or without garters.
But in three or four or six years, when a North Korean missile drops a nuke somewhere on Japan, or perhaps in the vicinity of Anchorage — or, even assuming no continued technical progress by the Norks, they simply hand over a very, very dirty bomb to al Qaeda to put into a container bound for the Port of Houston or wherever — then the whole world will know that it was this past ten days in which Barack Obama proved himself as gutless, indecisive, and naïve as the Brits and the French were in March 1936.
Those of you who were alive and aware in 1986 surely remember how Ronald Reagan reacted to Mohamar Khadaffi's "Line of Death" in the Gulf of Sidra. Even John Kennedy reacted forcefully to a threat of nuclear-tipped missiles in Cuba in 1962 (although he himself had invited that particular bit of Soviet adventurism by his weak-kneed showing at the 1961 Vienna Summit).
So what did Barack Obama do about North Korea's missile launch, made in defiance of the United Nations and world opinion, made to intimidate and threaten our staunch allies Japan and South Korea, and made to humiliate the United States?
He toured Europe. Where he blamed America first for all the world's problems, winning applause from reflexively anti-American crowds and not a damned thing of value more from our European allies.
Then he came home and cut production of the preeminent air superiority fighter of the first half of the 21st Century.
Yes, in the last 10 days, Obama has answered the only question remaining about his administration: We're now sure beyond any doubt that it will be not just a domestic fiscal catastrophe, but a foreign policy/national security catastrophe as well.
Barack Obama is on track to become the worst president in American history, and I frankly can't see any way that can be avoided any more.
Monday, April 06, 2009
"I don’t know what the term is in Austrian"
One might think a degree in political science (with a specialization in international relations) from Columbia University, followed by service as chair of the European Affairs subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, might have given Barack Obama some clue as to the language spoken by the friendly people of Austria. But if so, one would then be disappointed (emphasis added):
At a news conference afterward, Obama said his debut on the international stage had convinced him that “political interaction in Europe is not that different from the United States Senate,” where he served before entering the White House.
“There’s a lot of — I don’t know what the term is in Austrian — wheeling and dealing, and people are pursuing their interests, and everybody has their own particular issues and their own particular politics,” he said in response to an Austrian reporter’s question.
Actually, I believe that the word "idiot" has the same meaning in both English and
But seriously, folks. Do I believe that Barack Obama genuinely doesn't know that they speak German in Austria, and that he'd make this same mistake in an unstressed setting with a moment to reflect upon it? No, I don't believe that. This was a silly and innocent mistake — like the "57 states" comment during the campaign — and any human being, no matter how well educated and genuinely knowledgeable, will be caught making this sort of mistake from time to time if subjected to constant and intense scrutiny.
I grew sick to death of those who seized upon every verbal misstep of George W. Bush's or Sarah Palin's and treated those missteps as if they were meaningful, as if they were worthy of anything more than mild mockery for purposes of amusement. They weren't. This isn't either.
No, my problem with Barack Obama isn't that he's stupid. It's that neither he, nor anyone else, is as smart as he thinks he is.
Wednesday, April 01, 2009
Real "Kansas values" from candidate Rob Wasinger
I was grousing yesterday about the Obama campaign's pretense that its candidate was imbued with "Kansas values," so it's perhaps karma, or perhaps just happy coincidence, that I received an email from a trusted blogospheric friend today directing me to a post on Redstate.com from a real Kansan who's writing about what I believe to be real Kansas values. The writer is Rob Wasinger, a former staffer for Sen. Sam Brownback, and he's running for Congress from the First District of Kansas.
Rob has a Harvard economics degree to complement a public school education from Kansas, but his writing is blessedly free of existential angst. A sample, to perhaps induce you to follow the links and read the whole thing:
We have two simple choices. We can choose prosperity for Washington, DC or we can choose prosperity for the rest of America. I will always choose Kansas and America.
It's early for the 2010 election season, but Rob's already gathered endorsements from former Sen. Fred Thompson and a variety of prominent Kansans. I wish him much luck in his campaign.
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.
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.)
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
Stupidest tool with internet access and some semblance of an audience who's commented upon the Obama inauguration
We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things....
— Barack Obama, Inaugural Address upon becoming the 44th President of the United States.
There is simply no excuse for United States Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts bungling the presidential oath of office to such an extent that Barack Obama might need to do it again, at least in private, to ensure the legality of his inauguration.
Roberts should be impeached and removed from office for this unforgivable error....
— Craig Crawford, supposed pundit, incompetent member of the Florida Bar, all-around tool, and someone I'd describe as a "child" except for the fact that that would be an unfair insult to the world's children.
The judges, both of the supreme and inferior courts, shall hold their offices during good behaviour ....
— Article III, section 1 of the U.S. Constitution, which conspicuously fails to mention isolated, innocent slips of the tongue, no matter how embarrassing, as constituting a lack of "good behaviour" sufficient to remove members of the federal judiciary from office.
A tip of Beldar's cap to Juan Williams
For my money, the best pundit of the just-past election and transition season, friends and neighbors — either in print, on radio, or on TV — has been Juan Williams, who draws his paychecks from the perhaps improbable combination of NPR and Fox News. That doesn't mean I've agreed with him more than I've agreed with any other pundits. But he has nevertheless earned my respect.
Dating back well into the Democratic primaries during which it first became conceivable that Barack Obama might become POTUS-44, Williams has, for the most part, managed to retain a degree of objectivity about Barack Obama that easily puts him into the top 5% of mainstream media pundits, and into the top 2% of left-of-center pundits. But he has also managed to do so without losing his sincere and distinctive voice as a black man — a man of my own generation, whose own accidental timing of birth spared him from the worst of racial discrimination and segregation, but put him in position to witness first-hand the breath-taking accomplishments of our nation in putting those wicked remnants mostly behind us. If I met Mr. Williams in person, I could not help but hug him, and then tell him how his elemental joy — palpable through his articulate but plain-spoken reactions to events — has infected and moved me. And then I would shake his hand, and commend him for the professionalism which he has imposed upon his emotion — which has made him a valuable voice on the subject of race relations in particular, in addition to politics in general.
Mr. Williams' post-inaugural op-ed in the Wall Street Journal — Judge Obama on Performance Alone — is spot on. Read the whole thing, but here's a typical half-paragraph, which reflects what Williams has preached for many months:
... Every American president must be held to the highest standard. No president of any color should be given a free pass for screw-ups, lies or failure to keep a promise.
He has also spoken frequently — and movingly, and at no small risk — of the symbolic importance that the Obama presidency has, and in particular, the Barack and Michelle Obama First Family have, in providing role models for all American families, and in particular for the black community (in which, sadly but statistically, stable two-parent families are the exception rather than the rule).
A commenter at my blogospheric friend Patterico's blog lamented that Inauguration Day was "[t]he most racist day in American history. MLK wanted people to be judged by the content of their character. But today was all about skin color." I think I understand where he's coming from, and I share some part of his frustration that we're not already farther along — that Obama isn't in fact the first "post-racial" president, and that, indeed, race played a complicated but still-important role in the election and the inauguration, and will likewise play a role in how the Obama Administration is perceived.
But there's no switch to be thrown that will make us all "post-racial." Such things take generations at best, but we can salute (rather than bemoan) the leaps forward. The Emancipation Proclamation was one; Brown v. Board of Education was another; and Barack Obama's election and inauguration, regardless of his success or lack thereof once in office, is yet another. And while I heartily endorse and believe in Chief Justice Roberts' prescription that "[t]he way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race," it's okay to pause to note the momentousness of the remedial strides we've made. It does no good to study history is your soul is dead to its genuine high points.
We're capable of simultaneously embracing both principled discussion and the meta-memes or subtext it portends. Thus we can, without suffering crippling cognitive dissonance, embrace both the notion that it's appropriate to celebrate the inauguration of the first black POTUS — while simultaneously insisting that he ought get no more slack cut on account of his race. Chief Justice Roberts' prescription would fit neatly into Juan William's WSJ op-ed. What more could anyone ask from a thoughtful liberal pundit, regardless of his own skin color?
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
Regarding Obama's inaugural address
No, I don't mean the salutation — "My fellow citizens" — for I have never been among those who were captivated with any of the various theories about Obama's birthplace or years in Indonesia or the like.
But what came next after the salutation is almost certainly untrue: "I stand here today humbled by the task before us ...." I do not believe Barack Obama is a naturally humble man, nor that he has been made so by the contemplation of "the task" before either him or this nation.
That is not a terrible indictment. Humility is conventionally considered to be an important virtue. But I don't consider myself a humble man either, and I have far less by way of position or accomplishment to claim. Barack Obama has indeed hewed a wondrous and improbable path to stand where he stood to take the (slightly mangled — not his fault) oath he took today.\**/ Leaders who are to be faced with great challenges and subjected to harsh criticisms need strong qualities, including resilient egos.
And it is indeed extraordinary and historic that a black man is, for the first time, our President. That it is Barack Obama in particular who is that man is, for him, an entirely legitimate source of personal pride, one with respect to which all Americans can surely share with him our personal congratulations and as part of our national celebration of a landmark event of powerful and important symbolism transcending any single individual.
But without dismissing or denigrating that, I respectfully (if not humbly) submit that there is an even larger sense in which today's inauguration is extraordinary and historic: Never, in at least modern American history (since the rise of prompt and effective national channels of communications some time prior to the Civil War), have we chosen a President about whose fundamental qualities we all know so very little, and onto whom such diverse and mutually inconsistent expectations have been passionately projected.
Pick almost any imaginable description of Barack Obama's fundamental beliefs and tendencies and instincts, and you can then find rhetoric from his speeches to support that description. (But beware: contrary examples can be easily found.)
Pick almost any imaginable description of Barack Obama's fundamental beliefs and tendencies and instincts, and you will then find only a short and insubstantial list of actions and accomplishments to support that description. (And beware: contrary examples can be easily found.)
I genuinely do not know — but I have grave doubts — whether Barack Obama even has any fundamental beliefs and tendencies and instincts, other than a pronouncedly non-humble belief that he ought to be President. I think he may have that, along with gifts for rhetoric and back-alley politics, in common with the Forty-Second President, the husband of our present Sec-State Nominee.
Because my conviction is that Barack Obama is, at present, still so without a track record that he cannot be meaningfully evaluated, I frankly don't attach any importance at all to the rest of his inaugural address. I concede that's flippant on my part. He struck a great many fine notes in it. But his own history doesn't give me a clue what parts of it represent core beliefs and what parts of it are rhetorical window dressing — so as far as I'm concerned, at this point it's all window dressing, and we don't know what's actually inside the window.
I am consciously resolved to hope for the best. Our new President is, to me and I think to anyone who's even moderately trying to be objective, a known unknown. Because he's never actually led anything larger than his own presidential campaign before — and that achieved a modest victory over a pathetic opponent in a political climate in which it would have taken concentrated self-destructiveness for any Democrat to lose — it requires hope and faith to believe that Barack Obama can effectively lead the United States of America as either the Chief Executive of our laws, the head of State, or the Commander in Chief of our military.
So I will forgive him his fib today about being "humbled," and I'll reserve judgment on the rest of his speech. I will instead hope and pray that he turns out to be even a fraction as well suited for his new job as he clearly believes himself to be.
Congratulations to Barack Obama on his inauguration, and God save the President and these United States.
\**/ I wonder if Pres. Obama and Chief Justice Roberts, with or without the Lincoln Bible, will re-speak the Oath of Office correctly sometime today in private, or perhaps already have done so? As Adam Liptak points out, there's precedent for that dating back to the Coolidge Administration, and it's a low-trouble cost-free way to forestall litigation and foreclose doubts. (Surely by now someone has already grabbed the BadOathMeansObamaIsntPrez.com domain name.) As for the video-clip moment being slightly spoiled for history's archives, perhaps Sen. Obama ought to have thought twice about voting to deny confirmation to our Chief Justice — who I'm sure was innocent of any malice aforethought, but who might also recognize, in settings outside the Supreme Court Building, the laws of karma.
\***/ Regular readers will understand that I refer to Dubya as "President Stubborn" for the most part with affection, admiration, and appreciation. In commuting the sentences of, but refusing to pardon outright, even such arguably worthy candidates as Scooter Libby or former U.S. Border Patrol agents Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean, he left office just as he entered it — hand-in-hand with and faithful to a devoted and loving wife, stubbornly as ever "the anti-Clinton." In a moment of considerable self-insight near the end of his term, Dubya mused that 9/11 had changed him, and that while after 9/11 some Americans had managed to return to their pre-9/11 mindsets, he never had. He said today, upon arriving back in Texas, that what he'll miss most about the presidency is the association with the incredible men and women of our armed forces who served under his command. On behalf of myself and my safe and healthy family, and all of the other Americans who've been free from major terrorist attacks on U.S. soil since 9/11/01 (including those who lack the sense to appreciate that for themselves or the grace to give credit where due for it): Thank you, President Stubborn.