Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Shubert is on the other foot 

In yet another illustration of the difference between campaigning and governing, the Obama administration invoked the state secrets privilege in the Shubert case (relating to "warrantless wiretapping") in San Francisco in federal district court on Friday. Attorney General Eric Holder's statement is here, in which he comes close to saying, "Hey, when we invoke state secrets privilege, we do it the right way, and we're reluctant, and we feel bad about doing it, so it's cool. The Bush administration liked to do it, it made them feel good, so that wasn't cool." But I kid. The AG made the correct call here, so CWCID.

Over at Powerline, John Hinderaker comments:
The only possible conclusion, I think, is that Barack Obama (who criticized the NSA program during the campaign), James Risen, Eric Lichtblau, Bill Keller, the Pulitzer Prize committee and countless other liberals owe the Bush administration an apology.
That is a low probability event.

CWCID: Powerlineblog

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This Doesn't Define Me 

There are many kinds of courage.

We hear most about the bravery of battle, when the adrenaline is pumping and soldiers are fighting just to stay alive. But we rarely hear about the incredible courage and strength needed to sit up for the first time despite searing pain, to stand, to take those few wobbly steps...

... or, against all odds, to run again.

Meet some wounded vets who have not only recovered from severe combat injuries, but who have gone on to things most of us only dream of doing. In today's culture of victimization and excuses for failure, these stories are a testament to the strength and resilience of the human spirit; in our ability to overcome adversity.

This is America: not a nation of whiners but a nation of winners:
I've been wakeboarding, water-skiing, jet-skiing, tubing, rock climbing, snow skiing, playing catch with my brother. I try to do the same things. I'm not going to let it stop me. We did a 110-mile bike ride from Gettysburg to Washington, D. C. Sixty miles the first day, fifty miles the second day. Hand cycle, three wheels. I ended up ripping the glove, breaking the hand, breaking the whole socket. I might do it a little differently, but I'm still going to do it...

... This doesn't define me. It may be how I look on the outside, but it's not who I am. I guess you could remember me easily as being a triple amputee, but it's not who I am, has nothing to do with who I am. I've always been the same person.

Words to live by.

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Transparency We Can't Believe In 

It's... transparency like you've never seen! The White House blog gushes:
We previously announced that the White House in December of this year would -- for the first time in history -- begin posting all White House visitor records under the terms of our new voluntary disclosure policy. As part of that initiative, we also offered to look back at the records created before the announcement of the policy and answer specific requests for visitor records created earlier in the year.

They may have a point, if by transparency like you've never seen before, they mean "transparency that isn't actually transparent". Transparency isn't worth much unless it increases trust in government and it's hard to trust a government that's not actually transparent:
Only about 110 names —and 481 visits —out of the hundreds of thousands who have visited the Obama White House were made public. Like the Bush administration before it, Obama is arguing that any release is voluntary, not required by law, despite two federal court rulings to the contrary.

110 names, out of hundreds of thousands. Given that we have three co-equal branches of government, I believe the White House is within its rights to refuse to disclose its visitor list. But if they're going to promise to be open with the American public, shouldn't the goal be real openness rather than selective disclosure? Technically, transparency isn't that hard to achieve, assuming that's what the White House really intends. So why waste time and effort answering individual queries? If the goal is transparency, wouldn't it be simpler to put all the White House visitors into a searchable database and let users sort it all out? The Cato Institute, which has carefully tracked Obama's transparency initiatives since he was elected, isn't buying the White House's "partial transparency" hype:
... a three to four month delay in revealing visits is too long. Much of this information is computerized at the White House and could be revealed in real time or within 24 hours. Also, visits that are not revealed for security or diplomatic reasons should be noted as such so that the quantity of such visits can be tracked over time and misuse of this secrecy ferreted out.

Below the jump is an updated ”Sunlight Before Signing” chart, reflecting all the bills President Obama has signed to date. Still only one (of sixty-one bills) has been posted on Whitehouse.gov for five days before signing. (That’s a .016 average, baseball fans.)

...I’ve amended the chart to highlight an interesting thing: Two-thirds of the time (41 of 61), the White House has held bills for five days or more before President Obama has signed them. The only thing keeping him from fulfilling his promise as to these bills is the simple failure to post them on Whitehouse.gov. It’s hard to understand why the White House is not taking this easy step.

What value does a promise have when you only keep it 16% 1.6%** of the time? Obama was lavish with his promises on the campaign trail. So far at least 7 of his transparency promises have been broken:
1. Make Government Open and Transparent
2. Make it "Impossible" for Congressmen to slip in Pork Barrel Projects: the AP's Calvin Woodward fact checked Obama's claim that the stimulus was pork free and found it to be false.
3. Meetings where laws are written will be more open to the public (Republicans have repeatedly been shut out)
4. No more secrecy (Glenn Greenwald begs to differ)
5. Public will have 5 days to look at a Bill (that promise was broken during his first 90 days)
6. You'll know what's in it (not if the Democrats can help it)
7. We will put every pork barrel project online. Hmmm... that didn't happen, either.

But there's a far more serious problem here: Obama keeps making foolish promises that prove impractical or even impossible to keep. He doesn't seem to understand that as President, he speaks for the nation. When America continually says one thing and does another, we lose credibility and Americans (not to mention the rest of the world) lose faith in government.

Obama's recent experience with the Nobel Prize Committee seems to have convinced him that simply saying he means to do something is enough regardless of whether his actions live up to his rhetoric. Of course, when both the media and the Nobel committee seem determined to grade him on appearances, can you blame him?

** Thanks so much to the anonymous reader who corrected this figure for me.

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Homeward Bound 


If you find it's me you're missing,
if you're hoping I'll return.
To your thoughts I'll soon be list'ning,
and in the road I'll stop and turn.

Then the wind will set me racing
as my journey nears its end.
And the path I'll be retracing
when I'm homeward bound again.

Bind me not to the pasture,
chain me not to the plow.
Set me free to find my calling
and I'll return to you somehow.

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Friday, October 30, 2009

The new flat Earthism 

People who have followed the slow degradation of Al Gore's credibility will find nothing surprising in this post. But you should read it anyway. You know, so you are well prepared to disrupt all the best cocktail parties.

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Friday afternoon news you can use 

Some -- not me, mind you, but some -- would say that female humans could learn a thing or two from their megachiropteran cousins.

CWCID: Glenn Reynolds.

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Politicizing the Dead 

I wasn't going to say anything about President Obama's recent trip to Dover. But I can't let nonsense like this go unchallenged:
This is what a president does.
US President Barack Obama has paid his respects to 18 Americans killed in Afghanistan, the first time he has honoured the fallen in this way.

NPR notes that,
The dramatic image of a president on the tarmac was a portrait not witnessed in years.

His predecessor, George W Bush, visited the families of dead troops but never received the bodies at the base, in Dover, Delaware.

When 17 of the 18 families decline the honor of having the return of their loved one turned into an apologia for Obama's dithering over Afghanistan, that speaks volumes:

A small contingent of reporters and photographers accompanied Mr. Obama to Dover, where he arrived at 12:34 a.m. aboard Marine One. He returned to the South Lawn of the White House at 4:45 a.m.
The images and the sentiment of the president's five-hour trip to Delaware were intended by the White House to convey to the nation that Mr. Obama was not making his Afghanistan decision lightly or in haste.

That thought has, perhaps, belatedly occurred to the NY Times. For some reason they felt it necessary to edit out much of their original article on the President's visit to Dover.

Planes arrive every day carrying fallen warriors from Iraq and Afghanistan. The Dover ban was lifted 8 months ago. I could say I think it's odd that the President suddenly felt the urge to do what he could have done at any time during the last 9 months. He didn't, after all, need to allow the press to photograph his visit. He could have visited Dover even before the media ban was lifted.

But I won't go there. Instead I'll just say, "It's about time." and "Thank you, Mr. President, for doing the right thing."

Jimbo says it best:
The deaths of brave Americans are not fodder for politics. I don't believe that is what President Obama intended, but if so he could have foregone the photo op. Sometimes you have to stop listening to your handlers and do something just because it's the right thing.

Update: This is what a President does:

The charge that President Bush didn’t care about fallen troops, just because he didn’t have himself photographed during the deeply private and solemn moments with their families is disgusting and obscene.

Last December, after the completion of Bush’s two terms, The Washington Times finally published an exclusive story about the former President’s dedication to the troops, something he never felt the need to publicize:

For much of the past seven years, President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney have waged a clandestine operation inside the White House. It has involved thousands of military personnel, private presidential letters and meetings that were kept off their public calendars or sometimes left the news media in the dark.

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

Speaks volumes, doesn't it? And today his refusal to use the families of the fallen as political props is cited as evidence that he was indifferent to our grief.


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Thursday, October 29, 2009

Talking with Tehran, again and again 

It was so nice to see the latest overture to Tehran bear fruit in quite copious quantities, as AP reports:
Iran's president pledged Thursday to work with the West to resolve a standoff over its nuclear program even as his country reportedly balked at a U.S.-backed deal to limit its uranium enrichment and curb its ability to make a nuclear warhead.

A Western diplomat said Iran rejected a plan to export most of its enriched uranium, offering instead to enrich it to a higher level inside the country under U.N. supervision.

The disconnect between the words of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Tehran's decision, as related by the diplomat, reflected the difficulties facing international negotiators trying to persuade Iran to give up enrichment.

Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, whose country holds told the European Union's rotating presidency, was dismissive after seeing the offer.

"It's the same old tricks," he told the AP: "A back-and-forth for further talks."
(Emphasis added)

This is turning into a high-stakes real-life version of the movie Groundhog Day, except I don't think anyone gets to sleep with Andie MacDowell at the end.

Then there's the old joke, "Why do you keep hitting yourself in the head with a hammer like that?"

"Because it feels so good when I stop."

The difference being, I am not sure talks ever stop, even (or especially) after Iran tests its first nuclear weapon.

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Yankee Stadium 

To me, the funniest thing about the pre-game introductions before Game 1 of the World Series last night was not the First and Second Ladies of the United States participating in the ceremonial throwing of the first pitch, but the Star Wars theme music that was used to introduce the Phillies players and the Yankees players.

The Phillies were introduced with the imposing "Imperial March" or Darth Vader theme, and the Yanks came onto the field with the uplifting main score or Jedi theme. I thought that the Yankees fans were proud of being the Evil Empire -- signing the available top free agents every year for high prices (C.C. Sabathia and Mark Teixeira this past off season for total contract consideration in excess of $300 million combined). Shouldn't the Yankees be introduced with the Imperial March music?

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Off the slab 

Paul Kedrosky:

Turns out coursing a few gigavolts of financial stimulus current through even an economy the size of the U.S. will still get Frankenstein off the slab, however briefly.

More here.

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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Oh Thank Heavens! 

For a moment, I was worried I was going to have to start caring.

Though Obama did say he was committed to talking to America's enemies... Seriously, the White House spin alone is worth the price of admission:
A senior Obama adviser says that, even though the West Wing has been roundly criticized by both adversaries and some allies for blasting Fox as an arm of the Republican Party and not a real news organization, administration insiders are pleased with how things stand.

The fuss has energized core Democrats who have wanted Obama and his advisers to get tough with Fox and other critics of the administration, the adviser says. And it has made the point that Fox is an outlier in the journalistic community, a notion that many liberals embrace…

Nothin' like preaching to the choir to boost the old self confidence. I'm sure the folks at FoxNews are licking their wounds and heaving a big sigh of relief.

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A Challenge, and an Offer! 

My Dad has offered to match the first 10 $100 donations made to Project Valour IT. This means you can double your gift and net $2000 for this worthy cause.

Also I'd like to put something else out there. If you'd like to make a gift in memory of a loved one, I will put their name on my sidebar and I'll keep it there after the competition ends. Donating to Valour IT is a great way to honor the memory of someone you love, and to ensure that others remember them too.

Email me (cassandra.vc at gmail dot com) your sanitized (I don't need to see your cc address, checking account number, or home address) electronic receipt from Soldier's Angels.

And don't forget to let me know if you'd like me to append your name and contribution amount to this post. I'll assume, unless directed otherwise, that you wish to remain anonymous.

If you're looking for inspiration, here are two inspiring stories to get you fired up:

Standing Tall

I met USMC Lance Cpl. James Crosby in June 2004. He was 19. He was a kid from a blue-collar background in Winthrop, Mass., and his body was a mess. But I could tell within minutes of meeting him that he was no ordinary kid, and I was pretty sure I’d hear his name again. From the Boston Herald archives:

“I WILL walk again,” Crosby said last week at the West Roxbury Veterans Administration Hospital, where the Winthrop native has been in physical therapy, fighting infections and undergoing surgeries since mid-April.

Everything changed for Crosby on March 18 at Al Asad airbase. He had been in Iraq a month. He was on a truck, after making a PX run and calling his wife. He heard a whistling noise.

“I looked over my shoulder and saw three big fireballs, maybe 10 yards away,” Crosby said. “I felt the blast. My chest felt like it was exploding. It was happening in slow motion. All sound stopped.

“My legs went out. I hit the ground. The sound started again. I grabbed a guy’s pant leg and said, `Hey, tell my wife I love her.’ The corporal comes over and says, `Crosby, get up.’ I said, `I can’t, my legs don’t work.’ ”

And a reminder of just how lucky we are.

C'mon, Marine team! Let's goose that thermometer!

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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Give to Project Valour-IT 

We have joined this year's blog campaign to raise money for Project Valour-IT, which provides tech equipment to wounded American fighting men and women. Cassandra has written a comprehensive background post, but it comes down to this: grateful Americans, providing voice-activated laptops and other helpful tech gear to severely wounded troops. They need this stuff, and we owe it to them. So let's help.

The campaign is a (not so) friendly rivalry among "teams" representing the services, and we've joined the Marines team. The first service to hit $35,000 wins, and you know how much Marines love winning. I, for one, do not want to disappoint them. But the money all ends up in the same place, helping Americans who really deserve our help regardless of their service.

Give to support Valour-IT by clicking on the thermometer in the widget below or through this link. I will also put it at the top of our right sidebar so you can come back and easily find the link if you see a chance to put the Marines over the top! Please give generously.

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Monday, October 26, 2009

Headless horseman 

My cousin carves a mean Jack o' Lantern.

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So far, this ACORN investigation has ensnared ACORN offices in Philadelphia, New York (Brooklyn, that is), San Diego, San Bernadino, Baltimore and DC.

What are the odds this thing gets to Chicago?

Are Andrew Breitbart and his Big Government blog, together with his two cub reporters, today's Washington Post, Woodward and Bernstein (in the making)?

Think about this.

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A (very) short note on corporate governance 

If by some unfortunate chance some person you encounter approvingly cites Eliot Spitzer on the question of corporate governance or ethics in business, delight them with this link.

CWCID: Glenn Reynolds.

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Ooh Rah! 

The Marine team (Project Valour IT) has pulled into an early lead but we can't afford to rest on our laurels! The Army, Navy, and Air Force dwarf us in size. This means we need to work 10 times as hard just to keep up.

Please dig deep into your hearts and wallets. Every cent donated goes directly to wounded vets. Over at VC we've got Marine trivia quizzes, an interview with today's Marine of the Day, and inspirational and funny videos galore. There's even a sci-fi quiz to restore your self respect if you bomb on 'Corps Lore.

And don't forget - we can always use more blogs on our team! In fact, you can join throughout the competition. To get you all motivated, we thought you might like to hear from one of our junior Marines:

Go Marine team!

Update: Welcome new team members:

J's Cafe Nette
New Business Hawk
The Backpost
D S H (dot) N E T
Melissa Clouthier
Hugh Hewitt
Ruby Slippers

As you can see from the combined team widget, Army just received a giant donation that put them solidly in the lead. This will not stand.

For the rest of the day I will match Marine team donations up to a total of $500.00. This is the best investment you will ever make - you're investing in the recovery of men and women who have literally laid their lives on the line for this country. They've paid a steep price for their courage and valor, and they deserve a fighting chance at the good life they've ensured for each of us. Look at what your donation can mean to a wounded soldier, sailor, Marine or airman:

Thank you so much for delivering the computer, quilt and goodies. It is comforting to know there are people who care so much. After a year of surgeries, treatment and therapy, it can be discouraging. Although I am a trained attorney, due to TBI, it is unclear what my future will be.The computer will help with my therapy and my transition back to civilian work.

I don't know where to start. I was thrilled and truly appreciative of the laptop donation that Soldiers Angels sent. My neurology team is ecstatic with the progress that I have made, yet we all temper our excitement as I still have a long recovery ahead. Due to the great hearts (sponsors, donors, volunteers and others too numerous to mention) within Soldiers Angels I have become more mobile in my rehabilitation and the laptop is absolutely one of the tools that I have in my recovery toolbox. I use it to keep current on my schedule and have several applications that assist with recovery.

It's not often we have the chance to have a direct effect on someone else's life and I can't think of anyone who deserves it more than our wounded veterans. Please open up those wallets - and ask your friends to donate as well. If you work for a corporation that matches charitable donations, ask them to match your gift.

Just think - with me and your corporation matching funds, you could triple your gift. Do it now!

Update: I just matched a very generous gift of $250.00. But I have $250.00 left!

Any takerss? Someone? Anyone??? Bueller? :) email me a *sanitized* receipt from Soldiers Angels (I don't need to see your cc or checking account number) and I'll match your donation!

cassandra.vc at gmail dot com

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Sunday, October 25, 2009

The global distribution of wealth and the eradication of poverty 

It is fashionable in certain circles to twist one's hanky over poverty around the world, and the vast gulf between rich and poor. But, according to one way of looking at it, at least before the present global recession both absolute poverty and the gap between rich and poor were shrinking rapidly.

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Red sky at morning 

Phone camera shot of the New Orleans dawn, this morning, walking back from the Cafe du Monde. The resolution is not the best, but I like the orange on the water.

Dawn in New Orleans

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Dollar wise 

Daniel Drezner explains rather cogently why the dollar is going to remain the world's reserve currency, fretting from the right notwithstanding. Megan McArdle does not disagree with the main point, but does not believe that the current obsession with the dollar's value has much to do with opposition to Obama:

A large segment of the right ascribes almost magical properties to fixed currency, like the ability to keep the government from borrowing too much money. This is belied by the long history of government's on commodity or currency pegs borrowing a great deal of money, and then defaulting and/or revaluing. It is also belied by the fact that the government cannot actually borrow a ton of money in the expectation of inflating away the debt, because neither the bondholders nor the Fed are particularly likely to go along. But for a lot of the right, still, what is good for the US dollar is what is good for America--and what is good for the US dollar is simply being worth as much as possible relative to other currencies.

But whatever the reason, the dollar obsessives were in plentiful supply under Bush, and I suspect are coming out of their hidey holes now mostly because the dollar is again dropping dramatically.

I agree. I'm not much for a strong dollar per se. But it would be useful if it did not swing in value with so much velocity.

Finally, Paul Kedrosky crunches the numbers and largely puts to rest the paranoid assertion that Matt Drudge's dollar obsession actually influences the currency markets.

CWCID: Linkiest, where there are many interesting things to read.

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Health care "reform": What about the specialists? 

One of our competitors, the orthopedic implants manufacturer Biomet, has put together a nice video examining some of the arguments made by "progressive" health care reformers. It is worth your time:

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The end of a man's castle 

A man is standing in his kitchen, naked, making coffee. A woman, who happens to be married to a cop, walks across his lawn with her kid on their way to school, takes note of the man's "torso," and has him arrested. For standing naked in his own house. In addition to wondering what the hell the world is coming to when a trespasser calls the cops on somebody standing in his own kitchen in whatever state of dress or undress, Michelle Catalano poses an interesting thought experiment:

What if the tables were turned? What if Williamson were a woman and a man walked by the house instead of a woman? What if that man happened to look into the window, staring long enough to see that the woman inside was naked? Would he call the cops to say he was flashed? Probably not, because he would end up in handcuffs for being a peeping Tom. A woman looks in on a naked man and thinks he is committing a crime. A man looks in on a naked woman and she thinks he is committing a crime. Weird how that works.

Discuss among yourselves with as much wit as you can muster.

In the interests of full disclosure -- apparently a new requirement for bloggers in the Obama States of America -- I have actually made coffee in my underwear, so I have some skin in this debate. Fortunately, the only house with a view in to my kitchen is filled with French people who probably are not terribly troubled if they catch a glimpse of my "torso," but that is just good fortune. They might have been priggish cop wives. My castle, and if you do not want to see what is going on inside do not look in the goddamn windows.

CWCID: Glenn Reynolds.

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Facebook status of the day 

From my scroll:

Enjoying central Jersey autumn foliage. Almost worth the 11.5 percent income tax. If only you didn't have the same view from the other side of the Delaware for half-price....

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Tiger picture of the day 

I gotta get me one of these:

Tiger, New Orleans Convention Center

New Orleans Convention Center.

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Saturday, October 24, 2009

Socialism is the Best Disinfectant 


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We're Still Looking For a Few Good Men (and Women!) 

... with the mettle to join the 2009 Marine Team:
Project Valour-IT provides voice-controlled/adaptive laptop computers and other technology to support Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines recovering from hand wounds and other severe injuries. Technology supplied includes:

* Voice-controlled Laptops - Operated by speaking into a microphone or using other adaptive technologies, they allow the wounded to maintain connections with the rest of the world during recovery.

* Wii Video Game Systems - Whole-body game systems increase motivation and speed recovery when used under the guidance of physical therapists in therapy sessions (donated only to medical facilities).

* Personal GPS - Handheld GPS devices build self-confidence and independence by compensating for short-term memory loss and organizational challenges related to severe TBI and severe PTSD.

Valour IT is one of my favorite military charities. I've supported them every year and in 2006 led the Marine team to a squeaker with Navy (we outraised them, but they rallied to cross the finish line first and win the competition).

The inter service competition is all in good fun: all donated funds go to the same great cause and every cent we raise will go directly to wounded soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines. But as the smallest service, the Marine team needs all the help we can get to give larger services like Navy, Army, and Air Force a run for their money. We're determined to pull out all the stops this year. The competition starts Monday, October 26th. Over at VC we'll be featuring lots of Marine history, culture, stories of heroism, jokes, trivia, games and inter-service snark.

If you have a blog, please consider joining us. We've already got some fantastic bloggers on board (including the always-amazing Tigerhawk) but we can always use more. Even if you don't have a blog, please share this post with your friends and urge them to support the
Few... the Loud... the Marines.

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Friday, October 23, 2009

Bono: U.S. more polarized 

AP music writer Nekesa Mumbi Moody writes today about U2:
Charismatic front man Bono, in a reflective mood as U2 closes the North American leg of its "360" tour, notes the different, more polarized atmosphere in the United States since the band performed its anthem, "City of Blinding Lights," at President Obama's inauguration in January.

"I didn't think it could come to this so quickly, after the joyous occasion of that election," Bono says in an interview on board the band's plane, as they jet to another stop on the tour. "I thought America was looking good. ... Things are getting a little rough now."
(Emphasis added)

Unless I am misunderstanding the reporter, Bono is saying that in the 9 months and 3 days since President Obama was inaugurated, he perceives that there has been an increase in the degree of polarization in the U.S. While it is certainly true that President Obama's honeymoon has come to its natural conclusion (as would be the case with all new presidents), and his popularity has declined from the stratosphere to the levels inhabited by mere mortal politicians, I am not sure how that equates to more polarization.

Frankly, the country does not seem any more polarized now in October 2009 than it has been at any point over the past 5 years, but perhaps what Bono is picking up on is the new forums that conservatives have used to vent, now that they are out of power in the executive branch and have large majorities against them in the legislative branch. I also believe it is important to distinguish between the normal rough and tumble discourse that takes place in a republic with a strong tradition of free speech, and actual polarity -- meaning that the political extremes dominate the discussion, which can lead to longer term instability.

I do not believe that Bono meant his remark as an indirect slap at President Obama, who, after all, campaigned with the theme of changing politics as usual, and becoming the first post-partisan President (clearly, that has not happened). Well, at least Bono is trying to, er, elevate the discussion. He would have been a worthy Nobel Peace Prize recipient this year.

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H1N1 briefing 

Suddenly, I know several people with the flu, flu-like symptoms, or even H1N1. Here is a very interesting video briefing on the subject; I have only watched part of it, but more than enough to know that it is worthy of your attention.

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Kudos to the networks 

Relating to the Containment post below, the four network news organizations other than Fox News declined to interview the "pay czar" Kenneth Feinberg unless Fox was given an opportunity to be included in the pool, as Fox itself reports:

The Obama administration on Thursday failed in its attempt to exclude Fox News from participating in an interview of an administration official, as Republicans on Capitol Hill stepped up their criticism of the hardball tactics employed by the White House.

The Treasury Department on Thursday tried to make "pay czar" Kenneth Feinberg available for interviews to every member of the network pool except Fox News. The pool is the five-network rotation that for decades has shared the costs and duties of daily coverage of the presidency and other Washington institutions.

But the Washington bureau chiefs of the five TV networks consulted and decided that none of their reporters would interview Feinberg unless Fox News was included. The pool informed Treasury that Fox News, as a member of the network pool, could not be excluded from such interviews under the rules of the pool.
Whatever the reasoning of the other four networks -- enlightened self-interest, "first they came for Fox...", or they just like Megyn Kelly -- it was the stand-up thing to do. But what in the name of Spiro T. Agnew was the White House (or more precisely, Treasury) thinking? In the best case scenario for the White House, some overzealous communications person at Treasury independently decided to exclude Fox, based upon some perception of what would please Axelrod. If Treasury took orders on this matter from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, then it is the stupidest incident of political revenge against a media outlet in a long time. In any case, this incident makes the White House look incredibly petty and ineffectual.

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Friday afternoon curiousity: A suicide in Austria 

Anybody want to weave a story around this bit of news?

Police are investigating after a British nuclear energy expert involved in negotiations with Iran over its nuclear programme fell 40 metres to his death from a UN building in Vienna.

You cannot help but wonder whether the mullahs are sending a message to -- or throwing a brushback pitch at -- the Western delegations charged with boxing them in. With more hawkish leadership in the United States this would be a very bad move, because it would undermine the idea that "negotiations" -- in the talky sense rather than the "diplomacy of force" sense -- can contain Iranian aggression.

Of course, it might have been an accident.

CWCID: Dawnfire82's Facebook scroll.

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Annals of climate science: The crying wolf problem 

The climate scientists, some number of whom have become political activists, are in a difficult spot. Virtually the entire case for destructive anthropogenic global warming remains in the future. Warmer winters are saving lives heretofore lost to cold and extending the growing season. There are very few people in the American north who wish to go back to the harsh winters of the 1970s. Virtually all the bad stuff lies in the future, the land of prediction.

The problem, of course, is that if predictions do not come true people begin to doubt the entire premise. In 1972, we all believed The Population Bomb and the Club of Rome report, and today we do not. No demographic or resource disaster happened on the predicted schedule, or even close to it.

The same thing is beginning to happen to the activist scientists who have propelled the debate over anthropogenic global warming. The most evocative predictions of James Hansen, the NASA scientist who has made his career in predicting climate disaster, have not come true (ouch). The result of these failures and others is that Americans are less willing to believe the predictions of disaster.

Most curiously, the declining belief in disastrous anthropogenic global warming has come during the first year of the first American president who has openly and aggressively argued that we face disaster if we do not take immediate and dramatic steps to curb greenhouse gas emissions. So, are Americans less willing to believe in AGW in spite of Barack Obama's call for action, or because of it?

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Thursday, October 22, 2009

Norwegian egalitarianism 

Imagine the howls of protest across the political spectrum if the IRS used its website to post the income and wealth of every U.S. taxpayer. (Come to think of it, I am not sure that the IRS could reasonably guess the individual balance sheets of, say, the wealthiest 10% of Americans with any accuracy, since there is actually very little in the way of balance sheet reporting that is made by taxpayers). In Norway, that just happened, as AP reports:
It's the moment nosy Norwegian neighbors have been waiting for — the release of official records showing the annual income and overall wealth of nearly every taxpayer in the Scandinavian country.

In a move that would be unthinkable elsewhere, tax authorities in Norway have issued the "skatteliste," or "tax list," for 2008 to the media under a law designed to uphold the country's tradition of transparency.
One of the features of the reporting is that it does not include income generated outside of Norway, or offshore accounts. I will venture a guess that the top tier of wealthy and high-earning Norwegians conduct a fair amount of their economic activity in places beyond the scope of the data collectors in Oslo.

I've enjoyed visiting Norway, and have made friends with Norwegians living in the U.S. -- skiing and having adult beverages and much fun -- but there certainly are a few features of the political culture which contrast sharply with America.

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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Freakonomics: Goofy correlation of the day 

In the category of goofy correlations, check out this graph of average credit scores by email domain. I can understand why Comcast and Bellsouth are higher than the internet services -- you cannot get or at least maintain cable television if you do not pay your bills -- but why is Gmail so high? Is it because of its original invitation-only growth strategy?

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The real reason the White House is attacking Fox News.

The major networks are all transparently ideological. There are at least five, including CNN and MSNBC that are, in the main, to the left of the American center in attitude and emphasis, and one, Fox, that is to the right. This idea propounded on the left that Fox is the lone departure from objective professionalism is, of course, ridiculous, and it has not been laughed in to oblivion only because it is also in the best commercial and ideological interests of the rest of the mainstream media to contain Fox.

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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Good advice 

I, too, believe it is important for men to have a good attitude toward menstruation.

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Is Barack Obama ending one of America's long wars? 

Every hawk is a dove about some war, and for me it is the war on drugs. If Barack Obama is quietly bringing it to an end, good on him. In the linked story, I like this bit:

In a column last May, FP Editor in Chief Moisés Naím called the United States "both the world’s largest importer of illicit drugs and the world’s largest exporter of bad drug policy," despite the fact that most Americans acknowledge that the current approach isn't working.

True, dat.

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Monday, October 19, 2009

Facebook status of the day 

[Mrs. Charlottesvillain's] third grader drew up a list of her first grader's "crimes," to wit: (1) loving at a young age, (2) sabotage, (3) treachery, and (4) stealing candy. Sounds like some sort of pirate adventure. . . . Featuring candy.

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Sunday, October 18, 2009

Mixed emotions 

There's an old joke: Q: What's the definition of "mixed emotions"? A: Your mother-in-law driving your new Cadillac [I told you it was an old joke. - ed.] off a cliff.

Or, I suppose, jihadi suicide bombers blowing up Iranian Revolutionary Guards. I mean, if you have to be a suicide bomber it is hard to imagine a more worthy target.

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"Hate crimes" and religion as an immutable characteristic 

My lefty friends are sending me this link, which seems to show House Minority Leader John Boehner implicitly, at least, taking the position that religion is something that you are born with while sexual orientation is a choice. The context is that he is supporting existing "hate crime" laws but opposing the addition of sexual orientation as a new protected class. As presented, Boehner's position is, of course, idiotic, and nobody with a brain, no matter how conservative, ought to defend it. Whether or not one believes that one's sexual orientation is a choice, or at least can be a choice, there is no question that one's religion is a choice. In the United States, at least, people change their religion with much greater velocity than they change their sexual orientation.

Be that as it may, this alleged gaffe reveals the incoherence of our thinking about religion and the protection of the practice thereof under our various civil rights, employment, and criminal laws. The weak link in Boehner's (supposed) thinking and in the logic underpinning our legal regime is the blurring of the line between religious belief and practice, on the one hand, and religious heritage, on the other. As all people who do not practice or who practice differently than their parents know, we choose beliefs and practices, but often cannot escape our religious heritage. The secular or even converted Europeans of Jewish ancestry who died in the Holocaust are the most tragic and stark example of the difference, but far from unique.

If we thought about this coherently, we would regard religious beliefs and practices as simply another set of opinions with all the protections for free expression available under the Constitution, but with no special protection that we do not assign to any other opinions. So, if we are entitled to mock people who do not believe in climate change, we should also be able to mock people who do not believe in Christ, or the Messenger, or fried green tomatoes. If I am allowed to fire somebody because they have opinions that I believe are asinine, it should not matter if those opinions are grounded in ancient scripture or fortified with incantations. I should be as free to discriminate against a person who will not eat a ham sandwich for reasons of religious beliefs as I am to discriminate against vegans. I should be allowed to ban both burkhas and short-shorts from my office if either or both are inconsistent with the professional image that I want to establish.

But, I do agree that if we are going to outlaw discrimination against race and gender we should also outlaw discrimination against religious heritage. You cannot help it if your mother wears a burkha, and I should not hold that against you as a matter of decency and law. Neither should I discriminate against you because your name is Moish or Mohammad.

There are many advantages to this formulation. Among other things, it would go a long way to clarifying the boundaries of various anti-discrimination laws, particularly with regard to religious practice. Treating religious opinions and speech like any other would sharply improve the quality of First Amendment jurisprudence, make it clear that religious practices in schools are just as privileged as political speech, and sweep away the ridiculous lefty idea that children need more protection from majority religious opinions than majority secular opinions.

Unfortunately, I have little hope that either left or right will accept the distinction between religious beliefs and religious heritage. Too many on the right believe that religion is a calling that cannot be resisted and that it is, in fact, immutable. Too many on the left want to afford special protection for Islamic opinions, and would worry that if we relegated Islam to just another body of opinions it would open the door to discrimination against a class of people who are already "victims" of Western imperialism. Plus the fact that liberals believe that just about any unpleasant behavior ought to be grounds for a lawsuit.

Of course, your results may vary. Release the hounds.

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Saturday, October 17, 2009

Important developments in Islamic law 

All too often one gets the sense that John "Bluto" Blutarsky is behind the interpretation of Islamic law. Apparently the Somali religious cops are now asking women to prove their own reality.

The insurgent group Al Shabaab has sent gunmen into the streets of Mogadishu to round up any women who appear to have a firm bust, residents claimed yesterday.

The women are then inspected to see if the firmness is natural, or if it is the result of wearing a bra.

If they are found wearing a bra, they are ordered to remove it and shake their breasts, residents said.

You know that the grunts charged with this duty had more than a few chuckles when that order came down from the clerical overlords.

Of course, what happens next is no joke. It never is when the Islamists take over.

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The Hawkeyes roll, and the Badgers roll over 

Iowa beat Wisconsin in Madison this afternoon, extending its two-season winning streak to 11 games. The game in East Lansing next week looms large, then Indiana and Northwestern in Iowa City. If the Hawkeyes do not blow it, they will play for the big dance in Columbus on November 14. Although not as big a dance as we might have hoped, with Ohio State losing to Purdue this afternoon. Doh!

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Shepard Fairey is a liar 

Shepherd Fairey, the creator of the iconic "HOPE" poster of Barack Obama during the 2008 campaign, might now regret his violation of fair use. In a story the AP must take some joy in publishing, the wire service reports:
Shepard Fairey's claim that he had the right to use a news photo to create his famous Barack Obama "HOPE" poster became a widely watched court case about fair use that now appears to have nearly collapsed.

By Friday night, his attorneys — led by Anthony Falzone, executive director of the Fair Use Project at Stanford University — had withdrawn from the case and said the artist had misled them by fabricating information and destroying other material.

Fairey himself admitted that he didn't use The Associated Press photo of Obama seated next to actor George Clooney he originally said his work was based on — which he claimed would have been covered under "fair use," the legal claim that copyrighted work can be used without having to pay for it.
Running next to the story is graphic of the poster next to the original AP photo shot by Manny Garcia.

So if the HOPE poster was based on a lie...

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Gross magic tricks 

In the category of creepy magic tricks, this is pretty cool, although some would find it a little yucky.

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Friday, October 16, 2009

Annals of bad management 

Perhaps there is more to this story than meets the eye, but the Philadelphia Inquirer is reporting that a Chester City firefighter was suspended for not removing a sticker of an American flag from his locker, in violation of a new rule prohibiting decorations from appearing on the outside of any lockers. The rule was established when an offensive cartoon was placed on a locker door and there was a complaint about it.

Fire Commissioner James Johnson is clearly angling for the Nobel Prize in Civil Service Management:

Banning all materials from locker doors was the simplest way to avoid bickering among the staff, Johnson said.

"How do we know what offends who?" he said. "I have to play Solomon here."
(Emphasis added)

Yes, Commissioner Johnson, you actually have to exercise considered judgment from time to time. How could firefighters in Chester (or anywhere in the U.S.) possibly find an American flag offensive, especially since it is "stitched on their uniforms, hangs on their trucks, and flies on a pole out front?"

There is a minor racial aspect to this story, as well as the obvious patriotic component, either of which might inflame passions and give this story legs beyond the local section of the paper. What struck me as the most important part of this news item is the apparent lack of management ability or serious judgment on the part of Commissioner Johnson. A fire department would be the one area of civil service that I would expect to see common sense leadership. Because there is a slight chance of the perception of inequitable treatment, managers (and not just in civil service) must resort to the Kindergarten teacher philosophy of fairness -- you've ruined it for the rest of the class, and now everyone else must suffer the consequences.

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Why'd you let me drive? 

"We Will Control Healthcare Costs, Because We Have To" - Megan McArdle

Read it.  The only thing I would add is that when this results in a sudden crashing collapse of creditworthiness, the greedy private sector will inevitably be blamed.  Reminds me of a friend of mine's crazy mother who set up salt shakers on the floor near doors and then yelled at people for knocking them over.

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The missing link will be closed! 

We all want something from big government. There are few public works projects of which I approve, but this seems like an absolutely spectacular use of $400,000.

When the missing 1.5-mile link of the Delaware and Raritan Canal path in Trenton is completed, the 70-mile nature trail will run continuously from Frenchtown to New Brunswick.

Work on the $400,000 project will start soon, Mark Mauriello, acting commissioner for the state Department of Environmental Protection, said today.

It would be great to be able to ride from Princeton to Lambertville via the tow path (rather than over roads, which involve some very challenging hills and no chance for conversation with your friends), but today there is an interruption that requires you to hunt your way through a very dodgy part of Trenton. It would be even more fun to do the entire run from Frenchtown to New Brunswick, pulling off the path occasionally to sample fine yeasty beverages (such as at the Canal Side Bar in Lambertville, or any number of places between Princeton and New Brunswick). Let's hope they get it done by spring.

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Oil and ice 

Good news, from a certain point of view, and bad from another:

With such massive potential oil reserves, Greenland is poised to achieve a geopolitical importance it hasn’t had since the invention of Risk.

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Has TEOTWAWKI* gone mainstream? 

Is it a measure of our times that Costco is explicitly marketing to survivalists?

*The End Of The World As We Know It. Duh.

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Thursday, October 15, 2009

Notes from South Bend 

I spent most of the last 24 hours in South Bend, me having been invited to sit with a business school class that had been assigned my company as a case. The weather, having blown in from Chicago, sucked, but the students were bright and eager and my host -- an Australian visiting professor -- was interesting and generous, so all was good. We had lunch at a campus eatery, "Legends," devoted to Fighting Irish athletic glory, and I was able to explain the origin of the "Four Horsemen" paraphernalia wherever one turned (including "Four Horsemen" ale, which was not bad). Indeed, thanks to the Blackberry's excellent web browser, I regaled my no doubt charmed host with a dramatic reading of Grantland Rice's New York Herald Tribune story, originally published just shy of 85 years ago.

Outlined against a blue-gray October sky, the Four Horsemen rode again. In dramatic lore they are known as Famine, Pestilence, Destruction and Death. These are only aliases. Their real names are Stuhldreher, Miller, Crowley and Layden. They formed the crest of the South Bend cyclone before which another fighting Army football team was swept over the precipice at the Polo Grounds yesterday afternoon as 55,000 spectators peered down on the bewildering panorama spread on the green plain below.

A cyclone can't be snared. It may be surrounded, but somewhere it breaks through to keep on going. When the cyclone starts from South Bend, where the candle lights still gleam through the Indiana sycamores, those in the way must take to storm cellars at top speed.

Some would say that's the most famous bit of sportswriting in American history, and others would say it is the most overwrought. Either way, they don't make 'em like that anymore.

So, with that, a few pictures from our post-prandial stroll about the campus.

The University of Notre Dame


Golden Dome

Dome from the inside...

Da Dome

Me, and "Touchdown Jesus"!

Me, and "Touchdown Jesus"

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Not intended to be a well-thought-out post, but merely a link to something funny.

There's some indecent language, and the content might annoy the readership a bit.

Libertarianism - Uncyclopedia, the content-free encyclopedia

Great website. I also recommend the post on Real Life.

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Reid: Tort reform is no big deal 

Ed Morrissey over at Hot Air takes the Senate Majority Leader to task because he "gets his numbers wrong, gets his scale wrong, and in the process admits that the actual cost of the Baucus plan is not $829 billion but $2 trillion:"

The influence that ATLA has on the Democratic Party leadership, and, by extension, the nature of health care reform legislation that has any chance of passing, is truly remarkable. It is clear that tort reform is a big deal for doctors and nurses -- just ask the next one you happen to see -- and it matters a fair amount to many Republican politicians. If it's only a budgetary rounding error in the greater scheme of things, why won't Sen. Reid compromise on the point if it pulls in some moderate Republican (or Blue Dog) votes in the House and Senate? Perhaps because he is in a dogfight to keep his seat, and needs a steady source of campaign funds to fend off challengers Danny Tarkanian and Sue Lowden, either one of whom are ahead of Reid in at least one recent poll. I am sure that Sen. Reid does not want to meet the same fate that Tom Foley met in the other chamber of Congress 15 years ago, when Foley became the first sitting Speaker of the House since 1862 not to win re-election.

CWCID: Hot Air

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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Where is he now? 


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A few pictures of Chicago, last night and this morning. Yes, I'm at the Sheraton on the river.

Trump, on the Chicago river at dusk

The other Wrigley

Early morning rush, Chicago

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Stratfor on the Prize 

Stratfor sent around George Friedman's analysis of the geopolitical reasons for last week's surprise award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Barack Obama with an invitation to republish it along with attribution. Invitation accepted. There is nothing earth-shattering in it (especially for fans of Robert Kagan), but it does bring the subject together nicely for Americans.

By George Friedman

U.S. President Barack Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize last week. Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, established the prize, which was to be awarded to the person who has accomplished “the most or the best work for fraternity among nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the promotion of peace congresses.” The mechanism for awarding the peace prize is very different from the other Nobel categories. Academic bodies, such as the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, decide who wins the other prizes. Alfred Nobel’s will stated, however, that a committee of five selected by the Norwegian legislature, or Storting, should award the peace prize.

The committee that awarded the peace price to Obama consists of chairman Thorbjorn Jagland, president of the Storting and former Labor Party prime minister and foreign minister of Norway; Kaci Kullmann Five, a former member of the Storting and president of the Conservative Party; Sissel Marie Ronbeck, a former Social Democratic member of the Storting; Inger-Marie Ytterhorn, a former member of the Storting and current senior adviser to the Progress Party; and Agot Valle, a current member of the Storting and spokeswoman on foreign affairs for the Socialist Left Party.

The peace prize committee is therefore a committee of politicians, some present members of parliament, some former members of parliament. Three come from the left (Jagland, Ronbeck and Valle). Two come from the right (Kullman and Ytterhorn). It is reasonable to say that the peace prize committee faithfully reproduces the full spectrum of Norwegian politics.

A Frequently Startling Prize

Prize recipients frequently have proved startling. For example, the first U.S. president to receive the prize was Theodore Roosevelt, who received it in 1906 for helping negotiate peace between Japan and Russia. Roosevelt genuinely sought peace, but ultimately because of American fears that an unbridled Japan would threaten U.S. interests in the Pacific. He sought peace to ensure that Japan would not eliminate Russian power in the Pacific and not hold Port Arthur or any of the other prizes of the Russo-Japanese War. To achieve this peace, he implied that the United States might intervene against Japan.

In brokering negotiations to try to block Japan from exploiting its victory over the Russians, Roosevelt was engaged in pure power politics. The Japanese were in fact quite bitter at the American intervention. (For their part, the Russians were preoccupied with domestic unrest.) But a treaty emerged from the talks, and peace prevailed. Though preserving a balance of power in the Pacific motivated Roosevelt, the Nobel committee didn’t seem to care. And given that Alfred Nobel didn’t provide much guidance about his intentions for the prize, choosing Roosevelt was as reasonable as the choices for most Nobel Peace Prizes.

In recent years, the awards have gone to political dissidents the committee approved of, such as the Dalai Lama and Lech Walesa, or people supporting causes it agreed with, such as Al Gore. Others were peacemakers in the Theodore Roosevelt mode, such as Le Duc Tho and Henry Kissinger for working toward peace in Vietnam and Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin for moving toward peace between the Israelis and Palestinians.

Two things must be remembered about the Nobel Peace Prize. The first is that Nobel was never clear about his intentions for it. The second is his decision to have it awarded by politicians from — and we hope the Norwegians will accept our advance apologies — a marginal country relative to the international system. This is not meant as a criticism of Norway, a country we have enjoyed in the past, but the Norwegians sometimes have an idiosyncratic way of viewing the world.

Therefore, the award to Obama was neither more or less odd than some of the previous awards made by five Norwegian politicians no one outside of Norway had ever heard of. But his win does give us an opportunity to consider an important question, namely, why Europeans generally think so highly of Obama.

Obama and the Europeans

Let’s begin by being careful with the term European. Eastern Europeans and Russians — all Europeans — do not think very highly of him. The British are reserved on the subject. But on the whole, other Europeans west of the former Soviet satellites and south and east of the English Channel think extremely well of him, and the Norwegians are reflecting this admiration. It is important to understand why they do.

The Europeans experienced catastrophes during the 20th century. Two world wars slaughtered generations of Europeans and shattered Europe’s economy. Just after the war, much of Europe maintained standards of living not far above that of the Third World. In a sense, Europe lost everything — millions of lives, empires, even sovereignty as the United States and the Soviet Union occupied and competed in Europe. The catastrophe of the 20th century defines Europe, and what the Europeans want to get away from.

The Cold War gave Europe the opportunity to recover economically, but only in the context of occupation and the threat of war between the Soviets and Americans. A half century of Soviet occupation seared Eastern European souls. During that time, the rest of Europe lived in a paradox of growing prosperity and the apparent imminence of another war. The Europeans were not in control of whether the war would come, or where or how it would be fought. There are therefore two Europes. One, the Europe that was first occupied by Nazi Germany and then by the Soviet Union still lives in the shadow of the dual catastrophes. The other, larger Europe, lives in the shadow of the United States.

Between 1945 and 1991, Western Europe lived in a confrontation with the Soviets. The Europeans lived in dread of Soviet occupation, and though tempted, never capitulated to the Soviets. That meant that the Europeans were forced to depend on the United States for their defense and economic stability, and were therefore subject to America’s will. How the Americans and Russians viewed each other would determine whether war would break out, not what the Europeans thought.

Every aggressive action by the United States, however trivial, was magnified a hundredfold in European minds, as they considered fearfully how the Soviets would respond. In fact, the Americans were much more restrained during the Cold War than Europeans at the time thought. Looking back, the U.S. position in Europe itself was quite passive. But the European terror was that some action in the rest of the world — Cuba, the Middle East, Vietnam — would cause the Soviets to respond in Europe, costing them everything they had built up.

In the European mind, the Americans prior to 1945 were liberators. After 1945 they were protectors, but protectors who could not be trusted to avoid triggering another war through recklessness or carelessness. The theme dominating European thinking about the United States was that the Americans were too immature, too mercurial and too powerful to really be trusted. From an American point of view, these were the same Europeans who engaged in unparalleled savagery between 1914 and 1945 all on their own, and the period after 1945 — when the Americans dominated Europe — was far more peaceful and prosperous than the previous period. But the European conviction that the Europeans were the sophisticated statesmen and prudent calculators while the Americans were unsophisticated and imprudent did not require an empirical basis. It was built on another reality, which was that Europe had lost everything, including real control over its fate, and that trusting its protector to be cautious was difficult.

The Europeans loathed many presidents, e.g., Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan. Jimmy Carter was not respected. Two were liked: John F. Kennedy and Bill Clinton. Kennedy relieved them of the burden of Dwight D. Eisenhower and his dour Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, who was deeply distrusted. Clinton was liked for interesting reasons, and understanding this requires examining the post-Cold War era.

The United States and Europe After the Cold War

The year 1991 marked the end of the Cold War. For the first time since 1914, Europeans were prosperous, secure and recovering their sovereignty. The United States wanted little from the Europeans, something that delighted the Europeans. It was a rare historical moment in which the alliance existed in some institutional sense, but not in any major active form. The Balkans had to be dealt with, but those were the Balkans — not an area of major concern.

Europe could finally relax. Another world war would not erase its prosperity, and they were free from active American domination. They could shape their institutions, and they would. It was the perfect time for them, one they thought would last forever.

For the United States, 9/11 changed all that. The Europeans had deep sympathy for the United States post-Sept. 11, sympathy that was on the whole genuine. But the Europeans also believed that former U.S. President George W. Bush had overreacted to the attacks, threatening to unleash a reign of terror on them, engaging in unnecessary wars and above all not consulting them. The last claim was not altogether true: Bush frequently consulted the Europeans, but they frequently said no to his administration’s requests. The Europeans were appalled that Bush continued his policies in spite of their objections; they felt they were being dragged back into a Cold War-type situation for trivial reasons.

The Cold War revolved around Soviet domination of Europe. In the end, whatever the risks, the Cold War was worth the risk and the pain of U.S. domination. But to Europeans, the jihadist threat simply didn’t require the effort the United States was prepared to put into it. The United States seemed unsophisticated and reckless, like cowboys.

The older European view of the United States re-emerged, as did the old fear. Throughout the Cold War, the European fear was that a U.S. miscalculation would drag the Europeans into another catastrophic war. Bush’s approach to the jihadist war terrified them and deepened their resentment. Their hard-earned prosperity was in jeopardy again because of the Americans, this time for what the Europeans saw as an insufficient reason. The Americans were once again seen as overreacting, Europe’s greatest Cold War-era dread.

For Europe, prosperity had become an end in itself. It is ironic that the Europeans regard the Americans as obsessed with money when it is the Europeans who put economic considerations over all other things. But the Europeans mean something different when they talk about money. For the Europeans, money isn’t about piling it higher and higher. Instead, money is about security. Their economic goal is not to become wealthy but to be comfortable. Today’s Europeans value economic comfort above all other considerations. After Sept. 11, the United States seemed willing to take chances with the Europeans’ comfortable economic condition that the Europeans themselves didn’t want to take. They loathed George W. Bush for doing so.

Conversely, they love Obama because he took office promising to consult with them. They understood this promise in two ways. One was that in consulting the Europeans, Obama would give them veto power. Second, they understood him as being a president like Kennedy, namely, as one unwilling to take imprudent risks. How they remember Kennedy that way given the Bay of Pigs, the Cuban Missile Crisis and the coup against Diem in Vietnam is hard to fathom, but of course, many Americans remember him the same way. The Europeans compare Obama to an imaginary Kennedy, but what they really think is that he is another Clinton.

Clinton was Clinton because of the times he lived in and not because of his nature: The collapse of the Soviet Union created a peaceful interregnum in which Clinton didn’t need to make demands on Europe’s comfortable prosperity. George W. Bush lived in a different world, and that caused him to resume taking risks and making demands.

Obama does not live in the 1990s. He is facing Afghanistan, Iran and a range of other crisis up to and including a rising Russia that looks uncannily similar to the old Soviet Union. It is difficult to imagine how he can face these risks without taking actions that will be counter to the European wish to be allowed to remain comfortable, and worse, without ignoring the European desire to avoid what they will see as unreasonable U.S. demands. In fact, U.S.-German relations already are not particularly good on Obama’s watch. Obama has asked for troops in Afghanistan and been turned down, and has continued to call for NATO expansion, which the Germans don’t want.

The Norwegian politicians gave their prize to Obama because they believed that he would leave Europeans in their comfortable prosperity without making unreasonable demands. That is their definition of peace, and Obama seemed to promise that. The Norwegians on the prize committee seem unaware of the course U.S.-German relations have taken, or of Afghanistan and Iran. Alternatively, perhaps they believe Obama can navigate those waters without resorting to war. In that case, it is difficult to imagine what they make of the recent talks with Iran or planning on Afghanistan.

The Norwegians awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to the president of their dreams, not the president who is dealing with Iran and Afghanistan. Obama is not a free actor. He is trapped by the reality he has found himself in, and that reality will push him far away from the Norwegian fantasy. In the end, the United States is the United States — and that is Europe’s nightmare, because the United States is not obsessed with maintaining Europe’s comfortable prosperity. The United States cannot afford to be, and in the end, neither can President Obama, Nobel Peace Prize or not.

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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

American Unexceptionalism 

Neal Gabler's op-ed in the Boston Globe, entitled "One nation, under illusion," makes the case against American Exceptionalism:
"The point of all this isn’t that America doesn’t have a lot to be proud of. It does. The point is that just about every country has a lot to be proud of, and America has no more right to assume it is the greatest nation in the world than does France, Switzerland, China, or Russia.

None of this would make much difference if the self-congratulation was just harmless bragging. But there are consequences. A country that believes it is the greatest in the world is also less likely to be constrained by that world. One could argue that the Iraq war was a direct result of a sense of national infallibility. So was our willingness to torture, our reluctance to admit our mistakes in Afghanistan, our culpability in the global recession, and our foot-dragging on global warming. Such a nation is also less likely to introspect or to strive for true greatness because it believes its greatness has already arrived."
Of course, read the whole thing, and wade through some of the comments.

Gabler has made the perfect the enemy of the great and the good, to paraphrase Voltaire. Because the U.S. and its leaders make mistakes, the country cannot be great, or at least no greater than any other significant country. We think we are great, and that overconfidence leads to more mistakes.

I am a believer in the foundational notion of American Exceptionalism, in the sense that the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution represented the first codification of Enlightenment concepts and principles regarding the relationship between the individual and government, and provided a blueprint that has apparently resulted in some success over the last two centuries. Other countries have used that blueprint during that time, adapted for their particular cultures. That being said, for its first hundred years, America was not a particularly "great" country in terms of its relative power on the world stage -- that was an era dominated by the old European system of alliances, which came to a convincing end during WWI.

At the conclusion of WWII, the U.S. had no choice but to assume the mantle of greatness, if for no other reason than it was the last man standing. Our geography had largely shielded us from direct attack, and our industrial base was fully geared up. The U.S. funded much of the rebuilding of Western Europe and Japan, and was unquestionably the engine of economic growth in the post-war world. That was over six decades ago, and much has changed, as it should.

But if Gabler truly believes that the "Iraq war was a direct result of a sense of national infallibility," I can only infer that: a) he opposed it, and b) he missed much of the discourse in the run up to the war. Then again, I am not completely sure what he means by that statement, but since it is followed by an accusation of not being sufficiently introspective, he might have chosen to ignore the debates that took place, both in Congress and in the town square, since it undercuts his argument and his basic thesis. Heck, there were even debates about initiating military operations in Afghanistan eight years ago. Introspect that.

In one sense, Gabler's honesty as a transnational progressive is refreshing-- why can't America just be another country, and Americans realize that? -- and it is especially ironic that he harps on President Carter's quote ("government as good as the American people") as furthering the illusion he abhors.

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There's still time to think clearly... 

Interesting defections in the healthcare debate:
A top lobbyist says 30 of his clients are going to run full-page ads in the Washington Post, USA Today and other papers tomorrow announcing their opposition to the Baucus plan. Insurance lobbyist, right?

Nope, the clients are 30 of the largest most important unions in America. They oppose the Baucus plan because of the tax on so-called “Cadillac” insurance plans, which the proposal describes as plans worth more than $8,000 for an individual. You might think that the people enjoying these Cadillac plans are corporate fat cats, but you would be wrong. It turns out that a large number of them are working men and women whose labor organizations have negotiated these kinds of benefits on their behalf. The Baucus plan seems to target those kinds of plans for extinction, and the unions aren’t going to stand by and let that happen.

As for the health insurance industry, the implicit deal was always, make it mandatory to buy a policy and we’ll agree to take all comers. Force young, healthy people into the risk pool so we can use their premiums to offset the cost of the older, sicker people we’re now going to be required to cover. Once it became clear that the deal was going to be no, take all comers, and then we’ll work on getting some kind of a mandate for young, healthy people, the insurers had no choice but to try to stop it.

Insurers were on board when they thought reform expanded their market and potential premium flow.

What could reform proponents do to put it to all these special interests? Regroup around a public catastrophic plan. Suck it up and admit that the CEO of Whole Foods was on to something. Watch and laugh as the insurance industry descends into vicious competition over a much more predictable product and a smaller premium flow. Don't all the anti-corporatists realize how scared the vested interests are of real market competition?

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The General as a candidate 

Over at The Daily Beast, Peter Beinert makes the liberal case for General David Petraeus as a potential presidential candidate that Democrats should be concerned about.

At the same site, Mark McKinnon disagrees, and rates the chances of Joe Scarborough -- Joe Scarborough!? -- as somewhat more likely. McKinnon's post and some of his top ten list should make even a weakened President Obama sleep more soundly between now and November 2012. Haley Barbour? Rick Santorum? If Santorum can't keep his Senate seat in PA, he probably isn't a viable national candidate.

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If the description of this book is accurate, it won't come as a surprise to anyone who has had to deal with less accountable bureaucracies of any sort, let alone govt.
Farmer faults the disconnect between decision-makers and operational employees, concluding that leadership was irrelevant on 9/11 and the official version of events was almost entirely, and inexplicably, untrue. Farmer's conclusion that bureaucratic government does not adapt fast enough to changing missions to be effective is not original, but in his careful exegesis of the events of 9/11, he transcends easy generalizations to expose the fault lines in contemporary governance and point the way to fundamental reform.

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