Sunday, June 29, 2008

What Was Not Said At This Year’s Prescott Bush Dinner -- A Manifesto

Political commentary here in Connecticut, the land of steady liberalism, is not dangerous or witty or even humorous; it is dull and repetitious, which is one of the reasons newspapers are foundering.

The Harford Courant, which bills itself as the oldest continuously published newspaper in the United States, has fallen on hard times. In fact, it has now fallen into the unforgiving clutches of Sam Zell, a real estate mogul who seems to believe that newspapers should be more like blog sites and should operate on four rather than six cylinders. The Courant is in the process of being downsized or, in the lingo of its new owner, “right-sized.” Apparently right-sizing is a synonym for “made profitable.”

We all know how real estate moguls make profits.

As the press goes, so goes the state. Connecticut too is foundering, flopping around on the sand like a beached minnow, gasping for breath.

The narrative in newspaper land could be more exciting, but the ideological mix on most editorial pages is bland and blind. By the way, do not be disturbed by the devil word “ideological.” It means ordered thought, logical ideas. The opposite of “ideological” is “idiotic.” Every philosopher is an ideologue; so is every progressive or conservative. Only those who despise ordered thought or fail to think are non-ideologues. Some of these, calling themselves pragmatists, write for newspapers.

Oh, every so often, some quisling editorial page editor in Connecticut will risk a conservative column by George Will or Charles Krauthammer. So there are some discordant notes on op-ed pages; but these relate mostly to national politics and are few and far between. State commentary is uniformly liberal. The bulk of propaganda is left leaning. Please do not be offended by the word “propaganda.” It is a solid, honest word; we all want our more fruitful ideas to germinate; we want to propagate them, preferably in newspapers that are not mind-numbingly boring.

It’s within the realm of possibility that newspapers may be operating on faulty premises. H. L. Mencken is famous for having defined democracy as that form of government in which the people “get what they deserve” – “good and hard.” Perhaps newspapers should not always give politicians what they want. Mencken didn’t, and he certainly helped to sell a lot of newspapers. Is it possible that what is needed in Connecticut is the opposite of what many newspapers and politicians want: prudent spending, a taxing environment not hostile to business, fewer left leaning newspapers, more not less controversy, and the ventilation of new ideas.

Connecticut, as we all know -- in addition to being the “Constitution State” and the “Provision State,” so named because it has provided the military with the products of war since revolutionary days – is, or has become over the course of many years, a one party Democrat state, politically little more than an outpost of Massachussetts.

The Republicans in Massachussetts, co-operating with the dominant ruling class (his name is Edward Kennedy) have long since gone out of business. The same is true in Connecticut. Former senator and governor Lowell Weicker was our Edward Kennedy, about whom Gore Vidal once said that he was not dismayed by Kennedy’ senatorial longevity because he thought “every state should have in it at least one Caligula.”

We have in New England at present only one Republican U.S. congressperson left standing, the estimable Chris Shays, now hanging on to his seat by his bloody fingernails. The bloggers, who tried and failed to dislodge former Democrat Sen. Joe Lieberman, now an independent, are after Shays. Most moderate Republicans in Connecticut were casualties of the Iraq war and the displeasure of the soon to be right-sized Courant.

The day Shays and the Courant parted company was memorable. The paper had routinely endorsed incumbent politicians and seemed to have a warm spot in its heart for Shays, Weicker in a minor key. The Courant adored Weicker, who was, in the words of T.S. Eliot’s “Prufrock,” a willing tool “glad to be of use.” When the paper thought an income tax was necessary, it got one from Weicker.

Shays is moderate, as were most New England politicians, including Sen. Lincoln Davenport Chaffee of Rhode Island, the son and appointed political heir of Daddy Chaffee and the only “Republican” in the Senate to have voted against authorization of the use of force in Iraq. When Chaffee the younger finally is ushered into Valhalla, the obits here and in Massachussetts will be embarrassingly sycophantic:

Supported legal abortion (Is there any other kind?)

Supported gay equality and same sex marriage.

Supported a top income tax rate on the rich of 39.6%

Opposed the death penalty and the elimination of the estate tax.

Named by Human Events magazine the number 1 RINO (Republican in Name Only) in the country.

May he rest in peace -- forever.


In Chaffe the lesser, one finds all the marks of the true Republican “maverick,” the only species of Republican tolerable to the editorial board of the Courant.

Gung ho on the Iraq war, which at the time appeared to be successful, Shays inadvisably allowed that Bush should have pressed into Syria after he had despoiled Iraq, at which point Iran, weary of its mullahs, would have tossed them on the ash heap of history and joined the 21st century.

It was a pretty thesis. But it did not go down well with the editorial board of the Courant, which stripped Shays of the coveted endorsement.

Around the same time, the paper reasoned – for the wrong reasons – that Republican moderates had become immoderate and threw its considerable weight – it was not yet wriggling I the hands of Zell -- to the Democrats, dominant in New England since Mesozoic times.

And so the U.S. congress filled up with bright new Democrat faces. Joe Courtney sat in for Rob Simmons, and Chris Murphy replaced Nancy Johnson. Oddly enough, Shays and Sen. Joe Lieberman, the two most conspicuous defenders of Bush’s Big Adventure in Iraq, were spared a drubbing.

All the Republicans went down but Shays. There are in New England now no “moderate” or, as some prefer to call them, “pragmatic” Republicans. All the pragmatists, including Johnson, were thrown out with the moderate wash water. Being pragmatic, in the Courant’s view, nearly always meant taking Courant editorial advice seriously. As a general rule, many Republicans have resisted following liberal pied pipers at that paper over the cliff.

And so we have arrived at the present crisis: The entire New England congressional delegation, save Shays, is blue; the Courant, still the only state-wide paper in Connecticut, will soon be a shadow of its former self; the Bush administration at long last appears to have gotten a handle on the Iraq war, but Reps. John Larson and Rosa DeLauro, the “Young Turks” in Connecticut’s congressional delegation and Sen. Chris Dodd, Democarts all, have yet to notice the change; the economy is reeling; the globe is overheating, some say; overtaxed people in Connecticut are having problems meeting their bills; the brain drain of young people traveling to southern climbs where taxes are, ahem, fairer continues unabated; the price of gas, over $4 dollars a gallon, is expected to reach $6 or $7 in the near future; Madonna’s marriage is on the rocks; and, with president Obama in the wings, the hour of the assassins has come.

All this is, in the words of Sen. John McCain, the likely maverick Republican nominee for president, a “big deal.”

What should the state Republican Party do about it?

Well, like the poor, there will always be Madonnas with us. Not even Connecticut Attorney General “St. Richard of the Suit” Blumenthal is likely to do much to suppress gas prices; Connecticut, like other state governments that tax gas at usurious rate, is not likely to surrender tax money coming its way by slashing state taxes on gas. The absence of sun spots, one Australian meteorologist has conjectured, may inaugurate a new ice age, which should take care of global warming.

As so we are left with the state of the state; what can we do to ameliorate the condition of nutmeggers?

We can – to borrow a phrase from Democrat presidential nominee Barrack Obama – change things, beginning with the makeup of the state legislature.

Or barring this, we can say, a la Obama, we are going to change things and haul in the votes.

Republicans, the party of change; has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?

To be brutally serious, New England Republicans should bill themselves as the party of change, and you cannot change things by becoming part of the problem, which is what happened to the Republicans who are no longer with us, including the dearly departed Chaffee and Weicker.

Connecticut is the highest taxed state in the nation; a change from first to 10th place, just to pick a more comfortable number at random, would be welcomed.

There is a movement afoot in Massachusetts, formerly Taxachusetts, to rid the state of its onerous income tax, a change many of us in Connecticut can believe in.

Massachussetts is able to get on their ballot a proposition to axe their income tax because they have what is called ballot initiative. As it happens, the stars over Connecticut are propitious. A constitutional convention is required in the state once every twenty years, a throwback to Jeffersonian democracy. Jefferson thought the health of a nation required a revolution every generation, and ballot initiative – a bloodless revolutionary device in which the people engage in direct participatory democracy -- probably would have been agreeable to him.

State Republicans, some have argued, should use the convention – just to begin with -- to press for ballot initiative, a state referendum on budgets, a cap on spending equal to the inflation rate and budget transparency.

The opposition to ballot initiative comes from the usual suspect quarters: time servers, both Republican and Democrat, in the state legislature and their abettors in the media. We are a representative democracy, they argue; and if the people find their present rulers intolerable, they can always cashier them at the polls. If they are bums, the people can always throw the bums out. They don’t need ballot initiatives; they have the ballot. In a representative democracy, do not people deserve the government they get?

As an abstract proposition, we can all agree with this. But abstract propositions do not put bread on the table, or keep hard to acquire earnings from the prehensile grasp of self serving politicians. To a certain extent, getting and spending public dollars is a zero sum game. The more the politicians get, the less money the people have to meet their needs. The less money they have to met their needs, the more they will be reliant on the government to give them the bread that has been taken from them by their benefactors. Citizen Peter cannot tax citizen Paul to get money to pay for expensive government services. But the government can tax both Peter and Paul and use its collections either improvidently or well.

Here in Connecticut, much of the money has been spent – to be sure, by the dominant Democrat legislature – unwisely and often. Democrats are dominant in the state because the Republican Party has been co-opted by the liberal message machine. Voters vote Democrat because they have been fed, through the media, a steady diet of failing liberal nostrums. Their votes are the “junk out” one may expect from the liberal “junk in” messaging that is ubiquitous in Connecticut’s media. Where Democrats are left leaning and Republicans are moderate accommodationists, the political vector will run to the left. Here in Connecticut, as the French say, "Il n’y a pas d’enemi à gauche," there is no enemy to the left. This left tropism has deprived the Republican party of its weight, which is why it is so easily pushed around, like an airy weather balloon.

This year Republican Governor Jodi Rell’s absence was duly noted at the Prescott Bush dinner. The Prescott Bush affair is comparable to the Democrat’s Jefferson, Jackson, Bailey get together. This is a governor who speaks to her party in her behavior: She doesn’t want to be a part of that party. Her survival, those closest to her have convinced her, depends upon a certain distance. This is the Moody effect. Most Republican governors have been like that. Having negotiated a pact with dominant Democrats in the legislature, Rowland, putting on the manners of Weicker, used to bully legislative leaders to support the accomodationist view. The result of all this was a diminishing Republican presence in the legislature, a weak Republican Party and a ruling Democrat party in the legislature. All this was fine, of course, for the RINO governors and the dominant Democrats. The past few years, for the first time, Republicans have pushed back – which is to say, they have discovered the virtue of being Republicans who offer solutions to Connecticut’s pressing problems that are different than the usual bromides. This is a good sign. Let the governor go her way. She does not want to be a part of the new state Republican Party. The reformers are in it for the long haul. Not everyone will want to run the race to the finish.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Unity

The two Democrat presidential primary battlers, senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, will be meeting soon in Unity, New Hampshire -- population 1,600 -- to, er, unify.

The town had the distinction of splitting its primary votes evenly between Clinton and Obama, who appear to have fallen in love on second sight.

Obama will help to discharge Hillary’s outstanding debts, and Hillary will smile warmly, say cuddly things about Obama and sooner of latter bring hubby Bill along in her wake.

It will be all sweetness and light; just wait an see.

Taxachussetts Axing Its Income Tax?

The news to the north of us in Massachusetts is that the good people who once dumped tea in Boston harbor to protest taxes and an indifferent ruling power are once again upset by high taxes.

Like Connecticut, Massachusetts has been for many years a one party state. Like Connecticut, spending in Massachusetts has increased to a point where further increases threaten to beggar the population. Like Connecticut, the ruling powers occasionally take a break from spending to remind the people they are representing that they live in a representative democracy and can cashier their politicians whenever they like.

Unlike Connecticut, Massachusetts has a ballot initiative, a political instrument that can be used by voters to reduce their tax burden and send a message to fat, greedy politicians in the grip of special interests.

The axe the tax forces also have made a powerful argument for budget transparency:



And very shortly Massachusetts will use its ballot initiative to attempt to repeal the state income tax.

At which point one may expect business and industry in Connecticut to migrate north to the land of Sam Adams, whose stirring words are enshrined in the mast head of this blog: “If ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquility of servitude than the animating contest of freedom, go from us in peace. We seek not your counsel or your arms. Crouch down and lick the hand that feeds you; may your chains set lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen!”

Very shortly in Connecticut, a measure to call a state constitutional convention will appear on the ballot. The question is required by law to appear on the state ballot once every 20 years. During such a convention, the state will be able to amend the constitution to allow for ballot initiative and state budget referendums.

Slip Sliding Away

Politico is reporting that the love affair between Sen. Barack Obama and such stalwarts of the progressive movement as Jane Hamsher, proprietor of Firedoglake.com, has crashed on the rocks of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

One imagines that Sen. Chris Dodd, who has been pushing legislation that would punishing telcom companies for co-operating with the Bush regime, is not overly pleased that Obama has decided to support a bill containing an immunity provision for the offenders. Further irritating the progressive anti-war left, Obama's position on immunity for the telecoms puts him in the same bullpen with the much detested Sen. Joe Lieberman, the hobgoblin of little minds on the left.

“It angers the blogosphere to its core,” said Hamsher. “We want to be able to know: What did you do? If we can get that information, we can make sure they don’t do that again. We can get the public engaged.

“[A] lot of people tried to convince themselves that he [Obama] was a progressive hero, and I think they were disappointed,” Hamsher said. “You can feel a real shift in the zeitgeist online.”

The shift has not affected Keith Oberman, a spit and spittle anti-FISA, anti-Bush, anti Iraq war crow swallower, who may be on suicide watch now that Obama has drifted into the pro-FISA camp.



Ah! The good old days!

Oberman's latest take on the Obama defection is that it took considerable courage for him to risk the anger of progressives like -- well, the Big O -- to schmooze with the reviled Bush regime.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Anybody Seen Blumie?


Chris Healy, the go-get’em Chairman of the state Republican Party, has a question for Connecticut’s suit happy Attorney General Richard Blumenthal.

Here’s a novel idea - why doesn’t Attorney General Dick Blumenthal file a lawsuit against Countrywide Financial and seek damages for their predatory and fraudulent lending practices that have resulted in thousands of foreclosures, including an untold amount in Connecticut?

Substantively and procedurally, the suit would be a no-brainer but for the fact that Blumenthal is a Democrat. He could piggy-back his suit on a suit being brought by Attorney General Lisa Madigan of Illinois, Sen. Barack Obama’s hometown. Blumenthal, after all, has made his career by hopping eagerly on other attorneys' general hobby horses.

So what’s the problem?

Maybe Dick Blumenthal won’t do it because if he did, he might be able to question, under oath, Angelo Mozlio, the CEO of Countrywide who arranged for V.I.P. loans to special customers like U.S. Sen Chris Dodd. He might ask Mozilo why he offered generous interest rates and waiving of points and fees to Dodd on two properties he owns with his wife, Jackie Clegg, in Washington, D.C. and East Haddam, CT.

Naugh, come on Healy. Really now -- Saint Dick?

No Comment

Obama probably could do without this aide.

Playing with Race

It would be imprudent on Sen. Barack Obama’s part to imagine that racism will take a holiday during his campaign. It is therefore prudent of him to head it off at the pass.

At the end of June, after Obama warned a friendly crowd it could expect a resurgence of racism, the Washington Post ran a story about neo-Nazis and segregationist groups spurring racism on internet sites.

The presence of some racist bad apples on the internet should not give anyone pause to suppose that the opposition party apple cart is infested with racists and, though it doesn’t happen often enough, even racists are redeemable. Sen. Robert Byrd waved farewell to the Klu Klux Klan long ago and grew up to be, at present, the longest serving senator in the U.S. Congress. Conservatives and Republican well wishers have in their stables many non-racists politicians and political commentators such as Condoleezza Rice and Thomas Sowell, both of whom are African American non-racists.

Still less should anyone suppose that Obama’s primary opponent, Sen. Hillary Clinton, has caught the disease simply because her campaign has made reference, when appropriate, to Obama’s race. Indeed, Obama himself has made such references, and we all can agree he is no neo-nazi skinhead.

In the coming days, it will be important to remember that many Republicans welcomed Obama’s campaign as an indication that the candidate had successfully presented himself as a trans-racial candidate, a man who would be able to unify and even heal racial ruptures between black and white Americans.

There are two ways to be racist, both offensive. One may be either an unapologetic racist – neo-Nazi skin heads fall into this category -- or a subtle racist, someone who is able to sublimate his racism by taking refuge in racially tinged metaphors that hitch the lodestone of racism to ideals, Christian or secular, loved and cherished by most people.

The subtle racist, made familiar to us most recently in the sermons of Black Power preacher Rev. Jeremiah Wright, falsely accuses right minded, well intentioned whites of racism to advance some private cause.

The seat of racism is the heart, not the mind. The mind may be moved by convincing arguments. But the heart is moved by affections, as puritan divine Jonathan Edwards, the author of "A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections," well knew. One supposes the book is not much reccommended these days in theological schools.

There are dangers in imputing racism where there is none. At some point, the public figures out that the imputation is a rhetorical gimmick usually used by adept politicians to escape scrutiny, and the Peter and the wolf principle kicks in. Having cried “Wolf!”a sufficient number of times when there is no wolf, the public will discount all cries when the wolf really turns up at the door licking his chops.

Not all criticisms of Obama ought to be labeled racist simply because they are directed at a black presidential candidate – not even when they are launched by Democrat spoiler Ralph Nader.

In a recent interview with Rocky Mountain News, perennial “also ran” presidential candidate Nader speculated that Obama had not come out strongly against exploitation in the ghettos – payday loans, predatory lending, asbestos and lead poisoning – because he may have fallen into the habit of “talking white.” Questioned further, Nader explained, "He wants to show that he is not a threatening . . . another politically threatening African-American politician. He wants to appeal to white guilt. You appeal to white guilt not by coming on as black is beautiful, black is powerful. Basically he's coming on as someone who is not going to threaten the white power structure, whether it's corporate or whether it's simply oligarchic. And they love it. Whites just eat it up."

Nader has his own agenda, but he is no racist. Nader is an anti-corporation Kropotkinist. He quite understands that in a general as opposed to a primary campaign, candidates who do not appeal to the broad middle but remain, as he will, on the bitter edge of marginal political movements tend to lose campaigns. Obama's march to the center has little to do with appeals to “white guilt” and more to do with effective campaign strategy.

There is no question that Obama knows how to run a campaign. Whether he knows how to run a country better than, say, Nader or Sen. John McCain is very much an open question that can be best explored only when racists of all stripes are ushered from the room.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Politics of fear 4

Sane people, according to former counselor to ex-President Bill Clinton, Bill Curry are those who acknowledge global warming. Those who doubt global warming must be, by implication, mad. Within global warming circles, the dispute is not over whether such a phenomena exists but rather how much of the problem is caused by fossil fuels which, if extremist environmentalists have their way, soon will be rationed. Curry has not yet ventured an opinion on the sanity of rabid environmentalists who would prefer the price of gas to rise to unaffordable levels so as to spur conservation measures.

But forget all this quibbling. A new crisis looms:

Years from now — probably not many years — historians and everyone else will wonder how we wasted so much time talking trash with the country in such peril. How could we have so many [Democrat primary] debates and miss so many big issues?...

To appreciate the oversight, consider two words that never came up in any debate: food and water. It turns out we're running out of both. It's hard to imagine a worse crisis — OK, running out of air — but from the debates you wouldn't know there was a problem…

Sane people, those who acknowledge global warming, talk a lot about rising sea levels. They should focus more on falling water tables. It's the water we drink and it's happening now.

The Mississippi River Valley Aquifer, a vast underground reservoir, serves seven states. Water in its wells is falling about 2 feet a year, double the historical average. The U.S. Geological Survey predicts parts of it will go dry next year.

The Ogallala or High Plains Aquifer serves eight states that are often called America's breadbasket. We're emptying parts of it 100 times faster than it can refill. How long can it take to refill an aquifer? Much of the Ogallala's water was left there in the last Ice Age.

Water is the oil of the 21st century. If you think people got grumpy in Carter-era gas lines, wait till they start queuing up at the supermarket. Oil addiction has made America weaker and poorer. If the "breadbasket" moves north to a warmer, water-wealthy Canada, we'll endure a reversal of fortune such as none but our worst enemies ever predicted.


Fear and love, says Cardinal John Henry Newman, are the great motivators in human history. Fear and love, “from the moment you are born, until the moment you die.”

Some things, unlike aquifers, never change. The Republicans do not have a corner on the politics of fear.

See Politics of fear 1, 2, 3

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Has Hitchens Gone Too Far?

It’s one thing to deny the existence of God and incur the relatively harmless wrath of theists. It’s been a long time since thumbscrews were applied to atheists. It’s quite another thing, much more dangerous, to assert that women as a species don’t need to be funny largely because beauty is magically attractive to men whose senses of humor are equally attractive to women. Hitchen's theory is that beautiful women simply don’t need humor; men need it to attract women. This mode of reasoning is full of logical pitfalls. If Hitchens is right, how does one account for non-beautiful women in his Darwinian universe, not to mention humorless men? But notice how the agile Hitchens overleaps these obstacles in this following – dare we say it? –fetchingly humorous clip:

Dancing Round the Manchester School Board May Pole

First, God created the idiot; this was for practice. Then he created the school board -- Mark Twain

Over in Manchester, two students, apparently thugs with prior police records, beat up a third student. This attracted the attention of Chris Powell, the no-nonsense Managing Editor of the Journal Inquirer, who wrote a column about it, which in turn attracted the attention of Margarett H. Hackett, chairwoman of the Manchester Board of Education.

In his column, Mr. Powell, noted that two months had elapsed since the Manchester student was “beaten so badly that he required brain surgery.” The paper discovered from court proceedings that “the two students charged in the beating already had felony convictions. One of them had a pending plea bargain for assault conspiracy that was about to send him to prison.”

Since state law requires police to notify school superintendents when students in they systems are arrested, Mr. Powell reasoned, it was likely that “Manchester's school administration knew all about the criminal records of the student-felons and made a decision to let them stay in school anyway, and to let one them stay right up to the moment of his imprisonment.”

Apparently, the paper put some pointed questions to both the superintendent and the board of education in Manchester, and the usual happened: Everyone hid behind the flowerpot of “student confidentiality.”

“Appallingly,” Mr. Powell wrote, “a Journal Inquirer survey of Manchester's Board of Education has found that eight of the board's nine members have no curiosity about how the administration handled the students with the felony convictions.”

The response of board member Jay Moran was typical: “"We have to trust the administrators that they're doing their job.” Linette Small-Miller, another board member concurred: "To make this public would open up a can of worms." Enrique Marcano said the administration should not tell the board anything about student discipline. The tight-lipped group rallied around the flag of student confidentiality.

The infelicitously named Michael Crockett (any relation to David?) fled from the burning building with his pants afire: “Despite the near-murder at the high school,” Mr. Powell wrote, “board member Michael Crockett retreats in terror from questions about how the convicted students were handled. ‘I don't want to know,’ he says. ‘That's too much for me to know, too much responsibility to take.’”

OK, Mr. Powell wrote, you want to be that way eh?

One by one, he polished off the responses of the school board members to the “near murder” in their school system, and at last he came at length to
Board Chairwoman Hackett, who “abdicates more disingenuously than her colleagues. She says the General Assembly should legislate more about what may be disclosed here.”

Mr. Powell, somewhat in the manner of the startled observer announcing the King had no clothes, observed (italics mine): “…nothing in the law prevents the school board from asking the school administration in public what it knew about the convicted students prior to their arrest in the near-murder and why the administration decided to keep them in school. Nor does the law prevent the board from asking the administration in public how many other students have criminal records and why they are being kept around.”

Then came the rat-a-tat of questions: “So why were felons, at least one of them apparently violent, roaming Manchester High School? What did the school administration know and when did it know it? Why did the administration decide to keep the student-felons in school? Why did the administration not perceive any danger?”

This is Pulitzer Prize-winning column writing. Here, at the risk of impugning a straight forward objective and truthful account of the issue in the Manchester school system, I must disclose a relationship with Mr. Powell. I wrote a column for the Journal Inquirer for many years, and Mr. Powell, in his capacity as Editorial Page Editor, edited my columns. In the years I wrote for the JI, he bore my idiocies with great grace and humor, and he never refused to print a column, even those with which he disagreed.

Mr. Powell’s initial column was “answered” by chairwoman Hackett, who trotted out the usual bromide: School systems were restrained by law from releasing to the press any information regarding students: “Members of the board cannot legally disclose details of the academic, disciplinary and court records of the involved students, and for that matter, any student.”

In a few paragraphs in another column, Mr. Powell disputed the assertion but waived it theoretically and pointed out that the school administration was not asked to disclose such information.

The questions put to the board were about the administration, not the students: “The questions were whether, prior to the assault at the high school, the administration was aware of the serious felony criminal records of the students charged in the assault; whether the administration had made a decision to keep those students at the high school despite their serious records, and, if so, why; and whether there are other students with serious criminal records at the high school.

“These questions can be answered without identifying any student in public. But they cannot be answered without identifying the administrators responsible, whom the board is protecting far better than it protects students.”

Mr. Powell’s questions ought to be answered, and one suspects he is tenacious enough to get the answers -- eventually.

Friday, June 20, 2008

YouTubing the Candidate of Change

Barack Obama has decided to forgo public financing in the general campaign against John McCain.

Is anyone surprised?

Obama has been a money magnet for some time. Forgoing public financing, he likely will outspend McCain by a ratio of two to one. More money means more advertising; more advertising means more spin. Advertising dollars are a protective wrap that keeps the candidate far from the prehensile grasp of inquiring reporters.

Obama also has decided not to appear with McCain in town hall settings, where both candidates might have a go at each other, opting instead to rely on canned public speeches. Some of the leads in newspaper stories mentioned that Obama “turned down $84.1 million in federal dollars” by opting out of the federal system, not exactly a selfless act. Well, if any of us could triple or possible quadruple the amount to money we would receive by waving away $84 million, what would we do?

There are no surprises here. Why should it surprise anyone that the candidate of change has changed his mind?

The evolution of that change has been caught by Politico in a series of wonderful to behold YouTube clips. The tortuous wriggling is fun to watch. Possibly, Obama’s former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright was right about him the former Chicago community organizer when he said, with a bemused smile on his face, that Obama was just an ordinary politician, a Houdini who could wriggle out of ropes with the best of them.

The first clip here shows Obama in June 29, 2006, fifteen months after getting sworn into office, “strongly supporting the public financing of campaigns.



In late January 2007, just before declaring his candidacy, talk show host Larry King asks Obama if he is going to stay in the public financing system.

Obama answers, “Well, you know, this is something that, obviously, we are going to have to take a careful look at. I'm a big believer in public financing of campaigns. And I think that for a time, the presidential public financing system works. Unfortunately, because funding has diminished relative to the cost of campaigns, I think you will see a lot of people opt out. And even as I support public financing, I think it's very important for Democrats to be competitive in the general election. That's a decision we are going to have to make.”

In Feb 2007, according to Politio “The Obama campaign brings in the lawyers, sends a letter to the Federal Election Commission asking if he could raise money for the general election while retaining the ability to opt back into the public financing system.” The FEC agrees and lays down minimal conditions.

At the end of Nov. 2007, responding to a candidate’s questionnaire, Obama writes “I will aggressively pursue an agreement with the Republican nominee to preserve a publicly financed general election.”

Feb. 20, 2008 In a USA Today op-ed, Obama again vows to “aggressively pursue” a publicly financed campaign.

Six days later, he bumps heads on the point with presidential debate moderator Tim Russert, who directly challenges him on the sincerity of his pledge. Russert, who died recently, must be smiling from wherever it is news people go when they die. He was a master, here as elsewhere, of the hangman’s noose question. In Russert’s hands, Obama’s commitment softens: “What I — what I have said is, at the point where I'm the nominee, at the point where it's appropriate, I will sit down with John McCain and make sure that we have a system that works for everybody.”



Two months later, in an April 27, 2008 interview with Chris Wallace of “Fox News Sunday,” Obama promises to sit down with McCain and talk about preserving “a public system.”



Here is Obama before he decided to game the system: "In February 2007, I proposed a novel way to preserve the strength of the public financing system in the 2008 election. My plan requires both major party candidates to agree on a fundraising truce, return excess money from donors, and stay within the public financing system for the general election. My proposal followed announcements by some presidential candidates that they would forgo public financing so they could raise unlimited funds in the general election. The Federal Election Commission ruled the proposal legal, and Senator John McCain (R-AZ) has already pledged to accept this fundraising pledge. If I am the Democratic nominee, I will aggressively pursue an agreement with the Republican nominee to preserve a publicly financed general election."

That meeting never occurred.

And finally, on June 19, 2008, the wriggling stops as Obama decides to forgo public financing. He alleges that Republicans have “become masters at gaming this broken system.” Obama will need the additional cash to restore integrity to the general campaign.



There is nothing new under this sun: Both parties have been gaming the system long before the Rev. Wright told us that Obama was essentially no different than other political gamers.

The real difference between the Republican and Democrat gamers is that the Democrats dispose of more gaming money.

Obama’s stash will be used to buy ads in traditional “Republican” states, forcing McCain to miss-allocate his pitifully small public financing funds.

Obama may now purchase his way into office, protected from both the media – Where’s Tim Russert when we need him? – and non-scripted assaults by McCain on the tefflon coated Democrat candidate for president.

Not a bad game -- if you can buy it.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

To Be or Not to Be a Blog

Mayor Eddie Perez of Hartford, availing himself of his constitutional right to protest injustice, has fired off a letter to the Hartford Courant lambasting the paper for allowing unfiltered “racist” remarks from commentators on its internet site.

Anyone who has visited such sites knows that such sections of internet newspapers are full of bomb throwing, uncivil brutes who can’t spell. These too are exercising their God given constitutional rights to pull the hair pieces from the heads of politicians and whip them up in the air like the hats of naval colleges graduates.

Hey, you don’t like it? Move to Cuba.

Begin with the quite ordinary and unchallengeable assertion that newspapers are not blog sites and all of Perez’s objections seem reasonable. He is urging editors to monitor the comment sections and clean out the bar of brawlers and ruffians.

Editorials in newspapers, always unsigned, are anonymous, and newspapers generally select which letters are to be printed. Letters are scrupulously checked to confirm authorship, and unsigned letters are not printed. Under this regimen, comments in the letters to the editor section of newspapers are generally civil in tone and content.

On blog sites, much of this is reversed. While the leading commentaries on blogs are not signed and sometime attributed to pseudonyms, the lead writers are generally identifiable. The opposite is true of newspaper editorials attributed to editorial boards and publishers. Some of the blog bylines are masked, but the masks are transparent. The comment section of blogs, however, is written by writers who may choose to be anonymous.

And anonymity brings with it a certain amount of devilry. When writers wear opaque masks they become less civil. We are on our best behavior when Mom is looking over our shoulders. When her children are not identifiable, they tend become more childlike and unruly.

To the extent that newspapers want to be blogs, they will reap the whirlwind of incivility.

Perez objects to the incivilities on parade in the comment section of newspaper internet sites and thinks that the rules that govern comment in newspapers ought to apply to such sites. Some of the commentary here, Perez argues, borders on racism and should be policed by the same people who phone up newspaper letter writers to confirm their authorship.If as Albert Camus says "every word written is a commitment," why should we not see to it that authors “own” their commitments by signing their work?

It ought to be noted that Perez is not insisting on a standard more severe than that which applies to newspapers. Any chatter about shackling writers who are exercising their First Amendment rights would therefore be out of place.

Perez wants newspapers to be newspapers even when they are “printed” online. The proprietors of newspapers think that than online papers should be more like blogs.

To the extent they are governed by rules applicable to newspapers, they will be unable to attract the interest of young people who have voted with their fingers for blogs and against newspapers.

To the owners and publishers of newspapers, it’s a money thing. Civility obviously does not pay.

We all know how this one is going to play out. Money trumps civility.

At least one blogger and columnist who is “troubled by the degree to which the Topix comment threads on Courant articles are so reliably a sewer of racism, unfocused hostility, cheap invective and hate speech” has thrown his lot in with the gang of trolls, commentators who rove from blog to blog fragging other polite commentators. He says the good apples should drive the bad apples from the commentary basket. Commentators should police themselves.

Good luck with that.

The real problem is that the dying newspaper industry is in the throws of an identity crisis brought on, some people think, by penury. The identity crisis places internet newspaper sites between a rock and a hard place. Should they be newspapers or blogs? That problem will not be settled by permitting hate spewing grown up children to splatter their spittle on the corpse.

Notice: This blog has been updated.

Lieberman Awarded "Political Pulitzer"

News Channel 8 is reporting that Sen. Joe Lieberman has received this year’s Jefferson Award for national and local public service. The Awards -- founded by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Senator Robert Taft Junior and presidential economic adviser Sam Beard in 1972 – are considered to be the Nobel Prizes for public and community services. Lieberman was awarded the prize this year for having helped to create the Department of Homeland Security after the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York in 20o1. Ned Lamont, Lieberman’s erstwhile opponent for U.S. Senate is not expected to send the senator a congratulatory note.

Dodd’s Implausible Admissions

The admissions made by U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd concerning his preferred mortgage loan from Countrywide – now under investigation for unorthodox business practices by, among others, Dodd – are not likely to satisfy curious minds.

The charge against Dodd is that he had received special treatment on his mortgage loan in part because of his status as the chairman of the Senate banking committee.

In at least two comments made to a Hartford Courant reporter, Dodd indicated there was no special treatment.

The lead paragraph in the most recent Courant story discloses:

“Sen. Christopher Dodd admitted today that he and wife were told during their 2003 loan process with Countrywide Financial Corp. that they were being included in a special VIP program -- but the senator said he interpreted that as a benefit for being a longtime Countrywide customer -- not as special treatment because of his Senate position.”

“He also insisted again today, in two separate news conferences, that even though he was told he was in this VIP program, he did not receive a special deal on his family's two home mortgages, as suggested in media reports last week. He also said that his loan refinancing was handled through a regular loan officer.”

As Daniel Patrick Moynihan used to say: You are entitled to your opinion on the facts; you are not entitled to the facts.

According to Portfolio, a Conte Nast publication, Dodd’s denial is highly misleading.

Portfolio’s examination of Dodd’s role in mortgage-gate is now more than a week old. Dodd, chairman of the Banking Committee, according to the Portfolio story:

“… received better deals than those available to ordinary borrowers. Home-loan customers can reduce their interest rates by paying ‘points’—one point equals 1 percent of the loan’s value. For V.I.P.'s, Countrywide often waived at least half a point and eliminated fees amounting to hundreds of dollars for underwriting, processing and document preparation. If interest rates fell while a V.I.P. loan was pending, Countrywide provided a free “float-down” to the lower rate, eschewing its usual charge of half a point. Some V.I.P.'s who bought or refinanced investment properties were often given the lower interest rate associated with primary residences.”
In the Courant story, Dodd willingly admits he was included in a Friends of Angelo (Mozilo) scheme but insists he was included in the program without his knowledge:

“’As rates were coming down, we decided to do what millions of Americans did -- we refinanced our home,’ said Dodd, chairman of the powerful Senate banking committee that watches over the mortgage industry. ‘As you shop around, you negotiate,’ he said. "I never spoke to anyone but loan officers.’”

“’It wasn't a special deal,’ he said, pointing out that the interest rates they secured were ‘well within the band of rates being offered across the country.’”
Since Dodd, one among a list of FOA’s (Friends of Angelo’s), had insisted that he spoke only to a loan officer and not directly to Mozilo, and since he now admits that he and his wife, Jackie Clegg Dodd, were told that they were included in the special VIP program, it seems obvious that this information came to the Dodd’s through the as yet nameless loan officer.

Reporters must be wondering what that conversation was like. At some point they may find out. It is common practice in some companies to record such conversations for the benefit of clients.

The notion that someone is shoving dollars in savings into one’s pockets in such a way as to leave the beneficiary of such attentions unaware of the favor is highly implausible. The special benefits afforded the powerful chairman of the U.S. Senate Banking Committee were different, according to the Portfolio story, than those received by “Joe Lunch Pail,” now struggling to pay taxes that will increase substantially because of a tax supported bail out of companies like Countrywide that is staunchly supported by Dodd.

Monday, June 16, 2008

GLOBAL WARMING AND PRIORITIES FOR ADVANCING GLOBAL WELFARE

The Senate debates the Lieberman-Warner bill on Global Warminig. Over 31,000 scientists sign the Oregon Institute of Science petition rejecting Global Warming. Twenty-five 6th-grade pupils in the David A. Brown Middle School in Wildomar , California, sent eight letters on Global Warming to The Heartland Institute describing what they had been taught about Global Warming by reading ten articles. The articles they read were of floods in Asia, Mexico, and India, and of the shrinking of fetuses by air pollution. None mentioned Global Warming but the children made that attribution. Here are a couple of their letters, with their errors uncorrected:

“I think your fools for denying G.W. you know it could kill us all & you’re just adding to it. I want you to help stop G.W. not increase it.”

“We feel that they are destroying our planet by saying G.W. is not a crisis. You think GW is not a crisis but it is; you know deep down that it’s a real thing that’s happening. Everyone has a part in helping GW, and you’re making worse.”

“We’ve read article about global warming. And we know all the facts.”


The children were absolutely certain that they had all the facts. But the articles they read spoke not a one of Global Warming. How many other next-generation policy-makers are being thus indoctrinated?

The Danish political scientist Bjorn Lomborg, author of The Skeptical Environmentalist, in 2003 invited eight economists to his Copenhagen Consensus Center to discuss important global issues. The economists included five Nobel laureates (Americans. Mr. Lomborg could have turned to the list of Nobel laureates in economics for his participants.)

The economists were provided with competent briefs on major global issues. They were invited in 2004, again in 2006, again in 2008, to rank the most important issues that would benefit the largest number of people. The final assumptions were a cost limit of $75 billion and five years for effectuating the issues.

They prioritized the issues, but earlier assessments were in four classes, very good, good, less good, and not good. Among the very good were improving HIV and AIDS, reducing malnutrition and hunger, liberalizing trade, and controlling and tracking malaria. In the good class were improving sanitation and water quality.

The economists prioritized the issues. Of a total of 30, diseases came 1st, malnutrition 2nd, women also 2nd, Global Warming 3rd, water 4th, trade 5th and conflicts, 5th. Though Global Warming in general was the 3rd most persistent issue, Global Warming was ranked last, 30th, just after G.W.-mitigation-and-Research-and-Development which ranked No. 29. Related was No. 14, research and development in low carbon energy technologies.

(In Lomborg’s view, the cost of mitigating Global Warming is tremendous, and the benefit, slight. The money, Mr. Lombord believes, is more wisely spent advancing new technology. Why spend a fortune for a negligible result when the money could be spent finding a new technology with more beneficial results?)

A critic calls him biased; for though he did not vote, he selected the participants, the subjects, and the authors of the briefing papers. Another or the same contributor to Wikipedia states that participant Schelling would have preferred another, less costly Global Warming proposal, which would have ranked it somewhat higher on the list. (Two mentions of Mr. Schelling in The Wall Street Journal over the past ten years give the critic credibility.) Another aspect of Global Warming ranked somewhat higher on the list, low-carbon energy technology, which was No. 14.

What was first on the priority list? Vitamin A and Zinc supplements; these would improve the health of 112 million children in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa , at a cost of $60 million a year. Together with salt iodization and de-worming--ranked No. 3 --they would help prevent blindness and promote growth, increasing lifetime productivity by some $1 billion.

Ranked No. 2 is the Doha trade round. It is hard to find an economist who does not believe in free trade. Trade liberalization and the fall of trade barriers enable people to have more money, which will decrease malnutrition and disease and improve education.

No. 3 is Iron supplements and salt-iodization. No. 4 is immunization. These, The Wall Street Journal points out, are issues that non-profit organizations can usefully undertake. It was the Rotary International that led the efforts to eradicate polio.

The current means for mitigating global warming is cap and trade, which, ultimately will severely reduces energy--that being its purpose--and turn back growth many decades. Cap and trade is essentially a “massive redistribution of income and wealth,” as one critic has called it.

The names of the 6th graders who may inherit this earth are unknown. The participating Nobel economists were Robert Mundell, Douglass C. North, Thomas C. Schelling, Vernon L. Smith and Robert Fogel; and the others were Jagdish Bhagwati, Bruno Frey, Justin Yifu Lin, and Nancy Stokey.

On Global Warming, two Senate committees listened with rapt attention to Al Gore, and disdained to listen to the next speaker, Bjorn Lomborg. They literally all together got up and walked out of the hearing room. We watched them on television.

Lomborg has made his mark. He keeps making it. Whether it will leave a mark on U.S. policy is dubious, enthusiasm for Global Warming being what it is.

By Natalie Sirkin
c2008

The Dodd Special

Answering charges that he had received special treatment from Countrywide, a mortage lender, U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd noted in the Hartford Courant that he had shopped around and gotten the same rates available to millions of other Americans.

According to Portfolio, a Conte Nast publication, that is not strictly true. Dodd, chairman of the Banking Committee, “… received better deals than those available to ordinary borrowers. Home-loan customers can reduce their interest rates by paying “points”—one point equals 1 percent of the loan’s value. For V.I.P.'s, Countrywide often waived at least half a point and eliminated fees amounting to hundreds of dollars for underwriting, processing and document preparation. If interest rates fell while a V.I.P. loan was pending, Countrywide provided a free “float-down” to the lower rate, eschewing its usual charge of half a point. Some V.I.P.'s who bought or refinanced investment properties were often given the lower interest rate associated with primary residences.”

Saturday, June 14, 2008

In Search of the Real Obama

Sen. Barack Obama’s background looms important for some people, including Obama himself. Since the advent of modern psychology, we’ve been in the habit of deducing the child from the parents. But the world is more serpentine than all that. Sometimes the child is not an apple fallen from the parental tree. Because of the intervention of the human will – think of former President Bill Clinton in the act of re-invention – likes sometimes produce opposites. In addition to learning from one’s own mistakes, one may also learn valuable lessons from the mistakes of one’s parents.

Former president Richard Nixon’s parents, both Quaker quietists, were not, one supposes, ardent accolades of Fredrick Nietzsche.

“I can’t find my copy,” Nixon said to Monica Crowley when his Nietzsche appeared to be lost in 1992. “I must have lent it out to someone. I can’t believe I’m missing my Nietzsche! I always try to look at this stuff during a presidential campaign to remind me of why I went through the damned fire.”

Possibly he had lent it to Henry Kissinger.

That gem of an apercu is to be found in Michael Knox Beran’s review of Rick Perlstein’s book “Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America” in the June issue of “National Review.”

Because life slices us to the quick on a slant – “Tell the truth, but tell it slant,” says the poet Emily Dickenson -- it will always be a little presumptuous to reason from the politics of the parent to that of the child. Most men and women do not fall prostrate into the deterministic arms of their childhood experiences.

Obama’s childhood was, shall we say, messy. His father was an extremely ambitious egotist who fell into the bottle late in life after having jumped merrily through multiple marriages. Barack Hussein Obama did not consider it important to tell wife number one that he had married again and fathered a child until after he had been involved in an automobile accident that deprived him of his legs. Barack’s mother fell in love with his father when she was an impressionable 18, married him, and saw him abandon her and her child to pursue his ambitions at Harvard, when he might as easily had taken his family with him to a less prestigious college in New York. Later Obama's mother remarried a businessman whose life style her education and proclivities taught her to spurn, which is not to say she did not appreciate his attentions.

Obama’s father was a daredevil failure in politics. An ardent socialist and Harvard trained economist, he inserted himself brashly into Kenyan politics with a piece he wrote for “The East Africa Journal” that attacked from the socialist left the views of “third way” leader Tom Mbova. According to a book written by authors E. S. Atieno Odhiambo and David William Cohen called “The Risks of Knowledge,” Obama, joining forces with radical economist Dharam Ghai critiqued a document endorsed by Mbova. His sympathies placed him in the camp of communist-allied leader Oginga Odinga.

Obama’s paper presses for the communal ownership of land, the nationalization of “European” and “Asian” owned enterprises, dramatic increases in taxes on “the rich (“Theoretically, there is nothing that can stop the government from taxing 100% of income so long as the people get benefits from the government commensurate with their income which is taxed.”), a rejection of “African Socialisn” in favor of “scientific socialism” (communism), and the institution of government run “model farms,” likely modeled after the agricultural adventurism pursued by Joseph Stalin in the early 1930’s designed around a man made famine in Ukraine, since Roman times known as the breadbasket of Europe.

The choices made by Obama’s father shortened his political career. In America, the land of second beginnings, poor choices are not always politically fatal.

Ideologies are not passed on from parents to children in their genetic makeup, but a man is molded by the choices he makes, especially as he grows out of his childhood and takes command of his fate. That is the chief lesson Obama the son ought to have learned from his father. In Africa, there are few second chances for politicians who make imprudent choices.

Obama’s mother was a fiercely independent warmed over socialist. But the choices she made for Obama after his father abandoned him were good ones.

When Omaba was six, his mother married an Indonesian student and the new family moved to Jakarta. Her new husband quickly succumbed to Indonesian ways displeasing to Obama’s mother, whereupon she divorced and sent Obama to live with her parents in Honolulu.

Obama’s own childhood environment was rich in possibilities. His formative years were spent in Hawaii, then as now the most racially diverse state in the union and a virtual utopia of racial harmony, Steve Sailer points out in a 2007 article in the American Conservative:

“Like Obama, many Hawaiian residents are the products of mixed marriages: in 1956-57, interracial marriage rates ranged from 22.0 percent for professionals to 43.5 percent for farm workers. There’s not much of a one-drop-of-blood rule for defining racial membership in Hawaii that mandated that Obama call himself black and only black.”

Hawaii was not Harlem; still less was it, during Obama’s childhood, the Alabama of George Wallace.

Now that Obama is all grown up, he is able to carve out choices that will shape his future and the future of the country that raised him to his eminent status as the all but certain Democrat nominee for president of the United States.

Many of us are hoping that the nightmares of his father will not haunt his dreams as president.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

McCain, Lieberman and McEnroe

For the second time, the author of “To Wit,” Hartford Courant columnist and blogger Colin McEnroe has suggested a homoerotic relationship between senators John McCain and Joe Lieberman, who incurred McEnroe’s undying enmity after he decided to defend his seat from liberal heart-throb Ned Lamont.

Lately, Lieberman has taken to defending Sen. John McCain from the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.

Of course, McEnroe asserts the claim purely theoretically to illustrate an obscure point, which is on a par with defending a man never accused of wife beating by claiming, rather clamorously, “Of course the man is not a wife beater.”

For better or for worse, here is the McEnroe slur, in all its glory.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Morticians Examine the Corpse of Sen. Hillary Clinton’s Campaign

The morticians are hard at work examining the corpse of the Hillary Clinton campaign.

Over at the Hartford Courant Bill Curry, former counselor to former President Bill Clinton and twice nominee for Connecticut governor on the Democrat ticket, thinks Hillary was done in by overreaching and bad timing.

“Clinton made ‘experience’ a talking point after Chris Dodd and Joe Biden, who had more of it, were safely out of the race. Amazing that she still thought ‘grizzled veteran’ could trump ‘new kid on the block.’”

And the kid was a political rock star too: “Barack Obama may be the brightest, most charismatic politician of our time. In a week in which we remember Robert Kennedy, many compare the two. I think Ted Kennedy got it right, though, in comparing Obama to Jack.”

Others, seizing upon Obama’s foreign policy views, have compared the likely Democrat presidential nominee unfavorably to former President Jimmy Carter, another Democrat president thought to be at the time charismatic and brilliant. Carter, it will be remembered, met his Waterloo in Iran at the hands of a more charismatic and brilliant leader, the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. The revolution heralded by Khomeini has lately been denounced by his grand-daughter, Zahra Eshraghi.

"It's our country. Why should we hand it completely over to the hard-liners," she said prior to the parliamentary elections in Iran last March.

The messaging in the Obama camp was more fetching, Curry believes, than the messaging in the Clinton camp: “Obama won January and February because he had a better message; she won March through June because she did; just as ‘change’ beats experience, standing up for an embattled middle class beats ‘bringing us together.’”

In a whirlwind of change, nothing changes more quickly than fads. Perhaps the most valuable lesson to be learned from Obama’s primary victory is that a candidate devoted to change can change very quickly. Indeed, in a world of change, the world itself can change very quickly. Hillary was a little slower and less adaptable in this respect than Obama. The trick is to change when change is beneficial and to remain steadfast when necessity demands it.

Bush Lied, Not

This from the Washington Post, not known as a hotbed of neo-con frauds:

But dive into Rockefeller's report, in search of where exactly President Bush lied about what his intelligence agencies were telling him about the threat posed by Saddam Hussein, and you may be surprised by what you find.


On Iraq's nuclear weapons program? The president's statements "were generally substantiated by intelligence community estimates."

On biological weapons, production capability and those infamous mobile laboratories? The president's statements "were substantiated by intelligence information."

On chemical weapons, then? "Substantiated by intelligence information."

On weapons of mass destruction overall (a separate section of the intelligence committee report)? "Generally substantiated by intelligence information." Delivery vehicles such as ballistic missiles? "Generally substantiated by available intelligence." Unmanned aerial vehicles that could be used to deliver WMDs? "Generally substantiated by intelligence information."

As you read through the report, you begin to think maybe you've mistakenly picked up the minority dissent. But, no, this is the Rockefeller indictment. So, you think, the smoking gun must appear in the section on Bush's claims about Saddam Hussein's alleged ties to terrorism.

But statements regarding Iraq's support for terrorist groups other than al-Qaeda "were substantiated by intelligence information." Statements that Iraq provided safe haven for Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and other terrorists with ties to al-Qaeda "were substantiated by the intelligence assessments," and statements regarding Iraq's contacts with al-Qaeda "were substantiated by intelligence information." The report is left to complain about "implications" and statements that "left the impression" that those contacts led to substantive Iraqi cooperation.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Obama’s Pre-Nomination Speech

It was not exactly a nomination acceptance speech, because Sen. Barack Obama has yet to be formally nominated by his party for president. That will occur at the Democrat nominating convention in Denver, Colorado from August 25-28.

But the almost certain Democrat candidate for president did say, “Tonight, I can stand before you and say that I will be the Democratic nominee for president of the United States,” so evidently something had been decided; a Rubicon had been crossed.

Obama now has the number of delegates necessary to assure his nomination at the convention. Very likely, he had been preparing this speech – What to call it? Will the “pre-nomination speech” do? – for a long while. As early as the tail end of March, Sen. Chris Dodd thought the Obama juggernaut was irresistible.

The super delegates pushed Obama into the winner’s circle, which is to say that this election was determined by the guys and gals in the formerly “smoke filled back room.”

The Democrat presidential nomination was almost – So sorry Hillary – determined by the vox populi, but the “super delegates,” muscled by the leaders of the Democrat Party, were determined to see to it that a vote for their nominee for president should not go to a second ballot at the convention. On a second ballot, all the delegates would be released from their obligations and the nominee would have been chosen by the appointed representatives of the people in primary states who voted for the candidates. In effect, this would have made all the delegates super delegate and so diluted the back room vote as to render it impotent. The leaders of the Democrat Party were determined from the first that the power to choose the nominee for president should not escape their grasp. The “problem” created by a rule that disenfranchised the Florida and Michigan convention delegates could have been settled by seating all the delegates from these two states un-pledged, but this solution proposed by a Yuma Sun columnist would have deprived the leaders of the party of their decision making power.

As in all his speeches, Obama here was ringing loudly the bells of change: “Sixteen months have passed since we first stood together on the steps of the Old State Capitol in Springfield, Illinois. Thousands of miles have been traveled. Millions of voices have been heard. And because of what you said – because you decided that change must come to Washington; because you believed that this year must be different than all the rest; because you chose to listen not to your doubts or your fears but to your greatest hopes and highest aspirations, tonight we mark the end of one historic journey with the beginning of another – a journey that will bring a new and better day to America.”

Faith and courage, linked to frail human beings, stops the ears and wears a blindfold, and Obama’s most ardent supporters are nothing if not courageous. Change necessarily involves consequences – sometimes unintended consequences -- and change does not always point in a forward direction; a reversal of forward motion backwards is also change. As paradoxical as it may seem, one may go forward to the past: That is what a reversal of fortune means.

There are some who would argue that the reversal of fortune Obama plans in the Middle East will return us to pre-surge days in both Iraq and Afghanistan. As Obama approaches the general election, his references to ending the war in Iraq have become more carefully modulated; he now speaks of retreating from Iraq with great care. The non-negotiable demand that the troops be withdrawn after a specific time-line has been reached does not appear in this speech.

But, of course, Obama’s pre-nomination victory speech can only contain the bare bones of a campaign against his likely Republican opponent, McCain. The devil, as always, lies in the flesh he will put on the bones.

But, of course, Obama’s pre-nomination victory speech can only contain the bare bones of a campaign against his likely Republican opponent, McCain. The devil, as always, lies in the flesh.

In the meantime, according to a breathless media, Obama has shucked off at least one demon. The press is abuzz this morning that Hillary Clinton is preparing to throw in the towel, perhaps on Saturday. If he adds Hillary to the ticket as Vice President, that will be the second worst mistake of Obama’s career, the first being his choice of a church.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Obama Commencing at Wesleyan

Sen. Barack Obama has now left Wesleyan, where he stood in for the ailing Sen. Edward Kennedy and delivered a commencement speech.

He was under an obligation not to be too political in his remarks; no one wanted Wesleyan to lose federal funds because of his appearance. Apparently, under federal regulations, a private university cannot abide political speeches from aspiring presidential candidates without risking federal funding. Obama was also obliged to say something swell about the Kennedys. These obligations naturally put a strain on political discourse. But he steered around the pilings with great agility and ended up complimenting Jack, the architect of the Bay of Pigs fiasco, and Bobby and Teddy.

According to an AP report in the Journal Inquirer, “Barack Obama urged college graduates Sunday to ‘make us believe again’ by dedicating themselves to public service. We may disagree as Americans on certain issues and positions, but I believe we can be unified in service to a greater good. I intend to make it a cause of my presidency, and I believe with all my heart that this generation is ready and eager and up to the challenge,’ Obama told Wesleyan University’s Class of 2008.”

Others -- Bill Buckley, for example, in a slender volume called "Gratitude" -- have made the same point more effectively.

There were winsome references to the Kennedys: “The Illinois senator peppered his speech with references to the Kennedy legacy: John F. Kennedy urging Americans to ask what they can do for their country, the Peace Corps, and Robert Kennedy talking about people creating ‘ripples of hope.’”

All this on Memorial Day, a time usually set aside for reflections on the precious costs of patriotic military service.

Obama concluded his speech contrapuntally, a rhetorical hallmark of the Kennedys: “At a time of war, we need you to work for peace. At a time of inequality, we need you to work for opportunity. At a time of so much cynicism and so much doubt, we need you to make us believe again. That’s your task, Class of 200.”

Unlike Abe Lincoln, who pressed on to victory during a bloody Civil War, or Franklin Roosevelt, who pressed on to victory during a bloody World War, Obama favors a quick withdrawal from the hot war in Iraq, which military forces on the ground, both Iraqi and American, now appear to be winning.

We cannot to often remind ourselves that stupidity springs eternal, most verdantly in colleges.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Jesus, the Apostles and the Early Church


Jesus, the Apostles and the Early Church
By Pope Benedict XVI
Publisher: Ignatius Press
Price: $14.95/hardcover

In Jesus, The Apostles and the early Church, we meet the same Pope Benedict whose recent visit charmed so many Americans.

The Pope’s manner of writing is pastoral and deceptively simple. He writes with authority not only because of his station within the Catholic Church, but also primarily because he is a superb theologian. In the late Middle Ages, theology was considered the “queen of sciences” because it contained all the other sciences, including what we moderns would call textual exegesis.

Consider the following commentary on an incident with which most Christians would be familiar: We know that Peter, the “rock” upon which Jesus was said to have built his church, denied Jesus three times before he was taken away by Roman soldiers to be executed. After the Resurrection, a transfigured Christ appears to some of the apostles, Peter among them, on the shore of Lake Tiberius, where the thrice fold denial is undone. Here we see Peter affirming Christ three times.

The pope does not hesitate to call Peter’s denial a betrayal: “The moment comes, however, when he gives in to fear and falls: He betrays the master.” It is only after “the humiliation of betrayal” that Peter is ready for his mission. His name change – “Petros” in Latin -- signals the assigning of a commission. “Once Peter’s attitude changes,” following his betrayal, “and he understands the truth of the weak heart of an unbelieving sinner, he weeps in a fit of liberating repentance. After this weeping, he is ready for his mission.”

This happens one spring morning on the shore of the Lake of Tiberius. The “word play” between the risen Christ and Peter is crucially important.

The word “filo” in Greek signifies the love of friendship; the word “agapao” signifies love without borders -- total, unconditional love.

Upon meeting Peter, Christ asks: “Simon, do you love me (agapas-me)” with this total, unconditional love? But Peter, who has betrayed his Lord, knows his own measure and responds humbly, “Lord, you know that I love you (filio-se).” Again Christ asks: "Simon, do you love me" with the love I want? And Peter, wounded by his betrayal and unable to ascend to this love, responds “Kyrie, filo-se” – Lord, I love you as I am able to love you.

Then comes the miracle in the word play. Though he has ascended, Christ now descends to Peter in friendship, and he asks a third time, “Peter, filios-me?”

Bruised to the heart, Peter at last understands that his poor love is sufficient.

“It is this conformity of God to man,” Pope Benedict writes, “that gives hope to the disciple who experienced the pain of infidelity.” From that Spring day on the shore of Lake Tiberius to the end of his life – and according to the testimony of Origen at the end of the second century, we know what Peter’s last day was like; in humility, he chose to be crucified with his head downward because he did not consider himself worthy to die in the manner of Jesus -- Peter “…followed the master with the precise awareness of his own fragility; but this understanding did not discourage him… Peter succeeded in entrusting himself to that Jesus who adapted himself to his poor capacity of love.”

This is what it means to be forgiven in such a way that the repentant heart is utterly transformed. Call it divine forgiveness, an agapao beyond the capacity of most men. But what is impossible for men, as Peter well knew, is possible for God.

Jesus, the Apostles and the Early Church is a slender book, only 163 pages. The Pope devotes a chapter to each of the twelve apostles. Peter, John and Paul are given three chapters each, as befits their importance to the Christian religion.

The penultimate chapter is concerned with a married couple, Pricilla and Aquila, associates of Paul. All three practiced the art of making tents and large draperies for domestic use. Paul writes to the Romans, “Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Jesus Christ, who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I but also all the churches of the gentiles give thanks; greet also the church in their house.” Christians did not have churches of their own until the third century. Until that time, the sacred mysteries were celebrated in private homes among gatherings of Christians called in Greek ekkleisa.

The last chapter is devoted to “Women at the Service of the Gospel.” Among Jesus’ disciples, there were many women: the Prophetess Anna, the Samaritan woman, the Syro-Phoenician woman, Mary of Magdala, Joanna, Susanna, Mary Magdalene, “the first witness and herald of the Risen One, and of course the Virgin Mary, regarded by the Catholic church as it’s first theologian and collaborator in the Redemption, called by Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, “Blessed among women.”

In this book, one is taken back to the well waters of Christianity, where the earliest disciples give us a view of the “Jesus of history” and lay the foundations of the Christian faith. Those who saw the pope during his visit to America will not be astonished that Peter’s successor is, like Peter himself, a man of humility -- and deeply human. Indeed, if word play may be permitted, it is not possible to be a deeply human Christian without being leavened with humility. Both words share the same root idea: humus, of the ground or earth.

THE AIR IS SAFE TO BREATHE

On March 27, 2008, EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson stiffened the 8-hour standard for ground-level ozone from 0.08 parts per million to 0.075 ppm, which every state is required to attain. Critics argued that because he did not stiffen it to .07 or below, serious health effects would occur: decreased lung function, increased asthma attacks, and premature death. Writes the National Association of Clean Air Agencies’ director to the Wall Street Journal (May 30),

Yet Mr. Johnson chose to forgo an opportunity to protect the health and welfare of millions … who will … be exposed to excessive levels of ozone because they are not being covered by the new standard.


From the beginning, around 1960, emissions of ozone-smog have been overstated, while its downward trend over decades has been understated. The concentration of ozone and particulate matter comes not just from emissions of autos but also from nature (trees and bushes). Hugh W. Ellsaesser, who retired from the U.S. Air Force after 20 years as an Air Weather Officer and from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory after 23 years of atmospheric and climate research, was there at the beginning, and his early reports have been used in this column. He remarked in 1978,

W]e now have published evidence that the current particulate, hydrocarbon and oxidant standards would be exceeded in many areas even in the complete absence of man. Yet, because [EPA Administrator] Ruckelshaus certified in 1971 that these standards were required to protect public health, EPA is mandated to attain them regardless of cost.

The pollutants listed in the law are hydrocarbons, sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides, lead, carbon monoxide , and particulates—soot). Carbon dioxide (your exhaled breath) was added recently by the U.S.Supreme Court .

Dr. Ellsaesser observed that airborne concentrations did not fall as emissions from autos were reduced by regulations. Sometimes the concentrations fell more rapidly than emission-estimates. Natural sources and natural removal processes constantly operated to remove these substances from the atmosphere, once they were airborne. Remarked Dr. Ellsaesser in 1978:

Learning after the fact that we made a ten billion dollar a year commitment against the scourge of air pollution, we now appear to be nearing a consensus that the goals were set too high and that we may already have passed the point at which costs outweigh benefit.


Thus the evidence did not support the adopted Air Quality Standards of California and of the U.S. (A 1995 study of costs and benefits by Kenneth Chilton showed costs outrunning benefits dramatically.) The trend has been downward at a faster rate than after EPA came into the picture, but the public does not know it because EPA has failed to publish the pre-1985 data (EPA Air Quality Trends, 1995).

The justification for stiffening standards is health effects: “any detectable physiological response” including odor, eye irritation, carboxyhemoglobin level, enzyme level, or interference with function like increased respiratory resistance.

If air pollution were related to lung cancer, correlations of lung-cancer rates with measured pollution should have been found in the United Kingdom where cancer rates were high and pollution, heavy. (Cancer-rates are positively correlated with population-density.)

Lung function, said to be decreased by ozone, is not an illness. It is a measure of the amount of air a person can exhale in a second. Dr. Ellsaesser says it is equivalent to the loss found after one inhalation from a cigarette. It is temporary.

The American Lung Association has advertised there will be an increase in “deaths from asthma and lung cancer.” Deaths from asthma are rare, fewer than three percent of the deaths from lung cancer. Lumping the two together is a way of heightening alarm.

Asthma has nothing to do with ozone. EPA’s own statistical correlation of ozone and hospital admissions predicted that the new ozone standard would reduce admissions by only 0.06 percent (essentially nothing). Even in Los Angeles , the elephant of ozone-smog, no chronic respiratory disease has been linked to high ozone-levels.

In the l984 Olympics in Los Angeles , 40 American gold medalists were asthmatics. Ozone has decreased while asthma-rates have risen. Asthma-rates have been increasing in all industrialized countries. (Even minor health effects can be avoided by staying indoors and avoiding exercise when the ozone-level rises, in late afternoon in hot summer sun.)

Another unproved health effect is premature deaths, estimated by EPA as 40,00, revised to 20,000, re-revised to15,000. Irrational, observes Dr..Ellsaesser:

The inability to identify specific victims of air pollution’s health effects, even in Los Angeles , and in the so-called Air Pollution Episodes of Meuse Valley, Belgium; Donora, Penna; and London England in 1952—if these cannot be identified, what is the evidence that reducing air pollution is going to improve health? What is the point of reducing a health effect that will not become evident in a normal human lifetime?


“Regulators’ and environmentalists’ powers, funding, and prestige depend on the continued public perception that air pollution is still a serious problem,” writes Joel Schwartz, author of several books on air regulations. EPA’s independent Science Advisory Board warned in 1992 that “EPA should be a source of unbiased scientific information . . . [but] has not always ensured that contrasting, reputable scientific views are well-explored and well-documented.” In 1999, 13 EPA scientists complained in a letter to the Washington Times that EPA’s science is polluted. When scientists choose to work in environmental health research, their environmentalism is not about science or health, states Schwartz. “It is about power, control, and ideology.”

By Natalie Sirkin
gnsirkin@aol.com
c2008

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Hey Obama, Got Any Change?

Sen. Barack Obama hadn’t planned a trip to Iraq until Sen. John McCain prodded him to do so. Obama then issued a press release, which fell far short of a full blown speech, that he had planned a trip sometime in the misty future, though sadly not in the company of McCain.

Any post-surge trip to Iraq is bound to be disappointing to Obama; at the very least it will force him to update his dusty read on Iraq, where things, Speaker of the US House Nancy Pelosi tells us, "have improved."

They have improved because al-Qaida in Iraq has been routed. Even the New York Times, the Iraq war’s persistent doomsday machine, has noted the change, not that any of this will have much effect on Times editorials. This far into the election season, politicians and partisan newspapers have already completed their narratives, their books have been sent to the printers, and any corrections will have to be posted in a second edition, hopefully after Obama has occupied the White House.

That is the way it looks, isn’t it? Sometimes looks are not deceiving.

In a few days – on July 17 – we will all be celebrating the great Democrat Party All Nighter of 2007. Had the Democrats been successful almost a year ago in moving US troops out of Iraq, the rout of al-Quaida in Iraq could not have been accomplished. But that was the point of the Democrat inspired bill supported by “Republican” Olympia Snowe of Maine, wasn’t it?

As reported in this spot nearly a year ago:

Republican Olympia Snowe of Maine supported the Democrat position: withdraw the troops from Iraq in 120 days. Waxing eloquent, she said at a news conference also attended by Republican Sen. Gordon Smith of Oregon, "We are at the crossroads of hope and reality, and the time has come to address reality." Snowe accused the Iraqi government of "serial intransigence," in failing to suppress terrorists, many imported from Syria and Iran. According to the AP report, Smith, who is seeking re-election next year, "said that Iraqis appeared focused on 'revenge, not reconciliation' and that the administration needed to change its approach. The American mission is to make sure that Iraq doesn't fall into the hands of al-Qaida,’ he (Smith) said, rather than referee a civil war.’"


Looking back, with the success of the surge in our rear view mirror, we now know that Snowe’s serial intransigence was unrealistic, a hope crusher. The Iraqis were not intent on revenge. They were intent on doing what they did: supressing al-Qaida. The administration’s approach – which changed radically for the better two years ago, a change hardly noted in the editorial pages of the New York Times, until now – was pretty much the right corrective to a Bush strategy that previously had proven disastrous.

This perception has yet to penetrate Obama’s consciousness, not to speak of his stump speeches, which remain unchanged since they were launched many moons ago.

In the general election, some of Obama's ancient stump speeches will change to reflect the new reality.

Change is good.