Mike Kueber's Blog

August 3, 2011

The Mack-Penny Plan

Talk-show commentator Sean Hannity is hawking the Mack-Penny Plan (a/k/a “The One Percent Spending Reduction Act”) as a conservative response to the Boehner-Reid debt-ceiling compromise, which Hannity deems totally inadequate.  Hannity loves the Mack-Penny Plan because it is so simple – i.e., if we cut federal spending by 1% a year for six years and then plateau spending at 18% of GDP, the budget will be balanced in eight years.

Well, Sean, it’s not as simple as you think.

The Mack-Penny Plan was authored by Florida congressman Connie Mack IV (namesake great-grandson of a former baseball player, manager, and owner; son of former Senator Connie Mack; and husband of Congresswoman Mary Bono Mack).  The Plan has the support of Young Turk Senators Rand Paul and Marco Rubio as well as 43 congressmen.  Recently on the “Morning Joe” TV show, Mack defended his
plan by saying, “The American people . .. they want a solution to the debt and deficit problem, not more gimmicks and schemes.”

But the Mack-Penny Plan is nothing but a gimmick.

Sean Hannity grilled House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan yesterday about his support of the Boehner-Reid compromise and complained that the cuts in the compromise were not real cuts, but rather were merely cuts in projected increases.  By way of contrast, Hannity recommended that Ryan give serious consideration to Mack-Penny Plan because it called for real cuts.

Congressman Ryan attempted to explain to Hannity that (a) the Boehner-Reid compromise included unprecedented real cuts to discretionary spending and (b) the Mack-Penny Plan was misleadingly simple because it failed to explain how America was going to cut Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid spending (which is 60% of the budget) by 1% a year at a time when Baby Boomers are beginning to retire, all Americans are living longer, and medical-care inflation is around 6% a year.

There’s a reason that government spending is projected to increase by 7-8% a year, and only a simpleton would say that it is a simple matter to reduce government spending by 1% a year.

June 24, 2011

Creationism and intelligent design

While driving back from North Dakota, I continually switched from listening to talk radio and CDs of the book American Theocracy by Kevin Phillips.  As I previously blogged, the former warned that cultural liberals were causing America to become a secular state while the latter cautioned that the Religious Right was producing scientifically backward country.  As an example of backward science, Phillips referred to intelligent design, which he said was a Christian attempt to provide a scientific alternative to those who refused to accept the science of evolution.

Coincidentally, shortly after hearing from Phillips on this topic, I heard talk-show host Sean Hannity being challenged by a listener who wondered how someone as intelligent as Sean could believe in God.  Sean responded by giving a heartfelt explanation that relied heavily on the concept of intelligent design – i.e., certain features of the universe and living things, such as irreducible complexity and specified complexity, are best explained by an intelligent cause, not by an undirected process such as natural selection.

The listener didn’t accept this explanation, but before he could put forward follow-up questions, Sean disconnected the call.  My follow-up question would have been how Sean’s explanation supports his view that Christianity is the only true religion.

Upon returning to San Antonio, I decided to research the issue of intelligent design to determine if the positions of Kevin Phillips and Sean Hannity are in conflict, and I concluded that they are not.

The term “intelligent design” has been used since 1847, but the concept came to the forefront in 1987 when the US Supreme Court held in Edwards v. Aguillard that a state couldn’t require the teaching of “creation science” as an alternative to evolution science.  The Court came to
this holding after reviewing supportive amicus briefs from 72 Nobel prize-winning scientists, 17 state academies of science, and 7 other scientific
organizations that described creation science as essentially consisting of religious tenets.  Therefore, requiring that creation science be taught as an alternative to evolution was a violation of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.

In response to the Aguillard decision, Christian groups decided to push the “science” of intelligent design, but in 2007 in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District a federal district court held that requiring the teaching of intelligent design as an alternative to evolution was infirmed
for the same reason creation science was – i.e., it violated the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.

Based on these legal decisions, it appears that Kevin is correct in declaring that intelligent design is not science, but rather is a thinly-veiled effort of Christians to challenge the science of evolution.  But evolution is not inconsistent with Sean’s belief in intelligent design.  Teaching of the belief, however, should be reserved for religious instruction, not public schools.

June 22, 2011

Sunday Book Review #35 – American Theocracy by Kevin Phillips

Because I had such a good experience in listening to a book (The Da Vinci Code) during my drive to and from St. Louis in May, I decided to try listening to another book during my June drive to and from North Dakota.  Because The Da Vinci Code is a riveting book of fiction, I wondered if political nonfiction would be as spellbinding.

Much to my surprise, I found that listening to American Theocracy, a 2006 book by Kevin Phillips, was almost as mesmerizing.  Phillips is famous for writing one of the most famous political books of the 20th century – The Emerging Republican Majority – in 1969.  At that time, he coined the term “sunbelt” and presciently predicted that it would provide a core of support that would make the Republicans the majority party for a generation.

As the title to American Theocracy suggests, Phillips is now disenchanted with the Republican Party, but the focus of the book is not the salvation of the Republican Party, but rather the salvation of America.  According to Phillips, there are three great dangers to American pre-eminence:

  1. The Religious Right.  This group has taken over the Republican Party and is attempting to force America to act in accordance to with biblical teachings instead of in accordance with reason – e.g., climate change, stem-cell research, and evolution.  Phillips thinks it is ironic that Protestants in the early 60s were concerned that President Kennedy would take direction from the Pope, but in the 2000s they urge Democrats to take direction from the Pope, especially on the issue of abortion.  Phillips especially takes issue with American Exceptionalism, which he believes prompts hubris-laced policies.
  2. Mideastern oil.  According to Phillips, American dependence on Mideastern oil has caused America to have extensive, yet vulnerable national security interests throughout the world.  He believes that the war in Iraq was more a part of our oil strategy and less our concern for WMDs.  More importantly, Phillips shows that many great world powers have faded because they failed to move away from a fading energy resource (e.g., Great Britain and coal).  Instead of trying to defend our lifeline to the Mideast, Phillips suggests we should be working like India and China to develop alternative lifelines.
  3. Debt and an economy based on finance.  Throughout the book, Phillips compares America’s current challenges with the decline of four great world powers – Rome, Spain, the Netherlands, and Great Britain.  One of their shared traits was that, as their power matured, they shifted from producing things to becoming what Phillips called “rentiers” – i.e., people who survived on unearned income.  Declining powers also took on
    huge levels of debt.  Obviously, there is a danger of America going down that same path.  Phillips points out that the FIRE sector in America (finance, insurance, and real estate) has passed and is pulling away from the manufacturing sector even though the government is aggressively inflating the manufacturing numbers by
    including things like flipping burgers.

The spellbinding experience of listening to American Theocracy during my trip to and from North Dakota was enhanced by occasionally listening to talk radio – e.g., Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Glenn Beck.  This is the first time that I have listened to them at any length, and it was interesting.  Rush is bombastic, Sean is earnest, and Glenn is not as kooky as he seems on TV.  They often cover the same issues of the day, with the same sound bites and even same types of sponsors (gold sales, tax problems, and hard-drive backup systems).  Although they criticize the
echo chamber of the Washington/NYC elite, I suspect that their messages are equally echo chambers.

I found it ironic that Rush, Sean, Glenn, and others continually warn about the advances of evil secular forces in America while Kevin Phillips thinks America is dangerously close to becoming a theocracy.  As I switched back and forth from Phillips to the talk shows, I had to wonder if they were describing the same America.

June 9, 2011

Should Congressman Weiner resign?

The political talk shows are debating whether Congressman Anthony Weiner should resign.  Conservative Sean Hannity (FOX) thinks he should, while liberal Rachel Maddow (MSNBC) says that conservatives have a double standard for liberals based on their tolerance for the sexual philandering conducted by Louisiana Senator David Vitter.

Because I wasn’t familiar with Vitter’s situation, I had to look it up.  According to Wikipedia, he was a Louisiana congressman in 2002 who decided against running for governor when there were rumors of his involvement with prostitutes.  Vitter decided against running
for governor so that he and his wife could deal with marital problems.  Two years later, in 2004, he was elected to the Senate and the prostitute problem was apparently not an issue, but it reared its ugly head in 2007, when a criminal prosecution against the “D.C. Madam” revealed that Vitter was a customer between 1999 and 2001.  Shortly thereafter, the “Canal Street Madam” claimed that Vitter had been her customer in the 1990s.  Vitter responded with a press conference (with his wife) during which he asked the public for forgiveness.  He has since been re-elected.

Based on that history, I think Rachel Maddow is wrong in suggesting that Vitter’s case in analogous to Congressman Weiner’s.  In a sense, Vitter’s case is worse because he not only violated his marriage, he violated the law.  But his case is less serious because his transgressions occurred many years ago and he didn’t lie to the public about it.

Weiner’s case is actually more similar to the sex scandals of NY Governor Elliot Spitzer and President Bill Clinton.  Spitzer’s scandal involved current activity with a prostitute, and it led to his immediate resignation.  By contrast, President Clinton’s scandal involved a White House intern, and he loudly lied to the public about it.  Although he was impeached, he refused to resign and served out his term.

I think Spitzer did the right thing in resigning.  His continued public service as governor would have been severely compromised, and he placed the public interest above his own.

But I also understand President Clinton’s decision to stay on the job.  Although he violated his marriage and probably violated the law, he concluded that his transgressions were unrelated to his job performance and didn’t preclude him from continuing to lead the country.  Based on his job-approval rating at the end of his 2nd term, I think he was correct.

Vitter’s case was actually the least scandalous because it happened several years ago and he was not a chief executive like Spitzer and Clinton.

Congressman Weiner is not a chief executive, either, which makes it more likely that he can continue to effectively do his legislative job.  Furthermore, he didn’t break any law.  So, I think the decision to stay or go is up to him.  Because he’s a career politician, he will probably stay on the job unless he can figure out something better to do with his life.

May 4, 2011

Waterboarding

The killing of Osama Bin Laden has revived the controversy over waterboarding.  Conservatives are asserting that information obtained from waterboarding was essential to locating and killing Bin Laden, while liberals are suggesting that waterboarding had been ineffective. 

Last night, FOX News covered the story from Bill O’Reilly at 7pm to Sean Hannity at 8pm to Greta Van Susteren at 9pm.  This morning the NY Times had an article that describes the controversy. 

As is his wont, Sean Hannity went the most overboard by not only trumpeting the success of waterboarding, but also criticizing America for being too concerned about Muslim sensibilities when burying Bin Laden at sea.  According to Hannity, Osama didn’t deserve a respectful burial because many of his 9/11 victims had been denied the same.  Because Hannity isn’t subjected to questions, he wasn’t asked whether a murderer-rapist should be raped and murdered by the government instead of being executed. 

Two segments on the Hannity show revealed him as the demagogue he is.  The first was S.C. Senator Lindsey Graham.  When Hannity told Lindsey Graham that waterboarding was invaluable and should be reinstated, Graham responded by suggesting that waterboarding was not consistent with American values, but that other enhanced interrogation techniques should be classified and authorized.

The second segment was called Hannity’s Great American Panel, which last night consisted of a curmudgeonly retired Marine colonel (Bill Cowan) and two Navy Seal authors (Howard Wasdin and Eric Greitens).  Although the colonel went along with Hannity’s hard-nosed approach, both Wasdin and Greitens rejected waterboarding as contrary to American values and even contrary to their warrior values. 

Later in the night, Greta Van Susteren asked Michelle Bachman about waterboarding.  Michelle seemed to have received a talking-points memo from Graham because she side-stepped the waterboarding question by saying that enhanced interrogation techniques are essential and should be utilized.  When Greta specifically asked about waterboarding, Michelle repeated that enhanced interrogation technique should be authorized.  I hate it when politicians refuse to answer a simple question and instead answer the question they wanted to be asked.

Several months ago I blogged about waterboarding after reading a book on torture called Because It Is Wrong.  In the posting, I also discussed Bush’43’s explanation in his book Decision Points for why he authorized waterboarding to be used with three terrorists. 

Since then, I have talked to several friends about waterboarding, and they invariable characterize it as torture.  They are not persuaded by Bush-43’s explanation that it doesn’t create excruciating physical pain and doesn’t leave any permanent mental or physical damage. 

I wonder if their opinion has changed since the killing of Osama.  The killing changes the question from an abstract one to a more practical question of “means vs. ends” or “costs vs. benefits.”  For most people, it is hard to place such a high value on a nebulous concept like decency that they are willing to give up a highly desirable end/benefit like the killing of Obama.

Isn’t it ironic that Bush-43 chose the more practical path of waterboarding, and he was excoriated for it, whereas Obama choose the more idealistic path of banning waterboarding, yet his administration was able to reap the benefit of Bush’43’s decision?

April 18, 2011

Republican demagoguery

Filed under: Issues,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 4:27 pm
Tags: , , ,

I have previously blogged about Republican demagoguery with respect to the Manhattan mosque and the party’s “no new taxes pledge.”  Do they really believe that you increase revenue by decreasing taxes?  If that were so, why do Democrats want to raise taxes?      

Last week I heard another example of Republican demagoguery while listening to Sean Hannity interview Karl Rove.  Not surprisingly, as is typical of conservative talk shows, the interviewer bloviates more than the interviewee.  During the interview, Sean opined that a major tax-related concern of his was that higher income taxes on the rich would adversely affect small businesses.  I remember the same argument being made with respect to the estate taxes – i.e., the estate tax severely impacts family farms.    

Yes, I suppose the estate tax is a problem for a family farm worth $10 million, but that is a problem that we would all like to have.  And how is that any different than a family that has $10 million invested in Microsoft or Berkshire Hathaway.  The investing family may be required to sell some of their stock, and the family farm may be required to sell some of their farm.  It’s not like the entire family farm will need to be liquidated.  Taxes are never painless, but this type of tax is less painful than most.

The same reasoning applies to Hannity’s argument that you shouldn’t increase taxes on small businesses.  It shouldn’t make any difference if a high-income person is a Wall Street lawyer, a Fifth Avenue physician, or an owner of a small construction company – if the person is making a million dollars a year, that person can afford to pay a higher tax rate than the person making $100k a year. 

An argument could be made that small businessmen would be more likely to grow their businesses if they were allowed to retain more profit, but that is not adequate justification for exempting highly successful small businessmen from paying their fair share of our tax burden.  And it certainly doesn’t justify keeping the marginal tax rate the same for people who make $100k a year, $1 million a year, and $1 billion a year.  Americans want a progressive income tax, and Republican politicians need to respect that and quit trying to curry favor with their fat-cat contributors by back-dooring a quasi-flat tax.

January 18, 2011

F.A. Hayek on whether Obama is a modern socialist

A couple of months ago, I blogged about whether President Obama was a socialist.   Within that posting, I discussed the two different definitions of the term used by Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity when they addressed this question on their TV shows.  Based on some further readings this past weekend, I believe I overlooked an important third definition of the term.

In my previous posting, I noted:

  • O’Reilly used a strict, classical definition of a socialist as someone who advocates public ownership of the means of production.  By that measure, O’Reilly concluded that, although Obama might believe in a welfare state, he was not a socialist. 
  • Hannity’s definition, however, was not so strict.  Instead, he suggested that a socialist is someone who favors state control of capital within the framework of a market economy, and based on that definition, he concluded that Obama was clearly a supporter of creeping socialism. 

This weekend, I was reading a classic book on economics titled The Road to Serfdom by F.A. Hayek.  The book was originally published in 1944, and as noted in Wikipedia:

  • The Road to Serfdom is among the most influential and popular expositions of classical liberalism and libertarianism and remains a popular and influential work in contemporary discourse, selling over two million copies, and remaining a best-seller.
  • Hayek warned of the danger of tyranny that inevitably results from government control of economic decision-making through central planning, and in which he argues that the abandonment of individualism, liberalism, and freedom inevitably leads to socialist or fascist oppression and tyranny and the serfdom of the individual.

In his Foreword to the 1956 American edition of the book, Hayek noted that socialism as defined by Bill O’Reilly was already dead:

  • “Although I recognize that the hot socialism against which [The Road to Serfdom] was mainly directed – that organized movement toward a deliberation organization of economic life by the state as the chief owner of the means of production – is nearly dead in the Western world.  The century of socialism in this sense probably came to an end around 1948.  Many of its illusions have been discarded even by its leaders, and elsewhere as well as in the United States the very name has lost much of its attraction.  Attempts will no doubt be made to rescue the name for movements which are less dogmatic, less doctrinaire, and less systematic.”
  • “Yet though hot socialism is probably a thing of the past, some of its conceptions have penetrated far too deeply into the whole structure of current thought to justify complacency.  If few people in the Western world now want to remake society from the bottom according to some ideal blueprint, a great many still believe in measures which, thought not designed to completely remodel the economy, in their aggregate effect may well unintentionally produce this result.”
  • “That hodgepodge of ill-assembled and often inconsistent ideals which under the name of the Welfare State has largely replaced socialism as the goal of reformers needs very careful sorting out if its results are not to be very similar to those of full-fledged socialism.  This is not to say that some of its aims are not both practicable and laudable.  But there are many ways in which we can work for the same goal, and in the present state of opinion there is some danger that our impatience for quick results may lead us to choose instruments which, though perhaps efficient for achieving the particular ends, are not compatible with the preservation of a free society.  The increasing tendency to rely on administrative coercion and discrimination where a modification of the general rules of law might, perhaps more slowly, achieve the same object, and to resort to direct state controls or to the creation of monopolistic institutions where judicious use of financial inducements might evoke spontaneous efforts, is still a powerful legacy of the socialist period which is likely to influence policy for a long time to come.”
  • “Just because in the years ahead of us political ideology is not likely to aim at a clearly defined goal but toward piecemeal change, a full understanding of the process through which certain kinds of measures can destroy the bases of an economy based on the market and gradually smother the creative powers of a free civilization seems now of greater importance.  Only if we understand why and how certain kinds of economic controls tend to paralyze the driving forces of a free society, and which kinds of measures are particularly dangerous in this respect, can we hope that social experimentation will not lead us into situations none of us want.”

How prescient was that?  If anyone today writes with such power and clarity, I haven’t read them.  I have a friend who highlights the great insights that he reads in his books, and sometimes he underlines virtually the entire book – e.g., books by Dave Ramsey or Michael Savage.  I feel the same way about Hayek.

As Hayek predicted, socialism in the 21st century has taken the form of what NY Times columnist Paul Krugman calls a modern welfare state, which he defines as “a private-enterprise economy, but one in which society’s winners are taxed to pay for a social safety net.”  Can there be any doubt that Obama believes in the modern welfare state after he told Joe the Plumber that we need to “spread the wealth around”?

Can you imagine what Hayek would say about ObamaCare?  Talk about social experimentation of a dangerously grand level.  Hayek was not an ideologue, but warned that you needed to be surgical in treating capitalism, lest you “smother the creative powers of a civilization.”  What would you give for this man, who ironically moved to the University of Chicago after writing this book, giving President Obama a tutorial?  I’m afraid President Obama wouldn’t listen.

January 8, 2011

Sunday book review #8 – The Bridge by David Remnick

Earlier this week, I had lunch in Austin with the city’s two best lawyers – Robert Icenhauer-Ramirez and his ex-wife Linda – along with their law-student daughter Katie.  Because Robert is a presidential historian, having recently earned his master’s degree from UT, and Linda is an Obama fanatic, our conversation naturally gravitated to presidential politics.  (Katie feigned bystander interest.)  

Robert and Linda seemed inordinately proud of Obama’s accomplishments, and they asked what I thought.  I told them that earlier that same day, talk-show host Don Imus suggested that Sarah Palin, as incompetent as she seems to be, could not have done worse than Obama.  Robert and Linda thought that was a joke.  I reminded Robert that a few years ago, he had suggested to me that Bush-43 was one of the worst presidents ever, and I thought Robert was joking.  I guess turnabout is fair play.

As we started discussing the Obama presidency, I found myself steering the discussion to Obama’s life before the presidency, probably because I had just read a book on that subject, which I am about to review:

The Bridge is a new biography on Barack Obama, written by David Remnick.  The author concedes that it “is preposterously early for definitive, scholarly biographies,” and describes his objective as “a piece of biographical journalism” on Obama’s life before his Presidency.  With that objective in mind, Remnick succeeds.  As a reader, however, I was unsatisfied.  I was hoping for a balanced, thorough review of Obama’s life and instead was given an unblemished narrative deserving of the person whom Sean Hannity calls The Anointed One.   

The book flowed from an essay that Remnick wrote in 2008 for the New Yorker magazine, titled “The Joshua Generation.”  The essay title referred to a March 4, 2007 speech that Obama gave in Selma, Alabama to commemorate Bloody Sunday, which occurred on March 7, 1965.  Bloody Sunday was a voting-rights march over the Edmund Pettus Bridge that resulted in the marchers being clubbed and tear-gassed by Alabama state police.  According to Remnick, Bloody Sunday was the most important act of nonviolent resistance since Mahatma Gandhi’s march to the beach in 1930.    

In his Bloody Sunday speech, Obama gave credit to the iconic African-American civil-rights leaders of the 60s – the so-called Moses generation:

  • “I’m here because somebody marched.  I’m here because y’all sacrificed for me.  I stand of the shoulders of giants.” 

There’s a bit of literary license in that comment since, as Remnick pointed out, Obama was born in America four years before Bloody Sunday.  In any event, Obama went on to declare in his speech that he and his so-called Joshua generation would finish the trip across the Edmund Pettus Bridge.  When Remnick subsequently decided to expand his essay into a full-fledged biography, he used the same speech to provide the book’s title – The Bridge.    

The Bridge, despite 586 pages of information, failed to answer the question that I have always had about Obama’s academic career.  He was not an outstanding student at his exclusive high school in Hawaii or during his two years at Occidental College in California, yet was able to transfer to an Ivy League college in New York City – Columbia.  So I have always wondered what role, if any, affirmative action played in that decision. 

Do you remember how much reporting was done to determine what special favors got Bush-43 into the Texas National Guard?  This book contains no reporting on Obama’s admission to Columbia or Harvard Law.  All I detected was a single paragraph about a person who wrote a recommendation to Harvard Law – “McKnight agreed to write the letter.  He had the idea that Obama had not received exceptional grades as an undergraduate – ‘I don’t think he did too well in college.’”  Because Obama Sr. earned a graduate degree at Harvard, it is possible that his admission could have been supported by “legacy” or affirmative action.

Obama has said that he doesn’t think his kids – Malia and Sasha – should benefit from affirmative action because they are relatively privileged, but what about affirmative action for Barack Obama over Anglos trying to get into Columbia or Harvard Law?  I think that affirmative action for Obama was entirely inappropriate because his dad had a graduate degree from Harvard and his mother had a graduate degree from the University of Hawaii.  Furthermore, his grandparents were able to use their connections to get him into the finest private high school in Hawaii – Punahou.  Compared to most American kids, he was highly advantaged from an educational perspective and should not have been “entitled” to any preference. 

My lawyer-friend Robert argues that using connections to avoid Vietnam is more egregious than using affirmative action to get into an Ivy League school.  That’s true, but what about the media’s obsession with needing to see Bush-43’s college transcript.  Obviously, they were attempting to prove the stereotype of conservatives as Philistines and liberals as Renaissance people.  When Bush’s transcript was eventually released, his grades were comparable to those of his presidential opponent, John Kerry.  Why won’t Obama release his transcript to show the kind of student who earned admission to Columbia and Harvard Law?  Why the double-standard by the media?

One of Obama’s early claims to fame was becoming the first African-American president of the Harvard Law Review, which is determined by a popularity vote of the other student-editors (analogous to being selected as a fraternity president).  Before becoming president, however, he had to become a member of the law review.  Remnick suggests that admission to the law review depended on merit, but merely said the following – “Obama’s grades were good – he graduated magna cum laude – and he got in.” 

I have read elsewhere that Obama’s grades were marginal for the law review, and he wouldn’t have been admitted except for his race.  Magna cum laude was good enough for African-Americans and Hispanics, but Anglos and Asians had to be summa cum laude.  Why wouldn’t Remnick at least discuss this important issue?  As FOX News says – give us the facts and let us decide.

From my perspective, Obama’s privileged background is reflected in the characteristic most associated with elites – a feeling of entitlement.  Numerous studies have shown that people from privileged backgrounds often obtain preferential treatment in America merely because they insist on it.  Remnick never seems to acknowledge this characteristic, but does report near the end of the book that Bill and Hillary Clinton and John McCain “thought of Obama as a talented speaker, but a callow politician, serenely entitled, lucky beyond measure.”  Too bad Remnick didn’t take the time to examine that allegation. 

Based on urban legend, you might think Obama spent many years working in the trenches as an ascetic community organizer.  Actually, he worked only three years in the field for a foundation, almost like a Peace Corp or Teaching for American sabbatical, and he made decent money for the work before going to Harvard Law. 

Right-wing pundits often attack Obama as becoming an indoctrinated disciple of Saul Alinsky, a famous community organizer in Chicago who died in 1972.  Although The Bridge commonly takes detours to provide in-depth looks at persons or events that influence Obama, there is very little in this book about Alinsky.  I assume that means that Remnick doesn’t think Obama was significantly influenced by Alinsky’s famous organization techniques and strategies, but even so, Remnick should have directly debunked the right-wing allegations.

Obama’s journey to Rev. Jeremiah Wright seems more sincere and less opportunistic than other Obama actions.  Although Wright led the prestigious Trinity church, which would be helpful to the success of a community organizer, there were equally prestigious churches in South Chicago.  Instead Obama was drawn to Trinity because of its emphasis on social justice as opposed to spiritual salvation.  According to Wright, Obama was looking for “a faith that doesn’t put other people’s faith down, and all I’m hearing about is you’re going to hell if you don’t believe what I believe.  He didn’t hear that from me.”  That sounds totally appropriate coming from a cosmopolitan world traveler like Barack.

Because of his election as President of the Law Review, and the associated national publicity, Obama was given a book deal to discuss race in America while still in law school, with an advance of $100k.  He started on the book while in law school, and then finished it after taking a job for a prestigious civil-rights law firm in Chicago.  He also accepted a part-time job at the prestigious University of Chicago Law School lecturing on Constitutional Law.  Amazing for a kid just out of law school.

Obama’s dominant goal ever since law school was to become a career politician, and he let that be know in Chicago as soon as he returned from law school.  But because there were no openings for a few years, he networked and waited.  Finally a state senator position opened up in 1996, and Obama won the position by getting the favored incumbent thrown off the ballot for failing to submit enough valid signatures on her petition.  Apparently, this is a common tactic in Chicago, with candidates often filling their petitions with invalid signatures.  By law, each candidate must submit 750 valid signatures.  Out of an abundance of caution, Obama submitted 3,000 signatures while the incumbent submitted only 2,000 (as a result of making a last-minute decision to run for re-election), and Obama proved that only 500 were valid.  Hell of a way to start a career in politics.

As Obama started his political career, Remnick accused him of having “a certain naïveté” about the role of money:

  • In a tone of rueful apology, he admitted that he would have to raise money from people of means in order to win the election, but ‘once elected, once I’m known, I wonder need that kind of money, just as Harold Washington, once he was elected and known, did not need to raise and spend money to get the black vote.’  As a Presidential candidate, Obama not only raised an unprecedented amount of cash… but also dropped a promise to abide by spending limits, and then outspent his Republican opponent by a gigantic margin.”

Just because Obama was a hypocrite about campaign financing, that doesn’t prove that his original sentiments had “a certain naïveté.”  I agree 100% with Obama’s original sentiments, and I’ve never been called naive.  (Actually, I have.)

By all reports, Obama was not happy being a state senator, his performance was lackluster, and his family-life suffered.  By 2000, he grew impatient with his status and tried to unseat a popular incumbent congressman, Bobby Rush, in a district that was 70% African-American.  Obama was crushed 61%-30%, and his only noteworthy accomplishment during the campaign was to earn the endorsement of the Chicago Tribune.  The endorsement was one of the first signs of media-love that Obama generates:

  • [Bobby Rush may] be good enough, if he did not have an outstanding opponent.  Obama is smart and energetic.  He was the first black president of the Harvard Law Review, and he is committed to his community.  He has fresh ideas on governing and he understands that, as congressman for the 1st District, he would become a spokesman for African-American concerns nationally and an important voice in shaping urban politics in Chicago and the nation.”

Huh?  That bit of puffery sounded like the Express-News endorsement of Will Hurd during my congressional race.

Somehow, the trouncing by Bobby Rush did not end Obama’s rapid ascent.  In 2002, the Illinois Democrats took over the legislature, and Obama received a lot of favorable assignments (voting rights, affirmative action) because he had become the majority leader’s (Emil Jones) pet.  Obama also spent a lot of time networking throughout the state. 

Two years later, Obama decided to run for a U.S. Senate seat that was being vacated.  The Democratic field was extremely weak, and the candidacy of Obama’s strongest opponent, Blair Hull, collapsed following the release of ugly divorce records that revealed him threatening to kill his wife. 

After winning the seven-person primary with over 50% of the vote, Obama was plucked out of obscurity by John Kerry to give the keynote speech at the Democratic convention.  Also on the short list of potential keynoters were Jennifer Granholm, Janet Napolitano, and Mark Warner. 

After delivering a successful keynote, Obama prepared to take on the Republican nominee, Jack Ryan, but Ryan’s candidacy collapsed because of ugly divorce records that revealed him and his famous ex-wife being involved in kinky sex activities.  Ultimately, Ryan gave up his nomination and was replaced by carpetbagger Alan Keyes.  Obama won 70%-27%.  What an amazing comeback for a guy who lost a congressional race 61%-30% only four years earlier.

The last fourth of the book concerns Obama’s abbreviated time in the U.S. Senate – four years – most of which was spent running for the presidency.  That topic has been covered better by others – nothing here that I thought was worth noting. 

The book’s Epilogue contained a few pages on the Obama presidency, including a mention of the famous beer summit.  Although Remnick provides scant information about the incident, he reveals his personal prejudices that obviously slanted this book.  In describing the beer summit, Remnick says “a police officer handcuffed and arrested a Harvard professor and pioneer in African-American studies, Henry Louis Gates, Jr.”  No where in the discussion does he provide the police officer’s name – Sgt. James Crowley.  Even more troubling, Remnick seems to defend Obama’s indefensible press-conference comments about Crowley acting stupidly:

  • “In the coming days, Obama was criticized for sins ranging from a disrespect for the police to mouthing off without knowing both sides of the story.  Although he was a great deal more right than wrong in his defense of Gates, Obama and his advisers regretted the furor.”

Huh?  In whose mind was Obama more right than wrong?  Maybe in Remnick’s mind, but not in the minds of most Americans.  That probably explains why this book is ultimately unsatisfying to someone who isn’t interested in reading about The Anointed One.

November 23, 2010

Creeping socialism?

During the ObamaCare debate, conservative pundits on FOX News, like Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity, started asking guests whether Barack Obama was a socialist.  My first reaction was that the question was their typical inflammatory stuff.  Although politicians shy away from being labeled the “L” word (liberal), being a socialist in my world is tantamount to being unAmerican.  You can imagine my surprise at learning, according to a 2010 Gallup poll, 36% of Americans consider socialism favorably, and that number increases to 61% for self-described liberal Americans. 

Upon further reflection, those numbers are less surprising.  I believe the fundamental difference between a conservative and a liberal is that a conservative believes in individual freedom, especially free enterprise, whereas a liberal believes that individual freedom is a dangerous thing that must be controlled by government. 

This generalization is supported by additional numbers from the Gallup poll.  Only 30% of self-described conservatives have a favorable opinion of the federal government, while 65% of liberals do.  By contrast, 57% of conservatives have a favorable opinion of big business, while only 38% of liberals do.

The Gallup pollsters pointed out that their results were affected by the fact that they did not provide a definition of socialism and that different people might have significantly different definitions.  That is something that O’Reilly and Hannity had to address when they were exploring whether Obama was a socialist.  O’Reilly used a strict, classical definition, which is someone who advocates public ownership of the means of production.  By that measure, O’Reilly concluded that, although Obama might believe in a welfare state, he was not a socialist.  Hannity’s definition, however, was not so strict.  Instead, he suggested that a socialist is someone who favors state control of capital within the framework of a market economy, and based on that definition, he concluded that Obama was clearly a supporter of creeping socialism. 

“Creeping socialism” is a good description of the American economy.  For example, there was an article in the SA Express-News last week lamenting the high cost of homeowners insurance in Texas, but instead of examining the reason for the high cost, the article focused on consumer advocates arguing that we need “comprehensive homeowners insurance reform that requires insurance companies to justify rates before they go into effect.”  The TDI explained the numbers by saying that most Texans have an unusual policy and Texans have unusual exposure to “hurricanes, tornadoes and other severe weather.”  Only in the last paragraph did the article quote an industry advocate – “Despite Texas weather, nearly 100 companies continue to sell homeowner insurance policies in the state, which makes for a competitive market and stable rates.” 

Requiring businesses in a competitive industry like Homeowners Insurance to justify their prices to a regulatory agency is a big step down the road toward converting America into a socialist state.  Ditto for ObamaCare and the GM/Chrysler bailout.  And as Rick Perry noted in his book Fed Up, this didn’t start with Obama.  Much responsibility rests with Bush-43, who said, “I’ve abandoned free-market principles to save the free-market system.”  While Bush was reluctantly reacting to a crisis, Obama has decided to take advantage of the Great Recession, just as FDR took advantage of the Great Depression.  To paragraph his chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, a crisis is a terrible thing to waste on America’s road to serfdom.

October 28, 2010

Don Imus

Imus in the Morning has been my favorite talk show for many years.  I love Don Imus’ interviews with reporters, columnists, politicians, and authors.  I love his repartee with news guy Charles McCord, resident redneck Bernard McGuirk, sports guy Warner Wolf, and comedians Rob Bartlett and Tony Powell.  And I love his politics – left and right of center, at the same time.  Although he can be mean, sarcastic, and narcissistic, his heart is in the right place.   

I watched Imus on MSNBC for years while reading the morning paper and getting ready for work.  Then on April 4, 2007, he and McGuirk decided to insult the appearance of the girls on the Rutgers’ basketball team, with Imus calling them “nappy-headed hos.”  Jesse Jackson and Rev. Al Sharpton called for Imus’ head; even Barack Obama piled on.  One week later, Imus was fired. 

Although I was devastated by the firing, I had to move on.  But nothing really took his place.  Eventually, Imus in the Morning returned to an obscure TV network (RFD) that my cable provider didn’t provide.  Then last year, when the show moved to Fox Business News, I thought I was in luck, but instead I was disappointed to learn that my Time Warner cable package, which included hundreds of stations, didn’t include Fox Business News.  Although I could purchase another tier of stations that included Fox Business News for only $7, I kept putting off the purchase until I finally got around to doing it a couple of months ago. 

Purchasing the cable tier that included Imus in the Morning was one of the best purchases I have made in a long time.  Happy days are here again.  Although I still enjoy listening to Mike & Mike in the Morning, a sports talk show on ESPN2 at the same time, I usually prefer political talk over sports talk, especially following a weekend when both the Vikings and Longhorns lost. 

Last week, one of Imus’ guests asked him where he went to college, and Imus responded that he never went to college.  Neither did Charles McCord, he said.  That shocked the guest and me because Imus comes across as well read and cosmopolitan, and most of us associate those things with a college education.  But it didn’t shock my conservative friend, Kevin Brown, who says that popular talk-show hosts typically don’t have college educations.  He mentioned Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, and Rush Limbaugh.  By way of contrast, he suggested than unpopular talk-show hosts have elite educations – e.g., Anderson Cooper went to Yale, Rachel Maddow went to Stanford, and Keith Olbermann went to Cornell.  Coincidence?  I think not.  Popular and elite don’t mix.  Just ask John Kerry.

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