Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Last Call

Via Matt Yglesias, conservative stalwart Richard Posner all but admits defeat, lamenting the death of "intellectual conservatism."
My theme is the intellectual decline of conservatism, and it is notable that the policies of the new conservatism are powered largely by emotion and religion and have for the most part weak intellectual groundings. That the policies are weak in conception, have largely failed in execution, and are political flops is therefore unsurprising. The major blows to conservatism, culminating in the election and programs of Obama, have been fourfold: the failure of military force to achieve U.S. foreign policy objectives; the inanity of trying to substitute will for intellect, as in the denial of global warming, the use of religious criteria in the selection of public officials, the neglect of management and expertise in government; a continued preoccupation with abortion; and fiscal incontinence in the form of massive budget deficits, the Medicare drug plan, excessive foreign borrowing, and asset-price inflation.

By the fall of 2008, the face of the Republican Party had become Sarah Palin and Joe the Plumber. Conservative intellectuals had no party.

Perhaps a conservative intellectual is one who has discovered that the GOP in fact made the term an oxymoron. You can't have a serious policy debate about facts and reason when all you have left is denial, scaremongering and blatant ignorance.

Of course, some of us lesser more liberal lights figured out the intellectual bankruptcy of the current crop of GOP luminaries quite some time ago. Just as there's no real place for moderate conservatives in today's Republican party, there's not real place for intellectual conservatives either. Not when your party is run by Rush's hate, Cheney's scare tactics, and Newt's vapid platitudes.

There's a lot about actual conservatism to admire. But the GOP burned that bridge long, long ago.

The GOP's New Faces Spout Old Rhetoric

This CNN profile of 27-year old GOP Congressman Aaron Schock details so very much what is wrong with the Republican efforts to gain young voters.
When asked whether questions about his youth are a hindrance or a boon, Schock says the age factor could change the way people view Congress.

"The average age of a member of Congress this year is 57, the oldest in our country's history. And I would suggest that our government would look a lot different if there were more members of Congress that were in their 20's."

Schock's focus is squarely on the Republican agenda: cutting taxes, slashing the deficit and pushing through credit card reform. He has also taken a traditionally conservative stance of opposing abortion and same-sex marriage.

Yeah, that'll reel those young voters in with those fresh new hip Republican ideas like "No abortion!" and "No gay marriage!" and "Let's cut taxes!"

He is right on one thing however. If Congress had more Gen Y and younger Gen X'ers (like myself) in it, it would be far more progressive than it is now.


A Tragic Tale

Yesterday's army base shooting in Iraq was allegedly the act of an Army sergeant undergoing treatment for mental issues.
The U.S. soldier who killed five fellow troops at a stress clinic in Iraq apparently used a weapon he wrested away from another soldier to carry out the act, a defense official said Tuesday.

The shooter was identified as Army Sgt. John M. Russell, according to Maj. Gen. David Perkins, the military spokesman who briefed reporters in Baghdad. Russell has been charged with five counts of murder and one count of aggravated assault after Monday's shooting at Camp Liberty, near Baghdad International Airport, Perkins added.

A 44-year-old communications specialist from Sherman, Texas, Russell is serving his third tour in Iraq and has previously deployed to Bosnia and Kosovo, Perkins' office said.

Russell recently had been referred to counseling by his commander due to unspecified words and actions, Perkins said. The commander also ordered that the sergeant's weapon be taken away.

A defense official said that Russell was escorted out of the stress clinic Monday by a fellow soldier. Russell and that soldier apparently struggled over the soldier's weapon in a vehicle after they began to drive away, the official said.

Russell then walked back to the clinic, the official said, after apparently obtaining the weapon.

Bosnia, Kosovo, and three Iraq tours. This man was still serving his country after a good 20 years on the front lines. I am very glad to see the Army tried to get this soldier the help he clearly needed...but it wasn't enough.

We often forget what war does to those who fight it. Not all wounds are physical.

Uncle Jesse Imparts His Wisdom

On Larry King last night, former Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura went to town on Dubya, Cheney, and torture.
VENTURA: That's right. I was water boarded, so I know -- at SERE School, Survival Escape Resistance Evasion. It was a required school you had to go to prior to going into the combat zone, which in my era was Vietnam. All of us had to go there. We were all, in essence -- every one of us was water boarded. It is torture.

KING: What was it like?

VENTURA: It's drowning. It gives you the complete sensation that you are drowning. It is no good, because you -- I'll put it to you this way, you give me a water board, Dick Cheney and one hour, and I'll have him confess to the Sharon Tate murders.

KING: Even though you know it's not going to happen -- even though before it, you know you're not going to drown.

VENTURA: You don't know it. If it's -- if it's done wrong, you certainly could drown. You could swallow your tongue. You could do a whole bunch of stuff. If it's it done wrong or -- it's torture, Larry. It's torture.

I was living in Minnesota when Jesse was Governor, and the one honest thing I could say about the man is that he never pulled punches on what he said. Good for him to say this.

Zandar's Thought Of The Day

The Village is hoping and praying that it's 1993 again, and they are doing everything in their power to make it happen.

Can you blame them? The Village killed liberalism and was given unchecked power to the point it lead to the Contract With America and Clinton's impeachment. The GOP made them gods, and the Village in turn put the GOP in charge for 16 years.

The new generation all want to be the next Village Chief. These are folks that learned that the most important thing you can do in Washington as a journalist is to take down a popular Democrat and demand favors from the GOP in turn.

Every one of them is thinking "Man, wouldn't it be great if I ruined Obama and put the GOP back in power?"

Home Run

First quarter 2009 home prices showed a record year-over-year drop.
The steep slide in home price accelerated at a record pace during the first three months of 2009, according to an industry report issued Tuesday.

The national median home price of single family homes sold during the first quarter fell 13.8% to $169,000 year over year, and 6.2% compared with the last quarter 2008, according to the National Association of Realtors (NAR). That was the largest year-over-year decline in the 30-year history of the report.

NAR attributed much of the loss to two factors: First-time homebuyers, who are often entry-level buyers, accounted for about half of all purchases during the quarter. And many buyers took advantage of the deeply discounted prices of foreclosed properties and short sales. These "distressed properties" typically sell for 20% less than traditional homes, according to NAR. These homes also accounted for about half of all transactions.

Despite all the calls for a housing market bottom this summer, it's just not going to happen. Prices will continue to fall nationally as unemployment rises and option mortgages reset to higher rates, and both of those of course will only serve to lower home prices even more as more foreclosures flood the market.

Stopped Clock Is Right Alert

Even a stopped clock is right twice a day, and even the Wall Street Journal occasionally has responsible op-ed articles in it that cast some healthy skepticism on the current "bull market". In this case it's market critic and author Andy Kessler.(emphasis mine)
A rising market means that banks are able to raise much-needed equity from private money funds instead of from the feds. And last Thursday, accompanying this flood of new money, came the reassuring results of the bank stress tests.

The next day Morgan Stanley raised $4 billion by selling stock at $24 in an oversubscribed deal. Wells Fargo also raised $8.6 billion that day by selling stock at $22 a share, up from $8 two months ago. And Bank of America registered 1.25 billion shares to sell this week. Citi is next. It's almost as if someone engineered a stock-market rally to entice private investors to fund the banks rather than taxpayers.

Can you see why I believe this is a sucker's rally?

The stock market still has big hurdles to clear. You can have a jobless recovery, but you can't have a profitless recovery. Consider: Earnings are subpar, Treasury's last auction was a bust because of weak demand, the dollar is suspect, the stimulus is pork, the latest budget projects a $1.84 trillion deficit, the administration is berating investment firms and hedge funds saying "I don't stand with them," California is dead broke, health care may be nationalized, cap and trade will bump electric bills by 30% . . . Shall I go on?

Until these issues are resolved, I don't see the stock market going much higher. I'm not disagreeing with the Fed's policies -- but I won't buy into a rising stock market based on them. I'm bullish when I see productivity driving wealth.

For now, the market appears dependent on a hand cranking out dollars to help fund banks. I'd rather see rising expectations for corporate profits.

And while I don't agree with everything Kessler says (especially on the stimulus and cap and trade) he does have a damn good point: The only money flowing into the system right now is coming out of Helicopter Ben's Magic Printing Press.

And that's not going to be healthy for long. When the second wave of the recession hits, it's going to hit hard.

It's A Hard Knock Life

Everybody's got a sad story to tell these days. Some are sadder than others.
Postal authorities say a Michigan postal worker has admitted to stealing some $20,000 worth of first-class stamps since September and trying to sell them to online auction-site customers to help pay his mortgage.

An arrest warrant has been issued for John Auito, 42, of Macomb, Michigan. Auito, a postal employee since 2003, resigned after investigators confronted him on April 30.

He has made arrangements to turn himself in, authorities said.

Deputy Special Agent-in-Charge Breck Nowlin of the USPS Office of the Inspector General told CNN that Auito has admitted to stealing stamps that were being shipped to retail stores, and he said he used the money from selling them to make delinquent mortgage payments.

Nowlin said Auito was contacting customers of the online auction site eBay, and offering to sell them stolen stamps at below-retail prices.

Not to validate or make any excuses for this guy's allegedly criminal actions, but tough times lead to more crimes. More and more folks are going to turn to less than legal ways to make ends meet.

Pray you don't have to.

Zandar, Editor-At-Large

Today's NY Times:
Forty-five House Democrats in the party’s moderate-to-conservative wing have protested the secretive process by which party leaders in their chamber are developing legislation to remake the health care system.

The lawmakers, members of the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Coalition, said they were “increasingly troubled” by their exclusion from the bill-writing process.

They expressed their concerns in a letter delivered Monday to three House committee chairmen writing the bill, which House leaders hope to pass this summer.

Representative Mike Ross, an Arkansas Democrat who is chairman of the coalition’s health task force, said: “We don’t need a select group of members of Congress or staff members writing this legislation. We don’t want a briefing on the bill after it’s written. We want to help write it.”
Fixed for accuracy!

In Which Zandar Answers Your Burning Questions

Richard Cohen at the WaPo asks:
Blogger Alert: I have written a column in defense of Dick Cheney. I know how upsetting this will be to some Cheney critics, and I count myself as one, who think -- in respectful paraphrase of what Mary McCarthy said about Lillian Hellman -- that everything he says is a lie, including the ands and the thes. Yet I have to wonder whether what he is saying now is the truth -- i.e., torture works.

In some sense, this is an arcane point since the United States insists it will not torture anymore -- not that, the Bush people quickly add, it ever did. Torture is a moral abomination, and President Obama is right to restate American opposition to it. But where I reserve a soup├žon of doubt is over the question of whether "enhanced interrogation techniques" actually work. That they do not is a matter of absolute conviction among those on the political left, who seem to think that the CIA tortured suspected terrorists just for the hell of it.

Cheney, though, is adamant that the very measures that are now deemed illegal did work and that, furthermore, doing away with them has made the country less safe. Cheney said this most recently on Sunday, on CBS's "Face the Nation." "Those policies were responsible for saving lives," he told Bob Schieffer. In effect, Cheney poses a hard, hard question: Is it more immoral to torture than it is to fail to prevent the deaths of thousands?

Cohen misses the point completely. His question is actually completely irrelevant to the actual debate. The question he should be asking is this: "How did the Bush/Cheney One Percent Doctrine's assumption that terrorists must be exposed to these techniques hundreds of times in order to gain dubious information become our first choice when dealing with suspected terrorists, given all the risks, the illegality of the measures, and the suspect information it gave interrogators?"

That however would require real journalism and not the knee-jerk reaction of genuflecting to a monster like Cheney and framing the debate in terms of the idiotic false choice of "we must use these techniques or Americans will die."

Life is not a Vince Flynn novel.

Raw Deal

The stark reality of the US automaker bankruptcies (Chrysler is being remade as we speak, GM's coming bankruptcy is all but assured now, and Ford's fate is still uncertain) is that anywhere from 25% to as much as 40% of Chrysler and GM dealers are going to lose their businesses. That means thousands of shuttered dealerships nationwide, and hundreds of thousands of additional lost jobs across the country.
This week, General Motors is expected to tell between 1,000 and 1,500 of their 6,200 dealers nationwide that the corporation will not renew their franchise agreements, and Chrysler will notify 25% of their US dealers - 800 out of 3,200 total - that their days as new car dealers are over, too.

As Ken Bensinger, who has been following the dealer crisis for the Los Angeles Times, wrote this weekend, "... it amounts to a blood bath for dealers, who employ hundreds of thousands of people nationwide and pump billions of dollars into their area economies. With dealers unsure whether their names will be called, a pervasive sense of dread has crept into showrooms."

The National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) and groups of Chrysler and GM dealers are taking various steps to try and stem the tide of forced closings, many involving complicated and expensive legal challenges to the car-makers but some aimed at the general public, too. NADA is taking out advertisements in major publications urging President Obama "to choose Main Street over Wall Street."

The strong state franchise laws which govern the sales ballet and love/hate relationship between car-makers and their dealers (most all written with dealer-only input) are from the same eras when Detroit was concerned with only five things: 1) Making enough cars to fill demand, 2) Avoiding any trouble with unions or dealers which could slow sales, 3) Spending all the money they were making, 4) Protecting executives' annual bonuses, and, in GM's case, especially, 5) Avoiding being labeled a monopoly by Washington and being split into separate companies.
Needless to say, the fight over dealership jobs and UAW jobs is really just beginning. And as more and more Americans lose their jobs, the situation is just going to get more dire for the economy. The legal battles alone may take years, draining both sides of the battle when neither can afford to lose, and neither can afford to win.

Meanwhile, the number of people buying new American cars will continue to fall.


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