"The left needs two things to survive. It needs mediocrity, and it needs dependence. It nurtures mediocrity in the public schools and the universities. It nurtures dependence through its empire of government programs. A nation that embraces mediocrity and dependence betrays itself, and can only fade away, wondering all the time what might have been."
- Urgent Agenda
I have a new piece up at Hudson New York called "The Money Myth." It's here.
I also have a new piece up at Power Line, on the death of major newspapers. It's here.
SATURDAY, MARCH 14, 2009
TIME FOR THE MODERATES? - AT 9:55 A.M. ET:
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Moderate Democrats in Congress who built their ranks in November's elections are nudging their party's liberal agenda to the center, working to add a pro-business dose of pragmatism to President Barack Obama's plans to rescue homeowners, overhaul health care and revamp energy policy.
With close ties to industry and a keen understanding of how markets work, these Democrats have taken an increasingly influential and visible role in debates over federal spending and housing. They also have powerful allies in the White House. Obama told the House's band of New Democrats during a meeting last week that he considered himself one of them, according to several attendees. His chief of staff, former Rep. Rahm Emanuel, is one of their most prominent alumni.
COMMENT: Reality always intervenes. Many of the Dems elected in November are from districts and states that lean conservative. After all, they were elected by defeating Republicans who'd held those seats. So, they're going to be careful about going too far to the left. Their influence, however, is far from clear, despite some victories in changing legislation. The Obama administration, especially at the mid-level, where policies are carried out, is a virtual Rolodex of left-wing activists. And they don't have to be reelected. So the jury is still out on just how "moderate" this administration wants to be.
CHENGDU, China (AP) -- Paramilitary and plainclothes police blanketed the Tibetan capital with patrols and checkpoints Saturday, imposing what witnesses called a tense calm on the first anniversary of a violent anti-Chinese riot.
Lhasa residents said police with rifles or batons marched around the Jokhang Temple and the adjacent Barkhor Square in the old city, where protesters ran rampant last year. A Hong Kong tourist said two military helicopters hovered over the city in the morning -- a rare sight -- and that officers demanded to see identification at checkpoints.
COMMENT: Please note that we came within a hair of having, as chief of our National Intelligence Council, a man who referred to last year's uprising of Tibetans against their Chinese masters as "a race riot." Fortunately, Charles Freeman's nomination was derailed by alert journalists and members of Congress. The repression of Tibetans is a human-rights crime of the first magnitude, but some, like Freeman, prefer the safety and comfort of dictatorships.
MOSCOW — A Russian Air Force chief said Saturday that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has offered an island as a temporary base for strategic Russian bombers, the Interfax news agency reported.
The chief of staff of Russia's long range aviation, Maj. Gen. Anatoly Zhikharev, also said Cuba could be used to base the aircraft, Interfax reported.
The Kremlin, however, said the situation was hypothetical.
"The military is speaking about technical possibilities, that's all," Alexei Pavlov, a Kremlin official, told the Associated Press. "If there will be a development of the situation, then we can comment," he said.
COMMENT: Joe Biden predicted that Obama would face a severe international test during his first months in office. We've written here that this test might well come in Venezuela. The Russians, for historic and nationalistic reasons, would like nothing better than to rerun the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, with the Kremlin winning this time. It would humiliate the United States, and establish a Russian military presence in Latin America. The goal would be more political than military. This deserves watching.
PREVIEW OF COMING ATTRACTIONS - AT 8:42 A.M. ET: From The Wall Street Journal:
WASHINGTON -- Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said the Obama administration would soon unveil a plan for dealing with rising violence along the U.S.-Mexico border, including more resources
"I think there will be some announcements with some specifics that either I or the president will be making in the coming weeks," Ms. Napolitano said Friday during an interview.
COMMENT: Another announcement that they're going to make an announcement. Then, when they make the announcement, they'll probably say that it isn't the final announcement, that there are more announcements to come. They'll announce a schedule for those announcements.
Why doesn't someone finally admit that this administration isn't exactly overloaded with ideas, and is desperately scrambling?
IT'S BUSH (!!); WE TOLD YOU, IT'S BUSH (!!) - AT 8:40 A.M. ET: It seems that President Obama now is pushing the idea that all his problems are the fault of his predecessor. From The Washington Post:
Over the past month, Obama has reminded the public at every turn that he is facing problems "inherited" from the Bush administration, using increasingly bracing language to describe the challenges his administration is up against. ..
...Obama's more frequent and acid reminders that former president George W. Bush left behind a trillion-dollar budget deficit, a 14-month recession and a broken financial system have come at the same time Republicans have ramped up criticism that the current president's policies are compounding the nation's economic problems.
COMMENT: This was supposed to be a "post-partisan" administration. Yeah, right. It's one of the most partisan we've ever seen. And this doesn't even include foreign policy, where the "we inherited it" mantra will probably be applied to every problem, new and old, that we face.
CHEER UP, AMERICANS! - AT 8:58 P.M. ET: Turns out, according to Rasmussen, that Americans are having a bad case of low self-esteem. Given what's taught in our schools and colleges, and preached to us by the mainstream "we're a terrible country" media, it's not surprising. But work needs to be done. From Rasmussen:
America has a case of low self-esteem. And it’s not getting any better.
Just 34% of Americans now believe the United States will be the most powerful nation in the world at the end of the 21st Century.
Slightly more (37%) say America will not be number one, according to a new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey. Twenty-nine percent (29%) are not sure.
Younger Americans are more pessimistic than their elders. Fifty-one percent (51%) of those ages 18 to 29 say the United States will not be the most powerful nation at the end of the century, compared to 21% of those 65 and older.
If we can get some sanity back into our schools, this might turn around. I say we have a very strong chance of remaining number one if we recall our values, and keep the left from gobbling up our politics.
On another matter, Americans are right:
But 41% of U.S. voters worry that America’s preoccupation with the ongoing economic crisis will make us more vulnerable to a terrorist attack.
Worries me, too. We're taking our eye off the ball. I'm especially concerned about Pakistani exports, and I don't mean rugs.
March 13, 2009
DOW CLOSE - AT 4:03 P.M. ET: The Dow closed up 54, to 7224, extending its rally.
COMMENT: The administration is suddenly speaking optimistically about the economy. Isn't it remarkable - just days ago, in order to justify vast spending and deficits, we were told the economy was collapsing. Now, with the spending bills passed and signed, we're told the situation isn't that bad. Ever feel used?
JAPAN THREATENS - AT 3:47 P.M. ET: From Britain's Guardian:
Japan today threatened to shoot down a satellite that North Korea plans to launch early next month if it shows any signs of striking its territory.
Tokyo's warning that it would deploy its multibillion-dollar missile defence system raised tensions in the region after North Korea said that it had identified a potential "danger area" near Japanese territory along the rocket's flight path.
The regime told the International Maritime Organisation that the missile would be launched during daylight between 4 and 8 April, and that its boosters would fall into the Sea of Japan – about 75 miles (120km) from Japan's north-west coast – and the Pacific Ocean.
Officials in Tokyo said they reserved the right to destroy any threatening object in mid-flight, despite North Korean warnings that it would consider such a move an act of war.
COMMENT: The most intriguing thing about this story is the possible role of the United States. Was the Obama administration consulted by Tokyo before the Japanese made their threat? If so, did Washington approve the threat? We'll be following this.
SUMMERS'S SUMMERY PREDICTION - AT 2:55 P.M. ET: From The New York Times:
Lawrence Summers, President Obama’s top economics adviser, said this morning that he saw early signs that the economic crisis was beginning to ease. But he emphasized that the crisis would not end anytime soon.
Mr. Summers seemed to have three main goals in his talk, which was delivered at the Brookings Institution in Washington. The first was arguing that the Obama administration was sufficiently focused on the financial crisis. The second was connecting its longer-term plans, like an overhaul of the health-care system, to the resolution of the crisis. And the third was projecting confidence that the crisis would indeed end.
COMMENT: Larry Summers is a good man who was a breath of fresh air when he was president of Harvard...until his ouster because the air was too fresh. I hate to see him reduced to spouting the latest Obama talking points, which is what he was doing today. No real news here.
TIMES CRIMES - AT 1:27 P.M. ET: Bush Derangement Syndrome is still alive at The New York Times, and there appears to be no rush for treatment. Today, the Times offers a scathing, vile piece trashing the Freedom Institute, a policy center that former President Bush wants to attach to his presidential library at Southern Methodist University. The story starts this way:
WHEN MARINE ONE, the presidential helicopter, bore George W. Bush away from the White House lawn on the afternoon of Jan. 20, the American people turned their attention, and desperate hopes, to his successor.
COMMENT: "Desperate" hopes? Well, we know what's coming, don't we? And The Times doesn't disappoint. Turns out the Freedom Institute is controversial at SMU. Of course, anything with Mr. Bush's name on it would have trouble at almost any American university, but the ridicule attached to the idea of a freedom agenda thoroughly typifies today's academic left. If a Democratic president had exactly the same idea, he'd be seen as an intellectual hero. The hypocrisy flows.
DOW INDIFFERENT - AT 1:10 P.M. ET: The Dow is down four points, to 7166.
CHINESE CHECKING - AT 9:14 A.M. ET:
BEIJING (AP) - China's premier expressed concern Friday about its massive holdings of Treasuries and other U.S. debt, appealing to Washington to safeguard their value, and said Beijing is ready to expand its stimulus if the economy worsens.
Premier Wen Jiabao noted that Beijing is the biggest foreign creditor to the United States and called on Washington to see that its response to the global slowdown does not damage the value of Chinese holdings.
"We have made a huge amount of loans to the United States. Of course we are concerned about the safety of our assets. To be honest, I'm a little bit worried," Wen said at a news conference following the closing of China's annual legislative session. "I would like to call on the United States to honor its words, stay a credible nation and ensure the safety of Chinese assets."
COMMENT: Pretty humiliating, isn't it? We sold our souls to this dictatorship for some quick financial fixes, and now they're lecturing us. One of our great financial nightmares is that the Chinese will stop buying our notes. That is not change that Washington believes in.
WARNING - AT 8:10 A.M. ET: From the Jerusalem Post:
The Islamic states circulated a new resolution at the current session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on Wednesday that would criminalize defamation of Islam as a human rights violation and encourage the imposition of Shari'a.
According to the nonbinding governmental resolution, titled "Combating Defamation of Religions," anything deemed insulting to Islamic sensitivities would be banned as a "serious affront to human dignity" and a blatant violation of religious freedom.
The resolution would attempt to influence "local, national, regional and international levels" to incorporate such guarantees of this perceived freedom in their "legal and constitutional systems."
"It is a covert package coordinated by Pakistan against the West," said Leon Saltiel, director of communications at the Geneva-based human rights group UN Watch, on Thursday. "They think there is too much liberty and freedom of expression in the Western world, which therefore defames religion."
COMMENT: Take this very seriously. This kind of campaign is spreading. While most people with common sense will reject it, and recognize it, as Leon Saltiel does, as a threat to our freedoms, not everyone has common sense. Some of the people who don't are running our colleges and universities, where the Saudis have made huge inroads with large cash grants. Young people are especially vulnerable to "fairness" and "human rights" arguments that are anything but. Infiltration, not direct military aggression, may be our greatest challenge.
STALLING AUTOS - AT 7:34 A.M. ET: Although The One is now spouting the line that things aren't as bad as they seem - see our first posting today, at 7:13 a.m. - folks in the auto industry may not see it that way. From the Detroit Free Press:
North America’s automotive parts supply base faces an imminent collapse over the next 30 to 90 days unless the federal government provides at least $10 billion in immediate funding, Grant Thornton LLP partner Laura Marcero said today.
If suppliers go out of business, automotive assembly plants could be forced to shut down, bringing the industry to a halt, Marcero said.
“Washington has been focused on the crisis with GM and Chrysler, but …we have an immediate supply base issue that really pre-empts what is going to happen with GM and Chrysler,” Marcero said following a speech to the Automotive Press Association in Detroit.
COMMENT: Do they know about this in Washington? If the industry is shut down, does that mean things are as bad as they seem, or is it just more disinformation from Rush Limbaugh? Inquiring minds want to know.
AFGHAN DILEMMA - AT 7:24 A.M. ET: We forget that The One has declared Afghanistan to be the good war - the one where things aren't going well - as opposed to the "bad" war, Iraq, where we're winning. Look, I don't get that either, but my mind is not as deep, as subtle, and as flexible as...you know whose.
One of Urgent Agenda's sources in Afghanistan, a Westerner traveling through, writes us today, and asks this question:
Follow discussions about Afghanistan closely as the administration and commanders struggle to come to grips with the fact that, for counterinsurgency force-to-population ratios to work, either coalition forces or Afghan forces or both will have to grow exponentially. Allowing Afghanistan to drift along in the background was no longer acceptable once Barack declared it the "good" war. But is he willing to make the massive commitment necessary to really make a difference here?
Ah, that is indeed the key question. Will Obama make the commitment, or are we about to see one of those "leave Afghanistan to the Afghans" statements, or, just as bad, a quick and deceptive deal with the Taliban? My confidence in this administration is not running too high. This is the crowd that was willing - until an uproar stopped it - to appoint Samuel Freeman, a China- and Saudi-loving lobbyist, to a sensitive intelligence post. Judgment, anyone?
TRANSLATION REQUIRED - AT 7:13 A.M. ET: During the election campaign, many of us complained that we could never figure out exactly where Barack Obama stood. The problem persists. It may require speech therapy, something like that. I never thought of it as a medical issue, but maybe we should look to medical science for some kind of miracle cure.
After weeks of scaring the daylights out of the nation, and using fear to slam through both a hugely expensive "stimulus" package and a budget so loaded with pork that the Muslim community considers it religiously offensive, the president now says that, well, maybe things really aren't that bad. I am not kidding. Consider:
WASHINGTON (AP) - Confronting misgivings, even in his own party, President Barack Obama mounted a stout defense of his blueprint to overhaul the economy Thursday, declaring the national crisis is "not as bad as we think" and his plans will speed recovery.
Challenged to provide encouragement as the nation's "confidence builder in chief," Obama said Americans shouldn't be whipsawed by bursts of either bad or good news and he was "highly optimistic" about the long term.
The president's proposals for major health care, energy and education changes in the midst of economic hard times faced skepticism from both Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill, as senators questioned his budget outlook and the deficits it envisions in the middle of the next decade.
More economic analysis from the president, as noted by reader Greg Koster:
"A smidgen of good news and suddenly everything is doing great. A little bit of bad news and ooohh , we're down on the dumps," Obama said. "And I am obviously an object of this constantly varying assessment. I am the object in chief of this varying assessment."
You are? Really? Well, I guess messiahs always get too much credit and too much blame. Messiah is a tough job, but someone's got to do it.
"I don't think things are ever as good as they say, or ever as bad as they say," Obama added. "Things two years ago were not as good as we thought because there were a lot of underlying weaknesses in the economy. They're not as bad as we think they are now."
We are raising a generous reward to assign to anyone who can figure out what's in the president's mind. If things aren't that bad, why are we doing the panic spending?
Does the term "con job" resonate with you? How about "Chicago politics"? What about "Obamzi scheme"?
"What you see is news. What you know is background. What you feel is opinion."
- Lester Markel, late Sunday editor
of The New York Times.
THE ANGEL'S CORNER
Part I of a two-part edition of The Angel's Corner was sent Wednesday night.
Part II was sent late last night.
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