"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
RUSSIA RESURGENT - AT 7:47 P.M. ET: From the International Herald-Tribune:
MOSCOW: President Dmitri A. Medvedev said Tuesday that Russia would begin a "large-scale rearming" in 2011 in response to what he described as threats to the country's security.
In a speech before generals in Moscow, Mr. Medvedev cited encroachment by NATO as a primary reason for bolstering the military, including nuclear forces.
Mr. Medvedev did not offer specifics on how much the budget would grow for the military, whose capabilities deteriorated significantly after the fall of Soviet Union.
COMMENT: We will be downsizing our military budget, at least in some areas. We hope the president and all the "smart" people around him are going about this with two eyes, both of them looking toward the real world, not the world of the Daily Kos.
THE REALITY - AT 5:17 P.M. ET: If you think I've been exaggerating in my references to political correctness in Hollywood, please note this item from the New York Post's "Page Six," about actor Ron Silver, who died over the weekend:
THE Hollywood blacklist still exists. It's no longer aimed at Communists and their fellow travelers from the Cold War. Now it's aimed at Republicans. Long before Ron Silver was diagnosed with cancer, the brilliant actor who co-founded the Creative Coalition was dead as far as his career was concerned. "After I made that speech for President George W. Bush at the Republican Convention here in Manhattan [in 2004], Hollywood and Broadway dried up on me," Silver told radio station magnate William O'Shaughnessy last year when they saw each other at Le Cirque. "The phone stopped ringing . . . nada . . . not a thing."
COMMENT: Many people think of political correctness as a kind of joke, or mild harassment. It is not. Political correctness is an ugly, often brutal form of discrimination that destroys careers, and worse. It is wrong no matter which side practices it. It is very much alive in Hollywood today. I know. I've felt it. You have no idea.
WASHINGTON (AP) - Housing construction posted a surprisingly large increase in February, bolstered by strength in all parts of the country except the West.
The Commerce Department reported Tuesday that construction of new homes and apartments jumped 22.2 percent in February compared with January, pushing total activity to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 583,000 units.
While the surge in housing construction was far better than the continued decline economists had expected, experts viewed the rebound as a temporary gain given all the problems the housing industry still faces.
COMMENT: There's actually been some good economic news in the last week or so. We have to be careful. One month doesn't make a trend, but it's better than nothin'.
DOW UP - AT 4:40 P.M. ET: Contrary to what we reported earlier, the Dow did continue its rally today, up 179 points, to close at 7396.
OBAMA APPROVAL STEADY BUT UNSPECTACULAR - AT 12:25 P.M. ET: Rasmussen's tracker shows, as it did yesterday, that 56% approve of Obama, 43% disapprove. That figure has been fairly steady for several weeks now. But if the president suffers the normal attrition, and a possible setback, he can slip below 50%, which would be a major blow. We should point out that other polls show higher approval numbers, but not by much.
DOW RESTING - AT 12:23 P.M. ET: The Dow is up 39 points, to 7255. It appears that last week's big rally is over, but that judgment must be tentative.
CAN THIS BE CORRECT? - AT 7:50 A.M. ET: There is a proposal circulating in the Obama administration that is so stunning that it violates the most fundamental ideals of this society. Consider:
WASHINGTON, March 16 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The leader of the nation's largest veterans organization says he is "deeply disappointed and concerned" after a meeting with President Obama today to discuss a proposal to force private insurance companies to pay for the treatment of military veterans who have suffered service-connected disabilities and injuries. The Obama administration recently revealed a plan to require private insurance carriers to reimburse the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) in such cases.
"It became apparent during our discussion today that the President intends to move forward with this unreasonable plan," said Commander David K. Rehbein of The American Legion. "He says he is looking to generate $540-million by this method, but refused to hear arguments about the moral and government-avowed obligations that would be compromised by it."
The Commander, clearly angered as he emerged from the session said, "This reimbursement plan would be inconsistent with the mandate 'to care for him who shall have borne the battle' given that the United States government sent members of the armed forces into harm's way, and not private insurance companies.
COMMENT: It is almost impossible to fathom this. We have given out hundreds of billions of dollars to corporations, and yet look how the Obamans want to handle our veterans. I don't wanted a wounded vet to be at the mercy of insurance companies, or caught between the companies and the VA. We, the American people, take care of our soldiers. Period.
QUOTE OF THE DAY - AT 7:07 A.M. ET: From Charles Murray, in the Wall Street Journal:
Drive through rural Sweden, as I did a few years ago. In every town was a beautiful Lutheran church, freshly painted, on meticulously tended grounds, all subsidized by the Swedish government. And the churches are empty. Including on Sundays. Scandinavia and Western Europe pride themselves on their "child-friendly" policies, providing generous child allowances, free day-care centers, and long maternity leaves. Those same countries have fertility rates far below replacement and plunging marriage rates. Those same countries are ones in which jobs are most carefully protected by government regulation and mandated benefits are most lavish. And they, with only a few exceptions, are countries where work is most often seen as a necessary evil, least often seen as a vocation, and where the proportions of people who say they love their jobs are the lowest.
What's happening? Call it the Europe syndrome.
COMMENT: Coming soon to a location near you...if certain people in Washington get their way. But please remember that there's a congressional election next year, possibly one of the most important in our recent history. Even President Roosevelt lost seats in Congress in the first congressional election after Pearl Harbor. Mr. Obama, should his ideas fail to produce real and sustainable progress, is extremely vulnerable. Should he implode during a foreign crisis, sure to come, his vulnerability becomes that much greater...assuming the Republican Party is well organized, and with an attractive program to sell.
MORE THUMBS ARE DOWN FOR OBAMA - AT 6:59 A.M. ET: The president still remains personally popular, and there is much good will toward him by a respectful public. His policies are another story. Wes Pruden, in the Washington Times, notes the change in tone:
The president is learning with the rest of us that the damage his early panic did to feed the Wall Street selling frenzy won't be corrected by warm and fuzzy optimism. His “State of the Union” speech to Congress and the bad news in his budget message revealed the breadth and scope of how he intends to expand the government in a way that it can never be cut down to size, no matter how sane and sensible a successor might be. Like all presidents, he talked a very different talk when he was campaigning. But he was unique. Sensible people actually believed the magic tricks. Rabbits actually did live in his hat. He actually could saw the girl in half and paste her back together again.
He would never countenance earmarks; his budget includes 9,000 of them. He scoffed at John McCain's idea of taxing health care benefits to pay for health care for the poor; now he thinks that might not be a bad idea. He never expected anyone to notice the difference.
COMMENT: More ouch. We're seeing more and more columns like this. This one is worth reading in full.
AIG CHOKES OBAMA - AT 6:47 A.M. ET: It's often one symbolic incident that becomes a presidential administration's nightmare. In Obama's case, it has the initials AIG. From the Washington Post:
President Obama's apparent inability to block executive bonuses at insurance giant AIG has dealt a sharp blow to his young administration and is threatening to derail both public and congressional support for his ambitious political agenda.
Politicians in both parties flocked to express outrage over $165 million in bonuses paid out to executives at the company, demanding answers from the president and swamping yesterday's rollout of his efforts to spark lending to small businesses.
The populist anger at the executives who ran their firms into the ground is increasingly blowing back on Obama, whom aides yesterday described as having little recourse in the face of legal contracts that guaranteed those bonuses.
COMMENT: The image of a group of failed executives receiving huge payouts, and an American president unable to stop them, is toxic to the administration. After all, the United States government owns about 80 percent of AIG. The behavior of AIG is another knife in the back of responsible free enterprise. Legal contracts must be honored, but there are ways - tough, political ways - to persuade people to waive their bonuses. Most of these people want to continue working in the industry, after all.
MORE POLL RESULTS - AT 7:31 P.M. ET: New poll results from CNN and Pew confirm Rasmussen's report that the president's poll numbers are slipping, although Ras's numbers are lower than the other two:
March 16 (Bloomberg) -- President Barack Obama’s approval ratings are slipping as Americans fret about the economy, two polls found.
A March 12-15 survey conducted for CNN by Opinion Research Corp. found Obama’s approval rating dropped 3 points from late last month and 12 points from early February. A Pew Research Center poll taken March 9-12 found that Obama’s approval rating slipped to 59 percent from 64 percent last month.
While Americans still generally support Obama’s handling of the economy, more questions are cropping up, according to the polls.
COMMENT: A drop after some weeks in office isn't that unusual. But the trend in all polls is downward, based on policy decisions. That is bad news for the administration. A percentage of the public is losing confidence in Obama's policies, and we haven't even had a foreign crisis. There is opportunity here for Republicans, but only if they develop a coherent set of policy choices that comes from the party, not from talk-show hosts. The Contract with America was effective in 1994, and it's a good model.
But Republicans must be careful. Millions of Americans are hurting, and they are legitimately angry at the excesses of some business firms, which are now using our tax dollars to get out of trouble. If the GOP just goes back to stale old mantras about the "great American free enterprise system," or if conservative talk-show mouths keep screaming about "redistribution of wealth," the party may well get a very cold response. The idea is to recognize legitimate problems and come up with solutions that work, consistent with the principle that government should become involved only when the private sector can't or won't do the job.
A particular danger area for Republicans is health care. The conservative movement was successful over the last 40 years not simply because it stood for "low taxes," but because it became the embodiment of traditional American ideals, a strong national defense, and a moral code based on our Judeo-Christian heritage. When Ronald Reagan demanded, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down that wall!" he was speaking of human freedom, not the desire to replace the wall with a corporate data center. Health care, especially for a pro-life party, involves serious moral issues. Republicans must deal with these in a sensitive, ethical manner, and not lean on talkers who scream, "Where does it say you get health care?" The GOP can develop an enlightened health-care plan, mostly dependent on the private sector, but mindful of our moral codes. That it must do. That will appeal to Americans, who are an idealistic, but not an ideological people.
DOW FIZZLES - AT 5:04 P.M. ET: The Dow closed down seven points, to 7217, after the earlier rally fizzled.
MORE DEATH IN THE CITY ROOM - AT 2:13 P.M. ET: From The New York Times:
On Tuesday, The Seattle Post-Intelligencer newspaper will produce its last printed edition and become an Internet-only news source, the Hearst Corporation said on Monday, making it by far the largest American newspaper to take that leap.
In Seattle, boxes holding the city’s two major dailies. On Tuesday, The Post-Intelligencer will produce its last printed edition and become an Internet-only news source.
But the P-I, as it is called, will resemble a local Huffington Post more than a traditional newspaper, with a news staff of about 20 people rather than the 165 it has had, and a site consisting mostly of commentary, advice and links to other news sites, along with some original reporting.
COMMENT: The P-I is very liberal. Whether that affected its fate, I do not know and cannot prove. But when you develop a reputation for having such a narrow outlook, you drive away readers who doubt your credibility. I do believe that loss of credibility is an important factor, generally, in the survival problems of many newspapers today.
DOW CONTINUES RALLY - AT 12:41 P.M. ET: The Dow is up 129 points, to 7353. The rally continues. What is it based on? I have no idea. Earlier in the day, Bloomberg reported:
March 16 (Bloomberg) -- Industrial production fell in February for the fourth consecutive month, driven by declines in computers and machinery that point to a deepening slump in global business investment.
COMMENT: So go figure.
March 16, 2009
OBAMA SLIPS IN POLL - AT 11:03 A.M. ET: From Rasmussen:
The Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll for Monday shows that 36% of the nation’s voters now Strongly Approve of the way that Barack Obama is performing his role as President. Thirty-two percent (32%) now Strongly Disapprove giving Obama a Presidential Approval Index rating of +4, his lowest rating to date (see trends).
COMMENT: We stress that a poll is a snapshot in time, and Rasmussen is only one poll. However, he does a daily tracking poll of presidential approval, and we've found it useful in marking trends. The president is clearly facing some diminished support, although his overall popularity remains high, at least for now.
A WHITE HOUSE COMPETENCE PROBLEM? - AT 9:23 A.M. ET: Sharp-eyed observer Michael Goodwin, of the New York Daily News, wonders whether incompetence has now begun to weigh down the Obama White House:
Yes, it's early, but an eerily familiar feeling is spreading across party lines and seeping into the national conversation. It's a nagging doubt about the competency of the White House...
...Polls show that most people like Obama, but they increasingly don't like his policies. The vast spending hikes and plans for more are provoking the most concern, with 82% telling a Gallup survey they are worried about the deficit and 69% worried about the rapid growth of government under Obama. Most expect their own taxes will go up as a result, despite the President's promises to the contrary.
The doubts are extending to the president himself:
His famous eloquence is wearing thin through daily exposure and because his actions are often disconnected from his words. His lack of administrative experience is showing.
His promises and policies contradict each other often enough that evidence of hypocrisy is ceasing to be news. Remember the pledges about bipartisanship and high ethics? They're so last year...
...And in an absolute jaw-dropper, he told business leaders, "I don't like the idea of spending more government money, nor am I interested in expanding government's role."
No wonder Americans are confused. Our President is, too.
COMMENT: An excellent piece, an indictment really, of the first months of the Obama presidency. They've got to get things straight in the White House, or sink.
WHITE HOUSE FRETS ABOUT BACKLASH - AT 8:17 A.M. ET: From The International Herald-Tribune (which is owned by The New York Times, and picks up pieces from The Times):
WASHINGTON: The Obama administration is increasingly concerned about a populist backlash against banks and Wall Street, worried that anger at financial institutions could also end up being directed at Congress and the White House and could complicate President Barack Obama's agenda.
The administration's sharp rebuke of the American International Group on Sunday for handing out $165 million in executive bonuses — Lawrence H. Summers, director of the president's National Economic Council, described it as "outrageous" on "This Week" on ABC — marks the latest effort by the White House to distance itself from abuses that could feed potentially disruptive public anger.
COMMENT: And they're right. Please see our 7:14 posting this morning, on a related subject.
OBAMA VULNERABLE? - AT 7:53 A.M. ET: We've said here that some of the best commentary about American politics comes from British writers. And one of the best of the British writers is Janet Daley of The Telegraph, who writes of Barack Obama's sudden vulnerability:
The President's recent display of liberalism – and confusion – can only help the opposition, says Janet Daley.
The Republicans now believe they have a grip on what Barack Obama is about. At least for this week. The grip is subject to reappraisal because Mr Obama has developed a gift for reinventing himself with remarkable alacrity. One very senior commentator on the Right said to me, "First we had Candidate Obama, who was a liberal [ie Left wing]. Then we had President-Elect Obama, who was post-partisan and centrist. Now we have President Obama, who has reverted to being ultraliberal."
The question of who Mr Obama really is, and what he truly believes, underlies the growing list of Very Odd Things that seem to be happening under his administration. Among the most perplexing of these mysteries is why, when he went to such pains to assemble a huge and widely experienced team of White House economic advisers (even going to the lengths of parading them at a press conference before he took office) he then handed over the actual drafting of his economic policy to the old Democratic fixers in Congress.
COMMENT: Spot on. Read the whole piece, which is very incisive. The British press has grown increasingly skeptical of Obama, especially since the president's awkward handling of the visit by Prime Minister Gordon Brown. We're getting a better critique from Britain than we're getting from much of our own press.
RELIGION OF PEACE STRIKES AGAIN - AT 7:44 A.M. ET: From London's Daily Mail:
A Christian minister who has had heated arguments with Muslims on his TV Gospel show has been brutally attacked by three men who ripped off his cross and warned: ‘If you go back to the studio, we’ll break your legs.’
The Reverend Noble Samuel was driving to the studio when a car pulled over in front of him. A man got out and came over to ask him directions in Urdu.
Mr Samuel, based at Heston United Reformed Church, West London, said: ‘He put his hand into my window, which was half open, and grabbed my hair and opened the door.
"He started slapping my face and punching my neck. He was trying to smash my head on the steering wheel..."
COMMENT: Let's see if the British left, which, like the American left, is always whining that it's being "suppressed," will take a stand against this. I wouldn't bet the car on it.
RESTRAINT CALLED FOR - AT 7:14 A.M. ET: There is concern among some New York congressmen that criticism of Wall Street could go too far. From The Politico:
Americans united around New York in the wake of the terrorist attacks eight years ago, but the Big Apple is now a different kind of ground zero: the target of white-hot anger from people who have lost their jobs or lost their savings.
New York Rep. Michael McMahon, a Democrat, is worried:
McMahon, a Democrat, said that’s not fair, at least not to the people who live in his Staten Island- and Brooklyn-based district — a lot of managers and human resources staffers and other lower-rung Wall Street employees, plus the limo drivers and food vendors and other service-industry workers whose jobs depend on the health of the financial industry.
“Have there been abuses? Have there been sins committed? Yes,” McMahon said. “But there are thousands of people who should not be punished for the sins of a few greedy or misguided corporate executives.”
COMMENT: That is correct, of course. The great majority of the people who work in the financial sector had nothing to do with the abuses. Still, the abuses took place, and the very leaders now worried about an unfair backlash looked the other way during the reckless go-go years, as long as the tax revenues came in. They should blame themselves a bit, but they won't.
MORE FROM OUR EUROPEAN "ALLIES" - AT 7:02 A.M. ET: From The New York Times:
European countries that have offered to help the Obama administration close the detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, have begun raising questions about the security risks and requirements if they accept prisoners described by the Bush administration as “the worst of the worst,” according to diplomats and other officials.
The concerns, and a deep suspicion of whether the American intelligence community will share full information on the prisoners, are likely to complicate the resettlement effort, which is critical to President Obama’s fulfilling his pledge to close Guantánamo within a year of his taking office.
COMMENT: I love it. Don't you? For years these countries have been lecturing us about "values." But ask them to do anything to put teeth behind their lectures, and immediately the hedging starts. Object, if you wish, to the Bush administration's "unilateralism." Maybe they had no other choice.
MAJOR NEWS BULLETIN - AT 6:59 A.M. ET: From Britain's Telegraph:
The European Parliament has banned the terms 'Miss' and 'Mrs' in case they offend female MEPs.
The politically correct rules also mean a ban on Continental titles, such as Madame and Mademoiselle, Frau and Fraulein and Senora and Senorita.
Guidance issued in a new 'Gender-Neutral Language' pamphlet instead orders politicians to address female members by their full name only.
Officials have also ordered that 'sportsmen' be called 'athletes', 'statesmen' be referred to as 'political leaders' and even that 'synthetic' or 'artificial' be used instead of 'man-made'.
The guidance lists banned terms for describing professions, including fireman, air hostess, headmaster, policeman, salesman, manageress, cinema usherette and male nurse.
COMMENT: Oh, man! Wait. Can't say that. Oh, person! What comes next? These are the countries we think of as our "European partners." Oh wait, that implies rejection of singleness. Our European friends? Equal European colleagues? No, no, no. European is so..so exclusivist. A club. With admissions rules based on the unfair accident of geography. These are our equal colleagues who live on the other side of a rapidly warming ocean. Yeah, that's it. And they're changing our language. Our civilization. I know, it's a bigoted concept based on racial norms and intense lookism. I apologize.
"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.
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