A.T.I.N Has a New Look and a New Address

Farewell, Blogspot

Farewell, Blogspot

After a lot more effort than I expected, I’m pleased to unveil version 2.0 of All That Is Necessary. For those who care about such details, I’ve migrated my original Blogger blog to the WordPress platform, hosted on my personal domain, kirkpetersen.net.

(I’m .net because kirkpetersen.com, no relation, had already been snapped up by a software engineer in Seattle.  Other unrelated Kirk Petersens of note include Austin real estate agent Kirk S. Petersen — hey, that’s my initial, too! — and Kirk P. Petersen, an attorney and estate planner in Eldorado Springs, CO, who based on his Amazon book reviews clearly has more intellectual tastes in his reading than I do.  There’s also Dr. Kirk Petersen, a dentist in southern California; Kirk Petersen, a real estate appraiser in Harlan, IA, a few miles from where both my parents grew up;  and interior designer Kirk Petersen of Olympia, WA.  I wonder if he knows his techie namesake in nearby Seattle?)

And here I thought I had a distinctive name.  But I digress.

There are two main reasons for changing the blog.  First, WordPress is pretty widely acknowledged to be the best and most versatile blogging platform, far more flexible and robust than Blogger. I knew this before I started blogging, and initially tried to set up on WP, but ran into some technical problems that I couldn’t figure out how to solve.  (The company’s promise of the “famous five-minute WordPress installation” is more than just an exaggeration, it’s a falsehood.)  I decided to launch on the much simpler Blogger platform with Blogspot hosting, rather than fight my way through the technical thicket, because I wasn’t completely sure I would even enjoy blogging.  Turns out I do.

Second, I decided to integrate my blog with my marketing site, after initially being leery of doing so.  The leeriness came from the fact that I stake out some fairly pointed political views here, and I don’t want to alienate any potential clients and employers.  I finally reconciled myself to the fact that if you Google my name, the second and third results currently are my marketing site and my blogspot blog, respectively (curse you, top-ranking kirkpetersen.com techie guy!)  Since it’s not really possible to segregate my two online identities completely, I may as well get whatever benefit I can out of integrating them.

They’re not truly integrated yet, as you can see at a glance from the very different look of the marketing site.  That site was lovingly hand-coded by the Web Goddess, and it continues to serve me well.  Interestingly, even though the blog gets more than 50 times as many visitors as the marketing site, the latter ranks above the former, both in the Google search results and in Google’s mysterious PageRank rankings (blog = PR1, marketing site = PR2).

Now that I finally have this launched, maybe I can get back to writing more actual substantive blog posts.  The next phase of the integration will be to pull the marketing content into the WordPress structure, so I can more easily maintain it myself, and to unify the look-and-feel with some nice design touches by the Web Goddess.  (In the meantime, if I can help your company or organization meet your communications needs…)

Sign up for the RSS feed or email delivery if you want to make sure you never miss a post (hi Mom!).  If you signed up for RSS at the old site, it should get forwarded automatically for a couple of weeks, but I think eventually you’ll need to sign up again here.  Thanks for visiting — hope to see you back soon.

So, what do you think of the new site?  Find anything broken?

Oliphant’s Cartoon Is Not Just Despicable, It’s Dangerous

20090326oliphantantisemite1At Israel Insider, Barry Rubin does the best job I’ve seen of describing precisely why Pat Oliphant’s recent cartoon — featuring a goose-stepping, headless swordsman pushing a Jew-shark-on-a-unicycle — is so powerful, and so powerfully offensive. Hat tip: Andy McCarthy.

Is the cartoon truly anti-Semitic, or is it “merely” anti-Israel? I say both, but whatever. The point is that the cartoon is a dangerous lie. It’s dangerous not just to Israel, but to America, to the West, and to any society that faces asymmetric attacks from Islamic fascists.

Like McCarthy, I think this excerpt from Rubin’s commentary spells out the danger (emphasis added):

Oliphant like many or most Western intellectuals, academics, and policymakers, still doesn’t understand the concept of asymmetric warfare. In this, a weaker side wages war on a stronger side using techniques it thinks can make it win. What are these techniques? Terrorism, indifference to the sacrifice of its people, indifference to material losses, refusal to compromise, extending the war for ever. This is precisely the technique of Hamas: let’s continue attacking Israel in order to provoke it to hit us, let’s target Israeli civilians, let’s seek a total victory based on genocide, let’s use our own civilians as human shields, and with such methods we will win. One way we will win is to demonize those who defend themselves, to put them in positions where they have a choice between surrender and looking bad. This cartoon is a victory for Hamas. But it is also a victory for all those who would fight the West and other democracies (India, for example) using these methods. Remember September 11?

In World War II — the “good war” — we faced enemies that commanded military infrastructure comparable to our own. The enemy was both willing and able to meet us on the battlefield, and was capable of inflicting severe damage. To my mind, that parity helps justify actions we took that otherwise would be morally ambiguous at best: Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Dresden.

Today’s enemies are financed by immense oil wealth, but have virtually no industrial base of their own. Hamas buys missiles that it could not possibly produce and shoots them from Gaza into Israel. For the September 11 attacks, al-Qaeda took flying lessons at American flight schools, hijacked American jetliners and crashed them into buildings born of America’s industrial and architectural prowess.

Because today’s good guys are immensely more powerful than today’s bad guys, the bad guys have to change the context. They have to use our strength and our values against us. They count on the fact that we — America, Israel — will strive, at great risk to our own troops, to limit civilian casualties on their side. Israel could have killed every human being in the Gaza Strip with zero or close to zero Israeli casualties. Instead, Israel makes a practice of warning the human shields who live in houses that are targeted because they hold arms caches.

Meanwhile, Islamic fascists are more than willing to cause the deaths not just of our civilians, but of their own as well, because the PR exploitation of their own civilian casualties is a key weapon in their arsenal. The only thing Hamas values more than dead Israelis is dead Palestinians. Preferably Palestinian children. We face enemies who are willing to breed their own children for martyrdom.

Enemies practicing asymmetric warfare will always be able to inflict casualties, but the only way they can win is if they can persuade enough of us that it is somehow immoral to fight back. That’s why Rubin concludes that Oliphant — who in a different context would qualify as a classic example of a useful idiot — has scored a victory for Hamas.

Funny, He Doesn’t Sound Like a “Greedy Bastard”

I’ve held my tongue about the AIG bonuses because I haven’t had the energy to take on the torch-and-pitchfork brigades. But although I can understand the populist anger, and maybe even share it a bit, the frenzied response has turned me off since the day the story broke.

Comes now an AIG executive named Jake DeSantis, who resigned today in a letter published in The New York Times. His message should give pause to the angry mobs. (Hat tip: J.G. Thayer.)

DeSantis didn’t create the credit default swaps crisis — he took a $1 salary to transfer in from another area of AIG to help fix the mess. In exchange for accepting that token salary, he was guaranteed a payout at a certain level if the company survived long enough to pay it.

This wasn’t a “bonus” in any meaningful sense of the word. It was a deferred payment — deferred at great risk by an executive who had other lucrative options.

The letter is worth reading in full, but here’s the part that jumps out at me. Addressing himself to AIG CEO Edward M. Liddy (another $1-a-year man), DeSantis writes:

You’ve now asked the current employees of A.I.G.-F.P. to repay these earnings. As you can imagine, there has been a tremendous amount of serious thought and heated discussion about how we should respond to this breach of trust.

As most of us have done nothing wrong, guilt is not a motivation to surrender our earnings. We have worked 12 long months under these contracts and now deserve to be paid as promised. None of us should be cheated of our payments any more than a plumber should be cheated after he has fixed the pipes but a careless electrician causes a fire that burns down the house.

Many of the employees have, in the past six months, turned down job offers from more stable employers, based on A.I.G.’s assurances that the contracts would be honored. They are now angry about having been misled by A.I.G.’s promises and are not inclined to return the money as a favor to you. …

So what am I to do? There’s no easy answer. I know that because of hard work I have benefited more than most during the economic boom and have saved enough that my family is unlikely to suffer devastating losses during the current bust. Some might argue that members of my profession have been overpaid, and I wouldn’t disagree.

That is why I have decided to donate 100 percent of the effective after-tax proceeds of my retention payment directly to organizations that are helping people who are suffering from the global downturn. This is not a tax-deduction gimmick; I simply believe that I at least deserve to dictate how my earnings are spent, and do not want to see them disappear back into the obscurity of A.I.G.’s or the federal government’s budget.

DeSantis is a titan of finance. He writes that the deferred contractual payment he received on March 16 was “$742,006.40, after taxes.” Before taxes, that means he got one of those “million-dollar bonuses.” It’s a lot of money, but it’s certainly not bizarrely high for a senior financial services executive.

I think AIG or any troubled company could use more thoughtful and talented executives like DeSantis. The company and the economy need experienced leadership, and yes, financial services leaders make a lot of money. I’d much rather trust DeSantis than any of the politicians calling for his scalp.

But the mob has had its say. Best wishes for your future endeavors, Mr. DeSantis.

Update: Holman Jenkins also weighed in on “The Real AIG Disgrace,” in today’s WSJ:

It may be that the full picture was kicked up to [Geithner] only when a political decision was needed, but by then his one decent choice was to insist on the bonuses’ legality. However politically inopportune the bonuses may be, the president only dirtied himself by authorizing a feel-good, bipartisan hate storm aimed at innocent AIG employees. And it’s hard to believe Mr. Obama would have done so, or the subsequent spectacle would have unfolded as it did, without Mr. Geithner’s seminal prevarications (and we say this fully acknowledging that he’s had a rough ride in an inhumanly difficult job).

Barney Frank, who doesn’t have the excuse of being stupid, was last seen bullying Mr. Liddy to do what on any other day Mr. Frank would flay Mr. Liddy for doing — violating the privacy rights of his employees. Charles Grassley? His early bloviating about the duty of AIG executives to kill themselves almost begins to look like a grace note, since it alerted the public to the hyperbolic playacting about to come. …

But the biggest lesson here is the old one that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance — beginning with insistence on the rule of law. Americans clearly cannot trust their elected officials to defend their rights and interests, or care whether justice is served, when the slightest political risk might attach to doing so.

Which brings us back to Mr. Cuomo, whose office has been implicitly threatening to publish names of AIG employees who don’t relinquish pay they were contractually entitled to.

Mr. Cuomo is a thug, but at least he reminds us: It can happen here.

Responsible Economic Policy is a National Security Issue

John Bolton, who gets my vote for America’s best-ever ambassador to the United Nations (plus I love the mustache), describes how Rahm Emanuel’s never-let-a-crisis-go-to-waste mentality will weaken the security of the United States, by devaluing the dollar and making us more dependent on financing from China and other countries that do not share our values. Key quote:

“If the administration continues these proposals for massive increases in federal expenditures, massive deficits, they’ve got to find a way to fund it, and it’s either through more government debt or printing money, both of which have the impact of reducing the value of the dollar.”

Yes, we’re in a crisis, and yes, that means we need to act on an emergency basis and take chances that we would not take in ordinary circumstances. For example, I’m persuaded that to keep the financial system from seizing up entirely, the government has to funnel a lot of money to a lot of people and organizations that “don’t deserve it.”

It helps make it easier to swallow if I remind myself that in most cases, the emergency funding is not a handout, but rather an investment (albeit a highly risky one). The American people own 80% of AIG, which not long ago was a stodgy, important, profitable business. If it can become one again, the American people will participate in its recovery.

But because of the unfortunate need to shovel money into risky ventures to keep the gears of commerce turning, this is exactly the wrong time to be shoveling even more money into risky attempts to remake the healthcare system and renovate planetary climate.

Certainly there are important and useful ways that the government can and should affect healthcare and climate/energy policy. But Ambassador Bolton is right — the more we spend, the more we will devalue the currency that for decades has been one of the most powerful symbols of “American exceptionalism,” which Bolton also riffs on in the video.

The 10-minute video is worth watching despite the conspiracy-theory posturing of host Glenn Beck. At least twice during the video, Beck asks rhetorical questions along the lines of, “am I crazy to think this?” Bolton then restates Beck’s thesis in less incendiary language, and withholds whatever opinion he may have about Beck’s craziness.

Financial Follies: Plenty of Blame to Go Around

A straightforward guide to the financial mess.

I missed it when it first came out, but the New York Review of Books last month published one of the best comprehensive explanations I’ve seen of the causes of the current economic unpleasantness. Weighing in at just over 5,000 words, it’s not a quick read — but it covers a lot of territory, as indicated by its word cloud, above, from wordle.net.

The essay, which doubles as a review of three recent books about the crisis, does a skillful job of explaining the interaction of a wide variety of factors, including securitization of mortgages, the housing bubble, the growth of unregulated hedge funds, rating agency conflicts of interest, subprime mortgages and more.

But enough praise, it’s time to find fault. Author Jeff Madrick starts and ends his essay by contending that the primary force behind the crisis is corporate greed, not government policy. It’s a defensible position, and certainly the titans of Wall Street have a lot to answer for. But governmental enabling and social engineering played a big role too, and Madrick seems to be working way too hard to let the politicians off the hook:

It was principally the investor appetite for the mortgage-based securities and the easy profits made by the banks and mortgage brokers that led to the mortgage-writing frenzy in the 2000s, not encouragement by the federal government to lend to low-income home buyers.

He neglects to mention what form this “encouragement” took — fines and other penalties against banks that did not issue “enough” mortgages to borrowers from disadvantaged groups. With the government telling them to write mortgages or else, and with a securitization system that distributed risk so widely that no institution had a meaningful stake in the performance of any individual loan, and with the widespread belief that refinancing would be possible because housing prices only go up… it’s no wonder that the ranks of home “owners” swelled well beyond the pool of people who could actually afford to own a home.

Predictably, Madrick believes the answer is more government regulation.

If solutions are to be found, the nation requires robust and pragmatic use of government, free of laissez-faire cant and undue influence from the vested interests that have irresponsibly controlled the economy for too long.

At least he acknowledges that clumsy market intervention can sometimes make the problem worse:

Another necessary component for reviving the credit system involves the self-destructive accounting rules and loan covenants that are making the crisis worse than it need be. The losses required to be taken under mark-to-market accounting, and the consequent reduction in capital, reinforce the fall in asset values. Similarly, current ratings requirements force the financial institution to sell investments to raise capital.

Summing up, Madrick says “This is, as many economists now concur, the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.” Well, no. It’s possible that things will get worse from here, but for now all you can really say is that it’s the worst recession since 1982.

Current Recession Not (Yet) As Bad As 1982

After repeatedly invoking the specter of the Great Depression to frighten the public into supporting the “stimulus” bill, the Obama administration has moderated its rhetoric. Professor Mark J. Perry of the University of Michigan offers statistics to show just how inappropriate it is to even talk about comparisons with the Depression:

The chart above shows the “initial jobless claims as a percent of the labor force” back to January 1980. To reach the same level as the peak in 1982 of 0.6067%, today’s jobless claims would have to be almost 936,000, or almost 50% higher than the current 628,000.

So how about we first get hysterical for awhile about the “worst economy since 1982” before we go totally hyperbolic about the “worst economy since the Great Depression.” Once we reach the 936,000 jobless claims it would take to equal the economic conditions of 1982, then let’s start talking about Great Depression II, but not before.

You might think, as I did, that initial unemployment claims is the wrong measure to use. Initial claims measures the velocity of the downturn, but surely total unemployment is a better measure of the full extent of the downturn. So I went looking for that data, and found that the most recent total unemployment rate of 8.1% is still well below the 9.7% rate of 1982. (Unemployment reached 25% at the peak of the Great Depression.)

Although we’re nowhere near a depression, the current recession probably has not hit bottom. In an interview televised yesterday, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke said unemployment is likely to get worse before it gets better, but that he expects the recession to end “probably this year.”

Googliath Continues Patchwork Expansion in NJ

Patch.com, the venture-capitalized, Google-zillionaire-backed startup that recently launched town-specific news and information websites in Maplewood, South Orange and Millburn, today announced plans to expand into an additional three nearby communities.

The newest Patches are slated to open in May in Summit, Westfield and Scotch Plains (including Fanwood), all in Union County. Summit is contiguous with Millburn in Essex County, but Westfield and Scotch Plains/Fanwood are further south, separated from the other Patches by Route 22 and by the towns of Springfield and Mountainside.

In a world-exclusive interview (OK, he replied to my email), Patch Editor-in-Chief Brian Farnham told A.T.I.N. that Googliath has “no specific rollout plans beyond these next three, or hard target figure to hit by end of year. I can say we remain bullish about expanding Patch as quickly as is prudent and in as many communities as can use us (which we think is a lot).”

Each of the new Patch towns are served by local newspapers, and Summit even has SummitNJ.net, a sister site of the venerable Maplewood Online. Even after the new sites open, however, none of the towns will have an online presence to rival the Maplewood BlogolopolisTM, which is served by five separate, general-interest websites.

Freeman Screed Shows America Dodged A Bullet

Chas Freeman — who would have been in charge of producing policy-neutral reports synthesizing the findings of America’s 16 intelligence agencies — described the opposition to his appointment thusly:

The tactics of the Israel Lobby plumb the depths of dishonor and indecency and include character assassination, selective misquotation, the willful distortion of the record, the fabrication of falsehoods, and an utter disregard for the truth. The aim of this Lobby is control of the policy process through the exercise of a veto over the appointment of people who dispute the wisdom of its views, the substitution of political correctness for analysis, and the exclusion of any and all options for decision by Americans and our government other than those that it favors.

Just the sort of dispassionate, nuanced assessment President Obama needs as he attempts to craft foreign policy in an uncertain world.

At least the firestorm finally made its way onto the front pages of the Times and the Post. Both papers accepted Freeman’s premise that the “Israel Lobby” had scuttled the nomination. Neither of them saw fit even to mention the opposition of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a member of the president’s party and second in line of succession to the presidency. According to Newsweek, in an article published way back on Tuesday, her concerns had nothing to do with Israel:

Pelosi’s objections reportedly focused on Freeman’s ties to China. A well-placed Democratic source said Pelosi, a strong supporter of the Chinese human-rights movement, was incensed about public remarks that Freeman once made that seemed to justify the violent 1989 Chinese government crackdown on democracy protesters at Tiananmen Square. The source, who asked not to be identified, said Pelosi thought Freeman’s views were “indefensible” and complained directly to President Obama about his selection.

Perhaps Freeman, who believes America’s relationship with Israel was behind the 9/11 attacks, thinks the Israel Lobby also instigated the Tiananmen protests.

Freeman Withdraws, And He Finally Makes Page 8

On page A8 of the New York edition, today’s New York Times finally publishes its very first article about Charles Freeman, after nearly two weeks of blogospheric controversy that was severe enough to scuttle the nomination, but not severe enough to attract the attention of the mainstream media. The Times reports:

WASHINGTON — Charles W. Freeman Jr., the Obama administration’s choice for a major intelligence post, withdrew his name on Tuesday and blamed pro-Israel lobbying groups, saying they had distorted his record and campaigned against him.

The Washington Post acquitted itself only slightly better, running its first story yesterday, before a Congressional hearing on intelligence matters, reporting that all seven Republican members of the Senate Intelligence Commitee opposed the nomination because they were “concerned about his views on Israel and his past relationships with Saudi and Chinese interests.” Today’s report of the withdrawal ran on Page A4.

Still no coverage whatsoever on CNN.com, and MSNBC.com relegates it to a brief item on its political blog. After Richardson, Gregg, Daschle, Killifer, as well as the grilling Geithner survived, wouldn’t you think that the forced withdrawal of yet another nominee for what the Times concedes is a “major” position would rate a bit more coverage? Maybe Obama’s honeymoon isn’t over yet.

Obama Honeymoon-Over Watch: Jon Stewart and Chas Freeman

I’ve been neglecting the “Honeymoon-Over Watch” category of my blog because the notion of “watching” for something implies infrequent sightings, not a target-rich environment. The media certainly has not been hounding Obama as mercilessly as it did his predecessor, and I’m quite confident that will never happen. But the stimulus fight and economic news have been bruising, and now even the New York Times editorial page has seen fit to take a few jabs at the still-new administration. Last week, in discussing AIG Bailout 4.0, the Times snarked:

This time, the Obama Treasury Department — sounding a lot like the Bush Treasury Department — promised another $30 billion to the American International Group, the giant insurer….

What no one is saying — the Bush folks wouldn’t, and the Obama team seems to have taken the same vow of Wall Street omertà — is which firms would be most threatened by an A.I.G. collapse.

Also last week, comparisons of Obama and Bush spread to the late-night comedy shows (hat tip: Pajamas Media). Jon Stewart is a very funny man, and is backed by a team of writers and researchers who expertly suss out whiffs of hypocrisy by comparing current news footage with embarrassing older footage. Stewart is a stalwart leftie, but I admire his craft even though I frequently disagree with his views.

When Obama announced his plans for withdrawal from Iraq recently, I wrote that it was exactly the same as the plan President Bush announced last year. Last week, Stewart made the same point, only much funnier (4:16):

Perhaps the true test of the “overness” of the honeymoon will be found in the reporting of the Congressional testimony today of Dennis Blair, the Director of National Intelligence, who will be asked (by Republicans) about his appointment of Chas Freeman to chair the National Intelligence Council. So far only conservative media outlets — including the Wall Street Journal editorial page and the Washington Times — seem to have made note of the impending testimony. From the National Review’s editorial:

Charles Freeman is a career diplomat, a Saudi apologist, and a savage critic of Israel. He also argues that Beijing did not strike down the Tiananmen Square protesters with sufficient swiftness. Barack Obama proposes to make him head of the National Intelligence Council. It’s an abominable appointment. …

He has distinguished himself as a rabid Israel-hater who regards the Jewish state’s defensive measures as the primary cause of jihadist terror. He is a shameless apologist for Saudi Arabia (where he once served as U.S. ambassador) despite its well-documented record of exporting terrorists and jihadist ideology. And he is a long-time sycophant of Beijing, where he served as Richard Nixon’s interpreter during the 1971 summit and later ran the U.S. diplomatic mission.

As Jake Tapper notes on his ABC News blog, Freeman appears to blame “the Israel Lobby” for the 9/11 attacks.

Freeman in 2006 wrote of the U.S.-Israel relationship, “We have paid heavily and often in treasure for our unflinching support and unstinting subsidies of Israel’s approach to managing its relations with the Arabs. Five years ago, we began to pay with the blood of our citizens here at home.”

At Commentary’s blog, Contentions, Jennifer Rubin notes describes the scanty coverage of the appointment, then asks:

[H]ow long can the rest of the mainstream media hold out without reporting on an embarrassing debacle for the Obama administration? This is the John Edwards story on steroids — a virtual conspiracy of silence with little if any journalistic justification. And here the issue is really important — the appointment of a key intelligence official who is alleged to harbor serious conflicts of interest and extreme views.

How long? We should know later today. Blair’s testimony is already under way.

Update: In today’s hearing, Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., pursued the Chas Freeman issue in a lukewarm challenge to Dennis Blair. Here are transcript and video (begins at about the 87-minute mark). Blair said:

We’ve found over time that the best way to inform policy is to have strong views held within the intelligence community and then out of those we come out with the best ideas.

As Lieberman closed by saying, “to be continued.”

Updated Update: Late this afternoon, apparently shortly after I left my global headquarters in Maplewood to go into Manhattan for an event, Chas Freeman withdrew his nomination. The earliest timestamp I can find is on a Wall Street Journal blog at 5:29 p.m. Eastern. More than four hours later, there is no mention of the withdrawal on the homepages of the New York Times, Washington Post, CNN or MSNBC. The Times and the Post are probably keeping their powder dry while they prepare articles for their print editions, but I have no idea what the excuse is for CNN and MSNBC. Yet another high-profile Obama appointee has to withdraw? That isn’t news?

Next-Day Update: Unbelievable.