Archive for July, 2010

Former Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan brings out the big guns in today’s Wall Street Journal, comparing New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to the Great Communicator.

For anyone just joining us, Christie, the man Jersey-based blogger Tigerhawk has dubbed “Governor Awesome,” is working to close an $11 billion deficit in a $29 billion state budget.  He’s campaigning for his priorities in a refreshingly blunt manner, by talking to adults like adults and refusing to back down when confronted by powerful adversaries.

Noonan starts by recounting how Reagan threaded the needle with the John Birch Society:

A group of Birchers, surveying the field, said that of all those running his stands seemed most congenial, so they would support him. This set off Drudgelike sirens among journalists: Aha! Reagan unmasked as a radical! Why else would radicals support him? So they rushed to demand that he respond to this embarrassment.

Well, he said pleasantly, they said they support me, I didn’t say I support them.

Perfect.  He distances himself from the Birchers without sacrificing the Birchers’ votes.

Governor Awesome is trying to push back hard against the teachers unions — a core Democratic constituency — while minimizing the hostile reaction from individual teachers (and from parents who admire some of their kids’ teachers).  Noonan quotes Christie:

Teachers complain when they’re getting “4% and 5% salary increases a year in a 0% inflation world. They get free health benefits from the day they’re hired for their entire family until the day they die. They believe they are entitled to this shelter from the recession when the people who are paying for that shelter are the people who have been laid off, who’ve lost their homes, had their hours cut back. And all we ask them to do is freeze their salary for one year and pay 1.5% of their salary for their health benefits. . . . As much as I love teachers, everyone’s got to be a part of the sacrifice.

Mr. Christie was direct, unadorned: You can’t tax your way out of a spending problem, you’ve got to stop spending. Governors have budgets for which they’re held accountable, so he had to move. But Mr. Christie’s way is also closer than most national Republicans have come—or Democrats will come—to satisfying the public desire that someone step forward, define the problem, apply common sense, devise a way through, do what’s needed.

He’s going to break through in a big way. The answer to our political problems lies in clarity, competence and courage, not a visit to crazy town. And he knows how to put out his hand. “As much as I love teachers.” That’s good.

Christie’s olive branch won’t win over any teachers-union activists, but it may help with fence-sitters or the Garden State’s 21st-Century “Reagan Democrats.”  Chris Christie, the Awesome Communicator.

In a riff on Nixon-goes-to-China, only a Democrat could get away with stating clearly and frankly the banal truth that sometimes white people suffer from racial discrimination in America.  Fortunately, there’s a prominent Democrat willing to do so:  Sen. James Webb of Virginia, in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal titled “Diversity and the Myth of White Privilege.”  An excerpt, with emphasis added:

The injustices endured by black Americans at the hands of their own government have no parallel in our history, not only during the period of slavery but also in the Jim Crow era that followed. But the extrapolation of this logic to all “people of color”—especially since 1965, when new immigration laws dramatically altered the demographic makeup of the U.S.—moved affirmative action away from remediation and toward discrimination, this time against whites. It has also lessened the focus on assisting African-Americans, who despite a veneer of successful people at the very top still experience high rates of poverty, drug abuse, incarceration and family breakup.

Those who came to this country in recent decades from Asia, Latin America and Africa did not suffer discrimination from our government, and in fact have frequently been the beneficiaries of special government programs. The same cannot be said of many hard-working white Americans, including those whose roots in America go back more than 200 years.

Contrary to assumptions in the law, white America is hardly a monolith. And the journey of white American cultures is so diverse (yes) that one strains to find the logic that could lump them together for the purpose of public policy.

Oddly, his clear-eyed column ends with a brief paragraph of sappy New Age drivel that reads like a badly executed new stanza of “Kumbaya.”  The summation is in the penultimate paragraph:

Nondiscrimination laws should be applied equally among all citizens, including those who happen to be white. The need for inclusiveness in our society is undeniable and irreversible, both in our markets and in our communities. Our government should be in the business of enabling opportunity for all, not in picking winners. It can do so by ensuring that artificial distinctions such as race do not determine outcomes.

I’m not a huge Webb fan across the board. Despite his own honorable service as a warrior and later as Secretary of the Navy, he was a leading critic of the Iraq War who once childishly refused to shake President Bush’s hand, and these days he’s excessively focused on a counterproductive, “defined and understandable end point” in Afghanistan.  But in a Washington racial cauldron whipsawed by deceit and overreaction, Webb is a beacon of reason on race.

M. Zuhdi Jasser

It’s a shame that conservative arsonist Andrew Breitbart has torched his own credibility so thoroughly at the time one of his websites was preparing to publish an important message from my favorite Muslim-American patriot.

As a public service to anyone who doesn’t want to give Breitbart’s site any traffic, I’m posting an extensive excerpt here from M. Zuhdi Jasser, a devout Muslim and former officer in the United States Navy.  Jasser says of failed Time Square bomber Faisal Shahzad (emphasis added):

The Shahzads of the world do not go to sleep one night a normal citizen in corporate America working for the Affinion Group and wake up the next morning a traitorous jihadist adhering to a radical ideology. There is a process of indoctrination and the pathway is political Islam. …

The core of our American citizenship pledge and my officer’s pledge I took when I was in the U.S. Navy is to defend the U.S. against enemies foreign and domestic. Muslim leadership need to reform the ideas which feed into the development of traitors like Hasan and Shahzad and others who slide down the slippery slope of political Islam to become agents of the “Islamic state” over their allegiance to the U.S., the nation that gave them freedom. Simply placing road blocks along that slope as many who prefer political correctness over debate would do is not enough. The whole slope of political Islam needs to be ideologically defeated in real debate within the House of Islam.

The obligations of jihad in the 7th century Arabian Peninsula under the Prophet Muhammad’s leadership are gone for all Muslims I know. We now only have a national obligation of citizenship to our nation – the United States– and there is and can be no other competing obligations. Muslim teachers need to make that repeatedly clear, with no qualifications about Muslims being in a majority or minority, or future Shahzads of the world will keep returning.

If Muslims apply the true meaning of jihad today that I know and learned from my family, they would start a ‘jihad against jihad’ and work to end the concept with regards to armed conflict, nation states, and the ummah. The real jihad in 2010 is within the House of Islam against the Islamists and those advocates of political Islam and its radical manifestations that have hijacked the spiritual path of Islam.

I was not aware of Jasser and his organization, the American-Islamic Forum for Democracy, in late 2008 when I posted the following words:

There are some reprehensible passages in the Bible, but over the centuries most Christians have come to reject them. Christians stopped sanctioning the killing of non-believers because Christianity as a culture came to know that it was wrong, despite whatever Biblical support might be found. Christians in America cited Biblical support for slavery, and other Christians led the way in renouncing it, first through the abolition movement and later through the civil rights movement.

In the same way, Muslims bear the primary responsibility (not “blame”) for purging Islam of the evil done in its name. Perhaps Islam has been hijacked, as President Bush would have it. But if there is any broad-based, organized effort by moderate Muslims to overpower the “hijackers,” it has escaped my notice.

Shame on me — AIFD has been fighting the good fight since 2003, as I would have known if I had looked a little harder.  In my defense I’ll cite the unfortunate fact that Jasser and AIFD are not nearly as well known as they deserve to be — Wikipedia has a self-described “stub” of an entry for AIFD, and no entry for Jasser himself.

But Jasser is a Muslim Hero, and I’ll continue to look for opportunities to highlight his views.

(Photo of Sherrod from CNN)

Apparently someone in the Agriculture Department snoozed through the part of every old courtroom movie when the judge says, “before I pass sentence, is there anything you would like to say?”

How dumb do you have to be to fire someone in the midst of a publicity firestorm without giving that person an opportunity to say “IT’S NOT TRUE”?

Shirley Sherrod, an obscure but clearly honorable bureaucrat in a USDA outpost in Georgia, apparently was ordered via cell phone to pull over to the side of the road and “resign” because of a brief, selectively edited video that portrayed her as a racist.  The snippet of video was violently snatched from its context, and while “out of context” normally sounds like a feeble excuse, in this case the damage to reality is profound.  Ms. Sherrod, who is black, was essentially telling the story of how, more than 20 years ago, she had overcome her own prejudices against white people.

The deceptively edited video was first aired by conservative journalist and Tea Party advocate Andrew Breitbart, who has not helped his own cause. Breitbart was lashing out at the NAACP for accusing the Tea Party movement of racism based largely on a few offensive signs seen at Tea Party rallies.  The video shows Sherrod speaking at an NAACP event, and Breitbart contended it showed audience approval of the supposedly racist comments.

He has not said who gave him the video, but has said he received it in its edited form, and that he did not have the video of the entire speech.  Here’s a link to the entire 43-minute speech; the story of young Ms. Sherrod confronting her own racial animus begins at about 16:40.  It’s impossible to watch that segment and to emerge believing it reflects badly on her.  The editing was conscious deception.  If Breitbart didn’t do the editing, he’s going to need to give up whoever did.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says that he, not the White House, ordered Ms. Sherrod’s dismissal, and that seems credible to me. So it’s hard to pin this one directly on Obama, but it’s just the latest in a long line of racial miscues by the administration of the man who was supposed to be our first post-racial president.

It was almost exactly one year ago when Obama dove headfirst into “Gates-gate,” a Cambridge racial controversy he didn’t fully understand.  There was the spectacle of Obama’s attorney general, Eric Holder, accusing America of being a “nation of cowards” for not being even more obsessed with talking about racial grievances.  And there was Van Jones, the “green jobs czar” and 9/11 Truther nutcase who finally was forced out after the revelation that he participated in an anti-American recording narrated by convicted cop-killer and far-left poster child Mumia Abu-Jamal.  And going back to the 2008 campaign, let’s not forget that it took candidate Obama forever to finally face up to the mounting evidence that his pastor of 20 years was an anti-American racist.

Shirley Sherrod is the innocent victim here, let’s give her the last word:

When I made that commitment [to stay in the South], I was making that commitment to black people, and to black people only. But you know God will show you things, and he’ll put things in your path so that you realize that the struggle is really about poor people.

that he participated in an anti-American recording narrated by convicted cop-killer and far-left poster child Mumia Abu-Jamal.

USA Today, an early pioneer of soundbite journalism in written form, is admirably concise in setting the stage for elections soon to come:

Obama will likely trumpet a new financial regulation bill — the biggest overhaul of the system since the Great Depression — as one of his major first-term accomplishments, along with health care and the stimulus plan.

Republicans will likely argue that all three bills threaten prospects for economic recovery.

Ya think?

ObamaCare is such a train wreck that Americans support repealing it by a 2-1 margin.  Don’t even get me started on the wasteful and dishonest Porkulus fiasco, which will continue to increase deficits for years after the “need” for financial stimulus has passed.

And now comes yet another 2,000-plus page bill, a financial services “reform” measure that does a lot of things — but fails to address the actual causes of the financial meltdown that began nearly two years ago and has us staggering still. Here’s blogger (and Nobel-prize-winning economist) Gary Becker on the bill’s shortcomings (H/T: Freakanomics):

One of the most serious omissions is that the bill essentially says nothing about Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae. [KP Note: !?!?!?!?] In 2008 these organizations were placed into conservatorship of the Federal Housing Finance Agency. During the run up to the crisis, Barney Frank and others in Congress encouraged Freddie and Fannie to absorb most of the subprime mortgages. In 2008 they held over half of all mortgages, and almost all the subprimes. They have absorbed even a larger fraction of the relatively few mortgages written after 2008. Freddie and Fannie deserve a considerable share of the blame for the crisis, but they continue to have strong political support. I would like to see both of them eventually dissolved, but that is unlikely to happen. Instead we are promised that they will be dealt with in future legislation, but I am skeptical that anything will be done to terminate either organization, or even improve their functioning.

Many proposals in the bill will have highly uncertain impacts on the economy. These include, among many other provisions, the requirement that originators of mortgages and other assets retain at least 5% of the assets they originate, that many derivatives go on organized exchanges (may be an improvement but far from certain), that hedge funds become more closely regulated, and that consumer be “protected” from their financial decisions.

Most of these and other changes in the bill are not based on a serious analysis of what contributed to the financial crisis, but rather are the result of political and emotional reactions to the crisis. Usually, such reactions do more harm than good. That is likely to be the fate of the great majority of the provisions of the Dodd-Frank bill.

In simple terms, the primary enabler of the financial meltdown was the fact that financial institutions had incentives to take huge risks, knowing that any catastrophe would be socialized by a government that would have no choice.  WSJ columnist Holman Jenkins today cites new academic research in arguing that the bill doesn’t change that:

What was obvious to common sense, the naked eye and the open ear is now systematically upheld in the research of finance professors. To wit, shareholders of large, publicly traded banks have a higher appetite for risk than is compatible with our regulatory system.

Down this path lies the beginning of wisdom on how we can live with banks, which alone among businesses have the potential to bring down entire economies. Too bad such wisdom is absent from the financial regulation bill now before Congress. …

Let us be realistic about one thing, since most of us aren’t running for office: “Bailout” has become a curse word in populist diction, but “too big to fail” isn’t going away just because regulators pretend next time they would fold their arms and let the system blow up.

The government will and should continue to come to the rescue in a panic. We need better incentives to avoid creating such situations in the first place. But that discipline won’t come from shareholders, who will happily create the next 100-to-1 leveraged financial institution if the potential rewards are great enough. Bank depositors and other leverage suppliers are the ones who must be mobilized to make the system safer.

“… banks, which alone among businesses have the potential to bring down entire economies.” There in a nutshell is why I favored the “bank bailout” (on which the taxpayers are making a profit, btw) while staunchly opposing the auto industry bailout.

Becker and Jenkins both describe an opportunity lost that actually would have led to a better alignment of risk and reward.  Jenkins is the better writer, let him tell it:

Perhaps the best idea, though, is to require financial firms to fund themselves partly with a special kind of debt that would automatically be converted to equity when a bank’s capital or liquidity are imperiled. These debtholders then would have an incentive to monitor not just the amount of leverage, but the quality of the risks a bank is pursuing.

Bingo.  But instead we get another mammoth bill, chock full of unintended consequences, that increases the size of government to no good end, while failing to fulfill its primary purpose.  Add to this the public anger over the gulf oil blowout — although I think on that count, criticism of Obama is unfair — and you can see why Peter Wehner says “it’s getting ugly for the Democrats.”

I met a remarkable young man recently — a six-year-old taking organ lessons at the church where I work.  I wrote about him for Patch.com’s Madison website.  Here’s how it starts:

His feet don’t reach the pedals.  His arms barely stretch to the top keyboard.  His pudgy little fingers seem dwarfed by the keys. But six-year-old Henry Marinovic of Madison is learning to play the organ.

“I’m actually pretty good,” he explained, accurately, shortly after I met him.

He has a piano at home, but the organ at Grace Episcopal Church is so much louder and cooler – all those buttons and stops.  His hands wander over the keyboard for a moment, producing a vigorous riff. I ask him if that’s a piece of music he has memorized, but his mother Amy says he was making it up.  “It’s called improvising,” Henry says helpfully.

Read the whole thing at Patch.com.  If you’re interested in reading more of my Patchwork, here’s a link to the complete oeuvre.  (What is Patch, you ask?  I’ve got an answer for that, too!)

First Memories of Citi Field

Kirk at CitiWhat a perfect way to spend a summer Sunday afternoon — sitting in the shade at Citi Field, a beautiful blonde by my side, watching my Mets shut out the Atlanta Braves.  Seven scoreless innings by Johan Santana, a rare 1-2-3 ninth from K-Rod, a thundering home run to straightaway center by Ike Davis, a gutsy two-out, pinch-hit single by catcher-of-the-future Josh Thole.

It was my first trip to Citi Field — money was a little tight last year, when the Mets first moved in.  It’s a beautiful ballpark, and despite my tendency toward nostalgia, I’m not going to miss Shea at all.

The promotional giveaway was Jason Bay bobble-head dolls — and the slumping Bay sat the game out.  On the way out of the stadium I heard someone say “Jason Bay bobble-heads, ten dollars.”  I thought he was selling as a joke, turns out he was buying for real.  The Web Goddess and I handed over our unopened boxes and collected a twenty-dollar bill.  I’m baffled by the transaction, but it covered our parking.  Barely.

Oil spill, Afghanistan, recession, whatever.  Those things will matter tomorrow.  For today, I’ve been to a ball game, my team won, and now I’m safe at home.

M. Zuhdi Jasser

Leave it to a devout and patriotic Muslim-American to smack down the Obama Administration’s latest example of unseriousness in the struggle against Islamic fascism.

You may have read that Charles Bolden told al-Jazeera last week that when Obama appointed him to lead NASA, the president gave him three charges:  “One, he wanted me to help re-inspire children to want to get into science and math; he wanted me to expand our international relationships; and third, and perhaps foremost, he wanted me to find a way to reach out to the Muslim world and engage much more with dominantly Muslim nations to help them feel good about their historic contribution to science, math, and engineering.”

Set aside the fact that if you’re the head of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, maybe one of your top three priorities ought to have something to do with, you know, space.  Focus instead on the notion that we should make nice with Islam by helping Muslims “feel good” about the fact that centuries ago, as the President said in his Cairo speech, Muslims contributed to the development of algebra and the use of magnetic compasses for navigation.

Of all the areas for potential interaction between America and Muslim nations, science has to be just about the least appropriate.  Muslim nations already have produced killers who hijacked technology they could not have developed to fly it into buildings they could not have built.  As M. Zuhdi Jasser of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy puts it, “Handing them our technology and funds could end up strengthening theocrats and monarchs, further preventing real reform.”

Jasser, a devout Muslim and former lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy, is an important voice with more credibility on the nature of Islam than a cranky white guy from New Jersey could ever develop.  As Jasser writes, focusing on technology

… ignores the fact that many militant Islamist leaders, from bin Laden to Zawahiri to most of the heads of the Muslim Brotherhood, are very scientifically educated. In fact, the Brotherhood (Ikhwan) is sometimes pejoratively referred to as the “Brotherhood of Engineers.”

Zewail [another Obama Administration advisor] goes on to write: “Most Westerners today are unaware of the extent to which Nasser’s regime promoted education as the vital engine of progress.” How insulting: Gamal Abdel Nasser’s legendary fascism, pan-Arabism, and socialism have become “engines of progress.” Nasser infected the Middle East with a deeply corrupt ideology, yet Obama’s science envoy is apologizing for the Egyptian despot.

The challenge is not science and technology. Real Muslim reform will only come from modernization of thought in the political sciences, liberal arts, free markets, theology, and philosophy. Theocratic Islamist movements are the primary obstacles to Muslim enlightenment – not the absence of space technology.

And real Muslim reform, if it happens, will be driven by Muslim heros like Jasser — not by impotent efforts to paper over current threats by making Muslims “feel good” about long-ago events.

Now that I’m a professional Episcopalian, I can think of no better way to mark our nation’s 234th birthday than with the Collect for Independence Day, page 242 of The Book of Common Prayer:

Lord God Almighty, in whose Name the founders of this country won liberty for themselves and for us, and lit the torch of freedom for nations then unborn: Grant that we and all the people of this land may have grace to maintain our liberties in righteousness and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Because of a happy accident of birth, I have the extraordinary privilege of being a United States citizen. I’m grateful for that every day, but especially on July 4. Happy Independence Day!