I Can’t Believe I’m Writing About Obama’s Birth Certificate

The short-form birth certificate, which should have settled the matter in 2008

I have zero patience for conspiracy theories, and the “birther” loonies are particularly odious.  There are plenty of valid reasons for taking issue with President Obama, but to continue questioning the location of his birth in the face of overwhelming evidence is despicable.  No loyal American should seek to delegitimize any president on transparently bogus grounds.

And yet the attempts continue, of course.  If you look up “right-wing fever swamp” in the dictionary, you’ll find a picture of Pamela Geller, who perpetrates the Atlas Shrugs blog.  Within hours of the release of the long-form COLB (certificate of live birth), she was out with a post headlined “Layering: Obama’s New COLB Raises More Questions than it Answers,” labeling the document “an obvious forgery.”  I’m not going to link, find it yourself if you insist.

The predictability of the birthers’ reaction serves only to validate Obama’s refusal for two years to seek a waiver to permit the release of the long-form birth certificate.

Even some thoughtful mainstream conservatives are falling into the trap of criticizing Obama over this poisonous topic.  Andy McCarthy, while acknowledging that any reasonable doubt about the place of Obama’s birth has long been dissipated, criticized Obama today for not making the certificate public earlier.

Abe Greenwald explains how the birther conspiracy has been detrimental to conservatives:

Imagine it’s early 2009 and you’re the newly elected President Obama. A gaggle of sorry loudmouths are spreading intricate fictions about your parents and your country of origin. The loudmouths are fringy and creepy, as are the conspiracy theorists spawned by every presidency, and you’d be a fool to get into the mud with them. You determine rightly that entertaining that kind of thing is beneath your personal dignity and the dignity of the office.

Only, as time goes on, you notice something remarkable. The media is eager to take those loudmouths and present them as the representatives of all opposition to you and your policies. Without lifting a finger to respond to the lunacy, you enjoy a ready-made security shield that takes the sting out of every legitimate charge against you and renders it the sad, baseless delusion of a massive unhinged right wing.

Why should Team Obama want to give up this powerful advantage over the opposition?

So Donald Trump, in his bid to become the Al Sharpton of the Republican Party, may have done conservatives a favor by latching on to the birther movement.  McCarthy and others have criticized Obama for releasing the certificate only after Trump dragged the issue to the fringes of the mainstream, thereby changing the political calculus from favorable to unfavorable.

Well, yes.  Sounds like smart politics to me.  Since the entire issue is manufactured and there’s nothing at stake, why not?

Two final thoughts.  First, am I the only one who thoroughly disapproves of the fact that someone born outside of the U.S. is constitutionally disqualified from becoming president?  This stricture made even less sense at the time it was written into the Constitution.  If someone disapproves of a foreign-born candidate, let them vote against the candidate.

Second, please spare me the arguments that the birther idiocy is “rooted in racism.”  No, it’s not.  It’s rooted in the same vandal mentality that led “truthers” to insist that George W. Bush, a white guy, was complicit in the 9/11 attacks.



Why Libya But Not Syria? For That Matter, Why Iraq But Not Libya?


Pick your poison

Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria has been stepping up the violence in response to waves of protest  across the country.   As the Washington Post stated in an editorial:

According to Syrian human rights groups, more than 220 people had been killed by Friday. And Friday may have been the worst day yet: According to Western news organizations, which mostly have had to gather information from outside the country, at least 75 people were gunned down in places that included the suburbs of Damascus, the city of Homs and a village near the southern town of Daraa, where the protests began.

The Post editorial is titled “Shameful U.S. Inaction on Syria’s Massacres,” which made me think the Post was advocating armed intervention in that country — which would be War Number Four.  But no, the Post has a more nuanced response in mind: it thinks the Obama Administration should recall its ambassador to Damascus.  That’ll fix ’em!

For what it’s worth, I agree that we should recall our ambassador.  I just don’t think we should pretend that would constitute “taking action.”

The oddest thing about the Post editorial is that its 591 words do not include the word “Libya.”  But of course, Obama’s rush to war in Libya creates a context that complicates dealings with other  Muslim nations.

Even after a month to get used to the idea, I’m still astonished by the intervention in Libya.  It makes no sense, coming from a president who won his party’s nomination in part because he was the only contender who had opposed the war in Iraq from the beginning.  My basic take is that the intervention may or may not have been a bad idea — but now that we’re at war with Gadhafi, we damn well better beat him.

But how do we justify allowing Assad to kill his own people after taking up arms against Gadhafi for doing the same thing?  Syria — with its ties to Iran, its support for Hamas and Hezbollah, and its recent history of shuttling terrorists into Iraq to kill Americans — is if anything a more odious and important enemy than Libya.

I’m conscious of the fact that this line of reasoning can circle around to bite me.  Asking “Why Libya but not Syria” begs the question, “why Iraq but not Libya?”  One answer is that in Iraq, the Bush Administration — like the Clinton Administration before it, and like every major intelligence agency in the Western world — believed that Saddam still had stockpiles of the chemical weapons he had used against his own people, believed that he was pursuing nuclear capabilities, and believed it was only a matter of time until he began providing terrorists with weapons of mass destruction.

But I think the better answer to “why Iraq but not Libya” is, “not Libya, because of Iraq.”  I’ve never wavered in my support for the war in Iraq, but I’m also not blind to the lives, dollars and opportunities that war has cost.  A war-weary America, with its military and its finances stretched thin, should think long and hard about starting additional wars of choice.


Preparations for Easter at St. George’s

Much thanks to Maplewood Patch editor Mary Mann for taking the visual images from St. George’s Palm Sunday observance and turning it into a spritely and thorough announcement of the upcoming Easter services.

Cranky political commentary will resume here soon.  In the meantime, may Holy Week and Easter be a time of reflection and renewal for you and yours.

(Video by Kirk Petersen, photos by the Web Goddess.)

The U.S. Debt Bubble Will Make Sub-Prime Mortgages Look Like a Picnic

Can you say "sea of red ink"?

From Rep. Paul Ryan's budget proposal - click to enlarge

Just how bad is the U.S. debt problem? Jim Manzi spells it out at The Corner:

… we are sitting on the mother of all bubbles. Many, probably most, Americans anticipate a stream of consumption that will be provided for them into old age by the government (i.e., other taxpayers). Unfortunately, most American taxpayers do not anticipate the kind of enormous increase in taxes that would be required to pay for this stream of benefits. One or both of these expectations will not be met. Americans as a whole are simply less wealthy, in the most useful sense of rationally anticipatable future material consumption, than they think they are. And the size of this disconnect is vastly greater than, for example, the size of the housing-price bubble that just popped.

…the combination of the debt we have just put on our balance sheet, plus the deficits that are scheduled to be created by these programs over the next 10 to 20 years, means that we need to confront this problem soon. We have increased public debt from about 40 percent of GDP in 2005 to about 70 percent of GDP by the end of this year; and we are projected to exceed the historical peak debt of about 100 percent of GDP (achieved at the close of World War II) within the next 15 years; thereupon we enter uncharted territory.

The borrowing capacity of the U.S. government is vast, but it is not limitless. At some point that nobody can predict, we will not be able to borrow enough to continue spending n the manner that current law assumes without extremely large negative effects. This is the way the bubble will very likely pop, if we let it come to that: a funding crisis for the U.S. government.  This is very unlikely in 2011, or 2012 or 2013; but over 20 years, we are playing with fire. In essence, we don’t need to care that much about the projections for 2080, because long, long before that, we’re going hit the wall, unless we somehow address the problem.

The GOP budget proposal makes clear that “the last Congress” — you know, the one dominated by Democrats — was responsible for the pork-laden stimulus bill.

At a time when the free-market foundations of the American economy were in desperate need of restoration and repair, the last Congress took actions that further undermined them. The President and his party’s leaders embarked on a stimulus spending spree that added hundreds of billions of dollars to the debt, yet failed to deliver on its promises to create jobs. Acute economic hardship was exploited to enact unprecedented expansions of government power.

This did not sit well with the American people. Citizens stood up and demanded that their leaders reacquaint themselves with America’s founding ideals of liberty, limited government, and equality under the rule of law.

Porkulus” was so extreme that it failed to attract a single Republican vote in the House, and only three in the Senate — the two liberal ladies from Maine and Arlen Specter, who soon switched parties on his way toward losing the Democratic primary in a bid to salvage his job.  But the Republican budget document doesn’t let the GOP off the hook:

In recent years, both political parties have squandered the public’s trust. The American people ended a unified Republican majority in 2006, just as they ended a unified Democratic majority last fall. Americans reject leaders who focus on the pursuit of power at the expense of principle. They reject empty promises from a government that cannot live within its means. They deserve the truth about the nation’s fiscal and economic challenges. They deserve – and demand – honest leaders willing to stand for solutions.

The GOP has a lot of profligate spending to answer for, but at least the party now is putting forth a serious plan, albeit one that will not survive President Obama’s veto power.  The question is whether we can get Obama voted out of office before our Chinese creditors cut off the flow of money.

In Search of A Thoughtful Liberal Economist

Dean Baker

A Facebook friend whose opinions I respect, and who is more liberal than me, pointed me in the direction of a blog by Dean Baker [link may work for signed-in Facebook members only], saying Baker is “a fine, clear-thinking economist, [and] he’s also an uncannily good press critic.”

Sounds great — I’ve been looking for a source for regular commentary from a left-leaning economist, to balance out the right-leaning observations of my classmate Greg Mankiw.   But I’m afraid I’m still looking.

Baker’s credentials are impeccable — not as lofty as Mankiw’s, but there’s no shame in being more peccable than Greg.  (Or do I mean “less peccable?”)  But where Mankiw consistently treats opposing viewpoints with respect, Baker indulges in the common blogger habit of treating opposing viewpoints with contempt.

Let’s take a look at a few of Baker’s recent posts (emphasis added):

Has God Been Talking to the Washington Post?

In its article covering President Obama’s speech on the budget yesterday the Washington Post told readers that:

“Obama acknowledged that the debt must be tackled faster than he has previously proposed.”

It is only possible to “acknowledge” something which is true. The Post obviously believes it is true that “the debt must be tackled faster than he has previously proposed,” but that does not make it so. This is the Post’s opinion. A real newspaper would have reported that President Obama “said that the debt must be tackled faster than he has previously proposed.” It would not have implied that its view of the world is the unquestioned reality, especially in a front page news story.

Tendentious nonsense.  If the Post is not “a real newspaper,” then no such animal exists, and the paper’s use of the word “acknowledge” is eminently defensible.  To be fair, Baker goes on to make some thoughtful observations, which you can read for yourself if interested.

OK, let’s try another sample, this one quoted in its entirety:

Dana Milbank Missed the Health Care Reform Act
This is the only thing that readers can infer from his reference to President Obama’s “refusal to propose a viable solution” to the debt problem. In fact, the Congressional Budget Office projects that the health care bill approved by Congress last year will trim tens of trillions of dollars off the long-term deficit. One can only conclude that Milbank wasn’t aware of the bill in making this accusation.

Tendentious drivel (a category that is one tick worse than tendentious nonsense).  Readers certainly could infer that Milbank doesn’t believe the CBO estimates, which were promptly rejected by a former director of… um… the Congressional Budget Office.  They could infer that Milbank — knowing that two federal district court judges already have declared the individual mandate unconstitutional — has skipped ahead to the part of the story where the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Obamacare altogether, thereby rendering it not “viable”.

But wait… Baker’s blog is called “Beat the Press,” and press criticism is his schtick.  OK, let’s look at the post that inspired my Facebook friend to praise Baker in the first place.

Misrepresenting the Policy Debate on China: Is the NYT Covering Up for Obama

The NYT discussed the agenda of an upcoming meeting of G-20 finance ministers. It focused on efforts to pressure China to raise the value of its currency.

This discussion implied that the United States must depend on its ability to pressure China to change its currency policy. In fact, the United States does not have to rely on China changing its policy, it can force a change with unilateral action.

Specifically, just as China sets an official exchange rate of the yuan against the dollar that is below the market value of the yuan, the U.S. could set an exchange rate of the dollar against the yuan that is equal to the market value of the yuan.

Tendentious drivel on stilts.  Yes, it’s technically correct that the U.S. could move the exchange rate unilaterally — thereby touching off a currency war.  The first rule of warfare is that the enemy gets a vote, too.  And China is by far America’s biggest creditor, holding more than $2 trillion in US Treasury securities. There is nothing to keep China from selling, say, half of its holdings… thereby dramatically driving down the value of US Treasury securities. That would make the subprime mortgage crisis look like a hiccup.

Baker apparently has opined that this is a “non-threat.”  I’ll look for that article next time I get a chance, but in the meantime it’s simply sophistry for Baker to pretend that the Chinese would have no recourse.  Another Facebooker provided links to Paul Krugman, but there I draw the line.  Krugman may have the biggest peccability factor in all of economics, but life is too short to waste part of it reading Krugman.

How to Tell When They Get Serious About Deficit Reduction

Mark Steyn“The joke re the original $38.5 billion deal was that, in the time it took to negotiate it, we added as much again in new debt (we’re borrowing about $4 billion a day). … At some point, you have to close a cabinet department just to show you’re serious. Instead, the governing class is sending the message that the political institutions of the United States are so diseased they do not permit meaningful course correction.”

Mark Steyn

What Part of “Don’t Bury the Lead” Don’t You Understand?

Wikipedia Upload

Click image to embiggen

Do you ever wonder why people sometimes tend to do the exact opposite of what they should do?

For example, when leaving a voicemail message, many people will speed up while giving the all-important phone number — at the precise time when they should slow down.

So someone says “nineseventhreefiveohfiveonetwoonetwo” as fast as they can, and you have to listen to the message twice, or even three times, to capture the number.  What they should say is “nine seven three”… [pause] “five oh five”… [pause] “one two, one two”.

(No, it’s not my real phone number.  What, do you think I’m nuts?)

Now let’s look at the “help” page above from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit.  (If you can’t see the graphic because you’re using an RSS reader, thank you for subscribing to my RSS feed. Now click through to the site already!)  My simple goal this afternoon was to upload a photo to help personalize the few lines of text I wrote for my Wikipedia user page.  It’s the same photo you see on this blog in the column to the right. (You did click through to the blog, right, RSS feeders?)

Wikipedia uses a proprietary coding language to invoke HTML commands so that users don’t have to learn HTML.  The Web Goddess, a self-taught guru who knows HTML cold, finds it confusing and not intuitive.  But the real problem is the poor design of the “help” pages.

The page above pops up from a simple “Upload file” link in the left navigation of the Wikipedia toolbox.  So far so good.  But… how do you actually upload a picture?

Click to embiggen

If you embiggen the second graphic, you’ll see that the page starts out by telling you how to do everything you might possibly want to do, except for the single most likely thing.

Do I want to look at six different help pages first?  Not if I don’t have to.  Do I want to put my face on Wikimedia Commons, so anyone can use the photo free for any purpose?  No, especially since my Wikipedia log-in doesn’t seem to work there, and I’d have to create a new account.

Finally, the fourteenth link on the page, in the third highlighted section, has the magic words “go directly to the upload form.”  So why couldn’t they have said that 10 minutes ago?

What does all this have to do with good people doing nothing in the face of evil?  No clue.  Tune in again later.

A Brief History of Presidential Betrayal, Through the Prism of Andrew Sulllivan

Andrew Sullivan

Andrew Sullivan

If Obama has lost Andrew Sullivan, has he lost the Left, the Right or the Center?

For reasons that will become clear, I’ve been watching off and on to see what might happen when Obama does something that Sullivan perceives as a betrayal. The time may have come with Obama’s shocking decision to intervene in Libya.

Sullivan, who once wrote a book called The Conservative Soul from an insider’s perspective, felt the sting of betrayal from George W. Bush in 2004 and began a well-chronicled move to the Left, slashing and burning his way through conservative friends and supporters as he went.  By the time of Barack “Hope and Change” Obama’s election and presidency, Sullivan’s incessantly repeated exhortations toknow hopecarried echoes of Dan Rather’s “courage” from an earlier era.

I described Obama’s rush to war in Libya as “astonishing” and “bizarre,” and Sullivan apparently has similar feelings.  (One difference is that I’m actually hopeful that it might work out OK, whereas Sullivan appears more pessimistic.)  Sullivan has taken to referring to his onetime idol as King Barack I, and he’s raised the specter of impeachment.  Here’s a sample post from last week, with emphasis added:

I’m still absorbing this news and don’t want to vent immediately, because there is still part of me that simply cannot believe that president Obama has already ordered covert action in Libya on one side in a civil war, and is now actively discussing whether to arm that side in another chaotic Muslim country, committing the United States to yet another war against yet another tyranny simply because we can.

It’s so surreal, so discordant with what the president has told the American people, so fantastically contrary to everything he campaigned on, that I will simply wait for more confirmation than this before commenting further. I simply cannot believe it. I know the president is not against all wars – just dumb ones. But could any war be dumber than this – in a place with no potential for civil society, wrecked by totalitarianism, riven by tribalism, in defense of rebels we do not know and who are clearly insufficient to the task?

By all means keep the no-fly zone to protect unarmed civilians from brute military force. But that must be the total sum of the commitment.

Love him or hate him (and I’ve leaned in both directions), Andrew Sullivan is a towering figure in the development of blogging as a vital form of communication.  His pioneering “Daily Dish,” with its barely readable white and beige text on a dark-blue background, provided thoughtful commentary on a daily basis for years before the potty-mouthed Wonkette came along to become, briefly, the best-known name in blogging.

I started following Sullivan so long ago, his blog is in the “Conservatives” folder of my bookmarks.  This was back when James Taranto — one of many bloggers who now cannot stand the man — used to refer to Sullivan as his “favorite gay, Catholic Tory.”  I got the Web Goddess interested in Sullivan’s writing, and then we sprang for $20 (I think that’s what it was) to get his short-lived weekly email with the inside story behind the Daily Dish.

Sullivan, former editor of the New Republic , backed Bush in the 2000 election and was a strong supporter of the decision to go to war in Iraq in 2003.  He started to sour on Bush because of the mismanagement of the war, and in 2004 was openly flirting with the idea of endorsing the  Democratic nominee — even if it were John Kerry, whom he despised — over Bush.  That deal was sealed on February 24, 2004, when Bush, after calculating that he had more to gain among evangelicals than he had to lose among the few gay people inclined to support him, endorsed the Federal Marriage Amendment.

The FMA went well beyond declaring that “marriage is between a man and a woman.” (That’s still Obama’s official position, btw.)  The FMA also would have eviscerated civil unions and domestic partnerships, which are a squeamish society’s well-meaning effort to provide legal protection to gay couples.  Here’s the text of the amendment:

Marriage in the United States shall consist solely of the union of a man and a woman. Neither this Constitution, nor the constitution of any State, shall be construed to require that marriage or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon any union other than the union of a man and a woman.

(The amendment failed to advance in either the House or the Senate, falling far short of the two-thirds majorities required.)

I remember being struck that day by how anguished Sullivan was over Bush’s announcement.  I remember Jonah Goldberg, who at the time was largely sympathetic to Sullivan, describing Sullivan’s reaction as a “cri de coeur” (which I had to look up).  But I couldn’t remember what Sullivan himself had said that day, so I went back looking for it.  His actual post doesn’t seem as raw and livid as I remembered, but you can see the sense of betrayal.  Excerpts:

WAR IS DECLARED: The president launched a war today against the civil rights of gay citizens and their families. And just as importantly, he launched a war to defile the most sacred document in the land.  … Those of us who supported this president in 2000, who have backed him whole-heartedly during the war, who have endured scorn from our peers as a result, who trusted that this president was indeed a uniter rather than a divider, now know the truth.

NO MORE PROFOUND AN ATTACK: This president wants our families denied civil protection and civil acknowledgment. He wants us stigmatized not just by a law, not just by his inability even to call us by name, not by his minions on the religious right. He wants us stigmatized in the very founding document of America. There can be no more profound attack on a minority in the United States – or on the promise of freedom that America represents. That very tactic is so shocking in its prejudice, so clear in its intent, so extreme in its implications that it leaves people of good will little lee-way. This president has now made the Republican party an emblem of exclusion and division and intolerance.

Sullivan’s blogging home has bounced from his own domain to Time to The Atlantic, and as of today he is settling in to new quarters at Tina Brown’s The Daily Beast.  He’s a gifted writer who gets carried away with his passions. Somehow I don’t think his animus toward Obama will ever quite reach the level it did with Bush.