Saturday, December 27, 2008

Wrong Planet Rod. Indicted Illinois Governor made a big mistake in trying to defend himself during an interview to a Chicago television station.

"Look, if I'd have known people were listening, I probably wouldn't have said some of the things you say in private conversations . . . . But I think there's probably tens of millions of people across America who talk like that from time to time . . . ."

Blagojevich said the wiretap recordings show him working for the people of the state. "Even in this process, without saying too much, that was all about trying to end up with the right decision that could do the most things for the people of Illinois, and
when the full truth is told, you will see precisely that," Blagojevich said.

"If somehow that's impeachable, then I'm on the wrong planet and I'm living in the wrong place," he said.

I'm not sure that "tens of millions" of people "talk like that from time to time." But given that the prison population in the U. S. is 2.3 million, a couple of million of the people who "talk like that from time to time" are in jail. Of course, there's probably a lot of people who "talk like that" and still at large because of stringent policies against mass wiretapping.

As for Blagojevich's place of residence, I'm sure that impeachment is the least of Wrong Planet Rod's problems. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if he found himself joining the 2.3 million people in custody within the next year of two.

To Be Fair to Michelle Malkin

Scoring one for post-partisanship, I think Michelle Malkin is right that the media is a lot more positive about Barack Obama's obsessive work-out regime than it was about George Bush's exercise fanaticism. According to Eli Saslow's ridiculously fawning article in the Washington Post:
Obama has gone to the gym, for about 90 minutes a day, for at least 48 days in a row. He always has treated exercise less as recreation than requirement, but his devotion has intensified during the past few months. Between workouts during his Hawaii vacation this week, he was photographed looking like the paradigm of a new kind of presidential fitness, one geared less toward preventing heart attacks than winning swimsuit competitions. The sun glinted off chiseled pectorals sculpted during four weightlifting sessions each week, and a body toned by regular treadmill runs and basketball games.
Compare to this characterization of George Bush by Jonathan Chait (quoted from Malkin):
"The (over)exercise of power." Recounting how President Bush ran 3.5 miles a day and preached more cross-training to a federal judge, Chait fumed, "Am I the only person who finds this disturbing? ... What I mean is the fact that Bush has an obsession with exercise that borders on the creepy."
I'm not all that impressed with Obama's workout routine either. But the exercise situation is different with Obama than it has been with Bush. George Bush was "The Decider," but he didn't seek out information let alone alternative sources of information. Bush also wasn't interested in the details of policy-making, never did much work in the evening, and was in bed by nine. In Bush's case, working out was a central focus of his life as a former alcoholic in the same way as A-A meetings. For Bush, being president seemed to be a distraction from his workout schedule.

At least that's how I remember joking about it.

If anything, Obama is even more of a workout fanatic than Bush. But for Obama, obsessive exercise seems to have become his chosen foothold in "normality" as his life has gotten weirder and weirder over the course of the last two years.

I remember reading about Michael Dukakis keeping his hand in "the normal world" by balancing his checkbook on the presidential campaign plane in 1988. In the same way, it looks like Obama's 7:30am workouts are a way to anchor himself in the normal world before he begins another his ten-hour workdays and evenings "talking to advisers and reading preparatory documents."

Still, 90 minutes a day of weights, cardio, and basketball is a heavy dose of workout narcissism for a president-elect who already gets an enormous amount of adulation. Obama should tone it down.
The Problem with Pakistan. There were a lot of news reports yesterday about Pakistan moving troops from the Afghanistan border to the Indian border. Is Pakistan shifting resources from the war on terror to a confrontation with India? Are they warning India and the United States to back off after the Mumbai attacks?

But the first question that needs to be asked about Pakistan is not "war on terror" vs "hostility to India?" The question is whether the civilian government of President Asif Ali Zardari controls the dispositions of the Pakistani Army in relation to either Afghanistan or India.

Unfortunately, the answer is probably not a big "yes."

The chances are also pretty good that pro-al Qaeda elements in Pakistan's intelligence services helped the terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba plan the recent attacks on Mumbai.

In other words, Pakistan's government does not fully control either its military or its intelligence service. Likewise, Pakistan's government does not control the Western "Federally Administered Tribal Areas" or Northwest Frontier Province and faces terror campaigns and insurrection in several provinces.

According to President Zardari, "We have shortcomings. We need more help."

But it's probably more accurate to say that Pakistan is in the throes of "state failure." According to the "Pakistan Assessment."
A simple truth in vast regions of Pakistan today is that the state has withered away. A wide array of anti-state actors is currently engaged in varying degrees of violence and subversion in an extended swathe of territory. A cursory look at the map indicates that the North West Frontier Province (NWFP), Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), and Balochistan are witnessing large-scale violence and insurrection. Violence in parts of the Sindh, Punjab and Gilgit-Baltistan has also brought these areas under the security scanner. Islamabad’s writ is being challenged vigorously – violently or otherwise – in wide geographical areas, and on a multiplicity of issues. Well over half of the territory presently under Pakistan’s control, including Gilgit-Baltistan and ‘Azad Jammu & Kashmir’, has passed outside the realm of civil governance and is currently dominated essentially through military force.
Policy makers need to worry less about Pakistan in relation to Afghanistan and India and more about the possibility of Pakistan becoming a nuclear armed Somalia. Pakistan isn't that far from the question of whether there is going to be any kind of central government to succeed the Zardari government if it falls.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Perhaps the Republicans Need Black Friends. Leading Republicans seem to have a lot of problems with this "not being a racist" thing. Today, it was reported that Chip Saltsman, a candidate for chair of the Republican National Committee (RNC), distributed a Christmas CD to RNC members that included the song "Barack the Magic Negro."

The CD, called “We Hate the USA,” lampoons liberals with such songs as “John Edwards’ Poverty Tour,” “Wright place, wrong pastor,” “Love Client #9,” “Ivory and Ebony” and “The Star Spanglish banner.” Several of the track titles, including “Barack the Magic Negro,” are written in bold font.

The song, which debuted on Limbaugh’s show in late March 2007, latches onto an opinion column in the Los Angeles Times of the same title. That column, penned by cultural critic David Ehrenstein, argued that Obama could serve as a balm to whites who felt guilty about past treatment of African Americans.

There's a big disconnect here between Saltsman's smarts as a political operative and his ability to think about race and racism in the United States. According to sources, Chip Saltsman is a first-rate campaign manager and was described by Bill Frist as "a multi-talented superstar."

But Saltsman's response to the controversy over using "Barack the Magic Negro" as part of his campaign to become RNC chair is incredibly stupid.

Saltsman said he meant nothing untoward by forwarding what amounts to a joke more at Ehrenstein’s expense than at Obama’s. “Paul Shanklin is a long-time friend, and I think that RNC members have the good humor and good sense to recognize that his songs for the Rush Limbaugh show are light-hearted political parodies,” Saltsman said.

Given that it doesn't occur to Saltsman that he should care whether he's stigmatizing Barack Obama on the basis of race, I thought about recommending that Chiperino run these kinds of things by his black friends before he puts them out there.

But then it struck me that Chip Saltsman might not have any black friends and that not having any black friends is part of what's getting him into trouble.

The same might be the case with Republicans in general. Barack Obama got 96% of the black vote during the presidential election. Sure he was the first African-American nominee of a major political party. But Hillary would have done just as well with African-Americans if Obama had decided not to run. Likewise, there are no black Republican governors, Congressmen, or Senators, and there were only 36 black delegates at the 2008 Republican Convention (compared to 1087 black delegates at the Democratic Convention).

Outside of Shelby Steele and Michael Steele, there don't seem to be enough black Republicans to befriend top GOP figures like Chip Saltsman, steer them away from the use of racist symbolism, and help them develop some smarts about racial politics in our beloved country.

Perhaps the Republicans could start a "black friend" program to recruit African-Americans to help GOP presidential candidates, campaign managers, pollsters, consultants, and state party officials do a better job of presenting themselves to non-white populations.

Obviously, one could criticize this type of program as tokenism, but tokenism is a long if not an honorable tradition among white liberals. So, there's little justification for snobbery on the left.

More importantly, the Republicans have to start somewhere.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas To RSI Readers

The RSI family had a great Christmas. I hope yours did too.
Off-Her-Game Ann Coulter Whacks Kwanzaa. In her Christmas column today, Ann Coulter took a few whacks at Kwanzaa--the African-American oriented winter holiday. As a talented political comedian, Coulter gets in her usual insults, demeaning characterizations, and one liners. Here's a couple:
When Karenga (Dr. Maulana Karenga, the founder of Kwanza) was asked to distinguish Kawaida, the philosophy underlying Kwanzaa, from "classical Marxism," he essentially explained that under Kawaida, we also hate whites. While taking the "best of early Chinese and Cuban socialism" -- which one assumes would exclude the forced abortions, imprisonment of homosexuals and forced labor -- Kawaida practitioners believe one's racial identity "determines life conditions, life chances and self-understanding." There's an inclusive philosophy for you.
But Coulter is also off her game. Coulter's idea is that she can get in a few shots at white liberals and their African-American political allies by taking a comical blunderbuss to Kwanzaa. But she doesn't get there. In fact, Dr. Maulana Kerenga is not a well known or widely celebrated figure. So, ridiculing him doesn't get Coulter to bigger targets like Nancy Pelosi, Jesse Jackson, or Barack Obama. It's just another conservative rant against black people.

Coulter's sneering put-downs of Kwanzaa don't help either.
Kwanzaa itself is a nutty blend of schmaltzy '60s rhetoric, black racism and Marxism. Indeed, the seven "principles" of Kwanzaa praise collectivism in every possible arena of life -- economics, work, personality, even litter removal. ("Kuumba: Everyone should strive to improve the community and make it more beautiful.") It takes a village to raise a police snitch.
Like improving the community is a bad thing. Kwanzaa has the same schmaltzy good intentions, niceness, and helpfulness as Santa Claus and the tooth fairy. Whacking Kwanzaa as a Marxist aberration is the equivalent of taking a two by four to the Easter Bunny.

It ain't pretty.

But Coulter's been off her game ever since John McCain nailed down the Republican nomination Offended by McCain and wrong-footed by Obama (isn't everybody?), Coulter kept the one-liners flying but hasn't been sure how to attack her targets, what her conservatism has to say about the issues of the day, or how to advance the conservative cause.

Completely irrelevant during the presidential election, Coulter still hasn't found her post-election groove.
Bush Can't Quite . . . The Bush administration blunders on pardons as well. They just can't quite seem to get it right.

A Little Christmas Live-Blogging

Dot! Dot! Dot! At eight, the RSI family got the singing Santas and played them all to announce the advent of Christmas. Then, we opened presents. Girls got plenty of clothes and new adjustable chairs that they can bring into the living room. Mom got wine glasses and lots of stuff on nursing and Dad got the "usual" useful stuff. Uncle Charlie in Louisiana sent the whole family a bunch of Obama paraphernalia. Too bad Charlie doesn't live closer.

But the centerpiece of the day is watching that traditional Christmas classic Mama Mia.

Whoops! Now I know why NPR film reviewer David Edelstein didn't put Mama Mia in his top ten.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Are Banks the No. 1 Threat to Capitalism? Fareed Zakaria has an article out for Newsweek entitled "Can Obama Save Capitalism." But I'm beginning to wonder if capitalism can be saved, or at least capitalism as we know it.

This is what got me wondering. Talking Points Memo features a post from someone in the real estate business who claims that banks are not using TARP money to lend for development projects. He quotes one banker as telling him that the banks have decided to use TARP money for buying other banks rather than new lending or renewing old loans.

As a commercial real estate attorney, I'm deeply involved with the current complete freeze-up of the commercial lending markets. I have many clients who have sound business practices in the development of commercial real estate.

Suddenly, and coinciding with the Lehman/Goldman fiasco, the commercial lending markets completely disappeared. Not just a slow down, but a complete and total shut down. Loans for which there were commitments were suddenly pulled. Term loans (most in the development world are for 1-2 years at a time) were suddenly not available for renewal putting borrowers in immediate default, or the lender required severe principal reductions in order to for the borrower to renew - severe to the point of not possible.

I'm not talking about over-speculative developers here asking for a bail-out. I'm talking about fiscally responsible developers, on-time payors with pared down staffs, who wrongly believed that the TARP funds going to the major banks would be put into circulation in the credit markets for new loans and renewals, which are the life-blood of the real estate industry. One bank had the temerity to tell me on a conference call that they were using the TARP funds for acquiring other banks,
not for new loans or renewals. And here lies the problem with the Paulson/Bernacke/ Frank plan...they once again trusted the banks "to do the right thing", (a la Greenspan), without requiring that the TARP funds go right back into the lending stream through the conduit of the banks. I'm not socialist, but I sure would agree for a Bank of US to come out of this mess. This is happening today, and the warnings are clear, and the results will be catastrophic.

If that claim is true, it's very interesting. Perhaps most importantly, it means that banks have decided that their "normal" business is mergers and acquisitions rather than lending.

But why is that the case?

I can't help but believe that bank executives believe that "buying other banks" is more profitable, better for the health of their companies, or more conducive for big bonuses and promotions than lending money to businesses.

Why that's the case is hard to tell. Perhaps the profits from lending are low because of low interest rates? One could argue that commercial ventures don't look very safe right now. But why would acquiring new banks look safer? It must might be that lending money looks boring, stodgy, or extremely limited in comparison to buying and selling other companies.

Whatever the reason, the reluctance to lend poses problems for American capitalism. First, the reluctance to lend undermines the rationale for using TARP funds for financial bailouts. If financial institutions just don't want to lend money to commercial enterprises, they won't use TARP money to restart lending. As a result, there is no reason to give bailout money to large-scale financial institutions. The money would be better devoted to creating an alternative for the commercial loans, consumer loans, and housing loans that business needs to get back on track.

In this context, the logic of the situation is that the government should be willing to take on a lending role for the next few years. Perhaps the TPM poster's "socialist" idea of a Bank of the US is the only way to generate the credit mechanisms needed to keep American business afloat.

The next question is whether private institutions are capable of providing the financial instruments needed for American business to function and grow. Right now, the jury is probably out on that, but it may be that the Obama administration needs to reimpose the Glass-Steagle Act that mandated the separation of commercial banks that primarily engaged in lending from brokerage houses that primarily engaged in investment.

To the extent that banks view themselves primarily as investment institutions, they may not be very useful for the American economy. The Obama administration should be gearing its policies toward re-making commercial banks as lending institutions. Otherwise, the government is going to have to become the primary lending institution in this country.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Will Anyone Outside the Magic Circle Be Listening? The New York Times has an article on conservative radio talkers looking forward to Obama's inauguration as a sign that they can go "back on the offensive" after eight uncomfortable years of defending Bush. However, there's a good chance that nobody outside conservative circles will be listening. Conservative talker and columnist Michael Medved has concerns:
In an opinion piece for USA Today this month, the radio host Michael Medved said he cherished the notion “that the last time a young Democrat took over the White
House with gauzy visions of change, it produced a ‘Golden Age’ for right-wing talk,” referring to the presidency of Bill Clinton and the ascent of Rush Limbaugh, among others. But he expressed concern that talk shows have cultivated a “niche audience rather than the Republican mainstream.”
If conservative talk radio can't even appeal to the "Republican mainstream," they have little chance of having an impact on moderate and independent opinion and thus little chance of influencing broader political debate. Rush Limbaugh already knows how little he connects with moderates and independents.
What people don't realize is I'm doing McCain the biggest favor that could be done for him by staying out of this. If I endorsed him thoroughly, with passion, that would end the independents and moderates, 'cause they so despise me, and they so hate me.
During the heyday of the Bush administration, conservative talkers like Limbaugh and Sean Hannity coordinated their programs with the Bush administration, the Republican Party, and conservative think tanks like the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). The talk shows formulated Bush administration talking points in compelling ways, promoted the latest conservative ideas coming out of the think tanks, and came up with new kinds of attacks on the Democrats and liberals that would be re-circulated by the mainstream media.

But all of that's gone now. The Bush administration will be gone next month while the Republican Party and institutions like AEI haven't figured out what they're going to stand for in the post-Bush era. Conservative talk radio exists in its own bubble. It's a large bubble, but it appears that nobody's going to be listening outside the magic bubble.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Are Boys Really the Answer? Mrs. RSI and the girls are off skiing today. But Mrs. RSI was regretting that she didn't have boys by the time the girls got out the door.
Greenwald Onto Fitzgerald. In yesterday's post, Glenn Greenwald recommended that Patrick Fitzgerald be appointed as a special prosecutor for Bush administration crimes. I couldn't agree more and made the same suggestion here and in connection to a Truth and Reconciliation Commission here.