Friday, December 11, 2009

Political Cartoon of the Day

To echo John on Power Line, Michael Ramirez seems to have Obamacare pegged:

Link: "Speaking of Slavery"

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Pearl Harbor: Two Mysteries Solved

Accounts of the the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor usually focus on the two waves of Japanese carrier-based warplanes that attacked the U.S. Pacific Fleet in the morning of December 7, 1941. Rarely is any attention given to the five Japanese midget submarines that were ordered penetrate Pearl's harbor defenses and attack the U.S. fleet. Four of the midget subs have been found, but mystery has shrouded what happened to the fifth, at least until just recently.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

LBB: A Perfect Storm

Wow, it's been more than a month since my last post, and that was just a plug for a thought-provoking paper that someone else wrote.

I normally try to blog at least once a week, preferably more often, but life beyond the blog (LBB) intervened with a vengeance. A crunch (actually a succession of crunches) at work, a persistent case of the flu that turned out to be a nasty case of allergies (who knew that allergies could cause a fever?), a freelance project that mushroomed beyond control, and a few other things developed into a perfect storm that left me a bit . . . distracted, but I'm back now and feeling somewhat human again.

Expect my next real post in a day or two. Washington is such a target-rich environment that I can't stay silent forever. With Congress in town there's always some silliness or stupidity that needs to be skewered, and I'm more than happy to oblige.


Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Great Recession Explained

A few weeks ago I edited a paper "Understanding the Great Global Contagion and Recession" by Heritage Foundation analyst JD Foster that made a lot of sense to me, even though it was a bit above my head. I don't normally promote papers that I edit on this blog, but this one particularly impressed me and answered a few questions I have had about the current recession. I consider it well worth reading (and rereading).

Here's the abstract:
The Great Global Contagion and Recession was largely the result of a sustained global savings glut combined with excessive monetary accommodation by the Federal Reserve and other central banks. These two complementary and reinforcing forces artificially depressed the price of risk globally, leading to the widespread mis-pricing of assets and misallocation of investment. These effects were enhanced by rapid financial innovation and breathtaking arrogance of leading financial market participants in believing that they understood these innovations. It was also facilitated by a succession of policy failings, most importantly the failure of the United States and Europe to modernize their financial regulatory structures to keep pace with developments in financial markets.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Signs of the Fans

The fight between Redskins fans and Redskins owner Daniel Snyder is escalating, and it's crossed over from the blogosphere to the mainstream media.

Immediately after I started writing this evening, my Tivo unpaused causing me to catch the last few minutes of 11 o'clock news on WUSA Channel 9. They reported on signs confiscated from Redskins fans and announced a new feature to display "all the signs and messages the team won't let you bring into the stadium." The station also favorably mentioned the owner of the Cleveland Browns (1-6), who has expressed support for a fan protest against the team, saying "We deserve the protest." Such realism and humility (or at least the PR smarts to fake them) is refreshing.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Dreadful Redskins

And now for something completely different.

The biggest dispute in Washington, DC, is not about health care reform, but about football. The Washington Redskins play a unique roll in the nation's capital. They give the residents, who come from every state in the country, something apolitical to talk and argue about—filling a desperate need in this overpoliticized city. There's a palpable change in mood of the city on the day after a Redskin's win.

This year Washingtonians have abundant reasons to complain about the Redskins, who are now 2-5 after a lackluster showing on Monday Night Football. As for myself, I'm a fair-weather Redskins fan, so as a marginally interested bystander I'm feeling no pain, but I sympathize with many friends and acquaintances who are suffering, especially since there's no end in sight.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Executing the Geese That Lay Golden Eggs

I was planning to write on something nonpolitical for a change, but life beyond the blog and the Obama administration intervened.

On Wednesday, the media reported that the Obama administration will issue a diktat sharply cutting executive pay at Citigroup, Bank of America, American International Group, General Motors, and Chrysler. Beyond the constitutional issues (Where exactly does the Constitution authorize the President or Congress to do this?) and legal issues (breach of contract etc.), this makes no economic or business sense. This leads me to the conclusion that either the Administration is more incompetent and ignorant than I already suspect—which is high hurdle for this administration—or that politics is driving this decision.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Presidency About Nothing?

Friday morning, I was stunned as were most Americans including the President himself to hear that the Norwegian Nobel Committee had awarded the Noble Peace Prize to President Obama. One reporter neatly summarized my feelings: "He won! For what?"

The President's response so far has been appropriately low-key and humble. His best move would be to thank the committee for the honor, but decline to accept the award because he has not yet begun to lead. At the very least, he should decline to accept the award until he leaves office, following the precedent set by President Theodore Roosevelt.

The Saturday Night Live skit last week may have been a bit harsh in its critique of the President's record of accomplishments so far: "Nothing. Nada. Almost one year and nothing to show for it." But SNL's timing couldn't have been better, coming after the President's failed Copenhagen campaign to bring the 2012 Olympics to Chicago and setting the stage for him to receive an increasingly meaningless award. Tonight, I may actually have to watch SNL live for the first time in decades. They may be onto something.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Book Overview: ConUNdrum

Brett Schaefer, ed., ConUNdrum: The Limits of the United Nations and the Search for Alternatives (Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2009), 371 pages.

First, a disclaimer: I copyedited this book, so I'm slightly invested in its success and probably a little biased.

I have read a lot of papers and books on the United Nations, written from many perspectives. This book is the most balanced, persuasive, and innovative of them all. While it was written primarily to inform policymakers, it should be accessible to the interested reader. A week ago it ranked #1 on in three categories: United Nations, treaties, and international law.

The UN is not "indispensable," but it can be useful and even helpful at times. In the book's ten chapters—each deals with a different policy area—the authors identify what the UN has done right (there actually are some examples), what it could do better, and what it should stop trying to do.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Visual Reminders of the GULAG Archipelago

The Heritage Foundation (my employer) has turned its seventh floor auditorium and foyer into a crowded art gallery for a unique collection of paintings by Nikolai Getman, and two days ago I was able to take a break from work and look at each of them.

The 50 paintings depict chilling scenes of the Soviet Union's extensive system of forced labor camps. Perhaps the paintings are best described as the visual equivalent of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's The Gulag Archipelago, in which Solzhenitsyn documented the brutality and systematic evil of the camps and the totalitarian government that created and perpetuated them. The collection of paintings also reminds me of the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC, with the distinction that they deal with the millions of living unpersons that populated and often died in the Soviet labor camps.

In 1946, Getman was sentenced to forced labor for being present when another artist drew a caricature of Stalin. He survived eight years in Kolyma, one of the most infamous Soviet labor camps. After his release, he painted a series of 50 paintings about life and often death in the GULAG. His paintings were publicly displayed in Russia after the Soviet Union collapsed. The Jamestown Foundation brought the collection to the United States and recently gave it to the Heritage Foundation. Heritage is displaying them as part of a series of events to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. (See press release.)

If you have a chance, I highly recommend that you come to the Heritage Foundation to see these paintings that document some of the crimes committed by Soviet Union in the name of Communism. If that is not possible, you can see a few of the pictures in the exhibit brochure and at this online arts gallery.

On a related note, if you're ever in Moscow, take a moment to see the Solovetsky Stone, a monument "To prisoners of the GULAG," next to Lubyanka, the former headquarters of the KGB. (It's now occupied by the Border Guard Service and one directorate of the FSB, the KGB's successor organization.) In 1994 when I was living in Moscow, I was quite pleased—and saddened by the lost lives it memorialized—when I stumble across this understated, powerful monument located across the street from one of the gateways to the GULAG archipelago.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Onion: Nadir 0f Western Civilization to Be Reached This Friday at 3:32 P.M.

Link: "Nadir Of Western Civilization To Be Reached This Friday At 3:32 P.M.," The Onion, September 25, 2009

Did you notice? Did you celebrate?

I guess it's all uphill from here.

Is Putin Even Playing in Our League?

In some sports, teams commonly play pre-season or exhibition games with teams that are not at the same professional level. In college, mens basketball teams will often play national teams teams from other countries. In soccer, such games are even more common. In fact, the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, the oldest soccer competition in the U.S., is open to all teams from amateur to professional, which has lead to some quite entertaining and embarrassing upsets.

Similarly, in international relations, different countries operate at different levels. The five permanent members of the UN Security Council—China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States—arguably constitute the highest level. (Although, the G-8 might better reflect true international power and prestige.) Developing countries might constitute a mid-level or semi-pro league, and the perpetual political and economic basket cases would be the amateur level.

Yet even among its international "peers," the United States is the lone superpower, albeit much less dominant than a few years ago. China and Russia are aspiring superpowers. China is about 20 years into a massive military buildup . . .

Friday, September 18, 2009

Title of the Week (Month?)

"Shrieker of the House"
James Taranto is, of course, referring to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).

The War President

WARNING: Don't read further if you want to think happy thoughts today.

Yesterday, President Obama announced that the U.S. was reneging on its commitment to build a missile defense system—the "third site"—to defend Europe against ballistic missile attacks from the Middle East.

This is not a surprise. But that doesn't make it any less disheartening to the Americans, Poles, and Czechs who think about and understand such things. Adding insult to insult, he announced it on the 70th anniversary of Russia's invasion of Poland, which was guaranteed by the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. While I'm not yet ready to call this latest perfidy a Putin-Obama Pact—it's more of an anti-pact—I can't help but wonder if it won't have similar effects on Europe and the world. Given the Obama administration's . . .

Friday, September 11, 2009

Remembering 9/11

Each of us has memories of that terrible day eight years ago. These are some of mine.

That Tuesday morning I was at home in my apartment in Foggy Bottom, three blocks west of the White House. I had planned to go jogging that morning near the Pentagon on the Mt. Vernon Trail, but as usual, I was running late. My first indication that something was wrong was that my Internet connection had suddenly become glacially slow. A few minutes later . . .

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Obama Speaks

As has been my practice with presidential speeches since the Clinton administration, I read the texts of President Obama’s last two speeches instead of watching or listening to him speak. One reason is that it allows me to consider what is said more carefully and critically, and I generally rely on the pundits to inform me on how well the President gave the speech.

Most of this is a mental self-defense mechanism. Reading a speech reduces the emotional impact, allowing me to concentrate on the substance, if there is any. In the 1990s, the mere sight or sound of President Clinton began provoking such a visceral response that I found myself immediately changing the channel whenever I saw him speaking. Listening for any length left me feeling like I’d just been slimed. President

Friday, August 28, 2009

A Tocqueville Conservative

I have often described myself as a classical liberal, to tweak and confuse both my liberal and my conservative friends. (Yes, I have friends on both sides.) In a recent post, my brother waxed eloquent on the weaknesses of American democracy and coined the apt phrase "Tocqueville conservative"—at least I've never heard anyone else use it before.

The entire blog entry is worth a read, but here's a short preview:
The opposite of the classical liberal, the modern liberal believes that if a thing is good, then government should find a way to provide or mandate it.... The Tocqueville conservative, who is akin to the classical liberal, believes not only that freedom (liberty) is good and that unrestrained government is its natural antagonist, but also that there are ways to provide effectively for the needs and wants of a people through voluntary associations.

RIP Ted Kennedy, the Liberal Lion

I was somewhat surprised and saddened to hear that Senator Kennedy had passed away. He was one of the first politicians that I noticed once I became aware of politics. This was all but inevitable given his larger-than-life presence as the de facto leader of the liberal wing of the Democratic Party. I credit him for fighting tirelessly for what he believed, which generally was in direct opposition with my political views. But such consistency and dedication demands respect, and I gladly give him that, even though I oppose most of what he tried to accomplish. I also give him credit (which Senator Kennedy probably wouldn't want to

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Spending "Too Much" on Health Care?

Foremost in most arguments in favor of health care reform is the assertion that Americans are spending too much on health care and that they should spend less. In Washington-speak, this is called "bend[ing] the health care cost growth curve down." In America, individuals or some groups may or may not be spending too much on health care, but to make such a claim on behalf of entire United States is presumptuous and logically flawed.

For elected federal officials (e.g., President Obama and certain members of Congress) to make this assertion is particularly arrogant because they apparently assume that the federal government (1) should intervene

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Correction: "NOPE"

How embarrassing . . . a glaring mistake on my first "substantive" post.

Today, my colleague, who shall remain unnamed and smug, took some satisfaction in pointing out that I had identified the wrong anti-Obama button. I couldn't find the same button on the Web, but her button looks more like the one to the left, except that "Keep the Change" is printed twice in arcs around the edge, above and below "NOPE."

I plead editor's block.

Change and Hope in Union Station

Last week, a colleague walked into my office excited about a NoBama button (similar to this one) [See correction in the next post.] that she'd just bought at a kiosk in Union Station. What's remarkable is not that she was excited or had bought an anti-Obama button, but that she could buy it in Union Station. Since well before the inauguration, Union Station has offered a wide variety of Obama paraphernalia, with anything that might offend the Obama faithful banished from sight. The Obama worship climaxed during inauguration with numerous kiosks selling a nauseating assortment of Obama t-shirts, buttons, key chains, and other merchandise.

In recent months, most of the Obama kiosks have disappeared, but an Obama store/shrine opened just outside one of the main entrances to the Metro (subway) system—presumably one of the prime retail spots in Union Station. Fortunately, this is not the entrance that I frequent.

My colleague's NoBama button sparked my curiosity, so I took a break and walked over to Union Station to see what other subversive material was available. Much to my surprise, almost half of the items at a kiosk near the front entrance were now anti-Obama, including two of the four t-shirts prominently displayed: “NoBama. Keep the Change” and "Don't Blame Me. I Voted for McCain-Palin." Until recently, this kiosk had sold only pro-Obama items, so I have tried to ignore it when walking by.

I asked the attendant about the anti-Obama items, and she said that they had been carrying them for about a month and helpfully added that they had sparked a lot of interest and had been selling rather well. The next day, armed with my camera, I tried to take a picture of the kiosk, but the attendant (a different one) told me I couldn’t take a picture. I doubt she could have made it stick legally--it is a public area--but I didn’t want to make a scene so I complied. Instead, I took a picture of the Obama shrine (see above), where the attendants were less vigilant. Perhaps they thought I was one of the faithful.

If nothing else, this is a return to normalcy with opposition viewpoints again displayed in Union Station. (The opposition was always well represented during the Bush Administration.) Apparently, the anti-Obama forces have strengthened to the point that at least one merchant dared to break the monopoly of Obama paraphernalia to make an honest dollar--a small victory for capitalism in the nation's capital and a sign of hope.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Blog Reset

About a year ago, I started this blog with two mundane entries. I added a third several months later. Looking back today, I decided to "reset" things in honor of Secretary of State Clinton. The entries were not that interesting, and this blog will be better without them. (I hope.)

My original purpose--to write on things that catch my interest--is still the same, just a little more focused. While the previous entries didn't quite fit, but they were useful practice. So since I'm making the rules here, they're gone and I'm starting with a clean slate, which is more than I can say for U.S.-Russian relations despite the Obama Administration's wishes.

My first substantive entry will be tomorrow. I've already written it, but I'm letting bit age a bit before I post it. More will follow on a semi-regular basis. Once I post them, though, I'll leave them up unchanged, except for minor corrections of typos. I will make substantive corrections and additions as needed, but clearly indicate what I've changed from the original post.

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