State of the Union

The Cowardice of Eric Holder

Lecturing a conscript conclave of Justice Department bureaucrats, Attorney General Eric Holder last week called America a “nation of cowards” for not spending more time talking about race.

Reading his speech, however, one recalls the sage counsel of Pat Moynihan to President Nixon in 1970: This whole subject might benefit from a long period of “benign neglect.”

One point Holder did allude to, without specifics, was this:

“It is not safe for this nation to assume that the unaddressed social problems in the poorest parts of the country can be isolated and will not ultimately affect the larger society.”

Fair point. And what are some of those social problems? Read More…

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How Radio Wrecks the Right

John Derbyshire’s cover story for the latest issue of TAC, taking aim at Limbaugh, Hannity, and rest of the right-wing squawkers, is now online. Enjoy!

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Masters of Breaking America

Over at The First Post, TAC contributor Philip Delves Broughton
has a fun piece on the most dangerous letters in the American lexicon: Harvard MBA. His argument rings very true in light of America’s current plight.

And Broughton–who has an interesting review in the next issue of TAC, about which more later–is something of an expert on this subject, having not only been awarded a Harvard MBA himself but written a book about it, too.

Here’s some of the good stuff,

How come this supposedly brilliant elite, trained in management, risk and reward, have so devastated the economy?

Part of the reason is that the MBA does not actually train anyone to do anything. It’s interesting. You learn something about all the various business functions. You become more confident in meetings where people yammer on about ROIs and Monte Carlo analyses. And you might even emerge capable of building a ten-year financial projection.
But whereas a youth training scheme in car repair or a plumbing apprenticeship might actually teach you to repair a car or fix a leak, the MBA does nothing more than give you some ideas for how to approach a problem. Which is why so many of the most successful business people, Bill Gates and Rupert Murdoch to name just two, never bothered with a formal business education…

MBAs in the public mind have become expert at extracting value from an economy, through fees, bonuses and exorbitant salaries, without knowing how to build value. They use their management voodoo to suck the blood of the real value creators in an economy. But really they are of less practical use to society than a decent carpenter or accountant.

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KBR’s Army, On the March

Though the story of the U.S military’s dependency on contractors — particularly the behemoth Kellogg, Brown and Root, offspring of Halliburton — is well-ploughed, writer Pratap Chatterjee, who has made reporting on the seediness of war profiteering his obsession over the last seven years, embedding with U.S military and spear-heading CorpWatch, freshly explores today how KBR is the fuel, keeping the ranks flush enough to fight, and why President Obama might not be able to wean the military off privateers, even if he wanted to.

Many people who know something about KBR’s role in Iraq and Afghanistan might want Obama to question the military commanders at Rock Island and the corporate executives in Arlington about the shoddy electrical work, unchlorinated shower water, overcharges for trucks sitting idle in the desert, deaths of KBR employees and affiliated soldiers in Iraq, million-dollar alleged bribes accepted by KBR managers, and billions of dollars in missing receipts, among a slew of other complaints that have received wide publicity over the last five years.

But those would be the wrong questions.

Obama needs to ask his Pentagon commanders this: Can the U.S. military he has now inherited do anything without KBR?

Consider that the center-left in political discourse has now shifted into an “it’s our war now” mode. Between Tom Ricks (now a senior fellow at the Center for New American Security, brainchild of Michele Flournoy, now at the Pentagon, and led by chief COIN-operator John Nagl ) declaring we must stay in Iraq for years and years, and mainstream cup bearers like David Ignatius arguing for more U.S troops in Afghanistan and money for Pakistan on behalf of “American officials” in his Sunday column, insisting the decision to put more than 17,000 troops into Afghanistan will be “one of the fateful decisions of (Obama’s) presidency,” we know any echoing drumbeat to throttle down on the war machine gets lost in the din. Just like old times.

So, Chatterjee writes, the relentless need to recruit fresh troops and retain them chugs on — KBR helps by padding the soldiers’ experience in-country with unprecedented comforts supplied mostly by poor migrants making $2.50 an hour — though recent experience tells us that recruiting has its limits. Therefore, without the contractors there is no war. The best we could hope for, now, is for Obama’s team and Congress to try and force some transparency and accountability onto the situation, but let’s be real, the private sector is now in the catbird seat:

But could Obama dismiss KBR’s army, even if he wanted to? Will Obama really be willing to ask American volunteer soldiers to give up the bacon, romaine lettuce, and roast turkey that they have come to expect in a war zone? And even if he could do so, those are only the luxuries. Keep in mind that, on U.S. bases in Iraq and Afghanistan, every single item, from beans to bullets, is shipped using contractors like PWC of Kuwait and Maersk of Denmark. In the last two decades, the U.S. military has even divested itself of the hardware and people that would allow it to move tanks around the world, relying instead on contractors to do such work.

The White House Web site states that “Obama and Biden support plans to increase the size of the Army by 65,000 soldiers and the Marine Corps by 27,000 Marines. Increasing our end strength will help units retrain and re-equip properly between deployments and decrease the strain on military families.” As part of the same policy statement, the site claims the new administration will reform contracting by creating “transparency for military contractors,” as well as restoring “honesty, openness, and commonsense to contracting and procurement” by “rebuilding our contract officer corps.”

Nowhere, however, does that Web site suggest that the new administration will work toward ending, or even radically cutting back, the use of contractors on the battlefield, or that those 92,000 new soldiers and Marines are going to fill logistics battalions that have been decimated in the last two decades. What we already know of the military policies of the new administration suggests instead that President Obama wants to expand U.S. military might. So don’t be surprised if the new LOGCAP contract, a $150 billion 10-year program that began on September 20, 2008, remains in place, with some minor tinkering around the edges to provide value for taxpayer money. KBR’s army, it seems, will remain on the march.

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TAC at CPAC

The annual Conservative Political Action Conference begins on Thursday. TAC has reported critically on the show in years past. But in 2009 CPAC may be livelier than usual, with no Republican establishment in Washington to defend and with a strong Ron Paul presence (including at talk by the good doctor at 4 pm on Friday and a Campaign for Liberty event that night at 7 pm) to shake things up. So this year TAC will have an exhibitor’s table on Friday and Saturday — stop by to pick up a copy of the magazine and say hello to a staffer or two. I’ll be at the table for a time on Friday, and on Saturday morning I’ll be part of ISI’s “God and Man at CPAC” panel from 10:30 to noon, which should provide a counterpoint of sorts to the usual Coulter and Hannity festivities.

(Also, if you’re a CPAC-goer under 40, be sure to visit our friends at the Young Americans for Liberty table and come to the 9 pm Friday launch party for their new ‘zine, the Young American Revolution, which I’ve had a hand in putting together.)

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Polly Can You Spare a Cracker . . .

This is what a shill looks like. Glenn Reynolds writes:

CHARLIE COOK: “At What Point Will the Public Blame the Recession on Obama Instead of Bush?” When the press quits covering for him?

If I understand Reyolds correctly; Barack Obama is responsible for a downturn that began in December of 2007, when he was an upstart senator facing the invincible Clinton Machine and is only escaping blame now because the media is covering for him.

What ever you say, Glenn. I can remember back when you were regularly sneeringdude, where’s my recession” at the prospect of a downturn. Back then we had a Republican in the Whitehouse and the prospect of another taking his place. I guess that there are downsides to parroting a party line, but at least one always knows what to say.

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Beginning to know

A phrase you hear often from those advocating a fairer policy on Israel/ Palestine is “If Americans only knew.” One American journalist who has become a full time advocate has adopted it to define her organization.

Well, Americans are at long last beginning to know. I suspect a lot of congressmen and women will be talking in the next few weeks to their colleagues Brian Baird (D-WA ) and Keith Ellison (D- Minn.) who have just returned from a courageous trip to Gaza . Baird described the physical destruction and human suffering as “staggering.” He didn’t have to dwell on the fact that the exercise in brutalizing a civilian population was accomplished with the most advanced American weapons.

Not every American can travel to Israel-Palestine to see for himself. But the conversation about what goes on there and America’s role in it is beginning to open up, after way too many years. I would put two Congressmen independently visiting Gaza and talking about it afterwards on a par with Bob Simon’s path-breaking Sixty Minutes segment. The American conversation is beginning to move, at long last.

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Presidential Power and Mormon Politics

We put two new articles on-line yesterday, Michael Brendan Dougherty’s “Mormons at the Door” and my own “Our Enemy, the President.” Michael’s piece reveals the critical role the Church of Latter Day Saints played in passing California’s Proposition 8, which barred same-sex marriage. On the back of that victory, will evangelicals now accept the LDS church as a long-term partner?

My essay looks at the plight of conservatives who spent the last eight years defending expansive executive powers, only to see those powers fall into the hands of a Democratic president (backed by a Democratic Congress). Revisiting the thought of Willmoore Kendall and James Burnham, I argue that conservatives must oppose executive aggrandizement no matter who is in power — and along the way I try to explain how presidentialism accounts for everything from the Right’s dominance in talk radio to the Republicans’ loss of Congress in 2006. Check it out.

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Strategic Withdrawal

“The situation in Afghanistan is deteriorating,” said President Obama, as he announced deployment of 17,000 more U.S. troops.

“I’m absolutely convinced that you cannot solve the problem of Afghanistan, the Taliban, the spread of extremism in that region, solely through military means.”

“(T)here is no military solution in Afghanistan,” says Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. Said U.S. Commander Gen. David McKiernan yesterday, U.S. and NATO forces are “stalemated.”

Such admissions by our military and political leadership in a time of war call to mind other words heard back in 1951, when Gen. Douglas MacArthur delivered his farewell address to the Congress: Read More…

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The 30th anniversary of optimism

Patrick Deneen points out, in his latest post, David Brooks’ remarks about how Ronald Reagan transformed conservatism from a pessimistic creed about decline and loss into an Emersonian vision of unlimited optimism.  In fact, one can pinpoint exactly when the transition finally took place, July 15, 1979 during Jimmy Carter’s “Crisis of Confidence’” speech. It was a speech that gave Reagan the chance to frame the “new conservatism” in optimistic terms because the other side have given up on optimism and talked about the long, grim struggle ahead.

It was Deneen who saw that the text of Carter’s address, contrary to the rhetoric against it, was actually a conservative document if you believed that conservatism meant self-sufficiency, prudence and saving for the future. That was not the conservatism that Ronald Reagan stood for, not by 1980. Even Reagan himself was a changed man. The Reagan of 1964, reflecting the dark Goldwaterian view that the U.S. was just a sliver away from totalitarianism, became the Reagan who believed the U.S could be John Winthrop’s ”shining city on a hill” if under new management. Perhaps it was inevitable this would happened since Reagan (an ex-Democrat) styled himself more after Franklin Roosevelt (whom he voted for four times) than Robert Taft and because of his battles with the anti-American New Left at Berkeley. And for the “conservative movement” to take power it had to capture a broad coalition of voters, some of them libertarians who didn’t like Jimmy Carter telling them to drive speed limit; most of them New Deal Democrats who weren’t conservative intellectuals but who did want a President who would fix the economy, restore American defenses and combat permissiveness. And he in turn promised to do all these things and fashioned a  new ideological synthesis around it.

Read More…

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