Michael Totten

I know, another post about a writer named Michael. What’s not to like? Besides, he was, if I remember correctly a technical writer during the dotcom boom who decided to seek another line of work when things went bust. I can personally appreciate such a decision, though his moving from server rooms and boardrooms of the west to Soviet-style lodgings in war-torn countries does make me wonder if I would have chosen similarly if given the same set of circumstances.

Personal rabbit trail aside, Michael Totten is worth reading. He, like an earlier Michael mentioned in this space is a photojournalist who finds himself drawn to those areas of the world where many journalists are either unwilling or afraid to go. His most recent location is in Georgia, where the Olympic-week continuation of conflict between Russia and Georgia brought (at least to me) a spectre of the old Soviet Bear.

If you would like to get a perspective on the things which are happening in Georgia (as well as other places where war is the current mode of life), head on over to Michael’s website.

Following is a brief excerpt from recent article which addresses the struggle which those in now essentially inaccessible part of Georgia are living with:

“We survived twenty one centuries,” the governor said. “We will survive twenty one more even though we don’t have anything now. We can’t get food and supplies, but we will survive another twenty one centuries.” He slapped the desk with the palm of his hand. “That is my answer.”

It seems as though few people are talking to the folks that he does. I’m glad he is where he is and is getting out the stories he is. While the financial issues in the United States are consuming the public’s attention right now, we have not heard the last of Georgia.

You’ll find that Michael Totten does not publish daily articles, but then it would be hard to put together as much substance he does on a daily basis without losing out on sleep and those other essentials for someone who is doing a difficult but necessary job.

Go, read, appreciate.

Disappointed Viewer


The following email was sent by a friend of the Constant Conservative to Dave Letterman in response to the above video.

******
Dear Dave Letterman –

You will likely never see this, as I’m sure your screeners will not share it. But, if you do read this, I welcome the opportunity to discuss this with you further should you be so inclined.

Regardless, I am writing as a long time fan and viewer who has completely lost my respect and admiration for you after watching last night’s (Wednesday, September 24, 2008) show. Your continuous berating of John McCain was over the top and uncalled for.

Over the years, I have genuinely enjoyed your political humor as you have directed it toward both parties. But this election season, culminating in last night’s tantrum, you have exposed your true colors. Your bias is now obvious and your response to McCain for obviously “hurting your feelings” is humorous in itself. You behaved like a true bleeding heart liberal, one whose view of the world revolves around yourself. Obviously, in your mind, you and your show is a higher priority than matters of significance to our nation, such as the current financial dilemma. The fact that McCain would once again put his country (and his current obligation to it) before himself should be recognized for what it is, rather than ridiculed for what you make of it. Why do I get the feeling that if Obama would have taken this course of action out of his obligation to the country that you would have made something different of that decision? But, of course, we both know that Obama would never put his personal agenda on hold for anything else, even his duties as a US Senator, since he has spent his entire time as a US Senator doing little more than pursuing the Presidency! I am disappointed that you could not remain more professional than you did, but I remind myself that expecting shame and regret, let alone honesty and integrity, from a self-elevating liberal like yourself is a waste of my time.

Additionally, your “last minute fill-in” guest, Keith Olbermann, was a fascinating choice under the circumstances. You, your writers and naturally, the entire CBS company, can be proud of airing a show that more resembled a paid-advertisement for Obama than a late night talk show. I am glad that you have finally exposed your true self for all of America to see. Now your viewers can form an educated opinion about you for themselves.

Lastly, after your belligerent carrying on that followed, your weak commendation for McCain for his service to our great country was relegated to mere sarcastic patronizing. You and yours are forever indebted to McCain, along with the thousands of others in the past and present, for defending the freedoms that you hide behind. So, continue to ridicule the things that you don’t understand and condemn the things that scare you. While I can no longer watch your show, I do wish you the best.

God Bless America!

Joe M. Krizan

Husband, Father, Business Owner, Employer, Tax payer, Responsible Citizen, Capitalist, Conservative, Patriot, Proud American

Humboldt, SD

******

Federalist No. 3

This third paper is once again written by John Jay. It is largely an extension of Federalist No. 2 in regards the need for unity among the citizenry, as evidenced by all joining together within the single national government.

The official title of this paper is “The Same Subject Continued: Concerning Dangers From Foreign Force and Influence.”

Full text may be found here at the Library of Congress.

Jay begins by telling his audience that they are smart folks:

people . . . [who are] . . . intelligent and wellinformed) seldom adopt and steadily persevere for many years in an erroneous opinion respecting their interests.

Of course, what he is doing here is claiming that smart people don’t make bad decisions and stick with them. Therefore, the decision to come together as one people within a nation (rather than separate states or confederacies) was a good one, so don’t mess it up now.

Shortly after this comes the part which addresses the most basic need for government:A ship upon the high seas

preservation of peace and tranquillity, as well as against dangers from FOREIGN ARMS AND INFLUENCE, as from dangers of the LIKE KIND arising from domestic causes.

I would that our own modern federal government would focus on this: protection from without and protection from within.

John Jay follows this by laying out a case for a national government being comprised of the best of the best. In essence, stating that cream rises to the top. Then, he states that wars (the American Revolution being still very fresh in people’s memories) would of necessity be fewer for a variety of reasons which he elucidates as follows, if there is a unified national government rather than simply the several states or confederacies of states:

Because, under the national government, treaties and articles of treaties, as well as the laws of nations, will always be expounded in one sense and executed in the same manner
[snip]
Because the prospect of present loss or advantage may often tempt the governing party in one or two States to swerve from good faith and justice; but those temptations, not reaching the other States, and consequently having little or no influence on the national government, the temptation will be fruitless, and good faith and justice be preserved.
[snip]
But the national government, not being affected by those local circumstances, will neither be induced to commit the wrong themselves, nor want power or inclination to prevent or punish its commission by others.

In short, the national government has to look after everyone, therefore it will not engage in precipitous actions, whereas a state government might do exactly that. (I wonder if this would hold true when one considers that those who make decisions today at the federal level are so far removed from specific state situations that they seem most influenced by whoever has their collective ear, rather than the best interests of the nation or individual state.)

The author finishes this particular paper by a raw appeal to the need for power in international relations:

. . . acknowledgments, explanations, and compensations are often accepted as satisfactory from a strong united nation, which would be rejected as unsatisfactory if offered by a State or confederacy of little consideration or power.

Ah yes, make sure you have enough allies (the other states) on your side of the schoolyard that any bully who is there might think twice about coming over and throwing his weight about. Of course, the colonies had just defeated such a bully (as many of Jay’s readers saw it, in throwing out the British) under the auspices established by an earlier unifying document: the Articles of Confederation.

As always, here is the audio for Federalist No. 3.

Books to Read

  • The Federalist Papers at Amazon
  • John Jay: Founding Father at Amazon

Paulson’s Fable

I love reading. I greatly enjoyed Aesop’s fables as a child (and still do now, truth be told). So it is with much enjoyment — well, as much as I can manage while watching the USS America approach the iceberg without apparently realizing the danger — that I bring you a modern twist on a classic:Grasshopper, you have much to learn

Our little Ant, minding his own business, heard a knock on his door one late winter night a year later. It was his old, sneering Grasshopper neighbor. With ACWIRN’s presidential candidate, Barack Cicada, now in office, the Grasshopper had been hired by the meadow as a tax collector.

“I’m here to take your provisions,” the Grasshopper cackled.

Take a few minutes and read it all. You’ll enjoy it, like I did.

Hatred and Conservatism

Yes, there are those who are, broadly speaking, “conservatives” who are marked by their hatred. Yes, I’m sure that given the proper context, I could be brought to strongly dislike to the point of wishing imminent and violent demise upon certain individuals.  Angry I can become, no matter how strong the force may be.anger

However, I believe that I can honestly say that I do not hate anyone. I’m still struggling to consistently apply the command to “love your enemies,” but I do not hate them. Since “enemy” is a rather broad term these days, let me use it use it to encompass those who range from wishing that I and my ilk would just crawl back into our dirt-floor cabins, to those who would seek to destroy us (in a physical sense) because we do not be believe in and follow the same fatalistic, irate, deity.

The much maligned Latins had a term for arguments which addressed the person, rather than the idea, principle, or position which was being presented: ad hominem. In short, this means “directed against the person.” Examples of such arguments abound within modern written and spoken news and discussion. When I come across such material, whether from someone who seems to largely agree with my views (a conservative) or someone who largely believes my views are inaccurate (a liberal), I suffer from an adverse reaction.

These reactions differ. If I see such an argument put forth by a conservative, I cringe. After all, I am not, nor do I believe that conservatives in large part are, proponents of hatred. Are we often defined by those things which we are against more than those things which we are for? Yes. Is this wrong? Not entirely, since one can often tell more about someone based on who his enemies are rather than who his friends are. Nevertheless, the approach is wrong, no matter how much I might want “our side” to win the broader discussion.

On the other hand, if I see the argument put forward by a liberal, I tend to discount any truth which might be included in article, interview, etc, since I am thinking that “this person is fighting illogically, why should I assume that the rest of their argument is not similarly flawed”?

It is not uncommon for me in both cases (that is whether I agree with the person presenting the argument or not) to think something along the lines of “what a maroon” (which I must point out, comes awfully close to an ad hominem statement in itself).

In either case, the discussion or the presentation has lost its place (as far as I am concerned) within the marketplace of ideas. Unfortunately, for many others, it is simply lowering the bar and encouraging the discussion to descend into the maelstrom.

5 Things to Know about the Current Financial Morass

1. Things did not get this way overnight. If one goes back to the modern (as in my lifetime) source for the problems which are specifically part of the sub-prime mortgage market, one simply needs to stop off in 1977 and look at the Community Reinvestment Act. Among other things, this law (as noted in the WSJ):

compels banks to make loans to poor borrowers who often cannot repay them. Banks that failed to make enough of these loans were often held hostage by activists when they next sought some regulatory approval.

According to the calendar which I use (yours may differ), that puts this problem right at 31 years in the making.

2. Not everyone was asleep while this problem approached critical mass. While I am not as familiar with changes in legislation which may have been proposed back in the 80s and 90s, it is eminently apparent that there were those who raised the alarm (particulary in reference to Freddie Mae and Fannie Mac) starting several years ago. Here’s a bit of what was known/happening in 2003:

January: Freddie Mac announces it has to restate financial results for the previous three years.

February: The Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight (OFHEO) releases a report explaining that “although investors perceive an implicit Federal guarantee of [GSE] obligations,” “the government has provided no explicit legal backing for them.” As a consequence, unexpected problems at a GSE could immediately spread into financial sectors beyond the housing market. (“Systemic Risk: Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the Role of OFHEO,” OFHEO Report, 2/4/03)

September: Fannie Mae discloses SEC investigation and acknowledges OFHEO’s review found earnings manipulations.

September: Treasury Secretary John Snow testifies before the House Financial Services Committee to recommend that Congress enact “legislation to create a new Federal agency to regulate and supervise the financial activities of our housing-related government sponsored enterprises” and set prudent and appropriate minimum capital adequacy requirements.

October: Fannie Mae discloses $1.2 billion accounting error.

Seal of the SEC3. The SEC has some serious ‘splainin to do. This would be regarding giving Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, and Bear Stearns permission to assume hugely risky debt-to-capital ratios:

This alternative approach, which all five broker-dealers that qualified — Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch, Goldman Sachs, and Morgan Stanley — voluntarily joined, altered the way the SEC measured their capital. Using computerized models, the SEC, under its new Consolidated Supervised Entities program, allowed the broker dealers to increase their debt-to-net-capital ratios, sometimes, as in the case of Merrill Lynch, to as high as 40-to-1.

Excuse me, did I just read 40 to 1? Everybody else had to stay within a 12 to 1 limit (and most did not even want to flirt with that limit as doing so brought additional scrutiny from the SEC).

4. Financial failure always hurts the innocent as much as (and often more than) the guilty. I did not, as far as I am able to ascertain, contribute in any manner to the current financial crisis. Therefore, I would be considered an innocent in this matter (as would my family members who also did not contribute). It doesn’t matter. According to estimates which are being bruited about, my immediate family will be on the hook for 15,000$ in additional liability (beyond our current share of the national debt, which I don’t even have the heart to calculate at present). Of course, I won’t mention the substantial percentage of the population which (for all intents and purposes) does not pay taxes since they receive more from the government via handouts than they pay in taxes.

5. The free market still works better than the alternatives. Lehman Brothers collapsed and (thankfully) did not receive a government bailout. It now appears that Barclays has purchased them (pending the full approval process) and will save some 10,000 jobs as a result. Of course, we are being told that letting AIG go the same way would have been too destructive to world markets. Who is to say that someone wouldn’t have been interested in them also? People tend to show up for fire sales, at least in my experience.

Postscript: I realize as I write this that the 700,000,000,000$ bailout plan is still in Congress. I hope and pray that it does not survive the passage and that cooler thinking prevails. However, this is an election year and I’ve reason to think that most politicians are more interested in winning the election than they are in remaining or (in the case of some) becoming ideological purists. As I am not running for anything, I suppose I do have that luxury.

Michael Yon

Michael Yon is doing excellent though dangerous work in Afghanistan these days. Unlike many reporters, he has a background in the military which gives him great respect for the work which is being done as well as a understanding of what he needs to do to stay out of the way when things get hairy. And, unlike most other reporters, he wants to be in the middle of what is happening and not simply rely on the official story (which may well not be the whole story).

I’ll not include a photograph in this post, as I normally would, since Michael has requested that images not be used without express permission. However, since Yon is a photojournalist of the first order, I cannot do justice to what he has written without telling you to go to his site and view his work– all of it.

He has spent not a little time in Iraq over the last few years, but is most recently in Afghanistan. He believes the war there is of critical importance, not that Iraq seems to have turned the corner and is becoming increasing stable. In part, he is in Afghanistan to draw attention to the war being fought there and the fact that we (US and allies) need to do much more to ensure that things can move in a productive direction.

I’ll close with these brief excerpts from one of his most recent dispatches:

We cannot win a war of attrition in Afghanistan.
[snip]
Back in 2003, General David Petraeus realized that the Iraq War was as much about politics and money than anything else. After he took command in early 2007, we saw victory in Iraq. (General Petraeus will not declare victory in Iraq, but I will do it for him.) General Petraeus also realizes that the AfPak war will largely be fought in the politosphere.

Michael Yon is an independent who is largely supported by people like you and me. His work is worth supporting.

Book to Read

  • Moment of Truth in Iraq at Amazon

Truth, Lies and Cache

Hiding one’s tracks in this data-driven age is becoming increasingly difficult. And, while there are more than a few worrisome aspects to this truth, one does find it interesting to follow some forensic footsteps today over at the Jawa Report.

Sarah Palin, as almost everyone should know by now, has been the target of remarkable efforts to portray her as a nutcase, extremist, airheaded, dangerous (well, you pick the negative adjective, it’s probably been used). One of these efforts was using the demonstrably false claim that she was a member of the Alaskan Independence Party.Screen Grab of Inaccurate Palin Video

Jawa did some good work, it would seem, to determine that the people behind spreading this particular rumor were well aware of what they were doing, and may indeed have been doing it for hire (or at least were doing it under the “grassroots” umbrella (concerned citizens putting the data together) rather than coming right out and stating that they are members of a PR firm which is very favorable to and does much business with the opposition.

Among other things, the investigators arrived at the following (in reference to the video advertisement which was uploaded to YouTube):

Federal election law requires that a disclaimer from those paying for campaign ads, “must appear on any “electioneering communication” and on any public communication by any person that expressly advocates the election or defeat of a clearly identified candidate or solicits funds in connection with a federal election.” Even when the ad is not paid for nor coordinated with the candidates election committee, “the disclaimer notice must identify who paid for the message, state that it was not authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee and list the permanent street address, telephone number or World Wide Web address of the person who paid for the communication.”

No such disclaimer appears on the ad in question. However, “General public political advertising does not include Internet ads, except for communications placed for a fee on another person’s web site.” It is not clear to us whether a video is considered an “internet ad” or if the wording only meant to include banner ads or other more common forms of internet advertising.

I’m thinking that there may well be some litigation on the way to determine just what the FEC thinks of YouTube videos which fall into the category discussed here.

Much more important is the following, which comes at the very end of the report:

Sometimes rumors and lies get spread organically with no need from direction. But sometimes what may seem to be an organic bottom up grassroots movement, may actually be led from the top and may be professionally organized.

We believe at least one such campaign to discredit Sarah Palin is currently underway. It seems highly likely that others are as well. We’ve done the initial work, but now it’s time for the professionals to take over and ask the tough questions.

Go there, read it, draw your own conclusions from the evidence. And, if you have the ability to contribute some expertise to the effort, please do so.

The Parents Can’t Choose

British comedy is often an acquired taste for those of us on this side of the pond. However, the following clip should be quite understandable, with perhaps the exception of a few acronyms and terms. The message is universal.

HT: DC Thornton

Frankly, I’m surprised that the BBC even carried such clear thinking arguments as this. But then again, “a stopped clock is right twice a day.”