Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Advice For Obama

Investor's Business Daily

So it's official — the U.S. economy entered a recession in January. But that's very old news. Now we should be focusing our attention on what to do next to keep it from getting worse.

The National Bureau of Economic Research, official arbiter of U.S. business cycles, says the U.S. economy peaked last December and fell into recession in early 2008.

That timing of the downturn might be debatable, but it's hard to argue that today's economy is in anything but bad shape. Factory activity last month was the lowest in 26 years, while auto sales plunged 35% to a two-decade low of 10.5 million vehicles.

Longer-term indicators aren't any better: Business investment plunged 8% year-over-year in the third quarter, and so far companies have shed more than 1.2 million jobs, pushing unemployment up to 6.5%.

Amid the gloom, however, two things need to be said.

First, despite constant comparisons to the Great Depression, this downturn statistically has virtually nothing in common with the 1930s collapse. Fed Chief Ben Bernanke, an expert on the subject, was at pains to make this point Monday.

"During the 1930s," he said, "there was a worldwide depression that lasted for about 12 years and was only ended by a world war. During that time, the unemployment rate went to 25%, at least . . . The real GDP fell by one-third. About a third of all of the banks failed. The stock market fell 90%."

We're not close to those benchmarks — by any measure.

Second, though conditions now don't compare in magnitude or duration, we can still learn from the errors that policymakers made back then. Repeated mistakes by Presidents Hoover and Roosevelt in the late '20s and '30s turned a garden-variety slowdown into an epic tragedy of job loss, hunger and mass poverty.

Our advice to President-elect Obama: Learn the real lessons of the Depression, not those that pop economists would have you learn. To wit:

• Pursue free trade — against the counsel of protectionists in the Democratic Party. It was, after all, the Smoot-Hawley trade tariffs that helped trigger the Depression.

• Don't raise taxes, even on the rich. Top tax rates soared from 25% in 1930 to 75% by 1940. Businesses, investors and those with high incomes moved to the sidelines, prolonging the Depression's length and severity.

• Cut taxes broadly instead. The latest in a long line of studies on the subject found a 1% reduction in taxes has caused as much as a 3% gain in GDP. The report's co-author: Christina Romer, one of your top economic advisers.

• Forget stimulus gimmicks. FDR had an alphabet soup of new agencies and programs to "make work" and substitute government for private-sector activity. It failed. Indeed, recent research, including a study by UCLA economists Lee Ohanian and Harold Cole, found that instead of ending the Depression, FDR's Keynesian stimulus actually prolonged it.

• Don't rely on massive infrastructure projects to revive the economy. Congress can't move fast enough to approve them, and many will simply be pork-barrel spending.

• Support the Fed as it cuts rates. Inflation hawks will surely attack the Fed for its stimulus efforts. But it's important to remember that the Depression occurred in large part because the Fed let money supply shrink as much as a third. It shouldn't happen again.

You deserve credit, Mr. President-elect, for assembling a solid economic team. Now give them a close listen.

Monday, December 01, 2008

For the Record

www.patriotpost.us

"Candidate Obama maligned the Bush tax cuts for benefiting the rich. But President-elect Obama now intends to retain all the tax cuts, keeping the lower rates on the 'rich' until they expire in 2011 -- a far cry from his campaign promises. What about Bush's 'stupid' Iraq war? Obama now wants Bush's secretary of defense, Robert Gates, to stay. Huh? Gates supported the successful surge and the change in counterinsurgent strategy. Obama opposed the surge, attempted to stop it, and predicted failure. Candidate Obama promised to have combat troops out within a year or 16 months of his administration, but President Bush and the Iraqi government now tentatively agree to have all troops out by 2011, a timetable unfathomable but for Bush's courageous and ultimately successful decision to surge. What about the Guantanamo Bay detainees, the 'evil' interrogation techniques and 'unlawful' wiretaps? Obama -- actually faced with governing -- seems now to understand the complex legal questions Bush grappled with. Gitmo contains some really, really bad people, and Obama's security advisers now appreciate the complex legal and logistical problems. ... So where does this leave us? Bush wasn't so evil after all. And running for and governing as president are two different things. But don't expect the Obama-loving media to notice or care."

--radio talk show host and author Larry Elder

Monday, November 24, 2008

'Change' coming to Washington

ReviewJournal.com

Grandstanding Waxman gets more power

Indications multiply that those who hoped Barack Obama and the resurgent Democratic Party would calm down and govern "to the center" are about to face a rude awakening.

On the campaign trail, candidate Obama -- whose legislative record showed him to be an ardent backer of gun control -- toned down his hoplophobia, vowing in soothing tones that he would "not take away" Americans' firearms. Yet his just-announced choice for attorney general, Eric Holder, earlier this year signed an amicus brief in the court case District of Columbia vs. Heller, supporting the District's ban on the use of any firearm for self-defense in the home -- as Barack Obama himself supported that patently unconstitutional measure.

As deputy attorney general, the gun-rights stances of Mr. Holder made Janet Reno look like Annie Oakley.

The man now tapped to become our next attorney general advocated federal licensing of American handgun owners, a three-day waiting period on handgun sales, and rationing handgun sales to no more than one per month -- for starters.

Not to be outdone in this race to the radical left, congressional Democrats responded in kind Thursday, dumping Rep. John D. Dingell, D-Mich., as chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, and replacing him with Rep. Henry A. Waxman, D-Beverly Hills and West Hollywood.

The secret ballot among members of the Democratic caucus -- the kind of ballot congressional Democrats hope to soon take away from American workers threatened with unionization -- swung 137-122 to depart from the chamber's usual seniority system.

Rep. Dingell, 82, is hardly a free-market zealot. Nonetheless, he represents greater Detroit and is seen as a champion of the auto business. Skeptical of massive steps to cripple the economy in pursuit of the chimera of "global warming," he has slowed or blocked action on stricter vehicle emissions standards, fuel-economy improvements and other initiatives to accelerate the "green" destruction of the domestic auto industry.

Rep. Waxman, on the other hand, represents not constituents who manufacture a product made of steel, but rather a town that manufactures dreams.

And it shows.

"Whether you agree with him or not, Chairman Dingell has long been respected as an insightful, reasonable and pragmatic legislator," said Thomas Pyle, president of the Institute for Energy Research, a pro-business research group. "These are not qualities for which Mr. Waxman is known."

Mr. Pyle said that Rep. Waxman probably would bring "sweeping changes" to the committee's focus, "which isn't good news if you're in the business of American energy or other kinds of free-market commerce."

By contrast, environmentalists hailed Rep. Waxman's promotion.

"It's a whole new day for the environment," cheers Dan Becker, director of the Safe Climate Campaign, an environmental advocacy group. "The committee through which all major environmental legislation has to pass has gone from someone hostile to environmental protection to a real champion."

Rep. Waxman's selection "will put him at the center of efforts to advance President-elect Barack Obama's proposals to curb global warming, develop alternative fuels and expand health insurance coverage," his hometown Los Angeles Times enthused on Friday.

Rep. Waxman will not maintain a low profile -- he never has. Even when his bailiwick was limited to the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, he did not hesitate to bask in the camera lights as he hauled everyone from hedge-fund managers to steroid-using baseball players to former spy Valerie Plame through his committee room to testify at high-profile hearings.

"Waxman's election suggests that Congress will tackle climate-change legislation next year," the L.A. Times noted. "Waxman, Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., chairwoman of the Senate committee on the environment, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., have called for tough new limits on emissions from power plants, factories and other pollution sources."

By "pollution," of course, the Times refers primarily to the non-toxic gas carbon dioxide -- the stuff Rep. Waxman and his constituents produce when they exhale.

Because the new state religion of Environmentalism says we must stop burning coal, oil, and natural gas -- never mind the effect on our economy -- lest we all end up frying like bacon on a griddle.

Think those edicts in which our regal rulers wave their magic wands and declare what percentage of our power "must" be generated by windmills and solar panels were already a bit presumptuous?

Think your energy bills were already a tad high?

Hold on, folks. You voted for "change." And you ain't seen nothin' yet.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Romney: Let Detroit Go Bankrupt

NYTimes.com

Mitt Romney


IF General Motors, Ford and Chrysler get the bailout that their chief executives asked for yesterday, you can kiss the American automotive industry goodbye. It won’t go overnight, but its demise will be virtually guaranteed.

Without that bailout, Detroit will need to drastically restructure itself. With it, the automakers will stay the course — the suicidal course of declining market shares, insurmountable labor and retiree burdens, technology atrophy, product inferiority and never-ending job losses. Detroit needs a turnaround, not a check.

I love cars, American cars. I was born in Detroit, the son of an auto chief executive. In 1954, my dad, George Romney, was tapped to run American Motors when its president suddenly died. The company itself was on life support — banks were threatening to deal it a death blow. The stock collapsed. I watched Dad work to turn the company around — and years later at business school, they were still talking about it. From the lessons of that turnaround, and from my own experiences, I have several prescriptions for Detroit’s automakers.

First, their huge disadvantage in costs relative to foreign brands must be eliminated. That means new labor agreements to align pay and benefits to match those of workers at competitors like BMW, Honda, Nissan and Toyota. Furthermore, retiree benefits must be reduced so that the total burden per auto for domestic makers is not higher than that of foreign producers.

That extra burden is estimated to be more than $2,000 per car. Think what that means: Ford, for example, needs to cut $2,000 worth of features and quality out of its Taurus to compete with Toyota’s Avalon. Of course the Avalon feels like a better product — it has $2,000 more put into it. Considering this disadvantage, Detroit has done a remarkable job of designing and engineering its cars. But if this cost penalty persists, any bailout will only delay the inevitable.

Second, management as is must go. New faces should be recruited from unrelated industries — from companies widely respected for excellence in marketing, innovation, creativity and labor relations.

The new management must work with labor leaders to see that the enmity between labor and management comes to an end. This division is a holdover from the early years of the last century, when unions brought workers job security and better wages and benefits. But as Walter Reuther, the former head of the United Automobile Workers, said to my father, “Getting more and more pay for less and less work is a dead-end street.”

You don’t have to look far for industries with unions that went down that road. Companies in the 21st century cannot perpetuate the destructive labor relations of the 20th. This will mean a new direction for the U.A.W., profit sharing or stock grants to all employees and a change in Big Three management culture.

The need for collaboration will mean accepting sanity in salaries and perks. At American Motors, my dad cut his pay and that of his executive team, he bought stock in the company, and he went out to factories to talk to workers directly. Get rid of the planes, the executive dining rooms — all the symbols that breed resentment among the hundreds of thousands who will also be sacrificing to keep the companies afloat.

Investments must be made for the future. No more focus on quarterly earnings or the kind of short-term stock appreciation that means quick riches for executives with options. Manage with an eye on cash flow, balance sheets and long-term appreciation. Invest in truly competitive products and innovative technologies — especially fuel-saving designs — that may not arrive for years. Starving research and development is like eating the seed corn.

Just as important to the future of American carmakers is the sales force. When sales are down, you don’t want to lose the only people who can get them to grow. So don’t fire the best dealers, and don’t crush them with new financial or performance demands they can’t meet.

It is not wrong to ask for government help, but the automakers should come up with a win-win proposition. I believe the federal government should invest substantially more in basic research — on new energy sources, fuel-economy technology, materials science and the like — that will ultimately benefit the automotive industry, along with many others. I believe Washington should raise energy research spending to $20 billion a year, from the $4 billion that is spent today. The research could be done at universities, at research labs and even through public-private collaboration. The federal government should also rectify the imbedded tax penalties that favor foreign carmakers.

But don’t ask Washington to give shareholders and bondholders a free pass — they bet on management and they lost.

The American auto industry is vital to our national interest as an employer and as a hub for manufacturing. A managed bankruptcy may be the only path to the fundamental restructuring the industry needs. It would permit the companies to shed excess labor, pension and real estate costs. The federal government should provide guarantees for post-bankruptcy financing and assure car buyers that their warranties are not at risk.

In a managed bankruptcy, the federal government would propel newly competitive and viable automakers, rather than seal their fate with a bailout check.

Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, was a candidate for this year’s Republican presidential nomination.

Monday, November 17, 2008

No mandate.

Where's Obama's 'mandate'?

Ralph R. Reiland

Now that the facts are in, it's clear that the pro-Obama mainstream media continued to get it wrong right through election night.

Watching CNN's Wolf Blitzer add up the numbers on that night, you'd get the idea that a massive turnout of dramatically energized and newly liberal voters had produced an Obama landslide.

In fact, despite the pictures of four-hour lines at the polls, American University's Center for the Study of the American Electorate reports that voter turnout in this year's election was the same in percentage terms as it was four years ago --- or at most had risen by less than 1 percent.

"Between 60.7 percent and 61.7 percent of the 208.3 million eligible voters cast ballots this year, compared with 60.6 percent of those eligible in 2004," reports Curtis Gans, the director of the university's center.

In both years, in short, some 40 percent of those eligible to vote didn't show up at the polls, with Republicans, in particular, taking a none-of-the-above stance this year and staying home.

"A downturn in the number and percentage of Republican voters going to the polls seemed to be the primary explanation for the lower than predicted turnout," states the American University report. "Compared to 2004, Republican turnout declined by 1.3 percentage points to 28.7 percent."

Jennifer Marsico, a writer/researcher with the AEI-Brookings Election Reform Project, explains the impact of those Republican nonvoters: "Mr. Obama got about 40,000 fewer votes in Ohio than John Kerry got four years ago. Obama carried the state where Kerry did not because Republicans stayed home."

And the reported Obama "landslide," as compared with George W. Bush allegedly just squeaking into the White House? Obama received 52 percent of the popular vote, 1 point more than Bush's 51 percent re-election win over John Kerry in 2004.

Similarly, there appears to be virtually no change among the nation's voters this year in their center-right ideological self-identification, according to exit polls conducted by the Edison/Mitofsky National Election Pool. This year, 34 percent called themselves conservative, unchanged from the 2004 election; 22 percent were liberal, up 1 point from 2004's 21 percent; and 44 percent called themselves moderate, down 1 point from 45 percent in 2004.

With party preference by race, there was also no major change this year. In 2000, according to CNN's exit polling, Al Gore got 41 percent of the white vote. In 2004, likewise, John Kerry got 41 percent of the white vote. This year, Barack Obama received an estimated 44 percent of the white vote.

The last Democrat candidate for president to win a majority of the white vote was Lyndon Johnson in 1964, following the Kennedy assassination.

Conversely, the black vote goes overwhelmingly and more lopsidedly to Democrat presidential candidates, with Gore, Kerry and Obama, respectively, getting 95 percent, 93 percent and 95 percent of the black vote, according to CBS News.

And so, what's the change? Not much. What's the mandate? Nothing.

With no ideological realignment, there's no call from the public for turning America into a European welfare state or beating our swords into plowshares; no go-ahead for Obama to push America's coal plants into bankruptcy or to put a lid on the expansion of nuclear power and oil drilling by way of excessive regulatory hurdles; no public demand for federal agents to pick up the guns or shut down talk radio; no call for the expansion of government or the redistribution of wealth; no public call to put federal bureaucrats in charge of the health-care decisions of patients and physicians; and no call for the nation to buckle under to the union bosses and enact a card-check bill that would effectively deprive workers of private-ballot votes in unionization drives.

On the card-check legislation, a proposed payback to organized labor for their more than $100 million in spending in support of Obama and Democrat congressional candidates, Obama should ask himself why the level of unionization in the nation's private sector has collapsed to 7 percent and how General Motors -- even after its upcoming multibillion-dollar bailout -- can be expected to compete against Toyota when their labor costs, respectively, are $73 per hour and $48 per hour.

What the public wants from Washington is better management, not jerks to the Left and continued payoffs to political contributors.

Media in the Tank, continued.

A Giddy Sense of Boosterism

Howard Kurtz
Washington Post

Perhaps it was the announcement that NBC News is coming out with a DVD titled "Yes We Can: The Barack Obama Story." Or that ABC and USA Today are rushing out a book on the election. Or that HBO has snapped up a documentary on Obama's campaign.

Perhaps it was the Newsweek commemorative issue -- "Obama's American Dream" -- filled with so many iconic images and such stirring prose that it could have been campaign literature. Or the Time cover depicting Obama as FDR, complete with jaunty cigarette holder.

Are the media capable of merchandizing the moment, packaging a president-elect for profit? Yes, they are.

What's troubling here goes beyond the clanging of cash registers. Media outlets have always tried to make a few bucks off the next big thing. The endless campaign is over, and there's nothing wrong with the country pulling together, however briefly, behind its new leader. But we seem to have crossed a cultural line into mythmaking.

"The Obamas' New Life!" blares People's cover, with a shot of the family. "New home, new friends, new puppy!" Us Weekly goes with a Barack quote: "I Think I'm a Pretty Cool Dad." The Chicago Tribune trumpets that Michelle "is poised to be the new Oprah and the next Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis -- combined!" for the fashion world.

Whew! Are journalists fostering the notion that Obama is invincible, the leader of what the New York Times dubbed "Generation O"?

Each writer, each publication, seems to reach for more eye-popping superlatives. "OBAMAISM -- It's a Kind of Religion," says New York magazine. "Those of us too young to have known JFK's Camelot are going to have our own giddy Camelot II to enrapture and entertain us," Kurt Andersen writes. The New York Post has already christened it "BAM-A-LOT."

"Here we are," writes Salon's Rebecca Traister, "oohing and aahing over what they'll be wearing, and what they'll be eating, what kind of dog they'll be getting, what bedrooms they'll be living in, and what schools they'll be attending. It feels better than good to sniff and snurfle through the Obamas' tastes and habits. . . . Who knew we had in us the capacity to fall for this kind of idealized Americana again?"

But aren't media people supposed to resist this kind of hyperventilating?

"Obama is a figure, especially in pop culture, in a way that most new presidents are not," historian Michael Beschloss says. "Young people who may not be interested in the details of NAFTA or foreign policy just think Obama is cool, and they're interested in him. Being cool can really help a new president."

So can a sense of optimism, reflected on USA Today's front page. "Poll: Hopes soaring for Obama, administration," the headline said, with 65 percent saying "the USA will be better off 4 years from now."

But what happens when adulation gives way to the messy, incremental process of governing? When Obama has to confront a deep-rooted financial crisis, two wars and a political system whose default setting is gridlock? When he makes decisions that inevitably disappoint some of his boosters?

"We're celebrating a moment as much as a man, I think," says Newsweek Editor Jon Meacham, whose new issue, out today, compares Obama to Lincoln. "Given our racial history, an hour or two of commemoration seems appropriate. But there is no doubt that the glow of the moment will fade, and I am sure the coverage will reflect that in due course."

One of the few magazines to strike a skeptical tone is the London-based Economist, which endorsed Obama. "With such a victory come unreasonably great expectations," its lead editorial says.

Web worship of Obama is nearly limitless. On YouTube alone, the Obama Girl song, "I've Got a Crush on Obama," has been viewed 11.7 million times. Even an unadorned video of the candidate's election night speech in Chicago has drawn 3.5 million views.

I am not trying to diminish the sheer improbability of what this African American politician, a virtual unknown four years ago, has accomplished. Every one of us views his victory through a personal lens. I thought of growing up in a "Leave It to Beaver" era, when there were no blacks in leading television roles until Bill Cosby was tapped as the co-star of "I Spy" in 1965. When the Watts riots broke out that year, the Los Angeles Times sent an advertising salesman to cover it because the paper had no black reporters. The country has traveled light-years since then.

It is hard to find a precedent in American history. Ronald Reagan was a marquee star because of his Hollywood career, but mainly among older voters, since he made his last movie 16 years before winning the White House in 1980. Jack Kennedy was a more formal figure after winning the 1960 election -- "trying to look older than he was, because he thought youth was a handicap in running for president," Beschloss says -- but quickly took on larger-than-life dimensions.

"The Kennedy buildup goes on," James MacGregor Burns wrote in the New Republic in the spring of 1961. "The adjectives tumble over one another. He is not only the handsomest, the best-dressed, the most articulate, and graceful as a gazelle. He is omniscient; he swallows and digests whole books in minutes; he confounds experts with his superior knowledge of their field. He is omnipotent."

Soon afterward, Kennedy blundered into the Bay of Pigs debacle.

The media would be remiss if they didn't reflect the sense of unadulterated joy that greeted Obama's election, both here and around the world, and the pride even among those who opposed him. Newspapers were stunned and delighted at the voracious demand for post-election editions, prompting The Washington Post and other papers to print hundreds of thousands of extra copies and pocket the change. (When else have we felt so loved lately?) Demand for inaugural tickets has been unprecedented. Barack is suddenly a hot baby name. Record companies are releasing hip-hop songs, by the likes of Jay-Z and Will.I.Am, with such titles as "Pop Champagne for Barack." Consumers, the Los Angeles Times reports, are buying up "Obama-themed T-shirts, buttons, bobblehead dolls, coffee mugs, wine bottles, magnets, greeting cards, neon signs, mobile phones and framed art prints."

A barrage of Obama-related books are in the works. Newsweek's quadrennial election volume is titled "A Long Time Coming: The Historic, Combative, Expensive and Inspiring 2008 Election and the Victory of Barack Obama." Publishers obviously see a bull market.

MSNBC, which was accused of cheerleading for the Democratic nominee during the campaign, is running promos that say: "Barack Obama, America's 44th president. Watch as a leader renews America's promise." What are viewers to make of that?

There is always a level of excitement when a new president is coming to town -- new aides to profile, new policies to dissect, new family members to follow. But can anyone imagine this kind of media frenzy if John McCain had managed to win?

Obama's days of walking on water won't last indefinitely. His chroniclers will need a new story line. And sometime after Jan. 20, they will wade back into reality.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Votes Magically Appear for Liberal Ex-Comedian

OpenMarket.org

Hans Bader

In Minnesota, votes are appearing, seemingly out of thin air, for the liberal Senate candidate (and onetime comedian) Al Franken. Attorney Scott Johnson says that "the election appears to be in the process of being stolen."

Incumbent Senator Norm Coleman led in election-day results, but his lead keeps shrinking and shrinking, and is now down to an infinitesmal 200 votes out of more than 2 million votes cast.

For example, a bunch of new votes suddenly appeared in Minnesota's Mountain Iron precinct. But as Attorney John Hinderaker notes, "Mountain Iron uses optical scanning, so the Coleman campaign asked for a copy of the tape documenting the ballots cast on election night. St. Louis County responded by providing a tape that includes the newly-added 100 votes, and is dated November 2–the Sunday before the election. St. Louis County reportedly denies being able to produce the genuine tape from election night, even though Minnesota law, as I understand it, requires that tape to be signed by the election judges and publicly displayed."

(As John Lott notes, it's doubtful that the new votes are valid, but previously overlooked, ballots. If they were, one would expect the vote totals for other candidates, not just Franken, to rise as well. But even as new votes for Franken suddenly appear, other vote totals remain almost the same. Franken is getting nearly 3 times as many "newly-discovered" votes as Obama, for example.)

Minnesota's Secretary of State, who oversees the election process, was backed by the left-wing groups MoveOn.Org and ACORN. (ACORN has a long history of voter fraud and financial fraud).

Where the Mines Are

Michael Gerson

New presidents make mistakes.

For Bill Clinton, the errors were almost immediate. By day three of his presidency, Clinton was embroiled in a losing fight to allow open homosexuality in the military. On day six, Clinton appointed his wife to formulate an ill-fated health care reform plan. Clinton's first two nominees to be attorney general were withdrawn under clouds of controversy. Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders -- that vigorous champion of the solitary pleasures -- made constant and unwelcome news. Two years after taking office, Clinton suffered a serious rebuke in midterm elections -- and became a better, more moderate president in the aftermath.

So far, President-elect Barack Obama seems to be preparing for office with characteristic care and seriousness. Future Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel is partisan and profane -- but I'm told by Republicans I trust that he's also forthright, honest, practical and flexible enough to compromise for the sake of a deal. Names currently being floated for the Cabinet mainly consist of mainstream, skilled professionals -- with the large exception of John Kerry, mentioned for secretary of state, who should not be allowed to add the pomp of that office to his own pompousness.

But Obama will also need to be aware of certain issues -- certain tripwires -- that could trigger explosive controversy, turning suspicion into anger and undermining his broader legislative objectives.

The first tripwire concerns abortion and bioethics. With recent, ethically sound progress on deriving useful stem cells from adult sources, an executive order allowing federal support for stem cell research with "spare" embryos is unnecessary. Such an order would also be popular and unlikely to cause much backlash. But it would be a mistake for Obama to push further, using government to promote the destruction and manipulation of developing life.

There are at least 16 provisions routinely passed by Congress that limit governmental involvement in abortion and other life issues -- measures that prevent the domestic funding of abortion, forbid the use of international family planning funds for abortion, protect the rights of medical professionals to refuse involvement in the procedure and prohibit the patenting of human life. Removing this firewall between government and abortion would seem -- and be -- a massive assault on the pro-life movement. Even many Americans who consider themselves pro-choice see the use of their tax dollars to promote abortion as radical. By abandoning government neutrality on abortion, Obama would permanently embitter most with pro-life views.

The second tripwire concerns the Fairness Doctrine -- a federal regulation (overturned by the Reagan administration in 1987) requiring broadcast outlets to give equal time to opposing political viewpoints. Under this doctrine, three hours of Rush Limbaugh on a radio station would have to be balanced by three hours of his liberal equivalent. This may sound fair and balanced. But it is a classic case where the "unintended consequences" are so obvious that those consequences must be intended. It would destroy the profitability of conservative talk radio and lead other outlets to avoid political issues entirely -- actually reducing the public discussion of controversial issues. This kind of heavy-handed approach is the remnant of a time when public sources of information -- mainly the three networks and large radio stations -- were so limited that government felt compelled to guarantee balance. Given today's proliferation of media outlets, such regulation of speech is both unnecessary and Orwellian.

During the campaign, Obama signaled he did not support the reimposition of the Fairness Doctrine. But Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic leaders are big fans of this regulation. And talk radio is already preparing for a showdown. If Obama were to endorse this doctrine, even reluctantly, the resulting fireworks would obscure every other topic.

Tripwire No. 3 is the "card check" issue. Under current law, workers must have an election with a secret ballot to organize a union. Under a new approach endorsed by Obama, a secret ballot would no longer be required. A union could be created by simply collecting cards signed by workers. But we have the secret ballot for a reason: Public voting is a recipe for intimidation. If unions cannot compete in real elections, it is the fault of unions, not the fault of elections. And this change would be taken by many in the business community as a signal of Obama's deep hostility to their interests -- at a time when business cooperation will be essential on energy and health reform.

Every new president makes mistakes. But some are avoidable.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Breakdown


Remember when Democrats lamented the growing budget deficit and spoke of the burden our children and grandchildren would face if we didn't put our fiscal house in order? That was when Republicans ran the federal government and Democrats opposed tax cuts. Now that Democrats are about to be in charge, concern about the deficit has disappeared and spending plans proliferate, even though the national debt passed $10 trillion in September and we added another $500 billion last month.

The latest, but by no means the last supplicant at the public trough, is the auto industry, which wants a bailout to save jobs because its cars are not selling. There is a reason for that and it can be summed up in five words: The United Auto Workers Union (UAW).

Half of the $50 billion the auto industry wants is for health care for its current and retired employees. This is the result of increasing UAW demands, strikes and threats of strikes unless health care and pension benefits were regularly increased. While in the past UAW settled for some benefit decreases while bargaining with the Big Three U.S. automakers, according to the Wall Street Journal in September of 2006, "on average, GM pays $81.18 an hour in wages and benefits to its U.S. hourly workers." Those increased costs, including the cost of health care, were passed along to consumers, adding $1,600 to the price of every vehicle GM produced. In February 2008, after General Motors offered buyouts to 74,000 employees, the Center for Automotive Research estimated the average wage, including benefits, for current GM workers had dropped to $78.21 an hour. New hires pulled down a paltry $26.65. GM, now facing a head-on collision with reality, has taken an important first step toward fiscal responsibility by announcing the elimination of lifetime health care benefits for about 100,000 of its white-collar retirees at the end of this year.

Contrast this with non-union Toyota, whose total hourly U.S. labor costs, with benefits, are $35 per hour. Those lower labor costs mean Toyota enjoys a cost advantage over U.S. automakers of about $1,000 per vehicle. Is it any wonder that Toyota is outselling American automakers and from plants that have been built on U.S. soil? According to James Sherk of The Heritage Foundation, Japanese car companies provide their employees with good jobs at good wages: "The typical hourly employee at a Toyota, Honda or Nissan plant in America makes almost $100,000 a year in wages and benefits, before overtime."

While many in the Democratic Party have focused on "corporate greed" and "fairness," according to Sherk, "competition, not corporate greed, is the real problem facing labor unions. When unions negotiate raises for their members, companies pass those higher costs on to consumers." Americans used to tolerate those increases, but no more. Competition has brought lower prices for Japanese cars and Americans are buying more of them, taking a pass on those manufactured in Detroit.

The argument made by those favoring a bailout of Detroit is that it will save more than 100,000 jobs in the auto and related industries. But what good does that do if people are not buying cars in sufficient numbers to allow the Big Three to make a profit? This becomes the kind of corporate welfare Democrats decry when it comes to Wall Street. But, then, Wall Street isn't unionized and Democrats want and need the union vote.

What about Chrysler's bailout 30 years ago? It was a loan. Didn't Chrysler pay back the government? Wasn't it worth the risk to save jobs? According to the Heritage Foundation, the $1.2 billion in loan guarantees made by the Carter administration still resulted in a partial bankruptcy for Chrysler. "Most of the company's creditors were forced to accept losses just as they would if Chrysler had gone through Chapter 11, and the company ended up firing almost half its workforce, including 20,000 white-collar workers and 42,600 hourly wage earners. The only people who benefited from the bailout were Chrysler shareholders."

The Heritage Foundation also notes, "If Washington really wants to help Detroit, they could end the regulatory nightmare that prevents profitable, fuel-efficient cars from reaching market." Ford, they say, has begun selling a car that gets 65 mpg, but they're not selling it in America. Why? Because it runs on diesel fuel "and environmentalists in the U.S. have fought to keep diesel taxes high and refinery capacity low."

More government intervention in private industry will bring us closer to socialism. Better to renegotiate the labor contracts, re-train workers for other jobs, or help them get hired at the Japanese auto plants in America than to subsidize a failed economic model for the sake of political gain.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Saunders - Palin Smears Hurt McCain

RealClearPolitics

Debra Saunders

Whatever the intention of the anonymous leaker (or leakers) from the McCain campaign who spread nasty rumors about Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, in the end they did not so much trash the image of Caribou Barbie, as they ended up tarnishing the public's perception of their G.I. Joe, Arizona Sen. John McCain.

It tells you everything that the Palin smear stories come from anonymous staffers. There is no documentation. There is no way to prove the rumors false. Think graffiti in a junior high school girls' room.

It started before Sen. Barack Obama won the election, when an unnamed McCampaign staffer called Palin a diva. Cable news then reported that a McCampaign aide called Palin a diva -- with "diva" in quotes. A "top McCain adviser" told Politico.com that Palin is a "whack job" -- more quote marks, from an unknown maligner.

Newsweek reported that when campaign strategists Steve Schmidt and Mark Salter went to Palin's hotel room, she greeted them clad in a towel. Schmidt later told the Washington Times that the episode is "categorically ... not true" -- but the graphic impression lives on.

You may have read that Palin did not know which countries are part of the North American Free Trade Agreement -- hint: There are three such countries and they're all in North America. I've seen Palin stumble during this race, but I do not believe that the Alaska governor was not acutely aware of a treaty that regulated trade with her next-door neighbor, Canada.

Don't take my word for it. CNN's Campbell Brown announced Friday that some unnamed McCain staffers "have been launching grenades at Palin and her supporters. Some of their allegations, we at CNN have found to be patently false."

They may be patently false, but there is no way that Palin can prove they are false. Hence there is no way she can outfox the disinformation campaign.

On cable news and talk radio, specific names are presumed to be the sources of the leaks. The subjects deny they are the leakers, but that doesn't matter. Once their names are in currency, they are presumed to be the sources, just as Palin is presumed to be the ditz.

I've talked to some McCampaign biggies and all denied being the source of this sleaze. All refused to talk on the record, lest they extend this sorry story.

OK. What is McCain's excuse? Perhaps when he appears on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" tonight, McCain will make a statement that puts the kibosh on this unnamed-sources pile-on. And it had better be good.

Because from where I sit, the view is of a campaign run by people who are so protective of their own precious backsides that they will sling all matter of mud -- including charges that are, as Brown put it, "patently false."

The longer McCain waits to refute the rabid rumors spread by those who want to blame Palin for the ticket's loss, the more his judgment appears suspect. After all, McCain picked Palin. If Palin was cartoonishly uninformed, if she was Gidget on the hustings, McCain does not look better. He looks worse.

Also, McCain looks worse for failing to control his own people.

The political press corps doesn't win any awards in this episode, either. Remember when the pack would not jump on National Enquirer stories about John Edwards' relations with Rielle Hunter and child -- because the story had not been nailed down? It seems that there is a different standard for Palin -- to wit, anything goes.

Unions' Creepy Push Against Secret Ballot

RealClearPolitics

Froma Harrop

The first campaign promise Barack Obama should break is to push through the Employee Free Choice Act. That harmless sounding piece of legislation would let union organizers do an end run around secret-ballot elections: Companies would have to recognize a union if most workers signed cards in support of it.

We're not children here. We know how those majorities can be reached. There's repeated harassment, bullying and more inventive tactics, such as getting workers drunk, then sliding sign-up cards under their noses. Meanwhile, any strong-armed tactics by employers can be dealt with.

Unclear is why unions even want to go there. Their decline is one reason for the falling fortunes of American workers, particularly those without college educations. Unions have an interesting product to sell. Surely, they can persuade workers to support them in the privacy of a voting booth. That's how Obama and the enhanced Democratic majority in Congress got where they are.

Former Democratic presidential nominee George McGovern, a pro-labor liberal, has come out against the so-called card-check provision. He calls it "disturbing and undemocratic."

This may sound obvious, but friends of labor should want what's good for laborers. Some of the best companies to work for -- Whole Foods, for example -- are not unionized. Such employers offer superior pay and benefits precisely to keep their workers happy and not eager to organize. They worry that unions would reduce their flexibility in managing labor.

What's wrong with letting companies that do not want to be unionized compete for the workers' affections? If the employees don't get an acceptable deal, then they will join a union. The notion that they wouldn't vote their interests in a secret ballot makes zero sense.

Your writer has belonged to several unions -- the Teamsters and two Newspaper Guild chapters. To her, the unions have giveth, and they have taketh. Thanks to them, her pay was often better than it would have been otherwise. But at times, the union work rules hindered career advancement. And let's face it: A good part of union dues goes to the administrators' own compensation and junkets.

Some of my union officials had watched too many B-movies. That would explain the occasionally dismissive or threatening lines with which they addressed the rank and file. A threat was once directed at me on the first day of the job. Actually, it was more of a pre-emptive warning, lest I "ever, ever" go over the shop steward's head -- something that had never, never occurred to me. (You can guess which union that was.)

The point is that while unions are often good for employees, they're not always. We shouldn't start with the assumption that a unionized workplace is better than a non-unionized one. The secret ballot lets workers make that judgment without an organizer (or company official) breathing down their necks.

The argument for private voting is evident, which may be why supporters of the Employee Free Choice Act spend so much time vilifying its opponents -- the Chamber of Commerce, Wal-Mart, even McGovern -- rather than explaining its merits.

With Democrats ascendant in Washington, labor leaders will have ample opportunity to fight the Chamber. And I hope they unionize the daylights out of Wal-Mart the fair, old-fashioned way. But they should leave the brave McGovern alone.

Whatever a new President Obama and his supercharged Democratic majorities owe labor can be paid in other ways. The ridiculously named Employee Free Choice Act really is disturbing and undemocratic -- and can be easily caricatured as such by the Republican opposition. It is also bad PR for unions. If they have so much to offer, why are they afraid of a secret ballot?

Monday, November 10, 2008

Obama ready to "rule" as President



Newsbusters.org

The co-chair of Barack Obama's Transition Team, Valerie Jarrett, appeared on Meet the Press this weekend and used, shall we say, an interesting word to described what she thinks Barack Obama will be doing in January when he's officially sworn into office. She told Tom Brokaw that Obama will be ready to "rule" on day one. It's a word that reflects the worst fears that people have for Obama the "arrogant," the "messiah," that imagines he's here to "rule" instead of govern.

Jarret told Brokaw that "given the daunting challenges that we face, it's important that president elect Obama is prepared to really take power and begin to rule day one."

Someone needs to get to Jarrett and inform her that American politicians are not Kings and do not "rule" from office. But if this is the attitude of Obama's transition team, what does The One himself imagine he is about to unleash? Could the fears that Obama thinks he is being anointed America's King be far off with this sort of talk flying about?

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Obama's Real Opposition

WSJ.com

Presidents come and go; Congressional barons are forever.

Now that Barack Obama has vanquished John McCain, he faces a much greater foe: Democrats on Capitol Hill. They've humbled the last two Democratic Presidents -- and with their enhanced majorities next year, they'll be out to do it again.

[Review & Outlook] AP

Mr. Obama may appreciate the threat, because yesterday he offered Clinton White House veteran Rahm Emanuel a job as his chief of staff. But even that savvy, relatively sane liberal will have difficulties grappling with the fearsome committee chairmen and liberal interest groups that did so much to sabotage Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter. Meet the President-elect's real opposition:

David Obey. The Appropriations Chairman wants to slash defense spending as a money grab for more social programs and entitlements. Fellow spender Barney Frank recently added that a military budget cut of 25% was about right. A military crash diet wouldn't leave the funds for the surge in Afghanistan that Mr. Obama advocates, and it's a sure way to hand the national security issue back to the GOP.

Chuck Schumer. The Senate Democrat and his friends are already threatening banks if they don't lend more money instantly under the Troubled Asset Relief Program. Other political masters want to use Tarp to nationalize large swaths of U.S. industry such as the Detroit auto makers or to bail out states like New York that are in debt. If Mr. Obama doesn't want to have to pass a Tarp II, he'll have to say no.

George Miller. Some Democrats are starting to target the tax subsidies for 401(k)s and other private retirement options. Mr. Miller, who heads the House Education and Labor Committee, calls them "a big failure" and recently held a hearing to ponder alternatives, including nationalizing pensions and replacing them with special bonds administered by Social Security. The proposal has also caught the eye of Jim McDermott, who chairs the relevant Ways and Means subcommittee. Mr. Obama won big with his promise of tax cuts for the middle class, which doesn't square with attacks on middle-class nest eggs.

John Conyers. The man running House Judiciary is cheerleading the Europeans who want to indict Bush officials for war crimes. Other Democrats are thinking about hearings and other show trials. This is far from the postpartisan reconciliation that Mr. Obama preaches.

Henry Waxman. With President Bush soon to be out of office, the Californian's team of Inspector Clouseaus at House Oversight won't have any "scandals" left to pursue. The word in Washington is that Mr. Waxman is looking to unseat John Dingell as Chairman of Energy and Commerce, in order to shove aside a global warming moderate. That could pave the way for huge new energy taxes. Voters will punish Mr. Obama if they get hammered every time they fill up the gas tank or buy groceries.

Pete Stark. The Chairman of a crucial House subcommittee dealing with health care doesn't think Mr. Obama's proposal to significantly federalize the insurance market goes far enough. He wants a single-payer system like Canada's. Mr. Obama may want to strike a deal with Senate Republicans on health care, but Mr. Stark will be pulling him left at every turn.

All of these feudal lords -- and many others -- also come with their own private armies: the interest groups that compose the money and manpower of today's Democratic Party. The American Civil Liberties Union, Human Rights Watch and others on the anti-antiterror left want Mr. Obama to limit the surveillance and other tools that have prevented another terrorist attack on U.S. soil. The Natural Resources Defense Council and Environmental Defense will insist on onerous caps -- that is, taxes -- on coal and other carbon energy. Those won't help Mr. Obama carry Ohio and Indiana again in four years.

The trial bar wants an end to arbitration in disputes in return on its Senate investment, while the National Education Association will try to gut No Child Left Behind accountability standards. And organized labor will insist on a major push to pass "card check," which would end secret-ballot elections for unions. If Mr. Obama wants to mobilize the business community against him while squeezing moderate Democrats, he'll go along with that right from the start.

While many voters may think they've voted for "change" in Mr. Obama, they also handed power to the oldest forces in the Old Democratic Party. Jimmy Carter campaigned as a moderate and outsider, but Congressional liberals quickly ran his budget director, the economic centrist Bert Lance, out of town. Then they overrode Mr. Carter's veto of a pork-barrel water bill. Mr. Carter referred to the tax committees as "ravenous wolves" after they transformed his tax reform into a special-interest bouquet. Next came Reagan.

Bill Clinton also campaigned as a moderate, but in his first two years he was unable to govern as Congress pursued liberal priorities, including a big boost in taxes and spending. Recall Roberta Achtenberg as the scourge of the Boy Scouts and Joycelyn Elders calling for the legalization of drugs? Mr. Clinton chose -- or was forced -- to take up gun control and HillaryCare before welfare reform. Next came Newt Gingrich.

Maybe Mr. Obama has absorbed these lessons, but even if he has he'll have to be tough. The Great Society liberals who dominate Congress are old men in a hurry, and they'll run over the 47-year-old neophyte if he lets them.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The Treatment of Bush Has Been a Disgrace - WSJ.com

WSJ.com

What must our enemies be thinking?

Jeffery Scott Shapiro

Earlier this year, 12,000 people in San Francisco signed a petition in support of a proposition on a local ballot to rename an Oceanside sewage plant after George W. Bush. The proposition is only one example of the classless disrespect many Americans have shown the president.

According to recent Gallup polls, the president's average approval rating is below 30% -- down from his 90% approval in the wake of 9/11. Mr. Bush has endured relentless attacks from the left while facing abandonment from the right.

This is the price Mr. Bush is paying for trying to work with both Democrats and Republicans. During his 2004 victory speech, the president reached out to voters who supported his opponent, John Kerry, and said, "Today, I want to speak to every person who voted for my opponent. To make this nation stronger and better, I will need your support, and I will work to earn it. I will do all I can do to deserve your trust."

Those bipartisan efforts have been met with crushing resistance from both political parties.

The president's original Supreme Court choice of Harriet Miers alarmed Republicans, while his final nomination of Samuel Alito angered Democrats. His solutions to reform the immigration system alienated traditional conservatives, while his refusal to retreat in Iraq has enraged liberals who have unrealistic expectations about the challenges we face there.

It seems that no matter what Mr. Bush does, he is blamed for everything. He remains despised by the left while continuously disappointing the right.

Yet it should seem obvious that many of our country's current problems either existed long before Mr. Bush ever came to office, or are beyond his control. Perhaps if Americans stopped being so divisive, and congressional leaders came together to work with the president on some of these problems, he would actually have had a fighting chance of solving them.

Like the president said in his 2004 victory speech, "We have one country, one Constitution and one future that binds us. And when we come together and work together, there is no limit to the greatness of America."

To be sure, Mr. Bush is not completely alone. His low approval ratings put him in the good company of former Democratic President Harry S. Truman, whose own approval rating sank to 22% shortly before he left office. Despite Mr. Truman's low numbers, a 2005 Wall Street Journal poll found that he was ranked the seventh most popular president in history.

Just as Americans have gained perspective on how challenging Truman's presidency was in the wake of World War II, our country will recognize the hardship President Bush faced these past eight years -- and how extraordinary it was that he accomplished what he did in the wake of the September 11 attacks.

The treatment President Bush has received from this country is nothing less than a disgrace. The attacks launched against him have been cruel and slanderous, proving to the world what little character and resolve we have. The president is not to blame for all these problems. He never lost faith in America or her people, and has tried his hardest to continue leading our nation during a very difficult time.

Our failure to stand by the one person who continued to stand by us has not gone unnoticed by our enemies. It has shown to the world how disloyal we can be when our president needed loyalty -- a shameful display of arrogance and weakness that will haunt this nation long after Mr. Bush has left the White House.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

An Election Day Note: Thanks, President Bush

Andrew Breitbart

I have a dark secret to tell before the election so that it's on the record. It's something that is difficult to say to certain friends, peers, family and, lately, many fellow conservatives.

I still like George W. Bush. A lot.

For starters, I am convinced he is a fundamentally decent man, even though I have read otherwise at the Huffington Post.

President Bush is far smarter, more articulate and less ideological than his plentiful detractors scream, and, ultimately, he will be judged by history - not by vengeful Democrats, hate-filled Hollywood, corrupt foreign governments, an imploding mainstream media or fleeting approval ratings.

George W. Bush is history's president, a man for whom the long-term success or failure of democracy in Iraq will determine his place in history. He may end up a victim of his own tough choices, but the cheerleading for his demise when Iraq's outcome is yet determined has hurt America and possibly set up the next president for the same appalling partisan response.

The fact that the United States has not been attacked since Sept. 11, 2001, far exceeds the most wishful expert predictions of the time. Perhaps facing another al Qaeda-led barrage would have reinforced our need for national unity, caused us to recognize the gravity of the Islamist threat and fortified Mr. Bush's standing at home and abroad.

Yet, thankfully, that never happened. And Mr. Bush has been punished for this obvious success.

By most accounts, al Qaeda is reeling from the damage inflicted by our efforts against the once-thriving terror network. Yet reflexive enemies of the president - including Sen. Barack Obama, the Democratic presidential nominee - shamefully mock him for not having caught Osama bin Laden.

It's a playground taunt from the same people who never seriously advocated for a strong military foray into the regions where bin Laden could have been caught. These Daily Kos armchair generals also rhetorically ask why we don't invade North Korea or Saudi Arabia. Yet no one takes this hypothetical warmongering seriously, or expects a President Obama to go on the offense in any of these conveniently preferable hot spots. It's meant to hurt, not help, the president.

While President Bush has been marshaling a multinational force to take on modernity's enemies in foreign lands, the American left has decided to go to war against not only Republicans but also moderate Democrats.

Bush hatred was a fait accompli.

Back in November 2000, when Al Gore contested Florida and the demonizing of George Bush began full-bore ("President Select," "Bush Chimp," "the illegitimate president"), I told Wall Street Journal columnist John Fund, "You watch, the Democratic Party will never grant Bush his humanity, and they will never let up."

And they never did.

The Democratic Party chose to send a clear message that the impeachment of President Clinton incurred by the newly minted Republican-led Congress and the upstart new media - talk radio and the Internet - would be countered by unprecedented partisan fury.

The media will shape "the truth" that Democrats were always behind the initial Afghanistan effort or were poised to grudgingly accept the president whom they previously mocked as "illegitimate."

But those brave liberals who stood by the president were mostly a small minority, and all of them have since been excommunicated for their apostasy.

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and actor Ron Silver were presented as cautionary tales to left-of-center politicians and public figures who would lend support to a wartime Republican president.

Sen. Joe Lieberman, the Connecticut independent who was described as the "conscience of the Senate" when he ran for vice president with Al Gore in 2000, was summarily dismissed from the Democratic Party for dissenting over one thing.

And the youth movement that is fueling Obama-mania is riddled with minds that do not have the perspective of what happened before Mr. Bush, and why the media and the Democratic Party have stood against Mr. Bush and his motivations from the word go.

Much of Mr. Bush's 28 precent approval rating is born not of "failed policies" - of which there are many - but of the ill-gotten gains pilfered from a pre-Bush inauguration strategy to send the message to Republicans that the Democrats play politics harder and better.

Mr. Obama said it best: "If they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun."

I don't think Albert Einstein could have devised an equation to guide the leader of the free world during the wildly tumultuous post-9/11 realities without a modicum of help from the opposition party and the vast majority of the print and electronic media.

Right now, America appears to be leaning toward electing a man for whom popularity is a paramount concern. That means he must trust the American media and the American electorate to guide him to difficult decisions, not the other way around.

The American people pay closer attention to "Survivor: Gabon" than to Operation Iraqi Freedom. Yet the majority will soon have a greater say in how we proceed in the war on terror. We are headed to the "American Idol" presidency. The last thing I want is my text vote on the financial crisis to have a say on how we proceed.

If Barack Obama is elected the next president of the United States on Tuesday, I hope the Republican Party and conservatives take the higher road. The republic cannot handle another four years of undeclared civil war while we have real enemies out there to fight.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Media Credibility

NYTimes.com

Douglas MacKinnon

After the presidential election is over and the dust, animosity, glee and shock settle into something manageable, the nation will need to tackle the subject of “media bias” in a sincere and honest manner.

As an “independent conservative,” I’m expected to see liberal media bias lurking everywhere, but it’s not just me — and it’s not just conservatives. I know liberals, including newspaper editors, who think the “news” pendulum had swung dangerously far to the left.

Beyond recent studies by the Pew Research Center and the Project for Excellence in Journalism, other research shows that the media has tilted to the left; indeed journalists themselves have openly admitted as much.

Under the recent headline “Why McCain Is Getting Hosed in the Press,” Politico editors John F. Harris and Jim Vandehei opined:

"OK, let’s just get this over with: Yes, in the closing weeks of this election, John McCain and Sarah Palin are getting hosed in the press, and at Politico. And, yes, based on a combined 35 years in the news business we’d take an educated guess — nothing so scientific as a Pew study — that Obama will win the votes of probably 80 percent or more of journalists covering the 2008 election. Most political journalists we know are centrists — instinctually skeptical of ideological zealotry — but with at least a mild liberal tilt to their thinking, particularly on social issues. So what?"

“So what?” Those two cavalier words alone speak to the larger problem. Who cares if “80 percent or more of journalists covering the 2008 election” will vote for Barack Obama? Journalists, their editors, management, the candidates and the American people should care.

Regarding the Obama phenomenon and the media fascination with him, a senior staffer for a rival Democrat primary opponent offered up this theory to me for part of the bias. This person reasoned that the pressure within the news business to diversify and be politically correct means more minorities, women and young people are being hired. And young and ethnically diverse reporters and editors go easier on candidates who look more like them, are closer to their age or represent their ideal of a presidential candidate.
“If the press were inclined to hammer the Democratic nominee for buying the election after blowing off public financing, the infomercial would be Exhibit A. But the press is giving him a pass on the issue.”
Over at ABCnews.com, Michael S. Malone, a columnist, posted an article last week that created a firestorm of comment and interest. In part, he wrote: “The traditional media are playing a very, very dangerous game — with their readers, with the Constitution and with their own fates. The sheer bias in the print and television coverage of this election campaign is not just bewildering, but appalling.”

Mr. Malone then uses the rest of his post to explain why he feels so. For me and others, one of the most important points he raises is when he talks about the dangerous game the traditional media is playing with “their own fate.” Indeed, I — as well as two newspaper editors I know — would argue that one reason newspapers are seeing a decline in circulation is because they ignore or marginalize right-of-center or conservative readers.

On Friday, in an article about Mr. Obama’s infomercial, Howard Kurtz, The Washington Post media critic, wrote: “If the press were inclined to hammer the Democratic nominee for buying the election after blowing off public financing, the infomercial would be Exhibit A. But the press is giving him a pass on the issue.”

Earlier that week, and on the direct topic of media bias in favor of Mr. Obama, he wrote: “If, as a former McCain strategist put it, “the cake is baked” for his man’s defeat, it’s fair to ask whether the media have provided the flour, the frosting and the candles.”

And from the West Coast, we have this timely and germane observation. The Hollywood Reporter noted that, “In a room full of television industry executives, no one seemed inclined to defend MSNBC on Monday for what some were calling its lopsidedly liberal coverage of the presidential election.” Linda Bloodworth-Thomason, a self-described liberal and close friend of the Clinton’s punctuated the belief by saying that she would prefer a lunch date with right-leaning Fox News host Sean Hannity over MSNBC host Keith Olbermann. According to the report, one aspect of the coverage that bothered Ms. Bloodworth-Thomason and others was the way MSNBC — and other media — has attacked Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin and demeaned her supporters.

Tobe Berkovitz, associate dean of Boston University’s College of Communication, said, as reported by Mr. Kurtz in his media column: “If the mainstream media are wrong about Obama and the voters pull a Truman, that is going to be the end of whatever shred of credibility they have left.”

My point is, regardless of whether the news media are right or wrong about an Obama win, shouldn’t they still be concerned about that “shred of credibility they have left?” Shouldn’t they be concerned with numerous studies and the observations of various journalists that the business has tilted too far to the left?

Douglas MacKinnon was a press secretary to former Senator Bob Dole.

Obama vs. Jobs

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Ralph R. Reiland

I interviewed two plumbing company owners over the weekend about Barack Obama's economic proposals for small business.

One has 15 employees and 12 trucks. The other has 52 employees and 34 trucks. They're Joe the Plumber, writ large.

Both owners had the same reaction to Obama's proposed new taxes and mandates. To not have their bottom lines reduced by government fiat, both said they'd be forced to lay off employees.

Specifically, here's what the owner of the larger firm said regarding six of Obama's key proposals for the small-business sector: The average wage at his company, figuring the 52 paychecks of his office staff, installers and service workers, is $31,200, $15 an hour.

First, "Barack Obama and Joe Biden will require that employers provide seven paid sick days per year," states the Obama campaign's Web site. "I give three paid sick days," explained the business owner. His extra cost for this one new regulation would be $24,960 (4 extra days, 52 employees, at an average of $120 per day). "That's one of the women in the office," he said. "I can make up that cost by letting one of the office people go."

Second, Obama states that employers will be required to pay 100 percent of the cost of health insurance premiums for 100 percent of their employees or face a tax penalty. "I pay 75 percent of their coverage," explained the owner. "The family policy is about $11,000. For single guys, it's about $5,000." At an average annual cost of $7,000 per policy, his additional cost for 52 employees to cover the 25 percent of the premiums that he currently doesn't pay is $91,000. "That's the price of three installers," he said. "Just to stay even with where I am, I'd have to fire three more people or raise some prices and fire two."

The result is more unemployment or more inflation, or both.

Third, with the estate tax, Obama is calling for a top tax rate of 45 percent on estates valued above $3.5 million, producing an estimated "death tax" of $675,000 on an estate of $5 million. "You're kidding," he said. "They took half my income on the way up and now they want another half when I die?" He estimated that his business is already valued at more than $3 million, in addition to the value of his home and investments. "Why," he asked, "would I want to grow to 100 employees? What'll stop them from changing it to 75 percent?"

The cost in jobs that will never be created in the U.S. economy because of this single disincentive to growth? Incalculable.

Fourth, Obama's economic plan calls for a hike in the minimum wage to $9.50 an hour within three years. The business owner's reaction? "That's bad for two reasons. I don't have anyone at minimum, but raise the bottom by $3 and a guy making $15 wants $18. Plus it's bad for productivity when people think their pay raises are coming from government instead of from their own individual effort."

Fifth, saying he'll "play offense for organized labor," Obama is proposing that workers should be denied the right to a private ballot at work in deciding whether to unionize. "That'll never be," said the plumbing entrepreneur. "I'm in business because I'm independent, not to take orders from a grievance chairman. I'd shut down."

Sixth, the increase in taxes on this small business owner from Obama's proposed hike in the income tax rate from 36% to 39.8% on incomes above $200,000 and the proposed increase in Social Security taxes comes to $32,000 per year. "That's another employee," he said, referring to the termination of another installer in order to just stay even.

And the jobless plumbers? They can be re-socialized to work for ACORN.

As Obama explained in July: "We cannot continue to rely on our military to achieve the national security objectives we've set. We've got to have a civilian national security force that's just as powerful, just as strong, just as well funded."

As "well funded" as our Armed Forces personnel comes to $119 billion per year in paychecks for "community activism," a lot of money for registering dead voters, caulking windows, making sure that all the guns are locked up at the municipal buildings, and monitoring the airways to make sure that conservatives don't have too many talk shows.

Bottom line, Obama's economic plan doesn't hold water. Neither will our pipes.

Deleted Scenes

IBDeditorials.com

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Steyn: Obama makes a Better Symbol than President

OCRegister.com

On Tuesday many Americans will vote for the two-dimensional Obama - the image, the idea.

Mark Steyn

In Tokyo last week, over 1,000 people signed a new petition asking the Japanese government to permit marriages between human beings and cartoon characters. "I am no longer interested in three dimensions. I would even like to become a resident of the two-dimensional world," explained Taichi Takashita. "Therefore, at the very least, would it be possible to legally authorize marriage with a two-dimensional character?"

Get back to me on that Tuesday night. We'll know by then whether an entire constitutional republic has decided to contract marriage with a two-dimensional character and to attempt to take up residence in the two-dimensional world. For many of his supporters, Barack Obama is an idea. He offers "hope, not fear." "Hope" of what? "Hope" of "change." OK, but "change" to what? Ah, well, there you go again, getting all hung up on three-dimensional reality, when we've moved way beyond that. I don't know which cartoon character Taichi Takashita is eyeing as his betrothed, but up in the sky Obamaman is flying high, fighting for Hope, Change and a kind of Post-Modern American Way.

The two-dimensional idea of President Obama is seductive: To elect a young black man of Kenyan extraction and Indonesian upbringing offers redemption both for America's original sin (slavery) and for the more recent perceived sins of President Bush – his supposed enthusiasm for sticking it to foreigners generally, and the Muslim world in particular. And no, I'm not saying he's Muslim. It's worse than that: He's a pasty-faced European – at least in his view of state power, welfare and taxation.

But, in a sense, he's not anything in particular, so much as everything in general. The media dispatched legions of reporters to hoot and jeer at Sarah Palin's Wasilla without ever wondering: Where would we go to do this to Obama? Where's his "hometown"? Bill Clinton was famously (if not entirely accurately) from "a place called Hope." Barack Obama is from an idea called hope. What's the area code? 1-800-HOPE4CHANGE. The 1-800 candidate offers the hope of electing a younger Morgan Freeman, the cool, reserved, dignified black man who, when he's not literally God walking among us (as in "Bruce Almighty"), is always the conscience of the movie.

You can understand the appeal of such an idea. Even if you're not hung up on white liberal guilt or Bush loathing, there's an urge to get it over with, to say, well, America should have a black president, and the sooner the better – i.e., the sooner we do it, the better it speaks of us. They have a point. I look at the roll call of the dead on 9/11: Arestegui, Bolourchi, Carstanjen, Droz, Elseth, Foti, Gronlund, Hannafin, Iskyan, Kuge, Laychak, Mojica, Nguyen, Ong, Pappalardo, Quigley, Retic, Shuyin, Tarrou, Vamsikrishna, Warchola, Yuguang, Zarba. Black, white, Scandinavian, Balkan, Arab, Asian – in a word, American. The presidential pantheon has a narrower ring: Clinton, Reagan, Nixon, Johnson. Obama has a tedious shtick about how his name sounds odd and he doesn't look like "all those other presidents on the dollar bills". He's not just picking out the drapes for the Oval Office, he's ordering up the new currency and booking the sculptors for Mount Rushmore.

And why not? Obama in the White House, Obama on the dollar bill, Obama on Rushmore would symbolize the possibilities of America more than that narrow list of white-bread protestant presidents to date.

The problem is we're not electing a symbol, a logo, a two-dimensional image. Long before he emerged on the national stage as Barack the Hope-Giver and Bringer of Change, there was a three-dimensional Barack Obama, a real man who lives in the real world. And that's where the problem lies.

The senator and his doting Obots in the media have gone to great lengths to obscure what Barack Obama does when he's not being a symbol: his voting record, his friends, his patrons, his life outside the soft-focus memoirs is deemed nonrelevant to the general hopey-changey vibe. But occasionally we get a glimpse. The offhand aside to Joe the Plumber about "spreading the wealth around" was revealing because it suggests a crude redistributive view of "social justice". Yet the nimble Hope-a-Dope sidestepper brushed it aside, telling a crowd in Raleigh that next John McCain will be "accusing me of being a secret communist because I shared my toys in kindergarten."

But that too is revealing. As John Hood pointed out at National Review, communism is not "sharing." In a free society, the citizen chooses whether to share his Lego, trade it for some Thomas the Tank Engine train tracks, or keep it to himself. From that freedom of action grow mighty Playmobile cities. Communism is compulsion. It's the government confiscating your Elmo to "share" it with someone of its choice. Joe the Plumber is free to spread his own wealth around – hiring employees, buying supplies from local businesses, enjoying surf 'n' turf night at his favorite eatery. But, in Obama's world view, that's not good enough: the state is the best judge of how to spread Joe the Plumber's wealth around.

The Senator is a wealthy man, mainly on the strength of two bestselling books offering his biography in lieu of policy and accomplishments. Many lively members of his Kenyan family occur as supporting characters in his story and provide the vivid color in it. But they too are not merely two-dimensional cartoons. His Aunt Zeituni, a memorable figure in Obama's writing, turned up for real last week, when the dogged James Bone of the London Times tracked her down. She lives in a rundown housing project in Boston.

In his Wednesday night infomercial, Obama declared that his "fundamental belief" was that "I am my brother's keeper." Back in Kenya, his brother lives in a shack on 12 bucks a year. If Barack is his brother's keeper, why couldn't he send him a $10 bill and nearly double the guy's income? The reality is that Barack Obama assumes the government should be his brother's keeper, and his aunt's keeper. Why be surprised by that? For 20 years in Illinois, Obama has marinated in the swamps of the Chicago political machine and the campus radicalism of William Ayers and Rashid Khalidi. In such a world, the redistributive urge is more or less a minimum entry qualification.

The government as wealth-spreader-in-chief was not a slip of the tongue but consistent with Obama's life, friends and votes. The Obamacons – that's to say, conservatives hot for Barack – justify their decision to support a big-spending big-government Democrat with the most liberal voting record in the Senate by "hoping" that he doesn't mean it, by "hoping" that he'll "change" in office. "I sure hope Obama is more open, centrist, sensible," declared reformed conservative Ken Adelman, "than his liberal record indicates."

He's "hoping" that Obama will buck not just Nancy Pelosi, Barney Frank and the rest of the gang but also his voting record, his personal address book and his entire adult life. Good luck betting the future on that. The "change" we'll get isn't hard to discern: An expansion of government, an increase in taxes, a greater annexation of the dynamic part of the economy by the sclerotic bureaucracy, a reduction in economic liberty …oh, and a lot more Chicago machine politics.

On Tuesday many Americans will vote for the two-dimensional Obama - the image, the idea, the "hope." But it will be the three-dimensional Obama – the real man with the real record – that America will have to live with.

Friday, October 31, 2008

The End of Journalism

Sometime in 2008, journalism as we knew it died, and advocacy media took its place.

Victor Davis Hanson

There have always been media biases and prejudices. Everyone knew that Walter Cronkite, from his gilded throne at CBS news, helped to alter the course of the Vietnam War, when, in the post-Tet depression, he prematurely declared the war unwinnible. Dan Rather's career imploded when he knowingly promulgated a forged document that impugned the service record of George W. Bush. We've known for a long time — from various polling, and records of political donations of journalists themselves, as well as surveys of public perceptions — that the vast majority of journalists identify themselves as Democratic, and liberal in particular.

Yet we have never quite seen anything like the current media infatuation with Barack Obama, and its collective desire not to raise key issues of concern to the American people. Here were four areas of national interest that were largely ignored.

CAMPAIGN FINANCING
For years an axiom of the liberal establishment was the need for public campaign financing — and the corrosive role of private money in poisoning the election process. The most prominent Republican who crossed party lines to ensure the passage of national public campaign financing was John McCain — a maverick stance that cost him dearly among conservatives who resented bitterly federal interference in political expression.

In contrast, Barack Obama, remember, promised that he would accept both public funding and the limitations that went along with it, and would "aggressively pursue an agreement with the Republican nominee to preserve a publicly financed general election." Then in June 2008, Obama abruptly reneged, bowing out entirely from government financing, the first presidential nominee in the general election to do that since the system was created in 1976.

Obama has now raised over $600 million, by far the largest campaign chest in American political history. In many states he enjoys a four-to-one advantage in campaign funding — most telling in his scheduled eleventh-hour, 30-minute specials that will not be answered by the publicly financed and poorer McCain campaign.

The story that the media chose to ignore was not merely the Obama about-face on public financing, or even the enormous amounts of money that he has raised — some of it under dubious circumstances involving foreign donors, prepaid credit cards, and false names. Instead, they were absolutely quiet about a historic end to liberal support for public financing.

For all practical purposes, public financing of the presidential general election is now dead. No Republican will ever agree to it again. No Democrat can ever again dare to defend a system destroyed by Obama. All future worries about the dangers of big money and big politics will fall on deaf ears.

Surely, there will come a time when the Democratic Party, whether for ethical or practical reasons, will sorely regret dismantling the very safeguards that for over three decades it had insisted were critical for the survival of the republic.

Imagine the reaction of the New York Times or the Washington Post had John McCain renounced his promise to participate in public campaign financing, proceeded instead to amass $600 million and outraise the publicly financed Barack Obama four-to-one, and begun airing special 30-minute unanswered infomercials during the last week of the campaign.

THE VP CANDIDATES
We know now almost all the details of Sarah Palin's pregnancies, whether the trooper who tasered her nephew went to stun or half stun, the cost of her clothes, and her personal expenses — indeed, almost everything except how a mother of so many children gets elected councilwoman, mayor, and governor, routs an entrenched old-boy cadre, while maintaining near record levels of public support.

Yet the American public knows almost nothing of what it should about the extraordinary career of Joe Biden, the 36-year veteran of the Senate. In unprecedented fashion, Biden has simply avoided the press for most of the last two months, confident that the media instead would deconstruct almost every word of "good looking" Sarah Palin's numerous interviews with mostly hostile interrogators.


By accepted standards of behavior, Biden has sadly proven wanting. He has committed almost every classical sin of character — plagiarism, false biography, racial insensitivity, and serial fabrication. And because of media silence, we don't know whether he was kidding when he said America would not need to burn coal, or that Hezbollah was out of Lebanon, or that FDR addressed the nation on television as president in 1929 (surely a record for historical fictions in a single thought), or that the public would turn sour on Obama once he was challenged by our enemies abroad. In response, the media reported that the very public Sarah Palin was avoiding the press while the very private Joe Biden shunned interviews and was chained to the teleprompter.

For two months now, the media reaction to Biden's inanity has been simply "that's just ol' Joe, now let's turn to Palin," who, in the space of two months, has been reduced from a popular successful governor to a backwoods creationist, who will ban books and champion white secessionist causes. The respective coverage of the two candidates is ironic in a variety of ways, but in one especially — almost every charge against Palin (that she is under wraps, untruthful, and inept) was applicable only to Biden.

So we are about to elect a vice president about whom we know only that he has been around a long time, but little else — and nothing at all why exactly Joe Biden says the most astounding and often lunatic things.

Imagine the reaction of Newsweek or Time had moose-hunting mom Sarah Palin claimed FDR went on television to address the nation as President in 1929, or warned America that our enemies abroad would test John McCain and that his response would result in a radical loss of his popularity at home.

THE PAST AS PRESENT
In 2004, few Americans knew Barack Obama. In 2008, they may elect him. Surely his past was of more interest than his present serial denials of it. Whatever the media's feelings about the current Barack Obama, there should have been some story that the Obama of 2008 is radically different from the Obama who was largely consistent and predictable for the prior 30 years.

Each Obama metamorphosis in itself might be attributed to the normal evolution to the middle, as a candidate shifts from the primary to the general election. But in the case of Obama, we witnessed not a shift, but a complete transformation to an entirely new persona — in almost every imaginable sense of the word. Name an issue — FISA, NAFTA, guns, abortion, capital punishment, coal, nuclear power, drilling, Iran, Jerusalem, the surge — and Obama's position today is not that of just a year ago.

Until 2005, Obama was in communication with Bill Ayers by e-mail and phone, despite Ayers reprehensible braggadocio in 2001 that he remained an unrepentant terrorist. Rev. Wright was an invaluable spiritual advisor — until spring of 2008. Father Pfleger was praised as an intimate friend in 2004 — and vanished off the radar in 2008. The media might have asked not just why these rather dubious figures were once so close to, and then so distant from, Obama; but why were there so many people like Rashid Khalidi and Tony Rezko in Obama's past in the first place?

Behind the Olympian calm of Obama, there was always a rather disturbing record of extra-electoral politics completely ignored by the media. If one were disturbed by the present shenanigans of ACORN or the bizarre national call for Americans simply to skip work on election day to help elect Obama (who would pay for that?), one would only have to remember that in 1996 Obama took the extraordinary step of suing to eliminate all his primary rivals by challenging their petition signatures of mostly African-American voters.

In 2004, there was an even more remarkable chain of events in which the sealed divorce records of both his principle primary rival Blair Hull and general election foe, Jack Ryan, were mysteriously leaked, effectively ensuring Obama a Senate seat without serious opposition. These were not artifacts of a typical political career, but extraordinary events in themselves that might well have shed light on present campaign tactics — and yet largely remain unknown to the American people.

Imagine the reaction of CNN or NBC had John McCain's pastor and spiritual advisor of 20 years been revealed as a white supremacist who damned a multiracial United States, or had he been a close acquaintance until 2005 of an unrepentant terrorist bomber of abortion clinics, or had McCain himself sued to eliminate congressional opponents by challenging the validity of African-American voters who signed petitions, or had both his primary and general election senatorial rivals imploded once their sealed divorce records were mysteriously leaked.



SOCIALISM?
The eleventh-hour McCain allegations of Obama's advocacy for a share-the-wealth socialism were generally ignored by the media, or if covered, written off as neo-McCarthyism. But there were two legitimate, but again neglected, issues.

The first was the nature of the Obama tax plan. The problem was not merely upping the income tax rates on those who made $250,000 (or was it $200,000, or was it $150,000, or both, or none?), but its aggregate effect in combination with lifting the FICA ceilings on high incomes on top of existing Medicare contributions and often high state income taxes.

In other words, Americans who live in high-tax, expensive states like a New York or California could in theory face collective confiscatory tax rates of 65 percent or so on much of their income. And, depending on the nature of Obama's proposed tax exemptions, on the other end of the spectrum we might well see almost half the nation's wage earners pay no federal income tax at all.

Questions arise, but were again not explored: How wise is it to exempt one out of every two income earners from any worry over how the nation gathers its federal income tax revenue? And when credits are added to the plan, are we now essentially not cutting or raising taxes, but simply diverting wealth from those who pay into the system to those who do not?

A practical effect of socialism is often defined as curbing productive incentives by ensuring the poorer need not endanger their exemptions and credits by seeking greater income; and discouraging the wealthy from seeking greater income, given that nearly two-thirds of additional wealth would be lost to taxes. Surely that discussion might have been of interest to the American people.

Second, the real story was not John McCain's characterization of such plans, but both inadvertent, and serial descriptions of them, past and present, by Barack Obama himself. "Spreading the wealth around" gains currency when collated to past interviews in which Obama talked at length about, and in regret at, judicial impracticalities in accomplishing his own desire to redistribute income. "Tragedy" is frequent in the Obama vocabulary, but largely confined to two contexts: the tragic history of the United States (e.g., deemed analogous to that of Nazi Germany during World War II), and the tragic unwillingness or inability to use judicial means to correct economic inequality in non-democratic fashion.

In this regard, remember Obama's revealing comment that he was interested only in "fairness" in increasing capital-gains taxes, despite the bothersome fact that past moderate reductions in rates had, in fact, brought in greater revenue to government. Again, fossilized ideology trumps empiricism.

Imagine the reaction of NPR and PBS had John McCain advocated something like abolishing all capital gains taxes, or repealing incomes taxes in favor of a national retail sales tax.

The media has succeeded in shielding Barack Obama from journalistic scrutiny. It thereby irrevocably destroyed its own reputation and forfeited the trust that generations of others had so carefully acquired. And it will never again be trusted to offer candid and nonpartisan coverage of presidential candidates.

Worse still, the suicide of both print and electronic journalism has ensured that, should Barack Obama be elected president, the public will only then learn what they should have known far earlier about their commander-in-chief — but in circumstances and from sources they may well regret.

— NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution.

The Chicago Boys

The Wall Street Journal

For the past seven years, U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald has time and again put the Chicago machine through the prosecutorial cleaners. Come next week, a product of the Windy City's political culture may be on his way to the White House. Now would be a good time to know if a President Obama would keep the pressure on his friends back home.

One of the first Obama political boosters, Tony Rezko, is at the center of the state's highest profile corruption case. Recall that in June the Chicago real-estate developer and Democratic fundraiser was convicted on 16 counts of influence peddling. His sentencing was delayed this month to let Mr. Rezko "engage in discussions" with prosecutors. In other words, Mr. Fitzgerald wants him to spill the beans on Illinois corruption, possibly up to Governor Rod Blagojevich, perhaps in return for a shorter prison term. (Mr. Rezko still faces trial in Chicago in a $10 million business fraud case, as well in Nevada over unpaid casino-gambling debts.)

The Blagojevich administration has been under investigation for years. Mr. Rezko, who raised money for the Governor, solicited $7 million in kickbacks from private firms in exchange for steering state contracts their way. Prosecutors are now interested in toll highway vendor contracts granted by the administration with Mr. Rezko's involvement. They also are looking into who paid for the renovations of the Blagojevich home in Chicago; Mr. Rezko's defunct construction company was the contractor on the project. Meantime, the Governor's approval ratings have sunk to 13%, and Democrats in the state House may move to impeach him.

Mr. Obama has a Rezko image problem himself. The Democratic candidate met the Syrian-born businessman in his final year at Harvard Law School, and they stayed on friendly terms in the next two decades. When Mr. Obama started his run for the state Senate in 1995, Mr. Rezko gave him $2,000 on the first day of the campaign. The Illinois Senator says his political career didn't start in Bill Ayers's living room, but the Rezko wallet certainly launched him on his way. Over the next decade, Mr. Rezko raised as much as $250,000 for him and served on the Obama Senate campaign finance committee in 2004.

A year after his election, Mr. Obama bought his home in Chicago's Kenwood neighborhood with Mr. Rezko's help. At the time, he was the subject of a (then rumored) federal investigation. The men together looked at a house listed at $1.95 million. The seller insisted an adjoining lot must be sold simultaneously, though it was bound by a restrictive covenant that severely limited what the purchaser could do with the lot.

Nevertheless, on the same day that the Obamas offered $1.65 million -- the highest bid on the property -- Mr. Rezko's wife put in for the lot at the listed price of $625,000. (Mrs. Rezko earned $37,000 a year at the time and had assets of $35,000.) In 2006, Mrs. Rezko sold a 10 foot wide strip of her property to Mr. Obama for $112,000 to expand his garden. He paid nearly double the assessed value, but the sale made the Rezko lot less attractive to develop.

As Mr. Obama considered a Presidential run, he gave $159,000 in past donations traceable to Mr. Rezko to charity, and he called the house purchase "boneheaded" and "a mistake in not seeing the potential conflicts of interest or appearances of impropriety." Speaking of Mr. Rezko earlier this year to the Chicago Tribune, Mr. Obama said, "He hadn't asked me for favors." Mr. Rezko hasn't yet told his side of the story. Following his conviction this summer, Mr. Obama said, "This isn't the Tony Rezko I knew." The Senator said the same about the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, after his longtime pastor's "God D--- America" YouTube turn this spring.

Mr. Obama was never the formal target of a government investigation or Senate ethics probe, or charged with any wrongdoing. "I think that I have done a good job in rising politically in this environment, without being entangled in some of the traditional problems of Chicago politics," he told the Tribune.

Chicago is a small political town, and other politicians, including the Daley family and prominent city Republicans, are linked to Mr. Rezko and feel the heat from Mr. Fitzgerald. Before the Rezko case, the prosecutor won a racketeering conviction against former GOP Governor George Ryan. He has indicted a number of aides to Chicago Mayor Richard Daley for corruption in hiring practices at City Hall.

Along with John McCain, Mr. Obama explicitly pledged he wouldn't dismiss Mr. Fitzgerald. But does that mean the prosecutor won't be "promoted" out of Chicago? And while we're at it, will Mr. Obama rule out a pardon for Tony Rezko? Clarifying both points could keep the wheels of justice turning against corruption.

There's a different question for American voters. Mr. Obama pledges to clean up our nation's politics and outpolls John McCain on honesty and ethics. Yet in Chicago, he moved with the Tony Rezkos and endorsed pols like Mayor Daley and Cook County Board President Todd Stroger. Can a politician so steeped in his hometown's ways really be an agent of change in Washington?