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The Long Grift and the Get-Rich-Quick Scheme

[ 0 ] October 13, 2008 |

Great New York Times article yesterday on the curious case of Michael Cantrell, an engineer who bilked the government out of millions of dollars in missile defense money. Much of the money went to a useless alternative missile defense project, while the rest went into the pockets of Cantrell and an accomplice. Cantrell took advantage of loopholes, connections, and poorly structured lines of authority to lobby Congress for a missile defense side project that the military was largely uninterested in. By pushing the project, Cantrell was able to generate kickbacks from various defense contractors. When the military tried to quash the project, Cantrell used his political connections to stop the inquiry.

It’s not quite right to say that such a scam could only happen to the missile defense project, because there are other cases of military contractors bilking the government. But certainly scams like this are easier when they’re committed projects will ill-defined goals, poorly understood parameters, and deeply politicized motivation. Missile defense is intended to pay off in the distant future; as such, it’s difficult to evaluate progress. Proponents can legitimately say that even unsuccessful tests represent steps in the right direction. In such an environment, projects that don’t really go anywhere can not go anywhere for a very long time before anyone notices. Moreover, because missile defense is so distinct from most of the tasks performed by the military, both civilians and military officers can fall victim to confident sounding charlatans.

This problem is magnified when the project itself is basically a scam. The primary justification for missile defense has never been the actual defense of the United States from ballistic missiles, but rather a combination of political entrepreneurship on the part of the Republican Party (Democrats go along, but Republicans have always been the motivators) and a desire on the part of contractors and Congressmen to acquire as much pork as possible. Since a successful missile defense isn’t really the goal in the first place, it’s hard to differentiate the extreme fraud from the every day fraud, and difficult to explain to Ted Stevens why he shouldn’t get his piece of the action.

I suspect that this will not be the last incidence of severe corruption in the National Missile Defense project. Such small scale scams, however, shouldn’t make us forget the that the project is, itself, a big scale scam.

FDR’s Constitutionalism, Which Was Preferable To Herbert Hoover’s

[ 28 ] October 13, 2008 |

Shorter Verbatim Jonah Goldberg: “…this election year does look quite a bit like Hoover vs. Roosevelt (and given that choice, I’ll take Hoover.)” He goes on to defend the constitutional vision of the Four Horsemen against the one that has been the broadly accepted norm of American constitutionalism for many decades; apparently the “constitution-in-exile” isn’t always a strawman.

While I’m here, I should also note that Goldberg’s claim that FDR’s “court packing scheme that intimidated the Supreme Court into rubber-stamping New Deal policies” is almost certainly erroneous — the key “switch in time” by median justice Owen Roberts occurred in votes that had been cast in conference before the scheme was even announced, and of course the scheme failed in the Senate before the cases came down (so had Roberts been acting out of political fear he could have switched his vote back knowing that no court-packing law was going to be passed in the near future.)

In a recent issue of N+1, Mark Grief made a claim about this that is just transparently wrong:

Elected to four terms in office, working with Democratic majorities in both houses for his key legislation, he was also the progenitor of a failed and utterly illegal and unconstitutional attempt to pack the Supreme Court when it got in his way.

This is, of course, utterly wrong. The proposed court-packing plan was (as Congress ultimately decided) probably unwise and contrary to informal 20th century norms of judicial independence, but it was completely legal and constitutional. The Constitution does not fix the number of Supreme Court justices, which is left entirely to the discretion of Congress. (Indeed, the Court’s membership fluctuated from 5 in 1789 to as high as 10 before the modern norm was established.) And given that within 5 years FDR was (thankfully) able to “pack” the Court by replacing judges who were clinging to anachronistically narrow conceptions of federal power with those who shared his constitutional vision anyway, the threat to democracy adding judges would have represented was pretty modest. The judiciary is never going to be a long-term obstacle to the key priorities of electoral majorities, and this is in general a good thing.

Ask an Apocalypse Specialist

[ 0 ] October 12, 2008 |

Dear Dr. Farley,

With the impending financial collapse, my wife and I have decided to use our backyard to grow essentials. I think we should grow life-sustaining vegetables, but she thinks we should grow weed to trade with other survivors. What do you think?

Debating in Des Moines

Dear Debating in Des Moines,

A little from column A, a little from column B.

Dear Dr. Farley,

I live in an area where most houses have 1/4 acre lots. How many of my nieghbors will I have to murder at night, chase away or burn out to acquire enough land to feed my family of four?

Concerned Parent

Dear Concerned Parent,

This is a remarkably complicated question, depending on growing conditions in your area, available crops, sources of fertilizer, and sources of energy and labor. If the Time of Troubles reduces us to the level of production enjoyed in medieval Europe, you would be required to cultivate roughly 7 acres in order to feed a family of four. If the Time of Troubles extends for more than a couple of years (ask Secretary Paulson), then you may need to allow some land to lie fallow, thus requiring a bit more total acreage. Of course, the availability of New World crops (such as potatoes) should reduce that requirement a bit, and if you can manage to acquire fertilizers or farm equipment, the required plot would decrease substantially. In general, I should think that “more is better”, and thus that murdering and burning out your neighbors will tend to yield dividends.

On the other hand, make sure to take note that whatever you hold must be defended; hordes of starving urbanites are likely to assault your new holdings until they become weak from lack of nutrition. So stay vigilant, and try to pick a defensible location.

Dear Dr. Farley,

Under traditional principles of outlaw biker jurisprudence, will rival gangs of scavengers be required to give full faith and credit to my gay marriage?

Neurasthenic in New Mexico

Dear Neurasthenic in New Mexico,

I get this question a lot. As the capacity of “states” to maintain order disappears, the burden of lawmaking and enforcement will, as you note, fall to roving gangs of bikers. In his capacity as Ayatollah of Rock and Rollah, the Lord Humungus is empowered to make rulings on such issues as gay marriage, and will wield a great deal of moral influence over contending gangs of scavengers:

The bulk of available evidence indicates that the Lord Humungus’ own gang recognizes same sex relationships and provides benefits; as such, it is quite likely that your gay marriage will enjoy the force of law as long as you remain under the aegis of the Warrior of the Wastelands. As New Mexico lies comfortably within the Wastelands, I think you’re good.

Dr. Farley, accredited* Apocalypse Specialist, has a twice-weekly column at lefarkins.blogspot.com.

A Political Propp

[ 0 ] October 12, 2008 |

I can definitely see how Glenn Reynolds could be shocked by booing taking place at a sporting event in Philadelphia. I would add that Brian Propp — the ex-Flyer who was part of the ceremony, presumably to try to mitigate the reaction to Palin in case the deployment of her kids as human shields didn’t cut it — had a reputation as one of the biggest whiners and hatchet men in the WHL in the early 80s when I started watching hockey. So you have to admit that it makes him the perfect host for a Republican candidate! And in case there was any doubt about the intentions of the Flyers’ reactionary owner, Propp also happens to actually be a (failed) Republican politician.

Listening to the calliope music in Glenn Reynolds’ head

[ 53 ] October 12, 2008 |

Shorter Old Perfesser:

Instead of straining to care about the behavior of people attending McCain-Palin rallies, wouldn’t it be easier to declare our outrage about some hypothetical lefty radicals — examples of which I won’t bother to cite — who’ve fantasized about killing George W. Bush? After all, look at what those bloodthirsty socialists did at the Flyers’ game! See? It’s the same thing!

Ethics to Nowhere

[ 19 ] October 11, 2008 |

I’ll have more soon about the Branchflower Report and the Palin Family Circus. Hilzoy is worth reading in the meantime, and she highlights most of the key points in the document while explaining precisely why the case matters.

We pay public servants to advance our interests, not theirs. When we discover that someone has put their interests above ours, we should punish them, at least if we want to give them any incentive to do their jobs right. We should not reward bullies who try to use their power over their subordinates to advance their own agendas. And if this report is at all accurate, Sarah and Todd Palin are bullies.

Indeed, I think the most interesting aspect of the whole investigation is not what it reveals about Sarah Palin, but rather what it reveals about her husband. The “First Dude,” who is not in fact an employee of the executive branch, was by his own account — and I think the Branchflower Report supports this pretty convincingly — the lead goon in the campaign to get Mike Wooten fired. He initiated literally scores of conversations with various administrators in the Department of Pubic Safety, the legislature, the Alaska State Troopers, and elsewhere in the state government, and he clearly encouraged the Governor’s own subordinates to open up similar lines of attack.

Maybe Todd Palin had nothing else to occupy his time, but it’s difficult to read the report (as well as his own deposition, which was released separately the other day) and not conclude that his interest in Wooten had little to do with (a) genuine concerns for his family’s safety, or (b) genuine concern for the public interest. My guess is that the Palins regarded the continuing employment of Mike Wooten as an affront to their family’s honor and, following the 2006 election, as an affront to Sarah Palin’s authority of governor, which presumably should have included the right to force a revisitation (and perhaps an overturning) of the results of a lengthy investigation that was by every indication fair and thorough. My further guess is that Todd Palin in particular regarded Wooten’s continuing employment as a direct challenge to his masculinity; I’m not sure how else to explain some of the fruitless, stalker-like behavior revealed in the report. So suggest that Todd Palin had a raging hard-on for Mike Wooten would be overstating things, but perhaps not by much.

Regardless, the key result of the investigation is that Sarah Palin allowed her husband — who is not, I repeat, an employee of the executive branch — to carry on a lengthy campaign of serial interference with state business. When wingnuts and assorted other clowns insist that Palin could fire Monegan for any reason or without cause, they miss the entire point of the investigation, which was not simply to investigate the firing per se, but to examine the broader patterns of conduct exhibited by the Governor and her staff during the months leading up to Monegan’s dismissal. On that latter count, it’s clear that the Governor violated the very ethics legislation that she’s been proudly yalping about on the campaign trail. I doubt she’s embarrassed by the report, but she should be. And when she returns to Alaska in defeat, she’s going to be weakened by this. That’s a very good thing, I’d say.

Just Say It

[ 5 ] October 11, 2008 |

Indeed.

Chuck Schumer: Well Known Italian

[ 24 ] October 11, 2008 |

Mitch McConnell has trouble with his ethnic stereotypes:

It’s fair to say that neither Italians nor Jews are heavily represented in the Kentucky electorate… the wife wonders whether McConnell believed that the relative strengths of the Anti-Defamation League and the National Italian American Foundation dictated McConnell’s choice of stereotype. I’m willing to believe he’s just a moron.

A Gathering of Morons

[ 144 ] October 11, 2008 |

It will surprise no one to learn that Treason-in-Defense-of-Slavery Yankee was there:

I just dropped by my local pawn shop to get rid of some items around the house that were not longer needed, and found them to be extremely busy.

The high level of traffic in the shop wasn’t all the surprising considering this economy Congressional Democrats engineered, but what was surprising is why people were there.

Other than myself, it doesn’t appear anyone was there to pawn unwanted things.

Of the 12 people in the shop when I was there, the 11 others were all looking at firearms. A CZ-58 and an AK-47 variant were on the counter in front of one pair of customers. An off-duty sheriff and his friend were picking up what I think was a DPMS LR-308 complete with scope and bipod. Another guy was looking at a used Polytech M-14, and the remainder were looking at handguns… mostly Glocks and CZ-75s.

I overheard one of the guys behind the gun counter say that gun sales among the shops in the area were up about 35-percent. Later, when he wasn’t as busy, I asked him why he thought that was. His answer was simple, and perhaps predictable.

“Barack.”

In many respects, I suppose, the scenario is appropriate. Right about this point in the 1860 presidential campaign, someone like Bob Owens would have removed his underwhelming manhood from the hind end of a pig, gathered his friends ’round the mash still, and cracked his knuckles over the looming election of a dangerous radical from Illinois. Though in all fairness to TIDOS Yankee, when antebellum Southern throwbacks described Abraham Lincoln as a “Black” man, they were using a sloppy metaphor. Bob’s pawn shop posse, on the other hand, has to worry about the real thing.

Respectful? What’s That?

[ 0 ] October 11, 2008 |

I was actually watching this on The Uptake when it happened:

Later in the event, a man in the audience stood up and told McCain he’s “scared” of an Obama presidency and who he’d select for the Supreme Court.

“I have to tell you. Sen. Obama is a decent person and a person you don’t have to be scared of as president of the United States,” McCain said as the crowd booed and shouted “Come on, John!”

At this point, I think it’s fair to say that McCain not only can’t find his own chair, but he can’t even properly inhabit the persona he’s created. For the past week, he and Sarah Palin have been working the dark side, as Cheney would have it, whipping their audiences into bilious spasms of ignorance and violent fantasy. They’ve nodded, looked the other way or chuckled as a smattering of dipshit troglodytes have denounced Barack Obama as a terrorist or have called for his head on a stick. Just yesterday, McCain himself offered a goofy shrug when one of his audience members choked out a hairball and declared that Obama was a socialist hooligan. These are people who want John McCain to floss his teeth with his opponent’s veins. They aren’t going to be happy if he suddenly asks them to mind their manners.

He and Sarah Palin have pried open the manhole covers, and these are the people who crawled from the pipes and followed them home. He fed them for a few days. They’re his pets now.

It was the worst of times and it was the worst of times

[ 18 ] October 10, 2008 |

If you’re an old-style Bill Buckley paleo-conservative I would guess you’d have to go back to about November 1964 to find a worse month.

After a generation of your political party being in control of most or all branches of the federal government for the large majority of the time, whaddaya got?

(1) Massive bipartisan momentum for major government intervention in the financial markets, with upwards of a trillion taxpayer dollars already committed, and, worse yet, calls for serious regulatory oversight.

(2) Another trillion dollars lit on fire for idiotic foreign adventures combining the worst features of Teddy Roosevelt style imperialism and Wilsonian internationalism.

(3) Total defeat now practically a forgone conclusion in the culture wars, with the ongoing spread of teh gay through courts and legislatures across the land being a particularly sharp reminder of how time is not your side, no it’s not.

(4) A — what are they calling it these days — black? (no dear, I believe it’s “Africa-American”) man with a Muslim name is about to become president.

Talk about a total catastrophe. At least the libertarians and the neo-cons are seeing some stuff break their way. But if you’re the kind of person who loved National Review back when they were for “states’ rights” and weren’t playing footsy with the Commentary crowd yet, this is about the worst it’s ever been.

Connecticut Supreme Court Requires Same-Sex Marriage Rights

[ 12 ] October 10, 2008 |

Excellent news. The ruling is based on the equal protection clause of the state constitution.

Or, at least, it’s excellent news from my non-contrarian perspective. Maybe this will be a counterproductive decision that will also lead to a Republican landslide. After all, surely Peter Beinart’s claim that the rejection of same-sex marriage rights by New York state courts would be good for same-sex marriage rights in the state has been vindicated by New York’s ongoing exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage rights. And who can forget how badly the New Jersey court’s civil union decision hurt the Dems in the 2006 elections? And how Goodridge was roundly rejected in Massachusetts? And how the extremely unpopular 2008 California Supreme Court decision has turned the election by cutting Obama’s lead in California to a razor-thin 15 points?

Frankly, I don’t know when proponents of same-sex marriage will start accepting this kindly concern trolling advice and start recognizing that losing is better than winning.