Archive for October, 2011

First Thing, Let’s Crash All The Banks

The latest idea from and their friends and OWS is to withdraw all their money from the “Wall Street Banks,” and to move it to smaller, community banks and credit unions on November 5th.  If such a move were to take place on the scale they’d like, it would be a deliberately created bank run on the largest financial institutions in the country.  They seem to have gotten the scheme from some Ron Paul supporters, who are at a minimum mildly ticked off that OWS and MoveOn are claiming credit for it.

They may claim that this is a small, symbolic action, but that doesn’t excuse it. Small, symbolic actions are unlikely to have any actual effect on large institutions, and fanatics don’t propose such actions hoping for them to be merely symbolic.

We can all be grateful that this won’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world, but this is still a terrible idea, one whose ineffectualness doesn’t absolve it of its fundamental irresponsibility.  You might expect this sort of thing from MoveOn, but the Ron Paul people fancy that they understand how banks work, and that turning all of Wall Street into the Fidelity Fiduciary Bank wouldn’t be the soundest financial strategy.  Bringing Wells Fargo crashing down isn’t any better an idea now than it was 3 years ago, and it’s liable to take a bunch of smaller, “safer” community banks with it.

The basic premise of the exercise is flawed. It’s certainly true that the balance sheets of some of the larger banks are in worse shape than many smaller, community banks.  And it’s equally true that Too Big to Fail probably means Too Big (to borrow a phrase from Instapundit), and that any bank Too Big To Fail should probably be broken up into smaller entities. And when smaller banks fail, they fail less catastrophically.

Ironically, the website for the Move Your Money Project features a scene from “It’s a Wonderful Life,” the bank run scene, on a building and loan that, if you remember, came within $2 and the goodwill of a couple of neighbors of failing.

Smaller banks do fail, almost 300 between 2009 and 2010, and 86 so far this year.  The MYMP site will cheerfully direct you to a smaller bank or credit union, one which stands a good chance of operating under some sort of enforcement action from the Office of Thrift Supervision, the Office of the Controller of the Currency, the Fed, or the FDIC.

Ultimately, this isn’t about “sending a message” to Wall Street, or making your  money safer.  It’s about visceral hatred of banks and bankers, and a failure to appreciate the role that finance plays in a healthy capitalist system.

Yaron Brook, who runs the Ayn Rand institute and is nobody’s idea of a Keynesian squish, has the appropriate response:

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An Afternoon at the Joslyn

I’m a big fan of the Denver Art Museum.  At least, the old building, and the stuff inside the new building.  The inside of the new building itself gives me vertigo.

Which is partly why I like the Joslyn so much.

That’s a painting celebrating a 1717 Venetian naval victory over the heathen Turk on the far side of the room. The artist actually put a key to all the ships on the painting itself. It’s a little jarring, that mixing of art and military history handbook, though.

For another thing, the sculpture garden features art that doesn’t look like the shavings from an 8th-grade metal shop class.  This is supposed to be reminiscent of the Missouri river.  It seems to be mostly fed by rainwater, but it does have the added realistic feature of overflowing its banks:

Then there’s this brass work by Tom Otterman.  Whimsical enough from the front:

With an added bonus on the back:

The museum is currently running an exhibit of Currier and Ives plates.  Y0u know them from the winter, Christmas scenes of sleds, sleighs, and snow.  They also did a nice job with some of the southern plantations and Mississippi river boats.  The farther west they got, though, the more fantastical the scenes become:

That last one looks like it’s halfway from typical C&I realism to this:

They also have Grant Wood’s Stone City, Iowa.

I have to confess, I’m a complete sucker for 1930’s WPA modern-realist stuff.

Compare the following two sculptures of riders and horses. The first, the cowboy, is a Remington. The second, a Sioux warrior, is a 1930s piece by a sculptor named Brcin, and is the model of a multi-lize-sized piece out in the sculpture garden.

The Remington’s masters technical detail. But I have to confess, the Brcin captures motion and action better, I think.

The museum isn’t all that big, but they have some very nice pieces, from a lot of different times and styles. They have a number from Gerome, a 19th Century French painter who specialized in the Middle East and India. This one is so realistic, it looks almost photographic.

Gerome, The Grief of the Pasha

I know just how you fell, bud.

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Efficiency Without Regulation

As many of you know, I’m completing a year’s sojourn here in Omaha, the midwestern town with a decidedly western sensibility. (Don’t believe me? Check out the River City Rodeo sometime.)

I’ve been doing web development for Werner Enterprises, one of the country’s larger trucking firms, but having dabbled in finance, I also always take a peek at the quarterly earnings reports. They almost always include a line like the following:

We continued to effectively manage the impact of higher fuel costs by improving our fuel miles per gallon… We are controlling truck idling; optimizing the speed, weight and specifications of our equipment; and implementing fuel enhancing equipment changes to our fleet.

How good are they at it? Turns out, they’re pretty good. Below is a graph of the national average diesel price vs. the company’s reported (or calculated) fuel cost per mile:

At first, you’ll see that the fuel cost grows faster than the fuel price. Some of this is a result of EPA emission regulations, which made the newer engines less fuel-efficient. As they newer engines were gradually introduced to the fleet, they affected overall operating costs. (In fact, at least one of the 10Qs from that era notes that Werner was able to command a premium when re-selling its older, hand-me-down tractors to other carriers.)

Over time, the company has managed to implement certain fuel-saving practices and patent aerodynamic designs that have cut fuel costs. The diesel price curve (courtesy of the US Energy Information Administration) look a lot like the curve leading up to 2008, but the cost per mile has dropped below it. For comparison, in Q3 2006 and Q3 2010, diesel was a little over $2.90/gallon, but Werner’s fuel cost per mile was 17% lower. That represents just under 4% of operating revenues, which is slightly enormous in this business.

They’ve done this even as the rise of intermodal has limited trip length:

Shorter trip lengths are associated with lower fuel efficiency; they involve more stops and starts, more idle time, and a higher percentage of time spent off of the interstates. So the cost containment has happened in spite of this.

It’s also happened despite the fact that class 8 trucks have no CAFE standards at all (although class 8 truckers probably have cafe standards of their own, mostly involving coffee & pie).

If anything, as we’ve seen, the government has made fuel efficiency more difficult by choosing emissions control over it. This choice may or may not be justified; that isn’t the point. The point is that, left to fend for themselves, with the government having made policy decisions that placed other priorities above fuel efficiency, trucking companies have been able to improve their own processes, and to demand better mileage from their suppliers.

More than that, it’s a little “I, Pencil” microcosm. These decisions are the result of a long chain of cost-benefit calculations stretching from engine manufacturer to trucker through customer to consumer. Each of these relationships has its own set of elasticities of supply and demand, which affect how much of the fuel cost can be pushed downstream. The amount that can’t be passed on to each customer provides the incentive for fuel economy.

It also provides the ceiling for how much each is willing to pay for it. Including the engine manufacturer. The government could probably demand higher fuel efficiency out of tractor engines, and the result would be greater inefficiency overall, because the cost of producing that engine would be greater than the system is currently willing to pay.

You could justify those expenses as externalities, say, the national security cost of keeping the Saudi pipeline safe and operating. But then you’re stuck arguing that the political & regulatory systems are as efficient in balancing interests as the economy is in balancing costs, which I think is, at best, an unproven assumption.

Note: Naturally, the opinions expressed here are entirely my own, and do not in any way represent Werner.

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Norman Corwin, RIP

On Wednesday, Norman Corwin died.

Most of you probably haven’t heard of him, but he was one of radio’s true poets.  He shouldn’t just be in the Radio Hall of Fame, he should have written everything in it.

Corwin’s best work was somewhere between impressionistic and surrealistic, as in, “On a Note of Triumph,” or the more whimsical, “The Odyssey of Runyon Jones,” for Columbia Workshop.  I remember visiting the Museum of Broadcast Communications about 15 years ago.  I didn’t find much radio by Corwin at the time, but there was a videotape of one of his early 70s TV shows.  It was a lot like his radio: playing with ideas in a middle-brow, Clifton Fadimanesque sort of way.

His most famous piece was “On A Note of Triumph,” produced for VE Day, and heard by about 60 million Americans as a time when there were only 140 million of them.  We used to listen to a lot of old time radio on those cross-country trips, and I remember hearing this one in the car, myself for the first time, my parents probably for the umpteenth.  Here it is.

We can forgive his nods to Joe Stalin.  After all, it was still 1945, the Russians had done the messy work of taking Berlin, and they were on our side.

Corwin also wrote a 1-hour homage to the Bill of Rights, titled, “We Hold These Truths.”  Corwin was a pretty typical mid-century liberal, before the movement had become radicalized.  So while the title derives from the Declaration of Independence, most understood that the Constitution was intended to safeguard our rights, and that the criticisms of it largely revolved around its failure to explicitly include a Bill of Rights.  There’s nothing in there that a Tea Party activist could object to, and much he could cheer.  For instance, his explanation of the 2nd Amendment, in the mouth of an average citizen reading it for the first time:

That means if somebody gets into office and turns sour on the the people that put him there, well he can’t vex us with a standing army he way George did before the war.  No sir, we people of the states, if we got arms, nobody’s going to order us to do things that the majority of the people ain’t voted for.  Least not without a fight.

Charles Kuralt did a one-hour homage to Corwin that I can’t possibly hope to match.  You can hear it here.  It, and the rest of the links here, are well worth your time.

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There Is No National Bridge Crisis

Bridges make great campaign backdrops, as President Obama tried to exploit the other week while introducing his jobs bill.  Trumpeting the desperate shape of America’s bridges, Obama spoke in front of a bridge between John Boehner’s Ohio and Mitch McConnell’s Kentucky, (a bridge that, as was noted at the time, wouldn’t have been eligible for funding under his new spending spree).  Listening to him – and to just about every other public-works-booster in the last 20 years – you’d think that it was only a matter of time, months perhaps, before we found ourselves trapped behind rivers and gorges, as our bridges collapsed into dust.

Not so.

In fact, both as a percentage and in absolute terms, American bridges that are classified either Structurally Deficient or Functionally Obsolete has been falling for at least two decades.  The percentage is aided by natural growth and new bridge-building.  But that doesn’t account for the decline in absolute terms:

Over the last 19 years, we’ve added about 6% to our national bridge inventory, while the number of Obsolete bridges has declined by about 4% in absolute terms, and the number of Structurally Deficient bridges is down by over 40% in absolute terms:

Structurally Deficient means that the bridge’s actual structure has deteriorated, or the bridge is on a working road and has had to be taken out of service.  Functionally Obsolete means that the bridge is now too narrow or too low for the highway system that it’s a part of.  And under the FHWA’s 10-Year Rule, no bridge that’s been built or upgraded or repaired to spec in the last 10 years is either Deficient or Obsolete.  If a bridge is both Deficient and Obsolete, it’s only classified as Deficient.  On a percentage basis, the achievement is even more striking:

The percentage of Structurally Deficient bridges has declined from over 20% to just over 11%, and the number and percentage of Obsolete bridges has declined, even as the national highway system has been continuously upgraded and extended.

In Colorado, the percentages are better than the national average, and have been since 1998 (the first year I could find state-level records).  Currently, they stand at 7% Deficient and 10% Obsolete, even as the number of bridges has grown by 8% since 1998.

It might also help to look at the highway spending numbers over the last 20 years.  I suspect that some of the increase in the late 90s’ Obsolete totals is a result of upgrading the surrounding road system, and that the decline in Obsolescence in the last 10 years represents a shifting of priorities, even as the number of bridges continues to climb.

Notably, what you don’t see is any massive improvement in the numbers from 2009 to 2010, the Year Of the Shovel-Ready Project.  There’s a slight improvement, but nothing out of line with historical trends, which suggests that all that ARRA money wasn’t really going where it was advertised.

It’s possible, I suppose, that we’re coming up on the end of the useful life of some large number of bridges sometime in the new few years, but I doubt it.  We’ve been growing the system and doing maintenance since the 1950s, and this Bridge and Highway crisis is one I’ve been hearing about as long as I can remember.  Once one of these memes makes it into the public discourse, it seems it’s almost impossible to get rid of, no matter how much progress has been made.



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Not A Mirror Image

The Occupationists are the lefty equivalent of the Tea Party, and as such, pose as much of a threat to establishment Democrats as the Tea Party activists do to the establishment Republicans.  In fact, it is a movement that has the potential to spin wildly out of control, devouring the Democrats who seek to control it.  So goes the current thinking about the Occupy demonstrations that, with but few more demonstrators nationwide than Tea Party events got in individual cities last year, have suddenly occupied the national media’s attention.

This thinking is wrong, and there is every reason to believe that its promotion by Democrat activists is actually part of the strategy.

For one thing, if Peter Wehner is correct, and establishment Democrats need to be wary of Occupy, one could start by asking why they aren’t.  From labor unions to the AAUP to the White House (somewhat more coolly) to Congressional Democrats, the left-liberal establishment has decided that this is a movement worth supporting.

The Tea Party, while it may have provided the energy behind the 2010 elections, was (and is) unhappy about the lack of a coherent conservative message coming from Republican leadership.  Indeed, prior to the Tea Party’s emergence, it would have been hard to identify any coherent message coming from Republican leadership.

This is at least in part because the movement, such as it is, is essentially parrotting the line that the Democrat leadership has been peddling for four years, and amplifying over the last few months – blame capitalism, blame Wall Street, blame business, above all, blame “the rich.”  They may not be happy about regulatory capture, but they’re not demonstrating against the regulations.

Because people were clearly tuning this message out when it came from the White House, Congressional Democrats, and labor unions (public or private), an “authentic voice” was needed to promote it, from people who could be portrayed as being true victims, rather than authors of their own misfortune.

Enter the unemployable graduates, holders of unmarketable sheepskins, and being crushed by student loans, of Occupy.  This is not a spontaneous movement.  Spontaneous movements do not advertise for paid organizing positions.  It is another organized mob, intended to provide a sympathetic face to the Left’s arguments that whatever the problem is, it’s not government policies that got us here.

In fact, this strategy has already had a dry run.  This summer.  In Israel.

According to an investigative report by Maariv’s Kalman Libeskind, Democratic operative and pollster Stanley Greenberg, who, along with James Carville, Bob Shrum, and others, was part of a team sent by Bill Clinton to drive Netanyahu from office in 1999, is again trying to influence Israeli politics.

His mission: stoking economic discontent into a protest movement intended to again, replace Benjamin Netanyahu with a leader more willing to sell out to American leftists and make concessions to the Palestinians.

While the movement there doesn’t seem to have weakened Netanyahu, it does seem to have revitalized Labour to some extent.   Israel has socialist roots whose symbolism still resonates there.  (Political cultures, even within the Anglosphere, differ, thank goodness.)  The mission here is not to undermine a sitting President, but rather to force the debate onto ground more favorable to the Democrats, to force Republicans to confront the presumed trump card of “fairness.”

For these reasons, the Occupy movement is less a mirror of the Tea Party, and more like the Democrats’ Portrait of Dorian Grey.

Conservatives and Republicans have already won a series of special elections and recall elections by coming up with answers to the political class and the public employee unions.  Recognizing and pointing out that it’s the same set who’s pulling the strings here is the first step towards keeping the ideological and policy lines clear, and maintaining momentum going into the election season.

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Build a Fence Around the Bubble

Looks as though a lot of The Occupation could use a good college-level education.  Someone’s noticed that The Occupation of those without an occupation is as much about the Higher Education Bubble as much as anything else (h/t Instapundit), only those involved don’t even realize it.

There’s just one thing that confuses me: a lot of these POWS seem to be mad that they were forced to accumulate a ton of debt with the stew-dent loans that they were tricked into taking to support them for 7 years while completing their degrees in Recycling Studies and beer pong. Now they find out – not only can they not get a job in the field that they picked to “follow their bliss” butt they’re expected to pay their loans back too! That is so unfair. No wonder they want to spread the the other 1%’s wealth around.

Butt seriously: why are they occupying Wall Street? Shouldn’t they be occupying the administration buildings of the universities? Aren’t they the ones cranking out worthless degrees that they’re charging $10-100,000 a year for? How, exactly, is this Colgate-Palmolive’s fault? Other than the fact they’re successful, greedy capitalists?

Actually, the American Association of University Professors noticed, too:

The dedicated students whom we teach at institutions of higher education are being forced to pay more for tuition and go deeper into debt because of cuts in state funding, only to find themselves unemployed when they graduate.

The majority of college and university faculty positions are now insecure, part-time jobs. In addition, attacks on collective bargaining have been rampant throughout the nation, as our job security, wages, health benefits, and pensions have been either reduced or slated for elimination.

Therefore, it is time to stand up for what is right.

Evidently, what’s “right” doesn’t include university faculty – or their former students – having to live in the real world, where all jobs are always insecure, health benefits have been disappearing for decades, and most of us have had to provide for our own pensions for our whole working lives.  We actually accept these economic realities for ourselves, and bristle at the notion that someone else feels entitled get a lifelong scholarship for them, on our dime.

In fact, they’d like the laws of economics not to apply to higher education at all.  Heavily subsidized, colleges have not necessarily put this money towards decreasing class sizes or improving instruction.  Instead, they have raised tuition to match the subsidies, and put the money towards branding and administrative bloat.  In Colorado, at least, they’ve managed to avoid accountability for their spending.  Look at the University of Colorado website, and while you’ll have no trouble at all finding out where the money comes from, good luck figuring out how it gets spent.  For years, the legislature has tried to get a straight answer to the question, “how much does it cost to educate a student from enrollment to awarding of a bachelor’s degree?”  No dice.

Worse, as far as the students are concerned, colleges & universities have been marketing the generic bachelors degree as the key to lifetime employment security, regardless of the degree.  This, at the same time as they have been marketing themselves to the taxpayers as the engines of technological growth.  That 25%-30% of CU’s bachelor’s degrees over the last decade have been in psychology, the social sciences, or area & ethnic studies somewhat undermines both claims.

Now, I know of some sociology majors who, after have complete four years of college, have returned home to help out with the family business, and find the work fascinating.  That’s fine if you’re expecting a $50,000 debt for finishing school.  But I’m guessing that most people don’t have that opportunity.  They, like their parents, have to work for someone else, and “Bring Your Kids To Work Day” is pretty much over by the time they’re 22.  So they need a degree that will help prepare them for that.

This is not an attack on the liberal arts, or to suggest that math and science be studied solely in preparation for an engineering career.  The wild success of The Teaching Company is proof that adults, with real financial obligations, can be enticed to pay hundreds of dollars for quality courses in history, philosophy, literature, music, and science.  It’s proof that adults, with real world experience, realize the value of those subjects in helping them make sense of the world and grapple with tough issues.

The whining of the professors and their former students is, on the contrary, evidence of how the modern university instead cheats its current students by utterly failing them in this regard, and how easy it is to prey on college-bound students and their parents who only want the best for them.

That they have been the victims of a swindle almost as colossal as Social Security is undeniable.  Too many students have been sold a bill of goods by their government and the universities they attend.  Too bad they don’t have the critical thinking skills to be protesting at the right address.


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Transportation Spending an Indicator?

Over at Carpe Diem (if you’re not reading it, you should), Mark Perry is arguing against a double-dip recession, suggesting instead that continued sluggish growth, the sort of grey sludge economy we’ve had for a while now, is the mostly likely scenario.  One of his indicators is rail intermodal traffic, which set a volume record last week:

By itself, this doesn’t seem to be too strong an indicator.  We’re just about at the seasonal high for the year, and year-over-year, the increase isn’t all that impressive.  Also, when I spoke with the head of UP’s media relations a few months ago, he agreed that intermodal generally moves finished goods, and is an indicator of consumption, while non-intermodal carloads are raw materials, and thus a better proxy for production.  They’ve barely moved.  So both sides seem to confirm what the other numbers are showing.

But up is better than down, and some of the weakness may be capacity.  Railroads seem to be moving to deal with that problem, and railcar manufacturers in Virginia and Arkansas are hiring new workers to meet the demand.  Most of this is coming from lighter, stronger coal cars, as well as chemical and petroleum cars.

I’m contracting at a major trucker based in Omaha, and they’ve been reluctant to increase capacity for a couple of reasons, including general uncertainty.  There’s a shortage of long-haul drivers, and already a capacity constraint, and yet they and at least one other mid-sized truck company I’ve spoken to are still not expanding their fleets.

However, they seem to be the exception.  Transport Topics (behind a paywall) is reporting that Class 8 truck sales – which include all tractor-trailers – are the highest since early 2007.  Some of this may be in anticipation of new rules that will force companies to have more trucks on the road to deliver the same amount of goods.  To that extent – if at all – the additional purchases are an inefficient allocation of capital.  But they aren’t likely the entire source of growth.  Companies are already short of inventory and capacity, and are simply expanding to meet perceived demand.

In theory, all these increased orders for trucks and railcars should be predicting continued economic growth.  In practice, we could still get blindsided by Europe, or it could be an example of companies expanding into a contraction, like a classic business cycle.

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Nobel Prizes and Consensus – Updated

So much for the idea that science operates by consensus.  If it did, Dan Schechtman would still be working in obscurity, rather than having just been named the 2011 Nobel Prize winner in Chemistry.

Schechtman won for discovering something called quasicrystals (the article is a little technical).  We all think we know what crystals look like: solid forms that are not only symmetrical, but that also repeat endlessly.  Schechtman discovered crystal structures that are symmetrical, but have patterns that don’t repeat – ever – when they’re put next to each other.  It’s a three-dimensional analogue to Penrose Tiling, where the pattern is symmetrical about the center (in this case, it repeats 5 times), but never repeats as you move outward.

The world of crystallography didn’t receive Schechtman’s discovery with open arms:

“People didn’t think that this kind of crystal existed,” she said. “They thought it was against the rules of nature.”

“I told everyone who was ready to listen that I had material with pentagonal symmetry. People just laughed at me,” Shechtman said in a description of his work released by his university.

For months he tried to persuade his colleagues of his find, but they refused to accept it. Finally he was asked to leave his research group, and moved to another one within the institute.

Shechtman returned to Israel, where he found one colleague prepared to work with him on an article describing the phenomenon. The article was at first rejected, but finally published in November 1984 — to uproar in the scientific world. Double Nobel winner Linus Pauling was among those who never accepted the findings.

“He would stand on those platforms and declare, ‘Danny Shechtman is talking nonsense. There is no such thing as quasicrystals, only quasi-scientists,”’ Shechtman said.

Schechtman encountered fierce resistance to a laboratory discovery, and was rightly forced to go through the scientific process of debate, discussion, and reproducible experiment.  Computer models showing that such shapes were possible wouldn’t have been enough.  Making the lab measurements wouldn’t have been enough.  Making the crystals in once wouldn’t have been enough.  Explaining other scientists’ data wouldn’t have been enough.  Only when he was able to use his discovery to make useful predictions was it enough for us.  (The article says that the discovery took place on April 8, 1982, which corresponds to the first day of Passover that year.  Insiders will understand the structure of this paragraph.)

Climate orthodoxy considers itself bound by almost none of these constraints, and seeks to operate by consensus.  Science can be as susceptible to groupthink as any other pursuit.  It’s only the rigor of repeatable, predictive, real-world experimentation that keeps it grounded and validates its conclusions.

UPDATE: The official Nobel Prize press release recognizes Schechtman’s, “fierce battle against established science.”  Imagine that.

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Black Monday

No, not at the stock market, although there was plenty of bad news there, too yesterday.

October 3, 2011 was Black Monday for the Obama Administration.  One long-developing scandal finally threatened to decapitate the most politicized Justice Department since John Mitchell, and another from Obama’s campaign past burst onto the scene, undermining the President’s carefully-tended post-racial image.

CBS News obtained documents that Eric Holder knew about Operation Fast and Furious long before he said he did, in sworn testimony before Congress.

New documents obtained by CBS News show Attorney General Eric Holder was sent briefings on the controversial Fast and Furious operation as far back as July 2010. That directly contradicts his statement to Congress.

On May 3, 2011, Holder told a Judiciary Committee hearing, “I’m not sure of the exact date, but I probably heard about Fast and Furious for the first time over the last few weeks.”

Yet internal Justice Department documents show that at least ten months before that hearing, Holder began receiving frequent memos discussing Fast and Furious.

CBS then links to three different memos that Holder would have received – and we can easily believe there were others – discussing Fast and Furious over the 10 months prior to Holder’s testimony.

In other words, the Attorney General of the United States lied under oath to a Congressional committee in order to save himself, confuse investigators’ timelines, and give himself more time to construct a “narrative.”

The Justice Department has an explanation, naturally:

The Justice Department told CBS News that the officials in those emails were talking about a different case started before Eric Holder became Attorney General. And tonight they tell CBS News, Holder misunderstood that question from the committee – he did know about Fast and Furious – just not the details.

If the first claim is true, the Administration will need to produce documentation not only about that earlier case, but also a broad paper trail about the Department’s handling of it.  Remember, they need not only prove that such a case existed, but that the attorneys involved were discussing it, not Gunwalker.

As for Holder’s claim that he “misunderstood the question,” go to the link and watch the testimony yourself.  Rep. Issa asks a simple, straightforward question: “When did you first know about the program officially called, ‘Fast and Furious?'”  Holder then says, “I’m not sure of the exact date, but I probably heard about Fast and Furious for the first time over the last few weeks.”

I’m not sure what there was to misunderstand, unless such misunderstanding was deliberate.  Whatever one thinks of Holder’s politics or the way he’s corrupted the Justice Department with politics, he’s a government lawyer with long experience testifying before Congress in various capacities.  The idea that he didn’t understand the meaning of “when did you first hear?” is simply not credible.

The MSM has been singularly sympathetic to the Obama Administration, but its coverage of Fast and Furious has actually been pretty decent, given their time and space constraints.  The Washington Post in particular has devoted significantly more space to this than it has, even, to campground signage in west Texas.  With the emergence of direct evidence that the Administration, in the person of its Attorney General, has been not merely stonewalling, but also actively lying in order to cover up the scandal, the phrase “Worse than Watergate” begins to take on real meaning.

Combine that with evidence that Elana Kagan did the same during her Supreme Court confirmation testimony, in order to place herself in a position to defend the Progressives’ signature Obamacare legislation, and a patter begins to emerge of administration contempt for Congress, parallel to its contempt for the people its supposed to be governing.

At the same time, Andrew Breitbart uncovered photos of then-Senator Obama campaigning in 2007 with the New Black Panthers.  (John Sexton over at Big Government has found the video of Obama’s speech that he gave at the same event, along with the take that the New Black Panthers’ Malik Shabazz had on Obama’s remarks.)

Barack Obama has carefully constructed an image of himself as post-racial, and used that image to great political effect.  Sharing a stage with bigots and racial provocateurs like the New Black Panthers, even if only to shore up his authenticity among Black voters, does much to undermine that image.  Now Attorney General Holder’s decision to drop a case that had already been won, against the Panthers in Philadelphia, begins to look less like just racial bias – a damning enough trait in a Justice Department – but also like political payback.

Normally, candidates get a couple of “resets” during a campaign.  After they’re elected, it’s their record, not their campaign, that we judge them by.  And for the most part, after they’re nominated for the next office, most of the primary campaign is forgotten.  This can be useful, allowing the public to focus on the debate at hand, and deferring to the judgment of those who had to make previous nominating and election decisions.

But with a too-friendly press, such deliberate amnesia can also be manipulated, and in this case the MSM has been derelict in its duty.  Only Juan Williams, evidently, commented on the joint appearance at the time, and the rest of the MSM ignored it, no doubt because it didn’t fit their narrative.

Barack Obama campaigned to white America as a post-racial healer, one who, for the price of a vote, offer absolution for its past racial sins.  And yet, in the very speech where he quotes a latter from a pastor encouraging him to be true to his ideals, he’s compromising that image.  Moreover, with such a tissue-thin level of achievement up to that point, and with a lamentable record as President, the facts of his past presidential campaign which were never vetted properly at the time become relevant to our judgment about him now.

Both of these, politically and substantively, are far more important than west Texas campground signage and whatever the appropriate level of contemporaneous outrage should have been, and far more important than astro-turfed “rallies” whose job it is to distract us and to change the subject.

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