Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Therapy For Civilians, Too


'Ordinary' pets to the rescue on human-animal therapy teams
Updated 4/30/2008 11:13 AM
By Sharon L. Peters, Special for USA TODAY

DENVER — Most of the time, Biscuit the bulldog is just a regular stubby-legged young dude who runs around the yard collecting sticks and making everyone laugh with his goofy antics.

But each Friday, once he dons his green work vest, he adjusts his jowly mug into an expression of genial concern, discards all thoughts of canine capers and calmly sets about the business of cheering up stroke patients or encouraging children in their classrooms.

PHOTOS: See therapeutic pets in action in Colorado
FIRST-HAND ACCOUNT: Can a reporter and a rescued mutt become a therapy team?

"This is his calling," says his owner, Shannon Pryor, 28, of Wheat Ridge. She recognized Biscuit's highly empathetic nature when he was a wee pup and she was convalescing with a broken foot.

Pryor got herself and Biscuit registered as a pet therapy team through Denver Pet Partners when he was 1 year old, and now they spend Friday mornings at either the Easter Seals stroke rehabilitation center or at Pine Grove Elementary School.

Across the country, thousands of pets and their owners are spending time with the infirm, the depressed or the distressed, as well as with legions of children and adults in difficult straits who get a boost from the unconditional acceptance and cheerful demeanor of an animal.

Therapy dogs, as they are known, are not service dogs, which go through years of specialized training to assist people who have disabilities. Therapy dogs are house pets that have a special affinity for people, a placid demeanor and solid, reliable obedience skills. The ability they have to motivate, cheer, stabilize and calm people began to be widely publicized in recent years. Now, doctors, counselors, teachers, librarians, physical therapists and crisis managers are so convinced of the positive power of animals that they're lining up to request teams to spend healing time with people in their charge.

The pet-owning public is responding in ever-burgeoning numbers. The training program by the Delta Society in Bellevue, Wash., is used by dozens of therapy-animal groups nationwide. It has more than 10,000 teams registered and has experienced 6% to 8% growth a year. Similar growth is reported by Therapy Dog International in Flanders, N.J., which has 15,000 handlers and 18,000 dogs registered, and Therapy Dogs Inc. in Cheyenne, Wyo., which has more than 10,000 dog/handler teams. Thousands more people and pets are registered with smaller groups or simply do their thing without group affiliation.

Training sessions to help owners prepare usually are booked solid. "We always have a waiting list," says Denver Pet Partners' Diana McQuarrie, who conducts four sessions a year.

Cats and birds get into the act

With each passing month, the whole pet-therapy arena seems to evolve:

•Dogs aren't the only species being used. Cats, llamas, miniature horses, rabbits and birds have been trained and registered.

•Dozens of new applications are being tried. Therapy animals are frequenting schools to help with reading programs or with special-education students, funeral homes to comfort survivors, disaster sites to help quell the chaos and prisons to offer non-judgmental friendship. The U.S. military sent the first therapy dogs to a war zone in December to help the troops in Iraq.

"Every year we see more activity, more acceptance," says Marie Belew Wheatley, president and CEO of the American Humane Association in Denver. Wheatley is so convinced of the trajectory of pet therapy that American Humane took Denver Pet Partners under its umbrella last year and is creating a division this year to study and perpetuate the human/animal bond. A key goal will be to help communities establish or enhance programs. "I predict (pet therapy) will be an integral part of how maladies of all sorts are treated in the future," she says.

Contrary to popular belief, there's no ideal breed for this sort of volunteer work. "They can be 3 pounds to 150 pounds, of any breed," Delta Society's JoAnn Turnbull says. Some dogs have disabilities, and "30% of the dogs we register are from shelters or rescue groups."

Rewards are in the smiles

Stories abound about animals so adept at plugging into people in need "that the handlers are no longer guiding the dogs; the dog knows intuitively which person needs the most attention, and the handler just lets it happen," Turnbull says.

Says Therapy Dogs' Teri Meadows, "Getting a child to speak who has been quiet for months, or experiencing any of the hundreds of other happy reactions your dog can get from someone, well, there's just nothing else like it."

Pryor recalls the time Biscuit was sitting quietly with a stroke patient who was listlessly doing physical therapy, reaching forward to pet the dog, but only with her good side. Biscuit got up and lay on the side of the woman that had been damaged by the stroke, the side she wouldn't use. The therapist asked her to reach with that side and pat the dog. With great effort, she did.

"And Biscuit leaped up and licked her," Pryor says. "He knew this was a great moment, and it's almost as if he were congratulating her."

Licking of patients is a no-no, and Pryor told him to stop. But the woman announced she liked it "and smiled a huge smile, the first smile I'd ever seen from her."

Says Ursula Kempe of Therapy Dog International: "When a dog brightens the life of a person, it's the greatest. It's why people do this with their animals."

Doggies Help Troops With Stress


Dogs of war bring soldiers peace of mind
Updated 12/12/2007 10:10 PM
Todd Plitt, USA TODAY

Boe and Budge will be the first therapy dogs to help military people in Iraq who endure combat stress.


America's VetDogs, which trained Boe and Budge, is a subsidiary of the non-profit Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind, which has trained thousands of dogs for the visually impaired since the 1940s.

The foundation in Smithtown, N.Y., made special provisions in its early days to serve military-service veterans and in 60 years has provided guide dogs for hundreds, officials say.

Three years ago the organization began training additional kinds of dogs for veterans with mobility problems and more recently has trained therapy dogs.

America's VetDogs (VetDogs.org) became a distinct entity of the Guide Dog Foundation earlier this year.

By Sharon L. Peters, Special for USA TODAY
Stressed troops in Iraq will get a first-of-its-kind holiday gift later this month: two long-eared, highly sensitive black Labrador retrievers that military officials hope will help soldiers navigate the ragged emotions of life in a war zone.

The specially selected and trained therapy dogs, Boe (pronounced Bo) and Budge, will be attached to combat stress units in Tikrit and Mosul, where "they'll be a vital part of the medical team" that helps troops struggling with stress, sleep disorders and event-related trauma, says Army Staff Sgt. Mike Calaway. He's one of two occupational-therapy assistants sent stateside to receive therapy-dog-handling instruction and return Boe and Budge to the 85th Medical Detachment combat-stress control unit.

This is the first time the military has placed therapy dogs in a combat zone, so it is unknown precisely to what degree troops will connect with and benefit from them. "We have a blank page," says Staff Sgt. Jack Greene. "We're writing on the page. We don't know what's going to be at the bottom of the page until we get there."

But at a minimum, the dogs "will be able to serve as an icebreaker and a communication link" between troubled troops and care providers, says Mike Sargeant, chief training officer for the non-profit America's VetDogs. Sergeant began preparing the 2-year-old Labs earlier this year after the Army queried whether the psychological benefits that therapy dogs provide stateside troops could be replicated in Iraq.

Jumping to the challenge

Therapy dogs offer affection without regard to "gender, race, disability or injury," says Sargeant, and in many settings, troubled people have come to regard the animal as "a safe haven of communication" and have opened up in ways they have not with humans. It's "too new to know just how far the magic will go" in a combat environment, he says, but he's convinced the two dogs are ideally suited to the challenge.

Boe and Budge are similar to each other in their affection for people and ability to tune into individuals' emotional states, but they have their own distinct personalities, Sargeant says. Boe is a stocky female with a playful nature who will cheerfully spend hours at someone's feet if that's what is asked, and Budge is a spunky male who's hard-wired to please.

Unlike guide or service dogs, therapy dogs aren't trained to alert people to ringing phones, maneuver them up or down stairs or pick up dropped items. Therapy dogs are trained to plug into humans and to be "completely non-judgmental," says Sargeant; that often prompts people to expose their vulnerabilities, uncap emotions and move past their difficulties.

Therapy dogs routinely undergo six to eight months of special training to ensure that, among other things, they'll keep their focus on people, no matter the distractions. Boe and Budge were put through additional paces to prepare for the sights, sounds and scents of a war zone. They've been acclimated to helicopter noise, explosions, gunfire, sirens and people from many cultures.

Also, most therapy dogs, which generally work with frail or ailing adults and children in hospitals, nursing homes, medical offices and other care facilities, are typically chosen for being "extremely soft with very low energy levels," Sargeant says, so they'll be content with prolonged inactivity. But knowing that the Army canines would be working very long days with people in their 20s, 30s and 40s who might benefit from some play or roughhousing with a dog, Sargeant wanted high-sensitivity dogs with great energy, and Budge and Boe qualified.

Both dogs know that when their therapy-dog jackets are put on, "they're on duty," Sargeant says. And no hurled tennis ball can cause them to lose their focus on people in their sphere. But when they're not working, they happily engage in raucous merrymaking.

The two dogs, born and trained on Long Island, N.Y., have spent 24 hours a day with their new handlers since Sunday, says Jeff Bressler, America's VetDogs executive vice president, and the four of them have undergone at least 10 hours of training with Sargeant every day since.

Four-footed foot soldiers

Boe and Budge will fly to Fort Hood in Texas this weekend, where they'll undergo military physicals with Army veterinarians and be commissioned as Army sergeants. Next week they'll board a military charter plane to Kuwait (they'll fly in the cabin, not in crates beneath the plane) and from there journey to their respective units. Although travel in Iraq is not always direct or precisely on schedule, they're expected to reach their destinations by Christmas or soon after.

Sending therapy graduates into a war zone thousands of miles away is sweetened by the knowledge that "we know they're going on a very important mission," Bressler says.

"I know what they can give back to people," Sargeant says. "I'm going to be proud."

Budge and Boe "will be in areas that are kept safe," he says.

When the dogs' tour in Iraq ends — possibly years from now — they'll likely be deployed with the handlers they have at that time to a new locale or reassigned to a military hospital in the USA.

Air Doggies!


Pilots fly doomed dogs to better life

By Sharon L. Peters, Special for USA TODAY
Puppy love is reaching new heights.

Pilots are donating their time, planes and fuel to transport dozens of dogs a month from overcrowded shelters where they face almost certain death to rescue groups and shelters several states away that are committed to finding them homes.

The mission-of-mercy relocations are flown by general aviation pilots who have signed on with the recently formed Pilots N Paws, a Web-based message board where pilots can access information about animals in need.

Once the electronic connection is made, dogs plucked by rescuers from death row — mostly in the South where sterilization rates are low and pet overpopulation is rampant — are loaded onto small planes and flown one, two or six at a time to rescue groups and shelters that have available space.

"These are wonderful dogs that simply had the bad luck of winding up in a place where there are too many pets in shelters," says Pilots N Paws co-founder Jon Wehrenberg of Knoxville, Tenn. The retired manufacturing executive and weekend pilot has flown scores of dogs from high-kill shelters this year. Earlier this month, his mission involved six small mixed-breed dogs from Knoxville's Young-Williams Animal Center.

The happy half-dozen enjoyed a smooth-sailing, 90-minute flight to Greensboro, N.C., where they were met by radio station executive Jennifer Hart, head of Animal Rescue & Foster Program, who had arranged foster care. One dog has been adopted; the others are receiving additional attention, socialization and training and should be ready for new homes soon after Thanksgiving.

Beginning of the journey

"Pilots N Paws has given about 20 of our animals a second chance," says Tim Adams, executive director of the Young-Williams shelter, which euthanizes 70% of the animals that land there. "We take in 17,000 animals a year, and Knoxville simply isn't big enough… to get new homes for them here. Twenty animals saved may not sound like much, but every one of them matters."

Pilots N Paws started operating in February soon after Wehrenberg offered to fly a Doberman in Florida to his pal Debi Boies of Landrum, S.C., who is a retired nurse, horse breeder and long-time rescuer. He began asking questions about the rescue world and learned about the passionate underground railroad of animal lovers who orchestrate days-long road journeys to save some of the 4 million to 6 million animals destined for euthanasia in U.S. shelters annually.

"I'd had no idea of the number of animals being euthanized, and the ordeal people and animals were going through in transports," Wehrenberg says. "Pilots love to fly. I believed that if we created a means for them to discover situations where they could fly and also save animals, many would do it."

He and Boies joined forces to spread the word, and within months, 85 pilots had signed on. Nearly 200 dogs have now been flown from several shelters and rescue groups to welcoming arms hundreds of miles away.

"For most of these dogs, the next walk they would have taken would have been to death's door," says administrative assistant Dawn Thompson of Falconer, N.Y., who for 18 years has taken in, nursed, socialized and re-homed more than 100 dogs a year from various high-kill areas. In recent months 30 have arrived via Pilots N Paws, and she's learned the ones that arrive by plane rather than ground transport "don't have the stress that two days on the road creates, and that makes them almost instantly adoptable."

'Doggy kisses' are worth gas

Each flight costs the pilot hundreds of dollars in fuel alone, not including routine maintenance and other operating expenses. Boies and Wehrenberg are working to gain non-profit status for the group so pilots could declare the fuel costs a charitable contribution. But the pilots aren't exactly agitating for that.

"Doggy kisses are worth the $6 a gallon," says Westminster, Md., businesswoman and small-plane pilot Michele McGuire. She was recently part of a two-leg rely that flew a 110-pound skin-and-bones Great Dane from Arab, Ala., where a rescue group saved it from euthanasia, to a new family in Baldwin, Mass.

"I don't know what (the animals') opinion of flying is, but it sure makes their trip a lot shorter," says Nick O'Connell, a Williamsburg, Va., contractor who did his first such flight earlier this month. The two-leg hand-off involved two pilots, several hundred miles and two chow-mix puppies rescued from a dump near Atlanta and delivered to their new family in Chesterfield, Va.

The animals are almost always remarkably calm about the adventure, O'Connell and other pilots report.

"It's almost as if they understand that this is their chance for life," Boies says.

Sometimes pilots scroll through the "Transport needed" section of Pilots N Paws and find a plea to fly an animal to a town or city they already were planning to visit.

Most times, however, they study the requests, see a need that touches them and offer their services.

Broomfield, Colo., software engineer/pilot Mike Boyd was involved in a multi-state, multi-person transport of a German shepherd in October, and he's aiming to do more missions. "To take my hobby and apply it to help this situation, well, it's just a great feeling," he says.

Adds O'Connell: "It is rewarding beyond my wildest imagination."

Monday, November 24, 2008

Stormy Weather Channel


NBC Fires Weather Channel Environmental Unit
Some on-camera meteorologists also let go

* The Capital Weather Gang's Winter Outlook *

NBC Universal made the first of potentially several rounds of staffing cuts at The Weather Channel (TWC) on Wednesday, axing the entire staff of the "Forecast Earth" environmental program during the middle of NBC's "Green Week," as well as several on-camera meteorologists. The layoffs totaled about 10 percent of the workforce, and are among the first major changes made since NBC completed its purchase of the venerable weather network in September.

Keep reading for more on The Weather Channel cuts...

The layoffs affected about 80 people, but left the long-term leadership of the network unclear, according to a source who requested anonymity due to the continuing uncertainty at the station.

Among the meteorologists who was let go was Dave Schwartz, a Weather Channel veteran and a viewer staple due to his lively on camera presentations. USA Today reported that meteorologists Cheryl Lemke and Eboni Deon were also let go.

The timing of the Forecast Earth cancellation was ironic, since it came in the middle of NBC's "Green Week," during which the network has been touting its environmental coverage across all of its platforms. Forecast Earth normally aired on weekends, but its presumed last episode was shown on a weekday due to the environmentally-oriented week.

Forecast Earth was hosted by former CNN anchor Natalie Allen, with contributions from climate expert Heidi Cullen. It was the sole program on TWC that focused on global climate change, which raises the question of whether the station will still report on the subject. Cullen's future role at the network is not known.

NBC released the following statement in response to questions about the firings:

The economic realities of recent months have created challenges for everyone in our business. In addition, when NBC Universal purchased the Weather Channel earlier this year, we expected that there would be cost synergies as part of a company reorganization. While it is always difficult to lose valued employees, we are doing our best to minimize the impact, and remain committed to providing the highest quality content that our viewers have come to expect from the Weather Channel.

By Andrew Freedman | November 21, 2008; 5:00 PM ET

Monday, November 17, 2008

Not So Recession-Proof

Locally, the Ameristar Casino just laid off 200.


Recession-proof? Maybe not this time
Gambling, smoking, even premium television could suffer in this downturn
Image: Card dealer
Think gambling is recession-proof? You might not want to bet on that.

By Allison Linn
Senior writer
updated 9:41 a.m. CT, Mon., Nov. 17, 2008

For years, Starbucks’ coffee drinks were considered the type of affordable luxury that could withstand the ebbs and flows of the U.S. economy.

Americans, the thinking went, might cut back on big expenditures like a new car or a new couch in an economic downturn, but they’d still feel justified in treating themselves to a frothy coffee drink when they were having to deprive themselves of so much else.

That sort of conventional wisdom was thrown out the window about a year ago, when Starbucks conceded that the once high-flying company was losing its footing. It has since been forced to close stores and lay off workers as profits have plummeted.
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While Starbucks certainly has made its share of missteps, it’s clear that part of its problem is simply that more and more Americans began to question whether they could really afford a $4 coffee drink when that money could be going to more pressing needs like gas, food or heating bills.

Starbucks isn’t the only company that could be hit unexpectedly hard in this downturn. As the country faces its worst financial crisis in decades, experts say sectors such as gambling, cigarettes and entertainment — all once considered relatively immune to economic hardship — could start feeling the pinch of the country’s current belt-tightening.

“The things that have been recession-proof in the past are proving to be punished by this recession,” said Burt P. Flickinger III, managing director of Strategic Resource Group.

That’s partly because this downturn — which has not yet technically been declared a recession — could end up being much worse than others in recent memory. But it also comes as more Americans are finding themselves with little if any savings, and less access to credit, leaving them with less money to spend on the escapist splurges that might otherwise have fared better in a downturn.

“The consumer is more cash- and credit-constrained than any time during the last four decades,” Flickinger said.

Flickinger also thinks the companies behind those sectors share some of the blame, because they aggressively pushed up prices for everything from movie tickets to premium television during the good times. That, in turn, is making it harder for some Americans to justify an increasingly premium TV package, or night at the movies, in downtimes.

The troubles for companies such as Starbucks also could be exacerbated by the fact that this economic downturn has included widespread difficulties in traditionally well-paying areas such as financial services.

“Some people that probably thought they were largely invulnerable to a recession are finding themselves vulnerable,” said Ken Mayland, president of the forecasting firm ClearView Economics.

Although it is still too early to say how much these sectors will be hurt by the downturn, some troubling signs are emerging.

Even — or especially — when times are tough, the common assumption has been that people will continue to gamble for relief and the hope of striking it rich. But Keith Schwer, director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, notes that that type of thinking was based on the more shallow recessions such as the ones in 1991 and 2001.

With the economy appearing to be in deeper despair, gaming companies and the Nevada economy as a whole is already grappling with hard times.

MGM Mirage reported an 8 percent dip in casino revenue in the third quarter ended Sept. 30, and the company halted development of a new property in Atlantic City, N.J., citing the weak economy and tight credit conditions. Harrah’s Entertainment swung to a loss in the same period, and also blamed its woes on economic upheaval.

For Las Vegas specifically, Schwer said part of the problem is that gaming is now much more widespread in the United States, meaning that people can gamble locally without the expense of a trip to Vegas. Many gaming companies also were in the midst of expansion when the economy started to turn, meaning stiffer competition.

“Not only is the economy slowing and there’s less business, but we’re dividing it additional times with new properties,” Schwer said.

Conventional wisdom also has held that people will smoke and drink alcohol even when budgets are tight. But that assumption is now being tested. Altria Group, whose holdings include cigarette maker Philip Morris USA, recently told The Associated Press that it had started to cut jobs because of economic turmoil.

Even if they are cutting back elsewhere, many have believed that people will continue to think of their cable television as another utility, like water or electricity, and keep paying the bill even when their budgets get tight. But this time around, Flickinger said his research is showing that premium television is one of the first items people are cutting back on in parts of the country that have been hard-hit by layoffs or other labor strife.
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“The first thing to go is cable, the second thing to go is the phone, the third thing to go is the second car and then the fourth thing to go is the house,” Flickinger said.

While it’s still early days, there are signs those individual decisions are starting to impact providers. Satellite TV provider Dish Network Inc. recently reported a net loss of 10,000 subscribers in the third quarter ended Sept. 30, and it cited the weak economy as one factor in the loss of business. In a regulatory filing, the company also warned that bad economic conditions could impact consumer demand for pay-TV services going forward.

Those cable providers who have expanded into Internet and phone offerings may be better poised to survive a downturn because they have more diverse sources of revenue.

As the economic downturn continues, many also will be watching closely to see how much it will affect people’s appetite for sporting events. Rodney Fort, a professor of sports management at the University of Michigan, expects that sports revenue will be impacted by the downturn, with hockey and baseball feeling more of a pinch than basketball and football.

Still, he said it’s hard to say how much any sport will be impacted at this point because there isn’t reliable data from similar downturns in the past. While it’s true that attendance famously rose at sporting events during the Great Depression, Fort said it’s not clear that revenue also improved.

Fort also noted that the sports industry has changed substantially in recent decades. Not only has television revenue become much more important, but ticket sales have become more dependent on high-income fans and corporations willing to shell out for pricey boxes and season tickets.

Many also have traditionally believed that people will continue to splurge on a night out at the movies even when times are tight. But some expect that theory to be tested this time around as well. That’s partly because the cost of buying a movie ticket and snacks has risen substantially in recent years, and partly because it’s become easier to rent a DVD or get one for free from the library, and pop your own popcorn.

“(Watching) a DVD on the widescreen TV sets that a lot of people already have is a pretty good substitute for going to the movies, so I wouldn’t bet my life on the fortunes of movie theaters,” said Mayland, the economist.

Nevertheless, some in the industry remain optimistic. In a conference call with analysts last month, Regal Entertainment Group Chief Executive Mike Campbell conceded that prices have gone up, but said a trip to the movie theater remained less expensive than other forms of entertainment.

“Our industry is probably as recession resistant, based on historical facts, as any that I'm aware of,” Campbell said in the earnings conference call.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

My Generational Crime

I must now confess my heinous generational crime:

I was old enough to remember Kennedy's assassination, and young enough to miss Viet Nam.

This makes me a subset of the Baby Boomers called "Generation Jones". Since I went through the 70's as a teen, the economy crimped my employment chances. So I went into military service as an enlisted man. During my time, which ended Honorably (with all the right boxes checked off on my DD 214), I only experienced the ordinary close calls of military aviation. I saw no action, and never fired a weapon in anger (lots in practice).

I have now discovered that this is a sin without redemption. I am not a Holy Martyr of the Generation X Military Experience.

Worse than that, I am a conservative troubled by what has happened with our country for the last eight years.

This makes me less than dust, for Gen X warriors.

The Millenial/Gen Y warriors and I get along fine. I'm just a doddering old man, mostly harmless, and funny to boot. Occasionally, I'm even useful to them.

But for the X'rs I'm evil incarnate. How *dare* I question them?

Guess I'll just have to go to my grave, having predicted things right, and calling X'rs out on being wrong. Especially if they are reactionary idiots, who are intent on destroying conservatism as well as the military.

Words cannot express my sorrow. and regret. :)

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Friday 14 OCT 2008 Observations

It seems my internet adversaries have had some effect with the pins and needles they've been sticking in my effigy: Today, I had to have a cyst removed from my right arm. Outpatient procedure, very efficient. Have to applaud the doctors and staff at SLU; they know their business. Still annoying. It would seem that I am matching my dog in the number of growths popping up...

Still feeling the effects of the upper respiratory infection as well. It's hitting my co-workers hard as well.

The Indians have landed a probe on the Moon. India and China seem to be in a race now.

NASA needs a teardown- and rebuild. We called it "zero-timing" in the Air Force, taking an aircraft back to zero flight hours through a complete rebuild at depot. NASA's Form 1 must have so many red diagonals in it, people must get astigmatism from looking at the agency's status.

(For non-USAF persons, Form 1 is the individual aircraft's service record/book. Must be read before any maintenance, and signed off on by the aircraft commander before flight)

Cold rain. Winter. I can feel the doggie getting frustrated, as am I.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Brooks Nails It, Again.


Op-Ed Columnist
Darkness at Dusk

Published: November 10, 2008

It’s only been a week since the defeat, but the battle lines have already been drawn in the fight over the future of conservatism.

In one camp, there are the Traditionalists, the people who believe that conservatives have lost elections because they have strayed from the true creed. George W. Bush was a big-government type who betrayed conservatism. John McCain was a Republican moderate, and his defeat discredits the moderate wing.

To regain power, the Traditionalists argue, the G.O.P. should return to its core ideas: Cut government, cut taxes, restrict immigration. Rally behind Sarah Palin.

Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity are the most prominent voices in the Traditionalist camp, but there is also the alliance of Old Guard institutions. For example, a group of Traditionalists met in Virginia last weekend to plot strategy, including Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform, Leonard Leo of the Federalist Society and Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council. According to reports, the attendees were pleased that the election wiped out some of the party’s remaining moderates. “There’s a sense that the Republicans on Capitol Hill are freer of wobbly-kneed Republicans than they were before the election,” the writer R. Emmett Tyrrell told a reporter.

The other camp, the Reformers, argue that the old G.O.P. priorities were fine for the 1970s but need to be modernized for new conditions. The reformers tend to believe that American voters will not support a party whose main idea is slashing government. The Reformers propose new policies to address inequality and middle-class economic anxiety. They tend to take global warming seriously. They tend to be intrigued by the way David Cameron has modernized the British Conservative Party.

Moreover, the Reformers say, conservatives need to pay attention to the way the country has changed. Conservatives have to appeal more to Hispanics, independents and younger voters. They cannot continue to insult the sensibilities of the educated class and the entire East and West Coasts.

The Reformist view is articulated most fully by books, such as “Comeback” by David Frum and “Grand New Party” by Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam, as well as the various writings of people like Ramesh Ponnuru, Yuval Levin, Jim Manzi, Rod Dreher, Peggy Noonan and, at the moderate edge, me.

The debate between the camps is heating up. Only one thing is for sure: In the near term, the Traditionalists are going to win the fight for supremacy in the G.O.P.

They are going to win, first, because Congressional Republicans are predominantly Traditionalists. Republicans from the coasts and the upper Midwest are largely gone. Among the remaining members, the popular view is that Republicans have been losing because they haven’t been conservative enough.

Second, Traditionalists have the institutions. Over the past 40 years, the Conservative Old Guard has built up a movement of activist groups, donor networks, think tanks and publicity arms. The reformists, on the other hand, have no institutions.

There is not yet an effective Republican Leadership Council to nurture modernizing conservative ideas. There is no moderate Club for Growth, supporting centrist Republicans. The Public Interest, which used to publish an array of public policy ideas, has closed. Reformist Republican donors don’t seem to exist. Any publication or think tank that headed in an explicitly reformist direction would be pummeled by its financial backers. National candidates who begin with reformist records — Giuliani, Romney or McCain — immediately tack right to be acceptable to the power base.

Finally, Traditionalists own the conservative mythology. Members of the conservative Old Guard see themselves as members of a small, heroic movement marching bravely from the Heartland into belly of the liberal elite. In this narrative, anybody who deviates toward the center, who departs from established doctrine, is a coward, and a sellout.

This narrative happens to be mostly bogus at this point. Most professional conservatives are lifelong Washingtonians who live comfortably as organization heads, lobbyists and publicists. Their supposed heroism consists of living inside the large conservative cocoon and telling each other things they already agree with. But this embattled-movement mythology provides a rationale for crushing dissent, purging deviationists and enforcing doctrinal purity. It has allowed the old leaders to define who is a true conservative and who is not. It has enabled them to maintain control of (an ever more rigid) movement.

In short, the Republican Party will probably veer right in the years ahead, and suffer more defeats. Then, finally, some new Reformist donors and organizers will emerge. They will build new institutions, new structures and new ideas, and the cycle of conservative ascendance will begin again.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Damn That Liberal Niall Ferguson!



'A World War without War'

In a SPIEGEL interview, British historian Niall Ferguson discusses Barack Obama's historical election, Europe's hopes for the new president, the consequences of the economic crisis and his idea of "Chimerica" -- the economic alliance between Beijing and Washington.

SPIEGEL: Mr. Ferguson, were you moved when you saw the future president, Barack Obama, in Chicago?

Ferguson: Yes, it was a very moving moment. It was similar to the release of Nelson Mandela. When Obama was born, in 1961, mixed marriages between blacks and whites were still illegal in one-third of the American states.

SPIEGEL: Historically speaking, that was yesterday,

Ferguson: Of course. But we are talking about ordinary discrimination, not just the legacy of slavery. And it had not disappeared. It is astonishing that the transformation from a racist America to an America that elects a black man to the White House was possible within that period of time. Even the world's most dogmatic conservative ought to be moved.

SPIEGEL: You initially favored John McCain?

Ferguson: I have become a convert in the last six months because of Obama's extraordinary combination of rhetorical genius, coolness under fire and organizational skills. This was the best election campaign we have ever experienced.

SPIEGEL: Which doesn't necessarily have to mean a great presidency.

Ferguson: What it means is enough: the death of racism, the end of the original American sin and, most of all, the right reaction to end the economic crisis. Obama can stimulate self-confidence because he is so calm and collected. He will not simply put an end to the crisis or ensure that banks lend money again. He is a politician, not the Messiah. But he can change the national mood. Americans are lucky that they were able to elect him now, just as the panic reached its climax. It is as if they had voted Roosevelt into office earlier, in 1930, and not in 1933.

SPIEGEL: Shouldn't the world have seen it coming, the economic crisis we are now experiencing?

British historian Niall Ferguson, 44, is currently a professor at Harvard University. His most recent book is "The Ascent of Money -- A Financial History of the World," Penguin Press, New York; 432 pages; $29.95.

Ferguson: Of course, it has been clear since 2006. I know that for many people it doesn't feel that way. They are horrified because they were taken by surprise, and they are in a panic because the enemy comes from within. The system is the enemy. And they don't understand the nuances of the crisis, which makes them afraid.

SPIEGEL: In retrospect, historians are usually right. What did you foresee in 2006?

Ferguson: Excessive debt. The debts of private households and the financial institutions reached levels that could no longer be offset. Then came the bubble in the real estate market, when prices doubled even though the houses weren't worth the money. But most of all, there was the ignorance of the bankers, hedge fund managers and financial experts in the political arena, who did not want to recognize something that was plain as day.

SPIEGEL: Namely?

Ferguson: That a liquidity crisis could happen. That they would run out of money. "Impossible," everyone was saying at the time.

SPIEGEL: It sounds a little self-opinionated for you to claim that you had predicted all of this for years.

Ferguson: Oh, I've been wrong before. The thing I was wrong about was the trigger.

SPIEGEL: The trigger?

Ferguson: I had believed that the price of oil would be the cause of the world economic crisis, and that the necessary trigger would be a second defenestration, a second Sarajevo and perhaps even a war, a truly major war.

SPIEGEL: Iraq and Afghanistan don't count?

Ferguson: Too small. I had believed that a geopolitical event would lead to a credit crisis, but this crisis is so fundamental that it was capable of triggering itself. Money disappeared, and now companies can no longer refinance, can no longer borrow anything. Now it'll be bloody.

SPIEGEL: Are the bubbles happening with greater frequency than before, or is this just the way we perceive it? Or has the world economy consisted of a single super-bubble for some time now, as speculator George Soros says?

Ferguson: There have been bubbles large and small, again and again since 1700. First there was the tulip bubble and then, in 1890, it was all about the gold mines. No, we haven't even changed the rules of the game. If a central bank makes loans available to speculators at low interest rates, we have a bubble. Always, it's guaranteed. Yesterday, today and tomorrow again.

SPIEGEL: Do you consider the US government's so-called bailout plan and the Europeans' investments in banks to be pointless?

Ferguson: No, but it is not clear that they will work. We have a situation like 1914 or 1931, and the financial and fiscal authorities have learned from history. They are doing the right thing. They are trying everything to prevent us from getting into a Great Depression.

SPIEGEL: With success?

Ferguson: We will see. So far, success has meant that relatively few banks have collapsed, whereas in the 1930s it was thousands. At that time, the gross national product dropped by 30 percent and there was 25 percent unemployment in the United States. This time we will have a painful recession, but not figures like those. What I truly criticize is the fact that so much time was wasted.

SPIEGEL: What was lost as a result?

Ferguson: Flexibility. Clout. A lot of money. Many, many possible solutions. The US treasury secretary should have flown to Beijing and could have solicited investment in American banks, which would have benefited everyone. Those who combat a crisis early on can prevent its effects from becoming too entrenched.

SPIEGEL: Is confidence in the market's ability to purify itself dead?

Ferguson: Yes. But a true Armageddon was needed before the Republicans could be made to understand. A world war without war, a state of emergency, was needed. Now we are responding the way they did in World War I: with moratoriums, suspension of trading, new money. It's fascinating. And it wasn't the fault of Alan Greenspan ...

SPIEGEL: ... the former Federal Reserve Bank chairman …

Ferguson: ... who believed that the market would regulate everything, and yet the assignment of blame is too simplistic. We are all at fault. Who in America or Great Britain didn't take out a loan for a house that was far too expensive or for a car? And then all of these bubbles come to resemble one another, but the financial world is immune against the whole thing.


Ferguson: Most managers leave the educational system completely unequipped for the decisions they will have to make. They learn business as a mathematical discipline. They know nothing about what happened before their careers began. Many working on Wall Street today don't even know what happened in 2000, after the Internet boom.

SPIEGEL: Does the system teach people to be irresponsible?

Ferguson: And to be naïve. For these people, it must have felt as if nothing could go wrong between 2001-2007. When that happens, one is tempted to make one's own experience part of the theory of financial history.

SPIEGEL: Is it a coincidence that this crash began in the United States?

Ferguson: It could have started anywhere. The system was an upside-down pyramid, a pyramid made up of securities, derivatives, bets and loans, and all of it was balanced on a fragile tip consisting of mortgages. If it had happened someplace else, the consequences just wouldn't have been as dramatic. But it had to tip over. It was a crisis of the Western world, and then it turned into a global crisis.

SPIEGEL: Will Barack Obama truly change the world? Or world politics?

Ferguson: Yes, by virtue of his very existence. The world is waiting for him, ready for a different America. The United States has the opportunity to remake itself without Obama having to make many changes to its foreign policy. He will close Guantanamo and declare an end to torture. All he has to do is change the tone and the game will already change because he is the one playing it. That is the real phenomenon. By virtue of his sheer existence, he reestablishes American credibility.

SPIEGEL: There are concerns in Germany that a President Obama will demand more soldiers for Afghanistan. On the other hand, there is hope that he will pursue multilateral policies.

Ferguson: Both are justified. Obama will certainly focus on Afghanistan, while at the same time attempting to withdraw Americans and get international soldiers. A true challenge could arise if Iran or al-Qaida tried to test Obama. Al-Qaida hasn't been taken over by J.P. Morgan yet, and Iran won't abandon its nuclear policy just because a black man is in the White House. Both dangers still exist. However, I believe that all of these issues, including Kyoto, will initially fade into the background because the economic crisis will demand our attention for a long time.

SPIEGEL: What will the consequences of the crisis be?

Ferguson: New York could turn into Venice.

SPIEGEL: A museum of itself?

Ferguson: At least in the distant future, in 100 or 200 years. The more that happens in Asia, the better London's position will be, even from a geographic standpoint. The same, of course, applies to Shanghai, or Hong Kong.

SPIEGEL: Life is unfair.

Ferguson: Money has never been fair.

SPIEGEL: Isn't Europe better equipped for times of crisis? More modern?

Ferguson: Perhaps, but Europe will be more severely hit by the crisis. In Great Britain, Switzerland, Belgium and Germany, the financial sector constitutes a higher percentage of the gross domestic product than in America, which is why the impact will be far greater in Europe. And Russia, Iran and Venezuela are feeling the brunt of falling oil prices.

SPIEGEL: In other words, the United States could become a winner in the current crisis, for which it bears the blame?

Ferguson: Absolutely. Obituaries are premature. It depends on how China reacts. The Chinese have achieved exchange rate stability and protected the dollar with artificial interventions. They will continue their policies because they now own vast numbers of dollars and export goods that are paid for in dollars. The United States and China are involved in a marriage like my wife's and mine.

SPIEGEL: The wife ...

Ferguson: (laughs) ... spends what the husband saves and earns. A very healthy equilibrium. It will remain that way.

SPIEGEL: What is so healthy about it?

Ferguson: It has always been the case that one economy offsets the weaknesses of others. There is nothing wrong with that. The United States can afford to pay for this crisis as long as it gets cheap money in Beijing -- that is, by paying not much more than four percent interest. And China needs its exports to the United States to continue growing. Chimerica ...

SPIEGEL: ... that's what you call the structure of the Chinese and US economies in your new book ...

Ferguson: ... is no chimera, but rather a functioning alliance. Of the big three -- China, Russia and America -- two always join forces in a coalition, and neither China nor the United States has any reason to prefer Russia as a partner.

SPIEGEL: And yet the American deficit cannot be healthy.

Ferguson: Well, it'll balance itself out a little now. But if the United States had a balanced budget, it would be a shock for the global system. No one can seriously want this to happen. If the Americans started saving the way the Chinese do, that's when we would have a Great Depression!

SPIEGEL: That was one of Barack Obama's key warnings: "We borrow money in China and use it to buy oil in Saudi Arabia." During the campaign, he repeatedly promised that he would put an end to this.

Ferguson: A few foreign policy advisors will probably explain to him very quickly that he would be better off not to touch the relationship with China.

SPIEGEL: But there is some truth to his sentence.

Ferguson: That's true, but it is also an over-simplification. Americans want to buy goods inexpensively, and the Chinese can produce inexpensively. Does anyone want to upset this system? Imbalances should exist in a global economy. Nations grow at different rates, and the system is there to transfer profits and savings from one place to another. This makes much more sense than the financial autarchy of the 1950s, when there were no international transactions.

SPIEGEL: It's hard to believe. In the end, you think everything is fine the way it is?

Ferguson: No, but the subject isn't the deficit or America's dependence on China. China has become somewhat more self-confident and America somewhat more insecure, but China is no rival for America, neither militarily nor economically. The subject is dependence on oil, which is a technological subject, not a financial one.

SPIEGEL: Responsible politicians ...

Ferguson: ... would borrow money in China and invest in clean technology, in wind power and solar power. That would be a rational strategy. It was crazy to borrow money in China and burn through it by speculating in the real estate market.

SPIEGEL: So you don't think lending is the problem?

Ferguson: It never has been. Lending transactions are the basis of the economy. It isn't lending, it's investment. If you don't invest, but just consume, you bring about your own ruin.

SPIEGEL: Will European-American relations change?

Ferguson: Yes, but not in the way many Europeans expect. Democrats and Republicans are not that different on foreign policy. In fact, there is much more continuity than you would think. Will Obama be the antithesis to Bush? No, because the national interests of the United States have remained the same.

SPIEGEL: Obama has not had a relationship with Europe so far.

Ferguson: And for that reason he will see Europe as a single entity. He'll be surprised, because he doesn't know whom to call when he wants to speak to Europe. Europe will present itself to him as a group of sovereign states, and Messrs. Sarkozy and Brown, and Ms. Merkel, will all want to be his best friend, each of them on their own.

SPIEGEL: What will the new American president be able to achieve economically, if anything?

Ferguson: He promises a feeling of change, not necessarily real change. But the feeling is already important enough. This whole crisis has to do with trust and self-confidence. We need a US president who brings renewal.

SPIEGEL: So what can Obama do?

Ferguson: He can give a great inauguration speech.

SPIEGEL: And what else?

Ferguson: Give more great speeches.

SPIEGEL: He can't do more?

Ferguson: No, because he will have the least latitude of all presidents we can remember. Obama wants to assemble a nonpartisan government, and we will experience a more cautious first 100 days than we did under Bill Clinton. He will be cautious to the point of being boring. This will be precisely his great strength.

SPIEGEL: Where does the problem lie?

Ferguson: With Hank Paulson.

SPIEGEL: What does the current treasury secretary have to do with Obama?

Ferguson: Because of his big bailout plan, Paulson has already spent the money for Obama's healthcare reform and for his tax cuts. The money is gone.

SPIEGEL: Mr. Ferguson, we thank you for this interview.

Interview conducted by Klaus Brinkbäumer.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Monday Observations 10 Nov 08

What a week.

I've given up on posting on all the commotion. (Should try more of that) The world changed Tuesday night, and we all felt it. It took me an an hour and 38 minutes to vote. It took a second after 2200 CST for the world to change.

Tuesday night, I walked outside into a new world.

Thursday morning, I woke up with a severe upper respiratory infection that has grounded me for five days. Got into the healthcare system on Thursday, got pumped full of antibiotics and pills, and spent the weekend mostly on my back.

Tried going back to work this morning, found myself throwing up into a trash can at work. Not. Good. Went home. My boss was out sick as well. My co-worker, Karl, had two kids at home with strep.

Lovely. Had to skip my scheduled game. Damn.

I've managed to annoy most of the reactionaries on my favorite internet board. Might get banned for real, this time. If so, good riddance. I need to take care of myself. They are cursed with being themselves- a horrid fate indeed.

I brought the bike in for the winter. March is when it might come out again, at less than $2.00 gas.

Max is getting clumsier. He needs help, sometimes.

I'll now try to force myself to go back to bed. Going to work this morning was actually a relief, until my energy ran down.