UPDATE and BUMP: It’s even worse than it sounds. Ed Whelan notes the chronology: On June 5, the Obama campaign floated the possibility of Daschle as HHS Secretary. Then, sometime during June, Daschle told his staff that “something made him think that the car service might be taxable and he disclosed the arrangement to his accountant.” Coincidence? This doesn’t even pass the laugh test. Even then, Daschle didn’t actually pay his taxes until January 2, over three weeks after he was nominated on December 11.
The House of Representatives has blocked a bill that would have postponed the switch to digital TV, but it could be back:
The switch to digital television will go on as scheduled after the House yesterday blocked a bill to delay the date, saying postponing the action would only cause confusion for consumers and increase costs for broadcasters. . .
The bill was considered in the House yesterday under suspension of the rules, a procedure generally used for noncontroversial items. As a result, the bill saw only a short debate and no amendments were allowed. The vote was 258-168, with most Republicans voting against it. The bill needed a two-thirds majority to pass.
Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.), chairman of the House subcommittee that oversees telecommunications issues, said he wants to bring the same bill back to the floor next week under regular order, meaning that it would need only a simple majority to pass.
The libertarian position on this issue isn’t clear to me. Forcing people to buy new television sets doesn’t sound very good, to be sure, but the problem is the government controls the radio spectrum, so we won’t ever modernize the system without government action. Barring privatization of the radio spectrum (out of the question in today’s political climate, I suppose), the switchover plan — to use some of the proceeds from sale of radio spectrum (formerly allocated to analog TV) to provide DTV converter coupons — seems like an acceptable one, in principle.
However, there have been a host of practical problems. One is that the coupon program is out of money. (Isn’t it quaint to worry about a paltry $1.34 billion program running out of money these days!) Another is the problem of digital dead zones, areas that can receive an analog signal but not yet a digital one. So I think the case for a delay (e.g., by Consumer Reports) is a decent one.
Unfortunately, things are more complicated than that, due to competing business interests. The companies that would use the newly-reallocated spectrum for 4G networks are in varying degrees of preparation. Those who are most ready (such as Verizon) want the switch to take place on schedule. They argue that they paid billions for the new spectrum, and the government should deliver it as promised. (Again, how quaint!) Others who are behind (such as AT&T and Clearwire) want a delay, so that they too can be ready on day one, or close to it.
And that’s where a huge White House conflict-of-interest comes in:
Enter Gerry Salemme. A telecom industry veteran; former lobbyist; and Clearwire executive vice president for strategy, policy, and external affairs, Salemme has also been a generous Obama supporter. Early in the primary season, Salemme gave the maximum $2,300 to Obama for America, and then in August threw in another $10,000 to the Obama Victory Fund, a joint fundraising committee that accepts large contributions and carves them up between the party and candidate. . . Once the race to the White House was won, Salemme scrounged another $5,000 for the transition effort.
As of this writing, Salemme is not mentioned anywhere on the Change.gov site—which lists members of the Obama transition’s staff, policy working groups, and agency review teams—nor has there been any public announcement of his involvement with the presidential transition. A spokesman for his company says that Salemme “remains in his position as Executive VP at Clearwire.” But Ars has learned that Salemme has been on leave using accrued vacation and joined the Obama transition team as a key adviser on DTV issues. . .
Salemme is widely praised for his expertise, both in the tech industry and on Capitol Hill. . . But Salemme’s high position with a primary competitor of Verizon—the company most vocally protesting that it would be adversely affected by a delay—creates an unavoidable appearance of conflict of interest.
And it’s not just Clearwire, Salemme is also involved with a second company that would also profit from a delay. His involvement puts a huge stink on the effort to delay the switchover. Any delay now carries the taint of government corruption. With all the countervailing factors, I think government integrity is the deciding one, and the switchover should proceed on schedule.
Some interesting statistics correlating charitable giving to political ideology:
Over the past several years, studies have consistently shown that people on the political right outperform those on the left when it comes to charity. This pattern appears to have held — increased, even — in 2008.
In May of last year, the Gallup polling organization asked 1,200 American adults about their giving patterns. People who called themselves “conservative” or “very conservative” made up 42% of the population surveyed, but gave 56% of the total charitable donations. In contrast, “liberal” or “very liberal” respondents were 29% of those polled but gave just 7% of donations.
These disparities were not due to differences in income. People who said they were “very conservative” gave 4.5% of their income to charity, on average; “conservatives” gave 3.6%; “moderates” gave 3%; “liberals” gave 1.5%; and “very liberal” folks gave 1.2%.
This seems to confirm the common impression that conservatives contribute their own money, while liberals vote to contribute other people’s money. (Last September, it was revealed that Joe Biden over the last decade gave an average of 0.2% of his income to charity, $369 per year. The revelation came at the same time as he was calling for Americans to pitch in more through their taxes.)
The column goes on to explain that the difference cannot be explained by religion alone, and concludes with some practical advice for non-profits:
All this is good news for the health and survival of explicitly conservative organizations, of course. But folks on the political right give to all types of nonprofits — from soup kitchens to symphony orchestras — not just conservative groups.
Ironically, few environments are less tolerant of conservatives and their ideas than the nonprofit world. The Chronicle of Philanthropy reported in October of 2008 that employees of major charities favored Democrats over Republicans in their private political contributions by a margin of 82% to 18%. Among the employees of major foundations, the difference was an astounding 98% to 2%.
Reasonable people can disagree on politics, but the numbers on giving speak for themselves. Nonprofit executives, disproportionately politically progressive, do well to remember that many of the folks they will count on in hard times are not necessarily those who share their political views. Understanding this might make for better fund raising in a scary year — and help us all to give credit where it is due.
Progressive politicians have the power to attack conservatives while still collecting taxes from them. Progressive non-profits do not, so they need to avoid alienating their benefactors. Safe zones might be a good start.
It’s said that Albert Einstein once defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Michael Ledeen says that’s exactly what we’re doing with Iran.
UPDATE: Sure enough, we got the same result this time as every other:
US President Barack Obama’s offer to talk to Iran shows that America’s policy of “domination” has failed, the government spokesman said on Saturday. . .
After nearly three decades of severed ties, Obama said shortly after taking office this month that he is willing to extend a diplomatic hand to Tehran if the Islamic republic is ready to “unclench its fist”.
In response, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad launched a fresh tirade against the United States, demanding an apology for its “crimes” against Iran and saying he expected “deep and fundamental” change from Obama.
Rasmussen reports that public support for the stimulus boondoggle has slipped eight points into a statistical tie, with 42% now in favor and 39% opposed. (Via the Corner.) Democratic and Republican support remain steady, at 74% and 18%. Independents are responsible for the shift, and now oppose the plan by a 50% to 27% margin. Nevertheless, most expect the package to pass.
This debate has been great for Republicans. As Yuval Levin points out, Democrats had the opportunity to behave like grown-ups and show that they can be trusted with the reins of power. Instead, they’ve loaded up the “stimulus” package with every little thing on the liberal shopping list, plus an insane amount of pork. In the process, they’ve shown that Republicans are the party of fiscal sanity (relatively speaking); however irresponsible the Republicans were from 2001 to 2006, the Democrats are even worse.
It remains to be seen whether Republicans will stand by their new-found principles when they are in control again. That can’t happen for a minimum of two years, and considering the electoral map, it will probably be longer. But, the behavior of the Democrats over the last two weeks is hastening that day.
Orin Kerr over at the Volokh Consipiracy has some thoughts on how a blog can develop a good comment culture. He says that moderation is key:
If a blogger doesn’t moderate comment threads at all on a widely read blog, people who want to be shocking, mean, or just irrelevant realize they can do their thing and reach a decent-sized audience. They eventually push out the more thoughtful people: You end up with a mess, or, as Brian Leiter would put it, a “cess pool.” In contrast, if bloggers moderate their threads reasonably well, deleting irrelevant or abusive comments — and in some cases, participating in the comment threads themselves to carry on the debate — then you end up with a shift in culture over time.
Internet Scofflaw gets an average of one comment a week, so developing a “culture” of comments, good or bad, isn’t really an issue. Most of its comments correlate with the occasional Instalanche. But I want reading (and more importantly, writing) this blog to be a positive experience, so my comment policy is to delete comments that are uncivil. Repeat offenders will be banned.
Samantha Power’s rehabilitation is now complete, she will take a “senior foreign policy job” at the White House. (Via LGF.) Power was temporarily fired for calling Hillary Clinton a “monster” during the Democratic primary, but faced little scrutiny for her bizarre call for a U.S. invasion of Israel.
Mark Steyn writes:
I think California may be past the point of no return:
Berkeley’s public library will face a showdown with the city’s Peace and Justice Commission tonight over whether a service contract for the book check-out system violates the city’s nuclear-free ordinance.
How’s that for an opening? In the entire history of civilization, has any human society so ordered its affairs that it would seem entirely normal to combine those words in that order in a single sentence?
A federal judge has ordered a Jewish defendant released on bail, rejecting the argument that Jews are inherent flight risks because they can settle in Israel. Sounds like a no brainer? You might think so, but the ruling overturns an earlier order that has held the man without bond for over two months.
Iran will have enough enriched uranium to make a single nuclear weapon later this year, the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) reported on Tuesday.
The think tank made the prediction in its ‘Military Balance 2009,’ an annual assessment of global defense and military developments.
Announcing the new report on Tuesday, Mark Fitzpatrick said the threat may not necessarily as big as it sounds.
“Being able to enrich uranium is not the same as having nuclear weapons,” he said.
In addition, the report placed doubts over U.S. intelligence estimates that Iran halted its work on nuclear weapons six years ago and pointed to Tehran’s continued development of long-range ballistic missiles able to reach targets in Israel and beyond.
Forget the economy. This is the crisis that will define the Obama administration.
Time’s current issue is chock-full of Callie Shell photos, the news magazine benefiting from her incredible access to the first family on inauguration day. But on Jan 5, Shell took pictures in a very different role than her journalistic one—allowing her work to be sent out as official White House transition press releases.
Shell’s dual roles have blurred the lines of journalism, leaving Time embarrassed and White House photographers stewing.
The article continues:
[The day after the inauguration], Time.com published the first photo of Obama in the oval office—a much-talked-about shot of the new president on the phone at his desk, coolly breaking Bush White House tradition of appearing sans jacket.
Conversely, three wires services—the AP, Reuters, and Agence France-Presse—were not given access to the oval office, as is customary on day one, and later refused to distribute the White House-approved photos.
Michael Oreskes, the AP’s managing editor for U.S. News, called the approved shots “visual press releases.”
Oreskes comment hits on a common double standard between print journalism and photo-journalism. Of course, a newspaper editor wouldn’t plunk a White House press release verbatim on page one, but it’s more acceptable give A1 real estate to a White House-approved photo. . .
In Shell’s case, her friendly gestures—whether photographing the girls or giving away pictures—has seemed like a too-cozy relationship to some in the press corps.
“The real problem lies in the perception,” said one White House photographer. “Do [readers] think when they pick up Time magazine they are getting objective coverage?”
Look, this isn’t hard to understand. Shell does some moonlighting work for the Obama transition, pro bono. The Obama White House, in return for the favor and because it knows Shell’s work will be favorable, gives Time exclusive access to the Oval Office on inauguration day. Both Time and President Obama win. Journalistic integrity loses, but it usually does.
Mario Rizzo notes a very interesting quote from Keynes. It seems that by 1942, after years of New Deal spending, Keynes had soured on public works as a tool to stimulate the economy:
Organized public works, at home and abroad, may be the right cure for a chronic tendency to a deficiency of effective demand. But they are not capable of sufficiently rapid organisation (and above all cannot be reversed or undone at a later date), to be the most serviceable instrument for the prevention of the trade cycle.
Keynes’s first critique (the incapability of rapid organization) seems to be borne out by the current effort. Sadly, the second one (it cannot be undone) will ultimately loom even larger.
Seems the European Union is attempting to establish a “European Criminal Records Information System”. . . A criminal database is something I heartily approve of, particularly when dealing with all of those little bitty countries that make up the EU. . . But I was taken aback when I looked over the categories of offenses that would make up the data entered into the database. The sheer number of offenses is staggering, taking up at least half of the PDF file I linked to above. And some of them are not anything that I would consider a crime.
If you want to see just where the EU is going, then take a look at sections 1205-00 and 1206-00. Both of them say that it is a crime to “insult” the State, the Nation, the symbols of the State or Nation, or representatives of the State/Nation. Does this mean that it is considered a crime if someone writes an op-ed that is disparaging of a politician? Sure sounds like it. . .
Keep in mind that this is simply a list of offenses where someone has already been found guilty. It is not a list of new laws, nor is it a sentencing guideline. But if this is an accurate snapshot of what the EU considers to be crimes, then it is probably too late for them.
We ought not be comforted by the last paragraph. The document may not make sedition and dissent into crimes, but it does mean that when a member state does, the EU will now make sure that such “crimes” follow the “perpetrators” throughout Europe. Anyone convicted of insulting the state or its representatives will have to leave Europe entirely.
Well, I suppose that’s why we have America.
Rush Limbaugh has a bipartisan stimulus plan:
Mine is a genuine compromise. So let’s look at how the vote came out, shall we? Fifty-three percent of voters in this country — we’ll say, for the sake of this proposal, 53% of Americans — voted for Obama. Forty-six percent voted for Senator McCain, and 1% voted for wackos. Let’s give the remaining 1% to President Obama, so let’s say that 54% voted for President Obama and 46% voted for Senator McCain. As a way to bring the country together and at the same time determine the most effective way to deal with recessions, under the Obama-Limbaugh Stimulus Plan of 2009, $540 billion of the one trillion will be spent on infrastructure as defined by President Obama and the Democrats. The remaining $460 billion, or 46% that voted for Senator McCain, will be directed towards tax cuts, as determined by me.
We could do worse, and almost certainly will.
Policies aside, this story reminds us that the Bush family is a class act:
Unlike Bill and Hillary Clinton, George and Laura Bush will take few treasured mementos with them from their years at the White House.
When the Clintons left the White House in January 2001, the former first couple took with them more than 50 gifts — including a chandelier, flatware, and paintings — valued at nearly $200,000.
The Bushes, however, borrowed from furnishings that already existed within the White House collection, said Sally McDonough, press secretary to Laura Bush.
“Mrs. Bush — having the experience of being at the White House when her father-in-law was president — knew how many beautiful things she had to choose from to furnish the residence. And she will go back to Texas with only those items that belong to her,” McDonough told FOXNews.com.
ASIDE: This story is also notable for being the first Bush puff piece I’ve seen in years. (Perhaps ever; it’s hard to remember for sure.) This kind of story is usually the exclusive province of Barack Obama.
President Obama, last Friday: “I won.”
President Obama, today: “I do hope that we can all put politics aside and do the American people’s business right now.”
When Democrats run roughshod over Republicans, it’s all for the good. When Republicans resist Democrats, that’s called “politics” and it’s bad.
Stories like this are why orthodox Christians are leaving the Episcopal Church.
The Democrats were nonplussed when a CBO analysis showed that only 7% of the infrastructure spending in the “stimulus” package would be spent this year, and only 38% by 2010. They suppressed the report, and waited in hopes that the analysis of the full package (which also includes tax cuts and transfer payments) would look better.
That analysis is now out, and it shows that 64% of the “stimulus” package would be spent by fiscal 2010. (Via Hot Air.) (The Washington Post story rounds it favorably to 65%.) After reading several stories on the report, I couldn’t find any that gave a figure for this fiscal year, so I went to the report itself (pdf, page 24) and found that the figure is 21%, a bit better than the 7% for infrastructure spending alone. Those revised figures are still terrible, and don’t even satisfy President Obama’s stated goal of 75% by fiscal 2010.
ASIDE: The U.S. fiscal year begins October 1, so fiscal 2009 refers roughly to the next eight months. Since most economists project a recovery late this (calendar) year, that represents the period of greatest need.
It’s not surprising that the tax cuts and transfer payments are much quicker than the infrastructure spending. Tax cuts go into effect instantaneously (they “spend” 36% this year and 98% by 2010, according to the CBO figures) and the government can cut transfer payment checks pretty quickly. Given that even believers in fiscal stimulus concede that it must be timely to be effective, why not scrap the boondoggle infrastructure spending and go with only the tax cuts and transfer payments?
Two reasons. First, tax cuts and transfer payments don’t really fit the mold of a Keynesian stimulus. (Tax cuts, if structured properly, can deliver supply-side stimulus, but transfer payments aren’t likely to do either.) Secondly, and much more importantly, infrastructure spending is where most of the potential for pork lies, which makes it the priority for Congress.
POSTSCRIPT: The report seems to confirm that “shovel-ready” infrastructure projects don’t exist for the most part. It does not separate the spending side into infrastructure and transfer payments, but the spending side spends 15% of its total this year and 53% by 2010, which is entirely consistent with the 7% and 38% reported for infratructure alone. This undercuts the idea, promoted by some on the left during the last week (for example), that the preliminary CBO report was bogus. It may not have been an official publication, but the numbers appear to be accurate.
UPDATE: This CBO document (an official one, I might add) does break the spending into infrastructure (“appropriations”) and transfer payments (“direct spending”). (Via Greg Mankiw, via Instapundit.) The document agrees with the preliminary report to within a few billion, but does change the percentages a little. Rather than 7% this year and 38% by 2010, the new infrastructure numbers are 12% and 41%. I’ve recalculated the next paragraph accordingly.
POST-POSTSCRIPT: We can compute the timeliness of the transfer payment component as 26% this year, and 70% by 2010. From this we can see that tax cuts are more timely (98% by 2010) than transfer payments (70%), which in turn are dramatically more timely than infrastructure spending (41%).
Iowahawk has some advice for Hollywood environmentalists. Many are good only for wealthy, preachy celebrities, but a few, like this one, are for everyone:
Crush a Third World Economic Development Movement. One of the most pressing threats facing our environment is rising income in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. A generation ago these proud little dark people were happily frolicking in the rain forest, foraging for organic foods amid the wonders of nature. Today, corrupted by wealth, they are demanding environmentally hazardous consumer goods like cars and air conditioning and malaria medicine. You can do your part to stop this dangerous consumerism trend by supporting environmentally progressive leaders like Hugo Chavez and Robert Mugabe, and their programs for sustainable low-impact ecolabor camps.
A disappointing move from the latest administration to promise to be the most transparent ever:
Barack Obama’s administration may be promising the “greatest ethical standard ever administered to an executive branch,” and increased transparency over his predecessor, but it seems to be forgoing at least one transparency practice that was routine in the Bush White House— transcripts of the daily press briefing.
It’s been four days since Press Secretary Robert Gibbs’ first (and widely panned) appearance before the White House press corps, but no transcript, summary, or video of the event has shown up on WhiteHouse.gov. The delay could be forgiven in a less tech-savvy bunch, but given the Obama team’s considerable online skill, the omission of the the transcript is clearly intentional.
In contrast, the Bush White House provided a transcript of every daily briefing, searchable and accessible in its own section on their web site. The archive, available via the Wayback Machine but not on the new WhiteHouse.gov, started Jan. 24, 2001. The Clinton White House also provided transcripts of the briefing, according to archives, at least as early as 1999.
The decision to withhold transcripts is not a departure from the Obama Team’s online posture during the campaign, and signals that’s exactly the posture they intend to take for the next four years. Team Obama got a lot of credit for being an active online presence, which indeed it was, but that presence was built for message control, not openness.
I’m sure that our nation’s free press will take up the slack and start issuing the transcripts themselves.
Ha ha! Just kidding. Glenn Reynolds’s explanation for the change is pretty much inarguable:
Bush wanted transcripts online because he expected the press to filter what he said. Obama doesn’t want transcripts online . . . because he expects the press to filter what he says.
While the White House might not be tracking visitors, the Google-owned video sharing site is free to use persistent cookies to track the browsing behavior of millions of visitors to Obama’s home in cyberspace.
No other company has been singled out and rewarded with such a waiver.
Within a day of the fact going public, the White House partially reversed itself:
Within 12 hours of the story going live, Obama’s Web team rolled out a technical fix that severely limits YouTube’s ability to track most visitors to the White House Web site.
That’s a step in the right direction, but the original policy was better. If persistent cookies are bad (generally they are), then why should Google get a special dispensation?
At the Wall Street Journal:
The stimulus bill currently steaming through Congress looks like a legislative freight train, but given last week’s analysis by the Congressional Budget Office, it is more accurate to think of it as a time machine. That may be the only way to explain how spending on public works in 2011 and beyond will help the economy today.
According to Congressional Budget Office estimates, a mere $26 billion of the House stimulus bill’s $355 billion in new spending would actually be spent in the current fiscal year, and just $110 billion would be spent by the end of 2010. This is highly embarrassing given that Congress’s justification for passing this bill so urgently is to help the economy right now, if not sooner.
And the red Congressional faces must be very red indeed, because CBO’s analysis has since vanished into thin air after having been posted early last week on the Appropriations Committee Web site. Officially, the committee says this is because the estimates have been superseded as the legislation has moved through committee. No doubt.
In addition to suppressing the CBO analysis, Democrats have derided it. Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D., Wis.) called it “off the wall,” never mind that CBO is now run by Democrats.
The NY Times reports:
The Republican National Committee criticized the Obama administration for violating [its new ethics rules] in some of its appointments. Mr. Obama’s nominee for deputy secretary of defense, William Lynn, has been a lobbyist for the defense contractor Raytheon, and his nominee for deputy secretary of health and human services, William V. Corr, lobbied for stricter tobacco regulations as an official with the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.
A senior White House official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, conceded the two nominees did not adhere to the new rules. But he said that Mr. Lynn had the support of Republicans and Democrats, and would receive a waiver under the policy, and that Mr. Corr did not need a waiver because he had agreed to recuse himself from tobacco issues.
“When you set very tough rules, you need to have a mechanism for the occasional exception,” this official said, adding, “We wanted to be really tough, but at the same time we didn’t want to hamstring the new administration or turn the town upside down.”
This was the subject of President Obama’s run-in with the White House press corps last Thursday. He doesn’t like getting called on hypocrisy.
Joe Biden ended his own presidential bid after coming in fifth in the Iowa caucuses more than a year ago. But his presidential campaign lived on — and continued receiving taxpayer money — well after he was elected vice president.
The vice president is not gearing up to challenge President Barack Obama in the 2012 Democratic primaries, though. Rather, he’s keeping his committee, Biden for President Inc., open to tidy up loose ends in preparation for a mandatory federal audit, which could become expensive to defend.
So, Biden continued requesting federal funds for his campaign — through the so-called primary matching funds program — for months after he was tapped to be Obama’s running mate. . . [Biden] requested more than $37,000 in matching funds after he joined the Democratic ticket, including a final payment of $2,275 which came just last week.
That’s $37k in taxpayer’s money for a campaign that didn’t exist. I’m sure it’s legal (Biden wouldn’t be caught out that way), but it shouldn’t be.
The Federal Reserve of St. Louis has a horrifying graph of the monetary base. After growing at a fairly steady pace since 1918, it spiked catastrophically in 2008, roughly doubling in less than a year.
Nothing remotely like this has ever happened before. (In America, that is.) We have some serious inflation in our future.
(Via the Corner.)
I thought that the Obama administration was supposed to strengthen tattered alliances, not tatter strong ones:
Although Colombia’s President Alvaro Uribe sent a courteous message to welcome President Obama, Colombian officials have grown frustrated in the last two years, warning Democrats their friendship, which has cost them much blood and treasure, had limits.
Referring to a rejection of free trade, Colombia’s vice president, Francisco Santos, said last year: “Colombia plays such a vital role in the continent for U.S. interests that it would be geostrategic suicide to make a decision like that. I wonder who wants to be the one who loses Colombia like they lost China in the 1950s.”
Also last year, Trade Minister Luis Plata warned IBD that denying free trade to Colombia in a hemisphere full of U.S. free-trade treaties amounted to sanctions on an ally because the other countries with which America has agreements are its competitors.
In Santos’ view, it would be “an insult” and a “slap in the face.” Failure to pass the treaty, he said, “I’m sure will lead to a fundamental repositioning of relations between Colombia and the U.S.”
(Via Hot Air.)
A few short days ago, warrantless eavesdropping had us on the slippery slope to fascism. Today:
The Obama administration fell in line with the Bush administration Thursday when it urged a federal judge to set aside a ruling in a closely watched spy case weighing whether a U.S. president may bypass Congress and establish a program of eavesdropping on Americans without warrants. . .
Thursday’s filing by the Obama administration marked the first time it officially lodged a court document in the lawsuit asking the courts to rule on the constitutionality of the Bush administration’s warrantless-eavesdropping program. The former president approved the wiretaps in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
“The Government’s position remains that this case should be stayed,” the Obama administration wrote in a filing that for the first time made clear the new president was on board with the Bush administration’s reasoning in this case.
The good news is that President Obama is showing himself to be at least somewhat responsible. The bad news is some of his supporters may be bitterly disappointed. Wait, that’s good news too.
Did you hear the one about how after Barack Obama became president this week he found out the economy was worse than he thought—so he had to lay off 17 journalists.
President Obama made a surprise visit to the White House press corps Thursday night, but got agitated when he was faced with a substantive question.
Asked how he could reconcile a strict ban on lobbyists in his administration with a Deputy Defense Secretary nominee who lobbied for Raytheon, Obama interrupted with a knowing smile on his face.
“Ahh, see,” he said, “I came down here to visit. See this is what happens. I can’t end up visiting with you guys and shaking hands if I’m going to get grilled every time I come down here.”
Pressed further by the Politico reporter about his Pentagon nominee, William J. Lynn III, Obama turned more serious, putting his hand on the reporter’s shoulder and staring him in the eye.
“Alright, come on” he said, with obvious irritation in his voice. “We will be having a press conference at which time you can feel free to [ask] questions. Right now, I just wanted to say hello and introduce myself to you guys – that’s all I was trying to do.”
(Via Instapundit, who adds: you can see why a substantive question would catch him by surprise.)
One interesting bit that I did not know is Barro’s estimates of the Keynes multiplier. For a peacetime stimulus, the multiplier is “insignificantly different from zero.” That means that the “stimulus” does not stimulate the economy, and serves only to shift production away from consumption and investment. Even during World War 2, when it supposedly worked, the “multiplier” was just 0.8, meaning that the economy grew less than the amount of stimulus. The Obama Administration is reportedly assuming a multiplier of 1.5.
As an example of why the Gitmo detainees can’t simply be released, the NY Times reports:
The emergence of a former Guantánamo Bay detainee as the deputy leader of Al Qaeda’s Yemeni branch has underscored the potential complications in carrying out the executive order President Obama signed Thursday that the detention center be shut down within a year.
The militant, Said Ali al-Shihri, is suspected of involvement in a deadly bombing of the United States Embassy in Yemen’s capital, Sana, in September. He was released to Saudi Arabia in 2007 and passed through a Saudi rehabilitation program for former jihadists before resurfacing with Al Qaeda in Yemen.
I’m glad the NY Times reported this, but of course, they can’t resist editorializing:
Although the Pentagon has said that dozens of released Guantánamo detainees have “returned to the fight,” its claim is difficult to document, and has been met with skepticism. In any case, few of the former detainees, if any, are thought to have become leaders of a major terrorist organization like Al Qaeda in Yemen, a mostly homegrown group that experts say has been reinforced by foreign fighters.
“Has been met with skepticism” is classic weasel language. Skepticism by whom? If you don’t tell us, you’re just inserting your opinion. (Doesn’t the NY Times style guide say something about this?) Moreover, who would be surprised if few former detainees become Al Qaeda leaders? How many leaders do they think Al Qaeda has?
(Via the Corner.)
John Hinderaker says President Obama’s order to close Gitmo doesn’t mean much:
Today Barack Obama issued an entirely symbolic executive order, directing that the terrorist detainee facility at Guantanamo Bay be closed within one year. Gitmo, of course, was created in answer to the question, What are we going to do with captured terrorists? Now, with that facility slated for closure, the question arises once more.
It arose, in fact, in Press Secretary Robert Gibbs’ first press conference today. I found this exchange somewhat amusing:
[Robert Gibbs haplessly attempts to deflect Gitmo questions.]
So, in other words, Obama’s order accomplishes nothing other than to kick the can down the road. The question of what to do with the terrorists will be “studied”–and, by the way, it’s now a “very complex, very detailed question.”
Only two things seem certain. One, a year from now, the Gitmo detainees are going to be somewhere else. (Western Pennsylvania, if John Murtha has his way.) Two, White House Press Secretary is among the world’s worst jobs.
The Allegheny County Port Authority is looking for $117 million from the Federal government to finish a light rail project to the North Shore. After spending $320 million to bore two tunnels under the Allegheny River, the Port Authority has run out of money to lay the actual track.
The tunnels aren’t going anywhere. Some might say we should wait for better financial times to finish the project; but why do that when Washington is giving away free money?
Not the Pledge of Allegiance; don’t be silly. ”I pledge to be a servant to our president and all mankind.” Queue to 3:54.
In 2001, Democrats force a one-week delay in the confirmation of the Attorney General. The Washington Post reports:
In 2009, Republicans force a one-week delay in the confirmation of the Attorney General. The Washington Post reports:
(Via the Corner.)
President Barack Obama’s inauguration generated an unprecedented 35,000 stories in the world’s major newspapers, television and radio broadcasts over the past day — about 35 times more than the last presidential swearing-in — a monitoring group said on Wednesday.
The Texas-based Global Language Monitor said there had also been 6 million new Obama-related mentions on the Internet since December 31.
By comparison, the last U.S. presidential inauguration, of George W. Bush in January 2005, resulted in about 1,000 stories in major media worldwide, Paul JJ Payack, president of Global Language Monitor said.
The evening before the inauguration, one of the cable news networks (MSNBC, I think) had hours of continuous coverage of the gathering crowds, a story of minimal newsworthiness (not to put too fine a point on it).
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with any of this. The press can report on whatever they want. Let’s just set aside the myth of an objective press and admit that journalists are partisan. There’s nothing wrong with an openly and admittedly partisan press, and media bias would be a non-issue. (Media inaccuracy, on the other hand, would still be a serious problem.)
POSTSCRIPT: In a related item, Helen Thomas — known as the dean of the White House press corps — tells an interviewer that journalists must be liberal; an objective journalist is either unthinking or uncaring. And there’s also this related item from December.
On its way out, the Bush Administration added another significant foreign policy accomplishment:
Russia and neighboring Central Asian nations have agreed to let supplies pass through their territory to American soldiers in Afghanistan, lessening Washington’s dependence on dangerous routes through Pakistan, a top U.S. commander said Tuesday.
Securing alternative routes to landlocked Afghanistan has taken on added urgency this year as the United States prepares to double troop numbers there to 60,000 to battle a resurgent Taliban eight years after the U.S.-led invasion. . .
U.S. and NATO forces get up to 75 percent of their “non-lethal” supplies such as food, fuel and building materials from shipments that traverse Pakistan, a volatile, nuclear-armed country. . .
U.S. Central Command chief Gen. David Petraeus said America had struck deals with Russia and several Central Asian states close to or bordering Afghanistan during a tour of the region in the past week. . .
Petraeus gave few details, but NATO and U.S. officials have said recently they were close to securing transit agreements with Russia and the patchwork of Central Asia states to the north of Afghanistan.
Analysts say the United States’ dependence on Pakistani supply routes means it has little leverage to push Islamabad too hard on issues of bilateral concern, such as the campaign against al-Qaida.
(Via Hot Air.)
This is great, but we still need delicate diplomacy in the region. We certainly don’t want to become dependent on Russia either.
President Obama yesterday:
On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics.
Sounds great, but does he mean it? Today, the White House web site’s Katrina agenda refers to President Bush’s “broken promises” and “unconscionable ineptitude.” Sounds a little like recrimination and worn-out dogma to me.
One premise of the GM bailout, were told, is that if GM doesn’t come up with a workable plan for profitability, we would call the loan and get the money back. This always seemed like a stupid idea, if for no other reason than most of the money will already be spent by the time GM has to present the plan.
Sure enough, it’s been about a month since GM got its first $4 billion, and GM says the money is gone:
The target date for General Motors Corp. to get its second installment of government loans passed last week, but a top company executive says he expects the money to arrive in the next several days.
Fritz Henderson, GM’s president and chief operating officer, said without the second installment of $5.4 billion, the company would run out of cash long before March 31. . .
GM received $4 billion late last year and was to get $5.4 billion Jan. 16 and another $4 billion on Feb. 17, the day it is to submit its plan to show the government how it will become viable.
Henderson told the Automotive News World Congress in Detroit that the money is critically needed to pay its bills.
By March 31, GM will already have blown $9.4 billion, and the most we can do is deny them an additional $4 billion. (And let’s not kid ourselves that we’ll do even that.) Plus, there’s Chrysler on top of that.
The story also has an interesting tidbit on GM’s reorganization:
[Henderson] told the group that GM will have four core brands in the future: Cadillac, Chevrolet, Buick and GMC.
GM is reviewing the Saturn brand with its dealers, is studying Saab and Hummer for sale and will shrink Pontiac to a performance niche brand.
I’m not a car guy, so I had to look up the list of GM brands. If we can assume that brands not listed are going to be terminated (which is not entirely clear from the wording), GM will be ending the brands Daewoo, Holden, Opel, and Vauxhall, not one of which I’ve even heard of. (GM already got rid of Geo in 1997 and Oldsmobile in 2004.) It’s good that they’re getting rid of invisible brands, I suppose, but it’s hardly a major reform.
Mickey Kaus writes:
Conservatives I’ve met in D.C. so far have been near-ebullient, not downcast or bitter. Why? a) They know how unhappy they’d be now if McCain had won; b) Obama has not fulfilled their worst fears, or even second-to-worst fears; c) now they can be an honest, straight-up opposition.
I can relate to all three of those feelings. Still, “near-ebullient” would be an exaggeration. (I suppose that could be because I’m not really a conservative.)
The most alarming story of the year:
An al Qaeda affiliate in Algeria closed a base earlier this month after an experiment with unconventional weapons went awry, a senior U.S. intelligence official said Monday.
The official, who spoke on the condition he not be named because of the sensitive nature of the issue, said he could not confirm press reports that the accident killed at least 40 al Qaeda operatives, but he said the mishap led the militant group to shut down a base in the mountains of Tizi Ouzou province in eastern Algeria.
He said authorities in the first week of January intercepted an urgent communication between the leadership of al Qaeda in the Land of the Maghreb (AQIM) and al Qaeda’s leadership in the tribal region of Pakistan on the border with Afghanistan. The communication suggested that an area sealed to prevent leakage of a biological or chemical substance had been breached, according to the official.
“We don’t know if this is biological or chemical,” the official said.
We didn’t get what we expected with President Bush. He campaigned on a platform of “compassionate conservatism” and less engagement in foreign crises. Taking office, his administration began in much the fashion we expected. He quickly passed the centerpieces of his domestic agenda, his education package and tax cuts. He also competently handled his first international crisis, when a US spy plane made an emergency landing in China and its crew was held by the Chinese government.
As we moved into the fall, Democrats had taken control of the Senate by a one vote plurality and a major budget battle was looming. I thought that President Bush had a strong hand in the battle and would probably prevail, but of course we never found out. The morning of September 11, Al Qaeda terrorists attacked our country. Shortly thereafter the anthrax attacks began.
Within days of 9/11, President Bush announced that fighting terrorism was the priority of his administration. His steady hand in the days after 9/11 settled our country and his approval rating soared over 90%.
In the evening of 9/11, Bush formulated the Bush Doctrine (one version of it anyway), declaring that “we will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them.” In his address to Congress he added that “From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime.” Later that fall, the Bush Doctrine was put into action when we overthrew the Taliban in a short, brilliant campaign of air power, special forces, and local rebels.
Alas, the Bush Doctrine was set aside early in 2002, when the Administration stated that the Bush Doctrine did not apply to Yasser Arafat. In fact, the Bush Doctrine was never clearly invoked again. When President Bush began to gather support for a campaign to overthrow Saddam Hussein, he failed to make a clear case of the broad strategic importance of removing Saddam. Instead he focused on only one element, the threat posed by weapons of mass destruction.
This was one of three major mistakes of the Bush Administration. As we know, no WMD stockpiles were found in Iraq. The failure to make a broad case for the invasion ultimately undermined support for the campaign. (In contrast, the public support of the Afghanistan campaign has never wavered.)
The second major mistake of the Bush Administration was its inadequate preparation for the aftermath of the war, and, more importantly, its slowness in adapting to deteriorating conditions in Iraq. As the war dragged on, its motivation already undermined, public support for the war faltered, and so did public support for the Administration.
To his credit, Bush did eventually adapt, not in time to save his reputation, but in time to win the war. He changed tactics, increased troop levels, and placed General Petraeus in charge. Today the campaign in Iraq is concluding as a victory for the United States, its allies, and a free Iraqi people.
Still, our mistakes in Iraq have been damaging. With so much force tied up in Iraq and faltering support for the war on terror, it has been impossible to continue the global war on sponsors of terrorism. In particular, it has been impossible to do anything about the serious threat posed by Iran.
On the other hand, President Bush has achieved something that seemed unthinkable the morning of September 12. For the past seven years, there has not been a single terrorist attack on American soil. For that, President Bush deserves our gratitude.
On the domestic side, “compassionate conservatism” has been revealed to have very little in common with conservatism. President Bush’s third major mistake was to allow government spending to balloon out of control. To be sure, Congressional Republicans share the blame, but Bush was the leader of his party and, if all else failed, he could have exercised his veto.
In retrospect, Bush should have reformed the Federal housing policies that pushed banks to make more subprime loans and to securitize those loans. But, virtually no one recognized the danger of those policies at the time. (On the left, virtually no one does even now.) Bush also failed to reform social security, but at least he tried.
Bush did hit a home run with his two Supreme Court appointments, and he made a number of solid appointments to lower courts. Almost certainly, they will be President Bush’s most lasting domestic achievement.