Stimulus bill has failed

March 11, 2009

Eric Cantor nails it:

Just three weeks after President Obama signed his ‘stimulus’ bill into law, Congressional Democrats are already conceding that it will fail to achieve its objective.  As the Speaker knows, the only reason to craft a second stimulus bill would be if the first one failed. Every Republican in the House voted against the first stimulus bill because we believed that Congress could do better, and we had a plan to achieve that goal. America does not need another massive spending bill, what we need is to create jobs.

(Via the Corner.)


China’s Olympic promises were a fraud

March 11, 2009

The Washington Post finds that China’s Olympic promises were entirely fraudulent (shocking, I know):

When Ji Sizun heard that the Chinese government had agreed to create three special zones in Beijing for peaceful public protests during the 2008 Summer Olympics, he celebrated. He said in an interview at the time that he believed the offer was sincere and represented the beginning of a new era for human rights in China.

Ji, 59, a self-taught legal advocate who had spent 10 years fighting against corrupt officials in his home province of Fujian on China’s southeastern coast, immediately packed his bags and was one of the first in line in Beijing to file his application to protest.

It is now clear that his hope was misplaced.

In the end, official reports show, China never approved a single protest application — despite its repeated pledges to improve its human rights record when it won the bid to host the Games. Some would-be applicants were taken away by force by security officials and held in hotels to prevent them from filing the paperwork. Others were scared away by warnings that they could face “difficulties” if they went through with their applications.

Ji has spent the past eight months in various states of arrest and detention. In January, he was sentenced to three years in prison, the maximum penalty allowed, on charges of faking official seals on documents he filed on behalf of his clients. Ji is appealing. . .

Since the Games in August, the situation for the Chinese citizens who had tried to apply for the Olympics permits has worsened, and some of the more outspoken applicants, such as Ji, have been harassed or detained.

Two women from Beijing in their late 70s, Wu Dianyuan and Wang Xiuying, were sentenced to a year of reeducation in a labor camp for protesting their forced eviction from their homes in 2001; the sentence was reduced and later rescinded, but the women said in an interview that they are being closely monitored by local police and that cameras have been installed outside their homes.

Tang Xuecheng, an entrepreneur in his 40s who had gone to Beijing to protest the government’s seizure of his mining company, was detained by local officials and sent to a “mental hospital for mental health assessment,” according to a public security official in his home town in Chenzhou city in Hunan province. Tang was released several months later.

Zhong Ruihua, 62, and nine others from the industrial city of Liuzhou who tried to petition against property seizures were arrested and have been charged with disturbing the public order.

(Emphasis mine.) (Via Hot Air.)

It’s not just human rights, either.  The Beijing Olympics oppressed the Chinese people in material ways as well.


ACLU opposes judicial independence

March 11, 2009

Andy McCarthy notes that the ACLU is a fair-weather supporter of judicial independence:

The chutzpah here is stunning, even by ACLU standards. Since they were first announced in 2001, the military commissions have been condemned as illegitimate by the ACLU because the judges are not independent like civilian court judges — they are military officers, and thus they answer to the Defense Department’s convening authority, the Secretary of Defense and, ultimately, the President. Now, the ACLU is complaining that the military judge is defying the commander-in-chief, and wondering whether Secretary Gates is asleep at the switch in allowing such insubordination.

McCarthy goes on to point out that the ACLU also misunderstands the facts; that the judge in question actually is not defying any orders.


Our ruling class

March 11, 2009

Nancy Pelosi, it seems, needs to travel in style. Not only won’t she demean herself by flying commercial, she won’t even demean herself by flying in just any military aircraft, she insists on the Gulfstream G5. Also, she’s made efforts to keep one on-call for herself every weekend, just in case, at considerable taxpayer expense.  This is according to emails obtained by Judicial Watch under a Freedom of Information Act request:

  • In response to a series of requests for military aircraft, one Defense Department official wrote, “Any chance of politely querying [Pelosi’s team] if they really intend to do all of these or are they just picking every weekend?…[T]here’s no need to block every weekend ‘just in case’…” The email also notes that Pelosi’s office had, “a history of canceling many of their past requests.”
  • One DOD official complained about the “hidden costs” associated with the speaker’s last minute changes and cancellations. “We have…folks prepping the jets and crews driving in (not a short drive for some), cooking meals and preflighting the jets etc.”
  • The documents also detail correspondence from intermediaries for Speaker Pelosi issuing demands for certain aircraft and expressing outrage when requested military planes were not available. “It is my understanding there are no G5s available for the House during the Memorial Day recess. This is totally unacceptable…The speaker will want to know where the planes are…” wrote Kay King, Director of the House Office of Interparliamentary Affairs.
  • In a separate email, when told a certain type of aircraft would not be available, King writes, “This is not good news, and we will have some very disappointed folks, as well as a very upset [s]peaker.”

The NY Post reports the story here.

(Via Hot Air and Instapundit.)

I expect there will be a gold toilet in the Speaker’s office before long.


Taxpayers are chumps

March 11, 2009

Ron Kirk, tax cheat and US Trade Representative nominee, looks likely to be confirmed.  (Via Instapundit.)


Gitmo detainees resume the fight

March 10, 2009

This is why you hold enemy combatants:

The Taliban’s new top operations officer in southern Afghanistan had been a prisoner at the Guantanamo Bay detention center, the latest example of a freed detainee who took a militant leadership role and a potential complication for the Obama administration’s efforts to close the prison.

U.S. authorities handed over the detainee to the Afghan government, which in turn released him, according to Pentagon and CIA officials.

Abdullah Ghulam Rasoul, formerly Guantanamo prisoner No. 008, was among 13 Afghan prisoners released to the Afghan government in December 2007. Rasoul is now known as Mullah Abdullah Zakir, a nom de guerre that Pentagon and intelligence officials say is used by a Taliban leader who is in charge of operations against U.S. and Afghan forces in southern Afghanistan.

The officials, who spoke anonymously because they are not authorized to release the information, said Rasoul has joined a growing faction of former Guantanamo prisoners who have rejoined militant groups and taken action against U.S. interests. Pentagon officials have said that as many as 60 former detainees have resurfaced on foreign battlefields. . .

More than 800 prisoners have been imprisoned at Guantanamo; only a handful have been charged. About 520 Guantanamo detainees have been released from custody or transferred to prisons elsewhere in the world.

If these figures are right, about 1 in 9 detainees released from Guantanamo have resumed the fight, and those were the ones deemed to pose no danger.  Think of what will happen when we start releasing the others.


More lobbyist waivers

March 10, 2009

ABC reports:

The White House Tuesday evening disclosed that almost three weeks ago the Obama administration granted ethics wavers for two additional officials who had previously worked as lobbyists. On February 20 the administration signed waivers for Jocelyn Frye, former general counsel at the National Partnership for Women & Families, and Cecilia Muñoz, the former senior vice president for the National Council of La Raza, allowing them to work on issues for which they lobbied.

These two are in addition to deputy Defense Secretary Bill Lynn, a former Raytheon lobbyist whose waiver was granted two days after President Obama announced on January 21 what he heralded as the most sweeping ethics rules in American history — ones that would “close the revolving door that lets lobbyists come into government freely.”


Administration forgets to condemn terror attack

March 10, 2009

More smart diplomacy:

Officials in Jerusalem are quietly scratching their heads in wonderment as to why the White House did not release an official statement condemning yesterday’s tractor terrorist rampage here, the third attack of its kind in recent months.

Two police officers were lightly wounded in Jerusalem when an Arab tractor driver overturned their police car and drove it into a bus before being shot by police and an armed taxi driver. The terrorist later died of his wounds in an Israeli hospital. . .

Usually, following any terrorist attack in Israel, the White House like clockwork immediately releases an official statement condemning the attack. But this time, no statement was forthcoming from either the White House or Clinton’s State Department.

Speaking to WND, a White House spokesman would only confirm he was not aware of any statement regarding the attack, but he would not speculate as to why the terrorism wasn’t condemned.

(Via Mere Rhetoric, via LGF.)

Maybe they were too tired.


Why only Ford will survive

March 10, 2009

The UAW has announced that it has agreed to concessions with Ford; GM and Chrysler are still negotiating.  This stuff matters, to be sure, but I think it’s really all a side show.  The deciding factor in whether these companies survive is whether they are able to manufacture good cars.  You don’t have to be a car guy (I’m not) to know that Ford is the only major American car company that’s not building crap.

The latest Consumer Reports has graph of car reliability by make. Starting from the worst, the bottom dozen are:

  • Land Rover (Easily the worst on average.)
  • Saturn (GM)
  • Chrysler (They make the worst cars by far — their range bar sticks off the bottom of the graph — but many of their cars are almost average, moving them up to third-worst overall.)
  • Cadillac (GM)
  • Dodge (Chrysler)
  • Pontiac (GM)
  • Jeep (Chrysler)
  • Mercedes-Benz
  • GMC (GM)
  • Volkswagen
  • Chevrolet (GM)
  • Saab (GM)

It’s not hard to see that the automotive crapulence industry is dominated by Chrysler and GM.  After that there are several foreign companies (Audi, Suzuki, BMW, and Porsche) and then Buick, which is by far the most reliable GM brand, being almost average.  On the other hand, all four Ford brands (Lincoln, Mercury, Volvo, and Ford) are above average.  Ford and Volvo are only barely so, but Lincoln actually beats a few Japanese companies.  Ford did own Land Rover for several years, but unloaded it last year.

POSTSCRIPT: Although Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen, BMW, and Porsche score poorly in reliability, they do score well in initial quality (especially Porsche).  The same cannot be said of the other makes in the bottom dozen, all but one of which are GM or Chrysler.  On the other end, the most reliable makes are Scion (Toyota), Acura, Honda, and Toyota.


More White House ethics problems

March 10, 2009

The latest is with the “urban czar”:

President Obama’s new urban czar renovated his Bronx home with help from the architect on a major development that needed his approval, a Daily News investigation has found.

Adolfo Carrión, who last week left his job as Bronx borough president to be director of the White House Office on Urban Policy, hired the architect to design a renovation of his Victorian two-family on City Island.

Weeks after the architect’s work on Carrión’s house was complete, Carrión approved the architect’s project.

Carrión would not say how much he paid the architect, if anything. He also refused to provide copies of checks for the work.

(Via Instapundit.)

Accepting favors in exchange for official action isn’t just a conflict of interest, it’s bribery.  The Wall Street Journal said it about Christopher Dodd, but it applies here: Rare is the politician who could clear his name overnight and chooses not to.

Well, at least he pays his taxes (as far as we know).

POSTSCRIPT: Why on earth do we need an urban czar when we already have a Secretary of Housing and Urban Development?  Robert Byrd was right when he complained:

“As presidential assistants and advisers, these White House staffers are not accountable for their actions to the Congress, to cabinet officials, and to virtually anyone but the president,” Byrd wrote. “They rarely testify before congressional committees, and often shield the information and decision-making process behind the assertion of executive privilege. In too many instances, White House staff have been allowed to inhibit openness and transparency, and reduce accountability.”

Had this been a cabinet appointment, Carrión would have required Senate confirmation, and would have been questioned on this.


Another gun rights victory

March 10, 2009

Bloomberg (heh!) reports:

The U.S. Supreme Court left intact lower court decisions shielding Smith & Wesson Holding Corp., Sturm, Ruger & Co. and other gunmakers from lawsuits pressed by New York City and shooting victims in Washington, D.C.

The justices, without comment, rejected appeals that sought to revive the two suits and challenged the constitutionality of a federal law signed in 2005 by then-President George W. Bush to protect the industry from a wave of lawsuits.

The New York and Washington suits were among dozens that sought to hold the firearms industry accountable for urban violence, claiming that manufacturers knew their weapons would fall into the hands of criminals. Most of those suits have been dismissed.

(Via Alphecca, via Instapundit.)


Connecticut considers regulating churches

March 9, 2009

The Connecticut legislature is considering a bill that would dictate the way the Catholic Church governs itself.  Wow.

UPDATE: After a firestorm of public outcry, the bill has been killed in committee. (Via the Corner.)

UPDATE: Rick Hills wonders what they were thinking:

The only interesting question suggested by Bill 1098 is why the CT legislature would propose a bill that would serve only to provide some lucky lawyer with some section 1988 “prevailing party” fees during a lean period for the bar. What, in short, is the political function served by an obviously unconstitutional bill? I see three conceivable explanations: (a) The CT Assembly’s leadership is actually innocent of any familiarity with simple constitutional doctrine — even the sort of doctrine that is so basic that it normally percolates into popular culture — and therefore thinks that this bill is a serious legislative proposal; (b) The CT Assembly’s leadership wants to placate some interest group with an empty gesture by proposing a bill that it knows will go nowhere but Injunctionville after it leaves the state house; or (c) The bill was introduced with the secret support of the Catholic hierarchy as a way of exciting sympathy for Catholics by a show of anti-Catholic demagoguery. Both (a) nor (b) tend to re-enforce Fred Schauer’s jaundiced view of legislatures’ interest in honoring constitutional norms, while (c) seems too kookily conspiratorial for a state legislature.

(Via Volokh.)


The special relationship

March 9, 2009

As everyone piles on over President Obama’s snubs of British PM Gordon Brown, and the State Department’s statement that no special relationship exists between the US and UK, I thought it would be good to recall this statement by then-Senator Obama last year, saying that the special relationship needs to be adjusted to be fairer to the UK:

Barack Obama has called for the “special relationship” between the US and Britain to be “recalibrated” to make it a fairer, more equal partnership, the Guardian has learned.

Senator Obama, who leads the race to be the Democratic candidate for the US presidency, made the remarks in a telephone address to a fundraising event attended by American expatriates in London.

He has long been seen by British officials as the most anglophile of the three remaining presidential candidates, but these latest comments are his first public suggestion that the relationship is unequal and ripe for change.

“We have a chance to recalibrate the relationship and for the United Kingdom to work with America as a full partner,” Obama told more than 200 American expatriates gathered at the Notting Hill home of Elisabeth Murdoch, the head of Shine television production company and daughter of the media tycoon Rupert Murdoch.

Oops.  As Glenn Reynolds puts it, “As always with Obama, it’s a question of who the rubes really are.”  I guess that makes the entire UK the latest rubes.  Don’t feel bad, John Bull; you’re in good company.

(Previous post.)


China harasses US Navy again

March 9, 2009

The AP reports that China has been harassing US Navy ships in international waters.  (Via LGF.)

Perhaps this is China’s modus operandi now, to measure the mettle of a new US president.  At roughly the same point in the Bush administration (April 1, 2001), Chinese harassment of US spy planes resulted in the Hainan Island incident, in which a US Navy plane was hit by a Chinese fighter and forced to make an emergency landing, and China held its crew for ten days.


Traveling wave reactors

March 9, 2009

A company says it has a workable design for a traveling wave reactor. It hasn’t been studied to the same degree as uranium hydride reactors, much less pebble bed reactors, but if it pans out, it could have some real advantages.  (Via Instapundit.)


Coffin politics

March 9, 2009

Paul Beston explains how the Pentagon’s ban on media coverage of returning war dead came to pass:

Many who opposed the ban believed that it originated with George W. Bush’s administration. But its true origins lie elsewhere, with another President Bush—and with an instance of media bias so odious that it is better called propaganda.

In force since the outset of the Gulf War in 1991, the ban was triggered by an incident in the aftermath of the invasion of Panama ordered by President George H. W. Bush in December 1989. According to the New York Times’s Elisabeth Bumiller:

In 1989, the television networks showed split-screen images of Mr. Bush sparring and joking with reporters on one side and a military honor guard unloading coffins from a military action that he had ordered in Panama on the other.

Mr. Bush, a World War II veteran, was caught unaware and subsequently asked the networks to warn the White House when they planned to use split screens. The networks declined.

At the next opportunity, in February 1991 during the Persian Gulf war, the Pentagon banned photos of returning coffins.

Writing in the American Journalism Review, Jamie McIntyre, a former CNN senior Pentagon correspondent, makes clear that the president was unaware that while he was conducting his press conference, “the first casualties of the assault were arriving at Dover, and several television networks (ABC, CBS and CNN) had switched to a split-screen image, juxtaposing the jocular president against the grim reality of the invasion he ordered.” McIntyre then writes ruefully: “It was the beginning of the end not just of live coverage, but of any photography or media coverage of war dead returning to the United States.”

It’s hard to think of any White House that wouldn’t have responded defensively to the media’s manipulation of such solemn images. But writing all these years later, neither Bumiller nor McIntyre finds it worth noting that three networks blatantly attempted to humiliate the president of the United States in creating such a toxic juxtaposition. From their perspective, what drove the ban was President Bush’s “embarrassment,” not the media’s naked attempt to defame a political leader.

(Via LGF.)

Nothing much has changed.  The very reason that liberals opposed the ban was they wanted to using returning war dead in propaganda against President Bush.  But, with President Obama now in office, it seems unlikely that the media will make much use of the policy change.


A drawdown scam?

March 8, 2009

Greyhawk takes a look at some peculiar troop deployments that seem calculated to create the impression of a drawdown in Iraq that is not actually happening.  (Via Instapundit.)

It certainly seems stupid to divert a unit to Afghanistan that’s trained for Iraq, when you’re just going to have to pluck another unit to replace it in the rotation.  It’s hard to see why you wouldn’t just send the first unit where it trained for, and then send the second unit to Afghanistan.  But there’s no way to know if it’s really intended as a deception, or if it’s simple incompetence, or if there’s some hidden reason that it’s actually reasonable.  That’s the sort of question you might expect a responsible press to ask.


No special relationship with Britain?

March 8, 2009

Does this official speak for the Obama Administration?

The real views of many in Obama administration were laid bare by a State Department official involved in planning the Brown visit, who reacted with fury when questioned by The Sunday Telegraph about why the event was so low-key.

The official dismissed any notion of the special relationship, saying: “There’s nothing special about Britain. You’re just the same as the other 190 countries in the world. You shouldn’t expect special treatment.”

Not just a denial of the special relationship, but “fury” at the very idea. Is this the “smart diplomacy” we were told so much about?  Is this how President Obama is going to mend fences with our allies?

(Previous post.)

UPDATE (3/24): Niles Gardiner says the White House should apologize. Maybe, but at the very least, they should repudiate the statement.  So far, they haven’t.  If the administration won’t do so on its own, the press should ask about it.  I can’t imagine why they haven’t, unless it’s out of a desire to protect the administration from embarrassment.


Obama popularity tracks Bush’s

March 8, 2009

President Obama’s job approval rating continues to track those of President Bush (before 9/11).  The latest Rasmussen poll puts Obama’s job approval at 56% positive versus 43% negative.  On March 9-11, 2001, Bush’s job approval was at 58% positive versus 29% negative.

As John Hinderaker points out, Democrats may be overestimating their ability to exploit President Obama’s popularity to push through unpopular policies.


Obama “too tired” to welcome Brown properly

March 8, 2009

The American press largely ignored President Obama’s snub(s) of the British Prime Minister, but the British press certainly has not.  In the latest development, the White House now says that the President was “too tired”:

Sources close to the White House say Mr Obama and his staff have been “overwhelmed” by the economic meltdown and have voiced concerns that the new president is not getting enough rest.

British officials, meanwhile, admit that the White House and US State Department staff were utterly bemused by complaints that the Prime Minister should have been granted full-blown press conference and a formal dinner, as has been customary. They concede that Obama aides seemed unfamiliar with the expectations that surround a major visit by a British prime minister.

But Washington figures with access to Mr Obama’s inner circle explained the slight by saying that those high up in the administration have had little time to deal with international matters, let alone the diplomatic niceties of the special relationship.

Allies of Mr Obama say his weary appearance in the Oval Office with Mr Brown illustrates the strain he is now under, and the president’s surprise at the sheer volume of business that crosses his desk.

A well-connected Washington figure, who is close to members of Mr Obama’s inner circle, expressed concern that Mr Obama had failed so far to “even fake an interest in foreign policy”.

A British official conceded that the furore surrounding the apparent snub to Mr Brown had come as a shock to the White House. “I think it’s right to say that their focus is elsewhere, on domestic affairs. A number of our US interlocutors said they couldn’t quite understand the British concerns and didn’t get what that was all about.”

The American source said: “Obama is overwhelmed. There is a zero sum tension between his ability to attend to the economic issues and his ability to be a proactive sculptor of the national security agenda.

(Via LGF.)

Does the “too tired” excuse make even a bit of sense?  Doesn’t the President of the United States have a staff to organize state visits by key foreign allies?  A much better explanation is that Obama cannot “even fake an interest in foreign policy.”  That sort of attitude does not go unnoticed by the political staff.

Also, President Obama is surprised at the sheer volume of business that crosses his desk?  What job did he think he was campaigning for? Other presidents have managed the workload without insulting our most important ally; why can’t Obama?

(Previous post.)


Obama needs a briefing

March 8, 2009

According to the New York Times, President Obama misunderstands the legal status of detainees:

The president went on to say that “we don’t torture” and that “we ultimately provide anybody that we’re detaining an opportunity through habeas corpus to answer to charges.”

Aides later said Mr. Obama did not mean to suggest that everybody held by American forces would be granted habeas corpus or the right to challenge their detention. In a court filing last month, the Obama administration agreed with the Bush administration position that 600 prisoners in a cavernous prison on the American air base at Bagram in Afghanistan have no right to seek their release in court.

Instead, aides said Mr. Obama’s comment referred only to a Supreme Court decision last year finding that prisoners held at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, have the right to go to federal court to challenge their continued detention.

(Via the Corner.)

Ah, it’s good that his aides were available to explain that he didn’t mean what he very clearly said.  Otherwise, you might interpret “anybody that we’re detaining” to mean anybody that we’re detaining.

I’m certain that President Obama is aware of the facts at some level, but this exchange makes clear that they haven’t fully penetrated his thinking.  They don’t come to mind when he is speaking off the cuff. Now that he is president, this kind of semi-informed thinking is dangerous.

I’m glad that President Obama has continued most elements of the Global War on Terror, but this makes you wonder if that’s just because he has not been paying much attention.

UPDATE: More evidence that President Obama has simply not been paying attention.


Out of the frying pan, into the fire

March 8, 2009

Todd Zywicki has been warning that the mortgage cramdown provision is extremely dangerous because of the effect it could have on the credit market:

Mortgage modifications during bankruptcy will almost certainly increase the losses of mortgage lenders — and this may further freeze credit markets. The reason is that when mortgage-backed securities were created, they provided no allocation of how losses were to be assessed in the event that Congress would do something inconceivable, such as permitting modification of home mortgages in bankruptcy. According to a Standard & Poor’s study, most mortgage-backed securities provide that bankruptcy losses (at least above a certain initial carve-out) should be assessed pro rata across all tranches of securities holders. Given the likelihood of an explosion of bankruptcy filings and mortgage losses through bankruptcy, these pro rata sharing provisions likely will be triggered. Thus, the holders of the most senior, lowest-risk trances would be assessed losses on the same basis as the most junior, riskiest tranches.

The implications of this are obvious and potentially severe: The uncertainty will exacerbate the already existing uncertainty in the financial system, further freezing credit markets.

But have no fear, Congress is on the case.  If mortgage cramdown would trigger the pro rata sharing provisions in existing securities, simply erase those provisions by legislative fiat!  Never mind that those provisions were an integral part of a privately negotiated contract, they’re now gone  “as such provision shall be contrary to public policy.”  It’s hard to predict what the next domino will be, but whatever it is, surely the government can simply prohibit it from falling as well.

The end result of this will be a lessening of trust in the economy. When people can’t trust contracts to stay the way they were written, commerce becomes riskier.  Interest rates (the premium for risk) go up, suppressing the economy, and some enterprises that would have been narrowly profitable simply won’t happen at all.

The good news, for Democrats, is the negative consequences of their folly will take place over the long-term, continuing long after they are out of power, so they’ll be unlikely to take the blame they deserve.


Keeping ethics out of science

March 8, 2009

Yuval Levin notes a troubling, but perhaps predictable development in the politics of stem cells.  For years we’ve been told that we need to support federal funding of research using stem cell lines derived from leftover embryos.  Now that that’s on the verge of happening, it’s suddenly not enough.  Now we’re told we need to fund the destruction of embryos that were specifically created for the purpose.


The grown-ups

March 7, 2009

I’m so glad the grown-ups are back in charge, in Congress:

After an angry, swearing late night meeting among top Democrats, Congress voted Friday to give itself another five days to try to complete a long-overdue omnibus spending bill that had become a growing embarrassment for party leaders and President Barack Obama. . .

The heated, sometimes profane, exchanges were described as “ugly” by Democrats on both sides of the Capitol. Staff, kicked out in the hall, could hear the yelling, and Pelosi herself seemed a little abashed the next day, joking that nothing her leadership could say to her now would match the night before.

(Via Instapundit.)

and at the White House:

President Obama gave British Prime Minister Gordon Brown a set of 25 classic American films to mark his historic visit to the White House, British media reported on Friday.

Brown, the first European leader to visit Obama since his Jan. 20 inauguration, was presented with a “special collector’s box” of DVDs during his two-day visit to Washington.

Downing Street, which reportedly tried to keep the present a secret, declined to say what movies were included in the set.

“One reason for the secrecy might be that the gift seems markedly less generous and thoughtful than the presents taken to Washington by the Prime Minister,” London’s Evening Standard newspaper reported. . .

Brown, who is not known to be a movie buff, gave the president and his children several uniquely historical gifts.

and at the State Department:

Hillary Clinton raised eyebrows on her first visit to Europe as secretary of state when she mispronounced her EU counterparts’ names and claimed U.S. democracy was older than Europe’s. . .

A veteran politician, Clinton compared the complex European political environment to that of the two-party U.S. system, before adding:

“I have never understood multiparty democracy.

“It is hard enough with two parties to come to any resolution, and I say this very respectfully, because I feel the same way about our own democracy, which has been around a lot longer than European democracy.”

The remark provoked much headshaking in the parliament of a bloc that likes to trace back its democratic tradition thousands of years to the days of classical Greece.

One working lunch later with EU leaders, Clinton raised more eyebrows when she referred to EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, who stood beside her, as “High Representative Solano.”

She also dubbed European Commission External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner as “Benito.”

(Via Reason, via the Corner.)

and a bit more at the State Department:

After promising to “push the reset button” on relations with Moscow, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton planned to present Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov with a light-hearted gift at their talks here Friday night to symbolize the Obama administration’s desire for a new beginning in the relationship. . .

She handed him a palm-sized box wrapped with a bow. Lavrov opened it and pulled out the gift—a red plastic button on a black base with a Russian word “peregruzka” printed on top. 

“We worked hard to get the right Russian word. Do you think we got it?” Clinton said as reporters, allowed in to observe the first few minutes of the meeting, watched. 

“You got it wrong,” Lavrov said, to Clinton’s clear surprise. Instead of “reset,” he said the word on the box meant “overcharge.”

(Via Instapundit.)

Yep, it’s high time we got those cowboys out of office.  Those guys were embarrassing. . .

UPDATE: London is in an uproar over President Obama’s gifts.


House won’t call for PMA investigation

March 6, 2009

The Democratic House once again displays its high ethical standards:

The House on Thursday night turned back another call to investigate the PMA Group, a once-powerful lobbying firm whose offices were recently raided by the FBI and which has close ties to Pennsylvania Rep. John P. Murtha (D). 

Twenty-one Democrats, including nine freshmen, voted to proceed with debate on the measure offered by Arizona Rep. Jeff Flake (R) calling for an investigation of the lobbying firm. Most of the Democrats represent fiscally conservative districts.

(Via Instapundit.)

Tim Murphy, incidentally, voted with the Democrats.


Property rights index released

March 6, 2009

The 2009 International Property Rights Index has been released (large pdf).  Once again, Finland stands at the top (tax rates do not figure in). The substantial correlation between property rights and per capita income continues, and once again, the bottom of the list is made up of notorious economic basket cases including Chad, Angola, Burundi, Zimbabwe and Bangladesh.  Venezuela appears third from the bottom, but manages to be poor rather than destitute (for now) because of its oil wealth.  The study made no effort to score every nation; many of the poorest nations don’t appear (e.g., North Korea, Malawi).

Embarrassingly, the United States ranks only 15th in property rights, tied with the UK and one rank below Canada.  The United States does well for intellectual property, and decently for physical property rights, but poorly (among the top tier) for legal and political environment. Legal and political environment is defined as judicial independence, rule of law, political stability and absence of violence, and control of corruption.


Chavez draws up an enemies list

March 6, 2009

EL Universal reports:

Venezuela’s President ordered his governors and mayors to draw “the map of the media war” to determine which media are “owned by oligarchs.” . . .

Chávez said that “were it not for the attacks, the lies, manipulation and exaggeration of the mistakes of the government” by the private media, the popularity of his government would be 80 percent instead of 60 percent or 70 percent, as he claims to have.

“Every mayor, in every city council must make an analysis. How many radio stations are there? What is the content of the programs? Every governor in his or her respective state must do the same analysis. Let us draw a map of the media war. With respect to the newspapers, how many newspapers are owned by the oligarchs in Aragua state, in the municipality of Zamora? There is also a media war on the Internet. There is a daily battle. I beg you to put at the forefront of this battle,” Chávez said.

(Via Reason, via Instapundit.)

The military balked at Chavez’s earlier attempt to create a police state, so now he’s doing it in slow motion.


Joe-gate figures sued

March 6, 2009

Joe “the plumber” Wurzelbacher is suing three Ohio officials for illegally searching his records after he rose to prominence for asking Barack Obama an inconvenient question during the presidential campaign. One might think that he has a slum-dunk case, since the Ohio Inspector-General already determined that the search was illegitimate, but under the doctrine of official immunity it’s not so clear.  They might be held to be immune from lawsuits for any misconduct perpetrated in an official capacity.

I’m also surprised that the suit targets specifically those who searched Wurzelbacher’s records at the Department of Job and Family Services. Five other Ohio departments investigated him, including the Ohio Attorney General’s office.  Why aren’t they also being sued?

(Previous post.)


More smart diplomacy

March 6, 2009

Scrappleface reports:

Obama to Drop Shield if Russia Helps with Limbaugh

(2009-03-05) — President Barack Obama has reportedly written another private note to his Russian counterpart offering to halt deployment of a defensive nuclear missile shield in Europe, this time in exchange for Russia’s help in dealing with U.S. talk-radio host Rush Limbaugh.

The White House immediately denied the existence of the letter to President Dmitry Medvedev, but acknowledged “ongoing internal deliberations over a measured response using all the tools of U.S. power, including diplomacy.”

Dealing with Mr. Limbaugh has taken the Obama administration’s focus off of other global trouble spots like North Korea, Iran and Chicago.

The rift between President Obama and Mr. Limbaugh started in October when the radio kingpin said of Mr. Obama “I hope he fails.” Tension escalated when Democrat pollsters discovered that Rush Limbaugh is the only remaining divisive Republican with name recognition higher than 10 percent.

(Via Instapundit.)


Chavez nationalizing Venezuelan food industry

March 5, 2009

Hugo Chavez is well on the way to destroying Venezuela’s oil industry, so he’s starting in on the food industry:

President Hugo Chavez seized a local unit of American food giant Cargill on Wednesday and threatened to nationalize Venezuela’s largest private company, Polar, as he demanded industry produce cheaper rice.

The clash with the food companies came less than three weeks after Chavez, a Cuba ally who has nationalized swaths of the Venezuelan economy, won a referendum on allowing him to run for reelection. . .

In recent days Chavez has seized some Polar rice mills after accusing the food industry of skirting his price controls and failing to produce enough cheap rice.

U.S. company Cargill, which operates one rice mill in Venezuela, said earlier in the week it was expecting a visit from officials even though it does not produce the type of rice that is at the center of the dispute. . .

Polar, which is the country’s largest private sector employer and produces and distributes everything from beer to flour, has vowed to take legal action over the rice mill takeovers.

(Via Hot Air.)

I don’t tend to go in for historical determinism, but this chain of events has been very predictable.  Chavez’s policies lead to runaway inflation (and a horrific surge in crime rates).  Food prices soar.  Chavez institutes price controls on food.  Price controls create shortages (as they always do) when businesses refuse to sell at a loss.  Chavez then nationalizes the businesses.

What happens next?  Agricultural production plummets under government administration, of course.  Venezuela becomes even more dependent on food imports (Venezuela already imports two-thirds of its food, half of that from the United States).  Those foreign food suppliers won’t sell at a loss and can’t be nationalized, so food shortages become severe.


U.S. can stay in Kyrgyzstan?

March 5, 2009

What is Bakiyev up to?

Kyrgyzstan is willing to negotiate a new deal allowing American troops to operate there despite its recent decision to evict the U.S. from an air base essential to the war in Afghanistan, the president’s spokesman said Thursday.

The Central Asian nation last month ordered the United States to vacate the Manas air base within six months. President Kurmanbek Bakiyev announced the closure shortly after Russia pledged $2.15 billion in aid and loans for impoverished former Soviet nation.

Presidential spokesman Almaz Turdumamatov said the decision on Manas would not be changed but indicated that a separate arrangement allowing U.S. troops in the country could be negotiated.

“The decision on the base is final and by this year every last American soldier will have left the territory of Kyrgyzstan,” he said. “Notwithstanding, the doors for negotiation with the United States are open and we are prepared to consider a new agreement.” 


“Smart diplomacy”

March 4, 2009

Charles Krauthammer puts the Russia-Iran diplomatic debacle in a nutshell:

This is smart diplomacy? This is a debacle. The Russians dismissed it contemptuously.

Look, if we could get the Iranian nuclear program stopped with Russian’s helping us in return for selling out the Poles and the Czechs on missile defense, I’m enough of a cynic and a realist to say we would do it the same way that Kissinger agreed to delegitimize and de-recognize Taiwan in return for a large strategic opening with China.

But Kissinger had it done. He had it wired. What happened here is it was leaked. The Russians have dismissed it. We end up being humiliated. We look weak in front of the Iranians, and we have left the Poles and Czechs out to dry in return for nothing.

The Czechs and the Poles went out on a limb, exposed themselves to Russian pressure, and we have shown that Eastern Europe is not as sovereign as it appears if the Russian influence is there, and we will acquiesce in what they consider their own sphere of influence.

This administration has prided itself, flattered itself on deploying smart diplomacy. “Smart diplomacy” is a meaningless idea, but if it has any meaning at all, it is not ever doing something as humiliating, amateurish, and stupid as this.

More here.


A tale of two budgets

March 3, 2009

Understandably, President Obama wants to blame his predecessor for the horrifying state of the Federal budget.  Two days ago, the President’s chief of staff claimed to have inherited a $1.7 trillion deficit:

“First, this is a $1.7 trillion deficit he inherited. Let’s be clear about that. We inherited this deficit and we inherited $4 trillion of new debt,” Emanuel said. “That is the facts.”

Emanuel is claiming that President Obama’s entire proposed 2009 deficit was inherited from President Bush.  “That is the facts.”  The actual numbers tell a somewhat different story.

Washington operates on a bizarre system in which budgets are projected using a moving baseline.  Budget increases are assumed to take place automatically. (Any budget freeze is therefore a cut.)  The Congressional Budget Office’s official projection (pdf) of the 2009 baseline indicates a $1.19 trillion deficit, up from $455 billion in 2008 (actual).  That was in January.  A week ago, numerous news articles were referring to a $1.3 trillion deficit.  I’m not sure what that’s based on (I’m unable to find any CBO estimates more recent than January 2009), but it’s plausible that the budget picture has worsened $100 billion in the last two months.

The White House, through the Office of Management and Budget, does its own calculations.  The OMB’s own calculation (pdf, page 5) puts the baseline 2009 deficit at $1.51 trillion.  So where is Emanuel getting his 1.7 figure?  That’s the deficit in President Obama’s proposed 2009 budget (pdf, page 2) , or $1.752 trillion to be precise.  Blaming President Bush for automatic spending increases might be fair (that’s how Washington operates), but trying to blame him for President Obama’s budget choices is a bit much.

In fact, for 2009 we have a rare opportunity to compare two budgets. President Bush, after all, submitted a 2009 budget to Congress last year.  The Democratic Congress dropped it on the floor, hoping that a Democrat would win the election and propose a new budget more to their liking.  So how do the two budgets compare?

The 2009 Bush budget proposed a $400 billion deficit, but that was based on revenue estimates calculated before the financial crisis.  The situation now is much worse, but we can do a back-of-the-envelope calculation to see where the Bush budget would be today, had it been enacted.

Bush’s budget — which the Washington Post called “austere” — proposed $3.1 trillion in spending.  That figure didn’t include full funding for the War on Terror, so we need to adjust it.  Let’s assume that the war in 2009 costs what it did in 2008 (with the Surge over, that’s probably high), so that’s $200 billion where the budget only provides $70 billion.  An extra $130 billion bumps the Bush budget up to about $3.2 trillion.

On the revenue side, we’ll throw out the Bush numbers and start from the latest CBO estimate (pdf) of $2.36 trillion.  The Bush budget included a $146 billion stimulus plan (remember when that seemed big?), and if we assume that it was mostly tax rebates, that cuts revenue to $2.21 trillion.  Subtract revenue from spending, and we get a $1 trillion deficit.  That’s a bit more than half of the $1.75 trillion deficit in the Obama budget.

There’s one more interesting calculation we can perform, which I think best expresses the reckless spending we are rushing into.  That’s the deficit as a percentage of revenue.

The Bush budget proposed spending 15% more than revenue, but our calculation shows that it would have come in closer to 46%.  No one can survive for long, spending half-again their income, and severe adjustments would have been required.

The Obama budget proposes $3.9 trillion in spending against $2.2 trillion in revenue.  That’s a staggering overspending ratio of 80%, without even the justification of a world war.


The Moscow Way

March 3, 2009

The Economist has a dismaying but unsurprising story on the surge of political killings in Russia.


Atlas is shrugging

March 3, 2009

Supply-side economics works in the other direction too.  (Via the Corner.)

UPDATE: More here.


Sebelius

March 3, 2009

Now that Kathleen Sebelius has been nominated for HHS Secretary, it seems worthwhile to remember her last appearance in the national limelight, falsely blaming the Iraq War for a shortage of heavy equipment needed for tornado recovery.


Biden gets employment statistics wrong

March 2, 2009

Joe Biden, our stimulus czar, has no idea what the Louisiana employment figures say — even whether they are increasing or decreasing — but that won’t stop him from making something up:

Wednesday morning on the CBS Early Show, Vice President Joe Biden asked, “But what I don’t understand from Governor Jindal is what would he do? In Louisiana, there’s 400 people a day losing their jobs. What’s he doing?”

But that claim is wrong if you look at the numbers from the Louisiana Workforce Commission.

“In December, Louisiana was the only state in the nation besides the District of Columbia, according to the national press release, that added employment over the month,” said Patty Granier with the Louisiana Workforce Commission.

“The state gained 3,700 jobs for the seasonally adjusted employment,” Granier said of the most recent figures.

Those numbers are available on Louisiana’s employment website, laworks.net.

Also available on the site are the state’s latest unemployment statistics, statistics that appear to directly contradict what the vice president said Wednesday morning.

(Via Instapundit.)


Taxpayers are chumps

March 2, 2009

This is starting to remind me of how my pre-schooler tells jokes.  She’ll tell any joke that ever drew a laugh over and over again.  Did you hear the one about the Obama nominee that didn’t pay his/her taxes?

The latest tax evader cum public servant is Ron Kirk, President Obama’s nominee for US Trade Representative:

Former Dallas mayor Ron Kirk, who is President Obama’s nominee to be the U.S. Trade Representative, failed to pay almost $10,000 in taxes during the past three years because of a series of mistakes, the Senate Finance Committee announced today.

Kirk’s errors involved honoraria from speeches, on which he should have paid taxes; the cost of sports games, for which he deducted too much; and improper treatment of accounting fees on his income taxes. Kirk has agreed to file amended returns.

(Via Instapundit.)

Here’s the updated scorecard:

  • Geithner, Treasury Secretary (confirmed)
  • Daschle, HHS Secretary (withdrawn)
  • Killefer, “Chief Performance Officer” (withdrawn)
  • Solis, Labor Secretary (confirmed)
  • Emanuel, Chief of Staff (no confirmation required)
  • Kirk, US Trade Representative (still nominated)

UPDATE: Solis has already been confirmed.  I’ve corrected the scorecard.


    Obama breaks no-earmark pledge

    March 1, 2009

    I trust no one is surprised by this:

    The White House on Sunday downplayed massive deficit spending and President Barack Obama’s pledge not to sign legislation laden with billions in earmarks amid Republican criticism that he was recanting on a key campaign promise.

    The administration’s top budget official, Peter Orszag, said Obama would sign the $140 billion spending bill despite a campaign pledge that he would reject tailored budget requests that let lawmakers send money to their home states. Orszag said Obama would move ahead and overlook the time-tested tradition that lets officials divert millions at a time to pet projects. . .

    Taxpayers for Common Sense, a watchdog group, identified almost 8,600 earmarks totaling $7.7 billion; Democrats say the number is $3.8 billion.

    The promise was broken already by the “stimulus” bill, so this is actually the second.


    Iran has material for a nuclear bomb

    March 1, 2009

    Fox News reports:

    The top U.S. military official said Sunday he believes Iran has enough fissile material to build a nuclear weapon, but Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the Islamic Republic is a long way from having a bomb.

    Last week, the International Atomic Energy Agency revised its assessment of Iran’s nuclear capabilities, saying it was wrong in earlier reports about Iran’s ability to enrich enough uranium to make a nuclear weapon.

    Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said, “We think they do, quite frankly,” when asked Sunday about Iran’s capacity.

    But rest easy, Iran probably hasn’t actually assembled a bomb yet:

    But Gates said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that the Iranians are not close to getting a weapon at this time.

    “They’re not close to a stockpile, they’re not close to a weapon at this point and so there is some time,” he said when asked whether Tehran could be deterred from pursuing its weapons effort.

    Have you noticed that the comforting assessments they give us keep getting less comforting?  We’ve gone from “Iran has halted its program and (with moderate confidence) they haven’t restarted it” to “years away from material for a bomb” to “months away from material for a bomb” to “haven’t actually assembled a bomb”.  Soon the comforting assessment will be “Iran hasn’t nuked anyone yet.”

    POSTSCRIPT: This assessment seems to have been spot on.

    (Previous post.)


    Bad news for Specter

    March 1, 2009

    A new Susquehanna poll shows that 66% of Pennsylvania Republicans want a new senator, against just 26% that support Specter.  Specter’s best chance might be to switch parties; Pennsylvania Democrats narrowly support him, by a 49-42 margin.  (Via the Corner.)


    True colors

    March 1, 2009

    The “card check” bill being championed by Democrats in Washington doesn’t just abolish the secret ballot for unionization votes, it also gives government bureaucrats the power to set wages in the absence of a contract.

    (Via Kausfiles, via Instapundit.)


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