Pay to play

March 23, 2009

The NY Daily News reports:

Gov. Paterson stuck to his guns Saturday, insisting he knew nothing about a $100,000 donation from AIG to the state Democratic Party days before his office helped save the insurance giant.

State Republicans charged the Democrats with stonewalling an investigation into the Aug. 29 donation, uncovered last week by The Associated Press.

(Via Instapundit.)

Taxpayers are chumps

March 23, 2009

Two Democratic congressmen, Pete Stark of California and Eliot Engel of New York, illegally claim to be Maryland residents to qualify for tax breaks on their Maryland homes.  (Via Instapundit.)


March 23, 2009

I’m back.


March 20, 2009

No blogging until Monday.


March 19, 2009


(Via Power Line.)

Weapons-grade laser achieved

March 19, 2009

Energy weapons are one step closer to the battlefield:

Huge news for real-life ray guns: Electric lasers have hit battlefield strength for the first time — paving the way for energy weapons to go to war.

In recent test-blasts, Pentagon-researchers at Northrop Grumman managed to get its 105 kilowatts of power out of their laser — past the “100kW threshold [that] has been viewed traditionally as a proof of principle for ‘weapons grade’ power levels for high-energy lasers,” Northrop’s vice president of directed energy systems, Dan Wildt, said in a statement.

(Via Instapundit.)

Obama’s gift DVDs won’t play in UK

March 19, 2009

When President Obama snubbed British PM Gordon Brown a couple of weeks ago by giving him a set of DVDs (whereas Brown gave Obama a collection of uniquely historical gifts), some wondered if they would even play in the UK, due to DVD region restrictions.  I thought that was unnecessarily cynical; surely the White House would at least have gone to the trouble to get region 2 DVDs.

I was wrong.  This White House is really starting to look uniquely incompetent.

(Via Hot Air.) (Previous post.)

UPDATE: Mark Steyn comments.

Obama abandons “soak the vets” policy

March 19, 2009

The Obama Administration is abandoning a controversial policy to charge veterans for treatment of combat-related injuries.  What they were thinking is still anyone’s guess.

(Previous post.)

How a bill becomes a law

March 19, 2009

Nancy Pelosi wants to avoid the outrage over the AIG bonuses, so she wants us to know that she isn’t reponsible for the provision that protects them.  But Pelosi goes further, and makes the bizarre, counterfactual claim that the House never saw the provision at all:

Pelosi continuously denied that she or any other House Democrat signed off on the provision, even though the House eventually voted to agree to the conference report on the stimulus bill.

“This was never brought to conference,” she said. “This never came to the House side, and you can talk to any of our conferees. It’s a matter of fact and record.”

(Via the Corner.)

Obviously, the bill did come to the House side, since that’s how bills become law.  Presumably Pelosi knows this; does she think we don’t? Anyway, to avoid any confusion, I’m offering this as a public service:

Obama’s book deal

March 19, 2009

Has any president had an active book deal while in office before?  (Via the Corner.)  Apparently it’s legal (I’m sure no one ever thought to ban it), but it’s certainly unseemly.

Importing terrorists

March 19, 2009

The fecklessness continues:

Attorney General Eric Holder said some detainees being held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, may end up being released in the U.S. as the Obama administration works with foreign allies to resettle some of the prisoners.

(Via the Corner.)

I’m surprised the Administration would want to make itself a hostage to fortune like this.  When these released detainees start committing crimes, the voters will know who to blame.  The convict furloughs of yesteryear pale to this.

Haven’t I seen this movie before?

March 19, 2009

Fox News reports:

The U.S. Census is supposed to be free of politics, but one group with a history of voter fraud, ACORN, is participating in next year’s count, raising concerns about the politicization of the decennial survey.

The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now signed on as a national partner with the U.S. Census Bureau in February 2009 to assist with the recruitment of the 1.4 million temporary workers needed to go door-to-door to count every person in the United States — currently believed to be more than 306 million people.

ACORN invented hundreds of thousands of people for the voting rolls, and now it’s going to be counting people for the census.  Swell.  But wait:

ACORN spokesman Scott Levenson told that “ACORN as an organization has not been charged with any crime.” He added that fears that the organization will unfairly influence the census are unfounded.

Whew, that’s a relief.

Posse Comitatus Act violation?

March 19, 2009

Instapundit notes:

A POSSE COMITATUS ACT ISSUE? Army Investigating How and Why Troops Were Sent Into Alabama Town After Murder Spree. “The U.S. Army has launched an inquiry into how and why active duty troops from Fort Rucker, Ala., came to be placed on the streets of Samson, Ala., during last week’s murder spree in that tiny South Alabama community. The use of the troops was a possible violation of federal law.”

What I believe he meant to say was:

They told me that if I voted for McCain, there would be martial law on our nation’s streets.  And they were right!

Shut up, he explained

March 19, 2009

Rep. John Murtha (D-PA) explains that Congress can do whatever it wants:

U.S. Rep. John Murtha, D-Johnstown, responded by waving the Constitution at the camera, saying: “What it says is the Congress of the United States appropriates the money. Got that?”

No more pestering our rulers with stories of corruption and waste, please.

(Via Instapundit.)

How to eliminate terrorism

March 18, 2009

It’s now called “man-caused disasters,” according to our new Secretary of Homeland Security.  (Via the Corner.)  Glad to see this administration is taking the problem seriously.

POSTSCRIPT: We got rid of our enemy combatants the same way. Perhaps renaming is the solution to all our problems.

Get me some popcorn

March 18, 2009

The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) is union-busting the union that organizes its staff, or so the latter is complaining.  The Washington Post reports:

The workers union, which goes by the somewhat postmodern name of the Union of Union Representatives, has filed charges of unfair labor practices against the SEIU with the National Labor Relations Board. The workers union’s leaders say that the SEIU is engaging in the same kind of practices that some businesses use: laying off workers without proper notice, contracting out work to temporary-staffing firms, banning union activities and reclassifying workers to reduce union numbers.

(Via the Corner.)

Delicious.  This should be fun to watch.

BONUS: SEIU’s layoffs are happening because they are short on money, because of all the money they spent supporting Barack Obama and card check.  This gets better and better.

Study confirms ABA bias against conservative nominees

March 18, 2009

The National Law Journal has the story.  The study also finds bias against minorities, and against former congressional staffers.  (Via Volokh.)

The missile defense testing record

March 18, 2009

The THAAD system was tested successfully again yesterday.  That extends missile defense’s near-perfect testing record since the system was deployed in December 2002.  This seems like a good occasion to update the testing chronology:

The land- and air-based systems have a perfect record since December 2002.  The four failures during that time are all of the Aegis/SM-3 system (against nine successes).

(Previous post.  More background here.)

UPDATE: Another successful Aegis/SM-3 test on July 31, 2009.

Obama’s phony outrage

March 18, 2009

Despite President Obama’s loudly expressed outrage over the AIG bonuses, it turns out that he knew about them already, reports the Washington Post:

President Obama was informed about the $165 million in bonuses due to employees of the American Insurance Group the day before they were paid out last week, the White House disclosed late Tuesday.

Obama has expressed outrage that the company, which has received about $170 billion in government bailout money, proceeded to pay out the bonuses. He said the idea of a company rescued with taxpayer money awarding bonuses runs counter to “our values.”

The timeline released Tuesday marked the first time the White House has acknowledged when the president was told about the bonuses, which have prompted calls from Congress for the administration to recover the money. . .

The president did not publicly express anger over the bonuses until after they were disclosed Sunday in The Washington Post.

(Emphasis mine.)  (Via Hot Air.)

So the bonuses were no big deal, as long as no one knew about them. It wasn’t until they became public that Obama needed to get in front of the issue.

In fact, not only was Obama okay with the bonuses until Monday, it seems that he was instrumental for making them happen.  The stimulus bill actually explicitly protects the bonuses:

(iii) The prohibition required under clause (i) shall not be construed to prohibit any bonus payment required to be paid pursuant to a written employment contract executed on or before February 11, 2009, as such valid employment contracts are determined by the Secretary or the designee of the Secretary.”

When asked about the bonuses, Harry Reid said “hindsight is 20/20.” But, in fact, the Senate had the foresight to prohibit them in its original bill.  That provision was deleted in conference, and replaced with the provision protecting the bonuses, CNN reports:

The mystery isn’t just how what was effectively a protection for AIG was put into the stimulus bill — it’s also how a provision intended to prevent AIG from giving executive bonuses, was taken out.

The Senate passed a bipartisan amendment proposed by Sen. Olympia Snowe, R- Maine, and Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, that would have taxed bonuses on any company getting federal bailout dollars, if the company didn’t pay back the bonus money to the government.

But the idea was stripped from the stimulus bill during hurried, closed-door negotiations with the White House and House of Representatives.

(Via ButAsForMe.)

So, who did it?  Blame had been centering on Christopher Dodd (D-CT), the chair of the Senate banking committee, who reportedly added the provision.  But Dodd says it wasn’t his fault, it was the Treasury Department.  The New York Times reports:

Mr. Geithner reiterated the Treasury position that lawyers inside and out of government had agreed that “it would be legally difficult to prevent these contractually mandated payments.”

That position was being questioned at the Capitol. Congressional Republicans, eager to implicate Democrats, initially blamed Senator Christopher J. Dodd, the Connecticut Democrat who heads the banking committee, for adding to the economic recovery package an amendment that cracked down on bonuses at companies getting bailout money, but that exempted bonuses protected by contracts, like A.I.G.’s.

Mr. Dodd, in turn, responded Tuesday with a statement saying that the exemption actually had been inserted at the insistence of Treasury during Congress’s final legislative negotiations.

(Emphasis mine.) (Via the Corner.)

So if Dodd is to be believed (a big if), the Obama Administration actually insisted on the bonuses it is now condemning.  If Dodd is lying, the President Obama still negotiated the bill and signed it.  Either way, this is Obama’s baby.

UPDATE: Actually, Dodd originally said he wasn’t involved in the provision “in the slightest.”  Now he says Treasury insisted on it. Either way, Dodd lied.  So I should have said: if Dodd is to be believed now. . .

UPDATE: Time reports:

Treasury Learned of AIG Bonuses Earlier Than Claimed

Although Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner told congressional leaders on Tuesday that he learned of AIG’s impending $160 million bonus payments to members of its troubled financial-products unit on March 10, sources tell TIME that the New York Federal Reserve informed Treasury staff that the payments were imminent on Feb. 28. That is 10 days before Treasury staffers say they first learned “full details” of the bonus plan, and three days before the Administration launched a new $30 billion infusion of cash for AIG.

(Via the Corner.)

Phony outrage indeed.

GOP surges in polls

March 18, 2009

For the first time in ages, the GOP leads on the generic ballot 41-39, according to the latest Rasmussen poll.  (Via Hot Air.)  The Democrats lead by seven points on Inauguration Day, but have steadily faded since then.

It’s not just Rasmussen; the latest NPR poll has the parties tied 42-42 on the generic ballot.  (Via Power Line.)  NPR reports the poll here, but don’t expect to find any mention of the generic ballot; the NPR story cherrypicks the results that are positive for Democrats.  You can find the full results (including the generic ballot on page 3) here (pdf).

Smart diplomacy

March 18, 2009

The latest world leader to be snubbed by the White House is the President of Brazil:

When Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva becomes the first Latin American leader to sit down with President Barack Obama this weekend, he brings undisputed clout. . .

Still, the White House made several moves interpreted as snubs by the Brazilian media.

Silva aides said the trip was pushed forward from Tuesday because of the St. Patrick’s Day holiday — making Latin America once again look like an afterthought. Then, the White House announcement misspelled his name as “Luis Ignacio” and put “Lula” — a nickname that decades ago became a legal part of the Brazilian leader’s name — in quotes.

(Via Power Line.)

Maybe this is actually really clever.  In order to patch things up with the UK, the White House is snubbing everyone, in order that that its treatment of the British PM will be nothing out of the ordinary.  But if that’s the plan, they dropped the ball with Ireland; the teleprompter breakdown with the Irish PM was more of a screw-up than a real snub.

White House hires thief

March 18, 2009

It’s not just tax cheats that get jobs in the Obama Administration, but thieves as well:

Troubles for the man in charge of federal spending and policy on information technology continue to be revealed.

According to Maryland state records, Vivek Kundra, the White House chief information officer who took leave last Thursday — one week after being named to the position, pleaded guilty to a petty theft charge 12 years ago.

Kundra, who was formerly the D.C. technology officer, received supervised probation before judgment in 1997 for pleading guilty to a theft of less than $300. He was also fined $500, which was lowered to $100 after the rest was suspended.

ASIDE: This is separate from the recent FBI raid on Kundra’s office, in an investigation of which we are assured Kundra is not a target.  We’ll see.

One’s first inclination is to blame incompetent vetting, but that might not be right.  We just learned yesterday that the Obama Administration was aware of the tax problems with many of its nominees, but decided to go forward with them anyway.  So it seems possible, even likely, that the vetters were aware that Kundra is a convicted thief, but the White House hired him anyway.

Wheeee, down the slippery slope!

March 17, 2009

When Australia introduced Internet censorship to stop child pornography, I was not alone in predicting that it wouldn’t be used only against child pornography for long.  Still, I didn’t think that Australia would be blocking political content quite so soon.

It’s happening now.  The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has blacklisted an anti-abortion web site that shows gruesome pictures of aborted babies.  That’s not even the end of the story.  Whirlpool, a web site of discussion forums on the Internet and broadband, was given a takedown notice for linking to the site, according to the Australian.  Had they refused, they would have faced fines of $11,000 (Australian) per day.  (The placeholder for one deleted post can be seen here.)

The anti-abortion activists are not alone.  ACMA has also blacklisted Wikileaks, for including a copy of Denmark’s blacklist.

The current state of affairs of Australian censorship allows the ACMA to censor domestic content, using takedown notices and threats of huge fines.  However, the ACMA has no power (obviously) to take down foreign content.  To correct that “problem”, the Australian government is looking to institute nationwide net filtering.

The Australian Minister for Broadband, Communications, and the Digital Economy, Stephen Conroy, assures Australians that:

The Government does not view this debate as an argument about freedom of speech.  Freedom of speech is fundamentally important in a democratic society and there has never been any suggestion that the Australian Government would seek to block political content.

But, as we have just seen, it already has.

Conroy also asks Australians to have faith in them, adding:

“The Government of Australia is elected,” he said. “If the parliament wants to take this path, the last time I checked, that’s ok.”

Have faith in the censors?  Heh.  Good one.  Anyway, Conroy clearly has forgotten the principles of limited government, if he ever knew them.  An elected government can do anything it wants?  What has become of you, Australia?

(Via Volokh.)

Minister of culture

March 17, 2009

A new White House position.  (Via the Corner.)  Apparently President Obama is serious about making us into Europe.

Creative accounting

March 17, 2009

Obama’s $80 billion exaggeration:

Last week, President Barack Obama convened a health-care summit in Washington to identify programs that would improve quality and restrain burgeoning costs. He stated that all his policies would be based on rigorous scientific evidence of benefit. The flagship proposal presented by the president at this gathering was the national adoption of electronic medical records — a computer-based system that would contain every patient’s clinical history, laboratory results, and treatments. This, he said, would save some $80 billion a year, safeguard against medical errors, reduce malpractice lawsuits, and greatly facilitate both preventive care and ongoing therapy of the chronically ill.

Following his announcement, we spoke with fellow physicians at the Harvard teaching hospitals, where electronic medical records have been in use for years. All of us were dumbfounded, wondering how such dramatic claims of cost-saving and quality improvement could be true.

The basis for the president’s proposal is a theoretical study published in 2005 by the RAND Corporation, funded by companies including Hewlett-Packard and Xerox that stand to financially benefit from such an electronic system. And, as the RAND policy analysts readily admit in their report, there was no compelling evidence at the time to support their theoretical claims. Moreover, in the four years since the report, considerable data have been obtained that undermine their claims. The RAND study and the Obama proposal it spawned appear to be an elegant exercise in wishful thinking.

Policy matters

March 17, 2009

An object lesson in South America:

As a small, open economy dependent on banking, beach tourism and beef exports, Uruguay ought to be more exposed to the world recession than Argentina, with its large domestic market. Both economies have slowed sharply after years of rapid growth. But Uruguay looks set to fare much less badly than Argentina. . .

That is because the growth in Argentina owed much to expansionary fiscal and monetary polices which caused the economy to overheat. Over the past year prices for its farm exports have fallen, bringing down tax revenues. To keep public spending going, President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner nationalised the private pension system in October, destroying what little confidence investors had in her government. Argentines, long inured to such behaviour, responded as they always do, by taking their money out. Capital outflows reached 7% of GDP in 2008.

Much of that money went across the river. Deposits in Uruguay’s banks by non-residents rose by 41% in the 12 months to December. These pesos follow others: during the presidency of Néstor Kirchner, Ms Fernández’s husband and predecessor, some Argentine beef farmers sold their herds rather than submit to export bans and price controls, and ploughed the money into Uruguayan ranches. . .

Uruguay is better placed to mitigate recession than its neighbour. Argentina may struggle to roll over the $23 billion in debt maturing this year and next because of investors’ distrust: its bonds yield 15 percentage points more than American Treasury bonds. Uruguay is charged a premium of only five percentage points, and can thus more easily afford a fiscal stimulus.

Why the GOP can’t win with minorities

March 17, 2009

A very insightful column by Shelby Steele.

Congress ignites trade war with Mexico

March 17, 2009

The geniuses who run the Democratic party have determined that this is the perfect time for a trade war:

A long-simmering trade dispute boiled over into sanctions on Monday after Mexico said it would raise tariffs on $2.4bn of US exports in retaliation for ending a pilot programme to allow Mexican trucks on American roads.

The announcement marks one of the first big tests for trade policy under President Barack Obama, who has sought to tread a fine line between assuaging his domestic constituencies and upholding the US’s international obligations.

Mexico said it would increase tariffs on 90 industrial and agricultural goods, likely to include politically sensitive farm products, after Congress last week killed a pilot programme allowing a limited number of Mexican trucks on American highways. Mexico obtained a judicial ruling in 2001 under the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta) allowing it to impose such sanctions, but has held off since the US introduced the pilot scheme.

The sanctions, which Mexican officials say are set to be imposed later this week, will be one of the largest acts of retaliation against US exports. US goods exports to Mexico totalled $151.5bn last year. On Monday, Gerardo Ruíz Mateos, Mexico’s economy minister, said: “We believe that the action taken by the US is wrong, protectionist and in clear violation of Nafta.”

The White House said on Monday it would seek to create a new programme that would address what it called the “legitimate concerns of Congress” while meeting the US’s Nafta commitments. But Mexican officials said they would not be bought off with promises.

(Via Instapundit.)

You cannot simultaneously support free trade and placate the unions. You have to decide.

Good riddance

March 17, 2009

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, which has been in financial trouble since I was a child, has finally folded.

The failure of the PI can be seen as an application of Hotelling’s Law. Two newspapers can survive with one slightly left of center and the other slightly right of center.  Then each gets half the market share. With one far left paper (the Seattle Times) and one even further left paper (the PI), the one at the extreme will not survive.

Constitution, schmonstitution

March 17, 2009

What is the deal with the outbreak in blatantly unconstitutional legislative proposals?  In just the last few days:

  • the US Congress has considered a bill giving House representation to a non-state,
  • the Connecticut legislature has considered a bill that would dictate the way the Catholic Church governs itself, and
  • the Iowa legislature is considering a bill that would limit criticism of politicians and would even limit factual reporting of their votes, and
  • the US Congress passed a stimulus bill (which the President signed with much fanfare) that overrides state constitutions, removing the governor’s power of veto if he or she declines to accept stimulus funding.

Wasn’t there a time when our leaders felt a responsibility to obey the Constitution, or am I looking back to a halcyon age that never really existed?  If it ever existed, that time is surely gone now.  Today, many of our leaders (“rulers” might be more apt) have clearly decided that the thankless task of applying the Constitution is the sole provenance of the courts.  Their job, as they see it, is to get away with as much as they can.

    What is Iran doing in Nicaragua?

    March 17, 2009

    A troubling report from Pajamas Media.  (Via Instapundit.)

    Taxpayers are chumps

    March 17, 2009

    The reason so many Obama nominees have had tax problems is the Administration thought it was no big deal, reports the DC Examiner:

    It’s been a recurring question about the young Obama administration: Why have so many of its nominees come down with tax problems?

    Timothy Geithner, Tom Daschle, Ron Kirk, Nancy Killefer, and a number of others who didn’t make it to the nomination stage — all have been felled, or tainted, by unpaid tax bills ranging from a few hundred dollars to more than $140,000. After the first few cases, Republican Rep. Eric Cantor quipped that “it’s easy for [Democrats] to sit here and advocate higher taxes because — you know what? — they don’t pay them.”

    For their part, some Democrats have suggested that the Senate Finance Committee, which investigates nominees before confirmation, has gotten so nit-picky in examining tax returns that good candidates have gone down in flames. “The Finance Committee has gone a bit overboard, and I find it a little striking that a Democratic committee is doing this to a Democratic administration,” one anonymous insider told the Politico recently. . .

    Now, we find out that neither Cantor nor the unnamed Democrat was correct. The problem is not with Democrats in general, nor with the Finance Committee in particular. The problem is the Obama White House, which, fully aware of its nominees’ tax issues, decided that those problems were trivial, or that the public wouldn’t care about them, and pushed forward with nominations that in the past would have been quietly shelved.

    In little-noticed remarks last week, Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, gave us a look inside the confirmation process. Irritated by news reports suggesting the committee had been too hard on Obama’s nominees, Grassley pointed the finger back at the White House.

    “I want to stress that the Finance Committee is not doing anything different now from what it has always done under the leadership of either Senator Baucus or me,” Grassley said, referring to Democratic chairman Max Baucus of Montana. “We are vetting nominees for the current administration the same way we vetted nominees for the previous administration.”

    “The tax issues of the nominees considered by the committee this year came to be public only because the nominees chose to proceed.”

    (Via Instapundit.)


    Scraping the bottom of the barrel

    March 16, 2009

    The New York Times must be finding it harder to find material for negative Iraq stories.  The latest crisis they’ve uncovered (I am not making this up) is stray dogs.  (Via the Corner.)

    White House considers taxing health benefits

    March 16, 2009

    It might be simplest if the White House announced that all of its campaign rhetoric is “no longer operative.”  To wit: taxing health benefits, formerly the worst idea ever, is now under consideration. James Capretta explains:

    Remember this devastating political ad from last year?

    Many Americans probably do, as it represented a real turning point in the presidential campaign.

    Aired in October, the ad picked up on an exchange from the vice-presidential debate between then-Senator Joe Biden and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. Palin had just explained that the McCain health-care plan would provide refundable tax credits of $5,000 per household to help families buy portable insurance. Biden, who had clearly been waiting for the issue to come up, responded with a scripted attack. What the McCain-Palin folks don’t tell you, Biden warned, is that they would — “for the first time in history” — tax your employer-provided health benefits.

    The public, most of whom get their insurance from their workplaces, was taken aback and confused. Why would Republicans want to tax employer-sponsored health-care benefits? Aren’t Republicans for cutting taxes? Aren’t they for private, as opposed to public, health insurance? And how could a tax increase make anyone better off?

    It was a devastating blow. The McCain campaign never adequately explained their plan or offered an effective counter-argument — and the Obama-Biden campaign never looked back. They rode the issue for weeks, airing millions of dollars in attack ads. Indeed, the effectiveness of the coordinated attack on the McCain health plan is surely one of the main reasons for Obama’s victory in November.

    Well, guess what? Not five months later, having secured the presidency, President Obama has changed his tune. Taxing health-care benefits is not such a bad idea after all, he and his team now say.

    If done properly, this could be a good idea.  The preferential tax treatment of benefits (principally health care) has distorted employee compensation, favoring benefits over wages.  In regards to health care, this has an important undesirable second-order effect.  When a large part of employee compensation can be spent only on health care, employees are encouraged thereby to spend more on health care. Supply and demand then tell us that, consequently, the price of health care and the quantity consumed will increase.

    Of course, the new tax on benefits ought to be matched with a tax cut, in order to leave taxes unchanged overall.  This was John McCain’s plan.  Once people adjust to the new incentives, the end result is simply more money in your pocket to spend on whatever you want, rather than only on health care.  Unfortunately, President Obama almost certainly will not do it that way, because (unlike McCain) he sees it as a source of revenue, rather than a way to remove a distortion in the marketplace.

    And so Obama’s true hypocrisy is revealed.  McCain never planned a tax increase levied on health-care benefits (attack ads notwithstanding).  Obama is considering exactly that.  Thus, the policy that Senator Obama attacked so effectively never was McCain’s policy, but it has now become Obama’s.

    Iraqi optimism surges

    March 16, 2009

    ABC News reports:

    Dramatic advances in public attitudes are sweeping Iraq, with declining violence, rising economic well-being and improved services lifting optimism, fueling confidence in public institutions and bolstering support for democracy.

    The gains in the latest ABC News/BBC/NHK poll represent a stunning reversal of the spiral of despair caused by Iraq’s sectarian violence in 2006 and 2007. The sweeping rebound, extending initial improvements first seen a year ago, marks no less than the opportunity for a new future for Iraq and its people. . .

    While deep difficulties remain, the advances are remarkable. Eighty-four percent of Iraqis now rate security in their own area positively, nearly double its August 2007 level. Seventy-eight percent say their protection from crime is good, more than double its low. Three-quarters say they can go where they want safely – triple what it’s been.

    Few credit the United States, still widely unpopular given the post-invasion violence, and eight in 10 favor its withdrawal on schedule by 2011 – or sooner. But at the same time a new high, 64 percent of Iraqis, now call democracy their preferred form of government. . .

    The number of Iraqis who call security the single biggest problem in their own lives has dropped from 48 percent in March 2007 to 20 percent now. Two years ago 56 percent called it the single biggest problem for the country as a whole; that’s down to 35 percent now, including a 15-point drop in the last year alone. Fifty-nine percent now feel “very” safe in their communities, up 22 points from last year and more than double its lowest. Recent local fighting among sectarian forces is reported by 6 percent, compared with 22 percent a year ago.

    Optimism and confidence have followed. Sixty-five percent of Iraqis say things are going well in their own lives, up from 39 percent in 2007 (albeit still a bit below its 2005 peak). Fifty-eight percent say things are going well for Iraq – a new high, up from only 22 percent in 2007. Expectations for the year ahead, at the national and personal levels, also have soared, after crashing in 2007. And the sharpest advances have come among Sunni Arabs, the favored group under Saddam Hussein, deeply alienated by his overthrow, now re-engaging in Iraq’s national life. . .

    Basic views on governance also mark the sea change in Sunni views: In March 2007 58 percent of Sunnis said the country needed a “strong leader – a government headed by one man for life” (presumably a throwback to their one-time protector, Saddam), while just 38 percent preferred a democracy. Today that’s more than flipped: Sixty-five percent of Sunnis want a democracy; just 20 percent, a strong leader.

    Critically, there’s been a complementary change among Shiites – in their case a drop in preference for an Islamic state from 40 percent in 2007 to 26 percent now, and a concomitant 21-point rise in favor of democracy. Kurds, for their part, have been and remain broadly pro-democracy.

    (Via Instapundit.)

    There’s much more.  It is a pity they don’t credit the United States, but gratitude was never the point.  The point is that Iraq is no longer a state sponsor of terrorism, nor a danger of becoming so again. Besides, why should Iraq be different from other democracies that exist due to American efforts (which is to say nearly all of them)?

    What’s good for the goose

    March 15, 2009

    The Wall Street Journal makes a provocative observation:

    We’re constantly told that taxes don’t matter to business and investors, but listen to that noted supply-side economist, Alec Baldwin. The actor recently rebuked New York Governor David Paterson for threatening to try to help close the state’s $7 billion budget deficit by canceling a 35% tax credit for films shot in the Big Apple.

    “I’m telling you right now,” Mr. Baldwin declared, “if these tax breaks are not reinstated into the budget, film production in this town is going to collapse, and television is going to collapse and it’s all going to go to California.” Well, well. Apparently taxes do matter, at least when it comes to filming “30 Rock” in Manhattan.

    (Via Dr. Helen, via Instapundit.)

    Heh.  Seriously, though, I doubt anyone needs to strike Mr. Baldwin from their dinner party invitation list.  I’m sure that Baldwin is just looking for preferential treatment for his own industry, not to stimulate the economy in general.

    Stimulus act unconstitutional?

    March 15, 2009

    Ronald Rotunda (writing for the Chicago Tribune) notices an unconstitutional provision in the stimulus act.  It seems that if a state governor has the temerity to refuse the stimulus funding, the act gives the state legislature the power to override him.  The federal government most certainly does not have the power to override state constitutions like that.

    Alas, the provision will surely be found to be severable, so we can’t realistically hope that this will bring down the entire mess.

    (Via Instapundit.)

    The ever-changing propriety of filibusters

    March 14, 2009

    On January 1, 1995, after two years of Republican filibusters, the New York Times wrote it was time to abolish the filibuster:

    The U.S. Senate likes to call itself the world’s greatest deliberative body. The greatest obstructive body is more like it. In the last session of Congress, the Republican minority invoked an endless string of filibusters to frustrate the will of the majority. This relentless abuse of a time-honored Senate tradition so disgusted Senator Tom Harkin, a Democrat from Iowa, that he is now willing to forgo easy retribution and drastically limit the filibuster. Hooray for him. . . Now is the perfect moment . . . to get rid of an archaic rule that frustrates democracy and serves no useful purpose.

    But, by March 2005, when Democrats were the ones employing the filibuster, the New York Times was able to see a useful purpose after all:

    In the past we’ve been frustrated when legislators tried to stop important bills from passing by resorting to the same tactic. The filibuster, which allows 41 senators to delay action indefinitely, is a rough instrument that should be used with caution. But its existence goes to the center of the peculiar but effective form of government America cherishes. . .

    While the filibuster has not traditionally been used to stop judicial confirmations, it seems to us this is a matter in which it’s most important that a large minority of senators has a limited right of veto. . .

    A decade ago, this page expressed support for tactics that would have gone even further than the “nuclear option” in eliminating the power of the filibuster. At the time, we had vivid memories of the difficulty that Senate Republicans had given much of Bill Clinton’s early agenda. But we were still wrong. To see the filibuster fully, it’s obviously a good idea to have to live on both sides of it. We hope acknowledging our own error may remind some wavering Republican senators that someday they, too, will be on the other side and in need of all the protections the Senate rules can provide.

    As one of the nation’s least consistent, most partisan papers, it seemed likely that the NYT’s opportunistic rediscovery of the filibuster’s value would disappear once the Republicans began using it again. With Democrats in ascendance, it seemed inevitable that the NYT would rediscover the evil of the filibuster.  It’s only been a matter of time.

    Nevertheless, I am a little bit surprised.  I thought that they would wait until the Republicans had actually filibustered something.  Nope. Two weeks ago, the NYT ran two op-ed pieces vilifying the filibuster, and this week the NYT’s editorial page launched its pre-emptive strike on the filibuster.  Moreover, it took a strikingly shrill tone:

    When President George W. Bush was stocking the federal courts with conservative ideologues, Senate Republicans threatened to change the august body’s rules if any Democrat dared to try to block his choices, even the least-competent, most-radical ones. Filibustering the president’s nominees, they said, would be an outrageous abuse of senatorial privilege. . .

    Now that President Obama is preparing to fill vacancies on federal benches, Republican senators have fired off an intemperate letter threatening — you got it — filibusters if Mr. Obama’s nominees are not to their liking. . .

    It is particularly strange to see Senate Republicans raising the specter of filibustering nominees. When Mr. Bush was doing the nominating, Senator Orrin Hatch, Republican of Utah and a former Judiciary Committee chairman, warned Democrats that filibusters “mired the judicial-confirmation process in a political and constitutional crisis that undermines democracy, the judiciary, the Senate, and the Constitution.”

    A filibuster can be an appropriate response when it is clear that a particular nominee would be a dangerous addition to the bench. The Republicans’ rush to threaten filibusters in the absence of actual nominees is not only at odds with their previous views on the subject, but shows a lack of respect for the confirmation process.

    The NYT is clearly conscious of the danger of making itself a laughingstock if it reverses itself a second time, so it tries to find some nuance.  Filibustering an actual nominee, that’s okay (when he or she would be a “dangerous addition” to the bench), but writing a letter saying that you might filibuster a nominee, that is beyond the pale!

    Come again?  If filibustering is okay, how can not-yet-filibustering be wrong?

    There is a matter of substance to address here, though.  To try to hide its own hypocrisy, the NYT employs a bit of rhetorical jujitsu.  The Republicans are being hypocritical, they argue, because they used to argue that filibusters were bad, and now they plan to use them. Michael Barone’s first rule (all process arguments are insincere) certainly comes to mind, but I think the GOP can actually offer a good defense.

    They key point is that the Democrats prevailed on the filibuster. Republicans argued that what the Democrats were doing was wrong, and tried to put a stop to it, but they failed.  If the GOP had exercised the “nuclear option,” abolishing filibusters of judicial nominees, and then demanded them back, they would be hypocrites of the first order.

    But they did not.  Filibusters of judicial appointments were not abolished, and were used extensively.  Republicans need to use them now.  If they do not, they accede to an arrangement in which Democrats block nominees and Republicans do not.  That kind of unilateral disarmament would be fatal to all we hold dear, and it is preposterous for the NYT to suggest that the GOP submit to it.

    ASIDE: Something very much like this happened in the debate over term limits.  The term-limits caucus failed to enact them for everyone, but far too many of them decided to impose them on themselves.  As a result, the term-limits caucus is largely gone.  All that are left are the “hypocrites” who decided not to impose term limits unilaterally on themselves.

    POSTSCRIPT: Beyond its flagrant hypocrisy, Jonathan Adler points out that the NYT editorial also includes a number of factual distortions. There’s also the topic of blue slips, which I’ll leave for another post.

    Cramdown update

    March 14, 2009

    According to Tapped (a lefty blog), negotiators on the foreclosure bill have agreed that the cramdown provision will apply only to mortgages that exist when the bill is passed, not new mortgages going forward. If true, this has to be taken as tacit acknowledgement that mortgage cramdowns are generally bad policy, that would cause mortgage rates to rise on good credit risks in order to subsidize bad ones.

    By limiting cramdowns to existing mortgages, the bill would avoid the effect on interest rates going forward.  Except, that is, to the extent that lenders are not fools.  Lenders will learn not to trust the government; what it does now, it will do again.  Any loan they make will ultimately be subject to cramdown the next time there’s a foreclosure bill.

    But the primary effect of the bill is still on existing mortgages, and that’s still where it is truly dangerous.  The banking system is still reeling from the impact of a drop in the value of its loans.  Cramdown would be yet another blow to those assets and to the banking system. To do it right now is the apotheosis of stupidity.

    Second verse, same as the first

    March 14, 2009

    President Obama has determined that the United States will no longer hold enemy combatants, er, in the sense that we will no longer use the word “enemy combatant.”  In substance, the policy remains essentially unchanged.  In the new policy, disclosed Friday, President Obama claims an ever so slightly broader authority to hold Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters, and an ever so slightly narrower authority to hold others.  Scotusblog has the rundown.  (Via Instapundit.)

    I think Ed Whelan has the right idea.  Next we can resolve the Guantanamo problem in a similar manner, by renaming Guantanamo.

    Obama’s polling woes

    March 13, 2009

    Douglas Shoen (a pollster for Bill Clinton) and Scott Rasmussen write that President Obama is not polling well:

    It is simply wrong for commentators to continue to focus on President Barack Obama’s high levels of popularity, and to conclude that these are indicative of high levels of public confidence in the work of his administration. Indeed, a detailed look at recent survey data shows that the opposite is most likely true. The American people are coming to express increasingly significant doubts about his initiatives, and most likely support a different agenda and different policies from those that the Obama administration has advanced.

    Polling data show that Mr. Obama’s approval rating is dropping and is below where George W. Bush was in an analogous period in 2001. . . Overall, Rasmussen Reports shows a 56%-43% approval, with a third strongly disapproving of the president’s performance. This is a substantial degree of polarization so early in the administration. Mr. Obama has lost virtually all of his Republican support and a good part of his Independent support, and the trend is decidedly negative.

    A detailed examination of presidential popularity after 50 days on the job similarly demonstrates a substantial drop in presidential approval relative to other elected presidents in the 20th and 21st centuries. The reason for this decline most likely has to do with doubts about the administration’s policies and their impact on peoples’ lives.

    (Via Instapundit.)

    They go on to show that he polls even worse on the issues.  No wonder they’re attacking commentators like Limbaugh, Santinelli, and Cramer; they want people’s attention anywhere else.

    Buyer’s remorse

    March 13, 2009

    Megan McArdle is dismayed to learn that she is one of the rubes:

    Our sister publication asks analysts whether the administration’s economic forecasts are too optimistic. They would have gotten a more interesting discussion if their query had been “Is the Pope Catholic?” Of course they’re too optimistic. In fact, the word optimistic is too optimistic. A better choice might have been “insane”. Like Greg Mankiw, I would love to find a sucker investor who is willing to take the other end of a bet that both growth and revenue will fall short of the administration’s predictions.

    Having defended Obama’s candidacy largely on his economic team, I’m having serious buyer’s remorse. Geithner, who is rapidly starting to look like the weakest link, is rattling around by himself in Treasury. Meanwhile, the administration is clearly prioritized a stimulus package that will not work without fixing the banks over, um, fixing the banking system. . .

    The budget numbers are just one more blow to the credibility he worked hard to establish during the election. Back then, people like me handed him kudoes for using numbers that were really much less mendacious than the general run of candidate program promises. Now, he’s building a budget on the promise that this recession will be milder than average, with growth merely dipping to 1.2% this year and returning to trend in 2010. . . He has now raced passed Bush in the Delusional Budget Math olympics.

    (Via Instapundit.)

    Secret treaty

    March 13, 2009

    The White House is refusing Freedom of Information Act requests for documents regarding the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, on national-security grounds:

    “Please be advised the documents you seek are being withheld in full,” wrote  Carmen Suro-Bredie, chief FOIA officer in the White House’s Office of the U.S. Trade Representative.

    The national security claim is stunning, given that the treaty negotiations have included the 27 member states of the European Union, Japan, South Korea, Canada, Mexico, Australia, Switzerland and New Zealand, all of whom presumably have access to the “classified” information.

    (Via BoingBoing, via Instapundit.)

    How can international treaty negotiations be classified?  I’d really like to hear this one justified.

    Anyway, so much for President Obama’s ballyhooed commitment to the Freedom of Information Act.

    Red-light cameras aren’t about safety

    March 13, 2009

    Another municipality busted.  (Via Instapundit.)


    March 12, 2009

    John Hinderaker has some useful perspective on the recession.  What it has most in common with the Great Depression is the effort to exploit it.

    Obama considers charging vets for care

    March 12, 2009

    CNN reports:

    Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki confirmed Tuesday that the Obama administration is considering a controversial plan to make veterans pay for treatment of service-related injuries with private insurance. . .

    No official proposal to create such a program has been announced publicly, but veterans groups wrote a pre-emptive letter last week to President Obama voicing their opposition to the idea after hearing the plan was under consideration.

    The groups also cited an increase in “third-party collections” estimated in the 2010 budget proposal — something they said could be achieved only if the Veterans Administration started billing for service-related injuries.

    Asked about the proposal, Shinseki said it was under “consideration.”

    “A final decision hasn’t been made yet,” he said.

    Currently, veterans’ private insurance is charged only when they receive health care from the VA for medical issues that are not related to service injuries, like getting the flu.

    Charging for service-related injuries would violate “a sacred trust,” Veterans of Foreign Wars spokesman Joe Davis said. Davis said the move would risk private health care for veterans and their families by potentially maxing out benefits paying for costly war injury treatments.

    (Via LGF.)

    I’m honestly shocked by this.  Set aside the obvious (or so I would have thought) immorality of charging veterans for treatment of injuries incurred while serving their country.  Also set aside the bizarre spectacle of arguing for universal health care while cutting back health care for veterans.  And set aside the strange decision to demand sacrifices of veterans while the government goes on a deficit-financed spending spree.

    All that aside, it strikes me as terrible politics.  Why slap veterans in the face with a plan that will never be enacted?  I don’t get it.

    Alito on signing statements

    March 12, 2009

    The increasing use of presidential signing statements began in the Reagan Administration and continued into the administrations that followed.  The primary historical use of signing statements was to point out constitutional problems and direct the executive branch in how to deal with them.  So has there been a great increase in unconstitutional legislation?  Quite possibly, but there is another reason why the use of signing statements has grown.

    When interpreting the law, courts frequently go back to its legislative history to get a sense of its authors’ intent. This leads to an imbalance between the branches of government, because the legislative and judicial branches both get their say regarding the meaning of the law, but not the executive branch. To address that imbalance, Samuel Alito (then Deputy Assistant Attorney General) proposed in a 1986 memo (pdf) to expand the use of signing statements:

    Our primary objective is to ensure that Presidential signing statements assume their rightful place in the interpretation of legislation. In the past, Presidents have issued signing statements when presented with bills raising constitutional problems. [Office of Legal Counsel] has played a role in this process, and the present proposal would not substantively alter that process.

    The novelty of the proposal previously discussed by this Group is the suggestion that Presidential signing statements be used to address questions of interpretation. Under the Constitution, a bill becomes law only when passed by both houses of Congress and signed by the President (or enacted over his veto). Since the President’s approval is just as important as that of the House or Senate, it seems to follow that the President’s understanding of the bill should be just as important as that of Congress. Yet in interpreting statutes, both courts and litigants (including lawyers in the Executive branch) invariably speak of “legislative” or “congressional” intent. Rarely if ever do courts or litigants inquire into the President’s intent. Why is this so?

    Part of the reason undoubtedly is that Presidents, unlike Congress, do not customarily comment on their understanding of bills. Congress churns out great masses of legislative history bearing on its intent–committee reports, floor debates, hearings. Presidents have traditionally created nothing comparable. Presidents have seldom explained in any depth or detail how they interpreted the bills they have signed. Presidential approval is usually accompanied by a statement that is often little more than a press release. From the perspective of the Executive Branch, the issuance of interpretive signing statements would have two chief advantages. First, it would increase the power of the Executive to shape the law. Second, by forcing some rethinking by courts, scholars, and litigants, it may help to curb some of the prevalent abuses of legislative history.

    Alito accurately predicted that Congress would not take kindly to the proposal:

    It seems likely that our new type of signing statement will not be warmly welcomed by Congress. The novelty of the procedure and the potential increase of presidential power are two factors that may account for this anticipated reaction. In addition, and perhaps most important, Congress is likely to resent the fact that the President will get in the last word on questions of interpretation.

    I’m not aware of an occasion in which an expanded signing statement has been tested in court, so it’s too soon to say whether Alito’s experiment has succeeded.

    Signing statements are good now

    March 12, 2009

    Three days ago, President Obama took a stand against signing statements:

    President Obama tried to overturn his predecessor again on Monday, saying he will not use bill signing statements to tell his aides to ignore provisions of laws passed by Congress that he doesn’t like. . . Obama sent a two-page memo to department heads saying he would only raise constitutional issues in his signing statements and do so in “limited circumstances.” These statements “should not be used to suggest that the president will disregard statutory requirements on the basis of policy disagreements,” the memo said.

    Bush’s tactics were not cited specifically. Obama also instructed agencies to consult Attorney General Eric Holder before relying on any previous signing statement as a basis for “disregarding, or otherwise refusing to comply with any provision of a statute.” . . .

    In his memo, Obama asked aides to work out constitutional problems before Congress acts.

    Michelle Boardman, a deputy assistant attorney general in the Bush administration, said the Bush White House tried to do just that. She said it is the executive branch’s responsibility to point out conflicts between newly passed laws and the Constitution.

    Obama “will discover for himself just how infrequently Congress shows any interest in removing unconstitutional provisions,” she said.

    Boardman’s remark was prophetic, because President Obama issued his first signing statement just two days later:

    President Barack Obama, sounding weary of criticism over federal earmarks, defended Congress’ pet projects Wednesday as he signed an “imperfect” $410 billion measure with thousands of examples. . . On another potentially controversial matter, the president also issued a “signing statement” with the bill, saying several of its provisions raised constitutional concerns and would be taken merely as suggestions. He has criticized President George W. Bush for often using such statements to claim the right to ignore portions of new laws, and on Monday he said his administration wouldn’t follow those issued by Bush unless authorized by the new attorney general.

    (Via Instapundit.)

    So the Obama Administration’s position on substantive signing statements is identical to that of the Bush Administration (and others as far back as the Monroe Administration), to use them to identify constitutional problems in legislation and to direct the executive branch how to deal with them.  The only difference is a new president bringing new ideology.

    This is expected.  Regardless of what they say on the campaign trail, presidents invariably are fans of presidential power.  Senator Obama may have chafed at presidential signing statements, but President Obama is going to use them all he likes.  The only surprising thing is that anyone would be surprised.

    There is something new here, though.  Before issuing his first signing statement, President Obama did issue a memo overturning all previous signing statements.  As far as I know, that hadn’t been done before. It makes sense, though, from Obama’s point of view.  He need not support his predecessors’ executive power in order to exercise his own.  Posturing aside, all his memo Monday did was order the executive branch to follow his signing statements, but not to follow anyone else’s without checking first.

    In this, Obama has surely set a new precedent.  The next Republican president no doubt will issue a similar memo overturning all previous signing statements.  On that day, there will be much hue and cry from Democrats, and the signing statement will become bad again.  Until the next Democrat.

    POSTSCRIPT: More in the next post.

    White House abandons census plan

    March 11, 2009

    The Census Bureau will report to the Secretary of Commerce, as always.  Were they stung by public criticism, or did they notice that the plan was illegal?

    Connecticut anti-Catholic bill post-mortem

    March 11, 2009

    Connecticut Democrats are now trying to absolve themselves of responsibility for the bill.

    (Previous post.)


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