Power Line overcomes DOS attack

December 31, 2008

In its latest war with Hamas terrorists, the IDF has begun to offer videos of their operations, presumably in part to show the world the care they are taking, and in part to show what they are accomplishing. Either way, Hamas and its sympathizers don’t want you to see them.

First, they induced YouTube (owned by Google) to take down the videos. They are finally back up now, under a content warning. In the meantime, Power Line decided to host some of them on their site. About an hour later, Power Line was under a denial of service attack. Fortunately, Power Line’s service provider was up to the challenge, and they were back up shortly.

You can subscribe to the IDF channel here. Here is their latest:

Note the trail of a rocket cooked off by the blast.

Bogus post-Kelo reform

December 31, 2008

Ilya Somin comments on an egregious use of eminent domain for private purposes:

If the Chronicle’s description is accurate, this is a typical case of the use of eminent domain for the benefit of private interest groups under a thin veneer of advancing the public interest. . . Texas law allows the condemnation of almost any property for nearly any plausible-seeming reason presented by government officials.

You may wonder how this could be. After all, Texas is one of 43 states that adopted a new eminent domain reform law in the wake of the massive public backlash after the Supreme Court’s hugely unpopular decision in Kelo v. City of New London. The answer is that Texas’ 2005 law is one of many that purports to constrain eminent domain without actually doing so. Although the new statute forbids takings that transfer property to private parties for “economic development,” it allows essentially identical condemnations that promote “community development.”

Sderot under siege

December 31, 2008

David Keyes writes for Commentary about life under Hamas’s rocket assault.  (Via Chicago Boyz, via Instapundit.)

Blagojevich to appoint Senator

December 30, 2008

In a bizarre twist, corrupt Illinois Gov. Blagojevich has decided to appoint a Senator after all, and in an even more bizarre twist, his appointee actually wants it:

Gov. Rod Blagojevich is expected today to name former Illinois Atty. Gen. Roland Burris to replace President-elect Barack Obama in the U.S. Senate.

The action comes despite warnings by Democratic Senate leaders that they would not seat anyone appointed by the disgraced governor who faces criminal charges of trying to sell the post, sources familiar with the decision said.

Shortly after Obama’s Nov. 4 victory, Burris made known his interest in an appointment to the Senate but was never seriously considered, according to Blagojevich insiders. But in the days following Blagojevich’s arrest, and despite questions over the taint of a Senate appointment, Burris stepped up his efforts to win the governor’s support. . .

Blagojevich’s criminal defense attorney Ed Genson had said Blagojevich would not name a Senate successor to Obama.

This should be entertaining.

UK minister plans to censor the Internet

December 30, 2008

The UK’s Culture Secretary discusses his plans for censoring the Internet:

In an interview with The Daily Telegraph, Andy Burnham says he believes that new standards of decency need to be applied to the web. He is planning to negotiate with Barack Obama’s incoming American administration to draw up new international rules for English language websites.

The Cabinet minister describes the internet as “quite a dangerous place” and says he wants internet-service providers (ISPs) to offer parents “child-safe” web services.

If he stopped there, it might be no big deal (although, to be clear, web filtering doesn’t work). Alas:

His plans to rein in the internet, and censor some websites, are likely to trigger a major row with online advocates who ferociously guard the freedom of the world wide web.

However, Mr Burnham said: “If you look back at the people who created the internet they talked very deliberately about creating a space that Governments couldn’t reach. I think we are having to revisit that stuff seriously now. It’s true across the board in terms of content, harmful content, and copyright. Libel is [also] an emerging issue.

“There is content that should just not be available to be viewed. That is my view. Absolutely categorical. This is not a campaign against free speech, far from it; it is simply there is a wider public interest at stake when it involves harm to other people. We have got to get better at defining where the public interest lies and being clear about it.”

So we are explicitly talking about censoring content the Government doesn’t like. The talk of libel is particularly alarming, given that the UK has apallingly low standards for libel. Will they go as far as Australia and China? The plans aren’t clear.

At least it’s “not a campaign against free speech.” Good of him to tell us that; otherwise we might get confused.

There’s no indication here whether the Obama Administration is interested in participating. I doubt it. Obama is smart enough to pick his battles, and censoring talk radio appears to be a higher priority for him.

(Via Samizdata, via Instapundit.)

POSTSCRIPT: It’s an indication of a problem that the UK has a “Culture Secretary” in the first place.

Post invents truce offer

December 30, 2008

If Israel is at war, it also must be time for the media to start making stuff up. Here’s the first example, from the Washington Post: Israel Rejects Truce, Presses on With Gaza Strikes. How they could “reject” a truce, when none was offered, is beyond me. (Via LGF.)

UPDATE: Mea culpa, I didn’t read carefully enough. The rejected truce was proposed by France, not Hamas. Still, it might have been worthwhile for the Post to mention that both sides rejected it, not just Israel.

War with Hamas

December 30, 2008

If Israel is at war, it must be time for accusations of a “disproportionate response.” (For example.) Israel, you see, really ought to keep the intensity of the war at a proportionate level, that is, one that Hamas can match. Israel should not try to win.

But let’s be honest, Israel isn’t really supposed to launch a proportionate response either. They are just supposed to curl up and take it. Hamas is allowed to fire rockets into Israel; they’ve got it coming. (What makes Israel so special? I can’t quite remember.) If they get tired of it, they can leave. I’m sure the Israelis can find somewhere else in the world where people will be happy to have them. . .

On a less sarcastic note, I’m happy to say that many people seem to be catching on to the “disproportionate response” crap (in America anyway). For example, this editorial from the Chicago Tribune. And this statement from Barack Obama.

Also, here’s an interesting article about how Israel prepared for its current war with Hamas, which was inevitable from the day the “cease-fire” began. And, Michael Ledeen places the war in context. (Via Instapundit.)

UPDATE: Glenn Greenwald, obviously, is not one of those who are getting it.

UPDATE: Ramesh Ponnuru has an insightful comment on what a sensible doctrine of proportionality would be:

Critics of Israeli military action say that it is “excessive” or “disproportionate” to Hamas’s provocation. But that’s the wrong way to think about proportionality in war. The traditional just-war standard is that military action should be “proportionate” in that it causes fewer harms than it seeks to prevent. That’s a sane and sound moral standard. It does not mean that military means must inflict only as much pain as the enemy has inflicted.

The newfangled proportionality standard has several perverse implications, not the least of which being that military victories would almost always be considered morally illegitimate.


December 30, 2008



December 27, 2008

No posting for a few days.

UAW owns $33 million country club

December 26, 2008

Fox News reports:

The United Auto Workers may be out of the hole now that President Bush has approved a $17 billion bailout of the U.S. auto industry, but the union isn’t out of the bunker just yet.

Even as the industry struggles with massive losses, the UAW brass continue to own and operate a $33 million lakeside retreat in Michigan, complete with a $6.4 million designer golf course. And it’s costing them millions each year. . .

Managing the course may become a burden for the union. The UAW covers costs for the Reuther Center from the interest it earns on its strike fund, according to tax documents, but massive losses in the past five years have forced the union to make heavy loans to keep the center afloat. Critics call it a poor investment for a group with over $1.25 billion in assets.

It’s a dishonor just to be nominated

December 26, 2008

Power Line names its dishonest journalist of the year.

Emanuel sought House “seat-warmer”

December 25, 2008

The Chicago Sun-Times has a very strange story about discussions between Rahm Emanuel (Obama’s designate for Chief of Staff) and Illinois Gov. Blagojevich. Apparently, Emanuel did not only discuss a replacement for Obama in the Senate, but also one for Emanuel in the house. Emanuel was looking for someone to keep his seat “warm” for a few years until he returned.

This is strange for at least three reasons: (1) It’s not a reasonable request to make, (2) it shows a lack of commitment to the incoming administration, but most importantly (3) the governor has no power to appoint members to the House, so it’s unclear what Blagojevich could have done for Emanuel anyway.  (Is there any state where the governor can appoint House members?)

Spaceguard progress

December 25, 2008

Progress is being made on a Spaceguard-style system to watch the skies for dangerous asteroids:

Until now, these efforts have been carried out with existing telescopes, and researchers think they have found about three-quarters of the 1,000 or so neighbouring asteroids that have a civilisation-wrecking diameter of 1km or more. But to locate the rest, and to look for smaller objects that could still wreak local devastation, they need more specialised tools.

This month they will start to get them. On December 6th the University of Hawaii will activate a telescope designed specifically to look for dangerous asteroids. It is called PS1, a contraction of Panoramic Survey Telescope & Rapid Response System, and it is the first of four such instruments that will be used to catalogue as many as possible of the 100,000 or so near-Earth asteroids that measure between 140 metres and a kilometre across. . .

The other three telescopes should be completed by 2012, at a cost of about $100m for all four. They should take about ten years to catalogue 90% of the remaining dangerous asteroids thought to be out there.

Military coups go out of fashion

December 24, 2008

The Economist reports that coups and attempted coups are becoming much less common.  I wonder why.

Least surprising headline ever

December 24, 2008

Obama team probe of Obama team finds no Obama team impropriety. (Via LGF.)

UPDATE: Omissions in the report.

The gift that keeps on giving

December 23, 2008

I refer, of course, to Dan Rather and his faked documents about George Bush’s National Guard service. Dan Rather is trying to promote the idea that the documents were never proven to be false, and NPR is happy to be of service in his endeavor. (Via LGF.)

It’s complete nonsense. The documents were shown to be bogus in a variety of ways, most obviously by the typography, but also by formatting and content. Although it has been suggested that typewriters existed that could have produced documents somewhat like the Rather memos (this is disputed), and Killian (the purported author) might even have had access to such a machine, it beggars belief that Killian would have used such a machine to produce a typeset-quality memo to file that no one was ever supposed to see. (Never mind that Killian’s family asserts he never wrote such memos in the first place.)

But even if we suppose that Killian might have used such a machine capable of kerning and superscripts, it has never been plausibly suggested that he would have (or even could have) used it in a manner that precisely matched Microsoft Word’s default settings:


Neither let us suppose that suppose that Rather (the hero of NPR’s story) was an innocent dupe in the affair. For example, Rather endorsed CBS’s claim that the documents were obtained from an unimpeachable source (pdf, pages 164-166). In fact, as Rather well knew, the documents were obtained from a man named Bill Burkett, who is (to put it delicately) a nutcase.

Moreover, let’s not suppose that the whole affair resulted simply from overzealous pursuit of a big story; it was clearly an attempt to influence the election. CBS agreed to Burkett’s demand to coordinate the story with John Kerry’s campaign. (See also the Thornburgh report pages 64-65.)

POSTSCRIPT: The Rathergate affair transpired before I started this blog, so I want to thank Rather for reviving it and giving me a chance to play. NPR, on the other hand, should be ashamed of themselves.

Journalist offended by accusation of bias

December 23, 2008

In an interview with Joe “the Plumber” Wurzelbacher, CNN’s morning anchor John Roberts was deeply offended by the suggestion that he might support a candidate.  Wurzelbacher laughed out loud at Roberts’s statement “Hey, I’m not out there stumping for anybody, I’m a journalist.”

Wurzelbacher backed off, saying that he didn’t know about Roberts specifically.  He needn’t have.  As Glenn Reynolds reminds us, John Roberts was the one who committed a classic Kinsley Gaffe by saying “we” when asking Paul Begala how Democrats should respond to Republican attacks.

Seattle declines to clear roadways

December 23, 2008

The Seattle Times reports:

To hear the city’s spin, Seattle’s road crews are making “great progress” in clearing the ice-caked streets.

But it turns out “plowed streets” in Seattle actually means “snow-packed,” as in there’s snow and ice left on major arterials by design.

“We’re trying to create a hard-packed surface,” said Alex Wiggins, chief of staff for the Seattle Department of Transportation. “It doesn’t look like anything you’d find in Chicago or New York.” . . .

The icy streets are the result of Seattle’s refusal to use salt, an effective ice-buster used by the state Department of Transportation and cities accustomed to dealing with heavy winter snows.

“If we were using salt, you’d see patches of bare road because salt is very effective,” Wiggins said. “We decided not to utilize salt because it’s not a healthy addition to Puget Sound.”

By ruling out salt and some of the chemicals routinely used by snowbound cities, Seattle has embraced a less-effective strategy for clearing roads, namely sand sprinkled on top of snowpack along major arterials, and a chemical de-icer that is effective when temperatures are below 32 degrees.

Seattle also equips its plows with rubber-edged blades. That minimizes the damage to roads and manhole covers, but it doesn’t scrape off the ice, Wiggins said. . .

Between Thursday and Monday, the city spread about 6,000 tons of sand on 1,531 miles of streets it considers major arterials.

The tonnage, sprinkled atop the packed snow, amounts to 1.4 pounds of sand per linear foot of roadway, an amount one expert said might be too little to provide effective traction.

“Hmmm. Six thousand tons of sand for that length of road doesn’t seem like it’s enough,” said Diane Spector, a water-resources planner for Wenck Associates, which evaluated snow and ice clearance for nine cities in the Midwest.

Spector and snow-control experts in four cities said sand is typically mixed with salt and used for trouble spots.

“The occasional application of salt is probably not going to have a lasting effect” on the environment, Spector said. But she cautioned it’s highly dependent on where it’s used, how often and how much is applied.

Seattle’s stand against using salt is not shared by the state Department of Transportation, which has battled the latest storms in Western Washington with de-icer, 5,800 tons of salt and 11,500 cubic yards of salt and sand mix, said spokesman Travis Phelps.

Many cities are moving away from sand because it clogs the sewers, runs into waterways, creates air pollution and costs more to clean up.

Its main attraction is that it typically costs less than one-fifth the price of salt, according to Spector.

Fake environmentalism, which lowers quality of life while not actually helping the environment, is par for the course in Seattle today.

(Via Drudge.)

Real-estate developers seek bailout

December 23, 2008

With the automaker bailout now ordered, it was inevitable that everyone else would go begging to Washington.  And so it begins.


December 23, 2008

Zimbabwe asks Bush to leave office quietly.  (Via the Corner.)

I think that Mugabe complaining of election irregularities was better, but this is pretty good.

Error in Heller dissent

December 23, 2008

David Kopel points out a new article by David Hardy appearing in the Northwestern Law Review that discovers an error in a 2006 article by Saul Cornell advocating a collectivist interpretation of the Second Amendment. Cornell’s article cited an 18th century legal treatise in support of the idea that the Second Amendment is about state militias. However, Cornell’s article failed to notice that the passage it cited regarded the Article 1 grant of militia powers to Congress, not to the Second Amendment. (Not too surprisingly, the section on militas in Article 1 is about militias.)

This is interesting, because Justice Stevens uncritically cited Cornell’s erroneous article in his Heller dissent (in footnote 32) to buttress his argument for a collectivist interpretation of the Second Amendment.

Pretty shoddy work by Stevens’s staff.  With the responsibility for authoritative interpretation of the US Constitution, you might hope that Supreme Court justices would verify their sources.  (ASIDE: Lest I be accused of the same error, let me admit that I have not read Cornell’s article, as it does not appear to be available free on the Internet.  But then, I’m not on the Supreme Court.)

NYT invents the group blog

December 23, 2008

Editor and Publisher reports:

The New York Times is planning to launch a new “Instant Op-Ed” next month that will allow the paper’s Web site to post immediate expert viewpoints on breaking news, according to Editorial Page Editor Andrew Rosenthal.

“Our Op-Ed now is very rapid response, but it is at the most the next day,” said Rosenthal. “We are looking at a way to take advantage of the expandability of the Internet, the back and forth of it and the instantaneous nature of the Internet. Taking ideas that have existed in Op-Ed form and giving them a robust position online.”

Rosenthal said three editors, among them former editorial writers, are teaming up with a Web producer to oversee the initiative. He said the team is gathering a list of numerous experts on a variety of issues to be ready to provide quick comments, essays and columns on issues or stories that come up in the news. He said the idea is to have a group that provides opinions soon after news occurs, with a solid Web space dedicated to them.

They should call it Daily Sulz.

Origins of the financial crisis

December 22, 2008

Yet another review of the origins of the financial crisis.  (Via Instapundit.)  Nothing especially new here, but a very succinct account, plus a panning of a terrible NYT article that discusses the origins of the financial crisis without even mentioning the Community Reinvestment Act.

(Previous post.)

NY Times taken in by fake letter

December 22, 2008

The vaunted army of editors and fact checkers misses another one.  (Via Instapundit.)

Are articles in top journals more likely to be wrong?

December 22, 2008

A Greek epidemiologist makes the striking claim that articles in top journals are more likely to be wrong than ones in lesser ones:

IN ECONOMIC theory the winner’s curse refers to the idea that someone who places the winning bid in an auction may have paid too much. Consider, for example, bids to develop an oil field. Most of the offers are likely to cluster around the true value of the resource, so the highest bidder probably paid too much.

The same thing may be happening in scientific publishing, according to a new analysis. With so many scientific papers chasing so few pages in the most prestigious journals, the winners could be the ones most likely to oversell themselves—to trumpet dramatic or important results that later turn out to be false. This would produce a distorted picture of scientific knowledge, with less dramatic (but more accurate) results either relegated to obscure journals or left unpublished. . .

The assumption is that, as a result, such journals publish only the best scientific work. But Dr Ioannidis and his colleagues argue that the reputations of the journals are pumped up by an artificial scarcity of the kind that keeps diamonds expensive. And such a scarcity, they suggest, can make it more likely that the leading journals will publish dramatic, but what may ultimately turn out to be incorrect, research.

Dr Ioannidis based his earlier argument about incorrect research partly on a study of 49 papers in leading journals that had been cited by more than 1,000 other scientists. They were, in other words, well-regarded research. But he found that, within only a few years, almost a third of the papers had been refuted by other studies. For the idea of the winner’s curse to hold, papers published in less-well-known journals should be more reliable; but that has not yet been established.

I’m not familiar with Ioannidis’s research, so I can’t comment specifically, but there’s some room for skepticism. There are refutations and there are refutations. Did the refutations of these papers refute their specific findings, or the more general conclusions they drew from those findings? If it’s the latter, one could argue that there’s really no problem.

Still, it’s good to work in a field where you can prove your results with mathematical certainty (and, increasingly, with mechanical verification).

City bans annoying speech

December 21, 2008

In Brighton, Michigan, a ban on annoying speech is set to take effect January 2.

You know, I find CBS News annoying. . .

No good deed goes unpunished

December 21, 2008

In a truly dangerous ruling, the Calfornia Supreme Court has ruled that California’s Good Samaritan law, intended to protect good-faith rescuers from liability, applies only to medical professionals.  Any ordinary person who sees an accident in California (or a drowning child, an injured hiker, etc.) is now on notice not to get involved.

In the specific case, a woman who pulled another woman from a car was sued for injuries the latter woman incurred in the rescue.  The rescuer alleged that the car was at risk of explosion, which the plaintiff contested, but the decision did not rely on any finding of fact in regard to that.

New research supports “broken windows” theory

December 21, 2008

The “broken windows” theory suggests that leaving petty crimes unaddressed leads to a sense that law and order have broken down, which in turns leads to more serious crime as well. According to the theory, fighting petty crimes such as vandalism, littering, and panhandling helps to improve public safety. The broken windows theory has been applied with apparently spectacular results in places like New York City, but some still question its effectiveness, suggesting that other factors were responsible for those drops in crime.

Of course, very few social phenomena have only one cause, but new research supports the hypothesis that “broken windows” policing may have contributed significantly:

A PLACE that is covered in graffiti and festooned with rubbish makes people feel uneasy. And with good reason, according to a group of researchers in the Netherlands. Kees Keizer and his colleagues at the University of Groningen deliberately created such settings as a part of a series of experiments designed to discover if signs of vandalism, litter and low-level lawbreaking could change the way people behave. They found that they could, by a lot: doubling the number who are prepared to litter and steal.

The idea that observing disorder can have a psychological effect on people has been around for a while. In the late 1980s George Kelling, a former probation officer who now works at Rutgers University, initiated what became a vigorous campaign to remove graffiti from New York City’s subway system, which was followed by a reduction in petty crime. This idea also underpinned the “zero tolerance” which Rudy Giuliani subsequently brought to the city’s streets when he became mayor.

Many cities and communities around the world now try to get on top of anti-social behaviour as a way of deterring crime. But the idea remains a controversial one, not least because it is often difficult to account for other factors that could influence crime reduction, such as changes in poverty levels, housing conditions and sentencing policy—even, some people have argued, the removal of lead from petrol. An experimental test of the “broken windows theory”, as Dr Kelling and his colleague James Wilson later called the idea, is therefore long overdue. And that is what Dr Keizer and his colleagues have provided.

Obama increases meaningless number

December 21, 2008

Last month, President-Elect Obama proposed to create or save 2.5 million jobs.  Although the press dutifully reported it as though it were a meaningful target, the “or save” phrase makes it impossible to measure whether he has succeeded.  Whatever happens, so long as total employment doesn’t drop below 2.5 million, Obama can argue that we would have been 2.5 million worse off without his policies.  Currently, 145 million people are employed, so the essence of his “ambitious” benchmark is for employment to drop by less than 98.3%.

Ah, but that was then.  Now, Obama has increased his meaningless figure to 3 million jobs created or saved.  With the new “more ambitious” goal, he’s only covered if employment drops by less than 97.9%.

China defends censorship rights

December 20, 2008

China blocks the New York Times and other web sites, reversing the liberalization of speech it permitted as the Olympics approached.

Hosting the Olympics didn’t lead to lasting change in Chinese human rights?  I’m shocked!

Stem cell breakthrough

December 20, 2008

In a landmark achievement, doctors have used stem cells as part of a process to create an artificial bronchus (the organ connecting the trachea to a lung). This is one of the first cases of an actual treatment using stem cells; most applications are still years away. Incidentally, the treatment used adult stem cells, so no ethical concerns attach to the process.

Oil companies relocate to Switzerland

December 20, 2008

Anticipating a significant worsening of the business climate and tax rates in America, oil drilling and related companies are relocating elsewhere.  (Via Instapundit.)

The mere anticipation of future tax hikes and regulation is cutting tax revenues right now.

Dishonesty under the Times banner

December 20, 2008

All is forgiven.  The LA Times in 2006:

[Business columnist Michael Hiltzik] could no longer write credibly about duplicity in the business world. There’s no place, he said, for dishonesty under the Times banner.

The LA Times in 2008:

Michael Hiltzik, one of the paper’s most prolific writers and distinctive voices, will return to being a columnist for the Business section.

(Via Instapundit.)

Navy unveils Pegasus

December 19, 2008

The Navy’s new unmanned aerial vehicle, the X-47B, was unveiled Tuesday. More here.

(Via Instapundit.)

Recount follies

December 19, 2008

The events of the last few days in Minnesota have been alarming, to be sure, but Kathryn Jean Lopez reports that matters may not be as grim as they appear.

Hilda Solis

December 19, 2008

Many of Obama’s cabinet appointments have been more centrist than I dared hope, but not Hilda Solis, his designate for Secretary of Labor.

How dare you catch me?

December 19, 2008

That seems basically to be Blagojevich’s defense.


December 19, 2008

Well, now we know what an “orderly bankruptcy” means. It means a bailout. GM and Chrysler get $17 billion, with essentially no strings attached. Officially, the loan will be called back if they don’t make reforms, but those reforms are not binding. Does anyone think President Obama will call the loan because the UAW doesn’t make concessions? Besides, even if he were to call the loan, the money will be gone.

Also, the first half of the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program is now spent, without spending a single penny on troubled assets.

One final thought, if the TARP gives the President the power to give billions of dollars to whomever the hell he feels like, mightn’t that be an unconstitutional delegation of legislative power? Or is it just a terribly written bill?

UPDATE: Jim Manzi says we were still right to support the bailout.  He says the equity injection was necessary and effective.  (The TED spread does seem to bear out the latter.)  He has no love for the auto bailout, though, and says Congress should be very reluctant to release the second half of the $700 billion.

Emanuel involved with Blagojevich more deeply than claimed

December 19, 2008

The Chicago Sun-Times reports:

President-elect Barack Obama’s incoming chief of staff Rahm Emanuel had a deeper involvement in pressing for a U.S. Senate seat appointment than previously reported, the Sun-Times has learned. Emanuel had direct discussions about the seat with Gov. Blagojevich, who is is accused of trying to auction it to the highest bidder.

Emanuel talked with the governor in the days following the Nov. 4 election and pressed early on for the appointment of Valerie Jarrett to the post, sources with knowledge of the conversations told the Sun-Times. There was no indication from sources that Emanuel brokered a deal, however.

A source with the Obama camp strongly denied Emanuel spoke with the governor directly about the seat, saying Emanuel only spoke with Blagojevich once recently to say he was taking the chief of staff post.

But sources with knowledge of the investigation said Blagojevich told his aides about the calls with Emanuel and sometimes gave them directions afterward. Sources said that early on, Emanuel pushed for the appointment of Jarrett to the governor and his staff and asked that it be done by a certain date.

At least some of the conversations between Emanuel and Blagojevich were likely caught on tape, sources said.

(Via Instapundit.)

If the incoming adminstration is not implicated in this scandal (which I’m still inclined to believe), why don’t they just tell the truth?

UPDATE: An ABC report, related by Fox News, seems to contradict the Sun-Times report.

Polywell fusion

December 18, 2008

Although with a zillion caveats, a low-cost strategy for fusion power has tested well in the laboratory:

The experiment, funded by the U.S. Navy, was aimed at verifying some interesting results that the late physicist Robert Bussard coaxed out of a high-voltage inertial electrostatic contraption known as WB-6. (The “WB” stands for Wiffle Ball, which describes the shape of the device and its magnetic field.)

An EMC2 team headed by Los Alamos researcher Richard Nebel (who’s on leave from his federal lab job) picked up the baton from Bussard and tried to duplicate the results. The team has turned in its final report, and it’s been double-checked by a peer-review panel, Nebel told me today. Although he couldn’t go into the details, he said the verdict was positive. . .

By and large, the EMC2 results fit Bussard’s theoretical predictions, Nebel said. That could mean Polywell fusion would actually lead to a power-generating reaction. But based on the 10-month, shoestring-budget experiment, the team can’t rule out the possibility that a different phenomenon is causing the observed effects. . .

If Polywell pans out, nuclear fusion could be done more cheaply and more safely than it could ever be done in a tokamak or a laser blaster. The process might be able to produce power without throwing off loads of radioactive byproducts. It might even use helium-3 mined from the moon. “We don’t want to oversell this,” Nebel said, “but this is pretty interesting stuff, and if it works, it’s huge.”

(Via Instapundit.)

White House proposes “orderly bankruptcy” for automakers

December 18, 2008

Whatever that means:

The Bush administration is seriously considering “orderly” bankruptcy as a way of dealing with the desperately ailing U.S. auto industry.

“The president is not going to allow a disorderly collapse of the companies,” White House press secretary Dana Perino said Thursday. “A disorderly collapse would be something very chaotic that is a shock to the system.”

But, she added, “There’s an orderly way to do bankruptcies that provides for more of a soft landing. I think that’s what we would be talking about.”

It may not be clear what an “orderly bankruptcy” is, but it is already clear it won’t work:

She said one of the factors delaying an announcement on an auto rescue plan is the continuing discussion between the administration and the various stakeholders who would have to sign on to a managed bankruptcy — entities such as labor unions and equity holders in addition to the companies themselves.

The automakers can’t be saved without major union concessions, and the unions have already made it clear they won’t make them.  If the unions have to sign on, this plan is dead even before arrival.

California Democrats to flout constitution

December 18, 2008

When you can’t beat ’em, cheat ’em:

California’s Democratic leaders were planning a vote today on a brazen proposal to raise gas, sales and income taxes through a series of legal maneuvers that would bypass the Legislature’s minority Republicans.

The Democratic gambit, announced Wednesday, would raise $9.3 billion to ease the state’s fiscal crisis by increasing sales taxes by three-fourths of a cent and gas taxes by 13 cents a gallon, starting in February. The plan would add a surcharge of 2.5% to everyone’s 2009 state income tax bill. . .

Inside the Capitol, the strategy is considered revolutionary, because it would sideline the GOP. Though Republicans are a minority in both houses of the Legislature, they have repeatedly blocked tax increases and thwarted budgets they did not like, because California is one of only three states mandating a two-thirds vote for both budgets and tax increases. Achieving that threshold requires some Republican votes. . .

The plan hinges on a legal distinction made by judges that a tax is imposed broadly and used for general government purposes, while a fee is charged to users of a specific benefit provided by government, such as a road.

The proposal would employ an arcane loophole in state law that lets legislators pass a tax bill with a simple majority vote — if the bill does not raise more revenue.

The Democrats intend to do two things: eliminate some existing fees, including those on gasoline, and substitute tax increases that would include a 9.9% levy on oil extraction and the income tax surcharge.

Under the proposal, the Democrats would then reimpose the gas fees at higher levels; fees can be raised with simple majority votes. . .

Similar proposals have been considered in past budget crises but never acted on out of concern that they would unravel in court.

(Via Instapundit.)

Joe-gate director resigns

December 18, 2008

Helen Jones-Kelley, who illegally used a state database to spy on “Joe the Plumber” is resigning:

An Ohio agency director resigned Wednesday in the wake of a finding that she improperly used state computers to access personal information on the man who became known as “Joe the Plumber” during the presidential campaign.

Two other officials who were suspended from their positions for their role in the computer search will not be returning to their jobs, an agency spokeswoman said.

But, Jones-Kelley wants us to know that she is the real victim here:

Department of Job and Family Services Director Helen Jones-Kelley said in a statement accompanying her resignation that she won’t allow her reputation to be disparaged and that she is concerned for her family’s safety.


For more disparagement of Jones-Kelley’s reputation, see the Ohio Inspector General’s report.

This isn’t the end of the story. There’s also Doug Thompson, who helped orchestrate the attempted cover-up at the Department of Job and Family Services, plus five other Ohio agencies that illegally investigated Wurzelbacher. Then there’s the question of why Ohio Governor Ted Strickland decided to stand by all these criminals.

(Previous post.)

Assault on the lexicon

December 17, 2008

James Taranto notes an easy way to solve problems:

Amid all the gloomy economic news, the New York Times brings us an encouraging report on social trends:

The number of black children being raised by two parents appears to be edging higher than at any time in a generation, at nearly 40 percent, according to newly released census data. . . .

According to the bureau’s estimates, the number of black children living with two parents was 59 percent in 1970, falling to 42 percent in 1980, 38 percent in 1990 and 35 percent in 2004. In 2007, the latest year for which data is available, it was 40 percent.

What accounts for the turnaround? The Times explains:

Demographers said such a trend might be partly attributable to the growing proportion of immigrants in the nation’s black population. It may have been driven, too, by the values of an emerging black middle class, a trend that could be jeopardized by the current economic meltdown.

The Census Bureau attributed an indeterminate amount of the increase to revised definitions adopted in 2007, which identify as parents any man and woman living together, whether or not they are married or the child’s biological parents.

The problem of illegitimacy and broken families had seemed intractable for decades, but the Census Bureau has been able to make a significant dent in it, at virtually no cost to the taxpayer, merely by redefining the word parents.

(Via Instapundit.)

This is far from unprecedented, of course, but it’s a tragedy when we maim a word for political purposes.  This was one of George Orwell’s major themes in 1984.  On a less highbrow (but more entertaining) note, I’m also reminded of the Babylon 5 episode Voices of Authority, in which the Ministry of Peace’s political officer admits that Earth’s government has solved all its problems by rewriting the dictionary.

Arne Duncan

December 17, 2008

The selection of Arne Duncan as Secretary of Education is getting good reviews from reformers.

If personnel is policy (as they used to say in the Reagan Administration), then Obama’s initial policies are failing to confirm my worst fears.

Khatami considering a comeback?

December 17, 2008

The Economist reports:

SEVEN months short of a presidential election, an immaculately robed Shia cleric living in comfortable semi-retirement is making Iranians hold their political breath. When Muhammad Khatami stepped down as Iran’s president three years ago, his plans to reform Iran in tatters, he gave every impression that he had left politics for good. Now, his friends attest, he is pondering a comeback. . .

Mr Khatami’s change of heart stems from his anger at what followed [his departure]. Elected on a platform of social justice, Mr Ahmadinejad has squandered Iran’s huge oil revenues on inflationary handouts, cares little for human rights and embarrassed many of his compatriots with his undiplomatic pronouncements, among them his suggestion that Israel should not exist. Many Iranians now remember Mr Khatami’s tenure, when the authorities relaxed their grip, just a little, on the ordinary Iranian and the president won plaudits for his charm and moderation, as a golden age.

Obama refuses Blagojevich question

December 17, 2008

Politico reports:

During today’s press conference, President-elect [Barack] Obama brushed off a question from Chicago Tribune reporter John McCormick about the Blagojevich scandal, and what interaction any advisers had with the Illinois governor.

“I don’t want you to waste your question,” Obama said. . .

After a few attempts, the reporter finally followed up by asking who had the better jump shot: Obama or incoming education secretary Arne Duncan?

(Via Instapundit.)

The jump shot question reads like a very clever protest, but the video cuts off before that part, so I don’t know if it was actually a protest or merely a softball. Kudos to McCormick if it was real.

Politico continues:

The interaction with McCormick stood out from previous meetings with the press. And speaking about the exchange on MSNBC shortly after, NBC Washington bureau chief Mark Whitaker said that reporters have not been aggressive enough during Obama’s post-election pressers.

You think?

Mmmm, crow

December 16, 2008

Rich Lowry writes that Paulson’s conduct of the financial bailout borders on bad faith.  Like Lowry, I reluctantly favored TARP at the time.  Now we have egg on our faces, now that Paulson and Bush have apparently decided that their original plan is neither sufficient nor even worth doing.  I definitely owe Tim Murphy an apology.

More stem cell progress

December 16, 2008

Scientists report an advance for the iPS technique:

Whitehead Institute researchers have greatly simplified the creation of so-called induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells, cutting the number of viruses used in the reprogramming process from four to one. Scientists hope that these embryonic stem-cell-like cells could eventually be used to treat such ailments as Parkinson’s disease and diabetes.

The earliest reprogramming efforts relied on four separate viruses to transfer genes into the cells’ DNA. . .  However, this method poses significant risks for potential use in humans. The viruses used in reprogramming are associated with cancer because they may insert DNA anywhere in a cell’s genome, thereby potentially triggering the expression of cancer-causing genes, or oncogenes. For iPS cells to be employed to treat human diseases, researchers must find safe alternatives to reprogramming with such viruses. This latest technique represents a significant advance in the quest to eliminate the potentially harmful viruses.

(Via FuturePundit, via Instapundit.)

The iPS technique is preferred because it does not involve killing embryos, and is also cheaper and easier.  Researchers have long suspected they would be able to get the viruses out of the picture, so this development isn’t surprising.

There is one thing I don’t understand.  Three months ago, Science published a paper showing how to create iPS cells with zero viruses.  So how is one virus progress?  It must be a technical detail that’s not coming out in the press release.

Network neutrality and Google

December 16, 2008

Yesterday’s Wall Street Journal story on Google’s supposed softening on network neutrality has caused a furor. Lawrence Lessig, in particular, seems to have a fair complaint, that the WSJ portrayed his consistent position as some sort of a shift. Google’s protest, on the other hand, is much less convincing. Google has been deliberately muddying the waters on this issue, and is now reaping the consequences.

I explained what network neutrality is about in this post last April. The actual technical question is, what policy should routers (particularly ISPs) use when choosing which packets to drop? An absolutely neutral policy would prevent routers from preferring more important packets, even among packets from the same stream for the same user. Just about no one who actually understands the issue thinks this would be a good thing. Given that some discrimination is desired, the question is, what grounds for discrimination should be allowed? (And let’s please limit ourselves to ones that are technically feasible.)

Instead, companies like Google have been framing the issue differently. They say that the issue is about whether ISPs can discriminate against content providers by delivering their packets slowly or not at all. I know of no case in which this has actually happened. If it did, its customers would be outraged, because they are paying for Internet service they are not getting.

ASIDE: The Comcast-BitTorrent incident is no exception. BitTorrent is not a content provider, it’s a peer-to-peer protocol, and what Comcast was doing (slowing BitTorrent traffic) was to improve its customers’ experience, not shake anyone down. As it happens, its customers still weren’t happy, and it discontinued the practice. A better idea would have been for Comcast to throttle its bandwidth hogs directly. Why they didn’t do that is anyone’s guess.

Google has invited this problem by promoting the idea that ISPs should treat every content provider identically (never mind that this isn’t what network neutrality is about), and now asking for special treatment for Google. Make no mistake, what Google wants to do now (better caching) is reasonable. But it is at odds with their rhetoric of the past. Their current protestations amount to “we never really meant it.” Its all to the good that they didn’t mean it, but they shouldn’t have said it either.

POSTSCRIPT: By the way, ISPs are private business relationships between telcos and their customers. If I and my ISP agree that it would be best to prioritize some of my packets over others, no one has any business stopping us. If my ISP starts doing so against my wishes, I can find another ISP. The only problem arises when (like Comcast with BitTorrent) they do it and don’t tell me.

(Previous post.)

If Detroit is bailed out, could its competitors sue?

December 16, 2008

David Zaring thinks so.  (Via Instapundit.)

Card check

December 16, 2008

Peter Kirsanow asks a question I’ve often wondered.  If card check is supposedly such a good idea for gauging union sentiment (as opposed to secret ballots), why not use card check to decertify unions as well?  It’s hard to see any respectable argument for one and not the other.  One might almost get the idea that Democrats want pro-union agitators to have the opportunity to intimidate workers but not anti-union ones.

u r defaulted lol

December 16, 2008

In Australia, a default judgement can now be served by notification on Facebook.

(Via the Volokh Conspiracy, from whose comments I borrowed the title.)

AP misunderstands libel law

December 16, 2008

In libel law, “malice” doesn’t mean what you might think.   (I actually knew that.)  But come on, who would expect a legal reporter to know that. . .

Iraq is safer than Mexico

December 15, 2008

This is not good news.  (Via Instapundit.)

Google editing search results?

December 14, 2008

Does Google intend to begin asserting editorial control over search results?  According to the Register, they do.  No direct quotes, though, so take with a grain of salt

(Via Instapundit.)

Iran changes tactics in Iraq

December 13, 2008

The AP reports:

Iran is no longer actively supplying Iraqi militias with a particularly lethal kind of roadside bomb, a decision that suggests a strategic shift by the Iranian leadership, U.S. and Iraqi authorities said Thursday.

Use of the armor-piercing explosives — known as explosively formed penetrators, or EFPs — has dwindled sharply in recent months, said Army Lt. Gen. Thomas Metz, head of the Pentagon office created to counter roadside bombs in Iran and Afghanistan.

Metz estimated that U.S. forces find between 12 and 20 of the devices in Iraq each month, down from 60 to 80 earlier this year. . .

Asked if the elite Iranian Republican Guard Corps has made a deliberate choice to limit use of EFPs, Metz nodded: “I think you could draw that inference from the data.” . . .

The U.S. cites the spread of powerful EFP roadside bombs as the clearest Iranian fingerprint. U.S. military officers say they know the EFPs come from Iran because they bear Iranian markings and because captured militants have told them so. The workmanship is so precise they could only come from a modern factory with machine tools available in Iran but not Iraq.

EFPs account for only about 5 percent of the roadside bombs found in Iraq but 30 percent of the casualties, Metz said.

(Via LGF.)

Canadian opposition flops again

December 13, 2008

The Liberal party replaced its leader, hoping that it might change public opinion toward an election-less government takeover.  It didn’t.

The Chicago Way

December 13, 2008

As I predicted, Obama’s team did indeed have contact with Blagojevich regarding Obama’s Senate replacement:

Rahm Emanuel, President-elect Barack Obama’s pick to be White House chief of staff, had conversations with Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s administration about who would replace Obama in the U.S. Senate, the Tribune has learned.

The revelation does not suggest Obama’s new gatekeeper was involved in any talk of dealmaking involving the seat. But it does help fill in the gaps surrounding a question that Obama was unable or unwilling to answer this week: Did anyone on his staff have contact with Blagojevich about his choice for the Senate seat? . . .

One source confirmed that communications between Emanuel and the Blagojevich administration were captured on court-approved wiretaps.

(Via Hot Air.)

Since Emanuel’s communications with Blagojevich are on the wiretaps, we also should eventually know whether Jim Lindgren’s theory is true (that a bribe was solicited from Obama’s people).  If so, I imagine we’ll soon after find out whether it was reported.

The big question in all of this remains, why hasn’t Obama just said what he knows?

Shenanigans underway in Minnesota

December 13, 2008

Power Line reports.

Eurocrats try again

December 13, 2008

Last June Ireland rejected European transnationalism, as Europeans do whenever they’re offered the chance. The EU almost managed to avoid any public vote on the Lisbon treaty, but that pesky Irish constitution stood in the way.  Now, the Eurocrats are doing whenever the voters reject their plans — trying again.

In July, Irish public sentiment was overwhelmingly against a re-do but I guess things must have softened.  Remember, the only thing that’s fine is a yes vote.  Everything you need to know about the Lisbon treaty is summarized here.

(Via the Corner.)

What now for Detroit?

December 12, 2008

Now that the auto bailout seems to have failed (I say “seems” because these bailouts are more resilient than a Hollywood horror villain), what’s next? Hopefully, bankruptcy. Chapter 11 is specifically designed for the situation that we hope this is: a workable business that buried under commitments it cannot meet. A bailout is not going to help them, because their problem is not liquidity. Their problem is that they cannot build a good car at a competitive price.

The average labor cost (wages, benefits, and taxes) at the big three automakers is over $70 an hour, and that’s before you figure in restrictive union work rules. (The UAW and its allies have run an aggressive effort to discredit this figure, saying that it figures in retirement costs for retired workers and other non-current expenses. The Heritage Foundation has an article showing that’s not the case.) With their labor costs, Detroit must either charge higher prices (which they cannot do) or trim costs in the cars themselves, resulting in a crappy product. The only way Detroit can turn itself around is to bring its exorbitant labor costs under control.

Republican lawmakers made this a requirement for their support of a bailout, but the UAW balked, thereby killing the deal. I’m a little puzzled by what the UAW is thinking. Do they think that they will do better under bankruptcy? It seems like they’re determined to go down with the ship, like the steelworkers before them.

Perhaps Detroit needs a car czar, but let him be appointed by a bankruptcy judge.

UPDATE: National Review argues for bankruptcy.

Moral hazard

December 11, 2008

The Miami Herald reports, on the very same day:

(Via Best of the Web.)

The Chicago Way

December 11, 2008

Jim Lindgren looks at the chronology of the Blagojevich scandal. He argues that it only makes sense if Obama’s team refused a bribe solicitation from Blagojevich. Coupled with Obama’s refusal to deny any contact between his staff and Blagojevich, it seems pretty clear what must have happened.

Lindgren speculates further that Obama’s people might have cooperated with the investigation. If so, that could justify his refusal to answer whether they had any contact with Blagojevich, and Obama will come out of this looking pretty good. On the other hand, it will look very bad if they failed to report it, and some more people will get tossed under the bus.

UPDATE: Lindgren’s hypothesis looks even better now, in light of Obama’s latest carefully phrased denial: “Our office had no involvement in any deal-making for my Senate seat.  That I am absolutely certain of.”  Note that he does not deny any contact, just deal-making.

I do wish he would come right out and say what he knows.

Illinois TV station retracts Obama-Blagojevich story

December 10, 2008

KHQA, a CBS affiliate serving western Illinois has retracted a month-old story about an Obama-Blagojevich meeting:

KHQA TV wishes to offer clarification regarding a story that appeared last month on our website ConnectTristates.com. The story, which discussed the appointment of a replacement for President Elect Obama in the U.S. Senate, became the subject of much discussion on talk radio and on blog sites Wednesday.

The story housed in our website archive was on the morning of November 5, 2008. It suggested that a meeting was scheduled later that day between President Elect Obama and Illinois Governor Blagojevich. KHQA has no knowledge that any meeting ever took place. Governor Blagojevich did appear at a news conference in Chicago on that date.

JammieWearingFool has a screenshot of one of their stories. (Via LGF.)

Now I assume that KHQA is telling the truth (now), because otherwise they are throwing away a great scoop. Also I think Obama is too smart to deny a meeting known to the press. But, why then did they report it in the first place? It would seem that someone was making stuff up.

ASIDE: KHQA calls this a “clarification”. I guess there’s no such thing as a retraction any more, because if there were, this would surely be one. Also, their article didn’t “suggest” that a meeting was scheduled; it openly asserted it.

Bailout follies

December 10, 2008

It keeps getting stupider:

Majority Democrats and the Bush White House finalized a deal to spend $14 billion on emergency loans for struggling U.S. automakers, congressional officials said — despite fierce opposition from some Republicans.

On Wednesday, the White House revealed elements of the $14 billion “bridge financing,” which would give until March 31 for the Big Three automakers to have a plan to make the firms “viable” or “the government gets its money back.”

The government gets its money back?  How is that going to work?!  The automakers are going to spend the money!  If they were going to have $14 billion lying around on March 31, they wouldn’t need a bailout.

But let’s suppose it actually were possible for them to return the money.  What is the likelihood that Congress will actually make them to so?  They won’t have a workable plan, that’s for certain.  (They’ve failed for decades to fix their companies; they won’t do it in three months just because Congress says they really really need to.)  But why should we believe that Congress will be more willing to bury them in three months than they are now?

Jesse Jackson Jr. is candidate #5

December 10, 2008

ABC reports that Jackson is Senate Candidate #5, whose emissaries offered $1 million for Illinois’s Senate seat. (Via the Corner.)

IMPORTANT UPDATE: It is not alleged at this time that Jackson was aware of the activities of his emissaries.  (I have corrected my earlier error.)

Hezbollah has standards

December 10, 2008

They refuse to meet with Jimmy Carter.  (Via the Corner.)


December 10, 2008

So there’s an agreement for a $15 billion bailout for Detroit automakers. Well, at least the bill only wastes taxpayer money on one failed industry.

Ha ha! Just kidding:

Senator Chuck Grassley said proposed legislation to help American automakers would put tax dollars on the line to assist participants in controversial tax shelters which have been shut down by both the IRS and Congress.

Grassley said the tax shelter bailout within the auto bailout is related to abusive leasing transactions called SILOs, where transit agencies have sold public transportation assets like rail lines, only to lease them back from purchasers, with the result of providing tax depreciation deductions to the purchasers. Such transactions were motivated solely by collection of fees on one side and tax benefits on the other, rather than any change to the services provided by transit agencies.

(Via Instapundit.)

The Chicago Way

December 10, 2008

Questions are being raised about Obama’s connections with Blagojevich. David Axelrod (Obama’s campaign manager) in particular has been forced to retract a statement he made two weeks ago that directly contradicts Obama’s statement today that he never spoke with Blagojevich about his replacement in the Senate.

(Via Power Line.)

UPDATE: The investigation’s wiretaps strongly suggest some contact between the Obama camp and Blagojevich:

Signs remain, however, that the continuing investigation could still involve [Obama].

It appears that Obama friend Valerie Jarrett, an incoming senior White House adviser, is the person referred to repeatedly in court documents as “Candidate 1.” That individual is described as a female who is “an adviser to the president-elect” and as the person Obama wanted appointed to the Senate seat. Court papers say that “Candidate 1” eventually removed “herself” from consideration for the Senate seat.

In a Nov. 11 phone conversation with an aide, Blagojevich talked at length about “Candidate 1” and said he knew that Obama wanted her for the open seat but “they’re not willing to give me anything except appreciation. (Expletive) them.”

One day later, Jarrett, a Chicago businesswoman who is one of three co-chairmen of Obama’s transition team and was a high-level adviser to his presidential campaign, made it known that she was not interested in the seat.

In light of that, take a second look at Obama’s exact words:

I had no contact with the governor or his office and so we were not, I was not aware of what was happening.

and at Axelrod’s retraction:

I was mistaken when I told an interviewer last month that the President-elect has spoken directly to Governor Blagojevich about the Senate vacancy. They did not then or at any time discuss the subject.

Neither statement denies that a member of Obama’s staff might have communicated his wishes to Blagojevich. Combined with the wiretap evidence, that seems likely to be what happened. It also makes Axelrod’s error smaller and more understandable.

UPDATE: Katie Granju thinks they’re just plain lying. That’s another possibility. (Via Instapundit.)

ANOTHER UPDATE: My theory looks even more likely, in light of Obama’s refusal to say whether any subordinates had been in contact with Blagojevich. Obama said it would be inappropriate to say, given that it’s an ongoing investigation, which makes no sense unless his team might be tainted by the investigation.

By the way, there would be nothing wrong with Obama’s team having spoken with the Governor of Illinois about the appointment. Indeed, it would be expected. So, if indeed they did, why are they hiding it?

Rendell counting on $450M Federal bailout

December 9, 2008

Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell has unveiled his plan to close a $1.6 billion budget gap.  Key to the plan is a $450 million bailout from the Federal government.  ($900 million over two years.)

It’s becoming clear now.  Municipalities go to the state for bailouts.  The states go to the Federal government for bailouts.  The Federal government borrows money.  What could go wrong?

Snark aside, this direction leads to the death of the federal system.  We’re headed toward a system where the federal government does all the taxing and distributes the money to the states.  Once the “federal” government holds all the purse strings, it will be completely in charge, just as it already is in so many areas wherein the states already depend on the federal government for funding.


December 9, 2008


(Via Boing Boing.)

The Chicago Way

December 9, 2008

Illinois Governor Blagojevich has been arrested for trying to sell Illinois’s senate seat:

U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald on Tuesday accused Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich of participating in a “political corruption crime spree” that was a blatant effort to sell the state’s U.S. Senate seat in the latest “pay-to-play” scheme in Illinois politics.

Fitzgerald described the alleged behavior by Blagojevich, who was arrested Tuesday morning along with his chief of staff, John Harris, as “appalling.” He said his “cynical behavior” reached “a truly new low.”

“He has been arrested in the middle of what we can only describe as a political corruption crime spree,” Fitzgerald said in a news conference to announce the charges against the governor and his chief of staff. “This is a sad day for government. It’s a very sad day for Illinois government. Governor Blagojevich has taken us to a truly new low.” . . .

The series of allegations say that Blagojevich and Harris tried to sell President-elect Barack Obama’s vacated Senate seat to the highest bidder. Fitzgerald quoted Blagojevich recorded during court-authorized wiretaps as saying, “It’s a ‘bleeping’ valuable thing. You just don’t give it away for nothing.”

Staggering.  Five of the eight elected Illinois governors since Adlai Stevenson have been indicted.

Pittsburgh pensions funded at just 29%

December 8, 2008

I’m sure Pittsburgh could be more mismanaged, but it’s hard to see how. The Post-Gazette reports:

The market woes that are shrinking retirement plans have started pounding municipal pension funds, especially the city of Pittsburgh’s draining pool of investments.

At the end of November, the city’s fund held $261 million, down from $385 million at the beginning of the year, with half of that loss occurring in the last two months. That leaves the fund with just 29 percent of what it should ideally hold to cover its long-term commitments, according to state standards.

“It’s not good. But we’re trying to control what we can, and then ultimately will need help from our friends in Harrisburg,” said Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, after a pension fund board meeting yesterday.

(Via Pension Tsunami, via Instapundit.)

A competent city government would save more when times are good, so it can ride out the bad times. Pittsburgh, on the other hand, became insolvent when times were good, and is looking for a state bailout now that times are bad.

Ghana holds free elections

December 8, 2008

Good for them:

Election officials began counting ballots late Sunday in one of Africa’s rare democracies, where voters are painfully aware of the example they are setting on a continent better known for coups, rigged elections and one-man rule. . .

A lot is riding on Ghana’s election, not just for the nation of 23 million but also for Africa as a whole. Like its neighbors, Ghana has a history of coups and one-party rule, but since the 1990s when coup leader Jerry Rawlings agreed to hold elections, it has been on a fast track to democracy. It has held four elections since 1992, first bringing Rawlings to power, then current President John Kufuor, who is stepping down after two terms in office.

When he does, it will mark the country’s second successive transfer of power from one democratically elected leader to another, a litmus test of a mature democracy that only a handful of African nations have passed.

They could have left out the “African” qualifier.

William Jefferson defeated

December 7, 2008

Louisiana voters have done what the House leadership would not, force William Jefferson from office:

Indicted U.S. Rep. William Jefferson suffered what may be the final blow of his storied political career in the most improbable way Saturday, when an untested Republican opponent took advantage of Louisiana’s new federal voting rules — and an election delay caused by Hurricane Gustav — to unseat the nine-term Democrat.

With the upset victory, Anh “Joseph” Cao, a eastern New Orleans attorney who fled war-ravaged Saigon as a child, becomes the first Vietnamese-American in Congress. He will represent a district that was specifically drawn to give African-Americans an electoral advantage and one in which two of every three voters are registered Democrats. . .

Though Jefferson will pack up his Capitol Hill office, he will remain in the news: Originally scheduled to begin last week, his trial is likely to start in early 2009.

Also in the cross-hairs of federal prosecutors are Jefferson siblings Betty Jefferson, the Orleans Parish 4th District Assessor, and political consultant Mose Jefferson, who were indicted last year on charges that they conspired to loot more than $600,000 in taxpayer money from three charities.

In a separate case, Mose Jefferson was indicted on charges that he bribed the former president of the Orleans Parish School Board.

(Via the Corner.)

UPDATE: Power Line notes that Democrats and labor unions made substantial contributions to Jefferson’s re-election campaign.

NYC orders churches to stop sheltering homeless

December 7, 2008

Yeah, this makes sense:

City officials have ordered 22 New York churches to stop providing beds to homeless people.

With temperatures well below freezing early Saturday, the churches must obey a city rule requiring faith-based shelters to be open at least five days a week — or not at all.

There’s bureaucracy for you: rules ahead of common sense.

(Via Brain Terminal.)

Political correctness runs amok

December 7, 2008

Students at Carleton University make asses of themselves:

Students at an Ottawa university are pulling out of a Canada-wide fundraiser that provides close to $1 million a year for cystic fibrosis research and treatment, arguing that the disease “has been recently revealed to only affect white people, and primarily men” — something experts say is untrue.

The Carleton University Students Association voted Monday night overwhelmingly in favour of choosing a new charity to support during its orientation week in September, in lieu of Shinerama, which raises money for the Canadian Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. . .

The student council motion stated that orientation week “strives to be inclusive” and “all orientees and volunteers should feel like their fundraising efforts will serve their diverse communities.”

(Via Brain Terminal.)

Canadian “coup” fails

December 6, 2008

The effort by a coalition of leftist minority parties to replace the Canadian government has failed, and has hurt them badly with the public:

Almost three-quarters of Canadians say they are “truly scared” for the future of the country and a solid majority say they would prefer another election to having the minority Conservative government replaced by a coalition led by Stephane Dion, a new Ipsos-Reid poll says.

The poll also indicates Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his Conservatives would romp to a majority victory with a record 46 per cent public support if an election were held today.

The survey suggests Gov. Gen. Michaelle Jean was in tune with public opinion across the country when she agreed Thursday to suspend, or prorogue Parliament until Jan. 26 at the request of Harper. Almost seven in 10 of those surveyed Tuesday and Wednesday gave prorogation a thumbs up.

The Tories also were deemed by almost six in 10 Canadians to be the best managers of the economy in these troubling times.

It gets worse for the leftist coalition:

Fully 60 per cent of those interviewed said they opposed replacing the government with Liberal-NDP coalition supported by the Bloc Quebecois, compared with 37 per cent who favoured the idea. Support for the coalition was highest in Quebec at 50 per cent, followed by 44 per cent in Atlantic Canada.

The poll indicates the prospect of the Dion-led coalition has prompted Canadians to rethink the value of an election so soon after the Oct. 14 poll. Fifty-six per cent said they would rather go to the polls than be governed by the coalition. . .

[Pollster Darrell] Bricker said a clear consensus appears to be building in Canada, albeit to a lesser degree in Quebec, that Harper is doing the right thing by trying to hang on to power.

“The idea of having Stephane Dion as the prime minister, combined with the coalition being supported by the Bloc Quebecois, is basically fatal in the minds of the public,” Bricker said. . .

The poll says more than seven in 10 Canadians, or 72 per cent of those surveyed, said they are “truly scared” for the future of the country because of what is going on in Ottawa. . .

Bricker said the Conservatives’ spike in popularity appears to reflect a backlash against the Liberals and New Democrats whose support slid to 23 per cent and 13 per cent respectively. The Greens had eight per cent support, while the Bloc polled 37 per cent in Quebec.

This was an epic miscalculation. The coalition could have toppled the government, which might well have backfired, but at least it wouldn’t have violated the usual parliamentary process. Instead, they tried to take over the government without an election, gambling that the public would agree that the economic crisis trumped the importance of process. The public did not agree. In fact, public opinion was just the opposite:

Bricker said Canadians’ unhappiness with the political upheaval now is trumping the question of who is to blame for the crisis. Those surveyed divided almost evenly between blaming the government and the opposition parties.

Dion’s speech disaster didn’t help him either:

The Liberals have apologized for Liberal Leader Stephane Dion’s taped televised address, after it was delivered to Canadian networks almost an hour past deadline and in near-cellphone quality. . .

Dion was supposed to deliver the networks a pre-taped statement to the nation Wednesday between 6:15 p.m. and 6:30 ET. It was to air after Prime Minister Stephen Harper addressed the country at 7 p.m. ET about the political crisis on Parliament Hill.

CTV, along with other major Canadian networks, pre-empted regularly scheduled programming to deliver the addresses. Harper went to air shortly after 7 p.m. but networks were left scrambling to fill airspace when Dion’s tape was nowhere to be found.

When confronted about the disaster by one of his partners, Dion reportedly explained “We’re not used to being in opposition.”

(Via Hot Air.)

Sadr fades into irrelevance

December 6, 2008

The Washington Post reports:

The followers of Shiite Muslim cleric Moqtada al-Sadr once were powerful enough to do battle against the U.S. military, play kingmaker in choosing Iraq’s prime minister and declare themselves the true defenders of the country’s Shiite majority.

But parliament’s approval last week of a security agreement that requires U.S. forces to leave Iraq by the end of 2011, a date the Sadrists consider far too distant, has underscored the movement’s waning influence. Sadr’s loyalists are on the defensive, struggling to remain politically relevant as the U.S. role in Iraq diminishes and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki gains stature.

The day after the agreement’s passage, anger lined the face of Hazim al-Araji, Sadr’s top aide. Inside a gold-domed shrine in Baghdad’s Kadhimiyah neighborhood, he railed against Iraq’s lawmakers. “They ignored our ideas and thoughts when they signed this agreement,” he said from his pulpit. “They paid no attention to all our martyrs who gave their blood fighting the occupation.” . . .

The congregation of a few thousand was smaller than usual, a sign of the Sadrists’ uncertain future.

(Via Hot Air.)

One might get the impression that Sadr lost.  Somebody tell Time!

Joe-gate figure testifies

December 6, 2008

The Columbus Dispatch reports:

The state worker who unwittingly ran an improper child-support check on the man known as Joe the Plumber told lawmakers yesterday that a deputy director later “dictated” how she was supposed to cover it up.

Vanessa Niekamp, an administrator for the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services’ Office of Child Support and a 15-year state employee, said that when Deputy Director Doug Thompson came into her office, “He appeared very upset, his neck was bright red, and he was shaking. He closed my door.”

Thompson told her she must write an e-mail to the agency’s information-security officer, and then “dictated word for word” what she wrote, Niekamp said. He also reminded her that she could be fired at any time, she said.

“Within an hour, I took the rest of the day off — again using my vacation time — and went directly to the office of the inspector general. I told them everything I knew about what happened.”

So far, Ohio Governor Strickland has refused to fire anyone over the scandal.  Will he continue to stand by that?

(Via Instapundit.)  (Previous Post.)

Canada on the brink

December 5, 2008

Mark Steyn comments on what is transpiring in Canada.

UPDATE: I should say, what was transpiring in Canada.  By the time I posted this, matters had turned completely.

What is a recession?

December 5, 2008

I liked it better when the term “recession” had an actual meaning. It used to be that a recession was when real GDP declines two quarters in a row. By that definition, we were not in a recession as of the end of 3rd quarter (the most recent quarter for which data are available). For the last six quarters, real GDP growth has been:

2007 2007 2007 2008 2008 2008
 Q2   Q3   Q4   Q1   Q2   Q3
 4.8  4.8 -0.2  0.9  2.8 -0.5

If real GDP growth falls in the 4th quarter, as seems likely, we will have been in a recession (according to the old definition) since the 3rd quarter of 2008.

Now, however, we are in a recession whenever a self-appointment group of economists, the NBER, tell us we are.  According to them, we have been in recession since December 2007.  This is very strange, since we had two quarters of growth following December 2007, one of them being decently healthy, and both being larger than the decline in the 4th quarter of 2007.

If the NBER wants to redefine the word, that’s fine, but there’s no reason the rest of us have to go along.  I’m certainly not arguing that the economy is in good shape right now, but I do lament the loss of a well-defined term from our lexicon.

Google’s censors

December 5, 2008

The New York Times Magazine has a long article about Google’s censors. It’s not just China; Google also censors the Internet on behalf of the governments of Turkey, France, Germany, and Thailand.

The article’s attitude toward censorship is oddly positive, viewing Google’s censorship as a theoretical problem:

“To love Google, you have to be a little bit of a monarchist, you have to have faith in the way people traditionally felt about the king,” Tim Wu, a Columbia law professor and a former scholar in residence at Google, told me recently. “One reason they’re good at the moment is they live and die on trust, and as soon as you lose trust in Google, it’s over for them.” Google’s claim on our trust is a fragile thing. After all, it’s hard to be a company whose mission is to give people all the information they want and to insist at the same time on deciding what information they get. . .

“Right now, we’re trusting Google because it’s good, but of course, we run the risk that the day will come when Google goes bad,” Wu told me.

But many would argue that the day has already come. Google’s record includes censorship not only in foreign countries for foreign goverments, but in America for political correctness. The article notes an infamous incident in which Google deleted a Michelle Malkin video and then deleted her protest:

Malkin became something of a cause célèbre among YouTube critics in 2006, when she created a two-minute movie called “First, They Came” in the wake of the violent response to the Danish anti-Muhammad cartoons. . .

Nearly seven months after she posted the video, Malkin told me she was “flabbergasted” to receive an e-mail message from YouTube saying the video had been removed for its “inappropriate content.” When Malkin asked why the video was removed, she received no response, and when she posted a video appealing to YouTube to reinstate it, that video, too, was deleted with what she calls the “false claim” that it had been removed at her request. . .

I watched the “First, They Came” video, which struck me as powerful political commentary that contains neither hate speech nor graphic violence, and I asked why it was taken down. According to a YouTube spokesman, the takedown was a routine one that hadn’t been reviewed by higher-ups. The spokesman said he couldn’t comment on particular cases, but he forwarded a link to Malkin’s current YouTube channel, noting that it contains 55 anti-jihadist videos similar to “First, They Came,” none of which have been taken down. . .

The removal of Malkin’s video may have been an innocent mistake. But it serves as a reminder that one person’s principled political protest is another person’s hate speech, and distinguishing between the two in hard cases is a lot to ask of a low-level YouTube reviewer. In addition, the publicity that attended the removal of Malkin’s video only underscores the fact that in the vast majority of cases in which material is taken down, the decision to do so is never explained or contested. The video goes down, and that’s the end of it.

Google’s defense is bizarre. First they claim that they never looked at Malkin’s video, which hardly seems possible given all the negative publicity the incident generated, and which is not a defense in any case. Then they point out all the Malkin videos they haven’t censored, as if that forgives them for the ones they did censor. And they give no explanation at all for why they would delete Malkin’s protest and claim she asked for it.

The New York Times’s attitude is also bizarre. They forgive Google’s enforcement of political correctness on the grounds that it’s really hard to tell what is and isn’t hate speech. Ordinarily, the NYT could tell you that that is an argument against censorship, or at the very least, for erring on the side of free speech. But in this case, the NYT’s main concern is that Google might start to cooperate with the US government. (Assisting Chinese repression is one thing, but the US government? Now that would be bad.)

To be clear, the First Amendment does not come into play here. Google is a private company and on their property they can censor whatever they want. But they shouldn’t then ask us to trust them.

(Via Althouse, via Instapundit.)

BONUS: Some older examples of Google’s viewpoint-based censorship here and here.

Columbia abuses imminent domain

December 5, 2008

Columbia University is working to steal its neighbors’ land, writes Damon Root for Reason. Here’s a low-light, written by one person whose land Columbia hopes to take:

Under New York state law, in order to condemn property the state first has to undertake a “neighborhood conditions study” and declare the area in question “blighted.” Earlier this summer the state released its study, which concluded that Manhattanville is indeed “blighted.” This gives the state the legal green light to condemn my four buildings and hand them over to the university.

The study’s conclusion was unsurprising. Since the commencement of acquisitions in Manhattanville by Columbia, the school has made a solid effort to create the appearance of “blight.” Once active buildings became vacant as Columbia either refused to renew leases, pressured small businesses to vacate, or made unreasonable demands that resulted in the businesses moving elsewhere. Columbia also let their holdings decay and left code violations unaddressed. . .

There is also a conflict of interest in the condemnation process. The firm the state hired to perform the “impartial” blight study — the planning, engineering and environmental consultant Allee King Rosen & Fleming, Inc. (AKRF) — had been retained by Columbia two years earlier to advocate for governmental approval of the university’s expansion, including the possible use of eminent domain.

When I go to court in a few months to contest the condemnation, I will face an overwhelmingly unfair process particular to New York, and to eminent domain trials. I will not be permitted to question any of the state or Columbia’s representatives, nor will I be allowed to have anyone take the witness stand on my behalf. My attorney will only be provided with 15 minutes to speak to the court on a matter that Columbia and the state have been working on for over four years.

(Via Instapundit.)

The Anglican Church in North America

December 3, 2008

I heard a report about this on NPR today (no link, sorry) that managed to get nearly every detail wrong. Here’s what happened today: No one broke away from the Episcopal Church today. North American churches that had already broken away from the Episcopal Church (or its Canadian analogue) had switched their allegiance to Anglican provinces in South America and Africa. It was an awkward arrangement to have North American churches belong to faraway provinces, so today those churches agreed to join together to form a new North American province.

The reason those churches had left the Episcopal Church had essentially nothing to do with sexuality. It had to do with the Episcopal Church’s abandonment of key Christian doctrines such as sin, redemption, and the authority of scripture. (As an indication of how bad things had gotten, read this and this.) It also had to do with the Episcopal Church’s contempt for its orthodox minority, most notably displayed by deposing the Bishop of Pittsburgh in violation of the procedures given in church canons. Issues of sexuality are one symptom of the problem, but by themselves would probably (there’s no way to know now) have never led to a major exodus from the Episcopal Church.

It’s true that the Episcopal Church will probably initiate a court battle to try to confiscate the property of breakaway churches, but this was already an inevitability when those churches left the Episcopal Church. Today’s action changed nothing. Also, any churches that join the new province from elsewhere do not have their property at risk. The same is true for the churches that have already won their legal battles with the Episcopal Church.

The one thing that NPR got right was it is unclear whether the Archbishop of Canterbury will recognize the new province, but the more important question is whether the Anglican primates recognize it. Under the Anglican Church’s unusual structure, the voting power of provinces is entirely uncorrelated with their size. Thus, the global south (which is overwhelmingly orthodox) has the vast majority of the people, but a minority of voting power. It will be very interesting to see whether the progressive primates (who control the Anglican Church despite representing a small minority of its members) press their advantage. If they do, there may well be schism, which would leave a rump Anglican Church and a new orthodox denomination with nearly all its people.

You don’t say

December 3, 2008

AP: Think tanks say Obama should shift focus from Iraq to Iran.

Give thanks for property rights

December 2, 2008

The Pilgrims avoided starvation in 1621, but how did they ultimately move from hardship to plenty? Property rights:

Many people believe that after suffering through a severe winter, the Pilgrims’ food shortages were resolved the following spring when the Native Americans taught them to plant corn and a Thanksgiving celebration resulted. In fact, the pilgrims continued to face chronic food shortages for three years until the harvest of 1623. Bad weather or lack of farming knowledge did not cause the pilgrims’ shortages. Bad economic incentives did.

In 1620 Plymouth Plantation was founded with a system of communal property rights. Food and supplies were held in common and then distributed based on equality and need as determined by Plantation officials. People received the same rations whether or not they contributed to producing the food, and residents were forbidden from producing their own food. . .

Faced with potential starvation in the spring of 1623, the colony decided to implement a new economic system. Every family was assigned a private parcel of land. They could then keep all they grew for themselves, but now they alone were responsible for feeding themselves. . .

This change, Bradford wrote, had very good success, for it made all hands very industrious, so as much more corn was planted than otherwise would have been. Giving people economic incentives changed their behavior. . .

Once the Pilgrims in the Plymouth Plantation abandoned their communal economic system and adopted one with greater individual property rights, they never again faced the starvation and food shortages of the first three years. It was only after allowing greater property rights that they could feast without worrying that famine was just around the corner.

Senate update

December 2, 2008

Georgia voters today will (presumably) settle one of the two remaining Senate races. Chambliss appears likely to win the re-election he missed by a hair’s breadth on election night. The RCP poll average gives him a small but consistent 5 point lead and his contract is selling at 97 on Intrade.

The Minnesota recount has things headed in Coleman’s direction. Franken’s effort to get his counties to report first, in order to put him in the lead, came up short with Coleman’s lead bottoming out in the middle one hundreds. With 91% now recounted, Coleman’s lead is now about 340, up from his pre-recount margin of 215. The Coleman contract is selling at 80.9 on Intrade.

Franken is pinning his hopes on the US Senate to reverse the outcome of the election. The closest precedent to such an action would be Louis Wyman in New Hampshire 1974. In that election, Wyman (a Republican) won the election by 2 votes after two recounts but the Senate deadlocked on whether to seat him. In the end, it was decided to hold a do-over, which his opponent won. Coleman will likely win by hundreds of votes, not two, making 1974 a dubious precedent, but they have the power to do it, so we can’t rule anything out.

UPDATE : The good news is that Chambliss did indeed win, and pretty handily (at this hour).  On the other hand, Coleman has dropped to 60 on Intrade, so he’s still seen as the favorite, but not the almost prohibitive favorite he appeared earlier today.  Today’s briefing from the Franken campaign is probably the reason.

Chaos in Canada

December 2, 2008

Canadians are fond of saying that they don’t want “American-style democracy” and this week we’ve found out what that means.  The Canadian government that just won the election a month-and-a-half ago is now on the verge of being unseated by a coalition of the opposition parties.

Particularly bizarre is the possibility that the man who just lost the last election could become Prime Minister without a new election.  Many argue that such an outcome would be illegal, but even if so, we’ve learned in recent years that the rules are quite flexible.  A few years ago, the Liberal government refused to call an election despite losing a confidence vote, so I guess anything is possible.

Once again we see the wisdom of the framers of the US Constitution for rejecting a parliamentary system in favor of separated powers, and for putting all the rules down on paper.

Commission foresees WMD attack

December 1, 2008

I’ve worried about this for a long time:

An independent commission has concluded that terrorists will most likely carry out an attack with biological, nuclear or other unconventional weapons somewhere in the world in the next five years unless the United States and its allies act urgently to prevent that.

In a report to be released this week, the congressionally mandated panel found that with countries like Iran and North Korea pursuing nuclear weapons programs, and with the risk of poorly secured biological pathogens growing, unconventional threats are fast outpacing the defenses arrayed to confront them. . .

The report is the result of a six-month study by the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism, which Congress created last spring in keeping with one of the recommendations of the Sept. 11 Commission. . .

Among the commission’s many recommendations is this important one:

The commission urges the Obama administration to work to halt the Iranian and North Korean nuclear weapons programs, backing up any diplomatic initiatives with “the credible threat of direct action” – code for military action, a commission official said.

Two weeks ago, the International Atomic Energy Agency reported that Iran had produced roughly enough nuclear material to make, with added purification, a single atom bomb.

(Via Hot Air.)

Mugabe in trouble?

December 1, 2008

Zimbabwe’s army is getting restless, as it is no longer getting paid any more than the general public.

Samantha Power is back in

December 1, 2008

President-Elect’s national security choices during the transition process have been generally reassuring, but this one undermines all that: Samantha Power, a former foreign-policy adviser to candidate Obama, has been rehired. (Via LGF.)

Power lost her job when she publicly called Hillary Clinton (who she will now have the job of assisting) a monster, but she never should have been an adviser to a serious candidate in the first place. In 2002 she advocated a U.S. invasion of Israel.

If there is anyone that should have been left under the bus, she’s the one.

UPDATE: Hot Air has the video. By the way, it’s not just the proposed invasion (which she later repudiated) that is frightening, but her entire mindset — opposed to Israel and American Jews — that was able to spawn such a proposal.

Obama’s press conference

December 1, 2008

A few thoughts on President-Elect Obama’s news conference this morning:

  1. He was asked a very tough question about India: if America has the right to attack terrorists in Pakistan, as Obama has said, does India have that same right? The answer he gave was exactly right, that sovereign nations have the right to defend themselves but he wouldn’t comment specifically beyond that.
  2. He was not as impressive in his answer to a question about the Clinton appointment: during the campaign he argued that Clinton had no useful experience in foreign affairs, so how can he now say she’s the best person to be Secretary of State? On this one he tried to shift the blame (in a good-natured way) to the questioner for “having fun” dredging up campaign quotes and ultimately he didn’t answer. To be fair, I suppose the question was unanswerable without admitting that at least half of campaigning is bullshit.
  3. He was asked what happens to his pledge to withdraw troops from Iraq in 16 months in light of the SOFA. There he sort of affirmed the 16 months as a goal, but left himself the wiggle room he’ll need when it doesn’t happen. Beyond that, he made the revealing statement that the safety of the troops (not victory, by implication) was his top priority.
  4. He was asked no questions about Iran, and he mentioned it only once and briefly in his opening remarks. Evidently no one is focusing on Iran, which is truly worrying.