It’s getting hard to keep track of the Democrats who don’t like to pay their taxes. Tom Daschle is the latest. Weren’t we told recently that avoiding taxes is unpatriotic?
UPDATE and BUMP: It’s even worse than it sounds. Ed Whelan notes the chronology: On June 5, the Obama campaign floated the possibility of Daschle as HHS Secretary. Then, sometime during June, Daschle told his staff that “something made him think that the car service might be taxable and he disclosed the arrangement to his accountant.” Coincidence? This doesn’t even pass the laugh test. Even then, Daschle didn’t actually pay his taxes until January 2, over three weeks after he was nominated on December 11.
The House of Representatives has blocked a bill that would have postponed the switch to digital TV, but it could be back:
The switch to digital television will go on as scheduled after the House yesterday blocked a bill to delay the date, saying postponing the action would only cause confusion for consumers and increase costs for broadcasters. . .
The bill was considered in the House yesterday under suspension of the rules, a procedure generally used for noncontroversial items. As a result, the bill saw only a short debate and no amendments were allowed. The vote was 258-168, with most Republicans voting against it. The bill needed a two-thirds majority to pass.
Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.), chairman of the House subcommittee that oversees telecommunications issues, said he wants to bring the same bill back to the floor next week under regular order, meaning that it would need only a simple majority to pass.
The libertarian position on this issue isn’t clear to me. Forcing people to buy new television sets doesn’t sound very good, to be sure, but the problem is the government controls the radio spectrum, so we won’t ever modernize the system without government action. Barring privatization of the radio spectrum (out of the question in today’s political climate, I suppose), the switchover plan — to use some of the proceeds from sale of radio spectrum (formerly allocated to analog TV) to provide DTV converter coupons — seems like an acceptable one, in principle.
However, there have been a host of practical problems. One is that the coupon program is out of money. (Isn’t it quaint to worry about a paltry $1.34 billion program running out of money these days!) Another is the problem of digital dead zones, areas that can receive an analog signal but not yet a digital one. So I think the case for a delay (e.g., by Consumer Reports) is a decent one.
Unfortunately, things are more complicated than that, due to competing business interests. The companies that would use the newly-reallocated spectrum for 4G networks are in varying degrees of preparation. Those who are most ready (such as Verizon) want the switch to take place on schedule. They argue that they paid billions for the new spectrum, and the government should deliver it as promised. (Again, how quaint!) Others who are behind (such as AT&T and Clearwire) want a delay, so that they too can be ready on day one, or close to it.
Enter Gerry Salemme. A telecom industry veteran; former lobbyist; and Clearwire executive vice president for strategy, policy, and external affairs, Salemme has also been a generous Obama supporter. Early in the primary season, Salemme gave the maximum $2,300 to Obama for America, and then in August threw in another $10,000 to the Obama Victory Fund, a joint fundraising committee that accepts large contributions and carves them up between the party and candidate. . . Once the race to the White House was won, Salemme scrounged another $5,000 for the transition effort.
As of this writing, Salemme is not mentioned anywhere on the Change.gov site—which lists members of the Obama transition’s staff, policy working groups, and agency review teams—nor has there been any public announcement of his involvement with the presidential transition. A spokesman for his company says that Salemme “remains in his position as Executive VP at Clearwire.” But Ars has learned that Salemme has been on leave using accrued vacation and joined the Obama transition team as a key adviser on DTV issues. . .
Salemme is widely praised for his expertise, both in the tech industry and on Capitol Hill. . . But Salemme’s high position with a primary competitor of Verizon—the company most vocally protesting that it would be adversely affected by a delay—creates an unavoidable appearance of conflict of interest.
And it’s not just Clearwire, Salemme is also involved with a second company that would also profit from a delay. His involvement puts a huge stink on the effort to delay the switchover. Any delay now carries the taint of government corruption. With all the countervailing factors, I think government integrity is the deciding one, and the switchover should proceed on schedule.
Over the past several years, studies have consistently shown that people on the political right outperform those on the left when it comes to charity. This pattern appears to have held — increased, even — in 2008.
In May of last year, the Gallup polling organization asked 1,200 American adults about their giving patterns. People who called themselves “conservative” or “very conservative” made up 42% of the population surveyed, but gave 56% of the total charitable donations. In contrast, “liberal” or “very liberal” respondents were 29% of those polled but gave just 7% of donations.
These disparities were not due to differences in income. People who said they were “very conservative” gave 4.5% of their income to charity, on average; “conservatives” gave 3.6%; “moderates” gave 3%; “liberals” gave 1.5%; and “very liberal” folks gave 1.2%.
This seems to confirm the common impression that conservatives contribute their own money, while liberals vote to contribute other people’s money. (Last September, it was revealed that Joe Biden over the last decade gave an average of 0.2% of his income to charity, $369 per year. The revelation came at the same time as he was calling for Americans to pitch in more through their taxes.)
The column goes on to explain that the difference cannot be explained by religion alone, and concludes with some practical advice for non-profits:
All this is good news for the health and survival of explicitly conservative organizations, of course. But folks on the political right give to all types of nonprofits — from soup kitchens to symphony orchestras — not just conservative groups.
Ironically, few environments are less tolerant of conservatives and their ideas than the nonprofit world. The Chronicle of Philanthropy reported in October of 2008 that employees of major charities favored Democrats over Republicans in their private political contributions by a margin of 82% to 18%. Among the employees of major foundations, the difference was an astounding 98% to 2%.
Reasonable people can disagree on politics, but the numbers on giving speak for themselves. Nonprofit executives, disproportionately politically progressive, do well to remember that many of the folks they will count on in hard times are not necessarily those who share their political views. Understanding this might make for better fund raising in a scary year — and help us all to give credit where it is due.
Progressive politicians have the power to attack conservatives while still collecting taxes from them. Progressive non-profits do not, so they need to avoid alienating their benefactors. Safe zones might be a good start.
It’s said that Albert Einstein once defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Michael Ledeen says that’s exactly what we’re doing with Iran.
UPDATE: Sure enough, we got the same result this time as every other:
US President Barack Obama’s offer to talk to Iran shows that America’s policy of “domination” has failed, the government spokesman said on Saturday. . .
After nearly three decades of severed ties, Obama said shortly after taking office this month that he is willing to extend a diplomatic hand to Tehran if the Islamic republic is ready to “unclench its fist”.
In response, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad launched a fresh tirade against the United States, demanding an apology for its “crimes” against Iran and saying he expected “deep and fundamental” change from Obama.
Rasmussen reports that public support for the stimulus boondoggle has slipped eight points into a statistical tie, with 42% now in favor and 39% opposed. (Via the Corner.) Democratic and Republican support remain steady, at 74% and 18%. Independents are responsible for the shift, and now oppose the plan by a 50% to 27% margin. Nevertheless, most expect the package to pass.
This debate has been great for Republicans. As Yuval Levin points out, Democrats had the opportunity to behave like grown-ups and show that they can be trusted with the reins of power. Instead, they’ve loaded up the “stimulus” package with every little thing on the liberal shopping list, plus an insane amount of pork. In the process, they’ve shown that Republicans are the party of fiscal sanity (relatively speaking); however irresponsible the Republicans were from 2001 to 2006, the Democrats are even worse.
It remains to be seen whether Republicans will stand by their new-found principles when they are in control again. That can’t happen for a minimum of two years, and considering the electoral map, it will probably be longer. But, the behavior of the Democrats over the last two weeks is hastening that day.
Orin Kerr over at the Volokh Consipiracy has some thoughts on how a blog can develop a good comment culture. He says that moderation is key:
If a blogger doesn’t moderate comment threads at all on a widely read blog, people who want to be shocking, mean, or just irrelevant realize they can do their thing and reach a decent-sized audience. They eventually push out the more thoughtful people: You end up with a mess, or, as Brian Leiter would put it, a “cess pool.” In contrast, if bloggers moderate their threads reasonably well, deleting irrelevant or abusive comments — and in some cases, participating in the comment threads themselves to carry on the debate — then you end up with a shift in culture over time.
Internet Scofflaw gets an average of one comment a week, so developing a “culture” of comments, good or bad, isn’t really an issue. Most of its comments correlate with the occasional Instalanche. But I want reading (and more importantly, writing) this blog to be a positive experience, so my comment policy is to delete comments that are uncivil. Repeat offenders will be banned.
Samantha Power’s rehabilitation is now complete, she will take a “senior foreign policy job” at the White House. (Via LGF.) Power was temporarily fired for calling Hillary Clinton a “monster” during the Democratic primary, but faced little scrutiny for her bizarre call for a U.S. invasion of Israel.
I think California may be past the point of no return:
Berkeley’s public library will face a showdown with the city’s Peace and Justice Commission tonight over whether a service contract for the book check-out system violates the city’s nuclear-free ordinance.
How’s that for an opening? In the entire history of civilization, has any human society so ordered its affairs that it would seem entirely normal to combine those words in that order in a single sentence?
A federal judge has ordered a Jewish defendant released on bail, rejecting the argument that Jews are inherent flight risks because they can settle in Israel. Sounds like a no brainer? You might think so, but the ruling overturns an earlier order that has held the man without bond for over two months.
Iran will have enough enriched uranium to make a single nuclear weapon later this year, the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) reported on Tuesday.
The think tank made the prediction in its ‘Military Balance 2009,’ an annual assessment of global defense and military developments.
Announcing the new report on Tuesday, Mark Fitzpatrick said the threat may not necessarily as big as it sounds.
“Being able to enrich uranium is not the same as having nuclear weapons,” he said.
In addition, the report placed doubts over U.S. intelligence estimates that Iran halted its work on nuclear weapons six years ago and pointed to Tehran’s continued development of long-range ballistic missiles able to reach targets in Israel and beyond.
Forget the economy. This is the crisis that will define the Obama administration.
Time’s current issue is chock-full of Callie Shell photos, the news magazine benefiting from her incredible access to the first family on inauguration day. But on Jan 5, Shell took pictures in a very different role than her journalistic one—allowing her work to be sent out as official White House transition press releases.
Shell’s dual roles have blurred the lines of journalism, leaving Time embarrassed and White House photographers stewing.
The article continues:
[The day after the inauguration], Time.com published the first photo of Obama in the oval office—a much-talked-about shot of the new president on the phone at his desk, coolly breaking Bush White House tradition of appearing sans jacket.
Conversely, three wires services—the AP, Reuters, and Agence France-Presse—were not given access to the oval office, as is customary on day one, and later refused to distribute the White House-approved photos.
Michael Oreskes, the AP’s managing editor for U.S. News, called the approved shots “visual press releases.”
Oreskes comment hits on a common double standard between print journalism and photo-journalism. Of course, a newspaper editor wouldn’t plunk a White House press release verbatim on page one, but it’s more acceptable give A1 real estate to a White House-approved photo. . .
In Shell’s case, her friendly gestures—whether photographing the girls or giving away pictures—has seemed like a too-cozy relationship to some in the press corps.
“The real problem lies in the perception,” said one White House photographer. “Do [readers] think when they pick up Time magazine they are getting objective coverage?”
Look, this isn’t hard to understand. Shell does some moonlighting work for the Obama transition, pro bono. The Obama White House, in return for the favor and because it knows Shell’s work will be favorable, gives Time exclusive access to the Oval Office on inauguration day. Both Time and President Obama win. Journalistic integrity loses, but it usually does.
Mario Rizzo notes a very interesting quote from Keynes. It seems that by 1942, after years of New Deal spending, Keynes had soured on public works as a tool to stimulate the economy:
Organized public works, at home and abroad, may be the right cure for a chronic tendency to a deficiency of effective demand. But they are not capable of sufficiently rapid organisation (and above all cannot be reversed or undone at a later date), to be the most serviceable instrument for the prevention of the trade cycle.
Seems the European Union is attempting to establish a “European Criminal Records Information System”. . . A criminal database is something I heartily approve of, particularly when dealing with all of those little bitty countries that make up the EU. . . But I was taken aback when I looked over the categories of offenses that would make up the data entered into the database. The sheer number of offenses is staggering, taking up at least half of the PDF file I linked to above. And some of them are not anything that I would consider a crime.
If you want to see just where the EU is going, then take a look at sections 1205-00 and 1206-00. Both of them say that it is a crime to “insult” the State, the Nation, the symbols of the State or Nation, or representatives of the State/Nation. Does this mean that it is considered a crime if someone writes an op-ed that is disparaging of a politician? Sure sounds like it. . .
Keep in mind that this is simply a list of offenses where someone has already been found guilty. It is not a list of new laws, nor is it a sentencing guideline. But if this is an accurate snapshot of what the EU considers to be crimes, then it is probably too late for them.
We ought not be comforted by the last paragraph. The document may not make sedition and dissent into crimes, but it does mean that when a member state does, the EU will now make sure that such “crimes” follow the “perpetrators” throughout Europe. Anyone convicted of insulting the state or its representatives will have to leave Europe entirely.
Mine is a genuine compromise. So let’s look at how the vote came out, shall we? Fifty-three percent of voters in this country — we’ll say, for the sake of this proposal, 53% of Americans — voted for Obama. Forty-six percent voted for Senator McCain, and 1% voted for wackos. Let’s give the remaining 1% to President Obama, so let’s say that 54% voted for President Obama and 46% voted for Senator McCain. As a way to bring the country together and at the same time determine the most effective way to deal with recessions, under the Obama-Limbaugh Stimulus Plan of 2009, $540 billion of the one trillion will be spent on infrastructure as defined by President Obama and the Democrats. The remaining $460 billion, or 46% that voted for Senator McCain, will be directed towards tax cuts, as determined by me.
Policies aside, this story reminds us that the Bush family is a class act:
Unlike Bill and Hillary Clinton, George and Laura Bush will take few treasured mementos with them from their years at the White House.
When the Clintons left the White House in January 2001, the former first couple took with them more than 50 gifts — including a chandelier, flatware, and paintings — valued at nearly $200,000.
The Bushes, however, borrowed from furnishings that already existed within the White House collection, said Sally McDonough, press secretary to Laura Bush.
“Mrs. Bush — having the experience of being at the White House when her father-in-law was president — knew how many beautiful things she had to choose from to furnish the residence. And she will go back to Texas with only those items that belong to her,” McDonough told FOXNews.com.
ASIDE: This story is also notable for being the first Bush puff piece I’ve seen in years. (Perhaps ever; it’s hard to remember for sure.) This kind of story is usually the exclusive province of Barack Obama.
In addition to the stimulus package’s $825 billion price tag, a CBO analysis says the stimulus plan will result in more than $347 billion in additional interest costs. That makes the total cost over $1.172 trillion, nearly a third of which is interest. (Via the Corner.)
The Democrats were nonplussed when a CBO analysis showed that only 7% of the infrastructure spending in the “stimulus” package would be spent this year, and only 38% by 2010. They suppressed the report, and waited in hopes that the analysis of the full package (which also includes tax cuts and transfer payments) would look better.
That analysis is now out, and it shows that 64% of the “stimulus” package would be spent by fiscal 2010. (Via Hot Air.) (The Washington Post story rounds it favorably to 65%.) After reading several stories on the report, I couldn’t find any that gave a figure for this fiscal year, so I went to the report itself (pdf, page 24) and found that the figure is 21%, a bit better than the 7% for infrastructure spending alone. Those revised figures are still terrible, and don’t even satisfy President Obama’s stated goal of 75% by fiscal 2010.
ASIDE: The U.S. fiscal year begins October 1, so fiscal 2009 refers roughly to the next eight months. Since most economists project a recovery late this (calendar) year, that represents the period of greatest need.
It’s not surprising that the tax cuts and transfer payments are much quicker than the infrastructure spending. Tax cuts go into effect instantaneously (they “spend” 36% this year and 98% by 2010, according to the CBO figures) and the government can cut transfer payment checks pretty quickly. Given that even believers in fiscal stimulus concede that it must be timely to be effective, why not scrap the boondoggle infrastructure spending and go with only the tax cuts and transfer payments?
Two reasons. First, tax cuts and transfer payments don’t really fit the mold of a Keynesian stimulus. (Tax cuts, if structured properly, can deliver supply-side stimulus, but transfer payments aren’t likely to do either.) Secondly, and much more importantly, infrastructure spending is where most of the potential for pork lies, which makes it the priority for Congress.
POSTSCRIPT: The report seems to confirm that “shovel-ready” infrastructure projects don’t exist for the most part. It does not separate the spending side into infrastructure and transfer payments, but the spending side spends 15% of its total this year and 53% by 2010, which is entirely consistent with the 7% and 38% reported for infratructure alone. This undercuts the idea, promoted by some on the left during the last week (for example), that the preliminary CBO report was bogus. It may not have been an official publication, but the numbers appear to be accurate.
UPDATE: This CBO document (an official one, I might add) does break the spending into infrastructure (“appropriations”) and transfer payments (“direct spending”). (Via Greg Mankiw, via Instapundit.) The document agrees with the preliminary report to within a few billion, but does change the percentages a little. Rather than 7% this year and 38% by 2010, the new infrastructure numbers are 12% and 41%. I’ve recalculated the next paragraph accordingly.
POST-POSTSCRIPT: We can compute the timeliness of the transfer payment component as 26% this year, and 70% by 2010. From this we can see that tax cuts are more timely (98% by 2010) than transfer payments (70%), which in turn are dramatically more timely than infrastructure spending (41%).
Iowahawk has some advice for Hollywood environmentalists. Many are good only for wealthy, preachy celebrities, but a few, like this one, are for everyone:
Crush a Third World Economic Development Movement. One of the most pressing threats facing our environment is rising income in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. A generation ago these proud little dark people were happily frolicking in the rain forest, foraging for organic foods amid the wonders of nature. Today, corrupted by wealth, they are demanding environmentally hazardous consumer goods like cars and air conditioning and malaria medicine. You can do your part to stop this dangerous consumerism trend by supporting environmentally progressive leaders like Hugo Chavez and Robert Mugabe, and their programs for sustainable low-impact ecolabor camps.
A disappointing move from the latest administration to promise to be the most transparent ever:
Barack Obama’s administration may be promising the “greatest ethical standard ever administered to an executive branch,” and increased transparency over his predecessor, but it seems to be forgoing at least one transparency practice that was routine in the Bush White House— transcripts of the daily press briefing.
It’s been four days since Press Secretary Robert Gibbs’ first (and widely panned) appearance before the White House press corps, but no transcript, summary, or video of the event has shown up on WhiteHouse.gov. The delay could be forgiven in a less tech-savvy bunch, but given the Obama team’s considerable online skill, the omission of the the transcript is clearly intentional.
In contrast, the Bush White House provided a transcript of every daily briefing, searchable and accessible in its own section on their web site. The archive, available via the Wayback Machine but not on the new WhiteHouse.gov, started Jan. 24, 2001. The Clinton White House also provided transcripts of the briefing, according to archives, at least as early as 1999.
The decision to withhold transcripts is not a departure from the Obama Team’s online posture during the campaign, and signals that’s exactly the posture they intend to take for the next four years. Team Obama got a lot of credit for being an active online presence, which indeed it was, but that presence was built for message control, not openness.
I’m sure that our nation’s free press will take up the slack and start issuing the transcripts themselves.
Ha ha! Just kidding. Glenn Reynolds’s explanation for the change is pretty much inarguable:
Bush wanted transcripts online because he expected the press to filter what he said. Obama doesn’t want transcripts online . . . because he expects the press to filter what he says.
While the White House might not be tracking visitors, the Google-owned video sharing site is free to use persistent cookies to track the browsing behavior of millions of visitors to Obama’s home in cyberspace.
No other company has been singled out and rewarded with such a waiver.
Within 12 hours of the story going live, Obama’s Web team rolled out a technical fix that severely limits YouTube’s ability to track most visitors to the White House Web site.
That’s a step in the right direction, but the original policy was better. If persistent cookies are bad (generally they are), then why should Google get a special dispensation?
The stimulus bill currently steaming through Congress looks like a legislative freight train, but given last week’s analysis by the Congressional Budget Office, it is more accurate to think of it as a time machine. That may be the only way to explain how spending on public works in 2011 and beyond will help the economy today.
According to Congressional Budget Office estimates, a mere $26 billion of the House stimulus bill’s $355 billion in new spending would actually be spent in the current fiscal year, and just $110 billion would be spent by the end of 2010. This is highly embarrassing given that Congress’s justification for passing this bill so urgently is to help the economy right now, if not sooner.
And the red Congressional faces must be very red indeed, because CBO’s analysis has since vanished into thin air after having been posted early last week on the Appropriations Committee Web site. Officially, the committee says this is because the estimates have been superseded as the legislation has moved through committee. No doubt.
In addition to suppressing the CBO analysis, Democrats have derided it. Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D., Wis.) called it “off the wall,” never mind that CBO is now run by Democrats.
The Republican National Committee criticized the Obama administration for violating [its new ethics rules] in some of its appointments. Mr. Obama’s nominee for deputy secretary of defense, William Lynn, has been a lobbyist for the defense contractor Raytheon, and his nominee for deputy secretary of health and human services, William V. Corr, lobbied for stricter tobacco regulations as an official with the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.
A senior White House official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, conceded the two nominees did not adhere to the new rules. But he said that Mr. Lynn had the support of Republicans and Democrats, and would receive a waiver under the policy, and that Mr. Corr did not need a waiver because he had agreed to recuse himself from tobacco issues.
“When you set very tough rules, you need to have a mechanism for the occasional exception,” this official said, adding, “We wanted to be really tough, but at the same time we didn’t want to hamstring the new administration or turn the town upside down.”
Joe Biden ended his own presidential bid after coming in fifth in the Iowa caucuses more than a year ago. But his presidential campaign lived on — and continued receiving taxpayer money — well after he was elected vice president.
The vice president is not gearing up to challenge President Barack Obama in the 2012 Democratic primaries, though. Rather, he’s keeping his committee, Biden for President Inc., open to tidy up loose ends in preparation for a mandatory federal audit, which could become expensive to defend.
So, Biden continued requesting federal funds for his campaign — through the so-called primary matching funds program — for months after he was tapped to be Obama’s running mate. . . [Biden] requested more than $37,000 in matching funds after he joined the Democratic ticket, including a final payment of $2,275 which came just last week.
The Federal Reserve of St. Louis has a horrifying graph of the monetary base. After growing at a fairly steady pace since 1918, it spiked catastrophically in 2008, roughly doubling in less than a year.
Nothing remotely like this has ever happened before. (In America, that is.) We have some serious inflation in our future.
I thought that the Obama administration was supposed to strengthen tattered alliances, not tatter strong ones:
Although Colombia’s President Alvaro Uribe sent a courteous message to welcome President Obama, Colombian officials have grown frustrated in the last two years, warning Democrats their friendship, which has cost them much blood and treasure, had limits.
Referring to a rejection of free trade, Colombia’s vice president, Francisco Santos, said last year: “Colombia plays such a vital role in the continent for U.S. interests that it would be geostrategic suicide to make a decision like that. I wonder who wants to be the one who loses Colombia like they lost China in the 1950s.”
Also last year, Trade Minister Luis Plata warned IBD that denying free trade to Colombia in a hemisphere full of U.S. free-trade treaties amounted to sanctions on an ally because the other countries with which America has agreements are its competitors.
In Santos’ view, it would be “an insult” and a “slap in the face.” Failure to pass the treaty, he said, “I’m sure will lead to a fundamental repositioning of relations between Colombia and the U.S.”
Marc Thiessen reminds us that information obtained from CIA coercive interrogations stopped a string of terrorist attacks. After the jump, the story as recounted by President Bush on September 6, 2006.
A few short days ago, warrantless eavesdropping had us on the slippery slope to fascism. Today:
The Obama administration fell in line with the Bush administration Thursday when it urged a federal judge to set aside a ruling in a closely watched spy case weighing whether a U.S. president may bypass Congress and establish a program of eavesdropping on Americans without warrants. . .
Thursday’s filing by the Obama administration marked the first time it officially lodged a court document in the lawsuit asking the courts to rule on the constitutionality of the Bush administration’s warrantless-eavesdropping program. The former president approved the wiretaps in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
“The Government’s position remains that this case should be stayed,” the Obama administration wrote in a filing that for the first time made clear the new president was on board with the Bush administration’s reasoning in this case.
President Obama made a surprise visit to the White House press corps Thursday night, but got agitated when he was faced with a substantive question.
Asked how he could reconcile a strict ban on lobbyists in his administration with a Deputy Defense Secretary nominee who lobbied for Raytheon, Obama interrupted with a knowing smile on his face.
“Ahh, see,” he said, “I came down here to visit. See this is what happens. I can’t end up visiting with you guys and shaking hands if I’m going to get grilled every time I come down here.”
Pressed further by the Politico reporter about his Pentagon nominee, William J. Lynn III, Obama turned more serious, putting his hand on the reporter’s shoulder and staring him in the eye.
“Alright, come on” he said, with obvious irritation in his voice. “We will be having a press conference at which time you can feel free to [ask] questions. Right now, I just wanted to say hello and introduce myself to you guys – that’s all I was trying to do.”
(Via Instapundit, who adds: you can see why a substantive question would catch him by surprise.)
The legendary economist Robert Barro explains in the Wall Street Journal why the stimulus package will not work. (Via the Corner.)
One interesting bit that I did not know is Barro’s estimates of the Keynes multiplier. For a peacetime stimulus, the multiplier is “insignificantly different from zero.” That means that the “stimulus” does not stimulate the economy, and serves only to shift production away from consumption and investment. Even during World War 2, when it supposedly worked, the “multiplier” was just 0.8, meaning that the economy grew less than the amount of stimulus. The Obama Administration is reportedly assuming a multiplier of 1.5.
As an example of why the Gitmo detainees can’t simply be released, the NY Times reports:
The emergence of a former Guantánamo Bay detainee as the deputy leader of Al Qaeda’s Yemeni branch has underscored the potential complications in carrying out the executive order President Obama signed Thursday that the detention center be shut down within a year.
The militant, Said Ali al-Shihri, is suspected of involvement in a deadly bombing of the United States Embassy in Yemen’s capital, Sana, in September. He was released to Saudi Arabia in 2007 and passed through a Saudi rehabilitation program for former jihadists before resurfacing with Al Qaeda in Yemen.
I’m glad the NY Times reported this, but of course, they can’t resist editorializing:
Although the Pentagon has said that dozens of released Guantánamo detainees have “returned to the fight,” its claim is difficult to document, and has been met with skepticism. In any case, few of the former detainees, if any, are thought to have become leaders of a major terrorist organization like Al Qaeda in Yemen, a mostly homegrown group that experts say has been reinforced by foreign fighters.
“Has been met with skepticism” is classic weasel language. Skepticism by whom? If you don’t tell us, you’re just inserting your opinion. (Doesn’t the NY Times style guide say something about this?) Moreover, who would be surprised if few former detainees become Al Qaeda leaders? How many leaders do they think Al Qaeda has?
John Hinderaker says President Obama’s order to close Gitmo doesn’t mean much:
Today Barack Obama issued an entirely symbolic executive order, directing that the terrorist detainee facility at Guantanamo Bay be closed within one year. Gitmo, of course, was created in answer to the question, What are we going to do with captured terrorists? Now, with that facility slated for closure, the question arises once more.
It arose, in fact, in Press Secretary Robert Gibbs’ first press conference today. I found this exchange somewhat amusing:
[Robert Gibbs haplessly attempts to deflect Gitmo questions.]
So, in other words, Obama’s order accomplishes nothing other than to kick the can down the road. The question of what to do with the terrorists will be “studied”–and, by the way, it’s now a “very complex, very detailed question.”
Only two things seem certain. One, a year from now, the Gitmo detainees are going to be somewhere else. (Western Pennsylvania, if John Murtha has his way.) Two, White House Press Secretary is among the world’s worst jobs.
The Allegheny County Port Authority is looking for $117 million from the Federal government to finish a light rail project to the North Shore. After spending $320 million to bore two tunnels under the Allegheny River, the Port Authority has run out of money to lay the actual track.
The tunnels aren’t going anywhere. Some might say we should wait for better financial times to finish the project; but why do that when Washington is giving away free money?
President Barack Obama’s inauguration generated an unprecedented 35,000 stories in the world’s major newspapers, television and radio broadcasts over the past day — about 35 times more than the last presidential swearing-in — a monitoring group said on Wednesday.
The Texas-based Global Language Monitor said there had also been 6 million new Obama-related mentions on the Internet since December 31.
By comparison, the last U.S. presidential inauguration, of George W. Bush in January 2005, resulted in about 1,000 stories in major media worldwide, Paul JJ Payack, president of Global Language Monitor said.
The evening before the inauguration, one of the cable news networks (MSNBC, I think) had hours of continuous coverage of the gathering crowds, a story of minimal newsworthiness (not to put too fine a point on it).
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with any of this. The press can report on whatever they want. Let’s just set aside the myth of an objective press and admit that journalists are partisan. There’s nothing wrong with an openly and admittedly partisan press, and media bias would be a non-issue. (Media inaccuracy, on the other hand, would still be a serious problem.)
POSTSCRIPT: In a related item, Helen Thomas — known as the dean of the White House press corps — tells an interviewer that journalists must be liberal; an objective journalist is either unthinking or uncaring. And there’s also this related item from December.
Russia and neighboring Central Asian nations have agreed to let supplies pass through their territory to American soldiers in Afghanistan, lessening Washington’s dependence on dangerous routes through Pakistan, a top U.S. commander said Tuesday.
Securing alternative routes to landlocked Afghanistan has taken on added urgency this year as the United States prepares to double troop numbers there to 60,000 to battle a resurgent Taliban eight years after the U.S.-led invasion. . .
U.S. and NATO forces get up to 75 percent of their “non-lethal” supplies such as food, fuel and building materials from shipments that traverse Pakistan, a volatile, nuclear-armed country. . .
U.S. Central Command chief Gen. David Petraeus said America had struck deals with Russia and several Central Asian states close to or bordering Afghanistan during a tour of the region in the past week. . .
Petraeus gave few details, but NATO and U.S. officials have said recently they were close to securing transit agreements with Russia and the patchwork of Central Asia states to the north of Afghanistan.
Analysts say the United States’ dependence on Pakistani supply routes means it has little leverage to push Islamabad too hard on issues of bilateral concern, such as the campaign against al-Qaida.
On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics.
Sounds great, but does he mean it? Today, the White House web site’s Katrina agenda refers to President Bush’s “broken promises” and “unconscionable ineptitude.” Sounds a little like recrimination and worn-out dogma to me.
One premise of the GM bailout, were told, is that if GM doesn’t come up with a workable plan for profitability, we would call the loan and get the money back. This always seemed like a stupid idea, if for no other reason than most of the money will already be spent by the time GM has to present the plan.
Sure enough, it’s been about a month since GM got its first $4 billion, and GM says the money is gone:
The target date for General Motors Corp. to get its second installment of government loans passed last week, but a top company executive says he expects the money to arrive in the next several days.
Fritz Henderson, GM’s president and chief operating officer, said without the second installment of $5.4 billion, the company would run out of cash long before March 31. . .
GM received $4 billion late last year and was to get $5.4 billion Jan. 16 and another $4 billion on Feb. 17, the day it is to submit its plan to show the government how it will become viable.
Henderson told the Automotive News World Congress in Detroit that the money is critically needed to pay its bills.
By March 31, GM will already have blown $9.4 billion, and the most we can do is deny them an additional $4 billion. (And let’s not kid ourselves that we’ll do even that.) Plus, there’s Chrysler on top of that.
The story also has an interesting tidbit on GM’s reorganization:
[Henderson] told the group that GM will have four core brands in the future: Cadillac, Chevrolet, Buick and GMC.
GM is reviewing the Saturn brand with its dealers, is studying Saab and Hummer for sale and will shrink Pontiac to a performance niche brand.
I’m not a car guy, so I had to look up the list of GM brands. If we can assume that brands not listed are going to be terminated (which is not entirely clear from the wording), GM will be ending the brands Daewoo, Holden, Opel, and Vauxhall, not one of which I’ve even heard of. (GM already got rid of Geo in 1997 and Oldsmobile in 2004.) It’s good that they’re getting rid of invisible brands, I suppose, but it’s hardly a major reform.
Conservatives I’ve met in D.C. so far have been near-ebullient, not downcast or bitter. Why? a) They know how unhappy they’d be now if McCain had won; b) Obama has not fulfilled their worst fears, or even second-to-worst fears; c) now they can be an honest, straight-up opposition.
I can relate to all three of those feelings. Still, “near-ebullient” would be an exaggeration. (I suppose that could be because I’m not really a conservative.)
An al Qaeda affiliate in Algeria closed a base earlier this month after an experiment with unconventional weapons went awry, a senior U.S. intelligence official said Monday.
The official, who spoke on the condition he not be named because of the sensitive nature of the issue, said he could not confirm press reports that the accident killed at least 40 al Qaeda operatives, but he said the mishap led the militant group to shut down a base in the mountains of Tizi Ouzou province in eastern Algeria.
He said authorities in the first week of January intercepted an urgent communication between the leadership of al Qaeda in the Land of the Maghreb (AQIM) and al Qaeda’s leadership in the tribal region of Pakistan on the border with Afghanistan. The communication suggested that an area sealed to prevent leakage of a biological or chemical substance had been breached, according to the official.
“We don’t know if this is biological or chemical,” the official said.
We didn’t get what we expected with President Bush. He campaigned on a platform of “compassionate conservatism” and less engagement in foreign crises. Taking office, his administration began in much the fashion we expected. He quickly passed the centerpieces of his domestic agenda, his education package and tax cuts. He also competently handled his first international crisis, when a US spy plane made an emergency landing in China and its crew was held by the Chinese government.
As we moved into the fall, Democrats had taken control of the Senate by a one vote plurality and a major budget battle was looming. I thought that President Bush had a strong hand in the battle and would probably prevail, but of course we never found out. The morning of September 11, Al Qaeda terrorists attacked our country. Shortly thereafter the anthrax attacks began.
Within days of 9/11, President Bush announced that fighting terrorism was the priority of his administration. His steady hand in the days after 9/11 settled our country and his approval rating soared over 90%.
In the evening of 9/11, Bush formulated the Bush Doctrine (one version of it anyway), declaring that “we will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them.” In his address to Congress he added that “From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime.” Later that fall, the Bush Doctrine was put into action when we overthrew the Taliban in a short, brilliant campaign of air power, special forces, and local rebels.
Alas, the Bush Doctrine was set aside early in 2002, when the Administration stated that the Bush Doctrine did not apply to Yasser Arafat. In fact, the Bush Doctrine was never clearly invoked again. When President Bush began to gather support for a campaign to overthrow Saddam Hussein, he failed to make a clear case of the broad strategic importance of removing Saddam. Instead he focused on only one element, the threat posed by weapons of mass destruction.
This was one of three major mistakes of the Bush Administration. As we know, no WMD stockpiles were found in Iraq. The failure to make a broad case for the invasion ultimately undermined support for the campaign. (In contrast, the public support of the Afghanistan campaign has never wavered.)
The second major mistake of the Bush Administration was its inadequate preparation for the aftermath of the war, and, more importantly, its slowness in adapting to deteriorating conditions in Iraq. As the war dragged on, its motivation already undermined, public support for the war faltered, and so did public support for the Administration.
To his credit, Bush did eventually adapt, not in time to save his reputation, but in time to win the war. He changed tactics, increased troop levels, and placed General Petraeus in charge. Today the campaign in Iraq is concluding as a victory for the United States, its allies, and a free Iraqi people.
Still, our mistakes in Iraq have been damaging. With so much force tied up in Iraq and faltering support for the war on terror, it has been impossible to continue the global war on sponsors of terrorism. In particular, it has been impossible to do anything about the serious threat posed by Iran.
On the other hand, President Bush has achieved something that seemed unthinkable the morning of September 12. For the past seven years, there has not been a single terrorist attack on American soil. For that, President Bush deserves our gratitude.
On the domestic side, “compassionate conservatism” has been revealed to have very little in common with conservatism. President Bush’s third major mistake was to allow government spending to balloon out of control. To be sure, Congressional Republicans share the blame, but Bush was the leader of his party and, if all else failed, he could have exercised his veto.
In retrospect, Bush should have reformed the Federal housing policies that pushed banks to make more subprime loans and to securitize those loans. But, virtually no one recognized the danger of those policies at the time. (On the left, virtually no one does even now.) Bush also failed to reform social security, but at least he tried.
Bush did hit a home run with his two Supreme Court appointments, and he made a number of solid appointments to lower courts. Almost certainly, they will be President Bush’s most lasting domestic achievement.
Hamas militiamen have rounded up hundreds of Fatah activists on suspicion of “collaboration” with Israel during Operation Cast Lead, Fatah members in the Gaza Strip told The Jerusalem Post on Monday. . .
The Fatah members and eyewitnesses said the detainees were being held in school buildings and hospitals that Hamas had turned into make-shift interrogation centers. . .
A Fatah official in Ramallah told the Post that at least 100 of his men had been killed or wounded as a result of the massive Hamas crackdown. Some had been brutally tortured, he added.
The official said that the perpetrators belonged to Hamas’s armed wing, Izaddin Kassam, and to the movement’s Internal Security Force.
According to the official, at least three of the detainees had their eyes put out by their interrogators, who accused them of providing Israel with wartime information about the location of Hamas militiamen and officials.
A number of Hamas leaders and spokesmen have claimed in the past few days that Fatah members in the Gaza Strip had been spying on their movement and passing the information to Israel.
Fox News just reported (no link yet) that a new report from the (non-partisan) Congressional Budget Office determines that the stimulus package being proposed by Democrats actually spends most of the money years from now. Only 7% of the “stimulus” spending would be in the next year. In other words, it’s just a boondoggle, not a stimulus package, even if you buy the idea that we can stimulate the economy with deficit spending.
On the Oprah Winfrey show yesterday, Joe Biden’s wife revealed that he had his choice of Vice-President or Secretary of State. It’s very interesting that he chose Vice-President. Secretary of State is an important position, in the domain to which Biden has dedicated most of his life, but instead he chose a position with nearly no responsibility. (Lucky for us!)
ASIDE: On the show, Biden reluctantly confirmed the revelation. Later, his spokeswoman ostensibly denied it, but did so in a carefully phrased way that doesn’t contradict its essence.
Why choose VP over State? Jill Biden actually cited (indirectly) the lack of duties of the job:
Mrs. Biden said she told him vice president would be better for the family. “If you’re secretary of state, you’ll be away, we’ll never see you, you know,” she said. “I’ll see you at a state dinner once in a while.”
But it’s hard to credit that explanation, since earlier the same year Biden had been running for President, which would have kept him much busier than either job.
The best explanation seems to be ambition. The Vice-Presidency has been regarded as a stepping stone to the Presidency (although it actually has rarely been successfully exploited as such except via death or resignation). Biden still imagines he can be President, and he’d rather do nothing for eight years and then be front-runner for the Democratic nomination, than manage US foreign policy for four to eight years.
The only other workable explanation I can see is that Obama promised Biden an important policy position in his administration, like Dick Cheney. If so, Biden is a fool. Sure, during a campaign there’s always talk of how the VP will help the President lead, but the VP nearly always vanishes afterward, and we’ve already seen Biden’s lack of influence during the transition period.
Gateway Pundit notes that a German court has okayed the flying of Hamas flags, which makes sense from a free-speech perspective, but at the same time:
German police officials in the cities of Duisburg and Düsseldorf, located in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, prohibited pro-Israeli supporters from displaying Israeli flags.
During an anti-Israeli demonstration organized by the radical Islamic group, Milli Görüs, which attracted 10,000 protesters last Saturday in Duisburg, two police officers stormed the apartment of a 25-year-old student and his 26-year-old girlfriend and seized Israeli flags hanging on the balcony and inside a window.
The hostile crowd pelted stones and other objects at the flags.
A video that appears on YouTube shows an angry crowd in front of the apartment house and the police forcibly seizing the Israeli flags. The confiscation of the flags was greeted by cheers from the anti-Israeli protesters. . .
When asked if the Duisburg police plan to confiscate Israeli flags from supporters who demonstrate against an anti-Israeli protest slated for this coming Saturday, Ramon van der Maat, a Duisburg police spokesman, told The Jerusalem Post that, “we have to see what is expected” at the protest, adding, “It depends on the situation and one cannot, across the board” say that Israeli flags will be permitted.
You might think that Germany would be a little more sensitive about this sort of thing.
Glenn Reynolds comments on the Supreme Court’s recent Herring decision:
According to Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the majority, “When police mistakes leading to an unlawful search are the result of isolated negligence attenuated from the search, rather than systemic error or reckless disregard of constitutional requirements, the exclusionary rule does not apply.”
You can see their reasoning. Herring’s a bad guy. Why punish the police by letting a guilty man go free when they just made a simple mistake?
Except that the rest of us enjoy no such immunity. If you’re a citizen who, say, accidentally carries a gun into a designated “gun-free” zone, the Supreme Court will not say that you can escape punishment because your action was “the result of isolated negligence.” For citizens, there’s no “I forgot” defense.
I think Reynolds is mistaken here. I’d been meaning to explain why, but before I could, Ramesh Ponnuru expressed my thoughts perfectly:
What I think this analysis misses is that letting criminals go free in these cases punishes the public, not just the police. The Supreme Court has made the judgment—a properly legislative judgment, one would think—that this cost is worth paying in order to deter police misconduct. But when that misconduct is unintentional that weighing of the balance becomes hard to sustain, and a good-faith exception to the rule makes sense.
Here’s an interesting question: if we were devising the system from scratch, could we deter police misconduct effectively without an exclusionary rule at all? If we could, that would certainly be better for society.
Well, this is the classic argument against the exclusionary rule, and it’s a pretty good one. The other classic argument against the exclusionary rule is that if you’re actually innocent — if the police search you unreasonably and don’t find anything — the rule does you no good because you’ve got nothing to exclude anyway.
But he goes on to point out that official immunity is another modern invention, and when officers cannot be prosecuted for their misconduct, they are incentivized to violate our rights, unless they cannot gain anything from doing so. Fair enough, but then we should focus on limiting official immunity, rather than extending the exclusionary rule. Randy Barnett has a suggestion how to do that.
I tried Chrome, and despite my distrust of Google, I think it’s pretty good. But what’s up with all the DNS errors?! Why can’t it do DNS lookup the same as every other application? If they’re going to do something different, shouldn’t it be better?
UPDATE (1/27): Turning off DNS pre-fetching on the “Under the Hood” options menu seems to fix the problem.
The so-called “Iranian Unit” of Hamas has been destroyed, according to Gaza sources cited Thursday by the Haaretz daily. The sources said most of the unit’s 100 members were killed in fighting in the Zeytun neighborhood of Gaza City.
The terrorists had been trained in infantry tactics, the use of anti-tank missiles and the detonation of explosives, among other skills, by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard at Hizbullah camps in Lebanon’s Beka’a Valley, as well as sites in Iran.
A federal intelligence court, in a rare public opinion, is expected to issue a major ruling validating the power of the president and Congress to wiretap international phone calls and intercept e-mail messages without a court order, even when Americans’ private communications may be involved, according to a person with knowledge of the opinion.
The court decision, made in December by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review, is expected to be disclosed as early as Thursday in an unclassified, redacted form, the person said. The review court has issued only two other rulings in its 30-year history.
The decision marks the first time since the disclosure of the National Security Agency’s warrantless eavesdropping program three years ago that an appellate court has addressed the constitutionality of the federal government’s wiretapping powers. In validating the government’s wide authority to collect foreign intelligence, it may offer legal credence to the Bush administration’s repeated assertions that the president has constitutional authority to act without specific court approval in ordering national security eavesdropping.
From the beginning, it was asinine to suggest that the NSA needed a warrant to conduct foreign surveillance. Any ambiguity that existed arose because the law was written in a time when all our enemies were nation-states, and it did not explicitly anticipate non-state enemies, such as Al Qaeda. The ambiguity has now been eliminated, making clear that overseas surveillance need not be limited to agents of nation-states, and the revised law has been ruled constitutional:
The appeals court is expected to uphold a secret ruling issued last year by the intelligence court that it oversees, known as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance, or FISA, court. In that initial opinion, the secret court found that Congress had acted within its authority in August of 2007 when it passed a hotly debated law known as the Protect America Act, which gave the executive branch broad power to eavesdrop on international communications, according to the person familiar with the ruling. . .
[The FISA court] found that the Protect America Act did not violate the Constitution because the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures, contained an exception for the collection of foreign intelligence information, according to the person familiar with the ruling.
The ruling does not resolve whether the NSA program was legal before the law was revised, and no ruling is ever likely because (as I understand it) the Protect America Act makes the question moot. Nevertheless (as even the NYT concedes), the new ruling suggests that it was legal. If foreign surveillance of non-state actors is legal with Congressional approval, it was probably legal when Congress hadn’t spoken clearly either way.
A rose by any other name … except when it comes to being a part of the Steelers Nation and having the word “raven” in your moniker. Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl has gone to great lengths to show his Steelers pride and his dislike for their rivals and upcoming playoff opponents, the Baltimore Ravens.
This morning, the Mayor changed his name from Ravenstahl to Steelerstahl, at least until after the AFC Championship match-up. . .
The Mayor changed the name on his office door, signed the official papers and has finished the name change proclamation at the City-County Building. He will keep his new name through Sunday.
The United Nations agency that administers a school in Gaza where dozens of civilians were killed by Israeli mortar fire last week has admitted to employing terrorists to work at its Palestinian schools in the past, has no system in place to keep members of Hamas or Islamic Jihad off its payroll, and provides textbooks to children that contain hate speech and other incendiary information. . .
A spokesman for UNRWA adamantly said that the agency is now free of terrorist connections. “We’re composed of social workers and teachers,” the official explained. “We take every step possible to have only civilians inside UNRWA facilities.”
But the U.N. Personal History form for UNRWA employees does not ask whether someone is a member of, or affiliated with, a terrorist organization such as Hamas or Islamic Jihad. And there is no formal screening to ensure that employees are not affiliated with terrorist entities. . .
In 2004, former UNRWA Commissioner-General Peter Hansen told the Canadian Broadcasting Company, “I am sure that there are Hamas members on the UNRWA payroll and I don’t see that as a crime.” He added, “We do not do political vetting and exclude people from one persuasion as against another.”
There have been several high-profile examples of terrorists being employed by UNRWA. Former top Islamic Jihad rocket maker Awad Al-Qiq, who was killed in an Israeli air strike last May, was the headmaster and science instructor at an UNRWA school in Rafah, Gaza. Said Siyam, Hamas’ interior minister and head of the Executive Force, was a teacher for over two decades in UNRWA schools.
Lawmakers on Capitol Hill say they are also concerned that terrorist propaganda is being taught in UNRWA schools. A notebook captured by Israeli officials at the UNRWA school in the Kalandia refugee camp several years ago glorified homicide bombers and other terrorists. Called “The Star Team,” it profiled so-called “martyrs,” Palestinians who had died either in homicide bombings or during armed struggle with Israel. On the book’s back cover was printed the UNRWA emblem, as well as a photo of a masked gunman taking aim while on one knee.
There is evidence that students educated in UNRWA schools are much more likely to become homicide bombers, said Jonathan Halevi, a former Israeli Defense Forces intelligence officer who specializes in Palestinian terrorist organizations. Halevi has spent several years building an extensive database for the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs of terrorist attacks by Hamas and other Islamic extremist groups.
Though he cautioned that estimates are tricky because the identity of an attacker is not always made public, Halevi estimated that over 60 percent of homicide bombers were educated in UNRWA schools. By comparison, roughly 25-30 percent of Palestinian students in the West Bank, the origin of almost all homicide bombers since the start of the intifada in 2000, attend UNRWA schools, according to the agency’s figures.
After the incident, the UN quickly proclaimed that their school could not have been used by terrorists. Given the ties between UNRWA schools and terrorists, as well as the fact that UNRWA schools have been used by terrorists before, it’s hard to see how they could have been so confident.
Financial markets remain frozen partly because a “large quantity of troubled, hard-to-value assets” is still on institutions’ balance sheets, Bernanke said.
There are several ways to solve this problem, he said, all involving public funds.
The government could simply buy the troubled assets, or it could give asset guarantees and agree to absorb part of the prospective losses, he said.
“Yet another approach would be to set up and capitalize so-called ‘bad banks,’ which would purchase assets from financial institutions in exchange for cash and equity in the bad bank,” Bernanke said.
Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson initially requested the $700 billion contained in the government’s Troubled Asset Relief Program to purchase toxic assets, but he changed course after he sensed that banks were in dire need of capital. Setting up the cumbersome plan to reverse-auction assets would take too long, he said.
You know, September is not so long ago that we can’t remember the last time you sold us this story. Congress dutifully passed a $700 billion bailout (plus earmarks) and the money was spent buying stock in banks and making bad loans to automakers. Now we’re supposed to buy the same story again?
This is how we lose a word. The word “emergency” became meaningless today:
President Bush on Tuesday declared the District a federal emergency area, clearing the way for the city to receive federal money to help cover the overwhelming cost of providing security for official inauguration events.
Officials said it was the first time the designation had ever been used for anything other than a national disaster, such as a hurricane or widespread flooding. . .
White House spokesman Scott Stanzel said Tuesday night that D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty had requested the declaration of the city as an emergency zone last week.
Preliminary planning for the inauguration had not taken into account the likelihood of unprecedented crowds, now expected to run as high as 1.5 million to 2 million people, Mr. Stanzel said.
POSTSCRIPT: They had not taken into account the likelihood of unprecedented crowds? Either that’s an outright lie, or they’re completely incompetent, since people have been predicting huge crowds for months. Last November, the predictions were as high as 5 million, more than twice what they’re now talking about.
“I don’t know if anybody’s ever done that,” said Dana Perino, the White House press secretary.
Indeed. One reason why nobody’s ever done that before is because a presidential inauguration is not (to be boringly technical about it) an “emergency.” It’s penciled in well in advance – in this case, so well in advance that for years Democrats have been driving around with “1-20-09” bumper stickers on the back of their Priuses. Emergency-wise, that’s the equivalent of Hurricane Dan Rather wrapped around a lamppost in his sou’wester, hanging there in eager anticipation every night for half a decade. . .
The proposition that a new federal administration is itself a federal emergency is almost too perfect an emblem of American government in the 21st century. FEMA was created in the 1970s initially to coordinate the emergency response to catastrophic events such as a nuclear attack. But there weren’t a lot of those even in the Carter years, so, as is the way with bureaucracies, FEMA just growed like Topsy. In his first year in office, Bill Clinton declared a then-record-setting 58 federal emergencies. By the end of the Nineties, Mother Nature was finding it hard to come up with a meteorological phenomenon that didn’t qualify as a federal emergency: Heavy rain in the Midwest? Call FEMA! Light snow in Vermont? FEMA! Fifty-seven under cloudy skies in California? Let those FEMA trailers roll!
Perhaps the Washington Post should factcheck before it publishes, rather than after:
A Jan. 7 Page One article incorrectly described current and former intelligence officials as believing that the CIA suffers from incompetent leadership and low morale. The sentence should have said that the officials expressed resentment about such suggestions.
Pajamas Media has a very troubling article reporting that the Army War College is failing to study militant Islam, and that at least one analyst has been sacked for warning of the omission. (Via Instapundit.)
The NYT reports on Hamas’s violations of the laws of war:
Hamas, with training from Iran and Hezbollah, has used the last two years to turn Gaza into a deadly maze of tunnels, booby traps and sophisticated roadside bombs. Weapons are hidden in mosques, schoolyards and civilian houses, and the leadership’s war room is a bunker beneath Gaza’s largest hospital, Israeli intelligence officials say.
Unwilling to take Israel’s bait and come into the open, Hamas militants are fighting in civilian clothes; even the police have been ordered to take off their uniforms. . .
A new Israeli weapon, meanwhile, is tailored to the Hamas tactic of asking civilians to stand on the roofs of buildings so Israeli pilots will not bomb. The Israelis are countering with a missile designed, paradoxically, not to explode. They aim the missiles at empty areas of the roofs to frighten residents into leaving the buildings, a tactic called “a knock on the roof.” . . .
Israeli officials say that they are obeying the rules of war and trying hard not to hurt noncombatants but that Hamas is using civilians as human shields in the expectation that Israel will try to avoid killing them.
Israeli press officers call the tactics of Hamas cynical, illegal and inhumane; even Israel’s critics agree that Hamas’s regular use of rockets to fire at civilians in Israel, and its use of civilians as shields in Gaza, are also violations of the rules of war. Israeli military men and analysts say that its urban guerrilla tactics, including the widespread use of civilian structures and tunnels, are deliberate and come from the Iranian Army’s tactical training and the lessons of the 2006 war between Israel and Iranian-backed Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Hamas rocket and weapons caches, including rocket launchers, have been discovered in and under mosques, schools and civilian homes, the army says. The Israeli intelligence chief, Yuval Diskin, in a report to the Israeli cabinet, said that the Gaza-based leadership of Hamas was in underground housing beneath the No. 2 building of Shifa Hospital, the largest in Gaza. That allegation cannot be confirmed.
Bad enough, but John Hinderaker argues that this actually underestimates Hamas’s evil:
It is commonly said that by storing weapons in mosques and firing rockets and mortars from residential areas and school yards, Hamas is using human shields in Gaza, a war crime. But the truth is really worse than that. Hamas doesn’t endanger civilians in hopes that it will deter retaliation; it does so in the hope and expectation that civilians will be killed and wounded.
This tactic is part of a larger strategy to create tragedy and disaster, which the Palestinians have developed into something akin to an industrial process. They build tunnels, but they do not build bomb shelters. They do not, apparently, suspend classes in schools in the midst of bombardments. And Hamas, with the tolerance if not approval of most Gazans, uses schoolyards as launching zones for rockets and mortars. Think about it: is there anything about a schoolyard that makes it a particularly desirable place from which to fire ordnance? No. Hamas uses schools (and mosques, and residential areas generally) in this way in the hope that civilians, especially children, will be killed.
Part of CNN’s defense of its fake video of a child supposedly killed by an Israeli missile was that a director at Shifa Hospital (where the child supposedly died) vouched for the incident. At the time, I doubted the credibility of this doctor, and it seems I was right. Israeli intelligence says that Hamas’s leadership is now housed in a bunker beneath Shifa Hospital. (Via Power Line.) If true, and I’m inclined to believe it, it is very unlikely that the hospital’s director is independent of Hamas (even if he wanted to be).
A U.S. civil liberties group sued the federal government Monday, charging it violated the Constitution by contracting a Roman Catholic entity to help victims of human trafficking.
The American Civil Liberties Union said the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops was imposing its beliefs on victims of human trafficking by not allowing federal grant money to be used for contraception or abortion.
When the bishops applied for the contracts, they said they would not work with subcontractors who provided abortion services or contraceptives, such as condoms, which conflict with Catholic teachings, according to the ACLU. . .
The suit asks the court to stop the department from allowing its grants being spent in a way that is restricted by religious beliefs.
I see two ways to read the ACLU’s position: The first is that not only is abortion constitutionally protected, but it is actually unconstitutional for an organization to withhold funding for abortions. That would be amazingly radical, but the other is even more so. The second reading is that it might be okay to withhold funding for abortion, provided you can provide a secular basis for doing so, but you cannot do so for religious reasons. In essence, if you do business with the government, you cannot permit your religion to affect ethical decisions. Alas, the most natural reading of the suit is the second.
Were the ACLU to prevail, it would create a bizarre situation wherein Catholics would be prohibited from doing the exact same thing as non-Catholics, simply because they are Catholic. How a supposed civil rights organization could support such a clear violation of freedom of religion is beyond me.
Oh, it also gives a window into the ACLU’s priorities. Stopping human trafficking is less important than keeping Catholics out of the public square.
UPDATE: Changed the post title, which may have been unduly harsh.
A national safety group is advocating a total ban on cell phone use while driving, saying the practice is clearly dangerous and leads to fatalities.
States should ban drivers from using hand-held and hands-free cell phones, and businesses should prohibit employees from using cell phones while driving on the job, the congressionally chartered National Safety Council says, taking those positions for the first time.
The group’s president and chief executive, Janet Froetscher, likened talking on cell phones to drunken driving, saying cell phone use increases the risk of a crash fourfold.
“When our friends have been drinking, we take the car keys away. It’s time to take the cell phone away,” Froetscher said in interview.
I want to hear these people explain why cell phone conversations are more dangerous than other conversations in the car. (Or children; you don’t know distraction until you’ve driven children.) Until then, I can’t take them seriously. It’s particularly hard to take them seriously when they compare talking with drunk driving. For years we’ve been told that drunk drivers are basically the moral equivalent of axe murderers, and now they say that drunk driving is really no different than carrying on a conversation?
Remember how the second half of the $700 billion bailout required Congressional approval to release? It turns out, that was a total lie:
Senior Bush administration officials, consulting with the Obama transition team, have prepared a plan to ask lawmakers for the second half of the $700 billion financial rescue package despite intense opposition in Congress, sources familiar with the discussions said.
The initiative could create an unusual political scenario straddling the Bush and Obama administrations. If Congress were to vote down the measure, either President Bush or Obama would have to exercise a veto to get the money.
Obama officials would prefer that Bush exercise any veto rather than leave the new president with the unsavory task of rebuffing his fellow Democrats in Congress to advance a widely unpopular program, sources said. The White House has declined to say publicly whether Bush would be willing to issue the veto.
Last August, I noted Megan McArdle’s battle with the Pennsylvania bureaucracy (they wanted to suspend her driver’s license for underage drinking, despite the fact that she is 35 years old and lives in D.C.). Sadly, her battle with the bureaucracy was only beginning. (Via Instapundit.) By all means, let’s put these clowns in charge of health care and the Internet. . .
Ages ago, I read a very positive review by John Podhoretz of the German film The Lives of Others, and added it to my Netflix queue. This week I finally watched it, and I thought it was outstanding.
The Lives of Others is set in East Germany in 1984. Its theme is the evil of communism, but unlike some other films, it is not about the large-scale atrocities of communism such as the purges of Stalin, Mao, or Pol Pot. Rather, it is about the everyday oppression that characterized life under the party’s boot.
The film tells the story of two men, Georg Dreyman, a successful playwright, and Hauptmann Wiesler, a Stasi agent. Wiesler, an instructor at the Stasi school for interrogation, is assigned to monitor Dreyman. Wiesler’s team installs bugs in Dreyman’s home and monitors them night-and-day. Wiesler, however, becomes disillusioned when he learns that the reason he is monitoring Dreyman is not to protect the socialist state, but because the minister of culture is infatuated with Dreyman’s girlfriend and wishes to remove him as a rival. Wiesler decides to try to help Dreyman by filing false surveillance reports and by interfering in his life in subtle ways (such as making him aware of the minister’s designs on his girlfriend). Unfortunately, the minister does not give up easily.
The Lives of Others is not my usual sort of fare (it has no action whatsoever), but I highly recommend it.
Two days ago, a UN convoy came under fire, killing two UN workers. The UN immediately accused Israel of firing on the convoy. In contrast, the IDF likes to get its ducks in a row before responding to this sort of accusation. Having completed their investigation, they now say they aren’t responsible. The Jerusalem Post has reported further on how flimsy the accusation was:
On Friday, the Post reported that contrary to foreign press reports, it was not certain that an IDF tank shell hit the aid truck, and that in all probability, the aid workers were hit by Hamas gunfire.
The foreign press reports were based on UN sources, who later admitted to the Post that they were not sure in which direction the truck was headed when it was hit, and could also not say with certainty that tank shells were responsible.
Foreign press reports said the dead Palestinian and two others were hit by tank shells. A MDA medic at the scene told the Post that soldiers in the field said Hamas snipers targeted the aid workers. A Post probe revealed that the two wounded Palestinians were being treated at Barzilai for gunshot wounds.
Having milked its immediate accusation for two days of anti-Israel propaganda, the UN now says it wants to investigate:
[UNRWA spokesman Chris] Gunness added that the UN was keen to “clear the fog of war” and get to the bottom of the incident.
More interesting facts have come out regarding CNN’s fake video from Gaza. LGF has published evidence that Mashharawi (the videographer) and Mads Gilbert (the communist, pro-terrorist Norwegian doctor who supposedly tended to his Mashharawi’s dying brother) already knew each other. Both were involved in a Tromsoe-Gaza friendship society (Tromsoe being Gilbert’s home town). Since the organization could not have been a very large one, it seems certain they had met long before the supposed incident.
Also, in CNN’s bizarre defense of their piece, they rebutted the allegation that Mashharawi is involved with Hamas web sites:
Martin said accusations that Mashharawi owns a company that hosts Hamas Web sites were falsely based on Mashharawi having worked at a company that created the PS suffix to allow anyone of any political persuasion to create Palestinian Web sites.
In fact, LGF’s claim is that Mashharawi was the General Manager of a company that hosts Hamas web sites. That claim seems strongly supported by documents showing that Mashharawi is the General Manager of the Gazan company Nepras, and Internet records (also here) showing that Nepras hosts Hamas web sites.
But, in a newly embarrassing revelation, it turns out that Paul Martin, the man who CNN used as its character witness for Mashharawi and who CNN used (above) to rebut the preceding allegation, also has his web site registered by Nepras.
There’s not more than one degree of separation between any of these players.
POSTSCRIPT: None of these facts are necessary to identify the video as a fake. One viewing is sufficient for that. But they do indicate who CNN is in bed with in its Gaza reporting.
There’s been a steady drip of revelations about Attorney-General Nominee Eric Holder. We already know of his central involvement in the Rich pardon (and more here), his involvement in the paramilitary capture of Elian Gonzalez without a court order, and his advocation of Internet censorship. In recent days we’ve had three more revelations:
The LA Times reports that Holder overruled his Justice Department subordinates to support a pardon for Puerto Rican terrorists, and that he muzzled the Pardon Attorney when he tried to protest:
Attorney general nominee Eric H. Holder Jr. repeatedly pushed some of his subordinates at the Clinton Justice Department to drop their opposition to a controversial 1999 grant of clemency to 16 members of two violent Puerto Rican nationalist organizations, according to interviews and documents.
Details of the role played by Holder, who was deputy attorney general at the time, had not been publicly known until now. The new details are of particular interest because Republican senators have vowed to revisit Holder’s role during his confirmation hearings next week. . .
President Clinton’s decision to commute prison terms caused an uproar at the time. Holder was called before Congress to explain his role but declined to answer numerous questions from angry lawmakers demanding to know why the Justice Department had not sided with the FBI, federal prosecutors and other law enforcement officials, who were vehemently opposed to the grants. . .
Holder instructed his staff at Justice’s Office of the Pardon Attorney to effectively replace the department’s original report recommending against any commutations, which had been sent to the White House in 1996, with one that favored clemency for at least half the prisoners . . . And after Pardon Attorney Roger Adams resisted, Holder’s chief of staff instructed him to draft a neutral “options memo” instead, Adams said.
The options memo allowed Clinton to grant the commutations without appearing to go against the Justice Department’s wishes, Adams and his predecessor, Margaret Colgate Love, said in their first public comments on the case.
And third, how could the story be complete without a connection to the Blagojevich scandal? The Chicago Sun-Times reports:
Before Eric Holder was President-elect Barack Obama’s choice to be attorney general, he was Gov. Blagojevich’s pick to sort out a mess involving Illinois’ long-dormant casino license.
Blagojevich and Holder appeared together at a March 24, 2004, news conference to announce Holder’s role as “special investigator to the Illinois Gaming Board” — a post that was to pay Holder and his Washington, D.C. law firm up to $300,000.
Holder, however, omitted that event from his 47-page response to a Senate Judiciary Committee questionnaire made public this week — an oversight he plans to correct after a Chicago Sun-Times inquiry, Obama’s transition team indicated late Tuesday. . . Holder signed the questionnaire on Sunday — five days after Blagojevich’s arrest for allegedly putting Obama’s U.S. Senate seat up for sale.
The March 2004 Chicago news conference where Holder and Blagojevich spoke was widely covered because of a controversial 4-1 Gaming Board vote earlier that month to allow a casino to be built in Rosemont. That vote defied the recommendation of the board’s staff, which had raised concerns about alleged organized-crime links to the Rosemont casino’s developer.
Holder was given a lucrative appointment, by Blagojevich, as the “special investigator to the Illinois Gaming Board” to investigate a controversial decision raising concerns about links to organized crime. Now, he says he forgot the whole thing, despite the fact that Blagojevich’s scandal had been the top story for nearly a week when he completed the Senate questionnaire. Worse, he never remembered the matter until the Sun-Times uncovered it.
The Holder nomination is tainted from nearly every direction now: political pardons, corruption, infringement of civil liberties. It will be very interesting to see what Senate Democrats do with it, or if it even makes it to the Senate.
Two days ago I noted a fake video aired by CNN of a child supposedly killed by an Israeli “rocket”. CNN now insists that the video is genuine. (Via LGF.) They give us no good reason to believe them though.
First they offer a character witness, one Paul Martin, who says that the videographer (Ashraf Mashharawi) is an honest guy who wouldn’t lie. But we have no particular reason to believe Martin either, particularly since he is Mashharawi’s employer, and therefore has a vested interest in his credibility. Also, a director at the hospital (or at least someone CNN identifies thus) says it happened just as the story says. Whatever.
On the implausible content of the video itself, CNN offers this:
Responding to accusations that the resuscitation efforts of Mashharawi’s brother appeared inauthentic, Martin said that, based on his years of reporting from Gaza, doctors often go through such efforts even with little hope that a patient can be saved.
Oh please. I can believe that a doctor might carry out CPR on a likely hopeless patient, but if so, he’s going to carry out CPR. No doctor is going to waste his time on a CPR-ish pantomime of no medical value. He’s got other things to do with his time. (The video shows the resuscitation effort consisted of half-hearted chest compressions and no ventilation at all.)
CNN offered nothing in regard to the most damning evidence against the video, the fact that the roof where the boy was supposedly killed had quite obviously not been hit by a missile. (Cue the video to 1:13 to see for yourself.)
UPDATE: Still more questions are being raised about the video: Riehl World View points out inconsistencies in the timeline between different versions. (Via Instapundit.)
It’s hard to imagine what was going through the teacher’s head, but we don’t need to. There’s never any justification for hiding classroom conduct from parents. Beard or no beard, that alone should be a firing offense.
Burris has run into some trouble at his testimony to a Chicago House panel investigating Blagojevich. Burris, it seems, contacted Blagojevich (though an intermediary) about the Senate seat much earlier that he has previously admitted. This raises the possibility that he was involved in Blagojevich’s effort to strike a corrupt bargain for the seat, and the fact that he lied about it lends some additional weight to the possibility.
If the Senate wants to reverse its capitulation to Burris, this would give them justification to do so.
An Indian newspaper, the Hindu, has obtained a dossier of evidence relating to the Mumbai attacks and Pakistan’s involvement. Power Line posts some excerpts of phone conversations contained therein.
Having glanced through the dossier, I have to say that the evidence is utterly damning. It includes lots of equipment manufactured in Pakistan, and GPS devices that show the terrorists’ route from Pakistan to Mumbai and their intended route back. Whether the evidence shows Pakistani government involvement is not so clear, but there is some evidence to suggest it as well.
CNN has pulled the video, but at this hour they’ve left the story up. That’s simply dishonest. If you know the story is false, you take it down. (You should also issue a retraction, but never mind.) You don’t leave the story up, minus the evidence that proves it false.
CNN should know better than this. Palestinians are infamous for their staged propaganda videos, as Pallywood carefully documented:
UPDATE (1/9): CNN still has the story up. Meanwhile, David Bernstein noticed something else bogus in the video:
What hasn’t gotten attention is that the broader story told by the photographer to the CNN reporter is seemingly rather obviously false propaganda. From the video:
Reporter: “Mahmoud and his 14 year old cousin Ahmed were allowed to play on the roof…. Now they are both dead.” Mashharawi: “The Israeli plane targeted them with a small rocket just for them, just for them, and killed both of them.”
So the allegation is that not only did an Israeli plane purposely target two children playing on a roof, but did so with a special, small rocket that it apparently reserves for killing children on roofs without creating any of the obvious signs of serious damage to the building that a missile would cause.
President-elect Barack Obama, facing a more than $1 trillion budget deficit, made his strongest pitch yet Thursday for Congress to pass a nearly $800 billion spending plan, promising that it will create new jobs, offer more tax cuts, and improve infrastructure and alternative energy development. . .
Obama delivered his speech a day after budget forecasters said the federal budget deficit would reach a record $1.2 trillion in fiscal 2009. That estimate does not factor in the stimulus package Obama and Democrats are promoting on Capitol Hill. But Obama says deficit spending is needed to jolt the economy out of recession.
But not to worry:
He tried to assuage skeptics who say such a massive stimulus is irresponsible, particularly on the heels of the auto industry and Wall Street rescue packages.
“I know the scale of this plan is unprecedented, but so is the severity of our situation,” Obama said. He pledged not to “throw money” at the country’s problems or send it to wasteful pet projects and earmarks.
We’re not going to throw money at our problems? Thanks for clarifying that.
A Rasmussen poll conducted in the last week of 2008 found that while 62 percent of Republicans backed Israel’s action in Gaza, only 31 percent of Democrats did. Almost three-quarters of Republicans blamed Hamas for starting this war; only a minority of Democrats agreed. Republicans are 20 points more friendly toward Israel than Democrats. And while extreme hostility to Israel does not exist among Republicans, almost one in 10 Democrats describes Israel as an “enemy of the United States.” . . .
Democratic revulsion at Israel’s Gaza operation has multiple roots.
First, Democrats are just generally less likely to support military actions by any nation, including the United States. A 2005 MIT poll found that only 57 percent of Democrats would support the use of American troops even to destroy a terrorist training camp. (Compared to 95 percent of Republicans.)
Second, Democrats hold an inexhaustible faith in the value of negotiation. Untroubled by Hamas’ character as a terrorist movement pledged to the total destruction of Israel and the murder of its population, 55 percent of Democrats believe that Israel should have tried to find a diplomatic solution to the Hamas rocket barrage.
Third, the more closely Americans follow the news, the more likely they are to support Israel. Yet more low-information voters are Democrats than Republicans.
Fourth, Democratic attitudes are poisoned by the influence of an anti-Zionist hard left, a vociferous faction whose ideology can bleed into outright anti-Semitism. . .
Obama comes to office with the most opaque record on Israel of any new president since Gerald Ford. Certainly Israelis themselves feel intense doubts about the incoming president: a pre-election opinion poll by the Rabin Center showed that Israelis preferred John McCain by a 12-point margin.
We should all hope that President Obama can overcome the institutional flaws in his party—and the gaps in his own record—in order to sustain the U.S.-Israel friendship through the very great dangers ahead.
Even by the standards of battered automakers, Chrysler is in dire shape. Its sales in December were down a stunning 53 percent, far worse than Ford or General Motors, and analysts say it probably won’t survive the year as an independent company — despite $4 billion in government loans and the possibility of more.
Things were so bad last year that a single Toyota model, the Camry/Solara midsize car, outsold the entire fleet of Chrysler LLC’s passenger cars.
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