NPR: What Surge?

January 7, 2009

NPR’s All Things Considered had a piece this afternoon about the Bush legacy. You could tell the tone they were going to take (if you couldn’t guess already) with the opening:

Once in office, he proceeded as though he had won a mandate. With narrow Republican majorities in Congress, he immediately won approval for education reforms known as No Child Left Behind and for a series of huge tax cuts.

When the press approves of a politician, this is called “fulfilling campaign promises.”

Much of the piece, naturally, was devoted to the war in Iraq and Bush’s missteps therein. But curiously, Iraq vanished from the piece after April 2006. One might think that an important part of President Bush’s legacy was his decision in 2007 to change strategy and increase troop levels, and our subsequent victory over the insurgency. But in NPR’s view, the only significant event in Iraq in the last two years was when some guy threw his shoes at the President.

NPR concludes by pondering the question of whether history will be kinder to President Bush than his contemporary critics. I think history will be unkind to Bush. Big-government conservatism has been a disaster, the evisceration of the Bush Doctrine (the early version that equated terrorists with the regimes that harbor them) was an epic mistake, and his missteps in Iraq have been serious. But, history will not ignore the year in which we reversed course and defeated the enemy. In that, history can hardly help but be kinder than his contemporary critics, or at least the ones at NPR.


The rise of chilies

January 7, 2009

The Economist has a very entertaining article about the growing global popularity of chilies. I thought this fact was particularly interesting:

From this point of view, the most interesting trend is not in ever-higher doses of capsaicin [the active ingredient in hot chilies] for the maniac market, but in the presence of chili in a range of foodstuffs that previous generations would have regarded as preposterous candidates for hotting up. Chili-flavoured chocolate, for example, has gone from being a novelty item to a popular mainstream product. Mr Waters sells “hot apple chili jelly” as a condiment for meat, and chili-infused olive oil.

The reason may be that capsaicin excites the trigeminal nerve, increasing the body’s receptiveness to the flavour of other foods. That is not just good news for gourmets. It is a useful feature in poor countries where the diet might otherwise be unbearably bland and stodgy. In a study in 1992 by the CSIRO’s Sensory Research Centre, scientists looked at the effect of capsaicin on the response to solutions containing either sugar or salt. The sample was 35 people who all ate spicy food regularly but not exclusively. Even a small quantity of capsaicin increased the perceived intensity of the solutions ingested.

In school, I was taught that spicy food was invented as a form of food preservation: spices would drown out the taste of rotten food, or so the story went.  Apparently, the truth is just the opposite; capsaicin actually increases the flavor of other foods.


St. Louis to public: you’re on your own

January 7, 2009

I’m reading this a month late, but it still bears notice:

A St. Louis city leader frustrated with the police response to rising crime called Tuesday on residents to arm themselves to protect their lives and property.

Alderman Charles Quincy Troupe said police are ineffective, outnumbered or don’t care about the increase in crime in his north St. Louis ward. St. Louis has had 157 homicides in 2008, 33 more than last year at this time. . .

Troupe said that when he and residents approached a district police commander last year, they were told “there was nothing he could do to protect us and the community … that he didn’t have the manpower.”

Police did not immediately return requests for comment. Chief Dan Isom told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch he understands Troupe’s frustration but doesn’t support citizens arming themselves.

Carrying guns, he said, is not a “recipe for a less violent community.”


Senate plans to seat Burris

January 7, 2009

Senate Democrats are realizing that they have no choice but to seat Roland Burris, despite his tainted appointment.  (Via Instapundit.)  Experts have been saying so for some time.

Illinois Democrats could have resolved the problem by providing for a special election, but scuttled the idea at the urging of Democratic Leader Harry Reid and others.  The integrity of the system must be put in its proper place, you see.  Integrity is important, but not so important as to risk losing a Democratic seat.


Obama: trillion-dollar deficits for years to come

January 7, 2009

Argh:

Obama said Tuesday the deficit appears on track to hit $1 trillion soon. Speaking to reporters after meeting with top economic aides, Obama said: “Potentially we’ve got trillion-dollar deficits for years to come, even with the economic recovery that we are working on.”

He wants Congress to approve a stimulus plan of about $775 billion.

The federal deficit was about $455 billion when the last fiscal year ended on Sept. 30, 2008.

(Via Instapundit.)

So Obama plans to double the deficit his first year in office, and leave it there for years to come. We’ve tried all four combinations in recent years, and it seems the only way to get fiscal sanity is with a Democratic President and a Republican Congress. Well, let’s get right on that.

POSTSCRIPT: I may not have actually written it here, so let me write it now. The stimulus plan will not work. Why? Because Keynesianism is just plain wrong today. Keynesianism applies in the extremely rare circumstance that there should be deflation, but wages fail to fall. Arguably, this applied during the Great Depression, which is what Keynes was trying to explain. It does not apply today, nor will it ever apply with a remotely competent central bank. Obama’s stimulus package will not stimulate anything; it’s just a trillion-dollar boondoggle. But, the economy will probably recover anyway, and the stimulus will probably be given the credit.

UPDATE: The trillion dollar deficit only lasted two days.  Now it’s $2 trillion.


David Petraeus: incompetent liar or genius?

January 6, 2009

Harry Reid finally changes his mind.  (Via Instapundit.)  With the war won in spite of him, it’s a little late now.


When politics rears its ugly head

January 6, 2009

Jay Nordlinger has a long piece up on the increasing intrusion of political commentary into what ought to be pleasant, apolitical social or cultural occasions.  (Via Instapundit.)  It resonates a lot with my own personal experience, but I think he misses one point.  Nordlinger suggests that the ranters are assuming that everyone in the group is a leftist like them, or are at worst indifferent to the feelings of any non-leftists.  In my experience it’s worse than that; the ranters do so with the deliberate intent to make those who disagree uncomfortable.

Does this happen from the right as well?  I can’t say, as I’ve never flown in circles where conservatives and libertarians are a sufficient majority for it to happen.


In their own words

January 6, 2009

Article 13 of the Hamas “covenant”:

Initiatives, and so-called peaceful solutions and international conferences, are in contradiction to the principles of the Islamic Resistance Movement.

And:

There is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad. Initiatives, proposals and international conferences are all a waste of time and vain endeavors. The Palestinian people know better than to consent to having their future, rights and fate toyed with.

How much effort, and how many human lives, have been wasted trying to make peace with these people?


Why not bail out everyone?

January 6, 2009

A few weeks ago, the Economist had a story on universities that tried to employ the “Yale model” for investing their endowments without actually knowing what they were doing:

The model may also have been adopted by endowments that were too small for it. “You need to be very big and very diversified, and to be sophisticated enough to understand the risk management of complex investments,” says Anthony Knerr, who advises universities on funding strategies. Some of the hardest hit may be smaller endowments that adopted a “Yale-lite” strategy that they did not really understand. They may also have been unable to invest in the best hedge funds and private-equity firms, which have (until now) been able to pick and choose between investors.

But this is 2009; no one should have to suffer the consequences of one’s own bad judgement any more.  So the latest institution to look for a Federal bailout is the University of Virginia.

(Via Instapundit.)


How to steal a seat

January 6, 2009

Once the shenanigans begin, you know you’ve seen this movie before. Somehow, some way, the Minnesota Democrats are going to end up with the seat. The similarity to Washington 2004 is striking. “Found” ballots, improperly handled absentee ballots, and — of course — lots of Democratic precincts with more ballots than voters. Plus, Minnesota has invented a new trick, “missing” ballots that no one can produce at all, and are nevertheless counted. The Wall Street Journal goes though the latest embarrassment to our democratic system.

In Washington State, the state Supreme Court ruled, essentially, that it is impossible to overturn a corrupt election. Specifically, it ruled that it could not overturn the results of an election unless the plaintiff could produce specific individuals who had voted illegally. The mere fact that the election was clearly fraudulent (since many Democratic precincts had more ballots than voters) was not enough.

Plus, it’s worth remembering that Minnesota makes no effort to prevent illegal voting. ACORN submitted countless fraudulent voter registrations, and we are to believe that none of those, not even a few hundred, turned into fraudulent votes?

UPDATE: Power Line says the comparison to Washington 2004 is unfair.


77% of Americans blame media for worsening economic crisis

January 5, 2009

Sometimes the American people surprise me with their perceptiveness.  (Via Instapundit.)

Certainly the media has been trumpeting doom and gloom for ages; well before it had any justification for doing so.  The more interesting question is when they’ll stop.  The economy can’t get good until President Obama’s policies have been in effect long enough to be given credit, so probably late-2010.  They don’t want to wait too long after that, unless they want to try for an FDR 1936 scenario (“re-elect me, because the economy is still terrible”), which is probably too risky.


Don’t take legal advice from the AP

January 5, 2009

Todd Zywicki wants to set the record straight about an inaccurate AP story on mortgage walkaways.


Are Iran’s mullahs in trouble?

January 5, 2009

Michael Ledeen says so:

For some time now, the regime in Tehran has shown signs of urgency, sometimes verging on panic. Of late, the mullahs have organized raucus demonstrations in front of numerous embassies, including those of Egypt (with chants of “Death to Mubarak”), Jordan, Turkey, Great Britain, Germany and today (imagine!) France. These demonstrations were not mere gestures; the regime’s seriousness was underlined on Sunday, the 4th, when it offered a million-dollar reward to anyone who killed Mubarak (the Iranians called it a “revolutionary execution”). Significantly, the announcement came at a rally of the Basij, the most radical security force in the country, at which the Revolutionary Guards official Forooz Rejaii spoke. The Egyptians take it seriously; they have been on alert of late, looking for the possibility of a Mumbai-type operation in Cairo or elsewhere.

At the same time, the regime intensified its murderous assault against its own people, most notably hanging nine people on Christmas Eve, and assaulting the headquarters of Nobel Prize Winner Shirin Ebadi.

This intense tempo of activity bespeaks alarm in Tehran, which is fully justified by a number of setbacks. First of all, the dramatic drop in oil prices is devastating to the mullahs, who had planned to be able to fund terrorist proxies throughout the Middle East, Europe and the Americas. Suddenly their bottom line is tinged with red, and this carries over onto their domestic balance sheets, which were already demonstrably shaky (they were forced to cancel proposed new taxes when the merchant class staged nation-wide protests). No wonder they seize on any international event to call for petroleum export reductions. Just today they called for a drastic reduction of oil shipments to all countries that supported the Israeli military incursion into Gaza.

Second, their terror strategy has not been working as well as they wished and expected. Most American and European analysts have not appreciated the effect of the defeat of al Qaeda, Hezbollah and the Revolutionary Guards in Iraq, but you can be sure that the high and mighty in Arab capitals have taken full notice. . .

Third, despite all their efforts to crush any sign of internal rebellion, many Iranians continue to publicly oppose the mullahs. A few weeks ago, students at universities all over the country demonstrated in significant numbers, and as one Iranian now living in Europe put it to me, “they were surprised that the regime was unable to stop the protests, even though everyone knew they were planned.” This is the background for the new wave of repression, accompanied by an intensification of jamming on the Internet, and an ongoing reshuffle of the instruments of repression; Khamanei and Ahmadinejad have no confidence in the efficacy or blind loyalty of the army or of large segments of the Revolutionary Guards. Most public actions are carried out by the Basij, who are judged more reliable, and repression is less in the hands of the traditional ministries than in new groups freshly minted in the Supreme Leader’s office. . .

I have long argued that the Iranian regime is fundamentally hollow, that much of its apparent strength is bluster and deception rather than real power and resolve.  At a minimum, it is a regime that must constantly fear for its own survival, not because of any willful resolve from its external enemies but because of the simmering hatred from its own people.  This is a moment when those people are, as so often in the recent past, looking for at least a few supportive actions.  If the West is now convinced that Iran is the proximate cause and chief sponsor of Hamas’ assault against Israel, it should demonstrate once and for all that we are prepared to fight back.

(Via Instapundit.)

Ledeen has been arguing for those supportive actions for a long time.  In his 2002 book, he argued that the Iranian regime could be overthrown without military action, principally by diplomatic efforts to strengthen its internal enemies.  Unfortunately, President Bush failed to do anything about Iran, leaving the problem to President Obama.

Is there any reason to believe that Obama is up to the task?  His promise to meet unconditionally with Ahmedinejad is cause for pessimism, but it’s clear Obama knows that pledge was a mistake.  Typically, he was unable to admit his mistake, but he did backpedal in every possible way, so we can view the pledge as withdrawn.

Moreover, the idea of overthrowing Iran without military action would have to be attractive to Obama, who needs to show that he is serious about national security but nothing at all like President Bush.  His National Security Advisor, Jim Jones, is well-regarded in the right circles and should give him good advice.

At least, that’s what I’m telling myself.


Richardson withdraws

January 4, 2009

It looks like the probe into New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson’s business dealings must be going somewhere after all:

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson has withdrawn his name from consideration as commerce secretary for President-elect Barack Obama, citing an ongoing investigation about business dealings in his state. . .

The decision is the first serious political hit for one of Obama’s Cabinet nominees and comes just as confirmation hearings begin next week.

Richardson said he would remain governor of New Mexico “for now.”

(Via Instapundit.)

During the Democratic primary last year, I thought it was very strange that Richardson didn’t do better, since he was manifestly more qualified than everyone else who sought the nomination (and particularly the three the race settled down to). I figured there must have been a problem with Richardson that wasn’t known to the public. It looks like there was.


The Chicago Way

January 3, 2009

Is the Office of the Governor of Illinois a corrupt enterprise for RICO purposes?  (Via Instapundit.)


LA Times year-in-review

January 3, 2009

Patterico catalogs a year’s worth of errors and lies by the LA Times.  It’s an amazing list.  What’s even more amazing is he does it every year.

(Via the Corner.)


More Hamas war crimes

January 3, 2009

On the IDF YouTube channel: another weapons cache in a mosque, and firing mortars from an elementary school.  I’m glad YouTube has decided to leave these up now.


Prospects dim for card-check

January 2, 2009

Democrats and liberal Republicans are backing away from card-check:

It hasn’t been much noticed, but the political ground is already shifting under Big Labor’s card-check initiative. The unions poured unprecedented money and manpower into getting Democrats elected; their payoff was supposed to be a bill that would allow them to intimidate more workers into joining unions. The conventional wisdom was that Barack Obama and an unfettered Democratic majority would write that check, lickety-split.

Instead, union leaders now say they are being told card check won’t happen soon. It seems the Obama team plans to devote its opening months to important issues, like the economy, and has no intention of jumping straight into the mother of all labor brawls. It also seems Majority Leader Harry Reid, even with his new numbers, might not have what it takes to overcome a filibuster. It’s a case study in how quickly a political landscape can change, and how frequently the conventional wisdom is wrong.

Paradoxically, it’s Mr. Reid’s bigger majority that is now hurting him. In 2007, he got every Democrat (save South Dakota’s Tim Johnson, who was out sick) to vote for cloture. But it was an easy vote. Democrats like Mr. Pryor knew the GOP held the filibuster, and that Mr. Bush stood ready with a veto. Now that Mr. Reid has 58 seats, red-state Democrats in particular are worried they might actually have to pass this turkey, infuriating voters and businesses back home.

(Via Instapundit.)


Burris sought death for innocent man

January 2, 2009

Another reason to oppose the Burris Senate appointment (other than the whole Blagojevich corruption mess); ProPublica reports that he sought the death penalty for a man known to be innocent:

Public fury over the governor’s alleged misconduct has masked the once lively debate over Burris’ decision to continue to prosecute – despite the objections of one of his top prosecutors – the wrong man for a high-profile murder case.

While state attorney general in 1992, Burris aggressively sought the death penalty for Rolando Cruz, who twice was convicted of raping and murdering a 10-year-old girl in the Chicago suburb of Naperville. The crime took place in 1983.

But by 1992, another man had confessed to the crime, and Burris’ own deputy attorney general was pleading with Burris to drop the case, then on appeal before the Illinois Supreme Court.

Burris refused. He was running for governor. . .

Once Burris assigned [Deputy Attorney General Mary Brigid] Kenney to the case in 1991, she became convinced that Cruz was innocent, a victim of what she believed was prosecutorial misconduct. She sent Burris a memo reporting that the jury convicted Cruz without knowing that Brian Dugan, a repeat sex offender and murderer, had confessed to the crime. Burris never met with Kenney to discuss a new trial for Cruz, Kenney told ProPublica.

This sounds pretty bad, if true.  In the end, the Illinois Supreme Court gave Cruz a new trial, at which he was acquitted.

(Via Politico, via Instapundit.)


Bailout pledges exceed authorization

January 1, 2009

Not only has the Treasury Department decided it can spend TARP money on whatever it wants, it has apparently also decided it can spend as much as it wants:

The Treasury Department has committed nearly $10 billion more than the $350 billion Congress has authorized to date for the financial-sector rescue package, which could constrain how the incoming Obama administration deploys the rest of the fund.

Treasury’s announcement Monday that it is directing $6 billion to auto-finance company GMAC LLC brought to $358.4 billion the total funds from the Troubled Asset Relief Program that have been pledged to a variety of programs and guarantees. That suggests Treasury is tapping into the second half of the $700 billion set aside in October before it has been released by Congress.

Why let a little thing like legal authorization stand in the way of a good bailout?

(Via ProPublica.)


Cuba marks 50 years of oppression

January 1, 2009

Over the past four years, 131 thousand Cubans fled the workers paradise for America, not counting those turned back or lost at sea.  (Via the Corner.)


IDF destroys mosque weapons cache

January 1, 2009

A new video out from the IDF proves (if there were any doubt) that Hamas is storing weapons in mosques.


Guns and freedom

January 1, 2009

A new paper shows that gun ownership correlates with various measures of freedom and prosperity.  It strikes me as not too surprising that gun rights would correlate with other freedoms.


Russia loses its swagger

January 1, 2009

Blowing their wad on a war of aggression looks like a blunder now:

There are many oft-quoted indicators of Russia’s suffering economy — the nation’s international reserves have fallen by more than 25 percent since August; the major stock indices recently plummeted by 70 percent; and the ruble has been sliding — it’s now selling at exchange houses for about 30 to the dollar, compared with 23.5 five months ago.

Beyond those figures and the analysis of financial experts, however, on the streets of Moscow — a city that has known much tumult during the past century — there is for many Russians a deep sense of fear, a feeling of being underneath a gathering, dark wave of hard economic times.

Only last spring, downtown Moscow was a place where Russia’s nouveau riche walked out the door of boutiques with fists full of bags from Hermes, Cartier and Gucci. . .

That was before the war with Georgia in August, which kicked off an exodus of foreign capital; the global financial crunch, which dried up lines of credit used by heavily leveraged Russian businessmen; and, finally, the crash of oil prices that had underwritten much of the boom.

(Via Instapundit.)


Green Zone handed over to Iraq

January 1, 2009

Iraq ushers in the New Year with another milestone.