Pleasant Grove v. Summum

February 28, 2009

The Supreme Court ruled unanimously this week that a government, when it accepts a donated monument for a public park, has not in so doing turned that park into a public forum on which anyone can place a monument.  The opinion is here (pdf).  I particularly liked this bit:

Respondent contends that [the issue of unwieldy proliferation of monuments] “can be dealt with through content-neutral time, place and manner restrictions, including the option of a ban on all unattended displays.” . . . On this view, when France presented the Statue of Liberty to the United States in 1884, this country had the option of either (a) declining France’s offer or (b) accepting the gift, but providing a comparable location in the harbor of New York for other statues of a similar size and nature (e.g., a Statue of Autocracy, if one had been offered by, say, the German Empire or Imperial Russia).

The monument in question would have declared the “seven aphorisms” of an obscure cult.  Given that religion was involved, it’s inevitable that people would look carefully at what the decision means in the ongoing legal battles over the Ten Commandments and Christmas trees and so forth.  Both those in favor of religion displays and those opposed to them claim to be happy with the result.

Both sides must be peering deeply into the tea leaves, because I don’t see anything in the decision that would give comfort to either side. The majority opinion hinged entirely on the idea of government speech; neither Freedom of Religion nor the Establishment clause arose in it.  If we look to the concurrences, we can find one (by Scalia and Thomas) that speaks positively about the legality of religious displays; one (by Souter) that is negative; and one (by Stevens and Ginsberg) that is deliberately vague, but seems negative.  The remaining four justices do not commit themselves.  (Breyer adds another concurring opinion whose significance I am unable to discern.) So Pleasant Grove seems only to narrow the range of possibility to somewhere between 7-2 and 3-6.

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Just dial the operator!

February 28, 2009

Joe Biden is not the one who invented the Internet:

During an interview on CBS’ “Early Show” on Wednesday, Biden told viewers to check out a government-run Web site tracking stimulus spending, but admitted he was embarrassed because he couldn’t remember the site’s “number.”

“You know, I’m embarrassed. Do you know the Web site number?” he asked an aide standing out of view. “I should have it in front of me and I don’t. I’m actually embarrassed.”

Biden, who seemed to indicate that he thought the Internet worked like a giant telephone, sounded an unusually Luddite note inside an administration often heralded for its mastery of the Web.

No doubt someone will try to explain that he was referring to the IP address. . .


Obama prefers imaginary green energy

February 28, 2009

President Obama, on Inauguration Day:

We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together.

We will restore science to its rightful place.

Now:

President Barack Obama is taking the first step toward blocking a nuclear waste dump at Nevada’s Yucca Mountain by slashing money for the program in his first budget, according to congressional sources.

(Via the Corner.)

Nuclear power is safe, clean, cost-effective, and (not to put too fine a point on it) actually exists.  If the President were serious about green energy, he would be supporting nuclear power.  Instead we’re getting a cynical political payoff to blatant NIMBYism.

The good news is that Yucca is a long-term project.  It’s not due to open until 2017 as it is, so there’s time for a responsible administration to reverse this decision.


Taxpayers are chumps

February 28, 2009

(UPDATE APPENDED.) It never ends.  The latest White House tax problem is with the White House Counsel, Gregory Craig.  Ironically, Craig is the one who was put in charge of vetting nominees after the last round of tax cheats were revealed.  (Via Instapundit.)

We’re starting to need a scorecard now:

  • Geithner, Treasury Secretary (confirmed)
  • Daschle, HHS Secretary (withdrawn)
  • Killefer, “Chief Performance Officer” (withdrawn)
  • Solis, Labor Secretary (still nominated)
  • Emanuel, Chief of Staff (no confirmation required)
  • Craig, White House Counsel (no confirmation required)

UPDATE: Craig’s wife contradicts the story, and Gawker being Gawker, it’s easy to imagine they have this one wrong.  At least until someone else picks up the story, I’ll assume it’s not true.


    /AFK

    February 28, 2009

    Back.


    AFK

    February 24, 2009

    No posting for a few days.


    Cramdown on its way

    February 23, 2009

    Nancy Pelosi thinks that responsible people should subsidize deadbeats:

    The leader of the U.S. House of Representatives said on Monday lawmakers expect to begin debating legislation this week that would let judges erase some mortgage debt for borrowers who file for bankruptcy.

    U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Democratic leaders hope to bring mortgage bankruptcy legislation known as the “cramdown” bill to the House floor on Thursday.

    (Via the Corner.)

    Interest rates are lower on secured debt (such as mortgages) than unsecured debt (such as credit cards) because secured debt can be recovered by foreclosure even in bankruptcy.  Once mortgage cramdown becomes a reality, the advantage of secured debt goes away.  Consequently, mortgage rates will go up.  The net effect is people who pay their mortgages will subsidize cramdowns for those who don’t.

    The idea is even worse for existing mortgages, if that’s possible.  For existing mortgages, the effect is to depress the values of those mortgages.  The financial sector is still reeling from a financial crisis that came about because of a crash in the value of mortgages and mortgage-backed securities.  Damaging those assets further is just about the stupidest possible thing to do.

    UPDATE: Mortgage cramdowns could also hurt some of the people they are intended to help (in addition to responsible borrowers, banks, and investors).  The possibility of a cramdown gives banks an incentive to foreclose whenever it suspects a bankruptcy might be coming, even when the banks might otherwise have preferred to be lenient.  It’s a terrible idea all around.


    Taxpayers are chumps, European edition

    February 22, 2009

    The Telegraph reports:

    Members of the European Parliament are earning up to £1 million in profit in just one five-year term in office through expenses and allowances, a leaked report has revealed. . . The internal report into the system of allowances – conducted by Robert Galvin, a European Union internal audit official – was kept secret when it was carried out last year.

    But a leaked copy of the 92-page document details the full extent of “corruption, dodgy dealing and poor financial controls” in the European Parliament, according to the Taxpayers’ Alliance. It revealed that some MEPs claimed money for assistants that were neither accredited nor registered with the parliament. . .

    Mr Elliott said each MEP could save more than £1 million from their expenses and pension benefits over a five-year term at the European Parliament.

    Over five years, each MEP can claim this includes a subsistence allowance of 117,000 Euros, staff allowance of 489,840 Euros, office expenses of 243,120 Euros, travel expenses of 60,000 Euros and an accrued pension of £350,000.

    This does not include the MEP salary of £63,291, which is set to increase to £73,584 after the European Parliament elections in June 2009.

    There was also widespread failure to comply with tax, company and social security laws. Nearly 80 per cent of transactions that should have been subject to VAT displayed no evidence of either VAT payment or exemption.

    (Via Power Line.)


    Presidency a “step down” for Obama

    February 21, 2009

    So says ABC anchor Terry Moran:

    In some ways Barack Obama is the first president since George Washington to be taking a step down into the oval office.

    In a strange way, I know what he means.  Before he took office, he was a near-messianic figure who could do no wrong (in the ideas of media sympathizers like Moran).  Now he has to govern, which involves making actual choices that disappoint his followers, and involves being held to account on broken promises.  Poor guy.

    But I still don’t understand the comparison to George Washington, who turned down the chance to be king and became president instead.  At least, I hope I don’t understand it.


    More ACORN criminal activity

    February 21, 2009

    ACORN’s criminal activities are branching out from election fraud to breaking and entering.  With a Baltimore TV news crew in attendance, they “reclaimed” a foreclosed home, which is to say that they broke into the home and put a new lock on it.  That home, as it turns out, had already been resold to someone else, who will be contacting the police.

    (Via Hot Air.)

    UPDATE: Arrested.


    California video-game law overturned

    February 20, 2009

    The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals confirms that video games are speech.


    Obama: don’t waste the stimulus

    February 20, 2009

    People often talk about closing the barn door after the cows have escaped.  This is more like issuing the cows a stern admonishment to stay inside, and it will do about as much good:

    Invoking his own name-and-shame policy, President Barack Obama warned the nation’s mayors Friday that he will “call them out” if they waste the money from his massive economic stimulus plan. . .

    “If a federal agency proposes a project that will waste that money, I will not hesitate to call them out on it, and put a stop to it,” Obama said. 

    “But I want everyone here to be on notice that if a local government does the same — I will call them out on it as well, and use the full power of my office and our administration to stop it,” he said.

    The government(s) will be wasting the money, you can be sure of that. We’ll see how many times President Obama calls anyone out.  He might find a Republican governor or mayor to scapegoat, but apart from that, I’m guessing zero.


    White House proposes then rejects mileage tax

    February 20, 2009

    Fox News reports:

    President Obama’s transportation department slapped down a suggestion by its own secretary Friday that the government tax motorists based on how many miles they drive rather than how much gasoline they burn. 

    Secretary Ray LaHood floated the idea in an interview with The Associated Press. . .

    Asked about the claim, transportation department spokeswoman Lori Irving immediately shot it down. 

    “The policy of taxing motorists based on how many miles they have traveled is not and will not be Obama administration policy,” she said. . .

    A tentative plan in Massachusetts to use GPS chips in vehicles to charge motorists by the mile has drawn complaints from drivers who say it’s an Orwellian intrusion by government into the lives of citizens.

    This part is amusing, by the way:

    Among the reasons for the gap [between tax revenues and highway maintenance costs] is a switch to more fuel-efficient cars and a decrease in driving that many transportation experts believe is related to the economic downturn. Electric cars and alternative-fuel vehicles that don’t use gasoline are expected to start penetrating the market in greater numbers. 

    The idea that gas taxes encourage conservation is supposedly one of the main justifications for gas taxes.  Was it never expected to work?


    Loose lips sink ships

    February 20, 2009

    Thank you, Senator Feinstein:

    Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s blurt during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing last week forced the U.S. intelligence and military community to acknowledge on Thursday that the U.S. is targeting Al Qaeda and Taliban operatives using unmanned drones based in Pakistan.

    The senator’s slip sent reporters into overdrive and led to the discovery of a 2006 picture provided by Google Earth that appears to show Predator drones at Shamsi air base 200 miles southwest of Quetta. . .

    Feinstein’s remarks, which were characterized as “foolish” by U.S. officials, were unusual for the experienced chairwoman of the intelligence panel.

    According to intelligence sources, Feinstein’s statement, at a hearing on the threat assessment with new Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair, appears to be the first time a member of the U.S. government has publicly acknowledged that Predator vehicles are operating from a base inside Pakistan. . .

    The Predator campaign, considered the single greatest factor in degrading Al Qaeda’s capabilities,  is credited with the killing of eight members of the terrorist group’s leadership since last summer.

    We could very well lose the base because of this.  As if we didn’t have enough problems.


    Netanyahu chosen to form government

    February 20, 2009

    AP reports.  With the endorsement of Yisrael Beiteinu and Shas, this was pretty much a forgone conclusion.  A Likud-Kadima unity government looks unlikely, but we’ll see.  Labor says it is definitely going into opposition.


    NYT-Iseman post-mortem

    February 20, 2009

    Vicki Iseman’s lawsuit against the New York Times never had much of a chance.  Given U.S. libel laws, it’s nearly impossible for a public figure to obtain a judgement against a newspaper for defamation, particularly when the defamatory material is merely implied.  This is as it should be.  We don’t want to see the press intimidated out of publishing negative stories, and the marketplace is punishing the NY Times in the appropriate way, by plunging subscription rates and ad revenues.

    So, it wasn’t very clear what Iseman expected to get from her lawsuit.  Some supposed that she wanted the chance to dig through the Times’s records during discovery, and others supposed that she wanted some sort of official concession from the Times that its story’s implication was false.  As far as I know, the closest the NY Times has come to such a concession are some mildly critical comments by its ombudsman.

    Now that the lawsuit is settled, both parties are in the victory-claiming phase.  Naturally, the Times says it is vindicated.  According to Greg Sargent, Iseman says (through her lawyer) that she was looking for an official concession, and got it:

    The Times memo [arguing that the settlement vindicates it] says in passing that a “note to readers” will run in tomorrow’s paper, and the Times says the note will merely repeat what the paper has already conceded about the story in past statements.

    But Iseman’s lawyer, W. Coleman Allen, Jr., claims that the statement is a concession by the paper — and that it’s the concession Iseman sought. He asserts that the statement goes considerably further than anything the paper has said before and that it was agreed upon by the two camps after negotiations. He sends me a copy of the statement that will run tomorrow:

    An article published on Feb. 21, 2008, about Senator John McCain and his record as an ethics reformer who was at times blind to potential conflicts of interest included references to Vicki Iseman, a Washington lobbyist. The article did not state, and The Times did not intend to conclude, that Ms. Iseman had engaged in a romantic affair with Senator McCain or an unethical relationship on behalf of her clients in breach of the public trust.

    Allen says that the line her camp had sought was this one: “The Times did not intend to conclude, that Ms. Iseman had engaged in a romantic affair with Senator McCain or an unethical relationship on behalf of her clients in breach of the public trust.” The original article didn’t state an affair or an unethical relationship outright, but it seemed to imply both; this statement seems like a straightforward statement that neither happened.

    “That was what we were particularly interested in,” Allen says. “We’re pleased that the lawsuit was able to be resolved successfully, with the complete vindication that Ms. Iseman sought in filing the lawsuit.”

    (Via Instapundit.)

    There’s no way to know what Iseman was looking for, and a lawsuit seems like a lot of effort just to obtain a retraction of an implication.  (But I suppose wealthy people make these sorts of calculations differently than I.)  Nevertheless, the question remains, has the New York Times previously conceded this?

    I certainly never heard that they did (outside the ombudsman’s column, anyway).  Now that Iseman’s attorney’s statement has attracted the attention of the blogosphere, I’m sure someone will go through the archives and find out who’s right.


    Huffington uses doctored video for Gibson smear

    February 20, 2009

    The Huffington Post uses a doctored video to smear Fox News’s John Gibson.  (Via Instapundit.) Huffington has a retraction up now, so we can take this claim as corroborated.

    POSTSCRIPT: I’m not giving this the Media Failure category.  The Huffington Post fancies itself a newspaper, but it’s really a group blog with airs.

    UPDATE: Breitbart.tv tracked down the doctored video to its source, who appears to be blameless.  (Via Hot Air.) He says he only made it for a few friends, and added clear annotations indicating it was not what Gibson actually said.  Somehow the annotations disappeared by the time it was posted on TV Newser, which may well have been innocent incompetence.  The Huffington Post isn’t off the hook, though; if they fancy themselves a newspaper, they need to learn to check original sources.


    Stop me if you’ve heard this one before . . .

    February 20, 2009

    President Obama’s mortgage relief plan has, once again, the responsible subsidizing the irresponsible:

    President Obama yesterday announced his plan to prevent home foreclosures, saying he wanted to be “very clear about what this plan will not do: It will not rescue the unscrupulous or irresponsible by throwing good taxpayer money after bad loans . . . And it will not reward folks who bought homes they knew from the beginning they would never be able to afford.” We really do wish he were right. In fact, the details released yesterday suggest the President’s plan will do all of the above.

    Anyone with mortgages owned or guaranteed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will be able to refinance to lower rates if his mortgage is between 80% and 105% of the value of the home. This is a sweet deal that is not available, for example, to many renters looking to buy homes now. Sadly for those who deferred the gratification of homeownership, the 20% down payment has now become industry standard. But at least their taxes will allow other people to stay in homes they can’t afford.

    Existing borrowers who may not qualify for Fan/Fred refinancing can still receive loan modifications that move their mortgage payments down to 31% of monthly income. In either case, no effort will be made to verify that recipients of aid were truthful on their original mortgage applications. Given that mortgage fraud skyrocketed during the housing boom, and that the Obama Administration intends to assist up to nine million troubled borrowers, we can say with certainty that the unscrupulous will be among those rescued.

    Plus there’s this thought:

    “Now that those of us who have been making steady, on-time payments on our mortgages for years will be paying off others’ mortgages through our taxes, can we claim a tax-deduction for our neighbors’ mortgage interest too?”
    — Edward G. Stafford, responding to “Dukes of Moral Hazard.”

    Encouraging responsible behavior?  Why would the government do that?

    (Via Instapundit.)


    Hmm

    February 19, 2009

    The “stimulus” bill reveals Hurricane Katrina outrage as mere political theater that has finally outlived its usefulness:

    The economic stimulus signed by President Barack Obama will spread billions of dollars across the country to spruce up aging roads and bridges. But there’s not a dime specifically dedicated to fixing leftover damage from Hurricane Katrina.

    And there’s no outrage about it.

    Democrats who routinely criticized President George W. Bush for not sending more money to the Gulf Coast appear to be giving Obama the benefit of the doubt in his first major spending initiative. Even the Gulf’s fiercest advocates say they’re happy with the stimulus package, and their states have enough money for now to address their needs.

    “I’m not saying there won’t be a need in the future, but right now the focus is not on more money, it’s on using what we have,” said Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., who has criticized Democrats and Republicans alike over Katrina funding.

    It’s a significant change in tone from the Bush years, when any perceived slight of Katrina victims was met with charges that the Republican president who bungled the initial response to the disaster continued to callously ignore the Gulf’s needs years later.

    Just last summer, Democrats accused Bush of putting Iraq before New Orleans when he sought to block Gulf Coast reconstruction money from a $162 billion war spending bill. . .

    [Rep. Bennie] Thompson [D-MS] and others say new funding wasn’t necessary in the stimulus largely because billions of federal dollars remain bogged down in bureaucracy or tied up in planning. As a result, they said, Katrina funding doesn’t fit with the quick-spending purpose of the stimulus bill, which is aimed at kick-starting the economy.

    Ironically, Bush made similar arguments in recent years as Gulf advocates latched onto nearly any legislation they could find to pursue reconstruction money. For example, he routinely argued that Katrina funding didn’t belong in war spending bills and that new funding wasn’t urgent because unspent billions were already in the pipeline.

    (Via Instapundit.)


    Study suggests women executives get better pay, same promotions

    February 19, 2009

    A new study from CMU’s Tepper School suggests that the “glass ceiling” is a thing of the past, at least at the executive level:

    Female executives who break through the “glass ceiling” in corporate America are rewarded with higher overall compensation than their male counterparts and benefit from the same rate of promotion, according to new research from the Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon University. However, the study also found that the number of females in top executive positions remains a mere fraction of business leadership overall largely due to the tendency of women to leave the workforce earlier than men.

    The findings, gleaned from tracking the career paths and compensation of more than 16,000 executives over a 14-year period, identified that female executives actually earned a total of about $100,000 more per year than men of the same age, educational background and job experience. . .

    “Women aren’t climbing as many rungs on the executive ladder because they are more likely than males to retire earlier or switch careers,” said Robert A. Miller, professor of economics and strategy at the Tepper School and one of the study’s co-authors. “Although women may still be likely to face gender discrimination through unpleasant work environments or tougher, less rewarding assignments, our results find that there does appear to be equal pay and equal opportunity for women if they stay in the workforce and get to the executive level.” . . .

    The study indicates that job turnover and tenure as well as education are better overall indicators of compensation rather than gender. In terms of compensation, an executive’s history of career turnover and the presence of an MBA or other advanced degree tend to have the greatest impact.


    Obama to leave NAFTA be

    February 19, 2009

    The NY Times reports:

    As a candidate, Barack Obama courted votes in the Rust Belt by suggesting he might renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, a pact he criticized as not “good for America.”

    Now Mr. Obama is about to make his first foreign trip as president to Canada, the United States’ largest trading partner — and he is sounding a strikingly different message.

    With Canadians up in arms over “Buy America” provisions in President Obama’s economic recovery package, and Prime Minister Stephen Harper warning the United States not to back away from its international treaty obligations, Mr. Obama, who will make a day trip to Ottawa on Thursday, is no longer emphasizing the idea of reopening Nafta.

    Since Obama told a different story to each audience (and on one occasion, dishonestly denied doing so), it was never clear what his policy would be once he actually took office.  I’m glad he’s doing the right thing.


    The stimulus RAT

    February 19, 2009

    The “stimulus” bill isn’t just about the waste, it’s also about blocking investigations of government wrongdoing:

    You’ve heard a lot about the astonishing spending in the $787 billion economic stimulus bill, signed into law this week by President Barack Obama. But you probably haven’t heard about a provision in the bill that threatens to politicize the way allegations of fraud and corruption are investigated — or not investigated — throughout the federal government.

    The provision, which attracted virtually no attention in the debate over the 1,073-page stimulus bill, creates something called the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board — the RAT Board, as it’s known by the few insiders who are aware of it. The board would oversee the in-house watchdogs, known as inspectors general, whose job is to independently investigate allegations of wrongdoing at various federal agencies, without fear of interference by political appointees or the White House.

    In the name of accountability and transparency, Congress has given the RAT Board the authority to ask “that an inspector general conduct or refrain from conducting an audit or investigation.” . . .

    When Iowa Republican Sen. Charles Grassley, a longtime champion of inspectors general, read the words “conduct or refrain from conducting,” alarm bells went off. The language means that the board — whose chairman will be appointed by the president — can reach deep inside a federal agency and tell an inspector general to lay off some particularly sensitive subject. Or, conversely, it can tell the inspector general to go after a tempting political target.

    (Via Riehl World View, via Instapundit.)

    Sen. Grassley goes on to say that he’s looking into how the provision found its way into the bill; no one will admit to putting it there.


    The Democrats’ ethics woes

    February 19, 2009

    AP:

    The Obama administration and the new Congress are quickly handing over to Republicans the same “culture of corruption” issue that Democrats used so effectively against the GOP before coming to power.

    Freshman Sen. Roland Burris, D-Ill., is only the latest embarrassment.

    Senate Democrats accepted Burris because they believed what he told them: He was clean. Burris now admits he tried to raise money for Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who authorities say sought to sell President Barack Obama’s former Senate seat. . .

    The political mess for the Democratic Party, however, isn’t Burris’ conduct alone; it’s the pattern that has developed so quickly over the past few months.

    _The chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., is the subject of a House ethics investigation. It’s partly focused on his fundraising practices for a college center in his name, his ownership financing of a resort property in the Dominican Republic and his financial disclosure reports.

    _Federal agents raided two Pennsylvania defense contractors that were provided millions of dollars in federal funding by Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., chairman of the House Appropriations defense subcommittee.

    _Blagojevich was arrested Dec. 9 on federal charges, including allegations he schemed to sell the Senate seat to the highest bidder.

    _Tom Daschle, the former Senate majority leader from South Dakota, abandoned his bid to become health and human services secretary and the administration’s point man on reforming health care; and Nancy Killefer stepped down from a newly created position charged with eliminating inefficient government programs. Both Daschle and Killefer had tax problems, and Daschle also faced potential conflicts of interest related to working with health care interests.

    _Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner was confirmed after revealing he had tax troubles.

    _Obama’s initial choice for commerce secretary, Bill Richardson, stepped aside due to a grand jury investigation into a state contract awarded to his political donors.

    _While the Senate voted overwhelmingly to confirm William Lynn as deputy defense secretary, Obama had to waive his ethics regulations to place the former defense lobbyist in charge of day-to-day operations at the Pentagon. . .

    Democrats, who’ve been in control of both Congress and the White House less than two months now, are lucky on one point. The next congressional election is nearly two years away.

    (Via Instapundit.)

    I’m not sure why Dodd didn’t make the list, but nevertheless, the list does seem to be growing each day.


    White House defends new gun rule

    February 18, 2009

    A reader sends me this, and asks “Am I dreaming?”:

    The Obama administration is legally defending a last-minute rule enacted by President George W. Bush that allows concealed firearms in national parks, even as it is internally reviewing whether the measure meets environmental muster.

    In a response Friday to a lawsuit by gun-control and environmental groups, the Justice Department sought to block a preliminary injunction of the controversial rule. The regulation, which took effect Jan. 9, allows visitors to bring concealed, loaded guns into national parks and wildlife refuges; for more than two decades they were allowed in such areas only if they were unloaded or stored and dismantled.

    No, not dreaming, but this hardly indicates a major turnaround in President Obama’s position on gun control.  The legal grounds on which this rule is being attacked are extraordinarily flimsy; they are claiming that the environmental impact assessment was inadequate.  Everyone knows that this is not about the environment, it’s about gun control.  I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the Administration eventually reverses the rule, but it’s going to want a non-preposterous basis for doing so.


    Obama opposes Fairness Doctrine

    February 18, 2009

    President Obama has come out against reinstituting the Fairness Doctrine:

    President Obama opposes any move to bring back the so-called Fairness Doctrine, a spokesman told FOXNews.com Wednesday. 

    The statement is the first definitive stance the administration has taken since an aide told an industry publication last summer that Obama opposes the doctrine — a long-abolished policy that would require broadcasters to provide opposing viewpoints on controversial issues. 

    “As the president stated during the campaign, he does not believe the Fairness Doctrine should be reinstated,” White House spokesman Ben LaBolt told FOXNews.com. 

    After his staff recently flirted with the idea, this is welcome news.  Good for him.  However, this isn’t the end of the battle for free speech on the radio, as President Obama has endorsed other, subtler ways to attack talk radio.


    Burris must go

    February 18, 2009

    The Chicago Tribune:

    Let’s see if we have it right: Burris had zero contact with any of Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s cronies about his interest in the Senate seat being vacated by President Barack Obama— unless you count that conversation with former chief of staff Lon Monk, and, on further reflection, the ones with insiders John Harris, Doug Scofield and John Wyma and, oh yeah, the governor’s brother and fund-raising chief, Robert Blagojevich. But Burris didn’t raise a single dollar for the now ex-governor as a result of those contacts because that could be construed as a quid pro quo and besides, everyone he asked refused to donate.

    The story gets worse with every telling.

    Enough. Roland Burris must resign.

    The Washington Post:

    From the moment that Mr. Burris was selected, he strove to portray himself as a blameless public servant. The sad pictures of Mr. Burris being cast out into the rain by the Democratic leadership of the Senate, which initially refused to seat him, turned public opinion in his favor. Mr. Burris got his seat. But this latest revelation makes a mockery of his professions of no quid pro quo. It is a violation of the public trust. The people of Illinois have suffered enough. Mr. Burris should resign.

    (Previous post.)


    Emanuel contributed to Freddie Mac fraud

    February 18, 2009

    According to the Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight Agency, if this New York Post column is accurate:

    Emanuel served on the Freddie Mac board of directors during the time that the government-backed lender lied about its earnings, a leading contributor to the current economic meltdown.

    The Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight Agency later singled out the Freddie Mac board as contributing to the fraud in 2000 and 2001 for “failing in its duty to follow up on matters brought to its attention.” In other words, board members ignored the red flags waving in their faces.

    The SEC later fined Freddie $50 million for its deliberate fraud in 2000, 2001 and 2002.

    Meanwhile, Emanuel was paid more than $260,000 for his Freddie “service.” Plus, after he resigned from the board to run for Congress in 2002, the troubled agency’s PAC gave his campaign $25,000 – its largest single gift to a House candidate.

    (Emphasis mine.) (Via Moe Lane, via Instapundit.)


    Obama returns Churchill bust

    February 18, 2009

    We were told that President Obama was going to be strengthening our international alliances after the damage done by President Bush. So far, not so much.  Most recently, Obama decided to pay the British a gratuitous insult:

    A bust of the former prime minister once voted the greatest Briton in history, which was loaned to George W Bush from the Government’s art collection after the September 11 attacks, has now been formally handed back.

    The bronze by Sir Jacob Epstein, worth hundreds of thousands of pounds if it were ever sold on the open market, enjoyed pride of place in the Oval Office during President Bush’s tenure. But when British officials offered to let Mr Obama to hang onto the bust for a further four years, the White House said: “Thanks, but no thanks.” . . .

    The rejection of the bust has left some British officials nervously reading the runes to see how much influence the UK can wield with the new regime in Washington.

    (Via the Corner.)

    The decorating of the Oval Office is a matter of pure symbolism. Unencumbered by any practical significance, the rejection of the bust cannot be seen as anything but an insult.  To insult the UK so, at a time when we are depending on them to intensify their efforts in Afghanistan, is profoundly unwise.  This is another unforced error by President Obama.


    Filibusters are bad again

    February 18, 2009

    You knew this was coming.  (Via Hot Air.)


    Burris tried to raise funds for Blagojevich

    February 17, 2009

    Drip, drip, drip.  In the latest Burris-Blago revelation, it turns out that Burris actually tried to raise money for Blagojevich.  (For those just joining us, that’s exactly what Blagojevich’s brother requested in the conversation that Burris tried to hide from investigators.)

    U.S. Sen. Roland Burris now acknowledges attempting to raise money for ousted Gov. Rod Blagojevich _ an explosive twist in his ever-changing story on how he landed a coveted Senate appointment from the man accused of trying to sell the seat.

    Burris made the admission to reporters on Monday, after releasing an affidavit over the weekend saying he had more contact with Blagojevich aides about the Senate seat than he had described under oath to the state House panel that recommended Blagojevich’s impeachment. The Democrat also said in the affidavit, but not before the panel, that the governor’s brother asked him for fundraising help.

    Though Burris insists he never raised money for Blagojevich while the governor was considering whom to appoint to the seat President Barack Obama vacated, the revelation that he had attempted to do so is likely to increase calls for Burris’ resignation and an investigation into whether he committed perjury before the panel. Illinois Democrats have forwarded documents related to Burris’ testimony to a county prosecutor for review.

    It wasn’t until after he had already failed to organize a Blagojevich fundraiser that he made the “principled” decision not to raise money for Blagojevich.  I think we can declare Burris corrupt now.

    (Previous post.)


    IDF releases casualty analysis

    February 17, 2009

    The Jerusalem Post reports:

    Four weeks after the cessation of Operation Cast Lead, the IDF finally opened its dossier on Palestinian fatalities on Sunday for the first time, and presented to The Jerusalem Post an overview utterly at odds with the Palestinian figures that have hitherto formed the basis for assessing the conflict.

    While the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, whose death toll figures have been widely cited, reports that 895 Gaza civilians were killed in the fighting, amounting to more than two-thirds of all fatalities, the IDF figures shown to the Post on Sunday put the civilian death toll at no higher than a third of the total.

    The international community had been given a vastly distorted impression of the death toll because of “false reporting” by Hamas, said Col. Moshe Levi, the head of the IDF’s Gaza Coordination and Liaison Administration (CLA), which compiled the IDF figures. . .

    Basing its work on the official Palestinian death toll of 1,338, Levi said the CLA had now identified more than 1,200 of the Palestinian fatalities. Its 200-page report lists their names, their official Palestinian Authority identity numbers, the circumstances in which they were killed and, where appropriate, the terrorist group with which they were affiliated.

    The CLA said 580 of these 1,200 had been conclusively “incriminated” as members of Hamas and other terrorist groups.

    Another 300 of the 1,200 – women, children aged 15 and younger and men over the age of 65 – had been categorized as noncombatants, the CLA said.

    Counted among the women, however, were female terrorists, including at least two women who tried to blow themselves up next to forces from the Givati and Paratroopers’ Brigades. Also classed as noncombatants were the wives and children of Nizar Rayyan, a Hamas military commander who refused to allow his family to leave his home even after he was warned by Israel that it would be bombed.

    The 320 names yet to be classified are all men; the IDF has yet complete its identification work in these cases, but estimates that two-thirds of them were terror operatives.

    Also, some editorial comment here:

    Do you have to be anti-Israel to believe Palestinian lies, or is Palestinian mendacity so well-constructed, so plausible, and so well disseminated by collaborative media outlets like Al Jazeera that even well-meaning people can’t help but believe the worst of Israel?


    The no-stats all-star

    February 17, 2009

    This story almost makes basketball sound interesting.  (Via the Corner.)


    Still no daylight

    February 17, 2009

    When President Obama signs the “stimulus” boondoggle today, he will be breaking his “Daylight before signing” pledge again.  As a candidate, Obama promised to put bills on the White House web site for comment at least five days before signing them.  When he signs the “stimulus” bill today, it will be fewer than four days after it was passed by Congress.  Furthermore, so far as I can tell, the bill still doesn’t appear anywhere on the White House website.


    A flair for the dramatic

    February 17, 2009

    President Obama will not be demeaning his “stimulus” bill with a mere White House signing ceremony.  That’s for mundane things, like Social Security, the Civil Rights Act, or the Camp David Accords.  No, he is flying to the Denver Museum of Science and Nature for the signing.

    For a bill that’s all about government waste, I suppose it seems appropriate.


    Panel asked Burris seven times

    February 17, 2009

    Roland Burris says it’s not his fault that he withheld information from an Illinois House panel:

    Mr. Burris said that when he testified on Jan. 8, he said he was not provided with an opportunity to fully answer the panel’s questions. When he was asked if had talked with anyone, including six friends and aides close to the governor, about the appointment, he answered: “I talked to some friends about my desire to be appointed, yes.”

    Mr. Burris later mentioned Mr. Monk’s name but no one else’s.

    On Sunday Mr. Burris said when he answered “yes” he meant he had spoken with most of those named. The Feb. 5 affidavit was his attempt to be thorough and transparent, he said. If Mr. Durkin had followed up during the hearing he would have offered more specifics, he said. But he did not, instead the line of questioning moved on and he followed it.

    Burris’s justification does not stand up to scrutiny.  Chicago Sun-Time columnist Mark Brown looks through the transcript, and finds not just that one occasion but seven in which Burris was asked clearly but evaded the question:

    • Did you talk to any members of the governor’s staff or anyone closely related to the governor, including family members or any lobbyists connected with him, including, let me throw out some names — John Harris, Rob Blagojevich, Doug Scofield, Bob Greenleaf, Lon Monk, John Wyma? Did you talk to anybody . . . associated with the governor about your desire to seek the appointment prior to the governor’s arrest?
    • Did you speak to anybody who was on the governor’s staff prior to the governor’s arrest or anybody, any of those individuals or anybody who is closely related to the governor?
    • You said that you had visited friends perhaps in September of ’08 or July of ’08 concerning a desire to perhaps be appointed as a senator if our president-elect was elected. And could you give me the names of those friends?
    • And I just was wondering who those friends were.
    • Was it Lon Monk, was that the extent of it was Lon Monk?
    • So you don’t recall that there was anybody else besides Lon Monk that you expressed an interest to at that point?
    • Is there anybody that comes to mind in that light that you can —

    Burris says that he was not given the opportunity to answer fully.  That’s horseshit.  Seven times he was asked, and each time he found a way to respond that withheld the extent of his contacts, or was simply unresponsive (“I can’t recall,” disputing minutia, or changing the subject).

    It appears that he never explicitly denies speaking to anyone other than Monk, but he does imply it, and he deliberately evades questions that explicitly probe that very question.  Not being a lawyer, I can’t say whether or not his deliberate evasion rises to the level of criminal perjury, but there’s no way to pretend he didn’t lie.

    (Via Instapundit.)

    UPDATE: Yes, it’s perjury, if the Chicago Sun-Times has this right:

    In a sworn statement filed with the House panel Jan. 5, before he testified, Burris said he had no contact with Blagojevich’s camp about the Senate seat aside from his appointment in late December.

    (Via Best of the Web.)

    There’s no way he can blame the House questioners for the sworn statement he supplied before his testimony.

    (Previous post.)


    Abrams on the Israel-Palestinian conflict

    February 16, 2009

    Elliott Abrams interviewed by the Jerusalem Post:

    Q. Why were you skeptical [about a resolution of the conflict]?

    A. Because others said that the solution here, the eventual deal, was pretty well understood on both sides – that there weren’t a million possibilities for where the border between Israel and the Palestinian state would be. The same with regard to Jerusalem. Therefore, they said, it won’t take all that much negotiating to get there. That was the conventional wisdom. But it seemed to me that the opposite view was right: that if everybody knows what a deal has to look like, and year after year and decade after decade, it is not possible to reach it, isn’t it obvious that it’s because neither side wants that deal?

    (Via Power Line.)

    Well, it’s obvious that at least one side doesn’t want the deal, anyway.


    Minnesota update

    February 16, 2009

    Power Line is still tracking the story.  On Friday, the court issued a ruling that keeps Coleman’s hopes alive.


    GM polishes its plan

    February 16, 2009

    As the government’s deadline approaches, GM is putting the finishing touches on its plan for profitability.  The plan is for the government to keep giving GM money:

    General Motors Corp., nearing a federally imposed deadline to present a restructuring plan, will offer the government two costly alternatives: commit billions more in bailout money to fund the company’s operations, or provide financial backing as part of a bankruptcy filing, said people familiar with GM’s thinking.

    This is a good plan, from GM’s perspective.  For the rest of us, I think it’s time to post this again:

    big-3-bailout1

    (Via Boing Boing.)


    Reuters irony

    February 16, 2009

    Reuters opines:

    Outgoing Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is mounting a last-ditch effort to free a captured Israeli soldier by blocking an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire in the Gaza Strip until Hamas agrees to release him.

    Whether Olmert’s brinkmanship can produce a breakthrough in the few weeks he has left depends on Israel making difficult concessions that could bolster Hamas, and on the Islamist group taking a gamble on the Jewish state keeping its word. Many diplomats are sceptical all the pieces will fall in place.

    Hamas has no faith that Israel, which is about to change governments, will abide by commitments under the proposed ceasefire, mainly to keep Gaza’s border crossings open, if captured soldier Gilad Shalit is freed.

    (Via LGF.)

    Reuters is just being ironic, right? They aren’t actually accusing Israel of not keeping its word, are they? The Palestinians never satisfied their obligations under Olso, or under the “roadmap”, or under any of the umpteen cease-fire agreements they’ve negotiated with Israel.  And they aren’t actually accusing Israel of “brinkmanship”, when it’s Hamas that’s been holding a kidnapped Israeli for over two years.


    Restoring science to its rightful place?

    February 16, 2009

    President Obama’s chief science adviser turns out to have quite a checkered past.  George Will’s recent column on environmental doomsaying makes an interesting observation in passing:

    Speaking of experts, in 1980 Paul Ehrlich, a Stanford scientist and environmental Cassandra who predicted calamitous food shortages by 1990, accepted a bet with economist Julian Simon. When Ehrlich predicted the imminent exhaustion of many nonrenewable natural resources, Simon challenged him: Pick a “basket” of any five such commodities, and I will wager that in a decade the price of the basket will decline, indicating decreased scarcity. Ehrlich picked five metals — chrome, copper, nickel, tin and tungsten — that he predicted would become more expensive. Not only did the price of the basket decline, the price of all five declined.

    An expert Ehrlich consulted in picking the five was John Holdren, who today is President Obama’s science adviser.

    (Via Power Line.)

    One could hardly have been more entirely wrong than Paul Ehrlich.  I had not known of Holdren’s involvement with Ehrlich and the neo-Malthusian gang, but I should have.  Holdren, it turns out, was central to the gang, and he never abandoned that line of thought.

    In 1995, he published a paper with Ehrlich and Gretchen Daily under the auspices of the United Nations.  That paper, now using the buzzword “sustainability”, refrained from making predictions (Holdren had learned something) but relied on the same thoroughly failed “I=PAT” framework from 1971.

    President Obama has spoken about the danger of politicizing science, but Holdren’s 1995 paper was thoroughly political.  It calls for disarmament, international control of military force, and redistribution of wealth, as well as other uncontroversial political aims. Further, it specifically criticizes conservative political thought, listing among the “ills that development must address”

    Underlying human frailties — Greed, selfishness, intolerance, and shortsightedness — which collectively have been elevated by conservative political doctrine and practice (above all in the United States in 1980 92) to the status of a credo.

    This is the man President Obama has chosen to champion science against politicization.


    White House drops “car czar” idea

    February 16, 2009

    The NY Times reports:

    President Obama has dropped the idea of appointing a single, powerful “car czar” to oversee the revamping of General Motors and Chrysler and will instead keep the politically delicate task in the hands of his most senior economic advisers, a top administration official said Sunday night. . .

    The automakers had been expecting the appointment of a car czar to break the logjam of negotiations with the United Auto Workers over the finances of a retiree health care trust, and with bondholders about reducing the companies’ debt. . .

    Another senior administration official said that Mr. Obama had considered appointing a car czar, and among those considered for the job was the private equity executive Steven Rattner. It was not clear why the administration changed course or whether Mr. Rattner would have a role on the task force.

    I’m not sure what to make of this. Not long ago, having a car czar was supposedly central to the whole plan. Now it’s dropped. Why? Here’s my guess (and it’s only a guess):

    The car czar idea was asinine in the first place, but a panel doesn’t seem much better, and might be even worse in one regard. As the NY Times article points out, a car czar might have had some ability to “break the logjam” in negotiations for UAW concessions. (Those negotiations are troubled, to say the least.) Perhaps that’s the entire point.  This might be simply a payoff to the unions, giving them more strength in the negotiations.


    White House dampening expectations for stimulus

    February 16, 2009

    Reuters reports:

    President Barack Obama‘s aides warned Americans on Sunday not to expect instant miracles from the $787 billion economic stimulus bill he will sign this week, but said it would help eventually.

    (Via Roger’s Rules, via Instapundit.)

    “Eventually”?  When is eventually?  The Congressional Budget Office says it will hurt in the long run.


    White House stops denying fairness doctrine

    February 16, 2009

    President Obama’s opposition to reinstating the Fairness Doctrine seems to be no longer operative.


    I don’t know whether to laugh or cry

    February 15, 2009

    The Wall Street Journal: Obama to Shift Focus to Budget Deficit.  Sure, why not?  I’ve got an idea where he can cut a trillion.


    Mugabe plans for exile

    February 15, 2009

    Mugabe is making backup plans, in case he is forced from office:

    ZIMBABWE’S President Robert Mugabe and his wife Grace have secretly bought a £4m bolt-hole in the Far East while his country struggles with hyper-inflation, mass unemployment and a cholera epidemic.

    The Mugabes’ house, in an exclusive residential complex in Hong Kong, was purchased on their behalf by a middleman through a shadowy company whose registered office is in a run-down tenement block. When a reporter and a photographer called at the house last week, they were attacked by the Zimbabwean occupants. The assailants were questioned by the police.

    The property came to light during a Sunday Times investigation into the Mugabes’ financial interests in Asia, where a web of associates has helped them to spend lavishly on luxuries and stash away millions in bank accounts. In Zimbabwe, meanwhile, inflation has reached 231m%, unemployment stands at 94% and 3,467 people have died in recent months from cholera.

    (Via LGF.)


    Dodd slips retroactive pay limits into stimulus bill

    February 14, 2009

    One good reason why it’s important for rank-and-file legislators to read a bill before voting on it is the leadership cannot be trusted.  (Via Jammie Wearing Fool, via Instapundit.)

    Will any banks return the money?  Those who needed it won’t, but many banks were pressured to take the money, and some of those might.  Those who don’t return the money will devise new compensation plans.


    Burris lied about Blagojevich solicitation

    February 14, 2009

    The Chicago Sun-Times reports:

    Former Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s brother solicited U.S. Sen. Roland Burris for up to $10,000 in campaign cash before Blagojevich named Burris to the coveted post — something Burris initially failed to disclose under oath before an Illinois House impeachment panel, records and interviews show.

    Burris (D-Ill.) acknowledges being hit up for the money in a new affidavit he has sent to the head of the House committee that recommended Blagojevich be removed from office.

    The affidavit is dated Feb. 5 — three weeks after Burris was sworn in to replace President Obama in the Senate.

    Burris — who did not give money to the Blagojevich campaign fund in response to the previously undisclosed solicitation — provided a copy of the sworn statement to the Chicago Sun-Times Friday in response to questions about his contacts with the Blagojevich camp about fund-raising.

    Burris acknowledged having three conversations with Robert Blagojevich, who headed the Friends of Blagojevich campaign fund — and one of those was likely recorded by the FBI.

    Burris’ statement offers the third version of events he has given about his discussions concerning the Senate seat, to which Blagojevich appointed him in late December, after Blagojevich was hit with federal corruption charges that included an allegation he tried to sell the Senate appointment.

    (Emphasis mine.) (Via Instapundit.)

    At a minimum, Burris seems to be guilty of perjury here. He’s possibly also guilty of failure to report a corrupt solicitation. But, barring any additional revelations, it’s a sure bet that he’ll never be prosecuted.

    When the Blagojevich scandal broke, the Illinois legislature was poised to take action to remove the governor’s power to appoint a replacement senator. That plan was scuttled due to the intervention of Harry Reid, who was afraid that the seat might end up in Republican hands. Reid hoped that a strongly worded letter would be enough to deter Blagojevich from making an appointment, which of course it was not.

    To Reid, the integrity of the Senate was a second priority to maximizing the number of Democrats in it. As a direct result of that decision, the Senate has yet another ethically tainted member. That’s a price Reid was willing to pay, and indeed it’s one he had to pay to round up the necessary votes for the “stimulus” disaster.


    Another promise bites the dust

    February 14, 2009

    The American Small Business League says that President Obama has broken a promise to help small businesses, and what’s more, revised his web site to make the promise disappear:

    President Obama seemed to agree it was time to stop the fraud and abuse in federal small business contracting programs when, in February of 2008, he released the statement, “Small businesses are the backbone of our nation’s economy and we must protect this great resource. It is time to end the diversion of federal small business contracts to corporate giants.” (http://www.barackobama.com/2008/02/26/the_american_small_business_le.php)

    Since making that statement almost a year ago, President Obama has consistently refused to make good on his campaign promise, and support legislation to stop Fortune 500 firms from hijacking federal contracts designated for America’s nearly 27 million small businesses.

    Not only has President Obama refused to propose even a single policy to address the problem, but he actually changed his Web site to remove the appearance that he had ever made the statement, “It is time to end the diversion of federal small business contracts to corporate giants.” (http://my.barackobama.com/page/content/sbhome/)

    (Via Riehl World View, via Instapundit.)

    I can’t verify this claim, because the most recent Internet Archive crawl of the Obama campaign site to become available is dated February 20, 2008, before the statement was reportedly made.  At that point, there was no small business plan to speak of, scrubbed or no. Still, President Obama has scrubbed his web site before so the claim is eminently plausible.  This is why I use WebCite to archive any campaign promises I find interesting.

    POSTSCRIPT: I don’t actually care much about this specific promise.  I don’t see why the government should have set-asides for small businesses (or anyone else). His promise to eliminate capital gains on small business and start-ups is much more important. When will that happen? It doesn’t seem to be in the trillion-dollar stimulus package, despite being one of the biggest things the government could do to stimulate the economy. Probably it never will happen, but at least it hasn’t been scrubbed yet.


    Iran’s nuclear quest

    February 14, 2009

    As recently as a few months ago, ostensibly serious people could be heard to claim that Iran was not seeking nuclear weapons.  Not any more:

    Little more than a year after U.S. spy agencies concluded that Iran had halted work on a nuclear weapon, the Obama administration has made it clear that it believes there is no question that Tehran is seeking the bomb.

    In his news conference this week, President Obama went so far as to describe Iran’s “development of a nuclear weapon” before correcting himself to refer to its “pursuit” of weapons capability.

    Obama’s nominee to serve as CIA director, Leon E. Panetta, left little doubt about his view last week when he testified on Capitol Hill. “From all the information I’ve seen,” Panetta said, “I think there is no question that they are seeking that capability.”

    The language reflects the extent to which senior U.S. officials now discount a National Intelligence Estimate issued in November 2007 that was instrumental in derailing U.S. and European efforts to pressure Iran to shut down its nuclear program.

    (Via Tigerhawk, via Instapundit.)

    This is progress, of a sort, but too late. Those lost months were a disaster.

    What is particularly maddening is that the vaunted NIE didn’t actually say that Iran had ended its pursuit of nuclear weapons.  Here’s what it did say:

    We assess with high confidence that until fall 2003, Iranian military entities were working under government direction to develop nuclear weapons.

    ASIDE: Did anything happen in 2003 that might have changed Iran’s calculation of the wisdom of its nuclear efforts?  Hmm.

    Anyway, the NIE had only “moderate” confidence that Iran’s effort was entirely halted, only “moderate” confidence that it hadn’t been resumed by mid-2007, and no assessment at all after mid-2007:

    Because of intelligence gaps discussed elsewhere in this Estimate, however, DOE and the NIC assess with only moderate confidence that the halt to those activities represents a halt to Iran’s entire nuclear weapons program. . .

    We assess with moderate confidence Tehran had not restarted its nuclear weapons program as of mid-2007, but we do not know whether it currently intends to develop nuclear weapons.

    Also, this “halt” was of a peculiar sort; during it they were still running uranium centrifuges and bringing more on-line:

    We assess centrifuge enrichment is how Iran probably could first produce enough fissile material for a weapon, if it decides to do so. Iran resumed its declared centrifuge enrichment activities in January 2006, despite the continued halt in the nuclear weapons program. Iran made significant progress in 2007 installing centrifuges at Natanz. . .

    Iranian entities are continuing to develop a range of technical capabilities that could be applied to producing nuclear weapons, if a decision is made to do so. For example, Iran’s civilian uranium enrichment program is continuing.

    (Emphasis mine.) Finally, the NIE explicitly disclaimed the idea that Iran had given up for good:

    We assess with moderate confidence that convincing the Iranian leadership to forgo the eventual development of nuclear weapons will be difficult. . . In our judgment, only an Iranian political decision to abandon a nuclear weapons objective would plausibly keep Iran from eventually producing nuclear weapons—and such a decision is inherently reversible.

    Despite all this nuance in an easily read document just over two pages long, the press reported the NIE as a categorical statement that Iran was not seeking nuclear weapons. Why did they do that? Even with an opinion of the media as low as mine, it’s hard to understand that kind of fecklessness.


    Behind closed doors

    February 13, 2009

    Candidate Obama:

    End the Practice of Writing Legislation Behind Closed Doors: As president, Barack Obama will restore the American people’s trust in their government by making government more open and transparent. Obama will work to reform congressional rules to require all legislative sessions, including committee mark-ups and conference committees, to be conducted in public. By making these practices public, the American people will be able to hold their leaders accountable for wasteful spending and lawmakers won’t be able to slip favors for lobbyists into bills at the last minute.

    President Obama:

    We’re receiving E-mails from Capitol Hill staffers expressing frustration that they can’t get a copy of the stimulus bill agreed to last night at a price of $789 billion. What’s more, staffers are complaining about who does have a copy: K Street lobbyists. E-mails one key Democratic staffer: “K Street has the bill, or chunks of it, already, and the congressional offices don’t. . .

    Reporters pressing for details, meanwhile, are getting different numbers from different offices, especially when seeking the details of specific programs. Worse, there seem to be several different versions of what was agreed upon, with some officials circulating older versions of the package that seems to still be developing. Leadership aides said that it will work out later today and promised that lawmakers will get time to review the bill before Friday’s vote.

    I doubt he’ll keep his “sunlight before signing” pledge with this bill either.

    (Via Instapundit.) (Previous post.)


    Obama prescreens questioners

    February 13, 2009

    Who can blame him?  Why not, if the press lets you get away with it?


    Anti-terror architecture continued

    February 13, 2009

    Things look different when you have to take responsibility for the nation’s safety yourself:

    The larger story here is that the anti-antiterror lobby is losing the man it thought was its strongest ally. During his campaign, Mr. Obama talked as if he really believed that the Bush Administration was uniquely wicked on national security. Joe Biden cosponsored Senate legislation that would have prevented the executive branch from making state-secrets claims to shelve lawsuits, rather than shielding individual evidence from judicial (and public) scrutiny.

    Now it seems that the Bush Administration’s antiterror architecture is gaining new legitimacy, just as Eisenhower validated Truman’s Cold War framework. Mr. Obama claims to have banned coercive interrogation techniques, except in those cases where more extreme measures are necessary to save lives. He says he’ll shut down Gitmo in a year or so, but his subordinates — including Elena Kagan during her confirmation hearings for Solicitor General this week — admit that indefinite detention will still be necessary for some terrorists. He walked back his wiretap absolutism even before he was elected. Now the Administration has endorsed the same secrecy posture that he once found so offensive, merely saying that it will be used less frequently. We’ll see.

    These are all laudable signs of Mr. Obama’s antiterror progress. Perhaps some day he’ll acknowledge his debt to his predecessor.

    Let’s give credit where credit is due.  Some Democrats are irresponsible enough to have pressed on with their anti-antiterror ideology once in office.  Carter would have, to be sure.  I thought Obama was another, so I’m pleasantly surprised.

    Unfortunately, President Obama has also continued President Bush’s inaction in important areas.  Iran is months away from a nuclear bomb, is led by a man who believes he can usher in the end of the world, and has explicitly called for the destruction of Israel.  President Obama’s policy, like his predecessor, seems to be to do nothing.


    Specter in trouble?

    February 13, 2009

    Memories fade, but for now, things aren’t looking good for Specter:

    Senator Arlen Specter is one of only three Republicans to support the economic stimulus bill in Congress, and the latest Rasmussen Reports survey in Pennsylvania shows that his position is costing him support back home. . .

    Fifty-eight percent (58%) of Republican voters in the state are less likely to vote for Specter. . . Specter won re-election in 2004 by a 53% to 42% margin. However, he barely survived a conservative primary challenge from then-Congressman Pat Toomey. Even though he had the support of the state’s Republican establishment, Specter was able to defeat Toomey only by two points, 51% to 49%.

    (Via the Corner.)


    Obamanomics

    February 12, 2009

    budget-deficit-2009

    (Via Greg Mankiw, via Instapundit.)


    A cure for HIV?

    February 12, 2009

    Wow:

    A 42-year-old HIV patient with leukemia appears to have no detectable HIV in his blood and no symptoms after a stem cell transplant from a donor carrying a gene mutation that confers natural resistance to the virus that causes AIDS, according to a report published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine.

    “The patient is fine,” said Dr. Gero Hutter of Charite Universitatsmedizin Berlin in Germany. “Today, two years after his transplantation, he is still without any signs of HIV disease and without antiretroviral medication.”

    The case was first reported in November, and the new report is the first official publication of the case in a medical journal. . .

    While promising, the treatment is unlikely to help the vast majority of people infected with HIV, said Dr. Jay Levy, a professor at the University of California San Francisco, who wrote an editorial accompanying the study. A stem cell transplant is too extreme and too dangerous to be used as a routine treatment, he said.

    “About a third of the people die [during such transplants], so it’s just too much of a risk,” Levy said.

    (Via Instapundit.)


    Ackermann, call your office

    February 12, 2009

    Iowahawk reports:

    MATHEMATICIANS DISCOVER LARGEST NUMBER

    PALO ALTO, CA – An international mathematics research team announced today that they had discovered a new integer that surpasses any previously known value “by a totally mindblowing shitload.” Project director Yujin Xiao of Stanford University said the theoretical number, dubbed a “stimulus,” could lead to breakthroughs in fields as diverse as astrophysics, quantum mechanics, and Chicago asphalt contracting.

    (Via Instapundit.)


    Corruption problems for Dems

    February 11, 2009

    There’s a long list of prominent Democrats under an ethical cloud, even if you set aside those who merely cheated on their taxes: Blagojevich (former Illinois governor), Richardson (New Mexico governor), Adams (Portland mayor), Perez (Hartford mayor), Kilpatrick (Detroit mayor), Dixon (Baltimore mayor), Dodd (Connecticut senator), Rangel (New York congressman), Murtha (Pennsylvania congressman), Moran (Virginia congressman), Visclosky (Illinois congressman).  To that you could add Cyril Wecht (Allegheny County coroner), and (obviously) William “cold cash” Jefferson.

    Republicans have trouble too, of course, but most of theirs have been turned out of office.  On the Democratic side they’re not even losing committee chairmanships.

    (Via Instapundit.)


    Israeli politics is weird

    February 11, 2009

    Check this out.


    Why TARP changed its tune

    February 11, 2009

    David John tells a story that explains why Paulson and company changed their plan for the TARP money from purchasing “toxic” assets to capital infusions.  The story is little more than rumor, but it would explain a lot.


    Three bombs for Iran

    February 11, 2009

    A new estimate says Iran will have enough enriched uranium for three bombs by the end of the year, with the first in April or May.  (Via the Corner.)

    (Previous post.)


    Columbia imminent-domain-abuse update

    February 11, 2009

    Reason has the latest on Columbia’s land-theft effort.  (Via Instapundit.)

    (Previous post.)


    Kagan says US can hold terrorists without trial

    February 11, 2009

    Another Bush administration policy will be continued by the Obama administration:

    Harvard Law Dean Elena Kagan, President Obama’s choice to represent his administration before the Supreme Court, told a key Republican senator Tuesday that she believed the government could hold suspected terrorists without trial as war prisoners.

    She echoed comments by Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. during his confirmation hearing last month. Both agreed that the United States was at war with Al Qaeda and suggested the law of war allows the government to capture and hold alleged terrorists without charges.

    (Via Dissenting Justice, via Instapundit.)

    Now that both the Solicitor General (to be) and Attorney General for President Obama have taken this sensible position, can we set aside the notion that holding POWs in a time of war somehow sets us on the slippery slope to fascism?


    Stimulus in conference

    February 11, 2009

    The members of the conference committee for the “stimulus” package have been named. Neither Specter, Collins, nor Snowe is on it.  This strikes me as a little strange, since passage depends on getting two of their three votes.  President Obama is pushing hard to restore all of the cuts made in the Senate bill, which Specter and Collins say would be unacceptable.

    So how does this play out? My guess is the conference committee will restore most of the cuts in the Senate bill, while preserving the increases in the Senate bill.  Specter and the ladies from Maine will then have to decide whether to join a filibuster. My guess is they will not, and will grasp at some meaningless fig leaf to save face.

    I further predict that Specter will decide to retire in 2010, rather than fight an uphill battle for the nomination from a very angry Republican party.

    UPDATE: It looks like I guessed wrong, that the conference bill is ever-so-slightly less irresponsible than it might have been, but we’ll need to see the details to be sure.


    Big brother is watching

    February 11, 2009

    Massachusetts is considering tracking the movements of all drivers in order to impose a per-mile tax on driving.  Oregon is considering a similar plan.  (Via Instapundit.)

    Hard to believe that Massachusetts was once the cradle of the American revolution.  Someone ought to be tarred and feathered for this.

    POSTSCRIPT: In Oregon’s case, they’re promising not to use the system to keep track of people’s movements. Is that supposed to comfort us? How long would that promise be kept? Not long, if the battle over firearms trace data is any indication.


    European anti-Semitism

    February 11, 2009

    A poll sponsored by the ADL shows that anti-Semitism is alive and well in Europe, and on the rise in many parts of it.  41% say that Jews have too much influence in financial markets.  A mind-boggling 74% of Spaniards say so, up from 68% in just two years.

    (Via Barcepundit, via Instapundit.)


    It’s on

    February 11, 2009

    The Second Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that the Second Amendment, unlike most of the Bill of Rights, is not incorporated against the states by the 14th Amendment.  Thus, the Second Amendment does not limit gun laws at the state or local level.  The case law for incorporation is pretty much incoherent, I understand, so it’s hard to predict how this will come out.  (Via Instapundit.)

    POSTSCRIPT: I do fit it a little bit amusing that, before Heller, the anti-gun line was that the Second Amendment had everything to do with the states.  Now the anti-gun line is the Second Amendment has nothing to do with the states.


    Israeli politics are weird

    February 10, 2009

    Tsippi Livni caps an impressive comeback to win the most seats in the Knesset, but is still the underdog to become prime minister.  On Intrade, Netanyahu has fallen from 80, but is still trading at 60.

    I’m glad we have separation of powers in America.  Parliaments are silly.

    UPDATE: More here.  And Intrade has Netanyahu back up into the 80s.


    No follow-ups for Obama

    February 10, 2009

    President Obama doesn’t like follow-up questions:

    President Barack Obama’s first prime-time press conference was most remarkable for how he borrowed a page from his predecessor, refusing to accept follow-up questions. It might seem like a petty issue, but it was significant and telling that George W. Bush would not allow follow-up questions in his sessions with reporters. . .

    In last night’s press conference, Obama cut off any attempt by reporters to follow up his answers to their questions. If he intends to maintain this Bush policy, reporters must work together and agree to ask the obvious follow-up to the previous question as they take their turns. Otherwise, these press conferences are nothing but one-sided speeches.

    (Via LGF.)

    The problem with this plan is it requires not just one journalist willing to ask a question unfavorable to President Obama, but the entire press corps to collaborate to ask a question unfavorable to the president. That seems very unlikely ever to happen.


    Stimulus consensus

    February 10, 2009

    The Administration tells us that there is a consensus of economists for a big stimulus package.  As Vice-President Biden puts it:

    Every economist, as I’ve said, from conservative to liberal, acknowledges that direct government spending on a direct program now is the best way to infuse economic growth and create jobs.

    This is patently false.  Biden is either lying or shockingly misinformed. Brian Riedl runs down a list of economists that Biden has apparently never heard of:

    Nobel Laureates Ed Prescott, James Buchanan, and Vernon Smith recently joined 200 other economists signing a letter opposing the legislation. Other notable economists critical of the stimulus package include Nobel Laureate Gary Becker, as well as Robert BarroGreg MankiwArthur Laffer, and Larry Lindsey.  Martin Feldstein, who had been the only notable conservative economist loudly supporting the stimulus, has since changed his mind.

    More liberal economists such as Alice Rivlin and Alan Blinder have also strongly criticized certain aspects of the spending bill. 

    Even President Obama’s own economic advisers—who are leading the fight for the “stimulus” bill—previously criticized the bill’s economic underpinnings.

    Riedl goes on to list several criticisms of the plan from the president’s own advisers.  Greg Mankiw adds a few more names to the list, including Robert Lucas, a Nobel Prize winner formerly at CMU.  Mankiw goes on to speculate about what Biden might have been thinking, which seems like a thoroughly unprofitable enterprise to me.

    In the battle of the politics of economics, one significant player is the master of economic misinformation, Paul Krugman.  Robert Barro writes of Krugman, “He just says whatever is convenient for his political argument. He doesn’t behave like an economist.”  Will Wilkinson has a more extensive analysis (and perhaps a more helpful one) :

    Like the president, Krugman seems firmly caught in the paradox of countercyclical macroeconomic politics. The intermediate-level textbook theory says that at times like these we need a certain kind of policy to steady the economy’s nerves and lubricate consumption and investment. The economics says we need confidence. But political reality says we need panic. So we try to induce panic so that we can later induce confidence. This seems an extremely awkward and implausible approach, but that doesn’t keep anyone from trying it.

    The deeper problem, I think, is that the textbook theory doesn’t have any politics in it. . . But of course, there is politics, which trashes hope of either consensus on or compliance with theory. And that’s how we ended up with the legislative monstrosity actually under consideration in Congress.

    The economists can duke it out over the possibility of successful fiscal stimulus. But is there any reason based in up-to-date economic theory to believe that this trillion dollar deficit-spending bill is not, as Barro says, garbage?

    Krugman is plumping for it anyway. Hard. . . Perhaps more than any economist of his caliber, Krugman understands that policy is largely determined by the outcome of the public opinion shoutfest. Yet this recognition seems to have no effect on Krugman’s ideas. Rather than bring inside his models disagreement over economic theory and the lack of political incentive to faithfully apply them, which would lead him to radically revise his prescriptions, Krugman leaves his textbook theory untouched and simply tries to win the shoutfest.  Krugman’s often unbearable stridency seems to reflect an attempt to overcome the problems of democratic disagreement and incentive compatibility through sheer force of will.

    (Via Asymmetrical Information.)


    Union stimulus

    February 9, 2009

    President Obama orders, more or less, that most stimulus projects must use union labor.  (Via the Corner.)

    The purpose of a labor union, like any monopoly, is to restrict supply in order to boost prices.  For labor, that means restricting employment in order to boost wages for those in the union.  Since the supposed purpose of the stimulus package is to create jobs, why would we require stimulus spending to go through organizations dedicated to cutting employment?  One might even get the idea that the purpose of the stimulus isn’t actually to create jobs, but to pay off political favors.


    Poll: Americans prefer tax cuts

    February 9, 2009

    A new Rasmussen poll shows that 62% think the stimulus package should have more tax cuts and less government spending.  Only 34% see it the other way or like it as-is.  (Via Power Line.)

    This is a little strange, because while most Americans agree with the Republican position, a Gallup poll says that more of them disapprove of the Republican handling of the issue.  Go figure.  (Via Hot Air.)


    CBO: recession would end this year without stimulus

    February 9, 2009

    A few days ago, a Congressional Budget Office analysis showed that the “stimulus” package would hurt the economy in the long run.  Now, another CBO analysis shows that it’s not even necessary in the short run:

    CBO anticipates that the current recession, which started in December 2007, will last until the second half of 2009.

    Nevertheless, passing the package is so urgent we can’t even take some time to look at it.  Why is that exactly?

    (Via Instapundit.)


    Dollhouse

    February 8, 2009

    Joss Whedon’s new show premieres Friday.

    Unfortunately, the show will show on Fox, which buried Firefly under a mountain of network incompetence.  Hopefully, this one will will get a decent chance.

    (Previous post.)


    Taxpayers are chumps

    February 8, 2009

    More tax problems with Obama’s team, this time with Rahm Emanuel. This one isn’t so clear cut as the other four (!), and since the Chief of Staff doesn’t face confirmation, there are unlikely to be any sharp questions about it.  (The press would have to ask them. . .)


    Obama popularity slips

    February 8, 2009

    After a rocky start with tax-evading cabinet appointments and an unpopular stimulus bill, President Obama’s approval rating has slipped. According to Rasmussen, it now stands at 60%, still solid but now well within historical norms.  During the first two months of President Bush’s administration, his approval rating ranged between 57% and 63%, according to Gallup (Rasmussen didn’t exist back then).

    Speaking of the unpopular stimulus bill, half of those polled now say it will make things worse, not better.  Only 37% say that’s unlikely.


    Taking over the Census

    February 8, 2009

    Not only is it a bad idea for the White House to take over the census, it’s illegal.  The Constitution gives Congress the power to conduct the Census “in such Manner as they shall by Law direct.”  The law in turn assigns the authority to the Secretary of Commerce.  Beyond signing that law — years ago — the President plays no role whatsoever. Absent a new act of Congress, the White House cannot take it over. (Via Instapundit.)

    If President Obama wants to take over the Census, he is going to have to do it in broad daylight, by a highly controversial act of Congress.  I don’t know that that will stop him, but everyone will know what he’s doing.


    US reneges on digital TV

    February 7, 2009

    Qualcomm made the mistake of assuming the government would keep its word.  Oops.  It turns out their competitor, Clearwire, has a man in the White House.

    (Via Instapundit.)  (Previous post.)


    Pigs fly

    February 7, 2009

    The UN is softening its longstanding anti-Israel stance, Fox News reports:

    A United Nations agency’s suspension Friday of aid into Gaza is the latest in a series this week of tougher stances against Hamas — in contrast to the U.N.’s criticisms of Israel during its battle with Hamas in Gaza in late December and January.

    The suspension of aid was in response to armed Hamas militants on Thursday stealing hundreds of tons of food intended for Palestinians by armed Hamas militants.

    Also this week, the U.N. reversed its earlier claims that Israeli Defense Forces had bombed a school in Gaza administered by the United Nations Relief Works Agency (UNRWA). On Tuesday, the U.N.’s Office for Humanitarian Affairs issued a report on the Jan. 6 incident that claimed the lives of 43 Palestinians, stating that “the shelling, and all of the fatalities, took place outside rather than inside the school.”

    Separately, Radhika Coomaraswamy, U.N. special representative for children and armed conflict told the Jerusalem Post on Thursday that the organization will investigate the use by Hamas of children as human shields during the three-week Israeli military operation in Gaza.

    This is very strange.  I wonder what accounts for the shift, and how long it will last.


    This Monday

    February 7, 2009

    Lost in all the talk of stimulus boondoggles is one important piece of news; the Administration is reportedly set to suspend mark-to-market rules.  Iain Murray has been worrying that the market rally that will follow will be taken as a endorsement of the stimulus disaster.  So a minor piece of good news is the Senate’s cloture vote is scheduled for 5:30 pm Monday; too late for it to take credit for anything that happens on the stock exchanges that day.

    UPDATE: I should have seen this coming.  The announcement has been pushed back to Tuesday.

    UPDATE: Never mind.  No announcement on mark-to-market after all.


    Biden: we’ll screw up a third of the time

    February 7, 2009

    Biden will be Biden:

    The president and I were talking about something yesterday in the Oval Office — which, to the press here, I’ll not suggest what it was — but the response was to the folks that were in the office with us — was, you know, if we do everything right, if we do it with absolute certainty, we stand up there and we make really tough decisions, there’s still a 30-percent chance we’re going to get it wrong.

    (Via the Corner.)


    Because it worked out so well last time

    February 7, 2009

    Are they re-running the news now?

    Fannie Mae, the mortgage-finance company under U.S. government control, will loosen rules for homeowners seeking to lower their loan payments by refinancing.

    Fannie Mae will drop some credit-score requirements, reduce income-documentation standards and waive the need for appraisals in some cases, according to a notice yesterday to lenders posted on the Washington-based company’s Web site.

    (Via For What It’s Worth, via Instapundit.)

    Wow.  It’s rare that government irresponsibility actually manages to surprise me.  But I suppose it makes sense for Fannie, since bailouts are part of their business model now.


    Freed Gitmo prisoner led terrorist attack

    February 7, 2009

    Fox News reports:

    If the Guantanamo prison base is shut down, critics say, some military combatants currently held there will be sent back to their home countries — where they will rejoin terrorist groups and ultimately kill Americans.

    It’s already happened.

    A New York woman was killed in a terrorist attack at the U.S. Embassy in Sana, Yemen, in September. And U.S. counterterrorism officials have now confirmed that Said Ali al-Shihri, 35, who was released from the Guantanamo Bay prison center in 2007, is the deputy leader of Al Qaeda in that Mideast country and is a suspect in the attack.

    State Department officials have identified Susan Elbaneh, 18, of Lackawanna, N.Y., as one of at least 16 people — including her Yemeni husband — who died in the coordinated strike.


    Lawsuit challenges “Saxbe fix”

    February 7, 2009

    A lawsuit by Judicial Watch challenges the constitutionality of the “Saxbe fix,” which allows Hillary Clinton to assume the office of Secretary of State despite the Constitution’s Emoluments clause.

    I’m inclined to think the Saxbe fix is constitutional, but it will be interesting to see it tested in court.


    More Barro

    February 6, 2009

    The Atlantic’s Conor Clarke has an interesting interview with Robert Barro.  On Paul Krugman:

    Q. Do you read Paul Krugman’s blog?

    A. Just when he writes nasty individual comments that people forward.

    Q. Oh, well he wrote a series of posts saying he thought the World War II spending evidence was not good, for a variety of reasons, but I guess…

    A. He said elsewhere that it was good and that it was what got us out of the depression. He just says whatever is convenient for his political argument. He doesn’t behave like an economist. And the guy has never done any work in Keynesian macroeconomics, which I actually did. He has never even done any work on that. His work is in trade stuff. He did excellent work, but it has nothing to do with what he’s writing about.

    On the stimulus bill:

    Q. The last thing is just about the stimulus bills as it stands. Two things here. One thing is what do you think about the ratio of spending to tax relief in the bill. And the second is, if you judge it by Larry Summers standard — that stimulus be temporary, timely and targeted — does it clear the bar?

    A. This is probably the worst bill that has been put forward since the 1930s. I don’t know what to say. I mean it’s wasting a tremendous amount of money. It has some simplistic theory that I don’t think will work, so I don’t think the expenditure stuff is going to have the intended effect. I don’t think it will expand the economy. And the tax cutting isn’t really geared toward incentives. It’s not really geared to lowering tax rates; it’s more along the lines of throwing money at people. On both sides I think it’s garbage. So in terms of balance between the two it doesn’t really matter that much.

    On where people got the idea that government spending stimulates the economy:

    Q. Are there any conditions under which you might think spending could have a positive effect on output or is it always going to be the case that as a relative matter that tax cuts are going to be better?

    A. Tax cuts are bound to be better. I think the best evidence for expanding GDP comes from the temporary military spending that usually accompanies wars — wars that don’t destroy a lot of stuff, at least in the US experience. Even there I don’t think it’s one for one, so if you don’t value the war itself it’s not a good idea. You know, attacking Iran is a shovel-ready project. But I wouldn’t recommend it.

    There’s much more, too, but none of it will help you feel any better about this stimulus trainwreck.  Incidentally, Robert Barro is world’s the third-most influential economist, according to the RePEc/IDEAS measure.

    (Via Truth on the Market, via Volokh.)  (Previous post.)


    Chavez having trouble paying his bills

    February 6, 2009

    The AP reports:

    Venezuela’s state oil company is behind on billions in payments to private oil contractors from Oklahoma to Belarus, some of which have now stopped work, even as President Hugo Chavez funnels more oil revenue to social programs.

    Petroleos de Venezuela SA, or PDVSA, says unpaid invoices jumped 39 percent in the first nine months of last year — reaching $7.86 billion in September. And that was when world oil was selling for $100 a barrel.

    With prices plummeting by more than half, PDVSA is trying to renegotiate some contracts. But analysts say hardball tactics to reduce charges from crucial service providers could backfire by lowering Venezuela’s oil output. And foreign debt markets are reflecting jitters about Venezuela’s finances.


    Obamanomics

    February 6, 2009

    A parody of supply-side economics is “any tax cut at all stimulates the economy.”  As far as I’m aware, no one important has ever actually said that.  A supply-side economist would say that tax cuts must be crafted to encourage work, investment, and entrepreneurship.  Lower marginal income tax rates and lower capital gains taxes fit the bill.

    A comparable parody of liberal economics would be “any government spending at all stimulates the economy.”  That is equally foolish, but at least one person has said it.  President Obama:

    So then you get the argument, well, this is not a stimulus bill, this is a spending bill. What do you think a stimulus is? (Laughter and applause.) That’s the whole point. No, seriously. (Laughter.) That’s the point. (Applause.)

    (Via Power Line.)

    It’s right there in black and white: any spending is stimulus.

    POSTSCRIPT: Closer to the truth would be “no government stimulus at all stimulates the economy.”  Economist Robert Barro has calculated the so-called multiplier to be “insignificantly different from zero.”


    Khan released

    February 6, 2009

    Oh swell:

    Abdul Qadeer Khan, the scientist who helped Pakistan develop nuclear weapons and allegedly leaked atomic secrets to North Korea, Iran and Libya, was freed from years of de facto house arrest Friday by a high court ruling.

    The United States, which worries that Iran has used Pakistani know-how in pursuit of nuclear arms, said the disgraced scientist’s release would be “extremely regrettable.” State Department spokesman Gordon Duguid said Khan remained a “serious proliferation risk.”


    Obama lashes out

    February 6, 2009

    President Obama faces adversity for the first time, and he doesn’t much care for it:

    Frustrated by Republican unity against his economic-stimulus plan, President Barack Obama toughened his rhetoric Thursday and moved to wield his personal popularity to overcome opposition in Congress.

    Mr. Obama’s recent courtship of Republicans gave way to blunt derision of their ideas for the stimulus, as he tried to raise the political pressure to pass a measure with a price tag of over $900 billion in the Senate.

    Republican proposals are “rooted in the idea that tax cuts alone can solve all our problems, that government doesn’t have a role to play, that half measures and tinkering are somehow enough, that we can afford to ignore our most fundamental economic challenges,” the president said in an address at the Department of Energy Thursday. “Those ideas have been tested, and they have failed.”

    Set aside the straw men (name one person who says any of those things!) and consider the strangeness of this.  Democrats have the votes to do whatever they want, so what does it matter what Republicans think?  Republicans matter because the stimulus package is deeply unpopular, and the Democrats want political cover.  The stimulus package is deeply unpopular because he is losing the debate, and he is losing the debate because it is a very, very bad bill.

    If the President really believed this bill was a winner, he would push it through without any Republican votes and happily claim credit.  He knows it’s not, so he’s trying to change the subject from the crapulence of the bill to anything else (Rush Limbaugh, evil Republicans, or a host of economic straw men).

    I think the President is making a political mistake.  We know by now that few in Congress (Democrat or Republican) have any real principles.  The Republicans are standing strong because they are winning the debate.  If public opinion turns against them, they’ll wilt overnight, but as long as they hold public opinion, they won’t be bullied.  If President Obama wants to win Republican votes he needs to win the debate, and if he wins the debate, he won’t need those Republican votes any more.  Either way, he ought to be making the case for the bill, not trying to personalize it.

    POSTSCRIPT: President Obama might be suffering from a bad habit learned during the campaign.  During the campaign, personalizing everything worked, because he could tie everything (fairly or not) to an unpopular president.  Now he is the president, and he doesn’t have an unpopular opposing counterpart to blame.  (I don’t think Limbaugh will cut it for him.)  He has to lead now, and he hasn’t learned to do it yet.


    And so it begins

    February 6, 2009

    Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) plans to have hearings on reimposing the Fairness Doctrine:

    I absolutely think it’s time to be bringing accountability to the airwaves. I mean, our new president has talked rightly about accountability and transparency. You know, that we all have to step up and be responsible. And, I think in this case, there needs to be some accountability and standards put in place.

    Let’s just take this at face value.  She wants to bring “accountability to the airwaves” and put “standards” in place.  That means only one thing.  The government should control what people can say; free speech be damned.


    What the stimulus is really for

    February 6, 2009

    Jonah Goldberg explains:

    Remember what passes for a “cut” in Washington. Any decrease in the rate of increase counts as reduced spending. If you spend 20 percent more this year than you did last year, that’s a spending increase. But next year, that additional 20 percent is part of the baseline. And if your budget grows by “only” an additional ten percent, you’ve just “drastically cut” spending! 

    The stimulus bill was designed to give Democrats maximum maneuvering room. It would increase non-defense discretionary spending by more than 80 percent in a single year, in a single bill! Moving forward, they could grow government by smaller percentages while seeming to be responsible budget balancers. By putting chips on every square of social spending, they could let it ride for years to come.

    Read the whole thing.

    UPDATE: President Obama’s Chief of Staff put it this way:  “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste. . . [It gives you] an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.”


    UN retracts Jabaliya charge

    February 6, 2009

    Slander in haste, retract at leisure:

    The United Nations has retracted a claim that an Israeli strike which killed more than 40 people in northern Gaza city of Jabaliya last month hit a school run by a UN agency.

    “The humanitarian coordinator would like to clarify that the shelling, and all of the fatalities, took place outside rather than inside the school,” the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs said in its latest weekly update on the situation in Gaza.

    (Via LGF.)  More here.  It’s worth noting that Israeli confusion muddied the waters briefly, but they got their facts straight in short order, while people were still paying attention.  The UN waited nearly a month.


    Obama to end DEA pot raids

    February 6, 2009

    In a minor but significant potential victory for federalism, President Obama indicates that he will end federal raids of marijuana shops that are legal under state law, once he has a new DEA director in place. (Via Volokh.)

    I’m going to wait and see that it actually happens, but it’s a good sign that this promise hasn’t gone down the memory hole.

    UPDATE (2/16/2010): The promise may not have gone down the memory hole, but it doesn’t seem to have been kept either.


    Stimulus discriminates against students of faith

    February 6, 2009

    It keeps getting worse.  A provision in the stimulus package would prohibit any worship in any college or university building that is modernized, renovated, or repaired by stimulus funding.  The provision is sufficiently vague that it seems even to prohibit prayer.

    The Senate voted today along party lines not to remove the provision.  That job will be left for the courts.


    Michael Yon in Sderot

    February 5, 2009

    A new report from the indispensable Michael Yon.


    Beyond parody

    February 5, 2009

    The stimulus package has a $2 billion earmark for Rod Blagojevich.


    “Stimulus” hurts the economy in the long run

    February 5, 2009

    So says an analysis by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office:

    President Obama’s economic recovery package will actually hurt the economy more in the long run than if he were to do nothing, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said Wednesday.

    CBO, the official scorekeepers for legislation, said the House and Senate bills will help in the short term but result in so much government debt that within a few years they would crowd out private investment, actually leading to a lower Gross Domestic Product over the next 10 years than if the government had done nothing.

    (Via Instapundit.)

    The surprising thing isn’t that the stimulus package hurts the economy.  That’s been obvious since Inauguration Day at least.  The surprising thing is even the CBO’s model shows it.


    Taxpayers are chumps

    February 5, 2009

    I can’t believe I’m doing another “taxpayers are chumps” post. Do any of these people pay taxes?

    A Senate committee today abruptly canceled a session to consider President Obama’s nomination of Rep. Hilda Solis to be labor secretary in the wake of a report saying that her husband yesterday paid about $6,400 to settle tax liens against his business — including liens that had been outstanding for as long as 16 years.

    (Via Instapundit.)


    Ethical concerns dog Obama appointments

    February 5, 2009

    The latest is Leon Panetta:

    The White House’s nominee for Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Leon Panetta, has earned more than $700,000 in speaking and consulting fees since the beginning of 2008, with some of the payments coming from troubled financial firms and from a firm that invests in contractors for federal national security agencies, according to financial disclosures released Wednesday. . .

    The former White House chief of staff’s disclosure form also shows the delicate balance President Barack Obama is trying to strike — trying to curb the influence of lobbyists, while relying on Washington veterans who often help clients navigate the halls of power. Mr. Panetta’s forms show that he performed government affairs consulting last year and also sat on the board of a public affairs firm that lobbies Congress. Like Mr. Daschle, who also worked for a firm with lobbying clients, Mr. Panetta doesn’t violate Mr. Obama’s ban on hiring registered lobbyists.

    Like Daschle, Panetta is not a registered lobbyist, he merely uses his contacts to influence policy on behalf of clients.


    No daylight yet

    February 5, 2009

    Candidate Obama:

    Sunlight Before Signing: Too often bills are rushed through Congress and to the president before the public has the opportunity to review them. As president, Obama will not sign any non-emergency bill without giving the American public an opportunity to review and comment on the White House website for five days.

    President Obama:

    Obama appears poised to break his campaign pledge to give the public five days to review a bill before he signs it.

    Obama scheduled a bill signing for 4:35 p.m. Wednesday, even though the House has yet to vote on the legislation expanding a children’s health insurance program. The legislation is expected to win final approval only hours before the president will make it law. . .

    Obama signed the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act only two days after it received final passage last week, and it wasn’t posted on the White House website until after it became law.

    (Via Instapundit.)

    The bill has now been signed, so the pledge has already been violated twice. In fact, as far as I’m aware, those are the only two bills that have been sent to the President thus far.

    The “sunlight before signing” principle was just one of several ethical principles promised by candidate Obama that have already been violated or are on the verge of it. A few more from the same web page are:

    • Close the Revolving Door on Former and Future Employers: No political appointees in an Obama-Biden administration will be permitted to work on regulations or contracts directly and substantially related to their prior employer for two years. And no political appointee will be able to lobby the executive branch after leaving government service during the remainder of the administration.
    • Make White House Communications Public: Obama will amend executive orders to ensure that communications about regulatory policymaking between persons outside government and all White House staff are disclosed to the public.
    • Free Career Officials from the Influence of Politics: Obama will issue an executive order asking all new hires at the agencies to sign a form affirming that no political appointee offered them the job solely on the basis of political affiliation or contribution.

    Several top appointments have already violated the lobbyist pledge. As far as executive orders go, it’s always possible he’ll still issue them eventually, but after two weeks in office the President has already issued the executive orders that are important to him.

    UPDATE: We plan to live up to our ethical standards very, very soon. Heh.


    Aeroflot: drunk pilot no big deal

    February 4, 2009

    The London Times reports:

    It is normally a moment of cheery reassurance when an airline pilot greets passengers during preparations for take-off. But Alexander Cheplevsky sparked panic on flight Aeroflot 315 when he began to speak.

    His slurred and garbled comments ahead of a Dec. 29 flight from Moscow to New York convinced passengers that he was drunk. When he apparently switched from Russian into unintelligible English, fear turned to revolt.

    Flight attendants initially ignored passengers’ complaints and threatened to expel them from the Boeing 767 jet unless they stopped “making trouble”. As the rebellion spread, Aeroflot representatives boarded the aircraft to try to calm down the 300 passengers.

    One sought to reassure them by announcing that it was “not such a big deal” if the pilot was drunk because the aircraft practically flew itself.