Arafat always supported terror

July 31, 2009

So says a chief advisor to Mahmoud Abbas:

Senior Palestinian Authority official Mohammed Dahlan told PA TV last week that deceased former leader Yasser Arafat had managed to fool the world with his public condemnations of anti-Israel terrorism.

Dahlan said the international community demanded that Arafat condemn terrorism against Israel in order to win land concessions from the Jewish state, so he did just that. But behind the scenes, Dahlan said Arafat continued backing the use of terrorist violence against Israelis, a fact that Western leaders only acknowledged toward the end of Arafat’s life.

“Arafat would condemn [terror] operations by day while at night he would do honorable things,” said Dahlan, who today serves as top advisor to Arafat’s successor, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas.

(Via the Corner.)

This comes as no real surprise to anyone who paid attention to Arafat’s Arabic-language speeches, or to his actions. But it is unusual to see a top Palestinian official overtly boasting of how they pulled the wool over the world’s eyes.

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Venezuela considers new media law

July 31, 2009

The number of Venezuelan media outlets not controlled by Hugo Chavez’s government is already dwindling, but the few that remain are still too independent. So Venezuela is considering abolishing the last vestiges of its free press:

A tough new media law, under which journalists could be imprisoned for publishing “harmful” material, has been proposed in Venezuela.

Journalists could face up to four years in prison for publishing material deemed to harm state stability.

Public prosecutor Luisa Ortega Diaz, who proposed the changes, said it was necessary to “regulate the freedom of expression” without “harming it”.

Oh, they’re not going to harm freedom of expression? That’s a relief.

(Via the Corner.) (Previous post.)


Screwtape on flippancy

July 31, 2009

Jay Nordlinger, at the Corner, has written a lot about the diminishing number of safe zones, places where people of different political persuasions can interact amiably. One big non-safe-zone is academia, where the majority ideology tends to be liberal, and where liberals delight in injecting political attacks into matters having nothing to do with politics.

Case in point: At a faculty meeting yesterday, we were discussing the process by which the department would fill an important position that is soon to become vacant. One person joked that Sarah Palin should get the job. Most of the room dutifully laughed.

I was perplexed. The joke was not at all funny, it was just weird. Sarah Palin is just one of countless people who would be inappropriate for the job, and who wouldn’t want it, and who weren’t relevant to the conversation. It would have made just as much sense to joke that Sidney Crosby should get the job, or any other name one might draw from a hat.

So why does the Sarah Palin “joke” elicit a laugh, while the Sidney Crosby “joke” would presumably elicit only an uncomfortable silence? I think that members of this particular political mindset have been conditioned to believe that Sarah Palin is inherently funny. Her very name is a joke for all contexts.

I was reminded of what C. S. Lewis wrote about flippancy in the Screwtape Letters. For any readers who may not be familiar with the Screwtape Letters (I like to pretend), they are a series of letters written by a senior devil to a junior devil, giving advice on how to tempt a young man away from the “Enemy” (i.e., God). In chapter eleven, Uncle Screwtape takes on the topic of laughter and recommends flippancy as the best form for the devils’ purposes:

But flippancy is the best of all. In the first place it is very economical. Only a clever human can make a real Joke about virtue, or indeed about anything else; any of them can be trained to talk as if virtue were funny. Among flippant people the Joke is always assumed to have been made. No one actually makes it; but every serious subject is discussed in a manner which implies that they have already found a ridiculous side to it. If prolonged, the habit of Flippancy builds up around a man the finest armour plating against the Enemy that I know, and it is quite free from the dangers inherent in the other sources of laughter. It is a thousand miles away from joy; it deadens, instead of sharpening, the intellect; and it excites no affection between those who practise it.


Democrats won’t investigate Countrywide

July 31, 2009

AP reports:

House Democrats have declined to subpoena available records that might reveal whether other members of Congress got discounted VIP mortgages from subprime lender Countrywide Financial Corp. similar to the sweetheart deals given Democratic Sens. Chris Dodd and Kent Conrad. . .

Any subpoena must be issued by the committee’s chairman. But because Democrats control Congress, there are no Republican committee chairmen. . . Daniel Frahm, a Bank of America spokesman, said the bank is ready to turn over the Countrywide VIP documents if it receives a subpoena.

(Via Instapundit.)


Jerusalem consulate ignores Israel

July 30, 2009

Power Line writes:

A friend called to my attention the home page of the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem, which is devoid of any material pertaining to Jews or Israelis. Every item visible on the page is about Palestinians.

A fair reflection, I think, of where this administration’s sympathies lie and how it sees Jerusalem.

Surely an exaggeration, right? I had to see for myself.

No exaggeration. On the web page of the US consulate in Israel’s capital there are seventeen featured items. Of those, twelve relate to the Palestinian Authority or to Palestinians, one advertises two Fulbright fellowship programs (one for Palestinians and one for Arabs), one relates to the “peace process,” and the other three relate to the United States. Not one relates to Israel or Israelis.

UPDATE (8/6): It’s not just the web site. It seems that the Jerusalem consulate is essentially the embassy to Palestine, as a matter of official policy:

Claudia Rosett has since asked a few questions and was told by a press officer at the Consulate that it is “100 percent independent” of the embassy in Tel Aviv, reporting not to the U.S. Ambassador in Israel but directly to the Secretary of State in Washington.

We have promised for years that we would move our embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, but we have never gotten around to it, for fear of offending the Palestinians. At the same time, we’ve built an embassy to the Palestinians in that very city. Doesn’t that send a clear message?


Two thousand words

July 30, 2009

Keith Hennessey has turned the CBO analysis of the House Democrats’ horrifying health care bill into a horrifying chart:

househealthbillspendingandtaxes

You can see the huge tax increase outstripped by the even huger spending increase. In the long run, the outlook is even more horrifying:

househealthbilllongrun

These are the official CBO numbers. The true story is worse still. The marginal tax rates being contemplated (around 50%) are well up the Laffer curve, so the new taxes won’t bring in nearly as much money as predicted by the CBO’s model.

(Via Hot Air.)


Justice #3 dismissed voter intimidation case

July 30, 2009

The Washington Times has a lengthy account of how the Black Panther voter intimidation case came to be dismissed, after Justice Department lawyers had already won the case. Thomas Perrelli, the #3 official at the Justice Department (and a political appointee, of course), made the final decision that a suitable penalty for flagrant voter intimidation was an injunction against doing it again.

(Via the Corner.) (Previous post.)

UPDATE: More here. This keeps smelling worse and worse. (Via the Corner.)


CBO pans health care reform, yet again

July 29, 2009

The blows keep coming. The bill’s $239 billion cost over 10 years is the good news. The bad news is what comes after the first ten years.

(Previous post.)


Joe Biden, idiot

July 29, 2009

We’re seeing a lot of “White House defends Biden” stories, like this one:

White House Press Secretary Roberts Gibbs on Monday called Vice President Biden an “enormous asset to the administration,” insisting that the loose-lipped No. 2 is not a distraction even after the State Department had to walk back his thorny comments on Russia. . . The latest surprise came when [Biden] suggested that Russia will cooperate with the United States on a range of issues because the country is a mess.

“I think we vastly underestimate the hand that we hold,” Biden said during an interview with The Wall Street Journal at the end of his trip to Georgia and Ukraine. “Russia has to make some very difficult, calculated decisions. They have a shrinking population base, they have a withering economy, they have a banking sector and structure that is not likely to be able to withstand the next 15 years, they’re in a situation where the world is changing before them and they’re clinging to something in the past that is not sustainable.”

This drew a swift rebuke from the Kremlin, as the Obama administration has repeatedly said it wants to “reset” relations with Russia. The two countries produced a string of agreements on nuclear stockpile reduction and other matters following Obama’s recent trip to Moscow.

He’s right about Russia’s tough situation, but is it smart to be taunting them? I think the whole “reset” idea is foolishness, but if we’re going to try it, we ought to really try it.


Taxpayers are chumps

July 29, 2009

Charles Rangel (D-NY), tax cheat:

Ever notice that those who endorse high taxes and those who actually pay them aren’t the same people? Consider the curious case of Ways and Means Chairman Charlie Rangel, who is leading the charge for a new 5.4-percentage point income tax surcharge and recently called it “the moral thing to do.” About his own tax liability he seems less, well, fervent.

Exhibit A concerns a rental property Mr. Rangel purchased in 1987 at the Punta Cana Yacht Club in the Dominican Republic. The rental income from that property ought to be substantial since it is a luxury beach-front villa and is more often than not rented out. But when the National Legal and Policy Center looked at Mr. Rangel’s House financial disclosure forms in August, it noted that his reported income looked suspiciously low. In 2004 and 2005, he reported no more than $5,000, and in 2006 and 2007 no income at all from the property.

The Congressman initially denied there was any unreported income. But reporters quickly showed that the villa is among the most desirable at Punta Cana and that it rents for $500 a night in the low season, and as much as $1,100 a night in peak season. Last year it was fully booked between December 15 and April 15.

Mr. Rangel soon admitted having failed to report rental income of $75,000 over the years. First he blamed his wife for the oversight because he said she was supposed to be managing the property. Then he blamed the language barrier. “Every time I thought I was getting somewhere, they’d start speaking Spanish,” Mr. Rangel explained.

Mr. Rangel promised last fall to amend his tax returns, pay what is due and correct the information on his annual financial disclosure form. But the deadline for the 2008 filing was May 15 and as of last week he still had not filed. His press spokesman declined to answer questions about anything related to his ethics problems.

There’s more.


No bailout boosts Ford

July 29, 2009

Rasmussen reports:

Public opposition to the auto bailouts may translating into consumer buying decisions, with 46% of Americans now saying they are more likely to buy a car from Ford because it did not take government money to stay in business. . .

At the same time, nearly one-out-of-five Americans (19%) say someone in their family or a friend has chosen not to buy a car from GM or Chrysler because they took bailout money. . .

One-out-of-three investors (33%) say it is very likely that the government will give an unfair advantage to the bailed-out automakers.

(Via Instapundit.) (Related item.)

UPDATE: Here’s a contrarian view.


Give me liberty, or give me death

July 29, 2009

The House Democrats’ health care bill isn’t going with liberty. (Via Instapundit.)


The truth about upside-down mortgages

July 29, 2009

A new study shows that, contrary to the the popular impression that upside-down mortgages are generally due to adverse market movements and resetting ARMs, most are actually due to reckless choices made by the borrower:

In crafting programs to prevent foreclosures, policymakers have assumed that the primary reason homeowners owe more on their home than it is worth is that they bought at the top of the market. In other words, they’ve lost equity primarily through forces beyond their control.

A new study challenges this premise and finds that excessive borrowing may have played as great a role.

Michael LaCour-Little, a finance professor at California State University at Fullerton, looked at 4,000 foreclosures in Southern California from 2006-08. He found that, at least in Southern California, borrowers who defaulted on their mortgages didn’t purchase their homes at the top of the market. Instead, the average acquisition was made in 2002 and many homes lost to foreclosure were bought in the 1990s. More than half of all borrowers who lost their homes had already refinanced at least once, and four out of five had a second mortgage.

The original loan-to-value ratio for these borrowers stood at a reasonable 84%, but second and third liens left homeowners with a combined loan-to-value ratio of about 150% by the time of the foreclosure sale date.

Borrowers, meanwhile, took out around $2 billion in equity from their homes, or nearly eight times the $262 million that they put into their homes. Lenders lost around four times as much as borrowers, seeing $1 billion in losses.

That last figure is staggering: these borrowers took eight times the amount of money out of their houses as they put in. Now the government is going to step in to try to “save” them?


This means war

July 29, 2009

Democrats are considering a video game tax to fund their health care catastrophe and to discourage inactive lifestyles. It’s hard to imagine that a video game tax could bring in much money, and I’m not aware of any study that supports the hypothesis that taxing video games would result in healthier lifestyles.

Out of my gaming companions, most do not live sedentary lives. In fact, a surprising number are firefighters. On-duty firefighters need something to do while they wait around in the station for a call and video games fit the bill. I also understand that video games are popular among soliders deployed to inhospitable locations like Afghanistan and Iraq. (I generally don’t game with them, though, due to time differences and network latency.) Firefighters and soldiers would be surprised to learn of their inactive lifestyles.

This is all anecdotal, of course. But again, as far as I’m aware, these proposals are being made on mere conjecture. One would also get different anecdotes from children, I’m sure, but children are actually a small segment of the video game market:

As younger generations grow and have children of their own, more parents are playing video games than ever before – 36% of parents play video games. “Families that play together stay together” can now mean playing video games.

Eighty percent of gamer parents play video games with their kids.

Forty-seven percent of video game players are between the ages of 18 and 49. The fastest growing demographic is the 50-plus crowd. This doesn’t mean that kids aren’t playing video games anymore; far from it… they still represent 28% of all gamers out there.

More and more older Americans are playing video games than ever before. Video games are perfect activities for seniors by providing activity without physical stress. They offer health benefits with coordination, balance and endurance. 24% of Americans over age 50 played video games last year, and that number should only increase.

The average game buyer is 38 years old, five years older than the average player. This gap in age represents the scores of parents buying games for their children, and the tremendous influence parents have on sales.


Smoking gun

July 28, 2009

It has been a long time since there was any real doubt that Venezuela supports FARC, the communist rebel/terrorist group in Colombia. It has been particularly clear since a Colombian raid captured a FARC computer containing files detailing Venezuela’s support. But Hugo Chavez claimed the files were a fraud, and those with reason to do so pretended to believe him.

Now Colombia has proof:

Swedish-made anti-tank rocket launchers sold to Venezuela years ago were obtained by Colombia’s main rebel group, and Sweden said Monday it was demanding an explanation.

Colombia said its military found the weapons in a captured rebel arms cache and that Sweden had recently confirmed they originally were sold to Venezuela’s military. . .

The head of the Swedish government agency that supervises weapons exports, Jan-Erik Lovgren, told Swedish Radio that the weapons were sold to Venezuela in the 1980s.

Lovgren said the incident — a clear violation of end-user licenses — could affect future decisions on whether to allow weapons sales to Venezuela.

Naturally, Venezuela is continuing to deny everything, but their denial doesn’t even make sense:

Venezuela’s justice minister, Tareck El Aissami, on Monday dismissed the report of the missiles, denying that “our government or institutions have ever collaborated with any type of criminal or terrorist organizations.”

He told state television that the case of the rocket launchers appears “a cheap film of the U.S. government.”

Venezuela needs to give up the charade. Sweden sold the weapons to Venezuela, and Colombia has them now. How did Colombia obtain them, if not the way it said?


Dodd and Conrad knew about sweetheart deals

July 28, 2009

AP reports:

Despite their denials, influential Democratic Sens. Kent Conrad and Chris Dodd were told from the start they were getting VIP mortgage discounts from one of the nation’s largest lenders, the official who handled their loans has told Congress in secret testimony.

Both senators have said that at the time the mortgages were being written they didn’t know they were getting unique deals from Countrywide Financial Corp., the company that went on to lose billions of dollars on home loans to credit-strapped borrowers. Dodd still maintains he got no preferential treatment.

Dodd got two Countrywide mortgages in 2003, refinancing his home in Connecticut and another residence in Washington. Conrad’s two Countrywide mortgages in 2004 were for a beach house in Delaware and an eight-unit apartment building in Bismarck in his home state of North Dakota.

(Via Instapundit.)


Don’t know much about history

July 26, 2009

I’m not that much of a student of history, but I knew that Emperor Hirohito did not attend the Japanese surrender ceremony at the end of World War Two.  Oops:

President Obama has put securing Afghanistan near the top of his foreign policy agenda, but “victory” in the war-torn country isn’t necessarily the United States’ goal, he said Thursday in a TV interview.

“I’m always worried about using the word ‘victory,’ because, you know, it invokes this notion of Emperor Hirohito coming down and signing a surrender to MacArthur,” Obama told ABC News.

(Via Gateway Pundit, via Instapundit.)


A scoop at the Post

July 26, 2009

The Washington Post, under the headline “A Case of Getting What You Pay For”, reports:

The evolution of heart attack treatment over the past three decades is a story of doing more things to more people at greater expense with better results. It is a portrait in miniature of medicine in the United States.

Although inappropriate care, high administrative costs, inflated prices and fraud all add to the country’s gigantic medical bill, the biggest driver of the upward curve of health spending has been the discovery of new and better things to do when someone gets sick.

“Money matters in health care as it does in few other industries,” wrote Harvard University health economist David Cutler in 2004. “Where we have spent a lot, we have received a lot in return.”

Beyond heart attack treatment, similar stories can be told about cancer, premature birth, arthritis, HIV infection, mental illness and innumerable other common conditions. The trend in all of them toward more intensive, expensive and better treatment is not likely to change with health-care reform, however constituted.

Providing health insurance to the 47 million Americans who don’t have it — the key feature of the bills before Congress — is likely to expand heart attack treatment and increase spending on it, not pare it back and reduce the cost.

(Via Kausfiles, via Instapundit.)

Pay more to get more? Who ever heard of such a thing?


Ford refuses bailout, turns profit

July 26, 2009

Good for them. Related item here.


A YouTube legend is born

July 26, 2009

(Via Instapundit.)

Then here’s this related item.


CBO pans health care reform, again

July 25, 2009

Politico reports:

For the second time this month, congressional budget analysts have dealt a blow to the Democrat’s health reform efforts, this time by saying a plan touted by the White House as crucial to paying for the bill would actually save almost no money over 10 years.

A key House chairman and moderate House Democrats on Tuesday agreed to a White House-backed proposal that would give an outside panel the power to make cuts to government-financed health care programs. White House budget director Peter Orszag declared the plan “probably the most important piece that can be added” to the House’s health care reform legislation.

But on Saturday, the Congressional Budget Office said the proposal to give an independent panel the power to keep Medicare spending in check would only save about $2 billion over 10 years- a drop in the bucket compared to the bill’s $1 trillion price tag.

“In CBO’s judgment, the probability is high that no savings would be realized … but there is also a chance that substantial savings might be realized. Looking beyond the 10-year budget window, CBO expects that this proposal would generate larger but still modest savings on the same probabilistic basis,” CBO Director Douglas Elmendorf wrote in a letter to House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer on Saturday.

(Via Instapundit.)

This “plan” is really a plan to have a plan. It doesn’t identify any savings; it creates a commission to find those savings. And that idle speculation is how health care reform is supposed to pay for itself. (I’ll be impressed if the panel finds enough savings to pay for its expenses.)

It also strikes me that the plan is constitutionally dubious. It sounds to me as though the plan would delegate legislative power to the proposed panel, which is unconstitutional.

(Previous post.)


Can’t help himself

July 25, 2009

I have to say, I am greatly enjoying the spectacle of President Obama’s ill-advised decision to wade into the Gates affair. The president called his news conference to try to rally support for his increasingly unpopular effort to “reform” health care. The last thing he should have done was change the subject. When asked about it, he should have said (as Charles Krauthammer suggests) something like “I am a friend of Gates, and therefore I’m inclined to believe his story. But since there’s no way I can know what actually happened, I’ll decline a comment.”

But he just couldn’t help himself. True to form, he had to opine, whether he was conversant with the facts or not. And, at the risk of sounding cynical, it’s fortunate that he did. The top story the next day wasn’t health care, but the president’s attack on the Cambridge police. He blunted any impact his press conference might have had.

POSTSCRIPT: Regarding the affair itself, the facts are in dispute. The police might have behaved inappropriately, or maybe not. (Power Line argues that their actions might well have been reasonable.) But one thing is clear; Gates was foolish. The police have the power to arrest people on the flimsiest justification, and they often do. Whether or not his anger was justified, arguing with the police was likely to get him in trouble. That’s not the way things should be; it’s just the way they are.


Heh

July 25, 2009

French anti-work activists are opposing a proposed law that would make it legal to work on Sunday. They plan to protest, once they get back from their summer holiday:

Jean Dionnot, a former boxing champion, founded The Collective of Sunday Friends in 2006 to lobby against modifying Sunday trading rules. He said he was appalled by the new law. “Now people will spend their Sundays wandering in malls,” he said.

Mr. Dionnot said he was pausing his campaign for a while, but would resume his fight in September. “It’s the holiday break now,” he said.


Clown show

July 25, 2009

Hillary Clinton apparently hasn’t learned yet that words are important on the international stage:

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said this week a nuclear Iran could be contained by a U.S. “defense umbrella,” setting off tremors in the Middle East.

Since making the remark on a television chat show in Thailand, Clinton has backpedaled, saying she was only restating existing policy and not referring to any sort of formal guarantees of protection under an American “nuclear umbrella.”

And when Israeli officials raised alarms that she seemed to suggest the U.S. was resigned to a nuclear-armed Iran, Clinton and senior State Department officials hastily insisted such a prospect was still unacceptable and that no policy had changed.

Extending the “nuclear umbrella” is serious business, and shouldn’t be thrown around as small talk. It’s a pity the president chose his Secretary of State for political considerations, rather than foreign policy competence.


The honeymoon is over

July 24, 2009

The latest Rasmussen poll shows that, for the first time, a majority disapproves of President Obama’s job performance, 51% to 49%. He also faces an eight point deficit among those who feel strongly, 38%-30%. Only 37% of independents approve.

Other polls have also shown a sharp drop in the president’s numbers, but still have him in the mid-fifties. Why is Rasmussen’s result different? They explain:

When comparing Job Approval data from different firms, it’s important to keep in mind that polls of likely voters and polls of all adults will typically and consistently yield different results. In the case of President Obama, polls by all firms measuring all adults typically show significantly higher approval ratings than polls of likely voters. Polls of registered voters typically fall in the middle. Other factors are also important to consider when comparing Job Approval ratings from different polling firms.

Most polls use a broader sample most of the time, even during election campaigns, and shift to likely voters just before the election takes place. I think Rasmussen does better by being consistent.

It’s also worth nothing that Rasmussen did the best job at predicting the outcome of the 2008 election, tied with Pew Research. (CNN did slightly better with its actual prediction, but had a much wider margin of error, giving it a greater average error.)

(Via Power Line.)

UPDATE: What Rasmussen calls the approval index (strong approval vs. strong disapproval) hits double digits at -11, with 29% strongly approving and 40% strongly disapproving.

Doing the arithmetic, that means 29% strongly approve, 20% weakly approve, 11% weakly disapprove, and 40% strongly disapprove. Wow.

UPDATE: For what it’s worth (not much), Zogby has Obama down as well, at 48% approval against 51% disapproval.  But Zogby is usually a left-leaning poll, so it might be worth something. In the 2008 election Zogby over-estimated Obama’s margin of victory more than nearly any other major poll (only CBS/NYT and Newsweek did worse). Even the Fair model, which does no polling and doesn’t even know who the candidates are, did better.

(Via Hot Air.)


John Holdren’s crazy book

July 24, 2009

Fox News reports:

[John Holdren] was confirmed with little fanfare on March 19 as director of the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy, a 50-person directorate that advises the president on scientific affairs, focusing on energy independence and global warming.

But many of Holdren’s radical ideas on population control were not brought up at his confirmation hearings; it appears that the senators who scrutinized him had no knowledge of the contents of a textbook he co-authored in 1977, “Ecoscience: Population, Resources, Environment,” a copy of which was obtained by FOXNews.com.

The 1,000-page course book, which was co-written with environmental activists Paul and Anne Ehrlich, discusses and in one passage seems to advocate totalitarian measures to curb population growth, which it says could cause an environmental catastrophe. . . Holdren and his co-authors spend a portion of the book discussing possible government programs that could be used to lower birth rates.

Those plans include forcing single women to abort their babies or put them up for adoption; implanting sterilizing capsules in people when they reach puberty; and spiking water reserves and staple foods with a chemical that would make people sterile.

To help achieve those goals, they formulate a “world government scheme” they call the Planetary Regime, which would administer the world’s resources and human growth, and they discuss the development of an “armed international organization, a global analogue of a police force” to which nations would surrender part of their sovereignty.

Holdren now says that he does not hold the views expressed in the book he co-wrote, and never did. He has not explained why then he allowed his name to be attached to the book.


AFP can’t count

July 24, 2009

AFP describes last Wednesday’s anti-Zelaya demonstration in Tegucigalpa this way:

Hundreds of white-clad demonstrators on Wednesday protested against Zelaya’s return in the capital, where the situation has become increasingly polarized.

“We don’t like you, Mel,” one banner read in Wednesday’s demonstration, using Zelaya’s nickname.

Zelaya’s supporters meanwhile have announced their own demonstrations.

(Emphasis mine.)

A photograph of the demonstration suggests that there might have been a wee bit more than merely hundreds in the demonstration:

Tegucigalpa-demonstration-20090722

(Via Instapundit.)


Bezos apologizes

July 24, 2009

Jeff Bezos has apologized for Amazon’s handling of the Orwell-Kindle affair. (Via Instapundit.)

I’ll accept his apology as genuine, but it doesn’t entirely settle the matter. The troubling thing about the incident wasn’t so much Amazon’s action, but their capability to do it. Bezos can’t put this back in the box, now that we know about that capability. Bezos needs to explain what Amazon will do to protect the ebooks that we already own.

(Previous post.)


Two-thirds say stimulus hasn’t helped

July 23, 2009

According to a new Rasmussen poll, more people (31%) say that the stimulus has hurt the economy than helped (25%). When you combine that with the 36% who say it has had no impact, that’s a 67% majority. But it sure did provide a lot of pork.

(Via Instapundit.)


Obama plays against type

July 22, 2009

A thoughtful comment by Paul Mirengoff:

At the risk of repeating a point made by others, I think it’s worth noting that President Obama is going about overhauling our health care system in a strange manner. One would expect a leader, particularly one who is considered highly cerebral by many, to carefully craft a health care reform plan after a period of intense study. One would expect further that the leader would fight for his plan, compromising only around the edges and under extreme duress. One would not expect a leader to defer to others in his party simply to get a plan, any plan, passed by a certain date.

But Obama is, in the words of David Brooks, deferring to the Old Bulls in Congress on health care reform. He appears to be engaged in an ad hoc process whereby proposals are being cobbled together more or less on the fly and then adjusted in response to the political circumstances as they appear on a given day. . .

It is shocking that Obama would attempt to overhaul our health care system — this vast and critical portion of our economy — on such a short timetable and in such a haphazard fashion. The public senses the absurdity of his approach. It expects Obama to act like the careful, studious leader it voted for. Plainly, though, he has shed that cover.

Yes, Obama has made it clear (almost in as many words) that it is more important to do something, anything, than to do the right thing.


No pacemaker for you, take a painkiller

July 22, 2009

This clip is very revealing of President Obama’s attitude toward health care rationing:

Helen Smith, who knows a thing or two about heart arrhythmia, is aghast. (Via Instapundit.)


Obama doesn’t know what’s in his bill

July 22, 2009

“The time for talking is through,” but the time for reading has apparently not yet arrived. In a conference call yesterday, President Obama admitted that he doesn’t know what’s in the bill for which he’s trying to rally support:

During the call, a blogger from Maine said he kept running into an Investors Business Daily article that claimed Section 102 of the House health legislation would outlaw private insurance. He asked: “Is this true? Will people be able to keep their insurance and will insurers be able to write new policies even though H.R. 3200 is passed?” President Obama replied: “You know, I have to say that I am not familiar with the provision you are talking about.”

(Via Hot Air.) (Previous post.)


Another transparency reversal

July 22, 2009

Candidate Obama:

The Problem

Lobbyists Write National Policies: For example, Vice President Dick Cheney’s Energy Task Force of oil and gas lobbyists met secretly to develop national energy policy. . .

Barack Obama and Joe Biden’s Plan . . .

  • 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.
  • Conduct Regulatory Agency Business in Public: Obama will require his appointees who lead the executive branch departments and rulemaking agencies to conduct the significant business of the agency in public, so that any citizen can see in person or watch on the Internet these debates.

President Obama:

Obama administration officials have rejected a watchdog group’s request for a list of healthcare industry executives who’ve been meeting secretly in the White House with Obama staffers to discuss pending healthcare changes being drafted there and in Congress.

According to the Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington, which is suspicious of the influence of health industry lobbyists and company officers, it received a letter from the Secret Service citing an Obama Justice Dept. directive and denying access to visitor logs under the “presidential communications privilege.”

(Via Instapundit.)

It’s not just Obama and Bush, either. The Clinton administration also had secret meetings with health care lobbyists, and there was a lawsuit in that case too. Transparency is much more popular with presidential candidates than with presidents.


QFT

July 21, 2009

Sheldon Richman writes:

A rule we can rely on to be unfailingly applied is this: No matter how much the government controls the economic system, any problem will be blamed on whatever small zone of freedom that remains. This of course is evidence of a rigged game. The government can’t possibly monitor and regulate absolutely every transaction that takes place in a country. Stalin and Hitler couldn’t do it by a long shot. So anything that displeases the ruling regime can easily be laid at the doorstep of freedom and be used as an excuse for stamping out whatever traces of liberty still exist.

(Via Instapundit.)


More signing statements

July 21, 2009

AP reports:

President Obama has irked close allies in Congress by declaring he has the right to ignore legislation on constitutional grounds after having criticized George W. Bush for doing the same.

Four senior House Democrats on Tuesday said they were “surprised” and “chagrined” by Obama’s declaration in June that he doesn’t have to comply with provisions in a war spending bill that puts conditions on aid provided to the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

In a signing statement accompanying the $106 billion bill, Obama said he wouldn’t allow the legislation to interfere with his authority as president to conduct foreign policy and negotiate with other governments.

Earlier in his six-month-old administration, Obama issued a similar statement regarding provisions in a $410 billion omnibus spending bill. He also included qualifying remarks when signing legislation that established commissions to govern public lands in New York, investigate the financial crisis and celebrate Ronald Reagan’s birthday.

“During the previous administration, all of us were critical of (Bush’s) assertion that he could pick and choose which aspects of congressional statutes he was required to enforce,” the Democrats wrote in their letter to Obama. “We were therefore chagrined to see you appear to express a similar attitude.” . . .

Obey and the other House lawmakers said this week that Obama’s signing statement on the war bill will make it tougher in the future to persuade other lawmakers to support the World Bank and IMF.

If Congress can’t place conditions on the money, “it will make it virtually impossible to provide further allocations for these institutions,” they wrote.

Welcome guys, to the ranks of the rubes.


Obama reverses on Jerusalem

July 21, 2009

Candidate Obama:

Let me be clear. Israel’s security is sacrosanct. It is non-negotiable. The Palestinians need a state that is contiguous and cohesive, and that allows them to prosper — but any agreement with the Palestinian people must preserve Israel’s identity as a Jewish state, with secure, recognized and defensible borders. Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided.

The Obama Administration, thirteen months later:

The United States views East Jerusalem as no different than an illegal West Bank outpost with regard to its demand for a freeze on settlement construction, American sources have informed both Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

(Via Volokh.)

Now that Barack Obama no longer needs to court Jewish voters, East Jerusalem has gone from part of the undivided capital of Israel to an illegal West Bank outpost. Another one for the “who are the rubes” file.


Why $245 million doesn’t count

July 21, 2009

I noted yesterday that George Miller, chairman of the House Education and Labor committee, was claiming that the CBO scored his bill as revenue-neutral over ten years, when in truth the CBO scored it as adding $239 billion to the deficit over ten years.

Today, Politico has an explanation for Miller’s story, sort of. Apparently $245 billion of the bill’s spending is for Medicare payments to doctors, and was put there to gain the support of the AMA. The Democrats argue that that part of the bill doesn’t count. Voila, $6 billion surplus.

In my own budget, the only way to make spending not count is not to spend the money. I wish I were as clever as the Democrats.

UPDATE: In the original post, I said the Democrats were planning to use accounting gimmicks to hide the $245 billion. That’s what I understood the Politico article to be saying with its reference to “new accounting rules,” but now it looks like I misunderstood.  The chicanery the Democrats are attempting is political, not accounting. (I’ve corrected the post accordingly, but the mistake lingers on in the permalink.)

This statement from the Energy and Commerce committee explains the Democratic argument a little bit better:

The bill’s long-term reform of Medicare’s physician fee schedule to eliminate the potential 21 percent cut in fees, and put payments on a sustainable basis for the future, will cost about $245 billion. Those costs, however, are not included in the net calculations above, as they will be absorbed under the upcoming statutory “pay go” legislation that is pending in the House.

So the $245 billion doesn’t count because it also appears in some other bill that’s under consideration. Well, at least I understand what they’re saying now.

The Democrats are trying to have it both ways. If they don’t want to count the $245 billion, they can simply take it out of the bill. Leave it in the other bill and pass that one. (Or better yet, don’t.) But that’s exactly what they cannot do. The $245 billion fee adjustment was the AMA’s price for supporting the bill. If they take it out, they risk losing the AMA’s support. It’s a package deal.

The CBO doesn’t score a bill based on what else might be done in other political realities. If it’s in the bill, it counts. It’s ridiculous to pretend otherwise.

UPDATE: This AP article lays things out pretty well.


Senate strips money for F-22s

July 21, 2009

Oh well. The planes are still in the House bill, but I don’t expect they’ll survive. Hopefully we’ll never have to fight anyone with an air force again.

(Via the Corner.)


Policy has consequences

July 21, 2009

The last issue of the Economist had a special report on Texas and California. In short, Texas is cleaning California’s clock. Texas is flourishing due to its business-friendly policies; even in the recession Texas is doing better than most. California is just the opposite. The report’s opening article concludes:

How Texas responds to these forces will determine its future. Get it right, and the state will remain business-friendly and globally competitive, with high employment and a rising standard of living. Get it wrong, and Texas could follow California (which “flipped” from Republican to Democratic control in part thanks to rapid immigration) down the road of high taxes and excessive regulation. This route has bankrupted California and is prompting a net 100,000 people to leave each year. Many of them head for Texas. One simple statistic tells that tale: it costs nearly three times as much to rent a self-drive van for a one-way journey from Los Angeles to Houston as the other way around.

That’s just two states, but National Review has a broader analysis (subscription required). They charted unemployment against political preference (as measured by presidential elections) across the states and found a clear correlation between Democrats and unemployment:

unemployment-and-politics

The longer a state has been Republican, the better off it is. The longer a state has been Democratic, the worse off it is.


Administration can’t find $100 million to cut

July 21, 2009

Three months ago President Obama ordered his cabinet to find ways to cut the federal budget $100 million (that is, 0.003%) within 90 days. The order to cut such a tiny amount was widely derided, even on the left. Paul Krugman pointed out that Obama could cut $100 million every day for his entire term and still not make a dent in the budget.

But now it seems that even $100 million was too much for this administration to cut:

On April 20, President Obama challenged his Cabinet to cut $100 million in spending over the next 90 days.

The deadline came — and went — without a report from the White House on whether or not that promise was fulfilled.

Asked about the spending cuts, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Monday that information still was being compiled.

(Via the Corner.)

This is becoming a pattern for this president. He makes an announcement with great fanfare, but doesn’t actually have a plan to accomplish it. He sets a deadline by which a plan will be devised, and the deadline passes silently with no plan. The crazy thing is that this goal (unlike, say, closing Guantanamo) is easy, or at least it should have been.


Obama delays policy deadline

July 21, 2009

In the early days of the Obama administration, the president announced — with great fanfare — that he was overturning all the Bush administration detention policies. He didn’t have new policies to replace them with, though. In reality, he was just announcing a plan to have a plan.

It turns out that even the plan to have a plan wasn’t so rigid:

The Obama administration on Monday pushed back its own deadline for devising new anti-terrorism policies.

The decision had been expected, as presidentially appointed task forces have failed to meet a six-month schedule for making policy recommendations on how terror suspects should be interrogated, held in custody or handed over to other countries.

Senior administration officials said Monday that the report on detention will be delayed six months and the report on interrogation and transfer policy will be delayed two months.

The cynics who suggested that intending to change policies was much easier than actually changing policies have been pretty well vindicated. Not that anyone is paying attention any more.


Islamism delenda est

July 20, 2009

Another innovation from the Islamic Republic of Iran:

He said he had been a highly regarded member of the force, and had so “impressed my superiors” that, at 18, “I was given the ‘honor’ to temporarily marry young girls before they were sentenced to death.”

In the Islamic Republic it is illegal to execute a young woman, regardless of her crime, if she is a virgin, he explained. Therefore a “wedding” ceremony is conducted the night before the execution: The young girl is forced to have sexual intercourse with a prison guard – essentially raped by her “husband.”

“I regret that, even though the marriages were legal,” he said.

Why the regret, if the marriages were “legal?”

“Because,” he went on, “I could tell that the girls were more afraid of their ‘wedding’ night than of the execution that awaited them in the morning. And they would always fight back, so we would have to put sleeping pills in their food. By morning the girls would have an empty expression; it seemed like they were ready or wanted to die.

“I remember hearing them cry and scream after [the rape] was over,” he said. “I will never forget how this one girl clawed at her own face and neck with her finger nails afterwards. She had deep scratches all over her.”

(Via the Corner.)

Since these are the same monsters that execute rape victims for adultery, I guess we can’t be too surprised by this.


Obama hits parity

July 20, 2009

In the latest Rasmussen poll, 50% approve of President Obama, against 49% disapproving. Among those who feel strongly, 30% approve and 37% disapprove.


A pre-buttal

July 20, 2009

The CBO has scored the House Democrats’ health care bill and it’s a disaster. By 2019 the deficit would be widened $65 billion per year and the gap continues to grow each year, despite a massive tax hike. That’s assuming that the tax hike brings in as much revenue as projected, which it won’t.  Also, despite the cost, the plan does not achieve universal coverage; it reaches only two-thirds of the uninsured.

But there’s a curious fact about the House Democrats’ plan. The tax hike is effective in 2011, but the new spending is not effective until 2013. Why is that? I think it’s to make the short-term outlook better. Since they’ll run up $49 billion in new taxes before the spending kicks in, it will take until 2016 for the plan to start losing money. (Again, assuming the tax hike works as predicted.)

So tomorrow’s Democratic spin will be that the plan cuts the deficit. The qualifier “through 2015” will be mumbled when it’s said at all. The further qualifier “after which it’s a catastrophe” won’t even be hinted at.

(Via Dmarron, via Instapundit.)

UPDATE: Alternatively, they might just lie. From the office of George Miller, chairman of the House Education and Labor committee, comes this press release:

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released estimates this evening confirming for the first time that H.R. 3200, America’s Affordable Health Choices Act, is deficit neutral over the 10-year budget window – and even produces a $6 billion surplus.

(Via the Corner.)

This is an outright lie. The CBO scoring (linked above) says it would generate a $239 billion deficit over ten years, not a $6 billion surplus. The longest window over which it would generate a surplus ($4 billion) is six years.

UPDATE: Miller’s number is based on the notion that $245 billion of the bill doesn’t count.


Cell phones and driving: what the science says

July 20, 2009

The New York Times is running a series on the evils of cell phone use while driving. Its latest article is chock-full of anecdotes about serious accidents caused by cell-phone use, and laments how people are not responding to the research:

Extensive research shows the dangers of distracted driving. Studies say that drivers using phones are four times as likely to cause a crash as other drivers, and the likelihood that they will crash is equal to that of someone with a .08 percent blood alcohol level, the point at which drivers are generally considered intoxicated. Research also shows that hands-free devices do not eliminate the risks, and may worsen them by suggesting that the behavior is safe.

A 2003 Harvard study estimated that cellphone distractions caused 2,600 traffic deaths every year, and 330,000 accidents that result in moderate or severe injuries.

Yet Americans have largely ignored that research.

This line of argument has always struck me as asinine. It makes good sense to require drivers to have both hands available, so I’ve never been opposed to hands-free requirements. But opposing cell-phone use because it is distracting misses one major point: there are lots of distractions while we drive. We listen to the radio, we talk to people in the car, we have screaming children. (And those are just the reasonable things; there’s also stupid things like eating or applying make-up.) How do the risks of cell phone usage compare to all those other distractions? It seems likely that using a hands-free cell phone is more distracting than listening to the radio, about the same as talking to someone in the car, and quite a bit less than screaming children. But no one is talking about banning carpools, which surely lead to in-car conversations, or banning the transporting of children.

The NYT article did have something useful though. It had a link to a Department of Transportation publication containing an up-to-date (as of 2005) bibliography of research on the subject. On the assumption that the most respectable research appeared in peer-reviewed journals (this is the case in most fields, although not as much in mine), I looked up a handful of the articles on-line. In three cases I was able to find the actual paper, and in three I had to settle for the abstract.

What I found surprised me. None of the abstracts (nor the full papers when I could find them) discussed comparisons between cell-phone use and other distractions. In this, I imagine I was just unlucky (surely someone has looked at the question). But I did notice that all the studies were more measured that the reporting would suggest.

The most interesting was the 2003 Harvard study to which the NYT article alluded. As an aside, it did estimate that eliminating cell phone use would save 2600 lives. But that is not what the study was about. The study did a cost-benefit analysis. It built an economic model and compared the costs of a cell phone ban against the benefits in terms of lives and property saved.

The study found that eliminating cell phone use would be a break-even proposition. In fact, it would be a small net loss. And that doesn’t take into account the intangible cost of the reduction of our liberty. The study also found that eliminating cell phone are a very expensive way to save lives when compared with other possible safety measures. Finally, it’s worth noting that even a total ban on cell phone usage would not eliminate cell phone usage, nor would it probably even come close (see below).

More after the jump.

Read the rest of this entry »


White House sitting on budget update

July 20, 2009

AP reports:

The White House is being forced to acknowledge the wide gap between its once-upbeat predictions about the economy and today’s bleak landscape.

The administration’s annual midsummer budget update is sure to show higher deficits and unemployment and slower growth than projected in President Barack Obama’s budget in February and update in May, and that could complicate his efforts to get his signature health care and global-warming proposals through Congress.

The release of the update – usually scheduled for mid-July – has been put off until the middle of next month, giving rise to speculation the White House is delaying the bad news at least until Congress leaves town on its August 7 summer recess.

(Via Instapundit.)

This White House is hoping Democrats can pass one more disaster before the public finds out what a mess they’ve made already.


That was then

July 20, 2009

(Via Hot Air.)

Along the same lines, there are the administration’s quantitative predictions:

stimulus-vs-unemployment-june


Dems don’t have the votes for health care reform

July 19, 2009

Politico reports that Obama is dropping his August deadline for health care reform (Via Instapundit.)

And if that’s not enough evidence that he doesn’t have the votes, Democrats are talking about using a variant of the nuclear option to prevent a filibuster. Fox News reports that Democrats are talking about using reconciliation to pass health care reform. Reconciliation is a parliamentary maneuver that allows a budget to pass the Senate with only a majority vote. Under the Byrd Rule, reconciliation does not apply to non-budget legislation. The Byrd Rule barred it from being used to pass health care reform in 1993, and it still bars it today. Nevertheless, Democrats may try, and with control of the chamber, they can do whatever they want.

Why do I liken this to the nuclear option? Here’s how I see this playing out. To satisfy the Byrd Rule, Democrats would have to strip out all non-budget items, including individual and employer mandates, and the government insurance scheme. The bill that would be left over isn’t what the Democrats want. So, the chair (Harry Reid) rules that the full bill is permitted under reconciliation, Byrd Rule notwithstanding. After a point of order, the chair’s ruling is sustained by a majority vote (without the support of Republicans, moderate Democrats, or Robert Byrd). That’s precisely the nuclear option.

Democrats would be making a huge mistake to carry out this strategy. The spectacle of the Democrats breaking the Senate rules to pass a controversial bill the the public doesn’t even want will cost them dearly at the polls. But with so many true-believers in the Democratic caucus, they may decide it’s worth it.


Smoking gun

July 19, 2009

The illegal Honduran referendum to allow presidential re-election never took place, but investigators searching the presidential palace after Manuel Zelaya’s ouster have found what would have been its official results. Unsurprisingly, the referendum passed by a wide margin, at least in the one polling place that is being reported. This is popping up in multiple press outlets now, so the story sounds legit.

One common argument among those who would like to see the would-be tyrant restored to office is that he is unpopular, so restoring him to power would be temporary and not make much difference. That argument is inoperative now; Zelaya’s preparations for election fraud make his unpopularity moot. (Setting aside the fact that Zelaya cannot constitutionally be restored to office.)

(Via Instapundit.) (Previous post.)


CAFE meets the law of demand

July 18, 2009

A recent article by Sam Kazman in National Review on CAFE fuel-economy standards made a point I hadn’t seen before. It’s obvious in retrospect, so I’m sure it was already out there and I just missed it. In any case, it’s worthy of notice.

Because of the law of demand, it’s not clear whether CAFE standards actually reduce fuel consumption. Improving fuel economy makes driving cheaper, and making a commodity cheaper causes people to consume more of it. More driving means more fuel used.

So fuel economy has an indeterminate effect on fuel usage. The direct effect reduces usage, but the indirect effect (by encouraging driving) increases it. Which effect is greater depends on the shape of the demand curve. For some people (like me), fuel costs have little effect on driving habits, but for others it has a great effect. Without empirical data, there’s no way to say which dominates.

POSTSCRIPT: An additional knock against CAFE standards is they regulate average fuel economy, when it’s the numerator that policymakers care about. One way that automakers can (and do) meet CAFE standards is by selling cheap, light cars at a loss in order to counterbalance the less fuel-efficient vehicles that are their main business. This improves the average fuel economy, but it does so by putting more cars on the road, which increases fuel usage. When you combine this effect with the previous one, it seems very likely indeed that CAFE standards do nothing to conserve fuel.

And then there’s always the thousands of people killed every year by CAFE standards.


The trouble with DRM

July 18, 2009

It seems Amazon has the power to delete books from customers’ kindles, and they recently exercised that power. To make the incident a little more poignant, the deleted books were George Orwell works, including 1984 and Animal Farm.

The publisher that was selling the books did not have the rights to do so, and Amazon refunded customers’ money, so it’s hard to say that what Amazon did in this incident was wrong. What is troubling is that they have the power to do it.

With an ordinary book, readers are protected by owning a physical copy. A lawsuit or a change in heart by the publisher might take a book out of print, but it cannot recall the books that are already out there. The idea that an existing book might be made to disappear is very troubling.

It’s not a hypothetical worry either, as demonstrated by the recent affair of the Encyclopedia of Christian Civilization, whose publisher, Wiley-Blackwell, abruptly cancelled publication of the work after it had already gone to press, recalled its existing copies, and pulped its entire run. The reason for the action is unclear, and it is credibly alleged that it was because the work was “too Christian.”

One inherent protection that free speech has from censorship is that it’s hard to find and collect all the copies of a banned book. It’s very disappointing that Amazon decided to build that functionality into the kindle. Outside the western democracies (indeed, probably even in Canada), this functionality will certainly be used to enforce censorship. Even more troubling, it will be used silently to revise existing works to correct politically incorrect material. That’s a development worthy of George Orwell.

POSTSCRIPT: If you’re a kindle owner, and you don’t want to trust Amazon to archive your kindle books (as this incident shows you should not), you can do it yourself. Using the USB cable, you can connect your kindle to your computer and copy off its books. Those books are DRMed, so you can only read them on your kindle, but you can restore them if they’re deleted. It possible that it might not work in this sort of case; Amazon might have included a revocation list in the kindle, but I doubt they went so far.

UPDATE: For once, I beat Glenn Reynolds to the punch. His take is much the same as mine, except he’s not focusing on the service this does for tyrants. Also, Hot Air says that it looks as though Amazon’s action is not permitted under its Terms of Use.

UPDATE: For what it’s worth, Amazon says they won’t do it again:

Amazon effectively acknowledged that the deletions were a bad idea. “We are changing our systems so that in the future we will not remove books from customers’ devices in these circumstances,” Mr. Herdener said.

(Via Volokh.)


Majority opposes “public option”

July 18, 2009

50%-35%, and even more among independents.


NYT buries CBO story

July 18, 2009

The CBO report that health care “reform” would push costs up, not down, was a big blow against Democratic efforts to take over health care. Big news? For most newspapers, yes, but for not the New York Times. The “paper of record” buried the story in the middle of the paper, and gave it a misleading headline to boot. What bigger news was the NYT dedicating its front page to, leaving no room for the day’s top political story? President Obama addressing the NAACP.

(Via Hot Air.)


Health care “reform” promotes ambulance chasing

July 17, 2009

A conservative plan for health care reform would include some kind of malpractice reform. Doing so would cut costs for malpractice insurance (which get passed on, of course) and reduce the incentive for overly defensive medical tests. Opinions differ as to how much a difference this one reform would make, but there’s no question it would help (and in some specialties, such as obstetrics, help a lot).

However, the Democrats seem to think that there aren’t enough lawsuits! The Democratic health care bill would allow freelance lawyers to file lawsuits on behalf of Medicare, without obtaining the government’s approval (!), and keep a share of the money if they win.

So let’s not have any more nonsense about how “reform” is going to cut health care costs. We already knew that it won’t (from the CBO analysis, if nothing else), but it is now clear that it’s not even supposed to.


Police break up peaceful protest

July 17, 2009

Not in Iran, but St. Louis, Missouri. When a tea party group protested outside Senator Claire McCaskill’s office, they locked the doors, closed the blinds, and called the cops. (Via Instapundit.)

UPDATE: McCaskill has issued a statement on her blog, saying that it was a neighboring office, not hers, that was making obscene gestures at the protesters, and adding:

I still regret the way we handled the protest, and hope that all those that want to express themselves feel free to protest peacefully at our office anytime.

She doesn’t explain how the police were called, which makes her claim to welcome protesters ring a bit hollow.

(Via Instapundit.)


“We own the auto companies. Why not?”

July 17, 2009

The fruits of nationalization:

Sen. Tom Harkin said he wants Congress to use a climate bill to force auto companies to make new cars and trucks capable of running on 85 percent ethanol as well as conventional gasoline.

“We own the automobile companies. Why not? I think that will be an easy one,” Harkin said Thursday, referring to the government interests in Chrysler and General Motors.

As government coercion goes, this isn’t necessarily such a bad policy, since by some estimates this would cost only $100 per new car. Nevertheless, he should be prepared to fight for his policy. Using nationalized industries to short-circuit political opposition is wrong, and inimical to democracy.


How Ricci was discovered

July 17, 2009

Stuart Taylor relates the story behind how a federal judge revived the Ricci case, which Sonia Sotomayor tried (almost successfully) to bury. Taylor concludes that Sotomayor’s action may have violated the Second Circuit’s rules. (Via the Corner.)


Fetuses have memory

July 17, 2009

The Washington Times reports:

The unborn have memories, according to medical researchers who used sound and vibration stimulation, combined with sonography, to reveal that the human fetus displays short-term memory from at least 30 weeks gestation – or about two months before they are born.

“In addition, results indicated that 34-week-old fetuses are able to store information and retrieve it four weeks later,” said the research, which was released Wednesday.

Scientists from the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Maastricht University Medical Centre and the University Medical Centre St. Radboud, both in the Netherlands, based their findings on a study of 100 healthy pregnant women and their fetuses with the help of some gentle but precise sensory stimulation.

(Via the Corner.)


And then there were none

July 17, 2009

Hugo Chavez is working hard to shut down the last remaining opposition media:

TO CRITICS who call him an autocrat, Venezuela’s leftist president, Hugo Chávez, responds by pointing to a largely uncensored opposition media. Yet it is an argument that is wearing thin. Mr Chávez recently vowed to curb what he sees as the excesses of Globovisión, a 24-hour news channel that is his main bugbear. Closing it down may be the only way to do so.

Globovisión is the last remaining national channel that is critical of the government. It was one of four such channels that during Venezuela’s political conflict of 2002-04, to varying degrees, egged on an opposition that was determined to oust Mr Chávez. Two have since capitulated, firing controversial talk-show hosts and adjusting their news coverage. In 2007 the government’s broadcasting regulator refused to renew the licence of the fourth—Radio Caracas Televisión, which is now subscription-only. . .

The president recently ordered mayors and state governors to provide him with a “map of the media war”, showing which regional outlets are “in the hands of the oligarchy”. Last month he instructed not just his ministers but also several nominally autonomous state bodies to move against Globovisión. Within days, the channel and its main owner faced a legal assault.


CBO pans health-care reform

July 16, 2009

This seems significant:

Instead of saving the federal government from fiscal catastrophe, the health reform measures being drafted by congressional Democrats would increase rather than reduce public spending on health care, potentially worsening an already bleak budget outlook, the director of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said this morning.

Under questioning by members of the Senate Budget Committee, CBO director Douglas Elmendorf said bills crafted by House leaders and the Senate health committee do not propose “the sort of fundamental changes that would be necessary to reduce the trajectory of federal health spending by a significant amount.”

“On the contrary,” Elmendorf said, “the legislation significantly expands the federal responsibility for health-care costs.”

Though President Obama and Democratic leaders have said repeatedly that reining in the skyrocketing growth in spending on government health programs such as Medicaid and Medicare is their top priority, the reform measures put forth so far would not fulfill their pledge to “bend the cost curve” downward, Elmendorf said. Instead, he said, “The curve is being raised.”

(Via the Corner.)


Tyranny

July 16, 2009

Anyone who doubted that the Democrats mean to nationalize everyone’s health coverage need doubt no longer. The Democratic health care bill bans private individual health covarage.

The provision grandfathers those with existing coverage, but by preventing any insurer from taking on new customers, it ensures that the days of private insurance are numbered. People will not be able to switch insurers, and when their plan inevitably folds, they will be forced into the government plan.

(Via Instapundit.)

UPDATE: Power Line has some more details.


Ha ha ha

July 15, 2009

A new press release from Media Matters has a little bit of accidental transparency:

Greetings,

I wanted to make sure you had seen Media Matters’ latest research on the media ignoring allegations that surfaced during Sen. Jeff Sessions’ 1986 nomination to the U.S. district court. As reported by the Associated Press, Sessions’ “nomination originally drew fire from civil rights groups because of his [1985] prosecution … of three west Alabama civil rights activists on vote fraud charges. The three were acquitted by a federal court jury, prompting civil rights leaders to charge that the prosecution was an attempt to intimidate black voters.” Doesn’t the fact that we quote the AP undermine the idea that the media is ignoring the story? Could we say, “research on much of the media ignoring…”

Please feel free to contact me with any questions or if you would like additional information.

Jessica Levin
Press Secretary
Media Matters for America

(Emphasis added.) (Via the Corner.)

Yes, I would say it does undermine the idea.  Good point, Media Matters.  (Seriously though, would ignoring this 23-year-old smear really be so unreasonable?)


Nokia and Siemens assist Iranian oppression

July 15, 2009

I didn’t notice this story last month:

The Iranian regime has developed, with the assistance of European telecommunications companies, one of the world’s most sophisticated mechanisms for controlling and censoring the Internet, allowing it to examine the content of individual online communications on a massive scale.

Interviews with technology experts in Iran and outside the country say Iranian efforts at monitoring Internet information go well beyond blocking access to Web sites or severing Internet connections.

Instead, in confronting the political turmoil that has consumed the country this past week, the Iranian government appears to be engaging in a practice often called deep packet inspection, which enables authorities to not only block communication but to monitor it to gather information about individuals, as well as alter it for disinformation purposes, according to these experts.

The monitoring capability was provided, at least in part, by a joint venture of Siemens AG, the German conglomerate, and Nokia Corp., the Finnish cellphone company.

The Iranian people sure did, though. Iranians have organized a boycott of Nokia, and an Iranian paper claims that Nokia’s sales have been halved as a result of the boycott.

(Via the Corner.)


Is the recession over?

July 15, 2009

According to a consulting firm I’ve never heard of, the economy is growing at a 2.4% rate in the third quarter. (Via Instapundit.) This needs to be taken with many grains of salt, since this isn’t based on any official numbers, and besides, we’re just two weeks into the third quarter. But let’s suppose it’s true, and remains so. Is the recession over?

In the old days, sure. A recession was defined as two or more quarters of negative growth. If growth is positive, you’re not in a recession.

But we’ve abandoned the old definition, which actually meant something, in favor of one based on rulings from the self-appointed arbiters of recession, the NBER. They ruled that we have been in a recession since the fourth quarter of 2007, despite two quarters of positive growth in the first half of 2008. Growth was actually 2.8% in the second quarter of 2008, greater than the 2.4% we are supposedly experiencing now, but according to the NBER, we were in recession nevertheless.

So whatever the numbers end up saying, it’s too early to say the recession is over, at least if you take the NBER’s ruling as definitive.


Fish in a barrel

July 15, 2009

The AP fact-checks Patrick Leahy:

In endorsing Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy did some creative rewriting of history. And he put quote marks around it.

Trying to head off criticism of a controversial comment, Leahy misquoted Sotomayor’s own words in kicking off the second day of her confirmation hearings. . .

LEAHY SAID: “You said that, quote, you ‘would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would reach wise decisions.'”

THE FACTS: If that’s all Sotomayor said, the quote would barely have mattered to opponents of her nomination. The actual quote . . . was: “I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.”

Leahy’s revision dropped the controversial part of the phrase, the part that has attracted charges of reverse racism.

UPDATE: Leahy says that that he working from memory, and misremembered. Well, one shouldn’t put “quote” in front if one isn’t able to quote. But it’s worse than that; the video shows that he was reading from his notes as he spoke. (Via Power Line.)


Soaking the rich

July 15, 2009

The Washington Post gets it right:

THERE IS a serious case to be made that the U.S. income tax system should become more progressive. . . In principle, higher taxes for the well-heeled could make sense — as part of a broader rationalization of the unduly complex tax code.

If you say so.

But there is no case to be made for the House Democratic majority’s proposal to fund health-care legislation through an ad hoc income tax surcharge for top-earning households. . .

The traditional argument against sharp increases in the marginal tax rates of a very narrow band of Americans is that it could distort their economic behavior — most likely by encouraging them to put more of their money into tax shelters as opposed to productive investments. . . The deeper issue, though, is whether it is wise to pay for a far-reaching new federal social program by tapping a revenue source that would surely need to be tapped if and when Congress and the Obama administration get serious about the long-term federal deficit.

That moment may be approaching faster than they would like. Even if Congress pulls off a budget-neutral expansion of health care, the gap between federal revenue and expenditures will reach 7 percent of gross domestic product in 2020, according to the Congressional Budget Office. And that’s assuming that the economy returns to full employment between now and then. The long-term deficit is driven by the aging of the population as well as by growing health-care costs, both contributing to Social Security and Medicare expenses. There is simply no way to close the gap by taxing a handful of high earners. The House actions echo President Obama’s unrealistic campaign promise that he can build a larger, more progressive government while raising taxes on only the wealthiest.

(Via Instapundit.)

The tax code is already the most progressive it has ever been. In 2006 (the latest year for which data seem to be available), the top 1% paid 40% of all taxes, while earning just 22% of all income. What percentage is progressive enough?

I wish the Democrats would be forced to answer that question. Their answer seems only to be, as high as possible. Even the peak of the Laffer curve is no limit. President Obama has spoken of raising taxes on the rich even when doing so would actually reduce revenue, in the interest of “fairness”.


Sotomayor yesterday

July 15, 2009

The consensus seems to be that she did just about as badly yesterday as she could have, and she did not endanger her chances of confirmation. That’s certainly an indictment of our political landscape.

I thought the fact that Sotomayor did not understand the Kelo decision was particularly telling.


Senate adds money for more F-22s

July 13, 2009

The Senate has amended the defense bill to buy seven more F-22s. It’s far from certain that the provision will become law, since President Obama has pledged a veto, but it’s reason for hope. As I’ve written before, the arguments against the F-22 are very unconvincing. Basically, its opponents argue that we don’t need an air superiority force any more, because our last few wars have been against opponents without an effective air force. Moreover, the idea that we cannot afford $10 billion or so to secure our national defense is preposterous, particularly given our current “stimulus” budget.


Chavez usurps municipal power in Caracas

July 13, 2009

Once again, Hugo Chavez’s support for democracy is decidedly fair-weathered:

[Antonio Ledezma] is the opposition mayor of Venezuela’s capital, Caracas, who was elected by a landslide in November 2008. Yet after his victory, President Hugo Chávez effectively ignored the election results by creating a position of ”super-mayor” of Caracas, appointing a loyalist to the new job and stripping Ledezma of his offices and the bulk of his budget. . .

When he took office Dec. 7, Ledezma found out that most of his office’s funds had been transferred to other government agencies. Then, on Dec. 29, government-backed mobs started occupying various city offices. On Jan. 17, a pro-Chávez mob took over the Caracas City Hall, including the mayor’s offices.

Shortly thereafter, the Chávez-run Congress created the job of Caracas ”head of government,” and Chávez appointed a non-elected loyalist to the new position. . .

Strangled for cash, Ledezma soon found himself unable to pay city employees’ salaries. When his bids to recover his city budget were rejected by Chávez-controlled courts, he walked into the OAS offices in Caracas on July 3, and started a hunger strike.

Ledezma demanded among other things that OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza meet with a delegation of Venezuelan opposition mayors and governors. In addition to Ledezma, the opposition governors of the states of Zulia (Venezuela’s main oil center), Miranda and Tachira, among others, have been stripped of their jurisdiction over seaports, airports and highways, which are their main sources of funding.


Mythology

July 13, 2009

The Economist reviews a new book on the Venezuelan coup of 2002:

ON APRIL 11th 2002 nearly a million people marched on the presidential palace in Caracas, the capital of Venezuela, to demand the ousting of Hugo Chávez, the elected president whom they accused of undermining democracy and causing the creeping “Cubanisation” of the country. As they neared the palace, violence broke out. . .

As Brian Nelson, who teaches at Miami University, writes in this superbly researched account, the short-lived coup “would become one of the most important, yet most misunderstood, events in recent history.” It severely damaged the democratic credentials of the Venezuelan opposition, while Mr Chávez successfully portrayed himself as the innocent victim of an American-inspired conspiracy to overthrow violently an elected government. . .

So what really happened in April 2002? . . . Chávez’s brief ouster was “not a coup in the classic sense”, nor a premeditated conspiracy, and he exonerates the United States of direct involvement. He finds that the National Guard and chavista gunmen started the shooting, and were responsible for most of the bloodshed, though some victims may have been killed when the Caracas police, loyal to an opposition mayor, returned fire.

When Mr Chávez ordered the army to suppress the demonstration, his top generals refused. They rightly argued that the order was unconstitutional. When the television images showed the chavistas shedding blood, the president quickly found himself friendless. Though he did not sign a written resignation, he did agree to step down in return for safe passage to Cuba. But the generals failed to broker a constitutional transition. As they dithered, Mr Carmona stepped opportunistically into the power vacuum, staging “a coup within a popular uprising”. The army swiftly withdrew its support from the appalling Mr Carmona, making Mr Chávez’s return inevitable.

Within days his government began “a multi-million dollar campaign to rewrite the history of the coup”. According to Mr Nelson, it destroyed evidence of the killings, blocked all attempts at police and judicial investigation, and swiftly shut down hearings by the chavista-controlled National Assembly. It offered money and benefits to those willing to say they or their relatives had been shot by the opposition, writes Mr Nelson, and harassed those who truthfully claimed the opposite.


Sunset for sunlight

July 13, 2009

When President Obama abandoned his sunlight before signing promise, the White House said it would institute new sunlight rules that would be even better:

Now, in a tacit acknowledgment that the campaign pledge was easier to make than to fulfill, the White House is changing its terms. Instead of starting the five-day clock when Congress passes a bill, administration officials say they intend to start it earlier and post the bills sooner.

“In order to continue providing the American people more transparency in government, once it is clear that a bill will be coming to the president’s desk, the White House will post the bill online,” said Nick Shapiro, a White House spokesman. “This will give the American people a greater ability to review the bill, often many more than five days before the president signs it into law.”

Mr. Shapiro said the move would provide more transparency because the White House site drew so much traffic. It also stretches out the time in which a bill will be posted, making it easier for Mr. Obama to abide by the pledge.

Currently, after a bill passes Congress, the White House posts it by linking to the site of the Library of Congress. From now on, the White House plans to link to the site earlier, though Mr. Shapiro did not specify when.

The move marks a departure in the White House position on the pledge. Since January, when Mr. Obama broke the pledge with the first bill he signed, the administration has said it would implement it “in full soon.”

The new promise is largely meaningless (probably by design). As we have been frequently reminded in recent days, bills are often put together just moments before they are voted on (sometimes not even then). This is particularly true for controversial bills. Such bills cannot be posted until about the same time as they pass, at which point they are already being posted by the Library of Congress.

But, it turns out that the White House isn’t even keeping the new promise. Not one of the last nine bills signed by the president have been posted at the White House web site.

(Previous post.)


Waking up

July 13, 2009

Ed Morrissey thinks that Democrats are starting to back away from Zelaya. I hope so. Honduras could use some good news.

Morrissey thinks, and I agree, that the Obama administration just didn’t bother to gets the facts straight before it condemned the “coup”. Now, Obama being Obama, he cannot admit he was wrong.


My cold, dead, hands

July 13, 2009

Glenn Reynolds says this speech sounds pretty mainstream today:

Well, it sounds worse if your enemies edit together a different speech than you gave.


Detangling the wars

July 11, 2009

The war on terror is being detangled from the war on drugs in Afghanistan:

The 4,000 U.S. Marines now pushing deep into Taliban-controlled tracts as part of an expanded war in southern Afghanistan are setting up fire bases amid some of the most productive poppy fields in the world’s opium-producing capital.

It’s not harvest time in Helmand province, the center of Afghanistan’s thriving opium poppy industry. But even if the flowers were blooming, it’s doubtful the Marines would do much about it.

Convinced that razing the cash crop grown by dirt-poor Afghan farmers is costing badly needed friends along the front lines of the fight against Taliban-led insurgents, U.S. authorities say they are all but abandoning the Bush-era policy of destroying drug crops.

This decision is long overdue. An aggressive fight against poppies might have made sense when it appeared that Afghanistan was largely pacified, but it’s been inexcusable for some time now. It’s been suggested that the alienation caused by our policy on poppies was largely responsible for the resurgence of the Taliban.

Bush administration officials cited the success of anti-drug efforts in Colombia in defense of anti-drug efforts in Afghanistan. There are two problems with that argument; Afghanistan is not Colombia, and Karzai is not Uribe. Colombia is of strategic importance largely because of the drug trade, and we have a strong, reliable ally there in President Uribe. Neither is true for Afghanistan. Out strategic interest in Afghanistan is fighting terror, not drugs, and President Karzai is neither strong nor reliable. Damaging the war on terror in service of an (unnecessary) war on drugs was sheer folly.


Honduras

July 10, 2009

Miguel Estrada has the best summary of the Honduras situation I’ve seen yet. The only important thing he fails to note is that the Honduran constitution explicitly gives the supreme court the authority to use the army to carry out its rulings.

(Via the Corner.) (Previous post.)


Then and now

July 10, 2009

(Warning, the volume on this clip is set very loud.)

Hot Air has more. (Via Instapundit.)


Dog bites man

July 10, 2009

Hamas starts enforcing sharia in Gaza. Directly that is; in the past it has simply stood by while thugs did the enforcing.


I’ve got your rationing right here

July 10, 2009

Earlier this week, the indispensable Megan McArdle was writing about the difference between US and European health care:

What America is best at is delivering a lot of complicated care in extremis, and “quality of life” treatments. What European countries are best at is delivering a lot of ordinary care for the sorts of things that afflict people from 0-50, which is why most of the Europhile journalists writing about Europe genuinely have very good experiences to report. I’d rather be here to have a hip replacement, but I might rather be in the Netherlands to have a baby. Doing something moderately ordinary here is a hassle. Doing something extraordinary there is often not possible for the overwhelming majority of citizens, though that depends on what, and in what system.

McArdle tries to be measured in her remarks (you can tell she used to write for the Economist), but it’s still too much for Kevin Drum. Writing for Mother Jones (sigh), Drum says he doesn’t believe US health care is better for anything, except maybe for 0.001% events.

So McArdle takes Drum to school with the story of Herceptin, an effective drug for 1 in 4 breast cancers (that’s four, count ’em, four orders of magnitude greater than Drum’s guess) that was banned in Britain. A British woman successfully sued for access to the drug, but too late to save her life.

I’ll add to that a Wall Street Journal article on the British NICE agency. NICE keeps costs down the only way it can, through rationing:

NICE currently holds that, except in unusual cases, Britain cannot afford to spend more than about $22,000 to extend a life by six months. Why $22,000? It seems to be arbitrary, calculated mainly based on how much the government wants to spend on health care. That figure has remained fairly constant since NICE was established and doesn’t adjust for either overall or medical inflation.

The article chronicles many cases of NICE’s rationing: denying pap smears to young women, denying effective drugs for breast cancer, stomach cancer, arthritis, and multiple sclerosis, and denying procedures for back pain. Two of NICE’s cruelest rulings are for macular degeneration and Alzheimer’s:

In 2007, the board restricted access to two drugs for macular degeneration, a cause of blindness. The drug Macugen was blocked outright. The other, Lucentis, was limited to a particular category of individuals with the disease, restricting it to about one in five sufferers. Even then, the drug was only approved for use in one eye, meaning those lucky enough to get it would still go blind in the other. As Andrew Dillon, the chief executive of NICE, explained at the time: “When treatments are very expensive, we have to use them where they give the most benefit to patients.”

NICE has limited the use of Alzheimer’s drugs, including Aricept, for patients in the early stages of the disease. Doctors in the U.K. argued vociferously that the most effective way to slow the progress of the disease is to give drugs at the first sign of dementia. NICE ruled the drugs were not “cost effective” in early stages.

That’s the British health system for you: go blind in one eye and be thankful for it, and too bad about that dementia.


Fauxtography

July 9, 2009

More faked photos in the New York Times. (Via Instapundit.)


The presiding heretic speaks

July 9, 2009

At her opening address at the Episcopal Church convention, Katharine Schori outdoes herself with her strangest pronouncement yet:

The presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church called the evangelical notion that individuals can be right with God a “great Western heresy” that is behind many problems facing the church and the wider society.

Describing a United States church in crisis, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori told delegates to the group’s triennial meeting July 8 in Anaheim, Calif., that the overarching connection to problems facing Episcopalians has to do with “the great Western heresy — that we can be saved as individuals, that any of us alone can be in right relationship with God.”

“It’s caricatured in some quarters by insisting that salvation depends on reciting a specific verbal formula about Jesus,” Jefferts Schori, the first woman to be elected as a primate in the worldwide Anglican Communion three years ago, said. “That individualist focus is a form of idolatry, for it puts me and my words in the place that only God can occupy, at the center of existence, as the ground of being.”

I can’t claim that I actually understand what she is talking about (and reading the full text of her address doesn’t help), but I’m gobsmacked by her statement that none “of us alone can be in right relationship with God,” and to claim otherwise is the “great Western heresy.”

Here’s one of many things that Paul (the great Western heretic) had to say on the subject (Romans 10:9-11):

If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. As the Scripture says, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.

Paul here describes salvation as an individual matter, brought about (now that Jesus’s redemptive work is done) by my own heart and my own mouth.

In the parable of the Ten Virgins (Matthew 25:1-13), Jesus (another great Western heretic) makes it clear that we are not admitted to the kingdom of heaven as a community. He tells of ten virgins, five of whom were admitted to the wedding banquet and five of whom were turned away, based on their individual choices.

Measured against these teachings are the scripture references that Schori cited in her address:

“”

That’s right, not a since scripture reference in her entire address. She accused the Western world of a highly dubious heresy, without citing a single line of scripture to support her case.

Now, if she wanted to emphasize the importance of community and unity, she could be on solid footing. I would suggest that if she wants to build Christian community, a good way to start would be to stop suing other Christians. (Paul has some thoughts on the matter of his own, in 1 Corinthinians 6:1-8.)

POSTSCRIPT: The “individual salvation is heresy” line is the one getting the most attention, but I think it’s worth noting another line as well:

We Christians often think the only important part of the Jerusalem story is Calvary, and, yes, suffering and killing in that place still seem to be the loudest news. But Calvary was a waypoint in the larger arc of God’s dream – it’s on the way to Jerusalem, it is not in Jerusalem.

Here too, I don’t actually understand what she means, but it sounds like she’s minimizing the importance of the crucifixion, and likening it to modern-day bloodshed in Jerusalem. It’s true that the bible ends in a New Jerusalem, and perhaps that’s what she’s getting at. But the crucifixion, by purchasing our salvation, is the single key event that allows mankind to have anything to do with that happy ending.


“Put nothing in writing, ever”

July 9, 2009

The Washington Examiner reports:

Carol Browner, former Clinton administration EPA head and current Obama White House climate czar, instructed auto industry execs “to put nothing in writing, ever” regarding secret negotiations she orchestrated regarding a deal to increase federal Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards.

Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-WI, is demanding a congressional investigation of Browner’s conduct in the CAFE talks, saying in a letter to Rep. Henry Waxman, D-CA, that Browner “intended to leave little or no documentation of the deliberations that lead to stringent new CAFE standards.”

Federal law requires officials to preserve documents concerning significant policy decisions, so instructing participants in a policy negotiation concerning a major federal policy change could be viewed as a criminal act.

(Via Hot Air.)


Senate postpones cap-and-trade

July 9, 2009

They won’t take it up until September at the earliest. Senator Boxer, chairwoman of the relevant committee, pointedly declined to promise it would be completed this year.

Good.


Obama fades

July 9, 2009

The latest Rasmussen poll has President Obama’s job approval clinging to a narrow majority, 51% to 48%. Among those who feel strongly, 38% disapprove against just 30% who approve. On the economy, just 39% say the president is doing a good or excellent job, against 43% who say he is doing a poor job.

By contrast, on July 10-11, 2001 (according to Gallup, since Rasmussen didn’t exist yet), President Bush enjoyed robust job approval at 57% to 35%. It stayed in that range until it soared after the 9/11 attacks. But Obama can take comfort that he is ahead of President Clinton, who was down 45% to 48% at the same point.

(Via the Corner.)


How was the Cold War won?

July 9, 2009

Over at Power Line, Scott Johnson is giving President Obama a hard time for minimizing the importance of the United States in winning the Cold War. First, the context:

Then, within a few short years, the world as it was ceased to be. Make no mistake: this change did not come from any one nation alone. The Cold War reached a conclusion because of the actions of many nations over many years, and because the people of Russia and Eastern Europe stood up and decided that its end would be peaceful.

Then, in a later interview:

Q: In your speech this morning, you said the Cold War reached its conclusion because of the actions of many nations over many years. Mr. President, are the Russian sensitivities so fragile that you can’t say the Cold War was won? The West won it? And it was led by a combination of Democratic and Republican American presidents?

OBAMA: Well, listen, the — I think that you just cut out Lech Walesa and the Poles. You just cut out Havel and the Czechs. There were a whole bunch of people throughout Eastern Europe who showed enormous courage.

And I think that it is very important in this part of the world to acknowledge the degree to which people struggled for their own freedom. I’m very proud of the traditions of Democratic and Republican presidents to lift the Iron Curtain.

But, you know, we don’t have to diminish other people in order to recognize our role in that history.

It’s certainly true that many nations played a role in winning the Cold War, and it’s also certainly true that America, led by Ronald Reagan, played the primary role. Obama brings up Lech Walesa and Solidarity. In late 1981 and 1982, when Solidarity was being actively suppressed by the Polish and Soviet tyrants, the United States stood virtually alone in its support for Solidarity (see Reagan’s War, chapter 15), without which they would have been crushed.

It’s not uncommon for Democrats to minimize the role played by Reagan and America in winning the Cold War, and, in context, Obama might even have a point. What I find most remarkable about Obama’s remarks is that he concedes that our victory in the Cold War was not inevitable. This is a major change from the standard liberal position.

When Reagan took office, the conventional wisdom said that the Soviet Union would be around forever. We had to learn to coexist. Ronald Reagan disagreed. He said that we could defeat the Soviet Union, and he laid out a plan to do it. Reagan recognized that many of the things we were doing to coexist with the Soviet Union were actually propping them up, making it possible for their tyranny to survive.

Except for the Scoop Jackson wing of the Democratic party (which is now extinct), Liberals were appalled by Reagan’s effort. They said that the Soviet Union could not be defeated, and Reagan’s effort would just lead to nuclear war. They were wrong. The Soviet Union was defeated, the Cold War ended, and there was no nuclear war.

This put liberals into a very awkward position. They had opposed the very policies that won the Cold War. If they wanted to deny Reagan credit for the victory, they had to take a new position. They now argue that the Cold War victory (which they previously said was impossible) was actually inevitable. Reagan’s efforts were unnecessary; the Soviet Union would have fallen anyway.

Obama’s remarks take him off that message. By saying that the victory in the Cold War required the efforts of many nations, he implicitly concedes that it was not inevitable. He doesn’t say so, but if it was not inevitable, there is no way not to credit Reagan’s leadership, and no way to deny that the liberals were wrong.

Why the change? I think Obama sacrifices little by conceding the bad judgement of the liberals of the early 1980s. He is too young to be personally tainted by it, and most of them are retired anyway. Given that, why not acknowledge the obvious truth?


Gore godwins the thread

July 9, 2009

Godwin’s Law (one version of it, anyway) states that in any Internet debate, someone will eventually draw a comparison to the Nazis, and that person shall be deemed to have lost the debate. If we can apply Godwin’s Law to Al Gore’s speech at Oxford this week (it’s on the Internet after all), then Al Gore has lost the debate over global warming:

Al Gore invoked the spirit of Winston Churchill yesterday when he urged political leaders to follow the example of Britain’s wartime leader in the battle against climate change. . .

Speaking in Oxford at the Smith School World Forum on Enterprise and the Environment, sponsored by The Times, Mr Gore said: “Winston Churchill aroused this nation in heroic fashion to save civilisation in World War Two. We have everything we need except political will, but political will is a renewable resource.”

Mr Gore admitted that it was difficult to persuade the public that the threat from climate change was as urgent as that from Hitler.


Fact-checking the Plain Dealer

July 9, 2009

The Plain Dealer’s ombudsman, Ted Diadiun, is getting grief for insulting bloggers without the slightest idea what he’s talking about. This caught my eye because it wasn’t long ago that I caught Diadiun lying about the Associated Press’s style guide as pertains to assault weapons.


The plot thickens

July 9, 2009

Meeting notes of the Americorps board, obtained by Fox News, contradict the White House’s account of why the Americorps Inspector General was fired:

The chairman of the board that convinced President Obama to fire its inspector general last month complained that Gerald Walpin was creating too much friction with agency administrators, according to notes from a May meeting obtained by FOXNews.com.

The account adds a vital new layer to the explanation the White House gave for the firing, which made only passing reference to such concerns in justifying the removal of Walpin, former IG for the Corporation for National and Community Service, which oversees the volunteer service AmeriCorps. The official explanation emphasized Walpin’s personal behavior at the May 20 meeting.

The informal meeting notes, taken by CNCS Counsel Frank Trinity, said that board members were indeed concerned about Walpin’s “behavior.” . . .

But the account also shows that Chairman Alan Solomont stated concern about Walpin’s accusations against the board and not his mental health as the apparent cause for the dispute that led to Walpin’s termination.

So the real reason for Walpin was fired was for making accusations against the board. Concerns about his behavior at one meeting were merely a pretext.

Now, Americorps has begun stonewalling congressional investigators:

A top official of the Corporation for National and Community Service, the government agency that oversees AmeriCorps, has refused to answer questions from congressional investigators about the White House’s role in events surrounding the abrupt firing of inspector general Gerald Walpin.

Frank Trinity, general counsel for the Corporation, met with a bipartisan group of congressional investigators on Monday. When the investigators asked Trinity for details of the role the White House played in the firing, Trinity refused to answer, according to two aides with knowledge of the situation. . .

Investigators asked Trinity whether he was claiming executive privilege, something that could only be authorized by the president. Trinity answered again that it was a White House “prerogative.” When the investigators pointed out that, in the words of one aide, “there is no legal basis whatsoever” for such a claim, Trinity still declined to answer.

(Via Instapundit.)

BONUS: It’s not just the Americorps IG either. Questions are now being raised about the dismissal of Amtrak’s IG. (Via Instapundit.)

(Previous post.)


Banks refuse California IOUs

July 8, 2009

Oddly enough, banks prefer money to promises.


Snatching spin from the jaws of factchecking

July 7, 2009

Newsweek catches a minor error by President Obama:

“I don’t know if anybody else will meet their future wife or husband in class like I did, but I’m sure you’ll all going to have wonderful careers,” the president said.

In fact, he did not meet her in class:

The thing is: Obama didn’t technically meet his wife at school. Although both are Harvard Law School grads, Michelle Obama got her degree in the spring of 1988 while her future husband didn’t actually start school there until later that fall. (He graduated in 1991). The Obamas officially met in Chicago in 1989, when the future president was a summer associate at the Sidley Austin law firm and Michelle was assigned as his mentor.

Now, I don’t care in the least whether Barack Obama remembers how he met his wife (although his wife might care). But Newsweek apparently can’t bear to see their hero trapped in even a minor, unimportant falsehood, and felt the need to spin for him:

Was what Obama said wrong? Technically no, considering Obama was still going to school when he met his wife.

You can be as “technical” as you like; this is simply wrong.  Meeting while you’re in school is not the same thing as meeting in class. This is spin, and poor quality spin at that.

(Via the Corner.)


Honduras “emblematic” of Obama foreign policy

July 7, 2009

President Obama says that supporting would-be socialist dictators against the constitutional order they seek to overthrow is “emblematic” of his foreign policy:

In Moscow, President Barack Obama said his administration’s support for Zelaya, the deposed left-leaning politician who often criticized Washington, was emblematic of his administration’s foreign policy.

“America cannot and should not seek to impose any system of government on any other country, nor would we presume to choose which party or individual should run a country,” Obama said in a speech in the Russian capital.

Which is precisely what the Obama Administration is trying to do. Honduras deposed its president legally and in full accord with its constitution, and President Obama is trying to force them to take him back.


34 states urge Second Amendment incorporation

July 7, 2009

Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Georgia, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah, Texas, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wyoming have all submitted an amicus brief to the Supreme Court arguing that the Second Amendment should apply to the states. California wrote its own; the other states collaborated on theirs.

California is the big surprise. Its brief is signed by Jerry Brown, California Attorney General and noted liberal.

Incidentally, 34 states is just four short of the number needed to ratify a constitutional amendment, should one be necessary.


The future is here

July 7, 2009

Great Britain institutes environmental police. If the president has his way, they won’t be far behind in America.


Health care reform, visualized

July 6, 2009

(Via the Corner.)


Fauxtography in Honduras

July 6, 2009

Reuters runs a staged photograph of a bloody protester in Honduras. (Via Instapundit.)

Also, a new column in the Philadelphia Examiner summarizes what we now belatedly know about the Honduran constitution and why the government’s action was legal. (Via the Corner.)


Heh

July 6, 2009

Should the government stop dumping money into a giant hole? “You can’t depend on private money holes to destroy that money.”

(Via Instapundit.)


Pro-tyranny

July 5, 2009

Let’s look the record of President Obama’s policies in international crises:

A pattern is clearly emerging at this point. In any international crisis, President Obama takes the position that is pro-tyranny, or at least anti-anti-tyranny. (And that’s without even discussing his position on domestic crises.)

During the Carter administration, the world discovered it was better to be America’s enemy than its friend. As a friend, you could count on the administration’s condemnation of any internal or external action at odds with President Carter’s liberal ideology. However, as an enemy, the administration would bend over backwards to engage you and forgive your actions. Naturally, this policy created enemies.

President Reagan, obviously, discontinued the policy, and President Clinton did not reinstate it. I didn’t give Clinton much credit for that at the time; I viewed Carter’s insane foreign policy as unique to himself. It turns out I should have, because with President Obama, insanity is back with a vengeance.


All the news that’s fit to suppress

July 5, 2009

Clark Hoyt, the New York Times ombudsman, dedicates his latest column to a defense of the paper’s conduct in the affair of the kidnapping of David Rodhe, a New York Times journalist. Rodhe and one of his companions, an Afghan journalist, escaped and are now free.

I hadn’t heard of this affair, and that’s by design. In an effort to protect its employee, the NYT went to great lengths to suppress any mention of the kidnapping not only in its own pages, but elsewhere as well:

The Times went to extraordinary lengths to quash the Rohde story and to shape information that might be available to the kidnappers on the Internet. Jimmy Wales, the co-founder of Wikipedia, was enlisted to keep word of the kidnapping off that site, even as user-editors tried to post it. Michael Yon, an independent journalist, posted an item on his blog in March and was quickly asked to take it down, which he did.

Michael Moss, a Times reporter, edited Rohde’s biography on Wikipedia to highlight his reporting that could be seen as sympathetic to Muslims and to remove the fact that he once worked for The Christian Science Monitor. Moss wrote similar information on Rohde’s Times Topics page on the paper’s Web site. He and Catherine Mathis, the Times’s spokeswoman, even persuaded a group of New England newspapers to remove Rohde’s wedding notice and photos from their Web site so the kidnappers would not have personal information they could use to pressure him psychologically. I found this last action troubling because The Times takes a hard line against removing information from its own archive.

Much of the column is dedicated to an explanation of why the NYT was willing to go so far to protect its own, while simultaneously reporting on other middle eastern kidnappings, including a U.S. soldier. Hoyt claims that the NYT would be just as willing to protect others, if it had only been asked. Readers will decide for themselves how much they believe that.

It’s well and good that the NYT wanted to protect its people. But it’s important to note the flexibility of the NYT’s dedication to The Public’s Right To Know. When running a story would endanger people, the public’s right to know depends on who those people are.

(Via Hot Air.)


Saudis authorize Israeli action against Iran

July 5, 2009

The London Times reports:

The head of Mossad, Israel’s overseas intelligence service, has assured Benjamin Netanyahu, its prime minister, that Saudi Arabia would turn a blind eye to Israeli jets flying over the kingdom during any future raid on Iran’s nuclear sites.

Earlier this year Meir Dagan, Mossad’s director since 2002, held secret talks with Saudi officials to discuss the possibility. . .

“The Saudis have tacitly agreed to the Israeli air force flying through their airspace on a mission which is supposed to be in the common interests of both Israel and Saudi Arabia,” a diplomatic source said last week.

Although the countries have no formal diplomatic relations, an Israeli defence source confirmed that Mossad maintained “working relations” with the Saudis.

(Via Instapundit.)


Misogyny

July 5, 2009

Paul Begala, the architect of several Democratic election campaigns including Bill Clinton’s, and now a CNN commentator, likens Sarah Palin to a prostitute. In the literal, sexual sense.

Via Instapundit, who adds:

Half the fun of being a “Supposedly Liberal Dood” is the license to do that sort of thing while still being “progressive.”


Iranian clerics defy ayatollah

July 5, 2009

A major development in Iran:

The most important group of religious leaders in Iran called the disputed presidential election and the new government illegitimate on Saturday, an act of defiance against the country’s supreme leader and the most public sign of a major split in the country’s clerical establishment.

A statement by the group, the Association of Researchers and Teachers of Qum, represents a significant, if so far symbolic, setback for the government and especially the authority of the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, whose word is supposed to be final. The government has tried to paint the opposition and its top presidential candidate, Mir Hussein Moussavi, as criminals and traitors, a strategy that now becomes more difficult — if not impossible.

(Via the Corner.)

Iran has been trying to paint the opposition as part of conspiracy driven by foreigners, and even extracted some forced confessions to that effect. This will make that effort even less plausible.