US releases Iranian terror master

December 31, 2009

The Obama administration is protesting vociferously that it is taking the war on terror seriously. It might help their case if they hadn’t released a high-ranking terrorist today:

The US has released the leader of an Iranian-backed Shia terror group behind the kidnapping and murder of five US soldiers in Karbala in January 2007.

Qais Qazali, the leader of the Asaib al Haq or the League of the Righteous, was set free by the US military and transferred to Iraqi custody in exchange for the release of British hostage Peter Moore, US military officers and intelligence officials told The Long War Journal. The US military directly implicated Qais in the kidnapping and murder of five US soldiers in Karbala in January 2007.

(Via the Corner.)

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Narrowing the war on terror

December 31, 2009

The White House is making a point of the fact that it is rebranding the war on terror:

Unlike the last Administration . . . we are not at war with a tactic (“terrorism”), we at war with something that is tangible: al Qaeda and its violent extremist allies. And we will prosecute that war as long as the American people are endangered.

It seems like a simple point; the “war on terror” was always a rather odd phrase.  But it turns out that the phrase was the result of careful consideration. As Douglas Feith explained in his book (p. 8-9):

The U.S. government could not simply define the enemy as a set of terrorist organizations together with states that helped them in one war or another. If we did, we could find ourselves declaring war against all countries that gave safe haven, funds, or ideological and other types of support to terrorists — a list that would include Afghanistan, Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Syria. This was clearly an unrealistic idea. It further complicated matters that the United States considered some of these states important friends. Moreover, a formal list of terrorist enemy organizations would require continual revision, reflecting the mergers, acquisitions, splits, and name changes that were common among them. We needed a better way to define the enemy, one that would cover all the relevant bases but preserve our flexibility regarding how, when, and against whom we should act.

We did not solve this puzzle on the aircraft. The President eventually dealt with it by coining the term “war on terror,” declaring, in effect, that the enemy was not a list of organizations and states but certain inherently evil activities that included both terrorism and state support for terrorism. Though the term was imperfect — many commentators have noted the peculiarity of declaring war against a method of attack — I considered it an intelligent and useful stopgap that acknowledged the unprecedented nature of the challenge represented by 9/11. It avoided the problem of lists, gave the President flexibility, and called attention to the differences between us and our enemies on the issue of respect for human life.

In contrast to the considerations that went into “war on terror”, the Obama administration’s decision to discard the term is revealed to be shallow, not thoughtful. It’s not at all clear whether the current administration even wrestled with those issues, but they made a decision (possibly without realizing it) all the same. In essence, President Obama is dealing with the problem of lists by putting exactly one name on the list: al Qaeda.

This important, because — without any announcement — Obama has significantly narrowed the target of our efforts from all practitioners of terrorism down to just one. He has made the war retrospective (targeted at those who hurt us in the past) rather than prospective (targeted at those who would hurt us in the future).

This narrowing is essential, because the left’s opposition to the war in Iraq (which is really the centerpiece of their foreign policy) depends on it. The White House points out that Iraq “had no al Qaeda presence before our invasion.” This may be true (although there are some indications to the contrary), and the left certainly believes it, but what of it? It is undisputed that Saddam’s Iraq offered haven and support to international terrorism, including Ansar al Islam, the Al Aqsa Martyr’s Brigade, and Abu Nidal. In order to oppose the liberation of Iraq, the left must narrow the war to exclude all the terrorists that found support in Iraq.

We have already seen pernicious consequences of the war’s rebrand. In a development that would have been unbelievable in the fall of 2001, the administration now finds itself confused whether we even must oppose the Taliban. Last October, while the administration debated sending additional troops to Afghanistan, the White House floated a trial balloon suggesting that the Taliban could be left in power in Afghanistan. It has fortunately backed away from that suggestion, but the very thought that it was contemplated is unnerving.

The bottom line is that our new, retrospective war is not about protecting the United States. To protect the United States requires vigilance — and yes, preemption — against new terrorist threats, and not a simple-minded focus on the one organization that attacked us on 9/11. Instead of protection, our new war, prosecuted by the left, is about retribution.

Al Gore made the goal of vengeance explicit in a speech in 2002 attacking President Bush’s Iraq policy. (I guess it’s not always so horrible for a former VP to criticize the sitting administration’s foreign policy.) He said:

I don’t think we should allow anything to diminish our focus on the necessity for avenging the 3,000 Americans who were murdered and dismantling that network of terrorists that we know were responsible for it. The fact that we don’t know where they are should not cause us to focus instead on some other enemy whose location may be easier to identify.

He states clearly here the view that the Obama administration has come to adopt. Our goal is solely to “avenge” 9/11, and not to deal with any other enemies that might threaten us.

Now, I’m not entirely against retribution. It’s important for us to make clear that no regime can attack us and survive. But such retribution serves a greater purpose, to deter any future attack. Ultimately, the aim must be (or ought to be, at least) to protect our nation.

By narrowing the war on terror, the Obama administration has lost sight of that ultimate aim. I wish that al Qaeda posed the only threat to our nation, but it does not. And our enemies are paying attention.


War or no war

December 31, 2009

After the attempted bombing of flight 253, Dick Cheney reiterated his criticism of the Obama administration, saying that it doesn’t seem to believe that we are at war. Within hours, the White House had its response up. I think it merits a fisking:

There has been a lot of discussion online and in the mainstream media about our response to various critics of the President, specifically former Vice President Cheney, who have been coming out of the woodwork since the incident on Christmas Day. I think we all agree that there should be honest debate about these issues, but it is telling that Vice President Cheney and others seem to be more focused on criticizing the Administration than condemning the attackers. Unfortunately too many are engaged in the typical Washington game of pointing fingers and making political hay, instead of working together to find solutions to make our country safer.

Oh please. Are you really suggesting that Dick Cheney — Mr. Waterboard himself — is soft on the terrorists? That’s not going to fly. More to the point, a public denunciation of the terrorists by a former Vice President isn’t going to accomplish anything much. His pressure on the administration to adopt the right policies just might.

And as for pointing fingers versus working together, wait just a moment.

First, it’s important that the substantive context be clear: for seven years after 9/11, while our national security was overwhelmingly focused on Iraq – a country that had no al Qaeda presence before our invasion – Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda’s leadership was able to set up camp in the border region of Pakistan and Afghanistan, where they continued to plot attacks against the United States. Meanwhile, al Qaeda also regenerated in places like Yemen and Somalia, establishing new safe-havens that have grown over a period of years.

The old Iraq talking point, check! Moving on.

It was President Obama who finally implemented a strategy of winding down the war in Iraq, and actually focusing our resources on the war against al Qaeda – more than doubling our troops in Afghanistan, and building partnerships to target al Qaeda’s safe-havens in Yemen and Somalia. And in less than one year, we have already seen many al Qaeda leaders taken out, our alliances strengthened, and the pressure on al Qaeda increased worldwide.

Actually, it wasn’t President Obama that prepared the administration’s plan for Afghanistan; it was the outgoing Bush administration. In the fall of 2008, the Bush administration did a thorough review of Afghanistan policy and then briefed the incoming Obama administration. The Obama team asked the Bush team not to announce its results, and the Bush team agreed. Then, in March, the Obama team essentially adopted the plan they had been handed by Bush team.

This is exactly the sort of “working together to find solutions to make our country safer” that the White House now says we need. But instead of acknowledging the Bush administration’s contribution, or at least remaining silent on the subject, the White House has claimed that the Bush administration had no plan and made no effort to come up with one. To put it plainly, it is the current administration that is “pointing fingers and making political hay”. The Obama team’s chutzpah and bad faith in this instance is awfully hard to bear.

To put it simply: this President is not interested in bellicose rhetoric, he is focused on action. Seven years of bellicose rhetoric failed to reduce the threat from al Qaeda and succeeded in dividing this country. And it seems strangely off-key now, at a time when our country is under attack, for the architect of those policies to be attacking the President.

More of the “finger pointing” but never mind that. Let’s focus on the astonishing statement: “this President is not interested in bellicose rhetoric, he is focused on action.” This statement is astonishing because the remainder of the statement (we’re only halfway through) is dedicated to cataloging President Obama’s bellicose rhetoric. I won’t bother to quote it.

Indeed, President Obama has, on several occasions, spoken to the effect that we are at war. The White House evidently thinks that such rhetoric proves the point. But the president’s actions prove the opposite, and this the greater part of Cheney’s point.

Cheney’s brief statement made five points. Two of them deal with rhetoric, the other three deal with actions. Briefly, Cheney criticized the administration for: (1) giving Abdulmutallab a lawyer immediately and not conducting any interrogation, (2) bringing Khalid Sheik Mohammed to New York for a civilian trial, and (3) closing the Guantanamo prison and contemplating the release of its terrorists. Cheney’s remarks only scratch the surface of the examples he could have cited.

All of these criticisms go to the administration’s actions, and none of them are addressed by the White House response. The response defends the president strictly on the basis of his rhetoric. To put it clearly, while the White House claims to be focused on actions rather than rhetoric, its statement proves exactly the opposite.

POSTSCRIPT: The response ends with this:

We are not at war with a tactic (“terrorism”), we at war with something that is tangible: al Qaeda and its violent extremist allies. And we will prosecute that war as long as the American people are endangered.

There’s more to be said about this, but I’ll defer it to another post.

UPDATE: You can take this post as a bonus fisking of today’s Eugene Robinson column. Robinson adds some ad hominems and calls Cheney a liar, but aside from that, I don’t think he makes a single point that the White House didn’t make in its post yesterday. (Via Hot Air.)


Priorities

December 31, 2009

The Obama administration sees the attempting bombing of flight 253 as a political problem, not a national security problem. The White House’s thin-skinned response to Dick Cheney’s continued criticism of President Obama’s national security decisions is just the tip of the iceberg, if this report from the American Spectator is accurate:

On December 26, two days after Nigerian Omar Abdulmutallab allegedly attempted to use underwear packed with plastic explosives to blow up the Amsterdam-to-Detroit flight he was on, and as it became clear internally that the Administration had suffered perhaps its most embarrassing failure in the area of national security, senior Obama White House aides, including chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, David Axelrod and new White House counsel Robert Bauer, ordered staff to begin researching similar breakdowns — if any — from the Bush Administration.

“The idea was that we’d show that the Bush Administration had had far worse missteps than we ever could,” says a staffer in the counsel’s office. “We were told that classified material involving anything related to al Qaeda operating in Yemen or Nigeria was fair game and that we’d declassify it if necessary.”

The White House, according to the source, is in full defensive spin mode. . . “This White House doesn’t view the Northwest [Airlines] failure as one of national security, it’s a political issue,” says the White House source. “That’s why Axelrod and Emanuel are driving the issue.”

Axelrod, who has no foreign policy or national security experience beyond occasionally consulting with liberal or progressive candidates running for political office in foreign countries, has been actively participating in national security briefings from the beginning of the administration. He has also sat in on Obama’s “war council” meetings, providing Obama with suggestions in both venues based on what he knows about polling and public opinion data, say several White House sources. . .

Axelrod’s presence in the meetings has raised some eyebrows, as previous political advisers in the White House have typically not participated in such meetings. Bush Administration sources, for example, say that political adviser Karl Rove was not present at national security meetings.

(Via Hot Air.)

Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised, but I still am, by the idea that the White House would respond to an attack on the United States by doing opposition research against a past administration.


It never ends

December 31, 2009

Another auto bailout:

The federal government said Wednesday that it will take majority control of troubled auto lender GMAC and provide an additional $3.8 billion in aid to the company, which has been unable to raise from private investors the money it needs to staunch its losses.

The Treasury Department has said for months that GMAC would need more federal money, but the decision to increase the government’s ownership stake came as a surprise, cutting against the grain of the Obama administration’s recent efforts to wind down its bailout of large banks.

(Via the Corner.)


What a mess

December 30, 2009

The Heritage Foundation has prepared a summary of the Senate health care bill. (Via Instapundit.)


Search neutrality

December 30, 2009

I’ve written on this blog before (here and here) that I am against network neutrality, because it is a technically flawed and almost universally misunderstood solution to an as-yet nonexistent problem.

Now people are beginning to call for “search neutrality”. Technically there is no relation at all between network and search neutrality, but the two are likely to become politically entangled. The idea to search neutrality is that search providers (i.e., Google) ought not use their power deliberately to direct customers to some services in which they have a financial interest (particularly theirs) over others.

There are two immediate differences we can observe between search neutrality and network neutrality. First, there are no technical problems with search neutrality. Unlike network neutrality, search neutrality would not hurt network performance or stifle innovation. Second, search neutrality is targeted at a problem that actually exists. Google does use its search influence to direct customers to its own services.

Is search neutrality therefore a good idea? That’s not so clear.

Generally I’m against government intervention in the marketplace, but I make an exception in the case of monopolistic (and oligopolistic) behavior. It is appropriate for the government to take action to protect individuals in non-competitive markets. Of course, in most cases, monopolies exists because of the action of the government. In such cases, the government should simply remove the barriers to entry that it has erected itself. There also exists a few instances of natural monopolies, typically utilities. The science of regulating public utilities to ensure efficient resource allocation is fairly well-understood.

Then there’s the rarest of all cases, in which a company establishes a dominant position through superior business practices or technical insight that, for some reason, other companies are unable to duplicate. It’s impossible to make any universal rule in such a case, but I would make two related observations: First, the government always seems to overreact in such circumstances. (Witness the government’s persecution of IBM and the ham-handed AT&T breakup.) Second, such circumstances are invariably far more temporary than people seem to suppose.

On general libertarian principles, I’m against forcing Google to order its search results in any fashion other than how they choose. With a 65% market share, Google isn’t a monopolistic player yet, so there’s no need yet to contemplate an exception on such grounds. Furthermore, it would be very hard to fashion a rule that would prevent search rigging while permitting legitimate innovation.

On the other hand, Google should be pressured to reveal their methodology. Their official blog contains a weak explanation of why their purported dedication to openness does not apply to their search algorithm. Basically they say that their page-ranking algorithm is not robust (my words, not theirs) and publishing it would make it easy for people to manipulate it. That might be so. But there is no reason why they shouldn’t publish the exceptions they make to their page-ranking algorithm. The only reason I see for keeping the exceptions secret is their publication might make Google look bad.

(Via Big Government.)

POSTSCRIPT: When I say that Google isn’t a monopolistic player yet, I’m referring of course to web search. They are a monopolistic player in the business of stealing books. Astonishingly, a federal court has not only given Google approval to steal copyrighted books, it has also made Google the only one that can do so. (Again, most monopolies exist due to government action.) There’s also other good reason to dislike Google, such as its growing record of censorship. So if Google did face some government persecution, my sympathy for them would be limited.

(Previous post.)


Nebraskans oppose cash-for-cloture

December 30, 2009

Since selling out on the health care bill, Ben Nelson (D-NE) has taken a dive in the polls. According to Rasmussen, he now trails by 31 points in his re-election bid. (Unfortunately, he is not up for re-election until 2012.) His disapproval rating is at 62%, and interestingly there is no statistical difference between insured and uninsured.

Just 17% of Nebraska voters approve of his “cash-for-cloture” deal. Two-thirds of Nebraskan voters disapprove of the bill, and a majority strongly disapprove.

(Via Hot Air.)


No, this isn’t creepy

December 30, 2009

Politiken, Denmark’s second-largest newspaper (according to Wikipedia), editorializes:

He comes from humble beginnings and defends the weak and vulnerable, because he can identify himself with their conditions.

And no we are not thinking of Jesus Christ, whose birthday has just been celebrated – – but rather the President of the United States Barack Hussein Obama. . .

From the start, Obama’s critics have claimed that his supporters have idolised him as a saviour, thus attempting to dismantle the concrete hope that Obama has represented for most Americans.

The idea was naturally that the comparison between Jesus and Obama – which is something that the critics developed themselves – would be comical, blasphemous, or both.

If such a comparison were to be made, it would, of course, inevitably be to Obama’s advantage.

Evan Thomas must be glad for the company.

POSTSCRIPT: If the comparison weren’t bizarre (and, yes, blasphemous) enough, what’s this about how Obama’s critics are responsible for the comparison? That sort of outlandish claim would be better supported by a few examples. At least then I’d know what they are talking about.


Dems cut aviation security in favor of pork

December 29, 2009

Specifically, they cut funding for explosives detection systems.


Terror attack was planned by Gitmo releasees

December 29, 2009

ABC reports:

Two of the four leaders allegedly behind the al Qaeda plot to blow up a Northwest Airlines passenger jet over Detroit were released by the U.S. from the Guantanamo prison in November, 2007, according to American officials and Department of Defense documents. . . American officials agreed to send the two terrorists from Guantanamo to Saudi Arabia where they entered into an “art therapy rehabilitation program” and were set free, according to U.S. and Saudi officials.

Alas, we haven’t yet learned the folly of releasing these terrorists.

(Via Hot Air.)


Getting clarity

December 28, 2009

The attempted plane bombing has given the Obama administration some clarity:

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula claimed “credit” for the failed attack on the Northwest Airlines flight on Christmas Day, claiming that the attempted terrorist attack was retaliation for the December 17 airstrike against al Qaeda in Yemen. . .

A senior administration official rejects entirely the idea that the attempted attack was retaliatory, pointing out that Omar Abdulmutallab was in the field long before that airstrike. (He purchased his plane ticket in Ghana the day before, in fact, and had been in Yemen for months before.)

“He had been deployed before December 17,” the official said. “They’d like to make this seem like retaliation, but the reason they tried to blow up the plane is because they have a hateful, murderous agenda. And that’s why we’re on the forward lean against them.”

Ding! That’s right, Al Qaeda’s espoused motives for their attacks are typically lies. What they say amongst themselves may be informative; what they proclaim to the world is not.

I’m glad the administration is finally learning this basic fact. Perhaps they’ll even learn to generalize from it. A good next step would be to realize that Islamic extremists do not hate America because of Guantanamo.

(Via Hot Air.)


The war on science

December 28, 2009

If you want to see what happens when progressives are given an unfettered hand, you look to Berkeley, California. Here’s what happens when progressives run the schools:

Berkeley High School is considering a controversial proposal to eliminate science labs and the five science teachers who teach them to free up more resources to help struggling students.

The proposal to put the science-lab cuts on the table was approved recently by Berkeley High’s School Governance Council, a body of teachers, parents, and students who oversee a plan to change the structure of the high school to address Berkeley’s dismal racial achievement gap, where white students are doing far better than the state average while black and Latino students are doing worse.

Paul Gibson, an alternate parent representative on the School Governance Council, said that information presented at council meetings suggests that the science labs were largely classes for white students. He said the decision to consider cutting the labs in order to redirect resources to underperforming students was virtually unanimous.


Gasp

December 28, 2009

If there were a prize for the year’s worst letter to the editor, this letter to the Boston Globe would surely win:

I AM a math teacher at Brockton High School, the site of a school shooting earlier this month.

Current school security procedures lock down school populations in the event of armed assault. Some advocate abandoning this practice as it holds everyone in place, allowing a shooter easily to find victims.

An alternative to lockdown is immediate exodus via announcement. Although this removes potential hostages and makes it nearly impossible for the shooter to acquire preselected targets, it unfairly rewards resourceful children who move to safety off-site more shrewdly and efficiently than others.

Schools should level playing fields, not intrinsically reward those more resourceful. A level barrel is fair to all fish.

Some propose overturning laws that made schools gun-free zones even for teachers who may be licensed to securely carry concealed firearms elsewhere. They argue that barring licensed-carry only ensures a defenseless, target-rich environment.

But as a progressive, I would sooner lay my child to rest than succumb to the belief that the use of a gun for self-defense is somehow not in itself a gun crime.

(Emphasis mine.)


Public opinion turns against stimulus

December 27, 2009

For some time a majority has believed that the Democratic stimulus plan has not helped the economy (i.e., that it either hurt or had no impact). Now a plurality believes that the stimulus plan actually hurt: 38% say it did, while 30% say it helped and 28% say it had no impact. (Other than spending a whole ton of money we don’t have.) Among independents, 52% say that the stimulus plan has hurt. That’s actually higher than the Republican number (47%).

Unsurprisingly, a majority opposes a new stimulus plan. In fact, a majority also says that we would be better off if we cancelled the unspent portion of the old stimulus plan. Much of it has not been spent yet; we should absolutely do that. But we won’t. Here’s why.

(Via Power Line.)


Arlen Specter can bite me

December 27, 2009

Arlen Specter opines:

Sen. Arlen Specter, a Republican turned Democrat, said the bill could’ve been better if Republicans had participated in the process.

“If some of the Republicans would come forward with suggestions, offer a vote or two, or three or four, to take away the need to have every last one of the 60 Democrats, you’d have a much better bill in accordance with the tradition of the Congress, especially the Senate, on bipartisanship,” Specter said, adding that Republicans are more interested in “plotting ways to beat President Obama in 2012.”

Republicans did offer suggestions (here’s mine), but Democrats weren’t interested in liberty-preserving, free-market reforms. The Democratic leadership was dead set on a government takeover of the health care system, or as close to one as they could get. So Republicans participated in the process in the appropriate manner, by doing everything they could to stop it. They weren’t able to stop the bill, but GOP “obstructionism” did make it a much better bill, by enabling a Democratic holdout to strip out the public option and the medicare expansion. And GOP “obstructionism” may still stop the bill from funding abortion.

And let’s compare with when Republicans wanted to reform social security. Did the Democrats behave the way Specter says they should? Did the Democrats offer suggestions and a few votes? Of course not. They obstructed the process with all their strength, and they cheered (literally) when reform went down.


Napolitano: “The system worked”

December 27, 2009

The Homeland Security secretary says that the system worked because “everyone played an important role” and within an hour DHS was instituting additional useless precautions everywhere. She also takes credit somehow for the actions of the passenger who saved the day.

The system didn’t work; we got lucky. If not for an incompetent bomber and an alert passenger, flight 253 would have gone down. The bomber was on the terror watch list. If the system had worked, he wouldn’t have been on the plane in the first place. None of the myriad inconveniences we face at the airport stopped him. Now DHS is patting itself on the back for promptly introducing a new legion of ineffective inconveniences after the fact.

Napolitano sees her job as closing the barn door after the cows escape. She needs to be fired. But she won’t.

(Via the Corner.)


Grammar-blogging

December 27, 2009

Byron York notes that the White House is making deliberate efforts to handle yesterday’s incident better than the Fort Hood shootings. After Fort Hood, the president was disengaged and dismissive of the possibility that the shooting were an act of terrorism. After Flight 253, the White House has been working the press to emphasize that the president (who is vacationing in Hawaii) is fully briefed.

There’s not much for the president to do in relation to this incident (yet, anyway), so I guess there’s no problem with the White House making positive press coverage its top priority. But John Hinderaker noticed something odd. Here’s the AP, reporting what the White House told the press:

President Barack Obama’s Christmas Day began with a briefing about a botched attack on an airliner in Detriot and ended with a visit to a dining hall for members of the military. . . Obama’s military aide told the president about an incident aboard a plane as it was landing in Detroit just after 9 a.m. here. The president phoned his homeland security adviser and the chief of staff to the National Security Council for a briefing.

(Emphasis mine.)

Okay, so the president was briefed at 9 am (Alaska-Hawaii standard time). The plane landed at 12:01 pm Eastern time, which is 7:01 am in Hawaii. So the president wasn’t briefed until two hours after the plane landed. So maybe it wasn’t quite the priority the White House is now making it out to be.

Now, let’s return to the sentence from the AP story. There are two ways to read it. One parse says the briefing took place as the plane was landing. This is the grammatically correct reading, but it doesn’t match the facts. The other parse, which makes “just after 9 a.m. here” into a dangling participle, says the incident happened as the plane was landing, and the briefing happened just after 9 a.m. This parse has the advantage of matching the facts.

So is this bad grammar from the AP, or did they intend the first parse? If it’s the latter, that probably means that the White House lied in an effort to make the president look better. There’s no way to know. I would note that AP writers write sentences for a living, and politicians lie for a living. On the other hand, the AP writer did misspell Detroit.


Sheesh

December 26, 2009

Hannah Rosenthal is the president’s latest czar; her job is to monitor and report on anti-Semitism. (The position dates to the last administration.) She decided to use her first official remarks to attack the Israeli ambassador.


Vaccine allocation

December 26, 2009

According to a new paper, vaccines are being allocated the wrong way. Rather than using scarce vaccines on the population that is most at risk from a disease, the authors argue that they should be used on the population that is most likely to spread the disease. This would create herd immunity and save more lives overall.


Osmotic power

December 26, 2009

A new technology for electricity generation uses osmotic pressure to drive a turbine. It’s not ready for practical use yet, but a Norwegian firm hopes to build a commercial plant by 2015.

It sounds technically cool, but I’m a bit skeptical. The technology works by making fresh water salty. Unfortunately, fresh water is precious in much of the world, while there are other cost-effective ways to generate electricity. It seems like it might be reasonable to build an osmotic plant where a river meets the sea already, but those areas tend to have ecosystems that environmentalists get exercised about. The article mentions the possibility of a plant between the Red Sea and Dead Sea, where you could move salt water into even saltier water, but how many such places exist?


Turncoat

December 26, 2009

When Arlen Specter switched parties, he said he would “not be an automatic 60th vote” for the Democratic agenda, but that’s pretty much what he has been:

In nearly 30 years as a Senate Republican, Arlen Specter was tough to pin down, frequently breaking ranks with his party and giving its leadership fits. Yet in the half-year since he crossed the aisle, Mr. Specter has become a remarkably reliable Democratic vote.

According to a Congressional votes database compiled by The Washington Post, Mr. Specter has voted with the Democrats 94.2 percent of the time since switching parties — an identical figure to his fellow Pennsylvania Democrat Bob Casey Jr. and in the middle range of his party’s caucus.

Since Rep. Joe Sestak, D-Delaware County, joined the race in late May, Mr. Specter has voted even more consistently with his party: a 96.4 percent rate, excluding a handful of votes on which he abstained. . .

When he was a Republican, Mr. Specter was a frequent objector. A tally of divisive votes by Congressional Quarterly showed that, as of mid-August, Mr. Specter had a “party unity” score of 90.5 percent with the Democrats — far higher than he ever had with the Republicans. The Washington-based publication calculated that Mr. Specter averaged a 58 percent party unity score from 1981 through 2008.

The story goes on to note that Specter has reversed his position on the “public option” and on the card-check bill.

There’s a lesson here for the rest of us. Specter has his seat today because Republicans were persuaded to support him over Pat Toomey in the 2004 primary. At the time, it seemed that it was better to keep a nominal Republican in that seat than to risk losing it to a Democrat. Oops.


The year of living fecklessly

December 26, 2009

Krauthammer: 2009 was a year of spectacularly squandered opportunity. (Via Hot Air.)


Pay caps are for the unconnected

December 26, 2009

The Washington Post reports:

The Obama administration pledged Thursday to provide unlimited financial assistance to mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. . . But even as the administration was making this open-ended financial commitment, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac disclosed that they had received approval from their federal regulator to pay $42 million in Wall Street-style compensation packages to 12 top executives for 2009.

The compensation packages, including up to $6 million each to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac’s chief executives, come amid an ongoing public debate about lavish payments to executives at banks and other financial firms that have received taxpayer aid. But while many firms on Wall Street have repaid the assistance, there is no prospect that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will do so.

You wouldn’t expect the pay caps to apply to Fannie and Freddie. Fannie and Freddie are run by Democrats.

(Via Volokh.) (Related story.)


Obama’s consistency

December 24, 2009

President Obama is consistent about one thing: his own purported consistency. He frequently claims to have always been consistent, and he is consistently lying. To wit:

Every single criteria for reform I put forward is in this bill.

and

I didn’t campaign on the public option.

It’s not true. At all. Matt Welch and Jake Tapper deconstruct this brazen revisionism. Welch looks at a variety of elements on which Obama campaigned that are not in the bill; Tapper focuses specifically on the public option.

(Via Instapundit and Hot Air.)


Interpol granted diplomatic immunity

December 23, 2009

President Obama has issued an executive order that gives Interpol full diplomatic immunity.

Why? It’s not a rhetorical question; I really don’t get it. There’s an obvious downside: an international police force that is not answerable to the law. But what is the upside? Even looking for a cynical political benefit, I can’t see one. Steve Schippert thinks it’s a part of a scheme to get America into the International Criminal Court.

(Via the Corner.)

POSTSCRIPT: “Diplomatic immunity” is probably a term of art with someone. I’m not using it that way. (You can read the article to find out exactly what the order does.) But the order definitely gives Interpol privileges that no police force should have, especially an international one.


Pennsylvania Democrats paid political operatives with taxpayer funds

December 23, 2009

AP reports:

The majority leader of the Pennsylvania House directed campaign activities by legislative employees and raised campaign funds from inside the Capitol, according to witness testimony in transcripts obtained by The Associated Press.

The witnesses in the widening probe, which has reached top levels of the state General Assembly, allege conduct by Todd Eachus similar to that for which 25 others have been charged.

Eachus has not been charged, and the allegations date to before he was elected majority leader a year ago.

John Paul Jones, a $62,000-a-year legislative research specialist until December 2007, told the grand jury that Eachus, D-Luzerne, brought him onto the state payroll after the November 2006 election, which returned Democrats to the majority in the House, with a cover story about his legislative work.

“That was sort of like the code of, here’s what I do, but really I was solely there as a political guy,” Jones said.

Jones testified that Eachus told him he considered the General Assembly’s capability to produce public service announcements a free tool to help incumbents get re-elected.

For nearly three years, state Attorney General Tom Corbett has been investigating whether state lawmakers and their aides used legislative employees and state-owned equipment for campaign purposes.

The scandal began with news that millions in bonuses had been quietly handed out to employees of the General Assembly, and a series of five grand jury reports has alleged that many of those bonuses were part of a conspiracy that also involved state contracts and computer equipment, as well as some of the highest-ranking members of the state House and aides. . .

In a May 2008 grand jury appearance, Jones said that while he was working for the House Democratic Campaign Committee in the run-up to that pivotal 2006 election, he and another campaign committee employee worked closely with Eachus out of an office in the Capitol’s East Wing.

He said they helped Eachus phone Democratic state representatives to pressure them either to donate to the campaign committee or promise to spend a certain amount on their own races.

“As Todd would often say, he wanted to spend what he called soft dollars, which were government dollars, on public service announcements so that we had to ultimately spend less hard campaign dollars,” Jones testified.

Jones said that for a time he and two other legislative aides spent nearly all day on political matters, raising money and performing other campaign-related duties.

(Via Instapundit.)


Fall of the CBO

December 23, 2009

Megan McArdle says the CBO’s scores aren’t much good any more, now that Congress has learned how to game its formula. (Via Instapundit.)


IRS cannot verify eligibility for stimulus benefits

December 23, 2009

. . . for two-thirds of the provisions:

The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration today publicly released its review of the IRS’s ability to verify taxpayer eligibility for tax benefits and credits provided by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The Recovery Act contains 56 tax provisions with a potential cost of more than $325 billion that are intended to provide tax relief for individuals and businesses. . .

TIGTA found that the IRS is unable to verify taxpayer eligibility for the majority of Recovery Act tax benefits and credits at the time a tax return is processed. This includes 13 of the 20 benefits and credits for individual taxpayers and 26 of the [36] tax provisions benefiting businesses.

So two-thirds of the stimulus bill’s tax provisions are invitations for fraud. But why should Congress worry about this? It’s not as though it’s their money being wasted. . .

(Via Instapundit.)

UPDATE: In a related item, the IRS has a 70% error rate issuing taxpayer ID numbers. (Via Instapundit.)


Harry Reid kills 180 thousand people

December 22, 2009

If Harry Reid is right in saying that 45 thousand people die each year due to lack of health insurance, then why does his plan wait until 2014 to do anything? A four-year delay will kill 180 thousand people, right?

ASIDE: Okay, that’s not fair. The Reid bill doesn’t get to universal coverage; according to the CBO it would only cut the number of uninsured in half. So the delay is only killing 90 thousand people.

The answer, of course, is budget gimmickry. In order to make the 10-year budget forecast come out in the black, the bills needs to balance 10 years of taxes against just 6 years of spending. The left even admits this.

POSTSCRIPT: Reid alludes to a study just published in the American Journal of Public Health. It’s on-line here. The article is behind a pay wall unfortunately. A press release summarizes the article here. Since the uninsured can get treatment at nearly any hospital emergency room, I’m dubious about the result. I strongly suspect that uninsured status is serving as a proxy for something else, but not having read the study, I can’t hazard a guess what that might be.

POST-POSTSCRIPT: But let’s put this in perspective. The Reid bill subsidizes abortion. (Thank you, Ben Nelson!) Lower prices mean increased consumption, but by how much? It’s hard to know exactly what effective price cut will result from the subsidy; let’s say 2.5%. (That seems low, but it makes the numbers come out neatly.) The price elasticity for abortion is about -0.81, so that means a 2% increase in abortions, which works out to about 24 thousand more abortions per year. That’s about the same as the number of people Reid claims his bill would save.


Misconduct

December 22, 2009

American Thinker has the story of an absolutely conclusive case of academic misconduct at International Journal of Climatology. Here’s the short version:

  1. One group of authors writes a paper that is critical of some existing work in climate research. The paper is accepted for publication after the usual peer-review process.
  2. A second group of authors (led by researchers at the Hadley CRU, of course) obtains the paper’s page proofs before it is published. They plot to discredit it. They don’t want merely to submit a comment, because then the paper’s authors would get a chance to respond.
  3. The second group colludes with the journal’s editor to delay the paper’s print publication until a response paper can be published. As a full paper, rather than a comment, the first group would not get to respond.
  4. The editor takes unusual steps to speed the response paper through the peer-review process. Most significantly, he removes a “cranky” referee who raised issues with the paper.
  5. An author from the first group learns of the response paper and asks for an advance copy. Astonishingly, the second group refuses to send him a copy!
  6. Both papers appear in the same issue of the journal. The first paper waited over 11 months after being published on-line; the second waited for just 36 days.

The story is fully documented by emails from the Hadley leak. Here are three key quotes. The offer:

He also said (and please treat this in confidence, which is why I emailed to you and Phil only) that he may be able to hold back the hardcopy (i.e. the print/paper version) appearance of Douglass et al., possibly so that any accepted Santer et al. comment could appear alongside it.

Admission of wrong:

the only thing I didn’t want to make more generally known was the suggestion that print publication of Douglass et al. might be delayed… all other aspects of this discussion are unrestricted

A referee is dropped:

As you’ll see, Reviewer 1 was very happy with the revisions we’ve made to the paper. Reviewer 2 was somewhat crankier. The good news is that the editor (Glenn McGregor) will not send the paper back to Reviewer 2, and is requesting only minor changes in response to the Reviewer’s comments.

Absolutely appalling.

(Via Volokh.) (Previous post.)

UPDATE: This story from Richard Lindzen (who is very well-regarded, despite being a skeptic) makes me wonder if this sort of misconduct might have been common:

When I, with some colleagues at NASA, attempted to determine how clouds behave under varying temperatures, we discovered what we called an “Iris Effect,” wherein upper-level cirrus clouds contracted with increased temperature, providing a very strong negative climate feedback sufficient to greatly reduce the response to increasing CO2. Normally, criticism of papers appears in the form of letters to the journal to which the original authors can respond immediately. However, in this case (and others) a flurry of hastily prepared papers appeared, claiming errors in our study, with our responses delayed months and longer. The delay permitted our paper to be commonly referred to as “discredited.”


Ravenstahl abandons tuition tax

December 21, 2009

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports:

Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl has asked city council to shelve his proposed tuition tax, saying instead that a broad-based “New Pittsburgh Coalition” will work to solve the city’s pension problem.

The mayor is willing to cancel the tuition tax vote that could have occurred today in spite of the fact that he can’t claim to have landed the $15 million-a-year needed to right the pension fund, nor the $5 million compromise demand he made earlier this month. . . The University of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon University and insurer Highmark have pledged to make larger voluntary donations to the city than they did in the years 2005 through 2007, but neither they nor city officials would not say how much they will give, nor for how many years. . .

Mr. Ravenstahl introduced the 1 percent tuition tax proposal in his Nov. 9 budget address. . . But the state-picked Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority forced him to remove revenue from the tax from the 2010 budget, saying it was too speculative. State Rep. Paul Costa, D-Wilkins, introduced legislation to preempt the levy. And the bare majority of council members who said they’d vote for the tax showed signs of instability, with two members, Theresa Smith and Tonya Payne, embarking on a desperate attempt to find a middle ground and avoid a vote.

I think the whole thing was an attempted shakedown. It failed because Ravenstahl’s hand was just too weak.


Timeless and yet timely

December 21, 2009

“The statesman, who should attempt to direct private people in what manner they ought to employ their capitals, would not only load himself with a most unnecessary attention, but assume an authority which could safely be trusted, not only to no single person, but to no council or senate whatever, and which would no-where be so dangerous as in the hands of a man who had folly and presumption enough to fancy himself fit to exercise it.”

Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations


Heh

December 20, 2009

Cash for cloture.”


The mystery earmark

December 20, 2009

The health care bill contains a $100 million earmark for:

A health care facility that provides research, inpatient tertiary care, or outpatient clinical services. Such facility shall be affiliated with an academic health center at a public research university in the United States that contains a State’s sole public academic medical and dental school.

Somebody’s being bribed, and we don’t even know who. One Republican quipped, “If taxpayers are going to be expected to sign the check, Democrats should at least let them know who to make it out to.”

Could this process be any more corrupt? I suppose it could, but it’s hard to picture.

(Via Power Line.)


Medicare denies claims more than private insurers

December 20, 2009

A report from the American Medical Association reveals that Medicare denies insurance claims more than any private insurer, and more than twice as often as the average private insurer.

That’s a useful statistic to use when someone asserts that we need government-run health care to protect us from evil insurance companies denying our claims. But we shouldn’t be surprised; private firms need to satisfy their customers (generally at least) or they lose business. The government does not.

(Via Hot Air.)


Ben Nelson sells out

December 20, 2009

Ben Nelson, the supposedly pro-life Democrat, okays a health care bill that allows federal funding for abortions, in exchange for a package of deals for his home state (paid for by the taxpayer).

Politics disgusts me.

But I can’t say I’m surprised.

UPDATE: The bill’s sham provision against abortion funding doesn’t satisfy Bart Stupak (D-MI). Hopefully he can bring it down when the bill returns from conference. I wouldn’t count on it. We need not only Stupak but also a few of his Democratic colleagues to stand on principle, against all the pressure the Democratic leadership can bring and all the bribes money can buy.


Victory in Iraq

December 19, 2009

We won the military victory last year, but that victory has finally trickled into public sentiment. A new NBC/WSJ poll finds that a strong majority now sees Iraq as a success.

(Via Instapundit.)


House honors Kind of Blue

December 18, 2009

AP reports:

Fifty years after jazz legend Miles Davis recorded “Kind of Blue,” the House voted Tuesday to honor the landmark album’s contribution to the genre.

Davis collaborated on the record with saxophonists John Coltrane and Julian “Cannonball” Adderley, pianists Bill Evans and Wynton Kelly, bassist Paul Chambers and drummer Jimmy Cobb.

Rep. John Conyers, a Michigan Democrat who sponsored the measure, said the group “made musical history and changed the artistic landscape of this country and in some ways the world.” The resolution recognizing the album’s 50th anniversary passed on a 409-0 vote.

I don’t know enough about jazz to say whether Blue Train is the best ever, but it’s definitely among the best. I wish Congress spent more time on meaningless (i.e., harmless) stuff like this.

(Via Volokh.)


Smart diplomacy

December 18, 2009

The London Times reports:

UK diplomatic sources confirmed there had been a major setback after China took huge offence at remarks by President Obama over the need to independently monitor every country carbon emissions.

In his speech President Obama said: “Without any accountability, any agreement would be empty words on a page” – remarks the Chinese interpreted as an attempt to humiliate them, prompting Prime Minister Wen Jiabao to return to his hotel.

President Obama will now hold a second round of talks with Mr Wen in an attempt to patch up the disagreement.

So who haven’t we offended yet?

(Via the Corner.)


Bias 101

December 18, 2009

Photo caption in the Washington Post:

Rep. Larry Kissell (D-N.C.) voted against health-care reform even though it is badly needed in the largely rural district he represents.

(Via Hot Air.)


Mugabe shows how it’s done

December 18, 2009

Robert Mugabe lectures the Copenhagen delegates on carbon emissions. I think that makes sense. What Mugabe has done in Zimbabwe is probably the only workable scheme for getting carbon levels down where the greens want them.

(Via Instapundit.)


Transfer payment

December 18, 2009

A group of scholars at George Mason University have done an econometric analysis of spending under the stimulus bill. They wanted to see what factors influenced the allocation of stimulus funds. For example, they wanted to see whether variables such as unemployment or mean income had a significant impact, which might indicate that the bill was tailored to stimulate the economy.

Their analysis found no correlation between stimulus spending and any economic variable. In fact, there was only one variable with a significant impact, and that was which party represented the district: Democratic districts obtained significantly more stimulus funding than Republican ones. Party was significant at the 99.9% confidence level (p < 0.001).

The other variable with some impact was whether the district was politically “marginal”, meaning that the district’s representative won by less than 5% of the vote. Politically marginal districts received less funding than non-marginal ones. Marginality was significant at the 90% level but not the 95% level.

Put these two together and you get a clear picture of how to get stimulus funding: be strongly Democratic. Weakly Democratic districts get less, and Republican districts get much less.

So the purpose of the stimulus travesty is empirically revealed. The biggest peacetime spending scheme in history is a massive transfer payment from Republicans and independents to Democrats.

(Via the Washington Examiner, via Instapundit.)


Racial preferences in health care bill

December 17, 2009

The US Commission on Civil Rights has written a letter to Senate leaders complaining about the health care bill’s use of “racially discriminatory provisions”.


Avatar

December 17, 2009

Popular Science doesn’t think much of Avatar:

It’s an intriguing paradox–the success of a film as technologically elaborate and ambitious as James Cameron’s Avatar will come down to a simple question: Will audiences marvel at the movie’s groundbreaking production methods enough to forgive Cameron’s curious choice to frame everything on a script that is, almost above all else, obsessed with the evils of technology in the wrong hands? . . .

Unlike Lucas’ more playful science fiction epic, Cameron reaches for a heavy environmental message. Avatar is every militant global warming supporter’s dream come true as the invading, technology-worshiping, environment-ravaging humans are set upon by an angry planet and its noble inhabitants. But the film’s message suffers mightily under the weight of mind-boggling hypocrisy. Cameron’s story clearly curses the proliferation of human technology. In Avatar, the science and machinery of humankind leads to soulless violence and destruction. It only serves to pollute the primitive but pristine paradise of Pandora.

Of course, without centuries of development in science and technology, the film putting forth this simple-minded, self-loathing worldview wouldn’t exist. You’d imagine Cameron himself would be bored to tears on the planet he created. There are no movies on Pandora, so he’d be out of a job. The Na’vi rarely visit a multiplex. They sit around their glowing trees, chanting; they don’t build and sink titanic ocean liners, and they don’t construct deep-sea mini-subs enabling certain filmmakers to spend countless days exploring said cruise ships.

(Via Instapundit.)

You’ll find a lot of people who want to protect the superior virtue of the noble savage, but you won’t find many volunteering to join him.


The empty threat knob goes to 11

December 17, 2009

The White House responds to Iran’s missile test:

“At a time when the international community has offered Iran opportunities to begin to build trust and confidence, Iran’s missile tests only undermine Iran’s claims of peaceful intentions,” White House spokesman Mike Hammer said.

They undermine Iran’s claims of peaceful intentions?! Seriously?!

The missile test does not undermine Iran’s claims, because Iran’s claims were already not the tiniest bit believable.

Oh, but it gets worse:

“Such actions will increase the seriousness and resolve of the international community to hold Iran accountable for its continued defiance of its international obligations on its nuclear program,” he said.

Aha, the action will increase our seriousness and resolve. Not enough to do anything about it, mind you, but we might consider using some really strong words. If we can get the Chinese and Russians to go along with them, that is.


The health care bill actually gets worse

December 17, 2009

A provision has been added to the health care bill, at the behest of Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), to exempt three Florida counties from cuts to Medicare Advantage.

First thought: I find it astonishing, even taking into account the low ethical standards of Democrats, that they would craft a bill that would, as matter of law, treat a few influential (and strongly Democratic) counties differently from the rest of the nation.

Second thought: We’ve been told that cutting Medicare Advantage wouldn’t hurt anyone. Why then would Palm Beach, Dade, and Broward counties need an exemption?


How not to respond to scrutiny

December 17, 2009

I had hoped that the climate scandal would lead climate scientists to change their ways and begin making their data available for public scrutiny. Obviously, the data that has been destroyed cannot be published, but at least they can publish what they still have.

Alas, it appears that the Hadley CRU, at least, will not be taking that tack. In fact, quite the opposite. CRU has taken down its entire web site, thereby withdrawing all their data that used to be publicly available.

(Via Instapundit.) (Previous post.)


Senate rejects drug reimportation

December 17, 2009

The Senate has rejected a proposal to allow drug reimportation as part of the health care bill. Appallingly, 51 senators voted for this idiocy, but 60 votes were required.

I explained here why drug reimportation makes no sense whatsoever. Supporting it is an indication of economic illiteracy.


DOJ continues stonewalling Civil Rights Commission

December 17, 2009

The Washington Times reports:

The Justice Department has told the federal attorneys who filed a civil complaint against the New Black Panther Party for disrupting a Philadelphia polling place last year not to cooperate with an investigation of the incident by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

The commission last week subpoenaed at least two Justice Department lawyers and sought documents from the department to explain why the complaint was dismissed just as a federal judge was about to punish the New Black Panther Party and three of its members for intimidating voters.

Joseph H. Hunt, director of the Justice Department’s Federal Programs Branch, ordered the lawyers’ silence in a letter to the attorney for J. Christian Adams, the lead attorney for the department in the New Black Panther case. . . In the letter, Mr. Hunt said the Civil Rights Commission “possesses no authority to initiate criminal prosecution of anyone” and has the ability only to make referrals to the Justice Department recommending that a criminal case be opened. The commission does not have the authority to enforce subpoenas, he added.

(Previous post.)


National debt exceeds limit

December 17, 2009

CBS reports:

The latest calculation of the National Debt as posted by the Treasury Department has – at least numerically – exceeded the statutory Debt Limit approved by Congress last February as part of the Recovery Act stimulus bill.

The ceiling was set at $12.104 trillion dollars. The latest posting by Treasury shows the National Debt at nearly $12.135 trillion.

A senior Treasury official told CBS News that the department has some “extraordinary accounting tools” it can use to give the government breathing room in the range of $150-billion when the Debt exceeds the Debt Ceiling.

Ooh, extraordinary accounting tools! Sounds great.

(Via Instapundit.)


Rules are made to be broken, I guess

December 17, 2009

Democrats set the Senate’s rules aside in order to speed the health care bill along.


Everyone hates the health care plan

December 15, 2009

A chart of public opinion on health care “reform” over time:

(Via Instapundit.)

With numbers like that, I’m starting to be hopeful that this atrocity can be stopped.

In related news, Joe Lieberman (ID-CT) and Ben Nelson (D-NE) have come out against the Reid compromise:

Two key senators criticized the most recent healthcare compromise Sunday, saying the policies replacing the public option are still unacceptable.

Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) both said a Medicare “buy-in” option for those aged 55-64 was a deal breaker.

“I’m concerned that it’s the forerunner of single payer, the ultimate single-payer plan, maybe even more directly than the public option,” Nelson said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

Lieberman said Democrats should stop looking for a public option “compromise” and simply scrap the idea altogether.

“You’ve got to take out the Medicare buy-in. You’ve got to forget about the public option,” he said.

And Claire McCaskill (D-MO) is indicating she has reservations as well:

Speaking on “Fox News Sunday,” Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) said she would not vote for any bill that doesn’t reduce the deficit and bring down healthcare costs.

If those two criteria aren’t met, “we’ll have to go back to the drawing board,” she said.

(Via Instapundit.)

If she means it, then they’ve lost her vote as well, because there’s no way on God’s green earth that the bill will bring down healthcare costs. Consider this statement today from Christina Romer, chairwoman of the president’s council of economic advisers:

“Absolutely, we are going to be expanding coverage to some 30 million Americans. Of course, that is going to up the level of health-care spending,” Romer said.’

(Via Commentary.)

What? Covering more people costs more money? Who knew?!

Going back to the chart at the top, it’s clear that most Americans have now figured out that the idea that we can save money by extending coverage is merely a fairy tale.


Success has a thousand fathers

December 14, 2009

President Obama, in his Nobel acceptance speech, said:

Likewise, the world recognized the need to confront Saddam Hussein when he invaded Kuwait — a consensus that sent a clear message to all about the cost of aggression.

Ah yes, the consensus. I remember it well.

The 1991 resolution to authorize military action in Iraq passed 52-47 in the Senate, and 250-183 in the House. Senate Democrats voted 45-10 against the resolution, including Joe Biden, John Kerry, Tom Daschle (then majority leader), Robert Byrd (then and now president pro-tem of the Senate), and Edward Kennedy. Alan Cranston (then majority whip) did not vote. House Democrats voted 179-86 against the resolution, including Nancy Pelosi, Steny Hoyer (now majority leader), Dick Durbin (now Senate majority whip), Tom Foley (then speaker), Dick Gephardt (then majority leader), and David Bonior (then majority whip).

But that war went well, so everyone is for it in retrospect. Just like the Cold War. Some day soon there will have been a consensus over the second Gulf War as well.

(Via Power Line.)


CNN can’t read

December 13, 2009

CNN seems to have flunked reading comprehension:

An al Qaeda spokesman Saturday appeared to be trying to improve the group’s image in the region with a new audio message in English. . .

“We express our condolences to the families of the Muslim men, women and children killed in these criminal acts and we ask Allah to have mercy on those killed and accept them as shohadaa (martyrs),” he says in the video.

“We also express the same in regard to the unintended Muslim victims of the mujahedeen’s operations against the crusaders and their allies and puppets, and to the countless faceless and nameless Muslim victims of the murderous crusades” in Afghanistan, Pakistan’s Waziristan regions and Swat Valley, and elsewhere, he said.

It is a rare example of al Qaeda offering condolences to the families of those killed in the group’s own attacks.

(Emphasis mine.)

Yes, rare indeed. So rare, in fact, that there are no instances of it, including this one. Despite what CNN seems to want to read into the statement, Al Qaeda isn’t offering condolences to those killed in their attacks. They make clear they are offering condolences to those Muslims who were accidentally killed in their attacks on the infidels. It’s right there in black and white; why can’t CNN read?

Also, it happens to be complete crap. Al Qaeda hates moderate Muslims nearly as much as they hate infidels. The only interesting thing here is they feel the need to hide it. They must be having recruiting difficulties.

(Via Althouse, via Instapundit.)


How not for scientists to address skepticism

December 11, 2009

(Via Big Government.)


More Baucus

December 11, 2009

Fox News reports:

The last person to know that Sen. Max Baucus wanted a divorce may have been his wife of 25 years.

It appears that Wanda Baucus was in the dark even as a member of Baucus’ staff — Melodee Hanes, the woman who is now his live-in girlfriend — was plotting out the senator’s life without a wife.

Hanes, Baucus’ former state director, reportedly met at least twice with the Montana Democrat’s divorce attorney eight months before the senator and his wife separated.

This demolishes the idea that Baucus was separated before he started seeing Hanes. True, this doesn’t have any real bearing on the main story, that Baucus nominated a mistress with flimsy qualifications to be US Attorney. But I do think the fact that Baucus’s relationship with the mistress was already sleazy does cast the scandal in an even worse light.

(Previous post.)


OMG

December 11, 2009

The British government wants to mark goods from Jewish settlements in the West Bank:

The British government has issued an official recommendation urging business owners to mark Israeli products produced in West Bank settlements so that consumers who want to boycott such items will find it easy to identify them. . .

According to European Union law, many types of products, especially food products, that are imported from outside the Union, by law must be labeled with the country of their origin. The British government issued its recommendation after several NGOs and marketing chains asked for guidelines regarding the differentiation between settler products and Palestinian products from the West Bank. According to the new guidelines, the British government recommends indicating whether the product was made by Palestinians or Israeli settlers on the label of every product originating from the West Bank.

The government recommendation goes further to say that labeling a product from a settlement as having been manufactured in Israel would be considered a criminal offense as it is misleading to the consumer public. . .

The British embassy in Israel issued a statement clarifying that this move was not a boycott. “This is a recommendation, not a binding order,” the embassy stressed. “The British government is opposed to any kind of boycott of Israel.”

First things first: the claim that the British government is opposed to a boycott is bullshit. If they were opposed to a boycott, they wouldn’t be taking steps to enable one.

Once again, Israel is being held to an entirely different standard than every other country in the world. As one Israeli official remarks:

Another government official said that . . . the British were “singling Israel out for this type of treatment, something that is very, very problematic.”

Why was it less important, he asked, for the British consumer to know that products they were buying were coming from other areas of dispute, such as Tibet, Kashmir, northern Cyprus, Chechnya, Kosovo, parts of Bosnia or even places like Gibraltar, the Falkland Islands and Northern Ireland?

Why is it less important? That’s what we call a rhetorical question; we all know what’s special about Israel. Since 1948, anti-Semites have tried — in the shadow of the holocaust — to give themselves a thin veneer of respectability by arguing that they are only against Israel, not Jews in general.

Also note that there will be criminal sanctions on anyone who labels goods from the West Bank as Israeli. Note that the West Bank includes East Jerusalem (which incidentally contains the entire Old City), which has been part of the Israeli capital since 1980. So any British subject who takes the position that Israel’s capital is part of Israel, and marks his goods accordingly, can go to jail.

But worst is the appalling lack of any sense of history this displays. The British government, facing a resurgence of anti-Semitism in Europe, is directing shops to mark (some) Jewish goods. Do they really have no idea what this looks like?

(Via the Corner.)


China cracks down on independent churches

December 11, 2009

AP reports:

Towering eight stories over wheat fields, the Golden Lamp Church was built to serve nearly 50,000 worshippers in the gritty heart of China’s coal country.

But that was before hundreds of police and hired thugs descended on the mega-church, smashing doors and windows, seizing Bibles and sending dozens of worshippers to hospitals with serious injuries, members and activists say

Today, the church’s co-pastors are in jail. The gates to the church complex in the northern province of Shanxi are locked and a police armored personnel vehicle sits outside.

The closure of what may be China’s first mega-church is the most visible sign that the communist government is determined to rein in the rapid spread of Christianity, with a crackdown in recent months that church leaders call the harshest in years.

ASIDE: This next part was weird; I couldn’t tell whether the irony was intentional or not:

While the Chinese constitution guarantees freedom of religion, Christians are required to worship in churches run by state-controlled organizations.

Right. In China you have freedom of religion, as long as the government runs your religion.


Surely Harry Reid wouldn’t lie

December 10, 2009

A National Review source says there is no deal on health care yet. According to the source, Harry Reid is running a “psych-ops campaign”.

UPDATE: This story (“Senate Dems May Change Health Compromise”) seems to support the source.


Bush rising

December 10, 2009

A new Public Policy poll finds President Obama barely above water, with 49% approval and 47% disapproval. This is generally consistent with other polls of registered voters. (Rasmussen’s poll of likely voters has Obama underwater at 46/53.)

I also have to note that Public Policy agrees with nearly all other polling in finding that a majority disapproves of Obama health care reform scheme. Of those who disapprove, 90% say there is too much government involvement. Only 6% said too little.

Most interestingly, Public Policy asked another question I haven’t seen polled before: They found that only 50% prefer President Obama to President Bush, against 44% who would prefer Bush to Obama. Considering Bush’s radioactive ratings when he left office, this is a remarkable result.

(Via the Corner.)


Obama snubs Norway

December 10, 2009

More “smart diplomacy“:

A day before President Obama receives his Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, the president’s treatment of his Norwegian hosts has become hot news across Scandinavia.

News outlets across the region are calling Obama arrogant for slashing some of the prize winners’ traditional duties from his schedule. . . “It’s very sad,” said Nobel Peace Center Director Bente Erichsen of the news that Obama would skip the peace center exhibit. Prize winners traditionally open the exhibitions about their work that accompany the Nobel festivities. . .

Meanwhile, the Swedish daily Svenska Dagbladet is reporting that the president has declined an invitation to lunch with King Harald V, an event every prize winner from the Dalai Lama to Al Gore has attended. (The newspaper’s headline: “Obama disses lunch with King Harald.”)

Also among the dissed, according to news reports: a concert in Oslo on Friday that was arranged in his honor, and a group of Norwegian children who had planned to meet Obama in front of City Hall.

(Via Instapundit.)

Maybe Norway should feel honored. All the best countries get snubbed by President Obama.


U.S. accepts vote against Zelaya

December 10, 2009

The State Department is indicating that it will accept the Honduran congress’s refusal to restore Manuel Zelaya to office, judging by this article at the State Department’s web site:

The Honduran Congress voted 111–14 December 2 not to permit Zelaya to be reinstated to serve the final two months of his presidency.

“We’re disappointed by this decision since the United States had hoped the Congress would have approved his return,” Assistant Secretary of State Arturo Valenzuela said in a December 3 conference call. “However, the decision taken by Congress, which it carried out in an open and transparent manner, was in accordance with its mandate” in an accord designed to restore democratic order to the Latin American nation, he added. . .

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton dispatched several senior U.S. diplomats to Tegucigalpa October 28 to help the two sides overcome the remaining obstacles to a political solution. Zelaya and Micheletti agreed on October 30 to allow the Honduran Congress, with authorization from the country’s Supreme Court, to decide whether Zelaya should be allowed to return to power and whether to allow him to serve until his term ends on January 27, 2010. It also calls for a commission to investigate the events that led to the coup.


Senate votes to fund abortion

December 9, 2009

The Senate has voted to fund abortion in its health care bill:

By a vote of 54-45, the Senate sidetracked an amendment by Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah that would ban any insurance plan getting taxpayer dollars from offering abortion coverage. The restrictions mirrored provisions in the House-passed health care bill.

The Senate bill currently allows insurance plans to cover abortions, but requires that they can only be paid for with private money. The legislation calls for insurance plans that would receive federal subsidies in a new insurance marketplace to strictly separate public funds from private dollars that would be used to pay for abortion.

“As our bill currently reads, no insurance plan in the new marketplace, whether private or public, would be allowed to use public funds for abortion,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.

Reid is lying. He is hoping that people are taken in by an accounting trick that pretends that the federal dollars are somehow different from the private ones. He may be right in hoping so; United Way has been playing this same trick successfully for years.

Here’s what is going on: Let’s suppose that WXYZ  is a charity that buys widgets for needy children. Widgets come in various colors, but some people disapprove of red widgets (let’s say they release lots of greenhouse gases). When WXYZ looks for funding, they promise to keep two separate accounts: Account A is unrestricted, and account B can be spent on anything but red-widgets. When fundraising among the anti-red community, WXYZ suggests contributing to account B. That way, WXYZ argues, you know that you’re not funding red widgets.

But it’s not true, because money in the two accounts are fungible. When I contribute money to account B, WXYZ can shift costs, freeing up funds in account A for red widgets. That is, contributing to account B allows WXYZ to spend more on red widgets from account A. All the separation of accounts accomplishes is to cap red-widget spending at the entire balance of account A (which is much higher than would ever be contemplated anyway).

United Way has been doing this for years. They allow you to designate that a contribution is not to be given to Planned Parenthood, but, as explained above, that designation has no effect whatsoever. When you contribute to United Way, you are funding abortion.

Now the Senate wants to employ the same fiction. Private money goes into account A, and government subsidies go into account B. Sure, account B cannot be spent on abortion directly, but every dollar in account B frees up a dollar in account A to be spent on abortion.

So the Senate bill would fund abortion.

In fact, it’s worse than this. A similar argument to the one we make about separate accounts for a single plan could be made about separate plans offered by the same insurer. The insurer could shift costs from one plan to another. (Hospitals already do this, shifting costs from Medicare patients to others.) If the insurer is for-profit, we can probably rely on the profit motive to keep them from doing so; any plan that can’t stand on its own would be cut. But most health insurers are non-profit, and they very well might decide to shift costs from a plan that supports abortion to another government-subsidized plan that does not.

The point is this: the Stupak amendment is already a compromise position. Stupak rules out the utterly transparent accounting fiction described above, but it still allows a company that accepts subsidies to offer other plans that cover abortion, even though the company might shift costs between them. The robust pro-life position would prohibit subsidies to any insurer that covers abortion in any of its plans.

Will people be fooled by Reid’s chicanery? The pro-life movement tends to be pretty savvy to these tricks, so I’m hopeful they won’t. On the other hand, the United Way example suggest that many might well be taken in.


The benefits of openness

December 9, 2009

RealClimate.org this past week linked an older Real Climate post titled “Peer Review: A Necessary But Not Sufficient Condition“. The post makes the point that peer review is a necessary condition but not a sufficient condition for credibility, observing that bad papers sometimes make it through peer review. (The bad papers they want us to ignore are all skeptical of a human impact on climate change.)

In fact, I would say peer review is neither necessary nor sufficient for credibility. Bad and even horrible papers are sometimes accepted. Good papers are sometimes rejected. Some good papers, for one reason or another, are never submitted to peer review. So peer review is not a magic wand; it is simply a process that adds value by subjecting scientific work to skeptical scrutiny.

Anyway, one of the post’s main examples of the failure of peer review is a paper by Ross McKitrick and Patrick Michaels (a prominent global warming skeptic) that purported to find economic signals in the temperature records. (It doesn’t really matter what this means. The point is that the non-skeptics didn’t like it.)

It turns out that the work was flawed, because McKitrick and Michaels’s data was in degrees but their trigonometric library measured angles in radians. They acknowledge the error. (ASIDE: They also found that the correction does not affect the overall result. On the other hand, Real Climate alleges that there are other problems with the paper as well.)

But here’s the point: The error was discovered because McKitrick and Michaels made their code available! If they had withheld their code, no one ever could have found the error.

Alas, withholding the code seems to be a common practice in the climate science community. The Hadley CRU would not release its code, and it took a leak to expose the fact that its code was broken. (And unlike the previous case, CRU’s code does not admit an easy fix, or perhaps even any fix at all.)

In climate science, the facts may be on the majority’s side (although I’m not as confident as I once was), but they can learn from the skeptics something about the process of science.


Baucus controversy not his first

December 8, 2009

The recent controversy over Max Baucus (D-MT) nominating his mistress as US Attorney is not his first. Baucus was previously charged with sexual harassment by his former chief of staff, Christine Niedermeier, who alleged he fired her for refusing her advances. Baucus was married at the time.

Niedermeier’s case was thrown out because of a special provision in the law that makes it hard to pursue sexual harassment charges against members of Congress. Yep, Congress was thinking ahead.

(Previous post.)


A dumpster-diving X-prize

December 8, 2009

A liberal group is advertising for anyone with information to support criminal charges (of any kind) against Tom Donohue, the CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce:

A network of liberal groups known as Velvet Revolution started an ad campaign offering $200,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the man whose trade organization has become a thorn in the side of the Obama administration and congressional Democrats.

The group is not leveling any specific charges of criminal behavior. Rather, it is casting a wide net, fishing for any whistleblowers from Donohue’s past who might come forward with allegations of wrongdoing. The campaign against the Chamber was launched in response to the group’s opposition to climate change legislation and health care reform, and its plan to spend $100 million lobbying against these and other initiatives.

This is a new low for the politics of personal destruction. If you oppose the progressive agenda effectively, you can now expect a fishing expedition to target you.

This is particularly troubling given the legal climate today, where criminal statutes have proliferated and it can be hard to avoid being guilty of some sort of crime. But I doubt that the goal is actually to put Donohue in jail. Rather, I think that they’re really just looking for any dirt they can find to embarrass the man and his organization.


A watered-down public option, or not?

December 8, 2009

Democrats trying to work out a compromise (among themselves) on health care reform have a new proposal:

They may still call it a “public plan,” but private insurers — not the government — would offer coverage under a compromise Democrats are considering to win Senate passage of President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul.

The latest idea bears little resemblance to the original vision outlined by liberals, and embraced by Obama, during the 2008 presidential campaign. That called for the government to sell insurance to workers and their families in competition with industry giants like UnitedHealthcare.

But instead of Medicare-for-the-masses, it would be Blue Cross Blue Shield or Kaiser Permanente, albeit with a government seal of approval from the department that handles the health plan for federal employees, including members of Congress. . .

Five moderates and five liberals tapped by Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., planned to work on the compromise Tuesday as the Senate debated the 10-year, nearly $1 trillion bill.

One is tempted to call this a victory. If the “public option” is limited to placing a stamp of approval on some private plan, it probably can’t do much harm.

But let’s not be hasty. These people cannot be trusted, so we need to wait and see what the proposal actually says. There will likely be some fine print that makes this just as bad as the public option. Here’s a hint what the fine print might be:

Liberals are trying to extract a price for any compromise. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., has proposed allowing people 55 and over to buy into Medicare. Others would further expand the Medicaid health program for low-income people. Finally, if private insurers don’t step up to submit bids to OPM, some liberals want to authorize the federal agency itself to set up a plan.

So there are at least two gotchas. First, they want to drastically expand Medicare/Medicaid. Medicare enrollment would expand 69% (according to the 2000 census) and Medicaid by an undetermined amount. This would be a concrete step toward the socialists’ goal of putting everyone on Medicare.

But the second is the kicker. If private insurers want nothing to do with the scheme, the government would go ahead and create a government plan. Thus, the socialists can obtain their government plan simply by setting the standards for government endorsement unacceptably high. Considering the bad faith with which they have acted at every step in this debate, this has to be their plan.

UPDATE: An agreement has been reached:

Officials said Democrats had tentatively settled on a private insurance arrangement to be supervised by the federal agency that oversees the system through which lawmakers purchase coverage, with the possibility of greater government involvement if needed to ensure consumers of sufficient choices in coverage.

Additionally, the emerging agreement calls for Medicare to be opened to uninsured Americans beginning at age 55, a significant expansion of the large government health care program that currently serves the 65-and-over population.

(Emphasis mine.)

They’re trying to bring the public option in the back door. I hope people see through this.


ACORN’s inquiry into ACORN clears ACORN

December 7, 2009

Of course.


Baucus and Wolfowitz

December 7, 2009

The Wall Street Journal observes:

Here’s a poser: Suppose a public official is accused of recommending his girlfriend for a promotion, though he was the one who first flagged the potential conflict of interest and officials had refused to let him recuse himself from decisions about the woman. Should he lose his job?

That’s precisely what happened in 2007 to Paul Wolfowitz, who was run out of the World Bank on the pretext that he had given his girlfriend a raise. In fact, Mr. Wolfowitz had made bank officials aware that his girlfriend already worked at the bank before he accepted the job as president, and bank officials had raised no objection to the job change that removed his girlfriend from any direct reporting to Mr. Wolfowitz. The ethical uproar was a politically convenient excuse, fanned by the media, to oust Mr. Wolfowitz when his real offense was that he was too hard on corruption.

So it’s going to be fascinating to see how the press corps and political class react to the news that Montana Senator Max Baucus recommended a staff member who was his girlfriend for the plum job of U.S. Attorney. Mr. Baucus disclosed the attempted sweetheart deal early Saturday after media inquiries made clear the story was breaking.

(Via Instapundit.)

I wouldn’t expect consistency from these folks. After all, Wolfowitz was fighting corruption, which made him the enemy. Baucus is promoting corruption.

(Previous post.)

UPDATE: Jon Tester (D-MT) denies any knowledge:

Sen. Jon Tester said Sunday he had limited involvement with fellow Montana Democrat Max Baucus’s decision to float his girlfriend as a possible nominee for a top prosecutor position in Montana.

In an interview with POLITICO, Tester said “no” when asked if he was aware that Melodee Hanes and Baucus were engaged in a romantic relationship when he interviewed Hanes for the position of U.S. attorney in Montana earlier this year.

Tester called Hanes “well-qualified” but said “it was Max’s call” to include her name with two others on a list for the White House to consider before choosing a nominee for the position.

(Via Instapundit.)


Hypocrisy

December 7, 2009

When the climate scandal broke, the New York Times decided not to publish the leaked emails and documents, making the risible argument:

The documents appear to have been acquired illegally and contain all manner of private information and statements that were never intended for the public eye, so they won’t be posted here.

Of course, the NYT publishes illegally acquired documents all the time (often damaging national security). But that’s when the documents’ publication serves to further the NYT’s political aims.

Now the NYT ombudsman, Clark Hoyt, is doing his job, which is to defend the NYT regardless of how indefensible its position is. Hoyt says:

As for not posting the e-mail, Revkin said he should have used better language in his blog, Dot Earth, to explain the decision, which was driven by advice from a Times attorney. The lawyer, George Freeman, told me that there is a large legal distinction between government documents like the Pentagon Papers, which The Times published over the objections of the Nixon administration, and e-mail between private individuals, even if they may receive some government money for their work. He said the Constitution protects the publication of leaked government information, as long as it is newsworthy and the media did not obtain it illegally. But the purloined e-mail, he said, was covered by copyright law in the United States and Britain.

Oh, I see. The NYT’s policy is that it will publish illegally obtained documents when they belong to the government, but they won’t publish them if they are private.

Does that sound plausible to you? No, it didn’t sound plausible to me either. Of course the NYT would have no qualms of publishing private, stolen documents if they served the NYT’s purposes. You needn’t accept my judgement either, because it took less than a minute of googling to uncover this:

In May 1994, the Times published a series of stories about the tobacco industry that were based on the pre-Internet equivalent of leaked e-mails. The paper’s coverage later led to a book by reporter Philip J. Hilts titled Smokescreen: The Truth Behind The Tobacco Industry Cover-up.

The circumstances surrounding the tobacco industry then and the climate science community now are remarkably similar, yet the Times reached exact opposite conclusions about how to cover the news.

In the tobacco case, the NYT published documents that were illegally obtained and private, just as the climate documents. In fact, not only were they private, there was a legal injunction in place forbidding their publication. The NYT chose to defy the court and publish anyway. (ASIDE: I’m not saying they were wrong to do so.)

So let’s drop the nonsense about copyright law. That’s not even a good bogus argument. Obviously the NYT is perfectly willing to defy the law when they feel like it. The point is they didn’t want to publish these documents.

(Via Instapundit.) (Previous post.)


Crushing dissent

December 6, 2009

The North Dakota legislature is looking to punish a company for urging its customers to oppose health care nationalization.

After years of unfounded wailing about the crushing of dissent during the Bush years, we’re seeing quite a lot of it for real now.

(Via Instapundit.)


Huh?

December 6, 2009

Is this New York Times op-ed saying what I think it’s saying?

Anti-tax zealots denounce all taxation as theft, as depriving citizens of their right to spend their hard-earned incomes as they see fit. Yet nowhere does the Constitution grant us the right not to be taxed. Nor does it grant us the right to harm others with impunity. No one is permitted to steal our cars or vandalize our homes. Why should opponents of taxation be allowed to harm us in less direct ways?

He seems to be saying that opposing taxes is like theft or vandalism, but surely no one would say something so stupid.

(Via the Corner.)


Speech ban overturned

December 6, 2009

Alberta’s Court of Queen’s Bench (a provincial appeals court), has overturned the astonishing lifetime speech ban against Stephen Boissoin, a pastor who wrote a letter to editor of his local paper criticizing the “wicked” homosexual agenda. The Alberta “Human Rights” Commission had ordered that Boissoin refrain from any disparaging remarks about homosexuals in any venue, including the pulpit.

I’d like to call this a big victory for freedom of speech and religion in Canada, but I think the chilling effect is already in place, particularly since it took over a year for the court to overturn the travesty. Still, at least we can say that freedom of speech and religion aren’t dead in Canada yet.

(Previous post.)


Columbia’s land theft blocked

December 5, 2009

A year ago I noted that Columbia University was abusing eminent domain to try to steal property adjoining the university. Basically, they were buying up property in the area, letting that property fall into disrepair, and then seeking to condemn the whole neighborhood as blighted. The scheme was shockingly cynical, as well as immoral and short-sighted.

Now a New York State appellate court has blocked the scheme, ruling that there is no evidence of any real blight. I’m glad to see it.


NASA conceals climate data?

December 5, 2009

A global warming skeptic alleges that NASA is concealing its climate data. We’ll see what develops, but in the wake of the climate scandal, one has to assume that the allegation is likely true.

(Via Instapundit.)


Covering the bases

December 5, 2009

The London Times reports:

A doctor who witnessed the torture of opposition detainees in Iran died after eating a drug-laced salad, Tehran’s public prosecutor said yesterday.

The announcement raises the number of official explanations of Ramin Pourandarjani’s death to at least four.

Opposition activists have only one: that he was killed because he knew too much.

Dr Pourandarjani, 26, was doing his national service at the Kahrizak detention centre near Tehran, where hundreds of opposition demonstrators were locked up and beaten after the disputed election in June. . .

After Dr Pourandarjani’s death on November 10, officials claimed that he had been in a car accident, died of a heart attack and committed suicide.

(Emphasis mine.) (Via Power Line.)


Mocking the press corps

December 5, 2009

To be sure, the press corps are due a lot of mockery, but calling a member of the White House press corps a child to her face doesn’t seem like good politics. (Via Instapundit.)


Sheesh

December 5, 2009

Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT), chairman of the Senate finance committee, nominated his mistress to be a US Attorney. (Via Instapundit.)

UPDATE: The mistress’s vita looks decidedly thin. When nominated, she had been out of the practice of law for six years.


I preferred the tax cheats, redux

December 5, 2009

We last heard of Kevin Jennings, the president’s “safe schools czar” when it was revealed that, years before as a teacher, he was informed by a student of an incident of statutory rape and he failed to report it. This was not only unconscionable, but apparently illegal under Massachusetts law. Yet Jennings did not lose his job as safe schools czar.

Now Jennings is in the news again. It seems that the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network, the organization that Jennings founded and led for many years until last year, has a recommended reading list for students K-12. That list is full of obscene material, including explicit depictions of sex acts performed on children.

Will Jennings repudiate his own organization? If, as seems likely, he does not, this is material that the safe schools czar would recommend that students read.


Secret Service: no more threats than usual

December 4, 2009

The director of the Secret Service debunks another of the left’s talking points:

U.S. Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan dismissed published reports that the level of death threats against President Obama are four times greater than typical threat levels against recent presidents — claiming the current volume of threats is comparable to that under George W. Bush and Bill Clinton.

“It’s not [a] 400 percent [increase],” Sullivan said during a heated exchange with Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), who suggested the service needed additional agents to protect the first African-American president.

“I’m not sure where that number comes from,” he said, adding that the number of threats against Obama “are the same level as it has been [against] the last two presidents.”

CBS adds:

“It is well known, it’s been in the press over and over again, that this president has received far more death threats than any president in the history of the United States,” Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, the congressional delegate for the District of Columbia, said at today’s hearing.

The Boston Globe reported in October that “unprecedented” threats against the president, among other things, have put a strain on the Secret Service’s resources.

“Mr. Obama, who was given Secret Service protection 18 months before the election – the earliest ever for a presidential candidate – has been the target of more threats since his inauguration than his predecessors,” the Globe reported.

This myth (as we now know it to be) has been plastered all over the left-wing blogosphere. As far as I can tell, it all tracks back to just two sources: the Boston Globe story and a book about the Secret Service. The Globe story cites an internal Congressional Research Service report. Now that we know the story isn’t true, it would be interesting to learn what the CRS report actually says.


Iran crackdown goes global

December 4, 2009

The Wall Street Journal reports:

His first impulse was to dismiss the ominous email as a prank, says a young Iranian-American named Koosha. It warned the 29-year-old engineering student that his relatives in Tehran would be harmed if he didn’t stop criticizing Iran on Facebook.

Two days later, his mom called. Security agents had arrested his father in his home in Tehran and threatened him by saying his son could no longer safely return to Iran.

“When they arrested my father, I realized the email was no joke,” said Koosha, who asked that his full name not be used.

Tehran’s leadership faces its biggest crisis since it first came to power in 1979, as Iranians at home and abroad attack its legitimacy in the wake of June’s allegedly rigged presidential vote. An opposition effort, the “Green Movement,” is gaining a global following of regular Iranians who say they never previously considered themselves activists.

The regime has been cracking down hard at home. And now, a Wall Street Journal investigation shows, it is extending that crackdown to Iranians abroad as well.

In recent months, Iran has been conducting a campaign of harassing and intimidating members of its diaspora world-wide — not just prominent dissidents — who criticize the regime, according to former Iranian lawmakers and former members of Iran’s elite security force, the Revolutionary Guard, with knowledge of the program.

Part of the effort involves tracking the Facebook, Twitter and YouTube activity of Iranians around the world, and identifying them at opposition protests abroad, these people say.

Interviews with roughly 90 ordinary Iranians abroad — college students, housewives, doctors, lawyers, businesspeople — in New York, London, Dubai, Sweden, Los Angeles and other places indicate that people who criticize Iran’s regime online or in public demonstrations are facing threats intended to silence them.


Second stimulus is on the way

December 4, 2009

The stimulus package didn’t work, so let’s do another one! The administration is prepared to use $265 billion in unspent and repaid TARP money to fund a new stimulus package. Even the president’s treasury secretary is against it, but Nancy Pelosi is for it, so I guess that settles it.

Apart from the main point (wasting more money), another thing that is frustrating about this is the way it is being discussed. Secretary Geithner and the GOP favor “[dedicating] much of the unspent TARP money to reduce the national debt”. Yes, in other words, they favor not spending it! But the media seems to talk about it as though “debt reduction” is just another way to spend the money.


Krauthammer on executive privilege

December 4, 2009

An interesting comment on the White House’s decision to invoke executive privilege for the White House social secretary:

I love this story.

Of course, every time you are in power, you invoke executive power if you don’t want to be embarrassed. And the opposition declares itself shocked and outraged at the hiding of information and obstruction of justice.

What is comical about this is it’s being invoked for a social secretary in a circumstance where, in the original Supreme Court rulings, it was intended for high officials with important state secrets. What was the state secret here — the nature of the flower arrangements at the head table? You know, it is as if somebody is invoking the Fifth Amendment in a dispute over a parking ticket.

But there was one real piece of news in this hearing, and that was that the head of the Secret Service was asked if there has been an increased level of threats against President Obama – [important] because, you know, there was a rumor in the summer that [with Obama, the threats] had increased by a large percent, perhaps doubled or even worse. Mark Sullivan said that the level of threat against President Obama is the same as against Bush and Clinton, which I think is heartening. It refutes a lot of the rumors and the insinuations that we heard this summer when there was a lot of opposition to Obama policies.

UPDATE: More on the non-increased threat level here.


CNN poll finds majority disapprove of Obama

December 4, 2009

It’s not just Rasmussen any more. The latest CNN poll finds that 48% approve of the president’s job performance, against 50% disapproving. Unlike Rasmussen, who polls likely voters, CNN’s poll is of registered voters.


Honduras rejects Zelaya

December 3, 2009

The Honduran congress has voted overwhelmingly not to reinstate Manuel Zelaya:

Honduras’ Congress ended hopes of reversing a coup that has isolated one of the poorest countries in the Americas, voting against reinstating ousted President Manuel Zelaya despite intense international pressure to do so.

The vote Wednesday was part of a U.S.-brokered deal to end Honduras’ crisis that left it up to Congress to decide if Zelaya should be restored to office for the final two months of his term — and lawmakers voted against the idea by a resounding 111-14 margin.

Zelaya, who listened to the proceedings from his refuge in the Brazilian Embassy, said even before the vote that he wouldn’t return for a token two months if asked. He said he should have been reinstated before Sunday’s presidential election and urged governments not to restore ties with the incoming administration of Porfirio Lobo.


Rumsfeld rebuts attack

December 2, 2009

A press release:

Responding to President Obama’s address on Afghanistan yesterday, former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld issued the following statement:

“In his speech to the nation last night, President Obama claimed that ‘Commanders in Afghanistan repeatedly asked for support to deal with the reemergence of the Taliban, but these reinforcements did not arrive.’ Such a bald misstatement, at least as it pertains to the period I served as Secretary of Defense, deserves a response.”

“I am not aware of a single request of that nature between 2001 and 2006. If any such requests occurred, ‘repeated’ or not, the White House should promptly make them public. The President’s assertion does a disservice to the truth and, in particular, to the thousands of men and women in uniform who have fought, served and sacrificed in Afghanistan.”

“In the interest of better understanding the President’s announcement last night, I suggest that the Congress review the President’s assertion in the forthcoming debate and determine exactly what requests were made, who made them, and where and why in the chain of command they were denied.”

I’m sure Congress will get right on that.


An experiment

December 2, 2009

So President Obama has announced that we will send 34,000 troops to reinforce Afghanistan. Together with the hoped-for 5,000 troops from allies, that would make 39,000 of the 40,000 that General McChrystal requested. (I suppose 39,999 would have been too obvious.) That’s good news.

He also announced that we will begin withdrawing in 2011. Recall that in 2008 President Bush rejected a troop withdrawal deadline (favored by Democrats), because a withdrawal schedule without victory would show a lack of resolve and notify the enemy exactly how to win. Well, now we have the opportunity to find out: can we achieve victory despite having a troop withdrawal deadline in place?

I hope we can.


Fair is fair

December 1, 2009

Michael Mann is facing some embarrassment for a statement he made on RealClimate.org in 2004. In response to this remark:

Whatever the reason for the divergence, it would seem to suggest that the practice of grafting the thermometer record onto a proxy temperature record – as I believe was done in the case of the ‘hockey stick’ – is dubious to say the least.

He replied:

No researchers in this field have ever, to our knowledge, “grafted the thermometer record onto” any reconstruction. It is somewhat disappointing to find this specious claim (which we usually find originating from industry-funded climate disinformation websites) appearing in this forum.

But he was misinformed. As reported in the New York Times, that’s exactly what Phil Jones did when he prepared the cover graph for the 1999 World Meteorological Organization report. Jones discussed doing so in his infamous “hide the decline” email.

This is embarrassing for Mann, whose intemperate response to the suggestion that anyone in his field would have done such a thing now looks foolish.

It’s even more embarrassing to Jones and his defenders, because they are now trying to argue that Jones’s presentation was appropriate, and Mann’s intemperate response implicitly concedes that it was not. In fact, in Mann’s comments on the scandal, he says that Jones was not trying to fudge the data, but he stops short of defending Jones’s presentation of the data.

But Christopher Horner has gone further and accused Mann of dishonesty. He points out that Jones got the “trick” from Mann’s 1998 article in the journal Nature. How then could Mann claim to be unaware that anyone does it?

That isn’t fair. In his intemperate response, Mann went on to make a distinction:

Often, as in the comparisons we show on this site, the instrumental record (which extends to present) is shown along with the reconstructions, and clearly distinguished from them.

In other words, Mann says, it’s okay to graft the instrumental record onto the reconstruction, as long as it is clearly marked which is which. That’s what he did in the Nature article, plotting the instrumental record with a dotted line that did not exactly stand out, but was clearly distinguishable. That’s also exactly what Jones did not do in the WMO report.

(Via Instapundit.) (Previous post.)


Withholding the data

December 1, 2009

I thought I’d made my last remarks about the climate scandal, but another development has occurred that requires comment. First some background.

One of the serious criticisms of the climate science community that predates the leak of the CRU documents is its frequent refusal to disclose their data and methodology. Real Climate tries to argue that doing so is perhaps unfortunate, but no worse than that:

From the date of the first FOI request to CRU (in 2007), it has been made abundantly clear that the main impediment to releasing the whole CRU archive is the small % of it that was given to CRU on the understanding it wouldn’t be passed on to third parties. Those restrictions are in place because of the originating organisations (the various National Met. Services) around the world and are not CRU’s to break. As of Nov 13, the response to the umpteenth FOI request for the same data met with exactly the same response. This is an unfortunate situation, and pressure should be brought to bear on the National Met Services to release CRU from that obligation. It is not however the fault of CRU.

But that’s crap. CRU researchers have made it clear that they have no desire to release their data, and their reasons have nothing to do with agreements with third parties. For example, in 2005 Phil Jones (the now-embattled head of CRU) wrote to an Australian scientist named Warwick Hughes:

We have 25 years or so invested in the work. Why should I make the data available to you, when your aim is to try and find something wrong with it?

So Jones was not punctiliously observing his agreements with national met services; he was protecting his data from skeptical scrutiny.

That was known before the climate scandal hit. Now, the leaked emails [1107454306, 1106338806, 1212166714, 1155333435] make it even more clear that CRU was looking for a pretext not to release their data:

  • Phil Jones wrote of “hiding behind” various excuses for withholding the data (including agreements with third parties). He gives no hint that he really wants to release the data but unfortunately cannot. Quite the contrary.
  • Jones also suggests that he will “delete the file rather than send [it] to anyone”.
  • Tim Osborn wrote to people asking if their emails were intended to be confidential. When at first he didn’t get the desired response he made his intention explicit: if they said yes, “we will use this as a reason to decline the [freedom of information] request”.
  • Keith Briffa wrote that he was just too busy to release his data, but “Will supply the stuff when I get five minutes!!” That was in 2005, and it seems it never happened.

That brings us to today. It is now revealed that CRU deleted their raw data:

SCIENTISTS at the University of East Anglia (UEA) have admitted throwing away much of the raw temperature data on which their predictions of global warming are based. . .

The UEA’s Climatic Research Unit (CRU) was forced to reveal the loss following requests for the data under Freedom of Information legislation.

The data were gathered from weather stations around the world and then adjusted to take account of variables in the way they were collected. The revised figures were kept, but the originals — stored on paper and magnetic tape — were dumped to save space when the CRU moved to a new building.

It seems safe to say that if they really wanted to release the data, they would not have deleted it. Real Climate’s claim notwithstanding, the “main impediment” to releasing the data is not the national met services; the “main impediment” is the data is gone!

You might think that over at Real Climate they would be hanging their heads in shame, but no. They say that the data is not lost, because:

The original data is curated at the met services where it originated.

Terrific. The data wasn’t destroyed; someone could go collect it all over again.

This is disingenuous for at least four reasons:

  1. Who is to say that the met services still have the data? Governments (I still believe) are more corrupt than scientists. If CRU deleted the data, maybe some of the met services have as well. As barring that, maybe some of the data has been destroyed accidentally.
  2. If the data is still there, someone would still have to go collect it again. That would take ages in the best of circumstances; and with the debate as politicized as it now is, we are hardly in the best of circumstances.
  3. No academic is going to go to the effort to collect that data again. Academia runs on publications and you cannot publish something that’s been published before. Recreating the CRU data is not likely to result in an original research result, so no academic will take the time to do it. Those skeptics who might be so inclined generally don’t have the expertise to do it.
  4. Here’s the kicker. In any case, no one can reproduce the raw data set that CRU used. Even if someone re-collected all the raw data, realistically it would not be exactly the same data set. It’s not as though there is a definitive list of agencies, each of whom has a file called “the definitive historical meteorological data” that has been unchanged since CRU first collected it. And even if, beyond all probability, someone did manage to re-create the exact data set that CRU destroyed, they could never know that they had done so. Consequently, no one can analyze what CRU actually did with the data.

In short, the data is gone. It’s highly unlikely anyone will ever reconstruct it, and if they do, it won’t be exactly the same, so no one can ever check CRU’s work.

(Previous post.)

UPDATE: I agree with just about everything Megan McArdle writes here.


Don’t know much history

December 1, 2009

Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) is a little confused about Afghanistan:

We took our eye off the ball. Instead of moving in on [Bin Laden] at Tora Bora, the previous administration decided to move its forces to Iraq.

I know “we took our eye off the ball” has been the favorite Democratic talking point since John Kerry’s presidential campaign, but this doesn’t even make sense. The invasion of Iraq was in March 2003. The battle of Tora Bora was in December 2001. In December 2001 we were moving forces into Afghanistan, not out. (Remember that we defeated the Taliban in Afghanistan largely with special forces and air power.)

Is it too much to expect the chairman of the armed services committee to know something of the war we’re currently fighting? Tora Bora was just eight years ago; it’s not like we’re talking about the Punic Wars here.

(Via PJTV.)


CBO: Reid health plan hikes premiums

December 1, 2009

Wasn’t health care reform supposed to make health insurance more accessible to those who don’t get it from their employer? The CBO’s analysis of the Reid bill finds that it would increase the pre-subsidy premiums of such people 10 to 13 percent. It’s only the government subsidy that would do them any good.

So here’s a thought. If the subsidy is the only aspect of the bill with a positive effect (if you want to call it that), why not just scrap the rest of the bill? You’ll still be blowing an enormous hole in the budget, but at least you won’t be screwing up the health care system in the bargain.

(Via the Corner.)