The cowbell dynamic

February 28, 2010

Jonah Goldberg identifies a major reason why President Obama is in so much trouble:

I think one of the great explanations for the mess the Obama administration is in — the whole cowbell dynamic — is that he, his advisers, and many of his fans in the press cannot fully grasp or appreciate the fact that he is not as charming to everyone else as he is to them (or himself). Hence, they think that the more he talks, the more persuasive he will be. Every president faces a similar problem which is why, until Obama, every White House tried to economize the deployment of the president’s political capital. The Obama White House strategy is almost the rhetorical version of its Keynesianism, the more you spend, the bigger the payoff.

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Obama approval hits new low

February 27, 2010

In the latest Rasmussen poll, President Obama’s approval rating is down to 43%, the lowest level of his administration. In another first, Obama’s total approval is even with his strong disapproval, which is also at 43%. Obama’s total disapproval is at 55%.


Venecuba

February 27, 2010

Hugo Chavez is drawing his nation into a close union with Cuba, one of the very few nations in the western hemisphere run more badly than his own. Fidel Castro calls it “Venecuba”. (Personally, I think “Cubazuela” would have a better ring.) Chavez’s decision to outsource security to Cuba is the most troubling, of course, but some other areas seem even more striking:

In some ministries, such as health and agriculture, Cuban advisers appear to wield more power than Venezuelan officials. The health ministry is often unable to provide statistics—on primary health-care or epidemiology for instance—because the information is sent back to Havana instead. Mr Chávez seemed to acknowledge this last year when, by his own account, he learned that thousands of primary health-care posts had been shut down only when Mr Castro told him so.


The Ryan plan

February 27, 2010

The Economist has a good article on Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) plan to get us out from under the entitlement crisis. This chart shows the bottom line. (Note that the long-term outlook is without a new health care entitlement.)


Lies, damn lies, and Paul Krugman

February 27, 2010

I’ve written many times before that few scoundrels are worse than the man who lies in accusing another man of lying. Paul Krugman is among the worst of that bunch. In his latest, he accuses Republicans of lying at the health care “summit”. (As an aside, the very tone of the column confirms that Republicans won the debate. Krugman would much rather have written about how Obama won the debate, if he could have.) Let’s take it apart:

It was obvious how things would go as soon as the first Republican speaker, Senator Lamar Alexander, delivered his remarks. He was presumably chosen because he’s folksy and likable and could make his party’s position sound reasonable. But right off the bat he delivered a whopper, asserting that under the Democratic plan, “for millions of Americans, premiums will go up.”

Wow. I guess you could say that he wasn’t technically lying, since the Congressional Budget Office analysis of the Senate Democrats’ plan does say that average payments for insurance would go up. But it also makes it clear that this would happen only because people would buy more and better coverage. The “price of a given amount of insurance coverage” would fall, not rise — and the actual cost to many Americans would fall sharply thanks to federal aid.

I think the best way to be fair here is to quote the CBO report (p. 6):

Average premiums would be 27 percent to 30 percent higher because a greater amount of coverage would be obtained. In particular, the average insurance policy in this market would cover a substantially larger share of enrollees’ costs for health care (on average) and a slightly wider range of benefits. Those expansions would reflect both the minimum level of coverage (and related requirements) specified in the proposal and people’s decisions to purchase more extensive coverage in response to the structure of subsidies.

So what the CBO says is that premiums paid would increase because of two factors: (1) people will be forced into more comprehensive plans, and (2) subsidies will encourage people to buy even more comprehensive plans than that. The report does not elaborate on the relative importance of the two factors, although we can guess that the more important factor is probably listed first. The CBO subsequently mentions some more minor factors with a positive impact.

The Krugman/Democratic spin is that the premium increase is okay, because people are buying more and better coverage. (By the way, nowhere does the CBO say “better”.) They ignore the fact that people are (at least partly, and probably mostly) buying more coverage against their will.

But Krugman doesn’t merely say that Democrats have a counter-argument. No, based on that counter-argument, he says that Alexander is lying, except in the “technical” sense that it is telling the truth. What a scoundrel.

Krugman is right when he says the CBO says that the price of a given amount of insurance will fall. (His use of the word “sharply” is pure spin though, since that impact is much smaller than the primary one.) Most people will find that to be to cold comfort, however, since their given amount of insurance will probably no longer be allowed. But, on this point I’ll grant Krugman the courtesy he would not grant to Senator Alexander, of not calling him a liar just for making an argument I disagree with.

But this brings up another point: the CBO analysis is not the gospel. CBO analyses are frequently rosy, in part because they are required to use a given methodology (one that is overly static and that legislators have learned how to game), and in part because they are required to analyze what is put before them, rather than what everyone knows will happen (e.g, the Medicare fix). Other studies, such as one by the Oliver Wyman actuarial firm commissioned by the Blue Cross Blue Shield association, are much less rosy. Oliver Wyman found that within five years health care costs will go up 54 percent, resulting in a significant increase in premiums, such as a 35 percent increase among the youngest third of the population.

Alexander never mentioned the CBO. (Transcript here.) So, although his statement was fully justified by the CBO, it was also justified by another study that Krugman does not rebut at all. And so Krugman is doubly dishonest for calling Alexander a liar.

That’s the worst of the column, but it’s not the end of it. Krugman continues:

His fib on premiums was quickly followed by a fib on process. Democrats, having already passed a health bill with 60 votes in the Senate, now plan to use a simple majority vote to modify some of the numbers, a process known as reconciliation. Mr. Alexander declared that reconciliation has “never been used for something like this.” Well, I don’t know what “like this” means, but reconciliation has, in fact, been used for previous health reforms — and was used to push through both of the Bush tax cuts at a budget cost of $1.8 trillion, twice the bill for health reform.

To be sure, Krugman is entitled to his opinion about what is or is not like this. But so is Alexander. Is Krugman simply unable to say “I disagree”? Must he call him a liar?

For the record, by any reasonable assessment reconciliation has never been used for something like this. Krugman does not give any details of the “previous health reforms” that reconciliation was used for, which is a hint that he’s not being forthright. There’s a list here of the occasions reconciliation was used. There’s only one bill on the list that directly affected private health care, the bill that created COBRA. There’s no comparison between COBRA and the current bill. COBRA asked that insurers offer continued coverage (for a fee, of course) for people in group plans who leave their job. It did not institute price controls and an individual mandate, comprehensively regulate the health industry, dictate what health plans must cover, provide federal funding for abortion, and create a massive new entitlement program.

What really struck me about the meeting, however, was the inability of Republicans to explain how they propose dealing with the issue that, rightly, is at the emotional center of much health care debate: the plight of Americans who suffer from pre-existing medical conditions. In other advanced countries, everyone gets essential care whatever their medical history. But in America, a bout of cancer, an inherited genetic disorder, or even, in some states, having been a victim of domestic violence can make you uninsurable, and thus make adequate health care unaffordable.

Well, they did talk about high-risk pools. If you don’t like high-risk pools, that’s fine, but don’t pretend that Republicans didn’t say anything on the topic.

The next couple of paragraphs, while still nonsense, don’t contain outright lies, so we’ll skip ahead:

Look at the Congressional Budget Office analysis of the House G.O.P. plan. That analysis is discreetly worded, with the budget office declaring somewhat obscurely that while the number of uninsured Americans wouldn’t change much, “the pool of people without health insurance would end up being less healthy, on average, than under current law.” But here’s the translation: While some people would gain insurance, the people losing insurance would be those who need it most.

“Translation” my foot. The CBO says (p. 7) that more young people would start buying coverage than older people. That’s why the pool of people without coverage would become less healthy. It says not one word about people losing coverage. Krugman is making it up.

As for the number of uninsured not changing much, the CBO says that the House Republican plan would extend coverage to 3 million more people. You can decide for yourself whether that counts as “much” or not. There’s two points to make. First, the Republican plan focuses on cutting costs, with the idea that you extend coverage by making it more affordable. (That’s the opposite of the Democratic plan, which dramatically increases costs and then compensates with big government subsidies.) I’m not sure why the CBO so undervalued the law of demand (lower cost leads to greater quantity demanded). Again, the CBO is not the gospel. But, second, the plan the CBO scored did not (as I read it) include the key Republican idea to eliminate the tax penalty for individual health insurance. Correcting the tax penalty would put coverage much more easily within reach for those not covered by an employer.

Is Paul Krugman the biggest scoundrel of all political pundits? That’s hard to say. But he certainly strengthened his case here.


Majority opposes reconciliation

February 26, 2010

Since a majority opposes the health care bill, it’s not surprising that a majority opposes ramming it through using reconciliation:

A new poll suggests that a majority of Americans would oppose a move by Senate Democrats to use a parliamentary procedure called ‘reconciliation’ to avoid a Republican filibuster and pass their health care reform legislation by a simple majority vote.

A Gallup survey released Thursday morning indicates that 52 percent of the public opposes using reconciliation, with 39 percent favoring the move, and 9 percent unsure.

Democrats say that democracy demands that they do this. (Not kidding!) I wonder if they see the irony.


House votes to renew the Patriot Act

February 26, 2010

House Democrats voted 162-87 last night to renew the Patriot Act. (Yes, that’s the right link, despite the profoundly misleading title.) The Senate already voted to do so, so the measure now goes to President Obama, who is expected to sign it.

So what became of all the Democratic opposition to the Patriot Act? Ed Morrissey explains:

Republicans have mostly supported this bill because they believe it a necessary tool for counterintelligence and counterterrorism. Democrats mainly opposed it as a way to rally political opposition to Bush and the Republicans. Now that they’re in charge and responsible for preventing attacks, that Patriot Act looks pretty darned good to most of them.

We can now measure how much of the Democratic opposition to the Patriot Act during the Bush years was demagoguery and how much was honest. The ratio is about 2:1.

It’s unfortunate that the majority of congressional Democrats believe that national security is the sole province of the majority party, but there you are.


NYT: What summit?

February 25, 2010

So, who won the summit today? Here’s a hint:


Why do Democrats oppose interstate insurance purchases?

February 25, 2010

A centerpiece of Republican health care proposals is to allow the purchase of health insurance across state lines. The president’s claim at today’s health care “summit” that he supports the idea simply highlights the fact that he doesn’t. (I’ll retract this if he adds a real 50-state market to his bill, but I don’t expect to have to.)

The White House came out against it last November (back when they didn’t think they needed any GOP support):

RHETORIC: The House Republican health care “plan” lets families and businesses buy health insurance across state lines.

REALITY: Unlike the House Leadership bill, the Republicans’ bill takes us backwards rather than forwards.

Their argument, as far as I understand it, is that a national market would give states with fewer regulations an advantage, which would lead other states to loosen regulation, which would be bad.

But even if we accept that argument (regulation good, freedom bad), the president’s proposal would comprehensively regulate health care nationwide. Surely then there could be no problem with a national insurance market. But it’s still not in the president’s proposal.

Why on earth not? The White House has figured out at the eleventh hour that it would look good if they pretended to try to be bipartisan, and it would seem as though incorporating the Republicans’ main idea would be a good way to do it. What do the Democrats have against interstate insurance purchases? I assume it’s a cynical political calculation, but I can’t imagine what it might be.


Olympics a disaster for Vancouver

February 25, 2010

The NYT reports:

As for Vancouver’s municipal government and the taxpayers, the bad news is already in. The immediate Olympic legacy for this city of 580,000 people is a nearly $1 billion debt from bailing out the Olympic Village development. Beyond that, people in Vancouver and British Columbia have already seen cuts in services like education, health care and arts financing from their provincial government, which is stuck with many other Olympics-related costs. Many people, including Mrs. Lombardi, expect that more will follow.

Why cities compete to host the games is beyond me. It has to be graft.

(Via the Corner.)


Government-run health care

February 25, 2010

The London Times reports:

Patients were routinely neglected or left “sobbing and humiliated” by staff at an NHS trust where at least 400 deaths have been linked to appalling care.

An independent inquiry found that managers at Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust stopped providing safe care because they were preoccupied with government targets and cutting costs. . .

Staff shortages at Stafford Hospital meant that patients went unwashed for weeks, were left without food or drink and were even unable to get to the lavatory. Some lay in soiled sheets that relatives had to take home to wash, others developed infections or had falls, occasionally fatal. Many staff did their best but the attitude of some nurses “left a lot to be desired”.

The report, which follows reviews by the Care Quality Commission and the Department of Health, said that “unimaginable” suffering had been caused. Regulators said last year that between 400 and 1,200 more patients than expected may have died at the hospital from 2005 to 2008.

(Emphasis mine.)

Under the methodology underlying the Democratic health care plan, this place would look great because it spends less per fatality.

(Via Power Line.)


Gridlock

February 25, 2010

(Via Power Line.)


Obama screws the Brits again

February 25, 2010

It’s been months since the last time we screwed the British, so I guess we were due. The London Times reports:

Washington refused to endorse British claims to sovereignty over the Falkland Islands yesterday as the diplomatic row over oil drilling in the South Atlantic intensified in London, Buenos Aires and at the UN. . .

Senior US officials insisted that Washington’s position on the Falklands was one of longstanding neutrality. This is in stark contrast to the public backing and vital intelligence offered by President Reagan to Margaret Thatcher once she had made the decision to recover the islands by force in 1982.

I guess we’re serious about ending the special relationship.

(Via the Corner.)

UPDATE: A reader (yes, apparently I have some) writes to say that the US was officially neutral in the Falklands War. That was only true at first. On April 29, 1982, Argentina rejected the US peace proposal. On April 30, President Reagan declared American support for Britain and announced economic sanctions on Argentina. British landings in the Falklands began the following day.


Reid can’t even tell a plausible lie

February 25, 2010

Harry Reid last Friday:

In another surprising step forward for the public option, Senator Harry Reid’s office says that if a final decision is made to pass health reform via reconciliation, the Majority Leader would support holding a reconciliation vote on the public option.

Harry Reid on Tuesday:

“They should stop crying about reconciliation as if it’s never been done before,” Reid said.

Following Senate Democrats’ weekly luncheon, Reid said “nothing is off the table” but that “realistically, they should stop crying about this. It’s been done 21 times before.”

“The question is: Is reconciliation the only way we can do health-care reform?” he said.

Harry Reid today:

“Lamar, you’re entitled to your opinion but not your own facts. … No one has talked about reconciliation, but that’s what you folks have talked about ever since that came out, as if it’s something that has never been done before,” Reid said.

(Emphasis mine.)

What’s particularly choice about this is how Reid accuses Lamar Alexander of lying.

(Via the Corner.)

UPDATE: On Tuesday Harry Reid also tried to make the case that Republicans have used reconciliation “more than anyone else.” That’s true, in the sense that there are two parties and Republicans have used it more than Democrats. Of course, that’s because Republicans have controlled the Senate more years since reconciliation was invented (by Democrats) than the Democrats have. If you work out the number of uses per year in power, you get 0.5 for the Democrats and 0.7 for the Republicans, so there’s hardly any difference.

But that’s all beside the point. Every time reconciliation has been used before (there’s a list here), it was for the budget. That’s the purpose it was designed for. Now the Democrats want to abuse the process to rework the nation’s health care system. Under Senate rules, that’s not even allowed, but it remains to be seen whether the Senate parliamentarian will stand up to the pressure to allow it.


The ideas are banned

February 25, 2010

In my last post, I noted the president’s brilliant idea simply to decree that the negative consequences of his policy won’t happen. They liked that idea so much, they used it elsewhere as well. The president’s health care proposal would create a Medicare cost-cutting commission that many are justly afraid would become a care-rationing board (in part because the president said it would). But the proposal decrees that it won’t happen that way:

To make sure that America’s seniors on Medicare are protected, all ideas that ration care, raise taxes or beneficiary premiums, or change Medicare benefit, eligibility, or cost-sharing standards will be banned.

The ideas are banned! Awesome! I’d love to see how they write that legislation.

Okay, seriously, this is nonsense. The reason for an outside commission is so that it could submit recommendations that are politically unpopular. Those recommendations would automatically become law unless Congress votes by a two-thirds majority to reject them. Why would they need such a mandate if they’re only going to propose painless, uncontroversial cuts?


No grandfather clause in White House proposal

February 25, 2010

The president’s health care proposal decrees:

If You Like the Insurance You Have, Keep It:
Nothing in the proposal forces anyone to change the insurance they have. Period.

Awesome! That’s how you deal with policy consequences, simply decree they won’t happen. They should have thought of this years ago.

Sarcasm aside, it’s a lie. The plan also says:

The Senate bill includes a “grandfather” policy that allows people who like their current coverage, to keep it. The President’s Proposal adds certain important consumer protections to these “grandfathered” plans. Within months of legislation being enacted, it requires plans to cover adult dependents up to age 26, prohibits rescissions, mandates that plans have a stronger appeals process, and requires State insurance authorities to conduct annual rate review, backed up by the oversight of the HHS Secretary. When the exchanges begin in 2014, the President’s Proposal adds new protections that prohibit all annual and lifetime limits, ban pre-existing condition exclusions, and prohibit discrimination in favor of highly compensated individuals. Beginning in 2018, the President’s Proposal requires “grandfathered” plans to cover proven preventive services with no cost sharing.

So you can’t keep your current plan. “Grandfathered” plans are still subject to a variety of new requirements all of which will increase their cost, and some of which (e.g., requiring coverage of pre-existing conditions) will increase their cost dramatically. So you can keep your plan, if you can still afford it. Unless you get your insurance from your employer; then you can keep your plan if your employer can still afford it. Except, don’t forget about the new price controls. When the government disallows your plan’s price hike, your plan goes away completely, whether you could have afforded it or not.

(Via the Wall Street Journal.)


Here’s your tax hike

February 25, 2010

The White House claims to have abandoned the House’s surtax on people making over $1 million a year, but that turns out not to be true. Well, technically it’s true, because the surtax now applies to people making over $200 thousand a year.

The provision is buried three clicks deep in the president’s health care proposal. On “high-income” households, it would impose a new 0.9 percent tax on all income, plus an additional 2.9 percent on “unearned” income. Furthermore, there’s a big marriage penalty. The threshold is $200 thousand for singles, and just $250 thousand for couples filing jointly. So if both spouses work, the threshold is actually $125 thousand per spouse.

Don’t be consoled if you make under $200 thousand. There’s no indication that the high-income threshold will be indexed for inflation, so it will bite everyone eventually. Yes, there’s a good chance that Congress with fix it every year as it does with the AMT, but that means that any deficit predictions for this proposal are worthless.

(Via the Wall Street Journal.)


Democrats oppose 14th Amendment, again

February 24, 2010

Last night, the House voted to pass the execrable Hawaiian racial sovereignty act (a.k.a. the Akaka bill).  Worse, Democrats voted 225-18 to reject the Flake amendment to the bill. What did the Flake amendment say?

The Flake amendment would’ve clarified that nothing in the Akaka bill could be interpreted to exempt the Native Hawaiian Governmental Authority from complying with the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The Flake amendment failed 177–233 (Democrats voted 18 for 225 against; Republicans voted 159 [to] 8 [for]).

The salient portion of the Fourteenth Amendment as pertains to the Akaka bill is as follows: “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

That’s right, the Democrats are on record supporting race-based government and opposing equal protection of law. Er, once again. After 144 years, the 14th amendment gained only 18 Democratic votes.


The risk of risk aversion

February 24, 2010

From John Yoo’s op-ed today, a stark reminder of the cost of politics in warfighting:

In 2005, a Navy Seal team dropped into Afghanistan encountered goat herders who clearly intended to inform the Taliban of their whereabouts. The team leader ordered them released, against his better military judgment, because of his worries about the media and political attacks that would follow.

In less than an hour, more than 80 Taliban fighters attacked and killed all but one member of the Seal team and 16 Americans on a helicopter rescue mission. If a president cannot, or will not, protect the men and women who fight our nation’s wars, they will follow the same risk-averse attitudes that invited the 9/11 attacks in the first place.


The rules don’t apply to them, of course

February 24, 2010

Over 70% of congressional offices violate worker safety standards. (Via Instapundit.)


It’s all about the guns, I guess

February 24, 2010

The LA Times confuses the Army with the NRA. (Via Instapundit.)


Idiots

February 24, 2010

President Obama wants to institute price controls on health insurance premiums. This is the stupidest idea yet, in a long line of very stupid ideas. Price caps create shortages. (This is taught literally on the first day of Econ 101.) If you cap health insurance premiums, people will lose their insurance.

Of course, some are suggesting that that is the precisely the intent: to force people out of private plans and into the government plan.

(Via Michelle Malkin.)


“Fairness”

February 24, 2010

It persistently strikes me as odd when politicians support tax increases even when they generate no revenue. For example, during the presidential campaign, Obama said he supported increased capital gains taxes even if they lost money (!), “for purposes of fairness.” He actually thinks it’s “fair” for the government to spend money to hurt investors.

Another example is Rhode Island’s “Amazon tax” (a sales tax on electronic retailers), which has generated no revenue, and actually costs the state income tax money. Nevertheless:

Though many in the local tech community are frustrated, House Finance Committee Chairman Steven M. Costantino, D-Providence, said there was no effort under way to repeal the “Amazon tax,” which he cast as a matter of fairness.

There’s that word again. Again, it’s “fair” for the government to lose money, as long as it can hurt somebody!

Now California is looking to go down the same path as Rhode Island. States cannot constitutionally collect sales taxes from companies without a presence in that state, so they construe Amazon’s affiliate program as a presence in the state.  (Whether or not this satisfies the constitutional requirement is iffy, as it would require an affiliate to be deemed a “substantial nexus” with the state.) Amazon then closes the affiliate program in the state. Everyone loses. Hooray for “fairness”!

(Via Instapundit.)


The rug is out from under Obama’s health plan

February 24, 2010

An analysis in the New England Journal of Medicine finds that an influential study on which President Obama’s health care plans are based is flawed:

For much of the past year, President Obama lavished praise on a few select hospitals like the Mayo Clinic for delivering high-quality care at low costs, but a pointed analysis published Wednesday in an influential medical journal suggests that the president’s praise may be unwarranted.

Mr. Obama received his information about the hospitals from a widely cited analysis called the Dartmouth Atlas of Health Care, produced by the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice. An article in The New Yorker magazine last year written by Dr. Atul Gawande that used the Dartmouth Atlas as its organizing principle became required reading in the White House last year.

But an analysis written in The New England Journal of Medicine by Dr. Peter B. Bach, a physician and epidemiologist at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan, suggests that much of the Dartmouth Atlas is flawed and that it should not be used to compare the relative efficiency of hospitals.

The analysis identified more than one flaw in the Dartmouth study, but most important one is that the study looked only at dead people. It grades hospitals on their efficiency based on how much money they spent on people who died, without considering the possibility that fewer people might have died with better care:

Say Hospital A and Hospital B each has a group of patients with a fatal disease. Hospital A gives each patient a $1 pill and cures half of them; Hospital B provides no treatment. An Atlas analysis would conclude that Hospital B was more efficient, since it spent less per decedent. But all the patients die at Hospital B, whereas only half of the patients do at Hospital A, where the cost per life saved is a bargain at $2.

This underlines the fundamental problem with government-run health care everywhere it’s been tried: they save money by reducing the quality of care.

(Via Instapundit.)


The persecution of Yoo and Bybee

February 24, 2010

Last week, in a late Friday information dump (the traditional way to release information you don’t want people to pay attention to), the Obama administration released a memorandum from David Margolis. Margolis is an associate deputy attorney general who was tasked with reviewing the DOJ’s Office of Professional Responsibility’s work investigating the so-called torture memos. (Margolis is a career lawyer who has had the job of reviewing OPR findings since the early in the Clinton administration.) The OPR’s draft reports and draft reports, which were leaked and widely splashed throughout the media, found that Yoo and Bybee engaged in professional misconduct and recommended that their findings be referred to the bar for disciplinary action.

Margolis’s 69-page memo absolutely shreds the OPR’s work. He finds numerous problem with the work, but perhaps this one is the most telling (p. 6):

In a departure from standard practice and without explanation, OPR in its initial two drafts analyzed the conduct of the attorneys without application of OPR’s own standard analytical framework. . . This departure was not insignificant. I have held my current position within the Department for nearly seventeen years. During that time, I have reviewed almost every OPR report of investigation. OPR developed its framework over a decade ago and to the best of my knowledge has applied it virtually without exception since that time.

Amazingly, the OPR admitted (p. 8) that it did not apply the framework “in an effort to facilitate public release of the report.” Margolis also notes (p. 8) that that the OPR’s use of the framework in its final report does not exonerate them. Indeed, he quotes approvingly Yoo’s response that by retrofitting the framework onto an existing finding, OPR engaged in exactly the sort of “ends-driven legal reasoning” that the OPR criticized in Yoo and Bybee’s work.

Apropos to that criticism, Margolis also rejects (p. 65) the OPR’s finding that Yoo deliberately tried “to accommodate the client”, which was central to the OPR’s finding of intentional misconduct on Yoo’s part.

This whole mess must be laid at the door of Attorney General Holder. It’s true that much of the OPR’s shoddy work was done during the Bush administration, but the OPR deliberately stalled its report in hopes that it would find a more receptive audience with the new administration (which, of course, it did). Consequently, on the last day of the Bush administration, Attorney General Mukasey sent a 14-page memo to the incoming administration noting significant problems with the OPR’s work. As Yoo now points out, it would have been easy for Holder to concur with the assessment of his predecessor, and doing so would have shown that DOJ was above politics. But Holder did the opposite, so he now owns the mess.

With the release of the Margolis memo, the books are now almost closed on the sorry mess. All that remains is to investigate the OPR’s own misconduct both in failing to observe proper procedure and — more importantly — in all the leaks. (Although it is possible that the leaks came not from the OPR but from Holder’s own office.) I’m sure that Holder will get right on that.

POSTSCRIPT: There’s a media failure angle to this story as well. The news reports I’ve seen or heard on this (e.g., in the Washington Post, and on NPR) omit any mention of the OPR’s misconduct. Instead they focus on the only aspect of Margolis’s memo not damaging to the Obama administration, which is his assessment that Yoo and Bybee “exercised poor judgement”. It’s barely true. Margolis did conclude that Yoo and Bybee should have foreseen that the torture memos would eventually be exposed to a broader audience, and so the memos should have contained more nuance than was necessary for the memos’ intended audience. That finding was in the penultimate paragraph of a 69-page report of which the first 67-1/2 pages were dedicated to the OPR’s shoddy work.


New York governor can’t read

February 19, 2010

The long-rumored New York Times hit piece on NY governor David Patterson has finally appeared. The thrust of the piece is that Patterson is lazy. It seems pretty damning. On the other hand, the NYT has a history of dishonest hit pieces, and one could easily see how a story like this could be put together by cherry-picking isolated incidents, so the story needs to be taken with a grain of salt. (Still, the NYT usually uses its powers of distortion against Republicans, not Democrats.)

But there is one fact in the story that stands out:

Mr. Paterson, who is legally blind, has always relied on trusted aides, in part because his disability forces him to turn to others for assistance with tasks like briefing himself on policy issues (he does not read Braille) and navigating crowded rooms.

The governor of New York can’t read? I guess New Yorkers knew this already, but I’m amazed. With all due sympathy for his disability, it seems like a minimal qualification for the job.

(Via Hot Air.)


Whistling past the graveyard

February 19, 2010

How lost is the Obama administration when it comes to Iran’s nuclear program? Here’s a hint:

The United Nations’ nuclear watchdog also confirmed that Iran had indeed enriched uranium to nearly 20 percent, a claim made by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad during revolutionary anniversary festivities last week but rebuffed by the White House.

“We do not believe they have the capability to enrich to the degree they say they are enriching,” White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said at last Thursday’s daily briefing.

But the IAEA report said that Iran had hit 19.8 percent enrichment on two days last week.

The news from Iran is bad enough, but the news from the White House is possibly worse. Are they really so clueless that they don’t even know as much as the freakin’ IAEA?

I’m worried that the White House is closing its eyes to the mounting evidence that the Iranian threat is serious and time-critical, because admitting that would mean admitting that President Obama’s strategy (which is predicated on the assumption that there’s always more time for talk) is wrong.

(Via Instapundit.)


Sebelius doesn’t understand business

February 18, 2010

What happens when you fill an administration with people who have never worked in the private sector? You get idiocy like this:

Indianapolis-based WellPoint Inc. has drawn a fierce backlash from Capitol Hill and the White House by posting premium increases for some customers in its California Anthem Blue Cross plan. California officials say 700,000 households face increases averaging 25 percent overall and as high as 39 percent for some.

The company was forced to postpone the hikes while [Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen] Sebelius ordered an inquiry and other lawmakers publicly railed against the company. . . Sebelius suggested the increases were unwarranted and needed to be checked.

“While we don’t want companies to be insolvent … to suggest that this is entirely in line with even health care costs … these profits are wildly excessive, are way over anybody’s estimate,” Sebelius said Thursday.

In a letter last week to Anthem Blue Cross, Sebelius said the increases were “difficult to understand” given that WellPoint earned $2.7 billion in the last quarter of 2009.

If Sebelius had ever worked in the private sector, she might understand that WellPoint’s overall profit has no bearing on what the price of a particular policy should be. In a for-profit enterprise, each endeavor must pay for itself. A for-profit company doesn’t use its profits in one area to subsidize another area that is losing the company money. Yes, sometimes a company will subsidize an endeavor because they think it will be profitable in the future, or because it generates some non-pecuniary benefit like good PR, but that doesn’t change the overall point. Each endeavor must justify itself; businesses don’t allow one area to hemorrhage money just because another area is doing well.

It turns out that WellPoint made nearly all of its profit from a one-time transaction, and is actually losing money on individual health plans:

The bulk of its fourth-quarter profits, $2.2 billion, came from the sale of a business, and WellPoint told Sebelius that it actually suffered a loss in 2009 for the unit selling individual policies to people not covered through their jobs.

WellPoint needs to make this part of its business profitable or shut it down. Sebelius may be able to prevent WellPoint’s price increase, but it can’t stop them from leaving the market. That’s what’s going to happen if the government won’t let them charge a rate that turns a profit.

POSTSCRIPT: In light of Sebelius’s moral preening over WellPoint’s “wildly excessive” profits, it’s worth remembering that she is a tax cheat and a demagogue.


Thomas Friedman: idiot

February 17, 2010

Thomas Friedman (who is a fascist, by the way), is an idiot. In his latest, he opines:

Of the festivals of nonsense that periodically overtake American politics, surely the silliest is the argument that because Washington is having a particularly snowy winter it proves that climate change is a hoax and, therefore, we need not bother with all this girly-man stuff like renewable energy, solar panels and carbon taxes.

Okay, fair enough. Today’s weather does not refute global warming. Of course, he might have made the same argument when people were bellowing that hurricanes (or, even more stupidly, earthquakes and tsunamis) are the result of global warming. But we all know which side of Friedman’s bread is buttered. We’ll let it go.

The fact that it has snowed like crazy in Washington — while it has rained at the Winter Olympics in Canada, while Australia is having a record 13-year drought — is right in line with what every major study on climate change predicts: The weather will get weird; some areas will get more precipitation than ever; others will become drier than ever.

What? Friedman can’t even be consistent from one end of a column to the other! Now he says daily variations in weather do prove something. No matter what those variations are, warmer, colder, wetter, drier, it’s all global warming.

The only thing that’s not evidence for global warming now is for everything to stay exactly the same, which is the one thing we know won’t happen. How fatuous is that? I find it both amusing and sad that Friedman can simultaneously claim to be standing up for science, and propound a theory that can never be falsified.

(Via Instapundit.)


Preview of coming nastiness

February 17, 2010

The Democrats have settled on how to deal with the tea party movement. They are going to try to co-opt the movement, by speaking positively about its aims and backtracking on their most radical agenda items such as health care nationalization and cap-and-trade. They are also going to look at how to make serious cuts in entitlement spending.

Ha ha! Just kidding! No, the real plan is to get the personal destruction machine going:

Big Government has learned that Clintonistas are plotting a “push/pull” strategy. They plan to identify 7-8 national figures active in the tea party movement and engage in deep opposition research on them. If possible, they will identify one or two they can perhaps ‘turn’, either with money or threats, to create a mole in the movement. The others will be subjected to a full-on smear campaign. (Has MSNBC already been notified?)

Big Government has also learned that James Carville will head up the effort.


California considers banning black cars

February 16, 2010

I had a debate today in which someone used, as an example of the “delusional” beliefs of the tea party movement, a claim made at the tea party convention that the government wants to dictate the color of our cars. Not so fast, I said. I hadn’t heard of that, but the government tries to control a lot of things. Let’s google it.

It turns out it’s true:

News that California may ban the sale of black cars for climate protection reasons raised the hackles of many a petrolhead yesterday.

At the root of the stir was a presentation . . . by the Environmental Protection Agency’s Air Resources Board (CARB). The Cool Paints initiative suggests that the state should set a minimum level of reflectivity for all car paints and windows.

More reflective vehicles, goes the idea, could stay up to 10 °C cooler in the sunshine state – this in turn could reduce the need to have air conditioning on and thereby cut greenhouse-gas emissions.

However, as black paints can’t currently achieve this level, every cool dude’s favourite hue would effectively be banned. Motoring blogs lamented the end of consumer freedom to buy a car in their preferred colour, saying that “mud-puddle brown” could be the new black, as that’s what you get once you’ve added the reflective ingredients.

UPDATE: It turns out that this plan has been shelved for now. Good.


California proposed state-controlled thermostats

February 16, 2010

This is very old news, but it came up in conversation today and I seem never to have blogged it. The California government wants to control the temperature of your house:

California utilities would control the temperature of new homes and commercial buildings in emergencies with a radio-controlled thermostat, under a proposed state update to building energy efficiency standards.

Customers could not override the thermostats during “emergency events,” according to the proposal, part of a 236-page revision to building standards. The document is scheduled to be considered by the California Energy Commission, a state agency, on Jan. 30.

The description does not provide any exception for health or safety concerns. It also does not define what are “emergency events.”

ASIDE: Have no fear, the New York Times wants us all to know that it’s silly to be worried about this.

Fortunately, cooler heads (so to speak) prevailed, and the remote controllable thermostats were given a manual override. For now.


The NYT does the right thing

February 16, 2010

I’m quite surprised by this, but credit where credit is due:

The New York Times learned of the operation [that captured Mullah Baradar] on Thursday, but delayed reporting it at the request of White House officials, who contended that making it public would end a hugely successful intelligence-gathering effort. The officials said that the group’s leaders had been unaware of Mullah Baradar’s capture and that if it became public they might cover their tracks and become more careful about communicating with each other.

The Times is publishing the news now because White House officials acknowledged that the capture of Mullah Baradar was becoming widely known in the region.

I wonder why the NYT set aside its usual policy of exposing every secret operation it can. Maybe this is a benefit of having a Democratic president; the NYT may be more inclined to cooperate with the White House on national security when a Democrat is in office.

The darker question is who leaked the capture to the NYT. Did someone at CIA want this operation blown?

(Via the Corner.)


Afghan ROE endangers the mission

February 15, 2010

The AP reports:

Western forces in Afghanistan are operating under rules of engagement, or ROE, that restrict them from acting against people unless they commit a hostile act or show hostile intent. American troops say the Taliban can fire on them, then set aside their weapon and walk freely out of a compound, possibly toward a weapons cache in another location.

“The inability to stop people who don’t have weapons is the main hindrance right now,” McMahon said after the firefight. “They know how to use our ROE against us.”

If this is true, it’s idiotic, and it’s going to get good people killed.

(Via Patterico.)


DEA continues pot raids in spite of new policy

February 15, 2010

The DEA is continuing to raid medical marijuana growers, despite the Obama administration’s new stated policy that it will not enforce federal laws against medical marijuana in states that allow it.


Good news, bad news

February 15, 2010

Senator Evan Bayh (D-IN) will not run for re-election. Before, it looked possible but tough for the GOP to pick up that seat. Now it looks likely. The Intrade price for a Republican victory has jumped from 40 to 80 today. That means that the GOP is now favored to pick up eight of the ten seats it needs to regain control of the Senate.

But the eight include Nevada. Unfortunately, the “Tea Party of Nevada” will be fielding a candidate in the US Senate race in Nevada, possibly endangering a Republican pick-up of that seat, which otherwise looks likely. (Via Instapundit.)

UPDATE: Bob Owens makes a convincing case that the “Tea Party of Nevada” is a false flag operation. (Via Instapundit.)


Demagoguery has consequences

February 15, 2010

The Washington Post reports that the government is no longer trying to capture high-value terrorists for interrogation, preferring simply to kill them instead. This is understandable, when you have no interrogators and are trying to get rid of the prison as well. For years the left has been trying to argue that we never get any useful intelligence from interrogating terrorists, but it’s alarming that they actually seem to believe it.

Fortunately for the political fortunes of the Obama administration, we will never know what information we might have gained from interrogating terrorists, so it’s unlikely that anyone will ever be able to say specifically what this policy cost us.

(Via the Corner.)

UPDATE: The capture of Mullah Baradar (the Taliban’s #2) is great news; I’m glad we didn’t just blow him up. Also, it shows how we are coping with our new lack of interrogation and detention capabilities: we’re outsourcing it to Pakistan. In the interest of shutting down the (supposedly) inhumane facilities at Guantanamo, we’re leaving prisoners in Pakistani custody. I’m sure Pakistani intelligence will treat them much better. Good thinking.


Iran threatens to accelerate its peaceful, non-threatening nuclear program

February 13, 2010

Iran is mixing its messages:

Iran’s parliament speaker announced that his country will “speed up” its nuclear work if the Obama administration continues to target the Gulf country with sanctions, Iran’s state-run PressTV reported.

“Even if U.S. President Barack Obama dares to repeat threats of tougher sanction against us as much as ten times, we will still be determined to pursue our enrichment program, but with a much faster pace,” said Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani, reported by PressTV.

You mean that nuclear program that is intended only for peaceful energy generation? That program? You’re threatening to start generating electricity sooner?

This threat only makes sense if Iran is developing nuclear weapons. Which of course it is. And which everyone knows, even if they pretend they don’t. But in light of this threat, it looks more foolish than ever to pretend we don’t all know what Iran is doing.


Black Panther case update

February 12, 2010

Mary Patrice Brown, the DOJ lawyer who is “investigating” the dismissal of voter intimidation case against the Black Panthers, is being vetted for the bench by the same people she is supposedly investigating. Since the DOJ inspector general (uniquely among all IGs) has no power to investigate anything, there cannot be an independent investigation unless the Attorney General appoints a special counsel. I’ll be holding my breath.

(Via the Corner.) (Previous post.)


The unique incompetence of Luke Ravenstahl

February 12, 2010

The winter storm hit nearly a week ago, and Pittsburgh still has yet to clear the roads. It’s not as though it can’t be done. The surrounding municipalities, at least in the east, managed to clear the roads promptly. Wilkins Township, where I live, is not particularly well run, but it had the roads cleared the day after the storm. Even Wilkinsburg (a poor suburb) has managed to clear its major roads. But not Pittsburgh.

Why is Pittsburgh unable to accomplish what nearly everyone else in the area can accomplish? Bad management can muddle along in normal times; it’s during a crisis that the quality of leadership is tested. We see now how bad that leadership is.

Luke Ravenstahl has been mayor since 2006, and was on the city council for three years before that. He has created a city administration that is unable to perform its basic functions in a crisis situation. Then, on the eve of the storm — a storm that everyone knew was coming — he left town to celebrate his birthday at a ski resort.


Obama “agnostic” on tax hikes

February 12, 2010

Business Week reports:

President Barack Obama said he is “agnostic” about raising taxes on households making less than $250,000 as part of a broad effort to rein in the budget deficit.

Obama, in a Feb. 9 Oval Office interview, said that a presidential commission on the budget needs to consider all options for reducing the deficit, including tax increases and cuts in spending on entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare.

This would break President Obama’s firm no-tax pledge:

Honestly, though, I don’t see why this is such a big deal. The White House has already backtracked on the pledge, and indeed has already raised some taxes on people below the $250k lines. And, frankly, of course Obama is going to raise taxes; that’s what Democrats do.

(Via Instapundit.)


Obama administration supports warrantless phone tracking

February 12, 2010

I’m at a loss to explain why the Democrats can be perceived by many as the defenders of civil liberties. They’re awful, not only on the rights they oppose, like the Second Amendment, but also on the ones they supposedly support, like the Fourth:

Even though police are tapping into the locations of mobile phones thousands of times a year, the legal ground rules remain unclear, and federal privacy laws written a generation ago are ambiguous at best. . . The Obama administration has argued that warrantless tracking is permitted because Americans enjoy no “reasonable expectation of privacy” in their–or at least their cell phones’–whereabouts. U.S. Department of Justice lawyers say that “a customer’s Fourth Amendment rights are not violated when the phone company reveals to the government its own records” that show where a mobile device placed and received calls.

Those claims have alarmed the ACLU and other civil liberties groups, which have opposed the Justice Department’s request and plan to tell the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia that Americans’ privacy deserves more protection and judicial oversight than what the administration has proposed.

I can’t figure these guys out. According to the Democrats, an intelligence agency conducting surveillance on a foreign terrorist overseas should stop listening whenever they call someone in the United States, or even route a communication through the United States. But on the other hand, they think the government should be free electronically to track the movements of US citizens at home. What is wrong with these guys?

(Via Instapundit.)


ZOMG

February 11, 2010

Now I’ve seen everything. Joe Biden wants to take credit for stabilizing Iraq:

I am very optimistic about — about Iraq. I mean, this could be one of the great achievements of this administration. You’re going to see 90,000 American troops come marching home by the end of the summer.

You’re going to see a stable government in Iraq that is actually moving toward a representative government. I spent — I’ve been there 17 times now. I go about every two months — three months. I know every one of the major players in all the segments of that society.

It’s impressed me. I’ve been impressed how they have been deciding to use the political process rather than guns to settle their differences.

Barack Obama, Joe Biden, and nearly every other Democrat voted for the anti-surge resolution that opposed the policy change that finally won the war in Iraq. Obama said that we should withdraw from Iraq even if doing so would lead to genocide.

Now, having inherited a stable Iraq and a plan for removing our remaining troops, the administration that opposed everything that made that possible wants to take credit? Unbelievable.

(Via Instapundit.)

UPDATE: My gosh, they are actually serious about this. Robert Gibbs gives the president the credit for getting our troops out of Iraq. (No mention of his opposition to the surge, or his tolerance of genocide.) When a reporter points out the status of forces agreement was signed by President Bush, Gibbs actually argues that pressure from Barack Obama made it possible.

(Via Instapundit.)

UPDATE: Heh:

Most of the commentators, including Rush, are astounded. But relatively speaking, the administration’s achievement is no more astounding than Bull Connor’s passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, Kruschev’s reunification of Germany, or Jefferson Davis’s preservation of the Union.


Charlie Wilson dies

February 10, 2010

Former Texas representative Charlie Wilson is dead at 76. In December 2007 the Wall Street Journal had a very nice story about him and the eponymous movie.


Krugman misses the point

February 10, 2010

When the Democrats locked up 60 votes in the Senate through two surprises (Al Franken’s outlawyering of Norm Coleman and Arlen Specter turning his coat), we were spared a piece of political theater that seemed inevitable with Barack Obama’s election: the rediscovery of the evils of the filibuster.

A year ago I noted how the New York Times’s opinion of the filibuster was, shall we say, highly correlated with who was doing the filibustering. In March 2009 the NYT had reversed itself yet again on the probity of the filibuster, but the issue went to the backburner when Specter switched parties, giving Democrats 60 votes. (Or rather, the prospect of 60 votes once Franken was seated.)

With Scott Brown’s victory in Massachusetts, the putative evil of the filibuster is front and center once again. Paul Krugman inveighs thusly:

The truth is that given the state of American politics, the way the Senate works is no longer consistent with a functioning government. Senators themselves should recognize this fact and push through changes in those rules, including eliminating or at least limiting the filibuster. This is something they could and should do, by majority vote, on the first day of the next Senate session.

Don’t hold your breath. As it is, Democrats don’t even seem able to score political points by highlighting their opponents’ obstructionism.

It should be a simple message (and it should have been the central message in Massachusetts): a vote for a Republican, no matter what you think of him as a person, is a vote for paralysis.

It seems Krugman was not paying attention. Republican obstructionism was a central message in the Massachusetts race. More precisely, it was a central message from Scott Brown. Brown promised that if he were elected, he would put the brakes on the Democratic agenda, especially the health care bill. And he won.

With Republicans more trusted than Democrats on nearly every issue, and with 75% angry about the government’s policies, the public today is pro-obstruction.

(Via Volokh.)


Dog bites man

February 9, 2010

Media matters lies. In other news, the sun rose in the east today and the deficit is still really damn big.


DHS admits tracking pro-lifers

February 9, 2010

The AP reports:

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security conducted a threat assessment of local pro- and anti-abortion rights activists before an expected rally last year, even though they did not pose a threat to national security.

The DHS destroyed or deleted its copies of the assessment after an internal review found it violated intelligence-gathering guidelines by collecting and sharing information about “protest groups which posed no threat to homeland security,” according to a department memo written last year.

The report was only shared with police in Middleton and with the director of the Wisconsin Statewide Information Center, an intelligence-gathering hub, according to the memo, which was signed by general counsel Ivan Fong and inspector general Richard Skinner.

It concluded the report was unlikely to “have any impact on civil liberties or civil rights” given its limited dissemination. But anti-abortion groups and the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin on Monday both criticized the federal government’s collection of information on law-abiding protesters.

The people running our government today would surely claim to favor free speech and freedom of association. I’m sure they would be outraged if the DHS had compiled dossiers on peaceful anti-war protesters. But they have a peculiar moral blindness; they just don’t see those principles as applying to their political opponents. That makes them dangerous, because when it comes to their opponents, there’s no telling what they’ll be willing to do.

(Via Instapundit.)


Argentine hyperinflation approaches

February 9, 2010

After weeks of trying, Argentine president Kirchner succeeded in sacking the president of the Argentine central bank. The head banker balked at Kirchner’s plan to seize $6.6 billion of the central bank’s foreign currency reserves to pay the government’s debt. With a more obedient central banker in place, the plan will now presumably go forward.

Argentina’s government is running out of money to confiscate. It already defaulted on most of its debt in 2001. In 2008 it confiscated the nation’s private retirement savings, to the tune of $30 billion. The latest money grab amounts to 17% of the central bank’s $48 billion in foreign currency reserves. The remainder will probably go quickly, and it’s hard to see where the government will find more money to steal. Then it will be time to run the presses.


Fool me once, shame on you . . .

February 9, 2010

Reuters reports:

The head of Iran’s atomic agency said the Islamic Republic would not enrich uranium to a higher level if the West provides the fuel it needs for the Tehran research reactor.

Iran is set to start enriching its stockpile of uranium to 20 percent on Tuesday, in a move sure to antagonize Western nations who fear that the process of enrichment could eventually yield material for a nuclear weapon.

France and the U.S. said Monday the latest Iranian move left no choice but to push harder for a fourth set of U.N. Security Council sanctions to punish Iran’s nuclear defiance.

Ali Akbar Salehi, a vice president as well as the head of the country’s nuclear program, said the further enrichment would be unnecessary if the West found a way to provide Iran with the needed fuel.

You have to give Salehi credit for chutzpah. The West did find a way to provide Iran with the needed fuel, but Iran reneged on the deal. They were supposed to send their enriched uranium to France, who would fashion it into fuel rods and send it back. That would have made Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium unusable for nuclear weapons, which of course is why Iran reneged.

The ayatollahs think they can play us for fools again. Are they wrong?

(Via Instapundit.)


North Carolina town suspends civil liberties due to snow

February 8, 2010

King, NC, suspends the Second Amendment due to snow:

Authorities lifted curfew and alcohol restrictions in King on Sunday, but said a state of emergency declaration remained in effect until Monday.

Authorities said the state of emergency declaration would continue until Monday 9 a.m., barring any unforeseen circumstances or severe changes. . . Other restrictions included a ban on the sale or purchase of any type of firearm, ammunition, explosive or any possession of such items off a person’s own premises.

(Via Instapundit.)


The Google ad

February 8, 2010

I liked this ad. In fact this and the Tebow ad are the only ones I remember in a positive light.

For some reason, the ad that they have up now isn’t quite the same one as aired last night. Last night, the flight the guy googled was DL-something, now it’s AA120. Also, I think some of the background chatter is different. That seems insignificant; I wonder why they decided to change it. (Alas, a Google search does not answer the question.)


Census ad flops

February 8, 2010

The federal government dropped $2.5 million to air this ad, plus whatever it cost to produce it:

The ad was a flop:

The U.S. Census Bureau’s “Snapshot of America”  Super Bowl 44 ad has met with harsh criticism from television writers, media pundits and the Kellogg School of Management, which gave the Census ad an “F” grade — the lowest of any commercial that ran during Sunday’s game. . .

USA Today’s ad meter compiled the responses of 250 adult participants in McLean, Va., and San Diego, Calif., by “electronically chart[ing] their second-by-second reactions to ads during the Super Bowl.” Among this test group, the Census spot placed 52nd out of 63 ads.

John Zirinsky, a senior analyst at the Lombardo Consulting Group, spent some time testing a potential ad for this year’s Super Bowl, using focus groups, in-depth interviews, and “just about every contemporary methodology.” His take on the Census ad is that it failed several essential tests for a successful Super Bowl ad.

“The first, most basic criteria for a successful ad is that it must be understood—on some level—by those watching.”

I guess billions are chump change in the budget today, so $2.5 million ought to be beneath notice. But did they have to advertise the fact that they are wasting our money on the freaking Superbowl?


Heh

February 8, 2010

(Via Hot Air.)


Green is the new red

February 8, 2010

It’s hard to understand to understand what Audi was thinking when they decided to run this ad campaign:

I would have thought that companies, particularly German companies, would be reluctant to associate themselves with fascism. But I guess environmental fascism is different.


White House asserts copyright over Flickr photos

February 8, 2010

The White House is trying to assert copyright over the work of the official White House photographer. They are attaching this notice to each photo on the White House Flickr account:

This official White House photograph is being made available only for publication by news organizations and/or for personal use printing by the subject(s) of the photograph. The photograph may not be manipulated in any way and may not be used in commercial or political materials, advertisements, emails, products, promotions that in any way suggests approval or endorsement of the President, the First Family, or the White House.

I’m not sure what the law is regarding the unauthorized use of a photo to imply an endorsement, but the rest of this is garbage. US Government work is in the public domain. In fact, each page of the White House Flickr account includes a link to a page at US.gov that explains exactly that:

A work that is a United States Government work, prepared by an officer or employee of the United States Government as part of that person’s official duties, is not subject to copyright in the United States and there are no U.S. copyright restrictions on reproduction, derivative works, distribution, performance, or display of the work.

So, in honor of the White House’s ham-handed effort illegally to limit the use of its photos, here’s a photo of the back of the president’s head:

POSTSCRIPT: The White House may be skirting the law even by claiming this copyright. The US Copyright code says:

Fraudulent Copyright Notice. — Any person who, with fraudulent intent, places on any article a notice of copyright or words of the same purport that such person knows to be false, or who, with fraudulent intent, publicly distributes or imports for public distribution any article bearing such notice or words that such person knows to be false, shall be fined not more than $2,500.

I imagine that the “fraudulent intent” proviso gets them off-the-hook though.

(Via Instapundit.)


Red-light cameras aren’t about safety

February 8, 2010

The city of Cleveland, Tennessee is removing its red-light cameras because they are losing money.

(Via Instapundit.)


The curious incompetence of the press

February 8, 2010

How can you misreport the content of a 30-second Superbowl ad? The AP manages:

And a commercial by conservative Christian group Focus on the Family, perhaps the most anticipated ad of the night, hinted at a serious subject although it took a humorous tone too. Heisman winner Tim Tebow and his mother talk about her difficult pregnancy with him and how she was advised to end the pregnancy—implying an antiabortion message—but ended with Tebow tackling his mom and saying the family must be “tough.”

The ad didn’t say anything about how she was advised to end the pregnancy. The closest it came was “he almost didn’t make it into this world”.

Also, it wasn’t Tim but Pam that said the family must be tough. Aside from that, their reporting was spot on.

(Via Power Line.)


Hi Mom!

February 8, 2010

The latest Sarah Palin scandal is out and it’s a doozy. It seems that before her speech and Q&A session at the Tea Party convention, she wrote some talking points on her hand.

Yep, that’s the whole scandal. Seriously. See for yourself. No, I don’t get it either.

There’s nothing to do about such a ridiculous non-scandal but mock it, so that’s exactly what Palin did. Before a campaign stop for Texas governor Rick Perry, she wrote “Hi Mom!” on her hand. Heh.

(Via Instapundit.)


Hadley CRU takes another hit

February 7, 2010

The Guardian reports:

Phil Jones, the beleaguered British climate scientist at the centre of the leaked emails controversy, is facing fresh claims that he sought to hide problems in key temperature data on which some of his work was based.

A Guardian investigation of thousands of emails and documents apparently hacked from the University of East Anglia’s climatic research unit has found evidence that a series of measurements from Chinese weather stations were seriously flawed and that documents relating to them could not be produced. . .

It also emerges that documents which [Jones’s collaborator, Wei-Chyung] Wang claimed would exonerate him and Jones did not exist. . .

The temperature data from the Chinese weather stations measured the warming there over the past half century and appeared in a 1990 paper in the prestigious journal Nature, which was cited by the IPCC’s latest report in 2007.

Climate change sceptics asked the UEA, via FOI requests, for location data for the 84 weather stations in eastern China, half of which were urban and half rural.

The history of where the weather stations were sited was crucial to Jones and Wang’s 1990 study, as it concluded the rising temperatures recorded in China were the result of global climate changes rather the warming effects of expanding cities.

The IPCC’s 2007 report used the study to justify the claim that “any urban-related trend” in global temperatures was small. Jones was one of two “coordinating lead authors” for the relevant chapter.

The Guardian also notes that Jones withheld the information when it was requested under the freedom of information act. Of course, that sort of behavior from Jones and his colleagues is old news now.

The Independent adds one more detail:

However, it has been reported that when climate sceptics asked for the precise locations of the 84 stations, Professor Jones at first declined to release the details. And when eventually he did release them, it was found that for the ones supposed to be in the countryside, there was no location given.

The point was to disprove the urban heat-island effect, so the non-urban measurements are key. And those are the ones that seem likely to be bogus.

(Via Instapundit.)


Still bitter after all these years

February 7, 2010

Remember almost two years ago when Barack Obama said that rural Pennsylvanians “cling to guns or religion” because they are “bitter” over their poor job prospects? It’s very old news now, but I recently learned something I didn’t hear at the time.

During the campaign, I often noted that Obama seemed to be temperamentally unable to admit to being wrong. This, it seems was no exception:

After the remarks were reported by the liberal blog Huffington Post on Friday, Obama initially defended them, and on Saturday he continued to say the tenor of them was correct, even if the phrasing was off. He argued that Clinton and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), whose campaign also criticized the remarks, were turning something “everybody knows is true” into political fodder.

It wasn’t merely an off-the-cuff remark. He was still defending it nearly a week later.

“Everybody” knows it’s true. Everybody? Well, maybe everybody Obama knows.


Too good to check

February 7, 2010

The mainstream media really doesn’t like James O’Keefe. When Salon runs a story alleging that he manned a literature table at a conference of white supremacists, that’s just too good to check. That last thing you want to do is look carefully into whether he really was manning a literature table there, or whether the event in question really was a conference of white supremacists. You might lose a perfectly good attack story if you checked the facts.

The answer, incidentally, seems to be no on both counts. I wasn’t going to bother to report this incident when it was just a Salon story picked up by the Village Voice. (In the Village Voice, O’Keefe had actually morphed into an organizer of the event.) But now the story is appearing in the supposedly respectable press, like the Newark Star-Ledger. Retracto is on the case.


The IPCC’s scholarship is junk

February 7, 2010

In recent days, three errors in the IPCC report on global warming have been identified, ranging from extremely serious to minor:

  • Most seriously, an estimate of when the Himalayan glaciers would disappear was off by more than three centuries from the best available science. Worse, the scientists who wrote the report knew the estimate was bogus, but included it anyway to put pressure on world leaders.
  • An assessment that the Amazon rainforest was endangered by global warming turned out to have no basis whatsoever.
  • The reported amount of the Netherlands that lies beneath sea level was off by a factor of two. (Oddly, this minor mistake was the one that led the Dutch government to call for an investigation of the IPCC.)

Let’s set the Dutch sea-level mistake aside. The two serious mistakes were both the result of the IPCC incorporating unreviewed claims from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). Given these mistakes, one has to wonder how much else in the report is wrong.

The IPCC has issued a statement on the glacier debacle. It’s pretty weaselly. It doesn’t even say what the mistake is, but rather forces you to find it yourself:

It has, however, recently come to our attention that a paragraph in the 938-page Working Group II contribution to the underlying assessment2 refers to poorly substantiated estimates of rate of recession and date for the disappearance of Himalayan glaciers. . .

2 The text in question is the second paragraph in section 10.6.2 of the Working Group II contribution and a repeat of part of the paragraph in Box TS.6. of the Working Group II Technical Summary of the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report.

They go on to defend the overall integrity of their report:

The Chair, Vice-Chairs, and Co-chairs of the IPCC regret the poor application of well-established IPCC procedures in this instance. This episode demonstrates that the quality of the assessment depends on absolute adherence to the IPCC standards, including thorough review of “the quality and validity of each source before incorporating results from the source into an IPCC Report” 3. We reaffirm our strong commitment to ensuring this level of performance.

So, how good are the “well-established” procedures that the IPCC is reaffirming? How many times did the report incorporate claims from the WWF and like organizations? Often, I’m sad to say.

Donna Laframboise used the report’s search feature to look for WWF citations. The search turned up dozens of hits, out of which she counted at least sixteen WWF citations. She also turned up eight Greenpeace citations.

One of them caught my attention:

Deforestation threatens the cradle of reef diversity. World Wide Fund for Nature, 2 December 2004. http://www.wwf.org/

A citation is supposed to provide enough information that the reader can find the source. Pointing the reader to “somewhere on the WWF web site” is a less than serious effort. But the title is pretty distinctive so I was able to find it here. It’s a blog post. Whatever merit it might have, it is not a scientific source.

(Via the Corner.)

UPDATE: Another serious error:

The most important [new potential inaccuracy] is a claim that global warming could cut rain-fed north African crop production by up to 50% by 2020, a remarkably short time for such a dramatic change. The claim has been quoted in speeches by Rajendra Pachauri, the IPCC chairman, and by Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general.

This weekend Professor Chris Field, the new lead author of the IPCC’s climate impacts team, told The Sunday Times that he could find nothing in the report to support the claim.

The IPCC report cites a single paper for the crop failure prediction. The paper was published by a Canadian NGO and does not appear to have been peer-reviewed. I sure hope it wasn’t peer-reviewed, because it’s very shoddy work. The claim appears on page 5 with reference to “studies”. No citation of the study is given, which is presumably why the IPCC report cited the paper and not the (imaginary?) original study.

UPDATE: Still more dubious stuff here.


Lord Acton was right

February 6, 2010

Here’s the latest in the annals of unsurprising science. Scientists have have devised a psychology experiment that supports the hypothesis that power corrupts.

What was a bit more surprising was a second finding: Power corrupts people who believe they deserve their power. Those who didn’t exhibited a strange phenomenon the scientists dubbed hypercrisy (i.e., the opposite of hypocrisy), in which they were harder on themselves than others.

I’m not sure how significant the second finding is in practical terms. Should we choose our leaders by lottery? There’s a certain appeal to that, but I doubt it would really work out well. Also, I think that people pretty quickly come to believe that they deserve their good fortune.


The Brown effect

February 6, 2010

It’s not clear that the Democrats have learned the lesson of Scott Brown’s election, but the Economist surely has. The week before Brown was elected, the Economist was lauding the health care bill nearing passage and saying that Obama’s biggest failing was not being tough enough:

The week after the Massachusetts election, they ran this cover:

I love that illustration.


The mask comes off

February 6, 2010

The Economist reports that Hugo Chavez is done pretending:

Hugo Chávez worries ever less about maintaining a semblance of democracy

OPPONENTS of Hugo Chávez have often bewailed his knack of cloaking authoritarianism in outwardly democratic forms. So perhaps they should be grateful that the Venezuelan president is increasingly abandoning the pretence. On January 23rd—a date on which the country commemorates the 1958 uprising that ousted its last military dictator—cable-television operators were told to stop carrying RCTV, a pro-opposition channel. It was the latest in a series of recent moves that have placed Mr Chávez’s elected regime within a hair’s breadth of dictatorship.

Three years ago RCTV’s broadcasting licence was not renewed, confining it to cable. Now the government has ruled that, despite being a cable channel, it (and many other channels) must obey a broadcasting law that requires it, among other things, to transmit the president’s lengthy speeches live, whenever he feels like it. The urge came over him almost immediately, at a political rally. When RCTV declined to oblige him, its fate was sealed. . .

If the September elections were run according to the constitution, which mandates proportional representation, Mr Chávez would surely lose his strong parliamentary majority. But a new electoral law allows the largest single group to sweep the board. The government-dominated electoral authority redrew constituency boundaries this month, with the effect of minimising potential opposition gains. The closure of RCTV, one of the main outlets for anti-Chávez voices, seems to follow the same logic.

In his annual address to Parliament, earlier this month, the president announced (to no one’s surprise) that he was now a Marxist. He no longer pays lip-service to the separation of powers, which in practice disappeared some time ago. The head of the Supreme Court, Luisa Estella Morales, said last month that such niceties merely “weaken the state”. A leading member of the ruling United Socialist Party, Aristóbulo Istúriz, called for the dismantling of local government, which Mr Chávez wants to replace with communes.

The 1999 constitution guarantees property rights and the existence of private enterprise. But the president now says that private profit is the root of all evil. Callers to the government’s consumer-protection body, Indepabis, find its hold-music is a jingle about evil capitalists. Insisting that his recent currency devaluation was no excuse for price rises, Mr Chávez had Indepabis close down hundreds of stores for “speculation”. He told Parliament to change the law on expropriations and seized a French-controlled supermarket chain to add to the government’s new retail conglomerate, Comerso.

I thought that Chavez was doing a perfectly lousy job pretending already, but I’m glad (in a way) that it’s beyond dispute now.


Big government

February 5, 2010

According to BoingBoing, Australian censors are banning small-breasted women from porn. Seriously.

(Via Instapundit.)


Progress in Afghanistan

February 5, 2010

Good-ish news from General McChrystal:

The top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan said Thursday that security there is no longer deteriorating, a view that represents his most optimistic assessment yet.

Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal . . . pointed to signs of stability that, though difficult to quantify, indicate that Afghans also see improvements in many areas of commerce and daily life.

“I still will tell you the situation in Afghanistan is serious,” he said. “I do not say now it is deteriorating.”

During the summer, McChrystal described the security picture as deteriorating as Taliban influence expanded, especially in Pashtun tribal areas of southern Afghanistan.

“I feel differently now,” McChrystal said. “I am not prepared to say we have turned the corner. The situation is serious, but we [made] significant progress in setting conditions in 2009 and we will make real progress in 2010.”

(Via Hot Air.)


The latest IPCC blunder

February 5, 2010

Yet another mistake in the IPCC report:

The Dutch environment minister, Jaqueline Cramer, on Wednesday demanded a thorough investigation into the 2007 report by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change after a Dutch magazine uncovered it incorrectly states 55 percent of the country lies below sea level. . . Only 26 percent of the Netherlands is really below sea level.

(Via the Corner.)


Doofus

February 5, 2010

Richard Shelby (R-AL) is blocking all of President Obama’s outstanding nominations (over 70) in a battle over an earmark for his state. He needs to stop. Not only is it wrong, but it’s politically stupid: It gives the White House a rhetorical weapon to wield against the GOP’s legitimate opposition to some nominees (most recently Patricia Smith, who was confirmed as Solicitor of Labor despite lying to Congress).

(Via the Corner.)

UPDATE: Some are pointing out that Harry Reid did this once too. Okay, but that’s not much of a defense. (Via the Corner.)

UPDATE: Shelby has now lifted most of his holds. (Via Volokh.)


Rent-seeking delenda est

February 5, 2010

Kim Strassel has the feel-good story of the day, on how Pfizer, the pharmaceutical giant, tried to hook itself onto the big-government gravy train and got burned for it. Pfizer promoted Democrats into key lobbying positions, dramatically shifted its political contributions toward Democrats, and aggressively campaigned for the Democratic health plan. (ASIDE: The industry spent $150 million campaigning for the Democratic health plan. Democrats aren’t against corporate speech when it serves their purposes!) In return:

Mr. Kindler surely believed Democrats would treat his industry gently. The strategy: The industry would pledge $80 billion to reform. In return it would get greater volume and a requirement that people buy brand-name drugs. Democrats would also fight against drug reimportation and forgo price controls. . .

Critics warned the legislation would lead to a government takeover and price controls. They warned Democrats would take the money and double-cross them. None of it fazed the industry, right up until ObamaCare imploded.

Mr. Kindler and Co. are left with the ashes. Having got this far (with Big Pharma’s help), Democrats are more desperate than ever to pass “something.” It won’t include any upside for drug companies. There is talk instead of “popular” stand-alone legislation, including reimportation, Medicare price controls, and slashing the industry’s 12-year exclusivity on biologics.

There’s nothing not to like about this: Health care nationalization is apparently dead. Pfizer’s rent-seeking blew up in its face. And everyone now knows that the Democrats can’t be trusted, which might make the next would-be crony capitalist think twice.

(Via the Corner.)


Outrage

February 4, 2010

Given my low opinion of our government, it takes a lot to outrage me, but this manages it: Jim Treacher, a writer at the Daily Caller in Washington, DC, was crossing the street (with the light) when he was hit by a car driven by a State Department security agent making an illegal left turn. It appears that the car left the scene of the accident without stopping, but the story is not entirely clear on that point.

Then the State Department arranged for the DC police to issue Treacher a jaywalking citation in his hospital bed! We know that the State Department was involved with the citation because they sent an official along with the policeman.

Then, to add a coda to the insult already added to the (literal) injury, when they finally issued a brief statement, it concluded:

At all times, Diplomatic Security acted responsibly and appropriately and displayed due diligence in caring for the injured.

In other words, they will protect their own and to hell with all of us.

UPDATE: The story is still not entirely clear about what the driver did, but he did not leave the scene without stopping.


Universal quantifier

February 4, 2010

President Obama says:

Every economist, from the left and the right, has said, because of the Recovery Act, what we’ve started to see is at least a couple of million jobs that have either been created or would have been lost.

What?! Every economist? Every single one? Come on, at least tell a believable lie.

(Via Hot Air.)


Justice inspector general has no power to investigate

February 4, 2010

Amazing. In response to a call for his office to investigate the Justice Department’s dismissal of voter intimidation charges against the Black Panthers, the Justice Department’s inspector general says unfortunately he has no power to investigate the incident. In the Justice Department, unlike other departments, all internal investigations answer to the Attorney General. By law, there is no one that can conduct an independent investigation of DOJ wrongdoing. So what is the DOJ IG for then?

You might not be shocked to learn that the rule was put into place by Janet Reno. It was codified in law in 2008.

(Previous post.)


Mr. Brown goes to Washington

February 4, 2010

He’s due to be sworn in at 5pm Eastern today.

Of course, Brown is a politician, which means he’s due to start disappointing us at 5:01 today. But if he succeeds in killing health care nationalization, I’ll be satisfied.


Democrats seek to amend the First Amendment

February 4, 2010

In the wake of the Citizens United ruling, Democrats want a constitutional amendment to limit the free-speech rights of persons who work for corporations. It will never go anywhere, of course, but that’s no reason not to condemn them for it.


Abstinence education works

February 4, 2010

A widespread belief among liberal social engineers is that abstinence education doesn’t work and “safe sex” is better. But no one had ever looked carefully at the subject, until now. A new study shows that the conventional wisdom has it completely backwards:

Sex education classes that focus on encouraging children to remain abstinent can persuade a significant proportion to delay sexual activity, researchers reported Monday in a landmark study that could have major implications for U.S. efforts to protect young people against unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.

Only about a third of sixth- and seventh-graders who completed an abstinence-focused program started having sex within the next two years, researchers found. Nearly half of the students who attended other classes, including ones that combined information about abstinence and contraception, became sexually active. . .

The study is the first to evaluate an abstinence program using a carefully designed approach comparing it with several alternative strategies and following subjects for an extended period of time, considered the kind of study that produces the highest level of scientific evidence.

The study shows not only that abstinence education works, but “safe sex” education is harmful. Students who were taught both abstinence and safe sex did slightly better than the control group but much worse than the abstinence-only group. Students who were taught safe sex only (not abstinence) did slightly worse than the control group:

Over the next two years, about 33 percent of the students who went through the abstinence program started having sex, compared with about 52 percent who were taught only safe sex. About 42 percent of the students who went through the comprehensive program started having sex, and about 47 percent of those who learned about other ways to be healthy did.

(Via the Corner.)


Obama never said half the things he said

February 3, 2010

Once again, President Obama disowns his own words:

When Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) complained that “you have repeatedly said, most recently at the State of the Union, that Republicans have offered no ideas and no solutions,” Obama replied:

I don’t think I said that. What I said was within the context of health care—I remember that speech pretty well. It was only two days ago.

I said I’d welcome ideas that you might provide. I didn’t say that you haven’t provided ideas. I said I’d welcome those ideas that you’ll provide.

Saying that you’re waiting to hear ideas strongly implies that you haven’t heard them yet, doesn’t it? But never mind that. The president and his underlings have directly stated what he only implied in the State of the Union address. Most conspicuously, there was the September 2009 speech to which Peter referred last week:

I’ve got a question for all those folks [opponents of his plan]: What are you going to do? What’s your answer? What’s your solution? And you know what? They don’t have one. Their answer is to do nothing. Their answer is to do nothing.

And three more examples of senior White House personnel, if that’s not enough.

(Via Instapundit.)


Retracto

February 1, 2010

Big Government is all over the many, many news outlets that have reported, inaccurately, that James O’Keefe’s arrest had something to do with attempted wiretapping. (It didn’t.) They have sixteen so far.


Revealed choice

February 1, 2010

News from the land of free, government-run health care:

Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Danny Williams is set to undergo heart surgery this week in the United States. . .

The premier’s office provided few details, beyond confirming that he would have heart surgery and saying that it was not necessarily a routine procedure.

(Via Instapundit.)

The Canadian left (and, sadly, much of their right) says they’re against “two-tier health care”, meaning that no one should be able to buy better health care than anyone else can get. In fact, they have two-tier health care already. The second tier, offering superior care to those who can afford it, is called the United States.