How we got here

September 12, 2014

The following are required reading to understand how Iraq, quiescent in 2009 (so much so that the Obama administration was actually taking credit in February 2010), got into the terrible state it’s in today:

  1. Why we stuck with Maliki — and lost Iraq” details how the United States acquiesced to Nouri al-Maliki’s coup (supported by Iran) in 2010.
  2. Obama’s Disastrous Iraq Policy: An Autopsy” gives the sequel, how Iraq disintegrated under Maliki’s increasingly tyrannical rule, while US policy was “Let Maliki do whatever he wants so long as he keeps Iraq off the front page.”
  3. Finally, when the New York Times’s Baghdad bureau chief was asked to evaluate the Obama administration’s Iraq policy:

    Q. How do you rate the Obama administration’s actions in Iraq? What did they do right? What did they get wrong?

    A. It’s not my job to rate the Obama administrations actions in Iraq. But I will tell you that after 2011 the administration basically ignored the country. And when officials spoke about what was happening there they were often ignorant of the reality. They did not want to see what was really happening because it conflicted with their narrative that they left Iraq in reasonably good shape. In 2012 as violence was escalating I wrote a story, citing UN statistics, that showed how civilian deaths from attacks were rising. Tony Blinken, who was then Biden’s national security guy and a top Iraq official, pushed back, even wrote a letter to the editor, saying that violence was near historic lows. That was not true. Even after Falluja fell to ISIS at the end of last year, the administration would push back on stories about Maliki’s sectarian tendencies, saying they didn’t see it that way. So there was a concerted effort by the administration to not acknowledge the obvious until it became so apparent — with the fall of Mosul — that Iraq was collapsing.

    (Capital letters added, and emphasis mine.) (Via Hot Air.)

If we are going to re-engage with Iraq now; well, it’s necessary. But we need to do it on the basis of reality, not Obama administration fantasy, and I have little confidence that we will.

How we got here

October 25, 2008

John Steele Gordon has an interesting historical perspective on the current financial mess, going back to the Jackson administration. As you might expect, the heart of the tale centers on Fannie and Freddie:

The aggressive pursuit of an end to redlining also required the active participation of Fannie Mae, and thereby hangs a tale. Back in 1968, the Johnson administration had decided to “adjust” the federal books by taking Fannie Mae off the budget and establishing it as a “Government Sponsored Enterprise” (GSE). But while it was theoretically now an independent corporation, Fannie Mae did not have to adhere to the same rules regarding capitalization and oversight that bound most financial institutions. And in 1970 still another GSE was created, the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation, or Freddie Mac, to expand further the secondary market in mortgage-backed securities.

This represented a huge moral hazard. The two institutions were supposedly independent of the government and owned by their stockholders. But it was widely assumed that there was an implicit government guarantee of both Fannie and Freddie’s solvency and of the vast amounts of mortgage-based securities they issued. This assumption was by no means unreasonable. Fannie and Freddie were known to enjoy lower capitalization requirements than other financial institutions and to be held to a much less demanding regulatory regime. If the United States government had no worries about potential failure, why should the market?

Forward again to the Clinton changes in 1995. As part of them, Fannie and Freddie were now permitted to invest up to 40 times their capital in mortgages; banks, by contrast, were limited to only ten times their capital. Put briefly, in order to increase the number of mortgages Fannie and Freddie could underwrite, the federal government allowed them to become grossly undercapitalized. . .

That was bad enough; then came politics to make it much worse. Fannie and Freddie quickly evolved into two of the largest financial institutions on the planet. . . But unlike other large, profit-seeking financial institutions, they were headquartered in Washington, D.C., and were political to their fingertips. Their management and boards tended to come from the political world, not the business world.

(Via Instapundit.) (Previous post.)

How we got here

October 17, 2008

John McCain (and 19 other GOP senators), issued a prophetic warning in May 2006:

We are concerned that if effective regulatory reform legislation for the housing-finance government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs) is not enacted this year, American taxpayers will continue to be exposed to the enormous risk that Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac pose to the housing market, the overall financial system, and the economy as a whole. . .

Today, almost half of the home mortgages in the U.S. are guaranteed by these GSEs. They are mammoth financial institutions with almost $1.5 Trillion of debt outstanding between them. With the fiscal challenges facing us today (deficits, entitlements, pensions and flood insurance), Congress must ask itself who would pay this debt if Fannie or Freddy could not?

Substantial testimony calling for improved regulation of the GSEs has been provided to the Senate by the Treasury, Federal Reserve, HUD, GAO, CBO, and others. . . It is vitally important that Congress take the necessary steps to ensure that these institutions benefit from strong and independent regulatory supervision, [and] operate in a safe and sound manner. . . Most importantly, Congress must ensure that the American taxpayer is protected in the event either GSE should fail.

(Emphasis original.) Sadly, it wasn’t heeded.

(Previous post.)

How we got here

October 8, 2008

Sebastian Mallaby writes in the Washington Post that we shouldn’t blame deregulation for the financial meltdown. Among the true culprits, he writes, are Fannie and Freddie:

If that doesn’t convince you that deregulation is the wrong scapegoat, consider this: The appetite for toxic mortgages was fueled by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the super-regulated housing finance companies. Calomiris calculates that Fannie and Freddie bought more than a third of the $3 trillion in junk mortgages created during the bubble and that they did so because heavy government oversight obliged them to push money toward marginal home purchasers. There’s a vigorous argument about whether Calomiris’s number is too high. But everyone concedes that Fannie and Freddie poured fuel on the fire to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars.

That’s the Fannie and Freddie that Democrats so vigorously resisted reining in.

Next, let’s take a trip down memory lane to September 1999, courtesy of the New York Times:

In a move that could help increase home ownership rates among minorities and low-income consumers, the Fannie Mae Corporation is easing the credit requirements on loans that it will purchase from banks and other lenders.

The action, which will begin as a pilot program involving 24 banks in 15 markets — including the New York metropolitan region — will encourage those banks to extend home mortgages to individuals whose credit is generally not good enough to qualify for conventional loans. Fannie Mae officials say they hope to make it a nationwide program by next spring.

Fannie Mae, the nation’s biggest underwriter of home mortgages, has been under increasing pressure from the Clinton Administration to expand mortgage loans among low and moderate income people and felt pressure from stock holders to maintain its phenomenal growth in profits. . .

In moving, even tentatively, into this new area of lending, Fannie Mae is taking on significantly more risk, which may not pose any difficulties during flush economic times. But the government-subsidized corporation may run into trouble in an economic downturn, prompting a government rescue similar to that of the savings and loan industry in the 1980’s.

(Emphasis mine.)  During the last year of the Clinton administration, there was a lot of talk about what Bill Clinton’s “legacy” would be.  Now I think we know.

(Via Justin Webb’s America, via the Corner.) (Previous post.)

How we got here

October 6, 2008

(Via Hot Air.) (Previous post.)

How we got here

October 2, 2008

I know I’m just piling on now, but I can’t help it. The WSJ has a catalog of Democrat statements defending Fannie and Freddie from reform. Here’s the best one:

House Financial Services Committee hearing, Sept. 25, 2003:

Rep. Frank: I do think I do not want the same kind of focus on safety and soundness that we have in OCC [Office of the Comptroller of the Currency] and OTS [Office of Thrift Supervision]. I want to roll the dice a little bit more in this situation towards subsidized housing. . . .

Sure enough, we tried it his way. Roll the dice, with no focus on safety or soundness.

How bizarre is it that Democrats are profiting politically from the mess they created?

(Previous post.)

How we got here

September 29, 2008

Roger Kimball has a succinct account of the meltdown and its causes. (Via Instapundit.)

(Previous post.)

How we got here

September 29, 2008

The DC Examiner:

The root cause of the present crisis is the federal government’s insistence beginning with passage of the 1977 Community Reinvestment Act that private sector lenders loosen their credit rules in order to give mortgages to buyers who could not repay them. Then in the 1990s and thereafter, an ill-advised government policy was transformed into a financial toxin as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac used their status as government-backed corporations to backstop millions of such sub-prime loans and to encourage their packaging in mortgage-backed securities as investment tools. Wall Street knew better than to build on such an economic house-of-cards, but did it anyway. The bottom-line remains that well-intentioned but ill-advised government policies are at the heart of the immediate economic crisis.

But somehow the party responsible for the crisis is benefiting, at the expense of the party that tried to prevent it.

(Via Instapundit.)  (Previous post.)

How we got here

September 28, 2008

Newsbusters has found another 1999 article praising the Clinton administration policies that led to the subprime meltdown, this time in the New York Times. It’s not quite as explicit as the LA Times article; it doesn’t mention (as the LA Times article did) how the Clinton administration, through Fannie and Freddie, pushed for securitization of mortgages. But, it still mentions how they pushed lenders to make loans that we can now see were irresponsible:

Fannie Mae, the nation’s biggest underwriter of home mortgages, has been under increasing pressure from the Clinton Administration to expand mortgage loans among low and moderate income people and felt pressure from stock holders to maintain its phenomenal growth in profits.

In addition, banks, thrift institutions and mortgage companies have been pressing Fannie Mae to help them make more loans to so-called subprime borrowers. These borrowers whose incomes, credit ratings and savings are not good enough to qualify for conventional loans, can only get loans from finance companies that charge much higher interest rates — anywhere from three to four percentage points higher than conventional loans.

”Fannie Mae has expanded home ownership for millions of families in the 1990’s by reducing down payment requirements,” said Franklin D. Raines, Fannie Mae’s chairman and chief executive officer.

(Yes, that’s the same Franklin Raines that later faced legal difficulties, and still later was reported to have advised Barack Obama on economics.)

Note that, like the LA Times article, this is not a retroactive attempt to pin blame. Both articles were published long before any problems were visible, and, more importantly, both articles are positive portrayals of Clinton Administration policy.

The two articles put paid to the idea that our current woes are the result of Republican deregulation policies. Our current woes are the result of Bill Clinton’s housing policy, which pushed for lenders to make irresponsible loans, and pushed for those loans to be securitized and traded. Then in 2004 and 2005, there were efforts to rein in Fannie and Freddie, but those efforts were successfully blocked by Democrats.

Even when the subprime market melted down, and mortgage-backed securities began to fail, the Democrats still didn’t learn. When Fannie and Freddie were already in freefall, just two days before their bailout was announced, Christopher Dodd (D-CT) pronounced “They’ll be fine,” adding they were “fundamentally sound and strong.” That’s the same Dodd who was the #1 recipient of Fannie and Freddie campaign contributions. (The others incidentally, were the Democrats’ actual and presumed presidential candidates of 2004 and 2008: Kerry, Obama, and Hillary Clinton.) And that same economic genius was chosen to lead the negotiations for the current bailout.

(Previous post.)

UPDATE: “Barney Frank’s fingerprints are all over the financial fiasco.” (Via the Corner.)

UPDATE: Had the LA Times confused with the Washington Post. Fixed.

How we got here

September 28, 2008

Not only were the Democrats standing against regulation (the opposite of their usual stance), they literally were angry at the very proposal. Now they have the audacity to pin the fault on Republicans.

(Previous post.)

How we got here

September 25, 2008

Democrats want to blame deregulation for the market meltdown, but the policies that led to the meltdown were anything but laissez-faire. Ed Morrissey highlights a fascinating, anti-prophetic article from the LA Times in 1999. The article touts the great “successes” of Bill Clinton’s interventionist housing policies, including:

  • Requiring banks to lend more to low-income communities.
  • Directing Fannie and Freddie to buy up mortgages and turn them into securities.
  • Directing Fannie and Freddie to buy up high-risk mortgages, thereby encouraging banks to make more high-risk loans.

Does any of this sound familiar?

(Previous post.)

I’ve got your authentication right here

October 25, 2016

The latest find in the Wikileaks document drop has the White House on the defensive. In the email, Cheryl Mills (Hillary Clinton’s chief of staff) learns that Barack Obama claimed to have learned that Hillary was using a private email server “the same time everybody else learned it through news reports.” She replies:

we need to clean this up – he has emails from her – they do not say

Whatever the White House might claim now, this shows clearly that they saw a problem with Obama’s statement. You don’t clean up something that isn’t dirty. And, indeed, a few days later they walked back the president’s statement:

President Obama exchanged messages with then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at her private email address but did not know how the address was set up, the White House said Monday.

ASIDE: I actually find the revised statement plausible, but it’s not really exculpatory. You don’t have to know how the server is set up to know that there’s something shady about doing official business over “”.

Anyway, now the email is public and people are calling it the smoking gun. Naturally, the White House would love to impeach the email, so the hapless White House spokesman is sent out with this:

“I can’t verify the integrity of these emails,” Earnest told reporters traveling with Obama as he fundraised in California, speaking of illegally obtained messages from Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta, that were published by WikiLeaks and apparently show the Clinton camp challenging Obama’s assertion that he didn’t know Clinton was using a private email account.

Podesta’s emails were “stolen,” and, therefore, their authenticity cannot be verified.

Well, as a public service, let me help. The email includes a DKIM signature:

DKIM-Signature: v=1; a=rsa-sha256; c=relaxed/relaxed;; s=20120113;

(You can see it yourself by clicking “view source” on the email.) The purpose of DKIM is to authenticate that an email came from a particular domain; in this case, It uses a mathematical technology called digital signatures. A digital signature is a string (all the nonsense text at the end of the signature) that testifies to the content of a message, and that can only be computed by the holder of a secret key (in this case, Google). A signed message cannot be forged or altered by anyone who doesn’t have the key. In DKIM, a mail server automatically adds this signature to outgoing mail, thereby proving that the mail has not been tampered with since it left the server.

So all we have to do to authenticate the mail is to verify the digital signature. This is very easy to do. The Thunderbird mail reader has a DKIM verifier plugin that you can install in about 15 seconds. Then you simply open the email and see:


Observe the fourth line: “DKIM Valid (Signed by”.

This tells us that this email definitely hasn’t been altered since it left, assuming that Google has kept its secret key secure, and assuming that Russia can’t crack a 1024-bit RSA key or a SHA-256 hash. In 2016, both of these are very safe assumptions.

So what are we to make of Josh Earnest’s claim that the email can’t be authenticated? We know it’s false. We also know that Earnest didn’t bother to check with any experts before he made the claim. (Or, that he just outright lied.)

US now okay with negotiating with terrorists

June 23, 2015

It’s an official change in US government policy:

In a softening of longstanding policy, the Obama administration will tell families of Americans held by terror groups that they can communicate with captors and even pay ransom without fear of prosecution — part of a broad review of U.S. hostage guidelines that will be released Wednesday. . .

Two people familiar with the review said there will be no formal change to the law, which explicitly makes it a crime to provide money or other material support to terror organizations. However, the administration will make clear that the Justice Department has never prosecuted anyone for paying ransom and that that will continue to be the case.

POSTSCRIPT: And, of course, note how this was done; no change in the law, just an official announcement that the law will be ignored.

There is no two-state solution

July 3, 2014

You can’t make peace in the Middle East with a two-state solution, because one of the parties — the Palestinians — doesn’t want it. A poll of Palestinians finds that only 27% favor a two-state solution. Even fewer (10%) favor a one-state solution in which Jews and Arabs have equal rights. The vast majority (60%) want all the Jews driven out.

The West persists in pushing a two-state solution because it seems really reasonable to us, but it’s doomed because the Palestinians don’t want it. Israel goes along with the negotiations in order to seem reasonable to us, but they know by now that those negotiations are pointless.

The only way Israel can have peace is to make the Palestinians unable to hurt them. One way to do that would be to wipe them out — that’s what 60% of Palestinians would do to Israel if they could — but the Israelis, being civilized people, won’t do that. Instead, they settle for a security fence and a blockade. Naturally, the Western left opposes the security fence and the blockade.

(Via ElderOfZiyon.)

Obama administration weakened NSA rules

October 7, 2013

The Washington Post reports that the Obama administration weakened the rules governing the NSA, greatly extending the NSA’s ability to spy on Americans:

The Obama administration secretly won permission from a surveillance court in 2011 to reverse restrictions on the National Security Agency’s use of intercepted phone calls and e-mails, permitting the agency to search deliberately for Americans’ communications in its massive databases, according to interviews with government officials and recently declassified material.

In addition, the court extended the length of time that the NSA is allowed to retain intercepted U.S. communications from five years to six years — and more under special circumstances, according to the documents, which include a recently released 2011 opinion by U.S. District Judge John D. Bates, then chief judge of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

What had not been previously acknowledged is that the court in 2008 imposed an explicit ban — at the government’s request — on those kinds of searches, that officials in 2011 got the court to lift the bar and that the search authority has been used.

Together the permission to search and to keep data longer expanded the NSA’s authority in significant ways without public debate or any specific authority from Congress.

There is a persistent mythology that the Democrats are somehow the party of civil liberties. It’s quite bizarre that the party of Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, and now Obama could develop such a reputation. As this story shows, it is the Bush administration — undeservedly vilified for its surveillance for foreign terrorists — that carefully balanced national security with privacy.

The Bush administration went to court in 2008 to request that the court limit NSA surveillance of Americans. The Obama administration went to court in 2011 to get those limits removed. Right there is all you need to know about how the NSA scandal happened.

(Previous post.)

Investigations and answers

May 10, 2013

When did it happen that the existence of an investigation became an excuse not to answer any questions? I mean this question seriously; when did it happen?

It doesn’t make any sense; the one has nothing to do with the other. One might argue that one doesn’t want to jeopardize a prosecution, but (1) that doesn’t stop people from answering questions when they want to, and (2) in most of these cases (e.g., Benghazi) there’s no prospect of prosecution in the first place.

Whoever first used the ploy, it has certainly become the Obama administration’s go-to strategy for containing any scandal from Gunwalker to Benghazi: First, you tell a bunch of lies, hoping the thing will go away. If it doesn’t, you launch an investigation. For a year or more, as long as the investigation runs, you answer no questions. When the press finally moves on, you quietly close the investigation and issue a whitewash. Thereafter, if someone has the ill grace to bring up the subject, you say they are dredging up ancient history. (Carney: “Benghazi happened a long time ago.” Clinton: “What difference, at this point, does it make?”)


UPDATE (5/28): I had forgotten about this piece from last September (which I noted here), demolishing the idea that there is any legal impediment to releasing information when investigations are ongoing.

Taking no for an answer

January 14, 2013

In the West, including Israel, we long believed that there could be peace between Israel and the Arabs on a land-for-peace formula. We believed so because it seemed so reasonable. But the enemy is not reasonable. They want the Jews dead and will never make peace. They have said so, explicitly (even the so-called moderates).

The upcoming Israeli election will confirm that land-for-peace is dead. Even the Israeli left has figured it out, because:

The “dramatic imminent shift” is not a shift, but a realization; not imminent, but rather what happened over many years; and not dramatic, but rather the slow accumulation of many events: (1) the barbaric terror war against Israeli civilians, commenced after the first Israeli offer of a state; (2) the Palestinian rejection of the Clinton Parameters, after Israel formally accepted them; (3) the Palestinian failure to carry out even Phase I of the three-phase Roadmap; (4) the transformation of Gaza into Hamastan after Israel withdrew every settler and soldier; (5) the election of Hamas in 2006 and the Hamas coup in 2007; (6) two rocket wars from Judenrein Gaza, and the continuing prospect of more; (7) the year-long negotiation in the Annapolis Process that produced still another offer of a state, from which Abbas walked away; (8) Abbas’s announcement in 2009 that he would do nothing without a construction freeze, followed by his doing nothing after he got one; (9) the continual “reconciliation” attempts by Abbas with the terrorist group he promised to dismantle; (10) his failure to give a Bir Zeit speech to match Netanyahu’s Bar-Ilan one; (11) the inability of the Palestinians to hold an election, much less build the institutions of a peaceful democratic state; (12) the violation of their express Oslo commitments with repeated end-runs at the UN; (13) a Palestinian society, media and educational system steeped in anti-Semitism; (14) et cetera.

The Palestinians could have had an independent state at peace with Israel, but they’ve made clear they don’t want it. This underscores the foresight of the Arabs who deliberately created the Palestinian refugee problem after Israel’s war of independence by refusing to resettle the refugees, for the explicit purpose of preventing future generations from making peace with Israel.

POSTSCRIPT: Unfortunately, the American and European left has not figured it out yet, either because they are too far from the carnage, or (especially in the European case) because they are simply anti-Semitic.

(Via Power Line.)

One reason why our energy policy is so screwed up

March 24, 2012

President Obama thinks that oil is $1.25 a barrel:

We have subsidized oil companies for a century.  We want to encourage production of oil and gas, and make sure that wherever we’ve got American resources, we are tapping into them.  But they don’t need an additional incentive when gas is $3.75 a gallon, when oil is $1.20 a barrel, $1.25 a barrel.  They don’t need additional incentives.  They are doing fine.

(That’s the White House transcript.)

Oil (Brent Crude) is currently trading at $125.10. Obama is off by two orders of magnitude! Good thing those cowboys that understand the oil industry are out of office.

(Via Hot Air.)

The right to be forgotten

February 25, 2012

Europe has invented a new reason to limit free speech:

At the end of January, Viviane Reding, the European Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights, and Citizenship, announced a sweeping new privacy right: the “right to be forgotten.” The proposed right would require companies like Facebook and Google to remove information that people post about themselves and later regret—even if that information has already been widely distributed. The right is designed to address a real and urgent problem in the digital age: It’s very hard to escape your past on the Internet now that every photo, status update, and tweet lives forever in the digital cloud. But the right to be forgotten takes a dangerously broad approach to solving the problem. In fact, it represents the biggest threat to Internet free speech in our time.

The article is hard to summarize, but basically the new rights takes three forms, listed in order of increasing danger to free speech:

  1. The right to delete material that you posted yourself.
  2. The right to demand the deletion of material that you posted yourself and others have subsequently copied elsewhere.
  3. The right to demand the deletion of material that others have posted about you.

(Via Althouse.)

Hungarian government says its books were cooked

June 8, 2010

The new Hungarian government says that Hungary’s previous government cooked the books and lied about the state of the economy. Without knowing anything about the facts in the matter, I’ll say it’s very plausible. The previous government was run by the MSZP, Hungary’s former communist rulers, so it seems pretty likely they would lie about the economy, that being the standard practice of communists.

Megan McArdle adds:

There’s a saying I’ve heard from accountants: recessions uncover what auditors can’t. When a company has reasonable cash flow and access to credit, dodgy practices can be hidden for quite some time. But when sales dry up and banks tighten the purse strings, eventually companies are forced to admit that there is no money in the till.

That’s why recessions always seem to be accompanied by revelations of terrible accounting practices, which makes a lot of people think that an epidemic of dishonest accounting must have brought the economy to its knees. But there’s not much evidence that accounting practices actually get worse at the end of booms; it’s just that companies who might have gotten away with it and eventually made enough money to repair the hole in their balance sheets, instead are forced to disclose what they’ve done.

“We’re going to let you die”

October 13, 2009

Robert Reich is a former cabinet secretary under Bill Clinton, a professor of public policy at Berkeley, a political commentator, and an adviser to President Obama. In a talk in 2007, he explained what an honest candidate should say about health care:

  • Young, healthy people need to pay more.
  • If you’re very old, it’s too expensive to keep you alive a few more months, “so we’re going to let you die.”
  • There will be less medical innovation.
  • Therefore, “you are probably not going to live that much longer than your parents.”

The remarks seem to be fully in context. See for yourself:

I guess we should appreciate Reich for his honesty. Certainly we should appreciate him for nothing else.

(Via Instapundit.)

UPDATE: A commenter points out something I forgot to mention. The worst thing about this clip isn’t even Reich; it’s his audience. Where you should hear horrified gasps, you hear cheers instead. What is wrong with these people?

UPDATE: Reich claims that his remarks are being taken out of context. But when he explains the context, it’s exactly the context that is clear in the video: what a politician would say if he told the truth (as Reich sees it) rather than what people want to hear. In fact he affirms that the things he said in the video are “what everyone knows to be the truth”.

Apparently, Reich cannot believe that people could be offended by what he really said, so they must be misinformed as to the context. Well, Mr. Reich, believe it.

I’ve got your rationing right here

July 10, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Welcome to the White House, Mr. President

January 23, 2009

Politico reports:

President Obama made a surprise visit to the White House press corps Thursday night, but got agitated when he was faced with a substantive question.

Asked how he could reconcile a strict ban on lobbyists in his administration with a Deputy Defense Secretary nominee who lobbied for Raytheon, Obama interrupted with a knowing smile on his face.

“Ahh, see,” he said, “I came down here to visit. See this is what happens. I can’t end up visiting with you guys and shaking hands if I’m going to get grilled every time I come down here.”

Pressed further by the Politico reporter about his Pentagon nominee, William J. Lynn III, Obama turned more serious, putting his hand on the reporter’s shoulder and staring him in the eye.

“Alright, come on” he said, with obvious irritation in his voice. “We will be having a press conference at which time you can feel free to [ask] questions. Right now, I just wanted to say hello and introduce myself to you guys – that’s all I was trying to do.”

(Via Instapundit, who adds: you can see why a substantive question would catch him by surprise.)

Orwell at the LA Times

October 7, 2008

What do you do when Obama’s remarks don’t match the events of the day? If you’re the LA Times, you edit the events.

Yesterday, John McCain finally began to highlight the Democrats’ culpability for the financial meltdown through their support for irresponsible policies at Fannie and Freddie. (Background at this thread.) That same day, Obama claimed that McCain is avoiding talking about the economic crisis due to his weakness on the issue. As a mainstream media Obama booster, you want to make Obama look good. But how do you support his talking point when it’s manifestly untrue?

If you’re the LA Times, you selectively quote McCain’s speech to remove any mention of the economy, and then you can uncritically repeat Obama’s claim that McCain isn’t talking about the economy.

(Via Instapundit.)

The bailout negotiations

September 27, 2008

The Washington Post has a very interesting story on the bailout negotiations, and in particular on McCain’s role in those negotiations. There’s a lot there, but the main point is that McCain was instrumental in getting the negotiations to take House Republicans seriously:

It is unclear whether the day’s events will prove to be historically significant or a mere political sideshow. If the administration and lawmakers forge an agreement largely along the lines of the deal they had reached before McCain’s arrival Thursday, the tumult will have been a momentary speed bump. If the deal collapses, the recriminations spawned that day will be fierce.

But if a final deal incorporates House Republican principles while leaning most heavily on the accord between the administration, House Democrats and Senate Republicans, all sides will be able to claim some credit — even if the legislation is not popular with voters.

“If there is a deal with the House involved, it’s because of John McCain,” Graham, one of the Arizonan’s closest friends in the Senate, said yesterday.

If the rumors are true, things are moving in the direction of that optimistic third possibility. That will make for a much better bill, and McCain will be responsible for the improvement.

As for the politics, it’s interesting that both Democrats actually seem to be telling the truth about McCain’s role, at least from their own perspective. When Harry Reid blasted McCain for screwing up the negotiations, that wasn’t merely campaign-season blather. Reid was happy with the direction things were going, and when McCain step in, he forced everyone to back up and include House Republicans, thereby taking things in a somewhat more conservative direction. From Reid’s perspective, the negotiations had been screwed up.

I don’t know who will win the election, but John McCain has already done America a great service.

(Via Hot Air.)

AFTERTHOUGHT: Obviously we have to withhold judgement until we see the final result, but the political process actually seems to be working. I don’t care about the acrimony; that’s as old as the Republic, and we pay our representatives to deal with it. What matters is what the process produces. James Madison was right; the process of compromise between the President and four caucuses is making for a better bill. It makes me proud to be an American.

UPDATE (9/30): Never mind.

Obama inferfered with Iraq negotiations?

September 15, 2008

The New York Post reports:

WHILE campaigning in public for a speedy withdrawal of US troops from Iraq, Sen. Barack Obama has tried in private to persuade Iraqi leaders to delay an agreement on a draw-down of the American military presence.

According to Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, Obama made his demand for delay a key theme of his discussions with Iraqi leaders in Baghdad in July.

“He asked why we were not prepared to delay an agreement until after the US elections and the formation of a new administration in Washington,” Zebari said in an interview.

(Via Instapundit.)

UPDATE: Added a question mark to the title, since there’s apparently some question about the reliability of the reporter.

Also, Jonah Goldberg asks if Obama has violated the Logan Act. There’s no question he has, if this story is true:

Any citizen of the United States, wherever he may be, who, without authority of the United States, directly or indirectly commences or carries on any correspondence or intercourse with any foreign government or any officer or agent thereof, with intent . . . to defeat the measures of the United States, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both.

Nevertheless, no one has ever been prosecuted under the Logan Act.

UPDATE: Obama denies it. Of course, he also (falsely) denied the Goolsbee meeting. We’ll wait and see.

UPDATE: The McCain campaign has a statement.

UPDATE: Confirmed by the Obama campaign’s own denial, oddly enough.

Why we fight

August 16, 2008

Michael Ledeen writes eloquently on why we still have wars:

For many centuries, it was taken for granted that no modern country could move from dictatorship to democracy without considerable violence. . .  And yet, Spain accomplished a seemingly miraculous democratic revolution. . . Portugal followed suit shortly thereafter, albeit with some dramatic moments and a few street clashes, but the new model–dictatorships could indeed fall, and democracies could be created, peacefully.

Then came the Age of the Second Democratic Revolution, the years of Reagan, Thatcher, John Paul II, Havel, Walesa, Sharansky and Bukovsky, replete with revolutions from Chile to Taiwan, from Romania and the rest of the Soviet Empire to South Africa and Zambia. With the indifference to history so characteristic of our world, we quickly forgot the conventional wisdom and by now we take it for granted that neither war nor violence is required to end tyranny. All we need is patience and the proper invocation of the new rules: free and fair elections, the rule of law, and so forth. History had ended, liberal democracy was triumphant.

The belief in the inevitability of peace and democracy rested on one of the great conceits of the European Enlightenment, namely the belief in the perfectibility of man. In this view, man’s basic goodness (as found in “the state of nature”) had been corrupted by a selfish society . . . , but that once the heavy weight of misguided was lifted, man’s intrinsic goodness would reemerge. . .

It was all wrong, as are most beliefs in the vast impersonal forces that are held to determine human events. . .  Machiavelli is not the only sage who recognized it, but he put it nicely:  “Man is more inclined to do evil than to do good.”  Rational statecraft starts right there.

(Via the Corner.)

One last iPhone gotcha

July 24, 2008

I finally resolved (well, circumvented would be a better word) my problem with iPhone-Outlook calendar synchronization by switching to use an Exchange server for my calendar.  There was one more gotcha, though.  I found that events I added to the calendar on Exchange were appearing on the phone as invitations.  This is bad because, for example, you can’t edit those events.  A similar issue happens with events you create on the iPhone and then edit on Exchange.

It turns out that the iPhone uses the email address of the event originator to distinguish between appointments and invitations.  If the email address you use when configuring the phone doesn’t match the email address verbatim (i.e., case-sensitively and ignoring aliases), you get this behavior.

More at Apple support article TS1865.

Where have the ADA scorecards gone?

July 7, 2008

In my last post, I mentioned the National Journal rating of Obama as most liberal Senator of 2007. Naturally, Obama supporters find this rating inconvenient, and have challenged its accuracy. For example, Crooks and Liars claims that Obama is actually among the least liberal Democratic senators. (Their claim is based entirely on a stale link, so there’s nothing to rebut.) They also point out that in 2004 National Journal rated Kerry and Edward the most liberal senators. (National Journal’s old ratings are subscription only, so I’m taking their word for it, but in any case, it’s not hard to imagine that Democrats move left when running for president.)

Anyway, this made me wonder what the Americans for Democratic Action scorecard said. ADA is indisputably liberal, and is well-known for its scorecards. Indeed it has the distinction of being the first organization to compile them.

(ASIDE: Economists Groseclose, Levitt (famous for his book Freakonomics), and Snyder have shown how to normalize ADA ratings so they can be compared between years and chambers. The long-existence of ADA scorecards allows them to track the politics of the US Congress over fifty years. Also, Groseclose and Milyo showed how to use the normalized ADA ratings to infer a quantitative measure of media bias (pdf), in an article that made a big stir in the blogosphere a few years ago.)

So what does ADA say about Obama’s voting record? Good question. I was unable to find information on any ADA scorecard more recent than 2005, when they gave Obama a perfect score. Today, it seems that not only has ADA discontinued their venerable scorecard, but they have erased all mention of it from their web site. Every external link I found (for example) to ADA scorecards is now 404, and a search on their web site returns zero (!) hits on the term “scorecard”.

When did this happen? (At least one chapter hasn’t gotten the word yet, with a stale link to ADA’s web site.) Judging from the Internet Archive, it happened some time in early 2007. (I realize this makes me pretty slow on the uptake.)

More importantly, why? If they had simply stopped doing them, they wouldn’t have taken steps to erase their old scorecards so thoroughly. (Even some external sites that purportedly once held copies are 404 (linked here).) It strikes me that they must have decided that the existence of their scorecards was counter-productive to their aims, despite the attention their particular organization received for them.

Returning to my original point, it’s not hard to see how they might have decided that. Any centrist, conservative, libertarian, or non-partisan ratings can be dismissed as right-wing propaganda, but the ADA’s scorecard (being indisputably liberal, as well as the oldest) cannot. Liberals, unlike most political stripes, don’t like to be labeled liberals, because it makes it harder for them to be elected, and ADA was doing them no favor.

I find it a pity, and not just because of the slight political advantage the ADA’s scorecards gave my side. ADA’s scorecards are a venerable institution, and it’s a shame to see them go. Moreover, the economic work using the ADA ratings is really cool, but it’s less useful now. The methods could presumably be applied to another organization’s scorecards, but we lose the fifty years of perspective.

UPDATE: I’m embarrassed to admit that it did not occur to me to look in the Internet Archive, but a reader suggested it to me. The Archive last saw the main scorecard page on April 9, 2007. Obama did indeed get a perfect score for 2005, as did many Democrats. It appears the ADA compiled a scorecard for 2006, but it wasn’t archived. Every link on that page (that I checked before getting bored) has since gone stale, but most of them are in the Archive.

I’ve edited the post to incorporate this.

Here there be kangaroos

June 3, 2008

Fans of free speech and Canada might not want to read Andrew Coyne’s blog. Coyne has been blogging the BC Human Rights Tribunal’s proceedings in the Maclean’s case.

A while ago, Maclean’s, a Canadian news magazine, printed excerpts from a Mark Steyn book, America Alone, that suggests that the world might have something to worry about in radical Islam. Some Muslims got very mad, and demanded the right to write a rebuttal (with full editorial control) to be printed in Maclean’s. Unsurprisingly, Maclean’s said no.

End of story, you think? Ha! Not at all, because this is Canada. In Canada they have Human Rights Tribunals with the power to police content in speech and the press. The angry Muslims shopped around for a venue and settled on British Columbia, where they filed a complaint for “incitement of hatred.”

The particularly sad and yet strangely funny aspect of the proceeding is that the Human Rights Tribunal is not a real court. Unlike a real court, its members are not judges and there are no rules of evidence. Therefore, they can and do “admit” all manner of irresponsible “evidence,” such as expert testimony from non-experts, blog posts by third parties (even non-Canadian third parties), and even comments on YouTube videos. Everything short of bathroom graffiti, as Coyne puts it.

Unfortunately, this kangaroo court can assess real penalties. Indeed, it has already done so, simply by taking the case and forcing Maclean’s to stand “trial.” Too bad freedom of speech is just an “American concept.”

NOTE: The link above is to Coyne’s front page, where he liveblogged the proceedings. Here are permalinks to parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6. (Last updated 6/7.)

POSTSCRIPT: It’s only Tuesday and it’s already been a bad week for free speech abroad, with Canada, Britain, and France censoring people for offending Muslims. Ironically, this sort of thing only supports Steyn’s thesis in America Alone.

UPDATE (6/4): Coyne reports that the “plaintiff” has actually made explicit in writing that censorship is their goal: “We anticipate that success in this case will provide the impetus for prohibiting discriminatory publications in the other provinces.” Not that there’s been any doubt, but it’s striking to see it admitted in writing.

UPDATE (6/7): As the proceedings neared a close, a court official informed Coyne that liveblogging is prohibited.  In a proceeding that centered around repression of the press, it seems appropriate.

Tenet (Mostly) Explained

April 10, 2021

Christopher Nolan’s new film, Tenet, is my favorite film of the last decade. I don’t think it’s Nolan’s best film. But it’s hard to beat Tenet in terms of sheer fun and rewatchability. More than any movie I can think of, Tenet rewards multiple viewings. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve seen it, and I’m still noticing new things.

What follows is my exposition of the Tenet storyline, what happened and why, and what I think it means. This is directed toward people who found the movie confusing, want an explanation, and (for whatever reason) aren’t inclined to work it out themselves. It’s also directed toward other Tenet fanboys, to compare notes. But mainly it’s because I enjoyed working all this out and I wanted to share what I learned.

Obviously, here there be spoilers. I assume you’ve seen the movie at least once, so I won’t bother explaining who the characters are.

Read the rest of this entry »

That time the Biden campaign let 100 thousand people die

March 12, 2021

Joe Biden is getting grief for claiming credit for the covid vaccines that were the centerpiece of Donald Trump’s covid response. That grief is well deserved, but it’s actually far worse than that. Biden’s campaign actively and deliberately inhibited the vaccines’ rollout. Without their actions, the vaccines would probably have been rolled out at least a month earlier, which would have saved over 100 thousand lives.

I have the receipts:

  • On September 2, 2020, the Trump administration notified public health officials that they should prepare for vaccine distribution as early as late October.
  • This panicked Democrats, who based their entire campaign on Trump’s ineffective response to covid. They feared that a big success in Operation Warp Speed would vindicate his response and give him the boost he needed to win re-election. (And, given how the election turned out, it’s nearly certain that it would have.)
  • On September 5 (three days later), Kamala Harris tells the world they should not trust Trump’s vaccine. She makes it explicitly political, saying “he’s looking at an election coming up in less than 60 days, and he’s grasping for whatever he can get to pretend that he has been a leader.” The campaign’s surrogates and the press (but I repeat myself) quickly follow suit. The threat is clear: put this vaccine out before the election, and we will destroy it.
  • On September 8 (three days after that), vaccine makers issue a pledge to put science first and to release only a safe vaccine. (Basically, pledging to do just what they’re already doing.) This fails to settle the furor, because the matter isn’t actually about safety; it’s about there being no announcement before election day.
  • On September 25, several “leading researchers and bioethicists” send an open letter to Pfizer, urging them to delay their vaccine. If you look up the signers, they are all Democrat donors. (Full disclosure: I only bothered to look up the first ten names.)
  • On October 9 the FDA alters its standard for how many positive cases the vaccine’s testers must see before they open their results. “This guidance ensures that no COVID-19 vaccine is likely to be approved before the US presidential election.” (The linked article doesn’t give much detail on the new standard, but we’ll come to that.)

    ASIDE: A lot of Republicans have given the FDA a lot of grief over this decision, but I don’t actually think it was wrong, given the Democratic extortion. If we want to get to herd immunity, it is essential that Americans trust the vaccine enough to get it. Far too many people distrust vaccines already, and we cannot afford to lose the rest of the left half of the country. That is exactly what the Biden campaign and its surrogates were not-very-subtly threatening to bring about.
  • On November 9 (less than a week after election day), Pfizer announces its results, and they are astonishingly good. Also in the press release, Pfizer mentioned the FDA’s moving targets. The issue was the number of positive covid cases they needed to see in testing before they could break the seal on their results and see what proportion of the positive cases were from the study’s placebo arm. (Almost all of them, it turned out.) More positive cases means less likelihood that good results were just random chance.
  • Originally the number was 32. But after “discussion with the FDA” the vaccine companies “elected” to increase the number from 32 to 62, roughly doubling the length of the test.
  • But in fact, they didn’t open the study at 62 either. By the time they opened it, the number had reached 94. The press release doesn’t say why; it just blandly reports the fact. But we learn why soon enough.

The New York Times ran a very informative story on the vaccines’ development. Among many other interesting details, it contained the smoking gun:

Pfizer decided it should drop that first benchmark [32 positive cases] and asked the F.D.A. to approve a new protocol on Oct. 29, effectively dashing Mr. Trump’s hopes of an announcement before Election Day.

The company also stopped processing test results from trial participants while it worked with the F.D.A. Protocol changes are discouraged once data is available, and Pfizer did not want to cross the benchmark before it got verbal approval to drop it. That approval came on Nov. 3, Election Day, or the day after.

[Emphasis mine.]

Pfizer didn’t look at the results even when the count reached the new benchmark of 62 because the FDA wouldn’t give them permission. The FDA finally gave them permission on election day or the day after. The notion that this was not a political decision defies all credulity.

So what was the consequence of this delay? Just because Trump said there could be a vaccine in October doesn’t mean it’s true. But let’s run the numbers. It took 99 days from the beginning of phase 3 trials (July 27) to get to 94 cases. To get to 32 cases would have taken until about the end of August (the infection rate was pretty flat at the time). A big company doesn’t move on a dime, so let’s give them a week to open the results, so September 5. In the history that actually happened, it took 40 or 41 days to begin vaccinations (December 14) after the results were opened, so in our alternate history vaccinations would have begun around October 16. So it appears that Trump’s estimate of “mid-October” was spot on.

When we started vaccinating in mid-December, it took until the end of January until the death rate was falling convincingly. So let’s call that a month-and-a-half. That means that in our alternate history the death rate is falling convincingly by the end of November. The two worst months of the covid epidemic in America were January 2021 (95 thousand) and December 2020 (65 thousand).

That’s 160 thousand lives lost to covid in December and January. If just two-thirds of those could have been saved (a conservative estimate, given how quickly the death rate was falling at the end of January), that’s over a hundred thousand lives lost as a result of the vaccine delays instigated by the Biden campaign.

WallStreetBets explained

January 28, 2021

TL;DR version: It’s hard not to laugh at a bunch of internet randos taking down hedge funds, but you should try. What’s happening is not good.

Less TL;DR version: When you buy Gamestop (etc.) at the say-so of WallStreetBets, you are giving your money to WallStreetBets’s founders and their friends, in the hope that in so doing you might be hurting some billionaires. As odd as it may sound to non-economists, those billionaires are actually providing a valuable service.

What’s going on:

One of the things you can do in the stock market is sell short, which is a way to bet that a stock’s price will fall. The way it works is you borrow the stock from someone else, and then sell it. This leaves you owning a negative number of shares. If the stock’s price goes up, you lose money, because you have to buy back the shares you owe at a higher price than you sold them at. But if the stock’s price goes down, you make money, because you can buy back in at a lower price.

It turns out that the people doing this are providing a valuable service, and we should be glad they’re doing it. I’ll come back to that later.

Now, the mechanics of how this works are important. The system is designed to prevent the following scenario: I borrow a thousand shares of Amazon and sell them. If the price goes down, I make money and buy a mansion. If the price goes up, I lose a lot of money, declare bankruptcy, and my creditors take the loss. To prevent me from doing this, I can only hold a short position as long as I have sufficient assets (called margin) in my brokerage account to cover my losses. If my losses exceed my margin, the broker demands that I deposit more money. (This is called a margin call.) If I cannot do it right away, the broker liquidates my assets to buy back the stock I borrowed.

Now, when I sell short, often the price doesn’t fall right away, even if I’m right that the stock is overvalued. Other investors might see things differently and keep investing in the stock, driving up the price. I still win, provided I can hold my short position long enough for the fundamentals to win out. But for me to do that, I have to have enough margin to ride out any temporary price increases. That’s why selling short is really only for the very rich. Without a lot of margin, you could be right and still lose because you get wiped out by a margin call before the price falls. The biggest players in this business are hedge funds.

That’s where WallStreetBets, a Reddit group, comes in. What they are doing is urging individuals to buy Gamestop, a surely overvalued stock that hedge funds are betting against. (Actually, they are urging people to buy call options, but that just complicates the story without really changing it.) This results in the price going up. The people who got in early — the founders of WallStreetBets and their friends — make out like a bandit. The people who got in later lose. That’s most of them; it’s a lot like a Ponzi scheme that way.

But the wrinkle here is: the losers don’t care, because they’re only in it to hurt the hedge funds. If they can drive the price high enough, the hedge fund gets wiped out by a margin call.

Now, ordinarily what WallStreetBets is doing would be an illegal pump-and-dump scam. But in this case it might be legal, because they aren’t actually pretending that Gamestop is a good investment. They are completely open about how they’re doing it just for yuks. If they get rich in the process, they’re fine with that.

Anyway, it worked. Melvin Capital was forced to close out its short position in Gamestop, taking a loss that is currently undisclosed but certainly in the billions. Melvin didn’t go under because it was rescued by other hedge funds.

Why it’s bad:

First of all, it’s morally wrong to spend your money purely to hurt someone else, even if that person is a billionaire. But let’s set that aside. Instead, I want to look at the service that hedge funds are doing us.

One of the greatest inventions in human history is the joint stock company. (In the United States today they exist as corporations.) It makes it enormously easier to start a business venture, because one can raise the capital from a lot of different people, each of whom has little risk, rather than all of it from a small number of very wealthy persons, all of whom are betting their fortune. It is one of the main reasons we have the bustling economy we have today.

But in order for the economy to allocate resources efficiently, we need stock prices to reflect companies’ true value. If Gamestop is over-valued, resources go into maintaining or even expanding Gamestop’s operations, when those resources ought to be going elsewhere. Inefficient resource use hurts our economy, which ultimately hurts employment and wages.

Stock prices are determined by investors, and, yes, speculators. If I see that a stock is underpriced, I buy it. If enough people see it the same way, the price goes up. The increase in the value of my investment is the payment I get for risking my money to assist the efficient functioning of capital markets.

The other direction is not as easy. If I see that a stock is overpriced, I can sell it, provided I already own it. But if I don’t already own it, how can I turn a profit on the research I did that determined it was overpriced? By short selling. Again, if enough people see it the way way, the price goes down. The increase in the value of my negative investment is my payment.

But there’s an important asymmetry between long and short positions. With a long position (buying stock), the most I can lose is 100% of my investment, because the price cannot fall below zero. With a short position, my potential losses are unlimited, because there’s no cap on how high the price can go. Thus, selling short is extremely risky. It is only going to be practiced by people who can afford to lose a lot of money.

What WallStreetBets is doing is making short selling much, much riskier. You no longer have to worry only about good-faith investors and speculators, but about vandals who are willing to throw money away just to hurt you.

You don’t care about the poor billionaires? I get it. But what you should care about the health of our economy. One of the things a healthy economy relies on is (mostly) efficient capital markets. And the way we get efficient capital markets is people (yes, mostly rich people) betting their own money whenever they see an inefficiency. If short selling goes away because it’s too dangerous, that ultimately hurts all of us.

In the short term there’s another serious risk. Even if short selling is too risky now, hedge funds have a lot of short positions already. They can’t just close them out, because doing so would just be preemptively taking the damage that WallStreetBets wants to do to them. If a lot of hedge funds start failing, that could spark another financial crisis. We saw how well the last one went, and this time the economy is already reeling from the covid lockdowns.

Vote for the jerk; it’s important

October 12, 2020

I was “never Trump” in 2016. Trump seemed to know hardly anything, least of all what it means to be a conservative. As Brit Hume put it, he put less preparation into running for president than most people put into buying a sofa. The things he said sounded very much like a bizarre liberal parody of conservatism, as if he learned what it means to be a conservative from reading the New York Times. (I still suspect this is the truth.)

I was convinced that if he won, he would be a national embarrassment and do a terrible job. I was half right. My aim here is to discuss Trump’s record issue-by-issue, and make the case that he deserves re-election.

Character: We’ll start with the bad one. Yes, he is a boor and a national embarrassment. The tweets are awful. I cringe every time he opens his mouth. His personal conduct is deplorable. It is true that Joe Biden is also a bad guy (indeed, the only decent human among the four candidates is Mike Pence), but probably not to the same degree. In any case, Biden at least pretends, while Trump seems to relish his outrageous behavior. Nevertheless, this is just one issue, and there are much weightier matters at stake.

The courts: He has appointed great judges who respect the Constitution, and they have been sorely needed. I doubt that he has had much involvement in the process, but who cares? Biden, if elected, will attempt to stack the Supreme Court, not only putting progressive activists onto the court, but destroying the respectability of the court as an institution.

ISIS: It’s easy to forget this since it was so early in his administration. Under Obama’s neglect, ISIS grew for years. At its worst, it was striking targets in the US. On coming into office, Trump destroyed ISIS in a matter of months, with zero US casualties.

The economy: Before covid lockdowns brought the economy to its knees, we had arguably the strongest economy in US history. We had indisputably the best economy for minorities in US history. Deregulation and tax reform had a lot to do with that. When we finally get to rebuild our economy post-covid, they will work again.

Covid: Yes, there were missteps. But Trump got the two most important things right. First, he focused on getting a vaccine developed and deployed, quickly and safely. We will see if he succeeded soon, but indications are good. (Alas, hopes that a vaccine might be ready before the election were recently dashed by a politically motivated rule change by the FDA to slow emergency authorizations.) Second, and more importantly, he kept the federal government in its lane. Under our Constitution, it’s the states’ role to take the lead, and the federal governments role to assist. It’s extremely clear that any Democrat (and probably most Republicans) would have jumped at the opportunity to seize power that does not belong to the federal government. Indeed, Joe Biden promises to do exactly that on his first day in office. Some day covid will be a painful memory, but the powers seized today will never be relinquished.

Much has been made of how Trump “downplayed” the virus, but he wasn’t wrong to keep covid in perspective:
Monthly deaths per million since 1900

(Chart made by VoidSurf.)

Law and order: Trump has taken steps, within the limits imposed by our federal system, to restore order to our cities. On the other hand, Democrats have sought to extend the riots. They have consistently dropped charges against rioters arrested by the police. Kamala Harris personally raised money to bail rioters out jail. They have tied the hands of police, and in some cases have even sought to defund the police. With their allies in the press, they have pushed the absurd narrative that the riots are “mostly peaceful.” As a result, crime is soaring.

Biden has been unable to condemn any of this with any clarity. He says that Antifa is “just an idea.” And he has made remarks that seem to support redirecting police funding to social services, although the media has made great efforts to clean up the remarks.

Embassy in Israel: Bill Clinton and George W. Bush promised to move our embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, but they both broke that promise. Since 1995, presidents have been signing a waiver every six months delaying the legally required embassy move. Trump finally kept the promise. The foreign policy elite predicted that doing so would result in widespread violence from the “Arab street.” In fact, quite the opposite happened.

The Abraham Accords: The treaty normalizing relations between Israel and the UAE and Bahrain is the first real step toward middle east peace in many years. The importance is not so much the agreement itself, since there was already peace between Israel and the UAE and Bahrain, but the signal it sends that the other Arab nations are no longer willing to put up with the nonsense of the factions ruling the Palestinians. If the Palestinians continue their intransigence, the other Arabs will go ahead without them and they will be isolated.

Of course, the UAE and Bahrain are not big players. The real promise is Saudi Arabia. The Saudis haven’t joined yet, but Bahrain (closely aligned with Saudi Arabia) joining is a signal that the Saudis are considering it. The Saudis agreeing to allow overflights is another important sign. And the public statements of Prince Bandar are yet another. If Trump is re-elected, there is a good chance the Saudis will join. But the Democrats don’t support the Accords. If Biden is elected, I doubt he will actually repudiate the Accords, but they will be dead as an agenda. No energy will be put into extending them.

Due process: In April 2011, the Obama administration issued its infamous “dear colleague” letter, which ordered colleges to deny due process to any students accused of sexual assault. The Obama administration bypassed the usual process of regulatory rule-making, and was unable to give any convincing legal justification for its order. Most colleges complied anyway, and for years students were denied due process. Horror stories abound. Fixing the problem has been one of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s priorities. Moreover, she fixed it properly, going through the normal rule-making process. Unfortunately, that takes time and they way the timing has worked out, a Biden administration might be able to reverse the process, returning us to kangaroo courts in which accused students are unable to defend themselves, or even be told what they are accused of.

Iran: Weakness invites aggression. Iran violated international law when it captured 10 Navy sailors who had wandered into Iranian waters due to a navigational error, and its outrageous, illegal treatment of those sailor upon capturing them was even worse. The Obama administration meekly thanked Iran for treating our sailors well (!). In negotiating his nuclear deal with Iran, Obama made it clear from the outset that he had to have a deal, no matter what, and Iran responded in exactly the manner one would expect. Obama got his deal, an unenforceable promise not to develop nuclear weapons for a while, and in exchange we were taken to the cleaners. In addition to accepting the abduction of our sailors, Obama spiked an investigation into Hezbollah trafficking drugs into Europe and the United States, lifted sanctions on Iran, allowed Iran to import sensitive equipment, and, most astonishingly, shipped Iran almost $2 billion in cash. (The claims that we owed them the money are untrue. Indeed, the payment was illegal: a law signed in 2000 by Bill Clinton prohibited it.)

Much of the damage could not be undone; certainly Trump could not claw back the money. But Trump has stopped presenting weakness, and has begun the process of reestablishing sanctions. Trump approved the killing of Iran’s terror mastermind Qasem Soleimani, who had boldly crossed the border into Iraq to organize attacks against our allies. The Democrats flipped out at this, saying that it would certainly lead to war. Of course, nothing like that happened. On the contrary, with an indispensable terror leader removed, things have been much quieter. Trump has also offered moral support for Iranian dissidents, which Obama pointedly refused to do.

Huawei: The Trump administration led the effort to have Chinese chips banned from use in 5G networks because of security concerns. That effort has been successful with several of our closest allies, including the UK, Australia, and Japan.

The environment: Trump will not ban fracking or push the “green new deal”, both of which Biden and Harris have both pledged to do. Fracking has finally made us energy independent, and in fact has helped the environment greatly, by making it possible to move industry from coal to natural gas. The “green new deal” is communism painted green. It would be an utter catastrophe to everyone except the nomenklatura that it would empower.

Nonsense: No, Trump didn’t call white supremacists “very fine people.” He has condemned white supremacists, neo-Nazis and the KKK many times. He didn’t say covid was a hoax. He didn’t say that Mexicans are all murderers and rapists. He didn’t say immigrants are animals. And on and on. Certainly he has said some awful things, but the quotes that seem most appalling are misconstrued beyond all recognition.

Donald Trump is not senile. Joe Biden is.

Fact-check abolition

July 21, 2020

Today’s media has endless energy to fact-check Donald Trump (including fact-checking opinions, predictions, and literally true but arguably misleading statements), and the Atlantic is no exception. But it’s different when it comes to their own pages.

Two weeks ago the Atlantic ran an article in favor of “police abolition.” Central to the piece was a harrowing anecdote: when the author was 12 years old, she witnessed a police officer shoot a child at a local community center and faced no consequences for it.

Well, the Federalist did what the Atlantic would not; they fact-checked the piece, and found that nothing like it every happened. It’s impressive work; the community center wasn’t named in the piece, so they had to deduce it from hints in the piece, which was made more difficult by various minor errors (e.g., the age of the author, and which highway was nearby). They narrowed it down to two candidates. Interviews and a public record search found no evidence that any such incident had ever taken place.

The Atlantic refused to comment, but belated looked at the piece and has now admitted that the incident was not as described. The shooter was a security guard, not a police officer; the victim was an adult, not a child; and the guard was prosecuted for the incident. (They have not corrected their description of the 18-year-old victim as a “boy.”)

The Atlantic has edited the piece, adding an end note noting the correction. They don’t seem to have noticed that the correction eviscerates the piece. The author’s thesis is that we should abolish the police, and replace them with something else. (Exactly what we should replace them with, they never quite say.) Well here you have what they say they want: the law enforced by a city employee who is not police. The non-police officer didn’t have the professionalism of a police officer, and shot his (adult) cousin in a quarrel. The non-police officer apparently didn’t face consequences from his non-police department, and only faced consequences when the actual police became involved.

The author is unrepentant, cheekily tweeting:

I was not 12. I was 13. The shooter was a uniformed private guard with a badge and gun. When we say abolish the police, that includes private police, too. thank you for reading <3.

(Her tweets are now protected. I got the text of the tweet from the Federalist.)

That is just silly. People are not going to go unprotected. If you abolish the police, you will get more private police. You cannot disclaim the predictable consequences of your policies.

Wanted: one moral compass

February 24, 2018

(This is more stream-of-consciousness than my usual essay. Sorry about that.)

The facts

We now know many things about the February 14 mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida. We know that a former student (I won’t be using his name) who had been expelled from the school, went in with a rifle and murdered 17 students.

We know that the shooter talked about shooting up a school all the time. He would introduce himself saying “Hi, I’m Nick. I’m a school shooter.” After another mass shooting he bragged “Man I can do so much better.” And we know that his threats were relayed to local police and the FBI on numerous occasions, but no action was taken. Some of the warnings were quite explicit. We know that the police were called to the shooter’s home on numerous occasions, but, as far as we know, no action was taken. (CNN has reported that this happened on 39 occasions, but the Broward Country sheriff’s office says it was only 23 times.)

We know that the sheriff’s office had a deputy stationed at the school. The deputy, Scot Peterson, ran to the building where he heard the shooting, and then waited outside while the shooting continued. The Broward County sheriff, Scott Israel, offered Peterson up as a sacrificial lamb, but the problem went beyond Peterson.

We know that, in addition to Peterson, three other Broward County sheriff’s deputies responded to the school. None of them went in. All four waited outside, taking cover behind their cars. (Sheriff Israel had previously claimed otherwise, but that turned out not to be true.) Nor did they even prevent the shooter from escaping. They might as well not even have shown up at all.

The first officers to enter the building were police from a neighboring municipality, Coral Springs, who responded even though the school was out of their jurisdiction. They reportedly were disgusted with the Broward County deputies cowering outside. But it appears that by that time, the shooter had already escaped. He was eventually captured by an alert police officer in another municipality.

We also know that a Sheriff Israel had a reputation for hiring political cronies to staff his force, and liked to reply to critics by saying “lions don’t care about the opinions of sheep.” And we know that the same Deputy Peterson had earlier refused to share information about a previous incident involving the shooter with the Florida Department of Children and Families. The reason he would refuse to cooperate with them has not been revealed, but it must be.

The rant

With all these facts known, who do the left/media blame for the massacre? The shooter himself? The FBI or various local police who ignored the warnings? The deputies who cowered outside the school, or the political sheriff who was responsible for their recruiting and training?

Of course not. The true culprit was the NRA.

The NRA, who had nothing whatsoever to do with it, that’s who the leftists and the media (but I repeat myself) think are to blame.

What in the hell is wrong with these people?

While they blame the NRA, they make excuses for the cowardly deputies. A guy with a rifle is just too scary, you can’t expect them to take him on. For example, an editor at the Los Angeles Times wrote “not every has, or should be expected to have, the guts to face a maniac with an AR-15.” It was their job!

ASIDE: While they excuse the useless cops and blame the NRA, let’s not forget the barefoot, civilian plumber from Sutherland Springs who engaged a shooter who was armed with a rifle and wearing body armor. That man was an NRA instructor.

But the worst take on the cowardly cops was from CNN’s Chris Cillizza, who wrote:

What happened in Parkland is proof that a good guy with a gun doesn’t always stop a bad guy with a gun

(CNBC’s John Harwood made the same point.) Clearly Cillizza and Harwood don’t actually understand the “good guy with a gun argument” so let me spell it out: If there is a bad guy with a gun, you want there also to be a good guy with a gun to stop him. The police can’t always be there, so citizens should be armed. The cowardly deputies are a confirmation of the the argument, not a refutation. Even if the cops are there, they might not do anything.

A related idiocy was from MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell, who said it is useless for a handgun wielder to confront a AR-15 wielder, since AR-15 bullets travel faster. I guess a man armed with a laser will be invincible.

To go along with the idiocy were the outright lies. Everytown for Gun Safety — the deceptively-named gun-control advocacy group funded by billionaire Mike Bloomberg — claimed that there have been 18 school shootings so far in 2018. This isn’t remotely true. (To come up with this number, they have to count nonsense like a window being shot out by a bb gun.) Many media outlets pointed out this it wasn’t true, but not all. The always-execrable New York Daily News cited it without reservation. So did Jeff Greenfield, a long-time political analyst for various networks. (He later deleted the tweet.) Various politicians including Bernie Sanders and Bill DeBlasio cited it as well. ABC couldn’t pass it up either, but did point in the 4th paragraph that it was disputed. Finally, in CNN’s town hall they took a question that cited the bogus statistic; the event’s moderator, Jake Tapper, didn’t point out that it was false, nor did he give anyone else a chance to do so.

The CNN town hall brings me to the main point of this rant, the shameless politicization of this crime. The gun-control movement is clearly frustrated that mass shootings have failed to move to move public opinion on gun control. The reason for this is they have never rebutted the common-sense logic: If guns are made illegal, only criminals will have guns. There are other important arguments for gun-rights as well, but that one suffices.

The only way they can get their gun bans is to have them enacted when the public is emotional, and not thinking rationally. That is why they always bristle at the suggestion that we should wait to consider gun-control measures until we can do so with a clear head.

But even so, it hasn’t been working. Worse — from the anti-gun perspective, but also from the sensible perspective — we are getting accustomed to mass shootings, so they don’t create the same level of emotion as they used to. Something must be done to increase the emotional temperature.

Hence, the Parkland kids. To be clear, I don’t blame the kids. Being from Broward Country, they have surely be taught to view the world from a liberal perspective, and they survived a horribly traumatic experience. Their feelings are genuine. But making those kids the face of the gun-control movement is shameless emotional blackmail of the crassest sort.

They tell us — with a straight face — that these kids have a special wisdom we have to listen to. No. They are children. There is a reason that juvenile and sophomoric are synonyms. And this especially applies to high schoolers, who tend to think they know everything, when in fact they know very little. And everyone knows it. Yes, the bull curve is wide, and some children are wise, but you identify those special children by their wisdom. To assume they are wise simply because they are children is simply insane.

As I said, everyone knows this. Including the people who are pretending that these kids are Charles Wallace Murray because the kids are speaking from the worldview with which they were indoctrinated.

The game plan is clear: Put forward the kids. Some internet crazies will attack them. You publicize the crazies and the public recoils in horror. Then, you tar anyone who disagrees with the kids as the same as the crazies. That is, exactly this: You start with crazies like Alex Jones, and then sliiiiide into Ben Shapiro, The Federalist, and National Review. By the end, you’re supposed to condemn supposedly outrageous statements like:

If you have ever been, or known, a teenager, you know that even comparatively well-informed teens are almost always just advancing arguments they’ve heard from adults.

In case that seems nothing more than common sense, then comes the emotional punch: “Even, it seems, teens who have recently been shot at by a mass murderer.” You aren’t supposed to notice that this is a complete non sequitur.

Then there’s this:

Another approach was to find individual survivors of this massacre who did not happen to support the call from a large number of their classmates for gun control. The Daily Wire managed to find a pro-gun Marjory Stoneman student who accused the media of “politicizing” the massacre to talk about gun control.

Wait a second, you’re not supposed to have your own kids rebut ours! See, it’s not all the kids who have special wisdom, just the ones who agree with us!

That brings us to CNN’s travesty of a town hall. You can find a transcript here, but the transcript with its “(BOOING)” and “(APPLAUSE)” doesn’t capture the sense of the event. It resembled nothing more than one of Red China’s struggle sessions in which an audience would watch and jeer while the party abused a victim until he confessed his crimes against the people.

It was obviously a set-up from the beginning. The host, Jake Tapper, used to be the spokesman for Handgun Control, Inc. — not that CNN disclosed that fact — where he was known for insights such as this:

[Charleton Heston’s] interpretation of the 2nd Amendment is unique to him and his organization and has never been upheld in court.

(That was before Heller v. DC, so the latter part was true at the time, but only a true ideologue would try to claim that it is unique to the NRA to believe that the Second Amendment protects gun rights.)

The questions were all approved in advance. (Despite the he-said/she-said about the correspondence between the producers and possible participants, this point is not in dispute.) And this was the sort of insightful question they approved:

Senator Rubio, it’s hard to look Senator Rubio, it’s hard to look at you and not look down a barrel of an AR-15 and not look at Nicholas Cruz, but the point is you’re here and there some people who are not.


So, I had a question for Ms. Loesch but she’s not here yet. So for her and the NRA — she’s probably watching — and all of you puppet politicians that they are backing. Was the blood of my classmates and my teachers worth your blood money?

The government failed them at every level, but a civil-rights organization with no involvement whatsoever, one that wants to give your teachers the means to defend you, they are the ones with blood on their hands!

Rubio and Loesch were courageous going in there, and generally acquitted themselves pretty well. Rubio orchestrated this revealing moment:

RUBIO: … Now on the issue that you’ve raised about the background checks, relate directly to what you said about the — about the assault weapons ban. It’s not the loopholes. It’s the problem that once you start looking at how easy it is to get around it, you would literally have to ban every semi-automatic rifle that’s sold in the U.S.

(APPLAUSE) [this is an understatement]

RUBIO: Fair enough. Fair enough, that — that is a valid position to hold, but my colleagues do not support banning every semi-automatic rifle sold in America.

This is how far out of the mainstream the audience CNN assembled was. It’s not about “assault weapons,” it’s about banning every semi-automatic rifle in America.

Bottom line

Rant over. Let me wrap up with the bottom line. We are not going to ban guns in America. It isn’t going to happen. You are welcome to try; if you want to try, go ahead and get started.

But if not, please stop wasting our time with these proposals that sound superficially reasonable, but are extremely broad or nonsensical when you look at them closely. Stop telling us you want to ban assault weapons, when you actually want to ban all semi-automatic weapons. Stop saying you want to expand background checks, when your policy would actually make it illegal to fire any gun you don’t personally own. Stop saying you want to want to keep terrorists from buying guns, when your policy would actually give bureaucrats the power to block anyone from buying a gun without any probable cause at all. Stop saying you want to ban bump stocks, when a rubber band can serve as a bump stock

If you’re going to try to ban all guns, let’s get started on that fight. But if not, can we please try to do something about the problem? Something that could actually be enacted?

I’ve been told that I’m immoral because I don’t care if children die. This is offensive. Because I disagree about your preferred policy response does not mean I don’t care about the problem. I could just as well say that gun-control advocates don’t care about our children because they want to lock them into “gun-free” hunting preserves for psychos. But that would be unfair.

If we’re going to keep this on a partisan basis, then I’ll be pushing to end gun-free zones. They are idiotic, and history shows that mass shooters seek them out.

But there’s an alternative. We could look for other ways to address the problem that don’t involve expanding or restricting gun rights. We could look for a consensus approach. Personally, I think it would help enormously if we placed public pressure on the media to stop making mass murderers into celebrities. I’m sure there are other things we could try too.

Alas, that’s not what I’m seeing. When I tried to start such a dialogue among by Facebook friends, I had only one person join in.  For the rest, I gather it’s gun control or nothing. And that strikes me as lamentable.

The denouncements

August 16, 2017

I was away from internet during the Charlotteville fiasco and aftermath, and I returned to find my Facebook feed filled with demands for denouncements. I don’t like to take orders, but in this case I’m game. So without further ado, the denouncements:

  1. To the white supremacists: Your ideology is repellent and you have no place in a civilized society. Moreover, you have no grasp of history. America is not the product of “white people.” It is the culmination of ideas that come down to us originally from the Jews and the Greeks, two peoples you hate. Among those who have tried to destroy America and the principles she is based on are the Confederates and the Nazis, two groups you love. We tolerate your presence in this country, not because we have any affinity for your racism, but because our own ideology demands that we tolerate even those we find repellent. Your aim of sparking a race war in America will never succeed.
  2. To Antifa and the other communist thugs: You represent the only ideology in the world with more blood on its hands than the white supremacists. I would say you’re not helping, but we both know you’re not trying to help. The only difference between you and the white supremacists is which collectivist tyranny you want to install after tearing down the republic.
  3. To Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe: I’m sure it seemed really clever to let the thugs fight it out in your streets and then exploit the carnage for political benefit. Now an innocent woman is dead. You should have done your job and directed the state police to maintain order. Don’t tell us the state police were outgunned. We know that’s a lie.
  4. To all the people who advocate political violence, against white supremacists or whomever: Your stance doesn’t mean you hate Nazis more. It means you are a bad American. In this country, we resolve our differences through legal and political processes, not through violence. Plus, you’re an idiot. If our republic breaks down because violence has replaced politics, do you think that will help your cause? Not bloody likely. I’m not just talking here to the Washington Post and to David Harbour. I’m talking to every person who has told me that it’s okay to punch neo-Nazis, imagining that saying so makes them a better person. I hope you see now where that road leads.
  5. To the media/Democrats: You share a common aim with the white supremacists. You both want the public to think that there are a lot of white supremacists, when in fact they are a tiny fringe movement. They think it will help them grow their disgusting movement; you think the backlash will push people to vote Democratic. I would have hoped that 2016 would have taught you the risks of trying to play angles. You wanted an easy win for Democrats, but instead you got Trump. Just tell the story straight. When Richard Spencer gives a speech, there are more press there than Nazis. It’s okay to ignore him.
  6. To Donald Trump: Please get better at your job. When evil people endorse you, you disclaim them immediately, even when there are other evil people out there. This isn’t hard.

The tragedy of Venezuela

August 2, 2017

Dedicated to all the socialists who have defended Chavism (some on this very site):

Venezuela had been a rising nation, buoyed by the world’s largest oil reserves, but by the time I arrived, even high global oil prices couldn’t keep shortages and rapid inflation at bay. . .

Over the course of three years, I said good-bye to most of those friends, as well as regular long-distance phone service and six international airline carriers. I got used to carrying bricks of rapidly devaluing cash in tote bags to pay for meals. We still drove to the beach, but began hurrying back early to get off the highway before bandits came out. Stoplights became purely ornamental because of the risk of carjackings.

There was no war or natural disaster. Just ruinous mismanagement that turned the collapse of prices for the country’s oil in 2015 into a national catastrophe.

POSTSCRIPT: I do have to point out that she contradicts herself between the first and last line. The fall in oil prices hastened Venezuela’s collapse, but it wasn’t the cause, as she recognizes in the first line. Today, the price of oil hardly matters, as Venezuela is mostly incapable of producing oil any more.

A misleading fact-check

September 30, 2016

The reason “fact checking” has become such a joke is the the supposed fact-checkers can’t seem to limit themselves to checking the facts. They also want to check that the facts give the right impression. This is natural for leftist journalists, I suppose, since the actual facts give an impression that they don’t want.

This has led the fact checkers to such absurdities as Politifact grading an objectively true statement — crime is rising — as “pants on fire,” their lowest possible rating. Murders rose by 10.8% in 2015 and other violent crime increased as well, but Politifact said that “crime is rising” is not only false, but actually absurd. Their justification is that, although crime rose in 2015 (and probably 2016), it is to soon to say that the long-term downward trend is over. This true fact gives (what they view as) a false impression, so they call it false.

Another problem with grading impressions rather than the underlying facts, is they aren’t able to do it consistently. When two politicians made essentially the same statement (the official unemployment rate doesn’t capture real unemployment), they graded one of them (the politician they like) “mostly true” and the other one “pants on fire.”

Once you go down that path, you’re not fact-checking any more, you’re just writing an opinion column. And if you want a leftist opinion column, there are much better ones than Politifact, Glenn Kessler, et al. Still, I think there’s room for a misleading fact-check. By “misleading”, I mean one that grades statements according to whether they are literally true, and doesn’t worry about whether they might lead to false impressions.

So let’s go through the first presidential debate and do exactly that. We’ll limit ourselves to determinate claims of fact, not to opinions. (We won’t assess whether Trump has a winning temperament, or whether Mexican industry is the eighth wonder of the world.) I also won’t grade claims made about private or classified conversations, or about their own state of mind, since there’s no way to know. We will still have to make some judgement calls, since some claims are ambiguous. Our rule will be that ambiguities are construed in favor of the speaker (even when I don’t think that’s what he/she really meant). Statements that too ambiguous to construe as concrete claims, I will simply omit.

I’ll put the statement (drawn from the Washington Post’s debate transcript) in bold, and my evaluation in plain typeface.

TRUMP: [China is] devaluing their currency. True. +1 Trump.

TRUMP: So Ford is leaving. You see that, their small car division leaving.Thousands of jobs leaving Michigan, leaving Ohio. This hasn’t happened yet, but Ford has announced it. +1 Trump.

TRUMP:  All you have to do is take a look at Carrier air conditioning in Indianapolis. They left — fired 1,400 people. They’re going to Mexico. True. +1 Trump.

CLINTON: We are 5 percent of the world’s population. 4.4% is close enough. +1 Clinton.

CLINTON: He started his business with $14 million, borrowed from his father. Actually, it was much more than that. We’ll construe her claim with an implicit “at least”. +1 Clinton.

CLINTON: My father was a small-businessman. . . He printed drapery fabrics on long tables. True. +1 Clinton.

TRUMP: I built [my father’s loan] into a company that’s worth many, many billions of dollars. Impossible to determine with the information he has released.

TRUMP: Let me give you the example of Mexico. They have a VAT tax. We’re on a different system. When we sell into Mexico, there’s a tax. When they sell in — automatic, 16 percent, approximately. This much is true. +1 Trump.

TRUMP: When they [Mexico] sell into us, there’s no tax. Although it is true that the US does not have a federal sales tax or VAT, plenty of states have sales taxes. It’s not true there’s no tax when they sell in America. This would have been literally true if he had said there was no Federal tax, but with his phrasing it’s false. -1 Trump.

TRUMP: We owe $20 trillion. The national debt held by the public is $13.6 trillion. But if you include intragovernmental holdings, it’s $19 trillion, which is close enough. According to our rules, we’ll resolve this ambiguity in favor of the speaker. +1 Trump.

CLINTON: Well, let’s stop for a second and remember where we were eight years ago. . . Nine million people — nine million people lost their jobs. False. By September 2008, we had lost 1.7 million jobs. If you include the rest of 2008, you get to 3.6 million. To get close to 9 million, you have to include the first year of the Obama administration in which 5 million jobs were lost. -1 Clinton.

CLINTON: . . . Five million people lost their homes. False. 862 thousand families lost their homes in 2008. To get to 5 million, you have to include five years of the Obama administration. -1 Clinton.

CLINTON: . . . And $13 trillion in family wealth was wiped out. True. +1 Clinton.

CLINTON: Donald thinks that climate change is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese. . . TRUMP: I did not. I did not. I do not say that. We can’t know what he thinks, but he did say that. +1 Clinton, -1 Trump.

TRUMP: We invested in a solar company, our country. . . They lost plenty of money on that one. Solyndra cost the government between $535 million and $849 million, which satisfies a reasonable interpretation of “plenty of money.” +1 Trump.

TRUMP: Well, [Bill Clinton] approved NAFTA. . . True. +1 Trump.

CLINTON: [During the Clinton administration] Incomes went up for everybody. True. +1 Clinton.

CLINTON: Manufacturing jobs went up also in the 1990s. . . If you construe 1990s to mean the Clinton administration, manufacturing jobs went up slightly. +1 Clinton.

CLINTON: When I was secretary of state, we actually increased American exports globally 30 percent. We increased them to China 50 percent. As long as you’re talking about exports, not net exports, this is plausible. (It’s very sensitive to exactly how you measure and I wasn’t able to produce exactly this number.)  +1 Clinton.

TRUMP: And now you want to approve Trans-Pacific Partnership. You were totally in favor of it. . . CLINTON: Well, that is just not accurate. I was against it once it was finally negotiated and the terms were laid out. . . TRUMP: You called it the gold standard. CLINTON: No. TRUMP: . . . CLINTON: Well, Donald, I know you live in your own reality, but that is not the facts. The facts are — I did say I hoped it would be a good deal. . . Hillary said “This TPP sets the gold standard in trade agreements to open free, transparent, fair trade, the kind of environment that has the rule of law and a level playing field.” She did not say “hoped”. It is true that the deal wasn’t negotiated at that time, so it’s possible she changed her mind once it was, but we’re not grading their private thoughts. +1 Trump, -1 Clinton.

HOLT: Secretary Clinton, you’re calling for a tax increase on the wealthiest Americans. . . And, Mr. Trump, you’re calling for tax cuts for the wealthy. Obviously true. +1 Holt.

TRUMP: But you will learn more about Donald Trump by going down to the federal elections, where I filed a 104-page essentially financial statement of sorts, the forms that they have. It shows income — in fact, the income — I just looked today — the income is filed at $694 million for this past year, $694 million. TL;DR, but that seems to be in the right ballpark for what the document says. +1 Trump.

TRUMP: I’ve been under audit almost for 15 years. This seems impossible to verify or disprove.

CLINTON: We have been told through investigative reporting that [Trump] owes about $650 million to Wall Street and foreign banks. The New York Times did report this. +1 Clinton.

CLINTON: We have an architect in the audience who designed one of your clubhouses at one of your golf courses. It’s a beautiful facility. It immediately was put to use. And you wouldn’t pay what the man needed to be paid, what he was charging you to do. . . The architect exists and alleges what she says. It would be better if she said “alleges”, but we’ll call this true. +1 Clinton.

CLINTON: You even at one time suggested that you would try to negotiate down the national debt of the United States. TRUMP: Wrong. Wrong. This is muddled. Trump gave an interview in which he sounded like he was suggesting that, but during the same interview he gave a plausible clarification. We’ll resolve the ambiguity in favor of the speaker for both of them. +1 Clinton, +1 Trump.

HOLT: Stop-and-frisk was ruled unconstitutional in New York, because it largely singled out black and Hispanic young men. There’s been a lot of talk about this, but Holt is wrong. The Supreme Court has upheld stop-and-frisk, and district judges don’t overrule the Supreme Court. The ruling in question found that stop-and-frisk as applied by New York at the time was unconstitutional. -1 Holt.

TRUMP: No, you’re wrong. It went before a judge, who was a very against-police judge. It was taken away from her. And our mayor, our new mayor, refused to go forward with the case. They would have won an appeal. If you look at it, throughout the country, there are many places where it’s allowed. It’s true that the case was taken away from the judge; it’s true that the mayor refused to appeal; and it’s true it’s still legal in many places. Whether the judge was “very against-police” and what would have happened on appeal are opinion. +1 Trump.

TRUMP: . . . you have 3,000 shootings in Chicago from January 1st . . . True. +1 Trump.

TRUMP: . . . you have 4,000 people killed in Chicago by guns, from the beginning of the presidency of Barack Obama . . . I wasn’t able to find gun deaths specifically, but the number of murders is in the right ballpark for that to be plausible. +1 Trump.

CLINTON: Violent crime is one-half of what it was in 1991. Property crime is down 40 percent. True, crime rates peaked in 1991. +1 Clinton.

CLINTON: If you’re a young African-American man and you do the same thing as a young white man, you are more likely to be arrested, charged, convicted, and incarcerated. I wasn’t able to find a study with precisely this finding (it’s hard to control for “do the same thing”), but with all the studies finding disparities in the criminal justice system, we’ll say this is plausible. +1 Clinton.

TRUMP: In New York City, stop-and-frisk, we had 2,200 murders, and stop-and-frisk brought it down to 500 murders. The cause is opinion (and I don’t agree), but the numbers are accurate. +1 Trump.

CLINTON: Well, it’s also fair to say, if we’re going to talk about mayors, that under the current mayor, crime has continued to drop, including murders. So there is… TRUMP: No, you’re wrong. You’re wrong. CLINTON: No, I’m not. TRUMP: Murders are up. All right. You check it. The year before Bill DeBlasio took office there were 332 murders in New York City. Last year there were 352. That’s not a big increase, but it’s certainly not still falling. -1 Clinton, +1 Trump.

TRUMP (regarding who started birtherism): Sidney Blumenthal works for the campaign and close — very close friend of Secretary Clinton. And her campaign manager, Patti Doyle, went to — during the campaign, her campaign against President Obama, fought very hard. . . And if you look at CNN this past week, Patti Solis Doyle was on Wolf Blitzer saying that this happened. Blumenthal sent McClatchy, highly respected reporter at McClatchy, to Kenya to find out about it. He garbled the heck out of this, but something like this happened. +1 Trump.

TRUMP: When I got involved, I didn’t fail. I got him to give the birth certificate. That much is true. +1 Trump, I guess.

HOLT: The birth certificate was produced in 2011. You’ve continued to tell the story and question the president’s legitimacy in 2012, ’13, ’14, ’15. . . True. +1 Holt.

CLINTON: Donald started his career back in 1973 being sued by the Justice Department for racial discrimination because he would not rent apartments in one of his developments to African-Americans. True, except for it being the start of his career. +1 Clinton.

TRUMP: We settled the suit with zero — with no admission of guilt. True. +1 Trump.

CLINTON: It’s one of the reasons why 50 national security officials who served in Republican information — in administrations . . . have said that Donald is unfit to be the commander- in-chief. It was national security and/or foreign policy officials, but close enough. +1 Clinton.

CLINTON: I was involved in a number of efforts to take out Al Qaida leadership when I was secretary of state, including, of course, taking out bin Laden. Yeah, yeah. +1 Clinton.

CLINTON: Donald supported the invasion of Iraq. TRUMP: Wrong. The claim that Trump supported the invasion of Iraq hinges on this: “Yeah, I guess . . . sooo.” Listen to the recording to get a sense of how unenthusiastic he was. He did say the words, though. On the other hand, he came out against it before it took place. He was never in a position to cast a vote, which would have made his position clear. There’s enough ambiguity here that we’ll give this one to both of them. +1 Clinton, +1 Trump.

CLINTON: He actually advocated for the actions we took in Libya and urged that Gadhafi be taken out. True. +1 Clinton.

CLINTON: George W. Bush made the agreement about when American troops would leave Iraq, not Barack Obama. This is misleading: The way the agreement worked was it needed to be renegotiated periodically. If it was allowed to expire, it contained a clause requiring American withdrawal. But, according to our rules, this is literally true. +1 Clinton.

CLINTON: The only way that American troops could have stayed in Iraq is to get an agreement from the then-Iraqi government that would have protected our troops, and the Iraqi government would not give that. This is unknowable because Obama never tried.

TRUMP: I read on the front page of the Wall Street Journal that NATO is opening up a major terror division. True. +1 Trump.

TRUMP: We pay approximately 73 percent of the cost of NATO. True, in the sense of being responsible for 73% of all defense spending by NATO partners. +1 Trump.

HOLT: Mr. Trump, a lot of these are judgment questions. You had supported the war in Iraq before the invasion. . . TRUMP: I did not support the war in Iraq. [More of the same.] As above, except that Holt is a little more careful (“had supported . . . before the invasion”) than Hillary. +1 Holt, +1 Trump.

CLINTON: You know, NATO as a military alliance has something called Article 5, and basically it says this: An attack on one is an attack on all. And you know the only time it’s ever been invoked? After 9/11, when the 28 nations of NATO said that they would go to Afghanistan with us to fight terrorism, something that they still are doing by our side. True. +1 Clinton.

CLINTON: [Trump] said, you know, if [Iran] taunted our sailors, I’d blow them out of the water and start another war. He didn’t say start a war, but if we read that part as her commentary, not as part of the quote, this is true. +1 Clinton.

CLINTON: [Trump] has said repeatedly that he didn’t care if other nations got nuclear weapons, Japan, South Korea, even Saudi Arabia. I don’t know about repeatedly, but he has said this. +1 Clinton.

TRUMP:  Just to go down the list, we defend Japan, we defend Germany, we defend South Korea, we defend Saudi Arabia, we defend countries. They do not pay us. False. Japan and South Korea pay us. -1 Trump.

TRUMP (regarding the Iran deal): One of the great giveaways of all time, of all time, including $400 million in cash. Nobody’s ever seen that before. That turned out to be wrong. It was actually $1.7 billion in cash. True. +1 Trump.

HOLT: Earlier this month, you said [Hillary] doesn’t have, quote, “a presidential look.” True. +1 Holt.

CLINTON: [Trump] is a man who has called women pigs, slobs and dogs. True. +1 Clinton.

CLINTON: [Trump is] someone who has said pregnancy is an inconvenience to employers. TRUMP: I never said that. He said it. +1 Clinton, -1 Trump.

CLINTON: [Trump said] women don’t deserve equal pay unless they do as good a job as men. TRUMP: I didn’t say that. (I have to interject here: why on earth is this a controversial proposition? Of course people don’t deserve equal pay if they don’t do as good a job!) What Trump said was, “You’re gonna make the same if you do as good a job.” Hillary is committing a logical fallacy, going from “P implies Q” to “not P implies not Q.” -1 Clinton. (I’m not giving +1 Trump, because when you listen, I think he is still replying to Clinton’s previous statement.)

CLINTON: And one of the worst things [Trump] said was about a woman in a beauty contest. He loves beauty contests, supporting them and hanging around them. And he called this woman “Miss Piggy.” Then he called her “Miss Housekeeping,” because she was Latina. . . Her name is Alicia Machado. The Trump camp has tried to rebut this with Machado’s very checkered past (allegations of murder, death threats, links to organized crime), but he did say those things. +1 Clinton.

TRUMP: She spent hundreds of millions of dollars on negative ads on me, many of which are absolutely untrue. It’s certainly true that she’s spent millions on attack ads. Whether they were untrue is beyond the scope of this fact-check. + 1 Trump.

TRUMP: I’m either winning or tied, and I’ve spent practically nothing. True. +1 Trump.

HOLT: One of you will not win this election. Preferably both. +1 Holt.

TRUMP: The other day, we were deporting 800 people. And perhaps they passed the wrong button, they pressed the wrong button, or perhaps worse than that, it was corruption, but these people that we were going to deport for good reason ended up becoming citizens. Ended up becoming citizens. And it was 800. And now it turns out it might be 1,800, and they don’t even know. True. +1 Trump.

Tallying up the score, we have Trump +25/-4, Clinton +25/-5, Holt +5/-1. So all three participants were almost exactly as accurate, when it comes to verifiable claims of fact. This is not to deny that an awful lot of nonsense was peddled on that stage, but when it comes to verifiable claims of fact, both candidates were correct by a ratio of about 5:1 or 6:1.

Is 5:1 or 6:1 good enough? If we look at it as a test of remembering facts, that’s probably a B. On the other hand, if we assume they both have very good memories, and it’s a test of honesty, then 5:1 or 6:1 is terrible.

Fact-checking is hard, I guess

September 18, 2015

In the most recent GOP debate, Carly Fiorina had strong words for abortion-supporting Democrats in light of the Center for Medical Progress’s expose on Planned Parenthood’s horrifying practices:

As regards Planned Parenthood, anyone who has watched this videotape, I dare Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama to watch these tapes. Watch a fully formed fetus on the table, its heart beating, its legs kicking while someone says we have to keep it alive to harvest its brain.

The left went ballistic, claiming that no such video exists. Uber-feminist Amanda Marcotte, for example:

There is nothing in the videos made by CMP, either in the edited or full-length versions, that has anything approaching images of legs kicking or hearts beating. . .

and again:

Many people have [watched the videos] and continue to be pro-choice anyway—and not just because they missed the part with the legs kicking (which doesn’t exist!).

(Emphasis mine.) Clearly Amanda Marcotte is not one of those people, since the leg-kicking part does indeed exist. It is horrifying.

Glenn Kessler, who writes a fact-checking column for the Washington Post, and who usually seems to be trying to be somewhat fair, is more connected with reality, but nevertheless starts with the snark:

Fiorina might have trouble finding this video to show to Clinton. No video has surfaced showing the scene Fiorina describes taking place inside a Planned Parenthood facility.

What he’s getting at here is not that the video doesn’t exist (it does, of course), but he is nit-picking Fiorina’s description. The fetus pictured with legs kicking is not actually the same one from which the former procurement technician being interviewed in the video was ordered to harvest the brain. It’s an illustration using stock footage (properly noted as such on screen), which of course is standard practice for any news organization unable to obtain pictures or video of an actual event.

So yes, CMP was not able to obtain footage of the vivisection. (Or, if they did, they haven’t released it yet.), However, they did get people to admit to extracting brains from live fetuses exactly like that one.

Others have claimed that the fetus wasn’t from an abortion, that it was stillborn. This is stupid, since the fetus was moving and thus obviously not stillborn. More plausibly, they claim that the fetus might be from a miscarriage. Not so, says the organization that obtained the footage:

The video clip we provided to CMP depicted an intact delivery abortion. It was filmed at an abortion clinic. It was not a miscarriage. Mothers don’t go to abortion clinics to miscarry. Had this case been a miscarriage, the mother would have presented at a hospital and her baby would have been rushed to an Isolette for appropriate neonatal care — not abandoned to writhe and eventually expire in a cold, stainless steel specimen vessel. As regards the organizational affiliation of the abortion facility in which this termination was performed, our access agreements forbid the disclosure of any information which might tend to identify the relevant clinics or personnel with whom we work. Preserving confidentiality is vital to future clinic access. I can, however, assure you that the footage in question is not anomalous. It is representative of the frequent outcomes of many late term intact delivery terminations performed at clinics of all organizational affiliations.

In short, Planned Parenthood extracts brains from live babies, and sells them. There is a video about it. That video is very disturbing. Carly Fiorina challenges abortion-supporting Democrats to watch it. However, it does not contain video of any actual vivisection; it merely contains people talking about performing vivisections — some cheerfully, and others in horror.

Also, it’s not a “tape”. No one uses video tape any more. Gotcha, Carly!

Chutzpah, thy name is Hillary!

September 4, 2015

Okay, first let’s be clear (again) that Obergefell is the law of the land. (Okay, literally it’s controlling Supreme Court precedent, but let’s not split hairs.) Government officials have no right to deny citizens any service (including marriage licenses) to which the law entitles them. Kim Davis, the (Democratic) clerk jailed by a (Republican) judge for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, is in the wrong.

Now, let’s marvel at the astonishing hypocrisy shamelessly exhibited by our Democratic front-runner, Hillary Clinton:

I guess she was out of characters, and simply didn’t have room to add the important conclusion:

But just this one time only.

I mean, where could Kim Davis have possibly gotten the idea that Democratic elected officials can ignore the law?

Could it be from Democratic officials in DC and Chicago who — in a very parallel situation — refuse to issue firearms permits despite a Supreme Court decision ordering them to do so? Could it be from Democratic officials in California who violated California law to issue marriage licenses before the court cleared them to do so? Could is be from a Democratic president who decided simply to ignore immigration law, or who many times has ignored the text of his own health “reform” law, or who decided that the Constitutional requirement to obtain Senate approval for treaties is obsolete? Could it be from a Democratic administration that ignored a court injunction against its immigration policy? Could it be from a Democrat-run IRS that illegally targeted conservatives for negative treatment, and illegally shared confidential filings with progressive activists, and which destroyed the relevant records once their misconduct came to light? Could it be from a Democrat-run ATF that shipped weapons to Mexican drug cartels, and never gave a plausible explanation why? Could it be from a Democratic Secretary of State who, in violation of public records laws, maintained a private email server, and then, in violation of classified information laws, used it for classified information, and then in further violation of those laws, turned all that classified information over to a private law firm? Could it be from a Democrat-run Justice Department that filed false affidavits in order to obtain illegal wiretaps on journalists? Could it be from a Democratic president who ignored the War Powers Act and launched a war against Libya without any notice to or consultation with the Congress? Could it be from Democratic officials in Seattle who imposed punitive taxes on guns and ammunition in clear violation of state law? Could it be from a Democrat-run EPA that imposed limits on carbon dioxide that were plainly outside the parameters of the law, and justified it by making up entirely different parameters? Could it be from a Democratic mayor of Baltimore who “gave those who wished to destroy space to do that”? Could it be from a Democratic prosecutor in Austin, Texas who indicted the governor for using his constitutional veto prerogative? Could it be from Democratic prosecutors in Wisconsin who raided homes with no cause other than their support for Republican candidates, and then barred them from discussing the raids, even with their own lawyers? Could it be from Democratic strategiests who urged the president to ignore the Supreme Court if they lost the King v. Burwell case? Could it be from a Democratic White House that set new records for denying Freedom of Information Act requests, and did so in violation of the law one-third of the time?

And could it be from a Democratic Party that watched all above the above happen, and never gave the slightest hint of any discomfort with any of it? From a party that scoffs at the rule of law in any circumstances where it might stand in the way of their goals?

Gee, where could Kim Davis have possibly gotten the idea that Democratic officials can get away with anything at all?

So yes, officials should be held to their duty to uphold the law. Let’s start doing that now please. Any time you’re ready would be fine.

POSTSCRIPT: This was all just off the top of my head. If I went through my notes, I could find plenty more.

UPDATE: Wow, the White House spokesman said this:

I will just say on principle that the success of the democracy depends on the rule of law, and there is no public official that is above the rule of law. Certainly not the president of the United States, but neither is the Rowan County clerk.

He really did say that. Unbelievable.

Hillary Clinton withholding Libya emails

July 29, 2015

Fox News reports:

A reported two-month gap in emails from Hillary Clinton’s private account during 2012 coincides with a period of escalating violence in Libya and the obtaining of a special exemption by her top aide, Huma Abedin, to work for both the State Department and the Clinton Foundation.

The Daily Beast reported late Tuesday that no emails between Clinton and her State Department staff for the months of May and June 2012 are among the estimated 2,000 messages that have been released from the Democratic presidential frontrunner’s account.

A State Department spokesman told The Daily Beast that only emails related to the security of U.S. diplomats in Libya or the consulate in Benghazi were turned over to the House select committee investigating the deadly Sept. 11, 2012 attack. If true, that means neither Clinton nor her staff communicated via e-mail during a period that saw three attacks on international outposts in Benghazi, including one on the consulate itself.

I love the journalistic “if true” here. It’s so much more even-handed than “she is obviously lying, because.” I wonder if one of the missing emails would have shed some light on how the Benghazi consulate got an exemption from the usual security requirements.

The past ain’t what it used to be

July 20, 2015

So now we’re told that meaningful inspections weren’t ever on the table in the first place:

On April 7, 2015, President Barack Obama’s National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes told CNN’s Jake Tapper, “under this deal, you will have anywhere, any time 24/7 access as it relates to the nuclear facilities that Iran has.”

Now, on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” Secretary of State John Kerry said, “This is a term that, honestly, I never heard in the four years that we were negotiating. It was not on the table. There’s no such thing in arms control as any time, anywhere.”

Did they lie then, or are they lying today?

FBI retracts bogus mass shooting study

June 23, 2015

Another troubling aspect of the Obama administration is its politicization of the government’s statistical agencies, which are supposed to be free of politics. In the latest instance, the FBI commissioned a bogus report on mass shootings, which it has now been forced to retract:

Last September the Obama administration produced an FBI report that said mass shooting attacks and deaths were up sharply—by an average annual rate of about 16% between 2000 and 2013. Moreover, the problem was worsening. “The findings establish an increasing frequency of incidents,” said the authors. “During the first 7 years included in the study, an average of 6.4 incidents occurred annually. In the last 7 years of the study, that average increased to 16.4 incidents annually.” . . .

But late last week, J. Pete Blair and M. Hunter Martaindale, two academics at Texas State University who co-authored the FBI report, acknowledged that “our data is imperfect.” They said that the news media “got it wrong” last year when they “mistakenly reported mass shootings were on the rise.”

Alas, but surprisingly, the retraction was issued with much, much less fanfare than the original bogus report.

It’s worth noting that criminologist John Lott debunked the study almost immediately, while the report’s authors dithered for the better part of a year before admitting he was right.

Why do bad things happen to good bureaucrats?

June 23, 2015

The director of the OPM says no one is responsible for the catastrophic OPM hack:

“Fox News has learned that the number of victims of a pair of massive cyberattacks on U.S. government personnel files has soared to at least 18 million — but the head of the hacked Office of Personnel Management refuses to blame anyone in her agency.

“I don’t believe anyone is personally responsible,” OPM Director Katherine Archuleta said Tuesday. . .

Grilled on whether anyone takes responsibility, Archuleta said only the perpetrators should be blamed. . .

Only the perpetrators should be blamed; the government has no responsibility to secure its data!

One good person to blame would be whoever thought it would be a good idea to give root access to the Chinese, but Archuleta’s remarks prove that the idiocy started at the top. Take a look at the White House announcement of her appointment. It contains not one word on any actual qualification that Archuleta had for the job. Let’s go through each paragraph:

  1. (The title) First Latina appointment
  2. First latina appointment; diversity and inclusion
  3. Workforce that reflects the population
  4. Diversity
  5. Political connections
  6. Political connections
  7. Trite meaningless praise, plus diversity

It’s clear what happened here: It’s only the Office of Personnel Management; what difference does it make who the director is? It’s the perfect place to appoint a minority with political connections.

Except that it did matter. Oops.

UPDATE: It occurs to me that the title isn’t really fair to bureaucrats. A typical bureaucrat at least has experience with bureaucracy, but there’s no evidence Archuleta even had that. A little slavish devotion to procedure might actually have helped here.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Charlie Martin writes about how this kind of disaster goes about happening.

YET ANOTHER UPDATE: More on Archuleta’s complete lack of any qualifications for the job.

Iran lies, Obama hides

December 10, 2014

Time and time again, the Obama administration has promised that it would impose further sanctions on Iran if it violated agreements to end its nuclear weapons program. Power Line has a list of many such announcements, including this one from the president himself;

So I’ve heard arguments, well, but you know, this way we can assured and the Iranians will know that if negotiations fail even new and harsher sanctions will be put into place. Listen, I don’t think the Iranians have any doubt that Congress would be more than happy to pass more sanctions legislation. We can do that in a — in a day, on a dime.

“In a day, on a dime.” This is a clear statement.

Alas, it’s a clear statement from Barack Obama, who rarely means anything he promises. Consistently, he utters strong words that sound good to get himself past whatever controversy he faces, but those strong words are forgotten as soon as the matter fades from the front pages. No serious action is contemplated, much less undertaken.

And this is no exception. We have known for over a month that Iran is cheating on its latest agreement, more than enough time for sanctions that can be impose “in a day, on a dime.” But we have done nothing except complain in secret. In secret, so that the matter won’t hit the front pages and thereby require more strong words from Obama.

Washington has evidence that Tehran is trying to buy new equipment for a key nuclear facility. But the White House isn’t willing to say anything publicly about it.

The United States has privately accused Iran of going on an international shopping spree to acquire components for a heavy-water reactor that American officials have long feared could be used in the production of nuclear weapons-grade plutonium.

A U.S. delegation informed a U.N. Security Council panel of experts monitoring Iranian sanctions in recent months that Iranian procurement agents have been increasing their efforts to illicitly obtain equipment for the IR-40 research reactor at the Arak nuclear complex.

The American allegations, which have never before been reported, come more than a year after the Iranian government pledged . . . to scale back Iran’s most controversial nuclear-related activities. . . They stand in stark contrast to recent remarks by Secretary of State John Kerry, who has repeatedly credited Tehran with abiding by the terms of the November 2013 pact. . .

The U.S. allegations were detailed in a confidential Nov. 7 report by an eight-member panel of experts that advises a U.N. Security Council committee that oversees international compliance with U.N. sanctions on Iran. The report, which cites an unnamed state as the source of the allegation, doesn’t identify the United States by name. But diplomatic sources confirmed that the United States presented the briefing.

The allegations were formally made on November 7, so the facts have been known even longer. But the White House has hushed the whole matter up.

This all makes sense, if you remember that Barack Obama can’t “even fake an interest in foreign policy.” Nothing he says on foreign policy is in earnest; whatever he says is only an effort to make the subject go away. Any action — such as following through on threats — that might make a foreign policy matter gain attention is forbidden.

Maryland buys environmentalist sermons

November 19, 2014

The Washington Post reports:

The news was as welcome to the group of Prince George’s County pastors as a plague of locusts: Maryland’s controversial “stormwater remediation fee” applied to all property owners, including houses of worship. Depending on the acreage, churches faced a tax of hundreds, even thousands of dollars. . .

After months of negotiation with county environmental director Adam Ortiz, the pastors emerged with a rebate deal that will significantly cut the fees if churches adopt programs and equipment that will curb runoff, lessen pollution and help bolster the environment.

So far, about 30 churches have applied. Forestville [New Redeemer Baptist Church] was the first. They are planning to install rain barrels, build rain gardens, plant trees and, perhaps, replace their blacktop with permeable pavement. The government will cover most of the cost.

Fine. Sounds like a waste of money to me, but that’s Maryland.

But then there’s this:

Thomas and other pastors also have agreed to start “green” ministries to maintain the improvements at their churches, and to preach environmentally focused sermons to educate their congregations.

What?! This is flagrantly unconstitutional. The state cannot impose a tax on churches, and then waive the tax if the church preaches sermons to the state’s liking.

But you expect the government, particularly in Maryland, to try get to gain control over churches. Governments have always done that. (That’s how America got founded, if you recall.) But I’m disgusted with the church for agreeing to go along.

(Via Instapundit.)

NYT: Bush covered up WMD finds

November 1, 2014

Old and busted: “There were no WMDs in Iraq. Bush lied!” New hotness: “There were lots of WMDs in Iraq. Bush lied!”

Yes, in a story so bizarre I can scarcely believe I’m seeing it, the New York Times is attacking President Bush for covering up all the chemical weapons that have been found in Iraq:

From 2004 to 2011, American and American-trained Iraqi troops repeatedly encountered, and on at least six occasions were wounded by, chemical weapons remaining from years earlier in Saddam Hussein’s rule. In all, American troops secretly reported finding roughly 5,000 chemical warheads, shells or aviation bombs, according to interviews with dozens of participants, Iraqi and American officials, and heavily redacted intelligence documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

“What?!” you say, “Chemical weapons were found in Iraq? So Bush is vindicated!”

Not so fast, the New York Times spin-machine is on the case. You see, the weapons they found were — the NYT insists — the wrong ones:

The United States had gone to war declaring it must destroy an active weapons of mass destruction program. Instead, American troops gradually found and ultimately suffered from the remnants of long-abandoned programs, built in close collaboration with the West.

To understand what they are talking about, we need to think back to 1998. In 1998, Saddam Hussein ejected weapons inspectors from Iraq after they discovered Saddam was hiding chemical weapons from inspectors. It defies logic that Saddam would destroy his chemical arsenal after ejecting weapons inspectors, but would do so in secret so sanctions could remain in place. In 2003, it seemed certain they were still there. But we didn’t find them.

So what became of them? One theory says that most of them were shipped to Syria. This theory is supported by reports from Iraqi defectors, second-hand accounts from Russians who reportedly assisted, satellite imagery, and witnesses on the ground. But none of it is conclusive. (ASIDE: A well-cited Wired article says categorically that it didn’t happen. It’s evidence is two-fold: (a) Saddam wouldn’t have done it, and (b) if he had, there would have been satellite evidence. But (a) is pure conjecture, and there was satellite evidence.)

But even if much or most of them were shipped to Syria, it seemed unlikely that all of them could have been, particularly in light of the Duelfer report’s conclusion that if weapons were shipped to Syria, it was done unofficially. So the question remained, what became of them?

Now we know. They were still in Iraq, scattered here and there. Thousands of them.

Why are we only hearing about this now? The Bush administration decided not to talk about the weapons after the war, preferring to move forward than re-argue the past. This was a terrible decision, as it allowed the left to build up a mythology of the Iraq war unchallenged. The left, of course, didn’t want to talk about it because it contracted that very mythology it was constructing.

So why are we hearing about it now? Because — good news! — those weapons are now in the hands of ISIS. When ISIS uses them, as surely they will, the news would come out, so they want to get their story straight now.

But how do they do that? After years of “Bush lied!” how do they admit the weapons were there all along? And more importantly, how do they admit that, and yet not see Bush vindicated? Well, the New York Times rose to the challenge.

The key is to make a distinction between old weapons and new ones:

The United States had gone to war declaring it must destroy an active weapons of mass destruction program. Instead, American troops gradually found and ultimately suffered from the remnants of long-abandoned programs, built in close collaboration with the West.

and, just to be totally clear:

The discoveries of these chemical weapons did not support the government’s invasion rationale.

After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Mr. Bush insisted that Mr. Hussein was hiding an active weapons of mass destruction program, in defiance of international will and at the world’s risk. United Nations inspectors said they could not find evidence for these claims.

The new story goes like this: we were told there was an active weapons program, and they never said anything about old weapons, so Bush still lied!

In fact, the new story is a lie. Bush never drew such a distinction. The New York Times offers not a single line from any speech in support of it. Gabriel Malor at Ace of Spades goes through all of Bush’s most famous speeches and finds not one in which he focused on new weapons to the exclusion of old ones.

In fact, the last quote above (“did not support . . . the rationale”) doesn’t even fit into the flow of the story. It looks like it was inserted by an editor who was concerned that the story was not sufficiently clear that the “Bush lied!” narrative is still in effect. The New York Times sets the agenda for leftist spin, so it’s important to make it clear.

But the story goes further. It not only charges Bush with lying about the new weapons, it actually alleges that the government covered up the old ones. That strikes me as trying too hard. Sure, Bush — unwisely — preferred not to talk about the WMD issue after the war, but is anyone going to believe that he would actually cover the evidence that would exonerate him? That doesn’t even make sense.

Our narrative makes more sense, and also has the benefit of being true: The United States and its allies invaded Iraq to build a stable democracy in the Middle East and to keep weapons of mass destruction out of the hands of terrorists. By early 2008, both aims seemed accomplished: Iraq was stable and had soldiers guarding Al Muthanna and other sites. Then Obama abandoned Iraq and both accomplishments collapsed.

This story, published a few weeks ago, seems to have settled into obscurity for now. But when ISIS uses these weapons, as seems woefully inevitable, it will be everywhere.

Smart diplomacy

October 29, 2014

This, from the administration that proclaims its foreign policy doctrine to be “don’t do stupid [expletive]”:

The other day I was talking to a senior Obama administration official about the foreign leader who seems to frustrate the White House and the State Department the most. “The thing about Bibi is, he’s a [expletive],” this official said. . .

This comment is representative of the gloves-off manner in which American and Israeli officials now talk about each other behind closed doors, and is yet another sign that relations between the Obama and Netanyahu governments have moved toward a full-blown crisis. . .

Over the years, Obama administration officials have described Netanyahu to me as recalcitrant, myopic, reactionary, obtuse, blustering, pompous, and “Aspergery.” (These are verbatim descriptions; I keep a running list.)

And this:

The bad thing about him is that he won’t do anything to reach an accommodation with the Palestinians or with the Sunni Arab states. The only thing he’s interested in is protecting himself from political defeat. He’s not [Yitzhak] Rabin, he’s not [Ariel] Sharon, he’s certainly no [Menachem] Begin. He’s got no guts.”

Which is to say that Netanyahu is unwilling to make any more pointless concessions to an enemy who has no interest in peace. Begin had a legitimate partner (Egypt). Rabin’s Oslo accord seemed like a good idea at the time, but turned out to be a historic blunder which, by allowing the PLO to take charge of Gaza and the West Bank, incalculably harmed Israeli security. Sharon unilaterally disengaged from Gaza and southern Lebanon. The jury is still out on whether that helped or hurt. If Netanyahu had “guts”, he’d be willing to damage Israeli interests.

And this:

For their part, Obama administration officials express, in the words of one official, a “red-hot anger” at Netanyahu for pursuing settlement policies on the West Bank, and building policies in Jerusalem, that they believe have fatally undermined Secretary of State John Kerry’s peace process.

There’s some projection going on here. Israeli settlements have fatally undermined Kerry’s peace process (note: if it were working, it would be Obama’s) because Obama unwisely and unnecessarily decided to link negotiations to his demand for a settlement freeze.

And finally this:

This official agreed that Netanyahu is a [expletive] on matters related to the comatose peace process, but added that he’s also a “coward” on the issue of Iran’s nuclear threat. The official said the Obama administration no longer believes that Netanyahu would launch a preemptive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities in order to keep the regime in Tehran from building an atomic arsenal. “It’s too late for him to do anything. Two, three years ago, this was a possibility. But ultimately he couldn’t bring himself to pull the trigger. It was a combination of our pressure and his own unwillingness to do anything dramatic. Now it’s too late.”

Way to bury the lede! The Obama administration pressured Israel not to act against Iran’s nuclear program? This isn’t surprising, but I don’t think it’s been confirmed before.

And Netanyahu is a “coward” for yielding to the administration’s pressure. Let this be noted by everyone who deals with this administration: If you do what Obama demands, you will only earn his contempt.

UPDATE: John Hinderaker makes an important observation that actually casts this in an even worse light:

But consider: the “senior Obama administration official” made the comment in a conversation with a reporter, Goldberg, who was working on a story about the strained relationship between the Obama and Netanyahu governments. He must have known that the “chickenshit” characterization would be quoted, albeit anonymously. He must have wanted it to be quoted. He must have known that it would garner a great deal of attention.

Stupid [expletive] indeed.

UPDATE: David Bernstein has an insightful post on how Obama severely misjudged Israeli politics:

The Obama Administration came in to office thinking it could either force Netanyahu to make concessions, or force his government to fall. Both the Shamir and the first Netanyahu governments made concessions and ultimately got tossed out by the voters after tensions rose with the U.S., so this was not a completely unreasonable  assumption. . .

The very popular (in Israel) Bill Clinton confronting an only mildly popular Netanyahu in 1998 played very differently in Israel than a very unpopular Obama confronting a popular Netanyahu over the last several years. . .

Instead, Netanyahu has managed to stay his own course, and still is in no danger of losing his parliamentary majority. Hence administration frustration and “[expletive].”

Why is Obama so unpopular in Israel? Because Israelis have paid attention to a lot of things that Americans have not. Bernstein lists lots of examples. It’s not for no reason that Israeli opinion on whether Obama is friend of Israel is within the margin of error of zero.

NYT wants more guns for violent criminals

June 9, 2014

The New York Times doesn’t want you to have guns. They definitely don’t want felons to have guns. Except, as Ann Althouse notes, when the case can be used to attack a potential GOP presidential candidate. Then the NYT finds it outrageous that a felon cannot carry a gun. Get this:

Aware of the awkwardness, the two men [that is, the perpetrator and the victim] arranged to meet in the evening quiet of the local community center. Their only previous encounter, a decade ago, had ended with a thrown punch and a broken nose. . .

The punch they shared had come out of who knows where, maybe Iraq, to still a long-ago liquid night. But its impact was still being felt by the former Marine [Eric Pizer], who threw the right jab just days after returning from a second deployment; the victim, who has not breathed the same since; and the governor, who chooses never to exercise an executive power of ancient provenance.

(Emphasis mine.) “The punch they shared”!  Ordinarily a punch is thrown by one person and impacts another, but when we want to rehabilitate the perpetrator for political purposes, it was “shared” by both of them. “Sharing” sounds so much nicer than “maiming”. Naturally, the real culprit isn’t the culprit; no it’s either the booze or the Iraq War, and probably the latter.

Yes, I said “maiming”:

That pop pushed Mr. Frazier’s nose nearly two inches to the right. . . “Broken nose” is almost too flip a term for the damage done. Mr. Frazier says that his nose had to be broken and reset twice, but it remains a bit crooked, aches in the cold and feels constantly congested. “Migraines pretty much daily,” he said.

Pizer, who has a history of getting drunk and maiming people, now wants to be a police officer, but his felony conviction stands in the way. The New York Times thinks that Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker should pardon him so that Pizer can realize his ambition of being a cop. Keep in mind, this is someone with a record of misreading a situation and responding with unjustified violence.

The NYT is able to offer the following evidence that Pizer has changed his ways: “”. No, that’s too glib. Let me quote, in their entirety, both of the article’s paragraphs on his post-conviction life:

The former Marine worked as a construction laborer before getting hired to lug Steinways and Schimmels up stairs and around corners. He completed probation and paid off the $7,165.59 in restitution. He met a woman with a child, married, fathered a son, and received joint custody in the divorce.

. . .

Mr. Pizer pushed on. Taking classes part time, he earned an associate degree in criminal justice. He also found allies in two Madison lawyers, David D. Relles and John R. Zwieg, who agreed to help him seek a pardon.

To summarize: he got a job, he got married, he got divorced, he got a community-college degree, and he hired lawyers. In an article about how Pizer deserves a pardon (and Gov. Walker is an awful human being for not giving him one), the NYT is strangely unable to produce even a single fact that would support such a pardon. Well, he does say he’s sorry, so there’s that.

What’s really striking about this piece is the comments from the NYT’s reader-idiots. They are eager to get in line with what they are told to believe. I’ll just quote one, which is typical of many:

I would be absolutely comfortable to learn that Eric Pizer was patrolling my community as a deputy sheriff. It would be even better if here were allowed to serve his own community that way.

Based on what? This is a guy who maimed someone for life because he “saw movement and reacted with his right hand.” Imagine if this guy had been carrying a gun, which is what you say you want!

In all seriousness, perhaps Pizer has turned his life around and is a really good guy now. I hope so. But if so, wouldn’t they be able to come up with some examples more compelling than his ability to hold down a job and get an associate degree part-time? The touching part of the story is how Frazier was willing to meet with Pizer and forgive him. That speaks well of Frazier, but it tells us nothing about Pizer.

POSTSCRIPT: By the way, the New York Times is on the record as opposing the restoration of gun rights to felons, making this whole piece particularly bizarre.

(Via Power Line.)

UPDATE: By the way, it’s telling that after years of a massive, publicly-financed fishing expedition, this is all they can come up with.

Politics drove IRS scandal

March 1, 2014

The Democrats want us to believe that the IRS scandal had nothing to do with politics. This was never very plausible, but now is categorically contradicted by the record:

Mr. Obama wants Americans to believe that the targeting resulted from the confusing tax law governing nonprofits, which he says was “difficult” to interpret and resulted in mere “bureaucratic” mistakes. . .

House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp blew up this fairy tale at Wednesday’s hearing with new IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. Mr. Camp unveiled a June 14, 2012 email from Treasury career attorney Ruth Madrigal to key IRS officials in the tax-exempt department, including former director Lois Lerner.

The email cites a blog post about the political activity of tax-exempt 501(c)(4) groups and reads: “Don’t know who in your organizations [sic] is keeping tabs on c4s, but since we mentioned potentially addressing them (off-plan) in 2013, I’ve got my radar up and this seemed interesting.” . . . The IRS typically puts out a public schedule of coming regulations, and Mr. Camp noted that in this case “off-plan” appears to mean “hidden from the public.” . . .

The IRS hyper-scrutiny of conservative groups only began in 2010 amid the Obama Administration’s larger political attack on political donors like the Koch brothers, and emails show that IRS officials were acutely aware of this political environment. In February 2010, for example, an IRS screener in Cincinnati flagged an application to his superiors noting: “Recent media attention to this type of organization indicates to me that this is a ‘high profile’ case.”

What the Obama administration is trying to get away with here is a truly breathtaking exercise in political chutzpah. They are trying to use their own misconduct as an excuse to change the rules to codify their own misconduct.

What’s sad is they always do this, and usually get away with this. I remember how in the late 1990s or early 2000s, the Democrats, caught red-handed violating campaign finance laws, used their own crimes to justify “reforming” campaign finance to give themselves greater advantages.

(Previous post.)

Law of unintended consequences, repealed!

February 12, 2014

One big problem for liberal social engineers is the law of unintended consequences. They pass a law that is supposed to accomplish a goal (e.g., raise the minimum wage), but people then change their behavior to mitigate the law’s effect (e.g., hire fewer low-wage workers). Why won’t people just cooperate: change the one thing liberals want and leave everything else alone?

So, get this:

Some lawmakers, though, have claimed that the mere threat of the employer mandate is causing companies to shed full-time workers in the hope of keeping their staff size below 50 and avoiding the requirement.

Administration officials dispute that this is happening on any large scale. Further, Treasury officials said Monday that businesses will be told to “certify” that they are not shedding full-time workers simply to avoid the mandate. Officials said employers will be told to sign a “self-attestation” on their tax forms affirming this, under penalty of perjury.

(Via Hot Air.)

Now, I’m not sure what legal authority they have to demand this; certainly I never heard of any. But in those thousand pages there could certainly be some provision that wasn’t noticed before (“we have to pass it to find out what’s in it”!). Let’s assume there is. (And if not, it doesn’t really matter to my point.)

This is simply brilliant. Liberals have a problem with people changing their behavior to cope with their interference, why not simply prohibit that? Simply ban the unintended consequences!

Why stop here? Tax increases make people cut back on business expansions. Make them attest — under penalty of perjury — that they are growing their business every bit as much as they would have. Price controls lead to shortages? Don’t let producers cut back. (It’s working in Venezuela, right?) Debasing the currency leads to inflation? Prohibit employers from raising wages. Welfare and social engineering destroying the nuclear family? Just require any single people to attest that they wouldn’t otherwise have gotten married. And if the self-attestation process has unintended consequences, just ban those too.

There’s really no limit to what they can accomplish, once behavior becomes clay they can mold instead of living people’s choices. (Darn those living people and their choices, anyway!)

And if it doesn’t work, at least you’ve got more ways you can harass the people you don’t like. It’s a win-win for liberals.

UPDATE: More here.

(Previous post.)

Obamacare can’t cope with babies

January 3, 2014

If you’re on the Obamacare exchanges, don’t have a baby. There’s no way to add a baby to your plan:

Insurers say computerized “change in circumstance” updates to deal with family and life developments were supposed to have been part of the federal system from the start.

But that feature got postponed as the government scrambled to fix technical problems that overwhelmed the health care website during its first couple of months.

Maybe this is why they are so concerned about contraception. . .

(Previous post.)

Nuclear hypocrisy

November 30, 2013

The hypocrisy of the Democrats invoking the “nuclear option” to abolish the filibuster for presidential appointments is palpable. I’m not going to bother to cite the myriad statements by Democrats decrying it (here’s one collection). I will cite the New York Times, after the break, because it expresses the hypocrisy so perfectly.

What I want to comment here is on the notion that hypocrisy over the nuclear option is somehow being practiced by both sides. (As a concrete example, there’s NBC’s account.) It’s natural for them to try to tell that story; the hypocrisy of their own side is so inarguable, all they can do is try to attribute some to the other side as well.

It’s utter nonsense. Yes, in 2005 there were a lot of Republicans arguing in favor of using the nuclear option to abolish the filibuster. And yes, some of those same Republicans are inveighing against it now. Does that make them hypocrites?

It would, if they had gone through with it in 2005. They did not. That’s the key historical fact that all the efforts to bipartisanize the hypocrisy somehow, bizarrely, seem to be forgetting.

If the Republicans had abolished the filibuster and now wanted it back, they would be complete hypocrites. They would be just as bad as the real-world Democrats, who demanded the filibuster be retained, got their way, and the abolished it once they were on the other side.

But Republicans didn’t do it. They stepped back from the nuclear option while they were still in the majority. That’s the opposite of hypocrisy. That’s principle.

So let’s not have any more nonsense about how both sides are being hypocritical about the filibuster. It’s not just wrong, it’s historically ignorant.

Read the rest of this entry »

Obamacare delay

October 25, 2013

This was President Obama, way-back-when (two-and-a-half weeks ago), categorically refusing to delay Obamacare’s individual mandate:

“Steve, let’s be clear, we’re not going to delay the Affordable Care Act,” Obama said. “There are millions of Americans, right now, who don’t have health insurance and they are, finally, after decades going to be in a position where they can get get affordable health care just like everybody else and that means that their families, their kids, themselves, they’ve got the basic security that you and I enjoy. And the notion that we would even delay them getting that kind of peace of mind, potentially going to a doctor to get treated for illnesses that they currently have simply because the Republicans have decided, ideologically, that they’re opposed to the Affordable Care Act is not something that we’re going to be discussing.”

And he meant it. He was willing to shut down (sorta) the government to prevent any delay to his signature achievement. Republicans wanted a full year’s delay, but Obama would not even negotiate something shorter.

But now the White House is announcing a six-week delay. And the Democrats’ efforts to spin a delay as not really a delay are simply hilarious.

Of course, there is a big difference between what the Republicans offered and what the White House is announcing, much bigger than length of the delay. The law imposes the individual mandate on February 15, no ifs, ands, or buts. Republicans offered the president a legal delay, through properly-enacted legislation. He refused it, and is now unilaterally imposing an illegal delay. He didn’t have to flout the rule of law; he prefers to flout it.

POSTSCRIPT: Meanwhile, we should remember that delaying the individual mandate is not actually good policy, unless community rating (i.e., price controls) and guaranteed issue are also delayed. The individual mandate is what makes community rating and guaranteed issue possible without skyrocketing premiums. (Yes, premiums are as much as tripling, but without the mandate it would be even worse.) The administration has no good solution to this mess they’ve made.

POST-POSTSCRIPT: By the way, when you read Obama’s prattle above, keep in mind that what he was refusing to delay was the individual mandate, the part of Obamacare that forces people to buy “peace of mind” whether they want to or not.

(Previous post.)

Lies, damn lies, and Paul Krugman

October 14, 2013

Paul Krugman weighs in on the Obamacare rollout catastrophe:

So, very early reports are that Obamacare exchanges are, as expected, having some technical glitches on the first day — maybe even a bit worse than expected, because it appears that volume has been much bigger than predicted.

Here’s what you need to know: this is good, not bad, news for the program.

Ha! It’s a good thing it doesn’t work!

But anyway here’s the instructive thing about Paul Krugman: he says that the Obamacare glitches happened because volume was much bigger than predicted, but he is making it all up.

The Obamacare web site got 8.7 million visits during the first week. That is not so many. During the past week, the Huffington Post got 67 million visits, and the Huffington Post didn’t cost half a billion dollars to build. Further, all technical observers agree that the Obamacare site problem is not load, but serious design flaws.

So Paul Krugman is making up the facts that would need to be true in order to support his position, and not for the first time. Keep that in mind whenever you read anything by Krugman.

POSTSCRIPT: The “disaster is a good thing” meme still reminds me of these:

(Previous post.)

Laws are for the little people

October 14, 2013

How Dianne Feinstein got a bunch of illegal weapons for her anti-gun press conference. Yes, there was a cover-up.

Obama pins Iran hopes on hoax

September 30, 2013

Fox News reports:

President Obama could be hanging his hopes for productive nuclear negotiations with Iran on a hoax, according to one Middle East-focused think tank.

On Friday, Obama cited a “fatwa,” or religious edict, from Iran’s all-powerful Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, banning the pursuit of nuclear weapons.

“I do believe that there is a basis for a resolution [because] Iran’s Supreme Leader has issued a fatwa against the development of nuclear weapons,” Obama told reporters.

But although talk of such a fatwa has been around for at least eight years, there’s no evidence it was ever issued, according to the Middle East Media Research Institute, which flatly called the fatwa a hoax. MEMRI claims the phony fatwa is promoted by Iranian diplomats and Turkey’s Islamist prime minister, Recep Erdogan.

The supposed fatwa does not appear on a website of Khamenei’s fatwas maintained by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards, and Khamenei didn’t mention it when asked a direct question.

Did Obama even bother to check before spouting this? (And would it be better if he did, or if he didn’t?) Too bad he’s not so feckless in his dealing with his domestic adversaries; he has identified his real enemy, and it’s not Iran.

Which side is NPR on?

September 18, 2013

Brandon Darby turned in his left-wing terrorist friends who were planning to attack the 2008 Republican convention. For that, NPR calls him an “FBI rat”.

As they say, there’s no enemy to the left.

UPDATE: I got the names of the documentarian and his subject backwards. Fixed now.

The unbelievably small president

September 11, 2013

For the record, I generally tend to support military action against our enemies abroad, provided that it is feasible and serves our interests to do so. But before we can say whether the action is feasible and serves our interests, we need to know the objective. What is the objective in military action against Syria? No one seems to know!

John McCain thinks that regime change should be the objective, and actually got that objective written into the resolution that passed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. (Strangely, the Democrats didn’t seem to care much what the resolution actually said.) But seeking regime change seems foolish now, since the only rebels still in action against Assad are Islamists who are more dangerous to us than Assad. Regime change would have been a good policy a year ago, when there were still elements in the Syrian civil war who were secular and friendly to the west. But thanks to President Obama’s inaction, those people are all dead or scattered now. Regime change now would serve only to replace an enemy with a worse enemy. (We could effect regime change by occupying the country and installing a new regime ourselves, but that’s obviously not in the cards.)

In any case, regime change is categorically not the aim of the Obama administration, who are pledging to wage an “unbelievably small” campaign. Yes, John Kerry, the Secretary of State (God help us), really did say that. Or, even more bizarrely:

A second senior official, who has seen the most recent planning, offered this metaphor to describe such a strike: If Assad is eating Cheerios, we’re going to take away his spoon and give him a fork. Will that degrade his ability to eat Cheerios? Yes. Will it deter him? Maybe. But he’ll still be able to eat Cheerios.

I won’t pretend to understand the Cheerios-with-a-fork analogy, but one thing is certain, if they had an actual objective (e.g., reverse the communist coup in Grenada, destroy Al Qaeda’s safe haven in Afghanistan, end Saddam Hussein’s regime), they would express it, and wouldn’t need to resort to this drivel.

Even a very limited objective such as “punish Bashar Assad” might serve, if the attack were to be directed at him personally, but that too is clearly not what they are planning. And, moreover, now that Assad has had weeks of advance warning, it can’t be done anyway. (As Mitch McConnell put it, you don’t send out a “save the date” card to the enemy!)

The bottom line of all of this is that we should not launch an attack against Syria, unless and until we figure out what the purpose for such an attack would be.

However, what Congress should do in regard to authorization is a different question. President Obama did not need to seek and should not have sought Congressional authorization for the kind of action he is contemplating. A limited strike is well within the powers of the commander-in-chief, even under the War Powers Act, which is a dead letter anyway.

But we are where we are. Obama did seek authorization, and Congress ought to grant it. We have only one president at a time, and we need that president’s words to have credibility abroad. We can’t do anything about the problem of President Obama damaging his own credibility with ill-considered, off-the-cuff threats, but we can make sure that he is not further undermined by his own government. (Yes, it’s true, when Democrats controlled Congress they did everything they could to undermine President Bush abroad, but the fact that Democrats did it first would make it no less irresponsible.)

This is not to say that Congress should pass a resolution in favor of an attack against Syria. As above, an attack is a terrible idea at this juncture, and Congress should not pretend otherwise. Instead, Congress should pass a resolution affirming the commander-in-chief’s constitutional authority to take necessary steps to protect US interests in regard to Syria. Basically, Congress should say, “you’re the president, do what you need to do.”

Such a resolution would maintain the president’s credibility abroad (so far as that’s possible) and also side-step the trap that Obama is trying to lay to Republicans. He knows that his policy is desperately unpopular, and he is trying to pass the buck. (Or, as NBC puts it, he is trying to “unilaterally widen the circle of responsibility.”) By affirming the president’s authority without approving of his policy, Congress passes the buck back to the president, where it belongs.

Unfortunately, it’s clear that that’s not going to happen. Feckless in all aspects of this crisis, Obama has done nothing to rally Congress to support him. The word from Capitol Hill is that he doesn’t have the votes either in the House, or even in the Democrat-controlled Senate. That, and not the ridiculous Russian peace proposal, is the reason Obama asked Congress to postpone voting on authorization.

Anti-war demagogues exposed as utterly unprincipled

August 30, 2013

Remember in 2003, when President Bush took us to war “unilaterally”, with nothing more than a coalition of 40 nations, Congressional approval, and the support of 75% of the American people?

Today our president is contemplating war without a coalition, without Congressional approval, and with disapproval of 50% of the American people. I’m so glad the we got rid of the cowboy unilateralist.

But wait, there’s more. Remember our dear multi-lateralist president’s position on military action?

The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.

And the vice-president’s courageous stand against a unilateral attack?

I want to make it clear. And I made it clear to the President that if he takes this nation to war in Iran without Congressional approval, I will make it my business to impeach him. That’s a fact. That is a fact.

Rule of law >> democracy

August 17, 2013

There is a pernicious notion that the essential quality of the American system of government is democracy. This is a very basic misunderstanding, and one that seems to be ingrained early. In my case I picked it up as a child, so early than I’m not even sure when.

But it’s nonsense. Democracy, also sometimes called more forthrightly “majority rule”, is the idea that 51% of the people have the right to impose their will on the other 49%. We know instinctively that this is wrong.

ASIDE: I’m considering democracy under its narrow meaning here. It’s true that democracy (or “liberal democracy”) sometimes is used to refer to whole collection of ideas, not just majority rule. But in that case I am arguing that using “democracy” as an umbrella term is inapt.

The essence of the American system is liberty. Democracy is but a means to an end. As Heinlein’s Jubal Harshaw put it (paraphrasing): democracy is a poor system; the only thing to be said in its favor is the other systems are worse. Since haven’t figured out a realistic way for society to survive without government, putting its management into as broad hands as possible impedes it becoming a tyranny.

Impedes, but does not prevent. Democracy is just one mechanism we use to protect our liberty; others are the rule of law, separation of powers, checks and balances, and a bill of rights. Democracy is probably the least important of these.

The most important is the rule of law. Friedrich Hayek explains it this way (in his brilliant sixth chapter of the Road to Serfdom):

Nothing distinguishes more clearly conditions in a free country from those in a country under arbitrary government than the observance in the former of the great principles known as the Rule of Law. Stripped of all technicalities, this means that government in all its actions is bound by rules fixed and announced beforehand — rules which make it possible to foresee with fair certainty how the authority will use its coercive powers in given circumstances and to plan one’s individual affairs on the basis of this knowledge. . .

While every law restricts individual freedom to some extent by altering the means which people may use in the pursuit of their aims, under the Rule of Law the government is prevented from stultifying individual efforts by ad hoc action.

The rule of law says that people can live their lives, run their businesses, raise their families, in a system whose rules are known to them in advance. The government will not interfere capriciously.

In the American system of government, laws are made, interpreted, and carried out by three distinct branches. The laws are changed only with difficulty (by the legislature), they are interpreted consistently (by a judicial system bound by precedent), and they are “faithfully executed” (by the executive).

Alas, this system has gone off the rails. When the legislative and executive powers are in the same hands, the potential for capricious interference increases dramatically. Once the Constitution was interpreted under the nondelegation doctrine (which dates back at least to 1689), which provided that the legislative power could not be delegated. However, in 1928 the Supreme Court ruled in Hampton v. United States that legislative power could be delegated, provided the law provided an “intelligible principle” to guide the executive branch.

The intelligible principle needn’t be particularly detailed either. Laws have almost never been struck down due to unconstitutional delegation, and in 1989 the Supreme Court made the low standard explicit in Mistretta v. United States, stating:

Congress simply cannot do its job absent an ability to delegate power under broad general directives. Accordingly, this Court has deemed it “constitutionally sufficient” if Congress clearly delineates the general policy, the public agency which is to apply it, and the boundaries of this delegated authority.

Today, Congress “delineates the general policy”, while executive-branch bureaucrats make all the rules that govern our lives. That it does so capriciously cannot be denied. For example, when the EPA decides that carbon dioxide is dangerous, it gains the power to shut down coal-fired power plants, and anyone who invested money under the old rules is simply out of luck. And the EPA did so on its own; there was no legislative action, indeed, Congress considered the question and chose not to act.

Very recently, however, the problem has gotten much worse. President Obama has now arrogated for himself the power to decline to carry out portions of the law he doesn’t want to carry out, even in the absence of any delegation of power to do so. This is in direct violation of the Constitution’s provision that the president “shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed.”

He has done so by refusing to enforce the Defense of Marriage Act (justified by his claim that it was unconstitutional, which the Supreme Court later backed), refusing to enforce immigration law for certain classes of illegal immigrants (justified by prosecutorial discretion), and declining to carry out certain provisions of Obamacare (justified by nothing whatsoever).

To be clear: some or all of these may well be good policy. That is entirely beside the point; they are not the law. Under the rule of law, the government is “bound by rules fixed and announced beforehand,” regardless of how the executive might judge their wisdom from moment to moment.

Today we have democracy (mostly), but without the rule of law, democracy merely gives us an elected tyrant.

POSTSCRIPT: A number of people have written elegantly on the dangerous implications of Obama’s arrogation of the power to ignore the law: Michael McConnell, John Yoo, and George Will. Andrew Klavan has recently written about the problems with democracy in another context.

UPDATE: Another example, Obama is unilaterally changing drug laws. Again, I agree as a matter of policy, but that’s not the point. He should push for the law to be changed, but he won’t do that. Respecting the rule of law would require political effort.

Lying by omission

August 16, 2013

Don’t trust content from the Huffington Post. If you did, you might buy in to stuff like this:

Next time you feel uncomfortable showering at the gym, blame it on liberals and their abortion rights agenda. Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum (R) does.

Speaking to anti-abortion group Students for Life after receiving an award last month, Santorum attempted to explain what he saw as an enthusiasm gap between liberal and conservative activists. During his speech, a clip of which can be seen above, via Right Wing Watch, Santorum argued that the pro-choice movement infuses passion about abortion rights into “every aspect of their life.” He said that because of this, showering at a gym had become an “uncomfortable” prospect for students.

“They make it uncomfortable for students who come to Austin to shower at a Young Men’s Christian Association, YMCA, gym,” he said.

This led various people to chortle about Santorum having some sort of weird obsession about youths in showers. In fact, Santorum was referring to a specific incident in which Students For Life were barred from using the showers at an Austin YMCA after pressure from abortion supporters:

For one week the students planned to rally during the day, shower at the Town Lake YMCA, and then head to a church to sleep. . .

“We had absolutely no incidents. They talked to us afterwards and said, ‘You guys were great. You were respectful,” Coombs added.

But Tuesday morning, Coombs got an unexpected call from the Town Lake YMCA.
“Said, again, ‘You guys were respectful. We have no problems with you, in particular, however there were some people that support abortion who talked to our staff, intimidated them.’ They actually said that they felt threatened, and they asked us not to come back,” Coombs said.

It’s wouldn’t have taken much for the Huffington Post to contact Santorum’s office and find out what he was talking about. But even that modicum of actual reporting is more than we can expect from them.

(Via Twitchy.)

Obama fails geography

August 8, 2013

I understood there would be no geography:

OBAMA: If we don’t deepen our ports all along the Gulf — places like Charleston, South Carolina, or Savannah, Georgia, or Jacksonville, Florida — if we don’t do that, those ships are going to go someplace else.

UPDATE: I think this is remarkable, because this is a prepared remark for the softest of softball interviews. Whoever prepped Obama didn’t realize that Charleston, Savannah, and Jacksonville are on the Eastern Seaboard, not the Gulf Coast, and he didn’t know any better. George W Bush got a reputation as an intellectual lightweight for much less than this: the Bush-as-idiot meme started when he failed to identify all of the people on a list of obscure world leaders (e.g., the president of Chechnya) in an ambush quiz. Here we have Obama making basic geographic mistakes about the United States in a remark volunteered during a softball interview.

UPDATE: Good heavens he does this a lot.

Does the truth even matter?

July 26, 2013

This particular lie has been going around throughout the left, but I’ll take The New Republic for the canonical version:

[George] Zimmerman was an edgy basket case with a gun who had called 911 46 times in 15 months, once to report the suspicious activities of a seven year old black boy.

Every single statement in this sentence, other than Zimmerman owning a gun, is a lie. He did not call 911 46 times; most of his calls were to the non-emergency number. His calls were over the course of nearly a decade, not 15 months. And, most libelously, he never called to report a seven-year-old boy. In regards to the last, the record of his call reads (original document here):

Advsd is walking alone & is not supervised on busy street compl concerned for well-being.

Zimmerman wasn’t reporting the boy for suspicious activities, quite the opposite; he was concerned for the boy’s well-being.

ASIDE: As I said, this lie is popular on the left. Here’s the Daily Beast’s version:

April 22, 2011 – 7:09 p.m.
Type: TEL
Subject: Suspicious activity
Report: Juvenile black male “apprx 7–9” years old, four feet tall “skinny build short blk hair” last seen wearing a blue t-shirt and blue shorts

Again, the reference to “suspicious activity” is a fabrication.

When made aware of their error, the New Republic was loathe to correct it. Here’s their first semi-correction:

Zimmerman was an edgy basket case with a gun who had called the polics [sic] 46 times in 15 months, once to report on a seven year old black boy.

They corrected the least significant of the falsehoods (911 vs. non-emergency call) — replacing it with a typo — but left the substantive lies in place. Yes, they did remove the explicit reference to “suspicious activities” but replaced it with a phrase (“report on”) that implies the same thing.

As Michelle Meyer comments:

It’s one thing to make a mistake about facts. It’s quite another to double down on damaging falsehoods after having your mistake pointed out. In that respect, TNR’s cure here is worse than the disease.

TNR’s next version finally removed the seven-year-old-boy lie, and the typo, but left the 15 months lie:

Zimmerman was an edgy basket case with a gun who had called the police 46 times in 15 months.

They also failed to note the seven-year-old-boy correction in the editor’s note.

Finally, today, they got the last of the correction out, finally writing:

Zimmerman was an edgy basket case with a gun who had called the police 46 times in about eight years.

They also recognized all three error in an editor’s note at the end. However, they did not mark the correction at the top where it might be noticed. Moreover, by stalling the correction for ten days, they ensured that almost no one would see it, other than those drawn to the article by the controversy itself. Justice delayed is justice denied.

Now, what about the “edgy basket case”? Wendy Dorival, who coordinated Neighborhood Watch Programs for the Sanford Police didn’t think so. She had high praise for Zimmerman’s work, and even tried to recruit him into Sanford’s “Citizen on Patrol” program, but Zimmerman declined.

And what about those 46 calls? Here’s the first five calls, just to get the flavor:

8/12/04: Reports male driving pick-up without car seat
9/20/04: Neighbor’s garage door open
8/20/04: Reports white male walking in the road carrying a paper bag, presumably drinking
3/17/05: Pothole
4/27/05: Neighbor’s garage door open

If he hadn’t been a Neighborhood Watch member, it might be safe to call him a busybody.

(Previous post.)

Proverbs 26:11

July 22, 2013

Steve Rattner, the auto bailout czar, says we should bail out the city of Detroit:

But apart from voting in elections, the 700,000 remaining residents of the Motor City are no more responsible for Detroit’s problems than were the victims of Hurricane Sandy for theirs, and eventually Congress decided to help them.

Got that? Apart from the fact that Detroit’s ruin is entirely man-made, caused by irresponsible politicians elected by foolish voters, yes, Detroit is just exactly like a natural disaster.

No, there must be consequences for folly, or folly will reign supreme.

(Via James Taranto.)

The Zimmerman case

July 18, 2013

Last week a Florida jury found George Zimmerman not guilty in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. Despite the collective freak-out of the media and the liberal establishment, no one who followed the trial would find the verdict at all surprising.

George Zimmerman told a consistent story from day one: He spotted an individual (Martin) whom he did not recognize and thought was behaving suspiciously. He called the police. He then got out of his car and walked in the same direction as Martin. (Zimmerman says he wasn’t following Martin, but was looking for an address to report to the police. Many people, even defenders of Zimmerman, find that part odd, but it doesn’t really matter.) He lost sight of Martin and subsequently tried to return to his car. Then Martin, who had doubled back, accosted Zimmerman. Martin attacked Zimmerman, pinning him to the ground, and repeatedly smashed his head against the pavement. Martin then saw Zimmerman’s gun, threatened to kill him with it, and tried to take it. Zimmerman then drew the gun and shot Martin once.

If Zimmerman’s story is true, the shooting was clearly justified self-defense. At the trial, the prosecution never presented any plausible evidence that contradicted his story.

Most of the state’s witnesses either were irrelevant to the self-defense claim, and many actually supported it. This was a very strange aspect of the case that I assume is atypical: witness after witness called by the prosecution but whose testimony actually supported the defense. Particularly damaging to the prosecution was the testimony of the lead investigator who said that he believed Zimmerman, and the eyewitness who corroborated a key part of Zimmerman’s story.

Only a few witnesses contradicted Zimmerman’s story at all. One was an excitable woman whose testimony contradicted the physical evidence in multiple ways. Some of Martin’s family members identified the person screaming for help (captured in a 911 call) as Martin. The defense rebutted their testimony with other witnesses who identified the screamer as Zimmerman, and by getting an expert witness for the prosecution to testify that the procedure used with the Martin family prevented a reliable identification.

That left only the prosecution’s star witness, one Rachel Jeantel who testified that she was on the phone with Martin as the fight began. Her testimony was damaging to the prosecution, as she testified that Martin used a racial slur to describe Zimmerman. (This was the only role that race played in the trial.) But she also contradicted Zimmerman’s story, testifying that Zimmerman started the fight and she heard Martin yelling “get off!”

The problem for the prosecution was that Jeantel wasn’t believable. Her behavior on the stand was erratic. During the investigation she told many lies, some of them under oath. But the most astonishing moment was when she admitted that she was unable to read the letter that she supposedly wrote to Martin’s family telling her story.

In short, the prosecution never dented Zimmerman’s story. For their part, the defense presented various witnesses supporting his story, and also got admitted into evidence the fact that Martin was under the influence of drugs at the time. (On the other hand, the judge did not allow the defense to present Martin’s text messages that showed he liked to get into fights.) Zimmerman himself never needed to testify, because — bizarrely — the prosecution played videos of Zimmerman telling his story, essentially giving Zimmerman the opportunity to testify without facing cross examination.

No one who followed the trial is surprised about the verdict. (Even Jimmy Carter!) But the media’s campaign against Zimmerman has never been about the facts. Big Journalism has conveniently collected a rundown of media lies about the Zimmerman.

With all the lies the legacy media tells against Zimmerman, you might expect to find public opinion overwhelmingly against him. But the truth seems to have gotten out, nonetheless. But a Rasmussen poll finds that Americans agree with the verdict by a 48-34 margin. Disintermediation of information is working.

POSTSCRIPT: Not all the lies told about the Zimmerman case are attacking Zimmerman. There’s also a consistent effort to lie about Florida’s (and 33 other states’) “Stand Your Ground” law. From the very beginning, Stand Your Ground has been legally irrelevant. It says that persons facing an attacker are not required to retreat from that attacker, even if they can do so safely. But even states that do require you to retreat, require it only when you can do so safely.

Zimmerman could not retreat safely (according to his story, at least). Indeed, being pinned to the ground, he could not retreat at all. Thus, Stand Your Ground never came into play. This hasn’t stopped the media from trying to implicate Stand Your Ground in this case. For example, the New York Times, always eager to get things wrong, editorialized that Stand Your Ground played a role in the case, despite its own reporting to the contrary. (In a very narrow sense it did: since Stand Your Ground is the law, it appears in the standard jury instructions, but it wasn’t relevant.)

(Previous post.)

A paranoid fringe group

June 14, 2013

Frank J Fleming’s latest column is one of his best:

Like many of my fellow Americans, I’m getting pretty concerned about a fringe group in our country that’s growing increasingly isolated and paranoid. Worse, we now have indications that this group is lashing out in ignorance and fear.

It’s time that we finally confront the problem of federal workers’ growing anti-citizen extremism.

The feds have shown warning signs for years, becoming increasingly withdrawn, hunkered down in their bunkers in DC. They’re disconnected from what’s going on in the rest of the country, getting their news only from extremist sources like Media Matters, MSNBC and The New York Times.

And in their fear and isolation, federal workers seem willing to believe almost any crazy conspiracy theory about the American public — such as that everyone is secretly racist against the president and that people are going to form militias to fight the government.

And now we know they’ve started attacking those they fear, with IRS workers targeting right-wing groups and Justice Department employees going after journalists. Others are apparently engaged in some massive spying operation on anyone who’s ever put a cat photo on Facebook. (To be fair, these last may really just be trying to spy on their ex-girlfriends.)

Now, citizen have plenty to worry about with the feds lashing out. After all, for years the government has stockpiled dangerous weapons like assault rifles, nuclear weapons and audit forms.

It hasn’t started blowing up US citizens in drone strikes (other than the four), but who knows what the feds will do if their paranoia is allowed to grow?

So what can be done? Well, we can’t do much as average citizens, as, of course, the government never listens to us. But certain people hold a lot of sway over it, and maybe they should start to watch what they say, considering that excitable, easily influenced groups like federal workers are out there listening.

Now, I’m all for freedom of speech — along with the iPad, it’s one of the modern conveniences I use the most — but some people need to be more careful with what they say about the citizenry, so they don’t feed federal workers’ paranoia.

I’m thinking especially of President Obama, as people in the federal government tend to listen to him. When Obama and his colleagues talk about how dangerous the Tea Party and other conservatives are, with their dislike of taxes and spending, most folks are discerning enough to dismiss that as partisan rhetoric. But impressionable people not known for independent thinking — bureaucrats — will hear talk of the “dangers” these groups pose and act as if the dangers are real.

I’ll bet when the IRS went after Tea Party groups and Eric Holder signed warrants to investigate reporters, these people ignorantly thought they were helping Obama and that he’d be happy with them.

I’m not trying to say this is Obama’s fault — it’s not like it’s his job to know what goes on in the federal government — but if he were more careful with what he says, he could probably end a lot of federal workers’ paranoia about our citizens right now. He could instead explain to the people in the government that there is nothing to fear from ordinary Americans — that, in fact, a healthy country needs not only a flourishing government, but also a strong, powerful citizenry.

And once the feds have calmed down and are no longer scared of the people, we need someone to finally keep an eye on it so it doesn’t do crazy things out of fear again. In fact, I thought there were already people who are supposed to do that.

After the Fast & Furious mess, we should have known someone like Eric Holder can’t be responsible for himself, but we need to have a long talk with whoever his supervisor is.

(I’ve corrected a few typos that somehow got past the Post’s editors.)

All your data are belong to Obama

June 7, 2013

I’m starting to think that the Obama administration’s plan to deal with the scandals is to have so many of them we can’t keep them straight any more. In the latest scandal, the NSA collected call data on all telephone calls placed on Verizon’s network in the United States. (The dragnet explicitly excludes calls that originate and terminate in foreign countries.) Before I got a chance to note it here, it was revealed that the NSA is collecting credit-card transactions as well.

This was so bad that even Obama’s boot-lickers at the New York Times lost patience with him, writing that he had “lost all credibility”, although they softened their criticism a few hours later.

This was Barack Obama in 2007, pledging to end the supposed abuses of the Bush administration:

Obama proclaimed, “No more national security letters to spy on citizens who are not suspected of a crime.” He then cast his massive dragnet to spy on citizens who are not suspected of a crime using the FISA court rather than national security letters. Oh, that’s much better.

I feel it necessary to contrast what Obama is doing (I suppose I should say, what Obama’s administration is doing, since he will surely turn out have been out of the loop once again) with what happened during the Bush administration. The Bush-era terrorist surveillance program was tapping the phones of specific foreign terrorists.

That, of course, is exactly what they should have been doing. The part that somehow became controversial is they kept listening when those foreign terrorists placed calls to the United States. Of course. It’s utter foolishness to suggest that we should stop listening to terrorists when the call the United States; indeed, those are the calls we most need to hear. But a dishonest media reported the matter as though the administration was tapping domestic phones rather than foreign ones.

The Bush-era program was spying on foreign terrorists, not Americans. The Obama-era program is the exact opposite: It spies on every American who uses Verizon or a credit card, and it specifically excludes foreigners!

Mission accomplished

May 24, 2013


President Obama wants to declare victory in the war on terror:

I intend to engage Congress about the existing Authorization to Use Military Force, or AUMF, to determine how we can continue to fight terrorism without keeping America on a perpetual wartime footing.

The AUMF is now nearly 12 years old. The Afghan war is coming to an end. Core al Qaeda is a shell of its former self. Groups like AQAP must be dealt with, but in the years to come, not every collection of thugs that labels themselves al Qaeda will pose a credible threat to the United States. . .

So I look forward to engaging Congress and the American people in efforts to refine, and ultimately repeal, the AUMF’s mandate.

Although it’s hardly an original observation, Obama is right that we don’t want to be on a war footing forever. But aspirations are not realities.

After years of relative quiet, terror is on the rise again. There was the Benghazi attack last September, the Boston bombing last month, and a machete attack in London the very same day as Obama’s speech.

If Obama wants to end the war on terror, he should win it, not just declare it over. More on Obama’s folly here.

FOOTNOTE: I’m not sure the original source of the Obama Photoshop; I got it from here.

Obamacare encourages worthless health insurance

May 24, 2013

Obamacare is going to ensure that everyone gets good health insurance, right? Okay, that’s a joke, but it’s even worse than we thought:

Employers are increasingly recognizing they may be able to avoid certain penalties under the federal health law by offering very limited plans that can lack key benefits such as hospital coverage.

Benefits advisers and insurance brokers—bucking a commonly held expectation that the law would broadly enrich benefits—are pitching these low-benefit plans around the country. They cover minimal requirements such as preventive services, but often little more. Some of the plans wouldn’t cover surgery, X-rays or prenatal care at all. . .

Federal officials say this type of plan, in concept, would appear to qualify as acceptable minimum coverage under the law, and let most employers avoid an across-the-workforce $2,000-per-worker penalty for firms that offer nothing.

It seems that while Democrats were putting first-dollar coverage for checkups into the mandatory health plan, they forgot the actual insurance part. (As the New York Post puts it, it’s like auto insurance that covers six oil changes per year, but has no coverage for collisions.)

Interestingly, the part of Obamacare that requires actual insurance coverage is mandatory for individuals and small businesses, but not for large ones:

A close reading of the rules makes it clear that those mandates affect only plans sponsored by insurers that are sold to small businesses and individuals, federal officials confirm. . . Larger employers, generally with more than 50 workers, need cover only preventive services, without a lifetime or annual dollar-value limit, in order to avoid the across-the-workforce penalty.

So Democrats gave a break to big businesses that they refused to individuals and small businesses. (ASIDE: Note that when Democrats profess their love of small business, they don’t mean it.)

In fact, only 19% of Americans with private insurance get it individually or from a small business. Thus few people are actually covered by the Obamacare mandates, are those who are covered are the ones who can least afford it.

It’s important to note that some companies switching to the “skinny”, Obamacare-approved, non-insurance health plan previously offered actual health insurance:

San Antonio-based Bill Miller Bar-B-Q, a 4,200-worker chain, will replace its own mini-med with a new, skinny plan in July and will aim to price the plan at less than $50 a month, about the same as the current policy.

Of course, mini-med plans aren’t great, but at least they offer some worthwhile coverage. Obamacare is forcing their replacement by plans with no insurance component at all.

The liberals who think they can control people’s actions, despite being warned of the law of unintended consequences, continue to be surprised by it:

“We wouldn’t have anticipated that there’d be demand for these types of band-aid plans in 2014,” said Robert Kocher, a former White House health adviser who helped shepherd the law. “Our expectation was that employers would offer high quality insurance.”

Fools. They never, ever learn.

(Via Ricochet.)

Benghazi suspects identified, but no action

May 24, 2013

After the 9/11 Benghazi attack, President Obama promised justice would be done:

“We will not waver in our commitment to see that justice is done for this terrible act,” President Barack Obama said. “And make no mistake, justice will be done.”

But that was just an election-year promise. As is the case every single time one of our diplomatic missions is attacked, they were strong words for public consumption, intended to be forgotten when public attention moved on.

Now the attackers have been identified, but the administration is taking no action:

The U.S. has identified five men who might be responsible for the attack on the diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, last year, and has enough evidence to justify seizing them by military force as suspected terrorists, officials say. But there isn’t enough proof to try them in a U.S. civilian court as the Obama administration prefers. The men remain at large while the FBI gathers evidence.

Obama’s faces a dilemma of his own making. His official position is that terrorism is a law enforcement matter, so if he captures these guys, he has to try them in civilian court, where he won’t have enough legally admissible evidence to convict. The way he really prosecutes the war is with drones; they allow him quietly to attack the enemy while keeping his hypocrisy off the front page. But in this case apparently they don’t want to use a drone strike either. Thus:

U.S. officials say the FBI has proof that the five men were either at the scene of the first attack or somehow involved because of intercepts of at least one of them bragging about taking part. Some of the men have also been in contact with a network of well-known regional Jihadists, including al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb.

The U.S. has decided that the evidence it has now would be enough for a military operation to seize the men for questioning, but not enough for a civilian arrest or a drone strike against them, the officials said.

Grabbing them up for interrogation would expose Obama’s hypocrisy, and we can’t do anything else, so the men remain at large. So much for the pledge that justice will be done.

(Previous post.) (Via Hot Air.)

White House lies about Benghazi memos

May 22, 2013

In the days leading up to the Benghazi hearings (before all the other scandals broke out), there was a rather uninteresting dispute between Jake Tapper (CNN), and Stephen Hayes (The Weekly Standard) and Jonathan Karl (ABC) over the Obama administration’s Benghazi memos.

Hayes and Karl reported — accurately — that the State Department had considerable influence in the rewriting of the Benghazi talking points to remove the terror attack and insert a non-existent protest in its place. Indeed, they appear to have been the primary drivers of the rewrite. This contradicted essentially every aspect of the story the White House put out as to how those talking points were developed.

However, Hayes and Karl did not have access to the actual memos. They each worked from notes taken by Congressional investigators who saw the memos but were not allowed to make copies. Thus, they did not have verbatim quotes. Karl was not originally clear on this point.

Someone then leaked a cherry-picked memo to Tapper, who reported that it differed a little bit from the paraphrase in Karl’s reporting. In particular, Karl’s paraphrase read:

We must make sure that the talking points reflect all agency equities, including those of the State Department, and we don’t want to undermine the FBI investigation. We thus will work through the talking points tomorrow morning at the Deputies Committee meeting.

The italicized portion was not present in the actual memo. For this, Tapper reported “White House email contradicts Benghazi leaks” and the left thundered about the email being “doctored”.

ASIDE: To further muddy the waters, Tapper made some mistakes in his reporting of Hayes reporting.

But, as it turns out, Tapper got taken. When the full (or fuller, anyway) email chain was released, giving the context, it substantiated Hayes’s and Karl’s reporting in nearly its entirety, save only Karl’s lack of clarity on the language being a paraphrase. Although Rhodes didn’t use those words, the context makes clear the State Department’s “equities” were the ones under discussion.

The Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler summarizes this way:

Note the correct version is missing a direct reference to the State Department. CNN, which had only obtained the single e-mail, used strong words in its report about its competitor, ABC: “Whoever provided those accounts seemingly invented the notion that Rhodes wanted the concerns of the State Department specifically addressed.”

When the White House last week released all of its e-mails, it became clear that Rhodes was responding at the tail end of a series of e-mail exchanges that largely discussed the State Department concerns.

In other words, the summary would have been fairly close if the commas had been removed and replaced with brackets: “We must make sure that the talking points reflect all agency equities [including those of the State Department] and we don’t want to undermine the FBI investigation.”

(Emphasis mine.)

With the context present, it’s quite obvious that the leaker deliberately gave Tapper the wrong impression by carefully selecting one memo to leak. The leaker even masked out the string of replies that typically appears at the end of an email. Had the replies been present, the very next few lines (after the email headers) would have been:

Given the DOJ equities and States desire to run some traps, safe to assume we can hold on this until tomorrow?

I don’t know what it means to “run some traps”, but even in the absence of the rest of the chain, this alone would have made it clear that State was involved.

While this talk of “doctoring” remained the province of fevered left-wing blogs, I wasn’t very interested. But now it has become part of the White House’s official spin:

I think one of the problems that there’s so much controversy here is because one of the e-mails was doctored by a Republican source and given to the media to falsely smear the president.

The White House wants to distract from the fact that they outright lied about the development of the talking points. But with this White House, the distractions from their lies are just more lies. As we’ve seen, the emails were not doctored, and the reporting on them was accurate in every significant particular.

Kessler gives White House mouthpiece Dan Pfeiffer three pinocchios:

It has long been part of the Washington game for officials to discredit a news story by playing up errors in a relatively small part of it. Pfeiffer gives the impression that GOP operatives deliberately tried to “smear the president” with false, doctored e-mails.

But the reporters involved have indicated they were told by their sources that these were summaries, taken from notes of e-mails that could not be kept. . . Despite Pfeiffer’s claim of political skullduggery, we see little evidence that much was at play here besides imprecise wordsmithing or editing errors by journalists.

(Previous post.) (Via the Corner.)

They knew

May 20, 2013

Top Treasury officials were aware of the investigation into the IRS office that reviews tax-exempt applications in June 2012:

The inspector general gave Republicans some fodder Friday when he divulged that he informed the Treasury’s general counsel he was auditing the I.R.S.’s screening of politically active groups seeking tax exemptions on June 4, 2012. He told Deputy Treasury Secretary Neal Wolin “shortly after,” he said. That meant Obama administration officials were aware of the matter during the presidential campaign year.

But Wolin never passed the information on, or so we are asked to believe.

Also, the White House Counsel was notified weeks ago:

The White House’s chief lawyer learned weeks ago that an audit of the Internal Revenue Service likely would show that agency employees inappropriately targeted conservative groups, a senior White House official said Sunday.

But the White House Counsel, Kathryn Ruemmler, never passed the information on, or so we are asked to believe.

This, is has become clear, is how the Obama administration operates. Whenever the White House learns of misconduct in its administration, the information never goes to the top. (Or so we are asked to believe.)

POSTSCRIPT: The New York Times’s original headline for this story was “Treasury Knew of I.R.S. Inquiry in 2012, Official Says.” But, when the story began to get a lot of attention from the blogosphere, they changed their headline to “Republicans Expand I.R.S. Inquiry, With Eye on White House.” That’s much better for the narrative; they want the story to be about opportunistic Republicans, not Obama administration malfeasance.

UPDATE: In addition to changing the headline, they took this lead paragraph:

The Treasury Department’s inspector general told senior Treasury officials in June 2012 he was auditing the Internal Revenue Services’s screening of politically active organizations seeking tax exemptions, disclosing for the first time on Friday that Obama administration officials were aware of the matter during the presidential campaign year.

transmogrified it into the paragraph I quoted at the top (gotta make Republicans part of the scandal somehow), and put it at paragraph twelve. Twelve!

(Previous post. “Please detail the content of the members of your organization’s prayers.”)

Obamcare shakedown

May 16, 2013

It got buried by the IRS’s admission of political targeting, but another scandal erupted last Friday. The Obama administration is worried by Obamacare’s stubborn refusal to become popular, so they want to run propaganda in support of it. Strangely, Republicans refuse to appropriate funds for Obamacare propaganda, and the administration apparently doesn’t want to waste the tens of billions in its Obamacare slush fund.

Instead, we learned Friday, they sent out the execrable HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to shake down health care companies, the very same companies that Sebelius’s agency regulates:

[HHS Spokesman Jason] Young said that Sebelius did not solicit for funds directly from industries that HHS regulates, such as insurance companies and hospitals, but rather asked them to contribute in whatever way they can.

But the industry official who had knowledge of the calls but did not participate directly in them said there was a clear insinuation by the administration that the insurers should give financially to the nonprofits.

Meredith McGehee, policy director for the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center, which researches government ethics issues, said she was troubled by Sebelius’s activities because the secretary seemed to be “using the power of government to compel giving or insinuate that giving is going to be looked at favorably by the government.”

The House of Representatives is opening an investigation. Those guys are going to be busy.

(Via Hot Air.)

Obama administration spied on AP

May 15, 2013

I have to say, I’m laughing my butt off over this:

The Justice Department secretly obtained two months of telephone records of reporters and editors for The Associated Press in what the news cooperative’s top executive called a “massive and unprecedented intrusion” into how news organizations gather the news.

After years of doing their level best to obscure and/or justify the misconduct of the Obama administration, the Associated Press got the Chicago Way treatment themselves. They’re horrified that the Obama administration could do such a thing. It’s almost enough to make one believe in karma.

As in every one of the administration’s dozen scandals, we’re told that no one in a position of authority knew anything about this. Clearly, the word has gone out throughout the administration that you can do anything you want (ship guns to drug cartels, persecute the Tea Party and pro-Israel organizations, manufacture propaganda at government expense, spy on reporters, etc.) provided you just don’t tell your superiors.

The administration says that its investigation of a leak regarding a foiled terrorist plot is important, because it directly compromised national security. Oh my goodness! A leak that compromised national security! It’s hard to imagine something so terrible could ever happen!

In fact, during the Bush administration there was a never-ending war of leaks against the administration, many of them extremely damaging. (Perhaps the worst was in 2006 when the New York Times and others exposed the details of the Treasury Department’s program to track terrorist finances, thereby making it possible for terrorists to move money undetected.) But did the Bush administration ever resort to this kind of spying on the press? Of course not.

IRS scandal deepens

May 14, 2013

The IRS’s misconduct in its Tea Party persecution is not limited to targeting them for extra, intrusive scrutiny. They also were illegally leaking information to the press:

The same IRS office that deliberately targeted conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status in the run-up to the 2012 election released nine pending confidential applications of conservative groups to ProPublica late last year. . .

In response to a request for the applications for 67 different nonprofits last November, the Cincinnati office of the IRS sent ProPublica applications or documentation for 31 groups. Nine of those applications had not yet been approved—meaning they were not supposed to be made public.

Now combine this with the incredibly intrusive demands for information, not only about the applicant organizations, and not only about the organizations’ employees, but about the organizations’ employees’ families, and combine that with an explicit threat to make everything public, and you get a clear picture of what they were trying to do: If they couldn’t intimidate Tea Party groups out of applying for tax-free status, they wanted to damage them by releasing personal information.

Just to be clear, this isn’t speculation. As above, they were already doing this.

Where would they get the idea to do this? As Glenn Reynolds notes, unsealing private records is Obama’s signature move. It’s not exaggerating to say his entire political career was founded on it.

Why would they think they could get away with it? They probably noticed that the Obama administration is very good to its underlings who commit misconduct in (what they view as) a good cause. If you ship thousands of weapons to Mexican drug cartels, you get promoted (while the whisleblowers are punished). If you leak confidential information from the Justice Department in an effort to harm Republicans, and then perjure yourself about it, you get not even a slap on the wrist.

POSTSCRIPT: Now that we know that the IRS is willing to release confidential information to damage the administration’s political opponents, how do you feel about Obamacare giving the IRS access to your health care records?

UPDATE: James Taranto has several more examples of the IRS leaking confidential information.

(Previous post.)

Paper tiger

May 10, 2013

I saw this coming. Last August, President Obama said:

We cannot have a situation in which chemical or biological weapons are falling into the hands of the wrong people . . . We have been very clear to the Assad regime but also to other players on the ground that a red line for us is, we start seeing a whole bunch of weapons moving around or being utilized.

This was clearly taken as a threat of force. (NYT headline: “Obama Threatens Force Against Syria”).

Unfortunately, it was just as obvious that he didn’t mean it.  Alas, it was obvious not just to me, but also to Assad. So when Assad started moving his chemical weapons around, the administration claimed it wasn’t clear that he was doing it.  When we learned he was using them, they claimed it wasn’t clear that he was using them. And, when the evidence finally became undeniable, they were forced into a humiliating backpeddle.

The bottom line is that Obama is just really bad at this. This is a guy who actually says things like “don’t call my bluff.” In this case, the president’s aides had carefully developed a position that was supposed to scare Assad but not mean anything. But then Obama went and ad-libbed a new policy at the podium:

Moving or using large quantities of chemical weapons would cross a “red line” and “change my calculus,” the president declared in response to a question at a news conference, to the surprise of some of the advisers who had attended the weekend meetings and wondered where the “red line” came from.

This is a president who manages, on the fly, to invent a policy even worse than his intended policy of meaningless talk.

But his weakness goes so much further than that. When trying to develop a response to Assad disregarding Obama’s threats, the White House felt its hands were tied:

Mr. Obama’s advisers also raised legal issues. “How can we attack another country unless it’s in self-defense and with no Security Council resolution?” another official said, referring to United Nations authorization. “If he drops sarin on his own people, what’s that got to do with us?”

Well, that’s the problem with giving foreign dictators a veto over US policy, isn’t it? But what about “what’s that got to do with us”? A year ago Obama thought it had something to do with us, when he vowed to prevent foreign atrocities in a speech at the Holocaust Memorial Museum:

And finally, “never again” is a challenge to nations.  It’s a bitter truth — too often, the world has failed to prevent the killing of innocents on a massive scale.  And we are haunted by the atrocities that we did not stop and the lives we did not save.

These too are shown to be empty words. In April 2012 he was running for election and had to pretend to be strong, when in fact he is anything but. (See also, Benghazi.)

POSTSCRIPT: Remember this, from Joe Biden?

We’re going to face a major international challenge, ’cause they’re going to want to test him, just like they did John Kennedy, they’re going to want to test him, and they’re going to find out this guy’s got steel in his spine.

Tested he was, but steel in his spine? Not so much.

The modern legislative process

March 15, 2013

When it comes to horribly complicated legislation, Obamacare was no piker (1600 pages!), but the legislation itself pales to what it became once the bureaucrats got their hands on it:



That’s 20k pages and counting. When we started letting Congress delegate its power to bureaucrats, this was the inevitable result.

It used to be that Congress’s time would impose some practical limit on the number of rules they could impose on us, but now that the executive branch makes most of the rules without the messy process of legislation, there’s no practical limit on the rules they can burden us with.

(Via Power Line.)

A tale of two “coups”

March 15, 2013

What is a coup d’etat? I would say it refers to a seizure of power unjustified by country’s constitution or customs. A few years ago there was a great hue and cry over the supposed coup in Honduras, in which the Honduran supreme court ousted the president for violating the constitution. Even though the action complied with the Honduran constitution, and was acknowledged not to be a coup by the US Secretary of State, the Obama administration pressed ahead with sanctions against Honduras to try to force them to restore the socialist, would-be dictator to power.

However, this month we’ve seen a coup staged in Venezuela without a peep from the Obama administration or the legacy media. When Hugo Chavez died in Cuba earlier this month, he had been elected to a new term in office but had not been inaugurated. The Venezuelan constitution makes clear who assumes the presidency in such a case:

When an elected president becomes permanently unavailable to serve prior to his inauguration, a new election by universal suffrage and direct ballot shall be held within 30 consecutive days. Pending election and inauguration of the new president, the president of the National Assembly shall take charge of the presidency of the Republic.

The president of the National Assembly is Diosdado Cabello, but instead Nicolas Maduro — Chavez’s handpicked successor — has been sworn in as acting president. This is plainly a coup.

So why is the Obama administration silent about an actual coup in Venezuela, when it got so exercised over a non-coup in Honduras? It’s hard not to see it as politics. This administration likes Hugo Chavez’s brand of socialism, and in Honduras, a chavista was ousted, while in Venezuela a chavista was installed.

Sequester follies

March 6, 2013

A brief history of the sequester: (1) Democrats and Republicans were supposed to work together to devise a deficit reduction plan based on spending cuts and no tax increases. (2) If the parties couldn’t agree, the sequester would automatically impose spending cuts. (3) Both parties were supposed to be motivated to avoid the cuts, but Democrats never negotiated in good faith because they planned to renege on the ground rules and demand tax hikes. (4) Once this became clear, Republicans decided that it would be better just to let automatic cuts take place, but proposed legislation that would give the president the power to allocate those cuts to the least damaging places. (5) Senate Democrats killed that legislation, because they want the sequester to be as painful as possible. (6) The Obama administration, now, is making sure the sequester is as painful as possible.

Before the sequester, the White House promoted sequester pain by lying about what would happen. For example:

Starting tomorrow everybody here, all the folks who are cleaning the floors at the Capitol. Now that Congress has left, somebody’s going to be vacuuming and cleaning those floors and throwing out the garbage. They’re going to have less pay. The janitors, the security guards, they just got a pay cut, and they’ve got to figure out how to manage that. That’s real.

That’s President Obama, telling an outright lie. Glenn Kessler obtained two different documents explaining that capitol janitors and guards would not be effected. In Kessler’s assessment, “nothing in Obama’s statement came close to being correct.”

Now that the sequester is under way, the White House plan is to promote pain, using the time-honored “Washington Monument strategy”, in which you cut key functions but preserve the waste. Thus, in one example, the Department of Agriculture is cutting meat inspectors, but preserving a wine-tasting junket.

Will Obama get away with this cynical strategy? I wouldn’t bet against it. It all depends on the honor of the press: will they act as the administration’s lackies, and report only the painful cuts, or will they also report the wasteful spending that the administration did not cut? We’re in trouble.

(Previous post.)

Take Biden’s advice, go to jail

March 1, 2013

The very same people who want to lecture us about how dangerous guns are haven’t the first clue about how to safely handle firearms. On some level, I suppose that isn’t surprising, but they ought to be required to get some basic firearms instruction before prattling on about banning guns.

This story perfectly illustrates the point, while also providing yet another instance of our vice-president being a blithering idiot. No one should ever take Joe Biden’s advice. If you do, you could go to jail:

I did one of these town-hall meetings on the Internet and one guy said, “Well, what happens when the end days come? What happens when there’s the earthquake? I live in California, and I have to protect myself.”

I said, “Well, you know, my shotgun will do better for you than your AR-15, because you want to keep someone away from your house, just fire the shotgun through the door.”

As any responsible gun owner could tell you, you never pull the trigger without being sure of your target, which is difficult to do when firing through a door.



Not for the first time, taking Joe Biden’s gun advice could get you arrested for reckless discharge of a firearm. In fact, a Virginia man has been arrested for exactly that. We don’t know that he actually got the idea from Biden (although if Biden is to be believed, he gives the advice often), but he did exactly what Biden suggests — fire his shotgun through a door — and, sure enough, was arrested for reckless discharge of a firearm.

Sequester lies

February 23, 2013

Bob Woodward calls the Obama administration on the carpet for its lies about the sequester:

Lew, being a good lawyer and a loyal presidential adviser, then shifted to denial mode: “Senator, the demand for an enforcement mechanism was not something that the administration was pushing at that moment.”

That statement was not accurate.

(Emphasis mine.)

But this is also interesting:

The final deal reached between Vice President Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) in 2011 included an agreement that there would be no tax increases in the sequester in exchange for what the president was insisting on: an agreement that the nation’s debt ceiling would be increased for 18 months, so Obama would not have to go through another such negotiation in 2012, when he was running for reelection.

So when the president asks that a substitute for the sequester include not just spending cuts but also new revenue, he is moving the goal posts. His call for a balanced approach is reasonable [If you say so. -Scofflaw] . . . But that was not the deal he made.

Of course, expecting Obama to honor a promise is foolishness.

(Previous post.) (Via Instapundit.)

Defend yourself, the government won’t

February 22, 2013

In 1981, the landmark precedent Warren v. District of Columbia found that there is a

fundamental prin­ciple that a government and its agents are under no general duty to provide public services, such as police pro­tection, to any particular individual citizen.

Ponder that while we consider a basic question: What drives gun-control advocates? I think there are two camps: stupid and evil.

Some controllists are clearly stupid: Anyone who actually believes that criminals obey gun-control laws is stupid. Anyone who thinks that a madman planning mass murder will be deterred by an additional weapons charge is stupid. Anyone who thinks that gun-free zones turn away criminals rather than attract them is stupid. It is self-evident to anyone with an ounce of common sense that only law-abiding persons abide by gun-control laws.

More common than that, perhaps, are those who are functionally stupid. These are the people who do have some common sense, but don’t exercise it when it comes to guns, perhaps out of a visceral distaste for them. For practical purposes, the truly stupid and functionally stupid are the same group.

That’s the first camp. The second camp knows perfectly well that gun-control laws affect only the law-abiding, and that is precisely their aim. This is the evil group. Their ultimate goal is to abolish self-defense.

That much should be clear by looking at their aims: they wish to ban weapons for precisely the people who will use them against humans only in self-defense. But we can also look at history. The United Kingdom, the country at the end of the slippery slope that the controllists see as their model, has explicitly banned, not only any device that can be effectively used for self-defense, but the very act of self-defense itself. For just one example:

The TV presenter and Marks & Spencer model Myleene Klass has been warned by police for waving a knife at teenagers who were peering into a window of her house late at night. Klass was in the kitchen with her daughter upstairs when she spotted the youths in her garden just after midnight on Friday. She grabbed a knife and banged the windows before they ran away.

Hertfordshire police warned her she should not have used a knife to scare off the youths because carrying an “offensive weapon”, even in her own home, was illegal. . .

“She is not looking to be a vigilante, and has the utmost respect for the law, but when the police explained to her that even if you’re at home alone and you have an intruder, you are not allowed to protect yourself, she was bemused.”

(Via International Liberty.) Got that? “If you’re at home alone and you have an intruder, you are not allowed to protect yourself.” Frankly, I think “bemused” is the wrong reaction.

It’s not just across the pond. In the District of Columbia, a man used a gun to save a 11-year-old boy from being mauled to death by three pit bulls, and the police are considering charging him with a crime. Message: if you save a child, you risk jail. Just let the kid die.

If you aren’t permitted to protect yourself and your family, will the government do it? Usually they can’t, of course. As the saying goes, “When seconds count, the police are just minutes away.”

But if they can, will they? Don’t count on it. (Well, probably they will, but that’s because most cops are good people, not because of institutional requirements.) In Warren v. DC, the court found that the government has “no general duty” to protect you. (In the horrifying incident behind Warren, the victims were brutalized for fourteen hours, hoping for the police who never came.) This principle has been affirmed by a whole series of rulings going all the way up to the Supreme Court.

The principle has been applied frequently, as recently as last month in New York City. In February 2011, Joseph Lozito subdued a knife-wielding maniac (who had already killed four people during his rampage) on the New York Subway, incurring seven stab wounds in the process. Lozito could not carry a gun (this being New York City), but the police were present for the whole incident. Unfortunately, the police just stood by, watching from behind a locked door until Lozito finished subduing the man. Lozito sued the city, but last month the city moved for dismissal, citing the long-standing rule that they aren’t required to lift a finger to help anyone.

But I don’t mean to give the impression that the controllists’ campaign against self-defense merely leaves us vulnerable to rare incidents of police negligence. Too often, the government’s failure to protect the people is part of a deliberate campaign of oppression:

  • The classic example of this is the postbellum South, in which officials felt limited in how far they could go officially to oppress freed slaves, but could easily stand by while the mob put “uppity” blacks in their place.
  • In the 1991 Crown Heights riot in New York City, police (under orders from the mayor, David Dinkins) allowed the pogrom to go on for three days before finally marshalling enough force to restore order.
  • In the District of Columbia during the mid-1990s, Mayor Marion Barry once threatened to pull the police out of the wards represented by councilmen who refused to support his budget.
  • After Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, the police looted stores, gunned down unarmed innocents, and went door-to-door illegally confiscating (i.e., stealing) firearms and assaulting their owners. The perpetrators of the Danzinger Bridge shootings were eventually punished, after a failed police cover-up, but (as far as I can tell) no police were ever punished for looting or for stealing firearms. (The police made a big show of investigating accused looters, but in the only cases I can find they “cleared” them of the charges.) New Orleans even refused to return the stolen weapons and had to be forced to do so.

What each of these incidents have in common is they took place were guns were restricted. In New York City and the District of Columbia it was (and largely still is) basically impossible for individuals to obtain guns legally. In Louisiana, citizens have the right to own guns, but New Orleans police would routinely seize any weapons they found anyway, and as soon as Katrina hit they started going door-to-door.

The experience of blacks in the postbellum South is particularly instructive. The gun-control movement in America began out of a desire to keep blacks unarmed and defenseless. Racist anti-gun laws predate the Civil War (indeed they predate the United States), but racial gun control advanced to whole new level after the emancipation of the slaves. The KKK actually began as a gun-control organization; their mission was to take guns from blacks when the government failed to do so.

This is the intellectual lineage of the non-stupid camp of the gun control movement. They want you to be defenseless, because defenseless people make less trouble. Just as they want you to depend on the government for the necessities of life (food, health care, etc.), they want you depend on them for protection from the mob. But even if you do, you still might not get that protection, because just maybe you are someone who needs to be put in his place, or be made an example of.

2nd or 4th amendment, pick one

February 19, 2013

In a revealing development, a new gun-control bill in Washington State would allow citizens who currently possess a so-called “assault weapon” to keep it, but then the police may search their home once a year without probable cause or a warrant:

In order to continue to possess an assault weapon that was legally possessed on the effective date of this section, the person possessing shall … safely and securely store the assault weapon. The sheriff of the county may, no more than once per year, conduct an inspection to ensure compliance with this subsection.

The bill’s sponsors say the provision is a mistake and they don’t know how it got there. Yeah, I’ve heard of legislative language spontaneously inserting itself into text files without any human action. That can happen.

New York execrable gun law

January 23, 2013

New York’s new gun-control law allows New Yorkers to keep 10-round magazines (for now), but prohibits them from loading more than seven rounds in one. If you miscount, you go to jail.

I defy anyone to name any constructive purpose served by such a rule. If you were to ban 10-round magazines outright, one might imagine — following the usual pattern of gun-controllists’ wishful thinking — that it would make them a little harder for criminals to obtain. But allowing the magazines eliminates even that highly-unlikely salutary purpose.

The sole consequence of this rule will be that law-abiding persons will have seven rounds, while having no effect on criminals whatsoever.

In other words, this law is not about stopping criminals, but about disarming innocents.

Most of the New York legislature can be partly excused for this: due to the illegal haste with which the bill was rammed through, they got no chance to read it. (Of course, they should have then voted no.) But the authors of the law — particularly Andrew Cuomo — have no such excuse. These are simply bad people.

POSTSCRIPT: Of course, there’s more. The law not only bans “high-capacity” magazines, but confiscates the ones you already have. (Oh yes, they explain the provision by saying the banned magazines must be sold out-of-state, but what do you think will happen if you don’t?) They failed to put in an exception for law enforcement. And, they have accidentally banned the biathlon (which uses an unusual 8-round magazine), which Olympic athletes train for in Lake Placid, New York.


January 14, 2013

Bill Clinton, professional liar and sometime president:

Half of all mass killings in the United States have occurred since the assault weapons ban expired in 2005, half of all of them in the history of the country.

This isn’t even close to true. Moreover, he knows it. Glenn Kessler adds:

We ran this data past a spokesman for Clinton, but he declined to comment or offer an explanation for where the former president got his facts. That always makes us suspicious.

The fact that it was Bill Clinton talking should have made him suspicious, but I suppose we must make allowances for liberal journalists.

(Via Power Line.)

The slippery slope

January 12, 2013

Dianne Feinstein is a liar:

In fact, getting the camel’s nose under the tent, as Ifill puts it, is exactly what they are trying to accomplish. As Olson and Kopel exhaustively document in All the Way Down the Slippery Slope: Gun Prohibition in England and Some Lessons for Civil Liberties in America, the gun banners got Great Britain from complete gun freedom to a complete ban by taking slow, seemingly moderate steps:

Severe enforcement of the rifle and handgun licensing system would not have worked in 1922. Too many gun owners would have been outraged by the rapid move from a free society to one of repressive controls. By initially enforcing the 1920 legislation with moderation, and then with gradually increasing severity, the British government acclimated British gun owners to higher and higher levels of control. . .

The frog-cooking principle helps explain why America’s Handgun Control, Inc. (HCI), and the other anti-gun lobbies are so desperate to pass any kind of gun control, even controls that most observers agree will accomplish very little. By lobbying for the enactment of, for example, the Brady Bill, HCI established the principle of a national gun licensing system. Once a lenient national handgun licensing system was established in 1993, the foundation was laid so that the licensing system can gradually be tightened.

They’re trying the same thing here, but Americans are wise to them, which is why we fight everything. The courts have held that the First Amendment protection for free speech requires “breathing room”, which means that not only must the government not ban free speech, it must not come anywhere near it. The British experience shows that we need “breathing room” for the Second Amendment as well.

UPDATE: A Washington Post editorial from 1994 admitted that the the so-called assault weapon ban served no purpose other than as a stepping stone:

No one should have any illusions about what was accomplished (by the ban). Assault weapons play a part in only a small percentage of crime. The provision is mainly symbolic; its virtue will be if it turns out to be, as hoped, a stepping stone to broader gun control.

Krugman: monetize the debt

January 8, 2013

Under our monetary system, the Federal Reserve (a quasi-independent body) controls the issuing of currency and other levers that influence the money supply. This is supposed to serve as a check on the government’s ability to print money unwisely. It’s a weak check, but a check nonetheless. However, it seems that federal law contains a loophole (dealing with the minting of platinum coins) that allows the Treasury to issue currency without the approval of the Federal Reserve.

Nevertheless, even if the Treasury can do it, monetizing the debt is a crackpot idea. I thought everyone knew that, so I never paid any attention to the talk of minting trillion-dollar platinum coins.

But now, Paul Krugman is advocating it:

Should President Obama be willing to print a $1 trillion platinum coin if Republicans try to force America into default? Yes, absolutely. . . By minting a $1 trillion coin, then depositing it at the Fed, the Treasury could acquire enough cash to sidestep the debt ceiling — while doing no economic harm at all.

Got that? No economic harm at all! We’re in LaRouche territory here, folks!

POSTSCRIPT: By the way, the notion that Republicans would try to “force America into default” is pure partisan bullshit. As we learned from the last go-round with the debt ceiling, Republicans wanted to ensure that the debt was paid, and proposed legislation to ensure that by giving debt service priority. It was voted down on party lines, because Democrats wanted to keep default on the table. Quite simply, Democrats preferred to risk default than to make meaningful cuts to spending. So what Krugman really means is:

Should President Obama be willing to print a $1 trillion platinum coin if Republicans try to cut spending? Yes, absolutely.

This kind of thinking leads to hyper-inflation.

(Via Power Line.)

Yes, Virginia

December 29, 2012

Yes, the 2008 financial meltdown was substantially caused by the Community Reinvestment Act, which:

  • Required banks to lend more to low-income communities.
  • Directed Fannie and Freddie to buy up mortgages and turn them into securities.
  • Directed Fannie and Freddie to buy up high-risk mortgages, thereby encouraging banks to make more high-risk loans.

The left is desperate to deny this, since the financial meltdown was their entire pretext, not just for staying in power despite an appalling economic record, but also for ruinous regulation of the financial sector. So far, with the help of their media allies, they have been largely successful at keeping the connection out of the public consciousness.

But that hasn’t kept economists from studying the subject, and a new paper shows a strong connection:

Did the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) Lead to Risky Lending?

Yes, it did. We use exogenous variation in banks’ incentives to conform to the standards of the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) around regulatory exam dates to trace out the effect of the CRA on lending activity. . . We find that adherence to the act led to riskier lending by banks. . . These patterns are accentuated in CRA-eligible census tracts and are concentrated among large banks. The effects are strongest during the time period when the market for private securitization was booming.

POSTSCRIPT: Because we ought to be reminded of it every few years, after the jump are some excerpts from the anti-prophetic 1999 LA Times article that covered nearly every aspect of the CRA that caused the financial crisis without seeing any problem with any of them:

Read the rest of this entry »

How freedom came to Michigan

December 12, 2012

This story of how Michigan’s labor unions were hoisted by their own petard simply warms the heart. Jillian Kay Melchior tells the story at the Corner:

It seems that some Michigan Republicans — controlling the legislature and the governorship — wanted to make Michigan a right-to-work state. But Governor Rick Snyder, again a Republican, was against it. Not that he was against it in principle, but he felt that it was a divisive issue and it wasn’t the time for that debate. However, the labor unions felt differently; they introduced a ballot measure that would have prohibited right-to-work (and also given themselves various other goodies). This forced Republicans to take up the debate they had not planned to have. And the labor unions lost at the polls.

Having won the argument at the polls, Republicans has no reason not to go ahead with right-to-work legislation. Michigan’s unions now face the catastrophe (for them) of worker freedom, and it is entirely of their own making. It’s a heart-warming holiday story.

Anyway, the unions were left screaming about how right-to-work gave non-members workers the ability to freeload on the bargaining conducted by the union. In fact, just 11% of union dues go to contract bargaining (the majority goes to union administration). But numbers aside, the whole argument is a lie.

The truth is, unions are permitted to exclude non-members from the contracts they negotiate. However, the unions don’t want to do that. The unions want everyone on their contract so they can control seniority and whatnot. If they allowed workers to stay off the contract, those workers disadvantaged by the union’s rules would opt out of the union.

If the unions’ concern over freeloading were genuine, they would keep non-members out of the contract, but not a single union will do that, because they want to maintain control over everyone. Right-to-work says the union can choose to control all the workers (lamentably, Federal law gives them that power), but at least disadvantaged workers won’t be forced to sanction that control, or pay for it. (UPDATE: And if you ignore both of those points, there’s still this one.)

POSTSCRIPT: Of course, in the end, labor unions are always about brute force. Basic economics shows that (absent a monopsony situation, which are very rare today) there are always replacement workers to be had. For unions to exercise monopoly power, they need to exclude those replacement workers somehow. Scandalously, labor law helps them to do that, to a large degree, but not in the case of strikes, which are labor’s main bargaining chip. Unions then fall back on force to exclude replacement workers.

Since labor unions are ultimately all about force, we shouldn’t be surprised that their response to right-to-work has been violence, and the threat of more violence.

UPDATE: Rep. Douglas Geiss’s threat (“there will be blood”) went out over the Michigan House Democrats’ official Twitter account.

The agenda

December 10, 2012

Barack Obama, 2004:

Maybe peace would have broken out with a different kind of White House, one less committed to waging a perpetual campaign–a White House that would see a 51-48 victory as a call to humility and compromise rather than an irrefutable mandate.

Any hope that Obama might approach his second term non-hypocritically has already been dispelled by his position on the “fiscal cliff”. And any such hope was foolishness anyway: after what he did in his first term, which would he be any less aggressive in his second, when he has “more flexibility”?

But what should be the Republican response? Many Republicans say that tax hikes will hurt the economy. On the contrary, I tend to think that overspending is more dangerous than overtaxation, in part because of Ricardian Equivalence, and in part because we are rapidly reaching insolvency. If we could strike a deal in which we can fix the spending problem at the cost of some tax hikes, we should take it. But such a deal is not likely to be on the table. Instead, what will be on the table is the usual bargain: tax hikes now in exchange for future spending cuts that will never actually happen. I’ve read that (can’t find the link now) while such deals typically promise a 3-to-1 ratio of spending cuts to tax hikes, on average they actually deliver a minus-2-to-1 ratio.

If fixing the problem isn’t on the table, should Republicans focus on holding the line on taxes? I don’t think so. On the contrary, two factors suggest that we should give President Obama the tax hikes on the (so-called) rich that he says he wants.

The first consideration is the sequester, which will bring dangerous cuts to defense spending. At the third presidential debate, Obama pledged that the sequester “will not happen”. But that was a lie: the very next day he was touting the sequester in an off-the-record interview, and now the administration proclaims openly that they are happy to go ahead with it if they don’t get the tax hikes they want.

The idea behind the sequester, as I understand it, was to include big cuts to defense and domestic spending, to give both sides an incentive to come to a different agreement. But that supposed more honesty from the Democratic side than actually exists. While they love to attack Republicans over any proposed cuts to domestic spending (killing Big Bird and whatnot), they are perfectly willing to see cuts to discretionary spending if such cuts advance their higher priorities, as this whole fight illustrates. Moreover, since the White House proposed the sequester (Obama’s lies to the contrary notwithstanding), one ought to expect that it serves their purposes. Republicans were foolish to agree to it.

The second consideration is broader. Our economy is screwed: Obamacare is kicking in. The EPA is regulating CO2. Dodd-Frank puts the government in control of the financial industry. And entitlement spending is quickly driving the Federal government to insolvency. (The EPA’s action is illegal, and most of the Dodd-Frank apparatus can’t legally operate until the Senate confirms the new bureau’s director, but I wouldn’t count on the courts to enforce the law.) If fixing the problem is off-the-table, it is imperative that we make sure that blame for the upcoming disaster is assigned correctly.

What Democrats are demanding — tax hikes for the “rich” — are reversible, and ultimately not within Republicans’ power to prevent anyway. Republicans can try to moderate them, but that won’t save the economy (as above, spending is the main problem), and doing so will give Democrats and their compliant media allies a way to blame the upcoming disaster on Republicans. What is essential is when the economy tanks, America knows who is at fault.

This is not to say that we should give Democrats anything they want. We should not allow them to nationalize any more industries or create any new entitlements, and we should vigorously fight Dodd-Frank and the EPA in the courts. Generally, we should not grant them anything irreversible. But tax rates are different; excessive taxes can be scaled back, and have been many times.

UPDATE: Were the Republicans to take this advice, here’s a way they should considering doing it.

Taking the “living constitution” rather too far

October 18, 2012

Chris Matthews, MSNBC’s deranged anchor, says it’s unconstitutional for people to refuse to let the president interrupt them:

I don’t think [Romney] understands the Constitution of the United States. He’s the president of the United States.  You don’t say, ‘You’ll get your chance.’

Here’s the exchange that got Matthews so upset:

ROMNEY: How much did you cut them by?

OBAMA: I’m happy to answer the question.

ROMNEY: All right. And it is — I don’t think anyone really believes that you’re a person who’s going to be pushing for oil and gas and coal. [Gestures.] You’ll get your chance in a moment. I’m still speaking.

Matthews seems to think that the Constitution makes the president a king, to whom Americans must show deference. Certainly someone misunderstands the Constitution here, but it’s not Romney.

How to hold a better debate

October 17, 2012

I never watch debates any more, and last night’s debate perfectly illustrates why not. In a worthwhile debate, the participants would make comprehensive arguments buttressed by facts. Nothing remotely like that happens in the dreadful political shows that we put on today and call debates.

The very format of political debates prevents any kind of sophisticated argument. The participants are typically given about two minutes to respond to a question, with no chance to prepare in advance, and no time even to consider their answer unless they happen to go second. No notes are permitted, so participants can use only the facts and arguments that they can commit to memory. All this leads to a mere exchange of soundbites, not the clash of reasoned arguments.

Plus, the questions are often stupid. And, worst of all, the moderators — who no one cares about at all — often insist on inserting themselves into the middle of the debate.

And then there’s the whole matter of bias in procedure. Obama and Biden have been given more time in every single debate this year, nine extra minutes in all. The moderators have interrupted Romney/Ryan more times than Obama/Biden in every single debate this year, by a total margin of 74 to 33, when they ought not ever interrupt except to enforce time. Last night Obama got the last word eight times, and Romney only three.

Here’s what they should do instead:

  1. The questions should be determined in advance. Both sides are thereby given the opportunity to prepare an argument.
  2. Notes are permitted. Candidates can bring an entire briefing book if they want, although they may well find that counterproductive. The candidates are thereby empowered to present their best arguments, not just the arguments that they can best commit to memory. The most beneficial ability would be critical thought, rather than memorization, which would align much better with the traits needed to govern effectively.
  3. Each candidate is given the time to make a comprehensive argument. I would suggest that the debate consist of six questions, with 14 minutes per question. (Fewer for longer would be even better, but I suppose the viewing public no longer has the attention span for that.) Each question would be a miniature Lincoln-Douglas debate (by which I refer to the 1858 debates, not the elaborately structured debates that go by that name today). One candidate would make an initial statement for 4 minutes. The second would then get 6 minutes to make his case. Finally the first candidate would get 2 minutes for rebuttal. The remaining two minutes would be spent on 30 seconds of applause after each segment, and 30 minutes for the moderator to read the question.
  4. The candidates would alternate giving the first answer. The first to go first would be determined by a coin flip, which would take place after the order of questions is determined.
  5. Time would be enforced automatically, with each candidate’s microphone active only when it is his turn to speak. A clock showing the time remaining for the current speaker would be visible to each candidate.
  6. The moderator would do nothing other than introduce the candidate, explain the rules, and read the questions. At other times the moderator’s microphone would be inactive.
  7. No applause is permitted other than during the designed times.

The winner in this format would be the candidate who could produce and deliver the best argument, rather than the candidate who can memorize and deliver the best sound bites. I believe it would therefore benefit conservative and libertarian candidates, who have the best arguments. But surely liberals believe otherwise. (It would be interesting to see them develop their class warfare themes into six-minute arguments.)

We would learn a lot about the confidence that politicians have in their ideas by their response to such a proposal. It is telling that Jim Lehrer, who largely let the candidate debate, and only intervened on Obama’s behalf a little bit, has been the target of such vitriol from the left, while the much more interventionist Raddatz and Crowley have been highly praised. Do liberals need a vapid format and interventionist moderator to win debates? We would see.

Lies, damn lies, and Paul Krugman

October 10, 2012

Paul Krugman is a master of two disciplines: international economics — which he no longer practices — and lying with statistics. His latest work is classic. He offers the following graph as evidence that Obama’s economic policies are working:

So employment is back where it was before the recession. Great! (It’s surprising that no one knew this, but okay.)

Except it’s not. Not remotely. If you look carefully at the y-axis, you see “Chg. from Yr. Ago”. The graph doesn’t show employment, it shows the derivative of employment!

We haven’t gotten the jobs back. On the contrary, we’ve only gotten job growth back to where it was as the economy turned into recession. There’s no hint here that we will ever get back the jobs we lost.

Here’s the thing about Krugman: He has a Nobel prize; he knows the difference between x and dx/dt. But he thinks his readers won’t notice.

(Via Power Line.)

The diary

October 1, 2012

The kerfuffle over Ambassador Chris Stevens’s diary is emblematic of the Obama administration’s meltdown over the Benghazi consulate attack. CNN recovered the diary from the compound where he died (astonishingly, it seems that no US personnel searched the premises), and they used it, reporting that Stevens was concerned about growing Al Qaeda activity in Libya and was concerned that he might be on a hit list.

The diary made a mockery of the State Department’s contention that there was no advance information to suggest that maybe the consulate should have some security. So, the Obama administration being the Obama administration, they counter-attacked, saying that CNN should not have used the diary. Now, I have no love lost for CNN, but they were just doing their jobs. Given a scoop of this importance, no self-respecting reporter would sit on it.

Some reporters refused to be distracted, and asked questions about the journal. Byron York asked:

Is fact that US govt didn’t know about Amb. Stevens’ diary indication US investigators didn’t get on case as quickly as White House claimed?

Indeed it was such an indication. In fact, we now know that (at least as of Saturday), the FBI investigators still have not reached Benghazi.

But the reporter who really got under their skin was BuzzFeed’s Michael Hastings, who asked Assistant Secretary of State Philippe Reines (Hillary Clinton’s spokesman):

Why didn’t the State Department search the consulate and find AMB Steven’s diary first? What other potential valuable intelligence was left behind that could have been picked up by apparently anyone searching the grounds? Was any classified or top secret material also left? Do you still feel that there was adequate security at the compound, considering it was not only overrun but sensitive personal effects and possibly other intelligence remained out for anyone passing through to pick up? Your statement on CNN sounded pretty defensive–do you think it’s the media’s responsibility to help secure State Department assets overseas after they’ve been attacked?

These are all very good questions, and Reines didn’t like being asked them. After a contentious exchange (in which Hastings was the first to use a mild profanity), Reines exploded:

I now understand why the official investigation by the Department of the Defense as reported by The Army Times The Washington Post concluded beyond a doubt that you’re an unmitigated [expletive].

How’s that for a non-[expletive] response?

Now that we’ve gotten that out of our systems, have a good day.

And by good day, I mean [Expletive] Off

Why would Reines lose his cool to the extent of spewing profanity? Because Hastings’s questions were unanswerable: Why didn’t they search for intelligence? Do they still maintain they had no reason for security? Is it the media’s job to collect this stuff for them? And why, as Hastings asked in exasperation during their exchange, don’t they give some answers that “aren’t [expletive] for a change?”

(Previous post.)

Nice poll, shame if something happened to it

September 24, 2012

These guys are thugs:

Senior Obama Campaign adviser David Axelrod reportedly contacted The Gallup Organization to discuss the company’s research methodology after their poll’s findings were unfavorable to the President. After declining to adjust their methodology, Gallup was named in an unrelated lawsuit by the DOJ. . .

In response to that email, a third senior Gallup official said he thought Axelrod’s pressure “sounds a little like a Godfather situation.”

“Imagine Axel[rod] with Brando’s voice: ‘[Name redacted], I’d like you to come over and explain your methodology…You got a nice poll there….would be a shame if anything happened to it…’”

Was the Benghazi attack planned?

September 19, 2012

Despite the considerable evidence that the attack on our Benghazi consulate was pre-planned and that the anti-Islam film was just a pretext, the White House denies it. More than that, the White House press secretary says the attack was “obviously” not directed at the United States or (ahem) the Obama administration, but was a response to the video. Susan Rice, the US ambassador to the UN, echoed that line, saying in several appearances that the attack was “spontaneous” and “not a pre-planned, pre-meditated attack”.

This is utterly idiotic. I hope they are lying, because the alternative — that the people in charge of national security actually believe this nonsense — is too scary to contemplate.

These people either believe, or want us to believe, that these protests over a YouTube video that had been out for months just happened to fall in 9/11. The “protesters” just happened to have stored away mortars and rocket-propelled grenades, and they just happened to have penetrated the consulate’s security.

The details of the attack certainly sound coordinated:

Fox News was told that the assault on the consulate came without warning and included RPGs and mortars — including at least one round that hit the consulate roof.

There were two waves to the assault, Fox News was told. According to the intelligence source, in the first wave, the attackers were heard to say “we got him” — a reference to Ambassador Chris Stevens, who was killed in the attack. Word spread, the attackers regrouped and the second wave went after the motorcade and support personnel.

It’s even been reported that there were no demonstrations before the attack began, although other reports contradict this. (Via Hot Air.) Al Qaeda announced that the attack was staged as revenge for the latest killing of Al Qaeda’s #2 man.

The Libyan president says the attack was pre-planned, and that the notion that the whole thing was spontaneous is “completely unfounded and preposterous”. Of course, it’s in his interest to say that, but the Libyans have also arrested several people in connection with the attack. They could be just rounding up the usual suspects, but isn’t this the sort of thing we should be taking a close look at, rather than dismissing out of hand?

Now Jay Carney has backed off his earlier statement, saying “we’re not making declarations ahead of the facts here.” It’s a bit late to be saying that now.

Even stranger than the administration’s position that the attack was spontaneous, is the White House’s apparent belief that it is better if it was spontaneous. They think that means the United States and (more importantly) the Obama administration are off the hook.

That’s more nonsense. It’s much worse if the attack was spontaneous, at least for America. It’s no secret that there are terrorists out there who want to attack us, but we can fight terrorists. If the general public in the Muslim world will spontaneously rise up and stage sophisticated attacks against us, with no more provocation than an obscure video, the situation is quite hopeless.

UPDATE: Added a few additional points.

UPDATE: The White House is now reversing its idiotic position:

The Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi was in fact “a terrorist attack” and the U.S. government has indications that members of al Qaeda were directly involved, a top Obama administration official said Wednesday morning.

“I would say yes, they were killed in the course of a terrorist attack on our embassy,” Matt Olsen, the director of the National Counterterrorism Center, said Wednesday at a hearing of the Senate Homeland Security Committee. . .

“We are looking at indications that individuals involved in the attack may have had connections to al Qaeda or al Qaeda’s affiliates; in particular, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb,” he said.

I can’t fathom why they thought it made sense to promote such an idiotic line.

(Via PJ Tatler.)

(Previous post.)

Benghazi and Cairo

September 15, 2012

At first I was too outraged to comment on the 9/11/2012 attacks against our embassy in Cairo and consulate in Benghazi. Then it took time to write out how truly horrible the whole mess is. There are three different aspects of the story, each demanding a different sort of outrage at different people.

The terrorists

The first is the terrorists themselves. We now know that the attacks were planned in advance, and the street protests against an anti-Islam movie were merely a pretext. We also know that the diplomats in Libya were betrayed by Libyan security. (The story doesn’t make clear whether “Libyan security” refers to security forces of the Libyan government, or just Libyan nationals hired by the consulate.)

These people are evil, and they need to be destroyed. But there is little else to say on the matter. Despite all the promises of justice, we know that nothing will be done. The history of attacks against our embassies and consulates in such places as Tehran in 1979, Beirut in 1983, Tel Aviv in 1990, Nairobi and Dar es Salaam in 1998, and Beijing in 1999, among others, shows clearly that attacks against our embassies will always be forgotten when pursuing justice is inconvenient.

The diplomats

But since those people are evil, we don’t expect any better of them. The same is not true of the pusillanimous fools at the US embassy in Cairo, who condemned the anti-Islam movie that the attackers used as their pretext. They reiterated the statement multiple times, and it was later echoed by the Secretary of State and by the President.

The embassy originally issued the statement before the attacks, and the attacks took place anyway, which demolishes any pragmatic defense that might be offered for their attempted appeasement. And as a matter of principle, their statement is a disaster:

Our entire message regarding any criticism leveled against Islam or anything else should be this: The United States government is not in the business of approving or disapproving anyone’s speech. This should not be hard!

Not only did the embassy’s statement give short shrift to the value of free speech, it was simply untrue. They said “we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions”. Well, no, actually you don’t!

We don’t condemn offense to Mormons, Catholics, Evangelicals, or Orthodox Jews. Those people and their beliefs are insulted all the time. This is true every day, but especially during election season: Our president’s re-election campaign is running a whisper campaign targeting Mormons; attacking Catholicism gets you a prime-time slot at the Democratic convention; and our president famously denigrated Evangelicals and conservative Catholics as bitter clingers. No, it’s only Muslims whom it is forbidden to offend.

Moreover, there is nothing wrong with denigrating a religion (or all religions), at least as a general matter. We call that debating ideas! Religious ideas are important, and should be debated openly. To suggest that religious ideas, unlike others, are not worthy of open debate is simply demeaning.

On the film in question, I have no opinion. I have not seen it, nor have I seen the trailer. Many people who have seen the trailer say it doesn’t look very good. That does not matter one iota. Freedom of Speech is not limited to skilled craftsmen.

The press

Finally there’s the Obama campaign and the press (who are one and the same). On the day after terrorists attack our embassy and consulate, killing our ambassador and three others, with Obama’s foreign policy lying in smouldering wreckage, Romney holds a press conference and these tools don’t ask about foreign policy. No, they want to talk about whether Romney committed a gaffe by criticizing the Embassy’s aforementioned craven statement:

It’s disgraceful that the Obama Administration’s first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks.

ASIDE: We actually get here a rare glimpse of how the press coordinates its anti-Republican message. On an open microphone we can hear reporters from NPR and CBS discussing how to phrase a question to make Romney look bad, and how to ensure that question gets asked no matter whom Romney calls on.

It’s true that Romney got one fact wrong: the Embassy first issued its apology before the embassy attack, not after. But since the Embassy reiterated its apology multiple times after the attack, that really makes no difference.

Beyond that, I honestly don’t understand what they see wrong with Romney’s statement. It can’t be that the Embassy’s statement was right. It was terrible for all the reasons I discussed above, but even if you don’t agree with a single word of that, the Obama administration itself also repudiated the Embassy’s statement:

The statement by Embassy Cairo was not cleared by Washington and does not reflect the views of the United States government.

It is suggested that he commented too soon; that by rushing to comment he missed the chance to adjust the tone for the murders that became public later. But that makes no sense. By that reasoning,  you would never comment on anything, lest something else happen afterwards. Moreover, Romney’s statement wasn’t released from embargo until the Obama administration had already repudiated the Embassy’s statement.

It’s suggested that it was unfair for Romney to blame the Obama administration for the actions of the Cairo embassy. I find this maddening. These people refuse to hold President Obama accountable for any action of his administration. Our economic woes aren’t his fault. Trafficking guns to Mexican drug cartels isn’t his fault. He apparently doesn’t even control his own administration’s policy toward Jerusalem.

ASIDE: Mitt Romney, on the other hand, is answerable for every stupid comment made by any Republican anywhere. He’s even somehow responsible for the death of a woman who is six degrees of separation from even a flimsy connection to Romney.

No. The Embassy is part of his administration. That doesn’t mean that every action is his personal responsibility, but it’s perfectly fair to refer to it as part of the “Obama administration”.

Finally, there’s the notion that Romney shouldn’t have weighed in at all. “Politics should end at the water’s edge.” “Playing politics while people are dying.” This is such a load of crap it’s awfully hard to take.

Perhaps politics should end at the water’s edge. But if it ever did, which I doubt (is there even a single example of Democrats ever supporting a war or military action initiated by a Republican president?), that notion was killed during the Reagan administration, and its corpse was dismembered during the Bush 43 administration.

The centerpiece of John Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign was opposition to the war in Iraq. And here’s Barack Obama attacking President Bush (and John McCain) for the conduct of the War on Terror, in which he explicitly cites a “brazen attack on a US base where nine servicemen were killed”:

(Via Hot Air.)

Clearly, this suggestion that one should refrain from criticizing the administration while people are dying overseas is completely disingenuous. Or perhaps they think it should only apply to Republicans.

What you have here is a disgusting display of appeasement, set against the backdrop of the complete failure of Obama’s policy toward the Muslim world. Obama said his inauguration would end the hostility of the Muslim world toward America. Instead, his weakness has exacerbated it. The media, in their role as praetorian guard for Obama’s image, naturally need to distract from that.

Their vigor in doing so has led them to coordinate at attack against Mitt Romney that makes no sense. And it has also led them to tell outright lies. On Thursday morning, I heard NPR try to isolate Romney from other Republicans, saying that other Republicans had refused to join Romney’s criticism. (This isn’t the story I heard, but late in the piece it makes the same allegation.)

This is grossly misleading on its face; they failed to note that a lot more information had come out since Romney and the White House issued their statements. Of course Congressional Republicans were going to be more circumspect. But it’s also an outright lie. At the very least, Senator Kyl (R-AZ), the number two Republican in the Senate, and Senator Blunt (R-MO) both echoed Romney’s criticism. I’m sure others did as well.

In short, we have a ruthless enemy determined to hurt us, a feckless and pusillanimous foreign service incapable of dealing with the threat, and a dishonest media determined — for narrow partisan reasons — to do all it can to obscure those facts. What a horrible, horrible affair.

UPDATE: Some have been defending the embassy, saying that its statement was not an apology. That’s actually true; it’s worse. An apology would identify with the society that permitted the video (which is to say, us). They were expressing solidarity with the Islamists.

UPDATE: Patterico says that CBS’s Jan Crawford (the one coordinating the Romney questions) is getting a bum rap. If so, she should explain herself.

UPDATE: The White House has refused to respond to calls for them to condemn a notorious anti-Christian “art” display. Well, it’s not like Christians are likely to attack any embassies.

(Previous post.)

Discovering Alinsky

September 1, 2012

J Christian Adams says that Republicans are finally learning to use Alinsky tactics against Democrats. I suppose that’s a good thing. The future of our country is too important to leave those tactics — which are undeniably effective — to the other side. Having taken the high road will be cold comfort when the statists are taking control of every facet of our lives.

But I think it’s lamentable. We’re seeing a coarsening of our politics that is probably irreversible. I hate to see the good guys lower themselves to the bad guys’ level.

In the end, as is so often the case, this comes down to media malfeasance. If conservatives and libertarians had gotten credit for taking the high road, there would have been some benefit to it, and conversely there would have been some cost to playing by Alinsky’s rule book. But with the media in the tank for the left, the left faced no consequences for their actions, and the right was branded dirty tricksters no matter what they did.