August 2009, Part 4
Jim Miller on Politics
The NYT Gets It Half Right On Cash For Clunkers: They believe that it was a good economic stimulus.
The $3 billion cash-for-clunkers program that ended last week worked well as a jolt of economic stimulus. Nearly 700,000 people used the rebate to buy new cars in July and August — adding about 0.3 to 0.4 percentage points to economic growth in the third quarter, at an annual rate.That's dubious, as this next quarter will probably show. It's likely that the program speeded up purchases, but did not inspire many additional purchases.
But the Times also recognizes that the program was not an effcient way to reduce pollution.
Assuming the clunkers would have been driven four more years, the $4,200 average rebate removed 11.2 tons of carbon from the atmosphere, at a cost of some $375 per ton. If they would have been driven five years, the carbon savings cost $300 per ton. And if drivers drive their sleek new wheels more than they drove their old clunkers, the cost of removing carbon from the atmosphere will be even higher.This is incomplete, to say the least, but it is good to see the editorial board attempting to do cost/benefit analyses. (For instance: Of course people who have replaced old gas guzzlers with new fuel-efficient cars will drive more miles.)
(As usual, they favor a higher gasoline tax, though this time they add rebates for low income drivers to their proposal. They do not note — and probably would not care — that this would mean a massive transfer of wealth from rural and exurban areas to urban areas.)
- 4:06 PM, 31 August 2009 [link]
"Plain And Simple Truth" On Tort Reform From Howard Dean: Here's a refreshing admission.
Howard Dean proved last week at Rep. Jim Moran's health care town hall meeting that even a veteran Washington, D.C., politician can level with people once in a while. A former Vermont governor and Democratic presidential aspirant, Dean was a practicing physician before he entered politics, so perhaps we should not be surprised by his explanation for why medical malpractice caps (i.e., tort reform) is not in Obamacare.The Examiner illustrates that truth with some numbers on campaign contributions.
Kudos to Dean for saying that "plain and simple truth".
- 1:04 PM, 31 August 2009 [link]
Barack Obama As Huey Long: George Will compares Obama to a famous demagogue.
And now, as Congress returns to resume wrestling with health care reform, we shall see if he continues his August project of proving that the idea of an Ivy League Huey Long is not oxymoronic.A little unfair? Perhaps. But so are many of the arguments that Obama has been making in favor of his plan — or perhaps "plan", since it doesn't exist, even on paper.
Unlike Will, I see nothing incongruous about an "Ivy League Huey Long", especially in the "studies" departments. It is, alas, not hard to find demagogues at some of our most expensive schools.
(Here's the Wikipedia biography of Huey Long.)
- 12:48 PM, 31 August 2009 [link]
Green Superstitions Are Even More Prevalent In Europe Than In The US: Dominic Dyer refutes some of the more important superstitions. Samples:
If farmers' yields were still as low as those of the 1950s, we would need nearly three times as much cultivated land to feed today's global population.None of his argument should be controversial, but all of it is, as you can see by reading the comments following his opinion piece.
- 9:10 AM, 31 August 2009 [link]
Ari Fleischer Scores a Point Against MSNBC: Using, naturally, Keith Olbermann.
The video is short, and very funny. (Though Olbermann may not like it.)
- 8:29 AM, 31 August 2009 [link]
Maurice Hilleman Saved Millions Of Lives: But few know of his accomplishments, some of which are listed in this obituary.
Dr. Hilleman probably saved more lives than any other scientist in the 20th century, said two medical leaders, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and Dr. Paul A. Offit, chief of infectious diseases at Children's Hospital in Philadelphia.("Monado" has graphs showing the impact of his vaccines on measles, hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and meningitis, though she gives no source for her data.)
At his birth, no one would have guessed that Hilleman would have such success. He was born on a farm near Miles City, Montana, which is not near any research centers. His twin sister died at birth, and his mother died the next day. He almost didn't attend college because the family was so poor.
He graduated from Montana State, and then earned a doctoral degree from the University of Chicago. Rather than go into academia, he chose to work for E.R. Squibb & Sons and, later, Merck, because he wanted to do "something useful". He succeeded.
Today would have been his 90th birthday. We should remember him.
- 8:59 PM, 30 August 2009 [link]
Man Bites Man, NYT Criticizes NYT: Or, to be more exact, publishes a review by Stephen Pollard, which contains this paragraph:
Bruce Bawer's "Surrender: Appeasing Islam, Sacrificing Freedom" is focused on this phenomenon. Bawer, an American writer who lives in Norway — the archetype, even the caricature, of the liberal European mind-set — seeks to show, among other things, that the United States is becoming as culpable as Europe, its liberal news media and college campuses willfully refusing to acknowledge the danger posed by radical Islam and opening their pages and seminars to those who seek the undoing of the very tenets that allow liberals — and everyone else — their freedoms. Bawer devotes much of his book to an attack on The New York Times for refusing to highlight the Islamist threat while swallowing the claims of figures like Tariq Ramadan, a supposed moderate who, Bawer writes, is "a habitual practitioner of the Islamic art of taqiyya — which essentially means saying one thing in Arabic and another thing in English or French."That paragraph was fun to read, especially the "willfully refusing" phrase. You'll want to read the whole review.
I suspect the Times editor didn't expect that sharp attack when he assigned the book to Pollard. And I also suspect that Bawer's criticisms of the New York Times are accurate.
(Later, the Times printed this letter, replying to the review.)
- 2:41 PM, 30 August 2009 [link]
Did Britain Trade A Convicted Terrorist For Oil? The Times of London thinks so.
The British government decided it was "in the overwhelming interests of the United Kingdom" to make Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi, the Lockerbie bomber, eligible for return to Libya, leaked ministerial letters reveal.And the appear to have powerful evidence for that conclusion, though as far as I know the newspaper has not released the letters that they have seen.
Why do the deal now? Moe Lane's guess, that Libyan dictator Qaddafi worried about what President Bush thought of him, but doesn't worry about what President Obama thinks of him, is plausible.
(More here on the oil contracts.
Note that this is a classic example of using leaks to damage an elected official; whoever leaked the letters did so, almost certainly, because they disapproved of the bargain. Usually, I disapprove of such leaks — but not in this case.)
- 7:00 AM, 30 August 2009 [link]
No Rebound In Personal Income: As usual, the chart is more interesting than the article.
A look at the chart shows you that personal income has been lower in every month of 2009 than it was in every month of 2008. And that there is no obvious rebound in the latest numbers.
So we should not be surprised to find that Americans are spending less. (Especially since we are now, finally, saving a little.)
The decline in wealth will also discourage spending, even if personal incomes begin to rise.
- 2:36 PM, 29 August 2009 [link]
Worth Reading: Bjorn Lomborg's op-ed on technological fixes for global warming.
We have precious little to show for nearly 20 years of efforts to prevent global warming. Promises in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 to cut carbon emissions went unfulfilled. Stronger pledges in Kyoto five years later failed to keep emissions in check. The only possible lesson is that agreements to reduce carbon emissions are costly, politically arduous and ultimately ineffective.As a climate change pragmatist, I am strongly in favor of (1) recognizing the failure to cut carbon emissions, and (2) doing research to find cheap ways to mitigate harmful climate change, should it occur. And it will, some time, from natural causes, if nothing else.
- 4:36 PM, 28 August 2009 [link]
The Sound Politics Team Studies Sea Level Changes: Up close.
(The kayaks are on Liberty Bay, just out from Poulsbo.)
The sea level seemed lower than it did during the early 1980s, but that is probably just because the tide was out when we got in the water. We did not have the equipment needed to make formal measurements. The local seals appeared abundant, and were tolerant of kayaks, as long as we didn't come too close.
Cross posted at Sound Politics.(Note to those who have never tried ocean kayaks: Unlike canoes and even rowboats, they are quite easy to handle. Most will find the double-bladed paddle natural in their hands from the very beginning. The foot pedal rudder controls take a little getting used to, but operate slowly enough so that you can learn as you go.)
- 1:32 PM, 28 August 2009 [link]
Can Barack Obama's Iranian Strategy Succeed? Here's a brief description of his strategy:
Long before his inauguration, Barack Obama lucidly explained how he would deal with Iran. During he campaign he said he would "engage" its leaders by offering talks without preconditions—without even asking them to stop chanting "death to America" when concluding their speeches.Obama did not explain what he expected from those talks, but it is not hard to guess. The Iranians would give up their efforts to get nuclear weapons; we (and the Europeans) would reward them with an end to sanctions, and economic help.
Edward Luttwak then explains why Obama's strategy won't work:
Mr. Obama's problem is that Mr. Khamenei could only have chosen Ahmadinejad because he does not want friendly talks with the U.S. He evidently calculates that without the ideology of "anti-Americanism" the regime would collapse. He is right.There is no reason to expect Khamenei to give up power, and so no reason to expect him to talk to us.
(One can make a devious argument that Khamenei kept Ahmadinejad in order to have someone with enough anti-American credibility to negotiate with us. That isn't impossible, but it is exceedingly implausible.)
Does Obama understand that the Iranian regime almost certainly doesn't want talks, almost certainly could not survive if it did start talks with us? I see no sign that he does. Or that he knows what he will do if the Iranians won't talk to us.
And I will go further. I have seen no signs that Obama even thinks strategically — except, of course, for winning elections. (And, most likely, sports.) He doesn't play any strategic games, not even Hearts, a favorite of Bill Clinton. He appears to have read no military history, other than a little bit about the Civil War.
(In the op-ed, Luttwak dispatches an Iranian myth that Obama used in his Cairo speech:
There was only one more step before "engagement" could begin: Mr. Obama's June 4 Cairo speech in which he apologized for the August 1953 overthrow of Iran's Prime Minister Mohammed Mosaddeq. "In the middle of the Cold War," he said, "the United States played a role in the overthrow of a democratically elected Iranian government." The CIA was certainly involved, but the cringing was quite unnecessary. By August 1953 Mosaddeq had dismissed Iran's parliament and was ruling undemocratically by personal decree. When angry mobs converged on his residence, he fled to a U.S. aid office next door trusting that the Americans would save his life. They did.I may do a longer discussion of this episode some time.)
- 10:14 AM, 28 August 2009
Not everyone agrees with me that Ahmadinejad is not a plausible negotiating partner for the United States. "Shane M.", an Iranian student, said this in a June op-ed:
One final note: the election does reveal a paradox. There is strong evidence that Iranians across the board want a better relationship with the United States. But if Mr. Moussavi were to become president and carry out his campaign promise of seeking improved relations with America, we would probably see a good 30 percent of the Iranian population protesting that he is "selling out" to the enemy.I still think the argument implausible, but no longer think it exceedingly implausible.
- 1:55 PM, 30 August 2009 [link]
Absent Minded Charlie Rangel: He is so absent minded that he forgot half of his assets.
When normal people happen to "find" their own money, it might mean a twenty left in a winter coat, or discovering change beneath the sofa cushions. But if you're Charlie Rangel, it means doubling your net worth.This absentmindness may be admirable; Rangel may be so dedicated to public service that he just doesn't pay much attention to his personal fortune. If that's the case, he should hire an accountant to take care of such details.
I don't know whether the IRS would give an ordinary taxpayer the consideration they have been giving Rangel, or whether a Republican committee chairman would escape censure for these lapses of memory.
- 8:51 AM, 28 August 2009 [link]
Four Percent! Pollsters can ordinarily get five to ten percent of respondents to agree to anything, the existence of flying saucers, the survival of Elvis Presley or Michael Jackson, and so on. So this Israeli poll result is a shocker.
The number of Israelis who see US President Barack Obama's policies as pro-Israel has fallen to four percent, according to a Smith Research poll taken this week on behalf of The Jerusalem Post.One consequence: It would be difficult, to say the least, for an Israeli government to sign an agreement that required that they trust Obama's promises.
And this Israeli distrust of Obama will have electoral consequences in the United States, too, as it becomes better known here. Israel still has the support of a majority of Americans.
(In May, a similar poll found that 88 percent of Israelis thought that George W. Bush was pro-Israel.)
- 7:23 AM, 28 August 2009 [link]
The CIA Is More Competent Than I Had Thought: For decades, I have wondered just how good the CIA was. It is hard to tell, because you hear more about the agency's failures than about their successes. And much of what happened at the CIA while George W. Bush was president was appalling, the leaks intended to undermine his policies, the open hostility to his administration from some at the CIA, the absurd Plame affair, and so on.
But the release of the inspector general's report — prompted by the never-ending debate on "torture", or enhanced interrogation — has revealed that, within the agency, there were some remarkably competent men and women, who undoubtedly saved many American lives, and even more lives of innocent foreigners.
Some samples of those successes from a Wall Street Journal editorial.
The most revealing portion of the IG report documents the program's results. The CIA's "detention and interrogation of terrorists has provided intelligence that has enabled the identification and apprehension of other terrorists and warned of terrorist plots planned for the United States and around the world." That included the identification of Jose Padilla and Binyam Muhammed, who planned to detonate a dirty bomb, and the arrest of previously unknown members of an al Qaeda cell in Karachi, Pakistan, designated to pilot an aircraft attack in the U.S. The information also made the CIA aware of plots to attack the U.S. consulate in Karachi, hijack aircraft to fly into Heathrow, loosen track spikes to derail a U.S. train, blow up U.S. gas stations, fly an airplane into a California building, and cut the lines of suspension bridges in New York.That's impressive — or should be impressive. But there are many, especially on the left, who will not be impressed by those successes, will even deny them, after reading the report.
Will we have the same level of success in the future? Not while Obama is president and Eric Holder is attorney general. Andy McCarthy, who knows a little bit about fighting terrorism, adds this point:
Though the Journal does not get into it, Binyam Mohammed was released outright by the Obama administration in February. He is now living freely in England. That's our new counterterrorism approach: Release the terrorist who planned mass-murder attacks against U.S. cities but investigate the CIA agents who prevented mass-murder attacks against U.S. cities. I suppose that's what happens when control of the Justice Department shifts from the lawyers who spent the last eight years going after the terrorists to the lawyers who spent the last eight years representing the terrorists. That certainly is Change.And I will add another: The victims of terrorist attacks, that we might have prevented had we not chosen a president determined to hobble the CIA, will mostly be in other countries, usually third world countries. No doubt Obama and Holder care about those people — but it is hard to believe that they understand how to protect them from terrorists.
- 3:41 PM, 27 August 2009 [link]
John Stossel doesn't think that Barack Obama understands competition.
"Choice, competition, reducing costs -- those are the things that I want to see accomplished in this health reform bill," President Obama told talk-show host Michael Smerconish last week.Obama has almost no education in economics, or experience in business, so we should not expect him to understand how competition works in free markets.
- 10:47 AM, 27 August 2009 [link]
A Trillion Dollar Funeral Wreath Might Be A Little Excessive: But not for NBC's Brian Williams.
And one or two other people share his opinion, I suspect.
- 9:04 AM, 27 August 2009 [link]
Worth Studying: David Goldhill's long discussion of the health care and health insurance reforms we actually need. I agree with most of his diagnosis, and with most of his remedies. I even found eerie echoes of some of my own posts in many of his arguments. For instance, like me, he thinks that health insurance does not equal health care, and that health care does not usually equal health.
Here's the heart of his argument:
I'm a Democrat, and have long been concerned about America's lack of a health safety net. But based on my own work experience, I also believe that unless we fix the problems at the foundation of our health system—largely problems of incentives—our reforms won't do much good, and may do harm. To achieve maximum coverage at acceptable cost with acceptable quality, health care will need to become subject to the same forces that have boosted efficiency and value throughout the economy. We will need to reduce, rather than expand, the role of insurance; focus the government's role exclusively on things that only government can do (protect the poor, cover us against true catastrophe, enforce safety standards, and ensure provider competition); overcome our addiction to Ponzi-scheme financing, hidden subsidies, manipulated prices, and undisclosed results; and rely more on ourselves, the consumers, as the ultimate guarantors of good service, reasonable prices, and sensible trade-offs between health-care spending and spending on all the other good things money can buy.Read the whole thing, and consider sharing it with your friends and neighbors.
By way of TigerHawk.
(Would Democrat Goldhill endorse any of the main Democratic health "reform" plans? No.)
- 7:09 PM, 26 August 2009 [link]
Some Democratic Congressmen Are Facing The Budget Facts: For example, John Adler.
While Adler has hosted some rancorous meetings across his 3rd Congressional District this summer, including in Toms River and Stafford, he has not been subjected to the kind of heckles or threats like some of his Democratic colleagues in the House of Representatives.Adler's district, New Jersey 3rd, is a swing district. (For example, the district gave Gore 54 percent of the vote in 2000, and Bush 51 percent of the vote in 2004. It was represented for many years by a Republican, Jim Saxton, who did not seek re-election in 2008.)
It's possible that next year's election has helped concentrate Adler's mind.
- 3:10 PM, 26 August 2009 [link]
Another Democratic Fund Raiser Arrested: It's almost as if something about the party attracts certain kinds of financial supporters.
A wealthy New York investor and prominent Democratic Party fund-raiser with ties to President Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton was arrested on Tuesday and accused of lying about his assets to obtain a $74 million loan from Citibank.Almost all of this is still a mystery. I haven't seen any explanations for his attempt to borrow that much money against fake collateral, nor any hints at what he planned to do with the $74 million.
(Nemazee, an Iranian-American, has some interesting history, and — possibly — some interesting connections to the Iranian regime.
Here's the formal complaint, which doesn't tell me much)
- 2:47 PM, 26 August 2009 [link]
Can We Afford Health Care "Reform"? The Washington Post comes out against all of the current plans. (I assume they mean the current Democratic plans, since the Republican plans, and there are some, have no chance of being enacted.)
Here are the first and last paragraphs in the editorial:
No one likes to be the bearer of bad news -- especially when it could threaten your multibillion-dollar health-care reform bill. And so the Obama administration did not exactly rush to publish yesterday's required mid-session update to its federal budget estimates of last February. Still, once the numbers finally emerged in the dog days of August, they retained the power to stun: Instead of a cumulative $7.1 trillion deficit over the next decade, the White House now projects a $9 trillion deficit. These figures imply average annual budget deficits greater than 4 percent of gross domestic product through fiscal 2019, a rate of debt accumulation faster than projected GDP growth. This is not a sustainable fiscal path.(Emphasis added.)
In between those two paragraphs, they tell the administration to stop blaming Bush, and to get serious about our budget problems.
Good advice, but I doubt that the administration will take it.
- 1:16 PM, 26 August 2009 [link]
CBS Knew That George Bush Volunteered To Go To Viet Nam: Even while they were putting out their false story about him being a slacker.
Bernard Goldberg has been looking into bias at CBS for years, and just now found this:
Who says? The outside panel CBS brought into to get to the bottom of the so-called "Rathergate" mess says. I recently re-examined the panel's report after a source, Deep Throat style, told me to "Go to page 130." When I did, here's the startling piece of information I found:I knew that, because I learned it from a post on Donald Sensing's site. (I'd give you a link, but the site has been retired, and not all of the old posts seem to be available on his new site.) But shouldn't this have been in every newspaper, and on every TV news program?
By way of the Instapundit.
(I learned something else from Sensing, that I haven't seen many other places: John Kerry did not volunteer for Viet Nam, and did not expect to go there when he joined the Navy.)
- 8:20 AM, 26 August 2009 [link]
Ted Kennedy, RIP: More on the man later, perhaps.
- 7:11 AM, 26 August 2009 [link]
Tourism And Memories Of The Chinese Gulag: This New York Times book review begins strangely.
One of the most curious forms of tourism in recent years has to be that of Chinese who travel to North Korea for the nostalgic gag of visiting a country that abounds in echoes of their past.But these travelers avoid talking about the human cost of the North Korean regime because, says reviewer Howard French, that reminds them of the tremendous suffering in China, not so long ago.
French begins with those paragraphs on Chinese tourism in North Korea in order to introduce Xianhui Yang's Woman from Shanghai, a collection of stories describing the terrible suffering in a single Chinese punishment camp, during the late 1950s. The stories are "fact-based" and reveal a part of history the Chinese regime would rather not see discussed.
Few in the West are much interested in those stories, even though China's suffering under Mao's rule was on a scale so immense that it is hard to imagine. (Some in the West may prefer to avoid such topics because they fell for the propaganda version of Mao, and have never brought themselves to do the right thing, and admit their error. Even now, many on the left simply prefer not to think about just how evil Mao was.)
(Here's an excerpt from the book.)
- 4:35 PM, 25 August 2009 [link]
Peak Oil? Energy expert Michael Lynch has doubts about the concept.
A careful examination of the facts shows that most arguments about peak oil are based on anecdotal information, vague references and ignorance of how the oil industry goes about finding fields and extracting petroleum. And this has been demonstrated over and over again: the founder of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil first claimed in 1989 that the peak had already been reached, and Mr. [James] Schlesinger argued a decade earlier that production was unlikely to ever go much higher.But it did. And that's despite the fact that the US has put millions of acres out of bounds for oil exploration.
Lynch has a pleasant prediction — if you want our economy to revive.
Oil remains abundant, and the price will likely come down closer to the historical level of $30 a barrel as new supplies come forward in the deep waters off West Africa and Latin America, in East Africa, and perhaps in the Bakken oil shale fields of Montana and North Dakota.If he is right, then I would expect oil prices to drop in the next six months or so, assuming there is no sudden interuption of oil production.
(Though he doesn't mention this, other fossil fuels can substitute for oil, which changes any "peak oil" predictions completely.)
- 2:28 PM, 25 August 2009 [link]
Amazing Accusations In The Daily Beast: Some people really, really dislike Rahm Emanuel.
And just like Robespierre, Emanuel has turned the president's kitchen cabinet of trusted ex-campaign workers, led by David Axelrod (whose ex-PR firm has enjoyed $12 million in fees so far from fronts controlled by the administration-directed Democratic National Committee), Mark Lippert, and Denis McDonough (a dynamic duo of hatchetmen on the National Security Council), into a Committee for Public Safety that terrorizes Washington's royals willy-nilly.I am not familiar with John Batchelor, the talk show host who wrote the piece. It is hard to evaluate these charges. Most are vague, and none come from anyone who was willing to speak on the record. There does seem to be general agreement that Emanuel is an unpleasant man, with few scruples, politically. But I haven't seen anything in his past that would make me inclined to believe that Emanuel might use blackmail or extortion, as the article suggests he has. (And it is possible that Batchelor does not mean those literally.)
(Here's Batchelor's site, and here's his Wikipedia biography. Neither tell me how literally we should take his accusations in this piece.)
- 1:34 PM, 25 August 2009 [link]
Keith Hennessey Tells You What To Look For In The Latest Budget Forecasts: Use his piece, which was written last week, to understand the news stories you will see on the Congressional Budget Office and the Office of Management and Budgeting forecasts.
Here's his grim summary:
The President entered office in an extraordinary fiscal policy situation. He began his term with a large budget deficit primarily resulting from the bipartisan TARP and a severe drop in GDP. The long-term spending pressures of retiring Baby Boomers and exploding Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid costs are only a few years away. Economic recovery and addressing long-term spending pressures should be his top priorities.All too true, I am afraid.
(Incidentally, I have been reading his site for some time, but just got around to putting up a link to it.
The CBO and OMB forecasts use different assumptions. Probably the most important difference is that the CBO forecasts "do not take into account potential impacts of policy changes". So they wouldn't, for instance, include the costs of any health insurance "reform" plans.)
- 11:22 AM, 25 August 2009 [link]
Dick Cheney Speaks Out On Holder's Investigation Of The CIA: And claims to be completely vindicated.
Cheney's paragraph is short enough so that everyone should read it all. I will only quote one sentence:
This intelligence saved lives and prevented terrorist attacks.But that sentence should be enough to get you to read the rest, which is just as hard hitting.
- 9:46 AM, 25 August 2009 [link]