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Politics 2009 Archives

December 27, 2009
POLITICS: Health Insurers Have Second Thoughts About Riding The Tiger

The Wall Street Journal notes that even as Obamacare posed great threats to the independence and profitability of health insurers, they were willing to play along with an effort they thought inevitable as long as they could get the government to force more people to buy their product and dodge the poison pill of the public option:

A year ago, the industry's main trade group, America's Health Insurance Plans, decided to try to get out in front of the overhaul effort. Insurers agreed to renounce some of their most controversial practices -- such as denying coverage to applicants with pre-existing health conditions -- hoping to gain millions of new customers through mandated coverage.

It's a time-tested strategy by Big Business in making deals with Big Government: hope you can cut a deal that puts the real hardships on consumers and small competitors, and avoid the worst for yourself. But of course, once you have traded your freedom for crumbs from the government table, you lose control over the process. And the Journal notes that insurers are starting to have some second thoughts about the deal:

Big insurers are still hoping to influence some language in the legislation before Congress sends it to the president. But one thing is clear: The initiative is poised to change their industry more than any other sector of the U.S. health-care system, with huge potential to disrupt profitability.

Cuts in government spending for Medicare Advantage, the privately run health plans for the elderly, are a major source of funding for the overhaul. And an excise tax on most insurers is set to cost the industry $70 billion over 10 years.

"We will be taking a fundamental look at our business, our business model and how we invest our capital," Ron Williams, Aetna Inc.'s chief executive, said this week.

Maybe they should have thought of that sooner.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:44 AM | Politics 2009 | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)
December 11, 2009
POLITICS: Beware The Self-Funders

Patrick Ruffini has a very insightful post at The Next Right on self-funding candidates and their role in the conservative battle against the GOP establishment. I don't necessarily share quite his vehemence against self-funders, but he makes a lot of excellent points about why Republicans should be skeptical of them as standard-bearers. A sample:

Self-funders are particulary popular among money-addled political insiders for a few key reasons. First, their personal money takes the need for much party money off the table, or so it's thought. Second, they can afford to pay consultants, and lots of them, and for eye-popping amounts. Third, they will often refill the coffers of local parties in a wink and nod exchange for much-needed endorsements. But the record of self-funders in American politics is notoriously poor...

It's not just that these candidates were running unwinnable races. Often they were way ahead after an early barrage of advertising. But they blew it, despite their money.

The dollar signs dancing around in consultants' heads don't make up for the fact that most self-funders tend to be subpar candidates for important structural reasons. First, they're political dilettantes unfamiliar with the rigors of elected politics. They make rookie mistakes. They assume their records before their recent entries into politics aren't relevant or won't be scrutinized. They have less political acumen or knowledge than many of the people I follow on Twitter, or even most of them.

Read the whole thing.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:24 PM | Politics 2009 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
December 10, 2009
POLITICS: Ted Kennedy, Pro-Lifer

An observant reader notes that my description yesterday of Ted Kennedy's support for legal abortion as "lifelong" is an overstatement. In fact, early in his public career, even Ted Kennedy had not yet embraced the casual cruelty of his party towards the defenseless unborn; indeed, Kennedy's rhetoric in those early days, displays genuine compassion for the defenseless unborn. Given Kennedy's centrality to Democratic strategy on this issue - he was the leader of the fight against the Bork nomination - it's interesting to look back. Here's Kennedy during his 1970 campaign for a second full term in the Senate:

Spaulding was what today would be called "pro-choice," and Kennedy, at that time, was passionately opposed to abortion. So when the subject came up, the senator was in full voice. He screamed, "Don't tell me there isn't enough love in the world to care for all the unwanted babies." He mentioned that adoption agencies had waiting lists.

In 1971, Kennedy put his pro-life convictions in writing to a correspondent on Long Island:

Wanted or unwanted, I believe that human life, even at its earliest stages, has certain rights which must be recognized - the right to be born, the right to love, the right to grow old....Once life has begun, no matter at what stage of growth, it is my belief that termination should not be decided merely by desire....I also share the opinions of those who do not accept abortion as a response to our society's problems...When history looks back to this era it should recognize this generation as one which cared enough about human beings enough to...fulfill its responsibility to its children from the very moment of conception.

Sadly, Kennedy's estimate of how much love there was in the world, and how much his generation should care about fellow human beings, dwindled with the years - I leave to the reader to speculate on his motivations in the regard, but two of the groups most ardently in favor of legal abortion (not to suggest that they are mutually exclusive) are Democratic presidential candidates and men who have a lot of sex with women not their wives and don't especially like to pay the consequences. What is clear, however, is that the many years Kennedy spent trying to convince Americans that the pro-life movement was somehow extremist and anti-woman were really a renunciation of his own heart. Because once upon a time, Ted Kennedy cared about the unborn.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 5:04 PM | History • | Politics 2009 | Comments (51) | TrackBack (0)
December 9, 2009
POLITICS/RELIGION: A Kennedy Tries To Tell The Bishops How To Be Catholic

For all their protestations to the contrary, liberals have an awful habit of trying to tell people of faith, notably the Catholic Church, what their faith means and how it should apply in the political sphere. If you can stomach the irony, let's take a look at the latest example of this genre, an opinion piece in the Politico by Robert Kennedy's daughter, former Maryland Lieutenant Governor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend.

Kennedy (I use her maiden name because it's the only thing that gets her published) starts off well enough, with the title "On health care, the bishops have lost their way". There, we agree; the Bishops have inserted themselves into the health care debate by calling for a national health insurance scheme - including their call for it to cover illegal aliens - that may be well-intentioned but will have many dire practical consequences, and which confuses the individual duty of Christian charity with the power to compel others to give to Caesar. These are not problems of Catholic doctrine, they are problems of practical economics and practical politics, two areas in which the Bishops do not have the most sterling record. Worse yet, as far as their purely political judgment, the Bishops seem unable to understand that positive aspects of the proposed bills - restrictions on funding for abortion, conscience protections for Catholic hospitals - may be necessary for their passage into law, but will forever be subject to unilateral renegotiation by Congress, which when it comes to massive entitlement programs always operates on the principle of Darth Vader at Cloud City: "I am altering the deal. Pray I don't alter it any further."

Pray indeed.

But of course, Kennedy wants the Church to agitate for precisely this program; what she objects to is that the Church, having come this far in support of the bill, insists that it can't support a bill that doesn't include the Stupak Amendment's restrictions on abortion funding.

Kennedy can't resist dripping scorn at the sorts of folk the Bishops have associated themselves with:

As Catholics, are we so laser focused on the issue of abortion that we are willing to join tea partiers...

Presumably, tax collectors and prostitutes would be even worse. No, on second thought, considering who supports this bill, perhaps not. But in making an argument about how the Bishops should prioritize their moral teachings, Kennedy makes not the slightest effort to explain why the Church shouldn't be "laser focused" on abortion, given that the Church teaches that abortion is a grave moral evil that entails the willful taking of a human life. That failure to consider the core nature of the Church teaching at issue vitiates the entirety of Kennedy's argument.

Kennedy goes on to defend the weaker provisions of a substitute provision that would not include the Stupak Amendment's bar on the use of federal dollars to purchase any insurance that covers abortion. As I have explained previously, the intrusive nature of the bill makes any such "middle ground" wholly illusory; either you accept the Stupak Amendment's functionally pro-life provisions, or you accept a bill that is functionally pro-abortion; the bill leaves no room for a middle ground on this issue. But in doing so, she adds calculated insult to injury:

Catholic organizations like Catholic Charities receive hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding for nonreligious services as long as those funds are separated from religious work. If this solution is good enough for Catholic organizations, then it is certainly good enough for health care reform.

So, now she just told the Catholic Church that it should regard the work of Catholic Charities as equivalent to the work of abortion mills. I'm sure that's an applause line at MSNBC and the New York Times, but if it's supposed to persuade the Bishops, she should maybe consider also comparing them to the Nazis.

If Nelson's amendment is a Senate version of the Stupak amendment, as expected, it will ban abortion not only in the public option but, effectively, throughout the exchange created by health care reform.

This is the point by which she has completely forgotten that she's still putatively talking to the Bishops, who obviously regard such a ban as a very good thing, perhaps the best thing the bill could do.

There are millions of pro-abortion rights Catholics who understand that women faced with unintended pregnancies or complications in wanted pregnancies have to make difficult, complex decisions for themselves and their families.

By now, the pretense of talking to the Bishops is completely gone, as she's instead pitching for the support of Catholics who reject the Bishops' teachings on a core issue. There are also millions of Catholics who are adulterers, drug addicts and hoodlums. The Bishops are supposed to minister to them and seek correction and forgiveness of their sins, not accomodate their embrace of sin.

The U.S. Senate recently took an important vote toward improving women's access to preventive health care under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The women's health amendment would guarantee health insurance coverage, at no cost sharing, for women's preventive care, including lifesaving screenings, well-woman exams and contraception to prevent unintended pregnancy.

This amendment captures the very essence of what health care reform is supposed to be about...

Again, Kennedy ignores here the possibility that perhaps the Bishops don't consider access to artificial contraception to be a good thing either.

I want Catholic bishops to heed the Vatican's call for charity and justice for all, not just for the wealthy and well connected.

The irony of this last coming from a Kennedy is staggering. Ted Kennedy, in his dying days, managed to get the ear of the Pope himself, and to get a Catholic funeral despite not only his personal sins - which after all, may be forgiven - but more importantly his lifelong, public and utterly unrepentant advocacy of legal abortion. There is perhaps no greater stain on the American Catholic Church's commitment to any sort of egalitarianism than the persistent favor and preferential treatment it has showered on the Kennedy family. There can be no less persuasive messenger to make such a claim than a Kennedy.

The Catholic Church is a human institution. As such, has been slow, terribly slow, to recognize the practical dangers presented by the healthcare bill. But even its belated efforts to avoid lending its support to a pro-abortion bill are apparently too much for Kennedy-style "Catholics" to bear. They have the right, of course, to reject the Church's teachings. But the last thing the Catholic Bishops need is a lecture on moral judgment by a Kennedy.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:39 PM | Politics 2009 • | Religion | Comments (11) | TrackBack (0)
December 8, 2009
POLITICS/BUSINESS: Government Motors, British Style

Claire Berlinski on the pathetic British history with nationalized car companies:

British Leyland was born. It held 40 percent of the UK car market and within five years lost nearly a quarter of it.

Why? The early seventies saw ever more intense competition from continental auto manufacturers, as well as the rise of the Asian car tigers. Leyland's management was inflexible and slow to adapt. The group had too many companies under its control, and they made similar, competing, outdated cars. The oil-price shock didn’t help. Neither did Leyland’s militant union. Led by Derek Robinson, an unapologetic Communist known as "Red Robbo," the union embarked on a series of ruinous disputes with management, regularly bringing production to a standstill.

Leyland's factories were overmanned, its equipment old, its cars ugly. Antique collectors with a keen sense of irony now cherish the dumpy Austin Allegro, known at the time as the Flying Pig. Available in beige, brown, and wilted-lettuce green, it leaked, and its rear windows spontaneously popped out. Its proudest design innovation was its squarish steering wheel. While Leyland was busy inventing the world's first square wheel, the Germans were building the Volkswagen Golf, a stylish, family-friendly, fuel-efficient hatchback that quickly became one of the best-selling cars in history.

The rest of the piece is less humorous and more dire in its parallels to the present day, as the British spent 13 years pouring taxpayer money down this rathole. Margaret Thatcher was right to oppose the whole project - as Berlinski summarizes the Iron Lady's thinking, "[i]f the economy was in crisis, she held, the government should waste less of the taxpayers' money, not more" - but even Lady Thatcher lacked the political strength to stop subsidizing the misbegotten venture until almost the end of her tenure in office, thanks to the voting power of the auto workers whose jobs continued to exist solely as a matter of public charity.

Perhaps we can still learn a thing or two from real-world history before we spend the next decade going down the same dead-end road.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:38 AM | Business • | Politics 2009 | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)
December 7, 2009
POLITICS: Science And Its Enemies On The Left, Part II(A)

In the first installment of this series, I looked at the real dangers to scientific integrity and scientific progress presented by junk science, quackery and Luddism promoted and practiced by the cultural and political Left, including the use of bad science in product liability lawsuits and the Left's attacks on vaccination, nuclear power and genetically engineered crops.

In this second part, we look at politicized science and the temptations of power. Part II is posted in its entirety at The New Ledger but my site won't support a single post that long.

III. Polticized Science

Many of the worst kinds of junk science and quackery are to be found when science is used to advance political agendas. The corrupting influence of money has nothing on the corrupting influence of political power. And contrary to what the Left may wish you to believe, the espousal of left-wing causes that advocate the expansion of such power is not an ennobling but a corrupting influence on scientific integrity. As I will discuss below, the current controversy involving climate researchers - the "Climategate" scandal triggered by the release of emails by the Climate Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia in Great Britian - vividly illustrates this.

There are at two main hazards presented when science is marshalled in political argument. One, politicians may take scientific data gathered in good faith and misrepresent, overstate or suppress it - witness John Kerry overstating the growth of carbon emissions by a factor of 32 for a recent example that didn't stand up to even mininal scrutiny. And two, scientists themselves may become willing pawns in the circulation of bad science for political ends. Recent history shows that the agenda of greater government control of society pushed by the Democrats and others on the Left has often been abetted by bad science.

A. The Politics of Stem Cell Research

The most notorious recent example of politicians running far ahead of any scientific basis for their claims, of course, came from Democratic vice-presidential candidate John Edwards, who in the course of a diatribe about the miraculous promise of embryonic stem cell research, declared in October 2004, the day after the death of actor Christopher Reeve:

If we do the work that we can do in this country, the work that we will do when John Kerry is president, people like Christopher Reeve are going to walk, get up out of that wheelchair and walk again.

Nancy Pelosi likewise claimed that embryonic stem cells had "the biblical power to cure," and Ron Reagan told the 2004 Democratic Convention, "How'd you like to have your own personal biological repair kit standing by at the hospital? Sound like magic? Welcome to the future of medicine." Of course, no such thing was or is imminent:

In January 2003, a science writer for the New York Times admitted: "For all the handwringing by scientists, you might think that therapeutic cloning is on the verge of curing a disease or two. . . . Almost all researchers, when questioned, confess that such accomplishments are more dream than reality."

But Edwards and Pelosi had elections to win. And scientists who should have known better went along for the ride:

In the summer before the 2004 presidential election, Ron McKay, from the National Institutes of Health, admitted that he and his fellow scientists had generally failed to correct the media's false reports about the promise of stem cells - but that was all right, he told the Washington Post, since ordinary people "need a fairy tale." They require, he said, "a story line that's relatively simple to understand."

In fact, the hot story in embryonic stem cell research in the middle years of the Bush Administration was a South Korean researcher, Woo Suk Hwang, looking at the use of stem cells for spinal cord research who claimed to have implanted cloned human stem cells in a cloned dog - results that turned out to be fraudulent. And proponents of embryonic stem cell research had fallen for it:

For all the major scientific journals, embryonic research had become what Robert P. George and Eric Cohen would call "a litmus test for being pro-science and the central front in the alleged war of scientific reason against religious barbarians." Science magazine had fast-tracked Hwang's work to let America know the cost of President Bush's refusal to fund embryonic stem-cell research. Scientific American published a mea culpa for all scientific journals, and it is, George and Cohen pointed out, "remarkable for both its honesty and remorse: 'Hwang is guilty of raising false expectations, but too many of us held the ladder for him.'"

This would not be the last time scientists made themselves willing pawns of the Left at the expense of their integrity.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:40 PM | Enemies of Science • | Politics 2009 • | Science | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: Science And Its Enemies On The Left, Part II(B)

B. Anthropogenic Global Warming

More recently than the stem cell controversy, we have the series of mushrooming controversies - most spectacularly the "Climategate" scandal - over Anthropgenic Global Warming (AGW), i.e., the theory that human industry is responsible, by means of carbon emissions, for an upward trend in global temperatures. AGW is very important to the Obama Administration and its allies in the Democratic Party and on the international Left; recall Barack Obama's grandiloquent pronouncement that people would remember of his clinching of the Democratic nomination in June 2008 that "this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal". But AGW theory and its adherents are rotten with bad science.

1. The EPA Report

The first sign that the new Administration was willing to push the barriers between science and politics in support of its AGW agenda was this spring's flap over the Obama Administration's suppression of an EPA report that contradicted the agency's decision to classify CO2 (the most natural of gases, being that it is exhaled by human beings) as a "pollutant" - a decision that has been used to justify "cap-and-trade" legislation as well as administrative actions on the issue without the need for legislation (the latter being supported by an agency "finding" released in April by the EPA and finalized in November that greenhouse gases threaten public health and welfare). This episode was a fairly classic example of how government policymaking in areas of scientific expertise remains more about politics than about science. Read the summary overview of that report here, and Ben Domenech's writeup here. Michelle Malkin sums up the kind of critique presented in the report:

[I]t spotlights EPA's reliance on out-of-date research, uncritical recycling of United Nations data, and omission of new developments, including a continued decline in global temperatures and a new consensus that future hurricane behavior won't be different than in the past.

Chris Mooney, the liberal author of the "Republican War on Science" book, went so far as to argue that because he disagreed with its conclusions, the EPA was right to suppress the report. Of course, this is rather a far cry from the arguments made during the Bush years that about the dangers of suppressing scientific skepticism and dissent; the orthodoxy must be enforced.

Given its policy aims, it is not surprising that the Administration was hesitant to publish a report that contradicted the AGW narrative. In fact, the AGW hypothesis presents the most egregious example in recent years - in terms of its sheer scale - of thoroughly politicized science. The AGW debate merits consideration at some length here because of its centrality to a policy debate affecting a vast proportion of human economic activity and the copious examples it provides of the corruption of politicized science. Put simply, any reasonable person who looks at the evidence must conclude that the proponents of AGW theory are political advocates first and scientists, if at all, a distant second.

Now, it may well be true - it is certainly possible - that the Earth is presently in a warming trend, and that such a trend can be projected into the future, and that human activity is responsible for that trend, and even that changes in future economic structures could alter that trend. All of that may be true, and it may be false; science is supposed to help us find the answers to such questions, and to tell us honestly if the answers cannot in confidence be found. Science is not about identifying what is possible or plausible or arguable and then asserting it as fact; it's about following the evidence wherever it may lead, to determine whether a particular hypothesis is proven, disproven, unproven or inherently unprovable. (Unprovable theories aren't without their uses in science, if they remain the most likely explanation for a set of facts - but such explanatory theories ought not to be asserted as fact, and they make a shaky basis for sweeping and disruptive public policy initiatives.)

If you were to construct a checklist of the warning signs of bad science, the campaign to persuade the public of AGW would tick off basically every box: the refusal to share data, to the point of outright destroying it; the manipulation of the peer-review process to skew results; the constant changing of models and predictions to avoid having them subject to testing against hard evidence; the campaign of alarmism and demonization of skeptics; the rank appeals to authority and consensus in place of reasoned discussion of the evidence. Only the most credulous rubes could believe the proponents of AGW without a raised eyebrow at these tactics.

2. Warming? What Warming?

The reason why AGW has such political salience, of course, is that it is used as justification for vast governmental controls over economic activity - long a project of the Left, but now with the newly-added patina of physical science as support for the same old programs. In order to justify the massive dislocations that would be caused by such controls, it is necessary not only that AGW be unquestioned, but that it be menacing; thus, we get things like a scientific advisor to the British Government claiming that AGW will annihilate 90% of the world's population if the temperature rises four degrees Celsius. And in some cases, the rush to make dire predictions founders on the most banal forms of sloppiness, as when the IPCC predicted the demise of Himalayan glaciers by 2035, when the data said 2350. A digit here, a digit there...

The need to generate predictions of doom is a double-edged sword. One of the problems at the heart of AGW theory, and which has caused no end of difficulty for its proponents, is that it is a predictive model, yet proponents of the theory keep having to change what it predicts to avoid ever allowing the theory to be falsifiable. A theory of global warming, after all, presupposes that the Earth is getting warmer, and indeed the entire basis for convincing anyone that the theory holds water is to point to the correlation between increasing industrial emissions of carbon and recent increases in global temperature. But even before you get to the questions of (1) whether the historical temperature readings are accurately recorded and presented and (2) whether correlation equals causation, you run up against the fact that persistent alarmist predictions that the warming trend would continue have not panned out.

As you may recall, the headline-grabber that made AGW a political issue in the 1990s was the famous "hockey stick" graph produced by Penn State climatologist Michael Mann, so-called because it showed a sharp upward spike in global temperatures, shaped like the blade of a hockey stick, near the end of the 20th century. The hockey stick, in turn, was premised in good part upon historical temperature data derived from a database of tree ring measurements maintained by the CRU. Mann's hockey stick was never the sole source of AGW theory, and the CRU was never the sole source of historical data, but the hockey stick graph was central to the project of capturing the public imagination and turning a scientific theory into a political juggernaut. The clear implication to anyone looking at the hockey stick was that at precisely the time of accelerating industrialization, we had entered a period of accelerating increase in global temperatures that would continue unchecked into the future. Correlation being easily confused with causation, much of the public simply accepted that the increase in carbon emissions resulting from increasing industrialization must have been the cause of the temperature spike; the two patterns were too visually striking to be coincidence.

While many scientists were convinced of the logic of computer models of how a "greenhouse effect" would work in transmuting carbon emissions into increased temperatures, scientists could never prove that their models of how carbon emissions affected the Earth's temperature were correct; you can't conduct an experiment on something as large and complex as a planet and its entire surroundings in the solar system, and there was no historical precedent for the Earth's industrialization, only a long history on this and other planets of climates changing without human intervention. But with the hockey stick, nobody needed to question the underlying logic of causation anymore than they do in the case of lung cancer and smoking (i.e., it's still not known how smoking causes lung cancer, but the statistical correlation over innumerable studies covering a very large sample is so strong that nobody today seriously disputes the causal connection despite the absence of a known mechanism - much of epidemiology works that way).

Unfortunately for the proponents of AGW, it turns out in retrospect that the hockey stick was just a figment of small and incomplete samples. You can read fuller explanations here and here, but I will summarize them briefly. Basically, the original "hockey stick" did two things: not only did it show a sharp upward spike in temperatures in the late 20th century, but it also rebutted the contention that this could be a natural phenomenon by showing the lowest temperatures in 1032, in the midst of what had been believed to be the "Medieval Warm Period." That hockey stock was premised on a 1995 paper that "depended on 3 short tree ring cores from the Polar Urals whose dating was very problematic," and when additional data became available in 1999, the updated temperature series was not published, but rather replaced with a new study from Yamal, also in Russia. But to skeptic Steve McIntyre, the Yamal data - collected in two sets - didn't add up, and he embarked on a years-long battle to get all the data to review independently. When he finally did, in September 2009, the resulting sample - using a larger sample size for late 20th century data - changed the shape of the "stick" to eliminate the blade (as well as modifying the medieval results), leaving something much more clearly resembling a random walk of statistical noise. You can see the results in this graph from McIntyre's site: the red line is the Mann/CRU hockey-stick graph, the black line is the data left out of the stick, and the green line is what you get when you combine the two sets:

Broken Hockey Stick

The bottom line:

At least eight papers purporting to reconstruct the historical temperature record times may need to be revisited, with significant implications for contemporary climate studies, the basis of the IPCC's assessments. A number of these involve senior climatologists at the British climate research centre CRU at the University East Anglia. In every case, peer review failed to pick up the errors.

The hockey stick isn't the only such example, as illustrated by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) data wrongly showing a non-existent and persistent spike in ocean temperatures in 2001.

If you had - as many AGW proponents did, in the 1990s - begun to make short-term predictions about climate trends along the lines of continuation of the Mann/CRU hockey stick trends, you would have been grievously wrong, as in fact all such predictions have proven. Since AGW rose to prominence as a political project, the past decade has shown no growth in global temperatures since the natural El Nino temperature surge of 1998. One study after another has shown that the Earth simply has not gotten warmer in the past 11 years:

[In the fall of 2009], Britain's Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research added more fuel to the fire with its latest calculations of global average temperatures. According to the Hadley figures, the world grew warmer by 0.07 degrees Celsius from 1999 to 2008, and not by the 0.2 degrees Celsius assumed by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. And, say the British experts, when their figure is adjusted for two naturally occurring climate phenomena, El Niño and La Niña, the resulting temperature trend is reduced to 0.0 degrees Celsius -- in other words, a standstill.

It's not just temperature. Sea ice levels provide another example of how testing the AGW hypothesis by treating it as a predictive model has yielded more failures than successes:

[M]ean ice anomaly -- defined as the seasonally-adjusted difference between the current value and the average from 1979-2000, varies much more slowly. That anomaly now stands at just under zero, a value identical to one recorded at the end of 1979, the year satellite record-keeping began.

+++

Earlier this year, predictions were rife that the North Pole could melt entirely in 2008. Instead, the Arctic ice saw a substantial recovery. Bill Chapman, a researcher with the UIUC's Arctic Center, tells DailyTech this was due in part to colder temperatures in the region. Chapman says wind patterns have also been weaker this year. Strong winds can slow ice formation as well as forcing ice into warmer waters where it will melt.

Why were predictions so wrong? Researchers had expected the newer sea ice, which is thinner, to be less resilient and melt easier. Instead, the thinner ice had less snow cover to insulate it from the bitterly cold air, and therefore grew much faster than expected, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center.

Likewise, Antarctic "sea ice coverage has grown to record levels since satellite monitoring began in the 1979, according to peer-reviewed studies and scientists who study the area" released in 2007.

The response of proponents of AGW: change the predictions so they don't risk being disproven by events, as illustrated by this report from September 2009:

Forecasts of climate change are about to go seriously out of kilter. One of the world's top climate modellers said Thursday we could be about to enter one or even two decades during which temperatures cool.

"People will say this is global warming disappearing," he told more than 1500 of the world's top climate scientists gathering in Geneva at the UN's World Climate Conference.

"I am not one of the sceptics," insisted Mojib Latif of the Leibniz Institute of Marine Sciences at Kiel University, Germany. "However, we have to ask the nasty questions ourselves or other people will do it."

Few climate scientists go as far as Latif, an author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. But more and more agree that the short-term prognosis for climate change is much less certain than once thought.

+++

In candid mood, climate scientists avoided blaming nature for their faltering predictions, however. "Model biases are also still a serious problem. We have a long way to go to get them right. They are hurting our forecasts," said Tim Stockdale of the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts in Reading, UK.

More here. Indeed, a 2007 study all but admitted that the prediction game would have to stay vague:

Climate change models, no matter how powerful, can never give a precise prediction of how greenhouse gases will warm the Earth, according to a new study.

+++

The analysis focuses on the temperature increase that would occur if levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere doubled from pre-Industrial Revolution levels. The current best guess for this number - which is a useful way to gauge how sensitive the climate is to rising carbon levels - is that it lies between 2.0 C and 4.5 C. And there is a small chance that the temperature rise could be up to 8C or higher.

To the frustration of policy makers, it is an estimate that has not become much more precise over the last 20 years. During that period, scientists have established that the world is warming and human activity is very likely to blame, but are no closer to putting a figure on exactly much temperatures are likely to rise.

AGW theory's inability to accurately predict global temperatures has gotten so bad that it has spurred a movement to rebrand "global warming" as "climate change," a moniker so vague that it can never be disproven (climates change; that's what they do, and have for all of Earth's history). The latest fad is "climate collapse," apparently because "change" wasn't scary enough. The ever-shifting definition of what the problem is, what it's called, and how it could be measured is a classic symptom of bad, politicized science. The constant goalpost-moving may be a drearisome feature of politics, but it's not supposed to be how science works.

Rebranding the AGW hypothesis allows things like Al Gore's scare tactics based on supposed trends projected from short-term fluctuations in natural disasters. In the specific example of Gore's misuse of disaster data, the question may be more one of politicians abusing scientific data than the underlying data being politicized, but both are problematic. It's unhelpful to have leading political figures running around telling us that "I hold in my hand a list of dire climate predictions" that nobody can subject to dispassionate review. Fortunately, the resort to dire predictions about natural disasters, like predictions about temperature, are subject to correction by events; we just finished an unusually mild hurricane season for the second time in four years, which is not at all the "climate change" that Gore is threatening (in fact, predictions of 2009 the hurricane season were also inaccurate). But not to worry; the predictions will just continue being kicked out further down the time horizon to ensure that they can't ever be disproven conclusively.

3. Consensus? What Consensus?

Given the mounting failure of efforts to convince the public that bad weather - or unseasonably good weather, either will do - is scientific proof of AGW, the theory's proponents have instead turned to appeals to authority, insisting that there is an ironclad scientific consensus that proves the theory to be true, and demanding that the citizenry trust the consensus because they're scientists.

This ought to set off serious alarm bells. To begin with, anyone remotely familiar with the history of science understands that scientific consensuses are made to be broken; most of the really important new scientific theories and discoveries since Aristotle have come from the overturning of an existing and erroneous consensus. If consensus was the end of science, we would have to consign Einstein, Darwin, and Newton to the ash heap of history.

Students of human nature should be equally alarmed. The proponents of policies supported by the "consensus" have sought to freeze that consensus in amber by embodying it in a series of reports by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, an international bureaucratic institution honored by another international bureaucratic institution with a Nobel Peace Prize. But the IPCC's reports are worth no more than the sum of their parts, especially given that only a fraction of the vaunted 2,500 scientists signing onto the IPCC reports have personally conducted sufficient research to validate AGW theory from their own personal experience and expertise.

Indeed, Jonathan Adler finds the very structure of the IPCC reports to be a threat to scientific integrity:

The effort to compile an "official" scientific "consensus" into a single document, approved by governments, has exacerbated the pressures to politicize policy-relevant science. So too has been the tendency to pretend as if resolving the scientific questions will resolve policy disputes.

Mike Hulme, an AGW believer and climate scientist at the University of East Anglia, agrees.

Government-backed and -enforced scientific consensuses have a dire history, the most notorious example of which was the work of Soviet geneticist Trofim Lysenko:

Lysenko...ruled the life sciences of Soviet Russia from the late 1920s until the early 1960s. He had a theory which fit Marxism perfectly: acquired characteristics can be inherited. This is not true, of course, but Lysenko had the Politburo and Stalin behind him. It was science that fit the political needs of the Bolsheviks, and so it was science backed by the awful power of the party and the state.

Lysenko's experiments were heralded, although the experiments were never replicated. The Soviet Union was full of botanists, biologists, geneticists, and other life scientists, and it was obvious to anyone with a free mind that Lysenko was propounding nonsense. But it was not until 1962 that the Soviet government allowed a real critique of his cartoon science.

As I will discuss below, the "Climategate" emails strike at the heart of the credibility of the IPCC reports. As the Future of Capitalism blog observes of the CRU emails:

On the broader question of climate change science, the group-think suggested by the emails is bad for the scientific process, and as Thomas Kuhn pointed out in his classic The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, it's often a precursor to a paradigm shift that, when it comes, is adamantly resisted at first. Just ask Galileo. And for a flavor of the way that the elite reacts to the questioning of the climate change consensus, check out how the once-dignified New Yorker handled Superfreakonomics, and the way that handling was praised by the Nobel laureate New York Times columnist Paul Krugman. Self-reinforcing orthodoxies have a way of being punctured in fields other than science, too, whether it is a single party's apparent dominance in Washington or mindless and widespread optimism about rising house prices.

(It should be borne in mind that groupthink and ideological bias are in addition to the far-from-foolproof nature of peer review in the first place; like any human endeavor, peer review can be and sometimes is also undone by ordinary cronyism or simple laziness or haste, as in the recent example of a scientific journal accepting for publication a nonsense article generated by a computer program, a scandal that resulted in the resignation of the journal's editor).

Proponents of the AGW consensus as definitionally unassailable have circled their wagons against the danger of free thinkers by attacking their critics as paid shills of industry. Unsurprisingly, given that carbon-emitting industries have an enormous amount to lose from the policy proposals at issue, the targeted industries have in fact sought to fund anybody who might question the forces arrayed against them. But in science, the proper remedy for self-interested assertion is transparency and replication of methods, not "na, na, na, I'm not listening."

The incessant attacks on the financial motivations of the skeptics - in addition to being antithetical to the whole project of scientific inquiry by means of evaluation of the evidence rather than argument ad hominem - not only ignores the fact that the proponents have great incentives of their own in terms of aggrandizing their political power, it also ignores that there's quite a lot of money in AGW too. As Vladimir at RedState notes:

[Employees and scientists funded by the IPCC] work for the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Of course they believe in Climate Change; it says "Climate Change" on their paychecks! The global warming opinions of organizations like the American Petroleum Institute have always been treated with skepticism; why should we not consider the source when it comes to the IPCC's studies?

If money corrupts and renders ones scientific opinions tainted, what's with Nobel Peace Laureate Al Gore? As a partner in investment bank Kleiner Perkins, he's positioned to score big from government's "investment" in green energy.

Bret Stevens notes the vast sums of money involved in the broader enterprise:

Consider the case of Phil Jones, the director of the CRU and the man at the heart of climategate. According to one of the documents hacked from his center, between 2000 and 2006 Mr. Jones was the recipient (or co-recipient) of some $19 million worth of research grants, a sixfold increase over what he'd been awarded in the 1990s....

Thus, the European Commission's most recent appropriation for climate research comes to nearly $3 billion, and that's not counting funds from the EU's member governments. In the U.S., the House intends to spend $1.3 billion on NASA's climate efforts, $400 million on NOAA's, and another $300 million for the National Science Foundation. The states also have a piece of the action, with California - apparently not feeling bankrupt enough - devoting $600 million to their own climate initiative. In Australia, alarmists have their own Department of Climate Change at their funding disposal.

And all this is only a fraction of the $94 billion that HSBC Bank estimates has been spent globally this year on what it calls "green stimulus" - largely ethanol and other alternative energy schemes - of the kind from which Al Gore and his partners at Kleiner Perkins hope to profit handsomely.

And of course, the CRU's funding includes money from the U.S. Department of Energy and the EPA. Another email shows concerns that the Commerce Department would grow "suspicious" of the CRU's activities. And the desire to keep the money flowing clearly affected AGW proponents' view of the legitimacy of criticism, as illustrated by this October 2009 email from the Climategate files:

How should I respond to the below? [an article questioning AGW theory] (I'm in the process of trying to persuade Siemens Corp. (a company with half a million employees in 190 countries!) to donate me a little cash to do some CO2 measurments here in the UK - looking promising, so the last thing I need is news articles calling into question (again) observed temperature increases--

Despite the confident assertion of consensus issued ex cathedra by the IPCC and the heavy costs in acrimony and ad hominem assault to dissenting scientists, the skeptics, organized politically by Oklahoma GOP Senator Jim Inhofe, have found no shortage of scientists willing to question the "consensus" on AGW. Senator Inhofe has released reports in 2007 & 2009 quoting more than 700 dissenting scientists, many of them quite distinguished. (One of the more distinguished skeptics is profiled by the New York Times here). Ditto for the direst predictions of climate-change disaster:

[I]f there is one scientist who knows more about sea levels than anyone else in the world it is the Swedish geologist and physicist Nils-Axel Morner, formerly chairman of the INQUA International Commission on Sea Level Change. And the uncompromising verdict of Dr Mörner, who for 35 years has been using every known scientific method to study sea levels all over the globe, is that all this talk about the sea rising is nothing but a colossal scare story. Despite fluctuations down as well as up, "the sea is not rising," he says. "It hasn't risen in 50 years." If there is any rise this century it will "not be more than 10cm (four inches), with an uncertainty of plus or minus 10cm". And quite apart from examining the hard evidence, he says, the elementary laws of physics (latent heat needed to melt ice) tell us that the apocalypse conjured up by Al Gore and Co could not possibly come about. The reason why Dr Morner, formerly a Stockholm professor, is so certain that these claims about sea level rise are 100 per cent wrong is that they are all based on computer model predictions, whereas his findings are based on "going into the field to observe what is actually happening in the real world".

In fact, one rarely has to look far for legitimate scientific skepticism about AGW climate models, even among those who buy into some aspects of AGW theory. Bjorn Lomborg, a skeptic who believes in AGW but argues that it's been overblown, notes that "there are reputable peer-reviewed studies out there that show that because we have pumped out so much CO2 in the atmosphere, we haven't gone into a new Ice Age.". A July 2009 article in Science argued that cloud behavior is a major player in global warming, and that if so, "almost all climate models have got it wrong." Others note that the historical evidence shows that the models don't account for or understand all the factors at work:

[A] new study published online [in July 2009] in the journal Nature Geoscience ... found that only about half of the warming that occurred during a natural climate change 55 million years ago can be explained by excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. What caused the remainder of the warming is a mystery.

"In a nutshell, theoretical models cannot explain what we observe in the geological record," says oceanographer Gerald Dickens, study co-author and professor of Earth Science at Rice University in Houston. "There appears to be something fundamentally wrong with the way temperature and carbon are linked in climate models."

During the warming period, known as the "Palaeocene-Eocene thermal maximum" (PETM), for unknown reasons, the amount of carbon in Earth's atmosphere rose rapidly. This makes the PETM one of the best ancient climate analogues for present-day Earth.

As the levels of carbon increased, global surface temperatures also rose dramatically during the PETM. Average temperatures worldwide rose by around 13 degrees in the relatively short geological span of about 10,000 years.

The conclusion, Dickens said, is that something other than carbon dioxide caused much of this ancient warming. "Some feedback loop or other processes that aren't accounted for in these models -- the same ones used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for current best estimates of 21st century warming -- caused a substantial portion of the warming that occurred during the PETM."

To anyone who cares about the scientific search for truth, questions of this nature are an invitation to further research. To the political zealots who regard further inquiry as damnable heresy, they are simply quibbles to be brushed aside.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:39 PM | Enemies of Science • | Politics 2009 • | Science | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: Science And Its Enemies On The Left, Part II(C)

4. Not So Interested In Sharing

Even before the Climategate story broke, we learned perhaps the most damning fact of all about the CRU: its refusal to share the raw data that purports to demonstrate that the Earth is getting warmer. There is nothing more essential to scientific integrity than the willingness to share data to enable everyone - colleagues, competitors, skeptics - to peer-review the conclusions drawn by applying your processes to that data. In a world of many minds, you can never know who will bring new insight to a problem, and the spirit of open inquiry demands that the largest number of minds be brought to bear on any problem. Yet, AGW proponents have fought tooth and nail to avoid sharing their data, until CRU admitted this summer that critical data supporting the AGW hypothesis has been tampered with to the point where it is no longer accessible in its original, unadulterated form:

In the early 1980s, with funding from the U.S. Department of Energy, scientists at the United Kingdom's University of East Anglia established the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) to produce the world's first comprehensive history of surface temperature. It's known in the trade as the "Jones and Wigley" record for its authors, Phil Jones and Tom Wigley, and it served as the primary reference standard for the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) until 2007. It was this record that prompted the IPCC to claim a "discernible human influence on global climate."

+++

In June 2009, Georgia Tech's Peter Webster told Canadian researcher Stephen McIntyre that he had requested raw data [regarding global temperatures], and Jones freely gave it to him. So McIntyre promptly filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the same data. Despite having been invited by the National Academy of Sciences to present his analyses of millennial temperatures, McIntyre was told that he couldn't have the data because he wasn't an "academic." So his colleague Ross McKitrick, an economist at the University of Guelph, asked for the data. He was turned down, too.

Faced with a growing number of such requests, Jones refused them all, saying that there were "confidentiality" agreements regarding the data between CRU and nations that supplied the data. McIntyre's blog readers then requested those agreements, country by country, but only a handful turned out to exist, mainly from Third World countries and written in very vague language.

+++

Roger Pielke Jr., an esteemed professor of environmental studies at the University of Colorado, then requested the raw data from Jones. Jones responded:
Since the 1980s, we have merged the data we have received into existing series or begun new ones, so it is impossible to say if all stations within a particular country or if all of an individual record should be freely available. Data storage availability in the 1980s meant that we were not able to keep the multiple sources for some sites, only the station series after adjustment for homogeneity issues. We, therefore, do not hold the original raw data but only the value-added (i.e., quality controlled and homogenized) data.

Jones' email response to McIntyre included a classic example of the mindset of politicized science:

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

H/T. As Bruce McQuain concludes from this shoddy episode:

Anyone familiar with data storage throughout the short history of the computer age knows this is nonsense. Transfer of data from various systems to newer systems has been accomplished without real difficulty all thorough its development. What Jones is trying very hard to do is one of two things a) hide data that he's pretty sure won't support his conclusion or b) admitting to a damningly unscientific procedure which should, without his ability to produce and share the original data, call into serious question any findings he's presented.

In short:

[T]he raw data on which the landmark 1996 United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change based its conclusion has been destroyed. The University of East Anglia's Climate Research Unit acknowledged in August that it discarded data that, in addition to the IPCC report, has been cited by other international studies as the main justification for severe restrictions on carbon emissions worldwide.

More here on additional shenanigans with CRU's computer models. As the CRU emails reveal, the destruction of data was something of a pattern driven by the need to avoid scrutiny:

A May 2008 email from Mr. Jones with the subject line "IPCC & FOI" asked recipients to "delete any emails you may have had" about data submitted for an IPCC report. The British Freedom of Information Act makes it a crime to delete material subject to an FOI request; such a request had been made earlier that month.

Only the subsequent breaking of "Climategate" has finally forced CRU to agree that it will begin to release the raw data on which its studies rest.

As things stood until mid-November 2009, the refusal to share raw data was bad enough. But it was about to get uglier.

5. "Hide The Decline"

The "Climategate" revelation of the CRU emails - which show deliberations among the CRU's scientists and with allies such as Prof. Mann - came from an unknown source, almost certainly as a byproduct of McIntyre's battle to get the concealed data. But no one now seriously contests their authenticity, and they are damning in the extent to which they confirm all the worst suspicions about the politicization of the science underlying AGW theory at an institution that has been a central player in shaping the IPCC's "consensus" reports:

In global warming circles, the CRU wields outsize influence: it claims the world's largest temperature data set, and its work and mathematical models were incorporated into the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's 2007 report. That report, in turn, is what the Environmental Protection Agency acknowledged it "relies on most heavily" when concluding that carbon dioxide emissions endanger public health and should be regulated.

At least one major figure in the scandal, CRU's Prof. Phil Jones, has already stepped down from his position pending an inquiry into the affair.

I can't hope to catalog here the full scope of the CRU emails - for example, accounts of the scientists cheering the death of one skeptic and musing about punching another in the face or questioning the motivations of their critics and comparing them to critics of Obama's health care plan - but will hit a few of the high points. The emails show CRU personnel frankly admitting the political process' impact on the science

Other emails include one in which Keith Briffa of the Climate Research Unit told Mr. Mann that "I tried hard to balance the needs of the science and the IPCC, which were not always the same"...

More broadly, they reveal a point of view in which facts need to be found to fit the theory rather than the other way around. Here's one email response to the BBC piece linked above regarding the lack of warming over the past 11 years:

The fact is that we can't account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty that we can't. The CERES data published in the August BAMS 09 supplement on 2008 shows there should be even more warming: but the data are surely wrong. Our observing system is inadequate.

In what is now the most notorious email, Jones, in a 1999 message to Mann and four others, discussed imitating a "trick" used by Mann to "hide the decline" in certain post-1960 temperatures (context explained here and here):

Once Tim's got a diagram here we'll send that either later today or first thing tomorrow. I've just completed Mike's Nature trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years (ie from 1981 onwards) amd [sic] from1961 for Keith's to hide the decline. Mike's series got the annual land and marine values while the other two got April-Sept for NH land N of 20N. The latter two are real for 1999, while the estimate for 1999 for NH combined is +0.44C wrt 61-90. The Global estimate for 1999 with data through Oct is +0.35C cf. 0.57 for 1998.

(Mann, for his part, has offered the most unconvincing of explanations as to how he could be ignorant of what this email was talking about).

This graph shows precisely the impact of Jones' trick on the dataset at issue:

Hide the Decline

H/T

A similar attitude is found in a 2009 email to Jones from Wigley, presenting strategies to "explain" a "warming blip" in the data from the 1940s - again, the sort of thing one does if presenting data in an argumentative format, rather than in the spirit of disinterested inquiry:

Here are some speculations on correcting SSTs to partly explain the 1940s warming blip. If you look at the attached plot you will see that theland also shows the 1940s blip (as I'm sure you know).

So, if we could reduce the ocean blip by, say, 0.15 degC, then this would be significant for the global mean - but we'd still have to explain the land blip. I've chosen 0.15 here deliberately. This still leaves an ocean blip, and i think one needs to have some form of ocean blip to explain the land blip (via either some common forcing, or ocean forcing land, or vice versa, or all of these). When you look at other blips, the land blips are 1.5 to 2 times (roughly) the ocean blips - higher sensitivity plus thermal inertia effects. My 0.15 adjustment leaves things consistent with this, so you can see where I am coming from.

Removing ENSO does not affect this.

It would be good to remove at least part of the 1940s blip, but we are still left with "why the blip".

A similar example of Jones insisting that the data can't be right if it contradicts his "gut feeling" is discussed here, and here an example of the CRU crew's reactions to questions raised by skeptics that they recognized as having some validity. And the examples of the CRU's misconduct may not be isolated incidents, as examination of official data at NASA and in the New Zealand government’s temperature records suggests.

Another of the alarming but - to observers of the AGW debate - unsurprising revelations was the extent to which the CRU cabal sought to control the peer-review process to determine its outcome:

Here's what Phil Jones of the CRU and his colleague Michael Mann of Penn State mean by "peer review." When Climate Research published a paper dissenting from the Jones-Mann "consensus," Jones demanded that the journal "rid itself of this troublesome editor," and Mann advised that "we have to stop considering Climate Research as a legitimate peer-reviewed journal. Perhaps we should encourage our colleagues in the climate research community to no longer submit to, or cite papers."

So much for Climate Research. When Geophysical Research Letters also showed signs of wandering off the "consensus" reservation, Dr. Tom Wigley ("one of the world's foremost experts on climate change") suggested they get the goods on its editor, Jim Saiers, and go to his bosses at the American Geophysical Union to "get him ousted." When another pair of troublesome dissenters emerge, Dr. Jones assured Dr. Mann, "I can't see either of these papers being in the next IPCC report. Kevin and I will keep them out somehow - even if we have to redefine what the peer-review literature is!"

Eduardo Zorita, a German climate researcher who reviewed papers for Climate Research, has called for three of the leading (Jones, Mann, and Stefan Rahmstorf) to be ousted from the IPCC, arguing that the CRU emails confirm what was already known by climate researchers about the corruption of the process:

I may confirm what has been written in other places: research in some areas of climate science has been and is full of machination, conspiracies, and collusion, as any reader can interpret from the CRU-files. They depict a realistic, I would say even harmless, picture of what the real research in the area of the climate of the past millennium has been in the last years. The scientific debate has been in many instances hijacked to advance other agendas.

These words do not mean that I think anthropogenic climate change is a hoax. On the contrary, it is a question which we have to be very well aware of. But I am also aware that in this thick atmosphere -and I am not speaking of greenhouse gases now- editors, reviewers and authors of alternative studies, analysis, interpretations,even based on the same data we have at our disposal, have been bullied and subtly blackmailed. In this atmosphere, Ph D students are often tempted to tweak their data so as to fit the 'politically correct picture'. Some, or many issues, about climate change are still not well known. Policy makers should be aware of the attempts to hide these uncertainties under a unified picture. I had the 'pleasure' to experience all this in my area of research.

Others have also come forward with stories of Jones' involvement in using peer review to stifle dissenting points of view. The structure of scientific peer review and of academia more broadly unfortunately creates opportunities for politicized groups to capture these institutions and enforce their particular brand of groupthink in a field like climate science. The critical way this is done - hinted at by Jones' threat to "redefine" peer review - is the existence of gatekeepers. An establishment consisting of a comparatively small number of people controls publication, which controls who gets to get jobs in academia and who has to go out into business. That establishment also controls or influences grant funding (which is often government grant funding, depending on the field), which controls whose jobs are made permanent with tenure and whose aren't. You have to publish and get funding to get and keep your job. If the gatekeepers refuse to publish or fund any dissenters, and they do refuse, then scientific consensus is not reached by reasoning but manufactured by brute force.

The kind of thinking apparent in the CRU emails is so common among AGW proponents that they are sometimes unafraid to say it aloud. Economist Thomas Schelling told The Atlantic that "It's a tough sell. And probably you have to find ways to exaggerate the threat" before musing that "I sometimes wish that we could have, over the next five or ten years, a lot of horrid things happening -- you know, like tornadoes in the Midwest and so forth -- that would get people very concerned about climate change."

Some environmentalists, like British leftist George Monbiot, found Climategate too much to stomach, leading calls for Jones to step down. But the head of the IPCC, after the fashion of all UN bodies, has circled the wagons around the Climategate miscreants; while he chastised them for being "indiscreet" in putting their comments in writing, he "said an independent inquiry into the emails would achieve little, but there should be a criminal investigation into how the emails came to light."

The Obama Administration's response, as the President prepares to journey to Copenhagen to promote new restrictions on the U.S. economy in the name of preventing AGW, has similarly been one of sheer denial of the need for re-examination of the science:

Press Secretary Robert Gibbs stressed this afternoon, and the White House nonetheless believes "climate change is happening."

"I don't think that's anything that is, quite frankly, among most people, in dispute anymore," he said during Monday's press briefing.

Climate czar Carol Browner was equally dismissive, leaning on the crutch of "consensus":

Ms. Browner initially shrugged when asked about the e-mails, saying she didn't have a reaction. But when a reporter followed up, she said she will stick with the consensus of the 2,500 climate scientists on the International Panel on Climate Change who concluded global warming is happening and is most likely being pushed by human actions.

And "science czar" John Holdren saw nothing unusual in the CRU’s behavior:

"It's important to understand that these kinds of controversies and even accusations of bias and improper manipulation are not all that uncommon in all branches of science," Holdren told the House of Representatives Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming.

This is unsurprising, since the email archive includes Holdren's own emails sharing support and suggestions with a number of the Climategate figures.

Pay no attention, in other words, to the politicized hacks behind the curtain; just know they have reached a "consensus."

C. Cutting The Corners

The assiduous use of shady science for political ends usually runs further under the radar than John Edwards' snake oil or the Climategate scandal. As liberal Slate writer Will Saletan admits of efforts to use politicized junk science to prop up "sin taxes" on junk food and fast food as a means of meddling with individuals' personal choices:

To justify taxes on unhealthy food, the lifestyle regulators are stretching the evidence about obesity and addiction.... Liberals like to talk about a Republican war on science, but it turns out that they're just as willing to bend facts. In wars of piety, science has no friends.

And Congressional liberals can be quite as uninterested in science when acting on product safety scares driven by junk science, quackery or Luddism, as NPR noted earlier this year:

A new federal ban on chemical compounds used in rubber duckies and other toys isn't necessary, say the government scientists who studied the problem.

The ban, which took effect in February, prohibits making or selling duckies and other children's products that contain chemicals called phthalates, which are used to make plastic soft. Congress passed the ban in 2008 after concluding that the chemicals posed a risk to children who chew on their toys.

The action came despite advice not to enact the ban from scientists at the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which regulates toys.

The commission opposed the ban because "there was not a risk of injury to children," says Dr. Marilyn Wind, deputy associate executive director for health sciences at CPSC.

It reached that conclusion after studying phthalates in toys for more than 25 years and acting several times to make sure children were not exposed to even a slight risk from products that contain the chemicals.

Overlawyered has extensive archives on the the Boxer-and-Feinstein-pushed legislation in question, the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA), and its disastrous effects in practice - another reminder that injecting bad science into politics has real-world consequences. In fact, there is ample historical precedent, in the hard sciences as well as in social science, for left-wing political and social agendas to drive scientific hackwork whose influence far outstrips anyone's ability to replicate its underlying research:

Consider the residue of such frauds as Rachel Carson, Alfred Kinsey, and Margaret Mead. Carson's invented findings and unscientific methods led to the banning of DDT, which in turn cost the lives of tens of millions of children in undeveloped nations. Kinsey's tortuously doctored "sex research," as Dr. Judith Riesman has so amply demonstrated, was not only invented to sate his perverted lusts, but created scientific myths about normal and abnormal behavior which haunt us to this day. Mead also simply invented research to fit her idea of what the science of anthropology ought to be in order to justify her own immature and immoral behavior. Carson, Kinsey, and Mead had an agenda before they did any research, and this agenda governed everything else.

Which brings us to the root cause of politicized science: the temptation of power.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:38 PM | Enemies of Science • | Politics 2009 • | Science | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: Science And Its Enemies On The Left, Part II(D)

IV. The Temptation of Power

Politicized science is, itself, a subset of the most profound problem of scientific integrity: the temptation presented when science is freed from the restraints that accompany all other forms of human activity, from accountability to moral opprobrium to external civilian oversight. When experts rule, the first casualty is the quality of their expertise.

The siren song of scientific triumphalism was graphically on display throughout the multi-year controversy over embryonic stem cell research. The conservative objection to such research was that it not only entailed the destruction of human embryos, but envisioned the future creation of more embryos - each containing a genetically unique human identity - solely for the purpose of destroying them in the process of scientific research. Even moreso than the question of the humanity of unborn fetuses growing in the womb, the question of whether to regard embryos outside the womb as fully human due to their distinct genetic identity is one on which people of good faith disagree. There is understandable reluctance to face the consequences of granting any legal status to an embryo, especially because embryos are routinely created with no prospect of a full human life in the process of in vitro fertilization, and by and large our society has settled without much debate on the legality and propriety of in vitro fertilization.

President Bush, weighing the moral calculus involved, reached a compromise decision - explained in a nationally televised address in August 2001 - to provide for the first time federal funding for stem cell research, whether or not it involved stem cells derived from the destruction of embryos, but drawing the line at taxpayer funding for any research that would entail the destruction of future embryos. Bush's compromise was not morally satisfying or entirely principled from anyone's perspective, but it was an attempt to balance the moral and practical considerations surrounding some of the thorniest problems of modern bioethics.

Honest critics of Bush's decision argued that Bush had drawn the line in the wrong place, and that embryos should not carry any moral weight. But those voices were few. By far the loudest talking point from the Democrats was that Bush had committed the offense of placing moral restraints of any kind on science. This was, we were told, "anti-science" or a "war on science," and as discussed above it set off an orgy of exaggerations of the promises of the science involved. At the core of the argument was the assertion that religious people in particular should not dare to speak against the morality of anything scientists might wish to explore.

The constant insistence by the Democrats that scientific progress should brook no moral restraint, and that anyone standing in the way of this particular scientific project was a dangerous theocrat, was positively chilling. Because science, with its great power not only over human liberty but human life itself, is if anything one of the human activities most in need of our most strenuous moral faculties. Biochemists and climatologists need to be subjected to civilian oversight and the moral conscience of society for precisely the same reasons as soldiers, economists, central bankers, lawyers, spies, diplomats, epidemiologists, rocket scientists, urban planners, and every other form of expert.

The temptation of the unrestrained expert comes in two stages. First, the expert in pretty much anything is subject to tunnel vision, and the greater the expertise, the greater the risk of such a focus. The expert is apt to have a limitless appetite for resources while ignoring competing social priorities. He may demand policies that maximize the ends sought by his discipline, while ignoring countervailing considerations and interests. He may refuse to accept any moral restraints or limitations on his methods or the uses of his creations.

Tunnel vision is only the beginning, however. Because the expert who learns that the recitation of jargon and the appeal to authority effectively exempts him from moral or social scrutiny has made the most dangerous discovery known to man: the ability to get away with virtually anything. Because if people will let you talk your way into money and influence with good science on the grounds that they do not understand it or have no right to obstruct it, what is to stop the expert from using bad science from accomplishing the same end, if the layman isn't equipped to tell the difference between the two?

Cracked.com, of all places, satirically captures the essence of the problem:

Every scientist dreams of a world without ethics. Whenever a scientist sees a set of twins, he or she secretly wonders what would happen if you surgically swapped their faces. They already have a chamber set up to harness the power of their screams as they gradually realize what has happened. Every day, ethics barely prevent experiments like this from being carried out.

But what if we didn't have these ethics? When Nazi doctors were let loose during WWII, the incredible rate of their discoveries were matched only by the inadequacy of words to atone for them. They might have been monsters, but without them, we never would have discovered the yield elasticity of the elderly, or learned what part of a prisoner's tongue detects the taste of angel meat.

The Nazis are obviously the extreme example, as is often the case, but the argument ad Hitlerum is a useful moral guidepost for precisely that reason: it reminds us why we insist that scientists, like everyone else, be subject to moral restraints and the skeptical eye of their fellow man. Because otherwise you do things like appointing a "science czar" who has written approvingly of compulsory abortion and sterilization as a solution to overpopulation.

In a society not yet as far gone as Nazi Germany, Climategate is what happens when scientists think nobody is looking, or at least that nobody is competent or willing to call them out. Given power, or the ability to influence those in power, the scientists have acted the way human beings have always acted around power. And because the Left provides greater scope than the Right for the exercise of power over civil society in the name of what science says is good for us - and because it denies the sources of moral remonstrance that can stand as a bulwark against scientific hubris - it will continue to offer the greatest temptations for scientists to be seduced by power.

In Part III: Dogma and the starvation of science and technology.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:37 PM | Enemies of Science • | Politics 2009 • | Science | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
December 1, 2009
POLITICS: Silly Sarge Strikes Again

I follow a handful of writers on the Left to keep tabs on their latest pathologies (and, on rare occasions, to get out in front of stories when they actually have a point), and I must say that few of them provide such a persistent source of entertainment as Greg Sargent, formerly a paid left-wing activist employed by the Soros-funded Talking Points Memo family of sites, and now a paid left-wing activist employed by the Washington Post. While the WaPo has always been admirably even-handed in its selection of op-ed writers - unlike the New York Times, it not only gives a decent amount of airtime to conservative voices but uses talented intellectual combatants like Charles Krauthammer, not Washington Generals "conservatives" like David Brooks. The WaPo's news coverage, however, has remained stocked with the same sorts of establishment liberals who staff all the big-city newsrooms. But hiring Sargent as a full-time blogger was something different: there's no hiding the fact that he's a professional activist, and many of his blog posts are uncritical reprints of Democratic press releases without even the usual effort to cloak them in the garb of a news story. It is sadly telling that the WaPo felt no need to hire a professional activist on the Right, but then most of the online Right consists of part-timers with day jobs, anyway.

One of the more ironic of Sargent's hobbyhorses, therefore, is his participation in the Left's campaign to rid the airwaves of any remaining conservative voices or coverage of their arguments. In today's installment, he makes the self-evidently ridiculous argument that the media shouldn't cover criticism of the Obama Administration by Dick Cheney, who if you recall not only just completed 8 years as the Vice President of the United States, but has also served as Secretary of Defense, White House Chief of Staff, and House Minority Whip during his decade in Congress:

Politico is only the latest outlet to grant Cheney a platform to defend his legacy and to launch political attacks on the current president. The amount of airtime that has been granted by the networks and other news outlets to Cheney and his daughter, Liz Cheney, has been nothing short of extraordinary. Why is it happening?

Is Cheney a lead spokesperson for the G.O.P. on foreign policy? He's a private citizen with no policymaking role whatsoever -- leading G.O.P. Senators more properly hold that role. What's more, Cheney's foreign policy views are far out of the mainstream. Is he a contender for the 2012 G.O.P. nomination? Nope. He has flatly ruled out a run, and the recent Washington Post poll found that he's not on the radar of the G.O.P. electorate at all for 2012.

Is he the lead spokesperson for the previous administration? Yes, Cheney was a key architect of many of Bush's best known and controversial national security policies. But so what? Some of the policies he's all over the airwaves defending have been canceled and simply don't exist anymore. Why are we even debating them, when some of the new administration's most important national security initiatives haven't even been announced yet, let alone been subjected to the test of time?

The only conceivable justification for granting Cheney so much airtime would be to allow him to defend himself in the event of a real accounting of Bush-Cheney's interrogation program. But that's unlikely to happen. In any case, why not wait until it does before booking Cheney for more interviews?

One might ask why Greg Sargent is more qualified to get his views in print than Vice President Cheney, but let us ask a few questions here about how things would have gone down when George W. Bush was president.

What if Bush was criticized by former Vice President Al Gore, then a private citizen who signalled fairly early that he wasn't running again in 2004? We know that Gore generated tons of headlines. We know he was given an Oscar, and Emmy and a Nobel Peace Prize as a reward for his criticisms.

What if Bush was criticized by former President Jimmy Carter, a figure rejected by the American electorate as firmly as anyone in memory? Carter, too, generated scores of column-inches and was also awarded a Nobel Peace Prize.

What if Bush was criticized not by a former elected official but by a left-wing filmmaker with no political standing whatsoever? Michael Moore certainly got tons of play for his bizarre rants against the Bush Administration, as indeed did numerous Hollywood figures who represent nobody but themselves.

I could go on, but as usual with these kinds of "arguments" from the Left, a little examination is more than enough to get the point: during the Bush years, nobody tried to enforce Sargent's rule that press coverage of criticisms of the Administration should be strictly limited to officeholders and potential presidential candidates. As an activist, Sargent wants to limit the universe of critics, partially to limit criticism and partially because current officeholders and future candidates always need to be more constrained in what arguments they make, more hemmed in by calculation and less free to take a stand that moves the center of public debate.

Nobody who writes for the purpose of giving an honest opinion rather than activism would defend Sargent's point with a straight face. He's just trying to help his side.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:37 PM | Politics 2009 | Comments (41) | TrackBack (0)
November 30, 2009
POLITICS: Handy Summary

The Politico's John Harris neatly summarizes the seven building narratives about Obama that are hazardous to his political health. What Harris perhaps misses is the extent to which the narratives, even the apparently contradictory ones, form a seamless whole.

Meanwhile, Greg Sargent, the Washington Post's in-house left-wing activist, argues that Harris is wrong because American exceptionalism and national security issues in general are passe. File that one under "by all means, keep telling yourselves that."

Posted by Baseball Crank at 1:11 PM | Politics 2009 • | Politics 2012 | Comments (9) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: Corporate Farmfare

Francis Cianfrocca at the New Ledger makes a startling point writing on an issue I have addressed at some length before: the excessive government involvement in America's farm policy. He argues that if you look at the numbers, the Agriculture Department's budget is larger than the profits of the entire U.S. agriculture sector.

I don't agree with his provocative conclusion that the industry would vanish without subsidies, but it would surely be compelled to adapt.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:38 PM | Business • | Politics 2009 | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
November 20, 2009
POLITICS: The Arsenal of Medicine

If you're wondering where health care dollars go in this country, the invaluable Phil Klein reminds us:

Raymond Raad, a resident in psychiatry at New York Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center and co-author of a new Cato study, presented evidence showing that the United States leads the world in the development of drugs, medical devices, and other advanced treatments. For instance, between 1969 and 2008, 57 of the 97 Nobel Prizes in medicine and physiology -- or nearly 60 percent -- were awarded to people who did their research in the U.S., and nine of the top 10 medical innovations between 1975 and 2000 were developed here. But ... once these products are developed in the U.S., they become widely available and improve health care outcomes around the world.

Read the whole thing, and remember: that's the system the Democrats are trying to tear down and replace with one more like the European countries that depend almost as heavily on American medical and pharmaceutical innovations as they do on American military protection. In both cases, the arguments for the superiority of a European model that is unsustainable on its own depend on somebody else assuming the role of America. And nobody's volunteering for the job.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:17 PM | Politics 2009 | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
BLOG: Quick Links 11/20/09

*Lots of interesting stuff out there on Sarah Palin and her book tour. the Daily Beast looks at how Palin's book and tour are a one-woman economic stimulus package. Obama's organization wants a part of that action too: Organizing for America says Palin's book tour is "dangerous," so please give them $5. As liberal writer Ezra Klein notes of the Palin coverage:

Liberal sites need traffic just like conservative sites, and the mainstream media needs traffic more than both. And Palin draws traffic. This is actually pretty good revenge for a politician who hates the media. The press had a good time showing Palin to be a superficial creature who relied more on style than on substance, and in getting the media to drop everything and focus on her book tour, she's proving that they're much the same.

Amazingly, two positive Palin pieces at Salon, and neither of them written by Camille Paglia: a favorable review of her book and a look at what she means and why she's not going away as a public figure.

And witness the McCain campaign's crack rapid-response team in action: more than a year after the election, the NY Times finally gets to talk to the stylist who bought the Palin family's clothes, and admits that Palin had nothing to do with the money that was spent.

*Mitt Romney takes apart how Obama's inexperience has led to his failure to set clear priorities and resulting lack of focus on the war and the economy while he pursues as-yet-unfinished health care and cap and trade bills and failed efforts to salvage the campaigns of Jon Corzine and Creigh Deeds. It's a mark of how inexperienced and incompetent Obama is that he can be lectured credibly on these points by a 1-term governor like Romney and a half-term governor like Palin. Michael Gerson looks in more detail at the mess that is Obama's decision-making process in Afghanistan.

*Another glorious victory for the stimulus:

The Southwest Georgia Community Action Council, after receiving about $1.3 million in funding from The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, reported creating or saving 935 jobs in their Head Start preschool program that only employs 508 people.

*Byron York looks at why Eric Holder is refusing to disclose how many Justice Department lawyers have previously represented the other side in the war.

*Patterico, as usual, is a man not to tangle with, and he remorselessly dismantles an LA Times columnist over the latest Breitbart ACORN videos. It's a facepalm with egg and crow!

*Jonathan Karl notices a $100 million payoff to Louisiana in the Senate healthcare bill to buy Mary Landrieu's vote. John Conyers, in griping about Obama's posture on the House bill, speaks about "the Barack Obama that I first met, who was an ardent single-payer enthusiast himself."

*Michael Rosen looks at Al Franken's so-called "anti-rape" bill that would preclude arbitration of sexual harrassment and various negligence-based employment claims. As Rosen notes, given that the law already bars arbitration of claims arising from rape, whereas the things it would actually change are much less dramatic, it is flatly false to describe opposition to the bill as being "pro-rape" - but then, that's pretty much Franken's M.O.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:48 AM | Blog 2006-14 • | Law 2009-14 • | Politics 2009 • | Politics 2012 • | War 2007-14 | Comments (9) | TrackBack (0)
November 17, 2009
WAR/LAW/POLITICS: The Public's Not Buying The Trial

Here in New York, the Obama Administration's decision to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and other Al Qaeda terrorists in the civilian justice system in downtown Manhattan has garnered plenty of well-earned criticism, including from New York's leading anti-terrorism experts like Rudy Giuliani, Michael Mukasey (who handled the blind sheikh trial as a district judge before becoming President Bush's third Attorney General) and Andrew McCarthy (who was one of the prosecutors), and Long Island Congressman Peter King. And not just from the Right; even arch-liberals like Daily News sportswriter Mike Lupica have weighed in against the decision. Now the people are being heard from, and while the polls as usual show some diversity of opinion, the public is deeply skeptical of this enterprise even before it gets underway, let alone after what promises to be many months of grandstanding by the terrorists, gridlock in lower Manhattan, possible setbacks in the prosecution and the hemmhoraging of scarce resources on the trial(s) (as my retired-NYPD dad put it: "there's going to be plenty of overtime for the cops.").

The critics' bases for opposing a trial are numerous, and several of them are reviewed by Erick here. And the polls now show those criticisms are shared by a majority of the nation's voters and a significant minority even in liberal New York City, with the rest uncertain.

To quickly summarize the case against the trials:

Read More »


Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:43 PM | Law 2009-14 • | Politics 2009 • | War 2007-14 | Comments (9) | TrackBack (0)
FOOTBALL: Silverdome Fire Sale

The death of Detroit continues, as the Potiac Silverdome, onetime home of the Detroit Lions, sells for a mere $583,000 to an unidentified Canadian company:

The sale of the Silverdome takes a large financial burden off the hard-hit city of Pontiac, which has fallen on hard times, with budget shortfalls and high unemployment. Earlier this year, GM announced it would close a truck plant, taking about 1,400 jobs from the city.

As a result...Pontiac could ill afford to continue paying $1.5 million in annual upkeep for the stadium. With a private owner, the property "will go back on the tax rolls," he explained.

The 80,000-seat Silverdome was the biggest stadium in the National Football League when it was built in 1975 for $55.7 million. The stadium, which sits on a 127-acre plot, is also the former home of the National Basketball Association's Detroit Pistons.

The stadium reached its football zenith in 1982 as the site of Super Bowl XVI, when San Francisco's 49ers beat the Cincinnati Bengals...

Despite its rich history, the stadium has seen little use since 2002, when the Lions concluded their last season there.

Sad.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:30 PM | Business • | Football • | Politics 2009 | Comments (7) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: David Obey Messes With Joe

President Obama, February 24, 2009, justifying his "stimulus" plan to a joint session of Congress:

I know there are some in this chamber and watching at home who are skeptical of whether this plan will work. I understand that skepticism. Here in Washington, we've all seen how quickly good intentions can turn into broken promises and wasteful spending. And with a plan of this scale comes enormous responsibility to get it right.

That is why I have asked Vice President Biden to lead a tough, unprecedented oversight effort - because nobody messes with Joe. I have told each member of my Cabinet as well as mayors and governors across the country that they will be held accountable by me and the American people for every dollar they spend. I have appointed a proven and aggressive Inspector General to ferret out any and all cases of waste and fraud. And we have created a new website called recovery.gov so that every American can find out how and where their money is being spent.

How's that working out? So badly, now, that even David Obey, the liberal Democratic chairman of the House Appropriations Committee is looking to lay the blame on the Administration before it lands on him. A lot of observers have been assuming all along that with the Democrats currently headed in the direction of a very bad midterm election in 2010, Obama, like Bill Clinton before him, would sooner or later try to triangulate the Congressional Democrats, moving towards the center to let them take the fall for the failures of big-spending, big-taxing, big-regulating, big-bailouts, big-favor-giving liberalism. But maybe at some point, they will triangulate him first.

We've already seen how unemployment has just kept getting worse with the stimulus than Obama projected without it (red dots represent the actual unemployment rate, the other two lines are the Administration's projections):

Read More »


Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:44 AM | Politics 2009 | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)
November 16, 2009
POLITICS: Malfunction


Obama's Home Teleprompter Malfunctions During Family Dinner

H/T HotAir.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:22 PM | Politics 2009 | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: Losing the Rabbit Ears

I haven't watched Sarah Palin's Oprah interview yet, but the Anchoress has and is unimpressed, specifically regarding Palin's attitude towards her media antagonists (including the AP, which assigned 11 reporters to come up with some fairly flimsy "fact-checks" of Palin's book):

I know Palin is a tough, frontier spirit, and that serves her well in many ways, but she needs to learn to delegate the punches, so that she can remain above the fray, or she will never get past this guarded, watchful, overly-cautious and defensive vibe that rang out of her like waves from a tuning fork on the Winfrey show, today. She has to know that someone else will throw the punch for her, and she has to learn to be okay with that.

Read the whole thing, as she's got more on the topic. This is one of the emerging critiques of Palin among people on the Right who are more or less sympathetic to her: she's a natural politician who connects well with people (obviously an Oprah interview is going to be mostly about the personal, not hard political issues; those interviews will be another day), and she's been horrendously mistreated by the media, and yes, George W. Bush provided an object lesson in what happens to people who never push back at critics or the media, but at some point, she's not going to go to the next level politically until she learns to let go of a lot of the criticism and let it wash over her.

We've seen with Obama what happens when a thin-skinned candidate gets through the election with minimal scrutiny and only in office really has to respond to criticism, with the result of demonizing individual critics and TV networks, using crude sexual terms like "teabagger" to describe ordinary citizens upset with his policies, taking the rostrum of the House to call his critics liars over a bunch of legislative provisions that were subsequently amended to acknowledge those criticisms, organizing campaigns to try to dismember organizations like the Chamber of Commerce that stand in his way, etc. By 2012, Americans are going to want a candidate whose response to critics is not Obama's style of peevish vendettas. If Palin wants to challenge Obama, she will have to convince people that she's not just tough enough to hit back, but sometimes tough enough to smile and take a punch.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:20 PM | Politics 2009 • | Politics 2012 | Comments (18) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: The Meaning of Jobs "Created," Part II

Somewhere in these 57 states, there exist Congressional Districts between sight and sound, in which Barack Obama is "creating jobs" that do not exist for constituents of Congresspersons who do not exist either, reports Jonathan Karl of ABC News:

Here's a stimulus success story: In Arizona's 9th Congressional District, 30 jobs have been saved or created with just $761,420 in federal stimulus spending. At least that's what the website set up by the Obama Administration to track the $787 billion stimulus says.

There's one problem, though: There is no 9th Congressional District in Arizona; the state has only eight Congressional Districts.

There's no 86th Congressional District in Arizona either, but the government's recovery.gov Web site says $34 million in stimulus money has been spent there.

In fact, Recovery.gov lists hundreds of millions spent and hundreds of jobs created in Congressional districts that don't exist.

Read the whole thing (did you know the Northern Mariana Islands had 99 Congressional Districts? Neither did I.)

I can't wait for these guys to run the Census, can you?

Posted by Baseball Crank at 4:10 PM | Politics 2009 | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: The Meaning of Jobs "Created"

The Washington Examiner spots the pattern from multiple news reports:

More than ten percent of the jobs the Obama administration has claimed were "created or saved" by the $787 billion stimulus package are doubtful or imaginary, according to reports compiled from eleven major newspapers and the Associated Press.

Based only on our analysis of stimulus media coverage in the last two weeks, The Examiner has created this interactive map to document exaggerated stimulus claims. The map, which will be updated as new revelations appear, currently reflects an exaggeration by the Obama administration of about 75,000 jobs, out of the 640,000 jobs supposedly "created or saved."

Read the whole thing, and don't miss clicking on the link for the map. Ah, well, it's only $787 billion, I'm sure there's more where that came from.

UPDATE: My favorite, of course: "A $1,000 grant to purchase a single lawn mower was credited with saving 50 jobs."

ANOTHER FAVORITE from the Sacramento Bee's report, including a quote that sums up government budgeting in a nutshell:

The California State University system received $268.5 million in stimulus funds and claimed that the money allowed them to save over 26,000 jobs or half its workforce. But when pressed, the California State University system admitted they weren't really going to lay off half their workforce, and that in fact few or none of these jobs would have been lost without the stimulus. "This is not really a real number of people," a CSU spokesman said. "It's like a budget number."
Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:48 PM | Politics 2009 | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)
November 13, 2009
WAR: The Khalid Sheikh Mohammed Lower Manhattan Reunion Tour

Pardon me if I am seeing red this morning:

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and four others accused in the attacks will be put on criminal trial in New York, Attorney General Eric Holder is expected to announce later Friday.

WHAT IN THE HELL IS WRONG WITH THESE PEOPLE?

So, Barack Obama will be staging his own New York production of Chicago, with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed as Roxy Hart ("You had it coming, you had it coming, you only have yourselves to blame...." ). We will be treated to months upon months of front page headlines giving a platform to this lunatic war criminal. The courthouses and City office buildings in lower Manhattan (City Hall, the state courts, the immigration offices, the Court of International Trade, the US Attorney's Office, the DA's office, and the main city office building that does marriage licenses and the like are all within about a two-block radius of the federal courthouses and the Metropolitan Correctional Center) will be snarled with massive security, as if lower Manhattan needs more traffic and more armed men. We'll have to have pretrial hearings on the inevitable countless motions about how KSM was apprehended and the evidence against him collected, undoubtedly to the detriment of vital sources of intelligence, like when we lost the ability to track Osama bin Laden by cellphone after our tracing of his calls was revealed by a prosecution under the DOJ Criminal Division then headed by...Eric Holder. And that's even before he starts in on the sob stories about being waterboarded. I'm not seriously concerned that KSM stands any chance of being acquitted, but a hung jury? It only takes one person with extreme political or religious views, one juror who just can't abide the death penalty (even assuming Obama's DOJ pursues it). Just imagine the controversy, if there are Muslims in the jury pool, over what questions prosecutors are permitted to ask them and whether they can be challenged. And of course, it sends the message to our enemies that there's nothing you can do to us that will get you sent through a process rougher than the one we used on Michael Vick or Martha Stewart.

I know I have spoken and written many rough things about Obama, but as Michael Moore would say, most New Yorkers voted for the man - why is he doing this to us?

It's impossible, really, to caricature this White House; even Josiah Bartlett didn't run through this many liberal stereotypes in his first season. Obama needs new writers. Blow up the World Trade Center and kill 3,000 Americans? Jail! Don't buy health insurance? Jail! Win the Nobel Prize for doing jack squat. Travel to Copenhagen to beg and grovel unsuccessfully for the Olympics, and pledge to go visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but blow off traveling to Berlin to commemorate the victory of freedom over Communism (then give a tepid speech on the subject that refuses to acknowledge Ronald Reagan). Commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Poland by unilaterally abandoning missile defense installations in Poland. Insult and disdain one faithful ally after another - Britain, India, Israel, Poland, Colombia, you name it - and cozy up to our enemies, with nothing to show for it - nothing to show for anything he's done in foreign affairs. All but ignore democratic protests in Iran while supporting an illegal effort by Honduras' president to stay on beyond the end of his term. Suddenly complain about corruption and electoral fraud in Afghanistan, while seeking the favor of Hugo Chavez and Mahmoud Ahmadenijad and Vladimir Putin - heck, Obama endorsed half a dozen people in Chicago more corrupt than Hamid Karzai. On and on and on we go, with President Apology constantly straining to run down his country's record and talk up the propagandized view of history of its enemies. He's taken more time to "evaluate" General McChrystal's recommendations about Afghan policy than it took George W. Bush to invade Afghanistan and capture Kabul after September 11. It would be funny if it wasn't tragically stupid and bound to get people killed. There is no mistake of our past that Obama is unwilling to remake.

If there's an upside to all this, after months of watching KSM up close, even liberal New Yorkers may be ready to give Dick Cheney a medal.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:15 AM | Law 2009-14 • | Politics 2009 • | War 2007-14 | Comments (90) | TrackBack (0)
November 12, 2009
POLITICS: Latest Connecticut Poll: Good News For Simmons, Bad News For Dodd, Obamacare

The latest Quinnipiac poll of Connecticut voters is out, and while it is (standard disclaimer) only one poll, it shows bad news for Chris Dodd, good news for his strongest challenger, Rob Simmons, and bad news for President Obama's health care plan.

Here's the topline result on Simmons vs Dodd:

Former Connecticut Congressman Rob Simmons has an early lead in the Republican primary race for the 2010 U.S. Senate contest and runs better than any other challenger against Sen. Christopher Dodd, topping the Democratic incumbent 49 - 38 percent...

Former World Wrestling Entertainment executive Linda McMahon gets 43 percent to Sen. Dodd's 41 percent...

Even potential Republican contenders with almost no name recognition and almost no Republican primary voter support give Dodd a run for his money.

Simmons leads a Republican primary matchup with 28 percent, followed by McMahon with 17 percent. No other contender tops 9 percent and 36 percent are undecided.

Connecticut voters disapprove 54 - 40 percent of the job Dodd is doing, compared to a 49 - 43 percent disapproval September 17, and say 53 - 39 percent that he does not deserve reelection.

The poll shows Dodd with a favorable/unfavorable rating of -15 (38-53) among men and -25 (34-59) among Independents, and a re-elect number of -24 (34-58) among men and -32 (30-62) among Independents, the latter mirroring the showing of Jon Corzine and Creigh Deeds among Independents.

It's still somewhat early to judge whether any of the other Republicans in the race would be electable against Dodd; clearly, Simmons, as a moderate former Congressman, has a very real shot of winning this race, as he's polling basically where Chris Christie was polling at this stage against Corzine. And bear in mind, this was a poll of registered, not likely voters; the likely-voter screens almost always help the GOP candidate, especially since 2010 will be an off-year election in which polls are consistently showing that voters on the Right are far more motivated and energized. Here's the poll's sample:

From November 3 - 8, Quinnipiac University surveyed 1,236 Connecticut registered voters with a margin of error of +/- 2.8 percentage points. The survey includes 474 Democrats with a margin of error of +/- 4.5 percentage points and 332 Republicans with a margin of error of +/- 5.4 percentage points.

I don't have offhand the overall registration breakdowns for CT. The sample here is 38.3% Democrats, 34.8% Independents and 26.9% Republicans, as compared to 2008 exit polls showing an electorate 43% Democrats, 31% Independents and 27% Republicans. So, Republicans aren't oversampled here; whether the poll oversampled Independents at the expense of Democrats depends on whether you think 2008 turnout is representative of what the electorate will be going forward.

Anyway, time will tell as to whether the other GOP candidates can credibly challenge Simmons. McMahon is clearly well-funded, and her pro wrestling background suggests some familiarity with the kind of populist appeal that made Jesse Ventura a governor, but Ironman at Next Right, a close observer of the CT political scene, thinks she is a poor stump speaker and too close with Rahm and Ari Emanuel and Lowell Weicker to be trusted, including a $10,000 donation to the DCCC in the fall of 2006 while it was pouring money into CT to help defeat Simmons and Nancy Johnson (McMahon herself didn't vote in that election). $3 million in state tax credits for WWE and a heavy WWE lobbying presence in the state capitol are also not the kind of resume lines that are likely to help a populist campaign against the goodies-collecting Dodd. All of which adds up to more reason why McMahon will have a long way to go to convince GOP voters that she's a better option against Dodd than Simmons.

As for Connecticut's other Senate seat, up again in 2012 and presently held by an incumbent from the Connecticut for Lieberman party, Jay Cost has argued that the 2006 race shows that Lieberman needs to win over Republicans and conservative-leaning independents to keep his job, and that this helps explain his opposition to Obamacare:

18% of all voters [in 2006] were self-identified Republicans who voted for Lieberman. 14% of all voters were self-identified conservatives who voted for Lieberman. Simply put, Lieberman won that 2006 race in large part because conservative Republicans voted for him, not Schlesinger.

This means that Lieberman now has to win over voters well to the right of his old electoral coalition from when he was a typical Democrat. Losing the support of the left means he must go looking for conservatives, whom he managed to find in sufficient numbers three years ago. So, suppose Lieberman antagonizes conservatives in his home state so much that they get behind a more viable candidate in 2012. That Republican wins 20% of the vote rather than 9%. If the Democratic nominee can replicate Lamont's 39%, Lieberman would lose.

The Q poll strongly supports Cost's thesis - Lieberman's poll profile is essentially that of a liberal Republican at this point, and Connecticut voters are far more skeptical of the Democratic health care plan than they are of Obama in general:

By a 51 - 25 percent margin, Connecticut voters say Sen. Joseph Lieberman's views on issues are closer to the Republican Party than to the Democratic Party. There is agreement on this among voters in all parties.

Voters approve 49 - 44 percent of the job Lieberman is doing. He gets 74 - 20 percent approval from Republicans and 52 - 40 percent approval from independent voters, but Democrats disapprove 62 - 31 percent.

Voters say 64 - 29 percent that Democrats should not strip Lieberman of his committee chairmanship if he joins Republicans in a filibuster against the Democrats' health care reform.

Connecticut voters approve 58 - 35 percent of the job President Barack Obama is doing, but they disapprove 48 - 45 percent of the way he is handling health care.



Note also that the poll shows that voters trust a Republican over Dodd on the health care issue, 43-37. And this is a liberal northeastern state; today's Q poll in Ohio, which shows some encouraging news for Rob Portman, has voters disapproving of Obama's health care plan by 55-36 and Obama's approval rating running lower than the Democratic Senate candidates.

As a final footnote, recanvassing shows that Bill Owens - who ran against the House health care bill, although he then voted for it as soon as he was sworn in - has lost a significant part of his margin of victory over Doug Hoffman (who also ran against the House bill) in NY-23. Even assuming that the net result of the recanvassing doesn't lead to any efforts to challenge the legitimacy of Owens' election, the dwindling margin of victory undermines efforts to make much hay of Hoffman's loss, and offers yet another data point - from the Northeast, no less - to suggest that support for Democrats and their health care plan is faltering almost everywhere.

If Connecticut is turning into dangerous turf for liberal Democrats and their big government schemes, that should be a sign to encourage opponents of big government everywhere to get in the game.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:11 PM | Politics 2009 • | Poll Analysis | Comments (7) | TrackBack (0)
November 10, 2009
POLITICS: Um, Never Mind

Ramesh Ponnuru notices how Obama's latest remarks expose the falsehood of his previous statements about the impact of abortion on the health care bill. Among other things, when Obama stood in the well of the House of Representatives and called liars anyone who criticized the pre-Stupak Amendment bill on abortion grounds, we now know he was extending that accusation to 64 House Democrats.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 1:58 PM | Politics 2009 | Comments (7) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: Democrats Divided on Abortion

A funny thing is happening on the way to the impending health care showdown, as the Democrats try to turn the newly-passed House bill into something that can pass both Houses of Congress: Democrats are divided over abortion, and their divisions threaten to wreck the bill. With government-run health care having passed the House with only a 3-vote margin of victory, 60 votes needed in the Senate, and pro-life and pro-choice Democrats both vowing to go to war over the bill's abortion provisions, the whole legislative initiative can be put at risk by even a small number of defectors.

The Democrats' divisions over abortion may surprise casual observers. If you've tried getting your news from the mainstream media any time in the last three decades or so, you have undoubtedly seen more variations on the headline "Abortion Divides GOP" than you could count. The basic narrative is usually some variant on the notion that the Republican Party would be one big happy family if it weren't for those awful pro-lifers. The MSM will write stories from this template at the drop of a hat, with the goal of feeding a larger narrative that one side of the abortion debate is "divisive" and that this problem is a Republican problem because being a pro-lifer is synonymous with being a right-wing woman-hating extremist. The idea that there might be broader bipartisan support for the pro-life movement seems never to have occurred to the media.

That's where this weekend's vote over the Stupak Amendment, which amended the House version of the health care bill to bar federal health care dollars from being spent on abortions, comes in.

Presumably believing her own rhetoric about pro-lifers being beyond-the-pale extremists whose opinions no longer matter in today's Democratic-run Washington, Speaker Pelosi had fought for months to resist any efforts to prevent taxpayer dollars from being used to finance abortions under Obamacare. This recalcitrance belied President Obama's repeated rhetorical efforts to convince the public that the bill was abortion-neutral, and created a political problem even the New York Times was forced to acknowledge: especially since the 2006 and 2008 elections, in which Rahm Emanuel recruited many Democratic candidates to run in districts where the pro-life cause is strong, there are once again a fairly substantial number of Congressional Democrats who call themselves pro-life, and they really do not want to be compelled to choose between voting against a health care bill and voting in favor of taxpayer funding of abortion. The ultimate vote in the House on the Stupak Amendment drew surprising Democratic support: 64 votes, contributing to the measure's resounding 240-194 victory. This reality came as a shock to pro-choice hardliners like Connecticut Democrat Rosa DeLauro:

[W]hen Pelosi announced late Friday that she would allow an amendment strictly limiting insurance coverage of abortions, it touched off an angry yelling match between DeLauro and another Pelosi confidant, California Rep. George Miller, and tears from some veteran female lawmakers, according to people in the room.

Some of the lawmakers argued that Pelosi was turning her back on a decades-long campaign by female Democratic members in support of abortion rights. Miller rose to Pelosi's defense, which resulted in an angry confrontation between him and DeLauro, said the sources.

Miller told DeLauro that there were "more pro-life votes in the House than pro-choice" and that abortion-rights advocates had better acknowledge that reality.

By this morning, this was entrenched as a Democratic talking point, as California's Loretta Sanchez repeated on Morning Joe that even with a wide Democratic majority, pro-lifers are in the majority in the House and the pro-choicers have only about 150 votes.

Now, longtime pro-life activists are justifiably somewhat skeptical that "pro-life" Democrats really ever mean it. While there have at times been true warriors for the pro-life cause in the Democratic Party, notably the late Pennsylvania Governor Bob Casey (who fought all the way to the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v Wade in 1992), the usual pro-life Democrat tends to be a mushy-middle sort who isn't up to change the Roe status quo and will choose party loyalty in any difficult battle over, say, the composition of the Supreme Court, but at the same time is willing to sign on to restrictions at the extreme margins of the issue, like partial-birth abortion and the Born Alive Infant Protection Act.

But the health care bill, by virtue of its intrusive nature, makes neutrality impossible, and thus may have pushed a number of these reluctant pro-lifers into a position where they had no choice but to vote for what they profess to believe. Contrary to what Obama claims, true neutrality is not possible when the government gets so deeply entangled in an area of life as this bill proposes to get the government into the provision of health care. Such a bill cannot be "pro-choice" in the sense of leaving mothers to make their own decision on their own private dime; it can only be pro-abortion, by providing federal subsidies for abortion coverage, or anti-abortion, by denying them where in the past they may have been funded by purely private insurance.

The Stupak Amendment "would bar anyone receiving a federal subsidy from purchasing a private plan that covers elective abortion. In addition, under Stupak, the public plans would not be allowed to offer abortion coverage prohibited under the Hyde amendment." Pro-choicers claim that this is actually an expansion of the Hyde Amendment's scope and would squeeze out private plans that cover abortion - but they somehow miss that that's how the bill would work with regard to everything it touches, not just abortion. As Phil Klein puts it:

[T]he need for the controversial measure is a direct consequence of liberal efforts to have the government take over the health care system. The amendment, proposed by Reps. Bart Stupak (D-MI) and Joe Pitts (R-PA), would merely extend protections under current law that prevent taxpayer funding for abortion through government health care programs such as Medicaid. The only reason the Stupak-Pitts amendment would apply restrictions to the private market is that the government would be drastically expanding its role in the private market as a result of the health care legislation.

Currently, women are able to purchase private health care plans that cover abortion because it remains a legal procedure and we still have a private market for the sale of health insurance. But if the House Democratic health care bill becomes law, individuals will only be allowed to purchase health insurance through a government-run exchange. And because millions of Americans will be using government subsidies to purchase insurance through the exchange, suddenly lawmakers get to have a say on what kind of private insurance policies individuals can purchase. In addition, the federal government would be directly operating one of the plans, known as the "public option."

In short, pro-life Democrats were left no other option than to demand a clear affirmative prohibition on the use of federal funds to subsidize abortion. Politico reports that Stupak threatened to vote against the bill unless his amendment was included and that "a big bloc of anti-abortion Democrats were threatening to derail the entire bill unless party leaders agreed to stronger restrictions" demanded by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which has pushed for health care legislation but refuses to support it without something on the lines of the Stupak Amendment. In all, 42 Members of the House (including the lone GOP vote for the bill, Joseph Cao) voted for both the Stupak Amendment and the final bill, well in excess of the 3-vote margin for error provided by the bill's ultimate 220-215 victory. Stupak told the Wall Street Journal that he has more than enough votes to scuttle the whole bill if his amendment is removed:

"We won because [the Democrats] need us," says Mr. Stupak. "If they are going to summarily dismiss us by taking the pen to that language, there will be hell to pay. I don't say it as a threat, but if they double-cross us, there will be 40 people who won't vote with them the next time they need us - and that could be the final version of this bill."

In the Senate, the health care bill already faces a rocky road; the death of Ted Kennedy and Joe Lieberman's vow to join the GOP filibuster of the bill leave the Democrats starting with 58 votes (59 if they can get Maine Republican Olympia Snowe to stay on board with the bill), and Nebraska Democrat Ben Nelson says he needs the Stupak Amendment in the bill to support it:

Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) wants to see abortion language as restrictive as the Stupak amendment in the health care reform bill, his spokesman told POLITICO Monday.

"Senator Nelson is strongly prolife and was pleased the Stupak amendment passed with such strong support," Thompson said in a statement. "He believes that no federal money - including subsidies or tax credits - should be used to buy insurance coverage for abortion. This is a very important issue to Senator Nelson and it is highly unlikely he would support a bill that doesn't clearly prohibit federal dollars from going to abortion."

Thompson said Nelson could not support anything less than Stupak amendment.

In terms of strategy, Nelson is still evaluating options, Thompson added.

The last line is significant: the bill needs 60 votes to overcome a filibuster but only 50 "yes" votes, and unlike Lieberman, Nelson hasn't vowed to filibuster. Nor have we heard a firm answer from putative pro-lifers like Gov. Casey's son, now a Pennsylvania Senator, or from at-risk Senators like Blanche Lincoln who need to face strongly pro-life electorates to get re-elected (Sen. Reid is himself nominally pro-life but not expected to do anything about it).

Lest you believe that the Democrats can hold the wavering pro-lifers in place by maintaining the Stupak Amendment, however, the pro-choice hardliners are also threatening to kill the bill unless it's removed. As the Washington Post reported:

Rep. Diana DeGette (Colo.) said she has collected more than 40 signatures from House Democrats vowing to oppose any final bill that includes the amendment -- enough to block passage.

"There's going to be a firestorm here," DeGette said. "Women are going to realize that a Democratic-controlled House has passed legislation that would prohibit women paying for abortions with their own funds. . . . We're not going to let this into law."

The Post's in-house left-wing activist, Greg Sargent, has a copy of the letter. DeGette has the pledged support of at least one member of the House Democratic leadership:

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), the Democrats' chief deputy whip in the House, said that she and other pro-choice lawmakers would work to strip the amendment included in the House health bill that bars federal funding from going to subsidize abortions.

"I am confident that when it comes back from the conference committee that that language won’t be there," Wasserman Schultz said during an appearance on MSNBC. "And I think we're all going to be working very hard, particularly the pro-choice members, to make sure that’s the case."

Senate pro-choice Democrats, led by Barbara Boxer, have similarly drawn a line in the sand:

Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said that 60 votes would be needed to strip the current health care bill of its abortion-related language and replace it with a version resembling that passed by the House of Representatives on Saturday. And, in an interview with the Huffington Post, the California Democrat predicted that pro-choice forces in the Senate would keep that from happening.

"If someone wants to offer this very radical amendment, which would really tear apart [a decades-long] compromise, then I think at that point they would need to have 60 votes to do it," Boxer said. "And I believe in our Senate we can hold it."

"It is a much more pro-choice Senate than it has been in a long time," she added. "And it is much more pro-choice than the House."

Boxer's reading of the political landscape might seem like the hopeful spin of an abortion-rights defender. But it was seconded by a far less pro-choice lawmaker, Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.)

"It would have to be added," sad the Montana Democrat of an amendment that mirrored that offered Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) in the House. "I doubt it could pass."

Boxer is relying on Senate procedural rules regarding the original bill, as opposed to the conference report, but in either event, as in the House, the battle over the original bill will be a warning shot about what could possibly pass both Houses following a conference:

Currently, the Senate bill's language would allow for insurers participating in a health care exchange to cover abortions so long as they ensured that federal funds are not used to pay for the procedure. An amendment similar to Stupak['s] effort -- which was offered by Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) -- had already been voted down in the Senate Finance Committee.

To re-introduce such a provision, Boxer said, 60 senators would be required to cut off debate on the floor. And the votes for that, she said, likely won't materialize.

Some pro-choice Democrats, led by Lynn Woolsey, Chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, are not just looking to strip the Stupak Amendment, but calling as well for an investigation of the Catholic Bishops' role in the Amendment, a posture that effectively would require them to investigate the Bishops' coordination with 64 of their own Members.

Unsurprisingly, given his extreme record on abortion, President Obama seems to have joined the chorus looking to water down or remove the Stupak Amendment, although in the end it seems unlikely that Obama has much say in the process, given that he's likely to vote for just about anything he can call a health care bill:

Saying the bill cannot change the status quo regarding the ban on federally funded abortions, the president said, "There are strong feelings on both sides" about an amendment passed Saturday and added to the legislation, "and what that tells me is that there needs to be some more work before we get to the point where we're not changing the status quo."

+++

"I want to make sure that the provision that emerges meets that test -- that we are not in some way sneaking in funding for abortions, but, on the other hand, that we're not restricting women's insurance choices," he said.

(Asked about the president's position, press secretary Robert Gibbs refused to offer anything clearer than this)

At the end of the day, for all the conservative hand-wringing over Speaker Pelosi's short-term tactical victory in allowing a vote on the Stupak Amendment and thus enabling passage of the bill through the House, the political reality remains: there may not be enough votes to pass the final bill with the Stupak Amendment, because of intransigence from pro-choice Democrats, and there may not be enough votes to pass the final bill without the Stupak Amendment, because of intransigence from pro-life Democrats. And that's even before we get to the fissures among the Democrats and with the public at large over taxes, spending, individual mandates, the public option, tort reform, immigration, and euthanasia.

There are two ensuing lessons for Democrats, if that turns out to be the case. One is that a Democratic majority in this country is only possible if Democrats make real, rather than just rhetorical, concessions to the pro-life movement. And the other is that, for all of the grand ambitions of progressives, any bill that drives this far and this deep into American life is bound to expose long-dormant fault lines in any political coalition.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:51 PM | Politics 2009 | Comments (10) | TrackBack (0)
November 5, 2009
WAR/POLITICS: Absurdity

I'm so accustomed to interviews with German magazine Der Spiegel producing anti-American quotes from American politicians and entertainers that it's a breath of fresh air to read this marvelous interview with Charles Krauthammer, especially at the obviously staggered reaction of the interviewer. The parts dealing with Obama's foreign policy are the best parts of the interview.

I'm not sure, however, I quite agree with this:

The analogy I give is that in America we play the game between the 40-yard lines, in Europe you go all the way from goal line to goal line. You have communist parties, you have fascist parties, we don't have that, we have very centrist parties.

That's true to some extent, especially as far as comparing the governing center of each of the two U.S. parties to the overall European landscape. But the governing coalitions in European politics differ far less from each other than the Democrats and the Republicans do. Margaret Thatcher notwithstanding, Reaganite conservatives are a rarity in Europe, where the conservatives are largely socialist and the fascists are (as fascists generally are) even more socialist. That remains true even today, as the prevailing trend in many European countries is to the right of the current leadership in the U.S.

I love that Krauthammer mentions perhaps my favorite elected Republican, Paul Ryan, as a presidential candidate, but realistically Ryan's still young, and if it's ever possible to win the White House from Congress (Obama proved that perhaps the only way a Senator gets elected is by running against another Senator who's been in the Senate longer), 2012 doesn't look like that year.

Also, Krauthammer's analogy of Bush to Truman, while by no means original, is better-argued than I've generally seen it:

I think Bush actually handled the Iraq War better than Truman handled the Korean War. For one thing, the number of losses is about one-tenth. Secondly, he made the right decision with the surge. Thirdly, if Iraq turns out well, meaning becomes a country fairly self-sufficient and fairly friendly to the West, it will have a more important effect on the West than having a non-communist South Korea. The Middle East is strategically a far more important region.

Bush's worst mistake was the conduct of the Iraq war in the middle years -- 2004-2006 -- and the attempt to win on the cheap, with a light footprint.

On the other hand, I think he did exactly the right thing after 9/11. Look at the Patriot Act, which revolutionized how we deal with domestic terrorism, passed within six weeks of 9/11 in the fury of the moment. Testimony to how well Bush got it right is that Democrats, who now control Congress and had been highly critical of it, are now after eight years reauthorizing it with almost no significant changes.

Afghanistan is more problematic. Our success in overthrowing the Taliban in 100 days was remarkable. It's one of the great military achievements of all time. On the other hand, holding Afghanistan is a lot harder than taking it, and to this day we are not sure how to do it. But the initial success in 2001-2002 did decimate and scatter al-Qaida. It is no accident that we have not suffered a second attack -- something no one who lived in Washington on Sept. 11 thought possible.

I'm sure he will be rehabilitated in the long term.

Clare Booth Luce once said that every president is remembered for one thing, and that's what Bush will be remembered for. He kept us safe.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:28 PM | Politics 2009 • | War 2007-14 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
November 4, 2009
POLITICS: Yes, All Politics Is Local

Republicans are - rightly - crowing this morning about the GOP's victories in the New Jersey Governor's race and a battery of races in Virginia from the Governorship on down and what they say about the turn in the national mood, if not in a pro-Republican direction then at least in a direction that's sufficiently hostile to the Democrats that voters in states won by Obama and dominated by the Democrats in the last few years are willing to give individual Republicans another chance.

But the key word there, even in an across-the-board sweep like happened in Virginia, is individual. There remains an ongoing battle on the Right over how Republicans choose which candidates to support - who voters and the national party organs should back in primaries, when and whether to support third party candidacies, etc. It's a battle intensified by Doug Hoffman's loss in the NY-23 race after the NRCC-backed candidate, Dede Scoazzafava, ended up swinging the race to the Democrats when she endorsed Bill Owens. But in making sense of such debates, this is a point that cannot be stressed enough: no matter how favorable or unfavorable the overall national climate may be, no matter what ideological compass you want the party to follow, you can't ever overlook the importance of the individual candidates and the conditions they run in. I said it in 2008 with regard to presidential campaigns, and it's true as well of races for Governor, Senate or House: ideas don't run for president, people do.

This point is overlooked by naysayers arguing that this or that position on a particular race is hypocritical or compels a similar result in other races - e.g., if you support the challenger you must always support the challenger; if you support the moderate, you must always support the moderate, etc. Hugh Hewitt eviscerated David Frum in a hugely entertaining segment last week over a column making a similar argument; I highly recommend reading the whole thing, but this excerpt from the Frum column is a sterling example of the kind of blinkered thinking I'm talking about:

Conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt this week offered a stern condemnation of this fratricide on his popular program, calling the third-party candidate:

"... a wrecker, a selfish 'look at me' poser ... It takes an outsized ego to look at poll after poll that puts you behind not one but two candidates by more than 10 points and still declare yourself in the hunt.

"Whoops! Sorry, rewind. Fzzzzwwwwvvvvwwwzzzp. That was an editing error. Hugh Hewitt was not blasting Doug Hoffman, the third-party candidate in New York. In fact, Hoffman is the darling of talk radio and Fox News, which have helped to spread Hoffman Fever for the past few weeks.

"No, Hewitt was attacking the third-party candidate in New Jersey's gubernatorial race, an independent named Chris Daggett who has drawn votes from the official Republican standard-bearer, Chris Christie.

"From the point of view of most Republican commenters online and on the air, party loyalty is a highly variable principle. As they see it, third-party races by liberal Republicans who want to combine environmental protection with fiscal responsibility are selfish indulgences. But third-party races by conservative Republicans who want to combine pro-life appeals with their economic message? Those are completely different. Those are heroic acts of principle."

This is idiotic. I'll get to the specific races below, but how can a guy like Frum write this and not notice that Doug Hoffman had a serious chance to win his race - as it turned out, he ran Scozzafava out of the race, drew 45% of the vote and lost a narrow defeat after Scozzafava endorsed his opponent - while Daggett regularly polled below 15% of the vote - often in single digits - and ended up drawing just 6% of the vote in the general election?

Let me illustrate, by discussing several examples from the 2009 and 2010 races, how a principled, pragmatic conservative approach can lead to supporting a variety of different candidates.

NY-23

The hottest debate for now is over the special election in NY's 23d Congressional District, long held by moderate Republican John McHugh until he stepped down to accept a position in the Obama Administration. The GOP, without a primary, selected as its candidate state assemblywoman Dede Scozzafava, but Doug Hoffman challenged her on the Conservative line and ended up running her out of the race before losing narrowly himself. The NRCC spent almost a million dollars backing Scozzafava, who was also backed by Newt Gingrich and other establishment figures, but RedState and other conservative commentators and blogs, including national figures like Sarah Palin and Tim Pawlenty, joined the revolt and lined up behind Hoffman.

In the abstract, a moderate Republican may well have been the better fit for NY-23. But there were a number of practical reasons why Scozzafava was a bridge too far for conservatives (Jay Cost summarizes the broader problems with her selection here). She had longstanding ties to ACORN and its cat's paw, the Working Families Party of New York. Her husband was a ranking official in a left-leaning union. She wasn't just a moderate but a liberal on economic and social issues. She turned out to be a thunderingly incompetent candidate. She had no party loyalty to offset her ideological leanings - she refused to promise to remain a Republican in office, held talks about switching parties in the state legislature, and ended up endorsing the Democrat. And conservatives had never been given a voice in the nominating process, so a third party challenge was the only way to revolt against the party establishment's candidate.

And perhaps worst of all, and a desperately under-covered aspect of this special election as well as the one to fill Kirsten Gillibrand's seat in New York's 20th District in April, Scozzafava has spent more than a decade in New York's State Assembly. ACORN ties are bad enough, but the most radioactive association possible right now in the State of New York is with the notoriously corrupt, dysfunctional state legislature. Yet the GOP ran the State Assembly Minority Leader, Jim Tedisco (a 23-year veteran of the Assembly), for Gillibrand's seat, and now Scozzafava. Unsurprisingly, in a climate of pervasive anti-Albany sentiment, both went down to defeat in otherwise winnable races. The nominations of Tedisco and Scozzafava represent a catastrophic failure to understand local sentiment. Conservatives who supported Hoffman, while recognizing that he, too, was an imperfect candidate, saw that at least as a political outsider, he'd have the credibility to speak to the populist revolt against the unholy alliance of Big Federal Government, Big State Government, Big Labor, and Big Business against the ordinary taxpayer.

NJ-GOV

In New Jersey, by contrast to NY-23, most of us on the Right fell in behind the more moderate candidate, Chris Christie, against both a primary challenge by Bogota Mayor Steve Lonegan and a third-party challenge, mostly from the Right, by Chris Daggett. Again, we would have liked a strongly conservative candidate, but balanced that against a left-leaning electorate that might be more open to a moderate. But in this race, things were different.

First, Christie's no liberal, just a guy who shied away from taking conservative stances - or, for that matter, detailing very much of his platform at all (he'll come to office with a strong mandate to fight corruption and resist tax hikes, but anything else he wants to do, he'll need to sell the voters on from scratch). Second, unlike Hoffman, Daggett jumped into a race where there had already been a full and fair opportunity for a reasonably well-funded and credible primary challenger (Lonegan) to offer the voters a choice, making the selection of Christie inherently more legitimate and a third-party run more obviously sour grapes designed to split the vote (as it turned out, the Democrats ended up doing robocalls for Daggett). Third, while a political novice, Christie's an impressive guy, a good debater with a regular-Joe demeanor and a hard-won statewide reputation for prosecuting corruption as US Attorney. And fourth, Christie comes to office without any negative baggage in the form of past associations with the activist Left or past positions defending outrageous examples of overspending and overreaching by the federal government.

With the Right mostly united behind him, Christie was able to reach enough independents and moderates to win the race.

Virginia

The primary races were less divisive in Virginia this year, but it's worth mentioning here: Virginia's been increasingly dominated by the Democrats, who won the state in the presidential election in 2008, won Senate races in 2006 & 2008, and won the Governor's races in 2001 & 2005. More than a few voices counselled for moderation in statewide races in Virginia, but the GOP instead picked a slate of unapologetic, bold-colors conservatives (Bob McDonnell for Governor, Bill Bolling for Lt. Governor, and Ken Cuccinelli for Attorney General), each of whom won by nearly a 20-point margin. And local dynamics were a significant factor: the state GOP had lost credibility with the voters for its tax-hiking, big-spending ways, so running moderates would only have underlined the extent to which the party hadn't learned its lessons.

NY Mayor

In a normal electorate, Republicans would regard Mike Bloomberg as the sort of liberal barely-a-RINO deserving of a primary challenge - besides his left-leaning views on a number of issues, he literally only joins the party for election years, and offers zero support to the party city-wide. Plus, a lot of voters didn't like his decision to amend the city charter to run for a third term. But not only due to his vast wealth did he avoid a serious primary challenge: New York is an overwhelmingly Democratic city, so running a conservative challenger (even a conservative-on-some-issues candidate like Rudy Giuliani) is a tough sell absent an enormous crisis, plus Bloomberg's basic managerial competence and the fear of what a liberal Democrat would do on the two biggest issues in City politics (crime and taxes) is enough to convince most NYC conservatives, like me, to fall in (however grudgingly) behind Bloomberg.

FL-SEN

This one I have discussed before at length: the GOP establishment has thrown its weight behind moderate Florida Governor Charlie Crist against conservative former Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio in the race to succeed Senator Mel Martinez. There are all kinds of reasons to prefer Rubio: Florida's been welcoming territory for conservatives for the past decade; Rubio's both young and experienced (by Senate candidate standards) and a much better speaker than Crist; a Rubio nomination would be a symbol of inclusiveness given his Cuban heritage, an important factor given Florida's demographics; and while Crist's overall profile is moderate, he's made the crucial error of over-associating himself with the Big-everything Obama agenda, including his support for the bloated stimulus bill. On top of that, because Crist is the sitting Governor and hasn't been willing to criticize the sitting president's economic agenda, as a matter of campaign strategy he has no Plan B to fall back on if Floridians are unhappy with the state of the state's economy. Unsurprisingly, Crist's approval rating has been eroding, leaving Rubio already the stronger candidate in general election matchups against the likely Democratic opponent. And that opponent, Kendrick Meek, is the final piece of the puzzle: he, like other Democrats mentioned as possible challengers, will run not as a moderate but as an arch-liberal, making it much easier for the GOP to run a conservative and still appeal to voters in the political middle.

CA-SEN

The California Senate race to unseat Barbara Boxer is a much tougher call than the Rubio-Crist race. There are a number of reasons why I initially expected to back former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina over California Assemblyman Chuck DeVore. First, California's a liberal state, and Boxer's an incumbent; despite Boxer's generally weak poll numbers (she frequently gets less than half of all voters interested in re-electing her, a danger zone for incumbents), either candidate will have a brutally tough road ahead to actually win the race, but the more moderate Fiorina would seem the more natural fit. Second, California and Boxer are especially obsessed with abortion; if I recall correctly, no pro-lifer has won a statewide election in two decades. Third, Fiorina is a woman, a political outsider, a former media darling at HP and much more well-known than DeVore.

But along the way, I ended up siding with a number of other RedStaters in endorsing DeVore. Why? The biggest factor is that I'm just not convinced that Fiorina is a strong candidate - despite the inital good press she was fired for poor performance at HP, and she was sacked by the McCain campaign for her blundering as a spokeswoman. The abortion issue is less of a divide than you might believe; while pro-lifers seem suspicious of her on the issue, Fiorina describes herself as pro-life, so she'll face the same barrage from Boxer on the issue as DeVore. DeVore, by contrast, seems like an energetic candidate who's spent a lot more time in the trenches over the past year.

The temper of the times matters. An entrenched incumbent like Boxer can be beaten in a state that normally favors her only if there's a populist wave to the Right - and the candidate better positioned to ride that wave is Devore, with his ear attuned to the Tea Party movement, not Fiorina, the failed CEO with the golden parachute.

The state of the state party matters too. The California GOP has deep divisions between its persecution-complex-carrying moderate wing and its disaffected conservative activist base. Even if the Senate race is a loss, the best way to fire up the activists - especially against a candidate as famously arch-liberal, nasty, arrogant and dim-witted as Boxer - so as to have them out to vote in the governor's race and down-ticket races for House seats and the state legislature is to run a candidate who will take the fight to Boxer root and branch, and that factor too favors DeVore. And as discussed below, I expect the more moderate Meg Whitman to win the nomination for Governor and will probably support Whitman. A tag-team of Whitman and DeVore on the ballot is a balanced ticket that shows both wings of the party that they are valued by the state party, and will help defuse momentum for any sort of third-party challenge being mounted by either wing.

CA-GOV

To all appearances, the California Governor's race is a replay of the Senate race: a moderate, female business executive (Meg Whitman) against a male conservative elected official (State Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner). And it's true: Whitman's had some awful rookie mistakes (she's spoken glowingly about Van Jones and her first major political donation, made with warm words, was to Boxer), while Poizner, also a successful business executive in his own right, seems an impressive guy.

But this isn't the Senate race. Whitman was a massively successful businesswoman as the founder and CEO of eBay, and by all accounts is a fiercely disciplined woman. The Governor's race is for an open seat, with Arnold Schwarzenegger term-limited, so picking a candidate with a good chance to win is paramount. The absence of Boxer from the race will enable Whitman to run an inherently less polarizing campaign. And, as I said, running one moderate and one conservative statewide will best unify a party that notoriously lacks unity.

I could go on. There will undoubtedly be decisions for conservatives to make in Senate races in states like Illinois and Delaware, for example, that will likely shake out in favor of more moderate candidates; there will be others where it will make more sense to go with a more conservative, more populist candidate. But you get my point: the assessment of which candidate to back in a conservative-vs-moderate race is not one to make on automatic pilot. Even if you prefer to always back the conservative, the practical considerations of each race and each set of candidates needs to be evaluated. This is such an obvious point that it shouldn't need to be emphasized, but it does.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:45 PM | Politics 2009 | Comments (24) | TrackBack (0)
November 3, 2009
POLITICS: Barack Obama: Not Helping Democrats

There will be much debate in the morning about whether or not the bad results for Democrats in the Governor's races in Virginia and New Jersey - both states where Barack Obama campaigned for the Democrat and the Democrat sought to join himself at the hip with Obama - reflect public anger at Obama and his Administration. This is an interesting debate, but let us not miss a critical point:

Obama tried to help Deeds and Corzine, and was unable to do so. He can help nobody but himself. And that fact alone is hugely significant.

Democrats will point to exit polls showing that Obama retains a healthy approval rating among those who went to the polls in today's two battleground states. But one of the signal exit poll items was pointed out by Jake Tapper: in NJ, which Obama carried by 15 points a year ago, 19% of the voters told exit pollsters they were casting ballots in support of Obama, and 20% against. In other words, even in a very pro-Obama electorate, he was a small net drag on the Democratic candidate, and certainly no help despite campaigning ardently for Jon Corzine.

This is consistent with what we've seen nationally: Obama remains personally popular (if far less so than on his Inauguration Day, which remains the high point of his presidency), but his popularity doesn't rub off on his policies, much less on other Democrats, especially white male Democrats like Deeds and Corzine who have no claim to being historic symbols of national progress. The record turnout among racial-minority and youth voters generated by the 2008 Obama campaign was not replicable in 2009 without his personal presence on the ballot. And of course, the same will be true in 2010, when Obama himself is not personally on the ballot and will again make every effort to explain helpfully to other Democrats that they lost their jobs for reasons unrelated to his precious historic personal popularity.

The revelation that Obama cannot help other Democrats get elected is, of course, bound to affect his ability to govern; he can't convince wavering "Blue Dog" Democrats that supporting him in return for his campaign appearances in their districts will do any more for them than it did for Jon Corzine or Creigh Deeds. But then, so long as people like Barack Obama, maybe it doesn't matter so much to him if he actually accomplishes anything. After all, he is "change." Just don't expect a lot of Democratic incumbents to consider that a bankable asset in the future.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:03 PM | Politics 2009 | Comments (10) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: Jim Moran and the "Taliban"

Arlington/Alexandria Democrat Jim Moran is always a reliable source of lunacy and foolishness; examples include blaming the Iraq War on Jews (Moran has an exhaustive rap sheet of anti-Semitism) and pushing to get Guantanamo detainees tried in his district over the objections of local Democrats.

Monday, at a Creigh Deeds rally, Moran was on hand to prove that there is no cause so lost that he won't contribute some crazy to it:

U.S. Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.) likened the Republican ticket in Virginia this year to Afghanistan's radical Taliban movement in comments broadcast Sunday by WAMU radio.

At a get-out-the-vote rally in Fairfax County, Moran said: "I mean, if the Republicans were running in Afghanistan, they'd be running on the Taliban ticket as far as I can see."

Of course, when it comes to fighting the actual Taliban, Moran's position is a lot more, er, nuanced; it turns out that his view of the US military's presence in Afghanistan is closer to the Taliban's than to the GOP's:

Jim Moran, a Democratic member of the US congress, said "the majority of Democrats will continue to support President Obama, but that's not to say we're going to continue on the course in which we're going".

"Right now we need a better strategy ... It is clear that Afghanistan does not lend itself to a military victory, it's about economic development, it's about building civil society. The military presence clearly is a problem in itself," he said.

Still, he added that while Pelosi was right in saying there was "no appetite" for sending more US troops to Afghanistan, "there's no appetite for taking cod liver oil but sometimes you have a situation where you just have to grimace and swallow it".

When Bob McDonnell starts blasting the perfidious influence of the Jews, bemoaning the U.S. overthrow of Saddam and complaining that the US military presence in Afghanistan is a "problem," maybe it will be time to consider comparing him to the Taliban. In the meantime, maybe Jim Moran should stick to pushing around women and children and leave the Taliban-hunting business to people who are serious about it.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 2:40 PM | Politics 2009 • | War 2007-14 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: Election Day 2009

Today will be the first real test of the public political mood a year after Obama's election, three years into Democratic control of Congress, with elections for Governor and state legislators in New Jersey and Virginia (in each of which the Democrats have held the Governorship for 8 years), the New York City Mayor, and the special elections in New York's 23d Congressional District and California's 10th.

Some of these are easy calls. Bob McDonnell is running away from Creigh Deeds in Virginia, with the main question being the length of McDonnell's coattails in the legislature; the latter, rather than any serious belief that Deeds can be rescued, is why President Obama has campaigned hard for Deeds (control of the statehouses in a handful of big states, Virginia and New Jersey among them, will be crucial in redistricting following the 2010 census). Mayor Bloomberg should easily be re-elected. The GOP should gain at least some seats in the NJ Legislature. CA-10 is likely to go to the Democrats.

The others are harder to call. Jon Corzine's in terrible straits, an unpopular, scandal-tarred incumbent heading a notoriously corrupt state party, and as a result he has polled above 43% in one poll in the RCP index all year (an early October Rasmussen poll that had him trailing 47-44). Even Nate Silver isn't willing to predict a Corzine victory. But the Democrats have been pouring resources into making robocalls in favor of third party conservative/libertarian candidate Chris Daggett, hoping to split the vote. If forced to make a prediction, I'd predict that Christie will get more votes today, but Corzine will win the race by means of a recount. The usual rule of thumb holds that if the polls are within 5 points, a NJ Republican can't overcome the way New Jersey politics works on the ground.

As for NY-23, the race is fluid, but a number of late polls seem to show that the collapse of support for ACORN- and union-backed "Republican" Dede Scozzafava following her withdrawal from the face and endorsement of the Democrat has mostly benefitted conservative candidate Doug Hoffman, so I'd cautiously predict a Hoffman victory large enough to avoid a recount.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:46 PM | Politics 2009 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
RELIGION/POLITICS: The Anti-Catholic Times

Archbishop Dolan, the new Archbishop of New York, takes the gloves off regarding the New York Times' persistent anti-Catholicism and its role in the Left's larger public campaign against the Church (which is not to say that every Democrat is anti-Catholic, but when you encounter virulent hatred of the Catholic Church it's almost always from left-wingers, and when you encounter efforts to use the force of government against the Church, especially its ability to run schools and hospitals consistently with its teachings, it's almost always from the Democrats).

It's worth reading the whole thing. One example he cites is wholly typical of the double standard applied to sex-abuse cases, which the Left would have you believe is primarily a Catholic clergy problem; as Archbishop Dolan notes, this perception is fed mainly by playing up such cases in the Catholic Church while systematically downplaying such cases in other faiths, in the public schools, and elsewhere (contrast the defenders of Roman Polanski and Michael Jackson to the broad-brush treatment of the entire Church commonly meted out by anti-Catholic bigots):

On October 14, in the pages of the New York Times, reporter Paul Vitello exposed the sad extent of child sexual abuse in Brooklyn's Orthodox Jewish community. According to the article, there were forty cases of such abuse in this tiny community last year alone. Yet the Times did not demand what it has called for incessantly when addressing the same kind of abuse by a tiny minority of priests: release of names of abusers, rollback of statute of limitations, external investigations, release of all records, and total transparency. Instead, an attorney is quoted urging law enforcement officials to recognize "religious sensitivities," and no criticism was offered of the DA's office for allowing Orthodox rabbis to settle these cases "internally." Given the Catholic Church's own recent horrible experience, I am hardly in any position to criticize our Orthodox Jewish neighbors, and have no wish to do so . . . but I can criticize this kind of "selective outrage."

Of course, this selective outrage probably should not surprise us at all, as we have seen many other examples of the phenomenon in recent years when it comes to the issue of sexual abuse. To cite but two: In 2004, Professor Carol Shakeshaft documented the wide-spread problem of sexual abuse of minors in our nation's public schools (the study can be found here). In 2007, the Associated Press issued a series of investigative reports that also showed the numerous examples of sexual abuse by educators against public school students. Both the Shakeshaft study and the AP reports were essentially ignored, as papers such as the New York Times only seem to have priests in their crosshairs.

As he notes, there remains pending legislation in Albany to repeal the statute of limitations for sex-abuse cases against the Church, and of course - given the near-impossibility of defending such antique cases (this is why we have statutes of limitations in the first place) - this would be financially ruinous for the Church in many places at a time when it's already in financial straits during a recession. The Diocese of Wilmington, Delaware recently became the seventh US Diocese to file for bankruptcy. But that's precisely the point - it's why the bill pushed by the Democrats in Albany doesn't apply the same treatment to the public schools.

There are, of course, many valid criticisms of the Church's institutional handling of sex-abuse cases, but let us be serious: the critics on the social Left were never interested in those cases except as a club with which to beat the Church, as evidenced by their continuing disinterest in similar cases not involving the Catholic Church.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:23 PM | Politics 2009 • | Religion | Comments (15) | TrackBack (0)
October 28, 2009
BLOG: Quick Links 10/28/09

*Josh Painter looks at how the latest financial disclosure forms tell the story of the intense financial pressure put on Sarah Palin by the stream of bogus ethics complaints filed by left-wing bloggers, culminating in the complaint that prevented her from accessing funds raised for her legal defense. It certainly makes a compelling case why an ordinary person in Palin's shoes would step down rather than be driven under by the expenses. Whether that's enough to absolve her as a potential presidential candidate is another matter; we tend to expect potential presidents not to act like ordinary people. Of course, most politicians would have escaped the mounting debts by writing a book or giving speeches for money, but Palin may have felt, not without reason, that any such activities while serving as governor would lead to further ethics complaints that would tie up those sources of income as well. Meanwhile, Melissa Clouthier looks at a CNN poll finding 70% of the public currently thinks Palin unqualified to be president.

I'm not picking a horse for 2012 yet, nor will I until after 2010. It's unclear if Palin will run, anyway. I do know a few things. One, for reasons I've been through many times, I'd much prefer to support a more experienced candidate - we're not the Democrats, after all, who have permanently forfeited the right to say anything on this subject by backing Obama - and the fact that people in my position are even open to Palin at all at this juncture is a sign of the weakness of the field so far. Two, Palin has proven to be extraordinarily effective at retaining the public's interest and even at exercising her influence as a guerilla opposition leader armed with nothing more than a Facebook page; by mostly absenting herself from the public eye except for Facebook and a few op-eds and obscure speeches, she's kept 'em wanting more (witness the explosive early pre-orders for her book, which non-fiction publishing people viewed as unprecedented), while still driving the public debate (i.e., "death panels"). But the Newt Gingrich experience is vivid proof for Republicans that effective guerillas don't always make good leaders when they come into power.

Whichever way Palin chooses to go, the book tour (including the appearance on Oprah, who is naturally hostile but not really accustomed to tough interviews) will be a sort of second coming-out for her on the public stage that will be critical and should reveal whether she has spent well her time out of the limelight in terms of boning up for future policy debates. We'll be able to assess her future much better in a few months.

*Meanwhile, a man to watch if he gets persuaded to run is Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels. (H/T) I'll have more on him another day...upside: Daniels is serious, tough-minded, won re-election in Indiana in 2008 (while it was carried by Obama) after being given up for politically dead in 2006 (when his low approval ratings were blamed as a cause for heavy GOP House losses in the state, paralleling a similar trend in Ohio and Kentucky). Downside: Daniels is as yet reluctant to run (recall how well that worked out with Rudy and Fred), and as a public speaker he's dry as dust.

*The Democratic circular firing squad over health care continues. And Jay Cost explains why the continuing threat to Lieberman from the Left has made it politically necessary for him to oppose the public option.

*Dan Riehl looks at how the GOP made the disastrous decision in the Congressional race in NY's 23d district to nominate Dede Scozzafava, who now seems likely to finish third in that race. Meanwhile, Newsbusters notices that the NY Daily News still refuses to acknowledge the existence of Doug Hoffman, the Conservative candidate in the race. Jim Geraghty is unsparing on the folly of Newt's continuing support for Scozzafava.

*George W. Bush, motivational speaker - without a teleprompter. The WaPo seems astonished that a man who won something on the order of 110 million votes in two national elections is actually a decent speaker. Key quote from Bush: "It's so simple in life to chase popularity, but popularity is fleeting."

*On the anniversary of his death, Bill Kristol remembers Dean Barnett.

*Naturally, he's retracted it, but you can't top Anthony Weiner's initial assessment of Alan Grayson as being "one fry short of a Happy Meal."

*Interesting breakdown of TV ad rates.

*ABA Journal on the tragic saga of Mark Levy.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:48 PM | Blog 2006-14 • | Law 2009-14 • | Politics 2009 • | Politics 2012 • | Pop Culture | Comments (19) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: Science And Its Enemies On The Left, Part I

Liberals have dined out at length in recent years on the charge that the Bush Administration and the cultural Right spent the Bush years engaging in a "war on science." Since political power passed to the Democrats, President Obama has practically dislocated his shoulder patting himself on the back for "restor[ing] our commitment to science". But power in the hands of the Left is no boon to science. Quite the contrary.

Whatever one thinks of the validity of the "war on science" charge against the Right, the threats to scientific integrity and scientific progress from the Left are numerous, and they are very real. In this three-part series, I'll consider six major species of dangers to science and the role of the Left (inside and outside of government) in promoting them.

I. Junk Science

While definitions of science differ, most of us learned in grammar school and high school the basic concepts. Science is, as Karl Popper famously defined it, the testing of falsifiable propositions. In other words, you start with a hypothesis that seems to be supported by certain facts, but that would be proven false if certain other things happened, and you test to see if you can make those things happen. The process of experimentation - whether by laboratory experiments, statistical regressions, archaeological digs, or myriad other methods of testing hypotheses about past events or present processes - can take a variety of forms. But the mental approach to science should remain common: the scientist, being human, may seek a desired conclusion, but is expected to use a method of testing for the truth that keeps the finding of truth always as its ultimate goal (wherever the chips may fall). Perhaps more importantly, the process must be transparent in its methods, so that later researchers can replicate the method to ensure that the same test in different hands produces the same result. Scientists, to be scientists, must never say "trust me, I'm a scientist" or "I'm a scientist, don't question my work," and must never demand acceptance of theories that cannot be put to a test they could fail; they must share information and accept correction with a spirit of collegial search for a common and provable truth.

Those are the ideals; humans, being human, often fall short of them. This shouldn't shock us, but we should see the failures for what they are: bad science.

Probably the most pervasive cause of bad science, and one in which the Left and its component interest groups are heavily complicit, is junk science. Junk science is, broadly speaking, opinion or outright deception masquerading as science, for the purpose of persuading people of something that's untrue, unprovable or at least unproven. Junk science shows up in many places, but is most frequently encountered in the courtroom, and its motives are often more or less baldly about money.

The proliferation of junk science in the courts is notorious and widespread, and while the federal courts in particular have tried to crack down on it since the Supreme Court's 1992 Daubert decision authorized trial judges to act as 'gatekeepers,' the job of keeping junk science away from juries falls mainly to individual judges who may not necessarily have the scientific training themselves to spot all the charlatans. Much of modern litigation turns on expert witnesses of various stripes, from products liability experts to economists, and a good many of these are effectively professional testifying experts. That, in and of itself, need not be a bad thing; just as with lawyers, there are many honorable and principled professional experts, but many lazy hacks and cheap scam artists as well. Every lawyer knows that with enough monetary incentives, you can eventually find someone with a couple of degrees to say almost anything if you're not picky.

The personal injury plaintiffs' bar - one of the Democrats' core constituencies - is by far the most notorious offender in this regard. The incentives for junk science are especially powerful on the plaintiffs' side, since a novel scientific theory, in and of itself, can create from whole cloth an industry that will use governmental power to transfer millions or billions of dollars of wealth (a defendant can lose the battle of the experts but win a case on another basis, but a successful plaintiff must have an expert). There's an awful lot of money to be extracted through the use of junk science. It is no accident that it is customarily the plaintiffs' bar that resists efforts to have judges take a more active role in screening expert witnesses to determine the reliability of their processes. Asbestos litigation alone has produced more scientific scandals than one could possibly recount. Consider as a sample studies of vast disparities in diagnoses of asbestosis by unaffiliated and plaintiff-affiliated physicians. The Wall Street Journal has exhaustively catalogued the use of junk science to perpetrate a massive products liability fraud against Dole Foods in Nicaragua. The list could go on and on. Michael Fumento explains a typical example from the silicone breast implant litigation:

Consider the case of Dr. Nir Kossovsky of the UCLA, an inventor of one of the types of tests the FDA warned against. Kossovsky is one of the best-known critics of silicone implants, has testified at the FDA hearings that resulted in the essential ban on silicone breast implants, and is a regular expert witness for plaintiffs in implant- related trials.

Kossovsky developed what he called Detecsil, for "detect silicone." "The Detecsil test confirms whether or not an individual has developed an immune response to silicone-associated proteins," declared an advertisement. As such, it could be useful in showing whether women with autoimmune disease (in which the body's immune system turns on itself) got that illness from silicone.

In legal depositions supporting his expert witness testimony, Kossovsky cited tests from the famed Scripps Clinic and Research Foundation in La Jolla, California as corroborating his own. In fact, Scripps researchers found the antibodies of autoimmune disease victims were the same regardless of whether they had silicone implants or not. All the test found was that there was a higher level of antibodies in anybody with autoimmune disease, exactly what one would expect.

Scripps has repeatedly to disavowed Kossovsky's statements. Indeed, a Scripps researcher was on record as saying, "To my knowledge, there is no test that can predict or indicate any specific immune response to silicone," which is what the test must do to prove adverse health effects.

Even before this latest public FDA warning, Kossovsky had been warned by the Agency to quit using his test. But the damage has been done. The test has played a crucial role in numerous implant trials, including ones with verdicts of $7 million, $25 million, and an incredible $40 million.

More of the same here.

II. Quackery and Luddism

Another longstanding threat to science is the twin scourge of quackery and Luddism. While there is likewise a lot of money in quackery, and sometimes money in Luddism as well, there is a subtle difference in their genesis. Junk science may be principally driven by the needs of its suppliers, who know what they want to prove and need scientific experts to bend their processes to reach the desired results. But true quackery comes from somewhere different: it arises from existing demand, from the needs of people to believe things that science can't supply. Quacks prey on popular gullibility about quasi-scientific-sounding cure-alls, while Luddites (the heirs of the British protestors against the Industrial Revolution) thrive on irrational fears and superstitions about technological progress. The social, cultural and political Left is heavily complicit in both phenomena.

For a good illsutration of what this looks like, David Gorski has an exhaustive look at how the Huffington Post has made itself a haven for the opponents of modern medical science. It's worth reading the whole thing, which details the site's madness for anti-medical and anti-scientific quackery ranging from campaigns against vaccines to enthusiasm for all sorts of bizarre homeopathy, much of which is reflective of the Hollywood culture that pervades the site. The sort of quackery pushed by the HuffPo and its allies includes a lot of traditional junk science as well (for example, plaintiffs' lawyers pushing assaults on vaccine makers in the hopes of hitting a judgment jackpot in court) but the rot runs deeper than that, from the Left's neverending quest for substitutes for religion and commerce and its conspiracy theories about business.

We see all of this at work in the causes the HuffPo flacks for. Parents of children with autism need to blame some evil external force for their children's condition. New Age spirituality fills the gap created by rejection of traditional faiths, and offers the promise of patent-medicine style cures where modern medicine is short of answers. Diet gurus of every kind prey on the widespread chase for the magic weight-loss pill, just as the purveyors of sexual remedies prey on deeper insecurities. Some of these forces go beyond politics, but New Age hokum and hostility to vaccines and other successful products are unmistakably phenomena of the cultural Left. The campaign against vaccine manufacturers has drawn support from icons of the Democratic party:

US senators John Kerry of Massachusetts and Chris Dodd of Connecticut have both curried favor with constituents by trumpeting the notion that vaccines cause autism. And Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a scion of the most famous Democratic family of all, authored a deeply flawed 2005 Rolling Stone piece called "Deadly Immunity." In it, he accused the government of protecting drug companies from litigation by concealing evidence that mercury in vaccines may have caused autism in thousands of kids. The article was roundly discredited for, among other things, overestimating the amount of mercury in childhood vaccines by more than 100-fold, causing Rolling Stone to issue not one but a prolonged series of corrections and clarifications. But that did little to unring the bell.

The hysteria - contradicted by numerous peer-reviewed studies - has real consequences:

In certain parts of the US, vaccination rates have dropped so low that occurrences of some children's diseases are approaching pre-vaccine levels for the first time ever. And the number of people who choose not to vaccinate their children (so-called philosophical exemptions are available in about 20 states, including Pennsylvania, Texas, and much of the West) continues to rise. In states where such opting out is allowed, 2.6 percent of parents did so last year, up from 1 percent in 1991, according to the CDC. In some communities, like California's affluent Marin County, just north of San Francisco, non-vaccination rates are approaching 6 percent (counterintuitively, higher rates of non-vaccination often correspond with higher levels of education and wealth).

That may not sound like much, but a recent study by the Los Angeles Times indicates that the impact can be devastating. The Times found that even though only about 2 percent of California's kindergartners are unvaccinated (10,000 kids, or about twice the number as in 1997), they tend to be clustered, disproportionately increasing the risk of an outbreak of such largely eradicated diseases as measles, mumps, and pertussis (whooping cough). The clustering means almost 10 percent of elementary schools statewide may already be at risk.

Left-wing Luddism is also at work in the outright hysteria, especially in Europe, regarding things like genetically modified "frankenfood" and nanotechnology, here at home in the form of fear of nuclear power and food irradiation; in each case the unfocused, irrational fear comes first, and the pseudoscience used to justify it comes later. Thus, despite the sterling safety record of nuclear power everywhere outside the Soviet Union, and its crucial role in the power systems of countries like France and Japan, we have not had a nuclear power plant built in the U.S. since the Three Mile Island accident in 1979.

The environmental Left is especially guilty of this sort of thing, creating bugaboos grounded in public fear and ignorance about technology ranging from 1989's notorious Alar scare to 2001's hysteria about microscopic quantities of arsenic in drinking water, to "Gulf War Syndrome." Over and over we see the Left pressing to convince the public that unseen forces of technology and business - from pesticides to power lines - are conspiring to make them sick, and insisting that once such an assertion is made, the burden is on the skeptic of such crazes to produce conclusive scientific proof to the contrary. The process of disinterested analysis of the evidence and testing of falsifiable hypotheses falls swiftly by the wayside. Science itself becomes the enemy. Anyone who spent time wringing their hands over Bush-era policies with any degree of sincerity should find this all deeply alarming.

In Part II: Politicized science and the temptations of power.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:30 AM | Enemies of Science • | Politics 2009 • | Science | Comments (13) | TrackBack (0)
October 26, 2009
POLITICS: Dust to Dust

Via Jim Pethokoukis' Twitter feed, Urbanophile has a fascinating look at the depopulation, de facto deregulation, and in some places re-ruralization of Detroit. The pictures tell thousands of words.

I don't buy the idea that cities in general should be broken up in this fashion, but there's a pretty strong case that Detroit is a completely failed polity, a sort of laboratory of modern liberalism run to its natural and logical conclusions, and the fewer people who are held captive to its malignancies, the better.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:28 PM | Politics 2009 | Comments (11) | TrackBack (0)
October 22, 2009
POLITICS: Rasmussen Makes It Official: Marco Rubio More Electable Than Charlie Crist

A new Rasmussen poll knocks the props out from the main argument why conservatives who would prefer to be represented in the Senate by Marco Rubio should nonetheless support Charlie Crist. Crist, his supporters say, has two things going for him: he's going to win the nomination anyway, and if nominated he'd do better in the general election. Certainly nobody would try to convince Republicans with a straight face that Crist would be a better Senator, given his support for the stimulus bill and other Obama initiatives.

Well, there's been a bunch of polls showing Rubio gaining ground on Crist in the nomination fight, but now Rasmussen reports that Rubio would be a stronger general election candidate, as a new poll shows he would beat the leading Democrat in the race, Congressman Kendrick Meek, by 15 points:

Read More »


Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:02 PM | Politics 2009 | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: It's A TARP!

Leon notes over at RedState that the government basically doesn't know what it did with the TARP money and doesn't expect to get it back.

Leaving aside the blow-by-blow of how the voting went down, much of which involved appalling levels of political cowardice and fecklessness, I remain very ambivalent at best as a policy matter about whether I should have opposed TARP instead of supporting it, which I did at the time (the unfolding of events almost always leaves me living to regret taking anything other than the strict conservative position when I do). There's no question in my mind that I would have opposed it if its actual operation had been described and set forth in the bill, rather than what Paulson's original plan was (i.e., the government buying and most likely holding to maturity securities for which there was no liquid market but as to which a large majority were still expected to pay off). And it's still all too easy, as happens with these things, to discount what might have happened without TARP. But certainly the whole experience is an object lesson in the fact that when government gets involved in the economy, it tends almost invariably to (1) shovel money out the door without adequate controls and (2) bring about loads of unintended consequences (in fact, these are also both true to a large extent of more traditionally straightforward government functions like the military and law enforcement; we just live with the mess because those are truly things only the government can do).

Posted by Baseball Crank at 5:32 PM | Politics 2009 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
October 16, 2009
POLITICS: Conveniently Forgotten

One of the things that I confess has stunned me about the Obama era is the extent to which Obama's supporters, after an eight-year orgy of hysteria and rhetorical excess directed at George W. Bush, have been acting stunned and shocked at the intensity of opposition to Obama. There really is a sort of collective amnesia - disnigenuous, presumably, in most cases - about their side's incandescant hatred of Bush.

Anyway, Vladimir over at RedState has a look at one example of this, comparing a Facebook poll on killing Obama to Facebook groups championing killing President Bush, a cause that - if you recall - was even made into a movie. (Related example here).

Somehow, we are to believe that none of this - and believe me, we could go on for days with examples - ever happened.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 4:41 PM | Politics 2009 | Comments (76) | TrackBack (0)
October 14, 2009
POLITICS: Rush To Be Suckered

A few followup items on the fabricated Rush Limbaugh quotes story.

*Mark Steyn has some fun with the fact that they have to invent stuff on Rush even though George Soros pays Media Matters to transcribe everything he says on air.

*Erick looks at the unsavory rap sheet of CNN's Rick Sanchez, one of the network reporters pushing the made-up quotes (so, unsurprisingly, are MSNBC's David Schuster, Rachel Maddow and Keith Olbermann, although to his credit Olbermann has actually argued that Rush's politics shouldn't stand in the way of his bid for the Rams). I had not known that about Sanchez, who is generally as dishonest as he is smug.

*The St. Louis Post-Dispatch issues a singularly weaselly sorta-correction on Bryan Burwell's use of the fabricated quotes.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:48 AM | Politics 2009 | Comments (86) | TrackBack (0)
October 13, 2009
POLITICS/FOOTBALL: Climate of Hate and Lies

My RedState colleague Leon Wolf looks at the fabricated quotes being used to smear Rush Limbaugh - seriously, when national columnists like Jason Whitlock are quoting things found only on Wikiquote, there's a problem - as well as Chris Matthews wishing on air for somebody to shoot Rush in the head.

All this out of fear of Limbaugh buying a stake in the St. Louis Rams. What, are they worried that he'd go say something about Obama while accepting a Super Bowl trophy? Oh, that's right, that already happened.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:35 PM | Football • | Politics 2009 | Comments (17) | TrackBack (0)
October 5, 2009
BLOG: Quick Links 10/5/09

*Is there a bigger example on the web of not knowing your audience than ESPN.com automatically playing video content - i.e., with sound - when you open the page?

*I'm still unclear on why exactly the Twins-Tigers game has to be tomorrow instead of today....I'll have a more detailed post - whether you like it or not - on my Roto team, but I enter that game tied for first place, and if I lose the pennant by one home run or one RBI (both a real possibility) despite having the possible AL MVP, Cy Young and Rookie of the Year on my team, I swear I'm gonna sue Grady Sizemore.

*This video of Mark Sanford's confession speech set to the laugh track from David Letterman's confession is genius. (Hat tip: Rob Neyer).

It's been sad watching the direction of Letterman and his show the last few years. I've had progressively less time to watch anyway since I started working for a living, but I'd been a fan on and off for decades. If there's one lesson here, it's that if you wanted to keep an affair secret, you don't take the woman you're sleeping with, put her on air on your national TV show and flirt with her shamelessly. Well, that and a guy who's a producer at 48 Hours shouldn't be dumb enough to think he could get away with blackmailing a public figure. Another glorious chapter in the history of CBS News.

*The Olympics story is pretty much a dead horse at this point, but this American Thinker piece does a bang-up job of dissecting the Obamas' sales pitch to show how it violated pretty much every rule of sales pitches.

*The Washington Post's paid left-wing activist Greg Sargent is proud that the Left is playing the race card on health care - seriously, read this post. Sargent's thesis is that the ad in question is racial code and that that's a good thing. Regardless of what you think of the ad itself, that speaks volumes about Sargent's mindset. What remains less clear is why the Post employs a full-time left-wing activist in the first place.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:54 PM | Baseball 2009 • | Blog 2006-14 • | Politics 2009 • | Pop Culture | Comments (12) | TrackBack (0)
October 2, 2009
POLITICS: Nolympics

So, as you've probably seen, Chicago was eliminated in the first round of bidding for the 2016 Summer Olympics, despite (I assume despite) President Obama's personal lobbying for the Games.

Now, as a New Yorker, I really would not want the Olympics anywhere near my city, and the Olympics don't exactly have a grand history of making money for the host city (ask Montreal) or necessarily good press (ask Munich), but I take at face value for the moment that Chicagoans really wanted this one and felt it would be good for the city. Certainly great effort and expense was put into the bid, and many hopes seemed to be riding on it.

I'd questioned Obama's priorities in making the trip, but now he has a much bigger problem. It's one thing for the President to make a phone call or two to lend a subtle hand to this sort of effort; that would have been fine with me. But by the President and First Lady both making personal appearances and elevating this to the top news story of the day and a test of personal and national prestige, Obama stood a significant chance of being humiliated, and doing so for what is hard to describe as a critical national interest. Most of us on the Right assumed, whatever we thought of the trip, that Obama would never be fool enough to make it if he didn't already have deals done to get this in the bag for Chicago. Apparently, we overestimated him.

This is why you don't publicly stake your prestige on something that's not (1) hugely important (2) a done deal or (3) ideally, both. All presidents suffer defeats and embarrassments, but you generally don't walk right into one on an issue of purely local importance to your home city. Obama's and the nation's standing in the world can't help but be chipped away by this; the next time he goes jetting off to a summit or some other international event, people won't be so quick to assume that he has all figured out in advance how he's going to get what he wants. That aura, that mystique is a thing of value that the President is supposed to husband carefully for when the nation really needs it. Bush was impotent by the end of his presidency because he'd burned that up, but he had it for the better part of five years. Obama's losing it already.

What a waste.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:11 PM | Politics 2009 • | War 2007-14 | Comments (35) | TrackBack (0)
October 1, 2009
POLITICS: VAT of Trouble

James Pethokoukis has a rather alarming column adding up signs that Obama may propose a European-style Value Added Tax. All trial-balloon tea-leaf reading at this stage, but at a minimum he definitely identifies a coordinated groundswell among people with the Administration's ear.

A VAT is arguably not as bad as our current system in terms of economic incentives, but (1) it's more insidious politically - people feel the pain of income taxes directly, so they're harder to raise; and (2) it's likely that if Obama did push a VAT, it would be in addition to the taxes we already have. Pethokoukis thinks such a proposal could be an opportunity for the Right to crack open a broader discussion on reform:

Obama wants a VAT? First, it should be part of broader tax reform, including getting rid of capital gains and corporate taxes. Second, it should accompany an Economic Bill of Rights much like Ronald Reagan used to suggest. Its elements: a) a balanced budget amendment, b) a line-item veto, c) a spending limit such as inflation plus population growth, d) and a two-thirds vote in the House and Senate for any tax increases. (Reagan also wanted a prohibition on wage and price controls. That would likely kill ObamaCare.)

Well, it's a nice idea, not that any of that would get done under the current alignment, and not that, say, a balanced budget amendment would even necessarily be a good idea in practice. As he notes, Obama's tax pledges in the long run are unlikely to fare any better than his infamous and wholly insincere promise of a net reduction in federal spending:

Obama's campaign promise to not raise taxes on households making less than $250,000 a year was always considered a joke here inside the Beltway. It's the economic "consensus" - and this was true even before the financial meltdown and recession - that rising entitlement costs would eventually mean a higher tax burden for the American people.

Maybe it was a joke inside the campaign, too. Since being elected, Obama has raised cigarette taxes and has advocated raising healthcare taxes, energy and small business taxes, in addition to corporate taxes. What's more, economic advisers like Larry Summers seem eager to get rid of all the Bush tax cuts, not just those on so-called wealthy Americans.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:48 PM | Politics 2009 | Comments (8) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: Beyond Parody

Really, you can't even satirize Michelle Obama.

That said, I admit it, silly as it is, this cracked me up:

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:38 PM | Politics 2009 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
September 30, 2009
POLITICS/POP CULTURE: Christie & The Boss

I thought I was a serious Bruce fan, but you know, I've only been to 3 shows, 4 if you count seeing him at Rockefeller Center on the Today Show in 2007; NJ GOP gubernatorial candidate Chris Christie has seen the Boss 120 times, including 9 of 10 shows of a set and scheduling a Paris trip with his wife around Bruce's European tour. Now that is dedication.

It's an uncharacteristically nice piece from the NYT, but of course only in a non-substantive puff profile way; they capture pretty well the uncomfortable position for Christie being a Springsteen fan while Bruce was out campaigning against his party.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:19 AM | Politics 2009 • | Pop Culture | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)
September 29, 2009
POLITICS: Respect Authority

Hey, remember when the Left's big slogans were all about "Question Authority" and "Speak Truth to Power" and all that? Well, here's the perfect gift for the left-wingers you know who have had those bumper stickers during the Bush years and want to get their mind right with the new Administration:

respectobama.JPG

Yes, the shirt says "Respect the President of the United States." And no, you just can't get more rebellious and counter-cultural than that, now can you? That'll show The Man!

Posted by Baseball Crank at 5:08 PM | Politics 2009 | Comments (10) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: Health Care and Abortion, Again

Today's New York Times essentially owns up to what conservatives have been saying, and what President Obama branded a lie during his joint address to Congress: federal funding for abortion is very much on the table in the health care debate. Let's take a look:

Abortion opponents in both the House and the Senate are seeking to block the millions of middle- and lower-income people who might receive federal insurance subsidies to help them buy health coverage from using the money on plans that cover abortion.

Hard cases make bad grammar, apparently.

Abortion-rights supporters say such a restriction would all but eliminate from the marketplace private plans that cover the procedure, pushing women who have such coverage to give it up.

In other words, up for discussion is what happens if the plan is structured to subsidize nominally private plans rather than a "public option." Under a public option, the issue would be squarely presented: the plan would cover abortions, or not. In the case of subsidies, it would be indirect. Abortion supporters are concerned that this would entangle the government in regulating private plans' provision of insurance for abortion, but of course the whole health-care proposal is about the government regulating all sorts of things the insurers can and can't cover (recall the exhaustive list of things Obama, in his speech, said would be henceforth prohibited or mandated). The point of keeping the health care sector private is to get government out of those decisions. Once it's in the door regulating everything else, it rings hollow for the proponents of all that other regulation to say that objecting to subsidizing plans that cover abortion isn't the business of the people doing the subsidizing. Consider this line:

The bills would also mandate the availability in each state of at least one plan that covers abortion and at least one that does not.

Mandate.

The question looms as a test of President Obama’s campaign pledge to support abortion rights but seek middle ground with those who do not. Mr. Obama has promised for months that the health care overhaul would not provide federal money to pay for elective abortions, but White House officials have declined to spell out what he means.

Yes, well, he said he'd seek middle ground, but on every substantive issue his record and pledges hewed to the furthest-left position possible. He also pledged to restore federal funding for abortion, but the Times won't tell its readers that.

Democratic Congressional leaders say the latest House and Senate health care bills preserve the spirit of the current ban on federal abortion financing by requiring insurers to segregate their public subsidies into separate accounts from individual premiums and co-payments. Insurers could use money only from private sources to pay for abortions.

But opponents say that is not good enough, because only a line on an insurers’ accounting ledger would divide the federal money from the payments for abortions. The subsidies would still help people afford health coverage that included abortion.

Precisely so, as anyone remotely familiar with the fungibility of money and the pricing of any sort of service could tell you. The Democrats' defense is that they are already using a similar system to evade the Hyde Amendment in the Medicaid program:

Supporters of the current segregated-money model argue that 17 state Medicaid programs that cover elective abortions use a similar system, dividing their federal financing from state revenues they use to pay for procedures.

Moreover, it's not just the Republicans balking. Democrats like Bob Casey, who claim to be pro-life while supporting only Supreme Court Justices they believe will uphold Roe v Wade, are finding the pro-abortion extremism of the health care bills too much to swallow. As a result, even the Times can no longer deny what Obama has been furiously insisting was a complete fiction: that unless it includes a solid prohibition, a vote for the health care bill is a vote for federal taxpayer money subsidizing abortion.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 1:58 PM | Politics 2009 | Comments (9) | TrackBack (0)
LAW/POLITICS: Whoopi Goldberg, Moral Monster

Arguing that drugging and forcibly penetrating a non-consenting 13-year-old girl isn't one of the bad kinds of rape.

I knew Whoopi was rude, an ignoramus (she told John McCain last year that the Constitution doesn't prohibit slavery) and a walking crime against comedy, but even I was startled to discover her cavalier attitude towards the violation of a young girl.

Oh, and also following the same story with what only tries to be parody: the Onion.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:36 PM | Law 2009-14 • | Politics 2009 • | Pop Culture | Comments (22) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: Is Violence The Answer?

ACORN founder's response to news that a fellow community organizer had helped the FBI foil a plot to bomb the 2008 GOP Convention? "[It's] one thing to disagree, but it's a whole different thing to rat on folks."

You should read the whole thing from Brandon Darby, the organizer.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:30 PM | Politics 2009 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
September 24, 2009
POLITICS: From The Department Of Completely Predictable Consequences

Governor Paterson discovers the gee-who-coulda-seen-this-coming fact that jacking up marginal tax rates is bad for the economy and not all that helpful to the budget:

[E]arly revenue figures suggest that taxing the wealthy more under this year's state budget may have driven away richer New Yorkers. That could make the economic comeback for the state even harder.

"You heard the mantra, 'Tax the rich, tax the rich,' " Gov. David Paterson said Wednesday at a gathering of newspaper editors at an Associated Press event in Syracuse. "We've done that. We've probably lost jobs and driven people out of the state."

In a similar we-told-you-so vein, the Wall Street Journal notes a GAO report saying that the stimulus has had precisely the effect on state budgets that its critics among the GOP Governors warned it would:

Stimulus money is helping states plug budget holes, but state officials are worried about how they will sustain programs after the federal funds run out, according to a new Government Accountability Office report released Wednesday.

Around $90 billion of the $787 billion stimulus package was dedicated to state Medicaid programs. The money, which goes out quarterly to the states and is known as FMAP funds, has moved faster than stimulus dollars allocated to many other spending categories.

The GAO, the congressional watchdog charged with monitoring how states are handling their share of the stimulus package, found that most states it studied were using the Medicaid funds to cover increased caseloads and to maintain their current services and eligibility criteria. Some states were also using the funds to avoid cutting payments to hospitals and doctors.

State officials "expressed concern about the longer-term sustainability of their Medicaid programs after the increased FMAP funds are no longer available, beginning in January 2011," the report said.

The report also found some states were using the money to free up other parts of their state budget that would otherwise have been used for Medicaid. Several states reported the funds were helping finance general state budget needs.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 1:00 PM | Politics 2009 | Comments (26) | TrackBack (0)
LAW/POLITICS: Nuts To That

Leon Wolf disposes swiftly of the legal "merits" of ACORN's lawsuit against Breitbart. One of Jonah Goldberg's readers has more, although I'm skeptical of his third point, on standing grounds (as to RICO, anyway; the False Claims Act would be more a matter of finding something new, and I'm not familiar with whether you can use civil discovery to become an "original source" for qui tam purposes).

Via Ace, ACORN is also $2 million in the hole in paying its taxes.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:49 PM | Law 2009-14 • | Politics 2009 | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
September 21, 2009
POLITICS: Too Many Words, Too Few Deeds

Howard Kurtz asks if the American people have seen too much of Obama on TV; Mickey Kaus says we still don't know him well enough to trust him. They may both be right; as Kaus notes, Obama simply lacks the kind of track record that could reassure Americans that he means any of the things he says when he's claiming not to be a creature of the Hard Left. If this is starting to cause him problems, well, it's not as if we didn't warn you.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 3:53 PM | Politics 2009 | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
September 20, 2009
BLOG: Quick Links 9/20/09

*You know who quietly helped his Hall of Fame case this season? Bobby Abreu. Stayed healthy for a winning team, close to .300 average, .400 OBP and 30 steals, on the verge of his 7th straight 100-RBI season.

*Obama points out to David Paterson that he's already dead. Apparently redistricting trumps racial solidarity (so much for Paterson's effort to argue that all criticisms of him were racist, an argument that was especially dangerous to Obama due to Paterson's effort to equate himself with Obama; Obama has enough problems of his own without carrying Paterson as baggage). Of course, with only one GOP-held Congressional seat and few others even potentially competitive, redistricting isn't as big a deal as it will be in California, Texas, Illinois or Florida, but it's still a priority for the White House to bigfoot governors' races.

*Kaus waits for the next shoe to drop from Breitbart.

*Excellent post by Ace on right-wing rhetoric.

*Ben Domenech notes that Salon's polling shows that Obama had an 85% approval rating among Hispanics the week before the Sotomayor nomination, but 68% after her confirmation. So much for that battle damaging the GOP.

*Michael van der Galien looks at how Afghanistan has replaced Iraq as the anti-war Left's next target, with the declining salience of Iraq and the departure of President Bush dispensing with the need to pretend to be in favor of pressing on with the war that was started when America was attacked from Afghan territory by terrorists who were essentially indistringuishable from the Taliban. This was entirely predictable to anyone familiar with the Left, but it has nonetheless been more depressing than amusing to watch the turn in particular among the leading left-wing bloggers.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:56 PM | Baseball 2009 • | Blog 2006-14 • | Politics 2009 • | War 2007-14 | Comments (9) | TrackBack (0)
September 16, 2009
POLITICS: Fun Poll Question of the Day

Only 58% of Hispanics in New Jersey are certain that Barack Obama is not the Anti-Christ.

UPDATE: Allahpundit, looking at the same poll, notes that 9/11 Trutherism is about exactly as prevalent among Democrats as the Birther stuff is on the GOP side. Which is consistent with years of polling on Trutherism, I should add; it's not just this one PPP New Jersey poll. And which is worrisome, since while both are basically fringe ideas, the baroque conspiracy and nefarious motives one has to believe in are much greater on the 9/11 Truther side than in the case of a coverup of the location of one man's birth. (And the 9/11 Truthers have a significant overlap with the Trig Truthers).

Posted by Baseball Crank at 1:10 PM | Politics 2009 | Comments (17) | TrackBack (0)
September 11, 2009
POLITICS: Inconvenient Truth

Mary Katharine Ham looks at the rhetoric and reality of the Democrats' campaign to paint town hall protestors as dangerous, violent right-wingers. It's worth reading the whole thing, especially on the "right-wing terrorist" nonsense, but this stuck out:

That's the full list of documented violence from the August meetings. In more than 400 events: one slap, one shove, three punches, two signs grabbed, one self-inflicted vandalism incident by a liberal, one unsolved vandalism incident, and one serious assault. Despite the left's insistence on the essentially barbaric nature of Obamacare critics, the video, photographic, and police report evidence is fairly clear in showing that 7 of the 10 incidents were perpetrated by Obama supporters and union members on Obama critics. If you add a phoned death threat to Democrat representative Brad Miller of N.C., from an Obama-care critic, the tally is 7 of 11.

As is usually the case when the Left starts attacking ordinary citizens to score political points, it's a bit late by the time the truth laces on its boots, but it's never too late to try. (Meanwhile, the people who practically got a hernia rushing to politicize the death of George Tiller are spluttering about the meaninglessness of this).

Posted by Baseball Crank at 5:39 PM | Politics 2009 | Comments (11) | TrackBack (0)
September 3, 2009
POLITICS: Grow or Perish

Jay Cost has a typically enlightening column on Obama's present troubles and what he might do to fix them. H/T I thought this was a particularly useful observation: "no president in the last hundred years has won election to a second term with a smaller share of the vote than what he received for the first."

That doesn't mean Obama couldn't be the first, since he does have a margin of around 3% to risk (larger if you count electoral votes), but it's a caution: unlike Governors, Presidents rarely survive by gripping on solely to the coalition that elected them. Somehow, they need to reach out and persuade enough new people to make up for the inevitable loss of some former supporters who didn't get what they expected.

Cost's suggestion that Obama consider sacking Rahm is premature. But if the year closes out with no health care bill and no other significant legislative victories (e.g., cap-and-trade, card check, Son of Stimulus), then the rationale for retaining a brass knuckles get-things-done-and-f***-the-opposition Chief of Staff loses a lot of its force; the entire point of having Rahm around is that he can make the trains run on time and understands how to command the loyalty of all those moderate-district Democrats he helped elect, and if the trains are not running on time and the moderate-district Democrats aren't cooperating, what's the point?

Quin Hillyer is right, if overstated, that conservatives should not get complacent at Obama's bad summer; there remains time for the worm to turn again. But the season of hope is running to its inevitable end; now is the season for Obama to deliver change or face his inability to do so.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:41 PM | Politics 2009 | Comments (10) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: Hey, Look At Those...Wait, Don't Look!

Jonah Goldberg makes an excellent point about EJ Dionne that goes beyond just Dionne: the liberals complaining about media coverage of town hall health care protestors are the same people who just a few weeks ago were deliberately drawing attention to those protestors in an effort to discredit opponents of the health care bill. Uh, oops. The Administration did the same thing. And is now - not coincidentally - pushing the same line as Dionne.

Meanwhile, in California, a 65-year-old health care bill protestor had most of a finger bitten off by a MoveOn activist. Charming.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:25 PM | Politics 2009 | Comments (13) | TrackBack (0)
September 2, 2009
POLITICS: When Does School Start? The President Doesn't Know

There's been a lot of controversy about President Barack Obama's plan to give a speech to the nation's public (only public) schoolchildren on September 8 (the Tuesday after Labor Day), a controversy Caleb Howe comprehensively summarizes here. The problem isn't the President giving a pro-education message to the nation's kids, something that's part of any president's job; the problem is the specter of enlisting of public school teachers, already a core interest group supporting Obama, in indoctrinating kids in his agenda. The conservative uproar over the Department of Education's proposed materials for the speech seems to have already scored a victory in forcing the Administration to scale back its plans.

But I'm from New York. When I mentioned this speech to my wife, her immediate reaction was that Obama wasn't looking at the calendar: the New York City schools, public and private, aren't even in session yet the day after Labor Day. Obama's effort to roll this into a massive PR blitz with the following day's health care speech to a joint session of Congress will fail in my neck of the woods because nobody paid attention to the school calendar.

I suspect Obama rushed to coincide the speech with a Bill Gates-produced back to school education documentary that Obama will be appearing on the same evening on a battery of cable channels (because really, what Obama needs is more press). But either way, I'll be keeping my kids home from their (Catholic) school September 8 - because they don't have school anyway.

UPDATE: Moe Lane points out that school's not open in Boston or LA on the 8th either.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:55 PM | Politics 2009 | Comments (33) | TrackBack (0)
August 28, 2009
POLITICS: Respect For The Dead

Despite my best efforts to find something positive to say about Ted Kennedy, CBS tabs me as an example of speaking ill of the dead. Well, at least I was concise. Well, the worst sort of disrespect one can imagine is finding humor in the death of someone you killed.

Caleb Howe has some related thoughts, which as usual are extensively documented.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 3:12 PM | Politics 2009 | Comments (10) | TrackBack (0)
August 27, 2009
POLITICS: No Bill

David Freddoso points out that you can't read the text of the House health care bill because there is no such text right now.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 5:19 PM | Politics 2009 | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
August 26, 2009
POLITICS: Big Hole

Heritage's Brian Riedl crunches some of the still-staggering numbers on the Democrats' spending spree, including the fact that the projected 2009 budget deficit is larger than the Bush budget deficits for FY 2002-2007 (the six years when Bush had a Republican Congress to work with) combined. A worthwhile fact to recall when dealing with liberals who cannot comprehend how one could be more concerned about Obama's deficits than Bush's (of course, as always my concern is with spending, not deficits - deficits are just a symptom of overspending - but even then, Reidl's point that 43 cents of every federal dollar spent at present is deficit spending is pushing into worrisome territory, especially with important sources of funding drying up). He also walks through the usual budget gimmickry, like how 75% of Obama's projected budget "savings" are from not having another surge in Iraq each year, which was never anybody's plan (note that these are budget numbers that don't include the cost of the health care plan, either).

This year, President Obama will spend a peacetime-record 26 percent of GDP....The 22 percent spending increase projected for 2009 represents the largest government expansion since the 1952 height of the Korean War (adjusted for inflation).

Digest this, as you consider how many of Obama's massive spending plans haven't even been passed yet:

Federal spending per household (adjusted for inflation) remained constant at $21,000 throughout the 1980s and 1990s, before President Bush hiked it to $25,000. In 2009, Washington will spend $30,958 per household -- the highest level in American history -- and under President Obama's budget, the figure will rise above $33,000 by 2019.

Read the whole thing. H/T Mark Tapscott.

Remember: Obama was the man who twice looked the nation in the eye in the October debates and pledged a net reduction in federal spending.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:43 PM | Politics 2009 | Comments (11) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: Ted Kennedy, Workhorse Lawmaker

It is traditional, upon the passing of an important and famous person - however controversial - to find some good words to say. This is not an easy task in the case of Ted Kennedy, a man whose personal life ranged from alcoholism to debauchery to sexual harrassment to (sadly, uncharged) second-degree murder, and whose public career entailed the embrace of nearly every foolish, ruinous and cruel political idea of the past five decades and whose most enduring legacy is installing the bitterly polarized modern Supreme Court confirmation process.

But a few words are nonetheless in order to recognize the man's work. Ted Kennedy arrived in the Senate in 1962, as soon as he was Constitutionally old enough to serve; aside from a Korean War-era non-combat tour in the Army, it was his first real job. Kennedy was a young man with fame, glamor and a fair amount of his family's natural charm, but had done nothing of distinction with his life to that point; he'd inherited the seat as effectively a family heirloom, and a review of his life to that point - such as being suspended from college for cheating and a reckless driving arrest for leading cops on a 90 mph chase while in law school - would hardly have suggested a man likely to take seriously the work of a United States Senator.

Kennedy at that point could have taken a number of different turns. He could have become a Senate showhorse, making the rounds giving speeches and national TV appearances and doing little real work. He could have become one of Capitol Hill's time-markers, coasting to re-elections while using his office as just a prop for the exhausing, booze-and-flooze nightlife he pursued for so many years. He could have decided that fame and glamor meant he deserved to run for President at the first available opportunity, and stayed far away from any of the real and often controversial work of making laws.

To Kennedy's credit, he did none of those things. He hired the most aggressive, competent staffs on the Hill and immersed himself in the daily business of making laws. Boring bill markups, blathering conferences, wicked hangovers; Kennedy took them all and kept working, working even to the end. He learned how the sausage was made and the deals done, and made quite a lot of it himself. He waited 18 years to run for President, and did so only after compiling an extensive record of actual accomplishment in the Senate.

Kennedy's influence waned after his unsuccessful 1980 run; that year ushered in an era in which Republicans controlled the White House for 20 of the next 28 years, and more or less controlled the Senate (to the extent the Senate is "controlled" by the majority party) for the better part of 17 of those 28 years. But with key committee seats and an energetic staff, he remained a player in important legislative business to the end, whether forging successful bipartisan compromises (as with No Child Left Behind in 2001) or fighting for unsuccessful ones (the McCain-Kennedy immigration bill, which failed even with the backing of President Bush). The harshness of Kennedy's partisan rhetoric never left him unable to figure out how Beltway Republicans ticked and how to get them to the bargaining table; Republicans who worked with him testify unanimously to his Irish charm and personal grace.

Kennedy's career could have been a cautionary tale for our current president, who might not have found himself in quite the fix he is in at the moment if he'd followed Ted's example, bided his years, spent more time in the trenches doing the unglamorous work of legislating and taking the hard punches that must be taken to sell the product to the public, learning how the system works, why it works and who makes it work. Most of the changes Ted Kennedy made in this nation over his career were change for the worst - but he did, over time, make real change because he worked at it instead of just saying the word "change" and hoping it would be so.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:46 AM | Politics 2009 | Comments (35) | TrackBack (0)
August 20, 2009
POLITICS: There's No Such Thing As A Death Panel. There's No Such Thing As A Death Panel. There's No Such Thing As A Death Panel.

From last year:

H/T

Brian Faughnan has more on the Oregon case; Nat Hentoff has more on the current debate.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:31 AM | Politics 2009 | Comments (23) | TrackBack (0)
August 19, 2009
POLITICS: First Among Equals

Ahem:

In a morning conference call with about 1000 rabbis from across the nation, Obama asked for aid: "I am going to need your help in accomplishing necessary reform," the President told the group, according to Rabbi Jack Moline, who tweeted his way through the phoner.

"We are God's partners in matters of life and death," Obama went on to say, according to Moline's real-time stream.

Partners. Not servants. Partners.

And if you disagree with the domestic legislative agenda being pushed by God and Obama, not necessarily in that order?

Treason.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:22 PM | Politics 2009 | Comments (10) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: Where Are The Cost Cuts Going To Come From?

One of the central selling points used by President Obama to push the Democrats' health care plan is the notion that a comprehensive overhaul of the health care system will reduce costs. But costs to who, and how? Let's step back a minute and try to figure out how Obama's cost-cutting argument could possibly be so.

Prologue: Tax That Man Behind The Tree

First, a quick reminder of two reasons why cost-cutting is such an important selling point.

Number one, the core of what the Democratic base, in particular, wants from health care "reform" is universal coverage. You often hear statistics thrown around about there being 30 or 35 or, last I heard, 47 million people without health insurance, and the implication that these people are receiving zero or negligible healthcare. Debunking those statistics and assumptions is itself a cottage industry, but let's leave that aside for the moment, because the fact of the matter is that in a country of 300 million people, when you strip out the people who (1) already have health insurance and expect to continue having it, (2) don't especially want to buy health insurance, (3) are only briefly without health insurance and not worried about it, or (4) don't or can't vote, what you end up with is a very small slice of the electorate that would benefit from getting health insurance they currently lack or fear lacking. Now, voters don't only vote their own self-interests on any issue - but the fewer people who benefit directly from legislation, the harder it is to drum up public support for a bill that may threaten the self-interest of others. So, it becomes politically necessary, if the bill is to be as sweeping and ambitious as most of the versions circulated have been, to sell it to the public on the basis of some argument above and beyond insuring the uninsured. That's doubly so because if your goal was solely to insure the uninsured, much of what is in the various bills would be unnecessary.

Second, specific to the issue of saving money for the federal government, the Obama Administration and the Democrats have already severely tried the electorate's appetite for massive expansions of federal spending, especially deficit spending. The explosion of new spending, most notably the pork-laden "stimulus" bill, makes prior complaints about spending under Bush look like complaints about the deck chairs on the Titanic and flatly contradicts Obama's read-my-lips pledge during two of last October's debates that his proposals would result in a net reduction of federal spending. The voters have noticed that they're not getting anything resembling what they were promised. Thus, Obama has repeatedly pledged, with the same assurance as his campaign pledge on spending, that the health care bill would be "deficit neutral." The Congressional Budget Office, typically a liberal redoubt, has repeatedly thrown cold water on the claim that any of the proposals on the table would be deficit-neutral. Clearly, to get there, cost savings would need to be found somewhere to completely offset outlays.

How's that gonna work?

Let's review the options. The Democrats' main argument is that restructuring the entire health care sector will reduce the nation's total (public and private) outlay for health care. When you boil it down, though, there are only three variables you can cut: reduce the amount of medical care provided; reduce what providers of medical care earn for their products and services; and reduce intermediary costs. All are problematic.

I. Less Medical Care

The most obvious way to cut spending on medical care is to buy less of it. That's at the crux of the public's worry about "death panels" cutting off care, about rationing; it's why so many of the people showing up agitated at town halls are senior citizens worried about getting less medical care.

The "death panel" phrase was shorthand, of course, but it neatly captured the core of the problem: government already rations care, albeit not very efficienctly, in programs like Medicare and Medicaid (see, e.g., here - then again, the failure to do more rationing explains those programs' exploding, budget-busting costs) and the end-of-life consulting procedures criticized by Palin and subsequently dropped by chastened Democrats are not the only way in which government incentives could or would be brought to bear on physicians to push patients from consuming health care to preparing for death or assisted suicide. More here, among many other places. But you don't have to be looking at the end-stage to see that any plan premised upon cost-cutting by reducing the amount of care provided would, well, reduce the amount of care provided. And if the costs being cut are taxpayer costs, the power to do so would end up being vested in some sort of governmental entity, likely a panel of government-appointed "experts," as Mickey Kaus notes was alluded to by President Obama himself back in April:

THE PRESIDENT: So that's where I think you just get into some very difficult moral issues. But that's also a huge driver of cost, right?

I mean, the chronically ill and those toward the end of their lives are accounting for potentially 80 percent of the total health care bill out here.

LEONHARDT: So how do you - how do we deal with it?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think that there is going to have to be a conversation that is guided by doctors, scientists, ethicists. And then there is going to have to be a very difficult democratic conversation that takes place. It is very difficult to imagine the country making those decisions just through the normal political channels. And that's part of why you have to have some independent group that can give you guidance. It's not determinative, but I think has to be able to give you some guidance.

One argument advanced by proponents of the various plans is that costs would be reduced by providing more care, because preventative care would prevent more expensive care from being needed. Even leaving aside the grim fact of human mortality (i.e., preventing heart disease at one age can just leave you to die slowly of cancer or suffer prolonged dementia later), Charles Krauthammer notes that studies in reputable medical journals have concluded that the need to offer preventative care to so many people to make sure you catch health problems early means that more widespread preventative care is more, not less expensive:

Think of it this way. Assume that a screening test for disease X costs $500 and finding it early averts $10,000 of costly treatment at a later stage. Are you saving money? Well, if one in 10 of those who are screened tests positive, society is saving $5,000. But if only one in 100 would get that disease, society is shelling out $40,000 more than it would without the preventive care.

That's a hypothetical case. What's the real-life actuality? In Obamaworld, as explained by the president in his Tuesday town hall, if we pour money into primary care for diabetics instead of giving surgeons "$30,000, $40,000, $50,000" for a later amputation -- a whopper that misrepresents the surgeon's fee by a factor of at least 30 -- "that will save us money." Back on Earth, a rigorous study in the journal Circulation found that for cardiovascular diseases and diabetes, "if all the recommended prevention activities were applied with 100 percent success," the prevention would cost almost 10 times as much as the savings, increasing the country's total medical bill by 162 percent. That's because prevention applied to large populations is very expensive, as shown by another report Elmendorf cites, a definitive review in the New England Journal of Medicine of hundreds of studies that found that more than 80 percent of preventive measures added to medical costs.

Whatever else can be said for more preventative care, it is likely to offer no great cost savings.

Moreover, reducing the total amount of care provided contradicts one of the central premises of the entire project, which is that it will result in providing more care to tens of millions of people not presently receiving it. As Bob Hahn notes, if this is the case, it won't just drive up costs but will create shortages:

If we added 47 million more people to the health care system, there would be lines. We wouldn't even know how to send 47 million more people to McDonald's without causing lines.

I'm unfamiliar with the details, but apparently there is some provision in Obama's plan that expands the number of doctors, nurses, hospital beds, etc., to instantly accommodate 47 million more people. It usually takes eight to ten years to school a new doctor, so whatever the Democrats are doing here is a major advance.

The Democrats can't have it both ways. One way or another, they either need to sell the public on the idea of sharply curtailing the amount of medical care provided, or stop claiming cost savings that can only come from less care.

II. Medical Care For Less Cost

The issue of shortages brings us to the problem with the second option: rather than reducing the amount of care provided, reduce the amount paid to the people who provide it: doctors, nurses, and pharmaceutical and medical device companies. Certainly on the Left there is a fair amount of sentiment for making it less profitable to provide care. But there is really no getting around the basics of supply and demand: if we make it less profitable to become a doctor, we will end up with fewer doctors. If we skimp on salaries for nurses, home health aides, and less-skilled care providers (e.g., people who work in nursing homes), we will exacerbate the existing shortage of nurses and other providers, which is likely to become more acute in years to come as the population ages. And if labor responds to financial incentives, capital is even more sensitive: slash the profit margins of drug companies and medical device manufacturers, and inevitably there will be less investor capital for those companies and less coming out of the pipeline in terms of drugs and devices that save or improve lives. The net effect will be the same as rationing care directly: cost savings will come only by reducing the quantity and quality of medical care.

III. Cutting Out The Middleman

With open advocacy of government rationing of care largely politically infeasible and reducing the profitability of health care providers economically impractical, the debate logically falls upon the middlemen, mainly insurance companies. Pretty much everybody hates insurance companies, whose business model by nature involves collecting more money than they lay out. And there's empirical data to support the idea that we're spending proportionally more of our health care dollars on insurance, rather than care, than we used to spend. To shift the discussion away from rationing care, Democrats are desperately trying to paint the insurers as somehow siphoning off more money to enrich themselves than they "should," an effort that's now leading to an especially vindictive crackdown by panicked Congressional liberals:

House Democrats are probing the nation's 52 largest insurance companies for lavish spending, demanding reams of compensation data and schedules of retreats and conferences.

Setting a deadline of Sept. 14, the letters demand extensive documents for an examination of "executive compensation and other business practices in the health insurance industry."

The main idea here, other than simply intimidating the insurers, is to try to sell the Democrats' plan on the theory that the insurers are artificially inflating their overhead. The fact that they have to subpoena 52 companies suggests that this will not be as easy a case to make as in the case of a monopoly industry...and of course, a monopoly is the preferred solution of Democratic policymakers, elected officials and even Democratic base voters who essentially see the long-term goal as using a "public option" to plant the seeds for replacing this patchwork of private companies with a single-payer system of government monopoly insurance.

But let's unpack here a little further the elements of the expense of a middleman. First of all, there's the question of why have insurance at all. Most of us pay for other life essentials - food, clothing, shelter, transportation - directly, rather than buying, say, grocery insurance to make sure that an insurance company or government agency will give us groceries every week on terms acceptable to the insurer plus a premium. Now, unless you are seriously wealthy, insurance against truly catastrophic health care costs makes economic sense, so that the pool of the insured absorbs the individual occurrences of massive spikes in one person's health care costs. But pretty much all the proposals on the table go far beyond purely catastrophic coverage.

The entire rationale of the Democrats' proposal is to get more people to buy insurance or have it bought for them than is currently the case, thus increasing the proportion of our health care that is paid for through intermediaries rather than directly. That's true of people who currently buy no insurance and get little or no care, or pay for it out of pocket; it's true as well of people who currently get their care from emergency rooms. That's exactly the opposite direction of where you want to be moving if cutting intermediary costs is your goal.

And in the existing health care market, Democrats (with the help of big-government Republicans) have been driving up costs for the past two decades by piling on mandates and "patients' bill of rights" legislation that ever increases the number of procedures that the insurers have to be involved in. The Medicare prescription drug plan likewise expanded the scope of health care products and services paid for through a public intermediary rather than directly by consumers. And of course, subsidizing preventative care that may be presently paid for out of pocket does the same. So, not only are the Democrats proposing to have more people use health care intermediaries (public or private), but their proposals will inevitably continue the trend towards having more types of health care paid for through intermediaries.

Well, say Democrats, we will use more intermediaries, but we'll be much more efficient in doing so, because the public plans won't have a profit motive and expensive executives. Which is true. But it's also true that government programs, even ones that start out fairly simple, tend only to grow and expand over time and grow less efficient as their competition is eliminated and the political power of those who draw salaries and contracts from them grows. Will unionized government workforces necessarily be less expensive than non-unionized private insurer workforces? History doesn't suggest so. As one National Review reader posed the question:

If we can cut a half-trillion dollars from Medicare and Medicaid to pay for health insurance reform but if, as looks to be the case, healthcare reform won't pass, why not just cut a half-trillion dollars from Medicare and Medicaid anyway?

The fact that it hasn't happened and won't happen should remind us that replacing a competitive private marketplace with a colossal, Washington-run bureaucracy is a bad bet to produce savings. The conservative answer in this situation is not to throw out the entire existing system on the hope that things will work out better than they ever have before.

The elephant in the waiting room is the other big cost driver of intermediaries besides the scope of coverage and the cost of having shareholders and executives: lawsuits. Precise figures are again a subject of intense dispute, but a goodly chunk of what drives the amount of 'unnecessary' care provided, the cost of providing services and the cost of intermediaries is the need to protect against and pay for the cost of medical malpractice and denial of coverage litigation. None of the Democratic proposals, however, seek to make any practical inroads against this source of costs. Replacing a private system with a public one could arguably do so if the trial bar is effectively precluded from bringing against the government many of the kinds of lawsuits now used against private insurers - but aren't liberals in favor of keeping those kinds of suits viable? And how likely is it that in the long run they won't provide other mechanisms to keep one of their vital constituencies in business?

We have pretty much exhausted the options for cost-cutting: less care (at a steep political price, at the cost of giving frightening power to the government, and at odds with the goal of providing care where none is now given); less money to caregivers, which would amount to the same thing; less use of intermediaries (which is likewise contrary to the whole thrust of the project); or less cost in using intermediaries (which is impractical and unlikely to pan out).

There will be no cost savings. There's no sense in pretending otherwise.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 1:28 PM | Politics 2009 | Comments (38) | TrackBack (0)
August 12, 2009
POLITICS: The Power of Protest.

Patrick Ruffini responds to Marc Ambinder's contention that opponents of Obamacare will fail for the same reason that opponents of the Iraq War failed to dent President Bush's popularity. Key passage:

When Bush was at 70%+, his prosecution of the war was first branded "divisive" because something like 500,000 anti-war activists were marching on CNN. And it was a short hop from branding the war "divisive" to branding it a disaster.

Much the same is now happening with health care. The public option is, at the very minimum, now perceived as divisive. As controversial. As anything but the sweetness and light upon which Obama uniquely depended on to govern.

In the long run, the side that most insistently believes in its own arguments usually wins. This neatly sums up the outcome of the 2008 election, and the current state of the health care debate. I don't think every swing voter would categorically embrace everything that's happened at the town hall meetings (on either side), but the fervor of one side over the other sends important signals to unaffiliated voters that the doubts outweigh the reassurances on Obamacare, and to armchair quarterbacks everywhere, that the President is on the defensive and dogged by opposition.

He also notes the impact on swing Congresspersons...one thing about Members of Congress is, they may swear up and down in public that the town hall protestors are some sort of paid shills, but the reality is that people who show up motivated at an August town hall in an odd-numbered year - or lay out money and organization to get others to do so - are surely going to do the same the next November. That lesson is never lost on vulnerable Members of the House or Senate.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:06 PM | Politics 2009 | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: That Hitler Mustache

Yes, of course, the TV networks and lefty blogs have been trying to discredit conservative opponents of Obamacare with...signs and rhetoric from Lyndon LaRouche supporters who think Obama's plan isn't far enough to the left:

H/T Caleb Howe - go to Caleb's post if you can't get the video to load here. I don't even know at this point whether to attribute this to deliberate dishonesty or just plain stupidity, but it hardly matters.

(Of course, you could cure anemia with the irony of left-wing blogs discovering, on January 20, 2009, that it's not nice to compare the president to Hitler - or even Democratic politicians saying so after years of things like this and this and this and this. Worse yet is the Democratic tendency to accuse conservatives of "carrying Nazi symbols" when they mean "calling Democrats Nazis," as if to say that the protestors on the Right are in favor of National Socialism).

Par for the course.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 3:36 PM | Politics 2009 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: Obamacare and the Ghost of Terri Schiavo

NPR's headline on yesterday's town hall on health care by President Obama:

Obama Says His Health Plan Won't 'Pull The Plug On Grandma'

The NY Daily News had a similar headline using that quote in this morning's print edition, as does this Reuters item; the NY Post less delicately shortens the headline to 'WE WON'T PULL PLUG ON GRANNY'.

This is not the place the White House wanted to be in right now. Even George W. Bush, as many things as his opponents threw at him and as low as his approval ratings went at times, never felt compelled to ... well, as Jake Tapper put it,

[I]f the president finds himself at a town hall meeting telling the American people that he does not want to set up a panel to kill their grandparents ... perhaps, at some point, the president has lost control of the message.

I've previously covered one of the primary reasons why Obama is in this pickle: he doesn't have a clearly defined, easily and consistently explained plan. There are still multiple bills, none of which has the unambiguous support of either the White House or a working majority in both Houses of Congress; the bills are massively long and complicated, yet for the most part they leave huge numbers of unanswered questions by deferring important decisions to vaguely-constructed and questionably supervised bureaucracies. Many of the worst things in the bills are not what they say they will do, but what by silence they would permit to happen. The absence of a ban on using federally-provided insurance funds for abortions is one example, as noted by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops in explaining why the USCCB (long a supporter of more government funding for universal health care coverage) can't support the House bill:

Some seemed surprised at [a previous objection by the Bishops], since abortion was not specifically mentioned in draft health care bills until recently. Those with longer memories may recall that the Medicaid statute doesn't mention abortion either, but it was funding 300,000 abortions a year in the 1970s until we put a stop to that with the Hyde amendment. In any case, numerous amendments to keep abortion out of health care reform have been defeated in committee, and it is now apparent that some leaders have every intention of threatening the health care reform process by forcing Americans to accept abortion mandates and/or fund unlimited abortion in their health coverage.

Camille Paglia, also a supporter in general of health care 'reform' but a critic of Obama's approach, connects the same dynamic to the debate over whether Obamacare would create "death panels" empowered to cut off treatment for those deemed not worthy of continued life, as we have seen happen in European systems:

I simply do not understand the drift of my party toward a soulless collectivism. This is in fact what Sarah Palin hit on in her shocking image of a "death panel" under Obamacare that would make irrevocable decisions about the disabled and elderly. When I first saw that phrase, headlined on the Drudge Report, I burst out laughing. It seemed so over the top! But on reflection, I realized that Palin's shrewdly timed metaphor spoke directly to the electorate's unease with the prospect of shadowy, unelected government figures controlling our lives. A death panel not only has the power of life and death but is itself a symptom of a Kafkaesque brave new world where authority has become remote, arbitrary and spectral. And as in the Spanish Inquisition, dissidence is heresy, persecuted and punished.

Surely, the basic rule in comprehensive legislation should be: First, do no harm. The present proposals are full of noble aims, but the biggest danger always comes from unforeseen and unintended consequences.

Even beyond the particulars of the present bills, what Obama and his Congressional allies are confronting is the legacy of their own party's deliberately constructed image. And a part of that image that they may least have expected to haunt them is the ghost of Terri Schiavo.

Political parties are not born anew each election cycle. The average voter, having limited time to devote to politics, very prudently comes to rely upon the general reputation of a party to form an impression of what its individual members stand for. A reasonably informed voter will try to learn at least a few things about particular candidates, but even political junkies rarely know A to Z on where all their elected representatives stand on every issue of public consequence (quick: what does your State Senator think about immigration? capital gains taxes? the minimum wage? gun control?). Thus, a party's image is important and carries the baggage, for good and for ill, of the high-profile debates in which it takes a prominent position. Moreover, a party's image is built not only by its leaders but its supporters inside and out of public office. People can usually filter out the crazies on the margins, but the battery of media commentators and activists involved in any given controversy add to that overall image.

Indelible images are hard to shake. During the last election, Obama ran ads criticizing John McCain for opposing federal funding for stem cell research and being an anti-immigrant hardliner. These were blatant lies, of course - the polar opposites of McCain's actual positions, laughably in the case of the immigration ads given that McCain had risked his political career over his support for the comprehensive immigration bill - but Obama obviously assumed that the ads would be effective because the audience would identify McCain with his party's reputation on those issues and would be unaware of his actual record.

Which brings us to Terri Schiavo. Now, I have previously discussed the immediate political cost to the Bush Administration's agenda of the Schiavo brouhaha in March of 2005. Commentators have debated for some years now how much political damage the GOP suffered with moderates from its identification with the movement (headed largely by committed pro-lifers, many of them religious) to prevent the State of Florida from, essentially, starving the brain-damaged Schiavo to death. That controversy was an unsettling one: the issue was what to do about a woman who had no medically realistic prospects for recovery, was consuming expensive healthcare dollars, and had left no reliable instructions on what her wishes would be in that situation, and a lot of people were very uncomfortable with either option, continuing to pay for her care or depriving her of nourishment. Public opinion at the time was hardly unanimous on what should be done (indeed, even some high-profile left-wingers sided with those who opposed removing Schiavo's feeding tube). The conventional wisdom in the pundit class was that the damage done was all to one side - that the flap revealed the GOP to be in the thrall of religious extremists. I don't doubt that some such damage was indeed done. But little attention was paid to the fact that the Right vs Left narrative of the Schiavo episode - one willingly stoked by Democrats eager to capitalize on precisely the "Religious Right overreach" angle - painted the Left as the advocates of 'pulling the plug' on Terri Schiavo. Another anecdote had been added to the public's collective memory of what the two sides stand for - an anecdote, I should add, that is consistent with other pieces of the puzzle, as the Left has clashed with the same pro-lifers again and again on abortion, assisted suicide, and the destruction of embryos for stem cell research. Sarah Palin's invocation of her Down's Syndrome son Trig is another flashpoint: it is the Left that insists that it is appropriate to abort a child when prenatal testing reveals such a condition, and it was from the Left that we heard cruder jibes suggesting that Palin should have done just that. A coherent pattern emerges, forms itself and takes root in the public's mind.

In 2006 and 2008, nothing happened - at least, nothing visible that would interfere with the Democrats' march to power, as other issues were at the fore and nobody on either side much wanted to discuss euthanasia. But now, with health care legislation at stake and the end-of-life issues it poses front and center, and with "cutting costs" a core part of his mantra for "reform," Barack Obama is running into the legacy of Terri Schiavo and those other pieces of the pattern. Schiavo's name isn't heard much, but it doesn't have to be, because it's part of the public's memory. The American people know that the same people who wanted to pull the tube from Terri Schiavo want to be trusted not to pull the plug on grandma. Which is why they are appropriately skeptical of any hint that Obamacare would leave any power in federal hands to make those decisions.

Four years ago, the Left was proud of its stance on withdrawing not just medical care but food itself from Terri Schiavo. That was their choice. If the price to be paid is a public in need of assurance that President Obama and his plan don't share those values and won't encourage the same thing, well, choices have consequences, and the voiceless dead can still haunt us in ways we had never foreseen.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:13 PM | Politics 2009 | Comments (22) | TrackBack (0)
August 11, 2009
POLITICS: The Lobbyist Lobby

Michael Kinsley's singularly ungracious column in the Washington Post yesterday took the occasion of the death of longtime Democratic Beltway lobbyist Anne Wexler to denounce that favorite scapegoat of liberals, the influence of lobbyists in Washington. But Kinsley is not serious about the influence of lobbyists, because unaddressed in his diatribe is the source of their power in the first place.

Kinsley notes Wexler's background as a principled liberal, and bemoans how her work as a lobbyist strayed from that:

Wexler was a pioneer of bipartisan lobbying -- the ultimate in cutting-edge moral neutrality -- in which one firm supplies both well-connected Democrats and well-connected Republicans.

Kinsley then moves in to denounce the entire process of representing paying clients in advocating their interests before the political branches of government:

And what is wrong with this? After all, the Constitution guarantees each of us the right to petition our government for the redress of our grievances. Plenty is wrong. First, there is nothing in this list of services about determining which side of a legislative dispute happens to be correct before jumping in on the side that has hired you. Second, if the lobbyists' claims about being able to affect the outcome of political disputes are even close to being true, this tilts democracy in favor of those who can afford to hire them. And third, what a waste of a lot of smart people's time! What might Anne Wexler have accomplished for causes that she really believed in if she hadn't spent the last three decades of her life taking on any cause that walked in the door with a checkbook in hand?

Kinsley is right that making a living this way is a departure from principled political advocacy - but so is most of what private-sector enterprises do. In the legal profession, for example, there are a variety of limits (some personal, some institutional, some legal-ethical) on what clients and causes a lawyer will represent, but fundamentally, the lawyer's job, or the lobbyist's, is to speak for the interests of the client before the power of the State. That may be neither as pure a cause as political activism nor as socially productive as private enterprise that caters to the public, but it is a necessary function and there is nothing dishonorable about it. In 2008, amidst a campaign season with even more than the usual huffing and puffing about the evil of lobbyists, both parties nominated presidential candidates who had themselves worked as lobbyists - Barack Obama as a "community organizer," John McCain as a Capitol Hill "Congressional Liaison" for the Navy. Neither job involved representing private institutional interests, but both were basically lobbying roles: that is, special pleading before the elected branches of government on behalf of their clients, in Obama's case the community interests chosen by his organization, in McCain's case the branch of the armed services in which he served. People like Kinsley would no doubt argue that these are more virtuous interests to lobby for than private companies, but in many cases that depends on the merits of the issue - the very thing Kinsley bemoans as being disregarded when lobbyists put their clients' interests first.

In any event, if Kinsley was serious about limiting the role of lobbyists, he would have to recognize that the explosive growth of lobbying as an industry unto itself in recent decades is a symptom, not the disease itself. The disease is the pervasive intrusion of the federal government into picking winners and losers in the economy, and that intrusion plays precisely the same role in the lobbying industry that the growth of litigation does in the legal profession. From the perspective of a corporate client, spending money on lobbyists only makes sense if lobbyists can deliver for their clients either (1) government favor, (2) protection from government hostility, or (3) the opposite results for their competitors. Prior to the New Deal, there were precious few lobbyists in Washington because the federal government's role in doing any of those things to particular private businesses was much more limited. The growth of the regulatory state, the increasing complexity of the tax code, and the growth and specificity of the federal budget have all created vast opportunities for the federal government to make decisions that redirect profits and losses among private businesses with the stroke of a pen.

The Obama era in Washington is nothing if not an effort to vastly expand the role of the federal government in determining the favor or punishment doled out to companies and industries, greatly exceeding what is already an overgrown favor factory. The legislation pushed by this White House and Congress - and cheered by media liberals like Kinsley - presents an endless parade of new opportunities for the shaping of rules and the doling out of appropriations: who gets stimulus money, and on what conditions? Who gets a bailout, and will it be structured to benefit some interests (the cash for clunkers program essentially funnels taxpayer money to the automakers to institutionalize a bailout designed to insulate the UAW from the consequences of the industry's labor costs and practices) and harm disfavored ones (used car dealers). How will the health care bill help or harm insurers, hospitals, companies that provide health insurance, unions, malpractice lawyers, etc.? (There was a report that Wal-Mart was supporting Obamacare because it expected the bill to put more costs on Target - even if that's not accurate, it's illustrative of how corporations will evaluate the bill and how their support can be negotiated). What conditions will attach to cap-and-trade provisions as they apply to varied industries? No serious adult should be so naive as to be surprised when the end product benefits powerful moneyed interests who know how to work the system. With government decisions reaching further into more industries, and the details of those incursions buried in thousand-page bills nobody reads, it can't possibly be a better time to be a lobbyist.

Oh, of course, restrictions - many of them cosmetic - can be placed upon the how and the where of lobbying, but none will change the fundamental dynamic that as long as private businesses see government power as a determinant of their success, they will use every means at their disposal to influence the course of that power, and the nature of people in political power will always be to be susceptible to being influenced.

If you want money out of politics, get politics out of money. If you want to stop influence peddling, go after the influence, not the peddling. If Michael Kinsley was serious about thinking the growth of lobbying a bad thing, he would not be denouncing the symptom while cheering for the disease.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:00 PM | Politics 2009 | Comments (8) | TrackBack (0)
August 10, 2009
POLITICS: Paid For By...

I know I link to a lot of RedState posts these days, but really, Caleb Howe has done it again with an extensively documented post examining efforts to pay for support for Obamacare, as well as rounding up more from other blogs on the same subject.

Debra Saunders also has more on the media coverage I referenced the other day:

When Boxer grilled Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice about what personal price the childless Rice paid for the Iraq war, Boxer later boasted that she was "speaking truth to power." But when angry voters try to do the same with elected officials, whether they're heckling them or just showing up, Boxer wants the media to investigate.

It's laughable: Democrats discrediting protests because - ooooooh - they're organized. Last year, weren't these same folks guffawing about Jesus being a community organizer?

+++

When anti-Bush protesters behaved badly, when Code Pinkers shouted and anti-war protesters brandished signs with swastikas, they did not rate nearly as much press scrutiny as the ObamaCare protesters. There seems to be the impression in my profession that comparisons of Bush with Hitler were to be expected, but not of Obama with Hitler. That's below the belt.

Finally, Michael Barone unpacks why the whole Obamacare plan is designed to make a single-payer system inevitable.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 4:01 PM | Politics 2009 | Comments (25) | TrackBack (0)
August 8, 2009
POLITICS: Shaddup And Take Yer Medicine

Peggy Noonan, who has so rarely been worth reading the past few years, nonetheless nails the dynamics of the health care debate. FreeRepublic.com veteran Bob Hahn, who is always worth reading but far less frequently around to read, offers his own experience organizing conservative demonstrations and zeroes in on the specific double standard by which the Left and the media treat anger at Republicans as a sign of genuine, authentic popular discontent (think of the deification of the unhinged Cindy Sheehan once upon an August) while anger at Democrats about domestic politics is treated as a sign of dangerous extremism. Jim Geraghty asks what kind of dissent from Obama's policies would be regarded as legitimate. David Boaz (via Instapundit) looks at knee-jerk Democratic accusations that opposition to nationalizing health care equal racism.

It seems to me that the Democrats are still, even at this late date, engaged more in assertion than argument:

If I came up with a health care plan that provided all Americans with universal coverage, protected the 45 million people without health insurance, did so without rationing treatment, prevented insurance companies from denying coverage, didn't cut Medicaid and Medicare benefits for seniors, AND provided significant cost savings over the current system I'd be proud of it.

I would be out there everyday talking exclusively about my health plan, ignoring all other distractions. I'd sit down with every major network primetime news cast. I'd have my staff write columns and do interviews with every major print publication.

In an effort to explain my plan to as many Americans as possible, I'd go on daytime talk shows like Oprah and The View, I'd go on late night comedy shows like the Daily show and Redeye, and I'd sit down with political commentators like ...Anderson [Cooper] and Bill [O'Reilly].

I'd have national hotlines, web casts, hosted chats and discussions. I'd push every Senator and Congressman to host open town halls, allowing the American people to voice their concerns, ask questions and get answers. I'd fill those town halls not with members of unions, political action committees, or cronies that support everything I do, but with ordinary people. Regular folks that might be confused or even worried about my plan. I'd have representatives stay, hours on end to ensure each question is addressed and answered.

But this isn't what's happening...

One of my RedState colleagues puts the matter starkly: if Democrats are so certain, in the face of noisy opposition and fretful poll numbers, that the public is overwhelmingly behind them and that all opposition is illegitimate, extremist, manufactured, and worthy of being reported to the authorities, why not just draw clear lines, vote and wait for the GOP to be punished at the polls? Which side in this debate is acting as if it is confident of public support?

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:48 PM | Politics 2009 | Comments (8) | TrackBack (0)
July 29, 2009
POLITICS: Department of Bad Photo Ops, Obama Edition

I had my fun last spring with this horrible Bush photo op:

Well, it looks like whoever scheduled that disaster is still doing advance work for Obama:

Choice Cuts Of Obama

The grocery meat aisle? Really?

Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:08 PM | Politics 2009 | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: Repeating Failure

Hunter Baker looks at a few of the arguments against national health care. The federalism point is an important one: TennCare was a failure, RomneyCare has been a failure. Why should we expect better results in imposing a complex system on a nationwide basis?

Megan McArdle has a longer essay, which of course begs the question of why she voted for Obama, but it's worth reading. One of the particularly chilling ideas is that national health care in the US will help mask the failings of other national health care systems around the world, because there won't be a place left with a vibrant, relatively free health care sector to make the government-run options look bad.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 3:26 PM | Politics 2009 | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: Not Persuading

The health care fight is still fluid enough to make predicting the outcome a crapshoot, but Michael Barone has an excellent look at President Obama and why he has run into trouble on this issue:

We knew that day that Obama was good at aura, at generating enthusiasm for the prospect of hope and change....

But it turns out that Obama is not so good at argument. Inspiration is one thing, persuasion another. He created the impression on the campaign trail that he was familiar with major issues and readily ticked off his positions on them. But he has not proved so good at legislating.

One reason, perhaps, is that he has had little practice.

The result?

On the major legislation considered this year -- the stimulus, cap and trade, health care -- the Obama White House has done little or nothing to set down markers, to provide guidance, to establish boundaries and no-go areas.

The administration could have insisted that the stimulus package concentrate spending in the next year. It didn't. It could have insisted that the cap-and-trade bill generate the revenue that was supposed to underwrite health care. It didn't. It could have decided either to seek a bipartisan health care bill or to insist that a Democratic bill be budget-neutral. It didn't -- and it still hasn't made this basic policy choice.

Obama's mental and political framework is built around the left-wing, community-organizer notion that there's a real majority out there that already supports all the things he believes in, if only you can get them to show up at the polls. (That includes not only the youth vote and low-turnout minority groups but also people who aren't eligible to vote - felons, illegal immigrants, etc.) Thus, the bulk of Obama's efforts are aimed at firing up the base, not at persuasion. (I should break in and note here that this is not so vastly different from the Bush/Rove strategy, which leaned heavily on getting non-voting evangelical Christians to the polls. I leave to the reader whether to take that as a compliment.)

The things he did do to try to reassure swing voters who flocked to his banner last fall after the financial crisis - promises of tax cuts and a net reduction in federal spending - are undetectable in his governing agenda. And Obama's long-term strategy, as I have noted repeatedly, is not to win over the electorate but to alter it by changing the political system.

Obama simply never deals with the arguments against his policies seriously, only caricatures them and personally demonizes his opponents (the worst knee-jerk response we have seen from him in this regard was the whole Henry Gates episode, in which Obama reflexively attacked the Cambridge police on racially divisive grounds without bothering to get the facts). That's an effective way to get things done when you have the public behind you already. But it also makes it very difficult to win back people once you lose them.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:30 AM | Politics 2009 | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)
July 24, 2009
POLITICS: Not A Sparrow Falls From The Sky.....

So President Obama called Mark Buehrle after Buehrle's perfect game, and....

Buehrle explained after the call that Obama also "was taking a little bit of credit because he wore the White Sox jacket at the All-Star Game and I told him how surprised I was that he actually did it.

Yes, I know Obama was trying (unsuccessfully) to crack funny here, but in humor there is sometimes truth - of course, The One's first natural instinct in making a call of congratulations is, "how can I claim credit for this?"

(As Ben Domenech asks, "how many perfect games have you created or saved today?")

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:07 AM | Politics 2009 | Comments (14) | TrackBack (0)
July 23, 2009
POLITICS: Obama's Health Care Strategy: Vote First, Sell Second

One of the most elusive concepts in politics is the notion of a mandate. Presidents love to claim them to bulldoze opposition ("the American people elected me to do this!"), but they can evaporate with astonishing speed, most famously in the case of the backlash against Franklin D. Roosevelt's "Court-packing" plan after FDR had won the most sweeping electoral endorsement for any party in a presidential election year since the dawn of the modern two-party system.

If there's one essential characteristic of a mandate, it's that the public support behind the president is solid because people know what it is they're supporting. That's how conservative presidents like Reagan and George W. Bush got mandates to cut taxes: they ran on a clearly articulated plan, everyone who cared to follow the race knew what the plan involved, and public support didn't change dramatically once they got into office and their opponents started hitting back with the same arguments they'd used against the tax cuts during the campaign. A corollary is that when Members of Congress voted for the tax cuts, they could do so knowing that the arguments on both sides had been fully ventilated to the public, and the voters wouldn't turn against them quickly for supporting the cuts.

Barack Obama is now pressing forward on health care on the theory that he was elected on a platform of doing something about "health care reform," and therefore he has a mandate. Bill Clinton thought the same thing; so did George W. Bush after winning not one but two elections while promising Social Security reform. One can argue about their assumptions (that both Obama and Clinton won because of the economy, and Bush in 2004 because of war, social issues and the economy), and of course it remains too early to predict whether Obama will succeed in getting a health care bill to his desk. But of this much we can be certain: even if he does, his legislative strategy is designed to ensure that the bill is passed without the controversial details being sold to the voters. And if Congressional Democrats follow Obama's lead, they may find next fall that they can't hide behind any sort of mandate to justify their votes.

From watching him approach the votes on the stimulus and cap-and-trade proposals and now health care, we have a pretty clear picture of Obama's modus operandi:

Step One: Lay out very general principles and trumpet the absolute urgency of immediate action on those principles. Obama is in favor of "health care reform." He wants to lower costs and insure more people. A high level of generality. There was more flesh on the bones of his campaign proposals, but not nearly at the level of covering all the bases, and in any event Obama has not even tried to insist that legislation be crafted around his campaign proposal. Yet he has insisted that even if he can't say what exactly is to be done, it has to be done quickly and without a lot of debate.

Step Two: Deflect all specific attacks by not having a single bill with transparent provisions. On the House side, we've had a bill coming together that's fairly detailed, and as recently as this morning, Speaker Pelosi was simultaneously insisting that she (1) has the votes to pass it and (2) was going to cancel the August recess to hold Members in town long enough to get the votes to pass it. At a minimum, there seem to be a fair number of nominally conservative "Blue Dog" Democrats who might vote for the House bill if forced to but would really prefer to have a bipartisan compromise emerge from the Senate instead. The Senate side has been much murkier, with support as well for a liberal bill like the House version but also a number of Democrats who are balking at the House's rigid demands and a number of Republicans who won't sign on to the House version but have left the door open to something different. In any event, it's impossible to debate exactly what an "Obamacare" bill is at present, because there's no one bill the White House is willing to publicly stand behind. Much of the Administration's communications strategy has been based on deflecting criticisms by denying that this or that controversial provision has been set in stone, using (1) the shifting nature of the various bills and (2) those bills' ultimate vagueness in passing on key decisions to an amorphous, yet-to-be-established bureaucracy as cover to stay unclear on how the pieces of the puzzle will fit together.

Let's consider, just as an example, one of the most radical changes in national policy that may end up in the final bill - public funding of abortions. For three decades, the Hyde Amendment has codified the policy under which the federal government does not provide taxpayer money to subsidize abortions. This is the ultimate middle-of-the-road compromise (for pro-lifers, just refusing to subsidize isn't nearly enough), but it maintains the pretense that the federal government is pro-choice rather than actively pro-abortion (if you subsidize something, you're actively encouraging more of it). Repealing the Hyde Amendment as a stand-alone piece of legislation would require a major pitched battle and be an enormous flashpoint for putative moderate Democrats from districts with a lot of pro-lifers; instead, it may get done as part of a huge, sweeping overhaul that brings in scores of other dramatic changes (tax hikes, huge funding increases, changes in the way insurance, medical care and malpractice are handled) all at once.

So, how does President Obama respond to criticism that repeal of the Hyde Amendment is a step too far? Here's what he told Katie Couric:

Katie Couric: Do you favor a government option that would cover abortions?

President Obama: What I think is important, at this stage, is not trying to micromanage what benefits are covered. Because I think we're still trying to get a framework. And my main focus is making sure that people have the options of high quality care at the lowest possible price.

As you know, I'm pro choice. But I think we also have a tradition of, in this town, historically, of not financing abortions as part of government funded health care. Rather than wade into that issue at this point, I think that it's appropriate for us to figure out how to just deliver on the cost savings, and not get distracted by the abortion debate at this station.

If Obama is serious about getting a public mandate for his bill, this isn't at all an honest approach; either the final bill will continue to bar the use of public funds for abortions, or it won't. But so long as he's not defending any particular piece of legislation, he can keep doing this two-step.

The list of controversial issues goes on, almost endlessly. Much of the controversy focuses on the effects of various plans on existing private health benefits. And Obama can claim a strong mandate....against tampering with anybody's existing health care. When John McCain proposed eliminating the favored tax treatment of employer-provided plans, Obama flooded the airwaves with ads hammering McCain for putting any sort of tax on anyone's current health care. Obama may argue now that the various proposals are different - the main liberal plans don't tax health benefits, they just use a variety of squeezes to try to drive them out of existence, but Obama's (laughable) pledge to make his hugely expensive proposals "deficit-neutral" leaves the door open to the possibility that a final deal may incorporate any number of as-yet unspecified tax hikes (also in violation of other of his campaign promises). But then, McCain's proposal also offset the taxes on employers with individual tax credits, and Obama pounced on him anyway, and ended up drawing substantial public support from people who - whether they knew that or not, having heard his barrage of ads - concluded that McCain would tax their health benefits and Obama would leave them in place. If proposals that tax or otherwise pressure existing benefits out of existence end up in the final bill, it will be quite a surprise to a lot of people who took Obama's campaign ads and rhetoric seriously.

Step Three: Keep as many things on the hopper as possible. For much of the year, Obama has sought to simply overwhelm the Republican opposition by pursuing so many different things at once - the above-mentioned legislative agenda, the continuing parade of bailouts, the Sotomayor nomination, the overhaul of intelligence and detention policy - that undermanned, underfinanced and disorganized Republicans simply couldn't get a hearing on all of them at once, and things could get done in Congress and the Executive Branch without a lot of scrutiny of the details. The apex of this strategy was the cap-and-trade vote that was buried in the news by the death of Michael Jackson.

This part of the strategy has broken down somewhat at the moment, as the President himself has now taken to talking almost entirely about healthcare. And that, in turn, has raised the political stakes, with Republicans openly declaring that health care is Obama's Waterloo. From here out, it will be increasingly difficult for Obama to ram through a vote under cover of other events.

Step Four: Rush to get the bill into concrete form and passed with as little time as possible elapsed from Step Two. We saw this dramatically with the stimulus bill, which got passed without anybody in DC having read the whole thing and with hardly anyone having a firm grip on exactly what was in the bill that might later prove embarrassing to have supported. And predictably, the stimulus package is much less popular now than it was when it passed.

The rush to passage is effective for muting opposition. Pelosi's desire to hold the House over August to vote would not only allow a rush to a vote, but would insulate her Members from spending a month in their districts hearing from voters while there's a proposal on the table they have some chance of understanding. But it also means the Members vote before they have sold the public on the bill and everything in it. Even if you think that's an appropriate way to make law in a democracy, as a matter of pure politics, it can be toxic later on. Even if the whole thing passed by the end of August, Republicans would have a year and a half to hammer on particular provisions of the bill ahead of the 2010 elections, and Democrats who voted for it could be caught offguard if they never spent a day guaging how individual parts of the bill would play in their states or districts.

Obama's not worried about that - he can run for re-election on his personal popularity and the historic nature of his historic presidency. But Congressional Democrats won't have that luxury - if you're a white male supposedly moderate Congressman running for re-election in a district in Indiana or North Carolina where a majority of the voters are still old enough to remember when and why they voted for Bush in 2004, you need to be able to defend the actual policies you voted for.

Which may be why Obama's hurry-up offense is at risk of a serious slowdown, with Harry Reid announcing today that unlike Pelosi, he's not going to cancel the August recess or have a vote before then. Congressmen and Senators are nothing if not self-interested, and with Obama having burned a lot of political capital to get them signed on to the stimulus, the bailouts, and the cap-and-trade bill, and with polls showing sinking support for health care reform, many of them may be ready to decide that a full and open debate on the particulars of a particular bill, and some serious time discussing those particulars with the voters, may be necessary to get their votes on a final package. And that's an outcome that can't warm the heart of the White House.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 1:16 PM | Politics 2009 | Comments (17) | TrackBack (0)
July 22, 2009
POLITICS: Our Incurious, Insular President

If we were told one thing by the media from the 2008 campaign, it's that telling Katie Couric you do not read a lot of newspapers is an absolute disqualifier for the presidency. (This is aside from how the media reacted to President Bush saying he didn't pay much attention to the newspapers). So, when Couric confronted President Obama with criticisms in an uncharacteristically O-negative David Brooks column, what was his response? In the President's own words:

Katie Couric: President Obama, there was a stinging column in the New York Times today written by David Brooks. He says Democrats are losing touch with America because, quote, "The party is led by insular liberals from big cities and the coasts, who neither understand nor sympathize with moderates. They have their own cherry-picking pollsters, their own media and activist cocoon, their own plans to lavishly spend borrowed money to buy votes." He goes on to say that you have, basically, been co-opted by Nancy Pelosi. And you've differed to the, what he calls, old bulls on Capitol Hill.

President Obama: This was a really aggressive-[laughter]

Katie Couric: On issue after issue. [laughter] There was a pretty…

President Obama: Are we going to read the whole column here? [laughter]

Katie Couric: No, I'm not going to read - I'm not going to put you through that. But it was it was a tough column. And I'm just curious, A, have you read it? And, B, what's your response?

President Obama: I, you know, I don't spend a lot of time reading columns, Katie. The fact is that I am confident in the work that we're doing.

Gee, could it be that chief executives actually have important jobs to do that preclude them from spending a lot of time reading newspapers? (Judging from circulation numbers these days, they're not the only ones).

Obama's supporters who made a big deal out of Bush and Palin saying basically the same thing owe some serious apologies. But of course, they were just point-scoring; nobody apologizes for doing that.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:30 AM | Politics 2009 | Comments (41) | TrackBack (0)
July 20, 2009
POLITICS: Same Old Shell Games

Jeff Emanuel looks at Obama's deficit two-step on health care. I can't pretend to be at all surprised at this, and realistically it's hard to imagine anyone willfully naive enough to believe that the health care plan, if passed, won't massively increase government spending, resulting in (1) large tax hikes, (2) large increases in the deficit and national debt, or most likely (3) both. It's wasted energy on all sides to conduct the debate without frankly acknowledging this.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 8:01 PM | Politics 2009 | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
July 16, 2009
POLITICS: Race To The Bottom

Leon Wolf rounds up here and here the latest battery of incidents reflecting how white Senate Democrats - the same people who blocked Miguel Estrada's nomination to the DC Circuit out of fear that the GOP would put a conservative, highly qualified Latino on the Supreme Court - really think about African-Americans. Combined with this, the overall picture is an ugly one indeed. The logical inference here is that they feel essentially immune from the possibility of consequences, serene in the confidence that anything racially divisive helps solidify their political position, no matter how ghastly the underlying attitudes it reveals.

PS - On the second of the two Durbin exchanges, I love Sam Brownback's utter incredulity at what Durbin was saying.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 5:01 PM | Politics 2009 | Comments (24) | TrackBack (0)
July 14, 2009
POLITICS: Sarah Palin and the Scum of the Earth

If there is a lesson to be learned from Sarah Palin's withdrawal from public office, it is this: if you want to take out a female politician, you go after her children.

There is likely no one and single reason for Palin's withdrawal, and she cited a bunch of them in her disorganized "you won't have Sarah Palin to kick around anymore" speech. But two things seem to explain most logically Palin's behavior: she was ground down by the unusually vitriolic campaign waged against her, and the aspect of that campaign that did the most damage was the attacks on her children. As Palin put it in her speech:

In fact, this decision comes after much consideration, and finally polling the most important people in my life - my children (where the count was unanimous...well, in response to asking: "Want me to make a positive difference and fight for ALL our children's future from OUTSIDE the Governor's office?" It was four "yes's" and one "hell yeah!" The "hell yeah" sealed it - and someday I'll talk about the details of that...I think much of it had to do with the kids seeing their baby brother Trig mocked by some pretty mean-spirited adults recently.) Um, by the way, sure wish folks could ever, ever understand that we ALL could learn so much from someone like Trig - I know he needs me, but I need him even more...what a child can offer to set priorities RIGHT - that time is precious...the world needs more "Trigs", not fewer.

All national politicians take their share of potshots; it comes with the territory, and anybody who can't take the heat, as Harry Truman famously said, should get out of the kitchen. And with that heat inevitably comes some spillover onto a politician's family members - especially if those family members are politically outspoken adults, Washington lobbyists, or businesspeople involved in shady practices. But some grief will come as well to soft-spoken spouses and minor children. It's the nature of the business.

But no politician in modern memory, not even Bill Clinton or George W. Bush, has faced the sort of ferociously personal assault that greeted Palin from the instant she set foot on the national stage, in many cases before her detractors even knew anything about her besides that she was female, attractive, pro-life and pro-gun. And while the pervasive crude sexual references to Palin were horrible, the assault on her family was the worst of all. Palin has worn many hats in her life - Vice-Presidential candidate, Governor, Mayor, Oil & Gas Commissioner, City Councilwoman, sportscaster, point guard, runner, beauty queen, moose hunter - but it's clear that the role that defines her is her role as the mother of five children. And as James Taranto put it, "If you've never met or had a mother, the thing to know about them is that they tend to be very protective of their children."

There is fairly widespread public and media agreement that criticizing, mocking or making more than glancing political use of President Obama's two daughters is an absolute no-no. For the media's part, the effort to spare the President's children dates back to the Clinton years. Yes, there were mean-spirited jokes told at the expense of Chelsea Clinton, but Republicans who did so (John McCain, Rush Limbaugh) almost always immediately apologized, and Saturday Night Live eventually eased off on Chelsea. There was also regular vitriol from the left, mainly in the blogospehere, aimed at Jenna and Barbara Bush, and no apologies of any kind. But much of that was under the public radar. (John Kerry and John Edwards both bringing up Dick Cheney's lesbian daughter in the 2004 debates wasn't, but at least Mary Cheney is an adult). We have simply never seen anything like the targeting of Palin's children, under a variety of flimsy pretenses that no mother would ever accept as a basis for going after her kids.

One must attribute at least part of the vileness of these attacks, among left-wing blogs, to how very few of the leading left-wing bloggers have children of their own - were conservatives tempted to mock Obama's daughters, they would at least have to face their own daughters and sons at the end of a day of doing so. A political movement of the childless has no empathy for children. Empathy for other human beings requires human decency, and decency breeds hesitation - a hesitation the Online Left has never displayed. Were any of these people capable of shame, they would be feeling it. Instead, they have been gleefully dancing on Palin's political grave ever since. It is worth considering what the "New Politics" has looked like when applied to Sarah Palin, because it presents a cautionary tale for Republicans with families.

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Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:30 AM | Politics 2009 • | Politics 2012 | Comments (119) | TrackBack (0)
July 8, 2009
POLITICS: Yes, We .... Told You So

Even the Associated Press notices that Obama hasn't bothered trying to comply with his no-new-taxes-for-95%-of-Americans pledge:

Obama and the Democratic-controlled Congress have already increased tobacco taxes - which disproportionately hit the poor - to pay for extending health coverage to 4 million children in working low-income families.

Now, lawmakers are looking for more revenues to help pay for providing medical insurance to millions more who lack it at a projected cost of $1 trillion over the next decade.

The floated proposals include increasing taxes on alcohol, which could raise $62 billion over the next decade, and a new tax on sugary drinks such as soda, which could raise $52 billion.

H/T This is beyond the colossal taxes incorporated in the "cap-and-trade" bill. As the AP notes and others have noted lately, the explosive growth of current and future spending under Obama is basically designed to force tax increases down the line.

Yes, we told you so.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:18 PM | Politics 2009 | Comments (23) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: You Can Check Out Any Time You Like

Really, if you have not read Iowahawk's California memorial piece, go now.

It remains a fierce competition between California, New York, New Jersey, Illinois and Massachusetts as to what state has the worst, most dysfunctional government. California's budget disaster is a tough one to top, but then again it hasn't had anything to match New York's out-to-lunch State Senate or Illinois' Blagojevich saga.

Such are the joys of blue-state government.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:51 PM | Politics 2009 | Comments (16) | TrackBack (0)
July 7, 2009
POLITICS/FOOTBALL: The Moralizers Were Right

My initial reaction, besides horror, to the shooting death of former Tennessee Titans quarterback Steve McNair was to try to hide from the story. I was always a fan of McNair, and will never forget the heartbreak of the Titans' just-a-yard-short drive against the Rams in the Super Bowl. Like Kirby Puckett, McNair was a guy whose virtues on and around the field of play were such that I'd prefer to remember him only as he was in uniform.

That said, the saga of McNair's death at the too-young age of 36 is the proverbial train wreck you can't look away from, and the details are ugly: McNair was involved with a 20-year-old mistress while he was married to his wife of 12 years, with whom he had four children. From what we can tell, his mistress thought he was leaving his wife, and his wife didn't know about the mistress. McNair's death has been ruled a homicide, and while the police haven't wrapped up the investigation, it appears that the mistress shot him and turned the gun - which she had purchased days earlier - on herself. The motive for the killing is likewise murky, but the obvious likely explanation is that McNair's deceptions in one sense or another caught up to him.

The McNair story brought me back yet again to the downfall of Mark Sanford and a basic point that the cultural Left, with its pervasive hold on our culture, has fundamentally wrong. You will recall that the main criticism of guys like Sanford from the left is that they are "moralizers" - i.e., speak out on behalf of traditional sexual mores and 'family values,' such as not shacking up with a woman not your wife, especially if you are already married. The argument, sometimes explicit and sometimes implicit, is that the real sin of political and cultural leaders is not cheating on their own wives but telling other people that cheating on your wife is a bad thing.

Now, of course any system of moral values, and any discussion of right and wrong in government policy, inherently involves religion, as the foundation of pretty much everyone's moral thinking is their religion or irreligion. That being said, it can't be stressed often enough that when our leaders speak out against things like marital infidelity, what they are doing is not just abstract moral philosophy but rather bringing to bear the prudence and wisdom of human experience. Which is where McNair comes into the picture. We know, from many thousands of years of human experience, that cheating on your wife opens up a whole world of hazards and complications and deceptions, and that many bad consequences flow to everyone involved that could otherwise have been avoided. If Mark Sanford hadn't cheated on his wife, he'd still be a presidential candidate. If Steve McNair hadn't cheated on his wife, he'd still be alive. If Eliot Spitzer hadn't cheated on his wife, he'd still be Governor of New York. And on and on and on throughout the ages. The story is all the sadder when men like Sanford and McNair, who had been models of integrity and professionalism in their professional lives, throw it all away over such foolishness. Promiscuous sex, sex among teenagers, prostitution, divorce...we know, and we see, the costs of these things played out again and again and again, and the job of adults, wise in the world by virtue of experience, is to impart to others those lessons, to impart knowledge that comes from human experience and acts as a restraint on the most common of impulses. When the leaders of our society, government and culture speak out on these issues, they are performing that valuable service. Would that someone had gotten that message through at some point to Steve McNair; would that Mark Sanford had listened to his own advice. And shame on anyone who wants to drive the wisdom of experience out of the public square.

The usual rejoinder at this point is to complain that of course it's all well and good for people to teach morality in the privacy of their own homes, but that people in politics and government have no business getting involved in private matters. As I have noted repeatedly over the years, that's an easier argument to make when government is small and less intrusive, and laughable coming from people who want to make it larger and more intimately involved in everyday life, but besides that, the very fact that things like adultery are largely beyond the reach of the law is precisely why they remain properly within the reach of the culture, and why it's a good thing to have prominent people speaking out on such issues.

Maybe McNair, and Sanford, and Spitzer, and so many, many others would never have listened. Human beings are sinful by nature, and desire is strong. But the whole point of civilized society is to make a concerted, collective effort to pass on what we have learned over human history about the restraints we must place upon our instincts if we are to avoid similar tragedies, if we are to act as reasoning moral agents rather than animals driven only by impulse. Being a 'moralizer' about those restraints may not be the popular path, but it's the path of wisdom and maturity. We should be happy for anyone still willing to do that job.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:24 AM | Football • | Politics 2009 | Comments (27) | TrackBack (0)
June 30, 2009
POLITICS: The Favor Factory

I had meant to link earlier to Francis Cianfrocca's piece on the cap-and-trade bill and how - from what little anyone knows of what's in it - it vastly expands the federal government's role in doling out rewards and punishments to particular private businesses, a role that inherently brings with it a cesspool of corruption. Also worth noting is the Democrats' strategy of trying to blitz through Congress as many things as possible at once so as to minimize the possibility of public debate (the cap and trade vote being held while the press was covering the Michael Jackson story).

Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:28 PM | Politics 2009 | Comments (7) | TrackBack (0)
June 26, 2009
POLITICS: Inspection

Pejman looks further at the growing scandal involving the Obama Administration's purging of Inspectors General who deliver bad news. John Kass explains why this is completely consistent with Obama's Chicago background.

Seriously, anybody who expected Obama wouldn't behave like this needed their head examined.

This whole flap, by the way, underscores one of my longstanding arguments, which is that the various Inspectors General and periodic should be replaced by a single Cabinet-level official charged with investigations of public integrity. A strong, prominent IG would have a couple of institutional advantages: harder to fire by virtue of his or her prominence, yet still directly accountable to the President; able to bring the perspective that is lacking in ad hoc special prosecutors; able to remove public integrity cases from DOJ, freeing up the Attorney General to focus on less politically-charged law enforcement priorities. Granted, this means yet another Cabinet department, but even aside from the issue of eliminating departments, you could make room by combining a bunch of the currently redundant departments, like Commerce and Labor or Interior and Energy.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:00 PM | Politics 2009 | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
June 25, 2009
POLITICS: Sanford Steps Out, But The Battle Continues

Perhaps the most telling moment in the past few days' controversy over South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford's absence and subsequent revelation that he'd been visiting his mistress in Argentina came during the period when his staff was putting out the story that Sanford was hiking the Appalachian Trail, and the Democratic National Committee rushed out a press release blaring that the Trail had received stimulus money, and therefore Sanford - as an ardent opponent of the stimulus bill - was a hypocrite for walking on ground that had been touched by Obama's pork-barrel bill. Once the reach of the federal fisc had touched that ground, no possible alternative is permissible but to agree with the political dictates of the hand that holds those purse strings.

The incident speaks volumes about the peril the nation faces to its way of life, and the depth of the trust Sanford breached by engaging in a reckless affair at a time when he was one of the small handful of people in the country well-positioned to do something to stop it.

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Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:00 PM | Politics 2009 | Comments (29) | TrackBack (0)
June 24, 2009
POLITICS: Questions That Have Very Obvious Answers

This is from Obama's press conference yesterday:

President Barack Obama on Tuesday squared off with the insurance lobby over industry charges that a government health plan he backs would dismantle the employer coverage Americans have relied on for a half-century and overtake the system....

"If private insurers say that the marketplace provides the best quality health care ... then why is it that the government, which they say can't run anything, suddenly is going to drive them out of business?" Obama said in response to a question at a White House news conference.

"That's not logical," he scoffed, responding to an industry warning that government competition would destabilize the employer system that now covers more than 160 million people.

As usual when Obama has to respond to a serious criticism, he acts like a snarky left-wing blogger rather than a serious adult, throwing off a one-liner that seems to his die-hard supporters like a clever parody of Republican arguments but doesn't stand up to even the most minimal of scrutiny. Typically, it's pointless to debate whether Obama is being astoundingly ignorant or deliberately mendacious; the point is that no sane person could defend his response. Daffyd offers a long list of screamingly obvious ways in which the private sector would be unable to compete with a government plan even though the government plan is inefficiently run, including the obvious-to-everyone-but-Obama fact that a profit-making enterprise has to make a profit, whereas a government agency or government-sponsored entity can afford to lose money pretty much indefinitely (Francis Cianfrocca points out to me that the proposed new healthcare GSE, which he refers to as the Consumer Health Management Corporation or "Charlie Mac," would start with something on the order of $10 billion in capitalization, many multiples larger than the market cap of even large insurers, and with an endless credit line from Uncle Sam). There is even - you may know this, but presumably Obama does not - a whole body of antitrust law dedicated to preventing large companies in certain circumstances from driving competitors out of business by undercutting their prices to sell at a loss, then jacking prices up when the competition is dead and buried. Profit-making private entities don't actually act like that very often, for obvious reasons: but governments can and do, at the taxpayer's expense. As Phil Klein notes, one of the main arguments by supporters of the government plan is that it will use its vast size to obtain cost savings at the expense of health care providers (doctors, hospitals, drug companies, all of which are presumed to continue providing the same level of goods and services without regard to profit motive), cost savings that far smaller private insurers could not obtain. That's an argument Obama himself has made repeatedly, yet he now professes ignorance of it. Because, of course, he retains at all times the confidence that nobody will ever call him on this sort of thing.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:08 PM | Politics 2009 | Comments (18) | TrackBack (0)
June 23, 2009
POLITICS: Through The Looking Glass With Andrew Sullivan

My always-worth-reading New Ledger colleague, Christopher Badeaux, has the definitive and exhaustive profile of Andrew Sullivan's work and the obsessions that have defined him as a writer and wasted so much of Sullivan's prodigious writing talents. You'll want to print this one out and digest it at leisure. Here's the opening:

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Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:23 PM | Politics 2009 | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
June 19, 2009
POLITICS/LAW: The More Things Change...

Leon Wolf has some fun explaining why President Obama's actions in the Inspector General firing scandal show Obama relying on the Unitary Executive Theory.

Not that there's anything wrong with that; we conservatives have been standing up for Justice Scalia's view of the unitary nature of executive power - and the democratic accountability it promotes - for years. It's the people who blathered about it during the Bush years who didn't know what they were talking about, and now have to pretend that they were in favor of this kind of thing all along, much the way they only learned to despise the Independent Counsel when they found themselves on the receiving end of it.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:18 AM | Law 2009-14 • | Politics 2009 | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
June 18, 2009
POLITICS: Hey, Sure, But This Time It Will Work!

Obama's press secretary can't name a single country where a single-payer health care system actually works well.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 5:49 PM | Politics 2009 | Comments (10) | TrackBack (0)
WAR: Say Goodbye To Cairo

The Obama Administration's response to protests against the Iranian regime's contempt for even its own thin facade of democracy has been markedly muted and tentative; even the French Government has spoken out more clearly against the fraudulence of the presidential election and the mullahs' suppression of the Iranian people than has President Obama. One conclusion we can draw from Obama's failure to offer support for the Iranian people against their theocrat masters is that it eviscerates the entire point of his Cairo speech to the 'Muslim world'.

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June 16, 2009
POLITICS: Fixated On FOX

Mary Katherine Ham on Obama's inability to let go of the media not being unanimous in its fawning adoration of him.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:09 PM | Politics 2009 | Comments (12) | TrackBack (0)
June 15, 2009
POLITICS: Third Time The Charm?

High on the list of states where the GOP needs to rebuild its credibility and has a realistic chance to do so is Wisconsin, whose two-term Democratic Governor, Jim Doyle, is seeking a third term in 2010 (no Democrat has ever won three terms as Governor of Wisconsin). The state of Tommy Thompson's Governorship was part of the great ferment of GOP reform in the Upper Midwest in the 1990s, and despite Democratic sweeps of the state in the past decade, many statewide races have been very close (George W. Bush lost Wisconsin by a razor-thin margin in 2004). If the climate has turned against the Democrats by 2010, this is a state that should be a prime target. For his part, Doyle pushed for billions in new taxes in 2007 after running on a no-new-taxes campaign in 2006, and now faces huge budget deficits. CQ reports that the polls are showing his weakness:

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June 13, 2009
POLITICS: The Left Falls In Love With Profiling

In the wake of the shooting at the Holocaust Museum, there's been something of a mad rush by left-wing bloggers to use the shooting to validate the now-infamous Department of Homeland Security report on "right-wing extremists.".

There are two noteworthy aspects of this effort. One, it continues the DHS report's willful misidintification of people like James von Brunn, the museum shooter, as "right-wing." And two, it ultimately embraces the concept of profiling in law enforcement, in ways that liberals used to deplore.

The initial problem with this effort, as Leon and Pejman have detailed, is that von Brunn had more in common with left- than right-wingers: he railed against Christianity, "neocons," President Bush, John McCain, and Bill O'Reilly, peddled 9/11 conspiracy theories, and had in his possession the address of another possible target: the building that houses The Weekly Standard and the American Enterprise Institute, the nerve center of neoconservatism. Like the DHS report itself, the left-wing commenters simply assume that "racist" = "right-wing," and therefore lump together conservatives with racists who reject, root and branch, virtually everything conservatives believe in. (This is the historical fallacy used to designate the Nazis as right-wing, when - as Jonah Goldberg details exhaustively in his book Liberal Fascism - they were thoroughgoing economic statists, marketed themselves as a socialist worker's movement, pushed a platform with numerous planks that could come straight from modern-day liberals and did in fact come from 20th century American progressives, were obsessed with health food and anything "natural" or "organic," and campaigned persistently to undermine, subvert and replace the authority and legitimacy of Christianity, among other family resemblances to the Left.)

We can see the same effort to link racial hatred to strains of actual right-wingery in the DHS report:

Rightwing extremism in the United States can be broadly divided into those groups, movements, and adherents that are primarily hate-oriented (based on hatred of particular religious, racial or ethnic groups), and those that are mainly antigovernment, rejecting federal authority in favor of state or local authority, or rejecting government authority entirely. It may include groups and individuals that are dedicated to a single issue, such as opposition to abortion or immigration.

One wonders if these guys would qualify on the first half of that definition.

The second point of interest is the left-bloggers' embrace of profiling. Now, let's back up a bit: law enforcement officers generally rely, in identifying possible suspects in the absence of a direct tip, on their own experience and the institutional knowledge of their departments in identifying who might be a criminal. Profiles are a part of the second half of that equation, one that's been formalized in recent decades as a regular feature of law enforcement agencies. Profiling principally involves profiles of behavior indicative of various kinds of criminal activity - bank fraud, prostitution, serial killing, drug smuggling, etc. None of this is controversial. What is controversial is including things that aren't prelude-to-crime behaviors in a profile, whether it be inherent characteristics (race, gender), or what are generally thought of as protected activities (religion, political affliation).

The conservative view on profiling has generally been to treat it as disfavored but not necessarily rule it out entirely, while liberals spent years making a cause celebre of racial profiling (Barack Obama made an anti-profiling crusade one of his priorities as a state legislator). Profiling, if done carefully and drawn narrowly from factual experience, can be a useful law enforcement tool. The problem with profiling people based on general characteristics, especially things like race and religion and political affiliation, is that it tends to feed into stereotypes, be grounded in overbroad generalizations rather than hard evidence, sweep in too many innocent people into a law enforcement net, and as a whole encourage dangerous and usually sloppy law enforcement.

The DHS report was all that, and any liberal worthy of the name would not be defending its sweeping generalizations. And still less would liberals be rushing to validate it based on individual shootings in a nation of 300 million people. Imagine if the DHS report had focused on African-Americans as especially likely to commit murder: how many shootings by lone African-Americans would be enough to justify profiling on the basis of race? More than one or two, I'd bet - certainly I wouldn't tolerate profiling on such a basis.

Federal surveillance and vigilance against actual groups of potentially violent political extremists, whatever their political stripes, is of course reasonable. And conservatives, being believers in the virtue of experience as the basis of knowledge, should not turn up our noses at efforts to draw profiles of other possible groups based on experience with existing ones. But we can and should demand something more rigorous than sloppy generalizations in venturing onto the dangerous turf of profiling political opponents of the current Administration (the same Administration whose Attorney General has previously raised the temperature of otherwise peaceful political debate by threatening to criminally prosecute members of the outgoing Administration over policy differences).

But liberals who are cheering this sort of thing ought to be deeply ashamed of themselves, if they ever meant anything they said about racial profiling.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 1:26 AM | Politics 2009 | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)
June 11, 2009
POLITICS: A Tale Of Two Projects

Jim Geraghty notes that Gov. Palin has brought ExxonMobil to the table in her signature policy effort, the natural gas pipeline, defying critics who didn't think she could make the big energy companies blink and cut a deal. Meanwhile, President Obama faces the first defection from his effort to drum up support for nationalizing health insurance, as the AMA comes out against the so-called "public option" of government health insurance.

It's far from the end of the journey for both these initiatives; Palin still faces other hurdles, and Obama retains a strong position (the NYT notes how he can put the screws on the doctors: "If the doctors are too aggressive in fighting the public plan, they risk alienating Democrats whose support they need for legislation to increase their Medicare fees."), despite the powerful arguments Karl Rove outlines for marshalling opposition. But it's encouraging to be reminded that sometimes, governing is actually about doing things rather than just talking.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:03 PM | Politics 2009 | Comments (18) | TrackBack (0)
June 9, 2009
POLITICS: Not As Projected

Cafe Hayek has a graphic illustration of how the unemployment numbers have been worse with the stimulus than the Obama team projected they'd be without the stimulus.

Whether or not you assign the Obama Administration any responsibility for making things worse four-plus months into the new president's term, and whether or not you blame Congressional Democrats (who took over under much better economic conditions over two years ago), the simple facts are:

1. The direct costs of the stimulus are known.
2. The projected benefits have not materialized as promised.

The primary reason, of course, is Crank's First Law of Government Financial and Economic Projections: they are always, always wrong. Nothing is ever accurately forecast by the government, because forecasting is hard even for the private sector experts, there are tons of variables, and there are too many incentives to shade the truth. The proponents of the policy, bearing the burden of defending it, have their work cut out for them in explaining why we're better off than if nothing at all had been done.

Reason and experience told anyone familiar with the issue that the stimulus was, on balance, a colossal expenditure of taxpayer money - money that really could have been used in the credit-starved private sector right now - that was going to pay zero dividends in the short run, and only small dividends greatly outweighed by its costs in the long run. But then, the point of the exercise was never about hepling the economy anyway, as any serious adult had to know.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:57 AM | Politics 2009 | Comments (18) | TrackBack (0)
June 4, 2009
WAR/POLITICS: Don't Know Much About Arithmetic

Noah Pollak notes of President Obama's claim that "if you actually took the number of Muslim Americans, we’d be one of the largest Muslim countries in the world":

Obama is right - we're one of the largest, only outranked by Indonesia, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Turkey, Egypt, Nigeria, Iran, Algeria, Morocco, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Iraq, Uzbekistan, Ethiopia, Russia, Yemen, China, Syria, Malaysia, Tanzania, Mali, Niger, Senegal, Tunisia, Somalia, Guinea, Azerbaijan, Burkina Faso, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Cote d'Ivoire, Congo, Libya, Jordan, Chad, Turkemenistan, Philippines, France, Kyrgyzstan, Uganda, Mozambique, Sierra Leone, Ghana, Cameroon, Thailand, Mauritania, Germany, Oman, Albania, Malawi, Kenya, Eritrea, Serbia and Montenegro, Lebanon, Kuwait, the UAE, and…well, at some point here you get to the United States, which has (estimates vary) around 1-3 million Muslims.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 8:35 PM | Politics 2009 • | War 2007-14 | Comments (37) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: Sanford's Stop Sign

Whether or not Republicans can ever get a meaningful mandate to significantly cut government spending, the political climate has unmistakably shifted to one in which one of the great domestic issues of the day is simply putting the brakes on runaway expansion of government and the concomitant diminution of the true private sector. Frank Luntz thinks that South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford is making headway in selling the message that it has to stop somewhere:

H/T

Unfortunately, a court order from the South Carolina Supreme Court may cost Sanford this round in the budget fight no matter what the public thinks. But the battle to win public opinion never ends.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:14 PM | Politics 2009 • | Politics 2012 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
June 3, 2009
POLITICS: Pay No Attention To The Actual Governor

Jon Corzine promises that if he's re-elected, NJ will not invade Iraq. As Jim Geraghty notes, a guy with a 36% approval rating needs something better than "I'm not Bush" to defend the corrupt and dysfunctional status quo in Trenton, where Democrats have ruled unchecked for years with predictably familiar results.

Chris Christie's victory in yesterday's GOP primary is good news. Christie's the best shot the GOP had, and he's had a spectacular record of hunting down corruption in the state (granted, in New Jersey that's like hunting cows).

One of the interesting potshots from Corzine's speech was focusing on John Ashcroft. I know why he did it: Christie is close with Ashcroft and has drawn some fire for appointing him as a federal monitor as part of plea deals with corporate defendants. It's a silly charge; while I agree broadly that the entire monitor concept is something of a racket, it's been used widely by prosecutors of both parties (it was a similar arrangement that got Deval Patrick hired at ExxonMobil), and it's fairly ludicrous to argue that a man who'd served as Attorney General, Governor and Senator was not qualified for the job.

But what makes it politically interesting is the assumption that Ashcroft is universally unpopular with moderates; I'm not so sure that's true anymore. Ashcroft's DOJ was a model of professionalism and aggressive law enforcement, and only looks better compared to his famously inept immediate successor, and if anything moderate voters have heard a lot since 2004 about some of the settings in which Ashcroft's pushback established the outer legal limits on some of the more controversial Bush Administration anti-terror policies (an unpleasant, but necessary role for the AG to sometimes perform). We'll see if using Ashcroft as a boogeyman is effective, let alone effective enough for New Jersey residents to decide that they'd prefer more of the same disastrous tax-spend-steal policies to electing a guy who knows John Ashcroft.

UPDATE: Geraghty also notes that the centerpiece of Corzine's campaign in 2005 was a promise to cut taxes, which - like all such promises from Democrats - he broke, leaving the state with the nation's highest tax burden.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:16 AM | Politics 2009 | Comments (7) | TrackBack (0)
June 1, 2009
POLITICS: Bill Ayers' Revenge: The Left's Crocodile Tears on Domestic Terrorism

Because they usually lack the organization, training, funding, numbers and suicidal ideology of international terrorists, it can at times be difficult to distinguish domestic terrorists from ordinary psychopaths. But domestic terrorism has been a sporadic presence in the United States since at least radical Kansas abolitionist John Brown in the 1850s, running through the likes of Leon Czolgosz, Sacco and Vanzetti, the Black Panthers, Tim McVeigh, Ted Kaczynski, and more recenly Bruce Ivins and John Allen Muhammad. The causes they have killed for have ranged from the noble (Brown) to the nefarious to the outright deranged (Kaczynski), and their inspiration has ranged from the purely domestic to imitations of foreign movements like anarcho-syndicalism or Islamism. This being America, domestic terrorists have almost always done more harm than good to their stated causes.

Ayers & Dohrn WantedIt appears that Scott Roeder, the man arrested for Sunday's murder of notorious late-term abortionist George Tiller, would qualify for membership in this group, given press reports that Roeder has a long record of extremism, possession of explosives and profession of belief in killing abortionists. Now, it's hard to generate much sympathy for Dr. Tiller himself; whatever moral blinders it may be possible for a man to wear regarding early-term abortions, anyone who has seen a sonogram or felt a child kick against its mother's womb can hardly imagine the cruelty required to repeatedly perform..."terminations"...of such helpless and innocent victims. But as long as we live in a nation of laws made by the people and as long as his conduct is permitted by law, the job of judging men like Dr. Tiller belongs to the Lord alone, and the job of stopping men like him remains with the democratic process and with peaceful protest and persuasion; the way of the domestic terrorist is the way of madness no matter the cause.

Even before anything was known about Roeder, the left side of the blogosphere reacted to Dr. Tiller's murder as if it was Christmas morning and they just got a pony; I was following the Twitter feed of Markos Moulitsas, the man best known for reacting to the murder of American contractors in Iraq by declaring "screw them," and he and others were positively vibrating with giddiness about the possibility of using Dr. Tiller's murder to discredit pro-lifers in general and critics of Dr. Tiller in particular.

Well, unlike the Left, some of us have been against associates of domestic terrorists all along. Most of us would, I think, agree that if Roeder somehow escaped prosecution, we would have serious reservations about supporting politicians who subsequently associated themselves with him in the process of cultivating favor with the Right. But that, of course, is exactly what Barack Obama did with Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn. And anyone who supported Obama has zero credibility in criticizing anybody for associating with violent domestic extremists.

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May 30, 2009
POLITICS: Credit Where Credit Is Due

George W. Bush, on being thanked for his AIDS initiatives in Africa: "Don’t thank me, thank the taxpayers of the United States of America."

Posted by Baseball Crank at 5:32 PM | Politics 2009 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
May 28, 2009
POLITICS: Castles of Sand

The Wall Street Journal looks at the severe falloff in tax revenues from millionaires in Maryland after the state socked them with a new, higher tax rate for the purpose of closing a budget gap, a move hailed at the time by supposedly big-thinking liberals. Somehow, Maryland liberals were surprised that this didn't work out:

One-third of the millionaires have disappeared from Maryland tax rolls. In 2008 roughly 3,000 million-dollar income tax returns were filed by the end of April. This year there were 2,000, which the state comptroller's office concedes is a "substantial decline." On those missing returns, the government collects 6.25% of nothing. Instead of the state coffers gaining the extra $106 million the politicians predicted, millionaires paid $100 million less in taxes than they did last year -- even at higher rates.

The easy partisan divide on this issue is over how much of the decline in revenues is attributable to millionaires leaving the state or voluntarily reducing their taxable income (by working less or hiding money in tax shelters) as opposed to the effects of the recession, which the WSJ notes as an obvious contributing factor. But that's only one problem with sharply progressive tax rates; the Journal notes a structural problem that is at least equally serious in times of recession, as New York and California in particular are discovering to their grief. Specifically, the surplus annual income and investment returns of the wealthy tend to be much more volatile year-to-year than the great mass of incomes earned by average citizens.

Let's consider an illustration: in a boom year, the stock market rises 20%, and housing prices rise 30%. Lots of people (proportionately to the number of millionaires) make big gushing spigots of money from this, not just capital gains from sales but commissions, year-end bonuses, the whole gamut of ways people profit in eye-popping amounts from a boom. The average guy sees some extra money too, but he's less likely to see a dramatic percentage increase in compensation. Despite some variations across different boom era, by and large, this has always been true.

When booms turn to busts, though, the high-end incomes are the hardest hit in percentage terms. We think of down times as being harder on the average worker because in human terms they are: it's a lot worse to lose your job than to go from making $10 million a year to $800,000. But when unemployment goes from 5% to 10%, the dropoff in the tax rolls isn't that dramatic, especially given that a lot of those lost jobs were people paying little or no income or capital gains taxes to start with, and so the state budget literally does not feel their pain. Whereas collections from high-end incomes can and do drop off far more than 5% in a year, as the Maryland example illustrates. Here in New York, investment banker bonuses that were once the core of the state and city tax bases evaporated overnight. Put simply, taxing the rich is the least recession-proof revenue-raising strategy you could design.

This would be problematic enough if the federal and state governments were trying to sustain a stable income and socking away the extra money for a rainy day (Gov. Palin in Alaska did something like this with the revenue from oil boom years, but Alaska too is subject to the laws of political gravity). Instead, Congress and the states tend to create new permanent claims on temporary income in the best of times, creating long-term self-perpetuating entitlement and spending programs and hiring more unionized workers. (The Obama 'stimulus' bill combined the worst of both worlds, giving states temporary revenues while demanding that they use them to permanently increase funding obligations, and doing so during a recession). This tax-on-the-boom, spend-through-the-bust philosophy is designed for certain failure; it's not possible it could ever succeed.

Yet, that's exactly how all tax-the-rich systems are designed. And no amount of failure will ever teach their proponents anything.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:04 PM | Politics 2009 | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: Harry the Insult Comic Senator Strikes Again

I have previously catalogued Harry Reid's penchant for petty insults of political opponents, and that was before he started complaining about the voters smelling bad. Well, Reid has a new one: quoting himself in his book calling Barbara Bush a "bitch."

UPDATE: Oops, read too quickly before posting, Reid is quoting Bentsen. So, not on the level of some of his prior insults.
Stay classy, Harry.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 1:33 PM | Politics 2009 | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
May 27, 2009
POLITICS: Metaphor Overload

The Obama Administration in a nutshell:

H/T

Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:27 PM | Politics 2009 | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
May 26, 2009
POLITICS/LAW: I Forgot

Dahlia Lithwick has. Orin Kerr hasn't.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:32 PM | Law 2009-14 • | Politics 2009 | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: Clearing The Field

Anthony Wiener has dropped out of the Democratic primary to face Mike Bloomberg. H/T That leaves two relatively weak candidates against the Bloomberg juggernaut...if you're outside NY, you can't really grasp the massive scale of Bloomberg's ad campaign six months from Election Day when he has no opponent yet and won't for some time. I have to believe his election will be a formality.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 8:25 PM | Politics 2009 | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)
LAW/POLITICS: SCOTUS Prediction

Just to get on record before the expected announcement at 10:15 this morning, I will be shocked if Obama does not pick Judge Diane Wood of the Seventh Circuit for the Supreme Court. Wood is a veteran federal appellate judge, she's female, she's a relatively low-key personality (usually an asset in confirmation hearings), she's reliably liberal, and he knows her personally from Chicago. Downsides? Well, Obama, like Bush, wants badly to name the first Hispanic Justice, but there are always multiple considerations in picking a Justice; Bush never got there either, and Obama may well have one or two more picks in the next few years. Otherwise, the main downside - if you consider it one - is that Judge Wood's record will put the abortion issue front and center even more than the usual SCOTUS battle.

UPDATE: No sooner had I written these words than the word came down that Obama has instead chosen Second Circuit Judge Sonia Sotomayor.

I'm going to need to be very cautious in writing about this nomination battle, for professional reasons. Let's just say that everyone with any interest in making a fight of this nomination is very happy with this pick.

SECOND UPDATE: Ruffini notes that Obama is making this announcement the same day the California Supreme Court is set to decide whether to throw out the verdict of the people of California in supporting Proposition 8, the anti-same-sex marriage proposition. Unclear whether Obama is hoping to preempt the issue, but the net result will likely be a sudden shift of focus to social issues.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 8:29 AM | Law 2009-14 • | Politics 2009 | Comments (23) | TrackBack (0)
May 22, 2009
POLITICS: Conservatism's Essential Element

What is the essential element of conservatism?

I have had a number of conversations and arguments on this question in recent months, as befits a movement doing its time in the wilderness. The responses by Beldar, Prof. Bainbridge and arch-libertarian Brink Lindsey to Judge Richard Posner's provocative blog post on the subject of conservative intellectualism is only the latest installment in this debate, but a good excuse to weigh in on my own.

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May 20, 2009
POLITICS: Star Power

I missed this one in my post the other day on Rubio and Crist - watch this clip of Marco Rubio in action and you can see why people have been excited about him for some time. Note - as becomes obvious when he pulls out a crumpled roll of paper to read the Kennedy quote - the absence of a TelePrompter.

H/T. John McCormack offers some samples of Crist speaking for contrast. Crist's not terrible, and of course he's won a couple of statewide races as Governor and AG, but he's a pretty unexciting politician with no identifiable principles. I'm guessing he'll focus on ignoring Rubio as hard as he can.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 3:23 PM | Politics 2009 • | Politics 2010 | Comments (9) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: All Class

Stay classy, Joe Klein.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:35 PM | Politics 2009 | Comments (8) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: Meet The New Brownshirts

Intimidation, home invasion and the not-too-subtle threat of physical violence - by community organizers closely allied with governmental power and receiving taxpayer money. It's not a pretty combination:

Bruce Marks doesn't bother being diplomatic. A campaigner on behalf of homeowners facing foreclosure, he was on the phone one day in March to a loan executive at Bank of America Corp.

"I'm tired of borrowers being screwed!" Mr. Marks yelled into the phone. "You're incompetent!" Before hanging up, he threatened to call bank CEO Kenneth Lewis at home to complain about the loan executive.

Mr. Marks's nonprofit organization, Neighborhood Assistance Corp. of America, has emerged as one of the loudest scourges of the banking industry in the post-bubble economy. It salts its Web site with photos of executives it accuses of standing in the way of helping homeowners -- emblazoning "Predator" across their photos, picturing their homes and sometimes including home phone numbers. In February, NACA, as it's called, protested at the home of a mortgage investor by scattering furniture on his lawn, to give him a taste of what it feels like to be evicted.

In the 1990s, Mr. Marks leaked details of a banker's divorce to the press and organized a protest at the school of another banker's child. He says he would use such tactics again. "We have to terrorize these bankers," Mr. Marks says.

Though some bankers privately deplore his tactics, Mr. Marks is a growing influence in the lending industry and the effort to curb foreclosures. NACA has signed agreements with the four largest U.S. mortgage lenders ...in which they agree to work with his counselors on a regular basis to try to arrange lower payments for struggling borrowers. NACA has made powerful political friends, such as House majority whip James Clyburn of South Carolina, and it receives federal money to counsel homeowners.

The goal of this sort of thing, of course, is to thoroughly politicize business decisions from top to bottom of the economy, squeezing out as far as possible the role of independent business judgment and for the benefit of favored constituencies and politicians (see here for one of the more egregious examples by one of the nation's most notorious practitioners of political extortion, and here for a similar example of the use of strong-arm street tactics). And the results will be predictable: together with the move to limit credit card fees, the Democrats and their activist allies will put businesses to the choice of (1) extending bad credit in exchange for insufficient returns to cover the risks, for the purpose of currying political favor and keeping the brownshirts away from their homes and families, or (2) getting out of the business altogether. (Allahpundit notes the third choice of shifting costs onto good credit risks, but there's only so much blood to squeeze from that stone directly, except insofar as it's done indirectly by using taxpayer money to bribe the banks).

It's not a good thing for liberty, not a good thing for the economy, and ultimately not a good thing for the integrity of a government that gets too comfortable pulling the strings.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:11 AM | Business • | Politics 2009 | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)
May 19, 2009
POLITICS: Taxachusetts

Deval Patrick's HopeChange 1.0 act is running to its logical conclusion of broken promises and tax hikes. Don't miss clicking the graphic on the left.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:13 AM | Politics 2009 | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)
May 18, 2009
POLITICS: The Case For Not Letting Up On Speaker Pelosi

Nancy Pelosi has had a very bad stretch over the issue of what she knew, and when, about waterboarding and other "enhanced interrogation techniques." She still seems not to have learned that it's a bad idea to get in a public spat with people who collect secrets for a living. Her ever-shifting explanations of what she was briefed on and when, culminating in Thursday's press conference (in which a visibly shaken Speaker repeatedly re-read her prepared statement in answer to questions by a suddenly skeptical press corps) have left her credibility in tatters and her story wholly incoherent. The latest blow came today as Leon Panetta, her former House colleague and now Obama's CIA director, produced a memo today disputing Pelosi's contention that the CIA lied to her.Nancy Pelosi has had a very bad stretch over the issue of what she knew, and when, about waterboarding and other "enhanced interrogation techniques." She still seems not to have learned that it's a bad idea to get in a public spat with people who collect secrets for a living. Her ever-shifting explanations of what she was briefed on and when, culminating in yesterday's press conference (in which a visibly shaken Speaker repeatedly re-read her prepared statement in answer to questions by a suddenly skeptical press corps) have left her credibility in tatters and her story wholly incoherent. The latest blow came today as Leon Panetta, her former House colleague and now Obama's CIA director, produced a memo today disputing Pelosi's contention that the CIA lied to her: "CIA officers briefed truthfully on the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, describing 'the enhanced techniques that had been employed.'"

Just as bad for the Left, her flagrant hypocrisy on this issue has badly undermined their core argument for prosecuting members of the Bush Administration. Recall that the theory behind such prosecutions is that waterboarding is so obviously "torture" that no reasonable person could conclude otherwise - yet here is the leader of their lawmakers in the House declaring that she very reasonably assumed that if Bush Administration lawyers had cleared the practice, it must be legal. (Charles Krauthammer makes this point as to the moral argument). That's an impossible circle to square, and it means the cries of "war criminal" now have to be seriously muted and nuanced if the most left-wing Speaker in memory is not to be sacrificed to a left-wing crusade.

It's too soon to tell what sort of lasting damage will be done to Pelosi as Speaker. I'm not generally one to declare a politician dead the minute a bad story breaks. More likely, as happened to Newt Gingrich and Tom DeLay, it will take multiple blows to bring down Pelosi, and the impetus will have to come from the rank and file of her own caucus, which seems disinclined to toss her under the bus just yet (even if the heir apparent, her longtime rival Steny Hoyer, has been fairly unsubtly measuring the drapes in the meantime).

That said, there's a school of thought among Republicans that because Pelosi is a polarizing figure with obvious weaknesses, we should fear pushing too hard because the Democrats will be weaker for having her around their necks next fall than if she's gone (one hears similar sentiments about Chris Dodd, David Paterson, and Deval Patrick, among others). Let her twist in the wind, these voices say. But even aside from the legitimate interest in exposing dishonesty and hypocrisy on the part of a sitting Congressional leader, the hard calculus of political hardball says otherwise. Of course, in any debate there are arguments that work and those that don't, and in this particular debate there are punches that may need to be pulled for legitimate national security reasons. But Republicans serious about winning political battles going forward should not ease the pressure on Speaker Pelosi out of some misguided hope that leaving her wounded is better than finishing her off.

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Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:00 PM | Politics 2009 | Comments (16) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: Taking Down Corzine

WaPo looks at the race to the June 2 New Jersey GOP Gubernatorial primary, as corruption-busting former US Attorney Chris Christie faces off against conservative Mayor Steve Lonegan for the chance to go after the unpopular Jon Corzine. In contrast to some of the other races this year, I happen to think the GOP should go with the more moderate Christie in this one, especially since a guy who made his name indicting scores of corrupt New Jersey politicians (the bulk of them Democrats, of course, but by no means all of them) is the right choice to clean up Trenton.

It's noteworthy that despite obituaries for the GOP in the Northeast, there are GOP Governors in Connecticut, Vermont and Rhode Island and a significant shot at the statehouse in New York and New Hampshire (in Massachusetts Deval Patrick's in dire trouble but more likely to lose a primary), as well as a fighting chance to pick up Senate seats in New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, maybe even Delaware. Most all of those races will turn largely on the national mood in 2010 (or in Corzine's case, this fall), and it's wildly unlikely that Republicans will sweep them, but the obituaries may yet prove premature.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:54 PM | Politics 2009 | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: With Biden, There Is No Such Thing As "Undisclosed"

Providing an object lesson on the hazards of sharing secrets with a man who has no unexpressed thoughts, the undisclosed location is undisclosed no longer:

[W]hile recently attending the Gridiron Club dinner in Washington, an annual event where powerful politicians and media elite get a chance to cozy up to one another, Biden told his dinnermates about the existence of a secret bunker under the old U.S. Naval Observatory, which is now the home of the vice president.

The bunker is believed to be the secure, undisclosed location former Vice President Dick Cheney remained under protection in secret after the 9/11 attacks.

+++

According to [Eleanor] Clift's report on the Newsweek blog, Biden "said a young naval officer giving him a tour of the residence showed him the hideaway, which is behind a massive steel door secured by an elaborate lock with a narrow connecting hallway lined with shelves filled with communications equipment."

Clift continued: "The officer explained that when Cheney was in lock down, this was where his most trusted aides were stationed, an image that Biden conveyed in a way that suggested we shouldn't be surprised that the policies that emerged were off the wall."

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:17 PM | Politics 2009 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
May 12, 2009
POLITICS: Charlie Crist Picks A Fight Republicans Don't Need

Charlie Loves Barry

Republicans are going to have a lot of challenges and a lot of opportunities in the 2010 elections. One thing the party needs to do is get our best candidates into races we can win; another is to make sure we hold the easy races and avoid bloody and ideologically divisive primaries in the tough ones; a third is to make sure we can raise adequate funds to support all the races we need to contest; and a fourth is to promote the young stars of the party who will represent its future.

Charlie Crist disregarded all of that when he announced that he was dropping out of the race for re-election as Governor of Florida to enter the primary to replace retiring Republican Senator Mel Martinez. And NRSC Chairman John Cornyn, by immediately endorsing Crist, signalled that he encouraged this sort of behavior. Shame on both of them for putting Crist's personal ambitions above the good of the party. Let us count the ways in which Crist's decision is bad for the Florida GOP and the national party:

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Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:00 PM | Politics 2009 • | Politics 2010 | Comments (33) | TrackBack (0)
May 11, 2009
POLITICS/LAW: How Republicans Should Oppose Obama's Supreme Court Nominee

At this writing, we do not know who President Obama will nominate to replace David Souter on the Supreme Court, and so it's impossible to anticipate precisely how much Republican opposition his pick will meet with, or for that matter whether any Democrats will be opposed.

Nonetheless, of this much we can be sure, from Obama's own history and prior statements as well as that of his party: Obama is highly likely to select a nominee who will do a terrible job as a Supreme Court Justice, in terms of (1) following the reasoning process that we Republicans and conservatives believe is the legitimate and appropriate way for a Justice to decide cases and (2) reaching what Republicans/conservatives would regard as the correct results in interpretiting the Constitution and federal statutes.

So, the President is likely to do something Republicans legitimately and seriously disagree with, and which will do lasting damage to the nation. How then to respond? Here, sight unseen of the nominee, I can offer two main suggestions.

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Posted by Baseball Crank at 2:45 PM | Law 2009-14 • | Politics 2009 | Comments (25) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: The Court Jester

It ain't exactly the biggest story in the world, but it's a symptom: Andrew Breitbart nails the difference between the Bush years, when comedians like Stephen Colbert came to the White House Correspondents' Dinner to mock the president, and the Obama years, when they come to fawn over the president and wish harm to his enemies while he laughs. Even Mike Lupica recognized that Wanda Sykes' jokes were over the line and, frankly, barely jokes at all - yet Obama laughed at them, because they were aimed at his enemies.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:10 AM | Politics 2009 | Comments (30) | TrackBack (0)
May 8, 2009
POLITICS: Sanford Takes The Heat

Over at RS we have a writeup of a blogger conference call with Gov. Mark Sanford of South Carolina. It was the first blogger call he'd done, and was a pretty informal 45-minute chat.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:10 PM | Politics 2009 • | Politics 2012 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: Thou Shalt Not Mock Obama's Mustard

This is just hilarious. Even the mildest of needling brings out this response from the Left. HuffPo describing Obama's trip to a hamburger joint as "historic" is precious.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:05 PM | Politics 2009 | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: BAMN

Stretching the science to sell 'climate change.' The politicization of science proceeds apace.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 5:57 PM | Enemies of Science • | Politics 2009 • | Science | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
May 7, 2009
WAR/POLITICS: Democratic Spin on GTMO Stupid Even By Standards of Democratic Spin

Goldfarb notes this hilarious attempt to claim that Republicans opposed to moving detainees from Guantanamo into their districts are - wait for it - insulting America's corrections officers:

ON GUANTANAMO, GOP DISPARAGES MEN AND WOMEN WHO KEEP OUR COMMUNITIES SAFE

Why do Republicans think that Americans can't do their jobs?

Today, John Boehner and the Republican House leadership are introducing legislation to keep Guantanamo detainees from being transferred to facilities in the United States. They claim that this serves American security. But the reality is that our criminal justice system has a long history of holding hardened terrorists successfully, including the perpetrator of the first World Trade Center attacks, numerous 9/11 conspirators, the Shoe Bomber and Timothy McVeigh. The men and women who serve their country by working at these facilities are ready and eager to do their jobs - and they have the confidence of the communities that depend economically on prison facilities. But John Boehner, Mitch McConnell and other Republicans in Congress continue to claim that the men and women who run our prisons and help keep America safe can't do their jobs.

Let's review the varieties of stupid here.

1. This statement assumes that 100% of the detainees will continue to remain locked up, and of course if you believe that, why not just improve the prison they are in? In fact, the whole point of this exercise is to release some detainees entirely and send others into the criminal justice system, where they may be acquitted or have cases dropped against them, in many cases because of how evidence was gathered against them under wartime or battlefield conditions.

2. The Democrats presume to speak for all prison guards as being thrilled to take these guys on. I am guessing that's not the case. Ask Louis Pepe. Ask why our allies are balking at taking them. Ask the people of Alexandria, Virginia what additional precautions had to be taken just to hold one of them.

3. I love the line about "communities that depend economically on prison facilities" - leave it to the Democrats to look at holding jihadists as a jobs program.

4. Does anybody but Democratic politicians actually believe that jihadists are no more dangerous than your usual criminal? Hmmm, we have prisoners who are willing to engage in suicide attacks, believe they will go to eternal paradise if they die killing infidels, specifically hate the U.S. government, and are connected to international organizations with money and weapons. You don't think they are a greater security risk than your typical prisoner, even in maximum security? Really?

Posted by Baseball Crank at 8:26 PM | Politics 2009 • | War 2007-14 | Comments (7) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: How Reagan Made Himself Reagan

The recent flap over Jeb Bush talking about leaving Reagan behind has been overblown - Jeb's point is that the GOP needs to sell its ideas, not just the Reagan brand, and that's obviously true as the man himself recedes into memory for a lot of the electorate.

Steve Hayward, though, has an excellent point that should be drilled into the heads of GOP candidates everywhere:

[A]ll those folks who claim to be Reaganites would take the time to sit down a study the man's methods - not his ideology - more seriously. As we now know, he worked extremely hard, studying the issues in depth and preparing and practicing his speeches at great length. I'm frankly appalled at the low level of rhetorical skill displayed by most GOP politicians today. It is not just a matter of talent; talent helps, but Reagan showed that hard work is the key ingredient. Too many of our would-be party leaders today are simply lazy, and think they can coast through speeches and media appearances with little forethought. Finally, Reagan lived by an old show-business adage - always leave your audience wanting more. His speeches were often memorable because they were relatively short. You could fit five of Reagan's state of the union speeches inside one of Bill Clinton's or George W. Bush's. (This means you, Governor Palin, whom I heard in Anchorage in March making a rambling hour-long speech that someone at my table rightly described as "Castroesque.") So try this out, GOP leaders: Shorter speeches. People will remember more of what you say, and want to hear you say more later. This really isn't rocket science. Heck, it isn't even political science.

Very few politicians bring together all the elements of communication Reagan did: specific ideas, backed by specific facts; inspiring rhetoric, well-delivered; good use of humor, whether planned, ad-libbed, or by knowing when to use planned ad-libs; brevity; warmth; respect for the audience's intelligence. I still think Rudy Giuliani is the closest we have to that, although Rudy's too hard around the edges to match Reagan's personality. But then, rhetorical skill actually wasn't the weakness of the GOP field in 2008. On the Democratic side, Obama is a match for Reagan at soaring rhetoric, but he rarely communicates the kind of concrete, memorable messages backed by facts that Reagan deployed, and he doesn't really switch gears well to being funny or folksy or warm; all his best stuff is in the tone of the JFK Inaugural.

Bush and Obama are both proof of the adage that hard work matters - Bush is a famously poor speaker, but his big set-piece speeches that he worked at usually came off well; Obama is notorious for hemming, hawing and bumbling when away from his TelePrompter (which he uses in many situations where Bush might have been well-advised to try one), but he performed well in the debates with McCain when he put the effort into it.

Most of the major GOP future stars have the potential to be really excellent communicators, but each will need to work on something different, like Gov. Jindal with the TelePrompter. Hayward's advice would be well-taken by all of them.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 2:13 PM | Politics 2009 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: Unspeakable

You may remember the flap over the Secret Service limitations on where protestors could set up near George W. Bush, and the wailing about "free speech zones" being an unconscionable restriction, etc. I have yet to hear anybody (1) complain about the Secret Service's policy since Obama took over or (2) explain how the policy changed, as I suspect it has not. Like so many routine government activities, it's only objectionable when it's Bush.

Anyway, this is a slightly different story - about a private sign-making company, not a government agency - but it's nonetheless revealing: a billboard company refused to allow signs to call President Obama "pro-abortion," insisting on altering the billboards to "pro abortion choice." You can go click the link to see the proposed and amended billboards.

First of all, this is ignorance. Obama has long supported taxpayer funding to subsidize abortions. It is simply not possible to support taking money from taxpayers to pay for a thing, causing more of that thing to happen, and then argue that you are not supporting the thing itself. Taxpayer funding is a far cry from live and let live (it's something Obama opposes for, say, sending black children in failed DC school districts to private schools - he must regard abortion as more desirable than a good education). Add in efforts to squeeze Catholic hospitals that have moral objections to performing abortions, and Obama's famous crack about how he would not want his daughters "punished with a baby," and it's just nonsensical to deny that Obama is, if words have any meaning whatsoever, pro-abortion. The fear of saying so about anybody is revealing, though - it's a recognition that being pro-abortion is a bad thing, which of course is not the case if you believe, as supporters of legal abortion must, that the act does not take a human life.

(A digression: when Sarah Palin talked recently about the choice to keep her youngest child, liberals argued that this was a concession - isn't it wonderful, some of them argued, to live in a country that allows such choices? Um, no. Using cocaine and driving drunk are illegal, but we still speak of not doing them as being moral choices. If a teenager from a bad neighborhood refuses to join a gang, we can celebrate the positive moral choice without saying, "isn't it great to live in a country where teenagers get to choose whether or not to join violent, drug-dealing street gangs?" No, it's a tragedy.)

Second, the reluctance to allow open discussion of the issue is symptomatic of something Justice Scalia has noted at the Supreme Court level: the systematic bending of all other rules and customs, much as happened in the days of slavery, to protect the practice of abortion, from unique rules for protests around clinics, to laxer regulation of clinics, to distortion of the language itself. The same people calling for displaying graphic photos of interrogation of detainees or who want soldiers' coffins on the front page of the newspaper without the consent of their families are the ones who are horrified by the idea that any image should be displayed of abortion, the ones who even recoil at showing pictures of live unborn children in the debate. The unwillingness to face the language itself is a symptom of the recognition that some things can't really be defended.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:32 AM | Politics 2009 | Comments (11) | TrackBack (0)
May 5, 2009
POLITICS: Why Republican Unity On Spending Matters

While the defection of Arlen Specter to the Democrats had a number of causes, the proximate cause was that his support of the Obama stimulus bill brought Pat Toomey off the fence and into a primary race Specter would have lost. Jim DeMint followed this up with a provocative WSJ op-ed arguing for more purity in the GOP caucus in sticking to small-government principles and opposing big federal spending. There's been a lot of hand-wringing about whether the Toomey run and the views of people like Sen. DeMint mean the GOP has become too narrow and exclusionary to appeal to moderates. (Leave aside Barney Frank saying the same thing on the other side). As a deep-blue-state Republican, I have always been a believer that the GOP needs to have some flexibility in the demands of party loyalty if it is to have a tent big enough to contain a majority governing coalition; sometimes our elected officials need to treat our principles as a compass, not a straitjacket. But broad generalizations about "conservative" and "moderate" miss the fact that politics is situational. And the political situation we find ourselves in today demands that the GOP have a strong preference, in every jurisdiction, for candidates who will hold the line on spending.

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Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:50 PM | Politics 2009 | Comments (12) | TrackBack (0)
WAR/POLITICS: Over-Oversight

Daffyd on the meddling, incompetence, leaks and excessive partisanship of the Congressional Intelligence committees. We're closing in on the day when Democrats will demand 24/7 live C-SPAN coverage of the CIA.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:46 AM | Politics 2009 • | War 2007-14 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: Great Moments in Presidential Oratory

"Welcome to Cinco de Cuatro".

Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:16 AM | Politics 2009 | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)
May 2, 2009
POLITICS: RIP Jack Kemp

Just saw this reported: Jack Kemp, a giant of the modern conservative movement, has died after a bout with cancer. Kemp never won national or even statewide office, and his gravelly wonkishness wasn't always the epitome of charisma, but his political career was a testament to the power of ideas, simple ideas like human freedom and the potential of the individual to do better for himself than the government could ever do for him. He was an inspiration to everyone who believed that the interests of government are not the purpose of government. Ronald Reagan inspired many people in politics, but Reagan didn't get to be Reagan alone, and then-Congressman Kemp was one of the people who inspired Reagan's belief in the transformative incentive power of reducing taxes on the last dollar of income earned. Before entering politics, Kemp was a heckuva quarterback, compiling a 65-37-3 record as a starter in the AFL, playing in championship games for LA and San Diego before winning two AFL titles for the Buffalo Bills. Kemp was also the rare HUD secretary who left office well-regarded rather than under investigation or indictment. He was added to the GOP ticket in 1996 when Bob Dole realized his campaign needed ideas - and Jack Kemp, though an ordinary guy, not an intellectual, was synonymous with ideas. And he was, most of all, a happy warrior, like Reagan - a guy who took visible joy in politics because he always believed that if you gave people the ability to keep their own piece of the pie, we'd all have a larger pie to divide. He was, in every sense, a true heir of the Party of Lincoln. He will be missed.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:00 PM | Football • | Politics 2009 | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0)
May 1, 2009
POLITICS: Michelle Antoinette and the Don't-Go-To-The-Mall Administration

Michelle Obama, February 2008:

Obama explains that she and her husband made the choice to give up lucrative jobs in favor of community service. "We left corporate America, which is a lot of what we're asking young people to do," she tells the women. "Don't go into corporate America. You know, become teachers. Work for the community. Be social workers. Be a nurse. Those are the careers that we need, and we're encouraging our young people to do that. But if you make that choice, as we did, to move out of the money-making industry into the helping industry, then your salaries respond."

Michelle Obama, April 2009:

Michelle Obama has taken casual to a haute new level.

While volunteering Wednesday at a D.C. food bank, the First Lady sported her usual J.Crew cardigan, a pair of utilitarian capri pants and, on her feet, a sneaky splurge: trainers that go for $540.

That's right: These sneakers - suede, with grosgrain ribbon laces and metallic pink toe caps - are made by French design house Lanvin, one of fashion's hottest labels. They come in denim and satin versions, and have been a brisk seller all spring.

They're out of stock at posh Meatpacking District boutique Jeffrey, and Barneys New York boasts a limited selection of the sneaks, which are a cult favorite among fashionistas.

It's likely Michelle got hers through Ikram, the Chicago retailer that often outfits her.

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Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:20 AM | Politics 2009 | Comments (11) | TrackBack (0)
April 28, 2009
POLITICS: Slash and Burn

Jay Cost on Obama's harshly partisan rhetoric:

One reason that I was so interested in candidate Obama in 2007 was that he seemed to have the same broad orientation to politics as I do. The world is a harsh, complicated place in which to live. Ultimately, we're going to have different views on what to do. But politics isn't like math, where there is some unequivocal answer waiting at the bottom of a proof. It's hazy and uncertain. Our policy proposals are more like stabs in the dark than geometric theorems. So ultimately, we should accept as fact that others will disagree - and we should respect those who disagree with us, above all assuming that they're acting in good faith.

In 2007, I thought this is how the President thought about things, too. It has become increasingly clear to me, however, that either he doesn't, or his inner circle doesn't.

(H/T) It's been grimly amusing watching people on the center-right who bought into this notion of Obama one by one waking up to the realization that he is, in fact, the most archly partisan president since LBJ, a man who is unceasing in his attacks on his predecessor (who remains, as always, too classy for his own good and accordingly unwilling to respond) and all too fond of personal attacks on his critics as well as the kind of rhetoric Cost addresses.

Obama still retains the personal popularity that comes with the political honeymoon - how much, depends on how you read the polls, which can vary - but at the end of the day, his policies are going to be less so. If you would be happy with Nancy Pelosi, Barney Frank or Charlie Rangel as president, you will of course be happy with Obama, and if you wouldn't, sooner or later you won't be happy with him. Obama, of course, is gambling that he can restructure the American electorate and electoral system into one that is more supportive of that faction of his party before we get there, and a soon-to-be-60 vote Senate majority gets him closer to that goal. The only issues will be whether he can succeed in that race against time, and how long it takes for the rest of the electorate to start identifying Obama with his policies.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 1:13 PM | Politics 2009 | Comments (19) | TrackBack (0)
April 27, 2009
WAR/POLITICS: The Inverted Conscience of Barack Obama

Obama's Moral Bearings

Next time the United States captures some hardened, mass-murdering terrorists, the CIA should tell President Obama that we captured some unborn children, and he'll let them do whatever they want.

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Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:57 PM | Politics 2009 • | War 2007-14 | Comments (42) | TrackBack (0)
April 24, 2009
BUSINESS/POLITICS: Fairness

Megan McArdle on fair pay. Some of her best work.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:31 AM | Business • | Politics 2009 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
April 23, 2009
POLITICS: Education in Pettiness

Lileks has a first-person look at educational bureaucracy in action:

The impact...was like a comet on a town that makes china and cymbals: all the moms at the bus stop today expressed a unanimous desire to remove their children from the system.

Attention, Mayor! Hello, School Board! Here's your people - they all vote the way you want, they all queue at the polls to pass whatever bills you want, they all support the public schools - and in one stroke, you added to the suspicions caused by the realignment process and turned everyone against you.

To which the school board might well conclude: fine. Take your kids. We'll keep your money. And when the test scores go down? Proof more money is needed.

They can't lose. They made the system, after all.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:17 PM | Politics 2009 | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
WAR/POLITICS: Nancy Pelosi Was Briefed On Waterboarding But Didn't Inhale

One of the occupational hazards of partisan politics is attacking the other side for something people on your own side knew about or participated in. Of course, that's politics; but it becomes a serious problem when you raise the rhetorical temperature to the point of calling your political opponents war criminals ... and it turns out your own people knew about the "war crimes" and didn't see anything wrong with them at the time, or at least didn't act as if they did. It's a pretty clear sign that they don't believe it now, either - but try telling that to the people who have bought the "war criminal" bill of goods and now find out that you did what they consider the equivalent of sitting in camp construction meetings with Himmler and not making a peep.

So we find that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, despite her angry denials, has to face up to having been briefed back in 2002 on the CIA's 'enhanced' coercive interrogation techniques:

In September 2002, four members of Congress met in secret for a first look at a unique CIA program designed to wring vital information from reticent terrorism suspects in U.S. custody. For more than an hour, the bipartisan group, which included current House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), was given a virtual tour of the CIA's overseas detention sites and the harsh techniques interrogators had devised to try to make their prisoners talk.

Among the techniques described, said two officials present, was waterboarding, a practice that years later would be condemned as torture by Democrats and some Republicans on Capitol Hill. But on that day, no objections were raised. Instead, at least two lawmakers in the room asked the CIA to push harder, two U.S. officials said.

Pelosi's laughable defense is now to admit that she was briefed on the Bush Administration having obtained Office of Legal Counsel memos on waterboarding but she thought they got those memos but didn't actually intend to use them:

Pelosi denied these claims. "We were not -- I repeat -- were not told that waterboarding or any of these other enhanced interrogation methods were used. What they did tell us is that they had . . . the Office of Legal Counsel opinions [and] that they could be used, but not that they would," she said.

She said some officials, such as Goss, who went on to become CIA director, argued the lawmakers should have known the waterboarding would be used because they were told it was a legal practice. But she said they had no way of knowing that for certain...

Yes, I guess George W. Bush was ordering up OLC memos as an intellectual exercise, so he could kick back and read some dense legal reasoning to unwind at the end of a long day of not using the anti-terrorism tools at his disposal on captured Al Qaeda leaders. That's credible, right?

Pelosi's other tactic is to claim that she was sworn to secrecy so she couldn't do anything anyway:

[T]hey were then forbidden from talking about what they had learned so they could not work to outlaw the practice.

She summed up the briefings this way: "This is what they're doing. That's all they do. They don't come in to consult. They come in to notify. They come in to notify. And you can't -- you can't change what they're doing unless you can act as a committee or as a class. You can't change what they're doing."

Uh, didn't she just say they were briefing her on what they were not doing?

Now, when Congressional leaders are sworn to secrecy for national security purposes, they better have a very good reason for breaking that pledge. But when they learn about something that the Executive Branch is doing, claims is legal but ought to be made explicitly illegal, can the Speaker of the House be powerless to introduce legislation stopping it? Is our Congress that powerless if it thinks that tyranny or torture is actually afoot? As it happens, the Framers of the Constitution, being far wiser and more courageous than Nancy Pelosi, already thought of this problem and thoughtfully even gave her explicit instructions that in such a situation she could speak out without fear of prosecution. It's right there in Article I of the Constitution (Joe Biden, if you're reading this - that's the one that deals with Congress):

Section 6. The Senators and Representatives shall receive a compensation for their services, to be ascertained by law, and paid out of the treasury of the United States. They shall in all cases, except treason, felony and breach of the peace, be privileged from arrest during their attendance at the session of their respective Houses, and in going to and returning from the same; and for any speech or debate in either House, they shall not be questioned in any other place.

Under the Speech and Debate Clause, if Speaker Pelosi was told that the Executive Branch was committing war crimes, she has an absolute constitutional privilege to speak about that on the floor of the House, as well as to introduce legislation to stop it.

Unless, of course, it wasn't really a war crime at all. Unless, of course, it would have been too politically risky in 2002 to come out against a hard line on interrogation of terrorists.

There is deep foolishness of many kinds in the desire to criminalize the Bush Administration's efforts to protect the nation. The more Speaker Pelosi and her party insist that waterboarding is a war crime, the more they have to distort the evidence to fit their narrative, the harder it is to justify their own acquiescence, their actions that spoke louder than words when they learned what was being done to keep the nation safe. And the harder it will be for those who watched them nod their heads one day and turn Inquisitor the next to do their jobs with the same zeal. Back when the real Nazis stalked the land, there were indeed people who sat down and tried to do business with them, and they almost brought the West to ruin; but even in the direst and darkest hour, when he had been called upon to replace those people after years of enduring their mockery, Winston Churchill gave a warning that today's Democrats would have been wiser to heed:

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Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:16 PM | Politics 2009 • | War 2007-14 | Comments (16) | TrackBack (0)
April 22, 2009
LAW/POLITICS: Uh, Pandora, Shut That Lid...

Christopher Badeaux continues his look at the dangers unleashed by threatening to impeach a federal judge over legal advice given prior to taking the bench. As he notes, Democrats proposing these sorts of things plainly are not planning for the possibility that Republicans might ever retake control of any branch of government.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:29 AM | Law 2009-14 • | Politics 2009 • | War 2007-14 | Comments (14) | TrackBack (0)
April 21, 2009
POLITICS: Barack Obama Thinks You Can't Count
[W]hat I've proposed, you'll hear Sen. McCain say, well, he's proposing a whole bunch of new spending, but actually I'm cutting more than I'm spending so that it will be a net spending cut.

-Barack Obama, Second Presidential Debate, October 7, 2008.

OBAMA: ...[W]hat I've done throughout this campaign is to propose a net spending cut. I haven't made a promise about...

SCHIEFFER: But you're going to have to cut some of these programs, certainly.

OBAMA: Absolutely. So let me get to that. What I want to emphasize, though, is that I have been a strong proponent of pay-as- you-go. Every dollar that I've proposed, I've proposed an additional cut so that it matches.

-Barack Obama, Third Presidential Debate, October 15, 2008.

If ever a public policy proposal deserved universal ridicule, it has to be President Obama's effort to convince the public that [cue Dr. Evil voice] 100 million dollars in spending cuts are a significant dent in federal spending. Since Obama looked the nation in the eye and made that read-my-lips promise of a net spending cut in those two debates, we have sat and watched as he signed into law a colossal $787 billion 'stimulus' bill, proposed a $634 billion fund to begin offsetting the projected trillion-dollar cost of his health care plans, and unveiled a $3.6 trillion budget that's projected to consume 26% of GDP, the biggest share for federal spending since World War II (it hasn't been above 21% since the last budget before the Republicans took control of Congress in 1994).

Francis Cianfrocca notes the puny relative size of this proposal:

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Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:45 PM | Politics 2009 | Comments (7) | TrackBack (0)
WAR/POLITICS: The Other Half of the Story

Drew M at Ace notes that Dick Cheney's demand that the Obama Administration release all intelligence gathered from the interrogation techniques detailed in the memos it recently released places Obama in a bind:

Will Obama do it and risk people thinking, "maybe this wasn't such a bad idea after all". If they don't do it, then the argument becomes, "there must be something so valuable they can't talk about it". Which again means, it worked.

(H/T) If critics of coercive interrogation were honest, of course, they'd welcome the release and the chance to argue that even interrogation methods that get results are not worth the moral lines we have to cross to get there. And in fact, many of us on the conservative side would agree with that in principle; we just disagree on where you draw the line that says that certain forms of coercion constitute torture, and think that, for example, exposing a man to a caterpillar or bouncing him off a fake flexible wall doesn't get there.

But of course, most of the voices shrieking "torture" not only refuse to define where they draw the line - and denounce anyone who tries, to the point of cheering on prosecutions of lawyers for making the effort - but insist on living in a fantasy world where there are never any tradeoffs. They look at interrogators saying that less coercive methods of questioning are often the best (true), and that individuals acting under coercion or torture may provide false information (also true, but of course true as well of any method of interrogating terrorists or criminals) and conclude from this that coercive techniques never, ever work, never, ever provide useful information, and are always the least effective method.

It's the cheap, easy way out of a moral debate as old as war itself. Now, if there really is intelligence that's still too valuable to disclose, just say that and I won't question it; but otherwise, if you are going to argue that coercive interrogation is 100% ineffective, you should not fear disclosure of its fruits.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:33 PM | Politics 2009 • | War 2007-14 | Comments (27) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: You Know What We Needed? More, Cheaper Subprime Loans! And Maybe Cheaper Hookers, Too.

So, Ezra Klein wants Eliot Spitzer back in public life, and argues that New Yorkers should take him back just like his wife did, and presumably for the same reasons. This is part of Spitzer's rehab tour (more here and here). But Klein has picked the wrong man, and for the wrong reasons.

First of all, Spitzer should never be entrusted with any sort of executive authority ever again. The reasons for this are too numerous to recount here, but let's start with the obvious: the man held the State's top two law enforcement positions (Attorney General and Governor) while pursuing a lengthy and illegal prostitution habit, which he surrendered (so far as we know) only when exposed by a federal investigation. Yes, some politicians have survived hookers and other sex-and-crime scandals before: Barney Frank is still in Congress two decades after paying for an affair with a prostitute who operated a brothel out of Frank's apartment; David Vitter is running for re-election in the Senate after being exposed as a former client of the DC Madam; Gerry Studds kept a commitee chairmanship in the House after an affair with an underage Congressional page; Ted Kennedy is still in the Senate four decades after leaving a woman to drown in his car, an event that in a just world would have resulted in a charge of second-degree murder. But bad as our tolerance for such scandals in legislators may be, they are another thing entirely when you are talking about a man who was charged not only with casting votes and writing laws but with taking care that the laws be faithfully, fairly and uniformly enforced while he was creeping around choking hookers.

It should also not be forgotten that fair and reasonable law enforcement was never Spitzer's thing. Before the hooker scandal broke, he was already mired in investigations over improper use of state troopers to dig up dirt on political foes. He pursued a thuggish investigation designed to intimidate crisis pregnancy centers while giving a pass to abortion clinics. He forced out the successful management of AIG over charges that seem terribly penny-ante compared to what happened afterwards, and pursued a petty and ultimately unsuccessful vendetta against former NYSE chairman Dick Grasso. He tried to issue drivers' licenses to illegal aliens, and while he was going after New York's leading industries, his parole board dramatically increased the number of violent felons it let back on the streets; Spitzer never had much interest in violent crime. His signature move was applying vague laws to conduct they'd never been extended to; over and over again, he prosecuted things people had done that they'd never thought illegal. His targets, when they fought him in court, often won, a reflection of the weakness of his cases on the merits; Spitzer's MO depended on suing businesses who couldn't afford the consequences of an ongoing government campaign against them and had to settle rather than fight. Oh, and let's also not forget, as we watch New York suffer under the bumbling regime of David Paterson (who even Klein admits is a "disaster"), that Spitzer was the guy who picked Paterson (already known for such lunacy as his 'shoot to wound' bill) to take over in case Spitzer had to resign, at the same time that Spitzer was engaging in the pattern of criminal activity that forced him to do just that.

All that aside, let's look at the Spitzer article from 2004 that has Klein swooning about "pretty prescient stuff":

Unfortunately, our belief in the importance of equal opportunity and nondiscrimination is too often forgotten when it comes to the debate over whether and how to police the market for home mortgages. In poor and working-class communities across the nation, predatory mortgage lending has become a new scourge. Predatory lending is the practice of imposing inflated interest rates, fees, charges, and other onerous terms on home mortgage loans -- not because the imperatives of the market require them, but because the lender has found a way to get away with them. These loans (which are often sold as refinance or home improvement mechanisms) are foisted on borrowers who have no realistic ability to repay them and who face the loss of their hard-won home equity when the all-but-inevitable default and foreclosure occurs. When lenders systematically target certain low-income communities for loans of this sort, as they often do, the result is more insidious. Costs are imposed and burdens inflicted in a manner and to a degree that is discriminatory by race.

On the surface, predatory lenders are doing nothing more than seizing a "market opportunity" for refinancing or home-improvement loans in lower-income communities. To be sure, such communities desperately need credit. And it stands to reason that the prices and terms will be less favorable to borrowers whose financial circumstances are troubled or limited. In this sense, predatory loans are the natural outcome of a competitive market.[...]

[But] it is difficult to imagine a less rational, less efficient economic practice than lending of this sort. At the micro-level, it results in a gross misallocation of costs-- imposing higher costs than the market requires on those least able to bear them. At the macro-level, it denies lower-cost capital to whole classes of persons who would otherwise qualify for it and to neighborhoods whose economic vitality depends on it.

In these circumstances, government must step in to curb predatory lending and encourage the flow of fairly priced capital to sectors where it is needed and will be well-used.

Leave aside Spitzer saying that the problem with the market is that it charges more than the market requires, which is nonsense by definition in the absence of a cartel (nobody claims that the chaotic mortgage market was a cartel at the retail level; the only place where the market narrowed to a few players was at the GSE level). The critical point here is that Spitzer never argued that the borrowers he discussed should not be given loans at all; to the contrary, his reference to "lower-cost capital" makes clear that he felt that the problem was that lenders were pricing loans too high. But if lenders had made the same loans at lower rates, they'd have been in even worse shape than they are now, with less return on their investments to cover the same default rates. Spitzer's simplistic thinking seems to be that the only reason why subprime borrowers would end up defaulting was because they were paying too much in fees - it never occurred to him that the problem was underpriced credit for overpriced real estate investments by people with insufficient credit, whether they be people who should never have been given a mortgage to higher-end borrowers who were given one too big for their means. In short, Spitzer got the problem precisely backward - and worse yet, Ezra Klein, writing with the benefit of hindsight, still thinks this is profound.

No thanks.

UPDATE: I see Mickey Kaus beat me to making some of the same points about Klein and that Spitzer quote.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:30 AM | Business • | Politics 2009 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
April 8, 2009
POLITICS: Sovereign What?

The lawyers here will find this endlessly amusing. Yes, to Olbermann, Turley and Greenwald, a foundational legal concept that's been black-letter law for the entire duration of American jurisprudence, and is recognized in just about every jurisdiction on the planet, is somehow a novel and frightening expansion of executive power. Olbermann at least is not a lawyer, but how the other two passed the bar exam escapes me.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:33 PM | Politics 2009 • | War 2007-14 | Comments (14) | TrackBack (0)
April 7, 2009
POLITICS: None Too Bright

George Will looks at some of the perils of the new compact flourescent lightbulb. I can attest from personal experience to the fact that the bulbs are prone to burning out quickly despite the alleged long life that comes with their hefty price tag, and to the slow warm-up times and generally inferior quality of the light produced (Megan McArdle notices a similar trend with other supposedly 'green' products). All of which, of course, is why the force of the law will be required to outlaw Edison's great invention by 2014.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 5:14 PM | Politics 2009 | Comments (11) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS/POP CULTURE: Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down

The good: reader Rob B points me to the Tauntaun sleeping bag, which of course I now want...or at least, wish I had had when I was about 11.

The not so good: Brian Faughnan looks at the new General Motors ....vehicle. Um, yeah, let's see how this drives on the highways of Minnesota in winter. And this Iowahawk video Brian links to is too good not to share:

Posted by Baseball Crank at 3:11 PM | Business • | Politics 2009 • | Pop Culture | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
April 6, 2009
POLITICS: Where We Will And Won't Go

An interesting debate between two people I know and greatly respect in the blogosphere: Patterico and my RedState colleague streiff - about a topic I addressed immediately after the election: how the Right should conduct itself in opposition. The debate is, unsurprisingly, reflective of their backgrounds - Patterico, as a prosecutor, has a lawyer's sensitivity to the costs of losing credibility, while streiff, as an old infantryman, is focused more on how to confuse and overwhelm the other side. Basically, Patterico argues broadly that there are lines we should not cross, and specifically that certain types of personal attacks on Obama run the risk of sinking to the level of madness and virtiol characteristic of the Left and the Democrats the past 8 years; streiff cites chapter and verse of Obama's inspiration, Saul Alinsky, to argue that those tactics were ultimately successful against Bush and that the Right should not hesitate to use them, at least within reason, and has suffered in the past from refusing to do so.

I agree with a good deal of what both of them say, and at the end of the day it comes down to specific cases. Surely, there is a happy medium between being an aggressive advocate and ending up like the Left.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 1:08 PM | Politics 2009 | Comments (28) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: D'oh!

Obama apologizes for not speaking Austrian. Seriously, you can't make this stuff up.

This is also a great riff on what happens when Obama tries to answer a question without his Teleprompter handy.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:31 PM | Politics 2009 | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)
April 2, 2009
POLITICS: Not Much Better

Since I noted the poor state of the Oakland Mayor's office yesterday, we get news that the Democrats' next in line has his own problems:

Former state Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata said Tuesday he will run for mayor of Oakland in 2010.

+++

Perata is a political heavyweight who served four years as state Senate president pro tem, when he was, arguably, the most powerful Democrat in state government. But candidate Perata will bring plenty of baggage into the mayor's race, too.

The FBI has investigated Perata for more than five years, trying to determine whether he took kickbacks or bribes for official favors, perhaps through a network of friends and associates.

Earlier this year, the U.S. attorney's office in San Francisco told Perata's attorneys the office would not file charges. But the FBI subsequently took their case to the Sacramento U.S. attorney's office, which agreed to review the case. Perata said he hasn't heard anything about the case since then.

Of course, there's not always fire where there is smoke, but the step of trying a second set of prosecutors certainly suggests that the FBI thinks it has something.

Meanwhile, David Freddoso looks at the "corruption tax" imposed on residents of Illinois (the latest Daley ally convicted last week is discussed here). Then there's Alabama, where Birmingham Mayor Larry Langford will stand trial this summer and former Governor Don Siegelman, also a Democrat, saw the bulk of his conviction affirmed earlier this month. Pretrial proceedings also continue against Democratic officials in Baltimore, including the Mayor. And the NY Daily News has an article and a rogues' gallery on corruption and dysfunction in Albany. As usual, when you dig for this stuff there's a boatload of Democrats and a handful of Republicans.

UPDATE: Rod Blagojevich is expected to (finally) be indicted today.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:18 PM | Politics 2009 | Comments (17) | TrackBack (0)
March 30, 2009
POLITICS: Bigger and Closer to Power

My RedState and New Ledger colleague Francis Cianfrocca, working off the same Matt Yglesias piece I noted below, gets to the core of the issue of executive compensation:

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Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:00 PM | Business • | Politics 2009 | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: The Congress Party

Jonathan Chait has an interesting article in the New Republic on Democratic dysfunction in governing Washington. I have a variety of quibbles with Chait's narrative, in which the iron discipline of the GOP has given way to the weak-kneed moderates undercutting Obama's liberalism. Among them:

-His retelling of the enactment of the Bush tax cuts ignores the episode in which a member of the GOP caucus switched parties in revolt over the tax agenda and threw control of the Senate to the other party, which is rather a larger problem with party unity than Obama has yet faced.

-Chait ignores the Social Security fiasco, which occurred while the GOP had a solid majority. Typically of Chait, his narrative of the Bush Administration fails to note that Bush was re-elected.

-Chait recognizes the tension between liberalism and self-interested home-state interests (including rural-state farm policy) but neglects to recognize the same dynamic among Republicans, who often found fiscal conservatism stymied by members of Congress who wanted to protect things like farm subsidies or earmarked transportation projects. To say that "[t]his sort of behavior didn't hurt Bush because his agenda largely was synonymous with business interests" is to overlook those tensions.

-Chait ignores the unifying effect of the war on Republican party discipline; in fact, he ignores the existence of foreign and national security policy altogether.

-Chait ignores instances of Congressional Democrats pushing Obama leftward, rather than rightward.

-Chait's discussion of the filibuster ignores its prominent deployment by liberals, Obama among them, to hold up judicial nominees.

-Chait fails to address the possibility that the last three Democratic presidents have had things in common that made it more difficult to deal with Washington. Jimmy Carter was a relatively inexperienced governor and a stranger to national politics until 1976; Bill Clinton came from a tiny state and had not been much involved in national debates before 1992 (although at least Clinton had been a governor for a decade and headed the National Governors Association, so he wasn't starting totally from scratch); and Obama most of all is a guy who was elected direectly from being a first-term, wet-behind-the-ears backbench Senator. By contrast, the last seven GOP Presidents going back to Hoover have all been either familiar faces in DC (what Bush lacked in formal experience in Washington he'd made up through working with his father's campaigns and White House) and/or major national figures over an extended period before becoming president. It's harder to get Congress to listen to you if you have neither a built-in base of respect nor the executive chops to tell people what to do (LBJ, the last Democratic president who'd been a somebody to Washington insiders before his election, had no trouble keeping Congress in line). One of the continuing issues will be the extent to which Obama defers to Congress in the writing of legislation, with the attendant additional delay and loss of control, rather than leaning on Congress to accept things as the White House lays them out (granted, in the health care debate, Clinton went too far in the opposite direction).

Anyway, it's worth reading despite all of that, and I especially liked this passage, which does encapsulate the differing cultures of the two parties in Washington:

Since Democrats controlled the Congress almost continuously for more than 60 years beginning in 1933, the culture of Congress left a deeper imprint on their party. Republicans, shut out from the perks of majority status, finally decided under the opposition leadership of Newt Gingrich in the 1990s that their only path to power lay in partisan discipline.

Democrats, on the other hand, came of age under the old Democratic chieftains, and they have mostly aped that style. They do not fall in line, even under a Democratic president who mostly shares their goals. Shortly after Obama took office, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced, "I don't work for him." Even House Ways and Means Chairman Charlie Rangel, whose Harlem constituents danced in the streets after Obama's election, sniffed of Obama's plan to raise taxes on the rich, "I have to study it but I really don't take presidents' recommendations that seriously." Recommendation--that is the term that summarizes Congress's attitude. A president can suggest whatever he likes, but Congress is the one making the decisions, and don't you forget it.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 5:20 PM | Politics 2009 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
March 28, 2009
POLITICS: What Kind of Fool is Matt Yglesias?

a) The kind of fool who has never held a real job?
b) The kind of fool who thinks there's nothing un-American about using punitive taxation to drive the best baseball players in the world out of the United States?
c) The kind of fool who has been drinking too much bong water?

Judging by this post, probably all three?

Some people, as I understand it, just don't think inequality is a problem. But for the egalitarians among us, I've never really understood the view that obscene executive compensation is an issue that absolutely positively certainly must only be addressed through the indirect Rube Goldberg-esque method of changing corporate governance rules. What if we had a 95 percent marginal tax rate on income over $10 million? What dire consequences would flow from this? Perhaps a certain outflow of top-flight baseball talent to Japan. But I don't see this leading to any kind of economic calamity. Producers of certain classes of supply-constrained luxury goods would lose out as their prices go down. But my strong suspicion is that at the end of the day most of the super-rich would ultimately find it a relief to get off the treadmill of status-competition and the not-quite-so-rich would be thrilled to see their betters cut down to size.

Pejman and Michael Moynihan have a good deal of sport with this insanity and the greed, envy and lust for power that drive it (he's not suggesting burning the money, after all, but giving it to powerful politicians to spend, presumably - these days - politicians he's hoping will listen to the advice of Matt Yglesias) as well as the complete failure to comprehend that we do not live, as liberal economics so often assumes, in a closed and statis universe, but rather in a world of competitiveness and response to incentives. Only a fool of colossal proportions would believe that one could enact such a draconian tax policy with no consequences, but so often we hear these arguments (we hear them as well from the president regarding limiting charitable deductions) from liberals who simply assume that the economy is a money machine that can be loaded down with an unlimited number of burdens with no consequences. High marginal tax rates? Rent control? Generous welfare policies? Nah, it's inconceivable that human beings, being the self-interested creatures humans are, would alter their behavior even the slightest in response.

Let's consider Yglesias' example: baseball, specificallly the New York Yankees, whose payroll last season included 13 players making more than the wholly arbitrary $10 million figure. Presumably, even Yglesias isn't so dense as to believe that the Yankees would continue awarding salaries over $10 million under such a tax regime - he refers to his confiscatory tax proposal as "a de facto cap on compensation" - so the money would....stay with the team? Which raises the question of whether he would apply the same tax to the owners of the team, or the large shareholders of other enterprises. If he doesn't, then he's basically just redistributing wealth from the employees of an enterprise to its owners; if he does, then what he's proposing is more radical still, the destruction of enterprises that provide more than a certain amount of value (as measured by the revenues they raise from the choice of consumers to spend money on their product) - and that does seem to be his intention, as he says that "[t]he lack of ceiling on executive compensation creates bad incentives for firms to grow into unduly large conglomerates rather than be content to exist as highly profitable medium-sized enterprises," without considering the fact that given economies of scale and, in the case of a business like the Yankees, the fact that it simply can't create the same amount of value if you break it into little pieces with the coercive power of the state, you are simply destroying the value large enterprises deliver to consumers.

Finally, an irony: if the enemy is bigness, and if it's no problem at all to replace large enterprises of vast scale with many smaller ones that cater to smaller, perhaps regional markets, then shouldn't Yglesias be championing federalism? After all, the federal government is nothing if not the ultimate embodiment of conglomeration of many previously local functions into one colossal enterprise of continental scale. If that's a bad thing, however, it has wholly eluded Yglesias' notice.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 8:57 PM | Politics 2009 | Comments (10) | TrackBack (0)
March 26, 2009
POLITICS: Deval Patrick In Deep Trouble In New Poll

Some of you may recall that many of the themes used by Barack Obama in his presidential campaign, and even some of the words that came off Obama's TelePrompter, were first tried out by another David Axelrod client, Deval Patrick, in Patrick's successful run for Governor of Massachusetts in 2006:

Three years later, one poll says the voters of the deep-blue Bay State haven't gotten the Change they Hoped for, and they want a recall, with Patrick locked in a dead heat just for renomination:

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Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:31 PM | Politics 2009 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
March 24, 2009
POLITICS: How The Left Works

Martin Knight looks at the liberal campaign to bankrupt Sarah Palin. Call it "new politics."

Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:23 PM | Politics 2009 | Comments (7) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: Your Democratic Majority At Work

Most of us have had the experience at one point or another in our lives of getting stuck in a conversation with someone who is irrational and full of conspiracy theories. If you are particularly unfortunate, that person is a member of your family, your boss, a judge, or otherwise someone you can't afford to just blow off. But pity poor Tim Geithner as it dawns on him that he has to answer questions from such a person - in this case, Congresswoman Maxine Waters - under oath, on camera, knowing that she is a powerful political ally of his boss (Geithner is not the first to have this experience):

I could take a pretty good guess as to why Goldman Sachs in particular is the subject of Waters' conspiracy theories about the secret power of financiers, and I'm guessing it's not because of Henry Paulson. Of course, Waters may just be assuming everyone else does business with bank regulators the way she does. Anyway, Geithner's facial expressions in this video are just priceless.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 4:09 PM | Politics 2009 | Comments (24) | TrackBack (0)
March 21, 2009
POLITICS: Life, If You Can Keep It

When you picture a future of government-run health care and the complete defeat of the pro-life movement, this is what it looks like - the state decides when it is in your best interests to die:

The nine-month-old, known as "Baby OT", had a rare metabolic disorder and had brain damage and respiratory failure.

His parents had appealed against a ruling at London's High Court that it was in the boy's best interests to withdraw "life-sustaining treatment".

+++

Doctors treating him had said the boy's life was intolerable and his disability was such that his life had little purpose.

+++

Lord Justice Ward was told the couple had decided to wait outside the courtroom while the ruling was given as they could not face hearing the decision.

A spokeswoman for the BMA said: "Cases like this are very distressing and we have every empathy with the parents, but when the parents and the clinical team don't agree on the treatment for the child in question, the only way forward is to go to the courts and for the courts to decide on what is in the best interests of the child, which is paramount."

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:20 PM | Politics 2009 | Comments (14) | TrackBack (0)
March 19, 2009
POLITICS: TurboTim

Pejman on Geithner, who increasingly looks like the only thing keeping him from getting fired is the fact that you can't have no senior people at Treasury at all. As Casey Stengel said, you gotta have a catcher or you're gonna have a lot of passed balls.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 8:08 PM | Politics 2009 | Comments (26) | TrackBack (0)
March 18, 2009
POLITICS: So Much For Supporting The Troops

Regular readers will know that I have a pretty low opinion of Barack Obama, and for the most part he's lived down to my expectations since taking over as our President. But even I have been astounded that President Obama would do anything as monumentally politically stupid as trying to chisel budget savings out of the health care for wounded veterans, this after a wild spending spree so profligate that nobody seems to even have bothered to read the stimulus bill to see what it was promising to bailout recipients. As Ed Morrissey notes, the projected savings from forcing veterans to cover their own health care - at the undoubted cost of driving up their premiums and disincentivizing employers from hiring veterans - "amounts to just over half of what Obama just gave Hamas in Gaza to rebuild after their disastrous war with Israel this winter, and about 1/300th of what the government gave AIG in a bailout." No wonder even Congressional Democrats are running as fast as they can away from Obama's folly.

Now, it's true that you don't have a budget until you have said no to everyone at least once. And it's also true that the VA and DOD are gigantic bureaucracies, and as such they don't always work very well; the Bush Administration certainly took its lumps over the periodic failures of those agencies in taking proper care of what is almost certainly the federal government's single most sympathetic and deserving constituency. But nobody ever doubted that Bush at least tried to do the best by our veterans. Ditto John McCain, himself a disabled veteran, who was lambasted for proposing a better deal for veterans to take federal money to pay for healthcare outside the VA system. Obama is harking back to the days of the Bonus Army by viewing wounded or disabled veterans as a source of cost savings to pay for his other priorities. Given the opposition even among his own party, his defeat on this one seems as inevitable as it is deserved.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 1:18 AM | Politics 2009 | Comments (36) | TrackBack (0)
March 17, 2009
POLITICS: Convicted Thieves We Can Believe In

Did the Obama Administration's "vetting" team somehow miss this?

In the annals of vetting, this will go down as the most laughable miss ever: Vivek Kundra, the D.C. official tapped by Obama to run government technology, pleaded guilty to a theft charge in 1997.

Kundra is currently suspended from his White House job as Yusuf Acar, a manager in the D.C. office Kundra headed, faces bribery charges unrelated to Kundra's 12-year-old theft. When Kundra, an advocate of free Web-based software like Gmail, was first named to the CIO post, tech enthusiasts hailed his nomination as proof that Obama took their concerns seriously. They have fallen strangely silent as Kundra's reputation has grown tarnished. One of Kundra's few remaining defenders, TechPresident's Micah Sifry, noted Kundra's work in "theft and fraud prevention" as he wrote Sunday, "We believe people are innocent until they're proven guilty, right?"

Right. Here's some guilty for you!

Maryland state records show that a Vivek Kundra pleaded guilty to a theft of less than $300, for which he received supervised probation before judgment and a fine of $500, $400 of which was suspended.

I suppose, given Obama's record of endorsements back in Chicago, it's possible that this sort of thing seemed small by comparison.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:09 PM | Politics 2009 | Comments (8) | TrackBack (0)
March 16, 2009
POLITICS/WAR: Obama Backtracks on Bungled Mexico Policy

President Bush's critics often accused him of alienating key U.S. allies. Frequently that case was overstated, as the Bush Administration forged stronger bilateral ties with many strategically important allies, and as the Administration's foreign critics were often engaged in faux outrage for domestic political purposes over purely symbolic issues. That said, at least when the Bush Administration set out to do something our allies didn't like, it (1) did so to advance concrete U.S. interests and (2) stuck to its guns.

With the Obama Administration, neither is true. Fresh off a bizarre series of unnecessary gaffes in dealing with friend (the U.K.) and foe (Russia) alike, and after already rattling sabers and then caving on trade war threats with Canada and the EU, Obama and Congressional Democrats have brought us to the brink of a full-blown trade war with Mexico - and they are stuck trying to climb down from the ledge. Brian Faughnan has some of the background here; today's news is the desperate scramble to avoid the consequences of the Democrats' own policies as Mexico escalates with new tariffs for the Administration's violation of our treaty obligations under NAFTA:

Read More »


Posted by Baseball Crank at 5:52 PM | Politics 2009 | Comments (8) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: New Jersey: Where Today's Mayors Become Tomorrow's Defendants

New Jersey has a lot of Democratic Mayors, and it seems difficult to find a city in the state that hasn't had one indicted in the last few years. The latest is the former mayor of Perth Amboy from 1990-2008:

State Assemblyman Joseph Vas (D-Perth Amboy) was indicted last week on charges that, while he was mayor of Perth Amboy, he conspired with city employees to steal approximately $5,000 in funds from the city to pay for personal purchases and expenses.

Vas, 54, was indicted with his personal driver, Anthony S. Jones, 48, of Perth Amboy, on charges he rigged a city housing lottery so that Jones won the opportunity to buy a home through the city's affordable housing program.

+++

The indictment charges that from June 2003 to September 2007, Vas fraudulently obtained payment from the Perth Amboy Recreation Department for personal expenses.

Vas allegedly conspired with city officials, not named in the indictment, to submit fraudulent invoices, purchase orders and vouchers for the expenses, according to the New Jersey Attorney General's office.

If you are keeping score at home, Vas joins the following hit parade:

(1) Orange Mayor Mims Hackett Jr, who pleaded guity to extortion;

(2) Passaic Mayor Samuel Rivera, who pleaded guity to extortion;

(3) former Newark Mayor Sharpe James, convicted along with his former mistress in connection with shady land deals;

(4) former Atlantic City Mayor Robert Levy, who pleaded guilty to making false claims to receive more than $24,000 in veterans' benefits;

(5) former Hoboken Mayor Anthony Russo, indicted for extortion and bribery and who ultimately pleaded guilty to mail fraud;

(6) former Guttenberg Mayor David Delle Donna, who was convicted along with his wife of extortion and tax fraud;

(7) former Irvington Mayor Sara Bost, indicted for taking kickbacks and who ultimately pleaded guilty to witness tampering;

(8) former Irvington Mayor Michael Steele (no relation, I assume) indicted for bribery;

(9) former Patterson Mayor Martin Barnes, convicted of accepting gifts in exchange for city contracts;

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:29 AM | Politics 2009
March 13, 2009
POLITICS: Michael Steele Needs To Admit He Is One Of Us

Blue SteeleWhat's the matter with Michael Steele? It's a question a lot of Republicans are asking these days. When the former Maryland Lieutenant Governor was elected chairman of the GOP, many of us who had supported more conservative candidates or more proven fundraisers at least felt good about one thing: because Steele is an impressive and at times eloquent public speaker who's been tested as a commentator on Fox News, we could be sure that whatever else happened, we were getting a guy who would be a good public face, spokesman and salesman for the party and its ideas. Instead, his comments on abortion, on Rush Limbaugh and other topics have ended up dividing Republicans, giving fodder to our enemies and generating one bad news cycle after another.

I think I can explain the problem.

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Posted by Baseball Crank at 3:32 PM | Politics 2009 | Comments (23) | TrackBack (0)
March 12, 2009
POLITICS: Bronx Prosecutors Investigating Obama Appointee

No, not this one, a different Obama appointee: former Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion, appointed by Obama as director of the White House Office of Urban Affairs. The review is confirmed by a spokesman for (Democratic) Bronx DA Robert Johnson: "The facts as reported raise questions that we are trying to get answers to." What sort of urban affairs does Carrion specialize in? How about urban machine politics of a drearily familiar sort:

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Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:00 PM | Politics 2009 | Comments (18) | TrackBack (0)
March 9, 2009
POLITICS/BUSINESS: Cap and Don't Trade

As anyone who followed the Kyoto Protocols back in the 1990s can tell you, even if you believe that government action to stem carbon emissions would be desirable, Kyoto wasn't a genuine effort to get a worldwide agreement on limiting emissions: it exempted seven of the world's eight most populous nations (the U.S. being the lone exception) from its provisions, including rapidly growing economies like China (now the world's number one carbon emitter) and India. And neither of those countries, with more than a billion inhabitants each, has any intention of being subject to the kinds of restrictions that President Obama's carbon emissions "cap-and-trade" plan would impose on U.S. industries, much less during a global recession. Including industries that employ lots of the blue-collar union workers the Democrats purport to represent.

Those industries' and unions' solution, naturally, is even more government taxes and regulations: use trade barriers to try to inflict the same harm on foreign manufacturers as on American ones. Hey, why not start a trade war? Just remember, one thing, though: Senator Smoot and Congressman Hawley both lost their bids for re-election in 1932.

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Posted by Baseball Crank at 1:43 PM | Business • | Politics 2009 | Comments (13) | TrackBack (0)
March 7, 2009
WAR/POLITICS: Harder Than It Looks

McQ looks at the latest sample of the scathing UK press coverage of Obama's unreadiness for the business of meeting a foreign head of state. Details of how Obama managed to botch nearly every aspect of what ought to have been a routine goodwill visit with Gordon Brown, resulting in Brown's humiliation and a surge of bad British press, here, here, and here. Plus, his State Department can't read Russian.

On the upside, maybe I didn't read the news enough today, but it's almost midnight and I haven't seen an Obama appointee withdraw today.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:16 PM | Politics 2009 • | War 2007-14 | Comments (12) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS/SCIENCE: Does The Greenhouse Even Work?

Matthew Hoy looks at some new scientific research on whether the causal mechanism ascribed to manmade global warming even works. As is generally true with complex scientific theories about causation, there's no "case closed" moment here, but it's another piece of the puzzle for those who view such things with scientific skepticism rather than religious/political fervor.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:51 PM | Enemies of Science • | Politics 2009 • | Science | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)
March 5, 2009
POLITICS: Foreign Earnings, Continued

A followup here to the post linked here:

If I have profits in Estonia and I re-invest the profits there, the ECTR is 0%.

If I repatriate the profits to the U.S., because there was no corporate tax paid to Estonia to qualify for the "foreign tax credit" I get hit for the full 35% U.S. rate - period.

If the "loophole" of leaving those profits in Estonia (rather than repatriating them) is "closed," I'm getting hit with a 35% "fee" just for being a U.S.-based corporation.

If the "loophole" is closed, the only way to get away from that fee for the "privilege" of being a U.S.-based corporation is simply to take the enterprise itself out of the country - to Bermuda, or the Cayman Islands, or…. Estonia.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:27 PM | Business • | Politics 2009 | Comments (12) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: Brazen Bigots

The place: a city in Texas
The setting: a city council hearing on a local construction project
The chair: the wife of a powerful white Republican Congressman
What happened? Black residents of the city were told to their faces they should leave the hearing. A black labor leader who argued that the project would bring in good jobs was told by the chair, "Those workers look like you; they don't look like me."

I think we all know that if this happened, it would be the end of the political careers of the Congressman and his wife; that the national media storm would swamp all other news for weeks, making the Trent Lott story look puny by comparison; that the GOP's national leadership would be compelled to offer one groveling apology after another; that liberals would raise this as a talking point in discussions of every issue, no matter how unrelated, for the rest of our natural lives.

Yet, that's exactly what happened in Detroit, only the races and parties were reversed:

UPDATE: You can watch video of the hearing here.

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Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:19 AM | Politics 2009 | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: Taking Budget Gimmickry To A New Level

Governmental accounting is always a shady business, for a variety of reasons: the Ponzi-scheme financing of entitlements, the brazen use of "off-budget" expenditures (meaning, literally, money you spend and don't count in the budget), the politicized budget forecasts (Crank's First Rule of Government Financial Forecasts: they are always, always wrong), the assumption that reducing the growth of a program is a "budget cut," the tendency to project years into the unforseeable future and cite those figures as if they are single-year up-front expenses/savings, etc. Certainly Republicans have not been innocent of this sort of trickery over the years; it's inherent in the nature of politics and government. Things that would (and do) get people in the private sector fired, bankrupted or indicted continue year in and year out in Washington.

But even by DC standards, it is unusual to see something so laughably dishonest as the Obama Administration claiming a $1.6 trillion "spending cut" or budget "savings" by not repeating the surge in Iraq - a strategy that was explicitly designed to be temporary, and hah already begun drawing down on account of being successful (something one can never say of, for example, anti-poverty programs) - each of the next ten years. Ace, among others, notes the lost budgetary opportunity for the Bush Administration - hey, we could have claimed trillions in annual savings by not fighting the Nazis and the Soviets each of the last eight years!

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:07 AM | Politics 2009 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS/WAR: Democrats May Live To Regret Instituting Witch-Hunting "Truth Commissions" To Follow Elections

Democrats have a long history of constructing their own petards on which to be later hoisted, due to their inability to consider the consequences of their actions beyond immediate partisan advantage. For a classic example of this process at work, look no further than the current proposal for a banana republic-style "Truth Commission" to conduct show trials of the outgoing Administration for the offenses of (1) acting aggressively to protect national security and then (2) losing an election.

The partisan nature of the enterprise is obvious: proponents are calling for a commission whose mandate is expressly limited to investigating Republicans, and control over which will presumably remain with the Democratic majority in Congress. (Not that a commission witch-hunting national security professionals in Democratic Administrations would be a good thing either, unless your goal is to drive good people from the field and make the ones who remain too timid to take action when the nation's security is at risk).

Thomas Jefferson, the first Democratic president and the first president to take office after a change in partisan control, did not bring up John Adams on charges for having passed the Alien and Sedition Acts; Jefferson simply removed the offending policy and cleared those who had been wrongly convicted. Our history, and our tradition of peaceful transfers of power, might have been very different if Jefferson had handed Adams over to Napoleon on the grounds that Adams had abused civil liberties in the Quasi War with France.

David Rivkin, in his testimony yesterday, pointed out that building such commissions as partisan weapons can in the long run have the same wholly forseeable yet unforseen blowback for Democrats as their creation of the Independent Counsel statute did, and then some:

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Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:06 AM | Politics 2009 • | War 2007-14 | Comments (14) | TrackBack (0)
March 4, 2009
POLITICS/BUSINESS: Obama's Plan To Drive Corporations Out Of the U.S.

I know I link to a lot of pieces by my colleagues at RedState, but this from Skanderbeg (who knows his stuff because he does a lot of business abroad) is really a concise masterpiece explaining the lunacy of Obama's latest plan to jack up taxes on already-battered American businesses. A sample of his explanation of the existing anti-business rules that Obama wants to make worse:

Suppose you are CEO of XYZ Widgets, Inc., an international widget supplier based in the U.S. You have a competitor, ABC Widgets Oy, based in Finland. Both of you sell widgets in the U.S., earn profits, and pay U.S. corporate tax on those profits. Both of you sell widgets in Finland, earn profits, and pay Finnish corporate tax on those profits. So far, so good. However, here things diverge. ABC Widgets Oy can take its remaining after-tax profits from the U.S. and bring them back to home base in Finland to invest in things like increasing widget production - and not face another hit of Finnish corporate tax on that money. In contrast, if you (XYZ Widgets, Inc.) want to repatriate your after-tax profits from Finland back to the U.S. - to invest in things like increasing YOUR production of widgets...well, you have to pay the full (and also too-high) U.S. corporate tax of 35% on those already-taxed-in-Finland profits. You'd probably choose to leave that money outside the U.S. - and, oh, use if for something like investing in increasing your widget production by building a new plant in someplace like Romania.

In the above, replace "Finland" with the name of any other country in the world, and the story is the same. The U.S. is the only country that has this "double-taxation" rule.

There are three possibilities. One, Obama really is this economically ignorant. Two, Obama knows the consequences of his actions and genuinely desires to reduce the presence of large corporations in the U.S. and replace them with government employment. Three, Obama is cynically pandering to his economically ignorant base and, perhaps, hoping that somehow his plan will end up getting scuttled.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:06 AM | Business • | Politics 2009 | Comments (17) | TrackBack (0)
March 3, 2009
POLITICS: Dirt-Digging We Can Believe In

One of the more laughable notions during the campaign was Obama's claim to represent some sort of "new politics"; one of the sillier fictions of the last several years was that Democrats were less prone to dirty tricks and bending the apparatus of government to narrow partisan interests than Republicans. But of course, in any election season there are people eager to lie to themselves and be lied to. Young voters in particular seemed especially, cloyingly eager to swallow this particular nonsense. Worse yet, people like David Brooks (see here and here and here), who in a sane world should have known better, talked themselves into ignoring the warning signs that were written all over Obama's record and career that he's never been anything but a front man for bareknuckles Chicago machine politics that runs on patronage, favor-trading and dirt and never, ever places any value above partisan entrenchment and the enrichment of its supporters.

The saga of Shauna Daly is yet another in a seemingly endless series of proofs of this over the first six weeks of united Democratic governance. In late January, Daly was hired as "White House counsel research director". Daly is 29 and has no experience relevant to the job, having worked for the DNC and a number of Democratic campaigns, including Obama's:

Miss Daly holds no law degree and doesn't list any legal training on her resume.

Her sole experience has been as an opposition researcher for Democratic political campaigns: She helped dig up dirt on rivals, or on her own nominee to prepare for attacks.

Daly apparently got the job through the influence of a man who has made a career of flacking for the Daley machine and, apparently, masterminding leaks of divorce files that crippled Obama's political opponents:

David Axelrod, a senior White House adviser to President Obama, had a hand in bringing Miss Daly to the campaign, and is thought to have been instrumental in bringing her to the White House.

A month later, she was back at the DNC:

Shauna Daly, 29, will be the DNC's research director, returning to the fast-paced realm of bare-knuckles politics that associates said suits her best.

Given that the White House counsel's office deals in privileged legal advice to the president, including on sensitive issues of national security, there are reasons to be concerned that Daly has used her brief tenure in the office for gathering information that was never supposed to be used for partisan purposes:

Daly did not waste her time in an office that had reams of Bush Administration documents related to such things as the firings of U.S. Attorneys, the use and internal debate over the USA PATRIOT Act, FISA, and the Scooter Libby and Karl Rove investigations, among others.

"She saw everything, and who knows what she was able to scan and pull out on data sticks," says a Senate Republican Judiciary Committee staffer. "We'll find out soon enough when we see what the DNC is putting out during [Sen. Patrick] Leahy's 'truth committee' hearings."

+++

"She realized that she could do more with all the material she saw outside of the building than inside, where she'd be bound by the rules and legalities of the White House Counsel's Office. Now she isn't," says a DNC staffer who works in the communications field. "She's good at what she does; her time at the White House means we've got a mother load of material that will have Republicans scrambling. At least that's what we hope."

That view would explain what Daly was doing if she had neither training nor assigned official duties:

Daly, according to White House staff, was often in her office early and one of the last to leave the Old Executive Office Building, which does not jibe with official White House claims that Daly was not doing much in the office, which was one reason for her leaving.

And coincidentally, shortly after her departure, we have Attorney General Holder - a man who was notorious during the Clinton years for subverting things like DOJ's pardon process to narrow partisan ends - dumping previously privileged or classified legal advice on the war on terror into the public domain, wholly without regard to the precedent this sets for the president's future ability to get such advice, and all for short-term partisan advantage.

No, you should not be surprised at any of this.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 1:26 PM | Politics 2009 • | War 2007-14 | Comments (15) | TrackBack (0)
BLOG: Quick Links 3/3/09

*I had a quick piece up at RedState yesterday on Ron Kirk's tax troubles. Kirk is actually not one of the more egregious offenders like Geithner, Daschle or Charlie Rangel, but when you start talking about a third of Obama's appointees, it stops looking like just a coincidence. Maybe Taranto is right that Joe Biden questioned their patriotism.

*I don't think the Lord expends much effort intervening in public policy disputes, but it's kind of hard to avoid wondering if He has a wry sense of humor in tweaking people who think human beings control the weather.

*Ed Morrissey looks at the wholly predictable train wreck that is the Minnesota Senate recount.

*A man punches dog story, sort of. Not a very good idea.

*Of course, Obama wants to vastly increase the federal payroll, with unionized workers who will then be compelled to kick back dues to be donated to the Democratic party. We should be surprised?

*Even venture capital needs federal subsidies?

[M]atch funds for venture capital and angel investments. Venture firms and investors need financial incentives to invest in companies that create U.S. jobs. What if firms with credible histories could receive as much as $100 million in federal matching funds if their investments create jobs in the United States? Investors could keep their normal return plus 50 percent of the returns on the matching funds, while the other half goes back to the government to revitalize further investment. This would give individuals an incentive to double down on investments they would make anyway, but sooner rather than later.

Have we really just been through a credit crisis without learning that people make bad investments when they get too much easy money to play with? And traditionally, the reason to invest in venture capital instead of established companies was the potential for rapid growth and big profits....but of course if you are making it harder for new companies to grow, and easier to take away their profits, then I guess you do end up short on incentives.

*Warner Todd Huston looks at Rahm's message coordination meetings with his old pals Carville, Begala and Stephanopolous.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:54 PM | Blog 2006-14 • | Politics 2009 | Comments (21) | TrackBack (0)
February 27, 2009
POLITICS: Sheriff Lee on Bobby Jindal: "The Day After, Bobby Was In My Office"

Game, set, match:

Olbermann and the lefty blogs: the game is up, we have video of the late Sheriff Lee attesting to then-Congressman Jindal's role during the days following Katrina:

When Hurricane Katrina hit, the day after, Bobby was in my office, saying 'what do you need'...He was hands on...He was there all the time...He got equipment for us...

Time for an apology.

PS - If you read Ben Smith's story earlier, make sure you have caught up with the updates.

PPS - Josh Marshall should consider a little less smug and a few more facts of his own. Marshall now has no leg to stand on; the entire basis of his site's work on this has been eviscerated.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 4:18 PM | Politics 2009 | Comments (31) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: Time For Olbermann To Apologize To Jindal

We have an editorial up at RedState calling for Olbermann to retract and apologize on air for slandering Bobby Jindal.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:08 PM | Politics 2009 | Comments (14) | TrackBack (0)
February 26, 2009
POLITICS: Facts Unchecked

TPM Muckraker, the Washington Monthly, Daily Kos diarists and Keith Olbermann have really gone and stuck their foot in it by falsely accusing Gov. Bobby Jindal of making up his experiences on the ground during Hurricane Katrina without bothering to check with the people who were actually there with Jindal, like the Sheriff of Jefferson Parish. Erick Erickson has the story.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:12 PM | Politics 2009 | Comments (9) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: Deficits and Stimulus

Megan McArdle has some thoughts on the issue, and while I don't necessarily buy all her conclusions, she makes a few points that ought to be obvious. On how we got here:

[The switch from surpluses to deficits] was only about half due to tax cuts or spending; the rest was the popping of the stock market bubble, which both hammered GDP and changed the tax base in ways that made it less lucrative to the government. (Tax revenues in America do best when the very rich are making a whole hell of a lot of money in big whacks, like stock-option vests)

Nor are the current deficits, or the tax increases needed to pay for them, much about George Bush. By 2007, as the chart above shows, budget deficits were at 1.2%, rather average by postwar norms, and low interest rates mean that debt service payments for Bush's spending are not notably onerous. There are Medicare Part D and Iraq, of course, but Iraq is simply dwarfed by the current deficit, and the chief alternative to Medicare Part D was making it more expensive. I was against it, but the Democrats can hardly complain.

It's safe to say that a deficit of 1.2% of GDP is something we will not see again so long as the Democrats are running Congress and the White House. And of course, she makes the basic point that it is not even theoretically possible to favor a stimulus bill and be against budget deficits, given that the entire Keynsian theory behind a stimulus is that it injects more money into the economy, which is literally impossible if the government is paying for the stimulus with tax revenue rather than debt:

Stimulus is not spending; it's deficit. If Bush had delivered a budget in rough balance, Obama would have had to borrow up to the current deficit to get the stimulus he desires. Given that more recent debt is always much more expensive than older debt (that's the magic of inflation, kids!), when taxes are finally raised, they will pay more for spending on Obama's watch than on Bush's.

That's not to blame Obama; recessions are what they are, and if you favor big stimulus, you favor a big deficit.

Of course, the conservative alternative is generally to attack recessions with tax cuts, on the theory that while spending more increases the dollars in circulation, cutting taxes creates ongoing incentives for productive economic activity and thus has effects that go beyond just adding dollars to circulation.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 8:10 PM | Politics 2009 | Comments (13) | TrackBack (0)
February 25, 2009
POLITICS: State of Obama

Ten thoughts on last night's State of the Union speech; I'll stick for now to the domestic-policy parts, as Obama had little enough newsworthy to say about national security and foreign policy (sample of Obama's fresh thinking: "To seek progress towards a secure and lasting peace between Israel and her neighbors, we have appointed an envoy to sustain our effort."):

1. I listened on the radio, tuning in after Obama had already started, and my first thought, honestly, was: hey, that's Rush Limbaugh! Obama's and Limbaugh's voices aren't really that similar, I think it was the cadences, Obama projecting his voice over the room the same way Rush does into the mike, and the tone that brought the counterintuitive parallel to mind.

2. This was a blisteringly partisan speech, more a campaign speech than a SOTU address, making it clear that the archly partisan approach of Obama's first month in office was no accident. The word of the day was "inherited." Of course, all presidents seek to contrast themselves with, and shift blame to, their predecessors, but even so, this was a bit much:

[W]e have lived through an era where too often short-term gains were prized over long-term prosperity; where we failed to look beyond the next payment, the next quarter, or the next election. A surplus became an excuse to transfer wealth to the wealthy instead of an opportunity to invest in our future. (Applause.) Regulations were gutted for the sake of a quick profit at the expense of a healthy market. People bought homes they knew they couldn't afford from banks and lenders who pushed those bad loans anyway. And all the while, critical debates and difficult decisions were put off for some other time on some other day.

Of course, characterizing letting people keep a little more of the money they work to earn as a plot to "transfer wealth to the wealthy" is extremely revealing of Obama's economic mindset; after uttering those words, I think he owes an apology to Joe the Plumber for calling this what it is.

I will predict this now, as I've been saying privately since at least October: by 2012, Obama will still be talking more about Bush than about his own record. Obama's cagey enough to recognize that his economic policies will only drag down any recovery; he's going to keep focusing on rewriting history to shift blame. Then again, that will be easier for him than for Congressional Democrats; Obama can rail about a "trillion-dollar deficit" and "the massive debt we've inherited," but the fact is that the deficit for the last budget passed by a Republican Congress was below $200 billion (1.2% of GDP); Obama has added multiples to that just in the last month. And of course, as I always note, the really important thing is the overall size of government, since that comes out of all of our hides sooner (taxes), later (debt), or usually both. And there's really no mistaking that Obama will greatly expand the size of that. The contest for most baldfaced lie of the night has to be between his assertion that he is pushing the big-government policies he has pushed at every point of his career "Not because I believe in bigger government -- I don't" and his claim about a bill containing vast numbers of district-specific pork-barrel projects that "we passed a recovery plan free of earmarks" (you can call a pig kosher but you can't make it so).

3. Probably the strongest part of the speech was where Obama explained how the credit crisis affects ordinary Americans. Of course, this was nearly the exact same explanation President Bush gave back in September. And this was hilarious:

It's not about helping banks -- it's about helping people. (Applause.) It's not about helping banks; it's about helping people. Because when credit is available again, that young family can finally buy a new home. And then some company will hire workers to build it. And then those workers will have money to spend. And if they can get a loan, too, maybe they'll finally buy that car, or open their own business. Investors will return to the market, and American families will see their retirement secured once more.

A major concession for Obama to admit that the health of companies actually affects ordinary people, but of course it was swiftly discarded as he went back to talking about jacking up taxes on corporations during a recession.

4. Sacred cow watch: Obama somehow managed to discuss the troubles of the U.S. auto industry without mentioning the unions once. That's like discussing Wall Street's problems without mentioning bad loans.

5. Obama's "nobody messes with Joe" line about Biden was presumably intended - as it was taken - as comic relief. Dick Cheney actually had a hard-earned reputation as a man you messed with at your peril; there's nothing in Biden's four decades in Washington to suggest anyone has ever feared to cross him. Obama's saddled himself with a Vice President who is a punchline.

6. Obama's discussion of higher education was strong, but a plan to send everyone to college is absurdly wasteful, especially when - as he noted - many of the people starting college today with federally subsidized loans don't finish. There are still many jobs that don't require any college education and many people ill-suited to such an education who nonetheless have other skills that can make them a good living. The end-product of overextension of federal credit for college, as with overextension of federal credit for housing, tends to be program fraud by fly-by-night providers.

7. Promise I will believe when I see it: "end direct payments to large agribusiness that don't need them". Obama is as good a friend as the ethanol business, for example, has ever had; he did well in places like Iowa and Indiana by specifically breaking with McCain over farm subsidies, especially ethanol. He supported the horrible farm bill. Converts are welcome, but I'd like to see him back that one up and have the stones to stare down massive Congressional opposition.

8. I'll be here all day if I get into Obama's health care and entitlement talk, but a few things are clear: Obama has basically guaranteed that he'll tackle health care this year, and he didn't spend any time last night laying out a plan to do so, suggesting that his campaign proposals will take a backseat, yet again, to what Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid and Max Baucus and Ted Kennedy come up with. His focus on controlling costs while extending more coverage, though, inevitably means rationing care and cracking down on the profit motives of doctors and pharmaceutical companies, with inevitable long-term implications for the supply of physicians and life-saving drugs. And this passage suggests that, despite his slam on delaying problems down the road, that's exactly what Obama will do on entitlements, in stark contrast to Bush's effort to deal with Social Security:

Now, to preserve our long-term fiscal health, we must also address the growing costs in Medicare and Social Security. Comprehensive health care reform is the best way to strengthen Medicare for years to come. And we must also begin a conversation on how to do the same for Social Security, while creating tax-free universal savings accounts for all Americans.

Begin? We've had a debate about Social Security in every election year I can rememeber, we've had more bipartisan commissions and think-tank reports than I can count.

9. Another amusing yet horrifying passage came when Obama suggested we follow China's energy policy (which of course involves massive consumption of coal), then in the next breath announced he'd be proposing carbon emission caps. I hope irony left a will, the funeral will be held shortly.

10. Obama's reading of American history fits neatly in what Jonah Goldberg has described as the literally fascistic tendency to demand the peacetime permanent military-style mobilization of civilian society, the endless search for moral equivalents of war that has been a unifying theme since the days of Woodrow Wilson:

History reminds us that at every moment of economic upheaval and transformation, this nation has responded with bold action and big ideas. In the midst of civil war, we laid railroad tracks from one coast to another that spurred commerce and industry. From the turmoil of the Industrial Revolution came a system of public high schools that prepared our citizens for a new age. In the wake of war and depression, the GI Bill sent a generation to college and created the largest middle class in history. (Applause.) And a twilight struggle for freedom led to a nation of highways, an American on the moon, and an explosion of technology that still shapes our world.

(I'll get some other day into my review of Goldberg's book, which details the history of this sort of thinking in the U.S. and Europe between the rise of Bismarck in Germany and Hillary's "politics of meaning" in much greater detail).

Obama has chosen his course: push a left-wing, big-government, big-spending agenda with little more than rhetorical window-dressing, and then blame Bush when it doesn't work. Last night formalized that plan. We'll see how long he can keep it up.

PS - Dan Spencer lists the factual errors in Obama's speech; unsurprisingly, there are plenty.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:27 AM | Politics 2009 | Comments (43) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS/WAR: Not Even On The Agenda

Uh-oh:

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano avoids mention of terrorism or 9/11 in remarks prepared for her first congressional testimony since taking office, signaling a sharp change in tone from her predecessors.

Napolitano is the first homeland security secretary to drop the term "terror" and "vulnerability" from remarks prepared for delivery to the House Homeland Security Committee, according to a copy obtained by The Associated Press.

Tom Ridge, who headed the agency when it was launched in 2003, mentioned terrorism 11 times in his prepared statement at his debut before the oversight committee in 2003. And in 2005 Michael Chertoff, the second secretary, mentioned terrorism seven times, according to an AP analysis of the prepared testimonies.

Napolitano, a former Arizona governor, instead charts a course in very different terms than Chertoff, who used law enforcement and military jargon - "intelligence," "analysis," "mission" - to describe the agency's objectives.

+++

Napolitano's prepared remarks also show her using the word "attacks" less than her predecessors. She is the first secretary to use a Capitol Hill debut to talk about hurricanes and disasters, a sign of the department's evolving mission following Hurricane Katrina.

Napolitano is not alone in her departure from terror talk.

The chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee doesn't mention terrorism or 9/11 in his prepared remarks for Wednesday's hearing either. Securing the borders, responding to natural disasters, ensuring transportation safety, protecting critical infrastructure and administering grants are the priorities, Mississippi Democrat Bennie Thompson says.

It's all too easy, with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, to blame the somnolence of the Clinton Administration for allowing the terror threat to grow unchecked; the failures of the 1990s, after all, were pervasive, systemic and bipartisan, and they continued in the first nine months of the Bush Administration. But today's Democrats have no such excuse for lapsing back into complacency.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:19 AM | Politics 2009 | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)
February 24, 2009
POLITICS: It Depends Upon What The Meaning Of The Word "Lobbyist" Is

It Depends What The Meaning IsJake Tapper notices that Obama's nominee for US Trade Representative, former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk, worked as a state and local lobbyist in Dallas; Tapper notes that he's at least the fifth lobbyist picked for a significant position in the Obama Administration (and that's before we consider family members like Joe Biden's son or Tom Daschle's wife). Here's the Administration's defense:

"Ron Kirk has never been a registered federal lobbyist," White House spokesman Ben LaBolt told ABC News...."How precisely is it a loophole when we never pledged to bar state lobbyists?" a Democratic official asks.

(Emphasis mine). Hey, isn't that a tune we have heard before?

Read More »


Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:27 AM | Politics 2009 | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)
February 23, 2009
POLITICS: Caricature

Caleb Howe on fear and political cartooning.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:44 PM | Politics 2009 | Comments (8) | TrackBack (0)
February 18, 2009
POLITICS: Sarah Palin's Taxes

Given the battery of problems President Obama's Cabinet nominees and prominent Democrats have had paying their taxes, Democrats are undoubtedly relieved to see that a review by the State of Alaska has concluded that one very prominent Republican - Governor Sarah Palin - also owes the IRS money (H/T). The facts about Palin's taxes, however, are dramatically different from those of Democrats like Tim Geithner, the man who now oversees enforcement of the tax code. Here's why.

The issue raised back in October was whether Gov. Palin should have reported as income the per diem reimbursements she receives for meals and other expenses on days doing state business at her home in Wasilla instead of the governor's mansion in Juneau; as the AP notes, "Juneau, in the Alaska Panhandle 600 miles from Wasilla, is only accessible by airplane or ship." (We looked at the merits of the per diem reimbursements, which were dramatically lower than those collected by her predecessor, back in September). The McCain-Palin campaign responded by producing a legal opinion from tax counsel noting that the State of Alaska has traditionally not treated these reimbursements as income to state employees and has not included them on Forms W-2. Palin followed up by ordering the state Department of Administration to conduct a review of that policy. Unlike the Democrats, so many of whom seem to be playing entirely by rules of their own, the review affects other state employees besides the Governor:

Some other state employees also owe back income taxes for travel payments and will be getting revised tax forms, Annette Kreitzer, state administration commissioner, said in an e-mail.

She wouldn't say which, or how many, employees will be receiving the notifications.

As the Anchorage Daily News report (which also details back taxes owed by newly-elected Democratic U.S. Senator Mark Begich on a car provided to him) notes, Alaska has to deal with a whole separate set of rules for state legislators:

The new determination by administration officials won't affect state lawmakers, said Pam Varni, director of the Legislative Affairs agency.

Under IRS guidelines, legislators receive tax-free payments to help with living expenses while in Juneau for the legislative session -- if their home is at least 50 miles away, Varni said.

The current rate, set by the U.S. Department of Defense, is $189 a day. That goes to everyone except the three Juneau-based legislators, who get smaller payments that are taxed as compensation.

Legislators can also charge the state $150 a day for time spent on state business when the Legislature is not in session, but those payments are taxed as income, Varni said.

Have fun keeping all that straight. One of my longstanding beefs with the picayune complexity of the campaign finance laws is applicable to tax law as well: if you wouldn't want a politician you support getting un-elected or indicted for violating the rules, maybe the rules are just too complicated.

Anyway, Palin's situation, in which her tax preparer reported only the income on her W-2, is rather dramatically different from that of, say, Geithner, who was given a manual by his employer explaining the taxability of his benefits and reimbursement for the taxes, and he still didn't pay them, and paid back less than all the back taxes he owed (only enough to avoid an enforcement action). Here, the state had a mistaken policy that appears to have predated her tenure as Governor, and that affected other people besides her. It's embarrassing, to be sure, but efforts to seize on the story are simply a sign of the Democrats' desperation to divert attention away from the beam in their own eye.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:32 PM | Politics 2009 | Comments (23) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Sources Unfiltered

Via David Pinto, why Peter Gammons didn't press A-Rod harder:

"I realized right away that this was the first surefire, by his performance, Hall-of-Famer to admit this," Gammons said, "and therefore I thought keeping him talking, and getting as much as I could out there, was very important. I really felt my first duty was to get his words onto my employer's network."

I like Gammons, but this is a point I have made before about him and how he is similar to political journalists like Bob Novak and David Broder, and for that matter like Woodward and Bernstein. We all sometimes want to see reporters get adversarial with their subjects the way we lawyers do, to be fearless seekers of the truth...and there is something to be said for that style of journalism, but it's also worth remembering that lawyers get to be lawyers because we can use subpoenas to force people to talk to us. Journalists can't, and unless they have a Tim Russert type national perch, their targets are rarely at their mercy. Gammons represents a different type of reporter, the source-greaser; when Gammons tells you something, he's not telling you what he believes, he's relaying something one of his sources wants you to believe. The upside of that is that this kind of reporter gets a lot more access to powerful people; the downside, of course, is fluff interviews and a lot of disinformation, especially when the identity of the source isn't disclosed. You always have to bear in mind which kind of reporter you are reading.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:38 PM | Baseball 2009 • | Politics 2009 | Comments (9) | TrackBack (0)
BLOG: Quick Links 2/18/09

*Megan McArdle on whether World War II ended the Great Depression. Francis Cianfrocca responds here.

*Michelle Malkin looks at how ACORN plans "civil disobedience" to stop foreclosures, thus prolonging the cycle of bad housing loans.

*Genghis at Ace notes the Democratic Party ties of the latest guy accused by the SEC of a billion-dollar fraud. This should sound familiar.

*The New Republic profiles the Politico's knack for scoops and - what comes with that - penchant for inaccuracy. That said, you can smell the jealousy from the newspapermen quoted here (is Bill Keller really the guy to talk about unsustainable business models?)

*Bill Simmons on Mike D'Antoni's offensive system and its limitations. Somewhere, Paul Westhead smiles.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:23 PM | Basketball • | Blog 2006-14 • | Politics 2009 | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)
February 17, 2009
POLITICS: Quick Links 2/17/09

*Patterico on Roland Burris' changing story on raising money for Blagojevich.

*Moe Lane notes a report about Obama looking for still more ways to rely on staffers, a script and prepared softball questions at his press conferences. Obama may have a lovely voice, but he really is not all that good an extemporaneous speaker and he relies very heavily on other people's prepared texts in ways that are really not all that dissimilar to George W. Bush and sometimes even more egregious. Yet, while Bush was pilloiried as being a moron due to his weak public speaking (and recall the outrage over the obscure Jeff Gannon), everybody lauds how articulate Obama is even when they can't remember a single thing he said. Is Obama, on balance, a better communicator than Bush? Sure he is even despite the vapidity of his pronouncements compared to the blunter Bush. But - I have made thisanalogy before in the comments here - comparing Obama's public speaking to Bush's is like comparing Vince Coleman's baserunning to Mike Piazza's; when that's your only skill, you have to be a lot better than a guy for whom public speaking is his biggest weakness.

*Jay Cost: three cheers for partisanship!

*The NY GOP may not have suffered its last at the hands of Al D'Amato. But David Paterson has problems. Serious ones. And Kirsten Gillibrand may face a tough primary as well.

*Ted Stevens' conviction looks pretty shaky at this point, not that it really matters politically anymore.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:22 PM | Politics 2009 | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
February 16, 2009
POLITICS: Leave Barack Alone!1!1!1!

Mike Lupica had a column this morning weeping bitter tears over his shock and hurt that people are criticizing Barack Obama. Amazing, when you think about it, that the President of the United States should receive criticism. It's such a novel concept.

This was probably the funniest line in the piece:

Once, 100 days was the mythical grace period for a new President. This one doesn't get five minutes. In the process, he finds out that Washington is even lousier and meaner with partisanship than he knew before he got there.

You would almost think, from reading this, that Obama really did just get there. Not that he'd been a United States Senator the last four years (granted, he's been out of town campaigning for half that), doing things like voting against (and voting to filibuster) highly qualified Supreme Court nominees on the basis of ideology. Not that he'd refused to concede even the possibility of good faith on the part of supporters of the Iraq War, giving a speech blaming the war on a cabal of Jews and on political schemes by Karl Rove. To say nothing of the vats of acid spewed by the Angry Left likes of Lupica in recent years. And yet, somehow, they are surprised that politics, as Mr. Dooley remarked more than a century ago, ain't beanbag. Next, someone may even tell them that the world outside our borders is a dangerous place. But when everything in the world is as new to you every year, it is always a surprise.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:18 PM | Politics 2009 | Comments (29) | TrackBack (0)
February 13, 2009
POLITICS: Barack Obama's Gift To Conservatives

President Obama, like many presidents before him, would like to have it both ways: get broad bipartisan support for his domestic agenda without compromising it. Of course, in the real world, politics doesn't work that way - you can charm, cajole, browbeat, bribe and blackmail your way to a handful of votes here and there, but unless (like Reagan) you have a substantial faction of the opposition party that is philosophically closer to you than to your critics, or unless (like FDR and LBJ) you have so many votes you don't need the opposition, you're going to have to give something to get bipartisan support.

And thus far, especially on the colossal pork barrel masquerading as a "stimulus" bill, Obama has made his decision, or perhaps just allowed Congressional liberals to make it for him: it's the Democrats' way or the highway:

As the president, he had told Kyl after the Arizonan raised objections to the notion of a tax credit for people who don't pay income taxes, Obama told Cantor this morning that "on some of these issues we're just going to have ideological differences."

The president added, "I won. So I think on that one, I trump you."

The results thus far have been predictable:

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Posted by Baseball Crank at 2:45 PM | Politics 2009 | Comments (53) | TrackBack (0)
BUSINESS/POLITICS: Man Up, Wall Street

A hilarious column from Michael Lewis that's too good to excerpt. Lewis has the rare gift of two-sided satire, by which he can simultamneously needle both Wall Street's traditional mindset and the fools on Capitol Hill who want to change it. The serious question underlying his Swiftian proposal is whether the big financial firms can regain their health if they have to willingly submit to political micromanagement of all their decisions.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:18 AM | Business • | Politics 2009 | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
February 12, 2009
POLITICS: Cutting Off Our Noses

Megan McArdle on the Democrats' latest folly:

New York City's main industry lies in ruins; its finances are in peril; its housing market is falling. What does the city need? That's right, tougher rent controls!

In times like this, it's easy to believe that if you laid all the economists in the world end to end, they still wouldn't reach a conclusion. But here's one of the things that basically everyone, left to right, agrees on: rent control is the surest way to destroy a city's housing stock short of aerial bombing, and one of the major culprits behind New York's painfully low vacancy rate.

+++

This bill, if it passes the Senate, will represent the third time that New York has reneged on its promises not to control new housing. From what I can tell, it's trying to claw back decontrols of units that were built under laws providing for time-limited stabilization in exchange for tax breaks. Just like the first two times, it's a good bet that New York City will now have a damn hard time getting anyone to build anything except another skybox for rich patrons who do not arouse the sympathy of the New York State legislature. Every time a New Yorker curses their dirty, run-down shoebox of an apartment, they should save an especially juicy oath for Sheldon Silver.

Economics is not their strong suit, to put it mildly.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:40 PM | Politics 2009 | Comments (9) | TrackBack (0)
February 11, 2009
POLITICS: Geaux Bobby Geaux!

The GOP will have its best possible spokesman, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, give the response to President Obama's sort-of State of the Union. This is excellent news. Jindal is the perfect counterpoint to Obama, he's outside DC, and his selection ducks the issue of whether to tab one of the 2012 presidential contenders for the job (I'm sure Jindal's running eventually, but he has to run for re-election in November 2011, which makes a presidential campaign essentially impossible, plus he appears to be committed to staying in Louisiana until he has made a whole lot more progress in reforming the state's famously criminal political culture.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:53 PM | Politics 2009 | Comments (38) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: Tell Me What To Think!

Jon Henke collects some hilarious examples of left-wing bloggers begging Obama to tell them what to do.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:42 PM | Politics 2009 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
February 10, 2009
POLITICS/BUSINESS: The Brink

I've explained here, here, here, here, here, and here, among others, why I grudgingly supported the original Paulson Plan that formed the foundation of TARP and why I have been opposed to its expansion and to all the subsequent bailouts. This post gives a pretty good anecdotal glimpse into why the situation in mid-September 2008 was so uniquely dire compared to the more usual workings of even a fairly severe recession.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:09 PM | Business • | Politics 2009 | Comments (12) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: What If?

What would Major League Baseball look like if it operated like the Democrats' plan for Wall Street?

Posted by Baseball Crank at 8:45 PM | Politics 2009 | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: A-Nother

Ben wrote largely the point I was going to make on A-Rod: he's probably the straw that breaks the camel's back as far as being able to point fingers at individual steroid users rather than just throw your hands up at the culture of the era. Which is, of course, great news for Bonds and McGwire.

To use a political analogy, it was one thing when Douglas Ginsburg could be bounced from his nomination to the Supreme Court (where Judge Ginsburg would have been a fine Justice, BTW) because he smoked pot; it was a political flap but not fatal when Bill Clinton finally admitted smoking pot, but really by the time of Clinton it was more about whether he'd been honest about it, and by then, Clarence Thomas was already on the Supreme Court having admitted to smoking pot. And then, we found out that Newt Gingrich had smoked pot, and Al Gore had smoked pot, and George W. Bush wouldn't even tell us what he'd done, and by 2008 we elected a President who admitted using cocaine and it wasn't even an issue, and there was even serious talk about hiring a guy to run a federal agency who'd been busted for heroin.

And the same defining-deviancy-down dynamic (in Pat Moynihan's words) is at issue here; we're about at the critical mass of MVPs and Cy Young winners with a steroid asterisk next to their names that we don't even notice the asterisk anymore, just as we have stopped even mentally discounting all the records set since the 162 game schedule's arrival in 1961. The story will get more play for a while, since A-Rod is still active, hugely unpopular, plays in the game's biggest media market and was dishonest about it to boot; but we'll probably look back and see that he was the moment when, behind the noise, we stopped really caring who took steroids and who didn't.

UPDATE: Looks like federal prosecutors are not among those who don't care, as they are charging Miguel Tejada with perjury for lying to Congress about steroids.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 1:35 PM | Baseball 2009 • | Politics 2009 | Comments (12) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: Scripted

As you may have noticed - the Guardian did - President Obama used a Teleprompter last night for the prepared remarks he delivered to open his press conference. If memory serves correctly, this is new - at least, I don't believe President Bush ever tried to bring a Teleprompter to a press conference.

This site seems to agree that the arrival of the Teleprompter at press conferences is a new thing. Ann Althouse thinks the placement of the Teleprompters off to the side was distracting; were they trying to hide them?

UPDATE: The reporters' names were on the script too, but not their faces:

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Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:25 AM | Politics 2009 | Comments (7) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: Oh, That Joe!

You know, maybe it is unnecessary to point this out, but had McCain won the election, I'm quite certain he would not have been put constantly in the position of taking this attitude towards the public utterances of his vice president.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:22 AM | Politics 2009 | Comments (12) | TrackBack (0)
February 8, 2009
POLITICS: The Politics of ... Something

Substance.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 8:34 PM | Politics 2009 | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
February 6, 2009
LAW: 11th Circuit Backs Miami-Dade School's Removal of Book About Cuba From School Library

An opinion that was handed down by a divided panel of the 11th Circuit yesterday in American Civil Liberties Union v. Miami-Dade County is bound to be controversial: the court held, among other things (the opinion plus dissent run 177 pages) that a school board in Miami was justified in removing from the bookshelves of a school library a book that painted an unduly rosy picture of life in Cuba. The interesting part of the opinion, rejecting an ACLU challenge, runs from about page 59-104 of the slip opinion in pdf form, if you want to read it yourself. The core of the court's decision was its conclusion that removing a book that was factually inaccurate in failing to depict the reality of life under Castro was not a forbidden exercise of political opinion but a legitimate exercise of a school board's power to take factually false material off the shelves.

It requires no stretch of the imagination to recognize why this holding is a flashpoint; nearly all disputes over subjects ranging from evolution to global warming to Israel and Palestine involve warring camps both of which assert that the other's position is simply factually false and should not be taught to schoolchildren. As I have long argued in the case of media bias, the biggest single issue is deciding which stories have two legitimate sides and which don't. But to state the problem doesn't answer the question of where courts can allow democratically elected school boards to draw the line, or where those boards should draw the line if left free to do so, since the alternative involves the courts tying the hands of the board in decisions about removing books, while giving free rein to political agendas in the decision to buy the books in the first place.

As the majority opinion noted:

The dissenting opinion argues that if a school board's action in removing a book from its own library shelves does not amount to banning a book, then a school board can never ban a book. See Dissenting Op. at 172. So what? Nowhere is it written that a school board must be empowered to ban books. Because a school board has no power to prohibit people from publishing, selling, distributing, or possessing a book, it has no power to ban books.

Slip op. at 93. My own preference, and I think the reading most consistent with the Constitution, would be to get the courts out of the business entirely, but even that doesn't answer the core policy question of how the school boards should decide these kinds of brouhahas.

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