Saturday, January 31, 2009

The normalization of Iraqi democracy? 

Nobody knows how many elections Iraq will need before Iraqis and foreigners decide that its democracy and government are legitimate, but apart from the prominent security this bit of carping from the Associated Press sounds like a typical American election:

Passing through razor-wire cordons and police checkpoints, Iraqi voters Saturday took another step in the nation's quest for stability in provincial elections that were carried off without major violence but tarnished by claims of flaws and threats of challenges.

Even before a single ballot was counted, Iraqi officials were basking in the successes — watching millions of voters wave the purple-tinted fingers that have become symbols of the country's hopes for a workable democracy.

President Barack Obama hailed the elections as significant, peaceful and important steps toward Iraqis taking responsibility for their future.

But election observers and others were examining a growing list of complaints, including claims that hundreds of people — perhaps more — were wrongly omitted from voting lists in areas across Iraq.

"There was huge amount of confusion," said Afram Yakoub, a Belgium-based election monitor who visited polling sites in the Mosul area in northern Iraq. "Names were on the center voter registry but did not appear on the (polling) station registry."

What? Bad record-keeping at the precincts? In an election? Whoever heard of such an outrage?!? Sounds like nothing more or less than the usual SNAFUs.

In fairness, I heard one of the U.N. monitors -- a Scandinavian, I think -- on the radio this afternoon, and he was almost effusive about the smoothness of the election process, which included many more female candidates than in the past.

Perhaps the most reassuring thing about this election was that the security was provided mostly by Iraqis, a major difference from 2005. American soldiers were out and about, but stayed away from polling places by design.

If Iraq actually does emerge with a reasonably strong and legitimate government that turns itself over by something approximately fair and contested elections, will it change the Arab and Muslim world by example, or stand alone to remind us of the limits of American power? Much turns on the answer, including the careers of many a foreign policy expert.

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Is it just me (and, well, Cassandra) who thinks that there is something wrong with wanting monetary "compensation" for having one's life saved?

Many US Airways (LCC) passengers who endured a crash landing in the Hudson River 12 days ago say they appreciate the $5,000 that the airline has offered — but some say it's not enough.

Joe Hart, a salesman from Charlotte who suffered a bloody nose and bruises, says he "would like to be made whole for the incident."

It's too soon after the accident to determine what emotional distress he has suffered, he says.

Of course, Joe Hart will then need to make me "whole" for the as yet undetermined "emotional distress" that I will suffer if he gets one goddamned red cent more than the other passengers because he "determines" that he cannot manage his own farookin' neurotransmitters. Talk to your priest, cry on your wife's shoulder, confer with a shrink, pop some SSRIs, get a massage, or live on the stories you will be able to tell for the rest of your life. Any or all of that is preferable to wanting money to make you "whole" for your imagined pain. You lived, fer Chrissakes, through the skill of US Airways' pilot, which is a pretty damned good deal under the circumstances. You are obviously so ungrateful to man and God that no amount of money can make you "whole" in any respect that matters.

What are we coming to when the "Joe Harts" of this world are not only looking to cash in from a near miss, but are not even ashamed to say so for attribution by a national newspaper? How humiliating, yet he does not even see it. The whole thing makes me sad and angry.

MORE: Rachel Lucas sees it my way, only she's more pissed off about it.

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George Hussein Obama 

On the one hand, if I lived in a Nairobi slum I would smoke pot, at the very least. You need something serious to take the edge off of that kind of misery.

On the other hand, however, it is curious that President Obama has not apparently helped his close Kenyan relatives. In a place like Kenya, a few hundred bucks a month could make a big difference to the whole family. Even if he does not feel any particular obligation to these people he barely knows, you'd think that the return in public relations among the "family is family" voters would make it more than worthwhile.

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Pajamas Media and the demise of blog network advertising 

Pajamas Media has notified its participating blogs (we are not, actually, one of them, but only because I did not want to sign up for the indemnification provisions in their contract) that it will no longer be placing ads. There was no explanation in the letter posted at Protein Wisdom, but Glenn Reynolds says that ad-network model is not working.

That's too bad. The original premise, which I thought was smart, was that there was a pricing gap between blog advertisements and those on other media sites. Studies showed that blog readers were wealthier and more robust consumers than the general internet audience, yet blog advertising rates (controlling for audience) were much lower than those prevailing on mainstream media sites. Roger Simon's idea, if I understand it, was that this disparity exists because blogs are too fragmented and too small to negotiate well. The promise of Pajamas Media was that it would act, in effect, as a collective bargaining agent for its network of blogs. Media buyers could reach hundreds of thousands of affluent readers by dealing with one player, which would then distribute those ads over hundreds of blogs simultaneously. According to this thinking, Pajamas Media would deliver value to media buyers by making it possible for them to reach blog audiences easily, and to bloggers by improving their bargaining position and thereby their rates. Alas, like many intuitively sensible business ideas, this one has run aground on the rocky shoals of reality. The question is, why?

There are probably a number of reasons, but the main one -- the decline of conventional internet advertising -- overwhelms the otherwise reasonable premise behind Pajamas Media.

Conventional internet advertising is generally down. Mainstream media sites have seen a huge surge in traffic in the last few years, but a decline in online revenue. Suffice it to say that this is very bad news for the big news organizations, which were hoping that online business would grow quickly enough to sustain their newsgathering operations. It is also bad news for people who want to sell ads on blogs, because it means that they are competing with a very hungry mainstream media.

What accounts for the decline in conventional online advertising? I am no expert, but it seems to me there are at least three likely causes. First, we have been in a recession, and advertising, with its unclear rate of return, is easy to cut. I am very familiar with the budgeting process at one brilliantly run company, and it has cut its advertising budget to the bone.

Second, I am told that web site banner advertising suffers, in a sense, from too much transparency. Media buyers know what they pay "per click through" and per dollar of directly attributable revenue, and therefore tend to value banner advertising according to these concrete metrics. Ironically, that puts internet banner advertising at a great disadvantage to print and broadcast advertising, the value of both of which are much more difficult to measure. Corporate budgeteers can measure a superficially accurate rate of return for internet banner ads but cannot for television, so if the former is too low they kill it before they ax the thing they cannot measure. There is an obvious problem with this thinking -- the banner ads get no credit for "building the brand" through impressions, which is in principle one of their great benefits -- but nobody ever said that corporate bean-counting cannot drive stupid thinking.

Finally, the quantitative mentality is driving internet advertising dollars from banners to search engines, particularly Google. Search-driven ads may or may not do as much as banners to drive brand identity, but they seem to do a better job of driving measurable sales. In tough economic times especially, sales today are more important than brand awareness some day.

In a final bit of irony, the sames trends that are doing in the major newspapers are threatening independent "professional" bloggers, at least some of whom have delighted in that industry's troubles. It turns out that one's ability to monetize the intertubes may not depend entirely on the character of one's content.

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Friday, January 30, 2009

Tom Daschle's tax fraud 

I'm blogging from the bar at the Lowe's Regency at 61st and Park, very much enjoying myself while waiting for the TH Daughter to emerge from a party up the street. All very slick, nearly as I can tell. The TH Daughter has figured out how to move in much tonier circles than I do.

Anyway, Glenn Reynolds calls our attention to the tax deadbeat of the week, Tom Daschle. Daschle, we belatedly learn, failed to pay more than $100,000 in taxes due on car services received from a client until it became clear that he would have to get through a Senate confirmation hearing.

After being defeated in his 2004 re-election campaign to the Senate, Daschle in 2005 became a consultant and chairman of the Executive Advisory Board at InterMedia Advisors.

Based in New York City, InterMedia Advisors is a private equity firm founded in part by longtime Daschle friend and Democratic fundraiserLeo Hindery, the former president of the YES network (the Yankees' and Devils' broadcast network).

That same year he began his professional relationship with InterMedia 2005, Daschle began using the services of Hindery's car and driver.

The Cadillac and driver were never part of Daschle's official compensation package at InterMedia but Mr. Daschle -- who as Senate majority leader enjoyed the use of a car and driver at taxpayer expense -- didn't declare their services on his income taxes, as tax laws require.

Because I've had a couple of beers I'm going to split some hairs and say that Daschle's malfeasance is quite a bit dirtier than mere "nanny tax" evasion. Yeah, yeah, there is no excuse for not paying all the taxes for your domestic help (we in the TH household have always been neurotic on the point), but there are considerations other than greed that influence nanny-tax avoidance. First, a lot of excellent domestic workers will not work on the books, and not simply because they fear the INS. You can say that's tough darts, and it is, but the decision is often in the hands of one's spouse. What do you do if your wife insists you hire Maria Poppins, and she will only do the job off the books? Second, it certainly used to be the case that the nanny taxes were very challenging from a bureaucratic perspective, particularly at the state level. I remember Mrs. TH having to borrow a typewriter back in the day because either Illinois or New Jersey, I cannot remember which, required that the return be filed on a state-supplied three-part form that had to be typed. I seem to recall a lot of gnashing of teeth, and perhaps even a few bad words. (Yes, we did our own taxes until just a few years ago -- it is the only way you can really understand how they are nailing you.)

Contrast that to Daschle's freebie car and driver. First, there is no theory that his wife insisted that Daschle be chauffered around. Second, there is no ambiguity in the law, or no theory that he did not know that he owed the money. It is obviously an in-kind payment for services. Of course he knew he owed the taxes. Finally, there is no tedious extra bureaucratic obstacle to paying this tax. You just drop a number right on to the 1040. You know, that document that you signed under penalty of perjury. Yep, you got it. Mistakes are obvious and when it comes to the tax laws I am more than sympathetic to people who make them, but it is very hard for me to believe that this was one. Genuinely intentional misstatements on a tax return usually require penance more onorous than mere restitution.

MORE: Via Mr. Minuteman, TaxProf points out, at least by implication, that Daschle's "mistakes" are more difficult to explain than even my post suggests.

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Because it is Friday afternoon... 

...you deserve the "best" Super Bowl ads from years past.

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Targeted growth 

This is a fairly cool flash movie that depicts the evolution of Target from a single store in Minneapolis in 1962 to the retailing giant that it is today. To me, the growth of a great business is a fascinating and beautiful thing to behold.

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A pat on the back for W 

George W. Bush probably does not need a pat on the back, but almost certainly would appreciate one, having given so many to others during a very difficult eight years. If you agree, go sign the thank you note.

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Another sign that we are losing all that is precious 

You know the bad guys are winning when you cannot ride a horse in a snowstorm after a couple of pints without being arrested on some trumped up "safety" issue. I like to think that would be possible in Sarah Palin's America.

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Thursday, January 29, 2009

PETA's banned pro vegetables ad 

I thought it important to supply you with PETA's rejected Super Bowl ad in support of vegetarianism, not because I support that organization or its objectives, but because...

...what was I saying?

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Bottom story of the day 

"Study: Violence, sex permeates NFL ads".

Common Sense Media, which provides ratings and reviews of TV shows, movies and video games to parents, released the results Thursday. CSM said its staff watched 50 NFL games this season and logged more than 5,000 commercials.

Among its findings:

- 40 percent of games showed ads for erectile dysfunction drugs.

- 46.5 percent of the sexual or violent advertisements were promotions by the broadcast networks for their own programs.

- Almost 500 of the ads showed an increased form of violence, including murders, explosions and gunfights.

Scholarship can be so grueling sometimes.

The first two bullets make sense to me. The third only rings true if it includes ads for video games, which ought not really count as "murders, explosions and gunfights" because they are, well, totally unrealistic animation.

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Early warning system 

With all this talk of "smart grids" and the like, I can't help thinking that this kind of early warning system might be another productive use for stimulus funds.

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The Field Negro is conducting an important survey. It makes me feel inadequate.

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Snarky Congressional press release of the month 

If Congressman John Carter ever wants to do something else, there is reason to believe he has an excellent future as a snarky right-wing blogger.

All U.S. taxpayers would enjoy the same immunity from IRS penalties and interest as House Ways and Means Chairman Charles Rangel (D-NY) and Obama Administration Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, if a bill introduced today by Congressman John Carter (R-TX) becomes law.

Carter, a former longtime Texas judge, today introduced the Rangel Rule Act of 2009, HR 735, which would prohibit the Internal Revenue Service from charging penalties and interest on back taxes against U.S. citizens. Under the proposed law, any taxpayer who wrote “Rangel Rule” on their return when paying back taxes would be immune from penalties and interest.

Pretty good stunt, and definitely on the side of hope and change.

CWCID: Glenn Reynolds.

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A hearse and a horse for the heroes 

This is a nice story that at least feels like it would be only in America:

Lorraine Melgosa hasn't developed the thick skin of someone who works with the bereaved. She almost always cries at funerals.

On a crisp morning in this northwestern Nebraska town, her tears began when pallbearers slid the flag-draped coffin of Marine Cpl. Adrian Robles into Melgosa's 19th century horse-drawn hearse.

She helped Robles' parents into the seat at the front of the carriage and stepped to the head of the mare harnessed to it. Taking the horse's reins, Melgosa urged her forward and into the graveyard. Mourners walked slowly behind in a parade of black, lending a timeless dignity to an already solemn affair, the funeral procession of a 21-year-old Marine.

Melgosa has brought that quality to at least 20 military funerals across three states. Her black wooden horse-drawn carriage, with glass siding to display the coffin, offers a fitting tribute to fallen troops, said one officer who has worked with Melgosa.

"Presidents who have passed away have been taken to cemeteries in horse-drawn carriages," said Navy Chief Petty Officer Kip Poggemeyer. "It's the way all military funerals should be. If I were ever to be killed in combat, that's what I'd want."

Melgosa sees it as her duty to honor those who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"Whatever gift you can give to these soldiers and their families, you should give," Melgosa said. "It's the least you can do to try to honor them."

Read it all.

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41 and 42, the stand-up routine 

George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton are getting some laughs at the expense of, well, an angry ugly woman. I hope Bush 43 can find a way to have this much fun in retirement.

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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Gaffes and not-gaffes 

Daniel Drezner and Henry Farrell (of lefty brain blog Crooked Timber) discuss the first week of the Obama administration's foreign policy on Blogging Heads. The question, I suppose, is the extent to which we value the new relationship with India developed with great effort during the Bush years, and whether it really matters if a "traditional ally" sticks its thumb in our eye.

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I find myself applauding Barack Obama twice in one day. First, he mocks schools for closing on the first snowflake. Now, he's inviting Republicans to a cocktail party! Not only is this an excellent way to get concessions from Republicans -- at least the Republicans I know -- but hard times call for strong measures (pun intended). After all, we repealed Prohibition during the Great Depression for a reason!

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There is at least one non-stimulative program in the stimulus package that I support, and that is the reconstruction of the electrical grid. Long story short, there is a staggering amount of energy wasted because our grid is old, and a national program to rebuild it to the latest standards would save a lot of power and make it possible to move power longer distances. Both objectives make sense, whether your motives are to save the ice caps or defund the jihadis. That said, this is spot on:

A smart grid would be a good thing nevertheless for the purposes of conserving electricity by allowing for variable pricing, amongst other things. The utilities would probably build it themselves if they were allowed to, but such obstacles as environmental opposition to new lines and regulations that forbid smart prices get in the way. So government has to do it.

In fact, it seems that the model we are following is this one: government and lobbyists use regulation and innovation to stop the market from innovating; government and lobbyists perceive need for that market innovation; government pays market to implement innovation by paying costs of regulation and litigation from taxpayer funds; government and lobbyists finally say the market has failed and only government can provide genuine progress.


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Question of the day 

Good question: "Do the former 'dissent is patriotic' liberals realize their hypocrisy regarding Limbaugh?" Take the poll!

Lest any of you newbies think otherwise, I have only heard Rush Limbaugh on the radio once, and when I see clips of him on Fox occasionally I am not motivated to hear more of him. But my superficial opinion of Mr. Limbaugh has to do with taste, rather than the fact of his dissent.

MORE: A timely illustration to accompany the foregoing.

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The Dr. Housing Bubble Blog celebrates its 100th "Real Home of Genius."

Something tells me there will be plenty more.

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Snow daze: In which I agree with Barack Obama 

I have to say, I stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our president on this subject:

After his daughters got a snow day Wednesday, President Barack Obama wants to see a little bit of "flinty, Chicago toughness" applied locally.

"When it comes to the weather, folks in Washington don't seem to be able to handle things," a joking Obama told reporters Wednesday morning.

"My children's school was canceled today because of what? Some ice."

Obama said his daughters -- Malia, 10, and Sasha, 7 -- pointed out that school in Chicago is never canceled.

"In fact, my 7-year-old pointed out that you'd go out for recess. You wouldn't even stay indoors," Obama says.

Bravo! Schools in New Jersey cancel classes if the relevant bureaucrat spots a slushball when he peers out his front door. This morning we had two inches of melting snow on the road and schools all over the state closed. What a joke. I'd bet my bottom dollar that virtually all of those administrators, staff, and, yes, teachers are not in the least bit concerned about driving on their day off at taxpayer expense. And the impact is not merely that the kids lose a day of "learning." School closures screw up every business that employs parents of children who will now be at home for the day instead of in class. So thank you, President Obama, for calling these bureaucrats exactly what they are: wussies.

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Public service announcement 

Because I am always looking after you, our readers, it is my bounden duty to connect you to Amazon's 10 "big deals" in electronics.

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Economists against the stimulus 

The Cato Institute has managed to find a pretty long list of economists (pdf) willing to put their names to a full-page ad in the New York Times and presumably other papers denouncing the stimulus bill. Well, somebody needs to make the point.

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Having been a target of commercial opportunity during its entire sentient existence, the Baby Boomer generation's lasting legacy may well be to have been the first American generation to have consumed more, or at least as much, as it has produced. (Of course, it is impossible to calculate the precise economic production of a "generation" or its consumption, but it certainly looks as though the net savings of the group born between 1945 and 1965 were far smaller than is necessary to retire from paid work long before the recession we are enjoying now.) Our general unwillingness to save as individuals or a political constituency has led to a massive indebtedness that will have to repaid, either by actual repayment or debasement of the currency, over the next generation. Either way, we will have done great damage to the standard of living of younger Americans, including those not yet born. If generations actually had their own moral legacy, we Boomers would be the dependent loser -- the one kid who could never hold a job and never save a nickel and was always asking for a "loan" -- of the American family. If we had a generational sense of duty (which we do not, obviously), we would realize that we need to surrender the long-tail entitlement benefits that bear down on the American economy. My thoughts on that subject are here.

MORE: The Financial Times has an interesting article about American debt and how it might be liquidated, with this rather compelling graphic:

Let us start with some facts. The ratio of US public and private debt to gross domestic product reached 358 per cent in the third quarter of 2008. This was much the highest in US history (see charts). The previous peak of 300 per cent was reached in 1933, during the Great Depression.

Nearly all of this debt is private. That reached an all-time high of 294 per cent of GDP in 2007, a rise of 105 percentage points over the previous decade. (bold emphasis added)

Of course, neither the graphs nor the article directly address generational culpability, but there is no denying the overhang. Again, short of an unexpected quantum leap in economic growth in the United States, the question is unavoidably one of generational equity: Who should bear the burden of paying all of this back? People who are roughly 45-65 today (loosely, my generation), or people who are younger? Justice requires that the Boomers, who for better and for worse are the deciders in today's economic and political establishment, ought to bear most of the burden in their own standard of living rather than passing it off to our children and grandchildren.

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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

James Hansen's former boss cannot take it any more 

Most righty bloghounds know James Hansen as the NASA scientist and advisor to Al Gore who has been escalating the threat of anthropogenic global warming for more than twenty years, and who accused the Bush administration of "muzzling" him (notwithstanding the many hundreds of media interviews he has given while on the job). Well, at least one of his former supervisors, Dr. John S. Theon, has gone public as an AGW "skeptic", said that Hansen was not muzzled, and criticized Hansen's impact on the agency's reputation. We are, of course, quietly and patiently waiting for press coverage to match the stories that came out when Hansen claimed he had been gagged.

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Snow cover 

Here's a graphic map of the snow cover over the United States earlier today. The color gradients represent "snow water equivalent," a measure of the amount of water that would be discharged on the melting of the snow.

Map of "snow water equivalent" on Jan 27

Check out various animated version of the map at the National Weather Service's Snow Analyses page.

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Bending, not sifting 


New, Transparent WhiteHouse.gov Forgoes Press Briefing Transcripts? The obvious explanation: Bush wanted transcripts online because he expected the press to filter what he said. Obama doesn’t want transcripts online . . . because he expects the press to filter what he says.

I think the press is more a prism than a filter. It always bends the light; the variable is the direction.

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The Ox 

Based on these awesome pictures, I think it is safe to say that the Chinese know how to celebrate their new year. Frankly, it looks a lot more fun than our version.

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Obama triangulates: Contraception out 

After a news cycle of humiliation for the San Francisco Democrat, the contraception subsidy is out of the stimulus bill because Barack Obama says it is. That tells us three things. First, that the Obama administration is really smart and flexible and will not hurt itself to bail out even the Speaker of the House on an issue important to "progressives." Second, that President Obama understands that social conservatives are something of a sleeping dragon that he does not want to wake up. And, finally, that the GOP can make itself understood with targeted criticism and ridicule of specific spending, which regular readers know is my favorite strategy for Republicans to rebuild their shattered credibility.

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Nomenclature: "Green" states and "brown" 

English loses its meaning when Iowa, one of the most verdant states in the country, is a "brown" state and New Jersey, long synonymous with oil refineries, Superfund sites, and suburban sprawl that consumes massive amounts of energy, is "green," yet those are the terms assigned by the New York Times because the Hawkeye State generates 78% of its electricity from coal and the, er, Garden State uses coal for 18% (most of the rest is nuclear and natural gas).

The linked article describes a fault line within the Democratic Party between the coastal liberals who dominate the Obama administration's energized environmental team, dedicated to greenhouse gas regulation, and the old school donks from the manufacturing heartland, which is very dependant on coal. The latter suspect -- heck, they know -- that they will bear the brunt of the increased costs of the "cap and trade" scheme that will probably come out of Congress this year, and are none too happy about it.

Now, as a landowner in the Adirondacks who can no longer eat the fish because of mercury from coal burned in Ohio, I'm all for moving electricity generation from coal to other sources (especially in places west of the Adirondacks). It does seem to me, though, that any scheme that proposes to hammer on coal without providing a cost-effective substitute and a reasonable amount of time to adjust, which will almost certainly require a subsidy from outside the industrial midwest and political patience from the climate activists, is going to run into a lot of political trouble. The question, it seems to me, is whether the coastal "greens" be willing to subsidize the heartland "browns" and agree to a long transitional schedule in order to get rid of coal? If not, the Republicans will pick up a lot of midwestern seats in 2010.

And referring to midwesterners as "browns" is not going to help.

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Monday, January 26, 2009

Pwnage of the #1 liberal media dude 

If a brutal cutting of Paul Krugman -- the Forbes Magazine #1 most influential liberal media dude! -- will strengthen your ch'i, or whatever, read Maguire.

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The end of "T-Shirt Hell" 

There is more than one reason to shut down a successful business. I do not believe that I have seen this one before (warning: bad words).

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Correcting The Factor 

Reluctant as I am to correct Bill O'Reilly (he could crush me like a bug in so many ways), since I occasionally wear "Factor" logo attire I feel the need to point out when Bill is wrong. Not two minutes ago he said that, in addition to Rod Blagojevich, "the other three Illinois governors who went to jail were Democrats." Er, no. George Ryan is a Republican.

MORE: Somebody bleeped into O'Reilly's ear doinker, and he self-corrected after the commercial break. I'm a bit surprised he missed it on the first attempt, though.

BONUS!: This week's O'Quiz is so easy that even I was able to score 8 out of 10. Take the quiz and post your score in the comments even if I pwned you.

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A TigerHawk poll: Would more children help the economy, or hurt it? 

Do children help the economy, or hurt it? This question is specifically germane to the debate over the stimulus package (insofar as Nancy Pelosi argues that children are a "cost" that are, presumably, counterstimulative), but it also bears on a more challenging question: Would the United States and its economy benefit over the short, medium, and long term from a faster rate of population growth, or a slower rate? Let's take a poll! (Please consider the question below independently of the means by which we would increase or decrease the rate of population growth. We will tackle that knotty question in a different post.)

Would the United States economy benefit from a faster rate of population growth, or a slower rate?
A faster rate.
A slower rate.
Depends on the time period you are analyzing.
The current rate of population growth is optimal for economic growth.
The rate of population growth is essentially irrelevant.
Free polls from Pollhost.com

Please elaborate in the comments, particularly if you answered that it depends on the time period under consideration.

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A short note on Europe's economy 

The media and Europeans have tended to blame America for the world financial and economic crisis -- I saw Tom Friedman do it just this weekend -- but the story is more complicated than that. Europe is a mess. From the Strafor weekly "guidance" letter (sub. req.):

Banks are snapping like matchsticks in Europe, and protests are starting to erupt with Chinese-like regularity. The recession is hitting Europe far, far harder than it has hit the United States, and more and more damage is being uncovered every week. This past week pundits began to openly suggest that major states might default on debt or withdraw from the eurozone. We don’t see things as that bad (yet), but the point is that this is the first period of real economic stress that Europe has experienced since the euro was formed 10 years ago. This is Europe’s time of testing. Things will break; it is just a question of whether they will break so badly they cannot be mended.

Combine that with a declining and aging population and no real leverage over Russia and other powers on its periphery, and you have to wonder when Europeans are going to get worried enough to change what they are doing in some fundamental sense. History teaches that European turmoil is not something to wish for, but that does not mean that we ought to ignore the possibility of it.

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The article to read this morning: How the law makes us powerless 

Philip K. Howard's column this morning on the many ways in which the law strips us of the power to help ourselves, and its applicability to the current crisis, is the must-read article of the day. He does not mention Bush-era corporate governance regulation, but the same point applies: In the name of guarding against a relatively rare event, we have destroyed the psychology of the people who need to decide and act every day to build our economy, our civil society, and our country.

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Hope me! 

This is what I would look like if I were just elected president...

Hope me!

Make your own here. You know, for the amusement of your family and friends.

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Sunday, January 25, 2009

Forbes: The 25 "most influential" liberals in media 

Forbes Magazine has compiled a list of the 25 "most influential" liberals in media. I'm not sure that I agree with the order and am puzzled by the inclusion of Christopher Hitchens, but the presence of the smart and fair Ezra Klein validates the exercise.

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The West Wing "on steroids" 

Barack Obama is centralizing power in the White House as, allegedly, no modern president before him has done:

President Barack Obama is taking far-reaching steps to centralize decision-making inside the White House, surrounding himself with influential counselors, overseas envoys and policy "czars" that shift power from traditional Cabinet posts.

Not even a week has passed since he was sworn in, but already Obama is moving to create perhaps the most powerful staff in modern history – a sort of West Wing on steroids that places no less than a half-dozen of his top initiatives into the hands of advisers outside the Cabinet.

Something tells me that a strong president and unitary executive are suddenly going to become fashionable. Hillary Clinton must be appalled, but checks and balances are so 2008.

CWCID: Glenn Reynolds.

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All in the family 

The Booth family, it turns out, also had it in mind to murder Andrew Jackson. Jackson, too, had stood up for the Union during the "nullification" crisis, thirty years before the Civil War.

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Stam's stems 

Indiana's Katie Stam was crowned Miss America last night. I watched the latest episode of Battlestar Galactica and read a book instead, but that does not mean that Stam is not newsworthy!


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Public service announcement 

It is Oscar season, and I would be doing you a great disservice if I failed to link to Amazon's massive 50% discount on all movies that won the Academy Award in prior years. It is worth clicking through just to see the list.

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I was flabbergasted -- yes, that's the word -- to see this cartoon by Chip Bok (of the Akron Beacon-Journal) in the Grey Crone's "Week and Review" section this morning.

Jihad Miranda

If you did not check in here on Saturday, my most recent bleatings on this subject are here.

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Being a cop at Yale... 

...is such a solitary job.

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Saturday, January 24, 2009

Snow falls in the Emirates, for the second time in history 

Snow fell yesterday in the United Arab Emirates for the second time in history:

Snow covered the Jebel Jais area for only the second time in recorded history yesterday.

So rare was the event that one lifelong resident said the local dialect had no word for it.

According to the RAK Government, temperatures on Jebel Jais dropped to -3°C on Friday night. On Saturday, the area had reached 1°C.

Major Saeed Rashid al Yamahi, a helicopter pilot and the manager of the Air Wing of RAK Police, said the snow covered an area of five kilometres and was 10cm deep.

They told me that if Barack Obama were elected he would miraculously solve the problem of anthropogenic global warming, and they were right!

CWCID: Anthony Watts.

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The diplomacy/Hellfire balance 

New diplomacy, Hellfires from a drone, whatever.

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Transparency is as transparency does 

Occasional TigerHawk guest-blogger Cassandra, pitching in at the Right Wing News weekend gig, examines the decidedly untransparent policies that the Obama White House is imposing on the White House press corps with nary a peep of objection. It will be interesting to see how long the press puts up with that. I expect that they will start to object somewhere between four and eight years from now.

She also has some very good advice for conservatives:

Are we truly men and women of principle, or are we merely shameless partisans who will use each misstep, each minor fumble as a "gotcha" moment? Do we want this country to succeed? If so, we ought to give this President a fair chance, oppose him on matters of principle but fairly and without personal rancor. Adhering to our own highest ethical standards is not only the right thing to do, but ensures that when we take him to task for violating his own standards, we are not guilty of hypocrisy.

That ought to matter to us as conservatives. I hope it always will.


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John and Ted and Caroline 

In the middle of Evan Thomas' insidery campaign book, A Long Time Coming, there is a section on early conflict between John McCain and Barack Obama in the Senate, even before Obama was openly running for president. I thought this bit was interesting for more than one reason:

Obama further aliented McCain on the immigration issue. McCain took great political risks on immigration, defying the GOP faithful who wanted to build a wall across the Mexican border and arrest and detain illegal immigrants. Working with Ted Kennedy and a bipartisan group, McCain came up with compromise legislation to create a guest-worker program. Obama asked to join the group. The senators agreed to hang together to vote against amendments from both the right and the left. Some very conservative senators honored the agreement, voting against conservative amendments -- but Obama did not, voting in favor of a number of liberal amendments. After one meeting, Kennedy chewed Obama out for his fickleness. (Months later, asked by a colleague why he had endorsed Obama for president, Kennedy gave a one-word answer: "Caroline.")

Without reading too much into this anecdote, on immigration, at least, Barack Obama took care of his base and John McCain did not, and his base included Caroline Kennedy. She must indeed be a little bitter about now.

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Shopping at the shrine 

Ann Althouse was in a Borders in Madison yesterday evening at precisely the same time that we were in the Barnes & Noble in Princeton. Professor Althouse documents that her Borders was essentially a shrine to Barack Obama, yet curiously deserted at a time when it ought to have been otherwise. For what it is worth, the same was not true in Princeton last night. Yes, there was the same shrine -- I did not know that pictures would be valuable, so I cannot prove it, but trust me -- but the place was packed. Mrs. TH and I had an hour to kill waiting for the TH Daughter to emerge from a flick, and the only chairs we could find were at a table occupied by an unshaven, hunted looking lad who was leafing through books about sexually transmitted disease. Point is, college town to college town, I'm not sure there is a discernable trend.

CWCID: Glenn Reynolds.

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If closing Gitmo is so hard, did we need it in the first place? 

In the last week or so there have been a spate of stories about the difficulty of closing Gitmo. Recognizing that the Bush administration long ago dealt with the "easy" cases (having released more than two dozen prisoners that took up arms against the United States all over again, and hundreds more to their home countries), what are we to do with the remaining group? They can be returned to their home countries, but only if they will not be "mistreated." Well, most of these people come from countries that almost certain will mistreat them. They can be prosecuted as criminals, but in most cases there is not sufficient evidence to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Why not? Because the United States Marines do not go into combat with a CSI unit and are unschooled in the Federal Rules of Evidence. If not convicted (whether or not tried), they can be released into the general population of the United States. Not a big vote-getter, even on the Washington Mall on the morning of January 20. Finally, they can be detained indefinitely without trial, which is exactly the thing that supposedly enrages people about Gitmo.

It turns out that the desire to close Gitmo does not magically give rise to a better alternative than Gitmo. The authors of these stories, virtually all of whom are sympathetic with the Obama administration, inevitably leave their readers dangling. Matthew Waxman, at Foreign Policy's "The Argument" blog:

Any closure plan will entail risks and difficult trade-offs. The new administration should not hurry to adopt new detention schemes that lack the established features and protections of American criminal trials. But nor should it rule out legal tools that might durably protect both liberty and security within constitutional and international legal bounds. Either way, the thorny problems of detaining and interrogating terrorism suspects picked up in lawless regions or amid covert intelligence operations will persist long after the 250 remaining Guantánamo cases are resolved. Obama may close Guantánamo, but the complex legal and policy challenges that led to its creation are not going away anytime soon.

Waxman, who is a law professor, proposes no practical solution to the immediate problem of closing Gitmo and no prescription for the future. None of the articles do. Waxman chickens out because he is reluctant to say that Gitmo and the alleged secret prisons might have been the least-bad alternative. If, after all, there is no place to detain "suspects picked up in lawless regions or amid covert intelligence operations" we will put our soldiers and operatives into an impossible situation: Release the prisoner and bear the responsibility for everybody that terrorist subsequently murders, or execute the prisoner without any process (as many soldiers in less lawful times and places have done without much worrying about it). Compared to those alternatives, Gitmo is humane by comparison.

Here is another way of thinking about the problem: Gitmo and the other "war on terror" prisons relieved our soldiers from having to make the morally impossible choice between releasing prisoners who might well kill again or executing them. In so doing, we created the new merely difficult choice faced first by George W. Bush and now by Barack H. Obama.

Why are we so afraid to acknowledge that, in general, these prisons were less bad than the alternatives? One reason is that to do so would be to concede that one of the least popular decisions of the Bush administration was, on reflection, correct. Another is that it exposes a massive defect in contemporary international law, which "progressives" of a certain bent have elevated to totemic significance. Either way, critics of Gitmo and the other secret prisons need to explain exactly what they would have done differently and how they would handle such prisoners in the future. Anything less is just more partisan bashing of Bush and his foreign policy.

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Patriotism is the new dissent 

Oh the irony. I guess creepy is OK depending on the message.

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The book to read 

Last night, while waiting in the Market Fair Barnes & Noble for the TH Daughter to emerge from the movies, I finished Amity Shlaes' outstanding book, The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression. It really is very good. There is something in it to irritate both the left and right, which is usually a good sign in a political history, but it makes two points that seem to bear on the current crisis. First, too much open-ended economic experimentation, which FDR loved to do, creates entirely new risks for private capital and therefore deters investors from committing new money. Capital went "on strike," as FDR was given to say, but the New Dealers and their tinkering were the reason. Second, FDR demonized business, initiating one prosecution after another not to much to deter genuine wrongdoing but to break American business as a political power and social class. That strategy helped the Democrats for three elections (before the lawyer and utility Wendell Willkie called him out), but it scared the hell out of the people who would create permanent economic growth rather than the temporary "infrastructure" jobs that were the hallmark of the WPA and so forth. In today's political terms, too much change can destroy hope, and pretty quickly, too.

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Friday, January 23, 2009

Layers of editors, etc.: Is this really an error? 

The New York Times has corrected an almost laughable error:

An article on Thursday about new ethics rules imposed by President Obama on members of his administration paraphrased incorrectly from a statement by the Republican National Committee about a provision barring former lobbyists from working for agencies they had lobbied within the past few years. The committee criticized the Obama administration for violating the new standard in some of its appointments; it did not criticize the new rule.

Huh? How do you make that mistake by, er, mistake? Sadly, the average person cannot easily trace the error and the correction, because the Times revised the original story online. One needs the print edition to know whether the error was plausible, or not. Fortune smiles upon us, for we found the original in the TigerHawk recycling bin!:
The Republican National Committee criticized that requirement and said the new administration was already violating it.

The revised version online says:
The Republican National Committee criticized the Obama administration for violating this new standard in some of its appointments.

This strikes me as a difficult mistake to make. How do you write the first version of the sentence, or read it as an editor, without thinking "either the Republicans are completely insane or we have gotten this all wrong"? It is almost as though the reporters and editors of the Times expect Republicans to be say crazy things...

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International abortion hoo-ha 

Barack Obama, like Bill Clinton before him, has reversed the "Mexico City rule," which prohibits funding to international family planning groups that provide abortions. I have to admit, I really do not understand why this issue so animates American supporters of lawful abortion.

While I support lawful abortion (although not to the extent of Roe), I also understand why Americans who are passionately opposed to abortion take particular offense to the use of taxpayer money to terminate fetuses outside the United States. If I were a right-to-lifer, this particular order of President Obama would really grate my cheese.

However, I honestly do not understand why supporters of lawful abortion in the United States (whether or not to the extent of Roe) have more than a casual interest in foreign abortions. Barack Obama is liberating American taxpayer money to effect the termination of foreign fetuses and the rights of foreign women to control their own body, which are barely, if at all, connected to any important American interest. Surely those few organizations who both do something humanitarian (whatever you might think about abortion, it is pretty darn difficult to call it "humanitarian" -- utilitarian, perhaps, but not humanitarian) or otherwise in our interests and perform abortions can get money from the godless Europeans, who anyway tend to go in for population control more than Americans.

Point is, I really do not understand why Obama's base would care enough about subsidizing foreign abortions to compensate for enraging the people who are opposed to it, so I see no political advantage in it. Yet there must be, because you need an electron microscope to see the moral or policy basis for the order. Could one of you who supports Obama's order explain this to me?

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Stimulating the arts 

Republicans are beginning to complain about individual items in and the aggregate size of the stimulus package wending its way through Congress.

Republicans accused Democrats of abandoning the new president's pledge, ignoring his call for bipartisan comity and shutting them out of the process by writing the $850 billion legislation. The first drafts of the plan would result in more spending on favored Democratic agenda items, such as federal funding of the arts, they said, but would do little to stimulate the ailing economy.

Republicans are right, of course, but will lose. Artists and other intellectuals are a big constituency for the Democrats, perhaps in some ways more important than labor unions. Via their support, liberals dominate high and popular culture, which gives them a huge advantage in the media and therefore in the culture wars. Nor is this the first time that the Democrats have used hard economic times on Main Street to subsidize intellectuals. During the New Deal, FDR cooked up the ridiculous "Federal Writers' Project," a make-work scheme to employ historians, librarians, and writers. A smart move, for historians have treated the New Deal kindly ever since.

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Unexpected news from the world of television 

I would not have guessed that more Americans watched Reagan's first Inaugural than Obama's, and wonder if there is something screwy with the data. I suspect that Obama wins if we include foreign voters viewers, but he has much more support from that constituency.

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Thursday, January 22, 2009

The press catches President Obama by surprise 

A reporter asks President Obama a substantive question, which apparently takes some gall.

POLITICO: Obama Flashes Irritation in Press Room Visit: “President Obama made a surprise visit to the White House press corps Thursday night, but got agitated when he was faced with a substantive question.”

Well, you can see why that would catch him by surprise . . . .

Apropos of nothing, on Tuesday afternoon I stopped in the book store in Washington's Union Station and picked up the Newsweek campaign book, A Long Time Coming. At times the book is a semi-conscious confession of the mainstream media's complicity in his election. From the prologue (emphasis added):
On the night before the election, en route from Akron, Ohio, home to Chicago, Obama wandered back into the press section of his campaign plane, thanking reporters -- especially those who had been with him from the beginning. "It will be fun to see how the story ends," said Obama, as he headed to the front of the plane. Yes, Mr. President-elect, it will.

Then there is this bit, from page 6:
Another politician with a superb sense of timing, Bill Clinton, perfectly understood why Obama saw a golden, possibly once-in-a-lifetime, opportunity. The former president believed that the mainstream press, whose liberal guilt Clinton understood and had exploited from time to time, would act as Obama's personal chauffeur on the long journey ahead. "If somebody pulled up a Rolls-Royce to me and said, 'Get in,'" Clinton liked to say, with admiration and maybe a little envy, "I'd get in it, too."

The book's author, Evan Thomas, does not seem to think that any of this reflects poorly on the press. Quite the contrary.

We appreciate the candor.

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J. Crew's Obamamania moment: The fruits of campaign cash? 

J. Crew struck gold on Tuesday. The traffic following the news that Michelle and the girls were wearing J. Crew custom togs at least temporarily crashed its web site. Perhaps as a result, its shares have risen 15% in the last two days.

Curiously, of the many mainstream media stories that covered this important fashion story, none have mentioned the financial connection between J. Crew's executives and directors and the Obama campaign. Chairman Millard Drexler gave the maximum (Open Secrets links require entry of a security code) to Obama (in addition to other prominent Democrats, such as Al Franken, Christopher Dodd, and Hillary Clinton) for both the primary and general election cycles. Director and insider James Coulter (presumably no relation to Ann) gave the max seemingly multiple times. Director Josh Weston gave thousands to the Obama campaign on multiple occasions. And so it goes. I searched every J. Crew insider -- wealthy corporate tools all -- and not one contributed to John McCain. Of course, the fashion industry has always been fashionably left, but it stretches credulity to believe that the Obamas do not know that J. Crew's insiders are big donors.

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In the category of pop art, this is pretty cool.

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A note on presidential records 

Lefty bloggers and journalists are very excited because President Obama issued an executive order making it more difficult for former presidents to prevent their communications and other records from being released to the public. This is thought to be bad news for George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, who are presumed to have done all sorts of evil things behind closed doors. Of course, there is always the chance that the quick release of internal documents will operate to discredit some of the critics or criticisms of President Bush and Vice President Cheney, but perhaps that is wishing for too much. Or maybe not. The order came much too quickly for anybody in the Obama administration to know what might actually come to light.

It is also more than a little possible that President Obama's order may be bad news for Bill Clinton, who (supposedly) made aggressive use of the rule to prevent disclosure of his own administration's records. It will be interesting to see whether the release of blocked Clinton records sheds new light on that administration's responses, or lack thereof, to the rise of al Qaeda (among other subjects that are not yet entirely transparent). On that subject Barack Obama undoubtedly knows quite a bit more from the Clinton alumni in his circle. Or perhaps Bill Clinton and his legacy will get greater consideration from the enforcer of the new policy -- Attorney General Eric Holder -- than George W. Bush will. Indeed, since certain of the blocked records relate to the Marc Rich pardon, it is highly unlikely that Holder (who had a hand in that scandalette) would interpret President Obama's order in a way that would embarrass himself.

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First day news: Barack Obama helps employers, bloggers, and the Chinese 

Hey, he's off to a great start! On his first day on the job yesterday, Barack Obama helped two groups to which I belong, employers and bloggers, and only one group that I do not belong to: Chinese business.

Obama plowed the road for employers yesterday by announcing a freeze in pay for White House staff earning in excess of $100,000. Employers all over the country have done or are thinking about doing the same thing, more or less, and this gesture by an enormously popular new president will help employees understand the decision. Fortunately, because of rapidly falling prices for oil and other commodities, most people with jobs have more spending power today than they did a year ago.

President Obama should petition Congress to extend that freeze to the entire federal government, and he should require states that want federal bailout money to do the same thing. Congressional Republicans should nudge him along. Americans want to see government employees share at least some of the risk in the economy, especially since government at all levels played no small role in building up the huge amount of debt that now so presses down.

The new president also helped bloggers! One of his first-day orders directed federal agencies to develop plans to make much more previously confidential or secret information available to the public. With the reportorial resources of the mainstream media in full retreat, it will mostly be bloggers, free-lancers, and cranks who dig through the mass of new material and make it available to the public. Conservative bloggers in particular should welcome this change, since it will give them much grist for the mill.

Now for the Chinese: Unfortunately, the "open government" order will have adverse consequences for the relationship between business and federal regulators. Businesses know that when they surrender sensitive information to the government, competitors, including particularly Chinese and other foreign competitors, will be the first request it. In the hurly-burly of the legislative and regulatory processes, American business often lifts its objections to new governmental oversight if it gets adequate assurances that competitive intelligence will not be released under the Freedom of Information Act or other procedures. If President Obama's directive makes it more difficult for regulators to keep business information confidential you can be sure that corporate America will fight new regulation much more aggressively than it has in the recent past.

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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Advice for Republicans 

A lot of people are offering advice to Republicans. Here is some useful advice for "conservatives" -- a fairly plausible list of "to don'ts" -- and most of it applies equal well to confessing Republicans. Worth reading.

Early this morning I heard Howard Dean on CNBC, and he also offered surprisingly cogent advice to Republicans. The interviewer asked him whether Republicans would attack Democrats for being fiscally irresponsible, and Dean essentially said "What a joke. Republicans have no credibility on fiscal responsibility."

That is, unfortunately, quite true. So how do Republicans go about restoring their reputation as the party of the fiscal conservatives when they have so damaged their brand in the last eight years? The trick will be to avoid general philosophical objections to Barack Obama's proposals and instead focus on specific examples of wasteful government spending. Do not say "we believe the stimulus package is too huge" or "the Democrats are the party of tax and spend" -- such shallow and conclusory claims will ring hollow for most people. Better to point out particular wasteful spending and counterproductive taxes relentlessly and with specificity: "We know we need to stimulate the economy, we just do not understand how spending $45 million for a 'Museum of the Fork' in Camden is going to do anything other than subsidize a bunch of no-show, no-work union jobs. It's like the plot out of a Sopranos script." If the Republicans pointed out two or three such examples every week -- and that should be fairly easy to do given the gusher of money Congress is going to pump into their districts the economy -- people would begin to wonder what the heck is going on in Nancy Pelosi's House. Point is, if Republicans did nothing but expose pork and keep their own noses relentlessly clean for two years -- a tall order, I admit -- they would rehabilitate their reputation as the guardian of the hardworking, taxpaying non-complainer who puts his shoulder to the wheel every day whether he likes it or not, and vastly improve their chances in 2010 and beyond.

Sad to say, I'm not holding my breath.

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How the mighty have fallen 

Via Paul Kedrosky, a graphic depiction of the decline in stock market value of the world's largest banks. The big blue circles are their values in the stock market in the second quarter of 2007, and the small green dots are their current market capitalizations.

How the mighty have fallen

Ouch. Looked at this way, the government interventions of the last four months have barely been a "bail out," at least insofar as the stockholders are concerned.

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Jon Stewart's dark side 

This evening I saw the TH Daughter and her schoolmates sing in her school's winter concert. The show included a medley from "My Fair Lady," including this line from one of the many brilliant songs in that show, "Why Can't The English?":

The French never care what they do, actually, as long as they pronounce in properly.

For some reason, this hilarious Jon Stewart video reminded me of that lyric.

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Israel and Gaza 

Israel has now completed its mission in Gaza, and while Hamas will undoubtedly continue to lob the occasional rocket towards her, Israel has again served notice that it is not be trifled with. On three occasions in the recent past, Israel has responded aggressively to threats, first in Lebanon, then in Syria and now Gaza. In each succeeding intervention, the IDF has demonstrated more effective planning, execution and lethality.

Israel was criticized for its ineffectiveness in confronting Hezbollah, and replaced its Defense establishment leadership as a result from Amir Peretz - a pol - to Ehud Barak - a military expert and hero. I made the case at the time that Israel was more effective than it got credit for and merely lost a PR battle to Hezbollah. I think the action is Gaza, and Hezbollah's relative inaction in the event, make it clear that Israel damaged Hezbollah sufficiently to remove them from the scene as a lethal force for at least the intermediate term. Nasrallah talks a good game, but doesn't show up in public too much. He's worried about more than shoes being whipped at him. Just ask the Gaza Hamas leadership.

Israel was clearly very effective in its targetted air strikes on a "mystery facility" in Syria, suspected of being a nuclear/WMD base.

And now Israel's action in Gaza - lethal, methodical, well-executed and dominant- again demonstrates that her deterrent capability is stong. Furthermore, the ironic tacit alliance of Israel with Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan against Islamic radicalism checks Iranian regional ambitions. Finally, the Gaza incursion has further divided the Palestinians (inciting civil strive between Fatah and Hamas factions) amongst themselves, and awakened them to opposition from the Arab nations coupled with weak support from their theoretical allies. We'll see how they react to their use as cannon fodder.

Strategically, Israel's successes against the Islamic radicals around it and the US success in Iraq suggests there may be an opportunity to reestablish some significant measure of regional stability. Iran's and Syria's reluctance to escalate the Gaza situation into a regional war imply a degree of caution, multiplied by Iran's difficult economic circumstances in the current low oil price environment. Russia and Iran will seek to move oil markets up by threatening instability, but their unwillingness to act forcefully to respond to Israel means they are on their back feet at the moment.

Israeli action and the US success in Iraq have put the Obama administration in a very strong position to push a "stability agenda". How they choose to exercise it is still a mystery, but I think we can expect and outstretched hand to, at a minimum, Syria, in an effort to further isolate Iran.

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All the presidents, one after the other, from Washington to Obama 

This is pretty cool.

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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A few pictures from outside the perimeter 

As previously reported, the TH Daughter and I rode to Washington today to see the parade, but ultimately did not have the stamina to wait out the security. After investing more than two hours in the massive crowd at 10th and E and having moved perhaps ten feet, we gave up the ghost. [UPDATE: My own experience was not unlike this, only to get into the parade route. But since I had no sense of entitlement -- I voted for McCain and hammered on Obama repeatedly on this blog -- I still had a great time.] It was still a great experience, though, seeing the joy on the faces of the people and the hilarious hucksterism on every corner of every street. There were old school street entrepreneurs selling Obama logo shirts, hats, buttons, mugs, keychains, posters, ear muffs, blankets, towels, and, well, even hot sauce...

Hot Obama product

I did not buy any, but I tipped the dude a buck for being a good sport about the picture.

In fact, the only person who glowered at me all day was a teenager with a tray full of garish red, white, and blue costume jewelry barking out "Obama bling! Obama bling!" I laughed, and he did not think that was very nice of me.

The TH Daughter got a hat...

TH Daughter and Obamamania vendors

There were a few die hards out who want to perpetuate the cycle of politics by prosecution and they got a few cheers, but it was the happiest big crowd I have ever been in.

Die hard

The Capitol

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Presidential approval ratings in history 

Here's a nifty bunch of line graphs that show presidential approval ratings in history, including the reasons for big moves up and down. The graph at the top that compares the ratings of the presidents since Truman is also instructive, and perhaps some small comfort for George W. Bush.

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A short note on the Inaugural Address 

In case you, like me, were not able to see it in real time, here is Barack Obama's inauguration speech.

I thought it was, in general, a fine speech, although students of rhetoric will not regard it either as the best inaugural in history or the best speech Barack Obama has given. No matter. In general, I hope that he can accomplish his stated aspirations, including the part about difficult choices. We need some of that; my only regret is that Republicans have been so unwilling to make them, at least when it comes to domestic policy.

With regard to foreign policy, this passage was particularly interesting:

And so to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more.

This is the explicit renunciation of George W. Bush's neo-Wilsonianism, for "peace and dignity" unqualified by "freedom and democracy," of which Obama had nothing to say, are wholly compatible with authoritarian rule. "Dignity" in particular strikes me as an olive branch to governments representing "face" cultures which have labored under criticism of the Bush administration, including China, Russia, the North Koreans, the Arab autocracies, and even the Iranians. This is, of course, wholly consistent with the core mission of the United Nations and the transnational progressives, which is the preservation of member governments (at least if they are not Western market states), rather than the betterment of the people who live under those governments. I wonder, though, how the few democrats in the Arab and Muslim worlds will react when they read those words carefully.

MORE: Well, that did not take long. One country, at least, has already rejected "peace and dignity," preferring "death to Obama." You do not really have to click the link to know which one.

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I am insane 

Because I am insane, the TH Daughter and I are going to catch the 6:46 a.m. Accela from Trenton and go to Washington for the day. My industry's trade association happens to have offices overlooking Pennsylvania Avenue, and it is throwing a reception for executives who want a warm place from which to see the Inaugural parade. Sadly, laptops are too big to get through the impressive security cordon, so blogging (from me, at least) will be sparse today unless I can borrow a machine down there. I will bring my camera, though, and hope to get some pictures of the Hope and Change.

I, for one, can both fear the consequences of Democrats in control of the Congress with a popular president in the White House and recognize that this is a remarkable moment in history that should be enjoyed for its own sake.

I'll let you know how it turns out. Meanwhile, any co-bloggers who pitch in today would be doing their bit for the cause.

UPDATE: We got to Washington in fine fettle, arriving at Union Station a few minutes after 9 am, and went straight for the parade entrances rather than the Mall (it being at that point almost five hours before the parade). Sadly, the security was such that we waited well over two hours at 10th and E without moving more than 20 feet. The crowd was festive, though, and people played the speech over radios and held up PDAs with streaming video so that people could watch the festivities. We saw a certain amount of it on a Blackberry that somebody held up about ten feet from us. Ultimately, the TH Daughter and I decided we were too uncomfortable to persevere, and walked among the joyous crowds -- and they were joyous -- for 45 minutes or so before jumping on a much earlier train back to Trenton. While we were a bit disappointed not to get through, we were far from alone, and agreed that it was a wonderful experience nonetheless. I'll put up a more detailed report with impressions and pictures a bit later.

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Monday, January 19, 2009

The family that gaffes together stays together! 

We all know that Joe Biden is a huge gaffe monster, but who knew that his wife Jill is too? This is laugh-out-loud hilarious, especially for what it implies about Hillary Clinton:

Joe Biden's wife said Monday that he had his pick of being Barack Obama's running mate or the secretary of state nomination that eventually went to Hillary Rodham Clinton, a slip that the vice president-elect immediately tried to shush.

Jill Biden's comment came during an appearance with her husband on "The Oprah Winfrey Show," taped at Washington's Kennedy Center on the eve of the inauguration.

"Joe had the choice to be secretary of state or vice president," she said. Her husband turned to his wife with his finger to his lips and a "Shhhh!" that sent the audience into laughter. "OK, he did," Jill Biden said in her defense.

Sheesh, that is so like something Joe would do you have to wonder whether eHarmony set them up.

Anyway, can you imagine the trepidation with which Joe and Jill Biden are looking forward to their next encounter with the Clintons?

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When Tupper Lake was young 

Family and longstanding readers know that the town of Tupper Lake, New York is a special place for me; our family has owned an Adirondack camp on a lake nearby for five generations, and I have spent at least some time up there every year of my life. Imagine my delight, then, to stumble across this remarkable collection of old photographs and post cards from the area, some going back more than a century. If you know the area, you will love them. And if your favorite destination in the Adirondacks is somewhere other than Tupper Lake, check out the main page of the same site.

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My Day 

My computer is currently scanning for aliens.

This will give you a cool-looking screensaver, while it uses your computer to process the data retrieved by SETI, which is cool.

Of course, if you want to do something more...useful, then you can pick several other apps, such as Rosetta@home, which studies proteins of major diseases to try to cure them, or Docking@home, which does similar work.

I have a suggestion, however. If you get this, make sure you change the default CPU usage, because the default is "Always On" at "100%". Otherwise, it'll keep overheating and freezing your computer (it's kinda funny that one leads to the other).

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The sexual is political? 

If this is true, then this would seem counterproductive. Potentially. Just saying.

CWCID: Steve Gill.

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Measuring temperature: Satellites and surface stations are diverging 

According to this post, in the last five years the lower atmosphere temperature trends as measured by satellite and surface stations have diverged. The question is why.

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Pardon watch: What about "the blanket"? 

The Politico rounds up the prospects and gives the odds for midnight pardons from George W. Bush, including a "blanket pardon" for military and CIA interrogators (4 to 1) and the more senior policymakers. That would, of course, drive the lefties insane, chomping at the bit as they are for prosecutions up and down the line for "war crimes" and "aggressive anti-terrorism initiatives." From Bush's perspective it is a tough call, because both the pardon and prosecutions in the absence of a pardon would establish a terrible precedent. The best result would be no pardon, and no prosecutions. We do not want to validate violations of the law (setting aside whether there were violations of the law), but we also do not want to turn on people who were acting in good faith defense of this country under extraordinary circumstances that were not contemplated when most of the implicated laws and treaties were enacted or ratified.

Finally, one thing, at least, is clear: Barack Obama would be the primary political beneficiary of a blanket pardon. He would be freed from the rancorous partisan bickering and distraction that would undoubtedly flow from the prosecutions demanded by the left, but he would bear no responsibility for the decision not to proceed. Bush would have tied his hands. From that perspective, a blanket pardon would be George W. Bush's last generous act in what has probably been the most gracious presidential transition in modern times.

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Medieval is as medieval does 

If you needed some poetic justice or some evidence that Allah might not be on the side of the bad guys or maybe only a good belly laugh, you will be delighted to learn that bubonic plague is ripping through an al Qaeda cell in North Africa. Bwahahaha!

Bubonic plague, of course, is the disease that probably caused "the Black Death" during Europe's 14th century. Probably, because somebody occasionally argues that the medieval disease spread too quickly to have been bubonic plague alone, and may have included pneumonic plague some bovine disease such as anthrax. It may also have given rise to a gene that helps people of European descent resist HIV.

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The ceasefire and playing Obama's inauguration 

Here's an interesting little public relations gambit, and I cannot decide whether it is smart or stupid:

Israel plans to pull all of its troops out of the Gaza Strip by the time President-elect Barack Obama is inaugurated Tuesday, but only if Hamas militants hold their fire, Israeli officials said...

By getting its soldiers out before the Obama inauguration, Israel hopes to pave the way for a smooth beginning with the Obama administration and spare the incoming president the trouble of having to deal with a burning problem in Gaza from his first day, the Israeli officials said.

On the one hand, Israel is trying to put the ball in Hamas court; it is up to the Palestinians, now, whether the fighting goes on. On the other hand, it is essentially telling Hamas that it has a golden this-time-only 48-hour opportunity to muck up Israel's relationship with the incoming Obama administration. Is that true, or a head fake? Would Israel prefer that Hamas pack it in now so that Israel actually can withdraw in the next couple of days, or that it take the bait, as it were, and give Israel an excuse to keep shooting in the early days of the Obama administration?

What say you?

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Sunday, January 18, 2009

Ten million lives 

Bill Frist, who walks the walk when it comes to helping the poor people of Africa, argues that American programs that would not have been enacted but for George W. Bush have saved millions of lives on that continent and elsewhere.

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The anti-Semitism of the British elites 

If Melanie Phillips is only half right, this is pretty chilling stuff. I wish I understood why the perception of Israel and the Jews is so different in Europe than in the United States. Sure, I understand the long history of it over there, but Europeans (including, for these purposes, the British) have changed their attitudes about a great many things in the last 100 years, including South Asians, Africans and Muslims. Why not the Jews?

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"Wealthy men give women more orgasms" 

This story raises a lot of interesting questions, none of which I am stupid enough to spell out on this blog:

Scientists have found that the pleasure women get from making love is directly linked to the size of their partner’s bank balance.

They found that the wealthier a man is, the more frequently his partner has orgasms.

“Women’s orgasm frequency increases with the income of their partner,” said Dr Thomas Pollet, the Newcastle University psychologist behind the research.

He believes the phenomenon is an “evolutionary adaptation” that is hard-wired into women, driving them to select men on the basis of their perceived quality...

“They could promote emotional bonding with a high-quality male or they could serve as a signal that women are highly sexually satisfied, and hence unlikely to seek sex with other men,” he said. “What those orgasms are saying is ‘I'm extremely loyal, so you should invest in me and my children’."

Biting my tongue, but that's no reason for you not to comment!

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