February 2008, Part 4
Jim Miller on Politics
That Anonymous Obama Staffer? The one who told Canadian officials not to believe what Obama was telling the voters in Ohio? It was probably Austan Goolsbee.
The Obama campaign told CTV late Thursday night that no message was passed to the Canadian government that suggests that Obama does not mean what he says about opting out of NAFTA if it is not renegotiated.(And, no, I didn't know that when I wrote that last paragraph, two posts down, mentioning Goolsbee. But he did seem like a logical suspect.)
Assuming Goolsbee was the person who passed on the message to Canadians, we are left with an interesting problem. Goolsbee seems to think that we can trust Obama to do the right thing — in spite of the fact that Obama is publicly promising to do the wrong thing.
But Goolsbee is wrong to think that. When a man makes one promise publicly, and another privately, we don't know which promise to believe (if either), but we do know that we can't trust the man. Which implies that it would be foolish to believe either Obama promise.
- 3:06 PM, 29 February 2008 [link]
One Problem With Wind Power: The wind isn't constant.
A drop in wind generation late on Tuesday, coupled with colder weather, triggered an electric emergency that caused the Texas grid operator to cut service to some large customers, the grid agency said on Wednesday.Such problems can be solved by building large power storage facilities, but that adds significantly to the cost of wind power. (One way to store power is to build a large reservoir and pump water into it when demand is low, and run the water through a generator when demand is high. There are probably others, though I don't know if any of the others are commercially significant. In fact, I am not even sure whether pumped storage systems are commercially significant, as far as that goes.) Or by adding generators for peak power, which, I believe, now almost always use natural gas.
When I see cost estimates for wind power, I assume that they don't include the costs for power storage or for peak power generators — unless I see either of them explicitly included.
- 10:53 AM, 29 February 2008 [link]
Actually, There Are Four Possibilities: At least. Glenn Reynolds sees two.
When it comes to things like NAFTA, there seem to be only two possibilities. Either Obama's anti-NAFTA talk is a ruse to fool the rubes, or his coterie of distinguished economic experts is a ruse to fool a different batch of rubes.You have probably already thought of the third yourself. Obama may be fooling both batches of rubes, in different ways. I think this is the most likely of the four.
Then there is the fourth possibility. Obama may believe what he says to both groups — when he says it. And that is the most troubling possibility of all, though I will admit that I think it less likely than the other three.
And there may be other possibilities, but I can't think of any more that seem even faintly plausible.
(Obama's anti-NAFTA rhetoric poses a serious ethical problem for Obama economic advisers such as Austan Goolsbee. If they remain silent, they implicitly endorse his views, even though few economists would agree with Obama on NAFTA.)
- 9:55 AM, 29 February 2008 [link]
Know Any Kids Taking High School Math? Then you might want to show them this paragraph, in which Maureen Dowd quotes Andrew Sullivan, just to see how long it takes them to spot the error.
In The Atlantic, Andrew Sullivan lays out what he sees as Obama's "indispensable" capacity to move the country past baby-boom feuds and the world past sectarian and racial divides. "It's November 2008," he imagines. "A young Pakistani Muslim is watching television and sees that this man — Barack Hussein Obama — is the new face of America. In one simple image, America's soft power has been ratcheted up not a notch, but a logarithm."To anyone who knows what a logarithm is — and most high school math students should — that just sounds silly. But it got past Sullivan, Dowd, and at least two editors, one at the Atlantic and one at the New York Times.
(What should Sullivan have written instead of logarithm? The phrase, "order of magnitude", would work, though it doesn't go very well with notch.
Don't have a high school math student handy, and need a review on logarithms? You can find one here.
And if you are wondering why I happened to be looking at this old column by Dowd, it is because I saw it quoted in this American Thinker piece by Jack Kemp, who notes that it is "kosher" (perhaps not the best adjective to use here) for Sullivan and Dowd to call Barack Hussein Obama by his full name, but that journalists think that it is mean for conservatives to do the same. Kemp gives one example; as it happens, there is an even better one from a New York Times columnist, Gail Collins, who calls a conservative talk show host a "right-wing nut job" for using Obama's full name — just as Dowd and Sullivan had done. For Collins, using Obama's full name is so evil that she does not tell does not tell us what the talk show host said.)
- 7:30 AM, 29 February 2008 [link]
James Taranto Summarizes Obama's Iraq policy.
So let's see if we have this straight. Al Qaeda in Iraq isn't worth fighting because it wouldn't be there if it weren't for Bush and McCain. Obama is going to pull all U.S. troops out of Iraq to go fight in Afghanistan and Pakistan, although he will send them back to Iraq if al Qaeda are there, even though he now wants to withdraw notwithstanding al Qaeda's presence.This would be even funnier if it weren't for all those people cheering when Obama describes his policy.
- 1:13 PM, 28 February 2008 [link]
Who Are You Going To Believe? Barack Obama?
Both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton would withdraw the United States from the North American free trade agreement within six months after becoming president, unless the agreement were completely renegotiated.Or some anonymous campaign staffer?
Barack Obama has ratcheted up his attacks on NAFTA, but a senior member of his campaign team told a Canadian official not to take his criticisms seriously, CTV News has learned.I'm going with the anonymous campaign staffer. (Although it is possible that Obama did not tell the staffer the truth about his plans. When I look at, shall we say, the variety of Obama advisers, it is pretty clear that some of them are going to disappointed, should he be elected president. Maybe almost all of them.)
The Instapundit makes a good point about this anti-NAFTA rhetoric:
It does seem odd that two candidates who claim they're going to "repair America's world image" want to do so by ditching a treaty and starting trade wars.The Investor's Business Daily says the same thing, at more length, in this editorial.
(For some background, you might want to read these three Dan Drezner posts, here, here, and here.)
- 6:43 AM, 28 February 2008
More: What kind of records do Clinton and Obama have on free trade? Mixed, says the New York Times.
As they have tussled for votes in economically beleaguered Ohio, Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton have both excoriated the North American Free Trade Agreement while lobbing accusations against their opponent on the issue.So, neither is exactly telling the whole truth in their current campaigns.
Incidentally, I think it disgraceful that both voted against the Central American Free Trade Agreement. It has had little effect on our economy, but has been a boost to those small, poor nations to our south.
- 12:57 PM, 28 February 2008
Still more: The Canadian embassy is denying the story. But then they would, wouldn't they? CTV is still saying that the story is accurate. I am still inclined to think that the anonymous campaign staffer was telling the truth, but I don't feel quite as strongly about that as before.
- 3:43 PM, 28 February 2008 [link]
Talking, Listening, Reading, Arithmetic, Thinking: Last night may have been the last debate for some months, so it is a good time to say something about their usefulness in judging the candidates. (I probably should have called it a "debate", since these candidate affairs are not traditional debates.) What we learn from these "debates", to the extent we learn anything, is how good the candidates are at talking — in a very artificial situation.
But I would rather learn how good the presidential candidates are at listening. A president, like other executives, will spend much of his time listening, being briefed, formally and informally, hearing the pleas of lobbyists, getting the views of experts, who may or may not be experts, and on and on. If he sits down to negotiate with a foreign leader, the success of the meeting will usually depend more on how good the president is at listening, than on how good he is at talking.
One can argue that talking is more important than listening, even for an executive. But even if that is true, we learn from modern campaigns much about how good a candidate is at talking, but we do not learn much about how good a candidate is at listening.
And, for much the same reasons, I would rather learn how good a candidate is at reading, than how good he or she is at talking. A president will, necessarily, spend much of his time reading. A president who can read accurately, who can, for instance, spot the logical errors in a written argument quickly, will have a great advantage over one who can not.
And, again for much the same reasons, I would like to know how good a candidate is at arithmetic. In a country with more than 300 million people, most issues must be treated statistically. A candidate who can estimate, read a graph, understand a complex table, and use a spreadsheet, will have considerable advantages over one who can not.
Most of all, I would like to know how good a candidate is at thinking. That can be hard to judge. Some of the best thinkers I have known would not impress most people, if they just heard them in one of these artificial "debates". The best evidence we have on the quality of their thinking is what they have done, and that is why I have asked, again and again, what the candidates have actually accomplished.
That's a question that doesn't seem to interest many "mainstream" journalists — unfortunately.
I don't expect our big news organizations to organize listening, reading, arithmetic, or thinking contests in our next presidential campaign, but it is a pleasing idea to contemplate.
- 3:59 PM, 27 February 2008 [link]
Senator Inouye commits a gaffe.
Sen. Daniel Inouye has apologized for suggesting that Sen. Barack Obama's private high school in Hawaii was elitist.Using, of course, the Michael Kinsley definition of gaffe.
Punahou is, according to Inouye, not elitist, but it is one of the "finest schools in our nation". Some will have trouble following the senator's logic.
As a matter of fact, Barack Obama went to the elitist Punahou, from there to the mildly elitist Occidental College, and from there to the elitist Columbia University. He got his law degree from the very elitist Harvard University, and he taught, part time, at the elitist University of Chicago. With the possible exception of his schools in Indonesia, he has never attended, or even worked for, a school that wasn't elitist.
That's one of the reasons I like to call him Barack "Arugula" Obama.
(Incidentally, George W. Bush attended some schools that no one would call elitist until he was about fourteen.)
- 2:10 PM, 27 February 2008 [link]
McCain Has Taken The Lead! Over both Democratic candidates. At least according to this Los Angeles Times poll.
As he emerges from a sometimes- bitter primary campaign, presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain poses a stiff challenge to either of his potential Democratic opponents in the general election, a new Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll has found.For what it is worth, past Los Angeles Times polls have often been biased toward the Democrats. And this one may be, too, since it is a poll of registered voters. Typically, Republicans are a little more likely to vote than Democrats, so a poll of registered voters will give results that are a little too Democratic. (That might not be true this year, given the passion on the Democratic side, but I am inclined to think that passion is limited to a part of the Democratic coalition, just as it was in 1972.)
There are many reasons to think that McCain can win this November. This poll gives us one more.
- 8:28 AM, 27 February 2008 [link]
Worth Watching: This video of an Obama campaign speech promising cuts in our military.
Watch it and then ask yourself what he meant when he said that he wanted to maintain "the strongest military on earth". Perhaps the strongest, but far weaker than our present military. That's how I interpret what he said.
(One caution: Though I have no reason to think this video is not authentic, Power Line blogger Scott Johnson does not know its source.)
- 8:03 AM, 27 February 2008
Update: This post says that it is an Obama campaign ad. It certainly looks like one, but, if it is an ad, it must have been shortened because the video does not have a statement telling us who is paying for the ad.
- 7:19 AM, 28 February 2008 [link]
The Mark 14 Torpedo: Three posts down, I noted that, in every significant American war, some units did not have the equipment that they needed. One of the most extreme examples of that generalization is the Mark 14 torpedo, the main torpedo used by American submarines in World War II.
The Mark XIV was central to the torpedo scandal of the U.S. Pacific Fleet Submarine Force during World War II. Due to inadequate depression-era peacetime testing of this torpedo and its Mark VI exploder, it had defects that tended to mask each other. Indeed, much of the blame commonly attached to the Mark XIV correctly belongs to the Mark VI exploder. These defects, in the course of fully twenty months of war, were exposed, as torpedo after torpedo either missed, prematurely exploded, or struck targets (sometimes with an audible clang) and failed to explode.The design was faulty, but that wasn't the only problem with the torpedo. Here's what Samuel Eliot Morison says:
The torpedo shortage of 1942, which reduced spreads and shortened patrols, was caused partly by the loss of 233 torpedoes at Cavite [in the Philippines] and partly by American politics. As early as 1930 the Bureau of Ordnance had foreseen a torpedo shortage in the event of war and endeavored to reopen a World War I torpedo station at Alexandria, Virginia. Civilian employees of the Newport plant saw in this a threat to their jobs, and as the Torpedo Station was regarded by certain politicians as a part of their patronage, they successfully prevented the reëstablishment of the Alexandria Torpedo Station until July 1941.37That footnote is worth reading, too:
Submarine Operational History and conversations with numerous persons "in the know." The Newport Torpedo Station made an excellent torpedo, apart from the features mentioned, but the work was slow and during the war the infiltration of labor politicians made conditions worse. The Torpedo Station was by no means the only instance of the effect of political pressure on the Navy, but it was one of the worst, in more ways than one. The whole subject awaits a thorough investigation.(pp. 232-233)Faulty design and slow production, thanks to political pressure. It is a wonder that American submariners kept trying during those first years of the war. Their efforts were extraordinarily successful eventually, but there was little in their early experience to make them expect that.
Barack Obama thinks that President Bush is a failure in managing the war on terror because one platoon leader had complaints about shortages of men and material. By that standard, how harshly should we judge President Roosevelt for the failures of the Mark 14? Very harshly, I would say.
Would such a judgment be fair? Not entirely. Even a president with the reach of FDR would not necessarily know that the Newport Torpedo Station was not doing the tests it should have done. (But he had been Assistant Secretary of the Navy during World War I, so he would have a better chance of understanding such issues than most politicians.) It is simply impossible for a president to reach that far down, in very many parts of the bureaucracies. But, as attuned as FDR was to political questions, he must have known about the political interference at Newport — and accepted it.
Not entirely fair. But it is also true that a president is usually more to blame for such failures than any other elected official.
(In discussing the problems with the Mark 14, it is almost obligatory to add that the Germans had similar problems at the beginning of the war with their principal torpedo. There were so many failures that one of the most famous U-boat commanders, Günther Prien, complained that he could hardly be expected to fight with a wooden rifle. And it is also almost obligatory to add that the Germans solved the problems with their torpedo in less time than we took to solve the problems with our torpedo.)
- 8:20 PM, 26 February 2008 [link]
Worth Reading: This New York Times article on MRAPs.
MRAPs, shorthand for Mine Resistant Ambush Protected, are essentially troop carriers designed to withstand land mines. Hardly new technology, they were developed in South Africa in the 1970s. Engineers deduced that mine blasts could be directed out and away from a vehicle by elevating it and creating a V-shaped hull along its base.They aren't invulnerable — no vehicle is — but they provide much better protection than the Humvees they are replacing.
Wonder if Barack Obama even knows about the existence of these MRAPs?
(Here's an article on two brief test drives, for those who would really like to drive an MRAP.
And just because it's on the same page, here's a description of the diesel motorcycle being built for the Marines.)
- 6:52 PM, 26 February 2008 [link]
The Obama Rhetorical Pivot: The first two paragraphs of the Obama response that I quoted in the post just below are an example of a rhetorical trick that he uses often. Here's Stephen Hayes' description of the trick.
More important for the race ahead, Mr. Obama has the unique ability to offer doctrinaire liberal positions in a way that avoids the stridency of many recent Democratic candidates. That he managed to do this in the days before the Iowa caucuses -- at a time when he might have been expected to be at his most liberal -- was quite striking.You'll notice that he did exactly the same thing in his response to the commander in chief question, beginning with strong words, and then pivoting in a way that removes the substance from those words.
Many politicians try to have it both ways, try to appeal to two opposing sides at the same time. But few do it this skillfully.
(Incidentally, there is some disagreement over whether he actually "taught Constitutional Law for 10 years", though he was a lecturer at the University of Chicago for a number of years.)
- 12:59 PM, 26 February 2008 [link]
Is Obama Prepared To Be Commander In Chief? Judge by what he said in the Texas debate. His response comes after the moderator asked whether Clinton was suggesting that Obama was not prepared to be commander in chief. Clinton evaded the question about Obama, saying that she would be ready on day one.
In his reply, Obama began with this:
I wouldn't be running if I didn't think I was prepared to be commander-in-chief. (APPLAUSE) My number one job as president will be to keep the American people safe. I will do whatever is required to accomplish that. I will not hesitate to act against those that would do America harm.Strong enough, but then he immediately begins taking it back.
Now, that involves maintaining the strongest military on earth, which means that we are training our troops properly and equipping them properly, and putting them on proper rotations. And there are an awful lot of families here in Texas who have been burdened under two and three and four tours because of the poor planning of the current commander-in-chief, and that will end when I am president.So, the number one job is protecting the American people — unless that would require more than a single tour of duty for our soldiers. (In past wars, Americans often signed up for the duration.) And, often it would, though there is no simple rule on this question.
He then gives his standard criticism of Bush for having the wrong strategy, and then adds this anecdote to strengthen his case:
You know, I've heard from an Army captain who was the head of a rifle platoon — supposed to have 39 men in a rifle platoon. Ended up being sent to Afghanistan with 24 because 15 of those soldiers had been sent to Iraq. And as a consequence, they didn't have enough ammunition, they didn't have enough humvees. They were actually capturing Taliban weapons, because it was easier to get Taliban weapons than it was for them to get properly equipped by our current commander in chief.There were many criticisms of this story in blogosphere, such as this crude one, some quick media defenses such as this one, but what struck me about the anecdote is something different. And, in my opinion, far more significant.
Suppose that every detail in Obama's anecdote were true — though not all are, even according to his source. What conclusions could we draw from the anecdote about the conduct of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq? None, as anyone who has read even a little military history would know. In every significant American war, some of our forces have not had the equipment they needed, some have not had the training they needed, and some have had to improvise. No one who knows anything about military history would expect anything different.
There are, I think, just two possibilities; either Obama knows these basic facts from our military history, or he does not. If he knows them, then he was conning the voters. If he does not know them, then he knows too little about the military to be commander in chief. I am leaning to the second explanation. I really think he is that ignorant, because I can't identify any time in his life when he might have learned those basic facts of military history.
(After reading some of the back and forth on the story, I am pretty sure that Obama got part of the story wrong, that he misunderstood what the captain had said. Moreover, those who have checked dates say that the captain was probably describing the situation in 2003 and 2004 — which doesn't tell us anything about how well the troops are equipped now.)
- 10:43 AM, 26 February 2008 [link]
Obama Is Stiffing And Stifling The National Press: That's not my conclusion; that's the conclusion of Cary Budoff Brown, writing in Politico.
For all the positive press Barack Obama receives, as he moves closer to clinching the Democratic nomination he is establishing himself as the candidate who keeps the most distance from the national media.He is avoiding them because he wants to keep control of his daily message, as almost all candidates do. But he is also avoiding them because there are some questions he doesn't want to answer. For example: What, exactly, has Barack Obama accomplished as an elected official?
- 7:29 AM, 26 February 2008 [link]
May I Suggest A Compromise? This family has a small problem.
Meet Jose Antonio Ortiz. The Pennsylvania man allegedly stabbed his brother-in-law in the stomach after the pair quarreled about their respective support of Democratic presidential candidates Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.To restore peace in the family, I suggest they both back — John McCain.
- 6:25 AM, 26 February 2008 [link]
Prescient Economists: AP reporter David Ammons says that he knows some. (In an article on Washington state's budget problems.)
Why do I say Ammons' unnamed economists must be prescient? Because of the most common definition of a recession: two successive quarters with declines in the GDP. Since there was growth in the 4th quarter of last year, what Ammons is saying is that there will be negative growth this quarter, which will end in March, and that there will be negative growth next quarter, which will end in June*.
Alas, Ammons does not identify these economists, which is unfortunate because prescient economists, economists who can see the future, would be extremely useful. I would think that a reporter of his stature** would want to tell us who these economists are — and how they manage to do something no other economists, in any country, have been able to do before. Or even any non-economists, for that matter.
(If you would like to see what named economists, none of them prescient, think will happen this year, there are many places to find that information, for example, here, here, and here. Most seem to expect slow growth.)
Cross posted at Sound Politics.
(*There is one other possibility, that this quarter has a decline and that the numbers from last quarter are revised to show a decline, which could happen, but seems unlikely.**According to David Postman of the Seattle Times, David Ammons is the "dean" of Washington state's press corps.)
- 5:47 PM, 25 February 2008 [link]
It Wasn't Just About Sex: Howard Kurtz leaves out part of the story.
When Gennifer Flowers held a news conference in 1992 to announce that she had carried on an affair with Bill Clinton, the New York Times devoted one paragraph of a news story to her charges.Max Frankel should have been ashamed, because he missed this part of the story, the part that Kurtz ignores.
The Flowers story surfaced in 1990 when Larry Nichols, a former Arkansas state employee, filed a wrongful dismissal lawsuit against Clinton that included allegations that the governor had had affairs with several women, one of whom was Flowers. It drew little public attention, in part because Clinton had not yet announced his presidential bid and was still an obscure regional politician.In other words, Clinton bought Flowers' silence with a public job. (As I recall, Flowers beat out a black, single mother — who had better qualifications — for that Arkansas job.)
And the same thing happened with Monica Lewinsky, though Clinton's part in getting Lewinsky a job in Pentagon is obscure. Nonetheless, it is clear that Clinton, or one of his subordinates, moved Lewinsky to the Pentagon job in an attempt to prevent a public scandal. Again, the taxpayers got to pay hush money to protect Clinton.
Clinton apologists want us to think that these scandals were just about sex, as Kurtz suggests. But they weren't, and Howard Kurtz should know that.
(What was done with Linda Tripp, who knew about the Lewinsky affair, was even cleverer. She was given a job in the Pentagon, with much higher pay than her White House job — but without civil service protection. Carrot and stick, combined — again paid for by the taxpayers, though Tripp may have done something for her Pentagon pay.)
- 12:55 PM, 25 February 2008 [link]
Louis Farrakhan ♥ Barack Obama: And spent two hours yesterday telling everyone.
In his first major public address since a cancer crisis, Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan said Sunday that presidential candidate Barack Obama is the "hope of the entire world" that the U.S. will change for the better.You'll notice that Farrakhan left one important group out of that list of people in the audiences. And in the past, Farrakhan has not been a poster child for an ecumenical approach to other religions, though the article tries to minimize that fact with a claim that he has changed.
If you don't know much about the Nation of Islam's theology — I don't — you may miss the importance of Farrakhan's comparison of Obama to the founder of the the Nation of Islam, Fard Muhammad. But you can't miss his suggestion that Obama might be a "savior", or as most would say, a messiah. And, that, according to the comments in this post, is the status of Fard Muhammad in the Nation of Islam.
As Jim Hoft says in the post, there's a circle of hope: "Obama loves his minister- His minister loves Farrakhan- Farrakhan loves Obama." Of course, Obama has told us that he isn't all that fond of Farrakhan, but then Obama has said a lot of things that turn out not to be true.
(They don't use similar words, but it appears that Farrakhan and Michelle Obama have similar views of America.)
- 10:01 AM, 25 February 2008 [link]