Archive:

September 2009, Part 2

Jim Miller on Politics




Pseudo-Random Thoughts



If The Trade Disagreements With China Grow:  We might lose a lucrative market for our chicken feet.
At a time when feed prices are high and domestic chicken sales to restaurants are down because of the recession, the Chinese market is important to the industry.  Exports of American poultry totaled $4.34 billion last year.  Of that amount, $854.3 million worth of chicken meat (less than 2 percent of total revenue by the American chicken industry) was exported to China and Hong Kong.  But industry executives said the exports to China were particularly profitable.

About half of the chicken parts sold to China are wings and feet, which are worth only a few cents a pound in the United States.  As delicacies in China, they fetch 60 cents to 80 cents a pound, a price that no other foreign market comes close to matching, according to industry experts.
Though I have eaten at many Chinese restaurants, I can't recall ever having chicken feet.  But now that I have found out how much people in China will pay for them, I'm inclined to look for them on the menu the next time I'm in the right kind of restaurant.

(Wonder if there is a Chinese version of buffalo wings?)
- 6:56 PM, 16 September 2009   [link]


Violence And Intimidation In American Elections:  Last November, in Philadelphia, members of the New Black Panther Party (one of them also a Democratic election official) openly intimidated voters.  Their actions were captured on video, and the Justice Department brought a case against them.  The case was dropped after Eric Holder became Attorney General.

Why it was dropped is not clear, though Jennifer Rubin's guess seems plausible.
The dismissal of the New Black Panther case can then be seen in a larger and more ominous context.   It was quite likely a message to the liberal civil rights establishment: there is a new Justice Department and the days of enforcing civil rights laws against any defendant—regardless of his race—are over.  One can imagine then that there might be those in Justice surprised by the firestorm created by the New Black Panther case's dismissal who may now regret having opened the Department and its civil rights perspective up to further scrutiny.  The Holder Justice Department may be chagrined to learn that most Americans take exception, strongly so, to the idea that the civil rights laws are there only to protect historically discriminated minorities.  But we are certainly going to have that national conversation about race which Holder has been pining for.
That's a serious charge, and I would like to see more evidence before I accept it without qualification.  But Rubin does provide some evidence, and she is right when she says that some in the civil rights establishment object to race-neutral enforcement of civil rights laws.

What I would like to do in the rest of this post is add a little historical context to this apparent acceptance of intimidation in an American election.

First, let me say that intimidation is not new in Philadelphia.  It is not a subject that our mostly Democratic reporters like to cover, but in almost every major election, I read a report or two about intimidation in Philadelphia — and the intimidation always comes from Democrats, and often from Democratic officials, sometimes even from Democratic election officials.

I don't want to exaggerate.  Typically, these reports come from a few precincts, in a very large city, but they occur often enough so that we can conclude that this a persistent, if minor, problem.  And if it is a persistent problem in Philadelphia, it is likely that it is a persistent problem in most other large cities.

Historically, the very worst intimidation was in the old South, where the Democratic party excluded blacks from elections for decades, using everything from gentle suggestions to murder.  That's such a large subject — and one that I think that most of you know something about — that I will skip over it in this post, and instead give a little bit of evidence about intimidation by machine politicians.

Two samples will give you an idea on how common physical intimidation once was.

First, from D. W. Brogan's Politics in America.
The generally effective prevention of violence during elections is in itself a preventive of the more gross frauds.  It often took real, physical courage to vote in primaries or even in elections in New York after the Civil War, at any rate in the rowdier districts.  Primaries were usually held in saloons, and attempts to nominate candidates not approved of 'by the lads' were foolhardy enterprises.  Electoral campaigns were often marked by serious violence.  The police usually took a tolerant view of physical persuasion or the intimidation of the official workers of the other party, in the rare instances when the agents of the other party were not employees of the machine they were 'opposing'.  Now elections can not be won simply by beating up.  Since 1932, there have been no charges of physical intimidation, on a big scale, in New York, although there has been one election murder. (p. 136)
Next, Mike Royko, in Boss, lets one of the Chicago machine's workers describe how he got his start in politics.
"My first job was as a clerk over at the election board.  In those days, to succeed in politics you sometimes had to bash in a few heads.  The Republicans in another ward heard about me and they brought me into one of their precincts where they were having trouble.  I was brought in as heavy, and I took care of the problem, so they got me a job in the State Department of Labor.   the job was . . . uh . . . to tell the truth, I didn't do anything.  I was a payroller.   Then later I went to another ward as a Democratic precinct captain, where they were having a tough election.  I did my job and moved over to a job as a state policeman.  Then later I was a city gas meter inspector, and a pipe fitter where they had to get me a union card, and an investigator for the attorney general, and when I retired I was an inspector in the Department of Weights and Measures." (p. 67)
Three thoughts: First, if we see a rise in physical intimidation — and I fear that we may — then we should expect more election fraud.  Second, the increase in the use of mail ballots makes it far easier to intimidate voters — and get away with it, because the intimidation can take place in private.  Third, when the prizes given out with control of government become more and more valuable, then we should expect more and more people to be tempted to intimidate the voters who control those prizes.  Royko's precinct worker was willing to beat up voters in order to get, and keep, his patronage jobs.  The far larger prizes now controlled by government will, inevitably, tempt some to use violence, or the threat of violence, to win elections.
- 4:06 PM, 16 September 2009   [link]


Did George W. Bush Actually Say these things?  I don't know, and I can't think of any simple way to find out whether he did.  But the first strikes me as accurate (and helps explain the efforts that Bush made to help Obama in the presidential transition), and the second strikes me as quite funny — though not fit for public consumption.
- 1:39 PM, 16 September 2009   [link]


Why Will President Obama Be On Five TV Programs This Sunday?  (And on David Letterman later in the week.)  Because he is losing the debate on health care "reform" — and he knows it.

Columnist George Will would predict that Obama's appearances, even on these friendly programs (he's skipping Fox) will not help.
On the 233rd day of his presidency, Barack Obama grabbed the country's lapels for the 263rd time—that was, as of last Wednesday, the count of his speeches, press conferences, town halls, interviews, and other public remarks.  His speech to Congress was the 122nd time he had publicly discussed health care.  Just 14 hours would pass before the 123rd, on Thursday morning.   His incessant talking cannot combat what it has caused:  An increasing number of Americans do not believe that he believes what he says.

He says America's health-care system is going to wrack and ruin and requires root-and-branch reform—but that if you like your health care (as a large majority of Americans do), nothing will change for you.  His slippery new formulation is that nothing in his plan will "require" anyone to change coverage.  He used to say, "If you like your health-care plan, you'll be able to keep your health-care plan, period."  He had to stop saying that because various disinterested analysts agree that his plan will give many employers incentives to stop providing coverage for employees.

He deplores "scare tactics" but says that unless he gets his way, people will die.  He praises temperate discourse but says many of his opponents are liars.  He says Medicare is an exemplary program that validates government's prowess at running health systems.  But he also says Medicare is unsustainable and going broke, and that he will pay for much of his reforms by eliminating the hundreds of billions of dollars of waste and fraud in this paragon of a program, and in Medicaid.   He says Congress will cut Medicare (it will not) by $500 billion—without affecting benefits.
(Emphasis added.)

Even the Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland had limits on how many impossible things she could believe.  Many Americans have reached their limit with Obama, and are beginning to be skeptical about everything he says.

I don't think these appearances will help Obama, just as I didn't expect that his speech to Congress would.  But, what else can he do?  He has little experience with congressional negotiations, so he probably could not get together with congressional leaders and work out some compromise that could pass Congress.  He probably believes that this is his best chance to take over the health care system, so he is unwilling, at least for now, to accept small changes.

(Will any of the journalists on these programs will ask him tough questions?  I would expect a few, but, even now, I do not expect solid follow-up questions.)
- 10:43 AM, 16 September 2009   [link]


Why Are Obama Supporters Now Playing The Race Card?  Because they are losing the issue debates.   On cap-and-tax, on government intervention in the economy, and even on health insurance "reform".

It's an obvious point, but, as George Orwell said: "Sometimes the first duty of intelligent men is the restatement of the obvious."

(I am slow to call someone a liar or a racist, because both are such powerful charges.  I think neither should be made without solid evidence.  For me, there are two reasons for this reluctance, a desire to be fair, even to those I disagree with, politically, and a desire not to see the adjectives devalued.  When they are used inappropriately too often, the public begins to ignore them, and may in time come to dismiss them, even when they are true.)
- 9:56 AM, 16 September 2009   [link]


Democratic Congressman Pete Stark Accused President Bush Of Lying In A Speech On The House Floor:  These parts of Stark's speech were exceptionally vitriolic.
The Republicans are worried that we can't pay for insuring an additional 10 million children.   They sure don't care about finding $200 billion to fight the illegal war in Iraq.  Where you going to get that money.  You gonna tell us lies like you're telling us today?  Is that how you're going to fund the war.  You don't have enough money to fund the war or children.   But you're going to spend it to blow up innocent people if we can get enough kids to grow old enough for you to send to Iraq to get their heads blown off for the President's amusement
. . .
But the President Bush's statements about children's health shouldn't be taken any more seriously than his lies about the war in Iraq.  The truth is that Bush just likes to blow things up in Iraq, in the United States, and in Congress.
Congressman Stark did eventually apologize, but was not censured.

Yesterday, Democratic Congressman Pete Stark voted for a resolution of disapproval against Congressman Joe Wilson, who had accused President Obama of lying during Obama's speech to a joint session of Congress.

Some enterprising reporter should ask Stark whether he deserves a resolution of disapproval.

(For the record, I think that Congressman Wilson should not have shouted out during Obama's speech   He was right to apologize, and that should have ended the matter.)
- 7:32 AM, 16 September 2009   [link]


More On Lithium-Air Batteries from today's New York Times.
Lithium-ion batteries have the potential to deliver about 585 watt-hours of electricity per kilogram, while lithium-sulfur has a theoretical potential of about 2,600 watt-hours, and lithium-air batteries might reach targets well above 5,000 watt-hours.

If they can be perfected, lithium-air batteries would be ideal for transportation applications, given their potential for high energy capacity and low weight.  And, unlike zinc-air batteries, it should be possible to make them rechargeable.

The difficulty of developing such batteries is great.  Scientists at the I.B.M. conference spelled out a range of challenges, like safety concerns and lowering the cost of the batteries, which now add thousands of dollars to the price of electric vehicles.
Safety concerns?  Well, yes, since lithium is "flammable and potentially explosive when exposed to air and especially water".  Even now, you read from time to time about laptop batteries starting fires, and even exploding.

(Earlier post on the batteries here.)
- 4:44 PM, 15 September 2009   [link]


Hear No Evil:  That's Charlie Gibson's policy towards scandal-plagued ACORN.
Don:  Okay, here's my news question.  A Senate bill yesterday passes, cutting off funds to this group called ACORN.  Now, we got that bill passed and we have the embarrassing video of ACORN staffers giving tax advice on how to set up a brothel with 13-year-old hookers.  It has everything you could want — corruption and sleazy action at tax-funded organizations and it's got government ties.  But nobody's covering that story.  Why?

Gibson:  HAHAHAHAHA.  HEHEHE.  I didn't even know about it.  Um.  So, you've got me at a loss.  I don't know.  Uh.  Uh.  But my goodness, if it's got everything including sleaziness in it, we should talk about it this morning.

Roma:  This is the American way!

Gibson:  Or maybe this is just one you leave to the cables.
The ABC anchor hadn't heard of one of the top stories in the last week, a story that just caused the Senate to vote, 83-7, to cut off all public money for ACORN.  And that last answer makes me think that Gibson doesn't want to hear about the story.

Amazing.  But no longer surprising.
- 1:59 PM, 15 September 2009   [link]


Does Obama Believe What He Says About Health Insurance Costs?  Does he believe that he can cover millions more people without adding to the deficit?  Tom Bevan takes up that question, calling in New York Times columnist Bob Herbert as a witness.
So Obama's assertion he can expand coverage and care without adding a dime to the deficit over the next ten years is, by the admission of even one of his most ardent supporters, a claim that virtually no one believes.  Generically speaking, when someone makes a claim that no one believes it's characterized as a lie.

But the difference between wishful thinking and a lie comes down to intent.  This is why the operative line in Herbert's column is "I'm sure he [Obama] really believes it."  Because if Obama really believes his claim then it can't be considered a lie, just as I wouldn't technically be guilty of lying if I believed in my heart that a greyhound could outrun a cheetah.  What I would be guilty of, however, is gross naivete and wishful thinking.
I've puzzled over this same question myself and have come, tentatively, to the same conclusion as Thomas Sowell:
One of the secrets of being a glib talker is not getting hung up over whether what you are saying is true, and instead giving your full attention to what is required by the audience and the circumstances of the moment, without letting facts get in your way and cramp your style.  Obama has mastered that art.

Con men understand that their job is not to use facts to convince skeptics but to use words to help the gullible to believe what they want to believe.  No message has been more welcomed by the gullible, in countries around the world, than the promise of something for nothing.  That is the core of Barack Obama's medical care plan.
If you agree with Sowell (and I do, tentatively), then Obama is not indulging in wishful thinking, and he may not even be lying — technically.  Obama may not have even thought about whether his claims are true, just about whether he can use them to sell his audience on his "plan".

I come to that tentative conclusion partly because this kind of behavior, this willingness to make claims without worrying about whether they are true, is common in both machine politicians and people on the radical left, common, in other words, among the very people Barack Obama has associated with for most of his adult life.

(Bevan used an unfortunate metaphor for his post, since a greyhound can outrun a cheetah, at any distance longer than a sprint.  A better metaphor might have compared a turtle and a cheetah, in a hundred yard dash.

More thoughts on this subject from neo-neocon)
- 10:15 AM, 15 September 2009   [link]


NYT's Readers May Be Surprised by this Senate vote.
The Senate voted Monday to block the Housing and Urban Development Department from giving grants to ACORN, a community organization under fire in several voter-registration fraud cases.

The 83-7 vote would deny housing and community grant funding to ACORN, which stands for the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now.

The action came as the group is suffering from bad publicity after a duo of conservative activists posing as a prostitute and her pimp released hidden-camera videos in which ACORN employees in Baltimore gave advice on house-buying and how to account on tax forms for the woman's income.   Two other videos, aired frequently on media outlets such as the Fox News Channel, depict similar situations in ACORN offices in Brooklyn and Washington, D.C.
(The Associated Press article the Times used for this story minimizes ACORN's problems with registration fraud, not even mentioning that ACORN operatives have been prosecuted in a number of states.)

Presumably, the Times is still "short-staffed", because they used a wire service story, rather than covering it themselves.

(The seven no votes came from six Democrats, Sheldon Whitehouse (RI), Roland Burris (IL), Dick Durbin (IL), Patrick Leahy (VT), Bob Casey (PA), and Kirsten Gillibrand (NY), and from Bernie Sanders (VT), who is listed as an independent, calls himself a socialist, and caucuses with the Democrats.

It's mildly surprising to see Bob Casey in that group.).
- 9:19 AM, 15 September 2009
For more on ACORN's sins, see this piece by John Fund.  It isn't comprehensive, but it isn't misleading, unlike the AP article.
- 8:15 AM, 16 September 2009   [link]


Today, The House Of Representatives Will Vote On Reprimanding Congressman Joe Wilson:  No word yet on which way Democratic Congressman Pete Stark will vote.

Also no word on whether Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who called President George W. Bush a liar and has never taken it back, approves of censuring Wilson.  (Bush had promised to follow scientific advice on storage of nuclear wastes in Nevada.  He kept his promise, making Reid very unhappy.  Reid is now happier, since President Obama has agreed not follow the scientific advice.)

(Trivial, but interesting, fact:  The rules governing what House members can say are somewhat different during a presidential speech than when the House is in session doing business.)
- 8:43 AM, 15 September 2009   [link]


Professor Mankiw Is Skeptical About Obama's Promise To "Reform" Health Care Without Adding to the Deficit:  Very skeptical.
Translation: "I promise to fix the problem.  And if I do not fix the problem now, I will fix it later, or some future president will, after I am long gone.  I promise he will.  Absolutely, positively, I am committed to that future president fixing the problem.  You can count on it.  Would I lie to you?"
Mankiw is not the only one who is skeptical; most of us have trouble figuring out how Obama can create an immense new government program without adding to the deficit.  But, who knows?  Maybe Obama will use his magic unicorn dust to achieve that unlikely result.
- 2:20 PM, 14 September 2009   [link]


Those Horrifying Examples Obama Used In His Speech To Congress?  Scott Harrington says that the president's descriptions were misleading.

For instance:
To highlight abusive practices, Mr. Obama referred to an Illinois man who "lost his coverage in the middle of chemotherapy because his insurer found he hadn't reported gallstones that he didn't even know about."  The president continued: "They delayed his treatment, and he died because of it."

Although the president has used this example previously, his conclusion is contradicted by the transcript of a June 16 hearing on industry practices before the Subcommittee of Oversight and Investigation of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.  The deceased's sister testified that the insurer reinstated her brother's coverage following intervention by the Illinois Attorney General's Office.  She testified that her brother received a prescribed stem-cell transplant within the desired three- to four-week "window of opportunity" from "one of the most renowned doctors in the whole world on the specific routine," that the procedure "was extremely successful," and that "it extended his life nearly three and a half years."
In a nation as large as this one, there must be real examples of insurance companies abusing customers, but if Harrington is right — and I think he is — the Obama administration has not taken the time to find them.

(For the record:  Every large health insurance system will have failures, and some of those failures will result in horrific treatment of at least a few patients.  But we should be careful about reasoning from those cases to judgments on the system as a whole, whether we are talking about the British National Health Service, or American insurance companies.)
- 1:52 PM, 14 September 2009   [link]


How Does Westneat Know Congressman Wilson Told A "Whopper"?  In a rather silly column, Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat said these things:

Now take Joe Wilson, who shouted out at President Obama.  Unquestionably rude.  My judge critic is right that if everybody lost it like this, there'd be chaos.
. . .
Obama said health-care reform won't cover illegal immigrants.  He is right in that it won't pay any money for them.  But another part of the plan requires that everyone in the country have health insurance, here legally or not.
. . .
Away from all the partisan shouting about Wilson, a group of senators convened to try to fix the language on immigrants.

"We really thought we'd resolved this question of people who are here illegally, but as we reflected on the President's speech . . . we wanted to go back and drill down again," Democratic Senator Kent Conrad told Time magazine.

Interesting.  I'm not saying the heckler was right.  Wilson's "You lie!" was itself a whopper, and I doubt he's interested in crafting sensible health policy for immigrants.  Yet we may end up with a more coherent law anyway.

(Emphasis added.)

So Westneat admits that the anti-reform plans being pushed by Obama and the Democrats in Congress may cover illegal immigrants.  But at the same time Westneat is certain that Wilson, who may genuinely believe that the plans cover illegal immigrants, was telling a "whopper", that is, a very big lie when he said, indirectly, that they did.

For a statement to be a lie, the person making it has to know it is false.  To claim that Congressman Wilson was telling a lie, Westneat must know what Wilson really believes, must be able to see into Wilson's heart.

If Westneat can do that, he ought to tell the rest of us how.  (For one thing, police departments may want to use his techniques, since they often need to know whether someone is lying.)

It is possible, of course, that Westneat has no idea what Congressman Wilson actually believes, that, as a leftist (and sometimes intellectually lazy) journalist, Westneat was just insulting — or to be blunt slandering — a man he disagrees with politically.  I would prefer not to come to that conclusion, so I'll send Westneat an email asking him to explain how he knows that Wilson told a "whopper".

Oh, and to encourage Westneat to reply, let me add this link to a recent Pew poll on attitudes toward news organizations.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 12:55 PM, 14 September 2009   [link]


We Botched The Story, But Not Because We Are Biased:  Fans of competitive diving will be impressed by this Howard Kurtz somersault and twist.
By the time White House environmental adviser Van Jones resigned over Labor Day weekend, the New York Times had not run a single story.  Neither had USA Today, which also didn't cover the resignation.  The Washington Post had done one piece, on the day before he quit.  The Los Angeles Times ad carried a short article the previous week questioning Glenn Beck's assault on the White House aide.  There had been nothing on the network newscasts.
. . . .
In the Jones case, there is little question that the traditional media botched the story of an Obama administration official who, wittingly or otherwise, lent his name to those who believe that George W. Bush and Dick Cheney deliberately allowed thousands of Americans to be slaughtered.  Some conservatives accused journalists of liberal bias; it is just as likely that their radar malfunctioned, or that they collectively dismissed Beck as a rabble-rouser.
Leftist journalists ignored the story, while conservative journalists, talk show hosts, and bloggers covered it.  But Kurtz still says that it is "just as likely" that ideology does not explain why some covered the story, and some didn't.  To believe that, you have to believe that, for some unknown reason, only the radars of leftist journalists malfunctioned, while the radars of conservative journalists continued working just fine.

And Kurtz is wrong to make this all about Glenn Beck.  Others, notably blogger Jim Hoft and reporter Byron York. were covering it, too.  (Here's an early story from York.  Note that he was tipped off by a story he found on Real Clear Politics, a site which should be required reading for any journalist who covers national politics.)

(For the record, I knew about the story long before it made the New York Times — and I never listen to Glenn Beck.)
- 8:41 AM, 14 September 2009   [link]


Some Demonstrators Pick Up After Themselves, Some Don't:  Jim Hoft has the pictures.
- 7:57 AM, 14 September 2009   [link]


RIP, Norman Borlaug:  Here's the New York Times obituary.
Agricultural scientist Norman Borlaug, the father of the "green revolution" who won the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in combating world hunger and saving hundreds of millions of lives, died Saturday in Texas, a Texas A&M University spokeswoman said.  He was 95.
That deserves repeating.  Borlaug's work may have saved "hundreds of millions of lives".   (Almost all of them in the Third World, by the way.)

There's more on his life in this Wikipedia biography, and on his thinking in this Reason interview.

Borlaug's life has parallels to Maurice Hilleman's; both men came from humble farm backgrounds, and both men saved millions through their research.

(The Wikipedia description of the the Guadalcanal campaign is flawed; even during the worst of the fighting the US was able to bring supplies to the Marines on the island with old destroyers and air transports.)
- 7:26 AM, 13 September 2009
More on Borlaug in this tribute from Guy Sorman.

Key paragraph:
Borlaug was no innocent scientist: he knew that science could feed the world only when political conditions were right.  In the case of India and Mexico, the semi-dwarf wheat and rice worked marvels because the farmers owned their own land.  As private owners, they had a vested interest in using more expensive seeds that would produce a higher yield.  Local authorities provided the water for irrigation: both the Mexican and Indian governments did it right, later followed by Indonesia, Thailand, and the Philippines.  But without private entrepreneurs, the Green Revolution would not have taken place.  While touring the world, Borlaug always stressed that seeds by themselves could not eradicate hunger.  Private property, entrepreneurship, and reliable governments were essential prerequisites.
And I want to add a point about the reaction to his death:  Libertarians and conservative bloggers celebrated his life, leftist bloggers mostly ignored his passing,
- 3:59 PM, 15 September 2009   [link]


Homes For The Poor:  Built mostly from discarded materials.
Among the traditional brick and clapboard structures that line the streets of this sleepy East Texas town, 70 miles north of Houston, a few houses stand out: their roofs are made of license plates, and their windows of crystal platters.

They are the creations of Dan Phillips, 64, who has had an astonishingly varied life, working as an intelligence officer in the Army, a college dance instructor, an antiques dealer and a syndicated cryptogram puzzle maker.  About 12 years ago, Mr. Phillips began his latest career: building low-income housing out of trash.
. . .
To him, almost anything discarded and durable is potential building material.  Standing in one of his houses and pointing to a colorful, zigzag-patterned ceiling he made out of thousands of picture frame corners, Mr. Phillips said, "A frame shop was getting rid of old samples, and I was there waiting."
There's much more in the article, including an honest, though brief, discussion of the problems that Phillips has had with some of his buyers.
Some of those people simply disappeared, leaving the properties distressingly dirty and in disrepair.  "You can put someone in a new home but you can't give them a new mindset," Mr. Phillips said.
But then those homes are sold, after foreclosure, to more prosperous (and usually more responsible) buyers, so they aren't wasted.

You probably couldn't build houses like this in most of our major cities because they wouldn't meet strict building codes.  (Which is another argument against those codes.)

But Phillips is filling a need with his quirky and inexpensive houses, and he is doing it, so he says, profitably.  That last point is immensely encouraging.  If he is making money doing this, others are certain to join him in building these homes.

(Here's a slide show of highlights from some of his homes.)
- 9:59 AM, 12 September 2009   [link]


The Associated Press And The Picture Of The Dying Marine:  You have probably heard that the Associated Press published a picture of a dying Marine, Lance Corporal Joshua Bernard, against the wishes of his family.

Retired army officer (and Methodist minister) Donald Sensing had much to say about that decision.  Here's the part that touched me most deeply.
But this has been a septic war.  The very real suffering of the troops deserves to be displayed and explained (but not, I think, this nakedly).  Yet if the AP wishes to show its readers the anguish of war, being "fair and balanced" would lead it to present the heroism and profoundly stirring sacrificial spirit among our men and women in uniform.  As is, this photo sadly continues the media's tradition of presenting our troops as victims.

Lance Cpl Joshua Bernard fell in battle, but he was not a victim.  He determined at the hazard of his life to be honorable in his young adulthood, to make sure of his duty, and to leave everything else for later, though later ever came.  He gave over to hope his chance of lifelong happiness and the uncertainty of final success, and in mortal danger he relied only upon himself, his buddies and the Corps itself.  He chose to risk death young as a free man rather than live long as one conquered.  And when fearful lethality loomed he resolved to resist and suffer, rather than flee to save his life; he ran away not from danger but from dishonor.  On the battlefield he stood steadfast, and in an instant, at the height of his resolve, he passed away from this life but not from our lives or the destinies of generations yet to come.
Journalist Jules Crittenden also posted on the subject, and makes this crucial point:  The Associated Press made an agreement not to publish such pictures — and violated that agreement.

(I probably would not post that picture of the 9/11 jumper if he was identifiable.  And I certainly would not post a picture of him after he had hit the ground.)
- 9:19 AM, 12 September 2009   [link]


For Much More On 9/11, look though this link-filled 2005 Joe Katzman post.

And if you are wondering why the terrorists chose that date, you can read my speculative 2006 post
- 9:55 AM, 11 September 2009   [link]


9/11 Jumper:  The New York Times will not show you this picture today, so I will.

9/11 jumper

This man jumped from one of the World Trade Center towers, rather than burn to death.  From the picture we can see that he was a young black man, probably American though he might have been an immigrant, and that he worked in a kitchen.

We can not know whether he knew why he was about to die, though I think it unlikely.  Few Americans then understood how much the fanatics who planned the 9/11 attack hated us, and how little they cared for innocent life.  Whether this victim knew or not, I hope that he rests in peace.

He, and nearly three thousand others, died in order to create a propaganda poster for Al Qaeda.

(I scanned the picture from a New York Times book, Nation Challenged.  I believe this to be fair use because I am criticizing the Times, and most other "mainstream" news organizations, for suppressing this picture, and similar pictures, in the years since 9/11.

Reposted from 2008.)
- 9:32 AM, 11 September 2009   [link]


Obamacare Means A Loss of Individual Freedom:  James Taranto makes the same argument I made in the post just below, but makes it directly, rather than indirectly.
Obama's proposal to coerce all Americans into buying health insurance is even more intrusive than our hypothetical state requirement would be.  The ObamaCare mandate would violate not only the right to travel but the right to remain at rest.  The implication of the auto-insurance analogy is that the president believes Congress has the authority to require Americans to obtain a government permit to live.

The one consolation of losing our freedom is that if the ObamaCare mandate passed, it would be fun to see the look on all those silly young voters' faces when they realize that the guy they so fervently supported is going to force them to turn over a large share of their meager earnings to insurance companies.
Supporters of Obamacare may think that increased security for some is worth this loss of individual freedom.  If they do, they should be honest enough to say so.

(If you think that the Constitution grants limited powers to the federal government, then you may wonder what in the Constitution gives the federal government the power to limit our freedoms in this way.)
- 2:10 PM, 10 September 2009   [link]


Should We Force People To Buy Life Insurance?  Here's a thought experiment, which I will approach through a series of questions.  First, consider an imaginary family, John and Jane Doe, with three young children and a fourth on the way.  John has just turned forty.  (As a gentleman, I won't reveal Jane's age.)  A man who has turned forty has reached the age where he should begin to worry about heart attacks.  John, like many of us, is a little overweight and exercises less than he should, so his risk of a heart attack is a little bit higher than it could be.

John has a good job, but the family is not wealthy and would be in serious financial trouble if John were to die.

Joe Roe is Jane's younger, unmarried brother.  He earns a modest income, but has no dependents, so he has almost as much spending money as the Does.

Question 1:  Should John Doe buy life insurance?

Question 2:  Should the government force John to buy life insurance?  (As it happens, the federal government does force almost all of us to buy life insurance; it's called social security survivors benefits.  But survivors benefits will probably not be enough for Jane and her children to keep their current standard of living if John were to die suddenly.)

Question 3:  Should Joe Roe buy life insurance?

Question 4:  Should the government force Joe to buy life insurance?

Almost all of us would find question 1 easy to answer; as a responsible husband and father John should try to provide for his family even if he should die.  For me, question 3 is equally easy; Joe has no dependents, and so no need for life insurance.

Question 2 is harder.  Here we have to balance individual freedom against support for families.  Both are important to me and so I come to this mixed conclusion:  The current balance, where the government requires some life insurance, is about right.  I would be reluctant to force John and Jane to buy life insurance, though I would hope they listen to a persuasive life insurance salesman, because they really should have it.  But I would also be opposed to eliminating survivors benefits.

At first glance, question 4 seems just like question 3.  But let me add one complication:   The government-required life insurance would have community rating, so the premiums would be the same for John and Joe.  But since Joe is younger than John, he would be subsidizing his brother-in-law.

My answer to question 4 is no.  But I can understand why others might disagree.   Families are the heart of every society, and almost every society finds some way to help children, at the expense of everyone else.  So a person who would answer yes might do so because they favor one more subsidy for children.  But community rating would also subsidize older families at the expense of younger families.  Typically, older families are better off than younger families, so community rating would, on the average, subsidize the better off at the expense of those who are less well off.

The loss of freedom is enough to get me to answer no to question 4.  But I think the redistribution problem should be enough to make many of those who might answer yes to reconsider, to make them think of better ways to help children.

Most of you will have already guessed why I have written this thought experiment.  There are direct parallels to current controversy over health insurance "reform".  President Obama would, most likely, answer yes to questions 2 and 4.  If you wouldn't, then you probably would oppose his current health insurance plan.
- 1:53 PM, 10 September 2009   [link]


Half Of My Email Is Working:  The incoming half.  But for some reason, for the past two days I have been unable to send emails from my desktop.  (I can send email directly from the Gmail site, so I am inconvenienced, not blocked.)

If you have any suggestions for solving this problem, let me know.

(Technical details:  I am using the Evolution mail program to access Gmail.  It connects to the incoming "pop" server as usual, but not to the outgoing "smtp" server.  The only error message I get is the uninformative "Error while performing task".

I have not made any changes to the Evolution settings, or to my Gmail account.

Evolution is running under Ubuntu 8.04.)
- 9:45 AM, 10 September 2009   [link]


Another Reason Not To Trust ACORN:  Two representatives of the "anti-poverty" group are caught — on videotape — telling a prostitute how to break laws, including laws against underage prostitution.
Officials with the controversial community organizing group ACORN were secretly videotaped offering to assist two individuals posing as a pimp and a prostitute, encouraging them to lie to the Internal Revenue Service and providing guidance on how to claim underage girls from South America as dependents.
The video is entertaining, but is inappropriate for most work places and for younger children.   Here's a transcript you can skim through; the more interesting parts are toward the end.

The ACORN representatives can't be accused of being "judgemental", which for many on the left is the worst sin of all — at least when it comes to conventional morality.
- 9:14 AM, 10 September 2009   [link]


Obama's Math Is "Iffy"  Even the Associated Press is beginning to notice.
President Barack Obama used only-in-Washington accounting Wednesday when he promised to overhaul the nation's health care system without adding "one dime" to the deficit. By conventional arithmetic, Democratic plans would drive up the deficit by billions of dollars.

The president's speech to Congress contained a variety of oversimplifications and omissions in laying out what he wants to do about health insurance.
(Emphasis added.)

So, according to the Associated Press, Obama is using unconventional arithmetic in his deficit pledge.  I would say that he is simply ignoring the arithmetic, and hoping we won't notice.

Calvin Woodward goes on to list other six other ways, besides the deficit, in which Obama's speech last night deviated from the facts.
- 8:02 AM, 10 September 2009
Even The Los Angeles Times has doubts about Obama's arithmetic.
Still, the president's comments about the savings available in Medicare were disingenuous, as was his assertion that a new tax on insurers would lead them to "provide greater value for the money" instead of simply passing the cost on to policyholders.  Obama will have to come up with a more complete approach to paying for reform as the legislation moves forward.  He claimed the plan as his own with this speech, but he left some of the hardest questions unanswered.
It isn't quite true that he left the questions unanswered.  Obama answered them, but his answers are not believable — even for the editorial writers at the Los Angeles Times.
- 10:21 AM, 10 September 2009   [link]


If You Plan To Watch Obama's Speech tonight, you may want to use Keith Hennessey's checklist to keep score.

Example:
How does he characterize the opposition? — The President has characterized those who oppose this legislation as malevolent self-interested defenders of the status quo without their own reform ideas.  Does he frame it this way tonight, or does he instead acknowledge that there are legitimate points of view different from his own?  Sticking with demonization helps motivate his liberal base and will be the clearest signal that he has chosen a partisan tactical path.  It also risks looking petty and un-Presidential.
But, if you don't read Hennessey's site regularly, you would probably be better off catching up there, instead of watching Obama.
- 2:31 PM, 9 September 2009
Update:  Here's Hennessey's checklist review.   And here's a relevant paragraph from Hennessey's Incorrect conventional wisdom about health care reform.
The President and his team have known for months how to get a bipartisan deal: negotiate directly with [Republican Senators] Grassley and Enzi, or authorize [Democratic Chairman] Baucus to do so on their behalf.  They were unwilling to do so, and are now feebly attempting to shift blame to these Republicans as they embark on a partisan legislative path.
In short, the person blocking a bipartisan deal is Barack Obama.
- 7:46 AM, 10 September 2009   [link]


Today's Thomas Friedman Column Is Horrible:  Jonah Goldberg accuses him of writing "love-letters to dictatorships".
So there you have it.  If only America could drop its inefficient and antiquated system, designed in the age before globalization and modernity and, most damning of all, before the lantern of Thomas Friedman's intellect illuminated the land.  If only enlightened experts could do the hard and necessary things that the new age requires, if only we could rely on these planners to set the ship of state right.  Now, of course, there are "drawbacks" to such a system: crushing of dissidents with tanks, state control of reproduction, government control of the press and the internet.   Omelets and broken eggs, as they say.  More to the point, Friedman insists, these "drawbacks" pale in comparison to the system we have today here in America.
Paul Mirengoff accuses Friedman of "extolling the virtues of one-party rule in Red China".

Kenneth Anderson, in a long and thoughtful post, calls the column "monstrous".
Let me just say for the record that this is a monstrous column.  When faced with American public defection from elite-preferred outcomes on certain policy issues that involve many difficult tradeoffs of the kind that democracies, with much jostling and argument, are supposed to work out among many different groups, Friedman extols the example of . . . China's political system, because it's both enlightened and autocratic?  Who among us knew?
I agree with all those criticism of Friedman's column, and want to add two of my own.  Friedman commits two flagrant errors in this paragraph:
Our one-party democracy is worse.  The fact is, on both the energy/climate legislation and health care legislation, only the Democrats are really playing.  With a few notable exceptions, the Republican Party is standing, arms folded and saying "no."  Many of them just want President Obama to fail.  Such a waste.  Mr. Obama is not a socialist; he's a centrist.  But if he's forced to depend entirely on his own party to pass legislation, he will be whipsawed by its different factions.
First, it is absurd to call President Obama a "centrist", rather than a leftist.  (Whether he is a socialist or not is a matter of definition, but there is no doubt that he would be comfortable in many of the world's socialist parties.)

Second, it is absurd to blame the Republican party for Obama's legislative failures.  The Republican party has almost no power in the House, and little power in the Senate.  An example:  Friedman blames Republicans for the bad parts of the Waxman-Markey cap-and-tax bill.  But nearly all of the Republicans voted against the bill, which did not stop it.  On the other hand, President Obama could have vetoed it, and asked Congress to try again, and to write a cleaner bill, one not cluttered with favors to special interests.

And it is simply not true that Republicans have not provided alternatives to Obama proposals.   Those alternatives have not gotten much press coverage — which is not surprising, since they have almost no chance of passage — but they do exist.  For instance:  Republicans are much more likely than Democrats to back the expansion of nuclear power.  If you are as concerned about global warming as Friedman claims to be, then you would welcome this Republican stand.

The column is so bad that it inspired Jay Turner to create a blog called Fire Thomas Friedman.  And, you know, I think Turner has a point.
- 1:59 PM, 9 September 2009   [link]


No, Maureen, Obama Is Not Spock:  There she goes again.  In May, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd wrote a column claiming that Obama was Spock.  Today, she is back with the same theme, this time urging Obama to be less "Spocky".

I am no expert on Star Trek, but even I know that Spock was not trained as a lawyer, did not habitually make arithmetic mistakes, and was truthful to a fault.  Fans of Star Trek can probably add dozens of differences to that brief list.

(Dowd urges Obama, at the end of today's column, to be more like "Rocky".  That's almost as silly as thinking that Obama is like Spock.)
- 8:01 AM, 9 September 2009   [link]


Obama's Health Insurance "Reform" Won't Take Effect Until 2013:  But he wanted it passed before the August congressional recess.  Thomas Sowell explains why.
If it is not urgent that the legislation goes into effect immediately, then why don't we have time to go through the normal process of holding Congressional hearings on the pros and cons, accompanied by public discussions of its innumerable provisions?  What sense does it make to "hurry up and wait" on something that is literally a matter of life and death?

If we do not believe that the President is stupid, then what do we believe?  The only reasonable alternative seems to be that he wanted to get this massive government takeover of medical care passed into law before the public understood what was in it.
And, Sowell goes on to say, Obama wants it to take effect after the 2012 presidential election, so that voters can't judge him on the consequences of his "reform".  Some of the consequences will be bad, given the size of the program.

(Sowell uses this, and other initiatives, to come to an old conclusion, that we should judge Obama by what he does, not what he says.  That's a good idea with any politician, but it is especially a good idea with our current president.)
- 7:26 AM, 9 September 2009   [link]