Archive:

September 2009, Part 4

Jim Miller on Politics




Pseudo-Random Thoughts



Will The Sioux Save The Fighting Sioux?  Maybe.
Fans of the North Dakota Fighting Sioux will not be watching pucks or game scores Thursday night; instead, they'll be eyeballing the returns in a local Sioux tribe's election.

The future of the mascot, which has represented the University of North Dakota since 1930 and is the last of 18 college Indian nicknames to have its fate resolved, could hinge on the outcome of the Standing Rock Sioux tribal election.

Running for re-election as tribal chairman is Ron His Horse Is Thunder, a staunch foe of the university's use of the Fighting Sioux logo and nickname.  His challenger is Charles Murphy, a tribal council member who has voted in favor of permitting the moniker's use.
You can read the rest of the article for the details.

My favorite story about these fights over Indian mascots comes from Oregon.  The Oregonian, a very politically correct newspaper, banned the use of all mascot names so they they would not have to write "Indian" or "Brave", or something equally horrible in their sports pages.  One of the schools affected was on an Indian reservation.  The school called their team the "Braves".  Can't have that in the newspaper.

(The article doesn't mention it, but I believe that the University of North Dakota did the right thing in 1930 and asked the tribe for permission to use the name, at least informally.)
- 2:48 PM, 30 September 2009   [link]


The World Reacts To Chinese Rare Earths Monopoly:  First, a graph from Wikipedia showing how recently China achieved its monopoly of these elements.

Growth in Chinese production of rare earths

As you may recall, China has threatened to exploit that monopoly by restricting exports, in order to help Chinese manufacturers.  The rest of the world took that threat seriously, even though China backed off from it soon after it was made.
But other governments and businesses reacted quickly as word of the proposed ban spread late this summer.

The Chinese threat has touched off a frenzied international effort to develop alternative mines, much as the 1973-74 Arab oil embargo's repeated increases in oil prices prompted a global hunt for oil reserves.

In Washington, the House and Senate amended their defense budget authorization bills to require the Defense Department to review the military's almost complete dependence on Chinese supplies of rare-earth minerals.  In Australia, the government blocked a Chinese state-owned company on Thursday from acquiring a majority stake in a large mine being developed for these minerals, also called rare earths.

Meanwhile, Wall Street is financing exploration as the share prices of rare-earths mining companies soar — as much as sevenfold since March.
However, we probably should not expect much production from new mines in the United States soon, because:
China is likely to remain the dominant producer of rare earths for years to come because it takes up to 10 years to explore an ore discovery, obtain permits and build a mine.
But other countries, some of them friendly and many of them willing to sell us minerals, may be more sensible.

If we considered it a matter of national survival, we could probably re-open some of our mines and have them producing again in ten weeks.

(China may have been able to achieve this monopoly in part because the country does not have, or does not enforce, strict environmental controls on their mines.   For example.)
- 1:26 PM, 30 September 2009   [link]


Obama Versus Scandinavian Commuters:  His visit to Copenhagen will shut down the Oresund bridge.
Even though US president Barack Obama isn't setting foot in Sweden, his planned visit to Copenhagen on Friday is expected to cause headaches for Malmö-area businesses and commuters.

The Öresund Bridge Consortium announced on Tuesday that the bridge, which carries both rail and road traffic between Malmö and Copenhagen, will be closed during the morning rush hour and at lunchtime on Friday in conjunction with Obama's visit to the Danish capital.

The decision to shut down the major traffic artery at one of the busiest times of the day confounded Henrik Andersson, a representative for the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Southern Sweden (Sydsvenska Industri- och Handelskammaren)

"It will cause a lot of problems," he told The Local.

"I find it peculiar that they are shutting the bridge down.  A lot of people will have to adjust their schedules."
Many Danes and Swedes commute over the bridge that links the two countries.   Luckily for Obama, very few of them can vote in American elections.

It is an unfortunate fact that any presidential visit to a large city on a work day will disrupt traffic, and cause problems for ordinary working people.  But it does seem that Obama might have chosen better flight times.
- 10:33 AM, 30 September 2009   [link]


Coverage Of The Tsunami That Hit Samoa:  The New York Times has the best article on the disaster that I've found.  The BBC has a good slideshow.

I would expect both news organizations to have more, as more pictures and video become available.

(You can find an explanation for the extraordinary speed of tsunamis here.  Samoa was fortunate that the tsunami struck during the day time, so many people got a little warning.)
- 9:45 AM, 30 September 2009
More pictures and more news from Samoa News.
- 12:42 PM, 30 September 2009   [link]


Washington's Governor Gets Ready To Break Her No Tax Increase Promise — Again:  In 2004, Christine Gregoire ran for office promising not to increase taxes.  Her official margin, just a little over one hundred votes, was so small that it is almost certain that she would have lost without that pledge.

When she took office, she immediately called for tax increases.  (Some will be reminded of Bill Clinton's similar behavior in 1992-1993.)

In the 2008 campaign, she again promised not to increase taxes.

That promise lasted longer than I expected, but it has almost reached its expiration date.

Gov. Chris Gregoire seems to be softening her opposition to raising taxes as way to help deal with another looming budget shortfall.

Her budget writers are projecting a shortfall next year of around $1 billion and the governor says there's no fat left to cut.
. . .
The governor said she's told legislative leaders to make their case for taxes, including the possibility of sending voters a proposal.

"I didn't want revenue last year because I couldn't figure out how you could do a revenue package that wouldn't hurt the economy.  I'm still stuck in that rut but I've told leadership to come make your case," Gregoire said.

Her 2005 tax increases were mostly regressive, hitting poor people harder than the well off.   Because Washington state does not have an income tax, any future tax increases are likely to be regressive, too.

Much of the additional money from Gregoire's tax increases went to public employees, especially members of public employee unions.  Their total compensation is probably above average, and, as everyone should know, they have much greater job security than workers in the private sector.

So, the net result of Gregoire's tax increases has been to transfer money from the poor to a better off group, a politically powerful better off group.  And we are likely to see the same result this time if the legislature passes the tax increases she has said she would accept.

Have the taxpayers, other than members of these powerful unions, benefitted from Gregoire's additional spending?  I don't doubt that, if you were to go over her budgets with a fine-toothed comb, you would find some spending increases that benefit the rest of us.  But it would be hard to find evidence that we have gotten our money's worth.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 8:13 AM, 30 September 2009   [link]


Freshman Democratic Congressman Alan Grayson Is Not Trying To Bring Civility To The House:  But he probably won't be reprimanded for his disgraceful language.

(Grayson won Florida's 8th district narrowly in 2008, beating a Republican incumbent, Ric Keller.  The Republicans, perhaps even Keller, have a good chance to retake the district next year.)
- 7:39 AM, 30 September 2009   [link]


The Instapundit Explains Why Celebrities Are Supporting Roman Polanski:   The celebrities believe in a modern version of droit de seigneur.  (Many of the same celebrities would extend that right to politicians they sympathize with.)

(If you are unfamiliar with Polanski's crime, you can find a good description here.)
- 7:11 AM, 30 September 2009   [link]


How Much Do Medical Malpractice Lawsuits Cost Us?  Not very much if we just count the cost of the lawsuits.
All told, jury awards, settlements and administrative costs — which, by definition, are similar to the combined cost of insurance — add up to less than $10 billion a year.  This equals less than one-half of a percentage point of medical spending
(Yes, I know.  It is odd to say that $10 billion is not very much.  But it makes sense in this context.)

More, if you include the indirect costs, mostly from defensive medicine, says David Leonhardt, citing studies.
The fear of lawsuits among doctors does seem to lead to a noticeable amount of wasteful treatment.   Amitabh Chandra — a Harvard economist whose research is cited by both the American Medical Association and the trial lawyers' association — says $60 billion a year, or about 3 percent of overall medical spending, is a reasonable upper-end estimate.  If a new policy could eliminate close to that much waste without causing other problems, it would be a no-brainer.
Much more, says Philip Howard, citing estimates.
Eliminating defensive medicine could save upwards of $200 billion in health-care costs annually, according to estimates by the American Medical Association and others.  The cure is a reliable medical malpractice system that patients, doctors and the general public can trust.
So, somewhere between "$60 billion" and "upwards of $200 billion".  It would be good to know more accurately, but even at the low end we can see that reforming malpractice could save very large amounts of money.  (And the $10 billion tells us why that is unlikely to happen while the Democratic party controls Congress; the trial lawyers are making too much money from the current system, some of which they donate to the Democrats in order to block reforms.)

Neither writer mentions the non-monetary costs of defensive medicine.  Two examples:  First, lawsuits (including some by John Edwards) are one of the reasons the United States has such a high rate of Cesarian deliveries.  In most case, those deliveries are more risky than normal deliveries.  Second, as Leonhardt mentions, in states that have capped malpractice awards, "stenting and other treatments" are more common, without better outcomes.  Installing a stent, like any surgical procedure, has some risks for the patient.  If we are installing too many of them, some patients will be harmed, and a few will die, unnecessarily.

(Leonhardt has some sensible things to say in the rest of the column.)
- 4:37 PM, 29 September 2009   [link]


Vote Fraud In Troy, New York:  And ACORN is involved.

Here's the basic story.
Dozens of forged and fraudulent absentee ballots from people registered to vote on the Working Families Party line were filed in the Sept. 15 primary elections in Troy, the Times Union has learned.

Many of the questionable ballots were filed under the names of students and people who live in government-subsidized housing and other downtown areas.  Still others were submitted on behalf of voters who were alleged to have signed the ballots earlier this month, but those people have not lived in New York state for at least a year, records show.

Documents at the county Board of Elections show the fraudulent ballots were handled by or prepared on behalf of various elected officials and leaders and operatives for the Democratic and Working Families parties.  A Troy housing authority employee, Anthony Defiglio, who sources said oversees vacant properties for the Troy Housing Authority, also handled many of the fraudulent ballots, according to public records and interviews with voters who said they were duped.
(New York has unusual election laws that allow a candidate to run on more than one party's line.   Most likely, the candidates of the Working Families party would also be Democratic candidates.)

Those who have followed these posts over the years will not be surprised at one of the details; as usual, absentee ballots were a key part of the vote fraud scheme.

And here's how the fraud was uncovered:
The ballot investigation was initiated by Robert Mirch, a Troy county legislator and Republican party operative.  Mirch said he was alerted to the suspicious ballots on Sept. 14 by an elections official.  He hired two private investigators from Loudonville and they began unraveling the fraud last week.
And, again, this is not unusual.  Vote fraud is often discovered by the other party, or, in primaries, by other candidates.

According to Roger Stone, the Working Families Party is a "wholly owned subsidiary of ACORN".

(Even TPMuckraker (which only rakes some kinds of muck) agrees that there was real vote fraud in Troy, and they add some details that give the story a twist.)
- 2:05 PM, 29 September 2009   [link]


Worth Reading:  Michael Gerson's short post on Obama's UN speech.

Key paragraph:
Obama's rhetorical method in international contexts -- given supreme expression at the United Nations this week -- is a moral dialectic.  The thesis: pre-Obama America is a nation of many flaws and failures.  The antithesis: The world responds with understandable but misguided prejudice.   The synthesis: Me.  Me, at all costs; me, in spite of all terrors; me, however long and hard the road may be.  How great a world we all should see, if only all were more like . . . me.
- 1:14 PM, 29 September 2009   [link]


Obama's Mask:  First, watch this short video:


Then, read neoneocon's discussion of Obama's mask, especially the sections where she quotes Richard Epstein.

No doubt politicians who pose for thousands of pictures develop, over time, some standard expressions for the camera.  But is weird to see a politician whose expression is this fixed, this complete of a mask.

And, I might add, his expression is inappropriate for these formal pictures.  His smile should vary according to who he is with, but it should be, in every case, less a triumphant grin, and more a serious, diplomatic smile.
- 12:53 PM, 29 September 2009
The video has been removed, as you probably noticed.  Hope you had a chance to see it before it went away.
- 10:34 AM, 2 October 2009   [link]


Richard Cohen Thinks It Is Time For Obama To Stop Campaigning And Be President:  The leftwing columnist sounds unhappy with the man he voted for.
Sooner or later it is going to occur to Barack Obama that he is the president of the United States.   As of yet, though, he does not act that way, appearing promiscuously on television and granting interviews like the presidential candidate he no longer is.  The election has been held, but the campaign goes on and on.  The candidate has yet to become commander in chief
And unhappy with Obama's changing messages:
The trouble with Obama is that he gets into the moment and means what he says for that moment only.   He meant what he said when he called Afghanistan a "war of necessity" -- and now is not necessarily so sure.  He meant what he said about the public option in his health-care plan -- and then again maybe not.  He would not prosecute CIA agents for getting rough with detainees -- and then again maybe he would.
It is good, I suppose, that Cohen is beginning to notice what most on the right noticed more than a year ago, but I am not sure that I agree with Cohen's prescription, or with his description of Obama's messages.

There is almost nothing in Obama's education or experience to suggest that he would make the right strategic decisions — if he were to begin making them.  We, and the rest of the world, may be better off if Obama just keeps talking, and lets the bureaucracies make the day-to-day decisions.

And, although I concede that is an open question, I am not sure whether Obama believes what he says when he says it.  Often, I have tentatively concluded, Obama doesn't care whether what he says is true or false, just whether it will get applause from his immediate audience.
- 9:56 AM, 29 September 2009   [link]


How Close Is The Obama Administration To ACORN?   Very close.
With the revelation that White House Director of Political Affairs, Patrick Gaspard, has close ties to [current ACORN head] Bertha Lewis and to ACORN, Matthew Vadum and Erick Erickson appear to be onto something significant.  While the Gaspard matter needs further investigation before we form any hard conclusions, it certainly seems to confirm that President Obama's ties to a whole series of ACORN-controlled organizations are neither minor nor by any means long-past.
The last White House Director of Political Affairs was Karl Rove.  If Gaspard has anywhere near the power that Rove did, he is a very important figure in the Obama administration.
- 9:19 AM, 29 September 2009   [link]


Even The Associated Press Has Noticed:  Some of Barack Obama's insurance horror stories are wrong.

For example:
One of President Barack Obama's health care "horror stories" is about a woman who, he says, lost her health insurance on the verge of breast cancer surgery because she didn't disclose a case of acne to the insurer.  That's not what happened.
And there is a detail to this story that I hadn't seen before
Rep. Joe Barton, Beaton's Republican congressman in Texas, fought the insurer until it restored her coverage, enabling her to get the surgery 10 weeks after it was postponed.  She told The Associated Press she owes Barton and his aides her life.
Incidentally, Barton, unlike Obama, has the details of the story right.

(I'll repeat a point I have made before.  In a country this large, it is possible to find cases of health insurance companies abusing their customers.   (And cases of health insurance companies going beyond their legal requirements to help customers.)   It is odd that Obama's staff keeps finding flawed examples to support his arguments.

It gives me no pleasure to say this, but the woman may have deliberately omitted her earlier heart problems when she applied for insurance.  She had been a nurse, so she might have suspected that those minor problems would prevent her from getting insurance at a reasonable price.)
- 7:43 AM, 29 September 2009   [link]


Barack Obama's Popularity Is Below Average:  Among North and South American presidents.
The next step includes US President Barack Obama, 52%; Ecuador's, Rafael Correa, 51%; Fernando Lugo from Paraguay, 50% and Guatemala's Alvaro Colom, 46%.
. . .
Overall the leaders of South America managed an approval average rating of 58%; in North America, 56% and in Central America, 52%.
The most impressive American president, Colombia's Alvaro Uribe, has a popularity rating of 70 percent, which is remarkable, considering the challenges he has faced and how long he has been in office.
- 7:19 AM, 29 September 2009   [link]


What Nation Is This?  According to an official spokesman, it has no inheritance tax, no wealth tax, and lower property taxes than in most of the United States.

Most citizens now have private pension accounts, like the kind that George W. Bush tried to introduce here.

Most new schools in this country are private.

The nation is privatizing parts of its government services.

The nation is governed by a coalition of center-right parties.

(You can find the answer here and here.

I think we should imitate some — but not all — of this nation's reforms.)
- 3:58 PM, 28 September 2009   [link]


How Much Money Would You Lend To An Insane Killer?  How about $85,000?

Philip Arnold Paul's escape while on a field trip to a county fair drew a lot of attention.
A criminally insane killer who escaped during a mental hospital field trip to a county fair remained on the run Friday, and furious residents and officials wondered why such a dangerous person was out in public.

Authorities believe Phillip Arnold Paul, 47, is heading to the Sunnyside, Wash., area, where his parents and many siblings live.  The Spokane County Sheriff's Office used a helicopter to search Friday, and officers also searched transient camps along railroad tracks in the area.   The public was urged to call 911.

"He is in a bad mental state," his brother, Tom Paul, told The Associated Press.  "Why would they load him on a bus and take him to a fair?"
And now we have another detail about his life while he was under the state's supervision.  He had been living, as late as last year, at a "residential facility" under some kind of supervision.   While semi-free, Paul fathered a child, and ran up some debts.
Paul filed for Chapter Seven bankruptcy protection in July.

Paul owes more than $85,000 to credit card companies
Not sure just what kind of credit score he had, but someone was willing to lend him money.  (He had a small income from social security disability payments.  I don't know whether he was working while he was living at the half-way house.)

Perhaps our credit standards have been too low in recent years.
- 2:05 PM, 28 September 2009   [link]


Germany Moves Right:  Chancellor Angela Merkel was re-elected.   Her preferred coalition partner, the Free Democrats, gained enough so that she has a chance to put in the reforms she promised in 2005.
Angela Merkel surged back into power last night at the helm of a pro-business Government that is committed to cutting taxes and ending a ten-year taboo on the use of nuclear power.

With her main challenger conceding defeat, the German Chancellor told cheering supporters that a new Government made up of her Christian Democrats and the liberal Free Democrats would lead the country out of crisis.

"I'm happy that we have a stable majority in a new Government with the Free Democrats," she said, beaming for the first time in weeks.

Reliable projections by ARD state television, based on exit polls and partial vote counts, gave the future government line-up 330 seats against a total of 280 seats for the Social Democrats, the Left (Die Linke) and the Greens — easilly enough to pass even the most controversial of legislation.
(Here's a diagram from Der Spiegel, showing the party shifts.  Note that both major parties lost ground, but that the gains of the Free Democrats more than made up for the small losses of the Christian Democrats.)

She has also promised to cut back on the regulation of the economy.

Her re-election is good news for Germany, and good news for the United States.

(Why couldn't she pursue these reforms before?  Because of the odd result of the 2005 election, which resulted in her sharing power with the Social Democrats.

Merkel has an unusual education for a political leader; she studied physics, and earned a doctorate with a thesis on quantum chemistry.  She isn't just fond of physics; she's fond of physicists, having married two of them.  She is probably better at arithmetic than most of our lawyer politicians.)
- 8:49 AM, 28 September 2009
More:  Many other European countries have seen similar shifts to the right in recent years.  For example, just yesterday, the Portuguese Socialist party lost its majority in parliament, though it is still the largest party.  Their share of the popular vote declined from 43 to 36.5 percent.
- 1:22 PM, 28 September2009
The New York Times has more examples of the "slow collapse" of socialist parties in Europe.  The reporter, Steven Erlanger, doesn't venture a general explanation for that collapse, though he does say — correctly — that conservative parties in Europe have accepted much of the welfare state.
- 8:06 AM, 29 September 2009   [link]


What An Extraordinary Final Paragraph:  New York Times columnist David Leonhardt begins with an old question.
The most subversive question about higher education has always been whether the college makes the student or the student makes the college.  Sure, Harvard graduates make more money than graduates of just about any other college.  And most community-college students will end up making far less than graduates of flagship state universities.  But of course these students didn't enter college with the same preparation and skills.  Colleges don't help to clear up the situation either, because they do so little to measure what students learn between freshman and senior years.  So doubt lurks: how much does a college education — the actual teaching and learning that happens on campus — really matter?
Leonhardt then meanders through a not-very-compelling discussion of the question, ending with this extraordinary paragraph:
Yet when you look at our actual policies, you have to wonder.  Many colleges and high schools still fail to do a good job, year after year, with little consequence.  And in the deepest recession in a generation, at the very moment when education would be of most value, money for it is disappearing.  It's almost as if we've been convinced that college isn't, after all, all that different from locking somebody in a closet for four years.
(Emphasis added.)

That's extraordinary for two reasons.  First, Leonhardt does not mention the immense increase in education spending during recent decades.  Most of the extra money has come from state and local governments, but George W. Bush increased federal spending on education dramatically, and Obama is planning to do the same.  It is true that some state and local governments are now trimming education spending, but those trims come after decades of increases.

Second, Leonhardt is admitting that much of that money is wasted — even while he is arguing that we should spend even more.  (He's right about much of the money being wasted, and I have a long post planned to document that.)  Wouldn't it be more sensible to figure out where we are wasting money, and reallocate that money to where it would make a difference?  (For instance, we might try requiring English departments to teach composition, rather than political correctness.)
- 7:31 AM, 28 September 2009   [link]


French President Sarkozy Corrects Obama:  British Prime Minister Gordon Brown may keep trying, without any success, to win Obama's favor.  Meanwhile, French President Sarkozy is almost open in his contempt for Obama's rhetoric.  Sarkozy corrects Obama like an impatient teacher correcting a dull student.
- 6:35 AM, 28 September 2009   [link]


Rich Lowry Thinks that, on Afghanistan, New York Times columnist Frank Rich is a hypocrite.  Anyone who reads Lowry's post will think that Rich is, at the very least, inconsistent.
- 6:20 AM, 28 September 2009   [link]


Shorecrest Teacher Brings Politics Into The Classroom:  By trying to recruit student volunteers.

Shoreline City Council candidate Patty Hale side-stepped the law in one of the roles touted on her campaign mailer: substitute teacher.

Hale, the leading vote-getter in the August primary for Council Position 3, will be fined by the state Public Disclosure Commission for using a classroom at Shorecrest High School to help recruit students to volunteer for her campaign.

The PDC determined that Hale violated a state law that prohibits elected officials and candidates for public office from using public facilities to assist their campaign or advocate for or against any ballot proposition.

Hale says that she didn't know it was illegal to recruit campaign volunteers in her classroom.   If so, you have to wonder just how good she is at recognizing ethical boundaries — in the classroom, or in public office, because that isn't a close call.

(It would be a mistake to extrapolate too much from this one incident, just as it would be a mistake to make too much out of the much more famous New Jersey case.   With millions of classrooms, it is certain that a few of them will have teachers who don't recognize obvious boundaries in politics, and elsewhere.)

Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 9:44 AM, 27 September 2009   [link]


Not Intended As A Joke:  (As far as I can tell.)  Peter Dreier, E.P. Clapp Distinguished Professor of Politics at Occidental College, uses Pastor Niemöller's famous lines to try to protect ACORN.  (Note to Professor Dreier: Losing federal funding is not exactly the same as being sent to a concentration camp.)  The attempt is quite funny, though, as I said, unintentionally.

By way of Hot Air.

(For a "Distinguished Professor of Politics", Dreier is surprisingly casual about his research.   He claims that ACORN "has not been convicted of any lawbreaking".  In fact, employees of ACORN have pled guilty to violations of voter registration laws in several different states, including Washington.  A sophist might argue that the organization wasn't convicted, just some employees.  That would be more plausible if these violations had not occurred in so many places.)
- 6:51 AM, 27 September 2009   [link]


"Clueless Or, Worse, Partisan"  The New York Times public editor is worried about how the newspaper looks.
It was an intriguing story: employees of a controversial outfit, long criticized by Republicans as corrupt, appearing to engage in outrageous, if not illegal, behavior.  An Acorn worker in Baltimore was shown telling the "prostitute" that she could describe herself to tax authorities as an "independent artist" and claim 15-year-old prostitutes, supposedly illegal immigrants, as dependents.

But for days, as more videos were posted and government authorities rushed to distance themselves from Acorn, The Times stood still.  Its slow reflexes — closely following its slow response to a controversy that forced the resignation of Van Jones, a White House adviser — suggested that it has trouble dealing with stories arising from the polemical world of talk radio, cable television and partisan blogs.  Some stories, lacking facts, never catch fire.  But others do, and a newspaper like The Times needs to be alert to them or wind up looking clueless or, worse, partisan itself.
That our newspaper of record prefers not to record some stories is not news.  That it sometimes looks "clueless" or even "worse, partisan" is not news, either, except, perhaps, to some of the people running the New York Times.

Here's an idea the public editor might want to think about:  Perhaps the Times sometimes looks clueless or partisan because it often is clueless or partisan — and sometimes both at once.

(Michelle Malkin does a little victory dance over the column, and describes how the Times suppressed a critical story on ACORN, just before the election.)
- 5:54 AM, 27 September 2009   [link]


We've Known For Years:  But they didn't know we knew until very recently.  That detail about the secret Iranian nuclear weapons site hasn't gotten much attention, but it deserves some.
American officials said that they had been tracking the covert project for years, but that Mr. Obama decided to disclose the American findings after Iran discovered, in recent weeks, that Western intelligence agencies had breached the secrecy surrounding the complex.  On Monday, Iran wrote a brief, cryptic letter to the International Atomic Energy Agency, saying that it now had a "pilot plant" under construction, whose existence it had never before revealed.
I've always assumed that Iran had at least one atomic weapons site buried deep because it's an obvious way for them to protect a part of their nuclear weapons program.  And I would hope that we have been paying close attention to their tunneling equipment, and other indicators, for years.

Although the anonymous officials sound quite certain, it is possible that they knew we knew all along, and are just now going public because they knew we were about to go public.

We can be mildly pleased that our intelligence agencies appear to have been following this site for some time, but we should not get too confident since, as Clausewitz pointed out long ago, we should not rely too much on intelligence reports.
- 4:20 PM, 25 September 2009   [link]


"Combining Cute With Creepy"  That's how Joanne Jacobs sums up the story about the New Jersey kids being taught to sing praises of Obama.  (Including some lines taken almost directly from that Sunday School staple, "Jesus Loves the Little Children".)

That's the right reaction, but I wouldn't make too much of this single incident.  In a country with millions of grade school classes, we can certain that a few teachers will do something creepy every year, and that sometimes those things will be politically creepy.  And, though I haven't dug into the story, I have read that the teacher responsible for this has retired.
- 1:36 PM, 25 September 2009
Correction:  I originally gave the song title as "Jesus Loves Me".   I have corrected it above.  Here are — if Google is to be trusted — the original lyrics.
- 6:51 AM, 28 September 2009   [link]


Can The Republicans Win Back Control Of The House Next Year?  Sure, but the odds are still against them.  Michael Barone, who knows a little about elections, has changed his mind on that.
Having said all that, I think the chances of the Republicans recapturing the House have to be rated now at well below 50%.  But I think they're not as negligible as I thought even a few weeks ago.
On that we agree, though I didn't think their chances were "negligible" back in July.  Or even a year ago, when I predicted that a Democratic win would create a powerful voter backlash.

The Intrade bettors are now giving the Republicans about 1 chance in 3 of retaking the House.

InTrade odds on House Dems, 9-25-09

As in July, I think the bettors are too optimistic, but I would now give the Republicans 1 chance in 5 of retaking the House next year.  I am less optimistic than the bettors because I do not — currently — believe that Obama, Pelosi, and Reid will continue to blunder, politically, as badly as they have been.  (And I also believe that our "mainstream" reporters will be looking hard for Republican scandals, or even "scandals", during the next year.)

(The InTrade bettors now think the chances of the Republicans retaking the Senate are about ten percent.  That's probably too high, too, though I have yet to look at the individual races.  At the same time, I think that the odds are about 3 in 4 that the Republicans will make a significant gain (3-5 seats) in the Senate.

Separate question:  Would the Republicans be better off if they made big enough gains so that they could stop Obama's proposals, but didn't quite take control of the House?  You can make arguments on either side of that question.  By not taking control, the Republicans might give themselves a better chance to win everything in 2012.  On the other hand, by taking control, the Republicans could use that control to pass popular reforms to put Obama, and the Democrats, on the spot.  As of now, I lean toward the second argument, but am still thinking about the question.)
- 9:21 AM, 25 September 2009   [link]


Stuart Taylor Thinks That Obama Should Tell The Truth About His Health Insurance "Reform Plan"  And that he hasn't.  Taylor says he doesn't expect "complete candor", but that Obama has gone far beyond what Mark Twain called "stretchers".

For example:
* "The problem of rising costs." The centerpiece of Obama's advocacy has been that "my plan" will "slow the growth of health care costs," now nearly 17 percent of gross domestic product and racing higher.  But his plan would quite clearly increase costs dramatically, which is why he is proposing so many new taxes, "fees," and other levies.

Mandating health insurance (or Medicaid) for 30 million more people will cost hundreds of billions of dollars.  Requiring insurers to accept people with costly-to-treat pre-existing conditions will cost billions more.
Taylor thinks those costs are justifiable — but that Obama's claim is not.

Taylor describes six more unjustified Obama claims in the rest of the column, some of which I have discussed here, in earlier posts.  Taylor thinks those claims have hurt Obama's credibility — as they should have.

Taylor makes a far more serious charge, without much discussion; Obama's plan "could accelerate health-cost inflation with ruinous consequences for the economy".  Taylor connects this to Obama's "stretchers", but he shouldn't.  If Obama's plan would be bad for the economy, it will be bad regardless of what Obama says about it now.

In fact, the causality, such as it is, is probably reversed; even Obama knows that the plan will have bad effects, but he can't sell it to the public if he admits that.  And that probably explains why Obama and his allies are again rushing to push this mess through Congress.  If enough voters figure out what the bill will do, Congress will be afraid to pass it.
- 6:49 AM, 25 September 2009   [link]