February 2009, Part 2

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

The Women's Tennis Association Is Smarter Than Many British Academics:  Or perhaps better.  Not that the WTA is smart or good, but it does well by comparison to Britain's Association of University Teachers.

Here's the tennis story
Shahar Peer, an Israeli, was scheduled to play a Russian, Anna Chakvetadze, in the first round Monday of the Barclays Dubai Tennis Championships, a major stop on the early-season circuit that features all but one of the top-10 players.  Peer, ranked 48th, had planned to play this $2 million tournament for some time, but there was always the specter of real-world invasion, the matter of a visa being granted to a Jewish player traveling on an Israeli passport.  That had never happened in Dubai, which is part of the United Arab Emirates.  Larry Scott, the chairman and chief executive of the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour, said Sunday that he told officials of the seven-year-old tournament that it had to happen now.

"We knew it was an issue, but we made it clear that she was going to be in the draw and we wanted to be optimistic that she would get the visa," Scott said. "Then they waited until the 11th hour to deny it."
Scott doesn't like this decision, and even says that Dubai may lose the tournament next year because of this decision.  Scott is not making a heroic stand, but he is, however weakly, on the right side.

In contrast, a faction of the AUT has been trying, for years, to boycott Israeli universities, and succeeded in getting a resolution to that effect passed in 2005.  It was reversed, but some of the damage had already been done.

(The WTA players are also more fun to watch than the AUT players.)
- 1:15 PM, 16 February 2009   [link]

How To Sell Me A Newspaper, Example 2:  Congressman John Murtha is visiting this area.  Either the Seattle PI or the Seattle Times can sell me a newspaper by sending a reporter out to ask Murtha some questions.

Questions about what?  Here are some possibilities: Questions about his behavior during the Abscam scandal.  He was, after all, an unindicted co-conspirator.  Questions about the firms with close ties to Murtha that have been raided by the FBI in recent weeks.  Questions about his derogatory comments about the Haditha Marines.  Questions about his reputation as a pork barreler who wastes our defense money.  Questions about his comments last fall, in which he appeared to accuse his constituents of being racists.

And a little bit of effort should turn up more possible questions for any enterprising reporter.

I'll be checking on line tomorrow to see if either the Seattle PI or the Seattle Times has such a reporter.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(Example 1 in this series is here.)
- 7:31 PM, 16 February 2009   [link]

Another Journalist Joins the Obama administration.
Jill Zuckman, a Chicago Tribune Washington correspondent and frequent guest on political talk shows such as MSNBC's "Hardball" and Fox Broadcasting's "Fox News Sunday," is leaving to join President Barack Obama's administration in the Department of Transportation.
Zuckman is the second journalist, or, possibly, "journalist" from the Tribune to join the administration.

And that leads me to mention a suspicion I have never been able to shake.  David Axelrod, who is as responsible as anyone for Obama's election, originally worked for the Tribune.  And the Tribune gave immense help to Obama in his 2004 senate race by endorsing him and, even more, by suing to have one of his Republican opponents' divorce records released.  The records embarrassed the Republican, Jack Ryan, and forced him out of the race.  (The Tribune did not sue to have John Kerry's divorce records released.)

Maybe those dots don't connect, but I can't shake the feeling that they might.  And the news that two journalists from the Tribune have been rewarded with jobs in the new administration doesn't quell my suspicion.

(There's another part of the Jack Ryan story that deserves mention.  He had made a fortune working for Goldman Sachs and then given up his investing career to teach in an inner city school.  Unlike Barack Obama, he had actually done something for poor blacks in Chicago.

Here's an example of Zuckman's journalism.  I would say that it shows that she is well suited to be a spokesman for Obama.)
- 6:57 AM, 16 February 2009   [link]

An Astronomer And A Physicist, Not A Meteorologist:  That's James Hansen, who has so much to say about our future climate.  All of it bad.  (Oh, and if you read the Wikipedia article, you should know this as well:  The man who claims, again and again, to have been censored has done roughly a zillion interviews with reporters.  Government departments routinely ask their employees — even those who are supposed to be scientists — to check with the boss before making statements that might be taken as coming from the department.  Nothing wrong with that policy, nothing even unusual about it.)

I learned about Hansen's credentials indirectly, from this article describing a protest from meteorologist William Gray.  Dr Gray is very unhappy with the American Meteorological Society, and said so in this open letter.
I am appalled at the selection of James Hansen as this year's recipient of the AMS's highest award — the Rossby Research Medal.  James Hansen has not been trained as a meteorologist.  His formal education has been in astronomy.  His long records of faulty global climate predictions and alarmist public pronouncements have become increasingly hollow and at odds with reality.  Hansen has exploited the general public's lack of knowledge of how the globe's climate system functions for his own benefit.   His global warming predictions, going back to 1988 are not being verified.  Why have we allowed him go on for all these years with his faulty and alarmist prognostications?  And why would the AMS give him its highest award?

By presenting Hansen with its highest award, the AMS implies it agrees with his faulty global temperature projections and irresponsible alarmist rhetoric.  This award, in combination with other recent AMS awards going to known CO2 warming advocates, is an insult to a large number of AMS members who do not believe that humans are causing a significant amount of the global temperature increase.  These awards diminish the AMS's sterling reputation for scientific objectivity.
Do Hansen's astronomy and physics degrees disqualify him from doing scientific work on climate?  Of course not.  To test a scientific theory you look at its internal logic and the physical evidence, not the credentials of the theorist or theorists who constructed it.

That said, it is interesting to learn that Hansen did not study the earth's weather as a graduate student, and it is reasonable to wonder whether he may have missed something along the way.

(Gray's letter contains some severe criticisms of Hansen's scientific work.  I am not qualified to assess them, so I won't express an opinion on them.  But I do find his claim that Hansen's predictions have — so far — been incorrect, plausible.)
- 6:27 PM, 15 February 2009   [link]

The Arsonist And The Chicago Way:  John Kass, who is trying to educate us on how politics is played in Barack Obama's Chicago, has another instructive example.
In what squeaky-clean city would a fire department lieutenant known as "Matches," convicted of multiple arsons—including one sparked at an elementary school—feel that he's still entitled to his taxpayer-funded pension of $50,000 per year?

Oh, don't pretend you don't know the city.

It's Chicago, which must be the epicenter of political reform now that Mayor Richard Daley's guys are running the White House and the U.S. Census, and are about to wet the beaks of federal road and bridge contractors.
And there's more in this example, which will amuse some and horrify others.  (I was mostly amused, since none of this is new to me.)

Some people think that Chicago could use a little reform, but it is fair to conclude that Barack Obama does not agree, since he did little to reform Chicago while he was there.  And he allied himself with some of the most corrupt men in that city.
- 3:45 PM, 15 February 2009   [link]

Maureen Dowd Is Right About Obama's Treatment Of Biden:  When Barack Obama chose Joe Biden as his running mate, I was genuinely surprised.  I thought nearly everyone knew that Biden was a lightweight, with a propensity for saying embarrassing things, even, from time to time, embarrassing true things, which is not what most presidents want from their vice presidents.   I put the choice down to Obama's ignorance, and was not surprised when Biden was muzzled for most of the campaign, after he popped off in the usual Biden fashion, a time or two.

But I was a little surprised by Obama's nasty putdown the other day.
At his news conference last Monday, Mr. Obama was asked by Fox's Major Garrett about the vice president's startling assertion that even if he and the president do "everything right," "there's still a 30 percent chance we're going to get it wrong."
. . .
And yet, the minute the president began to laugh and answer Garrett, I feared Joe would be the butt.

"I don't remember exactly what Joe was referring to," said Mr. Obama, who couldn't resist adding, "not surprisingly."

It was the "not surprisingly" that was surprisingly snarky.
And Maureen Dowd knows snark, having built a career on it.

Dowd goes on to say that Obama should treat Biden decently, and even appeals to a high judge in such matters, Jane Austen, to make her point.  Dowd is right, of course.  Obama picked Biden and should be prepared to live with that choice over the next four years.  Which means, among other things, that he shouldn't get snarky toward Biden in public, however tempted.

Though I was surprised, I shouldn't have been.  Obama often poses as a decent man, but a look at his career should convince you that his decency is mostly a pose.  (I say mostly because he does seem to treat his wife and daughters well.)  Consider, for instance, how unwilling he and his wife have been, over the years, to make charitable contributions.  And you can find more examples of his selfishness and general disregard for others in my "Strange Obama" list.  This example is the most striking.
- 10:07 AM, 15 February 2009   [link]

17 Point Basketball Play?!?  It didn't last, but it was on the books, temporarily.  Here's the story.
Ahead by 5 points in the game's final seconds, Bella Vista High School appeared to have the game won.   But a flagrant foul on a player from Rio Americano High School with 12.3 seconds left sent players and coaches from both teams' benches onto the floor.

No punches were thrown, and after referees sorted out the mess, they awarded eight free throws to Bella Vista, which made six, and 18 to Rio.  Zach Nathanson made five free throws, missed one, then hit 12 in a row to secure Rio's victory.
A league committee reduced the free throws to six and two, respectively, so the two Sacramento schools lost their chance at history.  (The committee decision also reversed the outcome of the game.)

I can't recall ever hearing of a basketball play even close to seventeen points.
- 1:13 PM, 14 February 2009   [link]

Hummingbird Cheer:  Today is ending on a gray note in this area, and, for me, that makes this collection of hummingbird pictures even more enjoyable.   I especially like the animated gif pictures on the right side of the site. They show the birds with good detail, and a little bit of movement.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(I should mention, as I have before, that hummingbirds are very difficult photo subjects — which adds to my appreciation of these pictures.)
- 4:18 PM, 13 February 2009   [link]

Loose Lips Sink Ships:  And damage alliances.
A senior U.S. lawmaker said Thursday that unmanned CIA Predator aircraft operating in Pakistan are flown from an airbase inside that country, a revelation likely to embarrass the Pakistani government and complicate its counterterrorism collaboration with the United States.

The disclosure by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, marked the first time a U.S. official had publicly commented on where the Predator aircraft patrolling Pakistan take off and land.
It is too late, but someone should still tell Senator Feinstein to shut up about these matters.  (And, no, it is not an excuse to say that she was just repeating a newspaper story.  The story could always be denied, but it is almost impossible to deny a comment from a high-ranking senator.)

To belabor the obvious:  It is extraordinarily difficult, for many reasons, for Pakistan to cooperate with us in these strikes.  At least our elected officials should keep quiet about them.

Oh, and Feinstein is almost universally regarded as the smarter, more responsible of the two California senators.

(Similar reactions here and here.)
- 11:07 AM, 13 February 2009   [link]

Why Did Judd Gregg Decide He Didn't Want To Be Commerce Secretary?  Actually, as Byron York points out, the real question is why he accepted the job.
After 16 years as a Republican senator from New Hampshire, Judd Gregg has a lot of friends among GOP lawmakers, and in the past two weeks, many of them -- perhaps most of them -- have been wondering why he chose to accept Barack Obama's offer to become Commerce Secretary.  Their objections intensified in the last week, as Republicans grew more worried about the Obama administration's plan to move control of the politically-sensitive 2010 Census from the Commerce Department to the White House.  For Gregg himself, concerns about having the Census taken away from Commerce dovetailed with more general fears that a Democratic White House would restrict his freedom to run the Department.  Finally, on Thursday afternoon, Gregg formally withdrew.

"I think he had buyer's remorse," one GOP senator told me.  "After he looked into it more, he said, 'Whoa, this was a mistake.'"
And Senator Gregg figured that out with, perhaps, a little help from Rahm Emanuel.

But some aren't willing to accept that common-sense explanation, or even to pay attention to the fact that the proposal to take the census away from Commerce was made after Gregg had accepted the job.  Sometimes, in fact often, the obvious explanation is correct, and it almost certainly is in this case.

(Fausta has a nice dissection of one of the people unwilling to accept that common-sense explanation.  I sometimes think that we Americans need our own Monster Raving Loony Party to accommodate such people.  But that's unfair.  Probably.)
- 10:01 AM, 13 February 2009   [link]

This Would Be Funnier If North Korea Didn't Have Nukes:  But it is still pretty funny.
The snow has begun melting around Jong-Il Peak at Mount Paektu on the border with China and the temperature is warmer than normal, making willow catkins open, the Korean Central News Agency said.

An "unprecedented phenomenon of moon halo" was also observed on Sunday evening, making the night view above the leader's birthplace "brilliant".

"Those who witnessed the opening of willow catkins earlier than the previous years and the unprecedented nocturnal view said excitedly that even the nature and the sky unfolded such mysterious ecstasy in celebration of the birthday of leader Kim Jong-Il," the agency noted.
And we should not forget that anyone telling a joke about this in North Korea would be risking their life.
- 7:49 AM, 13 February 2009   [link]

Impossible Atlantic Swimmer Story:  But it made the Associated Press.
The real issue stemmed from the fact that swimming 2,100 miles in 25 days is impossible.  (Some newspapers picked up on this.)  It's infinitely more impossible when somebody only spends 21 minutes swimming during one of those 25 days.  Michael Phelps swimming his fastest would take about 20 days to cover that distance.  And that's his fastest pace, sustained for three weeks, without ever stopping.  Impossible.

Yet, somehow, the AP ran the story even though a few seconds of thought and a pocket calculator was enough to disprove it.
People who are comfortable with numbers would automatically do a calculator check before publishing that story.  (I almost did a check myself, and I just glanced at the story.)  But too many of our "mainstream" reporters are not comfortable with numbers, something to keep in mind when looking at any newspaper article with numbers.

By way of the Jammie Wearing Fool.
- 2:09 PM, 12 February 2009   [link]

John Murtha May Be Getting Nervous:  From the high of Lincoln to the gutter of John Murtha.  We have to cover both here, though the first is more enjoyable.

Murtha should be getting nervous because the FBI has begun to raid companies with close ties to Murtha.  For example.

No one who knows anything about Murtha would be surprised if has been breaking the law.   Even if he hasn't, he is still so sleazy that he should have been thrown out of Congress by the voters long ago.  Here's the case against Murtha from Clarice Feldman.
In between skating on the Abscam charge and never really being held to account yet for slandering the troops, Murtha has used his position as chairman of the defense appropriations subcommittee of the House of Representatives to funnel well over a hundred million dollars in earmarks — largely but not exclusively on defense matters — to confederates in his district who return to him substantial campaign contributions which permit his repeated re-election to office.  If you think this pork game is harmless, you are not paying close attention: the process deprives the Department of Defense of the right to obtain the best equipment at the best, most competitive price for the troops and saddles it with services performed by companies on which it does not wish to expend its allotted funds.
Even the New York Times has begun to catch on.  
Mr. Murtha says his contract decisions are all about job creation and fair value for taxpayers, not power brokering for easy political money.  The surprise is not that Justice Department investigators dare to poke into Mr. Murtha's defense appropriations trough.  The surprise is that it took them so long.
I will add just one point that you won't find in Feldman's article or in the editorial.  John Murtha was Nancy Pelosi's choice to be House Majority Leader.  She wanted Murtha in the second most powerful position in the House of Representatives.  That choice, which was too awful for even the House Democrats to swallow, tells us much about our Speaker, and her values.
- 1:01 PM, 12 February 2009
Update:  Speaker Pelosi is now officially "concerned" as the investigations get closer to Murtha.   One can be concerned for many reasons.  A cynic might suspect that she is concerned that Murtha might get caught, after she backed him so strongly and so recently.  (She made a personal appeal for money to help Murtha in the last election.)  But perhaps there is a more pleasant explanation for her concern.
- 7:32 AM, 13 February 2009   [link]

Happy Birthday, Abraham Lincoln!  You don't look a day over 200.

To celebrate his birthday, I would suggest that you read one of his famous speeches.  My favorite is the Second Inaugural, which ends with this inspiring paragraph:

With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan--to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.

I think every American over the age of ten should read that speech at least once a year.

Or perhaps two of his famous speeches.  Another favorite of mine is his 1858 House Divided speech, which uses a biblical metaphor to make a powerful political argument.  Here is how Lincoln stated his thesis:

"A house divided against itself cannot stand."

I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free.

I do not expect the Union to be dissolved -- I do not expect the house to fall -- but I do expect it will cease to be divided.

It will become all one thing or all the other.

Either the opponents of slavery, will arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction; or its advocates will push it forward, till it shall become alike lawful in all the States, old as well as new -- North as well as South.

But don't take my word for it.  Read one or both of the speeches.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(For extra credit and to learn a little history, read Lincoln's Cooper Union speech.

You may have seen an attack on Lincoln from neo-confederates.  If so, you will want to read this reply to their arguments.)
- 12:23 PM, 12 February 2009   [link]

Republican Gains:  Michael Barone spots an "astonishing" poll finding.
Astonishing news on the generic ballot question.  Pollster Scott Rasmussen reports that Democrats are currently ahead of Republicans by only 40 percent to 39 percent.  Given that this generic ballot question over the years has tended to understate Republicans' performances in actual elections, one gathers that if the 2010 election for House seats were held today, Republicans would win or come close to winning a majority of seats—which is to say, they would gain about 40 seats.  By way of comparison, they gained 52 seats when they won their majority in 1994.  This result may just be a momentary blip, which will pass away as quickly as it appeared, and we are a long, long, long way from the November 2010 elections.  But if I were a Democratic member of Congress in even a marginally marginal district, I would be just a little bit worried.
(Barone doesn't explain why Republicans do better than the generic ballot, but it is not a mystery.   Republicans are a little more likely to vote than Democrats, especially in off-year elections.)

Barone is surprised by this result, but he shouldn't be.  Almost all of Rasmussen's generic numbers since the election are better for Republicans than the generic numbers in the months before the election.

That pattern makes it unlikely that this result is an outlier, one of those bad results that every pollster gets from time to time.

Last September, I predicted this would happen.
In the last half century, voters have given control over the government to the left three times.   Each time, the voters repented almost immediately.  (Though not always in time to repair all the damages.)

It is not hard to see reasons why we have had this pattern.  Voters who are unhappy with Republican candidates often will choose leftists because they want change, gambling that the change will be an improvement.  When it isn't, voters go back to conservatives.  Over time, some older voters forget the lessons they learned, and new voters, who never had those hard lessons, come into the electorate.  And, of course, our "mainstream" media judges conservatives far more harshly than it does leftists, and over time those judgments have an effect on moderates, and even some conservatives.

There are enough older voters whose memories of 1994 have lapsed, and new voters who know nothing about the issues in that election, much less the elections of 1968 and 1980, so that Barack Obama could win this November.  If he does, the result will not be pretty, since he is even more out of touch with reality than Lyndon Johnson and Jimmy Carter.  If he does win, the voters will catch on — in spite of our "mainstream" news organizations — but it may take us decades to repair all the damages.
Though I will admit that I did not expect it to happen this fast.

(Rasmussen gives us another reason not to be surprised by this generic result.  The Pelosi-Reid Congress gets very low marks from the voters.)
- 7:54 AM, 12 February 2009   [link]

Unexpectedly?  Here's the Reuters story.
Sales at U.S. retailers unexpectedly rebounded in January, government data showed on Thursday, likely boosted by post-holiday discounts and providing a glimmer of hope for the recession-hit economy.

The Commerce Department said total retail sales rose 1 percent, advancing for the first time in seven months, after slumping by a revised 3 percent in December, previously reported as a 2.7 percent decline.

January's increase in retail sales was the biggest since November 2007.
Let's see.  Personal income, controlling for inflation, has been growing steadily, as I reported here and here.   And now consumers are spending a little of that extra income.  Why should that be unexpected?   In my experience, when people have more money, they usually spend more.
- 6:35 AM, 12 February 2009   [link]

The WSJ Catches Up with me.  Partly.
Presidents are free to conduct press conferences however they like, but the decision to preselect questioners is an odd one, especially for a White House famously pledged to openness.  We doubt that President Bush, who was notorious for being parsimonious with follow-ups, would have gotten away with prescreening his interlocutors.  Mr. Obama can more than handle his own, so our guess is that this is an attempt to discipline reporters who aren't White House favorites.
Here's what I said in January.  
As most of you have already realized, by picking reporters in this systematic way, Obama can control the questions he is asked, since his press people can usually make pretty good guesses as to which reporters will ask which questions.  It is too much to expect that the Obama people will choose reporters who will ask challenging questions.  And a reporter who does ask a challenging question will probably not be on Obama's list at the next press conference.  Reporters, knowing that, will self-censor.
The Journal missed the first part of my argument, that by selecting particular reporters (whose questions are often predictable), Obama can often get questions he wants to answer.

For example, in his most recent press conference Obama called on Sam Stein, a "reporter" from Huffington Post.  Their exchange is instructive:
Today, Senator Patrick Leahy announced that he wants to set up a truth and reconciliation committee to investigate the misdeeds of the Bush administration.

He said that before you turn the page, you have to read -- read the page first.  Do you agree with such a proposal?  And are you willing to rule out right here and now any prosecution of Bush administration officials?

MR. OBAMA: I haven't seen the proposal, so I don't want to express an opinion on something that I haven't seen.

What I have said is that my administration is going to operate in a way that leaves no doubt that we do not torture, that we abide by the Geneva Conventions, and that we observe our traditions of rule of law and due process as we are vigorously going after terrorists that can do us harm.  And I don't think those are contradictory; I think they are potentially complementary.

My view is also that nobody's above the law, and if there are clear instances of wrongdoing, that people should be prosecuted just like any ordinary citizen. But that generally speaking, I'm more interested in looking forward than I am in looking backwards.  I want to pull everybody together, including, by the way, the -- all the members of the intelligence community who have done things the right way and have been working hard to protect America, and I think sometimes are painted with a broad brush, without adequate information. So I will take a look at Senator Leahy's proposal, but my general orientation is to say let's get it right moving forward.
(Emphasis added.)

Obama and his people could guess that Sam Stein would ask that question, or something similar.  And that lets Obama prepare an answer that lets him have it both ways.  Those on the left — Sam Stein, for instance — will hear his promise to prosecute if laws have been broken.  Those on center and right are more likely to hear the part that I emphasized, the part where he poses as a moderate.

Pre-selecting reporters, or, in this case, a "reporter", will often give Obama a question he wanted to answer.  The tactic won't always work.  It's my impression, for instance, that Helen Thomas's question — she asked him to identify any nuclear powers in the Middle East — was not a question he wanted, which explains why he dodged her question completely.
- 3:27 PM, 11 February 2009   [link]

Could Someone Else Have Done Better?  Ruth Marcus of the Washington Post says that Barack Obama is actually doing "rather well".  Marcus ends her meandering column with this question:
So if you're feeling jittery about Obama's start, ask yourself this: Is there another president in recent memory who would have done better?
To which I say, sure.  But let's expand her question to this:  Would one of his rivals or a recent president have done better?  Here's a very incomplete list of people who would have done better than Obama is doing:  John McCain, Hillary Clinton, Mitt Romney, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George H. W. Bush, Ronald Reagan.  Possibly even Joe Biden — seriously.

Let's take just one of the people on that list, Mitt Romney.  It is impossible to believe that Mitt Romney, with all his executive experience — and successes — would not have done better than Barack Obama is doing.

I can understand why Marcus wants to change the grading standard so that Obama will pass, instead of fail, but in doing so she insults people who would have done better than he is now doing, or is likely to do.
- 1:37 PM, 11 February 2009   [link]

Mt. Rainier Is Beautiful Today:  Here's how it looked a little after noon.

Mt. Rainier, February 11, 2009

It may be even prettier around sunset, though I won't promise that you will even be able to see the mountain then.  Here's the main Paradise webcam, if you want to see for yourself.  You can find three more webcams at the park site.  Two of the cameras show a parking lot and an approach road, but the Tatoosh camera will have good views when the light is right.

Cross posted at Sound Politics

(So why am I not up there making cross-country ski tracks, rather than down here telling you about the snow?  Because yesterday I didn't think today would be this nice, and because I generally prefer to go up to Paradise on weekends, when the visitor's center is open.)
- 1:02 PM, 11 February 2009   [link]

Sarah Palin predicted this.  Here's what she said during the campaign:
Al Qaeda terrorists still plot to inflict catastrophic harm on America, and he's [Obama] worried that someone won't read them their rights.
And if you follow the Hot Air link, you'll see that Palin was right.
- 11:17 AM, 11 February 2009   [link]

The Shrinking Hillary:  Dick Morris notices what is happening to our Secretary of State  After describing all the diplomatic tasks that have been given to other people, he ends with these paragraphs:
The power of the secretary of State flows directly from the president.  But Hillary does not have the inside track with Obama.  Rice and Powers, close advisers in the campaign, and Gen. Jones — whose office is in the White House — all may have superior access.  Holbrooke and Mitchell will have more immediate information about the world's trouble spots.

So what is Hillary's mandate?  Of what is she secretary of State?  If you take the Middle East, Afghanistan and Pakistan out of the equation, what is left?  One would have to assume that the old North Korea hands in the government would monopolize that theater of action.  What, precisely, is it that Hillary is to do?  The question lingers.

And for this she gave up a Senate seat?
As Morris admits earlier in the column, he is not often sympathetic to Hillary Clinton, but is compelled to be in this case.

But there is a larger question.  Will these arrangements be better for the country than having Hillary Clinton as our chief diplomat?  We can't know at this stage, but I will say that she never struck me as a natural diplomat.

That said, it seems likely that Obama will be his own chief diplomat — and he is radically unsuited for that role.  If I had to choose between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton as our chief diplomats, I would choose her almost every time.

In short, if Obama doesn't interfere with the pros, I would expect us to be better off.  But he probably will, in which case we will be even worse off than if Clinton were actually our chief diplomat.
- 10:56 AM, 11 February 2009   [link]

Jay Cost Analyzes Obama's Press Conference:  And finds that Obama, again and again, distorted and misrepresented Republican arguments.
So, time and again in this press conference, we saw the President mischaracterize the Republican position.  That's not to say that no Republicans (or conservatives) hold the views that the President claimed they do (though I don't think anybody is opposed to modernizing government buildings!).  The point is that none of these views reflect the median Republican position, let alone the "left-leaning" position of the kinds of Republicans who could be brought into a Democrat-led initiative like this stimulus bill.
Cost apparently took Obama's campaign claims that he wanted to raise the level of debate seriously.   I never did, because I know something about Obama's past.  For instance, as a community organizer Obama must have learned something from Saul Alinsky.   The Wikipedia article does not quote Alinsky's famous 13 rules for radicals, but you can find them here.  Here's the 13th rule.
Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it and polarize it.
And none of the other twelve rules say anything about honest dialog, either.

Cost should review his Machiavelli.  The Italian thinker said, again and again, that a prince should appear to be good.  In modern America, a politician who wants to appear to be good should, among other things, pretend to believe in bipartisanship and honest dialog.  (And, Machiavelli would add, use thugs like Rahm Emanuel to do the dirty work behind the scenes.)

It is odd that Cost believed, or at least hoped, that Obama was serious in his claims to want bipartisanship and honest dialog.  Perhaps Cost was projecting; since Cost wants honest dialog (so do I), he hopes, in spite of the evidence, that Obama wants it, too.

Like many others, Cost will be disappointed over the next four years.
- 7:33 AM, 11 February 2009   [link]

To Describe Excess, You Need Someone Like Camille Paglia:  Here's her take on Obama's "stimulus" package.
Money by the barrelful, by the truckload.  Mountains of money, heaped like gassy pyramids in the national dump.  Scrounging packs of politicos, snapping, snarling and sending green bills flying sky-high as they root through the tangled mass with ragged claws.  The stale hot air filled with cries of rage, the gnashing of teeth and dark prophecies of doom.

Yes, this grotesque scene, like a claustrophobic circle in Dante's "Inferno," was what the U.S. government has looked like for the past two weeks as it fights on over Barack Obama's stimulus package -- a mammoth, chaotic grab bag of treasures, toys and gimcracks.  Could popular opinion of our feckless Congress sink any lower?  You betcha!
But I don't think Paglia really understands what she describes so vividly, because she goes on to say that, "stimulus" package aside, Obama has made a good start.  Paglia's shift will remind some of a famous joke: "Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?"
- 6:16 AM, 11 February 2009   [link]

The NYT Is Still In Campaign Mode:  Yesterday, Obama visited Elkhart, Indiana — which has a very high unemployment rate.  The New York Times tells us, correctly, that Obama visited Elkhart in campaign mode.
President Obama took his case for an $800 billion economic recovery package to one of the most distressed places in America on Monday as he opened a series of campaign-style events intended to press Congress to approve the plan by week's end.

Wrapping himself in the mandate of his election last November, Mr. Obama sounded like a candidate all over again, scolding greedy Wall Street bankers and pointedly rejecting Republican critics for sticking with what he called a failed philosophy.  At one point, he spoke about people with as many as five homes, which sounded like a reference to his opponent last fall, Senator John McCain.
But the Times never bothers to explain why unemployment is so high in Elkhart.

Michael Barone fills that gap.
Barack Obama is speaking today in Elkhart, Indiana, which had very high unemployment (15.3 percent) in December, a record.  But why does Elkhart have such exceptionally high unemployment?  The answer is that it is, as a promotional website tells us, "The RV Capital of the World."  RV sales are down this year, and I don't suppose they'll be helped by the cap-and-trade system that Obama and most Democrats want to impose on our economy.
We can see why the New York Times omitted that inconvenient fact.  Obama's policies, indeed the policies of most Democrats, will not be good for the RV industry.  You may recall that Obama candidly admitted during the campaign that he was not particularly opposed to four-dollar-a-gallon gas, he just wished we had reached that price more gradually.

It is, I think, cynical for Barack Obama to stage a campaign event in Elkhart.  He knows that his policies will not be good for places that make RVs.  But he, or his political advisors, chose to exploit Elkhart's problems, anyway.

Staging his rally in Elkhart was cruel.  And it was cynical of the New York Times not to mention these inconvenient facts.  Their reporter, Peter Baker, must know that Obama's policies will not be good for Elkhart in the next few years.  But Baker chose to conceal that from his readers.   Like Obama, Baker is still in campaign mode.
- 4:28 PM, 10 February 2009   [link]

Dave Ross Says the Darndest Things:  This morning the Seattle talk show host told his listeners that Barack Obama is a "pretty conservative guy".  Seriously.  Ross really did say that.

Ross's claim reminds me of the controversy over whether the 2004 Democratic presidential candidate, John Kerry, was really a liberal.  Both men are liberals, or, as I prefer to say, leftists.  Kerry is one of the ten most liberal senators; Obama was one of the two or three most liberal senators.  (The National Journal ranked each as the most liberal in the year that they ran for president.  I think — and said at the time — that Kerry's number one rating went too far, if you look at his whole career.  Vermont Socialist Bernie Sanders is probably a bit to the left of Barack Obama, and you could find one or two other senators who could have challenged Obama for the "most liberal" title.)

So, why did Ross say otherwise?  I can think of two possible reasons.  Many of us judge whether someone is a leftist, a moderate, or a conservative by our own positions.  From where Ross stands, Obama may, in fact, be a "pretty conservative guy".  (In general, I prefer to use those terms descriptively, and to measure against the beliefs of American voters.)

Or, Ross may be trying to appeal to moderates, and a few conservatives, hoping to persuade them that Barack Obama, the student of Saul Alinsky, the ally of Bill Ayers, and the follower of Reverend Jeremiah Wright, is not really as far left as Obama's record shows that he is.

Ross didn't explain his claim, so I can't judge which of those is the most likely explanation for his statement.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(Credit where due.  Just before Ross made that curious statement, he was discussing whether Obama was fear-mongering over the economy, and this morning Ross gave time to a representative from Judicial Watch to discuss these charges.)
- 12:53 PM, 10 February 2009   [link]

Worth Reading:  For months I have been arguing that Barack Obama would govern as close to the leftist beliefs of his Hyde Park neighbors as he could get away with.  In part, I have suggested, he would do that by naming extremists to second-level posts.  Wendy Long has some examples of Justice Department nominees that support my argument.

For example, here is David Ogden, who has been nominated to be deputy attorney general.
Take Ogden.  This past Thursday in U.S. Senate hearings, the man who has in private legal practice been one of the porn industry's main advocates sounded like he was trying to edge out Phyllis Schlafly in his desire to protect children from smut and exploitation.  Meanwhile, the porn industry calls his nomination "refreshing."

But facts are stubborn things.  Ogden fought to remove porn filters from the Internet in public libraries.  He argued that the law requiring producers of sexually explicit material to keep records about the identity and ages of their performers was unconstitutional.  He submitted a Supreme Court brief on behalf of the ACLU arguing that a man had been improperly convicted under the federal child pornography statute because the man's videotapes, "Little Girl Bottoms (Underside)" and "Little Blondes," which the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit had found "clearly were designed to pander to pedophiles," aren't really pornography under the Constitution.  Then-President Bill Clinton disagreed with Ogden, as did the U.S. Senate, 100-0.
There's more on Ogden, and more on several other extremist nominees.

(It is probably not a coincidence that the porn industry has given almost all its political contributions to Democrats in recent years.   For example.)

- 9:12 AM, 10 February 2009   [link]

Calvin Woodward Commits Journalism:  In his analysis of Obama's claims.  Sample:
President Barack Obama had it both ways Monday when he promoted his stimulus plan in Indiana.  He bragged about getting Congress to produce a package with no pork, yet boasted it will do good things for a Hoosier highway and a downtown overpass, just the kind of local projects lawmakers lard into big spending bills.

Obama's sales pitch on the enormous package he wants Congress to make law has sizzle as well as steak.  He's projecting job creation numbers that may be impossible to verify and glossing over some ethical problems that bedeviled his team.
This article is a pleasant surprise, especially from the Associated Press.
- 8:06 AM, 10 February 2009   [link]

Do Modern Newspapermen Want Us To Buy Their Newspapers?  That may seem like an odd question, but it is one that I have been wondering about for years.  And this review of a new book on publisher William Randolph Hearst shows me that I am not the only person to wonder about that question.

First, some background on Hearst:
Few in the history of newspapering did more to exploit these developments than William Randolph Hearst.  This buccaneering Californian, whose caricature was immortalised in Citizen Kane, was arguably the most powerful newspaper publisher in history.  By the 1920s — the height of his fame and influence — he owned papers in nearly every major American city, and his interests extended to magazines, radio, motion pictures and real estate.  His art collection was immense, as was his extravagant mansion in San Simeon, California.

He was also detested.  In the annals of vilification, even Rupert Murdoch is no match for Hearst.  A catalogue of his sins — actual and alleged — would fill a book.  From his early days as a publisher in Gilded Age San Francisco and New York into his mature years as a titan, Hearst inspired an intense hatred.  He was accused of cheap sensationalism and trafficking in falsehoods.  He was blamed for causing the Spanish-American War of 1898 and pandering to the reader's worst instincts with his craven brand of "yellow journalism".  His critics were legion—AJ Liebling, one of Hearst's most eloquent foes, said he used money "like a club".  Others called him a megalomaniac and an unhinged madman.

The image of Hearst as a ruthless mogul is a part of journalism lore.  Certainly, there is a good deal that was unsavoury about the man: in the 1930s, Hearst papers ran columns by Hitler and Mussolini and savaged Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal.  (He ordered that all his papers call it the Raw Deal.)  But lately his reputation has been getting a second look.  David Nasaw's prize-winning biography, The Chief, published in 2000, presented a more complex flesh and blood Hearst, not some cartoon villain.
And now those shared doubts.
The Uncrowned King is a journalist's book, about the day-to-day business of gathering the news and putting out the paper in a hyper-competitive market.  [Kenneth] Whyte says nothing about the present moment, but his book is a stark reminder of how timid and dreary so many newspapers have become, and of how the newspaper industry has, of late, squandered the preeminent place it once held in the lives of its readers.
I suppose that most modern newspapermen do want us to buy their newspapers — but only on their terms, not ours.  There are exceptions; most American newspapers have astrology columns, for instance.  (Not that I care for those columns, though they sometimes can be amusing, but this does show that newspapers are willing to try to cater to some of their readers.)   And almost all give extensive coverage to sports.  But, on the whole, American newspapers manage to be boring without being substantive.

Example:  When you read an article on a budget fight, the article almost never gives you the numbers from previous years, numbers that are essential for understanding budget trends.  And so we see story after story about how one side is pushing for budget "cuts", which turn out to be smaller increases than their opponents want.

This thought would cause fainting in the faculty lounges at most university journalism departments, but perhaps modern journalists could learn something from Hearst.
- 7:39 AM, 10 February 2009   [link]

Could?  The Washington Post is too polite.
The Obama administration's economic stimulus plan could end up wasting billions of dollars by attempting to spend money faster than an overburdened government acquisition system can manage and oversee it, according to documents and interviews with contracting specialists.
(Emphasis added.)

The plan will waste billions of dollars.  The only question is whether it will waste tens of billions, or hundreds of billions.  (Yes, I really do think it could be that bad.)
- 11:26 AM, 9 February 2009   [link]

Funny Twice:  Almost every year since the early 1980s, I have bought daily cartoon calendars, so that I could start the day with a chuckle.  For many years, I chose Far Side daily calendars.  Now that they are no longer available, I have chosen New Yorker daily calendars as the best substitute.  Most days they have a funny cartoon, and some days they have a very funny cartoon.

Last Thursday's cartoon was funny twice.  First, the original joke:  A young woman is seated with her boyfriend, facing her parents.  The boyfriend is a penguin, who is saying, "Actually, I prefer the term Arctic-American."

Not bad at all as a commentary on these awkward moments.

Did you catch the second, unintentional joke?  If not, I'll give you a hint: Arctic-American.

Though unintentional, that, too, is a funny commentary on these awkward moments.  As minority groups have become more accepted, they have often brought with them a distorted past.  For instance, many Irish-American believe that signs asking for help once commonly included this sentence: "No Irish need apply."  Apparently, that is mostly an urban myth.  Similarly, some African-Americans thought that studying Swahili would help them get in touch with their ancestors.  In fact, almost all American blacks come from west Africa.  Swahili is a language of east Africa, a language, though it is impolite to mention this, that grew up out of the Arab slave trade.
- 8:16 AM, 9 February 2009   [link]

When An Adult Talks To Little Kids, The Adult Often Looks Foolish:  Even if the adult is the president.  (Look at the sequence of pictures that Althouse links to for more examples.)  There's no mystery about that; we talk that way to little kids in order to better communicate with the kids.   We exaggerate our expressions, for example, because little kids aren't good at picking up subtle expressions.

Although I disagree with Althouse on this picture, she is right when she suggests that it is easy to find pictures that make a public figure look silly.  Unless we are almost expressionless, all of us can look silly when we are caught in the middle of a changing expression.

And photo editors are much more likely to choose pictures that make a politician look foolish, if they dislike that politician.

(While we are on the subject, Bookworm has a good analysis of two famous photographs, one of FDR and one of Obama.)
- 6:05 AM, 9 February 2009   [link]