February 2010, Part 1

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Congratulations To The Danish Special Forces:  For this successful action against Somali pirates.
Danish special forces yesterday stormed a ship captured by armed Somali pirates and freed the 25 crew on board, marking the first time a warship has intervened during a hijacking in the troubled area.
(It wasn't the first time a warship has intervened there, but let's not quibble about details in the account.)

The Danes didn't meet resistance, which is good, I suppose, but it's too bad that they didn't capture some of the pirates, who might have given us useful intelligence.
- 1:51 PM, 8 February 2010   [link]

We Aren't Worthy Of Obama:  So says Jacob Weisberg.
In trying to explain why our political paralysis seems to have gotten so much worse over the past year, analysts have rounded up a plausible collection of reasons including: President Obama's tactical missteps, the obstinacy of congressional Republicans, rising partisanship in Washington, the blustering idiocracy of the cable-news stations, and the Senate filibuster, which has devolved into a super-majority threshold for any important legislation.  These are all large factors, to be sure, but that list neglects what may be the biggest culprit in our current predicament: the childishness, ignorance, and growing incoherence of the public at large.
(Emphasis added.)

I feel guilty already.  Or I would feel guilty if I didn't remember that President Bush faced the same obstacles and an extraordinarily hostile press corps, and still managed to get things done.

Years and years ago, I ran across a study of candidates which found that the winning candidates thought better of the voters than the losing candidates.  No great surprise there, but it is amusing to see Weisberg, and so many others on the left, get this angry with the voters after the loss of Ted Kennedy's senate seat and Obama's legislative failures.

(Incidentally, it is simply absurd to say that the problems Weisberg points out have gotten "so much worse over the past year".  There is a simple explanation for our "political paralysis".  As Jay Cost explains, Obama and Pelosi are trying to pass a leftwing agenda that does not have the support of a broad majority.  The Constitution was designed to make large changes difficult without broad support, and is working as designed.)
- 1:04 PM, 8 February 2010   [link]

LED Lights Are Becoming Available:  And, in time, they will be a better solution than either incandescents or fluorescents.

Early adopter Anthony Watts installed some in his home, and is pleased with the result.  His experience shows the kind of work switching to LED lights can require when they are replacing conventional recessed lights.  (There are some LED lights that do not require new fixtures.)

I'll be looking at LEDs in the future, as the prices come down and the performance improves, even though they do not save as much money for me as they do for most others.  (My apartment has electric heat.  Everything else being equal, I would rather heat it with lights in the winter, to dispel the Seattle area gloom, than with heaters.)

One reason I will looking for LED alternatives is that I am somewhat less positive on compact fluorescents than I was when I first began using them.  So far, I have not found any that are good for working with photos.  The light output from them appears to decline as they age.  And I have had two fail dramatically, probably leaking pollutants.

In contrast, I've been quite pleased with the LED lantern that I bought for camping and emergencies.  (I doubt that my model is still available, but it is not hard to find equivalent models; for example.)  The light from mine is unnatural, but is quite usable for reading, even with my older eyes.
- 11:05 AM, 8 February 2010   [link]

Helen Thomas Attacks Obama:  Yes, that Helen Thomas.
Still, a press corps that periodically complained about George W. Bush's infrequent news conferences should not let Obama walk away from the practice unchallenged.  And some of its members have protested.  [CBS White House correspondent Chip] Reid raised the issue with Gibbs at a briefing last month, and Hearst columnist Helen Thomas said the president has "gone an obscenely long time, not holding one."
Obama last held a press conference in July, 2009.  It is almost as if he is avoiding questions from a group that includes a few skeptical reporters.  (Or, possibly, he is avoiding press conferences when they won't be on national TV, in prime time.)
- 9:29 AM, 8 February 2010   [link]

Great Green Police Ad:  It's good to see this kind of warning about how the Greens want to control every aspect of our lives.

But I don't know why they stuck that bit in about the car company.  (It's a German car company.  Were they, perhaps, referring to a certain unfortunate 20th century German regime, led by a vegetarian who was fond of the natural environment?)
- 8:33 AM, 8 February 2010   [link]

Charles Blow Forgets Independents:  The party that wins the most independents usually wins national elections.  Is that idea too complicated?

It is for Charles Blow whose Saturday column never mentions independents.  Calling the column an analysis would be giving it too much credit, since it does not have a coherent argument.  Instead, Blow shows us that Democrats and Republicans have very different assessments of President Obama — no surprise there — and tells us that he thinks that Obama is now being more effective politically because he is appealing to — Charles Blow.

But Blow never mentions independents in the column.  (And I can see why not, since independents have moved sharply against Obama and the Democrats in three high-profile elections in Virginia, New Jersey, and Massachusetts.)  Obama being a partisan Democrat will please people like Blow, but will alienate independents.

(This mistake is extremely common among activists on both the the left and right, though Blow's version is exceptionally crude.  It is easy to think that if our parties would only do what we want them to, they would win.  Dick Morris, and any other election analyst worth his fees, can tell you that ain't necessarily so.)
- 7:39 PM, 7 February 2010   [link]

Someone At The Associated Press Doesn't Like Sarah Palin:  If you doubt that, take a look at the photograph they chose to illustrate this article.  Someone must have gone to great lengths to find that picture, since Palin is, as we all know, an attractive woman, who smiles frequently in public.  Few pictures of her make her look bad or hostile, so the editor who chose this one must have gone through many pictures to find one that did both.

(Do the people who make such choices at the AP realize that this makes them look silly?  I suspect not; I suspect that they are so consumed by dislike for Palin that the photo looks right to them.)
- 9:21 AM, 7 February 2010   [link]

Some Dinosaurs Were Brightly Colored:  For example, Anchiornis huxleyi.

I am almost as impressed by the method they used, and their certainty that it works on dinosaurs in the same way it works on birds, as I am by this discovery.

(An image search on the name shows that paleontologists are rather unimaginative.)
- 3:23 PM, 5 February 2010
Much more from the National Geographic, including a fancy rotating image of the reconstructed dinosaur.  (To me, Anchiornis huxleyi looks something like a fancy roadrunner.)
- 3:20 PM, 7 February 2010   [link]

Every Economist?  Whenever Obama makes one of these wild claims, I worry that he believes what he said.
President Obama veered off script — and away from the facts — when he spoke about the stimulus bill today in Nashua, NH.

"Now, if you hear some of the critics, they'll say, well, the Recovery Act, I don't know if that's really worked, because we still have high unemployment," the president said.  "But what they fail to understand is that every economist, from the left and the right, has said, because of the Recovery Act, what we've started to see is at least a couple of million jobs that have either been created or would have been lost.
(Emphasis added.)

Jake Tapper then lists some economists who do not agree with Obama.

When a politician tells me something that absurd, I can explain it in two different ways; either they don't believe what they said and think I am a sucker, or they believe it, at least when they say it.

I don't claim to know which explanation is right in this case.  But I have seen so many of these absurdities from Obama that I am beginning to think that he doesn't care whether what he says is true, he just cares about the immediate effect it will have on his audience.

But it is certainly possible that he believes what he said, and not just when he said it.  And that kind of delusion is far more worrisome than a routine political lie.
- 9:49 AM, 5 February 2010   [link]

India Wants To Use The Best Science On Climate Issues:  So, India is establishing a Himalayan research institute and forming its own body to assess climate change issues, instead of relying on the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Here's the gist of the announcements from environment minister Jairam Ramesh:
He announced the Indian government will established a separate National Institute of Himalayan Glaciology to monitor the effects of climate change on the world's 'third ice cap', and an 'Indian IPCC' to use 'climate science' to assess the impact of global warming throughout the country.

"There is a fine line between climate science and climate evangelism.  I am for climate science.  I think people misused [the] IPCC report, [the] IPCC doesn't do the original research which is one of the weaknesses . . . they just take published literature and then they derive assessments, so we had goof-ups on Amazon forest, glaciers, snow peaks.

"I respect the IPCC but India is a very large country and cannot depend only on [the] IPCC and so we have launched the Indian Network on Comprehensive Climate Change Assessment (INCCA)," he said.
It is almost as if Ramesh doesn't trust the IPCC's science.  And some of us think that the United States should consider following India's lead.

(I think he's just being polite when he says that he respects the IPCC.)
- 8:59 AM, 5 February 2010   [link]

Worth Reading:  Though you may have to go to a library to find these two pieces.  (Or subscribe to the Wall Street Journal.)

Ann Marlowe, a writer who "travels frequently to Afghanistan", says that we are "lurching toward defeat" in Afghanistan because our strategy is all wrong.  I don't know enough about the situation there to endorse her views, but I found some of her critiques interesting.  For instance, it does seem that she is right when she says that we should kill Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, not negotiate with him.

Andy Kessler, the author of How We Got Here, says that we should solve our banking problems by gradually increasing reserve requirements, by, if you will, "de-leveraging" our banks.  What he says makes sense to me.  In fact, it is something I have long favored.
- 8:27 AM, 5 February 2010   [link]

No Jobs Bill?  No problem.  Majority Leader Reid is scheduling a vote on one anyway.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced this morning at a press conference that there will be a vote in the Senate on Monday on a "jobs bill."  It would be a procedural vote to start debating the bill.

The problem is, nobody has yet written one down.  And reporters at Reid’s press conference, called to announce a new "jobs agenda," were given an impressive-looking packet with a cover sheet that reads "Democratic Jobs Agenda" with the sub-headline "Putting America Back to Work."

But underneath the cover page is 2.5 pages of bullet-point ideas with no specifics.
A few people — most of them Republicans, no doubt — will wonder whether it might be better to hold hearings first, then write a bill, and then vote on it.  But I doubt that Reid will pay much attention to such quibblers.
- 6:28 AM, 5 February 2010   [link]

No Jobs Bill?  No problem.  Majority Leader Reid is scheduling a vote on one anyway.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced this morning at a press conference that there will be a vote in the Senate on Monday on a "jobs bill."  It would be a procedural vote to start debating the bill.

The problem is, nobody has yet written one down.  And reporters at Reid’s press conference, called to announce a new "jobs agenda," were given an impressive-looking packet with a cover sheet that reads "Democratic Jobs Agenda" with the sub-headline "Putting America Back to Work."

But underneath the cover page is 2.5 pages of bullet-point ideas with no specifics.
A few people — most of them Republicans, no doubt — will wonder whether it might be better to hold hearings first, then write a bill, and then vote on it.  But I doubt that Reid will pay much attention to such quibblers.
- 6:28 AM, 5 February 2010   [link]

Not Everyone Is In Financial Trouble:  Someone — we don't know who — just paid more than $100 million for a statue by Giacometti.
One of Alberto Giacometti's best-loved bronzes, "Walking Man I," has broken the world record price for a work of art at auction, selling to an unidentified telephone bidder for $92.5 million, or $104.3 million with fees, at Sotheby's in London on Wednesday night.
But they may be in financial trouble soon.  In the past, such reckless bids have often come from someone about to be in serious trouble.  If I learned, for example, that the winning bidder was a Chinese financier, I would be more inclined to go short on his companies, and perhaps even China.

(Is the statue worth $100 million?  Not to me, but I am no art critic.)
- 5:40 PM, 4 February 2010   [link]

Alex Giannoulias Won The Democratic Nomination For Senate In Illinois:   That should give the Republican nominee, Mark Kirk, a good chance to win this usually Democratic state.

Kirk will have an advantage that the Washington Post just hints at.
Giannoulias, meanwhile, has been something of a political wunderkind, and he drew significant support for the Democratic Party's establishment -- a development that especially helped him downstate on Tuesday.  But he enters the general-election campaign with some baggage from his former career in the family's troubled banking business, an issue that Republicans have already seized upon.
And what might those troubles be?  The Post is too shy to let us know.  (Even though the troubles were an issue during the campaign.)

But we can find an answer in David Freddoso's invaluable book, The Case Against Barack Obama.
Alex Giannoulias is another key Obama ally and banking scion.  He was elected Illinois State Treasurer in 2006, when Obama was one of the few officeholders backing him.  For once, Obama did not back the candidate of the Machine—that was Paul Mangieri, who had been endorsed by the Illinois Democratic Party, the state party chairman, forty-one state lawmakers, and most state officeholders.   Instead, Obama had endorsed the candidate whose family institution, Broadway Bank, had been loaning money to mafia figures. (pp. 227-228)
Even in Illinois, those mafia connections are a disadvantage, politically.  (The bank doesn't discriminate; it has also loaned money to the Stratievsky family, which is alleged to be part of the Russian mafia.)

(If you are wondering why Obama was backing Giannoulias, the answer is simple:  Giannoulias had been a key supporter of Obama's run for the Senate in 2004.  And it probably didn't hurt that Obama and Giannoulias sometimes play basketball together.)
- 11:31 AM, 4 February 2010   [link]

The Strange Case Of Obama's Aunt Zeituni:  Some details from Michael Graham.
President Barack Obama's Aunt Zeituni admits she illegally overstayed her visa.  Instead of obeying the law, she went to a judge in 2003 with a bogus request for asylum.  She was turned down.  She ignored the deportation order and instead filed an appeal.  She was told again: It's illegal for you to stay.

She's still here.

Aunt Zeituni donated $260 to her nephew's campaign for president - which is also against the law because she's not a U.S. citizen.  How against the law is it?  Remember when the president launched his unprecedented attack against the Supreme Court during his State of the Union?  His complaint was that foreigners might donate money to influence U.S. elections.
. . .
Aunt Zeituni's case puts the lie to the old canard that all criminal immigrants are here to work.   She gets a stipend from a city program, along with her housing.  In fact, as the Center for Immigration Studies points out, illegal immigrant households are far more likely to be on the dole than the average American.
. . .
All of which ignores the most obvious and angering question: Why are Boston taxpayers stuck taking care of the aunt of the president of the United States?
A president, let me remind you, who is fond of saying that we are our brother's keepers  (Which does not extend to his half brothers, apparently.)
- 9:48 AM, 4 February 2010   [link]

What Happened To Work Places While Bush Was President?  They became safer.

Even while unions, and their allies in "mainstream" newspapers, were telling us the opposite.  For example, the New York Times was certain that Bush policies were making mining less safe — even while deaths and injuries in mines continued to decline.

Did Bush policies make much difference either way?  Probably not.  Our work places have been getting safer ever since we began to measure such things, and probably before then, too.   Most likely the two biggest reasons for those gains are technological advances and the growing value of workers.  In most industries, it is just good business practice to prevent as many work place accidents as possible.

Bush (and a Republican Congress) may not deserve much credit for this increase in safety, but the numbers show that they don't deserve any blame at all.
- 8:50 AM, 4 February 2010   [link]

Need A Review On Climategate?  Steven Hayward has the best one that I've seen.

Two samples:
In mid-November a large cache of emails and technical documents from the Climate Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia in Britain were made available on a number of Internet file-servers for download by the public--either the work of a hacker or a leak from a whistleblower on the inside.  The emails--more than 1,000 of them--reveal a small cabal of scientists who, in the words of MIT's Michael Schrage, engaged in "malice, mischief and Machiavellian maneuverings."  In an ironic twist, one of the frequent correspondents in this long e-trail (University of Arizona scientist Jonathan Overpeck) warned several of his colleagues in September, "Please write all emails as though they will be made public."  Small wonder why.  It's being called Climategate, but more than one wit is calling them "the CRUtape Letters."
. . .
In the larger world of climate science, the Climate-gate story is overwhelmingly about one small but very important subfield--paleoclimatology, the effort to reconstruct the earth's climate during the vast sweep of time before humans began measuring and recording observations about the weather.   That turns out to be a massively complicated exercise in statistical manipulation of huge amounts of raw data.  Because the gap between observation and conclusion in this subfield is so dependent on statistical techniques rather than direct measurement, it was bound to be a matter of intense controversy and deserved the most searching review by outside scientists.  It is exactly this kind of review that the CRU insiders acted to prevent or obscure.
One thing I especially like about this article is that Hayward draws distinctions: "Michael Mann, Phil Jones, and Ben Santer of Lawrence Livermore seem indisputably to be the bad actors", while others in this informal group have more mixed records, and some seem to have behaved as scientists should.
- 4:17 PM, 3 February 2010   [link]

Do You Remember Who You Voted For In The Last Presidential Election?   That sounds like a trick question, doesn't it?

It isn't, as I was reminded when I was writing this post.  ABC's Gary Langer criticized a Public Policy Polling survey for a number of reasons, including this one.
There's also [the] 2008 vote.  In the PPP poll, 47 percent pressed "2" for having voted for Barack Obama in 2008.  In our last poll, among registered voters, it was 54 percent.   Among actual voters, Obama, you might recall, got 53 percent of the vote.
Sounds like PPP made a serious error in their poll, doesn't it?

But pollsters have known for decades that self reports of voting can not be entirely accurate because the numbers don't add up.  And the self reports are biased in systematic ways.  If an incumbent president gets more popular, more voters will "remember" having voted for him.  If he gets less popular, as Obama has, fewer voters will "remember" having voted for him.

The most extreme example that I know of was a poll done after John F. Kennedy's assassination.   As I recall, voters "remembered" giving him more than 70 percent of the vote, even though he had won less than 50 percent of the vote in 1960.

Judging by the emails I receive, the readers of this site can remember who they voted for in every presidential election with commendable accuracy.  But we should remember that many voters pay much less attention to politics than we do, and some will even forget who they voted for in the last presidential election.
- 2:20 PM, 3 February 2010   [link]

Pictures Of Himself:  During the 2008 presidential campaign, I was struck by the fact that Obama's senate office was filled with — pictures of Obama — and almost no books, or any other evidence that he did much work in the office.  (In contrast, McCain's office is full of books and looks like a work place.)

Now, leftwing talk show host Ed Schultz tells us that the White House is full of — pictures of Obama.   (He doesn't mention any books, but he may not have been in the areas where books would be kept.)
First of all you walk into the White House, in the West Wing, and there are picture all over, I mean everywhere!  Of President Obama!  I mean, of his life in the first year as president of the United States.  Now I don't know if that's the way it is with every president, but it was almost a shrine.  I mean, well, here's a picture of Obama the president with his kids over here.   There he is getting on Air Force One.  Here he is with some military people.  Here he is on the line working the line at one of his campaign stops.  I mean, just, it was just one picture after another!  (laughs)
Like Jack Coleman of Newsbusters, I am amused to learn that Schultz said this to compliment the White House.  But I also find this Obama fascination with pictures of himself more than a little creepy.
- 11:07 AM, 3 February 2010   [link]

"10 Years Too Late"  But better late than never.  The British medical journal, the Lancet, finally did the right thing and retracted Andrew Wakefield's anti-vaccine paper.
The Lancet today finally retracted the paper that sparked a crisis in MMR vaccination across the UK, following the General Medical Council's decision that its lead author, Andrew Wakefield, had been dishonest.

The medical journal's editor, Richard Horton, told the Guardian today that he realised as soon as he read the GMC findings that the paper, published in February 1998, had to be retracted.  "It was utterly clear, without any ambiguity at all, that the statements in the paper were utterly false," he said.  "I feel I was deceived."

Many in the scientific and medical community have been pressing for the paper, linking the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) jab to bowel disease and autism, to be quashed.  But Horton said he did not have the evidence to do so before the end of the GMC investigation last Thursday.
The paper should never have been published in a reputable journal.  The flaws in it are so obvious to anyone with even a little understanding of statistics that they raise questions about the competence of the Lancet editor.

The New York Times has more on the retraction, including the prediction that many who believe in the vaccine-autism link will not change their minds after this retraction.  They are right, but some will, and that's a plus.

(The retraction is extraordinarily brief and does not include an apology.)
- 7:51 AM, 3 February 2010   [link]

Is The United States Lacking In Moral Leadership?  Former Polish president (and Solidarity leader) Lech Walesa thinks so.

It was never fashionable in Obama's circles to be loudly anti-communist, so his silence on this issue is not surprising.
- 6:38 AM, 3 February 2010   [link]

Good Windows, Or Good Connections?  Window-making company Serious Materials is doing very well these days.  John Stossel wonders why.
Of all the window companies in America, maybe it's a coincidence that the one which gets presidential and vice presidential attention and a special tax credit is one whose company executives give thousands of dollars to the Obama campaign and where the policy officer spends nights at home with the Energy Department's weatherization boss.

Or maybe not.
Coincidences do happen, but when there are this many, most of us get suspicious.

(The company could have both good windows and good connections, of course.

Here's a reply to Stossel from the company in a blog post.  Just below that is a blog post with CEO Kevin Surace's speech to — the House Democratic Caucus — so the company definitely has good connections.)
- 6:20 AM, 3 February 2010   [link]

Some Reminders From The Constitution:  You will hear — even from me — endless discussions about what Clinton, or Bush, or Obama did to the US budget, so it is worth reminding ourselves, from time to time, which branch of our government is principally responsible for our budget.

Here are some selections from Article 1 of the Constitution.
Section. 1. All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives.
. . .
Section. 7. All Bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives; but the Senate may propose or concur with Amendments as on other Bills.
. . .
Section. 8. The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;

To borrow Money on the credit of the United States;

To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes;

To establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization, and uniform Laws on the subject of Bankruptcies throughout the United States;

To coin Money, regulate the Value thereof, and of foreign Coin, and fix the Standard of Weights and Measures;
The founders, I believe, intended to make Congress supreme in budgetary matters.  As I understand it, most constitutional scholars would agree with that position.

But I would go one step farther.  I believe that, even now, Congress is more important in budgetary matters than presidents.  That, I am sure, is more controversial than my first claim, but I think you can, without much effort, think of examples to support it.  (For instance, President Bush proposed, again and again, cutting agricultural subsidies.  He got nowhere.)

If that is correct, then assignments of blame and credit on budgetary matters change, sometimes drastically.  The relative sanity of budgets during the late 1990s was probably more due to Newt Gingrich and Bob Dole than Bill Clinton.  The surge in the deficit in 2008 was probably more the fault of Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid than George Bush.
- 1:09 PM, 2 February 2010   [link]

Most US Budget Estimates Are Too Optimistic:  As this interactive graphic shows.
In the last 30 years, about 80 percent of four-year deficit forecasts have been too optimistic.
So the odds are about 4-1 that Obama's deficits will be worse than he is predicting.
- 12:39 PM, 2 February 2010   [link]

Who Are You Going To Believe, Obama Or Those Boring Budget Numbers?   Here's what Obama said.
President Obama declared in presenting his new 10-year budget proposal on Monday that "our fiscal situation remains unacceptable," but he insisted that the country pursue his ambitious domestic agenda despite facing swollen budget deficits for the foreseeable future.

"Just as it would be a terrible mistake to borrow against our children's future to pay our way today, it would be equally wrong to neglect their future by failing to invest in areas that will determine our economic success in this new century," Mr. Obama said at the White House.
And here's what he proposed.
The budget projects that the deficit will peak at nearly $1.6 trillion in the current fiscal year, a post-World War II record, and then decline but remain at economically troublesome levels over the remainder of the decade.  In the coming fiscal year 2011, which begins in October, the projected shortfall would be under $1.3 trillion.
Our fiscal situation is unacceptable", and Obama intends to make it worse.  We should not borrow against "our children's future", but Obama intends to do just that.

This morning, after absorbing, as best I could, those contradictions, I had to take a little time off from blogging to recover.  (I might not have needed to do that, were it not for the bland way these contradictions were reported by our "mainstream" journalists.  Granted, most are not very good at arithmetic, but even they should be able to see that Obama's immense deficits and immense spending proposals are incompatible with his claims to want fiscal sanity.)
- 12:28 PM, 2 February 2010   [link]

McDonald's Second Biggest Market?  It's France.
Would you like a steak au poivre sandwich and some deluxe potatoes, followed by a lemon macaroon and a cappuccino?  Welcome to McDonald's, French version.

And the French are lovin' it.  They've increased spending each year on McDonald's to the point that France is now the U.S. chain's second-biggest market, even in the midst of a global recession.  In perhaps the ultimate cultural inversion, McDonald's in the U.S. is taking some notes from the French franchises' recipe for success.
Some of those changes to French outlets, like outlets for laptops, would make me more likely to visit a McDonald's.
- 6:36 AM, 2 February 2010   [link]

How Many Lawyers For Terrorists Are Now Working In The Justice Department On Terrorist Cases?    Senator Grassley has been asking that question, and related questions, but has been unable to get an answer from Eric Holder.
To Charles Grassley, a senior Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, the questions seem pretty simple.  How many of the political appointees now in charge of terrorist detainee issues at the Obama Justice Department were, not too long ago, lawyers and activists working on behalf of those very detainees?  Who are they?  Have they removed themselves from cases involving their former clients?
. . .
So far, Grassley is having a hard time getting the information he wants.  His problems started on Nov. 18, 2009, when Holder appeared before the Judiciary Committee and Grassley asked him to reveal which department lawyers had represented which detainees.  Grassley is still waiting for an answer.
As some point, the refusal to answer these questions will become an answer.  If Holder continues to resist giving out this information, Grassley, and other reasonable people, will assume he is hiding something, most likely a serious conflict of interest.

(Many of the American lawyers representing terrorists donated their time.  It is, I think, fair to infer that these lawyers may have some sympathy for the terrorists, or, perhaps, a great hatred for the Bush administration.)
- 6:19 AM, 2 February 2010   [link]

Blame Europe For Obama:  Foaud Ajami doesn't give Europeans all the blame, but he does give them a generous share.
In this extraordinary tale of hubris undone, the Europeans—more even than the people in Islamic lands—can be assigned no small share of blame.  They overdid the enthusiasm for the star who had risen in America.

It was the way in Paris and Berlin (not to forget Oslo of course) of rebuking all that played out in America since 9/11—the vigilance, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the sense that America's interests and ways were threatened by a vengeful Islamism.  But while the Europeans and Muslim crowds hailed him, they damned his country all the same.  For his part, Mr. Obama played along, and in Ankara, Cairo, Paris and Berlin he offered penance aplenty for American ways.
What few Europeans, even now, understand, is that they may pay for that enthusiasm.  During the 20th century, when the United States has been strong and involved in world affairs, Europeans have prospered.  Obama's leadership in foreign affairs will likely have bad effects all over the world, but the worst effects are likely to be outside of the United States.

(Perhaps we need a new version of the famous South Park song.)
- 12:54 PM, 1 February 2010   [link]

Welfare Reform Never Really Came To California:  Meg Whitman is promising to fix that.
The numbers tell a bleak story.  In 1996, California had 21 percent of the nation's welfare cases.  Today, 32 percent of all welfare cases in the United States are in California, even though we only represent 12 percent of the total U.S. population.  Consider this troubling comparison; California is nearly twice as big as New York state, but we have five times as many welfare cases.

Despite being a state famous for opportunity and promise, California lags much of the nation when it comes to moving people from welfare to work, according to the federal government.  Only 22 percent of welfare recipients in California who are required to meet federal work minimums are working.  According to the Public Policy Institute of California, our state is one of only nine that does not unconditionally enforce the federal government's five-year lifetime limit on cash welfare assistance.  These flaws in our welfare system, coupled with a monthly cash check that is almost 70 percent higher than the national average, work against the goal of helping more welfare recipients leave welfare for a life of greater independence and dignity.
. . .
My campaign for governor is focused on creating jobs, fixing public education and controlling Sacramento's enormous appetite for wasteful spending.  A common sense welfare reform plan can help achieve all three goals.
The strongest argument for welfare reform, I have always thought, was that it would help the people on welfare.  That's still true, but now California has another powerful reason to finally reform welfare: The state can no longer afford to keep ruining the lives of its welfare recipients.
- 12:30 PM, 1 February 2010   [link]

Does Toyota Really Have A Sudden Unintended Acceleration Problem?   Holman Jenkins, writing in the weekend Wall Street Journal, isn't sure.
The first thing to notice is that SUA complaints afflict all manufacturers without a cause necessarily ever being assigned.  Strange things happen in small numbers when you put millions of cars on the road.
(Most of those SUA events are probably caused by operator error.)

And when they happen in such small numbers, it can be incredibly difficult to discover the true cause or causes.

As you almost certainly know, Toyota is now fixing the problem — whether or not it exists.   The company has to do that, for public relations, but a few of us will be left wondering whether they did have a problem, and, if so, whether they have found a solution.

(The column is not free, but if you are a subscriber to the Journal, you can read it here.)
- 9:42 AM, 1 February 2010   [link]

Worth Reading:  Ross Douthat on abstinence education — and its opposite.

In reality, the numbers show no such thing.  Abstinence financing increased under Bush, but the federal government has been funneling money to pro-chastity initiatives since early in Bill Clinton's presidency.  If you blame abstinence programs for a year's worth of bad news, you'd also have to give them credit for more than a decade's worth of progress.

More likely, neither blame nor credit is appropriate.  The evidence suggests that many abstinence-only programs have little impact on teenage sexual behavior, just as their critics long insisted.  But most sex education programs of any kind have an ambiguous effect, at best, on whether and how teens have sex.  The abstinence-based courses that social conservatives champion produce unimpressive results — but so do the contraceptive-oriented programs that liberals tend to favor.
I would add one sour point:  Many of these studies, on both sides, are not very good, technically.  That's partly because the problem is inherently difficult, partly because many of the researchers do not have the necessary skills to do valid studies, and partly because the field tends to attract ideologues who are inclined to interpret any evidence they gather as support for their positions.
- 8:53 AM, 1 February 2010   [link]

College Professor Or Junior High Teacher?  Smart Politics analyzed the content of Barack Obama's State of the Union speech and found that it was like something a junior high teacher would write for his students.
Obama's Flesch-Kincaid grade level score of 8.8 for his first State of the Union Address was the fourth lowest score since FDR's first Address in 1934.

What this means is that Obama wrote and delivered a speech that incorporated shorter sentences, with those sentences containing shorter words, than nearly every such Presidential Address in the modern era.
(The 8.8 is a grade level score.)

Just in case you didn't make the comparison to Obama's predecessor, they do.
Bush averaged a Flesch-Kincaid score of 10.4 across his seven State of the Union Addresses - or nearly two full grades higher than Obama's speech.  Bush's speeches also averaged 2.4 more words per sentence than Obama, at 19.0.

In other words, the text of George W. Bush's speeches are expected to be understandable (in written form) by an average sophomore in high school, whereas Obama's speech should be understandable by a junior high school student.
No wonder Obama had his nose up in the air for so much of the speech.

More seriously, the decline in those scores since FDR shows the influence of television, with its mass audience.  In the past, these speeches were directed to congressmen and journalists; now they are directed to the voters, and so have to be given at a lower level if they are to be effective.  (I would like to see a return to the older practice of putting them in writing, rather than having this show once a year, but I realize that genie will probably never go back in the bottle.)
- 6:01 AM, 1 February 2010   [link]