November 2009, Part 2

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

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How Education Professors Damaged Math Education:  That isn't the title of Sandra Stotsky's article, but it could be.

The damage came from standards proposed by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, standards developed by trendy education professors.
Two theories lie behind the educators' new approach to math teaching: "cultural-historical activity theory" and "constructivism."  According to cultural-historical activity theory, schooling as it exists today reinforces an illegitimate social order.  Typical of this mindset is Brian Greer, a mathematics educator at Portland State University, who argues "against the goal of ‘algebra for all' on the grounds that . . . most individuals in our society do not need to have studied algebra."   According to Greer, the proper approach to teaching math "now questions whether mathematics as a school subject should continue to be dominated by mathematics as an academic discipline or should reflect more fully the range of mathematical activities in which humans engage."  The primary role of math teachers, constructivists say in turn, shouldn't be to explain or otherwise try to "transfer" their mathematical knowledge to students; that would be ineffective.  Instead, they must help the students construct their own understanding of mathematics and find their own math solutions.

Classroom practices follow logically from these theories.  Teacher-directed learning goes out the window, despite its demonstrated benefits for students with learning problems; instead, schools should embrace "student-centered" math classrooms.  High-math-achievement countries teach arithmetic in the elementary grades in a coherent curriculum leading, step by step, to formal algebra and geometry in middle school.  The progressive educators, by contrast, support "integrated" approaches to teaching math—that is, teaching topics from all areas of mathematics every year, regardless of logical sequence and student mastery of each step—and they downplay basic arithmetic skills and practice, encouraging kids to use calculators from kindergarten on.  The educators also neglect the teaching of standard algorithms (mathematical procedures commonly taught everywhere, with only minor variations, because of their general applicability), insisting instead on the value of student-developed algorithms—this despite research by cognitive psychologists strongly supporting a curriculum that simultaneously develops conceptual understanding, computational fluency with standard algorithms, and problem-solving skills as the best way to prepare students for algebra.
The result, all too often, is that you have politically correct kids — who can't do basic arithmetic.

(More from Joanne Jacobs in this post, including some useful links.)
- 3:30 PM, 16 November 2009   [link]

Ahmadinejad Victory Celebration?   Maybe.
Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Monday the "enemies" of his country's nuclear programme had been defeated ahead of the release of the latest UN report on the atomic drive.
. . .
Ahmadinejad said the West would have to come to terms with Iran's nuclear progress, Iran's state broadcaster quoted the president as saying on his website.

"Enemies have politicised the nuclear issue using all of their abilities to try to make the Iranian nation surrender, but they have been defeated," Ahmadinejad said.
And the chief enemy that has been defeated, according to the Iranian president?  Why, that would be the United States.
- 12:34 PM, 16 November 2009   [link]

"Mainstream" Journalists Taking Their Cues From Obama?  Looks like it.
According to Carolyn Plocher and Dan Gainor of the Culture and Media Institute, 93 percent of the stories on the Fort Hood massacre prior to President Obama's speech on November 10 completely ignored Hasan's extreme Islamist views and connections with terror.  However, Plocher and Gainor write, "after Obama hinted at what ABC called 'Islamic extremist views,' all three networks [CBS, ABC, and NBC] mentioned terrorism."
To be fair, some of the shift could have come as the evidence of Hasan's extremist Islamic views accumulated.  But I do think that some of these "mainstream" journalists were waiting for permission from Obama, before they mentioned the connection.
- 9:09 AM, 16 November 2009   [link]

Worth Study:  John Yoo explains why the trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed will be an "intelligence bonanza" for our enemies.
Trying KSM in civilian court will be an intelligence bonanza for al Qaeda and the hostile nations that will view the U.S. intelligence methods and sources that such a trial will reveal.
. . .
Now, however, KSM and his co-defendants will enjoy the benefits and rights that the Constitution accords to citizens and resident aliens—including the right to demand that the government produce in open court all of the information that it has on them, and how it got it.

Prosecutors will be forced to reveal U.S. intelligence on KSM, the methods and sources for acquiring its information, and his relationships to fellow al Qaeda operatives.  The information will enable al Qaeda to drop plans and personnel whose cover is blown.  It will enable it to detect our means of intelligence-gathering, and to push forward into areas we know nothing about.

This is not hypothetical, as former federal prosecutor Andrew McCarthy has explained.  During the 1993 World Trade Center bombing trial of Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman (aka the "blind Sheikh"), standard criminal trial rules required the government to turn over to the defendants a list of 200 possible co-conspirators.

In essence, this list was a sketch of American intelligence on al Qaeda.  According to Mr. McCarthy, who tried the case, it was delivered to bin Laden in Sudan on a silver platter within days of its production as a court exhibit.
You don't have to be an intelligence expert to understand how much damage that single revelation did to our intelligence efforts against al Qaeda.

Those who support trying KSM in a civilian court usually do not even discuss this inevitable damage to our security.

They do often say that we will gain support in the rest of the world by setting a "good example" with these trials, and that that support will help us in the war on terror.  That's unlikely, for two reasons.  First, supporters of the decision usually admit, when pressed, that none of these defendants will be released, even if they should be found innocent, by some anti-miracle.   European leftists — a group that includes most of the continent's journalists — will tend to see these as show trials, rightly.

Second, in much of the world, what counts is not whether the United States follows its own legal rules, but whether we are strong and steadfast, whether we are bin Laden's "strong horse".  Those people, whether enemies, neutrals, or friends, will take these trials as more evidence of our weakness.

So, in addition to damage this trial will do to our security, there is the damage that it will do to our image abroad.  We may gain a temporary bubble of popularity — but we will lose respect all over the world.
- 8:49 AM, 16 November 2009   [link]

It's Been One Year Since Obama Was Elected:  The Economist's "Lexington" assesses that year and gives Obama a mixed grade.

Lexington begins by noting that Obama over-promised.
One reason why so many of Mr Obama's fans are disappointed is that he promised the impossible and—such is the power of his oratory—got people to believe him.  Time and again during the campaign, Lexington met voters who were convinced that he would deliver all the goodies on his wish-list without raising taxes on any but the rich.  Mr Obama did little to dispel the idea that he could work miracles.

In his inauguration speech, he declared: "We reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals."  Yet roughly once a week since that day, he has ordered the assassination of suspected terrorists.  These assassinations, carried out with Hellfire missiles fired from hovering drones, are often messy. According to the New America Foundation, a think-tank, it took 15 attempts to kill Baitullah Mehsud, a Taliban leader in Pakistan who was finally blown to scraps in August.   Hundreds of people, some of them children, have died in these drone attacks.  Mr Obama would presumably include "not killing children" among his ideals.  Sometimes, however, he sets aside this ideal in the interests of safety.

That may or may not be the right thing to do.  But it is absurd to pretend that there is no trade-off "between our safety and our ideals".
(Emphasis added.)

Obama continues to make these absurd claims — and a few in the "mainstream" media are beginning to call him on them.

Lexington claims one big success for Obama.
Measured by a more reasonable yardstick, however, it has seen solid successes.  For a start, the financial system appears to have stabilised.  Continuing where Mr Bush left off, Mr Obama intervened to prop up ailing banks and insurers, thereby probably averting catastrophe.  The bail-out may cost him votes, but it was necessary.
But it seems to me (and to some of the commenters) that Bush, Paulson, and Bernanke deserved far more of the credit for that success — if it is a success — than Obama.

On foreign policy Lexington gives Obama an incomplete.
Mr Obama's election has dramatically improved America's image abroad.  That surely counts for something, even if it has yet to pay tangible dividends.  He has unnerved America's trading partners by caving in to congressional pressure for protectionism, but he has not sparked a full-blown trade war.  He is pulling out of Iraq gradually and sensibly.  His preference for talking to rogue states such as Iran and North Korea has so far yielded no substantial benefits, but diplomacy is seldom swift.  His strategy for Afghanistan is up in the air.  His indecision alarms hawks, but others contrast his cool deliberation favourably with his predecessor's impetuousness.
It is true that diplomacy is "seldom swift".  But it is also true that Obama's approaches to our enemies are likely to make matters worse.  He has, for example, given the Iranian regime almost a year to work on their nuclear weapons, and so far has nothing in return.

Obama is popular with most reporters, and in many European countries.  But there have been many reports that serious leaders — in Europe and elsewhere — have begun to speak of him with contempt, in private.

(Oh, and it is silly to describe George W. Bush as impetuous.)
- 6:08 PM, 15 November 2009   [link]

Two Out Of Three Bows:  First, compare the way that Obama treated Britain's Queen Elizabeth with the way he treated Saudi King Abdullah.

Now, if you haven't seen it, take a look at Obama bowing to Japanese Emperor Akihito.  (Just to pile on:  In Japan, you either bow or shake hands, not both at once, as Obama did.)

Two out of the three monarchs rated a bow, as far as Obama is concerned.  Why not Queen Elizabeth?

"Bookworm" thinks it is because he doesn't like the British, and because he has more than a little misogyny.   You can make a good case for the first, just from the way he treated Gordon Brown.  And to the extent that he identifies with Kenya (more than with Kansas, I imagine), you can believe that he might have what he considers good reasons to dislike the British.

The misogyny charge is one I'll have to think about, though I do think the casual way he treated his maternal grandmother — the one person who consistently tried to do the right thing for him while he was growing up — and the way he seems to worship his monster father make me think she might be right.

But there is another strange thing about these three encounters.  National leaders do not, in general, bow to each other.  (Examples here.)   And Americans don't bow to any monarch, a point we established back in 1776.  If Obama doesn't know these facts, the State Department has a Protocol Office that can fill him in.

Does Obama not ask the Protocol Office for advice, or does he not follow it?  To put it another way, is he too lazy to prepare for these meetings, or too arrogant to follow the usual rules of protocol?

(These incidents are, I admit, not terribly important in themselves.  But they do give us some hints about the strange man behind that mask, which is why I wrote this post.)
- 10:14 AM, 15 November 2009   [link]

Good question.
"I am absolutely convinced that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed will be subject to the most exacting demands of justice," President Obama said in Tokyo.  "The American people will insist on it and my administration will insist on it."

But what happens if KSM or any of the other 9/11 defendants the Obama administration is bringing to New York for criminal prosecutions -- including Ramzi Bin al-Shibh, Walid bin Attash, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali and Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi -- are somehow found not guilty?
Which may explain why the Obama administration refuses to answer it.

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has more good questions — and the Obama administration probably won't answer those, either.

Though it is exceedingly unlikely that a New York jury would acquit KSM and the others, it is not impossible.  Juries — and judges — in New York and elsewhere, sometimes do bizarre things.
- 7:07 AM, 15 November 2009   [link]

Robert Samuelson Gets Peevish About ObamaCare:  Rightly, in my opinion.  Samuelson isn't sure whether Obama, Pelosi, and Reid believe their own stories, but he is absolutely sure their stories are false.
There is an air of absurdity to what is mistakenly called "health-care reform."  Everyone knows that the United States faces massive governmental budget deficits as far as calculators can project, driven heavily by an aging population and uncontrolled health costs.  Recovering slowly from a devastating recession, it's widely agreed that, though deficits should not be cut abruptly (lest the economy resume its slump), a prudent society would embark on long-term policies to control health costs, reduce government spending, and curb massive future deficits.  The president and his top economic advisers all say this.

So, what do they do?  Just the opposite.  Their sweeping overhaul of the health-care system—which Congress is halfway toward enacting—would almost certainly make matters worse.  It would create new, open-ended medical entitlements that would probably expand deficits and do little to suppress surging health costs.  The disconnect between what Obama says and what he's doing is so glaring that most people could not abide it.  The president and his allies have no trouble.  But reconciling blatantly contradictory objectives requires them to engage in willful self-deception, public dishonesty, or both.
I must admit to feeling a little peevish myself when I hear Obama, or Pelosi, or Reid make their absurd claims about the effects of their health insurance "reform" proposals — and, like Samuelson, I don't use the word "absurd" lightly.

If Obama and company believe their own arguments, then they are foolish.  If they don't believe their own arguments, then they believe that we are fools.  The first is worrisome, the second, insulting.
- 6:40 AM, 15 November 2009   [link]

Obama Wants To Borrow $250 From The Chinese And Give It To Me:  David Leonhardt thinks he should find a better recipient.  Leonhardt is right.
The president has proposed sending a $250 check to every Social Security recipient, which sounds pretty good at first.  The checks would be part of his admirable efforts to stimulate the economy, and older Americans are clearly a sympathetic group.  Next year, they are scheduled to receive no cost-of-living increase in their Social Security benefits.

Yet that is largely because they received an artificially high 5.8 percent increase this year.   For this reason and others, economists are generally recoiling at the proposal.
. . .
Just consider: The real median income of over-65 households rose 3 percent from 2000 to 2008.   For households headed by somebody age 25 to 44, it fell about 7 percent.
I would rather that we not borrow the money at all.  But if we must borrow it, I would rather that it go to a temporary cut in wage taxes, to make it slightly easier for employers to hire workers, especially younger workers.

(Will I return the money?  I might, or I might just contribute the $250 to election campaigns of politicians who will promise not to try to bribe me with money borrowed from the Chinese.)
- 3:10 PM, 14 November 2009   [link]

How Would The Modern New York Times Have Covered John Wilkes Booth?   Like this:
When John Wilkes Booth opened fire on President Abraham Lincoln in Ford's Theatre in April 1865, the media was puzzled.  "True, the actor was outspoken in his Confederate sympathies and viewed himself as a Southerner," said someone who knew him, "but that was no reason he might want Lincoln to be dead."  The day before he went on his shooting spree, Booth hoisted a big Confederate flag outside his hotel room.  After he leaped onto the stage he shouted, "Thus ever to tyrants!" the motto of the rebel state of Virginia.

The New York Times reported that Booth was psychologically unstable and was frightened of the Civil War coming to an end and having to face a peacetime actors' surplus.  "His political views had nothing to do with the motives for this tragic act," it said, quoting experts.
Rubin has two more examples from history.

I have wondered, for years, whether journalists at the NYT, and other "mainstream" news organizations, realize just how funny they can be, when they are striving to be politically correct, when they try, for instance, to deny that Major Hasan may have had religious motives for his Fort Hood murders.

By way of Damian Penny.
- 2:04 PM, 14 November 2009   [link]

Global Warming Feedbacks Again:  In April, I noted that doubling the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would — in the absence of feedback — warm the earth by about 1.2 degrees centigrade.  (Or about 2 degrees Fahrenheit.)  The climate models that predict disastrous increases in the world's temperature do so because they all include positive feedback; they assume that the increases in CO2 will cause other parts of the weather systems to change in ways that also increase the world's temperature.

To estimate how dangerous global warming might be, we need to know how large those feedbacks are.   If, for example, those feedbacks are, net, negative, then the earth would warm less than 1.2 degrees, with a doubling of CO2.  If the feedbacks are positive, and large, then Al Gore's worst scenarios become plausible.

To put it another way, if the models have the feedbacks wrong, then they can not produce useful predictions of long-term trends.

Now, for the big surprise, for me at least.  According to Roy Spencer, no one knows how large those feedbacks are.
Despite the fact that the magnitude of anthropogenic global warming depends mostly upon the strengths of feedbacks in the climate system, there is no known way to actually measure those feedbacks from observational data.

The IPCC has admitted as much on p. 640 of the IPCC AR4 report, at the end of section 8.6, which is entitled "Climate Sensitivity and Feedbacks":

"A number of diagnostic tests have been proposed . . . but few of them have been applied to a majority of the models currently in use.  Moreover, it is not yet clear which tests are critical for constraining future projections (of warming).  Consequently, a set of model metrics that might be used to narrow the range of plausible climate change feedbacks and climate sensitivity has yet to be developed."

This is a rather amazing admission.
Yes, it is.  In fact, I would even say it's an astounding admission.

Spencer, and other scientists, are working on ways to measure those feedbacks.  It seems like it would be a good idea to have at least a rough idea about how large they are before we spend a trillion, or more, to prevent global warming.

(There is at least one scientist who thinks some of the feedbacks might be negative.

As usual, when I discuss global warming, I urge you to read my disclaimer, if you have not already read it.  Or even if you have read it, and want to make some suggestions for improving it.  I've thought for some time that it needed updating.)
- 1:53 PM, 13 November 2009   [link]

Troop Morale Is Down In Afghanistan:  According to the Army.
Morale has fallen among soldiers in Afghanistan, where troops are seeing record violence in the 8-year-old war, while those in Iraq show much improved mental health amid much lower violence, the Army said Friday.
The Army press release, on which this Associated Press story is based, doesn't see combat as the only factor in morale.   For example:
"We identified resilient platoons, those that had relatively low reports of behavioral-health problems.  What factor seemed most related to identifying these platoons?  We looked at several variables—cohesion, perception of readiness, NCO leadership and officer leadership," Bliese said.  "In this sample, the perception of officer leadership was most strongly associated with resilient platoons.  Other studies have also identified the importance of NCO leadership."
Naturally, they don't see anything about the effects of Obama's dithering, but it is likely that at least a few of our soldiers find it depressing.

(I was charmed, but not surprised, to see that the Army mental health bureaucrats want more money and more resources so they can do more of what they are already doing — even though their own study does not show that more psychiatrists are what the troops need.)
- 12:48 PM, 13 November 2009   [link]

Eric Holder Wants Khalid Shaikh Mohammed Tried In New York:  In a civilian court.

On its face, this decision to try a 9/11 planner in a civilian court, in New York, is so crazy that Andrew McCarthy thinks that Obama and Holder have a "hidden agenda".
This summer, I theorized that Attorney General Eric Holder — and his boss — had a hidden agenda in ordering a re-investigation of the CIA for six-year-old alleged interrogation excesses that had already been scrutinized by non-partisan DOJ prosecutors who had found no basis for prosecution.   The continuing investigations of Bush-era counterterrorism policies (i.e., the policies that kept us safe from more domestic terror attacks), coupled with the Holder Justice Department's obsession to disclose classified national-defense information from that period, enable Holder to give the hard Left the "reckoning" that he and Obama promised during the 2008 campaign.  It would be too politically explosive for Obama/Holder to do the dirty work of charging Bush administration officials; but as new revelations from investigations and declassifications are churned out, Leftist lawyers use them to urge European and international tribunals to bring "torture" and "war crimes" indictments.  Thus, administration cooperation gives Obama's base the reckoning it demands but Obama gets to deny responsibility for any actual prosecutions.
It may not be coincidental that Holder announced this decision while Obama is away on another foreign trip.

Obama and Holder may have forgotten one small fact:  We are in a war.  And our enemies want to kill American leftists, along with almost every other American.

In this war, propaganda and intelligence are crucial.  This trial will give this terrorist an enormous opportunity to put on a propaganda show, and to reveal even more of our intelligence secrets.
- 9:46 AM, 13 November 2009   [link]

What's Mt. St. Helens Doing This Afternoon?  Looking pretty.

Mt. St. Helens, 12 November 2009

And putting out a little steam.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(You can look at a current view here, though you may need to hurry to see anything like the picture above.)
- 2:49 PM, 12 November 2009   [link]

Racial Quotas For School Discipline?  Tucson has them.
As part of its plan to comply with a federal desegregation order now decades old, Tucson's school district adopted racial quotas in school discipline this summer.  Schools that suspend or expel Hispanic and black students at higher rates than white students will now get a visit from a district "Equity Team" and will be expected to remedy those disparities by reducing their minority discipline rates.  The Tucson equity plan shows that when Hispanics replace blacks as the dominant ethnic minority, as in Tucson and throughout the Southwest, the regime of double standards for behavior remains unchanged.

Tucson's school district is 54 percent Hispanic, 30 percent white, and 7 percent black.  It boasts an active "Mexican American Studies Department" that sponsors classes in high schools and middle schools to provide "social equity for Hispanic students."  Despite these attentions, the Hispanic high school suspension rate—10.5 percent of all Hispanic students in 2007-08—is 40 percent higher than the rate for white students (7.4 percent), though it's dwarfed by the black suspension rate (16.3).  Tucson's new plan, first reported by the Arizona Republic, instructs schools to move away from "discipline" and toward "restorative justice."
Four of the commenters at Joanne Jacobs say they have seen the same policy — though not as openly formalized — at other high schools.

Who does this policy hurt the most?  Probably the Hispanic and black students who want to learn.
- 1:45 PM, 12 November 2009   [link]

Worth Reading:  Daniel Henninger on the Fort Hood massacre.

First paragraph:
The only good news out of the Fort Hood massacre is that U.S. electronic surveillance technology was able to pick up Major Hasan's phone calls to an al Qaeda-loving imam in Yemen.  The bad news is the people and agencies listening to Hasan didn't know what to do about it.  Other than nothing.
Officials were getting intelligence, good intelligence, on Hasan, months before he did what he did, but they chose not to act on it.

(The New York Times will not like Henninger's explanation for all those failures to act.)
- 12:45 PM, 12 November 2009   [link]

Quintessential Chicago-Style Politics:  The Obama administration is planning to dig out any Bush appointees who might have "burrowed" into civil service jobs.  Both the current Mayor Daley and his father, the late Mayor Daley, would approve.  As would every other member of the Chicago Machine, past and present.
- 12:33 PM, 12 November 2009   [link]

A Dairy Queen Franchise For Obama?  Megan McArdle is arguing, with some justice, that presidents, including Obama, do not have much control over job creation.   She asks, sarcastically:
What exactly is he supposed to do to create all these jobs?  Use the book proceeds to buy a Dairy Queen franchise?
That strikes me as fine idea.  Obama has almost zero experience in the private sector, and almost zero executive experience.  (Other than running a campaign, and it isn't clear just how much he controlled his own campaigns.)  Running a Dairy Queen would allow him to learn on the job — with his own money.  It is true that running the Dairy Queen would take some time away from his golf game, and possibly his official duties, but I suspect he might be better off for the first, and we might be better off for the second.

George McGovern's confession gives us an idea of what Obama might learn from running a Dairy Queen.
But it is not enough to require members of Congress to go back into the community.  We need to ensure that they spring from it to start with.  Consider former senator George McGovern's plaintive admission after trying to run a motel: "I wish that someone had told me about the problems of running a business.  I would have to pay taxes, meet a payroll--I wish I had had a better sense of what it took to do that when I was in Washington."
Exactly the kinds of lessons that Obama needs.

(McArdle goes a little too far in absolving Obama of blame for the bad job numbers.  Almost every day another article appears that shows that the stimulus money didn't create (or save) many jobs.  Informed people saw the flaws in the Obama-Pelosi-Reid package and predicted this result — even before Obama signed the bill.

If Obama should buy and run a Dairy Queen, then, by similar reasoning, Speaker Pelosi should buy and run a Burger King.  And which franchise fits Majority Leader Reid?  I'm not sure, but I'll think about it.)
- 6:52 AM, 12 November 2009   [link]

The Dutch Health Minister Thinks The US Doesn't Have Enough Competition:   Ab Klink is right.
His first official visit to the United States as health minister came in 2007, and he came with the usual European preconceptions that this country had a wide open and fiercely competitive health insurance market with a myriad choices.

"And what struck me," he said, "is actually the lack of competition you have."

Mr. Klink pointed out that nearly 40 percent of the nation's population gets care from Medicare, Medicaid and Veterans Affairs, all of which have significant restrictions on the choices available to patients.  "We don't have these kind of public insurance groups in our country," he said.
We have less competition because our national, state, and local governments permit less competition.

Meanwhile, the Netherlands is experimenting with using markets to control health costs, with good results, according to Klink.
The government once set prices for nearly all medical services, but to inject some competition into the system, the government last year allowed prices to vary for about one-third of medical services.  Next year that share will increase to half.

Here is an edited transcript of the conversation:


A. All the prices that we have liberated have on average gone down or stayed the same.   This was quite a success.  We are just beginning to have this competition, and the health insurance companies are only beginning to bargain prices.
So, are the people who wrote the Obama-Pelosi-Baucus "reform" plans learning from this Dutch experience, and planning to use markets to control costs?  Not as far as I tell.  Instead, they plan more of the same, higher taxes, more government subsidies, more regulations, and, above all, more payoffs to special interests.

Note, by the way, that Klink understands that the insurance companies are the key to controlling costs; as far as I can tell, Obama and Pelosi do not grasp that obvious point.
- 5:35 AM, 12 November 2009   [link]

Gallup Agrees With Rasmussen:  On the generic congressional vote.
Republicans have moved ahead of Democrats by 48% to 44% among registered voters in the latest update on Gallup's generic congressional ballot for the 2010 House elections, after trailing by six points in July and two points last month.
The latest Rasmussen survey gives the Republicans a 6 point lead, among likely voters.  That 2 point difference between registered and likely voters is just about what I would expect.

On the other hand, Pew gives the Democrats a lead, and a lead that has grown slightly since August.
The latest survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, conducted Oct. 28-Nov. 8 among 2,000 Americans reached on landlines and cell phones, finds that voting intentions for next year's midterms are largely unchanged from August.  Currently, 47% of registered voters say they would vote for the Democratic candidate in their district or lean Democratic, while 42% would vote for the Republican or lean to the GOP candidate. In August, 45% favored the Democrat in their district and 44% favored the Republican.
I think Rasmussen and Gallup are right, and Pew wrong, but we won't know for certain which polling organizations are closest on this question until next November.

(Here's my latest chart on this question.)
- 1:08 PM, 11 November 2009   [link]

Armistice Day:  On the 11th hour, of the 11th day, of the 11th month of 1918, an armistice ended the fighting in World War I.  (Though not without difficulty.   Some American troops, having spare shells and wanting the glory of having the last shot, competed with each other, for a time, after the official end.)

For many European countries, the war was a disaster from which they have never completely recovered.   The casualties they suffered were so immense that, even now, they astonish.  They were so large that, from the very beginning, the combatants lied about them on a grand scale.  This Wikipedia article gives some of the common estimates of the casualties.  The almost 1.4 million French military dead are more than all the deaths the United States has suffered in all our wars, combined.  More than 1 million of them were from France itself, with the rest coming mostly from the French colonies.  Since France then had a population of about 40 million, more than 1 in 40 died in the war; for us, now, the equivalent loss would be about 7.5 million deaths.

After World War II, we renamed Armistice Day to Veterans Day, to honor the soldiers of all our wars.  When we honor, as we should, especially today, the American soldiers who served, and sometimes died in our wars, we should also spare some thought for those who fought at our side and who suffered far more than we.

(This is an edited version of a post I first put up in 2002.)
- 12:45 PM, 11 November 2009   [link]

Jail Time For ObamaCare Dissenters?  Jake Tapper asks Obama about that twice, in an exclusive interview.  Obama evades a direct answer twice.  Here's part of what Obama said.
"I think the general broad principle is simply that people who are paying for their health insurance aren't subsidizing folks who simply choose not to until they get sick and then suddenly they expect free health insurance.  That's -- that's basic concept of responsibility that I think most Americans abide by," Mr. Obama said, "penalties are appropriate for people who try to free ride the system and force others to pay for their health insurance."

The President said that he didn't think the question over the appropriateness of possible jail time is the "biggest question" the House and Senate are facing right now.
The double evasion answers the question in the post's headline.  ObamaCare dissenters — those who refuse to buy insurance — may face jail time.  I would not expect many dissenters to be sent to jail, but Obama has let us know, by his evasions, that at least a few may be.  If that couldn't happen, Obama would have said so, rather than evading the question — twice.

(You can see the entire interview here.  The jail time questions come up about four minutes into the interview.

There are more Obama evasions before then, if you want to see more examples of Obama's techniques.  I haven't watched the last part of the interview, but I suppose that I should.)
- 6:27 AM, 11 November 2009   [link]

What Happens When A Big City Provides Inexpensive Rental Bikes?  Pretty much what you'd expect, though Paris officials didn't expect it.
Residents here can rent a sturdy bicycle from hundreds of public stations and pedal to their destinations, an inexpensive, healthy and low-carbon alternative to hopping in a car or bus.

But this latest French utopia has met a prosaic reality: Many of the specially designed bikes, which, when the system's startup and maintenance expenses are included, cost $3,500 each, are showing up on black markets in Eastern Europe and northern Africa.  Many others are being spirited away for urban joy rides, then ditched by roadsides, their wheels bent and tires stripped.

With 80 percent of the initial 20,600 bicycles stolen or damaged, the program's organizers have had to hire several hundred people just to fix them.  And along with the dent in the city-subsidized budget has been a blow to the Parisian psyche.
(The cost of the bicycles themselves is "about $1,050", as they note in a correction.)

"Suburban" youths, that is, disaffected young Muslim men and boys, are suspected of causing much of the damage.

Fans of free markets will already have concluded that bicycle rental was not a good business to get into in Paris, or entrepreneurs would already have been renting them out.
- 6:23 PM, 10 November 2009   [link]

Walpin Cleared:  Now he will go to court to get his job back.
Gerald Walpin, the AmeriCorps inspector general fired by the White House in July during his probe of Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, has been cleared of a complaint by the acting U.S. attorney in Sacramento that he had acted improperly.

Now, he says, he wants his job back.

"It takes away any basis belatedly set forth by the White House as a reason for my termination," Walpin said this morning in an interview from his home in New York. "So I am certainly looking forward to a final determination by the court and to be reinstated."
It is possible that Walpin was fired because he had a senior moment at a meeting; it is also possible that he was fired because his investigation embarrassed an Obama supporter, Kevin Johnson.  The Democratic Congress is unlikely to investigate this story, but it is possible that "mainstream" journalists will.

And we can be certain that conservative journalists and bloggers will do more digging.
- 2:54 PM, 10 November 2009   [link]

A Democratic Mayor Agrees With David Freddoso:  In his book, The Case Against Barack Obama, Freddoso summarized Obama as follows:
Obama's ethnic pedigree understandably attracts much interest and fascination.  But it is far less interesting than his unusual political pedigree.  He is the product of a marriage between two of the least attractive parts of Democratic politics—the hard-core radicalism of the 1960s era and Chicago's Machine politics. (pp. x-xi)
Joel Kotkin quotes an anonymous Democratic mayor as saying pretty much the same thing.
A good friend of mine, a Democratic mayor here in California, describes the Obama administration as " run by the Chicago machine."
Kotkin, like Freddoso, doesn't think that combination works well for making national policy.  In fact, he titles his post — which is worth study — " Obama Still Can Save His Presidency".  But only if he grows out of his background in radicalism and machine politics.

Kotkin describes five "key changes" Obama should make.  Here's the first:
1. Forget the "Chicago way." The Windy City is a one-party town with a shrinking middle class and a fully co-opted business elite.  The focused democratic centralism of the machine — as the University of Illinois' Richard Simpson has noted — worked brilliantly in the primaries and even the general election campaign.  But it is hardly suited to running a nation that is more culturally and politically diverse.

The key rule of Chicago politics is delivering the spoils to supporters, and Obama's stimulus program essentially fills this prescription.  The stimulus's biggest winners are such core backers as public employees, universities and rent-seeking businesses who leverage their access to government largesse, mostly by investing in nominally "green" industries.  Roughly half the jobs saved form the ranks of teachers, a highly organized core constituency for the president and a mainstay of the political machine that supports the Democratic Party.

The other winners: big investment banks and private investment funds.  People forget that Obama, even running against a sitting New York senator, emerged as an early favorite among the hedge fund grandees.  As The New York Times' Andrew Sorkin put it back in April, "Mr. Obama might be struggling with the blue-collar vote in Pennsylvania, but he has nailed the hedge fund vote."

At best, the president's policy seems like Karl Rove in reverse, essentially smooching the core and ignoring the rest.  This is a formula for more divisiveness, not the advertised "hope" Americans expected last November.
Though I hope I am wrong about this, I don't expect Obama to make any of those changes.
- 1:55 PM, 10 November 2009   [link]

Economist Arnold Kling Tries Explain Fed Actions and comes up with this:
Everything the Fed has been doing over the past fifteen months makes sense if you think of their goal as transferring wealth from taxpayers to banks.
Though one imagines that Federal Reserve officials wouldn't describe their policies exactly that way.

By way of the Instapundit.
- 1:28 PM, 10 November 2009   [link]

Britain Is Going Nuclear:  The Labour government has announced plans to build ten new reactors.
Ten nuclear power stations are to be built in Britain at a cost of up to £50 billion as the Government tries to prevent the threat of regular power cuts by the middle of the coming decade.

The nuclear industry welcomed the plans, but critics said that ministers had acted too late to avoid an energy crunch caused by the closure of ageing coal-fired stations.
They may be too late to prevent blackouts, but the government is taking radical steps to hurry the construction.
The announcement comes after a radical shake-up in planning laws.  Under powers awarded to the Government last month, local authorities have been stripped of the right of veto over new nuclear plants and other key energy projects.  Decisions will instead be taken by the Infrastructure Planning Commission, which was created to slash the period required to secure consent for energy projects from seven years to one year.
The Labour Party has reversed its position on nuclear power.
As recently as 2003 Tony Blair had to use all his authority just to keep the atomic option open when his ministers wanted to rule it out altogether.  The about-face,as Mr Miliband made clear, has been brought about by increasing evidence of the dire effects of climate change.
(And some backbenchers are unhappy about this reversal.)

Naturally, most Greens are unhappy with this decision, even though the reactors will produce almost no carbon dioxide — and most Greens are certain that carbon dioxide threatens the world.

By way of comparison:  If the United States were building the same number of reactors in proportion to our population, we would be building about fifty new reactors.  We would be building even more if we scaled the number according to GDP, or current energy use.

The Bush administration worked hard to get six new reactors started; this year, the House Republicans backed a long-term plan to build one hundred new reactors; as far as I can tell, the Obama administration wants zero new reactors — but is certain that global warming caused by carbon dioxide is a terrible threat.

(The BBC has a useful summary of current and planned nuclear power reactors in Europe.  Nearly every European country is planning new reactors, and many already get a larger share of their electricity from nuclear power than we do.

Note on terminology:  The Times called them plants and reactors; I have called them reactors, since Britain is mostly planning to add reactors to current sites, not to build new sites.)
- 11:01 AM, 10 November 2009   [link]

Sometimes The Cold War On The Korean Peninsula turns hot.
North and South Korean naval vessels exchanged fire in disputed waters off the western coast of the Korean Peninsula on Tuesday, leaving one North Korean vessel engulfed in flames, South Korean officials said.

The two Koreas accused each other of violating territorial waters, provoking the fierce two-minute skirmish.  It was the first border fighting in seven years between the countries, which technically remain at war after fighting in the 1950-3 Korean War ended in a truce rather than a permanent peace treaty.
The New York Times reporter, Choe Sang-Hun, thinks that North Korea might have provoked this fight as a bargaining chip with the United States.  Yes, that's a strange hypothesis, but it's a strange regime.
- 8:43 AM, 10 November 2009   [link]

The Competition Is Stiff, But Dr. Phil Is A Strong Contender:  Many of our "mainstream" journalists have been working over time to deny the obvious: that the accused Fort Hood killer, Major Hasan, may have been motivated by his religious beliefs.

It is almost as if they are in some weird blind-to-the-obvious contest, and that they are trying to prove that they can ignore more of what is in front of our faces than anyone else.  Though not formally a journalist, Dr. Phil has to be considered one of the strongest contenders in this contest.
The tide of pronouncements and ruminations pointing to every cause for this event other than the one obvious to everyone in the rational world continues apace.  Commentators, reporters, psychologists and, indeed, army spokesmen continue to warn portentously, "We don't yet know the motive for the shootings."

What a puzzle this piece of vacuity must be to audiences hearing it, some, no doubt, with outrage.  To those not terrorized by fear of offending Muslim sensitivities, Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan's motive was instantly clear: It was an act of terrorism by a man with a record of expressing virulent, anti-American, pro-jihadist sentiments.  All were conspicuous signs of danger his Army superiors chose to ignore.
. . .
One of the first outbreaks of these fevers, the night of the shootings, featured television's star psychologist, Dr. Phil, who was outraged when fellow panelist and former JAG officer Tom Kenniff observed that he had been listening to a lot of psychobabble and evasions about Maj. Hasan's motives.

A shocked Dr. Phil, appalled that the guest had publicly mentioned Maj. Hasan's Islamic identity, went on to present what was, in essence, the case for Maj. Hasan as victim.  Victim of deployment, of the Army, of the stresses of a new kind of terrible war unlike any other we have known.  Unlike, can he have meant, the kind endured by those lucky Americans who fought and died at Iwo Jima, say, or the Ardennes?
He's one of the strongest contenders, but it's a tough field.

(Dr. Phil has, as I understand it, a Ph.D. in clinical psychology, which makes this even funnier.)
- 8:14 AM, 10 November 2009   [link]

The Texas Star:  Nothing to do with politics, but this account of the rare fungus inspired me to look at this Wikipedia article, which includes a lovely picture.

And a brief description of the mushroom's spectacular development.
When this species emerges from the ground, it somewhat resembles a dark brown cigar and in maturity it splits open (dehisces) into 4—6 rays to form a star-shaped fruiting body.  Fruit-body dehiscence often is accompanied by a distinct hissing sound and the release of a smoky cloud of spores.
According to both sources, the mushroom is found only in parts for Texas and parts of Japan.  (The only explanation I can come up with for that distribution is that it is native to one, and somehow got introduced to the other.  But if that is correct, then you have to explain why it hasn't spread elsewhere.)

(Forest Mimms III had an interesting encounter with the Scientific American magazine.  Search on the pair if you are interested in knowing more.  Incidentally, my interpretation of what went wrong is different from the commonly accepted explanation.)
- 7:39 PM, 9 November 2009   [link]

[Back to Main Politics Page]

Anne Applebaum Reminds Us just how well things went twenty years ago.
Myself, I celebrated the anniversary Sunday, on the day before the great events, simply by doing something that would have been impossible on Nov. 8, 1989: I walked down Unter den Linden -- a street I first visited on a freezing cold day back when it was still the dark and deserted centerpiece of East Berlin -- and through the Brandenburg Gate, which once stood stranded in the no man's land between East and West.  I passed people sitting in cafes, eating lunch, window shopping.  And I thought about what an extraordinary, almost unbelievable success it has all been.
A success that almost no one predicted then, but that most take for granted now.

She doesn't give any credit for that success to George H. W. Bush — but he deserves some.
- 4:53 PM, 9 November 2009   [link]

Would Obamacare Reduce The Number Insured And Raise Premiums?  That's what economist Martin Feldstein thinks.

Here's his summary:
In short, for those who are now privately insured through employers or by direct purchase, there would be substantial incentives to become uninsured until they become sick.  The resulting rise in the cost to insurance companies as the insured population becomes sicker would raise the average premium, strengthening that incentive.
Some Obamacare proponents may actually favor that result, as a first step toward eliminating private health insurance entirely.
- 1:21 PM, 9 November 2009   [link]

Paul Krugman And The Anzio Analogy:  Last Thursday, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman compared Obama's economic strategy to the Anzio landing.
But while health care won't be Mr. Obama's Waterloo, economic policy is starting to look like his Anzio.
. . .
The World War II battle of Anzio was a classic example of the perils of being too cautious.   Allied forces landed far behind enemy lines, catching their opponents by surprise.  Instead of following up on this advantage, however, the American commander hunkered down in his beachhead — and soon found himself penned in by German forces on the surrounding hills, suffering heavy casualties.

The parallel with current economic policy runs as follows: early this year, President Obama came into office with a strong mandate and proclaimed the need to take bold action on the economy.   His actual actions, however, were cautious rather than bold.  They were enough to pull the economy back from the brink, but not enough to bring unemployment down.
Krugman's conclusion, that the Obama deficits are too small, will surprise some, though Krugman has been making this argument for months.  (There is a powerful argument that the stimulus plan should have provided less total, but more this year, and that the spending parts should have been better targeted, but I have never seen Krugman make those points.)

But what amused me about this column is Krugman's analogy, for two reasons.  First, if Obama is General John Lucas, then his opponents are . . . well, German soldiers fighting under a Nazi flag.  Of course Krugman would deny that he is calling Republicans Nazis, and I would accept his denial.  But I would still tell him that he ought to be more careful with his analogies, assuming, that is, that Krugman wants to be fair to those who disagree with him on Obama's economic plans.

Second, though General Lucas was much criticized at the time for his caution, most military authorities now accept that he was right to be cautious.  Two examples:

The verdict of the 1959 edition of the West Point Atlas of American Wars:
The amphibious landing sailed from Naples on 21 January, making a surprise, practically unopposed landing at 0200 the next morning.  An immediate bold advance might have swept into Rome—but probably, thereafter, would have been cut off and crushed. (Volume II, Map 103)
Rick Atkinson's verdict in The Day of Battle:
More than sixty years after the Allied perdition at Anzio, Lucas's caution seems sensible and even inevitable, given Clark's woolly instructions and Alexander's hail-fellow approbation.  Those who most closely scrutinized the VI Corps predicament tended to concur that a pell-mell lunge for Colli Laziali [a key road intersection] would have been reckless. (p. 371)
It is not hard to understand why most military authorities now agree with Lucas's caution; the brilliant German commander in Italy, Albert Kesselring, reacted quickly:
. . . within three days portions of eight German divisions would be at or near the beachhead, with five others en route. (p. 365)
Kesselring soon had a numerical advantage, as well as the high ground.

Last, an ironic point:  Today, Krugman criticizes those who oppose Obama's health insurance "reform" plan because a few demonstrators used Nazi analogies.  To the best of my knowledge, Krugman has never criticized demonstrators who called Bush, and other Republicans, Nazis, not just once, but routinely.

(For the record:  If you have been reading this site for long, you will know that I consider both sets of Nazi analogies, from the left or the right, absurd.)
- 11:06 AM, 9 November 2009   [link]

Not "Sudden Jihad Syndrome", But "Solo Jihad Syndrome"  The accused Fort Hood killer, Major Nidal M. Hasan, appears to have acted alone.  So far, despite the first reports, no accomplices have been found.

Some are calling this another example of "sudden jihad syndrome".  (I believe Daniel Pipes coined the phrase, in this op-ed.)

But we have already learned enough about Major Hasan to know that he did not act suddenly, or impulsively, but after years of thought.  And the same is true for most of the other radical Muslims who committed lone acts of terrorism.

For that reason, we should call this phenomena, not sudden jihad syndrome, but "solo jihad syndrome".

Some may take comfort in the likelihood that Hasan acted alone.  I don't.  Individuals, especially individuals who take simple precautions, are harder to combat than organizations, even small organizations.

(The unpleasant history of anarchist terrorism is instructive.  From what I can tell, most anarchist terrorists acted alone, or in very small groups.  And for decades, they were remarkably successful at murdering Western leaders.

You can find similar thoughts, without the solo jihad syndrome phrase, here)
- 9:42 AM, 9 November 2009   [link]

Twenty Years Ago Today, The Berlin Wall Fell:  That was the most dramatic event in the end of the Cold War in Europe, and well worth commemorating.  (Even if President Obama doesn't think so.)

The best single piece I have seen on the wall's fall is this Der Spiegel photo essay.

While we should celebrate this peaceful victory twenty years ago, we should not forget that the Cold War has not ended everywhere in the world.  Most notably, it has not ended on the Korean peninsula.

(For the record, twenty years ago I expected us to win the Cold War — if we persevered.   But I did not expect the collapse to come so soon, or so peacefully.)
- 8:37 AM, 9 November 2009   [link]