Archive for August, 2009
27 Aug 2009

“Absolutely”

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Thomas F. Cooley and Peter Rupert discuss, in Forbes, the recent triumphant claims heard widely on the left that “the stimulus is working.”

The bloviators of the blogosphere have been in full roar the past few weeks over the claimed success of the economic stimulus program. Much of this was ignited by Christina Romer, chair of the President’s Council of Economic Advisors, in a speech addressing the question of whether the stimulus was working–and concluding that it was, “absolutely.” …

The recent economic news has been encouraging. The pace of contraction of output and the rate of job losses has declined. This is evidence enough for many people to conclude that the stimulus is working. Writing in The New York Times, Robert H. Frank concludes that the stimulus is working, and that we need more of it. It is perfectly reasonable to have that as an opinion but it isn’t supported by either facts or reasoning.

Now understand that, no matter what point of view you start from–whether you believe stimulus is effective or that it is the voodoo economics of the new millennium–the Economic Recovery Act is a grand fiscal experiment. It is a bit like throwing the baby in the swimming pool to see if it swims.

At some future time, after careful parsing of the data and studying people’s decisions, we may have a much better estimate of the effectiveness of debt-financed government spending of this sort. One should keep in mind, however, that the effectiveness (or ineffectiveness) of the programs to combat the Great Depression in the 1930s is still a matter of great debate. Of course it would be a lot easier if the stimulus programs were better designed and more focused.

To claim, however, that the evidence suggests it is working–and that we need more of it–is nonsense for two reasons. The first, which ought to be obvious, is that we only get one observation on events. To draw a causal connection between the stimulus and the fact that we haven’t plunged into another Great Depression seems bold, to say the least. Since we don’t have a parallel universe in which to play out events without the stimulus, we can’t refute it. …

The other reason why it is illogical to claim a boost from the stimulus is that, for the most part, it hasn’t gone out the door yet. …

Doug Elmendorf, director of the Congressional Budget Office… estimates that by the end of fiscal year 2009, which falls on Sept. 30, just a month from now, 32% of the income transfers for things such as food stamps and extended unemployment benefits will have been spent and 31% of the tax cuts will have been disbursed. And by the end of fiscal year 2010 just 73% of the money allocated to these programs will have been spent.

Even Christina Romer concedes that this part of the stimulus hasn’t done much. …

..the most important stuff–the discretionary spending on infrastructure–has hardly started. By the end of the fiscal year, only 11% of the budgeted discretionary spending on highways, mass transit, energy efficiency and medical infrastructure will have gone out the door. …

There has been remarkably expansionary monetary policy in place for the last year. And there is the promise of massive spending, most of it in the future. If you, the reader, had to pick one as the key fact, would you pick the one that has already occurred and that clearly re-capitalized the banking system and restored liquidity, or the one that hasn’t hit yet?

There is nothing like data to kill a good story.

With or without stimuli, economies do recover from recessions, even great ones.

26 Aug 2009

A Presidency in Serious Trouble

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Charles Murray wonders what the Obama Administration thinks it’s doing.

The late New Yorker film critic Pauline Kael famously said after Nixon’s landslide reelection, “How can he have won? Nobody I know voted for him.” My proposition for today is that the entire White House suffers from the Kael syndrome.

It was the only explanation I could think of as I watched the news last night about the coming prosecution of CIA interrogators. When it comes to political analysis, I’m no Barone or Bowman or Ornstein, but this is not a really tough call. Attempts to put men on trial who obtained information that most Americans will believe (probably rightly) saved the nation from more terrorist attacks will be a political catastrophe, all the more so because I bet that the defendants will come across as straight-arrow good guys (and probably are), while the prosecutors come across as self-righteous wimps (and…). How could the White House not have thought this through? …

(E)very white socioeconomic class in America has become more conservative in the last four decades, with the Traditional Middles moving the most decisively rightward. But the Intellectual Uppers have not just moved slightly in the other direction, they have careened in the other direction.

They won the election with a candidate who sounded centrist running against an exceptionally weak Republican opponent. But they’ve been in the bubble too long. They really think that the rest of America thinks as they do. Nothing but the Pauline Kael syndrome can explain the political idiocy of letting Attorney General Eric Holder go after the interrogators.

Read the whole thing.

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Meanwhile in the Wall Street Journal, Fouad Ajami concludes that Barack Obama’s moment has passed. Health Care Reform finished it. Barack Obama is definitely not Ronald Reagan, and the American people who gambled on his governing as a centrist are gradually coming to recognize his real agenda and are growing increasingly frightened and appalled.

In one of the revealing moments of the presidential campaign, Mr. Obama rightly observed that the Reagan presidency was a transformational presidency in a way Clinton’s wasn’t. And by that Reagan precedent, that Reagan standard, the faults of the Obama presidency are laid bare. Ronald Reagan, it should be recalled, had been swept into office by a wave of dissatisfaction with Jimmy Carter and his failures. At the core of the Reagan mission was the recovery of the nation’s esteem and self-regard. Reagan was an optimist. He was Hollywood glamour to be sure, but he was also Peoria, Ill. His faith in the country was boundless, and when he said it was “morning in America” he meant it; he believed in America’s miracle and had seen it in his own life, in his rise from a child of the Depression to the summit of political power.

The failure of the Carter years was, in Reagan’s view, the failure of the man at the helm and the policies he had pursued at home and abroad. At no time had Ronald Reagan believed that the American covenant had failed, that America should apologize for itself in the world beyond its shores. There was no narcissism in Reagan. It was stirring that the man who headed into the sunset of his life would bid his country farewell by reminding it that its best days were yet to come.

In contrast, there is joylessness in Mr. Obama. He is a scold, the “Yes we can!” mantra is shallow, and at any rate, it is about the coming to power of a man, and a political class, invested in its own sense of smarts and wisdom, and its right to alter the social contract of the land. In this view, the country had lost its way and the new leader and the political class arrayed around him will bring it back to the right path.

Thus the moment of crisis would become an opportunity to push through a political economy of redistribution and a foreign policy of American penance. The independent voters were the first to break ranks. They hadn’t underwritten this fundamental change in the American polity when they cast their votes for Mr. Obama.

American democracy has never been democracy by plebiscite, a process by which a leader is anointed, then the populace steps out of the way, and the anointed one puts his political program in place. In the American tradition, the “mandate of heaven” is gained and lost every day and people talk back to their leaders. They are not held in thrall by them. The leaders are not infallible or a breed apart. That way is the Third World way, the way it plays out in Arab and Latin American politics.

Those protesters in those town-hall meetings have served notice that Mr. Obama’s charismatic moment has passed. Once again, the belief in that American exception that set this nation apart from other lands is re-emerging. Health care is the tip of the iceberg. Beneath it is an unease with the way the verdict of the 2008 election was read by those who prevailed. It shall be seen whether the man swept into office in the moment of national panic will adjust to the nation’s recovery of its self-confidence.

Read the whole thing.

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Barack Obama’s determination to govern de haute en bas, to impose on the rest of the country the ideological preferences of what Charles Murray calls the “Intellectual Upper,” really the community of fashion, places him in serious conflict with the uncommitted political center which gave him his margin of victory. Rather than giving Obama and the democrat party a mandate for Socialism and a blank check for revenge, the centrists mistakenly accepted Obama’s soft talk and tone of moderation. They voted for a calm and emollient presidency, desiring an end to the ideological furor of George W. Bush’s presidency. Barack Obama is fatally misinterpreting the voters’ message.

26 Aug 2009

How to Expand Federal Power

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Guest blogging today at Volokh is my former neighbor from Northumberland County, Pennsylvania, attorney and educator Thomas Cooper:

Let me place myself in the President’s chair, at the head of a party in this country, aiming to extend the influence of the governing powers at the expence of the governed; to increase the authority and prerogative of the Executive, and to reduce by degrees to a mere name, the influences of the people. How should I set about it? What system should I pursue?

.. As the rights reserved by the State Governments and the bounds and limits set by the Constitution of the Union, are the declared barriers against the encroachments of entrusted power, my first business would be to undermine that Constitution, and render it useless, by claiming authority which, though not given by the express words of it, might be edged in under the cover of general expressions or implied powers — by stretching the meaning of the words used to their utmost latitude, — by taking advantage of every ambiguity — and by quibbling upon distinctions to explain away the plain and obvious meaning. It would be my business to extend the powers of the Federal Courts and of Federal Officers — to encroach upon the State jurisdictions — to throw obloquy on the State Governments as clogs upon the wheel of the General Government — for that purpose to promote a spirit of party among them, and subject to accusations of disaffection those who were opposed to the measures I would pursue. In addition to this I would now and then exercise trifling acts of authority not granted by the Constitution, under some undefined notion of prerogative. If by such means one encroachment should be made good, it would be a precedent for another, until the public by degrees would become accustomed and callous to them.

Cooper’s Address to the Readers of the Sunbury and Northumberland Gazette, June 29, 1799

Thomas Cooper biography

26 Aug 2009

How Sharia Law Operates in Saudi Arabia Today

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The Arab News reports on a case of domestic discord in Laith, Saudi Arabia, which demonstrates exactly why the Archbishop of Canterbury’s assertion that the adoption of “aspects of Sharia law” was inevitable in Britain led to widespread criticism.

A 10-year-old bride was returned last Sunday to her 80-year-old husband by her father who discovered her at the home of her aunt with whom she has been hiding for around 10 days.

A local newspaper said the husband, who denies he is 80 in spite of claims by the girl’s family, accused the aunt of meddling in his affairs. “My marriage is not against Shariah. It included the elements of acceptance and response by the father of the bride,” he said.

He added that he had been engaged to his wife’s elder sister and that this broke off as she wanted to continue with her education. “In light of this, her father offered his younger daughter. I was allowed to have a look at her according to Shariah and found her acceptable,” he said.

25 Aug 2009

AP: US Interrogators Got Only Two Weeks Training

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US Special Operations-trained Interrogation Caterpillar. These guys are fierce.

Pamela Hess and Matt Appuzzo, writing for some news agency, are trying to shocking a nation’s conscience.

With just two weeks of training, or about half the time it takes to become a truck driver, the CIA certified its spies as interrogation experts after 9/11 and handed them the keys to the most coercive tactics in the agency’s arsenal.

Can you imagine? Just because some Muslim terrorists killed a lousy 3000 Americans and produced some mere billions of dollars worth of physical destruction and economic disruption, the Bush Administration actually allowed people with only two weeks of federal training to slap terrorists, pour water on them, and (worst of all) to expose them to caterpillar attack.

Hat tip to Stephen Frankel.


Unlike the US, Al Qaeda provided appropriately thorough training. They even produced a manual.

25 Aug 2009

Obama Administration Launches Prosecutorial Investigation of CIA and US Contractor Interrogations

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John H. Durham

Barack Obama may be happily vacationing on Martha’s Vinyard, but his administration swerved suddenly left and hit the accelerator hard yesterday, when Attorney-General Eric Holder announced that he was bringing in a big gun, and turning him loose on the CIA officers and contractors who questioned captured Al Qaeda terrorists and prevented the repetition of successful mass terrorist attacks in the aftermath of 9/11.

Holder is feeding red meat to the irredentist leftwing base of the democrat party, at the expense of US Intelligence. Whom do you suppose they’re going to be able to get to take the risk of performing any Intelligence-related job that could be argued to be a crime by the most hydrophobic US-hating Marxist in Berkeley after this?

Intelligence operations do very commonly feature activities which are illegal somewhere or are which potentially illegal by some standards or from some perspective. That is kind of why Intelligence operations tend to be covert.

We already have physicians in this country forced to practice defensive medicine in order to avoid the personal risk of falling into the clutches of the US Tort Bar. Now, we are going to have an Intelligence service whose officers will need to practice defensive operations, for as the Bible says (Matthew 10:36): “a man’s foes shall be they of his own household.

(Attorney General Eric H.) Holder (Jr.) has named longtime prosecutor John H. Durham, who has parachuted into crisis situations for both political parties over three decades, to open an early review of nearly a dozen cases of alleged detainee mistreatment at the hands of CIA interrogators and contractors.

The announcement raised fresh tensions in an intelligence community fearful that it will bear the brunt of the punishment for Bush-era national security policy, and it immediately provoked criticism from congressional Republicans. …

In a statement Monday afternoon, Holder cautioned that the inquiry is far from a full-blown criminal investigation. Rather, he said, it is unknown whether indictments or prosecutions of CIA contractors and employees will follow. …

“I fully realize that my decision to commence this preliminary review will be controversial,” Holder added. “As attorney general, my duty is to examine the facts and to follow the law. In this case, given all of the information currently available, it is clear to me that this review is the only responsible course of action for me to take.”

24 Aug 2009

Leveling Health Care Means Leveling Down

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Ronald Dworkin, an anesthesiologist editorializing on Health Care Reform in the Wall Street Journal last Thursday, identified one very key impact of Obamacare which would guarantee the degradation of quality of American health care.

(US Health Care today) unites rich and poor in a common private insurance system.

Here’s how it works. When a rich person rolls into the operating room, the nurse asks him: “Would you like a warm blanket? How about a pillow?” The anesthesiologist numbs his skin before putting in the I.V. Every effort is made to make him happy.

People in the operating room pay attention to a rich patient’s wishes because they know a rich person can make their lives miserable. He can complain to the hospital president, or call the mayor. But the side effect is that their high quality care becomes habitual, and all patients receive it. When a poor person complains in most environments, no one listens. But in health care, through a common private insurance system, poor people go to the same hospitals and doctors as rich people and thus enjoy the benefit of rich people’s power.

The public option severs this link. Dissatisfied with government-run health care, the rich will exit the system. The poor and middle-class will be left to flounder alone inside the public system. Government-run health care will become like the public schools.

The best doctors will be opening luxury clinics in Carribean resort locations, and the wealthy will simply jet off for their health care, leaving everyone else experiencing the equivalent of inner city hospital emergency room service, endless queues, drastic rationing and triage.

24 Aug 2009

Talking Back to Congressional Democrats

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In a perfect vignette from those Town Hall Meetings on Health Care Reform that have been making news, David Hedrick, a Marine Corps veteran, makes mincemeat out of Rep.Brian Baird (D- Wash) at a meeting somewhere in Washington State.

Hedrick’s point, that Congress has absolutely no right to interfere with our right to chose our own health insurance, is dead on.

2:19 video

Mr. Hedrick was clearly far from alone in his sentiments. The crowd cheered his remarks.

From Simon at Classical Values via Bird Dog at Maggie’s Farm.

24 Aug 2009

Tasered Bum Catches Fire in Ohio

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mugshot of 31-year-old Daniel Wood

Some people have no compassion.

I mean, here was 31-year-old homeless victim of Capitalist Imperialism Daniel Wood, minding his own business, merely hassling a few customers for spare change outside a shop in Lancaster, Ohio, when along come the local gendarmes to interfere with Mr. Wood’s preferred means of acquiring income. When the structurally disenfranchised Wood, understandably enough, protested his oppression, the police zapped him with a taser. Unfortunately, Mr. Wood had been not long previously been seeking spiritual illumination, huffing keyboard cleaner. Chances are, Mr. Wood had inadvertently spilled a certain amount of toluene on his clothing, because the spark from the police officer’s taser unhappily caused Mr. Wood to burst into flame.

Can you imagine? Fox News and Crunch Gear were actually heartless enough to find an incident like this funny.

Sensitive Foster Kamer, at Gawker, on the other hand, shed one exquisite tear, and complained that he found contemplating the mugshot of Daniel Wood (who was promptly extinguished, and then booked, by police) “sad and spiritually emptying.”

23 Aug 2009

Yesterday Offline

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7-week-old Tazy puppy Uhlan

I was away from the keyboard yesterday, driving nearly 200 miles each way to pick up a seven-week-old puppy.

Last month, the renowned Saluki authority Gail Goodman sent me an email telling me that a retired Russian zoologist (living very near me — only about 200 miles away!) had just bred a litter of the rare Kazakh Tazys, which the serious connoisseurs of aboriginal coursing dogs, people like Gail herself and Steve Bodio, particularly admire for their hunting instinct and drive.

The fact that I have no experience in coursing and live in the East where we lack the kind of open spaces suitable for sighthounds easily found in New Mexico did not deter my friends from getting behind the idea that I needed to own one of these.

Tazy (or Tazi) is just another Asian term for the breed originally referred to in the West as the Persian Greyhound, but these days known as the Saluki (or Saluqi).

Naturally, I had only to look at puppy photos in order to succumb and place a deposit on one of these.

Yesterday, the fatal day arrived. Karen insisted that we go and pick up our Tazy immediately upon the breeder announcing that he was ready to leave his mother.

We wound up taking the same fawn-colored male with the black mask (with a little white on the nose) that originally made an impression on us in the puppy photos. A brother with a darker color struck me as a possible candidate, too, but the darker puppy struggled and was unhappy when picked up. Our original choice was quite content to be handled, and actually never even whined or cried all the way back.

Our Basset Bleu de Gascogne arrived already named Cadet, so we decided to stick with the military theme. Since Tazys are slender and fast running dogs of Asian origin, we decided his name ought to describe him as a type of light cavalry of Asian origin, so we are going to name the puppy Uhlan.


Tired from a long drive

21 Aug 2009

“Classic Wounding Issue”

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Marc Ambinder identifies Health Care Reform as a classic example of the kind of policy fight a president can’t win.

I think he’s right. Socialized health care is a goal that the left can neither relinquish nor hope to win.

As the prospects for bipartisan agreement in the Senate fade, the need for Obama to unify Democrats will increase. Right now, though, he is losing Democrats from both wings of the party, even as independents soften and conservatives mobilize. Obama’s ratings in the Pew survey declined slightly from July to August among moderate Democrats (down two percentage points) and sharply among liberal Democrats (down nine percentage points).

These poll numbers suggest that health care is becoming the classic issue that wounds a president: one that unites his opponents and divides his own side. Obama probably has little hope of changing the first half of that equation; when Congress returns he’ll probably need to focus more on improving the second.

20 Aug 2009

Man Trades in Maserati Clunker on a Subaru

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1985 Maserati Biturbo

It sounds amazing. In Golden, Colorado, the owner of a 1985 Maserati Biturbo actually traded in his exotic Italian grand touring sedan, with an odometer reading of only 18,480 miles, for $3500 from Barack Obama as down payment on a new Subaru.

The Maserati is doomed. Its engine’s crankcase will be filled with sodium silicate in a government stimulus program resembling those of the Great Depression in which farmers were paid to shoot pigs or plow under wheat, then the whole car will be crushed into a cube of metal.

In this case, maybe Obama should just save a few quarts of good sodium silicate. That Maserati already wouldn’t run.

Weekly Driver:

A man in Colorado was so frustrated with his car breaking down, he decided to capitalize on the “Cash For Clunkers” program. That’s nothing unusual — except his car was a rare Maserati.

The 1985 Maserati BiTurbo has 18,480 miles on the odometer and its interior is nearly new. Yet the owner said he couldn’t drive the car more than 10 minutes without having to call his mechanic.

The Maserati, like all “Cash for Clunker” trade-ins, will soon be crushed. The man said the engine frequently had problems and he’s been trying to the Maserati for months. By trading it in, the owner got $3,500 of government money, roughly the same as he was trying to sell the car for privately.

CNN 1:40 video

That Colorado owner’s experience was apparently pretty typical. The Maserati Biturbo made Time Magazine’s 50 Worst Cars of All Time:

“Biturbo” is, of course, Italian for “expensive junk.” At least, it is now, after Maserati tried to pass off this bitter heartbreak-on-wheels as a proper grand touring sedan. The Biturbo was the product of a desperate, under-funded company circling the drain of bankruptcy, and it shows. Everything that could leak, burn, snap or rupture did so with the regularity of the Anvil Chorus. The collected service advisories would look like the Gutenberg Bible.

Your tax dollars at work. Nobody would buy this dog, but Barack Obama did, using your money to do it.

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