Monday, June 30, 2008

Clark Puts His Foot in It

Over the weekend General Wesley Clark made a statement that John McCain had not commanded troops during war so he is unqualified to be commander-in-chief. This is an interesting statement for a couple of reasons.

By Clark's reasoning, very few presidents were qualified for the job. This includes Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt.

If McCain is unqualified after years in the service then what of Obama? He has no military service at all. Some of his supporters say that Obama's record of good judgment (he gave a speech against Iraq in 2003) makes him immune to this criticism. This is a rather weak argument.

It is very possible that Clark was trying to position himself to be vice-president. If Obama had someone qualified to be commander-in-chief on the ticket, people might not notice that the experienced commander wasn't at the top.

If that was what Clark ws trying, he failed miserably. McCain denounced Clark's statement while taking the high road:
If that's the kind of campaign Sen. Obama and his surrogates and supporters want to engage in, I understand that. But it doesn't reduce the price of gas by one penny. It doesn't achieve our energy independence or make it come any closer. Doesn't make any American stay in their home who's at risk of losing it today. And it certainly doesn't do anything to address the challenges Americans have in keeping their jobs, homes and supporting their families.
This forced Obama to disown Clark. Worse for Obama, it distracted the media from what was supposed to be a major speech. Whatever he talked about, the only thing the press covered was his response to Clark. Any chance that Clark had of getting on the ticket is now blown.

Flipping FISA

For years people on the right (including me) have joked about Bush Derangement Syndrome - a hatred for President Bush that is so deep that it distorts rational thought. As Barack Obama moves to the political center, the effects of Bush Derangement Syndrome are becoming clearer. It is not possible to show examples where opinions changed according to who was supporting a measure.

As an example, take the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and Keith Olbermann. The previous version of FISA expired earlier this year. Congress passed a renewal which Bush vetoed because it did not include amnesty for executives who cooperated with the government on monitoring phone calls. Olbermann, among others, had a fit over this provision. In a rage-filled commentary, Olbermann compared the communications executives to NAZIs. As far as he was concerned, Bush should never have asked for the immunity. The bill should have passed as it was originally presented.

He also implied that the communications executives should be tried for war crimes, something he has advocated for many people in Bush's cabinet.

Nevermind that without the immunity the communications companies would probably have cut off access to phone records.

Obama originally announced that he would never vote for a bill that included immunity. He was roundly applauded by the left.

Cut forward to June, 2008. Obama is now the unofficial Democratic nominee and needs to appeal to a wider group of Americans. The new version of FISA with immunity came up for a vote and Obama voted in favor of it.

So, how did Olbermann react to his candidate supporting the NAZIs? He applauded him for standing up to the left.

To be clear - when Bush supports immunity it is a national discrase. When Obama votes for a bill that includes immunity it is a sign of political courage.

Obviously, the difference is not the immunity, it is the person supporting it.

This might also be a documentable example of Obama's personal reality distortion. If he is for it, it must be the proper action. If he is against it then it must be wrong. If he changes positions then the issue must have changed because Obama always has the correct position.
To summarize - if Bush is for something then it is wrong and must be opposed. If Obama is for it then it must be right and supported, even if it is the same thing.

There are limits to Obama's reality-warping. The Huffington Post, a pro-Obama mecca, was outraged at this support.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

20 Years of Hot Air

Monday marked the 20th anniversary of Dr. James Hansen's first testimony before the Senate on Global Warming. Here are some scattered thoughts on the occasion.

Hansen's original presentation was a combination of staging and luck. The luck was that the country was in the middle of a major heat wave. The high the day that Hansen gave his presentation was a record 98 degrees. Hansen told his audience that the current heat wave was directly caused by global warming and that things would only get warmer. 98 degrees remains the record for that date. The high temperature for the anniversary was 86.

To be sure that the audience got the message, the air conditioning was turned off and the windows opened the night before Hansen's presentation.

I was skeptical from the beginning for several reasons. One was that other scientists were warning that sulfur dioxide emissions were going to cause an ice age (this was different from the ice age predictions of the 1970s). I already knew about the Little Ice Age which ended in the mid-19th century. To say that the world has warmed since the end of a natural cold period and that humanity is responsible is a lot like making predictions based on the temperature rise between January and August and projecting into September.

Later predictions went back 400 years - to the height of the Little Ice Age.

At one point the IPCC accepted someone's doctoral thesis on historic temperatures based on tree rings. This was convenient because it showed that the Little Ice Age was an insignificant local event and that recent temperatures had risen sharply in a graph named the "hockey stick". Later investigation showed that the statistical calculations used to produce the hockey stick were flawed and always produce the same graph regardless of the input. The hockey stick graph is still used by global warming believers.

There is considerable difference in global temperature when you look at the land station based records that Hansen's department at NASA keeps and satellite-based readings. NASA manages to hit the world's warmest spots and miss the coolest.

Temperatures reached a plateau around a decade ago. This was not included in any models. After the fact, it was decided that the oceans must be absorbing heat but will suddenly release it in the near future. When you have to adjust your models for major events like this it is known as fudging your figures.

A new batch of deep ocean probes failed to find warming. In order to square with the new theory that recent warming has been going into the ocean, a lot of effort is being put into redefining the historic record to make it colder.

Nearly all land-based weather stations are affected by the uban heat island effect. NASA is supposed to be compensating for this but it is questionable how accurate these corrections are. In most cases, the corrections are greater than the recorded warming trends. A tiny mistake in these corrections could show a warming or cooling trend where none exists.

Hansen has insisted that any scientist who denes global warming must have been paid to express these views by the oil and coal industries. In his view, any amount of money is enough to taint a source.

In the last 20 years, huge amounts of money has been given as grants for studying global warming. This money is only available to warming believers. For some reason, this is not seen as tainting results.

On the 20th anniversary, Hansen called for arresting and trying oil and coal executicves for crimes against humanity. If it turns out that he is wrong and mankind beggars itself for nothing, should Hansen and Al Gore be tried for similar crimes?

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

An American Concept

It's strange to realize it but freedom of speech is unique to America. There aren't any other countries that give it the reverence that we do. A recent example is Canada's Human Rights Council which prosecuted journalist Mark Steyn for an except from his book America Alone. Canadian Muslims were offended by the book and, in Canada, it is a crime to offend anyone. More details here

When asked about free speech, Dean Steacy, an investigator for Canada's national commission, said "Freedom of speech is an American concept, so I don't give it any value."

This is true for most of Europe where Hitler's writings and Holocaust denial are imprisonable offenses.

Europe's reaction to the Muslim cartoons was mixed and strained. Some countries apologized for allowing their media to print anything offensive.

Of course, the rest of the world is even less free. Egypt and China have arrested bloggers. Hugo Chavez shut down an opposition TV station.

It's hard to imagine any of this happening here but why are we different? Most of the world would say that we are out of step and need to change our laws. The UN suggested that there be international limits on offensive speech.

Regardless, free speech in America is not only afforded constitutional protection, it was the first freedom so protected. Our unique history has a lot to do with this.

During the colonial period from the mid-17th to the mid-18th centuries the English government didn't take much interest in colonial affairs. This changed after the French and Indian War when the crown wanted the colonies to pay for their own defense and tried imposing taxes. The colonies wanted to choose their own taxed and objected. This dispute was a major cause of the American Revolution.

At the same time there was a philosophical debate going on as to the proper relationship between a government and the governed. Practices that had been considered normal such as presumption of guilt were questioned.

After the Revolution, the first attempt at creating a national government with the Articles of Confederation failed. The Constitutional Convention was an attempt at creating a stronger government. Many of the delegates had been dissidents under British rule. They were wary of giving the new government too much power and they wanted to preserve their right to dissent. Accordingly they enshrined what they considered essential liberties in  the Constitution where they would be difficult to change.

Jump forward a few decades to the French Revolution. The French talked a lot about liberty and equality but the post-revolutionary period in France was called the Terror for a reason. Rights were more by class than by individual. Marx and the other early socialists picked up on this class warfare and it infected European thought which in turn infected Canada.

So in Canada it is more important for a class of people to be protected from having their feelings hurt than protecting the individual right to free speech. The presumption of innocence is also thrown out. In the Canadian tribunals, an accusation means guilt.

Freedom of speech is not a given in the US. There are constant attempts to criminalize hate speech. Democrats are hoping to revive the Fairness Doctrine for radio which would be used to silence conservatives. Foreign laws are being cited as justification for US court cases. CAIR constantly claims Islamophobia.

If we are not careful we could see free speech vanish within out lifetime.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Climate Change and the Price of Gas

If you think that $4/gallon for gas is expensive just think about this - with all of the reported pain of $4/gallon, miles driven have only dropped by 2%. In order to reach the stated goals of 70%-90% (depending on who you ask) by 2050, gas will need to be a lot more expensive. $5/gallon will not do it. I doubt that $10/gallon will either. $20/gallon indexed for inflation would probably do the trick.

Electricity and natural gas need to have corresponding rises for the same reason. It needs to be painful enough that every time you turn on a light or get in the car you have to stop and decide if you can afford this? Do you really need the thermostat set for 65 degrees? Maybe all you can afford is 45, less if it is really cold outside.

That is what cap-and-trade is really about. The cap is the total allowable emissions allowed with fines on the amounts past the limit.. The trading part allows people or businesses that are under the limit to sell the difference but, by 2050, no one will be under the limit. Everyone will be paying fines. That's the only way to lower emissions.

Gore and company don't tell you this. They talk about unplugging phone chargers and switching to wind power. As this article points out, these are useless. Forget about solar and biomass, also. The only way to cut emissions is to give up oil and gas. That's going to be painful.

Will it me more painful than the predicted pain of climate change? No one is even admitting that this argument exists.

Friday, June 13, 2008

What if Obama Wins?

Right now Barack Obama is slightly ahead in the polls. Most analysts give him a better than even chance of winning. Even if we assume that a lot of this is wishful thinking, Obama has a good chance of being the next resident of the White House. What can we expect?

Liberals (or progressives as they now prefer) are hoping that an Obama presidency will bring in a new progressive era matching Roosevelt's New Deal and LBJ's Great Society. They expect universal health care, the resurrection of unions as a major force in America, income redistribution, a new energy policy that ends dependence on foreign oil and the threat of global warming, the resurgence of American soft power and respect and a new era of global peace.

They really expect all of this, probably before the end of his first term. Just check the Huffington Post.

Why do they expect this? He has a cult of personality, he is liberal (oops - progressive), and he talks about change a lot. He also promises to be a new-style politician who will move past divisiveness.

So, how much will he actually be able to accomplish?

In the last 50 years there have been four Democrat presidents. Their record is interesting. The last two, Carter and Clinton were southern governors who ran as moderates. Both of them came from small states and were initially overwhelmed when they got to Washington. Carter's only major accomplishments were as mediator. Clinton passed a gas tax and a few other pieces of forgettable legislation in his first two years then lost control of Congress. His main claims to fame came from working with the Republican Congress.

The other two, Kennedy, and Johnson, came from Congress. Kennedy is the one Obama is most often compared to but his supporters are hoping for Johnson-level accomplishments. Kennedy didn't really do much. despite coming from Congress, he didn't have much luck in getting his legislative agenda passed.

Johnson was a different matter. He knew how to twist arms. He also used Kennedy's death as a lever, insisting that Kennedy's stalled agenda be passed as a memorial.

Obama is more likely to be a Kennedy than a Johnson. Like Kennedy, he is a short-timer in Congress. He was the most junior senator when he started his campaign. He has no history of working with the other side or compromise. His supporters expect him to cow his opponents through sheer strength of personality. This might work or it might polarize the opposition more than ever. In addition, Obama has shown poor judgment in his campaign. He has repeatedly been embarrassed by campaign staff members. He changed his answer about his church several times. He dismissed questions about controversies as "distractions". And, for a "new politician" he has been rather nasty when referring to McCain. None of this suggests that, as president, he will have the skills needed to command bi-partisan votes to change America.

It is possible that Obama will have a larger working majority in Congress than the Democrats have now. The Republicans are defending more open seats and the Republican brand name is at a low. Will that be enough?

It wasn't enough for Clinton. His attempt at universal health care never had a chance. That's because LBJ and Roosevelt before him had something else going for them - social unrest. Roosevelt had the Great Depression. LBJ had huge civil rights demonstrations and rioting. In both cases there was a feeling that things had to change. There was also a rosy projection about costs.

While we are in an economic downturn with rising energy prices, the pubic mood is nothing like in the 1960s. What's more, as Democrats discovered when they considered legislation on climate change, the public isn't in the mood for legislation that will further raise the cost of living.

Obama will likely be as unsuccessful at changing America as Kennedy, Carter, and Clinton. This could help revitalize the Republican party name. In fact, I suspect that many Republicans are hoping for an Obama win for just this reason.

Monday, June 09, 2008

What Obama Believes

Barack Obama gave this speech three years ago this month. It has some interesting insights into his view of the proper role of government. Take this section:

[...] Once again, there are those who believe that there isn't much we can do about this as a nation. That the best idea is to give everyone one big refund on their government—divvy it up by individual portions, in the form of tax breaks, hand it out, and encourage everyone to use their share to go buy their own health care, their own retirement plan, their own child care, their own education, and so on.

In Washington, they call this the Ownership Society. But in our past there has been another term for it—Social Darwinism—every man or woman for him or herself. It's a tempting idea, because it doesn't require much thought or ingenuity. It allows us to say that those whose health care or tuition may rise faster than they can afford—tough luck. It allows us to say to the Maytag workers who have lost their job—life isn't fair. It let's us say to the child who was born into poverty—pull yourself up by your bootstraps. And it is especially tempting because each of us believes we will always be the winner in life's lottery, that we're the one who will be the next Donald Trump, or at least we won't be the chump who Donald Trump says: "You're fired!"

But there is a problem. It won't work. It ignores our history. It ignores the fact that it's been government research and investment that made the railways possible and the internet possible. It's been the creation of a massive middle class, through decent wages and benefits and public schools that allowed us all to prosper. Our economic dependence depended on individual initiative. It depended on a belief in the free market; but it has also depended on our sense of mutual regard for each other, the idea that everybody has a stake in the country, that we're all in it together and everybody's got a shot at opportunity. That's what's produced our unrivaled political stability.

An unintentional irony is that this was a commencement address. It is ironic because he quotes so much misinformation to graduating students.

The most important thought here is that allowing people to spend their own money on health care, child care, etc. is wrong. Obama believes that it is the responsibility of the government to make these very personal choices for you.

Other points - he totally misuses the term Social Dawrinism. He also totally misunderstands the role that private investment played in the railroads. For example, the first trans-continental railroad was privately chartered and federally backed. In fact, the railroad mis-managed federal subsidies in a major scandal which ended up determining a presidential election. This is not exactly the sort of ringing endorsement for government intervention that Obama believes it to be.

A different quote:
When the irrational exuberance of the Roaring Twenties came crashing down with the stock market, we had to decide: do we follow the call of leaders who would do nothing, or the call of a leader who, perhaps because of his physical paralysis, refused to accept political paralysis?
FDR's handling of the Great Depression was one of the worst things to happen to the US economy in the last century. His economic advisers believed that the problem was that the economy had grown too large and that the solution was to permanently limit the economy to around 2/3s the size it had been before 1929. From statements that he has made elsewhere, Obama may believe that the current US economy needs to be shrunken.

A few months ago he said "We can't drive our SUVs and eat as much as we want and keep our homes on 72 degrees at all times ... and then just expect that other countries are going to say OK." His commencement speech had a longer version showing that that this was no off-the-cuff comment.

All of that is possible but none of it will come easy. Every one of us is going to have to work more, read more, train more, think more. We will have to slough off some bad habits—like driving gas guzzlers that weaken our economy and feed our enemies abroad. Our children will have to turn off the TV set once in a while and put away the video games and start hitting the books. We'll have to reform institutions, like our public schools, that were designed for an earlier time. Republicans will have to recognize our collective responsibilities, even as Democrats recognize that we have to do more than just defend old programs.

This is another recurring theme with the Obamas - that Barack's election will be the first step in changing Americans. Remember this quote from his wife?
Barack Obama will require you to work. He is going to demand that you shed your cynicism. That you put down your divisions. That you come out of your isolation, that you move out of your comfort zones. That you push yourselves to be better. And that you engage. Barack will never allow you to go back to your lives as usual, uninvolved, uninformed.

An Obama presidency sounds like a lot of work. It is also part of the recurring messiah theme. If you come to Obama he will heal your soul.

Anyway, I think that it is instructive to see what Obama was saying three years ago where fewer people were listening. It gives us a better idea of what his real beliefs are and what sort of change he believes in.

Friday, June 06, 2008

When Cooling is Warming

NASA says that the world is warming and that March was the third warmest month on record. Other measures say that the world's temperature peaked a decade ago and has been either steady or in a slight decline. What's going on? The computer industry web site the Register has a detailed study of this question here. You should read it but I'm going to summarize it anyway.

First, NASA has been fudging its figures. They have been altering historic measures with a bias to warming (older measurements have been adjusted down, recent ones up). They have not documented why this is being done but the result is that the world looks warmer that before the adjustments.

Next, of the three groups attempting to measure the earth's temperature, only NASA uses ground-based stations. This is an acceptable measure as long as you have sufficient stations to cover the planet. They don't. North America, Europe and Asia are covered pretty well but South America and Australia have huge gaps. Most of Africa is not included and only tiny bits of Antarctica are measured. Even in North America, Canada is somehow missed. Then there are the oceans which are mainly ignored. Funny thing about the areas that NASA is monitoring, according to the other measures, NASA is mainly measuring temperature in places that are getting hotter. They managed to miss the parts of the globe that are cooling (the majority of the globe).

The Register didn't speculate on how this happened but I will. Most of the areas being measured are industrialized. That makes it easier to place a measuring station but it also opens the station to false readings from urban heat islands. NASA is supposed to be compensating for this but this is a tough calculation to get right.

Finally, NASA used a known cold period as its baseline. This adds a few of degrees of apparent warming. Had they chosen the the warm period in the 1930s then their maps might be showing cooling rather than warming.

All of this calls NASA's ethics into question. The figures come from the Jet Propulsion Lab which is run by James Hansen. Hansen is the man who first introduced the concept of global warming to the world and is, by any measure, a biased source. Regardless, NASA keeps on producing figures showing warming and the news media reports them without mentioning the conflict.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Obama's Victory

Counting superdelegates, the Democrats finally have a candidate, Barack Obama. Considering the scope of his victory, I would be very concerned if I was a Democrat. Consider the following:

If Hillary had won a scant 57 more pledged delegates she would have been the winner. That is a shift of only 1.7%.

Even after all of that, Obama did not win the nomination outright. He had to have the support of the superdelegates. There is still an outside chance that something could happen to discredit him and Hillary could become the candidate.

His win came about because of Hillary's mistakes. Hillary didn't plan on running past Super Tuesday allowing Obama to win 11 primaries in a row. This gave him an aura of invincibility and the all-important 57 delegates.

When Hillary was in a position to compete she did well, right up to the final June primaries. Even after it was obvious that Obama would be the candidate, Hillary managed to win several primaries including some large states like Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Obama outspent Hillary by a huge margin, even in states that she carried.

Typically a candidate in Hillary's position, trailing with little chance of winning, would have run out of money months ago. As the final primary approached, Obama would have coasted to victory. This is how the Republican race went.

Even allowing that Hillary has resources unavailable to most candidates, we must speculate that a lot of her support came from an underground stop-Obama movement. This would be made up of people who do not dare to say that they oppose Obama out loud for fear of being called a racist so they disguise their motives as support for Hillary.

So the Democrats ended up with a weak candidate who looks stronger than he is because of the enthusiasm of his supporters and his run of 11 wins in February.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Green Jobs

Green activists insist that curbing CO2 emissions will be a huge economic boost. This claim is being repeated quite often. Here is an example. The idea is that new industries will open up with lots of opportunities. How will this work in real life? Let me make a proposal.

Congress passes legislation mandating that everyone has to own a car that gets 30+ MPG within the next two years. They also mandate new efficiency requirements for heaters and air conditioners and pass minimum insulation standards, all to be implemented in the next couple of years.

Not only will this have a major effect on CO2 emissions, it will revitalize the automotive industry and create hundreds of thousands of new jobs in the home HAV field.

Do you see the flaw in this? If not then think about the cost to you. I just proposed a mandate of tens of thousands of dollars. Where will you get the money? Will you stop going on vacation? Forget about purchasing new computers, HD TVs, and home appliances? Cut back on movies?

These cutbacks will cause massive unemployment. Will all of these people be able to find new green jobs building cars or installing insulation? Probably not, but this is what the green activists are promising.

What they are calling for is an unfunded mandate. Power companies will have to close perfectly good, coal-fired generators and replace them with more expensive ones. Yes, there will be new jobs but there will also be massive job loss elsewhere.