Friday, January 30, 2009

What's at stake with the stimulus

The Obama-backed stimulus bill isn't really a stimulus. Yes, some of the money will stimulate the economy. Estimates on this vary partly because no one knows when the economy will recover. Once it does, this bill goes from stimulus to deficit spending. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the economy will start to recover on its own by the end of the year. They also estimate that only a fraction of the stimulus will be spent this year so the vast majority cannot be called a stimulus. If you assume that the recession continues on into 2010 (making it several times longer than any previous recession) then there will still be at least 20% unspent.

There's a lot of money in the bill that could never be called a stimulus under any definition. There's $20 billion for Pell grants. This may be a worthy cause but it should be judged on its own. The vast sums set aside for green energy will not do much stimulus, either. If they ever pay off, it will be years in the future. Again, spending like this should be judged on its own merit.

I doubt that anyone in Congress really knows everything that is in the bill. It has been rushed through without hearings. The Democrats complained for years when the Bush administration did this with the Patriot Act.

That is the whole point of the bill. Democrats are anxious to start a new New Deal. They lumped everything that they could think of into a single bill and tried to sell it as an economic stimulus that was too urgent to be discussed. The public is becoming skeptical and is probably suffering from bail-out fatigue. Rasmussen says that only 42% of the public supports the bill. This highlights one of the reasons for the urgency. Democrats are worried that the bill cannot stand up to too much scrutiny.

If the bill becomes law then it will change daily life. Spending initiatives that are being sold as temporary will become permanent. That is why the Democrats are pushing the bill so hard.

At the same time, without Bush and his own big-government leanings, the Republicans have recovered some direction. The House Republicans were unanimous in voting against the bill. Even if it was a meaningless gesture, they are on record as being against this major expansion of government. Bipartisan support would have made it difficult to oppose unrestrained spending in the future.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Truth After Retirement

For years Dr. John Theon was in charge of NASA's weather and climate research programs. James Hansen, the scientist who first discovered global warming worked for Theon. Now that he is retired and safe from any consequences for going against the official line, he has added his name to the list of skeptics.

It isn't surprising that he would wait until his retirement to announce this. The professional consequences of being a denier can be serious with calls for more severe action. Such luminaries as Al Gore and Hansen have called for war crimes trials for skeptics and polluters.

So what does Theon really think?
My own belief concerning anthropogenic climate change is that the models do not realistically simulate the climate system because there are many very important sub-grid scale processes that the models either replicate poorly or completely omit. Furthermore, some scientists have manipulated the observed data to justify their model results. In doing so, they neither explain what they have modified in the observations, nor explain how they did it.

They have resisted making their work transparent so that it can be replicated independently by other scientists. This is clearly contrary to how science should be done. Thus there is no rational justification for using climate model forecasts to determine public policy.

Note - the part about manipulating the data is a direct dig at Hansen who has been adjusting actual temperature measurements going back decades but refuses to document his methodology.

Theon is not the first scientist to wait until retirement to announce skepticism. While it is fashionable to look for links between skeptics and oil companies, billions of dollars in grants are available for climate research but only if you are a believer.

In the meantime, Hansen's letter to President Obama has been published. Among other things, Hansen calls for a carbon tax and for closing all coal-fired power plants. Obama is moving on allowing states to set CO2 emissions standards and Secretary of State Clinton has appointed a new envoy to the follow-up talks to the Kyoto treaty.

We are about to put our automobile makers out of business, raise the price of food, and start rolling brownouts over fraudulent science.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Obama's First Week

We are one week into the Obama presidency. What should we make of it? First, there are his early executive orders on Iraq and Gitmo. About the only thing that we can say is that he backtracked on some campaign promises. He didn't order our troops to get out of Iraq as fast as possible and shutting down Gitmo while moving the worst of the terrorists elsewhere is meaningless.

So far so good.

Today he made a couple of announcements on environmental policy. He is going to demand higher gas mileage and allow states to set their own environmental policy. In doing this, he has doomed Detroit.

Detroit's problem is that it costs them around $70 an hour in labor to make a car. They don't pay their people that much. Around half of it is being paid to retirees. Rather than invest retirement funds for each worker, the Big Three opted for a pay as you go retirement. They are paying retired workers out of their current earnings (or, to be more accurate, they are adding the retirement pay to their losses). The only way that they can afford to do this is to sell lots of big SUVs with high profit margins. For years they have only continued to sell smaller cars in order to meet CAFE (mileage) standards. They don't actually make money on the smaller vehicles. With new mileage requirements approaching 40MPG, the big SUVs will be outlawed. Worse, the price of smaller cars will go up in order to meet these standards. Every car will be an hybrid or at least turbocharged which will make them more expensive. Smaller, more expensive cars will invigorate the used car market, cutting demand for new cars even more.

Then there is the stimulus. At $825 billion and growing, this should be a scary figure even if it would work. It will not. The economy is projected to start a slow recovery long before most of the stimulus is spent.

Obama and Congress promised that the stimulus would be open and transparent. I'm not sure how they can accomplish that when Congressional leaders insist that it is too urgent to have a single day of hearings.

In reality, the stimulus bill is the mother of all partisan spending. The number are so large that no one notices a few hundred billion extra here and there.

So much for fiscal responsibility.

Finally, Obama has shown that he does not have any class. A presidential inauguration is supposed to be a time to make peace with the other side. Obama used his to chide Bush. He has done this several other times in the last week such as when he said that he was bringing science back to the White House.

Last Spring someone posted to Huffington that Obama would not have to compromise. Instead he would convince his opponents of the validity of his views through strength of personality. Obama must have ready this and took it to heart since that is how he is treating Congressional Republicans.

A week ago Obama's approval ratings were a stratospherically 83%. Now they have dropped to 68%. Still pretty good but no longer in the superhuman range. Now that he has gone from a superman who can do no wrong to a politician making actual decisions, the public is taking another look at him.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Failed Presidency?

No, not Bush. I'm looking at all of the ways that President Obama is setting himself up for failure. The list is daunting for any president but more so for one who has already been proclaimed the next Lincoln/FDR/Kennedy/Reagan. Many events are outside of his control but he made them his anyway. Here's my list.

Unreasonable Expectations
As I blogged earlier, the big question on inauguration day was which former A-list president Obama most resembled. This is an almost impossible standard to be judged by. Obama invited such talk during his early campaign when he ran as the candidate of unspecified hope and change and let each voter project exactly what that meant. He continues to add fuel to this fire as he and Secretary of State Clinton talk about their new aggressive diplomacy and how different it is from Bush's. Bush's foreign policy was far more nuanced than he is given credit for and Clinton's new policy sounds like a retread of failed initiatives from the Clinton years.

Relations with the Press
No matter how they start off, all presidents develop a bunker mentality with the press. Because of the requirements of the newscycle, the press needs a constant flow of information. They also repeat questions that the administration doesn't want to hear. Even a president who has a good relationship with the press during the campaign starts seeing them as the enemy once he is in the White House.

Obama's honeymoon with the press might end sooner than most. On a personal level, he hates the loss of his privacy. Last month he evaded the press long enough to take his kids to a waterpark. He has also cut reporters off from asking questions that he considers out of scope. His administration is currently in a dispute with the press pool over photographs. All of this while he is still in a controversy-free honeymoon period. Imagine when a real scandal or crisis happens.

There is also the possibility of a backlash after fawning election coverage. The excuse given inside the industry is that they went overboard for Obama as an act of contrition after giving Bush a pass on the lead-in to Iraq. With new books due out soon that documents their Obama-bias, they may react by being more vigilant than otherwise.

The Economy and the Stimulus
Right now the American people say that they will give Obama time to fix the economy. That attitude will probably change as time passes, especially after his stimulus passes. The Congressional Budget Office says that the stimulus will come too late to help with unemployment. The White House Budget Office argues back that 80% of the stimulus will be spent by the end of next year.

With that much money being thrown around so quickly, there will be a lot of boondoggle projects and wasted funds. This is where a hostile press will hurt. A friendly press will sit on these stories. An adversarial press will run them.

Between his own stimulus and various bail-outs, Bush spent a lot of money - around $1 trillion. Obama is likely to match that this year and may double it. Somehow we will have to pay for that in the near future, likely with stepped-up inflation. It's been 30 years since we had high inflation. No one under 40 is really aware of how it affects every aspect of life. Obama himself might be too young to remember it well and may be treating the threat too lightly.

Iraq and Afghanistan
Iraq is a no-win issue for Obama. Bush left him an apparent victory. If things continue to go well then Bush gets the credit. If they get worse then Obama will be blamed. A failure in Iraq will help Republicans for a generation.

Afghanistan offers more opportunity but Obama has already fenced himself in. Conflict there has been escalating. Obama promised to win in Afghanistan and capture bin Ladin. Given the realities in Pakistan, this may be impossible. At best it will take a long war of attrition, the type of conflict that Iraq became.

Bush won in Iraq through stubbornness. Two years ago even Bush's generals told him that it was a lost cause and that he should cut his losses and leave. Instead he looked for a new strategy and browbeat the generals into accepting it.

Obama is in the wrong party for this. His side includes the anti-war groups like Code Pink and Not In Our Name and activists like Cindy Sheehan. Even the hawks don't seem to have the stomach for a drawn-out conflict. If Obama's surge into Afghanistan doesn't produce quick results then the public will tire of the drip of casualty reports. Currently Afghanistan has the support that it does because so much of the news comes from Iraq. As Iraq winds down and Afghanistan ramps up this will reverse.

Health Care
People expect Obama to provide fast, efficient, free medical care for everyone from now on. Everyone expects it from him. The problem is that once he gets down to specifics, a lot of people are going to attack it. This is what happened with Clinton. Health Care reform looked like a certainty at Clinton's inauguration but never happened.

There is going to be a lot of pressure on Obama to hold off on health care until the economy recovers. It is going to be expensive. His promise that he can give everyone health care by streamlining the system is a pipe dream. If he waits too long he will not have enough political capitol.

There is also the possibility that he passes something and people hate it. The lessons of Canada and the United Kingdom are that health care suffers after the government takes it over.

One of Bush's biggest claims to fame is that he kept us safe from follow-up attacks after 9/11. Obama already made a show of prohibiting the more controversial aspects of the War on Terror. If terrorists strike America then people will blame him for not stopping it. It doesn't matter if his executive order had any affect at all. He will be blamed. Especially if the press has turned against him.

So that's Obama's impossible task. Any one of these could drag down a presidency and he has to get everything right on all of them. If he can manage that then he deserves his place among the A-list presidents. If not then he can always rehabilitate him image by building houses for Habitat for Humanity. It worked for Carter.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Who is Obama Like?

It's almost been a party game - which president is Obama most like? Is he Abraham Lincoln? Franklin Roosevelt? John Kennedy? Ronald Reagan? Here's one where he is compared to George Washington. I have one of my own - Bill Clinton.

The parallels with Clinton are striking and much closer than with any of these other historic presidents. Consider:

They have each been called "America's first black president" even though some scholars think that Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge all had black ancestry.

Both lost their biological father at an early age (Clinton's was killed before he was born, Obama's deserted his mother). Both were raised by grandparents at some point. Both graduated with a law degree from an ivy league college and both married ivy league lawyers.

Obama spent time as a community organizer based on the teachings of Saul Alinsky. Bill's wife did a thesis on Alinsky.

Both were known on the campaign trail for their oratory. Clinton ran as the Man From Hope. Obama ran as the candidate of Hope and Change.

Both men chose a Senator as his running mate.

Neither man has any military experience but won against a decorated war veteran (Clinton ran against two of them).

There are rumors that each was involved in corrupt practices when in state politics. Several of Clinton's associates were convicted of various offenses. We do not know how deeply Clinton was involved in these since everyone who did know refused to testify. Obama's relationship with convicted developer Tony Rezco has not been investigated.

The wife of each candidate became an issue during the campaign.

Both ran during a recession. The economic news might be worse in Obama's case but unemployment was higher when Clinton took office (technically the recession had already ended by the time Clinton was inaugurated but it took months more for unemployment to drop.

Even though both men inherited a Congress under Democratic control, each treated his election as "taking back America".

Each followed a President Bush with low approval ratings.

Both invoked a revered president on his way to the inauguration. Clinton made a bus tour with a stop at Jefferson's home, Monticello. Obama recreated Lincoln's train trip from Illinois to DC then used the same bible as Lincoln for the swearing-in.

Both made a point of walking part of the parade route during their inauguration.

Both had cabinet nominees forced to drop out for ethical reasons.

Both promised health care reform.

Both upset gays between the election and his inauguration (Clinton by promising to allow gays in the military, Obama by his choice of ministers for the inauguration).

Then there is the Hillary factor. Clinton let her interview cabinet nominees and allowed her to pick one (Attorney General, Janet Reno). Obama made her his Secretary of State.

Clinton did not inherit a war but he did inherit an occupation in Somalia that was about to turn nasty. Obama, of course, inherited two wars.

So what do these parallels mean for Obama and the future?

Based on the number of Clinton retreads in his cabinet, it looks like Obama's policies will be fairly close to Clinton's especially his foreign policy.

Both men became president sure of their own ability to change government. Clinton soon found out how difficult this is and salvaged his presidency through a policy of triangulation - positioning himself as a moderate and the leaders of both parties as extremists.

What about the other presidents? The Lincoln comparison comes because both were single-term congressmen from Illinois with a gift for rhetoric. Also, as Obama shares his skin color with the slaves that Lincoln freed, there is some sort of symbolic connection. FDR took office during an economic meltdown as did Reagan. Kennedy was young and handsome with a pretty wife and young children.

More important, all of these presidents are seen as successful. Lincoln saved the Union. FDR and Reagan changed how we look at conservatives and government. When people compare Obama to these men they are really projecting their hope that he will be as successful as they were. Clinton, on the other hand, admitted that he was, at best, a second-tier president. None of Obama's admirers want to admit that he could be anything but top-tier.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Some Thoughts on the Transition of Power

Barack Obama is now President of the United States. As a conservative who voted against him, I have several thoughts about this event.

First, I'd like to rub it in the nose of liberals such as Naome Wolf and the crowd at the Daily KOS. They insisted that the Bush administration had already installed a fascist government and would not allow the other side to come to power. The Congressional election of 2006 and the Presidential election of 2008 shows that there was nothing to their conspiracy theories.

Next, I'd like to caution conservatives to refrain from acting like the loony left did for the last eight years. Don't put on bumper stickers saying that Obama is not your president. Conservatives have spent the last eight years saying that people should respect the office if not the man holding it. It's time to live up to that. Don't engage in conspiracy theories. Rumors about him not being born in the US (he was) or being a secret Muslim (he was raised as a Muslim for a while by his step-father but has been Christian for decades) should be dropped. Forget everything he said on the campaign trail. He has dismissed this himself as campaign rhetoric. Don't accuse him of selling out America to special interests (blood for oil, 9/11 Truth, etc.).

Obama has not left many footprints as a legislator. He will leave plenty as President. Judge him on those. We will know just how liberal or centrist he is soon enough.

Do not treat him as Bush was treated. Too often anything with Bush's name on it was reflexively rejected by the left without judging it on its merits.

Remember Clinton. Like Obama, Clinton went to Washington sure of his ability to change the country. In the end the major achievements of his administration came from Republicans and were opposed by Democrats (Welfare Reform, NAFTA). Obama already seems to be to the right of Nancy Pelosi on economic issues. Obama will need conservative support to resist her.

Obama's presidency does not mean an end to race in America. While it is true that a majority of white voted for a candidate based on who he is rather than his skin color, the same cannot be said for blacks. Howard Sterns had no trouble finding blacks who had no idea what Obama's stand was on issues. At the same time, Obama's unique heritage (the son of an African exchange student and a white American, raised by whites) made him non-threatening. Possibly none of this will matter the next time a black candidate is on the ballot just as no one currently cares about Catholics since Kennedy.

I don't begrudge Democrats their celebration today but I would like to point out that they would have been very critical of the excessive inauguration. Enough money was spent swearing Obama in to ($175 million) run a credible presidential campaign. With all that going on, they won't miss me if I'm outside cheering along.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Obama Worries

Fred Barnes of The Weekly Standard lists four things that he fears in an Obama administration. They are: He doesn't know what he's talking about, He's a pushover, He's another Jimmy Carter on foreign and national security policy, and that he has nerves of jello.

I'd like to add my own worst fear - that he is too enamored with the power of big government and doesn't respect its limitations.

Obama says that he can fix the economy, all we need is to spend a lot of money and wait a while. The problem with a stimulus is that you have to apply it at the right time and the right place. If you miss your window then you just end up running up the national debt and increasing inflation with nothing to show for it. In addition, as Max Borders at TCSDaily points out, the economy is not a machine. It is so large and complex that it should be considered organic rather than mechanical. Worse, it is partly psychological. We fear therefore we save.

Obama's whole stimulus package is based on being able to redirect society with some government control and money. He's going to invest heavily in green energy. Clinton tried something like that - he had a joint project between the Big Three automakers and the military. The goal was to produce a supercar with exceptional milage. The project was a complete failure.

Obama isn't alone in overestimating the power of government. George Bush has the same problem. Look how well it turned out for him. In fact, the most successful president of the last few decades was Reagan who joked that the scariest words in the English language are, "I'm from the government and I'm here to help."

Reagan understood that, for reasons that are inherent in its structure, there are any things that the government does poorly.

Take Katrina and New Orleans as an example. Thousands of people refused to evacuate. Government-built flood walls broke, and those thousands of people had to be rescued. The press crucified Bush for all of this, especially the parts that he had no influence over. In the aftermath, FEMA made countless errors. Bush accepted the blame for this and promised to do better. Bush's opponents insisted that all of the problems could have been avoided had there been better leadership at the top. Reagan would have pointed out that the government was doing the best that it could but it will never get everything right.

There are 300 million people in the United States. The government touches us all many different ways. That means that there are a billion different things that can go wrong. Obama thinks that he can fix all of these from the top down.

Take Social Security. One projection is that it will go from being a surplus to a deficit in the next two years. Its supporters shrug this off saying that it will simply have to start dipping into the trust fund. The problem is that there is no trust fund. There is just a pile of IOUs that the government wrote to itself. In order to redeem these, Obama will have to cut spending somewhere else or cut benefits or do both. There are powerful political groups opposing each option but Obama says that fixing Social Security will be easy.

When the government fixes things it often makes them immeasurably worse. Last year, in response to reports of lead in Chinese imports, Congress passed new legislation requiring everything marketed to children 12 and under to be tested for lead. Everything. Toys, books, stickers, clothes, shoes, telescopes. And it doen't matter how small your production run is, either. If you sell wooden toys finished with linseed oil at a craft show or self-published a children's book, you will have to have your product tested. This is how government fixes things.

But Obama doesn't see this as a limitation. He stood on the Capitol Building and told the crowd that anything is possible.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Obama, Palin, and Family

Geoffrey Dunn of the Huffington Post is calling Sarah Palin a liar. He is wrong. Here's why.

Last Spring, Michele Obama said that she had not been proud of her country until it voted for her husband. Many people pounced on this. In response, Barack said that his wife and family were off limits. The press accepted this restriction.

Within days of Palin's nomination as McCain's running mate, bloggers started a rumor that her youngest child was not hers, that Trig was her grandchild and she passed it off as her own. This got picked up by such sources as Andrew Sullivan who writes for the Atlantic. Sarah had to announce that her daughter could not have delivered a child a few months ago because she was six months pregnant at the time.

In a recent interview, Palin complained that she expected the families are off-limits rule to apply to her as well as Obama.

This is where Geoffry Dunn jumps in and calls Palin a liar.
While Obama did say that he found attacks on his wife "unacceptable," he also very bodly and emphatically stated that Palin's family was also off limits when asked a question about Bristol Palin's pregnancy
[...] He wasn't protecting simply his own family with that assertion, he was also protecting Palin's. And Palin lacks the basic grace, integrity and human decency to acknowledge Obama's gesture. And then she twists the truth to make Obama seem selfish and the media unfair.

While it is true that Obama said that Palin's family should be off-limits, he said this months after he had declared his own family off-limits and days after his supporters had started slandering Palin. Dunn has reordered events to suit his own assertion that Palin
will say anything, lie about anything, if it is to her own benefit to do so.
It is also true that many conservatives continued to attack Michelle right up to the election. They were quite open in their reasoning that statements that Michelle made on the record while campaigning were fair game, regardless of Barack's wishes. The attacks on Palin and her children were very different. The only thing comparable would be to demand that Barack submit to genetic testing to prove that the girls are actually his daughters. Even if someone made such a suggestion (and I am not), the press would ignore it like they did the rumor about Obama's birth certificate.

Palin has every right to complain about how she and her family were treated. Dunn should accept that he and his confederates were over-the-top in their persecution of Palin.

Judging Bush

It is difficult to properly judge a president during his last days in office. When asked to judge Ronald Reagan at the end of 1988, George Will, a long-time Reagan supporter, insisted on judging Reagan's first and second term separately. Time has blurred the distinction. The issues that Will was referring to in Reagan's second term have faded. What is remembered is that he was a transitive president - something that Barack Obama aspires to be. During his administration, Reagan was depicted as an amiable oaf, taking the position of the last adviser he talked with or the one with the showiest graphics. Since he left office a different picture emerged of a smart, knowledgeable, and engaged president who achieved his goal of destroying the Soviet Union, thereby making the world a better place.

Trying to judge Bush is equally difficult. The press, mainly Gore supporters in 2000, defined Bush as a dumb party-boy who only made it into office because of favors owed to his father. It has been widely supposed that he is the puppet of either his Vice-President or Karl Rove. The war in Iraq was supposed to have been fought solely to benefit big oil companies, Israel, or both. He has been blamed for every part of Hurricane Katrina including the hurricane itself. At the same time, his achievements have been ignored or minimized. Bush has most often been characterized as "disinterested" and "incurious".

Now that we are in the last days of the Bush administration, the press is letting some other voices through. People who are close to Bush say that he is very informed and hand-on. Advisers know that they have to have all facts available because Bush asks detailed questions and can tell when someone doesn't have detailed answers.

The Howard Dean version of events has been repeated so often that we often forget the real Bush record on the defining points of Bush's presidency: the war of terror, Iraq, and Katrina.

According to polls taken after 9/11, most of the country expected a similar or larger attack within two years. Instead we've gone more than seven years without any terrorist attacks. Other countries have not been so fortunate. Great Britain has had a couple of attacks. India just had a horrendous one. Even Germany, which thought that it was safe for not supporting the Iraq invasion, was the subject of a failed attack.

Bush deserves a great deal of credit for this. His administration has disrupted al Qaeda's international operations and stopped several domestic plots. Much of this seldom makes the news or, when it does, it dismissed as irrelevant. The defense attorney for a domestic group recently convicted tried to downplay his clients as people who talked big but would not have actually acted. This, after they bought weapons, practiced with them, and made a trial run through the military camp that was their target.

In a few days Barack Obama will discover how difficult it is to conduct the war in Afghanistan. The left has often complained that Iraq was a distraction from the real war on terror in Afghanistan. With al Qaeda and the Taliban taking shelter in Pakistan, it is nearly impossible to take the war to them. In the meantime, the training camps in Afghanistan are closed.

The war in Iraq should be judged in three parts. The initial overthrow of Saddam was accomplished quickly and easily. US tanks were rolling through the streets of Baghdad almost before the MSN could finish the word "quagmire". The occupation went poorly. Billions of dollars and thousands of lives were squandered. About the only good thing that you can say for this part of the war was that al Qaeda put its reputation on the line in Iraq and lost. They lost numerous people but more important, the world's Muslim population now sees them as willing to kill Muslims in order to stir up trouble. They tried to provoke a civil war in Iraq and failed.

Bush's outstanding achievement was to push a new strategy in Iraq. There was strong resistance to this from the Pentagon and Bush ended up overriding his generals. As it turned out, the Surge worked. Had Bush pulled out of Iraq when things got difficult it would have handicapped every future president for generations to come. al Qaeda and the insurgents in Iraq were sure that they could outlast us. Our pull-out in Viet Nam and Somalia proved to them that we were technologically strong but unwilling to take casualties. If Bush hasn't put the memory of Viet Nam to rest, he has at least shown that not all quagmires are unwinnable.

Katrina is an example of Bush's worst weakness - its inability to refute critics and play up its own accomplishments. Yes, Bush showed a tin ear by doing a fly-over of the damage rather than land and inspect it first hand. This wouldn't have changed how it was handled but it would have reflected better on him.

Things that Bush was incorrectly blamed for:

  • The hurricane itself. While it was a huge storm when it was in the Gulf, what hit the coast was a typical hurricane. What hit New Orleans didn't even count as a category 1 hurricane. Some people speculated that, had Bush ratified the Kyoto Protocols, global warming would have been stopped and the storm would have been lessened. Kyoto only called for minor reductions in the amount of CO2 being added to the atmosphere. It was never meant to stop global warming, just slow it slightly over fifty years.
  • The flooding. Before the water finished rising, liberals had found stories about funding cuts for the levies. If only Bush had spent the money on the levies instead of on Iraq, they insisted, then the flooding wouldn't have happened. As it turned out, the flooding happened because flood walls, not levies, collapsed. The problems with the flood walls went back decades and had more to do with local corruption than federal funding.
  • The people stranded. Thousands of people had to be rescued from their homes. The left insisted that Bush was somehow responsible for this. Later studies found that most of them had been offered a ride out of New Orleans but preferred to remain.
  • Then there were the outright lies - the murders in the Superdome. Gangs of men breaking into hotels and raping occupants. People shooting at rescue helicopters. None of these reported stories happened.
What did happen was that the military worked night and day to rescue people who ignored warnings to leave. This was seldom mentioned. The news anchors preferred to stand in knee-deep water and say that it was Bush's fault.

It is hard to believe that Bush started his administration with a push for bipartisanship. He invited leading Democrats to the White House for pizza and movies. The No Child Left Behind act was a joint effort with strong Democratic support. So was the Medicare drug benefits.

By several traditional measures, the Bush administration was to the left of the Clintons. Spending increased across the board and projects like AIDS in Africa got an order of magnitude increase. This has lead some Republicans to name Bush a RINO (Republican in Name Only). At the same time, Democrats refused to acknowledge any of this.

International relations under Bush have been a mixed bag. Anti-Americanism existed before Bush and will exist after him. Some governments, most notably France and Germany, have moved closer to the US while others such as the UK and Austrailia are more critical. Our ties with India are closer than ever which is good for several reasons. Keep in mond that the people currently protesting US policies against terrorists were protesting 25 years ago against the policies that ended the Cold War. Sometimes it is better to be right than loved.

It is still too early to evaluate the last six months of the Bush administration and its response to the financial meltdown. We don't know how this will end. About all that can be said is that he did not react as a fiscal conservative.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Obama Hates Safety Forces

One recommendation that the 9/11 Commission made was to standardize communications between safety responders. On 9/11, the Police and Fire had no way of communicating.

For years the Democrats have been complaining that the Bush administration hasn't acted on this recommendation. On September 11, 2008, former security adviser Richard Clarke said:
On 9/11, firefighters and police died because they did not have secure, interoperable, reliable communications. We said we would fix that. But seven years on, the Federal Communications Commission is still considering how to give first responders the radio spectrum frequencies they need for reliable communications.
What is unsaid was where the frequencies were going to come from. The idea was to switch TV broadcast over to digital on new frequencies and use the old analog frequencies for safety forces. This is set to happen next month.

But last week, President-elect Barack Obama said that the date for the analog to digital cut over should be delayed. If Bush had suggested this the press would have flayed him over the safety forces issue. Since it came from Obama, this aspect isn't even mentioned in most articles.

Friday, January 09, 2009

The future for Republicans - Reasons to be glad the Democrats won

It's a tired cliche that we are in the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. So far, we are a year into the recession and it isn't as bad as the 1981-1982 recession. This doesn't mean that things can't get worse. They probably will. Unemployment usually trails other economic indicators. If the recession miraculously ended today it would still be the end of the year or later before employment picked up. With the recession projected to last into 2010, we can expect employment to still be down by the 2010 election.

In the meantime, Obama and the Democrats are haggling about how best to stimulate the economy. Obama wants some minor but wide-spread tax cuts and a lot of long-term projects. Some Congressional Democrats have objected to the tax cuts and are pushing even more long-term projects.

In short, they are taking ownership of the recovery.

This is good for the Republicans since the bailouts in September are what really hurt the party in 2008. McCain had polling very close to Obama - usually trailing by less than the margin of error and actually in front of him until the bail-out. The Democrats blamed the meltdown on President Bush and the voters agreed.

If McCain had won the election then the Republicans would forever be the party that caused the recession and the party that couldn't fix it. It doesn't matter how many Democrats control Congress, the party in the White House is given all credit or blame for the economy.

Right now the Democrats are riding high. They are congratulating themselves that the Republicans have been marginalized as the party of rich white men with no way of attracting new voters.

The truth is that the same percentage of the country identifies itself as conservative as a decade ago. Swing voters voted against Bush and Obama had coattails that helped Democrats increase their majority in Congress.

In two years things will be very different. If, as is predicted, the economy still hasn't recovered then the swing voters will swing back. Minorities who turned out in record numbers to vote for Obama will stay home. Fiscal conservatives who stayed home rather than vote for McCain will be appalled by the deficits and turn out to vote against the free-spenders.

There is a long historic record for this. Reagan and Clinton both had coattails and both saw candidates from their party who had won by thin margins voted out.

Of course, this is a likelihood, not a guarantee. Obama has defied expectations before. He might be able to spend the next two years blaming Bush and being seen as boosting the economy. FDR did it.

That's why the current stimulus program is so important. If it is handled with a deft touch and seen to be helping everyone then Obama might keep his popularity. On the other hand, if the money is seen to be going for politicians' pet projects or if only certain portions of the economy are boosted (unionized construction) then the electorate will turn against the Democrats.

Similarly, the Democrats need to keep their noses clean. Nothing could help the Republicans more than the public seeing corrupt Democrats getting rich while the rest of the country is in recession.

Right now it looks like the Congressional Democrats are pretty tone deaf. They are enamored by people like Paul Krugman who insist that what the country needs is more taxing and spending. This gives the Republicans time to hone their message.

Thursday, January 08, 2009


The budget that Barack Obama is inheriting includes a $1.2 trillion deficit. That means that the government will have to borrow over a trillion dollars more than its income. This does not include Obama's stimulus plan which is usually described as $800 billion (for a total deficit of an even two trillion) but he admits that the upper end of the stimulus could be more like $1.3 trillion. That means a deficit of $2.5 trillion.

Obama insists that without his stimulus the economy will never recover. I don't know about that but the size of the numbers being tossed around just make me feel queasy.

Congress is balking at the tax cut portion of the stimulus which could bring the total cost down a bit. But maybe not since we are talking about Congress. More likely they will just spend the money elsewhere.

Obama insists that earmarks will not be allowed. The Democrats said the same thing when they took over Congress after the 2006 election. So far their track record hasn't been very good.

And none of this includes the trillion dollars of bail-out money that a few states have requested. That brings the grand total to 3.5 trillion dollars.

The national debt (the total amount that the US government owes on all borrowing since the country was founded) is currently around $10.5 trillion. Obama could double that in his first term.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Trickle-Over Stimulus

Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman has been arguing that the best way to stimulate the economy is to increase government spending. No amount is too much. Now that word is leaking out that soon-to-be President Obama is planning a tax cut as part of his stimulus, Krugman is against it. To him, it should be direct government spending or nothing. What are the arguments each way?

Krugman points out that tax cuts, rebates, etc. may not directly stimulate the economy. People might do something foolish with the money like save it or pay off some bills. That happened with the stimulus checks that Bush sent out last year. Only 1/4-1/3 was spent so the economy wasn't stimulated all that much.

Krugman argues that a government-investment program makes sure that all of the money is spent and that public spending leaves something of value behind when the stimulus is over.

Before we start writing government checks, there are several things to keep in mind.

First, in defense of tax cuts, I'd like to point out that I might blow the whole thing on a new couch or washing machine. That means that I have something of value when the stimulus is over. On the other hand, there are lots of public projects that I would never, ever use. Look at the Alaska "bridge to nowhere" (yes, I know that it was eventually canceled but it is an example of road projects). Infrastructure spending carries the risk that massive projects will spread out according to political connections rather than the number of people who will benefit.

A lot of the proposed spending is for infrastructure repair. This may be needed but don't kid yourself that repaving a road will have the same stimulus effect as building a new one. Rebuilding a bridge or road can disrupt business until the work is finished. The projects that are "shovel ready" are not the sort that will stir the economy. They are short-term projects. They will keep construction workers from being idle. They might even provide workers some overtime. How will this help the rest of the economy? The big projects, new roads and bridges that would provide long-term stimulus take years to plan and build and even more years before the stimulus effect really sets in. A new highway exit might take a couple of years to plan and build but the economic effects would not show up for an additional decade. In the meantime, the only ones who see any stimulus are the ones who built the exit ramp.

In theory, the construction workers will spend the extra money that they receive rather than paying off debts or saving it. This will cause an economic ripple that should eventually reach everyone. Unless you work for an industry that will receive government contracts for "shovel ready" work, you will never see a penny of the stimulus directly.

Herbert Hoover tried something like this. He maintained that if he helped the biggest banks and other businesses, they would help the smaller ones and the money would eventually tickle down to everyone.

Krugman is pushing a variant of trickle-down. Instead of spreading the stimulus around to the general population he advocates stimulating a small (heavily unionized) portion of the economy in the hope that the effect will carry over to everyone else. Call it Trickle-Over economics.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Obama, Hope and Pepsi

Pepsi unveiled a new logo recently and just began using it in ads. This logo looks awfully familiar. It looks even more familiar when you see it like this.

Ok, I realize that the new president is hip and popular but this seems like it is either partisan or mercenary. Either they bought in to Obamamania and want to be a part of it or, more likely, they want the rest of the country to see them as part of it.