Thursday, July 30, 2009

Obama, Gates and Crowley - a few thoughts

It is obvious that Gates' defenders either have not read the police report or are ignoring it in the hopes that their readers have not read it. The most common phrase that they use is that "Gates was arrested in his own home." After that, they speculate that Gates should have simply walked away.

According to the police report, Gates admitted Crowley into his home to show the sergeant some id. He was also agitated. Gates's own account indicated that he was sure that Crowley was a rogue, racist cop immediately. According to the police report, Crowley was convinced that Gates belonged in the house. Gates was still yelling at Crowley, demanding his name and badge but not staying listening when Crowley gave it to him, twice. Crowley gave up and left the house. If Gates had left it there and complained through official channels then there would have been no story. Instead, Gates followed Crowley through two rooms and onto the front porch where he continued to call Crowley names, this time in front of others.

In some neighborhoods this could have started a riot but I doubt that Cambridge is one of them. Crowley could have left Gates to rant to his audience. Instead he warned Gates twice that he was becoming disorderly. Keep in mind that, at this point he was not in his own home. He was on the front porch. There are lots of things that you can do inside your house that you can't do on the front porch. Crowley decided that shouting racial diatribes was one of those things and arrested Gates.

So, by my count, Gates had at least three opportunities to calm things down and Crowley had one.

Why is this incident still news? Because it is polarizing. It is easy to side with one of these men and overlook his part, giving complete blame to the other. That's what President Obama did last week when he said that the police acted stupidly. Obviously, Gates also acted stupidly but Obama still seems blind to that.

A few days ago Glenn Beck used the incident to call Obama a racist. While I don't agree with him that Obama hates white people or white values, there is a double standard here.

First for anyone who is upset by Beck's statement, I'd like to know what their reaction was when people called George W. Bush a racist and accused him of allowing, or even ordering, New Orleans flooded? This was a much stronger accusation than Beck's but I don't remember anyone being fired or even disciplined for saying such things. So, if it was ok to call Bush a racists then why not Obama? Obviously it is because Obama has darker skin and many people believe that racism is ok as long as the racist is black.

Another double standard is Obama's set of friends. He counted the Reverend Wright as a close friend and advisor until videos of Wright peddling racial hate came to light.

Professor Gates is another example. His entire career is based on racial grievances. He is a believer in conspiracies against blacks as a race.

What does it say about Obama that he counts these men as friends? If the races had been reversed then association with either man would have doomed a white politician's career.

Obama can imply that the typical white person is a racist but Joe Biden's presidential run crashed and burned when he described Obama as "articulate", possibly implying that there were black men who are not articulate.

Whites are beginning to resent the one-sidedness of it all. Not long ago Crowley would have been dismissed as the rogue, racist that Gates described him as but things are different this time. The police force stood up for him and whites are saying that Crowley may have over-reacted but he would probably have done the same thing to anyone shouting at him regardless of race.

Ironically our "post-racial" president contributed to the national debate. If he had simply said that both sides had acted stupidly then neither side could have complained. Instead he sided with his friend. Years from now historians may look back at this as the event that unravelled the Obama presidency. (Actually, health care reform was already in trouble which is why he was giving a prime-time news conference in the first place but historians will still say that the Gates incident was the biggest factor).

Wednesday, July 29, 2009


If you are a Birther (you think that President Obama was not born in Hawaii) then please shut up. There is nothing to this and you are embarrassing the rest of us. For the last eight and a half years conservatives could sneer at liberals afflicted with Bush Derangement Syndrome as they talked endlessly about conspiracies within the Bush administration. Now we have our own affliction - Obama Derangement Syndrome.

Think about the whole controversy for a few minutes...

Why would Obama's parents have bothered arranging for fake birth announcements and fake birth registration? His mother was a US citizen so it doesn't matter where he was born (remember that McCain was born to American parents in Panama).

Barack, Sr had a very good reason to keep his mother from going to Kenya - his first wife who he abandoned without a divorce (he did this to Obama's mother a few years later).

If there was anything to this then Hillary's investigators would have found it two years ago. They were responsible for other damaging leaks about the Obama campaign.

The whole conspiracy theory seems to be based on the pre-knowledge that Obama would someday run for president. While it indicates a touching faith in Obama's parents aspirations for their son it's a lot of trouble to go through for a 300 million to one shot that their son would someday run for president.

The conspiracy theory is silly enough that liberals are using it to discredit all conservatives. All they have to do is bring on a Birther or two and represent them as more mainstream than they are.

One thing that I will say about the conservative reaction to the Birther movement - a number of conservatives have stepped forward to denounce it. I can't remember any liberals questioning the 9/11 Truth movement. Howard Dean, when he was still the front-runner in 2004 seemed open to the idea that Bush was involved in the 9/11 attacks. Other high-ranking Democrats included this in the long list of things that they wanted to hold hearings on. Republicans joined Democrats in unanimous support for a bill honoring Alaska's 50th anniversary as a state and as the birthplace of Barack Obama.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Obama's Errors

It's been a rough July for President Obama. His original schedule called for both Cap and Trade and Health Reform to pass Congress before the August recess with Obama signing both bills by September 15. As recently as a month ago this looked possible. Now Cap and Trade is stalled and the new goal for health care is to get it out of committee before the recess. Even that looks doubtful.

What happened?

I've said before that the Progressives think that they are the smartest people who ever lived. Look at the audaciousness of Obama's schedule. He planned on reshaping a huge portion of the economy while saving the banks and the car makers and stimulating us out of a recession. And he was going to do it all in six months.

The problem with thinking that you are one of the smartest people who ever lived is that you think that you are infallible. No one can convince you that you are about to make a mistake and you don't recognize your mistakes after you made them. This has happened to Obama and it is starting to catch up with him.

His first and possibly biggest mistake was the stimulus. In fact, it was a whole bundle of mistakes.

The first mistake was letting Congress write the bill with little to no guidance from the White House. This allowed it to become the mother of all pork with very little actual stimulus involved. In order to be effective it needed to get as much money out the door as quickly as possible. Instead, most of the spending will be after 2009. People are noticing how little stimulus has actually been spent.

The second mistake was making the bill too big. Obama and Congress were cheered on by people like Paul Krugman who insisted that even $800 billion was too small. The bill should have been limited to money that could actually be spent in 2009. By bulking up the bill they made people afraid of additional debt. $800 billion rounds up to a trillion dollars too easily, especially when you include interest on the debt. Between that and the TARP, the country is still in shock over how fast such large sums could be spent.

The third mistake was abandoning bipartisanship. Obama made a pitch at the house Republicans. They told him why they could not support the stimulus. His response was to remind them that he won the election so he could do whatever he wanted and that they should stop listening to Rush Limbaugh. So much for bipartisanship.

You could see this one coming. During the campaign Obama promised to end partisanship but he has also made it clear that he does not like the compromises that bipartisanship usually involves. He seemed to expect the Republicans to see the error of their ways and convert to Progressivism. The stimulus ended any attempts at bipartisanship. Washington is more divided than ever. Without being willing to compromise, it is unlikely that Obama will pick up any Republican votes for Health Care or Cap and Trade.

The fourth mistake was underestimating the problems in the economy. The White House expected the economy to recover on its own by now which would allow them to claim that the stimulus was effective. That would have left the Republicans scrambling to explain that the two events were not connected. Instead the White House is stuck trying to explain why unemployment continues to rise. Obama promised that the stimulus would keep unemployment down to 8% and that people laid off from construction-related companies such as Caterpillar would be called back immediately. Instead unemployment is heading for 10% and Caterpillar has laid off even more people. It is hard to defend the stimulus and argue for even further-reaching legislation at the same time.

Even if the economy was improbing noticably, employment always trails the general economy. Unemployment continues to be high for months into a recovery. The most optimistic projections from January showed high unemployment throughout 2009. Obama will have to wait to take credit for creating jobs. In the meantime he takes the heat for not solving our problems. This happened to every other president in the last 20 years so the Obama administration should have been prepared.

The fifth mistake was the speed that the Obama administration pushes everything through. The stimulus was voted on before anyone could read it. The Cap and Trade legislation was passed in the House before the final copy had even been assembled. This is the sort of thing that Michael Moore makes fun of legislators over. The idea is to move so quickly that a bill's opponents don't have a chance to mount a defense. In practice it is indefensible. The actual process of writing the law has been subcontracted out to the unelected staffs of committee members. Personally I think that legislators should abstain on any vote where there has not been sufficient time to read the legislation. As new things pop up from the stimulus it taints future legislation that is being rushed through the same way.

That's five major mistakes on a piece of legislation that passed in Obama's first 28 days. He continues to make many of the same mistakes.

Probably his biggest mistake was losing his focus on the economy. This is part of his rush to implement everything in six months. The impression is that he has lost interest in the one issue that is most pressing to most people. Health Care has moved down on the list and global warming is barely on the list. Obama has tried to redirect his focus by insisting that the new economy will be built on green energy and health care but that doesn't get much traction. It is too easy for his critics to point out that both require massive government subsidies on top of an unsustainable national debt.

If Obama hadn't been in such a hurry he could have made centered everything he did on the economy and postponed items that didn't fit that model. Then, when the economy finally did recover, he would have new political capitol to spend on his remaining priorities. As it is, he may not have enough political capitol to carry him over.

Paul Light, an expert on the presidency and a professor at New York University, said the president's problems with Capitol Hill reflect "a miscalculation by the Obama administration on how political capital gets spent in Washington."

Light said that capital, even for a president who enjoys immense personal popular support like Obama, is spent a bit at a time on each initiative or piece of legislation.

"I think the Obama administration has been spending political capital at roughly the same rate the federal government spends money," Light said. "Eventually, it runs out."

Friday, July 24, 2009

Gates and the Press Conference

Accounts of the arrest of Henry Louis Gates, Jr. differ but it is clear that from the beginning Gates resented having to answer to a policeman. His own account indicates that he was certain from the beginning that the police sergeant was racially motivated. On his part, Sgt. Crowley says that he had to investigate a report of two men breaking into a house and that Gates refused to answer basic questions such as if there was a second person in the house.

It is pretty much a given in this country that anyone who starts yelling at a cop who is performing routine duties is going to be hauled off in handcuffs but that charges will be dropped later. This happens everywhere regardless of the color of the person doing the shouting.

Regardless, even though this event had been reported nationally, it is not something that the President should concern himself with. It is a local matter and the president is trying to push through what is likely to be the most important legislation of his presidency.

So why did Obama answer a question about the Gates case? You don't get to be president without knowing how to duck a question. He stared by admitting that he didn't know all of the facts of the case, then offered an opinion anyway. Worse, the opinion injected race into the press conference. When the first black president (not counting Clinton) starts talking about race it's news, especially when the rest of the press conference was boring.

So yesterday's headline nationwide was that the President called a cop stupid. The White House tried to soften it but that just put the story back in the news cycle. Progressives quickly started complaining that the Gates story was somehow being used to distract from the "real" story - Obama on health.

What happened? How did the story get away from the White House?

Obama is learning that simply holding a press conference is not enough. You have to have new or memorable content. Most politicians try to control this by using sound bites - memorable phrases that the press is likely to pick up. Obama eschews sound bites. His theory is that people should listen to his entire speech, not just small bits. Accordingly his speeches and press conferences tend to be bland.

In addition, he didn't have anything new to offer on health care. No progress had been made in Congress. He didn't say anything memorable about health care except a possible Matrix reference (red pill/blue pill). With no sound bites and nothing new, editors lead with the one new thing he did say - a condemnation of police officers made without the facts.

This may have doomed health care. It certainly cost it all momentum. Ironically, it might be to Obama's advantage that the Senate will not vote on health care until this Fall. With the Gates distraction still going strong, the White House is not in a position to mobilize public opinion in time for an August vote. With an extra month to regroup, Obama might have a chance.

This is not a sure thing. Originally the Senate delay was seen as bad news for Obama. The mid-year economic report will be out by then and the country might not be willing to commit to new spending after seeing what a hole we are already in. Opponents of the bill will have a chance to read it and ferret out all possible objections. Worse, the public might be sick of health care by September and just want the issue to go away.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Betting on the Weather

Recently, John Hinderaker of Powerline commented that it has been cold in Minneapolis recently. Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight insisted that, overall, it has been an average Summer and challenged bloggers to a bet. Silver's take on the temperature:

Indeed, it's been pretty cool in Minneapolis for the past couple of days; the temperature hasn't hit 70 since midday Thursday. But has it been an unusually cool summer? No, not really. Since summer began on June 21st, high temperatures there have been above average 15 times and below average 13 times. The average high temperature there since summer began this year has been 82.4 degrees. The average historic high temperature over the same period is ... 82.4 degrees. It's been a completely typical summer in Minneapolis, although with one rather hot period in late June and one rather cool one now. (Note: actual high temperatures can be found here and historical averages can be found here.)

The terms of his bet:

You are eligible for this challenge if:

1. You live in the United States and provide me with your home address and telephone number (I will provide you with mine) and,
2. You are a regular (at least once weekly) contributor to a political, economics or science blog with an Alexa traffic global ranking of 50,000 or lower.

The reason for the latter requirement is because I want to be able to shame/humiliate you if you back out of the challenge or refuse to pay, as I'd assume you'd do the same with me.

The rules of the challenge are as follows:

1. For each day that the high temperature in your hometown is at least 1 degree Fahrenheit above average, as listed by Weather Underground, you owe me $25. For each day that it is at least 1 degree Fahrenheit below average, I owe you $25.
2. The challenge proceeds in monthly intervals, with the first month being August. At the end of each month, we'll tally up the winning and losing days and the loser writes the winner a check for the balance.
3. The challenge automatically rolls over to the next month until/unless: (i) one party informs the other by the 20th of the previous month that he would like to discontinue the challenge (that is, if you want to discontinue the challenge for September, you'd have to tell me this by August 20th), or (ii) the losing party has failed to pay the winning party in a timely fashion, in which case the challenge may be canceled at the sole discretion of the winning party.

Someone tried to take Silver up on the bet. See here. His major change to Silver's terms were that the temperature be based on Minneapolis since that's where the whole thing started. Silver declined saying:

But can you use somewhere other than your hometown? No, that would be a problem. I'm fully aware that this is a somewhat "bad" bet for me for the next 30-60 days in about 10% of the country - an area which happens to include Minneapolis. After that, basically the whole
country is expected to have average-to-above-average temperatures through the middle of 2011.

If someone from MSP or Chicago or Milwaukee happened to want to take the bet -- that's fine, I'm a man of my word (although I'd hope that person would not be a total weenie and would continue the bet for longer than 30 days). But if I allow people to cherry-pick their location, I'm just printing money for them, and it sort of defeats the purpose, which is to illustrate that *on average* the country is getting (slightly) warmer.

So what should we make of this? First, Silver should have stood by his original statement and accepted Minneapolis. He seems to have backed off from his original assertion that things are normal in MSP after checking the data more closely. More important is Silver's use of days above and below average temperature as a measure. Ryan Underdown mentions this is passing and points out that average temperatures have been down. I'd like to expand on this subject.

The problem is that average temperatures do not conform to what we think of as averages. When someone says "average", we think "typical". This works well when the data is distributed evenly but poorly when the data is grouped.

Take average height. If I refer to average height for men then I am describing a typical man. The same for women. The problem is that the average height for men is several inches higher than the average height for women. If I refer to the average height for humans I would be using a number that does not describe the typical person.

To illustrate with a very small sample set - I am 6'1". My wife and daughter are 5'3". Our average height is 5'6", even though none of us is that height. What's more, the sample set is skewed towards the lower end. If I were to bet that the next person to walk into the house would be below the average I would win 2/3s of the time. (If my daughter still lived at home.)

To apply this to Summer weather - temperatures are not evenly distributed. There are sunny days and rainy days. A typical sunny day in July in Ohio (where I have personal experience) will have a high in the upper 80s or the low 90s. A typical rainy day will have a high in the 70s. There are more sunny days than rainy days in July but there are enough rainy days to drag down the average a bit. The average high for Ohio in July is 85 but, as I said earlier, the typical high on a sunny day is slightly higher.

This means that in an average year the number of days above average is going to be higher than the number of days below average. That means that Silver has an advantage in his bet which has nothing to do with global warming. It is just a side effect of the statistical set he chose to use.

If Silver wanted an honest bet then he would bet on the average temperature for the month. That includes enough sunny and rainy days to bring the monthly average in line with the historical averages.

You can see this in the various links I have already given. By figuring the number of days above or below average, Minneapolis is having a normal Summer but when you look at the average temperatures it is cooler than normal.

None of this proves anything about global warming or long-term climate trends. The weather for a single city measured a month at a time is meaningless when compared to global trends. Silver should know this which makes the point of his entire wager dishonest. The fact that his use of daily average temperatures gives him a statistic advantage makes things worse.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009


Health care reform means different things to different people. Most people worry about a major illness such as cancer wiping out their savings. Others worry about rising medical and insurance costs. President Obama has listed this as a major concern since unrestrained costs will ruin Medicare and Medicaid in the foreseeable future. In addition to this, many people are fairly happy with their current coverage and don't want it to change in the name of reform. Obama has promised that no one will be forced to change their coverage.

So how does the proposed Obamacare stack up against expectations? Poorly.

The issue of illness wiping out savings is not addressed at all.

Rising costs are addressed indirectly through the public option. This will be an insurance plan offered directly by the government, "to keep the insurance companies honest". It will work like Medicare in which a government bureaucrat decides how much the government is will to pay for procedures and the provider is obligated to accept this as payment in full, regardless of actual costs. This will potentially keep costs down by underpaying for services.

What about Obama's promise that people will not be forced to change their coverage? There are three likely cases where this is untrue. The first is someone who is young and healthy and has only signed up for catastrophic coverage. These people will be fined and assigned to an approved insurance plan by the IRS. The other two cases involve the public option. Many employers will switch coverage to the public option. Germany allows this choice and 90% of Germans are covered by the public option. It will be cheaper because the government doesn't have to pay actual costs. The third case is people with really good coverage. Obamacare is going to be expensive and Congress is looking at taxing benefits over a certain amount as a revenue source.

So Obamacare does not cover the two topics that most people want fixed when they talk about health care reform. What does it do? It has two goals. One is to slowly switch the country over to the public option. The other is to increase the number of people who have insurance. It will make it illegal to be uninsured. The ideal is to cover everyone but newest estimates say that it will not.

Because this "reform" does nothing about rising costs, the bill for Obamacare is impressive - somewhere between $600 billion and $1.5 trillion over the next decade. There is talk about trying to pay for it through higher taxes. Right now this is limited to the "rich" but they don't have enough money to pay for all of Obama's wish list. Regular people are going to end up footing part of the bill.

One interesting provision - seniors will be required to have a counseling session about death with dignity every five years. This could easily turn into a push for euthanasia.

Another interesting point - there was an amendment that would force Senators and their staffers to take the public option rather than the coverage that they now enjoy. This was voted down by the Democrats. The public option may be good enough for most of the country but not for the Senators.

At this point there is no Obamacare. There are multiple bills going through Congress which President Obama endorsed. Given the schedule that the White House is pushing - passage by early August, it is likely that the final bill will be voted on before anyone in Congress has a chance to read it. That's how this administration likes to work - give an arbitrary deadline to vote on a massive bill before anyone can possibly understand the contents and implications, to say nothing of objecting to specifics.

Since Obamacare does not exist yet, I am referring to the bills that the President is supporting as if they were in the final version.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Moon Landing + 40

Forty years ago last Christmas, humans circled the moon for the first time. Forty years ago today they actually landed and walked around on the moon. We went back four more times then stopped. What happened?

Public interest waned quite a bit between the first and second moon landing. Part of it was inevitable. Being the second to do something is never as grand as being first. Worse, the entire world watched the first moon landing but on the second one the camera was briefly pointed at the sun and the lens burned out. Listening to a moon walk wasn't as exciting as watching one.

The drop in public interest was so great that none of the networks bothered to carry Apollo 13's live broadcast. Interest picked up when a fuel cell exploded and it was questionable if they would make it back to earth.

By Apollo 14, moon landings seemed commonplace. The astronaut's schedule called for them to go a lot further, out of range of the camera. Apollo 15 had a motorized vehicle and took the camera with them but it was too late to reignite interest.

There was another factor in our loss of interest - the Soviets had given up.

Starting with America's first manned shots, we called it the Space Race. Space exploration was a showy way of demonstrating technological might. If a country could orbit a man over your country, it could also drop a bomb on you. By this point other nations were joining the nuclear weapons club but the US and the USSR were the only two countries that could put a man in orbit. And the USSR was way ahead.

President Kennedy, acting on advice from his science advisers, changed the rules of the game. We couldn't catch up in earth-orbital flight so we would set a new, harder goal - going to the moon.

A lot of parallels were made between Columbus and Neil Armstrong. There was the assumption that setting foot on the moon was just the start. Everyone assumed that by now we would have at least one city on the moon and be well along on traveling to Mars. If would have happened, too, if the Soviets had shown any interest in doing it first. Instead they gave up.

By 1968 it was obvious to the USSR that we had an insurmountable lead. They always had better launch craft than we did but we pulled ahead in computers and other technical requirements. In early 1969 they tried a last-ditch effort to reach the moon first. If blew up on the launching pad and they never tried again. When Neil Armstrong landed, they announced that they were de-emphasizing manned space probes in favor of robotic craft. That doomed the moon program. No one wants to run a race by themselves. The space program was expensive and the economy was doing poorly. NASA changed priorities. They would build a space station and a space truck to supply it. Even this was cut back. The space station was cut and the space truck became the shuttle.

The Space Race was the bright spot of the cold war. It would never have happened without the competition between the world's two superpowers. There is talk of returning to the moon and continuing on to Mars but there is no urgency to it. Everyone knows that if the US doesn't do it then no one will so it can wait until we have the will on our own or a competitor.

It's one thing to

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Climate variability

RealClimate has a guest column on climate variability. This is an important concession for them since they have spent years and considerable effort trying to prove that CO2 is the only driver for climate change. Al Gore, who cites them as a major source of his information is on record as saying that the only reason that Venus is hotter than the Earth is because of CO2. This shows how badly the cooling of the last few years has hurt their case.

On its surface, the column continues to defend global warming theory. It starts out with this statement:
A climate that is highly sensitive to radiative forcing (i.e., responds very strongly to increasing greenhouse gas forcing) by definition will be unable to quickly dissipate global mean temperature anomalies arising from either purely natural dynamical processes or stochastic radiative forcing, and hence will have significant internal variability. The opposite also holds. It's painfully easy to paint oneself logically into a corner by arguing that either (i) vigorous natural variability caused 20th century climate change, but the climate is insensitive to radiative forcing by greenhouse gases; or (ii) the climate is very sensitive to greenhouse gases, but we still are able to attribute details of inter-decadal wiggles in the global mean temperature to a specific forcing cause. Of course, both could be wrong if the climate is not behaving as a linear forced (stochastic + GHG) system.

That last disclaimer is interesting but the thrust of this paragraph argues that variable climate proves warming theory because it shows that the climate can be changed. As I said, it represents a major policy shift for RealClimate to allow anyone to suggest that the climate can change without human forcing. I will get to the implications of this later.

The rest of the paper deals with the period from 1998 to the present which they refer to as an episode. Their point is that something natural happened to the climate in 1998 skewing the averages. Because of this, only data prior to 1998 should be used in charting global warming.
We hypothesize that the established pre-1998 trend is the true forced warming signal, and that the climate system effectively overshot this signal in response to the 1997/98 El NiƱo. This overshoot is in the process of radiatively dissipating, and the climate will return to its earlier defined, greenhouse gas-forced warming signal. If this hypothesis is correct, the era of consistent record-breaking global mean temperatures will not resume until roughly 2020.

While this sounds quite reasonable there are two problems with it. The obvious one is that you can't just throw out data that doesn't fit your model and claim that the remaining data is correct. There is a prediction that we will see a return of the warming signal around 2020. This is valid scientific method but we have to wait another decade in order to validate it.

The other problem is the assumption that, with the exception of the 1998 event, world temperatures would have been naturally stable without human-induced warming. Now that it has been admitted that the climate can change without human intervention, it has to be admitted that other, natural, long-term trends can happen. RealClimate tried to keep this line of inquiry closed. That's why allowing any admission of it is such a policy change for them.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Malaise and Carter

Thirty years ago Jimmy Carter's presidency was failing. Gas prices were rising. Natural gas prices were also rising and gas line pressure had been noticeably down the  previous record-cold Winter. Word had gotten out that the Secret Service had saved the President from an attack rabbit. When the White House declined to provide footage, CBS showed a clip from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, instead. People were talking about how much the presidency had aged Carter.

Realizing that things were bad, Carter's aids called him in from a planned vacation to give a major speech. They quickly abandoned the original speech and spent the next ten days writing a new one. This one would address the mood of the country and energy policy. A press release described the country's mood as a "malaise". The word stuck and it became known as the "Malaise Speech".

Carter loyalists are quick to defend the speech was well received and his popularity rose after the address. Carter speechwriter Gordon Stewart says:

To this day, I don't entirely know why the speech came to be derided for a word that was in the air, but never once appeared in the text. Still, the "malaise" label stuck: maybe because President Carter's cabinet shake-up a few days later wasted the political energy that had been focused on our energy problems; maybe because the administration's opponents attached it to the speech relentlessly; maybe because it was just too hard to compete with Ronald Reagan and his banner of limitless American consumption.

The real reason is probably that there was never any way the Jimmy Carter we all know would avoid saying: "There is simply no way to avoid sacrifice." Where the speeches of Reagan and Barack Obama evoke the beauty of dreams, President Carter insisted on the realities of responsibility and the need for radical change. Mr. Carter's sense of our own accountability, his warnings about the debilitating effects of self-centered divisiveness were the speech's true heresies.

He is too kind to his former boss. Carter promised several actions. None of these ever took place. Instead, as Stewart alludes, Carter asked his entire cabinet for their resignations and accepted them from the most prominent members. This reinforced the impression that he was out of his league.

If Carter had followed up on his proposals he would be remembered differently. Instead he is lumped together with Gerald Ford as a president who could not work with Congress. Around 14 months later Iran invaded the US embassy and took diplomatic staff members hostage, making Carter look weaker than ever.

Part of the reason that Reagan left such an impression is that he was such a contrast with his predecessors. Both men came to Washington promising to change things. Only Reagan actually did. Carter was voted out of office by people who thought of him as a nice man who was not competent to be president. The more Reagan accomplished the worse Carter looked.

Carter apologists want his speech to be remembered as a high point of his administration. In fact, it was simply a lofty set of promises that he never followed up on. That makes it representative of the Carter presidency.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


I probably will not agree with most of Sonia Sotomayor's decisions on the Supreme Court but she should be confirmed. She is well qualified and one of the perks of being president is being able to appoint someone who matches your views. Senate Republicans are welcome to grill her but they should not make a cause out of it. That's how the process is supposed to work.

That said, the Democrats including President Obama have violated this principle for decades. The NOW and the related abortion lobby are principally to blame. They have made abortion a litmus test and assume that anyone nominated by a Republican will fail it. This is a perversion of the process. Republicans have had to resort to "stealth nominees" - people whose judicial history is too short to draw conclusions from.

The Roe v Wade decision was possibly the worst since the days of slavery. It invented a constitutional right where none is clearly written. The gyrations every since have been devoted to protecting or overthrowing that single decision.

The Supreme Court is too important to be hostage to a single issue.

Monday, July 13, 2009

A Strange Circle

The headline says Obama's visit to fort a "Full-Circle Experience". The full circle is an American black returning to the location where his ancestors were forcibly removed from their homeland.

Except this has different implications for Obama. His mother was white and her family owned slaves at one point (there was speculation a year ago that one of Obama's ancestors may have owned one of Oprah's). His father was African. His family never left Africa except Barack senior for a few years to attend college and father an American child. Any connection between Barack senior and slavery would have involved Obama's family benefiting from selling the compatriots.

Obama made a different circle on the same trip. Rather than appologize for slavery and colonization, he told Africans to get their act together. He passed over his father's native Kenya in favor of Ghana because of Ghana's dedication to free, open elections and the corruption in most other African countries. These comments were personal for him. His father had been a member of Jenya's government and was pushed out due to corruption.

Obama's speech to Africa was a welcome change from Bush and Clinton who both felt the need to appologize for not solving all of Africa's problems for them.

Friday, July 10, 2009

The Awesomeness of Obamacare

Bob Cesca has a post on Huffington in which he talks about how great the public option will be. Some quotes:

The fact remains that the only downside to the public option is that it's just too awesome. We don't deserve anything that good. Simply put: it's Medicare, but for anyone who wants it. And this is somehow a nightmare scenario -- one that we must never be allowed to experience even though it would cost much less than our current system, it would cover everyone who wants it, and it would be accountable to the American people.


The "it's too awesome for your own good" argument was the one we heard from both Republicans and centrist Blue Dog Democrats for several months recently. But now it's back to the good old fashioned socialized-healthcare-is-awful frame, most notably trotted out by Republican minority leader and Deep Space Nine shapeshifter Mitch McConnell, who has been peppering his floor speeches with the tear-jerking story of the one person from Canada who doesn't like her free and universal healthcare.

Imagine that. Free. And this one person hates it so bad, you don't even know!

Too bad there's nothing free and universal in God's non-socialist America. Like roads, police protection, fire departments, public schools, and public parks where we can protest against public programs like funding for parks.

But Mitch McConnell says that in Canada people have to wait for a knee replacement. See now, if I'm getting a free knee replacement surgery without fear of being dropped by my health insurance carrier or having to run up credit card debt in order to cover the co-pay, the co-insurance and the deductible, I want my damn knee replacement yesterday.

Waiting eight weeks (the average wait time) for a free Canadian knee replacement surgery is eight weeks too long. In America, I can have my knee surgery over lunch, yes? Of course I have to pay more for such a convenience. And I'm participating in an enterprise that could easily screw me out of the coverage entirely. But I can have my surgery whenever I want it. (Actually, it's about a 21 day wait.)
There are so many problems with Cesca's post I'm not sure where to begin.

Let's start with "free". He tosses that term around a lot but he doesn't seem to realize that none of his examples are free. Someone pays for the roads and parks and police. Specifically, it is the taxpayers who pay for them. So go back and reread his screed but replace "free" with "taxpayer funded" or "paid for by other people".

Now that that is settled, I'll start from the top. Yes, the public option is like Medicare - except it isn't. Medicare is subsidized medicine and it is quickly running out of money. Last year it paid out more than it took in. The public option is being sold as revenue neutral. That means that it is supposed to support itself through premiums, just like a private insurance company. In reality, it will have to be subsidized for the poor and it will probably be subsidized for everyone enrolled. Congress is already looking at new taxes to pay for this. And they are looking at people who make a lot less than $250,000 a year.

Higher taxes is one way to cover the expenses. Rationing medical treatment is another. Cesca dismisses this, saying that the average waiting time in Canada is only eight weeks. If you follow his link you will find that he got that figure from an article published in 1994 which was based on data from 1992. Here is an article from this year. It's statistics are much less awesome.

Knee replacement surgery is a common surgical procedure that allows for an effective reduction of pain and adequate restoration of function for the vast majority of patients suffering from advanced knee osteoarthritis or other forms of arthritis. [1] In the last decades, the growing needs of the population have made this procedure, along with hip replacement, the second most popular orthopaedic surgery. [2] In Canada, in 2006, the rate of knee replacements reached 106.9/100 000 persons, in sharp progression from the past decade. [3] This sharp rise in demand has translated into growing waiting lists. Governments have tried to tackle this problem, and with the allocation of new funding and the development of new policies, more patients are being operated. [4] But wait times remain a problem; recent Canadian data show that, depending on the province, the median pre-surgery wait time range from 112 to 291 days and still today an important proportion of patients are not operated within six months, the maximum acceptable waiting time benchmark established in Canada.

Then there is the awesome British health care. Liberals (or progessives) don't talk about the Brits much anymore. It is too easy to find stories like this one which says that hospital overcrowding makes patients likely to contract "superbugs". Canada has an easier solution for overcrowding - they've been sending their overflow to the US for a decade.

Cesca doesn't really care about any facts or figures. He is sure that single-payer health care is the best solution and he has no interest in looking any further. This is troubling because of the prominence that the Huffington Post has been given. It now feeds stories into MSN broadcasts and sends journalists to presidential press conferences. His bio says He's been a featured blogger/columnist for the Huffington Post since August, 2005. His posts appear on the front page above-the-fold every Wednesday (sometimes Thursday). That makes him pretty prominent for being so wrong.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Stimulus Woes

Unemployment is at a 26 year high. This wasn't supposed to happen. After all, Congress passed a massive stimulus bill during Obama's first few weeks in office. So what happened?

A bigger question is how a package that spends most of its money after 2009 could possibly have affected the economy now?

Vice-President Biden may have let something slip when he said that they had underestimated how bad the economy was. The cynical take on his statement is that they expected the economy to turn around this Summer on its own. They would then take credit for it and continue spending the bulk of the $800 billion.

With the economy still doing poorly, people are taking a second (or first) look at the stimulus. Last night NBC led with a New York Times story about stimulus-related road construction. It seems that most of the spending is in rural counties but most of the unemployment is in urban counties.

According to an analysis by The New York Times of 5,274 transportation projects approved so far — the most complete look yet at how states plan to spend their stimulus money — the 100 largest metropolitan areas are getting less than half the money from the biggest pot of transportation stimulus money. In many cases, they have lost a tug of war with state lawmakers that urban advocates say could hurt the nation's economic engines.

It should also be pointed out that "shovel-ready" construction projects only get $26 billion out of $800 billion.

Economists such as Paul Krugman say that this proves their prediction that $800 billion wasn't enough money and that a second, larger stimulus bill is needed. The White House is denying that they plan a second stimulus "at this point".

But the White House press secretary, speaking to reporters aboard Air Force One, suggested that could change if the country continues to lose jobs.

The idea of passing a second huge spending bill before most of the money from the first one is due to be spent is troubling. The first one will cost $1 trillion by the time interest is paid. We may have already overspent. Some economists are predicting a double-dip recession with debt-induced inflation triggering a new recession late next year. Adding in a new stimulus could ruin the economy for years to come.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Why Did Sarah Quit?

There are been a number of guesses about why Sarah Palin announced that she will resign as governor later this month. Most assume that she plans to run for higher office and wanted to devote all of her time to this. It is true that being Governor of Alaska didn't help her much on the 2008 ticket so it is not likely to help in 2012.

But I don't think that is why she is stepping down. I think that she is doing it because it is the right thing for both the state and her family.

Since her ascension to national prominence, her effectiveness as governor has diminished. Democrats who used to be her allies would no longer be caught dead helping her. Even some of her allies have deserted her. There are constant new ethics allegations, each draining her time. None of this helps Alaska. Without her as a lightening rod, these problems will vanish and the state government can get back to business.

On a personal level, she has a special needs child whose disability will become more obvious as he grows up. Trig will need more and more of someone's care. At the same time, her oldest daughter is now a teen-age, single mother and probably needs help with her own baby.

And those ethics probes are hurting her financially. So far her legal bills have been around a half million dollars.

I think that Sarah is planning on cutting back from politics. She will still make some speaking engagements and a book tour. The money is good and she still has those legal bills. But I don't think that she plans any big campaigns for 2012.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Hating Palin

Why do so many people hate Sarah Palin with such passion? When John McCain introduced Sarah Palin as his running mate she was a total unknown to most people. Democratic activists rushed to fill in the blanks with their own narrative. Within 48 hours multiple stories were circulating about her past, none of them true. No accusation, no matter how outlandish, was out of bounds. There was serious speculation that she had faked a pregnancy in order to cover for her daughter.

It didn't help that the McCain campaign tried to reshape her. I saw an interview taped before the campaign and she was direct, smart and articulate (it helped that this was a travel log about the governor's house and office). After a month's coaching she was stumbling and rambling.

You would think that things would have quieted down after the election but they didn't. Near Thanksgiving Palin was talking about the Alaska economy at a turkey farm. By using an unusual angle a cameraman managed to include both Palin and a turkey being processed some ways behind her. This made the national news. The fact that she didn't know what was happening behind her back was given as a sign of her cluelessness.

She continued to be the butt of Letterman jokes, usually involving derogatory sexual terms and sometimes including her children.

Vanity Fair has a hit piece on her in its August, 2009 issue.

There have been fifteen ethics complaints about her. All have been dismissed.

Keep in mind that she was number two on the ticket for an election that was held eight months ago. McCain has long been forgotten but attacks on Palin continue.

We can dismiss Vanity Fair and Letterman as playing to their audience. If Vanity Fair's anti-Palin issue didn't sell then we would never see another hit piece. But it did sell. There is a market for this vitriol. Why?

I can think of a couple of reasons. The first and most obvious is that she continues to be popular with a significant portion of the country. She is (or was before her resignation) a serious candidate for president. This scares the left and they have gone into permanent campaign mode to stop her. This includes constantly belittling her and emphasizing any miss-statements (Huffington thought it important enough to post when she refereed to the Department of Justice and the Department of Law. They would never have revealed it is Obama made a similar mistake.)

That explains some of the attacks but not the intensity. This is personal. A lot of people outright hate her. There are a lot of factors here.

A lot of the anti-Palin hatred isn't against Sarah Palin the person. It is against Sarah Palin the media creation. People believe that she tried to ban books, etc. and hate that person.

There is also the insistence that she is a vindictive half-wit. Vanity Fair said this about her:

Perhaps most painful, how could John McCain, one of the cagiest survivors in contemporary politics—with a fine appreciation of life's injustices and absurdities, a love for the sweep of history, and an overdeveloped sense of his own integrity and honor—ever have picked a person whose utter shortage of qualification for her proposed job all but disqualified him for his?

Keep in mind that Obama's qualifications - part of a term in the senate -made Palin look overqualified.

This is part of a continuing depiction. Conservatives are dumb. Liberals are smart. Bush, Gore, and Kerry all graduated from Harvard or Yale. They all had similar grades in college (Cs). According to army aptitude tests they all have very similar IQs but Bush is depicted as dumb while Gore and Kerry are intellectuals. This carries over to almost all Conservatives. A hoax has been circulated several times in the last few years that purports to rank the last 12 presidents by IQ. All of the Democrats come in above all of the Republicans (except Nixon) with Reagan barely above average and both presidents Bush being below average. Depicting Palin as oversexed but dumb is following in this tradition.

There is also a less savory aspect to the Palin-hatred. Obama's election supposedly showed that anyone can grow up to be president. Actually it shows that anyone who managed to get into Yale or Harvard can be president. Obama and Clinton may have started out poor but they managed to get into Ivy League colleges.

In fact, Ronald Reagan was the last president who did not graduate from Harvard or Yale. Clinton and both Bushes went to Yale (W then got an MBA from Harvard). Unsuccessful candidates Kerry, Gore, and Dukakis all went to Harvard. Palin is the odd person out in this company. This shows in some of the comments made about her - the idea that she thought that Africa was a country instead of a continent, the Department of Law comment I already referred to, and the tenor of Letterman's jokes.

America may be ready to accept a black president but we are not ready to accept a blue collar candidate.

In contrast, Palin really is like most of Americans. She bounced around different colleges before getting her degree. She did not

Monday, July 06, 2009

Foreign Affairs Follies

Modern teachers are fond of "conflict resolution" when dealing with problems between students. This holds that one child is never totally at fault. All problems are the result of conflicts between the two students and proper mediation will allow both of them to change their behavior and avoid future conflict. The problem with this theory is that some kids are just mean and act like bullies because they can. Their victims did not do anything to antagonize them except appear to be bullies.

On several occasions, President Obama has made it clear that he views foreign relations as conflict resolution on a global scale. It's not that countries have conflicting ideologies or goals that puts them at odds with the US, it is just that we have insisted on treating them that way. The Obama foreign policy is centered around the idea that we can be friends with everyone. So far that isn't working out very well.

The biggest problem is that some nations have goals that are more important to them than friendship with the US. Iran and North Korea have made it clear that they want to be world powers with missiles and warheads capable of threatening their neighbors and possibly the US. North Korea in particular has been aggressively testing the Obama administration by testing nuclear weapons and firing missiles.

Iran is a particularly difficult case for Obama. During the campaign he promised more than once to have talks with them without preconditions. Once in office, he renewed that offer only to have Iran respond with a list of preconditions that Obama would have to perform before he could meet with them.

Events have a tendency to get in the way of foreign policy. In Iran, the Obama administration wanted friendly negotiations to stop their nuclear program. This was complicated by their sham of an election. This left the US without any attractive options. We can continue to try to deal with the current Iranian leaders, ignoring the election and the way that they suppressed peaceful protests. This approach has already been attacked by conservatives. The alternative is to support the protesters in the hope that they will overthrow the current government and that they will be more open to the United States. Neither of these is likely and any support for the protesters would totally alienate the current government.

Russia is another problem. Putin has made it clear that he misses the days when Russia was the equal of the US and has made several moves to strengthen Russia. While not exactly trying to restart the cold war, he envisions a return to Russian prominence. The Obama administration fails to understand this and sees worsening relations as the result of something that the Bush administration did. They keep talking about "resetting" relations. Hillary already pushed a symbolic RESET button with her Russian counterpart. Now Obama is making a personal visit and promising another reset in relations. While he will have some results in nuclear warhead reduction (already negotiated), he will not make much progress on tougher issues such as missile defense, Iran and Georgia. His goals are in conflict with Russia's. You can't reset from that.

Finally, there is South America and Hugo Chavez. Chavez and Obama met a few months ago and Chavez took that opportunity to embarrass Obama by giving him a copy of Chavez's writings as instruction for how to govern.

Chavez is fundamentally at odds with the US. He sees himself as a revolutionary and the successor to Fidel Castro. He has financed revolutionary movements in other countries and formed an anti-US trading alliance. His view of the world holds that the US and free markets are responsible for all evils. No amount of happy talk can alter that although he and Obama might be personally friendly.

Obama's desire to be liked by South America and Chavez is causing errors in judgment about Honduras. Ousted president Zelaya tried a coup of his own by illegally calling for a constitutional convention that would do away with term limits. He ordered the army to defy their Supreme Court and distribute ballots. Instead the army sent Zelaya packing.

This is a case where both sides were at fault and the resolution should involve a new election. Instead, Obama sided with Zelaya. This is a particularly bad move. Zelaya is an anti-American Chavez ally. He has little support in Honduras and none in its Congress or army. Restoring is unlikely to make him pro-American and supporting him hurts our image in Honduras.

For someone who was supposed to restore world-wide respect for America, Obama is off to a poor start.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Coming Excuses

If things go as planned, the Democrats will pass a cap and trade bill and health care reform. They may even pass a second stimulus. With such a busy first year, what can we expect for the remainder of the Obama administration? A lot of excuses.

The stimulus is not working (it couldn't - very little of the spending takes place this year). Unemployment has already risen to level that Obama promised would not be reached if the stimulus passed. Obama is already giving excuses for why things didn't go as planned.

The cap and trade legislation will not do much to reduce CO2 emissions, either so Obama will be making excuses for that.

The health care package is still in planning but it is likely to follow the same pattern as privious legislation - a package that is too watered down to accomplish what it is supposed to and full of pork that was inserted at the last minute. Obama will be making excuses for this, too.

Foreign affairs don't look promising, either. Obama came to office promising to improve relations with the rest of the world. So far he has done a poor job of seeing to our traditional allies. He has spent considerable effort courting hostile nations. So far relations with Iran and North Korea have gone downhill. More excused will be coming.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Cap and Trade Follies

When Congress began considering Cap and Trade legislation it had three ambitious goals:

  1. Increase the cost of carbon-based fuels enough to reduce CO2 emissions;
  2. Decrease the demand for foreign oil;
  3. Use the amounts collected to pay for Obama's universal health care and other programs.
Measured by these standards, the bill that passed the House fails all three goals. If passed as originally envisioned, the cap and trade legislation would have been painful. That's the whole idea - make carbon-based fuel too expensive to use. The House chickened out on this. They watered down the cost of the carbon credits and set it to implement slowly to reduce, or at least hide, the pain. As a result, the bill is estimated to cost an average family less than $0.50/day - too low to force behavior changes. It will only bring in a fraction of the revenue that the White House had counted on.

This is the worst kind of legislation. It will not accomplish any of the original goals. Probably the only result will be a drag on the economy over the coming decade.

So why pass it? The Democrats have an image as the only true protectors of the environment. They need to pass something and hope that people mistake movement for progress.

There is a bright side to this. Once this version of cap and trade is passed, the pressure will be off of Congress to do anything about global warming. People will see it as a problem that has been solved. The Democrats will have a vested interest in keeping this illusion. After all, who wants to run on a platform as having passed useless legislation?