Friday, October 30, 2009

Purity or Pragmatism?

New York's 23rd District is an interesting case. Right now there is a special election going on there. The district gave Obama a slight edge in 2008 so the Republicans decided that they needed to run someone who would appeal to swing voters and Democrats. They chose Dede Scozzafava who has a liberal voting record. Regardless, the party went along with this and endorsed her.

There was one notable exception - Sarah Palin weighed in, endorsing Doug Hoffman who she considered a more reliable conservative. Initially both parties reacted with disdain - 'There goes Palin again.' A funny thing happened since then - Hoffman is currently ahead of the Democrat by a slight margin and way ahead of Scozzafava. The race could still go to the Democrat but if it does the Republicans will have only themselves to blame (and I'm excluding Sarah Palin from this).

There is an important lesson here but I'm not sure that the Republicans echelon will heed it - conservatives can win, even in districts that went for Obama. For the past year conventional wisdom has held that the voters have turned against conservatives and that the Republicans' road back to power lies in recruiting moderates. At the same time there is a conservative movement that longs to see the Republicans run actual conservatives. This movement has embraced Sarah Palin and is scornful of the Republican leadership.

Recent polls show that the Republican strategy needs rethinking. People who self-identify as Republicans is down around 20% but people who identify themselves as conservatives is over 40%. This is nothing new. Conservatives have outnumbered Republicans for decades but the size of the split shows how dissatisfied conservatives are with Republicans. (Interestingly, the same polls show that there are usually more Democrats than liberals.)

The number of conservatives was at a low point in 2008 and has increased greatly as people see what a liberal (or progressive) government is actually like.

It is hard to predict how a three-way race would go if it was only a two-way race. It is possible that Scozzafava and the Democrat are splitting the liberal and moderate vote allowing a minority of conservatives to determine the election. It is also possible that a district that only gave Obama a slight edge in 2008 has turned against the chosen one and would elect any one who does not have a "-D" after his name.

In the meantime, the Republicans are in the strange position of opposing a front-runner who would act as a Republican in Congress.

On the other side, high-ranking Democrat Van Hollen made an interesting analysis.

By rejecting that candidate for a non-Republican ... and picking somebody else, I think they send a signal that they're more interested in purist ideology than they are in problem solving,

I will not argue with that but I do wonder where Van Hollen stood when the Democrats tried to eject Joe Lieberman from the party in 2006 over ideological differences?

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Warming or Cooling?

A recent poll showed that the number of Americans who believe in global warming in general and man-made warming in particular has fallen quite a bit. Several skeptics have pointed out that warming seems to have stopped around a decade ago.

In their role as climate advocate, the AP commissioned some statisticians to review the climate record and see if the climate is warming or cooling. Their opinion, at least as reported by the AP, is that the world continues to warm. At first glance this looks like a case closed. Global warming is real and is continuing. There are some red flags in the story.

The biggest red flag is the data set presented to the statisticians. There are three possible sets, two based on satellite measurements and one based on ground-sensors. The satellite-based sets show less warming than the ground-based ones. The article mentions the satellite-based figures but minimizes them but it is not obvious that it is doing so. For example the paragraph:

U.S. government data show the decade that ends in December will be the warmest in 130 years of record-keeping, and 2005 was the hottest year recorded.

Seems straightforward. You have to already know that this data comes from the ground-based sensors and is maintained by a department headed by a global warming activist. That puts the data in a different light.

Once you get around half-way through the article you finally get a single skeptic quoted (note that he is identified as a skeptic, no one else's affiliation is identified).

One prominent skeptic said that to find the cooling trend, the 30 years of satellite temperatures must be used. The satellite data tends to be cooler than the ground data. Key to that is making sure that 1998 is part of the trend, he added.

What happened within the past 10 years or so is what counts, not the overall average, contends Don Easterbrook, a Western Washington University geology professor and global warming skeptic.

"I don't argue with you that the 10-year average for the past 10 years is higher than the previous 10 years," said Easterbrook, who has self-published some of his research. "We started the cooling trend after 1998. You're going to get a different line depending on which year you choose.

"Should not the actual temperature be higher now than it was in 1998?" Easterbrook asked. "We can play the numbers games."

But Easterbrook is not given the final word. The next paragraph refutes him.

After that all pretense at fairness is abandoned. There is a quote from the Union of Concerned Scientists which is a lobbying group, not a scientific one. An economist and a couple of climate scientists are quoted without being identified as global warming believers. President Obama is quoted. Figures from NOAA are quoted without mentioning that they are are from the ground-based sensors and do not agree with the satellite-based figures. It has this observation

Of the 10 hottest years recorded by NOAA, eight have occurred since 2000, and after this year it will be nine because this year is on track to be the sixth-warmest on record.

This is meaningless. Even if the world is cooling, it would be cooling from the 1998 high point.

It closes with the prediction that 2010 will be the warmest year on record, not because of global warming but because of an El Nino. Even with the qualification, this was only tossed in to confuse the issue. Temporary warming caused by El Nino has nothing to do with global warming.

Watts Up With That
looks at the article and concludes that you can prove anything with statistics.

Monday, October 26, 2009

First Define Reform

News reports from the weekend paint a picture of a Congress (at least the Democrats in Congress) that is sure that they need to pass something called health care reform but cannot answer basic questions about what it will include. This is ridiculous. We are talking about mandating major changes to a significant portion of the economy but we haven't decided what should be reformed.

Should there be an employer mandate? The House isn't sure. Will there be a public option? We probably will not know until something is presented to the President for signing.

Regardless, there is still a sense of urgency that Congress has to get something passed this year. It doesn't matter what. All that matters is getting something through so that they can claim victory.

There is a solid reason for the urgency - fear. Many Democrats are sure that they suffered major losses in the 1994 election because they hadn't passed health care reform. This is rather silly since the voters turned to the party that opposed health care reform. More likely the switch had more to do with disillusionment with the Clinton administration in general and with specific policies like his attack on guns in specific (it is generally acknowledged that Gore lost the 2000 election because his home state of Tennessee was still upset about his role in passing gun control legislation). None of this matters to Democrats. Looking back, they see the 1992 election as having been a mandate to pass health care reform and their 1994 losses as their just punishment for failing.

Conventional wisdom is that Congress does not like to pass controversial legislation on an election year. It gives their opponent something to run on. According to this school of thought, Congress will not pass a health care will in 2010 so it must pass it now or wait until 2011. The hope is that is they pass it now, then voters will have forgiven and forgotten it by the 2010 election. Or they will be sick of hearing about the subject.

This is a strange bit of reasoning. Congress wants to pass major legislation but they are afraid of voter backlash.

There is another reason that Congress is worried about passing a health care bill. They need every vote that they have. There is a very real chance that they will not have enough votes in 2011.

But that is not an excuse for what they are doing now. It is impossible to claim a mandate if you can't clearly state the major provisions of the legislation you are trying to pass.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Coming elections

There are three possible reasons for the Democrats' dominance in the last two elections. It is important to identify which is correct because future elections will hinge on an accurate assessment. I've gone over these before but it is worth a new look.

The country moved to the left.
This is the Democrats' favorite explanation - that the voters are demanding a more progressive government. If true then it means that the Republicans must either follow the Democrats to the left in search of moderate voters or doom itself to permanent minority party status. Either way, the Democrats win since they will be able to advance their agenda.

If this is true then the Republicans have to abandon Reaganomics and embrace Obamanomics. They need to recruit centrist candidates who will work with Obama.

The country was sick of Bush and corrupt Republicans.
Starting with Hurricane Katrina, Bush's approval rating started dropping and never really recovered. At the same time, several Republicans were implicated in sex and money scandals. The voters turned the scoundrels out, not caring much about who repalced them. This is the Republicans' favorite explanation since it means that the voters will soon tire of the Democrats and start electing Republicans again. There is some historic justification for this since the opposition party usually makes gains during mid-term elections. The mid-term election in the sitting president's second term is usually brutal to his party and this is when the Democrats started winning. A bad economy also hurts the party in charge.

If this is true then the Republicans just need to run strong candidates and wait for the voters to return to them.

The Republicans lost their way.
There is currently a split between conservatives and Republicans. The GOP is interested in running anyone who looks like a strong candidate. The conservatives want ideological purity. They say that part of the reason that voters rejected Bush and the Republicans in 2006 and 2008 is that they didn't stand for anything. The corruption and scandals were part of the problem. This group says that the Republicans need to clearly define themselves as being different that the Democrats instead of a slightly more moderate version. Their battle cry is "A choice, not an echo." The Tea Party protests are a manifestation of this as is the debate about Glenn Beck being good or bad for the Republicans.

If this is true then the Republicans still have a lot of work to do. They can't simply wait for the voters to return to them. They will have to earn the voter's trust. This is the hardest of the three but the rewards are greater. The Democrats took the second path, running moderates and waiting for the voters to come to them. The result is that they have a majority in Congress but not the ideological purity to enact sweeping changes.

The truth is probably somewhere between the second and third points. There is little evidence that the country made a major, permanent shift to the left. Democrats in 2006 and 2008 included conservative principles such as a balanced budget in their platforms. The 2008 election was mainly about the economy and the Iraq war. Universal Health Care was a side-issue and what is being proposed today is quite different from what Obama proposed a year ago.

That said, the nation still does not trust the Republicans. There is a vacuum of power at the top with no articulate leaders. This gives talk radio hosts and columnists more influence than they should have. Republicans hope to profit from the Tea Party movement but, after a multi-year spending binge under Bush, it is hard for them to portray themselves as champions of fiscal restraint.

At the same time, Obama may turn into a drag on the ticket. In the Virginia governor's race, Bob McDonnell, the Republican is comfortably ahead. Creigh Deeds, the Democrat, is blaming Obama and the Congressional Democrats. The White House is trying to counter this impression and is blaming Deeds for being a bad candidate. Now that the Democrats control Congress, they are the ones being implicated in scandals.

The voters are disillusioned with Obama and the Democrats but the Republicans need to offer more than a return to the Bush years to close the deal.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

What's a news operation?

Last week and over the weekend the White House announced that it did not consider Fox News to be a real news operation but instead the research arm of the Republican Party. They urged everyone else to stop treating Fox as a news operation. What does this mean?

Since the days of LBJ, every administration eventually decides that the press is out to get it and goes into bunker mode where it treats the press as hostile. The Obama administration adopted this attitude about portions of the press and the media in general almost before the inaugural balls had ended. Only a couple of weeks into his administration, President Obama admonished House Republicans to stop listening to Rush Limbaugh. The Obama made other statements indicating that they considered Rush to be the head of the Republican Party.

Others have been trashed along the way, either by the President personally or by White House staffers. The current target is Glenn Beck. When asked for examples of Fox bias, the White House mentioned the 5 pm time slot - Glenn Beck.

It is understandable that the Obama administration doesn't like Beck. He has been digging up dirt on Obama appointees, especially the czars who don't have to go through a confirmation process. The White House wants to marginalize Beck. Currently the dirt he digs up gets picked up by Fox News and conservative columnists. The idea is to quarantine Beck and Fox. When they ask other news operations to stop treating Fox as one of them, they mean that they want the rest of the media to stop picking up stories generated by Beck. This is nothing more than an administration asking the media to censor itself of stories that are damaging to the President.

The White House charge that Fox is biased is laughable. All of the news operations are biased. Five years ago CBS allowed a producer to cap a multi-year crusade against President Bush with a story that depended on Xeroxed documents that an informant said were passed to him by an unknown woman at a rodeo. CNN felt the need to fact check an SNL sketch that made President Obama look bad. Keith Olbermann has been giving angry editorials under the heading of "special reports" for years. Also, he tends to name conservatives as the Worst Person in the World so often that it has become a badge of honor. But, according to the White House, only Fox is biased.

This is another way of favoring friendly news organizations over hostile ones which is an old political tradition. The difference this time is that the Obama administration is trying to appear clean when their real purpose is to bury damaging stories.

Something that Obama and his administration yet has to learn is that it is difficult to muzzle the press. Efforts to do so simply spotlight whatever they are trying to cover up. Fox's ratings are way up. MSNBC's are down.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Various Political Gripes

Nobel Peace Prize Winner Obama desires to meet with the heads of hostile nations without precondition but he will not appear on Fox. He travels a lot but he spends most of his time in blue states.

Obama's defenders point out that only a fraction of the massive stimulous bill has been spent to date. So why are the Democrats talking about a new stimulous?

Leftist economists such as Paul Krugman insist that deficits don't matter. We need more governent spending. When it is pointed out that government stimulous ever ended a recession before they insist that governments just didn't spend enough. That thinking is catching up with us. The world is moving away from the dollar standard. This will probalby be a bad thing for the entire world but it is inevitable. With Obama's massive spending, no one trusts the dollar any longer. Krugman assures us that this doesnt matter, either. We will see.

The bill that passed the Senate finance committee is supposed to be deficit-neutral. They did a lot of slight of hand to achive that. In order to pay for it the bill has several new taxes and cuts. Those will go into effect immediately. The money to help people buy insurance will not start for another three years. That means that the CBO weighed ten years of taxes and cuts against seven years of spending. Even at that, it came out around even. That means that long-term costs for health care will go into the deficit.

Even with sky-high taxes, the bill will not provide universal coverage. Something like 17 million people will still not have insurance. The last figure that Obama gave for the uninsured was 30 million so the bill will not even cut tat figure in half.

Nancy Pelosi vowed to get revenge on the insurance lobby after they lauched anti-reform ads. She is planning to push a public option in order to hurt them. I can't think of a worse reason.

One reason that so many progressives want a public option is that they regard insurance company profits as immoral. Keep in mind that insurance companies do not provide care. They pool risk and pay for individual's care from that pool. If it is immoral to make a profit on that then what else is immoral? Or is the list sorter is I ask where it is moral to make a profit.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Peace Prize II

It's been a few days since the Nobel Peace Prize was announced but no one has advanced a good reason for why is went to President Obama. Lets face it, there is no good reason. There are two likely possibilities:

1) The Nobel committee for got that Bush left office because of term limits and gave Obama the prize for replacing him. This is a variation of the theory that he was given the award by not being Bush. There is something to this. The Prize committee hated Bush enough that they gave two or three previous awards as a slap at Bush.

2) They wanted to be part of the Obama experience. Back in 2008 the Obama campaign felt like a movement to the participants. People fainted regularly just from hearing him speak. The wife of a friend of mine forbid him from leaving the house the night of Obama's acceptance speech. She wanted him to hear history live.

This enthusiasm was also present overseas but without any outlet. Citizens of Finland couldn't vote in the US election.

When Obama was nominated, this gave the award committee an opening. They could become part of the Obama experience by giving him the Peace Prize. It hardly mattered that he was not qualified. He won the election with little qualification and the Presidency has real power.

Under normal circumstances, giving the Peace Prize to a newly-elected president seems ridiculous but, given these two factors, Obama seems like a slam dunk.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Columbus Day

Early in the 19th century, several New York intellectuals including Washington Irving decided that, as a new nation, America needed new heroes. They chose George Washington, Ben Franklin, and Christopher Columbus. Washington even wrote a biography of Columbus, although he made up make details rather than doing research.

Does that mean that we shoudn't celebrate Columbus Day? No. The reasons that they chose Columbus are as valid today as 200 years ago.

To simplify, without Columbus's voyage, we would not be here today. It doesn't matter what sort of a person Columbus is. We are not celebrating his birthday. We are celebrating the day that he landed on a Caribbean island. This was one of the most important events in history and it had a profound impact that is still felt today.

Remember, in 1492, the Americas had been separated from Europe/Africa/Asia for 60 millions years (except for ice bridges from Siberia). The five continents were inhabited by people who did not know of each other's existence (or Austrailia) 1492 joined the two land masses. Plants and animals were brought back and forth between the continents. The package of avaible foods increased tremendously.

Also, ideas flowed back and forth. The Americas were populated by stone-age people, many of whom still believed in human sacrifice. Europe had its own version with inquisitions. Out of this grew the most tolerant societies in history.

And it started with a single voyage in 1492.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Prizes and Politics

President Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize. It is rare for a sitting president to win a Peace Prize. It is unheard of for one to win one in his first term, especially since nominating deadline only 12 days into his administration.

It has been no secret that the committee that awards the Peace Prize hated President Bush. They pointedly gave prizes to former President Carter and near-winner Gore. Still, both of those men had a list of accomplishments. Carter in particular had been lobbying for a prize for years.

In contrast, Obama has no significant accomplishments to his name. He has endorsed a nuclear-free world and promised some peace initiatives but nothing has come of them yet. Just yesterday Israel's foreign minister told Obama that a peace settlement was years away.

So the Peace Prize Committee gave out an award based on Obama's star power and the fact that he isn't Bush. In doing so, they made a mockery of all recent recipients and everyone who receives a prize in the foreseeable future.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Arrogance Abroad

Remember back in 2008 when candidate Obama said that he would meet with hostile foreign leaders without precondition? At the time he complained about the policy of treating a visit by the American president as an honor.

Now that he is president, Obama is doing the same thing but with a twist. It isn't that an official visit is an honor, it's that a visit from President Obama is an honor. He and his staff have bought into the rock star persona. This has affected his foreign policy in several ways. The most recent was his pitch to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to host the 2016 Olympics in Chicago. Where other cities made their case on behalf of their people (especially Rio which pointed out that the entire South American continent had never hosted an Olympics), the Obamas made a personal appeal. Their message was that this was the IOC's chance to do something for the Obamas personally. The President wanted to wrap up his second term by opening the Olympic games. The First Lady just wanted to see the games held in her home town. A sidenote to their appearance was the reminder that they are more important than the IOC - one member complained that Obama's security was so tight that he could not cross his hotel lobby.

Obama's speech to the UN was similar. He told them to forget past US actions and look at the last nine months. He didn't ask them to overlook the last eight years, he asked them to ignore the last 64 years and every president since Truman.

His outreach to hostile countries has also followed these lines. He expects countries to ignore years or decades of complaints and all geopolitical issues and be our friend. Why? Because the great Obama wants it.

At the same time he is dismissive of our allies. He deliberately concealed information about the second Iranian reactor at the Security Council meeting because he wanted a resolution calling for total nuclear disarmament. That news would have spoiled his moment. Both the French and English knew about the reactor and were upset. Obama ignored Gordon Brown's request for a private meeting, probably because it was going to be about the reactor. The press heard about the snub and both countries had to issue press releases saying that we are still friends.

It's hard to know why Obama canceled the missile defense system in Poland. It may have been to mollify the Russians who he has been courting. Regardless, the Poles were not warned in advance and it was announced on the 70th anniversary of a Russian invasion of Poland.

The biggest beneficiary of the canceled missile defense, Iran, showed its gratitude by testing the sorts of missiles that the system was supposed to stop.

Then there was Obama's attempt to restart the Arab/Israeli peace process. He told the Israeli prime minister that Israeli settlements are the only roadblock and all construction in all settlements must be stopped at once. Only after that was done would he talk about nightly missile attacks.

In instance after instance, Obama has ignored history and assumed that he could accomplish feats that eluded others. He cozies up to dictators and ignores friends. He assumes that a childhood in Indonesia and some trips in his 20s gives him insights into the world that elude everyone else. The result of his attitude will be decreased American influence. The first part of that has already happened. The G20 has announced that will will begin using a blended currency standard instead of the dollar as the international standard.

Friday, October 02, 2009

The NobamOlympics

For the last few days we have been told that a direct appeal from Barack and Michele Obama was all that was needed to secure the Olympics for Chicago. After all, even though his domestic numbers are dropping, Obama is still the most popular man in the world. Instead, Chicago was the first city eliminated.

So what happened? There are two possibilities - either Obama isn't as popular as he thought or general world hated of the US is more deeply rooted than simply George W. Bush.

Either way, Obama's world view is naive. Not a good thing for the President of the United States and leader of the Free World.

Update: More here. It seems that Obama acted like an ugly American, showing up and expecting to get the Olympics for no other reason than his presence.