Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Looking Back at 2009

Events in no particular order:

The Obama Transition Team announced that the questionnaire for possible appointees would be the most detailed ever in order to ensure an ethical administration. It included questions such as "Have you ever owned a gun?" or "Have you ever dated a Republican?"  or "Did you pay all of your taxes?" Answering "yes" to any of these disqualified you from a government post.

Obama spent much of the year traveling to foreign countries and apologizing for everything that America ever did. This was so successful that Afghans are now burning him in effigy.

After years if insisting that they were not against war in general, just the war in Iraq, Democrats have realized that they are against war in general.

The left throws around the term "teabaggers" as if they had been using it all of their lives. I would bet that a year ago, 99% of them didn't know of any use for the term except something for making a cup of tea.

When the Obamas spent Christmas in Hawaii a year ago the big news was how good he looked in a swimsuit. Now it's how tired he is.

Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize for not being George W. Bush. Ironically, he seems to have read one of Bush's old speeches on just warfare instead of his acceptance speech. He probably skipped out on the parties after he realized that he had read the wrong speech.

Obama is quicker to judge the Cambridge police force than terrorists.

The general world population still thinks highly of Obama. On the other hand, the world leaders keep laughing behind his back. At Copenhagen the top leaders said that they were unavailable for a group meeting. It turned out that they were already having a meeting without Obama. He found out about it and crashed the meeting half-way through.

The US has long enjoyed a special relationship with Great Britain. Obama redefined this, substituting the word "snubbed".

The senators who held out the longest on health care got the best rewards - hundreds of millions for their states. Those of us in the other 50 states wonder why our senators are so cheap?

The stimulus amounted to something over $2,000 for every person in the country. So far, I haven't seen $2,000 spent on my behalf.

I'm not sure what constituency Obama is trying to please. Conservatives and Libertarians hate him. His economic advisers and lack of a public option in health care have alienated the Progressives. The tax on "Cadillac" insurance plans will hit unions hard. Pacifists gave up on him after he ramped up the war in Afghanistan twice. Environmentalists are disappointed as are gays. Neither has gotten any priority. Centrists are shocked at his deficits and his takeover of the banking and automotive sectors. Who is left to support him? Even Doonesbury and Arianna Huffington have turned on him.

Monday, December 28, 2009

The Return of Terrorism

The White House described the Christmas attempt at blowing up a jetliner as a terrorist act. This is interesting since the word "terrorism" had pretty much been banished from the Obama administration in favor of "man caused disasters". Now terrorism is back. I can think of several reasons:

  1. There just isn't any other term to describe the possible downing of a jet carrying 300 passengers.
  2. The "suspect" has admitted ties to al Qaeda.
  3. Blow-back from the Fort Hood incident. That was obviously a terrorist act but the Obama White House has yet to use that word in describing it. People have noticed and are wondering just how divorced from reality the Obama White House is.
  4. Then there is the competence issue. Obama entered the White House with no executive experience and it has showed constantly. He was vacationing in Hawaii when the incident happened. The White House is playing up the fact that he was briefed.
The Obama administration may have had its "Heck of a good job" moment. Homeland Security Chief Janet Napolitano insisted that everything worked like clockwork. In fact, someone on a terrorist watch list boarded a plane with explosives concealed on his person and was able to ignite them. The only thing that kept the plane from blowing up was the failure of the explosives to explode. It is little consolation that, after his attempt failed, the suspect was wrestled to the ground by civilians. Obama needs to fire Napolitano as soon as possible to show that he is serious about homeland security.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

60 Votes

It is no secret that the Senate is as polarized as is possible. The health care vote and several others have been 60/40. This is due to more than simple polarization. It centers around math and the magic 60 vote number.

According to the rules that the Senate has used for the last few decades, 60 votes are needed to end debate. The Democrats have exactly 60 votes including two independents who caucus with the Democrats). If the Democrats had 59 or 61 votes then things would be different.

If they had fewer than 60 votes then they would have to court Republicans. There are a few who are open to crossing party lines, especially if given some incentives. If they had 61 or more votes then they could lose one or two and still pass their agenda.

So, with no margin for error, the 60 votes force the Democratic leadership and the White House to do whatever is needed. In some cases they twist arms, reminding stragglers that Obama has a long memory. In other cases they simply buy votes with up to $100 million for a Senator's state.

At the same time, the Democratic leadership decided that it is easier to force Democrats into line than to court Republicans. With no incentives from the other side, the Republican leadership can do their own arm-twisting to keep the Republicans voting in a block.

The result is a polarized Senate and a string of 60/40 votes that will continue until the 2010 election.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Triumph or Death March?

The Democrats are pulling out all the stops. They will pass health care reform on Christmas Eve, even if they have to bribe the hold-outs with $100 million grants to their states. Currently the public is against the bill and it will be passed on a party-line vote so there is no cover for Democrats. Why are they pushing so hard to pass something so unpopular?

Rush Limbaugh thinks that the issue is so important to the Democrats that they are willing to sacrifice their Congressional majority for it. I disagree.

If you ask me why the Democrats lost their majority in 1994, I would point out that there were several factors. Gun owners were upset about anti-gun legislation and were organized. The population was outraged by Congressional scandals. Clinton ran on tax cuts but raised taxes instead.

If you ask Bill Clinton why he lost Congress, he will tell you that it was because he didn't get health care reform passed (in fact he told this to Congressional Democrats a month ago). It doesn't matter that Clinton's plan was deeply unpopular. He insists that the voters were punishing him for not getting it passed.

The current Democratic leaders bought into Clinton's fantasies. They are watching Democrats drop in the polls and convinced themselves that the only way to reverse this is to pass the health care bill. The fact that the majority of the country thinks that the reform is worse than doing nothing escapes them.

This is not new. George W. Bush did the same reasoning with the war in Iraq. Just before the war, public support was low. Bush was sure that once the shooting started, the public would get behind the war. This was true for a short time but the war became less and less popular as it dragged on. Regardless, I doubt that he would have predicted in 2003 that it would become a major issue, costing his party's majority status by 2006.

So the Democrats are caught in a death march. The lower their approval ratings the more frantic they are to pass something that they can call health care reform but the longer this goes on the lower their approval ratings drop.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Culture Wars 2009

Slate declared the war on Christmas over. At the same time, they question of it ever existed outside of the media. According to them, the media, particularly Fox News, lost interest in the subject so it is over.

Obviously, they just didn't get it. At one point, they mention that CVS is classified as being anti-Christmas but still sells candy canes. The two are not mutually exclusive. That was the whole point.

The forces of political correctness led by the ACLU decreed that any mention of Christmas in schools or other public institutions. Cities no longer have Christmas trees, just "holiday trees".

Taking their queue from this, several companies decided to remove all mention of Christmas. Stores like Lowes and Radio Shack avoided using the word. Employees were instructed to use "Holidays" instead of "Christmas". Of course, they still wanted people to buy Christmas presents from them. It was sort of a dance, with the stores trying to get customers to buy presents for an unnamed event that happened to fall on December 25th. CVS may sell candy canes but I doubt that they are honest about what they are for.

This attitude spread. People became embarrassed about saying "Merry Christmas" in public. They started saying "Happy Holidays".

All of this was silly. Very few non-Christians are offended by references to Christmas. Many Jews felt embarrassed that this was being done on their behalf.

But, that is history. Things have changed. Companies found out that they were chasing away Christmas shoppers. Not every company has changed their policies but man have. Target was one company that previously avoided "Christmas" but now allows their employees to wish a "Merry Christmas".

One obvious factor is the economy. Stores want to remind people why they are supposed to be shopping.

So, yes the war on Christmas seems to have subsided, but it was real as recently as last year.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Obama and the Nobel Peace Prize

When it was announced that President Obama had won the Nobel Peace Prize, a lot of conservatives (including me) were upset. It was obvious that he had won mainly for replacing President Bush and not for anything that he had actually accomplished.

Looking back at President Obama's acceptance of his prize, I don't think that he was very happy to win the prize. He knows how little he has accomplished, especially in international affairs. The prize was awarded so early in his administration that he didn't have time for any accomplishments. He was only a few days into his administration when nominated. Obama knows this as well as everyone else.

The Nobel Committee didn't do Obama any favors by giving him the award so early. He will spend the rest of his administration trying to live up to it. As a war president, it puts him in an awkward situation as shown by his acceptance speech where he made it clear that he believed in the concept of a "just war".

Because Obama already has a Peace Prize, he can never win one on his own accomplishments.

Obama showed his irritation. His acceptance speech could have been given by George W. Bush and he skipped several banquets and performances. A cardboard cut-out of Obama attended a Save the Children fund-raiser in the President's place.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Is Climategate Important?

When asked about Climategate, the thousands of letters and files leaked from Climatic Research Unit, a branch of the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom, Al Gore says that they are not relevant, that they are ten years old and only concern a few researchers. He is either misinformed or lying since the most recent email was from November, 2009 - just days before the leak. Even the politically neutral PolitiFact discounts the emails. They are wrong and here's why.

Back when I was in college physics, the joke was "first draw the graph then plot the data." This meant that regardless of your actual outcome, you should make sure that your data fit the "correct" graph. There was also a take-off of Planke's Constant which was "that number which when added to, subtracted from, multiplied by, or divided into your result gives the correct one." All of this is harmless when dealing with freshmen lab results where the margin of error of the equipment is greater than the amounts being measured. It is much more serious when top researchers are using it. The CRU emails show that top climate researchers have dealt in this sort of "fixing". They know what the results should be so they have been playing with the data until the results are right.

So what? They are only a small group, right? There are two problems with this logic. The first is that these are the guys at the top. There are three sets of world temperature accepted by climate researchers and CRU provides one of them. If we hear that the top auditor at Enron is hiding problems, should we ignore him and believe the guys lower down (which is what happened)?

The second problem is that climate research is a small field. If one group is fudging the figures, others should notice it and question it. CRU's figures should not match the others'. This brings up an ugly truth about climate research - they are all doing it, either to hide the real measures or because they believed institutions like CRU and figured that their data must be wrong. Just because the CRU emails were limited to a few researchers does not mean that the others are all acting honestly. More likely most of them are doing the same thing. There are several indications of this in the CRU emails - the ease with which they could get editors of prominent publications fired is one example.

Once you know that a group of prominent researchers has been modifying data in order to tell a cleaner story (as a guest on the Daily Show described it) then you have to question everyone else's results. Given the small size and political nature of climate research, it would be amazing if the warming proponents had not adopted a siege meantality, hiding any weakness in their findings and exaggerating their successes.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Obama and Afghanistan

I'm writing this before President Obama's speech on Afghanistan but the details have already been leaked out. After two months of dithering and Obama's second policy review of the year, the results are about what was expected in October. We will add something like 30,000 troops but move them out of the villages to protect the cities.

Will it work? I don't know. It sounds similar to the plans advanced for Iraq by both Obama and Hillary Clinton prior to last year's election. Back then they advocated withdrawing the troops into a few large fortified bases which would be used to train a native army. Our troops would go out on short missions to destroy enemy strongholds but they would not try to hold ground. This was the exact opposite of the surge.

Afghanistan is a different country than Iraq. It is larger and more mountainous. The nature of the enemy is also different so the tactics used in the surge may not work and certainly would need a much larger force than Obama is willing to commit.

Will his new strategy work? Probably not. It seems to be ceding most of the country to the Taliban while preserving the cities.

The process that went into this new strategy will hurt, also. The Taliban knows what goes on in the US. They know that Obama is already looking for a way out. They also probably know that his strongest allies have deserted him on this. MoveOn has already released an email against the new strategy. Nancy Pelosi who has unprecedented power as Speaker of the House is on records as being against any troop increase.

Ironically, the people most likely to support the President are the ones he has spent the last ten months belittling - Republicans and conservatives. Had he followed through on his campaign promises for bipartisanship then he would be in a stronger position today.