Sunday, January 31, 2010

Rethinking the Middle East and Iran - Part I

I don't think I can summarize my changing thoughts on the Middle East in one post, so I will have to roll this out over time. A number of things got me started on this. First, I am taking a leadership class and we had a lesson on systems thinking, including how the structures of the human mind are part of the systems in which we live and operate. They used the Cold War example of each side building an ever greater arsenal of nuclear weapons to ensure that the other side did not gain an advantage. The escalation was portrayed as an endless series of reactions to each sides advances. The example was fine, but didn't really explain how the process was broken and de-escalation and arms reduction ever came about. I want to say that I never believed the Soviets to be irrational, I did not believe that they would ever launch a first strike, as long as there was something like parity. However, it was clear to me that they would have taken bolder actions that would have risked war had they believed they were in an advantageous position to do so. So what stopped the process? In my view, it was Reagan's announcement that the U.S. would embark on a Strategic Defense Initiative (Star Wars) coupled with the Soviets own assessment that they could not keep up because their economy was coming apart. As a result, they took some bold moves to reduce their risks. The same cycle of escalation could in turn become a cycle of de-escalation, as one side reduces, the other side matches, and there is verification of that outcome. However, neither side reduced their armaments to zero, because, as the US/USSR stockpiles dropped, the significance of the stockpiles of third parties, such as the Chinese becomes a factor in an equation that could previously be simplified to two variables.

So turning our attention to Iran's potential possession of nuclear weapons, there are those who say that since containment worked with the Soviets, we should do the same with Iran. I had thought that perhaps that was correct, because I see no reasonable way out of the current predicament. But containment worked in a bipolar world. In the U.S., we think that Iran is primarily threatening the west and Israel. But I am not so sure that is entirely correct. I do not blame the Israelis for feeling threatened, because a nuclear attack on Israel might advance the Persian agenda, but I don't believe that is ultimately the Iranian goal.

Historically, the Persians have though little of the Arabs or their predecessor civilizations such as the Babylonians or Assyrians. They see themselves as superior and the rightful leaders of the Middle East by history and geography. With their ancient enemies in Mesopotamia temporarily incapacitated, I believe they sense an historic opportunity. However, the United States presents a problem. The U.S. has a very strong, long term vested interest in the stability of the nation state and the sanctity of borders. It is our means to ensure peace and stability. The full and clear wisdom of this position was brought to our shores on 9/11, an attack launched from a failed state that could not really control its own territory.

As a result, the U.S. will not tolerate Iranian expansionism. Obtaining nuclear weapons, is Iran's way of raising the stakes for U.S. involvement, but also is a way for them to achieve their objectives without firing a shot, because their Arab neighbors to the south, including the Saudis know that they will not be able to militarily withstand the Iranian might. However, Iran also knows that they cannot successfully invade these nations and hope to achieve their ends. So what is their long term strategy?

To understand that, one must understand that state-on-state agression in the region is carried on by quasi-political groups that operate within particular countries but are funded by state actors. Al Qaeda is no exception. We know that al-Qaeda has been infiltrated by the state security services of a number of middle eastern nations. This is not to say that it is under their control, but they have some influence and have provided training, money and arms. But al Qaeda is only one such group. From Michael J. Totten's interview of Lee Smith (author of The Strong Horse):

For instance, Syria’s relationship with Jordan’s branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamic Action Front, and Jordan’s friendliness toward the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, means that these two states effectively deter each other—if you use Islamists against me, I will unleash Islamists on you. Al Qaeda, as a transnational outfit, seems to be a group that has been supported, manipulated and penetrated by a whole number of Middle Eastern security services, including but not exclusive of the Saudis, Egyptians, Syrians, Libya, Pakistan, and Iraq before Saddam’s downfall. This is not to say that any of these regimes have Al Qaeda or any of these terror organizations under their thumb; when you have a group of people with weapons, money and a deadly ideology it is difficult to manage them very closely.
Back to Iran. Given Iran's funding of Hezbollah and similar entities, one could envision a combination of threats the Iranians could use to destabilize the regimes of the region with the long term goal of establishing regimes with loyalties to Iran. This could even take the form of threatening to provide nuclear arms to the non-state actors operating in the Gulf states. The leaders of those states would not feel safe against nuclear armed terrorists. Politically, Iran has paralyzed criticism of their actions by couching the need for their nuclear program in anti-zionist rhetoric. This allows them to shame the other Arab states who are not fully engaged against Israel. Western criticism of Iran only plays into its hands among those who see Arab nationalism through the lens of the past glories of the Muslim Caliphate.

I digress for a moment. I recently criticized the Iranians for murdering a nuclear physicist who was himself critical of the regime. Now, I am not as sure. Considering the manner in which covert activity funded by other nations is a way of life in the region, and the extent to which Iran is a threat to its Arab neighbors, this attack might have been a clever move by the Pakistanis, for example. It simultaneously had a negative impact on the Iranian nuke program, or so it would seem, and discredits the Iranian regime as thuggish. Because right now, regime change in Iran, seems to be the only option, and that is a long shot indeed.

My parting shot on Part I. I was thinking what would be the most diabolical, insanely mad ploy that the Iranians could attempt to further their aims in the Middle East in one quick blow. I believe that if and when they obtain nukes, they will covertly use nuclear weapons to destroy the Dome of the Rock in a manner to implicate the Israelis. Such a move would simultaneously weaken the Israeli government, one of the few counterweights to Iran in the region, as well as bring uncontrollable riots into the major Arab cities in the middle east, leaving the ripe for the plucking by Iranian affiliated groups.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Best SOTU Summary

I know it may be a little late, but I wanted to alert readers to Peggy Noonan's article about Obama's State of the Union address. As usual, she masterfully parses the meaning behind the words, accounting for tone, order of priority and context. She also discusses the larger political issues for the Republican Party and quotes an unnamed source who is spot on in my opinion:

The great issue, this friendly critic added, is debt. The public knows this; Congress and the White House do not. "To me the Republicans are as rotten as the Democrats" in terms of spending. "Almost."

"I hope we have big changes in 2010," the friend said. Only significant loss will force the president to focus on spending. "To heal our country we need to get the arrogance out of the White House and the elitists out of the Congress. We need tough love. We need a real adult in the White House because we don't have adults in the Congress."

Exactly. The public is ready for principled leadership that will give direction and reduce the spending that has nothing to do with those priorities. This is why the Tea Party movement won't go away. Republicans could show great leadership by eschewing earmarks immediately, and oppose all Democrat earmarks. But that would require adult leadership.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Weekend Music Chill

I always liked The Police and Sting, even if he is a little strange at times. I think this is one of his best efforts. There are other reasons to like this video as well.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Quick Hitters

Dean reminds us of this administration's war on democratic institutions in Honduras. After peaceful elections, and a smooth transfer of power, our State Department wishes to continue to cover it's face with eggs as it acts petulantly towards Hondurans.

The blowback from Obama's Supreme Court remarks was all over the blogosphere and even the MSM. (BTW, Legal Insurrection is the other fabulous legal blog you're probably not reading.)

The stupidity of trying KSM in New York appears to have finally reached Obama, as Congress seems set to deny security funding for the trial, he is looking at other venues. Seems not too bright to invite another terror attack in New York symbolically so close to the former site of the WTC.

Despite the "fighting" words in the SOTU, I think the odds of any kind of health care porkulus are sinking. Last trade for a public option by the end of June 2010 was down to 10% as of this writing. Good to see Republican Paul Ryan introduce an alternative, details here, summary here. I have quibbles with some of the proposals, but it is so much more market oriented than anything conjured up by the Obama-Pelosi-Reid triumvirate as to be a breathe of fresh air. Ed Morrisey is spot on at the end of his article:

Republicans cannot afford to cede this ground to Democrats again, now or in the future. By ignoring it for so long, they almost allowed a Trojan horse for a single-payer system to succeed. Political parties have to offer real solutions in order to remain relevant, a lesson Ryan has learned — and hopefully can teach the rest of the GOP.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Constitutional What? - Update

I admit to not having listened to much of Obama's SOTU speech this evening. I can't stand his tone, his air of moral superiority, when he is at the core of the "Washington" culture he uses as an epithet.

But as a committed Federalist I was most appalled by this little gem.
With all due deference to separation of powers, last week the Supreme Court reversed a century of law that I believe will open the floodgates for special interests -- including foreign corporations -- to spend without limit in our elections. (Applause.) I don't think American elections should be bankrolled by America's most powerful interests, or worse, by foreign entities. (Applause.) They should be decided by the American people. And I'd urge Democrats and Republicans to pass a bill that helps to correct some of these problems.
That was zero deference whatsoever to separation of powers; the Court just ruled that prior legislation trampled on freedom of speech and your response is to pass more legislation likely to also get smacked down. It was ever more egregious because he taught courses in constitutional law and his supporters moaned and complained incessantly about Bush's lack of respect for the constitution during the prior administration.


Obama also appears to have been inaccurate with his assertion about foreign influences. From the NYT Caucus blog:

But in his majority opinion in the case, Citizens United vs. the Federal Election Commission, Justice Anthony Kennedy specifically wrote that the opinion did not address the question of foreign companies. “We need not reach the question of whether the government has a compelling interesting in preventing foreign individuals or associations from influencing our Nation’s political process,” he wrote.
H/T to The Volokh Conspiracy, probably the best legal blog you're not reading.

Google Faster on Strategic Response to China than U.S.

On my other blog, I posted an article about Operation Aurora, the Chinese hacking effort aimed at Google and other IT service providers. Interestingly, my take on the situation was confirmed in a thoughtful article in the New York Times. If you care about the future of U.S. war fighting in cyberspace, then this is a must read article. A few quotes:

These recent events demonstrate how quickly the nation’s escalating cyberbattles have outpaced the rush to find a deterrent, something equivalent to the cold-war-era strategy of threatening nuclear retaliation.

So far, despite millions of dollars spent on studies, that quest has failed.


Participants in the war game emerged with a worrisome realization. Because the Internet has blurred the line between military and civilian targets, an adversary can cripple a country — say, freeze its credit markets — without ever taking aim at a government installation or a military network, meaning that the Defense Department’s advanced capabilities may not be brought to bear short of a presidential order.


That is what makes the Google-China standoff so fascinating. Google broke the silence that usually surrounds cyberattacks; most American banks or companies do not want to admit their computer systems were pierced. Google has said it will stop censoring searches conducted by Chinese, even if that means being thrown out of China. The threat alone is an attempt at deterrence: Google’s executives are essentially betting that Beijing will back down, lift censorship of searches and crack down on the torrent of cyberattacks that pour out of China every day. If not, millions of young Chinese will be deprived of the Google search engine, and be left to the ones controlled by the Chinese government.

An Obama administration official who has been dealing with the Chinese mused recently, “You could argue that Google came up with a potential deterrent for the Chinese before we did.”

This requires deep thought about the asymmetry of the situation in cyber-warfare, where the identity of the enemy may not be initially known. It shows that excellent defense, while necessary is insufficient, I don't think anyone has a greater vested interest in good defense than Google, but they were still hacked. This is a very tough problem, and I wish I had more insight.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Oregon Builds a Bridge to (become) California

Oregonians may think that they have solved their budget woes by passing new taxes on the "wealthy" and "corporations," but it is unlikely to help as much as they thought. Voters approved the measures by a fairly wide 54%-46% margin, which frankly surprised me. I thought they would be more thoughtful. Apparently no reads the news from other states. Here is an excerpt from a story in the Baltimore Sun about the Maryland "Millionaire's Tax":

A year ago, Maryland became one of the first states in the nation to create a higher tax bracket for millionaires as part of a broader package of maneuvers intended to help balance the state's finances and make the tax code more progressive.

But as the state comptroller's office sifts through this year's returns, it is finding that the number of Marylanders with more than $1 million in taxable income who filed by the end of April has fallen by one-third, to about 2,000. Taxes collected from those returns as of last month have declined by roughly $100 million.

Ultimately, Maryland gained almost nothing from the tax. Oregon's taxes hit at lower income thresholds, individuals that have less ability to move than in Maryland's case. From the NYT:
The state's top income tax of 9 percent rises to 10.8 percent on taxable income above $125,000 for single filers, $250,000 for joint filers, and to 11 percent for those with twice those amounts in taxable income.
Those marginal rates are comparable to California's even though in the reader comments one lefty tried to claim that Oregon's tax burden is among the lowest in the country. Tax burden isn't the whole story, even if true; the highest marginal tax rate is very important, as I have discussed previously. I also re-link to the relevant Cato study showing the connection between high state marginal tax rates and poor economic performance.

Maybe Washington (no income tax) and Idaho (7.8% top rate) can start luring away Oregon residents.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Obama Blames Bush - And I Agree

In his election post-mortem following the Democrat debacle in Massachusetts, President Obama had this to say:

"Here's my assessment of not just the vote in Massachusetts but the mood around the country: The same thing that swept Scott Brown into office swept me into office," the president said in an exclusive interview with ABC News's George Stephanopoulos. "People are angry and they are frustrated. Not just because of what's happened in the last year or two years but what's happened over the last eight years."

At first I wanted to laugh at Obama as being fully delusional, which Pops believes. But the always thought-provoking W.C. Varones had this to say in a different context that got me thinking, maybe Obama is right, but not in the sense he believes. (W.C. is commenting on Senator Boxer's reversal of support for Bernanke.)
See Babs, the thing is that the population voted in change over a year ago. What the Democrats did was not change but continue the policies of the previous administration times 3. In the process the economy has gotten worse, the middle class is still earning less, unemployment keeps rising and yet, yet the folks who cheated the worst on Wall Street also happen to be paying out massive bonuses financed by the taxpayer.

Exactly. Obama is in fact delusional in that he thinks he is a break from the "failed Bush policies," but in fact he has continued almost everything that the public has come to loathe about the Bush presidency. Not the least of which is the incessant growth of both the size of government spending and the size of the national debt. Dean has commented extensively on the continuity from Bush to Obama (and that is an indictment of Bush, not an exoneration of Obama.) So yes, Mr. President, why don't you try reversing course, ending cozy relationships with various industries, pharma and banking, for example and start reducing the size of government. You might even have a chance for a second term if you did that. Of course you might not win the Democrat nomination either, but that's your problem.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Weekend Music Chill

This week has provided the tonic to restore my faith in the democratic process. We had a great Republican candidate in Massachusetts who didn't have wedge issues, he had issues period, chief among them providing the vote needed to kill Obamacare. So to honor Scott Brown, here is this weekend's music. Live from Boston, The Cars, performing Just What I Needed:

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Historic Day in the Fight for Freedom

Chapter 1.
For eight years I have been complaining about the unconstitutional nature of McCain-Feingold, to the extent that I was almost unable to support McCain for President. Today, the Supreme Court agrees with me, if only 5-4, but still a majority. The fatuousness of the minority opinion's argument that the federal election law banning corporations from advocating for or against a candidate within 30 days of the election is self evident. From Justice Stevens dissent:
It also could have spent unrestricted sums to broadcast Hillary at any time other than the 30 daysbefore the last primary election. Neither Citizens United’s nor any other corporation’s speech has been “banned,” ante, at 1.
So we have freedom of speech at the times allowed by government regulation? I'll let you decide. Meanwhile, The One's response?
We are going to talk with bipartisan Congressional leaders to develop a forceful response to this decision. The public interest requires nothing less.
So much for respect for the constitution, a cornerstone tirade of the left during the Bush presidency. True colors showing now.

Chapter 2.

Nancy Pelosi said today that she lacked the votes in the House to pass the execrable, pork-laden, discriminatory, deficit-expanding, freedom-killing, innovation-suffocating Senate health care financing "reform" bill. Drudge headlined it with the misleading title, The Day Health Care Died. Health Care did not die, but merely the execrable, get the idea. I hope that the momentum is shattered.

Chapter 3.

Icing on the cake. Air America has declared bankruptcy.

Post Script.

To quote Legal Insurrection, "Could this week possibly get any better?"

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Banking and Capitalism, as in Crony and Capitalism

Obama is again attacking bankers as a politically expedient scape goat as anger over bank bonuses spreads by proposing a bank tax. Interestingly, in 2009, Obama was worried about bank losses, now he complains about bank profits. However, I have noticed a trend among some libertarian leaning bloggers to be a bit non-chalant about this issue because they just see it as the free market at work. I beg to differ and emphatically. Although Obama's bank tax is a horrid idea, because it plays investors for suckers, (or Chicagoans), Republicans better come up with a plan to deal with the moral hazard, see Dean' video post.

Why is there outrage over bank bonuses in the first place? Because the taxpayers are being played for suckers. The banks made risky loans and fobbed off the risk to taxpayers, were bailed out with taxpayer dollars and now those same executives are rewarded with big bucks. Left, right or libertarian, who can't be outraged. But Obama tipped his hand in the waning days of the Massachusett Senate election that he is going to use Republican opposition as evidence of Republicans continuing to favor Wall Street over Main Street, and to be fair, he has a point. John Stossel has an excellent review of crony capitalism in general, but I want to focus on what to do about the banks.

It is too simple to just say that government shouldn't bail out the banks. It is widely understood that a series of bank failures has serious implications for the economy as a whole and no one is really going to risk finding out what would happen if a half dozen of the country's largest banks went bust. The bankers themselves are aware of this. Further, the bigger a bank gets, the more likely it will be seen as "too big to fail." This drives down its cost of obtaining funds, as investors realize there is little downside to investing in the biggest banks. This allows the big banks to get bigger, exacerbating the problem.

What to do? All banks are required to keep capital reserves to preserve system stability. These reserves, are of necessity, much less than the total amount of loans outstanding; if the reserve requirement were 100%, how could they make loans? Reserve requirements are more typically below 20%, (this is not my area of specialty, so see the wiki article for more.) In my view, a simple way to reduce the moral hazard and simultaneously remove the funding advantage of the big banks is to increase the reserve requirements as a banks size increases. While this sounds simple it would certainly be tricky in practice. How would one measure size for example, on an absolute or relative scale? However, I believe that such a system is achievable and would have the salutary effect of making the larger banks more safe, not less, as they increased in size. It would also increase the cost of capital as banks exceeded threshold size, thereby limiting the positive feedback effect that allows the largest banks to have the lowest cost of funds and continue to grow unchecked. Republicans need to get in front of this issue, because I think that Obama will be able to get traction against them if they don't.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Quote of the Week - UPDATED

Scott Brown, during his victory speech tonight after his historic win in Massachusetts had this to say. (I am quoting from memory, will update when I get the transcript.)

We believe in a set of principles, that, when properly articulated, can result in a political majority in this country.
UPDATE: Here is the actual quote from his speech, I am not taking down the original, because I like it and it is a bit interesting to see how memory works for words.

Across this country, we are united by basic convictions that need only to be clearly stated to win a majority.
End Update

Indeed. His positions on the issues here, but here is a short summary in case the link gets overloaded:
Oppose Obamacare, lower taxes, oppose cap & trade while supporting energy R&D, support charter schools, oppose amnesty, support the second amendment, oppose partial birth abortion, support Israel's security, and sanctions against Iran.

His position on gay marriage? Let the states decide in elections or through their legislatures, not the courts. Notice there was nothing about flag burning, prayer in school, or other distractions.

I don't see him as being very far from the Freedom Coalition Agenda. Let's see if the Republicans start listening.

Congratulations to Scott Brown...

...for a great campaign and a solid win that won't be challenged in court (by about 100,000 votes). Also, want to congratulate Legal Insurrection had a great Live Blogging application going that kept me up to date. I also indulged a little schadenfreude and watched Olbermann, Maddow and Matthews on MSNBC for a while. Olbie and Maddow maintained straight faces but Tingles and some of the reporters looked like they were about to cry. Matthews did say something that I think was correct. He said that people support big government when it works, when it builds highways that work and universities that are good. He implied but did not state that people would support big government run health care if it worked. But we know that will never happen. Further, the things he discusses happened in an era of much smaller government. Today, government is so large, it can't even do it's traditional job well, which seems to be lost on Matthews as he pines for the glory days of the Tipster.

Yesterday, was it that long ago?, Dean pointed out that Brown campaigned against Obamacare, Cap and Trade and for fiscal responsibility and that should cover any minor sins of lack of enthusiasm for a social agenda he might have. I think we can all get behind that agenda, right now, most other issues are secondary.

Mrs. Daddy, like a lot of ordinary people, has been very discouraged about politics for the last year. I had been saying that eventually the people would awaken to the crap that the Democrats have been peddling. Thank you Massachusetts voters for giving me a little vindication.

The Dailykossacks are in disbelief. I found it telling that multiple times they commented that they couldn't believe that a "teabagger" could be elected in Massachusetts, no matter how bad the Democrat candidate. This shows a little bit of the bubble world they are living in, because the tea party types are really their every day neighbors that are fed up with big government.

Also, I would like to point out something little noted or commented upon. In the pre-election polling showed Brown winning over 22% of Democrats and holding on to 90%+ Republicans and winning over "undeclareds" at 60%+. This shows the importance of always trying to frame your issues in terms that will appeal to the other side as well as your own, even if you don't think they are listening, because you never know. Even though I am not even the best blogger in the family, I try to keep my tone and language under control so that I am always trying to persuade the other side. If you find me doing otherwise, please call me on it.

Oh well, I guess the Harvard Profs didn't have enough clout to carry Coakley over the top. Wonder what lessons Professor Obama will draw from his failure to help his candidate? Probably double down on his current stupidity if he stays true to his Chicago form.


Maybe this is another reason why Brown won. I liberated this video from the comments on BwD. This Obama's impassioned plea to help Martha Coakley.

Is he the most underwhelming, uninspiring partisan ever?

Monday, January 18, 2010

Obama Locks up the Vote

of Harvard professors that is, by dissing a pickup truck. In a campaign in which the Democrat has run as the pseudo-incumbent, has had a series of gaffes that have shown her to be out of touch with the electorate, and in which Obamacare is polling below 50%, you would think the President could do better than this.

He reportedly obsesses over the GMC pickup truck all over the place in this speech. It just gave Scott Brown an opening that even LT could have run through (sorry, I'm still upset about the Chargers):

Brown took that opportunity to slam the president on government spending..

Mr. President, unfortunately in this economy, not everybody can buy a truck,” Brown said in a statement. “My goal is to change that by cutting spending, lowering taxes and letting people keep more of their own money.”

H/T BigGovernment, The Corner

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Scott Brown Surges in Massachusetts - UPDATED

More interesting tidbits in a race that has become more interesting than last November's trifecta of NJ, VA governor and NY 23rd congressional. Scott Brown is now ahead of Martha, "I was bequeathed this seat by the Kennedy dynasty" Coakley. First, the last three polls at RealClearPolitics show Brown ahead. As important as the raw numbers is the clear trend line. And speaking of trend lines, look at the InTrade odds for this seat and the rapid movement over the last couple days, where Brown is, as of 2:18 a.m. GMT, Jan 19, a $60 favorite. That means, to win $100 on a Brown victory you have to plunk down $60.

DailyKos ridicules the Brown campaign for countering Obama's appearance with "the triumvirate of Curt Schilling, Doug Flutie, and John Ratzenberger (of cheers fame)." Given Obama's sinking popularity and the popularity of Flutie and Schilling as sports figures, I think Brown got the better deal.

And Obama's take on all this:

"Believe me, I know how big a lift this has been," Obama said. "I see the polls. . . . I catch the occasional blog poster, cable clip that breathlessly declares what something means for a political party, without really talking about what it means for a country.

"But I also know what happens once we get this done, once we sign this . . . bill into law: The American people will suddenly learn that this bill does things they like and doesn't do things people have been trying to say it does. The worst fears will prove groundless."
That from an appropriately titled WSJ column
"Pyrrhus, Call Your Office." Obama could turn into a bigger gift to conservatism than Clinton as his last remark reminds me that in Massachusetts, Romneycare was initially supported by 70% of the people, but now only polls at 32%, with a full 36% calling it a failure.


Can't believe I'm scooping the famous sports/politics blog BeersWithDemo with this little gem from Martha Coakley:

Friday, January 15, 2010

Weekend Round Up

I feel a little more vindicated about my theory of 2007/2008 that Bill would sabotage Hillary's chances of becoming President. Ron Rosenbaum puts a spin on Bill's comments about Obama from the "Game Change" book by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin that finally gives me a smoking gun. While purportedly trying to get Ted Kennedy's endorsement for Hillary or at least prevent said endorsement from going to Obama, Clinton is quoted as saying "A few years ago, this guy would have been getting us coffee." From the Pajamas Media article:
What more could he have done than to alienate the ailing senator whose family identification with the civil rights cause was one of the chief glories of its decidedly mixed record. You know what: I have a heretical theory about this remark. It’s just too obvious to be a “slip.” Wouldn’t the whole episode make more sense if Bill was deliberately out to sabotage his wife’s run in ways she’d never know? And maybe for reasons he doesn’t really know.

That the Massachusetts Senate race is even close is already damaging the Democrat party. The unions and special interests are pouring in cash and help, but a wide variety of anecdotal evidence puts the momentum on Scott Brown's side. I was a little reluctant to get on this bandwagon because Brown had voted for Romneycare in Mass. But he has pledged to block Obamacare at the national level, so what's not to like. A few fun facts from the race:
1. Coakley has run one of the most abysmal campaigns, even appearing to insult Fenway Park.
2. Coakley was involved in one of the most infamous unjust and unfair prosecutions of the 20th century, that of the Amirault family, falsely convicted of child molestation.
3. Look at the trend in the polls, and compare the time line to the revelations of backroom deals on Obamacare.
4. Coakley managed to spell Massachussetes in an attack ad on Brown.

Oregon is going to the polls to tax the rich while their unemployment rate stands at 11.1%. Apparently liberals think with all this suffering will get voters motivated to support new taxes on the wealthy. This tax is being pushed by the public employees unions in another example of their attempt to become our masters rather than our servants. (If the linked Reason article doesn't make your blood boil, you are can't call yourself conservative or libertarian.) But I think the public is smart enough to know what a job killer the new taxes are; raising the top rates from 9% to 11% and business income tax from 6.6% to 7.9%.

Weekend Music Chill

Last week Road and Mrs. Dawg celebrated a significant wedding anniversary by renewing their vows. Pops officiated and Mrs. Daddy and all the other ladies were on the verge of tears. It was beautiful, moving and a reminder of the tremendous fruit that long and deep love yield. Thanks to 'Dawg for the invite and to Pops for some words to remember. At the start of festivities, one of his pups put this classic on the boom box and I haven't gotten it out of my mind since.

Dang if that isn't so 80's.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Another Reminder of the Thuggish Nature of Iran's Rulers

In a bold move that I'm sure the too-clever-by-half mad caps that rule Iran thought would win sympathy on the home front, an Iranian nuclear physicist, Massoud Ali-Mohammadi, who also happened to be a critic of the regime. The regime of course, has claimed it is all part of the Anglo-American-Israeli triangle of evil to bring there weapons program to a halt. Here is a quote from the article quoting Ahmadenijad:
"Kidnapping and assassination are scenarios of a joint conspiracy against the nation of Iran," said Ahmadinejad, according to the hard-line Fars news agency. "On the one hand, the espionage and intelligence agents of the American government kidnap a number of Iranian nationals in third-party countries and transfer them to America, and on the other hand, their treasonous agents inside Iran assassinate an intellectual citizen."
Eloquent to the end. File photo of Massoud Ali-Mohammadi below.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Defeating Health Care

First the good news, whatever sausage of a health care bill, passes, will clearly be appalled at the outcome. After that it's all downhill, unless the bill can be defeated. Chris Dodd is claiming that the bill is "hanging by a thread." I don't know if I believe that or not, especially coming from Dodd, but here are some scenarios for your consideration:

1. House Republicans get enough pro-life Democrats to vote their way. This would require massive numbers of Dems to stand up for principle, so I'm not holding my breathe. Plus, getting 37 votes when Pelosi will be pulling out all the stops would be pretty tough. But Republicans should go for it anyway, it might work, and might open up other tactical maneuvers.

2. Take the late Teddy Kennedy's seat in Massachusetts. Up until yesterday, I would have said no way, but the latest polls show this trending the right way. But it's more likely that that last poll (PPP, Brown +1) is an outlier.

3. Shame Ben Nelson into changing his vote. Or some other Democrat, Joe Lieberman perhaps? I personally don't have faith in this. Politicians are human, so they hate to admit to a mistake and most will spend millions of dollars and weeks of effort doubling down on a bad bet rather than admitting they were wrong.

4. Union pressure over the "Cadillac Tax" collides with Senate distaste for tax on wealthy. This would require the unions to actively oppose the health care bill after the final negotiations are complete. I don't see them allying with Obama's opponents, after all he's their guy, even if it is against their members best interests.

5. Something else weird that no one can predict. Like what? I don't know, but history is full of tiny events that turned out be turning points. But again this is unlikely.

So there you have it, not a single scenario is favorable to defeat health care. But I am very optimistic nonetheless.

I can't help but finish with this great quote from Robert Robb of the Arizona Republic:
In a town that runs on fiction, there is no taller tale in Washington than the claim that this bill will reduce the federal deficit.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

The Truth About Global Warming

Andrew Coyne has one of the best articles explaining the difficulties of untangling the arguments about AGW that I have read. It is titled Coyne on Climategate. The Truth is out there. Somewhere. I recommend a full read. But I also offer a few comments. To my friends on the right who doubt AGW, I offer the following two incontrovertible facts. Carbon dioxide is one of the green house gases that keeps the earth livable by raising the temperature above the black body equilibrium. Levels of CO2 have been rising steadily in a measurable and statistically significant manner for at least fifty years, for a total increase on the order of 35%. It is therefore unscientific and unreasonable to presume that this results in zero impact on earth's climate. How much impact, and how catastrophic, are of course subject to debate.

To those on the left who might be reading I offer this. The science is not settled. Eminent scientists such as Freeman Dyson, who offer nuanced critiques of AGW, are not ignorant "denialists" in the pay of energy companies. The magnitude of past and present warming is very difficult to measure, the use of modeling and proxies only makes the issues more complex. To say that the added CO2 in the atmosphere will result in catastrophe is certain to stretch credulity, when much is still unknown about other sources of climate change. I offer as trump card the following. Prior to the current age, the Holocene, the earth has gone through a series of ice ages only briefly interrupted by warm period such as ours, and the general trend of each ice age has been to be colder than the prior one. And no one has a widely accepted theory as to why. If this widely known phenomenon can not be explained by the models in use by global warming advocates today, we categorically can not put full faith in predictions of disaster.

Which brings us to the political part of the equation. The debate would not be so important if the left had not seized the science to argue, ex cathedra, that we must trust the science and that the only possible solution is a new world socialist order. Even if the science was settled, and it is not, the question of how to proceed is primarily a political and not a scientific question. Better for all parties to have a debate about the best shape of policy that admits to the possibility of some error in the scientific consensus. That way the scientists could cease to be advocates and perform real science and we would debating the issue in the realm of politics and economics, where policy should be debated.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Do Republicans Deserve Victory? Part II

After reading my article about the Republican party yesterday, Jonah Goldberg has extended my remarks, and quite eloquently, I might add. He compares the current state of the Republican party to Domino's pizza, an apt comparison. He says that the party should take a page from the new Domino's ads (I have embedded the famous YouTube one below) and admit their past mistakes and do the repentance I have been urging. Some key quotes:

But the GOP’s troubles over the last decade have a lot to do with the fact that Americans didn’t stop liking what the Republican party is supposed to deliver. They stopped liking what the GOP actually delivered.
Spot on. Hence the rise of the Tea Party movement, the desire for limited government still burns strong in America. On "compassionate conservatism" being like a pizza chain getting into Chinese:

Indeed, by my lights, that’s what George W. Bush tried to do with his “compassionate conservatism.” He surrendered to liberal arguments about the role, size, and scope of government on too many fronts. In effect, he said you can have your pizza and Kung Pao chicken all in the same dish. That’s not a good meal, it’s a bad mess.
Goldberg goes on to say that it's time to attack "crony capitalism," the corrupt union of big business and big government. A little contrition and honesty will go a long way to regaining the trust of Americans. Then, they will have to deliver. Time for the GOP to adopt the Freedom Coalition agenda, because soon, just being against the execrable pseudo-socialist crony-capitalism of the Democrats won't be enough; we will have to be for something.

Domino's Turnaround

Weekend Music Chill

Although they were together only 2-1/2 years, this band has had a lasting impact on blues-rock fusion that lasts to this day. This is one of my favorite bits of guitar work from the incomparable Eric Clapton. Here is Cream performing "Crossroads."

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Do Republicans Deserve Victory?

Certainly the Democrats deserve defeat for their execrable management of their first year of full control of both Houses of Congress and the Presidency. As Peggy Noonan points out in the WSJ today, the focus on health care and global warming is causing the public to believe they don't care about jobs, the deficit or national security. The last failing on full display with two terrorist attacks. (BTW, it's not so much the attacks themselves but the curiously slow and lackluster response by senior officials and the President himself that makes you wonder. HotAir tips that Panetta didn't even break vacation, and apparently this is partly a CIA cock-up.)

But the question is really about Republicans. I have stated repeatedly that McCain's failure to break without bailout nation cost him any chance at the Presidency. Further, it was spending like drunken sailors and becoming identified as the party of big government that lost control of the Congress in 2006. Peggy Noonan phrases the question as:
The question is whether the party will be worthy of victory, whether it learned from its losses in 2006 and '08, whether it deserves leadership. Whether Republicans are a worthy alternative. Whether, in short, they are serious.
They do not see that 2010 could be a catastrophic victory for them. If they seize back power without clear purpose, if they are not serious, if they do the lazy and cynical thing by just sitting back and letting the Democrats lose, three bad things will happen. They will contribute to the air of cynicism in which our citizens marinate. Their lack of seriousness will be discerned by the Republican base, whose enthusiasm and generosity will be blunted. And the Republicans themselves will be left unable to lead when their time comes, because operating cynically will allow the public to view them cynically, which will lessen the chance they will be able to do anything constructive.

Interestingly, Michael Steele, chair of the RNC, seems to think this might be a problem as well. Despite being pilloried in some corners, I think Steele makes a valid point in this report from a Hannity interview:

In fact, when Hannity followed up on the point, Steele said he doesn't know if the GOP is ready to take back the reins of power.

"I don't know. And that's what I'm assessing and evaluating right now. Those candidates who are looking to run have to be anchored in these principles," he said, referring to 5 conservative ideals he lays out in his new tome. "If they don't [anchor themselves], then they'll get to Washington, and they'll start drinking that Potomac River water, and they'll get drunk with power and throw the steps out the window."

Notice how politicians get in the most trouble for telling the truth?

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

So That's Why the Left's Agenda is Stalled

Broken windows at Fisher auto plant in Flint, MI,1937.

If nothing else good comes from drawing out the health care debate and Democrat Congresscritters tanking poll numbers, it is that the rest of the left's political agenda is pretty much in the toilet. But now the real reason their agenda has not gone anywhere has been revealed Harold Meyerson in the WaPo, an insufficiently violent and lawless mob movement to further the "progressive" agenda. I could not believe some of what I read in his article:

But if there's a common feature to the political landscapes in which Carter, Clinton and now Obama were compelled to work, it's the absence of a vibrant left movement. The America over which FDR presided was home to mass organizations of the unemployed; farmers' groups that blocked foreclosures, sometimes at gunpoint; general strikes that shut down entire cities, and militant new unions that seized factories. Both communists and democratic socialists were enough of a presence in America to help shape these movements, generating so much street heat in so many congressional districts that Democrats were compelled to look leftward as they crafted their response to the Depression.
So the cat's out of the bag, the left can't make significant progress without violent communist protests simmering in the streets. By contrast, notice how the libertarians and conservatives have already made huge strides with the very peaceful tea parties.

And consider this gem:

The right has had great success over the past year in building a movement that isn't really for anything but that has channeled anew the fears and loathings of millions of Americans.
Doesn't stand for anything? The Tea Party movement doesn't stand for anything except the preservation and restoration of freedom and liberty which has been under assault since Obama took office. It's the power of no. No, I don't want some bureaucrat regulating my doctor's visit. No, I don't want more of my take home pay to go to the government. No, I don't want to wreck the economy because of debatable scientific hypothesis. No, I don't want my grandchildren saddled with debt.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Secret Negotiations = Even Crappier Bill

Harry: Just you shut up and vote for this, or else.
Nancy: The time for bribery is over, you tell him Harry.
Harry: What? I've got to get re-elected too!

Even Daily Kos is slamming the process being used to merge/reconcile/grind into sausage the House and Senate versions of the health care bills. C-SPAN has offered to televise the proceedings, but the most open, transparent, and ethical Congress in history is declining, so far. We can be assured that even more vote buying, better than the Louisiana purchase and the Cornhusker Kickback, will be in store during the secretive negotiations.

Meanwhile I think the best shot at killing the bill is actually from the left. Right now, "progressive" House Democrats are very unhappy with the bill and want significant changes. Since most of these desired changes are deal breakers in the Senate, it remains to be seen if the following objections, unlikely to be met will make this too bitter a pill to swallow for House progressives. From Kos again, complaints about hte senate version:
  1. Weaker employer mandate
  1. Most regulations won’t apply to the large group market
  1. Lower minimum benefit requirements
  1. Large age rating
  1. Multiple state-based exchanges versus one national exchange
  1. Lack of a public option
  1. Later start date
  1. Does not repeal health insurance anti-trust exemption
  1. Smaller Medicaid expansion
  1. Does not increase payments to Medicaid primary care providers
Without going into an exhaustive analysis, I think each objection is present because it was needed to buy some votes in the Senate version. The later start date helps with CBO deficit projections for example.

I think it will be helpful if the Republicans can maintain unity, because it will also show that the Democrats were willing to pass major social legislation without even the thinnest patina of bipartisanship. About the only thing I take comfort from is how angry some on the left are over this bill. But to paraphrase a recent Reason article, just because something is universally hated by conservatives and liberals, that doesn't make it good.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Unlimited Liability for US at Fannie, Freddie

The Wall Street Journal editorial pages alerted us to yet another example of how executive branch, in cahoots with Democrat congressman are subverting any pretense at rule of law or limits on liability for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The full article is worth a read, but here are some highlights.

On Christmas Eve, the Treasury lifted the $400 billion cap on potential losses as well as limits on what they can borrow. Dennis Kucinich is calling for an investigation. Dang, when Dennis Kucinich is the voice of reason, .... just can't finish that.

Think these companies are supposed to make money and be nursed back to health? Wrong, they have been directed to modify mortgages to prevent defaults, a sure money loser.

Fannie and Freddie will not be required to shrink the portfolio of mortgages they hold in their own account. This will allow them to re-inflate the housing bubble to aid elections in 2010.

Fannie and Freddie execs are exempt from pay caps at other banks in receipt of federal largess. Their HR director made $2.7 million.

Senator Chris Dodd that maven of banking rectitude (and number on Judicial Watch's list of 10 Most Corrupt Politicians, congrats) is of course omitting Fannie and Freddie from his "reform" goals for the banking industry. But now he has Republican cover from Senator Richard Shelby (R-ALgore level blindness to facts).

More zombie capitalism from the feds, emulating the Japanese.

Congress and Civilian Personnel Systems

I've got a crossover post at B-Daddy's Other Blog, that concerns the practical effect of Congress dismantling the National Security Personnel System, the pay for performance system for the Defense Department. Crossover in the sense that the political affects my managerial professional life. You can read my personal take on the effort here. If you're not into management or the details of federal employment, you can safely skip. But my personal opinion is that the public employees unions are behind the repeal. They hated this system from the start and on numerous occasions sued in federal court to overturn its provisions. That they mostly failed is proof that the system was not inherently unjust as they claimed.

However, with the Democrats controlling Congress and the White House, burying a provision for the system's repeal in the defense appropriations bill was a way too easy way to pay back their union backers. That it was also a slap in the face for something Donald Rumsfeld had worked so hard to implement was only froth on that frappe.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Bioethics of Innovation

Behind the rhetoric of containing health care costs are assumptions about the ethics of who gets treatment that need to be challenged. First it is assumed that the high cost of health care is due to growth in the use of and advances in technology. Second, there is a belief that this creates an ethical dilemma by putting advanced care out of the reach of those unable to afford it. However, this turns out to not be true when the evidence is examined. Reason magazine discusses work by economist Frank Lichtenberg on the relationship between technological innovation, life saving and costs.

Key findings from the study as reported by Reason:
Lichtenberg's key finding is that life expectancy increased faster in states that more rapidly adopted advanced diagnostic imaging techniques, newer drugs, and attracted an increasing proportion of doctors from top medical schools.
Second, and this is best quoted from the abstract of Lichtenberg's paper, "States with larger increases in the quality of diagnostic procedures, drugs, and physicians did not have larger increases in per capita medical expenditure." In other words, we find no correlation between increased use of advanced technique and the cost of care.

These findings are important because there are those like bioethicist Daniel Callahan, who explicitly desire the reduction of innovation in our health care system. Some of the ideas of Callahan and his ilk leak into the debate over the shape of the health care system. In his new book Callahan argues that ethical considerations require us to limit innovation. However, when we look at the actual facts this appears not to be so. Here is the money quote from Callahan:
"Cutting the use of technology will seem wrong—even immoral—to many."
Of course it is immoral, because it doesn't contain costs anyway.

Further, think about which world would be the better one to live in. In one, an initially expensive cure for leukemia is found, but costs hundreds of thousands of dollars as it is initially perfected. At first, only the wealthy can afford the treatment and 21,000 Americans die from leukemia the first year after the treatment is proved effective. There is a public outcry, but even as that outcry is building, the cost of treatment drops. Eventually, the cost of treatment comes down to tens of thousands of dollars, and insurance plans start to cover it, but only after the stockholders of the biotech firm that invented the treatment became very rich from the patents. This certainly to unfair and horrible of a world to contemplate.

The alternate world is one in which the research never happens because no venture capital was available to the biotech firm, because innovative new treatments are under strict cost control to limit health care's share of GDP. In fact, if you lived in this second alternative world, you would never be aware of the alternative.

Which world do you want?

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Iran and Nukes - How Can We Trust the Intelligence?

HotAir tipped me to a New York Times piece about Iran's nuclear program and the fact that "Mr. Obama’s top advisers say they no longer believe the key finding of a much disputed National Intelligence Estimate about Iran." This much ballyhooed estimate said that Iran had stopped work on their nuke program in 2003. The information was certainly not credible at the time and has since been debunked.
After reviewing new documents that have leaked out of Iran and debriefing defectors lured to the West, Mr. Obama’s advisers say they believe the work on weapons design is continuing on a smaller scale — the same assessment reached by Britain, France, Germany and Israel.
However, now the article intimates that the Iranians are farther away from producing a nuclear warhead than previously thought. Huh??? Let me get this straight, the previous official report said that Iranians were not even working on nukes, now the intelligence sources are saying, don't worry, give sanctions a chance, they aren't as close as we thought.

Unfortunately, I don't think any of this really matters. The real race is whether the current regime will fall because of its despotism vs. whatever the real time line is to get the nuclear bombs made. If Western intelligence agencies are really having success sabotaging the Iranian effort, great, but I just can't trust their public pronouncements.

The best course of action would be to take steps to encourage regime change in Iran, which Obama has shown little willingness to do. Until recently, he has done little to encourage the protesters and botched opportunities to showcase the last Iranian Presidential election for the sham it was. We should now view sanctions not in the light of whether they will influence the mullahs to give up on their nuke program, they will not; but in the light of whether the economic impact will destabilize the regime, which I do not know. Certainly any sanctions will be used by the despots to convince the public that "The Great Satan" is behind their woes, but they have played that card so many times, it may lack effectiveness.

More realistically, we should plan for a more pessimistic but likely outcome. The Iranians produce a bomb, because we can't really stop them. The Israelis retaliate or the Iranians use the first bomb they produce. Either way, we need to get allies lined up and our own propaganda readied, because there will be hell to pay in the Middle East. Tragic as that would be, I don't see the Iranian regime surviving making first use of a nuke and we need to keep the long run in mind. I am not being cavalier at the prospect of tens of thousands of deaths, just realistic. Unfortunately, the administration has shown itself to be incredibly naive to date, and I doubt they are prepared.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Lost Decade

And I don't mean the one that just ended, bad as it was in some ways. My concern is for the next decade, as the current bubble is wound down, or not. The Economist reports on the economic history of the last twenty years in Japan, subtitled: Twenty years on Japan is still paying its bubble-era bills.

Graphic shows how Japanese investors have fled stocks to bonds as deflationary expectations and lack of business vitality put the economy into a long decline.

The most pernicious effects of the bust, economists say, have been transmitted via banks and businesses. Banks found themselves loaded down with non-performing loans. Belatedly they faced up to many of their losses, restructured and consolidated. But according to Takuji Aida, an economist at UBS in Japan, long-term yields remained very low because of deflationary expectations, thereby flattening the yield curve (the difference between short- and long-term interest rates). That prevented banks from earning their way out of crisis, so lending remains weak.

Companies, meanwhile, have been focused on paying down debt, as well as coping with deflation in the domestic economy and competition from cut-price imports. Large exporters were forced to restructure and enjoyed a long boom from 2002 to 2007. But firms in more protected areas of the domestic economy have fared badly: profitability, wages and investment have declined in the past decade.

As Reason magazine pointed out last year, Obama is following the same failed policies that Japan followed in the 1990s in their efforts to revitalize their economy.

But that stimulus did not save the Japanese economy in the 1990s; far from it. The ensuing period came to be known as the Lost Decade, characterized by multiple recessions, an annual average growth rate of less than 1 percent, and a two-decade decline in stock prices and corporate profits.

The Japanese government’s easing of credit rates, instead of spurring real demand, created artificial demand. Federal loans and stimulus spending were not economically productive, and they vastly increased the nation’s debt and prolonged the economic malaise. Worse, businesses spent critical time on the sidelines, waiting for government bailouts and other centralized actions, instead of speedily consolidating their losses, clearing their balance sheets of bad investments, and reorganizing.

I am optimistic about America, and always have been, but it is a long term optimism based on the character of our people and the genius of our constitution. In the short term, we are not immune to losing a decade either, the 1930s come immediately to mind, for example, and government actions, such as higher tariffs, intended to help the economy actually delayed recovery then as well.

I also blame Republicans, as much as Democrats for this. Bush and Paulson initiated the first bail out, with Republicans in Congress along for the ride. John McCain could have won the last election; the turning point came near the second debate, which he had proposed to postpone to deal with the mounting banking and AIG crisis. His failure to break with Bush and the Democrats and oppose the first bail out package signaled the end of his maverick image. In hindsight, had he been able to stop the bail out we would have all been better off, and McCain might be President.

This is why the Tea Party movement is so valuable, because we recognize that the key problems facing America have to do with the size of the debt and expansion of the federal government into the private sector. This expansion is guaranteed to slow the unwinding of failed investments needed for a healthy recovery. We have already seen various examples of this skulduggery, Congress intervening to prevent Government Motors from closing dealerships, and shading dealings by the Fed to get Bank of America to buy Merrill Lynch, to name two.

McCain was right to try to rebrand the GOP as the party of reform, but reform and reduced government go hand in hand. Time to step up our demands to end porkulus and bail outs.

Weekend Music Chill

Ricky Dobbs scores in the 2nd Quarter of the 2009 Texas Bowl.

Just a short song today to honor the midshipmen of Navy for their impressive victory in the Texas Bowl. Missouri fans becamevery tired of this tune yesterday.

Go Navy! Beat Army!