Saturday, February 28, 2009

Seen in passing 

Please do not fence your stolen cemetary items here.

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Occasionally the arguments on the "pro-choice" side are so stupid I am almost embarrassed to admit that I support lawful abortion (although not to the extent of Roe). That these arguments were made by Barack Obama's designee for the Office of Legal Council, one of the Justice Department's most important positions, ought to embarrass the administration. That nominee Dawn Johnson is now claiming she is "shocked" that she ever said such things raises all sorts of questions. Among them, why would Barack Obama want to entrust such an important role, one that might well have a bearing on whether or not officials in his own administration are one day prosecuted, to such a small thinker?

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CPAC stream... 

If you have your computer on and are doing nothing better, the CPAC livestream is here... Tom DeLay's introduction of Ann Coulter was amusing.

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The trials of a "wealthy" Kos diarist 

On my way into the office this morning I heard Juan Williams on NPR wonder if the reality of the Obama tax increases would sour the enthusiasm of the >$250,000 "wealthy," who voted for him over John McCain. Well, a bit of that tension is showing up in this Kos diary, in which an affluent blogger dares suggest that "wealthy people" need fairness too. The reaction in the comments almost makes me feel sorry for the guy. Almost.

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Public and private fat 

After my second cup of coffee this morning I had the opportunity to spend a few leisurely minutes with the latest issue of Business Insurance. The top story ("Firms weigh impact of obesity on comp" -- those B.I. guys are such wacky punsters!) addresses the rising costs of obesity to the workers compensation system, and the difficulties that employers are having dealing with the issue directly. Part of the problem is the usual plague of lawyers:

"As the claims industry (and employers) begin analysis of their data and adverse claims, they are beginning to realize that you can't ignore (issues) that historically have been ignored," including obesity, said Tammy Bradly, director of case management product development for Intracorp in Birmingham, Ala.

Historically, several factors have hampered collection of workers comp data on obesity.

The workers comp industry traditionally focuses on treating specific injured body parts while overlooking so-called co-morbidity factors, such as obesity, that increase claims duration and costs, observers said.

In addition, concerns that inquiries into obesity could spur lawsuits alleging privacy violations have slowed workers comp claims research, said Joe Picone, national director of regional operations in the strategic outcomes practice for Willis HRH in Glen Allen, Va. Because of litigation fears, some predictive models for workers comp claims omitted obesity data, Mr. Picone noted.

It seems to me that since obesity is self-evident, it really ought not be considered a "privacy" issue. What's private about it? It is really a matter of "dignity" or "pride," but since offenses to dignity or pride do not in and of themselves confer a cause of action it is very much in the interests of fat plaintiffs to stretch the cause of action available to them until they can fit into it.

It is not that I am entirely without sympathy; I have battled my desire to eat for ephemeral pleasure my entire life, and even now am thinking about the day-old donut that rests in the Dunkin' box just outside my office. But since we are living in an age where some meaningful percentage of people believe that everybody else ought to pay their mortgage, then it is a short leap to the make your fat my business. Anyway, if President Obama's stated ambition to extract national savings from the health care is going to make any headway at all, everybody's fat will be everybody's business sooner or later regardless of the privacy considerations. Indeed, this obvious conflict between Democratic constituencies (people who want to make one person's health "society's" business and trial lawyers who want to collect a vig for any offense to "privacy" or dignity) will no doubt resolve itself in some way that is more expensive for normally sized taxpayers everywhere.

But I digress. The problem of obesity is real, and its progression since just 1990 is remarkable. Behold this slide from a CDC PowerPoint presentation on the problem (click the image for more res):

Obesity trends in the United States

My question: Will the trend stop before the percentage of Americans who are grossly overweight degrades our fiscal health as much as it burdens their physical health?

CWCID: Glenn Reynolds, for the mortgage link.

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Friday, February 27, 2009

Signs of the times 

Because I know you are interested, Atlas Shrugged is now up to #46 on Amazon. People with any sort of libertarian bent are terribly uncomfortable, and want reassurance that they are not alone. Buy a few and give them to your friends.

In wholly unrelated news, the purveyors of the "Congressional Effect" mutual fund report that they are crushing the market. The premise of the fund is that stocks do much better when Congress is not in session than when it is. The fund therefore holds stocks when Congress is in recess and sells them when Nancy Pelosi flaps her gums calls the House to order. Its performance in its first few months of operation has been quite good relative to the market, but perhaps that is simply because the market has been going down constantly since the fund's inception in May, and Congress has been in session more often than not. Anybody who was in cash most of the time since spring is a winner, not just people who time their trades to avoid political risk. All that said, I may invest a bit just to give me something annoying to talk about at parties.

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Attention regular commenters: What do you think of the format change? 

Esteemed semi-regular commenter Simon Kenton suggested that we reformat the comment template to put the name of the commenter at the top of the comment rather than the bottom. It seemed like a worthy experiment, so I have made the revision. Consider it provisional until the assembled TigerHawk community has, well, commented. What say you? Shall your names go at the top of the post, the bottom, or you do not care?

UPDATE: So, now I have moved the little "delete" tag (which, I believe, you can use only with regard to your own comments) to the end of the comment and put a colon after the date and time tag so that you can see more clearly that the comment follows, rather than precedes, the name. What say you?

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Stress test 

Is this the sort of stress test that the Obama administration is going to do to the big banks? Because, if it is...

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Worst food product ever? 

That's the claim made by The Consumerist about Pork Brains in Milk Gravy. Check it out!

I think its safe to say this edges out the weird canned cheeseburger (with bun) fully reviewed in living color by the AV club.

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Shredding the Constitution Pelosi style 

With the ridiculous granting of a vote to the District of Columbia's representative in the House, let us not hear any more about the Bushies "shredding the Constitution." If it is lawful to do this by statute, then why not just decide that Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and Guam should each get a seat or two? Indeed, why stop there? Why not give Americans living in France their own seat? What about each Indian Tribe? In fact, what does geography have to do with it? I think we need to give each disadvantaged minority group their own seat, broken down by skin pigmentation, accent, quantity of vowels in last name, and type of mental and physical handicap. Oh, and each NFL city should have its own representative, and each college football team that gets screwed because we do not have a post-season playoff system in lieu of the BCS. And why not give General Motors and Chrysler their own actual vote, instead of making them grovel for the votes of others? And school teachers. Don't forget them.

Goddamn. What a bunch of clowns.

CWCID: Glenn Reynolds.

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Thursday, February 26, 2009

Does CPAC's meeting help the cause? 

On the one hand, I can see how attending the Conservative Political Action Committee annual meeting would be a lot of fun. It is stressful being conservative in a college town in the northeast, and always relaxing to spend a little time with like minds. You can let your hair down. Or you could if it were long, which of course it would not be. But you see what I mean.

On the other hand, CPAC always seems to generate bad press for conservatives. Righty rabblerousers say amusing red meat things entre nous (are you allowed to use French in a post about CPAC?), but the entire world is in fact listening. I'm not sure the resulting publicity wins votes for conservatives or makes more people want to hang with conservatives.

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Regarding Chas Freeman 

A number of readers have wondered why I have not weighed in on the Chas Freeman controversy (surrounding his appointment to chair the National Intelligence Council). The answer is that one of my oldest friends is a friend and business partner of Freeman's, and because I cannot keep straight what I know from public sources and as a personal confidence I am going to stay out of it. The various blogs over at Foreign Policy are following the issue with a reasonably balanced approach to linkage, so if you want to read both sides start here and then go here. I am sure that the main pages of FP Passport and The Cable will stay current on the argument over Freeman's confirmation.

The one thing I will say is this: Yes, Freeman, Bush 41's ambassador to Riyadh, has a deep understanding of the Middle East and the Saudis in particular. He has used that understanding to recycle a lot of petrodollars, both in the service of American geopolitical objectives -- that money killed a lot of Soviet soldiers back in the day -- and his private clients. Since regular readers know that I believe that businessmen who recycle petrodollars to American advantage are making an important contribution to the economic health of the country, it stands to reason that I think that Freeman's results are positive even if I do not agree with many of his publicly expressed opinions.

Actually, there is a second thing I will say. If you read the righty critics of Freeman, particularly as they relate to China policy, they say that he is a sort of hyper realist in the sense that actual power is far more relevant to him than principles. I do not know that is true, but I do think Barack Obama ought to have at least one such person on his national security staff.

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President Obama takes a shot at academia 

Regular commenter "Link" notices that Barack Obama has turned on one of the Democrats' most loyal constituencies:

Obama's plan to eliminate charitable deductions for those making over $250,000 will have a significant adverse impact on our elite colleges. These schools are facing financial pressures as endowments have lost billions and many current and prospective students can't afford $50,000 per year bills anymore. Right now these colleges need their alumni contributions. Once the colleges understand that Obama's proposal will cut alumni contributions in half ... or more, maybe the faculty will wake up to what Obama's about.

I certainly agree that President Obama has screwed universities, but I very much doubt this will put so much as a scratch in Barack Obama's support among academics; they will blame corrosive "greed" and argue that the "rich" should make charitable contributions and pay a tax on them. After all, the Vice President they voted for actually believes that it is patriotic to pay higher taxes. Oh, sure, a few professors might suffer a little cognitive dissonance, but they'll get over it when they realize that there is a lot more federal grant money to go around.

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Atlas Shrugged Amazon Watch: How high can it go? 

As one redistributing proposal after another issues forth from the Obama administration, we have watched the individualist screed Atlas Shrugged, published more than half a century ago, rise in its Amazon ranking. At this writing, it is ranked #101 #99. How high can it go? It probably depends on whether the Tea Party movement catches fire.

And, yes, we were on this story long before the giants of the blogosphere.

UPDATE: Atlas is now #61. I'm going to go out on a limb and say the last forty or fifty points are attributable to this morning's link from Glenn Reynolds. He moved some books today.

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Attitude adjustment 

There is no use in me fulminating against Barack Obama's giant tax and health care bill. Others will devote more emotional and intellectual energy than I can muster. There are a couple of points to be made about the administration's attitude, however, that may not rise to the surface in other blogs.

First, the administration quite clearly argues that our money is in fact the government's money, which it lets us keep, or not, according to the best interests of the country:

Under existing law, the tax benefit of itemizing deductions rises with a taxpayer’s marginal tax bracket (the bracket that applies to the last dollar of income). For example, $10,000 in itemized deductions reduces tax liability by $3,500 for someone in the 35 percent bracket.

Mr. Obama would allow a saving of only $2,800 — as if the person were in the 28 percent bracket.

The White House says it is unfair for high-income people to get a bigger tax break than middle-income people for claiming the same deductions or making the same charitable contributions. (bold emphasis added)

Of course, the point of a deduction is that the income attributable to the expenditure is not taxed. If in the absence of the deductible expenditure the associated income would be taxed at 35% rather than 28% or 15%, it is not "unfair" for the high bracket taxpayer to avoid the high bracket rate unless you take the position that any income not taxed is equivalent to an "expenditure" by the government for your benefit (in which case the "tax expenditure" is higher for the higher bracket taxpayer). That is, all national income "belongs" to the government, and its decision not to tax it is identical to its appropriation of it for some government purpose. It is not inaccurate to say that, philosophically, this is the standard position of the socialist.

Second, it is just as easy (and correct) to say that Obama wants to tax the charitable contributions of high bracket taxpayers. Under current law, if I earn $100 (say, from my dear readers buying products from Amazon through my links) and gave that money to charity, I pay no tax on the $100. That is fitting, because I transferred the benefit of that $100 I earned to the charity. I give up $100 in money I might have used otherwise. I cannot invest it, save it, or fritter it away on trivialities. In reducing the tax "benefit" of the deduction from 35% (the current top rate, soon to go up), President Obama is eliminating the deductibility of 20% (soon to be more) of my charitable contributions. Put differently, Barack Obama is essentially proposing that I pay a 7% gift tax on everything I donate. Henceforth if I give $100 to a charity it will cost me $107. In effect, the government is taking a vig on my decision to diminish my own standard of living for the benefit of others. This is also consistent with socialism, because it taxes doing good by private means to fund "doing good" by government.

Third, the bill requires that carbon-emitting industries purchase "permits," which will add billions in new taxes by 2012. I respectfully submit that Barack Obama has done the climate change activists no favors by promulgating as his first initiative in the field a big new "hidden" tax to fund his social agenda. It tends to reinforce the growing perception that calls to regulate greenhouse gas emissions are motivate more by fiscal considerations than environmental. Far better to have a direct tax on carbon emissions at all levels in the economy, and return it right back to taxpayers (and, for that matter, the growing number of citizens who pay no federal income taxes) on some other basis.

Of course, your results may vary.

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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

A Portugese water dog? 

The Obama family has, finally, chosen a dog. Sadly, it is not going to win them any votes.

They should have gotten a Springer.

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Did Matthews smear Jindal? 

I was at the office last night and so missed Bobby Jindal's speech. A couple of conservative female people I know said that they loved it, but the blog reaction at Memeorandum is decided mixed. I have not, however, seen any reaction to this claim from FP Passport, hardly a right-wing nuthouse:

Did MSNBC's Chris Matthews really just say that the struggling Republicans needed to "outsource" their response to Indian-American Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal?

Seems like an unfortunate choice of words.

Yes, he said it. Unfortunate, but not necessarily unintentional. Indeed, after saying "outside guy" at least twice, Matthews then said "outsource" to clarify. It looked quite deliberate to me.

Now, to be clear, I think that the post-modern parsing of language to create the appearance of ethnic or racial insensitivity is complete hogwash, but the Democrats are great practitioners of it and MSNBC loves it when Republicans and other white men say something that a key constituency can argue as offensive. It is hard to believe that a talking head as schooled in this game as Chris Matthews used the word inadvertently.

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And here I thought we were going to respect our traditional allies 

From a hope and change perspective, this shows great disrespect for our "traditional allies." Can you imagine the sanctimonious bleating from the press if George W. Bush had said such a thing? Where's the outrage?

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What regulations were gutted? 

President Obama:

Regulations were gutted for the sake of a quick profit at the expense of a healthy market. People bought homes they knew they couldn’t afford from banks and lenders who pushed those bad loans anyway. And all the while, critical debates and difficult decisions were put off for some other time on some other day.

What regulations were gutted? He keeps asserting this as if it were well understood, but it is not. While I do not claim to be an expert, I know a lot more about this sort of thing than most Americans. What regulations is he talking about?!?

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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Iran's cascades 

The Arms Control Wonk, who knows whereof he speaks, believes that IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei may be misunderstanding and therefore misrepresenting the pace at which Iran is bringing centrifuge cascades online.

I don’t know about ElBaradei’s interpretation...

It seems to me that, rather than a political decision or technical difficulties, the Iranians are just changing their installation patterns.

I am interested in other people’s thoughts, but I suspect the Iranians are actually scaling up their installation work.

Rather than me butchering the point, read the whole thing, bearing in mind that the Wonk is hardly a bomb-'em-now-and-sort-it-out-later hawk. Quite the contrary.

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Al Gore gets called, retracts bullshit 

Andrew Revkin of The New York Times is polite about it, but there is no getting around the meaning of this story: Al Gore made up a bunch of global warming alarmist nonsense, pushed it into a PowerPoint slide, and used it in his presentation until an actual scientist called bullshit.

Former Vice President Al Gore is pulling a dramatic slide from his ever-evolving global warming presentation. When Mr. Gore addressed a packed, cheering hall at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Chicago earlier this month, his climate slide show contained a startling graph showing a ceiling-high spike in disasters in recent years. The data came from the Center for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (also called CRED) at the Catholic University of Louvain in Brussels.

The graph, which was added to his talk last year, came just after a sequence of images of people from Iowa to South Australia struggling with drought, wildfire, flooding and other weather-related calamities. Mr. Gore described the pattern as a manifestation of human-driven climate change. “This is creating weather-related disasters that are completely unprecedented,” he said. (The preceding link is to a video clip of that portion of the talk; go to 7th minute.)

Now Mr. Gore is dropping the graph, his office said today. Here’s why.

Two days after the talk, Mr. Gore was sharply criticized for using the data to make a point about global warming by Roger A. Pielke, Jr., a political scientist focused on disaster trends and climate policy at the University of Colorado. Mr. Pielke noted that the Center for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters stressed in reports that a host of factors unrelated to climate caused the enormous rise in reported disasters....

I don't care who you are, that's embarrassing right there. It is also insulting to Gore's audience, which he must believe is easily fooled. Admittedly, there is evidence Gore's audience is easily fooled, but it is impolite and politically unwise for Gore to presume that it is.

CWCID: Tim Blair.

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You'll have to watch the President on my behalf 

I'm stuck at the office, so you will have to watch the President's speech without me. Post reax here, but follow one simple rule: Unlike the Associated Press, wait until you have heard Obama say the words before you write your comments. For bonus points, predict the reaction of the Dow Jones Industrial Average in the first hour of trading tomorrow morning.

MORE: Professor Althouse is live-blogging.

CWCID: Commenter "bad."

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Exploitation link of the day 

I will admit, I would not have expected Fausta to go in for Rule 5.

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Naturally, I have a couple of crashing satellite questions 

How many tons of greenhouse gases were emitted to design, manufacture, and launch the satellite that was going to measure greenhouse gases before it crashed into the sea because it malfunctioned? Whatever the number, it probably pales in comparison to the GHG load from the economic activity necessary to generate the $273 million the government paid to build and launch the satellite. Just askin'.

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There's no pompousity quite like lefty activist pompousity 

I was groping for a term better than "effete douchebaggery" to describe this, and failed.

MORE fun at the expense of these clowns here.

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Four Bears: Where we stand today 

If this is like the Great Depression, the stock market can get a lot worse from here. If it is like the deep recessions of Dark Times, then now may be the time to buy. Regardless, if you bought during even the worst of these bears, even on the way down, you made a lot of money in the long run. Eventually. It really comes down to how long you expect to live, and how much work you want to do between now and then.

Four bear markets


MORE: Related thoughts.

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Driven to sobriety: The recession and the libations market 

One would think that bad economic times would call for more self-medication rather than less, but apparently not. Sales of alcohol are down severely, at least in dollar terms. Of course, the linked table charts revenues, rather than units. Perhaps we are all just buying cheaper beer, wine, and booze and throwing fewer parties.

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The ongoing AIG debacle 

Yves Smith is pissed.

I have to tell you, in all my years of private sector dealings, when a company comes back for more money, particularly when it has missed targets (as AIG did, it claimed the initial loan would be sufficient), the new money, be it debt or equity, comes on vastly more costly terms. And it is simply unheard of to revise an initial deal to be more company friendly. I do not know why the travesty of the kow-towing to AIG's faux needs has not resulted in more ridicule.

What moron negotiated this deal? Why does AIG have an option? AIG is a ward of the state, it really ought to be nationalized, but instead we preserve the fiction that it is a private entity, which means it can loot the public by paying large numbers of executives "retention bonuses". The US debt per AIG employee is $1.4 million. With that level of required repayment, AIG should be on a choke hold. But instead, we allow them latitude that seems completely unwarranted.

And why does "liquidity" matter? This again goes back to the fiction that it is a viable entity. Liquidity in a business backstopped by Uncle Sam is an irrelevant concept. Since the taxpayer will pay whatever it takes to keep AIG afloat, niceties like ratings and liquidity are bogus concepts (if we were in an ideal world, someone at Treasury should have told the rating agencies to quit publishing ratings, but oh no, having no ratings to fall back on would lead to confusion and would hurt AIG. Anyone still owning AIG bonds post the bailout is an adult able to assess the risks, and are not entitled to special treatment. There has been plenty of time for widows and orphans to get out.

I couldn't agree more. Let's put AIG out of our misery.

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Attention Chicago voters 

Per Glenn Reynolds, we see that Mickey Kaus has endorsed Tom Geoghegan for Rahm Emanuel's Congressional seat. I have no idea whether Geoghegan is the right guy in this election, although it would not surprise me. For those of you with a dog in the hunt, however, I note that Geoghegan is the author of the most romantic article about Chicago I have ever read. Written while I was in law school (Ann Arbor) more than twenty years ago, Geoghegan's essay encouraged me to move there after I graduated. Yes, the article betrays Geoghegan as a lefty with all the usual doubts about America ("If you have to be an American, you might as well live in Chicago"), but it also reveals a deep love of the city. Much has changed since Geoghegan wrote those words in 1985, but I still think Chicago is America's greatest city. Presumably so does Geoghegan.

If you are a local or just want the least-bad lefty to win, Kaus has the link to contribute to Geoghegan's campaign.

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Politicizing science from the left, part deux 

If you are a scientist who campaigns for a particular policy, are you acting as a scientist? NASA's climate change guru James Hansen is is an activist to the point of calling for civil disobedience, quite possibly in violation of federal law given his position in the civil service. I am not sure I would join the campaign to have him prosecuted, but it does seem to me that NASA should not employ people who never learned that one cannot derive what ought from what is (see David Hume). But then, are there any environmentalists who have learned that?

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Monday, February 23, 2009

Unexpected consequences of the financial crisis 

Daniel Drezner identifies 13 "unexpected" consequences of the financial crisis. With all due respect, items 6, 7, and 10 are freakin' obvious, and most of the rest had crossed my mind (2, 3, 8, 9, 11, and 13). I admit, I missed the one about government "getting smarter," but maybe he meant "getting more credentialed." That is manifestly true, except at the very top. Finally, I would add a 14th "unexpected" consequence: An increase in the relative power of the United States.

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How Sarbanes-Oxley kills initiative 

I have long fulminated against the cultural impact of the Sarbanes-Oxley law's "internal controls" requirements (see, e.g., the last bullet in this post); my objection, heretofore expressed in generalities, is that SOX promotes process considerations above risk and results to such a degree that we are hurting the adaptability of American business. Occasionally readers have challenged me for examples. Sadly, most of my examples are confidential. They are also, one by one, petty, and therefore not impressive evidence in support of my larger argument. But the petty examples do add up, one on another, until the entire organization is thinking more about how to do a thing than what to do in the first place.

That said, today I stumbled across a great example of the nefarious influence of SOX. The picture below is a screencap from a web-based SOX training module that I was delighted to take this afternoon as part of our regular corporate compliance program. Read the question and proposed answers, and note that I have helpfully checked the correct one so that you can read the useful explanation. Commentary below...

How SOX kills initiative

Sadly, the menu of possible answers is missing the one that is actually correct, which is that Jane -- using her brain to think, rather than to follow an unthinking routine -- should go to her supervisor, explain the great opportunity to buy coats in volume at a discount, and request a waiver of her purchase authorization limit (or that the purchase be made by somebody with more authority). That is obviously what Jane should do, yet it apparently never entered the mind of the people who wrote this training session. That is bad news for the shareholders of the companies that employ the tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of American workers who have taken this module.

Now, you might say that a poorly drafted question in a training module does not ultimately impeach the SOX internal controls rules, and you would be correct. Theoretically, it would be possible to segregate duties and to teach SOX compliance without diminishing the willingness of rank-and-file employees to think out of the box, take initiative, and push for change. In practice, however, it is virtually impossible for at least two reasons.

First, most employees in most large companies will follow rules and procedures before they do anything else. If you pile up enough rules and procedures and cross-checks and sign-offs and multi-signature documents or "workflows" you will crowd out the small amount of brain space that most people have available for thinking creatively or laterally. People can only follow so many rules before they become rule-following automatons.

Second, any sufficiently burdensome process inevitably becomes an excuse for inaction. Rules are developed for the average case, not the exceptions, but businesses compete and make money based on their ability to deal with the exceptions quickly and efficiently. Unfortunately, many people will fail to deal with the exceptions because they lack the wherewithal -- ambition, energy, or bureaucratic intelligence -- to integrate rules for the average case with the facts of the exceptional case. The result is, well, failure.

Of course, you might argue that the prevention of financial catastrophe is such a great thing that the decline in adaptability and initiative in American public companies is a reasonable price to pay. My answer: All (or virtually all) of the American banks, investment banks, and insurance companies that catastrophically failed, or will fail, in the current financial crisis were in robust compliance with the internal controls requirements of the Sarbanes-Oxley law.

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Glass houses watch 

Here's a little inside blogball for your afternoon reading. Andrew Sullivan jumped on Mickey Kaus this morning for not recanting his "obsessive, incessant campaign to imply that Gary Condit was a murderer." I had missed this back in the day, but apparently Kaus thought Condit murdered Chandra Levy, and now we know (or almost know) that he did not, and Sullivan thinks that Kaus ought to man up and say he was wrong: "C'mon guys. Behave like bloggers."

Well, good advice to be sure. But given Mr. Sullivan's obsessive, incessant campaign to question Trig Palin's maternity, it is not obvious that he is the perfect blogger to lecture Mickey Kaus. Or is it that the best defense is a good offense?

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Caption This! 

Secretary of State Clinton is in China this week, and has been caught on camera.

The official caption is almost laughable in its superficiality:

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (L) looks at Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi during a news conference in Beijing February 21, 2009. (Guang Niu/Pool/Reuters)

I think it is a Commie plot. What's the real caption?

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"Imports" are not necessarily imported 

Glenn Reynolds links to a story about the cars driven by members of the President's task force on the automobile industry: "Auto team drives imports, Fed task force has few new U.S. cars." The story then goes on to categorize the Honda Odyssey and the Toyota Corolla, both of which are made in the United States (and driven by members of the Obama team), as "imports". This is just bad journalism. A car is not an "import" because the badge on it is Honda or Mercedes rather than General Motors, Ford, or Chrysler, and it is not "American made" just because it has a Detroit Three badge. Toyota, Honda, Mercedes and BMW all make plenty of cars here, and the Detroit Three make lots of cars in Canada that are then imported into the U.S. market. The classification scheme used in the linked article (and many others) is therefore false in substance, and serves no purpose other than to deceive consumers into thinking that they are hurting American workers if they buy cars with Japanese or German brand names.

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Court-packing by stealth 

Nothing irritates the Democrats more than a conservative Supreme Court. The sainted FDR intimidated the Court into abandoning "substantive due process" -- the only real protection that rights in property and contract had against legislative power run amok -- with his "court packing" plan. Now a group of "legal experts" is calling upon Congress to regulate how the Supreme Court "operates."

If we had it to do all over again, would we appoint Supreme Court justices for life? Allow the chief justice to keep the job forever? Let the court have the final word on which cases it hears and those it declines?

A group of prominent law professors and jurists thinks not, and the group says in a letter to congressional leaders that there is no reason Congress should consider the operation of the high court sacrosanct.

"We do not suggest, and would oppose, any interference with the substance of the court's work," says the letter, which was organized by Duke University law professor Paul D. Carrington and signed by 33 others from different stations on the political spectrum.

But the group said Congress has every right to address how the court operates, "a subject it appears not to have seriously considered for at least seventy years." (emphasis in original)

The "term limits" proposal, something Congress does not tolerate for its own members, looks like nothing more than an attempt to give the political branches more leverage over the judicial:
For starters, the group proposes a form of term limits, moving justices to senior status after 18 years on the court. The proposal says that justices now linger so long that it diminishes the likelihood that the court's decisions "will reflect the moral and political values of the contemporary citizens they govern."

To get around the Constitution's prescription that justices serve for life, the group would let justices stay on the court in a senior role -- filling in on a case, perhaps, or dispatched to lower courts -- or lure them into retirement with promises of hefty bonuses. (emphasis added)

Of course, FDR's original "court packing" scheme was also an attempt to "get around" that Constitutional requirement, but by dilution rather than retirement.

It is not hard to imagine why these "legal experts" did not make this proposal last year. It is only interesting when one party has dominant control over the two political branches and is frustrated that it cannot effect all the hope and change that it wants within the boundaries of the Constitution as it is then understood.

MORE: A response with substantially more actual thinking than my own drivel. That said, I really don't think I "fumed."

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The mullahs strike back against Khatami 

The mullahs behind the Islamic Republic's throne are signalling their disapproval of the candidacy of Mohammed Khatami to succeed Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (my background post). They have shut down web sites backing Khatami in an obvious bid to prevent the "youth" candidate, such as he is, from winning the presidential election later this year. Now, Khatami is far from "liberal" in any Western sense, but he was and is sufficiently annoying to the clerics that they are apparently delighted, once again, to give the lie to democracy in Iran. This would seem to undermine the argument of American hawks that Khatami is just a kinder, gentler, Ahmadinejad (otherwise, why would the mullahs do this?), and of American doves that Iran is a genuine, functioning democracy.

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Sunday, February 22, 2009

Slumdog Triumphant 

Not only did Mrs. TH devote a rare evening on our own last night to Slumdog Millionaire, but we both thought it was time well spent. Everything about it -- the photography, the acting, the direction, the lighting, and the script -- was outstanding, and I will be pulling for it to sweep tonight. Or I would be if I were watching the Academy Awards, which I probably will not do.

The movie is well-timed for Americans who are struggling a bit, too. Not only is its central theme the triumph over adversity, but the hero wins by remaining true to himself and his morality. On that basis, at least, "Slumdog" merits serious consideration for inclusion in the list of "the best conservative movies."

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We need more judges like this guy... 

Speaking as a taxpayer rather than a litigant (I have been both, but am more often the former), we need more judges like this one:

Judges we like

Translation: I run the court, not the lawyers, and I want to get this turd off my docket.

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Chris Christie: Cool by association? 

New Jersey elects its governor and legislature on odd-numbered years, so the endless campaign is extended into 2009 in the Garden State. Given the horrendous condition of the state's finances, which long antedates the decline in the economy, the Republicans certainly ought to be able to win. Or, put differently, if they cannot win here this year you have to wonder whether they ever can again.

Anyway, the leading candidate for the Republican nomination is a prosecutor, Chris Christie, who has made a name for himself busting corrupt politicians and criminal businesses. Like all post-Obama politicians, Christie has a Facebook page, screencap below:

Cool by association

I wonder how Bruce Springsteen feels about that? Given his politics, I think it is fair to say he is not amused. But then, it is Springsteen's burden and blessing that no politician in New Jersey can get elected without claiming to be his fan, even if the love is unrequited.

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David Gregory's not bad 

I am not big for the Sunday morning talk shows, but I did turn on "Meet the Press" this morning while I was doing some laundry. Judging by today's performance, David Gregory's questions are sharper and more balanced than either of his immediate predecessors. Indeed, according to my ear it would be difficult to know Gregory's political leanings based on his questioning. The sad thing is that the appearance of genuine impartiality is so uncommon in mainstream media that it really stands out when you see it.

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Silver lining watch 

Occasionally we see a silver lining in the absolute control of the Democrats over the White House and the Congress. For example, they have finally decided that the reconstruction of New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina is not the responsibility of the federal government.

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The conspiracy to cut gasoline prices 

In a column about carbon emissions, Ben Stein lances yet another popular conspiracy theory (and without mentioning Bill O'Reilly at all!):

Whenever I pull up to my neighborhood service station in Rancho Mirage, Calif., or anywhere else lately, I have a strange feeling. Because gasoline is so incredibly cheaper than it was just eight months ago, I almost feel as if I am getting something free.

I keep wondering when someone in government will award some kind of stimulus prize to the oil companies for that. After all, by cutting the price of gasoline and other fuels by roughly half, the oil companies are giving consumers hundreds of billions of dollars in new purchasing power for other goods and services. Isn’t that worthy of praise?

What’s that, you say? It isn’t the oil companies? It’s just the free market correcting itself after a huge oil price bubble last year? Well, I agree. But I have a lot of angry e-mail burned into my brain from readers insisting that those high prices were an oil-company conspiracy.

So, are the lower prices now a conspiracy to help the consumer? If that’s silly — and it is — then let’s go back to the free-market explanation. It might actually work. The free market can make us crazy, but it can also explain a lot.

Exactly. But wait, you might say: If there was no conspiracy to drive up gasoline prices, why did oil prices hit $147/bbl in July? Well, why was your house worth 40% more in 2006, or why did Citigroup stock fetch 25 times its current value a mere 20 months ago? Things change quickly in our world. Just because markets are volatile does not mean they are not functioning. The trick is to iron out the costs of volatility by hedging against it in your daily life. I am not suggesting that you trade futures or anything exotic, but it might be time to buy a couple of oil stocks. So, you know, you make a little money the next time gasoline prices go up.

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Saturday, February 21, 2009


I would be failing you, my readers, if I did not link to this gallery of Sports Illustrated swimsuit models taking pictures of themselves in the mirror. Sample:

Self Portrait

My question: What did Canon have to pay to make that happen?

CWCID: A reader.

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A shot in the arm for "national greatness" conservatives 

In case it is not obvious, I'm something of a "national greatness" conservative, a euphamism of sorts for "nationalist," which is a bit déclassé in today's interconnected world. (In other words, we use the word for pretty much the same reason that liberals now call themselves "progressives.")

Anyway, it is a tough moment for us NGCs. Our economy is in the tank, and the transnational progressives control the cultural agenda and are basically running the show, even in the American capital. So, for your Saturday afternoon antidote to all this gloom, listen to George Friedman of Stratfor when he tells you that the American epoch is just beginning.

I have bought but not read his new book, The Next 100 Years: A Forecast for the 21st Century, which I expect to take up by the end of the weekend. If it is anything like Friedman's last book, America's Secret War: Inside the Hidden Worldwide Struggle Between the United States and Its Enemies, it will be very interesting.

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News we knew already department 

One major metropolitan area is not only avoiding the severe recession that is whacking the rest of the country, but its economy is growing. I bet, if you tax your noodle to the utmost, you can guess which one.

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Quote of the month 

Barack Obama has been President for a month, and the financial markets have not reacted well so far. Now, I'm not so sure that means much -- contra, the dollar has rallied strongly in the same period because the American currency and the United States taxpayer is still the safest port in the storm -- but it does nicely set up this quote of the month:

The market wants Churchill and they keep tossing it Chamberlains.

CWCID: Tom Kirkendall.

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Rule 4 

This is an excellent example of Rule 4.

Just sayin'. I've not gone in for Rule 4 in years, not since my "Carnival of the Commies" series long ago, but there's no argument that it works.

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Are more people reading Atlas Shrugged? 

I note with no small interest that Atlas Shrugged is as of this writing ranked an astonishing #110 on Amazon, up from #142 ten days ago. That is astonishing considering the age of the book, and no doubt a sign of the times.

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Inflating climate change 

The editors of The New York Times apparently had nothing of immediate moment to complain about this morning, so they wrote a data-free generic alarmist climate change editorial.

The 2007 assessment established a base line of expectation, but it is already looking outdated. From all over the globe, in bits and pieces, data are accumulating that suggest we may have already left behind the world of possibilities portrayed in the panel’s report. Sea ice has melted more quickly than expected. And, according to a recent report from the United States Geological Survey, sea levels in 2100 could increase by more than double the 1.5 feet rise projected by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (it chose not to add in water from eroding ice sheets because they remain poorly understood). Add to that the hard reality that carbon dioxide is a long-lived gas, and the picture of global warming is both volatile and forbidding.

Fortunately for the rest of us, the one thing that has not changed in quite some time now is the mean global temperature, a factoid that the editors saw fit to withhold. This is no doubt because the combination of rising CO2 levels and flat mean global temperature impeaches the predictive accuracy of the leading climate models, particularly regarding the sensitivity of the planet's climate to changes in atmospheric carbon dioxide.

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Friday, February 20, 2009

Politicizing science from the left: The dissenting state climatologists 

Thursday evening I enjoyed the pleasure of an off-the-record dinner conversation with a leading "skeptic" of anthropogenic global warming. He talked at length about the political pressure that is brought to bear against scientists who have openly broken with the "consensus" promulgated by the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Al Gore, and other putative authorities on the subject. The talk reminded me of the preface to the excellent book Climate of Extremes: Global Warming Science They Don't Want You to Know, which has enjoyed the top billing on our sidebar for the last week or so. Author Patrick Michaels describes the plight of those state climatologists, academics all, who have expressed opinions or even just distributed data that tended to refute the AGW opinions of state governors. In each case, a Democratic governor has driven a state climatologist from his university job for the expression, in good faith, of scientifically informed opinions about anthropogenic climate change.

At the end of June 2009, I will be leaving the University of Virginia, as fine a public school as there is in the world. The university cannot guarantee me both academic freedom and a full salary from the Commonwealth of Virginia. My faculty position was "Research Professor and State Climatologist, Department of Environmental Sciences." My salary was paid in its large majority by a separate line in the university's budget, labeled "State Climatology Office," itself a part of the overall budget for the Commonwealth of Virginia.

I was appointed Virginia State Climatologist on July 7, 1980. Like most other State Climatologists, I was faculty at a major public institution, and the appointment was without term, although the faculty position itself was without academic tenure. It was nonetheless subject to the same review process (without teaching duties) for promotion to associate and then to full professor.

I served Republican and Democratic administrations. I met all the Virginia governors. I really liked Republican Governor George Allen. I told Governor Jim Gilmore, also a Republican, how fortunate I was to be able to speak the truth on climate change, even as it was becoming politically unpopular. I was incredibly impressed by the professional staff that served Democrat Mark Warner. His staff members were as good as or better than many federal staffers I have worked with.

Given the political nature of climate change, it was only a matter of time until some governor went after his State Climatologist. I'll be happy to say I brought it on myself. I'm articulate, chatty, and, thanks to the Cato Institute, have great access to TV, radio, and major news outlets. I fully used my privileges as a University of Virginia faculty member, which included the right to consult for whomever I wanted without jeopardizing my position or the academic freedom that went with it.

Which meant, of course, consulting for entities ranging from the Environmental Protection Agency to power producers with a dog in the global warming hunt. One of those was Intermountain Rural Electric Association, a small Colorado utility. When my work for them became public knowledge, Virginia Governor Timothy Kaine told me not to speak as State Climatologist when it came to global warming. If the State Climatologist is a political appointment, that's his call. If it is a lifetime honorific, it's not. But regardless of which of those it is, almost all my university salary was contingent upon my being State Climatologist.

The University of Virginia valiantly, if clumsily, attempted to paper this over. All of a sudden, I was told I should no longer refer to myself as Virginia State Climatologist. Instead, I should cite my seal of certification as Director of the Virginia Stat Climatology Office, given by the American Association of State Climatologists (AASC). The position of State Climatologist had apparently become a political appointment.

I wasn't asked to do the impossible, merely the impossibly awkward. The University of Virginia Provost wrote to me:
You should refer to yourself as the "AASC-designated state climatologist" and your office as the "AASC-designated State Climatology Office," or if you prefer, "AASC-designated State Climatology Office at the University of Virginia." I recognize that the titles may be awkward but the message from the Governor's Office was very clear about what they expected.

Needless to say, this quickly became unworkable. Newspaper editors wouldn't suffer such encumbering verbiage, it didn't fit on a TV Chiron, and making a disclaimer every time I spoke, about climate that my views didn't reflect those of the Commonwealth of Virginia or the University of Virginia (despite their being correct!) would never fit a sound bite. So I had the choice of speaking on global warming and having my salary line terminated, or leaving.

Other State Climatologists soon had similar difficulties. George Taylor at Oregon State University, who is very popular with the AASC (and the only person ever elected to consecutive terms as president), was told that he was simply not to speak on global warming. Having read the playbook established by Governor Kaine in Virginia, Governor Ted Kulongoski (D) told Portland's KGW-TV that "Taylor's contradictions interfere with the state's stated goals to reduce greenhouse gases."

Taylor had long questioned glib statements about a 50 percent decline in Pacific Northwest snowpack, which were being made by climate alarmists worldwide. The 50 percent figure is only part of the story. That figure accrues if one starts with the data in 1950 and ends in the mid-1990s. If one uses the entire set of snowpack data (1915-2004), a different picture emerges [Figure omitted]. Taylor was told to shut up as State Climatologist even though he was merely telling the truth.

Taylor resigned his Oregon State University position in February 2008.

David Legates, at the University of Delaware, was told by Governor Ruth Ann Minner (D) that he could no longer speak on global warming as State Climatologist. His faculty position is a regular tenured line in the geography department. He's free, as State Climatologist, to say anything about the weather, so long as there's no political implication. Unfortunately, as most State Climatologists will attest, most reporters specifically ask whether this or that unusual storm or unusually hot (or cold!) day is related to global warming. Scientists who refuse to answer that question don't get return calls.

Minner was upset because Legates was an author of an amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court (Baliunas et al) in its first global warming-related case, Massachusetts v. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Baliunas et al. sided with the federal government (namely the Environmental Protection Agency [EPA]), which maintained that it was not required to issue regulations reducing carbon dioxide emissions. Justice Antonin Scalia cited Baliunas et al. in his dissent, as the court voted 5-4 that it was within the EPA's purview to propose and then enforce carbon dioxide limitations.

So Legates stopped speaking about global warming as Delaware's State Climatologist.

Out West, things got even uglier. The Assistant State Climatologist for Washington, Mark Albright, was fired because, despite his boss's orders, he refused to stop e-mailing -- to journalists, to inquiring citizens, to anyone -- the entire snowfall record for the Cascade Mountains rather than the cherry-picked one. For e-mailing that record, the assistant state climatologist in Washington lost his job.

What had started with Oregon's George Taylor had migrated across the Columbia River.

State Climatologist Phil Mote terminated Albright. Both positions were in the University of Washington's atmospheric science department, one of the world's best. A senior member of that department, Professor Clifford Mass, commented, "In all my years of doing science, I've never seen this sort of gag-order approach to doing science."

What is so scary that some governors don't want you to know it?

Apparently it is this: The world is not coming to an end because of global warming. Further, we don't really have the means to significantly alter the temperature trajectory of the planet. All of this will be spelled out in considerable detail within the rest of this book.

Imagine the outrage if Republicans had done these things, and remember these men the next time you are pinned to the wall at a cocktail party by some liberal whining that the Bush administration politicized science in some unique way.

Read the whole thing.

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Santelli: The tribune of the self-sufficient 

The Rick Santelli's call for a "Chicago Tea Party" has mined a deep vein of resentment in the prudent savers, who are wondering why they are bailing out imprudent borrowers. Santelli's cry opened up a divide between the anti-business populists, who would love to blame the current crisis on bebonused bankers, and the self-sufficient, who know that crushing debt requires both lenders and borrowers. Both of these "parties" have left their mark on the political and cultural landscape of the United States, shaping the country just as dramatically as the pioneers who cleared the fields and the builders who made the highways, canals, and dams. The question is, which tradition will most capture the popular imagination in the next couple of years? Until this week I would have said the anti-business populists, but now I am not so sure.

CWCID: Glenn Reynolds.

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Handout nation 

Last night over dinner I heard a right wing wag promise "never again to use the word 'stimulus.'" I thought of that when I saw these pictures of anti-freebie protests around the country.

At least these protesters have a sense of humor. I so much prefer wit against the machine than to rage.

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Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Chicago Tea Party 

Another star was born in Chicago today, CNBC correspondant Rick Santelli. He leads a revolt against deadbeat mortgagors -- not mortgagees, mind you, but the actual people who borrowed more than they can repay -- and the subsidy thereof on the floor of the Chicago Board Options Exchange. I'm probably the last righty blogger in America to link the video, but if by some small chance you missed it earlier today by all means click through. And, apart from Santelli's moral point, the moment is so awesomely archtypical of Chicago that it reminds us why it is the greatest American city.

MORE: Take the poll: "Would you join Santelli's 'Chicago Tea Party'?"

CWCID (for the poll): Glenn Reynolds.

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Enriching Iran 

This is either more news of Iran's weapons program or anti-Iranian information ops. You decide:

Iran has built up a stockpile of enough enriched uranium for one nuclear bomb, United Nations officials acknowledged on Thursday.

In a development that comes as the Obama administration is drawing up its policy on negotiations with Tehran over its nuclear programme, UN officials said Iran had produced more nuclear material than previously thought....

“It appears that Iran has walked right up to the threshold of having enough low enriched uranium to provide enough raw material for a single bomb,” said Peter Zimmerman, a former chief scientist of the US Arms Control and Disarmament Agency.

Of course, even if the news were true, one can never derive "what ought" from "what is."

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The transporting unilateralism of Barack Obama 

If contrarianism appeals to you, run, don't walk, to read Spengler on the global economic crisis, and the enormous economic and geopolitical adantage it confers on... the United States.

The silliest thing that clever people are saying about the world economic crisis is that the United States will lose its position as the dominant world superpower in consequence. On the contrary: the crisis strengthens the relative position of the United States and exposes the far graver weaknesses of all prospective competitors. It makes the debt of the American government the world's most desirable asset. America may deserve to decline, but as Clint Eastwood said in another context, "deserve's got nothing to do with it". President Barack Obama may turn out to be the most egregious unilateralist in American history...

Obama isn't entirely to blame for this sorry state of affairs, to be sure, given that these trends were in place before he took office. Still, it is incongruous that the liberal consensus welcomed the multilateralist Obama and bade good riddance to the unilateralist Republicans. A radical shift in economic power in favor of the United States makes Obama the moral equivalent of a unilateralist, to a degree that Reagan never could have imagined.

To overpay unionized construction workers to build bridges, and bail out the bloated budgets of American states, the Obama administration will flood the world with so much Treasury debt that capital will flow out of the poorest countries to buy it. Rather than protest this outrageously unilateralist action, the rest of the world encourages him to do so, hoping that somehow the Obama stimulus package will get American consumers to buy their goods once again...

By all means comment, but only if you read the whole thing.

CWCID: A reader.

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George McGovern ages well 

George McGovern is closer to the political center today than he was in 1972, when the country was substantially more left in many respects than it is today (or that it was just a few years ago). In his journey toward the center, McGovern reminds me of Barry Goldwater, who was at least as far to the right in 1964 as McGovern was to the left in 1972. Both were crushed, both moved to the center later in life, and both earned enormous and justified respect from their erstwhile political opponents. I respectfully submit that both men, in their older and wiser incarnations, would have made better presidents (leaving the limitations of age and stamina to one side) than when they ran for the office, and probably better than several of our most recent presidents.

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Remember how lucky you are 

I had dinner last night with a thoughtful guy who I was just getting to know. We both have our struggles in business and are both worried about the economy, but neither of us are really down about it. Why? Because of our great fortune in life. If you are born in the United States of America, you are already so far ahead of the odds -- you're somewhere between third base and home plate already -- that you really have nothing to complain about. Imagine where else you might have been born. If you then can say that you were raised in a loving family that taught you good values and could afford you a good education, then you are already beginning your slide. Then, finally, if you are younger than a certain age you have grown up in a period of enormous prosperity and technological marvels, and have mostly been sheltered from the ravages of war, pestilence, and famine. At that point and from that perspective, it becomes harder and harder to complain about one's lot in life, at least with any intellectual honesty.

Of course, there are many Americans for whom good luck turns horribly bad or who suffer great anguish, and my heart goes out to them. Even a lot of luck in the circumstances of one's birth cannot overcome the slings and arrows of certain misfortune or, for that matter, bad personal choices. But how many people do you know who complain about trivialities, or are down because of, well, problems that most people in the world could not imagine are problems at all?

Well, this comedian has a similar point of view, only funnier.

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Zombies and the walking wounded 

One man's view of the viability of the 12 largest American banks. Interesting, but I have no idea whether or not he is right.

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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Wednesday night exploitation post 

I will admit, this ad makes me want to buy Panasonic products.

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Hints for blogging gud 

Robert Stacey McCain explains "how to get a million hits on your blog in less than a year." Now I know what I've been doing wrong!

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Hitch and the Nazis: Now the story can be told 

Christopher Hitchens apparently hates Syrian Nazis almost as much as Jake Elwood hates Illinois Nazis.

Several days ago I heard from a blogger friend that Christopher Hitchens, in Beirut for a visit, had defaced a poster of the Syrian Nazi party and had been roughed up for his trouble. I promised to keep the story confidential on the theory that it was Hitchens' to tell, but now that it is out I consider my duty done. Ace's version lines up well with the version I heard from my little bird.

MORE: Heh. Yeah, right. As if Hitchens would drink Jaeger. He'd rather be waterboarded.

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Missiles for mullahs? 

Are we trading missile defense for Russian help with Iran? Stratfor thinks so. From its Geopolitical Diary this morning (which comes to me via email):

The Russian government confirmed Monday that Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will meet with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for the first time in Geneva on March 6. Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov also commented on recent “signals sent by the U.S. administration” and stated clearly that removing concerns over Iran’s nuclear program could lead to “more profound talks on cooperation on missile defense.” Ryabkov added that Russia has shown no signs that it will toughen its position on Iran just now, but that diplomatic efforts should be stepped up in dealing with the Iranian nuclear issue.

The signals that Ryabkov was referring to were statements by Clinton and U.S. Undersecretary of State William Burns that linked negotiations on U.S. ballistic missile defense (BMD) plans in Central Europe to the Iranian nuclear issue. In short, the Obama administration has been signaling that if Russia does its part to cooperate in containing Iran’s nuclear ambitions, Washington will be open to addressing Moscow’s concerns over its plans to install BMD facilities in Europe.

In what appears to be the first public Russian response to the BMD-Iran proposal, Russia is hinting that it might throw Iran under the bus, but is waiting to see what kind of a deal Clinton offers when she meets with Lavrov in Geneva. Moscow has a long list of demands for Washington that includes everything from BMD to NATO expansion in Eastern Europe to the renegotiation of nuclear arms treaties. The United States, meanwhile, needs Russia’s cooperation in its efforts to establish non-Pakistan supply routes for troops in Afghanistan and curbing Iran’s nuclear ambitions. This is where the BMD connection comes in: The BMD installations being planned for Europe are designed primarily to thwart a possible intercontinental ballistic missile attack from Iran. If the Iranian nuclear threat could be eliminated with Moscow’s help, the entire justification for BMD in Europe dissolves — giving Russia the breathing space it has been seeking.

While the Poles, the Czechs and the Baltic states — all of whom have been counting on the BMD plan to shield them from Russia — are feeling some trepidation as these statements emanate from Washington and Moscow, the Iranians should be feeling especially fearful just now. There is no love lost between Russia and Iran. The brief Soviet occupation of northern Iran during World War II is still remembered, and the Iranians know that Russia’s current interest in Tehran is born out of Moscow’s tactical desire to capture U.S. attention on strategic issues such as BMD. So, whenever Russia feels the need to catch Washington’s ear, it issues vague threats about supplying Iran with the S-300 air defense system or completing the Bushehr nuclear facility.

Though Tehran knows that nine times out of 10 its support from its Russian allies is more rhetorical than material, it relies on Moscow’s backing as a means of leverage against the West, particularly on issues concerning its nuclear program and Iraq. At the same time, Russia is well aware of all the talk about the United States and Iran patching up their differences and publicly engaging each other. From Moscow’s point of view, it could be only a matter of time before Iran starts shifting toward the West, so the Kremlin might as well derive as much tactical utility from its relationship with Tehran as possible, while it still can.

A visit by Iran’s defense minister to Moscow on Monday gave Russia and Iran another chance to highlight their relationship and concern Washington with ambiguous talk of greater missile cooperation — but Iran might not be able to count on the Russians for much longer. Ultimately, Moscow’s core concerns revolve around protecting Russian influence in the former Soviet region, so that it can survive in the long term as a regional power. That means doing whatever it takes to ensure that EU enlargement and BMD plans for Europe are scrapped, so the Russians don’t have to worry about having American troops within a few miles of their borders. If Russia must sacrifice its relatively superficial relationship with Iran to make that happen, Iran could soon be left without a great power backer.

Two questions for you to noodle on while I descend into roughly nine hours of meetings: (1) Do you buy Stratfor's theory?; and (2) Is the trade worthwhile? I am thinking on the point, and will check back later to see what our luminous readership has posted in the comments.

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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Did I mention I like RFC Radio? 

I like RFC Radio, the internet "radio for conservatives." I like the music list, the news, and the fact that it quotes bloggers we all know on a regular basis (although I am not aware that this blog has been mentioned). Anyway, if you click on the badge at the bottom of our sidebar you can listen along while you do your thing.

And, no, they did not pay me to write that. I just like it.

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Hunting bin Laden: Biogeographic targeting 

A professor of geography at UCLA believes that he has located Osama bin Laden's hiding place using math (or maybe, if you are English, maths). He even gives GPS coordinates, suitable, I would think, for targeting a Predator drone.

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Remembered to link to the O'Quiz this week. It's a toughie -- I reverted to form, and scored a incompetent 6 out of 10. I'd feel worse if the average score were not 5.18. Take the Quiz, and post your score, for better or worse, in the comments. And if you do even worse than me, do me the courtesy of admitting it. I could use the ego boost.

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A depressing report from the Durban II planning session 

The Democrats campaigned on a pledge to restore American honor abroad. This is what they meant, apparently:

Yesterday in Geneva, President Obama unveiled the new look of America’s foreign policy — obsequiousness. It was Day One for his emissaries to the U.N. planning committee of the Durban II conference. This is the racist “anti-racism” bash to be held in Geneva in April. The U.S. and Israel walked out of the first go-round in Durban, South Africa in September 2001. Ever since, the U.S. government has refused to lend any credibility to the Declaration adopted after they left. That is, until yesterday.

U.S. representatives were addressing a human-rights negotiating committee with an executive consisting of a Libyan chair, an Iranian vice-chair, and a Cuban rapporteur. Russian Yuri Boychenko was presiding over Monday’s “human rights” get-together. Before them was a draft document which participants plan to adopt in finished form at the conference itself. The draft now contains mountains of offensive references to limits on free speech, anti-Israel and anti-Jewish provisions, and incendiary allegations of the victimization of Muslims at the hands of counter-terrorism racists.

Here is how the American delegates responded to a proposal they understood was incompatible with U.S. interests (“Brackets” denote withholding approval at any given moment in time.): “I hate to be the cause of unhappiness in the room . . . I have to suggest this phrase remains in brackets and I offer my sincere apologies.”

Having watched U.N. meetings for the past 25 years, I can’t remember a U.S. representative in a public session so openly obsequious, particularly in the presence of such specious human rights authorities. And yet the U.S. delegates appear happy to be there and convey the marching orders of their new commander-in-chief.

Read it all.

I predict that Barack Obama will regret this. Ankle-grabbing before despots in the cause of post-modern symbolism will not make it easier for us to achieve our foreign policy objectives, but it will remind everybody that for more than 30 years liberal Democrats have apologized for this country to dictators, as long as they are left-wing, not of European descent, or both. Barack Obama's promise was that he could usher in the first post-Vietnam foreign policy that was both internationalist (if you like that sort of thing) and unapologetic in its defense of American interests. This is not a good start.

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Tiger picture of the day 

I'm busy today, workin', workin', workin'. But last night I did bookmark this most excellent tiger picture for future use!

Chat away to your heart's content.

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The world that's coming? 

The title of this post is borrowed from a Jack Kirby comic book series from the 70s: OMAC: One Man Army Corps, but this particular vision of the future, amusing though it may be, reminds me more of THX 1138.

Check it out.

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Monday, February 16, 2009

The Baseline Scenario 

This evening I stumbled across a fascinating new financial blog, The Baseline Scenario. I've added it to the list of "specialty" blogs on our sidebar.

The Baseline Scenario is a meaty blog; you could spend a few hours getting through the most important posts that have gone up since its inception in October. My suggestion is that you start here, with the blog's most recent "baseline scenario" prediction for the global economy.

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Rating the presidents 

C-SPAN rounded up some historians and asked them to rank the American presidents, 1-43 (44 being as yet unrankable, notwithstanding various efforts to place him at the top and the bottom of the list) according to various criteria. George W. Bush's low rank of 36 was hardly surprising -- did a single one of the samped historians vote for him? -- but the credibility of the survey suffered enormously from rank inflation of two other recent presidents: Bill Clinton, 15th, and Jimmy Carter, 25th. Seriously? There have been 18 presidents worse than Jimmy Carter? Even our great country could not have survived if that were true.

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A list of good blogs in the London Times 

Bryan Appleyard has put together his list of the "100 best blogs," plus his ruminations on the "blogscape," which he considers a better term than "blogosphere." I beg to differ. Anyway, the list includes lots of blogs our readers have probably never heard of, and a few that would seem to discredit the entire list (at least to readers of this blog). Still, it is an interesting compilation of blogs worth checking out.

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If I were young again... 

...I would want to do this internship, which looks as though it would be loads of fun. Perhaps in some future summer one of my talented offspring will do this, and I can enjoy the experience vicariously...

And, yes, I know that this post exposes me as an incredible geek. As if that were not already well known.

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The national debt load, by category 

I stumbled across the following interesting graph in a deck of slides from a financial institution. It shows American national debt as a percentage of GDP by category, and how it has grown in the last two decades. As you can see, the growth in mortgage debt outweighs all the other categories by a longshot, including non-mortgage consumer debt and even government spending (which did not grow as much as one might have thought during the Bush years). Click on the graph for better resolution.

National debt, by category

The money went into houses, or through houses into consumer spending via home equity loans (which probably explains why non-mortgage consumer debt did not go up much as a percentage of GDP even as consumer spending was driving the economy -- mortgage borrowing was covering the difference).

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Putting propaganda in its place 

A left wing journalist in Iraq writes the most devestating "letter to the editor" I have ever read. Ouch. Definitely read it, unless you are deeply offended by bad words.

CWCID: Glenn Reynolds.

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Regarding the pay of bankers 

Richard Posner, who believes we are in a depression, rather than a mere recession, argues that regulation of the compensation of bankers is counterproductive, perhaps even seriously so. The post is well worth reading for its commentary on the causes of the current crisis, too.

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RFC: Radio For Conservatives 

So, I got an amusing bit of blog promo this morning touting a new internet radio station, RFC Radio: Radio For Conservatives. The official launch is at noon today, but you can listen now (as I am in my holiday-thinned office) by clicking through the link. Here's the promo email, including the rank sucking up that induced me to post it:

TigerHawk ~

We carefully deliberated over whether or not to approach you with our Press Release, seeing as you are on the outer cusp of our target age group and all.

We decided you are still cool enough.

Check it out.

The website is live. The Rock is hot. The Talk is cool. The News is...well, the news.

RFC Radio will launch @ noon Eastern on Monday, February 16th, 2009.

We are the biggest, baddest Liberty-minded Internet radio station on the planet. We've got 24/7 streaming News, Rock and Talk. Listen while you browse our website, surf the 'net, check email, clean your gun, write an angry letter to your congressman, or blog on your own conservative or libertarian site.

Our Mission is to Rock!! and "boost the signal" in and between conservative and libertarian camps. We also aim to bust the Rich/Boring/Grumpy/Old White Men conservative stereotype. (This ain't yer Grandpa's radio station!!)

RFC Rock is collected from the albums of the greatest rockers of all time. Most of our play list is hard and classic rock. Some is alternative; some is borderline pop; none is lame. Crank it.

RFC Talk is an eclectic mix of conservative and/or libertarian perspectives. We've got broadcasts, micro-podcasts, interview forums, panel discussions, and guest appearances by conservative pundits, authors, and activists. We've got some Names -- and some Newbies. There's something for everyone – and not everything will be everyone's personal cup o' tea. Check out the Show Schedule and figure it out.

RFC News is gathered from our station Affiliates and trusted sources on the blogosphere.

Warning: RFC Radio is addictive. Listen at your own risk. We are not responsible for job reprimands, spousal complaints, or any hearing loss that may result from listening.

If you like RFC, grab the widget and/or a sticker and add it to your site. And forward this e-mail to everyone you know.

If you hate RFC, grab the widget and add the words "I hate this station" when you add it to your site. And forward the hated link to everyone you know.

If you want to hear yourself on the radio, call our Studio Line at 623-582-3432 and leave a message. If it's funny, or smart, or really, Really stupid, we'll probably play it.

Example 1: "Hi! This is Billy Bob at ConservativeCattleRanchersAreUs.com callin' in from El Paso, Texas! Whooo-doggie!! RFC Radio is hotter than a stolen tamale on the Fourth of July!"

Example 2: "Hi, I'm a liberal and you guys, like, suck. I mean, there's like, nothing on the site about fighting global warming, or gun control, or amnesty for our friends from Mexico, or Michelle Obama's outfit yesterday. And I totally hate that Ted Nugent video on the front page. Eeeeww."

Hope you can drop in and listen on Launch Day.


Not bad at all. And we definitely need more conservatives with a sense of humor...

I like. For your convenience, I went ahead and added the widget at the bottom of the right sidebar, so you can scroll down and listen any time.

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Bumper sticker turnabout 

A classic lefty slogan bites back on the bumper of a conservative's car.

CWCID: Maggie's Farm.

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Saudi Arabia creeps into the 16th century 

Saudi Arabia's 84 year-old King Abdullah is nudging, or maybe just tweaking, a smidge of modernity into his country's religious and social order:

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia weakened the hold of Islamic hard-liners Saturday by appointing the first woman to a ministerial post and dismissing a leading fundamentalist cleric and the head of the nation's powerful religious police.

The surprising government reshuffle indicated that the 84-year-old monarch was frustrated with the pace of reform in a kingdom uneasily balanced between moderates and ultra-conservatives. By broadening the voices of modern Islamic thinkers, King Abdullah apparently is trying to refashion the religious establishment at a time the country faces the global financial crisis and renewed threats from Al Qaeda militants.

One must always encourage progress, so let's deliver one cheer to the good king. That said, substantive monarchy is such an inherently illegitimate form of government it is difficult to imagine how this plays out over the long term. Even if the kleptocrats in the royal family were to have their own change of heart, the House of Saud is unlikely to liberalize its country's traditional Islam sufficiently to permit popular sovereignty.

MORE: An excerpt from Stratfor's write-up on the shake-up in The Kingdom:
But the changes affecting social and religious norms carry with them, to a certain degree, a risk of backlash — particularly given that the kingdom only recently began an anti-extremism and de-radicalization campaign to combat Islamist terrorism. Since this project will be a work in progress for the foreseeable future, the ultraconservative elements within the kingdom — especially those in the religious establishment — are bound to be unhappy.

Long resistant to change, Saudi’s ultraconservative elements are not going to accept the direction in which the country is headed. Thus, they might become more open to the criticism from al Qaeda and other radical Islamist tendencies that the Saudi leadership is now openly tampering with the religious character of the country rendering it a secular state in order to please the West. Consequently, the possibility of conflict within the world’s largest producer of oil remains large — and this would come at a bad time, given the external threat in the form an emergent Iran and its Arab Shia allies.

Therefore, these cultural and leadership changes designed to move Saudi Arabia toward a relatively more liberal society at a time of transition could lead to unrest within the country.

Then again, a supply disruption with oil at $35/bbl is a lot easier to handle than at $140. All the more reason, though, to figure out how to grow our economy with less oil rather than more.

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