Patterico's Pontifications

4/30/2009

Souter to Retire

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 7:38 pm

Allahpundit calls it a “bombshell,” and I understand why he’s saying that: Supreme Court retirements are generally big news. However, this really won’t make much difference. One liberal will be replaced by another. Whomever Obama picks can’t be much worse.

Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL) discusses “sexual orientation”

Filed under: General — Karl @ 5:36 pm

[Posted by Karl]

Now we know what is not covered by pending hate crimes legislation, assuming the amendment is adopted. Thanks for clearing that up, formerly impeached judge. And yes, there is a moment when Rep. Hastings almost breaks into a number from The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

–Karl

Day 101: We’ve Only Just Begun

Filed under: General — Karl @ 7:33 am

[Posted by Karl]

“The overture has finished and now it truly begins,” an Obama adviser told ABCNews, referring to the healthcare, energy, and automaker debates to come.

Megan McArdle notes just how fantastical the math is behind Obama’s agenda:

So far, Obama’s only proposal for dealing with the funding shortage is a tax increase on high earners, leaving “95% of working families” untouched. But the math doesn’t work. In 2006, the latest year for which data are available, the top 5% of families took home a whopping 36% of national taxable income, and paid 20% of that, or around $600 billion, in Federal income tax. But even before the president’s ambitious health care plan emerges from the Congressional policy grinder, the CBO estimates that his budget plans to spend an additional $400 billion each year. He’s not going to get there with a small, or even a large, tax increase on high earners. For one thing, the share of national income collected by the top 5% has undoubtedly dropped sharply since 2006, because their incomes tend to depend more on capital and business income, and on bonuses, all of which have fallen off. (That’s why tax revenues fell off so steeply in 2001.) And work by economists Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez suggests that the deeper the crisis, the longer and deeper the hit to top incomes: the lessening of the gap between rich and poor during the fifties and sixties may in fact have been largely attributable to the deleterious effects of the Great Depression and World War II.

***

Now, however, the bill for Obama’s central proposals is about to come due. Unless Obama thinks he can borrow something like a trillion dollars a year indefinitely, he is going to have to ask Americans to make sacrifices to pay for the goodies.

And the taxes needed to pay for the new programs are not the only costs he will ask us to bear. Like most as yet unimplemented programs theoretically designed to make the world a better place, a cap-and-trade regime for reducing carbon emissions polls well. But when Americans actually have to start paying more for gas, electricity, and heating oil, they will not be so enthusiastic — especially if their budgets are still shrinking. And if health care is not to carry a shocking price tag, it will have to achieve some sort of savings through rationing: drug makers simply don’t make enough in profits to foot the entire bill through lower pharmaceutical prices. Richard Epstein has argued convincingly that ClintonCare foundered because most American voters have health insurance they are satisfied with. In theory, they support a government health care program–but when they are confronted by the details of how their health care will change, that support evaporates.

Byron York asks:

Will Obama’s health care proposal, which will probably involve the government rationing medical treatment, make him more popular? Unlikely. Will his environmental proposal, which will result in higher energy prices for millions of Americans, make him more popular? Unlikely. Will his education proposal, crafted to safeguard the teachers’ unions’ interests, make him more popular? Unlikely. If Obama goes forward — “boldly,” as his supporters like to say — his popularity will suffer.

GOP strategists are looking carefully at the first months of Ronald Reagan’s presidency. In April 1981, Reagan’s job approval rating stood at 67 percent, with 19 percent disapproval. Like Obama, Reagan’s personal approval rating out-polled his policies. A year later, in April 1982, Reagan’s approval rating had dropped to 45 percent, with 46 percent disapproval.

At the beginning of his term, Reagan could legitimately blame Jimmy Carter for the mess in Washington. But at some point, the problem became Reagan’s, and when unemployment began to rise during Reagan’s watch, the GOP paid a political price. In the 1982 mid-term elections, the president’s party lost 26 seats in the House.

Today, the key for Obama, as it was for Reagan, is unemployment. The talking heads in Washington say unemployment is a “lagging indicator” of economic improvement. Maybe so, but the rest of the country doesn’t see it that way. “It may be a lagging indicator to economists, but to Americans out there, it’s a front-and-center indicator,” one plugged-in GOP pollster told me. If unemployment doesn’t improve by the end of this year, Obama’s popularity will drop.

Economists surveyed by USA Today increasingly say the outlook on unemployment is not good:

The unemployment rate will peak at 9.8%, according to their median forecast, up a full percentage point from the prior survey in January. Twenty-one economists predict the unemployment rate will top out at 10% or higher, according to the survey of 51 economists by USA TODAY April 16-22.

Economists also predict the jobless rate will rise for a longer time. Two-thirds say it won’t stop rising until 2010 or later, vs. 51% in January.

When that survey was completed, the conensus forecast was that the US economy shrank at annual pace of five percent; the latest estimate is now six percent.  As the unemployment trend may be more politically salient than the rate, delays in economic recovery and re-employment cannot look good to Democrats facing re-election in 2010.

–Karl

4/29/2009

Is Mexican Water Responsible for the Swine Flu Outbreak?

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 7:18 am

Why have there been many swine flu deaths in Mexico, but not elsewhere? One possibility: the water. Water in Mexico is often contaminated, especially on farms. And reports suggest that the source of the swine flu outbreak may be a Mexican village near a pig farm.

Recall, if you will, that last year’s Salmonella contamination was eventually traced back to irrigation water at a Mexican farm.

Nobody is reporting that water is the reason for the swine flu outbreak. Just a thought. Whether it is or not:

Don’t drink the water!

P.S. According to a viral e-mail, we may have located the real reason for the outbreak:

What we can learn from Specter the defector

Filed under: General — Karl @ 7:03 am

[Posted by Karl]

Certainly, Sen. Arlen Spector’s defection to the Democrats made a nice frame for the portrait of Republicans in disarray at the 100-day mark of the Obama Administration.  It was also another opportunity for factions on the Right to argue among themselves.

Ed Morrissey is correct on one level to argue that the Specter case is not a good one for people like David Frum (or Rick Moran, for that matter) to argue that the GOP’s problem is that it it too conservative.  After all, Specter has long been a member of his own Party of One.  But Specter’s basic problem may shed some light on a larger political dynamic, though not exactly the one on which Frum fixates.

Specter’s admitted problem was that he probably had no chance of winning the GOP primary in Pennsylvania.  While Frum, Ramesh Ponnuru and Sen. Lindsey Graham were quick to blame the Club for Growth for this, W. James Antle, III provides a better explanation that is relevant beyond the borders of the Keystone State:

[Specter's] base had already defected to the Democratic Party before him: “Last year, more than 200,000 Republicans in Pennsylvania changed their registration to become Democrats.”

These Republicans were not kicked out of the party by the Club for Growth. They tell pollsters they left because they did not like Bush-era Republican leadership. They claim to disagree with Republican policies pretty much across the board, but it was the last eight years that finally moved them to bolt. There is nothing like a sustained popular perception of a failed presidency to send nonideological supporters of a party streaming toward the exits.

You can plausibly blame the Club for Growth for three Democratic House seats: Maryland’s First Congressional District, Michigan’s Seventh District, and Idaho’s First District, two of which the Club-backed Republicans were able to win in the tough 2006 cycle. The Democrats have picked up over 50 House seats in the last two elections. Iraq, Katrina, and the economic crisis have cost Republicans far more seats than the Club.

Although all of those issues may have more nuance to them than the Left would acknowledge, the public perception among the casual, nonideological bloc of the electorate was that of failure.  Moreover, unemployment rose steadily from 2006-08, while the economy was headed toward recession even before the Wall Street meltdown last September.

The Left views this environment as evidence of an ideological failure, which should surprise no one.  After all, the Left believes in the power of government planning in matters domestic and foreign.  They are far less likely to own up to the myriad ways in which the complexity of the world and human nature tend to intrude on their Utopian dreams.

The Left also puts great stock in how unpopular the GOP is at the moment, putting forth streams of propaganda about the shrinking GOP.  The Specter case demonstrates how the dynamic works.  The Republican base is smaller and more ideologically pure, thus making people like Specter unelectable in a party primary, but putting forth nominees who are less electable in reliably blue states like Pennsylvania.

The reality is more complicated.  Party identification is not a great predictor of electoral outcome.  What occurs is that the nonideological bloc bases their perceptions on performance, character issues, etc.  In 2008, that perception was one of failure and incompetence.  That environment also accounts for a fair amount of the shifts in Party ID.  Those who weakly identified as Republican decide they do not want to carry that baggage socially and become Independents.  Conversely, Independents who lean Democrat feel more confident and switch leftward.  That is why party ID shifts, even though ideological self-identification barely budges over time.

This dynamic can also be seen in the current Gallup Poll of Pres. Obama’s job performance — as opposed to his job approval.  As the Washington Times notes, Obama’s 56% job performance number is the second lowest in the last 40 years, beating only Bill Clinton.  The number for Independents is even lower, at 48%.  That is consistent with a number of polls showing a rapidly rising disapproval for Obama among Independents.  It is a fair bet that many of these Independents are former Republicans, or Republican leaners for whom the reality of the Obama Administration is now sinking in. 

Suddenly, the idea of having Republicans act as a a check and balance to Obama and the Democratic Congress sounds pretty appealing.  That notion would tend to explain why the GOP has gained the generic Congressional ballot; the GOP has done much to earn those gains.  Specter himself made the check and balance argument as recently as last month.  He had to abandon it because the numbers in Pennsylvania seemed to have moved too far against him in a state that has not voted for a Republican presidential nominee since 1988, but there are plenty of places that are not that far gone.  Specter’s defection will likely give the electorate a good look at unchecked Democrats, who suddenly will not have Republican obstructionism to blame for their failures.  That will likely be a painful lesson, but only marginally more painful than it was going to be with Specter in the GOP caucus — so perhaps it is a lesson better learned sooner than later.

–Karl

4/28/2009

Did Something Happen With Arlen Specter?

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 10:18 pm

I’ve been at work all day.

What’s that, you say? He’s now a Democrat?

“I have decided to run for re-election in 2010 in the Democratic primary,” said Specter in a statement. “I am ready, willing and anxious to take on all comers and have my candidacy for re-election determined in a general election.”

He added: “Since my election in 1980, as part of the Reagan Big Tent, the Republican Party has moved far to the right. Last year, more than 200,000 Republicans in Pennsylvania changed their registration to become Democrats. I now find my political philosophy more in line with Democrats than Republicans.”

Liar. This is all about personal preservation and you know it.

UPDATE: Mitch McConnell gets a lot closer to the truth:

Well, obviously we are not happy that Senator Specter has decided to become a Democrat. He visited with me in my office late yesterday afternoon and told me quite candidly that he’d been informed by his pollster that it would be impossible for him to be re-elected in Pennsylvania as a Republican because he could not win the primary. And he was also informed by his pollster that he could not get elected as an Independent and indicated that he had decided to become a Democrat.

Beldar:

Anyone who ever counts on Arlen Specter for anything is likely to be disappointed.

Lest this sound like praise, Beldar also observes that “ass-clown” is an appropriate term for Specter.

100 days: What Obama does not want you to read

Filed under: General,Obama,Politics — Karl @ 7:06 am

[Posted by Karl]

Last week, the Politico offered a handy list of seven things the White House wants reporters to write about Pres. Obama’s first 100 days in office.  The piece makes a nice enough frame for evaluating whether the Obama’s hoped-for spin matches reality.

Obama is a promise-keeper?

Obama undoubtedly would like this storyline, but the Politico did not come up with any examples of it.  Obama has kept a few promises; he has given things to the abortion lobby, usually late on Friday evenings when he hopes no one will notice. 

However, it is fairly easy to compile a larger list of promises Obama has broken or is breaking.  Many of those broken promises are just fine with the Right — Obama has adopted the Bush adminsitration’s positions on lawsuits over “torture,” warrantless wiretapping, state secrets and policies the powers that allow the president to indefinitely detain suspected terror supporters.  The administration is negotiating possible exceptions to the June 30 deadline for withdrawing American combat troops from Iraqi cities (as he should, given that his retreatist rhetoric worked against his own stated goals).  Obama has flip-flopped on the free-trade pact with Colombia and NAFTA.  Even before he was elected, he broke his promises to immediately repeal tax cuts for the wealthy and take on Big Oil (though one suspects they are still on his “to do” list).

Other broken promises will tend to bother only the Right, like the abandonment of his inaugural pledge to end ineffective government programs.

Still other promises Obama has broken are more troubling — and not just to the Right.  The adminsitration that promised transparency has shrouded some of its signature inititives in secrecy.  The Obama Administration is not policing its stimulus spending for waste, fraud and abuse,  not doing the legally-required oversight of TARP funds and not providing information to the Congressional Oversight Panel on TARP.    Attorney General Eric Holder promised looser standards for Freedom of Information Act requests, but the lawsuits seeking information about the administration’s bailout programs are piling up.  Neil Barofsky, the special inspector general overseeing the TARP, has already opened 20 criminal investigations and six audits into whether tax dollars are being pilfered or wasted.

Obama is a game-changer?

This is actually two of the Politico’s entries.  In discussing Obama as promise-keeper and game-changer, VandeHei and Harris write:

The White House is pushing back against what it realizes is a dangerous perception that Obama may be trying to do too much, too fast — and cynically exploiting the economic crisis to push through unrelated agenda items…

***

The White House is worried that the public does not sufficiently grasp Obama’s view that his ideas fit together in a coherent strategy to force massive change in government, the financial sector and, ultimately, people’s lives.

It is small wonder Obama is having a tough time pushing this line. His own supporters do not buy it.  The establishment media does not buy it (as the Politico itself notes).  Democrats in Congress do not buy it, either.  Obama’s own party has rolled him on any number of issues, supposedly in return for healthcare reform.  The Democrats now threaten to railroad it through the budget reconciliation process, but the lack of money and the Byrd Rule provide plenty of leverage against it. Meanwhile, Lefties are already worried about what else Obama gave up to get healthcare in budget reconciliation.

Has Obama been a game-changer on the world stage?  Obama’s diplomatic overtures have been rejected by the European Union, NATO, Russia, North Korea, Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Iran and much of Latin America.  Obama’s unprecedented disclosure of CIA operational methods is already degrading US intelligence collection around the world.  That might be game-changing, but not of the sort Obama wants the press to publicize.

Obama is the decider?

Not too long ago, a president pushing the idea that he was “the decider” would have been mocked by the media, but whatever.  The Los Angeles Times and The Politico point to Obama’s White House confrontation with bank executives as an example of his bold style.  However, the result of Obama’s bullying — as well as his handling of the AIG bonuses issue — is that banks are now trying to leave the TARP.  The administration has also had problems getting lenders to participate in the Term Asset-Backed Securities Loan Facility and the Public-Private Investment Program because lenders have lost any trust that Obama and the Democratic Congress will not change the rules in midstream for reasons of political expediency.

Obama’s not in the bubble?

The Politico notes that ABC, The Washington Post and The New York Times have already done stories about how the president reads 10 letters from ordinary Americans every day.  (Presumably, none of them are from Joe the Plumber, who was villified and investigated by local authorities for the crime of asking then-candidate Obama a question about his proposals.)  There is considerably less media coverage when his “town hall” meetings are packed with pre-selected Obama supporters (much like his predecessor), or when he spends more time schmoozing celebrities than either Bush or Clinton (and seeking policy advice from them).  Elkhart, Indiana, which has the country’s highest unemployment rate, would be crushed by Obama’s policies on energy and the environment.  In South Carolina, ordinary Obama supporters are exhausted and losing patience with his agenda.  When hundreds of thousands of ordinary Americans organize protests of his policies, the White House would prefer not to acknowledge it.

Obama is not FDR and Obama is FDR!

The Politico reports that the Obama administration knows “there is a danger in investing too much in an essentially bogus journalistic convention that supposes Obama can reshape Washington and the world in 100 days,” but “White House aides make clear they love the New Deal analogies.”  That conflict reflects a certain level of narcissism — one that seems to flow from the very top.

Obama is one cool cucumber?

Really?  In reality, Pres. Obama gets testy whenever the press starts asking uncomfortable questions.  He cut off a joint presser in Britain, just like he walked out on one during the campaign.

Obama certainly tries to project the image of cool, but this could turn into a liability.  People may have laughed when Obama could not muster convincing fauxtrage over the AIG bonuses, but the White House later found itself in a scramble to stay ahead of the genuine — if misplaced — anger on the issue.  Obama’s reputation may also cast doubt on the claim that he was “furious” after an Air Force One lookalike and two F-16s buzzed the Statue of Liberty in New York harbor Monday morning.  If the economy does not recover in a reasonable timeframe, more people will start seeing him as aloof, not cool.

What’s Missing?

The press narratives selected by the Politico are… selective.  Other storylines abound.  For example, the media will likely not address Obama’s failure at basic executive tasks, like staffing his administration.  Obama is heading into its first medical outbreak without a secretary of Health and Human Services or appointees in any of the department’s 19 key posts.  There were difficulties planning the G20 summit because every senior post in the US Treasury Department was vacant, with the exception of Secretary Timmy Geithner.  Speaking of whom, Geithner reminds us of the large number of scandal-plagued nominees that emerged from Obama’s apparently flawed vetting operation.  Again, these are stories that get glossed over during a president’s honeymoon, but will be remembered if future events are not to Obama’s favor.

After 100 days of unprecedented, saturation media coverage, Pres. Obama finds himself with an average level of public approval that masks how deeply polarized that public opinion is.  Rest assured, that is not on any list of what the White House wants reporters to write about Pres. Obama’s first 100 days in office. 

–Karl

Former O.C. Sheriff Mike Carona Sentenced to Prison

Filed under: Buffoons — Jack Dunphy @ 2:19 am

[Guest post by Jack Dunphy]

Good.

(L.A. Times story is here.)

4/27/2009

Obama’s Teleprompter Fails Again

Filed under: General,Obama — Patterico @ 9:53 pm

I can’t seem to embed the video, so I’ll drive the traffic to Hot Air, where I saw it.

Amusing and pathetic.

Obama’s Folks Set Up Photo-Op Resembling 9/11, Terrorizing Manhattan

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 7:18 pm

Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane!

It’s Obama’s folks doing a photo op!

. . . without telling the public that a couple of planes were going to be flying low, past some Manhattan skyscrapers. Now what could possibly be the problem with that?

“Everybody panicked,” said Daisy Cooper, a Merrill Lynch worker in Jersey City, who lost a nephew on 9/11. “Everybody was screaming and we all ran downstairs. I’m devastated…Everybody was running, we didn’t know why we were running. We just knew it was a plane, there we go, 9/11 again.”…

Here’s some video:

Just by watching a video, it’s hard to tell how bad this looked from the ground, although the screaming and apparent panic of the onlookers certainly gives you some indication.

P.S. However, back me up on this, L.A. residents: how many times have you seen a jet circling downtown and been unsettled by how amazingly close the plane seemed to the skyscrapers? (Which is not to say that the folks in Manhattan were wrong to be worried. My guess is that the planes in Manhattan were much closer than the planes in L.A. get. It’s more to say that they let the planes in L.A. get waaaay too close to the skyscrapers.)

P. P.S. Recall that Tim Noah, the fact-challenged skeptic of the effectiveness of waterboarding KSM, assured us recently that

attacking buildings by flying planes into them didn’t remain a viable al-Qaida strategy even through Sept. 11, 2001. Thanks to cell phones, passengers on United Flight 93 were able to learn that al-Qaida was using planes as missiles and crashed the plane before it could hit its target. There was no way future passengers on any flight would let a terrorist who killed the pilot and took the controls fly wherever he pleased.

So tell me: why are the people in that video so panicked?

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