Saturday, February 28, 2009

SPT declares progressive taxation "fair"

Ah, the St. Petersburg Times.

Are they socialists or merely liberals?

I've been eagerly awaiting the editorials concerning President Barack Obama's budget plan. I figured it would be good for a few laughs. They delivered before the first paragraph ran into its first period.
President Obama's first budget proposal steers the nation in a new direction and aggressively pursues a fairer tax system, health care reform and an assault on global warming. It also offers some hard truths. The federal deficit is going to grow to uncomfortable levels until the economy recovers, and fundamental change is not free.
(The St. Petersburg Times)

That paragraph helps show that the editors behind the piece are of a mind with Obama when he makes statements to the effect that taxation should be about fairness. That is,the type of fairness that redistributes wealth instead of the kind that results in a strong economy. Leaving aside the fact that taxing one person at a 15 percent rate while you tax another person at a 38 percent rate is patently unfair. Try that with a sales tax sometime.
The president's 10-year budget is a welcome departure from the Republican economic policies embodied by the Reagan era. It reaffirms government's role in public life,
Reaffirms it? It grows the role of the federal government in the United States to unprecedented levels and gives the tab to our descendants. There aren't enough rich to pay for this budget even if we draw the line at $75k, according to the Wall Street Journal. And that's by taking every dime they earn.
and it starts peeling away tax breaks for the rich and for special interests.
It replaces tax breaks for some special interest groups with tax breaks (handouts, actually) for other special interest groups. The stimulus plan signed into law by Obama unreforms the welfare system by giving "tax credits" to people who pay no federal income tax. Didn't pay income taxes? Doesn't matter. You may receive a refund check from the government anyway.

The whole "special interests" thing is a sham. Everybody is part of some sort of interest group. Some are better organized than others, but any time the government spends money it is going where some special interest group wants it to go. The Times editors are apparently happy to perpetuate the lie. And guess what? When you spend the kind of money Obama wants the government to spend, you can please a whole lot of special interest groups.
It also is more transparent about the costs of war and the tough economic choices ahead than the budget documents produced in recent years by the Bush administration.
Good point in the former half, even if it isn't exactly stand-up-and-cheer material. The latter point is stupid. In what possible way can or should a budget have anything to say about "tough economic choices" other than implicitly via its own priorities?
The annual deficit, fueled in part by President Bush's policies and the recession, would be the largest in relative terms since World War II. But Obama forecasts it would be cut by more than half in four years as the war costs drop, tax revenue from the wealthy and industry rise, and the economy recovers.
"(L)argest in relative terms" is the nice way to put it, of course. The new budget dwarfs all others in terms of dollars spent via direct comparison. The deficit from this budget is so large that cutting it in half still leaves it larger than Bush's biggest deficit. See the graph below, based on numbers from the Congressional Budget Office.

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blog it

The president makes a persuasive argument that large deficits now are the necessary price for preventing economic collapse and focusing on long-term goals.
Persuasive if you're a brain-dead moron, anyway. The TARP program(s) are probably needed to prevent economic collapse and keep the availability of credit. Obama's persuasive speech went well beyond that to make the case for the extremely questionable need to put the government in the driver's seat for huge portions of the economy--including health care. It doesn't add up, and if the Times editors can't see it then they need to sack their bean-counters and hire some new ones.
Obama walks a political tightrope as he tackles the economic inequality that has expanded in recent years and embraces more progressive tax policy.
Correction: Obama is forcing the United States to walk an economic tightrope by enacting policies likely to chase capital out of our economy ostensibly for the purpose of stimulating the economy. That worries Obama fan David Brooks of the New York Times. The editors at the St. Petersburg Times, if they have any doubts about our economic savior, will not express them. Now that Bush is out of office it's time to put on the hopeful face with respect to the economy.
To his credit, Obama also is pursuing key campaign promises even in the face of the deep recession. His budget sets aside $634 billion — half from the taxes on the wealthy and half from health care savings, including eliminating the Medicare Advantage subsidies — as a down payment on health care reform. He sticks to concepts such as making health care available and affordable and leaves the details to Congress for now. That's a smart move, given the way the complicated Clinton health care initiative imploded in the early 1990s.
Right. Smart move. After all, look at the great job Congress did when Obama handed off the short-term economic stimulus package to Pelosi and Reid. The Obama administration said there was no pork in the bill. PolitiFact says the administration is peddling a falsehood. I wonder if the editors of the Times ever read PolitiFact? Maybe they just hope that their readers choose either editorials or PolitiFact but not both.

Minus tort reform, probably the only way the government will control medical costs will be through rationing of services. And some will call that fair.
This is a budget plan that sets ambitious goals and offers reasonable clarity about the costs. There are legitimate concerns about the size of the deficits, the optimism in the estimated timing and strength of the economic recovery and a number of other details. But Obama's first budget is consistent with his campaign themes, and it is a bold blueprint for a brighter future.
Check out that middle sentence! "(L)egitimate concerns about the size of the deficits." Questioning the level of optimism displayed by the administration, along with "other details." Those are big details--but if the goal is a more socialist America, apparently the editors of the Times are down with it.

Prediction: Despite a silver tongue in the league of Bill Clinton's, watch the popularity of this president erode, leading to increasing resistance to his radical policy direction. The budget is in line with his campaign themes as interpreted by those with a pronounced leftward tilt. His early policy moves place him to the left of the American mainstream, even if the new president remains to the right of certain newspaper editors. People do not trust the government with the type of power included in the Obama vision, and the results of Congress' effort to keep children safe from lead is just one example of the ham-handed federal style that legislates without foreseeing the consequences.

The Oshkosh Sandcat exceeds 15 mph

Reader "Tim W" responded to my only partially tongue-in-cheek statement that I'd like to see a video of the Oshkosh Sandcat where the vehicle exceeds 30 mph.

Tim provided a link to the Oshkosh Web site that has just that sort of video. Click the link above the photo to get to the site, then look for the video at the lower right and click "Play."

Thanks, Tim!

While I'm at it, I might as well add the video link for the Oshkosh M-ATV.

 blog it

Arctic sea ice in early February

Enough to give Al Gore a shiver?
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map of sea ice from space, animated to show missing data and corrected image

Hats tip to Hot Air and George Will.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Navistar's MaxxPro wrecker

All other things aside, Navistar has done a pretty nice job of presenting its military products. The videos have been well put together, and the company has worked hard to put its designs in people's minds when they think of MRAPs and the JLTV.

Click the link above the picture for more info on Navistar's latest.
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The Oshkosh M-ATV

 blog it

The vehicle is recognizably based on the Sasan/Oshkosh Sandcat design.

So we've got the Oshkosh M-ATV, RG-33 and Caiman variants from BAE Systems, an M-ATV version of the Force Protection Cheetah, and the Navistar submission based on its MXT vehicle.

So far I have detected no hint that either Boeing or Northrop Grumman (both of which lost their appeals of the JLTV developmental contract awards) will participate in the M-ATV competition.

Force Protection offers updated Cheetah for M-ATV testing delivered the expected news that Force Protection has submitted an updated Cheetah vehicle for M-ATV testing.

The pictures accompanying the story are borderline comical, consisting as they do of computer generated images superimposed on a set. The end result, as one person noted in the comments, makes them look like toys. Even the photos accompanying the updated Cheetah brochure at FPI's Web site were of strangely poor quality. But at least they offer better evidence that the vehicle exists in real life.

While the presentation may speak to some degree to the overall professionalism of the company, we ought to expect that it will be judged primarily on its merits along with the performance of the company overall.


BAE Systems weighed in on the M-ATV competition with two different entries--not just two prototypes essentially representing the same vehicle. reports that one company division has offered a RG-33 variant for M-ATV while another presented a lighter version of the Caiman, as expected.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Lockheed Martin JLTV video, 2009

The video shows the full range of JLTV variants, but is a bit short on information other than the program milestones and the visuals. Otherwise it's a slick production that represents the product pretty well.

I'd like to see a video of the Oshkosh Sandcat that shows that vehicle zooming around at 30+ miles per hour!

The attack on Hitchens as described by an eyewitness

Michael J. Totten provides a riveting account of the recent attack on Christopher Hitchens in Beirut, Lebanon.

A prize quotation from Hitchens:
“My attitude to posters with swastikas on them,” he later told Alice Fordham at NOW Lebanon, “has always been the same. They should be ripped down.”
Say what you want about Hitchens, he has some admirable qualities.

Caiman Light (CLT) image

I just plain didn't look hard enough before to find info on the Caiman Light, or CLT. BAE Systems has images posted in the press kit section of its Web site.

WSJ: "Take everything they earn, and it still won't be enough"

In my previous post focused on President Barack Obama, I called him a Wilsonian demagogue based on his ~SOTU SOTU speech.

The clues were there from the start. The Rorschach campaign promises. The post-partisan rhetoric.

With his presidency barely a month old, the clues have been supplanted with a Niagara Falls of proof. Hot Air today highlighted a prime example for The Wall Street Journal, under the title "The 2% Illusion":
President Obama has laid out the most ambitious and expensive domestic agenda since LBJ, and now all he has to do is figure out how to pay for it. On Tuesday, he left the impression that we need merely end "tax breaks for the wealthiest 2% of Americans," and he promised that households earning less than $250,000 won't see their taxes increased by "one single dime."

This is going to be some trick. Even the most basic inspection of the IRS income tax statistics shows that raising taxes on the salaries, dividends and capital gains of those making more than $250,000 can't possibly raise enough revenue to fund Mr. Obama's new spending ambitions.
If the WSJ analysis is correct, then Obama is either guaranteeing us a deficit that will spiral upward perhaps out of sight, or a great big payback to the middle class in the form of tax hikes.

I can't help but rewrite the old "Scorpion and the Frog" fable in my mind starring Barack Obama as the scorpion the American taxpayer as the frog.

Put me on your back and we will cross this time of economic crisis.

But aren't you a tax and spend liberal? You'll sting me with higher taxes, right?

No, no, no, no. Only the top 2 percent, which is almost nothing and anyway they can afford it. In fact, I'll lower your taxes.

Count me in! Climb aboard, friend!


Ow! You raised my taxes!

You knew I was a tax and spend liberal. I cannot help myself. It is my nature.
We heard assurances from various talking heads that Obama was much more partial to the free market than we might have thought. Obama went out of his way to reinforce that impression with his rhetoric. The stimulus and the proposed budget make it look like we've got a scorpion on our back.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Tendrils from the Fever Swamp

PBCliberal stopped by this blog recently to weigh in on the fairness doctrine, which I suppose is only fair.

A follow up visit to PBC's homepage ("PBCliberal," aptly enough), seems to show him mired rather firmly in the dreaded Fever Swamp. Or maybe he just takes seriously the subtitle of his blog, which refers to "ravings & musings from a media junky (sic), programmer and media producer."

Ravings seems to cover the latest post, which deals with the wide-open vistas for Science that have opened with the Dawn of the Obama Administration. Pardon the excessive use of caps. I'm trying to convey the feeling. Here's a representative paragraph from PBC:
The election of President Obama has restored science and reason to public policy. It no longer must hold equal footing with the assertion that Adam & Eve rode dinosaurs. We are not afraid of stem cells. We’re not afraid to hope.
Time will judge whether the Obama adminstration will return science and reason to public policy. Given the economic and energy policy mumbo-jumbo coming from the president last night, I predict a harsh judgment in terms of its science if not in terms of the political history.

Afraid of stem cells? Is PBC unaware that President Bush was the first president to allow federal funds to go toward embryonic stem cell research? Clinton had the opportunity and passed. And the objection was not fear of stem cells but ethical caution. Privately funded stem cell research--even embryonic stem cell research--wasn't a focus of the Bush White House. And science has a poor history of serving as its own ethical watchdog (Nazi Germany, the Tuskegee experiment, and many others). Boy, I sure hope we're not afraid to use science to test the effects of mind-control drugs placed in a city's water supply ...
We can leverage technology to escape our predicaments. We can develop energy industries that can save us from paying oil rich countries while simultaneously giving us a valuable export.
Apparently we're afraid to hope that the private sector can leverage technology to escape our predicaments. We'll sell our freedoms for the, er, security of letting the government manage our technological future.

And apparently we have learned little from history.

Consistency from PolitiFact on Earmarks?

Signs of Improvement

I blasted PolitiFact for its rating of John McCain's earmark history during the 2008 presidential campaign. And I've been curious as to how the CQ/St. Petersburg Times fact-checkers would handle various claims that the stimulus package was a kosher bill.

PolitiFact showed some improvement this time around. Bill Adair wrote the entry and did a much better job than did the team of John Frank and Angie Drobnic Holan in describing the different understandings of "earmark."

And in the end, Adair judges "False" the statement of press secretary Robert Gibbs that the legislation contains no earmarks.

But while the ruling is consistent on its face, the justification ultimately varies. Whereas in McCain's case the ruling was based on the "common understanding" of the term "earmark," in Gibbs' case Adair judged that his statement wasn't true in any sense of the term. That is a significant difference.

Now, one might be able to quibble with Adair's judgment as to whether the stimulus bill contains earmarks according to the most specialized definitions. Adair stopped short of rigorously justifying his ruling on that point ("look like earmarks by any definition"). It is good to see the issue analyzed more completely and thus more accurately.

Unfortunately, it can't be said that PolitiFact gave McCain as fair a shake as it did Gibbs.

I grade Adair's entry an A-, and the enduring inconsistency in the entries (which will undoubtedly remain unless past entries are culled or edited) continues as a blemish for PolitiFact.

Obama the Wilsonian demagogue

The backstory: I did not hear all of Obama's speech. I heard most of it, off and on. I intended to post my impression before reading other opinions. I slipped up and visited Power Line.

Woodrow Wilson is notable among presidents for helping strengthen what had hitherto been a notably weak office. It's tough to name notable presidents between Lincoln and Wilson. Wilson saw the presidency as a role which could serve to institute public policy by working through the populace to pressure Congress to implement presidential policy. Though Wilson feared the ills a demagogue could cause, he grabbed the demagogue's mantle and wore it with aplomb while he served as president.

Wilson set the stage for Roosevelt, who did more than any other president (I'll even count George W. Bush among the also-rans even if some liberals might disagree) to strengthen the office of the president.

Last night's speech I found profoundly within the paradigm of Wilsonian demagoguery.

Obama let on that he wants big changes. If we don't make those changes then bad things (such as recession without end) will happen. Are the American people uncertain about nationalized healthcare? Tough. Obama says we need to do the reform. Now. And the speech was a short laundry list of big issues like health care.

The Republicans are invited to help out. Aside from the fact that nearly everything Obama wants to do is historically against their principles, why not?

I found Tuesday's Obama unlikeable. I saw him in a type of (Bill) Clinton mode, spinning facts and bashing his opponents. I found him less sincere and more calculating, almost as if he took stock of his political position and decided "now or never"--time to shade the truth for the greater good.

The policies don't add up. We had this "emergency" stimulus and the Democrats used the urgency to implement liberal wish-lists. Now the president admits that shoring up banks' ability to lend is the critical element in our economy, and the "stimulus" package turns out to be a long-term plan to establish an economy molded in a more liberal, government controlled, image.

We'll "invest" in unproven "green" or renewable energy, apparently hoping to reap huge profits by selling our breakthroughs to other nations. I heard no admission that the course will hurt the U.S. economy as we force ourselves to use more expensive and less efficient energy sources during the transition to we-know-not-what.

This is bad, folks.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Where's the Cheetah? (Updated)

With Navistar and Oshkosh announcing delivery of their M-ATV test vehicles to Aberdeen, one wonders about the other purported entrants. Force Protection, for example, has announced the Cheetah as its entry in the competition. But the Force Protection Web site does not yet have any announcement of a vehicle delivery posted.

The company has released a .pdf brochure for the Cheetah that indicates some significant changes in appearance, however.

Sometimes grainy photography serves to hide proprietary information. Whether or not that is the case, the Navistar and Oshkosh presentations look far more professional.


Not to pick on Force Protection when BAE Systems has apparently done even less to promote its rumored entry in the M-ATV competition. The Caiman CLT was supposed compete for MRAP-lite but has remained effectively out of the news.

Oshkosh delivers two M-ATVs for testing at Aberdeen

OSHKOSH, Wis. — Feb. 23, 2009 — Oshkosh Corporation (NYSE:OSK), announced today that its Defense division delivered two production-representative MRAP All Terrain Vehicles (M-ATV) to the U.S. Army’s Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland for military evaluation. The mission-proven Oshkosh® M-ATV meets the survivability and mobility requirements of the warfighter for Afghanistan. The U.S. Armed Services have an urgent need requirement for M-ATVs to be used in the harsh conditions of Afghanistan. The M-ATV contract has a potential award value of $2 billion.
Oshkosh supplied no graphic with its press release, but preliminary reports indicate that the Sandcat (a joint venture with Plasan) represents the Oshkosh M-ATV submission. The company Web site does feature a slick brochure for the Sandcat in .pdf format.

Navistar's M-ATV

The MaxxPro Dash did not represent Navistar's entry in the M-ATV market, it seems.

The company offered up two prototypes for testing, basing the design on the MXT chassis. Recall that the British has chosen the MXT to serve a role in their military because of its mobility. As such, a version modified to take advantage of features like a v-shaped hull could represent a strong entry.
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Designed to navigate Afghanistan’s rough terrain and perform in off-road conditions, Navistar’s M-ATV unit utilizes a specially-designed, light-weight armor, which is incorporated into the survivability system. While the platform of the company’s M-ATV vehicle varies from its MaxxPro MRAP, which is based on the International® WorkStar® platform, the smaller base allows Navistar’s unit to weigh significantly less than its MaxxPro Dash - the lightest of the company’s MRAP units and in service now in Afghanistan.

“We are proud to submit a vehicle based on our MXT platform, which was designed to fill a gap that existed between smaller traditional armored 4x4’s and larger transport vehicles,” said Archie Massicotte, president, Navistar Defense. “By utilizing our existing commercial platform, we are able to rapidly advance our vehicle design and provide the military with a product that supports mission needs in Afghanistan.”
I wonder if the British will end up wanting the M-ATV version instead of the non-mine-protected MXTs they ordered.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Ernest Hooper's two cents on the Fairness Doctrine (Updated)

I refer to bowling as something I do every year or so just to make sure that I'm still not very good at bowling.

I check on The St. Petersburg Times in like fashion. Its take on the news is typically slanted left and most often its editorial positions are insipid as well as tilted left.

Which brings us to columnist Ernest Hooper in today's edition. After all, I need to check occasionally to make sure the paper hasn't changed its ways.

I'm glad President Obama isn't promoting the "Fairness Doctrine," because the market should dictate what we hear.

But why do so many crave the current homogenous programming?


Radio should be about community (see WMNF), not syndication. If more stations remembered that, maybe we would get a fair and balanced offering.
I'm glad to hear that Hooper thinks the market should dictate what we hear. But it seems like he contradicts himself within the space of two more paragraphs.

He wonders why so many want to listen to Limbaugh, Hannity and Beck--supposedly "homogeneous." Well, the shows aren't homogeneous at all. The men disagree with each other on quite a few things, politically, and they express themselves on the radio in dramatically different ways. I wonder what gave Hooper something other than the same impression?

Then he goes on to tell us what radio should be about. Well, if radio content should be dictated by the market then what's wrong with having plenty of Limbaugh, Hannity and Beck to choose from? As for the paragon of what radio should be ...

How does WMNF's listernership compare to other radio stations? Here are Arbitron's ratings, which reflect the estimated number of people who listened to the station at least once a week, during the fall.

WMNF 88.5 (community radio): 115,700

WQYK 99.5 (country): 292,000

WFLZ 93.3 (pop): 413,900

Source: Arbitron and WMNF

(The St. Petersburg Times)

That story refers to 2005. Maybe ratings are way up for WMNF since then. But I wouldn't bet on it.

Make up your mind, Hooper. Should radio broadcast what the market demands or change to a focus on the local community?


I made a mistake that will end up reflecting on Hooper as I correct it. I misquoted him in his reference to conservative radio talk show hosts. Hooper used the term "homogenous" whereas in relating what he wrote I changed it to "homogeneous." I believe I used the correct term.

Watch out: if you ever find yourself writing homogenous, you probably mean homogeneous.
(read more at Sabretext editorial consulting)

Hooper, unlike me, has deadlines and an editor as fallback excuses. And then again, maybe AP style prefers the shorter word to save on type.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

"Impressive display" of objective reporting?

During the course of a post not long past, I took Wes Allison to task for using the phrase "impressive display" regarding one of President Obama's early achievements in office.

I don't think the phrase belongs in objective writing. On the other hand, I don't particularly champion objective writing. I think I can report objectively about as well as anyone (the neutrality part, anyway) when I want to wear that hat. But I have a big problem with mainstream media outlets pretending to set objectivity as the ideal while falling ridiculously short of even the appearance of success.

Google has added a searchable news archive. Anyone should be able to check the results of my survey.

I had never used the archive search feature on Google before, so the graphics immediately grabbed by attention. The phrase roughly doubled in usage in the mid 1980s and has stayed high ever since.

A 1989 hit from the Washington Post talks about an "impressive display" of military strength at George H. W. Bush's inauguration. This one counts as less as a failure of objectivity than as a failure to avoid trite phrasing.

A news analysis piece from 1993 talks about President Bill Clinton's "impressive display" of log-rolling. News analysis. That's where reporters are allowed to drop the pretense of objectivity.

Another entry combines elements of the first two. It was a news analysis piece from 1995 referring to an "impressive display" of military might by the Chinese navy.

The fourth hit, from 1998 in The New York Times, talks about how some of the past achiements of Indonesia's President Suharto amounted to an "impressive display" of political control. The phrase in context seems neither objective nor flattering.

The next hit was a public relations piece from Advantest. PR releases are generally not regarded as objective.

The next hit has the phrase in a quotation (that sort of thing doesn't count against reporter objectivity).

The seventh hit, from Reuters, again uses "impressive display" in reference to the military, this time in South Africa (2001).

The eighth hit deals with sports (cricket, which also suggests that the American standard of objectivity is inapplicable in the first place).

The ninth hit finally gives us "impressive display" in reference to the second Bush presidency. But we find it in its most appropriate application in American journalism, in the writings of opinion columnist Molly Ivins.

The second page of hits turns us back to 1939.

The 1939 entry again refers to a military display (thus helping to prove that it is trite).

The second hit on the second page calls Richard Milhous Nixon's floor support more impressive than that produced by Rockefeller during the 1968 Republican National Convention. What I can gather of the context suggests an underlying objective comparison (more signs, louder shouting).

The third hit is similar to the former in character, this time via the Chicago Tribune in reference to a museum display.

The fourth hit refers to an "impressive display" of (what else?) military strength. It's actually a repeat of one from the first page of hits.

James Gerstenzang, in the LA Times, wrote in 1990 about the "impressive display" of solidarity in establishing international resolve against Iraq for its invasion of Kuwait. Though the full context would require payment, Gerstenzang's non-objective phrasing is apparently somewhata mitigated since he seems to play off of a Bush statement that established the judgment in question.

The sixth hit perhaps equals Allison's transgression in characterizing political support for an announcing candidate as an "impressive display." David Ibata wrote it in 1991 for The Chicago Tribune.

The seventh hit repeats the Clinton log-rolling one.

The eighth hit represents another repeat.

The ninth hit is fresh, and represents a columnist's judgment of some negotiating by Jesse Jackson. Columnists get to offer non-objective opinions since columns are not expected to deliver straight news.

The survey supports my impression that "impressive display" is rarely used in objective journalism, and rarer still when applied to the achievements of individual politicians.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Technology, Queen Elizabeth's navy, and Bismarck

The BBC reports on an intriguing historical discovery that sheds light on the naval conflicts of the past:

It is known that during Elizabeth's reign, English sailors and gunners became greatly feared. For example, at the beginning of Henry VIII's reign, the English fleet was forced to run away from heavily armed French galleys.

By the time of Elizabeth, even Phillip of Spain was warning of the deadly English artillery. But no-one has ever been able to clearly show why this was.

Though Elizabeth's navy achieved its dominance before the time of Otto von Bismarck, the English edge in cannon technology serves to illustrate one of the key principles of the Bismarck strategy for successful war. A side with a decisive technological advantage tends to win.

That principle does not disappear with time.

The present age offers non-state actors with the tools to manufacture their own edge. The attack on the World Trade Center buildings serves to illustrate. The attackers used advances in communications and banking to "borrow" weapons of mass destruction from the enemy they chose to attack. Biological and chemical weapons also offer potential advantages to bad actors. James Bond style world domination plots have entered the realm of plausibility and knock on the door of inevitability.

In related news:

The Obama administration has directed defense officials to sign a pledge stating they will not share 2010 budget data with individuals outside the federal government.
Hmmm. Transparency.
The Pentagon and Office of Management and Budget have agreed on a fiscal 2010 defense budget top line figure of $537 billion. That level is nearly $50 billion lower than the $585 billion defense plan created during the final months of the Bush administration, and $24 billion higher than the already enacted $513 billion 2009 defense budget.
I guess that makes it count as a budget increase.

Granted, spending alone does not guarantee technological superiority. Let the administration receive its judgment based on its overall effects. There is reason for concern, however, given Obama's past statements about slowing the development of military hardware.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Objections to computerized medical records

I've been wondering how the ACLU might react to President Obama's proposals to computerize medical records. The potential for breaches of privacy seem comparable to those expressed in objection to the Patriot Act. The complaints about the Obama proposal don't seem quite as vociferous, however.

I was able to locate this, however:
The American Medical Association (AMA) and American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), two groups uncomfortable with the prospect of universal, computerized medical records, have testified separately before two different congressional panels in recent months, urging that privacy be protected as more powerful technology becomes commonplace.
(AAP News)
This was published back in 1994.

Nothing that a little hopenchange can't cure, evidently.

One has to give up some non-essential freedoms in order to receive the protections of socialized medicine?

While the ACLU has apparently gone silent, at least we can still trust the mainstream media to act as our government watchdog.

Sic 'em.

Another drone attack in Pakistan under new commander in chief

PARACHINAR: Ten people have been killed in US drone attack in Kurram Agency.
(The News)
President Obama is fairly gung-ho about killing Taliban types in Afghanistan and especially Pakistan for a commander who was all but ready to cede Iraq to whatever faction wanted it the most.

Look for teeth marks on the tongues and lower lips of your liberal Democrat acquaintances. Those who are paying attention through their Obamuphoria, that is.

I'm only slightly reassured by these reported attacks. Obama is shaping up as a weak president, though admittedly the paint's still wet.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

An emergency need for long-term growth?

I dropped by a favorite Web site,, to see what kind of content is posted now that the president's team has had a chance to practice. The link to Obama's economic plan jumped out at me, so I clicked it.

What I read there seems to belie the reports that Barack Obama is an intelligent man. See what I mean:

President Obama believes that if we do not act quickly, this recession could linger for years – and America could lose the competitive edge that has served as the foundation for our strength and standing in the world.

That's why the President has put forth an American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan that will jumpstart job creation and long-term growth by:

  • Doubling the production of alternative energy in the next three years.
  • Modernizing more than 75% of federal buildings and improve the energy efficiency of two million American homes, saving consumers and taxpayers billions on our energy bills.
  • Making the immediate investments necessary to ensure that within five years, all of America’s medical records are computerized.
  • Equipping tens of thousands of schools, community colleges, and public universities with 21st century classrooms, labs, and libraries.
  • Expanding broadband across America, so that a small business in a rural town can connect and compete with their counterparts anywhere in the world.
  • Investing in the science, research, and technology that will lead to new medical breakthroughs, new discoveries, and entire new industries.

On January 8th, 2009 -- less than two weeks before taking office -- President Obama spoke on the need for urgent action on his American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan to save or create over 3 million jobs while investing in priorities like health care, energy, and education that will jumpstart economic growth. The plan represents not just a new policy, but a new approach to meeting our most urgent challenges.

Note: Word is that "investment" is the Democratic euphemism for government spending. Focus groups evidently prefer that language by a wide margin.

We've got a recession, Obama says, so we need to stimulate the economy to end the recession. Great. With you there, Mr. President.

If we don't stimulate the economy then we could lose our "competitive edge." Hmmm. I don't know why that would follow from a recession unless we're in a recession that other countries aren't experiencing. From what I can tell, pretty much the whole world is getting the opportunity to experience this one right along with us.

Did the president just use the recession to justify addressing a separate social concern? That is, our ability to compete globally? Do we look like suckers?

So then we look at the outline of the president's plan. He wants to stimulate job creation. With you there, Mr. President. How do you propose to stimulate job creation?
  • He wants to subsidize less efficient energy sources (which will almost certainly make energy costs rise).
  • He wants to make homes and businesses more energy-efficient. At least that will help offset the higher prices promised by his first initiative. On the other hand, it's going to take energy to save energy, so this idea looks like an overall loss.
  • He wants to computerize medical records. Look out, economy. Watch the boom from this one. I'll be watching the ACLU response to this one. Can we trust the government with our private information? Or are medical records no big deal whereas cell phone conversations are sacrosanct? Seriously, this one doesn't look like a big boost for the economy and it figures to put some persons who work in medical records out of work.
  • He wants to modernize schools. Again, where are the jobs from this? Looks like a sop for the teachers unions.
  • Expand broadband access. Won't that take time? And even if it gets done quickly, businesses don't compete simply by having broadband access. It takes either money or computer savvy to compete on the Web.
  • Invest in science and research. Aren't we doing that already? Perhaps he's saying that the government will borrow money and spend even more on reseach. The researchers are bound to like it. They'll have jobs. But this one is clearly focused on the long term.
And that's it. That's the plan. Good-bye recession based on this? He must be joking. He didn't even mention the good ideas that he passed on to Congress. Tax cuts. There's something that will stimulate the economy in the short term. Why not mention it on your Web site, Mr. President?

Saturday, February 14, 2009

A prop for PolitiFact


clipped from
Promise Broken
 blog it

PolitiFact busted Barack Obama for his first broken promise on the "Obameter"--designed to track the fate of campaign promises.

It is no surprise to me that PolitiFact will fault Obama. As I've argued before, the journalists who work on the entries are likely sincere in their efforts to do a good and fair job. But I continue to predict that political bias at the individual and community level and a flawed format will dog the efforts at PolitiFact.

The St. Petersburg Times celebrates Obama victory on stimulus package (Updated x2)

Curious about the coverage of the stimulus bill in the The St. Petersburg Times, I went in search of its online coverage.

Wes Allison wrote the news story, which amounts to a qualified celebration of "a resounding victory for Barack Obama."

Unfortunately I can't be surprised at coverage that omits criticisms of the bill from the Congressional Budget Office and "a range of respected economists." At least not from the Times.

This is a front page story, mind you, without any discernible "news analysis" or "opinion" tag. So the straight news is telling us that Obama achieved "an impressive display of political muscle and congressional pliability just three weeks, three days into his presidency."

"Impressive." Reads like editorial judgment to me. "Just three weeks, three days." Almost as if the writer is informing you that such impressive victories are extra-impressive if they come early. Again, an editorial judgment.

And not just any editorial judgment. Allison serves up editorial judgment at odds with much of mainstream punditry, which sees Obama as having misstepped in a number of ways depending on who makes the editorial judgment.

No worries, Times readers. The new pres is doing a fine job, even if the old press has lost any knack for objectivity it once possessed (look for a subsequent post exploring the use of "impressive display" in the news).

So we have a clue where Allison stands regarding Obama. The rest of the story tends to reinforce the slant.

Paragraph 5:
(D)espite Obama's aggressive outreach. Republican leaders pounded the package ...

Obama's "aggressive outreach" consisted of nothing more than an initial plan calling for a considerable role for tax cuts as part of the stimulus package along with make-nice meetings with Republicans. Obama then handed the bill off to Democratic leaders in Congress, who promptly made it a considerably more partisan bill. More on that later. Meanwhile, "aggressive outreach" passes for gross and misleading hyperbole.

Paragraph 6:
Clumsy infighting over spending cuts demanded by the relatively narrow Democratic margin in the Senate nearly caused a revolt among liberal Democrats in the House, just as House and Senate negotiators were gathering to ink the deal.

Hopefully Allison refers to the margin in the voting, for the party margins in the Senate haven't been this wide since 1979. Allison's earlier statement about the "impressive victory" seems ridiculous in that light. Practically all Obama has to do is please all the Democrats and he can pass whatever he likes through the Senate.

But then we get to paragraph 8:
All of which combined to take some of the luster off Friday's passage and speaks to the relative inexperience of the Obama administration, even though the president, vice president and their top aides all came from Capitol Hill.

Now he tells us! Thank heavens for the inverted pyramid structure and newspaper readers' not coincidental tendency to pay greatest attention to the first few paragraphs. Though this paragraph communicates a key aspect of the politics surrounding the stimulus bill, Allison's lead omits any hint of it.

The next few paragraphs descend into the bizarre.

Allison thinks Obama "miscalculated" (objective judgment?) by not stumping for the plan in public to counter Republican attacks on the bill. Again, given that congressional Democrats worked over the bill to get rid of most of its initial bipartisanship, how was Obama supposed to defend the changes without shooting himself in the foot? Allison's account explicitly suggests that the Republican attacks on the bill were largely unfounded ("some false"--no examples, as far as I can tell). Somehow the Associated Press, not exactly Fox News, found an array of reputable economists to disparage the bill, albeit the version Obama will sign into law. The early version certainly drew its share of criticism from economists, however.

As the story progresses, the story leaks more mitigating detail, even slipping in another editorial judgment that House Republicans were "justifiably" piqued when Pelosi largely cut them out of the legislative process. Allison says "some Republican amendments were eventually adopted." THOMAS, a government Web site established partly to aid in tracking legislation, and only list eight House amendments to HR 1 ("American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009").

In order:
14 (actually 95, judging from the description), offered by Bill Shuster (R-PA). Passed.
16 (actually 109, judging from the description) offered by Randy Neugebauer (R-TX). Failed.
17 (actually 172, judging from the description), offered by Maxine Waters (D-CA). Passed.
18 (actually 132, judging from the description) offered by Jeff Flake (R-AZ). Failed.
19 (actually 198, judging by the description), offered by Larry Kissel (D-NC). Passed.
20 (actually 22, judging from the description), offered by Todd Russell Platts (R-PA) and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD). Passed.
21 (actually 188, judging from the description), offered by Aaron Schock (R-IL) and Adam Smith (D-WA). Passed.
22 (actually 195, judging from the description), offered by Dave Camp (R-MI) and Eric Cantor (R-VA). Failed.

Shuster's bill does not seem particularly significant. One wonders which Republican amendments Allison had in mind. Perhaps he considered amendments proposed by Republicans in the Senate, after the bill was out from under Pelosi's thumb.

Descriptions and alternative numbers obtained here.

Most of the remainder of the story consists of spin cautioning against a premature obituary for Obama bipartisanship. That aspect of the story somewhat contradicts the lead. One could say that Allison puts his big "but" at the end of the story.


Power Line serves up the perfect accompaniment to my post, complete with a nifty cartoon from Michael Ramirez.

Update 2:
Corrected a few typos and rephrased a sentence or two to slightly moderate my criticism of the news story.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Electro-shock therapy for military vehicles?

Yeah, the title is slightly misleading.

But it's an ingenious concept. Via Gizmodo:
A team of undergraduate students at MIT have developed a shock absorber that actually generates electricity from bumps in the road. This results in up to a 10 percent improvement in overall vehicle fuel efficiency.
I expect the trick is in storing that electricity for later use. As such, the invention would seem to offer its greatest advantages to some type of hybrid vehicle.

Whither the economy, whither Barack?

WASHINGTON - U.S. retail sales jumped 1 percent in January, reversing a six-month declining trend and defying economists’ expectations by posting the biggest increase in 14 months.

The data are a glimmer of hope for a recession-hit economy, but higher gasoline prices and sales, and buyers snapping up other items on post-holiday discounts, appeared to aid last month’s results. Analysts cautioned that the relief is unlikely to last.
(Associated Press)
I've been saying (not in print) that I believed the government did enough with Tarp I to keep lending markets from freezing up. I've also been saying that I think the U.S. culture is so enamored of buying things that not even the economists and mainstream media in concert can stop them.

But this isn't an "I told you so" post. Not exactly.

I'm not as sure about it as I was.

I think the GOP push to assist the home-buying market would have been the most effective part of a stimulus plan, since it should have established some kind of floor under home values thrown into flux. In turn, that would start the revaluation of securities currently valued in terms of either zeros or question marks. I heard that on Hugh Hewitt's radio program and it makes sense to me.

The stimulus bill we're getting looks like a stinker to me. I don't see much real economic stimulus in it, but I do see quite a few pet Democratic programs, as though the idea was "We need to spend, so bring out your Christmas lists!"

I think government and media have produced a climate in which consumers are largely in a waiting mode, seeing what the government will do before they make large purchase decisions. One would be relatively foolish to buy a house right now if the government is going to make it much easier in six months. That's just common sense.

President Obama has made the situation worse by predicting calamity if (what we can now call his) stimulus bill fails to pass.

On the other hand, his speech appeared to boosts the popularity of the package, and if that sparks consumer confidence (even if the focus of that confidence is poorly founded), the overall effect may be positive in the short run.

Politics being what it is, even if the Democrats make the economy worse and prolong the recession there is no guarantee that it will hurt them politically. How do you judge the effectiveness of a stimulus package? The most popular methods involve post hoc ergo propter hoc, the practice of attributing what comes after to what came before, and cum hoc ergo propter hoc, where if two things happen at the same time one figures to have caused the other. Both are logical fallacies, though it is important to note that correlation of events does remain our best clue to establishing cause. It's just that a sample of one is a poor way to establish causation.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Attenborough on Genesis

David Attenborough recently used his celebrity to attack the role of the biblical book of Genesis in magnifying the destruction of the environment.

Upon hearing that Attenborough had blamed Genesis for environmental damage, I looked forward to seeing what evidence he would use to support his claim. After all, he wasn't merely interpreting the Bible and saying that a passage or passages intends to teach that mankind should harm the environment. He alleges it as a historical fact.

I'm expecting that he'll have trouble backing up his assertion.

Mike Tydmus had the relevant video snippet (YouTube) posted at his blog. There's your hat tip, Mike.

The statements about Genesis begin at about 3:27.

DA: The influence of the book of Genesis, which says "The Lord God said go forth and multiply" to Adam and Eve, and that the natural world is there for you to dominate. You have dominion over the animals and plants of the world. And that basic notion, that the world is there for us, and that if it doesn't actually serve our purposes it's dispensible--that has produced the devastation of vast areas of the land's surface. Of course, it's a gross oversimplication, but that's why Darwinism, and the fact of evolution is of great import, because it is that attitude which has led to devastation of so much and we are in the situation that we're in.

Is Attenborough correct that the interpretation of the Genesis passage he highlights has led to environmental destruction? Is he even correct in terms of "gross oversimplification"?

William T. Hornaday, one of the progenitors of the conservation movement in the United States, wrote a book advocating conservation, called "Our Vanishing Wild Life." The two chapters he wrote to address the causes of species destruction (6, 7) mention nothing about a doctrine of dominion by man, but instead emphasize economic forces. For example, Malaysians cleared land and planted rubber trees in order to profit from the booming rubber market. Songbirds were endangered because of their use for food.

Is Genesis behind the survival instinct as well as the profit motive?

The various histories of environmentalism offer no apparent support for Attenborough's thesis.

OK, with one exception. Julia Kindlbacher hints at Attenborough's notions with a handful of what appear to be poorly researched essays.

I think it's safe to call Kindlbacher an outlier, and it's fair to meet statements like Attenborough's with outstanding examples of irresponsible environmental exploitation that have no apparent root in Genesis.
Much in the spirit of the American labor leader Samuel Gompers, Khrushchëv's vision of progress was driven chiefly by one idea: more. Communism would prove its superiority over capitalism by outproducing it. Communism would produce more milk, more meat, more wheat, more electricity. Its hydropower stations would be the biggest, and its rockets the heaviest. The idea of demonstrating Communism's qualitative superiority over capitalism had escaped the unimaginative Soviet leader. The closest he came was his belief that the Soviet people were morally superior to those of the West because they were prepared to endure privation in the present to guarantee plenty in the future.
(Douglas R. Weiner, "A Little Corner of Freedom")
The truth, it seems, is that technological advance in conjunction with concern for humanity leads to environmental exploitation. In some cases greed motivates the destruction in spite of a conscious knowledge of the destructive effects, but probably in most cases people simply didn't know any better.

We didn't put mercury in thermometers to subdue the Earth with a poisonous liquid metal, for example. We did it because mercury served the purpose and we didn't know any better.

Mr. Attenborough, please proceed to the nearest emergency room and have that foot removed from your mouth.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Reason Online muddles waterboarding

Cathy Young waded into the waterboarding debate over at Reason Online recently.

My series of posts on waterboarding have argued that the media have served us rather poorly regarding the debate. Young falls somewhat short of providing the antidote.

Young starts by calling the detainee treatment issue the most contentious of President Obama's young presidency. That declaration may be premature given the burgeoning controversy over the economic stimulus package, but Young made me chuckle with her assertion that Democrats found Obama's move to close Gitmo in a year "Lincolnesque." Would that be the same Lincoln who suspended Habeas corpus during the Civil War to make things tougher on Southern sympathizers?

That historical gaffe aside--perhaps it can be pinned on the Democrats to whom Young refers--Young sets forth a reasonable proposition: that the issue is more complicated than either partisan extreme lets on.

But a few paragraphs later, Young perhaps oversimplifies the issue:
Semantic hair-splitting aside, waterboarding is torture. It has been widely recognized as such for a long time—specifically, by the United States when committed by oppressive foreign regimes. It is also difficult to argue in good faith that exposure to extreme cold and heat or being chained in a painfully contorted position are not torture or its moral equivalent.
Young's claim that waterboarding is a recognized form of torture based on past conflicts probably stems from the type of flawed research that The Columbia Journal of Transnational Law published in an essay by Evan Wallach. Wallach's essay brims with equivocal language respecting waterboarding, as numerous approaches to simulated drowning all get similarly characterized. Forced aspiration of water or even seawater repeatedly over a period of hours is clearly quite different from the waterboarding technique used by the CIA, even if there are some similarities as well. Drawing the easy-yet-inaccurate comparisons as Young does is the wrong way to approach the debate. That's assuming that one desires an honest debate, of course.

But I like the way Young wrapped up her column.
Obama's statement in his inaugural speech that "we reject the false choice between our safety and our ideals" was a noble sentiment. Yet there is a certain arrogance in the assertion that we can balance safety and idealism with no difficult compromises - and it seems that, in practice, Obama is well aware of the need for such compromises.
I hope she's right.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Economic stimulus

On Wednesday I heard a caller to a conservative radio talk show arguing that the economic stimulus package making its way through the legislative process is legit. Waving aside suggestions that the bill represents wasteful spending, he assured the host that government spending was economic stimulus.

That's about the dumbest thing I've ever heard, apart from the fact that it is trivially true in economic terms. Consumer saving through investment and consumer spending also constitute economic stimulus. Pretty much any movement of money through the system is economic stimulus, leaving as the exception pretty much only those folks who bury their money in a wooden chest in the yard or stuff it inside a mattress.

If the economy truly requires a gigantic spending bill from Congress then Congress ought to ensure that the bill contains those measures with the greatest immediate stimulative effect. According to that measure, the Democratic-controlled Congress has failed President Obama and the nation. The bill they produced absurdly suggests that each and every government spending bill should be labeled as a stimulus package.

I have been tracking Obama's early emphasis for his presidency. The pathetic performance of the Democrats on this stimulus package has probably done more than anything else--including Obama's tax-cheating appointments--to damage the new presidency.

If the Democratic Party was interested in supporting Obama then they should have worked much harder to produce the type of bipartisan bill that Obama originally proposed. Apparently they weren't interested in doing that. Instead, they loaded it with the normal list of pet programs.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

"Lancet" study data secret?

Two of the more powerful, albeit dubious, public relations failures with respect to the Iraq War were the "Lancet" study estimates of civilian casualties.

"Lancet" was a misnomer, for the respected journal did not conduct the study but simply published it.

Now the American Association of Public Opinion Research has accused the study's director, Gilbert Burnham, accused Burnham of violating scientific ethics. The AAPOR requested specific information from Burnham so that it could verify his findings, but he declined:

"Dr Burnham provided only partial information and explicitly refused to provide complete information about the basic elements of his research," said Mary Losch, chair of the association's standards committee.

She added that Dr Burnham's refusal to co-operate "violates the fundamental standards of science, seriously undermines open public debate on critical issues and undermines the credibility of all survey and public opinion research."

The BBC also reported, for contrast, the civilian death estimates of Iraq Body Count. IBC published a criticism of Burnham's work on its Web site not long after the study was published in the Lancet.

I wonder if "Godless Liberal Homo" (aka "libhom") has yet taken note?
The criticisms of the Lancet studies you mention are specious. The pundits making them did not have the qualifications to judge them. On the other hand, scientists doing peer reviews for Britain's most prestigious medical journal were eminently qualified.
I wonder what the scientists doing peer reviews were permitted to review with respect to the study if Burnham refused to release data to the AAPOR?

Nothing yet at GLH.


It's old news so wouldn't really count as an "update," but I found this nugget in an older story about the "Lancet" study:
Professor Burnham (...) says that the Iraqi team has asked for data to remain confidential because of “possible risks” to both interviewers and interviewees.
Ah, science and its principle of verification. Gotta love it.