Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Polls Like Carter

(with apologies to Maroon 5)

They all liked my smile
Praised my big brain
I won by a mile
Over McCain
In every debate
Two thousand and eight
It really felt great

Said "I'm like LeBron
And I got this"
Both Kos and MoveOn
said "He can't miss"
But what did I find?
Two thousand and nine
Made me lose my mind

And it goes like this:
Bad taste on my tongue
It went to Hell
And down rung by rung
Ratings all fell
To polls like Carter
I've got the polls like Carter
I've got the polls like Carter

No stimulus
Or ObamaCare
Can lift me back up
From way down there
With polls like Carter
I've got the polls like Carter
I've got the polls like Carter

All of my crew
Stay up late nights
Crafting appeals to
Working class whites
Bitter-clinger slobs
The English call "yobs"
Who all lost their jobs

But I've got no tricks
That can get through
To ignorant hicks
So I'll stick to
The upper-class Greens
And union machines
And Nan and Maxine

And it goes like this:
Bad taste on my tongue
It went to Hell
And down rung by rung
Ratings all fell
To polls like Carter
I've got the polls like Carter
I've got the polls like Carter

No stimulus
Or ObamaCare
Can lift me back up
From way down there
With polls like Carter
I've got the polls like Carter
I've got the polls like Carter

You wanna know
How to get their votes?
Take control,
Grab 'em by their scroats
And if you nationalize
Then they will rationalize:
Vote for you or get downsized

Your style grates
Cold and pedantic
Just imitate
My First Lady shtick
And if you nationalize
Then they will rationalize:
Vote for you or get downsized

And it goes like this:
Bad taste on my tongue
It went to Hell
And down rung by rung
Ratings all fell
To polls like Carter
I've got the polls like Carter
I've got the polls like Carter

No stimulus
Or ObamaCare
Can lift me back up
From way down there
With polls like Carter
I've got the polls like Carter
I've got the polls like Carter

Bad taste on my tongue
It went to Hell
My bell will get rung
In two thousand twelve
If I poll like Carter
If I still poll like Carter
I've got the polls like Carter

The Dead End Coalition

I was struck by this passage in Thomas Edsall's New York Times piece on the "Obama Coalition":

As a practical matter, the Obama campaign and, for the present, the Democratic Party, have laid to rest all consideration of reviving the coalition nurtured and cultivated by Franklin D. Roosevelt. The New Deal Coalition — which included unions, city machines, blue-collar workers, farmers, blacks, people on relief, and generally non-affluent progressive intellectuals — had the advantage of economic coherence. It received support across the board from voters of all races and religions in the bottom half of the income distribution, the very coherence the current Democratic coalition lacks.

A top priority of the less affluent wing of today’s left alliance is the strengthening of the safety net, including health care, food stamps, infant nutrition and unemployment compensation. These voters generally take the brunt of recessions and are most in need of government assistance to survive. According to recent data from the Department of Agriculture, 45.8 million people, nearly 15 percent of the population, depend on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program to meet their needs for food.

The better-off wing, in contrast, puts at the top of its political agenda a cluster of rights related to self-expression, the environment, demilitarization, and, importantly, freedom from repressive norms — governing both sexual behavior and women’s role in society — that are promoted by the conservative movement.

This reminds me very much of the 1937 movie "Dead End," in which the urban poor live across the street from the very rich, with nothing in between. This "coalition" combines people who want to kill the golden goose (that is, the productive private sector of the economy) for welfare benefits with those who want to strangle the golden goose to eliminate its carbon footprint.

I'm guessing that the party that supports the aspirations of white working-class people for economic advancement will end up appealing to minority working-class people who want the opportunity to earn their way toward the same aspirational goals. That really does mean that the "Obama Coalition" is a dead end for the Democrats.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Of stories and narratives, mice and men

James Taranto in Best of the Web notes:

Drew Westen is back. He's the psychologist and political consultant who wrote a ridiculous but revealing New York Times op-ed back in August faulting President Obama for failing to tell "a story" that would comfort "scared and angry" Americans by assuring them that the president would heroically vanquish "bad guys."

It's taken me a while, but I finally realized what story it is that Westen wanted Obama to tell us:

George's voice became deeper. He repeated his words rhythmically as though he had said them many times before. "Guys like us, that work on ranches, are the loneliest guys in the world. They got no family. They don't belong no place. They come to a ranch an' work up a stake and then they go inta town and blow their stake, and the first thing you know they're poundin' their tail on some other ranch. They ain't got nothing to look ahead to."

Lennie was delighted. "That's it - that's it. Now tell how it is with us."

George went on. " With us it ain't like that. We got a future. We got somebody to talk to that gives a damn about us. We don't have to sit in no bar room blowin' in our jack jus' because we got no place else to go. If them other guys gets in jail they can rot for all anybody gives a damn. But not us."

Lennie broke in. "But not us! An' why? Because .... because I got you to look after me, and you got me to look after you, and that's why." He laughed delightedly. "Go on now, George."

"You got it by heart. You can do it yourself."

"No, you. I forget some a' the things. Tell about how it's gonna be."

"O.K. Some day - we're gonna get the jack together and we're gonna have a little house and a couple of acres an' a cow and some pigs and ---"

"An' live off the fatta the lan'," Lennie shouted. "An' have rabbits. Go on, George! Tell about what we're gonna have in the garden and about the rabbits in the cages and about the rain in the winter and the stove, and how thick the cream is on the milk like you can hardly cut it. Tell about that, George."

"Why'n't you do it yourself. You know all of it."

"No.... you tell it. It ain't the same if I tell it. Go on..... George. How I get to tend the rabbits."

"Well," said George. "We'll have a big vegetable patch and a rabbit-hutch and chickens. And when it rains in the winter, we'll just say the hell with goin' to work, and we'll build up a fire in the stove and set around it an' listen to the rain comin' down on the roof...."

The problem is that Westen and the Democrats forgot that Lennie could tell the story as good as George could, so when they heard Obama telling it back in 2004 at the DNC, they thought that Obama was George. What they are just now realizing is that THEY are George, and Obama is Lennie. See if this doesn't sound like the Democrats' current lament about their President:

"There's enough beans for four men," George said.

Lennie watched him from over the fire. He said patiently, "I like 'em with ketchup."

"Well, we ain't got any," George exploded. "Whatever we ain't got, that's what you want. God a'mighty, if I was alone I could live so easy. I could go get a job an' work an' no trouble. No mess at all, and when the end of the month come I could take my fifty bucks and go into town and get whatever I want. Why, I could stay in a cat house all night, I could eat any damn place I want, hotel or any place, and order any damn thing I could think of. An' I could do all that every damn month.. Get a gallon of whisky, or set in a pool room and play cards or shoot pool." Lennie knelt and looked over the fire at the angry George. And Lennie's face was drawn with terror. "An' whatta I got?" George went on furiously. " I got you! You can't keep a job and you lose me ever' job I get. Jus' keep me shovin' all over the country all the time. An' that ain't the worst. You get in trouble. You do bad things and I got to get you out." His voice rose nearly to a shout. "You crazy son-of-a-bitch. You keep me in hot water all the time." He took on the elaborate manner of little girls when they are mimicking one another. "Jus' wanted to feel that little girl's dress - jus' wanted to pet it like it was a mouse -- Well, how the hell did she know you jus' wanted to feel her dress? She jerks back and you hold on like it was a mouse. She yells and we got to hide in a irrigation ditch all day with guys lookin' for us, and we got to sneak out in the dark and get outta the country. All the time somethin' like that - all the time. I wisht I could put you in a cage with about a million mice and let you have fun."

But the Democrats can no more walk away from their Lennie than George could from his. In the end, George showed Lennie mercy, but the Democrats can't even do that, though in their case they'd only need to remove Obama's name from nomination rather than use George's drastic measure.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Sister Bertrille Effect

In Best of the Web today, James Taranto notes the cartoonish silliness of the latest (third? fourth?) incarnation of "anti-anti-Obama vigilance" on the Web, AttackWatch.com:
"Rick Perry's massive jobs lie." Here the source is PolitiFact.com, which said "pants on fire" to the Texas governor for the following statement: "[Obama] had $800 billion worth of stimulus in the first round of stimulus. It created zero jobs."

AttackWatch.com counters that PolitiFact "refers to four independent analyses by the Congressional Budget Office and three private assessments of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act to determine that anywhere between 1.3 million and 3.6 million jobs were created or saved by the stimulus—'but certainly more than zero.' "

Let's take the Obama Administration and PolitiFact and AttackWatch.com and OFA, et al, at their word and assume that ARRA indeed saved or created 3.6 million jobs. In fact, let's take that as axiomatic.

Given that the US economy lost 0.8 million additional jobs in the wake of ARRA, the inescapable conclusion is that ARRA concurrently lost or destroyed 4.4 million jobs, causing the net loss of 0.8 million jobs. If all of the changes in US employment in one direction were due to ARRA, then all of the changes in the other direction were also due to ARRA.

In the 1960s TV show "The Flying Nun," Sister Bertrille finds out that the reason the Puerto Rican breezes loft her into the air by her exotically styled, overstarched wimple can be expressed in the formula "Lift + Thrust > Load + Drag." Obamanomics recalls this aerodynamics formula, because the Obama Administration and its Democrat allies in Congress thought that ARRA would provide lift and thrust to economic activity, but instead constructed it in such a way - and accompanied it with so much other regulation - that they added massive load and drag to the economy, sending it into further decline.

The corollary formula for Obama's employment policies is: "Saved + Created < Lost + Destroyed."

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Why look for stupidity, when laziness is staring you in the face?

The floodgates have opened, and there's a torrent of opinion speculating on Barack Obama's intelligence. A recent example is Noemie Emery's Examiner column: What if Barack Obama isn't so smart?
Fortunately we have such a thinker, "capable to examining" things to perfection, and that is the problem: President Obama is their ideal of a thinker. He is president, and he has been -- how to put it? -- a bomb.

Based on results, Perry has been more successful as governor of Texas than Obama has been as president, or as anything else he has ever tried being, in the entire whole course of his life.

In 2008, Obama was hailed as a genius, a "first rate intellect," the smartest man to ever be president, and we know now the first part is true. He is the political genius who shed 30 points in his first years in office.

He's the political genius who blew up his coalition in his first months in office, who led his party to annihilation in the 2010 midterms (while showing utter indifference to the fate of congressional Democrats), and gave the Republicans -- who were on the floor, in a coma -- more than they needed to come roaring back from the dead...

And if Obama is brilliant, and Bush is an imbecile, how come the genius kept most of the things the dolt set in motion: the protocols for fighting the war against terror, the surge strategy, the timetables, and even, in Robert Gates and David Petraeus, some of his main appointees? Why couldn't the genius improve on the idiot's handiwork?

Maybe he isn't that bright.

Well, there's an alternate explanation for President Obama's record in office, one that accords better with Occam's Razor. We can't measure Obama's intelligence directly -- and he won't release his college or law school transcripts, so we can't use those as a proxy for an intelligence measurement. But we can directly observe one important aspect of Obama's behavior, and definitively state that he is exceedingly lazy.

Emery correctly points out that Obama has demonstrated mediocre to poor performance in each of the jobs he's held. He doesn't exhibit the perseverance to stick with a job until he masters it; instead, his pattern is to become bored or frustrated quickly and to seek some other opportunity.

But with that mediocre performance, Obama has achieved a rapid rise to the absolute pinnacle of political office. That brings up another pattern in Obama's career: his advancement has been largely independent of performance. His editorship of the Harvard Law Review, for example, seems to have required no body of work. His run for the Illinois State Senate was made simpler when his putative mentor was disqualified from the ballot, letting Obama take the Democratic nomination. When he attempted a competitive run for Bobby Rush's seat in Congress, he failed completely. And when he ran for the U.S. Senate, his Republican opponent's divorce records were somehow unsealed, again clearing Obama's path for him.

If you're not good at doing anything but you consistently meet with advancement, you tend to attribute your success to your own inherent awesomeness and you tend to discount the importance of hard work and persistence to achievement. Obama's cocky statements "I got this" and "Just give me the ball" early in his term reflected his belief that his mere presence would be sufficient to solve the thorny problems he would face as President.

So on taking office, he chose to employ a simple two-step strategy. Step one was to give Pelosi and Reid vague outlines of what he wanted and let them handle it. Step two was to deal with the things Pelosi and Reid couldn't or wouldn't get for him by reverting to continuing Bush Administration policies. It was effortless, and as far as Obama was concerned, it was supposed to be a slam dunk: if he ran into too much resistance, he only had to give a speech and the public acclaim would ensure that everyone in Washington (everyone who mattered) would fall into line.

He assumed that the auto-pilot ARRA stimulus would cure the nation's economic ills in one shot; when it didn't, his only fallback was to wait for it to "kick in" over successive "Summers of Recovery." When he ran into real, substantive resistance, as on ObamaCare, he found that speechifying had no effect; only because nationalized health care was a cherished goal of Pelosi and Reid were they willing to go to unprecedented lengths to pass it.

And as his policies proved to be ineffectual both in substance and politically, he became frustrated, bored and disinterested in his job. He sought out ways to avoid work -- golfing, fundraising, hosting celebrities -- because he has no realistic way to find another ostensibly better and more interesting job.

This pattern isn't necessarily symptomatic of intellectual dullness. Intelligence and perseverance aren't intrinsically linked. But as one of Ricochet's favorite Presidents once said:

Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.

And persistence and determination are precisely the qualities President Obama lacks.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

President Kludge

The story goes that in WWII, a machinist's mate on a battleship fended off any work details by keeping constantly busy making a very important piece of equipment that would increase the ship's fighting efficiency. No one but he was allowed to see it.

One day, the ship's captain informed the machinist's mate that the Admiral would be inspecting the ship the following week and that he was to present his very important invention at the inspection. The mate worked feverishly to the deadline, and as the Admiral was being piped aboard, he picked up the item and rushed up to the deck.

He ran across the deck to where the Admiral was waiting, but slipped and fell, and the marvelous thing went over the side. Everyone in the crew heard it hit the water with a loud "KLUDGE!"

This is supposedly how the slang term "kludge" came into existence. It now has the connotation of something thrown together in haste, held together with chewing gum and baling wire, and just barely able to fulfill the function for which it was intended in the most inelegant and inefficient way. That's one way of looking at the Obama Administration: a huge jury-rig that's shaking itself apart.

But listening to President Obama talk about his Big Jobs Plan and how he's getting it ready for unveiling on Labor Day, it reminded me of the story of the goldbricking machinist's mate and how his fortunate stroke of bad luck ensured he'd never have to present his work for inspection.

Friday, August 12, 2011

How will "petroshekels" change the world?

The standing joke among Jews is, "If we're the Chosen People, why didn't God promise us some land with OIL under it?" As it turns out, He did.

Recent discoveries -- over the past several years -- put the amount of natural gas reserves in Israeli territorial waters at as much as 26 trillion cubic feet. That's roughly triple what Israel will consume over the next 20 years, meaning much of it can be exported. But compared to Egypt's 77 tcf of gas reserves, Israel's natural gas discoveries are not quite Earth-shaking.
Currently, Israel imports coal for domestic electricity, supplemented since 2004 by natural gas from the offshore Mari-B field twenty-five miles from the southern port of Ashdod. More gas comes from Egypt, arriving near Ashdod via an undersea pipeline. Indeed, despite the excitement over the Leviathan field, Israel signed a new twenty-year gas purchase agreement with Egypt earlier in December to supply several industrial entities, including the Dead Sea Works and the Haifa refinery.

If the riches of the Leviathan field are confirmed, production could begin by 2016. In that scenario, Israel could eventually become a net energy exporter despite still needing to import oil to refine into gasoline and other products. Apart from notional energy independence, using natural gas from its own fields would save Israel $4 billion in imports annually while boosting gross national product. Plentiful indigenous hydrocarbon supplies could also prompt the development of new industries. For the time being, though, Israel must resolve a variety of problems before it can begin reaping the full benefits of the new discovery.
However, Israel sits atop another energy resource: oil shale. Up until the end of 2010, it was believed that Israel had about 4 billion barrels of oil in extractable oil shale. Given that the Saudis produce just under 10 million bbl/day, those 4 billion bbl are equivalent to about 400 days of Saudi Arabia's production.

But new discoveries of oil shale in Israel and new techniques of extraction put the latest estimates of available oil from Israeli shale at 250 billion bbl - just shy of Saudi Arabia's proven reserves of 260 billion bbl.
What is less well-known, but even more dramatic, is the work being done on this country’s oil shale. The British-based World Energy Council reported in November 2010 that Israel had oil shale from which it is possible to extract the equivalent of 4 billion barrels of oil. Yet these numbers are currently undergoing a major revision internationally.

A new assessment was released late last year by Dr. Yuval Bartov, chief geologist for Israel Energy Initiatives, at the yearly symposium of the prestigious Colorado School of Mines. He presented data that our oil shale reserves are actually the equivalent of 250 billion barrels (that compares with 260 billion barrels in the proven reserves of Saudi Arabia).

Independent oil industry analysts have been carefully looking at the shale, and have not refuted these findings. As a consequence of these new estimates, we may emerge as the third largest deposit of oil shale, after the US and China.

Moreover, Israel is developing extraction techniques that take the oil out of the shale while the shale remains underground, at per-barrel costs of $20 or less.

What would it mean to the world if Israel were able to produce oil at rates similar to Saudi Arabia?

1) Lower oil prices overall. More supply would allow oil prices to fall to levels more consistent with historical patterns. Cheaper oil would help the world's industrialized economies to grow.

2) A loosening of OPEC's stranglehold on world oil markets. Any significant non-OPEC production reduces OPEC's leverage and provides a safety valve against production restrictions by one or more OPEC nations.

3) A flip in American foreign aid payments. Israel would no longer need aid from the USA and would be able to buy American military hardware for cash.

4) A revision in geopolitical and global military postures. Unlike oil from the Persian Gulf that has to transit the Suez Canal or circumnavigate Africa, Israeli oil can be delivered to tankers in the Mediterranean. Consider the way Europe reacted to the potential disruption of oil production in Libya, an unstable and hostile producer in the Mediterranean; the value of a politically stable and friendly oil source in the Mediterranean would cause the West to put more pressure on the Arab world to declare peace with Israel and cease threatening a valuable energy exporter. It would also change the calculus with respect to the threat Iran and its nuclear program pose to Israel.

5) A potential recession in global terrorism. If the West uses Israel's rise as an oil exporter as an impetus to stand up to Iran, the Iranian regime may find it too costly to continue exporting terrorism via Syria to Hezbollah, Hamas and other groups around the world. Without Iranian sponsorship, jihadist movements in many places would become too weak to stand up to more moderate movements. And to the extent that Israel's competition with Saudi Arabia in the oil markets and its new geopolitical importance made life harder on Saudi and other Gulf oil sheikhs and emirs, they would have less disposable income to spend on al-Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood.

Not surprisingly, Hezbollah wants to throw a monkey wrench into Israel's plans by prodding Lebanon to claim part of Israel's territorial waters for its own. But Israel has plenty of gas for its own use in undisputed waters and has the technology to defend its claims against Hezbollah attacks by missiles or suicide boats. And Hezbollah can't make any claim over Israeli oil shale.

Let's hope this brave new world opens up soon. We will all benefit.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Golem

One of the strangest legends of Jewish mystical folklore is the story of the Golem. The best-known example is the story of the Golem of Prague, made by Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel to protect the Jews of Prague from Christians incited by sermons at Eastertime. Eventually, after performing its defensive duty, the Golem stopped obeying Rabbi Judah Loew's orders and the Rabbi was forced to destroy it.

From the Hebrew word for "formless mass," golem refers to the product of a mystical procedure that turns a shapeless lump of clay or mud into a living being, capable of performing service for its maker. The procedure relies on the power of words to create and destroy: the maker imbues the golem with life by speaking or writing words related to the names of God into the formless mass, and it takes shape and gains the power of movement -- but not of speech. When its usefulness is at an end (or when it develops a dangerous will of its own), the golem's maker can destroy it by repeating the words in the reverse order or erasing their written form.

In 2006, columnist Froma Harrop noted that Barack Obama described himself in his second autobiography, The Audacity of Hope: "I serve as a blank screen on which people of vastly different political stripes project their own views... my treatment of the issues is often partial and incomplete."

Today, in August 2011, Froma Harrop has made some interesting headlines by calling TEA Party movement members "terrorists" -- this while heading a project called Restoring Civility for the National Conference of Editorial Writers. But what's been overlooked in the kerfuffle over her name-calling is the topic of the column in which the name-calling appeared: Democrats Also Need a Presidential Primary in 2012. It concludes:
But Democrats would do themselves a huge favor if they had a living, breathing leader as their presidential candidate in 2012. Won't someone step up?

And she's hardly the only Progressive lamenting the failure of Obama to fulfill their ambitions. On Slate, Jacob Weisberg paints a lurid image of Obama as passive and ineffectual:
It has been astonishing to watch Obama's sheer unwillingness to give up on his opponents after their refusal to work with him on the stimulus package, health care reform, or the extension of the Bush tax cuts last fall. A Congress dominated by mindless cannibals is now feasting on a supine president. But surely even he now realizes there's no middle ground with antagonists whose only interest is in seeing him humiliated.

And in the New York Times, Drew Westen, professor of psychology at Emory University, writes that Obama seems passionless and even rudderless:
A somewhat less charitable explanation is that we are a nation that is being held hostage not just by an extremist Republican Party but also by a president who either does not know what he believes or is willing to take whatever position he thinks will lead to his re-election. Perhaps those of us who were so enthralled with the magnificent story he told in “Dreams From My Father” appended a chapter at the end that wasn’t there — the chapter in which he resolves his identity and comes to know who he is and what he believes in.

It seems clear that Obama was flattering himself when he described himself as a blank screen. He is a golem: a shapeless mass of unformed political opinions and feel-good slogans who animated himself into national political life with the power of words. He began with his speech to the 2004 Democratic National Convention, then followed with The Audacity of Hope (mirroring the way he used Dreams From My Father to become a statewide politician in Illinois), and finally with his campaign speeches in 2007-2008. And along the way, his formlessness allowed both Progressives and more moderate voters to believe that he was assuming the form of their faithful servant, a being that would do the heavy lifting of fixing a broken nation and creating a cross-party coalition behind his preferred solutions.

But having spoken himself into being, President Obama had no idea what he existed for. He assumed that slogans, pronouncements and speeches would be as effective in creating public policy from his shapeless mass of ideas as it was in turning him into a President-like figure. Amazingly, in thirty months in office, he hasn't learned that incantations are not sufficient to the task of negotiating policy decisions with Congress. Even very recently, his press secretary Jay Carney expressed exasperation on Obama's behalf at press suggestions that the President might be expected in the course of his job to write down comprehensive proposals to implement his policy positions.

The final evidence that Obama is no blank screen but an animated being is that the Progressives now realize that they can't change him merely by changing a channel or projecting a different image onto him. In fact, they can't control him at all -- and the fact that they are so outraged to realize that fact indicates that they indeed saw themselves, not him, as the makers of the Golem. They believed that they called him into being and thus should be able to uncreate him, but they are learning that they were merely swept along in his process of self-creation and that they are now powerless to stop him from lumbering aimlessly, crushing their Progressive ideals.

The story of the Golem was made into a so-so Roddy McDowall movie in 1967. But that was a masterpiece compared to the Obama version.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Mr. Multi-Tasker (sort of)

Yes, the "hard pivot to jobs" is back, for the umpteenth time. The RNC notes that this is the 15th time that the Administration has announced its focus is shifting to job creation. Ben Smith at Politico (hat tip: The Campaign Spot) takes issue with the specific count, but has to admit that the observation is valid:
February 2009: In a speech to Congress, Obama says his economic plan will be focused on jobs.

November 2009, during the lull in health care debate: “This is my administration's overriding focus.”

January 2010: “What they can expect from this administration, and I know what they can expect from you, is that we are going to have a sustained and relentless focus over the next several months on accelerating the pace of job creation, because that's priority number one.”

April 2010: Post health-care, Obama goes on a bunch of “Main Street” tour stops to talk about jobs in April and May.

June 2010: The beginning of recovery summer.

December 2010: “And I think we are past the crisis point in the economy, but we now have to pivot and focus on jobs and growth.”

January 2011: Obama’s State of the Union focuses on jobs and afterward he makes a big jobs push (even though Egypt is taking up his, and the world's attention), launches “Startup America” initiative.

Obama's spokesman Jay Carney realized something really important about the pivot talk and tried to counter it:
Q: The President has repeatedly pivoted back to jobs, as he did again yesterday. Why is this time any different? Why should the Americans have any confidence this time?

MR. CARNEY: Well, let’s be clear. The President has been focusing on jobs and the economy since the day he was sworn into office, during a month that saw the loss of 800,000 -- nearly 800,000 American jobs in just one month. And that was the situation that he encountered when he took the oath. And that has been his focus since he became President.

There is no question that as President you have to deal with other problems. And in this case, the debt ceiling crisis, if you will, was a manufactured crisis. It was a self-inflicted wound. It was the linkage between something that Congress absolutely has to do -- which is extend the borrowing authority of the United States government -- to specific legislation that one-half of one body of Congress wanted passed.

So Carney's claim is that Obama doesn't need to pivot back to job creation because he's always been focused on it. Good attempt... but Carney then sabotages his own spin by admitting that because Obama had to "deal with other problems," he couldn't make any headway on job creation. He reiterates it later in the briefing:
What the President is saying now, and what you will be hearing him saying, is that you, the American citizen, have heard a lot of talk in Washington about debt ceilings and deficits; and while those are important issues -- very important -- and they have -- they are important in relation to our economy, and they are important in relation to jobs if they are addressed appropriately -- there are other things we can do directly that affect jobs and economic growth.

And that’s what he’s saying. This is not a -- I think “pivot” is not an appropriate word. It’s refocusing. It’s continuing the focus that we’ve had and allowing us to focus even more intently now that we have reached the compromise that was reached with Congress a couple of days ago.

Now, I seem to recall a moment in the 2008 Presidential campaign when John McCain suspended his campaign and called for postponing a debate so that he could go back to Washington to help deal with the burgeoning financial crisis. I also recall that Obama dismissed the call to postpone the debate derisively:
“It’s my belief that this is exactly the time when the American people need to hear from the person who in approximately 40 days will be responsible for dealing with this mess,” Mr. Obama said. “It is going to be part of the president’s job to deal with more than one thing at once.”

So, riddle me this: how is it that the President who came into office knowing he had to be able to deal with more than one thing at once never seemed to be able to keep dealing with the unemployment crisis whenever some other problem arose? Where's that multi-tasking skill been for the last 30 months, Mr. President?

Maybe Obama's multi-tasking capability means he can deal with only one thing at a time in his day job as President while carrying a full fundraising schedule.

Friday, July 8, 2011

A strange juxtaposition

Isn't this a strange juxtaposition of news stories? It was on the World News page of the Daily Telegraph (UK) online edition.

So on the one hand, the UN is very aggrieved that the US state of Texas would proceed with the execution of a Mexican national without taking into account that he did not have consular assistance at trial. The US Supreme Court denied a last-minute stay because US law does not recognize the lack of consular assistance as the basis for a Federal appeal.

Not that this was anything other than a stalling tactic. The condemned killer, Humberto Leal, tortured and murdered a 16-year-old girl: the physical evidence conclusively disproved his version of the events.

At the same time that the UN is deploring the execution of a particularly vicious rapist-murderer, its "peacekeeping" mission in Sudan stood idly by as Sudanese government forces attacked and murdered civilians:

Hundreds of people gathered outside a UN base for safety after Sudan's armed forces moved to crush a fresh rebellion by opposition militia in the town of Kadugli in the country's southeast.

They were refused entry to the fortified compound and instead camped outside its barbed wire perimeter with little shelter, food or water.

Reverend Barnaba Ibrahim said soldiers arrived in the middle of the night and dragged men accused of being rebel sympathisers away to be killed.

The allegations, supported by other reports from the area, again call into question the ability of the £650 million-a-year UN mission in Sudan to fulfil its mandate to protect civilians.

"I was just hiding, lying down pretending to be asleep, and they took the man next to me and beat him to death with sticks, five metres from the walls of the UN base," Rev Ibrahim said in Juba, capital of South Sudan, where he has fled for safety.

"Two other men were taken the same night. They were screaming and protesting.

The next day, we found their bodies nearby and they had been shot." Rev Barnaba, an Anglican pastor from Kadugli, said that "there is no way the peacekeepers did not know what was happening".

"There are armed guards all around that place, even at night," he said, still wearing the white shirt and grey slacks he fled in, a month ago.

"The peacekeepers are supposed to be there to protect us. They did nothing. This happened more than the one time I witnessed." Anderson Yacoub, who works with the Anglican diocese of Kadugli, said colleagues sleeping outside the same UN base, at Shaahir on the city's outskirts, had reported similar stories.

"There were other people who fled into the mountains, even though that seemed more dangerous, and they survived," he said, also in Juba.

"Those others who went seeking refuge at the UN, they were the ones who died." The United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) has been plagued by allegations that it has repeatedly failed to carry out its central mandate to protect civilians, by force if necessary.

The UN protests that an American state executes a brutal killer, while the force it deploys with the mandate to stop brutal killers from brutally killing civilians simply stands by as those brutal killer brutally kill civilians. It seems to me that the UN as an organization is culpable in the deaths of the Sudanese who believed its promises of safety and protection, especially since those people flocked to the UN compound precisely because of those promises and were thus nicely arranged in a compact group for the murderers to slaughter.

And note that the UN donor countries pay $1 billion a year to have UN peacekeepers sit on their thumbs and watch civilians be murdered. I would rather have my taxes go to the costs of executing more Humberto Leals rather than to subsidizing the incompetence and cowardice of so-called "peacekeepers" whose presence actually facilitates the killing they were sent to prevent.

Clean water for the Third World: the problem isn't money

From Fast Company, a report on SODIS: solar disinfection of water.

Today, at least 5 million people in about 30 countries disinfect their drinking water daily with SODIS, and 750,000 more join the ranks each year. SODIS works by exposing contaminated water to the sun's UV rays, destroying the genetic material and cellular structure of viruses, bacteria, and protozoa. PET plastic bottles work best, as they're both durable and allow much of the UV radiation to pass through them. Bottled water is left outside for at least six hours (or 48 hours if it's cloudy), and then stored for future use. Since both polluted water and plastic bottles are abundant in many developing countries, SODIS is catching on and cutting the incidence of diarrhea by more than 85% in some places.

The problem of finding safe water to drink affects a lot more than 5,000,000 people: the article puts the number at 1,200,000,000. Annually, 1.8 million children die of diarrhea related to contaminated water.

So why isn't a cheap, practical and effective solution not an instant success? Heierli rephrased the question in a more telling way in his report: "Why is it so hard to get safe water to the poor--and so profitable to sell it to the rich?"

Basically, it's a marketing problem. Even in places where SODIS training is readily available, only about half of the households trained in the technique actually adopt it. SODIS training cannot be stopped after the first year of promotion. "People need reminders to form solid habits," says Meierhofer. They also need to be convinced of its value: Families capable of spending the modest time and money for SODIS often prioritize other things (such as buying soft drinks).

Let that sink in for a minute. Families capable of making a tiny investment in time and money to save their children from a horrific slow death "often prioritize other things".

Are children so disposable in those societies that a few thousand more or fewer dying is of no consequence? Do parents in those societies place such little value on their children?

Is this the reason that the Third World remains poor and sick -- that it is unwilling to make a sufficient effort to build an infrastructure for its future if that takes away from current consumption?

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

US Intelligence Agencies warn of implanted bombs inside terrorists

I guess they finally got around to watching The Dark Knight:

WASHINGTON – The U.S. government has warned domestic and international airlines that some terrorists are considering surgically implanting explosives into humans to carry out attacks, The Associated Press has learned.

There is no intelligence pointing to a specific plot, but the U.S. shared its concerns last week with executives at domestic and international carriers.

People traveling to the U.S. from overseas may experience additional screening at airports because of the threat, according to the Transportation Security Administration.

My prediction: a pregnant woman delivers by C-section and has the empty space in her abdomen replaced with a chemical pack. After some weeks of healing, she's given the catalyst in liquid form disguised as injectable insulin and sent onto a plane.

Midflight, she goes into the lavatory to "take her insulin," injects it into her belly into the chemical pack, and....

(H/T Hot Air.)

UPDATE: Thanks, Ace, for linking this in the Headlines at Ace Of Spades HQ. And welcome, M&Ms!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Obama's recovery, part 2: not so good for native-born OR immigrant workers

The Pew Hispanic Center has studied the impact of the recession and recovery on foreign-born workers in the USA (presumably including legal immigranthttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifs, temporary resident workers and illegal immigrants). In the recovery period, foreign-born workers gained jobs even as native-born workers lost them:

In the year following the official end of the Great Recession in June 2009, foreign-born workers gained 656,000 jobs while native-born workers lost 1.2 million, according to a new analysis of U.S. Census Bureau and Department of Labor data by the Pew Hispanic Center.

As a result, the unemployment rate for immigrant workers fell 0.6 percentage points during this period (from 9.3% to 8.7%) while for native-born workers it rose 0.5 percentage points (from 9.2% to 9.7%).

But this isn't unalloyed good news for anybody. It turns out that while foreign-born workers found more jobs, they haven't found enough to make up for their losses in the recession. Moreover, the jobs they have found pay less:

But the jobs recovery for immigrants is far from complete. The 656,000 jobs gained by immigrants in the first year of the recovery are not nearly sufficient to make up for the 1.1 million jobs they lost from the second quarter of 2008 to the second quarter of 2009. Over the two-year period from 2008 to 2010, second quarter to second quarter, foreign-born workers have lost 400,000 jobs and native-born workers have lost 5.7 million jobs. The unemployment rate for http://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifimmigrants is still more than double the rate prior to the recession when it stood at 4.0% in the second quarter of 2007.

Also, even as immigrants managed to gain jobs in the recovery, they experienced a sharp decline in earnings. From 2009 to 2010, the median weekly earnings of foreign-born workers decreased 4.5%, compared with a loss of less than one percent for native-born workers. Latino immigrants experienced the largest drop in wages of all.

The Obama Administration really does look like it's going to leave individual Americans - and resident non-citizens - poorer than it found them.

Hat tip: Mark Krikorian, The Corner, NRO.

Obama's recovery: working less, for lower pay

It's swell how the Obama Administration's crack economic team is remaking work in America:

• Lower-wage industries -- things like retail and food preparation -- accounted for 23 percent of the jobs lost during the recession, but 49 percent of the jobs gained over the last year, a recent study (pdf) by the National Employment Law Program found. Higher-wage industries, by contrast, accounted for 40 percent of the jobs lost, but just 14 percent of the jobs gained. In other words, low paying jobs are increasing as a percentage of total jobs, while high-paying jobs are on the decline.

• Meanwhile, the percentage of those working who have part-time jobs and want full-time ones surged in mid-February to 19.6 percent -- almost as high as it was a year ago before the recovery began, according to Gallup numbers. That suggests, of course, that a large number of the new jobs created over the last year are part-time.

• And a recent Wall Street Journal analysis found that even though productivity rose 5.2 percent from mid 2009 to the end of 2010, wages increased by just 0.3 percent. That means only 6 percent of productivity gains were shared with workers. In past recoveries, that figure has averaged 58 percent. This time around, far more of the gains went to shareholders, in the form of profits, which are at record levels.

What this means is that even as the headline unemployment figure declines, the total wage base (on which income taxes are assessed and from which consumers spend the money that generates sales taxes) will not recover to its pre-recession levels. And, in turn, that means that Federal and State tax revenues will not recover along with nominal employment numbers.

To grow our way out of our fiscal problems, we'd need high-paying, full-time jobs. Since the Obama Recovery isn't producing those, we're left with the only alternative: cut government spending drastically. (Historical experience teaches that raising taxes reduces tax revenue in the long run.)