The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Monday, June 30, 2008

No Rush

Sometimes, in my darker moments, I really do believe that there is a vast conspiracy working against our better interests on the energy front. From The New York Times:
DENVER — Faced with a surge in the number of proposed solar power plants, the federal government has placed a moratorium on new solar projects on public land until it studies their environmental impact, which is expected to take about two years.

The Bureau of Land Management [BLM] says an extensive environmental study is needed to determine how large solar plants might affect millions of acres it oversees in six Western states — Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah.

Let me be sure I understand this. We are faced with an energy crunch and currently use an energy source that is known to pollute the environment. But the government is unwilling to allow solar projects—clean, non-polluting, and climate friendly—to proceed until it assesses the potential environmental damage?

You’d think the BLM bureaucrats would allow development to proceed while investigating environmental concerns concurrently. But noooo, it’s better to stop everything for two years while an environmental impact is assessed.

Heck, there’s no rush, no urgency, is there?

Update (7-03-08):

After less than a month, it appears that the BLM has caved on their ridiculous policy. reports:
Under increasing public pressure over its decision to temporarily halt all new solar development on public land, the Bureau of Land Management said Wednesday that it was lifting the freeze, barely a month after it was put into effect.

Sanity prevails!

The Index

Last week, the National Center for Science Education reported
Louisiana's Governor Bobby Jindal signed Senate Bill 733 (PDF) into law, 27 years after the state passed its Balance Treatment for Evolution-Science and Creation-Science Act, a law overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1987. Jindal's approval of the bill was buried in a press release issued on June 25, 2008, announcing 75 bills he signed in recent days. Houma Today reports (June 27, 2008) that the bill "will empower educators to pull religious beliefs into topics like evolution, cloning and global warming by introducing supplemental materials."

Louisiana’s descent into a distorted “science” education curriculum mirrors earlier attempts in Kansas, Florida, and a number of other states to introduce Christian fundamentalist beliefs into the public school curriculum. After proponents of “creationism” were thwarted by separation of church and state issues, they cynically rebranded their belief system (it is not, nor has it ever been, “science”) into something they call “intelligent design.”

Jindal’s genetics professor at the University of Louisiana asked Jindal to veto the bill (hat tip: LGF), but to no avail:
In a press release from the Louisiana Coalition for Science, Governor Bobby Jindal's college genetics professor asks him not to "hold back the next generation of Louisiana's doctors." The press release introduces an open letter from the group calling for Jindal to veto SB 733, a bill which opens the door to creationism in the classroom,

Professor Arthur Landy, University Professor at Brown University who teaches in the medical school, taught the then-premed. Landy says "Without evolution, modern biology, including medicine and biotechnology, wouldn't make sense. In order for today's students in Louisiana to succeed in college and beyond, in order for them to take the fullest advantages of all that the 21st century will offer, they need a solid grounding in genetics and evolution. Governor Jindal was a good student in my class when he was thinking about becoming a doctor, and I hope he doesn't do anything that would hold back the next generation of Louisiana's doctors."

Jindal passed up medical school for a Rhodes scholarship studying political science. Politics thus took him away from promising careers in medicine, law, or exorcism.

Right-wing, fundamentalist ideology is as dangerous as its counterpart on the Left. Facts and evidence don’t matter, rational discussion goes out the window, arguments are distorted so that even the most understanding critic throws up his hands in frustration. And yet, the fundamentalists peck away at sound science and in some cases (e.g., Louisiana), achieve small victories.

If you’re a technologist or a scientist and have a need for an excellent resource for refuting the ridiculous claims of the “intelligent design” crowd, Mark Issac has assembled an extensive Index to Creationist Claims.
Creationist claims are numerous and varied, so it is often difficult to track down information on any given claim. Plus, creationists constantly come up with new claims which need addressing. This site attempts, as much as possible, to make it easy to find rebuttals and references from the scientific community to any and all of the various creationist claims. It is updated frequently; see the What's New page for the latest changes.

Since most creationism is folklore, the claims are organized in an outline format following that of Stith Thompson's Motif-Index of Folk-Literature. Sections CA through CG deal with claims against conventional science, and sections CH through CJ contain claims about creationism itself.

If you find yourself in a debate defending rationality against the onslaught of the irrational, the Index is the place to begin your research.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Flip. Flop.

It’s taken some time, but I’m beginning to understand that Barack Obama is the candidate of change—as in, change your position on an issue, not because you had a change of heart, but because it’s politically expedient to do so. Now, all politicians do this to some extent, but his supporters argue that Barack Obama is different from other politicians. Not.

In October, 2007, a mere nine months ago, Obama was violently opposed to the FISA bill that would have retroactively given telecommunication companies immunity from vexatious lawsuit filed when those companies helped Federal intelligence services hunt down terrorist cells within the US. After all, the ‘evil’ phone companies had to be held accountable, and those poor, innocent Islamists who received calls from Pakistan or Gaza? Innocent until proven guilty – after all, terrorism is just a criminal matter, isn’t it?

But today, Barack Obama has had a change of heart. Afraid of being painted as weak in combating Jihadist forces, Obama has scurried to the center and states that he will vote for blanket immunity for telecoms. Ironically, he’s doing the right thing for exactly the wrong reasons.

Charles Krauthammer discusses the "then and now" of Barack Obama:
That was then: Democratic primaries to be won, netroot lefties to be seduced. With all that (and Hillary Clinton) out of the way, Obama now says he'll vote in favor of the new FISA bill that gives the telecom companies blanket immunity for post-Sept. 11 eavesdropping.

Back then, in the yesteryear of primary season, he thoroughly trashed the North American Free Trade Agreement, pledging to force a renegotiation, take "the hammer" to Canada and Mexico and threaten unilateral abrogation.

Today the hammer is holstered. Obama calls his previous NAFTA rhetoric "overheated" and essentially endorses what one of his senior economic advisers privately told the Canadians: The anti-trade stuff was nothing more than populist posturing.

Nor is there much left of his primary season pledge to meet "without preconditions" with Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. There will be "preparations," you see, which are being spun by his aides into the functional equivalent of preconditions.

Obama's long march to the center has begun.

But here’s the thing. Barack Obama is ideologically Left. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, in his thin record and even thinner experience that would indicate that his newly held centrist beliefs are anything but political posturing.

What's troubling is that the MSM accepts his shift in positions with barely a peep. Sure, there were a few editorials decrying his abandonment of public campaign financing after promising he would accept public funds. But even the criticism was tempered with sympathy. Krauthammer notes:
Indeed, the New York Times expressed a sympathetic understanding of Obama's about-face by buying his preposterous claim that it was a preemptive attack on McCain's 527 independent expenditure groups -- notwithstanding the fact that (a) as Politico's Jonathan Martin notes, "there are no serious anti-Obama 527s in existence nor are there any immediate plans to create such a group" and (b) the only independent ad of any consequence now running in the entire country is an co-production savaging McCain.

Comically, the many, many media outlets who have become unapologetic shills for Barack Obama work hard at avoiding the phrase “flip-flop” when the Chosen One is under consideration. Richard Fernandez notes:
The New York Times calls it “a Pragmatist’s Shift Toward the Center … Barack Obama has taken a stroll this week away from traditional liberal political positions, his path toward the political center marked by artful leaps and turns.”

“Artful leaps and turns”—ya gotta love it!

One can only wonder what additional “artful leaps and turns” will be in the offing should Obama be elected President of the United States. Will he “leap” toward concessions or appeasement of our worst enemies? With he “turn” toward a redistribution of wealth that will drive an already weakened economy into full recession, high unemployment, and staggering interest rates (a la Jimmy Carter)?

But not to worry … his actions will always be “artful” and therefore acceptable to the uncritical media who loves him unconditionally.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

No Energy

Long before oil reached $130+ per barrel, I argued (e.g., here, here, and here) for energy independence on both environmental and national security grounds. I commented that our collective failure to achieve energy independence in the 35 years following the first oil embargo of the 1970s was a profound failure in leadership—a failure shared by both Republicans and Democrats. Their collective inertia on this issue is despicable, and today, the American people and the American economy are suffering as a consequence.

Although John McCain has no cohesive strategy for energy independence, he is suggesting a few pragmatic baby steps—more drilling off the continental shelf of the US is one of them and an aggressive program for the development of better battery technologies (for electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles) is another. Like Barack Obama, who (as always) speaks in generalities and offers little that is substantive) McCain is in favor of alternative energy programs (who isn’t?), but like Obama, offers no strategy for getting them implemented over the next decade.

Obama, on the other hand, has rejected drilling off our coastline or in ANWR (McCain agrees with him on ANWR, incorrectly in my opinion). Obama derisively noted that any benefits from drilling wouldn’t accrue until at least 2013.

A thoughtful person might suggest that if there is, in fact, a five or ten year lead time once new drilling commences, it might be a good idea to start now! Instead, Obama rejects the idea, suggesting instead that we create “green jobs” (whatever those are) and “alternative energy sources” which have substantial lead times themselves.

As an aside, it’s interesting to note that ANWR comprises 19.5 million acres in Alaska. Most of it uninhabited by humans. By most estimates, drilling could be conducted on about 2000 acres—that’s 0.00010256 of the ANWR land mass. Were Congress to think clearly for just a second, they might conclude that 0.00010256 is a very small fraction of ANWR and that sacrificing such a small fraction just might be worth it on national security grounds. But no matter, the environmentalists have spoken and both John and Barack have capitulated.

In reality, both McCain and Obama are both right and both wrong. Obama is right when he states that there will be pain as we make the transition to a new energy future. In fact, it’s one of the most direct statements he’s made in this political season. McCain is right when he suggests that further drilling is necessary as part of a comprehensive strategy for energy independence. But both are wrong when they propose fixes in dribs and drabs. This country needs a defined strategy for energy independence with specific measurable goals and end-dates. Neither candidate has dared to antagonize the special interests that resist such a strategy—whether it’s environmentalists on the Left or Big Oil on the Right.

It appears that neither man has the energy to propose a comprehensive program that is low on abstractions and high on accomplishable goals. It appears that neither has the energy to lead us through a painful period as we make the necessary transition to self-sufficiency. And neither has the energy to buck the special interests that will scream when their ox is gored. Not surprising really. After all, we’re suffering from an energy shortage, aren’t we?

Race in the Race

During a presidential campaign, it’s reasonable to expect that the opposing party will criticize the positions of the candidate on the other side. It’s also reasonable to expect the media will explore the record, the experience, the associations, and the character of each candidate.

Criticism and exploration can often be harsh, and it’s in each candidate’s interest to discourage negative commentary in every way possible. It appears that Barack Obama—you remember, the candidate that touts himself as a uniter, the man who can move us toward a new, bipartisan politics—is positioning himself to blunt any exploration of his past positions and experience. On Friday night at a Jacksonville Fundraiser he said:
"We know what kind of campaign they're going to run. They're going to try to make you afraid," Obama said at the fundraiser. "They're going to try to make you afraid of me. He's young and inexperienced and he's got a funny name. And did I mention he's black? He's got a feisty wife."
The crowd of supporters cheered, and Obama added: "We know the strategy because they've already shown their cards. Ultimately I think the American people recognize that old stuff hasn't moved us forward. That old stuff just divides us."

Eugene Robinson suggests that comments like Obama’s are a good thing and that they bring the race issue "into the sunlight.”
The question isn't whether race will be an issue in the general election campaign between Barack Obama and John McCain. Race is already an issue, even if largely confined to the shadow world of implication and coded language. Obama is now dragging the race issue into the sunlight -- a move that has to be considered both risky and inevitable.

I say inevitable because the fact of Obama's race isn't something that voters could possibly miss, whatever they think about it. The riskiness of dealing openly with race is every bit as obvious as Obama's skin color: A new Washington Post-ABC News poll shows that three of every 10 Americans acknowledge having "at least some feelings of racial prejudice."

Other findings in the survey suggest that the distance between blacks and whites in this country has narrowed steadily in recent decades; nearly eight of 10 whites say they have a "fairly close personal friend" who is black, for example, while barely more than half of whites reported having black friends when the question was asked in 1981. Still, the poll suggests that as far as we've come on matters of race, we have a long way to go -- and that some reservoir of racial suspicion remains, should anyone want to try to exploit it.

But James Taranto has a different take:
This [Obama’s comments] is a very clever bit of rhetoric. For one thing, note how Obama conflates the entirely legitimate concern over his inexperience with prejudice against his race or "funny name." If you vote against him because he's green, you might as well be voting against him because he's black.

For another, Obama is baselessly accusing Republicans of racial prejudice, or at least of cynically pandering to racial prejudice. But by wording this "accusation" as a prediction, Obama is able to cast aspersions without needing any evidence to back them up. He implicitly ascribes to the GOP the view that voters are prejudiced against blacks, then calls on voters to prove they are not by voting for Obama. The fear of GOP racism also provides black voters an extra motive to get to the polls.

Of course, if Obama is right that voters reject "that old stuff," then none of this should matter. You ought to be able to choose between Obama and McCain on their merits, irrespective of race. It is Obama himself who, by calling attention to his race in this way, is employing the "old stuff": trying to take advantage of white guilt and black fear.

Obama’s approach is a clever political gambit. It will cause many to temper their questions and blunt their criticism, worrying that any negative opinion of Barack Obama will be perceived as racial in nature.

The problem is that legitimate questions about Obama’s record, experience, associations, and character have absolutely nothing to do with the color of his skin. If every question is parsed for “code words” and every comment is examined for racial intent, it’s likely that some who are legitimately sensitive to racial issues will shy away from asking hard questions or making critical comments. And it appears that that is exactly what Barack Obama has in mind.

I guess the cynical damping of criticism is the new kind of politics we’ve all been waiting for.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Pattie, Pattie, Puke, Puke

In South Florida, you have ample opportunity to observe people as they age. As the years pass, it appears that minor idiosyncrasies are amplified and small character flaws are magnified. The person who you knew in his/her late 40s and 50s is often not the same person as he/she passes into his/her sixth or seventh decade of life. If the person in question begins with only minor blemishes, the transformation is no big deal. But if a person begins with serious flaws, the transformation can be downright repulsive.

Patrick J. Buchanan, a long-time conservative celebrity, spokesperson, and writer falls into the latter category. Throughout his career, Buchanan has been on the wrong side of most issues that matter to the American Center, whether it's reproductive rights, immigration, or global trade. His antipathy toward Israel and his not-so-subtle anti-Semitism are well documented. That was then.

As the years have passed, every flaw in Buchanan’s character has been magnified and the result is not pretty. Today, he has become a revisionist pseudo-historian suggesting the onset of World War II was caused not by Nazi Germany’s dark ambitions, but by oppressive behavior on the part of England and other European allies. In a recentscreed at, he writes:
The Holocaust was not a cause of the war, but a consequence of the war. No war, no Holocaust.

Poor Nazi-Germany, so oppressed, so misunderstood! According to Buchanan, the Nazis were forced into murdering 20 million people. They had no choice once they were attacked for invading inconsequential countries like— Poland.

It’s reasonable to state that Buchanan’s position is garbage. In a scathing condemnation of Buchanan’s historical accuracy, conservative historian Victor Davis Hanson writes:
Buchanan unfortunately is neither a reliable journalist nor an historian, and thus simply cannot be trusted to report accurately what is written.

It’s also reasonable to note that his isolationist, anti-War, anti-Semitic arguments support the notion that the far-Right and the far-Left are closer philosophically than either would care to admit.

Buchanan is aging badly (in an intellectual sense) and as a consequence, he has become an embarrassment to himself and to those on the Right who value rational thinking.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Power Plants and Political Opinions

As regular readers already know, I’m struggling to understand the man behind the politician who is Barack Obama. Is he, as he and his many followers contend, the great uniter—a new kind of politician who will make good on his promises to reinstill hope and instantiate change throughout the fabric of our society?

Or, is he just another corruptible Chicago politician, driven by a far-Left ideology that sits well with his base, but would be antithetical to the American center—the people who elect presidents?

As I’ve mentioned in many posts, his record and experience are very thin and offer almost no clue about who this man really is, how he’d make decisions, what kind of policies/legislation he’d promote, how he’d deal with our friends and our adversaries. Since he’s never done any of this, it’s really hard to tell.

But clues are beginning to emerge, not from a MSM that has already decided he is above reproach and far too charismatic to bother with substantive policy questions. Rather these clues come from his own words and the actions of his close associates. But even here, Obama’s followers and the MSM object, arguing that it is “McCarthyism” to suggest that Obama’s associations are fair game, that questions should not be asked about the people he has been close to on his way up.

In a fascinating analysis of Obama’s positions (note the plural) on the Iraq war, Richard Fernandez draws a time line that is worthy of consideration. He introduces his analysis in the following manner:
Barack Obama’s position on Iraq has shifted significantly over the last six years. What is interesting is how his position on Iraq matches up with developments in Chicago. Specifically, there appears to be a direct correlation between the rising and falling prospects of his longtime friend and fundraiser Tony Rezko’s attempts to secure multi-million-dollar contracts to build and operate a power plant in Kurdish Iraq and the senator’s Iraq flip-flops.

In earlier posts, I’ve suggested that there’s much more to the Tony Resko trial and conviction relative to Barack Obama than the MSM wants us to understand. But I’ve also noted that its an extremely complicated case with many Middle Eastern players. I also believe that the complexity of the Resko case will act to insulate Obama from what I’m beginning to believe is sleazy Chicago politics—the very kind of politics that Barack Obama so sanctimoniously condemns.

In October, 2002, when he was a state senator, Obama opposed the US invasion of Iraq in a much vaunted speech. It’s worth noting that Obama was an obscure state politician at the time and his speech got absolutely no national coverage—why would it?

Fernandez fast forwards two years to April, 2004, a bloody month in Iraq for US troops. He notes that Obama insisted that we NOT withdraw troops.
Obama’s change of tone in 2004 was so noticeable that Howard Kurtz couldn’t help but notice how striking the Illinois senator’s position was in mid-2004. Obama was quoted as saying:

There’s not that much difference between my position and George Bush’s position at this stage. The difference, in my mind, is who’s in a position to execute.

But Rezko Watch, a blog following the trial of the Chicago political operative and Obama’s close friend and contributor Tony Rezko, remembered that something else took place in April 2004. Obama was at a party on April 3 — two days before the video– with Nadhmi Auchi, a London-based Iraqi billionaire who attended a Tony Rezko party in Chicago. The Chicago Tribune blog covered Obama’s recollection of the party in depth.

At the time Resko, a “supporter” and friend of Obama, was trying to land the rights to build a $150 million power plant in Kurdish Iraq. He did not have the assets to fund such a deal. Fernandez continues:
But if Rezko had no money to build or finance the Chamchamal Power Project, how could he convince the Iraqi government to give him a letter of credit and where would the “other financing” come from? Subsequent events suggest the letter of credit would be arranged by another local connection, a Chicago Iraqi-American named Aiham Alsammarae, who is a one-time classmate of Tony Rezko and had been appointed as Iraq’s Minister of Electricity by L. Paul Bremer in July 2003. With Alsammarae at the head of the ministry, a letter of credit was possible. The money (”other financing”) would likely come from Nahdmi Auchi, who according to the Times Online, practically owned Tony Rezko.

Throughout 2004 as Obama made his run to the US Senate and into 2005, Obama's position remainded the same. Fernandez tells us that November 2005, Obama said:
I believe that U.S. forces are still a part of the solution in Iraq. The strategic goals should be to allow for a limited drawdown of U.S. troops, coupled with a shift to a more effective counter-insurgency strategy that puts the Iraqi security forces in the lead and intensifies our efforts to train Iraqi forces.

At the same time, sufficient numbers of U.S. troops should be left in place to prevent Iraq from exploding into civil war, ethnic cleansing, and a haven for terrorism.

We must find the right balance — offering enough security to serve as a buffer and carry out a targeted, effective counter-insurgency strategy, but not so much of a presence that we serve as an aggravation. It is this balance that will be critical to finding our way forward.

Second, we need not a time-table, in the sense of a precise date for U.S. troop pull-outs, but a time-frame for such a phased withdrawal. More specifically, we need to be very clear about key issues, such as bases and the level of troops in Iraq. We need to say that there will be no bases in Iraq a decade from now and the United States armed forces cannot stand up and support an Iraqi government in perpetuity — pushing the Iraqis to take ownership over the situation and placing pressure on various factions to reach the broad-based political settlement that is so essential to defeating the insurgency.

Very reasonable words from my point of view. In fact, shockingly different than his more recent primary and campaign rhetoric, don’t you think?

Even after visiting Iraq in 2006 and the onset of a bloody counter insurgency, Obama maintained this reasonable (and today, unmentioned) position.

But in November, 2006 he changed his tone and began to offer his current position—withdrawal in a matter of months.

At first blush, you might argue that he was simply positioning himself to best woo the Left-leaning, anti-war primary base of the Democratic party. But Fernandez offers another contributing factor:
What had changed between June and November 2006 to alter Obama’s position? Possibly the situation on the ground. But one circumstance that had also changed was that the Rezko Chamchamal contract had been finally and irrevocably canceled only two weeks before.

Hmmm. It's reasonable to suggest that Obama’s friend Resko needed long term stability in Iraq to build his power plant and make a fortune. While the power plant was in play, Resko’s friend, Barack Obama was loath to suggest the withdrawal of US forces. In fact, he argued that they should stay. But when the power plant deal was killed (that’s another interesting story with still more questionable Middle-Eastern players with Obama connections), Obama pivoted to better serve his own political ambitions.

Politics as usual from a guy who tells us he’s something special, somebody different, an agent of change.

Of course, none of this will appear on 60 Minutes or Dateline or Nightline or any of the other “investigative” network shows. Nobody will ask Obama to explain why his opinions on Iraq seem to synch with Resko’s financial dealings in that country. Too complex, too subtle—nothing to see here, move on.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Willful Naiveté

Many of my left-of-center friends have adopted a mime suggested by the DNC and mimicked by Barack Obama. They suggest that electing John McCain would effectively result in “Bush’s third term.”

There’s no point in delineating the profound differences between Senator McCain and President Bush, the mime is embedded, and logical argument is fruitless. So, smiling, I often suggest (as I’ve done in this blog) that electing Barack Obama may very well result in Jimmy Carter’s second term.

I’ll admit that some of my left-of-center friends are thrilled at the prospect, conveniently forgetting the disaster that was the Carter Presidency—four years in which Carter’s misguided policies led to economic stagflation, unemployment rates approaching double digits, interest rates above 18 percent (that’s right, 18%), a foreign policy that installed the Ayatollah Komeni and Islamofascism in Iran —a country that was a staunch US ally and is now hurtling toward nuclear weapons.

Today, I learned of another debacle associated with the worst President in my lifetime. Jimmy Carter played an important role in helping Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe to power. That’s the same Mugabe who is correctly reviled by human rights advocates as a murderous dictator and thug)

James Kirchick describes Zimbabwe’s leader:
Mr. Mugabe is one of the nastiest dictators in Africa — he has inflicted a "silent genocide" by starving his own people. The effects of his authoritarian rule have been made all the worse by his staying power. In more than 27 years as head of state, Mr. Mugabe has turned one of Africa's most productive economies into a shambles. A country whose currency once beat the British pound now boasts an inflation rate nearing 10,000% per annum and a land that once exported beef and grain now has a population desperately in need of food and humanitarian aid.

How did this man come to power? You have to go back to the years of the Carter presidency:
In April of 1979, the first fully democratic election in Zimbabwe history's occurred. Of the eligible black voters, 64% participated, braving the threat of terrorist attacks by Mr. Mugabe's Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front party, which managed to kill 10 people. Prior to the election, Mr. Mugabe had issued a death list with 50 individuals he named as "traitors, fellow-travelers, and puppets of the Ian Smith regime, opportunistic running-dogs and other capitalist vultures." Nevertheless, Bishop Abel Muzorewa of the United Methodist Church emerged victorious and became prime minister of Zimbabwe-Rhodesia, as the new country was called.

Yet the Carter administration, led by the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Andrew Young, would have none of it. Mr. Young referred to Mr. Muzorewa, one of the very few democratically elected leaders on the African continent, as the head of a "neo-fascist" government. Mr. Carter refused to meet Mr. Muzorewa when the newly elected leader visited Washington to seek support from our country, nor did he lift sanctions that America had placed on Rhodesia as punishment for the colony's unilateral declaration of independence from the British Empire in 1965.

Messrs. Carter and Young would only countenance a settlement in which Mr. Mugabe, a Marxist who had repeatedly made clear his intention to turn Zimbabwe into a one-party state, played a leading role. Mr. Young, displaying the willful naiveté that came to characterize Mr. Carter's mindset, told the London Times that Mr. Mugabe was a "very gentle man" whom he "can't imagine … ever pulling the trigger on a gun to kill anyone."

After coming to power with Carter’s help, Kirchick notes that Mugabe “killed about 25,000 people belonging to a minority tribe, the Ndebele. In spite of this, in 1989, Mr. Carter launched his "Project Africa" in Zimbabwe, a program aimed at helping African countries maintain food sustainability.”

It appears that Carter's “willful naiveté” had some very unpleasant costs.

As an aside, it’s interesting that Jimmy Carter regularly accuses Israel of “criminal” activities when they defend themselves from murderous attacks by Hamas and other Palestinian groups. Oddly, he’s silent on Mugabe. Now you know why.

The ruinous legacy of the Carter presidency occurred because an inexperienced, ideologically Left-wing Washington outsider convinced the American people that hope and change would lead us to a better country and a better world. Sound familiar?

Music and Cars

It occurs to me that the music industry and the automobile business have a lot in common. About 10 years ago, as the digital revolution gained strength, music companies of the day failed to see the profound changes that online access to digital music files would have on their supremacy, their distribution system, their profitability, and their survival. Rather than embracing the new paradigm, the music industry insisted on protecting the old one. As a consequence, profits fell, business contracted, new players entered the game and slowly squeezed out the big established music companies. Looking back, the writing was on the wall, but the major players believed they could control events and erase what was written. Later as events accelerated, they thought they could play catch-up, but they couldn’t. They failed to understand that not all trends are transient and that once a tipping point is reached, you can never reverse events.

I contend that we at the same point for the auto industry. As gas prices climb above $4.00 per gallon in the US, the buying public is approaching a tipping point. We're not there yet, but it’s coming. And when it does—when the average consumer changes his perception of the automobile and demands alternatives that use little if any gasoline, the existing auto industry may crash in much the same way as the music industry did.

I’ve noticed a fascinating advertising trend over the past year—coincident with the precipitous rise in gasoline prices. Major car makers (e.g., GM, Honda, BMW) have begun running national TV ads about cars that do not yet exist and are not yet for sale. PHEVs, hydrogen vehicles, fuel cell vehicles are all touted as the company’s focus, its mission, its future.

But where are they? Why has it taken so long, for example, to introduce PHEVs (plug-in hybrid electric vehicles) when the technology (although not perfect) to deliver them has been available for a decade? Why is their styling so stodgy? Why did GM and Toyota precipitously kill electric car efforts during the 1990s, rather than working feverishly to perfect the technology for the mass market of the 21st century?

It appears that Big Auto wants to give the impression it has recognized that a new paradigm is coming, but its approaching change with great reticence. Just like the music companies did.

Obviously, there are major business issues involved, but the simple truth is that few of them really matter. When a paradigm shift begins—lead, follow or get out of the way. It appears that Big Auto hasn’t decided what to do, so it talks the talk (the TV ads) without walking the walk (introducing some of these alternative vehicles NOW!)

As a consequence, startup companies (e.g., Tesla, Fisker) as taking the lead and will have vehicles on the market in 2009 and 2010. Can they beat the majors? The industry cognoscenti say “not a chance.” But then again, that’s what the music industry execs said in the 1990s, isn’t it?

Update (6/17/08) reports:
The FCX Clarity, which runs on hydrogen and electricity, emits only water and none of the gases believed to induce global warming. It is also two times more energy efficient than a gas-electric hybrid and three times that of a standard gasoline-powered car, the company says.

Honda expects to lease out a "few dozen" units this year and about 200 units over three years. In California, a three-year lease will run $600 a month.

So ... 200+ units over the next 3 years. That should alleviate our oil dependency. Not. Faster, please.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Operation Board Games

HBO’s The Wire was one of the best dramas ever created for television. For four years, the show’s creator, David Simon, gave viewers a gritty look at the underbelly of city life in Baltimore, MD—crime, politics, corruption, the education system, and the media are all explored with a cynicism that is somehow appropriate for the story. The show was beyond good—it helped you understand the game.

Throughout its four years, The Wire chronicled what began as an undercover drug investigation. The police and prosecutors uncovered a web of members of a Baltimore drug gang and soon found connections between gang members and the upper echelon of Baltimore politicians, real estate developers and other business people. In all cases, money—big money—drove the process. The real players supported the investigation, but only wanted it to go only so far. The web broadens and becomes more complex as the story evolves.

Like all investigations, the small fry are easy pickins, but the real players insulate themselves well and are difficult to indict. There’s lots of smoke, so much that there’s little question of complicity, but not enough fire to bring charges in a court of law.

In a voluminous, five-part investigative report, Evelyn Pringle presents the story of Tony Resko and the web of politicians and money men who were all connected to his indictment and recent conviction. In some ways, Resko’s story has eerie similarities to The Wire—criminal connections, real-estate development, and corrupt political maneuvering.

One of the players in the Resko story is Barack Obama, and like the players in The Wire, there’s lots of smoke, so much that there’s little question of complicity, but not enough fire to yet accuse the Democratic nominee for President of criminal behavior.

Pringle contends that the on-going federal investigation, called "Operation Board Games" will
… lead to Obama's downfall and it will begin with what he claims was a "boneheaded" mistake in entering into real estate deal with the Syrian-born immigrant, Antoin 'Tony' Rezko, less than a month after Rezko received a $3.5 million loan from the Iraqi-born billionaire, Nadhmi Auchi, who ended up with Riverside Park, a $2.5 billion 62-acre development project in the Chicago Loop.

I don’t agree that Obama will take a fall, but more on that later.

The story begins with Obama, a rising star in Chicago politics, being named chairman of the IL Senate Health & Human Services Committee in January 2003. Pringle provides background:
A review of senate records from January 2003 to August 2003, shows Obama played a major role as chairman of that committee, in pushing through Senate Bill 1332, that led to the "Illinois Health Facilities Planning Act," which reduced the number of members on the Board from 15 to 9, making the votes much easier to rig.

Led by Obama, the Health & Human Services Committee, populated by hand chosen members, pushed to pass a new hospital run by “Mercy Health Systems, for which Bear Stearns served as a bond underwriter. The deal was to earn $1.5 million contribution for IL Governor Rod Blagojevich.”

Although Obama’s state senate committee pushed hard for the hospital, Pringle reports:
The Planning Board staff still recommended the rejection of Mercy’s proposal. On March 11, 2008, Jones told the jury that experts found the application failed to meet 18 criteria set up for the establishment of a new hospital. He said it was also too close to other hospitals that had too many empty beds and services not fully utilized.

Nonetheless, “The Chicago Way” prevailed and the hospital passed on its second try. A web of kickbacks, questionably legal campaign contributions (including $20,000 to Obama), and inappropriate construction contracts followed.

And that was only the beginning.

US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, the same prosecutor who convicted Scooter Libby and won praise from Democrats, is now leading the investigation. Pringle notes:
US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald does not make a habit of destroying pubic officials by listing them in indictments for no reason, and the only two political candidates identified as receiving campaign money from Operation Board Games kickback schemes are Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich and the US Senator from Illinois, Barack Obama.

The Operation Board Games web is enormously complex and a full explication is best left to Pringle. Do a Google search on “Curtain Time for Obama” to find each of the five parts of her report.

Although I have little doubt of Obama’s complicity in a corrupt Chicago political “Combine” of both Republicans and Democrats, I disagree with Pringle’s conclusion that Obama’s past actions during the 2003 – 2005 time period will be his undoing.

The web of connections is simply too complex and the MSM will refuse to investigate more fully, conveniently claiming that it’s all innuendo—nothing to see here, just move on.

But the Operation Board Games players, many with Middle Eastern origins and criminal backgrounds, keep popping up in Obama’s history. His claims of innocence or ignorance simply don’t hold up.

When asked for a reaction on the Resko conviction yesterday, Obama responded, “This isn’t the Tony Rezko I knew, but now he has been convicted by a jury on multiple charges that once again shines a spotlight on the need for reform.”

Based on the growing list of personal friends who “weren’t the people he once knew,” Barack Obama is either extraordinarily naïve or an extraordinarily bad judge of character.

In fact, David Simon of The Wire couldn’t have written better or more cynical dialogue.

But no matter, he’s the MSM’s guy, and he’ll skate through this sordid story of political corruption.

After all, he represents a new kind of politics, doesn’t he?

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Center Court

The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) has a profound impact on the long-term direction of our country. Unlike virtually any other governmental institution, SCOTUS represents a continuum of opinion and direction that touches every aspect of our society.

It’s reasonable to be concerned about the court’s political center of gravity. Too far to the Right and we face a repressive future in which necessary adaptations to a modern world are subjugated to a “strict constructionist” view of the Constitution. Too far to the Left and we face a chaotic future in which basic freedoms, such as freedom of speech, might be subjugated to ideas like “hate speech” in which legitimate criticism of one or another group is no longer allowed.

It seems, not surprisingly, that a centrist court serves the nation and our constitution well.

Many in the Center worry that John McCain will populate SCOTUS with right-wing judges of the "strict constructionist" bent. Although McCain’s history is clearly not radical Right, let’s assume for a moment that he does nominate a very conservative SCOTUS nominee.

That nominee would be dead on arrival.

How can I be so sure? There is little doubt that the Democrats will increase their Congressional majority in both the House and the Senate in November. In fact, it’s possible that it might become a veto-proof majority. There is absolutely no way that the Congress would approve a right-wing nominee, and a seasoned politician like McCain understands that. He would nominate from the center, if only because it's the pragmatic thing to do.

Therefore, the SCOTUS argument against McCain is vacuous.

On the other end of the political spectrum, I believe there is cause for concern. There is little doubt that Barack Obama would nominate Left-leaning SCOTUS nominees, and it’s equally likely that the Congress would approve them. It’s possible that the SCOTUS will list to the Left and that is as dangerous as a list to the Right.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008


The Rev. Jeramiah Wright was correct about one thing when he said [paraphrasing]: “Barack Obama is a politician. He’ll say what he has to say to get elected.”

Obama’s speech at the AIPAC meeting is being hailed by some in the Jewish community as a breakthrough, “proof” that the Chosen One is, in fact, ready to continue America’s unwavering policy of support for a tiny Democracy located in the midst of murderous enemies who would like nothing better than Israel’s complete eradication.

But everything in Obama’s very limited background, from the anti-Israel advisors he chose for his political campaign, to the pro-Palestinian friends he associated with over the past decade, to the far Left political constituency that supports him without waver, indicate that what he said may not be what he truly believes. Rather, to quote the Rev. Wright, it’s “what he has to say to get elected.”
Reading the text of Obama’s AIPAC speech—a really good idea for all his presentations because it eliminates the Wow! factor that his prodigious rhetorical skill introduces—he says all the right things for an audience that supports Israel wholeheartedly. But a close read allows him wiggle room, to wit:
But as I said at the outset, Israel will have some heavy stones to carry as well. Its history has been full of tough choices in search of peace and security.Yitzhak Rabin had the vision to reach out to longtime enemies. Ariel Sharon had the determination to lead Israel out of Gaza. These were difficult, painful decisions that went to the heart of Israel's identity as a nation.

And although Obama did criticize Hamas [as well as Hezballah and Iran] and demanded that they “recognize Israel’s right to exist; renounce the use of violence; and abide by past agreements between Israel and the Palestinian Authority,” he did not suggest that maybe, just maybe, it was time for the Palestinians to be the first to “make painful decisions” and lift “some heavy stones.” He did not suggest that maybe, just maybe, the Palestinians—you know, the folks who have launched over 6,000 rockets at Israeli civilian population centers—owe Israel and the world some indication that they have abandoned their venomous hatred and barbaric behavior.

Barack Obama did what he had to do. The real question is, will he follow through? Or will he, upon being elected, flip-flop on his comments? I would argue that there is nothing, absolutely nothing, in Obama’s thin record to indicate that he won’t flip flop and, in fact, recent events seem to indicate that he will.

Consider the slow transition he’s made on Iran. Less than six months ago, he promised to meet with Mahmoud Amadinejad without pre-conditons and less than three months ago he suggested that Iran was only a “small threat.” At AIPAC, he stated:
Iran’s President Ahmadinejad’s regime is a threat to all of us. His words contain a chilling echo of some of the world’s most tragic history.

He's rapidly backed away from any meeting with Iran's lunatic political leader and has only recently begun to talk tough.

Flip-flop? You decide.

Because Obama has almost no experience on a federal and international level and virtually no record of promises kept or broken, many supporters simply take him at his word. His charisma makes you want to believe.

But are the words he said yesterday, the same as the words he’s saying today? And most important, will they be the same as the words he’ll utter when he’s President of the United States?

Update: (6/6/08):

Glenn Kessler reports on Obama’s latest position on Jerusalem.
Facing criticism from Palestinians, Sen. Barack Obama acknowledged today that the status of Jerusalem will need to be negotiated in future peace talks, amending a statement earlier in the week that Jerusalem "must remain undivided."

Obama, during a speech Wednesday to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a pro-israel lobbying group, had called for Jerusalem to become the site of the U.S. embassy, a frequent pledge for U.S. presidential candidates. (It is now in Tel Aviv.) But his statement that Jerusalem should be the undivided capital of Israel drew a swift rebuke from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

"This statement is totally rejected," Abbas told reporters in Ramallah. "The whole world knows that holy Jerusalem was occupied in 1967 and we will not accept a Palestinian state without having Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state."

I'm beginning to believe that the “change we can believe in” really means that Obama will “change” his positions to suit his immediate political needs.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Looking Backward

Three years ago the MSM characterized Scott McClellan as a administration flack—nothing more than a mouthpiece for a dishonest, warmongering President. He was not to be trusted.

But all of that has changed now that McClellan has written a book that regurgitates the long standing media claim that the Bush administration shaped the facts surrounding the entry into the Iraq war, failed to understand the consequences of an invasion, and then badly mismanaged the early part of that war.

In reality, it’s likely that McClellan's claims are true. There’s very little question that spin, a lack of foresight, and mismanagement properly characterize the administration’s early efforts in Iraq. Let’s grant that it’s all true.

Now what?

The media and the democratic contender for the presidency love to look backward. With 20-20 hindsight they revel in castigating Bush for bad judgment or worse during the early years of the Iraq war. That's politics, I suppose.

But, we are where we are, and it’s very important for the administration’s critics to propose a viable plan for moving forward, given the current realities on the ground.

And exactly what are those realities? Stated succinctly, we screwed up very badly early on, but today we’re seeing more than a little success. By virtually any measure (except Nancy Pelosi's), Al Qaeda in Iraq has been decimated, and more important, their defeat has hurt al Qaeda’s reputation among all Moslems worldwide. The Iraqi army—now working on their own—is rapidly gaining control over many regions of the country. The political situation is tricky, but not hopeless, and US involvement is slowly winding down and will continue to do so.

But none of this is real for the likely Democratic nominee, Barack Obama. He sees only past administration failures and prefers not to consider that Syria and Iran are behind much of the trouble in Iraq. In commenting on this, Michael Goodwin notes:
Obama needs to start thinking beyond politics and talk as though he might actually be President. In the short term, that means being honest with Americans about Iran and its murderous influence.

While it's clear Iran is behind much of the mayhem in Iraq, including the killing of American soldiers, Obama has said he wants to see the evidence compiled by the American military for those charges. Does he not believe the charges? Why not?

But instead of contacting the Pentagon for a briefing, he acts as though America is the problem and Iran deserves sympathy. Which was exactly Bush's point when he mocked the notion that talking to Hitler would have stopped World War II.

Obama is smart and talented, but his views of Islamic fundamentalists, like those running Iran, are consistently muddled. He expresses a sloppy faith in standard political negotiation, as though Hamas and Hezbollah are just special interest groups haggling for a better deal.

He doesn't appear to take seriously their stated goal of wiping out moderate Muslim governments, Israel, the U.S. and anyone who tries to block a strict Islamic empire. No wonder Hamas endorsed him.

It might be worthwhile for the MSM to probe some of this by asking Obama about it, but instead it’s the Scott McClellan show—wall to wall coverage of well-worn claims with the intent, not of hurting George W. Bush, but rather, the Chosen One’s opponent, John McCain.

Looking backward is always easier that moving forward. And it’s safer if you don’t really know how to proceed.

For example, in Obama’s infamous comment on talking to Iran without preconditions (since finessed a bit), he also stated:
"We need to talk to Iran and Syria because they're going to have responsibilities if Iraq collapses," he added. "They have been acting irresponsibly up until this point. But if we tell them that we are not going to be a permanent occupying force, we are in a position to say that they are going to have to carry some weight, in terms of stabilizing the region."

Hmmm. Does Obama honestly expect Iran and Syria to be moderating influences in the region? Does he honestly expect them to be “responsible?” What is the historical basis for these beliefs? Does he really believe that earnest discussions with thugs and apocalyptic Jihadists will cause them to change their ways?

A few weeks ago, Obama got very agitated when George Bush talked about appeasement during the run-up to WWII. Yet his comments continually sound like he’s willing to appease really bad regimes. Of course, his words are carefully chosen to imply toughness, but when Obama says that we must “understand and address real grievances” he’s really saying we must give, and our enemies must take. And what are those “grievances”—oh, little things like Israel’s right to exist or the horror of Israel building housing developments (“settlements”) on land that was won during a war of aggression by the Arabs.

A few weeks ago, when the appeasement controversy was at its height, Wretchard of The Belmont Club said:
You will have to appease the Jihad with the contents of the entire store; not some bauble handed out in the Rose Garden. For a sell-out to have any meaning they will have to take everything. The problem with appeasers is that they value their adversaries too cheaply, probably because that is the price they put on themselves. The great villains may remember those who defeat them with hate and despair. But they remember those who tried to buy them off with pennies not at all.

If he’s elected, I wonder how they’ll remember Barack Obama?