Monday, July 27, 2009

Obama Era At Six Months: Will He Get Beyond Campaign Rhetoric?

Obama Beware: Presidential Magic Can Prove Tragic,Gil Troy, History News Service, July 27, 2009.

Barack Hussein Obama has now been President for six months – when campaigning he avoided using his full name, now he embraces it. As President Obama passes this half-year milestone, his honeymoon with the public may be ending – although America’s media remains gaga about him. Obama is readying for a major fight over health care. His popularity is starting to sag. As he enters what was a difficult phase for new presidents, Obama should learn from history not to bank only on his charisma. Other presidents have learned the hard way that depending too much on personal magic can prove tragic for the country.

Thus far, simply getting elected has been Obama’s greatest achievement. On Election Day, and with his inauguration, Barack Obama brought hope to a depressed country. Counterfactuals are impossible to prove, but it is hard to believe that electing John McCain or Hillary Rodham Clinton would have generated the excitement of Obama’s victory. A McCain win in particular, probably would have triggered rounds of recriminations and accusations of racism, especially considering most reporters’ pro-Obama bias during the campaign – and since.

Obama played his part magnificently. “Yes We Can” inspired a country demoralized by George W. Bush’s lethargy, Iraq’s complexity, New Orleans’ devastation and the financial collapse. As both candidate and rookie president, Obama demonstrated perfect political pitch on the racial issue, never indulging in racial demagoguery or anger, refusing to run as the black candidate, but embracing his historic role as an agent of healing and change when he won.

Governing, of course, requires more than winning election by spinning an uplifting personal narrative. In fairness to Obama, when he started running he – and most everyone else – believed these years would be times of continued prosperity. Few anticipated the financial crash, although that secured Obama’s victory, given that the debacle occurred on the Republicans’ watch. Obama has also been blessed by his predecessor George W. Bush’s unpopularity and the Republican opposition’s stunning impotence.

But Obama has been cursed by this financial crisis’s depth and complexity. So far, he has blamed Bush. But, as Ronald Reagan learned, presidential success early on – and pie-in-the-sky promises about saving the economy – quickly make the incumbent responsible. In 1981, Reagan blamed Jimmy Carter and the Democrats for the great inflation, high interest rates and crushing budget deficits he inherited. After many legislative successes and hope-laden speeches that culminated in August 1981, seven months into his presidency, the economy nosedived. When Congress returned from its summer recess, Democrats blamed their constituents’ suffering on “The Reagan Recession.”

The $787 billion stimulus plan could end up being Obama’s albatross. He erred by allowing the Congressional pork-kings to dictate the legislation, burdening it with pet projects rather than smart stimuli. He further erred by forgetting his vows of bipartisanship and post-partisanship, thus failing to share responsibility with the Republicans. Ultimately, like Reagan, Obama has time on his side. All he needs is a recovery by spring 2012 and he can still claim a new, Reaganesque, “morning in America,” with his own liberal twist. But by veering as left as he has domestically, by playing the hard partisan game he has, he risks following in the footsteps of Jimmy Carter – who six months into his presidency scored about ten percentage points higher than Obama has in public approval surveys. And Obama is now entering a particularly difficult passage in his presidency as he tries to overcome the health care reform curse that stymied Bill Clinton, another young charismatic Democrat with great potential.

In foreign affairs, Obama’s addiction to his own rhetoric and charisma is more apparent, and more dangerous. Foreign policy has often been a refuge for modern presidents, an arena for bold actions, stirring speeches, and fawning headlines with less Congressional or press interference. But many major presidential disasters of the last half-century were rooted in foreign troubles. Most people forget that the phrase “the best and the brightest” – which has been used repeatedly to boost Obama and his Ivy League advisers – was more epitaph than tribute in David Halberstam’s classic work on Vietnam. John Kennedy’s people, despite his charisma and eloquence, despite their smarts and pedigrees, steered America into the bogs of Indochina.

So far, while his actions in boosting troops in Afghanistan and keeping troops in Iraq have been measured, Obama’s instincts abroad have proved troubling. Reacting feebly to in-your-face North Korean missile tests and initially dismissing heroic Iranian protests while belligerently targeting Israeli settlements further evokes unhappy memories of Jimmy Carter, who incompetently alienated friends and appeased enemies.

Obama’s Cairo speech revealed his characteristic tendency to hover above the fray, create moral equivalences between opponents, and promise to reconcile the unreasonable combatants. World affairs are rarely that simple. Naivete and moral obtuseness usually fail, even if George W. Bush proved too heavy-handed, simplistic, and incompetent.

Still, the presidential learning curve, especially in foreign affairs, can be steep. The presidency, despite being the world’s most scrutinized job, is also ever-changing, providing more plot twists than an Alfred Hitchcock movie. Nikita Khruschev bullied John Kennedy when they first met in Vienna, in 1961, only to be outmaneuvered by a more experienced JFK during the October 1962 Cuban missile crisis. And Israelis forget that George W. Bush, whose warm friendship for Israel seems to have put off Obama, did not enter the White House as an obvious friend. Well into Bush’s first year in office, Bush – or his Secretary of State Colin Powell – criticized nearly every Israeli action against Palestinian terrorism, which mounted with increasing intensity that awful year. Only the horrors of September 11, 2001 – followed in January 2002 by Yasir Arafat’s direct lie to President Bush claiming not to know anything about the Karine-A illegal arms shipment from Iran – changed Bush’s approach.

A now-famous you-tube video shows Obama killing a fly easily during a television interview. Obama gloats at his success, which was cool and impressive. As he governs, Obama has demonstrated great potential but even greater confidence. Whether his cool personality roots him, or his arrogance defeats him, remains to be seen. Ultimately, results not charisma will count.

Text Source: History News Service
Imgage Source: Never Melted

Friday, June 19, 2009

Does Obama Need a Fact Checker?

Just Make Stuff Up: President Obama’s war on the truth.

By Victor Davis Hanson

In the first six months of the Obama administration, we have witnessed an assault on the truth of a magnitude not seen since the Nixon Watergate years. The prevarication is ironic given the Obama campaign’s accusations that the Bush years were not transparent and that Hillary Clinton, like her husband, was a chronic fabricator. Remember Obama’s own assertions that he was a “student of history” and that “words mean something. You can’t just make stuff up.”

Yet Obama’s war against veracity is multifaceted.

Trotskyization. Sometimes the past is simply airbrushed away. Barack Obama has a disturbing habit of contradicting his past declarations as if spoken words did not mean much at all. The problem is not just that once-memorable statements about everything from NAFTA to public campaign financing were contradicted by his subsequent actions. Rather, these pronouncements simply were ignored to the point of making it seem they were never really uttered at all.

What is stunning about Obama’s hostile demagoguery about Bush’s War on Terror is not that he has now contradicted himself on one or two particulars. Instead, he has reversed himself on every major issue — renditions, military tribunals, intercepts, wiretaps, Predator drone attacks, the release of interrogation photos, Iraq (and, I think, soon Guantanamo Bay) — and yet never acknowledged these reversals.

Are we supposed to think that Obama was never against these protocols at all? Or that he still remains opposed to them even as he keeps them in place? Meanwhile, his attorney general, Eric Holder, is as voluble on the excesses of the Bush War on Terror as he is silent about his own earlier declarations that detainees in this war were not entitled to the protections of the Geneva Convention.

Politicians often go back on earlier promises, and they often exaggerate (remember Obama’s “10,000” who died in a Kansas tornado [12 perished], or his belief that properly inflating tires saves as much energy as offshore drilling can produce?). But the extent of Obama’s distortions suggests that he has complete confidence that observers in the media do not care — or at least do not care enough to inform the public.

The “Big Lie.” Team Obama says that Judge Sotomayor misspoke when she asserted that Latinas were inherently better judges than white males. Yet the people around Obama knew before Sotomayor was nominated that she has reiterated such racialist sentiments repeatedly over many years.

Obama complained that his deficits were largely inherited — even though his newly projected annual deficit and aggregate increase in the national debt may well, if they are not circumvented, equal all the deficit spending compiled by all previous administrations combined.

The president lectures Congress on its financial excesses. He advocates “pay as you go” budgeting. But he remains silent about the unfunded liabilities involved in his own proposals for cap-and-trade, universal health care, and education reform, which will in aggregate require well over a trillion dollars in new spending on top of existing deficits — but without any “pay as you go” proposals to fund them.

By the same token, his promise that 95 percent of Americans will receive an Obama “tax cut” is impossible. Remember, almost 40 percent of households currently pay no income taxes at all — and the $1.7-trillion annual deficit will necessitate a broad array of taxes well beyond those assessed on incomes above $250,000.

Obama talks about cutting federal outlays by eliminating $17 billion in expenditures — one-half of one percent of a $3.4-trillion budget. Here the gap between rhetoric and reality is already so wide that it simply makes no difference whether one goes completely beyond the limits of belief. Why would a liberal “budget hawk” go through the trouble of trying to cut 10 or 20 percent of the budget when he might as well celebrate a 0.5 percent cut and receive the same amount of credit or disdain? If one is going to distort, one might as well distort whole-hog.

Outright historical dissimulation. On matters of history, we now know that much of what President Obama says is either not factual or at least misleading. He predictably errs on the side of political correctness. During the campaign, there was his inaccurate account of his great-uncle’s role in liberating Auschwitz. In Berlin, he asserted that the world — rather than the American and British air forces — came together to pull off the Berlin Airlift.

In the Cairo speech, nearly every historical allusion was nonfactual or inexact: the fraudulent claims that Muslims were responsible for European, Chinese, and Hindu discoveries; the notion that a Christian C√≥rdoba was an example of Islamic tolerance during the Inquisition; the politically correct canard that the Renaissance and Enlightenment were fueled by Arab learning; the idea that abolition and civil rights in the United States were accomplished without violence — as if 600,000 did not die in the Civil War, or entire swaths of Detroit, Gary, Newark, and Los Angeles did not go up in flames in the 1960s.

Here we see the omnipotent influence of Obama’s multicultural creed: Western civilization is unexceptional in comparison with other cultures, and history must be the story of an ecumenical, global shared brotherhood.

The half-, and less-than-half, truth. At other times, Obama throws out historical references that are deliberately incomplete. To placate critical hosts, he evokes the American dropping of the bomb. But he is silent about the impossible choices for the Allies — after Japanese atrocities in Manchuria, Korea, the Philippines, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa — facing the necessity of stopping a Japanese imperial killing machine, determined to fight to the death.

He lectures about equivalent culpability between Muslims and Americans without mentioning American largess to Egypt, Jordan, and the Palestinians. He mostly ignores American military efforts to save Muslims in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Kosovo, Kuwait, and Somalia — and American criticism of Russia’s and China’s treatment of their own persecuted Muslim minorities.

When Obama contextualizes the United States’ treatment of Muslims, does he do so in comparison to the Chinese treatment of the Uighurs, the Russians in Chechnya and Afghanistan, or the European colonial experience in North Africa?

When he cites European colonialism’s pernicious role in the Middle East, does he mention nearly 400 years of Ottoman Muslim colonial rule in the Arab-speaking world? Or the Muslim world’s own role in sending several million sub-Saharan Africans to the Middle East as slaves? By no stretch of the imagination is purported Western bias against Islam commensurate with the Islamic threats that have been issued to Danish cartoonists, British novelists, the pope, or German opera producers.

Obama surely knows that a mosque is acceptable in America and Europe in a way that a church is not in most of the Gulf States, or that Muslims freely voice their beliefs in Rotterdam and Dearborn in a way Westerners dare not in Tehran, Damascus, or Riyadh.

Here we see the classic notion of the “noble lie,” or the assumption that facts are to be cited or ignored in accordance with the intended aim: Interfaith reconciliation means downplaying Muslim excesses, or treating Islamic felonies as equivalent with Western misdemeanors.

Why has President Obama developed a general disregard for the truth, in a manner far beyond typical politicians who run one way and govern another, or hide failures and broadcast successes?

First, he has confidence that the media will not be censorious and will simply accept his fiction as fact. A satirist, after all, could not make up anything to match the obsequious journalists who bow to their president, proclaim him a god, and receive sexual-like tingles up their appendages.

Second, Obama is a postmodernist. He believes that all truth is relative, and that assertions gain or lose credibility depending on the race, class, and gender of the speaker. In Obama’s case, his misleading narrative is intended for higher purposes. Thus it is truthful in a way that accurate facts offered by someone of a different, more privileged class and race might not be.

Third, Obama talks more than almost any prior president, weighing in on issues from Stephen Colbert’s haircut, to Sean Hannity’s hostility, to the need to wash our hands. In Obama’s way of thinking, his receptive youthful audiences are proof of his righteousness and wisdom — and empower him to pontificate on matters he knows nothing about.

Finally, our president is a product of a multicultural education: Facts either cannot be ascertained or do not matter, given that the overriding concern is to promote an equality of result among various contending groups. That is best done by inflating the aspirations of those without power, and deflating the “dominant narratives” of those with it.

The problem in the next four years will be not just that the president of the United States serially does not tell the truth. Instead, the real crisis in our brave new relativist world will be that those who demonstrate that he is untruthful will themselves be accused of lying.

Text Source: National Review Online

— NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution.

— Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and a recipient of the 2007 National Humanities Medal. © 2009 Tribune Media Services, Inc.
Our Historically Challenged President, A list of distortions, Victor Davis Hanson, National Review, June 11, 2009.

In his speech last week in Cairo, President Obama proclaimed he was a “student of history.” But despite Barack Obama’s image as an Ivy League-educated intellectual, he lacks historical competency, in areas of both facts and interpretation.

This first became apparent during the presidential campaign. Candidate Obama proclaimed then that during World War II his great-uncle had helped liberate Auschwitz, and that his grandfather knew fellow American troops that had entered Auschwitz and Treblinka.

Both are impossible. The Americans didn’t free either Nazi death camp. (Regarding Obama’s great uncle’s war experience, the Obama team later said he’d meant the camp at Buchenwald.)

Much of what Obama said to thousands of Germans during his Victory Column speech in Berlin last summer was also ahistorical. He began, “I know that I don’t look like the Americans who’ve previously spoken in this great city.” He apparently forgot that for the prior eight years, the official faces of American foreign policy in Germany were Secretaries of State Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice — both African-Americans.

In the same speech, Obama seemed to suggest that the world had come to together to save Berlin during the Airlift. In fact, it was almost an entirely American and British effort — written off by most observers as hopeless and joined by a handful of Western allies only when the lift looked like it might succeed.

In the recent Cairo speech, Obama’s historical allusions were even more suspect. Almost every one of his references was either misleading or incomplete. He suggested that today’s Middle East tension was fed by the legacy of European colonialism and the Cold War that had reduced nations to proxies.

But the great colonizers of the Middle East were the Ottoman Muslims, who for centuries ruled with an iron fist. The 20th-century movements of Baathism, Pan-Arabism, and Nasserism — largely homegrown totalitarian ideologies — did far more damage over the last half-century to the Middle East than did the legacy of European colonialism.

Obama also claimed that “Islam . . . carried the light of learning through so many centuries, paving the way for Europe’s Renaissance and Enlightenment.” While medieval Islamic culture was impressive and ensured the survival of a few classical texts — often through the agency of Arabic-speaking Christians — it had little to do with the European rediscovery of classical Greek and Latin values. Europeans, Chinese, and Hindus, not Muslims, invented most of the breakthroughs Obama credited to Islamic innovation.

Much of the Renaissance, in fact, was more predicated on the centuries-long flight of Greek-speaking Byzantine scholars from Constantinople to Western Europe to escape the aggression of Islamic Turks. Many romantic thinkers of the Enlightenment sought to extend freedom to oppressed subjects of Muslim fundamentalist rule in eastern and southern Europe.

Obama also insisted that “Islam has a proud tradition of tolerance. We see it in the history of Andalusia and Cordoba during the Inquisition.” Yet the Spanish Inquisition began in 1478; by then Cordoba had long been re-conquered by Spanish Christians, and was governed as a staunchly Christian city.

In reference to Iraq, President Obama promised that “no system of government can or should be imposed upon one nation by any other.” Is he unaware that the United States imposed democracies after World War II?

After the defeat of German Nazism, Italian fascism, and Japanese militarism, Americans — by force — insisted that these nations adopt democratic governments, for both their own sakes and the world’s. Indeed, it is hard to think of too many democratic governments that did not emerge from violence — including our own.

Obama also stated: “For centuries, black people in America suffered the lash of the whip as slaves and the humiliation of segregation. But it was not violence that won full and equal rights.”

With all due respect to our president, this assertion is again not fully accurate. The only thing that ended slavery in the United States was the Civil War, which saw some 600,000 Americans — the vast majority of them white — lost in a violent struggle to ensure that nearly half the country would not remain a slave-owning society. Also, the massive urban riots of the 1960s and 1970s were certainly violent.

This list of distortions could be easily expanded. President Obama, in elegant fashion, may casually invoke the means of politically correct history for the higher ends of contemporary reconciliation. But it is a bad habit. Eloquence and good intentions exempt no one from the truth of the past — President Obama included.

Text Source: National Review

Monday, June 15, 2009

Has Anyone Seen Obama's Original Birth Certificate?

However, you cannot dismiss concerns about Mr. Obama's origins and birth as rubbish. He could end the matter instantly by providing his original birth certificate (not a post 9-11 laserprinted copy, please.) I had to do so when I applied for a passport, and I was born 5 years before Mr. Obama. Being willing and able to provide proof of citizenship is requisite for many activities, from voting to getting married. Even Joe Biden joked about Obama's lack of paperwork, for gosh sakes. When it reaches the point where Biden can get a laugh from the Washington press corps over Dick Cheney leaving him a copy of Obama's birth certificate as a transition present and guaranty of safety, I'd say you have an issue a-brewing.

Text Source: John Andrew Prime, History News Network

Checking the one on the Obama wwwsite, I don't see a notary or a seal. Also, the number of the birth certificate is blocked out. I doubt that Obama's mom delivered him in Kenyan hospital when an American one would have been the prefered choice.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

What If Three of Four Chrysler Dealerships Were Owned by Democrats?

Furor Grows Over Partisan Car Dealer Closings, Mark Tapscott, Editorial Page Editor, Washington Examiner,05/27/09.

Evidence appears to be mounting that the Obama administration has systematically targeted for closing Chrysler dealers who contributed to Repubicans. What started earlier this week as mainly a rumbling on the Right side of the Blogosphere has gathered some steam today with revelations that among the dealers being shut down are a GOP congressman and closing of competitors to a dealership chain partly owned by former Clinton White House chief of staff Mack McLarty.
The basic issue raised here is this: How do we account for the fact millions of dollars were contributed to GOP candidates by Chrysler who are being closed by the government, but only one has been found so far that is being closed that contributed to the Obama campaign in 2008?

Florida Rep. Vern Buchanan learned from a House colleague that his Venice, Florida, dealership is on the hit list. Buchanan also has a Nissan franchise paired with the Chrysler facility in Venice.

"It's an outrage. It's not about me. I'm going to be fine," said Buchanan, the dealership's majority owner. "You're talking over 100,000 jobs. We're supposed to be in the business of creating jobs, not killing jobs," Buchanan told News 10, a local Florida television station.

Buchanan, who succeeded former Rep. Katharine Harris in 2006, reportedly learned of his dealership's termination from Rep.Candace Miller, R-MI. Buchanan owns a total of 23 dealerships in Florida and North Carolina.

Also fueling the controversy is the fact the RLJ-McCarty-Landers chain of Arkansas and Missouri dealerships aren't being closed, but many of their local competitors are being eliminated. Go here for a detailed look at this situation. McClarty is the former Clinton senior aide. The "J" is Robert Johnson, founder of the Black Entertainment Television, a heavy Democratic contributor.

A lawyer representing a group of Chrysler dealers who are on the hit list deposed senior Chrysler executives and later told Reuters that he believes the closings have been forced on the company by the White House.

"It became clear to us that Chrysler does not see the wisdom of terminating 25 percent of its dealers. It really wasn't Chrysler's decision. They are under enormous pressure from the President's automotive task force," said attorney Leonard Bellavia.'s Josh Painter has a useful roundup of what has been found so far by a growing number of bloggers digging into what could be a very big story indeed. Also, see my column on this issue and how it fits into the larger context dubbed by the Examiner's Michael Barone as "gangster government."

As part of Chrysler's bankruptcy agreement with the White House, the company plans to close roughly a quarter of its 3,200 dealerships. Lists of the dealerships being cut and those retaining their Chrysler franchises can be found here in pdf format. Many dealers contend the criteria being used to determine which dealerships survive is not clear and that many of those that are being closed in fact are profitable businesses, despite the current recession.

UPDATE: Auto Prophet says wait just a minute

The Auto Prophet - an anonymous engineer working for one of the Detroit automakers - is skeptical of the suggestion that political considerations are playing a role in White House car czar decisions on which Chrysler dealers are to be shuttered.

A more likely explanation is simply the fact that more Chrysler dealers in general are likely to be Republican contributors, which would mean more of the closed dealers would be seen to be GOP supporters than Democrat supporters: "My hypothesis is that Chrysler dealers, being small businessmen, are more likely to donate to Republicans than Democrats, for predictable reasons. Like any small businessmen, car dealers want lower taxes, a lower minimum wage, fewer regulations, etc."

I have been reading The Auto Prophet for years and consider him to be among the most credible of bloggers on automotive issues. On this issue, I agree with him to the extent that a definitive, statistical analysis-driven conclusion is not possible until all contributions by all Chrysler dealers is completed.

But two points should be noted here. First, even if we accept the proposition that most car dealers are more likely to be Republican than Democratic donors, there would still be a "disparate impact" from closings on one class of dealers, compared to the other. When the federal courts see a disparate impact on racial groups, the policy or action in question is typically held to be inappropriate.

Race and car dealer closings, of course, aren't analogous. But the lesson remains that when government makes economic decisions that ought to be left to the private market, it is impossible to avoid disparate impacts. And there is always the question of would the Obama White House be so quick to close hundreds of dealerships if the owners of those dealerships were predominantly Democratic donors?

Second, since neither Chrysler, nor the White House have made public the criteria used to select dealers for elimination - and because a significant number of those being closed were profitable - the only way to resolve the inevitable controversy about political considerations in political decisions is to make the criteria public and allow independent outside observers to assess how those criteria were applied.

I'm not holding my breath on the likelihood of that happening any time soon.

UPDATE II: White House car czar married to Democratic fund raiser

Maybe it's significant, maybe not, but a colleague here in the Examiner newsroom just reminded me that White House car czar Steven Rattner is married to Maureen White, the former national finance chairman of the Democratic National Committee. And let's not forget that before Rattner became a Wall Street mover and shaker, he was a New York Times reporter. Check out the Wiki bio here.

Text Source: Washington Examiner

Image Source: ChryslerGMBlog. The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Steven “Steve” Rattner of Quadrangle Group will join the Presidential Task Force on Autos as an advisor to National Economic Council Director Lawrence Summers. Rattner has no publicly-known experience in the automotive industry, although as a former newspaper man and print media investor, he surely knows a thing or two about dying industries. Anyway, as we reported earlier, Rattner’s major qualification for the position (he was previously being considered for “car czar” before that position was merged into the PTFA) appears to be that he’s a major Obama fundraiser, and is married to the finance chair of the Democratic National Committee.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Is Obama Making The Numbers Up?

The Media Fall for Phony 'Jobs' Claims The Obama Numbers Are Pure Fiction, Willima McGurn, Wall Street Journal, June 9, 2009.

Mr. Fratto was a colleague of mine in the Bush administration, and as a senior member of the White House communications shop, he knows just how difficult it can be to deal with a press corps skeptical about presidential economic claims. It now appears, however, that Mr. Fratto's problem was that he simply lacked the magic words -- jobs "saved or created."

"Saved or created" has become the signature phrase for Barack Obama as he describes what his stimulus is doing for American jobs. His latest invocation came yesterday, when the president declared that the stimulus had already saved or created at least 150,000 American jobs -- and announced he was ramping up some of the stimulus spending so he could "save or create" an additional 600,000 jobs this summer. These numbers come in the context of an earlier Obama promise that his recovery plan will "save or create three to four million jobs over the next two years."

Associated Press

The president should 'save or create' more jobs in Cleveland.
.Mr. Fratto sees a double standard at play. "We would never have used a formula like 'save or create,'" he tells me. "To begin with, the number is pure fiction -- the administration has no way to measure how many jobs are actually being 'saved.' And if we had tried to use something this flimsy, the press would never have let us get away with it."

Of course, the inability to measure Mr. Obama's jobs formula is part of its attraction. Never mind that no one -- not the Labor Department, not the Treasury, not the Bureau of Labor Statistics -- actually measures "jobs saved." As the New York Times delicately reports, Mr. Obama's jobs claims are "based on macroeconomic estimates, not an actual counting of jobs." Nice work if you can get away with it.

And get away with it he has. However dubious it may be as an economic measure, as a political formula "save or create" allows the president to invoke numbers that convey an illusion of precision. Harvard economist and former Bush economic adviser Greg Mankiw calls it a "non-measurable metric." And on his blog, he acknowledges the political attraction.

"The expression 'create or save,' which has been used regularly by the President and his economic team, is an act of political genius," writes Mr. Mankiw. "You can measure how many jobs are created between two points in time. But there is no way to measure how many jobs are saved. Even if things get much, much worse, the President can say that there would have been 4 million fewer jobs without the stimulus."

Mr. Obama's comments yesterday are a perfect illustration of just such a claim. In the months since Congress approved the stimulus, our economy has lost nearly 1.6 million jobs and unemployment has hit 9.4%. Invoke the magic words, however, and -- presto! -- you have the president claiming he has "saved or created" 150,000 jobs. It all makes for a much nicer spin, and helps you forget this is the same team that only a few months ago promised us that passing the stimulus would prevent unemployment from rising over 8%.

It's not only former Bush staffers such as Messrs. Fratto and Mankiw who have noted the political convenience here. During a March hearing of the Senate Finance Committee, Chairman Max Baucus challenged Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner on the formula.

"You created a situation where you cannot be wrong," said the Montana Democrat. "If the economy loses two million jobs over the next few years, you can say yes, but it would've lost 5.5 million jobs. If we create a million jobs, you can say, well, it would have lost 2.5 million jobs. You've given yourself complete leverage where you cannot be wrong, because you can take any scenario and make yourself look correct."

Now, something's wrong when the president invokes a formula that makes it impossible for him to be wrong and it goes largely unchallenged. It's true that almost any government spending will create some jobs and save others. But as Milton Friedman once pointed out, that doesn't tell you much: The government, after all, can create jobs by hiring people to dig holes and fill them in.

If the "saved or created" formula looks brilliant, it's only because Mr. Obama and his team are not being called on their claims. And don't expect much to change. So long as the news continues to repeat the administration's line that the stimulus has already "saved or created" 150,000 jobs over a time period when the U.S. economy suffered an overall job loss 10 times that number, the White House would be insane to give up a formula that allows them to spin job losses into jobs saved.

"You would think that any self-respecting White House press corps would show some of the same skepticism toward President Obama's jobs claims that they did toward President Bush's tax cuts," says Mr. Fratto. "But I'm still waiting."

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Is Obama the Master of Stagecraft?

And the Angels Rejoice, David Brooks, Op-Ed Columnist, New York Times, May 26, 2009.

There is nothing so inspiring as public service, so I’ve been incredibly moved over the past few weeks to watch squads of corporate executives come to the White House so President Obama could announce that he was giving away their money.

A few weeks ago, we were privileged to see a gathering of health care executives standing behind the president as he announced that they would be donating $2 trillion in future revenue to the cause of health care reform.

Recently we were uplifted when the president informed Chrysler’s secured creditors that they had agreed to donate their ownership stake in the company to the United Auto Workers. Just last week, we were enthralled to see a group of auto executives beaming with pride as the president announced that in order to reduce gas consumption, they would henceforth be scaling back on all those car lines that consumers actually want to buy.

These events have heralded a new era of partnership between the White House and private companies, one that calls to mind the wonderful partnership Germany formed with France and the Low Countries at the start of World War II. The press conferences and events marking this new spirit of cooperation have been the emotional highlights of the administration so far.

These events usually begin when the executives gather in the Oval Office, where they experience certain Enhanced Negotiating Techniques. I’m not exactly sure what the president does to inspire the business leaders’ cooperation and sense of public service, though those who remember the disembowelment scene in “Braveheart” will have a general idea.

Then the president leads the executives out onto the White House lawn for the announcement ceremony. Often, the president will still be carrying the riding crop and the pliers used in the private negotiation. He moves to the microphone while the executives take their pre-assigned places behind him, the jingle of their leg shackles blending with the dulcet tones of spring. I thought one hospital executive was so moved by the occasion that he had slipped into catatonic shock, except that he was blinking “Save Me! Save Me!” in Morse code to his shareholders.

“We meet at an exciting moment for our country, a time of unprecedented cooperation between government and private industry,” the president intones, lifting his foot from the trachea of an unconscious pharmaceutical executive. “Many of the business leaders behind me have seized an exciting opportunity to join the nonprofit sector without even switching jobs.” At this, the C.E.O.’s behind him don frozen smiles, exuding the sort of spontaneous enthusiasm often seen at North Korean pep rallies.

During the press conference with health care executives, I don’t even think Obama meant to give away $2 trillion of their money. He was going to give away just $750 billion, but he got carried away by the Era of Responsibility. “The stakeholders behind me have promised to cut costs by nearly 2 percent a year,” the president riffed. (The executives’ lips were like dead worms stretched across mirthless smiles. Their cheeks were like hardened clumps of concrete.) “They have agreed to support the administration’s reform package.” (Coronaries, epileptic seizures all around.) “They have agreed to donate their kidneys in my office right after this ceremony.” (The executives were now flopping about the stage, like a 3-D version of the Heimlich poster.)

These executives have been invited to make these donations in the same spirit that the Cossacks invited my ancestors to emigrate to the Lower East Side. And yet there is a moment during each of the ceremonies when the spirit of the Almighty descends upon the congregation. It usually happens while the president is describing the glorious future. He’ll be describing how, in three years, he will slash the deficit by cutting taxes and doubling spending. He will be describing how, in three years, he will create millions of jobs by raising energy costs.

You can see the ecstasy of Washington promise-making spread joy from soul to soul. Infected by these visions, automakers vow that in three years they will have created a resurgence of enthusiasm around the Chevy Aveo. Financiers vow they will build an entirely new banking industry that doesn’t rely so much on loan repayment. Health care executives vow that in three years they’ll perform CAT scans at Kinko’s.

Some say these are just meaningless promises that ignore hard choices and that no one has any intention of keeping. But this is ungenerous. At these events, the president has taken former rivals and has joined them in the holy bonds of mutual fantasy. He has taken a divided nation and has given us photo-ops to bind us and remind us of our common humanity. Business lies down with government. Management embraces labor. You call it what you will; I call it beautiful.

Has Obama Corralled the Clintons?

The Incredible Shrinking Clintons, Dick Morris, The on May 26, 2009

Asked why he was naming some of his rivals to top administration jobs, President Lyndon B. Johnson said it best: "I'd rather have them inside the tent pissing out than outside pissing in." President Obama seems to echo Johnson's management style in his handling of Bill and Hillary Clinton. By bringing them into his inner circle, he has marginalized them both and sharply reduced their freedom of action.

It may appear odd to describe a secretary of State as marginalized, but Obama has surrounded Hillary with his people and carved up her jurisdiction geographically. Former Sen. George Mitchell (D-Maine) is in charge of Arab-Israeli relations. Dennis Ross has Iran. Former U.N. Ambassador Dick Holbrooke has Pakistan and Afghanistan. And Hillary has to share her foreign policy role on the National Security Council (NSC) with Vice President Biden, U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, CIA chief Leon Panetta, and NSC staffer Samantha Powers (who once called Hillary a "monster").

With peers who are competitors and subordinates who can deal directly with the president, Hillary is reduced to announcing foreign aid packages for Pakistan while Holbrooke does the heavy lifting.

Part of Hillary's problem is the institutional shrinking of the State Department. During the Bush years, while war raged, the Defense Department became more relevant to the conduct of foreign policy. And, under Obama, the financial crisis has propelled the Treasury into the forefront. State, with its emphasis on traditional diplomacy, has been forced to take a back seat. Even though Obama appointed Hillary, he clearly has not been willing to make her a co-president and confines her to the diminished role of her department.

For his part, Bill Clinton has been asked to be a special envoy to Haiti. Yes, Haiti. Obama's predecessor asked the former president to orchestrate the response to the Asian tsunami and then to Hurricane Katrina. Obama gives him Haiti.

Meanwhile, both Clintons are effectively muzzled and cannot criticize Obama even as he reverses President Clinton's free market proclivities and budget balancing discipline. Hillary, the supposed friend of Israel, must sit by quietly and watch Iran get the bomb while trying all the while to stop Israel from preventing it.

Bill can't even make money. Denied the ability to accept speeches from foreign governments or their organs and fenced out of continuing his profitable relationship with the Emir of Dubai, he and his wife must accept the loss of the $13 million they spent on her campaign and sit by passively, unable to earn the money to replace it.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Your Life Is Under Warranty Backed By The Obama Protection Plan

Obama's Ultimate Agenda, Charles Krauthammer, Wall Street Journal, April 2, 2009.

Five minutes of explanation to James Madison, and he'll have a pretty good idea what a motorcar is (basically a steamboat on wheels; the internal combustion engine might take a few minutes more). Then try to explain to Madison how the Constitution he fathered allows the president to unilaterally guarantee the repair or replacement of every component of millions of such contraptions sold in the several states, and you will leave him slack-jawed.

In fact, we are now so deep into government intervention that constitutional objections are summarily swept aside. The last Treasury secretary brought the nine largest banks into his office and informed them that henceforth he was their partner. His successor is seeking the power to seize any financial institution at his own discretion. Despite these astonishments, I remain more amused than alarmed. First, the notion of presidential car warranties strikes me as simply too bizarre, too comical, to mark the beginning of Yankee Peronism.

Second, there is every political incentive to make these interventions in the banks and autos temporary and circumscribed. For President Obama, autos and banks are sideshows. Enormous sideshows, to be sure, but had the financial meltdown and the looming auto bankruptcies not been handed to him, he would hardly have gone seeking to be the nation's car and credit czar.

Obama has far different ambitions. His goal is to rewrite the American social compact, to recast the relationship between government and citizen. He wants government to narrow the nation's income and anxiety gaps. Soak the rich for reasons of revenue and justice. Nationalize health care and federalize education to grant all citizens of all classes the freedom from anxiety about health care and college that the rich enjoy. And fund this vast new social safety net through the cash cow of a disguised carbon tax. Obama is a leveler. He has come to narrow the divide between rich and poor. For him the ultimate social value is fairness. Imposing it upon the American social order is his mission.

Fairness through leveling is the essence of Obamaism. (Asked by Charlie Gibson during a campaign debate about his support for raising capital gains taxes -- even if they caused a net revenue loss to the government -- Obama stuck to the tax hike "for purposes of fairness.") The elements are highly progressive taxation, federalized health care and higher education, and revenue-producing energy controls. But first he must deal with the sideshows. They could sink the economy and poison his public support before he gets to enact his real agenda. The big sideshows, of course, are the credit crisis, which Obama has contracted out to Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, and the collapse of the U.S. automakers, which Obama seems to have taken on for himself. That was a tactical mistake. Better to have let the car companies go directly to Chapter 11 and have a judge mete out the bitter medicine to the workers and bondholders.

By sacking GM's CEO, packing the new board, and giving direction as to which brands to drop and what kind of cars to make, Obama takes ownership of General Motors. He may soon come to regret it. He has now gotten himself so entangled in the car business that he is personally guaranteeing your muffler. (Upon reflection, a job best left to the congenitally unmuffled Joe Biden.) Some find in this descent into large-scale industrial policy a whiff of 1930s-style fascist corporatism. I have my doubts. These interventions are rather targeted. They involve global financial institutions that even the Bush administration decided had to be nationalized, and auto companies that themselves came begging to the government for money.

Bizarre and constitutionally suspect as these interventions may be, the transformation of the American system will come from elsewhere. The credit crisis will pass and the auto overcapacity will sort itself out one way or the other. The reordering of the American system will come not from these temporary interventions, into which Obama has reluctantly waded. It will come from Obama's real agenda: his holy trinity of health care, education and energy. Out of these will come a radical extension of the welfare state, social and economic leveling in the name of fairness, and a massive increase in the size, scope and reach of government.

If Obama has his way, the change that is coming is a new America: "fair," leveled and social democratic. Obama didn't get elected to warranty your muffler. He's here to warranty your life.

Text Source: Wall Street Journal, April 2, 2009.

Image Source: French Airbus Crash--Full Throttle With The Brakes On

The Audacity of a $13 Trillion Debt

Obama's Domestic Agenda Gains Clarity: A certain grandiosity contrasts with his steady hand on foreign affairs, Peggy Noonan, Wall Street Journal, April 3, 2008

Barack Obama was elected in part because of his singularity. There was no one like him. He was a break with the past, not only because of his youth and race but also his cerebral bent, his cool demeanor. He seemed free of the partisan muck. He was hard to categorize because we didn't have categories for him. This was part of his power. It denied his foes purchase; they didn't know how to get at him. It allowed others to project on his canvas. After the thickly drawn George W. Bush, he seemed something refreshing: a mystery.

APHe has been criticized in the past for not being philosophically clear, but Mr. Obama possesses the canny knowledge that in modern politics, clarity can sometimes get in your way. You don't always want to shoot arrows that pierce; sometimes it's better to be a great enveloping fog, something your enemies get lost in.

The big thing that has happened the past few weeks is that he's become more sharply defined. Actions and decisions clarify, and he's been quite the decider.

In foreign affairs he has shown the impulses of a moderate: watching (Iran), waiting (Iraq), beefing up (Afghanistan), standing down (the nomination of Charles Freeman as National Intelligence Council chairman, which brought more drama than he wanted). His attitude at this week's summit was one of welcome modesty, which might or might not have tipped into a mea culpa (he agreed that America bears great responsibility for the world economic meltdown, and that some previous U.S. foreign policy attitudes have been poor). Or perhaps that's a you-a culpa.

In any case, his freshness and persona probably contributed to the fact that the predictable riots, while anticapitalist and antiglobalist, were not in their focus anti-American. This was a welcome relief. It won't last forever, and let's enjoy it while we can. Michelle Obama enjoyed a well-deserved triumph, representing her country with grace and elegance. She continued to signal a secret conservatism by demonstrating support for the right to bare arms. I very much wish that were my joke and not that of the editor Jason Epstein.

In domestic affairs, however, in the economy, Mr. Obama's actions since February have left him not so much more deeply defined as tagged. They can arguably be understood not as a conglomeration of moderate impulses but an expression of a kind of grandiosity. He thinks big! His plans are all-encompassing! There is so much busyness, and so much spending, that journalists have been in an unofficial race to keep track of the flurry of numbers. From Bloomberg News this week: "The U.S. government and the Federal Reserve have spent or lent or committed $12.8 trillion" in new pledges. This they note is almost the value of everything the United States produced last year. The price tag comes to $42,105 for every man, woman and child in the U.S.

I happened to be rereading the economics section of Mr. Obama's second book, "The Audacity of Hope," when I read the Bloomberg story. He scores President Bush for contributing to a national debt that amounted to a $30,000 bill for each American. Those were the days!

The tagging was done, definitively, by an increasingly impressive (because unusually serious and sincere) member of the U.S. Senate, who happens also to be Mr. Obama's friend. Tom Coburn, an Oklahoma Republican, has been close with the Illinois Democrat since their Senate orientation in 2004; he's the man the president hugged after his big joint sessions speech last month. Thursday, in a column on, Mr. Coburn wrote, "I believe President Obama has proposed the most significant shift toward collectivism and away from capitalism in the history of our republic. I believe his budget aspires to not merely promote economic recovery but to lay the groundwork for sweeping expansions of government authority in areas like health care, energy and even daily commerce. If handled poorly, I'm concerned this budget could turn our government into the world's largest health care provider, mortgage bank or car dealership, among other things."

To be defined in this way is not just a negative for Mr. Obama in terms of its criticism, it amounts to being robbed, by a friend, of the vagueness that was part of his power. Mr. Coburn was all the more deadly for being fair-minded: he was tough on both parties as operating in a crisis from "scripts," with Democrats saying everything is Bush's fault and Republicans decrying high spending and taxing while failing to abjure earmarks and admit what must be cut.

The great long-term question about Mr. Obama's economic program, the great political question, is: Is this what the people want? There are economists who believe, and who make a reasonable case, that more money is needed to get the credit system, now frozen like icebergs, flowing in warm streams again. But in terms of leaps in the size of government, including a new health-care system, and higher deficits, and increased borrowing, and debt—in terms of the sheer scope and size of what is being planned—one simply wonders: Is this what the people want?

Different pollsters offer different data. The Washington Post this week put the president's approval ratings at 60% or higher; the Washington Times had a Zogby poll saying Mr. Obama's popularity has dipped below 50%; in this paper, the pollsters Douglas Schoen and Scott Rasmussen said the American people "are coming to express increasingly significant doubts about his initiatives," and placed the president's approval rating at 56%, "with substantial polarization."

That last qualification certainly sounds true. So does the assertion that there's a gulf between the president's popularity and the popularity of his programs. Messrs. Schoen and Rasmussen had 83% of respondents saying his programs will not work, 82% saying they're worried about the deficit, 78% worried about inflation, and 69% worried about the increasing role of the government in the economy.

This is a hard time to be president. The questions and issues that arise, their depth, complexity and implications, amount to an almost daily parade of horribles. There is considerable goodwill for the president, and all the polls show considerable support—half the nation in a time of sustained crisis is not a small thing—but one wonders for the first time if Mr. Obama's support isn't becoming, in the old phrase, a mile wide and an inch deep. Something has been lost in terms of fervor when one talks to Obama supporters. There is little of the spirit that led FDR's supporters, for instance, in another great economic crisis, to put signs in their front windows supporting the National Recovery Act. We were a younger country then, and the two crises are not completely comparable, but there's a lot of wait-and-see out there. There's also a growing divide observable between the American establishment—of both parties—and the rank and file of Americans living normal, non-politically-obsessed lives. The latter seem more patient, more forgiving toward the president. The former, the establishment—again, in both parties—now commonly voice grave doubts as to his domestic ambitions.

Mr. Obama had a strong closing news conference in Europe, and it looks to have been a successful trip, marked at the end by an air of relative and surprising G-20 unity. The president will get some bounce from it, as they say, and it may be considerable. But then the Europe trip speaks of the part of his administration, foreign affairs, that is marked by an air of moderation, not the part involving ambitions that are grand to the point of grandiosity.

Text Source: Wall Street Journal April 3, 2009

Cartoon Source: Cagle, MSNBC

Thursday, February 12, 2009

How Long Did 'Open, Transparent' Last?

Stop Hiding the Stimulus Bill, Paul Blumenthal, Sunlight Foundation, February 14, 2009.

While the House and Senate conferees have agreed on what the stimulus bill will look like in final form, the public may very well have to wait for President Obama to sign it to get a chance to read it. The House rules require that all conference reports (which is how the bill will be reported to the floor) be made publicly available for 48 hours before consideration. Yesterday, the House Rules Committee waived that requirement to allow the House leadership to bring the bill to floor immediately. And we still have not seen the bill, and “we” includes many, many members of Congress.

Elana Schor at TPMDC explains that reporters and congressmen are being denied access to the text of the bill:

Who was excluded from the process? Everyone outside the private negotiating table, regardless of their party. One senior Democratic senator, when I asked him at 6pm last night whether one of his proposals was retained in the final stimulus, replied without blinking that no one knew what was in it yet. This was hours after Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) had announced the “deal” before TV cameras.

Reporters who asked for a summary of the agreed-upon deal last night were told to wait, because “policy staff … are drafting final bill language tonight,” according to a House Democratic memo. Aside from a top-line number of $789 billion and a battle over school construction, the nitty-gritty details of the stimulus were publicly unavailable.

The House expects to vote on the stimulus bill today! Well, expected is now the more appropriate word. According to CongressDaily Breaking News, House Republicans just claimed on the floor that they have not been allowed to see the bill, to which some Democrats replied that they don’t need to see the bill since the Republicans will vote against it anyway. The Speaker postponed consideration of the bill after this outburst.

But it is not just Republicans who are being denied access to the bill. Reporters, bloggers, and the general public are being denied an opportunity to review one of the most important pieces of legislation sent through Congress in a long time. Anyone who wants should express that, whatever the partisan reasons for denying access to the bill, the American people deserve a right to review this legislation. Slamming it through without letting anyone see, save for 7 or 8 congressmen and some staff, is not fair to the public or the legislative process.

This is a dangerous practice that the Democrats ran against in 2006 and now, in the majority, are unfortunately using to block their opposition’s attacks. The majority Democrats should maintain their previous position on running the most open and honest government by allowing the public to review this legislation. Anything less is unacceptable.

Text Source: Sunlight Foundation

Image Source: Stunned

At The First Press Conference Was Obama Less Than An Artful Dodger?

Obama Came Off As Likeable But Didn't Tell The American People The Whole Sad Truth,Ed Rollins, CNN, February 14, 2009.

President Obama had his first prime-time news conference Monday, and 60 million viewers tuned in. They wanted to hear him and see him in action and hope that things weren't as bad as they were hearing every day from the media and in their hometowns.

He was glib, rambling, a little long-winded and very defensive. But he is a talent and very likeable even when he is being serious. And he had plenty to be serious about. On numerous occasions, he made sure reporters and the millions tuning in knew that he had inherited a mess, the Republicans weren't helping him at all, and things were tough.

After spending hundreds of millions of dollars and traveling thousands of miles over the past two years running for this office, did he think he was going to get the big plane, the big house, the box at the Kennedy Center and Camp David without the heavy lifting? Well, maybe not this heavy a load. This is a president who has promised transparency. He promised that we as a nation will know what our government is doing and what we are spending. Just go to the Internet, and it will be there. But not quite yet. The president gave us a lot of rhetoric on Monday night.

Four million jobs will be created or saved, with 90 percent of them in the private sector. He didn't tell us how. Just trust me, and we will get you out of these tough times. I know a president needs to be a cheerleader sometimes, but right now, I want a truth-teller.

He said, "at this particular moment, with the private sector so weakened by this recession, the federal government is the only entity left with the resources to jolt our economy back to life. It is only government that can break the vicious cycle where lost jobs lead to people spending less money which leads to even more layoffs." I ask, what resources does the federal government have? We are broke, too!

Real transparency would have been walking to the podium and saying, "Friends: This thing is a lot worse then I thought. Just like many of you, we are way over our budget. Some of you bought houses you couldn't afford. Many of you spent more money than you made and put the stuff you couldn't afford on your credit cards. The banks were irresponsible, and Wall Street was greedy, but I have to admit to you, the guys and gals over in the Congress have been spending at record rates, too. And they still have a bunch of pet projects they want to spend on, too. That's why this bill got bloated.

"And, oh, by the way, the $800 billion that Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid want to spend is money we don't have. The U.S. is broke just like you are, and the banks that I have to borrow from are thousands of miles away in China. We are going to spend $1 trillion-plus more than we take in this year in revenue, and next year it will be $2 trillion. That's on top of the $10.8 trillion that we owe in national debt. "And if you don't think the banks have any money, the Federal Reserve is loaning them trillions."

But he could have closed out that depressing little litany by saying, "Together, we are going to get out of this thing!" Obviously, our new president is still a stranger to us. We like him. Many trust him. We all hope he will succeed. But we don't know a lot about his management style or the people he picked as his team (except that a few of them didn't pay all their taxes.) But in the world of politics, you seldom get a second chance to make a good impression. The president's news conference was the beginning of the selling process. It was a fair performance, and by the end, the stimulus bill designed by Speaker Pelosi and Appropriations Chairman Dave Obey was owned by him.

The new Treasury secretary was the man who was supposed to lay out the plan to rescue the banks the next days. Secretary Tim Geithner's performance Tuesday was a disaster, and his plan was nonexistent. And the market tanked. The Democrats will get their bill, and the president will sign it quickly. More money will have been committed in a shorter period of time than ever in our history. It will be declared a great victory for the new team. And we and our kids will be paying for it for a long time. I hope it works, because there is no money to try again! We will quickly learn whether social engineering really works and whether all these Keynesians are right.

Text Source: Ed Rollins, who was political director for President Reagan, is a Republican strategist who was national chairman of former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee's 2008 presidential campaign.

Image Source: Barry Obama in 1980

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Off Topic Demogoguega---And Al Gore Got A Nobel Peace Prize For This?

China Dams Reveal Flaws In Climate-Change Weapon, Joe McDonald and Chalres J. Hanley., Associated Press, Sunday January 25, 2009

The hydroelectric dam, a low wall of concrete slicing across an old farming valley, is supposed to help a power company in distant Germany contribute to saving the climate — while putting lucrative "carbon credits" into the pockets of Chinese developers. But in the end the new Xiaoxi dam may do nothing to lower global-warming emissions as advertised. And many of the 7,500 people displaced by the project still seethe over losing their homes and farmland. "Nobody asked if we wanted to move," said a 38-year-old man whose family lost a small brick house. "The government just posted a notice that said, 'Your home will be demolished.'"

The dam will shortchange German consumers, Chinese villagers and the climate itself, if critics are right. And Xiaoxi is not alone. Similar stories are repeated across China and elsewhere around the world, as hundreds of hydro projects line up for carbon credits, at a potential cost of billions to Europeans, Japanese and soon perhaps Americans, in a trading system a new U.S. government review concludes has "uncertain effects" on greenhouse-gas emissions.One American expert is more blunt.

"The CDM" — the 4-year-old, U.N.-managed Clean Development Mechanism — "is an excessive subsidy that represents a massive waste of developed world resources," says Stanford University's Michael Wara.

Forced relocations have become common in China as people in hundreds of communities are moved to clear land for factories and other projects, provoking anger and occasionally violent protests. But what happened here is unusual in highlighting not just the human costs, but also the awkward fit between China's authoritarian system, in which complaints of official abuse abound, and Western environmental ideals. Those ideals produced the Clean Development Mechanism as a market-based tool under the Kyoto Protocol, the 1997 agreement to combat climate change. The CDM allows industrial nations, required by Kyoto to reduce emissions of gases blamed for global warming, to comply by paying developing nations to cut their emissions instead.

Companies thousands of miles away, such as Germany's coal-burning, carbon dioxide-spewing RWE electric utility, accomplish this by buying carbon credits the U.N. issues to clean-energy projects like Xiaoxi's. The proceeds are meant to make such projects more financially feasible. As critics point out, however, if those projects were going to be built anyway, the climate doesn't gain, but loses. Such projects "may allow covered entities" — such as RWE — "to increase their emissions without a corresponding reduction in a developing country," the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) said in its December review.

The system's defenders call it essential for hard-pressed industrialized nations to meet their Kyoto quotas, and say the CDM's standards are being tightened. "It's not as if we're printing money in a garage," Yvo de Boer, U.N. climate chief, said of the credits. "Lots of legitimate questions are being asked," he acknowledged to The Associated Press, but "that's why I'm happy we have a transparent process."

That transparency — online project documents and a U.N. database — allowed the AP to analyze in detail this exploding market, which attracts projects ranging from small solar-power efforts in Africa, to emissions controls on giant chemical plants in India and China. The AP has found that hydroelectric projects, whose climate impact is most widely questioned, have quickly become the No. 1 technology in the CDM, and China in particular is rushing in to capitalize.

The Chinese now have at least 763 hydro projects in the CDM approval pipeline and are adding an average of 25 a month. By 2012, those projects alone are expected to generate more than 300 million "certified emission reductions," each supposedly representing reduction of one ton of carbon dioxide. Even at recent depressed market prices, those credits would be worth $4 billion.If the United States enters the Kyoto system, as proposed by President-elect Barack Obama, it would be the biggest player in a market expected to be worth hundreds of billions a year by 2030.

Here in central China's mist-shrouded Zishui River valley, evicted farmers worry not about carbon-market billions, but about the thousands of Chinese yuan doled out to compensate them for lost homes and farmland. Xiaoxi residents said that when they were evicted in 2005 to make way for the dam and its 4-square-mile reservoir, officials paid too little for condemned homes and forcibly removed owners who held out for more. They said payments for losing their rights to state-owned land, where they grew beans and squash, were far below China's legally required minimum, which they said requires payment of the value of at least five years' harvests.

Residents spoke with the AP on condition their names not be used, to avoid trouble with authorities. The dam's state-owned builder, Hunan Xinshao Xiaoxi Hydropower Development Co., defended its dealings with the people of Xiaoxi. "The compensation standard we adopted was relatively high compared with similar projects and was in accord with government regulations," said Wang Yi, assistant to the company's general manager. For their homes, people said they were paid government-set prices of $4.60 to $5.70 per square foot. But such payments didn't go far, even in this remote town surrounded by small tin mines and steep, wooded hills.

"What I got certainly was not enough to buy a new place. We had to borrow more," said a man who stood holding his 1-year-old grandson in a street lined with new apartment buildings where some relocated families have moved. He said officials refused to discuss compensation for thousands of yuan he had spent to fix up his family's house. "I refused their offer, but they forced us out and demolished it," he said. The dam company says local surveys found overwhelming support for the project, with 97 percent of 212 respondents saying they were satisfied with their compensation. But people interviewed in Xiaoxi said they were not contacted for such surveys.

The CDM money has spawned an industry of consultants who help Chinese companies assemble bids for emissions credits, and of U.N.-certified "validators," firms that then attest that projects meet U.N. standards. For Xiaoxi, the developer hired Germany's TUEV-SUED as validator, and then commissioned it again later to confirm that the project complied with European Union and German government requirements on "stakeholder consultation" — that local people approve of the project beforehand. The TUEV-SUED report acknowledged that "the concerned villagers and their leaders were not involved in the decision process." But it contended the guidelines' "essence" was fulfilled because those affected "have improved their living environment."

The German Emissions Trading Authority approved Xiaoxi credits early last year, but that government agency's Wolfgang Seidel now tells the AP it is investigating questions newly raised about Xiaoxi. Julia Scharlemann, spokeswoman for beneficiary utility RWE, said it also was "making our own inquiries" regarding Xiaoxi. A key question from environmentalists, led by the U.S.-based group International Rivers, is whether projects meet the CDM test of "additionality" — that they contribute to making real reductions of greenhouses gases rather than be business-as-usual projects capitalizing belatedly on the CDM bonanza. At Xiaoxi, where the dam should be operating by 2010, construction began in 2004, two years before the developers applied for CDM credits, suggesting it would have been built without CDM money.

Company official Wang counters that CDM money will help pay retroactively for expensive Italian technology needed to cope with the site's complex geology. "Without the money from trading emissions credits, the project would be unprofitable," he said. Environmentalists also point out that hydro power has long been a national priority in China. Since the 1990s — long before the CDM — the Chinese have added an average 7.7 gigawatts a year of hydro power, equivalent to six Hoover Dams annually, International Rivers reports. In other words, Chinese planners aren't suddenly replacing emissions-heavy coal-fired power plants with emissions-free dams.

The Xiaoxi project design document, in fact, says Chinese regulations would block the building of such a relatively low-output coal plant here. But that's how planners determined the "emissions reductions" from the $183-million, 135-megawatt dam — by calculating how much carbon dioxide a 135-megawatt conventional power plant would produce instead. That bottom line — some 450,000 tons of global-warming gases each year — would be added to RWE's permitted emissions if it buys the Xiaoxi credits, at a current annual cost of $8 million. And such calculations will be repeated at 37 other Chinese hydro projects where RWE will buy credits. All told, the 38 are expected to produce more than 16 million CDM credits by 2012, legitimizing 16 million tons of emissions in Germany, equivalent to more than 1 percent of annual German emissions.

At today's low market prices, those credits would be worth some $300 million, paid to Chinese developers and presumably billed to German electricity customers, who by 2007 were already paying more than double the U.S. average rate per kilowatt-hour. Utilities from Italy's Edison to Tokyo Electric are making similar deals for hydro-project credits in a dozen other countries, from Peru to India to Vietnam. Rather than reduce their own emissions, "firms in developed countries are buying offsets that don't represent real behavioral change, real reductions in emissions," said Wara, the environmental law professor.

The U.S. GAO investigators said they learned that middlemen sometimes manipulate project paperwork to show a need for CDM financing, and they believe "a substantial number" of projects have undeservedly received credits. The CDM system "can be 'gamed' fairly easily," said German expert Axel Michaelowa, both a critic and a CDM insider, as a member of the U.N. team that registers CDM projects. But Michaelowa said the CDM remains "a crucial bridge between industrialized and developing countries." It has problems but they can be solved, he said.

Christiana Figueres, a Costa Rican ex-member of the board overseeing the CDM, echoed Michaelowa's view. She said it's crucial to encourage China in particular, whose coal power plants make it the world's biggest emitter of carbon dioxide, to build clean-energy facilities. And she counters critics who oppose dams in general because of their environmental impact.

"We cannot continue to demonize hydro," Figueres told the AP. he and R.K. Sethi, the CDM Executive Board's Indian chairman, both pointed to reforms since 2007: A reinforced U.N. oversight staff, a validators' manual with stringent standards, and a growing number of board reappraisals of validator findings. In two recent dramatic steps, the board suspended the CDM's most active validator, the Norwegian firm DNV, questioning its project assessments, and it rejected its first Chinese hydro project — after registering 139 others for credits. The project wasn't "additional," the board said, rejecting DNV's validation that it was.

But environmentalists say a total overhaul is needed, shifting from project-by-project assessments that invite "gaming," to a negotiated regime whereby the developed world, through aid funds, subsidizes emissions cuts in the developing world more broadly, industrial sector by sector. As atmospheric carbon dioxide continues to reach record levels, threatening disruptive warming this century, the CDM pipeline continues to swell, with 4,364 projects worldwide approved or awaiting approval, one-quarter of them hydroelectric.

Here in Xiaoxi, meanwhile, where project credits await U.N. approval, dam construction jobs have produced an economic boomlet, but it's only temporary and people's grievances are not. One group, hopeful still for a hearing, has written to authorities with their plea for more yuan for farmers' lost way of life. "We strongly request that they give us an explanation and a satisfactory resolution," they wrote.

Text and Image Source: Associated Press, January 25, 2009

Friday, January 23, 2009

Are Obama's Policies Hidden In Plain Site?

Beware of Obama's Trojan Horse, Dick Morris and Eileen McGann,, January 22, 2009

Now that Obama is the president, fasten your seat belts. During his first year in office, and particularly during his first hundred days, we are about to witness the most prodigious output of legislation since 1981-2 (under Reagan), 1964-5 (under Johnson), and 1933-36 (under Roosevelt). The combination of top heavy Democratic majorities in Congress and a mood of public fear bordering on panic over the financial crisis and the looming depression will speed his legislation through a compliant Senate and House.

We will enter his Administration as the United States, buoyed by an aggressive free market economy. We will exit his first year - and even the first hundred days - as France, burdened with massive government regulation, a vast public sector, and permanent middle class entitlements. And Obama will take care to arrange things so that massive and permanent political change accompanies his and protects his legislative achievements in the future.

He will call this radical change a stimulus package. He will dress up a generation of liberal priorities as necessary steps to fight the economic crisis. His programs and policies won't do much to end the depression. It will end only after the massive burden of debt is lifted from the shoulders of American and foreign households and companies, a process which will take years. At most, his stimulus will act as methadone while we withdraw from our debt addiction, mitigating the pain, smoothing over the trauma, and soothing our system.

But Obama's strategy is to hide inside the Trojan Horse of stimulus an army of radical measures to change America permanently.

The most pernicious of his proposals will be the massive Make Work Pay refundable tax credit. Dressed up as a tax cut, it will be a national welfare program, guaranteeing a majority of American households an annual check to "refund" taxes they never paid. And it will eliminate the need for about 20% of American households to pay income taxes, lifting the proportion that need not do so to a majority of the voting population. Unlike the Bush stimulus checks, this new program will be a permanent entitlement, a part of our budget that can only go up and never down. Politically, it will transform a majority of Americans from taxpayers, anxious to hold down government spending, into tax eaters, eager to reap new benefits.

The huge spending in his stimulus package will create a budget deficit topping one trillion dollars. Ronald Reagan cut taxes to raise the deficit to stop liberals in future years from increasing spending. Obama will raise spending to raise the deficit to stop conservatives in future years from cutting taxes. As he funds every liberal dream - from alternative energy production to infrastructure renovation to more federal revenue sharing - he will force a massive expansion in the size of government for a decade to come. If the proportion of our $14 trillion GDP absorbed by the public sector increases by $1 trillion dollars, it will mean that government's share will rise from its current 33% to about 40%, bringing us close to the United Kingdom's ratio. If Obama adds a major expansion of health care to the mix, the proportion could reach into the mid-forties, French and German territory.

And Obama will likely use the Trojan Horse of stimulus to make a down payment on health care reform, expanding public coverage of those now uninsured dramatically. Likely, he will initially use the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) as his vehicle. He will ask the same pool of doctors and nurses and the same amount of medical equipment to take on the care of almost 50 million more people, necessitating rationing of medical services. Those too old, too sick, or with bad habits like smoking, may find themselves fenced off from good medical care, even if they can pay for it themselves.

While he is making these major changes, Obama will permanently alter our politics by taking three steps designed to alter the political balance:

a) He will set illegal immigrants on a path to citizenship

b) He'll pass the card check voting system for unionization, raising the unionized share of our economy

c) He will crack down on talk radio through requirements either for equal time or for local ownership and control - or both.

Most likely, Obama's inability to tame the depression will erode his popularity during his first two years in office. But, by then, his proposals will be statutes. The fiscal parameters, the middle class' expectations of no taxes and government handouts, and the demographics of our electorate will be changed forever.

Text Source: Dick

Image Source: Photo