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Sunday, February 28, 2010

Al Gore, from the standpoint of idiocy

Jonah Goldberg aptly mocks this sentence from Nobel Prize winner Man-Bear-Pig Al Gore in a global warming op-ed in today's NYT:

From the standpoint of governance, what is at stake is our ability to use the rule of law as an instrument of human redemption.

Notes Goldberg (ellipsis his):

Surely, a claim is in trouble when you can swap out a phrase like "from the standpoint of governance" and helpfully replace it with "from the standpoint of Glaxar: Supreme Ruler of the Known Universe" or "from the standpoint of the Hale-Bopp Cult ...."

But what would you expect when reading the writings of a global warming fanatic whose college degree is not in any sort of science (much less weather-related science), but instead in journalism? What wise words do you expect on the subject of the "rule of law" from a law-school dropout, or on the subject of "human redemption" from someone who flunked out of divinity school?

Laughter may be somewhat redemptive, though — of sanity, if not of the soul. And Al Gore continues to be good for a laugh.

Posted by Beldar at 02:21 PM in Current Affairs, Science | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Iran, Obama, and the 1936 reoccupation of the Rhineland

(Fair warning: There is no humor in this post, not even of the snarky sort. I'm not in the mood to sugar-coat my conclusions, or to balance them with hopeful observations.)

Mark Steyn's latest at NRO is characteristically witty, except for its very unfunny thesis paragraph, which is characteristically astute. Given the timetables, and the Obama Administration's commitment to ineffective measures, and its refusal to take the increasingly stiff actions that would be necessary to effect regime change and nonproliferation in Iran, Steyn offers this grim but inescapable conclusion:

It is now certain that Tehran will get its nukes, and very soon. This is the biggest abdication of responsibility by the Western powers since the 1930s. It is far worse than Pakistan going nuclear, which, after all, was just another thing the CIA failed to see coming. In this case, the slow-motion nuclearization conducted in full view and through years of tortuous diplomatic charades and endlessly rescheduled looming deadlines is not just a victory for Iran but a decisive defeat for the United States. It confirms the Islamo-Sino-Russo-everybody-else diagnosis of Washington as a hollow superpower that no longer has the will or sense of purpose to enforce the global order.

I'm genuinely not sure that Obama would know, if he read that paragraph, to which 1930s events Steyn was alluding. For someone with degrees from such distinguished institutions, his knowledge of recent history is surprisingly spotty. He might or might not turn to his staff for an explanation, and if so, someone probably would have mentioned the appeasement of Hitler at Munich in September 1938 or (less aptly) the German invasion of Poland in September 1939.

That's yet not where we are in the comparison, though. The history being replayed today is that of March 7, 1936 — when Hitler and the Nazis remilitarized the Rhineland. And I've seen no indication whatsoever that our President's knowledge of 20th Century history includes a knowledge of that particular turning point of history.

Hitler's remilitarization of the Rhineland — in outright defiance of the Versailles and Locarno Treaties — was when the West had its last, best clear chance to stop Hitler and the Nazis, with the likely toppling of Hitler's government as a consequence, at a trivial military expense. All that was necessary was that France and Great Britain (chiefly the former, as the relevant neighbor) just barely flex their vastly superior military muscles — which, given Nazi treaty violations, they had an indisputable legal right to do. Indeed, the Germans were instructed to reverse course and retreat at even a display of military purpose and intent to oppose them on the part of the French. Instead, because France and Britain acquiesced in the treaty violations, Hitler promptly accelerated the conversion of his illegally reconstituted military into the fierce machine that brought us the Blitzkreig and subsequent Nazi occupation or domination of Europe.

In 2003, America and the rest of the world believed that Saddam was about to get nukes. We talked about "WMDs" to include chemical and biological weapons, both of which Iraq had already acquired and used. But the invasion and regime-change of Iraq was perceived by those of narrow insight to be almost exclusively about the nukes. What shocked most Americans the most was that the nukes weren't there. What shocked much of the rest of the world, including nuclear wannabe countries like Iran and Libya, the most was that the still-respected Iraqi army — one that had fought the Iranians to a bloody standstill in their 1980-1988 war, and that had at least survived the Gulf War — proceeded to fold like a house of cards in a hurricane under the American-British assault. Libya was scared straight as a direct and near immediate result, but Iran has, of course, continued to play provocateur — doing its best to make things difficult for us and the Iraqis while fast-tracking their own nuclear acquisition efforts.

(Me, I was one of those hawk troglodytes who still held that Saddam's near daily attempts to shoot down our pilots in the No-Fly Zone was ample reason enough to drive American tanks into the middle of Baghdad if that's what it took to knock his regime out of power. And for the last several years of this decade, I've been one of those troglodyte hawks who has the exact same reaction to Iran furnishing men, materiel (including IEDs), and support for the killing of American troops in Iraq. We have long had more than sufficient justification for whatever steps are required to change the regime in Tehran.)

Barack Obama and Joe Biden, among many other reckless and irresponsible Democrats, did their dead-level best to sabotage our continuing efforts in Iraq from 2003 onward. (Indeed, Biden's efforts go back to his opposition to the Gulf War, long before Obama was on anyone's radar.) In their and their Party's revised Democratic-orthodoxy of world history, the Iraq invasion to stop nuclear proliferation was the result of a deliberate lie by Bush. With Obama and Biden and Hillary at the helm, and with gutless lickspittles like Reid and Pelosi running Congress, there is no longer any serious fear on the part of America's potential and actual enemies (Iran is definitely in the latter camp) that there will be any similar American military intervention to prevent nuclear proliferation anywhere.

And so here we are in 2010, in the predicament Steyn has pinpointed. Iran will get its bomb before the reins of leadership in America can possibly be passed back to someone who could summon up the nation's will to stop that process, and by then the costs of restoring Iran to a non-nuclear status will have grown unfathomably greater.

Although the costs will be unfathomably greater, that does not make me think they are less likely ultimately to have to be paid anyway. I think exactly the opposite is true: Something awful is going to happen, something so bad that it does, in an instant, shock the United States out of its narcolepsy in the same manner that 12/7/41 and 9/11/01 did. Recall, again, that in the Iraq-Iran War, Iran sent battalion after battalion of teen-aged volunteers, some without even rifles, in human-wave assaults on Iraqi minefields and fixed defenses. The mullahs didn't hesitate to slaughter many tens of thousands of their teenage children when they lacked even a fraction of a chance of military success. We cannot expect them to "grow" and "mature" when they have the responsibilities of a nuclear power. We cannot expect them to be rational at all because they have a demonstrated history of irrationality and they are in the grips of an ideology that can be twisted to justify even the most extreme apocalyptic acts.

Barack Obama's feckless vacuum of an Iranian foreign policy will almost certainly lead directly to nuclear slaughter, and quite probably a slaughter of Israelis, Europeans, and yes, Americans. The ghosts of not just Chamberlain, but of Quisling and Arnold, will surely rejoice, for after he has let the Iranians get their Bomb, the name "Obama" will forever eclipse theirs as appeasers and traitors to their duty.

("Bush-43 didn't fix this during his term," my progressive friends will retort, and "What exactly would you have Obama do?" Well, friends, Bush bestirred the country sufficiently to depose the Taliban in Afghanistan and Saddam in Iraq, and to give each of those countries a democracy if they can keep it (with considerable investment of American blood and treasure toward those ends too). If American foreign policy were genuinely bipartisan and clear-eyed, instead of being methodically manipulated, month after month and year after year, for the most crass political purposes by Democrats, then we would not be nearly so war-weary, and we might instead be in the process of doing to Iran what JFK did to Cuba in October 1962: Enforcing a nuclear quarantine. Slow, strangling sanctions are a horrible idea; swift and aggressive ones, like blockading all gasoline imports and disabling Iran's own crucial but limited refinery capacity to suddenly paralyze their entire economy, will indeed hurt the Iranian people more than it hurts their corrupt and crazy leadership. But a sanction that is insufficient to prompt them to shake off their current government is, by definition, an inadequate sanction. (But cf. John Bolton's August 2009 WSJ op-ed; I'm proposing not merely the typical UN-debated import restrictions, but what would indeed be, and should be confidently and unrepentantly confirmed as, responding to Iran's repeated acts of war with our own acts that are indeed warfare.) There's no shortage, in fact, of things we can do, even though with each passing day there are fewer things that can be done at comparatively low risk. But there's no point in our arguing over the costs, risks, and rewards of potential measures. They're all moot, given the absence of a leader in the White House who will act instead of dither and self-justify.)

Posted by Beldar at 02:40 AM in Current Affairs, Global War on Terror, Obama | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Press and public mostly still misunderstand issues in Keller judicial complaint

Regarding the Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct's handling of the complaint made against Presiding Judge Sharon Keller in connection with the Michael Richard execution in 2007, Peggy Fikac of the Houston Chronicle's Austin bureau reported today on both sides' filing of formal objections to the findings of the special master who heard the evidence on the complaint, State District Judge David A. Berchelmann. Judge Berchelmann's report excoriated Richard's defense team but found that no formal sanctions should be imposed upon Judge Keller — the bottom-line result that the complaining team is still protesting to the full Commission. However, the findings also contained some language critical of Judge Keller, to which her legal team is objecting in turn.

As with so much of the previous reporting on this matter, Ms. Fikac's article is not exactly wrong, but neither is it quite right. Both the state and national press have done a completely inadequate job of grasping and explaining what the relevant issues actually were. Instead, they've been repeating a skewed spin on the case that's most damning to Judge Keller, but that's also quite misleading because it's based on the perpetuation of a mistake made by the defense team.

Short titles are hard for me. Thus, I first blogged about this case back on October 4, 2007, in a post entitled Was Michael Richard executed because Presiding Judge Sharon Keller ordered the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals' doors closed at 5:00 p.m. before his emergency stay of execution application could be filed? I followed that up with: More facts received, and more yet to come, about Michael Richard's blocked application for a stay of execution. In those posts, I speculated that this entire dispute arose from a mistaken assumption on the part of someone on the Richard defense team about what they were actually trying to do. The trial evidence ended up verifying my hunches pretty closely, but the case is still widely misunderstood on a fundamental basis. And ironically, the misunderstanding results in both Judge Keller and the Richard defense team coming off worse than either deserves!

Here's what I posted today as a comment to Ms. Fikac's article in the Chronicle:

I have not yet read a single comment, pro or con, from anyone who understands what this case was about.

And of course, you can't tell that from the article, either, since the press can't seem to grasp what happened.

Michael Richard's defense team — acting through a paralegal -- asked the wrong question altogether: Will you keep the courthouse open late?

There was never any reason to keep the courthouse open late, or even just the clerk's office open late. What the defense team needed to be doing — what its actual lawyers knew, but hadn't instructed their paralegal about — was arranging for the duty judge to accept an after-hours filing and hearing of an emergency matter. The applicable rule of Texas law permits these judges to do that — and it doesn't matter whether it's in a public building that's "open" or on the 50 yard line of Memorial Stadium.

The press — going along with Richard's defense team — wants to make out as though Judge Keller was asked, "Will you agree to rule on this after closing time?" Well, that wasn't at all what she was asked. To the question she was asked, she gave the correct answer: "We close at 5."

You may think — and the special master apparently thought — that she should have gone further and figured out WHY the paralegal was asking to "keep the courthouse open." Maybe you think she should have then volunteered some advice and suggested the RIGHT question. But consider this: Do you want Texas judges to get into the business of giving corrective legal advice every time they see a lawyer doing something stupid? In fact, the canons of judicial ethics prohibit that, and for very good reasons.

There's no suggestion that Michael Richard died any less painlessly than every other inmate executed in Texas for the last several years. The U.S. Supreme Court case that was the basis for Richard's stay motion ended up AFFIRMING the constitutionality of lethal injection protocols. The judicial system had spoken: Michael Richard was to die for his capital crime, and to die without further delay; he was deprived of an unjustified windfall of a few more months at most. I count that as not a big deal in the greater scheme of things.

Finally: Go read the special master's actual report: http://www.scjc.state.tx.us/pdf/skeller/MastersFindings.pdf ... His synthesis of the facts is quite good.

Here's a link to all of the filings connected to the complaint.

And finally, here's a link to DRJ's guest post at Patterico's when Judge Berchelmann's findings first came out last month. I left quite a few comments to that post, and they track my initial and considered reactions after reading the findings.

Posted by Beldar at 01:13 PM in Law (2010) | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Monday, February 15, 2010

Bayh's decision to forgo re-election run can't help but highlight the spectacular incompetence of Obama-Reid-Pelosi

Handicapping the 2008 presidential race from way back on April 23, 2007, I predicted: "Thompson/Romney defeats Obama/Bayh." And I still respect three of those four — all except The One who won.

My respect for Sen. Evan Bayh (D-IN) — one of the most intelligent, articulate, and reasonable Democrats in public office — goes back to his days as a two-term governor of Indiana. (NB: "Respect" isn't the same as "support"; I have substantive policy disagreements with Bayh that would prevent me for ever supporting or voting for him.) Evan Bayh has never quite taken off as a national candidate, but he's been on the national stage for some time; indeed, he's the kind of solid and appealing alternative whose failure to catch on seems baffling as we watch bozos like Howard Dean and John Kerry seize the Dems' spotlights and microphones. Although former Indiana Sen. Dan Coats was perceived to be offering Bayh a tougher re-election challenge this year than Bayh had faced in previous bids, the fact is that Sen. Bayh remained well liked at home, he had already distanced himself from both Obama and the Democratic congressional leadership, and he has an unbroken string of elections and re-elections in Indiana.

Thus, Sen. Bayh's announcement today that he would not seek a third term in the Senate in 2010, just on the brink of the deadline for filing for his party's nomination, has stunned those who follow politics on both the Left and the Right:

Since 9/11, I have fought to make our nation safe with a national security approach that is both tough and smart. I have championed the cause of our soldiers to make sure they have the equipment they need in battle and the health care they deserve when they get home.

I have often been a lonely voice for balancing the budget and restraining spending. I have worked with Democrats, Republicans, and Independents alike to do the nation’s business in a way that is civil and constructive.

I am fortunate to have good friends on both sides of the aisle, something that is much too rare in Washington today.

After all these years, my passion for service to my fellow citizens is undiminished, but my desire to do so by serving in Congress has waned. For some time, I have had a growing conviction that Congress is not operating as it should. There is too much partisanship and not enough progress — too much narrow ideology and not enough practical problem-solving. Even at a time of enormous challenge, the peoples’ business is not being done.


To put it in words most people can understand: I love working for the people of Indiana, I love helping our citizens make the most of their lives, but I do not love Congress. I will not, therefore, be a candidate for election to the Senate this November.

Dem spinners will blame Republicans for the "partisanship" that Sen. Bayh decried in his statement. But Bayh's party has overwhelming majorities in both chambers of the Congress that Bayh has described as "disfunctional." Most voters are too smart to believe a pro-Dem spin in the face of that incontrovertible and overwhelmingly significant political fact. And one would labor fruitlessly in trying to find any explicit blame directed exclusively, or even mainly, at the GOP in Sen. Bayh's statement. To the contrary, the one fellow senator Sen. Bayh went out of his way to laud was fellow Indianan Richard G. Lugar, a Republican.

If Sen. Bayh were adhering to the party line, in fact, he would of course have blamed George W. Bush for his decision.

Re-reading my prediction from 2007, I'm tempted to wonder how differently, and potentially better, Barack Obama might have fared during his first year in the White House if he'd had Bayh as his Veep instead of the blithering idiot he actually picked as a running mate. Unfortunately — for Obama, and for America — I'm quite confident that the answer is: "Not much."

The reason is that Barack Obama's arrogance is boundless. There's simply never been, and there never will be, any chance that someone like Bayh will ever have Obama's ear in a significant way.

No, Obama insists on being Clown in Chief. He's eclipsed even Biden in that regard, and he's obviously determined to run his one-term presidency into the ground rather than change course in any significant way. There is, of course, a large silver lining in that fact as we inch slowly toward January 2013 and Obama sets new records for ineffectiveness in the meantime. But the dark cloud remains, and America will pay the price, literally and figuratively, for Obama's fecklessness for decades.

There was one obviously insincere sentence in Sen. Bayh's announcement today: "My decision should not reflect adversely upon the President."

Oh, Sen. Bayh, I can understand why you felt compelled to recognize the inevitability of observers drawing inferences about the Obama Administration from your decision. Likewise, I appreciate and applaud the fact that you couldn't bring yourself to tell a similar outright lie about whether, and how, your decision should reflect upon Harry Reid or Nancy Pelosi. But were your fingers crossed behind your back when you wrote that line about the President? Or were you rationalizing it by recognizing that even your startling decision not to run for re-election couldn't possibly add meaningfully to what's already obvious — to all except the willfully self-blinded and -drugged — about the spectacular deficiencies of Barack Obama?

Posted by Beldar at 06:23 PM in 2010 Election, Congress, Obama, Politics (2010) | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Debra Medina and Farouk Shami have done Texans a favor by proving themselves unqualified

From an AP report printed in today's Houston Chronicle:

Republican gubernatorial candidate Debra Medina, reeling from her remarks that questioned whether the U.S. government was involved in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, on Friday blamed the ensuing firestorm on a "coordinated attack" that she speculated came from the campaigns of her better-known GOP rivals.

Medina also predicted "more of this" in her race against Gov. Rick Perry and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. She said there are no "high-profile kinds of scandals in my life that really are going to get people something to chew on. So they're going to have to make some things up."

"The political games we saw beginning to be played yesterday serve nothing but a diversion," she said, denying that her news conference in Houston — during which some questions were posed by Medina campaign staff seated among reporters — was an effort at damage control. "No. This is continuing doing what we've been doing, campaigning hard for months."

In response to a question Thursday from nationally syndicated radio talk show host Glenn Beck, Medina said there were "some very good arguments" that the U.S. was involved in the 2001 attacks that took down the World Trade Center and killed some 3,000 people. "I think the American people have not seen all of the evidence there, so I have not taken a position on that," she said.

Medina also has told a Dallas TV station that besides her questions about 9/11, she similarly has questions about Barack Obama's birth certificate (meaning his constitutional eligibility to be President).

According to the same AP report, the candidate who trails Bill White in the polls for the Democratic Party's nomination (but could also make a run-off if White pulls less than 50%) has also jumped aboard the grand conspiracies bandwagon:

On the Democratic side, gubernatorial candidate Farouk Shami said Friday he also had questions about the involvement of the federal government in the terrorist attacks, saying "maybe there is no smoke without fire."

"We still don't know who killed John F. Kennedy, who's behind it," Shami said during an interview with Dallas television station WFAA. "Will we ever find the truth about 9/11?

"It's hard to make judgments. I'm not saying yes or no, because I don't know the truth."

Those aren't just wrong answers, they're disqualifying answers. Public servants, to be effective at all, must be able to make good judgments. Indeed, they must be able to make good judgments even with less than perfect and complete information. And that's especially true of those in the executive branches of government.

As a mere blogger, I've tried hard to avoid making a snap judgment about Debra Medina, in part because I think GOP politics have gotten sclerotic, and because I believe we desperately need new talent that's genuinely committed to old values.

Debra Medina wasn't ever likely to get my vote, though: I was too troubled at the complete absence of any record of prior public service from which we might conclude that she is qualified to do the job required of the governor of Texas. It didn't matter to me how good a game she talked, because there's a complete absence of any proof that she's competent at the most basic level to undertake the task of governing.

But Medina's political self-immolation over the last few days now leads me to affirmatively recommend, for whatever that might be worth and to whoever's reading, that conservative Texans vote against her. I don't much care whether you vote for Hutchison or Perry. Just don't waste your vote on this kook.

It's not just a distraction, but a willful and malicious waste of political energy to fight over Barack Obama's birth certificate at this point, folks. It's water that's not only already flowed under the bridge, it's evaporated out of the river, floated across the continent, turned back into rainfall, and been soaked up into growing crops that have already been harvested, eaten, and excreted. When there are so very many legitimate and genuinely urgent concerns about Barack Obama and what he's doing as President, I'd rather not hear another freaking word about his birth certificate — not from anyone, not for any purpose, and most especially not from someone who is seeking my vote for service as a public official.

But the Truther stuff is far worse, at least as I judge things. For a public figure who wishes to be taken seriously, it's not enough to merely admit that radical Islamic terrorists flew the planes into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon; it is offensive and a mark of derangement to pretend that it's an open question whether the U.S. government was in any way complicit, either actively or through deliberate and knowing inaction, in the 9/11 attacks. State governors have serious public safety responsibilities. We can't afford to have in charge of the Texas National Guard, the Department of Public Safety, and the Texas Rangers someone who, as Texas state senator (and conservative radio host) Dan Patrick has reported (h/t Ace), thinks there's something suspicious about how policeman but not firemen were able to escape from the Twin Towers before they came down.

Medina's attempt to cast blame on her opponents for this kerfuffle is pathetic. Of course her opponents will make the most use they can of her screw-up — Hutchison because Medina had become perceived as a threat to knock her out of second place, Perry because he hopes he might squeak in with a majority and avoid a run-off. With this Obama-like refusal to accept responsibility, Medina has compounded her original offenses and further demonstrated her lack of political stature.

Similarly, insisting that she's just vindicating the public's right "to ask questions" is entirely disingenuous. "I support free speech, including the right to espouse crackpot positions," one can say. But this sort of wink and nudge and phrasing of ridiculous accusations as "mere questions" can fool no one.

I don't blame anyone who's been taken in by either Medina or Shami. But I can't excuse or understand anyone who still sticks with them. It's time to re-think, and to realize that you've been looking at your candidate through the political equivalent of beer goggles.

No, one can't play footsie with the Truthers and the Birthers and expect to be a serious candidate. Anyone who can't see that lacks the minimal basic judgment necessary to hold a public office. Debra Medina and Farouk Shami have done Texans a favor by confirming that they're not serious candidates, not even for purposes of casting a "protest vote." It's time for these two to return to the political obscurity whence they came.

Posted by Beldar at 09:12 AM in 2010 Election, Politics (2010), Politics (Texas) | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Friday, February 12, 2010

In proposal to raise Ronald McDonald's taxes, Katrina vanden Heuvel beclowns herself

At the ridiculously named "Post-Partisan" blog on the WaPo, we find the following passage attributed to Katrina vanden Heuvel, who's the editor, part-owner, and publisher of the left-wing magazine The Nation as well as being the most predictably and unintentionally hilarious talking head on ABC News' "This Week" (emphasis mine):

At the current federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, it takes just under thirty minutes of work for an average burger-flipper to earn enough to buy a Big Mac (average American price, $3.58) on his lunch break.

Startlingly, it would still take that burger-flipper 29 minutes to earn enough to buy a head of organic romaine lettuce ($3.49/head). Add tomato ($4.99/pound), sweet onion ($1.49/pound), and carrots ($2.49/bunch); skim milk ($2.99/half gallon), hardboiled egg ($3.69/dozen), and whole wheat bread ($3.49/loaf), and to purchase his shopping basket, he’d need to clock over three hours of work, not to mention the unpaid labor he’d have to devote to preparing those groceries into a food-pyramid-friendly meal....

As the prices above indicate, [the American obesity] epidemic is not to be blamed on eating habits themselves — or even on their families. It is simply far less expensive to feed a family from the Dollar Menu at McDonald’s than it is to prepare fresh, healthy choices.

Ms. vanden Heuvel goes on to explain that tax breaks are the reason that McDonald's can feed your family more cheaply than your family can feed itself with store-bought groceries: "In 2006, McDonald’s spent $1 million every day on advertising aimed at American children, legally a tax-deductible business expenditure and, in effect, a subsidy given to the golden arches by the American people."

Her solution: We need to raise taxes! For the good of the children!

(The WaPo webpage from which I've taken those quotes, by the way, rather conspicuously displayed "tax breaks" (i.e., advertisements, the costs of which are considered to be legitimate business expenses of the advertisers) for IBM and the U.S. representative of a trade group promoting French champagnes. I hit the refresh button a few times and saw, in rotation, similar tax breaks for Bank of America, Xerox, Boeing, Sprint, and New York University. Damn, I'll bet Dick Cheney personally designed those web pages! Obviously we need to tax all advertisers more heavily. But why stop there? Let's raise taxes on the WaPo, ABC (or its parent, Disney), and The Nation too, since they're the ones enabling these advertising write-offs!)

(And by the way: I'm very impressed with just how far McDonald's has been able to stretch that million-dollar-a-day tax write-off, especially given that its corporate revenues last year were $22.74 billion, or $62.3 million/day, with an annual profit of $4.55 billion, or $12.47 million/day. If the tax savings from that million-a-day advertising deduction have indeed permitted McDonald's to both sell their food at below grocery-store raw ingredient prices and still generate that magnitude of revenues and profits, then we need to let Ronald McDonald take over Obama's efforts at dealing with the federal budget. If we're going to have a clown in charge, let's pick one who's demonstrated some success!)

Katrina vanden Heuvel

Of course, it's only in vanden-Heuvel-World® that McDonald's is cheaper than buying groceries and cooking them yourself. Indeed, Ms. vanden Heuvel's post effectively proves to those of us in the, ahem, Reality Based Community that she's neither fed a family at McDonald's nor fed a family a homemade meal from groceries she's purchased.

Here's a pair of clues, Katrina — no charge:

First, homemade meals from fresh ingredients cost less on a per-person and per-serving basis if, after you've had your healthy lunch, you refrain from throwing away the unused ingredients. Your computations come out quite differently if you'd merely recognize that your specified shopping basket can make more than one meal. Perhaps en route to your summa cum laude degree from Princeton, Katrina, you should have taken a detour to study basic home economics. (Or you could have asked one of your servants. Or even the intern you sent out to an overpriced Upper West Side Manhattan grocery to gather that list of prices, but only if he/she is actually living off the minimum wage you're probably paying, which the more I think about it seems pretty unlikely.)

Second, when you take your whole family to McDonald's, it costs more than one dollar even if you all order from the "Dollar Menu," and almost no one (much less an entire family) only orders a single Big Mac. (The "Dollar Menu," in my own considerable experience and observation at Mickey D's, is mostly used for adding an additional side item by those who would've felt too guilty following their initial instinct to super-size their Value Meal.) Suffice it to say that I've never gotten my four kids and myself out of McDonald's without breaking a second twenty-dollar bill.

When you're completely out of touch with reality, then raising taxes makes marvelous sense as the solution to every problem, real or imagined, doesn't it? Personal responsibility? Individual liberty? How can we possibly afford those things, when groceries are so damned much more expensive than McDonald's food?

Posted by Beldar at 02:45 AM in Current Affairs, Mainstream Media | Permalink | Comments (15) | TrackBack

Obama's greatest achievement so far

I might have a hard time believing that Barack Obama saved America from defeat in Iraq (h/t InstaPundit), except that I have such vivid personal memories of him winning the first Gulf War, winning the Cold War and tearing down the Berlin Wall with his own strong hands, winning the first and second World Wars, winning the Spanish-American War, winning the American Civil War and freeing the slaves, winning the Revolutionary War, and writing the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. There is nothing he cannot do.

(Or at least, nothing good for which that festering sore masquerading as a presidential press secretary, Robert Gibbs, won't try to claim credit on Obama's behalf.)

Posted by Beldar at 01:17 AM in Global War on Terror, Obama | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Is it Medina or "Neither of the Other Two" who's "coming on strong" for the Texas GOP gubernatorial nomination?

After a long blogging hiatus, I wrote last Friday about the 2010 Texas gubernatorial race. I was dismissive of the chances of GOP candidate Debra Medina, who's identified with both the Tea Party movement and, perhaps less closely, with the 2008 enthusiasts over Ron Paul's presidential candidacy.

Today InstaPundit Glenn Reynolds links a David Fredosso post in the Washington Examiner which, in turn, touts a Public Policy Polling report that "Medina is coming on strong," asserting that she's "now at 24%, just four points behind Kay Bailey Hutchison's 28%." Claiming to be a poll of "likely GOP primary voters," PPP's poll was apparently one of those telephone robo-polls.

Now, as I've written here before many times over many years: I hate polls and pollsters in general; I think they're pernicious and evil, that they've come to distort the American political process in ways that are usually bad, and that they're given undue weight by the media and pundits and (worst of all) by politicians. One of the things I liked best about George W. Bush throughout his presidency was that he absolutely refused to be driven by polls, in very dramatic contrast to his immediate predecessor in office. Agree with them and him or not, Dubya has principles, and he governed by them for the most part (albeit with some conspicuous exceptions, and he was most consistent with regard to his most passionately held principles, e.g., on matters of post-9/11 national security). I don't know or much care whether PPP is one of the "better and more honest" pollsters; as far as I'm concerned, that's like discussing "better and more honest" timeshare condo salesmen.

Accordingly, I'm especially skeptical of any poll that's automated and that relies on what is essentially offensively-oriented voicemail — using the word "offensive" there in both the sense of being unpleasant, and in the sense of being non-passive and intrusive.

But when you drill down into the actual polling questions and results, you'll find this question and answer that I think is hugely significant, but that PPP, Fredosso, and Prof. Reynolds all ignore:

Q5 Do you have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of Debra Medina? If favorable, press 1. If unfavorable, press 2. If you’re not sure, press 3.

Favorable........................................................ 40%
Unfavorable .................................................... 9%
Not Sure.......................................................... 51%

If there's a figure that's significantly understated in this entire poll, I suspect it's that last one. I would wager a Whataburger Patty Melt Meal, even a Whata-sized one with a milkshake and a hot apple pie, that nowhere close to 49% of likely Texas GOP primary voters could tell us one significant fact about Debra Medina other than, perhaps, at most, that she's not an incumbent state or federal politician.

I think that the appropriate interpretation of this poll, in the current political climate, is that most of the votes purportedly for Medina are actually for "Neither of the other two" — at least when the only other choices are Perry and Hutchison. Perry and Hutchison have been on the ballot over and over and over again; their names are extremely familiar to Texas voters in a year in which that's as much a curse as a benefit. Indeed, the poll shows that both Perry and Hutchison have roughly 50% job approval ratings, which I think is probably not too far off. But Perry has some high negatives — not all the voters who snicker at references to "Gov. Goodhair" are Democrats, and even some who like him are very uncomfortable with the ideal of a 10-year governor running for re-election — and Hutchison is widely perceived in some parts of the state as being part of the elite Bush-41-style RINOs who've been thoroughly corrupted by spending too long in Washington. (That's not exactly my own view of either of them, for what it's worth, but it's also fair to say that I'm not doing backflips over either's candidacy.)

It's very easy to blow off some steam in an automated telephonic robo-poll where pressing the button for an unknown or little known candidate costs you nothing. Taking the trouble to go to the primaries to cast a vote to match that phone button stab — whether as a protest or as a substantive endorsement of Ms. Medina's candidacy — is a whole 'nuther deal.

I can't rule out entirely the possibility, suggested by Freddoso and others, that Medina now threatens to beat out Hutchison for a spot in a GOP run-off, although I still think that's pretty unlikely. I wouldn't much mind seeing that happen, actually, if it served to help re-enforce the Tea Partiers' message to both major political parties that they can't just continue to give lip service to fiscal conservatism while spending like promiscuous frat boys at a strip club with Daddy's Amex Platinum Card.

But will a majority of Texas GOP primary voters actually cast their ballots, at the only poll which counts, for a political unknown with no prior experience in any public office — knowing that candidate will be running against a formidable and extremely well-financed Democratic candidate like Bill White? Nuh-uh, compadre. That's just not going to happen. Not in a state-wide race in Texas, anyway — not this year.


UPDATE (Fri Feb 12 @ 1:25am): As reader "Paul in Houston" commented below, Ms. Medina has, at a minimum, hit a speed bump when, in response to questioning on Glenn Beck's radio show as to whether the government was involved in the attack on the World Trade Center on 9/11, she answered: “I think some very good questions raised have been raised in that regard.” (DRJ has posted a transcript over at Patterico's.)

I'm inclined to agree with Ed Morrissey that her later written statement trying to walk this answer back is not very convincing, and Ed may also be right that the recent polling before this statement may have constituted "the apex of her political career."

If Ms. Medina had a track record of solid performance as a principled conservative in any public office, one might be inclined to say, "Oh, well, Glenn Beck — he's a big-mouthed rabble-rouser who's just out for ratings," which is unquestionably true, and to assume that this was just an unfortunate misstatement by Ms. Medina, a "gotcha moment" in which we ought to credit her written retraction over her spontaneous answer in the Beck interview. But if we take politicians at face value, then we'd all have to believe that Barack Obama is absolutely committed to fiscal conservatism and to reigning in government spending. Deeds trump statements; absent deeds, spontaneous words trump carefully rewritten words.

Although I think Beck's usually a clown, he stumbles upon or makes real news from time to time, and there's no doubt that he's high-profile enough now that this incident will dramatically increase Medina's name recognition among Texas GOP primary voters. But I think it probably will diminish the odds of her making a run-off to nearly nothing.

Posted by Beldar at 05:57 PM in 2010 Election, Politics (2010), Politics (Texas) | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Friday, February 05, 2010

Beldar handicaps Perry vs. Hutchison vs. White

Regarding Glenn Reynolds’ item, linking a Los Angeles Times blog post, about a new Rasmussen Reports Poll suggesting that in the 2010 Texas gubernatorial race, either incumbent Rick Perry, retiring U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson, or self-identified Tea Party supporter Debra Medina would defeat the likely Democratic challenger, Bill White:

It’s way, way too early to handicap the final Texas gubernatorial race with any confidence. But for now, as I see it, the two big questions are:

  • Will the Hutchison/Perry mud-slinging during the GOP primary seriously damage either of them in a way that affects the general election?

              — and —

  • Will Bill White’s success as Houston’s mayor permit him to dodge his eventual GOP opponent’s efforts to tar him as just another tax-and-spend liberal Democrat who would be a close ally to President Obama and the national Democratic Party leadership?

(I mean no offense whatsoever to Ms. Medina, and I am, in general, very sympathetic to the concerns raised in the various Tea Party protests around the country. But both Hutchison and Perry will work very hard, during the primary and, for the winner, after, to lure those voters. Perry in particular is already emphasizing his non-Washington status. I expect either of them will adequately co-opt those voters, such that a newcomer like Ms. Medina is not likely to have much more than a symbolic and incidental effect on the Texas GOP primary or the general election in November.)

Although he's unconventional in many respects, Bill White is the most viable and attractive candidate the Dems have run for any state-wide Texas office in quite some time. I know Bill reasonably well: He was the editor in chief of the Texas Law Review in 1978-1979, one year ahead of the editorial board on which I served. A few years later when I was at Baker Botts, I was heavily recruited by him and his then-law partners at Susman Godfrey. I like him and I respect him. Bill is industrious and just wicked smart — as smart as anyone I’ve ever met, period.

Had he not been term-limited, and had he wanted another term, there is no doubt at all that Bill could have been re-elected as Houston’s mayor again by another overwhelming margin. I’m not one of the local politics mavens who bird-dog every City Council meeting, and Bill’s performance as mayor generated serious critics whose opinions I also respect. But I’ve never known him to be, nor seen any credible accusation that he is, anything less than basically ethical. I think he’s used carrots more than sticks as mayor, but with no more larceny in the carrot-distribution than what's probably the necessary minimum. Compared to, say, Chicago, Houston’s local politics are still amazingly nonpartisan and usually even non-controversial; there’s a positive passion for “business as usual” here in a city of amazing opportunity, and a mayor who can preside as a reasonably good steward over that process, without screwing up too obviously, will end up looking pretty good in hindsight. Bill certainly at least met that low hurdle. But in particular, Bill ended up looking both competent and compassionate in the recent Gulf Coast hurricanes — both as the leader of an involved civic neighbor during Katrina and, even more dramatically in contrast to New Orleans’ awful leaders, as the guy on the hot seat during Ike.

White is not a natural politician by any means — he’s utterly lacking in the slick charisma that Bill Clinton sweats and breathes, and his wonky professorial streak isn’t mixed with the same arrogance that Obama exudes. He still has a boyish directness that’s quite disarming — and it’s helped him translate his lack of political slickness into a net-positive feature for his successful mayoral campaigns.

Thus, I’m one of many conservative and Republican Houstonians who happily voted for Bill for mayor twice. I wish him well in life. I’m grateful for the good he’s done. Yet I will not vote for him for any state-wide or national office — precisely because he is indeed a devoted member of the Democratic Party.

White was a cabinet undersecretary (Energy) in the Clinton Administration, and he’s now running for a place on the political ticket (Dems) that hasn’t won a contested race in a Texas state-wide election since the early 1990s. I believe he’d govern as a progressive Democrat at either a state or national level, in a way that Houston’s local politics simply wouldn’t have permitted him, or anyone, to do as mayor. And I just have no confidence that he would — or would even want to — stand up against the leaders of the national Democratic Party; I just can’t see him defying the national party line on anything important.

Perry and Hutchison both have had extremely broad support — translating to easy victories — in their past races, but I don’t think either of them has a fraction of the depth of support that Dubya had when he was in the Texas Governor’s Mansion (or the White House, for that matter). And both Perry and Hutchison have done a good job at identifying the other’s most likely Achilles heel — Hutchison claiming that Perry’s too close to lobbyists and particular business interests, Perry claiming that Hutchison has become too much a Washingtonian and one of those GOP incumbents who were fiscally irresponsible to the point of recklessness. Both positions are caricatures, but the point of caricatures is that they rely on (and simply exaggerate) definitive, if superficial, features. The problem for Hutchison is that right now, most Texans probably hate the idea of federal spending more than just about anything, and certainly more than they hate mere lobbyists.

The Perry/Hutchison brawl, while enthusiastic and probably sincere from both sides, strikes me as something akin to a brouhaha over whether the S.M.U. Pony Band unduly insulted the Fightin’ Texas Aggies or their mascot during a college football halftime performance. If you're not heavily invested in either camp, the fight's entertainment value begins to fall off pretty sharply pretty soon. If conservatives are looking for targets to demonize, there are lots better ones around than either of these two — both of whom can legitimately claim to have reliably served most of their constituents quite satisfactorily in most respects, as reflected by the fact that they've both had easy re-elections. I suspect that most Texas Republicans wish they’d both shut up and just flip a coin tomorrow to decide which one will pull out of the primary. At least, that’s pretty much the way I feel. But some of the mud will probably stick, certainly enough to cost the eventual GOP nominee a few points in the general election — and that’s damned unfortunate, but I doubt it will be determinative.

Texas wasn’t totally immune to The One’s hopey-changitudinosity in 2008 — Obama didn’t do badly at all in Harris and Dallas Counties, for example, and had enough coat-tails to help Dems win a surprising number of local offices in both. But the bloom and its fragrance, real or imagined, is decidedly off that flower now. I don’t think even Karl Rove — whom Dubya reportedly nicknamed “Turd Blossum” for his ability to make political miracles from a stinky, messy situation — could turn an Obama connection into a political plus in Texas today.

I don’t mistake White’s lack of conventional political charisma as being political naïveté, and indeed, I suspect he can be adequately ruthless. But I doubt that ultimately he will be able to overcome the label of his party and the implied associations with Obama, Pelosi, Reid, Dean, Dodd, Frank, etc. — not in a big-money campaign against either Perry or Hutchison. Even with a positive record as Houston’s mayor to capitalize on, I just don’t see him generating the image of independence and strength that he’d need to run convincingly away from Obama. And on substance, even if he runs as what Dems would consider a “Blue Dog,” with a “conservative-light” platform that pretends allegiance to fiscal discipline and entrepreneurial values, there will still be plenty of issues on which he’s compelled to keep to the Left — among them social issues like abortion and gay marriage — that are still hot-buttons for some Texas conservatives and even some independents. (And yes, there are at least some of the latter; they're the ones who put Ann Richards into the Governor's Mansion after her ill-starred GOP opponent, Clayton Williams, fed her the ammo to paint him as a sexist good-ole-boy in 1990.)

So if forced to guess today — that’s what Professor Reynolds did with his post, he’s practically forced me to blog again with this early February guess about a November election! — my best guess is that the general election will come down to a somewhat weakened Perry, who will still overcome a White who can’t quite disassociate himself adequately from Obama and the national Dems.

Posted by Beldar at 09:02 PM in 2010 Election, Obama, Politics (2010), Politics (Texas) | Permalink | Comments (10) | TrackBack