February 29th, 2008 by Rightsideup

A phenomenal set of charts showing public perceptions of progress in Iraq over the last two years, which illustrates fantastically the impact of the surge, not just on the reality over there but on people’s perceptions of progress. In every case, the light blue lines represent negative perceptions, while the dark blue represents positive perceptions.

These come from a set of Pew surveys published here, and there’s more interesting stuff where this came from.

Great to see the surge working, and being perceived to be working. I’ve been a believer in the surge from the beginning, although I was by no means sure it would work – I just believed that it was, as Churchill once said of democracy, the worst option except for all the others. This should also provide a good boost to McCain’s campaign and also damage Obama’s ability to make hay out of his consistent opposition to the war and desire to bring troops home. The latter is addressed by this chart, from the same source:

February 28th, 2008 by Rightsideup

Occasionally I get behind on my reading / posting and that’s been happening again. The best thing to do is take the articles I wanted to write about and just post the links here:

February 27th, 2008 by Rightsideup

Nice mature response here from Barack Obama to a legitimate criticism from John McCain. (From Jim Geraghty at The Campaign Spot on National Review Online.)

Obama apparently said the following in the Democratic debate Tuesday night:

As commander in chief, I will always reserve the right to make sure that we are looking out for American interests. And if al-Qaida is forming a base in Iraq, then we will have to act in a way that secures the American homeland and our interests abroad.

John McCain rightly pointed out when asked about the comment later:

I have some news. Al-Qaida is in Iraq. It’s called ‘al-Qaida in Iraq,’ [unless of course, you’re the New York Times, in which case Al-Qaida (or Al-Qaeda) is not in Iraq but in Mesopotamia, wherever that is…]

When presented with this snippet, Obama responded as follows:

I’ve got some news for John McCain, that is there was no such thing Al Qaeda in Iraq until George Bush and John McCain decided to invade.

“I’ve got some news for John McCain. I’ve got some news for John McCain. He took us into a war, along with George Bush that should have never been authorized, never been waged. They took their eye off the people who were responsible for 9/11 and that would be Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, that is stronger now than at any time since 2001. I’ve been paying attention John McCain!

“John McCain may like to say that he wants to follow Osama bin Laden to the gates of Hell. But so far all he’s done is follow George Bush into a misguided war in Iraq that’s cost us thousands of lives and billions of dollars and that I intend to bring to an end so that we can actually start going after Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and in the hills of Pakistan, like we should have been doing in the first place. That’s the news John McCain!

“I respect John McCain, but he’s tied to the politics of the past; we’re about the policies of the future. He’s the party of yesterday. We want to be the party of tomorrow. That’s why I’m running for President of the United States of America.”

This is kind of the 46-year-old politician’s version of the schoolchild’s “oh yeah? well, you suck!” It doesn’t address the question itself, but instead tries to change the subject and counter-attack with something completely different. But, thankfully, Obama “respects” John McCain – phew. That’s alright then.

Now, I think it’s inevitable that during a campaign as long and arduous as all these guys have to go through, they’re going to goof every once in a while, and when it’s a Republican who goofs, it gets blanket coverage (see Romney saying Osama instead of Obama compared with this Obama goof and Hillary’s “Medvedev – whatever” comment from the debate last night). But it sure would be nice if the candidates would just say, “you know what? I misspoke. I apologize. What I meant was….” I guess we can dream on with that one…

February 27th, 2008 by Rightsideup

I note the Wall Street Journal has finally covered Barack Obama’s Patriot Employer Act, which I posted on a couple of weeks ago. It seems he’s been touting it on the campaign trail, too, so apparently he’s still keen on it and willing to admit that fact:

Recently in Janesville, Wis., he repeated his intention to make it a priority as President: “We will end the tax breaks for companies who ship our jobs overseas, and we will give those breaks to companies who create good jobs with decent wages right here in America.”

The paper does a nice job covering the several reasons why this would be awful. Let’s hope that message gets out to the population as a whole and not just the WSJ’s already-conservative readership.

February 26th, 2008 by Rightsideup

The Times has a ridiculous piece with this ridiculous image as the banner, suggesting that the fact that Clinton is carrying on and apparently in denial about the fact that she is about to lose makes her somehow soldier-like. The following quote is illustrative:

If she is not temperamentally suited to reckon with the possibility of losing quite yet, advisers say, she is also a cold, hard realist about politics — at some point, she is known to say, someone will win and someone will not.

“She has a real military discipline that, now that times are tough, has really kicked into gear,” said Judith Hope, a friend and informal adviser to Mrs. Clinton, and a former chairwoman of the New York State Democratic Party. “When she’s on the road and someone has a negative news story, she says, ‘I don’t want to hear it; I don’t need to hear it.’ I think she wants to protect herself from that and stay focused.

Firstly, as James Taranto points out in Monday’s Best of the Web column, there are at least a couple of things in here which seem to suggest something other than military toughness – the fact that she is not “temperamentally suited to reckon with… losing” and that when she is faced with bad news she simply says, “I don’t want to hear it”. The latter is particularly reminiscent of the worst facets of our current president, and I’m really not sure we need that again. For all that people worried about Romney’s tendency to want to wallow in facts, at least there was no suggestion he wanted to avoid negative ones. Then there’s the fact that her “cold, hard” realism boils down to a recognition that, in an election, “someone will win and someone will not.” What startling insight! It would be worrying indeed if she didn’t acknowledge this fact, although it appears she doesn’t yet acknowledge that, in the end, “he will win and I will not.”

Of course, given what we know the liberal media and politicians think of soldiers (“You, uh, get stuck in Iraq“), perhaps this makes more sense than it at first appears… But this has to be one of the worst puff pieces in recent memory. And all apparently for nothing, unless the Times has another McCain-style smear article up its sleeve for release the day before Ohio and Texas vote.

February 26th, 2008 by Rightsideup

USA Today has done an analysis of the likely impact on deficits and spending under the Democratic candidates. It draws on analysis released by the National Taxpayers Union, which suggests that Obama’s plans, to the extent they can be nailed down, would lead to increases in spending of $287 billion annually compared with an increase of $218 billion for Hillary Clinton’s plans.

The findings are pretty predictable, although the exact amounts are rather meaningless (see the NTU’s detailed analysis for the kind of methods they used to come up with the numbers). We get the gist, though: either candidate would require a lot more spending. And the main strategies for funding the spending are repealing the Bush tax cuts (i.e. a big tax increase) and withdrawing troops from Iraq and Afghanistan. So they would fund their big spending plans by taxing us more and giving up on the efforts to stabilise those two countries.

Even these two things taken together, leaving aside the fact that the campaign’s estimates of how much they would contribute, would leave a shortfall, meaning more taxes, of course. And none of this takes account of the fact that spending is increasing anyway, especially as regards social security. But of course reducing spending or reforming social security doesn’t come into the equation at all.

Ultimately, these tax increases, the reduced freedoms enjoyed by individuals under a Democratic admininstration, and the appointment of judges to the higher courts are the biggest reasons to vote Republican (McCain) this year, even if he’s not the candidate a lot of Republicans had hoped for. Certainly, McCain may cause other problems, but on these three big issues there is clear blue sky between his positions and those of Obama and Clinton.

February 26th, 2008 by Rightsideup

GM’s Vice Chairman apparently said recently at a conference:

Global warming is a “total crock of ****… I’m a skeptic, not a denier. Having said that, my opinion doesn’t matter. I’m motivated more by the desire to replace imported oil than by the CO2 (argument).

Naturally, this has drawn criticisms from all over, although he made clear then and has done so since on one of the company’s blogs that he still believes GM needs to do what it can to reduce dependence on oil products:

General Motors is dedicated to the removal of cars and trucks from the environmental equation, period. And, believe it or don’t: So am I! It’s the right thing to do, for us, for you and, yes, for the planet. My goal is to take the automotive industry out of the debate entirely. GM is working on just that – and we’re going to keep working on it — via E85, hybrids, hydrogen and fuel cells, and the electrification of the automobile.

His own view on why we should do this, though, is to reduce dependence on imported oil, not out of any desire to save the planet. The upshot, though, is the same: reducing the amount of oil used by the automotive industry. This has been a theme throughout the presidential campaign so far too, although there hasn’t been anywhere near enough emphasis on the supply side of the equation, such as allowing more oil to be drilled and refined domestically – too much of the focus has been on the demand side: i.e. consuming less – including the misguided biofuels effort.

February 24th, 2008 by Rightsideup

There are a pair of articles in the UK’s Daily Telegraph today which illustrate the difference between the US and the UK in their citizens’ attitude to taxes. The articles appear to have been triggered by a story this week about miscalculations in the UK council (local) tax programs which have led to overpayments by as many as 400,000 households, all of which was covered up by the government. The relation of these other two articles to that story is tenuous but there is a link.

The first article, written almost in blog style, focuses on the payment of VAT (sales tax) on services such as plumbing, construction and childcare, where many UK citizens pay cash to avoid paying the tax. It’s written from the point of view of the writer and includes several personal experiences. It’s pretty weak on substance and ends with an unpleasant conclusion. Here are some key passages:

Without taxes there would be no education for all, no health care from cradle to grave, no armed forces to defend us.

Like taxes, laws are a good thing. They are the opposite of anarchy. Again, if you don’t like them, elect a government that will legislate in a way you do like. Until then, pay your taxes with joy in your heart. It’s not a perfect system, but it does work.

The problem is that the first paragraph suggests taxes go to pay for these universal goods (of course, healthcare is another area where the UK and US differ). But there’s no mention here of welfare, of abortion on demand, of huge government bureaucracies or any of the other myriad things that much of the government’s tax revenue actually gets spent on.

But the real problem is the conclusion – that we should pay taxes with joy in our hearts because if we don’t like where the money goes, we can “elect a government that will legislate in a way you do like.” This seems startlingly naive since none of us single handed can “elect a government” and even if we collectively elected the most taxpayer-friendly option available, the fact is that we would still be stuck with the vast majority of taxes we pay, including all the stuff we don’t like.

The second article, which is actually a masthead editorial rather than being attributed to a particular author, is in a similar vein. It makes more concessions to common sense, as one would hope from a paper which is generally conservative, including the second paragraph:

The risk of being punished for tax-evasion is not, however, the only reason why most people comply with the tax code: as Nigel Farndale points out, most of us believe we have an obligation to obey the law, tax-law included – even if many of us also believe that the share of our money that the Government wants to take is far too high.

It focuses on the fact that most British taxpayers pay their taxes honestly because they believe that the government acts with integrity and there is little corruption. I suspect it has more to do with British respect for the rule of law generally, to be honest, but it’s a fair point. But that doesn’t mean, as the first author suggests, that we have to be happy about what we pay.

But all this illustrates a big difference between the UK and the US. While in the US we have major parties and major politicians making serious pleas for lower taxes, this strain of political thought is all but absent in the UK these days. And that’s pretty worrying, because the UK’s taxes are already quite a bit higher than those in the US, and are still rising. At some point, the UK will have to cotton on to the changes that are happening in the rest of Europe in response to economic stagnation, but it may well not be before the UK again becomes the sick man of Europe, as it was in the 70s.

February 23rd, 2008 by Rightsideup

More stories this week about evidence which appears to suggest a counter-trend about climate change. I’m not an expert on these issues, and there may be good reasons why these trends are showing up, but at the very least there’s further evidence that global warmists will not fuss about bending or distorting the truth when it helps them get their message out. See the following quotes from the UK’s Daily Telegraph:

Sea ice cover had shrunk to the lowest level ever recorded. But for some reason the warmists are less keen on the latest satellite findings, reported by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) on the website Cryosphere Today by the University of Illinois.

This body is committed to warmist orthodoxy and contributes to the work of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Yet its graph of northern hemisphere sea ice area, which shows the ice shrinking from 13,000 million sq km to just 4 million from the start of 2007 to October, also shows it now almost back to 13 million sq km.

Still more inconvenient was the truth about an image that has been relentlessly exploited to promote this panic over the “vanishing” Arctic ice. It is the photograph of two polar bears standing forlornly on the fast-melting remains of an iceberg which has been reproduced thousands of times to show that there will soon be no bears left (ignoring evidence that their numbers have risen recently).

and Newsmax:

Are the world’s ice caps melting because of climate change, or are the reports just a lot of scare mongering by the advocates of the global warming theory?

Scare mongering appears to be the case, according to reports from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) that reveal that almost all the allegedly “lost” ice has come back. A NOAA report shows that ice levels which had shrunk from 5 million square miles in January 2007 to just 1.5 million square miles in October, are almost back to their original levels.

It would be nice if this would get some mainstream coverage, even if only to point out that these findings are not as counter-cyclical as they appear.

February 23rd, 2008 by Rightsideup

If I were to ask who the Lady Macbeth of the 2008 election is, most people would quickly say “Hillary Clinton.” But this past week, Michelle Obama has been demonstrating that she has at least a small claim on that label. She’s also proving to be a possible heir to the mantle of Teresa Heinz Kerry.

Several times this week Mrs. Obama has made remarks which have landed her in hot water with at least some segments of the electorate and the blogosphere. What kicked it off was her remark that:

For the first time in my adult life, I am really proud of my country.

As others have pointed out, Michelle Obama has been an adult for around 26 years. That’s a lot of time to have passed without even one event making her proud. Now, of course, the campaign has issued clarifications on what she really meant, as has the prospective First Lady too. But this feeds the idea that both she and her husband are far more militant than they have been carefully stage managed to appear. This is the reason why Obama’s speeches are so short on substance – because the substance that’s there would be shocking to many who have found him appealing.

The second event was this comment:

Barack Obama will require you to work. He is going to demand that you shed your cynicism. That you put down your divisions. That you come out of your isolation, that you move out of your comfort zones. That you push yourselves to be better. And that you engage. Barack will never allow you to go back to your lives as usual, uninvolved, uninformed.

Some of the least charitable interpretations of this particular statement have found in it overtones of the Nazi slogan “Arbeit macht frei”, which I find to be quite a stretch and ultimately unhelpful. However, there is a nasty sense of authoritarianism here, and the fact that she – and not he – is expressing it also lends the Lady Macbeth overtones. In some ways, she seems to be more open and honest about his real ambitions / their shared ambitions / her ambitions on his behalf than he is himself. And so, far from being able to write these remarks off as the off-the-cuff comments from the candidate’s spouse, it’s possible to read deeper meaning into them.

Lastly was this one, which in some ways is the most innocuous of the bunch, unless you’re a real conspiracy theorist:

Every woman that I know, regardless of race, education, income, background, political affiliation, is struggling to keep her head above water.

Many women, especially those who stay home or working mothers, would doubtless agree that they at least sometimes feel this way. And read at that level, it’s not problematic. But two other connotations present themselves:

  • Who is her husband running against, at present? The original Lady Macbeth, of course: a woman, who presumably is struggling to keep her head above water too.
  • This feeds into the victimhood mentality of the liberal left, and really doesn’t apply to large numbers of people, precisely because you can’t simply disregard “education, income, background” and other factors. The Obamas themselves, as others have pointed out, are wealthy by any description, and although the kids may occasionally puke at inopportune moments I suspect they have it pretty good when they’re not running for president. So what are they really saying here except reinforcing the perception that woe is everyone and only the Democrats – specifically, Mr Obama – can help – classic liberal philosophy. The two combined nicely undermine the American Dream which, while perhaps questioned by some, is still a centerpiece of American self-identity.

All of the above taken together presents a certain picture which the Obama campaign is likely uncomfortable with. Despite the worthy attempts on all sides to avoid race or gender being an issue here, there’s a sense that these people are more militant about past injustices than their (his) rhetoric suggests. And there’s also a sense that beneath the smiling exterior lies something far more sinister – a hatred for country, and an authoritarian streak that ought to have everyone worried. The original Lady Macbeth, Hillary herself, is scary too, but these folks may be as competitive in this area as they have become in the primaries themselves.