Right Thinking From The Left Coast
Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one. - Albert Einstein

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

What They Said

I hope everybody had a safe and happy New Year’s Eve. As we leave the old year behind, here’s a recap of the dumbest things politicians had to say in this historic election year. As you can see, there was plenty of misunderstanded stuff from both sides.

Feel free to add your own picks in the comments. Happy 2009, and remember, it’s now only three years until the end of the world.

Posted by West Virginia Rebel on 12/31/08 at 10:24 PM in Fun and Humor  • (0) TrackbacksPermalink

She Almost Had It All

And the Bumbler of the Year Award goes to:

...Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York. Her name is unlikely to appear in any other sentence in the coming weeks with the word inaugural, although it didn’t have to be that way.

How she lost the nomination and her shot at becoming the nation’s first female president will go down in political history as one of the great campaign screw-ups of all time.

To be fair, President-elect Obama’s campaign was extremely well-run and better funded than anyone could have possibly imagined. He smartly saw that the caucus states offered him a special opportunity for convention delegates that did not exist in the primaries where Sen. Clinton’s name recognition and support of the party establishment was a much bigger plus.

But if the Clinton campaign had done sufficient planning and staffing for the states that voted in the three weeks after the Feb. 5 “Super Duper Tuesday” primaries and caucuses, all of his work probably would have gone for naught.

The Clinton strategy had been to clinch the nomination on Feb. 5, when 22 states held Democratic primaries and caucuses. And that day, like most of the other Tuesdays during the winter and spring, they basically wrote off the caucus states.

Fighting to a Virtual Draw

Sen. Clinton - and basically everyone else - expected her strong name identification and favorable image among Democratic activists, combined with a presumed (incorrectly it turned out) money advantage would deliver her the nomination that day. But Mr. Obama fought her to a virtual draw on Feb. 5, when almost 40% of the delegates were decided. He took the more numerous smaller primaries and caucus states, while she was winning the handful of big prizes — New York, New Jersey and California.

He, however, had planned and budgeted for the 11 contests during the rest of February. She had not - a victim of her campaign believing its own hype about inevitability.

President-elect Obama won all 11 primaries and caucuses by big margins the rest of the month and rolled up a 125-delegate advantage during that period. But just as important as the delegate numbers was that his winning streak made him the favorite. That, as much as anything, prevented a Clinton comeback.

By then the Democratic delegate allocation rules that govern the primaries and caucuses took over. They are much more generous to second-place finishers than in the Republican process; that allowed him to stay ahead even though Sen. Clinton won major contests in March and April, including Ohio and Pennsylvania.

In the end, President-elect Obama won the nomination by more than 125 delegates, but that was only after all those “superdelegates” who could support whomever they wanted did the math and realized he could not be stopped.

If Sen. Clinton had just broken even in those 11 post-Feb. 5 contests, she very likely would have won the nomination. Her primary victory would have come in a year when the Wall Street meltdown meant that most any Democratic nominee would win the November election.

Outside of John McCain, I can’t think of anyone else who could have gotten the brass ring and blew it so badly. She was worse than Al Gore or John Kerry-they at least won their respective nominations despite being enormous horse’s asses. As it is, she’ll now be fourth in the line of succession. So congratulations Hillary, for what it’s worth.

Posted by West Virginia Rebel on 12/31/08 at 05:31 PM in Election 2008  • (0) TrackbacksPermalink

The Palin Precedent

Was Bush the model for Sarah Palin?

Lawrence Wilkerson, top aide and later chief of staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell, said that as a new president, Bush was like Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the 2008 GOP vice presidential nominee whom critics said lacked knowledge about foreign affairs. When Bush first came into office, he was surrounded by experienced advisers like Vice President Dick Cheney and Powell, who Wilkerson said ended up playing damage control for the president.

“It allowed everybody to believe that this Sarah Palin-like president — because, let’s face it, that’s what he was — was going to be protected by this national-security elite, tested in the cauldrons of fire,” Wilkerson said, adding that he considered Cheney probably the “most astute, bureaucratic entrepreneur” he’d ever met.

“He became vice president well before George Bush picked him,” Wilkerson said of Cheney. “And he began to manipulate things from that point on, knowing that he was going to be able to convince this guy to pick him, knowing that he was then going to be able to wade into the vacuums that existed around George Bush — personality vacuum, character vacuum, details vacuum, experience vacuum.”

Bush relied on Cheney to his detriment and allowed Cheney to create his own version of what he thought the Vice Presidency should be. Say what you will about Biden, he seems to at least understand what the role of the job actually is. As for Palin, she had even less experience and knowledge than Bush, yet she was still hailed by some as the greatest thing since sliced bread. What is it about a certain wing of the conservative movement that has them go ga-ga over creepy old guys and clueless types?

Posted by West Virginia Rebel on 12/31/08 at 04:55 PM in Politics  • (0) TrackbacksPermalink

The Ghost Of Bailouts Past

Would preventing an earlier bailout have helped avoid some of the mess we find ourselves in today?

THE financial crisis is a result of many bad decisions, but one of them hasn’t received enough attention: the 1998 bailout of the Long-Term Capital Management hedge fund. If regulators had been less concerned with protecting the fund’s creditors, our current problems might not be quite so bad.

Long-Term Capital was advised by finance quants, or quantitative analysts, who made a number of unsound, esoteric bets, including investments in interest rate derivatives. When Russia’s inability to pay its debts roiled global markets, the fund, saddled with high-leverage and off-balance-sheet obligations, was near collapse.

Because Long-Term Capital owed large sums to banks and other financial institutions, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York organized a consortium of companies to buy it out and cover the debts. Alan Greenspan, then the Fed chairman, eased monetary policy to restart capital markets, which were starting to freeze up. Long-Term Capital’s shareholders were wiped out, but none of the creditors took losses.

At the time, it may have seemed that regulators did the right thing. The bailout did not require upfront money from the government, and the world avoided an even bigger financial crisis. Today, however, that ad hoc intervention by the government no longer looks so wise. With the Long-Term Capital bailout as a precedent, creditors came to believe that their loans to unsound financial institutions would be made good by the Fed — as long as the collapse of those institutions would threaten the global credit system. Bolstered by this sense of security, bad loans mushroomed.

What would have happened without a Fed-organized bailout of Long-Term Capital? It remains an open question. An entirely private consortium led by Warren E. Buffett might have bought the fund, but capital markets might still have frozen because of the realization that bailouts were not guaranteed.

And Fed inaction might have had graver economic consequences, especially if a Buffett deal had fallen through. In that case, a rapid financial deleveraging would have followed, and the economy would have probably plunged into recession. That sounds bad, but it might have been better to have experienced a milder version of a downturn in 1998 than the more severe version of 10 years later.

In 1998, there was no collapsed housing bubble, the government’s budget was in surplus rather than deficit, bank leverage was much lower, and derivatives markets were smaller and less far-reaching. A financial crisis related to Long-Term Capital, however painful, probably would have been easier to handle than the perfect storm of recent months.

Of course, hindsight is always 20/20, but at least not saving Long-Term Capital might have shown future administrations when not to intervene. As it now stands, everybody has their hand out, and neither the outgoing Republican administration or the incoming Democratic one seems to know how to say no.

Posted by West Virginia Rebel on 12/31/08 at 04:37 PM in Politics  • (0) TrackbacksPermalink

All I Want Is Your Worship


A month before his inauguration, Americans choose Barack Obama as the man they admire most in the world, according to a new USA TODAY/Gallup Poll. It’s the first time a president-elect has topped the annual survey in more than a half-century.
President Bush falls to a distant second after seven years as the most-admired man.

Hillary Rodham Clinton leads the list of most-admired woman, a spot she’s held for 13 of the past 16 years — as first lady, then New York senator and now Obama’s designate for secretary of State. A newcomer is second: Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who wasn’t well-known nationally until Republican presidential candidate John McCain chose her as his running mate in August.

Jesse Walker worries that people are worshipping their politicians a bit too much.  I agree but must throw in some grains of salt. The survey is an unconstrained plurality, meaning that whatever name pops up the most leads.  Obama had 32% of the vote, Bush had 5%.  That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement from the public.  Those are probably the two most famous men in America.  For 60% of the public, their most-admired man is not McCain, Bush or Obama.  For 69%, their most-admired woman is not Clinton or Palin.

In fact, for most people, I would dare say that the person they most admire is someone they know, like a parent or a sibling or a friend.  That’s certainly the case for me.

But exempting family members, who should we admire most?  Who do you admire most?  I’ve mentioned Norman Borlaug several times in this space and would certainly put him against anyone else running.  Women are bit more difficult.  I can’t think of anyone who rises to the level of Borlaug and I’m too close to astronomers/astronauts to be objective about that.  I’m willing to hear nominations.  Who do you most admire and why?

Posted by Hal_10000 on 12/31/08 at 09:36 AM in Life & Culture  • (0) TrackbacksPermalink

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Baby Boom

In case you missed it, Sarah Palin is now a grandmother:

Bristol Palin, 18, gave birth to Tripp Easton Mitchell Johnston on Saturday, People magazine reported online. He weighed 7 pounds, 4 ounces. Colleen Jones, the sister of Bristol’s grandmother, told the magazine that “the baby is fine and Bristol is doing well.”

The governor’s office said it would not release information because it considers the baby’s birth a private, family matter. Palin family members, hospital employees and spokespeople for the governor’s former running mate, John McCain, either would not confirm the birth or did not return messages from The Associated Press.

Make of this what you will. Personally, I think Andrew Sullivan was as much of an ass over this as the forged birth certificate nutbars on the right were. In any event, I wish the kid and Mom well.

Posted by West Virginia Rebel on 12/30/08 at 10:40 PM in Etcetera  • (0) TrackbacksPermalink

Of Fatah, Fatwahs And Friends

Lots is being said about the latest Mideast conflict. Michael Weiss brings up an interesting point:

Those quick to point out how Olmert’s miscalculations have hurt the people he governs will typically suggest that military incursions “radicalize” Arab sentiment, leading to more suicide bombers and more dead Israelis.

Assuming this is true, why is it that the corollary is never asked: namely, how does Hamas radicalize Israeli sentiment? A much remarked-upon fact of the last 72 hours is that Israel’s ultra-left-wing party Meretz has endorsed Operation Cast Lead, a development that should concern partisans of both sides. If there is merit to the “root causes” argument, then surely it applies to the decisions undertaken by a Jewish policy as much as it does to those undertaken by a Muslim one. Or does a belligerent Israeli consensus form in a vacuum?

If you believe those who perpetually side with the Palestinians (or at least the ones seeking their 72 virgins) it does. Hamas is now experiencing what you might call “Reverse blowback” and can’t figure out why they’re not winning. Meanwhile, Jeff Goldberg notes:

It’s a strange world, but there you have it. I’ve been talking to friends of mine, former Palestinian Authority intelligence officials (ejected from power by the Hamas coup), and they tell me that not only are they rooting for the Israelis to decimate Hamas, but that Fatah has actually been assisting the Israelis with targeting information.

Well, it’s the Middle East, where yesterday’s terrorist can quickly become today’s ally (as in Iraq, for example). And then there’s this bit of tinfoil nuttiness:

In angry retaliation for the house arrest of Bernie Madoff, Israel has launched a hellacious air assault against Hamas in Gaza that errs so far on the side of disproportionality that its running up the fatality score may become self-defeating.

Yes, the war started because uber-crook Bernie Madoff got busted. It is indeed a strange world.

Posted by West Virginia Rebel on 12/30/08 at 10:22 PM in War on Terror/Axis of Evil  • (0) TrackbacksPermalink

Beating A Virgin Horse

If you read this blog, then you have a pretty good idea of what this study has found:

Teenagers who pledge to remain virgins until marriage are just as likely to have premarital sex as those who do not promise abstinence and are significantly less likely to use condoms and other forms of birth control when they do, according to a study released today.

The new analysis of data from a large federal survey found that more than half of youths became sexually active before marriage regardless of whether they had taken a “virginity pledge,” but that the percentage who took precautions against pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases was 10 points lower for pledgers than for non-pledgers.

“Taking a pledge doesn’t seem to make any difference at all in any sexual behavior,” said Janet E. Rosenbaum of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, whose report appears in the January issue of the journal Pediatrics. “But it does seem to make a difference in condom use and other forms of birth control that is quite striking.”

Ah, but even if someone, because of his lack of education and the lies spread by the cock-blockers, both catches a venereal disease and fails to realize he has until his dick rots off, his virginity pledge will get him into heaven.  After all, it’s the thought that counts.

Posted by Hal_10000 on 12/30/08 at 09:25 PM in Religion and Sky Pixies  • (0) TrackbacksPermalink

It’s Getting Better All The Time, Part II

Radley Balko reviews the good news from the last year:

Be prepared to see a lot of doom and gloom this week. Those year-end video and photo montages, year-in-review summaries and “a look back” reflections are inevitably gloomy even in boom times. That’s likely to be especially true in 2008, a year that, admittedly, wasn’t particularly filled with hope (Barack Obama’s campaign promises aside).

I recently heard a conservative talk show host bemoan the “lack of God in our society” as reason for, among other things, the recent “Santa shooting massacre” in Covina, Calif. The left, meanwhile, is pointing to the financial meltdown as indicative of a different kind of moral failing — the unbridled greed they associate with free enterprise.

Truth is, they’re both wrong. The last 12 months may prove not to be the most fondly recalled in recent American history, but things aren’t all that bad. Most social indicators are still moving in the right direction. In general, our standard of living continues to improve. Advances in technology are helping us beat the diseases most likely to kill us; giving us more leisure time; making us more comfortable; giving us more convenience; and with the Internet, putting much of the world — quite literally — at our fingertips.

Read the whole thing.

While I have my bouts of despair, generally I am optimistic about the future.  In the end, it comes down to the basic decency of the American people, which no government has yet been able to squash.  We can’t let the misery of the moment dominate our thinking.  The important thing is the long term and—in terms of almost anything you can measure—we’re better off than we’ve ever been.

Posted by Hal_10000 on 12/30/08 at 09:17 PM in Deep Thoughts  • (0) TrackbacksPermalink

Socialist Like Me

Oh, now they get it.

Republican Party officials say they will try next month to pass a resolution accusing President Bush and congressional Republican leaders of embracing “socialism,” underscoring deep dissension within the party at the end of Mr. Bush’s administration.

Those pushing the resolution, which will come before the Republican National Committee at its January meeting, say elected leaders need to be reminded of core principles. They said the RNC must take the dramatic step of wading into policy debates, which traditionally have been left to lawmakers.

“We can’t be a party of small government, free markets and low taxes while supporting bailouts and nationalizing industries, which lead to big government, socialism and high taxes at the expense of individual liberty and freedoms,” said Solomon Yue, an Oregon member and co-sponsor of a resolution that criticizes the U.S. government bailouts of the financial and auto industries. Republican National Committee Vice Chairman James Bopp Jr. wrote the resolution and asked the rest of the 168 voting members to sign it.

“The resolution also opposes President-elect Obama’s proposed public works program and supports conservative alternatives,” while encouraging the RNC “to engage in vigorous public policy debates consistent with our party platform,” said Mr. Bopp, a leading attorney for pro-life groups who has also challenged the campaign finance legislation that Mr. Bush signed.

I appreciate the sentiment, but I have to ask-where the hell have these guys been for the last eight years? Oh, wait-they were the Socialists. It’s awfully convenient that they’ve suddenly rediscovered fiscal responsiblity in the wake of losing another election.

Posted by West Virginia Rebel on 12/30/08 at 06:35 PM in Politics  • (0) TrackbacksPermalink

Bad Boys
by Lee

I thought this was interesting.

Former Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin was beaten by medieval prince Alexander Nevsky in a poll held by a TV station to find the greatest Russian.

Stalin came third, despite being responsible for the deaths of millions of Soviets in labour camps and purges.

Alexander Nevsky fought off European invaders in the 13th century to preserve a united Russia.

In second place was reformist Prime Minister Pyotr Stolypin, who was assassinated in 1911.

More than 50 million people voted by phone, the internet or via text messages in the poll held by Rossiya, one of Russia’s biggest television stations.

Stalin usually comes out on top of these things, and it appears he was in the lead at one point.

Stalin - born an ethnic Georgian - was riding high for many months and was in the number one slot at one point until the show’s producer appealed to viewers to vote for someone else, says the BBC’s Richard Galpin in Moscow.

Stalin sent millions of people to their deaths in the work camps of the Gulag. Millions more perished in political purges or during the forced collectivisation of farms during his rule from the 1920s to his death in 1953.
Many in Russia do still revere Stalin for his role during World War II when the Soviet Union defeated the forces of Nazi Germany.

This is similar in dynamic to why Mao is still revered in China.

But now there is a much broader campaign to rehabilitate Stalin and it seems to be coming from the highest levels of government, says our correspondent.

“We now have to think very seriously, why the nation chooses to put [Joseph] Stalin in third place,” said actor and film director Nikita Mikhalkov, one of the contest’s judges, after the results were released.

I don’t think it’s that complicated, really.  Stalin made the USSR into the fucking world-feared USSR superpower.  There has been a great emasculation since then as Russia has fallen to a second-tier player, which explains fully why Putin and his tactics are so popular, with something like an 80% approval rating—he’ll make Russia great again.

Living in this part of the world, and speaking to people who hold this mindset, has been one of the most significant intellectual awakenings of my life.

(Crossposted to LeeInChina.com)

Posted by Lee on 12/30/08 at 06:11 PM in Politics  • (0) TrackbacksPermalink

Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On

Yikes. Is fact imitiating fiction here?

The University of Utah Seismograph Stations reports that a notable swarm of earthquakes has been underway since December 26 beneath Yellowstone Lake in Yellowstone National Park, three to six miles south-southeast of Fishing Bridge, Wyoming.  This energetic sequence of events was most intense on December 27, when the largest number of events of magnitude 3 and larger occurred.

The largest of the earthquakes was a magnitude 3.9 (revised from magnitude 3.8) at 10:15 pm MST on Dec. 27.  The sequence has included nine events of magnitude 3 to 3.9 and approximately 24 of magnitude 2 to 3 at the time of this release. A total of more than 250 events large enough to be located have occurred in this swarm.  Reliable depths of the larger events are up to a few miles. Visitors and National Park Service (NPS) employees in the Yellowstone Lake area reported feeling the largest of these earthquakes.

Earthquakes are a common occurrence in the Yellowstone National Park area, an active volcanic-tectonic area averaging 1,000 to 2,000 earthquakes a year.  Yellowstone’s 10,000 geysers and hot springs are the result of this geologic activity.  A summary of the Yellowstone’s volcanic history is available on the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory web site (listed below).

This December 2008 earthquake sequence is the most intense in this area for some years and is centered on the east side of the Yellowstone caldera.  Scientists can not identify any causative fault or other feature without further analysis.  Seismologists continue to monitor and analyze the data and will issue new information if the situation warrants it.

I wonder if I ought to stock up on survival gear and prepare for the Rapture…

Posted by West Virginia Rebel on 12/30/08 at 03:19 PM in Science and Technology  • (0) TrackbacksPermalink

When In Doubt, Diversify

Is the Bachelor’s Degree obsolete? Charles Murray thinks so:

As more and more students who cannot get or don’t want a liberal education have appeared on campuses, colleges have adapted by expanding the range of courses and adding vocationally oriented majors. That’s appropriate. What’s not appropriate is keeping the bachelor’s degree as the measure of job preparedness, as the minimal requirement to get your foot in the door for vast numbers of jobs that don’t really require a B.A. or B.S.

Discarding the bachelor’s degree as a job qualification would not be difficult. The solution is to substitute certification tests, which would provide evidence that the applicant has acquired the skills the employer needs.

Given the increasingly technical but not necessarily scientifically advanced nature of the workplace, this would seem to be the way to go. Employers could pick up the slack by providing more training of their own. Maybe we also need more specialized universities-such as medical schools and the like-and less of the current “Well-rounded” approach to higher education.

Posted by West Virginia Rebel on 12/30/08 at 02:48 PM in Deep Thoughts  • (0) TrackbacksPermalink

Battling Blago

So Blago gives the Democratic establishment the finger and says Roland Burris is his chosen successor. I don’t know anything about Burris, but he seems to be clean (by Illinois standards, anyway), and the state law says Blago can do this. As a result, the Democrats are raising holier-than-thou hell about this. Here’s Harry Reid:

It is truly regrettable that despite requests from all 50 Democratic Senators and public officials throughout Illinois, Gov. Blagojevich would take the imprudent step of appointing someone to the United States Senate who would serve under a shadow and be plagued by questions of impropriety. We say this without prejudice toward Roland Burris’s ability, and we respect his years of public service. But this is not about Mr. Burris; it is about the integrity of a governor accused of attempting to sell this United States Senate seat. Under these circumstances, anyone appointed by Gov. Blagojevich cannot be an effective representative of the people of Illinois and, as we have said, will not be seated by the Democratic Caucus.

With all due respect to Dusty Harry, I’m actually more on Blago’s side on this one. Blago’s gone; they won’t have him to kick around anymore one way or another. This should not be used as an excuse to punish the poor sap who gets Obama’s seat. Leave it to the Democrats to shoot themselves in the foot-again.

Posted by West Virginia Rebel on 12/30/08 at 02:32 PM in Politics  • (0) TrackbacksPermalink

Monday, December 29, 2008

Landed In PA

Using all the powers of my long education and fanypants degrees, I have come to a remarkable conclusion:  Pennsylvania is much colder than Texas.

While you are basking in the stunning intellect that would produce that breakthrough conclusion, you can enjoy Dave Barry’s review of 2008.  For me, personally, it was a tough year.  But I got through it with everyone healthy and a new roof over my head, so I can’t really complain.  As a nation, it was ... interesting.  Here’s hoping 2009 is better.

My internet—supposedly—gets wired up tomorrow.  So I’ll be back to regular posting soon.

Posted by Hal_10000 on 12/29/08 at 04:30 PM in Fun and Humor  • (0) TrackbacksPermalink
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