25 June 2010

Sure Obama is unpopular. So what?

With the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll showing Obama's approval ratings in negative territory (disapproval higher than approval) for the first time, conservatives once again thump their chests and take heart in the inevitability of electoral victories ahead. Indeed, NBC/WSJ would seem to be a trailing indicator, if one follows Rasmussen or Gallup's daily tracking.

But is it really that bad for Obama?

History suggests that it is not. Obama's approval numbers and trend line are very similar to Ronald Reagan's, and better than Bill Clinton's through his first year and a half. Clinton had fallen as low as 37% approval during his first year, a point Obama has yet to hit. Reagan dropped below 50% in December 1981, and stayed below for nearly two years.

We keep waiting for the bottom to drop out of Obama's numbers, and maybe it will, but it hasn't yet. The American people are impatient, but they are also willing to give credit - deserved or not - to the man in the Oval Office.

Reagan, of course, inherited a dreadful domestic economy and a perilous world from Jimmy Carter. His bold initiatives eventually paid off, and the people loved him for that. Clinton benefitted greatly from circumstances beyond his control, as well as from the election of Republican majorities in Congress in 1994. The people never did love him (his "personal approval" numbers were, and are, abysmal,) but gave him high marks on the job because we are a practical people. Things seemed to be going okay, so why change?

So what about Obama? It is difficult to conceive of a circumstance in which the United States economy, resilient as it has proven to be, can weather the radical attacks on it and thrive despite Obama, but I think that is what it would take to help his numbers. In foreign affairs, there is no doubt he is making the world a more dangerous place, but unless those chickens come home to roost, it is unlikely the average voter will care. In fact, even a successful attack on the United States, caused by Obama's ineptitude, could give him a "rally 'round the flag" type of boost in approval - at least temporarily.

All of this is just to say, pay no attention to the poll numbers. The reason to defeat Obama is that his ideas, stuck in the 1930s and divorced from reality, are bad for our nation and for the world. That is the message. Whether or not he is personally popular is only important to his own dictatorial cult of personality.

24 June 2010

McChrystal clear? Not so much.

You've been hearing about it for a few days, but if you haven't read the article for yourself, you should. A lot of folks have made a lot of comments - here are just a few quick thoughts of mine:

  1. Some are defending McChrystal on the basis of the fact that the most derogatory comments in the article are not direct quotes; they are quotes from aides, often un-named. This is absurd. Those close aides travel throughout the theater and beyond with the CG, and when they speak, they speak for him. That's why they were in the room with the general and the reporter. He is just as responsible for their statements as his own in this context.
  2. I think there is a tendency among conservatives to hail all the generals we hear about as the new Patton or MacArthur. At least ninety percent of these commentators don't know anything at all about these guys. Neither do I. I've read some good things about McChrystal (even in this article,) but that doesn't make him a towering historical figure. The one indisputable fact I know is that agreeing to this Rolling Stone profile, and the interview format employed, was plainly idiotic. I can't imagine what he was thinking, or why he was unable to see it would not end well.*
  3. To continue from above, I am certain there are other commanders equal to the mission - and not only Petraeus. If there were not, that would be a sad and dangerous commentary on the state of the Armed Forces. Stanley McChrystal is known to accompany troops on dangerous patrols on a fairly regular basis, a habit which put his life in jeopardy regularly. He clearly does not view himself as indispensable. If he is indispensable, then those patrols would be properly viewed as acts of utter recklessness, rather than as the acts of courage and leadership that they are.
  4. McChrystal clearly had to go, but that doesn't mean the points he and his staff made should be ignored. Thomas Sowell makes this point better than I can. What McChrystal said matters - to us and to our enemies, and how this affects the culture of leadership in the Army matters, as well. I don't think it will be as devastating as Sowell suggests, but it's a point worth pondering.
  5. Finally, and most importantly, President Obama must remember that loyalty and commitment run on a two-way street. We trust the armed forces to execute a mission, and they trust the civilian leadership to remain committed to that same mission. Obama has exhibited a pronounced finger-pointing tendency, and a detachment from world affairs. That, not guerilla tactics or difficult terrain, is what can turn Afghanistan into Vietnam. As General Westmoreland put it, "No nation should put the burden of war on its military forces alone."
We wish General Stanley McChrystal well in his continuing career of service to our country, and wish our nation victory in Afghanistan.

* UPDATE: Marc Ambinder's notes suggest one reason McChrystal thought the interview was a good idea: "He is a political liberal. He is a social liberal. He banned Fox News from the television sets in his headquarters. Yes, really. " I'm curious to see how many of his defenders drop their cases now.

18 June 2010

Negotiating merit pay for teachers

In the Washington Post, Michele Kerr argues that merit-based pay and promotions are fine, but ought to be subject to a few conditions. Those conditions are below, along with my comments:

  1. Teachers be assessed based on only those students with 90 percent or higher attendance. I think this is fair. If a student's performance is hindered by lack of attendance, that is clearly not the teacher's fault. I should note that in Texas, at least, 90% attendance is a requirement for advancement, so very few students would be excluded by this standard.
  2. Teachers be allowed to remove disruptive students from their classroom on a day-to-day basis. I would be shocked to find anybody who objects to this. A better disciplinary policy, based on common sense, might be one of the toughest things to actually implement, though. This is one of the areas where the education establishment stands in the way of reform. It is worth observing that this policy would take us "backwards" to those golden conservative days.
  3. Students who don't achieve "basic" proficiency in a state test be prohibited from moving forward to the next class in the progression. I think that eliminating"social advancement" policies is one of the prime goals of the merit-based pay movement. Setting this condition up front achieves the goal immediately. I'm on board.
  4. That teachers be assessed on student improvement, not an absolute standard -- the so-called value-added assessment. This is the most problematic condition. Ms. Kerr argues that an absolute standard would work against teachers dealing with the lowest performing students, and this is true. But an improvement-based standard works against teachers of high performing students. What's the middle ground? I think there needs to be a level of achievement after which performance can't be rated low. Say, for example, 90% efficiency. If your students are at that level, and they don't fall, you're good. If they are at 50% and improve to 55%, you've hit a performance mark. The other difficulty is this: how to decide the starting point. If you teach third grade, and you teach your kids well, there is no way to compare that to next year's third graders. The relevant comparison is last year's second graders to this year's third graders. It can be done, but let's not pretend it's simple.
Ms. Kerr's piece is worth reading. If more teachers are entering the profession with her background, that's a good thing.

15 June 2010

"Go shopping" vs. "Go on vacation" - a juxtaposition

In remarks to airline employees on September 27, 2001, President Bush said:
When they struck, they wanted to create an atmosphere of fear.  And one of the great goals of this nation's war is to restore public confidence in the airline industry.  It's to tell the traveling public:  Get on board. Do your business around the country.  Fly and enjoy America's great destination spots.  Get down to Disney World in Florida.  Take your families and enjoy life, the way we want it to be enjoyed.
That's the famous "go shopping" speech, for which liberals still mock him.

Earlier today, President Obama said:
Here in Pensacola, the beautiful beaches are still open. The sand is white and the water is blue. So folks who are looking for a good vacation, they can still come down to Pensacola. People need to know that Pensacola is still open for business.
And then he had a sandwich.

Read in context, Bush's remarks make a lot more sense than Obama's. Bush is sayng, "The point of the terrorists' attack was to make us afraid to fly. Our response must be to show them we are not afraid." Obama is saying, "People are losing money in Florida, but the oil isn't here yet, so please spend money before it gets here."

It is really tiresome to point out the double standard so often, but I do wonder when the Democrat-media establishment will begin the mirth and ridicule of Obama.

Waiting....waiting...crickets...

No, Mr. President, we are not "running out of places to drill"

It's hard to know where to begin critiquing the president's Oval Office Address on the BP oil spill. It was, as is typical for Obama, self aggrandizing, patronizing, shallow and dishonest.

For now, let's just take a look at one of the biggest lies - his claim that "oil companies are drilling a mile beneath the surface of the ocean -- because we’re running out of places to drill on land and in shallow water."

The United States imports a lot of oil, but the two largest exporters to us are Mexico and Canada. We further import from Costa Rica, Guatemala, Trinidad and Tobago, and even the Bahamas. So, of all these nations on the North American continent, we are to believe that the United States alone is running out of oil to drill, while everybody else drills enough to sell some to us? Canada exports 2-3 times as much oil to us as does Saudi Arabia.

The United States has 20 billion barrels of proven oil reserves, and an estimated 134 billion barrels of recoverable oil. Those estimates do not even include U.S. oil shale deposits, which are estimated to be the richest in the world, containing approximately 2,175 gigabarrels of recoverable oil.

We are not "running out of places to drill," we have chosen to place most of those areas off limits.

In fact, the very deposit BP was attempting to tap is estimated to be the second largest deposit in the world, covering "an estimated 25,000 square miles, extending from the inlands of Alabama, Florida, Louisiana and Texas." In other words, the very deposit now spewing into Gulf waters could have been reached from dry land.

Nearly all of America is placed off limits, by law, to exploration and drilling, and a combination of environmentalists and NIMBY governors of both parties have combined to push drilling farther and farther offshore.

In short, we're not running out of places to drill, we're getting run out of them, and now Obama wants to accelerate that by shutting down drilling in the Gulf.

UPDATE: Jonah Goldberg adds more info about "known reserves," and argues that oil is the green fuel.

11 June 2010

Russia, Turkey & Iran: Cuban Missile Crisis redux?

One of the things we remember best about President Kennedy's brief presidency is his steel-willed response to the Cuban Missile Crisis. It is difficult to believe that the current president - whose primary foreign policy belief expressed during his campaign was that we needed to talk more with our enemies - has the same nerve - or achieve the same results. It appears, though, that we may be poised to find out.

The recent "Gaza flotilla" incident, in which anti-Israel activists, sponsored by terrorist organizations, as well as by NATO member Turkey, clearly demonstrated how far respect for America has fallen, and how clearly President Obama's message that the United States is abandoning Israel has been heard.

Since its founding, Israel has been able to count on the United States as an ally, through both Republican and Democratic administrations. Yet, since entering office, the Obama administration has repeatedly snubbed, lectured and scolded Israel, while coddling Iran's dictatorship, and holding out olive branches to terrorist states.

In doing so, he has not increased respect for, or dialog with, the United States. To the contrary, Obama's overtures have been met with sneering disdain by Iranian "president" Ahmadinijad.

Now we come to learn two separate, but related things which portend a crisis in the Mediterranean that will challenge the United States in much the same way as the Soviet attempt to stage missiles in Cuba did 48 years ago. Following Israel's thwarting of the recent attempt to run the Gaza blockade, Iran has publicly offered to escort the next flotilla. Understanding full well that this has nothing to do with humanitarian aid to Gaza, Ahmadinijad has declared that "Israel is doomed." Perhaps most ominously, the leaders of Iran, Turkey and Russia held a summit in Istanbul on June 8th, signaling a shift in alliances, and perhaps much larger consequences to the next challenge of Israel's blockade.

Turkey, in sponsoring the first flotilla, tested the boundaries, and found that the United States was willing to let her ally Israel twist in the wind of ugly world opinion. The next challenge to Israel's blockade will not be a test of Israel at all, but of the United States.

President Kennedy responded to the Soviet challenge with a blockade of Cuba. Will President Obama join Israel's lawful blockade, or allow a major power shift in the Middle East? The fate of more than Israel hangs on the answer to this question.

03 June 2010

We Con the World (video)

Good stuff, from Caroline Glick and Latma TV.


UPDATE: Banned by YouTube, but available at PJTV.

Pretty short distance between Sestak, Romanoff and Blago

The corruption trial of former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich begins today, and it strikes me that the timing could not be much worse for President Obama.

Among other things, Blagojevich is charged with trying to sell the temporary appointment to fill Obama's former Senate seat partly in exchange for a plum political appointment for himself. Among those with whom he reportedly negotiated, was one Rahm Emanuel, White House Chief of Staff.

Emanuel is also thought to be at the center of the "pay to play" scandals currently unfolding in Pennsylvania and Colorado, where Joe Sestak and Andrew Romanoff, respectively, appear to have been illegally offered political appointments in exchange for dropping their candidacies in Democratic Senate primaries.

When I was a boy, I learned in school about old time city machine politics, and the widespread use of patronage jobs to bribe supporters and donors. In the year since, we were taught, laws were put in place to prevent that sort of thing from poisoning our political processes.

Yet here we are, in 2010, with the White House's defenders out there arguing that "everybody does it," and "it was not, technically, illegal." They seem quite unaware that Rod Blagojevich, on trial in Federal court, is arguing the exact same thing.

Fair investigations and trials may eventually find that nobody involved broke the law. For now, though, the only facts we know are these:

  • There is a very high profile Federal corruption trial of a former Democratic Governor of one of our largest states on - the charges involve "pay to play" schemes
  • Candidates in several states all report "pay to play" schemes offered to them by the White House
  • Some of the same people are involved in all of these stories - and they work in the White House
It doesn't take ether a genius or a conspiracy theorist to see a strong connection. The only question is whether voters will connect the dots, and add it to the list of reasons they don't like Obama.

UPDATE : Looks like the press is connecting the dots...