Archive for August, 2011

Monty Python and the Jobs Speech

This from the guy who claimed that he was a better political director than his political director.

For those of you who have better things to do than watch the national media try to keep their presidential Google Calendars updated, the President of the United States just suffered the worst stuffing since Joe Theismann threw Rocket Screen into the hands of Jack Squirek.

Trying to bigfoot upstage the Republican presidential debate scheduled for next Wednesday at 8:00 Eastern Political War Time, Obama tried to schedule what he’s billing as a major policy address on jobs to a joint session of Congress.  Only someone apparently declined to remind him of local protocol.  The President doesn’t get to summon Congress to hear him address them from on high.  He asks permission to speak, and has to be formally invited.  He may have tried to forget the results of the 2010 elections, but Speaker John Boehner hasn’t and the Speaker declined to sign off on the deal.

The President had a couple of options.  He could request a time before the debate, and let the Republican candidates jointly deliver the rebuttal.  Or he could pick a time after the debate, and risk having the TV cameras catch Dingell, or Conyers, or Akaka, or Inouye, or Lautenberg get an early start on their beauty sleep.

But the Speaker – and the networks covering the debate – wouldn’t budge.  Instead, he chose to accept the Speaker’s invitation for Thursday night.

Opposite the season opener of the NFL.

Telestrator vs. Teleprompter in a battle for the hearts, minds, and remote controls of America.  Good luck with that, Mr. President.

The game is New Orleans vs. Green Bay.  How appropriate that the man with the permanently sub-zero approval index will be going up against the Frozen Tundra.  Seriously, doesn’t he ever get tired of losing to Wisconsin?

It’s like the bridge scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail:

“What is your name?”
“Barack Obama.”
“What is your quest?”
“To get re-elected.”
“What is the date of your speech?”
“September seve – no!  Eighth!  Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh!”

We’ve all been having a good time placing bets on when Obama will be attacked by some small, usually harmless water mammal, but this really is the sort of thing you could imagine coming out of the Carter White House.  And it’s completely self-inflicted.  If he gets the reservation for the 7th, he reminds everyone of the petty, thin-skinned, machine politician whose tactics don’t work so well at the national level.  If he changes the date, he either looks weak or uninformed, and unlike blowing right through “God Save the Queen,” there’s no State Department protocol office to blame for this one.

Boehner could have been gracious, but why?  Obama hasn’t exactly done anything to earn it.  He invited the Republicans to a Health Care Summit, and then shot lasers out of his eyes when Paul Ryan had the temerity to question his arithmetic, which was worse than Standard & Poors’s.  He used the State of the Union address to demagogue the Supreme Court, with the result that a number of justices have just stopped coming to that annual ritual.  He invited the aforementioned Paul Ryan to a budget policy address, only to publicly embarrass him and propose nothing of his own.  And then, after Cantor and Biden, and then Boehner and Reid thought they had debt ceiling agreements, he submarined each of them, leaving them to wonder why he was wasting their time.

A small man occupying a large office runs the risk of having it shrink wrap him at his desk, and that’s pretty much what’s happening to Obama.

You get the feeling that this is a president who wants to be Lyndon Johnson, but ends up looking like James Buchanan.  He’s politicized virtually every aspect of governance, and sicced the NLRB, the Justice Department, and the EPA on his political enemies.  But at the same time as he completely gets the vast administrative power of the Presidency, he equally completely doesn’t get its symbolic power.   Which is why since John Boehner took the gavel back from the hands of America’s children, he’s gotten the better of Obama at every turn.

Odds are the speech itself – if anyone’s listening – will just confirm it.  He’ll have nothing new to offer but more of your – or rather your grandchildren’s – money, and he almost certainly will allude to his preferred speaking slot.  He’ll leave a couple of blank spaces until Wednesday night for the speechwriters to throw in some lines challenging the Republican themes of the night before, and the press will praise his courage.   Even if he does claim to drop a couple of substantial regulations, the departments won’t actually change policy (see offshore drilling), or the regulations will show up in some other context.

So the President, with Democrats having loudly proclaimed that this was the summer to prepare the battlefield for next year’s election, finds himself out of ideas,  at the mercy of events, with people having tuned him out, ready to fire him, focused on interviewing his replacement.

Are you ready for some football?

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Wednesday Morning Spy

Iran sees some strategic value in helping the Libyan rebels.  Well, since we were mostly just interested in preventing a refugee flood into Europe, they probably have more staying power, too.

State pensions.  You thought it was bad?  It’s worse.

Maybe we could just cherry-pick BC, Alberta, and the plains provinces.

Sorry, Airports Council.  Airport slots are a commodity.  These were the same guys who were arguing for more freedom to raise passenger charges to secure revenue bonds.  But the airports involved are almost all government-run, so it’s more about autonomy than the market for them.

Well, that’s ok.  Soon the pilots won’t know which direction the gates are, anyway.

That’s right, from a government that can’t program its own labor rules into an iPhone app when they’re sober.  (You assume facts not in evidence, sir.)

Republicans float a proposal to actually, you know, use our leverage to force the UN to reform.  And this is just the low-hanging fruit.

Remember when we all mourned the loss of Bell Labs?  Microsoft has the room, the time, the talent, and the money to fund applied research, too.

How the EU might be able to get around its treaty limitations, and issue Eurobonds. And here’s why they might want to:

Meanwhile, in an interview with FAZ, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé warned, “The dissolution of the eurozone is not acceptable, because it would also be the dissolution of Europe. If that happens, then everything is possible. Young people seem to believe that peace is guaranteed for all time…But if we look around in Europe there is new populism and nationalism. We cannot play with that.”

Eurobonds by Eurocrats.  Sound about right.  Maybe if the all-vanilla center-left-center-right-center parties hadn’t outlawed debate on anything substantive, they might find more support.  There’s basically no address where the average European can go to complain about things, or to effect change.

Joseph Epstein on the race-, class-, and gender-obsessed gated communities that English departments have become:

Yet, through the magic of dull and faulty prose, the contributors to “The Cambridge History of the American Novel” have been able to make these presumably worldly subjects seem parochial in the extreme—of concern only to one another, which is certainly one derogatory definition of the academic. These scholars may teach English, but they do not always write it, at least not quite.

One-third of the US corn crop could be vulnerable to bugs that have adapted around Monsanto’s GM line.  Well, with any luck, it’ll be the third we were sending to ethanol.

States ask for Medicaid relief.  They should know.  They can’t even estimate the costs of their own policy changes.

Better plans for better boarding time, through math.

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Incuriousness From The Washington Post

In a generally upbeat assessment of how Muslims feel about America, and about their place in it, the Washington Post drops this bit about how American Muslims feel about the job their own clergy is doing in fighting radicalism:

The Pew study found that six in 10 U.S.-born Muslims faulted Islamic leaders for not speaking out against extremism, as did 43 percent of Muslim immigrants.

Officials with Muslim advocacy groups say that they have spoken out repeatedly against extremists but that the American public, including Muslims, often doesn’t hear about it.

“Our reach in terms of community awareness of our programs promoting moderation is not where we’d like it to be,” said Safaa Zarzour, secretary general of the Islamic Society of North America, the nation’s largest Muslim group.

I do think it’s heartening that the American-born Muslims are more likely to expect more out of their leaders in this regard.  (It’s hard to know what goes on in any individual mosque, and it’s unclear what leaders the survey is referring to, so I can’t really comment on the absolute numbers.)  And we’re not just talking about public statements.  Muslims leaders should also be in a position to do due diligence on overseas charities and their representatives that go on fundraising swings here in the States.

But that line about the ISNA is rich in irony.  The Islamic Society of North America – it goes unmentioned by the Post - remains an unindicted co-conspirator in the Holy Land case, which involved coordination among a number of high-profile American Muslim organization to funnel money to Hamas, in violation of American law and fundamental civilizational principles.  That coordination was organized and facilitated by the Muslim Brotherhood, that well-known, largely secular group.

So the ISNA, which aided and abetted the murder of Jews overseas, just can’t understand why people don’t think they’re moderate enough

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Tuesday Morning Spy

It’s not just the Denver Post who’s incurious.

It’s not just guitar-makers who are getting sandbagged.

And it’s not just Wisconsin who’s letting local governments cut down on fringe benefits.

Why the address for protesting Gilad Shalit’s captivity is Gaza, not Jerusalem.  The left sees this as a way to bludgeon Netanyahu, but any honest moral reading should blame Hamas.

What adults expect from a liberal arts education.  We know, because they’ll pay good money for it.  Maybe we should expect the same thing for people who are going into lifelong debt for it?

CalPERS admits that more conservative pension debt valuations make sense.  PERA, are you listening?

Once you get past the academic-speak, LIT., a Core77 design winner, is a very cool interface.

 

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Lies, Damn Lies, and Infographics

This is what happens when people get outside their area of competence.  FastCoDesign.com has its Infographic of the Day, and it can be a delight to behold.

But sometimes, like people who fell in love with the Obama “O,” they end up missing the flaws because they’ve fallen in love with the graphic design.  The infographic on “Do Green Jobs Really Exist?” is a case in point, as the comments make clear.  Here’s the graphic they like:

To his own surprise, Mr. Kuang concludes that Green Jobs not only exist, they’re pretty good jobs for middle-class workers, who don’t necessarily need advanced degrees.

But that was never in question.  Of course, green jobs exist.  But what the graphic doesn’t show is that while they’re well-paying, they’re also incredibly expensive and heavily subsidized, much moreso than oil and gas are, for instance.  On a per-unit-of-energy produced basis, they’re even more expensive, which means they’re a massive misdirection of resources, sapping the vitality of other industries which could employ far more people for the same price.

What’s a little disturbing is that Kuang thought that the argument was about the existence of the jobs, rather than their price-to-value ratio.  Admittedly, one data point is a thin reed on which to base a concern.  But it does suggest that we need to do a better job articulating the Bastiat-Hazlitt concerns about subsidies if we’re going to win this argument.

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Monday Morning Spy

Hey, Tom Friedman, call your office.  Those environmentally- and safety-conscious Chinese have done it again, as their major oil refinery catches on fire for the 2nd time in the last few months.

Europe, call a cab.  It looks as though Germany is throwing you out of its basement.

Or, you could call for a bus.  More on why inter-city bus travel is better than trains.

Paul Krugman, call it quits.  Just because Republicans don’t like your version of the dismal science doesn’t mean they don’t like science at all.

Maybe next time you use GPS while driving, you won’t need to call a wrecker.  Using the Android phones’ camera to keep your eyes on the road, even when they’re not.

If Iowa’s a single-issue ethanol state, then Rick Perry will need to call for backup.  I get the feeling, though, that he’s researched this question a little more than we think.

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Jobs and the Pantheon

Where does he belong?

America still has rock star CEOs: Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Jack Welch, Michael Eisner, and the subject of today’s discussion, Steve Jobs.  Only Gates and Jobs were personally innovative, though, and between the two, only Jobs created products that people want to need, as opposed to ones they feel they’re stuck needing.

Although many articles have already recited the litany of life-changing inventions Jobs was responsible for, it’s worth running through them again, if only to have as a handy reference. The was: the Apple II (we had the II+, and Dad splurged for 48K of memory), the Mac, Pixar, the iMac, the iPod, iTunes, the iPhone, and the iPad.

But just as sex didn’t start in the 1960s, great companies didn’t start in the 80s.  Before Jobs, in some sense, at the beginning, there was Edison and Ford.  If you’re looking for comparable versatility and influence on the consumer market, directly on the lives of millions, or billions of people, those two are the gold standard.

With the distance of time, and the ravages of curricular political correctness, we forget exactly how revolutionary Edison was.  The soon-to-be-contraband light bulb, of course.  But also the electrical distribution system to run it (and the dynamo, conductive system, and on-off outlets that were required to run it).  The phonograph.  Movies.  There were about 1100 others, but those are the biggies.  And of course, Edison had to create and run the company that wired New York.

Ford, of course, developed the assembly line for automobiles.  But his genius was his insistence on creating an affordable car for the up-and-coming middle class.  Without that, the car remains a toy for the rich, and eventually industrial uses.  It was a conscious decision by Ford to make a car that the average employee could afford.  That it would be 10 years before inter-city auto travel became the norm, and 30 years before the thing would start reliably, is beside the point.  The car, as Wendell Cox has pointed out, meant that for the first time in history, the mass of people could travel distant from where they were born, and come back.

So where does Jobs stack up against these two?  I think he combines elements of both, and just as we have to adjust for the era in which baseball players played, we also have to adjust for the era in which Jobs CEOed.

The Apple II and the Mac, I think, are most like Ford’s Models A and T.  It was Jobs’s insight that the average guy not only could have a computer, but that he’d figure out what to do with it.  He and the other Steve, Wozniak, worked to make their computer affordable.  And later, Jobs insisted that the Mac be small enough to be  accessible.  (Also like Ford, he left his company, saw it passed by its main competitor, and returned to revive it, but that’s really taking the analogy too far.)

But if Jobs was more than Ford, he was, perhaps more like Edison.  The iPod is our phonograph.  Edison didn’t invent music, he just made it more available.  Jobs didn’t invent portable music, he just made it more available, in spectacular fashion.  The iPhone and the Mac perhaps add up to the light bulb.   If Edison could – in the hands of Hollywood – give an impassioned speech about people ruining their eyes trying to read by expensive candles, Jobs could made similar claims about computerizing our small-to-mid-size company finances, and putting the Internet in the palm of our hands, with similar productivity gains.  I can’t begin to tell you the number of times I’ve been saved by having Google Maps in the car, or being able to call ahead to say I’ll be late, without having to pull off the highway, find a – working – pay phone, and a phone book, and then find my way back to the highway.  And that’s, like, 1% of what the smartphone does.

Of course, Pixar was a marriage of computing technology and the movies that Edison made.  There, perhaps, Jobs is Walt Disney, even as Pixar made him Disney’s biggest shareholder.

Like Edison, Jobs has a huge back catalog of patents that either haven’t made it to market, or won’t.  Unlike Edison, Jobs appears to have left behind an culture of innovation that, properly husbanded, can continue to churn out marvelous toys for at least another decade.

But what sets Edison apart is the electrical distribution system, which made all that followed possible.  Jobs really has nothing like it to his credit.  But then, nobody does.  The closest analogy in our day would be, I think the Internet, in all its incarnations, and both the landline and wifi internets have been the result of corporate, rather than individual effort, although there have been some brilliant individual innovators along the way (Tim Berners-Lee and Marc Andreessen, call your offices.)

So Jobs isn’t Edison, or Ford, or Disney.  He’s Steve Jobs.  And that’s plenty enough to put him in the first rank of American inventor-innovator-businessmen.

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Sunday Morning Spy

Canadian Health Care:  Maybe they should just let people pay.

Gulf Oil: Maybe this is just a way to keep our reserves high.

Traffic Signals: Banding cell phone together to do the work, so traffic engineers don’t have to.

Global Warming: Glad the science is settled.

The Marcellus Shale: Up and down.  Down, compared to the EIA.  Up, compared to the old USGS report.

Bailout Envy: It’s not just for the Germans, any more.  Slovakia keeping its fiscal house in shape.

Asian Carp: Now, if they had gotten into Caliornia’s Big Valley, they’d be in trouble.

Go To Work: To (not in) a grey flannel suit.

Jobs, Jobs, Jobs:  Steve Jobs, that is.  The gallery, the analysis, the company, and you.

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Greek Tragedy Headed For a Finnish?

Remember the first guy in line at that beautiful ol’ Bailey Building and Loan?  The guy who wants every last penny of his account out, so he can put it under his mattress?

Well, George Bailey is Greece and that guy is Finland.

The Finns, as a condition of a loaning Greece more money, wants hard collateral, and the Greeks were perfectly willing to cut this side-deal, to the chagrin of the Dutch, the Austrians, and a host of other lending countries who are now expecting the same treatment.

The other Euro-lenders need to approve any Finnish collateral, and they don’t seem in a mood to do so, which the Finnish government surely had to have known when it struck the deal.  There’s at least some evidence that it was reached more for internal Finnish political consumption than anything else.

Now, it’s not entirely clear what form the collateral can take.  More Greek debt is probably not going to cut it, so whether it’s buildings or islands or the new Ferrari or ticket revenue at the Parthenon or on option on the Elgin Marbles upon their prospective return, we don’t really know what the Finns thought they were getting as collateral.  If it turns out to be some dedicated revenue stream, they’ve turned themselves into tax farmers for the Finns, and made the Finns the senior debtholders.

That’s what the rest of the European lenders are worried about.  They’re worried that once the Finns get paid off, there won’t be enough to go around for the rest of them, so some of the other countries are refusing to sign off on that deal unless they also get, ah, assurances.

With the added doubt about Europe being able to arrive at a deal, Greek-German spreads have jumped up today.  But as with the US debt ceiling debate, the liquidity problem pales in comparison to the solvency problem.  The fact that the Dutch, Austrians, Germans, and Slovians (Slovakia and Slovenia) are all against it isn’t just a signal that they don’t want Finland rocking the boat.  Isn’t it also an indication that they money isn’t there?  Not just today, but for the duration of the restructure?

At this point, the complaints seem to be more along the lines of fairness rather than structural soundness of the loan.  The one exception is the Austrians, who proposed an inverse relationship between loan and collateral.  But even then, reassuring the small countries that they’ll get theirs, while the large countries recognize implicitly that they’re not any better off with guarantees, isn’t exactly reassuring.

Nevertheless, the reaction is telling.  Right now, George Bailey is asking that nice old lady how much she can get along with, and praying that she doesn’t just name her account balance.

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The Curious Incuriousness of the Denver Post

This morning, in a series leading up to the 10th Anniversary of the September 11 attacks, the Denver Post begins a series on Muslims in America, with an article profiling some prominent members of the Denver Muslim community. Yours truly makes a cameo appearance, in the profile discussing a well-publicized 2008 primary race for the State House. Mrs. Barakat-Sinclair’s offenses against civility and the truth extend far beyond what was noted in the article, and include denying on air that the Hamas Charter called for the destruction of Israel, and the claim in a Jordanian newspaper interview that American support for Israel is a result of Jews like Rupert Murdoch (sic) investing in the media. More recently, she claimed in a Syrian newspaper interview that Syria’s troubles were the result of a neo-con plot to destroy the Arab world in order to make the neighborhood safe for Israel. There’s a reason she lost that primary 71-29, and it’s because I wasn’t the only one to take notice of her history.

But it was the first profile that really caught my attention. It’s of one Imam Ibrahim Kazerooni, a local Iraqi Shiite imam, who emigrated from Iraq to Iran to study in madrassah, thence to London, and finally to Denver. The article focuses on his interfaith, ecumenical efforts. It ignores a more sinister side of the Imam, one that emerges when he his talking to Muslim audiences.

While in London, Kazerooni delivered a religious address celebrating the anniversary of the Iranian Revolution. Yes, the one in 1979. At such speeches, it’s not unusual to, essentially, deliver an address previously given by a highly-regarded religious leader. Kazerooni chose to do so, and the speech he chose was by a Mullah named Mezbah Yazdi. Mezbah Yazdi is the spiritual advisor to one Mahmud Ahmedinejad.

That Kazerooni was chosen to give a talk of this nature says something about the status he acquired in London’s Shiite community during his stay there. That he chose to relay the words of someone like Mezbah Yazdi says something about his beliefs and opinions. You can download and listen to the entire talk here.

More recently, Kazerooni gave a talk at a Dearborn, Michigan religious center, where he encouraged Muslims to “infiltrate” (his word, not mine) the academy, in order to prevent the Koran getting the same rough treatment that the Bible has at the hands of academics. After the obligatory blessings, he began the talk with the following:

Permit me to begin, with a celebratory note.  It is rare – this is primarily offered to our Lebanese friends in particular here, and through them to the entire Lebanese population, also to other friends – it is very rare in these days that one feels to elated, that sees the new dawn, the possible new dawn, of a new political system in Lebanon.  I pray that soon we will congratulate each other on multiple successes that come out of that part of the world.  This is – after many obstalces that were put in this process – the harder they tried, the more they failed.

As this talk was just after the introduction of the Hezbollah Virus into the actual government of Lebanon, and his words leave little room for doubt as to where he stands on that particular development.  The video has been taken down since I first found it, but I’ve uploaded the first part of it here (Kazerooni begins to talk around 7:50).

This is not guilt by association – always dangerous when one is dealing with a relatively small community.  These are the words of the actors themselves, when they thought nobody outside was listening.  And with the exception of the Dearborn video, they’re not particularly difficult to find.

That the Denver Post chose either not to research, not to find, or not to print, is unfortunately, all too typical of the media’s coverage of Islam.  If the paper is really interested in promoting a debate on Muslims’ role in American society, they do neither the vast majority Muslims of goodwill, nor American society, nor that debate, any service by failing to do their homework.

UPDATE: The video appears snakebit.  It’s in working order, but it’s taking too long to upload to the server, so I’ll have to take care of that this evening when I get home.

UPDATE: The videos are loaded, and here they are.  While it might be informative to watch the first part of the first video, Kazerooni makes his appearance at 7:50, and begins speaking in English at about 9:00 or so.

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