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February 29, 2008

Obama Up 6 in Texas, Down 2 in Ohio

The latest Reuters/C-SPAN/Houston Chronicle poll has good news for Barack Obama, and bad news for Hillary Clinton. Even if Hillary is able to pull off a few wins next Tuesday, anything less than a 15 point victory is not going to do her much good.

The contests on Tuesday are crucial for Clinton, a New York senator and former first lady fighting to halt Obama's streak of 11 consecutive victories in their battle for the Democratic nomination for the November 4 presidential election.

Obama, an Illinois senator, has a 6-point edge on Clinton in Texas, 48 percent to 42 percent. He trails Clinton 44 percent to 42 percent in Ohio -- well within the poll's margin of error of 3.8 percentage points.

In the Republican race, front-runner John McCain holds commanding leads over his last major rival, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. McCain, an Arizona senator, has built an unassailable advantage in delegates who will pick the nominee at the Republican Party convention in September.

The poll, conducted by Zogby International, found McCain with big double-digit margins over Huckabee in Texas and Ohio.

Among Democrats, Obama has a big edge with voters in both states who made their decision within the last month. Clinton led comfortably in both states among voters who decided more than a month ago.

Me thinks for Hillary the end is nigh...

More Personal Memories of Bill Buckley

Andrew Malcolm of the Los Angeles Times has a wonderful remembrance of Bill Buckley posted up on his blog at the paper, Top of The Ticket.

And here's one by Larry Perelman up at National Review Online, The Last Supper with WFB. Perelman was honored to have been the last person that Buckley dined with, on Tuesday night.

Both are must reads. We conservatives were blessed to have had William F. Buckley Jr. in our midst.

Obama: Pay Attention to What I Do, Not What I Say

One of the hot topics to come out of Tuesday night's Democratic debate was the fervor in which Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton went after NAFTA and our two biggest trading allies - Canada and Mexico. They both stated, quite plainly, that they would "renegotiate" NAFTA - essentially opt-out of it until stricter environmental and labor standards are negotiated.  Aside from the fact that this puts Hillary in direct conflict with one of her husband's (and, presumably, her's) chief achievements during his Presidency, the anti-NAFTA rhetoric is seen as a sop to the labor unions, especially those in one of next Tuesday's primary states - Ohio.

Fast forward from Tuesday night to yesterday, and we find one of Canada's networks (CTV News) reporting that the Obama campaign had warned the Canadians of his upcoming use of an anti-NAFTA platform, and for them to explicitly ignore it - he wasn't going to do anything to harm NAFTA when he's President (Obama staffer gave warning of NAFTA rhetoric).

Within the last month, a top staff member for Obama's campaign telephoned Michael Wilson, Canada's ambassador to the United States, and warned him that Obama would speak out against NAFTA, according to Canadian sources.

The staff member reassured Wilson that the criticisms would only be campaign rhetoric, and should not be taken at face value.

But Tuesday night in Ohio, where NAFTA is blamed for massive job losses, Obama said he would tell Canada and Mexico "that we will opt out unless we renegotiate the core labour and environmental standards."

The Obama campaign came out yesterday after the story was published and claimed, basically, that "we'd never do something like that". This morning, CTV fired back (Opponents slam Obama after CTV story on NAFTA), naming the Obama staffer (actually his "Senior Economic Adviser") involved:

The Obama campaign told CTV late Thursday night that no message was passed to the Canadian government that suggests that Obama does not mean what he says about opting out of NAFTA if it is not renegotiated.

However, the Obama camp did not respond to repeated questions from CTV on reports that a conversation on this matter was held between Obama's senior economic adviser -- Austan Goolsbee -- and the Canadian Consulate General in Chicago.

Earlier Thursday, the Obama campaign insisted that no conversations have taken place with any of its senior ranks and representatives of the Canadian government on the NAFTA issue. On Thursday night, CTV spoke with Goolsbee, but he refused to say whether he had such a conversation with the Canadian government office in Chicago. He also said he has been told to direct any questions to the campaign headquarters.

It was too easy to pierce Obama's rhetoric this time. I just hope he doesn't blow it before he defeats Hillary in the primaries.

February 28, 2008

John Fund on Bill Buckley

There has been an avalanche of tributes to Bill Buckley since the announcement of his passing yesterday. One of the best I've seen so far is a short one by the Wall Street Journal's John Fund in today's Political Diary (sub. req.). In it, Fund credits inspiration for the start of his writing career to Mr. Buckley:

Judge a Sailboat by the Size of Its Wake

William F. Buckley Jr. struggled with the pain and inconvenience of emphysema for years, but it was only when he broke a bone in his right hand -- the hand he wrote with -- earlier this month that the physical decline of a man who very much lived by words quickly accelerated. He sent out a note to a few close friends essentially saying that he knew the end was near.

That end came at the desk in his study yesterday morning, perhaps as Buckley was struggling to put the finishing touches on his latest project -- a book on the president he helped bring to office that he planned to call "The Reagan I Knew." That project was far enough along that it will no doubt be published posthumously. Here's hoping he finished enough of another book on Barry Goldwater that we will be rewarded with that as well.

It is ironic that Buckley's last works should hearken back to his fellow giants in the conservative movement. In an interview with Buckley in 2005, conservative columnist George Will told him: "Without Bill Buckley, no National Review. Without National Review, no Goldwater nomination. Without the Goldwater nomination, no conservative takeover of the Republican Party. Without that, no Reagan. Without Reagan, no victory in the Cold War. Therefore, Bill Buckley won the Cold War."

Buckley, of course, demurred at that compliment, but there was a real kernel of truth to it. He was that rarest of revolutionaries -- someone who set about to change the world, largely succeeded and yet retained a zest for the non-political, a gentleness of spirit and a boyish charm well into his 80s.

In the end, he left untold riches behind. He inspired three generations of conservatives, including me. I first met him at a taping of his TV show "Firing Line" at a public television station in California back in high school. He was unfailingly polite and helpful and I can genuinely say he helped inspire me to become the writer I am.

He seemingly had time for everyone who sought him out, despite a work schedule whose partial output included 55 books (both fiction and nonfiction); 1,429 separate Firing Line shows and 5,600 newspaper columns. Now it is incumbent on all of us to take the time to appreciate a great man and mourn his loss.

-- John Fund

Amen, Mr. Fund, Amen.

Democrats Vote to Raise the Price of Gasoline, Kill Retirement Funds

House Democrats voted yesterday to rescind $18 billion in tax cuts to the domestic oil industry, saying that they are transferring the tax breaks over to the renewable energy industry. As the House was prepared to extend the tax breaks for alternative energy anyway, this is primarily a punitive measure against the oil companies, who collectively made approximately $123 billion in profits last year.

Very populist, and very wrong. Even Democrats such as House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland admits that this move won't bring prices down. I'd go even further - the added costs will be passed directly to the consumer, and will actually encourage higher dependence of the importation of foreign oil. As for the rhetoric about so-called "obscene" profits of the oil industry - those profits represent about a 9.3% net income after taxes and expenses. Ask any business owner, even a small one - that's a good profit margin, but not an obscene one. Furthermore, much of that profit is paid out in dividends to shareholders - that's people like you and me.

Speaking of shareholders, profits are what makes the prices of stocks in the oil industry go up. Today, retirement is not paid for by Social Security benefits, but by retirement and pension plans. Guess what those funds invest in in order to pay retirees their benefits? Stocks like oil company stocks! So any action taken by Congress to punitively punish the oil industry eventually punishes all of us in the pocketbook - be it via higher gasoline prices or reduced shareholder equity.

Funny that no news outlet is pointing this out...

February 27, 2008

William F. Buckley Jr. (1925-2008)

I haven't felt a sudden pang of sorrow like this in my chest since my father died two years ago. This was just posted by Kathryn Lopez over at National Review Online's The Corner:

William F. Buckley Jr. (1925-2008)   [Kathryn Jean Lopez]

I’m devastated to report that our dear friend, mentor, leader, and founder William F. Buckley Jr., died overnight in his study in Stamford, Connecticut.

After year of illness, he died while at work; if he had been given a choice on how to depart this world, I suspect that would have been exactly it. At home, still devoted to the war of ideas.

As you might expect, we’ll have much more to say here and in NR in the coming days and weeks and months. For now: Thank you, Bill. God bless you, now with your dear Pat. Our deepest condolences to Christopher and the rest of the Buckley family. And our fervent prayer that we continue to do WFB’s life’s work justice.

02/27 11:13 AM

He was the foundation of the modern conservative movement in America. Godspeed, Bill...

February 26, 2008

Senate GOP Did Not Vote to Cut Off Funding For Iraq War

The Associated Press really needs to hire more intelligent writers. Or hire more intelligent headline writers. Or stop using interns from the Democratic National Committee to write articles and headlines.

The article and headline that I'm referring to is Senate Republicans Vote to Cut Off Money for Iraq War, which was posted by the Associated Press late this afternoon. As any reasonably intelligent person could tell you, that's not what happened today at all. The Senate GOP voted not on the bill, but on cloture for the bill. That means that a limit is put on the remaining time to debate the bill - 30 hours, I believe. It is at that time that the bill is voted on, not now. This cloture vote will allow the Senate GOP and several Democrats to set into the public record details on the progress that the surge is making in Iraq on both the security side and the political side.

Then the Senators will read into the record the recommendations from the generals on the ground - that we need more time and equipment, and that to de-fund and call home the troops now would be the equivalent of surrendering to Al Qaeda while we are ahead. The Senators will go on further to describe how devastating an early withdrawal would be to the long-term national security interests of the United States.

Only then will a vote on de-funding the Iraq War be held. It will be defeated overwhelmingly by both Republicans and Democrats. Is the Associated Press really that ignorant? Or are they actively trying to aid and comfort our enemies?

Nice try, AP...

Mortgage Bailout Plans a Very, Very Bad Idea

All three remaining major Presidential candidates, the President, and members of both parties in Congress are tripping over themselves in trying to produce a government bailout for those people who are now facing foreclosure in the so-called "sub-prime crisis". They seem to believe that the public is clamoring for such relief, even though about 95% of outstanding mortgages remain paid up and in good shape. This is a potential government intrusion of the worst sort - we (the taxpayers) can't be made to pay for other peoples' stupidity. Buying a home and signing a mortgage is one of the most important decisions an individual or family will ever make.  Buyers and borrowers should take the time to decide for themselves if the property that they are purchasing and financing is overpriced or not, and they shouldn't sign any documents without getting legal advice and understanding clearly what they are getting into.

If a buyer or borrower is tricked into buying or signing something in an illegal fashion, there are already laws on the books that protect them - they have legal recourse, and should take full advantage of it. Anything else is their own problem, not ours, and the government should be doing nothing to make it ours. Remember, it's not the governments money - it's the taxpayers money.

The media, in highlighting the supposedly sorry plights of those suddenly facing foreclosure, is not helping the situation. The public is not worried that someone suddenly cannot (or even worse, could never) afford their $300k home, nor do they care about someone who, because of his or her bills, can no longer lease a BMW. They don't care if someone willingly bought an overpriced house, or signed a loan agreement without first understanding it. They feel that people should live within their means, just like everyone else.

Before the reader thinks that this is just the opinion of a heartless conservative (aka Me), let's look at the responses to such 'hard-luck' stories in the liberal paper of record, the New York Times. Nicole Gelinas of the Manhattan Institute's City Journal, does exactly that, and reports back her findings in her article The Bailout Society? - Not so fast, Americans are saying. The results, from readers whom we can safely assume are overwhelmingly liberal (and prime sympathetic targets for such bailout ideas), are almost universally negative:

But Times readers aren’t biting. More than 400 online responses to the article ran 20 to one against any taxpayer rescue, citing principles of fairness and basic economics. Some readers pointed out that able-minded people are responsible for their own financial decisions, or that a bailout would punish people who behaved rationally during the housing boom. “I’ll be darned if my tax dollars have to go save some folks who couldn’t understand what ‘variable rate’ meant, or who bought beyond their means,” wrote one. “I have excellent credit and did not overextend myself. Any one who studies history could see the pattern and should not have gotten caught up with this recent cycle,” wrote another. “The changing housing market meant that I, a lifelong renter, would finally have a chance to purchase a home now that prices are being lowered,” noted a third.

A bailout will also encourage reckless behavior down the road, argued one correspondent: “Any so-called government ‘rescue’ will simply serve to encourage such irresponsible actions sometime again in the future.” And though disguised as compassion, a bailout would benefit a powerful special interest at the expense of the taxpayer: “Why should government reduce exposures these banks have?” another response asked. “They lent these dollars.”

The objections go on and on. Indeed, in a follow-up piece today, the paper reported that state and local governments’ mini-bailouts have met with “resistance from people who consider the assistance undeserved and adamantly oppose anything that resembles a taxpayer bailout.” A few things are clear from this overwhelming reaction. First, if President Bush proposes a taxpayer bailout for homeowners, as the Times thinks he may, his approval rating will plummet so low that he may end up owing us approval.

Second, all three presidential candidates are overestimating the public demand for a rescue package. Though Senator Hillary Clinton’s plan is farther-reaching than Senator Barack Obama’s—she would impose a “moratorium” on foreclosures and freeze interest rates on adjustable-rate mortgages for five years—both Democratic presidential candidates have proposed spending taxpayer dollars to save some homeowners from foreclosure. Republican Senator John McCain has also said that he’d help “responsible” homeowners in trouble.

All of us, when it comes to this issue, should look at the responses in the New York Times as sort of a "trail balloon" or "focus group". Not only do free-marketeers think that bailout ideas are terrible, so do 95% of Americans - including liberals. Proceed at your own risk, politicians, and be prepared for a very severe blow-back this November from the voters if you force them to pay for other people's stupidity.

AP: Forget Everything You Heard About Iran Stopping Its Nuclear Program, Again

There was a huge ruckus at the beginning of December '07 when the intelligence community released an updated National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran that indicated that the Iranians had stopped their nuclear weapons program in 2003 (National Intelligence Team: Iran Stopped Nuclear Weapons Program in 2003). It was a foolish, foolish report - its only real value was to highlight the politicization of the intelligence community. The authors couldn't even find a believable reason for Iran "giving up" its nuclear ambitions at the time they claimed it did! If it were true, the most likely cause of Iran's reticence in 2003 would have been the invasion of Iraq by the United States that same year - the reason why Libya publicly admitted it gave up its WMD programs. But the idiots who wrote the NIE didn't want to give the Bush Administration any bones - so the cause of Iran's sudden 'coming to their senses' was left a mystery.

Many, including myself, didn't buy it. Neither, it appeared, did the Director of National Intelligence, Michael McConnell, who was also the Director of Bill Clinton's National Security Agency (NSA). Two months later, at the beginning of February, McConnell testified under oath in front of Congress that the NIE summary on Iran was both wrong and misleading (U.S. Spy Chief Retreats on Iran Estimate, Iranian Nuclear RewriteCorrecting the CIA). That change displeased the Democrats, the Democratic Presidential candidates, and the drive-by-media greatly, so it was promptly buried.

Something occurred yesterday, however, that might prove to be more difficult to ignore.  The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), led by Director General Mohamed ElBaradei, an apologist for the nuclear ambitions of Arab nations and Iran for many years and an avowed hater of Israel, has just released some very troubling documentation on Iran and its nuclear plans: Diplomats: IAEA documents point to possible Iranian focus on atomic weapons after 2003. An excerpt:

A summarized U.S. National Intelligence Estimate, made public late last year, also came to the conclusion that Tehran was conducting atomic weapons work. But it said the Iranians froze such work in 2003.

Asked whether board members were shown information indicating Tehran continued weapons-related activities after that time, Simon Smith, the chief British delegate to the IAEA, said: "Certainly some of the dates ... went beyond 2003."

He did not elaborate. But another diplomat at the presentation, who agreed to discuss the meeting only if not quoted by name, said some of the documentation focused on an Iranian report on nuclear activities that some experts have said could be related to weapons.

She said it was unclear whether the project was being actively worked on in 2004 or the report was a review of past activities. Still, any Iranian focus on nuclear weapons work in 2004 would at least indicate continued interest past the timeframe outlined in the U.S. intelligence estimate.

A senior diplomat who attended the IAEA meeting said that among the material shown was an Iranian video depicting mock-ups of a missile re-entry vehicle. He said IAEA Director General Oli Heinonen suggested the component — which brings missiles back from the stratosphere — was configured in a way that strongly suggests it was meant to carry a nuclear warhead.

Other documentation showed the Iranians experimenting with warheads and missile trajectories where "the height of the burst ... didn’t make sense for conventional warheads," he said.

Smith and the senior diplomat both said the material shown to the board came from a variety of sources, including information gathered by the agency and intelligence provided by member nations.

"The assumption is this was not something that was being thought about or talked about, but the assumption is it was being practically worked on," Smith told reporters.

He said the IAEA presented a "fairly detailed set of illustrations and descriptions of how you would build a nuclear warhead, how you would fit it into a delivery vehicle, how you would expect it to perform."

This evidence, which is not new, directly contradicts both the politicized NIE released in December and a UN report released just last week. In addition, you have to assume that the above article, being from the Associated Press, attempts to spin this story in the most favorable way it could for the Iranians and unfavorable way for the Bush Administration. Notice that the AP only refers to the NIE results from December - they don't even bother to note the major backtracking that McConnell did on that NIE, in essence a correction, earlier this month.

I wonder if Hillary or Obama will mention anything about this during tonight's debate?   

NY Times: Hillary Unleashing the "Kitchen Sink"

Team Clinton works in fast and mysterious ways. Yesterday, we had unaffiliated Democratic advisers commenting on how confusing the disjointed attacks that Hillary was making against Obama over the past few days were. Political commentators were saying, seemingly en masse, that such confusion and lack of focus was a sign of a desperate and losing campaign.

But today the New York Times attempts to come to her rescue with a front page story, Clinton Campaign Starts 5-Point Attack on Obama, that claims that the attacks were not a sign of confusion at all, but all part of a planned "5 point strategy". Right. From the article, it appears that the release of the photo showing Obama in native African garb during a visit to the Continent a while back was one of those "points of attack". For Hillary's sake, I hope not, because the photo itself, the implied message, the Clinton campaign non-denial, and Maggie Williams' response to criticism were all laughable. And get a load of this, apparently another "point of attack":


Clinton advisers said the attacks were partly an effort to knock Mr. Obama off balance before the debate on Tuesday.

They also said they were sending a signal to supporters that Mrs. Clinton was still resolutely fighting to win the presidential nomination, despite news reports in recent days about her dispirited campaign operation and her own somber outlook on the race.

To bolster her case at the George Washington speech, Mrs. Clinton stood on stage with a half-dozen retired military officials, including Gen. Wesley K. Clark, who introduced her. “I’m convinced that when the going gets tough, Hillary Clinton will never let America down,” General Clark said.

Message to the Clinton campaign, and to Hillary in particular: After promoting Wesley Clark, despite the fact that he provided the Army tanks and personnel used by Janet Reno in Waco, your husband had to fire him from his position as Supreme Commander of NATO forces during the Bosnian War. With the Bosnian region still a mess - remember, it was the "perfect war" for your administration - it's probably not a good idea to be seen standing next to the fired General on a stage while trying to burnish your foreign policy and war time credentials immediately before a debate. You might get away with this against Obama, but you'd never get away with it against McCain.