Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Cable: FOX Rules

Obama may be president, and CNN and MSNBC may be the news networks of the “in” party. But in the ratings, conservative-slated FOX News still rules. FOX leads in every demographic, in every time period, with every news program. In fact, the only places where FOX News’s audience is less than the combined CNN + MSNBC audiences is with 25-54 year olds, and with the 9 pm (Hannity) and 10 pm (Greta) FOX shows. Overall, and in total prime time, FOX’s audience is larger than CNN + MSNBC combined.

Monday, February 23, 2009

China-Taiwan Peace Agreement Possible?

A Taiwan commentator has figured out how China and Taiwan can sign a peace agreement without China having to recognize Taiwan as a separate entity. Recognition is a big stumbling block, since China is determined to deny Taiwan any national government status.

It turns out that just as Deng Xiaoping wanted to get back Hong Kong before he died, China’s current leader Hu Jintao wants to solve the Taiwan problem before his term as party boss runs out. The Taiwan commentator, Joe Hung, notes the civil war that drove China’s Nationalists to Taiwan was a fight between two political parties—the Kuomintang (Nationalists) and the Communists—over who should rule China. Now, the solution is for the two feuding parties to sign a document agreeing to settle their differences peacefully (as do most other political parties).

Hu could sign for China in his capacity as party chief. On Taiwan’s side, the Kuomintang—which controls the government—would put the question before Taiwan’s people in a referendum. The referendum would pass, because Taiwan’s people want peace.

Would China go along? Joe points out that Hu met with Kuomintang leader Lien Chan in Beijing in 2005, and both pledged to work toward a peace agreement. The Taiwan peace agreement would trigger further steps toward reunification, steps blocked as long as Taiwan’s population fears China will settle reunification by force, instead of peacefully.

Joe doesn’t mention another point: Hu could tell the Chinese military and hardliners wary of dropping the use-of-force option that no party-to-party agreement carries the weight of an international treaty. In fact, though, easing the Taiwan population’s fear of invasion is the best way for China to move reunification forward.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Movie’s Powerful Message

“All Quiet on the Western Front.” “M*A*S*H.” “Platoon.” Now comes “Waltz with Bashir” [picture]. They are stories of ordinary people caught up in the horror of war. As such, they bring the costs of war home to us in a powerful way that can’t be ignored. War IS hell. Experiencing the hell of war via a movie helps drive a population away from war as an option, as it should.

What works best, I think are stories of average people ripped out of civilian life, and sent off to war whether or not they wanted to fight. In other words, draftees. It’s why “Waltz with Bashir,” about ordinary Israelis who find themselves in Lebanon in 1982, comes across with so much force, and why Hollywood’s series of anti-Iraqi films all bombed. However “ordinary” our soldiers and marines in Iraq are, they all volunteered for service, including the benefits military service provides families today. None were draftees. Huge difference.

Still, “Waltz with Bashir” is so very current, immersed as it is in the primary challenge the world faces today—the willingness of Palestinian, Arab, and other Islamic terrorists to die for the cause of ridding the Muslim world of secular or non-Muslim modernists allied with the West. No nation has worked harder to cope with this threat than Israel. “Waltz with Bashir” shows how much more difficult the struggle has become since 1982 for that small nation of just 5.3 million Jewish people.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Female Foreign Policy

Women are the future
All the big revelations. . .
I dont wanna talk about wars between nations
Not right now

--U2, “Get on Your Boots”

Victor Davis Hanson, among others, is saying “enough” to the Obama administration’s repeated bad mouthing to foreign audiences of Bush and his “mistakes”. What is it with the new people? You won, now govern, and govern by being tough on bad people, and kind to fellow Americans when addressing foreigners. Right?

The intellectuals who run the Democratic party advocate a female foreign policy. Democrats are the party of women and minorities. The party’s enemy are macho, muscle-brained warriors who fight senseless wars overseas that drain resources needed to help folks at home. Masculine means fighting for a cause greater than yourself, maybe in the name of God. Masculine means making your own way at home, being willing to compete in an economy where success is its own reward, and failure teaches lessons that can produce future success. Men were farmers, steelworkers, small businessmen, soldiers. Now they are often lost, unemployed, in prison.

Today, women make up half the workforce. They tend to work for government, for non profits, to be paid to care for others. They believe government exists in part to rebalance the country away from the men who previously enslaved women through custom and law. Women tend to be pacifists who believe wars start not overseas, but within clubrooms at home—begun by men who want war. These women believe men find enemies overseas that a) don’t really exist, or b) are so weak they should be ignored.

During the Bush years, the female-dominated Democratic party and the media found allies in the war-weary nations of Western Europe. To me, Jacques Chirac and his friend Gerhard Schroeder, the French and German leaders at the time we liberated Iraq from Saddam Hussein, were bad men. Chirac knew French businesses were taking money from Saddam that was supposed to feed the Iraqi people, and selling Saddam weapons instead. Schroeder traded on anti-Americanism (anti-Bush sentiment) by opposing intervention in Iraq in 2002 to help win an election he was expected to lose. Democrats and the media, looking abroad for support for their anti-war views, jumped on the Chirac-Schroeder bandwagon.

Now Europe has changed. Iraq has changed. Terrorism still threatens us. We need a masculine foreign policy with masculine allies in Europe to deal with the Afghanistan-Pakistan area and Iran. Bad timing for a Democratic-feminist foreign policy.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Obama Struggles to Spark Stock Gains

President Obama said his economic recovery plan has “three legs.” One is the stimulus package he signed yesterday, as the Dow dropped 298 points. One is treasury secretary Tim Geithner’s plan, announced a week ago, to revive the banking sector. That plan bombed immediately, sending the Dow down 382 points.

The final leg Obama announced today. It seeks to help homeowners facing foreclosure to remain in their homes. At least today, the market didn’t plunge. Nevertheless, my FOX INDEX [chart] settled at its lowest point since last November, when Obama’s naming Geithner his treasury chief sharply lifted the market.

The FOX INDEX, which measures the distance to a healthy market (12,000 Dow, 1,300 S&P, 2,500 NASDAQ), hit its bottom of -6,179 (index is 6 months old) last November 20th. It’s now one bad day from a new low, and 89% of the way toward the eleven-year low the market reached in October 2002.

Can we hope for a near-term market turnaround? Richard Dickson, market strategist at Lowry Research in Florida, said unless we have a rebound rally soon, the market should drop below its November lows. "A failure of demand to develop would suggest the market is vulnerable to another leg lower in the still-ongoing bear market," Dickson wrote in a note to clients.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Japan & the U.S.: Lost Economic Leadership?

Robert Samuelson in the Washington Post makes some stark points about Japan’s “lost decade” and its implications for the U.S.:

➢ in the 1990s. . . Japan experienced a listless, boring prosperity. Its economy expanded in all but two years, although [u]nemployment rose to 5% in 2001 from 2.1% in 1990. Not good, but hardly a calamity. . .[Yet f]rom 1956 to 1973, Japan had grown 9% a year; in the 1980s, it was still growing at 4%.

➢ Japan's economic reverses reflect deeply held social and political values. The same might be true of us. Japan has . . . a "dual economy." On the one hand, export industries are highly efficient. They face intense global competition. On the other, many domestic industries are inefficient and sheltered from local competition by regulations or custom.

➢ this system broke down in the mid-1980s. The rising yen made Japanese exports costlier on world markets. New competitors -- South Korea, Taiwan -- emerged. Japan lost its engine of growth and hasn't found a new one. That's Japan's central economic problem. . . Even now, the economy is trade dependent; in December, exports dropped 35% from a year earlier, pushing Japan into a deep recession.

➢ Since the early 1980s, American economic growth has depended on a steady rise in consumer spending supported by more debt and increasing asset prices (stocks, homes). . . the present U.S. slump signals the end of upbeat consumption-led growth. . . its legacy is an overbuilt and overemployed consumption sector. . . [Is] our system. . . adaptive enough to create new sources of growth to fill the void left by retreating shoppers[?]

Yikes. Are we permanently in the trough along with Japan? Probably not, but the U.S. isn’t the place to look for the folks who'll get us out of the ditch. The next center of growth is likely to be Asia and its middle class. As the World Bank says, “a new engine of private demand growth will be needed, and we see a likely candidate in the still largely untapped consumption potential of the rapidly expanding middle classes in the large emerging-market countries.”

Friday, February 13, 2009

Israel: Tough Times, Tough Choices

Israel had an election that moved the country markedly to the right. I have been wrong about politics in Israel and in Palestine. This time, I want to be careful.

The Israeli politicians attempting to form a new government now have to deal with
Avigdor Lieberman [picture], leader of the Israel Beiteinu ("Israel is our home") party which came in an alarming third, behind Tzipi Livni’s Kadima and behind Likud, headed by Binyamin Netanyahu, the likely next prime minister. Lieberman favors a sharper division between Jews and Arabs that would push Israeli citizen Arabs out of Israel into Palestine. It sounds awful—like apartheid, with echoes of Judenfrei Nazi Germany.

The Israeli press doesn’t seem so horrified, sort of treating Lieberman as a politician who knows how to win votes. Nevertheless, there is discussion of the coalition that would work best for the U.S. under the circumstances—one headed by Netanyahu and including Labor (Ehud Barak) along with Kadima, and pointedly leaving out Lieberman and the smaller right-wing and religious parties. At least this slightly moderate option is under consideration.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Understanding Obama’s Victory

69.5 million votes! “Obama's raw popular vote margin of victory (9.5 million) was the largest ever for a non-incumbent presidential candidate.” In fact, Obama got 7.4 million more votes than the previous all-time top vote getter—Bush in 2004. Obama won as a black in a still-white country, with just 43% of the white vote. He’s the first northern Democrat (liberal) elected president since Kennedy in 1960, and Obama-Biden is the first all-northern Democratic ticket to win since Roosevelt-Wallace in 1940.

The Obama campaign is, of course, the first to ride to the White House on the back of the internet. Esquire’s profile of David Plouffe tells how Plouffe built a “fulsome pulsing beast” from 13 million e-mail addresses; a beast that raised money, generated volunteers, and delivered votes, again and again and again. A list of 13 million. And Obama wins with 10.4 million more votes than Kerry in 2004. The internet built that increase.

And money. Obama, of course, inspired the unprecedented giving of money and volunteer time. Especially money. $533 million worth. In 2004, Bush’s 62 million votes came from raising $367 million, or $5.92 a vote (Bush, unlike Obama, observed federal campaign spending limits). In 2008, Obama won 12% more votes than Bush while raising 45% more money than Bush. Obama spent $1.47 more a vote—25% more for each vote—than Bush. Looked at another way, however, if Obama reached Bush’s 62 million votes by just matching Bush’s $5.92 a vote, he still had a whopping $22.38 per vote left over to “gain” each new vote beyond 62 million.

Also, please remember: 3/4ths of Obama’s money came from those who gave over $200—not your typical student donation.

McCain spent less in 2008 than Bush did in 2004, paid less per vote than Bush, and received 97% of Bush’s 2004 vote—at 60 million, the highest vote total ever for a loser. So McCain largely held onto the GOP base, while Obama reached new voters.

Obama inspired giving; his effective organizing brought the money home. And yes, money still isthe mother’s milk of politics.”

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Understanding Palin

Yuval Levin in Commentary has a lot to say about Sarah Palin. He correctly viewed Palin and Obama as the dominant 2008 election figures. And Levin made several other points that ring true to me:

➢ some criticisms of Palin were entirely appropriate. She had no experience in foreign or defense policy and very little . . . command of either. In a time of war, with a 72 year-old presidential candidate who had already survived one bout with cancer, this was a cause for very real concern. And Palin did perform dreadfully in some early interviews. . . But the more common visceral hostility toward her seemed to have little to do with these objections. . . The attempt to destroy Sarah Palin by rushing to paint her as a backwoods extremist was not a show of strength, but rather a sign of desperation.

➢ the Palin episode [was] really about. . . the age-old tension between populism and elitism in our public life, which is to say, between the notion that we are best governed by the views, needs, and interests of the many and the conviction that power can only be managed wisely by a select few. In America. . . the distinction between populism and elitism is further subdivided into cultural and economic. . .

➢ The Republican party has been the party of cultural populism and economic elitism. . . traditional values, unabashedly patriotic, anti-cosmopolitan, non-nuanced Joe Sixpack, even as they pursue an economic policy that aims at elite investor-driven growth. . . Republicans tend to believe the dynamism of the market is for the best but that cultural change can be dangerously disruptive. . .

➢ the Democrats have been the party of cultural elitism and economic populism. . . Democrats identify with the mistreated, underpaid, overworked, crushed-by-the-corporation “people against the powerful,” but tend to look down on those people’s religion, education, and way of life. . .Democrats tend to believe dynamic social change stretches the boundaries of inclusion for the better but that economic dynamism is often ruinous and unjust.

➢ intellectual elitism is actually fairly new in America, though it has been a dominant feature of European society. . . entry to the American intellectual elite is, in principle, open to all who pursue it. And pursuing it is not [difficult]. . . most of this elite’s prominent members hail from middle-class origins and not from traditional bastions of American privilege and wealth. . . the worldview of the intellectual elite begins from an unstated assumption that governing is fundamentally an exercise of the mind: an application of the proper mix of theory, expertise, and intellectual distance that calls for knowledge and verbal fluency more than for prudence born of life’s hard lessons.

➢ the intellectual elite want the government to serve the interests of [lower-middle-class families, but] do not want those people to hold . . . power. They see lower-middle-class populists . . . as profoundly ill-suited for governance, because they lack the accoutrements required for its employment—especially in foreign policy, which. . . is thought to be an intellectual exercise. [That’s why] Barack Obama, who actually has far less experience in executive governance than Palin, was not dismissed as unprepared for the presidency. Palin may have been elected governor of Alaska, but his peers in Cambridge had elected Obama editor of the Harvard Law Review. . .

➢ those who reacted so viscerally against [Palin] evinced little or no appreciation for an essential premise of democracy: that practical wisdom matters at least as much as formal education, and that leadership can emerge from utterly unexpected places. The presumption that the only road to power passes through the Ivy League and its tributaries is neither democratic nor sensible, and is, moreover, a sharp and wrongheaded break from the American tradition of citizen governance.

Yet in the end, Levin concluded that “Palin’s reformism, like McCain’s. . . offered no. . . coherent policy ideas that might actually address the concerns of American families.” But then Levin failed to strike the main point: voters wanted a president who could fix a bad economy. As Levin said above, Republicans stand for “economic elitism.” At a time when the “economic elite” failed America, McCain and Palin had nothing to say. No wonder the Democrat “cultural elite” won in 2008.

Monday, February 09, 2009

1981 (reprise)

Just finished watching Obama’s press conference. As I suggested last October, Obama plans to replay the New Deal, when Roosevelt used the failures of his predecessor, large Democratic majorities, and a heightened sense of national crisis to transform America into an economy run by Washington intellectuals/bureaucrats instead of the businesspeople that conservatives know actually generate jobs.

But the parallels between Obama today and February 1981, the time Reagan took over, are striking as well--as I also said last October. Reagan had a Republican senate and a house with enough “Boll Weevils” (southern Democrats) to provide him a working majority. Reagan’s enemy was inflation, the crisis that empowers Republicans the way job loss empowers Democrats. His predecessor produced the problem that Reagen called in his early February first TV address to America on the economy, “the worst economic mess since the Great Depression.” Reagan, a great communicator like Obama and Roosevelt, would use his persuasive powers and political strength to downsize government and cut taxes—as Obama will upsize government and, eventually, raise taxes.

Reagan’s sledgehammer approach drove unemployment up to 10.8%, and cost Republicans in the 1982 congressional election. But by 1984, the economy recovered, Republicans had licked inflation, and Reagan won a massive re-election victory. “Morning in America.”

It’s likely Obama knows the history pretty well.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Hate Bush, Love Obama

Peter Berkowitz of the Hoover Institution speaks for many conservatives when he wonders about the intense and lasting hatred of Bush. He makes these points:

• Bush hatred and Obama euphoria . . . reveal more about those who feel them than the men at which they are directed[. They] are opposite sides of the same coin [representing] the triumph of passion over reason . . .Those wallowing in Bush hatred and . . . Obama euphoria frequently regard those who do not share their passion as contemptible and beyond the reach of civilized discussion. . . And it is disproportionately members of the intellectual and political class in whose souls they flourish.

• Bush hatred and Obama euphoria are particularly toxic because they . . . have been promoted by the news media, whose professional responsibility, it has long been thought, is to gather the facts and analyze their significance, and by the academy, whose scholarly training, it is commonly assumed, reflects an aptitude for and dedication to systematic study and impartial inquiry.

• by assembling and maintaining faculties that think alike about politics and think alike that the university curriculum must instill correct political opinions, our universities cultivate intellectual conformity and discourage . . . reason . . .[T]hey infuse a certain progressive interpretation of our freedom and equality with sacred significance, zealously requiring not only outward obedience to its policy dictates but inner persuasion of the heart and mind. . . [transforming] dissenters into apostates . . . and leaders into redeemers.

Why such hatred? Why such euphoria? I think it’s because the American political system is now so efficient. The two parties used to be mushy combinations of disparate interest groups—southern conservative Democrats alongside big-city liberals, isolationist Republican farmers voting with Yankee internationalists. Now the two parties divide by ideology, with each side having built a coalition that holds together quite effectively. It’s because the parties work so well that the battles are close, competitive, crucial. . . and bitter.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Daschle Bye Bye

So Daschle has withdrawn his name, as I suggested he might a few hours ago (midnight Hawaii). I knew liberal commentator Marie Cocco had a powerful case against him, knew George Stephanopoulos, in saying on "ABC World News" last night that Daschle would survive, provided the amazing reason that many of his Democratic colleagues also had cars with drivers and didn’t want that a basis for dropping Daschle (such an “inside the Beltway” justification screams the guy’s in trouble), and knew from Nina Easton of Fortune that White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs was drilled by reporters at yesterday’s press briefing who kept saying "Well, is there any amount of back taxes that is too much?”

But what I didn’t know was the New York Times had called for Daschle’s withdrawal in this morning’s paper. Obviously, Daschle and the Obama people still have to listen to the “Times”.

Daschle's Legacy

Obama has undermined what was supposed to be a central tenet of his administration: that he would sweep away the rules under which Washington cossets itself in a surreal bubble where lobbyists, members of Congress, industry heavyweights, fat-cat donors and other insiders do their own bidding first and put the people's interests last.

--Marie Cocco, Washington Post

Cocco is a liberal, a Hillary supporter. Obama may have had a great inauguration, but it’s been a rough two weeks since. What do you bet Tom Daschle withdraws as health and human services secretary-designate to save Obama further embarrassment?

I think Daschle can pull out without undermining his stealth strategy to push through national health insurance. If anything, Daschle’s troubles may cause the Obama team to work even harder on health insurance as a memorial to Daschle’s efforts.

Last week, the Wall Street Journal’s Kimberley Strassel documented the strategy’s key elements:

1. In a 2008 book outlining his health-care reform, Daschle offered Democrats two pieces of political advice: Move fast, before there can be a public debate, and write as vague a bill as possible. By the time America wakes up to what's happening, it'll be too late.

2. Democrats first passed a State Children's Health Insurance Program double in size, making eligible kids whose parents make $65,000 a year, covering pregnant women, and automatically enrolling their new arrivals. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates 2.4 million individuals will drop their private coverage for the public program.

3. Now the $820 billion stimulus package dramatically expands the number of Americans who qualify for Medicaid. It covers Americans who have lost their jobs, their spouses and their children, those who lost jobs early last year, and those who will lose their jobs up to 2011. The federal government is footing the whole bill, while mostly forbidding states to apply income tests. CBO estimates: an additional 1.2 million covered in 2009.

4. The stimulus package also expands Cobra, the program that lets unemployed retain access to their former health benefits for 18 months. Now any former employee over the age of 55 can keep Cobra until Medicare at 65. And while employees previously paid their Cobra premiums, the feds now will pay 65%. CBO estimates: 7 million more Americans under federal coverage.

5. And the package makes the government the national coordinator for electronic health records, able to certify what platforms are acceptable, and cutting out a growing private market that is competing to improve transparency and let consumers compare providers and costs. Obama’s folks believe only government should be publishing (and setting) health-care prices.

As Strassel notes, “Democrats may move 10 million more Americans under the federal health umbrella -- in just four weeks!” And there’s more. Democrats are “gearing up for a Medicare fight, [planning] to lower the eligibility age to 55, [which] they'll pay for by slashing the private Medicare Advantage option.”

National health insurance by stealth, thanks to Daschle—dead or alive.