A more frequent publishing of Rich Galen's take on politics, culture and general modern annoyances. This is in addition to MULLINGS which is published Mondays, Wednesdays & Fridays at

Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Foreign Policy Section of the SOTU

  • Following his State of the Union speech, there were some muffled remarks that the President Obama had no "foreign policy section."

  • Not two weeks after I raised the alarm that China is much more than a big spot on the Asian map, but was rushing headlong into controlling the world's economy ( The Sound of China Breaking ) the Washington Post had a front pager yesterday suggesting that China has no intention at stopping at the front door of the bank.

  • To review the bidding, last week I noted that China had
    - Overtaken the US in car sales

    - Eclipsed US banks in value

    - Surpassed Germany as the world's top exporter

  • The Post analysis, written by John Pomfret, pointed out that the Obama Administration's decision to sell "$6.4 billion worth of helicopters, Patriot Advanced Capability-3 missiles, minesweepers and communications gear" to Taiwan was met with an "indignant reaction."

  • The Chinese "also announced it would sanction the U.S. companies involved in the sale."

  • The Vice Foreign Minister hauled in the U.S. Ambassador to China, Jon Huntsman, to chat about the sale, a reaction which, along with other recent rumblings, "is worrying governments and analysts around the globe."

  • About a week ago, the Chinese wagged a finger in the face of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton when she chided China (along with other countries) for censoring Internet sites calling the U.S. an "information imperialist" and, according to the Financial Times, "telling Ms. Clinton to 'stop finger-pointing.'"

  • Pretty heady stuff to be telling the U.S. Secretary of State to "button it," but that wasn't the end of it. According to Bloomberg News, at China's request the issue of internet censorship was left off the agenda at the World Economic Conference in Davos which ended last night.

  • So, China, in denying internet censorship, leaned on the worlds bankers and industrialists to amend the agenda - in effect, censoring the conference.

  • That the bankers and industrialists, smiled with diffidence, bowed deeply, and acceded to the "request" is even more concerning than China's request.

  • At what everyone but the U.S. media calls the "failed" climate change conference in Copenhagen in December, according to the Post:
    "China publicly reprimanded White House envoy Todd Stern, dispatched a Foreign Ministry functionary to an event for state leaders, and fought strenuously against fixed targets for emission cuts in the developed world."

  • Ok, that one was before Obama "reset" his Presidency last Wednesday, so he gets a pass on folding up like a water-logged yard-sale card table in the face of Chinese objections to what we have been told over and over again is the single most important issue facing humans.

  • China threatened neighboring Cambodia against granting sanctuary to 22 Chinese Muslims, some of whom China had accused of participating in anti-Chinese demonstrations last summer.

  • Cambodia sent them back and, as a "thank you note" China "signed 14 deals with Cambodia worth $1 billion.

  • Here's a protocol tip: If you want to meet with senior Chinese leaders, don't meet with the Dalai Lama first. China "denounced" German Chancellor Angela Merkel, cancelled a summit with France's President Nicolas Sarkozy, and according to Pomfret's piece
    "suspended ties with Denmark after its prime minister met the Dalai Lama and resumed them only after the Danish government issued a statement in December saying it would oppose Tibetan independence and consider Beijing's reaction before inviting him again."

  • President Obama, on the other hand, "declined to meet the Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, before visiting China in November to avoid offending China's leaders."

  • Nevertheless, when President Obama went to China and acted like the new kid at school, the NY Times noted:
    "China effectively stage-managed President Obama's public appearances, got him to make statements endorsing Chinese positions of political importance to them and effectively squelched discussions of contentious issues such as human rights and China's currency policy," said a [U.S.] China specialist.

  • China is the second largest economy in the world, behind only the U.S. but it is quickly becoming the most important economy because of the enormous potential for selling things to 1.3 billion Chinese (about a billion more people than are in the U.S.)

  • Now, they are becoming among the most important players on the diplomatic world stage and the U.S. and the E.U. seems to be at sea as to what to do about it.

  • No wonder there was no foreign policy section of the President's State of the Union speech.

  • On the Secret Decoder Ring today: Links to the Washington Post and NY Times articles. Also a Mullfoto which I think I may have stolen, but is still funny, and a Catchy Caption of the Day.

  • Thursday, January 28, 2010

    A Long Year Ahead

  • An article in the Washington Post over the weekend quoted a speechwriter for Ronald Reagan as saying:
    There is always . . . [an] attempt by everybody to get into the State of the Union; every little crappy agency wants their stuff, their agenda, included.

  • Add to that the frenzy of phone calls, visits, promises, and threats between lobbyists, their clients, and anyone they believe has influence on the contents of the speech and you can see that if the amount of time, energy, and money in Washington, DC which is devoted to trying to get just one sentence into a State of the Union address were aimed in the same direction, Haiti would have been rebuilt as Macau by now.

  • I told someone last week that there are only two people who know what is going to be in the SOTU: The President, and whoever types the text into the Teleprompter.

  • Article II, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution requires that the President - any President:
    "shall from time to time give to the Congress Information on the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient"

  • The section of any SOTU which includes the "measures" he judges "necessary and expedient" is known as the "laundry list;" the litany of legislation which the President wants the Congress to take up.

  • As I suggested in Wednesday morning's MULLINGS, the post-speech reactions could have been written last Monday. Democratic pundits thought it was the very best State of the Union speech ever delivered. Republicans thought it was too long in time, too short on national security, and too much like a campaign speech.

  • As the kids say: What-EVER.

  • Other than what I considered to be astonishing bad manners in chiding the members of the Supreme Court on their campaign finance decision last week while they were sitting ten feet from him in front of an international audience, it was like almost every other SOTU I've ever watched: Instantly forgettable.

  • The Congress has not - and, it appears now, will not - pass anything near the massive overhaul of the nation's health care system which Obama envisioned and which has taken up nearly all the time of the U.S. Senate since Labor Day.

  • The list of legislative failures is pretty long: No climate bill, no energy bill, no card-check, no health care to name but four major initiatives.

  • With the Democratic Senate seat in Massachusetts about to be held by a Republican, it is difficult to see how those will get a second life in 2010.

  • It was one thing for the Obama spinners to say that the results in Virginia and New Jersey last November were the result of in-state issues which had nothing to do with the White House. But the election in Massachusetts was for a federal office and the thud of the Democratic message is still echoing up and down every hallway of each Senate and House office building on Capitol Hill.

  • The general reaction to the whole thing has been Obama is attempting to re-set, re-boot, or re-establish his Presidency. As you've read here before, an Administration which is aggressively on-message is the most potent political force in America, so he may do it.

  • But, I don't think so. At least, not before the mid-term elections on November 2.

  • Liz Sidoti, senior political writer for the AP, filed a piece about the lack of coattails that Obama is exhibiting:
    The list of White House failures is growing: It hasn't galvanized the legions of 2008 Obama backers in three major statewide losses. It hasn't prevented primary challenges for at least two vulnerable Senate Democrats even though Obama endorsed them. And it hasn't recruited strong candidates for Senate seats once held by Vice President Joe Biden and the president himself.

  • If the President can't get the Congress to adopt "such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient" and he can't help Democrats get elected, then it will be a very, very long year until the next State of the Union.

  • On the Secret Decoder Ring today: Links to the AP's "fact check" piece which explores what the President said and what the reality is; and Liz Sidoti's piece on Democrats' faltering electoral chances. Also a Mullfoto of a familiar sign in an unfamiliar place and a REALLY good Catchy Caption of the Day.

  • Tuesday, January 26, 2010

    The CNN Poll & the SOTU

  • Today's national poll comes to us courtesy of CNN which released its survey Tuesday afternoon.

  • The top-line number in this poll - approve/disapprove (Do you approve or disapprove of the way Barack Obama is handling his job as President?) has Obama hanging in at 49-50; under water but just.

  • Being minus-one on the approve/disapprove is troublesome enough for the White House, but let's look back to his February 2009 numbers and see how he has fared as Americans have gone from judging Obama in the afterglow his election and inauguration to twelve months of actual performance.

  • Remember, this week has Obama's approval is at 49-50. In CNN's poll taken on February 18-19, 2009 Obama's job approval was 67-29 a margin of 38 percentage points.

  • So?

  • So, let's do a little higher math. The margin between a good mark (approve) and a bad mark (disapprove) has gone from +38 to -1 or a difference of -40 which if it is not an off-the-cliff number it is certainly in the careening downhill range.

  • The poll went on to list a series of Obama attributes. The respondent was asked for each one whether it applied to the President or not.

  • For instance, "Can [Obama] bring needed change?" got a 53-47 applies/doesn't apply result. Plus 6. But looking again at February poll respondents then said the question about bringing change applied by 69-49. Plus 40.

  • The decline in Americans' confidence in Obama being a change agent has gone from +40 to +6 or down 34 percentage points.

  • Yikes! That is a big change.

  • You can see the whole list of these attribute questions on the Secret Decoder Ring page today but if you do you will see that on every one of them - and there are eight that CNN shared with us - Obama is down at least 22 percentage points from his February numbers.

  • The largest drop - 40 points - is on the question of whether Obama, "Is a strong and decisive leader?" In this poll 60 percent of respondents agreed, 39 disagreed (+21) which, standing alone looks pretty good.

  • But, if you compare that with his numbers in February on the leadership question, 80-19 (+61) you can see that he has lost forty percentage points.

  • Ok, as you know polls are polls. The winners send blast e-mails; the losers say "shut up and deal," but these numbers are beginning to settle in and I guarantee you they were being passed around in the Republican and Democratic cloakrooms in both the House and Senate as soon as they came out yesterday.

  • Keep in mind, too, that this poll comes on the heels of the Massachusetts Massacre last Tuesday. The President had to go up to campaign for Martha Coakley which puts her on a list of Presidential endorsement failures including the Democrats running for Governor in Virginia and New Jersey, the Chicago Olympic bid, and the Copenhagen global warming conference to name four that come immediately to mind.

  • In light of the CNN poll, does the President have to give the Greatest Speech of His Charmed Life tonight to save his Presidency?

  • No. Of course not.

  • I'm not sure I can remember a President blowing a State of the Union speech. The House chamber is packed and the Members of the President's party are primed (especially the House Members) to stand, stomp, cheer, and applaud at the drop of a semicolon so President Obama will do well.

  • In the post-speech punditry-fests, it will be judged a standard Goldilocks speech. Depending upon who is scoring it will have been sooo goood, tooo looong, or juuuust right.

  • Someone will have the job of counting how many times he will have been interrupted by applause, how many minutes the speech went, and how many legislative initiatives he will have asked for.

  • For as much time and attention spent on the SOTU, they tend to have relatively little lasting effect other than when an "Axis of evil" line comes spinning out (George W. Bush, 2002) or a Lenny Skutnik (Ronald Reagan, 1982) is celebrated sitting in the gallery.

  • Starting Thursday morning, the problems facing the Democratic majorities in the House and Senate will be the same ones they faced when they went to work today: A President who has frittered away his political capital on policies which most Americans don't like.

  • On the Secret Decoder Ring today: Links to the CNN poll, the February - January comparison, Axis of Evil and Lenny Skutnik. Also a Mullfoto which is only amusing because it is not in English and a topic-appropriate Catchy Caption of the Day.

  • Sunday, January 24, 2010

    It's the Policies, Stupid

  • The Obama White House has been in a frenzy of activity since last Tuesday night when Republican Scott Brown won the special election for U.S. Senate in Massachusetts.

  • The very next morning, President Obama declared war on the big banks by announcing what the Agence France-Presse (AFP) called,
    "the largest regulatory crackdown on US financial institutions since the 1930s, would ban the banks from using taxpayers' money to engage in proprietary trading or operating hedge funds and private equity funds."

  • This had the effect of (a) Changing the debate from how the result in Massachusetts made Democrats in general and the President in particular, look weak (he had campaigned there on the previous Sunday); (b) Allowing the White House to proclaim Obama America's Populist-in-Chief; and (c) Driving the stock markets into the ground.

  • According to reporters Renae Merle and Tomoeh Murakami Tse writing in the Washington Post yesterday,
    "By Friday's closing bell on the stock exchange floor, the Dow Jones industrial average had plunged 4 percent over four days. And in a move reminiscent of the depths of the financial crisis, investors piled into government bonds, seeking cover from the turbulence."

  • The spitting and fussing among Democrats as to who knew what about the race in Massachusetts, when they knew it, and what they did about it was so much fun to watch, I actually bought popcorn to eat as I watched the cable chat shows.

  • On Saturday, the WashPost's Chris Cillizza reported that former Obama campaign manager David Plouffe was coming on board as a non-official political advisor to make some sense of how the Washington Democrats deal with House, Senate and Governor's races in November.

  • According to the Atlantic's Mark Ambinder:
    Plouffe doesn't report to David Axelrod, or Jim Messina, the deputy White House chief of staff, or to Jen O'Malley Dillon, the DNC executive director or to Gov. Tim Kaine, the DNC chairman, or to Patrick Gaspard, the political director. He reports to the President. Informally. But this informal channel is Plouffe's and Plouffe's alone.

  • Golly, Buffalo Bob! Remember back during the campaign for President when Sen. Obama said he would remove the "perpetual campaign" apparatus from the White House?

  • Yeah, well...

  • The polling out of Massachusetts tells me that it the result was not a failure of politics, but a failure of policy by the White House and its allies on Capitol Hill.

  • A poll done for the AFL-CIO after the election showed that union families voted for the Republican, Brown, by a margin of 49-46 percent. True, Brown only carried union households by three percentage points, but he should have LOST that bloc by 40 percentage points.

  • Why? According to Democratic pollster Celinda Lake on CNN's State of the Union program yesterday, it's because they don't like the taxing of so-called "Cadillac health plans" which includes many plans negotiated by unions for their members.

  • A poll done by the Washington Post showed that the health care issue was "Extremely" or "Very" important for 93 percent of voters who cast their ballot for Brown.

  • Also on the health care issue, 65 percent of Brown voters thought they would be worse off if the Congress passed and the President signed a health care reform bill. Only 38 percent of those who voted for the Democrat thought they would be better off. Fully half of Coakley's voters said it wouldn't make much difference.

  • I.N.T.E.N.S.I.T.Y.

  • The next two most important issues for Brown voters were "jobs and the economy" (91 percent) and "The way Washington is working" (90 percent).

  • For nearly half the voters (48 percent) Barack Obama was not a factor in deciding their vote. They just didn't care.

  • This may be the earliest point in history that a President has stood on the brink of being a lame duck: 364 days into his Administration.

  • Adding a political operative to the inner circle of the White House will not help. It misses the essential point: Starting in November when the GOP won the Governors' mansions in New Jersey and Virginia it has been clear that the Obama/Reid/Pelosi style and substance were not resonating with the voting public.

  • The result in Massachusetts last Tuesday showed that for yet another segment of the population which has had the opportunity to express itself at the ballot box, Obama's policies have diminished from a lack of resonance to active dissonance.

  • Obama can tinker with the political shop all he wants, but to misquote my neighbor James Carville: It's the policies, stupid.

  • On the Secret Decoder Ring today: Links to the WashPost review of the week on Wall Street and to the Poll. Also the last (for now) of the photos from Ukraine. This is a pretty good one. And a Catchy Caption of the Day which is senseless.

  • Thursday, January 21, 2010

    Always Glad to Get Home

    TOPIC 1:

  • I spent about a week in Ukraine as a member of the Official Observers' Mission organized by the International Republican Institute (IRI).

  • Ukraine was cold. Day after day was between -10 and -17 Celsius (14 and 1 degree Fahrenheit). Doesn't sound too awfully bad except Ukraine stays that cold for months at a time so the cold permeates everything: cars, buildings, souls … everything.

  • The election appeared to be legit. The pro-Russian guy came in first; the blonde Prime Minister came in second; so there will be in the runoff in a couple of weeks.

  • A country in which, twenty years ago, was a Republic of the Soviet Union and in which the concept of democracy was beyond most people's imagination; which five years ago needed an "Orange Revolution" to overturn a fixed election; last Sunday had an election with 18 candidates and any citizen could vote for whomever he or she wanted.

  • Pretty good for the people of Ukraine. And pretty good for the young Americans - Republicans and Democrats - who set up shop in places like Ukraine and wrestle authoritarianism to the ground.

    TOPIC 2:

  • Ukraine is seven hours ahead of Eastern time so, when the polls in Massachusetts closed at 8 PM Tuesday, it was 3 AM Wednesday in Kiev. I had set my alarm for 3:15 AM, but I couldn't get to sleep, so I stayed up and followed the guessing game being played out on-line among reporters and other political hacks.

  • The local TV carried CNN International. As the polls closed, CNN-I led with Kraft Foods' deal to buy Cadbury, which was of no use to me. In the end, I found that the Boston Globe's website was being updated minute-by-minute.

  • Throughout the counting Scott Brown lead with 52-53-54-52 percent of the vote. While the percentage was pretty constant, his numerical advantage kept creeping up.

  • I was trading e-mails with friends and reporters. I told one of them that Martha Coakley would concede when the margin of difference between the two candidates topped 100,000.

  • Sure enough, when the difference hit 102,000, she called Senator-elect Brown to congratulate him. Why? At 100k the difference was too great to ask for a re-count and was also too big for the outstanding absentee and military ballots to change the outcome.

  • It would not surprise me if it came to light that someone from the White House phoned Coakley and told her it was over and to call it a night.

    TOPIC 3:

  • The other day there were hearings in the U.S. Senate into just how that Nigerian goofball got onto an American flag carrier with a bomb sewn into his smalls even after his father had warned the U.S. that his son posed a potential threat.

  • In the Detroit Free Press coverage, reporter Todd Spangler wrote that having a name place on the famous "no-fly" list was getting harder and harder to do because of
    "too many complaints that too many people were being targeted for inclusion. New standards requiring more scrutiny before putting travelers on the lists were put in place early last year.

    "Obama administration officials believed their standards for placing suspected terrorists on no-fly lists had become 'frankly, too legalistic.'"

  • Whoa! Check please! "Early last year?" Wasn't that during the early Nobel-Peace-Prize-Winning days of the Obama Administration?

  • Remember when Secretary of Homeland Security, Janet "The System Worked" Napolitano, had this conversation with the German publication Der Spiegel?
    SPIEGEL: Madame Secretary, in your first testimony to the US Congress as Homeland Security Secretary you never mentioned the word "terrorism." Does Islamist terrorism suddenly no longer pose a threat to your country?

    NAPOLITANO: Of course it does. I presume there is always a threat from terrorism. In my speech, although I did not use the word "terrorism," I referred to "man-caused" disasters. That is perhaps only a nuance, but it demonstrates that we want to move away from the politics of fear toward a policy of being prepared for all risks that can occur.

  • Yeah, well, that "nuance" allowed an al Qaeda-trained terrorist to get on an American airliner in Amsterdam and damned near blow it up over an American city.

  • Those were the days when Obama really believed that he could charm terrorists into submission.

  • Welcome, BHO, to the NFL.

    LAST (and most important) TOPIC:

  • Going to places like Afghanistan and Ukraine is useful if only to remind me how blessed I am to have been born in the United States of America.

  • And it's why I'm always glad to get home.

  • On the Secret Decoder Ring today: A link to that Detroit Free Press piece and a GREAT Mullfoto of the Russian Border along with a quick story about what happened there. Also a Catchy Caption of the Day.

  • Tuesday, January 19, 2010

    Heck of a Job, Brownie!

    From Kyiv, Ukraine

  • I am writing this at about two AM, Ukraine time, awaiting the results of the Senate election in Massachusetts between Democrat Martha Coakley and Republican Scott Brown. The result is important on the technical point of whether Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will have 60 votes to block a filibuster for the rest of this year.

  • But, the growing doubt among voters in the Obama Administration's policies has already been proven by simply having to fight so hard to save, what a month ago, appeared to be among the safest Democratic seats in the U.S. Senate.

  • President Barack Obama came into office exactly one year ago today, promising to lead us into a new era of post-partisan politics. The thought was: He would not put up with Democrat versus Republican partisan sniping over legislative priorities.

  • Voters believed him. In the exit polls conducted on election day, 2008; self-described "moderates" voted for Obama over Sen. John McCain by a 60 percent to 39 percent margin.

  • From the very start, Obama either lurched to the Left or, when it wasn't prudent to do so, explained more centrist proposals by blaming the Bush Administration for forcing the position on him.

  • On February 19, 2009 - Obama's one-month anniversary - CNBC's Rick Santelli ranted against the stimulus package during a segment from Chicago which sparked the Tea Party Movement and, probably, a spike in the sale of books by Ayn Rand.

  • In the U.S. House, the huge Democratic majority gave Speaker Nancy Pelosi the votes she needed to push through just about any bill she and the President wanted.

  • With the seating of Al Franken (D-MN) and the party switch of Arlen Spector (D-PA) giving the Democrats the filibuster-proof 60 floor votes they wanted, any pretense of having to, much less wanting to, deal with the GOP in either Chamber was dropped and every major policy was negotiated by Democrats with Democrats.

  • As with most problems in politics - Obama's were caused by his own actions. He negotiated a buy-out of GM and Chrysler which was seen as using taxpayer money to pay for full wages and benefits for union auto workers.

  • He recognized that closing Guantanamo, resetting relations with our enemies in the Middle East, and withdrawing troops from Iraq and Afghanistan was easier to say running on the campaign trail than to do sitting in the Oval Office, thus casting doubt in the minds of his most Liberal defenders about his foreign policy capability.

  • This very un-post-partisan behavior was being duly noted by the electorate. Last November, elections for Governor were held in New Jersey and Virginia. These were first scheduled, state-wide elections without Barack Obama on the ballot and George W. Bush in the White House.

  • Republican candidates won both seats and the days of President Obama being the best political wizard that ever was appeared to be coming to a close.

  • Two things happened at year's end which may have cause the seeds of doubt among the electorate, planted over the preceding 11 months, to begin to take root and sprout: The Christmas Day attempt to bring down a Delta flight over Detroit and the single-minded focus on passing a health care bill.

  • The President's now-infamous 72-hour delay in speaking publically about the Christmas Day attack may have added to a growing concern that President Obama may mean well, but he and his administration are lacking the level of competence we need.

  • His health care problems burst into the public eye during the Congressional August recess when Democrat after Democrat was shouted down over the issue by people who are opposed to a government-run system.

  • For what it's worth, the political cognoscenti pronounced the people singin' songs and carryin' signs at those town hall meetings fringe voters but the reality is the anti-socialized medicine folks joined with Santelli's Tea Party supporters and a movement had been born.

  • Obama's average job approval (not personal approval) ratings dropped and have remained stubbornly at or just below the 50 percent mark for months.

  • Before GOP candidates for the U.S. House or Senate begin measuring for drapes, remember that as quickly as the Democrats' fortunes have gone south over the past 12 months, the same can happen to Republicans over the next 10.

  • As Jon Stewart said on Monday night:
    "It's not your fault, Democratic Party Leadership. We shouldn't have raised the bar of expectations too high. We should just leave the bar on the ground … and wait for you to trip."

  • The failure of Obama's policies that are symbolized by the election in Massachusetts raises the bar for Republicans as they gather themselves for the mid-term elections in November.

  • Scott Brown won. 52% to 47%. Heck of a job, Brownie!

  • On the Secret Decoder Ring today: A link to the Santelli rant (which is worth a re-watch) and to the RealClearPolitics summary of recent polling. Also a pretty good Mullfoto from Ukraine (first of a series) and a Catchy Caption of the Day.

  • Friday, January 15, 2010

    The Square of the Distance Rule

    The Square of the Distance Rule

    Rich Galen

    Friday January 15, 2010

    Click here for an Easy Print Version

    From Kharkiv, Ukraine

    (Near the Russian Border)

  • There is a rule - that I don't think I made up - which states: A person's interest in an event is reduced by the square of the distance between that person and the event.

  • The tragic earthquake in Haiti is an example. As is the election here in Ukraine on Sunday and the election in Massachusetts on Tuesday.

  • The Haiti earthquake is an international story because of the enormous loss of life and because it's relatively easy to get camera crews to Haiti which is only about 700 miles from Miami; five hundred fewer miles than the flight distance between Washington, DC and Dallas, TX.

  • I mentioned this theory to a colleague here last night who agreed, saying, "If the earthquake had been in Madagascar, we wouldn't see Anderson Cooper reporting live from the scene."

  • As I've been telling you, there is an election for President here in Ukraine on Sunday.


    Didn't Ukraine used to be known as The Ukraine? When did change. And why?


    Billy Smith

    Miss Moore's fourth grade class

    I'm not sure about the when, but here was the answer I was given as to why: Ukraine means approximately "The Border Country" or "Border Territory." It was called "The Ukraine" by Russia (and previously by the Soviet Union) because Russia considered it to be its southern border.

    After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Ukraine wanted to make the point that it was not a part of Russia and so dropped the "The" from its name.

  • The most likely outcome is the candidate who is most pro-Russian, Viktor Yanukovich, will come in first with about 30 percent of the vote. The current Prime Minister, Yulia Tymoshenko, is likely to come in second about 10 percentage points back which would force a run off in about three weeks.

  • The President, Viktor Yushchenko (all these names sound pretty much the same to my American ears) is running for re-election but is far back in the pack among the rest of the 16 candidates.

  • Yushchenko was elected President after the "Orange Revolution" forced the Ukraine Supreme Court decide that enough fraud had been documented to throw out the results which had given the win to Viktor Yanukovich - the same pro-Russian guy who is likely to win this time.

  • A win for Yanukovich would be seen as a victory for Russian President Viktor Putin and a loss for Ukrainians who have been trying to earn membership in the E.U. and a seat at the NATO table.

  • Under the constantly changing Ukraine election laws, no polling has been permitted since January 2 - 15 days before election day - and even when polls were being released they were looked at with suspicion because it was mostly the campaigns themselves which were taking and releasing polling numbers.

  • Political polling is allowed in the United States straight through the elections (hence, exit polls) and a new poll conducted by Suffolk University and Channel 7 News in Boston was released last night showing that in the race to fill the vacancy caused by the deal of Sen. Ted Kennedy the Republican, Scott Brown, has surged to a four-point lead over Democrat Martha Coakley.

  • As others have already pointed out, whether Brown hangs on to win (and moves the GOP back to enough Senators to filibuster unwanted legislation) or ultimately loses to Coakley in the bluest of the blue states, Massachusetts, the damage has been done: Democrats in Congress, already shaken by GOP victories in the races for Governor in Virginia and New Jersey last November, are watching what should have been a walk-over turn into a nail-biter and they are not at all happy about it.

  • No one in the U.S. is talking about the election in Ukraine and no one in Ukraine (other than other American observers) has said a word about the Massachusetts special even though both races, in their own ways, will have a lasting effect on world politics.

  • It's the square of the distance rule.

  • On the Secret Decoder Ring today: Links to the AP coverage of the Ukrainian election and to the Boston Globe article on the new poll in Massachusetts. Also a nice Mullfoto from Kiyv and a Catchy Caption of the day from Port-au-Prince.

  • Tuesday, January 12, 2010

    The Sound of China Breaking

    En Route Kiev, Ukraine


    Paris, France


    My final destination, later today, is Kiev, Ukraine. I am a member of a delegation observing the Presidential election there on Sunday. Because the Afghan election, which I observed in August, turned out so well, I am pretty much a regular on the Official Observer tour.


  • As if we don't have enough to worry about - guys with exploding BVDs, bankers getting billions in bonuses, one out of five Americans who want a full-time job unable to get one, and the Redskins with their 27th head coach in 10 years just as examples - now we have the Chinese replacing the good ole' U. S. of A. in a number of economic categories which we have owned for about the past 100 years.

  • Here is a short list of headlines:
  • China overtakes US in car sales - BBC

  • China banks eclipse US rivals - Financial Times

  • China surpasses Germany as world's top exporter - Washington Post

  • Ok, that last one should concern some guy who writes MÜLLINGS in Germany, but I'm thinking that if we had wanted to be the world's largest exporter then we would be the world's largest exporter and the fact that Germany held the title until last week was some leftover from the Marshall Plan.

  • According to the CIA's World Factbook, China, in just one generation beyond Mao, is the second largest economy on the planet - a bit over half the size of the U.S. economy and about twice the size of Japan which is in third.

  • China has 1.3 billion people, the U.S. has about 307 million.

  • Read on.

  • On the car front, here's what the BBC had to say:
    The China Association of Automobile Manufacturers said 13.6 million vehicles were sold within the country last year. That compares with just over 10 million vehicles in the US, which was previously the world's largest market.

  • Now, it is true that GM and Chrysler (which we own) make cars that most people wouldn't drive off the lot even if the federal government gave them $4,500 each to do it, but still. 13.6 million Chinese people who, a couple of years ago, were riding their bicycles to work are now they are buying cars in bigger numbers than Americans.

  • But wait! There's more.

  • The Financial Times reports:
    Chinese banks have cemented their position as the most highly valued financial institutions, taking four of the top five slots in a ranking of banks' share prices as a multiple of their book values.

  • I know you're wondering about this, so I will tell you that according to that same FT article, "Goldman Sachs is ranked 22nd and JPMorgan 31st."

  • Still going …

  • In a Washington Post piece published Monday, reporter Steve Mufson wrote:
    China overtook Germany in 2009 to become the world's top exporting nation, another milestone in China's rapid rise and growing economic influence. China achieved the top ranking because its exports fell only 16 percent, while Germany's exports fell more steeply.

  • When will this encroachment on Western economies by China end? Soon, maybe.

  • Remember that the worldwide recession was triggered by the collapse of the housing bubble in the U.S.? The world's largest economy? Fragile as the world's economies remain, how bad would it be if, say, the second largest economy had a housing collapse? Pretty bad, right?

  • Steve Mufson, again filing for the Washington Post, wrote this:
    [M]any of the usual bubble warning signs are flashing. Fueled by low interest rates, prices in Shanghai and Beijing doubled in less than four years, then doubled again. Most Chinese home buyers expect that today's high prices will climb even higher tomorrow, so they are stretching to pay prices at the edge of their means or beyond. Brokers say it is common for buyers to falsely inflate income statements for bank loans.

  • Any of that sound the least bit familiar?

  • China holds about a trillion dollars of U.S. debt. A lot of that debt is the result of the housing collapse. If China's housing market suffers a similar fate, they won't be able to buy any more Treasury notes. If the Administration can't fund its deficits, then … crash.

  • That's the sound of China breaking.

  • On the Secret Decoder Ring today: Links to all the articles listed above, also a Mullfoto showing that Tiger Woods' is not in as much trouble in France as he is in America and a Catchy Caption of the Day.

  • Sunday, January 10, 2010

  • For those of you who may have been off the grid over the weekend the big news was an item in a new book by Mullpal Mark Halperin and John Heilemann titled "Game Change" in which Majority Leader Harry Reid was quoted as using inappropriate language when describing then-Senator Barack Obama.

  • According to the reporting:
    Reid said Obama could fare well nationally as an African-American candidate because he was "light-skinned" and didn't speak with a "Negro dialect unless he wanted to have one."

  • Ok. The whole double standard thing was duly marinated over the weekend - if this had been an Republican would Al Sharpton have given him/her a pass as he did to Reid? And so on.

  • Reid said what he said. He will have to deal with that. My points are a little different.


    I am off to Ukraine tomorrow; Ah to be in Kiev now that January's here. They are having an election for President on January 17th and I can't pass up an opportunity to be where the temperature is going to be in single digits - Fahrenheit or Celsius - and watch the process.

    I mention that because I tried to buy "Game Change" for my Kindle to read on one or more of the flights (DCA-ATL-CDG-KBP). Alas, it is not available on Kindle only in hard copy and I am desperately trying not to have to check a bag so I will wait until I get back.


  • First, for the 653 of you who follow me on Twitter, you saw this yesterday. For the other 38,084 of you, I noted that President Obama issued a statement forgiving Harry Reid before the ink had even dried on the pages of the book. Yet it took him three days to figure out what to say about the guy who tried to blow up that plane on Christmas Day.

  • Second, according to the reporting, Reid made those statements to "a group of reporters."

  • Whoa! Check, please!

  • To a group of reporters? None of whom thought this was newsworthy? For whom did those reporters write, "My Weekly Reader"? If not evidence of a double standard, then it is certainly evidence of journalistic incompetence.

  • Third, Harry Reid is a Mormon, which has not been noted in any of the reporting I've looked at in between fumbles, interceptions, and missed field goals in the NFL playoffs.

  • I don't care a whit about that, but you might remember that being a Mormon was a pretty big deal when reporters were writing about Mitt Romney in 2008.

  • It turns out that the Church of Latter Day Saints was a little behind the political correctness curve when it came to race relations in that it wasn't until 1978 that Blacks were given full membership rights.

  • If Romney had used the phrases "light-skinned" and "Negro dialect" his religion and his religion's history in this matter would have been noted high up in every story.

  • Turning to a real issue, the unemployment figure came out Friday and the economy lost another 85,000 jobs, but the unemployment rate stayed at 10 percent.

  • The rate of job-shedding has slowed and that has been celebrated by the Obama's spokespeople as further evidence of the wonderful whiz of a Wiz he is, if ever a Wiz there was.

  • But, according to a Bloomberg piece by Bob Willis and Courtney Schlisserman:
    "About 1.7 million Americans opted out of the workforce from July through December, representing a 1.1 percent drop that marks the biggest six-month decrease since 1961."

  • Moreover, if we count workers who have taken part-time jobs but want full-time employment, and add them to the discouraged workers we get a real unemployment rate of 17.3 percent.

  • That is the number we should be talking about, and it IS the number we would be talking about if this were a Republican Administration.

  • Another example of a

  • On the Secret Decoder Ring today: The Amazon link for the "Game Change" book - as well as a link to an odd pricing structure. Also a site which explains the LDS/Black history from the Mormon point of view and a link to the Bloomberg article.

    The Mullfoto is a vidcap from Comcast of an amusing show description and a Catchy Caption of the Day.

  • Thursday, January 7, 2010

    Sine Wave

  • In December, four Democratic Members of the U.S. House announced they would not run for re-election.

  • One Democratic Member of the U.S. House has switched sides and become a Republican.

  • All-time Mullfave Joe Gaylord who was one of the architects of the 1994 GOP takeover of the U.S. House was asked by the Washington Post about this:
    Democratic retirements accelerated in 1994, compared with their pace in 1993, and [Gaylord] predicted the same could happen this time. "It got collectively worse as they moved along," he said.

  • This week two senior Democratic Senators - Chris Dodd of Connecticut and Byron Dorgan of South Dakota - announced they were retiring at the end of this Congress.

  • That may have saved the Connecticut seat for the Democrats, but probably turns the Dorgan seat over to the GOP.

  • Those announcements bracketed that dope from Nigeria trying to blow up a plane on Christmas day, and the boneheaded pronouncement by the Secretary of Homeland Defense, Janet Napolitano, that "the system worked."

  • President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had to resort to bribery to (a) get the health care reform bill ON the floor ($300 million to Democratic Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu) and who knows how many hundreds of millions for Democratic Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson to get the bill OFF the floor.

  • It does not look good for the President being able to begin his State of the Union address in a few weeks saying:
    "For the first time in the history of the Union, we have universal health care."

  • Which would have been followed by 27 minutes of prolonged applause by the Democrats in the House Chamber and the sobbing adoration of most network anchors.

  • One year ago today, reporters were desperately trying to find notarized copies of the Republican Party's Do Not Resuscitate order because the GOP was gasping for its last breath as the world waited for the inauguration of Barack Obama.

  • Mr. Obama was going to lead the country and the world into a new era of universal cooperation. The "war on terror" was declared over (also by bonehead Napolitano) and it was proved by a promise to close Gitmo.

  • The world would unite around the U.S. as Obama promised to cut carbon emissions here and reverse global warming. Unions would rebound and there would be healthcare for all.

  • The Obama Administration is not yet one year old and it is all turned into dust.

  • Card check never had a chance. Those pesky foreigners didn't want to buy in to Obama's plan in Copenhagen and the global warming conference fell apart. Town Hall meetings in August are still echoing through the hallowed halls of Congress five months later causing the health care bill to look sicker every day.

  • And now Democrats, instead of running for re-election, are running for the hills.

  • The GOP isn't exactly running the ball down the Democrats' throats on Capitol Hill. House Republican Leader John Boehner (R-OH) and his counterpart in the Senate Mitch McConnell (R-KY) have such minor minorities that they have little choice but to point and shout.

  • Happily for them, tone deaf Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) is Speaker of the House and not the much more nuanced Steny Hoyer (D-MD). Pelosi will march her majority right off the cliff and all the House Republicans have to do is stay out of her way.

  • Here's the secret to this: Politics runs in cycles. Like a sine wave - about half the time the wave is above the mid-point line; about half the time it is below the line.

  • No Republican was going to be elected President in the election of 2008. It was not going to be the first Senator from Arizona, nor the first Preacher from Arkansas, nor the first venture capitalist from Massachusetts.

  • It was the Democrats' turn. The only question was: Would it be the first Woman or the first Black?

  • By playing the numbers game all day every day (we've got the votes to do what we want so we don't have to give you a seat at the table) Congressional Democrats have accepted ownership of everything which irritates and/or worries the American people.

  • Ten percent is a very, very big number when it is attached to the word "unemployment."

  • Congressional Democrats are further hobbled by President Obama who, in the first 50 weeks of his Administration, has caused most Americans to believe that, his intentions notwithstanding, he is not terribly good at this President thing.

  • We are inside of 300 days until the November elections. The Democratic sine wave is on the way down and without doing much of anything, because it is a zero sum game, Republicans are on the way up.

  • On the Secret Decoder Ring today: The Wikipedia entry for "sine wave" and the Washington Post article referenced above. Also a pretty cool Mullfoto of a plaque commemorating a technological achievement - 130 years ago; and a Catchy Caption of the Day.

  • Tuesday, January 5, 2010

    Let's Give it a Rest

    Reader Alert: This was the column I was going to write before the Tighty-Whitey-Bomber messed up everyone's holiday week. If you're looking for blood-boiling rhetoric, this edition of MULLINGS isn't going to be it.

    Back to blood-boiling rhetoric on Friday. Maybe.

  • I have been thinking about scales. Time scales, temperature scales, even metaphysical scales.

  • We are now in the year 2010. I don't want to revisit the argument which states that, because there was no year zero, this is not the first year of the second decade of the 21st century.

  • When I turned sixty no one said, "You're in the last year of your 50's!" I was officially in my sixties.

  • The calendar scale which reads 2010 is not for everyone. For those who follow the Hebrew calendar we have been, since September, celebrating like its 5070. For Muslims, since mid-December this has been 1431.

  • If you are Chinese, on February 17 you will be celebrating the year 4707 according to most scholars.

  • If you are of Mayan extraction you are celebrating the impending end of the world which will occur on December 21, 2012.

  • That date also happens to be the date of my 65th birthday so the theory that I will never collect a dime of my Social Security, nor utilize a minute of Medicare will, if the Mayan calendar is correct, come to pass.

  • Even the end of the world is all about me.

  • In the olden times, under the Gregorian calendar, the year began in March - the vernal equinox - the coming of Spring and all the rebirth imagery which comes with it. The Julian calendar changed the beginning of the year to shortly after the Winter Solstice - the day of shortest daylight in the northern hemisphere.

  • Want a really different time scale? If we lived on Neptune, and used the same Julian calendar, this would be the year 12 because it takes Neptune a little under 165 Earth years to make one revolution around the sun.

  • Temperature scales are interesting as well. The Fahrenheit scale, with which we are so familiar in the U.S. has water freezing at 32 degrees and boiling at 212º. Actually the scale was changed slightly from Daniel Fahrenheit's original measurements so that the divisions between freezing and boiling (212-32 = 180) were even.

  • In his original scale, normal human temperature was 96º. After the scale was adjusted, normal became 98.6 degrees and also provided the title for a 1967 song by Keith.

  • Along came a guy named Anders Celsius and devised a new scale in which water freezes at zero and boils at 100. Hasn't caught on here, yet.

  • There are other scales of temperature, too. The most interesting is the Kelvin scale (named for William Thompson who, as luck would have it, was the 1st Baron Kelvin) in which zero is the point at which molecules have so little energy they can't transfer any - absolute zero. In thermodynamics this is called the point of zero entropy, but I only know that because I looked it up.

  • Absolute zero Kelvin is about -273 degrees Celsius.

  • Here's an extra credit question: What is the only temperature at which Fahrenheit and Celsius are equal?

  • You have to go to the Secret Decoder Ring page for the answer which I actually already knew as one of those "little known facts" which both Cliff Claven and I are eager to share with people who are largely not all that eager to learn about them.

  • Now to the metaphysical scale. The other day, NASA released another one of those Hubble photos which it claims sees farther back in time - in any scale - than anyone has seen before. The current photo is presumed to see back to 600 million years after the birth of the universe; after the "big bang" which occurred about 13.7 billion years ago.

  • The problem with the "big bang" is that it doesn't answer the question: What came before? The problem with our understanding of the universe is: What's beyond the farthest star, or planet, molecule, atom, or quark?

  • That's the ultimate problem of scale.

  • Here's a try: Everything we know in our existence is nothing more than a patch of fur on the cutest puppy you've ever imagined. That puppy exists in a universe which is a blade of grass on a perfectly manicured lawn. The lawn is in a universe which is … well, you understand where I'm going.

  • Maybe the "big bang" was nothing more than the puppy scratching an itch.

  • In my mind, God oversees the entire upward and downward scale of all existence.

  • I pray that you have a good year. Whatever good means to you, in whatever year it might be.

  • On the Secret Decoder Ring today: Links to Fahrenheit, Celsius, Keith, metaphysics and the answer to the EXTRA CREDIT QUESTION.

    Also, a Mullfoto of the frozen Potomac River at Alexandria and a Catchy Caption of the Day.

  • Sunday, January 3, 2010

    You Go to War with the TSA You Have

  • I was on CNN yesterday with a reporter from the New Yorker magazine, a reporter from the Washington Post, and a Democratic strategist meaning it was three against one.

  • I liked my odds.

  • Two, or maybe all three, of the other members of the panel were singing hosannas to President Obama for what is a growing fiction, to wit: President Obama has taken ownership of the failures which led to the terrorist attack on that airplane near Detroit.

  • I called "Goose Cookies" and said, approximately, the following:
    Barack Obama has used the first person singular - or its variants - more than any other President in history. He has not said "this is a failure of mine," or of "my administration," or anything remotely like it.

    He has used that time-honored subjunctive construct: "Mistakes were made," meaning, "mistakes were made by someone else."

  • One of the defenses people speaking on behalf of the Administration have thrown up is the one about Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) having put a hold on Obama's choice to head up the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). The TSA workers are the geniuses who check hand bags and backpacks at security and, thus, upon whom we are dependent for the safety of our entire air transport system.

  • According to DeMint, he has not put a hold on Erroll Southers, but he objected to a request to have Southers confirmed by unanimous consent - that is, without a roll call vote. DeMint wants to discuss the notion of TSA agents being allowed to form a bargaining unit thus taking the safety of our entire air transport system out of the hands of the geniuses who check your hand bags and pack packs, and putting it into the hands of union executives.

  • In fact, DeMint said on TV yesterday that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid could call up Southers' nomination for a vote any time but DeMint still wanted some discussion of the unionization deal.

  • Worth, it seems to me, a few moments of the Senate's precious time.

  • The point the Administration spokespeople have been making is that absent DeMint, Southers would have been busily working out the details of how best to stop terrorists from getting on airplanes in Amsterdam had not this unionization thing been going on for months and months.

  • More Goose Cookies.

  • According to the Congressional Record, the President sent Southers' nomination to the Senate on September 17, 2009. Not January 21 nor February 15. Not March 4 nor April 25. He sent it on September 17. According to my new Microsoft Excel 2010 that means 240 days elapsed between the day Obama was inaugurated and the day he got around to officially nominating a TSA chief.

  • The Democratic-controlled Senate received the nomination and sent it to two committees which acted on Southers sequentially, rather than at the same time. It was not until November 19, 2009 - 63 days later - that they got around to actually trying to vote on him.

  • Total time elapsed between Obama's inaugural and Senate floor action? 303 days. No holds. No filibusters. Just showing how important Obama and the Senate Dems felt this whole thing was, prior to Christmas day.

  • The elapsed time between DeMint objecting to the unanimous consent request and the attack by the Tighty-Whitey Terrorist? 36 days.

  • More on Erroll Southers. It turns out he was less than truthful to at least one, and perhaps both Senate Committees about the circumstances surrounding his misuse of a law enforcement computer to spy on his ex-wife's boyfriend.

  • Southers had told the committee that, while an FBI Agent, he had contacted a friend in law enforcement in California and asked if he would run a background check on the guy.

  • He got caught and was censured by the Bureau. But, that wasn't the way it happened. What actually happened was Southers ran the background check on his own. The business about asking a friend to do it was, how do I put this … a lie.

  • Naturally, Democrats are saying this happened 20 years ago and Southers is otherwise perfectly well qualified for the job of running TSA, the geniuses who - assuming you are not a Nigerian who has undergone terrorist training in Yemen and so can get on any US-bound aircraft on the planet - can put you on a no-fly list with no explanation and pretty much ruin your life on a whim.

  • As Donald Rumsfeld said, "You go to war with the Army you have. They're not the Army you might want or wish to have at a later time."

  • We're at war and, like it or not, this is the TSA we've got.

  • On the Secret Decoder Ring today: A link to the Wash Post story about Souther's misuse of a government computer; the Congressional Record entries for Southers' nomination and to Donald Rumsfeld's bio.

    Also a pretty cool photo from Royal Albert Hall on Christmas Eve and a topic-appropriate Catchy Caption of the Day.