State of the Union pre-blogging

Mr. Speaker! The Preznit of the Untied States of America.

Congresscritters, esteemed Cabinet members and other besuited Washingtonians, I stand before you to tell you that the state of the union is ? tolerable. After all, there’ll be an election in November, and then it’ll all be someone else’s problem. Heh heh heh. (Applause)

We’re still torturing people who may or may not be terrorists in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantanamo Bay, but my Attorney General assures me he can stall congressional questions about what, exactly, “torture” means until well after the election.

My unconstitutional and illegal plan to spy on American citizens without judicial oversight continues apace. While Congress dickers about whether the companies which agreed to break the law at my request should be immune from prosecution, the folks who conceived this plan and seized the chance to insert the government into the private life of innocent citizens are going about their merry way. (Applause, first from Republicans. A smattering of Democrats join in when it seems like their failure to applaud could be used against them in campaign ads.)

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In Iraq, our soldiers continue dying at an atrocious rate. Sectarian violence continues apace, no serious efforts have been made to reconcile the warring factions, to establish a fair distribution of oil revenues, or otherwise build on the tremendous sacrifices our fighting men and women have made. The escalation I announced a year ago, to the extent it has accomplished anything, has simply led to a greater segregation of society. Turkey is waging low-level war on the Kurds; the Sunnis and Shiites are drawing battle lines and establishing ethnic enclaves; our soldiers are trying desperately to hold them back from a slaughter such as the world hasn’t seen since Rwanda. (John McCain and Joe Lieberman applaud wildly. Tepid applause from the audience, while viewers at home wonder if he’s forgotten about Darfur. He has.)
The escalation, which was supposed to be temporary, will last indefinitely, and none of this will be resolved any time soon. Just another gift I leave for whoever wins in November. Heh heh heh.
Here at home, our economy is in shambles. After ignoring the housing bubble, hoping it would pop after November, I have no choice but to do something. People seemed to like it last time I sent everyone a check, so let’s try that again (Wild applause.) Also, let’s do something for folks with mortgages, but ignore renters, the unemployed, or working mothers who have seen inflation in food prices vastly exceed rate of food stamp expansion. (Applause from Republicans, silence from the Democratic side of the aisle).

I also won’t suggest any measures to reform the mortgage market, nor the markets which trade in mortgage debt. Even though the collapse of the housing bubble shows that there were serious market failures, we’ll ignore it all. My successor can tangle with that, I guess.

Finally, after seven years of signing whatever absurd budget a Republican Congress sent me, I’m cracking down. Sure, earmarks are down, but I want them cut even more. Because aimless, bureaucratic fights are more fun than actually evaluating whether funding levels make sense. I know that earmarks don’t increase spending, just shuffle it around, and I know that earmarks can help the folks elected to represent a community ensure that that community’s priorities are heard in Washington. I still want to set an arbitrary limit on them, since my reckless fiscal policy and the Global War on Brown People makes it impossible to actually reduce spending or cut the deficit. At least until November, when it’s someone else’s problem. (Democrats applaud, until they realize that, in the best case scenario, it would be their problem. As Democratic applause fades, Republican half-heartedly take up the cheer.)

Let me conclude by continuing to give lip service to the environment. I’ve been pushing fancy new technology and unrealistic estimates of biofuel production for this long, and I see no reason to change now. In 2000 I said I’d do something about global warming, but I was just kidding. Until it’s someone else’s problem, in which case I think he or she should take it seriously.

(Applause, cut to Kathleen Sebelius for the Democratic response.)


About the figure:

As always, the graphic above shows monthly coalition fatalities in Iraq, normalized by the number of days per month. The blue line is a linear regression through all the data. The solid red line represents a locally weighted regression through all the data. The dotted green line is the linear regression through the period since the surge.

The dotted purple and red lines allow us to examine a different hypothesis than we’ll hear from the President tonight. As noted at the Thinkery, Moqtada al-Sadr declared a ceasefire in August, giving a six-month reprieve from Shiite violence. Is it possible that that change explains much of the apparent declining trend in violence?

To test that, we treat everything before September 2007 as one dataset, and treat the period since then as a discrete timeline. As of September, the locally weighted regression of American fatalities was still rising, though the rate of fatalities was decelerating (as it reached record levels). The linear regression since then shows a sharp decline, sharper than the regression line since the “surge” began. This suggests that the ceasefire is the relevant change, and that the trend would have been upward if not for the ceasefire.

We can also compare the surge hypothesis with the ceasefire hypothesis. First, the ceasefire line is steeper than the surge line. Furthermore, the post-ceasefire line is a better statistical fit than the post-surge line. The AIC for the ceasefire line is much lower than the AIC for the surge line (12.66 vs. 34.57), indicating that stronger fit. It’s difficult to draw strong conclusions with only 5 months of data, but if that trend holds, it will strongly suggest that we are seeing not a result of the escalation and realignment of American forces, but the effects of the temporary withdrawal of one set of combatants from the field. When that ceasefire ends, we will see the other side of the story.

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