Archive:

April 2009, Part 1

Jim Miller on Politics




Pseudo-Random Thoughts



Congressman Norm Dicks Is In Bad Company:  Almost everyone knows that Pennsylvania Congressman John Murtha has a bad reputation.  (He was, after all, an unindicted ABSCAM co-conspirator.)  Virginia Congressman Jim Moran is less well known, but would never be a poster boy for an ethics-in-public-service campaign.  Almost no one outside Indiana has even heard of Congressman Visclosky, but we soon may know more, since he and his staff have been questioned in a corruption investigation.

These three congressmen share other things besides bad reputations; they are famous for adding earmarks to appropriations bills, and they are on House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee.  And they share one more thing; they have all received large donations from a lobbying company, the PMA Group.  Visclosky received $219,000 from the company between 2001 and 2008, Murtha $143,600, and Moran $125,250.

There is a fourth congressman who does not yet have a bad reputation, but is also famous for earmarks, also sits on the subcommittee, and received the fourth largest amount of donations from the PMA Group, $91,600.  That congressman is Washington state's own Norm Dicks.

The Seattle Times, to its credit, noted Dicks' connections to the PMA Group in a front page story.  But I am not confident that they will do the necessary follow-up stories.  Dicks is, after all, a Democrat, and one with the power to help the newspaper.  (Of course, I would be delighted if the Seattle Times proves me wrong on that.  But I don't expect that they will, and so I urge any blogger in this area who wants to do some investigating work to take on this story.)

It is possible that Dicks has not broken any laws, possible that he has not even crossed any ethical lines.  But his close ties to Murtha and to Murtha's confederates give us good reason to suspect that he has not always been working for the public, as a congressman.  If he is innocent, he deserves a complete and fair investigation to clear him.  if he is not, the public needs to know.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(I haven't said much about the party affiliations, but all four men are Democrats.  About the same number of Republicans as Democrats have taken donations from the PMA Group, but the Democrats have taken much more money, totally.

The Seattle Times did have room today for a quiz on Britney Spears, devoting nearly a page to the pop star.  I may be wrong, but I don't think Britney's fans are big newspaper readers.

Fun fact:  Congressman Murtha was Nancy Pelosi's choice for House Majority Leader, after the 2006 election.  Fortunately, the majority of House Democrats disagreed.  I've mentioned this before, and I will mention it again, because it tells us much about Speaker Pelosi's ethics.)
- 1:14 PM, 8 April 2009   [link]


Retaken:  If you have been listening to the radio, you have heard the story.
American crew members aboard a U.S.-flagged ship have regained control of the vessel hijacked by pirates off the coast of Somalia Wednesday, FOX News confirms.

Defense Department officials confirmed that one pirate is in custody. A U.S. official said the status of the other pirates is unknown but they were reported to "be in the water."

"All the crew members are trained in security detail in how to deal with piracy," Maersk CEO John Reinhart told reporters.  "As merchant vessels we do not carry arms.  We have ways to push back, but we do not carry arms."
Which, as is usual with these preliminary reports, omits almost all the interesting details.

And then there is this report.
A crew member on the vessel hijacked by pirates is telling The Associated Press that the ship's captain is still being held hostage.  The American says negotiations are under way for his release.
Until we know more, commentary seems pointless.

(But I will speculate, a little.  I have been wondering for some time whether we might put security people on a few of these ships, secretly.  That seems like an obvious counter to the pirate attacks, and one that you would want to keep secret as long as possible.)
- 11:04 AM, 8 April 2009   [link]


Camille Paglia Hasn't Given Up On Barack Obama:  She isn't even close to giving up on Barack Obama, but she does think that he is making rookie mistakes, and that he needs better staff.
At a certain point, however, Obama will face an inescapable administrative crux.  Arriving at the White House, he understandably stayed in his comfort zone by bringing old friends and allies with him -- a team that had had a fabulous success in devising the hard-as-nails strategy that toppled the Clintons, like crumbling colossi, into yesterday's news.  But these comrades may not have the practical skills or broad perspective to help Obama govern.  Like Shakespeare's Prince Hal ascending the throne, Obama may have to steel his heart and banish Falstaff and the whole frat-house crew.

Obama's staffing problems are blatant -- from that bleating boy of a treasury secretary to what appears to be a total vacuum where a chief of protocol should be.  There has been one needless gaffe after another -- from the president's tacky appearance on a late-night comedy show to the kitsch gifts given to the British prime minister, followed by the sweater-clad first lady's over-familiarity with the queen and culminating in the jaw-dropping spectacle of a president of the United States bowing to the king of Saudi Arabia.  Why was protest about the latter indignity confined to conservatives?  The silence of the major media was a disgrace.  But I attribute that embarrassing incident not to Obama's sinister or naive appeasement of the Muslim world but to a simple if costly breakdown in basic command of protocol.
We know so little about Obama that we do not really know why he made that bow.  Is he ignorant of basic protocol, as Paglia says?  Or is it something more sinister?  (There have been reports — I haven't tried to verify them — that Obama got considerable help getting into Harvard Law from a well-connected Saudi.  If those reports are true, it would be interesting to know why he got that help.)

Paglia makes a logical error in ascribing Obama's mistakes to his inexperience, rather than his leftism.  Obama's mistakes could be due to both.  For the sake of the country — and the world, I hope that she is right, and that Obama does learn from his mistakes, but I can't say that I expect she will be proved right.

One reason I have come to that tentative, but unhappy, conclusion is the many legal extremists Obama has named to high positions.  One wouldn't necessarily expect Obama to know much about international protocol, but you would expect Obama to be well informed about the views of people like Eric Holder, Harold Koh, and Dawn Johnsen..
- 8:51 AM, 8 April 2009   [link]


Nice Guys (And Gals) Finish Last?   Maybe.
Researchers from Boston University School of Medicine's (BUSM) New England Centenarian Study have noted specific personality traits associated with healthy aging and longevity amongst the children of centenarians.
. . .
Both the male and female offspring of centenarians scored in the low range of published norms for neuroticism and in the high range for extraversion.  The women also scored comparatively high in agreeableness.  Otherwise, both sexes scored within normal range for conscientiousness and openness, and the men scored within normal range for agreeableness.
When I translate that to English, I get something like this:  The children of centenarians tend to be normal kids who play well with others.  In addition, the girls tend to be especially agreeable.

(The brief article does not say whether learning to be normal and to play well with others will help you live longer, but I wouldn't be surprised if it would, at least a little.)
- 8:01 AM, 8 April 2009   [link]


Congressman Mike Rogers Gets Candid About Speaker Pelosi:  And it is safe to say that she won't like his comments.
Despite President Barack Obama's commitment to bipartisanship, Rogers says Speaker of House Nancy Pelosi (whom he described as "crazy," "mean as a snake" and "Tom DeLay in a skirt") and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid didn't get that memo.
Especially that bit about Tom DeLay.

Oddly enough, Rogers said these things while he was arguing that the Congress should be less partisan.

(Obama's "commitment to bipartisanship" is almost entirely for show, as even journalists should know by now.)
- 12:46 PM, 7 April 2009   [link]


Patty Murray Is Right:  Probably.  I am not a fan of Washington state's senior senator; in fact, I have long thought that Senator Patty "not-a-rocket-scientist" Murray is unqualified to serve in the Senate.   But she may be right in her support of most Boeing defense programs, right to oppose cuts in, for instance, the F-22 Raptor.  Right, perhaps, for the wrong reasons, but still right.  Probably.

(I say probably because I have not done an analysis of the F-22, have not even read a good analysis.   It is difficult, even in principle, to decide what the right level of military spending should be, because at the right level, nothing will happen — assuming your adversaries are rational.  And for the same reason, it is difficult to decide how much to spend for particular systems.  But I do know that, historically, democracies have tended to spend too little on defense, and that the United States is no exception to that generalization.  And I do know that threats, and potential threats, to the United States have increased in recent years.  So, were I setting national policy, I would be inclined to increase defense spending, though not by a large amount.  And I would be inclined to increase spending on the F-22.  Probably.)

And about one thing, Senator Murray is unquestionably right:  Defense spending can be a good economic stimulus.   Even FDR knew that, though he spent too little on defense before World War II.  Obama's plans to cut spending on the F-22, and many other defense programs, will be a severe blow to our economy, in the short run, and perhaps in the long run.  (These cuts are being ascribed to Secretary Gates, but there is no reason to think that he would have made all of them had he been working for a more realistic president.  It is profoundly unrealistic, for instance, to cut back on missile defense programs just when missile threats, from nations like North Korea and Iran, are increasing.)

Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 11:42 AM, 7 April 2009   [link]


Barack Obama Says the darndest things.
"We will convey," said Barack Obama to the Turkish Parliament Monday, "our deep appreciation for the Islamic faith, which has done so much over the centuries to shape the world — including in my own country."

Undeniably the Islamic faith has done a great deal to shape the world — a statement that makes no value judgment about exactly how it has shaped the world.  It has formed the dominant culture in what is known as the Islamic world for centuries.  But what on earth could Obama mean when he says that Islam has also "done so much" to shape his own country?
What Obama said would be even funnier if he weren't president.

Does Obama believe that last part, about Islam shaping the United States?  Good question.  I hope he doesn't, but I fear he might.
- 7:55 AM, 7 April 2009
Since I was trying to copy Art Linkletter, I have changed the title to "darndest".  And, as most of you probably guessed, I am suggesting that cute statements from kids are not necessarily cute when they come from adults, especially adults in responsible positions.
- 12:13 PM, 7 April 2009   [link]


Michael Barone Tries To Predict The Winner In New York's 20th:  And gives up.
Democrats are spinning that the absentees from each county will come in the same way the county voted on election day, in which case the Democrat Scott Murphy wins.  Maybe, maybe not.  Republicans are spinning that the absentees will come in more Republican than the election day vote because of the Republican party registration edge among them.  Again, maybe, maybe not.  As I told John McCormack, I don't know how to price this toxic asset.  If the government will provide 92 percent of the capital, I'll bet on it.  If it's all my money, fuhggidddaboudit.
One could, in principle, look at absentee ballot patterns in past elections for guidance, but those numbers aren't always easily found.  I am inclined to give Republican Tedisco a tiny edge in this contest, because of the registration numbers, but only a tiny edge.
- 4:32 PM, 6 April 2009
Maybe not:  The latest — but incomplete — tally gives Democrat Murphy a lead of 83 votes.

The continuing revisions in these tallies are surprising, and a little dismaying.  Most counties should be able to count the votes in each precinct and add them together, without errors.  Especially in a simple election like this one.  One explanation for these shifts would be widespread incompetence in the election boards.  There may be other explanations, but I can't think of one, offhand.
- 9:04 AM, 7 April 2009   [link]


Bailing Out Warren Buffett?  Warren Buffett's holdings are so large that he would almost have to benefit from any bailout.  But the extent that his investments benefitted from TARP funds is a little surprising.
Financier Warren Buffett has been lauded for his plain-spoken denunciation of the greed and foolishness behind the economic crisis.  He has pushed the massive federal bailout of imploding banks as the essential response to an "economic Pearl Harbor."
. . .
Buffett's holding company, Berkshire Hathaway Inc., did not directly receive any of that aid.  But Berkshire is the largest shareholder of San Francisco-based Wells Fargo & Co., which got $25 billion — 91 percent of TARP funds invested in institutions headquartered in California.

Overall, Berkshire owns more than $13 billion of stock in the top recipients of TARP funds — including Goldman Sachs Group Inc., US Bancorp, American Express Co. and Bank of America Corp., all considered by analysts to be in deep trouble before the federal infusion.  The more the bailout props up these financial companies, the more secure Berkshire's investments.

That total, The Bee found, ranks Berkshire fifth among all investors in TARP-assisted companies.   Berkshire's TARP holdings constitute 30 percent of its publicly disclosed stock portfolio.  That proportion reflects at least twice as much dependence on bailed-out banks as any other large investor.
Surprising for two conflicting reasons.  If these companies really needed the money, then you have to wonder whether Buffett, famous for being able to understand investment values, understood whether they in trouble.  If they didn't need the money, then you have to wonder why they got it, and why Buffett pressed so hard for the bailout.

For many years, Buffett has usually backed Democratic candidates, including Barack Obama.  That leads Richard Henry Lee to make this partisan point.
The Obama administration has been blaming Republicans for the economic mess (and there is some culpability there too), yet the Democrats keep showing up with millions of dollars in their pockets.  Senate Banking Chairman Chris Dodd received special treatment from Countrywide on his mortgage, Obama Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel received about $300,000 for very little work at Freddie Mac, former Clinton OMB Director Franklin Raines reaped about $90 million from Fannie Mae by inflating profits -- and the list goes on.
A partisan point, but one that even non-Republicans should consider.
- 4:07 PM, 6 April 2009   [link]


Four Minutes Of Fun:  A song from the Sound of Music — performed in the Antwerp Central Station.

(May not be safe for work, if your co-workers are a gloomy lot.)
- 10:00 AM, 6 April 2009   [link]


It's About Political Power, Not Economic Recovery:  In February, I argued that Obama would increase political inequality by centralizing power in the office of the presidency.  So I am not surprised by this development.
Here's a true story first reported by my Fox News colleague Andrew Napolitano (with the names and some details obscured to prevent retaliation).  Under the Bush team a prominent and profitable bank, under threat of a damaging public audit, was forced to accept less than $1 billion of TARP money.  The government insisted on buying a new class of preferred stock which gave it a tiny, minority position.   The money flowed to the bank.  Arguably, back then, the Bush administration was acting for purely economic reasons.  It wanted to recapitalize the banks to halt a financial panic.

Fast forward to today, and that same bank is begging to give the money back.  The chairman offers to write a check, now, with interest.  He's been sitting on the cash for months and has felt the dead hand of government threatening to run his business and dictate pay scales.  He sees the writing on the wall and he wants out.   But the Obama team says no, since unlike the smaller banks that gave their TARP money back, this bank is far more prominent.  The bank has also been threatened with "adverse" consequences if its chairman persists. That's politics talking, not economics.
Think about that for a moment,and you will see why I predicted that Obama would try to increase his political power, at our expense.  And this refusal to accept the TARP money back has nothing to do with an economic recovery.  In fact, it will, if anything, delay an economic recovery.
- 8:42 AM, 6 April 2009   [link]


Amusing And Distressing:  Last Saturday's column by Gail Collins was irritating.  Last Saturday's column by Charles Blow was amusing — from a certain point of view.
Maybe you haven't heard of New York Times columnist Charles Blow until now.  There's a good reason for that.  In the same week, Blow has screeched at the hyperbole of conservatives while advocating the public flogging of a Detroit executive.
On the other hand, if you expect the New York Times to be a a serious newspaper, you will find both columns distressing.

(Neither column was the worst that day.  The New York Times also published a propaganda piece by law professor George Bisharat, attacking Israel.

For completeness, I suppose that I should add that there was one more op-ed that day, by Ronald O'Hanley, arguing that ordinary investors should be allowed to buy toxic assets.  That seems reasonable to me, but I am no expert on the subject.)
- 8:01 AM, 6 April 2009   [link]


So Much For Bipartisanship:  Pew has the numbers.
For all of his hopes about bipartisanship, Barack Obama has the most polarized early job approval ratings of any president in the past four decades.  The 61-point partisan gap in opinions about Obama's job performance is the result of a combination of high Democratic ratings for the president -- 88% job approval among Democrats -- and relatively low approval ratings among Republicans (27%).
It is always more difficult for a president on the extreme of his own party to reach out to the other party, so these results should not surprise us.  Obama is the most extreme man, of either party, to be elected president in modern times.
- 6:29 AM, 6 April 2009   [link]


Rick Steves, Useful Idiot:  Three weeks ago, the local cooking and old pop music channel held another fund raising drive.  To attract donations, they showed, naturally, some of their greatest hits.  One of those hits was a propaganda film promoting Iran.  The film was not made by the Iranian government, but it could have been.

The Iranian regime is one of the nastiest in the world.  It persecutes women, dissidents, homosexuals, and ethnic and religious minorities, relentlessly.  It issued a fatwa against a novelist, Salman Rushdie, for a book he had written, a fatwa that resulted in a number of deaths.

The regime has governed Iran badly.  Its domestic policies are often incompetent, and its officials are often corrupt.  Its oil wealth has largely been wasted.

The regime has been relentlessly hostile to the United States since the overthrow of the Shah.  It has sponsored a number of terrorist attacks on Americans, as well as many other terrorist attacks.   It has supplied weapons and other kinds of aid to the terrorists in Iraq.  It is hated by almost all its neighbors in the Middle East.

The regime is working frantically to build nuclear weapons, which it has threatened to use on Israel.  It has, in other words, genocide as an official national policy.

You would have learned none of those things from this propaganda film.  Instead, you would have seen one scene after another of smiling Iranians, who may be a little old-fashioned in their religious beliefs, but are otherwise much like us.  And I don't doubt that such people exist, and that many of them are genuinely friendly to Americans, as individuals.  It is even possible that some of the people we were shown in the film are such people, but since Steves' itinerary was completely under the control of the Iranian regime, we can not know that, for certain.

Oddly enough, Steves at times seems to recognize that he is on a guided tour, a tour run by a nasty regime.  From time to time, he notes that the officials he sees act much like Soviet officials before the fall of the Soviet Union.  But Steves does not draw the obvious conclusion from that observation, that his film is necessarily misleading.  Or — and I hate to suggest this — perhaps he does know that his film is misleading, and is not bothered by that fact, indeed is pleased by that fact, because he intended to make a propaganda film.

In introducing the film, the host said that PBS has shows that respect your intellect.  That may be so, but Rick Steves' Iranian propaganda film is not one of them.  Instead, it shows a contempt for the viewer's intellect, assuming that we can be fooled by scenes of smiling Iranians, fooled into ignoring the nature of this terrible regime.  A regime, I repeat, that has threatened a small nation with genocide.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(You can see an interview of Steves about the film here.  

At several points in the film, Steves revealed shocking ignorance of history and the Middle East.   At one point, he said that Alexander the Great "turned the tide" against the Persians.  Steves apparently has not heard of the battle of Salamis (480 BC), or the battle of Plataea (479 BC).  After those two battles, the Greeks had the edge over the Persians, though Persian rulers were able to keep the Greeks in check, by playing them off against each other.  Alexander was not even born until 356 BC, and his first great victory against the Persians, the battle of the Granicus River, was in 334 BC.  He did not turn the tide in that battle; he used the Greek military superiority that had been demonstrated almost five decades earlier.

At another point in the film, Steves asked an Iranian a question about the war with Iraq, and implied, in his question, that he thought it had been a religious war between the Shiites in Iran and the Sunnis in Iraq.  In fact, both countries are predominately Shiite, and the war was an attack by Saddam Hussein on his neighbor, at a time when he thought (with some reason) that Iran was militarily weak.

Ordinarily, as you probably know, I prefer to avoid name calling.  But I think that "useful idiot" is appropriate here.  The phrase, which is often, but incorrectly, ascribed to Lenin, does describe a certain kind of Westerner, a person who is all too willing to serve up propaganda from an evil regime, and all too willing to ignore the cruel facts about that regime.  I call Rick Steves a "useful idiot" because he deserves to be called a useful idiot.

Finally, one chuckle.  The host of the fund raising program asked Steves just one question after the film was over — about the quality of the food in Iran.)
- 7:43 PM, 5 April 2009   [link]


Amused, Not Alarmed:  By way of Tim Blair, I learned that an Australian reporter thought that American conservatives were "alarmed" by Michelle Obama's garden.  I can't speak for other conservatives, but this conservative was amused by the garden.

And I think anyone else who was familiar with farms, or had even had their own vegetable gardens, would have been amused, too.  Take a look at this picture.   Are those the kind of clothes you would wear to work in a garden?  Note especially Michelle Obama's lovely dress boots, and the dress shoes worn by the man just to her left.

I was going to write about it at the time the picture appeared, but decided it wasn't important enough.   And I figured that almost everyone else with farm experience would already have come to the same conclusion that I did.  If Michelle Obama wants to pretend to work in a garden, she isn't doing any great harm, and may actually learn something, though I wouldn't bet that she will.

(If you know a farmer who needs a chuckle, show him that picture.  It may not make his day, but it will amuse him.)
- 6:13 PM, 5 April 2009   [link]


That Promise Didn't Last Long:  And, somewhat to my surprise, the Associated Press noticed.
One of President Barack Obama's campaign pledges on taxes went up in puffs of smoke Wednesday.

The largest increase in tobacco taxes took effect despite Obama's promise not to raise taxes of any kind on families earning under $250,000 or individuals under $200,000.

This is one tax that disproportionately affects the poor, who are more likely to smoke than the rich.

To be sure, Obama's tax promises in last year's campaign were most often made in the context of income taxes.  Not always.

"I can make a firm pledge," he said in Dover, N.H., on Sept. 12.  "Under my plan, no family making less than $250,000 a year will see any form of tax increase.  Not your income tax, not your payroll tax, not your capital gains taxes, not any of your taxes."
Never mind.

It would be interesting to know how many voters believed Obama when he made that promise, as he did many times during the campaign.

(For the record, I favor substantial taxes on cigarettes, enough to discourage first-time smokers, and to pay for the social costs from smoking.  But also I suspect that we long ago passed that level.

Incidentally, it is not simple to figure out how much smoking costs society.  Smoking does add to medical costs, but it reduces longevity.  So smokers tend to die young and collect little in social security payments.)
- 4:15 PM, 5 April 2009   [link]


Irritating:  Gail Collins is now a regular columnist for the New York Times.  She was, not that long ago, the editorial page editor for our newspaper of record.   So, why does she make arguments like this one?
If nothing else, the president's trip overseas helped resolve the longstanding question of who can be more irritating, the Republicans or the French.
After that lead paragraph, you might expect Collins to explain why Republicans (including me, I suppose) and the French are irritating.  You would be wrong.  Instead, Collins assumes that everyone, or at least everyone who is anyone, agrees with her that the French and the Republicans are irritating, and meanders though a column, with no particular goal in sight, about Obama's European vacation.

Near the end of the column, she does give us hints about why she considers the two irritating.
Before the summit began, Sarkozy had threatened to walk out unless he got his way on financial regulation.  (When considering our French-versus-Republican contest, note that they both like to go into negotiations announcing that whatever happens, the answer is no.)
. . .
While the G-20 was finishing its business, members of Congress were showing how they did theirs by passing a budget resolution.  The spending plan was somewhat smaller than the president had requested.   The Senate also added the Republican priority of reducing taxes on people who inherit estates of $7 million or more — a move that would increase the deficit while stimulating the economy approximately as much as eliminating a sales tax on square potato chips.

But even so, not a single Republican voted yes on the budget.
So the Republicans and the French are irritating because they do not support Obama's "bankrupt the United States" plan for our economy.  You can read the whole column without finding any evidence that Collins has even thought about their criticisms of Obama's plan.  The columnist who would have urged George W. Bush to listen to the Europeans, and to the opposing party, is now irritated because the Europeans and the opposing party disagree with Obama, and say so.

Collins does say a little about Obama's "bankrupt the United States" plan.  Just a little.   She says, in that third paragraph, that the Congressional version of the plan was "somewhat smaller" than Obama had requested.  Which is true, but deceptive.  A brontosaur was "somewhat smaller" than some of its sauropod relatives, but that does not make the brontosaur a small animal.

Collins' "somewhat smaller" leaves us wondering whether she knows just how big — and permanent — Obama's deficits would be, whether she knows but prefers, for whatever reason, to disguise them from her readers.

Any Frenchman, any Republican, and anyone else who prefers arguments to be logical, will find this column — and often Gail Collins — irritating.

(There is a bizarre bit in the column.  Collins says that Obama "wowed them in Europe", but later wonders whether Obama succeeded because he was willing to be "a good loser".  Which doesn't sound make his vacation trip sound like a triumph for the United States.)
- 3:05 PM, 5 April 2009   [link]


Spring Approaches At Mt. Rainier:  Which means that the snow is piled up even higher than earlier in the winter, but the weather is not nearly as severe.  Three weeks and a day ago, we had a spectacular day here, the kind of day that is all too rare in our winters.  So naturally I drove down to Mt. Rainier to take some pictures and to do a little skiing.

I stopped at Longmire to have lunch.  The National Park Inn believes in keeping their firewood dry.

Mt. Rainier, 12 March 2009

(Longmire's elevation is just 2,761 feet.  In most Marches, you would not see this much snow at Longmire.)

The snow is still falling, but it is also melting, so the south sides of the trees looked like Christmas trees, decorated with icicles sparkling in the sun.

Mt. Rainier, 12 March 2009

The north sides of many trees were still covered with inches of snow, and some trees looked just like snowmen from that direction.

Mt. Rainier, 12 March 2009

(And from the east side, what did they look like?  Similes fail me, but if you think of a good one, let me know.)

Since this was a trip to Mt. Rainier, I should show you at least one picture of the mountain.

Mt. Rainier, 12 March 2009

The snow was fine for cross country skiing where the snowshoers had packed down trails.  (Sometimes snowshoers make good trails for cross country skiers; sometimes they ruin good trails.)

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(Here's my standard advice if you are planning to visit Rainier soon.  If you can, decide on your trip with a "now cast", rather than a forecast.  That is, decide to go on the morning of the trip, after you have checked current conditions.  You can look at the mountain through the main webcam, and at the approach road and the parking lot through the west and east webcams.  And you can hear the park's automated message at 360-569-2211.

The sliding area will be open, though not supervised, through this Sunday.  So if your kids didn't get enough sliding this winter, you have one last chance this weekend.  There is still plenty of snow; according to the automated message, they have 184 inches on the ground at Paradise.

The new Jackson visitor's center should be open this weekend.  It is unfinished and currently serves only cold sandwiches, cold drinks and hot coffee and (I think) tea.  There is room for a picnic lunch there if you want to bring your own.

And if the weather is as nice as predicted on Sunday, I will probably take my own advice, check the "now cast", and if it is good, drive down there for a little more skiing.)
- 4:44 PM, 3 April 2009   [link]


The Cost Of Obama:  More Than Six Trillion Dollars.  Michael Boskin, who advised George H. W. Bush, calculates the additional debt that Obama is imposing on the American taxpayer.  The numbers are staggering.
Some have laid the total estimated deficits and debt projections (as more realistically tallied by the Congressional Budget Office) on Mr. Obama's doorstep.  But on this score the president is correct.   He cannot rightly be blamed for what he inherited.  A more accurate comparison calculates what he has already added and proposes to add by his policies, compared to a "do-nothing" baseline (see nearby chart).

The CBO baseline cumulative deficit for the Obama 2010-2019 budget is $9.3 trillion.  How much additional deficit and debt does Mr. Obama add relative to a do-nothing budget with none of his programs?  Mr. Obama's "debt difference" is $4.829 trillion -- i.e., his tax and spending proposals add $4.829 trillion to the CBO do-nothing baseline deficit.  The Obama budget also adds $177 billion to the fiscal year 2009 budget.  To this must be added the $195 billion of 2009 legislated add-ons (e.g., the stimulus bill) since Mr. Obama's election that were already incorporated in the CBO baseline and the corresponding $1.267 trillion in add-ons for 2010-2019.  This brings Mr. Obama's total additional debt to $6.5 trillion, not his claimed $2 trillion reduction.  That was mostly a phantom cut from an imagined 10-year continuation of peak Iraq war spending.
How much is that per income tax-paying family of four?  By Boskin's calculations, $163,178.

Almost every Democrat in Congress for this spending binge.  Every Republican, to their credit, voted against it.

(Boskin does not give Obama high marks for honesty in describing his budget proposals.)
- 1:37 PM, 3 April 2009   [link]


Did The Oil Shock Cause The World Wide Recession?  I have been arguing, for months, that the sharp increase in oil prices must have been one of the principal causes of the recession.  Now economist James Hamilton is making the same argument, only far more rigorously.  Take a look at his diagram — which I will not borrow without his permission — and then consider his conclusions:
One of the most interesting calculations for me was to look at the implications of my 2003 model.  I used those historically estimated parameters to find the answer to the following conditional forecasting equation.  Suppose you knew in 2007:Q3 what GDP had been doing up through that date and could know in advance what was about to happen to the price of oil.  What path would you have then predicted the economy to follow for 2007:Q4 through 2008:Q4?

The answer is given in the diagram below.  The green dotted line is the forecast if we ignored the information about oil prices, while the red dashed line is the forecast conditional on the huge run-up in oil prices that subsequently occurred.  The black line is the actual observed path for real GDP.   Somewhat astonishingly, that model would have predicted the course of GDP over 2008 pretty accurately and would attribute a substantial fraction of the significant drop in 2008:Q4 real GDP to the oil price increases.

The implication that almost all of the downturn of 2008 could be attributed to the oil shock is a stronger conclusion than emerged from any of the other models surveyed in my Brookings paper, and is a conclusion that I don't fully believe myself.  Unquestionably there were other very important shocks hitting the economy in 2007-08, first among which would be the problems in the housing sector.  But housing had already been subtracting 0.94% from the average annual GDP growth rate over 2006:Q4-2007:Q3, when the economy did not appear to be in a recession.  And housing subtracted only 0.89% over 2007:Q4-2008:Q3, when we now say that the economy was in recession.  Something in addition to housing began to drag the economy down over the later period, and all the calculations in the paper support the conclusion that oil prices were an important factor in turning that slowdown into a recession.
For which we can blame, partly, OPEC.  And our own policies, which have restricted our own energy production for so many years.

President Bush had many policy successes, but he was able to do little to expand our energy production, in spite of our growing needs, and in spite of his considerable efforts to expand production over his two terms.
- 12:27 PM, 3 April 2009   [link]


Are Democrats Trying To Disenfranchise The Military?  (Again.)  That's what Hans Spakovsky suspects.
In New York, ten counties make up the 20th congressional district, and nine of them sent their absentee ballots to overseas voters too late for them to be received and returned in time to count in this election.  One county mailed them on March 12 and eight counties mailed them on March 13, all by regular mail with only one exception — Essex County used an express mail service.

Under New York law, absentee ballots in this race had to be postmarked by March 30, the day before the March 31 election, and received by April 7.  That left most military voters only 25 days to receive, mark and return their absentee ballots, which everyone agrees isn't enough time, given overseas mail delays.

The Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, which is responsible for enforcing the federal statute that guarantees the right of overseas citizens and military personnel to vote by absentee ballot, contacted the New York State Board of Elections and requested that they issue their ballots sooner for this race.  The two Republican members of the board voted to support this request.  Yet the two Democratic members of the board, shamefully enough, voted against doing so. Were they trying to disenfranchise military voters?
And did the professionals in the Justice Department do all that they should have done to protect the rights of our military voters?

Probably, and probably not.

If Democrat Scott Murphy does win this race, Republicans should make a search for military voters whose votes were not counted.

(Spakovsky is out of date on the results in New York 20th; Tedisco now leads by a mere 12 votes.)
- 7:23 AM, 3 April 2009   [link]


Maybe Former Senator Stevens Is Innocent:  At least of the charges for which he was originally convicted.  The dropping of the charges against Stevens, after outrageous prosecutorial misconduct led me to take a look (finally) at the evidence against Stevens.

First, the misconduct.
The collapse of the Stevens case was a profound embarrassment for the Justice Department, and it raised troubling issues about the integrity of the actions of prosecutors who wield enormous power over people they investigate.  Mr. Stevens's case was handled by senior officials of the department's Public Integrity Section, which handles official corruption cases.

Mr. Stevens was charged in July with lying on Senate disclosure forms by concealing an estimated $250,000 worth of goods and services he received, mostly to renovate a chalet he owned in Alaska.  Prosecutors said he had received the bulk of the goods and services from Bill Allen, a longtime friend who had made a fortune by providing services to Alaska's booming oil industry.

But in their filing on Wednesday, government lawyers said they had recently learned that trial prosecutors had concealed from Mr. Stevens's defense lawyers the notes from a 2008 interview with Mr. Allen that raised significant doubts about the charges.  Among other things, Mr. Allen asserted in the interview that the work on the Stevens home was worth only about $80,000, they said.
There were three career prosecutors in the case.  One of them declared himself a Democrat when he was seeking a job in Massachusetts.  Another, judging by her background, is almost certainly a Democrat, and a leftist Democrat, at that.

The charges cost the Republicans, almost certainly, a Senate seat.  (Stevens, presumably believing himself innocent, or at least unlikely to be convicted, pressed for a speedy trial.  But he was not, according to the accounts I have read, a persuasive witness, and DC juries are not noted for being kind to white Republicans.)

Since Holder's request for the charges to be dropped I have seen strong reasons to think that Stevens was not just treated unfairly, but may actually have been innocent.

For some reason, the New York Times article omits a key point:  Allen had previously been convicted of corruption charges, and had strong reasons to please the prosecutors, in hopes of getting less prison time.  And they do not mention FBI agent Chad Joy's charge that another FBI agent had an "inappropriate" relationship with Allen, which gives us another reason to doubt his testimony.  (And the integrity of that agent.)

I would want to see more evidence, of course, but judging by what I have seen so far, I would not have voted to convict Senator Stevens.

(Michael Barone gives a more favorable picture of Stevens than you may have seen elsewhere.  "Daddy", a resident of Alaska, gives an almost entirely unfavorable picture of Steven's replacement, Mark Begich.)
- 1:59 PM, 2 April 2009
More:  Here's a description of that "inappropriate relationship" between Bill Allen and FBI agent Mary Beth Kepner.  It appears to rest mostly on Chad Joy's testimony, so I would want independent evidence before I was certain that Joy's stories were true, but the description does sound plausible.

A quick search on Google News didn't find much more on Kepner, but there are some additional details on the case here and here.  A lawyer in Alaska, Cliff Groh, summarizes the case in a Q&A.  He's tougher on Stevens than I would be, but that may be because he knows more about the case than I do.
- 6:50 AM, 3 April 2009   [link]


Some Justice Department Lawyers Are Still Professionals:  Which is why Attorney General Holder had to ignore their advice.
Justice Department lawyers concluded in an unpublished opinion earlier this year that the historic D.C. voting rights bill pending in Congress is unconstitutional, according to sources briefed on the issue.   But Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., who supports the measure, ordered up a second opinion from other lawyers in his department and determined that the legislation would pass muster.
. . .
In deciding that the measure is unconstitutional, lawyers in the department's Office of Legal Counsel matched a conclusion reached by their Bush administration counterparts nearly two years ago, when a lawyer there testified that a similar bill would not withstand legal attack.

Holder rejected the advice and sought the opinion of the solicitor general's office, where lawyers told him that they could defend the legislation if it were challenged after its enactment.
Note that, on the second time around, Holder didn't bother to ask about the constitutionality of the bill, just whether the lawyers could defend it.  (I think lawyers will almost always answer yes to such questions, though honest lawyers may add that they will not promise that they can successfully defend your position.)

More reactions from law professors Glenn Reynolds and Orin Kerr.

(My earlier post on this measure is here.)
- 4:26 PM, 1 April 2009   [link]


Doesn't Anyone There Know How To Play This Game?  (With apologies to Casey Stengel.)

First, the Obama administration comes up with some really lame gifts for Prime Minister Brown, and his family.  (And mistreated him in other ways.)  Then they put out a laughable "press guide" for Obama's European trip.  And now they came up with this gift for the Queen.
Barack Obama met the Queen at Buckingham Palace today and gave her a gift of an iPod loaded with video footage and photographs of her 2007 United States visit to the Richmond, Jamestown and Williamsburg in Virginia.  In return, the Queen gave the President a silver framed signed photograph of herself and the Duke of Edinburgh - apparently a standard present for visiting dignitaries.

The Queen already has an iPod, a 6GB silver Mini version she bought in 2005 at the suggestion of Prince Andrew.
So far, staff work in the new administration is not impressive.  (Worse yet, they don't seem much worried by their blunders.)

What troubles me most about this series of blunders is that they all could have been avoided — if the staffer who made the blunder had been willing to ask for a little help.  I wouldn't know what kind of present Gordon Brown would like, but I would know enough to ask people who do.

Hillary Clinton's "reset" button is another example of a blunder that could have been avoided if her staff had been willing to ask for help.  As it turns out, no one on her staff is familiar with Russian computer terms — but the State Department has many fine Russian linguists who could have helped her avoid that silly mistake.
- 12:58 PM, 1 April 2009   [link]


Another Obama Nominee With Tax Problems:  Andrew Malcolm has the story.
There's word this morning that a major, unexpected appointee to the unfolding administration of President Barack Obama has quietly withdrawn his name from White House consideration.

A White Horse source declined to identify the nominee to save him from bipartisan mortification.   But apparently as part of the crack Obama transition team's vetting process, they discovered that the nominee had paid all of his federal taxes through 2008.

Not only that, but the would-be nominee had, in fact, overpaid his federal income taxes since 2005.
Obviously, you can't have people like that in the Obama administration.
- 12:30 PM, 1 April 2009   [link]


The Guardian Is Changing Its Format:  Articles now will be shorter, some much shorter.
- 12:16 PM, 1 April 2009   [link]