April 2011, Part 4
Jim Miller on Politics
Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard May Have Been Out Of Place At The Royal Wedding: She's a republican; that is, she doesn't want a monarch for Australia. It was a very religious wedding, and she's an atheist. And though she has been living with her hairdresser for years, she has never bothered to marry him.
She seems to have been enjoying herself, anyway. (Maybe it's the chance to wear a hat that is — well, let's not call it silly; let's just call it impractical.)
- 3:34 PM, 30 April 2011 [link]
Meanwhile, Back In Barack Obama's Illinois (7): The state has underfunded its pensions. Badly.
State pensions are badly underfunded — and the situation is getting worse, fast.An Illinois state legislator who could think rationally — or even one who was willing to listen to experts — would have worked to reduce that gap.
As far as I know, the most famous former member of the Illinois legislature, Barack Obama, did nothing to reduce that gap. And he supported politicians, including former governor Rod Blagojevich, who had even more power to reduce the severity of this problem, but also did nothing about it
This underfunding is one of the biggest reasons that Illinois is finding it so expensive to borrow money.
As I understand it, Illinois will find it harder than most other states to solve its problems by cutting benefits to current retirees, since their pensions are protected by the state's constitution.
(The population of Illinois is about 13 million, so the underfunded pension liability is about $6,000 for every man, woman, and child in Illinois.
Here's the Pew report, which had a few surprises, at least for me. For example, most states are assuming they can earn 8 percent a year on their investments, which seems too optimistic. And the funding for retiree health care plans makes the funding for pensions look responsible.)
- 9:06 AM, 29 April 2011 [link]
Solar Power From The Mojave Desert? Sounds like a good idea to me. Deserts seem like the best places to build large-scale solar power plants, if you are going to build them at all.
But the Obama administration doesn't entirely agree, and is delaying the completion of a new project there.
The Obama administration has halted the building of two-thirds of a massive solar project in San Bernardino's Mojave Desert as a new federal assessment found that more than 600 endangered desert tortoises would die as a result of construction.In our energy policy in the United States, we are coming closer and closer to following a BANANA policy, and blocking the development of new energy sources everywhere.
(Are desert tortoises actually endangered? I haven't the faintest idea, but the endangered species act has been used so often to block economic activity that I suspect that they aren't, or if they are, they can be protected without shutting down most of this project. I wouldn't even be terribly surprised to learn that they liked this project, if it ever gets built.
Note, by the way, the amount of land required for this project. The need for lots of acres is inherent in solar power, since it is so diffuse.)
- 6:48 AM, 29 April 2011 [link]
Harvard Didn't Think Much of Obama's father.
Documents show that Obama, Sr. was denied an extension on his student visa in July, 1964, in part because Harvard University, where Obama, Sr., was a Ph.D. candidate, sought his removal. Obama Sr. eventually left the United States willingly after becoming an illegal alien for remaining in the country past the expiration of his visa.(As I understand it, he had two wives at that time, a legal wife in Kenya and an illegal wife in the United States.)
Caveat: This story comes from a weekly newspaper in Arizona that has been around for about a year. I don't have any reason to disbelieve the story, but no reason to trust this particular source, either.
By way of the PJ Tatler.
- 4:31 PM, 28 April 2011
More details from the Boston Globe. The reporter, Sally Jacobs, has written an biography of Obama senior, which will be published in July.
Jacobs implies that Harvard objected most to Obama's polygamy — and his womanizing at Harvard. (He acquired another wife there.) And she says that Obama senior claimed for years that he had earned a Ph.D. from Harvard, even though he had essentially been kicked out.
- 10:48 AM, 29 April2011 [link]
Clinton Supporters Started It: Glenn Kessler, while criticizing Donald Trump for many mis-statements, concedes that Trump is close to right on one point.
Trump further makes the assertion that "the Clintons asked for it." He repeated this two more times in his news conference, specifically mentioning Hillary Rodham Clinton at one point. But this is incorrect. The Clinton campaign never made an issue of Obama's birth certificate, though there is evidence that the birther controversy originally began on the left — not the right.(Emphasis added.)
Almost all elected Republicans chose to ignore the "birther" controversy, but it was raised, again and again, by leftwing journalists, presumably in order to embarrass the Republican leaders.
And that's enough of the issue, for a while. I hope.
(On the whole, I would say that the Clinton campaign — and I include her surrogates here — made many more low blow attacks against Obama than the McCain campaign did.)
- 1:28 PM, 28 April 2011 [link]
Germany Will Find It Expensive To Drop Nuclear Power: According to an industry study, closing their nuclear power plants will increase wholesale electricity prices by as much as 30 percent.
Germany's plan to accelerate its exit from nuclear power generation may raise electricity prices by as much as 30 percent, the BDI German industry lobby said.And will increase CO2 emissions.
The study assumes that 50 percent of the output shortfall from Germany's reactors will be plugged in the "short-term" by imports and the remainder by coal- and natural-gas-fired generators. That would raise the energy industry's CO2 emissions to 282 million metric tons in 2018, 28 percent more than the German government had planned, the BDI said.But the Greens in Germany, and elsewhere, will be happy.
(I don't suppose the BDI did this study in order to support the closing of the plants, but I don't see anything implausible about their conclusions.)
- 9:33 AM, 28 April 2011 [link]
More On Positive Feedback And Climate Change: I've discussed this subject before, here, here, and here, but this post is the clearest explanation of the issue I have seen yet.
Here's step 7 of an eight-step argument:
There are three problems with these assumptions about positive feedback [in the climate models]. One, there is no empirical evidence at all that positive feedbacks in climate dominate negative feedbacks. The 20th century temperature numbers we discussed above show no evidence of these feedbacks. Two, the long-term temperature record demonstrates that positive feedbacks can't dominate, because past increases in temperature and CO2 have not run away. And three, characterizations of stable natural processes as being dominated by positive feedback should offend the intuition and common sense of any scientist.Quibbles: There are a few places in the geological record where some scientists see runaway temperature increases, for example about 55 million years ago and about 250 million years ago. And the Ice Ages seem to have ended relatively quickly. So runaway temperature increases can happen, but they must be rare.
- 8:07 AM, 28 April 2011 [link]
H'mmm: Was Petraeus moved to the CIA for political reasons?
It has been an open secret in Washington for several years that Petraeus himself has ambitions for the White House. He was due to leave the army at the end of this year, and would have been in a very strong position to run for presidency, just as the Second World War hero Dwight D. Eisenhower did in 1952. Indeed in a notoriously weak field, he would have stood an outstanding chance not just of winning the Republican nomination but also of dislodging Obama himself.For the record: I'm not sure Peter Oborne is right about Petraeus wanting to be president. But it is interesting to see this accusation from the Telegraph's chief political correspondent. And I wouldn't say it is obviously wrong. (When the Obama administration named Jon Huntsman ambassador to China, it was reported that they had done so partly to remove a possible Republican presidential contender from the field. I'm not sure that Huntsman could win the Republican nomination, but, if he did, he might be a formidable opponent for Obama.)
(For a contrasting view on the appointment, you can read Michael Ledeen, channeling the late James Jesus Angleton.)
- 6:34 AM, 28 April 2011 [link]
How Good Are Gallup Approval Ratings At Predicting Re-Elections, This Early? Judge for yourself. In April of his third year, President George H. W. Bush had the approval of 79 percent of Americans, even beating out Eisenhower (70 percent). Carter (40 percent) and Reagan (42 percent) were almost tied for the worst rating for post-World War II presidents, at this time in their presidencies.
Much can happen between now and November 2012.
- 2:22 PM, 26 April 2011 [link]
Professor Jacobson has a gift for putting things succinctly.
Let me see if I have Obama's wind strategy straight:(You may want to click on the Chinese translation of that last sentence.)We borrow money from China to buy wind turbines made in China which will increase domestic electricity rates so that our manufacturers are unable to compete with China.Pure Genius.
- 12:50 PM, 26 April 2011 [link]
Now, That Wasn't So Hard, Was It? Obama has finally released the long form of his birth certificate, as he could have done any time since the issue was first raised during the 2008 campaign.
What puzzles many of us is why he took so long. Tom Maguire's guess is probably as good as any.
My Official Editorial Rumination was that there was no reason for the White House to hide it other than Obama's practice of managing his brand by hiding everything (leaving critics and skeptics unsure which haystack actually conceals a needle which may or may not exist.)When a man has been as deceptive about his past as Obama has been about his, people will naturally wonder what he is hiding. (Remember the claim that he had roots in Kansas? As I recall, when people finally tracked down all their moves, it turned out that his mother had spent the first two years of her life in Kansas, and the rest in very different places.)
(Similarly, when Bill Clinton refused to release his medical records, people wondered what he was hiding. Obama has not released his complete medical records, but I am less suspicious about them than I am about Clinton's.)
And what puzzles some of us is why so many Obama supporters believed that there was some legal reason why Obama couldn't release the birth certificate.
- 9:48 AM, 26 April 2011 [link]
"Leading From Behind" Ryan Lizza ends his long (and instructive) article on Barack Obama's foreign policy thinking with this paragraph:
Nonetheless, Obama may be moving toward something resembling a doctrine. One of his advisers described the President's actions in Libya as "leading from behind." That's not a slogan designed for signs at the 2012 Democratic Convention, but it does accurately describe the balance that Obama now seems to be finding. It's a different definition of leadership than America is known for, and it comes from two unspoken beliefs: that the relative power of the U.S. is declining, as rivals like China rise, and that the U.S. is reviled in many parts of the world. Pursuing our interests and spreading our ideals thus requires stealth and modesty as well as military strength. "It's so at odds with the John Wayne expectation for what America is in the world," the adviser said. "But it's necessary for shepherding us through this phase."Note, please, that this anonymous advisor is still working for Obama. The man (or woman) who used that phrase is not a disgruntled former staffer, but someone who Obama is, right now, trusting to help him make and execute policy.
Note also that Lizza — who would not be writing for the New Yorker if he were a right winger — says that Obama is "moving toward something resembling a doctrine". In other words, Obama doesn't have a strategy for the United States but may, sometime soon.
At the beginning of World War I, almost all officers of every power took pride in leading from the front, took pride in risking themselves along with their men. By 1918, that had changed in most armies, changed so much that a British soldier told this bitter joke.
'Jerry's got a gun on our front,' one warrior is reported as telling another, '. . . with a fantastic range. Must be over forty miles."Front line soldiers seldom admire officers who "lead from behind". Or officers who don't have a plan, not even a bad plan.
(That Barrie Pitt book, although it covers just one year, 1918, is one of the best books on World War I that I have read.)
- 8:55 AM, 26 April 2011 [link]
Karin Vogel Is In Line For The British Throne: But it's a long line.
- 6:53 AM, 27 April 2011 [link]
Do Donald Trump's Political Contributions Tell Us Anything About His Political Beliefs? Probably.
The real estate mogul and "Celebrity Apprentice" host has made more than $1.3 million in donations over the years to candidates nationwide, with 54 percent of the money going to Democrats, according to a Washington Post analysis of state and federal disclosure records.I have added some emphasis to indicate what I think Trump believes in — himself, mostly.
- 6:36 AM, 27 April 2011 [link]
Welfare And Terrorism: Ed West makes the connection.
London became the world terrorist hub partly because the country had a long tradition of shielding dissenters of all stripes; because it had a very unintrusive state compared to its European neighbours (no ID cards); and because of Britain's historic links with many Arab countries. But there was another reason, and this is central to the reason why Europe has an Islamist problem and the United States doesn't — the welfare state. Welfare is intimately linked to the failure of western European countries to integrate their Muslim populations, and explains why Britain has such a problem with Islamism.And illustrates it with some remarkable examples. For instance.
Abu Hamza, the hook-handed Yemeni, was a phenomenal sponger. His London house cost taxpayers £2400 a month, and at one point he was receiving over £500 a month for incapacity benefits while his wife received an additional £1300 a month. Abu Hamza even sued the government for extra benefits.(West gives us more credit than we deserve, though it is true that we have not been as generous to our radical Islamists as Britain has been to theirs.)
When you think about it, you can see that welfare is almost ideal for a terrorist. It's enough to live on — and sometimes way more than enough in Britain — and the terrorist has almost all his time free to plot his next attacks.
And I don't suppose the terrorists mind the idea of living off their enemies.
(Right now, a British pound is worth about $1.65.)
- 3:27 PM, 26 April 2011
Kathy Shaidle has many more examples of Muslim immigrants, some of them terrorists, exploiting welfare in Europe and Canada. And she makes this important point: "Polygamy and benefits fraud go hand in hand across the continent."
- 12:32 PM, 27 April 2011 [link]
Think Pop Songs Have Gotten Worse? You're right.
Now, after a computer analysis of three decades of hit songs, Dr. [Nathan] DeWall and other psychologists report finding what they were looking for: a statistically significant trend toward narcissism and hostility in popular music. As they hypothesized, the words "I" and "me" appear more frequently along with anger-related words, while there's been a corresponding decline in "we" and "us" and the expression of positive emotions.So do the songs reflect changes in the population? There's some evidence for that, too.
Sometimes the old fogeys are right.
- 3:05 PM, 26 April 2011 [link]
Hedge Fund Managers Are Now Betting On The Republicans: For the first time since 1996.
Hedge-fund managers made a big bet on Barack Obama and other Democrats in 2008. Now, with the 2012 contest gearing up, some prominent fund managers have turned their backs on the party and are actively supporting Republicans.According to the chart accompanying the article, the hedge fund managers have already contributed more to the Republicans than they did to the Democrats in 2008 — which was a record.
(What I have found most puzzling about this pattern is that it took these managers so long to figure out that Obama, Pelosi, and Reid will not do much to make them richer. And you would think that hedge fund managers would care about such things.)
- 11:15 AM, 26 April 2011 [link]
Why Do Finnish Students Do So Well On International Tests? First, some background.
The Finns won attention with their performances in triennial tests sponsored by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a group funded by 30 countries that monitors social and economic trends. In the most recent test, which focused on science, Finland's students placed first in science and near the top in math and reading, according to results released late last year. An unofficial tally of Finland's combined scores puts it in first place overall, says Andreas Schleicher, who directs the OECD's test, known as the Programme for International Student Assessment, or PISA. The U.S. placed in the middle of the pack in math and science; its reading scores were tossed because of a glitch.If you read the piece carefully, you are almost certain to find something in the Finnish system to disagree with, no matter what you believe.
For example, I am persuaded that frequent testing is a good thing, but the Finns use tests much less often than we do. And the Finnish teachers are unionized, but somehow their union(s) are not the blocks to progress that our unions so often are in the United States.
The Finns do not spend more than we do per student, do not have especially small classes, do not have longer school hours than we do, do not use a lot of technology, and do not assign much homework.
(I said "carefully" because the comments after the piece show that many readers did not read it carefully, but assumed that the article supported their own position, whatever it was.)
There are, in my opinion, a number of ideas we could borrow from Finland. (Including, for example, their rational approach to vocational education.) But, if we were to look for just two things that make them so successful, I would choose these two:
First, the Finns teach their children to be independent and responsible. They don't begin academic studies until their children are seven years old, but they do teach them how to behave in pre-schools and to be responsible for their actions. They come to school more ready for school than American students.
Second, Finnish teachers are very, very carefully selected and trained.
What is most interesting about the film, though, is its depiction of Finland's rigorous, intense, and competitive teacher-training programs—a more probable explanation for the nation's academic strength. These programs accept a mere 10 percent of applicants (akin to Ivy League acceptance rates in the U.S.)—and kick out teacher trainees who aren't up to snuff. Candidates observe veteran teachers, co-design and execute lesson plans, and receive feedback from peers, mentors, and even students. The film provides a first-hand view of Finland's classrooms, and is worth viewing in that regard. Pay particular attention to the segments on teacher training, and please don't be hypnotized by Wagner's fluffy thoughts on the "culture of trust."Sadly, neither of these would be easy reforms to implement in American schools, though both were found in many American schools a generation or two ago.
First, too many people in our educational organizations are committed, psychologically, to cults of victimization, to feeling that other people are responsible for one's success (or lack of it). It would not be easy to get them to start teaching responsibility and self reliance, because they don't entirely believe in either.
Second, to get American teachers of equal quality to those in Finland would require replacing more than a million teachers and, probably, replacing many whole schools of education. There is no practical way to do either, quickly. (Even if you could, magically, weed out all the poor performers in the classroom, you would still have to select and train their replacements, something that would take years.)
But we can take steps in that direction, and that is why I favor programs that bypass traditional schools of education, such as Teach for America.
(This Wikipedia article has some useful bureaucratic details on the Finnish system.)
- 9:47 PM, 26 April 2011 [link]
Afghan Extremists Have The BBC's Number: Literally.
The files, obtained by the WikiLeaks website and passed to The Daily Telegraph, disclose that a phone number of someone at the BBC was found in the phone books and phones of a number of extremists seized by US forces.(I assume by "extremists" they mean the Taliban, Al Qaeda, or both.)
Wouldn't it be interesting to know who at the BBC had that number? (I assume our intelligence people figured that out long ago, but it would be nice, now that the secret is out, if they would share that information.)
(Here's a defense from Peter Horrocks, director of BBC Global News.
And here's the tabloid version of the story from the Daily Mail.)
- 7:40 AM, 26 April 2011 [link]
The UW's Amazing Choice For President: The University of Washington regents just made an amazing choice for president.
Oh, the man they chose has all the qualities you would expect; he's an experienced university administrator, he's good at raising money, he has supported collegiate sports, and so on.
But he has two things in his resumé that I would have expected would have disqualified him:
(Actually, the University of Washington belongs to the whole state and even has branches outside Seattle, but we know what the education reporters mean. You can only expect so much tolerance from our local liberals, and asking them to accept a Republican and a Mormon may be just too hard for many of them.)
The head of the search committee, law school Dean Kellye Testy, provided an unintentionally hilarious note, when she said that Young is all for diversity — without, perhaps, realizing that Young might bring some much needed diversity to the campus.
(Dean Testy must have missed this joke, which I got from Kate McMillan:
Once you understand that joke — and I fear that Dean Testy wouldn't get it, even if you explained it to her — you will understand much of what is wrong with our American universities.)
Cross posted at Sound Politics.(Not only is Young a Mormon, he's a direct descendant of a famous leader of the LDS church, Brigham Young. Brigham does have many descendants, so that isn't terribly surprising.)
- 5:01 PM, 25 April 2011 [link]
David Brooks Says Obama Is "Multiple Animals" And Brooks means that as a compliment.
[Fareed] ZAKARIA: -- politically. Is he a social animal?(Machiavelli beat him to the "multiple animals" idea, when he argued that a prince should be both a lion and a fox, both strong and clever.)
Some might see having multiple personalities as a sign of mental illness.
My own view is that Obama has many different selves, most of them inauthentic, but useful in campaigns. In that, he is not radically different from many politicians, although he carries it farther than most. (And that is what makes his occasional off-the-record remarks so interesting. When we hear something like his "bitter clingers" comments, we suspect we are finally hearing something authentic from the man.)
Incidentally, Obama has said that he learned early to present an inauthentic front, and often did so when talking to whites.
- 10:25 AM, 25 April 2011 [link]
The Chinese Government Celebrates Easter In Its Own Way: By arresting Christians.
The authorities stepped up a three-week campaign against an underground Christian church on Sunday, detaining hundreds of congregants in their homes and taking at least 36 others into custody after they tried to hold Easter services in a public square, church members and officials said.It isn't clear to me why the Chinese communists are cracking down on these churches, now. Perhaps they recognize that the growing numbers of converts threaten their power, long run.
(There are no good numbers on how many Chinese belong to these churches. My 2010 World Almanac says that Christians make up 3-4 percent of China's population, but that estimate includes the officially tolerated churches. This Telegraph article gives a range of 40 to 80 million for the underground churches alone, or roughly 3 to 6 percent of the total Chinese population. If the numbers are even half that high, you can understand why the government would be nervous.)
And they may have decided that the Obama administration is weak enough so that it will do no more than protest, weakly.
(For somewhat similar reasons, perhaps, the Chinese government has been persecuting the Falung Gong.
I suspect that the Chinese government has treated the Falung Gong movement worse than they have treated Christians because the Falung Gong do not have any natural protectors in the West.)
- 8:29 AM, 25 April 2011
Correction: I used a calculator witout thinking and put up the wrong percentages for the underground Christians in China. I've corrected the numbers above.
- 11:27 AM, 25 April 2011 [link]
In May, President Obama Will Be Visiting His Ancestral Home: In Kenya? No, in Moneygall, Ireland.
The Irish vote is still important in the United States.
(The presidential entourage may more than double the population of Moneygall.
Sadly, the name of the village has nothing to do with money, but comes from "Muine Gall", which means "foreigners' thicket".)
- 7:55 AM, 25 April 2011 [link]
The Tattooed Confession: In 2004, John Juarez was murdered in a Los Angeles area liquor store.
In 2008, the Los Angeles police picked up Anthony Garcia, a member of a Pico Rivera gang, for a minor traffic offense. They photographed his elaborate tattoos, as they do for all suspected gang members.
A Los Angeles County investigator, Kevin Lloyd, was flipping through a file of those pictures when he saw Garcia's tattoos, and recognized them as a visual confession. Garcia had, over the years, recorded the murder on his chest.
That wasn't enough for a court, but the sheriff's detectives tricked him into a confession — which may not have been that difficult, since he appears to be proud of that crime.
(Pico Rivera is a mostly Hispanic city south of Los Angeles.)
- 7:26 AM, 25 April 2011 [link]