December 2011, Part 2
Jim Miller on Politics
Another Conflict Of Interest for Nancy Pelosi.
Imagine buying stock in a company and then being in position to help change the law to enhance its value. Welcome to the United States Congress. A fuel subsidy proposal, if passed, would enrich Representative Nancy Pelosi of California because of her stake in a “green” firm that stands to benefit. It’s the latest sign that Congressional trading rules are in desperate need of an overhaul.Actually, it's the latest sign that we need to replace Pelosi, and many of her supporters — she is the Minority Leader, after all — with congressmen who are a little less inclined to mix public office and personal gain.
(How bad is Pelosi's record? So bad that even 60 Minutes has noticed.)
- 2:03 PM, 16 December 2011 [link]
Is This Another Reason To Distrust used car dealers?
Lebanese Canadian Bank and two Lebanese exchange houses helped launder more than $480 million for the Hezbollah terrorist group in a scheme that involved buying and selling used cars, the U.S. said in a civil complaint.No, it's another reason to distrust and despise Hezbollah. And even more because the terrorist organization obviously includes some seriously smart people.
(Did you know that there was a significant market for American used cars in West Africa? I didn't.)
- 8:35 AM, 16 December 2011
More: The New York Times has a helpful diagram showing how prosecutors think the complex scheme worked.
Hezbollah probably considers the damage done by the drug sales in Europe a plus.
- 9:38 AM, 16 December 2011 [link]
The New York Times Is Opposed To Golden Parachutes And In Favor Of Transparency: Except when it comes to the New York Times.
I've put my favorite part of the deal that former publisher Janet Robinson made with the newspaper in bold.
An SEC filing says Ms. Robinson will get $4.5 million plus health insurance for a 12-month retirement and consulting agreement, including "two-year non-competition, non-solicitation and non-disparagement covenants, a three-year cooperation covenant and an indefinite confidentiality covenant."Here's $4.5 million, Ms. Robinson, as long as you keep your mouth shut.
Doesn't that make you wonder what she might say, if it weren't for that golden gag over her mouth?
- 8:22 AM, 16 December 2011 [link]
"Is President Obama Trying To Sabotage The GOP?", asks ABC's Matt Negrin. And then gives two examples showing that the answer to his question is yes.
President Obama might want to look like the adult in the room, but his surrogates in the Democratic Party are playing the role of prankster as they try to derail the Republican nomination of Mitt Romney.There's nothing unique about this; our parties often try to sabotage each other. But they usually try to use surrogates for the dirtier work.
(Negrin could have added Obama's appointment of Jon Huntsman as ambassador to China. The Obama team openly boasted that they had made that appointment to take Huntsman out of the presidential race.
They need not have bothered. As it turned out, Huntsman picked up a strategist from the old McCain team who advised him that the way to win the Republican nomination was by — insulting Republicans. Huntsman has not overcome that false start, and is unlikely to.)
- 7:22 AM, 15 December 2011 [link]
Martin Feldstein Has Some Advice For The Europeans: Which, since he was right in his criticisms of the euro, they should listen to. (They probably won't. As Nobel prize winner Thomas Sargent noted, the Europeans are not looking for advice from Americans.)
Feldstein's main point is simple: The Europeans should treat nations with different problems differently.
It's wrong to speak about Greece and Italy in the same breath, as the euro-zone politicians did when they insisted that Greece had to be rescued to prevent a default in Italy. That undermines confidence in Italy. Greece has a budget deficit of 9% of GDP, a current account deficit of 8%, and a GDP that is collapsing at an annual rate of more than 5%. Greece cannot hope to get its deficit under control fast enough to stabilize its debt and attract private lenders. Instead of remaining a permanent ward of Germany and the IMF, Greece should default on its debt, leave the euro zone, and return to a more competitive drachma.Italy, on the other hand, is close to solving its deficit problems.
(Does Silvio Berlusconi deserve some credit for Italy's better financial condition? Probably. He was in power so long that he must have had something to do with it. And he is an extremely successful businessman, which suggests that he knows how to read a budget.)
- 6:46 AM, 15 December 2011 [link]
Is Jon Corzine In Legal Trouble? Maybe.
Jon Corzine, the former chief executive officer of MF Global Holdings Ltd., knew that the company made a loan out of segregated customer accounts before it went bankrupt, CME Group Inc. chairman Terrence Duffy told the U.S. Senate.Someone is, because there is no way to reconcile what Duffy and Corzine told the Congress — under oath.
At the very best, one of them is mistaken.
(Liz Peek of Fox thinks that Democrat Corzine is in serious legal trouble; Ben Protess and Azam Ahmed of the New York Times aren't so sure — and don't mention Corzine's party.)
- 3:45 PM, 14 December 2011 [link]
Middle Class, Middle Class, Middle Class, Middle Class: There, I just summarized the Democratic talking points you will be hearing before the 2012 election.
Younger voters may not realize that this is a change from past Democratic talking points. Over time, Democrats have promised to look out for small farmers, the "little guy", the working man, and the poor. (In the old South, they promised to look out for whites. In many northern cities they once promised to look out for immigrants and now promise to look out for minorities.)
Probably, the longest-lasting talking point was their promise to look out for farmers and labor. That even showed up in the name of the Democratic Party in Minnesota, which was formed by a merger of the Democrats with the "Farmer-Labor" party, and still goes by the DFL name.
So why the switch to "middle class" from earlier targeted groups? President Obama's strategists haven't confided in me, so I can't be certain about my explanations, but I have some that seem plausible.
First, over the years, the middle class has grown, and, more important, the number of people who think of themselves as middle class has grown. Thirty or forty years ago, Democrats could win, easily, with the votes of people who thought of themselves as working class; now that's much harder. (You can see some estimates on the sizes of the two groups here.)
Second, the strategists may think that more middle class voters are persuadable, that more of them are again willing to judge Obama by his promises, rather than his performance.
Third, the Democratic Party, since the McGovern takeover in 1972, has become less friendly to the working class, more likely to see working men as socially backward, likely to disapprove of abortion, gay marriage, racial quotas, and other Democratic Party essentials. The strategists may feel uncomfortable appealing to working class people, though they will certainly try.
(I'm not sure why they are not talking about the poor, as well as the middle class. Possibly they believe that many "un-poor" think that most of the poor are not "deserving", that they are poor mostly because of their own behavior.)
- 1:49 PM, 13 December 2011 [link]
Family Values And Illinois Politics: Perhaps more than any other state, Illinois respects family values in politics. Illinois voters, especially those in Chicago, think it sensible to elect men (and a few women) from the same families, over and over. For example, the first Mayor Daley was followed, after a bit, by the second Mayor Daley, and a knowledgeable observer of Illinois could cite dozens of similar, though less famous, examples.
From time to time, this results in situations that outsiders might find awkward. The most powerful politician in Illinois is the Speaker of the Illinois House, Michael Madigan. If you wanted to reduce corruption in Illinois — which would be a good idea — you would probably start your investigations with Madigan, targeting some of his more careless allies and associates.
However, the Illinois attorney general would find that hard to do; she is named Lisa Madigan — and is the daughter of Michael Madigan.
Outsiders might consider it imprudent to put her in a position with such obvious conflicts of interest, but Illinois voters disagree. They elected her in 2002, and then re-elected her in 2006, by a 72-25 margin. She did less well in 2010, winning only 64.6 percent of the vote.
Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass has some suggestions for this tough, crime fighting, attorney general, including this one:
Lisa might also pick up copies of a Crain's Chicago Business investigation last month that said her daddy cost Illinois taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars by stopping five bills to restructure McCormick Place bonds from 2005 to 2010, a time of falling interest rates.But I doubt that Mr. Madigan need worry about that investigation — as long as his daughter is attorney general.
Outsiders may think this is carrying family values too far; Illinois insiders think this is the way things ought to be.
(What could change all this? A Republican administration in Washington, D. C. which could appoint a prosecutor who was not afraid to take on Michael Madigan and what Kass calls the "Combine", the politicians from both parties who have been looting the state for years. The prosecutor would probably pick up a few Illinois Republicans, too, and that would be fine with me. But while their ally, Barack Obama, is in power, the Combine is probably safe, unless the Madigans, and their allies, do something really stupid.)
- 8:11 AM, 14 December 2011 [link]
Green Pork: Peter Schweizer has a little list of men who benefited from Obama energy programs.
In my new book, Throw Them All Out, I expose the scandal that is outrageous and typical: those who are raising money for Obama received large amounts of taxpayer-funded energy stimulus money from the Obama Administration.If these kinds of deals were being made by a Republican administration with conventional energy producers, our "mainstream" journalists would be outraged.
But projects that please adherents to the Green religion are still, mostly, free from such criticism.
- 7:27 AM, 13 December 2011 [link]
Grenade Attack In Belgium: Here's the story.
At least two people have been killed and up to 47 others wounded when up to four grenades exploded outside the main courthouse in the eastern Belgian city of Liege.Caveat: It is common for the details, even essential details, in these fast-breaking stories to be wrong. I don't see anything implausible in this story, but I would be cautious about believing everything in it.
(Here's the story of the murder and the sentencing, which may be related to this grenade attack.)
- 6:48 AM, 13 December 2011
So far, it looks more like a spectacular ending for a petty criminal named Nordine Amrani than a terrorist attack. There are live blog posts here, here, and here with many more details — and examples of errors in the early reporting of the story.
- 8:57 AM, 13 December 2011
Almost certainly, Amrani was just a petty criminal.
Belgian gunman Nordine Amrani launched his attack on Christmas shopping crowds in Leige's busy Place Saint Lambert because he knew that he was going to be sent back to prison and had a "grudge against society", his lawyers said on Wednesday.Nordine Amrani may not have told his lawyer the truth; Abdelhadi Amrani, who is also of Moroccan descent, judging by her name, may not be telling us the truth, even if she knows it. But I think it likely, from what we know now, that she is.
The selection of targets makes me think that she is telling the truth. Nordine Amrani murdered a cleaning woman before he began his spree, and then targeted Belgians generally.
(The original Telegraph article no longer contains the claim from the Pakistani newspaper. They do not explain, or even note, the deletion — but they should.
Here's an explanation of that French phrase, if you need one.)
- 12:40 PM, 14 December2011 [link]
Lazy Norwegian Cows Haven't Been Producing Enough, so the country has a butter shortage.
An acute butter shortage in Norway, one of the world's richest countries, has left people worrying how to bake their Christmas goodies with store shelves emptied and prices through the roof.(Norway has a population of about 5 million.)
There are, I suspect, American dairy coops that could end that shortage in a few days, if they were allowed to sell their butter in Norway.
As far as I can tell, no one in the Norwegian government is contemplating anything as simple as lowering trade barriers to allow Norwegians to buy foreign butter, even from Sweden.
(I wouldn't have mentioned this story except that it marks a turnaround from previous stories from Europe. Their farm policies have, for decades, made ours look almost sensible, comparatively, and one result has been immense surpluses of butter.
In 1994, when I made my first visit to Europe, some were suggesting that they get rid of those surpluses by — feeding the butter back to the cows.)
- 5:52 AM, 13 December 2011 [link]
Don't Miss Today's Michael Ramirez cartoon.
- 3:54 PM, 12 December 2011 [link]
What Is Biodiesel Good For? It's more expensive than conventional fuels
This is going to help the Defense Department weather looming budget cuts, for sure. Teaming up with the Department of Agriculture (which has a cheery Rotary Club ring to it), the Navy has purchased 450,000 gallons of biofuel for about $16 a gallon, or about 4 times the price of its standard marine fuel, JP-5, which has been going for under $4 a gallon.It doesn't benefit the environment as much as claimed, if at all.
Total emissions from biodiesel are WORSE than emissions from fossil fuels, when considering both Direct and ILUC (Indirect Land Use Changes) Emissions.But it does benefit some people.
You won’t be surprised to learn that a member of Obama’s presidential transition team, T. J. Glauthier, is a “strategic advisor” at Solazyme, the California company that is selling a portion of the biofuel to the Navy. Glauthier worked – shock, shock – on the energy-sector portion of the 2009 stimulus bill.Well, a few, well-connected people, anyway.
So biodiesel is good for something — if you are rasing money for Obama's re-election.
And, to be fair, it is possible that, in time, the costs of biodiesel will come down enough to make it competitive with fossil fuels, though that seems unlikely in the near future.
(Caveat: The estimates of emissions from biodiesel and ethanol have varied wildly, which implies to me that most of us should be skeptical about exact numbers, for now.)
- 1:26 PM, 12 December 2011 [link]
One Thing I Love About Newt Gingrich Is His Willingness to say things people know are true, but that you aren't supposed to say in polite company.
For example, his claim that Palestinians are not a nationality. Or were not until recently as Barry Rubin says.
ABC says that the Palestinian Arabs began to have a consciousness in the 1890s. I cannot imagine what evidence would be brought to make that argument. The bare beginnings were around 1920 when actual groups began to form, though even then the “southern Syria” identity was strong. One is safer at putting the date in the late 1920s.Saying such things may not be very presidential, most of the time, but it can be refreshing.
And Rubin is right to call attention to something else Gingrich said:
Yet ABC and everyone else missed the real bombshell in what Gingrich said: “For a variety of political reasons we [the United States] have sustained this war against Israel now since the 1940s, and it’s tragic.”How? By subsidizing Arab refugees, without putting conditions on them that would force them to make peace.
- 12:36 PM, 12 December 2011 [link]
Andrew Malcolm hasn't lost his sense of humor: "Actual Obama quote: 'Now is not the time for playing politics'
(I checked, and Obama really did say that. In between his fund-raising expeditions and campaign speeches.)
- 10:31 AM, 12 December 2011 [link]
Our Sexist Senior Senator: Patty Murray is open in her stereotyping.
It would be easy to condemn Murray for her bigotry, easy to show how this would be treated if a male senator had said something similar, had said, for instance, that the growing number of women in the Congress had made it harder to get compromises because many of the women lacked courage.
And it would be equally easy to show that Murray's (and junior Senator Cantwell's) sexism has negatively affected men — and the women who love and depend on them. Policies backed by senators Murray and Cantwell made the recession worse for men, so much worse that it was often dubbed a "mancession".
But all that's been done before, and in this post I'd like to consider a different question: Is Senator Murray right?
To discuss that question, I am going to have to ask you to put aside political correctness, or your fear of it. I am going to assume that men and women are — on the average — different. For example, I believe that — on the average — men are better at moving heavy furniture, and that — on the average — women are better at harmonizing colors.
Those heterodox beliefs might get me tossed out of some local college classes, but I think the scientific evidence supports them.
Now that the politically correct have been warned, we can turn back to the main question: Would more women in the Congress result in more compromises?
Recent decades suggest that the answer is no. The number of women in the House and Senate has been rising, but in the same decades, our elected leaders have found it harder to reach grand compromises.
The most prominent example of women in Congress, former Speaker and current Minority Leader, Nancy Pelosi, also suggests that the answer is no. Pelosi helped block compromise on Social Security, even when the Bush administration floated the idea of higher taxes on high earners to pay for a transition to a more open system. She backed extremists for top committee positions. Her attacks on Republicans often lack the civility that helps make compromises possible.
But those points are both just suggestive. The increase in women and the decrease in compromise might be coincidental. A single example, however prominent, is not enough to prove a general case.
We can get a better understanding of the problem if we look at it from a different angle. If you were to ask serious students of Congress why compromises have become more difficult to reach, most would say the main reason is that the two parties have lost their moderates, have lost those people in the middle who could bargain with both sides. The Democrats who elected Tip O'Neill speaker were far less unified, ideologically, than the Democrats who chose Nancy Pelosi. And we have seen similar, though less drastic, changes on the Republican side.
So we have fewer compromises in Congress because we have fewer centrists and more extremists, or, if you prefer, fewer moderates and more pure conservatives and leftists.
As it happens, we have a local example of that change. The senator who was farthest to the left in 2008 by the National Journal's composite ranking was our own senior senator, Patty Murray. She is far more extreme than Democratic predecessors like Warren Magnuson and "Scoop" Jackson.
If she had been replaced by someone less extreme in her last election, we might have had a grand budget compromise, although that's unlikely given President Obama's unwillingness to even join in the negotiations. Sadly, Senator Murray is part of the problem, a big part of the problem.
Cross posted at Sound Politics.
(The attentive may have noticed that I have still not answered the main question: Would a Congress with more women be more likely to compromise, everything else being equal? I don't know the answer to that question; I don't think that the social psychologists have answered it in their studies, even when they haven't been handicapped by political correctness. And we have to be careful about generalizing too much from those studies, done so often on American college students who just happen to be in psychology classes.But it is enough to know, in this case, that we would be more likely to get compromises if Senator Murray were replaced by someone less extreme.)
- 8:42 AM, 12 December 2011 [link]
North Korean Grinches.
North Korea has warned South Korea of "unexpected consequences" if it lights up a Christmas tree-shaped tower near their tense border.Which I suppose that it would, in a way.
But it's a less deadly form of warfare than firing barrages of rockets at fishing villages and torpedoes at ships.
- 6:45 AM, 12 December 2011 [link]
Green Superstition Is Contributing To Hunger: Especially in Africa.
In a strongly worded editorial in Science magazine this week, Calestous Juma, the director of the Agricultural Innovation in Africa program at Harvard's Kennedy School, called for a government-led initiative to introduce biotechnology into Africa. "Major international agencies such as the United Nations have persistently opposed expanding biotechnology to regions most in need of its societal and economic benefits," he wrote.And not just in Africa. "Golden" rice would be of great benefit to many in Asia.
Only big firms can afford this ordeal by red tape, and only for big crops. The pioneering Swiss biologist Ingo Potrykus, who has watched his not-for-profit invention of vitamin-enhanced "golden rice" tied up for 13 years by regulatory procrastination, is no longer in the mood to mince words. He recently wrote that he holds "the regulation of genetic engineering responsible for the death and blindness of thousands of children and young mothers."(His rice contains beta-carotene, which our bodies can use to make Vitamin A.)
The Greens who block these advances pay a little more for their food, as a consequence; the poor people of Africa and Asia often pay in malnutrition, and worse.
It is strange that, after literally thousands of years of genetic engineering, some, especially on the left, have come to distrust it, when it is done systematically.
(Nearly everything we eat is "genetically engineered". In the past, we made the modifications to our food plants and animals slowly, looking for good qualities and preserving them. Now we have better tools and can do our engineering more quickly, and with a far better understanding of the costs and benefits.)
- 7:47 PM, 11 December 2011 [link]
Mitt Romney Is Thrifty (Mostly): The New York Times finds that a little bit weird.
But Mr. Romney had frequently driven an inexpensive, domestic stalwart that looked out of place in the [Bain] company parking lot — a Chevrolet Caprice station wagon with red vinyl seats and a banged-up front end.But I think that frugality is one of the qualities we really, really need in our next president. Not the only one, not even the most important quality, but definitely in the top ten, perhaps in the top five.
Mostly? Romney is generous to a fault with his family, especially his wife. And that, in an age with so many damaged families, is, from my point of view, an endearing fault, if it is a fault.
- 7:23 PM, 11 December 2011 [link]
Tim Terrific: Just watched most of the latest come-from-behind Tim Tebow performance, and am still smiling.
Though I can explain both his wins — credit the Denver defense, mostly — and the streak — just one of those statistical oddities — for the moment, I just want to enjoy another improbable comeback.
(And I don't mind the fact that he drives the politically correct nutty.)
- 4:32 PM, 11 December 2011 [link]
Greek Values Under Ottoman Rule: Even before the fall of Constantinople in 1453, most Greeks* were ruled by the Ottoman Empire, and most Greeks continued to ruled by the Ottomans until the Greek war of independence in the 1820s.
The Ottomans exploited the Greeks, in many ways, including taking boys to be trained as Janissaries. But the Ottomans were also — relatively — tolerant, religiously, and, over the centuries, offered ambitious Greeks many opportunities for wealth and even power, as long, of course, as they thought those Greeks were serving the empire.
Now, ask yourself this question: What values would be appropriate for Greeks under Ottoman rule? What values would help Greeks survive and even prosper under the Ottomans?
Some are obvious. For example, Greeks under the Ottomans would have a patriotic duty to cheat the Ottoman tax gatherers in every way they could.
Second, Greeks would learn not to trust other Greeks, unless, perhaps they were kin, because the Ottomans, like almost every other empire, would use spies to detect revolts before they broke out.
Third, Greeks would look for ways to corrupt Ottoman officials with bribes or favors.
You can probably think of more values that would be likely under Ottoman rule, but those should be enough to make my point: Descriptions of modern Greek defects sound much like the values that would have allowed Greeks to survive under Ottoman rule.
But they may be less appropriate now.
We can extend this to other nationalities. The Ottomans ruled all of the Balkan peninsula for centuries, so we might expect similar values among Bulgarians, Croats, Serbs, and others. And, though this is less obvious from a European perspective, we should expect similar values among Arabs, since, after the victories of Selim the Grim, most Arabs were ruled by the Ottomans, a rule that also lasted for centuries. Although most Arabs were, by then, Muslims, that changed the nature of the Ottoman oppression, not the fact of it.
(*I use the term "Greeks" to match the current term, but you should understand that the primary division for most of those centuries was religious, not national. It would be more accurate to say "members of the Greek Orthodox Church", rather than "Greeks".
After World War I, for example, there was an exchange of populations between Greece and Turkey, usually described as Greeks going to Greece, and Turks going to Turkey. In fact, many of the "Greeks" in this exchange did not speak Greek, and many of the "Turks" did not speak Turkish. They were joining co-religonists, not members of their own nationality.
Here are reviews of Greece and the Ottoman Empire, if you need them.)
- 3:09 PM, 10 December 2011 [link]
According To The Los Angeles Times, Barack Obama Has Been A "Regular Church-Goer" That's true if you start when he joined Reverend Wright's church — and don't include the years since he resigned from that church.
By way of Newsbusters.
- 2:52 PM, 9 December 2011 [link]
Obama's Osawatomie Speech Was Full Of Errors: Enough, so that it earned three "Pinocchios" (out of a maximum of four) from the Washington Post's Glenn Kessler.
Finally, Obama blames the Bush tax cuts for “massive deficits.” It is certainly true that the Bush tax cuts helped blow a hole in the budget. But they did not do it all by themselves. We looked at length at this issue earlier this year, assisted by new Congressional Budget Office data.(Emphasis added.)
I heard and saw a number of accounts of the speech from "mainstream" journalists, some of them coming after Kessler had published this fact check. Not one of them mentioned any factual errors in the speech.
(In Kessler's rating scale, three Pinocchios mean: "Significant factual error and/or obvious contradictions.")
- 2:35 PM, 9 December 2011 [link]
Debit Card Fees Go Up For Some Small Businesses: Yesterday's Wall Street Journal, while explaining one of the unintended consequences of the Dodd-Frank cap on debit card fees, also explained something that had puzzled me for years: why fast food places were so willing to accept debit cards.
As you probably recall, the average debit card fee was about 44 cents before the law came into effect. That would seem to be large enough to take away the profit on, for instance, a Subway sandwich or a Wendy's hamburger.
But it turns out that Visa and MasterCard were discounting the fees on small purchases, often to as little as 7 cents. The two companies were losing money on those transactions, which were subsidized by larger purchases. (They were doing it, I assume, in order to encourage of the use of their cards.)
And now, with the new 21 cent cap, those discounts are going away. And so many small merchants are encouraging their customers to pay cash for small purchases, and some are starting to offer cash discounts, or installing cash machines.
(In contrast, some Arco stations have dropped the fee they were charging for gas purchases with debit cards.)
So, who came out ahead with this debit-fee cap? Most large merchants, companies like, well, . . . . Walmart. Businesses that sell small, low-profit items probably lost, net.
Did consumers come out ahead? Some did, some didn't. I would guess that the change will make it harder for low-income consumers to have simple checking accounts at most large large banks, and that they may pay a little more for small purchases, as a result of this change. But higher-income consumers will probably save a small amount as the the result of this change.
- 8:08 PM, 9 December 2011 [link]
A Self-Sufficient Caption: Most cartoons need both picture and caption to make sense. (That's why you see, from time to time, news organizations showing pictures without captions, and challenging their readers to come up with a good caption.)
Occasionally, but only occasionally, you see a cartoon where the picture does not need a caption.
Yesterday's New Yorker cartoon was the reverse; the caption was enough all by itself, without the picture.
Here it is: "The gods want olive oil, but it has to be virgin olive oil." I would guess at least 95 percent of you can guess what the picture looks like, just from that.
(And I'll have an explanation for the other 5 percent tomorrow.)
- 7:19 AM, 9 December 2011 [link]