Archive:

Feburary 2009, Part 3

Jim Miller on Politics




Pseudo-Random Thoughts



Anti-Scientific Advisors?  John Tierney gently asks whether Stephen Chu and John Holdren are the right people to advise Barack Obama on science.
Why, since President Obama promised to "restore science to its rightful place" in Washington, do some things feel not quite right?

First there was Steven Chu, the physicist and new energy secretary, warning The Los Angeles Times that climate change could make water so scarce by century's end that "there's no more agriculture in California" and no way to keep the state's cities going, either.

Then there was the hearing in the Senate to confirm another physicist, John Holdren, to be the president's science adviser.  Dr. Holdren was asked about some of his gloomy neo-Malthusian warnings in the past, like his calculation in the 1980s that famines due to climate change could leave a billion people dead by 2020.  Did he still believe that?

"I think it is unlikely to happen," Dr. Holdren told the senators, but he insisted that it was still "a possibility" that "we should work energetically to avoid."
(I suppose that most of us would prefer not to see one billion dead a decade from now.)

Tierney uses these two examples to introduce Roger Pielke, Jr., and his book, Honest Broker.  (And then opens it up for a discussion in blog.)   The book's title tells you what Pielke thinks a scientist should be in political discussions that rely on scientific findings.  All too many scientists have not been honest brokers, instead have been tempted to claim that their preferred policy is the result of scientific analysis when it isn't, or even when the policy can't be, because the science is unsettled.

Although I agree with Tierney, and generally agree with Pielke's argument, I think both would benefit from a little better understanding of Barack Obama.  As David Freddoso argues, Obama is the product of the Chicago machine and 1960s radicalism.  And we should remember those two whenever we try to understand Obama.

Obama has claimed that he wants science to be in its "rightful place".  But Obama may mean something different by that phrase than most think.  A hardcore leftist would expect science to "serve the people", or some such, and might even deny the possibility that a scientist could be an honest broker.   A machine politician expects scientists — and everyone else — to support the political machine in return for money and jobs.  Neither the hardcore leftist nor the machine politician wants unbiased advice; instead, the leftist wants science to support his causes, and the machine politician wants scientists to support his organization.

If that analysis is right, then Obama chose advisors Chu and Holdren because he expects them to support him, not because he wants honest advice.
- 2:26 PM, 24 February 2009   [link]


It's A Common Grammatical Mistake:  Bill Clinton made it.  George W. Bush made it.  And so does president (and author) Barack Obama.
Since his election, the president has been roundly criticized by bloggers for using "I" instead of "me" in phrases like "a very personal decision for Michelle and I" or "the main disagreement with John and I" or "graciously invited Michelle and I."

The rule here, according to conventional wisdom, is that we use "I" as a subject and "me" as an object, whether the pronoun appears by itself or in a twosome.  Thus every "I" in those quotes ought to be a "me."
This is not a big issue, but it is odd when an author has problems with pronouns.  (Perhaps he gets them right when he writes, but not when he speaks.)

(There's a simple way to avoid this mistake:
But an educated speaker is expected to keep his pronouns in line. Here, then, is a tip, Mr. President.   Nobody chooses the wrong pronoun when it's standing on its own.  If you're tempted to say "for Michelle and I" in tonight's speech, just mentally omit Michelle (sorry, Mrs. Obama), and you'll get it right.  And no one will get on your case.
I've been using that tip for decades.  But I also sometimes rewrite a sentence in order to avoid the problem entirely.)
- 1:10 PM, 24 February 2009   [link]


Eric Holder Called For More Talk About Race:  But Holder won't be the least bit interested in what Walter Williams has to say.  For instance, Holder would not be interested in discussing officially supported segregation at our colleges and universities.
For example, some of the nation's most elite universities, such as Vanderbilt, Stanford and the University of California, have yielded to black student demands for separate graduation ceremonies and separate "celebratory events."

Universities such as Stanford, Cornell, MIT and Cal Berkeley have, or have had, segregated dorms.
Nor would Holder be interested in discussing Williams' conclusion.
If black people continue to accept the corrupt blame game agenda of liberal whites, black politicians and assorted hustlers, as opposed to accepting personal responsibility, the future for many black Americans will remain bleak.
Does Williams think that Holder is one of those "hustlers"?  He might.

(Earlier post on Holder's call for a conversation on race here.)
- 8:25 AM, 24 February 2009   [link]


How Bad Is The Stock Market Decline?  This bad.  It's tied with the 1937-1938 bear market for second worst since 1929.

The Investor's Business Daily believes that Barack Obama is responsible for much of the decline.  I would give him only part credit for the decline, but it is a fact that the sharp decline began last fall when he moved ahead of Senator McCain for good.

(Is this a buying opportunity for long-term investors?  Possibly.  If I were still investing in individual stocks, I would begin looking for bargains now, especially in the financial sector.)
- 7:13 AM, 24 February 2009   [link]


Approval Down, Disapproval Up:  So far, Obama's popularity trends look much like those of other modern presidents.
According to Gallup polling on all elected presidents from Richard Nixon through George W. Bush (this excludes Gerald Ford, who assumed office after Nixon resigned), the range of job approval for new presidents after about a month in office extends from 55% for Ronald Reagan to 71% for Jimmy Carter.   The average one-month approval rating for all six past presidents is 62% -- nearly identical to Obama's current 63%.

The average first-month disapproval rating for these same past presidents was 16%.  However, Obama's slightly higher 24% disapproval score is similar to those seen for the most recent two presidents -- Bush and Bill Clinton -- perhaps owing to heightened partisanship or media scrutiny in recent years.
Rasmussen measures approval differently, but shows similar trends.

Republicans shouldn't be too pleased by these trends.  According to Gallup, almost all of the increase in disapproval comes from Republicans who, I suppose, are beginning to figure out that Obama is a Democrat.  But Republican candidates will need votes from independents and Democrats to take back power in 2010 and 2012.
- 3:09 PM, 23 February 2009
Much more on Obama's early approval ratings here.  (There is one puzzling mistake in the post.  Charles Franklin notes a consistent difference between Rasmussen and Gallup results.  But the two polling firms use different questions to measure presidential approval, so you can't really compare their results without adding a caveat.  Specifically, Rasmussen asks respondents to choose from four alternatives, strongly approve, somewhat approve, somewhat disapprove, and strongly disapprove, while Gallup just asks them whether they approve or disapprove.)
- 1:02 PM, 25 February 2009   [link]


The Permanent Campaigner:  Seattle PI cartoonist David Horsey worked hard to elect Barack Obama president.  Horsey is now complaining that our elected officials won't stop campaigning.  

From day one of the Obama administration, Republicans and Democrats inside the Beltway have jockeyed for advantage in the unending campaign.  A case in point is the House Republicans' unanimous vote against the stimulus plan, a forced unity engineered to give the appearance of principled opposition to a scheme they expect to fail.  They believe this solid front will serve them well politically in 2010.   (Of course, if the plan is perceived as successful by then, quite a few industrial state Republicans who were tempted to vote in favor of the bill could pay a big price for party loyalty.)

This ceaseless campaigning can lead one to ask in despair, "Why can't these clowns forget about politics and just work for the good of the country?"

As always (well, almost always), I want to say this gently.  Barack Obama has spent most of his adult life campaigning.  (And writing two campaign autobiographies.)  Expecting Obama not to campaign is like putting paper and pencil in front of David Horsey, and expecting him not to draw.   Either man might refrain, but that isn't the way to bet.

And, again putting it as gently as I can, Barack Obama learned his trade from the Chicago machine.   Those who know even a little about the Chicago machine — a group that does not appear to include Horsey — know that it is run by people who think that your organization should campaign every day, of every week, of every month, of every year, between elections.

Since Obama is a permanent campaigner, no fair-minded person would expect his opponents in the Republican party (and, soon, in his own party) not to reply with permanent campaigns of their own.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(Horsey is wrong on the date, of course.  Obama never stopped campaigning, even after he had won the election.

If Obama is reelected in 2012, will he continue to campaign?  I think so.  And I would expect him to campaign after he has left the presidency.  And to write at least one more autobiography, since he shows no signs of being bored with his favorite subject.)
- 12:56 PM, 23 February 2009   [link]


No Surprise here.
The vehicles owned by the Obama administration's auto team could reflect one reason why Detroit's Big Three automakers are in trouble: The list includes few new American cars.

Among the eight members named Friday to the Presidential Task Force on the Auto Industry and the 10 senior policy aides who will assist them in their work, two own American models.  Add the Treasury Department's special adviser to the task force and the total jumps to three.
Here's a possible slogan for the team:  Buy as we say, not as we buy.

Two on the team don't own cars:
• Carol Browner, the White House climate czar, said earlier this month at the Washington Auto Show that she doesn't own an automobile. Public records show she once owned a 1999 Saab 9-5 SE.

• Energy Secretary Steven Chu doesn't own a car, his wife, Jean Fetter, said in a telephone interview on Sunday.
Just the two I would have guessed.

(Some years ago I saw a study on car choices by college professors.  As you would expect, their choices correlated closely with their political views.  A man who drove a Buick, for instance, might well be that rare individual, a professor and a Republican.  And those without cars were the farthest left, just as you would expect.)
- 10:52 AM, 23 February 2009   [link]


Worth Reading:  Robert Samuelson on the "stimulus" package.  Here's his summary.
By using the stimulus for unrelated policy goals, spending will be delayed and diluted.  There's another downside: "Temporary" spending hikes for specific programs, as opposed to block grants, will be harder to undo, worsening the long-term budget outlook.

Politics cannot be removed from the political process.  But here, partisan politics ran roughshod over pragmatic economic policy.  Token concessions (including the AMT provision) to some Republicans weakened the package.

Obama is gambling that his flawed stimulus will seem to work well enough that he'll receive credit for restarting the economy — and not be blamed for engineering a colossal waste.
(Emphasis added.)

In some ways, it is wrong to blame this package on Obama, who had little to do with putting it together.  But he did sign this Pelosi-Reid wish list, and that makes him responsible for the damage that it will do.
- 9:44 AM, 23 February 2009   [link]


JFK Was Wrong:  Who says so?  Democratic Congressman Jerry McNerney.  Here's what McNerney told a constituent at a town meeting:
When I got my time with him, I explained to him that even people who make $150k in Northern Cal. are not "rich" and should not be taxed as if they were.  (A 1400 sq ft, 40 year old home here goes for over half a million, even after the housing slump.  Then you add in real estate taxes, state income taxes, 10% sales tax, gas prices, utility costs, etc.)  I also expressed my concern that about half the people in the country now pay no income taxes, so there is overwhelming incentive for them to keep voting for democrats and therefore higher taxes for the rest of us.  He told me that he thought tax rates should go up for the very rich and that the top marginal tax rate should be 90%.  I couldn't believe what I was hearing, so I asked in a voice that many in the room could hear if he really meant 90%, and he said yes.  Several people asked me after my turn was over if they heard correctly what he said, and were amazed when I said yes.
We raised the top marginal tax rate to over 90 percent during World War II, and then left the top rate above 90 percent for most of the years between World War II and 1964.  So Congressman McNerney wants to go back to World War II rates.  But John Kennedy thought those high rates were bad policy.  In December 1962, he made the argument for lower rates in this famous speech.
There are a number of ways by which the federal government can meet its responsibilities to aid economic growth.  We can and must improve American education and technical training.  We can and must expand civilian research and technology.  One of the great bottlenecks for this country's economic growth in this decade will be the shortages of doctorates in mathematics, engineering, and physics — a serious shortage with a great demand and an undersupply of highly trained manpower.  We can and must step up the development of our natural resources.

But the most direct and significant kind of federal action aiding economic growth is to make possible an increase in private consumption and investment demand — to cut the fetters which hold back private spending.  In the past, this could be done in part by the increased use of credit and monetary tools, but our balance of payments situation today places limits on our use of those tools for expansion.  It could also be done by increasing federal expenditures more rapidly than necessary, but such a course would soon demoralize both the government and our economy.  If government is to retain the confidence of the people, it must not spend more than can be justified on grounds of national need or spent with maximum efficiency.  And I shall say more on this in a moment.

The final and best means of strengthening demand among consumers and business is to reduce the burden on private income and the deterrents to private initiative which are imposed by our present tax system — and this administration pledged itself last summer to an across-the-board, top-to-bottom cut in personal and corporate income taxes to be enacted and become effective in 1963.
The Kennedy tax cuts were passed after his death.  The top individual rate was lowered to 70 percent, which must have been a big boon to some of the rich.  Obviously, Congressman McNerney believes that Kennedy's tax cuts were a mistake.

The economy was beginning to expand before the Kennedy tax cuts were passed in 1964.  It continued to expand until 1969.

(McNerney and I disagree.  Over the years I have come to believe that the best tax system is one that taxes almost all income, but keeps even the top rates relatively low, no higher than, say, 33 percent.  I prefer such a system mostly because it is economically more efficient in the long run.  When the top rates are high, the rich seek — and almost always receive — tax breaks.  Over time, these tax breaks distort the economy, making the nation poorer than it would be otherwise.  And the high top rates almost certainly discourage some investment.

(There are other tax systems that eliminate the income tax entirely, and might be even more efficient.   Since I think these alternate systems have almost no chance of ever being enacted, I have never paid much attention to them — and don't plan to now.  For somewhat similar reasons, I have never been much interested in a flat tax.)

McNerney is the son of a 1930s union organizer, which may mean that he is the son of a socialist, since many union organizers were socialists then.  He dropped out of West Point because he opposed the Vietnam War, worked for the government in weapons research for many years, and then went into wind power.

In 2006, McNerney defeated incumbent Congressman (and rancher) Richard Pombo, to win this marginally Republican district.  (California 11th)  Pombo's common sense policies on the environment had offended urban imperialists, who poured immense sums and nasty propaganda into the district.  McNerney won again in 2008, with 55 percent of vote.  If I were a Republican strategist, I would be looking hard for a good candidate next year, since McNerney should be vulnerable.

Finally, not every economist agrees that Kennedy's tax cuts were a big success.  Here's a critique from  Herb Stein, who worked for Nixon.)
- 8:08 AM, 23 February 2009
Correction:  I originally said that we raised top marginal rates to over 90 percent during World War II — which is correct — and that we kept them that high after the war — which is not true for the entire period.  The top marginal rate was lowered to 86.45 percent in 1946 and then to 82.13 percent in 1948.  It went up to 91 percent in 1950, up again to 92 percent in 1952, and then back down to 91 percent in 1954, where it stayed until the Kennedy tax cuts.  (You can find all the numbers in this table.)

I have corrected the text above.
- 6:33 AM, 27 February 2009   [link]


President Bush Thought Everyone Should Enjoy The Blessings of Democracy:   President Obama doesn't agree.
Four years after President George W. Bush declared it the mission of America to spread democracy with the goal of "ending tyranny in our world," his successor's team has not picked up the mantle.  Since taking office, neither Mr. Obama nor his advisers have made much mention of democracy-building as a goal.  While not directly repudiating Mr. Bush's grand, even grandiose vision, Mr. Obama appears poised to return to a more traditional American policy of dealing with the world as it is rather than as it might be.

The shift has been met with relief in Washington and much of the world, which never grew comfortable with Mr. Bush's missionary rhetoric, seeing it as alternately cynical or naïve.  But it also underlines a sharp debate in Democratic circles about the future of Mr. Bush's vision.  Idealists, for lack of a better word, agree that democracy-building should be a core American value but pursued with more modesty, less volume and better understanding of the societies in question.  The realists, on the other hand, are skeptical of assumptions that what works in America should necessarily be exported elsewhere, or that it should eclipse other American interests.
Peter Baker is trying to put the best face on Obama's indifference to democracy — but Baker doesn't succeed.  It is all too clear that Obama — and many other Democrats — simply don't care whether other nations have free elections.

Obama's shift should not surprise anyone who has paid attention to how the Democratic Party has changed, and to what Obama said — and didn't say — during the campaign.  About half of Democrats see the United States as a bad country.  Those Democrats tend to be on the left of their party, where Obama and his closest allies live.  They don't see our system as something to be emulated, so they don't want to promote democracy or freedom in other nations.

This is not, as Baker claims, a "realist" position; this is a hard left position.

What has changed is this:  Democrats once almost universally supported human rights, at least formally.  They might drop that support as soon as they won office, but they did give it.  (In 1992, for instance, Bill Clinton attacked George H. W. Bush for being too lenient with Communist China — and then adopted even more lenient policies soon after taking office.)  Obama, for the most part, has never even claimed to support democracy in other countries.  (And, as far as that goes, Obama has never done much to support democracy in Chicago.)

He has claimed to support human rights from time to time — but only when he could use that to attack Bush and Cheney.  That some are now surprised by his indifference to democracy in other countries only shows that they weren't paying close attention to what he said, and what he has done, or, more precisely, what he has not done.
- 6:13 PM, 22 February 2009   [link]


George W. Bush Is A Regular Guy:  He can appreciate a joke, even on himself, and when he goes shopping, he buys guy stuff.  (And I wouldn't be surprised to learn that he missed the chance to use WD-40 while he was living in the White House.)

I miss him already.  Heck, I started missing him about November 5th.
- 4:13 PM, 22 February 2009   [link]


A Woman's Nose Knows:  Even when she doesn't.
Men's sweat smells different when they are sexually aroused, and women can tell the difference, a new study finds — even though they are not conscious of it.
The article goes on to say that the study found no evidence that the women liked the smell of the men who were aroused.

(The study's experimental design is clever, and looks sound to this non-expert.)
- 7:01 PM, 20 February 2009   [link]


The American Economy, Graded On A Curve:  Here are the first three paragraphs in a relatively cheerful New York Times article.
If the economies and stock markets of the world were graded on a curve, the United States would be doing quite well.

In the fourth quarter of last year, the American economy shrank at a 3.8 percent annual rate, the worst such performance in a quarter-century.  They are envious in Japan, where this week the comparable figure came in at negative 12.7 percent — three times as bad.

Industrial production in the United States is falling at the fastest rate in three decades.  But the 10 percent year-over-year plunge reported this week for January looks good in comparison to the declines in countries like Germany, off almost 13 percent in its most recently reported month, and South Korea, down about 21 percent.
And there are many more favorable comparisons in the article.

That may may not cheer everyone up.  If you are getting poorer at a slower rate than your neighbor, you are still getting poorer.  And your neighbor's even worse fortune probably won't cheer you up.  (And shouldn't unless your neighbor is a truly awful person.)

But these differences do provide food for thought.  If we are suffering less from the global downturn than many other nations, perhaps our policies have been relatively less foolish than their policies.  (Now that President Bush has left office, it is again legal to consider such ideas.)

I don't know enough about most other countries' policies to know why we are doing better than many other countries.  But I do know this:  If we were doing worse than our competitors, most "mainstream" journalists would be certain that it was Bush's fault.

(Incidentally, during the early 1990s downturn that cost the first President Bush his job, the US was also doing better than most other industrial nations.  But you may not have seen any big news stories on that fact.)
- 5:09 PM, 20 February 2009   [link]


A Critique Of The "Stimulus" Plan From The Federalist Papers:  By way of the American Thinker, I found this astute criticism of the Pelosi-Obama "stimulus plan.  But when I read Federalist 62 in full, I saw even more criticism of the "stimulus" plan, criticism that seems all too apt.
The internal effects of a mutable policy are still more calamitous.  It poisons the blessing of liberty itself.  It will be of little avail to the people, that the laws are made by men of their own choice, if the laws be so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood; if they be repealed or revised before they are promulgated, or undergo such incessant changes that no man, who knows what the law is to-day, can guess what it will be to-morrow.  Law is defined to be a rule of action; but how can that be a rule, which is little known, and less fixed?

Another effect of public instability is the unreasonable advantage it gives to the sagacious, the enterprising, and the moneyed few over the industrious and uniformed mass of the people.  Every new regulation concerning commerce or revenue, or in any way affecting the value of the different species of property, presents a new harvest to those who watch the change, and can trace its consequences; a harvest, reared not by themselves, but by the toils and cares of the great body of their fellow-citizens.  This is a state of things in which it may be said with some truth that laws are made for the FEW, not for the MANY.

In another point of view, great injury results from an unstable government.  The want of confidence in the public councils damps every useful undertaking, the success and profit of which may depend on a continuance of existing arrangements.  What prudent merchant will hazard his fortunes in any new branch of commerce when he knows not but that his plans may be rendered unlawful before they can be executed?   What farmer or manufacturer will lay himself out for the encouragement given to any particular cultivation or establishment, when he can have no assurance that his preparatory labors and advances will not render him a victim to an inconstant government?  In a word, no great improvement or laudable enterprise can go forward which requires the auspices of a steady system of national policy.
(I've emphasized the quote that originally caught my attention.)

Laws "so voluminous that they cannot be read".  The "new harvest" from every new regulation.   The unwillingness of merchants and farmers to invest when public policy is unstable.  We still can learn much from the Federalist Papers — if we are willing to read them.

(James Madison is usually credited with writing Federalist 62.  You can find more background on the papers here.  You can read them in many places, including here or here)
- 1:11 PM, 20 February 2009   [link]


Did Senator Stevens Get A Fair Trial?  The Wall Street Journal, which is not a fan of Stevens, has its doubts.
The headlines are gone, and MSNBC no longer cares. But that's all the more reason to take note of the strange and disturbing turn in the Ted Stevens legal saga.

Prosecutors claimed this senior Senatorial scalp last year, winning an ethics conviction a fortnight before the octogenarian Republican narrowly lost his bid for a seventh term from Alaska.  The media interest stopped there, the story has since become one of ambitious prosecutors who at the very least botched the job and may have miscarried justice.
This is troubling, to say the least, whatever you think of Stevens.

(And for those more concerned about substantive justice than legal rules, there is this point:
Though Mr. Stevens was a champion earmarker, the government never alleged much less proved that [oil services company] Veco got anything in return from the Senator.  The formal charges are a low-grade felony -- in essence, lying on forms.
If I recall correctly, Stevens was accused of filling out his Senate disclosure forms falsely.  That would be wrong, assuming he did fill out the forms falsely, but I wouldn't consider it a mortal sin.

For the record:  Most (all?) of the debate over whether Stevens got a fair trial comes from charges by one FBI agent on the case.  It is possible that Agent Chad Joy misunderstood what happened, even possible though unlikely, that he is not telling the truth.)
- 9:45 AM, 20 February 2009   [link]


Eric Holder Says We Should Talk More About Race In This Country:  But then immediately rules out much of the talk.
Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot, in things racial we have always been and continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards.  Though race related issues continue to occupy a significant portion of our political discussion, and though there remain many unresolved racial issues in this nation, we, average Americans, simply do not talk enough with each other about race.
. . .
There can, for instance, be very legitimate debate about the question of affirmative action.  This debate can, and should, be nuanced, principled and spirited.  But the conversation that we now engage in as a nation on this and other racial subjects is too often simplistic and left to those on the extremes who are not hesitant to use these issues to advance nothing more than their own, narrow self interest.
Holder should be pleased to see that his little speech immediately inspired some talk, though he may not agree with what was said.

Marty Peretz gently took Holder to task for denying progress.
But I, too, am mystified by Holder's remarks, reported by the Associated Press and CNN today, basically denying the progress that Americans have made in their relentless and ongoing march to racial equality.   Here is one snippet (and it is not a distorting snippet) of what Holder actually said: "we have always been, and we, I believe, continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards."  That is, "a nation of cowards" on racial matters.  Or another snippet: "On Saturdays and Sundays, America in the year 2009, does not, in some ways, differ significantly from the country that existed some 50 years ago."  The "in too many ways" in my first citation and the "in some ways" in my second are attempts at protective hedging.  But they hedge nothing.
Peretz then tried to engage Holder in a little dialog by posing two questions to him.

Linda Chavez agrees that we should talk about race, but then says that Holder should be honest enough to get the problem definition right.
Well, sorry, it just isn't so.  And if we're going to have an honest discussion about race, let's begin by defining the problem.

There are still large differences between whites and blacks in this society on everything from education to earnings to crime rates.  But does racial discrimination explain why black high school graduates, on average, read four grade levels lower than whites?  Is employment discrimination wholly to blame for the differences in average earnings between whites and blacks?
If you don't define the problem correctly, you are unlikely to find the right solution.

Heather MacDonald is downright harsh.
Is he nuts?  Leave aside for a moment Holder's purely decorative call for a "frank" conversation about race.  The Clinton-era Conversation also purported to be frank, and we know what that meant: a one-sided litany of white injustices.  Please raise your hand if you haven't heard the following bromides about "the racial matters that continue to divide us" more times than you can count: Police stop and arrest blacks at disproportionate rates because of racism; blacks are disproportionately in prison because of racism; blacks are failing in school because of racist inequities in school funding; the black poverty rate is the highest in the country because of racism; blacks were given mortgages that they couldn't afford because of racism.  I will stop there.

Not only do colleges, law schools, almost all of the nation's elite public and private high schools, and the mainstream media, among others, have "conversations about . . . racial matters"; they never stop talking about them.
What's going on here?  Holder may have given us a hint when he said that some use this issue to advance "their own, narrow self interest".  Like, for example, Eric Holder?  Let me be blunt.   Holder would not be our Attorney General if he were white, given his record.

The race card has helped Holder all through his legal career.  But it is beginning to fade in value, and may in the future no longer be a trump.  So it is not surprising that Holder, whether for "narrow self interest", or other reasons, would try to restore some of the card's lost value.  Even if that means distorting our history, and calling us a nation of cowards.  (Descendants of Union veterans may feel, rightly, that he has slurred their ancestors.)
- 8:31 AM, 20 February 2009   [link]


The "Stimulus" Package Will Help Poor Folks:  Poor folks including Paul Alllen.

Billionaire Paul Allen is a Microsoft cofounder, the owner of the NFL's Seattle Seahawks and the owner of the NBA's Portland Trailblazers.

And, thanks to the stimulus bill President Obama signed this week, he's also about to be as much as a billion dollars richer.

Read the article for the explanation.  Including Paul Alllen's claim that he didn't seek this tax break.  Which I believe since, without Bill Gates, Allen has been better at losing money than making it, or even saving it.

Perhaps the "stimulus" package would have been better if at least one person had read it before it was passed.  And signed.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 3:34 PM, 19 February 2009   [link]


The Economic Problem And The Pelosi-Obama Solution, In Two Graphs:  First, a history of unemployment in the last four decades.

Unemployment, 1971-2009

Note that both the initial claims and the continuing claims are measured as percentages of total employment of covered employees.  (And that they use different scales.)  That's the best way to measure the problem relative to the size of the economy.  If you want to see the numbers, instead of the percentages, you can find another graph at the same site where I found this one.  (And you can see larger versions of both graphs there, too.)

For my purposes in this post, percentages are better because we want to see how bad the problem is, relative to the whole economy.  And, as you can see, relative to the whole economy, unemployment is not nearly as bad as it was in earlier recessions.  At least not so far.

Now, the Pelosi-Obama solution, with data covering three decades.

Budget deficits, 1980-2009

Again percentages, instead of raw numbers, are the best way to show the data.

We were already running a substantial deficit.  The Pelosi-Obama solution will increase that deficit to levels not seen since World War II.  Judging by our past experience, their solution is far too large for the problem.

Probably.  It is certainly possible that the recession will get much worse before it gets better, though the Congressional Budget Office and the Federal Reserve are not predicting that it will.   Worse, but not much worse.  But it is also true that, if more "stimulus" is needed, it can be administered later.  We need not take most of the medicine (assuming it is medicine) in one immense dose.

And there are some positive signs in the economy.  Some indicators are not falling as rapidly, and some are even rising, including consumer spending.  The index of leading economic indicators has risen in the last two months.  So it is by no means certain that the economy will necessarily get much worse, even without the Pelosi-Obama "stimulus" package.

(Both graphs by way of Greg Mankiw.

I assume that you noticed that the two graphs do not cover exactly the same periods, but I think they are close enough for this quick look.

You can find a graphic showing where the "stimulus" money will be going here.)
- 2:26 PM, 19 February 2009   [link]


The Differences Between Monkeys And Apes:  The reactions to yesterday's cartoon controversy show that many people have trouble distinguishing the two groups of primates.   If you do, you can find an explanation from the National Zoo here.  Or, if you don't want to study the material at the link, just remember that apes don't have tails and that all apes except gibbons are large animals.  So Travis the chimpanzee — a large animal with no tail — was an ape, not a monkey.
- 11:06 AM, 19 February 2009   [link]


Thomas Gillespie thinks he knows where Osama bin Laden is.
Fugitive terrorist Osama bin Laden is most likely hiding out in a walled compound in a Pakistani border town, according to a satellite-aided geographic analysis released today.

A research team led by geographer Thomas Gillespie of the University of California-Los Angeles used geographic analytical tools that have been successful in locating urban criminals and endangered species.

Basing their conclusion on nighttime satellite images and other techniques, the scientists suggest bin Laden may well be in one of three compounds in Parachinar, a town 12 miles from the Pakistan border.   The research incorporates public reports of bin Laden's habits and whereabouts since his flight from the Tora Bora region of Afghanistan in 2001.
The analysis, as described in the article, seems generally plausible, and the conclusion is worth exploring — if it hasn't been explored already.  One would like to think that our intelligence services had already done something similar, but their performance has often been so poor that we can't be certain that the CIA or the NSA has done a similar analysis.

Though the conclusion is worth exploring, we shouldn't be too hopeful.
Says geographic-profiling expert Kim Rossmo of Texas State University in San Marcos, who has worked with the military on adapting police procedures for finding criminals to counterterrorism:  "It's important to think outside the box, and this is an innovative idea worth more pursuit.  However, the authors are much too certain of their conclusions.
Incidentally, I am not sure that I had even heard of "geographic profiling" before I read this article — but it sounds like a field that might have many practical uses.
- 10:30 AM, 19 February 2009   [link]


Obama Wasn't Joking when he said this:
So solving this crisis will require more than resources - it will require all of us to take responsibility.  Government must take responsibility for setting rules of the road that are fair and fairly enforced. Banks and lenders must be held accountable for ending the practices that got us into this crisis in the first place.  Individuals must take responsibility for their own actions.   And all of us must learn to live within our means again.
(Emphasis added.)

Obama wasn't joking when he said that we must learn to live within our means — after signing a bill that will produce the largest percentage deficit since World War II.  (And by far the largest ever in nominal dollars.)  And while promising even more spending.

Sometimes I wonder about the man's sense of humor.
- 8:49 AM, 19 February 2009   [link]


The Chimpanzee Cartoon:  There is a great controversy over a cartoon.
At first glance, the main editorial cartoon in today's New York Post seemed like just another lurid reference to the story that the tabloid had been covering with breathless abandon for two days running - the shooting by Connecticut police on Monday of a pet chimpanzee that viciously attacked his owner's friend.

But the caption cast the cartoon in a more sinister light.  "They'll have to find someone else to write the next stimulus bill," it read, prompting accusations that the Post was peddling a longstanding racist slur by portraying president Barack Obama, who signed the bill into law yesterday, as an ape.
It is a little odd to see this story in the Guardian, without some context.  The Guardian's principal cartoonist, Steve Bell, has been drawing President Bush as a chimpanzee for almost eight years.  And Bell boasts about it in this retrospective slide show, where you may see more examples than you can stomach.  (Not only did Bell draw Bush as a chimpanzee, Bell also, from time to time, drew cartoons of Bush and Tony Blair that are literally obscene.  And those cartoons didn't seem to bother anyone on the left, either.)  Although the Guardian is not a big circulation newspaper, it is the principal newspaper of the left in Britain, and the favorite newspaper of the BBC.

Despite all those Bell cartoons, it is, judging by the reactions on the left, wrong for an opponent of the "stimulus" bill to use a chimpanzee in his cartoon.  (For the record, the authors of the "stimulus" bill were mostly in the House of Representatives, and the most important authors were probably a few staffers.)

(In the interactive slide show, Bell several times refers to chimpanzees as "monkeys".  In fact, chimpanzees are apes, not monkeys.  With a little searching you can find more mistakes in this 2003 Bell column, including the bizarre claim that the New York Times was timid in its criticisms of Bush.

In the interactive slide show, Bell says that Bush suffers from "ignorance, stupidity, and arrogance".   The second I won't say anything about, but I will note that Harvard, which awarded Bush an MBA, might disagree.  The first, coming from a man who doesn't know the difference between monkeys and apes, strikes as me as projection.  As does the third.  If Bell is modest, he conceals it well.  (Though he has much to be modest about.)

Oh, and Bell hasn't given up drawing American presidents as animals.  Though he usually draws Barack Obama as Obama (and, as far as I know, always drew Saddam Hussein as Saddam), in this cartoon, Bell shows Obama as a rat.  Is that racist?  I'll leave that question for the leftists at the Guardian, and elsewhere.)
- 4:04 PM, 18 February 2009   [link]


Will The "Fairness" Doctrine Make A Comeback?  The White House says no.
President Obama opposes any move to bring back the so-called Fairness Doctrine, a spokesman told FOXNews.com Wednesday.

The statement is the first definitive stance the administration has taken since an aide told an industry publication last summer that Obama opposes the doctrine -- a long-abolished policy that would require broadcasters to provide opposing viewpoints on controversial issues.
My guess is that the Democrats will try to achieve the same result — the muzzling of their critics on talk radio — in other ways.

(Here's the American Spectator article mentioned in the Fox News article.)
- 2:06 PM, 18 February 2009   [link]


Obama's Poor Executive Performance:  So far.  Tony Blankley goes through four things that Obama said would be important to him: "Cabinet selection, closing Gitmo, the stimulus package and bipartisanship".  On all four Obama has appeared detached from the actual management.  It seems clear, for example, that Obama left vetting of his Cabinet choices to others, and did not establish guidelines and procedures that would prevent embarrassing choices.

Blankley has four possible explanations for Obama's detachment:
1) He is a very, very big-picture man, and he delegates decisions even on the central points of vital issues.

2) For tactical reasons, he decided these matters were not worth using up political chits.

3) He is either hesitant or unskilled at management, and he let matters drift until it seemed too late to intervene personally.

4) Or his personality type leaves him surprisingly uninterested in things that aren't personally about him.
Before considering any of the four, let me bring in an Obama success.
Lost in the heady professed optimism of the president signing the $787.2-billion stimulus bill today -- the largest spending bill in the nation's history -- was some appreciation for its extremely savvy staging and planning.  Much of it unseen by Americans, yet silently polishing the image of the moment and its lasting effect.  Some quick catchup ball for Obama's team after losing early weeks of the political propaganda offensive over the measure.
Andrew Malcolm has much more on just how clever the staging was, just how good the signing was as a campaign event.

So Obama and his team can be very good, even superb, at campaigning, but so far have shown no ability to actually govern.  This should not surprise us; Obama now has a few weeks of executive experience (and doesn't seem to have liked it so far), but he has years of successful campaigning experience.   He likes campaigning, and is very good at it.

We won't know soon whether any of Blankley's four explanations are correct.  But, so far, I would say that 3 and 4 seem the more likely than 1 and 2.
- 11:14 AM, 18 February 2009
Karl Rove has more on Obama's poor performance as an executive so far.

Rove hopes, for the good of the nation, that Obama improves.  So do I, but I see little reason to expect improvement.
- 7:12 AM, 19 February 2009   [link]


A Possible Explanation For Some Of Those Wall Street Donations?  During last year's campaign, I was intrigued by the amount of money that Barack Obama and the Democrats were raising from people in the financial community.  It seemed odd because Wall Streeters are reputed to be mostly interested in money — and he was promising to raise their taxes.

One explanation did occur to me at the time, though I never wrote about it.  Since the election, we have learned that Bernie Madoff, a heavy donor to the Democrats, was running a Ponzi scheme.  Now, another heavy donor, mostly to Democrats, is also in legal trouble.
Robert Allen Stanford, accused today by the Securities and Exchange Commission of running a phony $8 billion investment scheme using self-styled certificates of deposit (SEC statement), could rank among the biggest scammers in history if the allegations against him turn out to be true.

The eccentric Houston billionaire who runs Stanford Financial Group and lives in the U.S. Virgin Islands, allegedly promised "improbable and unsubstantiated high interest rates" on the certificates of deposit he sold.  The commission's complaint alleges that Stanford misrepresented to investors that their deposits were safe and falsely claimed they were reinvested primarily in liquid financial instruments.
Could some of those Wall Street donors last year have been trying to buy Chicago-style protection?   At least two may have been, and it is plausible that others were, as well.

The Politico story doesn't mention any Stanford donations to Barack Obama, but Dan Riehl found some, with the obvious search.

(Many Wall Streeters may have been operating legally and trying to buy Chicago-style protection, hoping to get exempted from some of the new taxes, or just hoping to be mostly left alone.)
- 4:22 PM, 17 February 2009   [link]


Want A Neanderthal?  You can have one for $30 million.   Maybe.
Scientists report that they have reconstructed the genome of Neanderthals, a human species that was driven to extinction some 30,000 years ago, probably by the first modern humans to enter Europe.
. . .
Possessing the Neanderthal genome raises the possibility of bringing Neanderthals back to life.  Dr. George Church, a leading genome researcher at the Harvard Medical School, said Thursday that a Neanderthal could be brought to life with present technology for about $30 million.
Not every expert agrees that it could be done.  And if it could be done, it would require a volunteer human mother, or, Church says, an involuntary chimpanzee mother.

Reviving the Neanderthals would, to say the least, pose some interesting ethical questions.

John Tierney doesn't see those questions, and makes this argument.
But I'm afraid I can't see the problem.  If we discovered a small band of Neanderthals hidden somewhere, we'd do everything to keep them alive, just as we try to keep alive so many other endangered populations of humans and animals — including man-biting mosquitoes and man-eating polar bears.  We've also spent lots of money reintroducing animals into ecosystems from which they had vanished.  Shouldn't be at least as solicitous to our fellow hominids?

Granted, it would be disorienting and lonely for the first few Neanderthals, but it would be pretty interesting for them as well as us.  (What would a Neanderthal make of Disneyland, or of World of Warcraft?)  If our species disappeared and a smarter species took over the planet, I'd take the offer to be resurrected just on the theory that being alive beats being dead.
For me, this is the most important ethical question:  How we would treat them, assuming, as seems likely, that they turned out to be sort-of-like modern humans.  Suppose, for instance, that they could make simple tools — as we know they could — but were unable to speak in complete sentences.  Then what?

And there is this point:  We modern humans may have wiped out the Neanderthals.  Does that give us some obligation to revive them, assuming we can?

(Some anthropologists thought (and some may still think despite the evidence from this study) that Neanderthals and modern humans may have interbred.  You can find a discussion of the question in this Wikipedia article.)
- 1:05 PM, 17 February 2009   [link]


Read Science Fiction If You Want To Understand The Taliban:  So says Ralph Peters.
In my years as an intelligence officer, I saw colleagues make the same blunder over and over: They rushed to stress the ways in which the Russians, the Chinese or the Iranians were "just like us."  It's the differences that kill you, though.

I was an effective intelligence officer.  Why?  In junior high, I matured past the French Existentialists and started reading science fiction.  The prose was often ragged, but the speculative frameworks offered a useful approach to analysis.

Begin with the view that all opponents are aliens from another cultural planet.  Build your assessment from a blank slate.  What do the alien collectives desire or fear?  How do they perceive the galaxy?  What are their unique weaknesses?

Regarding Planet Afghanistan, we still hear the deadly cliché that "all human beings want the same basic things, such as better lives and greater opportunities for their children."  How does that apply to Afghan aliens who prefer their crude way of life and its merciless cults?
Or to the Palestinian terrorists who celebrate when their children blow themselves up?

(In principle, you should be able to read anthropology for similar insights, but modern anthropology has become so politically correct that I am not sure how useful much of it would be.)

It is better to start with the assumption that our enemies are aliens than with the assumption that they are "just like us".  Otherwise, it is too easy to project and to see them as like us when they are not.  You see that in the many, many newspaper articles which impose Western political categories ("liberal", moderate", "conservative") on religious conflicts.  Even Procrustean methods can not make the conflicts fit those Western categories.  But that hasn't stopped thousands of our "mainstream" journalists from trying to make them fit.

A small example of the difference between our society, and most others:  In general, we still consider it polite to let women go first; we still, mostly, use an old rule from the age of chivalry.  Most societies do not use that rule; in most societies men go first.   (Some time ago I read that during World War II some Indonesian men temporarily let women go first — because some of the country was mined.)  That's a small difference, but one that tells us much about how the societies think that men and women should relate to each other.

It is not hard to find much larger examples.  In her detailed examination of "honor" killings, Phyllis Chesler comes to a conclusion that Ralph Peters would appreciate.  Honor killings are not a form of domestic violence, do not fit into that Western category.  Instead, they are the result of a very different set of values, a set that does not map neatly into Western, individualistic categories.
The problem the West faces is complex.  Muslims, Sikhs, and Hindus view honor and morality as a collective family matter.  Rights are collective, not individual.  Family, clan, and tribal rights supplant individual human rights.
And reading a little science fiction might help us appreciate those differences.

(For the record, I think Peters should have said "Taliban", rather than "Afghans".  Most of the Afghans are, after all, fighting with us against the Taliban.)
- 9:01 AM, 17 February 2009   [link]


A Presidency On Steroids?  That's Eugene Robinson's description:
This is a presidency on steroids.  Barack Obama's executive orders alone would be enough for any new administration's first month: decreeing an end to torture and Guantanamo, extending health insurance to more children, reversing Bush-era policies on family planning.  That the White House also managed to push through Congress a spending bill of unprecedented size and scope -- designed both to provide an economic stimulus and reorder the nation's priorities -- is little short of astonishing.

Now it's time for the administration to get to work.  For his next act, Obama must set the parameters of a new presidential role that he did not seek but cannot avoid: managing the big chunks of the private-sector economy that are now more accurately described as semi-private at best.
When I saw Robinson's metaphor, I remembered that steroids (like everything else) have side effects.  In particular, they have undesirable psychological side effects:
Steroids have been reported to increase a persons aggressiveness or lead them to become more violent.   This is sometimes called a "roid rage," defined as a manic rage where the user displays episodes of outright aggression and/or violent feelings and actions.  Though scientific evidence is hard to find in support of roid rages, there are a large number of individual accounts of users who describe their own uncharacteristic aggressive behavior while under the influence of anabolic steroids.

In addition, many users report feeling good about themselves while on anabolic steroids, but researchers report that extreme mood swings can also occur.  Depression is often seen when the drugs are stopped and may contribute to a dependence on anabolic steroids.  Researchers further report that users may suffer from paranoid jealousy, extreme irritability, delusions, and impaired judgment stemming from feelings of invincibility.
Some of those side effects don't sound desirable in a presidency.

For now I won't venture an opinion on whether Robinson's metaphor is more apt than he may realize, whether the Obama presidency may suffer from "irritability, delusions, and impaired judgment stemming from feelings of invincibility".  But I do think that we should watch for those symptoms.

(There are also physical side effects from steroids, some of them quite unpleasant.)
- 5:23 AM, 17 February 2009   [link]