February 2013, Part 2
Jim Miller on Politics
With A Budget-Cutting Sequester Coming, it's time to review the fireman first principle.
Charles Peters’ “Fireman First Principle”–outlined in this 1976 article–holds that a clever bureaucrat, faced with a budget reduction, will threaten to cut not the least essential services but the most essential (in order to provoke public outrage that results in the budget reduction getting cancelled)The tactic can also be used by moderately clever politicians, like, for instance, President Obama.
Expect to see and hear stories about the disasters that await us if we make even modest cuts in the federal budget.
And stories about service cutting that annoys constituents. A classic example is the threat to cut visiting hours at the Washington Monument.
(Note that if the budget cuts come, the clever bureaucrat (or the moderately clever politician) may actually decide to cut some essential services, in order to preserve credibility.
More here and here.)
- 11:09 AM, 16 February 2013 [link]
The Daily Mail Tells Us What Happened in that Minnesota school riot.
What started out as a lunchtime food fight in a Minneapolis high school ended in a massive brawl involving hundreds of students and police officers wielding canisters of Mace.The Minneapolis StarTribune doesn't.
No doubt the Minnesota newspaper will tell its readers who was involved in the conflict, and why, eventually.
- 5:44 AM, 15 February 2013 [link]
No, Steve Cohen Is Not Like Strom Thurmond.
The Tennessee Democrat may have sired an illegitimate daughter, like Thurmond, but he didn't father her, unlike Thurmond.
Six months after the death of Thurmond, Essie Mae Washington-Williams (1925–2013) publicly revealed that she was his daughter. She identified as African American, was married and had a family; she was a retired Los Angeles Unified School District elementary school teacher with a master's degree. She was born on October 12, 1925, to Carrie "Tunch" Butler (1909–1948), who had worked for Thurmond's parents and was 16 years old when Thurmond, then 22, impregnated her. He helped pay his natural daughter Essie's way through a historically black college in South Carolina. Though Thurmond never publicly acknowledged Washington-Williams, he continued to give her financial support well into her adult life. Washington-Williams has said that she did not reveal she was Thurmond's daughter during his lifetime because it "wasn't to the advantage of either one of us." She kept silent out of respect for her father and denies that the two had agreed that she would not reveal her connection to Thurmond.In contrast, Cohen didn't even know that his daughter existed until three years ago when, coincidentally, she turned 21, past the age when she might legally expect to receive child support from him.
(Could her mother sue for back child support? Perhaps.)
- 5:09 AM, 15 February 2013 [link]
Happy Valentine's Day! With the usual exceptions.
And I think we can add the CDC to that list of exceptions.
(Out of curiosity, I looked up Saint Valentine. Assuming that Wikipedia article is roughly correct, no one knows anything about him, even if he was just one person. And there is nothing to connect him to a romantic holiday.)
- 2:56 PM, 14 February 2013 [link]
We Are Paying Less Attention to President Obama.
33.5 million Americans watched President Obama's State of the Union address last night, the lowest turnout since President Bill Clinton's final State of the Union address in 2000, according to newly released Nielsen ratings.The population of the United States has grown by more than 20 percent since 1993, so we would expect, everything else being equal, for the audiences to grow by about that much since then.
- 8:36 AM, 14 February 2013 [link]
Two Good Lines: First, from George Will:
Were Barack Obama, America’s most loquacious president (699 first-term teleprompter speeches), capable of learning from someone with whom he disagrees, he would profit from Amity Shlaes’s new biography of Coolidge, whom she calls “our great refrainer” with an “aptitude for brevity,” as when he said, “Inflation is repudiation.”I don't know of any examples of Obama learning from someone with whom he disagrees.
Next, Dana Milbank:
There is something entirely appropriate about holding the State of the Union address on the same day as Mardi Gras.The line is the best thing in each column, especially Milbank's column. But sometimes a line is enough, all by itself, to justify a column.
(Credit where due: Milbank's column on Jack Lew, who seems to have committed most of the sins Democrats found so reprehensible in Mitt Romney, is quite good.)
- 7:31 AM, 14 February 2013 [link]
New Mersenne Prime Found: It is the largest known prime, so large that it is impractical to display it here as an ordinary number.
To help visualize the size of the 48th known Mersenne prime, it would require 4,647 pages to display the number in base 10 with 75 digits per line and 50 lines per page.But we can write it this way: 257,885,161 − 1.
It was discovered by a cooperative Internet project, the Great Internet Prime Search.
The idea behind this, and similar projects, is quite simple, Most PCs have immense amounts of unused computing capacity. The one I am using right now, for example, is probably using less than 10 percent of its computing power. And so research groups have reached out to ordinary users and asked them to donate a little of that unused computing power to solve computing-intensive problems. It turns out that hundreds of modern PCs are roughly equivalent in computing power to a super computer and, if their time is volunteered, much cheaper.
You should expect to see more of these projects in the future. I haven't joined one myself, but that's more because of inertia than any objection to helping out in this (almost free) way.
(I was surprised to see that Mersenne primes, which have been studied for centuries, still have their mysteries.)
- 6:33 PM, 13 February 2013 [link]
Americans Still Like President Obama: But they don't like his policies, with the exception of national defense.
President Obama earns a 39% job approval rating for his handling of the economy, similar to his ratings on the issue one year ago. Among domestic issues, Obama's rating on the economy is above only his 31% rating for handling the federal deficit. Across nine issues, Americans give Obama his highest approval ratings for handling national defense (53%), followed by foreign affairs and immigration, each at 46%.John Hinderaker says that, on defense, "most people think he has continued the policies of his predecessor". I'd like to see some polling on that, but I doubt that it is true.
I think that President Bush's more active foreign policy was better for the nation and the world than President Obama's "leading from behind", but I don't think a majority of Americans agree with me on that.
(Obama's talk and actions on immigration have improved his ratings on that issue, substantially. In August 2010, just 29 percent approved of his policies; now, 46 percent do. That may be the only issue where he has improved his standing with the public. Gallup has asked about gun control just once, so we can't tell whether he has gained on that issue. (As of this month, 42 percent approve, and 54 percent disapprove.) But on every other issue, Obama's approval ratings have declined or stayed steady.)
- 6:23 AM, 13 February 2013 [link]
President Obama Does Have A Sense of Humor: As he showed with these lines from last night's State of the Union speech.
Tonight, I'll lay out additional proposals that are fully paid for and fully consistent with the budget framework both parties agreed to just 18 months ago. Let me repeat - nothing I'm proposing tonight should increase our deficit by a single dime.Now that's funny, especially when delivered with a straight face, as I believe it was.
It's like seeing Chris Christie tout the success of his weight loss program.
- 5:44 AM, 13 February 2013 [link]
Promises Made, Promises Unkept: If you plan to watch the State of the Union speech tonight — I won't watch, for reasons I have explained before — then I urge you to first look at list of four promises in Obama's 2009 SoU speech.
“We will invest $15 billion a year to develop technologies like wind power and solar power; advanced biofuels, clean coal, and more fuel-efficient cars and trucks built right here in America.”(Just in case you have missed it, which is unlikely unless you are a very new reader, I recommend that you read transcripts, rather than watch speeches or debates, and that before you do either, you look hard at what the politician has accomplished, if anything.)
By way of Fausta.
- 4:14 PM, 12 February 2013 [link]
"How Long Did It Take To Plan That Building?" According to the authors of a new paper, longer than it used to, and much longer in some parts of the United States This post includes their map, showing delays by county, with links to the paper itself.
Political types will notice that the map looks much like a map of support for Barack Obama in the last election. The longer the delays, the more votes for Obama.
The authors use a restricted definition for planning time. For them, planning time starts when an architect is hired and ends at the start of construction. This allows their respondents to be definite in their answers, but omits some planning time before an architect is chosen, and I suspect, on many projects, planning time after the construction begins.
By way of Maetenloch.
(At one time, it was almost inevitable to compare modern planning and construction times to those for the Empire State Building. In quick search, I didn't find exactly when the architect was hired, but from this and this, I learned that John Jacob Raskob bought the site some time in 1929, and that construction began on 22 January 1930, so we can infer that "planning" almost certainly took less than a year, probably much less.)
- 1:50 PM, 12 February 2013 [link]
If You Were Wondering Why I Called John Kerry Third Or Fourth Rate, you may want to read this post, written just after the 2004 election.
(There's a detail in the post that some will find ironic, now that we know a little more about Lance Armstrong.)
- 12:37 PM, 12 February 2013 [link]
Cities With Foreign Policies Have Dirty Streets: About three decades ago, I made that observation, based on a number of cities I'd seen, including Chicago, New York, San Francisco, and Seattle.
Some years later, my faith in that generalization was strengthened by a series of scandals in Miami, which has had an anti-Castro foreign policy for many years. (Among other things, a mayoralty election was overturned because of vote fraud.)
The reasoning behind the generalization is simple: If elected officials are spending much of their time on issues outside the city, they will spend less time on issues inside the city. If citizens judge them on their political poses, the citizens may ignore their policy failures.
If you want a mayor who supports the IRA, or the nuclear freeze movement, or the anti-American terrorists in Iraq, you may get a mayor who is uninterested in filling potholes and generally keeping the streets clean. And it is almost certain that that mayor will be unable to do anything significant about those foreign policy issues.
- 11:11 AM, 12 February 2013 [link]
Urbanization And Fertility: Accompanying Jonathan Last's Wall Street Journal article, "America's Baby Bust", is a simple graph showing how fertilty has declined over the last two centuries in the United States.
Simple, but to my mind, fascinating. On that long a time scale, the baby boom of the late 1940s and the 1950s looks like a temporary interruption in an inexorable trend. American women were having fewer babies in 1850 than they had in 1800, and fewer babies in 1900 than they had in 1850. The current rates — again on that long time scale — look as if we are returning to a trend that was interrupted by the baby boom.
Is there any simple explanation for that pattern? I have one, but I should warn you that it is tentative, and that I have not read Last's book on the subject, haven't even ordered it, in fact. (Though I have been reading his articles, from time to time.)
Put in the simplest fashion, people with space around them are more likely to have children. As the nation urbanized, family sizes fell. And the baby boom? That coincided with the suburbanization of the United States, which, for a time, gave many families far more space than they had had before.
That simple explanation also works for some foreign countries; it explains, for instance, why the wealthy city state of Singapore has one of the lowest fertility rates in the world.
(If you want to read more of Last, without buying his book, you can find a list of his articles at his site.)
- 8:06 AM, 12 February 2013 [link]
After The Grim News From North Korea, We All Deserve A Joke: And, as it happens, there is an appropriate joke in Andrew Malcolm's weekly collection.
Fallon: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un recently got a smart phone. And you can tell it’s a smart phone, because today, it left North Korea.(I'll admit that I also laughed at Conan's joke about "The View", but it is a little crude for a family-friendly site.)
- 7:33 AM, 12 February 2013 [link]
Boom! North Korea wanted more attention from the world, and they got it.
North Korea on Tuesday conducted an underground explosion of what it called a “miniaturized” nuclear weapon, testing a technology that could theoretically be paired with a long-range missile to threaten the United States.This test marks another failure for the Obama/Clinton diplomatic team. I don't give them much blame for the failure, since their predecessors, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George H. W. Bush, also failed to stop the North Korean nuclear programs.
In the first Bush and in the Clinton administrations, we tried to bribe the North Korean regime to behave. At the time, I thought the bribe policy was worth a try. But I think we should all have recognized by now that the policy failed, and that we should try something different.
We should, for instance, continue the policy of economic sanctions that had some success during the second Bush presidency. And we should tell the Chinese privately that, if they want to keep the North Korean regime in power — as they do, for the grief it causes us, and for other reasons — then the Chinese can supply the aid the regime needs to survive.
(All of our recent presidents deserve some sympathy for the way those self-appointed diplomats, Jimmy Carter and Bill Richardson, have interfered with our diplomacy toward North Korea.)
- 7:17 AM, 12 February 2013 [link]
More Unintentional Humor from the Seattle Times.
When President Obama nominated Sally Jewell as Interior secretary last week, he chose a woman not unlike him: smart, low-key and with a self-deprecating wit.That will remind some of examples of Obama's "self-deprecating wit", such as this one:
“I think that I’m a better speechwriter than my speechwriters. I know more about policies on any particular issue than my policy directors. And I’ll tell you right now that I’m gonna think I’m a better political director than my political director.”It's hard to get much more self-deprecating than that.
- 5:08 PM, 11 February 2013 [link]
Why Is The Department Of Homeland Security Buying All That Ammunition? Reverend Sensing has a good summary of the purchasing.
In recent months, DHS has bought about 1.625 billion rounds of ammunition, enough for "centuries of DHS usage".
Sensing has three explanations for these purchases. The second one makes the most sense to me: "To reduce the supply of ammunition available to ordinary Americans."
But I don't think the program will succeed, if that is its purpose.
- 1:05 PM, 11 February 2013
Correction: Reverend Sensing has now retracted his post. DHS is buying tens of millions of rounds of ammunition, not billions. You can find links to his explanation here.
- 10:00 AM, 27 February 2013 [link]
And Those With Whole Brains will move to which states, Governor Brown?
- 10:58 AM, 11 February 2013 [link]
Worth Reading: Robert Samuelson on "The Vendetta Against S&P".
Here's his lead paragraph:
The Obama administration’s suit against the rating agency Standard & Poor’s makes for riveting headlines and lousy history. We want to blame the financial crisis and Great Recession on greed and dishonesty. The charge that S&P rigged bond ratings for its own gain — providing artificially high ratings on the mortgage-backed securities that inflated the credit bubble — fits this self-serving morality tale. The discomforting reality is that the financial collapse resulted from an extended period of prosperity, which led to weakened credit standards and inspired wishful thinking about the permanence of economic growth.He expands on that last sentence later in the column:
Paradoxically, the financial crisis’s real origins lie in the economy’s good performance and its corrupting effects on public opinion. By 2007, the United States had experienced only two modest recessions (1990-91 and 2001) in a quarter-century. Since 1990, the unemployment rate had averaged 5.4 percent. Economists touted the “Great Moderation,” signifying fewer and milder slumps.In brief, many of us got too cocky about our economic prospects, thanks to those decades of prosperity.
- 8:46 AM, 11 February 2013 [link]
Using The Passive Voice To Protect Obama: By now almost everyone is familiar with that trick. When a politician wants to evade responsibility, he will often have some low-level aide say that "mistakes were made", or something similar. The politician hopes that you will not pay much attention to who made those mistakes.
Yesterday's New York Times gave us a classic example of using the passive voice to protect President Obama. But the example didn't come from some low-level aide, but from the Times itself.
Not surprisingly, the reporter responsible for this news analysis on Obama's anti-terrorism policies is Peter Baker, who seems to think that his job is to protect Obama from most criticism.
Baker doesn't deserve all of the blame. Ordinarily, headlines are written by editors, not reporters, so Baker is probably not responsible for this on-line headline: "Parallels Arise Between Bush And Obama On Security Issues". (The headline in my print version is not quite as good; it's just "Obama's Turn in Bush's Bind", with this sub-head: "Parallels on Security, And Now in Criticism".)
That "Parallels Arise" is simply classic. It could serve as an example of what not to do in a journalism class, or an example of how to evade responsibility in a not-too-ethical public relations shop.
The on-line headline fits the story, as you can see from this second paragraph:
Four years into his tenure, the onetime critic of President George W. Bush finds himself cast as a present-day Mr. Bush, justifying the muscular application of force in the defense of the nation while detractors complain that he has sacrificed the country’s core values in the name of security.Again we see the passive voice, "finds himself cast".
If we were to use the active voice to present the same facts, we would come up with something like this: President Obama has adopted many of the Bush anti-terrorism policies he had attacked as a candidate. A few of his left wing allies are now attacking those policies, using the same arguments that Obama used against Bush.
The facts are the same in that active version, but the emotional impact will be very different for most readers.
(To be fair, there's more in the analysis, and not all of it is favorable to Obama. But Baker never confronts this question: Did Obama believe his attacks on President Bush's anti-terrorism policies?)
- 8:01 AM, 11 February 2013 [link]
Unintentionally Accurate: Seattle Times columnist Nicole Brodeur did an embarrassingly soft Al Gore interview. If she asked him any challenging questions, she left them out of her column.
(Which is unfortunate, because there are many challenging questions a reasonably well-informed journalist could ask Gore. For instance, she could have asked about his profits from investments in "Green" energy, profits that seem to have come, more or less directly, from the American taxpayer. Or she could have asked him why there were so many serious factual mistakes in his movie, "An Inconvenient Truth".)
But along the way she did come up with this: "The man remains one of the country’s biggest dorks, . . . ". Which strikes me as unintentionally accurate.
I suppose she meant to say something like "geek".
- 5:30 AM, 11 February 2013 [link]
Benghazi: The Definitive Report: It's a short book,
But it is already drawing attention for its sensational charges. The charge that General Petraeus's affair was betrayed by enemies in the CIA led to this sensational Daily Mail story.
David Petraeus was betrayed by his own bodyguards and vengeful high-ranking enemies in the CIA, who made sure his affair with his biographer was exposed to the public, a new book claimsBut I found this column far more interesting, since it describes what may have happened in the Benghazi tragedy.
[CIA nominee John] Brennan’s hit squads were assigned to take out individual al Qaeda chiefs within Libya without drawing too much attention to themselves. The Benghazi attack was “blowback” from these covert operations, say [Jack] Murphy and [Brandon] Webb. Stevens and the others were pawns in a mini-war they didn’t even know was happening.Kyle Smith ends the column by warning us that there is no way to check on much of what the authors say. He's right, but I will add that this is the first plausible explanation I've seen for the events of that night.
- 7:11 PM, 10 February 2013 [link]
Dick Cheney Is an easy grader.
"The performance now of Barack Obama as he staffs up the national security team for the second term is dismal," Cheney said in comments to about 300 members of the Wyoming Republican PartyOr perhaps he was just being polite.
I don't think any of the three rises to the second rate level. Kerry is, at best, third or fourth rate. We are learning more about John Brennan, but he strikes me as one of those bureaucratic weasels who are good at surviving, and even prospering, inside bureaucracies, but not good at actually accomplishing things.
And Hagel is simply a disaster.
(Cheney speculated that Hagel was nominated so that Obama would have a Republican to blame for what is about to happen to our Defense Department. Possibly, but I think it just as likely that Obama chose Hagel because the two mostly agree in their views of the world.
- 3:42 PM, 10 February 2013 [link]
Yesterday, The New York Times Said Senator Menendez Should Step Aside As Chairman Of The Senate Foreign Relations Committee: In their lead editorial, the newspaper said that his ethical problems are severe enough so that he should not, for now, head this important committee.
Senator Menendez does have ethical problems, but I was unable to escape the suspicion that the Times has other reasons for wanting Menendez to step aside.
The New Jersey Democrat is a member of an ethnic minority, which would ordinarily get him favorable treatment from the Times, but he is a member of the wrong ethnic minority; he is an anti-Castro Cuban. He even works, from time to time, with Republicans on national security issues.
And that, I suspect, may explain the odd lead sentence in that editorial:
Senator Robert Menendez was never a distinguished choice for chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the position he ascended to this month by virtue of seniority.If Menendez has disqualifying ethical issues, then surely they would disqualify him whether or not he would be a "distinguished" chairman.
(The Times has never been a big supporter of Menendez, but they did endorse him in 2006, when he won his first election to the Senate, against Thomas Kean, Jr.)
- 7:10 AM, 10 February 2013 [link]
Kate McMillan thinks there are similarities between the way Obama handled Benghazi and the way he helped run the Harvard Law Review..
You should read the whole thing, but i can't resist quoting this paragraph from Carole Platt Liebau, describing his work habits at the HLR.
[Tom Pirelli]'s the one who did most of the day to day work. Barack Obama was nowhere to be seen. Occasionally he would drop in he would talk to people, and then he'd leave again as though his very arrival had been a benediction in and of itself, but not very much got done.I've known a few people who had similar — though less extreme — opinions about themselves. And to my distress, I saw that many others often accepted their high opinions, at least in part.
- 4:03 PM, 9 February 2013 [link]
Exporting Carbon To Europe: The United States has cut carbon emissions by switching from coal to natural gas. But that choice is not immediately available to European countries. And they have cut back, especially in Germany, on their nuclear power. So, to keep electricity flowing to their people, they are, for now, buying our coal for their power plants, in very large amounts.
For all the troubles of the U.S. coal industry at home, its business with the rest of the world is brisk. Last year, the U.S. set a record for coal exports, with the final tally estimated to top 120 million tons, double what it exported as recently as 2009.American exports of coal have tripled in the last decade rising to either 115.7 million tons (the graph) or 120 million tons (the article).
There is considerable irony here for those who want to see the Europeans as virtuous because they adhere to the Kyoto agreement. Not only are the Europeans increasing their use of coal, they are getting much of the additional steam coal for their generators from us.
American environmentalists are sure this unpleasant trade won't last long, but I suspect it may. There's an old French saying that can be translated as follows: There is nothing more permanent than the provisional.
- 3:42 PM, 9 February 2013 [link]
50-50 Chance That Chuck Hagel will withdraw?
Thomas E. Ricks, who is well-sourced in Democratic national security policy circles, says there's a "50-50" chance Chuck Hagel withdraws from consideration for the secretary of defense job.Sounds about right to me, though I agree that Hagel currently has the votes to be confirmed — which shows something about our Democratic senators.
(Incidentally, some said that Hagel is would be the first enlisted man to be the Secretary of Defense. That's not true, since there are others, Melvin Laird, for example, who began their military careers as enlisted men. Hagel would be the only enlisted man who never became an officer.)
- 10:04 AM, 9 February 2013 [link]