January 2010, Part 4
Jim Miller on Politics
Fortunately, The Obama Justice Department Doesn't Have Any Big Problems On Their Agenda: That gives them time to pursue smaller problems, such as this one.
The Obama administration is considering several steps that would review the legality of the controversial Bowl Championship Series, the Justice Department said in a letter Friday to a senator who had asked for an antitrust review.(Or maybe that is a big problem — to them.)
For the record: I don't know enough to have an opinion on the current BCS system, though I suspect that it could be improved. But I am absolutely certain that the Justice Department should try getting the big problems solved before turning to the small ones. And I am beginning to doubt that anyone in the Obama administration believes in limited government.
- 12:54 PM, 30 January 2010 [link]
Peggy Noonan Makes a shrewd point about Obama's State of the Union speech.
The central fact of the speech was the contradiction at its heart. It repeatedly asserted that Washington is the answer to everything. At the same time it painted a picture of Washington as a sick and broken place. It was a speech that argued against itself: You need us to heal you. Don't trust us, we think of no one but ourselves.Congressmen often run for Congress — by running against Congress, so there are many precedents for this contradiction. But it is harder to take from a president with majorities in both houses of Congress than it is from a candidate from the minority party, or from a candidate who is not in the good graces of his party's leadership.
- 3:22 PM, 29 January 2010 [link]
Sunset Over Seattle:
- 2:58 PM, 29 January 2010 [link]
Worth Reading: Last December, I wrote a post noting that the Labour government in Britain had increased spending on education in Britain — and had gotten many more administrators from that increase. It is not entirely clear that the students get much benefit from all those additional administrators
That post inspired a well-informed reader to point me to this essay, which argues that the bureaucracy problem is even worse in Britain's National Health Service.
As for staff, the number employed by the NHS has more than doubled from 350,000 in 1948 to 882,000 in 2002. The greatest percentage increase has been among designated administrative staff. Between 1997 and 2002 Senior Managers and Managers increased by no less than 47.6% compared to an overall increase in the workforce of 16% (nurses increased by 1.8%) But these figures reveal only the tip of the bureaucratic iceberg. For example large numbers of nurses are now wholly engaged in management but are still counted as nurses. Of even greater significance is the proliferation of bureaucratic procedures involving all staff, progressively displacing their productive activity. And now, here we come to the heart of the matter.Caveat: I have not checked his numbers, though I have seen broadly similar arguments in the British newspapers, especially the more conservative newspapers.
Political comment: One would expect most of these administrators to support the Labour Party, for simple reasons of self interest. (Sadly, the more that a particular administrator suspects that his or her job is unnecessary, the more reason that administrator has to act politically to protect it.) And you don't have to be familiar with British politics to guess what arguments they would use to defend their jobs.
(More than a quibble: Dr. Gammon seems to believe that bureaucracies are unnecessary evils. Unfortunately, they are necessary evils, once an organization gets to a certain size. And that is true no matter what kind of organization it is. Businesses, as well as governments become bureaucratic once they pass a certain size, and so do even voluntary organizations.
We can't avoid bureaucracies, but we can recognize their inherent problems, and if we are intelligent, keep their worst tendencies in check.)
- 1:52 AM, 29 January 2010 [link]
Good News on GDP growth.
The United States economy grew at its fastest pace in over six years at the end of 2009, but a sluggish job market is still souring economists on the sustainability of the recovery.(And, yes, that was "better-than-expected".
But maybe not as good news as it appears at first glance.
The biggest lift to economic activity came because businesses ran down their stockrooms at a much slower rate than they had earlier in the year. The change in inventories added 3.39 percentage points to the fourth-quarter change.Still, this is better than another decline.
- 12:24 PM, 29 January 2010 [link]
Party Girl Sally Quinn Explains How To Get Along With DC Locals: Her advice is simple; throw lots of good parties. (And, presumably, invite Sally Quinn to them.)
Here, for example, is how the Obamas are failing.
The Obamas rarely entertain, except for large events. They are raising two young children and, understandably, prefer to stay home most nights with them, enjoying a family dinner and helping with homework. They have said that going out is such a huge production (sharpshooters, ambulances, decoy limos, motorcades, etc.) that it's almost not worth it. They have hosted only one state dinner. That, unfortunately (aside from the gate-crashers), was used to reward White House staffers instead of being an opportunity to bring in the best and the brightest from around the country.(I could have sworn that I read an article saying that the Obamas had given a party every three days on the average, but I could be wrong about that.)
Quinn has a prescription, as well as a diagnosis. The Obama administration needs designated party-goers. (Perhaps it would be just as well not to assign that onerous duty to Peter Orszag.)
Making friends is crucial. I'm only being partly facetious when I suggest that there should be some sort of in-house list where members of the administration (any administration!) are designated to go out a certain amount, in exactly the same way they make the rounds on Sunday talk shows.I don't think Quinn's argument requires any comment from me, but if you would like to see what other readers thought, you can find some mildly critical comments here.
- 11:29 AM, 29 January 2010 [link]
Democratic Senator Dick Durbin Has A Way With Words: Though he may not be as civil as one would like.
Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.) on Thursday admitted the "general feeling on the Democratic side" was that Republicans have so far been able to cast controversial protest votes and stall important legislation "with impunity."(Some Democrats have done just that in recent years, and during the Vietnam conflict. If there were treason trials as a result, I missed them.)
Durbin may regret these statements. After Scott Brown is sworn in, he and Reid will need Republican votes from time to time, and this doesn't seem like the best way to get them.
- 11:04 AM, 29 January 2010 [link]
Our Budget Future: You could listen to what Obama said last night. (Or read the whole thing, as I will, eventually.) Or you can just look at this basic graph from the Congressional Budget Office.
As I said, I haven't read the entire speech. But I have read newspaper accounts of Obama's proposals, and so far I can find nothing that makes me believe that he understands the severity of our long-term budget problems.
(If you click on "Read More" underneath the Revenues/Outlays tab at the CBO home page, you will go to a page where you can experiment with some policy alternatives to see what differences they would make to the budget outlook.)
- 2:40 PM, 28 January 2010 [link]
What Words Do Bush And Obama Use When Talking To Congress? The New York Times counted some of them from their State of the Union speeches and their equivalent speeches at the beginning of 2001 and 2009, respectively. You can find the comparison between Bush's average and Obama's two speeches in this graphic.
There is one stark difference: On the average, Bush used "free" or "freedom" seventeen times in each speech. Obama used the same two words three times last year, and just once yesterday.
It may be a coincidence, but the United States dropped sharply in the last year in the Heritage Foundation's index of economic freedom.
This year, of the world's 20 largest economies, the U.S. suffered the largest drop in overall economic freedom. Its score declined to 78 from 80.7 on the 0 to 100 Index scale.In the United States, as in most other nations, the left has often valued equality, especially economic equality, over freedom. During the long campaign, Obama often argued for increases in economic equality, increases that almost always meant some loss of freedom — though he rarely was honest enough to mention that.
- 12:34 PM, 28 January 2010 [link]
Is Obama Now Backing Nuclear Power? He said so, last night, in a paragraph that could have come from George W. Bush. (And probably did, in slightly different words.)
But to create more of these clean energy jobs, we need more production, more efficiency, more incentives. And that means building a new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants in this country. (Applause.) It means making tough decisions about opening new offshore areas for oil and gas development. (Applause.) It means continued investment in advanced biofuels and clean coal technologies. (Applause.) And, yes, it means passing a comprehensive energy and climate bill with incentives that will finally make clean energy the profitable kind of energy in America. (Applause.)(Emphasis added.)
But in the very next paragraph, Obama says that the (cap-and-tax) Waxman-Markey bill, passed by the House, already provides incentives for nuclear power.
I am grateful to the House for passing such a bill last year. (Applause.) And this year I'm eager to help advance the bipartisan effort in the Senate. (Applause.)And to be fair, there are some incentives for nuclear power in that bill.
I would like to believe him, but can't because this stand is inconsistent with his campaign promises and his actions since taking office. During the campaign, Obama favored nuclear power in principle, but opposed it in practice, claiming that the problems of nuclear waste storage are unsolved. Taking this position was clever politically, but showed that Obama either did not understand the science, was appealing to Green superstition, or both.
And since taking office, he has accepted closing the Yucca Mountain waste depository — and not proposed any alternative.
Most likely that line about nuclear power was just another Obama pivot, another clever fake. Obama says that he favors the incentives in the Waxman-Markey bill — but he must know that the bill has approximately zero chance of passing the Senate.
- 7:31 AM, 28 January 2010 [link]
The New Apple iPad? "It's basically a giant iPhone without the phone". And it might be a good idea, though that description doesn't sound promising.
(Apple has all these "i" devices. Every time I see one of those narcissistic names, I wonder if any company has developed a "we" device, or even a "you" device.)
- 6:31 AM, 28 January 2010
Two alert readers reminded me of the Nintendo Wii, pronounced, of course, "we", or sometimes "whee".
A little more on Apple's "i" names: First, they are exceptionally clever marketing names, since they are both simple, and instantly memorable. Second, they are exceptionally confusing, if you try to understand what, if anything, they mean. I, a pod? I phone? I am my phone? Nothing I have tried makes sense.
- 10:39 AM, 29 January 2010 [link]
Hillary Clinton keeps her options open.
In an interview to air at 8pm tonight [the 27th] on PBS's Tavis Smiley Reports, Hillary Clinton tells Smiley she does not envision serving as Secretary of State for a second term. She also tells Smiley she is "absolutely not interested" in another presidential run:After the 2004 presidential election, Barack Obama said, definitely, that he was not running for president in 2008, and that even asking him whether he would run was silly.
As I read that pair of claims, Hillary Clinton is planning to run in 2016, and has not excluded the possibility of challenging Obama in 2012.
- 6:10 AM, 28 January 2010 [link]
Need An Efficient Network Design? You might want to outsource the problem to a slime mold.
Talented and dedicated engineers spent countless hours designing Japan's rail system to be one of the world's most efficient. Could have just asked a slime mold.And you have to admit that their price is right.
(Confused about slime molds? So are biologists, who once thought they were fungi, but now think that they are two unrelated groups.
The slime mold used in these experiments, Physarum polycephalum, has some other good tricks, like maze solving.)
- 2:20 PM, 27 January 2010 [link]
The United States Is Still A Haven For Religious Minorities: Even religious minorities fleeing Germany.
A family of evangelical Christians who said they were being persecuted for their religious beliefs in Germany have been granted political asylum in the US. The couple fled to Tennessee so they could home-school their five children, which is illegal in Germany.Their lawyer hopes that this ruling will influence public opinion in Germany — and so do I.
- 10:51 AM, 27 January 2010 [link]
Can We Trust What Obama Says? Bob Herbert isn't sure.
Mr. Obama may be personally very appealing, but he has positioned himself all over the political map: the anti-Iraq war candidate who escalated the war in Afghanistan; the opponent of health insurance mandates who made a mandate to buy insurance the centerpiece of his plan; the president who stocked his administration with Wall Street insiders and went to the mat for the banks and big corporations, but who is now trying to present himself as a born-again populist.Yes, that Bob Herbert, the lefty New York Times columnist, who probably agrees — or agreed — with 95 percent of Obama's agenda in 2008.
I suppose this shows that, although a leftwing candidate can fool most leftwing journalists most of the time, he can't fool all of them all of the time.
A more perceptive, or less partisan, journalist would have been able to figure this out during the campaign, since Obama made so many conflicting promises. It was clear that he didn't, in fact couldn't, mean all those promises, though it wasn't certain then which promises he would try to keep. And isn't entirely certain now.
(To be fair to Obama, he did promise to escalate in Afghanistan and kept that promise, reluctantly.)
- 7:57 AM, 27 January 2010 [link]
Try Honesty On Climate Change: That's the advice of John Beddington.
The impact of global warming has been exaggerated by some scientists and there is an urgent need for more honest disclosure of the uncertainty of predictions about the rate of climate change, according to the Government's chief scientific adviser.Good advice, though I doubt that the IPCC and their allies will take it.
- 6:46 AM, 27 January 2010 [link]
Which TV News Network Do Americans Trust Most? Fox.
Fox is the most trusted television news network in the country, according to a new poll out Tuesday.That result, coming from a Democratic polling firm, will drive their competitors nuts.
(For the record, I have no idea whether I would agree with that verdict, since I haven't watched cable television, except on vacations, for more than a decade. I would say that Fox News Sunday is the fairest of the major talk shows, and the only one I watch regularly, but I don't know if that says anything about their regular news programs.
Full poll results here.)
- 6:06 AM, 27 January 2010
As predicted, Fox's competitors did not like that result. ABC's director of polling, Gary Langer, responded with a long critique of his competitor's methods and results. Until recently, I would have shared his skepticism about the robo-polls, but they have had good enough results, often enough, so that they must be taken seriously.
Langer believes that PPP's results show a bad sample. For example:
Thirty-five percent of respondents in this survey pressed "2" to say they're Republicans. Good for Fox, since as PPP notes, trust in Fox spikes among Republicans. But in our own polling, the number of registered voters who describe themselves as Republican is far lower — 25 percent in our latest poll.His argument on this point is somewhat circular, since he thinks the polls that agree with him are good polls, and the polls that don't are bad. But he should ask himself this question: Is the ABC estimate compatible with the Republican wins in Virginia, New Jersey, and Massachusetts? I would say that it is, but just barely, and that a more plausible conclusion is that Republicans have been gaining in party ID, and that ABC's polls have not picked up those gains.
On one point Langer and I strongly disagree. Near the end, he comes close to saying that no record of success in predicting elections would make him respect the robo-polls. My own view is more pragmatic; if robo-polls consistently get results as good as the other polls, then they have to be taken just as seriously. (And, in fact, in the New Jersey gubernatorial election, the robo-polls did markedly better than conventional polls.)
- 11:00 AM, 28 January 2010
PPP and Rasmussen reply, here and here. Rasmussen gives what I consider two telling examples; the methods that he and PPP use worked better in two recent elections.
ABC has an old-school media mentality and chose not to share the news of a close race with their audience. In fact those who rely on ABC News didn't learn anything unusual was happening in Massachusetts until just four days before the election. By that time, Rasmussen Reports and PPP both showed the race to be a toss-up but trending toward Brown, and President Obama had decided to attend a campaign rally to help Coakley's floundering campaign.If the Rasmussen predictions are better than the New York Times' predictions, as they have been, then I will trust Rasmussen more — but I will always try to verify any poll prediction with independent evidence.
- 8:36 AM, 1 February 2010 [link]
Worth Study: This New York Times article on the Haitian earthquake.
To scientists who study seismic hazards in the Caribbean, there was no surprise in the magnitude 7 earthquake that devastated the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince, two weeks ago.Read the rest of the article to find out why, and take a close look at both the geological map of the area, and the satellite picture, which shows the fault where the earthquake occurred.
- 1:10 PM, 26 January 2010 [link]
Advisor To Scotland Yard, TV Executive, Political Activist, And Terrorist? Mohamed Ali Harrath has that unusual combination of roles. (At least, I hope it's unusual.)
The head of the Islam Channel, Britain's most popular Muslim television station, has been arrested in South Africa and faces deportation to Tunisia over terrorism allegations.Tunisia did not respond quickly enough to the arrest, and South Africa has released Harrath. (Because they didn't want to make him a martyr? Because Tunisia does not have an efficient legal bureaucracy? Because they didn't have a good case against him, even though they had convicted him, in absentia, of many crimes?)
The Islam Channel has helped spread the teachings of Anwar al-Awlaki
A London-based satellite broadcaster that describes itself as "the voice of authority for Muslims in the UK" has been accused of giving a platform to Anwar al-Awlaki, the extremist cleric with alleged links to al-Qaida and to the man charged with trying to blow up a transatlantic jet on Christmas Day.It would be good to know which side Harrath is on.
(A quick Google search on news sites did not find much on his crimes, if any, in Tunisia. This year-old-article from the Times is the best that I could find.)
- 9:09 AM, 26 January 2010 [link]
Obama Observes His Favorite Subject: Yesterday I had four posts about Obama, and no posts about anything else. I apologize for that, but must add that I am not the only person interested in this strange man.
(I'll try harder to have a better mix of posts from now on. It's important to do that, as it has become clear that Obama has delegated much policy making to others, especially others in the bureaucracies and the Congress.)
- 8:10 AM, 26 January 2010 [link]
John Edwards Is A Lesson, Richard Cohen Tells Us: In a column in which he confesses that "we" made mistakes in judging John Edwards but never specifies his own, the Washington Post columnist comes to this conclusion.
We have substituted the camera -- fame, celebrity -- for both achievement and the studied judgment of colleagues. The political machine, the organization, even the parties themselves are gone, severely atrophied or discredited as (ugh) mainstream. They once served as filters, admission committees, but they have been replaced by a sham familiarity -- fame at its most beguiling and dangerous. This was John Edwards. He's not a scandal. He's a lesson.It's a lesson some of us understood way back in 2003, when Edwards announced his first presidential campaign
No relevant education, experience, or accomplishments. Would you hire this man? I wouldn't, but we may. Though he is manifestly unqualified to be president, he might well be a strong candidate. As every political junkie knows, since John Kennedy in 1960, the Democrats have been able to win the presidency only when they ran southern candidates. Edwards has the ability to appear moderate while taking hard left stands. He is glib and pleasant on television, an important asset. He is quite good looking—some even say he could be a star in a "boy band", a judgment I am unqualified to make since I am not a 13 year old girl.Or Richard Cohen, who was fascinated by Edwards.
The evidence that Edwards was unqualified to be president, and that his words did not match his past deeds, was there all along. Columnist Jim Pinkerton saw it in 2004, even while Cohen was still dazzled by that sweet talkin' guy, John Edwards.
Though Cohen says there is a lesson in Edwards' fall, I am not convinced that Cohen has really learned that lesson, that he is ready to look hard at what politicians have done (if anything), rather than judging those politicians by what they say, and how they say it.
(Cohen says that he was impressed by Elizabeth Edwards, when he first met her, and by the partnership between the two. We now know more about that partnership, and what we have learned should disgust any decent person.)
- 7:29 AM, 26 January 2010 [link]
Maybe 10 Percent Unemployment Doesn't Seem So Bad: If you are a politician from the Hyde Park neighborhood in Chicago, where you are surrounded by neighborhoods with unemployment that high, or higher, in the best of times.
- 3:56 PM, 25 January 2010 [link]
How Well Did Obama Do With Journalists In His First Year? Quite well, compared to recent presidents.
During the first calendar year of his administration, President Obama's mainstream media coverage was almost perfectly balanced — 49% positive vs. 51% negative evaluations by sources and reporters. He fared best in the New York Times (54% positive) and the news magazines (53% positive) and worst on the three broadcast networks (46% positive).But less well as the year went on.
(The Center for Media and Public Affairs doesn't say why they don't have numbers for George H. W. Bush. The simplest explanation is that they didn't have the grant money to do the study of his first year, or chose not to do it for some other reason.)
- 2:35 PM, 25 January 2010 [link]
Democratic Congressman Marion Berry Tried To Get The Obama White House To Listen: They wouldn't.
Berry recounted meetings with White House officials, reminiscent of some during the Clinton days, where he and others urged them not to force Blue Dogs "off into that swamp" of supporting bills that would be unpopular with voters back home.He isn't planning to run for re-election. Understandably.
(Berry is a moderate liberal, who has held that 1st Arkansas district since 1996. Since the district voted for Bush in 2004, 52-47, and for McCain in 2008, 59-38, a Republican will probably win the district this year. For the first time ever.)
- 11:07 AM, 25 January 2010 [link]
Entertaining: Leftwing professor David Michael Green attacks Obama and the Democrats.
Green isn't completely wrong in all of his criticisms. For example:
He has therefore let Congress 'lead' on nearly every issue, another surefire mistake. Instead of demanding that they pass real stimulus legislation - which would have really stimulated the economy, big-time, and right now - he let those d***heads on the Hill just load up a big pork party blivet of a bill with all the pet projects they could find, designed purely to benefit their personal standing with the voters at home, rather than to actually produce jobs for Americans. And on health care, his signature issue, he did the same thing. "You guys write it, and I'll sign the check." Could there possibly be a greater prescription for failure than allowing a bunch of the most venal people on the planet to cobble together a 2,000 page monstrosity that entirely serves their interests and those of the people whose campaign bribes put them in office?("Blivet" has several common definitions; Green probably means this one, not the one pictured here at the beginning of the entry.)
Though I must say that, for all their faults, Speaker Pelosi, Majority Leader Reid, and their followers, are not even close to being the "most venal people on the planet".
Parts of his piece are instructive, though unintentionally so. Professor Green believes that the United States has enemies. Here are the enemies he lists in his piece: congressional Republicans ("vicious thugs" and "treasonous hypocritical liars"), bankers ("real-life granny killers"), insurance companies ("health care corporate vampires") and investors ("reckless pirates on Wall Street").
Some of us — those who were paying attention on 9/11 — will notice that Professor Green has omitted Osama bin Laden, and a few other miscreants, from his enemies list.
(All this is entertaining, but does make me wonder about the quality of the political science department at Hofstra, where Professor Green works.
To be fair, I should note that this piece may be intended as a joke, though that seems unlikely.)
- 9:44 AM, 25 January 2010 [link]
The Unsolved Anthrax Mystery: Edward Jay Epstein says we still don't know who mailed those deadly anthrax spores. In its long investigation, The FBI pursued two researchers, Steven Hatfill, who was found to be innocent, and then Bruce Ivins. Because Ivins had custody of a flask of anthrax spores that closely matched the spores used in the attack (and perhaps because Ivins was an unpleasant individual), the FBI declared that he was the terrorist, soon after his apparent suicide in 2008.
Less than a week after his apparent suicide, the FBI declared Ivins to have been the sole perpetrator of the 2001 Anthrax attacks, and the person who mailed deadly anthrax spores to NBC, the New York Post, and Sens. Tom Daschle and Patrick Leahy. These attacks killed five people, closed down a Senate office building, caused a national panic, and nearly paralyzed the postal system.But there appears to be a fatal difficulty with that FBI theory; the anthrax spores had a silicon coating, and Ivins did not have the skills, or the equipment, to add that coating. (Silicon is added to anthrax spores to "weaponize" them.)
There are, broadly, two possible sets of suspects, inside and outside. The FBI appears to have settled on inside suspects, American researchers, because of the similarity between the spores used in the attacks and the strain kept in Ivins' laboratory. If outsiders had access to those spores, or the identification is not as precise as news accounts have made it, then outsiders, terrorists or hostile governments, might have mailed those deadly envelopes. (Anthrax spores from the United States have been shared widely around the world, since much of the original research on anthrax was done here.) Of those two, hostile governments seem the more likely culprit, since terrorists usually take credit for their successful attacks, while governments would have good reason to conceal their actions.
Given their series of failures in this investigation, the FBI should rethink their approach, and start over on the investigation, with a new principal investigator. And they might want to look at outside suspects this time.
- 7:17 AM, 25 January 2010 [link]