Archive:

July 2010, Part 3

Jim Miller on Politics




Pseudo-Random Thoughts



Mustardgate?  On Wednesday, British Prime Minister David Cameron joined New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg in having a hot dog.

That's news?  Well, it was, in Great Britain, not big news, but still news, because of what Cameron didn't have.
Americans are generous hosts but kind of easy to offend, too.  David Cameron knows this, and he picked his way expertly through the diplomatic minefield of his visit to Barack Obama in Washington.   But then came New York, a shared hot dog with Mayor Bloomberg and MUSTARDGATE.

Standing at the street vendor's stall yesterday, Dave ordered a PLAIN hot dog.  No mustard, no ketchup, no onions; just sausage and bread.
Lucy Jones then goes on to speculate that it may be a matter of class, that Cameron didn't grow up eating cheap, American-style mustard.

Lest you think just one British journalist noticed this, I'll add another example.

As far as I can tell, from a quick search, American journalists paid no attention to the omission.  (A few may have joined George Parker of the London-based Financial Times in thinking that Cameron may have skipped the extras in order to avoid a possible mess, but, if so, they didn't say so.)

For example, when he wrote about the encounter, Craig Howie of the Los Angeles Times missed the fact that Cameron did not actually "cut the mustard".

(For the record;  I think that, in similar circumstances, I might try for the least-likely-to-create-a-mess hot dog, too.  On the other hand, if I was being served barbecue, I would not skip the sauce, for fear of offending my hosts.)
- 2:41 PM, 23 July 2010   [link]


No "Sails Tax" For Senator Kerry:  Here's the story.
Sen. John Kerry, who has repeatedly voted to raise taxes while in Congress, dodged a whopping six-figure state tax bill on his new multimillion-dollar yacht by mooring her in Newport, R.I.

Isabel - Kerry's luxe, 76-foot New Zealand-built Friendship sloop with an Edwardian-style, glossy varnished teak interior, two VIP main cabins and a pilothouse fitted with a wet bar and cold wine storage - was designed by Rhode Island boat designer Ted Fontaine.

But instead of berthing the vessel in Nantucket, where the senator summers with the missus, Teresa Heinz, Isabel's hailing port is listed as "Newport" on her stern.
. . .
Cash-strapped Massachusetts still collects a 6.25 percent sales tax and an annual excise tax on yachts.  Sources say Isabel sold for something in the neighborhood of $7 million, meaning Kerry saved approximately $437,500 in sales tax and an annual excise tax of about $70,000.
Those tax savings are probably worth any minor inconvenience for the senator.

(Considering who paid for it, shouldn't he have named it "Teresa"?

And I guess that he has no hope of running for president again, or he would have had it built in the United States.)
- 9:08 AM, 23 July 2010   [link]


Poor Larry Summers:  MSNBC (perhaps having decided to commit a little journalism) asked presidential advisor Larry Summers what he thought about some conclusions on unemployment insurance from — economist Larry Summers.
National Economic Council Director Larry Summers this morning was forced to defend his current economic positions against the stated positions of . . . Larry Summers.

Appearing on MSNBC's Daily Rundown, Summers was confronted with a paper on unemployment that he wrote as a professor at Harvard University.  In it, he echoed arguments made by Republicans against extending unemployment insurance, arguments that have been mocked by President Barack Obama.
(Actually, the Republicans got their arguments from Summers, and other economists, but we know what they mean.)

We can't be too sorry for him, though.  He must have known there would be such moments, and he accepted the job offer from Obama, anyway.
- 4:39 PM, 22 July 2010   [link]


Hugo Chavez's Bad Neighbor Policy Has Resulted In A Formal Break With Colombia:  He has been helping terrorists and drug traffickers (some of them the same people), Colombia documented his sins, and he broke relations.
Chavez announced the breaking of ties shortly after Colombia presented photos, videos and maps to the OAS permanent council meeting in Washington.  Colombia said the evidence showed hundreds of Colombian rebels sheltering in jungle and bush camps inside Venezuela, from where Bogota said they carried out killings, kidnappings and drug-trafficking.

Colombia also demanded that Venezuela allow an international commission and journalists to inspect the 87 sites where he said Colombian rebels were on Venezuelan soil.
As far as I can tell, most observers seem to think that Chavez is doing this in part because he is beginning to worry about upcoming legislative elections.

The break is unlikely to do much additional damage to the troubled Venezuelan economy, since Chavez broke commercial ties with Colombia last year.

(Should he worry about those elections?  Maybe, though I hasten to add that I am no expert on Venezuelan politics.  Chavez has not brought peace and prosperity to Venezuela, or even a competent socialist government, so I would expect him to lose ground in those elections.  The rotten food scandal is something that almost every Venezuelan voter can understand.  On the other hand, Chavez has built up a political machine, with many voters dependent on him for favors and jobs.

What should the US do in this crisis?  Almost nothing.  We should call, as we have, for the two nations to keep talking, and we might send a little aid to Colombia, very quietly.)
- 4:24 PM, 22 July 2010   [link]


Captain Un-America?  No, but maybe Captain Not-America.
The director of "Captain America: The First Avenger," the 2011 summer blockbuster that will coincide with the character's 70th anniversary, says the screen version of the hero will be true to his roots -- up to a certain point.
. . .
"He wants to serve his country, but he's not this sort of jingoistic American flag-waver," Johnston said.  "He's just a good person.  We make a point of that in the script: Don't change who you are once you go from Steve Rogers to this super-soldier; you have to stay who you are inside, that's really what's important more than your strength and everything.  It'll be interesting and fun to put a different spin on the character and one that the fans are really going to appreciate."
As far as I can tell from the article, the director, Joe Johnston, is making Captain American less patriotic for both ideological and commercial reasons.  Johnston isn't comfortable with a "flag-waver", and he thinks the movie will do better overseas if Captain America is less of an American patriot.

Note, by the way, that Johnston thinks that being true to oneself is entirely admirable, but being true to one's nation is questionable.  (The first idea is so common that I suppose I should mention a counter-example or two, such as Ted Bundy and Charles Manson.  Bundy stayed who he was inside until near the end of his life, and so has Manson.)
- 12:58 PM, 22 July 2010   [link]


Mouth Rinse For Greater Performance?  Here's the story.
Exercise scientists say they have stumbled on an amazing discovery.  Athletes can improve their performance in intense bouts of exercise, lasting an hour or so, if they merely rinse their mouths with a carbohydrate solution.  They don't even have to swallow it.

It has to be real carbohydrates, though; the scientists used a solution of water and a flavorless starch derivative called maltodextrin.  Artificial sweeteners have no effect.
Apparently, the mouth rinse tricks the athletes' brains into thinking they have had breakfast.
- 8:30 AM, 22 July 2010   [link]


Another Record For Speaker Pelosi And Majority Leader Reid:  Though they are unlikely to include this record low in their press releases.
Gallup's 2010 Confidence in Institutions poll finds Congress ranking dead last out of the 16 institutions rated this year.  Eleven percent of Americans say they have a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in Congress, down from 17% in 2009 and a percentage point lower than the previous low for Congress, recorded in 2008.
FWIW, confidence in Congress, never very high, rose after the Republicans, under Speaker Gingrich and Majority Leader Dole, took control of Congress in 1995.  It peaked in 2004, and then began a sharp decline, interrupted only briefly at the beginning of the Obama administration.
- 7:57 AM, 22 July 2010   [link]


Taking The Time To Get The Shirley Sherrod Story Right:  You've undoubtedly heard about the Department of Agriculture appointee who was fired after Andrew Breitbart posted a partial video of a speech she made to an NAACP meeting.

I haven't written about it because I haven't had the time to watch the entire video, which is now available, or to examine Sherrod's career.  I may not take that time because — unlike practically everyone in the "mainstream" media and the blogosphere — I don't consider the story all that important.   (For an important story, try Archbishop Tutu's charge that Obama's changes in AIDS policy may result in more than a million Africans dying.)  Or that instructive, or that amusing.

I will make one observation:  The panicked reaction of Agriculture Secretary Vilsack (and, probably political appointees in the White House) shows both incompetence, and a disregard for ordinary fairness.   Before anyone is fired, from any job, they ought to have a chance to tell their side of the story.

And one general point:  Though the speed of the firing was unfair, and though there are parts of her speech that one can admire, we do not have to conclude that she is a completely innocent victim.

In The Fall of the House of Hapsburg, Edward Cranshaw makes this sour observation:
Centuries of existence under oppression may bring out the best in a people, but it also may magnify the worst.  The manners of the oppressed are all too likely to take their colour from the manners of the oppressors; when the oppressors are Turkish Janissaries the result is likely to be bad. (p. 378)
Crankshaw is writing about the Serbs, but I think that his general point, however unpleasant, is one we should not forget.  The oppressed do not necessary become admirable people, as the result of their oppression.

If Sherrod's family and Sherrod herself were oppressed by Southern racists — and they probably were — we should not be surprised if she has some of the "manners" of those racist oppressors, including a tendency to inject race into every controversy.
- 7:34 AM, 22 July 2010   [link]


Two More Accusers:  All right, maybe Al Gore is that kind of sleazeball.  (As well as being the kind of sleazeball that we all knew he was.)
- 5:29 AM, 22 July 2010   [link]


Birds Do It:  But not in the same way that people (and *almost all mammals) do it.
In humans, men have an X and a Y chromosome, and women two X's.  In reptilian times, the X and the Y were an ordinary pair of chromosomes until the male-determining gene landed on the Y.  Thereupon the Y started shedding the genes it held in common with the X and shriveled to a fraction of its former size.

Birds have evolved a similar system with a twist — it's the male that has two of the same chromosomes.  Their sex chromosomes are called the Z and W, with males having two Z's and females a Z and a W.  The Z and W are derived from a different pair of ancestral chromosomes than the X and Y, a team led by Daniel W. Bellott and Dr. Page report in the current issue of Nature.  The Z's evolution has in several ways paralleled that of the X, even though each is associated with a different sex.
Both systems evolved — most likely — from a reptilian system that used temperature to determine sex, as many reptiles still do today.  (That kind of system has an obvious limitation; the reptile must lay its eggs in a place with just the right temperature, in order to produce a mix of males and females.  (I have read, once or twice, of experimenters erring by incubating turtle eggs at the wrong temperature and getting only males, which doesn't help much if you are trying to increase the turtle population.)

(*Researchers don't know how sex is determined in the platypus, though they do know that it has not 2, but 10, sex chromosomes.)
- 1:40 PM, 21 July 2010   [link]


Desmond Tutu Attacks President Obama:  For not following President Bush's example.
Having met President Obama, I'm confident that he's a man of conscience who shares my commitment to bringing hope and care to the world's poor.  But I am saddened by his decision to spend less than he promised to treat AIDS patients in Africa.

George W. Bush made an impressive commitment to the international fight against AIDS when he formed the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief program.  Since 2004, Pepfar has spent $19 billion to help distribute anti-viral treatments to about 2.5 million Africans infected with H.I.V.
. . .
Under the Bush administration, about 400,000 more African patients received treatment every year.   President Obama's Pepfar strategy would reduce the number of new patients receiving treatment to 320,000 — resulting in 1.2 million avoidable deaths over the next five years, according to calculations by two Harvard researchers, Rochelle Walensky and Daniel Kuritzkes.  Doctors would have to decide which of the 22 million Africans afflicted with H.I.V. should receive treatment and which should not.

President Obama has also proposed to cut America's contributions to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (which had been increasing each year since 2006) to $1 billion in 2011, down from $1.05 billion this year.
Perhaps Archbishop Tutu should start judging President Obama by his deeds, instead of his words.

(Incidentally, much of the money for these programs is spent right here in the United States, buying drugs from American drug companies.)
- 12:39 PM, 21 July 2010   [link]


NY High School Teacher explains why he organized an illegal field trip to Cuba.
A Manhattan high school history teacher, who resigned under fire after taking students on a spring-break "Club Red" field trip to Cuba three years ago, is a self-proclaimed Communist who tried justifying the jaunt by telling Education officials he needed to see Fidel Castro one more time before the dictator died.
His classroom was decorated as you would expect; the walls were "adorned with posters of Castro and Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara".  (I'm not sure why that was appropriate, even in Manhattan.   Maybe the school disapproved, but was unable to fire him.  It is hard to fire public school teachers in New York.)

The teacher, Nathan Turner, had at least one influential friend.
The Post in 2007 first reported that then-Lt. Gov. David Paterson's step daughter went on the 2005 trip under Turner's supervision and that Paterson contacted DOE in 2007 urging officials to approve that trip as well.
(Governor Paterson now says he was deceived about the trip.)

I suppose that we have to give Turner a little credit for honesty and frankness.

By way of Babalú.
- 9:13 AM, 21 July 2010   [link]


Death Wishes, Nazi Smears, And Calls For Censorship Of The Fox Network:   Jonathan Strong and the Daily Caller have more excerpts from the Journolist.  Example:
"I am genuinely scared" of Fox, wrote Guardian columnist Daniel Davies, because it "shows you that a genuinely shameless and unethical media organisation *cannot* be controlled by any form of peer pressure or self-regulation, and nor can it be successfully cold-shouldered or ostracised.  In order to have even a semblance of control, you need a tough legal framework."  Davies, a Brit, frequently argued the United States needed stricter libel laws.
. . .
Jonathan Zasloff, a law professor at UCLA, suggested that the federal government simply yank Fox off the air.  "I hate to open this can of worms," he wrote, "but is there any reason why the FCC couldn't simply pull their broadcasting permit once it expires?"
(Actually no, they can't, as Rush Limbaugh explained.)

At one time, decades ago, most people who called themselves liberals (as I am sure most of the Journolisters do) were opposed to censorship, with a few, necessary exceptions.  Now, when you see calls for limits on freedom of speech, they almost always come from liberals, and often from liberal journalists.  (It may not be entirely coincidental that these journalists are often asking for their commercial rivals to be censored.)
- 8:53 AM, 21 July 2010   [link]


"Extreme Exaggeration"  President Obama keeps saying the darnedest things about the economy, and economist Michael Boskin is calling him on his "extreme exaggeration".
A president's most valuable asset—with voters, Congress, allies and enemies—is credibility.  So it is unfortunate when extreme exaggeration emanates from the White House.

All presidents wind up saying some things that make even their own economists cringe (often the brainchild of political advisers unconstrained by economic principles, facts or arithmetic).  Usually, economic advisers manage to correct these problematic statements before delivery.  Sometimes they get channeled into relatively harmless nonsense, such as President Gerald Ford's "Whip Inflation Now" buttons.  Other times they produce damaging policies, such as President Richard Nixon's wage and price controls.  The most illiterate statement was President Jimmy Carter's late-1970s plea to the Federal Reserve to lower interest rates to combat high inflation, the exact opposite of what it should do.  Not surprisingly, the value of the dollar collapsed.

President Obama says "every economist who's looked at it says that the Recovery Act has done its job"—i.e., the stimulus bill has turned the economy around.  That's nonsense.   Opinions differ widely and many leading economists believe that its impact has been small.   Why?  The expectation of future spending and future tax hikes to pay for the stimulus and Mr. Obama's vast expansion of government are offsetting the direct short-run expansionary effect.   That is standard in all macroeconomic theories.
Boskin has more examples of Obama's "extreme exaggeration" in the rest of the op-ed.

Boskin, politely, calls these false Obama statements "extreme exaggeration".  As is so often the case, we are left wondering whether Obama believes what he is saying.

As I have said before, I don't have an answer to that question.  But, as I have also said before, I think that Obama and his aides often don't even think about whether what he is saying is true, just whether it will have the effect they want on his immediate audience.  If I am right about that, it shows that they have more than a little contempt for both the journalists who transmit his extreme exaggerations, and for the voters who are expected to believe them
- 7:21 AM, 21 July 2010   [link]


Bush And Obama Both Erased Their Predecessor's URLs:  Both were wrong to do so, says Daniel Pipes.
Here's a pet peeve: Through eight years of the two George W. Bush administrations, I linked hundreds of times to White House and Department of State documents, plus less frequently to other U.S. government departments and agencies.  I made efforts to link to original documents (and not news articles, much less blogs) because, having earned a Ph.D. in history, I value primary sources.

I assumed during those years that the documents, being part of the U.S. government's permanent record, would remain available so long as the government and the internet were functioning — in other words, a long time.

I assumed wrong. On coming to office, the Obama administration in an instant removed thousands (millions?) of pages, abruptly making dead and useless all those links to the prior administration's work.  Latterly I learned that the Bush administration pulled this same trick against its Clinton predecessor.
Petty partisanship explains the erasures in both cases, in my opinion.

(Pipes thinks you can find all the old Bush documents here.)
- 3:54 PM, 20 July 2010   [link]


Other Than That, She's Been A Great Legislator:  The Seattle Times, while endorsing Democrat Judy Clibborn, gives us sufficient reason to vote against her.

The Mercer Island Democrat is knowledgeable and experienced about the complexities of our state transportation system.  As chair of the state House of Representatives Transportation Committee, Clibborn charted a blueprint for freight mobility and roads.  She pushed through workable legislation on Seattle's Alaskan Way Viaduct, even though it came with a poison pill: murky language about whether Seattle or the state would be responsible for cost overruns.

Outside of transportation, Clibborn's record is less distinguished.  She was part of the crowd in Olympia whose uncontrolled spending helped drive the state budget into a hole.

(Those unfamiliar with Washington state's transportation problems may need to know that our roads are horribly congested, that we have wasted billions on a light rail system, and that our ferry system is plagued with scandals.  The failure to provide better roads, cheaper mass transit, and an honest ferry system is mostly the fault of the Democrats in the state, definitely including Clibborn.)

In other words, Clibborn has failed on transportation — as anyone who looks at our crowded roads, the horrendous cost of the light rail boondoggle, or the waste in our ferry system can tell you — but has been even worse on the budget.

The Times concludes that these transportation failures are a good reason to re-elect the Democrat.  I must admit that I don't quite follow their logic.  Nor do I see any reason to expect Clibborn to do better, as they, rather wistfully, hope that she will.

It is good, I suppose, that our newspaper of record has recognized that we have a budget crisis, and even has identified some of those responsible.  But the Times is a little too ready to accept vague promises of better behavior from Democrats like Clibborn.  The editorial writers need, if I may say so, to be just a little more cynical about political promises, even if those promises come from female Democrats.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(Quibbles:  Blueprints are not "charted", as any builder can tell you.  And a "poison pill" is a sufficient reason to reject food, however tasty it appears to be.  Any local journalists who need help with their metaphors are welcome to email me, though I can't promise instant replies.)
- 2:04 PM, 20 July 2010   [link]


Nice Work, If You Can Get It:  But some will doubt that these salaries are entirely based on merit.
Hundreds of residents of one of the poorest municipalities in Los Angeles County shouted in protest last night as tensions rose over a report that the city's manager earns an annual salary of almost $800,000.

An overflow crowd packed a City Council meeting in Bell, a mostly Hispanic city of 38,000 about 10 miles (16 kilometers) southeast of Los Angeles, to call for the resignation of Mayor Oscar Hernandez and other city officials.  Residents left standing outside the chamber banged on the doors and shouted "fuera," or "get out" in Spanish.
The police chief and the (part time) council members do pretty well, too.

What I wonder is why Mayor Hernandez and the city council thought they could get away with these salaries.  Maybe they were just thinking very short term, going for a quick score, but not expecting it to last more than a year or so.  (They probably didn't break any laws with these salaries, according to the original Los Angeles Times story, though you do have to wonder whether the mayor and council members were getting kickbacks.)

(You see just how poor Bell is, here.)
- 1:30 PM, 20 July 2010   [link]


What An Unfair Question!  A Republican "tracker" (probably) asked Democratic congresswoman Dina Titus whether she would (again) vote to make Nancy Pelosi Speaker of the House.  Congresswoman Titus refused to answer.
During one of Titus' "Congress on the Corner" events — in which she basically props up a folding table and listens to constituent woes — a young woman plopped down, raised a hand-held video camera and asked Titus whether she'd vote for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to retain her leadership position.

The entire room — Titus, a handful of staffers, at least a dozen constituents — froze.   The woman, who said she lived in a different Nevada congressional district, kept repeating the question in the syrupy tone of a preschool teacher.
But Titus never did answer it.  And Titus's supporters at the event were sure that the question was completely unfair.

The vote for Speaker, is, in most sessions, the most important vote that a congressman makes.   Titus must know that, since she has a Ph.D. in government.  But she refused to say, for the record, how she would cast that vote.  Remarkable.  (Titus must fear that Pelosi is not particularly popular in Nevada's 3rd district, even though Barack Obama carried the district, 55-43.)

(Titus won her seat in 2008, 47-42, with an independent getting 4 percent of the vote, and a Libertarian getting 3 percent, so one can understand why she might be nervous about this year's election.

Long-time readers may recall that I was unable to get my congressman, Jay Inslee, to answer the same question.)
- 11:04 AM, 20 July 2010   [link]


If You Think That Left Wing Journalists Are Conspiring Against The Public:   Then this Daily Caller story will provide some solid evidence that you are right.
According to records obtained by The Daily Caller, at several points during the 2008 presidential campaign a group of liberal journalists took radical steps to protect their favored candidate.  Employees of news organizations including Time, Politico, the Huffington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Guardian, Salon and the New Republic participated in outpourings of anger over how Obama had been treated in the media, and in some cases plotted to fix the damage.

In one instance, Spencer Ackerman of the Washington Independent urged his colleagues to deflect attention from Obama's relationship with Wright by changing the subject.  Pick one of Obama's conservative critics, Ackerman wrote, "Fred Barnes, Karl Rove, who cares ;mdash; and call them racists."
If you don't think that (at least some) left wing journalists are conspiring against the public, then you should definitely read the story.  (And you may want to consider how you would react if a group of right wing journalists were caught doing the same thing.)

What triggered their anger?  George Stephanopoulos, former Democratic operative, asking Obama questions about his relationship with Reverend Wright.  It was wrong, these journalists believe, to even ask Obama why he spent twenty years in a church led by a minister preaching racist and anti-American doctrines.

You will not be shocked, if you have been paying attention, to see that some of these "journalists" (anti-journalists?) immediately wanted to play the race card, in order to defend Obama.

(You can read Andrew Breitbart's nasty, but very funny crack about this scandal, here.)
- 9:41 AM, 20 July 2010   [link]


Free Lab Tests:  That, according to the New York Times, is what insurance companies will be forced to provide under new federal regulations.
The White House on Wednesday issued new rules requiring health insurance companies to provide free coverage for dozens of screenings, laboratory tests and other types of preventive care.
. . .
The rules will eliminate co-payments, deductibles and other charges for blood pressure, diabetes and cholesterol tests; many cancer screenings; routine vaccinations; prenatal care; and regular wellness visits for infants and children.

Other services that must be offered at no charge include counseling to help people stop smoking; screening and counseling for obesity; and tests for infection with the virus that causes AIDS.
No doubt the insurance companies will be able to do this because the doctors, nurses, and lab technicians who do these tests will agree to stop charging for them.  (The article does not say whether the families that these doctors, nurses, and technicians support agree with this innovation.)

All right, enough sarcasm.  As anyone who thinks for even a minute can see, these tests will not be free; instead, the insurance companies will increase their general rates to pay for the "free" tests.  The patients, and the parents, and the taxpayers will still pay for the tests; they just won't pay for them as directly.

There is a general case for encouraging people to use preventive care, to get illnesses diagnosed early when they can be treated more cheaply.  But you have to analyze each ailment individually to know whether it is cheaper to diagnose it early.  (Example:  It is, according to what I have read, cost effective to diagnose colon cancer early, since it can be cured then, relatively cheaply in most cases.  It may not make sense to diagnose lung cancer early since, as far as I know, we still have little success in curing it.)

But there is also an extremely powerful case for deductibles and co-payments — if you want to control costs.  Almost everyone hates to pay them — which is why they work so well to control costs.

Whatever balance we choose between these two objectives, we should not pretend, as Robert Pear of the New York Times does, that these tests will ever be "free".

(As you have probably already figured out, by encouraging people to have more tests done, we will, necessarily, pay more, totally, for tests.  The additional costs will be hidden from the patients, but not from the accountants.)
- 8:57 AM, 20 July 2010   [link]


President Obama Is "Pro-Business"  So says E. J. Dionne, who used to be a good journalist, but now often seems to be trying to be a mediocre comedian, instead.  Most likely, Dionne is not joking when he makes such claims (though that is the kindest interpretation), but actually believes what he writes.

Mortimer Zuckerman, who has somewhat more business experience than Dionne, has come to a different conclusion.
But it's not just the rhetoric that undermines the confidence the business community needs to find if it is to invest.   Consider the new generation of regulatory rules, increased bureaucracy, and higher taxes created by the Obama administration.  For example, the new financial regulation bill includes nearly 500 "rule-makings," studies, and reports, compared with just 14 in total for the controversial Sarbanes-Oxley bill, passed after the financial scandals of Enron and WorldCom.  The disillusionment has spread to the Business Roundtable, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), which represents small businesses that normally account for roughly 60 percent of job creation.

The chief economist of the NFIB, William Dunkelberg, put it clearly: Small business owners "do not trust the economic policies in place or proposed."  He also said, "The U.S. economy faces hurricane force headwinds and the government is at the center of the storm, making an economic recovery very difficult."

Our economic Katrina, in short.
Granted, Zuckerman came to this conclusion a bit late, having supported Obama in 2008, but he did come to it.  Unlike Dionne, he has been unable to ignore the obvious.
- 4:03 PM, 19 July 2010   [link]


There's Something Rotten In The State Of Venezuela:  Specifically, much of the food imported by the Chávez regime.

Chávez has been harassing the private food producers and distributors for years; partly as a result, the nation now has to import large quantities of food.  Fearing a shortage, the regime set up a government organization to import food.  Those running it had no experience and, it would seem, no common sense, because they imported far more than they could distribute.

With the inevitable result.
At least half Venezuelans could have eaten for one month with the rotten food that was found over the past few weeks.  Excluding the packages of beans or mayonnaise found in the dumping site of Tiguadara, western Falcón state, recent complaints total almost 122,000 tons of food that was lost before arriving in the country's fridges and shelves.

"All this could have been the monthly shopping of more than three million Venezuelan families," ex deputy Carlos Berrizbeitia reckoned.  If each container makes room for 28,000 kilograms and an average individual consumes seven kilograms a month, the account of the leader of opposition Proyecto Venezuela party shows that -throughout 30 days- 17 million people could have been fed with the containers and sacks of products that were found stockpiled in several places in the states of Carabobo, Cojedes, Yaracuy and Zulia.
Chávez is prosecuting some of those involved — and continuing to harass the private company that actually knows how to distribute food, Empresas Polar.  The man is not a fast learner.

(Makes you feel a little better about our own government, doesn't it?

As far as I know, Chávez's friend and ally, director Oliver Stone, has had no reaction to this scandal.)
- 3:10 PM, 19 July 2010   [link]


Discrimination Breeds Paranoia:  So says token New York Times conservative Ross Douthat.
This provides statistical confirmation for what alumni of highly selective universities already know.   The most underrepresented groups on elite campuses often aren't racial minorities; they're working-class whites (and white Christians in particular) from conservative states and regions.  Inevitably, the same underrepresentation persists in the elite professional ranks these campuses feed into: in law and philanthropy, finance and academia, the media and the arts.

This breeds paranoia, among elite and non-elites alike.  Among the white working class, increasingly the most reliable Republican constituency, alienation from the American meritocracy fuels the kind of racially tinged conspiracy theories that Beck and others have exploited — that Barack Obama is a foreign-born Marxist hand-picked by a shadowy liberal cabal, that a Wall Street-Washington axis wants to flood the country with third world immigrants, and so forth.

Among the highly educated and liberal, meanwhile, the lack of contact with rural, working-class America generates all sorts of wild anxieties about what's being plotted in the heartland.  In the Bush years, liberals fretted about a looming evangelical theocracy. In the age of the Tea Parties, they see crypto-Klansmen and budding Timothy McVeighs everywhere they look.
And that appears to be his main objection to this discrimination.

I have a simpler view.  This discrimination is wrong, whether or not it breeds paranoia (and I don't know whether he is right about that).  It is bad for individuals, bad for the institutions that practice it, and bad for the nation.

The elite schools give up some of the rural talent they could have, while putting often unqualified black students in situations where they almost certainly can not succeed.  And both groups often feel cheated by the process, correctly.  And the schools create one more issue to divide us.

(I suppose that I should give Douthat some credit for raising this issue, and in the New York Times, no less.  But a single op-ed won't make up for years of neglect by our newspaper of record.)
- 2:35 PM, 19 July 2010   [link]


Two Nifty Tech Advances:   Software:
All of this personal information turns out to be extremely valuable, collectively.  So why should Google, Yahoo, Facebook and other ad businesses get all the rewards?

That is the question that animates Bynamite, a start-up company based in San Francisco.  "There should be an economic opportunity on the consumer side," said Ginsu Yoon, a co-founder of the company. "Nearly all the investment and technology is on the advertising side."
Hardware:
Matt Reynolds, an assistant professor in the electrical and computer engineering department at Duke University, wears other hats, too — including that of co-founder of two companies.  These days, his interest is in a real hat now in prototype: a hard hat with a tiny microprocessor and beeper that sound a warning when dangerous equipment is nearby on a construction site.

What's unusual, however, is that the hat's beeper and microprocessor work without batteries.  They use so little power that they can harvest all they need from radio waves in the air.
I would expect to see many of these radio-wave-powered devices in the near future.

Yoon's effort to let consumers get something in return for their personal information is good in principle; it is hard to tell whether his company (or one of the competing companies) will make it succeed in practice.
- 8:40 AM, 19 July 2010   [link]


Worth Reading:  Stanley Crouch on how the NAACP came to tolerate a crazy racist like Louis Farrakhan.

Here's his conclusion:
Were [NAACP leader Ben] Jealous and the rest disturbed and vocal about Farrakhan's presence, it would suggest some actual integrity of the sort we are not accustomed to hearing from "black leaders" and "public intellectuals."  Racial complaint has become too lucrative a hustle, and a hustler must always remain true to the game.  Principles never sell as well as slogans.
It takes more than a little courage for a black writer to say those things.

(It isn't just black leaders who have found it convenient to ally with Farrakhan; so have white leaders, including more than a few Democrats, and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has been a Republican when that was convenient.)
- 7:43 AM, 19 July 2010   [link]


Must-Have Fashion Accessory:  An Obama count-down clock, which shows the days, hours, minutes, and seconds remaining in Obama's term.

Andrew Malcolm describes two groups it might appeal to:
Judging by the Democrat's recently sagging poll numbers, for a majority of Americans, this new novelty to believe in will be counting down the time to the end of Obama's first and last term in the White House.

However, for those voters who like the ex-state senator's spending, prevarications and policies, they can pretend the credit-card-sized clock is just counting down to the start of Obama's second and last term.
(Is that "prevarications" too strong?  Not in my opinion.)
- 7:17 AM, 19 July 2010   [link]


Another Attack On Science By An Elected Democrat:  This time, geologists are complaining.
Empirically speaking, geologists are not a particularly irascible group.   But those who make their living studying rocks, minerals and gems in California — and increasingly those scientists beyond the state's borders — are enraged over a bill in Sacramento that would knock serpentine, the official state rock, off its mantel.

The lawmaker and others who would like to see serpentine stripped of its title say the olive green rock found all over the state is a grim symbol of the deadly cancers associated with asbestos, which can be found in the rock.  Geologists, who have taken to Twitter on behalf of the rock, assert that serpentine is harmless and is being demonized by advocates for people with asbestos-related diseases and possibly their trial lawyers, too.

The bill to defrock the rock — which recently passed the full State Senate and is awaiting a vote in the Assembly — is sponsored by Senator Gloria Romero, a Los Angeles Democrat, with the strong support of the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization.
Geologists say — correctly — that Senator Romero doesn't know what she is talking about.  And that defrocking the rock could lead to destructive lawsuits, against, for instance, people who make jewelry (some of it lovely) from serpentine.

Shouldn't California legislators be working on other problems, such as the state's budget?  Perhaps, but judging by their recent performance, it might be better for them to take up this kind of issue, until they can be replaced.  (My California friends and relatives may want to know that I think the same thing is true of many Washington state legislators.)

(You can see objections from geologists here, here, and in an instructive comment here.

Terminology:  Geologists call the mineral(s), serpentine, and rocks made of those minerals, serpentinite.

Decades ago, I recall reading, in Science magazine, some scientific papers which explained that asbestos comes in a number of forms, and only one of these — not the most common kind — is terribly dangerous.  As far as I can tell, these scientific findings had no effect at all on asbestos legislation, regulation, or litigation.)
- 4:30 PM, 17 July 2010   [link]