July 2011, Part 2
Jim Miller on Politics
Sheila Jackson Lee Stories: You've almost certainly heard about her attempt to play the race card in the fight over the debt limit, but you may not know of some of her other achievements.
I have a hard time choosing a single favorite Jackson Lee story, so I'll give you several.
Michael Barone and Richard Cohen don't much like her. Her entry in the Almanac of American Politics is strikingly negative.
In Washingtonian magazine's annual poll of House staffers, Jackson Lee won best "Show Horse" every Congress since 2000, and she has routinely taken top honors in the poll's "Biggest Windbag" category. She also draws negative reviews for her treatment of staff. She used to have an aide drive her one block to and from her Capitol Hill apartment daily, and she has required aides to drive her to late-night hair appointments.(In general, the Almanac goes out of its way to be fair to the people in Congress — but Barone and Cohen have their limits.)
Jackson Lee sometimes gets details of recent history wrong.
In 2010, Jackson Lee stated that, ". . . victory had been achieved" by the United States in Vietnam. She went on to state, "Today, we have two Vietnams; side-by-side, North and South, exchanging and working. We may not agree with all that North Vietnam is doing, but they are living in peace. I would look for a better human rights record for North Vietnam, but they are living side by side. Because that was a civil war, and because the leadership of this nation did not listen to the mothers and fathers who beared . . . bore the burden of 58,000 dead and did not declare victory; the mounting deaths; the violence continued going up and up, rather than understanding the political nature of the war in Vietnam, we did not listen to those families." In fact, the territories of North and South Vietnam were united under communist rule after the withdrawal of the United States in the 1970s.(United rather forcibly, I would say.)
Similarly, Jackson Lee may not have paid close attention to all the details in the space program.
Prior to the 110th Congress, Lee served on the House Science Committee and on the Subcommittee that oversees space policy. During a 2005 visit to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, Lee asked a guide whether the Mars Pathfinder had taken a photograph of the flag planted on Mars by Neil Armstrong in 1969. (Armstrong's 1969 mission, of course, was to the Moon, not Mars.)Jackson Lee earned an undergraduate degree from Yale, and a law degree from the University of Virginia, so we can't assume that she is stupid or uneducated. But I think it fair to say that she has an unusual picture of the world for someone with that much education.
(There are things in her political career that I like, such as her support for free trade, which is easier to do when you represent a district in the port city of Houston than it would in many other places.
And for reasons I am unable to explain, I find the fact that she got early financial support from Enron's Ken Lay, charming.)
- 4:15 PM, 16 July 2011 [link]
The Seattle Times Should Lighten Up: Yesterday, the local monopoly newspaper ran an editorial attacking freedom of choice in, of all things, light bulbs.
First, I should correct an error. It is true that the first attempt to free consumers to choose whatever kind of light bulbs they want failed in the House. But, the second didn't. On the day that the Times ran their editorial, supporters found another way to pass the measure.
(Which is what anyone who read the original stories — carefully — would have expected. Measures that have the support of solid majorities, and the leadership, almost always pass the House, usually sooner rather than later.)
Will it pass the Senate? It's hard to say, but there are many Democrats in the Senate who are worried about next year's election. They might want to show swing voters that they aren't in favor of every federal regulation.
Will Obama veto any appropriations bill that contains this provision? He might. It's hard to predict what amateurs will do in big games.
It's tempting to give our local monopoly newspaper an extended lesson, tempting to explain to them why they are mistaken. But they aren't much interested in hearing from critics, so I'll just give them some hints: If they really want to ban inefficient lights, they should start with candles and fireplaces. Many in this area use electricity for heat, as well as light. The editorial writers should think about how that affects the efficiency argument, here. They seem unfamiliar with Jevons's paradox. They should consider just how far they are willing to take their argument. For example, it is far more efficient to cook with a microwave than a conventional oven. Should we ban the latter?
Cross posted at Sound Politics.
(For the record: I have been using some compact fluorescents for years. That's because I am cheap, and don't terribly mind their unnatural light — most of the time. And because I am cheap, I've started looking at LEDs, and will probably use some of them when prices come down. But I think it is silly to ban incandescents, which do have advantages, advantages that are important to some people.The Seattle Times is not opposed to freedom of choice in everything. They are, for example, strongly in favor of decriminalizing marijuana. Perhaps they hope that their readers will get stoned under unflattering lights.)
- 1:22 PM, 16 July 2011 [link]
The Cuban Reforms Have Improved Incomes For Those In The Growing Private Sector: So now farmers there earn $28 and urban workers $41.
(Sex workers do much better, as this surprisingly sympathetic article shows. I have no idea whether those figures on AIDS are correct, though they might be, since the Cuban regime has pursued old-fashioned (and effective) policies against the disease. On the other hand, almost a century of experience has taught us to be skeptical of statistics from communist regimes.)
- 9:36 AM, 15 July 2011 [link]
Should We Try To Increase US-Chinese Military Cooperation? That's our official policy.
The top U.S. military officer said Sunday that Washington is committed to maintaining its military presence in Asia, and that the United States and China must work together to ensure regional security.But when you read about incidents like this one, you have to wonder how wise that policy is.
In one of the most blatant cyber attacks carried out against the United States by a foreign government, as many as 24,000 Pentagon files were stolen in March, US Deputy Secretary of Defense revealed on Thursday.Granted, the hackers could have been working for Russia, rather than China, could even have been working for someone else. But China is, by far, the most likely suspect, given their record of previous attacks.
There are ways in which we can cooperate with the Chinese regime, even militarily, but we should be very careful about how we do it. And the same is true of the current Russian regime.
- 8:39 AM, 15 July 2011 [link]
Heather MacDonald Looks At The University Of California and finds "Less Academics, More Narcissism".
California's budget crisis has reduced the University of California to near-penury, claim its spokesmen. "Our campuses and the UC Office of the President already have cut to the bone," the university system's vice president for budget and capital resources warned earlier this month, in advance of this week's meeting of the university's regents. Well, not exactly to the bone. Even as UC campuses jettison entire degree programs and lose faculty to competing universities, one fiefdom has remained virtually sacrosanct: the diversity machine.(It is appropriate that this new position is a "vice chancellor", since the worst vice of our college and university administrations is "diversity".)
Among the things that the UCSD is cutting, while they increase their diversity bureaucracy, is a master's degree program in electrical and computer engineering. (Who needs those guys, anyway?)
If these changes were taken to the limit, the UCSD would have only a diversity bureaucracy, and no academics at all. I wish I could shake the suspicion that some university administrators would like that ending.
- 8:02 AM, 15 July 2011 [link]
House Democrats Haven't Given Up Their War on Styrofoam.
House Democrats are once again attempting to do away with Styrofoam products in congressional cafeterias, this time with an amendment to a fiscal 2012 Legislative Branch Appropriations bill.The minority party in the House usually doesn't have much to do — but I think the Democrats could do better than this. They could, for instance, present a substitute budget. (They owe us at least one budget, since they never got around to passing one in the last session.)
Incidentally, expanded polystyrene, which is what Styrofoam is, is easy to recycle, but hard to collect, because it is so bulky. Places like congressional cafeterias (or your favorite coffee shops) could easily provide containers for used Styrofoam cups, which would partly solve the recycling problem.
I'd be in favor of that, I'd even take the extra steps to recycle the cups if they were available, because Styrofoam cups are the most comfortable disposable cups I have found for hot liquids.
(If Jim Moran's name seems vaguely familiar, but you can't quite place him, do this search: "Jim Moran + scandal".)
- 1:48 PM, 14 July 2011 [link]
Why Did The NYT Get Scooped On The Obama Insurance Tale? After all, the person who dug up the facts, who found out that Obama's mother had health insurance when she was dying, in spite of what Obama had said during the campaign, was Janny Scott, a Times reporter who is on leave while she plugs her book.
Today, the Times explains.
On Wednesday, in response to repeated requests for comment that The Times first made in mid-June, shortly after the book's release, a White House spokesman chose not to dispute either Ms. Scott's account or Mr. Obama's memory, while arguing that Mr. Obama's broader point remained salient.In short, the Times got scooped because the Obama administration stonewalled them, repeatedly.
We can't know now why the administration refused to comment — and is still refusing to admit that Obama erred — but I will give you my best guess: I suspect that Obama was asked for a reaction by his press people — and never gave them one. And so his press people were finally forced into this silly, they're-both-right response.
- 1:15 PM, 14 July 2011 [link]
Organized Immigration Fraud: (Or, perhaps I should say, "semi-organized".)
In this post on Dominique Strauss-Kahn's accuser, I noted that she had received asylum in the United States by telling lies about her past in Guinea — and that many others had received asylum in the same way.
On Tuesday, the New York Times described how this works, in New York.
A shadowy industry dedicated to asylum fraud thrives in New York, where many of the country's asylum claims are filed. Immigrants peddle personal accounts ripped from international headlines, con artists prey on the newly arrived and nonlawyers offer misguided advice.Sometimes legitimately, often not.
According to the article, the odds favor the asylum seeker, especially in New York where 76 percent of the applications are approved by immigration judges.
There is, again according to the article, little risk in filing a false claim, since they are rarely prosecuted, even when detected.
This "industry" thrives in third-world nations, as well as Western nations. In Among the Believers, V. S. Naipaul described Pakistanis who made their living getting other Pakistanis into Western nations, often by claims of asylum, many of them false. Although the book is three decades old, I have no doubt that the industry continues to thrive there, though the details will have changed.
- 8:20 AM, 14 July 2011 [link]
Nice Non-Work, If You Can Get It: Another great example from California.
The highest-paid state employee in California last year, a prison surgeon who took home $777,423, has a history of mental illness, was fired once for alleged incompetence and has not been allowed to treat an inmate for six years because medical supervisors don't trust his clinical skills.Although Dr. Rohlfing doesn't seem especially happy about his non-work.
You wouldn't expect that prisons would attract top doctors, but, if the article is correct, California prisons have far too many doctors who shouldn't be treating anyone except, perhaps, those on death row.
(Incidentally, the state's Personnel Board, which has kept Dr. Rohlfing employed, may be following the letter of the law — in which case we should blame the legislature, not the board.)
- 6:36 AM, 14 July 2011 [link]
Obama's Confusing Bluff: Suppose you were playing poker and one of your opponents told you not to call his bluff. What would you do?
At first, you may think that of course you should call his bluff, now that he has told you he is bluffing. But any real poker player will recognize that the opponent could be bluffing about bluffing. (Though John Hinderaker missed that point.) What I expect an expert poker player would do is simply add the statement to what they already know about the deal and their opponent, and then come to an independent decision about whether their opponent is, actually, bluffing.
And I would guess that that is how the Republican leaders are reacting to President Obama's strange statement yesterday.
President Barack Obama bluntly told Republican congressional leaders Wednesday they must compromise quickly if the government is to avoid an unprecedented default, adding, "Don't call my bluff" by passing a short-term debt limit increase he has threatened to veto.I suppose the simplest explanation is that Obama meant to say that he was not bluffing, and did not intend to confuse everyone. But I can't help but add that President George W. Bush, a good negotiator and a fine poker player when he was at Harvard, would never have said anything that confusing.
(In this kind of negotiation, it is usually a mistake to mention bluffing at all, since that increases the uncertainty on the other side, making a compromise less likely.)
- 5:39 AM, 14 July 2011 [link]
Russia Has A Space Monopoly: So, naturally, they are exploiting it, as this article from last Thursday's Wall Street Journal explains.
The last U.S. space shuttle is scheduled to blast off Friday. After that, the U.S. and other nations will rely on vintage Russian spacecraft to ferry their astronauts to the $100 billion station. Russia will hold a monopoly over manned spaceflight, and tensions already are rising. The Russians are in the process of nearly tripling the cost of using their Soyuz crew capsules for transport to the orbiting base, and other countries have little choice but to pay up.There's much more in the article that's worth reading, even if you have to get to it indirectly.
(I bought a printed copy of that issue, and almost didn't provide a link, since I knew the article was behind their pay wall.)
- 11:09 AM, 13 July 2011 [link]
Worst States And Best States For Black Unemployment: The Department of Labor has released a report on black unemployment, and the news is grim. Walter Mead has a good discussion of the findings in the report, but does not say much about the differences between the states.
Those differences are worth discussing because the variation among states is so high.
The five worst states for black unemployment are Wisconsin (25.0 percent), Michigan (23.9 percent), Minnesota (22.0 percent, Maine (21.4 percent), and Washington (21.1 percent). All five are significantly above the national rate for blacks, 16.2 percent. (In May, the comparable rates for whites and Hispanics were 8.0 and 11.9, respectively.)
The five best states for black unemployment are New Hampshire (10.3 percent), Hawaii (9.6 percent), Idaho (8.0 percent), Wyoming (6.2 percent) and Alaska (5.4 percent). (The map at the end of the report has Arizona at 10.2 percent, which contradicts the text. I am fairly sure that's a mistake in the map.)
(There are no estimates for four states with very small black populations, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Vermont.)
I am not going to draw any grand conclusions from these differences, since I don't know enough about the policies of those ten states. But I will observe that most leftists would consider the five worst states "progressive" (I would say reactionary), and that most leftists would have other adjectives for the five best states, except, of course, for Hawaii.
And I will add one small point about Washington state: My home state has the highest minimum wage in the United States, thanks to a labor-union-backed initiative. That may be one of the reasons that black unemployment is higher here than in most other states.Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 9:49 AM, 13 July 2011 [link]
Patty Murray Is A Party Hack: We need to update our political images. When we think of a party hack, most of us visualize a middle-aged, overweight white guy. But hacks can come in any color and can be female as well as male, as our senior senator, Patty "no rocket scientist" Murray, demonstrates.
That's the thinking of a party hack, not a statesman, or, if you prefer, a stateswoman.
Cross posted at Sound Politics.(Full disclosure: I was signed up, more or less automatically, for Medicare several years ago. I would happily trade the current system for one that would cost the taxpayers less, and would give me more freedom to manage my own affairs. But I don't have that choice.)
- 6:19 AM, 13 July 2011 [link]
Obama's Mother And The Insurance Companies: Another story from his past turns out to be not entirely true.
During the 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama often discussed his mother's struggle with cancer. Ann Dunham spent the months before her death in 1995, Obama said, fighting with insurance companies that sought to deny her the coverage she needed to pay for treatment.The facts:
That is the time during which Obama says his mother battled insurance companies to cover her illness. But [Janny] Scott, who had access to Dunham's correspondence from the time, reveals that Dunham unquestionably had health coverage. "Ann's compensation for her job in Jakarta had included health insurance, which covered most of the costs of her medical treatment," Scott writes. "Once she was back in Hawaii, the hospital billed her insurance company directly, leaving Ann to pay only the deductible and any uncovered expenses, which, she said, came to several hundred dollars a month."And probably never will.
(Here's my summary of Obama's problems with telling the truth about his past — whenever a journalist investigate one of his stories, they find discrepancies — and here's a particularly powerful example of those discrepancies from the New York Times.)
- 1:44 PM, 12 July 2011 [link]
A Movie Based On Space Invaders? Well, that should be quite a challenge.
As you may recall from your days spent in dank arcades during the 1970s and '80s, "Space Invaders" is a game that features a complex and emotionally evocative plot that follows the heart-wrenching struggle of a lone soldier who must defend his home and country from a merciless horde of enemies while coming to grips with his own internal demons. The nuanced narrative explores themes of loneliness, isolation and, ultimately, the triumph of the human spirit.But, why not — as long as they make it clear that the Space Invaders are the bad guys.
(There's more than you probably will ever need to know about the game, here. I had forgotten that it was so popular that it "caused a temporary shortage of 100-yen coins in Japan".)
- 10:20 AM, 12 July 2011 [link]
Michelle Obama Missed Barack's Message about eating our peas.
(As I've mentioned before, sometimes I almost think an unscrupulous Republican operative is helping to plan her schedule. Almost.)
- 10:05 AM, 12 July 2011 [link]
190,000 Jobs? It's from an industry study, so you should take that exact number with a grain of salt.
Almost 190,000 jobs could be created by 2013 if offshore drilling returns to pre-spill levels, according to a study sponsored by two oil trade groups, the National Ocean Industries Association (NOIA) and the American Petroleum Institute (API).But I have no doubt that a substantial number of jobs, perhaps more than 100,000, could be created if the Obama administration chose to support drilling here, drilling now.
(Those who are opposed to increased production of fossil fuels in United States are free to oppose this, as they do, but they should not pretend that obstacles to drilling do not cost jobs, in the short term, perhaps even in the long term.)
- 9:04 AM, 12 July 2011 [link]
How Easy Is It To "Hack" Into Voicemail? Very.
How hard is it to hack into someone's voicemail? Do you need to be an expert programmer expert or have a PhD in computer science?You don't have to know a lot about password security to know that a four-digit code isn't much protection, even if you pick one randomly. And many people don't.
(For some time, I have been wondering about phone security, as people use smart phones for more and more things, including shopping and banking. It's my impression that many of the smart phones are quite insecure, but I haven't seen a formal study, or a comparison of the risks.)
- 5:19 PM, 11 July 2011 [link]
The Odd Timing Of That Obama Press Conference: When you are negotiating seriously, it is usually best to be quiet, publicly.
But that's exactly what Obama did not do in his "eat our peas" press conference.
President Obama, facing a bitter partisan stalemate over how to raise the federal borrowing limit, summoned congressional leaders to a new round of White House talks Monday and warned that he would not accept a temporary, stopgap measure.(Emphasis added.)
I believe that Obama is deliberately sabotaging these talks. Over the weekend, he demanded tax increases — which he knows are unacceptable to the House Republicans. Having destroyed the possibility of a long-term deal, today he rejected a short-term deal — before he goes into the next round of negotiations.
It isn't hard to understand his political thinking; he intends to either get a tax increase from Republicans or blame them for a failure to make a deal. That this is just a trifle irresponsible does not bother him, or many of the other Democratic leaders.
If you think I am being too harsh, consider these facts: During the last session of Congress, the Democratic majorities refused to pass a budget — as required by law. The Senate, which is still controlled by the Democrats, has not passed a budget this year. In his own budget proposal earlier this year, Obama did not present any plan to deal with our long-term deficit problems. When it was put to a vote in the Senate, it did not receive a single vote. (In April, Obama admitted in a speech that his budget proposal was dead, but did not provide an alternative specific enough to be scored by the Congressional Budget Office.)
Unfortunately, the answer to his "when" question is January, 2013 — at best. If we replace Obama with a responsible president, replace Reid with a responsible majority leader, and keep Boehner as speaker, then we have some chance for a responsible budget.
(Actually, Obama hasn't spent much time eating humble fare like peas since he became president; he's more into dishes like Wagyu steak. And, just for the record, fresh peas are delicious.)
- 1:27 PM, 11 July 2011 [link]
Obama's Tax Increases: The Wall Street Journal has a little list.
Keep in mind that Mr. Obama has already signed the largest tax increase since 1993. While everyone focuses on the Bush tax rates that expire after 2012, other tax increases are already set to hit the economy thanks to the 2010 Affordable Care Act. As a refresher, here's a non-exhaustive list of ObamaCare's tax increases:I haven't figured out how increasing taxes on medical devices and drugs will reduce health costs. If you can explain that to me, please do.
As the Journal says, their list is not comprehensive. They could have, for instance, included the 2009 tobacco tax increase. And there are probably others, as well.
(As I have said before, I would prefer that no one smoked. But I also think that smokers, who do little harm to anyone other than themselves, are already paying for their additional medical costs.)
- 7:31 AM, 11 July 2011 [link]
Hugo Chávez Has Colon Cancer: Probably.
The presence of an abscess is consistent with a diagnosis of colon cancer, said Alan Venook, head of the gastro-intestinal cancer program at University of California, San Francisco.So — assuming this diagnosis is correct &mdash it is likely that Chávez can stay in office at least until next year's election, but in a weakened condition.
(One of his supporters has denied this story, which probably means that it is true.)
- 6:51 AM, 11 July 2011 [link]
Monday Morning Cartoon: (Well, actually, it showed up on my New Yorker calendar last Thursday, but it should have run on a Monday.)
A boss is explaining things to an underling: "Acting responsibly is below my pay grade."
(Go ahead and convert it to a political cartoon, if you like. I did, even though the boss doesn't look anything like President Obama, Minority Leader Pelosi, or Majority Leader Reid.)
- 6:38 AM, 11 July 2011 [link]
Other Than That, . . . James Taranto spots the New York Times arguing for a reckless policy.
Mr. Obama might want to consider the advice of several constitutional scholars who say Congress may not be able to put the government in default by refusing to raise the debt limit because the 14th Amendment says the public debt cannot be questioned.(But President Obama should consider doing it, anyway. And no, they are not being sarcastic.)
Taranto continues by asking: "[O]ther than that, what could possibly go wrong?"
Which reminded me, inevitably, of a similar line: "Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play?"
(I linked to Taranto's version to give him credit, and because I hadn't read the editorial until I saw his comments. And I must confess that's more and more often true about editorials from the Times: I am unlikely to read them unless I see them quoted in a critique.)
- 12:47 PM, 10 July 2011 [link]