July 2012, Part 1
Jim Miller on Politics
The Liquor Tax Surprise: At the end of June, Washington state closed its state-owned liquor stores, replacing them with private sales. All, or almost all, of the big supermarkets joined in.
But they may have made a tactical error. They have long sold beer and wine, and they always put prices on the beer and wine, without the state taxes. Since Washington has moderate taxes on beer and wine, most customers were not bothered by the taxes added at the cash registers.
But Washington has very high liquor taxes. In fact, according to the Tax Foundation, we have the highest state taxes on liquor in the nation.
So buyers have been getting very rude surprises when they find out how much those bottles of liquor actually cost. In at least a few cases, the taxes actually double the cost of a single bottle.
Some stores are planning to re-label the bottles, adding the taxes; others are not. Behavioral economists will want to study the effects of those two different policies.
(Most likely, the high taxes on liquor here can be explained by the fact that Washington produces a lot of wine, a lot of hops — and almost no liquor.)
- 8:23 PM, 8 July 2012
This tax surprise will also give behavioral economists a chance to test whether taxes that hit all at once — unlike our income taxes — meet more resistance. That's always seemed likely to me, but I can't recall having seen any studies on that question, though I am sure there must be some.
- 1:22 PM, 10 July 2012 [link]
Egypt Just Conducted Its First Sex-Slave Marriage In Years: In secret? No, it was shown on TV.
Last Monday, on the Egyptian TV show Al Haqiqa ("the Truth"), journalist Wael al-Ibrashi began the program by airing a video-clip of a man, Abd al-Rauf Awn, "marrying" his "slave." Before making the woman, who had a non-Egyptian accent, repeat the Koran's Surat al-Ikhlas after him, instead of saying the customary "I marry myself to you," the woman said "I enslave myself to you," and kissed him in front of an applauding audience.(Sex slaves are not supposed to wear a lot of clothes, under traditional Islamic rules.)
As Raymond Ibrahim goes on to say, such sex slaves have a long history in Islam — and some advocates among present-day Muslims.
And you don't have to know a lot of young men to understand why some would find that particular institution appealing.
(No doubt that gang in England was familiar, in some general way, with those Islamic precedents.)
- 5:53 PM, 8 July 2012 [link]
How Did The Libor Get Started? The inventor, Minos Zombanakis, explains.
Zombanakis, who is 85 years old and retired in his home country of Greece, recalls that first Libor loan — $80 million extended by a group of banks to Iran — as if it were yesterday.Which worked pretty well, while the London banks were run by a small club of "gentlemen bankers". And not so well, later, when they weren't.
(You can also read the piece in this Indian newspaper, if you don't want to go to the New York Times site.)
- 3:13 PM, 8 July 2012 [link]
You'll Be Shocked by the findings of this study.
News coverage of Palin, then the Republican governor of Alaska, not only significantly outweighed that received by Biden, then a U.S. senator from Delaware, was markedly different in substance and across media, according to a new study of media coverage of the vice presidential candidates.What was missing from all that coverage of Palin was, usually, a description of her record, which was more impressive than Obama's record. (And, I would say, more impressive than Biden's. He had been in the Senate approximately forever, but had few significant accomplishments to show for all that time — and more than a few anti-accomplishments.)
Nor did we see much on her record as a bipartisan reformer — which she was.
(I still don't quite understand why she drove so many people — for example, Andrew Sullivan — nuts. But I would like to see an open-minded psychologist tackle that question.)
- 1:58 PM, 8 July 2012 [link]
North Korean Dictator Decides To Share With His People: Food? Automobiles? Freedom to travel? Cellphones that would let them call all over the world? Access to the Internet?
No, no, no, no, and no.
Kim Jong Un decided to share Disney characters.
Mickey Mouse and Winnie the Pooh took the stage in North Korea during a concert for new leader Kim Jong Un, in an unusual performance featuring Disney characters.The dictator's family has long been fond of Western films and characters, but they have seen no reason, until now, to share them with their oppressed people.
There's some plausible speculation in the article about the motives for this shift. Plausible, but impossible to check.
(Kudos to the Associated Press for mentioning this point in the last paragraph:
North Korea and the United States remain in a technical state of war because they signed a truce, not a peace treaty, after three years of fighting in 1953. The foes do not have diplomatic relations.Yes, that's right; the Korean War is not over, despite what you may have heard.)
- 7:41 AM, 8 July 2012 [link]
President Obama Tells another whopper.
Obama may indeed have gone door to door while he was gathering signatures on his petitions, but the rest is misleading.
Incidentally, I have seen claims that one or two of his primary opponents — that Obama knocked off the ballot — think they could have gotten back on if they could have afforded the legal help to qualify enough signatures on their nominating papers.
And almost no one, no matter how much money they have, would use TV commercials to campaign for a state senate seat, especially in a high-population area like the Chicago metropolitan area. There are much more efficient ways to spend your money.
Here's a link to the speech, since I couldn't find one at Breitbart.
(I was half charmed, half distressed, to see that a poster at the Democratic Underground thinks that speech — including the whopper — shows how human Obama is. I suppose they are right, but not in the way they think.
And I was amused to see that Obama described going door to door and marching in 4th of July parades as "hard work". Do ever get the feeling that Obama hasn't done much hard work?)
- 4:51 PM, 7 July 2012 [link]
Our DNA Is About As Much Viral As It Is Human: Carl Zimmer explains.
On rare occasion, a retrovirus may infect an egg. Now something odd may happen. If the egg becomes fertilized and gives rise to a whole adult individual, all the cells in its body will carry that virus. And if that individual has offspring, the virus gets carried down to the next generation.Over the years, the trapped viruses accumulate, making up about 8 percent, he says, of our DNA. Most of our DNA doesn't do anything, doesn't code for proteins, so those trapped viruses make up about the same proportion of our DNA (or slightly more) as our active DNA.
But sometimes that viral DNA does get active, and some scientists speculate that we placental mammals may have gotten a little help from one or more of those trapped viruses.
- 3:56 PM, 7 July 2012 [link]
"Obama's Imperial Presidency" That's the headline on this Kimberly Strassel column, but it could be the headline on this Charles Krauthammer column.
The two columnists managed to publish similar columns, on the same day, one in the Wall Street Journal and one in the Washington Post.
The two will probably be slightly embarrassed by the similarity, but I like both columns, and attribute the similarity to what Orwell once wrote, that sometimes it is our duty to say the obvious. Both are willing to do that from time to time.
Samples, with Strassel first:
Mr. Obama disagrees with federal law, which criminalizes the use of medical marijuana. Congress has not repealed the law. No matter. The president instructs his Justice Department not to prosecute transgressors. He disapproves of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, yet rather than get Congress to repeal it, he stops defending it in court. He dislikes provisions of the federal No Child Left Behind Act, so he asked Congress for fixes. That effort failed, so now his Education Department issues waivers that are patently inconsistent with the statute.And then Krauthammer:
During the Bush 43 years, we were repeatedly treated to garment-rending about the imperial presidency, to major hyperventilation about the “unitary executive.” Yet the current administration’s imperiousness has earned little comparable attention.
- 1:54 PM, 6 July 2012
More: That Orwell duty line is even more appropriate than I first thought. If you read the review where it appears, you find that Orwell went on to say this: "Bully-worship, under various disguises, has become a universal religion, . . ."
- 9:58 AM, 7 July 2012 [link]
What Is The Libor? I have known, vaguely, about the London Interbank Offered Rate for years, and known that it was widely used to set other rates.
But until yesterday I missed something essential about the Libor.
The Libor survey asks banks at what rate they could borrow unsecured funds were they to do so; the European Banking Federation's Euribor survey asks at what rate banks believe prime banks are lending to each other. Both are, therefore, perceived rates, not tied to actual deals.Let's emphasize that: Libor is not the rate at which these London banks could borrow unsecured money from each other; it's the rate at which these London banks say they could borrow unsecured money from each other.
No wonder it was manipulated. In fact, it would be surprising if it weren't manipulated.
(I don't claim to understand the details of the manipulation, but there is no doubt that it happened.)
- 7:52 AM, 6 July 2012 [link]
Another Poor Job Report: And, as usual, it was unexpectedly bad.
The U.S. economy created just 80,000 jobs in June and the unemployment rate held steady at 8.2 percent, reflecting continued slow growth in the economy with the presidential election just four months away.In the column I linked to yesterday, Robert Samuelson gave two reasons that ObamaCare would slow job growth: The law increases economic uncertainty, and it increases the cost of hiring new workers, especially low-skilled workers.
There are other Obama policies, notably from the EPA, that have also discouraged job growth.
(I almost feel like apologizing for again noting that this bad economic news was "unexpected", but I find it dismaying that the economists and the news organization have not, by now, adjusted their expectations. It's like watching a target shooter miss a target to the left, again and again, without stopping to adjust his rifle's sight, or his aim.)
- 7:15 AM, 6 July 2012 [link]
"Higgs Boson Explained By Cartoon" That's the title of this CBS presentation. The title isn't quite right; they explain why scientists wanted to find the Higgs boson, and how they found it (almost certainly), but they don't explain the boson itself.
Nonetheless, many readers may find it contains useful background.
- 7:52 PM, 5 July 2012 [link]
The Borg Says Greece May Be Dis-Assimilated: No, not that Borg, this Borg.
Attempts to help Greece avoid bankruptcy appear doomed to fail, Swedish Finance Minister Anders Borg said Thursday, adding however that Athens might still manage to cling to the euro.Since Sweden isn't inside the euro zone, this Borg can say the obvious.
- 4:17 PM, 5 July 2012 [link]
Worth Study: Robert Samuelson's surprisingly comprehensive critique of ObamaCare.
He makes five general criticisms, including this one:
(3) Uncontrolled health spending is the U.S. system’s main problem — and the ACA makes it worse. Spiraling health costs crowd out other government programs and squeeze wage increases by diverting compensation dollars into employer-paid insurance. Because insured people use more health services than the uninsured, the ACA (covering an estimated 30 million more) raises spending.ObamaCare is, he says, "dreadful public policy". And anyone who studies the column will find it hard to disagree.
My apologies for not bringing this column to your attention when it was written, but better later than never, I suppose. (By the way, his last bit on the reactions to the Supreme Court decision looks prescient.)
(I am not sure which party Samuelson usually votes for — and it is very unusual for me not to be able to guess that about a journalist, after I have read a few of their pieces.
There are many on the left who favor ObamaCare, even if they agree with some of his criticisms. For some, the principle of universal coverage is more important than the increased costs; others cynically expect those increased costs will force us into what they favor, a single-payer system.)
- 3:56 PM, 5 July 2012 [link]
So Much For Nancy Pelosi And Harry Reid: (And hundreds of other congressional Democrats.)
President Obama says he passed ObamaCare.
President Obama said that repealing his signature health care law is not an option.(Emphasis added.)
Ordinarily in the United States, legislatures pass bills, and executives sign them. But I am not a lecturer in constitutional law, so perhaps I missed something.
(It would be legitimate for Obama to say we passed the bill, given his part in lobbying for it.)
- 2:37 PM, 5 July 2012 [link]
They Never Invite Me To The Worthwhile Protests: So I missed this one.
Activists tossed $5,000 off a downtown Seattle building Wednesday to protest money in politics.Darn it.
More seriously, it is disturbing to see how many on the left want to see other people's speech restricted.
- 1:29 PM, 5 July 2012 [link]
The Marines Train Hard: Even the Marine Corps band.
A subset of the Marine Corps band struck up one of Mitt Romney's walkout songs while President Obama was greeting visitors at the White House Independence Day celebration.Though the band might want to do that part of their training in private, for a few more months.
(Having watched a video of the song, I suspect it is not on President Obama's iPad.)
- 8:50 AM, 5 July 2012 [link]
Professor Higgs Is Happy, now that they have discovered the Higgs boson.
I can understand his happiness, but I can't say I understand what the Higgs boson is, though I do know, vaguely, that it has something to do with giving other particles mass.
And I suspect that some of you are as puzzled as I am, so I'll be looking for explanations that people without advanced degrees in physics can understand.
(Bosons I understand a little; I can, for instance, understand some of this Wikipedia article. The integer spin that separates them from fermions is weird, but not incomprehensible. And it is cheering to learn that some familiar particles, photons for instance, are bosons.)
- 8:27 AM, 5 July 2012 [link]
The Star Spangled Banner: As sung by a French choral group.
They're pretty good, and the slight French accent you hear from time to time adds a little flavor to the performance.
(And I suppose I will have to reciprocate with the Marseillaise on July 14.)
- 6:23 PM, 4 July 2012 [link]
Happy 4th Of July! And thank you to those who make it possible.
- 3:01 PM, 4 July 2012 [link]
Erica Greider Reviewed Gail Collins' As Texas Goes . . . : And found the same kinds of faults that I find in Collins' columns, a pronounced tendency to fit the facts to her conclusions, rather than testing her conclusions against the facts, and a left-wing snobbery that is as annoying as it is unwarranted.
Greider didn't put it that way, of course, but I think that's a reasonable translation.
Here, for example, is something that Greider did say about Collins:
To get up to speed she hit the archives, visited the state, and spoke to dozens of Texans — politicians, demographers, activists, and historians.Judging by the review — and Collins' columns — the thesis of the book is a twist on a standard one in Democratic circles: Instead of blaming everything on Bush, she blames everything on Texas.
I wouldn't mention this review, except that Collins was, from 2001 to 2007, the editorial page editor of our newspaper of record, the New York Times.
And manifestly unfit for that position, or even for being a columnist for the newspaper.
I didn't mention where this review was published, because I wanted to save it as a surprise for the end. It was published in today's New York Times.
(Collins' successor as editorial page editor, Andrew Rosenthal, is no improvement on Collins.
In searching for more information on Greider, I ran across her piece on Texas Governor Rick Perry. Collins could learn from it.
Here's a little more about Greider, and here's link to As Texas Goes . . . :.)
- 4:39 PM, 3 July 2012 [link]
Historian Thomas Fleming Has Some Historical Tidbits From 1776, including this one.
Those Americans, it turns out, had the highest per capita income in the civilized world of their time. They also paid the lowest taxes—and they were determined to keep it that way.(There may have been some connection between the low taxes and the high per capita income.)
- 3:06 PM, 3 July 2012
Link fixed, thanks to an alert reader who told me about my mistake.
- 2:29 PM, 4 July 2012 [link]
Could Logging Have Prevented Many Of Those Colorado Fires? That's what Robert Zubrin says.
The culprits here, however, have not been humans, but Western Pine Beetles, whose epidemic spread has turned over 60 million acres of formerly evergreen pine forests into dead red tinder, dry ammunition awaiting any spark to flare into catastrophe.Is he right? Probably.
Allowing more logging in our national forests would also create more jobs, at a time when we could use a few more.
(The Wikipedia article on a closely-related pest, the Mountain Pine Beetle, is written partly from a Green perspective, but it does concede that logging is one means of control. Similarly, this extension service bulletin on controlling the Western Pine Beetle admits that "methods of control shifted away from direct control (felling, burning)". But it doesn't say that the newer, indirect methods are more effective.)
- 8:49 AM, 3 July 2012 [link]
Racism Or Religion? For months, the British press has been gingerly discussing a decades-long sex scandal, a scandal they don't have the vocabulary to discuss, frankly.
First, a brief description of the crimes:
Nine white men are found guilty of grooming young Asian girls, aged between 13 and 15, whom they picked up on the streets of London. The girls were lured with free fish and chips before being raped or pimped as prostitutes. One Asian girl from a children’s home was used for sex by 20 white men in one night. Police insist the crimes were not “racially motivated”.That description is accurate — except that Allison Pearson has reversed the races, as she goes on to say. White girls were the targets and "Asian" men the criminals.
(In Britain, as you probably know, "Asian" generally means people from Pakistan or, sometimes, India.)
This neglect by the authorities, many said, was due to a fear of being accused of racism — an accusation that can be as much a death blow to a career in Britain, as in the United States.
But racism isn't quite the right word. The men were all Muslims. One, Abdul Rauf, was even a religious teacher at a mosque. None of them were Hindus or Sikhs, though there are many such "Asians" in Britain.
Moreover, this is a pattern which we see in every European country for which I have seen data; Muslim men (some of them from European countries like Bosnia) are far more likely to rape native European women, and even girls.
Even while insisting that their own women and girls remain "pure". And occasionally enforcing that "purity" by violence, and even death.
Is there something in the Muslim religion that leads some Muslims to see the women and girls of other religions as targets for rape? Unfortunately, there is, the example of Muhammad himself, who, among other things, took concubines from conquered tribes. And that belief that women of other religious tribes are fair game is one of the things that attracts some young men to Islam in its more violent forms.
That example has not been rejected by most Muslim religious authorities (and it is hard to see how it could be).
So it is a particular religion that made it easy for these men to exploit these girls. (And it was a lack of religion and family that made so many of them such easy targets.) It isn't racism, but we call it that because we lack the right vocabulary for the problem — and perhaps because many of us prefer not to face it squarely.
(By most traditional racial classifications, most people from India and Pakistan are considered to be Caucasians, just like the people of Europe.)
- 6:22 PM, 2 July 2012 [link]
Worth Reading: Linda Mapes' article on those wild and crazy gamblers, Washington state's cherry growers.
For while cherry growers produce one of the state's most valuable crops per acre, theirs also is a high-stakes harvest, a gamble in the cherry casino where an entire season's painstaking labor — and investment — can be lost in a passing storm.To see just how big a gamble, go to the second picture, which is a graph showing their gross receipts for the last decade.
You'll get some idea from the article just how high tech — and capital intensive — farming can be from the article. And fruit farming tends to be less high tech than, say, raising wheat.
Oh, and if you do a little arithmetic, you see that the grower featured in the article, Denny Hayden, is in the 1 percent — in good crop years.
(How efficient are Washington state's fruit farmers? This efficient: Mexico sometimes puts heavy tariffs on Washington state apples to protect their growers.)
- 12:34 PM, 2 July 2012 [link]
In June, US Manufacturing Shrank — Well, You Know How It Shrank, But We'll Say It Anyway: It shrank "unexpectedly.
Manufacturing in the U.S. unexpectedly shrank in June for the first time in almost three years, indicating a mainstay of the expansion may be faltering.Bad news, especially for young people looking for work.
- 9:42 AM, 2 July 2012 [link]
Romney' "Super Normal" Family Goes On Vacation: And just reading about it will tire some people out.
The Romneys, 30 in all these days, spend their time away from the stresses of everyday life — like, say, wrapping up the Republican nomination for president — by following a highly orchestrated, highly competitive regimen of sports and games known as the “Romney Olympics.”Last December, I said that Romney's "super normal" family might annoy some people. Ann Althouse's first reaction to that vacation illustrates my point: "That's so damned wholesome, I don't know what to say."
- 7:12 AM, 2 July 2012
Naturally, the Daily Mail has pictures of the Romney family vacation.
- 8:37 AM, 3 July 2012 [link]
Is Henrique Capriles Gaining On Hugo Chávez? Probably. And the Venezuelan election is on 7 October, so if Capriles is behind, he has plenty of time to catch Chávez.
The list of polls in that Wikipedia article do not give a clear picture — to say the least. Of the five poll results they have from June, three show Capriles in the lead with margins of 3-4 percent. Two polls show Chávez in the lead with margins of 3 and 34(!) percent.
Nonetheless, we can make this observation: Capriles did not lead in any of the polls taken before May — but leads in about half of the polls taken in May and June.
So I would conclude, tentatively, that Capriles is gaining.
(More from Venezuelan bloggers here, here, and here.
Capriles has an extraordinary family background, and an impressive record.)
- 6:37 AM, 2 July 2012 [link]
Happy Canada Day To All Our Canadian Friends! Or happy Dominion Day if that's what they prefer, and some do.
Whatever they call it, we are lucky to have such good neighbors.
- 4:18 PM, 1 July 2012 [link]
There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch: Most adults know that by now, though children still have to learn it. (For example.)
(I am not old enough to remember the "free" lunches, but I do remember a joint in Chicago called the Pickle Barrel, which offered "free" popcorn and dill pickles, both likely to make you thirsty enough to buy another beer.)
So why do people think — or at least say — that there is this kind or that kind of "free" health care?
It's the same principle. Someone, probably you, is paying for the "free" lunch or that "free" health care.
For example, last week political consultant Cathy Allen was touting all the "free" health care benefits from ObamaCare on the John Carlson show. She's a smart woman, so she should know that those benefits are not free.
And you have probably heard the same claim from others, perhaps even from a journalist or two.
When she made that claim about free benefits, I was left wondering, as I often am, whether the person making the claim understands the Tanstaafl principle, and is trying to fool listeners — or whether they don't understand something all competent adults should understand.
Cross posted at Sound Politics.(During the 2008 campaign, an unfortunate woman drew much attention, and considerable derision, for saying that she was going to receive many benefits after Obama was elected — from Obama's "stash". That woman may not be an expert on the federal budget, but she did understand that those benefits had to come from somewhere.)
- 1:26 PM, 1 July 2012 [link]
While You're Reading Your E-Reader, it's reading you.
The major new players in e-book publishing—Amazon, Apple and Google—can easily track how far readers are getting in books, how long they spend reading them and which search terms they use to find books. Book apps for tablets like the iPad, Kindle Fire and Nook record how many times readers open the app and how much time they spend reading. Retailers and some publishers are beginning to sift through the data, gaining unprecedented insight into how people engage with books.Which, to my mind, is a creepy invasion of privacy.
Jen Doll says it's "creepy-but-cool", perhaps because she thinks that this spying will enable publishers to design books more to her taste. And I can see that point, but for now I'll just call it creepy. (I would feel somewhat differently, if the publishers were paying their readers for this information.)
(So far, I haven't bought an e-reader. If I were to buy one now, it would probably be this one, since I do read in bed — and outside — and everywhere else.
I have held back partly because, with the e-readers, you appear to be buying, not books, but licenses to read books. And that bothers me, a little.)
- 10:06 AM, 1 July 2012 [link]
The Washington Post Explains the derecho that rampaged from Illinois to the District of Columbia, and beyond.
Between 9:30 and 11 p.m. Friday night, one of the most destructive complexes of thunderstorms in memory swept through the entire D.C. area. Packing wind gusts of 60-80 mph, the storm produced extensive damage, downing hundreds of trees, and leaving more than 1 million area-residents without power.Their map of storm damage makes it look as if the derecho was aimed at our capital. But I am pretty sure that isn't possible.
(The word derecho was new to me, so I looked it up in Wikipedia.)
- 7:01 AM, 1 July 2012 [link]