Archive:

June 2010, Part 4

Jim Miller on Politics




Pseudo-Random Thoughts



Kathleen Parker Says Obama Is A Woman:  And, in the column where she tries to explain this, manages to insult both Obama and women.  (I think.)

Here's are her lead paragraphs:
If Bill Clinton was our first black president, as Toni Morrison once proclaimed, then Barack Obama may be our first woman president.

Phew.  That was fun.  Now, if you'll just keep those hatchets holstered and hear me out.

No, I'm not calling Obama a girlie president.  But . . . he may be suffering a rhetorical-testosterone deficit when it comes to dealing with crises, with which he has been richly endowed.
You can try to follow her argument — and I will admit that she lost me so thoroughly that I started wondering whether the purpose of the column was to conceal some secret message — or you can read Tom Maguire's post, which will absolve you of the responsibility of reading the original column.

(For the record:  I do not think that Obama is a woman, nor do I think this column shows anything about the ability of women, other than Kathleen Parker, to think clearly.)
- 6:50 PM, 30 June 2010   [link]


Why Did The FBI Arrest Those 10 Russian Spies?  Because, according to Gabriel Schoenfeld, an undercover FBI agent may have alerted one of the spies.
Are the Russians right?  American officials have thus far explained the timing by pointing to the possibility that one of the alleged spies, Anna Chapman, was planning to flee the country.

But why was she going to flee?  The criminal complaint, available here in full and summarized below by the Associated Press, suggests that an FBI agent, posing as a Russian diplomat, inadvertently tipped her off that she was under investigation.
David Wise comes to the same conclusion, after looking at the same evidence.

(Wise is "writing a book on Chinese espionage against the United States".  When he's done, I'll have to check it out.)
- 3:00 PM, 30 June 2010   [link]


Patty Murray Is "No Rocket Scientist"  We know that because she won that award from the Washingtonian magazine, in 2002 and 2004.  (She lost out in 2006 to a trio of Republicans.)

The magazine used what I think is a reasonable way to make this award; they polled congressional staffers, anonymously.

Members of Congress work hard on creating a positive image, so we usually know little about them that they don't want us to know.

But their aides know a lot--who's smart and who's dumb, who's gutsy and who's a blowhard.

Every election year we survey top Capitol Hill staff--administrative assistants, press secretaries, legislative directors, and chiefs of committee staffs--to get the lowdown.

Not a perfect way, but a reasonable way, especially when we remember that members with no academic achievements, and low SAT scores, are unlikely to share those embarrassing facts with the public.

So aides, at least twice, said that our senior senator is not the brightest member of that body.  But we didn't need those votes to know that — if we were paying attention.   A careful reading of this devastating 1996 Seattle Times profile would lead you to the same conclusion.  (As it happens I have an acquaintance who worked for her — and came to exactly the same conclusions that Robert Nelson did.)

Even without those awards, even without that profile, we can tell that Murray is not the brightest member of the Senate, just by listening to what she says.  Although aides — and all too many "mainstream" journalists — have tried to protect her from the public, especially in recent years, she sometimes escapes her handlers, and says something silly in public.  Her Osama building "day care" facilities is the most famous silly thing she has said, but it is not, by any means, the only silly thing she has said.

We should be able to make these obvious points about our senior senator, since they directly affect how she serves, or, all too often, does not serve, the public.  But, in her last two elections, nearly all of our local journalists have taken the position that such facts are out of bounds.  In 2004, most of them even argued that quoting her Osama day care statement, accurately, and in context, was somehow unfair.  Saving Private Murray is not always easy work, and sometimes requires our journalists to take absurd positions.

Frankly, there are other things I would rather discuss during this campaign.  But I don't expect any of our local journalists to describe her weaknesses, so it will up to those of us who do not work for monopoly news organizations to inform the public, to tell them that their senior senator will never win an award as the "brainiest" senator.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(Apology:  The Washingtonian award is the "no rocket scientist" award.  I have sometimes relied on my faulty memory and said that she won the "not a rocket scientist" award.)
- 1:31 PM, 30 June 2010   [link]


Congratulations To Seattle Writer Molly Ringle:  For winning this year's Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest.  Here's her opening line:

For the first month of Ricardo and Felicity's affair, they greeted one another at every stolen rendezvous with a kiss--a lengthy, ravenous kiss, Ricardo lapping and sucking at Felicity's mouth as if she were a giant cage-mounted water bottle and he were the world's thirstiest gerbil.

Now that shows real writing talent.  Seriously.  It is not easy to write a sentence that bad.  And Ringle isn't a one-hit wonder, as the samples she provided to the Seattle Weekly show.

Many of the category winners are quite good, too.  I'm fond of both the winner and the runner-up in the Detective category.

Winner: Detective

She walked into my office wearing a body that would make a man write bad checks, but in this paperless age you would first have to obtain her ABA Routing Transit Number and Account Number and then disable your own Overdraft Protection in order to do so.

Steve Lynch

San Marcos, CA

Runner-Up:

As Holmes, who had a nose for danger, quietly fingered the bloody knife and eyed the various body parts strewn along the dark, deserted highway, he placed his ear to the ground and, with his heart in his throat, silently mouthed to his companion, "Arm yourself, Watson, there is an evil hand afoot ahead."

Dennis Pearce

Lexington, KY

Pearce's sentence is just average bad until that brilliant ending, "hand afoot ahead", but that ending makes the sentence.

Cross posted at Sound Politics .
- 8:35 AM, 30 June 2010   [link]


Bad Capacitors And Dell PCs:  According to this New York Times article, Dell is in serious legal trouble because it bought a lot of bad capacitors — and then concealed the problems the capacitors caused in its PCs.
After the math department at the University of Texas noticed some of its Dell computers failing, Dell examined the machines.  The company came up with an unusual reason for the computers' demise: the school had overtaxed the machines by making them perform difficult math calculations.

Dell, however, had actually sent the university, in Austin, desktop PCs riddled with faulty electrical components that were leaking chemicals and causing the malfunctions.  Dell sold millions of these computers from 2003 to 2005 to major companies like Wal-Mart and Wells Fargo, institutions like the Mayo Clinic and small businesses.
If the article is correct, Dell erred by buying the bad capacitors — but then made matters far worse by not telling its customers the truth, and by replacing faulty PCs with other faulty PCs.

(Dell isn't saying anything, which is natural enough considering the lawsuit — and possibly other legal troubles, so there may be more to their side of this story.)

If someone at Dell had given me the same excuse they gave the Texas math department, I would have been more than a little annoyed.  I don't expect support people to have all the answers, but I do expect them not to try to con me with obvious fibs.

One odd thing about the failures:  According to both the article and commenters to this post, the bad capacitors tended to fail just before the warranties on the PCs ran out.

(This explains something that puzzled me, slightly, when I was selecting a motherboard for my new PC earlier this year.  The motherboard manufacturers were putting a lot of emphasis on the quality of their capacitors; for example, the motherboard I picked boasts that it has all solid Japanese capacitors, rated for 50,000 hours of life.  I started suspecting, rightly it seems, that some companies had had trouble with bad capacitors.

Need to brush up on capacitors?  Go here or here.)
- 8:20 PM, 29 June 2010   [link]


Danny Westneat Still Won't Tell Us Who:  The Seattle Times columnist has written still another column on the failure of our local governments to replace the South Park bridge, that serves a poor community of the same name.

But Westneat still won't tell us who is responsible for that failure, still won't tell us which public officials should be blamed.  Coincidentally — or perhaps not coincidentally — all the likely suspects are Democrats.

And now that I think about it, I can't recall any time Westneat blamed an elected Democrat (outside of Seattle) for anything.  I am sure he must have, at some point in his career, but he certainly doesn't make a habit of it.  Since Democrats currently control Seattle, King County, Washington state, and the federal government, this puts severe limits on which elected officials Westneat can criticize.

By now, Westneat's refusal to name names seems so strange — by ordinary standards of journalism — that I have to ask him directly.  So, I have sent him the following email:

Dear Mr. Westneat:

Could you satisfy my curiosity?  By now you have written at least three columns on the failure of local officials to replace the South Park bridge.  As far as I can tell, you are right in your criticisms; the bridge should have been replaced because it is so important to this poor community.

But I am baffled by one thing.  You refuse to tell your readers who is responsible for this failure.  This seems bizarre for two reasons.  As I understand it — and correct me if I am wrong on this point — who is an essential part of a news story.  And, as a practical matter, if you really want the bridge replaced, I would think you want to tell your readers who is responsible for this failure.

But you haven't told us.  Why not?

If you aren't sure who to blame, let me give you two suggestions to get you started.   First, why not call up County Executive Dow Constantine, ask him for an interview, and try to find out why King County failed to replace the bridge in time?  You could even ask him what else the county has been spending money on during this last decade.  (Former county executive Ron Sims would be an even better person to ask, but I doubt that he is talking to reporters from this area now that he is bringing the same level of executive competence to the Obama administration that did so much for the efficient management of King County.)

Second — and this should be even easier — talk to Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat.  Westneat, as you must know, has been big proponent of our immensely expensive light rail system.  Ask Westneat whether we might have been able to afford more practical improvements, such as the South Park bridge, if we had not wasted so much money on this toy train.  You might even ask Westneat to do some trip and dollar comparisons between the two.

Puzzled,
Jim Miller

PS - I will be publishing this letter at my site and at Sound Politics, and assume that you know I will publish your reply, if any, in both places.

PPS to Mr. Espinoza - I hope that you will encourage Mr. Westneat to respond.  It would make those ads, where Westneat tells us how much he enjoys interaction with his readers, more believable.  And I would be interested to know whether you agree with Westneat that it is appropriate to omit the names of the responsible elected officials, when discussing the failure to replace this bridge.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

For those in other areas:  Have you seen similar patterns with your local journalists?   Do they tell you about problems in their state and local governments without telling you who made the decisions?

(Those unfamiliar with politics in this area may want to know why our local journalists sometimes criticize Seattle Democrats, but not Democrats outside that reactionary city.  The explanation is simple:   Republicans pose no threat to the Democrats who dominate Seattle, so it is safe to criticize a Seattle Democrat, since, at worst, they will be replaced by another Democrat.)
- 3:41 PM, 29 June 2010   [link]


"Obama Owes Bush An Apology"  Mona Charen explains why.
By turning to the architect of the Iraq surge, Gen. David Petraeus, to save the war in Afghanistan, President Obama is acknowledging — if only implicitly — that he was quite wrong about the Iraq surge and that President Bush was right.
Actually, Obama owes Bush more than one apology.  Admitting that Bush was right about the surge would be a good start, but no more than a start.
- 2:03 PM, 29 June 2010   [link]


Of Course The Russians Have Been Spying On Us:  (And so have the Chinese, and Islamic extremists, and many others who do not wish us well.)  What's interesting is that we caught a bunch, early in their careers.
They had lived for more than a decade in American cities and suburbs from Seattle to New York, where they seemed to be ordinary couples working ordinary jobs, chatting to the neighbors about schools and apologizing for noisy teenagers.

But on Monday, federal prosecutors accused 11 people of being part of a Russian espionage ring, living under false names and deep cover in a patient scheme to penetrate what one coded message called American "policy making circles."

An F.B.I. investigation that began at least seven years ago culminated with the arrest on Sunday of 10 people in Yonkers, Boston and northern Virginia.  The documents detailed what the authorities called the "Illegals Program," an ambitious, long-term effort by the S.V.R., the successor to the Soviet K.G.B., to plant Russian spies in the United States to gather information and recruit more agents.
And that we have been following them for years.

Why did we arrest them now?  If I knew, I probably couldn't tell you.  Most likely, as the article hints, the FBI was worried that the spies might escape.

(This is a good time to review Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's early career.
Putin joined the KGB in 1975 upon graduation from university, and underwent a year's training at the 401st KGB school in Okhta, Leningrad.  He then went on to work briefly in the Second Department (counter-intelligence) before he was transferred to the First Department, where among his duties was the monitoring of foreigners and consular officials in Leningrad, while using the cover of being a police officer with the CID.[26][27] According to Yuri Felshtinsky and Vladimir Pribylovsky, he served at the Fifth Directorate of the KGB, which combated political dissent in the Soviet Union.[28]  He then received an offer to transfer to foreign intelligence First Chief Directorate of the KGB and was sent for additional year long training to the Dzerzhinsky KGB Higher School in Moscow and then in the early eighties—the Red Banner Yuri Andropov KGB Institute in Moscow (now the Academy of Foreign Intelligence).[citation needed]

From 1985 to 1990 the KGB stationed Putin in Dresden, East Germany.[29]  Following the collapse of the East German regime, Putin was recalled to the Soviet Union and returned to Leningrad, where in June 1991 he assumed a position with the International Affairs section of Leningrad State University, reporting to Vice-Rector Yuriy Molchanov.[30][31]  In his new position, Putin maintained surveillance on the student body and kept an eye out for recruits.  It was during his stint at the university that Putin grew reacquainted with Anatoly Sobchak, then mayor of Leningrad.  Sobchak served as an Assistant Professor during Putin's university years and was one of Putin's lecturers.  Putin formally resigned from the state security services on 20 August 1991, during the KGB-supported abortive putsch against Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev.
(Yes, that's from Wikipedia, but I didn't see any errors in the article.)

An unusual background, I think you will agree, for the leader of a major nation.  But one that helps explain these spies.)
- 10:39 AM, 29 June 2010   [link]


More On Obama's Afghanistan Timetable:  The New York Times finds his statements just as confusing as I did.
As he hands command of the war to Gen. David H. Petraeus, Mr. Obama is trying to define what his timeline means — but not too much.  Even as developments in Afghanistan have made meeting the deadline all the more daunting, Mr. Obama has sent multiple signals to multiple audiences, sticking by his commitment to begin pulling out while insisting that it does not mean simply walking away.

But if he is maintaining maximum flexibility with deliberate ambiguity, the conflicting emphasis has left many wondering just what will happen next summer.
Reporter Peter Baker neatly summarizes Obama's dilemma:
Military officers and intelligence officials bristle at the deadline, because they said it had convinced many Afghans that Americans would not be around for the long term, making them less willing to defy the Taliban.  The president's Democratic allies in Congress, on the other hand, are pressing him to make sure that July 2011 begins a "serious drawdown," as Representative Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker, put it.
Obama can win the war, or he can keep Pelosi happy, but not both.
- 9:50 AM, 29 June 2010   [link]


Favorable Economic Indicator:  Nobel Prize Winner (and New York Times columnist) Paul Krugman is really depressed about the economy.
We are now, I fear, in the early stages of a third depression.  It will probably look more like the Long Depression than the much more severe Great Depression.  But the cost — to the world economy and, above all, to the millions of lives blighted by the absence of jobs — will nonetheless be immense.

And this third depression will be primarily a failure of policy.  Around the world — most recently at last weekend's deeply discouraging G-20 meeting — governments are obsessing about inflation when the real threat is deflation, preaching the need for belt-tightening when the real problem is inadequate spending.
(Emphasis added.)

Professor Krugman has been, over the years, an excellent negative indicator, so I feel somewhat more positive about the economy than I did before reading the column.  (Example:  Just before the economy began to take off during Bush's first term, Krugman speculated that we might be in a permanent quagmire.)  I haven't seen a formal study on the subject, but I believe that an investor who had bet against Krugman over the last two decades would have profited quite nicely.

It is possible — and I hesitate to even mention this — that Krugman's latest prediction comes, not from a formal economic analysis, but from fears that his party will lose many seats this November — in spite of all the wonderful things they have done to for the American people.

(If you want a thoughtful discussion on the stimulus, I recommend this article by Harvard Professor (and former Bush advisor) Gregory Mankiw.  Unlike Krugman, Mankiw is modest about macroeconomic models.
Macroeconomists especially have good reason to be humble, for there is a great deal we do not know. Teaching the "Principles of Economics" course at Harvard — a full-year survey — I start each year with what we economists are confident is true, and then move to material that is less and less certain as the course progresses.  We look first at supply and demand, the theory of comparative advantage, profit maximization, and marginal revenue equaling marginal cost — the premises that almost every economist shares and accepts.  As the course goes on, we move from micro to macroeconomics: examining classical monetary theory, growth theory, and, at the very end of the year, the theory of business cycles.  This is the topic we economists understand least of all: We are still deeply divided on the validity and utility of the basic Keynesian paradigm.  But it is precisely the topic that government macroeconomists work on most, especially during times of recession.
Appropriately modest, in my opinion, considering how well, or to be more honest, how poorly, those models predict.)
- 9:19 AM, 29 June 2010   [link]


Terrorism And The Ancient Way Of War:  In War Before Civilization, Lawrence Keeley tells us how wars were fought for thousands of years before civilization.
The most common form of combat employed in primitive warfare but little used in civilized warfare has been small raids or ambushes.  These have usually involved having a handful of men sneak into enemy territory to kill one or a few people on an encounter basis or by means of some elaborate ambush.   Women and children have commonly been killed in such raids. (p. 65)
(Those are the most common forms; from time to time, primitive groups would attempt to wipe out a whole village or tribe, usually with a surprise attack.)

Or perhaps millions of years.
Every day, John Mitani or a colleague is up at sunrise to check on the action among the chimpanzees at Ngogo, in Uganda's Kibale National Park.   Most days the male chimps behave a lot like frat boys, making a lot of noise or beating each other up.  But once every 10 to 14 days, they do something more adult and cooperative: they wage war.

A band of males, up to 20 or so, will assemble in single file and move to the edge of their territory.   They fall into unusual silence as they penetrate deep into the area controlled by the neighboring group.   They tensely scan the treetops and startle at every noise.  "It's quite clear that they are looking for individuals of the other community," Dr. Mitani says.

When the enemy is encountered, the patrol's reaction depends on its assessment of the opposing force.  If they seem to be outnumbered, members of the patrol will break file and bolt back to home territory.  But if a single chimp has wandered into their path, they will attack.  Enemy males will be held down, then bitten and battered to death.  Females are usually let go, but their babies will be eaten.
It's likely that this form of war predates homo sapiens by millions of years.

It is, if you will, the natural way to fight wars.

We don't recognize this because civilizations have been trying to control wars since civilizations began.  Not particularly for wonderful motives.  A king might figure out that he was better off having tribute-paying enemies than dead enemies.  A dynasty that followed such policies, successfully, would become rulers of an empire sooner or later.  Successful civilizations — Rome may be the supreme example — even figured out how to absorb their enemies and, in time, convert them into allies, and even fellow citizens.

The rise of Christianity meant even more attempts to control how wars were fought, to make them formal contests between professionals, rather than deadly raids against all.  Even before civilizations arose, some tribes used different rules in warfare when fighting related tribes than when fighting strangers.  By asserting that all men are brothers, Christian teachers encouraged those in the West to limit war in many ways.  These efforts continued, even after Christianity began to decline in the West, and gave us arms limitation treaties, Geneva conventions, and all the rest.

(There were somewhat similar efforts to control war during the age of the samurai in Japan.)

We in the West are so used to these limits by now that we think that they are natural, and that almost every one in the world accepts them.  But our terrorist enemies keep showing us that we are wrong in that.  Instead, they keep sneaking into our territory to kill some of us "on an encounter basis or by means of some elaborate ambush".  Like the primitive warriors Keeley describes, they often kill anyone they encounter.  But also like many primitive warriors and the male chimpanzees, they sometimes spare young females.

(The propaganda aspects of some terrorist attacks also has many parallels in primitive wars.)

That our terrorist enemies do not accept civilized rules of warfare is obvious — but has yet to penetrate most of our leaders' minds.  We have so much more power than they do that we need not fight on their level.  But we should think seriously about what rules make sense when fighting those who follow the ancient way of war.  And we should study the examples of civilizations, like Rome, that learned how to absorb and convert their enemies.
- 7:44 PM, 28 June 2010   [link]


RIP, Senator Byrd:  That was the easy part, and I thought about the rest, off and on, all morning.  There are things about the late West Virginia senator that I admire — and there are other things about him that I do not.

I wasn't troubled by the notion that we should not speak ill of the dead, since Byrd has many defenders who are still alive.  But I wasn't quite sure how to combine the sweet and the sour in a single post.

Luckily, I don't have to, because Don Surber, writing from West Virginia, tells us, very briefly, one of the good things about Byrd.
As a West Virginian, I understand why he was revered: He rose from nothing.
And James Taranto, writing from New York, tells us a few of the bad things.
The late Byrd was something of a worm.  And in his first decades in Congress, he didn't exactly emerge as a force for racial progress.  He participated in a filibuster of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and was the only member of the Senate to vote against the confirmation of both Thurgood Marshall and Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court.
As a child, Byrd knew hardship that few of us have even seen.  He overcame that start by working hard, nearly all his life.  We can admire his hard work, and his real love for West Virginia and West Virginians, without excusing everything he did, early or late in his career.
- 3:32 PM, 28 June 2010   [link]


Larry Rohter watches Oliver Stone's South of the Border and finds it not entirely accurate.
Unlike his movies about American presidents, the 78-minute "South of the Border" is meant to be a documentary, and therefore to be held to different standards.  But it is plagued by the same issues of accuracy that critics have raised about his movies, dating back to "JFK."  Taken together, the mistakes, misstatements and missing details could undermine Mr. Stone's glowing portrait of Mr. Chávez.
Yes, I suppose they could — for anyone who cares about mere facts.

(The movie is not popular in Venezuela.
Local observers in Venezuela have reported empty cinemas, indicating a stunning indifference to Stone's pic, a documentary about South American leaders that devotes a hefty amount of screen time to the country's President Hugo Chavez.  In the 12 days after its June 4 debut, it grossed only $18,601 on 20 screens, according to Global Rentrak.  Showings on mobile screens in rural areas (where Chavez has more popular support) have attracted crowds, but these screenings are free.
But that probably won't bother Oliver Stone, much.)
- 11:17 AM, 28 June 2010   [link]


The Stolen Neckties Scam:  There is no obvious political lesson in this story, but it's strange enough to be worth sharing.
A Lynnwood man has been charged with insurance fraud after claiming that car thieves had made off with his $33,000 collection of silk neckties, according to the state Insurance Commissioner's office.

Carlton Wopperer, 49, is to be arraigned next month in Snohomish County Superior Court on two counts of insurance fraud, according to a Tuesday news release.

Three times in nine years, he claimed thieves had stolen his collection of 212 silk neckties from his vehicle.  But an insurance investigation revealed that Wopperer had returned many of the ties to stores within minutes of buying them.  Then he kept the receipts, apparently to back up his theft claims.
The third time wasn't the charm.  And what a wonderful, Dickensian last name he has, for someone who may not always tell the truth.

(You can, without too much straining, find a not-so-obvious political lesson.  If the charges are true, then Wopperer got caught because he followed an ancient strategy:  If at first you succeed, try, try again.  People, very definitely including most politicians, tend to repeat what has worked for them in the past.)
- 9:32 AM, 28 June 2010   [link]


That Afghanistan Withdrawal Timetable?  President Obama tells us that we should not be obsessed by it.
Obama chastised what he dubbed a current "obsession" over a timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops.   "My focus right now is how do we make sure what we're doing there is successful," he said.  "By next year we will begin a transition."
And that he is sticking to it.
On Afghanistan, even as he appeared frustrated with questions about withdrawal, he stuck with his July 2011 deadline for beginning to drawdown troops.  At the same time, he said he anticipates the worsening situation there will start to turnaround by the time his administration reviews the U.S. strategy in December.
And if being successful conflicts with his timetable?  As far as I can tell, he didn't answer that question.  Somehow, I don't think that Obama's equivocation will frighten the Taliban into suing for peace.

(Politico gets downright cruel at one point:
In words that rang similar to his predecessor, George W. Bush, Obama said the United States will be helping Afghans establish a fair political system, set up courts and a police force, build infrastructure and create a stable, functioning economy.
Don't show that to any Democratic activists, if you want to stay friends with them.)
- 8:41 AM, 28 June 2010   [link]


Avertible Catastrophe:  That's Lawrence Solomon's conclusion about the US government's reaction to the BP oil spill.
In sharp contrast to Dutch preparedness before the fact and the Dutch instinct to dive into action once an emergency becomes apparent, witness the American reaction to the Dutch offer of help.  The U.S. government responded with "Thanks but no thanks," remarked Visser, despite BP's desire to bring in the Dutch equipment and despite the no-lose nature of the Dutch offer --the Dutch government offered the use of its equipment at no charge.  Even after the U.S. refused, the Dutch kept their vessels on standby, hoping the Americans would come round.  By May 5, the U.S. had not come round.   To the contrary, the U.S. had also turned down offers of help from 12 other governments, most of them with superior expertise and equipment --unlike the U.S., Europe has robust fleets of Oil Spill Response Vessels that sail circles around their make-shift U.S. counterparts.

Why does neither the U.S. government nor U.S. energy companies have on hand the cleanup technology available in Europe?  Ironically, the superior European technology runs afoul of U.S. environmental rules.  The voracious Dutch vessels, for example, continuously suck up vast quantities of oily water, extract most of the oil and then spit overboard vast quantities of nearly oil-free water.  Nearly oil-free isn't good enough for the U.S. regulators, who have a standard of 15 parts per million -- if water isn't at least 99.9985% pure, it may not be returned to the Gulf of Mexico.
. . .
The Americans, overwhelmed by the catastrophic consequences of the BP spill, finally relented and took the Dutch up on their offer -- but only partly. Because the U.S. didn't want Dutch ships working the Gulf, the U.S. airlifted the Dutch equipment to the Gulf and then retrofitted it to U.S. vessels.  And rather than have experienced Dutch crews immediately operate the oil-skimming equipment, to appease labour unions the U.S. postponed the clean-up operation to allow U.S. crews to be trained.
So, both EPA regulations, and a desire to appease American labor unions, have made the BP spill much worse than it should have been, just as I said in this post.

What's the right adjective to describe the elected officials, and their advisors, who failed to avert this catastrophe?  How should we describe the leaders who refused to accept the advice and help of those who know most about these problems?  There are many adjectives that fit; for example, we can say that they are mindlessly bureaucratic, or hopelessly political, depending on whether we are talking about EPA bureacrats, or the White House.  But if I had to choose just one it would be this: incompetent.

That should not surprise us.  Obama has no executive experience, and little understanding of most of our problems.  He could have chosen close advisors who made up for some of his defects, as most presidents have done.  Instead, he chose advisors, Rahm Emanuel, Valerie Jarrett, and David Axelrod, who also lack executive experience and understanding of American problems.   And he has, as far as I can tell, been unwilling to reach outside this narrow circle for advice, on this, and on many other subjects.
- 8:03 AM, 28 June 2010   [link]


Would You Rather Buy Eggs By The Dozen, Or By The Kilo?  In Britain, you may not have a choice, thanks to EU regulations.
British shoppers are to be banned from buying eggs by the dozen under new regulations approved by the European Parliament.

For the first time, eggs and ­other products such as oranges and bread rolls will be sold by weight instead of by the number contained in a packet.

Until now, Britain has been exempt from EU regulations that forbid the selling of goods by number. But last week MEPs voted to end Britain's deal despite objections from UK members.
As a practical matter, I suppose that nearly all British shoppers will ignore the weights on the new packages, and count the eggs, if the change goes into effect, which it may not.

It is striking how often European Union bureaucrats have undermined support for the EU in Britain, with their proposed regulations.  The average British voter may not understand the economic arguments against the European Union, but they can understand the annoyance caused by petty regulations.
- 7:03 AM, 28 June 2010   [link]


"Common Sense" Or "Arbitrary And Capricious"?  The New York Times offers both views of Obama's moratorium on deep water drilling.

From the editorial writers, "common sense".
In late May, with a broken pipe spewing tens of thousands of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, President Obama imposed a six-month moratorium on new deep-water drilling in the gulf and suspended operations at 33 exploratory deep-water wells.  These were common-sense moves — a timeout while a presidential commission figured out why the disaster occurred and recommended ways to prevent future calamities.
(The deep-water rigs cost about $500,000 per day, even when they are doing nothing.)

In the business section, on the same day, Joseph Nocera made it clear that he agrees with Judge Feldman.
And Judge Feldman agreed with Hornbeck on every count. Concluding that the decision to impose the moratorium was "arbitrary and capricious," he wrote, "An invalid agency decision to suspend drilling of wells in depths of over 500 feet simply cannot justify the immeasurable effect on the plaintiffs, the local economy, the gulf region, and the critical present-day aspect of the availability of domestic energy in this country."
Nocera then describes some of those effects — including more spills from imported oil — before concluding with this:
In the end, the real problem with the six-month moratorium is that it allows us to continue to kid ourselves.  It helps us create the illusion that, by regulatory fiat, we can make the extraction of fossil fuels a riskless endeavor.  But that can never be true.  Six months from now, whether or not the Interior Department succeeds getting Judge Feldman's decision overturned on appeal, deepwater drilling will still be risky.  Drilling thousands of feet into water, searching for dangerous natural gas and oil, contained in the earth under immense pressure, is inherently risky.

We would all be better off facing that fact squarely, instead of wishing it away under the guise of a moratorium.
But some, definitely including the editorial writers at the Times, will continue wishing.

(You may be wondering whether the editorial writers saw Nocera's column before writing that editorial.   Probably not.  The two were published the same day, last Friday, but we don't know when Nocera put his up on the net.  What worries me is that the editorial writers may still not have read it.

Perhaps someone could get their attention by suggesting that, the next time their newspaper commits an enormous blunder, it, and other leading newspapers, should be shut down for six months.

Incidentally, the experts called in to advise the Interior Department did not support this moratorium.)
- 7:10 PM, 27 June 2010   [link]


Golfer-In-Chief:  What's important about these G8 meetings?   Obama knows.
When U.S. President Barack Obama stepped off his helicopter in Huntsville on Friday, the first thing he said was,  "You've got a lot of golf courses here, don't you?" Industry Minister Tony Clement told the National Post in an exclusive interview.
First things first, after all.

(I am not a golfer, so I won't even try to guess at how good these courses are — but there are a lot of them.)
- 3:48 PM, 27 June 2010   [link]


For Your Viewing Pleasure:  Two fine cartoons from Michael Ramirez, here and here.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 2:47 PM, 25 June 2010   [link]


Worth Reading:  With the exception of one paragraph.  From David Brooks, here's that paragraph, followed by another that shows why the rest of that column is worth reading.
General McChrystal was excellent at his job.  He had outstanding relations with the White House and entirely proper relationships with his various civilian partners in the State Department and beyond.   He set up a superb decision-making apparatus that deftly used military and civilian expertise.

But McChrystal, like everyone else, kvetched.  And having apparently missed the last 50 years of cultural history, he did so on the record, in front of a reporter.  And this reporter, being a product of the culture of exposure, made the kvetching the center of his magazine profile.
And so now McChrystal is gone, because his aides said the kinds of things almost all of us say about our bosses and co-workers, when we think we are in private.  (Nearly all of the "kvetching" in the Rolling Stone article came, not from McChrystal, but from his aides.)

(Why am I dubious about the first paragraph quoted?  Because some of it seems obvious nonsense, the idea, for instance, that McChrystal had "outstanding" relations with the White House.  And some of what he did in Afghanistan, notably his rules of engagement, may have hurt the war effort.  It may be that McChrystal is one of those officers — and military history provides many examples of this type — who are excellent, as long as they are not in top commands.)
- 2:26 PM, 25 June 2010   [link]


Fewer Megapixels, Better Pictures:  For several years, I have thought that could sometimes be true, that you could improve some cameras by using fewer, but slightly larger, pixels.  The reason is simple; the smaller the pixels, the more subject they are to noise, the more likely the camera will take bad pictures in weak light.

Now, Canon is acting on that principle, in its new PowerShot G11.
At first glance the Canon G11 looks very similar to its popular predecessor, the G10, but there are a number of key external and internal changes underneath the serious matt black exterior.  The megapixel count has dropped from 14.7 to 10, as Canon targets image quality rather than out-and-out resolution.  The combination of this new "high-sensitivity sensor" and the DIGIC 4 image processor has resulted in a 2-stop increase in image quality compared to the G10, at least according to Canon, with an ISO range of 80-3200 and faster 6400 and 12800 settings at 2.5 megapixels.
Now, if they can just sell the idea to consumers, many of whom assume that the more megapixels, the better.

(DSLRs have larger pixels than compact cameras, but the resulting larger sensors are hard to fit into compact cameras.  You can also solve weak light problems with bigger lenses, as every photographer knows, but that adds to the weight and cost of the camera.)
- 1:05 PM, 25 June 2010   [link]


As American As The Toyota Camry:  Which is about 80 percent American.  That makes it, according to Cars.com, which did the study, the most American car, since it has the highest proportion of American parts.  The next most American car is the Honda Accord.  (There are some qualifications to those rankings, as you will learn if you read farther down.)

Auto manufacturers are now moving production to United States:
That said, a larger share of popular cars this year have high domestic parts content.  That reverses a trend we've seen over the past few years.  NHTSA reports that 49 models for the 2010 model year have 75 percent or higher domestic parts content.  Through May, those models' DPC-eligible sales accounted for about 27 percent of the auto industry's new-car sales.  That's much higher than a year ago when some 35 models with 75 percent or higher content accounted for only 19 percent of industry sales.  Go back another year, and 58 models took 25 percent of industry sales; that's more models but a smaller share of sales.

The trend makes sense.  With fluctuating currency values and the uncertainty of the euro, auto companies are scrambling to move assembly stateside.  The current Chevrolet Aveo hails from South Korea, but GM plans to build the redesigned 2011 model at its Orion Township, Mich., plant.   Kia recently began assembling its Sorento SUV, formerly imported from South Korea, in a plant at West Point, Ga.  In late 2008, Honda Civic sedans began rolling off the automaker's newest U.S. plant in Greensburg, Ind.
One surprise in the article:  How much the percentage of American content fluctuates from year to year in some cars.
- 12:41 PM, 25 June 2010   [link]


Arizona Isn't A Border State?  Not according to Democrat Peggy West.

Who is not just an ordinary Democratic voter, but is a Milwaukee County supervisor with a degree in "Human Services from the Milwaukee Area Technical College".  (Despite the name, Milwaukee County supervisors are legislators, not executives.)

West also believes that Arizona Governor Brewer has a "direct pipeline" to President Obama, though Obama refused, for weeks, to meet with Brewer, finally giving her a brief photo-op.

West was speaking in support of an effort to boycott Arizona.  You can be forgiven for thinking that she may not be up on all the details of our problems with illegal immigration.

Most American classrooms used to have maps of the United States, with the states clearly mapped on them.  If you sat in one of them for any length of time, it was hard not to learn the names and locations of most of the states.  Have those maps been removed?

(West identifies herself as a "Latino/Hispanic American".  Those who share that heritage should not feel embarrassed by her; there are fools in every group.  One of them is even the senior senator from Washington state.

To be fair, West did recognize, later in the meeting, that Arizona is a border state — but only after she was corrected by another supervisor.)
- 9:19 AM, 25 June 2010   [link]