June 2011, Part 1
Jim Miller on Politics
Barack Obama Is Not Much Of A Diplomat: So says Politico's Carrie Brown (though not in those exact words).
More than two years into his term, Obama cuts the image of an all-business envoy, seldom going outside normal business hours to turn on the charm with other heads of state. He appears to have built few deep personal bonds with foreign leaders, and his forays into public diplomacy — a burger run last year with Russia's Dmitry Medvedev and a game of Ping-Pong last month with Britain's David Cameron — are notable for their rarity.Put bluntly, Obama hasn't taken the time to make friends with many foreign leaders, even leaders who could help the United States, in many ways.
Two exceptions — according to the White House — are significant.
Asked about Obama's friends abroad, administration officials point first to Medvedev, a fellow lawyer and technology geek who spent hours with Obama negotiating the new START agreement, which required repeated interventions by the two leaders. White House aides said the relationship paid off during the debate over a United Nations resolution to authorize the use of force in Libya. Russia didn't support it, but the country also didn't veto it.Neither of those two nations have been notable for their friendship toward the United States, in recent years.
(As something of a technology geek myself, I doubt very much that Obama is really a "technology geek".)
- 12:52 PM, 8 June 2011 [link]
Five Out Of Ten Of America's Richest Counties Are in the Washington, D. C. area.
[Falls Church is] No. 1, but it isn't alone. In fact, four of the top ten richest counties in the nation are concentrated in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, and a fifth, Howard County, Md., is equidistant between Washington and Baltimore.(Number six on their list is Los Alamos, in New Mexico, which may also benefit from federal dollars.)
No doubt many of those in these areas, even many who are working for the government, directly and indirectly, are productive, are creating ideas and products that the the nation needs. No doubt some others are engaged in lobbying that prevents the government from doing really stupid and destructive things.
That said, the wealthy people in these counties must include many who are not economic dynamos, but economic vampire bats. They are wealthy because they have captured some of the billions that flow from taxpayers through our nation's capital, without providing worthwhile goods or services.
(For the record: This failure to rein in our "beltway bandits", as they are often described in Washington, is bipartisan.)
- 8:04 AM, 8 June 2011 [link]
Glenn Kessler Thinks That Obama's Defense Of The Auto Industry Bailout is deceptive.
We take no view on whether the administration's efforts on behalf of the automobile industry were a good or bad thing; that's a matter for the editorial pages and eventually the historians. But we are interested in the facts the president cited to make his case.(Emphasis added.)
Read the whole thing for discussions of some of the tricks Obama used in his speech.
- 8:11 AM, 7 June 2011 [link]
"Mutual Annoyance" As Chancellor Merkel visits Washington and receives the Medal of Freedom, the view from Germany — assuming Der Spiegel is representative of German opinion — is sour.
Obama and Merkel have not established a close personal bond, but that's not the only problem. When it comes to important issues, Germany and the United States have never stood farther apart during Merkel's two terms as chancellor as they are at the moment. Merkel's reputation in Washington has been hurt by Germany's decision to phase out nuclear power by 2022, Berlin's abstention in a United Nations Security Council vote on imposing a "no-fly" zone in Libya and the country's economic and financial policies.In contrast, the Associated Press thinks that relationships between the two nations, and their leaders, are good, and, if anything, improving.
Obama said Merkel's visit reaffirmed the "indispensable" bond between the U.S. and Germany.(Just for fun, compare the Obama-Merkel pictures the two news organizations used to illustrate their articles.)
Which account is closer to the truth? Probably Der Spiegel's.
So what's the point of the visit? Most likely, both are looking for political gains, Obama by getting some economic help from Germany, Merkel by getting the reception from Obama, who is still quite popular in Germany. Most likely, both will be disappointed.
- 7:49 AM, 7 June 2011 [link]
Here's a union protest that deserves our support.
(Oh, I know, the court is supposed to assume that Dominique Strauss-Khan is innocent until proven guilty, but given the evidence — and his past behavior — we are justified in assuming that he is guilty until proven innocent.)
- 6:35 AM, 7 June 2011 [link]
Well, That Was An Entertaining &mdash And Instructive press conference.
Rep. Anthony Weiner of New York said today he has engaged in "several inappropriate" electronic relationships with six women over three years, and that he publicly lied about a photo of himself sent over Twitter to a college student in Seattle over a week ago.(And if you read the whole story, you'll see that there is probably more, perhaps much more.)
If I may insert a political point, this helps explain why House Democrats were unwilling to pass a budget in the last session. Some of them were spending their time on other pursuits. (Pathetic pursuits in Anthony Weiner's case.)
It will be interesting — and instructive — to see how many people who attacked Andrew Breitbart apologize to him.
(What I've seen from Breitbart so far makes me think that it would be unwise to bet against him, unless you have inside knowledge. And he has shown considerable cleverness in the way he releases his stories a piece at a time, giving his opponents a chance to hang themselves.)
- 4:29 PM, 6 June 2011 [link]
Christine Odone Thinks That BBC Executives Have Standards: Low standards.
I have never met Paul Mayhew-Archer, but I have attended lots of dinner parties with BBC executives like him. I don't mind the anti-royal sneers that come out with the first glass of pinot grigio, the dogmatic secularism, or the tireless Tory-bashing that is the main course. I don't even mind the hypocrisy that allows the host to champion his children's state-school education while their private tutor sneaks upstairs.This habitual crudity undoubtedly affects the way these "journalists", and their American counterparts, think about the world. If we routinely refer to our political opponents with vulgar terms, we are less likely to ever listen to anything they have to say.
(If you are curious, here's an account of the incident. Mr. Mayhew-Archer and I have different tastes in jokes, as well as different standards.)
- 9:37 AM, 6 June 2011 [link]
Senator Lugar Rebukes President Obama: And, for Senator Lugar, a mild-mannered elder statesman, harshly.
The House of Representatives sent the Obama administration a strong, bipartisan rebuke on Friday for failing to make the case for war in Libya or seeking congressional authorization for military action. It is critical that the administration understand the significance of this vote, abandon its plans for a nonbinding resolution in the Senate and proceed to seek the requisite debate and authorization for the use of military force, as I have advocated for nearly three months.(Emphasis added.)
If you read the whole thing, you'll see that Lugar is trying hard to help the Obama administration get out of the hole they have dug for themselves. They ought to accept his advice and get right with the Constitution, and the War Powers Resolution.
(Presidents commonly believe the War Powers Resolution is unconstitutional, though it has never been tested at the Supreme Court. As I understand law professor Glenn Reynolds (better-known as the Instapundit), the actual war-making powers of presidents have expanded because a series of Congresses have refused to reign in a series of presidents.
Here's the Wikipedia article on the War Powers Resolution.)
- 8:53 AM, 6 June 2011 [link]
European Union Propaganda In The United States: Sally McNamara, a researcher at the Heritage Foundation, has discovered that the European Union is spending millions on propaganda in the United States.
For example, on opposing the death penalty.
Why on earth are British taxpayers being forced to fund European Union lobbying for policy campaigns in the United States? Furthermore, why is the EU directly interfering in domestic political debates in America, and so far without Congressional oversight? As the research detailed below demonstrates, the EU's European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR) is spending millions of Euros on US-based campaigns against the death penalty. An extraordinary development.And other fashionable leftist causes.
The EU Human Rights Fund is intended to help promote Western values in the developing world. But a shock report has found at least £17million of cash — around £2million from British taxpayers' — has been ploughed into promoting the pet causes of Eurocrats in the U.S.I skimmed through the report and can say that some of the expenditures do not trouble me. If, for instance, the EU subsidizes American research on zebrafish, that's fine with me. Other expenditures in the report may or may not be dubious, depending on what the money actually bought. But many of them are clear interference in American politics
Perhaps the most troubling are the payments to unnamed individuals, and to "Confidential" recipients.
McNamara thinks that Congress should investigate.
How any foreign entity is spending money inside the U.S. should be of concern to Americans and their elected representatives on Capitol Hill. Congress has a duty to ensure that U.S. laws, sovereignty, and interests are not being undermined from within. Congressional oversight is needed to identify exactly how and where the EU is intervening inside the U.S.She's right.
By way of ¡No-Pasarán!.
(The EU has its own problems. As McNamara notes in her report, EU auditors have "refused to sign off on the accounts of the European Union for the 16th consecutive year".
According to the Heritage Foundation, the United States is still freer, economically, than all except two EU members, Ireland and Denmark.)
- 8:26 AM, 6 June 2011 [link]
Contaminated Bean Sprouts Caused The E. Coli Outbreak In Germany: Probably.
Local German officials said Sunday that they had evidence that tainted domestic sprouts had caused the deadly E. coli outbreak that has afflicted Germany and unnerved fresh-produce markets throughout Europe, and they shut down the farm in the northern part of the country where the sprouts were grown.As I understand it, the sick are disproportionately young women, the very group, in my experience, who are most likely to eat raw sprouts.
American experts were surprised by the announcement — but not for the reason you might think.
Some experts in food-borne illnesses expressed surprise at Mr. Lindemann's announcement, not because sprouts were an unlikely source of the deadly bacteria but for the opposite reason: sprouts have long been associated with food-borne illness and are a food most commonly suspected in this sort of outbreak. As such, the experts said, sprouts should have been among the first foods scrutinized by investigators.Here's something I didn't know: For years, the Food and Drug Administration has been advising people with weak immune systems (very young children, the elderly, AIDS sufferers, and others) not to eat raw sprouts for this very reason.
Sprouts are commonly contaminated when seeds come into contact with cow manure, so there is a good chance that these German sprouts were "organic".
Finally, something you should know: Some scientists believe that ordinary washing, even very careful washing, will not decontaminate raw vegetables and sprouts because bacteria can hide inside plants.
(The BBC has a useful Q&A; the Telegraph starts its article with a pretty diagram of the bacteria's genetic code.)
- 7:03 PM, 5 June 2011
More from Hugh Pennington, the "UK's leading expert" on E coli.
The farm being investigated in the current German outbreak does not have any animals or use fertiliser. It is likely, Pennington said, that beans were brought in from somewhere else for sprouting.Pennington says that you should treat raw sprouts like raw oysters. Eat them if you like them, but understand the risks involved.
- 11:04 AM, 6 June 2011 [link]
Did John Edwards Break Campaign Finance Laws? Almost certainly, since almost every major campaign does.
But that's probably not the question that interests most people. Most of us want to know whether Edwards broke campaign finance laws by using money from "Bunny" Mellon to conceal his affair with Rielle Hunter.
Richard Hasen, who is supposed to be an expert on campaign laws, says maybe, maybe not.
But this is not a civil complaint. It's a criminal indictment. It's going to be tough to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Edwards was taking this money to save his campaign rather than his marriage. (In the end, of course, neither survived.) Politico reports that the prosecution has been looking around for former FEC commissioners to testify about how to interpret the campaign-finance law, and at least one of these commissioners has turned the government down, viewing the case as too murky.That leaves some of us, me for instance, in a quandary. Do we want the despicable John Edwards or our "murky" campaign finance laws to lose?
If I have to choose, I suppose that I reluctantly pick the laws as my preferred loser. But I'll keep hoping that there is some way that both can lose.
- 1:06 PM, 5 June 2011 [link]
The Odd Couple Will Be Golfing together.
President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) will finally hit the links for a round of golf — and al fresco negotiation — on June 18, a White House official told POLITICO.And it only took six months to arrange.
On the whole, I think this is a good idea — for Speaker Boehner. It will make it harder for Democrats to paint him in as dark colors as they did Newt Gingrich. Not impossible, but harder.
(And I continue to think that the more that Obama is kept away from the Oval Office, the better off we will be.)
- 12:44 PM, 5 June 2011 [link]
That PC Food Plate: The Department of Agriculture introduced a new logo to, as Andrew Malcolm says, encourage us to eat less of what we like and more of what we don't like.
When I saw it, I cracked up because I could see that whoever designed it had traded clarity for political correctness.
It would be more logical to make the fourth "meat". Why didn't they? Because, I suppose, they didn't want to offend vegetarians.
Unfortunately, that makes the diagram illogical because some grains (especially wheat) and some vegetables (especially beans) have significant amounts of protein. (You could go the other way and change the other segments to carbohydrates, et cetera, but that would just confuse many people, especially people with lower levels of education.)
(When I look at earlier logos, the food pyramid and the "improved" food pyramid, I see devolution, with the second worse than the first, and the new food plate worse than both.)
- 1:55 PM, 4 June 2011 [link]
James Freeman Of The WSJ Reviews Reckless Endangerment: And likes it.
"The American people realize they've been robbed. They're just not sure by whom," write Gretchen Morgenson and Joshua Rosner in "Reckless Endangerment." But Americans who read this outstanding history of the financial crisis will know, by the end, exactly who created the meltdown of 2008 and how they did it. This is a story, the authors say, "of what happens when Washington decides, in its infinite wisdom, that every living, breathing citizen should own a home."
- 12:26 PM, 3 June 2011 [link]
"Disappointing", Perhaps Even Unexpected, though Catherine Rampell doesn't use the second word, as she describes the latest unemployment report.
After several months of strong job growth, hiring slowed sharply in May, raising concerns once again about the underlying strength of the economic recovery.So some economists found those numbers "unexpected".
But perhaps they should have expected them. Click on the "Private" tab of the graphic to the left of the article. That will give you a picture of the job market without the temporary distortions of the 2010 census, and similar events.
When you click on the tab you will see that, though we have had 15 straight months of private job growth, only four of those months showed strong growth, growth strong enough to make up for population increases. Granted, 3 of those 4 months were in this year, but this year has also seen a sharp rise in oil prices, which every economist should know will slow growth.
- 8:08 AM, 3 June 2011 [link]
The NYT Deletes The Best Part: Yesterday, I learned from James Taranto that the new executive editor at the New York Times grew up thinking of the newspaper as a religion.
It may be the most revealing quote ever published in the New York Times. It appears in a story about the New York Times, and its source is a top editor of the New York Times: Jill Abramson, who will become the top editor of the New York Times in September, when Bill Keller steps down, the New York Times reports:Today, if you go to the same story, you find that those two fascinating paragraphs have been replaced by one dull paragraph:Ms. Abramson said that as a born-and-raised New Yorker, she considered being named editor of The Times to be like "ascending to Valhalla."
Ms. Abramson, 57, said being named executive editor was "the honor of my life" and like "ascending to Valhalla" for someone who read The Times as a young girl growing up in New York. "We are held together by our passion for our work, our friendship and our deep belief in the mission and indispensability of The Times," she said. "I look forward to working with all of you to seize our future. In this thrilling and challenging transition, we will cross to safety together."It's not an auspicious beginning for Ms. Abramson.
Whoever substituted that paragraph for the original two made the story far less interesting and gave every critic of the Times another reason to distrust the newspaper.
And, of course, by trying to hide what she had said, they drew everyone's attention to it.
- 7:13 AM, 3 June 2011 [link]
The New Yorker On Regulation: Today's New Yorker cartoon shows two businessmen in an office. The man at the desk is saying to an underling: "These new regulations will fundamentally change the way we get around them."
That's funny (I think), because it's true; new regulations often just result in new ways to evade them.
In general, I concluded long ago, those who devise regulations should keep them as simple and open as possible. It should be easy for everyone to see what the regulations require — and whether they are being obeyed.
That's especially true of destructive regulations. If a regulation is damaging something we value, the economy, the environment, or whatever, we want everyone to know that as soon as possible.
Three recent pieces of federal legislation, Sarbanes-Oxley, Dodd-Frank, and ObamaCare violate that KISS principle on a grand scale. It is almost as if those who wrote them wanted to provide new ways to "get around" the regulations they impose, and wanted to make it almost impossible for outsiders to tell whether the regulations are being obeyed.
(Of course, complex regulations often allow special interests, sometimes even single companies or unions, to create advantages for themselves, but that's an old story that doesn't require much repeating.)
- 6:33 AM, 3 June 2011 [link]
Worth Viewing: The slides that economist Robert Lucas used for a talk on our economic problems. Here's his tentative conclusion.
• Is it possible that by imitating European policies on labor markets, welfare, and taxes U.S. has chosen a new, lower GDP trend?On the way to that discouraging conclusion, he reviews what went wrong in the Great Depression, and what he thinks is going wrong now.
Lucas won the Nobel prize in 1995, and is "consistently indexed among the top 10 economists in the Research Papers in Economics rankings", so he is probably worth listening to.
By way of Greg Mankiw, who describes the presentation as "thought-provoking".
- 1:14 PM, 2 June 2011 [link]
Academically Adrift: I mentioned some of their findings in January. Now Richard Arum and Josipa Roska give their own summary in this op-ed.
We recently tracked several thousand students as they moved through and graduated from a diverse set of more than two dozen colleges and universities, and we found consistent evidence that many students were not being appropriately challenged. In a typical semester, 50% of students did not take a single course requiring more than 20 pages of writing, 32% did not have any classes that required reading more than 40 pages per week, and 36% reported studying alone five or fewer hours per week.Imagine the outrage if the same were true of our grade schools, that one third of the students sat there for four years — without learning anything. But for some reason, the same result in our colleges and universities — at far higher costs per student, per year — doesn't interest most journalists. (Or many parents, as far as I can tell.)
(Arum and Roska don't give the numbers in this op-ed, but if one-third of college students learn almost nothing in four years, then it is likely that many other students, another third perhaps, don't learn enough to justify the costs of their time in college.)
Arum and Roska do not spare our colleges and universities.
These real accomplishments do not, however, exonerate the colleges and universities that are happy to collect annual tuition dollars but then fail to provide many students with a high-quality education.Or even a low-quality education, in all too many cases.
The students may not learn much, but most will acquire significant debts in those four years.
(Here's their book.)
- 10:55 AM, 2 June 2011 [link]
"The Boldest Undertaking Any President Has Undertaken On A Single Event In Modern History" With all the bad economic news, it is natural for our comics to try to cheer us up.
And I have to say that Vice President Biden succeeds admirably in this speech, where he mocks the exaggerated praise that President Obama has received for the bin Laden raid.
It takes real comic talent to say those words, and keep a straight face. And using "undertaken" right after "undertaking" shows a deft touch with words, by hinting that we are not supposed to take what he says seriously. The timing, if not up to Jay Leno standards, was quite good, too.
(Oddly, the audience did not seem to get the joke. I didn't check to see who they were. Perhaps he was speaking to a workshop for the humor-impaired.)
For years, I have thought that Joe Biden was something of a joke. I had not realized just how well he can tell jokes and have to admit that seeing him tell that one makes him rise just a bit, in my estimation. (His boss, President Obama, is not very good at telling jokes, and, I suspect, not very good at understanding them. I fear that if you were to tell him the joke with the "I'm from the government and I'm here to help you" punch line, he wouldn't get it — even after you explained it to him.)
- 8:49 AM, 2 June 2011
Historians ordinarily put the beginning of modern history at about 1500 AD, so Biden was including all American presidents in that claim. To be fair, journalists often begin modern history at much later dates.
- 1:27 PM, 2 June 2011 [link]
Do We Need A New 6 Stages List? Almost all engineers have seen this list (or some variant), showing the "typical" stages of a big project.
1. EnthusiasmSome engineers even post it on office walls, to remind themselves of likely hazards.
As I work my way through Morgenson and Rosner's Reckless Endangerment, I am beginning to think that we need a new list for the financial crisis, one that includes "Rewards for the Guilty". Because, as the authors say, those who caused the breakdown have (mostly) benefited from it. They haven't even gotten much public blame, much less fines or prison time.
And many of them found jobs in the Obama administration.
(I don't mean to imply that the book is hard to read, just that its arguments are so important that I am taking time to study them, and check them where I can, as I read through the book.)
- 7:11 AM, 2 June 2011 [link]
Odd 2004 Election Fact: George W. Bush scored his best gain over 2000 in New York's 9th congressional district. Bush won 30 percent of the vote there in 2000, but 44 percent in 2004. (The district is partly in Brooklyn, partly in Queens, and the Brooklyn part tends Republican. For what it's worth, Obama lost the Brooklyn part of the district in 2008, 57-42.)
There was a popular vote swing to Bush in the Northeast in the 2004 election, not big enough to help him win any states, though he again came close in New Hampshire, but big enough to help him with his popular vote majority.
(Why do I happen to be writing about this now? Because that's Anthony Weiner's district, and I was looking him up in the 2010 Almanac of American Politics.)
- 2:57 PM, 1 June 2011
Josh Kraushaar thinks that the Republicans actually have a chance to win the seat if Weiner is forced out. I don't think that's likely — for one thing, I don't think he'll resign — but I agree that a Republican win in New York 9th is possible, if he does resign.
- 7:46 AM, 2 June 2011 [link]
You Won't Read this in a Tom Friedman column, but you need to know about it anyway.
Despite a huge police presence, protests continue in China's Inner Mongolia's provincial capital of Hohhot as ethnic Mongolians vent their anger with Party cadres over environmental problems and other issues. The unrest parallels similar incidents in Tibet in March 2008 and Xinjiang in July 2009, but the phenomenon is hardly limited to minority areas. A Tsinghua University sociologist estimated that across China there were 180,000 large-scale protests last year.180,000 "large-scale" protests! China is a big country, but that's still a lot, especially considering how much the protesters may be risking. (The editorial claims that China's "security apparatus" has a bigger share of China's budget than its military.)
(As usual, you can read the whole editorial by using the Google search routine to access it. I don't know if that will stop being true at some point.)
- 2:13 PM, 1 June 2011 [link]
Subsidized Fossil Fuels: Sometimes, when I get discouraged by our own government's policies, I am able to cheer myself up by looking at what other governments do. Our government often behaves foolishly, but we have avoided some of the grand mistakes made by other governments.
For example, the subsidies many petroleum producers give to fossil fuels. Although I knew about those subsidies, and the resulting low prices for gasoline, I had no idea just how large they are, relative to the producers' economies. (The table is labeled incorrectly; the subsidies include all fossil fuels, not just gasoline, or even just oil.)
The champion is Iran, which in 2009 was spending about 20 percent of its GDP on subsidies for fossil fuels. (About $30 billion for oil, $25 billion for gas, and $11 billion for electricity production) If the United States were to spend the same amount, relatively, we would have to use all of our federal tax money for those subsidies — and borrow a trillion or so more just to cover the costs. (I suppose that we can we can be glad that Iran is spending billions on these subsidies, rather than spending even more money on nuclear weapons.)
But you could make a strong argument that Egypt, which in 2009 spent 9 percent of its GDP ($16 billion) on similar subsidies, is behaving even more foolishly. Egypt produces about enough oil for its own uses, and is a much poorer country than Iran.
In all of these countries, much of the subsidy goes, obviously, to people who own cars and trucks. In most of them, those people are substantially better off than the average person in that country, so the subsidy is regressive.
(If you are like me, you found those numbers hard to believe. You can check them at the source.
Here's a (somewhat dated) Wikipedia article on gasoline prices around the world.)
- 12:26 PM, 1 June 2011 [link]
What Do Top Federal Executives Think Of The Obama Administration? Not much.
A new survey shows strained relationships between senior career federal managers and executives and the political appointees they work with.(On the whole, one would expect most of these top civil servants to be Democrats, although the article does not mention any party numbers. Most likely, the survey didn't ask about their party affiliation, since that would be a sensitive question for these men and women.)
So these top civil servants think that Obama appointees don't know what they are doing, and are poor listeners. Sounds familiar, somehow.
By way of the Investor's Business Daily.
(Caveats: The sample was small, just 148 officials, and the magazine gave no details on how it was conducted. Presumably, they are saving those for their 15 June issue.)
- 6:55 AM, 1 June 2011 [link]
Congressman Anthony Weiner May Not Be Guilty, but he is certainly acting guilty, as even some leftists are beginning to admit.
We won't pretend to know the truth behind Weinergate — whether Weiner was the victim of a hacker or prankster or conservative conspiracy, or whether he was personally responsible for sending a college girl a photo of a man's bulge over Twitter. But what's clear is that Weiner is only inviting more suspicion on himself by the way he's handling the attention. During an encounter with reporters earlier today, Weiner refused to answer any questions about the incident, including whether that was his own package in the photo, why he contacted a lawyer instead of law enforcement, and why he was following the college student on Twitter in the first place. Instead, he pointed reporters to his previous statements (which don't actually address those questions) and expressed his desire to move on to more important business.Will he survive, politically? Lee Stranahan is probably right when he says it mostly depends on his wife.
Only probably, because his district is one of the more Republican in New York City; McCain received 44 percent of the vote there in 2008. And Weiner might be vulnerable to a primary challenger.
(Amusing bit of trivia from the 2010 Almanac of American Politics: "In 2007, he sponsored a bill creating an on-line registry of sex offenders' e-mail addresses.")
- 6:03 AM, 1 June 2011 [link]