Archive:

March 2012, Part 1

Jim Miller on Politics




Pseudo-Random Thoughts



John Bolton Doesn't Think Much of that agreement with North Korea.
The two sides agreed that Pyongyang would suspend uranium enrichment and other "nuclear activities" at its Yongbyon facility, allow very limited international inspection, and implement a moratorium on long-range missile launches.  In State's telling on Feb. 29, we gave nothing in return for the North's (apparently) unilateral concessions, "designed to improve the atmosphere for dialogue and demonstrate its commitment to denuclearization."

How sweet.  Unfortunately, the Leap Day deal is worse than just another failed effort to chitchat North Korea out of its nuclear weapons.  It provides a political and economic lifeline to Kim Jong Eun's uncertain new regime, and it schools him on how to outwit America.  Tehran's mullahs will take careful note of the Obama administration's desperation to announce a deal, any deal, that can be described as "progress" on the nuclear-proliferation front.
We don't have great alternatives in dealing with North Korea — but we should have learned by now that trying to buy them off with food and energy aid won't work.

(You could, I suppose, argue that they would have been even worse without our aid — but you could also argue that they would have collapsed without it.  At the very least, ending our aid would have forced the Chinese to provide the aid to their often troublesome client.

You may have to get to the op-ed with a Google search, as I did.)
- 2:00 PM, 8 March 2012   [link]


Is Gail Collins Trying To Get Fired?  In my early years as a blogger, I sometimes reviewed columns by Frank Rich.  I gave it up, not because he improved, but, because almost every time I read him, I was appalled by his terrible writing.  (Here's an example.)

The terrible writing seemed especially strange coming from a man who had been, for years, a theater critic.  You would think that a theater critic might not understand politics, might not be fair to political opponents, but you would expect a theater critic to, for example, use metaphors correctly.  Which Rich almost never did, in his columns for the New York Times.

Lately, I have begun to think that Rich may have been writing badly on purpose, that he was trying to get fired because he was unhappy in his job and wanted a big severance package.  (I don't know whether he actually got one when he left the Times, and don't much care.)

What made me think of that possibility was a series of columns by the former editorial page editor at the Times, Gail Collins.  Her columns are, without exception, awful, filled with snark but not amusing, tendentious without making coherent arguments, and, almost invariably, annoying, because they include a reference to that car trip by Mitt Romney's dog.

(If you have missed that story — and there is no reason you should follow it — here's the essence:  On a vacation trip, the family didn't have room for their dog, Seamus, inside their car, so they put him in a kennel on top of the car.  As anyone who knows dogs can tell you, most dogs would much rather be out where they can check out all the smells as they travel.  For some reason, car sickness or just the kind of stomach upset that dogs, like us, suffer from time to time, Seamus got sick.  Mitt Romney, practical fellow that he is, stopped the car, and used a hose to clean off the car, and the dog.)

Today, Gail Collins again mentioned that dog incident; in fact, she devoted her entire column to it.  (For obvious reasons, I am not linking to the column, but you should be able to find it easily enough.)

She could have written about the threat of nuclear war, our enormous budget deficits, or any of a number of other serious subjects.  She could even have written about the "Republican war on women".  (She is, of course, a feminist.)

Instead, she took a whole column of the most valuable space in American journalism to discuss, again, a decades-old car trip, by a dog.

Perhaps, I thought, as I glanced over the column she is now trying to get fired — desperately.

(Collins would not have to get food stamps, if she were fired.  Her husband, Dan Collins, is a CBS news producer.  Sometimes the links between the Times and our "mainstream" news networks are direct.)
- 1:16 PM, 8 March 2012   [link]


If Mitt Romney Wins More Than Half Of The Delegates, He Will Be The Republican Nominee:  That's obvious, but sometimes I feel compelled to say the obvious — because so many others are not.

So far, Romney has won more than half of the delegates at stake, or to be exact, 56 per cent.
Romney has won 56% of the delegates awarded so far, and needs to garner 47% of the remaining delegates to reach the magic number, according to a USA TODAY analysis of delegate counts provided by the Associated Press.
And how did he do Tuesday?  According to this Real Clear Politics table, on Tuesday Romney won 208 delegates, Santorum 84, Gingrich 68, and Paul 21.  So Romney easily won more than half the delegates at stake.

Nonetheless, you will find many who call Tuesday a split decision, or worse, for Romney.   (For some examples, follow the links in this Toby Harnden post.)

Even Ed Morrissey, who should know better, said that there no winners Tuesday night.  (Morrissey is a Santorum supporter.)

It's true that Romney is winning on points, not by knockouts, but it's also true that the Republican rules were changed this year to prevent early knockouts.

Andrew Malcolm makes a point that should cheer those who think we need a different president.
Romney's win in Ohio added to his reputation as a closer.  As he did in Michigan, Romney came from a double-digit deficit in the last two weeks to win.  How he won in both places reveals the former governor's strategy, the depth of his national team and explains why Obama's Chicagoans have already aimed so much fire at Romney and are trying so hard to turn the debate to more divisive social issues such as contraception.

Romney won by assembling a coalition of moderates, self-described Somewhat Conservatives, independents, Catholics, single women, college graduates and affluent urban and suburban dwellers whose top concerns are the economy and defeating Obama.  "The economy is what I do," Romney says over and over.
In short, Romney, who is not a natural politician, has shown that he can win support — quickly — among the very swing groups the Republican nominee will need this November.
- 9:41 AM, 8 March 2012   [link]


One Hit, One Miss:  Yesterday evening, I spotted Mitt Romney's Ohio victory earlier than most.  In fact, I think I called it earlier than any of the news organizations.

(I would have called it even earlier if the report from Clermont County hadn't been wrong for so long.  CNN was saying that 1 per cent of the precincts there had reported, but the vote total was too high to be consistent with that 1 per cent.  I knew that report was wrong, but didn't see an easy way to correct it.)

Yesterday afternoon, I missed badly by thinking that Ron Paul might finally break his long string of losses and win a caucus in North Dakota.  He did come in second to Rick Santorum, but not a close second. (40-28 per cent)

(I took his hopes to win the state seriously, instead of analyzing the state independently.)
- 1:15 PM, 7 March 2012   [link]


Which Republican Candidate Has This Left-Leaning Pattern Of Support?  As the voters in the Republican primaries become more conservative, his support decreases.

Ron Paul.

Voters are asked, in the exit polls, how they describe themselves ideologically, and are given five choices: Very liberal, Somewhat liberal, Moderate, Somewhat conservative, and Very conservative.

As you would expect, there aren't enough "Very liberal" voters in the Republican primaries to measure, but there are voters who describe themselves as "Somewhat liberal" and "Moderate".

Beginning with "Somewhat liberal" and going right to "Very conservative", here's how Ron Paul did in Ohio: 15, 13, 9, 7.  And here's how he did in Tennessee: 23, 13, 8, 6.

I saw the same pattern in earlier primaries; the less conservative the voter, the more likely they were to vote for Ron Paul.

(Santorum has the opposite pattern; Romney tends to do best with the two middle groups, "Moderate" and "Somewhat conservative".)

Since most "mainstream" journalists would see Paul as "far right" (wrongly in my opinion), this pattern calls for an explanation.

Those of a conspiratorial turn of mind may suspect that Democrats voted for Ron Paul for tactical reasons, in order to cause problems for the Republican party.  And they could find a little support for that idea, since Paul does do better among Democrats than he does among Republicans.

I don't think that's the main reason for the left-leaning pattern of Paul support, because he does even better, generally, among independents.

Instead, I think that we should recognize that different parts of his proposals attract voters who don't fit neatly into either party.  There are voters who favor less spending, less military involvement overseas, and fewer restrictions on drugs.  The first makes it hard for them to support the Democratic party; the third makes it hard for them to support the Republican party.  (Before President Obama adopted so many Bush policies, voters who wanted less military involvement could be happy in the Democratic party; now they don't fit into either.)

And there is nothing illogical about that combination of views, though I don't share it.

And such voters are less likely to describe themselves as "Somewhat conservative" or "Very conservative" than most Republicans, though the other categories don't fit them very well, either.

(Here are the exit polls for Ohio and Tennessee.)
- 12:42 PM, 7 March 2012   [link]


1788?  The Daily Beast asks when our candidates got "so rich".  You can see my tentative answer in the title, since it is no secret that George Washington was pretty well off.  (I put a question mark after my answer, because I thought there might be a trick to the question I had missed.)

(You could argue for even earlier dates, but Frum was discussing presidential candidates in the post, so I started with the first president.)
- 6:22 AM, 7 March 2012   [link]


The Missing Urban Votes In Ohio:  As I write, Mitt Romney has fallen behind Rick Santorum, but it is not clear to me that he will stay behind.

As I write, Cuyahoga (Cleveland) and Hamilton (Cincinnati) counties have reported less than half of their precincts.  If the votes in the remaining precincts in those counties vote in the same way as the earlier precincts did, then Romney will gain about 15,000 votes, net.   Right now, he is about 13,000 votes behind.

There are too many smaller counties, and the vote totals in them are changing too fast for me to make a complete analysis, but I would say that the race isn't over yet, even though Santorum holds a lead now.
- 7:11 PM, 6 March 2012
Update:  There is one moderate-sized county, Medina, that has yet to report any votes.  Given its democgraphy — it's a better-off suburban county — I would expect it to favor Mitt Romney, giving him a net gain of a few thousand votes.

As I write, Cuyahoga County has still reported only 41 percent of its precincts.

If those two were all that were out, I would give Romney a small edge, but there is the continuing puzzle of Clermont County.  CNN says that they have reported just 1 per cent of the precincts, but that is inconsistent with the population of the county.  Again, given the demography, I would expect that Romney would win the county, but he is currently trailing there.

So I think there is something wrong with that CNN report on Clermont, but I can't tell what.
- 7:50 PM, 6 March 2012
Update 2:  Okay, Clermont is in, with a small Romney majority, so I am calling Ohio for Romney — assuming the results I am seeing are correct.
- 8:09 PM, 6 March 2012   [link]


Ron Paul Might Break Through In North Dakota:  He might, actually, carry a state.  If you look at the results I discussed below, you will see that Paul carried many rural counties in Washington state.  North Dakota is a caucus state that is much more rural than Washington state (43.7 versus 18.8 per cent), so his chances look better there than in any previous state.

And even better when you add in North Dakota's long tendency toward isolationism.   North Dakotans like to sell their wheat to everyone in the world, but otherwise would rather not have much to do with other nations.
- 4:29 PM, 6 March 2012   [link]


Some Quick Thoughts On The Washington State Caucus Results:  To follow parts of my argument, you will probably want to open a tab to a map of the results, such as this one from Fox News.

First, the two polls done by SurveyUSA and Public Policy Polling were surprisingly close on Romney, and close enough on Gingrich, but way low on Ron Paul.  (SurveyUSA ran a weird poll, which somehow managed to get Santorum's vote right; PPP was high on Santorum, probably because they didn't capture all of the late swing from him to Romney.)  What I suspect those polls show us is that the results from the straw poll in the caucus were not greatly different from what the results would have been in a primary, for three of the four candidates.

Although the turnout was very high for caucuses, it was less than one tenth of the vote in the 2008 Republican primary.  (I hope that we can bring back the primary, after we take care of our budget problems.)

Romney won 26 of Washington's 39 counties.  The 13 he lost are, with one exception — Whatcom — rural counties with few voters.

Paul won 9 rural counties.  All of them — and here I have to be a bit tentative because we don't have exit poll data — look like counties where guns and regulations would be important issues.  (In one of the counties that Paul won, Whitman, he probably also benefited from the student vote at Washington State.)

Santorum won 4 counties.  Three of them are small farming counties in eastern Washington, where I would expect most take their traditional religious views seriously.

The fourth, Whatcom County, is usually seen as similar to its more populous neighbors to the south, Snohomish (Everett), King (Seattle), and Pierce (Tacoma).  But this time its voting pattern was entirely different; not only did Santorum win the county easily, but Paul took second place there.

If I had an explanation for that Whatcom result, I would give it to you.

Romney showed strength in places where there are many higher-income suburban voters, as he has all through this nomination campaign.

His weakness in rural areas may be a problem in a general election, not because he won't carry those areas against Barack Obama, but because he may not pile up the majorities in them he will need to counter balance the urban vote.

According to the Almanac of American Politics, 18.8 percent of Washington's 6,724,540 population is rural.  If you do the arithmetic, you'll see that there are more than twice as many people in rural areas than there are in the state's largest city, Seattle (608,660).

Washington state is a little more urban than the nation as a whole, so rural voters are even more important, nationally, than they are here.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 4:09 PM, 6 March 2012   [link]


Mitt Romney Is Doing Better This Year Than In 2008:  And, on the whole, better than McCain in 2008.

(He may not be winning delegates faster than McCain did, thanks to the new rules that encourage proportional allocation of delegates by the states.)
- 1:20 PM, 6 March 2012   [link]


Today Is Super Tuesday, When You Would Expect All The Attention To Be On The Republican Candidates:  So President Obama chooses this day to hold his first press conference in months.

Someone (one of his sons?) once said of Teddy Roosevelt that he wanted to be the bride at every wedding, and the corpse at every funeral.

It is amusing, and a little pathetic, to see a man so intent on being the center of attention.
- 10:42 AM, 6 March 2012   [link]


Why The Chevrolet Volt Shorted Out:  Yesterday, I saw my first Volt — that I noticed — and immediately saw why it has not been a resounding commercial success.

People don't buy a car like the Volt, or the Toyota Prius, for practical transportation; they buy one to show off their values to others, just as some people will wear a cross, a star of David, or a crescent.  It's more expensive than putting a bumper sticker on your car — but more impressive.

If you are going to go around wearing — or driving — a religious symbol to impress other people, you want that symbol to be obvious.  The Prius succeeded because it looks distinctive, because it shows, at a glance, that the owner follows the Green religion.

In contrast, the Volt looks like almost every other small car, looks, in fact, like the much more practical Chevrolet Cruze.  Which, in contrast, is selling quite well.

(I borrowed that title from this post, where you will find an entirely different analysis of the Volt's problems.)
- 10:22 AM, 6 March 2012   [link]


Racial Preferences Forever?  That's what Attorney General Eric Holder wants.
Last month, in an appearance at Columbia University, his alma mater, Holder made a jarring statement in support of racial preferences, saying he "can't actually imagine a time in which the need for more diversity would ever cease."  "Affirmative action has been an issue since segregation practices," he declared.  "The question is not when does it end, but when does it begin. . . . When do people of color truly get the benefits to which they are entitled?"
Holder and, presumably, his boss, President Obama, want more racial preferences in spite of the growing evidence that the preferences are, net, bad for their supposed beneficiaries.
- 6:48 AM, 6 March 2012   [link]


Is President Obama A "Naive Ingenu"?  According to the BBC's Mark Mardell, that's what Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thinks.
When President Barack Obama meets Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu both must hope the atmosphere is more comfortable than their last White House encounter.

Let's face it, it could hardly be worse.  Then the Israeli PM lectured the American president on Israel's borders as if he were a naive ingenu.  He gave every indication that is exactly what he thought of him.

President Obama listened, looking impatient and testy, unused to such treatment.   He now says their relationship is "very functional", while noting they come from different political traditions.  At least he didn't claim any warmth.
If Mardell is right, Netanyahu understands Obama very well.  In foreign policy, Obama has been naive, especially in his dealings with Israel's enemies — and ours.

It might seem strange that a man who learned politics in Chicago's rough school would be naive in foreign policy, but there are many similar examples.  For instance, Franklin D. Roosevelt, who had learned politics from, among others, the leaders of Tammany Hall, thought that he could charm Stalin into behaving better.

(Mardell didn't make a spelling mistake with "ingenu".  That's the masculine form of the the French word, ingénue.  But he did make an embarrassing mistake in the last sentence, omitting the "l" from "public".  Several commenters have tried to call his attention to the mistake, without success so far.)
- 6:32 AM, 6 March 2012   [link]


Laptop Search:  I've gotten behind on some other things (including, I am sorry to say, email) because I have been spending time, too much time, on a search for a new laptop.

I realized yesterday that I was spending too much time because I had gotten interested in it as an optimization problem, that I was trying to find the best laptop, given my rather peculiar requirements.  Since the problem almost certainly does not have a unique solution — given publicly available data — it was foolish of me to spend so much time on the problem.

Instead of trying to find an optimum solution, I should, I realized, just satisfice.  And so I went ahead and made my decision.

That isn't the first time I have made that mistake, and it won't be the last.  It is, I suspect, an occupational hazard for those who make their living looking for optimal solutions to problems.

I decided to buy the latest version of a Hewlett-Packard business laptop, the ProBook 4530s.  I chose a business laptop, instead of a home, or personal, laptop, because they tend to be a little more durable, and a little better protected against intrusion.  This one, for instance, has a spill-resistant keyboard and extra protection against shocks to the hard drive.  And because they are more likely to have, as this one does, a higher speed (7200 versus 5400 rpm) hard drive.

Business laptops are also more likely to have, as this one does, matte instead of glossy screens.  I much prefer those screens in bad light, which is common almost everywhere you might want to take a laptop.

What made the decision complicated was that I intend to make it a dual-boot system, running both Windows 7, and Linux.  Laptops are notorious for resisting Linux installations. but I know this one can run Linux, because you can buy it with Linux, directly from HP.   (They don't sell a dual-boot system, which is what I want.)

After some thought, I decided to choose their older design, which uses an Intel CPU, rather than a newer model that uses an AMD APU.  I chose the Intel model mostly because I think it less likely, since it is older and more common, to give me trouble with the Linux installation.

Finally, I chose a model with one 3.0 USB port.  I plan to keep the laptop at least four years and I expect that the number of peripherals that support that faster standard will grow substantially during the next few years.  And, because I am going to try to install Linux entirely on a USB drive, so I want that connection to be fast.
- 7:44 PM, 5 March 2012   [link]


Romney's Rescue:  After that last post, it's a pleasure to turn to a positive story about the leading Republican candidate for president.

Naomi Decter condenses a longer Washington Post story:
We first heard about it in the 2008 campaign: how Romney saved the teenaged daughter of a Bain Capital colleague in 1996.  Here’s what Mitt did when he learned the girl had gone missing after sneaking from her home in Connecticut to a party in New York City: he shut down the whole office and flew the staff from Boston to New York; he had fliers printed up and got employees at Duane Reade (in which Bain invested) to stuff one into every customer’s bag; he set up a phone hotline; he personally, along with his Bain people and their New York accountants and lawyers, pounded the city’s pavements looking for the girl and asking teenagers if they’d seen her.  After a few days of all this – and the publicity it generated – they traced the hotline call of someone asking for a reward and found the girl, who had overdosed on Ecstasy, in the basement of a New Jersey home.
The Post treats this as a campaign story, but I think that Decter has a better take on it:  She says the story shows us that Romney is "an extraordinary man".

It is hard for me to imagine any of the other presidential candidates, Democrat or Republican, doing something that, well, noble.

(Suspicious people may want additional sources for the story.  Here's a fact check confirming the story.)
- 5:31 PM, 5 March 2012   [link]


The Inescapable Rush Limbaugh/Sandra Fluke Controversy:   After lunch today, I took a long nap, in preparation for tomorrow's long night of watching the Super Duper Tuesday returns come in.

It seemed like an especially good time for a nap, since talk show host Michael Medved, whom I often listen to after lunch, was going on about the controversy — and I didn't think there was anything more to say about it.  When I woke up, near the end of Medved's program, he was still talking about it.

You and I may think that Iran's nuclear weapons programs are a more important issue, but, as you can tell with a glance at today's memeorandum, we are outnumbered.

So, here are my first — and, I hope, last — thoughts on the controversy: Sandra Fluke was used as bait by some clever Democratic operatives.
"The Democrats played games with us the day before [the hearing]," says a Republican committee source.  "After days of asking for a witness, they waited until the last minute, the afternoon before the hearing.  They asked us to invite Rev. Barry Lynn [head of Americans United for Separation of Church and State] and Ms. Fluke.  We said we'll invite one, per standard procedure.  We formally invited Rev. Lynn, and the Democrats, at 4:30 pm, changed their mind and said they wanted Fluke.  We said too late.  They told Rev. Lynn not to show up the next day."

When the hearing took place, Democrats proceeded to clobber Republicans.  "Where are the women?" asked New York Rep. Carolyn Maloney as she looked at the all-male first panel for the hearing.  (Two women testified in the hearing's second panel, but Maloney and her fellow Democrats ignored that.)
The Democrats then staged their own "hearing" with Fluke, which got much publicity.

At this point, Republicans would have been well off to tell their side of the story, and go back to holding hearings on religious freedom — which is what their hearing was about, after all.

And they probably would have, except that Rush Limbaugh swallowed the bait, hook, line, and sinker, insulting Fluke in the most direct way possible.

When I heard him going off on his Fluke rant, I was disgusted, and was pretty sure he would have to back down and apologize.  Which he has, to almost no effect.

And so now we have an immense controversy, enlivened from time to time, by a few people, almost all on the right, noting the double standards, noting the indifference to similar insults from leftists.  (If you want some examples of those insults, you can find them in this Kirsten Powers column.  I don't know about you, but I found that collection impressive, and was a little surprised to see how many insults she found against Hillary Clinton — from leftists.)

There's not much I can do about this controversy, except go back to ignoring it, which is what I plan — but can't promise — to do.
- 4:10 PM, 5 March 2012   [link]


Lindsey Graham Explains The Israeli Position On Iran:   Clearly enough so that Chris Wallace appeared to understand it.
Sure.  There's the intelligence picture difference.  But here's what we agree on -- we've been talking to Iran for three years.  They keep enriching.  We've been sanctioning Iran seriously, I think in an effective way for about the last six months, they keep enriching.  They have 3,000 kilograms of low enriched uranium, one and half times more than they need to make the bomb.

So, here's the situation in Israel.  Their military ability is less than ours.   There'll come a point where these sites get hard, and they are being hard.

If they wanted to build a power plant for peaceful purposes, the Iranians are going at it at a very odd way.  When you put their rhetoric and their behavior together with their nuclear program, if you are Israel, you can't let -- you can't lose control of your own destiny.

So, that's what the prime minister of Israel told us.  We will not lose control of our own destiny.  We want sanctions to work.  We will give it time.

But when Iranians get to the point where our military capability is not sufficient to stop their program, that's the red line for us.
 And we have a different point militarily than they do, and there is the conflict.
(Emphasis added.)

Was that Linsey Graham explanation clear enough for President Obama to understand?   I hope so.

(Video here.)
- 11:05 AM, 5 March 2012   [link]


Don't Expect The Obama Administration To Do Much For The Areas Just Hit By Tornadoes:  Oh, Obama will do the minimum.  He will, for instance, say that he has received a briefing, and make formal calls to some of the governors.

But he has never been much interested in our rural areas — which contain so many politically-incorrect people — so I don't expect him to do much more beyond those formal calls.

(The areas may be better off with less federal attention, with neighbors helping neighbors, and a little assistance from local and state governments.)
- 6:40 AM, 5 March 2012   [link]


Predicting Caucus Results With Polls Is Brave (Or Foolhardy):   The Washington state Republican caucuses just provided another example to illustrate that generalization.

Mitt Romney won the straw poll with 38 percent of the vote.  Ron Paul and Rick Santorum almost tied for second, getting 25 and 24 percent of the vote, respectively.  Newt Gingrich came in fourth at 10 percent.

Two polling firms, SurveyUSA and Public Policy Polling, were brave (or foolhardy) enough to run polls before the caucus.

Here's what PPP found in their poll.
Momentum has swung strongly in Mitt Romney's direction among Washington Republicans over the last two weeks.  He now leads in the state with 37% to 32% for Rick Santorum, 16% for Ron Paul, and 13% for Newt Gingrich.  That represents a reversal from PPP's previous poll which found Santorum in the driver's seat with 38% to Romney's 27%.  The large shift in Washington reflects what has happened in the race nationally over that period of time.
They were quite close for Romney, close enough for Gingrich — and missed badly on both Santorum and Paul.

SurveyUSA, for reasons that escape me, included Barack Obama among the choices in their poll.   Like their competitor, PPP, they did very well with Romney, finding 38 percent support for him, and they got Santorum right, too, with 24 percent.  They predicted 14 percent for Gingrich, which is not a terrible — but missed completely with Paul (10 percent).  (Obama received 6 percent in the poll.)

Like Ed Morrissey, I found the SurveyUSA poll "strangely constructed".

It isn't hard to understand why it is hard to poll caucuses.  Turnout is so low, compared even to primaries, that it is hard to find caucus goers, unless the firm is willing to contact tens of thousands of people.  (In 2008, Washington Republicans used both a primary and caucuses to allocate delegates.  Fewer people showed up at the 2008 caucuses than the 2012 caucuses — but more than a half million voted in the Republican primary that year, about ten times as many as showed up at the caucuses this year.

So it is hard to find the caucus goers, and it is hard to sort them out from the rest of the Republicans, because it is hard to measure intensity, as the Ron Paul results show.  (They may also show the results of organization and effort; the Texas congressman has been organizing and campaigning here for months.  He was the only candidate to run a TV ad here.)  By way of comparison, Paul received just 6 percent of the primary vote in 2008.  I would guess that, had the Republicans run a primary this year, Paul would again have finished a distant fourth, though I expect he would have done better than 6 percent.

(The primary was cancelled as a money-saving measure.  Washington's Democrats have not used their primary to allocate delegates, so they didn't care whether one was run this year.)
- 6:02 AM, 5 March 2012   [link]


The Federal Reserve Plans To Keep Interest Rates Near Zero For At Least Two More Years:  Gretchen Morgenson thinks it is wrong to treat savers this way, wrong to have savings accounts with interest rates of 0.2 percent.

She's right, in my opinion.  And I suspect the savers who are most hurt by this are more likely to be small savers than big investors.

(In real terms, allowing for inflation, those current interest rates are actually negative.)
- 5:13 PM, 4 March 2012   [link]


John Edwards Wants This Tape Saved Because?  Here's the story.
John Edwards has asked a judge not to destroy a sex tape he made with his former mistress Rielle Hunter that was slated for destruction under a settlement reached last week, WRAL-TV reported.
I don't even have a speculative answer to my own question, at least not an answer that is appropriate for a family-friendly site.
- 3:34 PM, 4 March 2012   [link]


RIP, James Q. Wilson:  Few academics have had as much influence on our thinking, and our policies, as this political scientist has — and almost all for the good.
It is easy, and not altogether untrue, to think of James Q. Wilson as a conservative.  He wrote extensively on morality, social order and duty.  He was skeptical of gay marriage, supportive of the war in Iraq, and he was the most influential intellectual in the development of modern policing.  But he was not foremost an ideological figure.   As he told me in 2007, he wrote not to dictate answers but rather to explore problems.  "I write," he said, "in order to figure out for myself what I think about the subject."
It says something about Wilson that the Wall Street Journal can call him a conservative in an editorial, while, on the opposite page, in a set of selections from his writings, publish his denial of being a conservative.  We can reconcile these apparently opposing opinions by saying that Wilson was an honest and open-minded academic — who, over the course of his long career, often came to conservative conclusions.

The tribute from Arthur Brooks, behind their pay wall, unfortunately, has this gem of advice:
At one point in my academic career, I called Jim for advice about how best to navigate the waters of liberal academia when one is openly conservative.  "Simple," he told me lightheartedly, "Be twice as productive and four times as nice as your colleagues."   It was a formula he himself had followed.
Those selections will give you an idea of his thinking; if you want more, you might pick up this collection of some of his recent essays.
- 4:03 PM, 3 March 2012   [link]


Professor Mankiw Held Out Longer Than I Expected:  But he has finally mentioned Harvard's most famous recent economics major, NBA star Jeremy Lin.

Since Mankiw is, above all, an economics professor, he uses the mention to make a point about economics, in particular about the popular toleration for high salaries for sports stars (and even journeymen players).

He could have made the point even stronger by noting that our major sports leagues are monopolies, and, to some extent, abuse the public as monopolies often do.
- 3:15 PM, 3 March 2012   [link]


Chuckle:  It may not be the "best" New York Times correction ever, but it is one of the funniest.
- 10:52 AM, 2 March 2012   [link]


Did We Just Pay Egypt Ransom For American Hostages?   It looks like it to me, though the ransom was paid in a form that preserves "plausible deniability" on both sides.
Seven American rights workers are on a plane out of Egypt after the U.S. paid nearly $5 million in bail costs to secure their freedom.

Egyptian officials said the U.S. paid $300,000 each for 16 Americans, nine of whom were already out of the country.

The State Department said the money was paid by the nongovernmental organizations where the democracy and rights workers work. However, the NGOs receive U.S. funding for their operations.
Since almost everything is about the November election here — at least for our "mainstream" journalists — I'll add that the Obama administration is probably pleased to get the issue off the table, even if it required paying a bribe.
- 10:41 AM, 2 March 2012   [link]


What's President Obama Doing These Days?   Campaigning.  Yesterday he gave a campaign speech in New Hampshire, and did four fund raisers in New York.

And, watching sports, almost compulsively.

Should we expect him to spend more time doing the job he is being paid to do?  Perhaps, although we should remember that he does little damage to the nation when he is watching basketball games.

(There's a rumor that Obama delayed the landing of Air Force 1 in Florida recently — at considerable cost to the taxpayer — until half time of a Knicks game.  I was inclined to discount that rumor, until I read the article on that Obama interview with ESPN.)
- 7:22 AM, 2 March 2012
If you were wondering what those fund raisers were like, here's a brief description of the one that charged $71,000 per couple.
- 7:52 AM, 5 March 2012   [link]


A Camera That Let's You Focus — And Refocus — After You take a picture.
Not only that, but the company is promising that pictures you take with the camera today will be able to be manipulated after the fact in additional ways in coming months.   For instance, you'll be able to snap into focus everything at once, regardless of depth.  Or change the perspective from which the picture is seen, and switch a photo back and forth between 2-D and 3-D.  That's why it calls the images "living pictures."

This $399 camera, also called Lytro, can do all this because it is a so-called light-field camera, which is based on a different technology from traditional digital cameras.   In simple terms, it uses a modified sensor, plus proprietary software, to capture and process more, and different, information about the light hitting its lens than other cameras do.   This includes the direction of light rays.
For now, Mossberg thinks that the camera is best used as a second camera.

Not surprisingly, the camera takes a little bit of getting used to.

Today's New York Times has a longish article on the camera, with more technical details, including some diagrams showing the camera's innards.  (I'm not linking to it because I want to save my 20 links for the rest of the month, but you can find it easily enough.)

Here's the company's web site.
- 7:25 PM, 1 March 2012   [link]


Obama's "Working-Class Roots"  Hill reporter Amie Parnes sees them, where most of us wouldn't.
President Obama is increasingly playing up his working-class roots in a bid to appeal to blue-collar voters, particularly in the swing-state-heavy Midwest.
Parnes admits that not everyone is buying Obama's claim to be close to ordinary working Americans.

And how could they?  They may not know that his mother, father, and stepfather were all members of one elite or another.  They may not know that his maternal grandmother, who, more than anyone else, raised him, was a bank vice president.

They may not know that he attended the top prep school in Hawaii (Punahou), Occidental (private), Columbia (Ivy League, private), and Harvard (Ivy League, private), or that he taught at the University of Chicago (private, elite), or that his daughters have never attended a public school.

But they can hear the condescension in his voice, when he talks down to them, as he so often does.

Attorney, actor, and writer Ben Stein says that Obama can't even fake a good working-class accent when talks to union members.

(Some people, including Parnes, perhaps, think of "community organizer" as a working class job.  It isn't, generally.  And nowadays, most community organizers don't even try to organize the working class.  Instead, they are more likely to try to organize the lower classes, who do many things, but work only sporadically.

For the record:  Michelle Obama definitely has working-class roots.)
- 4:17 PM, 1 March 2012   [link]


Republican Voters Have Been a fickle bunch during this nomination campaign.
Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, coming off his primary wins in Arizona and Michigan, has jumped to a 16-point lead over Rick Santorum in the battle for the Republican presidential nomination.  The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey of Likely Republican Primary Voters shows Romney with 40% support to 24% for the former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania.  This is Romney's biggest lead to date and the highest level of support any GOP candidate has earned in regular surveying of the race.  Two weeks ago, it was Santorum 39%, Romney 27%.
Gallup, which polls registered voters at this stage of the campaign, has seen a similar shift in their tracking poll.   (Oh, and Romney is now leading Obama by four points in their latest poll.)

Here's the Real Clear Politics graph showing how just how fickle they have been.

One reason for these shifts, of course, is that — with the exception of Ron Paul — the candidates do not have large policy differences.
- 1:06 PM, 1 March 2012   [link]


Another North Korean Agreement:  With the usual terms:  We promise to feed their army and they promise to behave better.  Oh, I know, that probably isn't what the formal document says, but that has been the essence of these agreements.

How much aid have we given them over the years?  According to the Congressional Research Service, a lot.
Since 1995, the United States has provided North Korea with over $1.2 billion in assistance, of which about 60% has paid for food aid and about 40% for energy assistance.
North Korea's economy is tiny, even officially, so this aid has been enormously important to them.

This time, however, the agreement lacks one of the usual promises.
And now, what are we promising?  Yes, North Korea, there is a Santa!  In the trumpeted North Korea agreement released today, the United States pledged once again that we harbor "no hostile intent" toward the Pyongyang regime.  But unlike the 2000 agreement, apparently the North Koreans do not reciprocate, and make no such commitment.

So let's review the bidding one last time.  President Obama has "no hostile intent" toward North Korea, but seeks no such assurance from North Korea that the American people will be safe from Pyongyang's predations.  Another diplomatic triumph!
Danielle Pletka may be being just a little sarcastic there at the end.

One ironic note:  The North Korean regime has, for years, touted by importance of "juche", which is often translated, "self reliance".

(For more, see this mildly pro piece and this con piece.)
- 10:40 AM, 1 March 2012   [link]


No Cheer From Chu On Gasoline Prices:  Sometimes, I admire Energy Secretary Steven Chu for his honesty.  He admits that high gasoline prices cause considerable pain — and confirms what all of us know — that those high prices are one of the goals of administration energy policy.
"The people of north Mississippi can't be here, so I have to be here and be their voice for them," Nunnelee added.  "I have to tell you that $8 a gallon gasoline makes them afraid.  It's a cruel tax on the people of north Mississippi as they try to go back and forth to work.  It's a cloud hanging over economic development and job creation."

Chu expressed sympathy but said his department is working to lower energy prices in the long term.

"We agree there is great suffering when the price of gasoline increases in the United States, and so we are very concerned about this," said Chu, speaking to the House Appropriations energy and water subcommittee.  "As I have repeatedly said, in the Department of Energy, what we're trying to do is diversify our energy supply for transportation so that we have cost-effective means."
Actually, Chu does not say he is working to lower energy prices in the long term, despite Politico's efforts to bail him out.  Congressman Nunnelee asked him at least twice whether he wanted lower gasoline prices, and at least twice Chu said that he wanted to diversify our energy supply.

Districts like Nunnelee's Mississippi 1st are where higher gas prices hurt the most.  Incomes are low, and the people often have to drive long distances to find work, or even to shop.  But the people in those districts are almost invisible to urban power brokers like New York Times columnist Tom Friedman.

(For the record:  It's hard to know how much to blame (or, if you share Chu's beliefs, credit) the administration for those higher gas prices.  From what I can tell, most of the increase has come from market forces.  But it is fair to say that the administration has taken actions that have made higher prices more likely, now and in the future.)
- 6:59 AM, 1 March 2012   [link]