March 2013, Part 1
Jim Miller on Politics
Ever Get The Feeling We Are One Of The Targets in a shooting gallery?
An asteroid the size of a city block will pass by Earth this weekend, but have no fear: There's no danger of it hitting our planet.If you think in geological time scales, you'd be right, although many scientists believe that the heavy bombardment ended about 4 billion years ago.
After that, the shooting gallery has much less ammunition.
- 8:40 AM, 8 March 2013 [link]
The Obamas May Be Preparing For Another Middle Class Vacation: If, by middle class, you include Martha's Vineyard.
President Obama and his family are likely headed to Martha's Vineyard for a summer sojourn again this year.Republicans hope that this story is true, naturally. Even better from the Republican point of view would be another foreign vacation.
(I can think of only one middle class vacation for the Obamas since he became president, their trip to the Grand Canyon.
Younger readers may not know that Bill Clinton once had Dick Morris select a vacation by polling voters. The poll sent the Clintons to Jackson Hole — once.)
- 7:07 AM, 8 March 2013 [link]
Clash Of Civilizations as seen in a diagram — they call it a map — of email connections.
Among the findings in the study:
Predictably, countries with measurable real-life ties — like a border, a number of international flights or a serious trade relationship — tend to e-mail more. But there are discrepancies, as well: Countries in the European Economic Area, for instance, e-mail far less than the research model predicted, and countries with colonial ties to the U.K. don’t e-mail any more as a result.But the most interesting overall finding is the study's support for Samuel Huntingdon's "Clash of Civilizations", which struck me as mostly obvious, but is wildly controversial, especially on the left, where the influence of Marx is still strong.
(Caveat: The study used only Yahoo emails. The research paper rescales the numbers to account for the differing market shares of the email services, but the authors do not, as far as I can tell in a quick skim of the paper, try to find out whether Yahoo users might be different from others.)
- 6:24 AM, 8 March 2013 [link]
Billion Versus Billion: The French thought up the word, and it still has its original meaning in France: 1012. The British adopted the word, along with the French definition. Somewhere along the line, Americans began using the word to mean 109.
And in 1974, British Prime Minister Harold Wilson made it official policy in Britain to use the American definition. As the list accompanying this explanation of the change shows, that makes our big numbers progress in a simple way, each one being a thousand times larger than the preceding number in the progression from thousand to decillion.
Just because it is official doesn't mean that everyone in Britain went along with it. Both my English dictionary (Shorter Oxford English Dictionary) and my American dictionary (American Heritage) note that it can still have the older meaning in Britain.
Other countries continued using the original definition. (I was charmed, for instance, to see that, in French Canada, a billion is still 1012.)
(I found this article at Taranto's "Best of the Web". He was laughing at it, but I found it a fascinating reminder of something I had written about before. And I would love to know how it happened that we Americans changed the definition of this French word.)
- 2:22 PM, 7 March 2013 [link]
Grim Coincidence: Hugo Chávez's death was announced exactly 60 years after Stalin's death.
It is tempting to simply repeat Marx's famous line, the first time tragedy, the second time farce, but Chávez's rule was a tragedy for Venezuela, despite (and sometimes because of) all its farcical aspects. And, though they are harder to see against the background of mass terror, there were farcical aspects to Stalin's rule.
The Zenpundit summarizes Stalin's career, beginning with the famous Osip Mandelstam poem, the poem that may have cost Mandelstam his life.
(I wrote announced rather than died, because we still don't know when Chávez died — and may never know.
You can find another, rather different, translation of Mandelstam's "Kremlin Highlander" here.)
- 9:16 AM, 7 March 2013 [link]
Condoms Do Not Protect Against every possible threat.
- 8:39 AM, 7 March 2013 [link]
President Obama Uses The Washington Monument Ploy by closing the White House to tours. But the administration may have miscalculated in using that ploy, because "mainstream" news organizations seem to have caught on to it. Here's a skeptical post from ABC News if you need an example. And I saw an even more skeptical story on ABC News last night.
The ploy is often used along with the "firemen first" ploy, which I reviewed last month. A clever bureaucrat, or moderately clever politician, is using the firemen first ploy if they lay off workers that almost everyone agrees are essential. The same bureaucrat or politician is using the Washington Monument ploy if they cut off service to something the public enjoys.
(Here's a description of the ploy, with some examples, if you need a review. I had forgotten about the classic Detroit toilet paper cut off.
Note on terminology: Charles Peters, who wrote the classic "fireman first" article called it a "principle". The author of this Wikipedia article calls it a "syndrome". I think "ploy" is better than either "principle" or "syndrome", but if you are doing searches, you may want to use all three.)
- 7:16 AM, 7 March 2013 [link]
The NYT Columnist Should Read The WSJ: Today, New York Times columnist Eduardo Porter described a difficult search.
It is remarkably difficult to find an economist who thinks the spending cuts rippling through the budget since last Friday amount to a good idea.On Tuesday, the Wall Street Journal published an op-ed by economist Michael Boskin, arguing for larger cuts. (Or perhaps I should say actual cuts, since the sequester will often result in small increases in department budgets.)
The United States is heading in this wrong direction. Even if the $110 billion in annual sequestration cuts are allowed to take place, the Congressional Budget Office projects that annual federal spending will increase by $2.4 trillion to $5.9 trillion in a decade. The higher debt implied by this spending will eventually crowd out investment, as holdings of government debt replace capital in private portfolios. Lower tangible capital formation means lower real wages in the future.(By my count that's five economists who favor budget cuts.)
Porter could have seen these arguments before yesterday, since the op-ed is "based on the author's testimony last week before the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee".
Porter could have found other economists who favor those spending cuts by contacting the National Association of Business Economists. They surveyed about 200 of their members and came up with this result.
In most other assessments of fiscal policy, the panel was more unified. Economists surveyed strongly favored deficit reduction, at least in the long term. More than 70 percent of the panelists opposed the implementation of full sequestration, but there was overwhelming support (94 percent) for Congress to enact policies to bring about further deficit reduction over the coming 10 years.If more than 70 percent of the panelists opposed the full sequester, then we can also say that almost 30 percent of them favored it. And about half of the economists want to achieve deficit reduction “only” or “mostly” by spending cuts.
How long did it take me to find that survey? About five minutes, with a simple search.
(Boskin's name may seem familiar, especially to older readers. That's because he was the chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors under President George H.W. Bush.)
- 7:00 PM, 6 March 2013 [link]
Suspected Cat Burglar Up A Tree: After the previous post, I thought you might like something lighter. And I couldn't resist the cat burglar line, even though the suspect isn't, as far as I can tell, a cat burglar.
A burglary and assault suspect surrendered to Seattle police Friday morning after spending three hours perched in a tree in the Magnolia area, while police and firefighters watched from below.There is more weird behavior in the rest of the article, if you need more.
(Speaking of cats up trees, I have been impressed by this argument ever since I saw it: There is no reason to worry about a cat apparently stuck up in a tree, because you never see a cat skeleton stuck in a tree.)
- 2:14 PM, 6 March 2013 [link]
Vali Nasr Thought There Was A Chance For A Negotiated Settlement With The Taliban: And now thinks, after serving in the Obama administration, that the Obama administration botched that chance.
Nasr is saying this at length in this article. (And, presumably, at much greater length in his forthcoming book, The Dispensable Nation.)
Two samples from the article:
On the campaign trail, Obama repeatedly stressed that he wanted to get things right in the broader Middle East, reversing the damage that had resulted from the previous administration's reliance on faulty intelligence and its willingness to apply military solutions to problems it barely understood.Judging by the article, Nasr would not be among the 46 percent who approved of Obama's handling of foreign affairs.
(Was there a chance for negotiated settlement with the Taliban? If they thought they had no chance of winning, no matter how long they fought, yes, but probably not, otherwise. But a clever administration could have used negotiations to divide the Taliban and peal away some of their support.
If credentials are important to you, Nasr has them, though I will add that I am not in general impressed by our academics in that field.)
- 1:34 PM, 6 March 2013 [link]
Hillary Clinton Has Finally Paid Off Her Debts From The 2008 Campaign: With some help from backers of her principal opponent.
Last summer, according to newly-published reports, a group of Obama donors decided to raise funds to pay off her remaining primary campaign debts from 2008 as a farewell gift upon her retirement after four years as a loyal Obama cabinet member. Apparently it was somewhat tricky, given that most of the potential donors had already maxxed out on 2012 donations. In the end about 120 anted up.Did some of these donors give money to Hillary to reward her for not causing trouble for Obama, as she could have? Almost certainly, I would say.
(In contrast, consider the way John McCain behaved toward George W. Bush after the 2000 election. At the time, journalists often described McCain as a "thorn in the side" for Bush.)
- 7:18 AM, 6 March 2013 [link]
Joe Kennedy II Gave Us One of the funniest tributes to Hugo Chávez:
Let’s go right to the Joe K press release:(Most of you will know that Citizens Energy gets cut rate oil from the Venezuelan regime. And in return Chávez got influence in the United States.)
Among those wealthiest people are the "boligarchs":
The [Venezuelan] economy is warping from subsidies and controls. You can fill a car's petrol tank for around 50 cents but battle for months to start a company. High-rolling parasites nicknamed "boligarchs" exploit government links to siphon off billions.I have not seen a good estimate of how much Chávez and his family stole from Venezuela, but I have seen the number $2 billion mentioned.
- 6:28 AM, 6 March 2013
More: I did a quick search and found the origin of that $2 billion estimate. There is a Jerry Brewer, and there is a web site named Criminal Justice International Associates, though it seems to be located in Virginia, not Florida. I did not find much more, which may mean that there isn't much to find, or that I am not an expert at Internet searches.
It would be difficult to make a good estimate of how much Chávez stole without access to secret records in Venezuela and elsewhere, so I would treat that $2 billion as a guess, perhaps a well-informed guess, but a guess nonetheless.
- 12:33 PM, 6 March 2013 [link]
The Past Tense Was A Giveaway: A Venezuelan official, Vice President Nicolas Maduro, was talking about Hugo Chávez in the past tense hours before he announced Chávez's death.
The United States is being given credit for his death — which is kind of the regime, though a trifle unscientific. They have even expelled
Vice President Maduro will probably take over, at least for now.
(A few days ago, Francisco Toro discussed what parts of chavismo will survive Chávez his demise. At least one part of his post, that enemies of Chávez would be blamed for his cancer, is already proving to be true.)
- 2:32 PM, 5 March 2013 [link]
Have Boehner And McConnell Been Winning The Policy Battles With Obama? That's what John Feerey says.
Don’t tell the Tea Party, but the tag team of John Boehner and Mitch McConnell are currently mopping the floor with Barack Obama.And I would mostly agree.
It's worth noting that, even when Bush had a Republican Congress, he was unable to make those tax cuts permanent.
But it is also worth noting that winning the policy battles is not the same thing as winning the political battles.
- 12:38 PM, 5 March 2013 [link]
Here's A Question For Poker Players: If you want your opponents to think you aren't bluffing, do you tell them that you aren't bluffing?
Biden said that while the US preferred a diplomatic solution to the standoff with Iran, a military option remained on the table.Or do you act as if you aren't bluffing? In poker, I suppose that you would act as if you really have a good hand, whether or not you do. In this confrontation with Iran, you would begin a "secret" build-up of military forces in the region. (You want it to be "secret" because that makes it more believable.)
Sadly, I doubt very much that the Iranian regime would believe even that kind of build-up, or even if they did believe an attack was imminent, that they would suspend their efforts to build nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles to carry them.
(Incidentally, an American president, like any other good negotiator, can and should bluff from time to time.
Nixon and Kissinger showed us one way to bluff. Kissinger — with Nixon's approval — told the Soviet leaders that Nixon was unbalanced, so much so that, if pushed too hard, he might start a war. Since this made Nixon sound much like many of the leaders they knew, the bluff was plausible to the Soviet leaders.)
- 10:51 AM, 5 March 2013 [link]
His Price Is Negotiable: Sometimes political operatives phrase denials in ways that just make us more suspicious.
There is no "set price" to meet with President Obama, White House press secretary Jay Carney said Monday amid continued outcry over the role of Organizing for Action, the outside group supporting the president's agenda.I can't be the only person who read that, and came to the conclusion in the title: President Obama's price for meeting with him is not "set", but negotiable.
(The set price for those regular Organizing for Action meetings with the president is $500,000. Other meetings would probably cost less.)
- 7:31 AM, 5 March 2013 [link]
Golden Oldy geologists.
CAPE TOWN, South Africa—In geology, old is gold.Actually just one of them wears a necktie in the field, and except for the divining rods, all the techniques mentioned have a sound scientific basis.
What also comes across in this conversation-starter article is that these field geologist love their work, and see no reason to quit, just because they reach an ordinary retirement age.
And why shouldn't they love their work? They are being paid to hunt for treasure.
(Years ago, I read that a university president explained the harmony in his geology department — something unusual in academic departments — by their field trips. Going out together looking for interesting, and maybe even valuable, rocks was something they all enjoyed.)
- 6:46 AM, 5 March 2013 [link]
Worth Reading: (Worth studying, if you are Republican who wants to win.)
Arthur Brooks explains what most Americans care about.
As New York University social psychologist Jonathan Haidt has shown in his research on 132,000 Americans, care for the vulnerable is a universal moral concern in the U.S. In his best-selling 2012 book "The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion," Mr. Haidt demonstrated that citizens across the political spectrum place a great importance on taking care of those in need and avoiding harm to the weak. By contrast, moral values such as sexual purity and respect for authority—to which conservative politicians often give greater emphasis—resonate deeply with only a minority of the population. Raw money arguments, e.g., about the dire effects of the country's growing entitlement spending, don't register morally at all.That so many Republican politicians don't seem to understand this frustrates Brooks because he believes, as I do, that their policies are better for those who need our help and protection, than competing "progressive" policies.
The irony is maddening. America's poor people have been saddled with generations of disastrous progressive policy results, from welfare-induced dependency to failing schools that continue to trap millions of children.I think that George W. Bush understood this, at least in part. That's one way to understand his "compassionate conservatism", one way to understand why he would work so hard for education reform and programs like PEPFAR. And I think that his father understood this too, in part, though he was inept at explaining that to the public.
There's a useful generalization that is, by now, almost a cliché: In general elections, conservatives need to show that they are soft enough to care about ordinary people, while leftists need to show that they are tough enough to make hard decisions.
- 7:57 PM, 4 March 2013 [link]
Worth Watching: The "Saturday Night Live" skit mocking President Obama's sequester warnings.
(I didn't put up the video directly because I thought you would be amused by the mistake the Daily Mail made in the very first sentence.)
- 7:38 PM, 4 March 2013 [link]
Who Is Leaving California? Mostly working class whites and Hispanics.
As it happens, most of California's outward-bound migrants are low- to middle-income, with relatively little education: those typically employed in agriculture, construction, manufacturing, hospitality and to some extent natural-resource extraction. Their median household income is about $40,000—two-thirds of the statewide median—and about 95% earn less than $80,000. Only one in 10 has a college degree, compared with 30% of California's population. Roughly 40% of the people leaving are Hispanic.Allysia Finley is quite certain — as am I — that those emigrants have been leaving California in large part because of the state's "progressive" policies.
- 4:01 PM, 4 March 2013 [link]
This Week's Best Joke from Andrew Malcolm's collection:
Leno: President Obama said this week that after four years as chief executive, "You realize all the mistakes you've made." So, apparently he does watch Fox News.(Is Leno criticizing his own network with that joke? Possibly.)
- 10:06 AM, 4 March 2013 [link]
Baby Cured Of AIDS? That's what it looks like to researchers.
A baby born with the AIDS virus two years ago in Mississippi who was put on antiretroviral therapy within hours of birth appears to have been cured of the infection, researchers said Sunday at a scientific conference in Atlanta.The researchers think that it may have been the almost immediate drug treatment that cured the baby. If so, the person responsible for the cure is pediatrician Hannah Gay. Dr Gay's prompt action may have prevented the virus from forming "reservoirs" that resist treatment.
This would be only the second well-documented AIDS cure. (The first was Timothy Ray Brown, often known as the "Berlin patient".)
There is an ironic side note to this cure: The researchers are fairly sure it is a real cure because the mother stopped bringing the child in for treatments, and stopped giving the baby the anti-viral drugs. The University of Mississippi noticed the mother's absence, after some months, and contacted her.
(So far, the researchers are only claiming a "functional cure", a cure in which the virus is not eradicated, but is at such a low level that the body's immune system can keep it under control. In the video interview accompanying this article, the lead author on the paper, Dr. Deborah Persaud, says that they were unable to detect a virus able to replicate, though they did find traces of the virus with very sensitive tests.)
- 8:27 AM, 4 March 2013
More: This New York Times article is even better than the other articles I looked at this morning.
- 1:27 PM, 4 March 2013 [link]
341 Federal Furloughs: That's how much President Obama's golf weekend with Tiger Woods cost, according to Senator Jeff Sessions.
While the White House operatives may think this attack is clever, it betrays an astonishing elitism: the federal government is perfect and requires no reform. That is why they have no plan to make our government leaner and more efficient. The President had 18 months to develop reforms to improve the government, but instead he announced furloughs of federal workers as a political cudgel. Yet, his golf weekend at the yacht club with Tiger Woods cost taxpayers over a million dollars—enough money to save 341 federal workers from furloughSessions is making a powerful argument — in a politically clever way. He is rightly blaming Obama for Obama's failure to come up with a plan to control spending, or even to spend more efficiently — and he is connecting that failure to Obama's celebrity life style, a life style that is paid for, mostly, by the American taxpayers.
And Sessions is right to ask federal workers to send him their ideas for saving money. In every large bureaucracy there are people with good ideas who haven't been able to get them past the bureaucratic gatekeepers.
(You are probably amused, as I was, by the false precision of those 341 furloughed workers. But at the same time we should note that Sessions' other number, 18 months, is a wild underestimate. Obama should have been thinking about increasing efficiency in the federal government before he even ran for Senate.)
- 7:17 AM, 4 March 2013 [link]
There's That New Hampshire-Vermont Taxing Gap, Again: Decades ago, I read an article in one of the academic journals comparing the New Hampshire and Vermont state governments. The author found that, although Vermont spent significantly more on their state government, they didn't seem to get more for their money.
As I recall, SAT scores were slightly higher in New Hampshire, as were welfare payments (though it was a little harder to get on welfare). The roads in New Hampshire were just as good, perhaps better, than those in Vermont, and so on.
The two states were quite similar geographically and demographically, so the author was able to take advantage of a natural experiment.
The experiment has continued since I first read about it. The two states are still quite similar demographically, although New Hampshire is a little better off, economically, than Vermont.
And Vermont is still spending significantly more on its state government than New Hampshire. According to this USA Today map, Vermont spends about 10.1 percent of its residents' income on state and local taxes, while New Hampshire spends about 8.1 percent.
Putting it that way may not sound impressive, so let's put it another way: Vermont's state and local tax burden is about 25 percent higher than New Hampshire's.
Do the people of Vermont get a 25 percent better government from that extra money? Not as far as I can tell. From time to time, I look at the state scores from the National Assessment of Educational Progress. And New Hampshire typically has slightly higher scores than Vermont. In 2011, for example, the 4th grade reading scores were 230 in New Hampshire and 227 in Vermont.
Nor do I know of any other part of state government where Vermont outperforms New Hampshire by a large margin. And, given the strong desire for higher government spending found in most newsrooms, you would think that reporters would have rushed to report those Vermont advantages — if they existed.
(New Hampshire has a similar advantage over its eastern neighbor, Maine, but the two states are not quite as similar, so they don't provide quite as good natural experiment.)
- 8:36 AM, 3 March 2013 [link]
So Far, I Haven't Seen Any Of The Four Horsemen: But then I figure they will probably attack cities like Seattle, San Francisco, and New York before moving on to the suburbs.
(It occurs to me that such an attack might explain the sad state of Detroit — but that city collapsed years before the sequester was even thought of.)
- 7:38 AM, 3 March 2013 [link]
You Might Want To Add A Qualifier Or Two, Mayor Bloomberg.
"If you eat less than 2,000 calories you'll lose weight," the mayor said on his weekly WOR radio show today. "If you eat more than 2,000 calories, you'll gain weight. Now some things metabolize more quickly than others. And everyone says I should go on this kind of diet or that kind of diet. Don't eat and you'll lose weight."Qualifiers like size, sex, age, kind of job, exercise regime if any, et cetera, et cetera.
There is even some reason to think, if I understand some of the articles that I have been seeing recently, that different intestinal bacteria affect our weights.
At one time in my life, I would have lost weight on a 2000 calorie a day diet; now, I would probably come close to breaking even or even gain a little weight with that many calories a day.
By way of neo-neocon.
(Under the life is unfair category: On the average, men have higher metabolisms than women. Which means, among other things, that a man and woman who weigh the same can have very different results from identical diets. It is, for instance, entirely possible for a 150 pound man to lose weight while his 150 pound wife is gaining weight — even though the two of them eat identical diets, and have identical amounts of exercise.
Women I have mentioned this to have not seemed satisfied when I added that this also meant they had to spend less money on food.)
- 3:45 PM, 2 March 2013 [link]
Wondering About The Effects Of The Sequester? Here's a little visual aid.
it is true that in his latest statements President Obama has drawn back from his earlier predictions, which led some of us to expect pestilence, war, famine, and death starting today. But it is also true that he did that only after it became widely known that he had asked for the sequester, that he had, so to speak, invited those famous horsemen to visit.Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 3:21 PM, 2 March 2013 [link]
How Did Congresswoman Maxine Waters Make That 170 Million Jobs Lost Mistake? (If you missed it, you can see it here. Start at about 1 minute in to get some of the context.)
Most bloggers just found this funny, as I do. But I also couldn't help but wonder how she made that mistake.
When Barack Obama made his 57 states mistake, I was pretty sure I understood how he made the mistake. He was about to say that he had been in almost all fifty states, and then tried to be more specific and melded the two together.
But I have been unable to figure out how Waters made her mistake. The best that I can think of is that she has briefing papers that said 170 thousand jobs would be lost, and mixed up thousand and million.
In an earlier "tweet", she had said that 750,000 jobs would be lost. Which only adds to my confusion, since I can't see any obvious connection between the two numbers.
(If you watch closely, you can tell that two of the women behind her catch the mistake, and two don't.)
- 1:20 PM, 1 March 2013 [link]
Mutt And Jeff, Kerry And Hagel: With traditional British understatement, columnist Melanie Phillips compares our new secretaries of state and defense to beloved cartoon characters.
Here's how she begins and ends:
Is the United States about to become a laughing-stock to the rest of the world? It seems to have accrued a Defence Secretary who is the toast of Iran, and a Secretary of State who is a blithering idiot.Kerry, as the taller man would be Mutt, which makes Hagel, Jeff.
(Phillips may be unfair — to the cartoon characters. After all, Mutt and Jeff squandered their own money, not resources belonging to the United States.)
- 8:34 AM, 1 March 2013 [link]