Archive:

March 2013, Part 2

Jim Miller on Politics




Pseudo-Random Thoughts



Ten Years Ago, Who Agreed With Bush That Saddam's Iraq Was A Serious Threat?  Not the everyone of the title of this Wall Street Journal op-ed, but almost everyone.  (It's behind their pay wall.  Sometimes you can get around that with a Google search, but I would just advise you to pick up the weekend edition, which is almost always worth the two bucks it costs.)

There is one detail in the op-ed that I had missed, or forgotten:
According to former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Hugh Shelton, in 1997 a key member of Clintons' cabinet (thought by most observers to have been secretary of state Madeleine Albright) asked Gen. Shelton whether he could arrange for a U. S. aircraft to fly slowly and low enough that it would be shot down, thereby paving the way for an American effort to topple Saddam.
(At that time, Saddam was offering bonuses to any Iraqis who did shoot down an American or British aircraft.)

That would be a casus belli, not that we needed one, since Saddam was regularly violating the truce terms.

(I'm not sure just how a commander would choose a pilot for such a mission.  But then Albright has always struck me as a rather impractical person, unsuited to that very practical job, secretary of state.

The author, Stephen Knott, has written a book, Rush to Judgment: George W. Bush, the War on Terror, and His Critics, so he has some claim to be familiar with the subject.)
- 4:06 PM, 16 March 2013   [link]


48th District Town Hall:  This morning, I went to a 48th district town hall to ask some questions of my legislators.

The district, as even those unfamiliar with Washington state may have guessed, contains the headquarters of a well-known software company, and some other high tech outfits.

The district, like all of those in Washington state, has two representatives and one senator.   Technically, all three are Democrats, but the senator, Rodney Tom, joined with another Democrat and the Republicans to take control of the state senate.  (Tom has described himself as a social moderate and a fiscal conservative.  He was a Republican, switched parties, won the senate seat taking it away from the Republicans in 2006, and has held it since.  Some observers think that he doesn't really fit very well in either party.)

The two representatives are veteran Ross Hunter and newbie (and rather exotic) Cyrus Habib.

It is unlikely that either one of them will join the Republican party, even in a temporary coalition — so there was a certain tension between Tom and the other two.

The format was unfortunate, though perhaps necessary.  We submitted questions in writing to be sorted into categories by a woman assisting the three.  In most cases, each would take a group of questions at a time and, in most cases, give us long-winded semi-campaign speech on the general topic.  So there wasn't any chance for a real interchange between the voters and their representatives.

I did get one of my questions sort of answered by Hunter, and found his answer interesting enough so that I intend to follow up with him by email.  (I had asked him whether the legislature should do anything about the many college graduates who learned little or nothing in college.)
- 3:29 PM, 16 March 2013   [link]


The Obama Administration Adopts another Bush security policy.
The U.S. is deploying 14 new ground-based missile interceptors in Alaska to counter renewed nuclear threats from North Korea and Iran, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Friday.
Without giving Bush credit.  (You weren't expecting them to give Bush credit, were you?)

We can only hope that this isn't too little, too late.

(During the height of the Cold War, you could make a rational argument that any missile defenses we built would be overwhelmed by any Soviet attack.  But that argument doesn't apply to possible attacks from nations like Iran or North Korea.)
- 2:13 PM, 15 March 2013   [link]


This Week's Andrew Malcolm collection of jokes was just so-so, but I loved yesterday's New Yorker cartoon.

(I'm not sure I would share the cartoon with anyone who shows dogs, however.)
- 8:31 AM, 15 March 2013   [link]


Rand Paul Needs to work on his metaphors.

Here's what he told the Conservative Political Action Conference:
“The GOP of old has grown stale and moss-covered,” Mr. Paul said.  “The new GOP, the GOP that will win again, will need to embrace liberty in both the economic and personal sphere.  If we are going to have a Republican Party that can win, liberty needs to be the backbone of the GOP.”
We use "stale" to describe things we consume, food or air.  Unless he intends to consume the party, he should not use stale to describe it.  (Mediocre writers often describe ideas as "stale".  I would avoid that because ideas do not become less palatable simply because they have been around for a while — unless you are in the fashion industry.)

We use "moss-covered" to describe people who, like stones beside a brook, have been around long enough to acquire moss.  So Paul is attacking older people, or perhaps older ideas — which is a strange thing for a man to do at a conservative conference, where you would expect respect for both older people, and older ideas.  The Constitution, which Paul claims to revere, has certainly been around long enough to acquire more than a little moss.

I assume he meant spheres, even though he said "sphere".  The idea of separate economic and personal "spheres" is a common metaphor among libertarians, but not a very useful one, since economic issues are personal issues.  What Paul means is probably something like this: The Republican party should favor less regulation of business and marijuana decriminalization.  If so, he should say so, directly.

Oddly, for a libertarian, he is most confused about liberty, which should be both a "backbone" and something to be "embraced".  Now I have embraced a backbone or two in my time — but only when they were a part of a whole person.

Decades ago, I learned from George Orwell that muddled writing, or speaking, usually reveals muddled thought.
- 7:09 AM, 15 March 2013   [link]


"Mountain Man Vs. The Building Inspector"  As you would expect, it isn't a fair fight.
Eustace Conway says he has stared down a grizzly bear, wrestled a thrashing buck and ridden a horse from coast to coast.  But he may have met his match in the Watauga County planning department.
It turns out that living like a frontiersman — and showing others how to do the same thing — doesn't fit well with modern codes.

(Is there a larger political point in this story?  I think so.  From the description in the article, the county's building codes are "prescriptive", rather than "performance".  They "spell out exactly how something is to be done", rather than "outline what the required level of performance is and leave it up to the designer how this is achieved".

Some of Conway's buildings would probably meet performance standards.

In general, I think our codes ought to be performance, rather than prescriptive.)
- 6:39 AM, 15 March 2013   [link]


The Inevitability Of Tribes:  Packs are the most natural way for wolves to organize themselves; similarly, tribes are the most natural way for we humans to organize ourselves.

Not the best, but the most natural, so that we tend to become tribal if we don't consciously work against the tendency.

We tend to organize into relatively small groups, a few hundred people or so, often but not always related, and have different rules for those within the group, and those outside the group.  Sometimes the languages we use reflect this in a very direct way, so that only those within the group are considered people.

Our larger organizations often build on this tendency.  I don't recall when I first saw the claim that nations are often "super tribes", but it struck me as true then, and true now.  And at least once or twice, I have been struck by the resemblance of Islam to a super tribe.

A new experiment shows that you can see these tendencies even in babies.
Humans have a tendency to gravitate toward those that they share something with -- whether that's a common nationality, a shared love of a certain band or a favorite food.  Yet babies don't just like individuals they have something in common with -- they also prefer people who are mean to dissimilar individuals, a new study in Psychological Science indicates.
It's a clever experiment, so you may want to read the details.

There's a wonderful song in "South Pacific".  I wish that it were true, but became convinced long ago that it wasn't.

(Here's some mildly technical background.)
- 7:08 PM, 14 March 2013   [link]


The Power Of Punch Lines:  Chances are — judging by the emails I receive, you are a bright and well-informed bunch — you will recognize this line: "It's a cookbook."  And understand why that punch line doesn't make for a happy ending.

(If you missed it, you can find an explanation here.)

Yesterday evening, I encountered Damon Knight's story in this collection, and was struck by this thought:  Most of the other stories in that collection are better stories, but none of them are as well known, because none of them have as wonderful a punch line.

And if you were re-write the story and replace the punch line with something tamer, you would rob the story of almost all its force.

(My favorite in the collection is William Tenn's "Betelgeuse Bridge".)
- 6:34 AM, 14 March 2013   [link]


The Keith Olberman-Al Gore Lawsuit has been settled.

It would be wrong, I suppose, to have wished that it would go on forever.  Wrong, but extremely tempting.
- 10:24 AM, 14 March 2013   [link]


"In Search Of Energy Miracles"  That's the title of this initial Justin Gillis column in the New York Times — and it is in the science section, not the religious section.

Gillis has figured out, perhaps by listening to some of the Green leaders I mentioned last week, that reducing carbon dioxide emissions will require more nuclear power.  But for reasons that escape me — and may escape him — he thinks this will require new designs for nuclear reactors, rather than the ones we have used, successfully, for decades.

As it happens, I favor exploring all of the experimental designs that he describes as "miracles".  (And have discussed them here, except for the Lockheed Skunk Works fusion project, which I had not known about until I read the column.)

But, if Gillis really believes what he says he believes, he should favor the replacement of our current coal generating plants with conventional nuclear power plants, as soon as possible.

And, he should think very hard about the regulations that could prevent these new designs from being deployed before the 2030s or 2040s.

If President Obama believes what he says about global warming — and can do arithmetic — he should be pushing for a large expansion of nuclear power.  Instead, he moved to close down the Yucca Mountain waste repository, in order to please Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.   (He made this change against the advice of most qualified scientists.)   And has done nothing significant to support nuclear power since then.

Gillis doesn't mention Obama in the column, perhaps because he can't think of anything nice to say about Obama's nuclear power policies.  (Neither can I.)  But if Gillis really believes we face a climate emergency, then he should be calling on Obama to do something effective to promote nuclear power.

(Sadly — this is the science section — Gillis does not seem to understand some of the the basics of nuclear power.  For example, he condemns breeder reactors, perhaps because Nixon favored them, but applauds the Bill Gates "traveling wave" reactor — which is a kind of breeder reactor.

For the record, I do not fear global warming as much as Gillis does.  For my thinking on the subject you can read this disclaimer, though it needs updating.)
- 10:04 AM, 14 March 2013
Roger Pielke, Jr., who is almost always worth reading, has a much more positive reaction to the column.  We agree on the central point — that those who fear global warming should favor nuclear power — but differ on how far Gillis has come in figuring that out.  (I had not seen the Pieklke post when I wrote mine, but I wouldn't have written mine differently, even if I had.)
- 8:14 AM, 15 March 2013   [link]


Roger Not-So Goodman And The Kirkland Reporter:   The lead story in the current issue of this weekly newspaper is about the charges made by Goodman's estranged wife, Liv Grohn, in their divorce proceedings.

State House Rep. Roger Goodman of Kirkland was accused of driving under the influence of marijuana with his children present by his estranged wife, according to divorce documents filed last October.

Goodman - a legislator for six years with the 45th Legislative District - denies these claims vehemently, as he has been a longtime advocate for safe driving and DUI law reform.

(Having read this, some will suspect that Goodman has a personal reason for wanting marijuana decriminalized.  A few may suspect that they have found an explanation for some of his more unusual votes in the legislature.)

You can read more details in the article; you can even, I suppose, look at the court papers yourself.  I don't plan to do that since I don't know either person and have no opinion on each person's credibility.

But the article was followed by an apologetic editorial, explaining why they had run the article.  Here's the key paragraph:

We ultimately decided to report on the issue since the substance of the allegations directly relate to Goodman’s legislation for safe driving, DUI law reform and marijuana legalization and decriminalization.

(And, we should add, a pattern of law breaking by Representative Goodman — if his wife's accusations are true.)

What puzzles me about that editorial is the apologetic tone, and the "ultimately".   This seems like an absolutely legitimate story, which requires no apology, and a story the voters should have seen before our last election.

The Reporter should apologize, not for running this story, but for the delay in running it.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(For those not familiar with this area:  The 45th district is one of the suburban districts that swung to the Democrats and gave them control of our lower house, in recent years.  His narrow win — less than 2,000 votes — in the 2010 election suggests to me that he could be vulnerable next year.)
- 8:19 AM, 14 March 2013   [link]


NBC Discovers That The New Pope is Catholic.

As you can tell, they are disappointed by their discovery.
- 7:17 AM, 14 March 2013
James Taranto makes the same point, explicitly.
The underlying assumption behind coverage like this is that the Catholic Church is a primitive institution in need of being brought up to date.  Sometime in the past 50 years or so, it was revealed that men and women are more or less interchangeable, that sexual liberty is a blessing, that homosexuality is normal and celibacy is deviant, and even, as per Kramer, that women ought to wear pants.  By now all right-thinking people agree on all these points.  Those old men in Rome not only doubt them but act is if they actually think they know better!  What is the matter with them?
That those old men in Rome may know something that our "mainstream" journalists do not, does not seem to occur to the journalists.

Neither Taranto nor I are Catholics, but both of us are inclined to think that an institution that has survived that long may have learned something over the years.
- 4:29 PM, 14 March 2013   [link]


"Habemus Papum"  And that's about all I know about the election of a cardinal from Argentina to be the new pope, so that's all I'll say.  For now.
- 12:45 PM, 13 March 2013   [link]


Higher Vet Bills Thanks To ObamaCare?   Probably
Pet owners listen up: You may want to start saving more money for veterinarian care this year.  The reason goes all the way back to Washington and an unintended consequence from medical reform.
ObamaCare imposed a 2.3 percent tax on medical devices, excluding those used only with animals.  But there are many devices that are used on both people and animals, and vets will have to pay the tax on those devices — a tax they will pass along to their customers.

That ObamaCare bill is full of surprises, isn't it?

(The idea that imposing a tax on medical devices would help control costs always struck as one of the oddest parts of ObamaCare.  There may be some logical reason behind it, but I haven't been able to figure out what it might be.

One nasty possibility is that the tax wasn't intended to lower costs, but was punishment for the makers of medical devices, for not supporting ObamaCare.)
- 9:05 AM, 13 March 2013   [link]


Our "Unprofessional" Voting Rights Section:  The Justice Department's inspector general has released his report on the section, and it isn't favorable.

The Washington Post has a sanitized article on the report — sanitized, but still devastating.
A report released Tuesday by the Justice Department’s inspector general found the department’s voting rights section mired in deep ideological polarization and distrust, in some cases harming its ability to function over the past two administrations.

The 258-page review by Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz found “numerous and troubling examples of harassment and marginalization of employees and managers.”  The unprofessional behavior included racist and other inappropriate e-mails, Internet postings, blogs, and personal attacks by voting rights lawyers and staffers.
But if you want to understand what was happening in the section, you are probably better off reading this post by J. Christian Adams, who worked in the section, and has written a book on these scandals.

The voting rights section reports to Thomas E. Perez, the assistant attorney general for civil rights.  According to an earlier article in the Post, President Obama plans to nominate Perez to be Labor Secretary, perhaps as a reward for his brilliant and even-handed management of the voting rights section.
- 8:08 AM, 13 March 2013   [link]


Three People Charged With Vote Fraud In Ohio:  The first, Russel Glassop, doesn't surprise me.  Glassop is charged with having voted for his wife, who had passed away before the election.  I can recall having seen two or three similar cases in the past.  They are sad, but understandable.

The second, Melowese Richardson, doesn't surprise me either, alas.  Richardson is a poll worker who is charged with having voted twice in the last election and "and on behalf of relatives in various elections".  (You will be relieved to know that her Elections Board does not intend to use her services in the future.)

The third, Sister Marguerite Kloos, was a surprise, since I don't expect to see nuns charged with vote fraud.  (Kloos is charged with having voted for another nun who had passed away before the election, and has agreed to plead guilty.)

But I would have been less surprised if I had known about her record of service.
As she reflects on her decision to enter religious life 25 years ago, Sister of Charity of Cincinnati Marge Kloos says, “Working with those who worked with a purpose on behalf of a better world felt good, and women religious were very active in such things as anti-nuclear marches, third-world poverty, education and health care.
Recently, she has been teaching college courses in, among other things, "Feminist Theology".  (Even as an outsider, I can't help wondering whether her teaching is completely in line with Catholic doctrine.)

Like more than few others with religious vocations, Sister Kloos appears to have been dedicated at least as much to leftist causes, as to her church.

(Thanks to BlazingCatFur for the background on Sister Kloos.)
- 7:41 AM, 12 March 2013   [link]


The Cardinals Electing A Pope MayTrust, But They Definitely Verify:  The cardinals voting to elect a new pope have, as I learned from this New York Times article, elaborate procedures to protect against outside influences and vote fraud.

There is too much in the article to summarize with quotations — without going beyond what fair use allows — so I will just describe the main points.

The building where they vote has been secured.  It has been swept for bugging devices and everyone inside has been sworn to secrecy — on pain of excommunication.  They have continuous jamming to prevent the use of cellphones.

The cardinals vote by writing the name of their preferred candidate on a ballot.  They are supposed to disguise their handwriting to conceal their identities.

They deposit their ballots in an urn.  Cardinals too ill to be at the general voting place give their ballots to three cardinals — chosen by lot.

When they have collected the ballots, three cardinals — chosen by lot — count them.  Two of them read and record each ballot; the third reads each ballot aloud.

As each ballot is read, it is threaded together with the previous ballots.

Three other cardinals — also chosen by lot — verify the official count, and are responsible for announcing when a candidate has received the necessary two-thirds vote.

Now that, I submit, is a good set of controls against outside influences and vote fraud, a little old-fashioned, perhaps, but not easy to defeat.
- 7:10 PM, 12 March 2013   [link]


The Babcock & Wilcox Modular Reactor:  Last month, New York Times reporter Matthew Wald recycled a press release into this article describing a partnership between the company and the Energy Department to build a demonstration reactor.

Although Wald has been covering nuclear energy approximately forever, his article missed some of the great advantages of modular reactors, and ascribed to them advantages that they do not have.

If you look at a picture of the proposed reactor (which you can also see here), you may be surprised to see that it is so tall and skinny.  That's because it was designed to fit on a railroad flatcar.  The reactors would be built in a factory and shipped to the site, like a manufactured home.  According to the company, this would reduce the labor costs by factor of eight and the time by a factor of two.

However, such reactors would not be good, as Wald claims, as back-ups for fickle wind and solar power.  Modular nuclear reactors, like other base power plants, are most efficient when they run nearly continuously.

In reading about this design, I ran across two things which depressed me.  Babcock & Wilcox chose a light water design partly, I assume, because they have experience in building light water reactors — and partly because it can be fit into the current regulations, which assume that our power reactors will be using the light water design we first came up with in the 1950s.

Second, the company is following what it calls "an aggressive schedule" — and hopes to have a reactor in service by 2022.
- 9:55 AM, 12 March 2013   [link]


Lake Burien:  Sometimes you come across a small, but perfect, example of politics in action.  Such as this one in a suburb south of Seattle:
Lake Burien is a 44-acre public oasis in the city’s old town center.  But it’s surrounded by private property, so the public is shut out.  And that’s the way lakefront homeowners like it, saying public access would ruin water quality.
The lake belongs to the state of Washington, but can't be used by anyone except those homeowners, and their guests.  (I wondered, briefly, whether others could access the lake by helicopter or sky diving, but assume there must be some regulations which would prevent that.)

Those who are familiar with such fights will not be surprised to learn that the homeowners claim to be protecting the lake from pollution (and may be, to some extent) and that they have "hired an environmental consulting firm" to provide them with arguments to protect their exclusive access to the lake.

(It may be illegal to say this in Seattle, but environmental laws and regulations are often used this way.)

Nor would any political scientist be surprised to learn that, so far, the very intense minority of homeowners has defeated all attempts to give the not-at-all intense majority access to the lake.

To me, the solution is obvious:  The state, which could use the money, should sell the lake to the homeowners association.  (And if the homeowners don't want to buy, then the state's negotiators can remind them about eminent domain.)  The homeowners would pay for what they already, in effect, own, and the state would have a little more cash.  Which might not even be wasted now that a reform Republican-Democratic coalition has taken control of the state senate.

You might not choose that solution if Burien was short of parks, but the city, with a population of about 48,000, has, by my quick count, 18 parks, many with access to fresh water or salt water.

(I used the population estimate from the article.  The census QuickFacts site gives a population of about 34,000, but I believe they are omitting the recent annexation of the North Highline area.)
- 8:50 AM, 12 March 2013   [link]


Is Tribalism A Growing Problem In The United States?  I think so, and I'll have more to say about it in future posts.  (Including, by the way, one on Rand Paul's filibuster.)

For the moment, though, I will just suggest you read this post, which has an intelligent discussion of some of the recent evidence on the question.
- 7:48 PM, 11 March 2013   [link]


Weekend Before Last, The New Yorker Calendar Had A Very Funny Jackson Pollock Cartoon:  I laughed at it, and was going to put up a post on it when I realized that he hasn't been in the news for years.

So if you aren't sure who Jackson Pollock is, you may want to glance over this Wikipedia biography first.

If you do know about Pollock's way of painting, you can go directly to the cartoon   (Link is fixed now.).

(I would ask whether liking this kind of cartoon marks a person as something of an intellectual snob — but I am afraid I know the answer already.)
- 7:19 PM, 11 March 2013   [link]


What Do Econ 101 Textbooks Say About The Minimum Wage?   That it has mixed results and that most of the benefits — and costs — go to people with low incomes.

For an example, consider the discussion in this standard text.  (I'm using the 4th edition, after finding a copy in a used book store.  I thought my ancient Samuelson might be a trifle out of date.)

Many economists have studied how minimum-wage laws affect the teenage labor market.  These researchers compare the changes in the minimum wage over time with the changes in teenage employment.  Although there is some debate about how much the minimum wage affects employment, the typical study finds that a 10 percent increase in the minimum wage depresses teenage employment between 1 and 3 percent.  In interpreting this estimate, note that a 10 percent increase in the minimum wage does not raise the average wage of teenagers by 10 percent.  A change in the law does not directly affect those teenagers who are already paid well above the minimum, and enforcement of the minimum-wage laws is not perfect.  Thus the estimated drop in employment of 1 to 3 percent is significant. (p. 122)

(President Obama is proposing a 24 percent increase nationally, indexed for inflation.   Many states already have higher minimum wages and some states index them for inflation, so it is hard to make even a quick guess at how many jobs would be lost by his proposal.)

In addition, higher minimum wages encourage some teenagers to drop out of school.   These teenagers tend to displace other, probably poorer, teenagers who had already dropped out.

Harvard Professor Greg Mankiw thinks that minimum wage laws are an inefficient way to help the poor.  Those accustomed to discounting anything said by a Republican may want to reject what he says.  Before they do, they should note that economist (and Democrat) Christina Romer mostly agrees with him.  Both think that an increase in the Earned Income Tax Credit, as happened in the Bush, Clinton, and Bush administrations, is a better way to help the working poor.

Megan McArdle thinks that increases in the minimum wage can be unfair.

The thing about unemployment is that it's much, much worse than having a crap low-wage job.  It's worse than almost anything.  It's one of those life events that people never really recover from.  Two years after a divorce or being widowed, people have adjusted, and are mostly about as happy as they were before the terrible event.  But after two years of unemployment, people are still miserable.  And even after they get another job, a prolonged spell of unemployment often has permanent effects on future earning power, and risk for things like depression.  We should weight the losses of the people who are out of work much higher than the gains to the people who get an income boost.

Increases in the minimum wage may be an inefficient way to help the working poor, may be unfair, but they are undeniably popular with the public.  I suspect they would be less popular if our "mainstream" journalists told us about the losses from increases in the minimum wage, as well as the gains.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

("Ironman" provides an estimate of the "deadweight" loss to the U. S. economy by increases in the minimum wage since 1994.  I am not endorsing his estimate, but I thought some of you would like to see his reasoning.)
- 3:29 PM, 11 March 2013   [link]


Just A Reminder:  Daylight Savings Time is a bad idea.
Which brings us back to the health implications of DST.  It causes dramatic spikes in expensive health problems like heart attacks, traffic accidents, and workplace injuries.   In addition, it forces us to consume more energy, which is not getting any cheaper under the Obama energy policies.  So it would seem that a good way to save an enormous amount in health care costs as well as energy costs would be to deep-six DST.  Will that happen?  Probably not.  It makes too much sense.  If that seems depressing, don’t worry.  Depression is another well-documented effect of the annual change to Daylight Saving Time.  It’ll wear off soon, if you live.
David Catron is more dramatic than I would be, but he is right about the effects.

Almost all the bad effects occur in the spring, when we lose that hour.  So it isn't Daylight Savings Time itself that causes the problems, but the yearly loss of that hour.

As I have said before, I would have no trouble with permanent Daylight Savings Time.

(Almost all because the twice-yearly change (in the United States) adds a little unnecessary complexity to our lives, even in the fall, as any number of programmers could tell you.   Yesterday, for instance, I was amused to see both operating systems (Ubuntu Linux and Windows 7) on my desktop computer correcting the time and, temporarily, coming up with the wrong answer.)
- 12:56 PM, 11 March 2013   [link]


The Unscrupulous Republican Operative Plans Michelle Obama's 50th Birthday Party:  Okay, I am joking, again, but isn't this exactly the kind of birthday party a Republican operative would plan?
The same week that President Obama’s administration announced that due to sequestration, White House tours would be cancelled, sources at the White House announced that it would be hosting megastars Adele and Beyonce at Michelle’s 50th birthday party next year.   “America’s First Lady will be holding a huge celebrity-packed party for her birthday at the White House next year and, as she adores Adele and Beyonce, she has asked them both to sing,” the source told the UK Daily Mail.  The source did say that “The Obamas will pay Adele’s expenses as it’s a private party, not a State one.”

But will they pay all the expenses of the party?  Security arrangements?  Food?  Cleanup?  White House parties are expensive affairs.
All that's missing, so far, is a rap star with a record of misogyny and racism.

(Here's an earlier coup by that operative, with links to more.

And here's the Daily Mail article.  Caveat:  You will notice that there are no named sources in the article, so it is impossible to check, for the present.  Nothing about this seems implausible, but we should recognize that this is still just a rumor.)
- 8:32 AM, 11 March 2013
The White House is denying the rumor, although the denial also comes from a secondary, anonymous source.  At this point I am inclined to think that the rumor is false.
- 1:30 PM, 12 March 2013   [link]


Are Electric Cars Green?  Not particularly, says Bjorn Lomborg, when you consider their whole life cycle.
A 2012 comprehensive life-cycle analysis in Journal of Industrial Ecology shows that almost half the lifetime carbon-dioxide emissions from an electric car come from the energy used to produce the car, especially the battery.  The mining of lithium, for instance, is a less than green activity.   By contrast, the manufacture of a gas-powered car accounts for 17% of its lifetime carbon-dioxide emissions.  When an electric car rolls off the production line, it has already been responsible for 30,000 pounds of carbon-dioxide emission.  The amount for making a conventional car: 14,000 pounds.

While electric-car owners may cruise around feeling virtuous, they still recharge using electricity overwhelmingly produced with fossil fuels.  Thus, the life-cycle analysis shows that for every mile driven, the average electric car indirectly emits about six ounces of carbon-dioxide.  This is still a lot better than a similar-size conventional car, which emits about 12 ounces per mile.   But remember, the production of the electric car has already resulted in sizeable emissions—the equivalent of 80,000 miles of travel in the vehicle.
Electric cars are probably better at reducing conventional air pollutants, carbon monoxide, particulates, and so forth.  Although the electricity for the cars still comes mostly from fossil fuels, most of the electricity is generated at large plants, where we have been able to reduce those pollutants at the source, greatly.  If those power plants are located in rural areas, as many are, then they affect far fewer people.

If you think that conventional air pollution is a more serious problem than global warming — as I do — then you will look with favor on your neighbors buying electric cars — as long as you don't have to subsidize their purchases.

(Speaking of electric cars, there is one possible solution I have never seen discussed, though I am sure some think tanks must have studied it.  It would be possible to design cars with interchangeable electric batteries.  With that kind of system, you would drive along until the charge got low and then stop and swap your battery at a service station.  For that kind of system to work, you would have to build the service stations before you sell the cars, and you would have to establish one or more standard batteries.

I don't see any technical objections to such a system, but don't even have a speculation about how the costs would compare with gasoline-powered cars, and our current electrics.)
- 8:03 AM, 11 March 2013   [link]


Another Diplomatic Failure For The Obama Administration:  Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai accuses them of plotting with the Taliban.
America's fraught ties with Afghanistan suffered a jarring blow Sunday, when Afghan President Hamid Karzai said during a visit by the new U.S. defense secretary that the Taliban were killing Afghan civilians "in service to America."

The remarks, in a televised speech hours before Mr. Karzai's meeting with U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, capped a series of confrontations between the Afghan president and the U.S. over his demands to assert Afghan sovereignty and curtail American military operations.
The Journal article notes that President Bush had better relations with Karzai.
Mr. Karzai gained power following the U.S. ouster of the Taliban regime in 2001, and initially enjoyed close ties with the U.S., holding weekly videoconference calls with President George W. Bush.

These relations deteriorated during the 2009 Afghan presidential elections, after which Mr. Karzai accused some Obama administration officials of scheming to oust him.
And that Vice President Biden made a diplomatic mess by storming out of a meeting with Karzai.

Karzai is not the leader any responsible American would pick for Afghanistan.  But we have been able to work with men who were just as unsatisfactory in the past, and Bush showed that we could work with Karzai.  To some extent, anyway.

And we should not forget that being president of Afghanistan is an extraordinarily dangerous job.  Karzai got it originally because the Taliban first assassinated the leader of the Northern Alliance, Ahmed Shah Massoud and then a Pashtun leader, whose name I forget, who the coalition forces hoped to work with.

(For contrast, you may want to read this Bloomberg article, which doesn't mention Bush at all.)
- 7:35 AM, 11 March 2013   [link]


Very Minimum Wages For DC Interns:  In fact, they don't get much more minimum than this:
Internships at the White House, on Capitol Hill and elsewhere in Washington introduce thousands of young people to working in government and to the discipline and industry needed to function in any workplace.  Yet these unpaid positions are almost by definition reserved for the offspring of the well-to-do who are least in need of such an advantage.

Consider Barbara Boxer, the Democratic senator from California, who urged the country to "heed the president's call" to raise the minimum wage.  Throughout the year, Ms. Boxer offers internships that provide "a valuable opportunity to see how a Senate office functions," according to her website.  Interns are advised that they "should dress in a professional manner befitting the representative of a U.S. Senator at all times."  Her interns may dress in a professional manner, but they are unpaid.
(Emphasis added.)

As are the interns working for other supporters of a higher minimum wage, including Congressman Jerrold Nadler, Congressman Charles Rangel, and Senator Sherrod Brown.

Professor Dwight Lee goes on to make two points:

Unpaid work may pay off in the long run, because of the training you receive and so it may make sense to take an unpaid job if you have few skills and little or no experience.  (Though Professor Lee doesn't mention this, the contacts made in these political jobs may be even more important than the training.)

Second, these jobs are available only to young people coming from well-off families, families that can afford to support their child for six months three months or longer in Washington, D. C.  That seems, to say the least, unfair.
- 5:42 PM, 10 March 2013   [link]


Has President Obama's Approval Declined?   Yes.

Here, for example, is the latest result from Quinnipiac
President Barack Obama has a 45 - 46 percent job approval, virtually unchanged from last month's 46 - 45 percent score, but down from his post-election high of 53 - 40 percent in December.   The gender gap continues to mark the president's ratings, with women approving 48 - 42 percent, while men disapprove 51 - 41 percent.
But that was only to be expected as what you might call his "second honeymoon" ended.

We really don't know whether his popularity will continue to decline.  But, if I had to make an educated guess, I would say that it will, slowly and irregularly, because that's what happens to most presidents, and because voters will continue to catch on to his policy failures.

(There's nothing especially interesting in Rasmussen's latest — except this:
Today’s figures include 29% who Strongly Approve of the way Obama is performing as president and 38% who Strongly Disapprove.
So the opposition to Obama is still outnumbered, but they are more intense than his supporters.

Gallup's numbers are bouncing around in their daily tracking, but do show a recent decline in support for Obama.)
- 3:42 PM, 10 March 2013   [link]


Nuclear Energy Is Green:  Relatively.  If you want to minimize our impact on the environment — and can do arithmetic — you will support nuclear power.  It is not that nuclear energy has no impact on the environment, but that it has less than competing ways of generating electricity

In particular, if you see global warming as a great threat — and can do arithmetic — you will support nuclear power.

According to Robert Bryce, some Green leaders are coming to that conclusion.  (Perhaps because they can do arithmetic.)
The emergence of the pronuclear Greens represents an important schism in modern environmentalism.  For decades, groups like the Sierra Club and Greenpeace have pushed an antinuclear agenda and contended that the only energy path for the future is the widespread deployment of wind turbines and solar panels.  But fear of carbon emissions and climate change has catalyzed a major rethinking.  As [Stewart] Brand puts it in a new documentary, Pandora’s Promise, which explores the conversion of antinuclear activists to the pronuclear side: “The question is often asked, ‘Can you be an environmentalist and be pronuclear?’  I would turn that around and say, ‘In light of climate change, can you be an environmentalist and not be pronuclear?’ ”
(About fifty years ago, the Sierra Club favored nuclear power — for environmental reasons.)

Whether many rank-and-file Greens will follow these leaders is uncertain.  I am sorry to say that I think it unlikely, in the short term.  But I am enough of an optimist so that I think the facts are likely to win out, in the long term, and maybe even in the medium term.
- 2:07 PM, 9 March 2013   [link]