May 2009, Part 3
Jim Miller on Politics
What Do We Call A Person Who Can't Stop Talking About Himself? A narcissist?
Barack Obama spoke at the National Archives last Thursday on the war on terror (not that he used that term). After paying tribute to the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights, and before turning to a defense of his policies, the President of the United States said:Obama cares, and thinks we should care. He probably wrote that part of the speech himself. (Or has a speechwriter who really, really understands what his boss wants.)I stand here today as someone whose own life was made possible by these documents. My father came to our shores in search of the promise that they offered. My mother made me rise before dawn to learn of their truth when I lived as a child in a foreign land. My own American journey was paved by generations of citizens who gave meaning to those simple words--"to form a more perfect union." I have studied the Constitution as a student; I have taught it as a teacher; I have been bound by it as a lawyer and legislator. I took an oath to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution as Commander-in-Chief, and as a citizen, I know that we must never--ever--turn our back on its enduring principles for expedience sake.Who cares? Who cares about Barack Obama's father, his mother, or his "own American journey"? Is his journey so noteworthy that it needs to be intruded into a presidential speech on weighty matters of constitutional law and public policy, of civil liberties and national security? After all, tens of millions of other Americans have ancestors who came to these shores in search of the promise of a better life. Tens of millions of other Americans have lived in a foreign land--and some of them were presumably awakened early by their mothers.
(Narcissist is a diagnostic term in psychiatry. Not being a psychiatrist, I will not venture an opinion on whether most psychiatrists would apply the term to our current president. Assuming they were able to examine him, of course.)
- 9:58 AM, 23 May 2009 [link]
Speaker Pelosi Stops Digging: But she is still in a hole
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Friday she won't talk any more about her charge that the CIA lied in 2002 about using waterboarding on terrorism suspects.And Republicans don't intend to let voters forget that.
(As a purely tactical question, saying nothing is probably Pelosi's best strategy — assuming she is unwilling to tell the truth. And it is unlikely that many "mainstream" journalists will pester her on the subject.)
- 7:28 AM, 23 May 2009 [link]
A Referee Might Have Stopped The Fight: Toby Harnden gives Dick Cheney the win over Barack Obama in yesterday's dueling speeches. Cheney, he says, landed ten solid punches to Obama's jaw. For example:
6. "On his second day in office, President Obama announced he was closing the detention facility at Guantanamo. This step came with little deliberation, and no plan. Now the president says some of these terrorists should be brought to American soil for trial in our court system. Others, he says, will be shipped to third countries; but so far, the United States has had little luck getting other countries to take hardened terrorists."On the other hand, if you like rhetorical flourishes, Obama won, easily. And I think that tells us something about the two sides of this argument; Cheney appealed more to logic, Obama more to emotions.
- 6:56 AM, 22 May 2009 [link]
Open Letter To The New York Times #6: This one on a Paul Krugman column from two years ago.
To the Editor:Full Disclosure: This letter is the sixth in a series that I have written to the Times, not because I expect them to publish them, but to criticize the letters editor, whom I have taken to calling the New York Times censor. (In every case, I would be delighted if the letters editor proved me wrong and published the letter.)
The fact is that the New York Times is much less willing than most American newspapers to publish letters critical of its own work. And they are completely unwilling to publish letters with the kind of abuse directed at the Times, or Democratic officials, that they routinely publish directed at President Bush and other Republicans. (I am thinking especially of the columns by Dowd, Herbert, Krugman, and Rich, and many editorials. The Times is even unwilling to publish letters pointing out factual errors in these columns and editorials. And, let me assure you, it is not hard to find factual errors in those places.)
This unwillingness to publish letters critical of the Times removes the feedback that might keep the newspaper from being, so often, just plain silly in its attacks on Bush and Republicans. How can they learn that they are wrong — and they often are — if they won't listen to those who disagree with them?
(You can find the previous letters in this series here, here, here, here, and here. The Martin and Gardiner article is here.)
- 5:09 PM, 21 May 2009 [link]
Here's A Hypothetical Question For You: Many of you, I know from my email, are smart people. Many of you, I also know from my email, have substantial experience in business and investing. (I have a little of each myself.)
In being smart, you are at least the equal of President Obama. Many of you have more, some of you much more, business and investing experience than he has. (An example: According to his financial statements, he and his wife have never invested in stocks.) Now, suppose that someone asked you to run the auto companies and pay you what you are now earning. Would you accept?
Or would you, like me, run away, because you understand that you don't know enough about the business to run the auto companies?
Here's what Thomas Sowell says in answer to that hypothetical question.
reason: Do you see or anticipate Obama's reactions being sufficient to turn this downturn into another lengthy depression?(By way of Shannon Love.)
Sowell calls Obama's attitude "cockiness". That's about the nicest adjective that I think of to describe Obama's enormous over-confidence in these matters.
(The 1979 Chrysler bail-out has some lessons for Obama — if he is willing to learn.)
- 2:29 PM, 21 May 2009 [link]
Chez Guevera: During the campaign, candidate Obama promised and promised and promised to close the Guantánamo terrorist prison. (And, if I heard the news correctly, just said again that it should be closed.) There is an argument for his position. There is no doubt that our enemies have have made it a symbol of evil for many — with the help of many "mainstream" journalists in the Western world. For most who hold that view, mere facts will never change their minds. So the prison is, and will continue to be, a propaganda liability,
There is only one problem with closing the facility: We need it, or something just like it, as even the Democratically-controlled Congress has recognized.
In a rare, bipartisan defeat for President Barack Obama, the Senate voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to keep the prison at Guantanamo Bay open for the foreseeable future and forbid the transfer of any detainees to facilities in the United States.So we need Guantánamo, or something just like it. So many have suggested that we change the name. Years ago, talk show host Rush Limbaugh suggested that we call it Club G'itmo, which is not bad, but perhaps a little too obvious.
The commenters at Just One Minute came up with what I think is a better name: Chez Guevera. And what leftist could object to that?
- 9:32 AM, 21 May 2009 [link]
Maybe They Are Attracted to Alaska's governor.
Blue whales are returning to Alaska in search of food and could be re-establishing an old migration route several decades after they were nearly wiped out by commercial whalers, scientists say.Joking aside, this is good news, since it suggests that the blue whale population has grown enough to make the whales expand their range.
- 7:34 AM, 21 May 2009 [link]
Guess Who Is Getting More Popular? Or at least less unpopular. George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.
As Dick Cheney prepares to give a major speech on the battle against terrorism, a new national poll suggests that favorable opinions of the former vice president are on the rise.Charles Blow will be disappointed, but not enough to rethink his analysis.
This poll may be an outlier, but I have been expecting some gains. Bush and Cheney are now being compared — by those Americans who are paying attention — to Obama and Biden, which will make Bush and Cheney look better to many Americans. And it doesn't hurt that the always formidable Dick Cheney is now free to defend his administration's record. Or that Obama is adopting many of the war-on-terror policies he condemned during the campaign.
(Bush's favorable rating is up 6 percent to 41 percent in the same poll.)
- 6:20 AM, 21 May 2009 [link]
Speaker Resigns: No, not Speaker Pelosi, Speaker Martin. I mentioned the big British expense account scandal in this post but didn't say much about it, because I didn't know much.
Now the New York Times has provided a succinct account of the scandal. Sample:
At one level, the scandal is a rich tale of politicians exploiting a lax system of expenses to claim a mind-boggling array of benefits. The claims have centered on so-called second-home allowances, which have allowed some members of Parliament to use nearly $40,000 a year in taxpayers' money to renovate and even sell properties for profit, while others have claimed monthly payments for mortgages that had already been paid off. Still others claimed "necessities" like the clearing of a country house moat, an electrical massage chair and even a Kit Kat bar.(Michael Gordon exaggerates in his description of the Telegraph — just a little. The Telegraph's circulation is large enough — more than 800,000 — so that most of its subscribers could not possibly be retired colonels, or even "blue-rinsed widows".)
What allowed this scandal to break now, according to the Times, is a freedom of information request by an American reporter, Heather Brooke. Gordon does not explain how her request resulted in these stories, and may not know. But we do know that, once again, sunshine is proving to be fine disinfectant.
Speaker Michael Martin is the most prominent member of Parliament to resign, so far. Many others have promised to join him in political exile.
(British speakers have much less power, and rather different duties, than American speakers. Here's the Wikipedia article on the British speaker, if you want to know more.
And here's a description of a Kit Kat bar.)
- 5:15 PM, 20 May 2009 [link]
Mind Boggling: This announcement.
If you aren't familiar with the Blethen heir, you may want to read this post. An editorial page editor should, at the very least, be able to write. Or so I have always thought. (By the way, I could have written similar posts on most other Blethen columns, though that was one of his worst efforts.)
My sympathies to the editorial writers at the Seattle Times. I have had my differences with them over the years, but none of them deserves this.Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 10:36 AM, 20 May 2009 [link]
Tom Golisano Illustrates My Point: He's leaving New York, a state with a professional legislature — high taxes, and disastrous policies.
By moving to Florida, I can spend that $5 million on worthy causes, like better hospitals, improving education or the Clinton Global Initiative. Or maybe I'll continue to invest it in fighting the status quo in Albany. One thing's certain: That money won't continue to fund Albany's bloated bureaucracy, corrupt politicians and regular special-interest handouts.And he has more.
Despite all that Medicaid spending, poor New Yorkers are not notably more healthy than poor Americans in other states.
I am reasonably certain that Katherine Seelye will read that Golisano piece — and conclude that New York legislators needs even more pay and benefits.
(Golisano may share some responsibility for New York's problems. He founded the Independence Party, which has veered all over the ideological map, and probably strengthened the pro-spending forces in the state, by drawing off protest votes that might have gone to Republicans or even responsible Democrats. His new organization, Responsible New York may have better results.)
- 10:09 AM, 20 May 2009 [link]
Measles Hits Wales.
Health chiefs in Wales are dealing with a "massive" measles outbreak, with numbers already four times the highest figure recorded over the past 13 years.Thanks, in part, to The Lancet, which published an article saying that the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine might cause autism. There was much wrong with the article, including a conflict of interest.
Editors at The Lancet said they might never have published the study by Andrew Wakefield in 1998 if they had known that he was also paid £55,000 as part of a legal action against the vaccine's manufacturers.The paper should have been rejected, even if there had been no conflict of interest. You don't have to be a medical expert — I'm not one — to see that the sample was too small and too biased to support anything other than the usual non-conclusion: more research is needed.
(The lead author of the study, Dr. Wakefield, has been accused of manipulating his data. British libel laws are tough, so the Times would not make that accusation without strong evidence.
There's much more in this Wikipedia article.)
- 8:06 AM, 20 May 2009 [link]
California Is In Serious Financial Trouble: California has a professional state legislature. If you pay any attention to the news, you know the first. Yesterday Katherine Q. Seelye of the New York Times provided some basic data about the second.
California, on the other hand, is one of the few states where legislative salaries not only rose, by 41.8 percent, in the period but kept pace with the rise in per capita income, 40.4 percent.California legislators now receive a base pay of more than $110,000 per year. And very substantial benefits.
Seelye sees no connection between these two facts. She does not even consider the possibility that California's professional legislators may be one of the causes of the state's ills. She even quotes an authority making the opposite case.
But critics say that although the impulse to deny lawmakers a raise in any state is natural, especially considering that most get generous pensions, doing so could have negative consequences.Donahue's argument is not immediately implausible. It seems reasonable that, to get better legislators, we should pay them more, pay them enough to allow them to work full time.
Reasonable, but in conflict with the evidence. In general, as state legislators become more professional, that is, full time and better paid, they do worse jobs. California legislators have gotten worse, much worse, as their pay and their benefits have increased. (Because voters dislike seeing legislators' pay increase, the legislators often arrange for much of their compensation to come in other ways, especially in super-generous pensions.)
Although California is the most egregious example, it is not alone. American states that have professional legislatures usually have bad legislatures. And the more professional, the worse they are. There are exceptions, but anyone who has followed, for instance, the New York state legislature, will know what I am talking about.
Why professional legislatures tend to be bad is not a complete mystery. High pay and benefits tend to attract professional politicians, who are good at winning office, but often poorly prepared to govern. They often have little practical experience in anything other than politics; they might, for example, have been community organizers or lawyers, rather than businessmen who had to meet payrolls. They know how to sell themselves, but may not know much more than that.
(Those who have followed California politics, even from a distance, will find the idea that higher pay makes legislators less "vulnerable to special interests" amusing. It would be difficult to find a legislature more dominated by special interests than California's.)
- 7:08 AM, 20 May 2009 [link]
Time For Golf Club Control? Some would say so, being determined to blame the tool, rather than the person holding the tool.
Golf balls are bombarding the Port of Everett and anti-terrorism cameras are being trained on a residential neighborhood to hunt down the source.But I think catching the golfer(s) would be a more practical solution.
(At the end, they speculate that someone in the expensive Rucker Hill neighborhood doesn't like the noise, lights, and smells from the port, and is choosing this way to protest.)
- 11:09 AM, 19 May 2009 [link]
Badly Timed Analysis? Or a badly timed poll? Yesterday, Gallup released an analysis, with this conclusion.
The decline in Republican Party affiliation among Americans in recent years is well documented, but a Gallup analysis now shows that this movement away from the GOP has occurred among nearly every major demographic subgroup. Since the first year of George W. Bush's presidency in 2001, the Republican Party has maintained its support only among frequent churchgoers, with conservatives and senior citizens showing minimal decline.And in their latest poll (May 7-10), Gallup found that the two parties were tied in identifiers, 32-32.
The Gateway Pundit, who votes Republican, is sure this latest poll is correct. Charles Franklin, who, I am pretty sure, usually votes Democratic, is almost certain this poll is an "outlier", just one of those chance results that every poll gets from time to time. And he devotes some effort to find a reason the poll might be an outlier — without any success.
One thing is sure: Gallup must really regret that poll, coming so close to their big analysis of Republican losses.
My own view? I expect the Republicans to gain in party ID as voters see more and more of the costs of Democratic policies. But I suspect that the next Gallup poll will again show a Democratic lead, but a smaller one than earlier in the year.
(Incidentally, I would not mix polls as promiscuously as Pollster.com often does, for all sorts of reasons. Not that combining results from different polls is necessarily wrong, but that it should done with considerable care.)
- 9:27 AM, 19 May 2009 [link]
Blame California: Dan Walters explains why.
A very good case can be made that California's developers, mortgage lenders and house-hungry but income- deficient residents, with state and local officials as enablers, created an unsustainable housing bubble. And when that bubble burst, leaving holders of mortgage bundles — many of them overseas banks — with little more than toilet paper, it created a banking crisis that spread to virtually every other segment of the global economy.As regular readers know, I mostly blame OPEC for the world's current economic problems. But I am willing to give a small share of the blame to California, too.
(It would be helpful if Dan Walter, a political reporter and a good one, would name some of those "state and local officials" some time.)
- 8:25 AM, 19 May 2009 [link]
Keep On Splurging, Says Alan Blinder: There are economists who think that Obama's enormous deficits are a good idea, for example, Alan Blinder. Here's his central argument.
Thus, both monetary and fiscal policies did an abrupt about-face in 1936 and 1937, and the consequences were as predictable as they were tragic. The United States economy, which had been rapidly climbing out of the cellar from 1933 to 1936, was kicked rudely down the stairs again, and America experienced the so-called recession within the depression. Real G.D.P. contracted 3.4 percent from 1937 to 1938; the total G.D.P. decline during the recession, which lasted from mid-1937 to mid-1938, was even larger.I think his argument is bogus. As Blinder says earlier, FDR's 1936 deficit was 3.8 percent of our GDP. In what is, so far, a much milder downturn, Obama is planning to run a deficit of about 13(!) percent of our GDP. If we extend Blinder's metaphor, FDR had been pressing the accelerator about one-third of the way to the floor after the car had slowed down from 60 to 40. In contrast, Obama is flooring the accelerator, after the car had slowed down from 60 to 55.
But your mileage may vary; your assessment of Blinder's argument may be positive. And I do want you to know about the other sides of arguments that I make.
(Blinder does not even attempt to defend Obama's immense projected deficits five and ten years out. If I had to guess, I would say that he expects our taxes to go up — a lot — after the economy recovers.)
- 4:35 PM, 18 May 2009 [link]
May 18, 2009: So it is a good day to show you some of the pictures of Mt. St. Helens I have been collecting.
And here are the web cameras, if you want to look for yourself. You have four choices, high and low resolution, with and without Java. All the pictures above are low resolution. The view sometimes changes very quickly, especially at sunrise, so you may want to refresh it frequently.
The web cameras do not show you the Crater Glacier. (I've found that the higher resolution pictures of the glacier make reasonable prints, by the way.) And if you work for Washington state, remember to call it the Tulutson Glacier.Sound Politics.
- 1:32 PM, 18 May 2009 [link]
The NYT Flunks Basic Geology: Reporter Cornelia Dean doesn't understand glaciers.
Global warming conjures images of rising seas that threaten coastal areas. But in Juneau, as almost nowhere else in the world, climate change is having the opposite effect: As the glaciers here melt, the land is rising, causing the sea to retreat.Actually, when glaciers melt, the land underneath them rises — almost without exception. If you want to understand the process, float a small piece of wood in some water, put an ice cube on top, and then remove the ice cube.
Since rock does not flow as easily as water, the rebound is slower on land than in that little experiment, but the basic mechanism is the same. There are a number of technical phrases for this rise, including "post-glacial rebound" and "glacial isostatic adjustment".
Post-glacial rebound (sometimes called continental rebound, isostatic rebound, isostatic adjustment or post-ice-age isostatic recovery) is the rise of land masses that were depressed by the huge weight of ice sheets during the last glacial period, through a process known as isostatic depression. It affects northern Europe -- especially Scotland, Fennoscandia and northern Denmark -- Siberia, Canada, and the Great Lakes of Canada and the United States.Not quite "almost nowhere".
Now it is also true that lowlands elsewhere may be flooded by the water from the melting ice. But the land under the glaciers almost always rises.
- 7:28 AM, 18 May 2009 [link]
Wilkerson To Marshall To Dowd: We really need a Shakespeare, or at least an Oscar Wilde, to describe this comedy of errors, but since neither gentleman is available, I'll go ahead and give my own, plainer description.
Lawrence Wilkerson, who was once Colin Powell's chief of staff, has a reputation for fantasizing about Dick Cheney. In a recent article, Wilkerson claimed that Cheney ordered a harsh interrogation in order to find "a smoking gun linking Iraq and al-Qa'ida". Unfortunately for Wilkerson, his account was immediately discredited by Thomas Jocelyn.
It is doubtful that any part of Wilkerson's story is true. However, Wilkerson's new tale does demonstrate how some former officials never give up their political rivalries. It is no secret that Wilkerson utterly disdains VP Cheney. But, that doesn't give him the right to make up his own facts.True or not, Wilkerson's story was good enough for lefty blogger Josh Marshall, who used it, without naming Wilkerson, to suggest that "torture" was used to create false intelligence justifying the Iraq War. (Marshall's blog is called "Talking Points Memo", which seems ironically appropriate.)
And then Maureen Dowd of the New York Times plagiarized Marshall's post, stealing an entire paragraph. (She claims, inadvertently, having gotten the material through a friend.) She has admitted the plagiarism, but has yet to correct, or, as far as I can tell, even notice, the fundamental error in her column.
From time to time, I have wondered whether Dowd uses Fran Lebowitz's methods for writing her columns.
Rather than attempt to answer this question by utilizing the methods of the investigative reporter — legwork, research, and digging for facts — I decided to employ those of the irresponsible wag: lying on the sofa, talking on the phone, and making things up.(That's from Lebowitz's essay, "Specialty Banking: A Numbered Account". Having learned that Manhattan had a "First Woman's Bank", Lebowitz wondered whether this was a trend, and whether we would soon see a children's bank and even "The Other Woman's Bank" — which will be filled with expensive baubles, look sultry, and be alone at Christmas.)
This provides direct evidence that Dowd does use Lebowitz's methods. (Though I must say that Lebowitz is much funnier than Dowd.)
(The incident really makes one wonder what kind of information Powell was getting from his chief of staff.)
- 6:51 AM, 18 May 2009 [link]
Will The Instapundit get audited by the IRS for this op-ed? I hope not, but an administration that includes people like Rahm Emanuel and David Axelrod can not be expected to treat critics kindly.
- 5:52 AM, 18 May 2009 [link]
Dick Cheney Should Be Quiet: And if he won't be quiet, the Republican party should dump him. (How they would do that, I have no idea. It is still — mostly — a free country.) So says a New York Times columnist, the improbably named Charles M. Blow.
Why? Because, Blow tells us — correctly — that Cheney is unpopular.
According to an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released last month, Cheney's positive rating has reached another low: a measly 18 percent.And Blow has a big graph illustrating that point. Which was unnecessary, but does help to show us what Blow thinks is important.
What Blow does not tell us is that Cheney's ideas have wide support, that, for example, most of the public sees nothing wrong, and much right, with tough interrogations of captured terrorists. And that, as the remarkable recent performance of Nancy Pelosi shows, Cheney is winning the current debate. Why even the New York Times has published an article on her problems. (On page 18, granted, but they did publish the article.)
But mentioning those facts — which Blow must know — would spoil his crude attack on Republicans in general, and Dick Cheney in particular.
There is a larger point which will occur to almost everyone who looks at Blow's picture, and knows a little about recent American history. A leader can be unpopular — and still be right. As many of the civil rights leaders of the 1950s and 1960s were. (Not on all issues, but on many.)
- 4:57 PM, 17 May 2009 [link]
Were The Obamas Living Beyond Their Means? That's what "Richard Henry Lee" concludes.
It is no surprise that President Obama supports unprecedented spending and borrowing in the federal budget since he has never suffered any consequences from the excessive spending and borrowing in his private life.They were bailed out by Barack Obama's book deal, and by the incredible raise Michelle Obama received — after Barack Obama was elected to the Senate. (Her work at the University of Chicago Medical Center was worth more than a quarter of a million dollars a year, but the center did not find it necessary to replace her after she left.)
If Lee is right — and I believe he is — we can understand why the Obamas accept massive deficit spending so easily. It worked out fine for them. But I don't think the nation can count on a trillion dollar book deal Or an immense pay raise after an election.
("Richard Henry Lee" is "an elected official in California".
And a bit of irony: While searching for this op-ed, I found this sensible advice from an Obama supporter, Miranda Marquit. She has four good recommendations for personal finance; apparently the Obamas didn't follow any of the four. Will she think less of them for that? Probably not.)
- 1:58 PM, 17 May 2009 [link]