May 2010, Part 4
Jim Miller on Politics
Three For Memorial Day: Reverend Sensing gives us an essay on courage.
Kate Smith sings "God Bless America".
Robert Poole gives us a chart of our losses in major wars — and explains how we have learned to identify all of the dead.
Cross posted at Sound Politics.(Quibble: Poole describes World War I as the "first conflict of truly global proportions". Many historians would say that grim title belongs to the Seven Years War (often called the French and Indian War in the United States)).
- 1:14 PM, 31 May 2010 [link]
Comic Book Views Of The Presidency: When I saw this Bill Maher video, I was tempted to play the race card.
I thought when we elected a black president, we were going to get a black president. You know, this [BP oil spill] is where I want a real black president. I want him in a meeting with the BP CEOs, you know, where he lifts up his shirt where you can see the gun in his pants.The crude stereotyping and the implication that only violent black men are authentically black would support an argument that leftist Bill Maher is more than a bit racist.
But after some thought, I decided that gave Maher too much intellectual credit. Racists can be evil, and are almost always disgusting, but they do not necessarily have simplistic views of the world.
And then I saw similarly simplistic views from two other left wing journalists. First, Dana Milbank.
Asked about the White House's vow to keep its "boot on the neck" of BP, Obama replied: "I would say that, you know, we don't need to use language like that."Next, Maureen Dowd.
At a press conference, Obama said Malia had asked him, as he shaved, "Did you plug the hole yet, Daddy?" (That hole should be plugged with a junk-shot of Glenn Beck, who crudely mocked the adorable Malia.) Oddly, the good father who wrote so poignantly about growing up without a daddy scorns the paternal aspect of the presidency.Instead of racism, what we see in these three is an old-style comic book view of the world. There is a clear-cut villain (BP), and a super hero who has only to confront the villain to make everything right. (Maher and Milbank, like 12 year old boys, prefer an action super hero; Dowd, like a 13 year old girl, wants a romance, too.)
Let's ask the basic question that our three comic book fans did not ask: Suppose Barack Obama had gotten mad at BP and threatened them somehow. Would that in any way have helped plug the leak?
No, in fact, it might have, if anything, slowed things down. (According to one news report I saw, BP had to get permission from the federal government to try the "top-kill" fix. If that is correct, then the federal government may be delaying BP's efforts.)
Nor does it make any sense to act as if BP wants the oil leak to continue. In fact, it is more in their interests than anyone else's to get leak fixed, and soon. After all, BP will be paying for almost everyone else's losses.
Now I will concede that this view of things is less entertaining than the views of our three comic book fans. But most of us prefer to live in the real world, even if it is, usually, less entertaining than comic books.
- 7:44 PM, 30 May 2010 [link]
Half Right On The Moynihan Report: James T. Patterson argues that Daniel Patrick Moynihan got the diagnosis right 45 years ago.
FORTY-FIVE years ago this month, Assistant Secretary of Labor Daniel Patrick Moynihan began quietly circulating a report he had recently completed about the "tangle of pathology" — out-of-wedlock births, fatherless households — damaging low-income black families. The title said it all: "The Negro Family: The Case for National Action."Patterson is right and, even now, has to be commended for his courage for saying something this politically incorrect.
But Patterson (and Moynihan) are incorrect in their recommendations for a cure.
We can see that if we remember a little history. Before World War II, almost all American blacks lived in the South, were mostly quite poor, even for the South, and had access to few government services. But the illegitimacy rate among American blacks was then quite low. (And even lower than suggested by formal statistics, since in some areas it was not unusual for blacks to postpone marriage until after the first baby was born.)
If poverty and a lack of government programs caused illegitimacy, then the illegitimacy rate should have fallen after World War II, not risen, as blacks moved away from the South and got access to better jobs and more social services.
Similarly, almost everywhere in Western Europe, where citizens have access to a vast array of social services, illegitimacy also soared. (And in many countries it brought with it some of the same pathologies that we have seen in the United States.)
Remarkably, illegitimacy soared whether or not the nations made access to abortion easy, as so many nations did during that period.
To be fair, Patterson does not say in the op-ed that he has a cure for illegitimacy; instead, though he never says this explicitly, he appears to believe that the trend toward greater illegitimacy cannot be reversed, but that we can alleviate some of its bad effects. (And some of his suggestions might provide some help.)
Perhaps it is too much to ask, especially for a man who is "professor emeritus of history at Brown", but I do wish that Patterson would have been willing to be even more politically incorrect, and ask what we were doing right in 1940 that we are doing wrong now.
(Here's Patterson's book on the Moynihan report.)
- 3:48 PM, 29 May 2010 [link]
Poisoned Pork? Defenders of pork barrel spending have a range of defenses. Some object to the term itself, and say that most of the spending labeled pork is actually good for the country. Others operate on the "everyone does it" principle and say that a representative has an obligation to obtain a "fair share" for his district. Still other defenders excuse it for politicians they support, but not for politicians they oppose.
But all defenders, and most neutral observers, have assumed that pork projects were good for their district, if not for the nation as a whole. A new study by three Harvard researchers, Lauren Cohen, Joshua D. Coval, and Christopher J. Malloy, challenges that assumption.
Here's the abstract.
That may be a little too abstract for some, so let's turn to an interview with one of the authors, Joshua Coval.
In short, the researchers believe that pork barrel spending inhibits the rest of the state's or district's economy.
This finding is not unprecedented. It has been known for many years that much foreign aid has been detrimental to the recipients. And unearned riches from, for instance, an oil discovery, often has turned out to be a curse.
The researchers are not sure why this happens, though they have some speculations.
If the researchers are correct, then pork barrelers like our own Patty Murray and Norm Dicks have not been doing us favors. In fact, they have been hurting our economy, while wasting our money.
Cross posted at Sound Politics.
(Caveats: As far as I know, no one has duplicated their work yet, nor have other economists and political scientists had time to do full critiques. It is possible that their findings on spending are correct, but that it is wrong to ascribe the declines in the private economy to the pork barrel spending; it may be another case of correlation, not causation. For instance, the districts and states that elect and re-elect congressmen and senators may also be districts and states that are beginning to fail economically.For now, I would say that their findings are probably correct, but no more than that.)
- 2:02 PM, 28 May 2010 [link]
Need A Clinton Conspiracy Theory To Brighten Your Day? Jack Cashill has one for you. Samples:
Should Democrat Joe Sestak be elected the next United States senator from Pennsylvania -- he beat Arlen Specter handily on Tuesday -- he might best be known as the "Senator from Sandy Berger." Sestak owes his political career to Berger. Were there any justice in Washington, Berger would himself be in Leavenworth, and for crimes far more damaging than any Pendergast ever committed.All that is straightforward, and I don't quarrel with Cashill's conclusion that the Clinton people were out to get Weldon because of his continuing criticism of Clinton's national security record.
But I am not sure that I can go the next step with Cashill, who believes that the investigation of Weldon, including FBI raids in October 2006, just before the election, was triggered by Clinton operatives. I am not saying that he is wrong, I am saying that these are such serious charges that they should be supported by more evidence. I would certainly favor an investigation into the charges, but I would hesitate to say that they are true, from what I know now.
(Was Weldon guilty of ethical lapses? Yes, from what I can tell. Like many congressmen, he mixed too closely with firms dependent on the government, and was too willing to help his daughter's lobbying firm. Did he break any laws? That's harder to tell, especially for someone who is not a lawyer, and who is not familiar with the applicable laws.
But I can say this: After more than four years of investigations, Weldon has yet to be charged with any crime. And that's after two plea deals with minor figures.
Cashill thinks that the FBI raid made the difference in Sestak's defeat of Weldon. He may be right, but the district has been voting for Democratic candidates for president for some time. For example, Kerry won it in 2004, 53-47. And Weldon may have become complacent over time, and neglected his district, as long-time incumbents sometimes do.)
- 7:49 AM, 28 May 2010 [link]
Kirsten Powers And Peggy Noonan Make The Same Point: First, Powers.
Since the "blame BP" strategy isn't working, Obama will today announce tougher safety requirements and more rigorous inspections for offshore drilling operations. Sounds nice -- except the problem isn't a lack of safety requirements, it's that the experts at the US Minerals Management Service ignored the existing requirements.Next, Noonan.
I wonder if the president knows what a disaster this is not only for him but for his political assumptions. His philosophy is that it is appropriate for the federal government to occupy a more burly, significant and powerful place in America—confronting its problems of need, injustice, inequality. But in a way, and inevitably, this is always boiled down to a promise: "Trust us here in Washington, we will prove worthy of your trust." Then the oil spill came and government could not do the job, could not meet need, in fact seemed faraway and incapable: "We pay so much for the government and it can't cap an undersea oil well!"Neither explain why they expected competence from a man with so few accomplishments, but they are right to say that many people did. Perhaps, like so many other people who make a living from words, Powers and Noonan confused verbal facility with executive ability.
(Speaking of words, Noonan should have re-written that second paragraph.)
- 6:55 AM, 28 May 2010 [link]
Did Obama Realize What A Great Straight Line this is?
In a White House news briefing, Obama called the five-week-old BP spill an "economic and environmental tragedy" and said he was frustrated and angry over its duration. Every morning when he's finished shaving, he said, one of his daughters quizzes him: "Did you plug the hole yet, Daddy?"It's such a great straight line that I'm going to leave it for the professionals. (And if you hear a particularly good punch line, let me know.)
(Did the kid actually do and say that, or did some aide invent it in order to show that Obama really cares? Hard to say, but I am inclined to think that it really happened, because even the most sycophantic aide would have spotted some of the joke possibilities.)
- 6:29 AM, 28 May 2010 [link]
That Man Sure Can Filibuster: That was my first reaction after listening to more than a half hour of Obama's press conference this morning. If he can give brief, and cogent, answers to reporters' questions, he often chooses not to.
Is this deliberate? (Eisenhower did something similar, deliberately.)
Or does he just like to hear himself talk? Or some combination?
I can make arguments for all three possibilities, but haven't decided among them. But I do wonder if he filibusters in private meetings, too.
(West Virginia Senator Robert Byrd must watch these performances with some admiration. Byrd participated in filibusters — against civil rights bills — that were real filibusters, that were real tests of whether opponents of a bill could talk it to death.
As usual, Obama showed up late, which some might think rude of him.)
- 11:11 AM, 27 May 2010 [link]
Hit Him Again? Massachusetts state representative Mike Moran was hit by an illegal immigrant, who was, most likely, driving drunk. And definitely driving without a license. After the accident, Moran wants everyone to know that he is still in favor of protecting immigrants, including illegal immigrants.
So I couldn't help recycling that old joke, though, of course, I do hope that Moran is not hit again. But I also hope that his district gets a more sensible representative in the next election.
(Missed the joke? Here's a version: A soft-on-crime judge is talking to a meeting of citizens concerned about crime. The judge boasts that he has not changed his mind, has not gotten tough on criminals, even though he was mugged himself.
From the back of the room, a little old lady is heard to yell: "Mug him again!")
- 8:10 AM, 27 May 2010 [link]
Efrain González And The Missing Party: Ordinarily, I wouldn't say anything about a New York state senator being sent to jail for corruption, not because it isn't news, but because there are more important stories, and because I don't have anything extra to say about the case. But I am going to this time because of what is not in New York Times story.
You've guessed already, haven't you? The New York Times, in a long (though hidden on page A20) story, never bothered to tell its readers that the former state senator is a Democrat.
González was stealing from charities, which somehow doesn't surprise me.
Mr. González, 62, pleaded guilty last May to fraud and conspiracy in a corruption case in which he used hundreds of thousands of dollars from nonprofit groups to pay for personal expenses.The New York Post had a better story on González — and even told its readers which party he belongs to..
Crooked ex-pol Efrain Gonzalez Jr. was slapped with a seven-year prison term today by a judge who slammed him for failing to show any remorse for the "venal acts" of looting two charities in a pork-barrel corruption scheme.(Oddly, neither newspaper mentioned Bruno's party. He's a Republican.)
- 12:39 PM, 26 May 2010 [link]
Another Donkey Bomb: But so far no reaction from PETA.
A small Syrian-backed terrorist group in Gaza said its activists blew up a donkey cart laden with explosives close to the border with Israel on Tuesday, killing the animal but causing no human casualties.You may recall that, some years ago, PETA objected to terrorists using a donkey bomb, not because it killed some people, but because it killed a donkey. I think they are nuts, but I can't help admiring the purity of their thinking; animals are in their department, but not people.
(I assume this time they are being quiet because of the bad publicity last time.)
- 11:13 AM, 26 May 2010 [link]
Democrats Fall With Public, Says CBS: In the last few years, most Americans decided they didn't care much for the Republican party. Now, according to CBS, we don't like the Democrats, either. (And we dislike the Republicans a little less.)
Americans are dissatisfied with both major political parties, but the public's approval of the Democratic Party is at its lowest level ever, a new CBS News poll shows.The poll sampled "adults", not likely voters, not registered voters, not even citizens. I would expect that a poll of likely voters would be several percentage points more hostile to the Democratic party than a poll of adults.
(As you may recall, I predicted this decline in support for Democrats in September 2008.
Oh, and as you may have guessed, I think most political polls should sample registered voters, or likely voters, not adults.)
- 7:59 AM, 26 May 2010 [link]
Swedish Leftists Are Getting Bossy Again: And, as usual, they are trying to tell the United States what to do.
Sweden will 'demand' that the United States closes all foreign military bases if the red-green opposition wins power.It isn't clear what the coalition would do if they came to power, and we didn't comply with their demands. Threaten to hold their breath until they turn blue? Stop exporting parts for Volvos to the United States?
(This is pure speculation, but the coalition may be indulging in this exercise because they have no plausible domestic policy. The current Swedish government, controlled by a center-right coalition, has enacted some free market reforms, and even reduced the size of government slightly. From what I can tell, their policies have been moderately successful, and moderately popular.)
- 6:45 AM, 26 May 2010 [link]
Jerry Brown Goes Arizona.
California Attorney General Jerry Brown has denied the San Francisco sheriff's request to opt out of a federal program that checks the immigration status of all people arrested using their fingerprints.(As I am sure you know, Brown is running for governor of California. And he can read the polls.)
- 6:20 AM, 26 May 2010 [link]
Should Global Climate Models Include Bacteria? The cyanobacteria should be included, because they are a key part of the CO2 cycle. (You may know them under their older name, "blue-green algae".)
But other bacteria, notably pseudomonas syringae, may also need to be included, because they may play a big role in rainfall and snowfall.
In the last few years, Dr. [David] Sands and other researchers have accumulated evidence that the well-known group of bacteria, long known to live on agricultural crops, are far more widespread and may be part of a little-studied weather ecosystem. The principle is well accepted, but how widespread the phenomenon is remains a matter of debate.(So well accepted that ski resorts routinely use the bacteria to make snow.)
A big role, maybe, but not a simple role, as you will see if you read the whole article.
(Would adding bacteria to global climate models make them impossibly complicated? Call me cynical, but I fear that the models may have passed that point years ago.)
- 1:46 PM, 25 May 2010 [link]
Congressman Djou Can Win This November: So says Honolulu Advertiser reporter Derrick DePledge.
DePledge agrees with Djou that the odds are against the Republican holding the seat — and agrees with Djou that he could win.
An earlier Republican win shows how that might happen:
Some Democrats are concerned that the primary could further divide the party and give Djou a manual on Hanabusa's and Case's weaknesses.Lingle won in 2002 with just 52 percent of the vote, so the Case voters who switched to her may have made the difference in that election.
- 12:54 PM, 25 May 2010 [link]
Nothing Inappropriate? The Washington Post isn't ready to accept the Obama administration assurances that they did "nothing inappropriate" in trying to talk Congressman Joe Sestak out of challenging Senator Arlen Specter.
"NOTHING inappropriate happened," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs says about the job offer that Rep. Joe Sestak, now the Democratic nominee for a Pennsylvania Senate seat, claims the White House dangled to induce him to back away from challenging incumbent Arlen Specter. "It has been looked into," adds White House senior adviser David Axelrod, and "nothing inappropriate happened."The Post seems willing to believe that the White House did not break any laws, but not willing to believe that "nothing inappropriate" happened. (Not having read the laws that might apply, not being a lawyer, and not knowing exactly what was said, I won't venture an opinion on the legality of any offer. But I will say that there are often perfectly legal ways to offer — and accept — political bribes, as long as those negotiating are not too explicit about the deal they are making.)
Unlike the Post and unofficial Obama spokesman Marc Ambinder, I did not expect high ethical standards from this administration, having noticed — it wasn't a big secret — that Obama and some of his top aides learned politics in the rough school of the Chicago machine. So this reported deal, illegal or not, inappropriate or not, is no surprise.
- 12:33 PM, 25 May 2010 [link]
Is Kim Jong-il Cracking Up? North Korean expert Andrei Lankov thinks that might explain the regime's recent bad decisions, including the sinking of the Cheonan.
The most likely explanation seems to be related to the nature of the North Korean state, a personal dictatorship run by one individual who has to approve all major decisions. Dictators tend to micro-manage, and this tendency seems to be very pronounced in the case of Kim Jong-il.Great. Now we may have an irrational power-mad dictator with nuclear weapons on the Korean peninsula.
(Mick Hartley sees the bright side; this may also mean that the North Korean regime will crumble sooner. Maybe, but I would be a lot more optimistic if Kim were less heavily armed.
Here's Lankov's Wikipedia biography.)
- 9:42 AM, 25 May 2010 [link]
Unrequited Love: Byron York explains why Barack Obama treats the press so badly — and why he gets away with it.
More troubling is that Obama makes no secret of his disdain for the press. Just look at the scene in the Oval Office May 18, when Obama invited a few journalists to watch him sign a new bill -- it just happened to be the Daniel Pearl Freedom of the Press Act.There's little reason to expect Obama to change his attitudes, or to replace Robert Gibbs, his stonewalling press secretary.
- 6:29 AM, 25 May 2010 [link]
Arsonist Chosen To Head Fire Department: Well, not quite, but close.
Democratic lawmaker Barney Frank will get the influential position of chairing the committee that will merge the House and Senate's versions of financial reform legislation, a spokesman for Frank said on Monday.I suppose that one could argue that Frank is a good choice for the position, because he has been so intimately involved in so many catastrophic financial regulation blunders, but I have seen no sign that he learned anything from his blunders.
- 6:08 AM, 25 May 2010
Senator Judd Gregg, who is not an alarmist, thinks the Senate version of the bill is a "disaster".
- 9:51 AM, 25 May 2010 [link]