Archive:

November 2008, Part 2

Jim Miller on Politics




Pseudo-Random Thoughts



Jodi Kantor Leaves Out The Most Interesting Parts:  The New York Times reporter writes a long article on Barack Obama's choice of Valerie Jarrett to be a White House senior adviser — but manages to leave out the most interesting parts of Jarrett's background.

For instance, here's what Kantor has to say about Jarrett's real estate career
In 1995, Ms. Jarrett joined the Habitat Company, a Chicago real estate company that develops and runs real estate projects from luxury high rises to public housing units; she is now the company's chief executive.
Which is true enough, but leaves out this part of her real estate career:
Jarrett is the chief executive of Habitat Co., which managed Grove Parc Plaza from 2001 until this winter and co-managed an even larger subsidized complex in Chicago that was seized by the federal government in 2006, after city inspectors found widespread problems.
(After Habitat finished managing Grove Parc Plaza, most of the apartments in the complex were no longer "habitable".)

Similarly, Kantor mentions two posts Jarrett has held in Chicago:
Ms. Jarrett is a lawyer who rose to the top of Chicago city government under the tutelage of Mayor Richard M. Daley, serving as his planning commissioner, and then as chairman of the Chicago Transit Authority.
But leaves out the most interesting post; Jarrett was also, for years, Mayor Daley's Deputy Chief or Staff.  In other words, she was a cog in the Chicago machine, and must have known about the sleazy side of the machine, for example, Daley's toleration of widespread corruption, as long as it didn't hurt the machine too much politically.

In Kantor were a PR representative for the continuing Obama campaign, I could understand why she left these inconvenient facts out of her article.  But I can't understand why a real reporter would leave out the most interesting parts.

(The Associated Press also found those parts not worth mentioning.  Newsbuster Michael Bates says, correctly, that, if Karl Rove had that record, the AP would not have ignored it.)
- 3:10 PM, 16 November 2008   [link]


October's Temperatures Looked Just Like September's:  Christopher Booker describes a monumental goof by climate warming guru James Hansen.  Or, to be more exact, by his research team.
A surreal scientific blunder last week raised a huge question mark about the temperature records that underpin the worldwide alarm over global warming.  On Monday, Nasa's Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS), which is run by Al Gore's chief scientific ally, Dr James Hansen, and is one of four bodies responsible for monitoring global temperatures, announced that last month was the hottest October on record.

This was startling.  Across the world there were reports of unseasonal snow and plummeting temperatures last month, from the American Great Plains to China, and from the Alps to New Zealand.  China's official news agency reported that Tibet had suffered its "worst snowstorm ever".  In the US, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration registered 63 local snowfall records and 115 lowest-ever temperatures for the month, and ranked it as only the 70th-warmest October in 114 years.

So what explained the anomaly?  GISS's computerised temperature maps seemed to show readings across a large part of Russia had been up to 10 degrees higher than normal.  But when expert readers of the two leading warming-sceptic blogs, Watts Up With That and Climate Audit, began detailed analysis of the GISS data they made an astonishing discovery.  The reason for the freak figures was that scores of temperature records from Russia and elsewhere were not based on October readings at all.  Figures from the previous month had simply been carried over and repeated two months running.
A single month's mistake would be a minor embarrassment.  But while admitting the mistake, GISS also admitted that they "did not have resources to exercise proper quality control over the data".  In other words, they have no idea how good — or how bad — their data is.

It is only fair to add that the GISS set of temperature records is only of four sets commonly used in the debate over global warming.  But this kind of carelessness about data collection and verification raises doubts about the quality of all the research done by GISS.  You don't have to be a great scientist, or even a good scientist, to understand the importance of checking your data.

(Minor correction:  Steve McIntyre, who runs Climate Audit, does not describe himself as a warming skeptic.

Anthony Watts looks at those Russian records, and finds more reasons to doubt them, even after the latest corrections.)
- 9:17 AM, 16 November 2008
More:  This isn't the first time that GISS has had problems with data integrity; for more examples, take a look at Steve McIntyre's little list of mistakes.
- 12:41 PM, 18 November 2008   [link]


"We Won":  Michael Yon reports from Iraq.
"THE WAR IS OVER AND WE WON:" Michael Yon just phoned from Baghdad, and reports that things are much better than he had expected, and he had expected things to be good.  "There's nothing going on.  I'm with the 10th Mountain Division, and about half of the guys I'm with haven't fired their weapons on this tour and they've been here eight months.  And the place we're at, South Baghdad, used to be one of the worst places in Iraq.  And now there's nothing going on.  I've been walking my feet off and haven't seen anything.  I've been asking Iraqis, 'do you think the violence will kick up again,' but even the Iraqi journalists are sounding optimistic now and they're usually dour."  There's a little bit of violence here and there, but nothing that's a threat to the general situation.  Plus, not only the Iraqi Army, but even the National Police are well thought of by the populace.  Training from U.S. t[r]oops has paid off, he says, in building a rapport.
. . .
MORE: Yon emails this correction: "Actually, NONE of them have fired their weapons in combat during this tour, and about half of them are combat veterans from Afghanistan and/or Iraq."  Sorry, I had misunderstood that bit.
And which leader deserves the most credit for this result?  President Bush.  But he won't get it from many of his adversaries.

(Coincidentally, I was just going through a stack of newspapers, mostly the New York Times, from 2007.  To put it mildly, this is not what they predicted would happen.  I'll have some examples of their predictions tomorrow.)
- 2:26 PM, 15 November 2008   [link]


And Whose Fault Is That?  In his latest column, Nicholas Kristof makes this argument:
So let's break for a quiz: Quick, what's the source of America's greatness?

Is it a tradition of market-friendly capitalism?  The diligence of its people?  The cornucopia of natural resources?  Great presidents?

No, a fair amount of evidence suggests that the crucial factor is our school system — which, for most of our history, was the best in the world but has foundered over the last few decades.
Let us suppose, for the moment, that Kristof is right.  (For the record, I think that there is some truth in his argument, but less than Kristof thinks.)  Let us then ask the obvious question:   If our school system has "foundered", whose fault is that?

It isn't the fault of the taxpayers; they have been willing to spend more and more on our schools over the last few decades.  In general, the public has been willing to support the schools, and even willing to directly vote for tax increases in local elections to support the schools.

So the fault must lay with the people who run our school systems including, almost certainly, the people who run our education schools.

For example, University of Illinois Distinguished Professor of Education William Ayers.  Better known, of course, as former Weatherman and unrepentant terrorist Bill Ayers.  Though most of us may have a doubt or two about Ayers' fitness to help make education policy, his colleagues do not.  They see him as a leader.
Ayers's texts on the imperative of social-justice teaching are among the most popular works in the syllabi of the nation's ed schools and teacher-training institutes.  One of Ayers's major themes is that the American public school system is nothing but a reflection of capitalist hegemony.  Thus, the mission of all progressive teachers is to take back the classrooms and turn them into laboratories of revolutionary change.
. . .
Ayers's influence on what is taught in the nation's public schools is likely to grow in the future.   Last month [March, 2008], he was elected vice president for curriculum of the 25,000-member American Educational Research Association (AERA), the nation's largest organization of education-school professors and researchers.  Ayers won the election handily, and there is no doubt that his fellow education professors knew whom they were voting for.  In the short biographical statement distributed to prospective voters beforehand, Ayers listed among his scholarly books Fugitive Days, an unapologetic memoir about his ten years in the Weather Underground.  The book includes dramatic accounts of how he bombed the Pentagon and other public buildings.
Ayers has won a number of awards from other educational institutions.

It is not just other education professors who like Ayers.  So do prominent Democratic politicians.  The mayor of Chicago, Democrat Richard Daley, has worked with him on what they called educational reform.  So did the junior senator from Illinois, Democrat Barack Obama.

Ayers has all this respect in spite of the fact that his best known project, the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, was a expensive failure.  His ideas did not work when put to the test.  But education professors and prominent Democratic politicians still think Ayers is just great, anyway.

Obviously, Ayers did not cause our school system to founder all by himself.  It is even true that leftwing professors of education did not cause our school system to founder all by themselves, though they did much damage.  But it is also true that leftwing influence has grown in our education schools during the same time that Kristof says our school system "foundered".  And in our educational bureaucracies, especially in our urban schools.  In general, the stronger the leftwing influence, the worse the school problems are.

The people at fault, in other words, are people who helped elect Barack Obama.  And who are allies, on almost every issue, with Nicholas Kristof.

Which leads me to this conclusion:  If Kristof were really serious about his argument, he should have voted for John McCain, not Barack Obama.  McCain does not have a strong record on education, but he has not backed idiotic ideas, and he has never been an ally of someone as destructive and absurd as Distinguished Professor of Education William Ayers.
- 2:27 PM, 14 November 2008   [link]


Planet Pictures:  Big deal, you may be about to say.  Humans have been making planet pictures for thousands of years.  And, in recent years, our space probes have sent back some spectacular pictures of the planets in our solar system.  But these planet pictures are a little different, since these planets are a little farther away
Do you see it?  That tiny spark, that wee blip of light?  It may not look like much, but it is in fact a normal planet orbiting a normal star, 250 trillion kilometers from Earth.
. . .
And it gets even huger.  Because there's more:

That image is the first to directly show two planets orbiting another star!  It's a near-infrared image using the giant Gemini North 8 meter telescope.  Like in the Hubble image, the star's light has been blocked, allowing the two planets to be seen (labeled b and c).

The star is called HR 8799.  It's a bit more massive (1.5 times) and more luminous (5x) than the Sun, and lies about 130 light years from Earth.  The planets in this picture orbit it at distances of 6 billion km (3.6 billion miles) and 10.5 billion km (6.3 billion miles).  A third planet, not seen in this image but discovered later using the Keck 10 meter telescope, orbits the star closer in at a distance of 3.8 billion km (2.3 billion miles).
All right, a lot farther away.

By way of Slashdot.
- 9:32 AM, 14 November 2008
More:  Here's a picture showing the three planets they have found around HR8799.

Three exoplanets

Here's a New York Times article, with more on the discoveries, and here's a press release, with pictures and diagrams.
- 3:32 PM, 14 November 2008   [link]


Common Assumptions About Health Insurance, Health Care, And Health Are Often Wrong:  That's an argument I have been making for some time, for example, in this post, where I argued that health insurance does not equal health care, though many politicians, including Barack Obama, will try to convince you otherwise.  In a follow-up post, I made a more controversial argument, that, in our society, the amount of health care you can buy has little effect on your health.

While cleaning out my bookmarks today, I ran across this piece by Arnold Kling, which provides evidence for the second argument.  For example:
Many people are more convinced than I am that lack of health insurance causes major health problems, due to failure to obtain preventive care.  There is an urban legend that 20,000 people die each year for lack of health insurance.  The Institute of Medicine may be the original source for this claim, in which case it is based on superficial correlations, not on controlled studies that would be required in order to make a claim about, say, a new pharmaceutical.  In careful comparisons of similar groups of people, it is rare to find significant differences in longevity based on levels of health care spending, which makes it unlikely that one can demonstrate a causal relationship between health insurance and longevity.

The famous RAND experiment found that decreasing insurance coverage reduced the use of preventive care, but without a significant overall adverse effect on health outcomes.  Another analysis, by Amy Finkelstein, showed that Medicare increased health care utilization substantially, again with little noticeable impact on health outcomes.
So, in an experiment, decreasing insurance coverage did not have a "significant overall adverse effect" on health.  And increasing insurance coverage had "little noticeable impact" on health.

There is a good chance that Barack Obama and the Democratic Congress will increase spending on federal health insurance, even more than it would have increased otherwise.  They will tell you that those increases will give us more health care.  They won't tell you that those increases are unlikely to give us better health.

(What does give us better health?  Among other things, exercise.  And, of course, smokers like Barack Obama can almost always improve their health by giving up smoking, as I believe he has.)
- 8:20 AM, 14 November 2008   [link]


Probably Not:  Yesterday's Seattle PI had a front page article on a new runway at Sea-Tac.  For a headline, some editor chose: "Third runway about to open, but will it fly?"

Since runways are quite heavy and have poor aerodynamics, I think we can answer that question.  No, the runway will not fly.  And I suspect that most pilots would prefer that runways just sit there when the pilots are trying to land or take off.

(I believe the military has portable runways for combat operations, but even those don't fly, though they may be flown to the locations where they are used.)

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(I repeat an offer I have made before:  I'll be glad to check dubious metaphors for local journalists.)
- 6:15 AM, 14 November 2008   [link]


It's Fall:  Time for a picture of some fallen leaves.

Fall leaves on grate

Including one that didn't look ready to fall through the grate.
- 4:45 PM, 13 November 2008   [link]


The Dangling Man:  In the first pages of Dreams from My Father, Barack Obama passes on a chilling family story.  A visitor had come from Africa and the family had taken the visitor up to Pali Lookout.  Obama senior was smoking a pipe, as they looked out over the cliff.  The visitor admired the pipe, and asked if he could try it.  Here's how Obama's grandfather told the rest of the story:
"Your dad thought about it for a minute and finally agreed, and as soon as the fellow took his first puff, he started coughing up a fit.  Coughed so hard that the pipe slipped out of his hand and dropped over the railing, a hundred feet down the face of the cliff.

Gramps stops to take another nip from his flask before continuing.  "Well, now, your dad was gracious enough to wait until his friend stopped coughing before he told him to climb over the railing and bring the pipe back.  The man took one peek down this ninety-degree incline and told Barack that he'd buy him a replacement—"
. . .
"—but Barack was adamant about getting his pipe back, because it was a gift and couldn't be replaced.  So the fella took another look, and shook his head again, and that's when your dad picked him clear off the ground and dangled him over the railing."
And here's Obama's reaction to this incident:
Gramps lets out a hoot and gives his knee a jovial slap.  As he laughs, I imagine looking up at my father, dark against the brilliant sun, the transgressor's arms flailing about as he's held aloft.   A fearsome vision of justice. (pp. 6-7)
That's not my vision of justice.  That's just fearsome.  If one of my friends had done something similar, I would find it impossible to continue our friendship — unless he repented.  And I would consider reporting the incident to the police because, after all, by threatening this man's life, Obama senior was committing a crime.

Obama does go on to say that his mother and grandmother did not approve of this action.  But it is clear that he, like his grandfather, does approve.  And that approval is another reason I consider Obama a very strange man.

(As always when Obama describes his past, we have to be skeptical.  But something like this may have happened, though there is one detail that makes me dubious.  It is not easy for even a strong man to "hold another man aloft", unless he is much larger than the other man.  But my point holds, whether or not this actually happened.  Obama tells the story, true or not, approvingly.)
- 1:56 PM, 13 November 2008   [link]


Good Overall Election Analysis:  From Karl Rove.  Two samples:
First, the predicted huge turnout surge didn't happen.  The final tally is likely to show that fewer than 128.5 million people voted.  That's up marginally from 122 million in 2004.  But 17 million more people voted in 2004 than in 2000 (three times the change from 2004 to 2008). . . .
One of the most important shifts was Hispanic support for Democrats.  John McCain got the votes of 32% of Hispanic voters.  That's down from the 44% Mr. Bush won four years ago.  If this trend continues, the GOP will find it difficult to regain the majority.

Mr. Obama won 4.6 million more votes in the West and 1.4 million more in the Midwest than Mr. Kerry.   Mr. McCain, on the other hand, got more than 2.6 million fewer votes in the Midwest than Mr. Bush.   In Ohio, for example, Mr. Obama received 32,000 fewer votes than Mr. Kerry in 2004 -- but Mr. McCain got 360,000 fewer votes than Mr. Bush.  That turned a 119,000 vote GOP victory in 2004 into a 206,000 vote Democratic win this year.
There's much more in the op-ed, including some reasons in the results for Republican hope.

(One small bit of positive evidence from Washington state:  Republicans made small gains in the legislature, for the first time since 1994.)
- 12:50 PM, 13 November 2008   [link]


My Apologies If I Offended Anyone:  Because I've been using this term for years.
The word 'British' can be as offensive as 'negro' and 'half-caste', according to a race relations body.

The publicly-funded organisation's views have been adopted by Caerphilly council in South Wales for a leaflet advising staff on how to deal with the public.
The "races" that might be offended are, according to the article, the Scots, the Irish, and the Welsh.  Though I doubt that many of them actually are.  And I am fairly sure that few anthropologists would classify these groups as "races".

(What should all the inhabitants of the nation be called, if not British?  Years ago one wag suggested that, since the formal name of the nation is the United Kingdom, they should called "Ukasians".)
- 8:04 AM, 13 November 2008   [link]


More of this, please.
Pirates caught redhanded by one of Her Majesty's warships after trying to hijack a cargo ship off Somalia made the grave mistake of opening fire on two Royal Navy assault craft packed with commandos armed with machineguns and SA80 rifles.

In the ensuing gunfight, two Somali pirates in a Yemeni-registered fishing dhow were killed, and a third pirate, believed to be a Yemeni, suffered injuries and subsequently died.  It was the first time the Royal Navy had been engaged in a fatal shoot-out on the high seas in living memory.

By the time the Royal Marines boarded the pirates' vessel, the enemy had lost the will to fight and surrendered quietly.  The Royal Navy described the boarding as "compliant".
Unfortunately, the Royal Navy probably won't be allowed to put the pirates away for good, much less hang them, as they would have done not that long ago.
- 7:11 AM, 13 November 2008   [link]


The Missing Mahoney:  KUOW's Gang of Four are fond of sex scandals.  They loved talking about Idaho Senator's Larry Craig's little problem, even though there was no sex, and probably not even a law broken.  During the 2006 campaign, they had much to say about Mark Foley's problems, which they were quite certain were extremely important.  (Florida officials, after a lengthy investigation, decided not to file any charges against Foley.)

So, when the Tim Mahoney scandal was first reported, I looked forward with interest to see what the Gang would say about it.  After all, it was a pretty good scandal, even just considering what Mahoney has admitted.

After dodging questions for nearly a week, Rep. Tim Mahoney (D-Fla.) admitted today that he had multiple extramarital affairs and apologized for behavior he characterized as "disgraceful."
. . .
The interview comes after ABCNews.com "The Blotter" revealed this week that Mahoney had secretly paid a former mistress and campaign staffer, Patricia Allen, to prevent a sexual harassment lawsuit as well as helped lobby for federal funds for another county official with whom he was having an affair.

(And a very salacious scandal, if you believe these charges.)

Democratic leaders were aware of some of the charges, but chose to warn Mahoney, rather than start an ethics investigation:

He [Mahoney] said that Rep. Rahm Emmanuel (D-Ill.), chair of the Democratic Caucus, had confronted him in 2007 about the affair and said "if that's happening stop."

"It wasn't a discussion, it wasn't a meeting, it was a statement," Mahoney said.

And in a nice bit of irony, Mahoney had replaced Mark Foley in 2006, after promising "to restore decency and honor to the seat".

So the Mahoney scandal has lots of sex, accusations of sexual harassment, infidelity, payoffs, possible laws broken, a possible cover-up, and more than a little bit of irony.

But for some reason the Gang of Four has not discussed this scandal — and I am at a loss to explain why.

You don't suppose that they are only interested in sex scandals that hurt Republicans, do you?   I dislike even mentioning this possibility, but it does fit the data.  And it does explain why the Gang discussed the events that led to Eliot Spitzer's resignation with, it seemed to me, some reluctance.  But these are professional, "mainstream", journalists, so I think the Republican explanation is unlikely.  (On the other hand, I have never heard them discuss the scandal in Detroit, even though it cost Mayor Kilpatrick his job, and a little time in jail.  Kilpatrick is a Democrat, though not all stories on the scandal mention that.)

Some might think that homosexuality explains which scandals attract the Gang.  But that can't be right, because it would imply that the Gang was biased against homosexuals.  And I have never heard them say a word against Barney Frank, Barbara Mikulski, or Gerry Studds.

If you have some explanation for the Gang's reluctance to discuss this scandal, please share it with me, because I am genuinely puzzled.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(It is natural to compare Mahoney's behavior to Foley's behavior.  And if you do, you see that — unless you consider homosexual acts inherently more sinful than heterosexual acts (I don't) — Foley did less wrong than Mahoney.  He made creepy advances to some pages, but never acted on them.  He did, apparently, have consensual encounters with one or two ex-pages, after they had turned 21.  He did not betray his family, or pay anyone off.)
- 5:49 PM, 12 November 2008   [link]


What Will Obama Do As President?  In 2003, when Nancy Pelosi became the House minority leader, I predicted that she would act as a machine politician.  That prediction has been correct, again and again.  For instance, she has been consistently indifferent to corruption by her associates, unless, of course, that corruption had severe political consequences.  She actively backed unindicted ABSCAM co-conspirator John Murtha for majority leader, and was willing to have Alcee Hastings as chairman of the House intelligence committee — even though a Democratic Congress had impeached and convicted him for corruption, when Hastings was serving as a judge.

With Obama, predictions are more difficult, because his record is so close to blank, and because he has concealed and distorted so much of his past.  Nonetheless, I think David Freddoso has it basically right with this summary, from The Case Against Barack Obama:
Obama's ethnic pedigree understandably attracts much interest and fascination.  But it is far less interesting than his unusual political pedigree.  He is the product of a marriage between two of the least attractive parts of Democratic politics—the hard-core radicalism of the 1960s era and Chicago's Machine politics. (pp. x-xi)
If Freddoso is right — and I think he is — Obama has two sets of motivations, unlike Pelosi, who has one.  Sometimes Obama will act like a machine politician, and sometimes like a hard-core radical.  The two don't always conflict, but sometimes they do, and they lead to much different priorities.  For the machine politician, staying in power is more important than anything else; for the radical, the cause is more important than anything else.

I predict that Obama will act as a machine politician in most of his public policies — and try to achieve some of his more radical objectives by appointing radicals as judges and bureaucrats.  For instance, he will make windy promises in order to be elected, such as his promise to give tax cuts to 95 percent of the taxpayers.  (I think it likely that he would prefer for all of us to be paying higher taxes, in spite of what he said during the campaign.  He certainly wants all of us to pay higher prices for energy.)  At the same time, he will appoint judges that he knows will impose gay marriage on the nation — even though he says that he opposes gay marriage — for religious reasons, no less.

Being a machine politician and being a radical both lead to serious errors in foreign policy, the first because the machine politician is only trying to maximize political support, regardless of the consequences, and the second because a radical view of the world is radically wrong.  A machine politician would neglect our interests and values; a radical would actively attack them.

(It is no secret that bureaucrats, especially in the CIA, actively sabotaged the Bush administration, again and again.  Like every other president, Obama will have some of the same problems, though usually with different agencies.  But we can expect that those bureacrats who like machine politicians and those bureacrats who are sympathetic to radicals, and there are some of both, will generally support Obama.)
- 1:52 PM, 12 November 2008   [link]


Don't Miss this Chuck Asay cartoon, if you want to understand the election campaign.  (You'll probably want to save a copy of the cartoon for yourself.)

(Here's the source, along with more cartoons.)
- 9:51 AM, 12 November 2008   [link]


It's Easy To Get Confused In These Little Chats:  Barack Obama talks to the president of Poland, and gets confused.
President-elect Barack Obama's private conversation with Poland's president created an international disagreement Saturday, with President Lech Kaczynski saying Mr. Obama promised to continue a missile-defense system and the transition office saying the Democrat made no such commitment.
It's an easy thing to get confused about.

Barack Obama talks to the president of the United States, and gets confused.
President Bush did not offer a "quid pro quo" linking relief for automakers to a Colombia Free Trade deal in his meeting on Monday with Barack Obama in the Oval Office, the president-elect's transition team leader said Tuesday.

John Podesta said he wanted to clear up misreporting by newspapers that detailed a leak of the on-on-one meeting between the president and president-elect.
Again, it's an easy thing to get confused about.  The meeting with Bush was private, so the "confusion" must have come from Obama himself.  Who then sent Podesta out to fix his mistake.

One can only hope that this confusion will not be routine in the Obama administration.

(What is Obama's position on missile defense for Poland?  It is similar to his position on nuclear energy; he says he favors it in principle, but actually opposes it in practice, raising technical objections.

Tim Blair thinks that Obama's meetings with Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, another leaker, will be "absolutely sieve-like".  But both men have been associated with leaks that subordinates had to deny, so a different metaphor might be appropriate, since what leaked out was not what was in the sieve.

But I do think world leaders would be wise not to speak too candidly to either man.)
- 6:35 AM, 12 November 2008
Update:  The Polish government is now saying that Obama did not promise to support missile defense for Poland.  But they did not explain why they had said otherwise, at first.  And, of course, it is possible that they might think it better not to contradict a new American president, regardless of what was actually said.
- 7:01 AM, 14 November 2008   [link]


Jonathan Weil Doesn't Think Much of Obama's Economic Advisors:  All have experience (unlike Obama), but many don't have good experience.
So, by my tally, almost half the people on Obama's economic advisory board have held fiduciary positions at companies that, to one degree or another, either fried their financial statements, helped send the world into an economic tailspin, or both.  Do you think any of that came up in the vetting?

Let's say we give [Warren] Buffett a pass -- smart move he made, skipping the group photo-op last week in Chicago.  What about the rest of them?  [William] Donaldson, for one, was chairman when the SEC voted in 2004 to let the big Wall Street banks, including Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. and Bear Stearns Cos., lever up their balance sheets like drunks.  Talk about blowing it.

And whom did Obama tap for White House chief of staff?  Rahm Emanuel, the Illinois congressman who was a director at Freddie Mac in 2000 and 2001 while it was committing accounting fraud.
Weil has a modest suggestion for Obama as he looks for ways to revive the economy: "Start by scrapping this board."  Good advice.

(Weil doesn't discuss the point, but from what I know, most of these erring advisors did not suffer from their mistakes.  They lost other people's money, not their own.)
- 6:04 AM, 12 November 2008   [link]


Barack Obama Is Reviving The Economy:  One industry at a time.
Weapons dealers in much of the United States are reporting sharply higher sales since Barack Obama won the presidency a week ago.

Buyers and sellers attribute the surge to worries that Obama and a Democratic-controlled Congress will move to restrict firearm ownership, despite the insistence of campaign aides that the president-elect supports gun rights and considers the issue a low priority.

According to FBI figures for the week of November 3 to 9, the bureau received more than 374,000 requests for background checks on gun purchasers -- a nearly 49 percent increase over the same period in 2007.
Maybe the new administration should start a rumor that they are going to ban the sales of certain kinds of cars, the kinds of cars that Detroit is having trouble selling right now.

(Are the fears of gun buyers justified?  Hard to say.  As with almost every other issue, we don't really know what Obama will do — or what a Democratic Congress will do, and he will accept.   Political prudence would suggest leaving this issue alone, but the same was true in 1993, and the Clinton administration managed to anger supporters of the 2nd Amendment, without making it much harder to purchase guns.)
- 5:40 AM, 12 November 2008   [link]


Worth Reading:  Thomas Sowell takes New York Times columnist Nick Kristof to school.
Among the many wonders to be expected from an Obama administration, if Nicholas D. Kristof of the New York Times is to be believed, is ending "the anti-intellectualism that has long been a strain in American life."

He cited Adlai Stevenson, the suave and debonair governor of Illinois, who twice ran for president against Eisenhower in the 1950s, as an example of an intellectual in politics.
. . .
Adlai Stevenson was certainly regarded as an intellectual by intellectuals in the 1950s.  But, half a century later, facts paint a very different picture.

Historian Michael Beschloss, among others, has noted that Stevenson "could go quite happily for months or years without picking up a book."  But Stevenson had the airs of an intellectual -- the form, rather than the substance.

What is more telling, form was enough to impress the intellectuals, not only then but even now, years after the facts have been revealed, though apparently not to Mr. Kristof.
Though there is no reason to think that Kristof will be a good student.

There are more surprises in Sowell's column, at least for those who have the conventional left view of most of our recent presidents.

(Will Kristof correct his column, as he should?  The odds are at least 100-1 against him doing the right thing and admitting his mistakes.)
- 3:48 PM, 11 November 2008   [link]


More On Netbooks:  Some analysts think they may be a real problem for Microsoft.
"Netbooks crash the party," wrote Citigroup Global Markets Analyst Brent Thill in a report after the earnings release. "This will be a key category to watch in FY09 as overall profitability will be impacted by (Microsoft's) success in this segment."

Initially designed for students and PC users in emerging markets, netbooks have taken off among budget-conscious consumers, particularly in Europe. They are typically used for e-mail and Web surfing.

Citigroup estimates that netbooks, such as the Acer Aspire or the ASUS Eee PC, will be responsible for a third of the growth in the PC market this year.
. . .
Microsoft has invited manufacturers to put Vista on netbooks, but only a few -- notably HP's new 2133 Mini-PC -- run the operating system, because Vista's hardware requirements are usually too high.

That means Microsoft earns less revenue per PC sold -- since the company sells XP licenses at a fraction of the price of Vista licenses, according to IDC's O'Donnell.

As many as 25 percent of netbooks don't use Windows at all and instead run the Linux operating system.   Microsoft, though, has promised that its next operating system, Windows 7, will work as well on netbooks as on high-end gaming PCs.
Most of the growth is in Europe — for now — where many wireless providers are offering netbooks with their contracts, in somewhat the same way cell phones are often offered by cell phone companies here.

Netbooks can do most of the usual computer things, such as web browsing and email (although they would not good for action games), can be used as MP3 players, and . . . often can be used as videophones.  Many of the netbooks have small built-in web cams.  Add free software from, for example, Skype, and you have a videophone.  A free videophone, not counting your connection costs.  That application should help sell netbooks.   (The faster your connection, the better Skype works, naturally, and I would suppose that would be especially true when you are using video.)

(Does this mean that we will soon be seeing people walking or, heaven help us, driving while talking on their netbook videophones?  It's inevitable, but that doesn't mean that we have to like it.

Minor correction:  It's the HP 2133 Mini-Note PC, not the HP Mini-PC.)
- 3:08 PM, 11 November 2008   [link]


Veterans Day:  A good day to thank these veterans, and all the other American veterans.

And a good day to remember the original meaning of this day, Armistice Day.
- 10:09 AM, 11 November 2008   [link]


Tacky:  The original headline on this New York Times article: "Obama Will Visit Bush, Watching Out for Tacks on Chairs in Oval Office".  (They've changed the title on line, but not, of course, in the print copies.)

Sometimes you just wish that an adult would take control of the New York Times.
- 1:18 PM, 10 November 2008   [link]


The People Have Spoken:  Ignore them, says the Seattle Times.

Washington state just elected a new Superintendent of Public Instruction, Randy Dorn, who defeated incumbent Terry Bergeson.  Dorn campaigned principally on a promise to get rid of a standardized test, the Washington Assessment of Student Learning".

Randy Dorn will replace the WASL with a simpler, fairer test and will fight for better school funding.

But the Seattle Times doesn't think that promise should mean anything.

Dorn campaigned on undoing the WASL.  But now that he has the office, he should broaden his vision and priorities beyond a single test.

As much as Dorn campaigned to jettison the WASL, in truth he cannot.  Only the Legislature can make substantial changes to the WASL, including replacing it with another test.
. . .
Most students are passing the WASL.  Battling to scrap it will have Dorn tilting at windmills when he will be most needed fending off education budget cuts and unworkable federal mandates.

Apparently, the Seattle Times agrees with Nancy Pelosi; the voters are dolts, who didn't know what they were doing when they elected Dorn.

Although Dorn may not be able to replace the WASL on his own, he can certainly work with the legislature to replace it — as he promised to do.

The Seattle Times should show more respect for the decisions of the voters and less respect for our mediocre education status quo.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(Full disclosure:  I did not vote for either Dorn or Bergeson.  Though Dorn sounded reasonable on most issues, he was backed by two organizations with reactionary, unscientific views on public education, the Washington Education Association and the state's Democratic party.

I am strongly in favor of standardized tests, both to guide individual learning, and to judge the effectiveness of schools.  But I doubt that the WASL is the test that we need in this state, though I would certainly be willing to look at more evidence — on either side.)  
- 12:26 PM, 10 November 2008   [link]


Netbook Purchase:  Yesterday, I ordered an HP netbook, this HP netbook.   I chose an HP 2133 netbook because they have a fine keyboards, usable trackpads, the best screens in their class, and solid construction.  This model is the cheapest in the line, but should it be necessary, can be expanded easily, by adding an SD card, more memory, or a hard drive.  (Some reviewers are bothered by the relatively slow processor — only one gigahertz — but for many years, CPU speed has rarely been the limiting factor in a PC's performance.  The graphics chip is a more serious concern, but this one will be adequate for what I plan to do with the computer.)

And, of course, because Amazon has a good deal on this model.

I don't recommend this series to everyone.  One commenter at Newegg summarized it nicely; he gave the netbook a three star rating, but ended his evaluation with this:
Three stars is more of an average than an overall rating.  This is a four-star product if you have the know-how, one star if you don't.
By which he means that you may have to install a different operating system on it, from scratch.  (I'll probably install a version of Ubuntu, maybe even the lightweight Xubuntu.)

HP made a mistake in designing this computer.  They intended it to be a businessman's netbook, so they originally installed business operating systems on most of the models, Windows business Vista or a Linux variant, SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop 10, also intended for business use.  Both are too heavy duty for a computer this small.  HP has admitted their mistake; at their site, they are now offering Vista with a custom downgrade to Windows XP on their more expensive models, but only for large business or government customers.

The netbooks may be hurting Microsoft.  They are so inexpensive that it is hard to disguise the cost of the Microsoft license, so the Linux models often sell for significantly less.

(HP is offering Windows XP on its consumer netbook, the Mini 1000.  According to news reports, they will also offer a lightweight version of Linux on a future model or models.

I chose the slow shipping method, so I will probably get it next week.)
- 7:47 AM, 10 November 2008   [link]


Is North Korea Faking Kim Photos?  Sure looks like it, though I am no Photoshop expert.
In a bid to end speculation that Kim Jong Il had suffered a stroke, North Korean officials released a new picture of the "Dear Leader" in apparently good health.  But is the image genuine?
Almost certainly not, as the article goes on to explain.  And this wouldn't be the first faked Kim photograph.

(By way of Flares Into Darkness, which describes itself as "Another Really Great Blog", correctly.)
- 6:40 AM, 10 November 2008   [link]


Jamie Gorelick?!?  According to this New York Times article, the former Clinton official is being considered for Obama's attorney general.  The article describes positions she has held, but does not mention any significant accomplishments.

The article does, however, mention a few problems in her résumé:
Carries as baggage: Her work at Fannie Mae, which had to be bailed out by the government in September as part of a $200 billion deal.  Ms. Gorelick left the company just as it was coming under attack for huge accounting failures.  She has also drawn criticism for her role at the Justice Department, in which she allegedly created an intelligence "wall" that hindered counterterrorism agents in the years before the Sept. 11 attacks.  Conservatives called for her removal from the Sept. 11 commission, but her fellow members rallied around her and said critics were distorting her record.  The criticism grew so heated that the F.B.I. investigated a death threat against her family, and President Bush had to intervene personally to stop the Justice Department from releasing sealed reports involving her.  Some conservative bloggers have already begun trying to derail Ms. Gorelick's possible nomination as attorney general, pointing to her experiences at both Fannie Mae and the Sept. 11 commission.
(And I couldn't help but note that she defended Duke, after their disgraceful treatment of the lacrosse players, who were falsely accused of rape.  A lawyer need not agree with clients, need not even like them.  But taking that case makes a political statement, a statement that will lead many to wonder about Gorelick's sense of ethics.  And about her ability to be fair to white men.)

Conservative bloggers such as Beldar and the Instapundit.

Think about this:  Gorelick failed in the war on terror and failed at Fannie Mae.  Massively, in both cases.  But she is still "Being considered" for attorney general?  Amazing, simply amazing.
- 6:19 AM, 10 November 2008   [link]


Hope And Change:  In New Zealand.
WELLINGTON, New Zealand -- New Zealand entered a new era of conservative rule Sunday, with Prime Minister-elect John Key promising to be a moderate amid fears some of the country's policies on global warming and indigenous people could be rolled back.

Voters on Saturday elected the wealthy former currency market trader to lead them through the global financial meltdown, handing long-serving left-wing Prime Minister Helen Clark a crushing defeat.
The same downturn in the world's economy that hurt John McCain and the Republicans helped conservatives in New Zealand.

(Why were the Conservatives able to stay in power in Canada, if the downturn hurt incumbent parties?  Because their opposition was divided, and because Prime Minister Harper, by governing as a moderate conservative, had been able to allay fears about his party.  And, of course, because his election was earlier than the American and New Zealand elections, before the worst headlines were printed.

And, if you believe most of the polls in Canada, the downturn did hurt the Conservatives, keeping them from an outright majority.)
- 5:07 PM, 9 November 2008   [link]


Obama's Choice On Iraq:  Amir Taheri puts it starkly:
In Iraq, Obama has a choice.

He could manufacture an American defeat or work to translate the military victory that's already been achieved into long-term political gains for both Iraq and the United States.

What matters in Iraq isn't the number of US troops on the ground.  Everyone in Iraq and in the Middle East understands that America can't be defeated on the battleground - that the only force capable of defeating America is America itself.

Thus, all depends on the signals coming from the new Obama administration.

If the perception is that, for domestic political reasons, it prefers defeat, there'll be enough forces in Iraq and throughout the region to help him secure it.  If, on the other hand, the new administration opts to consolidate victory, again it would find many forces inside Iraq and in the Middle East ready to help it achieve that goal.
Taheri is encouraged by more moderate statements from Obama, starting last summer.  And the success of the surge has made it difficult, but not impossible, for Obama to blame any defeat on Bush.

(It is disconcerting that, even now, a man as well-informed on these issues as Taheri does not know that Obama will do.)
- 1:49 PM, 9 November 2008   [link]


The People Have Spoken, The Dolts:  Nancy Pelosi explains the victory of Proposition 8.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi expressed deep disappointment on Friday that California voters approved Prop. 8, the measure banning same-sex marriage, and defended her ally, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, against critics who say his actions contributed to its passage.

In a wide-ranging interview with The Chronicle, Pelosi said she believes some voters might not have fully understood the initiative, which overturned a state Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage.  The measure was approved 52 to 48 percent.

"Unfortunately, I think people thought they were making a statement about what their view of same-sex marriage was," the San Francisco Democrat said.  "I don't know if it was clear that this meant that we are amending the Constitution to diminish freedom in our state."
I see her point.  Marriage and the two sexes are difficult technical subjects that confuse many voters, and even some politicians.

Democrats may be, as they like to say, the party of the people.  But that doesn't mean they trust the people to make important decisions.

(The line in the title was borrowed, with some modifications, from a very funny Democrat, Mo Udall.  His version is funnier.)
- 8:07 AM, 9 November 2008   [link]


Joke Time:  Over the next four years conservatives are going to need a good sense of humor.  Fortunately, as psychologists have shown, most of us have one.

Indeed, the conservatives did rate the traditional golf and marriage jokes as significantly funnier than the liberals did.  But they also gave higher ratings to the absurdist "Deep Thoughts."  In fact, they enjoyed all kinds of humor more.

"I was surprised," said Dan Ariely, a psychologist at Duke University, who collaborated on the study with Elisabeth Malin, a student at Mount Holyoke College.  "Conservatives are supposed to be more rigid and less sophisticated, but they liked even the more complex humor."

(But that wouldn't surprise anyone who has been paying attention to actual conservatives, rather than stereotypes.  Reagan was famous for his jokes.  Bob Dole, after losing the presidency, came out with a pretty good book of jokes.  George H. W. Bush has a gift for telling stories on himself.  And, though it is immodest for me to say so, regular readers of my site know that I often use jokes to make a point, or just for fun.)

Those who tell jokes regularly know that many jokes are recycled, with names changed in order to offend more of the guilty.  For instance, there's this Sarah Palin joke, which can be adapted to many politicians.

The original version of this joke is still one of the best political jokes, especially if you happen to be of a certain age:

After the 1964 election, President Johnson, Vice President Humphrey, and Mayor Daley were out on Lake Michigan in a small boat.  A sudden storm came up threatening all of them.  There was just one life preserver in the boat, so they agreed to vote on which man would wear it.  As a loyal vice president, Humphrey voted for Johnson.  Johnson voted for himself.

When they counted the ballots, they found that Daley had won, 3-2.

The joke can be adapted to modern politicians:

After the 2008 election, President Obama, Vice President Biden, and Mayor Daley were out on Lake Michigan in a small boat.  A sudden storm came up threatening all of them.  There was just one life preserver in the boat, so they agreed to vote on which man would wear it.  As a loyal vice president, Biden voted for Obama.  Obama voted for himself.

When they counted the ballots, they found two votes for Obama and three votes for Daley — all of them disqualified.

Though I will admit that the modern version is not as good as the original.

And then there is this famous joke, from the late 1960s:

A voter is musing over what has happened since the 1964 election, and confesses to a friend:   "You know, they told me that, if I voted for Goldwater, there would be riots in our big cities and a massive war in Vietnam.  I voted for Goldwater, and, by golly, they were right."

(Instapundit Glenn Reynolds has been using variants on that joke for almost eight years now.)

So, think ahead a little bit, and adapt that joke to, say 2010.  The beginning is easy, "You know, they told me that, if I voted for McCain" — and I'll let you think of possible endings.

Or come up with your own joke.  Here's another joke I linked to recently, and here's a list of ten jokes for more inspiration.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 1:55 PM, 8 November 2008   [link]