October 2009, Part 2
Jim Miller on Politics
Krauthammer Judges Obama On Foreign Policy: The columnist doesn't give a letter grade for the first nine months, but it isn't hard to guess what it would be: F.
Henry Kissinger once said that the main job of Anatoly Dobrynin, the perennial Soviet ambassador to Washington, was to tell the Kremlin leadership that whenever they received a proposal from the United States that appeared disadvantageous to the United States, not to assume it was a trick.Obama and his team have been just as naive, just as amateurish, in their dealings with Iran and China, and have gotten the same results with those two nations.
Obama's foreign policy failures would be funny, if the possible consequences for us, and for the rest of the world, were not so horrific.
- 9:01 AM, 16 October 2009 [link]
Many Earmarks Are Wasteful: Some are disgusting, as well.
Senators diverted $2.6 billion in funds in a defense spending bill to pet projects largely at the expense of accounts that pay for fuel, ammunition and training for U.S. troops, including those fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to an analysis.(Emphasis added.)
- 8:31 AM, 16 October 2009 [link]
While Hugo Chavez Is In Power: No property in Venezuela is safe.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has said he seized the landmark Hilton hotel on Margarita Island because its owners dared to impose conditions on its use by his government to host a summit there last month.Just like that.
Expect a beach shortage at the property soon.
(The Venezuelans made a serious error after Chavez tried to overthrow the elected government in 1992. They should have executed him, or, at the very least, exiled him for life.)
- 3:33 PM, 15 October 2009
If you need an explanation of the beach shortage, or just want to read some Cold War era jokes, go here. (I have seen about half of the jokes before.)
- 7:59 AM, 16 October 2009 [link]
Stimulus Efficiency? The Obama administration has a very preliminary estimate.
The first direct stimulus reports showed that stimulus contracts saved or created just 30,083 jobs, prompting more Republican criticism of the $787 billion package.According to my calculator, that's more than a half a million dollars per "saved or created" job.
(I love the false precision — 30,083 jobs — in that estimate.)
- 2:32 PM, 15 October 2009 [link]
Wall Street Is Doing Fine: (The survivors, anyway.) The Wall Street Journal has an estimate showing just how well the major firms are doing. Most of the article is behind the subscriber wall, but you can see the first two paragraphs:
Major U.S. banks and securities firms are on pace to pay their employees about $140 billion this year -- a record high that shows compensation is rebounding despite regulatory scrutiny of Wall Street's pay culture.Those bonuses wouldn't bother me if I didn't have the feeling that the firms owe some of their profits to government intervention.
(You can see some examples of those profits in this article.)
- 1:33 PM, 15 October 2009 [link]
Value-Added Tax? Fine, economically, says economist Greg Mankiw, as a replacement for our current federal taxes.
My bottom line: If I could replace our current tax system (including the personal income tax, corporate income tax, payroll tax, and estate tax) with a VAT, I would gladly do it.But dubious, politically.
Why do some conservatives hate the VAT? For political reasons. They fear it would be a new tax, hidden from many voters, used to expand government. They fear that rather than replacing our existing tax system, a VAT would add to it. Indeed, that is precisely what [Henry] Aaron and [Isabel] Sawhill are proposing.And nearly everyone else who is currently backing a VAT.
A VAT, by itself, would be regressive, like almost all sales taxes. Nations that use VATs almost always combine them with various forms of income redistribution.
If you visit a nation that has a value-added tax, you see its effects immediately; most prices are higher than in the United States, even for identical items. In Britain, you can sometimes see the effect even more directly in advertisements. Personal computers, for example, are often sold with two prices, with the VAT and without. The differences are substantial, as you can see from this ad. (As I understand it, you can evade the tax if you are buying the computer as an investment for your business, rather than for personal use.) But usually the VAT is hidden from consumers, which is one reason why those who want higher taxes are so fond of it.
(You can find a critique of current proposals here, and the Wikipedia article on VATs here.)
- 10:05 AM, 15 October 2009 [link]
Media Lynch Mob: "Mainstream" journalists go after a competitor — without bothering to check the facts.
Which public figure can be quoted as having said something bigoted and disgusting and it doesn't matter whether he did or not because he might have? Who can Big Media brand a racist without checking the facts? Who has to prove he did not say something racist, rather than the accuser proving he did?As the Telegraph's Toby Harnden goes on to say, those who spread these falsehoods are — so far — "brazenly unapologetic".
So far, because we do have libel laws in this country, though they provide little protection for public figures. But they provide some, and I would guess that lawyers at CNN, MSNBC, and the Post-Dispatch are already getting nervous about possible financial consequences.
(For those who have never listened to Limbaugh, some additional facts about the man: Although Limbaugh is often provocative, I have never heard him say anything racist. His chief call screener for many years has been a black man, James Golden, better known as "Bo Snerdley". One of Limbaugh's frequent guest hosts is Walter Williams, a black economist. Limbaugh does, like most Americans, oppose racial quotas. And, like most conservatives, he believes that American blacks have been victimized by leftist (he would call them "liberal") policies.)
These attacks on Limbaugh were intended to keep him from buying a share of a National Football League team, and succeeded. He has been dropped from the group hoping to buy the St. Louis Rams. (The NFL has worse problems than having a conservative talk show host owning part of a team.)
More from Mark Steyn and John Hinderaker.
- 8:54 AM, 15 October 2009 [link]
The Scores On The National Math Test Are Out, And The News Is Mixed: Here's the summary headline from the National Assessment of Educational Progress.
Mathematics scores up since 2007 at grade 8, but unchanged at grade 4Another, somewhat more positive, way to put it, would be to say — correctly — that the test scores are at all-time highs. But it is also true that the scores have not risen as quickly in the last two years as they did between 2000 and 2007.
Fourth grade test scores have risen since 1990, when the test was first given, for all major ethnic groups. Gaps between groups persist but are smaller than they were in 1990. (Black fourth graders are now scoring slightly higher than white fourth graders did in 1990.)
Eight grade test scores have risen since 1990 for all major ethnic groups. Gaps between groups are about the same as they were in 1990, though Asian/Pacific Islanders are beginning to pull away from whites. (And everyone else.)
There is one constant in the results: In 4th grade and 8th grade, year after year, boys score about 2 points higher than girls. (It would be interesting to know whether the boys get better grades in math. I suspect not.)
(The earlier scores may not be strictly comparable with later scores, because some test takers can now get "accomodations", that is, more time, or individually given tests, or something similar.)
- 4:36 PM, 14 October 2009 [link]
Sweden Has Amended Its Wiretapping Law: But the government still has significant powers, in principle.
The law, which went into effect in January 2009, gives FRA -- a civilian agency despite its name -- the right to tap all cross-border internet and telephone communication.Even amended, the law was supported only by members of the governing center-right coalition.
Judging only by this account, the Swedes seem to have reached a reasonable balance, one not too different from our own. (I am dubious about the requirement that raw materials be destroyed after a year, since intelligence operations often go on for many years, slowly putting together patterns. But that limit may not mean much in practice.)
- 10:32 AM, 14 October 2009 [link]
Still Another Estimate On The Cost Of Medical Malpractice Lawsuits: This time, a range.
Ninety-three percent of doctors say they have practiced defensive medicine, and the real cost savings from reforming malpractice liability stem from curbing such wasteful practice. Academic researchers have reached different conclusions on how much money tort reforms save by preventing defensive medical practice, ranging from 2 percent of all health costs in some studies to as much as 9 percent in others.And an example:
And the cost of this litigation matters, too. From 1992 to 2003, the cost of litigation per nursing-home bed rose 700 percent. When trial lawyers almost sued the vaccine manufacturers out of existence in the 1980s, they drove up vaccine prices as much as 4,000 percent.James Copland says that the reluctance of Congress to support reform is easy to understand; lawyers gave more to congressional campaigns "than doctors and health professionals, hospitals and nursing homes, pharmaceutical companies and HMOs, combined".
- 9:43 AM, 14 October 2009 [link]
Paglia Is Asked, But Doesn't Really Answer: Hermes Diaz asks Paglia why she still supports Obama, considering all her criticisms of the administration.
Here's the best she can come up with:
Opponents of Obama are perplexed by the disconnect in polling between Americans' rejection of Obama's policies and his personal popularity. Count me among those who are very critical of many of Obama's actions or evasions but who continue to like him and to believe in his potential as a world leader. It's true he has accomplished nothing thus far and did not remotely deserve the Nobel Peace Prize, a gift carrying a terrible curse.It's fun to watch her struggle, from month to month, with the evidence. I like Paglia enough to think that the evidence will win, eventually.
(Later in the piece, Paglia has some good things to say about the "elitist insults flung at Sarah Palin".)
- 8:39 AM, 14 October 2009 [link]
All Right, What Do The Norwegians Think? That's my question after reading about this pair of polls.
Either side of the Atlantic, the majority of the voting public is believes that Barack Obama was not a deserving candidate for the Nobel Prize, according to new PoliticsHome research.Now, if the Norwegians agree with Britons and Americans, then maybe the Nobel committee will think twice about their decision. (Or maybe not. They don't strike me as a group given to second thoughts.)
It's just a guess, but I wouldn't be surprised to learn that Norwegians have opinions similar to those in the United States and Britain, maybe not so strong, but similar.
- 4:55 PM, 13 October 2009 [link]
Birmingham, UK May Give Up Voting By Mail On Demand: Five years ago, the Labour government in Britain decided to introduce voting by mail for everyone in Britain. In some British cities, including Birmingham, that has not worked out well.
Postal voting on demand was introduced by the Government five years ago to encourage more people to vote after seeing turnouts at elections plummet over many decades.Such as this recent by-election.
So Birmingham leaders from several parties are asking that on-demand voting by mail be banned in the city.
I am not a fan of the Respect Party, but this leader has it about right.
Coun[cillor] Yaqoob said: "I am very concerned that so many postal votes were rejected by the returning officer. An investigation must be held. If it turns out that fraud was involved, anyone responsible should face prosecution.It is almost eerie how similar their problems with on-demand mail ballots are to ours.
(Wonder about the ethnicity of the area with the problems? The candidates' names will give you a hint.)
- 2:50 PM, 13 October 2009 [link]
Kristof Versus Samuelson On Health Insurance "Reform" (Samuelson wins.) New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof makes an honest argument.
Health care has often been debated as a technical or economic issue. That has been a mistake, I believe. At root, universal health care is not an economic or technical question but a moral one.(Well, mostly honest. He does write "universal health care", when he means "universal health care insurance". But I have become so used to that particular distortion that I often pass over it.)
In other words, Kristof believes that all of us should be insured by the taxpayers, not because we would be healthier, or better off financially, but because it is wrong for a modern society not to provide insurance for its citizens (and, if I know Kristof, for its residents, legal or not).
I like the fact that Kristof has made a mostly honest argument. (And I think he is expressing a view common among those who share his ideology, though seldom expressed this directly.) I don't like the fact that Kristof does not admit, in this column, that requiring all of us to have government-approved health insurance will damage our economy, and restrict our freedoms.
Robert Samuelson understands what we may lose, economically, if Kristof, and others like him, force us to follow their morality. The costs are heavy.
Downward mobility is possible. Expanding health spending would raise taxes (to pay for government insurance), lower take-home pay (to pay for employer-provided insurance) or increase out-of-pocket medical costs. Other drains also loom: higher energy prices to combat global warming; higher taxes to pay for underfunded state and local government pensions and repair aging infrastructure; higher federal taxes to cover deficits and payments to retirees (much of which reflect health spending). The pressures will undermine private living standards and other public services (schools, police, defense).Those costs may not matter to Kristof, and others like him. For them, it is a matter of right and wrong, not gains and losses.
But there are also powerful moral arguments against Kristof. Many people who can afford private health insurance choose not to buy it. They may be foolish not to do so. (Or they may not buy health insurance because so many states restrict the kinds of insurance people can buy, so the buyers have few good choices.)
I have thought very hard about this question, and I am unable to think of a moral argument for forcing those people to buy health insurance, as most of the Democratic plans would do in one way or another. If John Doe prefers not to buy insurance, Kristof and company would take his money and buy it for him, or even put him in jail. That isn't a safety net; that's a safety straitjacket.
Every Democratic plan would restrict our freedoms in many other ways, from fertility treatments to end-of-life care. That does not bother Kristof, but it should bother anyone who values our freedoms.
(Kristof cites a study published in the American Journal of Public Health claiming that "nearly 45,000 uninsured people die annually as a consequence of not having insurance". I have not read the study, but I know that critics of bureaucratizing health care still further are not impressed by it.)
- 10:49 AM, 13 October 2009 [link]
Where Has The Reid-Pelosi-Obama Stimulus Money Gone? Mostly not to "shovel-ready" construction projects. In fact, most of the stimulus money has not been paid out yet. The Department of Transportation, where you would expect to see the most "shovel-ready" projects, has been especially slow at getting money out to construction workers. So has the Department of Interior, which is always complaining about not having enough money to maintain our national parks.
None of this will surprise students of government bureaucracies. Typically, government bureaucracies are good at spending money for the same things, year after year, and poor at spending money for new things. (Corporate bureaucracies often have similar problems, though theirs are usually less severe.)
The best way* to stimulate the economy quickly would have been to cut wage taxes temporarily. But that wouldn't have been the best way to reward the interest groups who helped give Reid and Pelosi their majorities, and helped elect Obama.
By way of Bryan Caplan and Russ Roberts.
(*Perhaps I should have said the best practical way. We could, in principle, have stimulated the economy even more by deregulating, but I don't see any practical way we could have done that quickly, even assuming the Democratic majorities in Congress and President Obama understood how deregulation could help the economy.
For what it is worth, the Canadian government seems to have done better at getting stimulus money out to their infrastructure projects.)
- 7:31 AM, 13 October 2009 [link]
Zero Tolerance, Zero Common Sense: Delaware schools are being kept safe from Cub Scouts.
Finding character witnesses when you are 6 years old is not easy. But there was Zachary Christie last week at a school disciplinary committee hearing with his karate instructor and his mother's fiancé by his side to vouch for him.You can understand why lawmakers and bureaucrats impose zero tolerance laws and regulations: They don't trust the teachers and principals to use common sense. And sometimes they are right. But the answer to that problem is not to impose zero-tolerance rules, but to hire teachers and principals who can be trusted.
- 6:39 AM, 13 October 2009
Update: Zachary can go back to school, and the school district is planning to rewrite its rules. All in all, a good ending to this story. (One thing I am still not clear about: just how the state's laws and the school's rules combined to produce the original suspension.)
- 10:52 AM, 14 October 2009 [link]
Weird Bounces: Here's what happened in the Washington-Arizona game last Saturday.
So while the Huskies had been dominated statistically, they were only down by five points when Arizona quarterback Nick Foles tried to throw a bubble-screen pass to receiver Delashaun Dean on a first-down play with 2:49 left in the game.Foster probably didn't plan for it to happen exactly that way.
Here's a picture showing the bounce, and here's a video with highlights, including that miraculous interception.
- 3:02 PM, 12 October 2009 [link]
Worth Reading: Lewis Sorley's op-ed on the real lessons of Vietnam.
By the time of the enemy's 1972 Easter Offensive virtually all U.S. ground troops had been withdrawn. Supported by American airpower and naval gunfire, South Vietnam's armed forces gallantly turned back an invasion from the North amounting to the equivalent of some 20 divisions, or about 200,000 troops.Sorley believes that, had we kept our commitments to South Vietnam, they could have defeated the 1975 North Vietnamese invasion, as well.
(Here's Sorley's A Better War: The Unexamined Victories and Final Tragedy of America's Last Years in Vietnam. It's a book I may have to read.)
- 2:31 PM, 12 October 2009 [link]
"No Battle Plan Survives Contact With The Enemy" Or even, sometimes, with events. Yesterday, I had planned, if the weather was good, to drive clockwise around Mt. Rainier, photographing as I went. Listening to the morning news, I learned that Highway 410, which I planned to follow for the first part of my circuit, was blocked by a large landslide, east of the mountain. The blockage was not on part of my route, but I checked the Mt. Rainier automated phone message anyway, and was relieved to learn that the highways I would be taking (410, 123, 706) were all open.
And they were, when I called. By the time I got up to the intersection of Highway 410 and Highway 123, the latter had been closed for repairs. It was late enough so that doing most of the circuit counterclockwise before dark was impossible, by automobile anyway.
So I changed my plan and drove back along 410, and then up to the visitor's center in the northeast corner of the park, Sunrise. I still had time for a four mile hike, and a few pictures, though I can't say that any of them are spectacular. It was enjoyable, but not what I had planned.
There's nothing extraordinary about the way I had to adapt my plan, but there is a lesson in it. For instance, if I had had real time information, I could have changed my plan sooner, and avoided an hour or so of pointless driving. (I was listening to traffic updates on a news station, but they would be unlikely to know about the closing of 123 unless the park officials had told them. Oddly enough, during the day, the station kept running a story recommending the route I had planned to take, if you wanted to see fall colors.)
Though real-time intelligence is often what we need, it is usually unavailable. We would like, for instance, to know what is happening in our economy, but most economic statistics are a month or two out of date, and only approximate. (Some still think we can "fine tune" our economy; that strikes me as about as plausible as the idea that we can steer a supertanker, relying on week old reports of its position.)
(Here's are more pictures of the landslide, and an explanation of rotational landslides.
The quotation in the title is from Helmuth von Moltke the Elder, who knew a little about battle plans.)
- 1:19 PM, 12 October 2009 [link]
Canada Gained Jobs in September.
Canada's jobless rate unexpectedly fell last month, signaling that the U.S.'s largest trading partner has begun an economic recovery that may lead the central bank to increase interest rates within the next year.Again.
Canada added a better-than-expected 27,100 jobs in August, one of the biggest gains since the recession began in the country last fall.If the US economy were doing as well, we would have added about a half a million jobs in August and September.
We shouldn't ascribe all these Canadian gains to government policies. Canada's banks did not behave as foolishly as many American banks did, and Canada is still benefitting from the run up in oil prices.
Even so, I think we can give some credit to Prime Minister Harper, as I said last month. And I don't think we should be surprised to see an economist produce a better economic plan than a lawyer (Harry Reid), a socialite (Nancy Pelosi), and a lawyer (Barack Obama) did.
(Incidentally, the Canadian recovery is good news for the United States, since they buy so much from us.)
- 7:14 AM, 12 October 2009 [link]
"What Happened To Global Warming?" The BBC asks the question many of us have been wondering about.
This headline may come as a bit of a surprise, so too might that fact that the warmest year recorded globally was not in 2008 or 2007, but in 1998.The BBC reporter, Paul Hudson, then goes on to describe some of the challenges to global warming models from skeptics. He gives, as far as this non-expert can tell, a fair description of the arguments on each side.
Two points I've made before deserve repeating: First, if the earth does not warm, at some point* the climate models that predict warming must be modified, or even abandoned. Second, we should not make too much of this pause in warming — yet. The earth is still warmer than it was fifty years ago. (We could be seeing a combination of a warming trend from CO2 and a natural cycle, with the two temporarily cancelling each other out.)
That said, though my opinions on this controversy are still mixed, I am a little more skeptical about the models than I was five years ago.
(*How many years should we wait? I haven't been able to find an answer to that from the climate modelers. Meanwhile, there are subsidiary predictions made by the models, which can and should be checked now.
Here's a comparison of temperature trends and predictions for the current decade.)
- 6:44 AM, 12 October 2009 [link]
Salmon Days In Issaquah, Washington: And the salmon were entertaining thousands of visitors last Sunday.
(Those are Chinook salmon in the picture; the Sockeye salmon will begin returning this week, according to the guides.
Since they are returning to the hatchery where they were born, they all have tags. In fact, according to one of the guides, the nose tags the salmon wear on leaving the hatchery even identify which pond they were raised in, so the hatchery can compare different ways of raising the fish.)
- 1:00 PM, 9 October 2009 [link]
Many Fashion Designers Dislike Women: That's a cliché, but it's a cliché that deserves repeating from time to time. For evidence, see the pictures in this New York Times article, and in the slide shows that accompany the article. (Partial exception: Some of John Galliano's designs.)
(Am I making a political point, indirectly? Perhaps.)
- 12:33 PM, 9 October 2009 [link]
Is Swine Flu Dangerous? Yes, but less so than ordinary seasonal flu.
Repeat, there is no flu epidemic. There will be, but only because we have one every year.So, don't panic. If you're in one of the higher risk groups, you'll probably want to get vaccinated, but you shouldn't worry more than you usually do about the flu.
(Full disclosure: Although I am old enough so that many doctors would recommend that I get vaccinated, I don't plan to, mostly because I have been in excellent health in recent years. But you should consult your own doctor rather than relying on my atypical experience.)
- 12:20 PM, 9 October 2009 [link]
That CBO Estimate On The Baucus "Bill"? Even the man who made it knows it's bogus, though he has to say so indirectly.
These projections assume that the proposals are enacted and remain unchanged throughout the next two decades, which is often not the case for major legislation. For example, the sustainable growth rate (SGR) mechanism governing Medicare's payments to physicians has frequently been modified (either through legislation or administrative action) to avoid reductions in those payments. The projected savings for the proposal reflect the cumulative impact of a number of specifications that would constrain payment rates for providers of Medicare services. The long-term budgetary impact could be quite different if those provisions were ultimately changed or not fully implemented. (If those changes arose from future legislation, CBO would estimate their costs when that legislation was being considered by the Congress.)(Emphasis added.)
For instance, suppose more clinics follow the Arizona Mayo clinic and drop out of Medicare. Will Congress just keep trying to reduce payments, or will they respond to their constituents, and raise payments, as they have so many times in the past?
Doug Elmendorf knows this, but the Congressional Budget Office rules prevent him from saying so directly. He must use the assumptions he is given for his estimates, however ridiculous those assumptions may be.
(By way of Arnold Kling.)
- 10:13 AM, 9 October 2009 [link]
How Funny Was The Nobel Peace Prize Award? So funny that George Stephanopoulos is passing on a joke collection about the choice.
(I haven't checked to see whether anyone has called Stephanopoulos a racist yet for posting this collection.)
- 9:26 AM, 9 October 2009 [link]
Arizona Mayo Clinic Drops Medicare Patients: Here's the story.
One of the Mayo Clinic's two family-medicine practices in Arizona soon will stop accepting Medicare, leaving thousands of patients to pay out of pocket for routine doctor's visits or find a new physician.And I don't suppose they can make up those losses on volume.
As I understand it, many doctors are in a similar position. They may subsidize some Medicare patients by charging higher fees to their private patients, but there are limits to how many they can accept on those terms.
Mayo Clinic is often described as an especially efficient, as well as an especially competent, operation. If they are having trouble living on Medicare payments, many others must be as well.
(Here's a link to the clinic.)
- 8:20 AM, 9 October 2009 [link]
Check The Water In Oslo: That's my advice to Norway, after reading this news.
U.S. President Barack Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday for giving the world "hope for a better future" and striving for nuclear disarmament, in a surprise award that drew criticism as well as praise.(The nine months is a little misleading. Obama made the "short list" some time in February or March.)
They should check the Oslo water because you never know when some joker might put hallucinogenic drugs in the water supply.
Most people outside Oslo seem more sensible. For example:
Issam al-Khazraji, a day laborer in Baghdad, said: "He doesn't deserve this prize. All these problems -- Iraq, Afghanistan -- have not been solved...The man of 'change' hasn't changed anything yet."An earlier prize winner was shocked by the news.
Poland is stunned to see the Nobel Peace Prize given to U.S. President Barack Obama. You can always count on Poland's outspoken ex-president and its best-know Nobel Prize laureate Lech Walesa to be undiplomatic:Even supporters of Obama were embarrassed by the award. Mickey Kaus suggested that Obama decline the prize. (An excellent idea.) Maria Farell of Crooked Timber was startled. Brett at Harry's Place wonders whether the Nobel committee is "insane", and suggests a better recipient.
You can find roundups of reactions here and here, and a good discussion of the reasons for the award here.
- 6:41 AM, 9 October 2009 [link]