Archive:

October 2009, Part 3

Jim Miller on Politics




Pseudo-Random Thoughts



The Seattle Times Slurs The Tea Party Protesters:  And I reply with an open letter to Ryan Blethen.  (For those unfamiliar with the Seattle Times, Ryan Blethen is the editorial page editor.  It is probably sheer coincidence that the publisher of the newspaper is also named Blethen.)

Dear Mr. Blethen:

Today, you published a cartoon by Mike Peters referring to the anti-deficit protesters as "Tea Baggers".  As everyone should know by now, "Tea Baggers" refers to an unusual sexual practice.  (Consult an urban dictionary if you don't know the meaning of the term.)

The cartoon is inappropriate for a family newspaper.  And the slur is inappropriate for anyone who thinks that our political debates should be conducted with some civility.  The Seattle Times should apologize for publishing the cartoon.  (Your cartoon editor, Ken Rosenthal, may want to consider banning Peters entirely, if the cartoonist won't apologize for the slur.)

The tea party protesters, as they call themselves, have, in general, been treated badly by most "mainstream" journalists, including most at the Seattle Times, even though the protesters are mostly saying what every serious person knows: that our current and projected deficits are unsustainable.   That the protesters have been subjected to this particular slur, again and again, is not only wrong — which should be enough for you — but bad business, since you risk alienating so many potential subscribers.

Sincerely,
Jim Miller

PS - Mr. Rosenthal should read my site for the next week, since I plan to publish a post which will criticize him by name.  Your circulation manager may want to read that post, too.)

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(You can see the cartoon here.  It's the current cartoon as I write, and is dated 10/22/2009.)
- 1:33 PM, 23 October 2009   [link]


Why Is Obama Dithering On Afghanistan?  During the 2008 campaign, Obama vigorously attacked the Bush administration for not doing enough to win the (good) war in Afghanistan.  (Some cynics thought that Obama made this argument only for contrast with his lack of support for the (bad) war in Iraq, and his failure to recognize the success of Bush's surge in Iraq.)

In March, Obama proposed a more aggressive strategy in Afghanistan.
So I want the American people to understand that we have a clear and focused goal: to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future.  That is the goal that must be achieved.  That is a cause that could not be more just.  And to the terrorists who oppose us, my message is the same: we will defeat you.

To achieve our goals, we need a stronger, smarter and comprehensive strategy.  To focus on the greatest threat to our people, America must no longer deny resources to Afghanistan because of the war in Iraq.  To enhance the military, governance, and economic capacity of Afghanistan and Pakistan, we have to marshal international support.  And to defeat an enemy that heeds no borders or laws of war, we must recognize the fundamental connection between the future of Afghanistan and Pakistan — which is why I've appointed Ambassador Richard Holbrooke to serve as Special Representative for both countries, and to work closely with General David Petraeus to integrate our civilian and military efforts.
(The new strategy was, as we have learned from Dick Cheney, mostly copied from plans the Bush administration had made, though Obama did not credit his predecessor in that speech.)

In August, Obama's chosen Afghanistan commander, General McChrystal, told Obama that more forces were needed, if we did not want to risk "mission failure".   President Obama has yet to decide whether to send the additional forces McChrystal requested.

Why has Obama changed his mind, why is he now delaying after making those campaign promises, and that warlike speech in March?  Why, after deciding in March to seek victory, has he become undecided?

I don't know for sure, but I think that the Obama administration is beginning to worry about the political costs of a protracted war in Afghanistan.  (And a successful war will be protracted.)   The left already has doubts about the Afghanistan war, and those doubts will only grow over time.  And relying on Republicans for anything is not something that this hyperpartisan White House wants to do.

There is evidence for my tentative conclusion in the reports that officials in the Obama administration have been reading Gordon Goldstein's defeatist book on the Vietnam War.
But past events also weigh heavily on the debate.  The new must-read among Obama's top advisers is a 2008 book about Vietnam called "Lessons in Disaster: McGeorge Bundy and the Path to War in Vietnam."  As national security adviser to presidents Kennedy and Johnson, the late Mr. Bundy supported deepening US involvement in Vietnam but had second thoughts later in life.

Afghanistan and Vietnam are similar, says Gordon Goldstein, the book's author and a former adviser to the United Nations.  Mr. Goldstein points out that President Kennedy went against military advice when he moved to reduce American involvement in Vietnam before he was assassinated.  His instincts were right, Goldstein says, though it remains unclear what impact Kennedy's reluctance to send troops into Vietnam would have had on the broader conflict.

"I don't think the strategy [of more troops] was a viable strategy in Vietnam and I don't think the strategy is viable in Afghanistan," he says.  Former US commander of Afghanistan Dan McNeill has said that going by counterinsurgency doctrine, Afghanistan would need a force of at least 400,000 to win.  There are currently 100,000-odd foreign troops in Afghanistan, not counting local indigenous forces.
(That the US won in Vietnam, and then threw away the victory, as Lewis Sorley has established, does not seem to have penetrated the Obama inner circle.  Note also that the journalist, Gordon Lubold, casually skips over the number of "indigenous forces", though those are the key to victory in this kind of war.)

There is no one in Obama's inner circle who has any military training or experience.  Almost all of them have political experience.  And now they find themselves in a trap built from their own campaign promises.  They would like to find some way to semi-gracefully cut back in Afghanistan, but can't do so and be consistent with what Obama said, over and over, in the campaign, and what he said again in March.

And so, having two bad political choices, Obama delays and dithers, while our allies, and our troops, wonder and wait.  And I am sorry to say this, but I don't think he, or anyone close to him, has really thought about the strategic consequences of a semi-graceful, disguised withdrawal from Afghanistan.  In fact, I am not sure that any of them could think about US strategy in a systematic way, even if they tried.

(Here's a brief critique of Goldstein's argument, from another revisionist historian, Mark Moyar.)
- 10:40 AM, 23 October 2009   [link]


"A Perfect Metaphor For Britain's Bloated, Sclerotic Welfare State"   That's how Richard Littlejohn describes Paul Mason, who is eating himself to death — with the full, and very expensive, support of the British welfare system.
Let's agree that 70-stone Paul Mason, Britain's fattest man, has some kind of serious disorder and needs treatment.  I'd even go along with those who argue that he's as entitled to help as an anorexic young woman.

The difference is that you don't treat an anorexic by sticking your fingers down her throat and making her throw up.

Mr Mason should have been Sectioned and force-fed Slim-Fast.  Instead, his 'carers' indulge his 20,000-calorie-a-day junk food habit plying him round the clock with burgers, pizzas, sausages and fish and chips.
There much more in the column, including a cost estimate for his care — about "£1 million over the past few years".  Assisted suicide is not always cheap.

Although this case is bizarre, it illustrates something most students of welfare have understood for years.  (And some understood centuries ago.)  The worst thing about welfare is what it does to the recipients.

(A "stone", which the British still use for human weights, is 14 pounds.  They use "sectioned", where we might say institutionalized, or committed.)
- 7:43 AM, 23 October 2009   [link]


If You Liked Cash For Clunkers:  You'll love this Colorado tax break.
It sounds too good to be true, but here it is: You can buy a 2009 Tesla Roadster, with a list price of $109,900, and pay just $67,800 for it.

At least, you can if you live in Colorado and buy it before December 31.

That's when a special Colorado tax credit, designed to encourage the purchase of low-emission cars, is due to end.
The Tesla is a low-emission vehicle, but this tax break may not be the most efficient way to reduce air pollution in Colorado.

The article doesn't tell us who came up with this provision, but as our "mainstream" journalists have delighted in telling us, Colorado has been moving to the left in recent years, so this subsidy for the very, very wealthy was probably a Democratic initiative.
- 7:10 AM, 23 October 2009   [link]


Should We Believe Those Cost Estimates For Obamacare?  No, because experience shows that such estimates have almost always been too low, sometimes absurdly too low.  Here are two examples from a Wall Street Journal editorial:
Thanks in part to expansions promoted by California's Henry Waxman, a principal author of the current House bill, Medicaid now costs 37 times more than it did when it was launched—after adjusting for inflation.  Its current cost is $251 billion, up 24.7% or $50 billion in fiscal 2009 alone, and that's before the health-care bill covers millions of new beneficiaries.

Medicare has a similar record.  In 1965, Congressional budgeters said that it would cost $12 billion in 1990.  Its actual cost that year was $90 billion.  Whoops.  The hospitalization program alone was supposed to cost $9 billion but wound up costing $67 billion.   These aren't small forecasting errors.  The rate of increase in Medicare spending has outpaced overall inflation in nearly every year (up 9.8% in 2009), so a program that began at $4 billion now costs $428 billion.
The exception is instructive.
One of the few health-care entitlements that has come in well below the original estimate is the 2003 Medicare prescription drug bill.  Those costs are now about one-third below the original projections, according to the Medicare actuaries.  Part of the reason is lower than expected participation by seniors and savings from generic drugs.

But as White House budget director Peter Orszag told Congress when he ran the Congressional Budget Office, the "primary cause" of these cost savings is that "the pricing is coming in better than anticipated, and that is likely a reflection of the competition that's occurring in the private market."  The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services agrees, stating that "the drug plans competing for Medicare beneficiaries have been able to establish greater than expected savings from aggressive price negotiation."  It adds that when given choices "beneficiaries have overwhelmingly selected less costly drug plans."
So do Obama and company plan to use markets and patient choice to cut costs for Obamacare?   Not at all.  Instead, they plan to use regulation, which has failed for more than four decades.

My advice:  Take those estimates for the cost of Obamacare with a bucket of salt.  When they claim, for instance, that the plan will cost $900 billion over the next ten years, assume that they might be too low by $500 billion, or more.

(Incidentally, about ten years ago, I saw a series of articles in the Washington Post describing Waxman's successes in expanding Medicaid.  Near the end of the series, the authors noted, rather casually I thought, that Waxman's success in expanding Medicaid had done nothing for the health of the recipients.)
- 3:17 PM, 22 October 2009   [link]


Small City, Big Lesson:  Kinston, North Carolina is a small city, but it has provided us — unwillingly — with a big lesson about the Obama Justice department.  Clarice Feldman explains, with her usual lucidity.
Most of North Carolina's local municipalities hold their elections on a nonpartisan basis.  Five municipalities in all of North Carolina, including Kinston, hold partisan local elections.   Non-partisan balloting saves money because there is no need for primary elections.  It also prevents the need for petition drives to get candidates on the primary ballots.

Kinston, a town of 23,000 people, two-thirds of whom are black, was an exception to the rule in North Carolina.  It wanted to change its election rules to conform to the prevailing state-wide method of nonpartisan local elections.  The town is overwhelmingly Democratic.  Indeed, no one can even remember a Republican holding office in Kinston since Reconstruction.  The townspeople voted almost 2-1 to switch to nonpartisan elections, and the vote carried seven of the town's nine majority-black precincts and both of its white- majority precincts.
The Obama Justice department overruled Kinston's vote, apparently because the officials fear that Kinston may elect someone from the wrong party, or even from the wrong race.
- 2:02 PM, 22 October 2009   [link]


What Do American Citizens Think Of Fox News?  We know what the Obama administration says about Fox, that it isn't a real news organization.  (Do the Obama officials who have been saying those things believe them?  Some do, some don't, I would guess.  Some are true believers, and some are power-hungry cynics.)  But what do ordinary citizens think of the cable network?

As it happens, we have a Pew poll, conducted in July, that answers that question.  Pew found that 55 percent of the public rated Fox New favorably, and 25 percent unfavorably.

That's worse than Network TV (64-24) and CNN (60-19), but better than MSNBC (48-19), and the New York Times (29-17).  Allowing for the high number of "don't know's", it's worse than NPR (44-12) and about the same as the Wall Street Journal (32-13).

So, American citizens give Fox News an average grade.

But that's not the whole story.  Republicans give Fox their highest rating (72), while only 43 percent of Democrats rated Fox favorably.  Presumably, that 43 percent is the main target of the Obama administration attacks on Fox.  That partisan split in evaluating Fox has grown sharply in recent years.

(Although assessments of news organizations have become more partisan in the past decade, divisions have lessened on general questions, as more and more Democrats came to agree with Republican criticisms of the press.  For example, in July 2007, 63 percent of Republicans thought that stories were often inaccurate, but just 43 percent of Democrats did.  By July, 2009, 69 percent of Republicans thought stories were often inaccurate, and 59 percent of Democrats agreed.)
- 11:23 AM, 22 October 2009   [link]


What Does The Public Think About The "Public Option"?  Jay Cost analyzes the polls and comes to this conclusion:
So, does this mean that the public is actually against the public option?  I'd say no.   Instead, I would suggest that the public lacks sufficient information about that specific item to deliver a firm opinion.  Accordingly, its opinion varies depending upon question wording, priming effects, the ebbs and flows of the news cycle, and so on.
(Emphasis added.)

I haven't tried to replicate his analysis, but his conclusion sounds right to me.  For decades, pollsters have known that most people will try to give answers to questions — even if the people don't know enough about the questions to answer them.  (You can, for instance, get many people to give you opinions about an entirely imaginary bill.)

(Is the public option, a government insurance company, a good idea?  The answer to that depends, in my opinion, on whether you want to move to a single-payer system, in which the government completely replaces the insurance companies.  Many Republicans believe that, as Senator Orrin Hatch put it, that a public option is a "Trojan Horse" for a single-payer system — and at least one leftist talk show host is honest enough to agree.

In principle, you could get a better reading on support for the public option by using different polling strategies.  You could "qualify" respondents, by asking them questions to determine whether they understand the subject, and then only ask the opinion questions of those people who passed the test.  Or, you could give much longer descriptions of the public option, and the main arguments for and against it, before asking whether the respondents support it.

Neither strategy is perfect, but you might get better answers than we have gotten from current polls.)
- 9:42 AM, 22 October 2009   [link]


Senate Democrats Get Nervous On Health Care "Reform"  And Harry Reid loses a key vote.

The Washington Post explains why they were voting on Medicare payments to doctors
The Senate found rare bipartisan agreement on a health-care issue Wednesday as 13 Democrats joined all 40 Republicans to block a permanent repeal of Medicare's payment formula for doctors.

Although sympathetic to fixing the root problem, lawmakers concluded that the legislation's $247 billion 10-year price tag was too steep in an era of record deficits.

The "doc fix" has become a near-annual ritual in Congress: Lawmakers routinely override the formula that sets Medicare payments to doctors, a move to prevent physicians from turning away Medicare patients because they are paid too little for the visits.  While the vast majority in Congress agree that the formula, established in a 1997 deficit-reduction bill, is a failed model, producing the enormous sum needed to eliminate it has proven impossible. Instead, lawmakers resort to temporary fixes.
And, though the Post doesn't mention it, each time they vote on those temporary fixes, congressmen have a chance to raise some money from lobbyists, and perhaps extract some concessions on other issues from the American Medical Association, and other groups.

The New York Times explains why the "doc fix" lost this time.
Mr. Reid said the bill, by averting big cuts in physician fees, guaranteed that doctors would continue accepting Medicare patients.  But since none of the costs were offset or paid for, Republicans said it was fiscally irresponsible, and some Democrats said they shared that concern.

By addressing doctors' fees in a separate bill, Senate Democrats could hold down the cost of the broader health legislation, keeping it within the limits set by President Obama.  House Democrats are considering a similar tactic.  Republicans said it was a transparent ploy to hide the cost of a health care overhaul.
And it was a "transparent ploy", too transparent for some Democrats to vote for.

(One interesting, and possibly important, technical detail:  Reid appears to have been surprised by the defeat, to have believed he had a solid margin.  He needed 60 votes, but only got 47.  If he is that far off on this vote, I wonder whether he actually has 50 votes for the Baucus bill, which now actually exists, though I haven't read its 1500 plus pages.)
- 9:00 AM, 22 October 2009   [link]


Whatever The Obama Team Is Doing:  It isn't working, according to Gallup.
In Gallup Daily tracking that spans Barack Obama's third quarter in office (July 20 through Oct. 19), the president averaged a 53% job approval rating.  That is down sharply from his prior quarterly averages, which were both above 60%.

In fact, the 9-point drop in the most recent quarter is the largest Gallup has ever measured for an elected president between the second and third quarters of his term, dating back to 1953.  One president who was not elected to his first term -- Harry Truman -- had a 13-point drop between his second and third quarters in office in 1945 and 1946.
. . .
More generally, Obama's 9-point slide between quarters ranks as one of the steepest for a president at any point in his first year in office.  The highest is Truman's 19-point drop between his third and fourth quarters, followed by a 15-point drop for Gerald Ford between his first and second quarters.  The largest for an elected president in his first year is Bill Clinton's 11-point slide between his first and second quarters.
Most of that drop may be a result of the worsening job picture.  Some voters may be measuring Obama against the promises he made when the stimulus package was passed.

But some of the drop, I suspect, is caused by the hyperpartisan nature of this White House.   Independents generally want the parties to work together.  So far, Obama has not been willing to pay much for even token Republican support, has not been willing to yield to them on some small issues.  I suspect that helps explain why independents have been moving away from him so dramatically.

(As a tactical matter, Republican leaders should, frequently, urge the president to work with them, and give politically popular examples, such as tort reform, of where they could work with Obama.

By way of Real Clear Politics.)
- 3:49 PM, 21 October 2009   [link]


Civility From Both Sides:  Oddly enough, both examples involve Rush Limbaugh.

Nate Silver, who is good enough with numbers to be a Republican but usually votes Democratic, said this about some recent attacks on Limbaugh.
No, the headline is not sarcastic.  No, I do not particularly care for the guy.  Yes, Rush has said all other various and sundry sorts of racially inflammatory things.

But there's pretty compelling evidence a couple of particularly inflammatory quotes that have been attributed to Limbaugh on CNN and at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch are things he simply never said.   There's no audio file, there's no YouTube, there's no transcript -- there's no sourcing of any kind to speak of, and given that Rush is one of the most listened-to and tape-recorded people in the history of the world, you'd certainly think that there would be.  There's not even some kind of half-assed backstory -- "Oh, he said these things off the record at a fundraiser for Alexander Haig" -- or anything like that.  The quotes appear, in other words, to have been completely made up.
Anthony Watts is critical of global warming models.  For many, who see only two sides in these debates, that would make him a conservative.  (I have no idea what his politics are, and don't much care.)  Although Limbaugh often sides with Watts on climate questions, Watts says — correctly — that Limbaugh went too far when he suggested that Andy Revkin kill himself.
Having been on the receiving end of "why don't you just kill yourself" suggestions myself, I don't like to see it repeated by anyone, no matter the stature or situation.  I was once told by a local eco-person that I should "study CO2 by locking myself in my garage with my SUV with the motor running".  While she couldn't even get the chemical compound right, it was then that I chose not to reply in kind by wishing death on my opponents.

I simply think Rush could have chosen better words to voice the outrage, such as "if you really think this way, then you first, Mr. Revkin." which would be humorous satire.
Silver and Watts are both right; Limbaugh's enemies did go too far, and so did Limbaugh.  It is good to see Silver and Watts try to restore some civility to our debates.

(In general, I try to remember that those I vote against are opponents, not enemies, and that I may agree with them on some issues.  For instance, I don't much care for Congressman Jim McDermott, who represents a Seattle district just next to mine.  But I admire his efforts to bring the benefits of free trade to impoverished African nations.)
- 2:26 PM, 21 October 2009   [link]


Volcker Is Right:  (In my humble opinion.)  He thinks banks should be banks, not investment houses.
The aging Mr. Volcker (he is 82) has some advice, deeply felt.  He has been offering it in speeches and Congressional testimony, and repeating it to those around the president, most of them young enough to be his children.

He wants the nation's banks to be prohibited from owning and trading risky securities, the very practice that got the biggest ones into deep trouble in 2008.  And the administration is saying no, it will not separate commercial banking from investment operations.
. . .
"The banks are there to serve the public," Mr. Volcker said, "and that is what they should concentrate on.  These other activities create conflicts of interest.  They create risks, and if you try to control the risks with supervision, that just creates friction and difficulties" and ultimately fails.
The Obama administration is not listening to Volcker, which does not surprise me.  Just as some routinely overestimate what markets can do, the Obama administration routinely overestimates what governments can do, and continues to believe in regulation, after regulation so conspicuously (and so expensively) failed.

A good banker needs one set of strengths; a good speculator needs a very different set.  It is foolish to expect that many chief executives will have both sets.

(Volcker's successor, Alan Greenspan, does not agree with Volcker, but does favor breaking up large banks.  That's another good idea.)
- 10:10 AM, 21 October 2009   [link]


What's Unrepentant Terrorist Bill Ayers Doing These Days?  Giving talks at education conferences, talks along with Obama administration officials.
It turns out Ayers was one of three keynote speakers at a major conference organized by a consortium of schools of education at some 30 or so middle sized universities called The Renaissance Group.   Ayers was given the only keynote luncheon speaker spot at the conference.  The two morning keynote speakers were none other than Arne Duncan, the Secretary of Education - and former foe of Ayers (and Obama) in the Chicago School Wars, and Undersecretary of Education Martha Kanter.
Steve Diamond concludes:
Thus, the prominent participation of Ayers in the Renaissance conference comes as no surprise.   What is notable, though, is that Duncan and Kanter were also participating.  Clearly the White House has no problem being associated with Bill Ayers.  Ayers, it would appear, is being allowed a "renaissance," so to speak, now that the potential of their shared history to undermine Obama has receded for the time being.
Just as Obama does not think it was wrong to attend Jeremiah Wright's church for two decades, he does not think associating with Ayers is wrong.  Both men can be politically embarrassing, in which case Obama will cut his ties with them, temporarily, but Obama does not regard their ideas as evil.

By way of Tom Maguire.

(There is much interesting historical background in the post.  Although I disagree with Diamond on many political issues, I have found him an honest scholar, and one whose commitment to democracy is unquestionable.  That I have to add that last bit tells us something discouraging about our universities.)
- 7:57 AM, 21 October 2009   [link]


Examples Of Vote Fraud In Troy, NY:  I mentioned this scandal in an earlier post.  Now Fox has dug up some of the individuals who claim that vote fraudsters used their names to vote illegally.

Examples:
Brian Suozzo voted with an absentee ballot in the Working Families Party primary on Sept. 15 because, as his application stated, he was "at home recovering from medical procedure."

Jessica Boomhower's application said she would be attending a "work conference in Boston."

Michael Ward couldn't vote in person because he was "taking care of elderly parent."

Kimberlee Truell was on a "Bus trip to casino," as was Miguel Vazques.

The only problem with these absentee ballot records at the Rensselaer County Board of Elections in Troy, N.Y., is that they're phony, voters and investigators say -- and they've prompted what's being called an unprecedented investigation of suspected voter fraud.
Suozzo makes an important point:
"Someone took my signature and voted with it and I felt extremely violated," Suozzo told Fox News.  He is a soft-spoken 28-year-old environmental engineer who says he never saw, let alone signed, the Working Families Party Absentee ballot application that carried his supposed signature.  He was flabbergasted that someone would vote for him and submit it.

"The whole thing seems dirty to me," Suzzo said. "You wonder how often this happens and people don't get caught."
(Emphasis added.)

Yes, some of us do wonder about that.  Certainly more vote fraud is committed than is detected, but, to the best of my knowledge, no one has even a rough estimate of how much is undetected.

One shouldn't go too far in drawing conclusions from the preliminary results of this investigation.  So far, the scale is small enough so that the apparently fraudulent votes could have been created by one or two people.  So we should not conclude that this shows anything about the Democratic party in the county, or its frequent ally, the Working Families party.

(The New York Times often denies that vote fraud is a serious problem in the United States.   I searched their web site to see if they had covered this case, but was unable to find any stories.  Troy, New York is about 170 miles from the newspaper's headquarters.  It is about 10 miles from the state capital, Albany, where the Times must have a reporter or two.

In contrast, Fox not only covered this story, but even has a special unit dedicated to investigating possible vote fraud.)
- 2:10 PM, 20 October 2009   [link]


Defender Of The Faith?  Since June, I've been meaning to link to this post, which critiques a bizarre thing that Obama said in his Cairo speech.  It's important enough to bear repeating, even if you saw it earlier.
- 10:51 AM, 20 October 2009   [link]


Another Big Democratic Donor, Another Arrest:  This time for insider trading.
For years, whenever anyone asked Raj Rajaratnam about the success of his hedge fund, the Galleon Group, he chalked it up to being hungrier than everyone else.
. . .
At dawn on Friday, Mr. Rajaratnam was arrested at his expensive Manhattan home, charged with running the biggest insider trading scheme involving a hedge fund.  He and five others are accused by the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission of relying on a vast network of company insiders and consultants to make more than $20 million in profit from 2006 to 2009.
Rajaratnam shared some of his gains with Democrats.
By the time he was arrested, Mr. Rajaratnam had cemented his position as a member of New York's financial elite.  Forbes estimated his net worth this year at $1.3 billion, earning him a spot on its list of richest people in the world.  He donated more than $30,000 to Barack Obama, Hillary Rodham Clinton and the Democratic Party in 2008.
Unlike Norman Hsu, Rajaratnam appears to have made much of his money legally.  It's currently unclear how much money another big Democratic donor, Hassan Nemazee, made legally.

So far, I haven't seen any reason to think that Rajaratnam was trying to buy protection with those donations.

(Rajaratnam also donated money that may have gone to terrorists, though he was never charged.
Yet his giving was not without controversy.  In 2005 and 2006, the charity he created, Tsunami Relief, gave $1.5 million to the Tamil Rehabilitation Organization, a group officially dedicated to helping victims of the fighting.  But prosecutors have since charged the Tamil charity with aiding the rebel group, and its nonprofit status has been suspended.

A criminal complaint filed in Brooklyn federal court in 2007 described an "Individual B" who donated $2 million to the terrorist group in 2000 and 2004.  People briefed on the matter confirmed a report by The Wall Street Journal that Individual B was Mr. Rajaratnam, who was never charged.   Several defendants in that case have pleaded guilty to raising money for the Tigers.
To be fair to Rajaratnam, I should add that insider trading is difficult to prove in a court.)
- 7:19 AM, 20 October 2009   [link]


8000 Posts:  Roughly.  The post just below is numbered 8000.  Since I number them in order, that means I have done roughly 8000 posts since starting this site.  (Roughly, because I have started a few posts and never finished them, and because I do some posts for other sites that I don't post here.)
- 6:26 AM, 20 October 2009   [link]


Why Is The Obama Administration Attacking Fox News?  Tom Bevan explains.
It's actually quite brazen when you think about it.  The two most senior members [Senior Advisor David Axelrod and Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel],of the Obama White House - men who control all the information and access to the Executive Branch, the lifeblood of most news organizations - went on national television and suggested that ABC, CNN and other networks follow the White House's lead and join in its war to marginalize a competitor because it takes a "perspective" that displeases the President.
The Obama administration hopes to do two things with these attacks on Fox, discourage other news organizations from investigating the administration as vigorously as Fox has been doing, and persuade their base, and some independents, to disbelieve anything that comes from Fox.

That will work only if other news organizations fall in line with the Obama administration.  I'm inclined to think that this direct attack may have slightly the opposite effect, judging by reactions so far.

Bevan concludes by saying the Obama administration's attacks on Fox "may be the Chicago way, but it isn't the American way."  Unfortunately, you can take the boys out of Chicago, but you probably can't take Chicago out of these boys.  Emanuel, Axelrod, and Obama will continue to use Chicago-style tactics, because those tactics work in Chicago.
- 6:07 AM, 20 October 2009
Much more:  The attacks on Fox are part of a general strategy.
President Obama is working systematically to marginalize the most powerful forces behind the Republican Party, setting loose top White House officials to undermine conservatives in the media, business and lobbying worlds.

With a series of private meetings and public taunts, the White House has targeted the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the biggest-spending pro-business lobbying group in the country; Rush Limbaugh, the country's most-listened-to conservative commentator; and now, with a new volley of combative rhetoric in recent days, the insurance industry, Wall Street executives and Fox News.
Note that the Obama administration is not trying to win over marginal voters with better policies, but is trying to destroy its opponents.  It was foolish to expect Axelrod, Emanuel, and Obama to bring us post-partisan politics — but some people did fall for that.
- 9:34 AM, 21 October 2009   [link]


"Why Are Democrats Sticking With Rangel?"  Because he is popular, because he is black, and because the alternatives are worse.
But the third reason is, I suspect, the most important one, and you can see what it is if you look at the seniority roster of Ways and Means.  House Democrats, although they have elected committee chairmen since 1974, have since they regained their majority in 2006 with only one major exception observed the seniority rule.
. . .
The second most senior Democrat on Ways and Means is Pete Stark of California.  He is a San Francisco Bay Area left liberal, which would seem to be fine with Pelosi, but he is also a party maverick who does not necessarily play team ball and a hothead given to embarrassing outbursts for which he has sometimes felt obliged to apologize.  Last June Stark was one of 44 House Democrats to vote against the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade bill, presumably because he didn't feel it was stringent enough, on a roll call on which the leadership prevailed by only a 219-212 margin.   This can't have been appreciated by Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer.  The prospect of Stark heading the House side in a conference committee on an important issue must be unsettling to them.  Rangel they can pretty well deal with. Stark could be a loose cannon.
And the third, fourth, and fifth Democrats on the committee aren't that great — from Nancy Pelosi's point of view — either.  (Which shows something, I suppose, about Democratic congressman from safe districts.)

In principle, Pelosi and the Democratic caucus could ignore seniority rules and find a competent and honest chairman for the committee.  That might be best for the country, but it would not be best for the House Democrats, since it would threaten every other committee chairman, and many who hope to be chairmen.

(For some examples of Congressman's Stark's "embarrassing outbursts", go here and here.  Like Rangel, Stark has had tax problems, though his are less serious.)
- 5:32 AM, 20 October 2009   [link]


Credit Where It Probably Isn't Due:  For years, the Iranian government has been supplying terrorists in Iraq with materials, materials that were used to kill Iraqi civilians and, sometimes, American troops.

Now the Iranian government is giving us credit for supplying help for a guerrilla attack on their military.
The head of Iran's Revolutionary Guards today vowed to take revenge against Britain and the United States whom he claims backed the group that killed six commanders.

Mohammad Ali Jafari, the Guards commander-in-chief, said that he had seen documents indicating direct ties between Jundollah, which carried out yesterday's suicide bombing in southern Iran, and the US, British and "unfortunately" the Pakistani intelligence organisations.  The explosion killed 42 people.
The dead apparently included some civilians, but the attacker appears to have targeted military leaders, so I would not call this a terrorist attack.

Just for fun, imagine that the Obama administration, instead of quickly condemning this attack as they did, had denied responsibility, but then described what the Iranian regime has been doing for years in Iraq, and for decades throughout the world.
- 2:49 PM, 19 October 2009   [link]


Insourcing, An Example And Some Numbers:  The example, I'll leave for you to read.  Here are the numbers.
While they haven't been immune from the recession, foreign-owned companies in the United States have a work force of more than 5.3 million, or some 3.5 percent of all workers, and are spread across the 50 states in sectors from manufacturing to retail and publishing.  If these jobs did not exist, the nation's unemployment rate would be above 13 percent.

Investments in the United States by big car companies like Toyota, Honda, Nissan and Mercedes-Benz have received the greatest share of attention over the past two decades.  But there are also tens of thousands of Americans working for companies like the Tata Group of India, which recently reopened the Pierre Hotel in Manhattan and makes Eight O'Clock Coffee; Haier, the Chinese appliance maker, with a refrigerator plant in South Carolina and an impressive headquarters in a landmark building in Manhattan; and Nestlé, the Swiss food company, which employs hundreds to make Nesquik and Coffee-Mate in Indiana.
As far as I can tell, most of these companies are making things — although you will not have to look far to find someone who will tell you that Americans don't make anything any more.

These plants generally do not have unions.
The wages and ample opportunities for advancement may help explain why unions are absent at many foreign-owned plants.  So does location.  Many, though not all, foreign-owned operations have been in Southern states that are most likely to have right-to-work laws.
Though the article doesn't discuss the point, I would guess that these employers fear union work rules as much as union pay rates.
- 1:18 PM, 19 October 2009   [link]


Great Negative Ad:  Negative ads are usually more informative than positive ads, and this one, made for an independent group supporting Susan Hutchison in the race for King County executive, is an example of that generalization.  In thirty seconds, the ad eviscerates her opponent, Dow Constantine, cutting into him with fact after fact.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(For those unfamiliar with politics in King County:  The race is technically nonpartisan this year, but Constantine boasts that he is a Democrat, and Hutchison admits, if pressed, that she has supported Republicans in the past.  The voters have mostly figured out which is which.

The county is terrible shape financially, mostly because of the damage done by the former county executive, Ron Sims, and the Democratic majority on the council, a majority that includes Constantine.  In spite of his failure here — some would say because of his failure here — Sims has been promoted to a job in the Obama administration.)
- 10:59 AM, 19 October 2009   [link]


Our National Debt Is Troubling:  But it is not as bad as Europe's, though ours rose faster during the last few years.  (Click on the graphic to see some numbers.)

Britain almost makes us look prudent.  Britain's debt, as a percentage of GDP, was 42.1 percent in 2005, and is projected to hit 100 percent in 2014.  (Ours was 37.5 percent in 2005, and is projected to hit 66 percent in 2014.)

Despite the immense British deficits, unemployment there has risen sharply in the last year or so.

But being more prudent than Britain is nothing to be proud of.  We may not be the biggest drunk at this party, but we are far from sober.

(The rest of the article is worth reading for its description of George Osborne, the Conservative "finance minister-in-waiting".  (The British call him the "shadow" finance minister.)  He is promising big cuts in government spending, and is backing that promise with some painful specifics.)
- 7:49 AM, 19 October 2009   [link]


Is This Chicago?  Last Friday's New Yorker daily cartoon calendar showed two businessmen walking along a city street.  The older is complaining to the younger:   "That's what I hate about this city.  You roast in the summer, you freeze in the winter, and the rest of the time it's carnivorous pig bats."

As you would expect, the picture shows the two being attacked by those carnivorous pig bats.

Anyone who has lived in Chicago can tell you that the first two are right; Chicago roasts in summer, and freezes in winter.  Perhaps the pig bats are metaphors for the criminals and predatory politicians that infest the city.
- 6:22 AM, 19 October 2009   [link]


Physics And The Balloon Boy Story:  I didn't pay much attention to the story while it was happening.  It seemed likely to me that it was a hoax (or possibly a mistake), but it seemed crude to say so while the little boy was missing.

If I had paid more attention, I might have realized that some basic physics made the story implausible.  And if the boy had been in the compartment, pictures would have shown a distorted balloon.

(Neither Chang nor Denmead calculates how much less lifting power the helium would have in the thinner air at the altitude the balloon reached, but allowing for that would make the story even less plausible.)
- 6:06 AM, 19 October 2009   [link]


Straws In A Republican Wind?  Republicans have been doing better in special elections for seats in state legislatures, sometimes much better.

Some caveats:  The out party typically does better in special elections.  These special elections have been held in only nine states, Maine, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Delaware, South Carolina, Alabama, Florida, Tennessee. and Oklahoma.  None of those states are in the West or Midwest.   We don't know whether there are special circumstances in any of these races.  For example, it is possible that a few of the ten seats were held by a long-serving conservative Democrats, who retired or passed away.  Their districts may have turned Republican long ago.  Turnout is usually much lower in special elections.

Even with those caveats, I would say that these results are moderately encouraging for the Republicans.

(In August, I wrote about the Delaware special election, and showed that the Republican win was not an upset, even though a Democrat had held the district for many years.)
- 5:22 AM, 19 October 2009   [link]


Mt. Rainier From The Northeast:  Although the light was just so-so during my attempt to circle the mountain last Sunday, I did get a few pictures that weren't too bad, including this one:

Mt. Rainier from the northeast, October 2009

If you look at the top of the mountain, you can see where the two overlapping summit craters must be.  If you look at the left side of the mountain, you can see remnants of the old slope.  Rainier was much higher at one time, as you can see by extrapolating from those remnants.  No one knows for sure how much higher, though modern geologists guess that it might have been about 16,000 feet at its highest.
- 5:25 PM, 18 October 2009
For contrast, here's a picture of the south side of Rainier, taken at the end of July.
- 8:27 AM, 19 October 2009   [link]


Sudan Has One Of The Worst Human Right Records In The World:   For example.

And that example is part of a decades-long pattern.
. . . the Sudanese government of President Omar al-Bashir, who has been charged by the International Criminal Court with crimes against humanity and war crimes for allegedly masterminding deadly attacks throughout Darfur.
. . . . . .
The Darfur conflict began in February 2003 when ethnic African rebels took up arms against the Arab-dominated Sudanese government in Khartoum, claiming discrimination and neglect.

U.N. officials say the war has claimed at least 300,000 lives from violence, disease and displacement.  They say some 2.7 million people were driven from their homes and at its height, in 2003-2005, it was called the world's worst humanitarian crisis.
Bad as Darfur has been, it has not been as bad as the conflict in southern Sudan, which the Bush administration was able to bring (mostly) to an end.

The Obama administration has decided to engage with the al-Bashir regime, to negotiate, in other words, with an unrepentant war criminal.
A day after the first details began to emerge of the Obama administration's long-awaited policy for Sudan — one that proposes working with the government rather than isolating it — advocates of a tougher approach toward Khartoum said they wished the administration had been stronger.

But they also expressed relief at what has been released so far, saying they had feared the White House would take an even more conciliatory line toward the government, whose leader has been charged with crimes against humanity.
That second paragraph is telling, isn't it?  Those who support the brutalized people of Darfur and southern Sudan expected that the Obama administration would lower the emphasis on human rights, in order to work with this despicable regime.  But the change wasn't quite as bad as they feared.  Those who follow human rights around the world are beginning to recognize that human rights are not high on Obama's priority list.  (Assuming he has one.)

Even New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd is beginning to see that unpleasant fact.
As Leon Wieseltier writes in the upcoming New Republic:  "The demotion of human rights by the common-ground presidency is absolutely incomprehensible.  The common ground is not always the high ground.  When it is without end, moreover, the search for common ground is bad for bargaining.  It informs the other side that what you most desire is the deal — that you will never acknowledge the finality of the difference, and never be satisfied with the integrity of opposition.  There is a reason that 'uncompromising' is a term of approbation."
A little late — most of us grasped this point when Obama said, coolly, that he could accept genocide as a possible result of his Iraq policies — but better late than never.

Sudan is an almost perfect test of Obama's support for human rights.  It has a terrible record, and is of almost no importance, strategically, to the United States.  It has been condemned by the UN and by most of Europe.  If Obama won't pressure Sudan on human rights, what nations will he pressure?  (Other than Israel, of course.)
- 11:42 AM, 18 October 2009   [link]


Free Golf Carts?!  Well, free or almost free.
We thought cash for clunkers was the ultimate waste of taxpayer money, but as usual we were too optimistic.  Thanks to the federal tax credit to buy high-mileage cars that was part of President Obama's stimulus plan, Uncle Sam is now paying Americans to buy that great necessity of modern life, the golf cart.

The federal credit provides from $4,200 to $5,500 for the purchase of an electric vehicle, and when it is combined with similar incentive plans in many states the tax credits can pay for nearly the entire cost of a golf cart.  Even in states that don't have their own tax rebate plans, the federal credit is generous enough to pay for half or even two-thirds of the average sticker price of a cart, which is typically in the range of $8,000 to $10,000.  "The purchase of some models could be absolutely free," Roger Gaddis of Ada Electric Cars in Oklahoma said earlier this year.  "Is that about the coolest thing you've ever heard?"

The golf-cart boom has followed an IRS ruling that golf carts qualify for the electric-car credit as long as they are also road worthy.  These qualifying golf carts are essentially the same as normal golf carts save for adding some safety features, such as side and rearview mirrors and three-point seat belts. They typically can go 15 to 25 miles per hour.
It is safe to conclude that most of those who voted for these credits did not intend to provide free golf carts to some of our better-off citizens.  (At least I think that people who buy golf carts are usually better off than the average person.  Those who know more about golf than I do should correct me, if I am wrong on that point.)

But it is not safe to conclude that some lobbyists did not know about this loophole.

(By way of Thomas Lifson.)
- 6:41 AM, 18 October 2009   [link]