October 2011, Part 4
Jim Miller on Politics
Worth A Look: Michael Ramirez's Halloween cartoon.
(It won't be a White House favorite.)
- 3:55 PM, 31 October 2011 [link]
More Americans Believe In Ghosts since Obama became president.
The new [Rasmussen] survey (subscription only) finds that this Halloween, after 33 months of an Obama presidency) nearly one-in-three Americans (31%) now believe in ghosts.It's probably just a coincidence.
- 1:29 PM, 31 October 2011 [link]
There Are Shortages Of Some Drugs In The United States: So the Obama administration is proposing more regulation.
Obama signed an executive order that gives federal regulators more power to track shortages, quickly approve replacement manufacturing sites and punish price gougers. The administration simultaneously increased staffing at the Food and Drug Administration's Drug Shortages Program, sent a letter urging drugmakers to voluntarily disclose more potential prescription drug shortages and released two new reports on the underlying causes of shortages and the FDA's role in preventing them.(Emphasis added.)
That regulators would blame manufacturers, rather than regulators, for these shortages is no surprise. The blame shifting is so obvious that it reminds me of Mandy Rice-Davies' famous reply: "He would, wouldn't he?"
For a more serious discussion, and some evidence on this problem, see this September post.)
And I suppose I should be more serious, because if I am right about regulations causing the shortages, then some patients will suffer, or even die, because of these new regulations.
- 1:01 PM, 31 October 2011 [link]
Professor Gustafson Has Been Vindicated: Finally.
But most other scientists, including some in his own department, did not accept his findings.
New technology, and the weakening case for the "Clovis First" theory, led other scientists to take a new look at his evidence.
One key piece of evidence was a CAT scan of the sharpened bone in the mammoth rib, which you can see here.
Pause for a moment, and admire the courage of men who would hunt mammoths with such primitive weapons, bone-tipped spears, or perhaps just sharpened bones.
And the courage of Professor Gustafson, who persisted in his investigations for so long, even after his grant money ran out.Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 11:11 AM, 31 October 2011 [link]
Only The Cat Behaved Sensibly: Here's a British scandal with a semi-happy ending
The tabby cat kidnapped by the vengeful wife of a Liberal Democrat MP has been discovered alive and well and with a litter of kittens.Over the years, I have been encouraged by the petty nature of most British scandals. It's not that I approve of cat-napping, or adultery, or illegitimate children; it's just that scandals on this level do not threaten the realm, and this is the level of most British scandals.
- 9:56 AM, 31 October 2011 [link]
President Obama Tries To Cheer Us Up with a joke.
President Obama on Saturday said Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was a great House Speaker and that she will get that job back after the 2012 elections.Two jokes, in fact, since he also said that he expects to see her back as Speaker in 2013.
(I am not familiar with all the Speakers, but I can say, without hesitation, that Pelosi is the worst Speaker in my life time, worse even than Jim Wright.)
- 8:58 AM, 31 October 2011 [link]
Herman Cain And Those "Sexual Harassment" Charges: Ed Morrissey says about what I would have said, if I had gotten up as early as he did. (Or worked on the story last night.)
There are many headlines that strike fear in the hearts of presidential campaigns — and this one from Politico is probably right near the worst of them. Last night, they ran a story that the National Restaurant Association had to settle two sexual-harassment claims against Herman Cain when he chaired the trade group in the 1990s:As Morrissey notes, the allegations are vague.
The sources — including the recollections of close associates and other documentation — describe episodes that left the women upset and offended. These incidents include conversations allegedly filled with innuendo or personal questions of a sexually suggestive nature, taking place at hotels during conferences, at other officially sanctioned restaurant association events and at the association’s offices. There were also descriptions of physical gestures that were not overtly sexual but that made women who experienced or witnessed them uncomfortable and that they regarded as improper in a professional relationship.At this point, we really don't know enough to judge Cain. The stories could be almost entirely false; high-profile executives are targets from time to time, and lawyers will sometimes advise paying off claims they believe are false. Or, Herman Cain may have behaved crudely, and insulted some hyper-sensitive feminists. Or, Herman Cain may have been trying his luck with every attractive woman anywhere near him.
We really don't know. And Politico is not showing all their cards, so we don't even know what they think happened.
But we can be certain about one thing: So far, the allegations about Cain are not as bad as the known behavior of John Edwards, Bill Clinton, Ted Kennedy, and John Kennedy. That doesn't absolve him of anything he may, or may not, have done, but it does give us some perspective.
- 8:28 AM, 31 October 2011 [link]
How Well Do American Families Understand Their Own Finances? Not very well, when it comes to credit cards, as I learned from a brief New York Times piece by Carl Richards, which pointed me to this New York Federal Reserve study. In general, reports from consumers agree with reports from lenders on mortgage debts, and filings for bankruptcy and so forth . But consumers sharply under report their credit card debts
Household surveys are the source of some of the most widely studied data on consumer balance sheets, with the Survey of Consumer Finances (SCF) generally cited as the leading source of wealth data for the United States. At the same time, recent research questions survey respondents’ propensity and ability to report debt characteristics accurately. We compare household debt as reported by borrowers to the SCF with household debt as reported by lenders to Equifax using the new FRBNY Consumer Credit Panel (CCP). Moments of the borrower and lender debt distributions are compared by year, age of household head, household size, and region of the country, in total and across five standard debt categories. The debt reports are strikingly similar, with one noteworthy exception: the aggregate credit card debt implied by SCF borrowers’ reports is less than 50 percent of the aggregate credit card debt implied by CCP lenders’ reports. Adjustments for sample representativeness and for small business and convenience uses of credit cards raise SCF credit card debt to somewhere between 52 and 66 percent of the CCP figure. Despite the credit card debt mismatch, bankruptcy history is reported comparably in the borrower and lender sources, indicating that not all stigmatized consumer behaviors are underreported.American consumers, collectively, estimate their credit card balances at less than $400 billion; lenders estimate the same balances, collectively, at more than $800 billion. The difference is more than a rounding error.
Skimming through the study, I learned that a small part of the discrepancy might be caused by family members not knowing about credit card balances of others in the family, since singles were a little more accurate than others.
But only a small part.
(The authors of the study appear puzzled by his finding, as am I. But it does reinforce my conclusion that avoiding credit cards is a good idea for most families.)
- 5:35 PM, 30 October 2011 [link]
Bill Daley Interview: It isn't especially coherent, and I can't tell whether that's the fault of Daley, or the interviewer, Politico's Roger Simon. But the interview does have some interesting lines:
“It’s been a brutal three years,” he says. “It’s been a very, very difficult three years, an incredible three years. And we are doing all this under the overhang of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.That won't make relations with Congress any easier, especially since there is some truth in what Daley said.
Does Simon anywhere ask Daley whether Obama's policies had made our economic problems worse, or whether the Obama White House could have done more to get along with Congress? If he did ask those questions, he left them out of this article.
Which is unfortunate, because those routine questions should be asked of every elected official, and almost every appointed official.
- 1:33 PM, 30 October 2011 [link]
Hillary Rising: Conservatives should think about these poll results carefully.
Hillary Clinton performs better than President Obama in head to head match-ups with Republican presidential hopefuls, according to a surprising new poll by Time magazineBut not many will.
What should we make of these findings? Two things, in my opinion. First, we should discount them, some, because Clinton is now like the most popular person in most NFL towns, the back-up quarterback. If she were president, I would expect that we would be seeing articles on the popularity of Barack Obama.
Some, but not entirely. Conservatives who believe that the country is panting for a pure conservative president should try to reconcile that belief with these poll results — and I don't think they can, legitimately.
Most political observers agree that the United States is a center-right country. Which means that the ideal position for a candidate who wants to win is a little to the right of center, but only a little.
(Note, please, that I am not discussing which policies are best for the nation, long run; I am only saying that a candidate who wants to win, nationally, will not get too far from the center.)
- 12:48 PM, 30 October 2011 [link]
How Does A City Like Harrisburg Go Bankrupt? After all, the main industry there is state government, which has not been outsourced. And the taxes from all those government employees should be highly predictable; Harrisburg should have been able to estimate revenues with an accuracy better than at least nine out of ten cities.
Stephen Malanga provides an answer in this Wall Street Journal op-ed.
Under seven-term Mayor Stephen Reed, who governed from 1982 to 2010, Harrisburg had a long love affair with borrowed money, using it to spur projects of dubious value. The city invested millions of dollars in a stadium in the late 1980s to attract a minor league baseball team. When the Harrisburg Senators threatened to leave in 1995, the city bought the team with borrowed money. In 2009, even as the fiscal clouds darkened, it sank another $45 million, including $18 million in new debt, into upgrading the stadium. The team was attracting 2,488 fans per game.(I don't know whether the team had a winning record, though one wouldn't think so, with that attendance.)
Harrisburg might have been able to survive all of those projects, if it had recognized, early, that it had blundered when it built a fancy incinerator. Instead the city kept throwing more and more into trying to make the plant work as intended.
- 2:06 PM, 29 October 2011 [link]
Need A Quick Read On The Ongoing EU Crisis? You can find it in this two-page Christopher Caldwell article.
Here's the lead paragraph:
As they do every few weeks, the leaders of the European Union met in Brussels on Wednesday, October 26, to solve their finance problems once and for all. As the sun rose on Thursday they emerged with a document that resembled an Obama budget—crystal-clear about its aims and aspirations, opaque about how it intends to achieve them. There is a reason for that. It is that these aims and aspirations are growing less and less realistic.Which doesn't mean that the leaders are readier to give up on those aims — until they are forced to by arithmetic.
- 1:54 PM, 29 October 2011 [link]
The Name Should Have Been A Hint: Muslim students at Catholic University are complaining about the Catholic symbols there.
The Washington, D.C. Office of Human Rights confirmed that it is investigating allegations that Catholic University violated the human rights of Muslim students by not allowing them to form a Muslim student group and by not providing them rooms without Christian symbols for their daily prayers.Their lawyer, John Banzhaf, is not a Muslim, so that religion can't be blamed for his many misdeeds.
(Professor Bainbridge calls him a "repeat offender", which is more than fair.
Given Banzhaf's eagerness to sue anyone and everyone to pursue his political goals, Bainbridge is probably wise to stop with "repeat offender":
My own thoughts on the gentleman are not fit for publication in a family friendly forum such as PB.com.If you know any good Banzhaf jokes, pass them along, if they are publishable, so I can share them with other readers.)
- 7:01 AM, 28 October 2011 [link]
Japan's Tsunami Clean-Up: As shown in a fascinating set of before and after pictures, pictures taken just after the tsunami hit (or during it) and pictures taken recently. There are even some showing three views, with the middle view taken about three months after the tsunami.
The progress is encouraging.
By way of Janet.
- 6:24 AM, 28 October 2011 [link]
Mitt Romney's Profile In Courage: The Wall Street Journal spots him telling the truth about housing, even though the truth may be unpopular.
Campaigning last week in Nevada, the epicenter of the housing bust, Mr. Romney was asked by the Las Vegas Review-Journal editorial board what he would do about housing and foreclosures. His reply:The Journal doesn't mention this, so I will: Clearing out this foreclosure mess will be good, net, for new home buyers, for families that have never owned a home.
- 2:18 PM, 27 October 2011 [link]
We Now Know More About Dwarf Planet Eris: Thanks to its passage in front of a star.
Though the dwarf planet Eris on the edge of the solar system is much denser than Pluto, the two frigid worlds are nearly exactly the same size, a new study finds.(They can estimate the density, now that they know the diameter, because Eris has a moon, Dysnomia.)
The article does not mention the dwarf planets's eccentric and tilted orbit. Here's a diagram from the Wikipedia article that shows both.
- 1:39 PM, 27 October 2011 [link]
The Girl Scouts May Be Getting Too Inclusive: Here's the story.
Bobby Montoya, from Denver in Colorado, dresses and behaves like a girl and wanted to join Girl Scouts like his older sister.At first, the Colorado Girl Scouts rejected him, but have now changed their minds.
But the Scouts recanted on their initial decision yesterday, releasing a statement saying they support transgender kids.And if a dirty old man identifies as a girl and is presented as a girl by his family, can he join? I can't see why not, given their new rules, though they might limit those new members to dirty old men who haven't graduated from high school.
(Does Bobby really need a father in his life? Most likely. The article doesn't mention any, so I suppose Bobby doesn't have a father who acts like a father)
- 8:57 AM, 27 October 2011 [link]
Merge Eight Republican Presidential Candidates, suggests Jim Geraghty.
Which eight? Romney, Perry, Cain, Gingrich, Huntsman, Bachmann, Paul, and Santorum. (I don't know why Geraghty left out Gary Johnson, perhaps because Johnson is invisible in the polls, and hasn't been present at the debates.)
That tops my suggestion that we merge Romney and Perry, or perhaps Romney, Perry, and Cain.
Geraghty wants to merge the eight with "genetic engineering". As far as I know there isn't any method of genetic engineering that would allow merging the eight quickly. (There are families, for example the Hapsburgs, that have used slower methods of genetic engineering, not always with great success.)
- 8:33 AM, 27 October 2011 [link]
Is This Attack From A Bitter, Right-Wing Opponent of Obama?
But while Obama has been deft at implementing Bush's antiterrorism policy he has been less successful with his own foreign policy. His Arab-Israeli diplomacy has been a mess. His hopes of engaging Iran foundered on the rocks of, well, Iran. He's made little effort to pull together a multilateral coalition to buttress th Arab Awakening, in places like Egypt, to handle the postrevolution challenges. His ill-considered decision to double down on Afghanistan could prove fatal. He is in a war of words with Pakistan. His global climate policy is an invisible embarrassment. And the coolly calculating Chinese and Russians, while occasionally throwing him a bone, pursue their interests with scant regard to Obama's preferences.Nope.
It's from New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, who then goes on to mostly absolve Obama for his failures.
You may wonder how Friedman does that, how he explains that Obama is not really responsible for his diplomatic failures. Friedman says that Obama, unlike Nixon and Kissinger, does not have stable dictatorships to negotiate with, an explanation that will seem all too familiar to those who have been reading Friedman in recent years.
Friedman does not explain how two other American leaders, Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush, were able to conduct successful diplomacy, even without stable dictatorships to negotiate with.
(Friedman also, grudgingly I suspect, allows that stable democracies, like Israel under Golda Meir, can also be satisfactory negotiating partners.)
- 4:05 PM, 26 October 2011 [link]
It's Giulia Sarkozy: And now for something lighter.
The Sarkozys chose the Italian version, rather than the French, for their baby's name. And, so far, super model Carla Bruni is not ready to show off the newborn.
British Prime Minister Cameron and German Chancellor Merkel have sent the baby gifts, respectively a "couverture rose" and an "ourson en peluche" (a blanket and a teddy bear). As far as I can tell from a quick news search, the Obamas have not come up with a present — but they should.
So far, the birth of the baby does not seem to have helped Sarkozy politically.
(While we are having fun, I should mention that Le Figaro, a very respectable French newspaper, commissioned a horoscope for the baby, and that you can probably find your weekly quota of snark (along with some interesting observations) in this British piece.)
- 2:01 PM, 26 October 2011 [link]
It's After Lunch For Most Of You, so it's safe to post this story.
Shoop, a longtime schoolteacher, was suffering from recurrent C. diff infection, a potentially life-threatening bacterial illness that causes severe diarrhea, abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting. It comes back again and again, resisting most treatments, except, as it turns out, an infusion of stool from a healthy donor.You can find more about this therapy in a post I wrote last year.
- 1:16 PM, 26 October 2011 [link]
Confirmation Bias: That's a handy phrase to describe the mistake I made in the post just below this one.
Experiments have repeatedly found that people tend to test hypotheses in a one-sided way, by searching for evidence consistent with the hypothesis they hold at a given time. Rather than searching through all the relevant evidence, they ask questions that are phrased so that an affirmative answer supports their hypothesis.I checked Kirsanow's arithmetic; I didn't check his assumption that the base was total income, rather than income above $1 million.
For years, I have known about confirmation bias, and have worked hard to avoid it, with, I hope, some success. But it got me this time.
(One of the reasons I looked for the transcripts of the speeches was because I have found, over the years, that partisans often misread fragments of speeches, that they seldom take the time to check the context. But I still should have done more checking.)
- 1:01 PM, 26 October 2011 [link]
Math Is Not Obama's Strongest Subject: When I saw his arithmetic mistake in a Peter Kirsanow post, I had to check it myself, to see whether President Obama (and his staff) really had made such a basic mistake.
So, I found the Las Vegas speech, which Kirsanow had mentioned, and the later Denver speech, which has the same mistake:
Last week we had a separate vote on the teachers bill. It would put 400,000 teachers, firefighters and police officers back to work. (Applause.) And I want you all to know, for somebody -- to pay for it we would be asking somebody who makes over a million dollars to pay just one-half of 1 percent more in taxes. Now, what this translates into is if you're making $1.1 million a year, that's an extra 500 bucks. For 400,000 jobs all across the country. Isn't that an investment that's worth making -- at a time when we're struggling?A president, any president, should be able to do that arithmetic problem correctly in his head, without pencil and paper, much less a calculator. And someone on Obama's staff should have spotted it between Las Vegas and Denver, even if Obama didn't.
As Kirsanow says: "With math skills like this, no wonder the federal deficit is $1.3 trillion:" (And yes, Kirsanow does spot some other mistakes.)
- 10:20 AM, 26 October 2011
Second thoughts: Okay, now I think I have figured out what Obama is saying. The "one-half of 1 percent" applies to the amount over $1 million, or, in his example, $100,000. So, for most of those making more than a $1 million, the additional tax would be much more than $500. And for a few, those between $1 million and 1.1 million, it would be less. His example is deceptive, intentionally so, I suspect, but the arithmetic is correct.
(Another way to interpret what he says is that these taxpayers will pay "one-half of 1 percent more" than they are paying now. You'd have to look at IRS data to figure out what that would come to, per taxpayer.)
And the jobs plan he describes? I'd have to look at the details, but it sounds like another payoff to the public service unions.
- 11:07 AM, 26 October 2011 [link]
Time To Shift Our Focus To "Asia"? In yesterday's Wall Street Journal, columnist Gerald Seib began his column with this lead paragraph:
The deluge of commentary following President Barack Obama's announcement that all American troops are leaving Iraq by year's end largely missed the most important strategic implication: The winding down of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan clears the way for the U. S. to shift its focus to Asia and, in particular, China, the part of the world that matters most in the long run.At that point, I stopped following his argument and wondered why this senior columnist for the Journal didn't know that Iraq and Afghanistan are in Asia.
Not only is Afghanistan in Asia, but it shares a border with China. And the Chinese have a great interest in Afghanistan, not so much for the nation itself, but because it borders Pakistan and other Muslim nations of central Asia.
But let's put his error in geography aside, assume he said east Asia, which is what he meant, and consider his claim that China and the neighboring countries are more important in the long run than Iraq, Afghanistan, and their neighbors (not counting China). I am tempted to end the discussion with Keynes' famous line: "In the long run, we're all dead.".
But to fair to Seib, I should say a little more than that, if only because he has made a common mistake; he has erred by thinking entirely in economic terms, rather than military and economic terms. If Iran gets a nuclear weapon, as seems likely, the Middle East will be, in the short run, a far more important area for the US than east Asia. And if they use it, our trade problems with China will not seem very important, even to Seib.
(Here's a review of the continents for any journalists, or grade school students, who may need one.)
- 9:13 AM, 26 October 2011 [link]
Maybe It's That Republican Operative (4): It occurred to me that one explanation for President Obama's choice of Broderick Johnson as his "senior campaign adviser" was that the unscrupulous Republican operative who has been choosing places for Obama family vacations had picked Johnson for the post.
Because any Republican tactician has to be delighted with Obama's choice. Johnson is an almost perfect symbol of both lobbying and Wall Street.
Why didn't Obama or his top advisors see that? I don't know, but one possibility is that they were looking through racial lenses, that they saw Johnson as innocent because of his race. That conclusion wouldn't be unusual for a civil rights lawyer, or those who share the views of those lawyers.
Most swing voters won't see Johnson as an innocent.
(Previous coups by that unscrupulous Republican operative here, here, and here.
Just to confuse things, there's a successful African-American film producer with the same name.)
- 1:13 PM, 25 October 2011 [link]
Michael Moore And I Have Come to the same conclusion.
Speaking with Richard Bacon of the BBC, Moore described the President’s first term in office as “heart-breaking” and a “disappointment.”Though for very different reasons.
- 12:38 PM, 25 October 2011 [link]
The FBI Was Investigating Congressman John Murtha When He Died: This story will not surprise anyone who followed his career.
Last week’s release of FBI documents finally put in writing what nobody had ever said on the record: The FBI suspected that former Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) and lobbyists close to him were running a scheme to funnel earmarks to sham companies and nonprofits to benefit the lawmaker’s friends and former staffers.And I probably should add that, as far as I know, Murtha did not benefit from these schemes directly, and probably saw them, mostly, as ways to funnel tax money into his district.
As I said, anyone who followed his career would suspect that Murtha was doing these things. Which brings us, again, to this question: Why did Nancy Pelosi back him for Majority Leader? Did she not know about his ethical problems, or did the daughter of Baltimore boss Thomas D'Alesandro, Jr., not care about them?
- 12:30 PM, 25 October 2011 [link]
Tigerhawk Explains Why Some Wall Street Folks Are still backing Obama.
At this point, Wall Streeters really do not like Barack Obama. It has been a long time since I have met one who still actually supports him. But the extent of the pain of Dodd-Frank depends on regulations that have yet to be written by executive branch agencies that report to the White House. The big financial firms know that their future profitability requires that President Obama influence those regulations, and he is exploiting that for all it is worth.He adds a little more in the comments, where you will also find a question that has been bothering me since 2008. (And a possible answer, which I will check out soon, perhaps even today.)
(There's another reason that some Wall Streeters are backing Obama. More than you might think are traditional Democrats. Think of Jon Corzine, if you need an example.)
- 9:21 AM, 25 October 2011 [link]
What A Great Job For A Lobbyist! Broderick Johnson is President Obama's new "senior campaign adviser".
President Barack Obama’s new senior campaign adviser is a longtime Wall Street lobbyist, and has the potential to damage the president’s aspirations to appeal to the protesters currently “occupying” New York City’s Zuccotti Park.It's a perfect job for a lobbyist because, after the campaign is over, he can go back to being a lobbyist — with even more influence than before, even if Obama loses.
How did Johnson get this job? This may be part of the explanation:
Johnson also donated more than $150,000 of his own money Democratic candidates and causes since 2008. Public political donation records show Johnson has, since 2006, never donated to a conservative or a Republican.(Technically, Johnson stopped being a lobbyist in April, but given his career, I think we can expect him to go back to being a lobbyist soon after the 2012 election.)
- 7:46 AM, 25 October 2011 [link]