Archive:

September 2010, Part 2

Jim Miller on Politics




Pseudo-Random Thoughts



The Links To The Mt. Rainier Webcams Should Be Working Again:   (The park changed the names on me, for no obvious reason.  They also added a couple of cameras, one showing the new Paradise visitor's center, and one from an air quality station.  I won't add those two, for now anyway, since they don't seem to show anything interesting.)

As I write, there is nothing much to see up there, unless you love looking at rain and fog.
- 3:54 PM, 16 September 2010   [link]


Take Away Its Credit Card?  That was my immediate, and probably unfair, reaction to the headline on this Peggy Noonan column.

(Did the headline writer not know the old joke, or were they just having a little fun?  Beats me.   If you were wondering, the column's okay, though nothing special.)
- 3:14 PM, 16 September 2010   [link]


The Dodge Ram And Rush Limbaugh:  Some years ago, I read — I forget just where — that Dodge got a mixed response when it was studying whether to produce the pickup truck.  Most people disliked the idea of the Ram, but a significant minority loved it.

That was good enough for Dodge, which went ahead with production, and has had a moderate commercial success with the Ram.  The Dodge executives understood that they didn't need to win over a majority to succeed in that market.

Similarly, Rush Limbaugh is loved by a minority — and disliked by a majority.  That's fine for a talk show host, just as it was fine for the pickup.  But that combination is deadly for a party or candidate hoping to win a majority.  And in our system of elections, that's most serious candidates, and both our major parties.

(I decided to do this post after hearing Limbaugh's rule, which I suppose that I will have to write about, at some length.  And I think I should add this rather sour point; what's bad for the Republican party, and even the conservative movement, is often good for Limbaugh, commercially.  I am not saying that he intends to profit by helping Democrats and leftists win power, just that he often does profit when they win power, and that he is smart enough to know that.

Incidentally, Limbaugh often paints himself as a battler against the Republican "establishment"   That's funny for two reasons.  By traditional definitions, there is no Republican establishment, but if there were one, he would have been a member, almost from birth.)
- 2:12 PM, 16 September 2010   [link]


Increasing Federal Tax Rates For The Rich:  They have already been raised by Obama, Pelosi, and Reid.  Allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire would raise them even farther.
In a major speech about the economy last week, President Obama reiterated his support for letting most of the Bush tax cuts expire for taxpayers with incomes above $200,000 ($250,000 for married couples), while making the tax cuts permanent for all other taxpayers.  The president defended his proposal by saying that, for high-income taxpayers, "the tax rates would just go back to where they were under President Clinton."  The president reminded his listeners that the economy grew at a rapid clip during the Clinton years, adding tens of millions of new jobs.

The analogy with the Clinton years is a little questionable.  During those years, a Democratic president and Republican Congress worked together to restrain federal spending and balance the budget, a far cry from current policy.

In any case, as I explain in the September issue of the American Enterprise Institute's Tax Policy Outlook, the claim that the president's plan would only take the top tax rates back to Clinton levels isn't quite right.  Or, rather, it's right for only the first two years of the president's plan.  Thanks to a little-known provision in the new healthcare law, the president's plan will push the top tax rates for most types of income above Clinton levels in 2013 and thereafter.
As Gregory Mankiw, who tipped me off to this post, notes, including state income taxes would put the total tax rate above 50 percent for many of the rich.  (Though not those living in states, like Washington, that have no income tax.)

As I've said before, in general I prefer taxing almost all income, at relatively low rates.  I prefer that kind of system because I think it is fairer and more efficient.
- 1:47 PM, 16 September 2010   [link]


My Sympathies To Molly Norris:  Who has had to disappear and change her identity, in order to protect her life.

For the record:  I published two of the Danish cartoons, and would do so again.  (One interesting detail about that controversy:  The Danish imams who were trying to stir up violence against the cartoonists had little luck in the Middle East until they added some fake cartoons, fakes that were almost as bad as the cartoons that the UK Guardian routinely ran against George W. Bush.)

Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 9:00 AM, 16 September 2010   [link]


Barney Frank Backs Continuing Subsidies for rich home owners.
Congress should extend increased loan limits on mortgages backed by Fannie Mae (FNMA.OB) and Freddie Mac (FMCC.OB) that are set to expire at year end, the powerful chairman of the House Financial Service Committee said on Wednesday.

"I hope we do do it before we adjourn" for the congressional recess ahead of the November 2 mid-term elections, Democratic Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts Democrat said at a hearing on the future of housing finance.
. . .
The higher limits, which vary by region, top out at $729,750 for single family homes in the most expensive parts of the country, except for Alaska and Hawaii, which have higher limits. Previously the cap was $417,000.
I rather like his honesty in saying that he hopes this passes before the election.

(I can understand arguments for encouraging home ownership, and arguments for helping the poor and maybe even the middle class buy homes.  I may not agree with them, but I can understand them.  But I have never been able to understand arguments for subsidizing home ownership among the rich.)
- 8:30 AM, 16 September 2010   [link]


James Taranto Versus Maureen Dowd:  Yes, I know, that's not really a fair fight.  But it's awfully funny to see Taranto dig up five examples of Dowd using father-son relationships to explain George W. Bush and John Kerry — in order to laugh at today's Dowd column, in which she attacks Dinesh D'Souza and Newt Gingrich for using a father-son relationship to explain Barack Obama.
- 4:22 PM, 15 September 2010   [link]


Deep Fried Beer:   Seriously.  This is a significant advance for civilization, in my humble opinion.
- 11:54 AM, 15 September 2010   [link]


Are Both Our Major Parties Controlled By Their Enemies?  That old quip came back to me yesterday evening, after the results came in from Delaware.   (Incidentally, if you know who said that first, let me know, because it's a great line, and I'd like to give whoever said it first, credit.)

But it isn't just Tea Party Republicans who seem intent on political suicide; so do Obama Democrats.  As I mentioned last month, Michelle Obama's trip to Spain could have been designed by a Republican strategist.  Her Marie Antoinette ways are now drawing attention from one of the most influential newspapers in America, the National Enquirer.  And Obama Democrats are often joined in this suicidal urge by Pelosi Democrats and Reid Democrats.  Both leaders seem, at times, determined to lose this next election.

Incompetence, rather than malice, is the best explanation for all this, as it almost always is.   But, occasionally, late at night, I really do start wondering, very briefly, whether there might not be a little truth in that old quip, that each party's actions can best be understood if you assume that the party is controlled by its enemies.
- 8:16 AM, 15 September 2010   [link]


Why Did Our "Mainstream" Media Give The Koran-Burning Story So Much Coverage?  Debra Saunders has an answer to that question.
Why did Florida pastor Terry Jones garner all that media attention last week for threatening to burn Qurans on Saturday's 9/11 anniversary?  I believe it's because network swells had spent weeks trying to frame opponents of the ground zero mosque - also known as the Lower Manhattan Islamic community center - as stupid anti-Islam bigots, but that story line wasn't sticking.  So networks found a stupid anti-Islam bigot in Florida who had nothing to do with the mosque, but who reinforced their political view.
If she's right, then we would expect that Fox would have given the story less coverage than the left wing cable news networks, CNN, HLN, and MSNBC.  And that's just what happened.
In the last few days the cable newsers (and websites that, ahem, cover cable newsers) have been rather obsessive in their coverage of the "Burn a Koran Day" spectacle planned by Florida Minister Terry Jones.  But upon closer examination, not all cable news channels were treated equal, or more accurately, treated it equally.  There was one that paid it little attention from the beginning: Fox News.
As you can see from Colby Hall's table, there was a big difference between Fox and the other networks.  Sometimes being "fair and balanced" means giving only a little coverage to a media stunt.  Fox's competitors wanted to make a political argument; Fox didn't, and looks better for its restraint.
- 7:25 AM, 15 September 2010   [link]


Sweden Democrats Are Different From American Democrats:  You can read about some of the differences in this New York Times article, or about all the Swedish parties in this guide from a Swedish newspaper.

Or, you can just watch this Sweden Democrats ad.  You should be able to understand its message even if, like me, you know only a few words of Swedish.  And, if you know a little about Sweden, you won't be surprised to learn that they had trouble getting it shown on TV.

American Democrats have put on some hard-hitting ads from time to time, but nothing like that, at least not in recent years, and not with Muslims as the targets.

The party is often called "far right" or, in the New York Times article, "populist right".   But the left-right spectrum is fundamentally an economic spectrum, and the issues that may lead to the Sweden Democrats having seats in parliament are not economic.  More accurately, they could be called "anti-immigrant", or even more accurately, "anti-Muslim-immigrant".

(As you can imagine, some Swedes don't like this party, and a few have shown it violently.

One Swedish journalist says that many Swedes treat their immigrants as "pets".  Which can't be good for either the Swedes or the immigrants, in the long run.)
- 6:46 PM, 14 September 2010   [link]


The NYT Comes Out Against Affirmative Action:  Granted, in an article, not in a editorial, and in India, not in the United States, but it's still a step forward for our newspaper of record.

Here are the key paragraphs:
While in the south lower caste members concentrated on economic development and education as a route to prosperity, in the north the chief aim of caste-based groups has been political power and its spoils.  As a result India's northern lower castes tend to be less educated and less prosperous than their southern counterparts.  Charismatic leaders in the north from lower castes have used caste identity as a way to mobilize voters, winning control over several large north Indian states.  Caste so thoroughly permeates politics in the northern half of the world's largest democracy that it is often said that people don't cast their vote; they vote their caste.

Caste is so crucial to northern politics that caste-based parties have demanded that caste be included in India's census, and the government, bowing to pressure, agreed to collect data on caste for the first time since independence.  They hope that by showing their large numbers, caste-based parties can force government to set aside more jobs for their communities.
(I love that casual "As a result".)

So there you are:  The Jesse Jackson (and Barack Obama, though not so loudly) approach to economic progress does not work as well as self improvement — except, of course, for "charismatic" (some would say "demagogic") political leaders.

(Remember all those race questions on our census short form?)
- 4:27 PM, 14 September 2010   [link]


Party Changes During The Last Two Years:  As seen in Rasmussen's generic vote.

Trends in generic Congressional vote, 7 September 2008 - 12 September 2010

(Note that I am using the traditional — and logical — colors for the two parties, rather than the colors inflicted on us by the "mainstream" media.)

What strikes me about the changes since I last did the graph at the beginning of this year is that Democrats have stopped losing support — but Republicans have continued to gain.  (Note how close to flat the Democrats are all through 2010 — and how the Republicans keep gaining.)  This pattern is consistent with the findings, from many pollsters, that Republicans are winning most of the independents this year.

(Caveat:  As I mentioned in the original post, some pollsters do not care for Rasmussen's methods.  You should know that he samples likely voters and weights his samples by party.  Other pollsters often sample voters, or even adults, and are less likely to weight their samples as Rasmussen does.  Those differences explain, at least partly, why Rasmussen's polls are almost always more favorable to Republicans than other polls.

Here are the graphs for May, June, July, August, September, October, November, and December of last year, and the beginning of this year for comparison.)
- 2:14 PM, 14 September 2010   [link]


A Zorse:  If you don't know that that is — I didn't — you'll figure it out about one second after you look at the first picture in this article.

(The article is worth reading even without the picture, if you have any interest in basic biology.)
- 12:58 PM, 14 September 2010   [link]


James Watkins Stages A Near-Perfect Campaign Event:  The Republican candidate for Congress in Washington's 1st district, James Watkins, combined a motorcycle ride with barbecue and Motown music.  What's not to like in that all-American combination?

Here are the riders.

Motorcylists for Watkins

You can see more pictures here, and learn more about the event here

(My apologies for not telling you about the event in advance, but I sometimes get behind on my email.)

It's good to see Watkins running this kind of imaginative campaign event.  The district is too large for in-person campaigning, unless you start at least a year before the election, and TV commercials are horrendously expensive in the Seattle market, because it includes so many congressional districts.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 11:31 AM, 14 September 2010   [link]


Will LEDs Reduce Energy Consumption?  Probably not, judging by history.
Better technology has stimulated demand, resulting in more energy being purchased for conversion into light.

That, at least, is the conclusion of a study published in the Journal of Physics D: Applied Physics by Jeff Tsao of Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico and his colleagues.  They predict that the introduction of solid-state lighting could increase the consumption of light by a factor of ten within two decades.

To work out what solid-state lighting would do to the use of light by 2030, Dr Tsao and his colleagues made some assumptions about global economic output, the price of energy, the efficiency of the new technology and its cost.  Assuming that, by 2030, solid-state lights will be about three times more efficient than fluorescent ones and that the price of electricity stays the same in real terms, the number of megalumen-hours consumed by the average person will, according to their model, rise tenfold, from 20 to 202.  The amount of electricity needed to generate that light would more than double.  Only if the price of electricity were to triple would the amount of electricity used to generate light start to fall by 2030.
They begin their study (which you can, for now, download here) with an instructive history of our increasing use of artificial light.  The cheaper artificial light became, and the higher our incomes, the more artificial light we have used.  Tsao and company argue that we are far from any saturation point; if light gets even cheaper and our incomes rise, we will use even more of it.  We might, for instance, use more light on streets in an effort to reduce crime, or in the homes of those suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder.   Or for growing plants in greenhouses.

This isn't an argument against switching to LEDs, which have many advantages over both incandescent and fluorescent lights; it's an argument against expecting that switch to reduce our energy use.

By way of Gregory Mankiw.

(You can find more discussion of the study here, along with a homely, but telling, example.)
- 9:59 AM, 14 September 2010   [link]


Microsoft Will No Longer Help Putin Attack Russian Dissidents:   The company is apologizing, calling off its Russian lawyers, and even offering retroactive licenses to "advocacy groups".

Microsoft announced sweeping changes on Monday to ensure that the authorities in Russia and elsewhere do not use crackdowns on software piracy as an excuse to suppress advocacy or opposition groups, effectively prohibiting its lawyers from taking part in such cases.

The company was responding to criticism that it had supported tactics to clamp down on dissent.

The security services in Russia in recent years have seized computers from dozens of outspoken advocacy groups and opposition newspapers, all but disabling them.  Law-enforcement officials claim that they are investigating the theft of Microsoft's intellectual property, but the searches typically happen when those groups are seeking to draw attention to a cause or an event.  Allies of the government are rarely if ever investigated for having illegal software on their computers.

The Putin regime is clever enough to think of other ways to attack these groups, but it is good to see that Microsoft will no longer be helping them.

(Incidentally, this may be a good business move, as well as the right thing to do.)

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

By way of Stewart Baker.
- 9:01 AM, 14 September 2010   [link]


Strong Passwords Are Important:  But may be less important, at many sites, than other forms of protection.  Or so think some security experts.
Make your password strong, with a unique jumble of letters, numbers and punctuation marks. But memorize it — never write it down.  And, oh yes, change it every few months.

These instructions are supposed to protect us.  But they don't.

Some computer security experts are advancing the heretical thought that passwords might not need to be "strong," or changed constantly.  They say onerous requirements for passwords have given us a false sense of protection against potential attacks.  In fact, they say, we aren't paying enough attention to more potent threats.
The worst software threat may be "key loggers", programs that infest your computer and send everything you type — including your passwords — somewhere else.

Whether it is safe to you write your password down depends on where you write it.  It would probably be secure in a safe; it probably wouldn't be secure taped to the bottom of a desk drawer — if your desk is in an area open to the public, or even many people in your organization.

The worst overall threat may be "social" attacks, attacks that take advantage of people's trust.  For example, one of the oldest tricks is to ask a system person for help — and then watch their fingers as they log in.
- 8:13 PM, 13 September 2010   [link]


The Internet Is Changing The World's oldest profession.

(In the Seattle area, two local "alternative" newspapers, the Seattle Weekly and the Stranger, have carried ads for prostitutes for years, even though prostitution is illegal here, as it is almost everywhere in the United States.  Despite Professor Venkatesh's rosy picture, we often read of Asian women in small brothels, and I can't help but wonder how many of them are in the business voluntarily.)
- 7:24 PM, 13 September 2010   [link]


Matt Welch Doesn't Realize This:  But he's just made a powerful argument against pot smoking.

Here's his headline: "Watching California's Newspapers Line Up Against Legalizing the Pot That 90% of Their Employees Have Smoked"

That statistic might help explain the poor performance of so many "mainstream" journalists.   They are trying to write and edit articles while they are high.  (I won't speculate on whether it might also explain some of the odder articles and posts from Welch's magazine, Reason.)

(Welch might still be right that we should legalize, or at least de-criminalize, marijuana.  But he really needs to find a better example to illustrate his argument that pot doesn't do much damage.)
- 2:21 PM, 13 September 2010   [link]


Some Kind Words For Michelle Obama:  No, really.  When I saw these pictures of the First Lady showing off her football moves, I was struck by two things.  First, she looks like a fine athlete.  (Her ability probably runs in the family.)   Second, this is the first time I can recall seeing her look that happy.

And that makes me wonder whether she would have had a better life if she had chosen athletics, instead of law, if she would have been happier as a high school or college coach than as a lawyer.
- 1:40 PM, 13 September 2010   [link]


Why Do The Obamas Like Vacationing On Martha's Vineyard?  Two visitors explain.
As a getaway for two Democratic presidents, including the current one, Martha's Vineyard is often disparaged as an undemocratic haven for wealthy white elites.

Kathlyn Joy Gilliam and Lorraine Parson thought differently from what they had read in black history books, and longed to visit.

"It's always been said this is where the elite African-Americans came," said Ms. Parson, 74.  Mrs. Gilliam, her 79-year-old sister, added, "I didn't realize how many African-Americans were here, though."
(Emphasis added.)

So it's an undemocratic haven for elites, black and white.  (There's a debate over just how integrated it is.)  Part of what makes it attractive to these elites is the absence of working class and middle class people, except as servants.

(For the record:  I don't object to the Obamas vacationing there; in fact, I would prefer to have them vacationing where they want to, rather than where they think they might score political points.   And I am glad to see them spending on a grand scale.  If Obama believes that we should be spending madly, then he is only being consistent when he pays "$35,000 to $50,000 per week" for his vacation lodgings.

Financial planners would probably object to the Obamas spending that much money on their vacations, but then financial planners would probably object to all of their family budgets.)
- 12:54 PM, 13 September 2010   [link]


The Tea Party Express Keeps Sending Me Emails Asking Me To Support Christine O'Donnell In Delaware:  But I have stopped reading them because she seems like too much of a flake to be elected to any office.  It's time for the people running the Tea Party Express (and others who have endorsed O'Donnell) to take a good, hard look at her actions.

For example:
Court documents obtained Saturday by THE WEEKLY STANDARD reveal surprising new details about the gender discrimination and wrongful termination lawsuit filed by Christine O'Donnell in 2005 against her former employer, the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, a conservative non-profit based in Delaware.*  O'Donnell, who is now challenging moderate congressman Mike Castle in the September 14 Delaware GOP Senate primary, sought $6.95 million in damages.  In a court complaint, she extensively detailed the "mental anguish" she suffered after allegedly being demoted and fired because of her gender.  And, although she didn't have a bachelor's degree until this year, O'Donnell implied she was taking master's degree classes at Princeton University in 2003.
And at her honesty:
"She has a shady history and we're not talking ancient history," conservative radio host Dan Gaffney tells THE WEEKLY STANDARD.  "We're talking current history, and she lies about it."

"You know, everyone is allowed to have financial difficulties," Gaffney continued.  "Everyone is allowed to take time to go to college.  But misrepresenting yourself, lying about it, that's what I have a problem with.  I don't understand why she has to lie about stuff she doesn't have to lie about."
Almost everyone has backed candidates who have embarrassed them later.  But, if you refuse to recognize that someone you backed is not fit for office, then others will wonder about your judgement — and even your honesty.
- 9:11 AM, 13 September 2010   [link]


"Cash for Clunkers" Was Just As Bad You Thought It Would Be:  Jeff Jacoby summarizes the bad effects of the program.
Congress and the Obama administration trumpeted Cash for Clunkers as a triumph — the president pronounced it "successful beyond anybody's imagination."  Which it was, if you define success as getting people to take "free" money to make a purchase most of them are going to make anyway, while simultaneously wiping out productive assets that could provide value to many other consumers for years to come.  By any rational standard, however, this program was sheer folly.
It isn't even clear that Cash for Clunkers was a political success, though I haven't seen any recent polls on the question.  But most Americans can figure out that destroying perfectly usable cars is not a good idea, and many Americans have shopped for a used car lately, or know someone who has.

Again, as so often before, I can only hope that Obama does not believe his own arguments.
- 8:00 AM, 13 September 2010   [link]


Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius Doesn't Look Like A Gangster:  But Michael Barone thinks she is acting like one.
"There will be zero tolerance for this type of misinformation and unjustified rate increases."

That sounds like a stern headmistress dressing down some sophomores who have been misbehaving.   But it's actually from a letter sent Thursday from Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to Karen Ignagni, president of America's Health Insurance Plans — the chief lobbyist for private health insurance companies.

Sebelius objects to claims by health insurers that they are raising premiums because of increased costs imposed by the Obamacare law passed by Congress last March.
And, as Sebelius went on to say, "zero tolerance" might mean a refusal to allow rate increases or even excluding insurance companies from some parts of the health insurance business all together.

Barone sums up, and reminds us of previous thuggery from this administration.
The threat to use government regulation to destroy or harm someone's business because they disagree with government officials is thuggery.  Like the Obama administration's transfer of money from Chrysler bondholders to its political allies in the United Auto Workers, it is a form of gangster government.
Or, as others might say, Chicago-style politics.

The Chicago Tribune accuses Sebelius of trying to "suppress" information, but thinks she will lose to the law of supply and demand.  The Wall Street Journal calls her letter "thuggish".

(Fans of gangster movies may hope that, having chosen to act like a gangster, Sebelius will begin to dress more like one.  If she doesn't, there are plenty of people out there with Photoshop, and similar programs, who can help her out.)
- 7:01 AM, 13 September 2010   [link]


Bush Is Helping Doctors Manage Their Practices:  No, not Bush 41 or Bush 43, though Jonathan Bush is related to them.

Bush got into this business, after he saw doctors' problems directly.
Q. Athenahealth got its start when you purchased a birthing practice in California back in 1997.  But you're not a doctor — why did you buy it?

A. You know, Bush family noblesse oblige.  I wanted to take advantage of all this education and support I've had and do well by doing good, and health care seemed like a place that no one else in my family had been much.  A new approach to health care seemed to me to be the oil fields of 1997.

Q. So what led you into the administrative services business?

A. I ran into all of the problems that medical practices ran into, all of which were unrelated to medical care.  I couldn't get my claims paid, I couldn't make payroll because of all of these ridiculous regulatory and insurance rules that were changing all the time and were very esoteric, and the technical infrastructure to connect and move around was incredibly poor.

We had 13 little offices up and down San Diego County, and they were running up against scale-based obstacles, things that would need real management infrastructure and capital to do properly.  So we built a little Web site for ourselves called Athenanet, and pretty soon all the doctors in the neighborhood wanted to be on Athenanet.
And now that little web site is a national business, employing nearly 1200 people.

I have mixed feelings about Athenanet, and similar companies.  Given the complexity of our insurance and health care systems, it is good to see a company trying to tame some of that complexity so that doctors can treat patients, rather than be, for much of their time, highly paid insurance clerks.  But I can't help but wish that we could cut back on the complexity, rather than manage it more cleverly.

(The rest of the interview has some interesting things to say about how the company operates, and health insurance reform, generally.)
- 8:14 PM, 12 September 2010   [link]


Delay Of The Dolphins:  You would have to look hard to find someone who didn't think we should guard our nuclear weapons very carefully.  In fact, most of us would agree that guarding those weapons carefully is about as important a government task as there is.  But, in this area, some activists disagreed, and delayed part of the protection that the Navy wanted for those weapons.

If you were designing a security system for nuclear weapons on land, you might include guard dogs as part of the system.  We've been using dogs as guards for tens of thousands of years for good reasons.  Now that we have learned to train dolphins, we might use them, for much the same reasons, to guard sites that are on the ocean.

One of the sites that needs guarding is in Georgia, and dolphin guards were deployed there in 2006, with no fuss.

But when the Navy tried to bring the dolphins to this area — where we have a lot of nuclear weapons — activists blocked the move.
In the late 1980s the Navy decided Bangor needed dolphins, too.

The military wasn't prepared for the response it got.

Former trainers accused the Navy of abusing its animals.  Environmentalists said the Navy was putting warm-water dolphins at risk in the Sound's chilly waters.  Some critics even speculated that dolphins had been trained to use nose-mounted guns to kill invaders.

The Navy denied everything.  The Marine Mammal Commission investigated and found no abuse.  But the Navy's history of secrecy just made it worse.  When animal-rights groups sued, the Navy agreed to reconsider its plans.  But in the meantime the Cold War ended, Congress began shuttering military bases and plans were made to wind down the use of marine mammals.

"It's the stuff that people believed they were doing but weren't that got people most riled up," says Paul Eugene Nachtigall, director of marine mammal research at the University of Hawaii.

The Navy may also have misjudged who we are: What Seattleite wouldn't be a bit squeamish mixing words like "dolphin" and "terrorism"?
In answer to Craig Welch's question: Any Seattleite who can think clearly about how important it is to guard nuclear weapons would not be squeamish about mixing those words.  (For that matter, any Seattleite who really understands wild animals would not be squeamish, either.)

That this is not obvious to a Seattle Times reporter is distressing, but no longer surprising.

(For the record:  I have a higher opinion of the people in Seattle than Welch does, and think many, maybe even most, of them know that guarding nuclear weapons is really, really important.)
- 7:06 PM, 12 September 2010   [link]


9/11 Jumper:  The New York Times will not show you this picture today, so I will.

9/11 jumper

This man jumped from one of the World Trade Center towers, rather than burn to death.  From the picture we can see that he was a young black man, probably American though he might have been an immigrant, and that he worked in a kitchen.

We can not know whether he knew why he was about to die, though I think it unlikely.  Few Americans then understood how much the fanatics who planned the 9/11 attack hated us, and how little they cared for innocent life.  Whether this victim knew or not, I hope that he rests in peace.

He, and nearly three thousand others, died in order to create a propaganda poster for Al Qaeda.

(I scanned the picture from a New York Times book, Nation Challenged.  I believe this to be fair use because I am criticizing the Times, and most other "mainstream" news organizations, for suppressing this picture, and similar pictures, in the years since 9/11.

Reposted from 2008.)
- 12:55 PM, 11 September 2010   [link]


Worth Reading:  (Though long enough so that you may want to save it for this evening or this weekend.)  Michael Lewis's article on the Greek financial crisis, "Beware of Greeks Bearing Bonds".

Lewis begins by teasing you with Greek monks (and eventually gets back to them), but along the way tells you much about how Greece got into its financial fix.  Two samples:
As it turned out, what the Greeks wanted to do, once the lights went out and they were alone in the dark with a pile of borrowed money, was turn their government into a piñata stuffed with fantastic sums and give as many citizens as possible a whack at it.  In just the past decade the wage bill of the Greek public sector has doubled, in real terms—and that number doesn't take into account the bribes collected by public officials.  The average government job pays almost three times the average private-sector job.  The national railroad has annual revenues of 100 million euros against an annual wage bill of 400 million, plus 300 million euros in other expenses.  The average state railroad employee earns 65,000 euros a year.  Twenty years ago a successful businessman turned minister of finance named Stefanos Manos pointed out that it would be cheaper to put all Greece's rail passengers into taxicabs: it's still true.  "We have a railroad company which is bankrupt beyond comprehension," Manos put it to me.  "And yet there isn't a single private company in Greece with that kind of average pay."   The Greek public-school system is the site of breathtaking inefficiency: one of the lowest-ranked systems in Europe, it nonetheless employs four times as many teachers per pupil as the highest-ranked, Finland's.  Greeks who send their children to public schools simply assume that they will need to hire private tutors to make sure they actually learn something.  There are three government-owned defense companies: together they have billions of euros in debts, and mounting losses.  The retirement age for Greek jobs classified as "arduous" is as early as 55 for men and 50 for women.  As this is also the moment when the state begins to shovel out generous pensions, more than 600 Greek professions somehow managed to get themselves classified as arduous: hairdressers, radio announcers, waiters, musicians, and on and on and on.  The Greek public health-care system spends far more on supplies than the European average—and it is not uncommon, several Greeks tell me, to see nurses and doctors leaving the job with their arms filled with paper towels and diapers and whatever else they can plunder from the supply closets.
. . .
The costs of running the Greek government are only half the failed equation: there's also the matter of government revenues.  The editor of one of Greece's big newspapers had mentioned to me in passing that his reporters had cultivated sources inside the country's revenue service.  They'd done this not so much to expose tax fraud—which was so common in Greece that it wasn't worth writing about—but to find drug lords, human smugglers, and other, darker sorts.  A handful of the tax collectors, however, were outraged by the systematic corruption of their business; it further emerged that two of them were willing to meet with me.  The problem was that, for reasons neither wished to discuss, they couldn't stand the sight of each other.  This, I'd be told many times by other Greeks, was very Greek.
(Emphasis added.) By the way, both major parties, the socialist PASOK and the "conservative" New Democracy, participated wholeheartedly in this party.  The socialists were just the ones unlucky enough to be left standing when the music stopped.  Or, if you prefer, to be in charge when the police arrived.
- 1:50 PM, 10 September 2010   [link]


Last Night's Execution Of Cal Coburn Brown Will Save 5 To 15 Lives:   Probably.

It has been years since he committed his horrendous crimes, so a review of them is in order:

[Holly] Washa had left Ogallala, Neb., three years before her murder believing Seattle was a prime spot to pursue a career as a flight attendant.  She found part-time work as a dispatcher at a Seattle cable-television company and at a Hickory Farms store in Southcenter mall.

Brown carjacked Washa, 21, at knife point near Seattle-Tacoma International Airport on May 23, 1991, and forced her to drive to a bank to withdraw money.  He then held her for 34 hours at a motel where she was repeatedly raped, robbed, tortured and then slashed to death.

Brown then flew to California, where he was arrested for trying to rape and kill a woman.  While being questioned by Palm Springs police, Brown told them they could find Washa's body in the trunk of her Oldsmobile in the parking lot of a SeaTac car-rental agency.

Brown had been released from Oregon State Penitentiary just two months earlier despite the protests of a prosecutor who had helped convict him in 1984 for assaulting a woman.

In all the years he has been on death row, he has shown little remorse for his crimes.

For decades, there has been an academic debate over whether the death penalty deters murders.   Simplifying greatly, you could say that the early part of that debate was dominated by sociologists who found no deterrent effect, and the latter part has been dominated by economists, who have found that every execution deters a number of murders, with most studies finding that it deters between 5 and 15 murders.  You can find a list of recent studies here, and a New York Times article on them here.  (You can find a dissenting view on the studies here.)

In my opinion, the economists have had the better of the argument, though the very range, 5-15, shows us that the matter is not settled.  I say that, not just because economists tend to be far better methodologists than sociologists — though they do — but because the conclusion is a common sense one.  If someone threatens our lives, almost all of us behave differently.   But I do not think that the academic question is settled, for reasons I explained in this 2005 post.   (Which is illustrated with an example of a famous killer.)

But you don't need to take my word for it; you can take the considered opinion of economist Gary Becker.

Gary Becker, who won the Nobel Prize in economics in 1992 and has followed the debate, said the current empirical evidence was "certainly not decisive" because "we just don't get enough variation to be confident we have isolated a deterrent effect."

But, Mr. Becker added, "the evidence of a variety of types — not simply the quantitative evidence — has been enough to convince me that capital punishment does deter and is worth using for the worst sorts of offenses."

That the evidence is "not decisive" does not absolve us from the responsibility to act.  If Becker is right, then the death penalty saves lives, and abandoning it will lead to the loss of more innocents like Holly Washa.  I think trading 1 Cal Coburn Brown for 5 to 15 Holly Washas is a good exchange.  Those who oppose the death penalty are either unwilling to look at the evidence as Becker has, or willing to accept the death of many Holly Washas in order, as they see it, not to be complicit in the death of 1 Cal Coburn Brown.  (I can understand that position, though I do not share it, but few who do seem to be willing to go all the way with it, since it implies an absolute commitment to pacifism.  Among other things, it implies that police should not be armed with deadly weapons, and that we should abandon our armed forces.)

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(You can make a pragmatic argument against the death penalty by saying that opponents have made death penalty fights so expensive that we would be better off using the money to reduce murders in other ways.  I haven't seen such an argument, with actual numbers, but would be willing to look at it.  I might still reject it, because it would allow a minority, using guerrilla tactics in our legal system, to over-rule the majority.

I saw two of the stories on this execution on our local TV stations.  Neither story mentioned the possible deterrent effect of the execution.  The story on channel 13, KCPQ, was so one-sided as to be more of an anti-capital-punishment editorial than a story.  This kind of coverage is typical of death penalty stories.)
- 9:56 AM, 10 September 2010   [link]


US Marines Rescue Ship From Somali Pirates:  Yesterday, US Marines again did what they have been doing for more than two centuries.  They intervened to protect commerce.  And the people engaged in that commerce.
U.S. Marines rescued a hijacked German-owned cargo ship off the coast of Yemen on Thursday, boarding the vessel as dawn broke and apprehending nine pirates without firing a shot.

Two dozen Marine commandos took control of the Magellan Star, a container ship en route from Spain to Vietnam, by swarming the decks and surrounding the armed pirates before they had time to react, U.S. military officials said.  The pirates, all Somali nationals, will remain in custody of the U.S. Navy until officials can decide whether they should be prosecuted or released.
 The Huffington Post has a set of photos of the operation; here's my favorite, showing the commandos on their way to the rescue.

Marines on way to rescue German ship, 9 September 2010

It took some time to convince the crew, who were hiding in "safe" rooms, that they had been rescued.
Marines, armed with blow torches and saws, finally cut a platter-size hole through a wall of the crew's hiding place. Marine Capt. Alexander Martin stuck a bullhorn through and announced, in English and Russian, that the pirates had been subdued.

The crew - mostly Filipinos but led by Polish and Ukrainian officers - was still skeptical, so Sgt. Max Chesmore tore off a U.S. flag patch that was attached to his uniform and shoved it through the hole.

"Once we showed them the American flag, their disposition turned from scared, unsure of what was happening, to very happy," said Staff Sgt. Thomas Hartrick, another of the commandos.
Congratulations to the Marines on a very successful operation.

(It almost seems like a shame to mention that we aren't sure what to do with the pirates we captured, since there has been no effective government in Somalia since the Clinton administration, and we are less practical in dealing with pirates at sea than we were two centuries ago.

And I can't help noting just how multi-national this whole affair was.  The ship is German-owned, and is crewed by Filipinos, Poles, Russians, and Ukrainians.  It sails under the flag of Antigua and Barbuda.  It was carrying a cargo of anchor chains from Spain to Singapore.  The US Navy was alerted to the capture by a Turkish frigate, TCG Gokceada.  That's at least ten different nations involved, eleven if you consider Somalia a nation.)
- 8:18 AM, 10 September 2010   [link]


Dinesh D'Souza thinks that Obama is an "anticolonialist", like his father.
It may seem incredible to suggest that the anticolonial ideology of Barack Obama Sr. is espoused by his son, the President of the United States.  That is what I am saying.   From a very young age and through his formative years, Obama learned to see America as a force for global domination and destruction.  He came to view America's military as an instrument of neocolonial occupation.  He adopted his father's position that capitalism and free markets are code words for economic plunder.  Obama grew to perceive the rich as an oppressive class, a kind of neocolonial power within America.  In his worldview, profits are a measure of how effectively you have ripped off the rest of society, and America's power in the world is a measure of how selfishly it consumes the globe's resources and how ruthlessly it bullies and dominates the rest of the planet.
There is, I am sure, some truth to D'Souza's argument, though it is too one-dimensional for my tastes.
- 5:58 PM, 9 September 2010   [link]


Deathbed Conversion?  That's one explanation for Fidel's confession.
But during the generally lighthearted conversation (we had just spent three hours talking about Iran and the Middle East), I asked him if he believed the Cuban model was still something worth exporting.

"The Cuban model doesn't even work for us anymore," he said.

This struck me as the mother of all Emily Litella moments.  Did the leader of the Revolution just say, in essence, "Never mind"?

I asked Julia [Sweig] to interpret this stunning statement for me.  She said, "He wasn't rejecting the ideas of the Revolution.  I took it to be an acknowledgment that under 'the Cuban model' the state has much too big a role in the economic life of the country."
(Sweig is probably a Castro fan, judging by what Goldberg said about her in another post.)

Humberto Fontova isn't buying it, because Castro has said similar things before.  And adds that Castro's chief supporter, Hugo Chavez, may lose this month's legislative elections.   If he does, Castro would probably lose much of the aid he is getting from Venezuela.

(Chavez is such a follower of Castro that, immediately after Castro said Ahmadinejad should give up his anti-Semitism, Chavez agreed to meet with leaders of Venezuela's Jewish community.)
- 1:27 PM, 9 September 2010   [link]


Broadband Is Essential For Australia, Said Tony Windsor:  But the independent representative who decided to back Julia Gillard and the Labor party in part because they are promising to spend a lot of money on broadband doesn't know how to use a computer.

That lack of personal knowledge may help explain why he expects so much from broadband.

(That kills one theory I had about the reason he was backing broadband so strongly.  It is no secret that what is politely called "adult" entertainment, and less politely called "porn", is a big share of internet use in most countries.  I couldn't help but wonder yesterday whether he was one of the clients for some of those sites.)
- 12:51 PM, 9 September 2010   [link]


Another Obama Czar:  This time, an "Asian carp czar".
The White House has tapped a former leader of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources and the Indiana Wildlife Federation as the Asian carp czar to oversee the federal response to keeping the invasive species out of the Great Lakes.

On a conference call today with Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin and other congressional leaders, President Obama's Council on Environmental Quality announced the selection of John Goss to lead the near $80 million, multi-pronged federal attack against Asian carp.
Does Obama now have more "czars" than imperial Russia had in all its history?  I think so, though the matter is unclear, since in Russia the title was used both formally, from "about 1547 until 1721", and informally after that period.  (And, just to confuse the count further, Russia had a number of men who claimed to be czars, especially during the Time of Troubles.)  If this Wikipedia article is right, Obama has had 44 "czars" — so far.

It's unlikely that any of Obama's czars will be as, uh, interesting, as Ivan the Terrible, or as effective as Peter the Great.

(It's odd to see how often "czar" is used when "coordinator" would be more appropriate.  The article doesn't mention any powers that Goss will have, so I would guess that he is, at most, a coordinator, not a czar.)
- 9:38 AM, 9 September 2010   [link]


How Do You Say Something Shouldn't Be Discussed Without Discussing It?   You can't, right?  James Taranto had it right when he said that we should all ignore the pastor's Koran-burning stunt, but even to say that, Taranto had to give the stunt a little more publicity.

But Taranto makes up for that, with this point about our "mainstream" media, or as he calls them, our "obnoxious media".
Unlike the Brooklyn miniriot, a fringe Florida pastor's announcement that he would observe 9/11 by burning the Islamic holy book was not, in itself, news.  It was a mere publicity stunt--which the media, by treating it as news, made into a successful publicity stunt.

It is a publicity stunt that fits a pernicious media narrative, exemplified by a New York Times story we quoted yesterday titled "American Muslims Ask, Will We Ever Belong," which cited the Koran burning as evidence of widespread anti-Muslim bigotry.

Anti-Muslim bigotry is a problem, but it is only exacerbated by the media's tendency to exaggerate and sensationalize it--and by the adversarial and snobbish attitude many journalists and some politicians have adopted toward the vast majority of Americans, who are not bigoted and who see the Ground Zero mosque as an affront.

The obnoxious pastor and the obnoxious media have a confluence of interests here.  It is no credit to the latter that their behavior has been no worse than that of the former.
I should add that Islamic radicals picked up the story before most of our news organizations — but that doesn't excuse the immense publicity our news organizations have given to this publicity stunt.
- 7:38 AM, 9 September 2010   [link]