Archive:

September 2012, Part 3

Jim Miller on Politics




Pseudo-Random Thoughts



Dr. "Hodad" And Guild Loyalty:  In an important article, Dr. Marty Makary explains how he learned about one of the causes of unnecessary deaths in hospitals.
I encountered the disturbing closed-door culture of American medicine on my very first day as a student at one of Harvard Medical School's prestigious affiliated teaching hospitals.   Wearing a new white medical coat that was still creased from its packaging, I walked the halls marveling at the portraits of doctors past and present.  On rounds that day, members of my resident team repeatedly referred to one well-known surgeon as "Dr. Hodad."   I hadn't heard of a surgeon by that name.  Finally, I inquired. "Hodad," it turned out, was a nickname.  A fellow student whispered: "It stands for Hands of Death and Destruction."

Stunned, I soon saw just how scary the works of his hands were.  His operating skills were hasty and slipshod, and his patients frequently suffered complications.  This was a man who simply should not have been allowed to touch patients.
(His patients loved him, because he had a wonderful bedside manner.)

Dr, Makary did not take what he had learned about Dr. "Hodad" to administrators, because he also learned, almost immediately, that doing so would be bad for his career.

This is another example of what is often called "guild loyalty"; members of the same occupation often protect each other, sometimes justly and sometimes unjustly.  As far as I can tell, it is strongest in occupations where pressures are highest, such police work in urban areas, and, of course, medicine.

There are ways to reduce its bad effects.  According to Makary, surgeons improve their behavior if they know their work is being recorded, just as, I suspect, police officers do.

There's much more on how to reduce medical errors in the article.  What I expect will strike you, as it did me, is that we can get substantial improvements simply by getting doctors to do what they already know they should be doing, such as washing hands between patients.

(Some time ago, I argued that guild loyalty was one of the things that protected Dr. — and serial murderer — Michael Swango.)
- 3:39 PM, 24 September 2012   [link]


From Gay Marriage To Polygamy?  Way back in 2003, I argued that gay marriage would not be particularly important to the society as a whole, unless it led to polygamy.  And at the time, I didn't think that likely.

I am no longer so sure about that, having seen a number of signs that gay marriage will, in fact, lead to polygamy, and possibly soon.

One of the signs is literally a sign.  The Toronto School District — which is about as "progressive" as you can get without falling off the left side of the earth — has put out this poster to propagandize junior high school students.

If you look closely — click on the picture to get a larger size if you need it — you'll see male-female couples, male-male couples, female-female couples — and a female-male-female triple and a male-female-male.  The slogan says that "LOVE HAS NO GENDER", but it would be more descriptive if it said that "LOVE HAS NO GENDER OR NUMBER".

Sometimes the evidence comes from what supporters of gay marriage don't say.   Washington state will be voting on a gay marriage referendum this November, and we are seeing many TV ads supporting gay marriage.  (Opponents of gay marriage have much less money to make their case.)

Every one of the ads I've seen could be modified, without much effort, to make an argument for polygamous marriages, too.  None of the ads I have seen argue for monogamous marriages.  (Come to think of it, none of them mention other common limits, such as age and close relatives, either.)

Their basic argument is simple:  If two people love each other, they should be able to get married.  And if three (or more) people love each other?  About that question, they are silent.

There is another reason that gay marriage might lead to legalizing polygamy; polygamy is, as I have argued before, more natural than gay marriage.  It already exists, though not legally, to some extent in the United States.

Once you have taken the big step to gay marriage, it should be relatively easy to take the small step to polygamy.

(Mark Steyn makes the same point, and reminds us that the British and French governments already, to some extent, recognize polygamous marriages.

If I recall correctly, some Islamic men from Africa have figured out that they can exploit the French welfare system by bringing in a series of wives, with their children, and living off the welfare payments.)
- 1:52 PM, 24 September 2012   [link]


Reminder On Polls:  As I mentioned in April, early polls are not very good predictors.

When do they start telling us useful information about who will win?  Sometimes as late as late October of the election year.  About a month from now, in other words.

If that seems surprising to you, you may want to read this Jay Cost op-ed.

Sample:
But political junkies don’t swing elections. In fact, something like 25 percent of voters make their voting decisions after September, and anywhere from 10 percent to 20 percent will make their final choice in the last week.

This is why the polls have often swung wildly in the final weeks of a campaign.  It’s how “Dewey defeated Truman” in 1948.  It’s how a blowout Richard Nixon victory in 1968 turned into a squeaker.  It’s how Gerald Ford closed a 10-point gap and actually had a lead in the final Gallup poll in 1976.
Incidentally, Ford came closer to beating Carter than many people realize.  If he had won Ohio and Hawaii — and he was very close in both states — he would have won the electoral college vote.  (You can see the exact numbers here.)
- 10:13 AM, 24 September 2012   [link]


A Troubling US-Iranian War Game:  Which columnist David Ignatius observed.
Perhaps it was the “fog of simulation.” But the scariest aspect of a U.S.-Iran war game staged this week was the way each side miscalculated the other’s responses — and moved toward war even as the players thought they were choosing restrained options.

The Iran exercise was organized by Kenneth Pollack, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center for Middle East Policy.  It included former top U.S. officials as Washington policymakers, and prominent Iranian American experts playing Tehran’s hand.  I was allowed to observe, on the condition that I wouldn’t name the participants.
War games sometimes predict the future — and their results are often ignored by the people who run them.  For instance, before the Battle of Midway, the Japanese ran a war game in which the US team surprised the Japanese team, and sunk several carriers.  Instead of paying attention to these results, the Japanese planners changed the scoring in the game.

This US-Iranian war game result sounds all too plausible to me.  The Iranians have — let us be blunt — been conducting a low-level war, mostly with proxies, against the United States ever since the 1979 revolution that brought the mullahs to power.  But they have suffered little from it, and are likely to have concluded that, as the Maoists used to say, that we are "paper tigers", impressive at first glance, but nothing to be afraid of.

And — again I must be blunt — there is no reason to think that President Obama has the historical knowledge, or the strategic skills, to handle a US-Iranian crisis.
- 8:40 AM, 24 September 2012   [link]


Australian Tim Blair Has Been Having Way Too Much Fun with a writer from the Sydney Morning Herald, Elizabeth Farrelly.

Is there a political point to be made about her writing?  I think so.  Consider this sample:  As she is wandering about a train station in Sydney, Australia, population about 4.6 million, she comes to this tentative conclusion:  "In these moments I can convince myself we’re in a real city, not some provincial town."

For her, and for all too many other journalists, a real city must be built around that 19th century technology, trains.

Trying to convince such people that commuter trains are not cost effective in most cities is usually a waste of your time, and theirs.
- 7:18 AM, 24 September 2012   [link]


Back To Hunting And Gathering?  That was my immediate reaction to this story.
More Americans are heading outdoors to hunt and fish for fun, reversing a two-decade-long decline among adults.

Eleven percent more Americans (ages 16 and older) fished and 9% more hunted in 2011 than in 2006, according to a new five-year survey from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Could the bad economy have something to do with this increase?  I think so.  I have known a number of people, over the years, who supplemented their food supply with hunting.  And I see a few people almost every day, right here in the middle of the Seattle metropolitan area, who appear to be fishing for food, not fun.

(For similar reasons, I have been half expecting to see people harvesting the Himalayan blackberry crop in this area.  In most years, almost all of the crop goes to waste, as you can tell from the black spots on the sidewalks.)
- 6:38 AM, 24 September 2012   [link]


Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi Is Offering The US "Terms"   That's what the New York Times is saying in a front-page article, based, they say, on a 90-minute interview.
On the eve of his first trip to the United States as Egypt's new Islamist president, Mohamed Morsi Mohamed Morsi said the United States needed to fundamentally change its approach to the Arab world, showing greater respect for its values and helping build a Palestinian state, if it hoped to overcome decades of pent-up anger.
When I saw that phrase, "spells out terms", in the headline, I immediately thought of the many other times I have read of someone offering terms.  For example, there were U. S. Grant's terms at Fort Donelson: "No terms except immediate and unconditional surrender."

When someone offers you terms, it is usually because he thinks he has defeated you.   President Morsi is not asking for immediate and unconditional surrender, but he is asking for eventual and conditional surrender.  (If you think you have been defeated, then you may ask for terms.)

This comes from a man whose nation is terribly dependent on US aid.  And will be even more dependent if world food prices rise, as many are predicting.  Perhaps Morsi thinks of that aid as tribute.

There isn't much else in the article, though those who dislike USC have another reason to do so, as President Morsi is a graduate and enough of a fan to say, "Go Trojans!"  Feminists will no doubt be pleased that he dislikes Hooters, and displeased that he would not, for religious reasons, vote for a woman as president of Egypt.
- 7:46 PM, 23 September 2012   [link]


Newspaper Apologizes:  No, seriously.  It does happen occasionally, and the particular circumstances are instructive.

The Kirkland Reporter, a weekly newspaper covering the suburb where I live, just published this explanation and informal apology.

Here's the lead paragraph:

Two weeks ago the Kirkland Reporter ran a column from Andrew Villeneuve in the editorial slot of the opinion page.  Villeneuve is a regular columnist in our other papers, such as the Redmond Reporter.  He is a Redmond High School graduate, so seeing his words in his hometown newspaper takes on more meaning for those to the east.  We at the Kirkland Reporter do not publish Villeneuve’s columns regularly, as his columns are usually very partisan and we do not have a conservative columnist to present the other side.   We feel we have a good pulse on the Kirkland community and what our readers want.   Our stance on this topic is not one that was known to the interim editor, who was in place during the first two weeks September.  Both longtime editorial staff members were out of the office on maternity and paternity leave during that time.

Note, please, that the newspaper says it doesn't ordinarily publish such columns because they don't think their readers want hyper-partisan columns.  They believe that such columns would be bad for their business, especially without balancing columns.

And that's interesting because so many news organizations seem determined to offend their conservative and moderate readers and viewers, who, after all, are in the majority nationally.  If the Kirkland Reporter can figure that out, why can't, for example, the Seattle Times or NBC?

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(Here's the Villeneuve column they were discussing.

< PS - I hope both new babies are doing well.)
- 2:56 PM, 23 September 2012   [link]


Those Were Two Smart Kids!  Professor Althouse pointed me to this post criticizing Justice Scalia and Judge Posner. In the post, Judge Richard G. Kopf is quoted:
Years ago, I knew two kids.  One was a tall and wispy twerp whose arrogance exceeded his stratospheric brilliance.  The other was a squat punk whose beautiful mind spewed quips like switchblades. By three orders of magnitude, these two were far smarter than the rest of us.
(Emphasis added.)

If the average IQ of the rest of the kids was 100, then what were the IQs, roughly, of the tall twerp and the squat punk?

Now that is smart.  I had no idea that IQ tests went that high.

(You may also want to read Althouse's snarkily sensible (sensibly snarky?) post.

If you have forgotten your high school math, you can find an explanation of order of magnitude here.

In April, I suggested that writers use "order of magnitude" instead of "exponential" when they meant much larger.  I won't retract that advice, but I will urge writers not to use words that they don't understand.)
- 1:35 PM, 23 September 2012   [link]


The WSJ On Capital Gains Taxes:  The lead editorial in this weekend's Wall Street Journal makes the argument for low long-term capital gains taxes.

As you would expect, their main argument is economic efficiency; lower capital gains taxes encourage investment, which makes us wealthier, in the long run.  (And sometimes even in the short run.)

They cite a variety of evidence but don't discuss their own graph showing the top rates from 1967 to the present.  The tax rose from 25 percent in 1967 to 40 percent in 1977, a time when stagflation became a serious problem.  And if you look at the rest of the graph, you will see that times of lower capital gains tax rates tend, at the very least, to coincide with times of prosperity.

The Journal even argues that those who do not invest benefit indirectly.
Even on class-warfare grounds, it is counterproductive to raise taxes on capital.  Most of the returns on investment in a business benefit workers (not shareholders), because they become more productive with more modern factories, computers and equipment made possible with investment capital.

Isn't that precisely what we want in America today?  As consumers and the government inevitably reduce their debt loads, the economy needs a higher level of capital investment to spur business creation and a spirited bidding up of stagnant wages.  Democrats who argue for higher taxes on capital are advocating less investment and dooming workers to fewer jobs at lower wages.
There is an argument against the Journal's position that they don't consider, an argument that President Obama might make, after he left office.  (Or very privately now.)  Those making that argument see equality of outcomes as a primary goal and prefer to live in a society that is more equal, economically, even if it is, overall, poorer.

That argument isn't inherently false.  There are times when almost all of us will trade some economic efficiency for what we see as a more just society.  (Think of our public schools or our jury systems, if you want examples.)

Over time, I have come to reject that argument more often than not, because, as I have said before, government attempts to decrease economic inequality often increase political inequality, sometimes disastrously.  And that decrease in political equality often leads to drastic and unjust decreases in economic inequality, as the powerful take more and more control over resources, regardless of whether they actually own them.  (Think of North Korea for an extreme example.)

(There is a minor error in the editorial.  The United States does not now have a single 15 percent tax rate for long-term capital gains, as they imply.  We have three rates, 5, 10, and 15 percent, with the lower two applying to people with lower incomes.)
- 10:13 AM, 23 September 2012
Correction;  The general Wikipedia article on the tax treatment of capital gains appears to be out of date for the United States.   Here's their specific United States article which describes recent changes in our rates.  Assuming this article is correct, taxpayers in the two lowest income brackets (10 and 15 percent) would owe nothing on long-term capital gains, and at regular rates for short-term gains.

In January, taxes go up for everyone, and get more complex.
- 4:27 PM, 23 September 2012   [link]


Greg Mankiw Does A Gentle Victory Dance over Brad DeLong and Paul Krugman.  In 2009, Mankiw differed with the two on the likely effects of the Obama "stimulus" package, with Mankiw less optimistic than Krugman and DeLong.

Now, economist David Cushman has published a paper showing that, even at the time, standard forecasting methods would have supported Mankiw, not his opponents.
Abstract

In early 2009, the incoming Obama administration’s Council of Economic Advisers predicted real GDP would rebound strongly from recession levels.  In a blog post, Greg Mankiw expressed skepticism.  In their blogs, Brad DeLong and Paul Krugman sighed.   Of course there would be strong growth, they maintained, because the recovery of employment would mandate it via Okun’s Law.  Mankiw challenged Krugman to a bet on the issue, but there was no response.  Of course we now have a good idea of the likely outcome, but I posit a hypothetical time series econometrician who, at the time of the blog entries, applies some standard forecasting methods to see whether DeLong and Krugman’s confidence was justified.  The econometrician’s conclusion is that Mankiw would likely win the bet and furthermore that a rebound of any significance is unlikely.  The econometrician has no idea how DeLong and Krugman could have been so confident in the CEA’s rebound forecast.
And that econometrician would have been right, as we all know.

There's an interesting sidelight that deserves a comment:  After Mankiw expressed his skepticism, Krugman described his views as "evil".  Mankiw did not reply in kind, but instead proposed a wager.
Paul Krugman suggests that my skepticism about the administration's growth forecast over the next few years is somehow "evil."   Well, Paul, if you are so confident in this forecast, would you like to place a wager on it and take advantage of my wickedness?

Team Obama says that real GDP in 2013 will be 15.6 percent above real GDP in 2008.   (That number comes from compounding their predicted growth rates for these five years.)  So, Paul, are you willing to wager that the economy will meet or exceed this benchmark?  I am not much of a gambler, but that is a bet I would be happy to take the other side of (even as I hope to lose, for the sake of the economy).
That, in my opinion, is exactly the way to handle a certain kind of unpleasant character, with humor and a suggested test of the competing ideas.

(Here's the Wkipedia article on Okun's Law, which is actually not a law.)
- 7:50 AM, 23 September 2012   [link]


Mendacity Or Incompetence?  Which best explains the Obama administration's false story on the murder of our Libyan ambassador, a story they stuck to long after it was apparent to almost everyone else that what they were saying wasn't true?

Andrew McCarthy is certain that it is mendacity.
Again and again, Obama-administration officials insisted that the killings were the result of spontaneous rioting over an obscure movie casting Islam’s prophet in an unflattering light — a movie from months ago, a movie virtually no one knew about, much less saw, a production so cockamamie that calling it a “movie” fails the straight-face test.

As the administration well knew, this was a coordinated jihadist attack led by al-Qaeda-affiliated forces, clearly well-trained and equipped with sophisticated weapons.
Jennifer Rubin (from whom I borrowed the post headline) isn't sure.
It remains an open question whether the administration was intentionally misleading the public so as to avoid the appearance of an administration failure, or was simply making things up without pinning down the facts (what the Democrats accused Romney of doing).  [Eli] Lake quotes a retired CIA official as saying: “I think this is a case of an administration saying what they wished to be true before waiting for all the facts to come in.”  That’s the most generous take on what happened.
As regular readers know, I lean toward the incompetence explanation.

But it occurs to me that there is a synthesis possible, that we can combine the two explanations.  McCarthy is unquestionably right that the career intelligence officers knew that this was a terrorist attack almost from the beginning.  But we don't have to jump from that to assuming that President Obama — or Secretary of State Hillary Clinton — knew that.  Both have shown us, from time to time, an impressive ability to ignore inconvenient evidence.

And we know that, on many days, President Obama doesn't even listen to his intelligence briefing, which would make it even easier for him to avoid unpleasant facts.

So what we may have is incompetence at the top (Obama and Clinton) — and mendacity from those who serve the two politically.

Incompetence would explain why Obama and Clinton keep talking about the movie; they haven't completely given up their false story, though almost everyone else in the administration has.

As I have said many times before, an incompetence explanation is almost always more worrisome than a mendacity explanation.  A president who lies to us, but understands what is actually happening in the world, is less dangerous than one who believes his own falsehoods.

(Incompetence would also explain the similar behavior by the Obama administration after earlier attacks.)
- 7:11 AM, 23 September 2012   [link]


"Surprisingly Unsurprising"  That's how Megan McArdle describes Mitt Romney's 2011 tax return.

That seems like a fair summary to me, but she goes on to mention two small surprises:
The most interesting thing is actually how little he's structuring to avoid taxes.  No significant income from muni bonds, which I would have expected from someone in his tax bracket.  Not a lot of complicated exchange deals to try and minimize his tax burden (though as I say, those may have occurred sometime in those missing returns . . . one plausible theory I've heard about his reluctance to release involves structuring his estate in order to pass as much as possible to his sons, tax free).
. . .
I was expecting to end this by saying that he doesn't go out of his way to pay extra taxes, but it turns out, he actually did.  (Though not, I think, because the US government is actually his favorite charity.)  So I'll instead end by saying that in an ideal world, neither the tax code nor Mitt Romney's tax return would look exactly like this one does now.  But as far as I can tell after wading through it, in the world we actually live in, his tax planning seems to be entirely unremarkable and completely within the law.
Those extra taxes — "between $200,000 to $300,000", according to McArdle — have driven some on the left nuts.  As you may have heard, some leftists are complaining because Mitt Romney paid more in taxes than he was legally required to do.

Romney pays less in taxes than an actor or athlete with the same income might, because most of his income comes from capital gains.  Taxes on capital gains were lowered for high income earners from 20 to 15 percent under George W. Bush — and from 28 to 20 percent under Bill Clinton.  If it is wrong to tax capital gains at a lower rate, both presidents should be blamed, but Clinton somewhat more than Bush.

(McArdle says that deferring consumption, as Romney did earlier in his career, is "tax advantaged behavior in every modern economy that I'm aware of".)
- 1:19 PM, 22 September 2012   [link]


"U. S. Distrust In Media Hits New High"  That's what Gallup found in their most recent survey.
Americans' distrust in the media hit a new high this year, with 60% saying they have little or no trust in the mass media to report the news fully, accurately, and fairly.  Distrust is up from the past few years, when Americans were already more negative about the media than they had been in years prior to 2004.
Almost no one will be surprised to learn that Republicans and independents are much more negative than Democrats.  In fact, what surprises me, mildly, is that 26 percent of Republicans have a "great deal" or a "fair" amount of trust in the media.  (But "fair" can be a low grade, though Gallup doesn't treat it that way.)

For what it's worth, the number who have a "great deal" of trust in the media is at a record low of 8 percent.  (A cynic might add that you can get 5 percent to agree to anything in a poll, Elvis is alive, the media deserve a great deal of respect, et cetera.)
- 10:31 AM, 21 September 2012   [link]


There's A Deer In Austin, Texas That's Persistent and smart.  (Though not entirely law abiding.)
- 8:31 AM, 21 September 2012   [link]


Was The Attack On Our Consulate In Libya "Spontaneous"?   Even the Obama administration has finally given up that claim.
After the White House for the first time Thursday explicitly called the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Libya an act of terror, President Obama ducked an opportunity to clear up the confusion about the ever-changing narrative -- appearing to hold firm to the story that an anti-Islam film was to blame.
. . .
Despite the president's reluctance to clarify what has been a wave of evolving statements from administration officials and lawmakers alike, back in Washington the narrative was starting to crystallize.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, for the first time, called the attack terrorism.
(That word "evolving" is a kind way of putting it, isn't it?  For example:  The little boy's story began to evolve as his mother questioned him about the missing chocolate cake.)

What makes this especially interesting is that the Obama administration claimed at the beginning that the attack was spontaneous, and then sent out UN Ambassador Susan Rice to make that argument on last Sunday's talk shows.  So they made the claim both when they didn't know much about the attack, and when they knew enough to know that the attack could not have been spontaneous.

Andrew Malcolm thinks they made that claim in a crude attempt to avoid political blame.

But I think it possible, perhaps even likely, that Obama believed that the attack was spontaneous.  He can avoid blame, at least in his own mind, by attributing the attack to understandable reactions to the movie.  And once he had taken that step, he almost has to claim that the attack was spontaneous.

That would also explain why Obama and Clinton appear to have taken no extra precautions, in spite of the warnings they were getting.  If you think that your policies are succeeding with Muslims, in spite of a bump or two, you will take warnings less seriously than you ought to.
- 8:17 AM, 21 September 2012   [link]


From Now On, Quotes In The New York Times will be actual quotes.
Public Editor Margaret Sullivan got her wish: The New York Times has a clear policy on quote approval.  The paper will no longer allow sources to change quotes after an interview.
Officially, anyway.  I am cynical enough to think that some Times reporters and editors will still help out their favorite candidates from time to time.  They just won't do it with the newspaper's official approval.

I was startled when I read the July article in the Times describing this practice.  I have known for years that reporters and editors sometimes cleaned up what a person had actually said, but I had no idea the process had become formalized to this extent:
Quote approval is standard practice for the Obama campaign, used by many top strategists and almost all midlevel aides in Chicago and at the White House — almost anyone other than spokesmen who are paid to be quoted.  (And sometimes it applies even to them.)  It is also commonplace throughout Washington and on the campaign trail.
There's some debate about when this practice became formalized, but no debate over its widespread use by the permanent Obama campaign.

Kudos to Ms. Sullivan.  It's a small step, but it's in the right direction.

(Some of you may wonder what we have been missing.  As it happens, I can give you a small sample from Rahm Emanuel's time in the White House, transformed to make it suitable for a family site: "!@#$##&*!".)
- 6:26 AM, 21 September 2012   [link]


A Newspaper Vets Obama:  Finally.

The New York Times?  The Washington Post?  The Chicago Tribune?

No, no, and no.  It's the Washington Examiner, which has given us a solid, ten-part story on Obama, refuting much of what Obama has said about himself.

There are many, many nuggets in the report; here's one from the Introduction:
But beyond the spin and the polls, a starkly different picture emerges.  It is a portrait of a man quite unlike his image, not a visionary reformer but rather a classic Chicago machine pol who thrives on rewarding himself and his friends with the spoils of public office, and who uses his position to punish his enemies.

Peter Schweizer captures this other Obama with a bracing statistic in his book "Throw Them All Out," published last year.  In the Obama economic stimulus program's Department of Energy loans, companies owned and run by Obama contributors and friends, like Solyndra's George Kaiser, received $16.4 billion.  Those not linked to the president got only $4.1 billion.
Fox News, knowing a good story when they see one, has illustrated the Examiner's work with a special report.
- 5:07 PM, 20 September 2012   [link]


Melanie Phillips Versus Ira Sharkansky:  This morning I read a column and a long blog post that agreed on a central point:  Mitt Romney had told some unpleasant truths about the Middle East.

The columnist, Melanie Phillips, was pleased.  For example:
[Mitt Romney] said that the Palestinians have
'no interest whatsoever in establishing peace, and that the pathway to peace is almost unthinkable to accomplish . . . I look at the Palestinians not wanting to see peace anyway, for political purposes, committed to the destruction and elimination of Israel, and these thorny issues, and I say there's just no way.’
Absolutely correct. Both the Hamas and Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah make it crystal clear over and over again that they want to destroy Israel as a Jewish state.
The blogger, retired political science professor Ira Sharkansky, was displeased.
Mitt Romney reminds us of a basic political lesson.

Politicians should lie.

What's this? An academic with a career in political science at distinguished universities saying that politicians should lie?

Yep.
. . .
Romney violated these rules when he articulated what should be obvious to all who are realistic about Israel and Palestine. The Palestinians are not prepared to create their own country, or they can't make it happen, on account of their violent factions and the slogans repeated since 1948 that they have a monopoly of justice and all of them--along with children, grandchildren, greatgrandchildren et al--will return home.
My own view?  Diplomats often must lie in public.  The quip that a diplomat is an honorable man sent abroad to lie for his country tells a truth that we should all recognize.  And our modern presidents are, inescapably, diplomats.

But at the moment Romney is mostly a campaigner — and what he said about the Palestinians was fine for a campaign.  In fact, to the extent that American voters notice it, it will help him.

(I would even argue that what Romney said might be good for the Palestinians in the long run, but that's a matter for another post.)

Although Phillips was pleased by what Romney has said, she wrote the column in part to make this point:
The most shocking thing of all, however, is that the mainstream US media don’t think any of these things is shocking. What they think is shocking is that Romney told the truth about them.

They don’t think it’s shocking that Obama’s disastrous foreign policy has empowered the mortal enemies of the west and weakened both America and the free world. They think it’s a shocking gaffe that Romney has said so. How dare he!
Phillips goes on to criticize our "mainstream" journalists for their bias.

Professor Sharkansky, unintentionally, provides an example of the effects of that bias, saying that Romney had insulted the British about their Olympics.  In fact, Romney's mild remarks didn't insult the British at all, though their journalists, and ours, claimed he had.  (What made that especially funny is that what Romney said, tentatively, was more or less what many British newspapers were saying at the time, forcefully.)
- 1:33 PM, 20 September 2012   [link]


Bad Timing For Gail Collins:  Today, the former editorial page editor of the New York Times devotes her column to all the bad things that have happened to the Romney campaign.

Today, the seven-day Gallup tracking poll showed that Romney, who had been trailing, had moved into a tie with Obama, among registered voters.  So he is, almost certainly, ahead among Gallup's likely voters.

(It is possible, of course, that Collins wrote her column as part of an effort to get fired, as I suggested in March.)
- 12:31 PM, 20 September 2012   [link]


Barack Obama Isn't the Only Chicagoan Who Believes in redistribution.
Three checks for campaign services have been stolen from President Barack Obama's national campaign headquarters in Chicago.

Midwest Press Secretary Ben Finkenbinder says the checks were to be sent to vendors but "made it into the wrong hands" and that the campaign notified police.  He adds that he doesn't expect the theft to have any impact on the campaign.
The thief was wrong, of course, to steal the checks.  But you can understand why he or she, after listening to Obama, might have decided to take a direct approach to redistribution, one that eliminates the middleman.
- 7:18 AM, 20 September 2012   [link]


President Obama's Appearance On The Letterman Show Gave Us Another Reason to think that he really isn't on top of minor details — like the size of our national debt.
Having tuned in to the Republican National Convention, Letterman was moved by one of the confab’s signal messaging achievements. As he explains to the president:
Here’s what I found troubling [at the GOP convention] . . . They had the clock, the debt countdown clock and, I mean, this thing is going like crazy and it’s several trillion dollars.   Now, what is that?
Obama responded with a recent history of government spending.  Then Letterman went back to the tally: “Now, do you remember what that number was?  Was it $10 trillion?”

Then came the payoff, as the president made clear that he really didn’t want to utter the word “16”: “I don’t remember what the number was precisely.”
Eric Wemple says that Obama "didn't want" to say 16.  But it is possible that Obama doesn't know the answer to that question.

(Here's a link to a fancy debt clock, if you would like an up-to-the-second answer.)
- 1:12 PM, 19 September 2012
Ignorance or dishonesty? When I watched that segment, I thought that Obama didn't know the answer.  Others, for instance, John Hinderaker, watched the same segment, and came away thinking that Obama was fibbing when he said he didn't know.  You can watch it and decide for yourself.  But I do wish we didn't, so often, have to try to figure out whether Obama is lying or ignorant.

And there is no doubt that, taken as whole, Obama's discussion of our debt problems could have used a little more "truthiness".
- 7:04 AM, 20 September 2012   [link]


You've Probably Seen this Michael Ramirez cartoon — if you are a conservative and surf the net, even occasionally.

But I wonder how many of our friends, speaking loosely, in the "mainstream" media have seen it.  And they are the ones who really, really need to see it.

So you might consider forwarding the cartoon to a journalist or two, especially after you spot them being biased in favor of Obama.

(As far as I know, Ramirez hasn't done a cartoon showing the same dog biting Mitt Romney, but he could.)
- 8:45 AM, 19 September 2012   [link]


According To The Fraser Institute, Economic Freedom Continues to decline in the United States.
The United States’ reputation as home to one of the world’s freest economies continues to decline, according to an international report released Tuesday.

The U.S. dropped to 18th worldwide, compared to 10th in 2008 and third from 1980 to 2000, the 2012 Economic Freedom of the World report found.  The findings are based on information through 2010.
Our decline in their index is absolute, not relative.  We aren't just being passed by other countries, we are losing our economic freedoms, they say.  (Important qualification:   Although they are libertarians, the authors did not measure political freedom.)

(You can find the report here.)
- 7:52 AM, 19 September 2012
The IBD includes a bar graph with their editorial on the report, so you can compare us to the other nations in the top 20.

Although the bar graph is helpful, you'll notice, if you look at it carefully, that the bars are not based at 0, as they ought to be, but somewhere around 7.  That makes the differences between the nations look larger than they actually are.
- 4:27 PM, 20 September 2012   [link]


Mitt Romney Says The Obvious About The Palestinians:  And gets attacked for it.  Barry Rubin — who must be abnormally patient — reviews the obvious for us, one more time.
This brings us to the latest attack on presidential candidate Mitt Romney.  It is impossible to understand the Arab-Israel, Israel-Palestinian conflict or Israel’s situation without comprehending that the Palestinian leadership doesn’t want real peace and a real two-state solution ending the conflict.  If things were different, they could have had a Palestinian state in 1948 or on numerous occasions thereafter, notably including at the Camp David meeting and with President Bill Clinton’s proposal (based on an Israeli proposal) in 2000.
. . .
To begin with, remember there are two Palestinian leaderships today. Hamas is openly against peace, though a surprising number of people seem to forget that periodically. The PA is genuinely, relatively more moderate — a factor that has some benefits — and certainly far more subtle.  But on this issue the bottom line is precisely the same.
And if the leaders of these two organizations were somehow talked (or bribed) into a peace agreement?  Then they would lose their power, and maybe even their lives.

That Barack Obama did not know these things when he became president — and may still not know them — is one of the many reasons I consider him unfit to be president.

Sometimes, as Orwell so famously wrote, ". . . the restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men".  And we can be grateful that Romney understands that duty.

(You don't have to be entirely cynical to push for peace talks even if you know they will fail.   Those diplomatic initiatives can help us with our Gulf Arab allies and clients.)
- 7:27 AM, 19 September 2012   [link]


Professor David Landes Thinks We Are Losing The Cognitive War With Radical Islam:  (Which more old-fashioned folks, like me, would probably call the propaganda war.)

Here's his lead paragraph, which I hope will tempt you into reading the whole article.
The West continues well into the teens of the 21st century to lose the cognitive war with the Islamist camp.  The latest catastrophe of international proportions has been the attacks on 9/11 against US embassies in Libya and Egypt (two places that went through major changes during the “Arab Spring”).  A combination of well-planned rocket attacks used the cover of outrage at an inflammatory movie about Islam, to kill an American ambassador and three other embassy officials.  The Muslim street in the Arab world has turned violently hostile to the US, and their own leaders, when not helpless to resist, are in cahoots, even with nuclear Iran.  Angry Muslim demonstrations riots spread all over the globe, and American (and Western) policy in the region is “in tatters”.
His piece is probably best understood as mainly directed to people who, like him, are on the democratic left.

His argument reminds, a bit, of something Daniel Patrick Moynihan said during a bad stage in the Cold War.  Moynihan said, roughly, that we did not believe our own case.  We are, I fear, seeing something similar today, seeing a refusal by some Americans, most of them on the left, to defend the values they claim to cherish — when confronted by radical Muslims.

(Landes's academic specialty, millennial studies, gives him an excellent background for understanding radical Islamists.)
- 7:20 PM, 18 September 2012   [link]


Killer Whale Mothers Are Good For Their Sons And Daughters As Long As They Live:  But the orcas, as we are supposed to call them now, are especially good for their sons
There’s no better place to get an answer than the Pacific North-West. Since the early 1970s, when Mike Bigg discovered that individuals could be identified from photos of their fins, scientists have conducted a thorough census of all the whales swimming off Washington state and British Columbia.  Led by Ken Balcomb, they have recorded the lives of 589 individuals (and the deaths of around half of them).  They have even deduced the whales’ family ties.
. . .
It’s clear that mothers who had been through menopause were just as useful to have around, and probably more so, than those who are still fertile.  On average, a 30+ male is 8 times more likely to die in the next year if his mother passes away, but his odds actually go up by 14 times if mum had gone through menopause.  This confirms that mothers are helping their sons well into adulthood, since older orcas actually benefit from mum’s presence more than young ones.  Perhaps she helps them to hunt, or maybe she watches their backs during fights with rivals.
(Since the numbers are so small, we should treat the exact ratios with some caution.)

The numbers are lower, as Ed Yong goes on to say, for orca daughters.

The piece includes some of the obvious speculation about what this might mean for people and the "grandmother hypothesis".

(Do the orca daughters complain that moms always like the sons best?  Perhaps.)
- 1:11 PM, 18 September 2012   [link]


Is Romney Slightly Ahead Right Now?  That would be my — tentative — conclusion, if I were to judge only by the latest polls from Gallup and Rasmussen.

First, Rasmussen.
The Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll for Tuesday shows Mitt Romney attracting support from 47% of voters nationwide, while President Obama earns 45% of the vote.   Four percent (4%) prefer some other candidate, and three percent (3%) are undecided.   See daily tracking history.

When “leaners” are included, the race is tied with both Obama and Romney at 48%.  Leaners are those who are initially uncommitted to the two leading candidates but lean towards one of them when asked a follow-up question.
Next, Gallup.  Their seven-day rolling average of registered voters now shows Obama with a single point lead, 47-46.  Since it's a rolling average, and Obama's lead has been declining, Romney must be leading in their most recent days.

And, of course, as almost everyone knows by now, Republicans usually do better among likely voters than among registered voters, which gives us reason to believe that Romney has been ahead among likely voters for several days.  (I generally assume that Republicans will do about two percentage points better among likely voters than registered voters.)

Now, of course there are many more recent polls, and most of them do not look as good for the Republican challenger.  The results are different enough so that we can't say it's just sampling error.  I do plan to take a look at the other polls, and see if I can explain these differences, but probably won't get to them until next week, at the earliest.

(The shape of Obama's recent "bump" makes me think he got a temporary boost from the Democratic convention, and perhaps from the rally effect I described yesterday.)
- 12:34 PM, 18 September 2012   [link]


Today Is Probably A Good Day To Review Some Of Mitt Romney's Good Deeds:  Here are a few of the better-known ones. (With links to more.)

And here's the Baseball Crank's conclusion:
You may choose to dislike Romney's politics, his policies, his ham-handed speeches.  But what a better country we would have if half the people attacking him now could compile half of the list above.  Compared to Barack Obama, who had half his house paid for by a slumlord convicted of bribing politicians, I'd rather depend on Mitt Romney if I really needed a friend when the chips were down.
It is odd that so many Americans don't consider Mitt Romney "likable".  I think many of them would change their minds, if they knew even this little bit about him.
- 10:18 AM, 18 September 2012   [link]


Here's What One Greek Thinks of our election laws.
Christina was not familiar with the now long running debate over "voter identification" in the United States.  In a majority of our states, I explained to her, there are at most very weak (if any) voter identification requirements.  Furthermore, I said, our Department of Justice opposes photo identification and similar measures, even though millions of dead people and otherwise ineligible "voters" remain on the registration rolls.

Christina's reply to this was straightforward. "No photo identification?," she exclaimed, "That is crazy!  How can you let people vote without knowing who they are?"
The Greeks have a few problems with corruption, but they try very hard to prevent vote fraud, much harder than we do.

(Ray Hartwell describes Christina as a "partner with a prestigious Athens corporate law firm", but does not give her last name.)
- 6:51 AM, 18 September 2012   [link]


Michael Ramirez On President Obama's priorities.
- 6:36 AM, 18 September 2012   [link]


Remember The Julia Ad?  The whole point of the ad, as I understood it, was that Julia could depend on the government to take care of her all her life.

In short, if you want to be a dependent, vote Democratic.

This morning I awoke to a great controversy because Mitt Romney said that people who depend on the government were more likely to vote for Barack Obama.

Many on the left seemed to think that what Romney said was both stupid and wicked.

Which leaves me mildly confused because Obama, Pelosi, and company have been encouraging people to depend on the government — and expecting their votes in return.

That is what political machines, most of them Democratic, always do.  That is what most national Democrats, ever since FDR, have been doing with their domestic policies.  (Minor exception:  Bill Clinton did accept Republican proposals on welfare reform, after a struggle.)

Ann Althouse doesn't see anything wrong with what Romney said, and neither do I.

But I do think it wrong to encourage dependency, and especially wrong to expect votes in return.

(Here's the Julia ad, if you need a review.)
- 5:31 AM, 18 September 2012   [link]


First Lady Michelle Obama Has a wicked sense of humor.   While speaking at a campaign event she said: ". . . instead of pointing fingers and placing blame, Barack got to work".

Now that's funny, though she should have let her audience enjoy the joke, instead of piling more on top of her punch line.
- 5:00 AM, 18 September 2012   [link]


Presidential Failures, Presidential Popularity Surges:  They can go together — in foreign policy.

In a foreign crisis, Americans tend to rally around the president, even if the crisis shows the failure of his policies.  Many have observed this; John Mueller even included it as a variable in a statistical model of presidential popularity, which you can find in his book, War, Presidents, and Public Opinion.

Mueller found statistical support for what others had observed; presidents get a temporary bump in popularity from a foreign crisis, regardless of what that crisis shows us about the president's policies.  For example, Kennedy's popularity rose after the Bay of Pigs invasion, which was a failure by every measure.

So we should expect, if anything, that Obama will get a temporary bump from the attack on our embassy in Egypt and the attack on our consulate in Libya, despite what those attacks show about his and Secretary of State Clinton's failures.

Will that temporary bump be replaced by losses, as Americans have time to have second thoughts?  We can certainly hope so, and I think that patterns of presidential popularity give us good reason for that hope.

(If the attacks continue, as they may, then Americans are especially likely to see Obama's policies as failures.)
- 2:32 PM, 17 September 2012   [link]


Russian Warships — And Turkish Airplanes:  That background picture at the Democratic convention gets even better.
The Democratic National Committee has already apologized for using a photo of four Soviet-era Russian warships in a giant stage backdrop intended to illustrate the party’s support for military personnel and veterans.

That huge image, visible in the Time Warner Cable Arena during speeches by Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry and retired Admiral John B. Nathman, also depicted a synchronized formation of jet aircraft that convention-goers assumed were American fighter planes.

But the F-5 fighter planes in the photo are part of the air force of Turkey, a nation whose government is now jailing journalists and establishing Islam as a state religion.
So the airplanes were American made, but not flown by Americans.

(The picture wouldn't work very well in Russia or Turkey either, since the two nations have a long history of enmity.)
- 1:16 PM, 17 September 2012   [link]


It's Not Just Videos That Offend Some Muslims, it's also mustaches.

I should repeat, some Muslims.

And I should add that it is an impressive mustache.
- 8:33 AM, 17 September 2012   [link]


Would A Tax On Movies Be A Pigovian Tax?  Law Professor Glenn Reynolds, irritated by political posturing from Hollywood celebrities, has called for a restoration of a tax on movies.
It's not just Eva Longoria who doesn't need a tax break -- it's her entire industry, which has enjoyed favorable tax treatment in all sorts of ways, at both the federal and state levels, for years.   And now, with the federal government and the states in parlous financial condition, it's time for those fat cats to shoulder more of the burden.  Why should burger flippers at Wendy's have to cover the national debt while Hollywood moguls enjoy yachts, swimming pools and private jets?

The last time America was this deep in debt was the end of World War II.  One of the ways we paid the debt down was through a 20 percent tax on the gross receipts of movie theaters.   (That's right -- gross, not net.)  That tax was repealed in the 1950s -- I guess we could call that the "Hollywood tax cut," since we're still talking about the "Bush tax cut" in 2012.   To secure that repeal, Hollywood launched a major PR campaign about how taxes kill jobs and hurt prosperity.  We haven't heard that kind of talk from them since.
As you probably recall, a Pigovian tax discourages "negative externalities":
A Pigovian tax (also spelled Pigouvian tax) is a tax applied to a market activity that generates negative externalities.  The tax is intended to correct the market outcome.  In the presence of negative externalities, the social cost of a market activity is not covered by the private cost of the activity.  In such a case, the market outcome is not efficient and may lead to over-consumption of the product.  A Pigovian tax equal to the negative externality is thought to correct the market outcome back to efficiency.
We put taxes on, for example, alcoholic drinks, in order to pay for the external costs of those drinks, and to discourage people from drinking too much.

Do recent movies from Hollywood often have "negative externalities"?  Well, yes, and there is an example much in the news these days, though it didn't come from a major studio.  But I'm not thinking so much of that example, as the many anti-American movies put out by major studios, movies that have damaged our image in foreign countries.  (You can find some examples here, and a general discussion of the problem here.)

To put it bluntly, by restoring that tax on movies, we would collect money to counter-balance the damage that Hollywood has done to our image overseas.

Done right, such a tax would not only be just — pleasing law professors — but efficient — pleasing economics professors.
- 7:09 AM, 17 September 2012   [link]


The Obama Administration Sent Susan Rice Out To Spin On The Embassy Attacks:   Stephen Hayes was not impressed.
The Obama administration continued to claim Sunday that the attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, were not planned or coordinated but spontaneous responses to news of an anti-Islam video that happened to take place on the eleventh anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.  It’s a highly dubious claim, challenged by top Libyan officials, eyewitness accounts, several U.S. officials with access to the intelligence on the attack, and, it must be said, by common sense.

But Obama officials are undeterred.  As they have done on two previous occasions after attempted attacks on U.S. interests – the attempted bombing of an airplane over Detroit and failed bomb plot in Times Square – top Obama officials are stubbornly clinging to a narrative that is politically advantageous but increasingly hard to square with reality.
By trying to sell us these absurd stories, the Obama administration treats us like fools, as even some "mainstream" journalists are beginning to notice.

(Why did they send Rice out, rather than some official better informed on the embassy attacks?  Most likely because they thought she would be a sympathetic figure, because of her race and sex.)
- 5:51 AM, 17 September 2012   [link]