April 2009, Part 4
Jim Miller on Politics
"That Wasn't Me": Well, actually, Mr. President, it was you.
"That wasn't me," President Barack Obama said on his 100th day in office, disclaiming responsibility for the huge budget deficit waiting for him on Day One. It actually was him — and the other Democrats controlling Congress the previous two years — who shaped a budget so out of balance.Not just you, Mr. President. But you were a part of the Democratic majority in Congress, and you did vote for almost all of those spending increases.
And, even by your own numbers, you are promising to make the deficit worse, far worse.
(Calvin Woodward describes three more Obama errors (to be kind) in that Fact Check. If you read the whole article, you may, like me, wish that Jeff Zeleny had asked Obama about some of them.)
- 8:56 AM, 30 April 2009 [link]
"Enchanted?" What worries me most about that absurd question is that the New York Times reporter didn't realize that it is an absurd question. (Most of the other reporters, judging by the laughter, did).
There were so many interesting questions Jeff Zeleny could have asked Obama. How in the world did he come up with that one?
We learned something from the question: We should never trust anything written by Zeleny, unless we can verify it, independently.
- 6:57 AM, 30 April 2009 [link]
Are We Winning The War On Terror? Voters say yes, but much less strongly than just a few months ago.
Just 42% of likely voters now believe the United States and its allies are winning the War on Terror, according to the latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey.Why the shift? Rasmussen doesn't speculate, but I can. The shift occurred during the time that Obama released the memos describing how we interrogated a few top terrorists, and the left, including many in the "mainstream" media, saw that as an opportunity to accuse the Bush administration of torture. I think it likely that some voters, watching this spectacle, decided that Obama is not serious about fighting the war on terror. And one can see why voters might come to that conclusion, considering that the Obama administration isn't even willing to call it a war. (Though the terrorists have no trouble calling it a war.)
- 12:36 PM, 29 April 2009 [link]
Pennsylvania Story: Here's Mitch McConnell's take on Specter's party switch.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell just talked to reporters on the Hill. He said Specter broke the news to him yesterday afternoon. According to McConnell, Specter said that he'd determined that he couldn't win the GOP primary in Pennsylvania or be elected as an independent so he was switching to the Dems. McConnell was quick to paint this development as a "Pennsylvania story" and not reflective of the party nationally. Here are the notable excerpts:So Specter thought that a party switch was the only way he could be re-elected. It's as simple as that.
Senator Specter's vote for the "stimulus" package hurt him badly with Republican voters. It was at least one of the reasons that his opponent in the Republican primary last time, Pat Toomey, decided to run against Specter again. (Incidentally, I thought that Toomey's last run was a mistake, that at most he could help elect a Democrat — which he almost did.)
It is hard to say now whether this switch will save Specter. If the economy continues to be sluggish through 2010, then incumbents and the incumbent Democratic party will do worse, even in the Northeast, than they did in 2006 and 2008. And it is not impossible that he will be beaten in the Democratic primary, especially if a candidate who can pay for his own campaign runs against him.
- 9:38 AM, 29 April 2009 [link]
Turn Out The Lights: First the Obama administration struck at the nuclear power industry, stopping the Nevada waste storage site. Now they have begun to attack coal power plants.
In a dramatic move yesterday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) withdrew the air quality permit it issued last summer for the Desert Rock coal-fired power plant, which is slated to be built on the Navajo Nation in the Four Corners region just southwest of Farmington, New Mexico.This EPA decision won't necessarily kill the plant, but it may. It will certainly delay the plant. Such delays generally add to the costs, so if the plant is built, consumers will pay more for the electricity from it than they would have otherwise.
The plant was being built to supply Arizona and California, two states with fast-growing populations. If the Obama administration continues to block power generation, in a decade we may see rolling power blackouts in some parts of the country, like those found in many third world countries.
The plant would have substantial benefits for the Navajo Nation.
Some Navajos supported building the plant for jobs it would provide and revenue. The $3 billion to $4 billion project had been expected to bring the Navajo Nation about $50 million a year.Reuters doesn't mention the jobs that the plant would have provided the Navajos, who need them badly.
We get more than half of our electricity from coal and about 20 percent of our electricity from nuclear power. There are, currently, no economic replacements for either. All of the alternatives are more expensive, far more expensive when the costs of storage are included.
Incidentally, building this plant would be a fine stimulus to the economy, especially in that region.
(By way of HotAir.)
- 9:02 AM, 29 April 2009 [link]
Chronic Vote Fraud In Clay County, Kentucky? I added that question mark because the defendants have not been convicted. But the evidence against them looks overwhelming. The defendants are accused of buying and stealing votes in this poor, rural county.
• Clay County Circuit Court Judge Russell Cletus Maricle, 65, and school superintendent Douglas C. Adams, 57, allegedly used their status in the county to influence the appointment of corrupt members to the Clay County Board of Election Officials and caused election officers to commit acts of extortion, mail fraud, and bribery. Maricle also allegedly instructed a witness to testify falsely before a federal grand jury in Lexington.(You can access the full indictment here.)
The stealing was the novel part of the conspiracy. The county uses touch screen voting machines with a significant flaw in the user interface. After you have made your selections, you are told to press a "Vote" button. That does not, as you might expect, cast a vote. Instead it just readies your choices for review. Election officials told voters that they were finished after they had pressed the Vote button, and so some voters stopped before they had actually cast a vote. After the voter left the voting place, an official would go in and change the vote. (For a discussion, see this Ars Technica post.)
The use of evil voting machines to cast fraudulent votes drew the attention of some on the left, as you can see here and here. Two commenters to the first post make a crucial point, which the other commenters, and the author of the post, ignored. In comment 22, BritYank argued that absentee ballots should be restricted, and tightly monitored. And in comment 49, Kort Guernsey said this:
Reply from my uncle in Lexington,KY. to this article....Obviously, I can't confirm that semi-anonymous comment. But I can say that it is consistent with experience from many elections. When vote fraud is committed in the United States, it is usually committed with absentee ballots.
As far as I can tell, this conspiracy was bipartisan. Maricle is a Democrat, at least nominally, as are some of the others in the group. But one is a Republican, at least nominally, and the county is heavily Republican in national elections.
Finally, for what it is worth, this is the first case I have seen in which electronic voting machines were — almost certainly — used to commit vote fraud. Though that fraud was committed, not by manipulating the machines, as so many fear, but by manipulating the voters.
(There almost certainly have been other cases, which were undetected, since most vote fraud goes undetected. But this is the first case I have found, and I do semi-regular searches for vote fraud.)
- 4:44 PM, 28 April 2009
For background, you may want to read this Associated Press article. Note that, although the indictments are for elections in 2002, 2004, and 2006, nearly everyone in the county believes that votes have been bought and sold there for decades.
- 8:20 AM, 29 April 2009 [link]
The Threat Of Global Warming Has Been Very, Very Good To Al Gore: Judging by his net worth.
- 12:52 PM, 28 April 2009
More: The Investor's Business Daily has some numbers.
When Gore left office in January 2001, he was said to have a net worth in the neighborhood of $2 million. A mere eight years later, estimates are that he is now worth about $100 million. It seems it's easy being green, at least for some.That Gore is making money from his crusade — and I use that religious word deliberately — does not, by itself, invalidate his arguments. But it should make us more skeptical about his claims.
- 6:23 AM, 5 May 2009 [link]
Nasty: But funny. And I may watch the Fox program as a mild protest.
- 12:41 PM, 28 April 2009 [link]
Pelosi's Memory Is Becoming An Issue: And the speaker is getting close to becoming the punch line to a joke.
Nancy Pelosi is "pushing back" against charges that she was aware of -- and acquiesced in -- the CIA's harsh interrogations of terrorist detainees nearly from the moment the practice began, reports the Politico Web site. Maybe she's suffering from amnesia.Maybe, but hardly anyone would bet that way — unless Pelosi can prove that she is a victim of Alzheimer's, which sometimes does strike at her age.
Pelosi's "memory loss" would be a better joke if it weren't for this:
Maybe, finally, the speaker has forgotten the role that previous grand congressional inquisitions played in gutting U.S. intelligence.And that "prudence" is one of the reasons that we did not detect the 9/11 plot in time.
- 11:16 AM, 28 April 2009 [link]
Is President Obama Popular Now? Sure, just like all recent presidents in the first months of their first terms. But is he more popular than other recent presidents at this stage? Not particularly.
Gallup makes those comparisons surprisingly hard to find out on their site, but I was able to find a table of results at the end of this USA Today article. After his first quarter in office, 62 percent of American adults approved of Obama's performance, and 29 percent disapproved. The comparable figures for our recent presidents are as follows:
George H. W. Bush (58/16)
George W. Bush (62/29)
Pollsters often subtract the disapproval rating from the approval rating to get a net score. If you do that, you will see that Obama is more popular than Clinton was after one quarter in office, as popular as George W. Bush, and less popular than Carter, Reagan, and George H. W. Bush.
(It is hard to read the Gallup releases on Obama's popularity without concluding that the Gallup analysts are deliberately distorting the presentation of their poll results. For instance, take a look at this release, which has much to say about his approval ratings — but omits his relatively high disapproval ratings completely.
So as not to make the same mistake as Gallup, I'll note that Obama's popularity edged up a few points in the last two weeks.
Finally, one small, but important, technical point: Pollsters use different questions to measure popularity. In fact, the same pollster will often use several different questions to measure presidential popularity. Gallup, for instance, usually uses a single approve/disapprove question, but they sometimes give their respondents five choices: excellent/good/just Okay/poor/terrible, as they did here. It is tempting to try to collapse those five choices into two, so that you can compare them to the approval ratings, tempting, but almost always a mistake.)
- 8:55 AM, 28 April 2009
More: As I should have mentioned in the original post, this Washington Times editorial makes the mistake I criticized in that last paragraph. That's unfortunate, because their main point, that Obama is not especially popular for a president at this stage of his presidency, is correct.
- 12:25 PM, 28 April 2009 [link]
Obama Shows His "Deep Humility": Harry Reid tells the story.
Everyone knows President Barack Obama can deliver a great speech, including the president himself, according to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.But that gift is not modesty, much less "deep humility".
Oh, and one more point. The success of the surge in Iraq has shown that Reid — and Obama — were wrong, wrong, wrong, in their criticisms of George Bush's war policy. I suspect that Reid does not mention that in his book, though a man with "deep humility" would.
- 5:03 AM, 28 April 2009 [link]
All Benefits, No Costs? That's how Washington state's governor, Chris Gregoire, describes her proposals to reduce greenhouse gases.
You can search her entire column without finding a single mention of the costs for her proposals.
(Washington taxpayers, who have watched her bring the state close to bankruptcy, may not be surprised that Gregoire has nothing to say, at least nothing she wants to say publicly, about costs.)
She does mention costs indirectly, when she backs a cap-and-trade program. Any such program that actually reduced greenhouse gases would have to do so by raising energy prices, imposing a heavy tax on all of us. The tax would be regressive, hitting the poor, especially the rural poor, harder than the rich, especially the urban rich. (For some examples of how higher energy prices hit the rural poor hard, see this New York Times article.)
Avoiding, except in that indirect way, any mention of costs is dishonest, because Gregoire is not telling us the whole truth. (Assuming, for the sake of the argument, that she is right about the benefits.) I can't see into her mind, so I don't know why she omitted costs. It may be that she, like many other politicians, just wants to sell a program, and so prefers to avoid the negatives. But it may also be that she has never really thought about the fundamental question: Are the benefits from her proposals greater than the costs?
Bjorn Lomborg agrees with Gregoire that greenhouse gases will have many negative effects. But he is willing, unlike the governor, to examine the costs of proposals like hers, openly. And when he does, he comes to a very unfashionable conclusion:
For the sake of Governor Gregoire, I will add this point: An investment that returns 30 cents for each dollar spent is a bad investment.
Lomborg favors (as do I, though I disagree with him on other matters) more research instead of expensive efforts to cut emissions.
Lomborg may be wrong in his analysis. He is almost certainly wrong in his exact numbers, simply because both costs and benefits are so hard to estimate. But he is right to ask that fundamental question, and Gregoire wrong to avoid it. (So wrong, in my humble opinion, that the Seattle Times should not have published her op-ed, at least not without a rejoinder on the same page.)
Cross posted at Sound Politics.(As usual when I mention global warming, I urge you to read my disclaimer, if you have not already done so.)
- 2:48 PM, 27 April 2009 [link]
The Most Failed Class At Oregon State? Algebra, which shouldn't be given for college credit.
In the comments "Cardinal Fang" supplies some context:
Oregon State's Math 111 is entitled College Algebra. As with other courses called "College X," it's a high school level Pre-Calculus course, although Oregon State offers college credit for it. The worst is, Math 111 is the third course in their math sequence. The two lower courses, neither of which earn college credit, are Elementary Algebra and Intermediate Algebra.So Oregon State offers a sequence of three algebra courses, the third for college credit, in order to get some of their students up to the level of a high school sophomore. And that third course is too high a barrier for many Oregon State students.
If Barack Obama is innumerate — and I certainly hope that is not the case — he is not alone.
- 11:03 AM, 27 April 2009 [link]
For A Nervous Chuckle, you may want to read this New York Times story, which is headlined — really, I'm not making this up — "President Emphasizes Discipline In Budgets".
Stolberg seems to understand that Obama's speech last Saturday, calling for fiscal discipline, was pretty funny, at least to some.
Mr. Obama has spent the first three months of his presidency presiding over a huge burst of federal spending; his economic recovery bill will cost taxpayers $787 billion, and the government is pumping $700 billion more into the economy to keep shaky financial institutions stable. Now the president is turning his attention to the other side of the budget equation: cutting the deficit.The analysts were right, of course.
Obama's speech could be evidence for either my innumeracy theory or Frank Fleming's Borat theory. The very cynical may conclude that the speech shows what Obama thinks he can get away with.
(Sweetness and Light notes that one of the ideas in Obama's speech, federal suggestion boxes, has been in operation for years and years.)
- 10:25 AM, 27 April 2009 [link]
Snow Rollers: For something lighter on a Monday, take a look
I've seen a lot of snow over the years, but never anything like these rollers.
- 9:05 AM, 27 April 2009 [link]
The 1918 Influenza Pandemic: Drudge has been hyping the stories of the Mexican flu epidemic, without explaining why experts are worried. Ordinarily we think of flu as a minor illness, dangerous only to the very young and the very old. But in 1918, a far more deadly strain of flu struck the world, and the principal victims were young adults.
Gina Kolata supplies some statistics, or perhaps we should say, educated guesses.
How many became ill? More than 25 percent of the U.S. population.It is that 1918 pandemic, which we are still struggling to understand, that explains why experts worry so much when a new strain of flu appears, whether it is avian flu, swine flu, or the new strain from Mexico.
Nothing like the 1918 pandemic has occurred since then, though there have been many flu epidemics, so it is reasonable to conclude that a similar disaster, or even one half as large, is unlikely. Unlikely, but not impossible, because anything that has happened is, by definition, possible.
(For general background on viruses, I have long relied on Andrew Scott's lively and clear Pirates of the Cell. Since the book was last revised in 1987, it may be a bit dated, but I haven't run across a better reference for the educated layman.)
- 8:39 AM, 27 April 2009 [link]
Untangling The Cables: If you are like me, you know a few of main cable types, but have to check on most of them. J. D. Biersdorfer helps us out with this taxonomy.
You can spend weeks researching which TV or Blu-ray player to buy, and then you would still have to deal with the conundrum of the cables. Other format wars get resolved fairly quickly and definitively (Blu-ray over HD-DVD, VHS over Beta), but cable formats last, it would seem, forever.(Not all formats last forever. The serial and parallel cables of the PC world are now mostly gone, fortunately, but she is right to say that it is hard to get rid of any cable standard.)
If you are like me, you will want to save this article for the next time you need to buy cables, or to decide on the best way to connect devices.
(Biersdorfer doesn't mention this, so I will. If you are having trouble with a computer peripheral, the first thing that you should check is the cable. In my experience, that's the cause of the problem about half of the time.)
- 1:52 PM, 26 April 2009 [link]
Permeable. Disintegrated: Sometimes a single word is enough to tell you that a writer doesn't know what he is talking about. In this review, Edward Rothstein, cultural critic for the New York Times, makes two such blunders.
Rothstein was reviewing an exhibition at the New York Public Library, "Between Collaboration and Resistance: French Literary Life Under Nazi Occupation". From what I can tell, Rothstein knows far more about the French literary scene than I ever will, but he is woefully ignorant about military and political history.
Here's the first blunder:
The exhibition explains the French defeat as a military failure: the nation mistakenly rushed a third of its forces into Belgium and southwest Netherlands, believing the Germans would attack as they did in 1914; that left the supposedly invulnerable "Maginot line" permeable.Rothstein seems skeptical about the military explanation for the French defeat, but it is correct. The French and British had about the same number of men and tanks, though fewer airplanes, than the Germans, and should have been able to stop Hitler's attack. But they were out-generaled; they had not grasped the new possibilities of tank warfare, and they were tricked by a very clever plan.
The Germans used a "drawing" attack to attract most of the allied mobile forces into Belgium, as Rothstein says, but then made their main attack in the center of the line through the Ardennes, which was unfortified and lightly defended, because the French did not expect an attack through the hilly and wooded terrain.
None of these moves made the Maginot line "permeable". In fact, most of the forts in the line were still holding out when France surrendered, even though the line had been surrounded.
And here's the second blunder:
This is one reason the Communist Party became so powerful in postwar France. After the Hitler-Stalin pact disintegrated, the party's opposition to Hitler was unswerving, beyond question.The Hitler-Stalin pact did not disintegrate, like a paper bag left out in the rain; it was blown up by Hitler, when he attacked the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941.
Strangely, the support that the French Communist Party had given to defeatists after the pact was signed did not destroy the party, as it should have. Stalin's deal with Hitler made Hitler's attack on Poland, and later France, possible. But those who supported Stalin at the time paid little political price for their treachery.
(You can find more about about the German plan of attack here, and more about the Maginot Line here.
- 11:56 AM, 26 April 2009 [link]
Unemployment In Spain: In 2004, after a terrorist attack on Madrid commuter trains, the Spanish Socialist Workers' Party (PSOE) won control of the government. They kept control in elections just last month.
In general, the PSOE has pursued policies similar to those Barack Obama wants to introduce in the United States, although the party has been more open about its social policies than Obama has been about his. How successful have their policies been? Not very, if you judge them by unemployment statistics.
The number of unemployed people in Spain rose to a record four million in the first quarter as the economy continued to shed jobs created over the last decade by inexpensive credit and a real estate bubble.And Spanish unemployment may get even worse. According to this BBC story, the Bank of Spain is predicting that unemployment will hit 19.4 percent next year.
The last time the United States has unemployment that high was during the Great Depression. (Though I must add that one should be careful about comparing unemployment between nations, since nations measure unemployment differently.)
(The opposition Partido Popular has a much better economic record, though they may have benefitted from governing during the early years of Spain's real estate bubble.
Spain's population is a little more than 40 million, so to get roughly comparable American numbers for the number unemployed, multiply by 7.5.)
- 1:04 PM, 25 April 2009 [link]