April 2010, Part 3

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

What Kind of Socialist Is Barack Obama?  Jonah Goldberg asks, and answers, that question.
Fourteen months into his presidency, in March 2010, Obama succeeded in muscling through Congress a partial government takeover of the national health-care system.  That legislative accomplishment followed Obama's decision a year earlier, without congressional approval, to nationalize two of the country's Big Three automobile companies.  In the intervening months, he had also imposed specific wage ceilings on employees at banks that had taken federal bailout mone—the first such federal wage controls since an ill-fated experiment by Richard Nixon in 1971.  Obama also made the federal government the direct provider of student loans, and did so by putting that significant change in American policy inside the larger health-care bill.   In a September 2009 press conference, Obama suggested that a publicly funded health-care system might help "avoid some of the overhead that gets eaten up at private companies by profits and excessive administrative costs" thus mistaking the act of making money, the foundational cornerstone of capitalism itself, with the generation of unnecessary expenses.

Given his conduct and rhetoric as president, we have every reason to reopen the question from 2008 and ask, quite simply, What kind of socialist is Barack Obama?
If you can, take some time this weekend to read Goldberg's answer.
- 3:31 PM, 23 April 2010   [link]

Kirkland's Town Bird Is The Crane:  And that hasn't stopped being true just because there is a little recession on.

Kirkland construction crane, April 2010

Will there be buyers and renters for all this commercial and residential construction?  I don't know, but I am beginning to wonder, as I see all this construction, and all those TV ads offering modestly-priced apartments to old folks.

Meanwhile, I enjoy watching the cranes at work — and hope they aren't building anything backed by taxpayer guarantees.

Cross posted at Sound Politics .
- 1:43 PM, 23 April 2010   [link]

James Carville Wasn't Paying Attention In His Grade School Science Classes:   If he had been, he would be able to see that Sarah Palin is a mammal, not a "reptile".  (It is especially odd to see a married man make that mistake.)

(No doubt Carville was trying to bring more civility to our politics, as he so often does.)
- 7:34 AM, 23 April 2010   [link]

Iceland Volcano Jokes:  Some of them pretty good, such as this one.
4. Iceland goes bankrupt, then it manages to set itself on fire.  This has insurance scam written all over it.
By way of a post by Eugene Volokh, where commenters have added some jokes of their own.
- 7:13 AM, 23 April 2010   [link]

Hardware First:  Now that I have the new computer almost completely set up, I have started the revision of the site that I have long promised.  Yesterday, I cleared out most dead or dormant sites, and will be doing similar housekeeping in the next few weeks, getting ready for a complete re-design.

I now plan to do that re-design piece by piece rather than revealing it all at once.  That way I can keep posting while I do the re-design, rather than taking a couple of weeks off.  (And that will give you a chance to make suggestions and criticisms as I go along.)

(Almost completely set up, because I have yet to set up TV in Linux, though it works well enough for my purposes in Windows 7.

The Hauppauge card I am using for TV provides excellent video in most resolutions.  In one, the highest I think, it adds a line of static at the very top of the picture, making me wonder whether a programmer made a small error in their latest driver.  I had trouble getting the card to find all the stations in this area with an unamplified antenna, so I bought this amplified antenna to use with it.  The antenna has a little switch that lets you turn the amplification on or off, and a quick experiment convinced me that the amplification does help, with some stations, some of the time.

I could not get the remote control to work, which does not matter, since I will be sitting right next to the monitor when I use it as a TV.

If you are thinking of adding one of these cards to an older computer, you may want to get a higher end card with hardware decoding, instead of the 1250.)
- 1:57 PM, 22 April 2010   [link]

On Earth Day, John Tierney Recycles Stewart Brand:  And summarizes Brand's latest book in seven lessons.

Here's the fourth:
4. Frankenfood, like Frankenstein, is fiction.  The imagined horrors of "frankenfoods" have kept genetically engineered foods out of Europe and poor countries whose farmers want to export food to Europe.  Americans, meanwhile, have been fearlessly growing and eating them for more than a decade — and the scare stories seem more unreal than ever.

Last week, the National Academy of Sciences reported that genetically engineered foods had helped consumers, farmers and the environment by lowering costs, reducing the use of pesticide and herbicide, and encouraging tillage techniques that reduce soil erosion and water pollution.

"I daresay the environmental movement has done more harm with its opposition to genetic engineering than with any other thing we've been wrong about," Mr. Brand writes in "Whole Earth Discipline."  "We've starved people, hindered science, hurt the natural environment, and denied our own practitioners a crucial tool."
Green superstition, though often amusing, is not always harmless — and the poor in other nations are often the principal victims.

(I agree fully with all the lessons, except the first.

Peter Huber is more skeptical about Brand's book, though he does call it "mostly sensible".)
- 1:05 PM, 22 April 2010   [link]

Medical Care Costs More In New York:  This story may help explain why.
Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo filed a civil lawsuit against the Senate majority leader, Pedro Espada Jr., on Tuesday, accusing Mr. Espada, his family and his political aides of siphoning more than $14 million from a network of nonprofit health care clinics he founded — money used for meals, vacations and campaign expenses.

Mr. Espada used the network as a "personal piggy bank," the suit said, to pay for expenses over the last five years like $20,000 worth of takeout sushi and $50,000 to maintain a Bronx apartment where opponents have asserted that he does not live.  He was also given a severance package now worth $9 million that would leave the clinics bankrupt if paid out, the suit said.
(If you aren't from New York and Espada's name seems familiar, that may because you remember him briefly giving control of the New York senate to the Republicans.   The Republicans were foolish to make a deal with him, considering his history.  Even without that "coup", Cuomo might have filed these charges, but I'm sure the temporary party switch made Cuomo's decision easier.)

It is no secret that fraud drives up medical costs in some areas, but the fraud is usually less spectacular than it appears to be in this case.

(The New York Times helpfullly supplies an answer to a question that will have occurred to many of you:  What do you get when you order that much takeout sushi?)
- 9:03 AM, 22 April 2010   [link]

Is The Obama Administration Policy Toward Israel Crazy?  Let me begin with a long view of the problem.  About three thousand years ago, the Israelites, under King David, captured the city of Jerusalem.  Since then, the city has always had Jewish residents, and, for most of those three thousand years, a Jewish majority.

Jews are, to put it mildly, not welcome to settle in any of the countries surrounding Israel.

The Israelis, according to the Obama administration, almost wrecked the chances for peace by — and you will gasp when I mention this iniquitous scheme — planning to build housing for Jews in a Jewish neighborhood in Jerusalem.

If the Obama administration actually believes that, their policy is crazy.  (They may have been looking for a reason to quarrel with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, hoping to topple his government.  If so, the policy would be disgusting, but might not be literally crazy.)

As far as I know, the Obama administration has not condemned any Palestinian housing projects, even those built on land that is sacred to Jews or Christians.

(According to McEvedy, King David reigned from 990 to 970 BC.)
- 7:31 AM, 22 April 2010   [link]

A Clever Trap For Iran?  Perhaps, but only if it works, in my opinion.  And David Ignatius, who called it a clever idea, doesn't think it will work.
The Obama administration's strategy as it devises sanctions for Iran is to build a sticky trap -- so that the harder the Iranians try to wriggle out of the sanctions, the more tightly they will be caught in the snare.

It's a clever idea.  But even if it works with mousetrap precision, it's unlikely to stop the Iranian nuclear program.  That's one reason why Defense Secretary Bob Gates and other officials are pressing to explore the "what-ifs" about Iran -- and to accelerate planning for contingencies that could arise as the confrontation deepens.
Actually, I don't know why anyone would expect it to work.  Sanctions almost never do, and there are especially strong reasons to think that they won't work to stop Iran from going nuclear.

But I suppose that our State Department has to do something while they wait for Obama to figures that out.

(Ignatius has more on what I am beginning to call Gates' campaign to persuade Obama to get serious about Iran.)
- 4:00 PM, 21 April 2010   [link]

The Far-Left Editor Of Salon Can't Name Any Leftwing Extremists:  This is funny — unless you happen to be Joan Walsh.  (It's worth watching just for the expression on her face.)

By way of Hot Air.
- 9:37 AM, 21 April 2010
Joan Walsh decides to double down:
Of course, that's stupid.   I didn't name anyone not because I was stumped; it was because in my opinion, the violent rhetoric is coming from the right, not the left.  It's not Nancy Pelosi who's telling her San Francisco constituents they need to be "armed and dangerous" to fight their political enemies; that's Michele Bachmann.  There isn't anyone in liberal media as consistently vicious as Beck or Limbaugh.  Now, the lads at Newsbusters are providing their own names, but I wouldn't compare anyone they mention to the two right-wing titans of hate.

I didn't have a moment of ditz; I answered their question with my silence.
Does Walsh actually believe that?  I don't know enough about her to have an opinion on the question.  But you can find many people on the left who do believe such things.  You would think, however, that the head of a news organization, even Salon, would know better.
- 8:05 AM, 22 April 2010   [link]

Thoughts On The Goldman Sachs Case:  From Sebastian Mallaby.
Let's stipulate that there's a problem with the power of Goldman Sachs.  The firm takes vast risks and earns vast profits; then, when it gets into trouble, as it did after the Lehman Brothers failure, it turns to the government for a bailout.  But the case the Securities and Exchange Commission has brought against Goldman also involves a problem.  Unless the SEC is sitting on more evidence than it has laid out so far, the charge sheet looks flimsy.  If Goldman has become a poster child for excessive power on Wall Street, the SEC might become a poster child for government power run amok.

The SEC's 22-page complaint states that Goldman sold fancy mortgage securities without disclosing that a hedge fund manager, John Paulson, was betting that those same securities would go bad.  This is a non-scandal.  The securities in question, so-called synthetic collateralized debt obligations, cannot exist unless somebody is betting that they will lose value.  The firms that bought Goldman's securities knew perfectly well that some other investor must be taking the opposite position.  It was their job to evaluate the Goldman offer and make up their own minds.  One of the big losers in the deal was IKB, a German bank with a big business in mortgages.  We're not talking mom and pop.
There is also a small problem with the timing of these charges.  They come at a perfect time for those trying to rush through a new regulatory scheme.  You don't have to be a Republican (though it helps) to find the timing suspicious.

More on this subject from William Jacobson and Megan McArdle.  Much more from Tom Maguire here, here, here, and here.

(I haven't written much on this subject because I don't think I know enough about it to add anything useful.)
- 9:08 AM, 21 April 2010   [link]

Thoughts On Barack Obama:  From a former Cub Scout den leader.

Carol Peracchio believes her experience as a den leader helps her understand our current president — and I wouldn't say that she is entirely wrong.

(Democrats might want to think a little about their nominating process.  In 2004, they nominated John Kerry, who often behaved like stereotypical 14 year old.)
- 8:31 AM, 21 April 2010   [link]

Remember Tony Rezko?  He's missing, and Barbara Hollingsworth wonders why.
Why is Antoin "Tony" Rezko under lock and key at an undisclosed location, like some sort of CIA-renditioned al Qaeda operative?  And why hasn't he been sentenced yet?

As the June 3 corruption trial of former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich for allegedly trying to sell Obama's former Illinois Senate seat approaches, the whereabouts of the former Blago and Obama fundraiser is literally a state secret.
And that isn't the only puzzle.
The other big question: Why hasn't Rezko been sentenced yet?  It's been almost two years since the Chicago restaurant and real estate developer was convicted on bribery, fraud and money laundering charges.

After months of unexplained delays, Rezko's January 6th sentencing date was canceled again — this time indefinitely — by U.S. District Court Judge Amy St. Eve, a former Whitewater prosecutor.   Reporters were initially told that Rezko was cooperating with prosecutors, but he apparently stopped talking and demanded to be sentenced as soon as possible.  That request was obviously denied.
I can't resist guessing at answers to these two puzzles:  Rezko is being held at a secret place because prosecutors fear for his safety.  He hasn't been sentenced because prosecutors still think they can get him to talk.

But those are both just guesses.
- 3:42 PM, 20 April 2010   [link]

It's The Punch Line To An Old Joke:  And the fact that the culprits are from Stanford makes the punch line even funnier.
It doesn't get much more humiliating: A charter school run by Stanford 's Education School was denied a renewal of its charter and dubbed a failure for low scores and "ineffective behavior management."   Stanford New School, a K-12, is on California's list of lowest-achieving schools, despite spending $3,000 per student more than the state average.
Although I feel for the kids in the school, I must admit to being pleased to see such a neat demonstration of an education school's failures.

Incidentally, in my somewhat limited experience, the better the teacher, the more likely they are to dislike schools of education.
- 3:17 PM, 20 April 2010   [link]

Another Spectacular Collection Of Photos of the Eyjafjallajokul eruption.

(I'd like to show you a sample or two, but fear that I would be violating copyrights if I did so.

The Boston Globe seems to do these collections better than any other news organization I know of.   Probably they have a very good photo editor.  Alan Taylor put together this collection.  I'll be looking for more of his work in the future.)
- 7:20 AM, 20 April 2010   [link]

Crying Racism For Political Fun And Profit:  This ploy is getting old, but it still works, and so many Democrats (and a few Republicans) continue to use it.

James Taranto explains the profit.
The political left claims to love racial diversity, but it bitterly opposes such diversity on the political right.  This is an obvious matter of political self-interest: Since 1964, blacks have voted overwhelmingly Democratic.   If Republicans were able to attract black votes, the result would be catastrophic for the Democratic Party.   Even in 2008, the Democrats' best presidential year since '64, if the black vote had been evenly split between the parties (and holding the nonblack vote constant), Barack Obama would have gotten about 48% of the vote and John McCain would be president.

To keep blacks voting Democratic, it is necessary for the party and its supporters to keep alive the idea that racism is prevalent in America and to portray the Republican Party (as well as independent challengers to the Democrats, such as the tea-party movement) as racist.   The election of Barack Obama made nonsense of the idea that America remains a racist country and thereby necessitated an intensifying of attacks on the opposition as racist.
And anyone who has watched Democratic politicians (or their allies in the "mainstream" media) make those charges of racism can see just how much fun they are having.
- 7:01 AM, 20 April 2010   [link]

Outside Happier, Inside Unhappier:  The BBC believes, citing their own poll, that people outside the United States are happier with the United States since Obama became president.
Views of the US around the world have improved sharply over the past year, a BBC World Service poll suggests.

For the first time since the annual poll began in 2005, America's influence in the world is now seen as more positive than negative.

The improved scores for the US coincided with Barack Obama becoming president, a BBC correspondent notes.
I have not analyzed the poll yet, so I am not sure whether that is true, but for the moment it is enough to say that the BBC (and most "mainstream" journalists) almost certainly believe that is true, if only because they are much happier with Obama than they were with Bush.

Meanwhile, back in the United States, the people are unhappier with our government.
By almost every conceivable measure Americans are less positive and more critical of government these days. A new Pew Research Center survey finds a perfect storm of conditions associated with distrust of government — a dismal economy, an unhappy public, bitter partisan-based backlash, and epic discontent with Congress and elected officials. Rather than an activist government to deal with the nation's top problems, the public now wants government reformed and growing numbers want its power curtailed. With the exception of greater regulation of major financial institutions, there is less of an appetite for government solutions to the nation's problems — including more government control over the economy — than there was when Barack Obama first took office.
Let me suggest, even if it horrifies any BBC correspondent who happens to be reading this, that those two poll results may be related.  Obama actions that make BBC correspondents happy — for instance, actions that would make the United States a less exceptional country — may make most Americans unhappy.

And we Americans should not expect things to be different; at best, we can be the sole super power, and respected.  If we want to be liked, we will have to become much weaker.  (And we may not be liked, even then.)
- 4:52 PM, 19 April 2010   [link]

Some Kinds Of Pollution May Reduce Global Warming:  That's been known for years, but it is still good to see that the news has gotten to the op-ed page of the Los Angeles Times.
Cleaner air, one of the signature achievements of the U.S. environmental movement, is certainly worth celebrating. Scientists estimate that the U.S. Clean Air Act has cut a major air pollutant called sulfate aerosols, for example, by 30% to 50% since the 1980s, helping greatly reduce cases of asthma and other respiratory problems.

But even as industrialized and developing nations alike steadily reduce aerosol pollution -- caused primarily by burning coal -- climate scientists are beginning to understand just how much these tiny particles have helped keep the planet cool.  A silent benefit of sulfates, in fact, is that they've been helpfully blocking sunlight from striking the Earth for many decades, by brightening clouds and expanding their coverage.   Emerging science suggests that their underappreciated impact has been incredible.
(The sulfates have also, in some areas, increased crop yields.  Plants don't need much sulfur, but they do need a little.)

You don't have to buy his entire argument — I certainly don't — to find his ideas about "geo-engineering" of interest.  There are natural processes that could change our climate drastically, and we should be prepared to counteract them, if necessary.
- 12:56 PM, 19 April 2010   [link]

Metaphor Alert:  This headline from a Scotsman article made me chuckle:  Earthquakes and tsunamis just the tip of the iceberg, say experts

If you can visualize that, you have a better imagination than I do.

(The article, if you are wondering, was another of those let's-blame everything-on-global-warming pieces.   With some reluctance I will add that, in extreme circumstances, such as the loss of a mile-thick layer of ice, global warming could, indeed, cause a volcano.  And there are similar ways in which global warming could cause a tsunami.  Neither is especially likely, even given a two degree Celsius increase in the temperature of the earth's atmosphere.)
- 8:05 AM, 19 April 2010   [link]

Expect Continued High Unemployment:  That's the sad lesson of this long Ed Morrissey post.
That's slightly more than a full quarter, and the trendline has almost flattened out.  The situation has not improved; the normal run of eliminating the most at-risk jobs took place in a big recession.  Job losses always slow down after the most at-risk jobs get terminated, simply because it's tougher to eliminate jobs as layoffs continue.  We aren't seeing a rebound in net job creation, at least not yet, and it's at least two quarters overdue, in the context of all other post-WWII recessions.
(Emphasis added.)

At some point, it will be fair to blame this stagnation on the policies of President Obama and the majorities supporting Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Reid.

(Morrissey's post is a good example of how to argue with charts — though the writing could be clearer.)
- 7:46 AM, 19 April 2010   [link]

Is Secretary Gates Getting Nervous About Iran?  When Robert Gates stayed on as Secretary of Defense, I wondered why.  It was not hard to understand why Obama would want him to stay on; Obama could reassure moderates by keeping Gates in the position.

But it wasn't obvious why Gates would want to stay.  He must have known that there were significant policy differences between himself and Obama, and despite the nice things he has said about Obama, there is no reason to think that he believes that Obama is a great leader.

At the time, I wondered if Gates was staying on in part out of simple patriotism, that he was expecting Obama to blunder, and was hoping to prevent some of the blunders or at least minimize the damage from them.

This story, which has drawn a lot of attention, makes me wonder about Gates' motives again.
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has warned in a secret three-page memorandum to top White House officials that the United States does not have an effective long-range policy for dealing with Iran's steady progress toward nuclear capability, according to government officials familiar with the document.

Several officials said the highly classified analysis, written in January to President Obama's national security adviser, Gen. James L. Jones, came in the midst of an intensifying effort inside the Pentagon, the White House and the intelligence agencies to develop new options for Mr. Obama.  They include a set of military alternatives, still under development, to be considered should diplomacy and sanctions fail to force Iran to change course.
. . .
Mr. Gates's memo appears to reflect concerns in the Pentagon and the military that the White House did not have a well prepared series of alternatives in place in case all the diplomatic steps finally failed.   Separately, Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, wrote a "chairman's guidance" to his staff in December conveying a sense of urgency about contingency planning.  He cautioned that a military attack would have "limited results," but he did not convey any warnings about policy shortcomings.
Let's translate:  Gates told Obama, in January, that his plan for controlling Iranian nukes had failed, and that it was time to come up with a new plan.

Why was this leaked now?  Most likely because Gates, and his supporters in the Pentagon, are worried because Obama has still not come up with a new plan, and they fear time is getting short.

And if Obama continues to refuse to come up with a new plan?  Then Gates may get even more public in his pressure on Obama, may even resign
- 7:45 PM, 18 April 2010   [link]

Spectacular Pictures Of The Eyjafjallajökull Eruption:   Here.

(By way of Tigerhawk.)
- 3:21 PM, 17 April 2010   [link]

Intermittent Hardware Problem — Solved:  Those who have had to solve such problems for a living will appreciate the aggravation in those first three words — and the pleasure in the fourth word.

As I have mentioned before, I built a a new PC earlier this year.  It is based on a Gigabyte motherboard, specifically, this one.   (In my semi-informed opinion, it isn't a bad motherboard, but its successor has 3.0 USB and fixes one error in the layout, by moving the auxiliary power connector to the side of the board.)  Like most modern motherboards, it has a sound chip on the board.

The system worked well after I had put it together, but then began to have intermittent sound failures.  Some days I had sound, some days I didn't.  Since I built the new system in part to do some digital video, that was unsatisfactory.  The problem started after I bought a new Asus VH222 monitor, which should have been a clue, but wasn't.

To cut a very long story short, I finally realized, day before yesterday, that I had sound when I turned on the monitor after the computer had finished its self test, but not if I turned the monitor on first.

With that clue, I did two more tests, connecting earphones to the monitor, and then an audio cable from the computer.   No sound in either case.

So what I think was happening was this:  When the computer boots up, it queries the monitor over the DVI cable.  The Asus monitor was reporting that it had no sound capabilities, which somehow made the Gigabyte motherboard shut down the sound.  (Is that a design error?  Probably.)  If the monitor isn't on, the motherboard doesn't get that message, and happily puts out sound to the usual places.  (In my case an audio cable connected to a receiver, or earphones.)

There are a three lessons in this for those who only try to solve such problems occasionally.  (Those who solve them for a living already know them.)  1. After the problem starts, think very hard about what changes, if any, you have made in your system.  2. Make notes while you are trying to solve the problem, so that you can, however slowly, exclude some theories.  (For years, I have used a simple spiral notebooks, red of course, for notes on hardware and software.  The notebooks have helped me solve or, even better, avoid, problems many times.)  3. If possible, swap out any part that might be causing the problem, for a part that you know is good.  I was absolutely certain that the monitor was causing the problem, after I swapped it out for my old monitor, and the problem went away.

And now down to the local Fry's to see if I can get my money back.  (I prefer a refund to a replacement monitor, since I distrust product lines after I get a defective product.  Asus has some good product lines, motherboards for instance, but I would be cautious about buying one of their monitors, for now.)
- 8:39 AM, 17 April 2010   [link]