April 2011, Part 3

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Obama Versus The Founders:  Michael Ramirez scores again with this cartoon.

(I've often wished that Obama would read Federalist 62, especially that part about laws "so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood", before he comes up with another grand scheme for us.)

Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 1:03 PM, 22 April 2011   [link]

Win Or Get Out In Libya?  During the Vietnam War, pollsters usually asked questions on a hawk/dove continuum.  Early in the war, for example, they often asked whether we should escalate, continue fighting at the current level, or reduce our military effort.  (And a surprisingly large number, though not a majority, favored escalation, even including the use of nuclear weapons, early in the war.)

But many respondents, when asked an open-ended question, rejected that continuum;  Instead, they preferred either more force or a withdrawal to continuing the current policy.  They wanted, they said, to either win or get out.

I have been dubious about our Libyan adventure from the beginning, and I have become more so as it seems more and more likely that Obama does not have a plan to win this war.

Perhaps it is not too early to think about the question in this post's title.  (Incidentally, the British and the French could win this war without our help.)
- 11:08 AM, 22 April 2011   [link]

Sometimes A Pause Is The Punch Line:  And JoAnne Kloppenburg's 13 second pause when she was asked whether she still thought she had won Wisconsin's judicial election is a great punch line.

She can't say no, because then the reporter will ask her why she is calling for a recount, an expensive recount.  She can't say yes, because the numbers make it laughable.  And so she just stands there.

What are her chances in a recount?  With a margin that large to overcome — about 7300 votes — slim (less than 1 in a 1,000) and none.  Unless, of course, there was some systematic mistake somewhere.  But I think evidence of such a mistake would have been spotted by now, that someone would have recognized an anomaly in the returns.  As some, notably law professor Ann Althouse, did during election night.

(One of the best at the punch line pause was Jack Benny.)
- 9:38 AM, 22 April 2011   [link]

It's So Sweet When A Little Kid Brings A Treat For Their Teacher:   Although one mother may wish her daughter had chosen a different treat.
PENSACOLA, Fla. -- Officials say an 8-year-old girl gave a teacher a small amount of marijuana that she had brought from home.
Sadly, the teacher didn't actually want some of "Mom's weed", as the little girl described it.
- 8:48 AM, 22 April 2011   [link]

Could Obama Lose The 2012 Election?  Sure, although some of the conventional-wisdom people might not think so, right now.

So his re-election isn't a 100 percent lock.  But what should the odds be?

As I write, the bettors at InTrade think Obama has a 59.0 percent chance of winning in 2012.  (And that a Republican has a 36.7 percent chance of winning.  And, yes, I do think that missing 4.3 percent is a little high, although there are other possibilities.)

Judging by the first part of his analysis, Sean Trende seems to think that you should, right now, bet on the Republican.

I'm hoping Trende will give us a numerical estimate in the second part of his analysis.  (If he doesn't, I'll take a wild guess, just to keep everyone entertained.)
- 2:26 PM, 21 April 2011
Correction;  Trende does give a numerical estimate: "roughly 50-50, with perhaps more upside on the losing end".  My apologies for missing that.
- 4:26 PM, 21 April 2011   [link]

The Greg Mortenson Scandal:  When Mortenson's book, Three Cups of Tea, was published, I saw many favorable mentions and reviews.

I considered taking a look at it but decided not to because, frankly, Mortenson's story sounded too good to be true.  (All together now:  If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.)

And so I was not surprised to learn that it was too good to be true, that his story was partly false.  (Jon Krakauer has written a lengthy exposé if you want to know many more details.)

Ron Judd of the Seattle Times understands that Mortenson conned him (and many others).
Feeling a bit betrayed by what now appears to be a web of lies that formed the basis of Greg Mortensen's inspiring "Three Cups of Tea" and the massive charity that grew from it?

Join the club.
And that Mortenson's "charity", Central Asia Institute, shouldn't receive any of your contributions.
Krakauer, who concedes Mortenson has been a "tireless advocate" for girls' education, said he believes the institute can be saved — if it makes an immediate and irrevocable break from its tarnished leader.

The problem is that Mortenson, after weeding out all who questioned his management, is its sole controller.

He emphatically told Outside that the charity, the book and he "are pretty much all part of each other."
In contrast, Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times still hasn't faced up to the facts.
Greg is accused of many offenses: misstating how he got started building schools; lying about a dramatic kidnapping; exaggerating how many schools he has built and operates; and using his charity, the Central Asia Institute, "as his personal A.T.M."  The attorney general of Montana, where his charity is based, has opened an inquiry into the allegations.

I don't know what to make of these accusations.  Part of me wishes that all this journalistic energy had been directed instead to ferret out abuses by politicians who allocate government resources to campaign donors rather than to the neediest among us, but that's not a real answer.  The critics have raised serious questions that deserve better answers: we need to hold school-builders accountable as well as fat cats.

My inclination is to reserve judgment until we know more, for disorganization may explain more faults than dishonesty.
What a revealing confession Kristof makes in those paragraphs!  He doesn't dispute the central accusations, or provide us any reason to think they are false, but he still wants to "reserve judgment", and he briefly wishes that CBS and Krakauer were investigating Kristof's political enemies, rather than his ally.

For years I have respected — and distrusted — Nicholas Kristof.  Respected, because he is an intelligent man with (mostly) decent values.  Distrusted because he has so often been a conduit for false stories from leftist con men.

(Significant detail:  Krakauer began investigating Mortenson in 2004, and others had suspicions even earlier.  If "mainstream" journalists like Kristof hadn't found Mortenson such a useful club to beat George W. Bush with, he might have been exposed far earlier.)
- 8:07 AM, 21 April 2011   [link]

Funny, She's Doesn't Look Muslim:  Someone had to say that about Sila Sahin's appearance in the German Playboy.

Although she sounds like an exceedingly foolish young woman — Che Guevara is not a good role model — I do hope this stunt doesn't get her killed.

(Oh, and my compliments to her plastic surgeon.  I don't find the plastic look attractive, but the evidence on display does show his skill.)
- 6:39 AM, 21 April 2011   [link]

Keith Hennessey Explains The Warning from Standard & Poors.  His conclusions are grim; he expects incremental budget cuts, but no long-term or even medium-term solutions.
Given the President's apparent budget strategy, there is at the moment a vanishingly small chance of a big medium-term or long-term deal like that described by S&P as necessary to avoid a possible downgrade, ($3-4 trillion over 10 years, with even bigger long-term changes to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid).

The greatest obstacle to constructive negotiations is the President's attack rhetoric, in which he today accused Congressional Republicans of "doing away with health insurance for . . . an autistic child" and potentially causing future bridge collapses like the one in Minnesota that killed 13 people.
(See Ed Morrissey's post for the truth about that bridge.  Morrissey accuses Obama of dishonesty; I think it at least as likely that Obama believed what he was saying, that he did not know the facts about the St. Anthony Falls bridge collapse.)

Ruth Marcus probably hasn't voted like Keith Hennessey very often, but she agrees with most of his conclusions, and adds this significant point:
In fact, [Treasury Secretary Timothy] Geithner's determined optimism notwithstanding, S&P's assessment was not much different from what I hear in private from administration officials. As S&P noted, although the president and congressional Republicans agree on the need for debt reduction and are generally in the same numerical neighborhood, they are miles apart on how to achieve this.
(Emphasis added.)

In other words, there are grownups in the Obama administration who recognize the need for action on our deficit problems during the current session of Congress.  Marcus doesn't say this, but the grownups in the administration don't seem to be in charge.

If Marcus keeps writing sensible columns like this one, she'll have to turn in her Obama cheerleader uniform.
- 10:07 AM, 20 April 2011   [link]

Will The True Finns Kill The European Bailouts?  If you are like me a few days ago, you had never heard of this political party.  Here's some background from Wikipedia.
True Finns (Finnish: Perussuomalaiset Swedish: Sannfinländarna, PS) is a nationalist populist political party in Finland, founded in 1995 following the dissolution of the Finnish Rural Party.   The head of the movement is Timo Soini.  In the 2011 Finnish parliamentary election True Finns won[6] 19% of votes, becoming the third largest party in the Finnish Parliament and a serious challenger to the traditional ruling parties.[7]  The party combines left-wing[8] economic policies with strongly conservative social values. In the parliament seating order, it has been placed in the center-left.[9]  The party has been compared by the London Financial Times with the Tea Party movement in the United States, and other similar nationalist movements in Europe that are critical of economic globalization.[10]
That last sentence shows that the Financial Times is confused about American poltiics, Finnish politics, or, most likely, both.  Although you can find parallels to the True Finns in the United States — in some ways, Pat Buchanan and his followers — they don't have much in common with the Tea Party movement.

The True Finns are opposed to the European Union (and NATO), very strongly opposed to the bailouts of Greece, Portugal, et cetera, et cetera, and in favor of strong limits on immigration.  They may not represent a majority even in Finland, but they do represent a growing number of Finns.  (And, most likely, a growing number of voters in most of Europe.)

Again, if you are like me a few days ago, you are wondering how a party that won less than 20 percent of the vote in Finland can get a veto over the entire European Union.

There are two parts to the answer.  First, observers seem to think that the True Finns will be an essential part of the next governing coalition in Finland.  (You would have to know more than I do about the government and politics of Finland to explain why observers have come to that conclusion.)

Second, some European Union decisions — apparently including the bailouts — require unanimity.
"Sunday's results are a clear warning shot to those who had thought that European politics would not be overly affected by the crisis in the periphery," Frank Engels and François Cabou, analysts for Barclays Capital, wrote Monday in a research note.  A bailout for as much as $115 billion for Portugal was thrown into doubt by the vote, since the rescue requires unanimous approval by the euro zone's 17 members.
So a Finnish government that included the True Finns could, all by itself, block the bailouts.   (Whether that would be a bad thing, long term, is something I am still thinking about.  But for years I have thought that the Europeans would be better off if they dropped the euro and went back to national currencies.  A failure of the bailouts might force that decision.)
- 9:11 AM, 20 April 2011   [link]

Top CEOs Are Good Listeners:  For years I have been arguing that our presidential debates are poor tests of good leadership qualities.  We need to know more, I have said, about how good they are at listening than how good they are at talking.

(I'll admit that I have no idea how we can test that, in public, so for now I'll just advise, again, that we pay less attention to debates, and more attention to records of achievement — if any.)

Adam Bryant has been interviewing chief executive officers for the New York Times, and even has a book out with his findings.

In an article on Sunday, Bryant gave his five most important generalizations about the traits that top CEOs have (and other managers don't).  The first was "passionate curiosity".
"You learn from everybody," said Alan R. Mulally, the chief executive of the Ford Motor Company.  "I've always just wanted to learn everything, to understand anybody that I was around — why they thought what they did, why they did what they did, what worked for them, what didn't work."
. . .
Though chief executives are paid to have answers, their greatest contributions to their organizations may be asking the right questions.  They recognize that they can't have the answer to everything, but they can push their company in new directions and marshal the collective energy of their employees by asking the right questions.
And by listening to the answers to those questions.

In short, top CEOs are better listeners than other managers, though Bryant doesn't say it quite that way.

Sounds simple, doesn't it?  Unless you are familiar with the many managers who never should be in that corner office.

(One way better listening would help CEOs is by helping them spot problems early.  In my experience, people near the bottoms of organizations are far more likely to be the first to recognize that something is going wrong.  And they are usually willing to tell those above them if anyone asks — and listens to what they have to say.)
- 2:55 PM, 19 April 2011   [link]

Worldwide Hits from the South Pacific.
Humpback whales not only sing, they imitate the singing of other whales.  And some of their tunes turn into worldwide hits, with whales all over the Pacific Ocean picking them up.
As you probably know, male humpback whales sing — in order to impress female humpback whales.  This study suggests that the females are impressed by novelty, that they are, if you will, fickle.
- 12:49 PM, 19 April 2011   [link]

What Would Happen If A Reporter Asked Obama Some Tough Questions?  (All right, semi-tough questions.)

We now have an answer to that question.  A Texas reporter, Brad Watson, asked Obama some semi-tough questions and got some, uh, interesting answers from the president.
"Texas has always been a pretty Republican state, for historic reasons," Obama said.

However, the president inferred that his election meant Texas politics was changing.

"We lost by a few percentage points in Texas," Obama said.  That was followed by a gentle reminder that the figure was closer to 10 percent.
Some of you will be most struck by the "always", others by the over-estimate of his own vote in 2008.  (McCain won the state 55-44.)

And all of us will wonder what else he believes that isn't true.

And we have a second answer to that question.  Obama really doesn't like it when reporters ask him semi-tough questions.
- 11:14 AM, 19 April 2011
More:  The Instapundit reminds us that a person who has taught constitutional law has strong reasons to remember that Texas was a solidly Democratic state for almost a century.  (And on the state and local levels, for even longer.)

So Democratic that almost all elections were decided in the Democratic primaries.  By excluding blacks (and Hispanics) from them, the Democratic party could keep them from having any political power.   There were similar systems in many Southern states.
- 8:27 AM, 20 April 2011   [link]

Fortunately, Jay Leno Is Still Willing To Cover The News:  In this area, the local TV stations have been covering the rise in gasoline prices almost every day.   But I have yet to see a single story that suggests that the policies of the Obama administration, or the Democrats in Congress, could have anything to do with those price increases.

But Jay Leno is willing to touch on the subject.  Here's one of his recent jokes
A new poll says only 19% of Americans strongly approve of Obama.  The other 81% do not own gas stations.
Though he doesn't go so far as to actually blame Obama for the current gas prices.

(Nor would I, entirely.  But there isn't much doubt in my mind that the Obama administration — and Democrats in Congress — are responsible for part of the recent price increases.

Andrew Malcolm doesn't say when Leno told the joke.  But you should be able to find it here, though you may have to wait a day or two if Leno told it last night.)
- 10:06 AM, 19 April 2011   [link]

The BBC Finds It Hard To Use The "M" Word:  Violent protests followed the Nigerian presidential election.  The Telegraph explains why in its lead paragraph.
Protests erupted across Nigeria's largely Muslim north on Monday following presidential election results that showed Goodluck Jonathan, the Christian incumbent, won the election.
In contrast, the BBC found it impossible to get to the cause of the dispute until the sixth paragraph, and then do so only glancingly.
With nearly all the votes counted, People's Democratic Party (PDP) candidate Mr Jonathan - a Christian from the oil-producing Niger Delta - has almost twice the number of his main rival.
And the BBC never uses the "M" word in the entire article.  (Though Muhammad Jameel Yushau does in the straightforward analysis that accompanies the article.)

Some things, the BBC must feel, are best left unsaid.

But not saying them does not make them go away.  The violence between the mostly Muslim north and the increasingly Christian south of Nigeria has been going on for years.  In my opinion it is unlikely to end unless the two are separated, or Nigeria is again ruled by the military.

I wish President Jonathan and Nigeria the best, but I can not say that I expect a good outcome from this election.

(Many Americans will wonder how our newspaper of record treated the same story.  The New York Times was in between the Telegraph and the BBC; they did use the "M" word, but not until the fourth paragraph.)
- 8:54 AM, 19 April 2011   [link]

Worrisome:  The Japanese are expressing confidence in our debt.
"The United States is tackling fiscal issues in various ways, so I still think U.S. Treasuries are basically an attractive product for us," Japanese Finance Minister Yoshihiko Noda told reporters after a cabinet meeting. Treasury prices did indeed prove resilient Tuesday, though that did not stop stocks markets from skidding across Asia, where investors were already worried that Greece may be on the verge of restructuring its debt.
And I find that worrisome for two reasons.

First, because the question even came up.  The minister probably felt he had to say something because of the warning from Standard & Poors.  Believe it or not, there was a time when questioning the fiscal soundness of the United States would have sounded silly to most of the financial world.  People would even describe solid investments as "sound as a dollar".

Second, because the Japanese have been exceptionally poor at evaluating assets in the United States.  Older readers may recall that when the Japanese real estate bubble spilled over into this country, Japanese investors were racing around buying up American properties at fancy prices.  That got a lot of attention.  But the aftermath, in which we learned that they had overpaid for most of those properties, that they had been taken by the American sellers, got less attention.

(Kevin Williamson reminds us, in vivid language, that S & P has often been the last to know.)
- 6:56 AM, 19 April 2011   [link]

Heinlein On The Income Tax:  Science fiction writer Robert Heinlein began his writing career on the left.  You can find, for instance, traces of Social Credit doctrine in one of his early novels.

As he grew older, he became more of a libertarian and that showed up even in some of his juveniles, such as Have Space Suit — Will Travel.
. . . Dad didn't bother with banks — just the money basket and the one next to it marked "Uncle Sam," the contents of which he bundled up and mailed to the government once a year.   This caused the Internal Revenue Service considerable headache and once they sent a man to remonstrate with him.

First the man demanded, then he pleaded.  "But Dr. Russell, we know your background.   You've no excuse for not keeping proper records."

"But I do," Dad told him.  "Up here."  He tapped his forehead.
I can't be the only one who wishes that we had a tax system that allowed more of us to operate like that.

(Although Heinlein became more of a libertarian, his views were always idiosyncratic, and can't necessarily be deduced from his stories.  For example, in one of his later novels, Glory Road, he described, positively, a society with an absolute ruler — who mostly was wise enough to not do very much, sort of a libertarian philosopher king, or in this case, a philosopher empress.  I doubt that Heinlein actually favored such a society, but I am sure that he enjoyed speculating about it.

I found Have Space Suit — Will Travel great fun to read, though I should warn you that you will have to suspend disbelief quite often at some of the turns in the plot.)
- 12:53 PM, 18 April 2011   [link]

Book Sale Hangover:  During the weekend, the Friends of the Seattle Public Library held their semi-annual book sale. I went both Saturday and Sunday, and bought more books than I should have — as I usually do.  Three were so interesting that I spent much of the weekend reading them, Peter Schweizer's Makers and Takers, Charles Sheffield's The Spheres of Heaven, and John Gunther's Inside U.S.A..

And so I got a little farther behind on other things.  But I hope to catch up on most of them, including email, by the end of this week.

This year, some of the professional buyers had a device I hadn't seen before.  As the buyers scanned the bar codes on the books, they got estimated prices (from some on-line database) back through earphones, instead of on a screen.  That allowed them to work just a little faster, from what I could tell.

When I went to one of these sales last year, there were almost no books by Obama for sale, though there were many from both Clintons.  This year, there were a number of copies of The Audacity of Hope for sale, most in the "better books" section.  (On Saturday, most books cost a dollar.  On Sunday, all prices are cut in half.  The book sale sets aside some books that they can sell for more in a "better books" section.  Three dollars was the most common price in that section on Saturday.)  So I suspect that some supporters of Obama, even here in the Seattle area, are having second thoughts.

And, for what it is worth, I saw just one copy of George W. Bush's Decision Points — and it was priced at eight dollars.
- 9:45 AM, 18 April 2011   [link]

The Jurassic Diet:  Allowed for more calories per day than most modern diets.
In the case of plant-eating sauropods, there was a clear advantage to a long neck (and a light head): we are shown just how much more food becomes available with incrementally longer necks, and how much, too, such necks lessen the need to lug one's tonnage around from tree to tree.  The exhibition points out that an African elephant has to eat 18 hours a day to maintain itself.   A sauropod, which could be 10 times the size of an elephant and might require 100,000 calories a day, would have had to devour more and, we read, "get as much down their throats as possible, as fast as they could."
That's 100,000 calories a day from food that would be about as nutritious for us as lettuce.

(Presumably, sauropods, because they digested food for so long, with the help of intestinal bacteria, could get more calories from their fodder than we could, for the same reasons a cow can get more calories from grass than we can.  But the sauropods still weren't eating calorific food.)
- 7:28 AM, 17 April 2011   [link]