April 2012, Part 4

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

How Does Obama Know how hockey moms taste?

(Yeah, I know, the question sort of ruins the joke, but it wasn't a very good joke, and I really did think of that question as soon as I heard the joke.)
- 2:27 PM, 30 April 2012   [link]

Price Controls In Venezuela:  They have all the bad effects mainstream economists predict.

Here's one that may, at first, seem surprising:  Dried milk is a staple of the Venezuelan diet.  It is available in enormous quantities from the United States, at low prices.

Nonetheless, the Chávez regime has managed to produce shortages of the product.

But at second thought, we should expect this kind of result.  Demand for staples like dried milk is less variable than demand for luxuries, so price controls are more likely to produce shortages of dried milk than, for example, designer watches.

By way of Greg Mankiw.

(Income supplements, such as our food stamps, have their own problems, but they do not completely foul up markets in the same way price controls do.)
- 7:31 AM, 30 April 2012   [link]

Massachusetts Senate Candidate Elizabeth Was Native American — But Is No Longer:  David Bernstein looks at old Association of American Law School directories and finds the transition.
The old AALS Directory of Faculty guides are online (through academic libraries) at Hein Online.  The directories starting listing minority faculty in an appendix in 1986.  There’s Elizabeth Warren, listed as a professor at Texas.  I spot-checked three additional directories from when she was a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, including 1995-96, the year Harvard offered her a position.  Elizabeth Warren, Elizabeth Warren, Elizabeth Warren.

So, we know one thing with almost 100% certainty: Elizabeth Warren identified herself as a minority law professor.  We know something else with 90%+ certainty: (at least some) folks at Harvard were almost certainly aware that she identified as a minority law professor, though they may not have known which ethnic group she claimed to be belong to, and it may not have played any role in her hiring.

But it gets even more interesting: once Warren joined the Harvard faculty, she dropped off the list of minority law faculty.  Now that’s passing strange.  When the AALS directory form came around before Warren arrived at Harvard, she was proud enough of her Native American ancestry to ask that she be listed among the minority law professors.  (Or, in the unlikely even that she just allowed law school administrators to fill out the forms for her without reviewing them, they were aware that she claimed such ancestry, and she didn’t object when she was listed.)  Once she arrived at Harvard, however, she no longer chose to be listed as a minority law professor.
Genetic engineering has certainly advanced.  I had not realized that it was possible to change an adult's race.  This is such an advance that I think the scientists responsible for it should come forward and claim credit.

All right, I'll be serious for a moment and agree with Bernstein that "there seems to be some disingenuousness going on".  (Though I might put it more bluntly.)

(Those outside academia may not realize what an enormous advantage minority heritage can be in hiring and promotion.  Trust me, it's a big deal, as Vice President Biden might say.

Howie Carr is having way too much fun with her "now you see it, now you don't" Indian ancestry.)
- 6:03 AM, 30 April 2012
Update:  A researcher has found an Indian ancestor, Warren's great-great-great-grandmother, a Cherokee named O. C. Sarah Smith.   Assuming Mrs. Smith was pure Cherokee, then Warren would be 1/32 Native American.  Different tribes have different rules on these matters, but I don't know of any tribes that think 1/32 would be enough to make a person a member of their tribe.
- 7:25 AM, 1 May 2012   [link]

Is Judicial Restraint A Good Thing?  Yes and no, say the editorial writers at the New York Times.

This is one of the most impressive "two-newspapers-in-one" examples that I have seen.   We shouldn't be surprised when, from time to time, we see differences between editorial writers or columnists, and reporters.  And we have become used to seeing the editorial writers at the Times switch principles, depending on the partisan needs of the moment.

But this switch came in less than one month.

(Sadly, I fear that no one on the editorial board at the Times will realize that this quick switch makes both arguments look absurd.)
- 3:57 PM, 29 April 2012   [link]

Think President Obama Has Been Going To A Lot Of Fund Raisers?  You're right.
[Professor Brendan] Doherty, who has compiled statistics about presidential travel and fundraising going back to President Jimmy Carter in 1977, found that Obama had held 104 fundraisers by March 6th this year, compared to 94 held by Presidents Carter, Ronald Reagan, George Bush Snr, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush combined.

Since then, Obama has held another 20 fundraisers, bringing his total to 124.  Carter held four re-election fundraisers in 1980, Reagan zero in 1984, Bush Snr 19 in 1992, Clinton 14 in 1996 and Bush Jnr 57 in 2004.
Obama often combines these fund raisers with visits to "swing states", where he also leads all five of his immediate predecessors.

(The Obama team appears to have decided to imitate the tactics used by the Bush team in 2004, imitate and take to a higher level — though they are unlikely to admit that publicly.

I often wonder what the attendees at these fund raisers, almost all of them members of the "1 per cent", think of Obama's recent attacks on them.)
- 2:21 PM, 29 April 2012   [link]

Leonard Pitts Thinks That We Shouldn't "Lionize"  the Rodney King rioters.
The Los Angeles riots happened because justice did not.  They happened because a white jury in the far-flung suburb of Simi Valley looked at video of four white cops bludgeoning a black drunken driving suspect, Rodney G. King, so viciously that even Chief of Police Daryl F. Gates said it made him sick — and yet, pronounced them not guilty of any crime.

To acknowledge this is not to lionize the rioters.  You do not lionize 54 deaths and a billion dollars in property damage.  You do not lionize what almost killed Reginald Denny, beaten nearly to death for the "crime" of being in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong color skin.
But — and you knew there was a "but" coming — we should, he says, "empathize with the message they expressed".

In this last week, I have seen more than one article, more than one TV "news" segment, expressing somewhat similar views, though few are as direct as Pitts was in this column.

Our "mainstream" journalists see those riots as giving society the right message, though perhaps in the wrong way.  There are sorry that some people got killed (most of them black), but you can't make an omelet without breaking eggs, and you can't have a real protest without a few deaths, or at least some serious injuries.

And if you understand that attitude, you can understand why so many of our "mainstream" news organizations have been trying to provoke racial strife over the death of Trayvon Martin.

(Pitts doesn't mention the brutal attack on Fidel Lopez, or the targeting of Korean grocers by the rioters — but he should.

Many of the commenters at the Seattle Times are better informed than Pitts.

"Jack Dunphy", a Los Angeles police officer, corrects the record on Rodney King — and worries about new riots, should George Zimmerman be acquitted.)
- 1:58 PM, 29 April 2012   [link]

Professor Paul Light Thinks Our Federal Bureaucracy Is Dysfunctional:  He's been saying that for some time, has even written a book making that argument.

In yesterday's Wall Street Journal, Light was making that argument again, and had a remarkable statistic to support it.
In late 2010, for example, there were at least 10 layers of political and career civil-service executives interposed between the GSA administrator and the employee who led the conference-planning effort.  Although the conference and its proposed activities and expenses eventually were approved by the (now-unemployed) head of the Public Buildings Service against the advice of his deputy, the decision, and thus the scrutiny, never moved any higher.

The rest of government is just as densely packed.  Research I conducted shows that between 1961 and 2009, the number of executive layers—or ranks by title—at an average cabinet-level agency jumped from seven to 18, even as the number of executives per layer swelled from 451 to 2,600.  If Congress and the president want greater accountability from the bureaucracy, they should cut the standard reporting chain in half and reverse the recent proliferation of lower layers occupied by chiefs of staff, deputy chiefs of staff, team leaders and management-support specialists.
That's worth saying again, so I will.

Average cabinet-level agency in 1961:

layer 6
layer 5
layer 4
layer 3
layer 2

Average cabinet-level agency in 2009:

layer 17
layer 16
layer 15
layer 14
layer 13
layer 12
layer 11
layer 10
layer 9
layer 8
layer 7
layer 6
layer 5
layer 4
layer 3
layer 2

This proliferation of layers has come when most students of organizations have been arguing in favor of flatter organizations, with fewer layers.

Incidentally, Light does not appear to be especially political, but he has been associated with the liberal Brookings Institution, rather than some conservative, or libertarian, think tank.

(If it isn't obvious to you why flatter organizations have advantages, try these two thought experiments:  Try passing a problem message from the bottom to the top in each example, and then try passing an order from the top to the bottom.

Here's a similar op-ed.)
- 1:43 PM, 28 April 2012   [link]

Former Iceland Prime Minister Has Been Convicted of holding too few meetings.
Geir Haarde, the former prime minister of Iceland and the only politician in the world to face prosecution for his role in the 2008 financial crisis, has been found guilty of failing to hold emergency cabinet meetings in the runup to the crisis.  But he was cleared of three more serious charges, which could have jailed him for two years.
Not only was he cleared of the more serious charges, but he will receive no punishment for holding too few meetings, and his legal costs will be paid by Iceland.

What led to this curious verdict?  Haarde brought in free market reforms, which made Iceland prosper, which tempted Iceland's banks to speculate wildly.  That wouldn't have been so bad, but the banks speculated with other people's money by, for instance, offering high interest rates on ordinary consumer accounts in Britain, and then using that money to buy over-priced assets almost everywhere.  When the banks collapsed, someone had to be blamed, and the bankers had mostly fled the country.

So the opposing parties found an old law and were able to try Haarde, with a procedure that had never been used before.

No doubt, Haarde was guilty in some sense for failing to rein in the banks, but his punishment had already come from the voters.  (Although Hannes Gissurarson thinks the voters will bring Haarde's party back to power in 2013.)

The leftist successor government is, probably, holding too many meetings, a more common sin, though not against the law in Iceland, as far as I can tell.

(Here's the Wikipedia article on the Iceland crash, with more details than most of us need.)
- 7:04 AM, 27 April 2012   [link]

All Right, I'm Not Going To Make Any Jokes About This Proposal to legalize necrophilia in Egypt.
Egyptian husbands will soon be legally allowed to have sex with their dead wives - for up to six hours after their death.

The controversial new law is part of a raft of measures being introduced by the Islamist-dominated parliament.
Not on this site, anyway.

But I can't prevent you or, truth be told, me, thinking those jokes.  Some straight lines are irresistible.
- 6:13 PM, 26 April 2012
Too good to check?  I probably should have added that caveat, when I first wrote the post, so I'll add it now:  Most likely, this proposal will never come close to becoming law, if only because it makes the parliamentarians look foolish.  But it's still a funny story.
- 7:22 AM, 27 April 2012   [link]

How Familiar Is Labor Secretary Hilda Solis With Farm Life?   Not at all.
Solis was born in Los Angeles, California[1] as the daughter of immigrant parents who had met in citizenship class and married in 1953: Juana Sequeira (b. 1926, from Nicaragua) and Raul Solis (from Mexico).[2][3] Her father was a Teamsters shop steward in Mexico[4] and after coming to the U.S. worked at the Quemetco battery recycling plant in the City of Industry in the San Gabriel Valley.[5] There he again organized for the Teamsters, to gain better health care benefits for workers,[6] but also contracted lead poisoning.[7] Her mother worked for over 20 years on the assembly line of Mattel once her children were all of school age,[3] belonged to the United Rubber Workers,[8] and was outspoken about working conditions.[7] She stressed the importance of education and was a devout Roman Catholic.[2][6]
Any experience since growing up?  No.  In fact, as far as I can tell, she has never, as an adult, held a job in the private sector.  (Though her husband, Sam Sayyad, owns an "automobile repair center" — which has had "tax problems".)

But she does have, beginning with her parents, much experience with radical left politics, as you can see from this now famous — and official — Labor Department poster.

(I mention her lack of farm experience because of the controversy over the new rules on farm work for kids.  You can see more about that dispute here and here.

I don't yet have an opinion on the rules, since I haven't seen an authoritative account of the rules, and their effects on farming.  I will note that deaths of kids in farm work have declined over the last decade — another reason to blame George W. Bush, no doubt — though I will add that there are many possible causes for that decline, including fewer kids working on farms.)
- 4:57 PM, 26 April 2012
Update:  The Obama administration is dropping the proposed rules.
Under pressure from farm groups and lawmakers from rural states, Labor Department said it is withdrawing proposed rules that would ban children younger than 16 from using most power-driven farm equipment, including tractors.  The rules also would prevent those younger than 18 from working in feed lots, grain silos and stockyards.

The plan specifically excluded children who work on farms owned or operated by their parents.  But the proposal still became a popular political target for Republicans who called it an impractical, heavy-handed regulation that ignored the reality of small farms.
Note, by the way, that the Associated Press reporter, Sam Hananel, is unhappy with this decision.  He begins his piece with an attack on it, from activists, and doesn't get to the other side of the argument until much later in the piece — even though the other side won — temporarily.
- 1:12 PM, 28 April 2012   [link]

FBI Agent Mayberry Has A Soothing Name:  And some disturbing information.
[FBI Agent Todd] Mayberry said there is currently "no specific threat to the Jewish community here in Michigan."   But he added there are potential and general threats the community faces.
. . .
One challenge is being able to keep track of so many potentially radical websites and differentiating what might be a legitimate threat from harmless talk.   Estimating there are thousands websites that could have extremist activity, he said:

"If I gave you the number of Michigan IP addresses that are on some of these sites, it's staggering," Mayberry said.
There are, of course, many reasons why someone might look at a radical Islamist web site, ' including simple curiosity.  But we have to recognize that some who visit those web sites agree with them, at least in part, and that a few who visit are radicalized by what they read and see at the sites.

By way of Kate McMillan, who got it it from Kathy Shaidle.
- 2:56 PM, 26 April 2012   [link]

Crucifixion As An EPA Enforcement Tactic:  All right, he's speaking metaphorically, but what this EPA administrator says is still appalling.
A video surfaced on Wednesday showing a regional administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency comparing his agency's philosophy with respect to regulation of oil and gas companies to brutal tactics employed by the ancient Roman army to intimidate its foes into submission.

EPA's "philosophy of enforcement," said EPA's Region VI Administrator Al Armendariz, is "kind of like how the Romans used to conquer little villages in the Mediterranean: they'd go into little Turkish towns somewhere, they'd find the first five guys they'd run into, and they'd crucify them."
Every time I think the current EPA can't get any worse, they surprise me.

Note that he is confessing that he doesn't even try to be fair in enforcement.  (He would justify that by saying he doesn't have enough enforcement officers.  That excuse won't work with me, and shouldn't work with anyone else.)

By way of many sources, though the video seems to have been first publicized by Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe.

(Oh, and Armendariz is wrong about the history, too.  There weren't any Turks to speak of in the Mediterranean area when Rome was building its empire.  And Rome owed much of its success not to terror tactics, but to its relatively lenient policies, notably the Roman willingness to extend Roman citizenship to allies and, eventually, conquered peoples.)
- 8:23 AM, 26 April 2012   [link]

Spare Change?  If you have any, you might want to send it to Zimbabwe, where it is badly needed.

Zimbabwe went through a period of hyperinflation in 2003-2009.
Inflation rose from an annual rate of 32% in 1998, to an official estimated high of 11,200,000% in August 2008 according to the country's Central Statistical Office.[110]  This represented a state of hyperinflation, and the central bank introduced a new 100 billion dollar note.[111]  As of November 2008, unofficial figures put Zimbabwe's annual inflation rate at 516 quintillion percent, with prices doubling every 1.3 days.  Zimbabwe's inflation crisis was in 2009 the second worst inflation spike in history, behind the hyperinflationary crisis of Hungary in 1946, in which prices doubled every 15.6 hours.[112]
Some might even call that hyper-hyperinflation.

Zimbabwe solved that by making other currencies legal tender.  In practice, that means they now mostly use the US dollar.

And that, according to an article in yesterday's New York Times, has caused a new set of problems for them.  American paper money is all over the world, but American coins aren't, and so small Zimbabwean businesses usually want to be paid in exact US dollars.

That may not sound like more than an irritant, until you remember that the average daily income in Zimbabwe is about a dollar.  To understand the problems this causes, imagine that you had to do all your shopping with 100 dollar bills (or 50 pound notes if you are in Britain, or 50 euro notes if you are in most of Europe, and so on) — and that you couldn't get change.

Zimbabweans have coped with this in various ways, as you might imagine, but it does pose a serious problem for them.

It's a problem that we could easily solve.  (Assuming the awkward coalition government that runs Zimbabwe would allow us to.)  We send them small amounts of foreign aid already.  Why not give them the next $50 million in pennies and nickels?   The population is about 12.5 million so that would be about four dollars in change for each Zimbabwean.

And it occurs to me that a speculator might make a little money — and do Zimbabweans a great favor — by selling them small US coins at a premium, selling them, for example, 95 cents in pennies and nickels for a dollar.

(Incidentally, Zimbabwe has not adopted the US dollar officially — but five other nations have.  Those that have usually make their own coins, which are convertible to dollars.  But no one in Zimbabwe would trust money from the central government.)
- 6:39 AM, 26 April 2012   [link]

The Managers Of The Sequoia Fund Have Higher Standards Than John Kerry And Barack Obama:  The managers believe that James A. Johnson should not be in a position of power.  Here's part of what Robert Goldfarb and David Poppe said in a letter to their clients.
Unfortunately, this year we are voting against James A. Johnson as he stands for re-election to the board of directors of Goldman Sachs, which we own for Sequoia Fund and separately-managed accounts.  Mr. Johnson also serves on the board of Target Corp., which we own, and which should issue its proxy soon.  If Mr. Johnson stands for re-election at Target, we intend to vote against him.  If you vote your own shares in accounts we manage for you, we recommend you vote against James Johnson.

Mr. Johnson has been at the center of several egregious corporate governance debacles.  As chairman of the board and chief executive officer of the mortgage giant Fannie Mae from 1991 through 1998, Johnson lobbied Congress relentlessly to relax Fannie's underwriting standards and lower the capital requirements put in place to protect taxpayers from losses in the event of a downturn in the housing market.
As you may have noticed, Fannie Mae's collapse has cost us hundreds of billions of dollars.

And, as Goldfarb and Poppe go on to say, Johnson has been a director of two other firms hit by scandals, United Healthcare and KB Home.

Johnson was chairman of John Kerry's vice presidential search committee, the committee that suggested John Edwards, a choice that seems, in retrospect, to have been an error.   (Some of us, me, for example, thought it was an error from the beginning.)  Johnson was a member of Barack Obama's vice presidential search committee, until forced out by another scandal.  In both 2004 and 2008, there was speculation that he would be Treasury Secretary, if the Democratic candidate won.

But wait, there's more, from Felix Salmon:
There's one corporate-governance metric which isn't looked at nearly enough, and that's director pay.  Reading the compelling broadside that Ruane, Cunniff & Goldfarb, who manage the Sequoia Fund, has launched against James Johnson, who's running for re-election to Goldman's board, I was glad to be reminded of the governance fiasco he oversaw at Fannie Mae, and I was shocked to learn of his involvement in an options-backdating scandal at United Healthcare.  But absent from the letter, and present only in Shahien Nasiripour's report about it, is the fact that Goldman paid Johnson $523,000 last year.
Which is nice pay for a part-time job.  Salmon thinks that Johnson is getting "hush money" from Goldman.  And it may be relevant that Johnson has been chairman of the compensation committee there since 1999.

(Here's a brisk review of Johnson's career at Fannie Mae, if you need one.)
- 9:09 AM, 25 April 2012   [link]

Mia Love, Just Another Typical Republican Politician:   She's worked in business, is happily married with three children, belongs to a socially-conservative denomination, believes in limited government, and so on.

All right, there are a few differences, as you can see — but I would argue that those differences are superficial, and the similarities, fundamental.

Good luck to her in her race against Congressman Jim Matheson.
- 7:54 AM, 25 April 2012   [link]