December 2010, Part 3

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

A Law Firm Chooses, after much deliberation, their annual Christmas card.

(By way of Tigerhawk.)
- 2:31 PM, 24 December 2010   [link]

Communists And Their Modern Defenders:  On 17 December, Ilya Somin put up this post, linking to a New York Times op-ed on Mao's greatest crime.  Professor Somin argued, as he has before, that Communist crimes are neglected, particularly those committed by Chinese communists.
This is part of the more general problem of the neglect of communist crimes.  But Chinese communist atrocities are little-known even by comparison to those inflicted by communists in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, possibly because the Chinese are more culturally distant from Westerners than are Eastern Europeans or the German victims of the Berlin Wall.  Ironically, the Wall (one of communism's relatively smaller crimes) is vastly better known than the Great Leap Forward — the largest mass murder in all of world history.
(In the post, Somin goes somewhat farther than I would, when he says that "few intellectuals are aware of the scale" of communist atrocities.  By now, I think most Western intellectuals are aware of the scale, but most still judge communist atrocities more lightly than Nazi atrocities — or even more lightly than the sins of the United States.)

As often happens when that argument is made, Somin was attacked by commenters (for example, zuch, Sarcastro, Harry Eagar, and strict) who did not directly defend Mao, Stalin, and their minions, but did everything they could to sneer at Somin, and at those who took his side.

Typically, these commenters rejected as meaningless every example that other commenters presented, either asserting — usually falsely — that it wasn't true, or that a single example proved nothing.

In fact, examples are evidence, and sometimes a single example can prove an argument.   (For instance, I could prove that there were unicorns by finding a single unicorn.)

And some examples, though not proof, are powerful evidence all by themselves.  Consider, for example, Noam Chomsky, that sometime defender of the Khmer Rouge.  I submit that no academic who had defended Hitler in the same way would have a comfortable place in a major university.   But Chomsky is still respected by many; there was even a poll, a few years ago — I don't recall the details — that put him at the very top of the world's intellectuals.

On the very same day that Somin published his post, our newspaper of record, the New York Times, published an art notice that gives us another powerful example.
International Center of Photography: 'Cuba in Revolution,' through Jan. 9.  Too bad Fidel Castro cannot come to New York to see this show.  It would warm his heart and make him pine for the glory days of the late '50s and early '60s, when his tiny, swashbuckling band of soldier intellectuals overthrew the corrupt government of Fulgencio Batista and prevailed over the forces of corporate capitalism and organized crime.  The stirring tale of the rise and triumph of the Fidelistas is told by 180 pictures made by 30 photojournalists, including native Cubans like Raúl Corrales and Alberto Korda and international superstars like Henri Cartier-Bresson and Burt Glinn.  1133 Avenue of the Americas, at 43rd Street, (212) 857-0000,  (Ken Johnson)
I read that several times before I decided that Ken Johnson was not being sarcastic.  (If he were, he would have had to give us a tip somewhere in the notice, and he didn't.)

In the print version, that notice was illustrated by a large photo of Che Guevara at the top of the page.  (He's described as "movie-star-handsome".)  So some editor agreed with Johnson that this notice — which gives us an entirely positive view of the Cuban communists — deserved our attention.

The ICP appears to be an important photography center, and the New York Times is, as I said (perhaps unnecessarily), our newspaper of record.

I can not imagine an exhibit, anywhere in the Western world, that honored Nazis in the same way, getting a similarly positive notice.
- 4:41 PM, 23 December 2010   [link]

Most Americans Don't Trust The "Mainstream" Media:  So says Gallup.
For the fourth straight year, the majority of Americans say they have little or no trust in the mass media to report the news fully, accurately, and fairly.  The 57% who now say this is a record high by one percentage point.
Gallup goes on to say that "perceptions of bias have remained quite steady" over the last decade.   That's true, but if you look farther back, Gallup's own data shows that trust in the mass media has declined sharply since 1972, which was the first year Gallup asked that particular question.  In May 1972, 18 percent of the respondents said they trusted the media a "great deal", and 50 percent said they trusted the media a "fair amount".  In September of this year, the numbers were, respectively, 12 and 31 percent.

By way of Andrew Malcolm, who has some funny things to say about this poll result.
- 2:12 PM, 23 December 2010   [link]

Michael Gerson And Dana Milbank Don't Agree On Much:  But they do agree, in one important way, on Obama.

First, Gerson.
There are many problems with this mode of presidential communication, but mainly its supreme self-regard.  The tax deal, in Obama's presentation, was not about the economy or the country.  It was about him.  It was about the absurd concessions he was forced to make, the absurd opposition he was forced to endure, the universally insufficient deference to his wisdom.
Second, Milbank.
He bestowed superlatives on his accomplishments:
. . .
More!  Most!  Biggest!  And when he wasn't praising his accomplishments, he was praising himself:  "One thing I hope people have seen during this lame-duck, I am persistent.  I am persistent.  You know, if I believe in something strongly, I stay on it."
If he does say so himself.

(Just a guess, but I suspect that some comics will be having a little fun with that "supreme self-regard" during 2011.)
- 11:09 AM, 23 December 2010   [link]

Unlike Their Neighbors, The North Koreans don't seem to have the Christmas spirit.

(As you almost certainly know, Christmas is a popular holiday in China, Russia (though they celebrate it on a different day), South Korea, Japan, and Taiwan.  All have put their own touches on it; for instance, the Japanese often celebrate Christmas with a visit to KFC, which is, you have to admit, more fun than threatening war over a Christmas tree.)
- 9:18 AM, 23 December 2010   [link]

Democratic Snark, Republican Numbers:  Sometimes the comments are the most interesting part.  After this routine Seattle Times article on redistricting, there were two comments that demonstrate one of the most important differences between Republicans and Democrats.  (I am inferring the party IDs, but I think that reasonable people will come to the same tentative conclusions that I did.)

First, from Seattle Democrat "Jake JJ":

Whatever happens, we know that Eastern Washington will whine about it.  Drives 'em nuts that people would rather live in the liberal godless western part of the state.  What fun!

Second, from Yakima Republican "Fred H":

Given that in 2000 the 9 districts were drawn with approximately equal populations (which is true give or take a thousand, I looked it up on the census 2000 website) it appears to me the 4 GOP districts added an average of 98,314 people while the 5 Democratic districts only added an average of 55,839.

We can take Fred's point just a little further.  According to the numbers here, the second slowest growing district in Washington state was district 6, represented by Norm Dicks.  Coincidentally, it's also the second most Democratic district in Washington.  The slowest growing district was district 7, represented by Jim McDermott.  Coincidentally, it's the most Democratic district in Washington.  Even more coincidentally, that's also where "Jake JJ" lives.

(It's a separate subject, and one I will come back to after we have more numbers from the 2010 census, but I think it likely that the 7th district will shrink in population during this next decade.  Seattle, which makes up most of the 7th district, has a much higher proportion of immigrants than the rest of the state.   As the native-born have moved out of Seattle, they have been replaced by immigrants.  I expect, for a number of reasons, that there will be much less immigration to the United States in the next ten years.  People will continue to move out of Seattle, especially families with school-age children, but fewer of them will be replaced by immigrants.)

This pattern of faster growth in mostly Republican exurbs is not peculiar to Washington state; it's found in the nation as a whole.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 8:10 AM, 23 December 2010   [link]

Worth Reading:  Michael Barone's first take on the 2010 census.  Many have linked to this part of his discussion:
This leads to a second point, which is that growth tends to be stronger where taxes are lower.  Seven of the nine states that do not levy an income tax grew faster than the national average.  The other two, South Dakota and New Hampshire, had the fastest growth in their regions, the Midwest and New England.

Altogether, 35 percent of the nation's total population growth occurred in these nine non-taxing states, which accounted for just 19 percent of total population at the beginning of the decade.
But that isn't all there is to this column.
- 4:00 PM, 22 December 2010   [link]

Maybe They Got The Candy Cane Idea From A New Yorker Cartoon:  If you read Drudge regularly, you've seen this bizarre story.  Some boys at a Virginia school are in trouble because:
The boys say they were just tossing small two-inch candy canes to fellow students as they entered school.  The ones in plastic wrap that are so small they often break apart.

Skylar Torbett, also a junior, said administrators told him, "They said the candy canes are weapons because you can sharpen them with your mouth and stab people with them."  He said neither he nor any of their friend did that.
Boys are generally quite good at improvising weapons, but this idea seems too nutty even for them.  However, I did see it in yesterday's daily New Yorker calendar.   The cartoon shows two detectives in Santa's workshop, looking at a murdered elf.  One detective is telling the other, "Looks like an inside job."

And we can see a candy cane sticking out of the elf's back.

(To be fair, there may be more to the story than candy canes, as the school principal claims.)
- 12:48 PM, 22 December 2010   [link]

Regulation Will Shut Down A New Jersey Nuclear Power Plant — Ten Years Early:  Here's the story.
Exelon Corp. will shut down its Oyster Creek nuclear power plant in New Jersey 10 years ahead of schedule, by 2019, under an agreement with the state that releases it from any obligation to build an expensive cooling tower at the plant.

Oyster Creek, which already is more than 40 years old, has battled environmentalists and state officials for many years over its use of water from Barnegat Bay.  A draft water discharge permit issued recently by New Jersey regulators would have required Exelon to erect a cooling tower, at an unspecified date, to protect aquatic life in the nearby bay from heated water.
(In general, heated water helps some kinds of aquatic life, even while it hurts other kinds.  Fishermen often fish near power plants because some fish are attracted to warmer water.)

Last night, at dinner time, the electricity went off in my neighborhood, reminding me of just how much we depend on electricity.  (The power went off just after I had finished cooking, so I ate dinner by the light of an LED lantern — which I again recommend for your emergency kit.  It came back on in about an hour, so the outage was no more than a minor inconvenience, for me anyway.) That dependence should make us want to protect our electric power sources, and use them as efficiently as possible.  At the same time, we should get our most of our electric power from the cleanest source possible — nuclear energy.

But here in the United States, where we pioneered the use of nuclear power, we have so over-regulated it that we have made it almost impossible to build a new plant, or even to continue using some of our older plants.

According to this New York Times article, the Oyster Creek power plant supplies about 6 percent of New Jersey's electricity.  As far as I know, the state has no current plan for replacing that electricity.  And here's the most aggravating fact of all:  If New Jersey, right now, decided to replace that plant with a modern nuclear plant, regulations (and law suits) would probably keep them from doing that in a mere ten years.

The Sierra Club — which used to be, years ago, a mostly rational organization — is unhappy with the agreement.

(More here, from others unhappy with the over-regulation.)
- 9:36 AM, 22 December 2010   [link]

Double Standards, Not Hypocrisy:  Although I disagree with the post title, I agree that the cartoon shows a problem.  (And I fear that all too many "mainstream" journalists have internalized those double standards.)

By way of TigerHawk.
- 8:28 AM, 22 December 2010   [link]

No Big Surprises From The Census Numbers:  As expected, nearly all the House seat gains were in states dominated by Republicans.  (Washington state, which gained one seat, is the exception.)  Nearly all the losses were in states dominated by Democrats, or marginal states, such as Missouri and Iowa.  (Louisiana, which lost one seat, is the exception.)

Nate Silver (who did his post before the census released the numbers) predicted that Republicans would do well from redistricting, since the fastest growing districts are mostly Republican.
Nine Congressional districts, for instance, had populations of 900,000 or more as of 2009, according to Census Bureau estimates, while the average Congressional district has about 700,000 people.  All nine — as well as 17 of the 20 most populous districts over all — elected Republicans to the U.S. House in November.  That means that the Republicans will, in many cases, have the luxury of both protecting their incumbents in these districts and spreading out their excess voters to neighboring districts to make them easier to win.
And mostly exurban, as it happens.

(The Washington Post has a nifty little map that shows the changes in House seats by state, since 1900.  James Taranto pointed me to this map, which shows party control in the state legislatures.)
- 4:34 PM, 21 December 2010   [link]

Bush 44?  Debra Saunders argues that President Obama is, as almost everyone has noticed, imitating many Bush policies.

Her list isn't complete, but it's impressive.  Here's an example:
Once upon a time, Democratic candidates promised that if they won the White House, they would shutter Guantanamo Bay, then referred to as a "recruiting tool for al-Qaida."  In January 2009, Obama signed an executive order to close the detention center within a year.   Today it's still open.
Guantánamo is still open in part because Congress — a Democratically controlled Congress — has blocked closing it.  It turns out that even they recognize that Guantánamo, for all its faults, is the best of a number of bad alternatives.

In one area, social policies, Obama has shown no sign of imitating Bush — so far.   And he hasn't taken up brush clearing or mountain bike riding yet, either.
- 3:39 PM, 21 December 2010   [link]

Are The Chinese Thinking Farther Ahead Than We Are?  In chess, the farther you can think ahead, the more likely you are to win.  The same is true in grand strategy, in the endless competition among nations.

Irwin Stelzer believes the Chinese are thinking many moves farther ahead than we are.  For example:
Every deal to tap the vast Chinese market comes with a requirement that they turn over their technology to the Chinese:  nuclear plants, green energy products, autos will be made by American companies in China —until the Chinese complete construction of their copycat plants.  The initial orders satisfy the American executives, their eyes focused on the next quarterly report.  The Chinese, their eyes focused on 2020 and beyond, know that the technology in hand, they can duplicate the factories and techniques needed to dispense with the American capitalists.  Westinghouse Electric recently turned over 75,000 documents to its Chinese customers as the initial part of the technology transfer to which it agreed as part of a deal to sell four nuclear plants to China.  Nothing seems to have changed since Lenin observed, "The capitalists will sell us the rope with which we will hang them."
It is hard for democracies, and for companies being judged by their quarterly profits, to think years, and even decades, ahead.  In the past, the United States sometimes managed that in foreign policy — but mostly by letting bipartisan elites manage large parts of our foreign policy, without much influence from the voters.  In the past, companies sometimes looked years ahead, but those that did were usually monopolies, even legal monopolies like AT&T.

There are, even now, bureaucrats in the Pentagon, and perhaps even in the State Department, who could do the kind of long-range strategic planning that we need.  But I see no sign that elected officials have been paying much attention to them over the last two decades.   When the Cold War ended, many elected officials hoped that Francis Fukuyama was right, and that history had come to an end.   If history had come to an end, then Americans, and others in the West, would be free to concentrate on making money, arguing about how to distribute it, and quarreling over social policy — all of which we would rather do than think about grand strategy, in particular how to meet the Chinese challenge.  But history hasn't come to an end, and we can't neglect our grand strategy forever.  We are going to have to start thinking a few moves ahead.

The current Chinese monopoly on rare earth production is just one example of how we are being out-thought.  (In contrast, after World War II, we actually set up stockpiles of strategic minerals, in case we were cut off from foreign sources in a war.)  We will pay for, in fact we are already beginning to pay for, our neglect of grand strategy.

(Quibble:  Lenin probably didn't say that memorable rope line, though he did say something similar.)
- 11:21 AM, 20 December 2010   [link]

Columbia University Uses Eminent Domain To Grab Two Properties:  Law Professor Glenn Reynolds isn't happy about that.  (Neither am I.)
This was demonstrated again this week, as the last legal barrier (a possible US Supreme Court review) to Columbia University's efforts to condemn and seize two businesses -- Tuck-it-Away Self-Storage and a gas station owned by Gurnam Singh and Parminder Kaur in West Harlem -- vanished.
. . . .
Traditionally, the "public-domain" power was used to acquire property needed for things like roads and bridges.  It's still often defended in those terms, but the "public use" required for such takings has now been interpreted by courts to include pretty much anything the government wants to do with the property -- including handing it over to someone else who just happens to be wealthier or better-connected than the original property holder.
Reynolds is right to condemn this action, and right to say that people with little money or power are often victimized by these actions.

But Reynolds goes a little too far when he claims that the wealthy and powerful are never victimized by this kind of abuse of government power.  Sometimes they are — especially if they backed the wrong candidate in the last election.  For example, Rupert Murdoch — who does not lack for money or power — was forced to give up the New York Post for some years, thanks to a provision inserted in the law by Ted Kennedy.  Anyone familiar with the Kennedy family history can think of other examples that fit this pattern.
- 10:51 AM, 17 December 2010   [link]

Here's A Small Example of how Obama's regulatory policies are discouraging hiring.

(Tigerhawk's company makes medical devices, as he explains in a comment.  And that's all I know about it.)

That is, of course, just one small example.  But there is good reason to think that thousands of other businesses, all across the country, are making similar decisions, for similar reasons.
- 7:31 AM, 17 December 2010   [link]