December 2010, Part 4

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Did Sanitation Workers Sabotage Snow Removal In New York?  That's what the New York Post is reporting.
Selfish Sanitation Department bosses from the snow-slammed outer boroughs ordered their drivers to snarl the blizzard cleanup to protest budget cuts -- a disastrous move that turned streets into a minefield for emergency-services vehicles, The Post has learned.

Miles of roads stretching from as north as Whitestone, Queens, to the south shore of Staten Island still remained treacherously unplowed last night because of the shameless job action, several sources and a city lawmaker said, which was over a raft of demotions, attrition and budget cuts.
That story seems, alas, all too plausible.

(And the story may help explain something that puzzled me this morning.  Last night, I read a Telegraph blog post by Harry Mount, arguing that Americans were better at snow removal than the British because we are practical, hard working folks who get to work when something needs doing, rather than whining about it.  That was such an interesting (and pleasing) blog post that I planned to write about it first thing this morning.

But the post has vanished down the memory hole, perhaps because of that little embarrassment in New York.

On the other hand, this blog post, from the Telegraph's US Fashion and Lifestyle Editor, Melissa Whitworth, claims that New York's snow removal after a 2006 snowstorm would "sound miraculous to Londoners".

So, even with the sabotage, New York may be doing better than London did after their recent snowstorm.)
- 1:03 PM, 30 December 2010   [link]

Births And Benefits:  Spain cuts a benefit; Spanish women race to get it before it expires.
The year may not yet be at its end, but Spain's doctors are already reporting a slew of año nuevo admissions.

Their patients, though, are not prematurely exuberant cava casualties — they are pregnant women intent on giving birth before midnight on Friday so they can claim the last of the government's €2,500 (£2,128) "baby cheques".

The cheque bebé — which was introduced in July 2007 in an attempt to boost Spain's low birthrate — is about to be axed in a round of new year public spending cuts, but many mothers are not prepared to give up without a fight.
Right now, a euro is worth about $1.33, if you are wondering how much the benefit is worth in dollars.

(There's some background on the benefit here.  In general, these cash benefits do not seem to have large effects on birth rates.)
- 8:20 AM, 30 December 2010   [link]

$196 Million For One Streetcar?  That's what this article says.
Tucson secured a $63 million federal grant for its modern streetcar Tuesday, making it much less likely the new Congress could take away the project's funding.

The city had been scrambling to secure the grant money before the new Congress is seated in early January, because several reports have indicated the Republican U.S. House is poised to take away any stimulus funds that are not obligated.  That includes TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) grants like the one Tucson received for its streetcar.
. . .
The 3.9-mile modern-streetcar route to connect the west side through downtown to the University of Arizona is expected to cost about $196 million.
The reporter does say the streetcar, which implies that there will be just one.  For that price, shouldn't they at least get two, so they have a spare?

(For the record, I rather like riding on streetcars (and trains).  But I can't see why other people should subsidize my rides — or why the rest of us should subsidize this Tucson boondoggle.)
- 2:43 PM, 29 December 2010   [link]

Obama's Economic Policies Fizzled:  But you will never get David Leonhardt to admit that.  He does say — and provides a useful set of graphs for those who want to look at the data — that this year the economy fizzled.  But, having admitted that, Leonhardt immediately makes excuses.
When 2010 began, hiring and consumer spending were finally picking up.  But then something changed in the spring — a combination of the debt troubles in Europe, the fading of stimulus spending and the usual caution by businesses and consumers after a financial crisis.  By the summer, the unemployment rate was rising again, and Americans' attitudes about the future were again souring.
Is it likely that businesses and consumers are more cautious because of worries about the Obama-Pelosi-Reid economic policies?  Has there been evidence for that in Leonhardt's own newspaper, the New York Times?  Will Leonhardt ever even consider the possibility that the OPR policies have been, net, bad for the economy?

Yes, yes, and, judging by past experience, no.
- 1:38 PM, 29 December 2010   [link]

What Do Europeans Think About The Death Penalty?  Pretty much the same thing Americans think.  Most Europeans, like most Americans, support the death penalty for murder — in some cases.

This post reminded me of Josh Marshall's fine summary of public opinion on the issue.
If only it were that simple.  It's true that all of America's G-7 partners, save Japan, have abolished capital punishment, but the reason isn't, as death-penalty opponents usually assume, that their populations eschew vengeance.  In fact, opinion polls show that Europeans and Canadians crave executions almost as much as their American counterparts do.  It's just that their politicians don't listen to them.  In other words, if these countries' political cultures are morally superior to America's, it's because they're less democratic.
Marshall opposes the death penalty but was honest enough to do this summary anyway.  (Because I believe that the death penalty deters murders, I don't think that opposing it is "morally superior"; instead I think that opposing it is analytically inferior.)
- 8:25 AM, 29 December 2010   [link]

Barack Obama Doesn't Know Much About American History:  So says Fouad Ajami.

Two samples:
We shouldn't be surprised.  What most engaged Mr. Obama before his rise to the highest office in the land was his own biography.  He had stood aloof from the weight and the lessons of American history; where so many of his predecessors had sought comfort and guidance in the ordeal of presidents past, there was no great deference in him to the burdens those 43 men carried.  He didn't look like those other presidents on the dollar bills, he said early on in his political odyssey.
. . .
A president steeped in history would have never pushed ObamaCare on so thin a reed of public approval.  In the great movement of American history, Americans haven't worshipped at the altar of charismatic leadership.  They have been the most skeptical of peoples.  They may have trusted several of their presidents through wars and economic downturns, but they have insisted on the wisdom of the public and on the ability of this republic of laws and institutions—and precedent—to see its way out of great dangers.
You may recall that I made a similar argument in 2008.  The link to Sam Cooke's "Wonderful World" no longer works, but you can find the song, at least for now, here.
- 7:03 AM, 29 December 2010   [link]

Selective Leaks:  WikiLeaks is hiding most of its stolen cables — except from its media partners
251,287.  That's the number of confidential U.S. diplomatic cables that WikiLeaks claims to have obtained.  1,897.  That's the number of confidential U.S. diplomatic cables that, according to WikiLeaks's own count, have thus far been published on its website: not even 1 percent of the reported total.  At the current rate of publication, the much vaunted "over 250,000" documents should be online and available to the public in their entirety by sometime in 2021—supposing the WikiLeaks website still exists at that time.

But whereas WikiLeaks has withheld the documents from the public, five handpicked media organizations have enjoyed exclusive access to the complete stash.  A more glaring violation of WikiLeaks's supposed commitment to "radical transparency" could hardly be imagined.  Moreover, the selection of the five newspapers enjoying privileged access has clearly not been arbitrary.
You could make an argument for the slow WikiLeaks process; they need time to redact material that might endanger individuals.  You could even make an argument that it was appropriate to release all the cables to responsible news organizations.

But you can not make an argument that it was appropriate to release the cables only to news organizations with a certain kind of left wing, anti-American slant.  And that, John Rosenthal argues, is just what has happened.

With the expected results.  Already, there have been biased stories based on the cables, as Rosenthal goes on to show.  And we should expect many more.

We news consumers will simply have to treat all stories based on those cables as suspect, and look in other sources, especially sources with different political views, for confirmation, before believing those stories.
- 3:37 PM, 28 December 2010   [link]

Some People Are Still Opposed To Racial Integration:  For example, law professor Henry McGee.
Traditionally the most marginalized of the nation's marginalized, more and more African Americans are being priced out of urban cores and into the inner suburbs.  A surge of young, wealthy, well-educated and mostly white newcomers are buying up and remaking Seattle's Central Area.   Once-shunned inner-city areas have become populated by the children of former white-flight veterans, who, unlike their parents, want the proximity, the convenience and the hipness of living close to downtowns where they work and play.  Interestingly, this process commenced a decade after the civil-rights movement wound down.

In Seattle, what had been the largest black-majority community in the Pacific Northwest — in the Central Area — has become more white than African American.
And that, Professor McGee believes, is a bad thing.  (Unlike Professor McGee, I am more concerned with the contents of my neighbors' characters than the colors of their skins.)

(Incidentally, the main reason many African Americans are being "priced out" of some central cities is the excessive regulation in those cities, and their surrounding areas.  Most often, though by no means always, that excessive regulation comes from elected Democrats.

Those who are unfamiliar with Seattle may need to know that Seattle had an African-American mayor from 1989 through 1997.)
- 12:48 PM, 28 December 2010   [link]

If You Want To Decrease Economic Inequality, Limit Immigration:   That's what Mickey Kaus has been saying for a long time.  (He's right.)
If you're worried about incomes at the bottom, though, one solution leaps out at you.  It's a solution that worked, at least in the late 1990s under Bill Clinton, when wages at the low end of the income ladder rose fairly dramatically.  The solution is tight labor markets.  Get employers bidding for scarce workers and you'll see incomes rise across the board without the need for government aid programs or tax redistribution.  A major enemy of tight labor markets at the bottom is also fairly clear: unchecked immigration by undocumented low-skilled workers.  It's hard for a day laborer to command $18 an hour in the market if there are illegals hanging out on the corner willing to work for $7.  Even experts who claim illegal immigration is good for Americans overall admit that it's not good for Americans at the bottom.  In other words, it's not good for income equality.
Kaus wonders why Obama doesn't see this.  (I think the explanation is obvious; Obama is not able, or perhaps not willing, to do even the simple kind of analysis that Kaus does.  Obama is not a policy wonk, though he can fake their language, at times.  You can see that, for instance, in the Obama administration's fantasies on renewable power; they continue to argue that they can create "green" jobs at no net cost, in spite of the economic realities, and in spite of evidence from failed experiments in, for instance, Spain.)

But Kaus misses what I think is a more significant point:  The Obama administration has, again and again, chosen to increase political inequality.  That shouldn't surprise us; Obama learned politics from left wing radicals and from the Chicago machine; both believe that more power for them — and less power for the rest of us — is a good thing.

As far as I can tell, Kaus mostly favors Obama's efforts to increase political inequality, why I'm not sure.

(For the record:  When Kaus discusses income inequality, he always limits himself to citizens of a single country.  But if you take a broader view, if, for example, you consider Mexico and the United States together, then you realize that massive illegal immigration has reduced economic inequality.  Some Americans are earning less, but many Mexicans are earning far more than they could in their own country.)
- 9:25 AM, 28 December 2010
If you are wondering why I describe Obama's renewable energy policies as fantasies, read this Samuelson column.  Samuelson and I differ on one point; he believes that Obama understands the basic energy facts but is deceiving the public, while I think that Obama does not understand the basic energy facts.  Put crudely, Samuelson thinks that Obama is more a liar than a ignoramus, while I think Obama is more an ignoramus than a liar.
- 10:46 AM, 28 December 2010   [link]

Plutarch On Hugh Hefner's Latest Engagement:  You may be surprised to learn that the Greco-Roman writer had something to say about Hefner's engagement to Crystal Harris.  But he did.

When Plutarch is discussing Solon's marriage laws, he throws in this long aside on Hefner:
In all other marriages he prohibited dowries; the bride was to bring with her three changes of raiment, household stuff of small value, and nothing else.  For he did not wish that marriage should be a matter of profit or price, but that man and wife should dwell together for the delights of love and the getting of children.  Dionysius, indeed, when his mother asked him to give her in marriage to one of his citizens, said that, although he had broken the laws of the city by being its tyrant, he could not outrage the laws of nature by giving in marriage where age forbade.  And so our cities should not allow this irregularity, nor tolerate unions which age forbids and love does not invite, which do not fulfil the function of marriage, and defeat its object.  Nay, for an old man who is marrying a young wife, any worthy magistrate or lawgiver might say what is said to Philoctetes:
"Indeed, poor wretch, thou art in fine state for marrying!"
And if he discovers a young man in the house of a rich and elderly woman, waxing fat, like a cock-partridge, in her service, he will remove him and give him to some marriageable maid that wants a husband.   Thus much, then, on this head.
That seems clear enough.

(For years, I have thought that Hefner was more accurately described as a polygamist than a playboy.   Although his stable of "wives" varies, they all have lived with him, and been supported by him.)
- 7:35 AM, 28 December 2010   [link]

It Depends On How Deep The Hole Is:  James Taranto, perhaps because he was driven to distraction by Thomas Friedman's latest column — and what Friedman reader isn't from time to time — misunderstands the hole rule.

Friedman states the rule correctly:
Everyone knows the first rule of holes: When you're in one, stop digging
(And then gets confused.)

Taranto thinks the rule is wrong:
So how do you get out of a hole?  Contrary to the first rule, you dig your way out.  Say you're in a 10-foot-deep hole whose sides are too sheer to climb.  Grab shovel and start loosening dirt above your head.  The dirt will fall onto the floor of the hole, reducing its depth.  At the same time, if you dig diagonally, the side on which you're digging will become less steep as the hole becomes both shallower and wider, which its volume remains more or less constant.  In no time at all you'll be able to walk out of the hole.
But what if the hole is only two or three feet deep?  Then, the sensible thing is to stop digging and just step out.

And that, in my opinion, is how you should understand the rule; you stop digging and get out of the hole before it is too deep.
- 3:24 PM, 27 December 2010   [link]

Judge Jeffrey White Is Trying To Destroy The US Sugar Beet Industry:   Here's the story.
Court decisions that have suspended the planting of genetically modified sugar beets could result in a sharp decline in American sugar production in the next two years, leading to possible price increases for consumers and food processors, according to experts and farmers.

Unless regulators can devise new rules acceptable to the federal court, the rulings could force farmers to abandon the genetically engineered beets they have come to rely on. Currently, those beets make up nearly all of the United States crop.
. . .
In the most recent court ruling, on Tuesday, a federal judge in San Francisco ordered that 256 acres of baby beet plants intended to make seeds for future sugar beet crops be pulled from the ground.

In unusually harsh language, Judge Jeffrey S. White of the United States District for Northern California said that the Agriculture Department and the seed industry appeared to have been trying to get around an earlier order from him barring the planting of genetically modified beets.
(Emphasis added.)

As you would expect, White's decision is being appealed.  Not being a lawyer, much less an expert in environmental law, I won't venture an opinion on the eventual outcome of these cases.

But I can say this:  I know of no evidence, no evidence at all, that these sugar beets have caused any problems in the years that they have been in our fields.  Even this anti-science group doesn't say that the beets have caused problems — just that they might.

And there is no doubt at all that this ban, if it stays in effect, would cause significant losses for farmers, workers in sugar beet plants, and consumers.

Again, we see regulations producing uncertainty and destroying jobs.  And the worst regulations are often those, as in this example, that end up in court.  The courts seldom have the economic and scientific knowledge to act sensibly, even if the law allows, and they often impose destructive delays.

(More here, including a claim that Judge White's decision has already resulted in an increase in sugar prices.)
- 2:50 PM, 27 December 2010   [link]

Danny Westneat Should Do A Corrections Column For His Corrections Column:  On Christmas, the Seattle Times columnist ran a corrections column, describing some of the mistakes he had made during the year.  I thought that he skipped the worst of his journalistic errors in the column, but was mildly pleased to see that he was making the effort.  (Even though he did so on Christmas, when the column would be expected to get little attention.)

Until, that is, I read these paragraphs:

Another sentence that shanked out of my computer was this one from a few weeks ago:  "Amazingly for a guy who gets called a socialist, Obama is looking more and more like the third term of George W. Bush."

That's arguably true on tax and economic policy, where Obama is following in Bush's footsteps.   But my joining the two was shown to be colossally off-base not long after I wrote it.  Would Bush have pivoted to repeal gay discrimination in the military? Push through a nuclear-arms treaty?  Hardly.

(Emphasis added.  Incidentally, Bush could not have, on his own, repealed the "Don't ask, don't tell" policy.)

That didn't sound quite right to me, so I spent hours digging up the facts.  (All right, actually I spent less than a minute using Bing, with this search string: "George W. Bush" + nuclear agreement + Russia.)

That search brought me to this Arms Control Association fact sheet.

On May 24, 2002, Presidents George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin signed the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT or Moscow Treaty) under which the United States and Russia are reducing their strategic arsenals to 1,700-2,200 warheads each.  The warhead limit takes effect and expires on the same day, December 31, 2012.  Although the two sides have not agreed on specific counting rules, the Bush administration had asserted that the United States would reduce only warheads deployed on strategic delivery vehicles in active service, i.e., "operationally deployed" warheads, and will not count warheads removed from service and placed in storage or warheads on delivery vehicles undergoing overhaul or repair.  The agreement's limits are similar to those envisioned for START III, but the treaty does not require the destruction of delivery vehicles, as START I and II did, or the destruction of warheads, as had been envisioned for START III.  The treaty was approved by the Senate and Duma and entered into force on June 1, 2003.  SORT will terminate when New START enters into force.

I haven't checked, but I would bet that Westneat's newspaper carried a story on the SORT agreement, though they may not have given Bush any credit for it.

There are other mistakes in Westneat's comparison of the two presidents, but I will leave those as an exercise for the columnist.

As a public service, I will end by giving him two bits of advice:  First, consider thanking those who spot your errors.  Second, before you write about Bush or Obama, try to set aside your partisan prejudices.  You'll make fewer mistakes if you do.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(Westneat's biggest error, in my opinion, is his persistent refusal to tell us who failed the public — if the people who failed are leftist Democratic officials.   For example.)
- 9:47 AM, 27 December 2010   [link]

Two Columnists In One:  New York Times columnist Frank Rich used to think that the 1950s were horrible; now he thinks they were wonderful.   Byron York — who is a serious journalist, unlike Frank Rich — calls attention to Rich's double standards.

(For the record:  American families are far better off, economically, than they were in the 1950s.  For example, the Disneyland trip that Rich celebrates is within reach of most families, not every year, perhaps, but at least once, for all but the poorest of families.

But it is also true that social changes — almost all of which Rich would applaud — have made it much harder for children to grow up.  The most important change for the worse, by far, is that children, especially minority children, are now much less likely to grow up in intact families, with both a father and a mother.)
- 8:42 AM, 27 December 2010   [link]

The Menendez Effect?  By now, almost everyone knows about the Gore effect, the uncanny way cold weather follows Al Gore around.  But, as far as I know, the former vice president wasn't anywhere near the East Coast this weekend.  So what explains that massive storm, and all that cold weather?

Here's a possibility:  The storm is centered, on the maps I've seen, in New Jersey.  And, just before Christmas, expert climatologist Robert Menendez sent a letter to an inhabitant of the Arctic.  Here are the salutation and the first paragraph:
Dear Santa Claus,

I am writing out of concern, because you may have to move from the North Pole due to the dramatic melting of Arctic sea ice.  The Navy's chief oceanographer says that by the summer of 2020 the North Pole may not have summer ice and other scientists project that an ice-free Arctic is possible as soon as 2012!
Now that's just asking for a big storm to hit New Jersey.  (Climatologist Menendez moonlights as senator from the Garden State.)  Most people in New Jersey are probably wishing, right now, that Menendez had not written that letter.

(Yes, I know, the Gore effect is just a coincidence.  But it's still pretty funny.)
- 7:55 AM, 27 December 2010   [link]

A Nobel Peace Prize Winner Who Deserves It:  In the last few years, I had more or less resigned myself to seeing the Norwegian committee choosing someone who either had done nothing to deserve it (a certain US president comes to mind), or had been rewarded for bad behavior (a certain former US vice president comes to mind).  I had even taken to calling the prizes reprimands, and suggested that most recent recipients should pay fines, rather than receiving money.

So I was pleased when the committee chose a Chinese dissident, and then delighted when I learned just how deserving Liu Xiaobo is:
Imprisoning Liu was entirely unnecessary.  If Liu's politics were well-known, most people would not favour him for a prize, because he is a champion of war, not peace.  He has endorsed the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, and he applauded the Vietnam and Korean wars retrospectively in a 2001 essay.  All these conflicts have entailed massive violations of human rights.  Yet in his article Lessons from the Cold War, Liu argues that "The free world led by the US fought almost all regimes that trampled on human rights . . .  The major wars that the US became involved in are all ethically defensible."  During the 2004 US presidential election, Liu warmly praised George Bush for his war effort against Iraq and condemned Democratic party candidate John Kerry for not sufficiently supporting the US's wars:
[T]he outstanding achievement made by Bush in anti-terrorism absolutely cannot be erased by Kerry's slandering . . .  However much risk must be endured in striking down Saddam Hussein, know that no action would lead to a greater risk.  This has been proven by the second world war and September 11!  No matter what, the war against Saddam Hussein is just!  The decision by President Bush is right!
Liu has also one-sidedly praised Israel's stance in the Middle East conflict.  He places the blame for the Israel/Palestine conflict on Palestinians, who he regards as "often the provocateurs".
It is delightful to learn that this latest winner favors freedom from tyrants for everyone, and that he is politically incorrect enough to say the obvious about Israel and Palestine.

By way of Tim Blair, who is as delighted to learn about Liu's views as I am.

(I don't think Liu's support for George W. Bush got much coverage here in the United States; I certainly haven't seen any.

You can learn more about Liu's views and experiences from this 2009 statement.)
- 7:45 PM, 26 December 2010   [link]

Twelve Strange Christmas Traditions:  Almost all of them pagan survivals, as far as I can tell.

Warning:  The second, Catalonian "caganers", is exceptionally crude — which is probably why journalists delight in showing it to us, year after year.
- 4:33 PM, 26 December 2010   [link]

Hallelujah Chorus:  Performed, if that's the right word, by the people of Quinhagak, Alaska.   (I loved it.)
- 6:59 PM, 25 December 2010   [link]