February 2008, Part 2

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

How Good Is The Temperature Data?  How good, to be more specific, are the temperature measurements from the ground stations in the United States?  One would think, in a time when global warming is discussed so fervently, that we would know the answer to that question.  But we don't.

We don't because, as a band of amateurs has shown, many of the stations are badly sited, are in places where they would not get good measurements.  For example, this one, which was moved from a good location to a bad location — and produced a sharp temperature spike.

Is that station in Lampasas, Texas, typical?  We don't know, because the amateurs have not finished their survey.  But, so far, their results are disturbing.  They have surveyed 482 of 1221 stations so far, rating each location on a standard 1-5 scale, where 1 is the best and 5 the worst.  Fourteen percent of the 482 were rated 5 and fifty-six percent were rated 4.

It is possible, perhaps even likely, that those percentages will decline as they rate more stations, since the amateurs may have been more likely to rate stations if they looked bad.  Even so, we already know that at least 23 percent of the stations are badly sited and are, probably, producing bad temperature measurements.  There are ways that climate researchers can identify those stations and correct for their distortions, but it is hard for outsiders to know how successful the climate researchers have been in cleaning up their data.

Shouldn't the climate scientists be doing this?  Aren't they, in fact, being paid to do this (and other things)?  Yes, to both questions.  That they are not, that they have not even assigned graduate students to do this check, bothers me, and should bother anyone who wants to know the actual state of our current climate.

(Incidentally, if you want to help in this effort, you can.  Here's a link to the directions.  You'll need a digital camera, but not much beyond that.  Some states, California, Florida, and Louisiana, are finished or almost finished, but others still have big gaps.)
- 12:58 PM, 16 February 2008   [link]

The Gang Of Four Get Obamania:  Today, there were two substitutes in KUOW's Gang of Four.  KUOW's Marcie Sillman was filling in for host Steve Scher, who is ill, and Naomi Ishisaka of Colors Northwest was filling in for Danny Westneat of the Seattle Times.  The result, partly thanks to Sillman, was one of the most entertaining Weekday programs I have ever heard, entertaining because the bias was so complete as to be amusing.  It was as if the gang had decided to do a self parody.

Consider, for example, the news story that Sillman chose to begin the program.  Showing a sure instinct for the capillary, Sillman began with the kerfuffle over the Republican caucus.  (As you may know, Mike Huckabee became angry with the state Republican party after the chairman projected, correctly, that John McCain would win the count of preferences in the caucuses.  Those who want to know more can find a full explanation here.)  Knute Berger was delighted by this opening and declared that this trivial controversy destroyed the moral advantage Republicans had gained in the botched 2004 governor's election.  (Luckily, I had already finished my coffee, so I did not spill anything on my computer keyboard as I heard that.)   Amazingly, none of the other three laughed, none of them even chuckled, after Berger said that.   They seemed to think Berger had said something serious.  Really.

Most of the program was taken up with Obamania.  All four thought that the junior senator was really wonderful, as did almost all of the callers to the program during this time period.   Why do all these folks think that Obama is wonderful?  It isn't because all of them share his taste for arugula.  (Or his ignorance about farm problems.)   Nor is it because of anything he has achieved.  No one mentioned any Obama achievements.  Nor is it because he has an intelligent set of plans for the future of our country.  No one mentioned any of his plans, either.  It was not even because he made a beautiful speech.

So what did cause all this Obamania?  They had trouble putting it in words, but both the gang and the callers appear to have Obamania because they went to meetings where other people had Obamania.   And there were a lot of them!  And the people were diverse!  I know that sounds like I am joking, but that really is pretty much what they said.  And I did warn you that the program sounded like a self parody.

The gang also discussed whether or not the party "bubble" had to be checked for a ballot to be counted in the primary, subtracting from the sum of human knowledge as they did so.  Subtracting because they gave time to both yes and no answers to that question, which must have confused some who knew the answer before.  (None of the four thought to do the obvious thing, which would be to call Secretary of State Sam Reed for an official answer.)

At about 10:37, Sillman, realizing that the program had been a trifle one-sided, suggested that supporters of other candidates might want to call, too, just for a little balance.  One supporter of Hillary Clinton did call — but she thought Obama was pretty wonderful, too.

Mixed in with the Obamania was a confused discussion of caucuses versus primaries.  None of the four made the point that I did in this post, a point which is essential to understanding how the two different systems affect the results.  (Berger probably understands that point; I'm not sure about the other three.)

The last quarter or so of the program was taken up with a discussion of the sad killings at Northern Illinois.  The four agreed that guns are bad, though none of the four seems to know much about guns.  They disagreed over whether psychotropic drugs might have led to the murders.  (A caller and Berger each took the opportunity to plug web sites attacking these drugs.  I won't link to the sites because I don't know what the facts are.  And, unlike the four, I understand that this is a difficult statistical question.)

All of this was, as I said, wonderfully entertaining.  But less so when I realized that this absurd show was being paid for, in part, by our tax dollars, and that the four are all supposed to be serious journalists.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(I did not notice any factual errors in today's program, perhaps because the program was almost fact free.  The grade today was a rare, but not unprecedented, 0.0.  None of the four made a moderate, conservative, independent, or Republican point.  And neither did any caller or emailer.  The show's commitment to diversity is, as you may have noticed, somewhat limited, and does not include party or ideology.  (Or even competence, I am inclined to add, after listening to today's show.)

I listened to the ten minutes before the program started just to see if the host would commit journalism with atmospheric scientist Cliff Mass.  Sillman had an obvious question to ask him: A few years ago, when we got much less snow, many were saying that was evidence of anthropogenic global warming.  Is this year's heavy snow pack evidence of the opposite?  (For the record, I don't think that either, by itself, is evidence of much of anything.)  But she missed her chance, though he did say some interesting things about the area's February weather patterns.

And I did learn one interesting fact.  Knute Berger's wife is a "mental health professional".   I won't make any of the obvious jokes, and you shouldn't either.  But you can chuckle to yourself, especially if you are familiar with his work.
- 1:41 PM, 15 February 2008   [link]

So, That's what happened to the monster.
Legendary Nessie hunter Robert Rines is giving up his search for the monster after 37 years.

The 85-year-old American will make one last trip in a bid to find the elusive beast.
. . .
Despite having hundreds of sonar contacts over the years, the trail has since gone cold and Rines believes that Nessie may be dead, a victim of global warming.
Easier to believe that, than that you had wasted half your life, I suppose.
- 8:40 AM, 15 February 2008   [link]

That Strange Man, Barack Obama:  Just this last week, I learned several surprising things about the man now favored to win the Democratic nomination, things I had not seen before in press accounts in the "mainstream" media.  Over the last year, I have become convinced that most American reporters are simply too sensitive to his race (and, sometimes, too partisan) to depict him accurately, warts and all.  And so I have decided to do a series of posts, starting with this one, telling you what I can find out about him.

I should start by explaining why I think he is a strange man.  I have a number of reasons for that opinion, and will give you more in this series.  For now, here is one reason where the facts should be familiar to most.  Obama had a (black) Kenyan father and a (white) American mother.   He was abandoned by his father early in his life and raised by his mother, by a step-father, and (mostly) by his white grandparents.  Nevertheless, he appears to identify almost entirely with his father and his relatives on his father's side.  That's as strange as a dog running away from the people who fed it for years, toward the people who kicked it.  Not unprecedented, but strange.

How did he get to be so strange?  I don't know for certain, but I have some ideas, and expect to find more as I go along.

Let me start this series with one small item.  Barack's father was Barack Hussein Obama, Sr. and his mother was Ann Dunham.  They were married in Hawaii, and Barack Obama was born soon afterwards in 1961.  (Or, according to some accounts, they were "married".)  But the marriage could not have been legal because Barack Hussein Obama, Sr. was already married to a Kenyan woman.

That means that Barack Hussein Obama, Jr. is illegitimate, or, in the vernacular, a b------.  And of course he knows that, and must have known that from at least his youth.  Or from at least his first visit to Kenya.

Of course this illegitimacy is not something that Obama can be blamed for, but it does show a little about just how irresponsible his father was.  (And there is much more evidence for that conclusion.)  Few of us would be surprised to learn that his illegitimacy had affected the way Obama thinks about the world.
- 3:02 PM, 14 February 2008   [link]

Illegal Campaign Contributions From Foreigners?  There are certainly some, thanks to a loophole.
A torrent of secret money is flooding into the leading presidential campaigns, with more than $118 million, or one-quarter of the total raised in this cycle, banked without disclosure of who gave the funds or where the donations originated.

The money is coming from hundreds of thousands of donations of $200 or less, which have been widely praised for democratizing the system for funding White House bids.  However, the surge in low-dollar gifts has come at the cost of transparency, since federal law only requires campaigns to itemize donations when a donor gives more than $200.
Some of that money comes in online contributions, from overseas.  Much of it may be legitimate, since many Americans live overseas, but some of it certainly is not.  And, as far as I can tell, there is no legal risk to any foreigner making such a contribution, as long as they do not intend to visit the United States, and probably not even then.

Two of the candidates almost appear to be encouraging illegal foreign contributions.
Mr. Obama's Web site allows donors to choose an address in one of 227 possible countries or territories, including Iran, Iraq, Zimbabwe, and Yemen.  Mr. Paul's site is even more embracing, permitting addresses in Syria and the "Occupied Palestinian Territories."
It is not hard to see how foreigners, or even foreign governments, could take advantage of that loophole, or how a foreigner could "unbundle" a big contribution to keep each payment under $200.  I don't know whether many illegal foreign contributions are coming through this loophole, but I do think that we should change the law, so that we can know.

(One could also use "unbundling" to disguise donations from a wealthy American.  It would be more risky, but not impossible. And, yes, that last address listed for Ron Paul does tell us something about him and his campaign.)

- 1:21 PM, 14 February 2008   [link]

Seattle Rules, Seattle Costs:  University of Washington professor Theo Eicher did the research that verifies what many of us already knew.  Seattle housing rules impose enormous costs.

An intriguing new analysis by a University of Washington economics professor argues that home prices have, perhaps inadvertently, been driven up $200,000 by good intentions.

Between 1989 and 2006, the median inflation-adjusted price of a Seattle house rose from $221,000 to $447,800.  Fully $200,000 of that increase was the result of land-use regulations, says Theo Eicher — twice the financial impact that regulation has had on other major U.S. cities.

"In a nationwide study, it can be shown that Seattle is one of the most regulated cities and a city whose housing prices are profoundly influenced by regulations," he says.

How bad is it in Seattle?  Very bad.

Compared with 250 major U.S. cities, he [Eicher] says, Seattle:

  • Is first in terms of the impact of state political involvement in land issues.
  • Is in the top 3 percent for approval delays for new construction.
  • Is in the top 10 percent in local political pressure influencing land use.

Almost every elected official in Seattle has, for years, been in favor of affordable housing.   In principle.  In practice they have been working, almost unanimously, to bring about unaffordable housing.

Any particular politicans we should blame?  Let's start with one who has confessed

[Senator] Maria [Cantwell] rapidly established a reputation as someone who could bring people together and make things happen.  She's remembered by many as a leading architect of the Washington's Growth Management Act, which she shepherded through a marathon 65-day session.

Which is important because, as the article says, "A key regulation is the state's Growth Management Act".  If you know anyone who is having trouble buying a house in this area, tell them to send a letter of thanks to Senator Cantwell.

One last point, which for some reason did not occur to the reporter who wrote this article, Elizabeth Rhodes.  Some of the elected officials who passed these regulations benefitted from them personally, even while poor and middle-class families were priced out of the housing market.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 9:40 AM, 14 February 2008   [link]

Happy Valentine's Day:  With the usual exceptions.

(You can find what little is known about the Saint Valentines here.  For more on the day, and the way it is celebrated around the world, see this article.  For example, there is this Japanese custom.
Thanks to a concentrated marketing effort, Valentine's Day has emerged in China, Japan and Korea as a day on which women, and less commonly men, give chocolate or flowers.  It has become an obligation for many women to give chocolates to all male co-workers.
. . .
By a further marketing effort, a reciprocal day called White Day has emerged.  On March 14, men are expected to return the favour to those who gave them chocolates on Valentine's Day.  Originally, the return gift was supposed to be white chocolate or marshmallows; hence "White Day".  However, lingerie and jewelry have become common gifts.
The amount of chocolate exchanged on these days must be stupendous.)
- 7:19 AM, 14 February 2008
More:  And Happy Valentine's Day to this odd couple.

Valentine's Day, 2008

Or, maybe this picture just shows a very Kirkland sense of humor.
- 5:08 PM, 14 February 2008   [link]

That Insight Madrassa Story Pops Up Again:  Today, the Seattle PI published Joel Connelly's column listing errors by other pundits in the region.  Amusingly, Connelly makes a mistake of his own in the column.  Here are the key paragraphs:

The conservative online magazine Insight "reported" last year that, as a boy, Obama "spent at least four years in a so-called madrassa, or Muslim seminary, in Indonesia."  The publication did not reveal its sources.

The "report" set off the echo chamber of right-wing talk radio and Fox News punditry.  After repeated mentions on Fox, a CNN correspondent did his legwork and visited the school ... and found it to be secular with a multiethnic, multifaith student body.

And here's what I found when I read the Insight story (and a follow-up) in 2007:

If you look at the original Insight story, or their follow-up, carefully, you will see that Insight did not claim that Obama attended a Madrassa, or that he was raised as a Muslim — but that supporters of Hillary Clinton were claiming he had, or at the very least, getting ready to say that he had.

Now, how could one discredit that story?  I can think of only two ways; you would have to find the original reporter — who is anonymous — or his sources — who are also anonymous — and get either the reporter or the sources to admit that the story is false.  No one has gotten those admissions so we don't know whether the story is true or not, and we can not conclude that it has been discredited.

My guess?  It is only a guess, but I think it likely that some supporter of Hillary Clinton was spreading this story.  It would not, after all, be the first time the Clintons had used smears against a political opponent.

Why even bother to mention this?  Three reasons.  First, it is amusing to see an error in a column about other pundits' errors.  Second, Joel Connelly is terrible about correcting his own errors, so the rest of us have to help him from time to time.  Neither of those two reasons is very important.  But the third is, and is why I wrote the original post.  Many journalists, including several who work for the New York Times, could not read the plain language of the Insight article accurately.  I have considerable sympathy for journalists who struggle to cover complex issues, especially when those journalists do not have the substantive background that they need.  But I do think that all journalists should be able to read simple prose — accurately.   Sometimes, it turns out, that is too much to expect.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(Incidentally, I would not be surprised to learn that Fox did get it wrong, but I also would not be surprised to learn that Connelly is incorrectly reporting what Fox said.)
- 4:56 PM, 13 February 2008   [link]

Caucuses Versus Primaries:  James Taranto notices one great pattern in the nominating contests.
But here's an interesting pattern: Whereas Obama and Mrs. Clinton are almost even in the number of primaries they've won (she has an advantage in the larger states), Obama has won virtually every caucus or other nonprimary nominating contest.
. . .
It turns out that on the Republican side there is a primary/caucus gap too.  John McCain has won 12 primaries: Arizona, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, South Carolina.

Mitt Romney won only 3 primaries, all in states where he had some personal connection: Michigan, where his father was governor; Massachusetts, where Romney himself was; and heavily Mormon Utah, where he ran the Olympics.  And Mike Huckabee has won 5, all in the South: Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana and Tennessee.

But Romney had considerable success in caucus or convention states, winning 8 of them: Alaska, Colorado, Maine, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota and Wyoming.  Huckabee has won 3: Iowa, Kansas and West Virginia.  As for front-runner McCain, he has won only one caucus, in Washington state, and Huckabee is disputing the outcome there.
(This was written before the Potomac primaries.)

Taranto says this shows that you need "deep" support to win caucuses, but that you need "broad" support to win primaries.  That isn't wrong, but most political scientists would put it differently.   What they commonly say is that extremists* are more important in caucuses, and moderates are more important in primaries.

Washington state provides some well-known examples of this pattern.  Until recently, the state has tended to elect moderate Democrats and Republicans to the highest offices.  But at the same time, more extreme candidates have often done very well in our caucuses.  (For example, in 1988, Pat Robertson won the Republican presidential primary, and Jesse Jackson came in second in the Democratic primary.)   Politicians here understand this pattern very well.  Moderate Republican Sam Reed, our secretary of state, favors primaries.  Extremist Democrat Dwight Pelz, the state's Democratic chairman, favors caucuses.  You can find similar patterns, and similar line-ups, in other states.

What all this means is that the people who have been winning the caucuses for Obama are, almost certainly, more extreme than the people who have been voting in the primaries.  In other words, those Obama wins in the caucuses come, almost certainly, because he has disproportionate support from far left activists.  He would be far behind in the delegate count without their support — and he almost certainly knows that.

In contrast, John McCain owes little to similar extremists in the Republican party — and he almost certainly knows that.  (As do many of those extremists, which is one reason many are so disturbed by his rise in the party.

Would this difference in support affect how either man governed, assuming they were elected president?   Sure, in all kinds of ways.  But perhaps especially in the appointments each would make.

(*I should explain that I am using "extremists" and "moderates" as a descriptive words, not as pejorative words, or as approving words.  An "extremist" is a person whose views are markedly different from the average; a moderate is a person whose views are close to the average.  On some issues, I agree with extremists, on others, I agree with moderates.)
- 10:50 AM, 13 February 2008   [link]

The Potomac Primaries:  Were won, as you all know, by Barack Obama and John McCain.  There was no surprise in the results, just confirmation of old patterns.  For instance, when I saw the pattern of votes in Virginia after less than half the votes had been counted, I was about to call the state for John McCain.  It was easy to see that his strength was in the more urban counties, and that many of those had yet to report.  It was a pattern, in other words, just like that in Missouri.

The elections also confirmed something that has been apparent for some time; Huckabee has strong support from white Evangelicals — but little support from anyone else.  That helps explain why McCain did so well in Maryland.   Unfortunately, McCain's support there shows more Huckabee weakness than McCain strength.  That limit on Huckabee's support also helps explain why he rose from almost nothing to about 18 percent — and then stayed there for two months.  Huckabee is having trouble accepting this fact — and I can understand that, given his ambitions — but he should accept it, anyway.  He has not reached the point where continuing will only make him look silly, but he is getting close to that point.
- 9:09 AM, 13 February 2008   [link]

Mark Helprin Has Some Advice For Rush Limbaugh And Company:  Here's the problem:
What a kerfuffle!  Half a dozen talk-radio hosts whose major talent is that, like hairdressers, they can talk all day long to one client after another as they snip, have decided that the presumptive Republican nominee does not hew sufficiently close to their gospel.

As anyone who has listened to them knows, the depth of their thought is truly Oprah-like.  And if a great institution of the left can weigh-in as it does in the choice of a nominee, why not its fraternal twins on the right?  It doesn't matter that Mitt Romney, suddenly their Reagan, became a conservative in a flash of light sometime last year, or that their other champion, a populist theocrat, is in many ways as conservative as Vladimir Lenin.  The task is to stop the devil McCain.
And here's Helprin's solution:
So, rather than playing recklessly with electoral politics by sabotaging their own party ostensibly for its impurity but equally for the sake of their self-indulgent pique, each of these compulsive talkers might be a tad less self-righteous, look to the long run, discipline himself, suck it up, and be a man.   And that would apply equally as well to the gorgeous Laura Ingraham and the relentlessly crocodilian Ann Coulter.
Will they?  In particular, will Limbaugh, by far the most important of this group?  It's an interesting question.  Much of Limbaugh's considerable charm comes from his perpetual adolescence.   (I get the impression that the same may be true of Oprah, that she appeals to women who really don't want to grow up.)  Given his age (57), it is unlikely that Limbaugh will ever grow up.  But he may decide to play an adult for this election.

(For the record, I don't think that Romney became conservative in a "flash of light" or that Huckabee is a populist theocrat.  But I suppose that novelist Helprin just can't resist those lines.

Some exceptions: National talk show host Michael Medved has been backing McCain, and national talk show host Hugh Hewitt has accepted his likely nomination, though he was backing Romney during the primaries.  Three local talk show hosts, Kirby Wilbur, John Carlson, and David Boze, are being adults.)
- 5:45 AM, 13 February 2008   [link]

The NYT Prints A letter Criticizing Frank Rich:  It's not easy to pick just one, but if I had to pick the worst columnist at the New York Times, I would probably pick Rich.   He has all the faults of the other problem children there, arrogance, a nasty partisanship, and a frequent indifference to mere facts.  But he also has another problem that must embarrass some of the people who work at the newspaper: His writing is, often, terrible.

The letters editor at the Times, Thomas Feyer, whom I like to call the Times' censor, has protected Rich for years, refusing to print letters criticizing Rich's content, or his style.  Today, Feyer finallly lets one slip through.  It is, naturally, a letter criticizing Rich for attacking a Democrat, specifically Hillary Clinton.
- 4:08 PM, 12 February 2008   [link]

Lincoln's Birthday:  His 199th, to be exact.  Last year, I wrote this post for Lincoln's birthday, sketching his career, and saying a little about some of his more famous speeches.

My favorite Lincoln speech is the Second Inaugural, which everyone ought to read, at least once a year.  Here's the last paragraph:
With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan--to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.
Good advice for us now.  Amazing advice for us then, when you remember that that Lincoln gave the speech near the end of our bitter, destructive Civil War.  But he could still say: "With malice toward none."
- 10:20 AM, 12 February 2008   [link]

More Fun Than EPA Estimates:  Think we should do more to increase gas mileage?  Then perhaps, instead of more regulations, we should revive the Mobil Economy Run.
There was a time when automakers advertised real mileage numbers, as determined in an event that took place every year from 1936, except during World War II, to 1968.

Sponsored by the Mobil Oil Corporation and known as the Mobil Economy Run, the coast-to-coast test captured the public's imagination, with spectators sometimes lining the test route for a glimpse of the cars.

While fuel economy was not then an overriding factor (for most people) in deciding which model to buy, results of the economy run were heavily promoted by carmakers — at least by the ones who scored well.
Most of us love a contest, especially a contest that gives us information that we can use.  The mileage results from such a contest would probably be at least as useful as the EPA estimates — if no more predictive for ordinary driving.
- 3:58 PM, 11 February 2008   [link]

Not Bad:  But he should have asked some follow-up questions.  As regular readers know, I am quite critical of most "mainstream" journalists.  (For an example, see this post.)

But I had a good experience with one local journalist, KOMO Radio's Charlie Harger.  He interviewed me about President Bush's decision to commute Scooter Libby's sentence, and I thought his questions were well-chosen and fair.  (I listened to some of what he had asked a leftist on the other side of the issue, and thought his questions to her were reasonable, too.)  All in all, he struck me a solid professional, and a journalist who was trying hard to get a difficult story right.

I was not sure which side of the issue he was on, or even if he was on one side, after listening to the two interviews.  Not knowing which side a journalist is on happens less often than I would like.

So when I heard that Harger would be interviewing Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, I made a point of listening, because I wanted to see if Harger would do as good a job with Obama, as he had with me.

Let me start by conceding that it is not a fair comparison.  I put no limits on my time, and we discussed a single, narrow subject.  Obama gave Harger less than five minutes to discuss almost anything about his presidential campaign.

Even so, the interview, which you can listen to here, was not bad.  With the exception that I noted in the first sentence.

Harger began by asking about the big Obama crowd, which I suppose was an inevitable question, and about superdelegates deciding the nomination.  But then he asked how Obama was going to pay for all his promises, which is a fundamental question that every candidate should be asked.  Obama replied that he would pay for them by ending programs that didn't work and by closing tax loopholes, which he estimated at one trillion dollars.  And this is where Harger should have asked his first follow up questions.  There are two obvious follow-up questions, which programs and which loopholes.  (One could also ask which programs he has worked to close since he became a US senator.)  I doubt that Obama would be able to tell us many programs that he wanted to close, and I am certain that his claim on loopholes is false.

But you need not rely on my word on the loopholes.  Obama made this trillion dollar loophole claim in a recent debate, and FactCheck, a nonpartisan group, looked at it.  Here's what they say

Obama used a misleading figure to show how easily he could pay for his health care plan and proposed tax cuts for the elderly and for persons making under $75,000 a year:

Obama: We've got a trillion dollars worth of corporate tax loopholes and tax havens, and I've said I will close those.

Actually, the Treasury Department estimated last July that eliminating every major corporate tax preference on the books would yield $1.2 trillion — but over a 10-year period, not in a single year.  Furthermore, some of the largest amounts came from items such as tax credits to encourage low-income housing ($55 billion), tax-free bonds for state and local governments ($135 billion), employee stock ownership plans ($23 billion) and tax-free interest on life insurance savings ($30 billion).   These popular provisions don't benefit the businesses so much as they do others.  We doubt Obama means to end low-income housing credits or force state governments to start paying higher interest rates on their borrowings.  He would be more accurate to say, "We've got about $120 billion a year worth of corporate tax loopholes, and I'll close some of those."

You can see why a follow-up question was needed.  Because if Obama had said that, almost everyone would realize that he had no plan to pay for all his promises, at least no plan that he was willing to share with us.

Next, Harger asked Obama a softer question, how we could believe that Obama would actually do what he was promising to do, unlike all the other politicians.  (Digression: Many will not believe this, but politicians are better at keeping promises than most people think.  For instance, a study of national party platforms found that winning parties kept almost four out of five of their promises.)   Obama appealed to the "trajectory" of his life.  He was vague, but he seemed to be saying that he would keep his promises because, in the past, he had not always taken the job with the biggest bucks.   That's probably true, but what it means has different interpretations.  Someone with a cynical view of Obama — and you can put me in that group — would note that Obama's choices can almost all be explained by saying that he wants political power more than money.

Someone with a less cynical view might still wonder what, if anything, good motives had to do with Obama's ability to do what he is promising to do.  If we were looking for an NBA point guard, we wouldn't choose a man who told us he loved the game; we would choose a man who had proved — with actual achievements — that he could run a team at least as well as most current NBA point guards.

The interview ended with some chit-chat about babies, which should have been skipped, though I understand why it is on Harger's mind.  (He mentioned during the interview that his wife is expecting a baby, their first.)

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(During the interview, Obama said something that some will find inspiring, but I find annoying.  He said that if we get special interests out of the way, there is "no problem we can't solve, as Americans".  Anyone who took a high school geometry class should know that we won't be able to square the circle.  And those who read any decent newspaper will know that getting special interests out of the way, will not enable us to find a counterexample to Fermat's last theorem.  And it is not hard to think of many, many other problems that we Americans can not solve, even if we get all the special interests out of the way.

Finally, let me wish Harger and his wife all the best.)
- 9:19 AM, 11 February 2008   [link]

John Fund Looks At The Polls:  And does the electoral college math, and concludes that John McCain has a real chance to win this November.  Some samples from his argument:
But despite these obstacles, John McCain will now begin to assemble his fall election team with surprisingly good poll results.  The average of all the recent national polls summarized by show the Arizona senator leading Hillary Clinton by 47% to 45% and trailing Barack Obama by only 44% to 47%.  Both results are within the statistical margin of error for national polls, so it's fair to say Mr. McCain starts out with an even chance of winning.

How could that be?  The answer is that the same maverick streak and occasional departures from conservative orthodoxy that make conservatives queasy have the opposite effect on independents and even some Democrats.  Mr. McCain's favorable numbers with independents exceed those of Barack Obama, who has emphasized his desire to work across party lines.
But read the whole thing, especially his discussion of how McCain might win states that George W. Bush lost.

Currently, the InTrade betters give McCain about a 32 percent chance of winning the presidency.  Fund says that's too low.  I agree with him, though I don't think that I would say McCain's s chances are up to 50 percent — yet.  A long drawn out, bitter Democratic nomination fight — which seems likely — would improve his chances, of course.

(Incidentally, I thought in 2000 that McCain had a better chance of winning than Bush, but backed Bush anyway.)
- 4:39 AM, 11 February 2008   [link]

Climate Audit:  If you wonder how good the data is on climate change, you need to read that site from time to time.

For example, today I found a post on surface weather stations, with this conclusion:
To summarize what I am seeing from the GHCN data: (1) the number of stations / records has been dropping dramatically in recent years and (2) with that drop the quality of the record-keeping has also dropped dramatically because we are seeing a corresponding rise in estimated annual temperatures and/or insufficient data to calculate an annual temperature.  Using this data, GISS is showing that the temperature anomaly in recent years is the highest recorded in the historical record.
If that seems a little obscure, then take a look at this follow-up post, which maps the weather stations from 1885 through 2006.

In other words, we have far fewer surface weather stations than we once had, and those we have are providing poorer quality data.  Which I think almost everyone in the debate over climate change would agree is undesirable.

The discussions at the site are conducted at a high level.  You will find them easier to follow if you know some statistics and are familiar with the compressed style common to scientific papers.  On the other hand, the site does provide some help for novices.  For example, in the right hand column is a link to brief definitions of acronyms often used on the site.  Following it, I find that GHCN = "Global Historical Climate Network" and GISS ="Goddard Institute for Space Studies, also their temperature data[ba]se".

The site's proprietors, Steve McIntyre and Ross McKitrick, are not on either side of the climate change debate.  Here's how they explain their position in their FAQs:
Does your work disprove global warming?
We have not made such a claim.  There is considerable evidence that in many locations the late 20th century was generally warmer than the mid-19th century.  However, there is also considerable evidence that in parts of the Northern Hemisphere, the mid-19th century was exceptionally cold.   We think that a more interesting issue is whether the late 20th century was warmer than periods of similar length in the 11th century.  We ourselves do not opine on this matter, other than to say that the MBH results relied upon so heavily by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in its 2001 report are invalid.
(A quick look at the acronyms tells me that MBH refers to a study by Mann, Bradley, and Hughes, often referred to as the "hockey stick study" because it produced a temperature graph with a shape similar to that of a hockey stick, lying on its back.  McIntyre and McKitrick have critiqued that study and convinced many that it is invalid, because of errors in the statistical methods used.)

Let me end with a conclusion that I am fairly sure that McIntyre and McKitrick would agree with.  That the data on climate change is not as good as it should be does not, by itself, disprove theories of man-caused climate change.  But it should lead us to be more cautious about accepting those theories.

(As always, when I discuss climate change, I suggest that you read my disclaimer, if you have not already done so.)
- 1:59 PM, 10 February 2008
More:  For contrasting views, you might want to look at the Real Climate site.  And if you want to go one step further, you might read this critique of the Real Climate site, which suggests that the climatologists there may be producing "pathological" science.  FWIW, Climate Audit links to Real Climate, but the reverse is not true.
- 5:56 AM, 11 February 2008   [link]

More Posts, Soon:  Since I am just about over the cold that hit me a few days ago.  Nothing serious, but for a while I felt more like lying on my back, reading, than sitting at my computer, typing.
- 8:46 AM, 10 February 2008
That diagnosis was a little optimistic:  I still have all the usual symptoms, but they are diminishing.
- 6:19 AM, 13 February 2008   [link]