February 2009, Part 1
Jim Miller on Politics
More Than I Needed To Know: According to Judith Warner, blogging in the New York Times, "many women" are dreaming about Barack Obama. And some of their dreams are not fit to print.
As a cautious guy, I will leave the reactions to these revelations to the ladies. Here's Kate McMillan's tart comment, and here's Cassandra's light-hearted commentary.
- 7:00 PM, 8 February 2009 [link]
75 Books You Don't Have To Read: Mostly. Here's a list from Esquire. The magazine gives the list this misleading title: The 75 Books Every Man Should Read But then follow that title with this description:
An unranked, incomplete, utterly biased list of the greatest works of literature ever published. How many have you read?That description isn't right either. For one thing, it omits older writers entirely. Most people would think that some older writers, Shakespeare, for instance, wrote some pretty good stuff.
My title would be something like this: 75 Mostly Modern Books With Literary Pretensions, Along With A Few Oldies But Goodies. And my description would be something like this:
An unranked, incomplete, utterly biased list of mostly modern books. Almost none of the modern books in the list are among the "greatest works of literature ever published". If you haven't read most of the newer books in the list, congratulate yourself on your good taste.By way of Tigerhawk.
Most of the older books in the list are worth reading; most of the newer books aren't. There is probably a lesson in that.
- 4:01 PM, 8 February 2009 [link]
Energy Secretary Steven Chu Is A Scientist: In fact, he is a Nobel prize winning physicist.
But Chu doesn't seem to know even the basics about climate science.
California's farms and vineyards could vanish by the end of the century, and its major cities could be in jeopardy, if Americans do not act to slow the advance of global warming, Secretary of Energy Steven Chu said Tuesday.Are there any climate studies that support Chu's apocalyptic prediction? None that Jonathan Adler knows of. Or Roger Pielke, Jr. Both wonder whether we will be able to trust the Obama administration on science.
Short answer: Judging by Obama's record, we won't.
(There is, unfortunately, another possibility. Chu may know that the climate models do not support his extremist claims, but he is making them anyway in order to get support for policies of the Obama administration.)
- 1:16 PM, 6 February 2009 [link]
Does Airport Profiling Work? Within limits, if you believe William Press's statistical model.
Too great a dependence on profiling passengers by ethnicity or nationality is an ineffective way to conduct airport screening to catch terrorists, according to a statistical model for examining rare events.I don't know enough mathematics to judge his model, but the basic idea makes sense. An effective screening system would use profiling to select passengers for secondary checks, but not exclusively. Whether his exact formula is the best possible model is something that would hard to judge, even for those who can follow his mathematics.
And any screening system must select some passengers for secondary screening, at random.
Unfortunately, such models, with all the doubts that we must have about them, are still one of the best tools we have for designing our screening procedures.
(The article does not say whether his model incorporates reactions by terrorist groups to screening procedures. If the terrorists know exactly what kinds of people will go through secondary screening by profiling, then they can avoid the secondary screens by using disguises and false IDs.
There is one story from the 9/11 attack that deserves more attention than it has received. A screener in a Maine airport checked one of the hijackers through and said later that he fit the profile of an Arab terrorist. But the screener did not do a secondary check.
After the attacks — and this is the part that amazes me — the screener was still apologizing for having such politically incorrect thoughts.)
- 9:08 AM, 6 February 2009 [link]
The Zinni Appointment Blunder: The New York Times has the story
When the vice president, the secretary of state and the national security adviser all say you have been tapped to be the next United States ambassador to Iraq, odds are it's a done deal, right?This is the kind of blunder you should expect when you put a man with zero executive experience in the presidency. In any organization, you don't offer someone a job and then leave them hanging. According to Zinni, no one in the administration even told him that he was no longer a candidate for the job.
(Jimmy Breslin's novel may give us some idea of what to expect from the Obama gang. For what it is worth, the young Mafia leader, Kid Sally Palumbo, was a good talker.)
- 6:45 AM, 6 February 2009
Similar thoughts from Ann Althouse, and most of her commenters.
- 12:13 PM, 6 February 2009 [link]
Rose Hill Art Gallery: Yesterday, I was out stimulating the economy and stopped in at my favorite Kirkland art gallery. As art galleries go, it is exceptionally well disguised since it is hidden inside a Texaco gas station and car wash.
But if you go into the station, you will find a wonderful collection of apple box art, a collection of the labels once put on apple boxes to entice customers into buying the apples. Since your average apple grower was not a marketing genius, they tried many approaches with the labels, including some that look counterproductive. It is hard, for instance, to see why a picture of a wolf would persuade someone to buy apples. For some reason, the labels almost never used hard sells. But almost all of them are interesting art.
(You can see what some of the labels look like in this video.)
The manager of the car wash, Mark Dinwiddie, tells me that the labels are his personal collection and that he bought most of them some time ago, mostly in the Chelan area.
Definitely worth a stop, especially if you are new to Washington state, and would like to know something about our state's history. And unlike most art galleries, you can get some gas and a car wash while you visit.
Cross posted at Sound Politics.(Incidentally, the Rose Hill car wash does a charity event every year, giving washes in return for donations. Last time they worked with talk show host John Carlson to raise money for the Fred Hutchinson center.)
- 3:05 PM, 5 February 2009 [link]
Catastrophe? Barack Obama is trying hard to sell the "stimulus" package.
President Barack Obama says the recession will turn into a "catastrophe" if the economic stimulus is not passed quickly.But he ought to listen to his economic advisor before saying such things.
Throughout 2008, Larry Summers, the Harvard economist, built the case for a big but surgical stimulus package. Summers warned that a "poorly provided fiscal stimulus can have worse side effects than the disease that is to be cured." So his proposal had three clear guidelines.David Brooks goes on to explain how the Democratic leaders in Congress created this "sprawling, lobbyist-driven mess" that Obama is calling his stimulus package, even though most of it would provide no immediate stimulus.
I am not entirely convinced that a big economic stimulus is necessary — the drops in energy prices are already providing a substantial stimulus — but if we are to have one, we should have one that meets Summers' guidelines.
- 2:22 PM, 5 February 2009 [link]
Some Things Are Obvious: Unless you work in a field where political correctness is required. In which case, if you happen to run into something obvious, you have to act surprised. For instance, consider this tentative conclusion to a study on xenophobia.
But Navarrete found that volunteers' most persistent fears were reserved for men - that is, male members of the out-group. So white men and women feared black men, and black men and women feared white men; all the other lab-induced fears, including any conditioned fear of women diminished.Note that the finding that people are more likely to fear men than women is put as a question, and that the writer says that it "may be" that men "were" more often the aggressors. Think of how much history, how many news stories, and even how much personal experience you have to ignore, in order to write a sentence like that.
This would be even funnier if I didn't suspect that our tax dollars are paying these researchers to discover what most six year old children know.
- 8:04 AM, 5 February 2009 [link]
One Man's Moderate: Is another man's "liberal", or even leftist. Last Sunday, Adam Liptak of the New York Times described Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg as a "relative moderate". (He was comparing her to Justices William Brennan and Thurgood Marshall.) Echoing Liptak, the Slate's Dahlia Lithwick described the court's ideological balance this way:
Today's high court is balanced between four conservatives and four moderate liberals. Moderate-conservative Anthony Kennedy remains the deciding vote in hotly contested cases. But liberals have long fussed that despite this 4-1-4 lineup, the court has still lurched far to the right of mainstream American thinking.Liptak and Lithwick must know that Ginsburg is routinely described as "liberal". (I would prefer to call her a "leftist".) And that academic studies generally find her to be the most liberal person on the current court, and one of the most liberal justices ever.
So why do the two of them say that Ginsburg is relatively moderate, or a moderate liberal? Because they want the next justice to be even farther to the left than Ginsburg. And much louder.
They want that justice because they want the Supreme Court to legislate, especially on social issues. Even though Barack Obama just won the presidency, and leftists made big gains in the Congress, Liptak and Lithwick do not think that voters can be persuaded to give up traditional marriage, back racial quotas, or cripple our efforts to fight terrorism. But a changed Supreme Court might impose all of those changes, and more, on the voters, and give the voters no simple way to reverse the changes.
That such changes would be profoundly undemocratic does not bother people like Liptak and Lithwick.
Liptak and Lithwick are trying to make it easier for Obama to nominate such a justice, should there be a vacancy while he is president. And they don't mind using a little verbal trickery to further their cause.
(Lithwick may be trying to trick readers in another way, by saying that the court is "far to the right of mainstream American thinking". The key word in that sentence is "thinking". The court probably is to the right of most law school professors, though perhaps not far to the right, but it is not far to the right of most voters.
Or Lithwick may just not be familiar with polls on issues such as abortion.)
- 7:24 AM, 5 February 2009 [link]
Would You Trust A Pollster Who Wouldn't Reveal His Methodology? The American Association for Public Opinion Research wouldn't. In fact, the professional organization just censored a Johns Hopkins researcher for that fault.
My colleagues at the American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR) announced yesterday that an eight month investigation found that Dr. Gilbert Burnham violated AAPOR's Code of Professional Ethics and Practices.The study was published just before the 2006 election, and was intended to influence the election, as it may have.
Burnham "found" implausibly high death rates in Iraq, rates that were impossible to reconcile with actual counts, even allowing for significant defects in the counts. Anyone with a bit of common sense could see that there was something drastically wrong with his study.
Burnham should never have submitted the study for publication; Lancet should never have accepted it. Both did great damage to their own reputations. I don't know whether Johns Hopkins has done its own investigation of Burnham's work, but the university should, if only to protect their own reputation.
- 4:20 PM, 4 February 2009
More on Burnham's dismal record from Shannon Love. I'm hoping that Love will expand his comment into a full post some time.
- 12:39 PM, 6 February 2009 [link]
Katrina Versus Kentucky: Kentucky is suffering terribly from an ice storm. But that suffering has not interested our "mainstream" media or President Obama, as the Anchoress shows in two link-filled posts, here and here.
The Anchoress makes the obvious comparison:
. . . when Katrina hit, the press pulled out every stop they possibly could - including the racism canard - to identify that disaster with a "Bush epic fail." They ignored his early pleadings to Ray Nagin and Kathleen Blanco to evacuate. They ignored his declaring NOLA and surrounding areas as Disaster Areas even before Katrina hit, so the fed could immediately get to work. They ignored the proper jurisdiction of emergencies (local, then state, then fed) and the extreme incompetence of the Louisiana leadership and made Katrina all about "what Bush did or didn't do." By contrast, the press seems to be going out of its way to insure that Obama is not associated with this week-long drama at all.Imagine the press coverage if President Bush were still in office and was doing as little in this emergency as Obama has done. If you can.
(Obama may be ignoring this disaster, but the Red Cross is helping out.
Part of the problem is that Obama and nearly all "mainstream" journalists are what I call urban imperialists. To be blunt, they don't much like people living in rural areas.)
- 7:15 AM, 4 February 2009 [link]
Here's a curious story.
Rep. Jim Cooper, a conservative Democrat from Tennessee, told a liberal radio network on Sunday that the Obama White House encouraged him to defy House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on the $819 billion economic stimulus bill.But not an unprecedented story, since presidents often work indirectly to get what they want from Congress.
For the record: I don't know enough about Cooper to have an opinion on whether he is telling the truth. But there is nothing inherently implausible about the story. It is unusual for Cooper to go on the record like this, but he is quite unhappy with both Pelosi and the House version of the "stimulus" bill. With good reason, in each case.
- 5:55 AM, 4 February 2009 [link]
Goodbye To Ron Sims: As he leaves to take the 2nd spot at the Housing and Urban Development Department, it is a good time to mention Sims' biggest failure. (The Seattle newspapers will describe his successes, such as they are, so I don't have to do that.)
The King County Executive is, by most accounts, a decent man, a better man than the average Democratic politician. He is not a good executive, and never will be a good executive, but he is, on the whole, a good man. (It shows something about the low quality of so many of our elected officials that I have to say that, I suppose.)
But he failed to treat a large number of his constituents here in King County decently because he is one of our worst urban imperialists. Again and again, he took actions that damaged the interests of people living in rural areas. (For some examples, see this article.) As far as I can tell, he never regretted those actions, never even tried to understand the problems of rural areas.
Why he was so indifferent to this rural minority is something of a mystery. He had a mediocre education, so it is likely that he knew little about the history and problems of our rural areas. He may believe that he gets a reasonably accurate picture of the world from our "mainstream" news organizations, which are filled with urban imperialists. And, like many other Democratic politicians, he holds many Green superstitions, superstitions that often lead to acts of urban imperialism.
But I am not sure whether all those together are enough to completely explain his hostility to our rural minority. Perhaps it is simply a matter of party. Rural areas here, as elsewhere, tend to be Republican, and he may have wanted a bit of revenge on those who voted for the other party. Or, in spite of many protests, he may never have realized how much damage he was doing to rural areas.
Cross posted at Sound Politics.
(Neither this column nor this editorial even mention how badly Sims treated our rural areas. The author of the first, Joni Balter, is definitely an urban imperialist. The author of the second probably is. And you will notice, if you read the editorial, that the editorial writer mostly forgives his mismanagement of the King County Jail, even though the jail routinely "violates inmates' civil rights".Those in other areas will wonder what Sims brings to the job at HUD. He's a good speaker and an effective politician. At best — and some of my friends will think I am being too kind — he is a mediocre manager. He is a poor policy analyst, unused to thinking in cost/benefit terms. He would be a good man to sell a program, a mediocre man to manage a program, and a poor man to develop a program.)
- 1:46 PM, 3 February 2009 [link]
Another Obama Appointee: Another tax dodger.
Nancy Killefer, who failed for a year and a half to pay employment taxes on household help, has withdrawn her candidacy to be the first chief performance officer for the federal government, the White House said Tuesday.Why she withdrew when Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner didn't, and Tom Daschle hasn't, is something of a mystery. Probably she didn't have as strong political base as those two do.
- 8:14 AM, 3 February 2009
Second thoughts: Calling her a tax dodger may have been too strong. It is possible that this was two innocent mistakes. More thoughts along those lines from Eugene Volokh. (Note that some of his commenters suspect that she has other, yet unrevealed, tax problems.)
Or even just one innocent mistake. She didn't pay the taxes originally, and then didn't pay them until she got a lien from Washington, D. C. But that city is so famous for inept management (though better in recent years) that it is possible that she never got the original warning notice.
- 6:33 AM, 4 February 2009 [link]
Republicans Are A Suspicious Bunch: They suspect that the revolving door between "mainstream" news organizations and the Democratic Party might affect coverage.
Republicans have long accused mainstream journalists of being on the payroll of President Obama and the Democratic Party, a common refrain of favoritism especially from those on the losing end of an election (see Bush vs. Gore, Clinton vs. Bush and Bush vs. Dukakis).The New York Times reporter, Jim Rutenberg, doesn't quite get the story right. Republicans don't think that "mainstream" journalists are on Democratic payrolls, but that many of them act as if they were. And are often rewarded, directly and indirectly, for acting that way.
What's different now is that some of the rewards are especially direct. And that bothers Rutenberg — a little.
(Rutenberg misses the reverse movements, which are also important. ABC would never have given a Republican operative the same job they gave George Stephanopoulos. Nor would the New York Times ever hire a Republican operative to write editorials — but they did hire Carolyn Curiel, a speechwriter for the Clinton White House.
He also misses the many domestic partnerships, the "mainstream" journalists who are married to Democratic operatives or leftwing activists, for example, Dana Priest of the Washington Post.)
- 7:59 AM, 3 February 2009 [link]
Obama Should Con The Reporters, Advises The New York Times: In this blog post. Jean Edward Smith says "charm", not "con", but anyone who reads the post will agree that "con" would be a more honest word.
To be fair, I have to add that Smith is not a journalist, but a political science professor. On the other hand, the Times did pick him to blog on the presidency.
- 6:29 PM, 2 February 2009 [link]
How Horrific Is The Recession? So horrific that, in December, personal income fell in nominal dollars by 0.2 percent, but rose, controlled for inflation, by 0.3 percent.
It is true that December was worse than October and November. In those months, real personal income rose by 0.8 percent and 0.5 percent, respectively.
I'm not sure how much longer I can stand suffering on this scale.
- 3:57 PM, 2 February 2009 [link]
Lessons On Race Relations From George W. Bush: George Washington Bush. Since you may not have heard of this Bush, a little background is in order. First, his early life.
George Washington Bush was born in Pennsylvania around 1778. An only child, he was raised as a Quaker and educated in Philadelphia. Bush's father, Matthew, was born in India but was of African descent. Matthew Bush worked for a wealthy English merchant named Stevenson for most of his life. At Stevenson's home in Philadelphia, Matthew Bush met his wife, an Irish maid who also worked for Stevenson. George's parents served Stevenson until his death. Stevenson had no other family and so left the Bushes a substantial fortune.Bush made a living as a trapper, fought in the War of 1812, and married Isabella James, "the daughter of a Baptist minister of German descent". Since his family faced severe prejudice in Missouri, in 1844, along with five other families, Bush took the Oregon Trail west. As a black man, he was blocked from entering Oregon, and so, along with the entire party, got permission from the Hudson Bay Company to go north into what is now Washington state. Their small settlement at what is now Tumwater, Washington, was a success, and attracted other American settlers.
Which soon led to another problem for Bush.
The Oregon Treaty of 1846 ended the joint administration north of the Columbia, placing Bush Prairie firmly in the United States. Ironically, by staking an American claim to the area, Bush and his party had also brought Oregon's Black American exclusion laws, clouding the title to their land; these laws would not apply if the territory were under the British Empire. When the Washington Territory was formed in 1853, one of the first actions of the Territorial Legislature in Olympia was to ask Congress to give the Bushes unambiguous ownership of their land, which it did in 1855.But that problem was quickly solved by the Washington legislature and the US Congress.
If I were to draw a single moral from Bush's life, it would be this: It is a mistake to paint our race relations history using only black and white. To paint a true picture, we need many colors.
The dramatic black and white pictures that we see in most of our newspapers and, I suspect, most of our children's history books, have no room for George Washington Bush, his mixed ancestry, and his varied experiences with whites.
Some whites treated Bush badly, and some treated him wonderfully. Through all of it, as far as I can tell from the sketchy accounts we have of his life, he never thought of himself as a helpless victim. Instead he worked hard, married well, raised a family, and helped many others.
His life was not typical, of course. But it was not unique, either. Even in the first half of the 19th century, there were many free blacks and a few wealthy blacks. Even in the first half of the 19th century, many whites were ready to treat blacks decently, even generously.
An honest history must include those parts of the story, as well as the terrible parts. To exclude those parts denies Bush, and others like him, the credit they earned.
- 3:07 PM, 2 February 2009 [link]
Worth Reading: Peter Berkowitz makes a general argument about a problem I illustrated in this post. Too many people have become slaves to their passions, trapped by their hatred for Bush, their love of Obama, or both.
In fact, Bush hatred and Obama euphoria -- which tend to reveal more about those who feel them than the men at which they are directed -- are opposite sides of the same coin. Both represent the triumph of passion over reason. Both are intolerant of dissent. Those wallowing in Bush hatred and those reveling in Obama euphoria frequently regard those who do not share their passion as contemptible and beyond the reach of civilized discussion. Bush hatred and Obama euphoria typically coexist in the same soul. And it is disproportionately members of the intellectual and political class in whose souls they flourish.As Berkowitz argues, democracies require us to control our passions, to use reason to make decisions, rather than hate or love. But many in our major news organizations and our universities, though claiming to use reason, abandoned it long ago, replacing it with a quasi-religious faith in leftist policies and people.
- 12:53 PM, 2 February 2009 [link]
Obama Wants Defense Cuts: According to an anonymous "defense official".
The Obama administration has asked the military's Joint Chiefs of Staff to cut the Pentagon's budget request for the fiscal year 2010 by more than 10 percent -- about $55 billion -- a senior U.S. defense official tells FOX News.There is no reason to doubt this report. After all, Obama campaigned, especially during the Democratic primaries and caucuses, promising to cut defense spending. He may not be able to make all of his promised cuts, but he should be able to make many of them, given the Democratic majorities in Congress.
So defense spending will probably be cut. Though perhaps not as drastically as Obama promised.
Are those cuts a good idea? Certainly some cuts would be good for the country. It is likely, for instance, that we could save money by killing most projects closely associated with Congressman Murtha. And I don't doubt that we could find many other, similar examples.
And let me concede that finding the right level of defense spending is difficult, even in principle, since when it is at the right level, nothing happens, or our forces cope with what happens, easily. But nothing also may happen when we are spending far too much on defense, and there is no simple way to tell whether we are spending enough, or far too much.
Before examining that question, I will note that there is an argument for increased defense spending during recessions, and argument that FDR used in the 1930s. Defense spending can be counter-cyclical, as Martin Feldstein argued last December.
That logic is exactly backwards. As President-elect Barack Obama and his economic advisers recognize, countering a deep economic recession requires an increase in government spending to offset the sharp decline in consumer outlays and business investment that is now under way. Without that rise in government spending, the economic downturn would be deeper and longer. Although tax cuts for individuals and businesses can help, government spending will have to do the heavy lifting. That's why the Obama team will propose a package of about $300 billion a year in additional federal government outlays and grants to states and local governments.Feldstein estimates that following his proposals would create about 300,000 new jobs. By the same logic, Obama's proposals to cut the defense budget will, necessarily, destroy many jobs, perhaps even more than Feldstein's proposal would create.
But setting aside the economic effects, is this a good time to cut our defense budget? Have we fewer enemies and potential enemies? Are our enemies or potential enemies weaker? On the whole, I think the answers to all three questions are no, and will be no for at least the next decade. China, perhaps we should say Communist China, is continuing the rapid build up of its armed forces. And it no secret that Chinese authorities see us as a potential opponent. Under Putin, Russia has attempted to regain some of the strength that the Soviet Union once had, and may have succeeded, in part.
We face likely threats from Iran, continuing problems from North Korea, and we are in a world-wide war with Islamic extremists. Our traditional allies in Europe have little taste for taking their share of the military burdens, and less capacity to do so than they once had, even if they wanted to.
Those dire facts lead me to think that, if anything, we should expand the military budget. In particular, I would expand our missile defense programs to discourage the current leaders of Iran, North Korea, and similar countries. But those programs are probably the places where we will see the biggest cuts.
Will the Obama defense cuts increase the chance of an attack on the United States, or our allies? I fear so. But elections have consequences, and sometimes those consequences are dire.
(FDR sped up naval construction as an economic stimulus. That almost certainly worked, unlike many other FDR programs, though it may not have been the most efficient way to stimulate the economy.)
- 11:03 AM, 2 February 2009 [link]
Blagojevich Is Gone: But Chicago-style politics remains.
Yet cloud or no cloud, we're still the same old Illinois, run the Chicago Way. Where street gangs provide political muscle in many city precincts, where the Outfit still has reach among certain politicians and judges and cops, where small-business owners fear being crushed by political bureaucrats. And where Combine lords, Democrats and Republicans, work for a common purpose:And, says John Kass, Chicago-style politics is moving to Washington, DC. Where we have more than a little bit of it already.
That doesn't mean we won't have bipartisanship.
Perhaps that's because one of the most powerful and wealthiest politicians in the state, Springfield Republican boss Bill Cellini, is the boss of the state asphalt paving association. Yes, Cellini has been indicted in the same federal investigation that has snared Blagojevich. And yes, he helped elect the Democrat Blagojevich. But there's good news, Washington.Working together against the best interests of the people.
On one point I mildly disagree with Kass. I think many people in Washington do realize that Chicago-style politics is coming to the nation's capital — and are delighted by that prospect. After all, the Democrats haven't lost many elections in Chicago recently.
- 7:18 AM, 1 February 2009 [link]