Feburary 2009, Part 4

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Obama Intends To Increase Inequality In This Country:  Greatly.   That may surprise you because you have probably heard or read something like this:
The Obama budget — a bold, even radical departure from recent history, wrapped in bureaucratic formality and statistical tables — would sharply raise taxes on the rich, beyond where Bill Clinton had raised them.  It would reduce taxes for everyone else, to a lower point than they were under either Mr. Clinton or George W. Bush.  And it would lay the groundwork for sweeping changes in health care and education, among other areas.

More than anything else, the proposals seek to reverse the rapid increase in economic inequality over the last 30 years.  They do so first by rewriting the tax code and, over the longer term, by trying to solve some big causes of the middle-class income slowdown, like high medical costs and slowing educational gains.
David Leonhardt may be right to say that Obama is trying to reduce economic inequality.  (Though I doubt that Obama's programs would actually produce greater economic equality.)   But economic equality is not the only kind of equality, not even the most important kind of equality.

Obama's programs, if enacted, will greatly increase political inequality by centralizing so many decisions in the federal government, decisions that are now made by individuals or by state and local governments.  If his plans are enacted, the federal government will gain immense new power.  If the federal government gains power, then the rest of us will lose power, since political power, unlike economic well-being, is basically zero sum.  We can all become more prosperous at the same time, but we can't all gain more power at the same time.  When one group gains in power, another must lose.

We should not be surprised by Obama's power grab.  As David Freddoso has said, Barack Obama is a product of hard-core radicalism and machine politics.  Most hard-core radicals want as much political power as they can get, and almost all machine politicians want as much political power as they and their organizations can get.  And neither group is likely to be troubled much by scruples in their efforts to gain power, so we can expect many rough battles for power over the next four years.
- 3:19 PM, 27 February 2009   [link]

Playing In The Snow On Mt. Rainier:  Last Saturday, since the day was lovely at Mt. Rainier, I drove down to do a little cross-country skiing, and to take a few pictures.  The day was mostly sunny, with enough clouds to make the pictures more interesting.

Mt. Rainier, February, 2009

The sliding area was open and uncrowded.  That surprised me because the conditions were excellent, about as good as they get.  (The sliding area may close as soon as the middle of March, depending, I hope, on snow conditions.)  We don't get many weekend days like last Saturday, and I would have expected more parents to take advantage of one that good.  (Tomorrow, if the weather forecasters are right, the conditions on Rainier will be lousy.)

Mt. Rainier sliding area, February, 2009

Saturday was relatively warm, probably in the low forties.  Most of you would have been comfortable wearing a light jacket, hat, and gloves.  And I saw a number of people who were wearing less, and appeared to be enjoying the day.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(What I did Saturday is what I advise everyone to do, if they can.  When I decided to go, I used the "now" cast, rather than a forecast.  On Saturday morning, I checked the current conditions, especially the views through the four web cams.  (The east and west web cams don't show you much of the view, but they do let you see how full the parking lot is, and give you one look at the road conditions.  The road up was mostly bare, though it was wet in places.  Parts of it are in need of repair, and there is one short stretch where only a single lane is open.  Mt. Rainier would be a good place to spend some stimulus money this spring or summer.)

In other words, decide whether to go at the last minute — if possible.

In summer and late spring, I advise visitors to get there early in the day, by, say, 9 in the morning.  That way you miss the worst of the traffic, and you usually get much better conditions for hiking and photography.  In winter, you may still want to go early, but, if it is below freezing, you will probably want to wait until any ice patches on the roads are gone.

The new Jackson visitor's center is open on weekends and holidays, but incomplete.  You can buy cold sandwiches and hot coffee there, but at present no hot meals.  So far, there are fewer exhibits than in the old building, but that may change this summer.

And the snow conditions for cross country skiing last Saturday?  Excellent.)
- 1:41 PM, 27 February 2009   [link]

More On Gary Locke's Ethical Problems:  From Michelle Malkin.   Here's a sample:

And then there were Locke's not-so-squeaky-clean fundraising trips to a Buddhist temple in Redmond, Wash., which netted nearly $14,000 from monks and nuns — many of whom barely spoke English, couldn't recall donating to Locke, or were out of the country and could never be located.  Of the known temple donors identified by the Locke campaign, five gave $1,000 each on July 22, 1996 — paid in sequentially ordered cashier's checks.  Two priests gave $1,000 and $1,100 respectively on Aug. 8, 1996.  Three other temple adherents also gave $1,000 contributions on Aug. 8.   Internal campaign records show that two other temple disciples donated $2,000 and $1,000 respectively on other dates.  State campaign finance investigators failed to track down some of the donors during their probe.

Malkin has much more, as you might expect.

And there is the curious case of the live-in brother-in-law.

It is troubling that so many of our "mainstream" news organizations now find these parts of Locke's history unfit to print.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 8:39 AM, 27 February 2009   [link]

Maximum Marginal Federal Income Tax Rates:  According to this table, the top rates have ranged from 7 percent to 94 percent.  But the table does not include data from the Civil War income tax, which began with a maximum rate of 3 percent, later raised to 5 percent.  The 5 percent rate began at $10,000, which was then a very high income.  (The link takes you to a Treasury document, giving a brief history of taxation from colonial times to almost the present.)

A look through the table will show you that Republicans tend to lower the top marginal rate, and Democrats tend to raise it.  For instance, after Republicans won control of Congress in 1946, they lowered the tax rate from 86.45 percent to 82.13 percent.  And the table also shows you just how little President Bush's tax cuts changed the top marginal rate.  The top rate was raised by Clinton and the Democrats from 31 percent to 39.6 percent; Bush and the Republicans lowered it to 35 percent.
- 6:17 AM, 27 February 2009   [link]

Might Be Some Negatives There, Too:  Seattle Times reporter Kristi Heim knows why former Washington governor Gary Locke was picked to be Secretary of Commerce.   Locke has close ties to Communist China.

Locke perhaps is best known for cultivating close ties to China — and many believe that was one of the key reasons for his selection.

And for Heim, those ties are entirely positive.

She realizes that some of us may not have an entirely positive view of the Beijing regime, and so she minimizes their faults.

Chinese leaders looked to people like Locke to serve as a bridge to the United States, where the country often was portrayed as an economic threat and a human-rights violator.

I love that "often was portrayed as" phrase.  Is there any doubt that the Chinese regime is a human-rights violator on a massive scale?  And that the regime supports other human-rights violators including Sudan and North Korea?  But Heim can glide over such unpleasant realities with that phrase, "often was portrayed as".  Connoisseurs of deceptive language will especially appreciate her use of the past tense, "was", as if no one would currently "portray" the regime as a human-rights violator.  (Whether they are an economic threat, net, to us, is more complicated.   But anyone who knows anything about their military knows that China has been preparing for a possible conflict with the United States for years.  I don't know whether Heim would see those preparations as negative, assuming someone were to tell her about them.)

Heim even uses a local professor in an attempt to inoculate readers against any politically incorrect thoughts.

But what is perceived as a strength in one Washington can be a weakness in the other.

"There will be those that think he's a China lackey," Seattle University business professor David Reid said.  "There's a certain amount of bias in D.C. I think that will play against him. . . . I hope he doesn't feel he has to defend himself to those people or demonstrate his patriotism."

Of course not.

Let me be blunt.  Of course Locke's ties to China are potentially positive.  But they are also potentially negative.  We have known for years that ambassadors sometimes go over to the other side, that they begin representing, not our nation to foreigners, but foreigners to us.  They become advocates for the other side, even while they stay on our payroll.

And when that other nation is China, we can not dismiss that possibility lightly.

Especially considering all the past problems Locke has had with his ties to China, problems that Ron Hebron and Michelle Malkin just described.  And even more especially considering that the Commerce Department was at the heart of the 1996 Chinagate scandal.

Heim and the Seattle Times chose to omit all those past problems from their long article on Locke and their summary of his career.  I am unable to think of a good reason for omitting those problems, considering their obvious relevance to the job of Commerce Secretary.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 3:24 PM, 26 February 2009   [link]

Obama's Budget Choices:  The Wall Street Journal gives his proposed changes in department budgets in this graphic, with no discussion.  Let's go through them, top to bottom.  (And if you have better explanations for any of these changes than my guesses, let me know.)
  • Commerce, 48.4 percent:  Probably the big increase is to prepare for the 2010 census.
  • State and Other International Programs, 40.9 percent:  Obama is planning an immense increase in foreign aid.  Immense.  This will not be popular; foreign aid almost never is.
  • Housing and Urban Development, 18.5 percent:  Lots more money for public housing, or at least publicly subsidized housing.  And Obama should know what great successes both have been over the years, just from his experience in Chicago.
  • Education, 12.8 percent:  Obama pays off the teachers unions.
  • Veteran's Affairs, 10.3 percent:  Another campaign promise kept.
  • Agriculture, 8.8 percent:  A big increase in food stamps.  Obesity is a far worse problem for our poor than hunger is.  He is also promising to cut payments to big farmers.  That's a good idea, but I do have to note that he voted for those big payments while he was in the Senate.
  • Interior, 6.2 percent:  More money to make it harder to get into wilderness areas, probably.
  • Labor, 4.7 percent:  What Obama's union supporters want from this department is changed policies, and they will get them.  And you should expect to see less effort to make unions follow the laws, since those laws are sometimes inconvenient.
  • Treasury, 4.7 percent:  This small increase is puzzling, considering the immense burdens that are being put on Treasury.  If the department is going to be running many of our financial institutions, they will need a few extra people.
  • Defense, 4 percent:  Close to a flat budget in real terms.  But you should expect substantial cuts in procurement and research, even though procurement would be a fine economic stimulus.  We will have to pay for those cuts some time in the future.  If you are wondering why I say we should expect cuts in procurement and research, recall that Obama has promised to enlarge the Army — which will have to be paid for with cuts elsewhere.
  • Transportation, 2.8 percent:  This is bizarre.  If our infrastructure really needs fixing, then this department should get a very large increase, not one that does no more than make up for inflation.  And the department can probably find some "shovel-ready" projects, if you wanted to spend some "stimulus" money.
  • Homeland Security, 1.2 percent:  Protecting the borders from illegal immigrants, or even terrorists, is not Obama's top priority.  Protecting the borders doesn't even make his top ten.
  • Energy, -0.38 percent:  We will become energy independent by spending less to develop new sources?  Seems unlikely.
  • Health and Human Services, -1.7 percent:  They plan to stiff the Medicare providers.
  • Justice, -6.3 percent:  For this decrease, I have no explanation, though I can think of several snarky comments.  (For instance, I could say that Obama thinks we have been too mean to the crooks that the FBI pursues, or that he thinks we already have all the justice we need.)
More on his proposed budget, when I have had a chance to read the document.
- 2:08 PM, 26 February 2009   [link]

Obama Is Not Joking, Intentionally:  That's the conclusion I have come to, reluctantly, after reading the latest from him, such as this
Introducing a budget outline that calls for nearly $1 trillion in tax increases over the next ten years, President Obama and his economic team today said the plan would restore fiscal discipline and "produce sustained growth and shared prosperity."

Titled "A New Era of Responsibility: Renewing America's Promise," the 134-page document released today was an overview of the larger more-detailed document to be released in April.
And this.
President Obama's new budget blueprint estimates a stunning deficit of $1.75 trillion for the current fiscal year, which began five months ago, then lays out a wrenching change of course as he seeks to finance his own priorities while stanching the flow of red ink.

By redirecting enormous streams of deficit spending toward programs like health care, education and energy, and paying for some of it through taxes on the rich, pollution surcharges, and cuts in such inviolable programs as farm subsidies, the $3.55 trillion spending plan Mr. Obama is undertaking signals a radical change of course that Congress has yet to endorse and Republicans were quick to pounce on.
Obama describes his immense tax-and-spend spree as an attempt to "restore fiscal discipline" and a "New Era of Responsibility".  If George W. Bush were to say something like that, even if Bill Clinton were to say something like that, we would know that they were joking.  But I don't think, bizarre as this may seem, that Obama is joking.

If he isn't joking, then he is either lying to us, or is deluded.  Right now, I think the first explanation is more likely — but I wouldn't exclude the second completely.  In fact, now that I think about it, he is probably lying and deluded, but mostly lying.

(Obama isn't joking, but that doesn't mean we can't laugh at his absurdities.  In fact, I would say that it is our patriotic duty to laugh at them.  The sooner our fellow citizens see his absurdities, the sooner we can rein in his plans.)
- 1:11 PM, 26 February 2009   [link]

Worth Study:  This picture of a German carnival float.  The Associated Press says that it shows a "flying U.S. President Obama with Europe being dragged along".  But a glance at the picture will show you that the description is incomplete and misleading.  Obama is pictured with a halo and wings, that is, as an angel.   And the smaller blond woman (without halo or wings) is not being "dragged" along but has very happily hitched a ride.  Most Europeans may be out of touch with their Christian heritage, but most Americans can figure out what is meant by that float.  (And a few of us will think that it is time for Europeans to rescue themselves, rather than rely on the United States.)

(Is the float sacrilegious?  An old-fashioned theologian might say so.  And we can be nearly certain that no one would consider using Muslim imagery in the same lighthearted way.)
- 8:20 AM, 26 February 2009   [link]

Morning Semi-Surprise:  For the past few days, the weather forecasters have been saying that we might get a little snow this morning.  We did.  Several inches, and it is still falling, though only lightly.

(For me, this just means another chance to do a little cross country skiing in Kirkland.  I even did my grocery shopping yesterday, just in case the forecasters were right.  But since this area gets so little snow in most winters, it has caused all kinds of problems for other people.)
- 7:56 AM, 26 February 2009   [link]

The Smear Was Implausible:  To say the least.  But some people still believed it.
A Baltimore television reporter has lost his job after acknowledging that he doctored a video to make it appear that Fox News Radio host John Gibson had made a racial slur.

In the bogus video, which was picked up across the Internet, Gibson seemed to be comparing Attorney General Eric Holder to a monkey with a "bright blue scrotum."  There had been chatter on Fox News earlier about such a monkey, which had escaped from a Seattle zoo.
. . .
The Huffington Post posted the doctored video last week without any disclaimer and without calling Gibson or Fox for comment.
And ran the smear without even attempting to check it.

This incident doesn't tell us much about the reporter, John Sanders, except that he should now understand that you can't share a joke and expect it to stay private.  But it does tell us a lot about Huffington Post, and what they will believe about their ideological opponents.

(Similar thoughts from Ed Morrissey.)
- 4:07 PM, 25 February 2009   [link]

Worth Reading:  Andrew McCarthy on radical lawyer Dawn Johnsen, whom Obama has nominated to head the Justice Department's Office of Legal Council.
OLC, a critically important agency, is the administration's lawyers' lawyer.  Staffed by graduates of top law schools who are then polished by elite judicial clerkships, it authoritatively interprets the law for the attorney general and, in doing so, drives administration legal policy.  OLC's credibility is derived from its reputation for apolitical, academic discipline — its commitment to informing policymakers of what the law is, rather than what staffers believe the law should be.  Johnsen is, for that reason, a poor fit: She is an ideologue, and an unabashed one.
I have argued that Obama would use second-level appointments to pursue the more radical parts of his agenda.  The Johnsen nomination supports that conclusion.
In Dawn Johnsen's dizzying jurisprudence, government has no business invading individual privacy and regulating abortion but is obliged to coerce taxpayers into underwriting abortions as a first step in what she unapologetically calls "the progressive agenda" of "universal health care, public funding for childcare, paid family leave, and . . . the full range of economic justice issues, from the minimum wage to taxation policy to financial support for struggling families."
All these changes imposed, if possible, by unelected judges.

(Mothers will be interested by Johnsen's unusual view of pregnancy.)
- 3:43 PM, 25 February 2009   [link]

Creating Or Saving:  Last night, Obama used a bit verbal trickery that he has used before.  Greg Mankiw explains.
The expression "create or save," which has been used regularly by the President and his economic team, is an act of political genius.  You can measure how many jobs are created between two points in time.   But there is no way to measure how many jobs are saved.  Even if things get much, much worse, the President can say that there would have been 4 million fewer jobs without the stimulus.

An actual answer to the question "What metric?" could have taken the form: "If the unemployment rate on [insert date] is below [insert threshold], I will judge the plan to be a success."  Given the uncertainties inherent in the economy, however, no sensible politician would hold himself to such a measurable standard.  But the President also wanted to avoid sounding like he was avoiding accountability.  So he gave us a non-measurable metric. A clear and specific benchmark, without any way of ever knowing whether it has been reached.
Whenever Obama, or someone else in his administration, uses that expression, they are trying to deceive us.
- 12:21 PM, 25 February 2009   [link]

Well-Informed, Or Misinformed?  Regular readers will recall that I have been wondering for months just how much Barack Obama knows about our history, about military strategy, about science, and other such trivial subjects.

Last night's speech was not reassuring — at least to those who think a president ought to have his facts mostly right.

Examples:  He got the histories of the automobile and solar technology wrong.   Obama claimed that Americans invented the automobile and solar technology — but we didn't invent either.
An English scientist by the name of Willoughby Smith first discovered that selenium was photoconductive, and a French scientist named Alexandre-Edmond Becquerel discovered the photovoltaic effect.  That was the basis of "solar technology."  That, and the English Chemist Edward Weston apparently holds the first American patent for a solar cell.

The history of automobiles is more complicated, but Wikipedia has the rundown here.  In a nutshell: The British, French and Russians (!) had all developed some form of steam-powered automobile in the 18th century.  (The British were apparently doing pretty well until something called the Locomotive Act of 1865 came along: It required that any motorized vehicle be preceded by a man waving a red flag.   Talk about stifling innovation.)  Anyway, here's the kicker: "It is generally acknowledged the first automobiles with gasoline-powered internal combustion engines were completed almost simultaneously by several German inventors working independently." German inventors, it must be observed, are not American.
And if those two mistakes aren't enough, you can find many more in this Associated Press article.

Ordinarily, presidential speeches such as this one are team products.  So it is likely that not only is Obama misinformed about many things, but so are his speechwriters.  Or perhaps — and I dislike saying this — none of the people who wrote and checked this speech care much about mere facts.

(Two comments on the Conor Clarke post:  First, Clarke appears to believe that Bush's "sixteen words" were false.  They weren't.

Second, there are all kinds of solar technologies.  Some kinds are thousands of years old, far older than any written records.  And some of those kinds are still useful.  It is often a good idea, for instance, to use passive solar to help heat our houses.)
- 11:03 AM, 25 February 2009
More fact checking from the Washington Post and FactCheck.  Both say that Obama's speech had a few problems, factually.
- 4:19 PM, 25 February 2009   [link]