February 2010, Part 4

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Washington Insider Colbert King Reminds Obama To Watch Out For Washington Insiders:  Good advice, but incomplete and based on a false premise.  (King, as far as I can tell, totally misses the irony, apparently not noticing that he is, and has been for many years, a Washington insider.)
Eighteen months ago, I warned then-presidential candidate Barack Obama that should he get elected, he should not allow his administration to fall into the clutches of Washington insiders ["A Heretic's Advice To Obama," June 21, 2008].  The caution sign was raised based on years of observing this town's political movers and shakers at work.
. . .
It was, perhaps, cheeky of me to say in the June 2008 column that personal aggrandizement is everything to Washington insiders.  But I didn't rule them out of administration jobs.  "They know stuff," I acknowledged.  "Just don't put them in charge."

I also said that a new president can learn from Washington insiders, at least enough to avoid some of the perils of inside-the-Beltway politics.  And added: "But beware: These folks come with a price."
All true, but incomplete and based on a false premise because Obama has chosen not to rely on Washington insiders, but on Chicago insiders, including Rahm Emanuel, the ostensible subject of King's column.   (Strictly speaking, I suppose that you could call Emanuel both a Washington and a Chicago insider, but he learned his trade in Chicago, and still plays by Chicago rules.)  Washington insiders have their faults, but they are, on the whole, much better for the country than insiders from that corrupt and dishonest machine city, Chicago.

For example:  Washington insiders will often try to deceive the public, but they are much less likely that their Chicago counterparts to tell us direct lies.  And much less likely to attack their opponents with crude slanders.
- 9:17 AM, 28 February 2010   [link]

"Nine Meters In English Is?"  Every once in a while, you get a glimpse of just how little a news reader, in this case CNN's Rick Sanchez, knows.  Sanchez was asking a Georgia Tech scientist about the danger from the tsunami caused by the Chilean earthquake.
DR. KURT FRANKEL:  I think that's a sign of that.  I don't think you can translate that nine meters into any specific wave height that will hit Hawaii.  So, may be careful about that.  It doesn't necessarily mean there's going to be nine meters of runup in Hawaii.  But it is showing that you the tsunami in fact did pass by...

SANCHEZ:  Nine meters.  By the way, nine meters in English is?

FRANKEL:  Oh, about 27 feet.

SANCHEZ: 27 Feet.

FRANKEL: About 30 feet.
I read the whole interchange carefully and am certain that Sanchez had no idea how big a meter is, that he wasn't asking that question just to help some of the viewers.

But, to be fair, I should add that Sanchez probably knows way more than I do about hair styling and makeup
- 8:35 AM, 28 February 2010   [link]

Boring, Or Worth Watching?  Yesterday's health insurance show drew poor reviews from many who watched it.  (I didn't.)  The London Times found it sleep inducing.   The New York Times put this picture on the front page, making the same point.

The reporter who wrote that piece and the photo editor who chose that photograph must not have listened to Paul Ryan's presentation:

You can agree or disagree with what Ryan has to say, but it is not boring.  And you can see, from the reaction on Obama's face that he was not bored.  I think Ryan made a devastating indictment of the Senate package and Obama's variant, but even those who disagree with me on that will agree that Ryan's presentation was effective, combining numbers with appeals to emotions.

(Ryan has been in politics all his adult life, though this is his first elected office.  He is quite popular in the 1st Wisconsin district, which voted for Bush in 2004 (54-46) and Obama in 2008 (51-47).)
- 12:49 PM, 26 February 2010   [link]

Big Labor Boss Calls For Big Tax Break For Big Business:  That happens more often than some think, but still calls for an explanation.

Here's the story from David Johnson, whom the Seattle Times describes as the "executive secretary of the Washington State Building and Construction Trades Council, a coalition of 15 construction unions across the state".

Our Legislature, however, has the power to help.  While our state lawmakers have proposed several bills this session to create jobs, which we appreciate, we as an industry have focused much of our efforts on House Bill 3147 and Senate Bill 6789, companion bills that would remove a major barrier to bringing data-center construction — and thousands of jobs — back to Washington.

The legislation would authorize a temporary sales-tax exemption on the purchase and installation of computers and energy equipment for new data centers in rural counties.  The bills have legislative support from both parties and from all parts of the state, and data-center builders and owners have already testified that they would build quickly in Washington if the tax burden were lifted.

Who would benefit from this change?  The members of those unions, of course, but probably not their non-union competitors.  And, according to Johnson, these firms: Google, Disney, Apple and Amazon, none of them small businesses.

Who would lose from the change?  Presumably other Washington taxpayers, who would have to pay a little more to make up for lost revenue.  (The change still might be worth doing.  I would have to see the numbers before I could have an informed opinion.)

That explanation is probably sufficient, but, as it happens, there is a second explanation in the op-ed, which may be even more important to Johnson.

But in November 2007, everything changed.  That was when the state attorney general determined that data centers do not qualify for an existing sales-tax exemption designed to attract business to rural areas.

Those who follow Washington politics closely will understand exactly what Johnson is implying in that paragraph; those who don't may need this explanation:  The Washington state attorney general is Rob McKenna, Republican Rob McKenna, almost-certain Republican candidate for governor in 2012 Rob McKenna.

Democratic party supporter Johnson is blaming McKenna for those lost jobs.  Unfairly, since the attorney general does not make the laws.  (McKenna is a fine lawyer, with a solid reputation for honesty.  If he said the law didn't allow that tax break, it almost certainly doesn't.)  The Washington state legislature, which does make the laws, has been controlled by Democrats for years.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 7:43 AM, 26 February 2010   [link]

Even The House Ethics Committee Can't Avoid The Obvious Forever:  Though they held out as long as they could.  Charles Rangel, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, has been breaking House rules.
The House ethics committee said on Thursday that it had admonished Representative Charles B. Rangel for violating Congressional gift rules by accepting corporate-sponsored trips to the Caribbean in 2007 and 2008.

But the ethics panel, the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, did not issue findings in its continuing inquiries into more serious matters concerning Mr. Rangel's fund-raising, his failure to pay federal taxes on rental income from a Dominican villa, and his use of four rent-stabilized apartments provided by a Manhattan real estate developer.
(And, yes, it is no accident that this report came out on the day of the big health insurance show.)

In some ways, it is impressive that the ethics panel was able to delay this long, since the evidence has been so clear, and so public, for so long.  (They may have made a tactical error in delaying this long; that helped Rangel in the short term, but brought it closer to the November elections.)

(Steve Kornacki, in a surprisingly sympathetic piece, explains why Nancy Pelosi will have trouble removing Rangel from his chairmanship.  Short version:  For most members of the Black Caucus, racial solidarity is more important than following to House rules and obeying American laws — and Pelosi needs the support of the Caucus.

Kornacki claims that Pelosi wants Rangel ousted.  I have a more cynical take: I think Pelosi wants the scandal buried, and is willing to have Rangel ousted it that is what it requires to bury the scandal.  But Speaker Pelosi has shown us, again and again, that she is willing to tolerate corruption as long as she doesn't lose elections because of it.  Her late father, the Baltimore boss, would understand her attitude perfectly.)
- 6:42 AM, 26 February 2010   [link]

A Quick Note On "ClimateGate"  I haven't put up any posts on the subject recently, not because there isn't anything to say, but because I have been too occupied with other things to do the posts properly.  But I do hope to get back to the subject, perhaps as early as next week.

Two general comments to give you an idea where I am heading:  First, some recent revelations show that parts of the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have been remarkably shoddy.   For example, the IPCC's dramatic claim that Himmalayan glaciers were about to vanish turns out to rest on almost nothing.  It is a mistake that would not be acceptable in an undergraduate paper at a good college.

Second, the more I learn about the head of the IPCC, Rajendra K. Pachauri, and his connections, the more troubled I get.  For example.
- 7:32 AM, 25 February 2010
More:  Pachauri is in serious trouble with the people who pay the IPCC's bills.
Environment and Climate ministers meeting in closed session in Bali last night insisted that an independent review should be carried out following the publicising of mistakes in its last report, and a row surrounding Dr Pachauri's robust response to his critics.  If his management is found to be at fault his position could become untenable.

Participants in the unprecedented meeting — held at the annual assembly of the Governing Council of the United Nations Environment Programme's (UNEP) Governing Council in Bali — were sworn to secrecy over the decision and it is only expected to be announced after its detaled scope and composition have been worked out by UNEP and the World Meteorological Organisation, the two UN agencies that oversee the IPCC's work.
Deservedly, in my opinion.
- 12:09 PM, 26 February 2010   [link]

Why Did Canada Avoid A Mortgage-Driven Financial Meltdown?  New York Times columnist Paul Krugman has his usual explanations — our meltdown was the fault of Republicans and deregulation.

Harry Koza, who knows more about Canada than Krugman, and is more open-minded, has a different set of explanations; tax laws encourage Americans to borrow for home buying, and even home speculation.  And lenders are in much stronger position in Canada than they are in the United States.

That last part helps explain this difference between the two countries.
It also explains why the U.S. has a double-digit mortgage delinquency rates (even the Federal Housing Authority is running at about 14%), while in Canada the main effect of the global financial crisis was to goose our mortgage delinquency rate from 0.26% in April of 2008, to a whopping 0.4% in April of 2009.  Why, if this keeps up, we may get as high as our record peak delinquency rate in the 1990s recession, at 0.68%.
In Canada, you don't borrow money to buy a home unless you are really, really sure you can repay it.  Because you will have to repay it, one way or another.

By way of Small Dead Animals, where there are some instructive comments on the differences between the US and Canada.

(On one general point Krugman and Koza agree:  Canadian banks are boring — and that's a very good thing for a bank to be.)
- 6:53 AM, 25 February 2010   [link]

Well, Tilimuk Is A Killer Whale:  (Even if we are supposed to call them orcas now.)  So we shouldn't be surprised that he killed again.
A SeaWorld killer whale snatched a trainer from a poolside platform Wednesday in its jaws and thrashed the woman around underwater, killing her in front of a horrified audience.  It marked the third time the animal had been involved in a human death.
(After the first time, SeaWorld should have decided that this animal did not belong in its shows.)

We should not be surprised when a large predator decides a human is food, or an enemy.  Instead, we should be surprised, and impressed, that trainers can usually shape the predator's behavior so that it instead does tricks for us.

(Some years ago, I read that some killer whales are solitary and feed mostly on seals and other mammals.  The experts who have studied these whales wondered whether they may, occasionally, take a human as well.

Technically, killer whales are not whales, but really big dolphins.)
- 5:52 AM, 25 February 2010   [link]