February 2011, Part 2

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Even PolitiFact Couldn't Swallow this Obama claim.
During a Feb. 15, 2011, press conference, President Barack Obama responded to a question from Ben Feller of the Associated Press about the president's fiscal year 2012 budget, which had been released one day earlier.

Obama said, "What my budget does is to put forward some tough choices, some significant spending cuts so that by the middle of this decade our annual spending will match our annual revenues.
(Emphasis added.)

If a deficit of more than $600 billion each year is a match, that is.

I'm pretty sure Obama doesn't believe that, and he can't expect the reporters to believe it, can he?   So why did he say it?  Just to get it out there to keep some of his supporters confused?
- 4:20 PM, 16 February 2011
Apparently, Obama means spending not counting interest.  I'll try to find a link for you with details.
- 6:39 AM, 17 February 2011
Links to that bizarre explanation here and here.

Families with mortgages will be interested in the Obama theory that interest doesn't really count in budgets.

More seriously, Obama really does think we are fools, doesn't he?  (Unless, and this is an incredibly scary thought, he believes that interest doesn't count in budgets.)
- 7:54 AM, 17 February 2011  [link]

Laser Propulsion To Orbit:  For years, I have been wondering whether this was possible.
A new technology under study would use ground-based lasers or microwaves to zap a heat exchanger on the rocket, releasing more energy from the fuel.  The heat exchanger works like a hot plate, spiking the temperature of the fuel to more than 3,100 degrees Fahrenheit (1,704 degrees Celsius), which significantly increases the rocket's thrust.

"The objective is to reduce the cost of getting into space.  The way this rocket works, it has a more energetic propulsive system than one where you have fuel and oxidizer that release energy," Carnegie Mellon University's Kevin Parkin, head of the Microwave Thermal Rocket project at NASA's Ames Research Center in California, told Discovery News.

The biggest stumbling block is not technical, but financial.  Startup costs to build the ground facility would be high, but supporters say overall launch costs would be sharply reduced.
(Propellant would be a better word than "fuel", since you aren't burning anything.)

If you are space nut, like me, you probably already know this, but most of the costs for space travel are in that first step to orbit.  If you can reduce those costs, you can make all sorts of projects practical that aren't now.

(By way, indirectly, of the Instapundit.)
- 3:57 PM, 16 February 2011   [link]

Apples, Democrats, And The Ecological Fallacy:  Some of the comments after this post reminded me that I should review the ecological fallacy, again.  It's surprising how often I see this methodological error — and how widely.  I've seen it in a column by Michelle Malkin and, more than once, in columns by Paul Krugman.  (Which must give the methodologists at Princeton a chuckle.)

Here's a reasonably clear (I hope) definition of the fallacy from Wikipedia.

An ecological fallacy (or ecological inference fallacy) is an error in the interpretation of statistical data in an ecological study, whereby inferences about the nature of specific individuals are based solely upon aggregate statistics collected for the group to which those individuals belong.  This fallacy assumes that individual members of a group have the average characteristics of the group at large.

(Sometimes they do, sometimes they don't.)

And here's a classic example of the fallacy.

In the United States presidential elections of 2000, 2004, and 2008, wealthier states (states with higher per capita incomes) tended to vote Democratic and poorer states tended to vote Republican.  Yet wealthier voters tended to vote Republican and poorer voters tended to vote Democratic.  For example, in 2004, the Republican candidate, George W. Bush, won the fifteen poorest states, and the Democratic candidate, John Kerry, won 9 of the 11 wealthiest states.  Yet 62% of voters with annual incomes over $200,000 voted for Bush, but only 36% of voters with annual incomes of $15,000 or less voted for Bush.

Here's a second example of my own.  Take a look at this list of the top apple-producing states.  The top six states are Washington, New York, Michigan, Pennsylvania, California, and Virginia.  All of these, except Virginia, have consistently voted for Democratic presidential candidates in recent elections.   And states like Alaska and Alabama, which consistently support Republican presidential candidates, are not even on the list.

Can we conclude from this correlation that apple growers are mostly Democrats?  No, and you can probably figure out why by yourself, with a little effort.  (For the record, I would guess that most apple growers vote Republican.)

But can you see similar conclusions all the time, if you look for them.   A lefty, for example, might find a state that mostly votes Democratic and has some desirable characteristic — and conclude that Democrats have that characteristic.  A conservative might find a state that mostly votes Democratic and has some undesirable characteristic — and conclude that Democrats have that characteristic.  Both might be right, but both should realize that there might be other variables involved.

In general, you should be wary of any conclusions about Democrats or Republicans drawn from state-level statistics.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 3:04 PM, 16 February 2011   [link]

Meanwhile, Back In Barack Obama's Illinois (5):  People have been leaving Chicago.
As Chicagoans prepare to vote next week for their first new mayor in decades, the city itself looks different from how it did during much of the era of Mayor Richard M. Daley, who is retiring: it has shrunk, and black people in particular have left.

While Chicago remains the nation's third-most-populous city — with 2.69 million people — it lost more than 200,000 residents during the last decade, Census Bureau figures released Tuesday show.

That is about a 7 percent decrease, a sharper drop than some leaders had expected and gloomy news for the city's budget writers (who have to worry about the tax base) and elected officials (who have to worry about who will bear the political brunt of redistricting).
That is, of course, a 7 percent net decrease.  Even with the surge in immigration over the last decade, the city's population still shrank.  (More than 20 percent of the city's population is now foreign born.)

Is it fair to conclude that the policies followed by Barack Obama's political allies helped drive people from Chicago?  Not without more direct information on the motives of those who left.  But it is a fair question to ask — though the New York Times is unlikely to ask it.

And there is a general pattern:  Over the last two decades, native born Americans have tended to leave cities and states governed by Democrats for suburbs and states governed by Republicans.

(Note that the third paragraph treats this exodus as a problem for (Democratic) officials, not as a failure of governance.  If a company were losing customers in the same way Chicago is losing residents, the newspaper would probably be more interested in the motives of those leaving.)
- 7:35 AM, 16 February 2011   [link]

Another Reason To Be A Republican:  Better love lives.
The Clarus Poll finds that Republicans are far more excited about their love lives (44%) than members of the other party (32%) and members of no party (31%).
Republicans are more likely to be married than Democrats — which might have something to do with that result.
- 6:19 AM, 16 February 2011   [link]

Sysiphus Versus The Bureaucrat:  This last weekend's New Yorker cartoon shows Sysiphus with an even harder task:  He is rolling his rock up the hill — and his way is blocked by a man sitting at a desk.

(As I have mentioned before, I keep a daily cartoon calendar on my desk.  Now that daily Far Side calendars are no longer available, I've settled on the New Yorker calendars as the next best thing.  They almost always give me a chuckle, and that's not a bad way to start the day.

In recent years, the New Yorker calendars have included extras on the back of each day, sometimes interesting extras.  For example, the weekend cartoon told me that a 2005 Rutgers study found that a gift of flowers, unlike candy, fruit, and candles, would almost always make a woman smile.  Most likely the study participants were well-fed Rutgers coeds, so one shouldn't generalize too far from this study, but it still seems like something worth knowing.)
- 2:03 PM, 15 February 2011   [link]

CNN's Nic Robertson Tries To Make An Obama Commercial In Cairo:   But gets no cooperation from the Egyptian demonstrators.  Rush Limbaugh spotted this; Ann Althouse passes it along.

You'll be impressed by how polite Achmed and Mustapha were, in spite of the provocation.  And how ace reporter Robertson refuses to listen to what they were saying.
- 1:25 PM, 15 February 2011   [link]

Obama's Budget Proposes No Significant Changes In Entitlements:   As even the New York Times editorial writers noticed.
What Mr. Obama's budget is most definitely not is a blueprint for dealing with the real long-term problems that feed the budget deficit: rising health care costs, an aging population and a refusal by lawmakers to face the inescapable need to raise taxes at some point.  Rather, it defers those critical issues, in hopes, we assume, that both the economy and the political environment will improve in the future.
(After this brief lapse into reality, they go on to say that Obama "has managed to cut spending".   Some people would say that a seven percent increase is not a cut, but those people don't write editorials for the Times.)
- 10:26 AM, 15 February 2011   [link]

Non-Painful Cuts:  If you listen to what Obama and his spokesmen say about his latest budget, you hear a lot about painful cuts.  Overall, there was no cut; in fact Obama proposed an increase in spending.
But how deep are these cuts really? Take a closer look, and they turn out to be less than meets the eye.

Consider: President Barack Obama's 2012 budget proposes to spend $3.48 trillion on everything except interest on the national debt.  That's a 7 percent increase over what the government spent in 2010.  And keep in mind that in 2010, there was a lot of stimulus money flying out the door.
Nor are there painful cuts, net, in later years.  Instead, Obama proposes a permanently higher level of spending — without proposing the tax increases necessary to pay for that level.

How bad is the budget?  So bad that I heard some skepticism from the usual cheerleaders at ABC, CBS, and NBC last night, not enough skepticism, but some.

Obama did propose cuts in some programs, and a few of these may, indeed, be "painful".  Cynics may suspect that some of those proposed cuts were chosen precisely for that reason, so that Obama can pose as a responsible budget maker, even while he knows the cuts will never be enacted.

The best explanation for this budget proposal, I repeat the best explanation for this budget proposal, is that it is not serious, but is intended as an opening ploy in a long negotiation with Congress, especially the House Republicans.  In this interpretation, Obama is like the ball player who demands a ten million dollar salary for the next season, expecting to settle, eventually, for six or seven million dollars.  He makes an absurd proposal because he thinks it will help him in the negotiations.

That is, as I said, the best explanation.  The worst, in some ways, is that Obama does not really understand the federal budget, and the financial peril we are in.  I wish I could reject that explanation, but I can't.

(Obama does propose tax increases on the top 2 percent, and many other smaller tax increases, but the total revenues from these increases is far smaller than the deficit, even ten years from now.)
- 9:57 AM, 15 February 2011   [link]

Barbra Streisand Had A Crush On Bobby Fischer!?  A "bit of a crush", anyway, when they attended Erasmus Hall High School.

Now that's a connection I never would have suspected.

More on Fischer in the usual Wikipedia article.  If you have any knowledge of chess at all, you'll want to look at this 1956 game against Donald Byrne, often called the "Game of the Century".
- 8:24 PM, 14 February 2011   [link]

Need A Cupid For Valentine's Day?  The New York Times has a whole set to choose from.

(In my experience, an older married woman is more likely to be helpful in such matters than a baby archer.  But I offer that thought with this caveat:  Women are, naturally, more likely to be interested in whether the guy will be right for the girl than the reverse.)
- 4:05 PM, 14 February 2011   [link]

Mt. St. Helens, Last Week:  Last Wednesday, I suggested that you take a look at Mt. St. Helens from time to time.  I took my own advice, and saved some of the views.  Here's my favorite.

Mt. St Helens, 9 February 2011
(Click on the picture to see the larger version.)

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(Today, it's pouring rain here, and some of us would like a reminder that the sun will come back, some time.)
- 2:41 PM, 14 February 2011   [link]

Good News On Congresswoman Giffords:  She is recovering some ability to speak.
Representative Gabrielle Giffords, an eloquent speaker before she was shot in the head last month, is relearning the skill — progressing from mouthing words and lip-syncing songs to talking briefly by telephone to her brother-in-law in space.
That's a good sign, and we can only hope that she continues to recover.
- 11:07 AM, 14 February 2011   [link]

AOL Pays $315 Million For Huffington Post:  And immediately loses $315 million in value.
Arianna Huffington and Ken Lerer, co-founders of the Huffington Post, are said to be walking away with a combined $80 million to $100 million from an original $2 million per person investment -- but so far AOL stockholders aren't seeing that kind of return.

Since Feb. 1, the price of AOL shares has dropped from $23.85 to $20.89 at yesterday's close.

With 106.7 million shares outstanding, that means AOL has shed $315 million in value over the last five trading days -- which happens to be exactly the same price AOL agreed to pay to acquire HuffPo.
Usually, I do some quick checks on the facts in a story before posting it, but, for the moment, this one is too perfect to check.  (Though I will, eventually, I promise.)
- 9:12 AM, 14 February 2011   [link]

High-Speed Rail = High-Speed Waste:  Robert Samuelson is tough on Vice President Biden.
Vice President Biden, an avowed friend of good government, is giving it a bad name.  With great fanfare, he went to Philadelphia last week to announce that the Obama administration proposes spending $53 billion over six years to construct a "national high-speed rail system."   Translation: The administration would pay states $53 billion to build rail networks that would then lose money - lots - thereby aggravating the budget squeezes of the states or federal government, depending on which covered the deficits.

There's something wildly irresponsible about the national government undermining states' already poor long-term budget prospects by plying them with grants that provide short-term jobs.   Worse, the rail proposal casts doubt on the administration's commitment to reducing huge budget deficits.  The president's 2012 budget is due Monday.  How can it subdue deficits if it keeps proposing big spending programs?
But not as tough as he could have been.  Samuelson could have mentioned Biden's commuting habits; for years, Biden commuted on a federally-subsidized Amtrak train.  That worked out very well for him, but didn't do much for the taxpayers.

Does the Obama administration understand the numbers that Samuelson patiently lays out in the rest of the column?  No doubt there are bureaucrats in the administration, perhaps even a few low-level political appointees, who do.  But I am beginning to think that neither Obama nor Biden does.  Am I saying that I suspect the two are almost innumerate?  Yes, I guess that I am.  And that is a frightening conclusion, since strategic thinking, about our national defense or our economy, requires an ability to think with numbers.

(If you look at the beneficiaries of the current Amtrak subsidies, most turn out to be people like Biden, people who are well off enough so that they could pay for their own train trips.)
- 7:00 AM, 14 February 2011   [link]

Yesterday Was a minor holiday, Valenswine's Day.
If Feb. 14 is for drugstore chocolates and bodega flowers, then today is for blue Tiffany boxes and lingerie.

That's because Feb. 13 is "Valenswine's Day," when cheating husbands take their mistresses out on the town -- and luxurious restaurants and hotel bars see busy corner tables and telltale age gaps.
And those restaurants are willing, thanks in part to generous tips, to be discreet about these celebrations.
- 6:34 AM, 14 February 2011   [link]

How Lincoln Became A Surveyor:  In the fall of 1833, the Sangamon county surveyor, John Calhoun, had more work than he could handle.  A local farmer, Pollard Simmons, suggested that he take on Lincoln for part of the work.  After checking that there were no political obligations to the job — both Calhoun and Simmons were Democrats — Lincoln accepted.

And then began a cram course in surveying.
Then for six weeks, daytime and often all of nighttime, he had his head deep in Gibson's's Theory and Practice of Surveying and Flint's Treatise on Geometry, Trigonometry and Rectangular Surveying.  From decimal fractions one book ran n into logarithms, the use of mathematical instruments, operating the chain, circumferentor, surveying by intersections, changing the scale of maps, leveling, methods for mensuration of areas.  Many night, said Mentor Graham's daughter, she woke at midnight to see Lincoln and her father by the fire, figuring and explaining, her mother sometimes bringing fresh firewood for better lighting.  On some nights he worked alone till daylight and it wore him down.  He was fagged, and friends said he looked like a hard drinker after a two weeks' spree.  Good people said, "You're killing yourself."

In six weeks, however, he had mastered his books, and Calhoun put him to work on the north end of Sangamon County.
(Mentor — that really is his first name — Graham was a local school teacher, who had helped Lincoln in other studies.)

When Lincoln began this cram course, he had had just a few years of formal school, none of it going beyond what is now taught in grade schools, perhaps not even beyond what is usually taught in the primary grades.  But he mastered surveying in weeks, because he was a brilliant and hard-working man — and because at that time in his life he really needed the money.

There may be a job training lesson, even now, in Lincoln's experience.  Even for those who are not as brilliant and hard working as Lincoln was — that is to say, at least 99.9 percent of us.   Lincoln knew that he would not have the job until he could do the work, and so he learned the skills he needed as quickly as he could.

There may be another lesson for us in Lincoln's lack of certification.  Most states, says this Wikipedia article, require surveyors to have a degree in surveying.  But what if someone wants to be a surveyor and, like Lincoln, needs a job right away?  Then he is out of luck.

There are advantages to our current system, especially in a society as litigious as ours is, but I often wonder whether we may have gone too far in asking so many workers to have extensive formal requirements before we allow them to do so many jobs.  (Exams, if they are well-designed, could, in my opinion, often substitute for those requirements.)
- 3:55 PM, 13 February 2011   [link]

Why I Have Started Saying "Even" When I Cite PolitiFact:  Because they are just a little tougher on Republicans than Democrats.
PolitiFact assigns "Pants on Fire" or "False" ratings to 39 percent of Republican statements compared to just 12 percent of Democrats since January 2010
So when PolitiFact does criticize a Democrat, I say "even".  (And when they criticize a Republican, I double check their facts and argument.)
- 7:27 AM, 10 February 2011   [link]

Some Leftists Search Desperately To Find Republican Sex Scandals:   (Especially since Bill Clinton's encounter with Monica Lewinsky, and the perjury that followed.)   Since humans are imperfect, the leftists are successful in their searches from time to time.

But, and I probably should not say this in a site I try to keep family friendly, the scandals they find almost always seem rather mild.  For example, Republican Mark Foley should not have been sending suggestive text messages to pages, but he apparently broke no laws, unlike his Democratic successor, Tim Mahoney.  (Earlier, Congressman Gerry Studds did break some laws in his relationships with pages, but ended his career in the House as a hero to many Democrats.)

Republican politicians out-perform Democratic politicians in many ways, but If you are looking for juicy sex scandals, scandals with actual sex and broken laws, you should start on the left side of the aisle.

The latest Republican sex scandal, which has led to the resignation of Republican Congressman Chris Lee, illustrates my point.
Rep. Christopher Lee resigned from office Wednesday just hours after a report claimed the married Republican congressman sent a shirtless photo of himself to a woman on Craigslist.
Of course a married man should not be pretending to be single and trolling for women on Craigslist (or anywhere else).  Of course, sending that photo was crude and more than a bit silly.

But I don't think his behavior threatens the Republic, or even good government generally.  And as far as we now know, nothing he did was illegal.

(Speaker Boehner may be especially sensitive to sex scandals, since he originally won his seat in the House because of a sex scandal.  Incidentally, I thought that the Republican leadership was absolutely right to call for Lukens to resign, and absolutely right to work to defeat him in the primary.)
- 6:21 AM, 10 February 2011   [link]

WSJ Versus NYT On Toyota Gas Pedals:  Yesterday, the study absolving Toyota of having bad accelerator systems was released.  The Wall Street Journal played the story straight.  Here's their lead paragraph:
Federal highway safety officials on Tuesday absolved the electronics in Toyota Motor corp. vehicles for unintended acceleration, and said driver error was to blame for most of the incidents.
The New York Times relayed most of Secretary Ray LaHood's spin.
After dissecting Toyota's engine control software and bathing its microchips in every type of radiation engineers could think of, federal investigators found no evidence that the company's cars are susceptible to sudden acceleration from electronic failures, the government said Tuesday.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood walked to the podium to deliver the results of a report released Tuesday by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration which found no electronic flaws to explain reports of sudden, unintentional acceleration in Toyota vehicles.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration concluded that the sudden acceleration was caused by mechanical problems in some Toyota models — sticking accelerator pedals and floor mat interference — that it had previously identified as causes.
. . .
Mr. LaHood and other officials were also quite diplomatic about a likely cause of the unintended accelerations — pushing on the accelerator instead of the brake.  On Tuesday department officials called these "pedal misapplications," and when a reporter asked if the problem was drivers making a mistake, Mr. LaHood shot back from the podium, "Nobody up here has ever insinuated the term that you used, driver error."
If you read the rest of the article carefully, you will learn that the third paragraph is, well, let's be diplomatic and call it misleading.  The experts found one case in which a floor mat caused the problem and zero cases in which a stuck accelerator caused the problem.  (Even the floor mat problem might have been caused by driver error.)

Car guys, and anyone who remembered the Audi story — which is worth reading if only for another example of how dishonest 60 Minutes has been from time to time — suspected driver error all along.

So Toyota was innocent all along, but they have been, and will be, punished anyway.  (Although this report should help them defend against those hundreds of lawsuits.)  The "journalists" who hyped this story probably got raises.

It is embarrassing, but I have to admit that LaHood is a Republican, the only Republican in Obama's Cabinet.
- 4:17 PM, 9 February 2011   [link]

CBO Fiscal Outlook:  Where are federal taxes and spending now, and where are they projected to be?  The Congressional Budget Office churns these out routinely.  If you aren't shocked by parts of this graph, you should study it a little longer.

CBO fiscal outlook, Feb. 2011

Note, for instance, how taxes are projected to soar from a little less than 15 percent of GDP to almost 21 percent in the next decade — without ending the deficit.

And, as you probably know, the CBO has to make these estimates using some improbable assumptions, so the future part of that graph is way too optimistic.

(Here's the CBO document, if you want to see some of the gloomy details.

By way of the TaxProf, who is criticizing the Associated Press for leaving out the projected increase in taxes.)
- 1:26 PM, 9 February 2011   [link]

Pictures From The Last Kodachrome Roll reminded me how much I love that film.  (Though not enough to give up the advantages of digital photography very often, in recent years.)
- 10:41 AM, 9 February 2011   [link]

President Obama's Bold Lie On Taxes:  In the Bill O'Reilly Super Bowl day interview, there was this interchange:
O'REILLY: Here's what the Wall Street Journal said, I want you to react to this.  Mr. Obama is a determined man of the left whose goal is to redistribute much larger levels of income across society.  He may give tactical ground when he has to, as he did on taxes to avoid a middle class tax increase, but he will resist to his last day any major changes to Obamacare and the other load-bearing walls of the entitlement state.

This is The Wall Street Journal you know painting you as pretty left-wing guy.  Are you going to go along?

OBAMA: Well, the Wall Street Journal probably would paint you as a left-wing guy.  I mean, if you're talking about the Wall Street Journal editorial page . . .

O'REILLY: I've got to tell you, that's what this is.

OBAMA: You know, that's like quoting the New York Times editorial . . .

O'REILLY: Do you deny the assessment?  Do you deny that you are a man who wants to redistribute wealth.

OBAMA: Absolutely.

O'REILLY: You deny that?

OBAMA: Absolutely.   I didn't raise taxes once, I lowered taxes over the last two years.
(O'Reilly, to his credit, goes on to challenge Obama's bizarre claim that he is not in favor of redistributing wealth.  O'Reilly, to his debit, does not challenge Obama's false claim that he "didn't raise taxes once".)

Of course, Obama has — by signing bills passed by the Pelosi-Reid Congress — raised taxes many times, as even PolitiFact admits.

On the other hand, it is true that federal taxes have been cut — temporarily — as part of the Obama-Pelosi-Reid stimulus package.  Temporarily.  So the OPR team has given us, net, lower taxes in the short term and higher taxes in the long term.  (Low-income smokers probably pay higher taxes, net, even in the short term.)

I might be willing to say that Obama just mis-spoke, that he meant to say something similar to what I just said.  Except — he began with that claim that he does not favor redistribution.

In fact, nearly every American politician favors redistribution, and the farther to the left a politician is, the more they favor it.  To deny that he favors redistribution, as Obama did in that interview, makes everything else he said suspect.

(There is an even more disturbing possibility; Obama may believe what he said.  If so, he is dangerously out of touch with reality.  I think that unlikely, but mention it for completeness, and because I have raised the issue before.

Incidentally, people on the left should be even more annoyed at Obama than I am.  They have, in my opinion, every right to expect him to make a principled defense of redistribution, when asked that kind of question.

The TaxProf has the video, and some useful links)
- 10:19 AM, 9 February 2011   [link]

Mountain Views Today:  Weather forecasters are predicting sun today, so the web cams should show us pretty views of the mountains, especially in the late afternoon.

(The old Mt. St. Helens camera has been inoperative for a few days, but the new hi-res camera is working fine.)
- 7:57 AM, 9 February 2011   [link]

Arianna Huffington Is Consistent:  Whatever her current ideological pose, she is always for Arianna, says Dana Milbank, as he explains her latest shift toward the center.
Nobody bamboozles Arianna Stassinopoulos Huffington.  If anybody was fooled, it was those who believed she would be a more enduring progressive than she was a conservative.
Jack Shafer gives Huffington the reluctant praise that a serious newspaper would give a successful tabloid; she knows what (some) readers want.  And, even more importantly, what search engines are looking for.

(Until I read Shafer's column, I had not realized just how often she has been charged with plagiarism — and how little effect those charges have had on her career.

Full disclosure:  I look at her site regularly, more for than for anything else.)
- 6:19 AM, 9 February 2011   [link]