February 2012, Part 4

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

The Wall Street Journal has a sensible editorial giving credit to Mitt Romney:
For all of his struggles as a campaigner, Mitt Romney doesn't lack for resilience.  That character trait is essential in a President, and Mr. Romney proved again Tuesday that he has it by winning primaries in Arizona and in an especially rough contest against Rick Santorum in Michigan.  Mr. Romney never makes it look easy, but as Hillary Clinton knows from 2008, victory beats the alternative.
So far in this nomination contest, Romney has done what he needed to do to win.  That makes me more optimistic about his chances against Obama, should Romney be the Republican nominee.

The Journal also had advice for Rick Santorum:
Mr. Santorum should consider a serious speech of his own on the subject, of the sort Kennedy delivered, rather than always speaking off the cuff in TV interviews or at town halls.  It's nice to hear an unscripted candidate, but a serious subject like the role of religion in modern public life deserves more thoughtful treatment.   Mr. Obama showed how such treatment can help politically when he delivered his speech on race in the 2008 primaries.  To get elected, Mr. Santorum needs to reassure non-religious voters as much as he needs to speak on behalf of the faithful.
Good advice, in my opinion.

(You may have to get to the editorial with a search at Google News, as I did.)
- 6:06 PM, 29 February 2012   [link]

I Blame Majority Leader Harry Reid:  For Senator Olympia Snowe's decision not to run for re-election.

Oh, I don't give him all the blame, but I think he deserves much of it.  Consider what Snowe said when she made her surprise announcement:
Sen. Olympia J. Snowe, the iconic Republican moderate from Maine, announced her retirement from the Senate on Tuesday, saying she would not seek a fourth term because political partisanship has made the Senate unproductive.

“Unfortunately, I do not realistically expect the partisanship of recent years in the Senate to change over the short term,” Snowe said.  “So at this stage of my tenure in public service, I have concluded that I am not prepared to commit myself to an additional six years in the Senate.”
And which person is most responsible for that partisanship?  The Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid.  He has set a nasty tone in the Senate by his words and actions, again and again, and shows no sign of planning to change his ways.

I don't think I would like to work with him, either.

(The suddenness of Snowe's decision made many suspect that there was something she wasn't telling us, some reason besides the one she gave.  That's possible, though I have no idea what it might be, but I am absolutely sure that partisanship was part of the reason she is leaving the Senate.)
- 3:33 PM, 29 February 2012   [link]

Mitt Romney Did Better Yesterday Than He Did In 2008:   The Washington Times said that.
And in both Arizona and Michigan, he improved on his showing from 2008, breaking what had been a trend of shedding support from his prior run.
And they are right.  Their article was published before the count was complete, so they couldn't give you numbers, but I can.

In Arizona in 2008, Romney won 186,838 votes (34 percent); this year he won 216,805 votes (47 percent).

That may not tell us much, because in 2008 he was running against McCain, and Arizona is McCain's home state (though he didn't quite win a majority there in the 2008 primary).   But Romney also did better this year in Michigan.

In Michigan in 2008, Romney won 338,316 votes (39 percent); this year he won 409,899 votes (41 percent).

His competition in Michigan in the two years was about equally tough, I would say.  In 2008, he was running against McCain, Huckabee, and Paul, this year against Santorum, Gingrich, and Paul.
- 11:07 AM, 29 February 2012   [link]

Photo Manipulation Throughout History:  This Daily Mail article uses Professor Hany Farid's collection to make this general point:
Digital forensics expert Dr Hany Farid said: 'Although we may have the impression that photographic tampering is something relatively new - a product of the digital age - the reality is that history is riddled with photographic fakes.'
And illustrates that point with fake photographs of Lincoln and Grant.

Although the article mentions Stalin's extensive fakery, and includes a sample, it does not mention The Commissar Vanishes, which has so many examples of that fakery.  (The cover shows how an original photograph was modified, a step at a time, from showing four men to showing one — Stalin.)

Here's Farid's collection, if you want to see more.  I can almost guarantee that you will find a few that surprise you.
- 10:35 AM, 29 February 2012   [link]

You Can Read Half A Dozen Articles Analyzing The Michigan Primary:  Or you can just look through the exit poll results for yourself.

The latter is probably the better strategy.

I was mildly amused by this finding:  Mitt Romney, Mormon, did better among Catholics than Rick Santorum, Catholic (44-37).
- 7:24 AM, 29 February 2012   [link]

"Mainstream" Journalists Will Be Unhappy This Morning:   They want the fight for the Republican nomination to be long and dirty, with no survivors.

Romney's victories in Arizona and Michigan make that less likely.

So what will "mainstream" journalists do?  They will turn from attacking Santorum on social issues to attacking Romney for being out of touch with working folks — unlike, say, Barack "Arugula" Obama.

Some "mainstream" journalists will say — correctly — that they want the conflict to continue because it makes for more interesting news stories.  That's true, but it is also true that they like the conflict because they think it damages the Republican chances in November.
- 5:34 AM, 29 February 2012   [link]

New Lawyer Jokes?  Maybe.  A Georgetown law school student has given us some new — new to me, anyway — straight lines.
Speaking at a hearing held by Pelosi to tout Pres. Obama’s mandate that virtually every health insurance plan cover the full cost of contraception and abortion-inducing products, Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke said that it’s too expensive to have sex in law school without mandated insurance coverage.

Apparently, four out of every ten co-eds are having so much sex that it's hard to make ends meet if they have to pay for their own contraception, Fluke's research shows.
It would be wrong for me to take advantage of Ms. Fluke and supply a punch line or two, wrong because there are many decent and honest lawyers who don't deserve to be linked to her thinking.

(Oh, all right, just one.  Which I heard on Medved's show, but had already thought of myself:  It may be in the public interest to prevent law school students from breeding.)
- 4:49 PM, 28 February 2012   [link]

It's Semi-Official:  Greece is in "selective default".
Standard & Poor's downgraded Greece's credit rating Monday to "selective default" after the government took legal steps to impose losses on all holders of Greek government bonds.

The move, which had been expected, was prompted by Greece's decision last week to insert "collective action clauses" into the contracts of most Greek government bonds, S&P said in a statement.

In March, Greece is expected to finalize a deal with investors to write down 53% of its debt held by the private sector as part of a second €130 billion bailout from the European Union and International Monetary Fund.
Slowly, slowly, they are facing reality.  (Though I can't entirely blame them for their delays, considering how unpleasant the reality is.)
- 4:14 PM, 28 February 2012   [link]

No Michigan Prediction From Me:  Because I heard, on Michael Medved's show, some early exit poll results, a 3 point edge for Romney.  Giving a prediction after hearing that seems like cheating.  (And, yes, I do know that exit polls are not as reliable as standard polls.)

FWIW, I had decided to predict a narrow Romney victory in Michigan, but had not decided on an exact number.  It's an especially difficult prediction for a primary because of the possibility of tactical voting by Democrats.  There certainly has been some, but enough to affect the results significantly?  Hard to say, though I suspect not.

I had come to that partial prediction because the Santorum surge has peaked, nationally, and, I thought, probably in Michigan as well.
- 3:57 PM, 28 February 2012
Darn:  As I am sure you know, the networks have been calling Michigan for Romney, as they could have an hour or so ago.  And now I really wish I had gotten my prediction in on time, though I am not absolutely sure that I would have been brave enough to go all the way with what my analysis told me.

But I would have been closer than Nate Silver.

There was a swing to Romney at the very end; according to the exit poll, he won 38 percent of the votes of those who decided on the last day, while Santorum won only 31 percent of their votes.  Almost one in ten voters decided on the last day.
- 7:42 PM, 28 February 2012   [link]

Here's Nate Silver's Michigan primary prediction.  Silver is predicting that Romney will get 38.7 percent of the vote, and Santorum 38 percent of the vote.  Romney has, according to Silver, a 55 percent chance to win, and Santorum, a 45 percent chance.

No wonder Silver includes this disclaimer:
These forecasts are formulated from an average of recent surveys, with adjustments made to account for a polling firm's accuracy, freshness of a poll and each candidate's momentum.  Although this improves accuracy, there is still considerable uncertainty in the forecast as is reflected in the range of possible vote totals for each candidate.
I'm not criticizing Silver for that disclaimer; if I do put up my own prediction, I'll say something similar.

And I think this kind of disclaimer is exactly what should be included in any forecast, especially one based, mostly, on polls.
- 12:52 PM, 28 February 2012   [link]

Michael Moore Has Endorsed Rick Santorum:  Because Moore wants to drag out the Republican nomination process.

He's copying a similar tactic used by Rush Limbaugh in 2008.

I didn't like this tactic in 2008, and I don't like it now.  (I don't recall whether I criticized here in 2008 — but I should have.)

Republicans who thought this was a good tactic in 2008 should recognize this unpleasant fact:   It probably will help Democrats more often than Republicans.
- 10:14 AM, 28 February 2012   [link]

Client #9 Will Be Hosting A Fund Raiser for Congressman Jay Inslee:

The Love Gov is climbing back into bed — with lawmakers.

For the first time since a tawdry hooker scandal trashed his political career, Eliot Spitzer is holding a fund-raiser for a politician looking to make a national splash.

The former governor is hosting the event at his Fifth Avenue home for Washington state gubernatorial hopeful Jay Inslee on March 5.

Inslee, currently a Democrat in the House of Representatives, shares many of Spitzer’s left-leaning political stances.

That fund raiser should delight Inslee's opponent, Republican Rob McKenna.   (It has has already made this Republican, McKenna supporter, and, unfortunately, Inslee constituent, happy.)

My attention was drawn to this story by a blog post by hyper-partisan Seattle PI columnist Joel Connelly.

The post is not exactly "fair and balanced" in its brief description of Spitzer's prosecutorial career.  There are many who believe that Spitzer was one of the most abusive prosecutors in modern times.  This Wikipedia biography is probably slanted toward Spitzer, but they do mention some of his critics, including the president of the US Chamber of Commerce, who described Spitzer's approach as follows: "the most egregious and unacceptable form of intimidation we've seen in this country in modern times".  But Mr. Connelly may not mind abusive prosecutors, as long as they abuse his enemies.  (Don't miss the "Troopergate" scandal, if you do glance through the biography.)

Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 9:27 AM, 28 February 2012   [link]

Obama's Daughters Shouldn't Be Dragged Into Politics:   Even if the person dragging them into politics is Obama.

Oh, and it is probably illegal to use official White House photos for fund raising.  If we had a law professor as president, or even a first lady with a law degree, we wouldn't see this disrespect for the letter of the law.
- 8:27 AM, 28 February 2012   [link]

Professor Bill McGuire Is Not An Optimist about climate change.  He's predicting disastrous earthquakes, volcanoes, and tsunamis.

The net result, he says, will not be good.
The bottom line is that through our climate-changing activities we are loading the dice in favour of escalating geological havoc at a time when we can most do without it.  Unless there is a dramatic and completely unexpected turnaround in the way in which the human race manages itself and the planet, then long-term prospects for our civilisation look increasingly grim.  At a time when an additional 220,000 people are lining up at the global soup kitchen each and every night; when energy, water and food resources are coming under ever-growing pressure, and when the debilitating effects of anthropogenic climate change are insinuating themselves increasingly into every nook and cranny of our world and our lives, the last thing we need is for the dozing subterranean giant to awaken.
He doesn't say whether he has acquired a complete set of survivalist gear — harder to do in Britain than here — but his argument would be stronger if he had made such an investment.

His latest book, where he describes these approaching catastrophes in more detail, will be released on April 1st.  Yes, that's right, on April Fools' Day.

Someone involved with producing this book (probably not Professor McGuire) has a bit of skepticism and a sense of humor.

(No, I don't know why he thinks we are less able to cope with disasters now than we were, for example, a thousand years ago.)
- 12:43 PM, 27 February 2012   [link]

"Plant-Like Substance"  Every once in a while, I see or hear something that makes me wonder just how much science President Obama knows, or perhaps I should say, how little he knows.

There was another such moment in his deeply dishonest speech on energy, last Thursday.
We’re making new investments in the development of gasoline and diesel and jet fuel that’s actually made from a plant-like substance -- algae. You’ve got a bunch of algae out here, right? (Laughter.) If we can figure out how to make energy out of that, we’ll be doing all right.

Believe it or not, we could replace up to 17 percent of the oil we import for transportation with this fuel that we can grow right here in the United States.
When I heard that, I found it hard to believe, so I checked the official transcript, in this prepared speech.  And then re-read it.

And having re-read it, I can not escape this conclusion:  President Obama does not know what algae are.  They are not a "plant-based substance".  They are not a "substance"; they are living organisms, most of them microscopic, that create their food by photosynthesis.  And, not so incidentally, release most of the oxygen that we breath, as a waste product.  (Show some respect the next time you see some pond scum; those little green guys can get along without us, but we can't get along without them.)

In fact, in ordinary usage, algae are plants.  Unless, you think, for example, that ordinary seaweed is a "plant-like substance", rather than plants.

Someone ought to tell President Obama that.

As for using algae for fuel, we already do that, on a small scale, in many places.  We taxpayers should certainly support research into algae-based fuels, but our elected officials should be careful about making promises about how soon we can expect such fuels to be cheap enough to replace fossil fuels.

(For biologists, classifying algae is complicated, because what we call algae belong to more than one phyla.  The problem is interesting enough to deserve another post, but one that may be of less interest to those who come here for political commentary.)
- 10:34 AM, 27 February 2012   [link]

Is A Greek Exit From The Euro Inevitable?  Many chief financial officers think so.
What to read into the following?  At an Economist Conferences event for CFOs and finance directors in London this week, I asked the audience whether Greece would end up leaving the euro zone.  Every single hand went up.  Asked whether more countries than Greece would leave, roughly two-thirds of the audience agreed they would.
Why?  Because the "demands being made of Greece will be almost impossible to meet" and because voters in the creditor nations have lost patience with Greece.

(I am no expert on Greek politics, but I would expect that the two dominant parties in Greece, PASOK and New Democracy, will both lose heavily in the next election.  Which parties will gain?  It would be hard to say now, even if you knew more about Greek politics than I do, but I would expect gains by extremist parties and, perhaps, a new party or two.  In short, parties that did not agree to the terms of the bailouts will gain, at the expense of parties that did.

Here's a list of the parties with members in Greece's current parliament.)
- 9:02 AM, 27 February 2012   [link]

Obstacles To Uranium Mining In Virginia:  In 1982, an extremely rich deposit of uranium was discovered at Cole's Hill, in southern Virginia.   The Virginia legislature, then controlled by Democrats, immediately banned uranium mining in Virginia.

Now, with the world price of uranium soaring from about ten dollars to about fifty dollars a pound, Virginia is considering lifting that ban, as I learned from this Wall Street Journal article (which you can read in full, here.)

Naturally, Virginia has asked for scientific advice, and received it in the form of a report from the National Academies of Science, which you can download here.   There is much of interest in the report, but it does not contain the kind of quantitative information that elected officials in Virginia really need.  The scientists who wrote it described a whole series of risks from uranium mining and processing — but don't attempt to estimate how large those risks are.

If the scientists who wrote the report were forced to summarize their advice briefly, they might say something like this:  If you do approve uranium mining in Virginia, be sure to set up regulations that require "best practices" in mining and processing.

None of this will surprise anyone who has watched environmental groups, and others, delay and even stop energy production in the United States, even, recently, energy production from politically correct sources like solar power.

But there was one fascinating — and discouraging — detail in that article that deserves mentioning:
If the ban were lifted, Virginia Uranium would still have to get state and federal permits and wouldn't expect to begin production until about at least 2017.
Note, please, the "at least".  So, even if Virginia lifts its ban, it will be at least five years before this rich mine can begin producing.  (In contrast, the Manhattan Project required just six years to create two different types of bombs from uranium ore.   And we knew much less about nuclear technology then.)

The mine would create about two hundred jobs, jobs that would pay well, especially compared to most others in that economically depressed area of Virginia.

(I probably should add, for those who worry about radiation, that the main risks from the mining are the usual chemical risks from mining and processing heavy metal ores, rather than from the small amounts of radiation that would be released.

Here's the company site.

Fun historical fact:  The family that owns this site acquired it in a grant from Thomas Jefferson.)
- 8:22 AM, 27 February 2012   [link]

Rudd Lost, 71-31:  So Julia Gillard remains head of Australia's Labor Party and prime minister — for now.

For what it is worth, most Labor members in marginal seats did not back Rudd, in spite of polls showing him more popular than Gillard.
- 5:21 PM, 26 February 2012   [link]

Worth Reading:  Arthur Brisbane's discussion of errors at newspapers, including his own, the New York Times.

Research into newspaper accuracy, conducted periodically over the past 75 years, consistently shows that news sources report an extraordinarily high rate of error in newspaper articles. A landmark study in 2005 found that more than 60 percent of the articles in a group of 14 newspapers contained some kind of error.
It may not make Mr. Brisbane feel better — and probably shouldn't — but broadcast journalists seem even worse to me, both in the number of errors they make, and their infrequent corrections.  (Here's a recent example.  I don't know if Q13 ever corrected it.)

At the New York Times, the worst offenders are their leftist opinion writers, the columnists and editorial writers who act as if they had a right to their own facts, as well as their own opinions.  It has gotten so bad that I have thought of suggesting that the Times simply announce on their editorial pages that, of course, they have the right to their own facts.

That kind of straightforward declaration would make it easier to take, for example, their next claim that vote fraud is "mythical", or the next time Gail Collins accuses Mitt Romney of dog abuse, or the next time Paul Krugman commits the "ecological fallacy".

Need a current example?  On the page before Brisbane's column, you can find one by Thomas Friedman, who has favored higher gasoline prices for decades.  In it, Friedman tells us:  "No one likes higher oil prices."

That would be funnier if it came from a grade school kid, rather than a senior opinion writer at our newspaper of record.

And you shouldn't hold your breath waiting for Friedman to correct that absurdity.
- 3:13 PM, 26 February 2012   [link]

Is "Moral Hazard" An Obscure Term?  New York Times reporter Shaila Dewan thinks so.
Behind this brouhaha [over the misuse of FEMA debit cards] was an idea that Americans seem particularly preoccupied with.  It is called “moral hazard” — an obscure insurance term that has taken on new currency in our troubled economy.  We’ve heard a lot about moral hazard lately, first in connection with the bailouts for big banks, and now with efforts to help homeowners who got in over their heads.
You can read the rest of Dewan's somewhat confused analysis, if you like.

But I stopped when I reached that "obscure insurance term" phrase.  Moral hazard is not an obscure term in insurance, and though it is used in insurance more often than most other places, the concept is found almost everywhere.

The Wikipedia article on moral hazard "has multiple issues", but it is still better than Dewan's analysis.
In economic theory, moral hazard is a tendency to take undue risks because the costs are not borne by the party taking the risk.  The term defines a situation where the behavior of one party may change to the detriment of another after a transaction has taken place.  For example, a person with insurance against automobile theft may be less cautious about locking their car, because the negative consequences of vehicle theft are now (partially) the responsibility of the insurance company.  A party makes a decision about how much risk to take, while another party bears the costs if things go badly, and the party insulated from risk behaves differently from how it would if it were fully exposed to the risk.
. . .
According to research by Dembe and Boden,[1] the term dates back to the 17th century and was widely used by English insurance companies by the late 19th century.  Early usage of the term carried negative connotations, implying fraud or immoral behavior (usually on the part of an insured party).
The classic example is fire insurance — which can encourage arson.  So there is a "moral hazard" to fire insurance because it may tempt some to commit crimes they would not commit, otherwise.

The term is most common in insurance, but the concept is almost everywhere.   Every parent — all right, almost every parent — knows that their children are more likely to break toys, if the children know that their parents will replace broken toys, immediately.

So, the term isn't obscure, nor is there any reason to think that Americans are especially preoccupied with it.

(So why did Dewan write this "analysis"?  To weaken the case against giveaways by leftist American politicians, as you can tell if you read the whole analysis.)
- 2:15 PM, 26 February 2012   [link]

The McBaguette:  The French love McDonald's.   And McDonald's loves them right back.  The big chain's latest effort to keep the French happy uses France's favorite bread.
For six weeks starting April 18, the 1,228 McDonald's restaurants across France will feature the McBaguette, with a burger topped with French-made Emmental cheese and mustard.
. . .
Incorporating the baguette could support sales in McDonald's most-profitable market in Europe.  "McDonald's is trying to diversify and is aiming at more traditional or older customers," said Yves Marin, a senior manager at consulting firm Kurt Salmon.  "The company is willing to attract those who won't eat the Big Mac."
The sandwich sounds good, though not good enough to require a trip to France to try it out.  (There are, granted, other reasons to visit France.)

It's fun to be reminded, from time to time, that France is McDonald's most profitable market, in Europe.

(McDonald's sells an astonishing variety of foods in other nations.  I'd try some of them, for instance, the McCountry and the El Maco, were they on the menus in this area.)
- 7:40 AM, 26 February 2012   [link]

Hope, Change, Theft, And Perjury:  Shepard Fairey is the artist who created that famous "Hope" poster for the 2008 Obama campaign.  Unfortunately for Mr. Fairey, he borrowed the Obama image too directly from an Associated Press photograph.

When the AP raised the issue with Mr. Fairey, he made a serious mistake and sued them and both destroyed and fabricated evidence to support his case.  He has now reached a settlement with AP — but faces other legal problems, as you can imagine.

Should opponents of President Obama take pleasure from Fairey's legal problems, should they even see them as, well, symbolic, as suggesting what kind of change Obama has brought?  No they shouldn't — but I couldn't help smiling, just a little bit, when I read that story.

More here and here.
- 4:24 PM, 25 February 2012   [link]