January 2009, Part 1

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Obama Want To Negotiate With Hamas?  I just finished the previous post when this story popped up.
The incoming Obama administration is prepared to abandon President Bush's doctrine of isolating Hamas by establishing a channel to the Islamist organisation, sources close to the transition team say.

The move to open contacts with Hamas - which could be initiated through the US intelligence services - would represent a definitive break with the Bush presidency's ostracising of the group.

The Guardian has spoken to three people with knowledge of the discussions in the Obama camp.

There is no talk of Obama approving direct diplomatic negotiations with Hamas early on in his administration, but he is being urged by advisers to initiate low-level or clandestine approaches, and there is growing recognition in Washington that the policy of ostracising Hamas is counter-productive.
There were reports of Obama organization contacts with Hamas during the campaign, so this shift would not be a great surprise.

Note that gentle word, "clandestine".  Let us translate that into something more direct.   The Obama aides are planning to betray Israel, secretly.  Whether our other allies and friends will have much reason to trust us should that happen does not concern the people proposing these "approaches".

Suzanne Goldenberg's language in support of negotiating with Hamas deserves examination.  The Guardian reporter uses the language of realism (which is often unrealistic).  She claims, without producing evidence, that ostracizing Hamas is "counter-productive".  Or to be more precise, though I am sure this is her own view, that people in Washington are beginning to recognize that it is "counter-productive".  And she quotes Aaron Miller as saying that negotiating with Hamas is necessary if the US is not to be perceived as "weak and feckless".  If he has any evidence for that strange argument, she doesn't produce it.

Nowhere in the article does she even mention the Hamas charter.  And one can see why she avoids the charter if you read even the first few paragraphs.
"You are the best nation that has been brought out for mankind.  You command good and forbid evil and believe in Allah.  If only the people of the Book [i.e., Jews and Christians] had believed, it would have been well for them.  Some of them believe, but most of them are iniquitous.  They will never be able to do you serious harm, they will only be an annoyance.  If they fight you, they will turn their backs and flee, and will not be succored.  Humiliation is their lot wherever they may be, except where they are saved from it by a bond with Allah or by a bond with men.  They incurred upon themselves Allah's wrath, and wretchedness is their lot, because they denied Allah's signs and wrongfully killed the prophets, and because they disobeyed and transgressed." (Koran, 3:110-112).

"Israel will exist, and will continue to exist, until Islam abolishes it, as it abolished that which was before it." [From the words of] The martyr, Imam Hasan al-Banna', Allah's mercy be upon him.
The charter doesn't offer a lot of room for negotiation, does it?  Unless, of course, you think that Israel should not exist, but that the nonexistence should be achieved through negotiation.

The problem with the "realist" approach to Middle East is that it is not, in the long run, realistic.   It is foolish to think that negotiations with Hamas will produce anything positive.  And I say that knowing full well that many famous people hold a different opinion.
- 5:15 PM, 8 January 2009   [link]

Democrats Are Much Less Likely To Support Israel:  David Frum explains why.
A Rasmussen poll conducted in the last week of 2008 found that while 62 percent of Republicans backed Israel's action in Gaza, only 31 percent of Democrats did.  Almost three-quarters of Republicans blamed Hamas for starting this war; only a minority of Democrats agreed.  Republicans are 20 points more friendly toward Israel than Democrats.  And while extreme hostility to Israel does not exist among Republicans, almost one in 10 Democrats describes Israel as an "enemy of the United States."
. . .
First, Democrats are just generally less likely to support military actions by any nation, including the United States.  A 2005 MIT poll found that only 57 percent of Democrats would support the use of American troops even to destroy a terrorist training camp.  (Compared to 95 percent of Republicans.)

Second, Democrats hold an inexhaustible faith in the value of negotiation.  Untroubled by Hamas' character as a terrorist movement pledged to the total destruction of Israel and the murder of its population, 55 percent of Democrats believe that Israel should have tried to find a diplomatic solution to the Hamas rocket barrage.

Third, the more closely Americans follow the news, the more likely they are to support Israel.  Yet more low-information voters are Democrats than Republicans.

Fourth, Democratic attitudes are poisoned by the influence of an anti-Zionist hard left, a vociferous faction whose ideology can bleed into outright anti-Semitism.
As Frum points out, you can find many examples of those attitudes on Barack Obama's transition web site.

Anti-Zionist attitudes are especially common among urban and academic Democrats, that is, in the groups that supported Barack Obama most strongly.  If Obama does decide to do the right thing and support Israel, he will disappoint many of his strongest supporters.
- 4:03 PM, 8 January 2009   [link]

Barack Obama Raised More Money Than Any Other Presidential Candidate:  (Some of it illegally.)  And he is still asking his supporters for cash.
When Barack Obama nominated Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton to be his Secretary of State, he got more than a new member of his cabinet — he also got her husband, former President Bill Clinton, a k a the fundraiser in chief.

Mr. Clinton has just sent out his first solicitation letter for Mr. Obama's inauguration.  The former president notes that he is an honorary co-chair of the inaugural committee and says he is asking for money to help in "making the inauguration a great success."
With, as Mickey Kaus complains, annoying pitches.
Not only is he still milking his supporters for money, he's doing it in an obnoxious way, no?  "Join us at the inauguration" turns out to mean "pay for other people to party at the inauguration you're not going to"!  (Even The Atlantic didn't think of that one.)  As if Obama's campaign thinks his supporters are not only suckers, but a particular type of sucker--the type of sucker who contributes because of the tiny chance of striking it rich.
Both writers seem surprised by these requests for money, but the requests will not surprise anyone familiar with machine politics.  Machine politicians can always use more money.  Which helps explain why so many of them raise it in illegal ways.

(In the past, machine politicians often raised money by imposing what amounted to a tax on patronage employees.  Every patronage employee was expected to contribute a fraction of his pay to the machine.  That's now illegal everywhere in the United States (or almost everywhere), but survives in milder forms almost everywhere.)
- 10:00 AM, 4 January 2009   [link]

Harry Reid Surrender Coming Soon?  Looks like it.
Senate Democrats have no choice but to change their tone about Roland Burris becoming a U.S. senator because Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich "called our bluff" in appointing someone over their objections, a senior Democratic congressional source conceded Wednesday.

"We tried to send a political signal to Blagojevich that we would not seat someone he appointed.   He called our bluff, in a reckless way," the Democratic source said.
. . .
After his meeting with Burris, Reid said that the Illinois Supreme Court may be able to help clear the way for Burris, a former state attorney general, to fill the Illinois Senate seat vacated by President-elect Barack Obama.

Reid said that he is waiting for a ruling from the Illinois high court on whether Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White needs to sign the certificate of appointment for Burris.
When you bluff, you had better be ready to be called, especially if it is obvious that you are bluffing.

(Lefty Jane Hamsher wants to play poker with Harry Reid — and I can see why.)
- 4:07 PM, 7 January 2009
More:  As John Kass reminds us, Barack Obama helped Harry Reid change his mind — after Obama had done his own 180 on Burris.
Only a week ago, Obama, Reid and other Democratic leaders were adamant that they'd block any Senate appointment made by tainted Illinois Gov. Rod "Dead Meat" Blagojevich, who has been charged with trying to sell Obama's seat to the highest bidder.
. . .
But today's news is that Obama, often treated by the national media as the gentle Mr. Tumnus of American politics, got privately hardball with Reid over the Tombstone issue.

According a story in the Tribune by Rick Pearson and Mike Dorning, Obama didn't want the Chicago Way on parade in Washington, less than two weeks before his inauguration, when he formally becomes the agent of the change we can believe in.
Harry Reid has much to learn about Chicago-style politics — and so do the rest of us.
- 7:57 AM, 8 January 2008   [link]

Bernie Madoff Had Helpers:  That's Holman Jenkins' explanation for the longevity of Madoff's Ponzi scheme.
Feeder funds appear to explain the Ponzi longevity of money manager Bernie Madoff.  To pay off early investors, mostly family and business connections in New York, he stuck his siphon into the moneyed worlds of Western Europe, Palm Beach and Hollywood.
. . .
That their proprietors weren't aware they were servicing a Ponzi scheme is plausible -- because they had money invested with Mr. Madoff too.  Yet this may be a conclusion too far.  A Ponzi scheme can be profitable for its "investors," and having their own money hostage would have been a fitting incentive for the feeder's role of pulling in new funds to keep the scheme going.
Sounds plausible.  Recently, I read that there are a few "investors" who look for Ponzi schemes to invest in, recognizing that early "investors" can make big profits from these scams.  (Legally, as Jenkins explains, those investors can't keep their winnings, but I suppose that just means that they have to be willing to move their money, and perhaps themselves, from time to time.) Jenkins ends by recycling some old advice:
In no book of wise investing, however, is it written: "Entrust all your money to a magical figure who claims to produce uncannily consistent profits by means he refuses to explain."
Or to put it in its more general form:  If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
- 10:20 AM, 7 January 2009   [link]

Democratic Scandals Don't Matter Yet:  So says Eve Fairbanks in this odd blog post.

What makes it odd are two things:  Fairbanks does not seem bothered by the scandals themselves, only the damage they might do to her party.  And she does not seem to realize what many voters know, that Democrats are more likely to be involved in scandals than Republicans.  (For some evidence on that point, see this post.)

Her ignorance can be explained; "mainstream" news organizations love to cover Republican scandals, and hate to cover Democratic scandals.  (For some evidence on that point, just compare the coverage of Republican Mark Foley and his successor, Democrat Tim Mahoney.)  But an alert journalist should know that Democrats have many more ethical lapses than Republicans.

Her indifference to the Democratic scandals is harder to explain.  She does not seem to care, for instance, about the damage that Democratic Governor Rod Blagojevich did, and is doing, to Illinois, or the damage that former governor Eliot Spitzer did to New York, only about what the scandals might do to the national Democrats.

(Fairbanks thinks that Haley Barbour is just a state politician.  She must be unaware of the basic facts about his career.  Barbour was chairman of the Republican National Committee from 1993 to 1997.)
- 7:07 AM, 7 January 2009   [link]

Too Bad Harry Reid Didn't Stand In The Door:  If he was going to block Roland Burris from joining the Senate, he should have followed historical precedent.
Somehow, Citizen Burris made his way to the office of Nancy Erickson, the secretary of the Senate, to whom he presented his credentials, only to have her reject them.  Afterward, the aspiring legislator stood in the rain outside and declared, "Members of the media, my name is Roland Burris, the junior senator from the State of Illinois."
Legally, Burris is probably right.

Majority Leader Reid should not have delegated this unpleasant task to Erickson.

I don't know whether to be appalled by this spectacle as an American, or delighted by it as a Republican.  For now, I have to admit that the second is winning.  (And I can even make an argument that the country will be better off if Reid is further discredited.)

(Younger readers may need an explanation.  In 1963,Democratic Governor George Wallace stood in a door, blocking two black students, Vivian Malone and James Hood, from registering at the University of Alabama and made this famous speech.  Wallace lost in the long run, as you know.)
- 3:44 PM, 6 January 2009   [link]

Beware Of What You Ask For:  That's the message of more than one fairy tale; that's also the message of this Wall Street Journal article.
Americans, fresh off a decadeslong buying spree, are finally saving more and spending less -- just as the economy needs their dollars the most.

Usually, frugality is good for individuals and for the economy.  Savings serve as a reservoir of capital that can be used to finance investment, which helps raise a nation's standard of living.  But in a recession, increased saving -- or its flip side, decreased spending -- can exacerbate the economy's woes. It's what economists call the "paradox of thrift."

U.S. household debt, which has been growing steadily since the Federal Reserve began tracking it in 1952, declined for the first time in the third quarter of 2008.  In the same quarter, U.S. consumer spending growth declined for the first time in 17 years.
Most economists, financial planners, and ordinary people with common sense have been urging Americans to spend less and save more for decades.  Now that Americans are taking that advice, many economists are unhappy about the result.  Or at least about the timing.

As it happens, I don't agree with those economists.  I think that the drops in the prices of energy, commodities, and housing will make up for our shift toward slightly greater saving.  The car owner who is paying less for gas will able to save more — and spend more on other things.  The home owner who negotiates a better deal on his mortgage will be able to save more, and spend more on other things.

The latest Bureau of Economic Analysis report on income and expenditures supports that conclusion.  In November, the latest month for which we have data, disposable personal income, allowing for inflation (or, actually, deflation), increased 1 percent.  In the same month, personal expenditures (again, in real terms) increased .6 percent.  So, in real terms, we saved more — and we spent more last November.

(If spending continued to increase at .6 percent per month over 2009, the total increase in spending would be greater than 7 percent, which is not what happens in a recession, much less a depression.  And it is worth adding that the income and spending numbers were lowered in the last half of 2008 by the big Boeing strike and Hurricane Ike.)
- 1:23 PM, 6 January 2009   [link]

Life Is Full Of Little Surprises:  And a few big surprises.
Thanks to a rapid rebound in recent months, global sea ice levels now equal those seen 29 years ago, when the year 1979 also drew to a close.

Ice levels had been tracking lower throughout much of 2008, but rapidly recovered in the last quarter.   In fact, the rate of increase from September onward is the fastest rate of change on record, either upwards or downwards.
If any scientists predicted this, I missed it.  But you can find many scientists who predicted the opposite.
- 12:46 PM, 6 January 2009   [link]

Cities Are Bad For You:  According to neuroscientists.
Now scientists have begun to examine how the city affects the brain, and the results are chastening.   Just being in an urban environment, they have found, impairs our basic mental processes.  After spending a few minutes on a crowded city street, the brain is less able to hold things in memory, and suffers from reduced self-control.  While it's long been recognized that city life is exhausting -- that's why Picasso left Paris -- this new research suggests that cities actually dull our thinking, sometimes dramatically so.
I can't resist this political point:  Those who live in American big cities — those who have, according to this article, impaired mental processes — voted overwhelmingly for Barack Obama.

(There's much more in the article, including some benefits of cities.  But on the whole the findings in the article suggest that the widespread preference for living in suburbs is rational.)
- 7:26 AM, 6 January 2009   [link]

Europeans Often Have Naive Ideas About The World:  But these Europeans have an excuse.  The three are five, six and seven years old.  (And terribly cute.)   They may still succeed in their plan — if they wait about fifteen years.

(Some might be surprised by my conclusion in the headline.  But I think it is justified, especially in matters of security.  Europeans have been protected by the US since the end of World War II, and many have come to have an adolescent attitude toward security, as a consequence.

And the deliberate importation of millions of immigrants with different religions and different cultural values was also incredibly naive, as the Europeans are beginning to learn.)
- 5:29 AM, 6 January 2009   [link]

If You Fail, Should You Get A Promotion?  An industry watchdog investigated Bernie Madoff, but failed to nail him.  The watchdog head is now Obama's choice to head the SEC.
Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities LLC was examined at least eight times in 16 years by the Securities and Exchange Commission and other regulators, who often came armed with suspicions.

SEC officials followed up on emails from a New York hedge fund that described Bernard Madoff's business practices as "highly unusual."  The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, the industry-run watchdog for brokerage firms, reported in 2007 that parts of the firm appeared to have no customers.
. . .
The failure to stop Mr. Madoff also is an embarrassment for Mary Schapiro, the Finra chief who has been nominated by President-elect Barack Obama as the next SEC chairman.  Finra was involved in several investigations of Mr. Madoff's firm, concluding in 2007 that it violated technical rules and failed to report certain transactions in a timely way.
Schapiro wouldn't be my first choice for the job.
- 1:51 PM, 5 January 2009   [link]

"More Extreme Than The Nazis":  In this post, I argued that Hamas's ideology is at least as evil as Hitler's.  Ron Rosenbaum, author of Explaining Hitler, goes farther and says that Hamas is more extreme than the Nazis.  Here's the first point in his argument.
In other words, Hamas is not committed merely to the political goal of expelling Jews from the land of Israel but to what they believe is a sacred religious goal of exterminating all Jews everywhere behind every tree in creation.  (I'm not pinning any hopes on "the Gharqad tree").  I'd suggest those who deceive themselves into believing Hamas is just another Palestinian rights group, maybe a little on the extreme side, read the whole Bostom article.  The exterminationist anti-semitism of Hamas is more excessive than Hitler's.
There is a similarity between the two that Rosenbaum doesn't mention:  Like Hamas, the Nazis had considerable support in other countries, especially from those who thought that the Germans had been mistreated by the victorious allies, after World War I.
- 1:33 PM, 5 January 2009   [link]

Was Fulgencio Batista A Dictator?  Sure, though he also won elections in Cuba.  Is Fidel Castro a dictator?   Sure, and a far worse dictator than Batista.  But our "mainstream" journalists prefer not to say that Castro is what he is, a ruthless dictator.
From the AP to Reuters and from the New York Times to the Washington Post the MSM stories on the Cuban Revolution" 50th anniversary all mention a "dictator"-- but his name is Batista.  The Castro brothers invariably appear as "Presidents."  Fidel Castro has ruled (unelected) longer than Hitler and Stalin combined and mandates what his subjects, read, say, earn, eat (both substance and amount), where they live, travel or work.  No matter.  He's a "president"

You will search these stories in utter vain for any mention of mass-murder and jailings or torture—on the part of the Castros that is.  Yet mass-repression started on day one of the Castroite triumph and kicked into highest gear in the mid 60's, precisely at the apex of the Castro/Che popularity with western politicians, celebrities and "intellectuals."
This unwillingness to call Castro a dictator is bizarre.  It is as if the facts about Castro are too unpleasant for our "mainstream" journalists to face.  Or, in some cases, as if they sympathize with Castro, even though he is a dictator.
- 9:43 AM, 5 January 2009   [link]

Almost Linear:  Accompanying this not-so-interesting New York Times article on the chains used to measure yardage in football is a most interesting graphic.

The graphic shows the number of points earned by an NFL team in a single drive, against the starting positions.  For instance, if a team starts on its own 1 yard line, they can expect to gain about .7 of a point.  If the team starts on the 50 yard line, they can expect to gain about 2 points.   And so on.

But what startled me about the graphic is the relationship between the two variables.  It is almost linear through most of the range.  Drives starting on a team's 30 yard line were worth about 1.6 points.  Drives starting on the other team's 40 were worth about 2.5 points.  And so on.   I would have expected a much curvier relationship, since a defense only has to stop an offense once during a drive.

The relationship isn't quite linear through the whole range.  The expected points jumps up when a team gets the ball on the opponent's 35 yard line, that is, just at the range of most NFL field goal kickers.  And it jumps up again if a team gets the ball on the opponent's 1 or 2 yard line.

It would be interesting to hear possible explanations for this relationship from those who know about football statistics than I do.
- 2:25 PM, 4 January 2009   [link]

Five Years And Still Going:  Though we can't say that both are going strong.
The US space agency's (Nasa) Mars rovers are celebrating a remarkable five years on the Red Planet.

The first robot, named Spirit, landed on 3 January, 2004, followed by its twin, Opportunity, 21 days later.

It was hoped the robots would work for at least three months; but their longevity in the freezing Martian conditions has surprised everyone.
. . .
The rovers are now showing some serious signs of wear and tear.

Spirit has to drive backwards everywhere it goes because of a jammed wheel; and Opportunity's robotic arm has a glitch in a shoulder joint because of a broken electrical wire.

There have been times also when the vehicles' have been dangerously short on power because of the dust covering on their solar panels.
Martian winds, even in that thin atmosphere, have helped keep the rovers going by clearing the dust off the solar panels from time to time.  NASA currently describes Spirit's condition as "Serious but Stable".  Opportunity is in much better condition and could go on roving for years longer.

Sometimes government projects deliver more than promised.  (And sometimes much less.  Some Mars probes delivered no data at all.)

(Here's the Mars rover site, where you can find many more pictures, and descriptions of the rovers' current activities.)
- 9:08 AM, 4 January 2009   [link]

Bush Derangement Syndrome In Aspen:  Here's the story.

After delivering a series of crude gasoline bombs to two Aspen banks and bringing life in the ski town to a virtual halt, after promising a "horrible price in blood," Jim Blanning drove out of town, parked his green Jeep, and shot himself to death.

Law officers found his body early Thursday morning east of town — the final act in a strange sequence of events that led to the evacuation of central Aspen on New Year's Eve and a one-day delay of celebrations for many of those gathered in Colorado's top party town.

Along the way, Blanning stopped at the Aspen Times to deliver a hand-written note that railed against President Bush and a former top adviser, Karl Rove, . . .

Like almost all other BDS sufferers, Blanning did not approve of Bush's liberation of Iraq.

Blanning appears to have been a troubled man for many years.  But that note does make you wonder whether his hatred for Bush pushed him over the edge.

And I have to wonder whether our "mainstream" news organizations will give much coverage to that part of the story.  This morning, I saw the story on the local Fox station, Q13 — and the announcer didn't even mention Bush.   The New York Times story also omits any mention of Bush.  One would think that journalists would want to mention the BDS in their stories; after all, a possible motive is central to any crime story.

Both Seattle papers, the PI and the Times, used the AP story, which does mention Blanning's hatred for Bush, but in the mildest possible way.  The AP says that Blanning's notes include "criticisms of President Bush".  Well, yes, you could say that.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 9:29 AM, 2 January 2009   [link]

Worth Reading:  Charles Krauthammer on the war in Gaza.  Two samples;
Israel is so scrupulous about civilian life that, risking the element of surprise, it contacts enemy noncombatants in advance to warn them of approaching danger.  Hamas, which started this conflict with unrelenting rocket and mortar attacks on unarmed Israelis — 6,464 launched from Gaza in the past three years — deliberately places its weapons in and near the homes of its own people.
. . .
For Hamas, the only thing more prized than dead Jews are dead Palestinians.  The religion of Jew-murder and self-martyrdom is ubiquitous.  And deeply perverse, such as the Hamas TV children's program in which an adorable live-action Palestinian Mickey Mouse is beaten to death by an Israeli (then replaced by his more militant cousin, Nahoul the Bee, who vows to continue on Mickey's path to martyrdom).
Doesn't sound like Sesame Street, does it?  It is funny, until you realize that Hamas is raising its children to murder Jews, by any means, including suicide attacks.

(If you want a sober account of Hamas's murderous ideology, you may want to start here.  And you can find more here)
- 7:47 AM, 2 January 2009   [link]

Happy New Year!

- 12:28 PM, 1 January 2009   [link]