January 2009, Part 3

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Partisan, Childish, And Profane:  The New York Times uses a slightly different set of adjectives than I do, but I think mine fit better as a description of Barack Obama's chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel.
Earlier this month, Barack Obama was meeting with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other lawmakers when Rahm Emanuel, his chief of staff, began nervously cracking a knuckle.

Mr. Obama then turned to complain to Mr. Emanuel about his noisy habit.

At which point, Mr. Emanuel held the offending knuckle up to Mr. Obama's left ear and — like an annoying little brother — snapped off a few special cracks.
Just what we need in a presidential chief of staff, an "annoying little brother".

Obama wanted Emanuel for this position so badly that he pressured him into accepting the position, by asking him publicly.

Finally, there is this puzzle about Emanuel:  When the Blagojevich scandal exploded, Emanuel went on a trip to Africa.  Which is a bizarre thing for a man about to be a president's chief of staff to do.  It's like the mother of the bride vanishing in the weeks just before the wedding.

Many have speculated that Emanuel was sent to Africa to hide him from reporters' questions after the Blagojevich scandal exploded.  There may be another plausible explanation for the trip, but I haven't seen it.
- 4:17 PM, 24 January 2009   [link]

Maybe Because There Isn't Much To See?  Bruce Seidel has the excuses ready.

Lucy traveled across 3.2 million years and thousands of miles to get to Seattle, but officials at the Pacific Science Center say few folks have turned out to see the world's most famous fossil.

Facing up to a half-million-dollar loss on the exhibit, the center laid off 8 percent of its staff and froze wages, President and CEO Bryce Seidl said Friday.  Workers are taking unpaid days off, and the nonprofit organization suspended matching funds for individual retirement accounts.
. . .
Seidl blamed the economic downturn, which has cut into arts programs and museum budgets across the country.  December's snowy weather also robbed the science center of a traditionally busy month of parties and family visits.

But I think Seidel should consider this possibility:  Maybe people aren't coming because they know there isn't much to see.  Lucy is an important fossil, but it is not interesting to look at.   (You can see a picture here, if you are not familiar with the fossil.)

As it happens, I am an almost perfect customer for a Lucy exhibit.  I have been fascinated by paleontology for years, and have the spare time to visit exhibits like this one.  I even, some time ago, read Johanson's book on Lucy.  I briefly thought about going to the exhibit when I first heard about it coming to Seattle, but then I thought about those pictures of the fossil I had seen, and realized that there just wasn't much to see.

I am sorry to hear about workers losing pay and benefits, and even being laid off.  Seidel should stop making excuses and should admit that he made a mistake in booking this show.  He should consider resigning, and he should definitely take a pay cut.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 3:06 PM, 24 January 2009   [link]

Presidential Transition:  This series of pictures is fascinating.  (And to my untrained eye, a pretty good piece of work with Photoshop, or some similar program.)

By way of Mark Milian.
- 1:24 PM, 24 January 2009   [link]

The Seattle PI Will Probably Close Soon:  Two weeks ago, the Hearst corporation said they would try to sell the newspaper.  If they were unable to find a buyer in sixty days, they will close the newspaper, or, possibly, convert it to a web-only newspaper.

This will surprise some, but I hope that the PI survives, with all its faults.  And I hope that its competitor and partner, the Seattle Times, with all its faults, also survives.  Despite their faults — and I have said much about their faults over the years — we are better off with two major newspapers in this area, rather than just one, or even none.

Both newspapers continue to do investigative work that would hard to duplicate.  Recently, the PI did an interesting series on problems in the honey market, and the Times did a powerful series on MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) infections in Washington state's hospitals.   Both investigations would be hard for individuals, without press credentials, to do.

So I hope both newspapers survive, though both would be better off under different ownership.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(You can find accounts of the PI's problems here and here.

What about the two main alternative Seattle-area newspapers, the Seattle Weekly and the Stranger?  I don't read either often enough to have a firm opinion on whether they are a net contributors to this area.)
- 1:41 PM, 23 January 2009   [link]

Basic Data On Giving:  Arthur Brooks has it.  Political junkies will find this part of his findings of special interest.

In May of last year, the Gallup polling organization asked 1,200 American adults about their giving patterns.  People who called themselves "conservative" or "very conservative" made up 42% of the population surveyed, but gave 56% of the total charitable donations.  In contrast, "liberal" or "very liberal" respondents were 29% of those polled but gave just 7% of donations.

These disparities were not due to differences in income.  People who said they were "very conservative" gave 4.5% of their income to charity, on average; "conservatives" gave 3.6%; "moderates" gave 3%; "liberals" gave 1.5%; and "very liberal" folks gave 1.2%.

A common explanation for this pattern is that conservatives are more religious than liberals, and are simply giving to their churches.  My own research in the past showed that religion was a major reason conservatives donated so much, and that secular conservatives gave even less than secular liberals.

It appears this is no longer the case, however: The 2008 data tell us that secular conservatives are now outperforming their secular liberal counterparts.

I do not have a complete explanation for these patterns.  But I do think that conservatives' greater generosity shows that they have different values than leftists.  And I do have one little bit of data to add that may help us think about this question:  The United States is consistently the most generous of the large industrial countries; France is consistently one of the stingiest.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 9:19 AM, 23 January 2009   [link]

US Politics:  The category that the New York Times chose for this story is telling.
President Obama reversed the most disputed counterterrorism policies of the Bush administration on Thursday, declaring that "our ideals give us the strength and moral high ground" in the fight against Al Qaeda.  But Mr. Obama postponed for months decisions on complex questions the United States has been grappling with since the terrorist attacks of 2001.

Mr. Obama signed executive orders closing the detention camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, within a year; ending the Central Intelligence Agency's secret prisons; and requiring all interrogations to follow the noncoercive methods of the Army Field Manual.
The Times does not have a national security category, or a war on terror category, but they could have put it under "World".  That some editor chose US Politics instead is telling.

Obama made these decisions, not to make the United States more secure — they won't — but to please the left wing of the Democratic party and "mainstream" journalists afflicted with Bush Derangement Syndrome.

As far as American security goes, so far Obama is no FDR, Truman, Kennedy, Johnson, or even Clinton, though he might be a Carter.
- 5:49 AM, 23 January 2009
More:  The Wall Street Journal strengthens my case that these Obama actions were about US politics, not security.  In this editorial, they note that Obama may allow exceptions to his new interrogation policies.
Most politicians would rather do anything than make a difficult choice, and it seems President Obama hasn't abandoned this Senatorial habit.  To wit, yesterday's executive order on interrogation: It imposes broad limits on how aggressively U.S. intelligence officers can question terrorists, but it also keeps open the prospect of legal loopholes that would allow them to press harder in tough cases.
So, in a few months we may have essentially the same situation we have now, tough interrogations for a few captured terrorists.  Except that CIA interrogators will have much less confidence that they have the backing of the president.

It would be funny if it didn't have so much potential impact on our safety.
- 12:55 PM, 23 January 2009   [link]

Why "Almost"?  In this post, I said I was almost in despair over Obama's reading list.  Lexington Green says that he would omit the "almost".  So perhaps I should explain why I added that qualifier.

I think it unlikely that Obama has read all the books on his list — and since some of them are books that are actively harmful to a person's intellectual development, I would pleased to learn that he was fibbing to us about his reading.  Obama has persistently misrepresented his past in large ways and small, always to his political advantage, so I automatically discount anything he says, whether it is about his time in New York, or his reading.

And a look at that list increases my suspicions.  Many of them look like books that Obama would want to say he has read — whether or not he has — to fit in with his political and academic circles.

So, I give Obama a little more slack on this one than Green does — because I don't entirely believe that Obama has read all the books that he says he has read.

(Michiko Kakutani may have accidentally hit on something in her article on Obama's reading list.  She says Obama takes a "magpie approach to reading".  For me, that brings up a picture of a man who leafs through books he is supposed to have read, picking up few useful nuggets for cocktail parties, but never really studying the ideas in the books.)
- 3:42 PM, 22 January 2009   [link]

Where To Put The Guantánamo Terrorists?  Congressman Murtha says he'll take them.
Rep. Jack Murtha, D-Pa., says he'd be willing to house prisoners from Guantanamo Bay in his congressional district if President Obama makes good on a plan to close the U.S. prison there.

As one of his first acts in office, the president circulated a draft Wednesday that would shut down Guantanamo Bay within a year.

Murtha only has a minimum security prison in his district.  But he says he'd have no reservations about holding detainees there in a maximum security prison.
(No word so far on what his constituents think.)

But Michael Ramirez had an even better idea, which you can see in his January 14th cartoon.
- 12:45 PM, 22 January 2009   [link]

Not From The Onion:  But it could be.
Former French president Jacques Chirac was rushed to hospital after being mauled by his own 'clinically depressed' pet dog.

The 76-year-old statesman was savaged by his white Maltese dog - which suffers from frenzied fits and is being treated with anti-depressants.
And I suppose that we can make jokes about it, since he doesn't seem to have been badly hurt.

(I suspect that the dog hasn't been getting enough walks.  Dogs need exercise even more than we do.)
- 8:31 AM, 22 January 2009   [link]

First, Save The Terrorists?  One of Barack Obama's first official actions worries me.
In the first hours of his presidency, President Obama directed an immediate halt to the Bush administration's military commissions system for prosecuting detainees at the detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

Notice of the decision came in a legal filing in Guantánamo by military prosecutors just before midnight Tuesday.  The decision, which had been expected as part of Mr. Obama's pledge to close the detention camp, was described as a pause in all war-crimes proceedings there so that the new administration can evaluate how to proceed with prosecutions.

Among other cases, the decision will temporarily stop the prosecution of five detainees charged as the coordinators of the Sept. 11 attacks, including the case against the self-described mastermind, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed.
Granted, this only delays the prosecutions while the Obama administration thinks about the problem, but it is still troubling, for a number of reasons.

First, I am bothered by the high priority that Obama put on this action.  The men being tried are guilty as sin, and the evidence against them is overwhelming.  Why should the particular legal process used against them be a high priority for the incoming president?

Second, this will be seen — in many places — as a possible first step toward leniency toward our terrorist enemies.  The worst mistake made by the outgoing Clinton administration was his pardons of terrorists.  Those pardons made more terror more likely, by reducing the deterrent effect.  This may do the same.

Third, this suggests that Obama sees terrorism through the eyes of a civil rights lawyer — which he was, for a while.  That perspective has its place in America, but it is radically unsuited to the war on terror.  Or any other war, for that matter.  Obama should be thinking about how to defeat our terrorist enemies, not whether they have all the legal protections that an accused American would have.

(If you believe the Gallup poll, this is unlikely to be especially popular.  Only 35 percent favor closing Guantánamo, so I would guess that more would oppose this delay than support it.

More here from Ed Morrissey, who notes that the military tribunals have passed Congress, twice, so Obama is going against past congressional majorities, as well as, probably, the public.)
- 2:50 PM, 21 January 2009   [link]

Worth Reading:  Juan Williams says what needs to be said.
If his presidency is to represent the full power of the idea that black Americans are just like everyone else -- fully human and fully capable of intellect, courage and patriotism -- then Barack Obama has to be subject to the same rough and tumble of political criticism experienced by his predecessors.  To treat the first black president as if he is a fragile flower is certain to hobble him.  It is also to waste a tremendous opportunity for improving race relations by doing away with stereotypes and seeing the potential in all Americans.

Yet there is fear, especially among black people, that criticism of him or any of his failures might be twisted into evidence that people of color cannot effectively lead.  That amounts to wasting time and energy reacting to hateful stereotypes.  It also leads to treating all criticism of Mr. Obama, whether legitimate, wrong-headed or even mean-spirited, as racist.

This is patronizing.  Worse, it carries an implicit presumption of inferiority.  Every American president must be held to the highest standard.  No president of any color should be given a free pass for screw-ups, lies or failure to keep a promise.
If Barack Obama fails, as I expect — sadly — his failure will show only that he was the wrong man for this difficult job, not that any man or woman who happened to have a darker skin than mine is unsuited to be president.

It is unfortunate that such things still need to be said — but they do.  And we should be grateful that Williams said them.
- 1:19 PM, 21 January 2009   [link]

David Horsey Gets Ready:  Here's the Seattle PI cartoonist preparing to hold Obama accountable, after the many fair-minded cartoons he drew of President Bush.

David Horsey prepares for the Obama administration

Thanks to the artist, who prefers to remain anonymous.  (The cartoon is in answer to this request.)

Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 12:52 PM, 21 January 2009   [link]

Ready To Put Away Childish Things?  Presidential chief of staff Rahm Emanuel isn't.

We're going to see a lot of this combination over the next four years, high-minded rhetoric from Obama along with nasty, and, yes, even childish behavior from his staff.
- 12:31 PM, 21 January 2009   [link]

My Apologies To Our Canadian Friends:  For this nasty Joel Connelly column.  In it, the Seattle PI columnist attacks both Canadians:

As Barack Obama takes center stage, and George W. Bush flies off to Texas, our country's inaugural will hopefully silence a group of annoying neighbors -- condescending Canadians.

And the Canadian prime minister:

In December, the current prime minister, Stephen Harper, was forced to ask Canada's governor-general -- Queen Elizabeth's representative in Ottawa -- to send home Parliament until Jan. 26.

Harper is a conservative with a Rottweiler-like appetite for partisan combat.  He's a guy who would make Dick Cheney look like an affable St. Bernard.

Punitive, partisan budget proposals brought together three opposition parties in the House of Commons: Together, they hold more seats than Harper's Conservative Party.

(Those punitive proposals?  The most important was to cut subsidies to the political parties, including the Conservative Party.  Harper actually proposed that the parties raise more of their own money.)

Although I cannot excuse Connelly's insults, I can, perhaps, help our Canadian friends to understand them.  Connelly is a hyper-partisan Democrat, who views almost everything through partisan eyes.  Harper's sin — from Connelly's point of view — is that he wanted to have good relations with President Bush and the United States.  People less partisan than Connelly will realize that good relations between our two nations are good for both Canadians and Americans — even though politicians, on both sides of the border, will sometime seek conflict in order to make short term election gains.  (Most recent example:  Barack Obama.)

Or, to put it another way, Connelly doesn't dislike Canadians as Canadians, he dislikes Canadians (or anyone else) who dare to be friendly to President George W. Bush.

My sincere apologies to our Canadian friends for Connelly's insults.  And let me say that I think Canadians (with a few exceptions) are fine neighbors.  And I hope that you understand that Americans (with a few exceptions, such as Connelly) want to be good neighbors to you, too.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(Credit where due:  Connelly compares Dick Cheney to an affable St. Bernard.  That's a good comparison, especially when you remember that St. Bernards were bred to be rescue dogs.  Is it possible that Connelly realizes that the left has been wrong in its descriptions of Cheney?  We can hope so.

What do Canadians think of Prime Minister Harper?  Here's a December poll.  His numbers may have fallen since then, but he is still leading his opponents, as far as I know.)
- 10:14 AM, 21 January 2009   [link]

Learning From FDR's Mistakes:  Here's the press release describing the influential 2004 academic paper.
Two UCLA economists say they have figured out why the Great Depression dragged on for almost 15 years, and they blame a suspect previously thought to be beyond reproach: President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

After scrutinizing Roosevelt's record for four years, Harold L. Cole and Lee E. Ohanian conclude in a new study that New Deal policies signed into law 71 years ago thwarted economic recovery for seven long years.

"Why the Great Depression lasted so long has always been a great mystery, and because we never really knew the reason, we have always worried whether we would have another 10- to 15-year economic slump," said Ohanian, vice chair of UCLA's Department of Economics.  "We found that a relapse isn't likely unless lawmakers gum up a recovery with ill-conceived stimulus policies."

In an article in the August issue of the Journal of Political Economy, Ohanian and Cole blame specific anti-competition and pro-labor measures that Roosevelt promoted and signed into law June 16, 1933.

"President Roosevelt believed that excessive competition was responsible for the Depression by reducing prices and wages, and by extension reducing employment and demand for goods and services," said Cole, also a UCLA professor of economics.  "So he came up with a recovery package that would be unimaginable today, allowing businesses in every industry to collude without the threat of antitrust prosecution and workers to demand salaries about 25 percent above where they ought to have been, given market forces.   The economy was poised for a beautiful recovery, but that recovery was stalled by these misguided policies."
It is difficult to measure the total impact of the New Deal, because FDR had so many policies over the years, some of them contradictory.  But I think that, on the whole, Ohanian and Cole are correct.   One reason I think that is that the Depression was milder in most other advanced industrial nations, which suggests to me that their policies were better, or at least less harmful, than our policies.

President Obama should read this paper, or at least the newspaper articles summarizing it — but I doubt very much that he will.

(There's an error in the press release:  In fact, many economists suspected, from the very beginning of the New Deal, that some of FDR's policies were prolonging the Great Depression.  And there have been earlier academic studies making the same point.

I'll have to see if I can find a copy of that article in a university library.  You can buy it here, if you are in a hurry to read it.)
- 8:35 AM, 21 January 2009   [link]

Good Question, Howard:  Howard Kurtz wonders what his fellow journalists were celebrating.
The country's big-name anchors, actors, commentators, news executives, producers, editors and scribes have been celebrating the quadrennial event -- and themselves -- at one glitzy gathering after another in the run-up to today's inauguration.
. . .
Every inauguration is a major media moment, with nonstop television coverage, newspapers churning out special editions and correspondents parachuting in from around the globe.  But it is hard to envision this level of intensity if John McCain were taking the oath of office.  All the hoopla has left the impression that many in journalism are thrilled by Obama's swearing-in.
Kurtz is enough of a journalist to give us the evidence that journalists are indeed "thrilled" by Obama, just in case no one had noticed.  But then he ends his discussion with this wistful bit:
Further thoughts: After broadcasting half-frozen from the Newseum roof, watching endless television and attending all these media parties (I know, tough job, somebody has to do it), I can report that there really is an electric feeling in the city, unlike any I've seen before, going back to Jimmy Carter.   But on Wednesday, we'll still be in a financial mess and mired in two wars.  Nobody expects Obama to solve these problems overnight.  The media will need to aggressively chronicle what he's accomplishing and where he's falling short.
But they won't, for the most part.  Instead, most "mainstream" journalists will continue to cover for Obama, as they have all through his career.

And respect for journalists, already at very low levels, will decline even farther.
- 6:15 AM, 21 January 2009
The BBC illustrates my point about declining respect for journalists.  

The BBC asked for reactions to the Obama inauguration, and got these comments.   The comments are ranked by popularity.  As I write, here's the most popular:
I'm confused.  Is Barack Obama the President of the United States, or is he the Messiah?
(From "Martin1983" in London.)

The fourteen next most popular comments are negative, too.

By way of commenter "Chuffer" at Biased BBC.)
- 8:54 AM, 21 January 2009   [link]

Learning From Lord Dorwin:  Moe Lane wrote a great post on Barack Obama's ability to appear to say something — without actually saying anything.  Lane ended with this quotation from Isaac Asimov's Foundation.
"That," replied Hardin, "is the interesting thing.  The analysis was the most difficult of the three by all odds.  When Holk, after two days of steady work, succeeded in eliminating meaningless statements, vague gibberish, useless qualifications - in short, all the goo and dribble - he found he had nothing left.  Everything canceled out.

"Lord Dorwin, gentlemen, in five days of discussion didn't say one damned thing, and said it so you never noticed.  There are the assurances you had from your precious Empire."
The point made by that quotation will be clear to anyone who has read the story, but may not be entirely clear to those who have not.

The incident comes from Part II of the Foundation, "The Encyclopedists".  The scientists of the Foundation have been forced to move to a planet far from the center of a galactic empire and have been working on a universal encyclopedia for fifty years.  The empire is beginning to break down and the Foundation is threatened by its newly independent neighbors.  But the scientists running the Foundation have been reassured by a visit from an emissary of the empire, Lord Dorwin.

Salvor Hardin, who is the hero of this part, misjudged Dorwin.  After presenting two analyses that show the threat to the Foundation from a neighboring power, Anacreon, Hardin introduces the analysis quoted above as follows:
I'll admit I had thought his Lordship a most consummate donkey when I first met him — but it turned out that he was actually an accomplished diplomat and a most clever man.  I took the liberty of recording all his statements.
After the scientists get over their shock at this breach of protocol, Hardin hits them with the analysis of Dorwin's statements.

And there is, I think, a lesson for us in this part of the story.  In fact, two lessons.   Hardin is a brilliant political leader, adept at reading people.  But he was misled by Dorwin, mistaking an elaborate facade for the real thing.  Hardin erred partly because he so disliked Dorwin — as Dorwin probably wanted him to do.  We have to watch ourselves so that we do not make similar mistakes, letting our likes and dislikes affect our judgment of a person's competence.

More important is the point Lane made in his post.  Many politicians, including Barack Obama, fill their speeches with "goo and dribble", in order to make us think they are saying something when they are not.  And it is easy to read into that goo and dribble what we want to hear, to assume that a politician is saying what we want them to say, even when they are actually not saying anything.

Having made this point, I suppose that I will have to go over Obama's inauguration speech tomorrow, eliminate the goo and dribble, and see how much of the speech is left.  I assume that there was some substance in his speech, though I haven't yet heard any striking examples to support that assumption.
- 5:52 PM, 20 January 2009   [link]

Here's Obama's Reading List:  Compiled by Amazon.  And a short selection from George Bush's reading list, also compiled by Amazon.

Tom Nissley, who compiled both lists, says this about Bush:
Rove closes with some gripes at the "small-minded critics" who dismissed Bush as a man who'd never cracked a book, when of course he had graduated from Yale and Harvard, although it should be said that the whole construction of Bush as a brush-clearin' good ol' boy from Midland was an inside job.  Perhaps it's only now, with his client no longer running for office, and reading made cool again, that W. can be revealed as that most suspect of political men: an intellectual.
It is true that Bush and his team sometimes encouraged the idea that he was just a good old boy, but it is also true that most of our "mainstream" journalists took that idea and converted it into an immense caricature of Bush.

Note that Bush's list, which is, as I said, just a selection of what he has read, is longer and far more impressive than Obama's.  Note, too, that Bush's list does not have any books that suggest that he is trying to impress others — something not true of Obama's list, which includes a number of pretentious books.
- 3:06 PM, 20 January 2009   [link]

Carter Snubs The Clintons:  You can see the video here.  And you can read comments on the snub here, including one comment that is very funny, but not suitable for sprogs.

I don't care for the Clintons or the Carters, but I think I could behave if I met them on a formal occasion.
- 1:52 PM, 20 January 2009   [link]

Shouldn't We All Embrace What Is Right?  That's my question for Reverend Lowery after reading his strange benediction.  He ended with this:
Lord, in the memory of all the saints who from their labors rest, and in the joy of a new beginning, we ask you to help us work for that day when black will not be asked to get back, when brown can stick around -- (laughter) -- when yellow will be mellow -- (laughter) -- when the red man can get ahead, man -- (laughter) -- and when white will embrace what is right.

Let all those who do justice and love mercy say amen.
Regardless of our color.

(Yes, I know that Lowery is paraphrasing an old saying.  But it still isn't suitable for a benediction.)
- 1:30 PM, 20 January 2009   [link]

Chuckle:  Al Gore gets a statue.
A critic of global warming is responsible for the icy glare Al Gore is giving this Alaskan community.

Local businessman Craig Compeau on Monday unveiled an ice sculpture of the 2007 Nobel Prize winner and leader in the movement to draw attention to climate change and global warming.
Compeau has invited Gore to Fairbanks to explain his theories.  I doubt that Gore will accept the invitation, but it would be fun if he did.
- 12:48 PM, 20 January 2009
More:  You can see pictures of the sculpture, which shows a shivering Al Gore, here.  (By way of Tim Blair.)
- 7:28 AM, 27 January 2009   [link]

But That's Not The Way To Bet:  Of course, I hope Barack Obama succeeds as president, because I love my country.  If Obama succeeds, the country will be better off, and all Americans should wish for that.  (Not all do.  Many Americans, most of them on the left, think our nation is not fundamentally good.  For some of them, the ills that come our way are just punishments.)

(Obama's policies are unlikely to make much difference to me personally, since I am retired and do not live in a likely target for terrorists.  Where they might affect me negatively, for example by increasing the price of gasoline or housing, I expect to be able to change my own behavior to cope.)

And because I wish the people in the rest of the world well.  Americans are inclined to forget this, but others often pay most of the price for our failures.  Rwanda, Iran, and Cambodia are the most prominent examples of others paying for our failures, and it is easy to add to that list.

But I would not bet that Obama succeeds.  And the reasons he is unlikely to succeed are so obvious that even "mainstream" journalists should be able to see them.

He is poorly educated for the presidency.  He knows little about economics, so little that he apparently does not understand something as basic as the advantages of free trade.  He knows little about American history.  One telling example:  While campaigning for president, he had to admit that he did not know where Hanford was.   Michiko Kakutani of the New York Times is much impressed by the books Obama has read, or says he has read.  I am almost in despair when I read the same list.  Obama will be the commander in chief — but he appears to have read almost nothing on military history or strategy.  And he does not seem to see that as a defect in his preparation for the presidency.  There no books on science, technology, or economics in the list.

He has no executive experience.  He has never even headed a small law firm, much less commanded a regiment, ran a company, headed a Cabinet department, governed a state, or served as vice president.  As far as I know, he hasn't even coached a basketball team.  (He does have some legislative experience, of course, but he was not a leader in either the Illinois senate or the United States senate.  Though head of a Senate sub-committee, he never bothered to call a hearing.)

He has few significant accomplishments, other than writing two books about himself.  His work as a community organizer did little to help his community, though it did provide a foundation for his political career.  He was not a particularly successful lawyer, though he received significant help from political allies.  He was chairman of the board of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge while it passed out fifty million dollars to improve Chicago schools — and made no improvements in those schools.  (The CAC did provide jobs for some of Obama's political allies.)  He published no academic papers while working as a part-time lecturer at the University of Chicago law school.   He did little in the Illinois senate, other than funneling money to his political allies.  (He did claim credit for the work others did before him.)  He had almost no accomplishments as a United States senator.

He has the fewest accomplishments of any person elected president in at least the last hundred years, perhaps the fewest ever.

He has been wrong on the great issues of our time.  He opposed the Reagan build-up that helped bring down the Soviet Union.  He opposed welfare reform.  He favors affirmative action, in spite of its many failures.  He opposed the surge in Iraq and predicted that it would fail.

He is either a poor judge of character, or he does not care about the moral failings of his associates.  We still do not know the whole story of his association with terrorist William Ayers, but we do know that Obama saw nothing wrong with the man.  He did not know or care that his long-time supporter, Tony Rezko, was a crook.  For two decades, he belonged a church where doctrines some call racist were preached — and was not bothered by Reverend Wright, until Wright became a political liability.  He backed many of the corrupt politicians from the Chicago political machine, including Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich.

He does not have the character required in the presidency.  In particular, he does not have the humility that the position requires.  I am not the only, or even the first, person to suggest that Carly Simon's "You're So Vain" might be an appropriate theme song for him.  Since a president is almost always surrounded by flatterers, he should have more humility than most of us do.  Enough, for instance, to reject all the comparisons to Lincoln, rather than encouraging them.

There are, I should say in closing, some positive signs.  In some areas Obama has adopted Bush policies and even a Bush nominee, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.  And he has backed off some of the promises he made to get the Democratic nomination.  But even those are not entirely positive signs, since Obama may be making these shifts out of political calculation, rather than an understanding of his own errors.

So I wish him well, but I would not bet on him being a successful president.  There are simply too many reasons to expect him to fail, and almost none to expect him to succeed.

(I'll have more specific predictions on how I expect Obama to fail in the next few weeks and months.

Will our "mainstream" journalists recognize Obama's failures?  And will they report them if they do recognize the failures?  Probably not, and almost certainly not.)
- 9:00 AM, 19 January 2009   [link]

Barack Obama Wants Us To Be More Responsible:  Tomorrow, he will call for a "new era of responsibility".
Today's events, however, were little more than a countdown to Tuesday's history making swearing-in and the anticipation of Obama's inauguration speech.

The speech has been written and rehearsed, but Obama is still tinkering with the words that he hopes will mark a moment in history and galvanize the nation for a new "era of responsibility."
What does Obama mean by that?  Let's see.  He has been unable to stop smoking.  He is refusing to give up his Blackberry, in spite of the security problems.  And he is about to throw a 170 million dollar party for himself.

Either Obama has a peculiar idea of responsibility, or he does not intend to be part of the new era.

(In contrast, President Bush gave up alcohol when it became a problem for his family, and gave up email on becoming president.)
- 1:25 PM, 19 January 2009   [link]

Racial Parody?  As far as I can tell, Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat did not intend for this column to be a parody, in spite of passages such as these:

Everybody's talking about what Obama's inauguration means to them.  For me, it all goes back to when I was a kid, hanging out in my neighbor's basement.

It was the '70s.  Nobody had video games or computers.  What 12-year-old white boys did back then, besides play Nerf hoop or ogle Charlie's Angels, was to troop down into dark, carpeted basements, put on headphones and listen to music.
. . .
One day, my friend's older brother came in the basement and said to me:  "Bet you haven't heard this."

He put on Stevie Wonder's "Living for the City."  It's from 1973, before Stevie's music got schmaltzy.  "A boy is born, in hard time Mississippi," it begins, then chronicles how he grows up and moves to New York and is all but destroyed because he's black.
. . .
I bring all this up for three reasons.  One, Barack Obama, like me, is a child of the '70s.   For better or worse, he's our first president who came of age in that era of misery indexes, government lies and other humiliations.  Such as disco.

Two, the '70s had a few redeeming qualities.  One was that it was the only time black people and white people tried to live together.  I mean, made a society-wide effort to integrate, from the schools to housing to the workplace.

And the third reason?  Westneat and Obama both like Stevie Wonder's music.  So do I, mostly, but I would never have thought that his songs were a good guide to race relations in this country.   Or anyone else's songs, for that matter.

(What would be good guide?  You might start with some of Thomas Sowell's work, for example, Black Education: Myths and Tragedies, or the Thernstrom's authoritative America in Black and White.)

It is tempting just to laugh at this column, to laugh at the absurd sight of a columnist in a supposedly serious newspaper telling us he got his ideas on race from a pop singer.  When, as Westneat tells us, he was just a kid.  Implying, absurdly but probably correctly, that Westneat has learned nothing about race since the 1970s.  And we can and should laugh at Westneat, but we should not just laugh at Westneat, because his nonsense is not just nonsense, it is pernicious nonsense.

There is a phrase that describes Westneat's failings, a phrase that Jim Sleeper used for the title of one of his books, Liberal Racism.  If Westneat were willing to turn off his stereo and go to a library, he could learn much from Sleeper.  Here's a summary from Booklist:

Sleeper argues that liberals who once pushed America to think beyond color have of late gravitated toward ideas and policies that are essentially racist.  Sleeper maintains that liberals make many destructive racial assumptions, including the notion that color itself determines an individual's destiny.  Similarly, they frequently have lower expectations for people of color, notably in the area of crime, where they like to see African American criminals as victims.  Such thinking, he believes, diverts us from the reality of crime and its causes.  The media also come under Sleeper's keen eye, including the New York Times, which, in his view, regularly "gets race wrong" by accepting the above myths.  Sleeper's analysis is hard nosed and penetrating, but his aim isn't to tear down.  Just the opposite, as he hopes to direct progressive ideology and its practitioners back toward truly liberating traditions.

Even now, because the word is so powerful, I hesitate to calls others racist without very strong evidence.  But Westneat's column does provide evidence that Sleeper's phrase applies to him.

And that is why we should not just laugh at Westneat.  Liberal racism, just like plain racism, damages our race relations.  It makes it harder for us to achieve the kind of integrated society that Westneat says he wants.  Worst of all, it often damages the very people that the liberal wants to help.

Liberal racism often has striking parallels to older forms of racism.  When racism was the worst in much of the South, whites there often tolerated black on black crime.  Now, white liberals like Westneat are all too willing to excuse or minimize crimes — if those crimes are committed by politically correct minorities.

That this atttitude hurts everyone, but especially blacks, is obvious.  But it has not reached all of our journalists, all too many of whom are still getting their ideas on race from pop songs they heard in the 1960s and 1970s.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(Two factual errors in the piece deserve mention:  Many early Stevie Wonder songs were "schmaltzy", so it is false to say that his work became schmaltzy after 1973.

Second, it is absurd to say that the 1970s were the "only time black people and white people tried to live together".  Any serious person can think of counter-examples from the present.  Westneat could start, for example, with William S. Cohen's second wife.  (Cohen, for those who don't know, is a Republican from Maine.)  And anyone who knows even a little American history can think of examples before and after the 1970s.)
- 10:36 AM, 19 January 2009   [link]

We've Got Hope And Change Here In Washington State:  Mike Hope, Republican candidate in Washington state's 44th legislative district, was elected, narrowly.  His election changed the seat from Democratic to Republican.

Was there a serious point behind this post?  In fact, there was.  (Though I might not have done it if it weren't for the puns.)  Hope and change mean different things to different people.  There are many, many places in the United States that would benefit from this kind of change.  (And there are a few places that would benefit from the reverse change.)

(Official results here.

If I recall correctly, Republicans picked up one seat in each legislative house in this last election.  That reflects more the disaster in 2006 than any great revival of Republican fortunes in the state, but it does give reason to hope that the more responsible party in the state may have touched bottom and be on the way up.)
- 8:41 AM, 19 January 2009   [link]

Ordinarily, Plague Is A Bad Thing:  But there are exceptions.
At least 40 al-Qaeda fanatics died horribly after being struck down with the disease that devastated Europe in the Middle Ages.

The killer bug, also known as the plague, swept through insurgents training at a forest camp in Algeria, North Africa.  It came to light when security forces found a body by a roadside.
Probably, they neglected rat control while they were training to kill innocent people.
- 5:45 AM, 19 January 2009
Work Accident?  That's what one anonymous intelligence official claims.
An al Qaeda affiliate in Algeria closed a base earlier this month after an experiment with unconventional weapons went awry, a senior U.S. intelligence official said Monday.

The official, who spoke on the condition he not be named because of the sensitive nature of the issue, said he could not confirm press reports that the accident killed at least 40 al Qaeda operatives, but he said the mishap led the militant group to shut down a base in the mountains of Tizi Ouzou province in eastern Algeria.

He said authorities in the first week of January intercepted an urgent communication between the leadership of al Qaeda in the Land of the Maghreb (AQIM) and al Qaeda's leadership in the tribal region of Pakistan on the border with Afghanistan.  The communication suggested that an area sealed to prevent leakage of a biological or chemical substance had been breached, according to the official.
A work accident is more likely than a natural outbreak, now that I think about it.

The official also says that it was not the plague,  That makes sense, because the plague is not a great threat to us, since it can easily be treated with modern antibiotics.
- 5:13 AM, 20 January 2009   [link]

Worth A Look:  After writing this post, noting the ongoing transformation of "mainstream" journalists from junkyard dogs to lapdogs, I was planning to put up another request for a cartoon, as I did here and here.   (A reader who prefers to be anonymous filled the first request; the second is still open.)

But then I saw this set of cartoons, which captures my idea, exactly.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(Journalists who wonder why they are the target of these cartoons should take a look at this survey.

Although I am glad to point you toward this set of cartoons, I would still like to publish an original cartoon or two on the same subject.)
- 2:05 PM, 18 January 2009   [link]

Obama Wins Another Marketing Award:  This time from the gun industry.

Last month, he won a general award from Advertising Age.

He won both marketing awards fair and square, in my opinion.
- 9:45 AM, 18 January 2009   [link]

Remedial TV:  When I was growing up, my family did not have television.   On the whole, I think I came out ahead because of that.  But I did miss many of the cultural references that others got from television programs.  For example, for many years, I drew a blank when I heard or read that someone was a real "Eddie Haskell".

Now, thanks to digital TV broadcasts, I am filling in some of those cultural blanks.  When I bought my digital tuner last summer, I found that most of the local TV stations were broadcasting additional programs on "sub-channels".   Channel 7 (KIRO) uses its sub-channel for the Retro Television network, which broadcasts old, prime-time programs, including "Leave It to Beaver".  So I now know who Eddie Haskell was, and am filling in other gaps.  (If you want to see what else is available, you can check the schedule.  The schedule was wrong for about two weeks early this year, while RTN was having financial problems, but appears to be back on track now.  This week, KIRO preempted RTN to broadcast a Gonzaga basketball game.  I don't know whether KIRO plans to do that often.)

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(Currently I can receive ten sub-channels.  Channel 5 (KING) is now using theirs for an all-sports network, Universal Sports.   Channel 9 (KCTS) has a Spanish channel and a crafts channel.  Channel 13 (KCPQ) has an all-weather channel, combining material from AccuWeather with their own material.  Channel 16 (KONG) broadcasts the same program on both sub-channels, which seems pointless.  Channel 20 (KTBW), broadcasts four additional religious programs, one of them in Spanish.  Channels 4 (KOMO) and 22 (KMYQ) do not yet have sub-channels.

When I first got the tuner, I used a very cheap rabbit ears antenna to pick up the signal.  The antenna worked fine with most of the channels, almost all of the time.  But I finally got bothered enough by the times that I couldn't get the program that I wanted — often football games for some reason — that I broke down and bought a better antenna.  (And paid much less for it than Amazon's current price.)   Once or twice a week, at most, I have to adjust its direction to receive the channel I want, but mostly it just works.

If you are thinking of making a similar switch, I strongly suggest you spend some time at the AntennaWeb site, a fine source of information even for those who use indoor antennas.

I am not sure just how many sub-channels a TV station can broadcast.  I assume that there are both regulatory and technical limits, but I don't know what those limits are.  Judging by KTBW, each station could broadcast at least 5 programs simultaneously.  If I were a cable operator, that possibility would bother me, more than just a little.)
- 3:04 PM, 17 January 2009   [link]

The NYT Panders To Green Superstition:  In an article almost three pages long, Julie Scelfo tries to frighten readers into choosing "organic" mattresses.

Scelfo begins with a worried, and misinformed, young mother:
While pregnant with her first child last year, Chau Ngo-Rayman found herself worrying about chemicals in the products she was buying.  "I got this 'how to raise your baby' book, and I guess it kind of freaked me out," Ms. Ngo-Rayman said.  "We tried to buy everything that was organic.  It kind of became an obsession."
And to show that the danger is real, cites a blogger:
The question of what's really in a mattress is important, at least as some people see it, because, they believe, any product made with synthetic materials carries potential health risks.  "You spend a third of your life in bed," said Debra Lynn Dadd, an author and blogger in Clearwater, Fla., who has been writing about toxic substances in household products for 25 years.  "If you are interested in things like organic food and natural beauty products," she added, "you should realize that you're actually getting a greater exposure to toxic chemicals in your bed than anywhere else."
But never tells us why anyone should believe what Dadd says.

Near the very end of the article, Scelfo manages to find a little space for someone who knows something about the subject.
And Steven Safe, a professor of toxicology at Texas A & M University, believes the human health effect of chemicals in mattresses is probably not significant.  "They're unlikely to be leaching out" in meaningful quantities, he said, adding that the greater danger is probably to the environment, once mattresses end up in landfills.  "I don't think it's a bad thing," he added, that manufacturers are striving to reduce the presence of chemicals in mattresses.  "But I don't really see it as a safety issue."
Ms. Ngo-Rayman was worried about synthetic mattresses because they contain "chemicals".  Some kind person should tell her that "organic" mattresses also contain "chemicals"; in fact they are made up of chemicals, like nearly everything else.  And that synthetic chemicals, chemicals made in a factory, are no more likely to be dangerous than chemicals made in a plant or animal.

There are reporters at the New York Times who understand those simple facts.  There may even be editors there who understand basic toxicology.  One of them should take Scelfo aside and tell her that it is disgraceful to pander to superstition, even Green superstition.

(The article also pushes for more regulation, for the enforcement of standards.  That regulation would, almost certainly, increase costs for consumers — without providing them any significant benefit.)
- 1:08 PM, 17 January 2009   [link]