January 2009, Part 4

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Hate Fest, Love Fest, Blank Fest:  Two weeks ago, KUOW's Gang of Four discussed President Bush.   One week ago, the Gang discussed President Obama.  On both days, they discussed the likely demise of the Seattle PI.  The first discussion was a hate fest, the second a love fest, and the third a blank fest.

None of them were able to find a single good thing to say about President Bush.  Seattle Times editorial writer Joni Balter described his last speech as president as the "same old, same old".   She gave him no credit for keeping us safe from terrorism, claiming, bizarrely, that there had not been terrorist attacks under previous presidents.  Moderator Steve Scher sneered at the "surge" in Iraq, saying that it will be a "little blip".  New York Times reporter Tim Egan, who does not cover economics — fortunately — claimed that drilling for gas and oil on public lands did not affect the supply or the price.  Knute Berger, who used to edit the Seattle Weekly, said that there had been eight years of catastrophe, and that Bush had turned the United States into a "kleptocracy".

None of them were able to find a single bad thing to say about President Obama.  Marcy Sillman, who moderated, was delighted by Obama's call to close Guantánamo.  Seattle Times editorial writer Lynne Varner described her happiness at being on the mall with "1.8 Million people".  Knute Berger said something I can agree with — that, for him, watching Obama was an "intensely emotional experience".  Seattle PI cartoonist David Horsey described Obama's speech as "perfect".   Sillman agreed, comparing it to Shakespeare's Henry the 5th speech.

On both days, the Gang worried about the likely demise of the Seattle PI.  But none of them considered the possibility that the journalists who run the PI might be partly responsible for its problems.  None mentioned the hostility toward "mainstream" journalists from nearly all on the right and most in the center.

(For the record, I think that most of the financial problems of our newspapers come from internet competition.  But some of their problems must have come from alienating so many potential customers.  And to support that proposition, there is much data.   For example:

Voters overwhelmingly believe that the media wants Barack Obama to win the presidential election.   By a margin of 70%-9%, Americans say most journalists want to see Obama, not John McCain, win on Nov. 4.  Another 8% say journalists don't favor either candidate, and 13% say they don't know which candidate most reporters support.

A separate study released Wednesday by the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism looks at the media's recent campaign coverage and finds that McCain received significantly more negative than positive coverage between the GOP convention and the final debate.  The study says that press treatment of Obama has been somewhat more positive than negative, but not markedly so.   [See "Winning the Media Campaign" released October 22, 2008.]

In recent presidential campaigns, voters repeatedly have said they thought journalists favored the Democratic candidate over the Republican.  But this year's margin is particularly wide.

It would be foolish to think that those perceptions do not affect buying patterns, foolish to think that they do not contribute to the low ratings most Americans give to journalists.

One strange thing:  "Mainstream" journalists almost all believe that low poll ratings for a Republican show that the Republican is not serving the public well.  As far as I can tell, almost all "mainstream" journalists also believe that their own very low ratings show nothing about how well they are serving the public.)

The three "fests" revealed much about what is wrong with our "mainstream" journalists.  Both hate and love distort perceptions.  (For journalists, love is probably worse than hate.   As bad as our "mainstream" journalists have been over the past eight years, they will probably be worse over the next four years.)  And the consistent unwillingness to examine their own behavior for faults means that improvement is almost impossible.

At this point, I should probably repeat something I have said before.  I don't listen to the Gang in order to refute them, or to laugh at their biases and their many mistakes.  Instead, I listen to them in order to learn more about why so many of our "mainstream" journalists are failing to do even an adequate job of reporting the news.  The journalists who come on the show are a little more candid than they are in their written work, and they often give me clues about the failures that we can see every day in our newspapers, and hear every day on radio and TV news programs.  Listening to them is not quite like sitting in a bar overhearing reporters and editors confess their sins, but it is a close as I am likely to get to that experience.

They aren't learning from their failures, but I am.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(The January 13th session earned a bias grade of 0.0, the lowest possible.  Sillman saved them from a 0.0 on January 20th, by asking if anyone disagreed about Obama, and getting one emailer to call Obama an "empty suit"  But that just raised the grade to a miserable 0.02. The worst factual error was Balter's bizarre claim that there were no terrorist attacks under other presidents.  To start with, she should look into the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center.  The attack killed six people; the terrorist planners had hoped for 250,000 deaths, since they were trying to topple one tower into another, and set off massive fires in the area.  After that, she might want to find out something about the attacks on our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.)
- 3:43 PM, 30 January 2009   [link]

Words Or Deeds?  Campaign promises, or records of achievement?  Robert Kaiser is an experienced journalist, a very experienced journalist.  But he still takes Obama campaign promises seriously, without noticing that there is nothing in Obama's record to suggest that he will keep those promises.
Of all the grand ambitions laid out by President Obama, the nerviest might be his promise to transform American politics.  What if U.S. government officials really accepted his definition of public service as "a privilege" that is "not about advantaging yourself," your friends or their clients?  Could it actually happen?
Sure.  In the same way that Obama transformed Chicago politics and Illinois politics.

Kaiser may have missed descriptions of Obama's long-time friend and political ally, Tony Rezko, but he could not have missed the recent unpleasantness in Illinois, where the governor, an ally of Obama and his chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, was just removed from office.

Obama did nothing about corruption in Chicago, except to facilitate it for some of his political allies.  Obama did nothing about corruption in Illinois, except to facilitate it for some of his political allies.

It is possible, I suppose, to believe that Obama has had a conversion in the last year or two, that he will no longer be a tool of special interests and a friend to lobbyists.  Possible, if you ignore what he has done.
- 12:48 PM, 30 January 2009   [link]

Wall Street Bonuses Decline 44 Percent:  That is probably not the headline you have seen in your paper, or heard on television.  But that does seem to be the story behind those bonuses that Barack Obama has been attacking.  And Joseph Smith adds this point:
Obama and [Treasury Secretary Timothy] Geithner appear not to realize that in many corporations, particularly Wall Street brokerage and banking firms, the year end bonus is part of the employee compensation plan for most employees.  The President, in his limited real world experience, may not know that, but Geithner certainly should.  Looking further at the numbers indicates that the $18 billion number being bandied about covers a lot of people:
You don't have to be a fan of Wall Street compensation plans — I'm not one — to recognize that Obama is demagoging on this issue.
- 12:26 PM, 30 January 2009   [link]

Worth Reading:  There's nothing new in Mona Charen's piece on Palestinian propaganda, but it is a subject we need to review from time to time, since the the propaganda is so pervasive, so dishonest, and so effective.

Charen begins with a famous example
"Israel has committed the war crime of the 21st century," cried a Palestinian representative.  Using massive force against a crowded refugee camp, Saeb Erakat claimed, the Israelis had "massacred" hundreds of Palestinian civilians.  A CNN reporter used the figure of 300-400 dead. Peter Hansen, the commissioner general of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) told a Danish newspaper that 300-400 Palestinians had been killed.

The place was not Gaza in 2009, but Jenin in 2002.  The great Jenin massacre turned out to be another in a long series of false atrocity stories manufactured by the Palestinians and credulously repeated by the international press (which likes nothing so much as the image of vicious Israelis).  Cartoonists across Europe delighted in drawing Israelis in Nazi uniforms.  Le Monde ran a cartoon comparing the destruction of Jenin with the Nazi destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto.
And then goes on to show that those Jenin stories — and many others like them — were lies.
- 10:35 AM, 30 January 2009   [link]

Did JP Morgan Know About Madoff?  That's what some investors suspect.
As early as 2006, the bank had started offering investors a way to leverage their bets on the future performance of two hedge funds that invested with Mr. Madoff.  To protect itself from the resulting risk, the bank put $250 million of its own money into those funds.

But the bank suddenly began pulling its millions out of those funds in early autumn, months before Mr. Madoff was arrested, according to accounts from Europe and New York that were subsequently confirmed by the bank.  The bank did not notify investors of its move, and several of them are furious that it protected itself but left them holding notes that the bank itself now says are probably worthless.
And one can see why they are suspicious.
- 7:29 AM, 30 January 2009   [link]

Rate Versus Number:  The headline writer at the New York Post doesn't understand the difference between the two.  Here are the key paragraphs:
The number of people receiving unemployment benefits has reached an all-time record, the government said Thursday, and more layoffs are spreading throughout the economy.

The Labor Department reported that the number of Americans continuing to claim unemployment insurance for the week ending Jan. 17 was a seasonally adjusted 4.78 million, the highest on records dating back to 1967.  That's an increase of 159,000 from the previous week and worse than economists' expectations of 4.65 million.

As a proportion of the work force, the tally of unemployment benefit recipients is the highest since August 1983, a department analyst said.
And here's the headline: "JOBLESS RATE HITS ALL-TIME HIGH".

What would a correct headline look like?  Perhaps like this: "NUMBER DRAWING UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS HIGHEST ON RECORD".  You might be tempted to use this: "JOBLESS RATE HIGHEST SINCE 1983".  But that doesn't work because when we say "jobless rate" we usually mean the rate calculated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics from payrolls, not the proportion drawing unemployment benefits.  That isn't the only measure of the unemployment rate, but it is, by far, the most common measure.

Why mention this?  Because we need reminders from time to time that many of our journalists are close to being innumerate.

(The peak jobless rate during the Great Depression was about 25 percent.

Incidentally, increasing the length of time that people are eligible for unemployment benefits increases unemployment, since some people are willing to trade income for leisure.)
- 6:56 AM, 30 January 2009   [link]

Play Name That Party With Tim Egan:  The New York Times reporter describes two scandals, the first involving Portland mayor Sam Adams.
It all came crashing down over the last two weeks, a bonfire of pride, lies and hypocrisy.  The mayor admitted that he had lied about the affair, had smeared his accuser, and had urged the boy — a kid with the improbable name of Beau Breedlove — to lie as well. He did it all to get elected, he said.
And the second, and, as far as we know, the more serious scandal, involving former Oregon governor Neil Goldschmidt,
The answer came years later, when the Willamette Week revealed that Goldschmidt had sexually abused his babysitter, starting when she was 14 and he was the married mayor of Portland.  Mystery solved.   The newspaper, which won a deserved Pulitzer for the story, also broke the lies of Sam Adams.

When Goldschmidt finally came clean under the newspaper's pressure, he characterized it all as a distant mistake.  But it was not anything like that.  It was serial sex abuse, and if it happened now Goldschmidt would likely be in prison and a registered sex offender.
But somehow Egan never gets around to telling us what party Adams and Goldschmidt belong to.

From that, you will guess, if you didn't know, that both are Democrats.  And you would be right.
- 6:48 PM, 29 January 2009   [link]

Bye-Bye Blago, Bye-Bye:  The Illinois Democrat is gone.
The Illinois State Senate on Thursday convicted Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich on a sprawling article of impeachment that charged him with abusing his power.  The vote prompted the governor's immediate and permanent ouster, and ended nearly two months of political spectacle in which he sought unsuccessfully to salvage his reputation and career here and across the country.

The senators also voted to permanently bar him from seeking public office in Illinois.
But the most interesting questions remain.  Does he plan to take others with him during or after his criminal trial?  (Assuming he has one.  Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald convicted him in the court of public opinion, but has yet to formally indict him.)  What was his relationship with Barack Obama, who backed him twice for governor, and with Obama's chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, who was even closer to Blagojevich?  What did Obama and Emanuel know about Blagojevich's corruption?
- 6:28 PM, 29 January 2009   [link]

At Least Jimmy Carter Wore A Sweater:  If politicians are going to preach to us about saving energy, they should make a few symbolic sacrifices themselves.
The capital flew into a bit of a tizzy when, on his first full day in the White House, President Obama was photographed in the Oval Office without his suit jacket.  There was, however, a logical explanation: Mr. Obama, who hates the cold, had cranked up the thermostat.

"He's from Hawaii, O.K.?" said Mr. Obama's senior adviser, David Axelrod, who occupies the small but strategically located office next door to his boss.  "He likes it warm. You could grow orchids in there."
If Obama has made any sacrifices since he became president, I've missed them.
- 12:54 PM, 29 January 2009   [link]

The "Rangel Rule":  Just in case you missed it.

The chairman of the principal tax-writing committee should pay taxes like the rest of us.  And if he won't, then the rest of us should be able to pay taxes like he does.
- 12:24 PM, 29 January 2009   [link]

Serious:  John Yoo explains why Bush policies in the war on terror made us safer
Eliminating the Bush system will mean that we will get no more information from captured al Qaeda terrorists.  Every prisoner will have the right to a lawyer (which they will surely demand), the right to remain silent, and the right to a speedy trial.

The first thing any lawyer will do is tell his clients to shut up.  The KSMs or Abu Zubaydahs of the future will respond to no verbal questioning or trickery -- which is precisely why the Bush administration felt compelled to use more coercive measures in the first place.  Our soldiers and agents in the field will have to run more risks as they must secure physical evidence at the point of capture and maintain a chain of custody that will stand up to the standards of a civilian court.

Relying on the civilian justice system not only robs us of the most effective intelligence tool to avert future attacks, it provides an opportunity for our enemies to obtain intelligence on us.  If terrorists are now to be treated as ordinary criminals, their defense lawyers will insist that the government produce in open court all U.S. intelligence on their client along with the methods used by the CIA and NSA to get it.  A defendant's constitutional right to demand the government's files often forces prosecutors to offer plea bargains to spies rather than risk disclosure of intelligence secrets.
. . .
Government policy choices are all about trade-offs, which cannot simply be wished away by rhetoric.   Mr. Obama seems to have respected these realities in his hesitation to end the NSA's electronic surveillance programs, or to stop the use of predator drones to target individual al Qaeda leaders.
But not in other matters.

Not Serious:   Nicholas Kristof refuses to face those trade-offs.  Instead he calls for an inquisition into the Bush administration policies, and suggests this for Guantánamo.
Granted, returning the base to Cuba may not be politically realistic.  So here's a fallback alternative: turn the base into a research center for tropical diseases.
The contrast between Yoo and Kristof is stark.  Yoo lives in the real world, a real world inhabited, in part, by ruthless terrorists.  Kristof lives in a fantasy world, where the real enemies served in the Bush administration, but our terrorist enemies can be placated by symbolic actions.

(Kristof would never argue that his enemies in the Bush administration could be tamed, if he and other "mainstream" journalists were to treat them decently.

Oh, and as almost any researcher can tell you, Guantánamo is a silly place to put such a research facility.)
- 11:17 AM, 29 January 2009
More on Kristof from Tom Maguire.  Among other things, Maguire notes that Kristof got a Santayana quotation wrong.
- 10:07 AM, 30 December   [link]

Does Al Gore Really Fear Global Warming?  He certainly says so, endlessly.  But his position on nuclear power leads me to doubt that Gore actually thinks that the world is about to cook..
Another lawmaker asked about the future of nuclear power.  "I have grown skeptical about the degree to which it will expand," the Goracle spoke.
If CO2 emissions will warm the earth and wreck our climate, then we should replace coal-fired generating plants with nuclear plants as quickly as possible, since those coal plants are the largest human source of CO2.  But Gore is unwilling to back that option.

It is not difficult to figure this out.  Only grade school arithmetic is required.  Either Gore does not believe his own spiel, or he has not done that simple arithmetic.

(For the record, I think that we should be moving toward more use of nuclear power, whether or not global warming is a threat.  That alternative has been blocked for decades by Green superstition, and our nation has paid dearly for that mistake.

There are those who fear global warming and, for that reason, now support nuclear power, for example, James Lovelock.)
- 8:24 AM, 29 January 2009   [link]

When Will Obama's Media Honeymoon End?  Larry Elder has the answer
Answer: It won't.

Oh, sure, every relationship experiences peaks and valleys.  But the "mainstream media" wanted Obama to win, and helped him do so.  If Obama were a stock, the media would be "fully invested."
The honeymoon would end if Obama were to become a conservative, pro-life Republican.  But that transformation is unlikely.  To say the least.

(Peter Kirsanow has three telling examples of that honeymoon.)
- 7:06 AM, 29 January 2009   [link]

Bush Joke, Clinton Joke:  Both pretty good, even if you have heard them before, as I have.
- 6:20 AM, 29 January 2009   [link]

Obama Is The First "Truly American" President:  So says actor and writer John Ridley.

You might think this is just another actor being silly.  But you would be wrong.  Ridley's nutty "commentary" appeared on a PBS station, KCET, and in his NPR blog.  So your tax dollars and, possibly, your donations, are paying for this.

(Ridley makes a big historical error in his blog post:
It's not even correct to say that Obama is the first minority to hold the highest office in the land.   Every white guy ever elected is co-owner of that distinction.  As far back as the first census in 1790 white men were just 41 percent of the population and have been trending downward ever since (32 percent in 2007).
Actually, no.  Until quite recently, nearly all the immigration to the United States came from European countries, so the white percentage rose all through the 19th century and most of the 20th century.

I'm not sure where he gets his 32 percent.  The Census Bureau estimates that whites are about 80 percent of the total population, so white males would be a little less than half of that.  (Ridley may not realize that many Hispanics are white, or at least think of themselves as white, even if they are partly of mixed race.))
- 8:21 AM, 28 January 2009   [link]

Obama Goes Unilateral:  Obama and his people are convinced that President Bush messed up our foreign policy .  So, they are dropping many Bush initiatives and striking out on their own.  Most of those Bush initiatives — despite what you may have heard on TV — are multilateral, taken together with nations whose help we need.

To change policies quickly, Obama had to abandon those multilateral approaches and strike out on his own.  Amir Taheri has three examples of that shift from Bush multilateralism to Obama unilateralism.
The new president isn't interested in the so-called Quartet created by the Bush administration.   This exercise in multilateral diplomacy sought a common front among the United States, the European Union, the United Nations and Russia in Mideast peace talks.  Its dismantling would give America greater control over future negotiations - but would also leave it solely responsible for any failure.
. . .
Unconfirmed reports say that the first informal contacts have already taken place, via two Iranian-American intermediaries in contact with Tehran's UN legation in New York.

Here, too, Obama is dismantling his predecessor's multilateral scheme.  By seeking unconditional talks with Tehran, he is also setting aside three unanimous, mandatory UN Security Council resolutions.

The move also means the effective dissolution of the "5+1 Group," created three years ago to deal with Iran.  Apart from America, the group includes Russia, China, Britain and France (the four other veto-holding Security Council members), plus Germany.
. . .
Finally, Obama is abandoning his predecessor's multilateral approach on a third issue - Afghanistan.   By naming Richard Holbrooke as special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, the new president has, in effect, killed the idea of appointing a Kabul coordinator backed by all of NATO.

Britain and France, which both put forward names for the position, are surely disappointed that Obama has scrapped the policy without even consulting America's NATO allies.
All three shifts strike me as bad ideas.

The failure to consult our allies before making these shifts is a serious diplomatic error.  We need the help of allies in many places and in many ways.  We are less likely to get it if we insult them.
- 7:25 AM, 28 January 2009   [link]

What About The Buddhists?  I was wondering about this myself, but Tom Maguire beat me to it
Come on - per Pew Research, Buddhists in the United States outnumber Muslims.  In fact, Buddhism is the third most popular major religion in this country; Islam is fourth and Hinduism is fifth.
But Obama hasn't gotten around to mentioning them in one of his big speeches.

(Adherents gives a number of different estimates for the number of Buddhists; a 2001 survey put them in fourth place in the United States.

While we are on the subject, I should add that almost all published estimates of the number of Muslims in the United States or the world appear to be exaggerated.)
- 4:46 PM, 27 January 2009   [link]

You Would Need A Heart Of Stone:  Not to laugh at this absurd piece by Nicholas Overbye of the New York Times.

Here are his opening paragraphs:
All right, I was weeping too.

To be honest, the restoration of science was the least of it, but when Barack Obama proclaimed during his Inaugural Address that he would "restore science to its rightful place," you could feel a dark cloud lifting like a sigh from the shoulders of the scientific community in this country.

When the new president went on vowing to harness the sun, the wind and the soil, and to "wield technology's wonders," I felt the glow of a spring sunrise washing my cheeks, and I could almost imagine I heard the music of swords being hammered into plowshares.
And there's more, but I won't inflict it on you.

Overbye hears a partisan hack make a partisan attack on the previous administration — and loses control.  His reaction would be even funnier, of course, if Overbye were not supposed to be a science writer, and if he were not writing in our newspaper of record.

But it is still pretty funny.

And I can't help but mention something that Overbye seems not to know:  (Though he is a science writer in our newspaper of record.)  The Bush administration increased federal funding for science by about 40 percent, and encouraged scientists in many ways.   For example, Bush worked hard to remove the obstacles to nuclear power, obstacles that well-informed scientists have opposed for decades.  (In contrast, President Obama opposes nuclear power because he thinks that the problem of nuclear wastes is unsolved.  That superstitious belief is common on the left, but is incompatible with the scientific evidence.)

(If the line in the title seems familiar, that's because I borrowed it from Oscar Wilde.

Overbye, like some other Times writers, needs help with his metaphors.  Try to imagine a "dark cloud lifting like a sigh" from shoulders.  Doesn't work, does it?)
- 3:27 PM, 27 January 2009   [link]

The Obama Administration Is "Tech-Savvy":  But they are having trouble getting their email servers to work correctly.
The guy on the computer help line at the White House seemed a bit harried yesterday afternoon.

Shortly after the workweek began, the tech-savvy Obama administration was hit with a mysterious "server outage" that shut down all incoming and outgoing e-mail for more than eight hours, forcing aides to resort to old-fashioned phone calls and face-to-face conversation.
Imagine how bad the problems would be if this administration was not "tech-savvy".

(For those not familiar with such problems:  Setting up and running email services is not difficult for a person with the right kind of tech savvy.)
- 1:57 PM, 27 January 2009   [link]

Wisdom From Martin Mayer:  Last night I was reviewing Martin Mayer's Today and Tomorrow in America, a 1976 book that had a profound influence on my thinking.  Here are two passages that show Mayer's wisdom.
"There is no learning," said psychologist Edward Thorndike, "without knowledge of results."  It turns out to be a necessary but not a sufficient condition.  Left to their own devices, academics may concentrate their attention on superficial trends and extrapolate from them recklessly.  Businessmen who make mistakes lose money and look for something else to do; academics who make mistakes find that their research has produced "insufficient evidence."
. . .
The great advantage of decision-making in an economic market is that markets automatically, routinely force the recognition of error.  Presumably, computers will some day make it possible for a bureaucratic society to recognize and correct mistakes; but this presumption is likely to remain just that, because bureaucracies are fundamentally motivated by fear of the discovery of error. (pp. 5, 36)
The understanding of that great virtue of markets, that they force the recognition of error, is more common now, but still has not reached many journalists, or most of the Democratic party.  The systematic problems of bureaucracies are known to almost everyone — but we keep creating new ones, and expecting them not to behave as bureaucracies.  The systematic problems in academia are almost invisible to those outside academia.

We have had thirty more years to learn what Mayer knew in 1976, but we have not learned much.   We are still making many of the mistakes that Mayer (and others) identified more than three decades ago.

Mayer wrote the book, as he explains in an afterword, out of irritation at the mistakes we were making back then.  As I re-read parts of the book last night, I began to be irritated, too, because we are still making some of the same mistakes he criticized back then.

(Mayer respects markets but does not worship them.  He follows that passage on how markets force recognition of error with a long discussion of the weaknesses of markets.  One of his arguments seems eerily prescient; he notes that markets are less efficient in allocating capital than goods, and that moving capital markets to even higher levels of abstraction may make them even less efficient.)
- 1:11 PM, 27 January 2009   [link]

Another Victim Of Municipal Socialism:  This sad story has a lesson.
Bay City, Mich. - A 93-year-old man froze to death inside his home just days after the municipal power company restricted his use of electricity because of unpaid bills, officials said.

Marvin E. Schur died "a slow, painful death," said Kanu Virani, Oakland County's deputy chief medical examiner, who performed the autopsy.
A lesson about persistent "mainstream" press bias.

If you read the whole story, you'll see that the reporter is sympathetic, not to the victim, but to the city.  The reporter gets a reaction from the city manager, who does not think the city was at fault — but not from any of Mr. Schur's neighbors or relatives.  I doubt very much that the reporter would have shown the same sympathy if the electric company had been owned by investors.

And that bias is extremely common.  Many "mainstream" reporters treat profit-making businesses as guilty until proved otherwise, and governments as innocent, even when proved otherwise, as in this case.
- 6:09 AM, 27 January 2009   [link]

Happy Chinese New Year To All Of You!  It's a holiday that I think is well worth borrowing, even for those of us who do not share the traditional beliefs behind it.   As I understand it, you celebrate Chinese New Year mostly by wishing prosperity to your friends and neighbors and getting together with your family.  What's not to like about those things?

To get you in the mood, here are some pictures from two years ago.   I'm especially fond of the fourth picture.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(And a happy Gung Haggis Fat Choy to those of you who celebrate that somewhat less well-known holiday.)
- 4:39 PM, 26 January 2009   [link]

Poverty Is No Excuse for these would-be crooks.
Labour peers are prepared to accept fees of up to £120,000 a year to amend laws in the House of Lords on behalf of business clients, a Sunday Times investigation has found.

Four peers — including two former ministers — offered to help undercover reporters posing as lobbyists obtain an amendment in return for cash.

Two of the peers were secretly recorded telling the reporters they had previously secured changes to bills going through parliament to help their clients.

Lord Truscott, the former energy minister, said he had helped to ensure the Energy Bill was favourable to a client selling "smart" electricity meters.  Lord Taylor of Blackburn claimed he had changed the law to help his client Experian, the credit check company.
A similar investigation — targeting Democratic committee chairmen — would probably find similar crooks in our Congress.

(Note that two of the four had been in the British Cabinet, where they would have had more opportunities to turn a profit than they do in the House of Lords.

Currently, 120,000 British pounds are worth about 168,000 American dollars.)
- 1:50 PM, 26 January 2009
More:  So far, this is a one-party scandal.  The reporters contacted ten peers.  Four of the five Labour peers agreed to be bribed.  The three Conservative peers refused to meet with the reporters.  The Liberal Democrat and Ulster Unionist peers met with the reporters, but turned down the offers.

When Tony Blair took power, he reformed the House of Lords.  Did that reform, however needed it may have been, result in a large number of crooks in power?  I don't know enough about the changes in the Lords to have an opinion, but it is something that deserves investigation.
- 6:25 AM, 27 January 2009   [link]

Which Side Is Eric Holder On?  That's a crude, perhaps too crude, way to put the question.  But consider these facts about President Obama's nominee for attorney general.

He worked hard to have the FALN terrorists pardoned.
Some history is in order.  The Clinton administration's impressive 1996 overhaul of counterterrorism law happened before Holder ever got to Main Justice.  He was there, though, in time to engineer the shocking, politically driven pardons of 16 Puerto Rican separatists — terrorists whose organizations (most notoriously, the FALN) were responsible for over 130 bombings and the murders of innocent Americans; terrorists who hadn't even applied for clemency or expressed a modicum of remorse (elementary prerequisites for pardon consideration under Justice Department standards); terrorists as to whom Holder's response was to stonewall Congress when the inevitable questions arose; terrorists whose pardons Holder supported over strenuous protest from victims' families and law enforcement (including subordinates he brow-beat into muting their objections); terrorists whose pardons Holder urged despite the horrible message this sent in the aftermath of al Qaeda's bombings of our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
Perhaps Holder is just fond of Puerto Rican terrorists?  Well, no.
Moreover, Holder had been acting as Attorney General throughout the final months of the Clinton administration when al Qaeda killed 17 members of the U.S. Navy by bombing the U.S.S. Cole.  In response to that al-Qaeda atrocity, the Clinton Justice Department filed no charges . . . even as the department was taking no action against Iranian government operatives who, Justice well knew, had carried out the Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia, in which 19 members of the United States Air Force were murdered.  Charges were finally filed in these cases by the Bush Justice Department.

Holder did, however, contribute to one other terrorist matter: the pardons of Weather Underground terrorists Susan Rosenberg and Linda Sue Evans.  (Rosenberg, as I've recounted, was my case.)   There's no piece of paper — at least none we've seen publicly — that says Holder recommended these pardons.  Just as there isn't one that says he opposed them.
Perhaps Holder was just following Clinton administration orders in these decisions.  Possibly, but that doesn't explain his actions since then.

Since he left the Clinton administration he has brutally attacked the Bush administration anti-terror policies.  His law firm, as Andrew McCarthy reminds us, has represented some of the terrorists at Guantánamo.

Now there may be times when Holder was on our side, rather than the side of the terrorists — but I don't know of any.

In this post, I suggested that Barack Obama sees the war on terror through the eyes of a civil rights attorney.  It is likely that Holder makes the same terrible mistake.

And it is a mistake that, as McCarthy says, the rest of us may pay for.
All then will be well in Washington's collegial legal community.  For the rest of the country . . . not so much.  Holder will push through Obama's shuttering of Guantánamo Bay, which Holder calls "an international embarrassment."  He'll determine which terrorist detainees there "need to be released," as he put it in his June speech (I suppose that will spare Obama the headache of pardoning them later).  And, pressured by hard lefties like the ones he enthralled at the American Constitution Society, Holder's Justice Department will press ahead with its "war crimes" and "domestic spying" investigations.  Even if it's just a cynical show and no one is ever actually prosecuted, our intelligence agents will get the unmistakable message: Doing your job, protecting the country, means you better be ready to hire a good Washington lawyer.
Is Holder on the other side?  Not formally, not officially, not even, I am almost certain, in his heart.  He almost certainly realizes that terrorists are bad people, or at least that terrorists do bad things.

But in effect he is on the other side, and he is absolutely the wrong person to head the Justice Department, during the war on terror.
- 11:27 AM, 26 January 2009   [link]

Slump Curing Itself?   Perhaps.
Sales of previously owned homes in the U.S. unexpectedly rose from a record low, propelled by the biggest slump in prices since the Great Depression as foreclosures surged.

Purchases rose 6.5 percent to an annual rate of 4.74 million from 4.45 million in November that was less than previously estimated, the National Association of Realtors said today in Washington.  The median price dropped 15 percent from a year ago, the biggest decline since records began in 1968 and probably the biggest in seven decades, according to the group.
Slumps almost always do cure themselves, though not necessarily at times or in ways convenient to elected officials.

Incidentally, the index of leading indicators also rose in December, although the reporter, Bob Willis, immediately tells us not to take that seriously.

(To be fair, Willis doesn't mean that an increase in sales after a decline in prices is unexpected, but that most experts were not predicting this increase.)
- 10:36 AM, 26 January 2009   [link]

The Chrysler VW:  Car guys already know this story, but it was new to me.
In the ad campaign that introduced the Volkswagen Routan, the actress Brooke Shields worries that women are getting pregnant just so they can experience German engineering in the form of a minivan.  Putting aside the mild hilarity of that premise — akin, perhaps, to saying that people are committing seppuku so they can buy those cool Japanese ceramic knives — it isn't even true.

The 2009 Routan isn't engineered by Germans, unless you count the ones who used to work for DaimlerChrysler.  It is merely a rebadged, slightly rebodied, mildly retuned Chrysler minivan.
I suppose the second paragraph explains why VW is using that strange ad campaign.  Telling car buyers the facts wouldn't sell many Routans.
- 9:07 AM, 26 January 2009   [link]

Why Not Ban Weapons Everywhere Except In Space?  Whenever I hear of plans to ban weapons in space, such as Obama's latest, that question pops into my mind.  Not because banning weapons everwhere except in space is possible, but because asking the question illuminates the issue.

Suppose, for the sake of argument, that you could ban weapons in space, or everywhere except in space, but not both.  Which would you choose?  Most of us would choose the first.  Any war in space would be fought mostly by robots.  Any casualties would be to a few highly-paid military men.  The United States and our democratic allies will have, if we want, a great advantage over our enemies, for the foreseeable future.

That imaginary scenario strikes me as far more desirable than our present reality, in which wars are fought everywhere except space.

Even the Reuters reporter realizes that there are practical difficulties with Obama's proposal.   Any satellite that can maneuver — and I gather that all, or nearly all, modern satellites can — can be used as a weapon, can be used, for instance, to destroy another satellite.

For a more direct response to Obama's proposal, see this post, which goes farther than I would but makes some valid points.

(In "Kings Who Die", Poul Anderson described a future in which a great war was being fought in space, while there was a truce on the earth.)
- 7:09 AM, 26 January 2009   [link]

How To Sell Me A Newspaper, Example 1:  As I said in this post, I hope that the Seattle PI and the Seattle Times survive.  And so I am going to give them a little marketing help in a series of posts, beginning with this one.

The PI and the Times can sell me a newspaper by running a conservative editorial cartoon by Michael Ramirez.  In spite of having been reprimanded by the Pulitzer committee twice, Ramirez is the best editorial cartoonist in the country.  (In general — and here the editors at the Times and the PI may not agree with me — Pulitzer prizes in journalism are best viewed as reprimands, since they are usually given to journalists who have behaved badly.  The same is true of Nobel prizes in literature and peace.  And, last year, in economics.)

Which cartoon?  There are many that I like, but of those he has done in the last month, January 14th is my favorite.

If either newspaper publishes a Ramirez cartoon making a conservative point, I will not only buy a copy of that newspaper, I will suggest that others do, too.  (They might want to publish it with a warning label, since most of their editors and many of their readers are not used to seeing such cartoons.)

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(Neither newspaper is paying me for this marketing advice — though perhaps they should.)
- 8:15 AM, 25 January 2009   [link]

Credit Where Due:  The Seattle Times published an editorial cartoon making a conservative point, something the newspaper does not do often enough.  And the cartoon is pretty funny, unlike most editorial cartoons at the newspaper.

Granted, the editorial cartoon did not appear on the editorial pages; instead it appeared in the comics pages.  Granted, the editorial board would never have published it as an editorial cartoon, but the newspaper did publish it, and for that the Times deserves a tiny bit of credit.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(If you think the Stantis cartoon is heavy-handed, take a look at this LA Times wrapper, with the obvious religious symbolism.

Fun fact:  The Seattle Times has had problems recognizing humor for years.  They dropped the Far Side cartoon, at the same time it got syndicated.  Far Side had a fair amount of success after the Seattle Times decided it wasn't funny.)
- 7:05 AM, 25 January 2009   [link]