January 2012, Part 1
Jim Miller on Politics
Worth Reading: Clarice Feldman's post showing how the leadership of the United Mine Workers has betrayed their members.
Here's her lead paragraph:
From an historian's point of view, one could do worse than studying the United Mine Workers of America. It is a microcosm of the American Labor Movement. It is a startling picture of the role of individuals in the making of American history. It is the story of how a once powerful institution's leaders repeatedly sold out its members as the nation drifted from large scale industrial production of power and goods to being a producer of private and public services . Finally, not least, it is a story of breathtaking betrayal of working men by a man who used them as a stepping stone to greater personal power and to influence with an administration which time will prove the epitome of crony capitalism in the U.S.I would quibble with one point: Our nation is still a large scale producer of power and goods, the largest, in fact.
- 6:33 PM, 8 January 2012 [link]
ABC News, Big Loser: That's how Marc Thiessen summarized last night's debate.
The big loser tonight was ABC News. We're at war, the economy is in the tank, Iran is building a nuclear weapon, and ABC was obsessed with . . . contraception and gay marriage. They spent a good 15-20 minutes on those topics, while failing to ask a single question about Obamacare, the debt, entitlement reform, or other several other pressing issues.He's right, as you can see for yourself in this transcript.
If I were to summarize the questions that George Stephanopoulos, Diane Sawyer, and Josh McElveen came up with, I would say that almost all of them fell into two categories, attempts to provoke fights between candidates and efforts to make traditional beliefs about marriage and sex look silly.
(Mitt Romney had one of his best moments when he called one of those questions "silly", which it was.)
But I couldn't find a single question on an Obama administration failure.
- 12:42 PM, 8 January 2012 [link]
Is Michelle Obama High Maintenance? That's the impression I get from the excerpts from the Jodi Kantor book I've been seeing, such as this one in the Daily Mail.
Arguably the most prominent point of contention New York Times reporter Jodi Kantor reveals between the first lady and Mr Emanuel was the friction over healthcare reform and Mrs Obama's scepticism of so-called backroom deals being cut.It's not a subject I plan to spend much time on, but I have been struck by how often the Obamas fly on separate planes.
The article also says that she thinks that being true to herself has a higher priority than almost anything else. Including, I assume, getting along with her husband, or doing what is right for the country.
(Fans of Tom Wolfe may want to review his essay on the "Me Decade", for a better understanding of Michelle Obama.
For the record: The White House has already told us not to believe what is in the book, though not in exactly those words.)
- 11:30 AM, 8 January 2012 [link]
"Bad Goldfish!" That's the caption to this New Yorker cartoon, which showed up on my daily calendar a week ago.
Very bad goldfish, I would say. With, most likely, some bad accomplices.
(If you want your very own copy, you can buy one here.)
- 4:03 PM, 7 January 2012 [link]
Worth Reading: Debra Saunders on Obama's latest political tactic.
President Obama is running for re-election with an unusual pitch: He can't work with others.Senate rules and years of precedent that Obama had defended while he was in the Senate.
Obama's promises, during the 2008 campaign, to work with both parties, never struck me as credible — but there were people who believed him then. I hope most of them have seen the light by now.
- 1:50 PM, 7 January 2012 [link]
Merry Christmas!To all those who are celebrating it today.
There are millions of them, mostly in Eastern Europe.
Eastern Orthodox national churches, including those of Russia, Georgia, Ukraine, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and the Greek Patriarchate of Jerusalem mark feasts using the older Julian calendar. December 25 on the Julian calendar currently corresponds to January 7 on the internationally-used Gregorian calendar.But not only in Eastern Europe. Coptic Christians also celebrate Christmas today, nervously, I fear.
- 1:32 PM, 7 January 2012 [link]
In Memory Of Ranger Margaret Anderson: I think she would have liked this picture, which I captured from the main Mt. Rainier webcam yesterday.
May she rest in peace.
- 12:32 PM, 6 January 2012 [link]
Shaker Heights Students Laugh at Obama.
During his opening remarks at Shaker Heights High School in Shaker Heights, Ohio, President Obama got laughs when he told students that they inspire him.Shaker Heights has long been famous (infamous?) for its leftism, which makes this incident even more striking.
Maybe our young people are beginning to understand Obama.
(More on the incident from Andrew Malcolm.)
- 9:55 AM, 6 January 2012 [link]
Obama: "What's The Constitution Among Friends?" President Obama is following his Tammany predecessor, Tim Campbell, in ignoring a constitution that puts a check on his appointment powers.
Here's how George Washington Plunkitt explained it, a century ago, in "The Curse of Civil Service Reform":
When the people elected Tammany, they knew just what they were doin'. We didn't put up any false pretenses. We didn't go in for humbug civil service and all that rot. We stood as we have always stood, for reward—in' the men that won the victory. They call that the spoils system. All right; Tammany is for the spoils system, and when we go in we fire every anti-Tammany man from office that can be fired under the law. It's an elastic sort of law and you can bet it will be stretched to the limit Of course the Republican State Civil Service Board will stand in the way of our local Civil Service Commission all it can; but say!—suppose we carry the State sometime, won't we fire the upstate Board all right? Or we'll make it work in harmony with the local board, and that means that Tammany will get everything in sight. I know that the civil service humbug is stuck into the constitution, too, but, as Tim Campbell said: "What's the constitution among friends?"Plunkitt and Campbell were handicapped by the New York state constitution; Obama is handicapped by the US Constitution. Both Plunkitt and Obama think that their appointment powers should not be limited, and are willing to ignore the supreme law. And Obama's decision to ignore the Constitution is as blatantly political as Plunkitt's
Obama defenders, like the editorial writers at the Washington Post, argue that Congress is not really in session, just pretending to be in session. But as any lawyer can tell you, what matters is not intent, but whether the actions meet the letter of the law, and the pro forma sessions do.
Moreover, not all of the sessions have been pro forma, as Hans von Spakovsky reminds us.
(A reading of Article II, Section 2 makes me think that, had the writers of the Constitution realized that we would have a full-time legislature, they would have put even more limits on the president's appointment powers. At that time, the Congress could be gone from the capital for months, and would take weeks to recall, in an emergency. Now they are there more or less permanently, and can be recalled in less than a day.)
- 7:16 AM, 6 January 2012 [link]
Get Better Or Get Out? Joshua Spivak notices a historical pattern:
Almost uniformly, presidential candidates either improve on their original victory total — or they lose. What they don't do is win with fewer Electoral College or popular votes than they received the first time around. For presidents seeking re-election, the rule has been simple: "Do better or get out."(Spivak is excluding FDR's third and fourth wins, though he doesn't say so explicitly. Roosevelt did do better — much better — in 1936 than in 1932, but his share of the popular vote declined in 1940, and again in 1944.)
The pattern could just be a coincidence, but I am inclined to think that it isn't, though I don't have a handy explanation for it. (Or an explanation for its non-appearance elsewhere.)
- 5:42 AM, 6 January 2012 [link]
New York Times Editorial Writers Have Trouble Getting The Facts Right: James Taranto made one of his usual comparisons, showing how the Times had switched positions on recess appointments — Bush's constitutional recess appointments, bad; Obama's probably unconstitutional non-recess appointments, good. To support the comparison — and you really ought to take a look at it, if you haven't already — he quoted these lines from a 2006 editorial.
Presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton made scores of recess appointments. But both of them faced a Congress controlled by the opposition party, while the Senate has been under Republican control for Mr. Bush's entire five years in officeTwo days later, the Times appended a correction noting that Democrats had actually controlled the Senate from May 2011 to January 2005, after Jim Jeffords jumped parties.
But that isn't all that is wrong with those lines. Each house of Congress has some unique powers; among the Senate's is the power to confirm, or not, high-level appointments. So they should say that Reagan and Clinton faced a Senate controlled by the opposition party.
But even that would be incomplete, because the Republicans controlled the Senate for Reagan's first six years, and Democrats controlled the Senate for Clinton's first two years.
Finally, as everyone who studied high school civics should know, the Senate often does not operate with simple majorities. Even when they were in the minority, Senate Democrats often had the power to block Bush's appointments — and used it.
That the editorial writers missed all those things, none of them obscure, shows, I suppose, the power of Bush Derangement Syndrome. The editorial writers' minds were clouded by anger.
- 7:04 PM, 5 January 2012 [link]
Most Fortune 500 Companies Have Chief Diversity Officers: That Wall Street Journal article reminds us — again — that our big companies have self-imposed handicaps, as well as government-imposed handicaps.
About 60% of Fortune 500 companies currently have a CDO or executive role designated for diversity, according to a recent study by Heidrick & Struggles, an executive search firm. Among them, 65% are female and 37% are African-American. They come from a variety of backgrounds, from human resources and marketing to finance and operations.The article, which is generally positive, does contain this admission from CDO Maria Moats: "While acknowledging that a CDO's results can be difficult to quantify, . . . ".
Which might be a plus, if you happen to be a CDO. (And a minus, if you happen to be a white male employee, or a stockholder.)
(I suppose that in some states and cities a CDO might help you fend off the worst of the diversity crowd.)
- 3:49 PM, 5 January 2012 [link]
Gingrich Should Go After Santorum says political strategist Dick Morris.
Gingrich went after Romney last night in his speech. But that's the wrong strategy. Santorum, not Romney, is his big problem. He's got to take Santorum out before he can qualify for a run at Mitt Romney.Is Morris right? Maybe, maybe not. And before you get too hard on me for that wishy-washy answer, consider this: Game theorists have shown that there may not be an optimal strategy in contests with more than two persons. (There may not be optimal strategies in two-person contests either, but they are much more common there.)
One reason that Morris may be wrong is that, contrary to what his column says, Rick Perry is not out of the race. And, according to Nate Silver, still has a chance to win the nomination. (I agree with Silver, though I would be happier if he had at least given a range of odds, for example: more than 1 in 1000, but less than 1 in 10.)
In that case, Gingrich might want to try to knock Rick Perry out, first.
(Why not try to knock out Ron Paul? Because his supporters will not automatically go to other candidates. The same applies, though to a lesser extent, to Santorum's pro-life supporters.)
- 9:44 AM, 5 January 2012 [link]
Was Obama's "Recess" Appointment Constitutional? No, says leftist Timothy Noah.
As someone who strongly supported a recess appointment for Richard Cordray to run the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, I'm confused as to why President Obama chose to act today. Had he appointed Cordray yesterday, during a brief period when the Senate was technically in recess, the action would have been supported by precedent. Apparently, though, that appointment would have lasted only through 2012. By appointing Cordray today, Obama can keep him at CFPB through 2013.As would most open-minded people.
Noah follows that with a fair-minded discussion of the constitutional issues, with links to some who disagree.
I'll be less responsible and just say, snarkily, that we are lucky to have a constitutional scholar as president.
And I will make two observations: First, Obama made this appointment (and the similar appointments to the National Labor Relations Board) because he wants a confrontation with Congress.
Second, it is likely that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau will damage the interests of consumers, long run, as such bureaucracies often do. But the Obama campaign thinks that it will be a good issue, and they may be right about that.
- 8:27 AM, 5 January 2012 [link]
Are You In The 1 Percent? Then you probably live in the United States.
It only takes $34,000 a year, after taxes, to be among the richest 1% in the world. That's for each person living under the same roof, including children. (So a family of four, for example, needs to make $136,000.)A single person would need to earn about $20 an hour, before taxes, to be in the 1 percent. (Exactly how much would depend on his state and local taxes.)
- 8:05 AM, 5 January 2012 [link]
The Suspected LA Arsonist has an interesting mother.
Neither seem like good candidates for American citizenship, or even tourist visas.
- 9:24 AM, 4 January 2012 [link]
Two Ethanol Subsidies Were Killed By Congress: And for that we can be grateful. Both the direct subsidy, and the tariff on imports were killed by a bipartisan, bi-ideological coalition.
A federal tax credit for ethanol expired on Saturday, ending an era in which the federal government provided more than $20 billion in subsidies for use of the product.According to the article, last year, the industry received $6 billion in just the tax subsidy.
The New York Times isn't willing to give Tea Party groups credit for the end of these subsidies, but others are.
(Significantly, most of the Republican candidates in Iowa opposed ethanol subsidies, and even more significantly, most caucus-goers did.)
- 8:17 AM, 4 January 2012 [link]
The Failure Of The "Cornhusker Kickback" You can bribe some of the voters some of the time, but you can't bribe all the voters all the time. Sometimes, as Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson learned, you can't even bribe enough voters to give you a majority.
One of the sources of Nelson's unpopularity in Nebraska was his vote for Obamacare. So this is an opportune moment to recall the Cornhusker Kickback, one of a number of acts of outright corruption on which Obamacare was based. The Kickback provided that the federal government would pick up Nebraska's tab—but only Nebraska's—for the new Medicaid recipients that would be created by the statute, apparently in perpetuity. That was the bribe that Obama needed to get Nelson's vote, and Nelson evidently thought his sweetheart deal would insulate him against criticism for voting for the unpopular bill.If so, Nelson thought wrong, because Nebraska voters did not like the obvious corruption in the deal, even though it might benefit them personally.
- 7:39 AM, 4 January 2012 [link]
Michelle Obama Doesn't Mind being called "Your Excellency".
But she would probably prefer being called, "Your Majesty."
I miss Laura Bush.
- 6:14 AM, 4 January 2012 [link]
8 Votes?! Mitt Romney's incredibly narrow win, makes me feel better about not making a prediction. When a race is that close, you don't need a political analyst to predict the winner, you need a psychic.
(I did get Ron Paul's win in the home of Maharishi University right, but I can't claim any great credit for that. If he won Jefferson County in 2008, he was almost certain to win it again, unless he had come out against transcendental meditation, or done something similar to alienate that vote.)
Rick Santorum, in spite of having moved to Iowa for this last year, and having campaigned in every Iowa county, did not do as well as Mike Huckabee did in 2008. In fact, he and Michelle Bachmann together got a smaller percentage of the vote than Huckabee (30 percent versus 34 percent).
Romney did about as well this time, without an extensive campaign, as he did in 2008, when he campaigned in Iowa extensively.
Bachmann may be planning to leave the race, after her disappointing showing. Gingrich finished strong enough to be a spoiler, but no more. (And he may be planning to be just that, planning to give the Obama campaign ammunition in the next month or so by attacking Romney.)
- 5:36 AM, 4 January 2012 [link]
Look For Ron Paul To Do Well Tonight In Jefferson County: Why?
Michael Barone explains.
Ron Paul won 9.9% of the Iowa caucus votes in 2008 and polls suggest he will get about double that this time. Four years ago he reached the 20% level in only five of the state's 99 counties. His best showing was in Jefferson County (36%), home of Maharishi University and a lively meditationist culture; the meditators evidently find Paul's libertarianism and isolationism to their taste.Now would you have guessed that connection? (I didn't, though I knew that he had carried just one county in Iowa.)
There's much more in Barone's description of the patterns in the 2008 caucus results.
(And there is one more fascinating Ron Paul fact: He carried two counties in 2008, Jefferson and "Nye County, Nevada, home of the proposed (but now apparently cancelled) Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository and the Nevada Test Site, where the Air Force used to detonate atomic bombs". Jefferson County has a population of about 16 thousand, Nye County about 44 thousand.
Barone doesn't have any explanation for Paul's strength in Nye — and neither do I.)
- 5:05 PM, 3 January 2012 [link]
Suicide By National Park? You probably heard the sad story of the park ranger, Margaret Anderson, who was murdered at Rainier National Park.
She seems to have been a fine woman, and a good ranger.
My sympathies go out to her family and friends, most of all to her two young daughters.
And that's the most important thing. But I have do have one small speculation to add to the story, a speculation that I haven't seen anywhere else.
Most news accounts assume the man suspected in her death, Benjamin Colton Barnes, was fleeing to Mt. Rainier in order to hide in the wilderness. This seems unlikely to me because even a troubled, irrational man would be unlikely to see the park as a good place to hide in the winter. The park is kept open during the winter, but only a single road. When he encountered Anderson, Barnes was headed up a dead-end road into extremely dangerous territory.
There are many, many wilderness areas in Washington state where he could have hidden, where he would need far less winter gear, and would have had far less of a chance of being caught, almost immediately. So I think that he went up there to get killed, by the mountain or by law enforcement.
(Mt. Rainier is routinely used by climbers who are training for Everest climbs; that's how dangerous the mountain can be during the winter.
Barnes has been described as an Iraq War veteran. That's true, but it is also true that he was in communications, not combat, and that he received a misconduct discharge from the Army, for a DUI incident.)
- 3:09 PM, 3 January 2012 [link]
No Iowa Republican Caucus Prediction From Me: Because I don't have anything to add to what you can already get from polls like this one from the Des Moines Register or this one from Public Policy Polling. (And here's a critique of the PPP poll.)
And because both polls are probably wrong. Not because the pollsters erred, though they may have, but because polling caucuses is even harder than polling primary elections, which is harder than polling general elections.
And it is even harder when so many potential voters, just a few days before the caucus, are still undecided.
If the polls don't help us much, what about betting sites like InTrade?
As I write, InTrade bettors are giving Romney a 51 percent chance to win, Paul a 27.5 percent chance, and Santorum a 22.5 percent chance. In my opinion, those odds are too high for Romney, and a little too low for Santorum — and that's as far as I am willing to go.
I will predict that President Obama will win the Democratic caucuses easily, which is unfortunate, since the country — and the Democratic Party — would be better off if he received a serious challenge in the nominating process.
(Some of the reasons that polling caucuses is hard: It is even harder to predict who will turn out, because so few people go to them. Many of the candidates look similar, ideologically, to the caucus goers, so last-minute switches are common. There is more tactical voting; I wouldn't be surprised, for instance, to see caucus goers who really wanted Michelle Bachmann switching to Rick Santorum in the last day or two, if they think he has a better chance to win.)
- 2:37 PM, 3 January 2012
More: If you want to see what a professional pollster thinks, read this post by Mark Blumenthal. He even has a nifty graph showing all the recent polls. Here's his tentative conclusion:
Yes, the recent surge of support for Rick Santorum is real and could conceivably produce a surprise result Tuesday night. It is also possible that Ron Paul could pull off an upset, particularly if polls have been under-sampling his supporters. But for now, the best evidence available says that Romney is ahead in Iowa and is likely to stay ahead once all the votes are counted.Which isn't very different from my tentative conclusion.
- 3:28 PM, 3 January 2012 [link]
"The Best Surprise Is No Surprise" Alex Spillius thinks that one of Mitt Romney's strengths is that he is kind of boring.
Where his rivals have been unpredictable, error-prone and disorganised, Mr Romney has been steady, virtually fault-free and well drilled. He has retained a campaign structure from his failed bid for the nomination in 2008 and has raised much more money than anyone else partly through his Wall Street connections.Sometimes, as the old Holiday Inn ads said, boring is good; the "best surprise is no surprise".
And I think this may be one of those times.
(I don't know if "May you live in interesting times" really is a Chinese curse — but it ought to be, since interesting times are almost always bad times.)
- 8:27 AM, 3 January 2012 [link]
One More Worry for Europeans.
A sleeping super-volcano in Germany is showing worrying signs of waking up.And it could go extinct, as volcanoes often do.
Vulcanologist Eric Klemetti condemns the Daily Mail article as "claptrap", with no supporting evidence (and no named experts).
Jesus Diaz at Gizmodo doesn't name any experts either, but he does sketch out the evidence, such as it is.
Seismological activity started in 2010, with the latest movements happening last February, when a series of seven earthquakes ranging from 2.0 to 4.5 magnitude were registered in the area.If the earthquakes had continued, then the Europeans might have reason to worry, but if Diaz is correct, they didn't. But they might want to add some monitoring devices in the area.
- 7:48 AM, 3 January 2012 [link]
Ron Paul Tells Us a good joke.
Calling attacks on his positions "gross distortions," Rep. Ron Paul said Saturday that he's "pretty mainstream" and could win the Republican presidential nomination.Sure your postions are mainstream, Congressman Paul; that's why you have so much support from mainstream political leaders.
Unfortunately, it is almost certain that Paul did not intend that as a joke.
- 6:57 AM, 2 January 2012 [link]
Genes And Primate Social Behavior: The New York Times has some unpleasant news for those who think our environments are all important.
Social behavior among primates — including humans — has a substantial genetic basis, a team of scientists has concluded from a new survey of social structure across the primate family tree.Some of the implications for humans are obvious enough — and mostly conservative.
We should, for instance, recognize that pair bonding, or marriage as most humans call it, is, most likely, more natural for us than other ways of organizing the basic unit of society.
- 6:55 PM, 1 January 2012 [link]
Management Secrets of Captain Cook. The great mariner explains how he persuaded his sailors to eat an unfamiliar dish — sauerkraut. The sauerkraut, and other supplements, worked; none of his sailors died from scurvy on his voyages of exploration.
(British sailors might have been nicknamed "krauties", instead of "limeys", if he and other captains had stayed with sauerkraut as a scurvy preventative.)
- 4:20 PM, 1 January 2012
The first link was incorrect, but it should work now.
- 5:10 PM, 2 January 2012 [link]
Happy New Year!
- 8:19 AM, 1 January 2012 [link]