January 2013, Part 1

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Kicking Hugo Chávez Down The Road:  The Venezuelan autocrat is very ill, too ill to return from Cuba to take the oath of office on Thursday, as the Venezuelan constitution requires.

If he is unable to be there, they have to choose a temporary successor, and hold a new election, soon.

The Chávez regime is not ready to choose a successor, because Chávez is still alive, barely, and because the man Chávez named as his successor, Vice President Nicolás Maduro, would not be the temporary president.  (Instead, the president of the Venezuelan national assembly, Diosdado Cabello, would become temporary president.)

So the regime just decided to postpone the inauguration until Chávez is well enough to make it back, or, more likely, until he goes to a warmer place than Havana.

But that might not be soon, because you can often keep a person alive, sort of, with machines, for a very long time.

This postponement is, according to the Venezuelan bloggers that I follow, slightly illegal,  All right, very illegal.

But as the Chavistas might say — if they had studied our Tammany Hall — "What's the Constitution among friends?"

Francisco Toro wrote a satirical piece two weeks ago on how Chávez might be kept alive, and now sees life imitate his satire.

Just to make things even more interesting, there is another deadline approaching.   As Mary Anastasia O'Grady notes, in her column discussing the problems facing the regime:
The official rate of the Venezuelan bolivar is now 4.3 to the dollar but in the black market it costs more than 17 bolivars to buy a dollar.
You don't have to be a monetary expert to realize that won't last forever, or to realize that when the collapse comes, it will be painful.
-7:23 PM, 8 January 2013   [link]

Sometimes Winners Of Miss Congeniality Contests may not deserve their titles.  That's not news, but few winners demonstrate it quite as dramatically as Sophie Laboissonniere did.
- 3:38 PM, 8 January 2013   [link]

Worth Reading:  This New York Times article on the strengths of an almost all black, and not very wealthy, neighborhood in Chicago, Chatham.

The sociologists who have been studying Chatham believe that the relatively low crime levels in the neighborhood are the result of old-fashioned values.
In their surveys, asking residents how highly their neighbors valued and enforced respectful behavior from children, the researchers found that Chatham ranked No. 1, above all other similar neighborhoods.  On social cohesion, a measure of how regularly people work together to achieve common goals -- organizing street fairs to raise money for a senior home, for example -- it ranked second among black communities on the South Side, behind Avalon Park, just to the east.
Criminologist Peter St. Jean thinks the buildings in Chatham help.
The neighborhood has something else that many nearby areas do not: uniformly small buildings.  Neat rows of one-story brick bungalows and ranch houses stand shoulder to shoulder, at attention, astride modest commercial strips, with few buildings more than three stories tall.

"This is what I call ecological advantage," said criminologist Peter St. Jean, the author of "Pockets of Crime," an analysis of the physical spaces criminals occupy.  "In a community with small buildings -- single family houses, like here, for instance -- it is relatively easy for the old lady next door to walk over and tell you there's trash on your lawn, or to turn down the music.  It is much more intimidating to approach troublemakers in a larger apartment building; you don't even know where in the building they live."
Those who grew up in rural areas, or in traditional suburbs, will find all of this familiar; urban planners, for the most part, will not.

(The version in the Science section of the Times includes a small set of maps that you may want to look at, too.  This long Google URL should get you there, assuming you are registered with the Times.)
- 3:27 PM, 8 January 2013   [link]

The (Un)Affordable Care Act:  For conservatives, or just people who can do arithmetic, the official name for ObamaCare always seemed ironic.  You didn't have to know very much about its provisions to realize that it would increase spending on health care, not decrease it.

For instance:  One small part of the act put a tax on medical devices.  Was there any reason not to think that would make the devices more expensive?

Though it may have been obvious, there were many "mainstream" journalists who did not see the obvious, and are now writing "even though" pieces that remind James Taranto of those wonderful Fox Butterfield articles on crime.

Here, for example, is one from the New York Times.
Health insurance companies across the country are seeking and winning double-digit increases in premiums for some customers, even though one of the biggest objectives of the Obama administration's health care law was to stem the rapid rise in insurance costs for consumers.
(Emphasis added.) If you would like to see more "even though" examples, the Investor's Business Daily has a bunch, and there is every reason to expect more in the weeks and months to come.

But I give the journalists who provided us those examples less credit than the IBD does; I think that most of them are still in the "even though" mode, rather than the "because" mode.  They recognize that health care costs are rising, but they think that the increases are despite ObamaCare, instead of (mostly) because of ObamaCare.
- 12:55 PM, 8 January 2013   [link]

Food Is Cheaper Than It Was 100 Years Ago:  On the back of the weekend New Yorker cartoon was a brief list of Chicago food prices in 1913: milk (32 cents/gallon), eggs (30 cents/dozen), bacon (33 cents/pound), potatoes (9 cents for 5 pounds), and sirloin steak (24 cents/pound).

If you plug those numbers into this handy Bureau of Labor Statistics inflation calculator, you'll find that all of those prices, with the possible exception of the price for potatoes, are lower now, in real terms, than they were in 1913.

For instance, that gallon of milk would now cost us $7.44, if we had to pay as much as our grandparents and great-grandparents did.

And, of course, the quality is higher.  We are less likely to pick up a disease from one of those products than our ancestors were.
- 11:09 AM, 8 January 2013   [link]

Bill Richardson May Be Involved in more insider deals, but that doesn't interest our newspaper of record, the New York Times.

(By way of the Instapundit.)

More?  Yes, as you may recall, Richardson withdrew from consideration for an Obama cabinet position, after this little problem popped up.
On January 4, 2009, Richardson withdrew his name as Commerce Secretary nominee because of the federal grand jury investigation into pay-to-play allegations.58  The New York Times had reported in late December that the grand jury investigation issue would be raised at Richardson's confirmation hearings.[38]  Later, in August 2009, Justice Department officials decided not to seek indictments.[59]
There are more details about the allegations in the Wikipedia article.  If the article is reasonably correct — and I believe that it is — the evidence of corruption seems troubling, at the very least.

It would be interesting to know why he was not indicted — and why these allegations of corruption did not prevent Obama from considering Richardson for a cabinet post.
- 10:21 AM, 8 January 2013   [link]

David Letterman Is Delusional:  But he's working on that problem.
"For a long time I thought I was a decent guy," Letterman said.  "But yet, thinking I was a decent guy, I was still capable of behavior that wasn't coincidental to leading a decent life.  That's what I'm working on.  I want to really be the person I believe that I was.  I wanna be a good person."
With the help, naturally, of a psychiatrist.

If he succeeds, which seems unlikely, Letterman may damage his career.  As I understand it, his audiences watch him mostly so they can see him say nasty things about people he (and they) dislike.
- 7:39 AM, 8 January 2013   [link]

The Divisive Chuck Hagel Choice For Defense Secretary:   When the New York Times says that President Obama has done something divisive, as the newspaper did today, you can be nearly certain they are right.
But Republicans made it clear on Sunday that they will give Mr. Hagel a rough ride on his path to the Pentagon, questioning his support for Israel, his seriousness about the Iranian nuclear threat and his commitment to an adequate defense budget.  And Mr. Obama may also face difficulties from some Democrats who are wary of negative comments that Mr. Hagel made more than a decade ago about gays.
Republicans are worried about Hagel's fitness for the job, Democrats about identity politics.  Well, this is our newspaper of record, so we shouldn't doubt the truth of that unflattering comparison.

Hagel has a little executive experience; he co-founded a cellular phone company and headed a investment firm.  But those experiences would do almost nothing to prepare him for one of the world's most challenging executive jobs.

Moreover, he is infamous for not playing well with others.  This morning I heard former senator Slade Gorton (on the John Carlson show) say that he usually voted for a president's executive nominees, thinking that a president should be able to choose his own team.  But . . . . he would not vote for Hagel were he still in the Senate, partly because of disagreement on issues, and partly because he thinks Hagel is unpleasant to work with.

Ron Fournier has a similar, and equally unflattering, assessment.
By nominating Chuck Hagel to be his Defense secretary, President Obama is putting forward an aloof contrarian who doesn’t suffer fools--a striving politician who considers himself above politics. Hagel’s intellectual arrogance angers party colleagues, raising suspicions about what he really stands for, as well as doubts about whether he’s a team player.

In other words, Obama has picked a man very much like himself.  Hagel is Obama in a GOP jersey.
That's harsh, but from what I know about Hagel, fair.

So why did Obama choose Hagel?  Because the two get along with each other very well, and because, leftist Peter Beinart says, Hagel will enable Obama to "change the terms of the foreign policy debate".  (What Beinart means, if I may be a little snarky, is that our foreign policy debate will again be dominated by the false lessons he, and other leftists, took from Vietnam.)

If the choice of Robert Gates showed a desire for continuity with Bush's policies, then the choice of Hagel — now that the election is over — shows a desire for a break with those policies.

The National Review and the Washington Post don't always agree, but they do agree that Hagel would be a poor choice for Defense Secretary.  (And I agree with both of them.)
- 7:17 PM, 7 January 2013   [link]

To See Real Evil Up Close?  It is easy to explain why Bill Richardson is visiting North Korea again, but I haven't seen any explanation for his companion, Google chairman Eric Schmidt.
What some might find surprising is Richardson’s travel companion on this particular jaunt: He’s being joined by Eric Schmidt, the executive chairman of Google.  Richardson and Schmidt are said to be in North Korea to meet with “economic and political leaders,” and to visit several universities.  The two have been tight-lipped about why exactly they are visiting the country, though Richardson has said that Schmidt is “interested in some of the economic issues there, the social media aspect.”  Ah, yes, an important problem facing a country that can’t feed its citizens is a lack of Google Plus profiles.
If you've seen one, I'd like to hear about it.
- 11:13 AM, 7 January 2013   [link]

What Kind Of Network Is Al Jazeera?   According to Al Gore's partner, Joel Hyatt, it's a network with the "same goals" as Current TV.

According to Gordon Crovitz, those goals are not entirely peaceful.
Mr. Gore could have read the Middle East Quarterly profile titled "The Two Faces of Al Jazeera."  The network gets good marks for programming in areas outside the emir's direct interests, but the article concludes that Al Jazeera continues "to inflame Arab resentments in its promotion of anti-Americanism, Sunni sectarianism and, in recent years, Islamism."
Al Jazeera is not especially subtle in its programming.
In 2008, Al Jazeera threw an on-air party for Samir Kuntar when he was released from an Israeli prison.  Kuntar led a Palestine Liberation Front terrorist team that kidnapped an Israeli family in 1979.  He shot the father and killed the 4-year-old daughter by smashing her head against rocks along the beach.  In footage available on YouTube, Al Jazeera's Beirut bureau chief hands Kuntar a scimitar to cut the celebratory cake and says: "This is the sword of the Arabs, Samir."

In 2009, Yusuf al-Qaradawi, host of the network's most popular Arabic-language show, "Shariah and Life," said on air (also available on YouTube): "Oh, Allah, take this oppressive Jewish, Zionist band of people.  Oh Allah, do not spare a single one of them.  Oh Allah, count their numbers and kill them, down to the very last one."  Perhaps Mr. Gore doesn't have access to YouTube.
Some, Robert Spencer, for instance, think that Hyatt and Gore knew what they were doing, and that is just another example of the "unholy alliance" between jihadists and leftists.
- 7:08 AM, 7 January 2013   [link]

Majority Leader Reid Often Seems To Have His Own Facts:  Here's the latest example:
Comparing disasters is probably never a good idea because regardless of the size it's a travesty for those directly affected.  Therefore, it was surprising, as well as factually incorrect, when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid Friday took to the Senate floor and declared that Hurricane Katrina was "nothing in comparison to what happened to the people in New York and New Jersey" from Hurricane Sandy.
It wasn't surprising to those who have followed Reid's career.

Oh, and someone should tell Reid that Katrina caused more than 1,800 deaths, Sandy about 120.
- 5:58 AM, 7 January 2013
Reid admits he "misspoke".  (After, perhaps, some prompting from Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu.)

Can we anticipate further corrections from the senate majority leader?  Probably not, though there are many he should make.
- 7:16 AM, 8 January 2013   [link]

"We Don't Have A Spending Problem"  According to Barack Obama, anyway.
What stunned House Speaker John Boehner more than anything else during his prolonged closed-door budget negotiations with Barack Obama was this revelation: "At one point several weeks ago," Mr. Boehner says, "the president said to me, 'We don't have a spending problem.' "
Which, you must admit, would make our fiscal problems much easier to solve — if only it were true.

Does President Obama believe that?  He may; in fact, I think it is likely that he does.  If you find that conclusion hard to accept, consider this question:  Are President Obama's actions during the latest negotiations with Speaker Boehner consistent with that belief?  Is he acting as if he believes it?

The rest of the interview is definitely worth reading, by the way.
- 8:12 PM, 6 January 2013   [link]

Hundreds Of Trayvon Martins In Chicago:  That's the conclusion I — but not they — draw from this front page story from last Thursday's New York Times.
But the overall rise in killings here blurs another truth: the homicides, most of which the authorities described as gang-against-gang shootings, have not been spread evenly across the city.  Instead, they have mostly taken place in neighborhoods west and south of Chicago's gleaming downtown towers.
What the Times is trying to hint at, delicately, is that both the murderers and the murdered are likely to be young black (and Hispanic) men with criminal records.

They are, in short, like the late Trayvon Martin, who, as I am sure you recall, looked like Obama's hypothetical son, according to Obama.

But no one seems to care much about Chicago's Trayvon Martins, including President Obama.  That's why Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass called for Obama to at least come to a few of those Chicago funerals.

You should not hold your breath waiting for Obama to follow Kass's advice, nor should you hold your breath waiting for the Times to hold Obama responsible for his inaction on these murders.

Incidentally, Hyde Park, where the Obamas made their home, is not an especially dangerous neighborhood.

(The Press Secretary Kass refers to is Jay Carney. You can find some numbers on Chicago's crime problems in this Wikipedia article.)
- 7:54 PM, 6 January 2013   [link]

6.2, 7.65, 12.4, Or 15.3 Percent?  You probably have seen or heard stories like this one from the Associated Press.
Still, Congress' deal delivered a walloping tax hike for most workers: the end of a two-year Social Security tax cut.  The tax is rising back up to 6.2 percent from 4.2 percent.  The increase will cost someone making $50,000 about $1,000 a year and a household with two high-paid workers up to $4,500.
But, unless you are self-employed, you may not realize just how deceptive that 6.2 percent is.

Wikipedia gives us a more complete description of the Federal Insurance Contributions Act taxes.
The employer is also liable for 6.2% Social Security and 1.45% Medicare taxes,10 making the total Social Security tax 12.4% of wages, and the total Medicare tax 2.9%.  (Self-employed people are responsible for the entire FICA percentage of 15.3% (= 12.4% + 2.9%), since they are in a sense both the employer and the employed; however, see the section on self-employed people for more details.)
Suppose we called those employer contributions "additional worker contributions", or something similar.  Would that change the amount that the worker receives in their paycheck?  No.

Calling them employer contributions just hides the fact that they are taxes on wages, paid by employees, not employers.

That's dishonest, and we ought to stop doing it.
- 10:41 AM, 6 January 2013   [link]

Because One Bad Term deserves many more.
We’re still a couple of weeks from the inauguration, but Rep. Jose Serrano (D-N.Y.) is already looking forward to 2016 and beyond.  The congressman yesterday reintroduced a bill to repeal the 22nd amendment establishing term limits for the president.
It won't happen, of course, since it is so hard to amend the Constitution, but this does tell us something about the thinking among Obama's strongest supporters.

Serrano represents a mostly Hispanic Bronx district, New York 15th, that will be safe for him unless the population changes, or redistricting forces him into competition with another Democrat.

He has a lifetime job, so it is understandable that he would want Obama to have one, too.
- 9:29 AM, 6 January 2013   [link]

No:  That's my answer to this Fred Barnes question: "Will the press ever give Obama tough coverage?"

The soft coverage he has received for years will continue, though we might see a few more real questions from the usual suspects in the "mainstream" media.

Obama benefits from the partisanship that protects so many Democratic politicians, and from being able to talk and write in a way that appeals to most journalists.  They like his style and accomplishments, seeing them as similar to their own.  Obama is good with words, but terrible with numbers; journalists, who make their livings with words admire the first, and usually ignore the second.

Most of all he benefits from what George Bush called the "soft bigotry of low expectations", and what others call Liberal Racism.

Many of our "mainstream" journalists are simply unwilling to hold a black politician — or, to be accurate, a mixed-race politician — to the same standards that they hold white politicians.
- 9:27 AM, 5 January 2013   [link]

Best Joke Of The Year?  I almost missed the last and, in my opinion, the best joke in the 2012 daily New Yorker calendar.

When I turned over the last cartoon, I found this message:
Please recycle this this calendar's plastic easel.  If the recycling centers in your area will not accept it, please mail it to . . .
And they give, apparently in all seriousness, an R. R. Donnelley address in Wisconsin to send it to, so that it can be recycled.

The easel, as they call it, weighs less than an ounce.  It can not improve the environment to use fossil fuels to ship it half way across the continent to be recycled.

In fact, the idea is so absurd that I wondered, briefly, whether someone in the corporation had a sense of humor and intended this as a joke.

But then I remembered that most Greens have religious beliefs about recycling, and so the message was probably meant seriously.

So we can go ahead and laugh at it, but we should be polite enough not to do so in front of our Green neighbors and friends.
- 2:43 PM, 4 January 2013   [link]

Women And Blacks hardest hit.
Government unemployment numbers for December showed that while the general unemployment rate remained flat at 7.8 percent, unemployment for women and African-Americans rose despite an economy that created 155,000 jobs.

Unemployment for women rose to 7.3 percent in December from 7.0 percent while the rate for African-Americans rose sharply to 14.0 percent from 13.2 percent in November.

Unemployment among African Americans has remained quite high throughout the sluggish economic recovery of the past several years, despite the steady decline in overall unemployment in the economy generally.
All right, I am partly reminding you of the old New York Times joke — but mostly reminding you that blacks have done especially poorly while Obama has been president.  You can decide for yourself how much, if any, blame he should receive for that, but we should all recognize that unemployment levels that high, that long, are disastrous.

(I said blacks instead of minorities, because the unemployment rate for Hispanics decreased last month.  You can see the main table in the December Bureau of Labor Statistics report here.)
- 9:37 AM, 4 January 2013   [link]

President Obama Said That Most Families Won't See Their Income Taxes Increase Under The "Fiscal Cliff" Deal:  He's right, but incomplete.
When the deal was passed by Congress late Tuesday, President Obama said it prevented 'a middle class take hike that could have sent the economy back into recession' and have a 'severe impact' on American families.

'Under this law, more than 98 percent of Americans and 97 percent of small businesses will not see their income taxes go up,' he said.

To the contrary, the Tax Policy Center says roughly 70 percent of Americans will see their income taxes rise as a result of the deal.  They won't rise as much as they would have if no deal had been reached and the fiscal cliff was triggered, but they will go up nonetheless.
The Daily Mail doesn't understand that Americans don't call social security taxes income taxes, though they do reduce the income of wage earners — but they are right in saying that the vast majority of families will see their federal taxes increase.   (I've seen estimates that almost 80 percent of families will pay higher taxes under the deal.  You can see from the charts illustrating the article that the higher taxes will hit some of the working poor, so the deal didn't hit just the "rich", or even just the rich and the middle class.)

You can decide for yourself whether Obama was being deliberately deceptive when he made that statement.

(Here's the report the Daily Mail is using.  Note that it is labeled "VERY PRELIMINARY: SUBJECT TO REVISION".)
- 8:23 AM, 4 January 2013   [link]

The People Running This French Magazine are courageous.
Charlie Hebdo, the long-running French satirical magazine, has published what it’s website calls a “halal” comic book on the life of Islamic prophet Mohammed.

The publication of the book, which is selling for 6 euros on the Charlie Hebdo website, is just the latest in a long line of provocative moves from the publication.

For example, after re-publishing Danish cartoons of Mohammad in 2011 the magazine’s Paris offices were firebombed.  The magazine then published a new cover featuring their editor and a man dressed in traditional Islamic clothing kissing.
Here's their web site, in case you want to buy a copy.

(Amazon doesn't appear to have it yet, at least not on the US site, though they do have other books from Charlie Hebdo.)
- 7:40 AM, 4 January 2013   [link]

The More I Learn About The Al-Al Deal, The More Interesting It Becomes:  You probably know that Al Gore and his partner just sold their failing Current TV network to Al Jazeera.

Which, depending on your mood, you can interpret as Gore selling out to OPEC (big oil) or to friends of Islamic terrorists.  (And there is no doubt that Al Jazeera is more friendly to Islamic terrorists than most networks.)

And you may have heard that Gore rushed to finish the deal before the end of 2012 so he wouldn't get hit by the new Obama tax rates.  (Unsuccessfully, since they weren't able to finish the deal until yesterday.)

But you may not have heard that Gore and his partner rejected an offer from quirky conservative Glenn Beck because they didn't want to sell to someone "not aligned with our point of view".

But Al Jazeera is closely enough aligned with their point of view to make that sale possible.
- 1:10 PM, 3 January 2013   [link]

That "Fiscal Cliff" Compromise Contained Billions Of Dollars in corporate pork.
In praising Congress's huge new tax increase, President Obama said Tuesday that "millionaires and billionaires" will finally "pay their fair share."  That is, unless you are a Nascar track owner, a wind-energy company or the owners of StarKist Tuna, among many others who managed to get their taxes reduced in Congress's New Year celebration.

There's plenty to lament about the capital and income tax hikes, but the bill's seedier underside is the $40 billion or so in tax payoffs to every crony capitalist and special pleader with a lobbyist worth his million-dollar salary.  Congress and the White House want everyone to ignore this corporate-welfare blowout, so allow us to shine a light on the merriment.
(I assume they mean $40 billion over ten years.)

If you read through their list — and you should — you may be struck by how Chicago it all is.  The Democrats raised taxes on almost everyone, and then gave tax breaks to a few well-connected people, all the while talking about how much they care about the middle class.

The Journal thinks that Obama was being deceptive in his praise for the compromise.
Even as he praised the bill full of this stuff, Mr. Obama called Tuesday night for "further reforms to our tax code so that the wealthiest corporations and individuals can't take advantage of loopholes and deductions that aren't available to most Americans."

One of Mr. Obama's political gifts is that he can sound so plausible describing the opposite of his real intentions.
According to Timothy Carney, the White House insisted that these corporate tax breaks be included in any "fiscal cliff" compromise.  (He estimates the cost of the tax breaks at $76 billion.)
- 10:56 AM, 3 January 2013   [link]

David Ignatius Is Disappointed In President Obama:   The Washington Post columnist expected the president to behave differently in his second term than he had in his first.
And then what happened? In his December fiscal negotiations with the GOP, Obama repeated many of the mistakes he made earlier in his first term.  Rather than come to the table with a grand vision of his own — a real strategy for cutting the deficit and the entitlement programs that drive it — he played a poker game of incremental bargaining with House Speaker John Boehner.  This was an unwise approach even before Boehner demonstrated his incompetence by failing to pass his “Plan B” alternative through the GOP-controlled House.

Unfortunately, Obama has been playing a waiting game on fiscal issues ever since he became president.  He didn’t formulate a plan for long-term solvency partly because he didn’t want to give up the political weapon of Social Security before the 2012 election; he didn’t fully embrace the Simpson-Bowles deficit-reduction plan for the same reason.
(Emphasis added.)

Perhaps Ignatius just hoped Obama had learned something from his first-term failures, because there is no reason to expect Obama to change.

(Anyone who bothered to study what Obama did in the Illinois senate and the US senate would have realized that Obama has been fiscally irresponsible all through his political career.  So there was no reason to expect him to behave differently in the White House — unless you believed what he said in some of his campaign speeches.  And some people did believe him.)
- 7:17 AM, 3 January 2013   [link]

More Iranian rumors.
Iranian officials have instructed residents of Isfahan to leave the city, renewing concerns that a nearby nuclear site could be leaking radioactive material.

An edict issued Wednesday by Iranian authorities orders Isfahan’s one-and-a-half million people to leave the city “because pollution has now reached emergency levels,” the BBC reported.
Let me stress that these are only rumors, and note that the brief BBC item (scroll down) is bland.  (Serious pollution problems are not unusual in nations like Iran.)

But they are interesting enough rumors to pass on.
- 6:44 AM, 3 January 2013   [link]

Spectacular Mt. Rainier Sunrise:  Worth a look, in fact worth several looks.

(I missed it entirely.  You can't see Rainier from my neighborhood — which probably helps keep the rents a little lower — and there may have been a low-lying fog here that day, so, even if I had gone a mile or so, I still might not have seen the mountain.)
- 8:08 PM, 2 January 2013   [link]

Differently Abled:  That phrase may annoy anyone who is even a little bit politically incorrect.  You may think, with some reason, that it is just another way of saying disabled.

But I think that, in at least a few cases, it accurately describes some autistic individuals who can be much better at some jobs than normal people.

So, even if the phrase had an inauspicious beginning, we may be able to re-define it so that it makes sense.

That's one of the conclusions I drew from Gareth Cook's New York Times article, "Autism, Inc.".

Here's how Cook begins:
When Thorkil Sonne and his wife, Annette, learned that their 3-year-old son, Lars, had autism, they did what any parent who has faith in reason and research would do: They started reading.  At first they were relieved that so much was written on the topic.  “Then came sadness,” Annette says.  Lars would have difficulty navigating the social world, they learned, and might never be completely independent.  The bleak accounts of autistic adults who had to rely on their parents made them fear the future.

What they read, however, didn’t square with the Lars they came home to every day.  He was a happy, curious boy, and as he grew, he amazed them with his quirky and astonishing abilities.  If his parents threw out a date — Dec. 20, 1997, say — he could name, almost instantly, the day of the week (Saturday).   And for his family, who live near Copenhagen, Lars knew the train schedules of all of Denmark's major routes.
In time, Sonne began a consulting firm that could match people like Lars with jobs that fit those special talents, jobs that required, for instance, the obsessive accuracy often needed in data entry or software testing.

His employees need support for the social part of their jobs, the part that many of us take for granted — but they are often superb at their work, which can make it more than worthwhile for firms to take them on, and give them that support.

So I think we can describe them as differently abled, without meaning something the least bit politically correct.

Sonne's firm can find jobs for about one in six of the people he assesses.  Many fail for the most ordinary of reasons:   They don't have the "particular skills" the firm needs.  But that suggests to me that they may have the skills someone else needs.
- 6:33 PM, 2 January 2013   [link]

Worth Reading:  Jay Nordlinger's tribute to Mitt Romney.

After listening to Paul Ryan say some sensible things about the importance of families and communities, Nordlinger had this reaction:
This was supposed to have been deeply wise — also novel.  Me, I was thinking, “Does anyone know anyone who does more for his neighbor than Mitt Romney?  Does anyone know anyone who gives more time or money?”

Has there ever been a more charitable and philanthropic candidate in the history of candidates?  Goodness gracious.  What’s more, has there ever been anyone more modest about his charity and philanthropy?
I can't think of any candidates who would beat Romney on charity, or modesty about his charity.

And yet Romney was routinely presented to the public as a Scrooge.
- 4:13 PM, 2 January 2013   [link]

French Youths Staged Their Traditional New Years Celebration:  According to the French government, the "youths" burned 1,193 vehicles.
Hundreds of empty, parked cars go up in flames in France each New Year’s Eve, set afire by young revelers, a much lamented tradition that remained intact this year with 1,193 vehicles burned, Interior Minister Manuel Valls said Tuesday.
That's not a record, but it's high score, probably in the top ten.  (We can't be sure because the Sarkozy government stopped keeping score in recent years.)

Do those "youths' have anything in common, other than a desire to set off very expensive fireworks?  Perhaps, but our "mainstream" journalists either don't know what that might be, or prefer not to tell us.

Could it be that these youthful arsonists are almost all M . . . . . s?  Best not even to ask that question.
- 12:43 PM, 2 January 2013   [link]

The Fiscal Cliff Deal Will Mean Higher Taxes For The Rich:   And the middle class, the working class, and the working poor.
In addition to tax increases on Americans making more than $250,000 a year, the bipartisan deal will actually raise taxes on the vast majority of American workers.  How? The payroll tax “holiday” has ended.  The Wall Street Journal calculates that the “typical U.S. family earning $50,000 a year” will lose “an annual income boost of $1,000.”
On the other hand, the Social Security system will be a few years farther away from insolvency, thanks to the end of the "holiday".

According to Heritage, the deal will also increase spending by about $330 billion, over the next ten years.
- 10:33 AM, 2 January 2013   [link]

Senator Murray, Meet Dr. Jones And Candy Jones:  In which your humble correspondent offers an example in his effort to understand the thinking of our president, and Washington state's senior senator, Patty Murray.

Here is the message in a letter I just sent (by email) to Senator Murray:

Dear Senator Murray:

I am disappointed that you chose not to reply to my letter of a couple of weeks ago, asking you to describe a tax system that you believe would be "fair".  Since you say that the one we have had for most of the last decade is not fair, I think you owe it to the people to explain, with some specificity, what changes you think we should make, in order to achieve a "fair" system.

Since you haven't been specific, we have to speculate, based on your actions.  Let me give you a hypothetical example which illustrates your position, as I understand it.

Dr. Jones is a medical researcher, as well as a physician.  He is currently working on developing a new antibiotic, something we need desperately.  He has made enough progress so that his small firm will be giving him a substantial bonus this year, enough to put him into the "rich" category that you and President Obama have targeted.

Dr. Jones lives a life most of us would admire.  He has been married to the same woman for more than a decade and has been a good husband and father to their three children.  Every year, like your former colleague, Bill Frist, he takes some time off to give his services to the poor in a 3rd world country.

Dr. Jones has a cousin, Candy Jones, who most of us would find less admirable.   She also has three children (by different fathers), though she never married.  She is currently keeping two of her children out of literacy classes so that she can continue receiving their disability payments.  (Those who doubt this happens should read this Nicholas Kristof column.)  Those payments are not her only official source of income; she also receives food stamps and Medicaid.

Unofficially, she sells a little meth on the side.

Although she has large amounts of leisure time, she does no volunteer work.

As I understand your position — and President Obama's position — the most important thing we can do on taxes and spending is to take money from Dr. Jones and give it to Candy Jones.  That, you believe, would make our system "fairer".

As you may have guessed by now, I disagree.

It is not that I object to taxing the rich.  In fact, in a week or so, I plan to send you a list of rich people who I think should be paying higher taxes.  But I do think that our taxing and spending should reward good behavior, not bad.

This is an open letter, which I will be posting on two sites.  I'd be happy to add your reply, if any, to the posts.


Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 8:55 AM, 2 January 2013   [link]

Senator McConnell Couldn't Negotiate With Senator Reid, so he switched to Vice President Biden.
McConnell’s negotiating options with Reid had narrowed.  He could either let Congress veer off the cliff, take Reid’s latest offer, or accept the president’s tax-hike package for those earning more than $250,000.  Instead, McConnell sought a familiar and friendlier face across the negotiating table – his old colleague Joe Biden.  He called and left a message to open talks with the vice president.

“We have yet to receive a response to our good-faith offer.  I am concerned about the lack of urgency here.   I think we all know we are running out of time,” McConnell said on Sunday of his talks with Reid.  Then he revealed on the floor that he’d called Biden “to see if he could help jump-start the negotiations on his side.”
By now, everyone knows that President Obama is not a good negotiator — well, everyone who is willing to look at the evidence knows that.  And this incident should remind us that Majority Leader Reid — whose main job is to negotiate — is also a poor negotiator, though not as poor as Obama.

If they were quarterbacks, instead of negotiators, Obama would have almost no completions and Reid would have way more interceptions than touchdowns.

Unfortunately, in 2010 and 2012, the voters in their wisdom chose to keep both men in their positions.

(Some will want an example of their failures as negotiators.  Here's a simple, obvious one:  Both men insulted their Republican colleagues, publicly, during the negotiations.  Is that what you would do, if you were trying to make a deal with someone?

Incidentally, compromises over taxes and spending are often among the easiest to reach, since the two sides can often agree just to split the differences.)
- 7:10 AM, 2 January 2013
More:  For years I have been arguing that Vice President Biden would make a better president than Barack Obama.  I suspect some readers thought I was joking.

I wasn't, and this negotiation should give you one more reason to think that Biden — with all his faults — is better at governing than Obama.
- 8:16 AM, 3 January 2013   [link]

The Seattle Times Imitates Calvin:   On Monday, I posted a link to the Calvin and Hobbes comic strip in which Calvin says he plans to make resolutions for other people and that his resolution is "not to change a bit".

Yesterday, the Seattle Times published a whole list of resolutions for other people — and didn't mention any of their own because, presumably, their resolution is "not to change a bit".
- 6:08 AM, 2 January 2013   [link]

Some of us miss handshakes.

(I miss them, in some circumstances.)
- 5:11 PM, 1 January 2013   [link]

Robert Samuelson Is Getting Peeved at President Obama.
The “fiscal cliff” is a massive failure of presidential leadership.  The tedious and technical negotiations are but a subplot in a larger drama.  Government can no longer fulfill all the promises it has made to various constituencies.  Some promises will be reduced or disavowed.  Which ones?  Why?  Only the president can pose these questions in a way that starts a national conversation over the choices to be made, but doing so requires the president to tell people things they don’t want to hear.  That’s his job: to help Americans face unavoidable, if unpleasant, realities. Barack Obama has refused to play this role.
Understandably peeved, in my opinion.

Obama is behaving something like a football coach who gives pep talks, but refuses to draw up and send in plays.
- 4:52 PM, 1 January 2013   [link]

Happy New Year!

- 4:35 PM, 1 January 2013   [link]