June 2009, Part 2

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Is This Rumor True?  Probably not, but I'll pass it on anyway.
Mr Mousavi's cancellation of the protest came as sporadic disturbances continued around the Iranian capital, and reports circulated of leaked interior ministry statistics showing him as the clear victor in last Friday's polls.

The statistics, circulated on Iranian blogs and websites, claimed Mr Mousavi had won 19.1 million votes while Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had won only 5.7 million.

The two other candidates, reformist Mehdi Karoubi and hardliner Mohsen Rezai, won 13.4 million and 3.7 million respectively.  The authenticity of the leaked figures could not be confirmed.
- 12:32 PM, 16 June 2009   [link]

What We Know About The Iranian Election:  Glenn Kessler and Jon Cohen provide this summary.
Millions of handwritten paper ballots were counted within hours.  The challenger riding a surge of momentum and popular enthusiasm lost in a landslide.  Other opposition candidates did poorly even in their home provinces.

There are many signs of manipulation or outright fraud in Iran's disputed election results, according to pollsters and election experts, but the case for a rigged outcome is far from ironclad, making it difficult for the United States and other Western powers to denounce the results as unacceptable.  Indeed, there is also evidence that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the incumbent president deeply disliked in the West for his promotion of Iran's nuclear program and his anti-Israeli rhetoric, simply won a commanding victory.
It is also possible, as I noted yesterday, that Ahmadinejad benefitted from fraud, but would have won anyway.

(In principle, you could do a back-of-the-envelope check on the plausibility of that fast count, but you would have to know the details of Iranian election procedures to make a reasonable guesstimate.)
- 6:25 AM, 16 June 2009   [link]

Worth Reading:  James Rummel explains Iran's constitution.
It pretty much takes the form of a parliamentary system, with a President and elected legislature.   But I've always just assumed that all of it is for appearances sake.  A dog and pony show to placate the rubes.

The reason why is due to the fact that, try as they might to cloak their government in the guise of a functioning democracy, real power is wielded by a single man.  No one is able to do jack unless the Supreme Leader approves.  Every position of any note, from high ranking military commanders to the people who run the media to the head judge in the country, is appointed by this guy.

All new laws have to be approved by something called the Guardian Council.  People running for parliament have to be approved by the G.C. before being allowed to take their posts.  And who makes up this unelected body?  It consists of six people hand picked by S.L. and another six hand picked by the head judge.  And, in the paragraph above, who did I mention picks the head judge?
Rummel thinks that the protests in Iran will mean little — even if they are successful in overturning the election.  The game will still be rigged.

If the protesters were to start demanding a constitution that gives real power to Iranian voters, then we would have more reason for hope.
- 4:19 PM, 15 June 2009   [link]

Is Rick Steves Surprised By What Is Happening In Iran?  The travel guru should be, if he believed his own propaganda film.  An enterprising journalist — and there must be a few of them in this area — should ask Steves that question.

I wrote "if" because I have never been able to decide whether Steves believes his political arguments.  His arguments often seem so preposterous that it would be easier to believe that Steves is putting us on, than that he believes what he says.  (For an example, see this post.)

(To be fair, I should add that his practical travel advice can be useful, though I am amazed at how little he has learned from his many visits to foreign countries.  Example:  Would anyone who had watched his programs on France have learned about the problems France has with its Muslim minority?   Does Steves know about those problems even now?)

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(If, like Steves, you need a review of the Iranian regime's many sins, here would be a good place to start.)
- 2:54 PM, 15 June 2009   [link]

What's The Boston Globe Worth?  Would you believe $250 million?  Or does -$20 to 40 million sound more reasonable?

That's the range of estimates that David Carr (who works for the New York Times, which is trying to sell the Globe) got from six industry experts.

The most interesting estimate is the most pessimistic.
Mike Simonton, an analyst at Fitch Ratings and a close follower of the newspaper industry:

Both Mr. Simonton and Mr. Edmonds suggested that much of the projected losses at The Globe come from amortization and write-downs.  He suggested that cash losses will probably be half of the $85 million projected.

"At an estimated cash burn pace of around $40 million and no agreement on labor concessions, we'd estimate the Times Company would have to pay a buyer around $20 to 40 million in order to sever their ties with this untenable cost."
Simonton is not alone in thinking that the Globe is worthless; three other analysts in the group have similar estimates.

The Times paid $1 billion for the Globe 16 years ago.
- 12:59 PM, 15 June 2009   [link]

What Do The Iranian Polls Say?  If massive election fraud tipped the Iranian election, then we would expect to see sharp differences between the polls and the vote.  I have no idea whether there are any decent Iranian polls, but there was one conducted by an American firm, last month.
While Western news reports from Tehran in the days leading up to the voting portrayed an Iranian public enthusiastic about Ahmadinejad's principal opponent, Mir Hossein Mousavi, our scientific sampling from across all 30 of Iran's provinces showed Ahmadinejad well ahead.

Independent and uncensored nationwide surveys of Iran are rare.  Typically, preelection polls there are either conducted or monitored by the government and are notoriously untrustworthy.  By contrast, the poll undertaken by our nonprofit organizations from May 11 to May 20 was the third in a series over the past two years.  Conducted by telephone from a neighboring country, field work was carried out in Farsi by a polling company whose work in the region for ABC News and the BBC has received an Emmy award.  Our polling was funded by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund.

The breadth of Ahmadinejad's support was apparent in our preelection survey.  During the campaign, for instance, Mousavi emphasized his identity as an Azeri, the second-largest ethnic group in Iran after Persians, to woo Azeri voters.  Our survey indicated, though, that Azeris favored Ahmadinejad by 2 to 1 over Mousavi.
Pollsters Ken Ballen and Patrick Doherty anticipate one likely objection.
Some might argue that the professed support for Ahmadinejad we found simply reflected fearful respondents' reluctance to provide honest answers to pollsters.  Yet the integrity of our results is confirmed by the politically risky responses Iranians were willing to give to a host of questions.  For instance, nearly four in five Iranians -- including most Ahmadinejad supporters -- said they wanted to change the political system to give them the right to elect Iran's supreme leader, who is not currently subject to popular vote.  Similarly, Iranians chose free elections and a free press as their most important priorities for their government, virtually tied with improving the national economy.  These were hardly "politically correct" responses to voice publicly in a largely authoritarian society.

Indeed, and consistently among all three of our surveys over the past two years, more than 70 percent of Iranians also expressed support for providing full access to weapons inspectors and a guarantee that Iran will not develop or possess nuclear weapons, in return for outside aid and investment.  And 77 percent of Iranians favored normal relations and trade with the United States, another result consistent with our previous findings.
This does not mean that the regime might not have committed vote fraud, too.  They might have stolen votes they did not need to steal, just out of habit, or because they became nervous.

Unless better evidence comes along, or someone can show me reasons to think that there was a massive shift in public opinion, I would be inclined to think that Ahmadinejad won a majority of the votes semi-honestly.

(It is possible that the polling company they used was subverted somehow, with bribes or threats.   But I would be reluctant to make such an accusation without evidence.)
- 9:34 AM, 5 June 2009
Second thoughts:  After writing the post, I checked and found this post, which links to several critiques of the poll.  One of the best is from the Washington Post's polling director, Jon Cohen.
Methodologically, this survey passes muster as it's relatively straightforward to pull a good sample of the Iranian population, using the country's publicly available population counts and listed telephone exchanges.  But the poll was conducted from May 11 to 20, well before the spike in support for Mousavi his supporters claim.

(See here for a summary of available Iran polls that finds some evidence for Mousavi momentum late in the campaign.)

More to the point, however, the poll that appears in today's op-ed shows a 2 to 1 lead in the thinnest sense: 34 percent of those polled said they'd vote for Ahmadinejad, 14 percent for Mousavi.  That leaves 52 percent unaccounted for.  In all, 27 percent expressed no opinion in the election, and another 15 percent refused to answer the question at all.  Six Eight percent said they'd vote for none of the listed candidates; the rest for minor candidates.
When I read Ballen and Doherty's "showed Ahmadinejad well ahead" and "Azeris favored Ahmadinejad by 2 to 1 over Mousavi", I assumed that their results were something like those in a typical American poll, with 14 percent undecided, and the rest split among the four candidates.  Leaving out the very high numbers who were undecided, or refused to answer, was misleading.

So now I am back to wondering who won the election.
- 10:09 AM, 15 June 2009   [link]

Soon British Spies Can Offer Bribes Legally:  An exception will be made for them under a new law.
British agents are to be given formal permission to pay bribes to recruit informants or buy off Taliban warlords.

Agents working for MI5, MI6 or GCHQ, the government eavesdropping centre, will be exempt from anti-bribery legislation and, with ministerial approval, will be able to give financial inducements.
Amazingly, some British politicians oppose this exception.
David Howarth, the Liberal Democrat justice spokesman, attacked the exemption for secret agents, saying: "It seems to me quite extraordinary that the government should authorise itself to do this sort of thing."

Although it has never been admitted that British security services offer bribes to win friends abroad, the practice of passing large amounts of cash to potential allies and tribal informants is apparently common in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Andrew MacKinlay, the Labour MP for Thurrock who will question the exemption in parliament, said: "There is no earthly reason why M15 and GCHQ should have a reason to bribe people."
Because bribes can save the lives of your soldiers and innocent civilians?  Either that earthly reason isn't good enough, or it did not occur to Howarth and MacKinlay.
- 8:58 AM, 15 June 2009   [link]

"An Expedited, Court-Supervised Process To Accelerate The Reinvention Of Our Company"  That's how a General Motors vice president described his company's bankruptcy.

That GM has a vice president who writes that way may help explain the company's problems.
- 7:33 AM, 15 June 2009   [link]

For Comic Relief On Iran, it's hard to beat this Andrew Sullivan post, which begins:
Ahmadinejad's bag of tricks is eerily like that of Karl Rove - the constant use of fear, the exploitation of religion, the demonization of liberals, the deployment of Potemkin symbolism like Sarah Palin:
I am pretty sure this is unintentional humor, given Sullivan's record over the last few years.   (But it might not be.  He must have some readers who go to his site for the same reasons that people flock to train wrecks.  Perhaps this post is intended for those readers.)

(William Jacobson wonders when Sullivan will start blaming the Mormons.)
- 8:54 PM, 14 June 2009   [link]

What's Happening In Iran?  Beats me.  Oh, there are violent demonstrations against the regime and some evidence that the rulers committed massive vote fraud.   (For instance, these two curious patterns.
The BBC's Jon Leyne in Tehran says the result has been greeted with surprise and with deep scepticism by many Iranians.

The figures, if they are to be believed, show Mr Ahmadinejad winning strongly even in the heartland of Mr Mousavi.

The scale of Mr Ahmadinejad's win means that many people who voted for a reformist candidate in the previous presidential election four years ago have apparently switched their votes to Mr Ahmadinejad, he adds.
The first seem especially dubious.  The switches are not impossible but seem unlikely since Ahmadinejad has been notably unsuccessful at managing the Iranian economy.)

But what it all adds up to is hard to say.

It is worth mentioning that there are demonstrations for Ahmadinejad, as well as against him, and that Tehran has a population of about 7 million (13 million in greater Tehran), so even crowds of thousands may not represent a majority of Iranians.

According to the New York Times, the regime has "detained" 100 opposition "members" (of the Iranian parliament, I assume).  That may show that the regime is worried for good reason, panicking for little reason, or just being oppressive, as usual.

Michael Totten has been trying to give us a ground-level view of the demonstrations (riots?), as you can see here and here.

Juan Cole — who is not my favorite Middle East expert — has the most in-depth analysis of the vote patterns that I have seen.  It's still rather shallow, but it is the best I have seen.   He's fairly sure that there was massive election fraud.
- 7:28 PM, 14 June 2009   [link]

No Need To Count The Votes In Iran:  Ahmadinejad is sure he won.  And so is his main opponent.
Polls remained open in Iran tonight, three hours after the end of official voting, with President Ahmadinejad's representatives declaring victory despite a huge turnout that is expected to favour his rival.
. . .
The surprise claim of victory from Mr Ahmadinejad's camp came a few hours after Mr Mousavi's aides made a similar call.
Although Mosavi is being called a "moderate" by some Western journalists, he doesn't appear to be one, though his talk is not as wild as Ahmadinejad's.

It may be uncharitable of me to say this, but I suspect that the best result would be a lightning strike taking out both men.
- 2:24 PM, 12 June 2009   [link]

Beauty Queens With Common Sense And Charity:  Most commenters were amused that the new Miss California, Tami Farrell, has the same views on marriage as the previous Miss California, Carrie Prejean.  (Both think that marriage is for one man and one woman.)

But I was more struck by Farrell's common sense.

Farrell tried to evade the marriage question, but ended with this:
You know, I think it's hilarious right now that the world is turning to beauty queens for the answers for this.  I think it's an important issue and I think that it's one that I don't think I can win a battle.  I don't want to be any more divisive than it's already become.
It is hilarious, and it is delightful to see a beauty queen who recognizes that.

And by Prejean's charity.
I hope Americans watching this story unfold, take away the most important lesson I have learned through all of this: nothing is more important than standing up for what you believe in, no matter what the cost may be.  I've done my best under the difficult circumstances to handle the vicious attacks with integrity and show respect to others, even those who don't agree with me.
She probably had some help with that post, but she still sounds more mature than most of her critics.  And much nicer.
- 8:23 AM, 12 June 2009   [link]

He's Just Not That Into Europeans?  That's what Ralph Peters has concluded.
President Obama may be the least Europe-friendly occupant of the White House since James Monroe (the guy who put up a "Keep Out!" sign on our hemisphere). Bam clearly doesn't like Europeans.
. . .
The new ice age was also evident during Bam's stop in Germany. Walking or standing side by side, he and German Chancellor Angela Merkel looked like a couple going through a brutal divorce who got caught in the same elevator on the way to meet their lawyers.

In France, Obama brushed off Nicolas Sarkozy, the most pro-American president to occupy the Elysée Palace in my lifetime. Sarkozy had to beg for a meeting.

And Britain's Prime Minister Gordon Brown has been treated as though the British just burned the White House -- or a Kenyan village -- last week.
. . .
The evidence of our president's preferences is on the video record: Compare his upbeat body language and smiles as he embraces Venezuela's Hugo Chavez or the Saudi king with the scowls he offers European leaders.

Our president not only identifies with the Third World, but with a romanticized Third World whose failings are all the West's fault. It's the typical view of an undergraduate leftist -- in 1979.

Europe is going to miss George W. Bush.
Some European leaders already do, I am sure.

I seldom watch Obama on television, so I can't say whether Peters is right about the body language.   (But I suspect he is partly wrong about Europe.  Many leftist Europeans are like many leftist Americans; they often like those who treat them badly more than they like those who treat them well.)

For 1979 undergraduate leftists, Israelis are Europeans, so Obama wouldn't be into Israelis, either.
On Tuesday, the White House released a photograph of President Obama nonchalantly leaning back in his chair with his feet on the desk, the soles of his shoes clearly visible--as he spoke on the telephone with Benyamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel.  Some in the Israeli press have interpreted the release of the photograph as an expression of contempt, intended for Arab consumption, inspired by the hurling of a shoe at President Bush in Baghdad some months back.

Far-fetched thoough these fears might seem, I suspect that these Israelis are not being hypersensitive.   Barack Obama has a history of belittling his adversaries in just such a fashion. In April 2008, he was caught on tape during a debate with Hillary Clinton, rubbing his hand across the right side of his face and extending his middle finger in an obscene gesture that many in the audience could see it but she could not, and when this provoked laughter on the part of his supporters he responded with a knowing smile.
These arguments are all too plausible — especially when we remember the church he attended for two decades.

European leaders may have come to the same conclusion as Peters.  Despite Obama's popularity in Europe, he has yet to get anything significant from them.
- 4:46 PM, 11 June 2009   [link]

Anti-Semitic, Not "Far Right"  When I wrote the post just below, I was intending to write a follow-up post on the accused Holocaust Museum murderer, James von Brunn.   But Ben Smith has written most of it for me, adding a possibly significant detail.
FBI agents visited the offices of the conservative Weekly Standard magazine yesterday after a shooting at the Holocaust Memorial Museum and told employees they'd found the magazine's address.
. . .
The suggestion that the Standard may have been a target complicates any view of the racist shooter in contemporary left-right terms.  Von Brunn's white supremacist roots put him under the rubric of a "right-wing extremist," but the substance of his views -- which included everything from believing that President Bush may have been in on the September 11 attacks to denying that President Obama is an American citizen -- are too far on the fringe to fit into conventional political classification.

The focus on the Standard, though, appears to be of a piece with his central motivation: Anti-Semitism.  In one essay, Von Brunn attacked "JEWS-NEOCONS-BILL O'REILLY," and the suggestion that neoconservatism is a specifically Jewish conspiracy is common on the racist fringe.
Most of my post, but not all of it.  Attacks on "neoconservatives" are far more common on the left than the right, and sometimes those attacks from the left include poorly-disguised anti-Semitism.  And Smith does not seem to understand that the left-right spectrum mostly makes sense for economic issues.

Fifty years ago, anti-Semitism was more common among conservatives than among liberals.  Now, it is more common among leftists than conservatives.  (Especially outside the United States.)
- 12:52 PM, 11 June 2009
More:  Von Brunn contributed to the BNP and once wrote this: "SOCIALISM, represents the future of the West."  Even my leftist friends will probably agree that such sentiments are not common on the right, even the "far right".
- 5:19 PM, 11 June 2009   [link]

Is The British National Party On The Far Right?  The New York Times thinks so.
On Tuesday morning, two days after his far-right British National Party secured its first seats in the European Parliament, Mr. Griffin called the victory "a huge breakthrough in British politics."
And, in that, the New York Times is like every other "mainstream" news organization that I read regularly.

But consider what the Times says about the BNP's supporters.
Analysts say the British National Party has tapped into the frustration of working-class voters, particularly in the gritty rust-belt cities of northwestern England, who are disillusioned with Labor.
And what the Times doesn't say about the party's economic platform.
Globalisation, with its export of jobs to the Third World, is bringing ruin and unemployment to British industries and the communities that depend on them.  Accordingly, the BNP calls for the selective exclusion of foreign-made goods from British markets and the reduction of foreign imports.  We will ensure that our manufactured goods are, wherever possible, produced in British factories, employing British workers.  When this is done, unemployment in this country will be brought to an end, and secure, well-paid employment will flourish, at last getting our people back to work and ending the waste and injustice of having more than 4 million people in a hidden army of the unemployed concealed by Labour's statistical fiddles.  We further believe that British industry, commerce, land and other economic and natural assets belong in the final analysis to the British nation and people.  To that end we will restore our economy and land to British ownership.  We also call for preference in the job market to be given to native Britons.  We will take active steps to break up the socially, economically and politically damaging monopolies now being established by the supermarket giants.  Finally we will seek to give British workers a stake in the success and prosperity of the enterprises whose profits their labour creates by encouraging worker shareholder and co-operative schemes
(Emphasis added.)

Those supporters, and some of those proposals, would fit comfortably on the left side of the Labour Party, or even in groups to the left of Labour.  Other BNP proposals would find support in groups to the left of Labour.

(American example:  Most of the organized support for excluding foreign goods from the United States comes from labor unions, which are now, almost all, run by leftists.)

The left-right spectrum is not a very satisfactory way to describe many political parties, especially outside Western democracies.  Where it does work reasonably well is to describe views on economic issues in the West; the left generally wants more intervention by the state in markets, conservatives generally want less.

So why do "mainstream" journalists automatically describe the BNP, and similar groups, as on the far right?  Because the BNP is racist and some "mainstream" journalists believe that racism is found almost entirely on the right.  (To believe that requires them to ignore a great deal of evidence, but most "mainstream" journalists are expert at ignoring inconvenient facts.)

And I will go just a little bit farther and say that Daniel Hannan is right, and that other "mainstream" journalists call groups like the BNP "far right" in order to discredit conservatives.

(Similar thoughts in an earlier post.)
- 9:53 AM, 11 June 2009   [link]

$600 Billion:  That's how much the projected deficit has increased since January.
As the ranking Democrat and then chairman of the House Budget Committee, Representative John M. Spratt Jr. of South Carolina accused President Bush for eight years of recklessly running up huge fiscal deficits.

But by noon on Wednesday, after listening for two hours as economists explained why it was crucial to run a large deficit -- one that would triple the previous record and vault far above $1 trillion -- Mr. Spratt looked shell-shocked.
. . .
The Congressional Budget Office predicted on Wednesday that the federal deficit would balloon to $1.2 trillion this year -- even before Democrats pass an economic stimulus bill that could cost an additional $1 trillion spread over this year and next.
But $1.2 trillion wasn't enough for Obama, Pelosi, and Reid.

Granted, some of the increase to the current $1.8 trillion is because the economy has performed even worse than predicted, but much of it is the result of decisions made by Democratic leaders.
- 6:40 PM, 10 June 2009   [link]

The House Republicans Have A Rational Energy Bill:  Judging by this semi-hostile New York Times article.
The Republican proposal, drafted by a group led by Representative Mike Pence of Indiana, leans heavily on nuclear power, setting a goal of building 100 reactors over the next 20 years.  No new nuclear plants have been ordered in the United States since 1978 because of the high cost of construction and uncertainty about regulatory approval.

The bill also provides incentives for increased oil and gas production on public and private lands and offshore.  It would also authorize oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, a focus of 30 years of controversy in Congress.

The Republican measure does not include any mandatory cap on emissions of heat-trapping gases, relying instead on nuclear energy, natural gas and renewable fuels like wind, solar and biomass power to reduce production of the gases, which have been linked to global warming.
In short, the Republican goal is to give power to the people, lower-priced power, at that.
- 2:32 PM, 10 June 2009   [link]

Hope He Doesn't Get Fired For This:  The NYT's Tom Friedman gives credit to . . . . . George W. Bush.
While the Lebanese deserve 95 percent of the credit for this election, 5 percent goes to two U.S. presidents.  As more than one Lebanese whispered to me: Without George Bush standing up to the Syrians in 2005 — and forcing them to get out of Lebanon after the Hariri killing — this free election would not have happened.  Mr. Bush helped create the space.  Power matters.  Mr. Obama helped stir the hope.  Words also matter.
Just a little credit, and he immediately adds some for Obama, who had nothing to do with the Lebanese elections, but Friedman did give credit to Bush.  Which is almost a firing offense at the New York Times.  Friedman is probably safe, but a lesser journalist might be in real danger for such unorthodox views.

(BTW, I would also give credit to the French government, which worked closely with us to help force out the Syrians.

Here's Rafik Hariri's Wikipedia biography.)
- 2:02 PM, 10 June 2009   [link]

Worth Reading:  André Aciman's op-ed on the other refugees.
The president never said a word about me.  Or, for that matter, about any of the other 800,000 or so Jews born in the Middle East who fled the Arab and Muslim world or who were summarily expelled for being Jewish in the 20th century.  With all his references to the history of Islam and to its (questionable) "proud tradition of tolerance" of other faiths, Mr. Obama never said anything about those Jews whose ancestors had been living in Arab lands long before the advent of Islam but were its first victims once rampant nationalism swept over the Arab world.

Nor did he bother to mention that with this flight and expulsion, Jewish assets were — let's call it by its proper name — looted.  Mr. Obama never mentioned the belongings I still own in Egypt and will never recover.  My mother's house, my father's factory, our life in Egypt, our friends, our books, our cars, my bicycle.
Worth reading, though you should remember that most Middle East Jews were extremely poor in 1948.

President Obama didn't mention them because, if he did, almost everyone would see that there was a simple and reasonably fair solution in 1948, an exchange of populations.  That exchange was rejected by the Arab governments then, and has been rejected by them ever since.
- 1:42 PM, 10 June 2009   [link]

Trains Pollute More Than Planes?  That's one conclusion in a new study.
A new study has suggested that greenhouse gas emissions generated by trains are much higher than those produced by an airplane.

Unlike previous studies on transport emissions, this one looks beyond what is emitted by different types of car, train, bus or plane while their engines are running and includes emissions from building and maintaining the vehicles and their infrastructure, as well as generating the fuel to run them.

Including these additional sources of pollution more than doubles the greenhouse gas emissions of train travel.
Worst of all for pollution, according to the study?  Off-peak buses.  Which does not surprise me, since I often see buses in my area that are nearly empty, and occasionally see buses with no passengers at all.

For more, here are links to the New Scientist article and to the paper, an eight-page summary of the work.

(The study authors, Mikhail Chester and Arpad Horvath, are interested in total greenhouse gases.   Those worried about traditional pollution problems will want to consider where the pollution is emitted, as well as how much.)
- 8:39 AM, 10 June 2009   [link]

Energy Prices Are Likely To Rise:  Even though most industrial countries are in recessions.  Here's why.
Goldman Sachs raised its oil price forecast for the end of 2009 to $85 a barrel from $65, anticipating dwindling supply and rising demand this year and next.

Its forecast also put prices at $95 by the end of 2010, led by economic recovery in China.
. . .
The bank's forecast of recovery in economic activity centres on China and other emerging market countries outside the rich West.  Goldman Sachs expects Chinese oil demand to decline by 115,000 barrels per day in 2009, but to grow by 343,000 barrels in 2010.
. . .
Key to the anticipated recovery in the oil price will be the willingness of the production cartel Opec, in particular Saudi Arabia, to keep down production and draw inventories back to ten-year average levels, as non-Opec production continues to decline.  Goldman Sachs warned that constraints on storage capacity remained a risk.
Or, to be more precise, continue to rise.
You have probably noticed it at the gas pump, but other than CNBC and The Wall Street Journal, has much noise been made that crude oil spot prices have about doubled since mid-February?
Even the New York Times — which strongly favors higher energy prices — is beginning to notice.
Gas prices have risen 41 days in a row, to a national average of almost $2.62 a gallon.  That is a sharp increase from the low of $1.62 a gallon that prevailed at the end of last year.
. . .
The national jump in prices, far larger than the normal seasonal increase, is pulling billions of dollars from the pockets of drivers.  It threatens to curtail a modest recovery in consumer spending on items like apparel and electronics.
And what is the Obama administration doing about this?  They are working hard to increase energy prices.
"As I've often said, in the short term, as we transition to renewable energy," President Obama stated in April, "we can and should increase our domestic production of oil and natural gas. . . . We still need more oil, we still need more gas.  If we've got some here in the United States that we can use, we should find it and do so in an environmentally sustainable way."

Does anyone believe Obama was serious about this?  Given his practice of misdirection--saying one thing, doing another--no one should have.  Now, nearly five months into the Obama presidency, it's clear he didn't mean a word of it.  His administration is impeding, not promoting, increased production of oil and gas, as it is of coal and nuclear power.

This is a crazy policy.  It's likely to drive up gasoline and electricity prices while making America more dependent than ever on foreign oil--three bad trends.  Energy independence becomes still another of Obama's stated policies being championed in words but not deeds.
In the rest of the article, Fred Barnes supplies the evidence for that unhappy conclusion.

These Obama policies are one of the reasons that I am less optimistic than Paul Krugman is about the near-term prospects for economic recovery.

(Caveat:  These oil forecasts are wrong more often than not.  But this one seems plausible, at least to me.

Why have we heard so little from "mainstream" journalists about rising energy prices?  Because, most of them favor higher energy prices.  It really is as simple as that.  And few of them have bothered to think about the damage these higher prices will do to our economy, and, eventually, to Democratic party prospects.)
- 2:54 PM, 9 June 2009
Second thoughts:  I implied that the Obama administration is deliberately trying to increase energy prices.  I am certain that they want higher energy prices in the long run, but they may not in the short run.  Some, including Obama, may not realize that their policies will lead to higher energy prices in the short run.  Or they may not realize how much those increases will burden the economy.  If that seems improbable, just think about the backgrounds of those close to Obama, and about the gaps in Obama's education.
- 9:03 AM, 10 June 2009   [link]

Most Presidential Debates Are Useless, Or Worse Than Useless:  But these Iranian debates may have real value.
Instead of the anodyne exchanges that dominate Middle Eastern political programming, the nightly debates have seen unprecedented criticism, acrimony and name-calling, with the candidates dishing the dirt not just on each other but on numerous other senior politicians.  Iran's entire political class has undergone an overnight image crash with which its British counterpart, reeling from the MPs' expenses scandal, would no doubt sympathise.

It was Mr Ahmadinejad who started the mud-slinging, claiming that the wife of Mir-Hossein Mousavi, the largely unimpeachable reformist, had faked her degree certificate.  He then accused Mehdi Karoubi, a rival reformist candidate and cleric, of corruption.  Both claims were, needless to say, denied.

With the gloves firmly off, his rivals responded in kind.  Mr Mousavi told Mr Ahmadinejad that he had been a "disgrace" to Iran thanks to his aggressive foreign policy, while Mr Karoubi accused him of telling blatant fibs about the health of the economy.  "Lying is the worst sin in Islam," he warned him.  You wouldn't get away with that in the House of Commons.
I am inclined, on general principles, to believe Mousavi's and Karoubi's charges.  As for Ahmadinejad's charges, let's just say that I am willing to look at them if he will send me the evidence.

All three men had to be approved by the mullahs who run the country, who probably are regretting this result.
The problem is that by this Friday — or the one after, if the election goes to a second round — one of these candidates is going to assume office.  But instead of being seen as a respected statesman and upholder of the Islamic regime, the man rubbing shoulders with the Supreme Leader may be known popularly as either "Ahmadinejad the Liar", "Karoubi the Corrupt", or "Mousavi the Illiterate US Stooge" — epithets endorsed by their own colleagues.  Those, surely, are not the kind of people a regime that brooks no real opposition would ideally want as figureheads.
That doesn't sound like a problem; that sounds like part of a solution — if you sympathize with the oppressed citizens of Iran.
- 2:08 PM, 9 June 2009   [link]

What Do Europeans Think Of The European Union?  Less and less, judging by the turnout in EU elections.   Turnout has declined in every single election since the first in 1979, when it was 61.99 percent.   In this last election, it was 43.1 percent, so they have lost almost one in three voters.  And they have lost voters in spite of the fact that some EU countries have mandatory voting.

The numbers are not exactly comparable from election to election, since new countries kept joining, but if you look at this historical chart, you will see that turnout has declined in most elections, within each nation.

During this same period of time, the EU has become more powerful, so that what it does affects the people in the EU more directly.  But much of what the EU does is done through its bureaucracies, so it is difficult for many citizens to see how the members of the EU parliament affect their lives.

If turnout continues to decline, the EU will lose legitimacy.  It may have already done so in Britain, where about one in four voters bothered to vote in this last election.

(EU leaders have often shown contempt for elections, particularly referendums on joining or strengthening the EU.  That doesn't help increase turnout.)
- 9:11 AM, 9 June 2009   [link]

"Get A Room"  That's Phil Bronstein's advice to journalists who have fallen in love with Barack Obama.  Journalists like Evan Thomas, who embarrassed himself again.
- 7:13 AM, 9 June 2009   [link]

Two Wise* Latinos Join The Republicans:  The New York Times has the story.
Republicans apparently seized control of the New York State Senate on Monday, in a stunning and sudden reversal of fortunes for the Democratic Party, which controlled the chamber for barely five months.

A raucous leadership fight erupted on the floor of the Senate around 3 p.m., with two Democrats, Pedro Espada Jr. of the Bronx and Hiram Monserrate of Queens, joining the 30 Senate Republicans in a motion that would displace Democrats as the party in control.

In a news conference in the early evening, Senator Malcolm A. Smith of Queens, leader of the Senate Democrats, insisted that the Republican-engineered vote was illegal and violated parliamentary procedure.  He said the vote was illegal because it had already taken place after the meeting was already brought to an end.
But Smith will probably lose that fight.

The New York Post has the story behind the story.
The final and decisive factor was the failure of Smith and the Democrats to give the dynamic and at times controversial Espada, who had been given the title of vice president of the Senate, any real power.

"Pedro could see he wasn't being given any of the things that he had been promised and that it wasn't likely to get any better in the coming months," said a source who was involved in the coup.

Espada also told associates that he found Smith "embarrassing" and "unable to provide the kind of leadership that Democrats really need," according to a source close to Espada.
Neither newspaper mentions the obvious, so it is probably important.  Two Hispanic politicians defected from a party led by an black.   Ethnic conflicts are as old as mixed-ethnic democracies, so I suspect conflicts between blacks and Hispanics may be part of the explanation for what just happened.  (In the past Italians often joined Republicans when they felt they were not being treated fairly by Irish Democrats.  We may be seeing something similar beginning to happen with Hispanics and blacks.)

Will this change be good for New York?  Hard to say.  The New York Senate Republicans are not, on the whole, an admirable group, though they are better than the New York Senate Democrats.

Businessman Tom Golisano backed this coup.  His past meddling in state politics does not appear to have benefitted the state.  But this time he may help control taxes and spending in the state, since New York Republicans are margninally better than New York Democrats on those issues.

This coup illustrates, once again, the defects of "professional" state legislatures; the state senators in New York are good at grabbing pork and getting elected, but poor at governing.  (California also has a "professional" legislature and similar problems.)

(*At least I think they are wise.  Sonia Sotomayor is busy these days, so I won't ask her for her opinion on the subject.

They are certainly "controversial", as Post reporter Frederic Dicker notes, cautiously.  Both have serious legal problems.)
- 6:45 AM, 9 June 2009   [link]