June 2010, Part 1
Jim Miller on Politics
Ever Suspect That Leftists Don't Understand Basic Economics? Then you'll like the results of this poll.
Who is better informed about the policy choices facing the country—liberals, conservatives or libertarians? According to a Zogby International survey that I write about in the May issue of Econ Journal Watch, the answer is unequivocal: The left flunks Econ 101.The results are amusing — until you remember how many voters there are in those last two groups.
- 8:29 AM, 8 June 2010 [link]
"Don't Make Excuses" Unless you are Barack Obama.
(I fear that Obama would not understand why so many of us find this combination funny.)
- 8:12 AM, 8 June 2010 [link]
California Voters Don't Like Any of their major politicians, as Tom Jensen of Public Policy Polling just learned.
We'd never done a public poll in California before last week and the thing I found most remarkable was how much voters in the state hate all of their politicians.The state's senior senator, Dianne Feinstein, has the best rating of any prominent California politician: 41-41.
Perhaps the voters are unhappy because California politicians haven't performed well in recent decades? (Though that doesn't explain why so many dislike Whitman and Fiorina, who have never held public office.)
(Meanwhile, California's economy is lagging, enough to slow down the nation's recovery.)
- 6:57 AM, 8 June 2010 [link]
We Con The World: Just in case you hadn't seen this five-minute tribute to the Gaza "peace" flotilla.
- 2:49 PM, 7 June 2010 [link]
The Inevitable Failure of the Euro: Most economists expected it to fail, and were surprised, if anything, by how long it has lasted. Martin Feldstein, who was one of the economists who expected the euro to fail, explains why, one more time.
The current crisis of the European single currency was an accident waiting to happen. The adverse consequences of imposing a single currency on a disparate group of countries were initially hidden by the short-run advantages that the weakest countries enjoyed when they adopted the euro in 1999—and by the favorable global economic conditions that prevailed until 2008. But we now see very serious problems affecting both individual eurozone countries and the overall single currency system.Read the whole thing for the gory details.
The Telegraph polled business economists and found that a plurality now expect the European Union to give up the euro.
Of the 25 leading City economists who took part in the Telegraph survey, 12 predicted that the euro would not survive in its current form this Parliamentary term, compared with eight who suspected it would.(Of course, being economists, they may be underestimating the ability of politicians and bureaucrats to avoid recognition of economic realities, at least in the short term. But you have to recognize that sending mostly German rescue money to Greece has so far annoyed voters in both countries, so you wouldn't expect that to continue forever.)
In the short term, this will not be good for the United States; we are better off when Europe is prosperous and peaceful. There is no way for the EU to abandon the euro without serious short term disruptions. In the long term, probably even in the medium term, the sooner they abandon this failed experiment the better off everyone will be.
- 1:36 PM, 7 June 2010 [link]
Robert Samuelson Rediscovers What Better Engineers Have Known Since The 19th Century: Success often leads to failure.
Cost-cutting by BP, careless rig operators and lax regulators have all been fingered as plausible culprits in the blowout. President Obama has appointed a commission to investigate the causes, and the Justice Department has launched a criminal investigation. There will be extensive analyses. But the stark contrast between the disaster's magnitude and the previous safety record points to another perverse possibility: The success of deepwater drilling led to failure. It sowed overconfidence. Continuing achievements obscured the dangers.Samuelson believes this is "perverse", but it is something that better engineers have known since at least the 19th century. A successful design is copied and enlarged and extended and modified until it fails. And then, if all goes well, the engineers learn enough from the failure to prevent other, similar failures.
Engineering professor Henry Petroski has written about this often, notably in his book, To Engineer is Human: The Role of Failure in Successful Design.
There is no permanent escape from this dilemma, whether we are designing bridges or financial systems. Redundancy often helps, as the old, old "belt-and-suspenders" example reminds us.
And I think that we can avoid some failures if we remember the KISS principle. It's advice that engineers often give themselves: Keep It Simple, Stupid. In other words, recognize your limits, and try to keep your designs simple so that you can understand how they might fail. I think that advice is just as useful for those trying to reform our financial system as for those trying to design a better bridge, or cap a leaking oil well.
(Similarly, those who have studied military history know that generals tend to copy earlier successful generals — until the copy fails.
In software, the tendency to extend a successful design, and to increase its complexity, is commonly called the "second-system effect".)
- 10:34 AM, 7 June 2010 [link]
Internet Slow Down? In the last month or so, I have encountered many delays in accessing sites. Almost every day, I get messages from the browser saying that it could not access a popular site (and sometimes even an unpopular site).
(The computer I built earlier this year has a good video card, so when I do get to the sites, they pop right up on the screen, which makes the earlier wait even more annoying.)
Have you been running into similar problems? And, if so, when did they start for you?
(I have read that AT&T's network has slowed in some cities because of the heavy demands from iPad users. I wouldn't expect that to have much effect on other users, but I may be wrong about that.
For those interested, some technical details: I have a 3 meg DSL connection through Verizon. It's been extremely reliable, and, the one time I checked, was running at 90 percent of the rated speed, which is about as good as you can expect. I see the problems in both Ubuntu 10.4 and Windows 7, with several different browsers.)
- 7:56 AM, 7 June 2010 [link]
Many Voters Are Unhappy With Democratic Congressmen: But the congressmen know what to do about that little problem; most are hiding from the voters.
If the time-honored tradition of the political meeting is not quite dead, it seems to be teetering closer to extinction. Of the 255 Democrats who make up the majority in the House, only a handful held town-hall-style forums as legislators spent last week at home in their districts.Most of the Democratic incumbents don't feel they can learn anything from the voters, anyway, but in the past they felt obliged to pretend to listen to voters. Now they are just skipping that part of their job.
- 7:29 AM, 7 June 2010 [link]
Wishful Thinking? Congressman Rangel claims that Barack Obama is like Dick Cheney.
Rep. Charles Rangel compared President Obama to former Vice President Dick Cheney Saturday for their shared commitment to the Iraq War, one the Harlem Democrat argues is based on the country's hunger for oil.Congressman Rangel has a pleasant thought, but he gives Obama too much credit.
(The congressman may be feeling a little grumpy these days, what with the ethics probes, and the primary challenges.)
- 5:14 PM, 6 June 2010 [link]
Are Obama's Policies Hindering The Recovery? Michael Barone ends a column speculating on the November election results with that tentative thought.
We may be seeing something like the "capital strike" of the late 1930s, when investors and entrepreneurs held onto their money and refrained from creating jobs because of high tax rates and intrusive government.Some Obama policies — the temporary tax cuts, for example — have certainly stimulated the economy. Others, notably the immense increase in regulation, must have slowed the recovery. It is hard to know now whether the pluses add up to more than the minuses. But we do know one thing; so far job growth has been far too slow.
- 4:34 PM, 6 June 2010 [link]
Back To Morocco, Yemen, Iran, And Iraq? You have probably heard that journalist Helen Thomas called for Israelis to "go back" to Poland and Germany. (She apologized after her outrageous statements became public, but most will find her earlier statements easier to believe than her apology. By the way, the video is brief, and well worth watching, for those who want to understand how she thinks.)
What this shows, besides Thomas's bias, is her ignorance. Jews have lived in Israel for more than three millennia, and in Jerusalem since about 1000 BC, when the city was captured by King David. They spread out from Israel, sometimes voluntarily, sometimes not, but never completely abandoned their land.
In particular they spread all over the Middle East and North Africa, into what became, by conquest, Muslim lands. And they were still in those lands in the 19th century, when some Jews began to return to their ancient homeland, hoping to have a nation of their own.
In some Muslim lands, especially when there were strong leaders who wanted to use the Jewish population, the Jews were tolerated, though always officially second-class citizens. But they were often persecuted, especially when central governments were weak.
We can get some idea of how they lived from a famous essay by George Orwell. In September 1938, Orwell left England for a six month stay in French Morocco. (He was hoping to restore his damaged health in a warmer climate.) While there, he wrote Marrakech. The essay includes four chilling paragraphs on the conditions in the Jewish quarter.
When you go through the Jewish quarters you gather some idea of what the medieval ghettoes were probably like. Under their Moorish rulers the Jews were only allowed to own land in certain restricted areas, and after centuries of this kind of treatment they have ceased to bother about overcrowding. Many of the streets are a good deal less than six feet wide, the houses are completely windowless, and sore-eyed children cluster everywhere in unbelievable numbers, like clouds of flies. Down the centre of the street there is generally running a little river of urine.Morocco was not the worst place for Jews in the Middle East or North Africa; in fact, it was probably about average. (The worst may have been Yemen.)
After Israel declared its independence in 1948, many of the Jews in these Muslim lands moved to Israel, some voluntarily, some not. (You can find some numbers in this Wikipedia article, with the usual Wikipedia caveats.) At one time, they and their descendants made up about half of the population of Israel. (The proportion may be lower now, after the mass emigration from the Soviet Union.)
If Israelis were to take Helen Thomas's advice and go back to where they, or their parents, or their grandparents, came from, some would stay right where they are. But a great many would have to return to hostile Muslim nations. As far as I know, none of those nations would welcome them with open arms, and make them equal citizens.
For Helen Thomas not to know these facts shows remarkable determination on her part. It is hard not to suspect that she shows malicious determination in having avoided them all these years.
(In 1938, most of Morocco was ruled by France. The French authorities did not find it desirable to extend liberté to their Jewish subjects in Morocco, much less égalité or fraternité.)
- 1:47 PM, 5 June 2010 [link]
View From A Bicycle: Here's one of my favorite views along my favorite bicycle route.
(For those not familiar with this area: The picture shows the northern part of Lake Washington, part of Seattle, and, in the distance, some of the the Olympic mountains.)Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 1:49 PM, 4 June 2010 [link]
Rewards Are Legal, But Not Bribes? That's my very short, and probably misleading, summary of the law governing the offers to Sestak and Romanoff. By way of Ann Althouse I found this Heritage analysis.
Some claim that even if Sestak was offered a high-ranking job in exchange for dropping out of the Senate race, it would not have constituted a crime—that's just "business as usual" in Washington. But such claims confuse two very different situations: one which is, indeed, business as usual; the other, a potential crime.But I should add that I am not a lawyer, and do not even play one on TV.
- 9:03 AM, 4 June 2010 [link]
Bad News On Jobs: Which might seem strange since the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that we added more than 400,000 jobs last month. But, as nearly everyone recognizes, almost all of those jobs were temporary census jobs.
Virtually all the job creation in May came from the hiring of 411,000 census workers. Such hiring peaked in May and will begin tailing off in June.For perspective, recall that we need to add some jobs every month just to keep up with population growth and immigration. How many? I've seen different numbers, and the number must depend partly on the flow of immigrants, for which we have only rough estimates. But the number is probably between 100,000 and 175,000 jobs per month. So when we add just 41,000 private sector jobs, we are probably losing ground.
Here's the BLS press release, if you want the raw data. Men and most minorities have been hardest hit in this recession.
Among the major worker groups, the unemployment rate for blacks (15.5 percent) declined in May, while the rates for adult men (9.8 percent), adult women (8.1 percent), teenagers (26.4 percent), whites (8.8 percent), and Hispanics (12.4 percent) showed little change. The jobless rate for Asians was 7.5 percent, not seasonally adjusted.The higher unemployment rate for men is partly the result of federal government policy; when the stimulus plan was being concocted in Congress, feminists in the Democratic majority pushed, with considerable success, to redirect money to jobs mostly held by women. In most past recessions, women were more likely to be unemployed.
You can find more reactions, and some simple graphs, in this New York Times article.
(How good are these estimates? According to the BLS, for surveys of "establishments", like this one, an "employment change of about 100,000 is statistically significant".)
- 7:56 AM, 4 June 2010 [link]
Hope For Change: If you are a cat. Today's New York Times had a full-page ad for "Cats Against Clay". Their motto is:"Cats everywhere mandate that our litter must change". Above that motto is a stylized picture of a cat that looks vaguely familiar, perhaps because it is modeled on a similar picture of a successful American politician.
(I looked for an on-line picture of the campaign poster, without success. And it is way too big for my scanner. Maybe the organization will post it, eventually.
Since I don't own a cat (or, from the cat's point of view, am not owned by a cat), I don't know enough about the subject to have an opinion on their campaign.)
- 2:46 PM, 3 June 2010 [link]
Why Is That Guatemalan Sinkhole So Round? Why does it look as if it were bored by giant drill, rather than formed by a natural process?
It is common for natural sinkholes to be circular; for some examples see this Washington Post collection of pictures. Far more of them are circular than you would expect by chance.
But I haven't been able to think of any natural process that would have such regular results.
(Offhand, I can think of only one other geological feature that is often cylindrical, natural potholes. But I think I know how those form. When I was growing up, I used to wonder about the potholes I saw in the bed of the Wenatchee River. But then I noticed that there was a rock at the bottom of almost every pothole, stretching from side to side. And I so I began to think that the river, over many years, rotated that rock, and slowly ground out a cylindrical pothole.)
- 2:19 PM, 3 June 2010 [link]
Congressman Joe Sestak Must be Feeling Jealous: According to most news accounts — which may even be true — he was only offered one unpaid job to drop his primary challenge to Senator Arlen Specter. In contrast, Andrew Romanoff was offered three jobs, all of them paid, to drop his primary challenge to Colorado Senator Michael Bennet.
(The reports about the offer to Sestak have never made much sense to me. I can't see why anyone would expect a man that aggressive to leave his seat in Congress for an unpaid job on an advisory panel. It is possible, of course, that the White House and Bill Clinton didn't realize that Sestak would have to leave Congress to be on the panel, but if they did, then the offer seems absurdly small, like trying to bribe a judge with a Hershey bar.)
- 10:05 AM, 3 June 2010 [link]
The 2008 Kangaroo Ticket: I have always liked Joe Biden, but have never thought of him as a great statesman. Despite that, I thought it was obvious in 2008 that he was more qualified than Barack Obama to be president.
The evidence continues to accumulate for that common-sense observation. Here's the latest bit.
Vice President Joe Biden offered the White House's strongest defense yet of Israeli's actions off the coast of Gaza this week in an interview with Charlie Rose airing tonight on PBS.Isn't that much better than anything Obama has said on the incident?
(Ben Smith ascribes that position to the "White House". I suspect Biden was free lancing, as he often does.
Here's my explanation of kangaroo tickets.)
- 8:38 AM, 3 June 2010 [link]
Reported Racist Attack In Seattle Is No Big Deal: Because, as you have already figured out, the victim was white.
Seattle Police are investigating to determine if an attack on a 16-year-old West Seattle boy was racially motivated.(Note, please, that I said "reported". As of now, we have the story that Shane McClellan told the police. And we have the police report of their encounter with the two suspects, who were found with blood on their hands. But we don't have any confirming evidence that his attackers were racially motivated.)
Sensational charges, definitely. So, are our local journalists rushing out to cover this story? No. A Google News search on his name got just fifteen hits — and only two of them were about this case. The Seattle Times, our local monopoly paper, appears to have done no original reporting on the story at all.
(One reason some people are skeptical about McClellan's story is that he does not seem to be a model citizen. If this is his MySpace page, as it appears to be, I can understand why people would not, automatically, trust everything he says.)
- 8:04 AM, 3 June 2010 [link]
Gallup's Generic Vote Converges On Rasmussen's: You may have seen this surprising result from Gallup.
Gallup tracking of 2010 congressional voting preferences shows Republicans moving back ahead of Democrats, 49% to 43%, by two points their largest lead of the campaign to date. Registered voters' preferences had been closely divided for the last several weeks.That result is close to the result Rasmussen has been getting for months. .
The difference between the two polls is about what one expect, given that Gallup polled registered voters, and Rasmussen likely voters. Even so, the Gallup result is so good that I am not sure whether to believe it. (I long ago learned to distrust polls that had results that I really like.)
That said, if Gallup is right, then the Republicans would probably win a solid majority of the House — if the election were to be held today.
- 1:37 PM, 2 June 2010 [link]
This Time, The Regulators Will Succeed: Samuel Johnson once said that a second marriage is the "triumph of hope over experience". There is, we all know, some truth in his quip, though many second marriages do succeed.
We have had, in this country and elsewhere, a long string of regulatory failures. The Securities and Exchange Commission failed to recognize Bernie Madoff's Ponzi scheme. The Interior Department has mismanaged assets of many Indian tribes for decades. The Minerals Management Services, which is supposed to supervise offshore drilling has a long history of problems.
Serious concerns about the agency were raised as early as 2006, when Representative Darrell E. Issa, Republican of California, led the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform in a series of hearings on problems in deepwater oil leases during the Clinton administration that freed companies from paying billions of dollars in royalties.And anyone who has followed the news for even a few years can add many more to that brief list.
But these facts have not reached David Leonhardt of the New York Times; he remains convinced that regulators can save us from ourselves. Two paragraphs after noting that regulators Ben Bernanke and Alan Greenspan failed to recognize a bubble in the housing market, Leonhardt argues:
When the stakes are high enough, it falls to government to help its citizens avoid these entirely human errors. The market, left to its own devices, often cannot do so.To drive his point home, Leonhardt immediately argues that government regulations made a big oil spill more likely.
Tom Maguire, who drew this article to my attention, concludes that Leonhardt believes in "Non-Human Regulatory Overlords", who, presumably, would not have the faults of mere humans. Alas, Leonhardt does not tell us where we are to acquire these non-human regulators. (Leonhardt also believes in the existence of super bureaucrats, though he doesn't provide any examples of those creatures.)
If a second marriage is the triumph of hope over experience, what should we call the belief in super regulators, after so many regulatory failures? The triumph of delusion over experience? Or, perhaps, the triumph of ideology over experience, in Leonhardt's case.
- 10:53 AM, 2 June 2010 [link]
Worth Reading: Michael Barone on Barack Obama and the "Chicago Way".
Obama could not have risen so far so fast without a profound understanding of the Chicago Way. And he has brought the Chicago Way to the White House.Two of Obama's allies, radical preacher Jeremiah Wright and corrupt fixer Tony Rezko show how well Obama learned the Chicago Way. Each man exempliflies one side of the Chicago Way, Wright the naked appeals to race and ethnicity, what Barone calls political theater, and Rezko the deal making that provides the money for the political organization.
- 8:29 AM, 2 June 2010 [link]
Harrison Schmitt is not impressed by the Obama administration's handling of the Gulf oil spill.
In contrast, failure clearly has been an option for President Obama and those claiming to have been on top of this situation "from day one" in his White House and in the Departments of Interior, Energy and Homeland Security. With no single, competent, courageous and knowledgeable leader in charge of a comparably competent, courageous and knowledgeable team as we had with Apollo 13, the Administration has been doomed to failure from the start. The President, without any experience in real-world management of anything, much less a crisis, has no idea how to deal with a situation as technically complex as the Gulf oil spill.The whole piece is worth reading.
- 8:08 AM, 2 June 2010 [link]
Juneuary: That's how one of the local weather forecasters described the forecast for tonight and tomorrow in this area. We are supposed to get a January-type storm (although it won't be as cold) with lots of rain and gusty winds. And they are predicting something similar, though not as strong, for Friday.
So I've been out stocking up.
(One grocery store was selling a small Coleman lantern. Though that particular model is intended for backpackers, it wouldn't be a bad emergency light, though most families would want a larger, more powerful lantern Of course, if you anticipate being without power for days, you will probably want an LED lantern, extra batteries, or both.)
- 3:43 PM, 1 June 2010 [link]
Poverty Doesn't Cause Crime: That isn't a surprise to anyone who has looked at historical crime statistics, but it was a surprise to leftist (he would say liberal) Richard Cohen.
This is a good news, bad news column. The good news is that crime is again down across the nation -- in big cities, small cities, flourishing cities and cities that are not for the timid. Surprisingly, this has happened in the teeth of the Great Recession, meaning that those disposed to attribute criminality to poverty -- my view at one time -- have some strenuous rethinking to do. It could be, as conservatives have insisted all along, that crime is committed by criminals. For liberals, this is bad news indeed.Actually, it's a good news, good news column. Crime is down, and at least one liberal is recognizing what the better criminologists have known for decades.
In the United States, crime has often risen with prosperity. You can see this clearly in the murder statistics. In 1900, the murder rate was 1.2 per 100,000 per year. After two very prosperous decades, it had reached almost 10 per 100,000. And then, during the Great Depression, it fell to less than 5. During the prosperous 1960s, it rose again to almost 10. (It stayed high until about 1990, and then fell to less than 6 in the last decade of the 20th century.)
Other crimes show similar patterns. I suppose that we should be grateful that Cohen is finally recognizing this, but we can't call him a quick learner.
(Similar thoughts here and here.)
- 9:52 AM, 1 June 2010 [link]
Terrorist Organization Tries To Provoke Israel, And Succeeds: Nothing novel about that, though the story of the "humanitarian" Gaza flotilla does show just how fiendishly clever Israel's enemies can be.
(If you want to catch up on the story, Spengler's summary is a good place to start.)
There has been much criticism of Israeli tactics, for example here, here, and here. But I haven't seen any of the critics provide a good alternative.
Oh, undoubtedly the Israeli tactics could have been better, but I don't see any obvious way to stop the re-supply of the terrorists that avoids violence completely.
Sometimes, there aren't any good alternatives.
- 7:06 AM, 1 June 2010 [link]
Zero Tolerance: For hair lotion?
An 8-year-old girl said she was removed from her classroom at a Seattle school because of the way her hair smelled.What we have so far is the lawyer's version. There may be more to the story. Or there may not. I can easily believe that Seattle has at least one neurotic teacher, with an ineffective principal.
- 6:20 AM, 1 June 2010 [link]