June 2011, Part 2

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

E. J. Dionne Misses President Bush:  A little.
Perhaps I should thank the current crop of Republican presidential candidates for providing me with an experience I never, ever expected: During this week's debate in New Hampshire, I had a moment of nostalgia for George W. Bush.

Let me note that this was tempered by another response to Bush that I'll get to.  Yet compared with the New Hampshire Seven — and with today's Republican majority in the House of Representatives — Bush was the reincarnation of Theodore Roosevelt.
In fact, though Dionne does not see this, two of the candidates in that debate, Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty, have some strong similarities to George W. Bush.  All three were successful governors, all three have strong religious faiths and solid families, and all three are hard-working, pragmatic conservatives.  (In some ways Pawlenty is the most impressive of the three, since he started with the least.)

Similarly, the House Republican majority chose as its leader, another hard-working, pragmatic conservative, John Boehner.

That Dionne does not see all this shows just how trapped he has become over the years, by his own rigid ideology.  He's a smart man, smart enough to be a Rhodes scholar, smart enough to earn a doctorate from Balliol.  (Granted, in sociology, but still a doctorate.)  Early in his journalistic career, he was a fine reporter.

But somewhere along the line, he lost his ability to be fair to his ideological opponents; somewhere along the line he became a hardened partisan, so hardened that his columns are often best read as intentional satire.

For example, this sentence, coming from a strong supporter of Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, and Harry Reid, is hilarious.
The budget disaster he [Bush] stuck us with requires little elaboration.
If Bush's budgets were disasters, what do we call the OPR budgets?  Even catastrophes doesn't seem quite strong enough.  And whether you like his plans or not, Bush did provide plans for ending those deficits, something that the OPR team can't be bothered to do.

A man with an open mind would see that objection to his argument, would see that he would have to explain why he supports the OPR deficits, while attacking the much smaller Bush deficits.   But Dionne, I am persuaded, honestly doesn't see that immense (catastrophic?) hole in his argument.

Perhaps Dionne should take some time off and go out and listen to some people outside the Beltway.  If he can listen with an open mind, that is.
- 2:50 PM, 16 June 2011   [link]

Ann Coulter Takes Time Off From Beating Up On Liberals to eviscerate Ron Paul.
Paul can't even scratch Social Security and Medicare off that list by taking the libertarian position that there should be no Social Security or Medicare, because he also said during the debate: "We don't want to cut any of the medical benefits for children or the elderly, because we have drawn so many in and got them so dependent on the government."  (And of course, those programs do exist, whether we like it or not.)

So Rep. Paul is a swashbuckling individualist when it comes to civilization's most crucial building block for raising children [traditional marriage], but willing to be a run-of-the-mill government statist when it comes to the Ponzi-scheme entitlements bankrupting the country.  He's like a vegetarian who says, "I'm not a fanatic -- I still eat meat."
If I had known Congressman Paul would say something that inconsistent with libertarianism, I might have tried to follow the "debate" on line.
- 9:39 AM, 16 June 2011   [link]

Hugo Chávez's Strange Ailments:  The Venezuelan leader has been ill for weeks, and many are beginning to wonder what is really wrong with him.
Venezuelans, who in the past decade have grown accustomed to watching Hugo Chavez make national policy in near-daily television appearances, must now get used to him governing from a hospital bed in Cuba.

Since traveling to the communist island June 9 and undergoing unannounced surgery to remove a pelvic abscess, the normally hands-on leader has stayed out of the spotlight, making a single telephone call into state-run television.  That's raised questions about the true state of his health after other medical problems this year, and is forcing friends and foes alike to ask who's in charge of South America's biggest oil producer.
Why Cuba?  His government claims that he just happened to be there when the abscess flared up.  But he could have been taken to a Venezuelan hospital by airplane almost as quickly as he could be taken to a Cuban hospital by ambulance.

Cuban hospitals may have one great advantage for him; I would guess that they are far better at keeping secrets than Venezuelan hospitals.  And that may be why he is staying in a Cuban hospital until he is fit to go back to Venezuela.

Venezuelan bloggers have been speculating about his health problems for some time, but without success, as far as I have seen.  (Here's an early example.)

(It's also possible that he thinks the care is better in Cuba, but I think that much less likely.

I did a brief search on pelvic abscesses and didn't find any big clues to this mystery.  The abscesses are much more common in women than men, and are often secondary infections, occurring weeks after the primary infection.  But neither of those facts help us much.)
- 8:39 AM, 16 June 2011   [link]

Victor Davis Hanson Says That President Obama is a reactionary.
Barack Obama is the most reactionary president in the recent history of the United States.  Obama seems intent on turning back the clock to the good old days of the 1960s and 1970s, when rigid political orthodoxy, not an open mind, guided government.

Take the economy.  The 1980s collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union proved that state control of the means of production guaranteed poverty.  The currently insolvent and fragmenting European Union and the stagnant economics of the exploding Middle East remind us that state socialism does not work.

Why, then, would Obama, in horse-and-buggy fashion, go back to such fossilized concepts as absorbing the nation's health-care system, increasing the federal government's role in the economy by taking over automobile companies, borrowing $5 trillion to spend on new entitlements, or proposing an array of much higher taxes — all in a vain effort to ensure an equality of result?
I can't quarrel with Professor Hanson, since I have been saying the same thing about leftists, in general, for years.  (For example.)   But Hanson's examples deserve some study; again and again, Obama and his leftist allies refuse to accept, or even to see, the changes all around them.
- 7:42 PM, 16 June 2011   [link]

The Mismeasurements Of Stephen Jay Gould:  For many leftists, the late paleontologist was a secular saint.  He was a real scientist, he wrote well, and he held all the politically-correct views.

They loved him for his attacks on what he saw as racism in the work of earlier scientists, notably in his book, The Mismeasure of Man.

Unfortunately for his reputation, Gould turns out to have been wrong, wrong, wrong about one of the scientists he criticized in that book.
Scientists have often been accused of letting their ideology influence their results, and one of the most famous cases is that of Morton's skulls — the global collection amassed by the 19th-century physical anthropologist Samuel George Morton.

In a 1981 book, "The Mismeasure of Man," the paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould asserted that Morton, believing that brain size was a measure of intelligence, had subconsciously manipulated the brain volumes of European, Asian and African skulls to favor his bias that Europeans had larger brains and Africans smaller ones.

But now physical anthropologists at the University of Pennsylvania, which owns Morton's collection, have remeasured the skulls, and in an article that does little to burnish Dr. Gould's reputation as a scholar, they conclude that almost every detail of his analysis is wrong.
(And there's more in the article.)

Scholars are now debating whether Gould made mistakes in his analysis — or whether, to be blunt, he let his leftist ideology determine his results.

That question probably can't be settled unless he kept accurate notes, and someone has access to them, but I am inclined to think that his ideology did determine his results (perhaps unconsciously), and not just in his study of Morton's skulls.
- 5:12 PM, 15 June 2011   [link]

Michelle Bachmann:  The more I learn about Congresswoman Bachmann, the more impressed I am — and the more I think that she would not be a good Republican candidate for president.

The good parts first:  She earned a law degree from a good school, William and Mary, worked as a tax attorney, married, and with her husband Marcus raised five children and twenty-three (!) foster children.  She left the Democratic party because it was inconsistent with her pro-life principles, after working to elect Jimmy Carter in 1976.  (She thought he was an evangelical; he is, but not her kind.)  She served in the state legislature and even held a leadership position, before being elected to Congress in 2006.

And now for the bad:  She does not play well with most other politicians, even Republicans.  She was appointed Assistant Minority Leader by the Minnesota Republican Senate leader in November 2004, and removed by the Republican caucus in July 2005.  She was something of a supporter of Ron Paul, a man who has spent much of his life opposing Republicans.  (He even ran against Ronald Reagan in 1984 on the Libertarian ticket.)

Although Bachmann has been able to raise millions of dollars, she has shown no ability to attract the votes of moderates and independents.  In 2004, Bush won her 6th district by 15 points (57-42).   In 2006, a rough year for Republicans, Bachmann won a bare majority in a three-way race (50-42-8); In 2008, she held the 6th district in Minnesota by just 3 points (46-43-10), while John McCain was winning the district by 8 points (53-45).  In 2010, a great year for Republicans, Bachmann won by 13 points in another three-way race, but with only 52.5 percent of the popular vote.

For a Republican in a solidly Republican district, that's a terrible record.

Unfortunately for her, the United States is not solidly Republican.

All that said, I'd love to hear more about her 23 foster children.  (There's a little more about them in this brief National Review article, but only a little.)
- 4:37 PM, 15 June 2011   [link]

Obama Decides To Run Out The Clock:  In the middle of the third quarter.
President Obama's re-election machine is already running full bore, but has his entire Administration also decamped for the campaign trail?  We ask because the towering ambitions of Mr. Obama's first two years have suddenly gone into abeyance in his third, apparently to be deferred until years five through eight.  The White House is more or less conceding that it doesn't have a chance of winning a second term unless his major policies go on hiatus.
The editors can't help adding this little bit of snark.
Maybe the White House should short-circuit all this by dispatching EPA administrator Lisa Jackson to an undisclosed location through November 2012.
Deserved snark for the job-killing EPA head, in my opinion.

Is this the strategy a Dick Morris would advise, even this early?  Probably.  The administration doesn't have much chance of enacting anything big in their agenda, and most of the proposals they might bring up will look bad to most voters, as long as unemployment stays high.

(What if Obama wins re-election and the Republicans take the Senate and hold the House?   Right now, InTrade bettors make Obama the favorite to win the presidency, Republicans favorites to hold the House, and big favorites to take the Senate.  And, though I would prefer not to, I agree with their collective assessments, so I think we should start thinking about the possibility that we will have four additional years of divided government.

Assuming that happens — and I sincerely hope that it does not — I would expect four years of guerrilla warfare between the branches, far worse than what we already see.)
- 1:44 PM, 15 June 2011   [link]

"Full Speed Ahead And The Higher The Better"  From time to time, you see quotes in a newspaper piece that make you wonder why the journalist who wrote it didn't ask a follow-up question.

For example, in this New York Times piece on the right level of regulation and capital requirements for banks.
"I see a lot of amnesia setting in now," Sheila Bair, the chairwoman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, told me during a conversation at the Council on Foreign Relations two days after Mr. Dimon's comments.  "On obvious things like higher capital standards, I say full speed ahead and the higher the better."  Making a veiled dig at Mr. Dimon, she added, "banks are not doing a lot of lending now, and the ones that are doing the better job of lending are the smaller institutions that have the higher capital levels."
The "higher the better"?  Right now, 10 percent is a common target for bank reserves, at least in the United States.  Does Ms. Bair think that's too low?  If so, where would she set it, at 15 percent, 20 percent, 50 percent?

Most likely, she meant that we should require banks, especially large ones, to increase their reserves up to some target, perhaps even 10 percent.  But that isn't what she said, and Andrew Sorkin would have done her, and all the rest of us, a favor, if he had asked her what she did mean.

(For some time now, Allan Meltzer, who knows a little about banks and money, has been arguing that we should set higher capital requirements for larger banks.
I will repeat the proposal I have made in several previous hearings.  After some minimum size to protect community banks, Congress should require banks to increase capital relative to their assets as asset size increases.  For example, if a bank increases assets by 10 percent, capital must increase by more than 10 percent.

This proposal has three major benefits.  First, stockholders and managers bear the losses, not taxpayers and the public.  Second, the rule encourages prudence and eliminates the imprudent by replacing owners of failed banks.  Third, Congress can eliminate many of the regulations included in Dodd-Frank.  Regulation will not strengthen financial institutions.  More capital will.
This sounds like an excellent idea, one that would eliminate most of the "too big to fail problem".  However, I must add that I make no claim to financial expertise.   (And if you see something obviously wrong with it, please let me know.)

I do know a little about politics, and I can say that the political obstacles to Meltzer's proposal are obvious.  Every big bank in the country would fight it.)
- 1:12 PM, 15 June 2011   [link]

On Wisconsin:  Last November, Wisconsin elected a reform governor and a reform legislature.  The governor and legislature passed a bill limiting the power of a set of special interests, the public employee unions.

There was a terrific fight (which continues) over these reforms in the legislature.  When the reactionaries defending the special interests lost, they turned to the courts and found a reactionary judge, Maryann Sumi, to support their cause.

To do that, she had to claim that the legislature could not make, and enforce, its own rules.

Yesterday, the Wisconsin Supreme Court over-ruled Sumi.
Acting with unusual speed, the state Supreme Court on Tuesday ordered the reinstatement of Gov. Scott Walker's controversial plan to end most collective bargaining for tens of thousands of public workers.

The court found that a committee of lawmakers was not subject to the state's open meetings law, and so did not violate that law when it hastily approved the collective bargaining measure in March and made it possible for the Senate to take it up.  In doing so, the Supreme Court overruled a Dane County judge who had halted the legislation, ending one challenge to the law even as new challenges are likely to emerge.
The four-person court majority did not spare Judge Sumi's feelings.
"The court's decision . . . is not affected by the wisdom or lack thereof evidenced in the act," the majority wrote.  "Choices about what laws represent wise public policy for the state of Wisconsin are not within the constitutional purview of the courts.  The court's task in the action for original jurisdiction that we have granted is limited to determining whether the Legislature employed a constitutionally violative process in the enactment of the act.  We conclude that the Legislature did not violate the Wisconsin Constitution by the process it used."

The court concluded that Sumi exceeded her jurisdiction, "invaded" the Legislature's constitutional powers and erred in halting the publication and implementation of the collective bargaining law.
(And the three dissenters on the court did not spare the feelings of the court majority.)

Now, perhaps, the Wisconsin reformers can go on with their reforms in this area.

One last ironic point:  For many, perhaps most, Wisconsin public employees, this reform will mean higher take-home pay, because they will no longer be forced to pay union dues.

(Professor Jacobson discusses the decision here, links to his previous posts on the subject, and takes a well-deserved victory lap.

This isn't the only silly decision from Judge Sumi; she also declared that a mass work stoppage was not a strike.)
- 7:19 AM, 15 June 2011   [link]

Two Articles In One:  The New York Times Sam Dillon begins with this paragraph:
American students are less proficient in their nation's history than in any other subject, according to results of a nationwide test released on Tuesday, with most fourth graders unable to say why Abraham Lincoln was an important figure and few high school seniors able to identify China as the North Korean ally that fought American troops during the Korean War.
And then, farther down, quotes an expert who explains why you can't make that comparison.
If history is American students' worst subject, economics is their best: 42 percent of high school seniors were deemed proficient in the 2006 economics test, a larger proportion than in any other subject over the last decade.  But Jack Buckley, commissioner of the statistical center at the Department of Education that carries out the tests, said on Monday that because the assessments in each subject were prepared and administered independently, it was not really fair to compare results across subjects.
(Emphasis added.)

We can't know whether the students know less history than economics — or whether the economics questions were easier than the history questions.  Either could explain those results.  (We can read the questions ourselves, and come to an opinion, but no more than that.)

All that said, I will concede that — if I were forced to guess — I would say that American students probably know even less about history than about economics.   (But I would immediately follow that by saying that I know no way to formally test my guess.)   I think that because there is so much that is politically incorrect in American history that I would expect that most of our schools teach history badly, or not at all.

(If the people who constructed the tests are doing their jobs right, we can compare across years; we can say whether this year's students are doing better or worse than students in 2006 and earlier years.)
- 2:59 PM, 14 June 2011   [link]

LBJ "Was Never Actually Elected Commander In Chief"  So said MSNBC anchor Thomas Roberts.  (Presumably, he wasn't counting 1964.)

MSNBC is fortunate to have such a well-informed anchor.
- 2:35 PM, 14 June 2011   [link]

Biden and Wasserman Schultz:  In 2008, Barack Obama chose Delaware senator Joe Biden as his vice-presidential running mate.  I am no Washington insider, but the choice surprised me, since Biden was well known to be a gaffe-prone lightweight, a pleasant enough man, but one prone to verbal mistakes, even to telling unfortunate truths from time to time.

Whatever he brought to the Senate, he seemed an odd choice for a running mate, whether Obama was thinking of him as an effective campaigner, or as a useful member of his administration.

This year, the Obama political team chose Debbie Wasserman Schultz to be Democratic National Chairman (sorry, Chairwoman).

That too struck me as an odd choice, though I knew less about her than about Biden in 2008.

Party chairmen usually fall into one of two categories; either they are colorless technicians doing most of their work behind the scenes, or they are effective spokesmen for their parties.   Those who chose Congresswoman Wasserman Schultz apparently expected her to fall into the second category.

But she has not, so far, been an effective spokesman, because she has, again and again, gone too far in her attacks on Republicans.
In the four weeks since she succeeded Tim Kaine, Wasserman Schultz has been called out by four nonpartisan fact-checkers for mischaracterizing the GOP's Medicare plan.

She's accused Republicans of wanting to reinstate segregation and of waging a "war on women."  She has asserted, somewhat nonsensically, that the GOP wants to make illegal immigration — by definition against the law — "a crime."  She's also been mocked for driving a foreign car after pounding Republicans for not supporting the American auto industry.

A rank-and-file member of Congress typically wouldn't get noticed for inflammatory language and rhetorical slip-ups.  But Wasserman Schultz has a higher profile now — and was hired precisely because of her skills as a communicator.
Those skills may have been over-estimated.

Now here's what puzzles me:  If I knew that Biden was a dubious choice and suspected that Wasserman Schultz might go too far in what she said, how come Barack Obama didn't know the same thing, and share my suspicions?

He has certainly had more opportunities to know Biden and Wasserman Schultz than I have had, and could call on any number of Washington insiders for advice if he wanted to.

Maybe Obama just isn't very good at judging people?

(For more evidence for that tentative conclusion, consider his long, and far too close, relationship with Tony Rezko.)
- 9:04 AM, 14 June 2011   [link]

Worth Reading:  The Wall Street Journal on "Europe's Organic Food Scare"

German Greens and their European Union acolytes have long fought scientific advances in food production and protection.  After a spice manufacturer in Stuttgart employed the world's first commercial food irradiation in 1957, West Germany banned the practice in 1959 and has since allowed few exceptions.  So it's no small scandal that the latest fatal E. coli outbreak has been linked to an organic German farm that shuns modern farming techniques.
. . .
The best practice for doing so [eradicating E. coli] would be, well, irradiation, which involves sending gamma rays or electron beams into meat, poultry and produce.  The process can deactivate up to 99.999% of E. coli, and was declared safe by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration almost 50 years ago.  Even so, less than 10% of the global food supply is irradiated.
The death toll from the contaminated sprouts is at 37, with more likely.   Another 100 or so will need "new kidneys or permanent dialysis".
- 7:59 AM, 14 June 2011   [link]

Either They Don't Teach The Subjunctive At Punahou:  Or Barack Obama wasn't paying attention in his high school English classes.
President Obama broke his silence on the sex scandal of Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) Monday, saying he would resign from office if he were in the lawmaker's shoes.

"I can tell you that if it was me, I would resign," Obama said in an interview with NBC's "Today."
(What should he have said?  This would work:  "If it were me, I would resign.")

I wouldn't have mentioned this minor mistake, except that I saw journalists correcting his error — without noting it.  The Hill did that, as you can see in the first paragraph, and so did CBS, the Huffington Post, the Seattle PI, and the New York Times.  (And, most likely, many more.)

If George W. Bush or Sarah Palin had made the same mistake, would our journalists have noted the error?  Some of them would have, I suspect.

(Need a brush-up on the subjunctive?  Here's more than you probably need to know in the Wikipedia article on the English subjunctive.)
- 7:12 AM, 14 June 2011   [link]

The High Cost Of "Cash For Clunkers"  Last Friday, somewhat to my surprise, I saw a brief (less than 2 minutes) television piece explaining, lucidly, why used car prices are so high.

The Obama-Pelosi-Reid "Cash For Clunkers" program is not the only reason for the high prices, but it did contribute to the current shortage of used cars.

The reporter, Q13's Jeff Van Sant, interviewed a used car salesman (OK, technically, Noel Bennett is a used car manager, but I think he would sell you a car if you asked.) and gave him a fair chance to explain the problem, and the causes.

It's great to see a local journalist commit journalism.

Cheap used cars are sometimes anti-poverty tools, because they give poor workers access to jobs they couldn't reach otherwise.

This one piece was good enough so that I am more likely to watch Q-13 in evening, since that's when I saw the piece.  And I would be astonished and delighted if Van Sant were to do the obvious follow-up and get reactions from the local congressmen and senators who voted for "Cash For Clunkers".

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(Here's a question for car guys:  What's the least you could spend, and get a reasonably reliable used car?  About a decade ago, a New York Times car expert was able to find a few at that magic $1000 point.  I assume you would have to spend much more now, but have no idea how much more.  Examples would be helpful.)
- 8:45 AM, 13 June 2011   [link]

"This is Not A Witch Hunt"  According to New York Times assistant managing editor Jim Roberts.
News organizations mobilized teams of reporters and even recruited online volunteers to scan more than 24,000 pages of e-mails from Sarah Palin that were released on Friday, prompting some critics to accuse the news media of overkill at best and vigilantism at worst.
. . .
News outlets insisted that they were trying to be as thorough and efficient as possible while reporting on information that the public was entitled to know.

"This is not a witch hunt," said Jim Roberts, an assistant managing editor at The Times. "There are 25,000 documents here, and we can use all the eyeballs we can get."
It's funny how some denials — definitely including that one — will come across to most people as confirmations.  (You can probably think of more examples yourself, but the best, unfortunately, are often inappropriate for a sprog-friendly site.)

If Roberts wants to give us more reasons to think this is a "witch hunt", he should deny that it is being done for partisan reasons and he should claim that nearly everyone at the Times is committed to treating Republicans fairly.
- 7:46 AM, 13 June 2011   [link]

Trivial, but amusing.
The central figure in the Anthony Weiner photo scandal is 21-year-old Seattle college student Gennette Cordova.  Gennette is a graduate of Shorecrest High School in Shoreline.  As you can see from this entry in the Shorecrest student newspaper - The Piper - in 2007, Gennette's classmates apparently saw this coming.  They voted Gennette "Most likely to be involved in a tabloid scandal"!!!

Good call Shorecrest students!
(Hint to talk show host Dori Monson:  It is possible to overuse exclamation points.)
- 4:32 PM, 12 June 2011   [link]

It Was The Sprouts:   Officially.
German vegetable sprouts caused the E. coli outbreak that has killed 31 people and sickened nearly 3,100, investigators announced Friday after tracking links to the bacteria from patients in hospital beds to restaurants and then farm fields.

Reinhard Burger, president of the Robert Koch Institute, Germany's national disease control center, said the pattern of the outbreak had produced enough evidence to draw that conclusion even though no tests on sprouts from an organic farm in Lower Saxony had come back positive for the E. coli strain behind the outbreak.

"In this way, it was possible to narrow down epidemiologically the cause of the outbreak of the illness to the consumption of sprouts," Burger told reporters at a press conference with the heads of Germany's Federal Institute for Risk Assessment and its Federal Office for Consumer Protection.  "It is the sprouts."
Here's more on how they came to that conclusion.
Clusters of E. coli cases which can be traced back to a specific event are an important source of information for the investigators because they provide a trail to follow.  Such was the case at the organic farm in Lower Saxony: In all the major outbreaks of E. coli in Germany in recent days, sprouts had been delivered to restaurants at which people who later fell ill had eaten, the Lower Saxony Ministry of Agriculture announced on June 5.
I haven't seen an explanation of what makes the farm, "organic".  But they may have bought seeds from a farm that used "organic" fertilizers, which often means cow manure, a known source of dangerous E. coli.  (Another possibility is that one of the workers at the farm is a carrier, and wasn't careful about washing their hands, or something similar.)

For perspective, there's some good news, at least for the United States:
First, the good news.  The U.S. has seen lower incidence of foodborne illness in the past 15 years, with the notable exception of Salmonella, which hasn't tapered off, federal health officials reported this week.

Illnesses from a potent strain of E. coli called 0157 have been cut in half, and the rate of six major kinds of foodborne infections has dropped 23% since 1996.
That's more impressive than it might seem, since many of the illnesses are caused by mistakes made in home kitchens.
- 12:45 PM, 10 June 2011   [link]

My Wrists Told Me that they wanted a break from the keyboard for a while, so posting will be light until they are happier.  (From past experience, I expect that it will take a day or two, and some topical aspirin, to satisfy them.)
- 7:56 AM, 10 June 2011   [link]