March 2009, Part 3

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Don't Know Much About Astronomy:  Since last May, I have been arguing that Sam Cooke's Wonderful Life would be a fine theme song for Obama.  There are so many things Obama doesn't know much about, including how to pronounce the name of one of our best-known constellations, Orion.

That would fit right into Cooke's lyrics.

Is Obama as ignorant about science as this suggests?  We really don't know, since this is one of the many subjects our journalists have never bothered to ask him about.  But the early signs are not encouraging.

(My favorite song for Obama — most days — is still Carly Simon's You're So Vain.)
- 5:05 PM, 24 March 2009   [link]

Carol Kaesuk Yoon Doesn't Want To Be A Science Writer:  We can tell from the way she begins this article.
After producing superlatives like the world's biggest statue of a jackrabbit and the nation's most unpopular modern-day president, Texas can now boast what may be its most bizarre and undoubtedly its slimiest topper yet: . . .
Here's how that last sentence ends: "the world's largest known colony of clonal amoebas".

It is unfortunate that Yoon does not want to be a science writer, because the findings are fascinating, and she explains them poorly.

(You can find a shorter, and somewhat better, article on the findings here, and if you are ambitious, the original paper, here.)
- 3:53 PM, 24 March 2009   [link]

Three Washington Post Columnists, Three Negative Assessments:  Richard Cohen sees many problems in Washington — and blames them on Nancy Pelosi.
It is still early, not even two-thirds of the way through the vaunted 100 days, and we are all admonished not to make judgments or dire predictions.  Yet enough has been done so that, without fear that history will someday mock me, I can state that Nancy Pelosi is off to one hell of a start.  The president, alas, is a different story.

The tale of two political figures was written one day last week when Pelosi went down into the well of the House and pitched the bill to heavily tax the bad people at AIG who received big bonuses.  Using the tax code to exact punishment for political reasons is both bad policy and bad law -- why not put gun-shop owners and cigarette manufacturers in the 100 percent bracket? -- but it hurtled through Pelosi's branch of the government with nary a hearing and few discouraging words, and only the mildest suggestion from the president that the bill was really a dumb idea.
And that's not the only dumb idea Pelosi has pushed through the House.

Anne Applebaum thinks the efforts to "reset" relations with other nations, notably Russia, are foolish.
I do realize that these are early days.  The traditional, deadly struggle between the State Department and the National Security Council for influence is only just getting underway, and the president has other things on his mind.  But the gift of a "reset button," however translated, was a not a good beginning.  If this administration thinks it can transform America's relationships with Russia or anyone else with the flick of a switch and a change of rhetoric, it is living in a virtual reality, not a real one.
Virtual realities can be fun, but there are almost always penalties for acting as if we lived in one — especially in foreign affairs.

George Will doesn't limit his criticism to Pelosi, or to Hillary Clinton and the State Department.   Instead, he argues that both the administration and the Democratically-controlled Congress are ignoring our laws and the Constitution
This is but a partial list of recent lawlessness, situational constitutionalism and institutional derangement.  Such political malfeasance is pertinent to the financial meltdown as the administration, desperately seeking confidence, tries to stabilize the economy by vastly enlarging government's role in it.
(Cohen and Applebaum voted for Obama, Will did not.)

Put together, these three assessments are devastating, even though Cohen has not caught on yet to the fact that Obama is not a reformer, and never has been one.  Applebaum has the best description of the underlying fault; Clinton, Obama, and Pelosi are not living in the real world, a world in which nations have histories that can not be reset, constitutions and laws that can not be ignored, and financial problems that can not be solved simply by giving more power to the federal officials who did so much to create those problems.

One final, sobering thought:  We are accustomed to discounting "campaign rhetoric", accustomed to assuming that politicians do not believe much of what they say during a campaign.  But we must, from time to time, consider the possibility, however unpleasant, that campaigners believe much of what they say.  Clinton, Obama, and Pelosi may have believed the attacks they made on George W. Bush, who they depicted as both misinformed and misguided.  That would explain why they seem to think that they can simply replace Bush and "reset" things to make them right.

(Jimmy Carter seemed to have a similar misunderstanding when he took office in 1977.  During his years as president, he learned he was wrong about some things, for instance, the Soviet threat.  But the nation and the world paid a high price for his lessons. )
- 9:08 AM, 24 March 2009   [link]

McCain Beats Obama:  In the first weekend of NCAA bracket picks.
The "First Bracket" may have brought President Obama some unwanted scrutiny this past week, but a number of lawmakers — like most Americans — prepped their brackets ahead of this weekend's opening rounds of the NCAA basketball tournament.

And if the presidential election were an office pool, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) would have won the first weekend of play in a landslide over Obama.

McCain's bracket has 14 teams picked correctly headed into the Sweet Sixteen, placing him in the 94th percentile after the first weekend of play.

The president has been less lucky. Despite having a brother-in-law who coaches Oregon State's team, Obama fell short in a number of the first-round match-ups that kept Washington and the rest of the country distracted from work Thursday and Friday afternoon.
Less lucky, or less good at picking winners?  Some of both, probably.

There is a semi-serious point to be made.  In the past I have credited Obama with knowing basketball, though not much else.  This poor result suggest that even his basketball knowledge is lacking, in some respects.
- 3:53 PM, 23 March 2009   [link]

Brilliant Analysis Of The Reasons For Newspapers' Decline:   From the business columnist of a newspaper that just dropped its print edition, the Seattle PI.  Three samples:

It has become fashionable to attribute this industry's woes entirely to external forces including: the Internet and its components draining away advertisers and readers; those darn kids who won't pay for information and won't sit still for information that takes longer than five seconds to consume; and most recently a recession that has clobbered what few advertisers the industry still has.

To put all the blame, or even the bulk of it, on those factors is not only too convenient, but also downright deceptive.  It obscures a long-standing truth about this business: American newspapers have been and continue to be, as a sector, the worst-run of any industry in this country.
. . .
What sorts of mistakes did the industry make?  Its reaction to the Internet is a mother lode.   Instead of using the Internet as a complement to its print product, the industry went chasing after the Web and offering its most valuable property -- the news it so carefully and expensively gathered -- for free, while chasing the chimera that online advertising would support the whole thing.
. . .
Those were hardly the only blunders made by the industry.  The strategy of going after younger readers with pandering and condescending content managed to both drive away older, loyal readers, while also alienating younger demographics who understandably weren't buying what papers were selling.  Newspapers treated conservatives with a mixture of revulsion, contempt, indifference and puzzlement, and there went another potentially loyal segment of the reading audience.

You'll want to read the entire Bill Virgin column; in fact, you will want to study the entire column.

If you have any doubt that Virgin is right in his analysis, consider this fact:  He has been, for years, the best journalist at either Seattle newspaper — and, as far as I can tell, the PI did not keep him for their new, online version.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.  (Thanks, by the way, to the commenters there who pointed me to this column.)
- 3:22 PM, 23 March 2009   [link]

If It Seems Too Good To Be True . . .  Then it probably isn't true.   Good advice for investors, and good advice in general.

Yesterday, I saw a story about President Obama writing to former French president Chirac, praising Chirac and hoping to work with him in the future.  Some bloggers, for example here and here, attacked the letter and accused Obama of insulting French President Sarkozy, or even not knowing who the current French president is.

The story seemed too good to be true, and so I did a little more digging and found this explanation.
With his help we found out that another French newspaper, the New Observer, explained that Obama was merely replying to a Chirac letter who was writing him as the head of his foundation — the Jacques Chirac Foundation for sustainable development and cultural dialogue.
So the letter was, probably, innocuous.  (And was almost certainly written for Obama.  In fact, he may not even have seen it before he signed it.)

(The Christian Science Monitor blogger, Jimmy Orr, goes a little too far in his explanation.   A few conservative bloggers did write about this story, but most didn't, and the tone of the posts can not really be described as "apoplectic".)
- 10:04 AM, 23 March 2009   [link]

Have Banks Stopped Lending To Consumers?  Not according to this chart.

What about lending to businesses?  That's down after years of steep increases, but close to record levels.

We are told that we must rescue our financial institutions so that they can start lending again.   Unless that data is completely misleading — and I am no expert on this subject — they are lending.  Perhaps I am missing something about this crisis.  But this data does make me wonder whether we are facing a crisis or a "crisis".

By way of Rick Ballard and Tom Maguire.
- 9:25 AM, 23 March 2009   [link]

Some Demonstrations Are More Equal Than Others:  Last week I saw a story on an anti-AIG bonuses demonstration in Seattle.  The brief video clip on Q13 was up long enough so that I could count the demonstrators.  (Who all looked as if they had come from Rent-A-Demonstrator.)

There were three demonstrators.

Just three demonstrators after our local TV stations had been running angry stories on the retention bonuses for days.

And that may explain why these three demonstrators got air time.

And why I saw a story on one of the local TV stations on the Acorn rent-a-mob that went to Connecticut to demonstrate at the homes of AIG executives.

And why I seldom see stories on other kinds of protests, not supported by our local TV stations, such as this one.

Some demonstrations fit our local TV stations' agendas, and others don't.  As Orwell might say, some demonstrations are more equal than others.  Even if showing them makes a TV station look foolish.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(To be fair, I also saw a story this weekend on a later anti-AIG bonus demonstration, this time on KOMO 4.  According to KOMO, there were "dozens" of demonstrators at this later demonstration.  So there were at least twenty-four demonstrators there, but probably not many more than twenty-four.  The pictures KOMO showed suggested that there were almost as many members of the media as demonstrators.

Three isn't a record low.  I have seen stories on a single demonstrator, and I suppose that there must have been a story or two on demonstrations with no demonstrators at all.  But a story on three is demonstrators is impressive, in its own way.)
- 8:02 AM, 23 March 2009   [link]

Obama's Economic Advisory Board?  Hasn't even met, officially.
Six weeks after President Barack Obama appointed a blue-ribbon panel to help him dig America out of its economic crisis, the board has yet to hold an official public meeting.

The White House initially said that the 16-member Presidential Economic Recovery Advisory Board, headed by former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, would meet "every few weeks."  Last month, a spokesperson told POLITICO the group would meet monthly.  And more recently, the White House said the high-powered board, set up to address what Obama has called the worst economic emergency since the Great Depression, would gather only about four times a year, with the next session due in "late spring."
Politico's Josh Gerstein has much more on whether the private meetings of some members of the board violate open meetings principles, or even laws.  I think he is missing the point.  This board is just another example of political stagecraft.  The members were chosen, not to give advice, but to look impressive.

You can see that simply from the size of the board.  If Obama wanted advice on a subject, he would have chosen, at most, five people.  (Unless, he actually wanted sets of advice on a subject that required specialists.)  Anyone who has attended many work meetings knows that a committee with sixteen members is usually too large to be very useful.

But such committees do have their political purposes.  They are like the flags and the bunting that decorate most political platforms; they provide an impressive background for a politician.
- 6:33 AM, 23 March 2009   [link]

Worth Reading:  Joseph Nocera on those AIG bonuses.   Sample:
By week's end, I was more depressed about the financial crisis than I've been since last September.   Back then, the issue was the disintegration of the financial system, as the Lehman bankruptcy set off a terrible chain reaction.  Now I'm worried that the political response is making the crisis worse.   The Obama administration appears to have lost its grip on Congress, while the Treasury Department always seems caught off guard by bad news.

And Congress, with its howls of rage, its chaotic, episodic reaction to the crisis, and its shameless playing to the crowds, is out of control.  This week, the body politic ran off the rails.

There are times when anger is cathartic.  There are other times when anger makes a bad situation worse.  "We need to stop committing economic arson," Bert Ely, a banking consultant, said to me this week.  That is what Congress committed: economic arson.
New York Times columnists don't often accuse Congress of committing "economic arson".  But I think that accusation is justified.

(Michael Lewis makes similar points in shorter piece.)
- 1:18 PM, 21 March 2009   [link]

Even The Associated Press is beginning to catch on.
Barack Obama's optimistic campaign rhetoric has crashed headlong into the stark reality of governing.

In office two months, he has backpedaled on an array of issues, gingerly shifting positions as circumstances dictate while ducking for political cover to avoid undercutting his credibility and authority.   That's happened on the Iraq troop withdrawal timeline, on lobbyists in his administration and on money for lawmakers' pet projects.
But just beginning.  The analyst, Liz Sidoti, sums up with this: "A charismatic orator, he's trying to govern with a pragmatic posture while projecting a willingness to compromise."  In fact, he has already done a number of things that are extreme by any measure, things that are not at all "pragmatic".  But Sidoti does make one telling point in that sentence:  Obama does try to project a "willingness to compromise" — without ever doing much to actually compromise.
- 11:21 AM, 21 March 2009   [link]

Those DVDs Obama Gave The British Prime Minister?  They are the wrong region for most British DVD players.
Alas, when the PM settled down to begin watching them the other night, he found there was a problem.

The films only worked in DVD players made in North America and the words "wrong region" came up on his screen.  Although he mournfully had to put the popcorn away, he is unlikely to jeopardise the special relationship — or "special partnership", as we are now supposed to call it — by registering a complaint.

A Downing Street spokesman said he was "confident" that any gift Obama gave Brown would have been "well thought through," but referred me to the White House for assistance on the "technical aspects".
As it happens, when the story of the DVD gift first came out, I thought of putting up a snarky post saying that they were probably the wrong region.  But that seemed so implausible that I didn't bother to put it up.

Many others share my amazement at this blunder as you can see, for example, here and here.

(Most British DVD players, because there are multi-region DVD players, though I don't think they are very common yet.)
- 10:05 AM, 20 March 2009
More:  One last (I hope!) humiliating detail:  Gordon Brown is almost blind.
The Prime Minister's close friends have revealed that he can only see extremely large print and has needed guidance at public events.  There were suggestions that if Mr Brown falls or bumps into something his damaged retina could fail and he would go blind completely.

Mr Brown, who was left blind in one eye after a rugby accident at the age of 16, addressed the problems in an interview when he admitted that he is suffering increasing problems with the other eye and recently had to have a cataract removed.
So we gave American movies to a nearly blind man, who is not known to be a movie fan of any kind, movies that won't play in his DVD player.  A formal apology seems in order.
- 11:02 AM, 21 March 2009   [link]

Obama's Teleprompter has his own web site.
- 9:45 AM, 20 March 2009   [link]

Another Tax Dodging Congressman:  Democratic Congressman "Pete" Stark has been using the same Maryland provision that Democratic Congressman Eliot Engel did.
A senior member of the U.S. House's tax-writing Ways and Means Committee from California has been taking advantage of a tax break for a home in Maryland that he claims as his principal residence.

Representative Pete Stark, the second-ranking Democrat on the Ways and Means panel, in 2007 and 2008 saved a total of $3,853 in state and Anne Arundel County taxes on a Maryland waterfront home that he claims as his primary residence, according to Maryland tax disclosures.

Maryland officials, contacted by a Bloomberg reporter about the tax break Stark received, said they plan to look into his eligibility for it.

Homeowners in Maryland qualify for the tax credit for residences they use "for the legal purposes of voting, obtaining a driver's license, and filing income tax returns," according to the Maryland Assessment Procedures Manual.

Stark, 77, confirmed in a telephone interview last week that he and his wife, Deborah, are registered to vote in California's 13th congressional district using the address of her parents in San Lorenzo, about 25 miles southeast of San Francisco.  Stark also said both he and his wife have California driver's licenses.
Maryland officials shouldn't have to look into this.  Congressman Stark should give up his illegitimate tax break now, and repay the back taxes — with interest.

And, though he is getting on in years, it seems almost certain that he had heard the Engel story.   He should have come forward on his own after that story broke.

(Here's a question for those who know more about Maryland taxes than I do:  Could Stark be prosecuted for perjury?  In general, when you sign tax forms, you have to swear that you are telling the truth, and I would expect that would be true of the Maryland forms he must have signed, too.

There's also that little matter of his voter registration in California.  Again, you would have to know more about the laws of the state than I do, but he might be in violation of California laws, too.)
- 9:15 AM, 20 March 2009   [link]

Andrew Malcolm Isn't Making This Up:  Barack Obama really is receiving a press award at a ceremony from which the press will be excluded.

Why?  The details give us a hint.
This achievement and the overall promise of his historic administration caused the National Newspaper Publishers Assn. to name him "Newsmaker of the Year."

The president is to receive the award from the federation of black community newspapers in a White House ceremony this afternoon.
Some of those newspapers are just a little radical.  It's likely that someone in the White House thought it better that we not hear what their representatives might say.
- 5:23 AM, 19 March 2009   [link]

"President Teleprompter"  The phrase is starting to catch on.   Just now, a search with Google found 6,480 hits.  I will expect that number will grow.

(Naturally, I would like to give the person who first thought of it credit, but I have no idea who that might be.)
- 4:31 AM, 20 March 2009   [link]

Know Any Good Books On R?  I spent much of today reviewing R, which I plan to use to make some simple plots.  (And, eventually, to do some simple statistical analyses.)  I have used R in the past, but not long enough so that I can just pick it up again.

This book looks suitable, but if you know a better one, let me know.

(Incidentally, R is one of the better tools to come out of the open source movement.  As I understand it, R has become a standard tool in many fields, and for good reason.).
- 5:16 PM, 19 March 2009   [link]

Miami Democrat Gets Confused by a phrase often used to describe some kinds of farming.
Rich's legislation would target only those who derived or helped others derive "sexual gratification" from an animal, specifying that conventional dog-judging contests and animal-husbandry practices are permissible.

That last provision tripped up Miami Democratic Sen. Larcenia Bullard.

"People are taking these animals as their husbands?  What's husbandry?" she asked.  Some senators stifled their laughter as Sen. Charlie Dean, an Inverness Republican, explained that husbandry is raising and caring for animals.  Bullard didn't get it.

"So that maybe was the reason the lady was so upset about that monkey?"  Bullard asked, referring to a Connecticut case where a woman's suburban chimpanzee went mad and was shot.
By way of Tim Blair.

(The exchange came during a debate on a law forbidding bestiality.  Florida had one before, but a court ruled it unconstitutionally broad.

And someone should tell Senator Bullard that a chimpanzee is an ape, not a monkey.)
- 9:12 AM, 19 March 2009   [link]

Honest Graft?  More than a century ago, Tammany leader George Washington Plunkitt explained the difference (as he saw it) between honest graft and dishonest graft.
Yes, many of our men have grown rich in politics.  I have myself.  I've made a big fortune out of the game, and I'm gettin' richer every day, but I've not gone in for dishonest graft - blackmailin' gamblers, saloonkeepers, disorderly people, etc. - and neither has any of the men who have made big fortunes in politics.

There's an honest graft, and I'm an example of how it works.  I might sum up the whole thing by sayin': "I seen my opportunities and I took 'em."

Just let me explain by examples.  My party's in power in the city, and it's goin' to undertake a lot of public improvements.  Well, I'm tipped off, say, that they're going to lay out a new park at a certain place.

I see my opportunity and I take it.  I go to that place and I buy up all the land I can in the neighborhood.  Then the board of this or that makes its plan public, and there is a rush to get my land, which nobody cared particular for before.

Ain't it perfectly honest to charge a good price and make a profit on my investment and foresight?   Of course, it is.  Well, that's honest graft.
A modern politician might do something similar, although it would be risky, or the modern politician could do something safer* and sign a book deal.
As he empathized with recession-weary Americans, President Obama arranged in the days just before he took office to secure a $500,000 advance for a children's book project, a disclosure report shows.
. . .
Mr. Obama approved the $500,000 advance on Jan. 15.  The advance is against royalties under a deal with Crown Publishing, a division of Random House.  The project calls for an abridged version of his book "Dreams From My Father" for middle-school-aged children, according to the disclosure.
Barack Obama saw his opportunity and took it.  No doubt this deal is legal, but you have to wonder about the propriety of a president accepting half a million dollars from a large corporation, just before he takes office.  Even if the president is a Democrat.

(*Usually safer.  Speaker Jim Wright got in trouble for his book deal, but, if I recall correctly, not for the book, but the way the books were sold.  Some of the bulk buyers had more than a casual interest in legislation.

You can download a copy of Plunkitt of Tammany Hall here, and probably many other places.  Or you can buy a copy in many places, including Amazon.   I recommend the book to everyone who wants to understand our current administration
- 8:04 AM, 19 March 2009   [link]

Is Coach K Right?  Should Barack Obama be spending less time filling out his brackets?
"Somebody said that we're not in President Obama's Final Four, and as much as I respect what he's doing, really, the economy is something that he should focus on, probably more than the brackets," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said with a laugh from the Blue Devils' first-round site in Greensboro, N.C.
On this I have to disagree with the coach.  I think the nation would be better off if Obama spends more time on the brackets and less time on the economy.
- 7:13 AM, 19 March 2009   [link]

Paraphernalia:  When I was a kid, I used to like to browse through reference books.  I still do.  And from time to time, I still find surprises, such as the original meaning of paraphernalia:
Paraphernalia was the separate property of a married woman, such as clothing and jewelry "appropriate to her station", but excluding the assets that may have been included in her dower.
Or, more briefly, her personal property, excluding her dowry.

(Now, the word is almost always used in the phrase "drug paraphernalia", misused, in my opinion, because it would almost always be better to simply list the items.)
- 8:17 PM, 18 March 2009   [link]

Want Some Good News?  You can find some.  In Iraq.   And what makes that video even more astonishing is that it comes from ABC.

Some of the ABC report is based on a poll jointly sponsored with the BBC.  The BBC story is not quite as positive as ABC's story but it is still positive.  (The poll results must have made some BBC editors wince.)
Violence and insecurity are no longer the main concern of most Iraqis, for the first time since the 2003 US-led invasion, an opinion poll suggests.

It says Iraqis are much more hopeful about the future and are increasingly pre-occupied with more conventional worries like the economy and jobs.
Here's one striking finding:  When Iraqis were asked what their single biggest problem was, two answers tied for first, at 9 percent each, unemployment and high or rising prices.

Did either story give President Bush any credit for this improvement?  Of course not.  In fact, neither ABC nor the BBC even mentioned the man most responsible for this change for the better.

(Here are the full poll results.)
- 7:12 PM, 18 March 2009   [link]

Should We Be Pleased That Congress Is Paying So Much Attention To The AIG Bonuses?   Perhaps.  Economist Greg Mankiw gives both sides of the argument.
The AIG bonuses now being debated in Congress and everywhere else represent about .001 percent of annual GDP.  If a typical Congressman spent that fraction of a 2000 hour work year on the topic, it would consume only about 1 minute of his or her time.

Yes, I know, that calculation is silly in many ways, but here is my point: Regardless of how outraged you are about the AIG bonuses, it is probably not an optimal allocation of resources for our elected leaders to spend large amounts of time and energy on the topic.  The economy has bigger problems right now, and it would be better to focus attention on those.

Unless, of course, you think that our elected leaders are more likely to make things worse than better.   In that case, jabbering on about the AIG bonuses may be the perfect activity to keep them busy.
I will declare myself undecided on this question — though I am absolutely certain that there are some congresscritters that we can only hope are distracted from more important problems, by not-very-important problems such as the AIG bonuses.  I would rather, for instance, have Washington's senior senator, Patty Murray, talk about these bonuses than spend her time looking for more pork barrel projects to sponsor.
- 1:54 AM, 18 March 2009   [link]

Big AIG Scandal?  No, not that scandal.  Whatever you think of the bonus payments to AIG executives, that is, at most, a small scandal.  (If it is a scandal at all.)

But this may be a big scandal.
Every day, insurance companies sell policies to homeowners to cover the cost of damage in the case of fire.  Why would those companies agree to pay out in full to a policyholder even if a fire had not occurred?

That is the type of question being asked about the federal government's bailout of American International Group in which the insurance company funneled $49.5 billion in taxpayer funds to financial institutions, including Deutsche Bank, Goldman Sachs and Merrill Lynch.  The payments, which amount to almost 30 percent of the $170 billion in taxpayer commitments provided to A.I.G. since its near collapse last September, were disclosed by the company on Sunday.
. . .
Critics argue that the government's decision to pay buyers of A.I.G. credit insurance in full and across the board was an inappropriate use of taxpayer money.  In addition, these people say, options not pursued by the government could have allowed taxpayers to benefit from future gains or at least have done a better job of limiting the potential for losses.

The top three recipients of money from the government related to the credit insurance A.I.G. had written are Société Générale, a French bank, at $11 billion; Goldman Sachs, at $8.1 billion; and Deustche Bank, at $5.4 billion.
I'll need to know more details before I am certain this is a scandal — but it sure doesn't look good, and the amounts make the bonus payments look like pocket change.

If it is a scandal, it is a bipartisan scandal, because Bush's last Treasury Secretary, Henry Paulson, came to the job directly from Goldman Sachs, one of the firms that benefitted most from these payments.
- 1:20 PM, 18 March 2009
Much More:  Henry Paulson (and President Bush) were responsible for the AIG bailout, but the man who drew up the plan was the current Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.
While Henry M. Paulson Jr., the current Treasury secretary, has taken a drubbing for the changeable nature of the government's efforts to bolster the financial industry — some of which clearly contradicted each other — Mr. Geithner has managed, for the most part, to remain unscathed.  He's been widely praised as a bright, articulate out-of-the box thinker who is a bailout expert, to the extent anyone can truly be an expert at fast-changing emergencies.

Behind the scenes, Mr. Geithner was the point person for weeks of sleep-deprived Bailout Weekends.  It was Mr. Geithner, not Mr. Paulson, for example, who put together the original rescue plan for the American International Group.
Including, one assumes, those bonuses.

And Geithner has had an almost uncanny ability to be on the scene of other financial disasters.  It would be nice if we could find a disaster that he prevented.  I suppose it is possible that matters would have been even worse without his actions, but I haven't seen any evidence for that theory.
- 3:33 PM, 18 March 2009   [link]

Obama Has Stimulated Parts Of The Economy:  For instance, as you probably have heard, gun sales are up.  And so is national lobbying.
Early numbers suggest that the first quarter of 2009 has seen lobbying in the nation's capital spike by nearly 22 percent over last year, which would be the largest ever increase in lobbying activity — and a strong indication that President Barack Obama has helped usher in a Golden Era for K Street.

Between Jan. 1 and March 16 this year, the Senate Office of Public Records received 1,381 new lobbying registrations, which include new lobbying firms, new clients at existing firms, and businesses hiring their first lobbyists.  This is the largest batch of new registrations since 1999, the first year these records were kept, and a 21.7 percent increase over last year.
This should not surprise us.  When the federal government begins to pass out immense sums of money, and warns of draconian new regulations, lobbyists will flock to Washington, D.C. to grab a share of the money, and to defend their clients against the regulations.  (Or to warp the regulations to benefit their clients.)
- 9:45 AM, 18 March 2009   [link]

James Lovelock Is An Honest Environmentalist:  And he can do basic arithmetic.  So I enjoy reading his thoughts, even though I disagree with him on many issues.   Here are some samples from a recent interview.
Conventional farming methods produce higher yields at less expense.  Is organic farming really good for the environment?  Matthew Fell, York

All kinds of farming are less good for the environment than natural ecosystems, such as forests, scrub and deserts.  Organic farming might be better than agribusiness per hectare, but if it produces less food, more land would be farmed and consequently there may be nothing to choose between organic and agribusiness farming so far as the environment is concerned.
. . .
Why are you so much in favour of nuclear power as a solution?  Doesn't it have lots of dangers?   Hatty Hamilton, Exeter

I am in favour of nuclear energy for small, densely populated nations such as the UK, Germany, France, others in Europe, and Japan.  Such nations need an abundant supply of electricity to continue civilised life, and there is no alternative to nuclear energy; we used to use coal, gas and oil but now know we cannot.   Nuclear energy also happens to be the safest, the most economical and reliable of energy sources.  It is foolish to reject it.  Its safety record in the UK — and we are not the best — is a vast improvement over that of coal, gas or oil.  Remember over 5,000 people died in one night in London in the 1950s from coal-smoke poisoning.  Apart from water power and solar energy in desert nations, renewable energy is inefficient, expensive and unreliable, but with huge subsidies it makes a great deal of money for its developers.  Most arguments against nuclear energy are propaganda and it is well worth asking who benefits from the flood of misinformation.

Why do you attack the green movement so much?  Aren't you a green yourself?  Howard James, Manchester

Yes, I am a green but, not surprisingly, an old-fashioned one.  My difference with the modern greens is mainly over their failure to see that the countryside has intrinsic value for wildlife, for food supply and as park land for our ever more urban society.  The countryside should not be regarded as an industrial site for wind or solar energy.  I also dislike the rampant ignorance of science shown by modern greens, especially the idiotic way they class all chemicals as bad.  We are all made from a mixture of chemicals and not from some mysterious spiritual brew.
Recently, Al Gore said that Lovelock "has forgotten more about science than I will ever learn".  But Gore doesn't appear willing to learn from Lovelock; in particular, Gore has yet to endorse nuclear power.  And that leads me to conclude that, either Gore can not do basic arithmetic, or Gore does not believe his climate spiel.

(Here's a description of the idea that made Lovelock famous, the Gaia hypothesis.)
- 9:13 AM, 18 March 2009   [link]

President Teleprompter:  Tim Blair collects reactions to the latest teleprompter blunders.  And the Christian Science Monitor gets a little snarky about Obama's best friend, the teleprompter.

Almost obligatory point:  Imagine the reactions from our "mainstream" journalists if Bush had committed these blunders.
- 7:52 AM, 18 March 2009   [link]

Getting Ready To Flee The Country?  Looks like it.
A D.C. technology manager accused of operating a complex bribery and kickback scheme had more than $4,500 inside pajamas he was wearing when he was arrested last week, and he told an informant that he had given $100,000 in cash to his mother to take back to his native Turkey, federal prosecutors said.

Prosecutors disclosed the details in a court filing yesterday that urged a federal judge to keep Yusuf Acar, 40, in jail.  They said they are concerned that he might flee if released before his trial.
Acar, as you probably recall, was working for Obama appointee Vivek Kundra.
- 3:13 PM, 17 March 2009
More:  Kundra has a minor criminal record of his own.   The Obama people were aware of his record, but did not consider it disqualifying.  That, too, is typical of Chicago-style politics, where criminal records are often no obstacle to those with good political connections.
- 6:58 AM, 18 March 2009   [link]

My Vote Fraud Project:  From the very beginning of my site I have looked for stories on vote fraud.  I have done that because I believe that, after many decades of decline, vote fraud has been increasing in the last three decades, and because most journalists give the subject little attention.  (Exception:  John Fund.)

And so I have been searching for stories on vote fraud, using fairly simply search routines.   (Typically, I just search Google News on "vote + fraud" — and I always find new examples when I do that search.)  As part of the redesign of my site, I plan to intensify my searches, and to make both the searches, and my cataloging, more systematic.  As I have said before, I would be delighted to get your tips on vote fraud.  If you see a vote fraud story, I would appreciate it greatly if you would send me an email with a link to the story.

I would also be interested in any ideas you might have for cataloging the vote fraud stories I have begun to accumulate.  (Currently, I just have a list of recent posts, on the right side of my site.  It doesn't include many of the earlier posts I did on the subject, and is already awkwardly long.)  I may even end up creating a simple database, but I'll have to think hard about whether that would be worth the effort.

Although I have much more to learn about vote fraud, I do have some tentative conclusions.  Judging by news stories, most vote fraud is committed by Democrats, specifically minority Democrats.  (Anyone familiar with American political history will not be surprised by that pattern.)  Most vote fraud is committed with absentee ballots.  Vote fraud problems tend to be chronic; they occur election after election in the same counties.  If, for instance, you were to ask me where I would expect Republican vote fraud in 2010, I would say, without hesitation, eastern Kentucky.  (For Democratic vote fraud, there would be many obvious places to choose from.)  Most prosecutors are reluctant to investigate vote fraud, because they don't see it as important, and because they know that some will see their investigations as partisan.  (One odd result:  Prosecutors are more likely to get involved in vote fraud cases when the fraud occurred in a primary election.)

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(I am also interested, within limits, in vote fraud cases in other nations.  I think, for instance, the British experience with absentee ballots (which they call postal ballots) is quite instructive.)
- 12:33 PM, 17 March 2009   [link]

Good Megan McArdle post.  But then I would say that, since I made essentially the same point, using the same John Kenneth Galbraith quote, last December.

Recessions reveal frauds.

(Just for the record:  I haven't the slightest reason to think that McArdle borrowed the idea from my post.  It is an obvious point — if you have read that Galbraith passage — and I doubt that she ever reads my site, though she should from time to time.  In fact, I haven't been able to get her to even answer my emails asking her why she said that Obama is "well-informed".)
- 7:44 AM, 17 March 2009   [link]

Miracle Heart Drug:  It's aspirin.
An aspirin a day keeps the doctor away . . .

That's not the saying, but doctors have agreed, for about a generation, that an aspirin a day is good for you.  It may reduce the risk of heart attacks or strokes by 20 percent or more.
ABC is running this article because a semi-official group, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, has just put out new guidelines.  Briefly, most men between 45 and 80, and most women between 55 and 80, should take a baby aspirin every day.  (A baby aspirin is about 80 milligrams, or, assuming my aspirin bottle is typical, about one fourth of an adult aspirin.)

If you are in either of those two groups, you should definitely ask your doctor about taking aspirin.   And, according to the task force, you should review aspirin therapy with your doctor every five years.

That 20 percent reduction is about what you get from statins, according to the article.  Statins, as I understand it, are more expensive than aspirin.

The task force suggests stopping at 80 because by then the additional risk from bleeding begins to outweigh the advantages in reducing heart attacks.  (Here's Jane Brody's discussion of those risks.)   Both the benefits and the risks come because aspirin reduces clotting; sometimes that's good for you, sometimes that's bad for you.

A small political point:  Beginning aspirin therapy, if you are in a risk group for heart attack, will probably do far more for your health than any government program.
- 7:22 AM, 17 March 2009   [link]

Obama Didn't Care About His Nominees' Tax Problems:  In this post, I speculated on the reasons that so many of Obama's nominees had tax problems.  I gave four possible reasons, ending with this one:
And the least pleasant explanation that I can think of is that Obama doesn't really care whether his nominees are law-abiding — unless, of course, that becomes an issue that hurts him, as it has.
Now Byron York has come up with evidence that my "least pleasant" explanation is correct.
Now, we find out that neither Cantor nor the unnamed Democrat was correct.  The problem is not with Democrats in general, nor with the Finance Committee in particular.  The problem is the Obama White House, which, fully aware of its nominees' tax issues, decided that those problems were trivial, or that the public wouldn't care about them, and pushed forward with nominations that in the past would have been quietly shelved.

In little-noticed remarks last week, Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, gave us a look inside the confirmation process.  Irritated by news reports suggesting the committee had been too hard on Obama's nominees, Grassley pointed the finger back at the White House.

"I want to stress that the Finance Committee is not doing anything different now from what it has always done under the leadership of either Senator Baucus or me," Grassley said, referring to Democratic chairman Max Baucus of Montana.  "We are vetting nominees for the current administration the same way we vetted nominees for the previous administration."

"The tax issues of the nominees considered by the committee this year came to be public only because the nominees chose to proceed."
In other words, in the past when the committee found tax problems, the nominees withdrew.

What this shows, again, is that Obama has brought the ethics of a machine politician to the White House.   Machine politicians care about these ethical problems only if they become political problems, and so Obama and his team saw nothing wrong with, for example, Tim Geithner not paying all of his taxes for years.
- 5:25 AM, 17 March 2009   [link]