March 2010, Part 1

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Obama's Trillion Dollar Mistake.
"Our cost-cutting measures mirror most of the proposals in the current Senate bill, which reduces most people's premiums and brings down our deficit by up to $1 trillion dollars over the next decade because we're spending our health care dollars more wisely," Obama told an audience at Arcadia University in Glenside, Pa., a suburb north of Philadelphia.
. . .
But the budget office did not say the Senate health care bill would save $1 trillion over the next decade -- or even close to that figure.

It estimated the bill would save $132 billion from 2010 to 2019, leaving Obama's "next decade" estimate $868 billion short.
All right, it was only an 868 billion dollar mistake.  But we all know that estimates on these programs are almost always too low.  And I am nearly certain that the budget office got those numbers with the help of some implausible assumptions.

I sometimes get the feeling that Obama isn't entirely comfortable with numbers, especially big budget numbers.
- 6:29 PM, 8 March 2010   [link]

Massa Mystery:  As I am sure you know by now, Democratic Congressman Eric Massa has announced that he is resigning, effective today.  In his resignation statement.  Congressman Massa took all the blame.   Accounts then said that he had been accused of harassing a male staffer for months.

But this weekend he went on a radio show and retracted almost all of the blame, saying that he was being railroaded over a single incident at a wedding, an incident that doesn't seem to amount to much, if you allow for the fact that all involved were drunk.  And that he was being railroaded because of his vote against ObamaCare.

He has had many more quite colorful things to say, as you know if you read Drudge regularly.  (Majority Leader Steny Hoyer is denying some of Massa's charges.)

So what actually happened?  Beats me, though I will say that his first story seems more plausible.   (Perhaps he discovered that the investigators didn't have much evidence on him, in between his resignation and this weekend.).
- 2:09 PM, 8 March 2010
More:  Here's the story from the ethics committee.  It is compatible with Massa's first story, but not his second.
- 1:45 PM, 9 March 2010   [link]

Email, Et Cetera:  Yesterday, I began using my new home-brew computer to build the web site.  I will be transferring my work to it in the next week or so, bit by bit.

Including all the old emails, though this may take me a while.  So, if you need an immediate reply to an email, please resend it.
- 12:09 PM, 8 March 2010   [link]

Worth Reading:  Daniel Bennett's brief post on the waste at our colleges and universities.

First paragraph:
Thousands of students on more than a hundred college campuses joined together symbolically yesterday to protest sharp tuition hikes.  The students pointed the finger at hard-pressed state and local governments.  That was a mistake.   State and local subsidies to public colleges and universities increased by 44% in real (inflation-adjusted) dollars during the 25-year period between 1982 and 2007.  Had colleges managed to hold their cost increases to the level of inflation over this period, real tuition prices would be slightly less today than they were 25 years ago.
Instead, tuition prices have soared.  Read the rest of the post to find out why.
- 10:33 AM, 8 March 2010   [link]

Quality Is Job 1:  Accompanying this New York Times article on quality improvements at Ford and GM is a most remarkable graph.

Oddly enough, the article does not discuss the graph, which shows that GM and Ford have had remarkable quality improvements over the last decade — as measured by the number of complaints to the National Highway Safety Administration.  In the last three model years, 2008-2010, both GM and Ford have had significantly fewer complaints than Toyota.

The graph is not perfect; it should show percentages instead of numbers of complaints, to allow for different market shares.  If you did that, you would find that Ford and GM caught up with Toyota in this measure of quality somewhere around 2004.

Instead of discussing that graph, the reporter, David Segal, goes on and on about the Consumer Reports car ratings.
As it happens, the visit to the Proving Grounds occurred the day after the release of the Consumer Reports annual car guide. For the auto industry, that guide is the ultimate scorecard, a reckoning based on the magazine's own extensive road testing and survey data from more than a million drivers.
Segal does not understand that there are good reasons to believe that the Consumer Reports ratings are biased.  (The reports to the NHSA might be biased, too, but I think that their problems would be less serious.)  The Consumer Reports ratings are a useful scorecard — I've used them myself — but you should use them carefully, recognizing their likely biases.

(For the record:  In 2004, I bought a Ford Focus.  I have driven it a little more than 25,000 miles since then, and have had no problems with it.)
- 10:04 AM, 8 March 2010   [link]

Another Unexpected Compliment:  This one from the ACLU.  They say that Barack Obama is morphing into George W. Bush.
- 8:52 AM, 8 March 2010   [link]

Obama Has No Foreign Friends:  So says the Washington Post's Jackson Diehl.
The paradox here is that Obama remains hugely popular abroad -- from Germany and France to countries where anti-Americanism has recently been a problem, such as Turkey and Indonesia.  His following means that, in democratic countries at least, leaders have a strong incentive to befriend him.  And yet this president appears, so far, to have no genuine foreign friends.  In this he is the opposite of George W. Bush, who was reviled among the foreign masses but who forged close ties with a host of leaders -- Aznar of Spain, Uribe of Colombia, Sharon and Olmert of Israel, Koizumi of Japan.
This would not surprise anyone who made even a casual study of Obama's past.  He has moved through life without making friends and, sometimes, without even making much of an impression.  Almost no one who attended Columbia when he did remembers him, and he seems to have no friends from his time there, or from his time at Occidental College.

By itself that would not be terribly unusual, but it is extraordinary in a politician.  His two very different predecessors, Clinton and Bush, accumulated friends as they went through life.  In contrast, Obama has a few long-time political allies, but almost no friends.

Even Richard Nixon, not the most gregarious man to be president, had many long-time friends.  That Obama does not is a puzzle that psychologists ought to tackle.

(Diehl, of course, is interested in the foreign policy effects of Obama's friendlessness.  Diehl is right to see it as a disadvantage, though not necessarily a fatal one.)
- 8:11 AM, 8 March 2010   [link]

California Is Failing, Texas Is Succeeding:  So why are the national Democrats trying so hard to emulate California?
Now it is California's ruinously expensive and increasingly incompetent government that seems dysfunctional, while Texas' approach has generated more creativity and opportunity.  So it's not surprising that Texas voters preferred Perry over an opponent who has spent 16 years in Washington.  What's surprising is that Democrats in Washington are still trying to impose policies like those that have ravaged California rather than those that have proved so successful in Texas.
Perhaps, in part, because they simply have not looked at the evidence — and don't want to.  Or maybe the idea that Texas Republicans have something to teach them is simply too awful for them even to think about.
- 4:29 PM, 7 March 2010   [link]

What A Nice Thing To Say about Hillary Clinton.
Venezuela's President Hugo mocked U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Friday as a "blond" version of her predecessor, and said a row with Spain over alleged links with rebel groups was over.

Visiting Latin America this week, Clinton said the Obama administration's policies towards the region were helping blunt the criticism of the United States by leftist leaders like Chavez.

"To me, she's like Condoleezza Rice . . . a blond Condoleezza," said the Venezuelan, referring to former U.S. president George W. Bush's secretary of state, with whom he exchanged frequent harsh words at long-distance.
So nice that I won't make any comparison of the the accomplishments of the two women — except to say that Rice is a much better musician.

And I will add that I think that Clinton will be able to resist Chavez's flattery.
- 10:13 AM, 7 March 2010   [link]

Want To Increase Youth Unemployment?  Then raise the minimum wage.  As a Democratic Congress did in 2007.
There's plenty of competition, but our vote for the recent act of Congress that has caused the most economic hardship goes to the May 2007 law raising the minimum wage in three stages to $7.25 an hour from $5.15. Rarely has a law hurt more vulnerable people more quickly.

A higher minimum wage has the biggest impact on those with the least experience or the fewest skills.  That means in particular those looking for entry-level jobs, especially teenagers.
You can find the chart that the Journal uses to illustrate its argument here, along with more information.

A recent issue of National Review (8 February) has a cover story describing how Democratic policies are keeping blacks poor.  The author, Kevin Williamson, argues that the minimum wage is one of those policies.  By making it harder for black teenagers to get their first jobs, high minimum wages make it hard for them to join the legal job market.

Many of the legislators who vote for higher minimum wages honestly believe that the increases will help those it hurts most, the poor and the young, especially the minority young.  We can forgive these legislators for being wrong, but we can not forgive them for not looking at the consequences of their votes.
- 9:21 AM, 7 March 2010   [link]

Monitor Break:  Yesterday my main monitor failed, and so I spent much of the day researching a replacement.  This morning I bought an ASUS monitor, and am back in business.

(I considered getting this Viewsonic monitor, even though the monitor that failed was a Viewsonic, but finally decided not to because Viewsonic has some of the most infuriating controls I have ever seen, though they are slightly better on this newer model.  (Granted, that isn't a big problem, because you usually have to use them only when you are setting up the monitor, but it was enough to make the difference.)

One thing I learned when looking for a replacement:  The monitor manufacturers do not believe in fancy stands for the low-end monitors.  Few have height or swivel adjustments, and they are nearly all made with a minimum of plastic.

What was wrong with the old monitor, a VG2030wm?  It stopped communicating its features to the computer.  This had different results, depending on which computer and operating system I was using it with.  But none of them gave me an easy way to correctly set the resolution.  And LCD monitors are a pain to use for any length of time when they aren't in their native resolution.)
- 1:14 PM, 6 March 2010   [link]

Regulation Kills Jobs:  Seattle Times editorial columnist Bruce Ramsey has a particularly vivid example in his latest column.  Steve Capeder wanted to start a small organic farm in King County, but finally gave up because he could not navigate all the obstacles placed in his way by the county's Department of Development and Environmental Services.  (It's funny how often a government department's name is the opposite of what it does.)


To pave a driveway, the blueprint — one sheet — cost $1,000.  The county, which funds its permit department through fees, wanted $22,000 to review the one sheet.  Capeder hired a lawyer, and they settled for $10,000.

The county regulations didn't just stop Capeder from having his farm; they also stopped him from hiring people to put in the improvements he thought he needed, and the workers he would need from time to time, even on a small farm.

The current county executive is Dow Constantine, who served on the county council before becoming executive.  His predecessor was Ron Sims.  Both men are "urban imperialists"; that is, they tend to treat rural areas like conquered provinces.  If any of our local journalists want to find out why we have this job-killing regulation mess, they should start with a few questions for Constantine and Sims.  (Sims now has a position in the Obama administration.   He is not a bad man, but even his friends would not claim that he is a great manager.)

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(More here from Dave Ross, a Democratic talk show host, who gave Capeder a fair hearing.)
- 11:20 AM, 4 March 2010   [link]

Greece Has A Small Problem With Corruption:  All right, if you believe Transparency International, it has a big problem with corruption.
Corruption is widely regarded as one of the triggers of the Greek debt crisis threatening the euro common currency.  A new study by Transparency International suggests that corruption is part of everyday life in Greece, and claims private households paid more than 780 million euros in bribes in 2009.

The Greeks paid an average of €1,355 ($1,830) in bribes last year for public services such as speeding up the issue of driver's licenses and construction permits, getting admitted to public hospitals or manipulating tax returns, according to a new study by Transparency International, the Berlin-based global corruption watchdog.
. . .
Bribes paid for private sector services such as lawyers, doctors or banks were even higher, rising to €1,671 on average in 2009 from €1,575 in 2008, the study said.  It is based on a survey by polling institute Public Issue among 6,122 Greek adults, of whom 13.4 percent stated that they had been asked to pay bribes.
If anything, one would expect such surveys to understate the bribery problem, since you are asking the respondents to confess to crimes.

(Greek writer Petros Markaris says that Greece's fiscal problems began when they joined the European Economic Community.  Greeks were not, he says, able to cope with the flood of money they received from the EEC.  It would be interesting to know whether bribery in Greece also increased after they joined the EEC.)
- 10:30 AM, 4 March 2010   [link]

Howard Dean says passing ObamaCare would hurt Democrats.
Passing the healthcare proposals before Congress will "hang out to dry" every Democratic incumbent running for reelection this fall, Howard Dean said Thursday.
(The post does not say whether he thinks it would be bad for the country, but he may have wanted to stick with the argument that he thought would be most persuasive — to Democrats.)
- 10:08 AM, 4 March 2010   [link]

The Chicago Tribune Questions Democratic Senate Candidate Alexi Giannoulias:  And isn't satisfied with his answers.

For example:
He also said he doesn't know how [Michael "Jaws"] Giorango or [Tony] Rezko came to be customers.  "It's tough to ask my father questions," he said, underscoring the most unsatisfying theme of both the interview and his campaign: When the family bank was flying high and Giannoulias had his eye on the treasurer's office, he was the senior loan officer, but when the tough decisions were made or the questionable characters came to call, it was almost always Alexi's day to empty the wastebaskets.
Giannoulias has been a basketball-playing buddy and political ally of Barack Obama for many years.   Each man has done big favors for the other man.

(I didn't mention the basketball connection just for amusement.  A surprising number of Obama appointees are connected to him, at least in part, by basketball.  I'm fond of the game myself, but I don't think skill at basketball has much relevance in most government jobs.)
- 8:47 AM, 4 March 2010   [link]

Senator Bunning Gives us his side of the story.  He says, correctly, that he was trying to make the Democrats follow their own rules.
- 7:31 AM, 4 March 2010   [link]

Senate GOP On Reconciliation:  Here's the web page, which has eight links to more information on the subject.

(I make no claim to understand the details of this process, though I have been trying to figure it out.  But it is hard to know what to make of paragraphs like this one, from the "Points of Order and Byrd Rule" document:
Amendments that would reduce the amount of deficit reduction below the instructed level are not in order, except that amendments to strike are always in order (except when they're not; Parliamentarians' call).
Clear as mud.)
- 4:36 PM, 3 March 2010   [link]

More On Those Terrorist Lawyers At The Justice Department:  From, unfortunately, an anonymous commentator giving us off-the-record comments from unnamed government officials.

But this issue is so important that I thought I should share this with you, anyway.  
[Iowa Senator Chuck] Grassley has for months been requesting the names and positions of all Obama Department of Justice attorneys -- almost all of them political appointees -- who prior to joining the administration worked directly or indirectly for suspected terrorists or enemy combatants.   On February 19, Grassley received a five-page letter from Attorney General Eric Holder's office claiming that at least nine lawyers at the department either represented detainees or worked on amicus briefs on detainees' behalf.  But the letter did not reveal the names of those lawyers.

But DOJ sources say there may be as many as 16 political appointees -- including Holder -- who represented detainees, worked on or signed onto amicus briefs on detainees' behalf, or provided legal counsel to organizations that actively sought to reverse Bush Administration anti-terrorist and detainee policies.  These groups included the leftist organizations Human Rights Watch and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW)
So Holder is refusing to tell us who these terrorist lawyers are, how many there are in the Justice Department, and what they are now working on.

The "Prowler" ends with this:
Ironically, say DOJ sources, while Holder and his staff continue to work hard to protect the identities of those attorneys who provided legal advice to suspected or convicted terrorists, several of the attorneys in question are believed to have been instrumental in the efforts of Human Rights Watch and CREW to leak to the media and Democrat supporters on Capitol Hill, the names of CIA interrogators of enemy combatants and suspected terrorists, as well as the locations of foreign-based U.S. secure holding facilities and various interrogation techniques used on terror suspects and enemy combatants.
He (or she) calls that ironic; I call it disturbing.

(Earlier post on this subject here.

Attorney General Eric Holder is forcing us to rely on anonymous sources, but we still should be cautious about accepting what they say, although I saw nothing implausible in this account.)
- 11:55 AM, 3 March 2010   [link]

Charlie Rangel Steps Down, Temporarily:  There were good reasons and bad reasons for him to hang on as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.  One of the good reasons to keep Rangel in that position was the next ranking Democrat, Pete Stark.
Rep. Pete Stark, D-Calif., is taking over for Rep. Chairman Charlie Rangel, D-N.Y., as the latter eases into a questionably voluntary leave of absence from the chair of the House Ways and Means Committee under a cloud of multiple scandals.

What sort of chairman will Stark be?  Try extremely thin-skinned and probably mentally unstable.
Stark has a vivid way with words, but may not be the absolutely best choice to head the top tax committee.

(The next ranking Democrat, Sander Levin, would be a better choice, but if the Democratic leaders ignore seniority then the Black Caucus will ask why they didn't reach a little farther down and make John Lewis chairman.)
- 11:06 AM, 3 March 2010
Update:  That was quick!
Rep. Sander Levin will take over as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee after Rep. Pete Stark, who held the gavel for a day, stepped aside.
. . .
Officially, Stark stepped aside to keep the gavel of the panel's health subcommittee.  But lawmakers and aides said Stark faced a rebellion within the committee and the caucus over his sometimes bizarre behavior and penchant for making offensive comments.
Levin is a better choice than Stark, but I wouldn't call him a good choice.

For some examples of Stark's "bizarre behavior" and "offensive comments", look here, here, and here.  It's odd that Pelosi and company didn't take those into consideration when they backed Stark, temporarily, for the chairmanship.
- 8:23 AM, 4 March 2010   [link]

What Has Argentina Done For Us Lately?  Nothing, as far as I know.   So why is the Obama administration offering to help Argentina in its dispute with Britain over the Falklands?
Argentina was celebrating a diplomatic coup yesterday in its attempt to force Britain to accept talks on the future of the Falkland Islands, after a two-hour meeting in Buenos Aires between Hillary Clinton and President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.

Responding to a request from Mrs Kirchner for "friendly mediation" between Britain and Argentina, Mrs Clinton, the US Secretary of State, said she agreed that talks were a sensible way forward and offered "to encourage both countries to sit down".
I can't think of anything we can gain from this offer.  And there is no doubt that it will annoy many in our closest ally.  And, though such things don't seem to matter much to the Obama administration, the people who live in the Falklands don't want talks.

(In general, a nation should not offer to mediate a conflict unless the nation is sure that all involved in the conflict want that mediation.  And I think that we have enough on our diplomatic plate so that we don't need more.)
- 10:14 AM, 3 March 2010
More:  Neo-neocon extends the argument and adds a possibility that is easier for her to mention than for me; Hillary might be taking Argentina's side because of some "Female-power bonding".

Meanwhile, Hillary completely failed to get any support from Brazil for controlling Iran's nuclear program.  (In general, I repeat, in general, it is best for a diplomat not to ask for something publicly unless they know privately that the answer will be yes.)
- 7:17 AM, 4 March 2010   [link]

Routing Around Obstructions:  John Gilmore once said: "The Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it."  Without discussing the truth or falsity of that famous claim (or my many disagreements with Gilmore), I'd like to try extending his idea to another area, traffic.

The Seattle area, where I live, has serious traffic problems, and has had them for decades.   There have been many efforts to alleviate them, efforts ranging from the absurd — building an immensely expensive light rail system — to the practical — improving some of our main roads.

The practical improvements have often been blocked by opposition from the political leaders of that reactionary city, Seattle.  (Some may wonder why I call Seattle reactionary.  The answer seems obvious to me, but I'll give you some hints in case it isn't.  Many, perhaps most, who live in Seattle favor 19th century modes of transportation, bicycles, light rail, and even trolleys, not just for recreation, but for serious travel.  Similarly, it was common in past centuries to think that some races were not the equal of other races, and so required special treatment.  That belief, too, is common in Seattle.  Green superstition, which often has strong similarities to ancient nature-worshipping religions, is also common in Seattle.  In fact, the city's mayor, elected just last year, is a long-time member of a prominent nature cult.)

Currently, obstructions from Seattle leaders are making it more difficult to make improvements that some traffic engineers say are necessary for our safety, especially in an earthquake.  For example, Seattle leaders have called for changes in the plans for one of the main bridges over Lake Washington, Route 520, and in a replacement for the Alaskan Way Viaduct.  The changes range from the minor to completely different projects, but all of them would slow progress on building replacements, all of them would obstruct efforts to alleviate our traffic problems.

Some, for example Microsoft, are trying to change attitudes in Seattle so that the city stops obstructing these improvements.  I understand Microsoft's thinking, but doubt that their efforts are practical.   It is hard, especially given the many problems with our local journalists, to change the obstructionist attitudes so common in the city to my west.

Instead, I think those of us who want to alleviate these traffic problems should begin to think about routing around the obstructions.  Rather than engaging in endless fights with the reactionaries in Seattle, we ought to work toward solving the traffic problems outside the city.  We should, for instance, put more effort into improving Interstate 405, and less into trying to resolve objections to a new 520 bridge or viaduct replacement.

Routing around obstructions to transportation improvements is probably good policy, as well as practical politics.  For decades, our metropolitan areas have been becoming less centralized, less tied to commutes to a central city.  In this area, as well as others, we should try to accomodate where most people want to live and work, rather than endlessly trying to force them back into the very central cities they have been fleeing.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 2:24 PM, 2 March 2010   [link]

What Steve McIntyre Sent The Parliamentary Committee Investigating Climategate:   Here.

Here's his summary:
Reconstructions of temperature over the past 1000 years have been a highly visible part of IPCC presentations to the public.  CRU has been extremely influential in IPCC reconstructions through: coauthorship, the use of CRU chronologies, peer review and IPCC participation.  To my knowledge, there are no 1000-year reconstructions which are truly "independent" of CRU influence.  In my opinion, CRU has manipulated and/or withheld data with an effect on the research record.  The manipulation includes (but is not limited to) arbitrary adjustment ("bodging"), cherry picking and deletion of adverse data.  The problem is deeply rooted in the sense that some forms of data manipulation and withholding are so embedded that the practitioners and peer reviewers in the specialty seem either to no longer notice or are unoffended by the practices.  Specialists have fiercely resisted efforts by outside statisticians questioning these practices — the resistance being evident in the Climategate letters.  These letters are rich in detail of individual incidents.
(CRU = Climactic Research Unit, IPCC = Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.)

Why this matters, again:  The IPCC is predicting higher temperatures in the next century — and dire consequences from those higher temperatures.  If, a thousand years ago, we had those higher temperatures — without dire consequences — then we should fear global warming, whether natural or man-caused, far less than Al Gore and the IPCC say we should.  Simplifying drastically, McIntyre is accusing the CRU scientists of trying to hide the evidence for a medieval warm period.

(The medieval warm period has become so controversial that I will offer you two articles on the subject, the first, a Wikipedia article, gives CRU's view; the second, a guest post at Anthony Watts' site, gives an opposing view.

From Wikipedia:
The Medieval Warm Period (MWP) occurred from about AD 900—1300, during the European Middle Ages.   Initial research on the MWP and the following Little Ice Age (LIA) was largely done in Europe, where the phenomenon was most obvious and clearly documented.  It was initially believed that the temperature changes were global.[11]  However, this view has been questioned; the IPCC Third Assessment Report from 2001 summarises this research, saying ". . . current evidence does not support globally synchronous periods of anomalous cold or warmth over this time frame, and the conventional terms of 'Little Ice Age' and 'Medieval Warm Period' appear to have limited utility in describing trends in hemispheric or global mean temperature changes in past centuries".[12]  Global temperature records taken from ice cores, tree rings, and lake deposits, have shown that, taken globally, the Earth may have been slightly cooler (by 0.03 degrees Celsius) during the 'Medieval Warm Period' than in the early and mid-20th century.[13]  Crowley and Lowery (2000) [14] note that "there is insufficient documentation as to its existence in the Southern hemisphere."
From the post at the Watts site:
If one, however, provides an overview of the literature on the subject of Medieval Warm Period, which has been published in recent years, there will be a completely different picture.  There are now quite a number of studies from around the world, showing all one thing.  And indeed, that the High Middle Ages were warmer than today.  An excellent overview can be found on the website CO2 Science, which has set up a whole section for studies of this kind [24].  There are now 765 different scientists from 453 research institutes listed that have worked on the medieval warm period.  A small portion of these studies is shown in the figure below [Click 25] (by the graph, you get a larger image where you can select individual work).

This survey shows one thing quite clearly.  At the time of the Middle Ages, that is, from 1000 to 1300 it was almost everywhere in the world warmer than today.  There have been periods of warming, that exceeded 0.6 degree Celsius rise in temperature in the 20th century and totally without the man-made increased emissions of the supposed "climate killer" of CO2.  The statements, that there has not been any Medieval Warm Period, or it was merely a localized phenomenon, can safely be regarded as untenable.
(By the way, that's a very fancy map, well worth a look.)

I won't pretend to have read the scientific papers that lead to two such different conclusions, nor would I be able to understand some of them, without considerable additional work on my part.  But I am inclined to think that the second position is closer to the truth, for two reasons:  First, until it became part of the global warming controversy, the existence of a medieval warm period was widely accepted, and was thought to be supported by a wide range of evidence.  Second, the tactics of the CRU group, and their allies, make me wonder whether they really have the evidence they say they have.

Incidentally, the existence of an earlier warm period, the Holocene optimum, which lasted until about 5,000 years ago, does not yet appear to be controversial.  This isn't just a bit of trivia, since almost all large animals, definitely including polar bears, must have survived that period.)
- 11:14 AM, 2 March 2010   [link]

Swing States Swing against Obama.
Barack Obama now has a negative approval rating in every state he flipped from the Bush column to his in 2008.  In each of those places his level of support is now in the 44-46% range.  It's probably a good thing he doesn't have to run for reelection this year.  He can only hope things start turning around for him once the midterms are in the rear view mirror, much as they did for Bill Clinton.
The states are Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Iowa, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, and Virginia.   It is hard to see how Obama could lose all those states and still win the 2012 election.  (He wouldn't have to win all of them or even most of them.  Winning Ohio or, better yet, Florida, might give him a winning margin.)

(I took a quick look at Gallup's 50-state approval ratings to see if he might be in trouble in states that the Democratic candidate carried in 2000 or 2004.

As I have mentioned before, I don't like the Gallup 50-state results because they hide trends, since they average polls taken over an entire year.  Even so, by comparison I am willing to say that Obama may be in trouble in states that Gore or Kerry carried, as well as states that swung against the Republicans in 2008.  Examples: Maine, Michigan(!), New Hampshire, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Washington(!), and Wisconsin.

My reasoning is fairly simple.  If Obama is now in trouble in Iowa, he is also probably in trouble in the neighboring state of Wisconsin since his Gallup scores for 2009 were about the same in the two states, and the two states have broadly similar voting behavior in national elections.  Similar arguments apply to the rest of my tentative list.

And I should note one reason why "mainstream" journalists may be out of touch with most of the American people.  Obama gets some of his best approval ratings in the District of Columbia, California, and New York, all places with high concentrations of journalists.)
- 9:12 AM, 2 March 2010   [link]

Which Obama Policies Do Voters Like?  (And which do they dislike?)

For one answer to that question, let's look at some data.  Gallup has a recent summary of Obama approval ratings by issue area.

Obama Job Approval By Issue Area

issue area% Approve% Disapprove
Foreign Affairs5144
Situation in Afghanistan4847
Situation in Iraq4748
Situation in Iran4250
Healthcare policy3660
Federal budget deficit3264

(Gallup calls these issues; I think it more accurate to call them issue areas.)

See any pattern there?  There are several, but there's one that interests me most.   Obama's policies on education are extremely similar to George W. Bush's.  Both believe that we need big improvements in our public education, both are willing to spend extra federal money to achieve it, both think the federal money should be conditioned on improvements in test scores, and so on.  In fact, if anything, Obama has gone farther than Bush has in tying money to improvements.

In contrast, their policies on the economy and the deficit are rather different; though Bush was willing to run short term deficits while the economy was recovering from a recession and the 9/11 attack, he always had a plan (however optimistic) for getting us out of the deficits.  Bush prefers tax cuts to stimulate the economy; Obama prefers spending increases.

Obama gets his worst foreign policy grade on Iran — which is where his policies have been the farthest from Bush's.

In general — let me repeat, in general — Obama gets the highest approval in issue areas where his policies are the most similar to Bush's.

That may be a coincidence, but I don't think it is.  Though you would not know this from our "mainstream" news organizations, on the whole Bush pursued policies just a bit right of center (as many political scientists would predict).  In some areas, notably the war on terror, Obama has copied most of what Bush was doing, even though he had promised large changes during the campaign.  In those areas, he has acted like the centrist (or sometimes pragmatist) that some journalists believe he is, at heart.  In other areas, for example dealing with Iran, Obama has moved sharply to the left, away from Bush, and has offended most voters.

(Closeness to Bush policies doesn't explain all the differences on issue areas — but I really do think it explains some of them.)
- 2:44 PM, 1 March 2010   [link]

How Good Is Climate Modeling Software?  As far as I can tell, no one really knows, but there are good general reasons to believe that it is lousy.
There is enough evidence for us to regard a lot of scientific software with worry.  For example Professor Les Hatton, an international expert in software testing resident in the Universities of Kent and Kingston, carried out an extensive analysis of several million lines of scientific code.   He showed that the software had an unacceptably high level of detectable inconsistencies.
. . .
Hatton and other researchers' work indicates that scientific software is often of poor quality.   What is staggering about the research that has been done is that it examines commercial scientific software — produced by software engineers who have to undergo a regime of thorough testing, quality assurance and a change control discipline known as configuration management.

By contrast scientific software developed in our universities and research institutes is often produced by scientists with no training in software engineering and with no quality mechanisms in place and so, no doubt, the occurrence of errors will be even higher.
(Emphasis added.)

In short, even scientific software developed by software professionals has many errors, and there is every reason to believe that the software developed by most scientists is much worse.  Worse because few scientists have any real training in writing software, and because it is likely that the talents that make a person a good climate scientist are rather different from the talents that make a good programmer.  Very few people are likely to be good at both.

But that's not all.  When programmers test programs, they almost always do so by feeding in data with known final results.  But, in developing climate models, that isn't possible with large parts of the simulations, because no one knows the true values of some of the parameters that determine the final results — or even which parameters are essential, and which aren't.

So climate modelers are forced to develop simulations with plausible results — and then adjust the parameters in the simulations until they get results that look something like our current climate.  (There are other kinds of tests that good programmers could do, but without knowing those parameters, there is no way they can completely test these simulations.)

So there is good reason to be dubious about these climate models (and the other software created by climate modelers).  But we won't really know how bad (or good) their software is until other scientists, and software engineers, get a chance to study it carefully.  And that isn't always possible because some of the climate modelers have refused to release their software.   Professor Ince says that this refusal prevents their papers from being scientific, even if they are published in the best peer-reviewed journals.  He's right.  If a research finding can't be reproduced, it isn't really science.

(I have been mentioning this software problem for years, and even made it part of my disclaimer, but this is the first time I have seen attention paid to it in a "mainstream" newspaper.

Could the models be improved by bringing in software professionals to work on the code?  Sure, but there are limits there, too.  For one thing, the programmers have to understand what the climate models are trying to do — and that may be terribly difficult, even if both sides work hard to reach a mutual understanding.)
- 1:27 PM, 1 March 2010   [link]

Mitch Daniels Explains How To Cut Health Care Costs:  Make individuals responsible.
As Washington prepares to revisit the subject of health-care reform, perhaps some fresh experience from Middle America would be of value.

When I was elected governor of Indiana five years ago, I asked that a consumer-directed health insurance option, or Health Savings Account (HSA), be added to the conventional plans then available to state employees.  I thought this additional choice might work well for at least a few of my co-workers, and in the first year some 4% of us signed up for it.
. . .
The HSA option has proven highly popular.  This year, over 70% of our 30,000 Indiana state workers chose it, by far the highest in public-sector America.  Due to the rejection of these plans by government unions, the average use of HSAs in the public sector across the country is just 2%.

What we, and independent health-care experts at Mercer Consulting, have found is that individually owned and directed health-care coverage has a startlingly positive effect on costs for both employees and the state.
The state is spending less, the employees are earning more because they get to keep the money they don't use, and those who choose the HSA option seem to be just as good at getting needed medical care as those who don't.

Any public official who really wants to control costs should take a hard look at our experience with HSAs.

(One caveat:  This was not a controlled experiment, and couldn't be in most states.  So we have to assume that the employees choosing HSAs were probably different, in particular healthier, than those who didn't.  You could check on that by looking at trends in health costs for the employees who did not choose HSAs.

That said, the effects are big enough so that I think that we can still conclude that we could have very large savings by encouraging people to switch to HSAs.)
- 9:47 AM, 1 March 2010   [link]

President Obama Could Set A Better Example On Health Care:  As his doctor told him.
The doctor said Obama should:

--Have another exam for colon cancer in five years

--Continue smoking cessation efforts, a daily exercise program, a healthy diet, moderation in alcohol intake, periodic dental care, and remain up to date with recommended immunizations.

--Keep up a modified exercise regimen to strengthen his legs to ward off more difficulties with his knee.

--Modify his diet to lower his LDL cholesterol below 130.
In short, Obama should stop smoking, drink less, eat a better diet, exercise more effectively, see his dentist regularly, and take his shots.  What's interesting is the implication that he hasn't been doing those things — even though he gets as much free health care as he wants.  Some snarky Republicans might note that he seems to have less self control than George W. Bush.

Incidentally, if all of us were to follow that advice, we would cut our health costs immensely, perhaps by as much as one third.  Seriously.
- 8:43 AM, 1 March 2010   [link]

Pelosi Is Fibbing About Having The Votes To Pass ObamaCare:  Inside this moderately interesting article on Pelosi's problems is this admission:
Health care: Pelosi and other top House Democrats say publicly that they have the votes to push through a comprehensive package, but privately, they know they don't.
Which is pretty much what most unbiased (and even many biased) observers have been saying.

She may get the votes — though I don't think she will — but she doesn't have them now.
- 7:27 AM, 1 March 2010   [link]