May 2009, Part 1

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

"Gangster Government":  The San Francisco Examiner doesn't agree with what Obama did to Chrysler.
Give President Barack Obama credit — he at least made the proverbial offer Chrysler's secured creditors couldn't refuse.  The way Obama strong-armed creditors who rightfully expected to be treated justly under the law was right out of Juan Peron's playbook.

Like the Argentinian strong man, Obama muscled the owners and creditors out of a productive private company and gave it to union leaders, who will then fill his campaign coffers in gratitude for his generosity.   The Examiner's Michael Barone — who has forgotten more about American government and politics than most Washington, D.C., political experts know — was correct to dub Obama's Chrysler heist "an episode of Gangster Government."
That's harsh.

And the deal the Obama administration worked out may fail, with destructive results.  As I understand it, not all of the secured Chrysler creditors have agreed to the deal.  I am no lawyer, so you will want take this with a little salt, but those creditors should be in a very strong position legally.   (And that may explain why the administration is trying to bully them.)

We may see a bitter legal struggle that will waste the assets that the UAW and the creditors are fighting over.

(If you do understand the legalities, share that understanding with me.)
- 1:04 PM, 8 May 2009
Maybe not.  It now looks as if most of the secured creditors would rather not fight for their rights in court.  More here and here.   Very troubling.
- 3:07 PM, 9 May 2009   [link]

Worth A Close Look:  Keith Hennessey provides a neat bar graph comparing Bush's proposed cuts in discretionary spending in his last budget to Obama's proposed cuts, in his first budget.  Some summary points:
• President Bush proposed $6.6 B (57%) more in discretionary program terminations and reductions than President Obama.
• Three-fourths of President Obama's T&R savings come from defense.
• President Bush proposed 6.7 times more non-defense T&R savings than President Obama.   (= 18.1 ÷ 2.7)
(T&R = terminations and reductions.)

But you should take a close look yourself.

Of course, the president may propose, but Congress disposes.  Even if Obama were more inclined to limit domestic spending, he would find it hard to rein in the Democratic majority in Congress.

(By way of the Instapundit.)
- 10:33 AM, 8 May 2009
Democrats in Congress are already planning to dispose of most of those Obama cuts.  Three examples:
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said she is "committed" to keeping a $400 million program that reimburses states for jailing illegal immigrants, a task she called "a total federal responsibility."

Rep. Mike Ross (D-Ark.) said he would oppose "any cuts" in agriculture subsidies because "farmers and farm families depend on this federal assistance."

And Rep. Maurice D. Hinchey (D-N.Y.) vowed to force the White House to accept delivery of a new presidential helicopter Obama says he doesn't need and doesn't want.  The helicopter program, which cost $835 million this year, supports 800 jobs in Hinchey's district.  "I do think there's a good chance we can save it," he said.
If Obama gets half of his proposed cuts (some of which are actually "cuts), I'll be impressed.
- 8:04 AM, 11 May 2009   [link]

Political Risks Increase For Investors:  Nothing new about that; we expect to see that in developing countries.  But in the United States?
Political risk is becoming a growing concern for investors in the United States as the government plays a larger and more controversial role in private enterprise because of the financial crisis.

State intervention in economic affairs is always closely watched by investors for what it means for their decisions on where to allocate money, although this is usually more of a worry in emerging markets than in developed economies.

Political risk is becoming more of a U.S. issue as some investors howl over what they see as arbitrary intrusion by the government in business affairs.

They view President Obama's restructuring plan for bankrupt automaker Chrysler as an attempt to subvert the legal rights of lenders and say lenders will also be unfairly targeted if the U.S. Congress passes a bill to rewrite bankruptcy law to reduce home mortgage payments.

Investors concerned that politics could hurt them may demand a risk premium before they buy stocks or bonds or do a business deal.  That could make the U.S. less competitive and money might flow elsewhere.
This change in investor sentiment should embarrass and worry the Obama administration — but it won't.  And if it continues, it will make the United States worse off than we would be otherwise, because we will have to pay more for capital through higher interest rates.
- 5:58 AM, 8 May 2009   [link]

Oil Prices are rising.
Oil prices jumped to almost $58 a barrel Thursday, extending gains to near six-month highs on investor expectations that global economic growth may begin to rebound by the end of the year.

Some analysts, however, warned that the higher prices did not reflect market fundamentals but were the result of oil investors mimicking rising equity markets.

Benchmark crude for June delivery was up $1.58 to $57.92 a barrel by mid-afternoon in Europe, in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange.  Earlier in the session, the contract reached a high of $58.16.
That increase will not help our economy recover.

But you won't see much see much in the "mainstream" media about the deleterious effects of this increase, because they favor higher energy prices.
- 5:30 AM, 8 May 2009   [link]

Don't Know Much About History:  A British journalist begins to catch on; President Obama is not always well-informed.
Barack Obama is a history buff. When he makes a political point he instinctively reaches for the historical parallel: the Lincolnesque "team of rivals" making up his Cabinet, Winston Churchill's attitude to torture or his own family's experience of the Second World War.

The only problem is that he sometimes gets history wrong.
Substitute "often" for sometimes, and you've got it right.

Ben Macintyre gives three examples of Obama errors, and he could have added to that list if he had done a little more research.

(In fact, as you can tell by looking at Obama's reading list, he's not a history buff at all.)
- 4:51 AM, 8 May 2009   [link]

Generic Vote Trends:  One of the best long-term measures of voting intentions is the generic Congressional vote question.  Rasmussen asks the question regularly and publishes their results each week, making it easy to look at trends.

Trends in generic Congressional vote, 8 June 2008 - 3 May 2009

(Note that I am using the traditional — and logical — colors for the two parties, rather than the colors inflicted on us by the "mainstream" media.)

The recent leads for the Republicans are unusual.
The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey found that 40% would vote for their district's Republican candidate while 39% would choose the Democrat.

Overall, the GOP lost one point this week, while the Democrats gained a point.  This is now the third time in more than five years of Rasmussen polling the GOP has held a lead in the ballot.
(I would have said just the third time the GOP has held a lead.)

Now for some speculation.  I would divide that chart into three periods, the campaign, ending in November, the honeymoon, ending in January, and governing, which has not ended.

During the campaign, the Republicans gained, slightly.  That's what I would expect because the campaign gave them a chance to make their case, and to ask voters that old, old question:  Compared to what?  It gave them a chance to claim that, though not perfect, the Republicans were better than the Democrats.

During the honeymoon, some of the losers accepted the winner.

The governing period shows the Republicans making gains at the expense of the Democrats.  The more voters see the Democrats governing, the less the voters like the party.  I would expect that trend to continue, unless the economy rebounds sharply, and peace breaks out.  Neither seems likely.

Perhaps I am just saying that because I predicted this would happen last September.  But I think there are good reasons to expect that prediction to come true, and I will have more to say about those reasons in the future.

(The generic question is a good measure of party strength because it omits the candidates.  The pollsters just ask which party the respondents would vote for.

Caveats:  I used Rasmussen poll results because Rasmussen asks the question often, and makes the results available.  Not all pollsters like his methods, though his predictions have been quite close in most recent elections, including 2008.

Other pollsters almost always get lower results for Republicans in the generic vote.  (You can see some recent examples here.)  Some of that difference is due to Rasmussen's reporting of likely voters instead of just voters, or even just adults.  But part of it appears to be explained by consistent bias in polls done by news organizations; they almost always have fewer Republicans in their polls than show up to vote.)
- 4:51 PM, 7 May 2009   [link]

Does Obama Have Empathy?  The two posts just below remind me of something I observed some time ago.  Barack Obama is a cold, cold man, who has little feeling for most other people.

Consider, for example, the strange story that Obama tells of his father threatening to throw a countryman over a cliff, a story recounted in this post.   Obama identifies with his father but seems not to care about how his mother and grandmother felt, much less the man dangling over the cliff.

Or consider his cool acceptance of genocide as a possible consequence of a US withdrawal from Iraq.   He agreed that it might happen, but did not seem to care about the potential Iraqi victims.  He knew intellectually that genocide was a bad thing, but he did not appear to feel the potential pain of the victims.

Or consider his extreme pro-abortion positions, which he tried to hide in parts of last year's campaign.  If he can feel the pain of a baby being killed in a late-term abortion (And I will say killed when the abortion occurs after viability, as a few do.), he has never shown that in anything he has said about the subject.

Obama may believe that empathy is a requirement for judges, but, if so, he would never qualify to be a judge himself.

(As is so often the case, it is hard to say whether Obama actually believes what he says about empathy and judges, or whether he just uses the word to justify the unjustifiable.

Some say that Obama is a narcissist; for example.   I am reluctant to accept such diagnoses of politicians, because they are so often abused.  But it is worth noting that one of the characteristics of a narcissist is a lack of empathy — although many can fake having empathy.)
- 1:29 PM, 7 May 2009   [link]

The Democrats In Congress Are Closing Down The DC Voucher Program:  With the concurrence of the Obama administration.  And that disappoints some of Obama's strongest supporters, so much that they took to the streets yesterday.
This afternoon, more than 1,000 students, parents, and concerned citizens gathered across from city hall to rally in support of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program.  A number of prominent D.C. leaders spoke, including former mayor Anthony Williams and former councilmember Kevin Chavous.  But the most moving speeches were from the parents and students participating in the scholarship program.   High-school student Carlos Battle spoke about how he was personally working to redefine the image of the black teen in Washington, D.C. — and how the Opportunity Scholarship program was giving him a chance to fulfill his dream.  A father of a scholarship student pointed out the hypocrisy of Congress bailing out failing corporations but taking scholarships away from D.C. students.
You can better understand why they protested if you watch this video.

Or you can just read this from the end of the video:
That sort of doublespeak has left many Obama supporters not just puzzled but outraged.  Certainly, Mercedes is.  "Out of everything else they can shut down or everything else they can advocate for, they want to take this one thing away?"  Adds her mother, Ingrid, "We voted for you, we walked, we went to the parade, we stood freezing.  Why? . . . Can you get this tape over to Obama and have him answer our questions?  Why, sir, why?"
To satisfy the people running the teachers' unions.  That's why.

(Much more here, including many links.   And here's my post on "Armey's Army", which tells how these vouchers came to be.)
- 12:59 PM, 7 May 2009   [link]

Empathy Or Laws?  Which should our courts base their decisions on?   Thomas Sowell knows.
There is a reason why the statue of Justice wears a blindfold.  There are things that courts are not supposed to see or recognize when making their decisions— the race you belong to, whether you are rich or poor, and other personal things that could bias decisions by judges and juries.

It is an ideal that a society strives for, even if particular judges or juries fall short of that ideal.  Now, however, President Barack Obama has repudiated that ideal itself by saying that he wants to appoint judges with "empathy" for particular groups.

This was not an isolated slip of the tongue.  Barack Obama said the same thing during last year's election campaign.  Moreover, it is completely consistent with his behavior and associations over a period of years— and inconsistent with fundamental principles of American government and society.
To be fair, Obama also has said that he wants judges to uphold the rule of law.  Here's how he tried to straddle the issue in a press conference on Souter's retirement:
Now, the process of selecting someone to replace Justice Souter is among my most serious responsibilities as President.  So I will seek somebody with a sharp and independent mind and a record of excellence and integrity.  I will seek someone who understands that justice isn't about some abstract legal theory or footnote in a case book; it is also about how our laws affect the daily realities of people's lives -- whether they can make a living and care for their families; whether they feel safe in their homes and welcome in their own nation.

I view that quality of empathy, of understanding and identifying with people's hopes and struggles, as an essential ingredient for arriving as just decisions and outcomes. I will seek somebody who is dedicated to the rule of law, who honors our constitutional traditions, who respects the integrity of the judicial process and the appropriate limits of the judicial role. I will seek somebody who shares my respect for constitutional values on which this nation was founded and who brings a thoughtful understanding of how to apply them in our time.
As I read that, Obama is saying that empathy is essential, and that dedication to the rule of law is desirable.  And if the two conflict?  Presumably empathy wins.

If Obama believes this, then he should propose changing the first oath that federal judges take.  They should no longer be required to promise to "administer justice without respect to persons, and do equal right to the poor and to the rich".

(Obama was clearer during the campaign.  Whenever I read this promise, I get chills up my spine.
Speaking in July 2007 at a conference of Planned Parenthood, he said: "[W]e need somebody who's got the heart, the empathy, to recognize what it's like to be a young teenage mom.  The empathy to understand what it's like to be poor, or African-American, or gay, or disabled, or old.  And that's the criteria by which I'm going to be selecting my judges."
Even though I am in the last of Obama's favored groups.

Similar thoughts from Michael Medved, who quotes Leviticus, and from Ed Kaitz, who quotes Aristotle.   Wendy Long has some disturbing examples of how judicial "empathy" works in practice.)
- 7:34 AM, 7 May 2009   [link]

How Justice Souter Devolved:  The New York Times has a powerful graphic showing how Justice Souter moved from being a moderate conservative to being a leftist.   (If you don't want to register at the New York Times, you can see the same graphic here.)

I once read that Souter's devolution was caused, at least in part, by his dislike for Chief Justice Rehnquist.  I'd like to see the evidence for that, because it is disturbing to think that such great consequences should follow from such a petty cause.

(The Times article that the graphic illustrates is here.  You can find out more about the Martin-Quinn scores used to make the graphic here.  The authors have scores going all the way back to 1937.

The graphic looks generally right, but has some mildly surprising results.  Measuring ideology is always difficult, so we should not treat those scores as anything more than approximations.)
- 1:07 PM, 6 May 2009   [link]

A Political Machine, Not A Banana Republic:  After the attacks on Chrysler investors by the Obama administration, attacks that some describe as White House thuggery, critics of the administration said that Obama administration is acting as if the United States were a banana republic.   (For example, here and here.)

But there's a better analogy, as anyone familiar with Chicago politics could tell you.  Obama is acting as machine politicians always do.  As, one could argue, a machine politician must do if they want to stay in power.

To see why this particular "thuggery" is typical of a machine politician, not a banana republic, consider these two descriptions, both drawn from Wikipedia.  (These two aren't bad, though we must be very careful about relying on Wikipedia's political articles.)  First, a banana republic.
Banana Republic is a pejorative term for a country that is politically unstable, dependent on limited agriculture (e.g. bananas), and ruled by a small, self-elected, wealthy, and corrupt clique.
. . .
The term was originally invented as a very direct reference to a "servile dictatorship" which abetted (or directly supported in return for kickbacks) the exploitation of large-scale plantation agriculture (usually banana).[1]  The term was coined by the American author O. Henry in his 1904 book of linked short stories, "Cabbages and Kings", set in the fictional "Anchuria", which was based on his 1896-97 stay in Honduras.

It was in Honduras that the United Fruit, the Standard Fruit, and Sam Zemurray's Cuyamel Fruit companies dominated the country's key banana export sector and support sectors such as railways.
Next, a political machine.
A political machine (or simply machine) is a disciplined political organization in which an authoritative boss or small group commands the support of a corps of supporters (usually campaign workers), who receive rewards for their efforts.  Although these elements are common to most political parties and organizations, they are essential to political machines, which rely on hierarchy and rewards for political power.
. . .
The key to the political machine is often an accusation of patronage: holding public office implies the ability to do favors (and quid pro quo (something for something) with certain aspects of a barter economy or gift economy: the patron or "boss" (not necessarily one individual person) does favors for the constituents, who then vote as they are told to.  Sometimes this system of favors is supplemented by threats of violence or harassment toward those who attempt to step outside of it
Simplifying crudely but not outrageously, we could say that the rulers of a banana republic trade favors for bribes, and that a political machine trades favors for votes.  Neither is much concerned with legalities.

When we realize that the Obama administration is acting like an old-fashioned political machine, we can understand why they favored the United Auto Workers over investors.  The UAW has more votes.   Political machines typically favor unions over businesses for just that reason.  It's that simple.  Political machines are almost always willing to cut deals with businesses, but not if those deals lose them many votes.
- 12:15 PM, 6 May 2009   [link]

Domino Sugar Is Carbon Free:  It's even "certified" carbon free.  That advertising claim will amuse those who remember their high school chemistry, since the formula for sucrose is C12H22O11.  (The C, for those who have forgotten their high school chemistry, stands for "carbon".)

Most congressional Democrats, and many consumers, believe that carbon is one of the evil elements in the periodic table, so one can understand why Domino would make this claim.

Maybe Domino can add to their product line, and start selling "hydrogen-free" water.

(By way of Anthony Watts, who is more angered than amused.

Domino's claim does make me pleased that I have, for years, been buying the cheapest store brand of sugar.)
- 6:50 AM, 6 May 2009   [link]

Senator Specter Loses His Seniority:  Ordinarily party switchers get something for their switch.
The Senate dealt a blow tonight to Sen. Arlen Specter's hold on seniority in several key committees, a week after the Pennsylvanian's party switch placed Democrats on the precipice of a 60-seat majority.

In a unanimous voice vote, the Senate approved a resolution that added Specter to the Democratic side of the dais on the five committees on which he serves, an expected move that gives Democrats larger margins on key panels such as Judiciary and Appropriations.

But Democrats placed Specter in one of the two most junior slots on each of the five committees for the remainder of this Congress, which goes through December 2010.  Democrats have suggested that they will consider revisiting Specter's seniority claim at the committee level only after the midterm elections next year.
Assuming he gets re-elected, which is by no means certain.

(Credit where due:  Betsy Newmark predicted this.

Those who follow the inside game of senatorial politics will wonder whether Majority Leader Reid promised Specter he would keep his seniority and couldn't keep the promise, or whether Specter got vague assurances, which he took for promises.)
- 5:27 AM, 6 May 2009   [link]

McMillan And Malkin Make The Same Point:  In different ways.

Kate juxtaposes.

Michelle summarizes.
Sunlight is for suckers.  The New York Post reported on Tuesday that the White House will not release the $328,835 snapshots taken of the president's Boeing VC-25A that buzzed lower Manhattan.  The entire world has seen news and amateur photos and videos of the incident, but if President Obama has his way, taxpayers won't be able to see the flyover photos they paid for with their own money.
. . .
From Day One, Obama has demonstrated a rather self-serving selectivity when it comes to transparency.   The Obama White House rushed to reverse an 18-year ban photographing the flag-draped coffins of troops arriving back on American soil.  And at the behest of the American Civil Liberties Union, his administration is set to release at least 21 classified photographs by May 28 showing detainee abuse in prisons in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Openness in government is fine if it hurts America's reputation, but not if it harms Obama's.
The refusal to release the photos, or to explain why the White House approved this flight, is baffling.  Sometimes it is best to just cut your losses.  Perhaps Obama has still not grasped that he is no longer in Chicago, where politicians can often get away with this kind of stonewalling.

(Sometimes I prefer McMillan's light touch; sometimes I prefer the details Malkin provides.)
- 5:01 AM, 6 May 2009   [link]

Too Much Stimulus?  If you have a headache, do you take an aspirin or call a brain surgeon?  Most of us would take an aspirin.  (There are exceptions; extreme headaches, chronic headaches, or other symptoms may give us reason to do more than take an aspirin.)   We take a small cure for a small problem.

Obama is proposing a a very large cure, as you can see in this by now famous chart.  (Which I plan to display regularly.)  But is the size of his cure appropriate to the size of the problem?  (Setting aside, for the moment, the question of whether it is the right cure.)  Not as far as I can tell.

Consider, for example, the latest data on personal income, which I am taking from this BEA report.

Real Personal Income, August 2008 through March 2009

monthpersonal incomeper capita

The numbers are in 2000 dollars to control for inflation and are "seasonally adjusted at annual rates".    The second column is in billions of dollars, so as a nation, if every month was like March, we would have $8.9 trillion to spend, after federal taxes in 2000 dollars.  ($10.7 trillion in current dollars.)  The third column is in dollars so, if every month was like March, we each would have, on the average, $28,968 to spend, after federal taxes in 2000 dollars.  ($35,144 in current dollars.)  You probably should add "about" to every single number in the table.

I used those numbers, rather than others, because they let us look at the changes in the economy, without inflation and without seasonal factors.

Those eight months are when the economy, by press accounts, got into serious trouble.  But that wasn't because we had less money to spend after taxes.  In fact, thanks to dropping energy prices and federal taxes, we had a little more money to spend at the end of the period than at the beginning.

But we didn't spend the extra.  Instead, we began to save about 4 percent of our income, as we should have been doing all along.

So far, our economic illness looks more like a problem that requires an aspirin than one that requires brain surgery.  And so Obama's stimulus looks wildly disproportionate.
- 2:09 PM, 5 May 2009   [link]

Economist Allan Meltzer Fears Inflation:  With good reason.
Paul Volcker is now the head of President Obama's Economic Recovery Advisory Board.  Mr. Volcker and the administration's many economic advisers are all fully aware of the inflationary dangers ahead.  So is the current Fed chairman, Ben Bernanake.  And yet the interest rate the Fed controls is nearly zero; and the enormous increase in bank reserves — caused by the Fed's purchases of bonds and mortgages — will surely bring on severe inflation if allowed to remain.  Still, they all reassure us that they can reduce reserves enough to prevent inflation and they are committed to doing so.

I do not doubt their knowledge or technical ability.  What I doubt is the commitment of the administration and the autonomy of the Federal Reserve.  Mr. Volcker was a very independent chairman.  But under Mr. Bernanke, the Fed has sacrificed its independence and become the monetary arm of the Treasury: bailing out A.I.G., taking on illiquid securities from Bear Stearns and promising to provide as much as $700 billion of reserves to buy mortgages.
Meltzer adds this point about productivity.
It doesn't help that the administration's stimulus program is an obstacle to sound policy.  It will create jobs at the cost of an enormous increase in the government debt that has to be financed.   And it does very little to increase productivity, which is the main engine of economic growth.

Indeed, big, heavily subsidized programs are rarely good for productivity.  Better health care adds to the public's sense of well-being, but it adds only a little to productivity.  Subsidizing cleaner energy projects can produce jobs, but it doesn't add much to national productivity.  Meanwhile, higher carbon tax rates increase production costs and prices but do not increase productivity.  All these actions can slow productive investment and the economy's underlying growth rate, which, in turn, increases the inflation rate.
For the economy to grow as fast as the Obama administration is predicting, we will need both more people and more productive people than most demographers and economists expect.  Although Obama's policies may encourage more immigration, especially more illegal immigration, they are unlikely to encourage greater productivity.

In fact, just as Meltzer says, Obama's policies are likely to slow productivity growth.  (Productivity growth was quite good during Bush's two terms, and I believe that his policies deserve some credit for that.)
- 8:59 AM, 5 May 2009   [link]

Steven Chu Is No Geologist:  The energy secretary won a Nobel prize in physics, but is unaware of basic facts from geology.   He revealed his ignorance when questioned by Congressman Joe Barton.  (You can see the brief exchange in this video.)
Chu was there as a scientist.  Barton asked Chu how the oil and gas got to the Alaska North- wasn't it warmer when the organics were laid down?

Chu rose to the bait, in effect foolishly denying that it was warmer up north in the Cretaceous, the date of key Alaska source rocks, attributing the presence of oil and gas in Alaska to continental drift.   It "drifted up there".

Although most of Alaska "drifted up there", the oil was formed when that part of Alaska was about as far north as it is now, but significantly warmer than it is now.

Shouldn't Secretary Chu know that, if he is going to be in charge of energy policy?

(McIntyre followed that post with temperature estimates done by undergraduate geologists.

For more information on past temperatures you may want to read this Andrew Revkin article, which even has this good news on polar bears.
Even for polar bears, there are reasons to think the end is not necessarily nigh.  There was at least one significant period — the last gap between ice ages 120,000 years ago — when the global climate was several degrees warmer than it is today and they clearly squeaked through.
So we know that polar bears could survive a temperature rise of "several degrees" — because they already have.)
- 8:28 AM, 5 May 2009   [link]

Should Reporters Stand For The President?  It depends on the circumstances, and, some suspect, the president.
Okay, fine, they're not anti-Bush.  They're just really, really pro-Obama.  Whew!
The Anchoress makes the same point with a metaphor:
The White House Press Corps has revealed a profound truth about themselves: they're a bunch of 14 year old girls.  If they don't like you, they will be absolute savages to you.  But if they like you, you're cool and they all want to be, they all want to invite you for a sleepover.

If they love you, they collect your bare-chested pictures they draw hearts around your name and sigh that you are the best, the smartest, the coolest, the funniest, the most elegant, the most brilliant, the handsomest and best-dressed, most charming evah, evah, evah, and have fantasies that you'll take them on a dream date!  They share minutiae about you; what you like and dislike.  And when you break promises to them, they either ignore it or they make excuses for it.

To which I can only add this point, which I have made before:  A journalist who loves a politician is likely to produce even worse work than a journalist who hates a politician.
- 5:39 AM, 5 May 2009   [link]

Don't Ask Me For Fashion Advice:  (But you probably already knew that.)   When the story broke about Michelle Obama's $540 pair of sneakers, I looked at the picture and wondered how in the world Lanvin could charge that much for sneakers that looked that cheap.

And I couldn't get past that reaction.

(Michelle Malkin is more critical than I am, perhaps because she knows more about women's fashions than I do.  (Which is not difficult.)

And while I am discussing footwear, I might as well mention that some say those boots that she was wearing for the garden ceremony are Jimmy Choos.  I am pretty sure that means the boots are very expensive.)
- 10:44 AM, 4 May 2009   [link]

Valerie Jarrett gets an ethics waiver.
On Friday night, the White House posted on its website a special ethics waiver allowing senior adviser Valerie Jarrett to lead the White House's efforts to bring the 2016 Olympics to Chicago.
Which will amuse anyone familiar with her record.
There are, I think, four great lessons in this sordid story, three easy lessons and one less so.  First, many of Barack Obama's long-time allies, including one of the closest, Valerie Jarrett, are sleazy.   That isn't a surprise to anyone familiar with the Chicago machine.  Second, Obama must have known they were sleazy — unless he never read a Chicago newspaper.  Third, Valerie Jarrett does not belong on his transition team, or anywhere near the White House.
We can be grateful that this ethically-challenged advisor will be spending less time in the White House — unless we are terribly fond of the Olympics.  (I'm not.)

(The fourth lesson is that we should be dubious about public-private partnerships.)
- 10:21 AM, 4 May 2009   [link]

Andrew Revkin Goofs.  Again:  The lead New York Times reporter on the environment made an error so bad (in a front page story) that the newspaper was compelled to print this Editor's Note.  The note, if anything, obscures the controversy.  Lord Monckton, who advised Prime Minister Thatcher on scientific questions, explains the problem with Revkin's article more clearly:
The New York Times guidelines for staff writers on "Journalistic Ethics" begin by stating the principles that all journalists should respect: impartiality and neutrality; integrity; and avoidance of conflicts of interest.  Andrew Revkin's front-page article on Friday, 24 April, 2009, falsely alleging that a coalition of energy corporations had for many years acted like tobacco corporations, misrepresenting advice from its own scientists about the supposed threat of "global warming", offends grievously against all of these principles.
In other words, Revkin smeared the coalition by misrepresenting what they were saying privately and publicly about global warming.

This is not the first time I have seen Revkin caught in an error; here's an example from 2004, where he helped spread the smear that science was at war with the Bush administration, one from 2005, where Revkin misrepresented a skeptical researcher, and one from 2008, where Revkin appeared to go out of his way to protect James Hansen, NASA's climate alarmist.  Oddly, or perhaps not so oddly, Revkin's mistakes all seem to run in one ideological direction.

Some months ago, I recall seeing a piece by Revkin in which he lamented the fact that many Americans do not believe what most newspapers say about global warming.  If he really wonders why so many people don't trust the press on these questions, he should begin his inquiry with a good look in a mirror.

(More on this controversy from Monckton and Anthony Watts.

Revkin printed the editor's note on his blog — but did not apologize or explain how he made this error.

Credit where due:  In 2005, Revkin wrote an article noting that paleontologists are less worried about climate change than many other scientists.  Less, because the geological record shows that we have had large changes in the climate many times in the past, and have survived them.)
- 9:37 AM, 4 May 2009   [link]

The Unknown George W. Bush:  Is even more unknown in Germany, judging by the reactions of the three German visitors I talked to last Friday.  All were surprised to learn that Bush was a bookworm.  All seemed surprised to learn that Bush had sharply increased spending on research and development.

A careful reader of, for instance, the New York Times, would have known those two facts.  But they would have to be a very careful reader to know the second, especially in Bush's second term.  Most of the articles in the Times on the Bush R&D budgets in his second term grumped about the flat, or nearly flat budgets, without noting the sharp increases in the first Bush years.

Bush's reading habits got more attention from American journalists, but I was never sure that they had absorbed the information.  They had their picture of Bush, and they were not about to change it, even when they encountered contradictory information.  (It's an easy trap to fall into, and far too many journalists make that mistake, with Bush, and with others.)

The British newspapers had just a little bit on Bush as a bookworm, but I don't recall seeing a single article in them on his R&D budgets.  And I would not be surprised to learn that most journalists in other European countries, including Germany, were even worse on both subjects.

And I am nearly certain that few European journalists grasp just how badly prepared Obama is, intellectually, to be president.

(I'll have to add some items to that "Unknown Bush" list soon.)
- 2:31 PM, 3 May 2009   [link]

Welcome To Our German Visitors!   Welcome to Mr. Richard Jan Gutjahr, Mr. Thomas Peter Jarzombeck, and Ms. Ikbal Kilic.  And welcome to our interpreter, Ms. Anna Koch.

I hope that I will be able to answer some of your questions about American bloggers, and perhaps about American politics.  And being at least as curious as Kipling's mongoose, I have some questions for you, too.

A. J. Liebling, who wrote for the New Yorker, once observed that: "Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one."   When Americans got most of their news from a few television networks and from large newspapers, it was difficult for those without fortunes to reach the public.  With the spread of internet access to most American families, that changed.  Now, almost anyone who wants to have a "press" can have one.  Matt Drudge had almost no resources when he started his site, but he broke stories that "mainstream" reporters were unwilling to touch, and now has an audience in the millions.  (And can direct hundreds of thousands to a particular news article, just by linking to it on his site.)  Most reporters count it a great success if he links to one of their articles.

The cost for owning a simple site like my own is astonishingly low.  Even if I did not have the site, I would have a computer and an internet connection, so the additional costs are almost certainly less than $20 a month.  I don't know what presses and television and radio equipment cost, but I am pretty sure that it is more than $20 a month.

Money may not matter much, but expertise does.  Charles Johnson, who writes the popular blog, Little Green Footballs, was able to help break the Dan Rather forged documents story because, as a programmer, he had become an expert on fonts.  When I want to know something about Supreme Court decisions, I can read the New York Times or the Washington Post, but I think I get better analyses from UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh and his colleagues.  When I want to know something about military questions, I often turn to one of the "milblogs", that is, a blog written by men who are serving, or have served, in our military.  Although he does not have a milblog, I have learned much from Donald Sensing, a Methodist minister — and a former artillery officer.

Expertise is especially important when a blogger with the right kind of expertise spends time on a single subject.  For example, in this area, Stefan Sharkansky became the expert on the problems we had in our 2004 election for governor, often by looking through computer records.  He even set up a publicly available database for all the voters in Washington state, so that others could look for problems, too.  Sharkansky could do that because he is, as you probably guessed, a software expert as well as a blogger.  (Full disclosure:   I contribute regularly to his main site, Sound Politics.)

That expertise, and more than a little doggedness, gave Stefan a great legal victory.

Now, a little about my own experience.  Very few bloggers begin political blogs because they are satisfied with the mainstream media, ABC, the Associated Press, the BBC, CBS, NBC, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and all the rest.  I am no exception to that rule.  I began blogging because I saw factual errors, persistent bias, and shallow or missing coverage of important subjects by our mainstream media, or as I usually call them, our "mainstream" media.

Here's a particularly bad example of those errors.  But what I found even more amazing was that the two news anchors apparently did not know that some nations were worried about falling populations.

Demography has fascinated me for years.  I think very few American journalists understand the subject, despite its importance.  An example:  Between 1871 and 1910, the population of France grew from 36 to 39.5 million.  During the same time, the population of Imperial Germany grew from 41 to 65 million.  You do not have to be a historian to realize that our history would have been very different if those population gains were reversed.

That's why I wrote this post giving the basic data on American fertility, and this post on changed policies in Russia.

Bloggers can concentrate on areas where they have some expertise, and I have tried to do that.   For example, because I had some methodological training years ago, I find it easy to recognize the "ecological fallacy", which I spot from time to time, notably in columns by Nobel-Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman of the New York Times (and Princeton University).  Because I have been studying vote returns for decades, I often come to different conclusions than most reporters; for example, here's what I had to say on the black vote in our presidential elections, and about elections in Muslim countries.  And because I have had some training in analyzing public policy, I did two posts, here and here, on how a series of presidents have cut federal taxes for poorer Americans.

Bloggers can also cover stories neglected by "mainstream" journalists; that's why I did these posts on Presidents Lincoln and Washington, and why I went to church to see the documentary, Obsession.  And they can cover stories from a different angle; I covered the massive pro-illegal immigration rally here in 2006, in part because I did not think that "mainstream" journalists would even note the extremists there.  (And I followed that post, with one showing families, so my readers would understand that the extremists were not representative.)  At about the same time, I did two posts on a local group, Where's the Math?, which is trying to restore standards in math education.

Or stories where they believe that most "mainstream" journalists have been wrong.  That's why I did this post on the big increase in spending for research and development since 2001, and this post on our bookworm president.  By way of contrast, here is Barack Obama's reading list, and here's a selection from George W. Bush's reading list.

Although what I do is similar to what many of the better bloggers do, my site is atypical in several ways.  It is hand coded; I write the HTML code for it directly, rather than using a program to generate the posts.  I have chosen not to have comments, at least for now.  And I probably take a softer tone than most American bloggers, at least those who write on politics.  On the whole, I try to be civil in my critiques and "family friendly" in the words I use.  And I sometimes play peacemaker.  Last year, for example, I put up this post describing a small good deed I had done for three leftists on Mt. Rainier.  And earlier this year I put up this hummingbird post for similar reasons.

About the harshest post I have done was one attacking a local journalist, Ryan Blethen.  Some people think he got his job at the Seattle Times through family connections rather than talent.  (I don't know if nepotism is a significant problem in Germany, but it sometimes is here in the United States.   For instance, few think that the current publisher of the New York Times, Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, Jr., is a good man for that difficult job.  But he is the son of the previous publisher.)

Finally, since bloggers are publishers, as well as editors and reporters, they can indulge themselves from time to time.  That's why I put up this post on the buying choices and habits of Democrats and Republicans.  Some bloggers regularly write about their cats, often on Friday afternoons.  I am more likely to put up mountain pictures on Friday afternoons, especially pictures of Northwest volcanoes.  (Sometimes readers see more in my pictures than I intend.)

Now, back to the question that may interest you most:  How has all this blogging affected American journalists?  It has, I think, made their jobs less pleasant, because anything they write or say can become the subject of a critical blog post, which may get picked up by other bloggers, and spread all over the country.  It must feel, some days, like walking through a pack of snapping and snarling little dogs.  And the bloggers have brought about new career risks; Dan Rather might not have been fired from the CBS post that he had held for so many years, if the forged documents he used had not been exposed by bloggers.

But blogging also has changed journalism in positive ways, and a few journalists are beginning to understand that.  For example, the expertise that some bloggers have is an enormous resource that journalists can tap, without much effort.  Although not all reporters understand this yet, some bloggers are, in effect, unpaid researchers, who dig up facts journalists can use.  (Some journalists credit bloggers when they use their work; some journalists don't.)   For example, many journalists have begun to take advantage of the Real Clear Politics site, because it has a handy compilation of current polls.  (Formally, the site is not a blog, though it includes one, but it is put together by a few amateurs, not by professional journalists.)

When I originally wrote that paragraph in 2007, I was more positive about the prospects for "mainstream" journalists learning from bloggers.  Unfortunately, I think that partisanship has become so strong that it has affected the flows.  As I said a few years ago, our talk show hosts, who are almost all conservatives, have begun using the work of conservative and libertarian bloggers.  But our "mainstream" journalists are much more likely to use work from leftist bloggers.

Bloggers can help journalists in a more controversial way; they can make reporting more accurate.  When I write posts, I sometimes make mistakes, just as journalists sometimes make mistakes in their stories.  When readers spot those mistakes and tell me about them, I correct the mistakes — and I thank the person who caught my error.  I thank them because they have done me (and other readers) a favor by making my work more accurate.  (Here's a recent example.)

But not all American journalists have come to the same conclusion as I have.  Here's an example from July, 2008.  If just one of the people on the Seattle Times editorial board had read that post, they could have fixed a very embarrassing typo.

Finally, many journalists are beginning to write their own blogs.  There are two that I would recommend to almost everyone, the Los Angeles Times' Top of the Ticket and John Tierney's.
- 10:15 AM, 1 May 2009   [link]

The Dalai Lama Was Asked To Name A Leader We Should Look Up To:  He thought a bit and named George W. Bush.

The Dalai Lama has met many, many world leaders.
- 9:48 AM, 1 May 2009   [link]