May 2011, Part 4

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

The High Cost Of Affordable Housing In Seattle:  Those who run the reactionary city across Lake Washington from me decided that they needed more affordable housing.  So they built some?  No, nothing that direct and old fashioned.  So, they issued vouchers, as the federal government now does?  No, nothing that obvious.

Instead they decided to offer tax breaks to developers for apartment buildings with some "affordable" apartments, in some areas.  When that didn't work, they expanded the breaks, and the areas.

With predictable results.

In just the past three years, for-profit apartment developers, often building in vogue neighborhoods, have received nearly $100 million in tax breaks.

That isn't what the city intended in 1998 when it created the program to encourage new apartments in the city's poorest neighborhoods.

But after city officials sweetened incentives in 2008 to try to generate even more affordable housing, the Multi-Family Tax Exemption exploded in popularity and geographic reach.   Developers wanted in, and subsidies financed apartments in neighborhoods such as Ballard and Capitol Hill that already were exceeding growth targets.

And the city is subsidizing "affordable" rents that sometimes run higher than market rents in the same building.

Best of all, these tax breaks are not audited; they are given out on the "honor system".

In general, it is hard to use tax systems, indirectly, to help the poor.  You can, of course, help them directly by cutting their taxes, as every president from Ronald Reagan through George W. Bush has done.  (Even President Obama has gone that route, though only with temporary tax cuts.  And the Obama-Pelosi-Reid tax increases on tobacco products, which hit the poor hardest, are permanent.)

But giving rich guys tax cuts on the condition that they help the poor is, at best, inefficient.  In practice, the rich guys usually end up with most of the benefits.   And more often than you might guess, everyone loses because of the complexities of these deals.

Somehow, the geniuses who run Seattle don't know this, though almost any good student of public policy could have told them.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 2:45 PM, 31 May 2011   [link]

Explaining The 2008 Financial Disaster:  Over the weekend, I picked up a copy of Morgenson and Rosner's Reckless Endangerment, a book they wrote to explain the 2008 breakdown of our financial system — and to name some of the bad guys, and good guys.
Josh and I felt compelled to write this book because we are angry that the American economy was almost wrecked by a crowd of self-interested, politically influential people who have not been held responsible for their actions.  We also believe that it is important to credit the courageous and civically-minded people who tried to warn of the impending crisis but who were run over or ignored by their celebrated adversaries. (p. xv)
So far, I have been impressed by the book (though I have found a couple of small errors).   Most of all, I have been impressed by their willingness to name names.

For example:
Countrywide also hired the children of politicians and others in power.  Paul Pelosi, Jr., the son of Nancy Pelosi, the former Speaker of the House, worked as a mortgage broker and sales manager at a Countrywide office in San Mateo, California.  In 2007, when the company was on the ropes and beginning a mass of layoffs, Pelosi's name was on the list of those to be cut.  According to a former executive with knowledge of the situation, Mozilo personally removed Pelosi's name from the list. (p. 188)
That's the former head of Countrywide, Angelo Mozilo, who, despite his name, is no angel.

Mozilo, whatever his other faults, was not a blind partisan; he gave a job to the son of Robert Bennett, the former Republican senator from Utah.  (And "special" loans to no fewer than twelve members of Bennnett's staff.)

(The errors?  They moved North Dakota Senator Byron Dorgan to South Dakota, and some of the entries for Bush in the index don't actually point to him.)
- 12:42 PM, 31 May 2011   [link]

Kloppenburg koncedes.
Assistant Attorney General JoAnne Kloppenburg said Tuesday that she was conceding the Supreme Court race to Justice David Prosser, ending what had been a contentious campaign that culminated in a rare statewide recount.

Kloppenburg made the concession at a Madison news conference just over a week after the state's Government Accountability Board reported that final count numbers showed Prosser with 7,006 more votes.
After wasting somewhere around a million dollars of taxpayer money on an unnecessary recount.
- 9:31 AM, 31 May 2011   [link]

Harold Camping And Paul Ehrlich:  Both men made predictions, but the reactions to their failed predictions were somewhat different.
Ha ha.  Harold Camping — what an idiot!  He predicted the end of the world on May 21.  Last week, the Christian radio station owner said he was kind of right, though no one else noticed, and anyway the judgin' will continue until (new date!) Oct. 21 of this year, when the world really and truly will be destroyed, probably.

What you didn't know is that after his loony prediction, Camping was promoted to full professor at Stanford and rewarded with adoring mainstream press coverage, more than a dozen appearances on "The Tonight Show," prestigious awards and praise from the Obama administration's chief science advisor.

Sorry, I got one detail wrong.  It wasn't Camping who reaped those earthly rewards for his cosmic wackiness.  It was Paul Ehrlich.
Kyle Smith then describes some of Ehrlich's many failed predictions, for example:
Conclusion: "In the 1970s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death . . . nothing can prevent a substantial increase in the human death rate." Ehrlich predicted England would cease to exist by 2000.  (N.B. he meant the whole country, not just that pathetic soccer squad.)

In 1970 he thundered, "In 10 years all important animal life in the sea will be extinct.  Large areas of coastline will have to be evacuated because of the stench of dead fish."  He boomed that by 1980, life expectancy in the US would decline to 42 years.
Harold Camping still has his followers, and so does Paul Ehrlich — but Camping's followers aren't giving science advice to President Obama.
- 7:59 AM, 31 May 2011   [link]

Unexpectedly Good, Unexpectedly Bad:  Instapundit Glenn Reynolds (and others, including your humble correspondent) have had great fun with all the "unexpected" bad economic news during the Obama administration.  (Unexpected by the Obama administration, if you believe their published forecasts, as well as by our "mainstream" journalists.)

Michael Barone tries to explain why we see this pattern.
Which raises some questions.  As Instapundit reader Gordon Stewart, quoted by Reynolds on May 17, put it, "How many times in a row can something happen unexpectedly before the experts start to, you know, expect it?  At some point, shouldn't they be required to state the foundation for their expectations?"

One answer is that many in the mainstream media have been cheerleading for Barack Obama.   They and he both naturally hope for a strong economic recovery.  After all, Obama can't keep blaming the economic doldrums on George W. Bush forever.
. . .
A less cynical explanation is that many journalists really believe that the Obama administration's policies are likely to improve the economy.  Certainly that has been the expectation as well as the hope of administration policymakers.
(Actually, I think that Obama can and will keeping blaming George W. Bush forever.  Thirty years from now, when Obama is working on his fifth or sixth autobiography, he will still be blaming Bush — though fewer will believe him, as the years go by.)

Energy prices can help us understand why those expectations are so often wrong.  Basic economic theory and bitter recent experience tell us that an increase in energy prices will slow our economy, and may even cause a recession.  But our "mainstream" journalists want to see energy prices rise (and some, like Tom Friedman, even say so openly), and so they discount the consequences of those increases.

For the opposite reason, energy prices can help us understand why, during the George W. Bush administration, our economic news was so often "unexpectedly" good.  I saw so many news stories during his eight years where "mainstream" journalists were surprised by the "unexpected" good news, that I started to joke about it.  (Examples here and here.)

Because our "mainstream" journalists opposed Bush's efforts to keep energy prices down (which he did, with some success), they refused to believe that those policies might have good effects.  And so they were surprised, again and again, by "unexpectedly" good economic news.  (Others, including the Anchoress, saw the same pattern during the Bush years.)

At this point, you might expect me to summarize with some bitter point about the partisanship of our "mainstream" news organizations, and perhaps to follow that by pointing out that this biased coverage makes it harder for us to choose leaders with sensible policies.  That's all true, but I have said it all before, and so I won't repeat myself.

Instead, I will make a small confession:  By 2008, I had become so accustomed to discounting "bad" economic news from our "mainstream" journalists that I missed many of the warning signs.  They had cried wolf so many times that I had stopped listening to them.  And that was a serious mistake, because this time the wolf was real.

My mistake was identical to the one our journalists had been making, and are continuing to make.  I let my emotions influence how I saw the data, specifically my dislike for our news bearers.  I won't promise to do better next time, but I do promise to try not to make quite the same mistake next time.
- 7:21 AM, 31 May 2011   [link]

If You Want The Latest On "Weinergate", you can find it here, here, and here.  (And many other places.)

The story is funny, thanks in part to Congressman Weiner's last name, but even if the charges are true — and they probably are — it doesn't seem like that big a scandal to me.  (If you have been on Mars, Weiner is accused of sending a crude picture of himself to a pretty journalism student in Seattle.  And there is some evidence that his recent marriage did not change his, let us say, social life, as much as it should have.)

His wife, Huma Abedin, who worked for Hillary Clinton for many years, has far more reason to be concerned than the taxpayers, or even his constituents.

Now, if Weiner had traded a government job for sex or silence, as Bill Clinton did, more than once, then that would be a different matter.

So enjoy the scandal if you like, but don't lose sight of more important issues.

(Tom Maguire catches the New York Times trying to protect Weiner.  You'd think they would have one editor there who understands that sex scandals sell newspapers.  If they do, that editor isn't in charge pf this story.)
- 6:20 AM, 31 May 2011   [link]

America Just After World War II:  So far, the best book I picked up at last month's big Seattle book sale is John Gunther's Inside U. S. A..  (My copy is the 50th anniversary hardback, and I paid either $3.00 or $1.50 for it, depending on whether I bought it on Saturday or Sunday.)

Almost anyone reading it will be struck by similarities — and differences — between 1947 America and 2011 America.

To give you a small taste of the book, I'll mention two differences.  Gunther gets to page 907, and then, after complaining that he had to leave so many things out, adds 14 more pages, mostly listing things he wished he could have included.

Among those are two that Gunther thinks you'll find hard to believe.
speed "limits" of sixty miles per hour on the endless undulant roads of Utah,
. . .
fifty years ago twenty-four American states forbade minors to smoke or chew tobacco in public;
Of course, the cars on the roads then, most of them built in the 1930s, I assume, would have been far less safe at sixty than modern cars.

It isn't surprising that some states restricted tobacco use by minors, but it is mildly surprising to learn that all (most?) of them had given up on those restrictions by 1947.

(As the scientific evidence accumulated in the 1950s and 1960s against tobacco use, the tobacco companies were able to keep it out of many newspapers and magazines, simply by threatening to withdraw their ads.  (I wouldn't be surprised to learn that some magazines are still not rushing to tell their readers about the risks.)

The Reader's Digest probably did more than any other news organization to spread the word about the dangers from smoking.)
- 6:44 PM, 30 May 2011   [link]

Was Memorial Day Invented By Freed Slaves?  That's what historian David Blight claims.
But for the earliest and most remarkable Memorial Day, we must return to where the war began.  By the spring of 1865, after a long siege and prolonged bombardment, the beautiful port city of Charleston, S.C., lay in ruin and occupied by Union troops.  Among the first soldiers to enter and march up Meeting Street singing liberation songs was the 21st United States Colored Infantry; their commander accepted the city's official surrender.
Freed slaves re-buried Union soldiers who had died while prisoners of the Confederates, built a memorial to them, and celebrated their sacrifice.
The procession was led by 3,000 black schoolchildren carrying armloads of roses and singing the Union marching song "John Brown's Body."  Several hundred black women followed with baskets of flowers, wreaths and crosses.  Then came black men marching in cadence, followed by contingents of Union infantrymen.  Within the cemetery enclosure a black children's choir sang "We'll Rally Around the Flag," the "Star-Spangled Banner" and spirituals before a series of black ministers read from the Bible.

After the dedication the crowd dispersed into the infield and did what many of us do on Memorial Day: enjoyed picnics, listened to speeches and watched soldiers drill.
Most likely, Memorial Day had many independent beginnings, but Blight is right to remind us of this part of our history.
- 2:24 PM, 30 May 2011   [link]

Rodger Young:  On Memorial Day, we should remember those who fought and died for our country.  And this Memorial Day, I would urge you to learn about one of those heroes, Rodger Young.  (Those my age and older have probably heard of him; those younger probably haven't.)

You can find a dry account of what this little man did before he died in this Wikipedia article.
Rodger Wilton Young (April 28, 1918 — July 31, 1943) was an American infantryman in the U.S. Army during World War II.  He was killed on the island of New Georgia while helping his platoon withdraw under enemy fire.  For his actions, he posthumously received the United States' highest military decoration, the Medal of Honor.
You can find a livelier account here.

Here's the Ballad of Rodger Young.

(And here are some dry statistics on Medal of Honor recipients.)
- 7:13 AM, 30 May 2011   [link]

Lars Von Trier Comes Up With A New Excuse:  You probably heard about the Danish film director who got in trouble at Cannes for saying much too nice things about Hitler and company.

He has an excuse — and it is one I've never heard before.
Mr. von Trier dismissed the suggestion that he was nervous before reporters or looking to sabotage what had been, by his standards, a warm reception.  Instead he blamed his fumbling monologue on his newfound sobriety.  "I had actually been drinking quite a lot, but now I'm sober," he said.  "I would suggest to everybody, don't stop drinking.  If I had been, I would be almost asleep at the press conference and would not have said those stupid things."
That might work for von Trier with film folks, but I wouldn't suggest that you try the same excuse at home.
- 7:27 PM, 29 May 2011   [link]

Worth Reading:  James Q. Wilson explains how we can have "Hard Times, Fewer Crimes".

But there have long been difficulties with the notion that unemployment causes crime.   For one thing, the 1960s, a period of rising crime, had essentially the same unemployment rate as the late 1990s and early 2000s, a period when crime fell.  And during the Great Depression, when unemployment hit 25%, the crime rate in many cities went down.  Among the explanations offered for this puzzle is that unemployment and poverty were so common during the Great Depression that families became closer, devoted themselves to mutual support, and kept young people, who might be more inclined to criminal behavior, under constant adult supervision.  These days, because many families are weaker and children are more independent, we would not see the same effect, so certain criminologists continue to suggest that a 1% increase in the unemployment rate should produce as much as a 2% increase in property-crime rates.

Yet when the recent recession struck, that didn't happen.  As the national unemployment rate doubled from around 5% to nearly 10%, the property-crime rate, far from spiking, fell significantly.
. . .
At the deepest level, many of these shifts, taken together, suggest that crime in the United States is falling—even through the greatest economic downturn since the Great Depression—because of a big improvement in the culture.
Unfortunately, culture is hard for social scientists to study, as he ends by saying.  (He comes close to saying that it is impossible to study, but I don't think he really means that.)  So those who would like to see crime continue to decline will find it hard to devise sensible strategies.   Perhaps the best general approach is to look for what appears to be working, and imitate it.
- 1:16 PM, 28 May 2011   [link]

Charles Krauthammer Asks Why Obama's Policy Toward Israel Is So Terrible, and ends with this question:
The only remaining question is whether this perverse and ultimately self-defeating policy is born of genuine antipathy toward Israel or of the arrogance of a blundering amateur who refuses to see that he is undermining not just peace but the very possibility of negotiations.
The answer seems obvious; Obama's policy is born from both antipathy toward Israel and the arrogance of a blundering amateur.
- 8:32 AM, 27 May 2011   [link]

Time For Bow-And Arrow Control?  All right, I am joking about that, but I had to pass along this story, just because it is so weird.
A 15-year-old Mason County girl is in custody after she allegedly shot her father with a bow and arrow.  She reportedly shot him after he grounded her and took away her cellphone.

The incident happened about 8 p.m. Wed. in the Tee Lake area of Tahuya.  The girl lived alone with her 35-year-old father, according to Mason County Sheriff's Det. William Adam.

"He was doing some parental discipline.  She was doing something he didn't approve it," Adam said.  He said the man was shot with a compound bow, using an arrow with multiple razor-sharp blades.  He said the girl had her own bow and was a deer hunter.
Or maybe it isn't so weird, other than the weapon used, given how important cell phones are to most teenage girls.

The man is in serious condition, according to news reports.

(The girl's mother lives in another state.  So far I haven't seen any information on which parent has custody of the daughter, or whether they share it.

Tahuya, an unincorporated town, is about 35 miles west of Seattle.)
- 7:03 AM, 27 May 2011   [link]

Those Deceptive EPA Stickers:  No news there, you may be thinking, but the EPA has new stickers, and they are more deceptive than ever.
The new stickers will for the first time include a greenhouse gas rating, comparing a vehicle's emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases with those of all other vehicles, as well as a smog rating based on emissions of other air pollutants like nitrogen oxide and particulates.

Cars capable of running on electricity will get the highest greenhouse gas and smog ratings, but the fine print indicates that the measure does not take into account emissions from power plants generating the electricity used to charge them up.
(Emphasis added.)

Which means that the measure is worse than useless.

Granted, a real measure, including the power plants, would have been hard to do, since it would vary from one part of the country to another, but they could have given us a nation-wide average, or skipped the measure entirely.

(I often wonder just how many people know that we get almost half of our electricity from burning coal.)
- 6:40 PM, 26 May 2011   [link]

$600 Trillion In Derivatives?  As often happens, I found the chart accompanying this New York Times article more interesting than the article.

According to the chart, world wide, derivative contracts now have a face value of about $600 trillion.  (Down, by the way, from about $670 trillion in 2008.)

By way of comparison, the United States GDP is valued at about $15 trillion a year.  Our GDP is usually valued at somewhere between 20 and 25 percent of the world's GDP.   If we use the lower number, then the world's GDP is about $75 trillion a year.

So the face value of the those derivatives is about eight times as large as the world's GDP.

That suggests, at least to me, that the world has too much invested in those derivatives, though I should add, immediately, that I have no claim to understand even the basics about those markets and that I recognize that derivatives can often be useful.

But I would like to see an explanation of that number.

(According to the article, European Union regulators are investigating whether big banks have been rigging the markets in one kind of derivatives, credit default swaps, and may extend the investigation to other kinds.

There's nothing implausible about the idea; as Adam Smith wrote, centuries ago, competitors often fix prices, or in some other way, conspire against the public.  You can have great respect for markets, as Smith did, and still recognize that temptation.)
- 2:28 PM, 26 May 2011   [link]

Bacteria Help Make Hailstones?  Sure looks that way.
Bacteria may play a role in making it rain, snow or hail, scientists from Montana State University in Bozeman have suggested.  The scientist researching the field of bioprecipitation found microorganism Pseudomonas syringae at the core of hailstones that fell onto the university campus during a hailstorm in June 2010.

"The center of the hailstone is the first part to develop", researcher Alexander Michaud explained at the 111th General Meeting of the American Society for Microbiology, held in New Orleans this week and further, added, "The embryo is a snapshot of what was involved with the event that initiated growth of the hailstone".
In some ways, this is not surprising since other researchers had found that Pseudomonas syringae helps produce snow and rain, in the same way, by providing nuclei on which the snowflakes and rain drops can grow.  (It's so good at helping to produce snowflakes that it is used in commercial snow-making machines.)

This should remind us, if we need reminding, that bacteria run the world.  We're just guests here, and fairly recent guests at that.

And you probably don't need reminding that this adds greatly to the complexity of weather models, and, most likely, climate models.

By way, indirectly, of Watts Up With That.

(If the claim that bacteria run the world surprises you, take a look at this Wikipedia article on the cyanobacteria, just for a start.)
- 12:57 PM, 26 May 2011   [link]

Leonhardt To Mankiw To Stinebrickner:  Sometimes the Internet works; sometimes it allows a false conclusion to be refuted almost immediately.

Yesterday, New York Times columnist David Leonhardt made this plausible argument.
Several years ago, William Bowen, a former president of Princeton, and two other researchers found that top colleges gave no admissions advantage to low-income students, despite claims to the contrary.  Children of alumni received an advantage.  Minorities (except Asians) and athletes received an even bigger advantage.  But all else equal, a low-income applicant was no more likely to get in than a high-income applicant with the same SAT score.  It's pretty hard to call that meritocracy.
(Emphasis added.)

Actually, treating people with equal achievements equally seems to be the essence of meritocracy, at least to me.  But, if you read the whole column, you will understand his point:  A poor kid with high SAT scores is likely to be a better student than a rich kid who had the benefit of better schools, tutors, et cetera.

It is a plausible argument, but no more than that, as Harvard economics professor Greg Mankiw noted.  And then an economist at the University of Western Ontario, Todd Stinebrickner, emailed Mankiw this comment:
It does seem reasonable to believe that, if a low income student and a high income student have the same SAT scores at the time of college entrance, the low income student was probably born with higher "inherent" ability.  At the same time, SAT scores may not capture all of the educational benefits of being from a high income family that may continue to matter in college.  For example, a student's score on the Math SAT may not capture whether the student had the opportunity to take a Calculus course in high school.  This suggests that, from a theoretical standpoint, the effect of family income on college grades conditional on SAT scores is ambiguous.  As part of an ongoing in-depth case study at one particular school (motivated particularly by an interest in college dropout), we discuss this issue and run the type of regression you suggest in Table 3 of a 2003 JHR paper "Understanding educational outcomes of students from low-income families."  It is worth noting that everyone in our sample is of moderate or low family income.  Regardless, within the income groups we examine, students from higher income backgrounds have significantly higher grades throughout college conditional on college entrance exam (ACT) scores.
(I've added the same emphasis that Mankiw did.)

So this study found exactly the opposite of what Leonhardt believes.  It is just one study, and as Stinebrickner says, does not include students from high income families.  Even so, it is better than pure speculation, which is all Leonhardt offered us.

(Over the years, my opinion of Leonhardt has declined.  Again and again, I noticed him looking for data that supports his (leftist) theories, rather than testing his theories against data.

When he received the Pulitzer prize last month, I took that as more evidence that he is not a very good journalist.)
- 9:40 AM, 26 May 2011   [link]

Actually, Obama's Speeches Aren't That Good, Either:  Walter Mead gives President Obama failing marks for his Middle East policies, in particular his policies toward Israel and the Palestinians.  But Mead also argues that Obama's speeches are pretty good, even though his policies have failed.
This seems to capture President Obama's Middle East problems in a nutshell.  The President's descriptions of the situation are comprehensive and urbane.  He correctly identifies the forces at work.  He develops interesting policy ideas and approaches that address important political and moral elements of the complex problems we face.  He crafts approaches that might, with good will and deft management, bridge the gaps between the sides.  He reads thoughtful speeches full of sensible reflections.
What Mead — and Obama — don't grasp is that Obama's speeches are part of the problem.  A large part of the problem.

Let me begin with the obvious:  When two sides distrust each other as much as Israelis and Palestinians do, successful negotiations will almost certainly have to be secret.  By trying to negotiate in public, Obama has made a private deal less likely.

Even those who don't follow these events closely could see that happening.  Obama began by calling for unilateral Israeli concessions, and did so in an insulting way.  (Obama and his team may have been hoping to drive Prime Minister Netanyahu from power.)  The Israeli government, naturally, hardened their stance.  The West Bank Palestinians demanded that the Israelis give in before they would even start to negotiate.

And when the Obama administration couldn't deliver those Israeli concessions, the West Bank government moved closer to Hamas, its deadly enemies in the Gaza Strip.

If Obama had said nothing, we might have seen, instead, the continued growth of pragmatic cooperation between the West Bank government and Israel.  The successes of that cooperation, though neither side celebrated them in public, were already, when Obama took office, great enough to give us hope for more cooperation between the two sides.

Sometimes, the best thing a president can say is — nothing.

(It is understandable, I suppose, that an academic like Mead, who is judged by his words, would not realize that Obama should say less.  But I think that any good negotiator, any good marriage counselor for example, would understand the value, in some situations, of silence.)
- 8:25 AM, 26 May 2011   [link]

We Don't Make Anything In America — Except Passats:   You hear, again and again, that we don't make anything in the United States anymore.  And then, if you read the business pages, you learn that, not only do we make lots of things, foreign manufacturers invest here because this is the best place to make many things.

For example, Volkswagen Passats.
Signaling that it is more committed to the North American market than ever before, the company has designed a version of its midsize sedan, the Passat, specifically for American tastes and is building it in a $1 billion plant in Tennessee rather than importing the same car sold in Europe.
They are building it here for the most practical of reasons, costs:
By manufacturing locally, and buying 85 percent of the North American Passat's parts from nearby suppliers, the company is able to greatly reduce its costs.  Executives said the savings was the biggest reason Volkswagen could charge less for the Passat, even while adding standard features like dual-zone climate control and Bluetooth connectivity.  Some specifications were also changed from the 2010 version — no 2011 model was built — like dropping a turbocharged engine from the base model.

Building Passat in Tennessee reduces shipping and labor costs, but more important it keeps profits from being wiped out by unfavorable currency exchange rates.  That is a big reason other foreign carmakers like Toyota and Honda build a majority of the vehicles they sell in North America at plants on the same continent.
(The article doesn't mention that some of those same manufacturers are now exporting some of the cars they build here, again because of cost advantages.)

This decision by VW is especially significant because they tried, once before, to build cars in the United States — and failed.  (They had a plant in Pennsylvania in the 1980s.  A unionized plant.  The new one in Tennessee is non-union.)
- 2:15 PM, 25 May 2011   [link]

Director Bill Ptacek Should Be Fired:  Who?  Bill Ptacek, the director of the King County Library System.  (No, I can't say I had ever heard of him, either, and I live here, and occasionally use the local King County library.)

Why should he be fired?  Because he believes that he must, at all costs, protect the privacy of muggers.

You aren't going to believe that without some evidence — and you shouldn't — so I'll provide some for you, using this Seattle Times article.

The issue over police access to video from the cameras came up in March, when a 77-year-old man was assaulted in the Woodmont Library parking lot, on Pacific Highway South in Des Moines.  A man approached the library patron and asked for money.  When the patron pulled out his wallet, the man stole it and pushed the library patron down, causing minor injuries.

As part of a Des Moines Police investigation, officers asked to see the tape from the security camera, but library officials said they wouldn't release it without a court order.

Police obtained a court order a week later and a suspect, a known transient, was arrested within 15 minutes of an officer viewing the tape, said Bob Collins, a Des Moines Police spokesman.

So, after that, Director Ptacek apologized to the Des Moines Police, and promised to be more helpful in the future?  No, after that, Director Ptacek decided to remove all security cameras from the system's libraries.

Really.  I'm not making that up.

In recent years, many public libraries have become absurd about privacy issues, perhaps forgetting that taxpayers are paying for the books and services of the libraries, and so taxpayers have a right to know how the library money is being spent.  But even after seeing many examples of this absurdity, I didn't expect something like this decision.

Finally, here's a question for lawyers:  If a person is attacked in one of the areas once covered by those security cameras, could they sue Ptacek and the library system with some hope of winning?

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(Those who live in this area may want to write to the library board; you can find their names and their joint email address here.

If you do and you agree with me on this issue, I suggest that you make your email polite.  If you do and you disagree with me, I suggest that you fill your email with personal insults.)
- 1:03 PM, 25 May 2011   [link]

For Free Trade In Principle, Against It In Practice:  During the 2008 campaign, I discovered, after some searching, that Obama was in favor of nuclear energy in principle, but against it in practice.  (Incidentally, it was not easy to figure out what his position actually was — and I am sure that Obama's obscurity on the issue was deliberate.)

We can now say the same thing about Obama and free trade.  When he speaks to traditional supporters of free trade like the New York Times, he says he's for it.  In practice, he continues to block the ratification of three free trade agreements.
Just when you think President Obama is finally serious about seeking congressional approval of pending free trade agreements with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea, another obstacle suddenly appears, creating more delays.  It's like watching endless replays of Charlie Brown, Lucy, and the football.
José Cárdenas goes on to describe how this little Obama game works.

Some of the newspapers that support free trade are beginning to catch on to Obama's game.  (I don't know how many of the libertarians who supported Obama in 2008 have caught on.)

But whether you support free trade or not (I do, mostly, though I don't see it as a religious issue), you should recognize this:  Obama is being dishonest when he says that he supports free trade, or to put it more bluntly, he is lying to us, once again.
- 9:35 AM, 25 May 2011   [link]

"Tilting Toward Hamas"  That accusation isn't strange, considering President Obama's Middle East policies, but it is interesting to see who said it.
Rep. Robert Andrews (D-N.J.) said Tuesday that Obama is "tilting toward Hamas" - a reference to the Palestinian group the United States and Israel consider a terrorist organization.  He emphasized that Congress would never base its approach to Israeli aid on such a position.

"A majority of the Congress disagrees with him," Andrews said of Obama.
Andrews is, by House Democratic standards, a moderate on foreign policy.  For example, he backed the removal of Saddam Hussein and our efforts to stabilize Iraq all the way up to Bush's surge.  (The National Journal gave him a 62 percent Liberal score on foreign policy in 2007.)

Congressman Andrews is not criticizing Obama because of pressure from his constituents.  He represents a very safe Democratic district (mostly Camden, New Jersey), and has been there long enough (since 1990), so that he probably doesn't have to fear a primary challenge.
- 8:54 AM, 25 May 2011   [link]

Prime Minister Cameron's "Barbecue"  I was puzzled by news stories from Britain that Cameron and President Obama had presided over a "barbecue".
Forget table tennis - this is the ultimate photo opportunity for Barack Obama and David Cameron.

The UK and U.S. leaders forged a special culinary relationship today as they manned the grill at a barbecue in honour of servicemen in the garden at No. 10.
I'm no purist, but barbecue, to my mind, is slow food, and very definitely does not include hamburgers.

But then I thought to look in Wikipedia and was reminded that, as is so often true, our two nations are divided by a common language.
In British usage, barbecuing refers to a fast cooking process directly over high heat, while grilling refers to cooking under a source of direct, high heat—known in the U.S. and Canada as broiling.  In US English usage, however, grilling refers to a fast process over high heat, while barbecuing refers to a slow process using indirect heat and/or hot smoke (very similar to some forms of roasting).  For example, in a typical U.S. home grill, food is cooked on a grate directly over hot charcoal, while in a U.S. barbecue, the coals are dispersed to the sides or at significant distance from the grate.  Its South American versions are the southern Brazilian churrasco and the Argentine asado.

Alternatively, an apparatus called a smoker with a separate fire box may be used.  Hot smoke is drawn past the meat by convection for very slow cooking.  This is essentially how barbecue is cooked in most U.S. "barbecue" restaurants, but nevertheless, many consider this to be a distinct cooking process called hot smoking.
So, now that I cleared that up, I suppose I should say something about the event itself.

But there isn't much to say, except that it was a clever campaign stop for both men.   (It would be interesting to know which political operative came up with the idea.)  The pictures — and that's all that matters — show two rich men (except they don't look rich in the pictures) honoring servicemen and enjoying ordinary food, food any of us could eat, and most of us could prepare, at an informal neighborhood-style gathering.

Obama has shown no skill in governing, but he is a formidable campaigner.
- 7:32 AM, 25 May 2011   [link]