November 2011, Part 4

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

The United States Is A Net Exporter Of Petroleum Products:  Surprised?  I was, though astounded might be a better word to describe my reaction to the story on the front page of today's Wall Street Journal.

Here are the first and third paragraphs of the story:
U. S. Exports of gasoline, diesel and other oil-based fuels are soaring, putting the nation on the track to be a net exporter of petroleum products in 2011 for the first time in 62 years.
. . .
According to data released by the U. S.Energy Information Agency on Tuesday, the U. S. sent abroad 753.4 million barrels of everything from gasoline to jet fuel in the first nine months of this year, while it imported 689.4 million barrels.
According to the article, our balance has been improving since 2005, with imports decreasing and exports increasing.

Anything happen in 2005 that might have contributed to this change?  Why yes, but if you believe the 2005 Energy Act is partly responsible for this change, then you will have to give credit to Bush and, most likely, Cheney.

And you will want to be careful about doing that in some circles.

(Democrats in Congress tried to reverse some of the provisions of the 2005 Act in 2007, but mostly failed.)
- 6:30 PM, 30 November 2011   [link]

Why Would The Democrats Say They Are Abandoning The White Working Class?  That's the question that James Taranto takes up in today's Best of the Web.
Our item yesterday on Democrats' giving up on the "white working class" vote, along with Bill McGurn's column on the same subject, got us to puzzling over why. Not why would they do it--the theory that President Obama has irretrievably lost support within this voting bloc, and is better off focusing his attention on minorities and college-educated whites, is entirely plausible. But why would they advertise it?
Taranto's answer, that the Democratic leaders are trying to raise morale, seems implausible to me.

I think the answer is simpler.  Democratic leaders are not, openly, saying they are giving up on the white working class.  Instead, a few unnamed strategists have said that, possibly in answer to questions.

One of the vices common to political strategists is a willingness to "talk tough" off the record.  This shows their partisans that the party is going to fight hard to win the next election.

So when Thomas Edsall, or some other reporter, asks one of these strategists, off the record, how they can win without the white working class, they have an answer ready.  They might say that they plan to win with a top-bottom coalition, with minorities and upper class, liberal whites.

They might say that, but they won't act as if they believed that — if they are any good at all as political strategists.  Barring some catastrophe, Barack Obama will get millions of working class white votes next November.  He won't get a majority of their votes, but he will find it far easier to win if he can come close to, say, 40 percent of their vote.

How will they appeal to working class whites?  Through the unions, and the claim that Obama is getting us out of foreign entanglements.

(The same logic applies on the Republican side.  One of the reasons that George W. Bush won a solid victory in 2004 was that he did better among Hispanics, though he did not come close to winning a majority of their vote.  And you could find strategists on the Republican side who talked tough about not trying to win Hispanic votes.)
- 2:48 PM, 30 November 2011   [link]

Two Contrasting Views On The Iranian Attack On The British Embassy:  Here's the basic story, along with a some useful historical background, from the BBC.

At noon, I picked up copies of the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal and was surprised by how different their stories were, not conflicting exactly, but contrasting.

The Times story began with this lead paragraph:
Iranian protesters shouting "Death to England" stormed the British Embassy compound and a diplomatic residence in Tehran on Tuesday, tearing down the British flag, smashing windows, defacing walls and briefly detaining six staff members in what appeared to be a state-sponsored protest against Britain's tough new economic sanction against Iran.
The Journal story began with this lead paragraph:
Several hundred Iranian students on Tuesday stormed and ransacked the British embassy compound in response to new economic sanctions against the country's nuclear program, an attack stemming in part from the increasingly toxic fight for political control being played out between conservatives in the Islamic republic.
You will have noticed that the Times story is written from a perspective outside Iran, and the Journal story from a perspective inside Iran.

And so you won't be surprised to learn that one of the Journal reporters, Farnaz Fassihi, has what appears to be an Iranian name.

Which view is more accurate, or, if you prefer, less inaccurate?  I haven't the faintest idea.  But I do recall that the 1979 takeover of the American embassy was part of an internal Iranian power struggle.

(One thing you will find in both stories, and in this post, is that many Iranians have an outdated view of British power.)
- 1:28 PM, 30 November 2011   [link]

If The Obama Administration Wants To Make Gun Rights Supporters Suspicious, this should do it.

After all, almost no one hides something — unless they have something to hide.
- 12:34 PM, 30 November 2011   [link]

Keeping Campaign Promises (2):  Here are two small examples of American politicians keeping campaign promises, legal and illegal.  (The illegal example is in the box.)
A vote is set for Tuesday, led by the D.C. mayor's hand-picked taxi commission chairman, that would nearly double cab fares for an industry that backed Vincent Gray's mayoral bid and gave free rides to get his supporters to the polls.

The proposal in front of the D.C. Taxicab Commission would raise the per-mile rate for cab rides from $1.50 to $2.75.  In 2010, the industry lobbied hard for Gray.  One cabbie wondered Monday why it took so long for Gray to keep his campaign promise.
Note that the cab drivers expect the mayor to keep his promise — in order to keep their support.

(This is a follow-up to my earlier, more general post, arguing that American politicians keep most of their campaign promises.

In the past, Washington has had more cabs per person than most American cities, because the industry was less regulated.  That may be changing.  If so, jobs are likely to disappear.)
- 9:51 AM, 30 November 2011   [link]

Jon Corzine Bankrupted MF Global pretty much the way people guessed.
Jon Corzine bet $11.5 billion on European sovereign debt in his bid to rebuild profits at MF Global Holdings Ltd., almost twice the net amount disclosed to investors, and relied on short-term hedges that left the firm exposed to larger losses if they couldn’t be rolled over.

Corzine, who was chairman and chief executive officer of the futures broker before it went bankrupt last month, overcame resistance from directors, senior traders and risk managers to accumulate the bonds, according to two people with knowledge of the situation.
(Emphasis added.)

Assuming that those two people know what they are talking about.  (And they probably do.)

(Incidentally, investigators may have found $200 million of the missing $1.2 billion — in Britain.)
- 8:11 AM, 30 November 2011   [link]

Romney's Change Of Heart On Abortion:  Kathleen Parker provides a positive account.
Romney’s own change of heart evolved not from personal experience but rather from a purposeful course of study.  I know this because I know the man who instructed him in 2005 on the basics of embryonic life during the stem-cell research debate then taking place in Massachusetts.  As governor at the time, Romney was under intense pressure to help flip a state law that protected embryos from stem-cell research.  Some of that pressure came from Harvard University, Romney’s alma mater, where scientists hoped to assume a leading role in stem-cell research.

The politically expedient choice was obvious, but Romney took a more thoughtful approach and sought to educate himself before staking out a position.  Enter William Hurlbut, a physician and professor of biomedical ethics at Stanford University Medical School.   For several hours, Hurlbut and Romney met in the governor’s office and went through the dynamics of conception, embryonic development and the repercussions of research that targets nascent human life.  It was not a light lunch.

The result of that conversation and others was a pro-life Romney, who kept his campaign promise to honor the state’s democratically asserted preference for abortion choice but also began a personal path that happened to serve him well, at least theoretically, among social conservatives.  Was his conversion sincere?  No one can know another’s heart, but Hurlbut is convinced that it was.
I don't see anything implausible about that account.  We know that Romney studies problems, and we know that many men and women have changed their minds on abortion, as they grew older.

(We also know that Romney, unlike many other politicians, was not obsessed with politics from an early age, despite his father's experience.   Instead, he was serving as a Mormon missionary (in France!), earning two advanced degrees from Harvard, raising a family, having a successful business career, and running the Winter Olympics.)
- 7:55 AM, 30 November 2011   [link]

Rezko And Obama, Again:  Tony Rezko's sentencing drew little attention from "mainstream" journalists, and many did not even bother to mention his many connections to Barack Obama.

David Freddoso, who wrote a fine book on Obama's early career, summarizes what we know about the relationship between the two men:
Rezko also cultivated Obama, right from the beginning of his political career.  He provided the seed money for Obama's first run for office.  He bundled over a quarter-million dollars for Obama's many campaigns, before he was finally indicted.

In 2008, the talk was all about a curious land purchase Rezko made through his wife, which smoothed the way for Obama to buy a beautiful home next door.
. . .
This is not the sordid stuff of Blagojevich-like corruption, but that's setting a pretty low bar.  The Obama-Rezko love affair provided mutual benefits whose costs were ultimately borne by the taxpayers.
Was there anything illegal in this love affair?  Perhaps not.  (You'd have to know way more than I do about Illinois laws to judge that.)  But were parts of it unethical?  Absolutely.

And the taxpayers of Illinois are still paying for that love affair.
- 6:30 AM, 30 November 2011   [link]

The European Debt Crisis Has Made Some Europeans Unhappy With Chancellor Merkel:   Very unhappy.

Germany has been giving aid — on conditions — and has managed to make voters inside and outside Germany unhappy.

(If you are wondering — I was — those are the flags of the Republic of Ireland, Greece, and Italy.)
- 6:21 PM, 29 November 2011   [link]

We're 40th Out Of 42:  This morning, I was skimming through the current issue of the Economist.  As I almost always do, I looked at the financial tables in the back.

Since the US deficit is the big issue right now, I checked to see how we compared to other countries in the world.  Ours is not quite the largest, relative to our GDP; there are two nations out of the forty-two in the magazine's list that are borrowing even more, relatively, than we are.

Our deficit for 2011 is 9.0 percent of our GDP.  That barely beats Greece (9.1 percent), but is solidly ahead of Egypt (10.0 percent).  Both of those countries, as I am sure you know, have a few troubles of their own.

Oh, and I noticed two nations in that list that have large surpluses, oil producers Norway and Saudi Arabia.

(Economist Paul Krugman, winner of the Nobel Prize and New York Times columnist, thinks our deficit is too low.  He has not, as far as I know, told us how much bigger it should be.

How good are the numbers?  It depends on the nation, I am sure, but even the best GDP estimates almost certainly have significant errors in them.  And a few in that list may, I suspect, be best described as informed guesses.)
- 12:53 PM, 29 November 2011   [link]

Democrat Charles Ebinger Stills Believes In Power To The People:  Which puts him out of step with his party.
Let me say upfront that I have always been a Democrat.  However, I also vote my conscience and have supported independent candidates.  Today, energy policy is one area where I think my party is wrong.

I wasn't always a disillusioned Democrat.  For decades, the party's policies ensured that the United States had adequate supplies of domestic oil, natural gas, coal, hydroelectric power and uranium to fuel our growing economy while providing good-paying jobs to the men and women who produced our energy and transported it.  These policies helped create America's affluence of the 1950s, 1960s and early 1970s.
. . .
How far we have fallen from those days.  Today's Democratic leadership has reached a nadir in rational energy policymaking.
Decades ago, the Democrats mostly represented working people, people who produced things, including energy.  Now, most of their leaders seem ashamed to be associated with anyone who produces anything useful, including energy.
- 10:07 AM, 29 November 2011   [link]

Entitlements, Income Taxes, Medicare, And The Wealth Gap:  Congressman Paul Ryan asked the Congressional Budget Office to study the relationships among them.
Many may find the results of the CBO study surprising.  It turns out, Ryan reports, that federal income taxes (including the refundable Earned Income Tax Credit) actually decreased income inequality slightly between 1979 and 2007, while the federal payroll taxes that supposedly fund Social Security and Medicare slightly increased income inequality.  That’s despite the fact that income tax rates are lower than in 1979 and payroll taxes higher.

Perhaps even more surprising, federal transfer payments have done much more to increase income inequality than federal taxes.  That’s because, in Ryan’s words, “the distribution of government transfers has moved away from households in the lower part of the income scale.  For instance, in 1979, households in the lowest income quintile received 54 percent of all transfer payments.  In 2007, those households received just 36 percent of transfers.”

In effect, Social Security and Medicare have been transferring money from low-earning young people (who don’t pay income taxes but are hit by the payroll tax) to increasingly affluent old people.
Those who have been reading this site regularly won't be surprised by the first paragraph, but the rest may surprise you.  But you can understand the rest if you think about the immense growth in Medicare during that period — and remember that Medicare is not means tested.

There's much more worth reading in the Barone column.

(One caveat:  I believe that households in the lower income quintile are smaller now than they were in 1979.)
- 8:51 AM, 29 November 2011   [link]

Ezra Klein Is A Democratic Activist:  So I wasn't surprised to see that he had given a talk to Democratic staffers, even though he is technically a journalist working for the Washington Post.

But I was disturbed by the possibility that the staffers thought they had something to learn from him.  A quick glance at his career and publications shows us that there is no reason to think that he knows much about policy, or cares much about mere facts.  He's an activist with few scruples, and little knowledge.  (And that may be be too polite, since it is likely that much of what he believes is wrong.)

That the staffers were interested in listening to him made me wonder about their scruples and their knowledge.  I could see them listening to him to get some useful attack lines in next year's election, but I could not see them listening to him to learn anything about policy.

Mickey Kaus — who shares my low opinion of Klein's abilities — has a more pleasant explanation of this odd event; the staffers were just "reverse source greasing", just flattering Klein in order to get some favorable coverage — which they received.

I hope that Kaus is right, but I can't help worrying about those Democratic staffers.
- 7:36 AM, 29 November 2011   [link]

Iceland Went Bankrupt:  Effectively, anyway.

So, how is the country doing now?

Better, though Ambrose Evans-Pritchard cites projections, rather than results, in his post.
Unemployment will reach 18.5pc in Greece, 22.9pc in Spain, 14.1pc in Ireland, 13.8pc in Portugal.

Yet Iceland stands out, with 2.4pc growth and unemployment tumbling to 6.1.  Well, well.
Actually, -4.0 percent and 7.5 percent in 2010, according to the table.  But the country is projected to hit Evans-Pritchard's numbers in 2012.

I wouldn't accept projections as easily as he does, but his general point is correct; Iceland is doing better than countries that have tried to follow the Eurozone rules.

(How did Iceland get into its mess?  Briefly, the country deregulated its banks, and the banks went nuts.  You can find a detailed discussion here, or you can get the basics by reading the first paragraphs of this Michael Lewis article.)
- 6:07 AM, 29 November 2011   [link]

Young Recruits:  Very young recruits.  But the Labrador puppies look serious as they begin their training to be assistants to disabled soldiers (and others).

(Here's the charity's web site if you want to contribute, know more, or just see more cute puppy pictures.

I'm impressed that the trainer was able to get the puppies to pose like that, even for a few seconds.)
- 3:33 PM, 28 November 2011   [link]

Are American Politicians Honest?  Here, I want to begin with a cynical definition of honest politician: a man, who, when bribed, stays bribed.

Needless to say, the formal studies of whether American politicians perform for bribes are rare.  But, from what I can tell, most bribed politicians do perform as the person who bribed them expects them to perform.

They are "honest", by that cynical definition, mostly for the obvious reason:  If they want to stay in business, so to speak, they have to keep most of their promises, even their under-the-table promises.

But, let's soften the definition and define an honest politician as one who keeps his campaign promises.  By that softer definition, are American politicians honest?

More often than not, in my opinion.

The best evidence I have on this question is unfortunately somewhat dated, coming as it does from a study by Gerald Pomper done in the late 1960s.  (It has, from my point of view one great advantage; it is sitting on my desk.)  Pomper looked at the national platforms from 1944 through 1964, extracted the specific promises, and came to this overall conclusion;
What does this degree of fulfillment indicate?  Is it significant that nearly three-fourths of all pledges are kept in some way?  Or is it more significant that over a quarter of all pledges are not redeemed?  Whatever the exact measurement employed, it is notable that platforms are considered at all, for the party manifestos have usually been scorned, not respected.  To find any fulfillment of party pledges is rather remarkable, in light of the conventional wisdom. (p. 191)
Parties are more likely to keep their promises if they win the White House.  No surprise there, but it is good to see evidence, even dated evidence, that our election choices matter.

From this, and other, more recent evidence, I conclude that whoever is elected president in 2012 will try to keep most of his promises, and will succeed in keeping many of them — even promises that go against his past record and, perhaps, his convictions.  This is particularly true for the Republicans since they will have the lure of a second term in front of them.
- 1:42 PM, 28 November 2011   [link]

It's Gotten Harder For American Businesses To Pay Their Taxes:  Relative to businesses in other countries, and perhaps absolutely.

While other nations have been simplifying their business tax codes (and often lowering rates) the United States has, if anything made business taxes more complex.
America's decline in the rankings is attributable to tax-policy stagnation as other countries reform their own revenue codes.  Already a notably complex system with the second-highest corporate tax rate after Japan, the U. S. tax code appears ever more cumbersome compared to countries that grow simpler and cheaper by the year.
I would guess that this burden is, again relatively, heavier for small and medium-sized businesses than for behemoths like General Electric.

We need more engineers, and fewer tax lawyers, in our businesses.
- 12:50 PM, 28 November 2011   [link]

Do House Democrats Think 2012 Will Be A Good Year For Them?   No.
Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) is the 17th House Democrat to announce a retirement this cycle compared to seven Republicans.

And all of those Republicans are trying to win higher office.
And most of them have learned, again, that it's less fun being in the minority.
- 12:25 PM, 28 November 2011   [link]

What's The Top Story At The Huffington Post?   (Or, as James Taranto calls it, the Puffington Host.)  Barney Frank's decision not to run for Congress.

It's always interesting to see what's important to our news organizations.

The brief story manages to avoid mentioning any of Frank's scandals.  Which is unfortunate because some of them are serious, and some of them are amusing.

(Sadly, the Wikipedia article on Frank misses most of them, too.  For instance, they don't mention that, for a time, he had a "partner" who was selling sex out of Frank's Washington home, nor do they directly connect Herb Moses and Frank's protection of Fannie Mae.  As I mentioned in June, Frank and Moses make the Morgenson-Rosner "Fannie Mae and Friends" list.)
- 10:08 AM, 28 November 2011   [link]

Was Dominique Strauss-Kahn Set Up?  Edward Jay Epstein raised that question in his recent New York Review of Books article.

The Washington Post summarizes his argument and includes some replies from the hotel chain in this article.

(The New York Sofitel where the "incident" occurred is owned by a French company, Accor.)

My own view:  There is no public account that completely explains the actions of either Strauss-Kahn or Diallo, but we have learned enough about the two so that we can not trust what either has said.  Unfortunately, that implies that we may never know what happened, for certain.

(There is nothing implausible about a set-up.  Rough tactics have been used in French politics forever.  And supporters of Sarkozy would know of Strauss-Kahn's proclivities)
- 8:47 AM, 28 November 2011   [link]

Thousands Of Conservatives Will Be Hurt by this Politico headline: "Obama's toughest critic: Obama".

Including, I have to admit, this conservative, who likes to think he has been fairly — pun intended — critical of President Obama.  But at least, unlike, for instance, Charles Krauthammer, I can console myself that Jennifer Epstein has probably never even heard of me.

(Epstein says that George W. Bush was not "known for his introspection".  A better way to capture the difference between the two men is to say that Bush doesn't feel compelled to talk about himself all the time.)
- 7:24 AM, 28 November 2011   [link]

Duelfer's Correction:  The best piece I found in the New York Times today was this letter from Charles Duelfer correcting historian Alan Brinkley.

Here's the main paragraph:
In his Nov. 6 review of political memoirs by Donald Rumsfeld (“Known and Unknown”) and Dick Cheney (“In My Time”), Alan Brinkley asserts that I insisted, “with no visible evidence,” that Saddam Hussein wanted to recreate Iraq’s capability to produce weapons of mass destruction.  The 2004 report of the Iraq Survey Group (which I headed — it is known as the Duelfer report) was over 1,200 pages and contained much original data collected at great cost in time, energy and lives.  The Iraq W.M.D. picture was complicated, but certainly Hussein retained the ambition to reconstitute his programs when circumstances permitted.  There is much data to support this in the report, which is available online.  In addition, there is still more data now available through the Conflict Records Research Center, which is making available translations of recordings of Hussein’s key meetings.
I knew that; in fact, I noticed the mistake in the Brinkley review three weeks ago.

Why didn't historian Alan Brinkley, who has a few credentials, know that?  Why didn't he do what should be routine for a historian, and check the original source?

I don't know the answers to those questions, but I do know that Professor Brinkley owes Mr. Duelfer, and the readers of the New York Times, an explanation and an apology.

(There is another part of the Duelfer report that was ignored by almost everyone on the left:  The team concluded that there was evidence that Saddam Hussein had moved WMDs out of Iraq before the war, not conclusive evidence, but enough evidence to "merit further investigation".

The Wikipedia article minimizes the Duelfer findings; I suppose that I should look up the original and work through it again some time.)
- 5:25 PM, 27 November 2011   [link]

Tatiana Limanova Was Fired For Her Rude Gesture:  But it probably wasn't directed at President Obama.
Apparently Tatiana’s gentle finger was directed at her filming crew, who probably had made comments about her stuttering in the first sentence.  She heard it in her earpiece and flipped the bird in response, thinking she was speaking off camera over the footage of the conference.  Reading Obama’s name as she did was a mere coincidence.
That explanation fits her, uh, performance, better.  I recall noticing that she was not looking into the camera as she spoke.  (The video is no longer legally available on YouTube, but I imagine you can find it somewhere else with a little searching.)

(Tim Blair, who thought she was dissing President Obama, has a job suggestion for her.

I've added a correction to the original post.)
-2:43 PM, 27 November 2011   [link]

NYT Versus WSJ:  Last week, the Wall Street Journal published a long, and insightful, piece on Herman's Cain's political evolution.  (You can read a little more of the article in this post, or you can use Google to bypass the pay wall.)

Last week, the New York Times published a long, and not very interesting, piece on Mitt Romney's hair.

Both stories made the front page of their newspapers.

That contrast shows something, I think, about how our two most important newspapers are changing.

It's only fair to add that the Times has published substantive pieces on Romney, though I haven't seen any as good as the Journal's article on his 2005 changes in political positions.

But it is still true that, in general, the Journal has more substance, and the Times has more style.

(For the record:  The Times claims that voters and "pundits" are fascinated by Romney's hair.  This voter, and would-be pundit, gave Romney's hair about a minute of thought, after reading that article, and thinks that's about all the time anyone else should give it, unless they are in the hair styling business.)
- 7:02 AM, 27 November 2011   [link]

Curtis Warren Has Executive Talent:  Judging by his accomplishments — even while in prison.
Britain's most notorious drug baron has been issued with an extraordinary warning to stop running his multi-million-pound criminal empire when he is released from jail.

Curtis Warren, 48, a convicted killer who once topped Interpol’s most wanted list, is in a high-security prison serving a 13-year sentence for cannabis smuggling.
. . .
Warren, a former bouncer once described as the ‘most successful British criminal who has ever been caught’, was jailed in 1995 while living in the Netherlands after Dutch police found a haul of drugs and banknotes worth £125million.

While in prison, he killed a convicted murderer, Cemal Guclu, during a fight.
If he had less executive talent, he would be less destructive.

(As I understand it, most American drug kingpins would stay away from direct contact with drugs in any quantity.  It would be interesting to know why Warren didn't follow that prudent practice, especially after he had served one jail sentence.)
- 4:03 PM, 26 November 2011   [link]

A Record Birth In Germany:  But one that's hard to celebrate, given the name the parents chose for the baby boy.
- 2:44 PM, 26 November 2011
Young Jihad won't lack for companionship in his family.
The boy will join nine brothers and four sisters — four of which had birth weights of more than five kilograms.
Nor will the family be impoverished by this birth, thanks to Germany's Kindergeld.   If all of his siblings are younger than 25 (and haven't earned a "professional qualification"), the family will receive more than 3,000 euros a month from that source alone.   (A euro is currently worth about $1.30.)
- 8:03 AM, 28 November2011   [link]

Lemons And Limes As Deadly Weapons:  I thought that G. Gordon Liddy "lemons" cartoon was funny because it was so absurd.

But, if this Daily Mail article can be believed, some "health and safety" bureaucrat in Britain has been worrying about citrus weapons.
Marisa Zoccolan, 31, popped into the new Asda supermarket close to her home in Wallsend, North Tyneside, to pick up some groceries, including the citrus fruits.

But when she tried to pay for them at the self-service checkout, the message 'amount exceeded, authorisation required' flashed up.

An assistant then came over and told her that more than one lime was deemed a weapon - because the citric acid could be squirted in someone's eye.
I am somewhat skeptical about this story — it's sounds too funny to be true — but I have seen so many funny "health and safety" regulation stories from Britain that I won't dismiss it, without seeing more evidence.

Thanks to "narciso" for the tip.
- 8:51 AM, 25 November 2011
Okay, it was a joke by a store employee — but it was a joke that was believed, for a while.  And that tells us something about "health and safety" regulations in Britain.
- 9:15 AM, 25 November 2011   [link]