October 2009, Part 1

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Those CBO Estimates On The Baucus "Bill"  Let's keep this simple.   There is no Baucus bill.

The much-reported CBO estimates of its total costs are based on absurd assumptions about cost cutting, especially in Medicare.

Even with those absurd assumptions, Baucus and company had to play games with time intervals to make the "bill" look less expensive than it is.
The Finance Committee staff are using timing gimmicks to "game the budget window."  They are slipping implementation dates and new subsidy programs by six months here and there so that a smaller share of new government spending shows up in CBO's measured 10-year timeframe.  This has the effect of allowing them to increase total actual long-term government spending, while holding scored spending constant.  The figures being tossed around casually in the press of a $8XX B bill or a $9XX B bill are misleading, because they represent spending over different timeframes.  What matters are the long-term cost per year and the growth rate of that cost.
Oh, and the "bill" still leaves 6 percent of the population uninsured.
- 1:51 PM, 8 October 2009   [link]

Think Our "Mainstream" Reporters Aren't Willing To Tackle Obama Scandals?   Then you'll want to read this tough, hard-hitting article.
- 12:57 PM, 8 October 2009   [link]

Do Leftists Hate Chicago?  When Chicago lost the bid for the 2016 Olympics, those who wish the city well should have celebrated.  Winning the Olympics would have been bad for the city, as Chicagoans were beginning to understand.
A Tribune poll found that support for the Olympics dwindled over the summer, with residents sharply divided over whether the city should host the Games.

Nearly as many city residents surveyed opposed Daley's Olympic plans (45 percent) as supported them (47 percent).  And those surveyed increasingly and overwhelmingly oppose using tax dollars to cover any financial shortfalls for the Games, with 84 percent disapproving of the use of public money.
(Those pushing the Chicago bid often cited a Zogby poll that showed high support.  But that poll covered the Chicago area, not just the city.)

Chicago had voted to cover any Olympic losses.  Mayor Daley claimed, again and again, that the Olympics would not cost the taxpayers anything.  No informed person believes him.  No informed person even believes that Chicago could have gotten the federal government to pay for all of the cost overruns.  For one thing, Chicago was planning to spend much less than other, recent Olympic cities.  For another, Chicago is not famous for low-cost, corruption-free projects.

If all of the Chicago citizens had known just how much the Olympics would cost them, far more than 45 percent would have opposed the bid.

Cost is not the only reason many residents opposed the bid.  The city has such severe problems, most notably high levels of crime and corruption, and poor schools, that many residents thought that the city should work on those problems before planning a great show for the world's wealthy.  (In general, you have to be quite well off to watch the games in person.)

Those backing the bid claimed that Chicago, even its poorer residents, would benefit from the influx of tourists and the new facilities that would be built.  Some would, no doubt, but it is hard to believe that the majority would benefit from a few temporary jobs as bus boys, maids, and waitresses, or from the new facilities for synchronized swimming, and other exotic events.

None of this argument is complicated; none of it rests on obscure facts.  Anyone who wants to understand those facts can read pieces by local opponents of the bid, including Steve Chapman, John Kass, and Andy Shaw.

Despite the fact that winning the bid would have been bad for Chicago, leftists all the way from President Barack Obama to, locally, blogger  David Goldstein, supported the bid, and were unhappy when Chicago lost.

Does this show that all these leftists hate Chicago?  Probably not, though a few of them may.  (I often wonder whether Obama himself cares for Chicago, given his record in that city.  He built a successful political career in the city, without ever doing much for it, and while allied to political figures who have damaged the city in many ways.)  I think most of these leftists never even thought about whether winning the bid would be good for Chicago; they just reacted as unthinking partisans.  Their reasoning, if you can call it that, went something like this:  People they hate (Republicans, conservatives) were happy that Chicago lost the bid; therefore the bid was a good thing.  And, though I haven't made a systematic survey of their thinking — and don't plan to — I haven't run across any of them who even thought about the growing opposition to the bid in Chicago.
- 10:26 AM, 8 October 2009   [link]

When Unrepentant Terrorist Bill Ayers Admitted That He Wrote Obama's Book:   He was telling the truth — in order to make everyone think he was lying.  That's Ann Althouse's guess.

Complicated, but not too complicated to be true, and consistent with what we know about Ayers.

You can find background on the controversy here and here.
- 6:11 AM, 8 October 2009   [link]

It's A Joke!  Saturday Night Live did an Obama sketch in which the impersonator admitted to having accomplished only two things: "Jack and squat."

The sketch was mildly funny, but it struck a nerve.  CNN felt compelled to "fact check" it.
If you don't think "Saturday Night Live" is funny anymore, try watching CNN.  Those guys are hilarious.  Yesterday on Wolf Blitzer's "Situation Room," the network "fact checked" an SNL skit.  No joke! The transcript is here, video is here.  "How much truth is behind all the laughs?"  Blitzer intoned as he teased the upcoming segment.  "Stand by for our reality check."
A reality check on a joke.  That's much funnier than the original sketch.  And more than a little bit revealing.

(You can see the SNL sketch in many places; this post follows the sketch with some sensible comments.)
- 12:47 PM, 7 October 2009   [link]

Worth Reading:  Jean Kaufman's comparison of two visions, Reagan's and Obama's.  Here are her concluding paragraphs:
But that doesn't quite capture the flavor of Obama's mission.  Obama is not merely observing a downward trend and trying to shepherd this nation through the process.  He believes such a downward direction is the morally proper one for America and Americans, the only way we can be forgiven our manifold sins and emerge purified through humility and sacrifice.

Obama also believes that he is the special instrument by which the nation can accomplish this transformation.  That, more than any specific policy on any specific issue, is the goal of Obama's presidency: the shriving and humbling of America.  That is what Obama means by "fundamental change."
What she says applies more to foreign policy than to domestic policy.  If she is right, that Obama vision of this country explains his apology tours (and much else).
- 10:57 AM, 7 October 2009   [link]

Michelle Obama Unveils Her Art Choices For The White House:  The Associated Press gushes.

The Washington Post's Blake Gopnik calls the choices political.
Working with curators at the White House and at the local museums that made loans, the First Couple selected some works whose politics are explicit, and mild.  They seem to redress past imbalances in the nation's sense of its own art.  There are works by African Americans (seven paintings from three artists, out of a total of 47) and by Native Americans (four artists contributed three modern ceramics and one abstract painting).  There are also 12 paintings depicting Native Americans, by the 19th-century ethnographic artist George Catlin.
But not political enough for his tastes, if I understand him correctly.

Are her choices art?  You can decide for yourself; the Post provides a gallery showing some of the choices.  I thought that two of the Native American pots were decent, though I've seen better — and that's about as far as I can go in answering that question and still be civil.
- 8:44 AM, 7 October 2009
Take a look at Ed Ruscha's painting.   It doesn't quite say "The buck stops here", does it?  Some see a political message in the painting, an unflattering message.
- 10:33 AM, 7 March 2009   [link]

There Is No Good Alternative To The Guantánamo Terrorist Prison:   Even the Obama administration is beginning to figure that out, though they will probably punish an underling for Obama's failure to understand that during the campaign.

First the unpleasant facts:
Some Bush administration officials contend that the one-year timeline was driven by a naïveté on the part of Obama's aides.

"To a certain extent, they had drunk a lot of the far-left Kool-aid: that everybody, or most people, at Guantanamo were innocent and shouldn't be there, and the Bush administration was not working very hard to resolve these issues, and that the issues were fairly easy to resolve once adults who were really committed to doing something about it in charge," said one Bush official who met with Obama's aides during the transition on Gitmo.  "It became clear to me they had not really done their homework on the details."
And there is this practical obstacle:  Few politicians are willing to accept terrorists in their backyard.   This should not surprise anyone, but did.

Since there is no good alternative to Guantánamo (there are some equally bad alternatives), the Obama administration must find someone to blame for its failure to close the facility.
Greg Craig, the top in-house lawyer for President Barack Obama, is getting the blame for botching the strategy to shut down Guantanamo Bay prison by January — so much so that he's expected to leave the White House in short order.
That was the Politico's lead paragraph, but I think the failure of Obama and his team to understand this issue is far more important.  And I think that, instead of dumping Craig, they should admit that they were wrong.

(If the terrorists were moved to the US, they would be housed in "supermax" prisons, which are not pleasant places.)
- 7:36 AM, 7 October 2009   [link]

Great Straight Line From Mayor Nickels:  Last week, Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels said:

I have nothing but joy in my head.

I'll leave the punch lines to you.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(Those not in this area may need to know that Mayor Nickels came in third in the primary earlier this year, and will be looking for a new job soon.)
- 5:41 AM, 7 October 2009   [link]

Monthly Generic Congressional Vote:  Here are the latest results from Rasmussen.

Trends in generic Congressional vote, 7 September 2008 - 4 October 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.)

There hasn't been much change in the generic vote over the summer, but there has been a big change since last year.
This past summer, support for Republican candidates ranged from 41% to 44%, while support for Democrats ranged from 36% to 40%.  Looking back one year ago, support for the two parties was strikingly different.  Throughout the summer of 2008, support for Democratic congressional candidates ranged from 45% to 48%.  Republican support ranged from 34% to 37%.

However, in September, for the second straight month, the number of Americans identifying themselves as Democrats inched up while the number of Republicans fell by half a percentage point.
Those changes in August and September are so small that they may just be sampling error.

(Caveat:  As I mentioned in the original post, some pollsters do not care for Rasmussen's methods.  You should know that he samples likely voters and weights his samples by party.  Other pollsters often sample voters, or even adults, and are less likely to weight their samples as Rasmussen does.  Those differences explain, at least partly, why Rasmussen's polls are almost always more favorable to Republicans than other polls.

Here are the graphs for May, June, July, August, and September for comparison.  Next month I'll probably do a graph showing more than a year at a time, for those who would like to look at the bigger picture.)
- 1:30 PM, 6 October 2009
Gallup gets results that are close to Rasmussen's.
Forty-six percent of registered voters say they would vote for the Democrat and 44% say the Republican when asked which party's candidate they would support for Congress, if the election were held today.
Ordinarily, registered voters are two or three points more Democratic than likely voters.

There is bad news for Congressional incumbents in the rest of the release.  Republicans should not get too excited by that result, since the party's image is still damaged.  We don't know yet how much they will be able to take advantage of the Democratic party's problems.
- 8:02 AM, 7 October 2009   [link]

Obama, Human Rights, And The Dalai Lama:  in 1975, then President Ford, on the advice of Henry Kissinger (and others), refused to meet Soviet dissident (and Nobel prize winner) Alexander Solzhenitsyn.

That refusal was taken, then and now, as a sign that Kissinger and Ford put human rights second to power politics, second, in particular, to achieving detente with the Soviet Union.

Now President Obama has made a similar, but weaker gesture, postponing a meeting with the Dalai Lama, so as not to annoy the Communist Chinese.
In an attempt to gain favor with China, the United States pressured Tibetan representatives to postpone a meeting between the Dalai Lama and President Obama until after Obama's summit with his Chinese counterpart, Hu Jintao, scheduled for next month, according to diplomats, government officials and other sources familiar with the talks.

For the first time since 1991, the Tibetan spiritual leader will visit Washington this week and not meet with the president.  Since 1991, he has been here 10 times. Most times the meetings have been "drop-in" visits at the White House.  The last time he was here, in 2007, however, George W. Bush became the first sitting president to meet with him publicly, at a ceremony at the Capitol in which he awarded the Dalai Lama the Congressional Gold Medal, Congress's highest civilian award.

The U.S. decision to postpone the meeting appears to be part of a strategy to improve ties with China that also includes soft-pedaling criticism of China's human rights and financial policies as well as backing efforts to elevate China's position in international institutions, such as the International Monetary Fund.  Obama administration officials have termed the new policy "strategic reassurance," which entails the U.S. government taking steps to convince China that it is not out to contain the emerging Asian power.
So we are softening our support for human rights in order to make it clear that we do not oppose Chinese expansionism.  That sounds like a win-win for the Beijing rulers, but I am unable to see how we, or our allies, benefit from this change in policy.

Whatever his faults, Kissinger worked hard to get something for the US in return for our concessions to the Soviets and to the Chinese communists.  Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton seem to operate on the principle that we should give up a quid, without any guarantee that we will get a quo in return.  And that our principles can be set aside temporarily, that the Chinese can be appeased by us postponing a meeting with the Dalai Lama.  Most likely, the Beijing rulers, who are not stupid, will be both amused and annoyed by this ploy.

Perhaps we will get in something in return for these unilateral concessions, but Robert Barnett is not hopeful:
"We've got the classic case of a Western government yet again conceding to Chinese pressure that is imaginary long after that Chinese pressure has ceased to exist," said Robert Barnett, a Tibetan expert at Columbia University.  "The Chinese must be falling over themselves with astonishment at what Western diplomats will give them without being asked.  I don't know what the poker analogy would be.  'Please, see all my cards and take my money, too?'"
Generally speaking, if you make that kind of offer in a poker game, or in diplomacy, the other side will accept it, but will not feel obliged to reciprocate.

(Note, by the way, that the account of this policy change comes mostly from those making the policy, not from critics.  So it is fair to assume that they are not ashamed of this policy shift.)
- 11:05 AM, 6 October 2009   [link]

You Can Fool Some Leftwing Journalists Some Of The Time:  But you can't fool all leftwing journalists all of the time.  Three examples:

The Washington Post's Richard Cohen wonders whether Obama meant what he said.
This is the president we now have: He inspires lots of affection but not a lot of awe.  It is the latter, though, that matters most in international affairs, where the greatest and most gut-wrenching tests await Obama.  If he remains consistent to his rhetoric of just seven weeks ago, he will send more troops to Afghanistan and more of them will die.  "This is not a war of choice," he said.  "This is a war of necessity.  Those who attacked America on 9/11 are plotting to do so again.  If left unchecked, the Taliban insurgency will mean an even larger safe haven from which al-Qaeda would plot to kill more Americans."
And what Obama believes, and whether he is serious about being president.

The New Republic's Marty Peretz suspects that Obama may be a "clinical narcissist".
What I suspect is that the president is probably a clinical narcissist.  This is not necessarily a bad condition if one maintains for oneself what the psychiatrists call an "optimal margin of illusion," that is, the margin of hope that allows you to work.  But what if his narcissism blinds him to the issues and problems in the world and the inveterate foes of the nation that are not susceptible to his charms?

Chicago will survive its disappointments and Obama will, as well.  It is the other stage sets on which the president struts--like he strutted in Cairo and at the United Nations--that concern me.

I know that the president believes himself a good man.  My nervy query to him is: "Does he believe America to be a good country?"
And fears that narcissism blinds Obama.

The New York Times' Frank Rich has discovered that there is lobbying going on in Washington, despite Obama's campaign promises.  Rich has not given up on Obama, but his faith has been shaken by just how brazen the lobbyists are.  (Rich should, but won't, consider this simple truth:   When the government passes out immense sums, it attracts lobbyists as surely as garbage attracts flies.)

I suppose that I should see these pieces positively, as signs that even leftist journalists can see the truth about Obama (or at least his administration), given enough evidence, and enough time.   But I can't because all of this was obvious before he was elected.  We can be glad that a few leftwing journalists are beginning to catch on, but we can't give them any credit for beginning to see what they should have seen all along.
- 7:36 AM, 6 October 2009   [link]

Some Of The Extras Didn't Dress Right:  But the White House was able to provide the necessary costumes.
A sea of 150 white-coated doctors, all enthusiastically supportive of the president and representing all 50 states, looked as if they were at a costume party as they posed in the Rose Garden before hearing Obama's pitch for the Democratic overhaul bills moving through Congress.

The physicians, all invited guests, were told to bring their white lab coats to make sure that TV cameras captured the image.

But some docs apparently forgot, failing to meet the White House dress code by showing up in business suits or dresses.

So the White House rustled up white coats for them and handed them to the suited physicians who had taken seats in the sun-splashed lawn area.
Because the TV picture is the main thing.
- 4:59 AM, 6 October 2009   [link]

When Is Reform Actually "Reform"?  President Obama and his allies again and again say that they favor health care reform, or sometimes health insurance reform.  But do their proposals actually fit the usual definition of reform?

First, a brief — and very simplified — review of recent history.  Since 1965, when the United States established Medicare and Medicaid, we have increased spending on health insurance — and we have increased regulations intended to control that spending.  The first has been a spectacular success; the second has generally been a failure.  When regulators actually succeed in cutting spending, they often see medical providers leave the market.  For example, I have been told by two dentists that they did not accept Medicaid patients because the payments weren't worth the bureaucratic hassle.  (Both dentists do substantial amounts of charity, preferring to give their work away, rather than sell it at Medicaid rates.)  And I have read that many doctors are not accepting new Medicare patients, for similar reasons.

(I am not saying that there have been no successful reform proposals during this period — we did, for example, establish health savings accounts — just that most of the changes have meant more regulation, more spending or, usually, both.)

Simplifying drastically, President Obama and his allies proposals for health insurance reform would vastly increase regulation to control spending and — despite Obama's denials — vastly increase spending.

In other words, Obama proposes to do more of the same things we have been doing since 1965.  (That will remind some of a classic joke definition of insanity.)

Doing more of the same doesn't fit my dictionary's definition of reform.  And that's why I call Obama's proposals "reform", rather than reform.

(For some real reform proposals, read this long, and very well-informed David Goldhill article.)
- 10:26 AM, 5 October 2009   [link]

That Very High Teenage Unemployment?  May be caused, partly, by an increase in the minimum wage.
The September teen unemployment rate hit 25.9%, the highest rate since World War II and up from 23.8% in July.  Some 330,000 teen jobs have vanished in two months.  Hardest hit of all: black male teens, whose unemployment rate shot up to a catastrophic 50.4%.  It was merely a terrible 39.2% in July.

The biggest explanation is of course the bad economy.  But it's precisely when the economy is down and businesses are slashing costs that raising the minimum wage is so destructive to job creation.  Congress began raising the minimum wage from $5.15 an hour in July 2007, and there are now 691,000 fewer teens working.

As the minimum wage has risen, the gap between the overall unemployment rate and the teen rate has widened, as it did again last month.  (See nearby chart.)  The current Congress has spent billions of dollars—including $1.5 billion in the stimulus bill—on summer youth employment programs and job training.  Yet the jobless numbers suggest that the minimum wage destroyed far more jobs than the government programs helped to create.
As the Wall Street Journal goes on to say, most academic studies of the effects of increases in the minimum wage conclude that it increases unemployment for the unskilled, especially those who are both young and unskilled.  (And common sense should also lead us to that conclusion; raising the price of labor almost always decreases the demand for that labor.)

If the Republicans had kept control of Congress, the minimum wage would not have increased, or would not have increased so much, and so destructively.
- 9:45 AM, 5 October 2009   [link]

Worth Reading:  Ross Douthat's column on inequality in America.

To really create a more egalitarian America, we have to address trends that run deeper than the tax code.  But many of these are issues that the Democrats are either unwilling or ill equipped to tackle.

For instance, inequality is driven in part by low-skilled immigration: it nudges wages downward for native workers, and the immigrants themselves are taking longer to achieve upward mobility than earlier generations did.
. . .
Inequality is also driven by the collapse of the two-parent household, which disproportionately affects the poor and working class, depriving them of the social capital they need to rise.
. . .
If you funnel enough of a nation's gross domestic product through a bureaucracy, the gap between the upper class and everybody else usually compresses.

But economic growth often compresses along with it.  This is already the logic of our current fiscal trajectory: ever-larger government, and ever-slower growth.
Read the whole thing.

(Incidentally, George W. Bush's tax cuts made our individual income taxes slightly more progressive.  And so did tax cuts by his two predecessors, Bill Clinton and George H. W. Bush.  We may be getting close to practical limits on how much we can reduce inequality through changes in the federal income tax.)
- 9:24 AM, 5 October 2009   [link]

When British Journalists Write About The United States, They Make Mistakes:  (And I am sure that American journalists make mistakes when they write about other countries, or, to be more precise, even more mistakes than they do when they write about the United States.)

That wouldn't matter much if the rest of the world didn't get so much of its news about the United States through these British journalists.

This morning, I ran across two examples of those British mistakes.  The first was in an article on the author Raymond Carver, and described a visit to his widow, poet Tess Gallagher, at the Carver home in Port Angeles.  The reporter, Gaby Wood, gives us this description of the area.
She imagines we must be hungry after our long trip to this watery, northernmost tip of the country.  Gallagher was born in Port Angeles; Carver was born a few hours' drive away.   She has said that the exposed, unornamented landscape inspired him, that it had something in common with the "forsaken quality" to be found in the lives of his characters.
If you think that Port Angeles is the "northernmost" tip of the country, I suggest that you look at a map of the United States that includes Alaska.  (Port Angeles isn't even the "northernmost" tip of Washington state.)

If you think that the landscape there is "exposed, unornamented", I suggest that you look at the views here or here.

(Did Gallagher actually say those things?  I have no idea, but they do seem to have been chosen to match Carver's writing style, rather than the spectacular scenery around Port Angeles.)

The second was in a article on California's troubles.  In the meandering, ill-informed piece was this misleading paragraph on Mendota.
Nowhere is the economic cost of California's crisis writ larger than in the Central Valley town of Mendota, smack in the heart of a dusty landscape of flat, endless fields of fruit and vegetables.   The town, which boldly terms itself "the cantaloup capital of the world", now has an unemployment rate of 38%.  That is expected to rise above 50% as the harvest ends and labourers are laid off.   City officials hold food giveaways every two weeks.  More than 40% of the town's people live below the poverty level.  Shops have shut, restaurants have closed, drugs and alcohol abuse have become a problem.
That's misleading because, nowhere in the paragraph (or anywhere else in the article) does the reporter, Paul Harris mention one of the main reasons for Mendota's problems:  A lawsuit by California environmentalists cut off much of the area's irrigation water.

Instead, Harris implies that Mendota's problems have something to do with "suburban sprawl".   (A glance at a map of California will show you that Mendota is not a suburb.)  He implies that, without ever saying so.  I can't tell from the article whether he knows the facts — and chooses to conceal them from his readers — or whether he never bothered to find out why unemployment is so high in Mendota.

Those two mistakes were made by journalists working for a respected news organization.  And they share something — probably.  In each article, the journalist had a theory and forced the facts to fit the theory, rather than testing the theory against the facts.

Wood knows that Carver had an unornamented style, and thought that his landscape should match his style.  Harris is convinced that California's problems are caused by "suburban sprawl", and drags in the farm town of Mendota to support his argument.

There are technical names for that particular error in reasoning; one of the best is confirmation bias.  It is found everywhere, but I do wish that journalists were a little less prone to that mistake.  And I especially wish that I found it less often in British accounts of the United States, since those accounts inform, or often misinform, so much of the world.

(If you want to understand California's problems, I recommend, as I have before, this piece by Joel Kotkin.)
- 9:11 AM, 4 October 2009   [link]

John Kass Regrets Chicago's Loss Of The Olympics:  Not because the Olympics would have been good for Chicago — they wouldn't have — but because Kass lost a chance to make big money.
Just before Chicago's embarrassing fourth-place finish in the Olympics sweepstakes in Copenhagen on Friday, my young friend Wings and I were about to make a killing in the T-shirt business.  We were set to order hundreds of thousands, and sell them at a ridiculously high markup, The Chicago Way.

On the front, the shirt would have said, in the official Olympics script, "Chicago 2016."

And on the back?

"Terre Haute 2020."


As every Chicago politician knows, Terre Haute, Ind., is home to a federal prison.  That's where a few would be tossed after boodling their way to Olympic fortunes.  And why 2020?  That's how long it would take for grand juries to do their work.
If you want to understand the arguments against Chicago hosting the Olympics or if you just want to be entertained, read the rest of the column.
- 5:57 AM, 4 October 2009   [link]

"THE EGO HAS LANDED WORLD REJECTS OBAMA: CHICAGO OUT IN FIRST ROUND"   Matt Drudge's headline is more evidence for my theory that he is a better tabloid editor than most.  That's a great headline.

(Just so we are clear, I am not criticizing Drudge, I am complimenting him.  I think tabloid editors, by making news interesting, often serve a valuable function.  Not always, but often.)
- 10:29 AM, 3 October 2009   [link]

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's Family Was Jewish!?  Here's the story.
A photograph of the Iranian president holding up his identity card during elections in March 2008 clearly shows his family has Jewish roots.

A close-up of the document reveals he was previously known as Sabourjian — a Jewish name meaning cloth weaver.

The short note scrawled on the card suggests his family changed its name to Ahmadinejad when they converted to embrace Islam after his birth.
Bizarre, but not impossible.

And that's as far as I will go since I am unqualified to assess Iranian documents, and know nothing about traditional Iranian names.  The Telegraph did contact a number of experts on the subject, and all of the experts support the Telegraph's conclusion.  (But then I have no way to evaluate those experts, though I did like the fact that they all spoke on record.)
- 9:47 AM, 3 October 2009
Other experts have different opinions.
- 11:09 AM, 5 October 2009   [link]

Times (NY) Versus Times (London):  Both newspapers criticized Obama's attempt to win the Summer Olympics for Chicago.  The New York Times, which has still not recovered from Bush Derangement Syndrome, was unintentionally funny.  After paragraphs of praise for Obama (and criticism of Bush), they ended with this:
We like having an articulate, fiercely competitive president, especially one with such a strong moral compass.  But guys, if you're going to roll the dice, next time make sure the stakes are worth it.
They really believe that Obama has a "strong moral compass".  And they don't understand that a product of the Chicago machine would definitely consider the stakes worth it.

Tim Reid, writing in the London paper, was serious.   Here are his lead paragraphs:
There has been a growing narrative taking hold about Barack Obama's presidency in recent weeks: that he is loved by many, but feared by none; that he is full of lofty vision, but is actually achieving nothing with his grandiloquence.

Chicago's dismal showing yesterday, after Mr Obama's personal, impassioned last-minute pitch, is a stunning humiliation for this President.  It cannot be emphasised enough how this will feed the perception that on the world stage he looks good &mdashl; but carries no heft.
Reid follows that with a devastating indictment of Obama's performance to date.

Perhaps the New York Times should outsource its editorial writing.
- 7:21 AM, 3 October 2009   [link]

Here's A Surprising poll result.
For nearly two years, economic issues have held the top spot in terms of importance among voters.

But the latest national telephone survey shows that 83% now view government ethics and corruption as very important, placing it just ahead of the economy on a list of 10 key electoral issues regularly tracked by Rasmussen Reports.  Eighty-two percent (82%) of voters see the economy as very important.

This is the first time since October 2007 that voters have rated ethics and corruption as more important than the economy.  Voters viewed the two issues evenly in November and December 2007 before placing a higher priority on the economy starting in January 2008.
Rasmussen's description of their finding is misleading.  The respondents were not asked to compare corruption and economic issues, just whether each is "very important".  I would bet ten dollars to a doughnut that, if the respondents were asked to compare the two, economic issues would come out way ahead.

That said, Rasmussen is probably right to conclude that the importance of the corruption issue is growing.  And some voters, most of them Republicans, are beginning to blame Obama for corruption.
The new findings come at a time when 43% of voters say the president is doing a poor job addressing government ethics and reducing corruption, up five points from early September and the highest level measured since he took office.  Forty percent (40%) now give the president good or excellent ratings on his handling of the issue.
I'm in that 43 percent.  If Obama truly wanted to cut back on corruption, he would not, for instance, have hired Valerie Jarrett.
- 1:37 PM, 2 October 2009   [link]

The Public Doesn't Trust Obama As Commander In Chief:  So says Jennifer Rubin, citing a recent poll.
The latest Fox News/Opinion Dymanic poll is chock-full of bad news for the president.  But on foreign policy, the results are nothing short of stunning.  On who they trust more to decide the next steps in Afghanistan. 66 percent say military commanders, while only 20 percent say the president.  Even Democrats have more faith in the military commanders (by a 45 to 37 percent margin).  On Iran, 69 percent say Obama has not been tough enough, including 55 percent of Democrats.  Sixty-one percent favor a U.S. military action, if needed, to keep Iran from getting nuclear weapons.  Fifty-one percent think Obama apologizes for American too much.
And why should the public trust Obama as commander in chief?  He has no military or foreign policy accomplishments, and almost no experience.  So far, most of his policy changes have been, at best, naive.

All of this was predictable.  As one who predicted it, I suppose I should add, again, that I would much rather have been wrong.
- 10:51 AM, 2 October 2009   [link]

Will Losing The Olympics Be Good For Chicago?  Possibly.   Chicago has enough bread, and didn't need a circus to distract citizens from the city's very real problems, notably a high crime rate and endemic corruption.  Losing the Olympics may — and note that I said may — help opponents of the current city government to challenge that government, may even bring some much-needed reforms.

But only possibly.  Many opponents, and possible opponents, of the current Mayor Daley are no more reformers than he is.  They oppose him, not because they want to improve the city, but because they want a bigger share of the taxpayers' money for themselves.
- 8:57 AM, 2 October 2009   [link]

Urban Imperialists Attack The Navajo And Hopi:  And the tribes are protesting.
The president of the Navajo Nation joined other Native American leaders this week in assailing environmentalists who have sought to block or shut down coal-fired power plants that provide vital jobs and revenue to tribes in northern Arizona.

"These are individuals and groups who claim to have put the welfare of fish and insects above the survival of the Navajo people when in fact their only goal is to stop the use of coal in the U.S. and the Navajo Nation," said Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley Jr., who presides over America's largest Indian reservation, which sprawls over three states and claims a population of about 250,000.

Shirley's remarks came Wednesday after the Hopi Nation's Tribal Council sent a message Monday to the Sierra Club and a handful of other environmental groups: Stay off the reservation
The Hopi and the Navajo are not wealthy, not even well off, unlike most environmentalists.

(Most likely, those power plants are located in northern Arizona in part because environmental groups have blocked the construction of power plants in California, even, or perhaps I should say, especially, clean nuclear plants.)
- 3:50 PM, 1 October 2009   [link]

Do Spending Stimulus Packages Work?  Economists Barro and Redlick say no.
The global recession and financial crisis have refocused attention on government stimulus packages.  These packages typically emphasize spending, predicated on the view that the expenditure "multipliers" are greater than one—so that gross domestic product expands by more than government spending itself.
. . .
For annual data that start in 1939 or earlier (and, thereby, include World War II), the defense-spending multiplier that applies at the average unemployment rate of 5.6% is in a range of 0.6-0.7.  A multiplier less than one means that, overall, other components of GDP fell when defense spending rose.  Empirically, our research shows that most of the fall was in private investment, with personal consumer expenditure changing little.
They get similar results for non-defense spending, although multiplier estimates are harder to make.

On the other hand, tax rate cuts seems to work quite well.
For data that start in 1950, we estimate that a one-percentage-point cut in the average marginal tax rate raises the following year's GDP growth rate by around 0.6% per year.  However, this effect is harder to pin down over longer periods that include the world wars and the Great Depression.
If they are right, then countries that emphasized tax rate cuts, rather than big spending increases should do better than countries that followed the opposite policy.  (And a multiplier less than one may help explain Japan's long period of stagnation beginning in the early 1990s, stagnation that continued in spite of government efforts to stimulate the Japanese economy with additional spending.)

(More on the findings from Megan McArdle.)
- 10:50 AM, 1 October 2009   [link]

Michelle Obama Thought We All Needed A Laugh:  What else could explain this?
In her speech in Copenhagen today, First Lady Michelle Obama said her trip to Denmark, along with the travel of her "dear friend" and "chit-chat buddy" Oprah Winfrey, as well as tomorrow's visit by President Obama, is a "sacrifice" on behalf of the children of Chicago and the United States.
Let me join the group saying that, if our country (and the children of Chicago) requires a similar sacrifice from us, we are willing to make it.  Having to fly, at taxpayer expense, on a visit to one of the great cities of the world would be a hardship, but we are willing to do that for the country (and the children of Chicago).
- 9:17 AM, 1 October 2009   [link]

Another Big Democratic Donor Charged With Fraud:  This time, in Iowa.
Phyllis Stevens' alleged embezzlement of nearly $6 million from Aviva USA left her political allies almost speechless Tuesday as they tried to reconcile whether the political activist who contributed thousands of dollars to candidates over the last four years and formed two Iowa political action committees might also be a crook.

"I am just absolutely astounded by this," said Diane Krell, a fellow member of the Progressive Coalition of Central Iowa.  "I am shocked and really have been since I have heard about it."

Others who knew Stevens, including former Iowa gubernatorial candidate Ed Fallon, also expressed shock about Stevens' arrest and the allegation by Aviva officials that the compensation specialist had spent most of the last five years embezzling an estimated $5.9 million from one of the world's largest insurance firms.
I doubt that this case will get much publicity from our "mainstream" journalists, because Stevens is very active in lesbian causes.  (A close reading of the article will show you how "mainstream" journalists will try to protect her, and her causes.  Note, for instance, that the reporter, Tom Witosky, does not include even a single reaction from a Republican leader.)

From what I have seen so far, I don't think Stevens was trying to buy protection with her donations; instead, I think she was spending money on luxuries, including these donations, without much thought of possible legal consequences.

(Stephens was contributing heavily to leftwing candidates in Colorado, as well as Iowa.

There are some interesting speculations in the comments following the article.  I hope someone, "mainstream" journalist or conservative blogger, follows up on some of those lines of investigation.)
- 6:35 AM, 1 October 2009
More:  Stevens was earning just $40,000 a year, but spending far more than that.  However, the article doesn't say whether her marriage partner (wife?) Maria had any income, so we don't know for sure just how much the two had to spend on houses and political contributions.
- 2:01 PM, 1 October 2009   [link]

Obama Supporters On Wall Street Are Feeling Burned:  That's the claim made in this Charles Gasparino op-ed.
In the depths of the financial crisis last year, people like Morgan Stanley's John Mack, BlackRock's Larry Fink, Greg Fleming (then of Merrill Lynch), JP Morgan's Jamie Dimon and Goldman Sachs' Lloyd Blankfein were telling everyone that candidate Barack Obama was a "moderate," and moderation was what this country needed.

What a difference a year makes.  They won't admit it in public -- but in private conversations, the top guys on Wall Street are feeling burned.
We might find this reaction amusing, and wonder how these sharp guys were fooled so easily, except for this:
I'm told that Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and chief economic adviser Lawrence Summers have both complained to senior Wall Street execs that they have almost no say in major policy decisions.   Obama economic counselor Paul Volcker, the former Fed chairman, is barely consulted at all on just about anything -- not even issues involving the banking system, of which he is among the world's leading authorities.

At most, the economic people and their staffs get asked to do cost analyses of Obama's initiatives for the White House political people -- who then ignore their advice.
So Obama's more sensible economic advisors are also feeling burned.  Most likely, Obama sees them as supporters, not advisors, as I said last year, or even as "bunting", as decoration to provide a political background, as I said in March.  If that admittedly cynical view is correct, Volcker and Summers are there to fool the rubes (including the rubes on Wall Street), not to give Obama advice.

Who does Obama rely on for economic advice?  Read the end of the column for Gasparino's amazing answer.

(Caveat:  Although Gasparino names many names, all of his sources are anonymous.)
- 5:16 AM, 1 October 2009   [link]