September 2009, Part 1

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Probably Not the best way to get a date.
- 4:43 PM, 8 September 2009   [link]

Sixteen To Go?  Maybe.
At least 23 House Democrats already have told constituents or hometown media that they oppose the massive healthcare overhaul touted by President Barack Obama.

If Republicans offer the blanket opposition they've promised, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) can afford to lose only 38 members of her 256-member caucus and still pass the bill.
On the other hand, Pelosi and Reid claim they have the votes now.

Of course, there isn't a single bill in either the House or the Senate, so it is hard to know what to make of these preliminary counts.
- 4:03 PM, 8 September 2009   [link]

China Has A Near-Monopoly On The Production Of Rare Earths:  Should that concern us?  Yes.

Here's the story that worried other industrial nations.
China is set to tighten its hammerlock on the market for some of the world's most obscure but valuable minerals.

China currently accounts for 93 percent of production of so-called rare earth elements — and more than 99 percent of the output for two of these elements, dysprosium and terbium, vital for a wide range of green energy technologies and military applications like missiles.
. . .
In each of the last three years, China has reduced the amount of rare earths that can be exported.   This year's export quotas are on track to be the smallest yet.  But what is really starting to alarm Western governments and multinationals alike is the possibility that exports will be further restricted.
According to the article, China is doing this to force companies to move manufacturing facilities to China.  The Chinese want to, for instance, export cars, or at least car parts, rather than ores.  (For example, a Toyota Prius now uses several pounds of neodymium.  If Toyota can't buy the neodymium it needs for the Prius from China, it would have to redesign the car, or move some of the production to China.)

After the articles appeared, China backtracked, and now says that it will limit exports of two rare earths, dysprosium and terbium, but not eliminate exports of the two metals completely.

Still, we, and other industrial nations, would be wise to restart our own production of rare earths — and some companies are already doing so, in the US and elsewhere.

China achieved its near monopoly in rare earths by charging less than other producers.  Many believe the Chinese were able to lower prices because they ignored most of the damage to the environment that other nations try to control.

Governments, especially the US government, could help break this monopoly.  For instance, our government could look for ways to speed up permitting, so that old US mines can be reopened more quickly, and new ones started without years of delays.  The likelihood that the Obama administration will do this, or help break the monopoly in other ways, is so low that I won't even estimate the probability.

And so we will lose a little more of our manufacturing base.  (According to the Wikipedia article, linked below, a small division of General Motors has "shut down its US office and moved all of its staff to China in 2006", in order to get access to the rare earths it needs.)

During the Cold War, the United States accumulated stockpiles of strategic metals that we did not produce, or did not produce in large enough quantities to meet our needs, especially in war time.   We don't need to go back to those policies, but we should recognize that there were valid reasons for them.

(There are seventeen rare earth elements, scandium, yttrium, lathanum, cerium, praesodymium, neodymium, promethium, samarium, europium, gadolinium, terbium, dysprosium, holmium, erbium, thulium, ytterbium, and lutetium.  All but the first two are lanthanoids.

Among their uses are:
Rare earth elements are incorporated into many modern technological devices, including superconductors, samarium-cobalt and neodymium-iron-boron high-flux rare-earth magnets, electronic polishers, refining catalysts and hybrid car components.[5]  Rare earth ions are used as the active ions in luminescent materials used in optoelectronics applications, most notably the Nd:YAG laser.   Erbium-doped fiber amplifiers are significant devices in optical-fiber communication systems.   Phosphors with rare earth dopants are also widely used in cathode ray tube technology such as television sets.  The earliest color television CRTs had a poor-quality red; europium as a phosphor dopant made good red phosphors possible.  Yttrium iron garnet (YIG) spheres have been useful as tunable microwave resonators.  Rare earth oxides are mixed with Tungsten to improve its high temperature properties for welding, replacing thorium which was mildly hazardous to work with.
Though the names of these elements may be unfamiliar, you have been using them for years.

Despite the name, rare earths are not rare, and are found in many nations.  Historically, they were difficult to separate from each other, but technical advances in the 1950s and 1960s solved those problems.

Here's a defense of the Chinese actions from China.

If you want to know more about these elements, you can start with this fancy periodic table, which Marty Mazur found quite recently.)
- 1:37 PM, 8 September 2009   [link]

That Obama Campaign Speech To The School Kids Wasn't Bad:  Joanne Jacobs, who has good judgment on education, thinks it was fine.
I think it's an excellent speech.  I wonder what the critics will find to justify their fears.   He uses himself as a role model?  Well, he says he made mistakes but got second chances that let him pursue his dreams.  That doesn't seem very "Dear Leaderish" to me.  Should he tell students they have a duty to their country — not just to themselves — to become the problem solvers and innovators of the future?  It's not what I would call a radical idea.  These are old-fashioned American values.
(Law Professor Ann Althouse is more critical.)

I thought it would have been a better speech if he had left out most of the talk about himself — and much better if he had said "I" less often.  But then I think that about almost all Obama speeches.

It would have been less of a campaign speech if he had been bipartisan enough to give some credit to both Presidents Bush, if he had said that they had had similar messages for school children.

(There is one section of the speech where I think he crossed the line, but I'll discuss that separately, in a later post.)

Jacobs wonders what critics will find to justify their fears about the speech.  Not much, in my opinion, in the speech itself.  But critics find much to fear in the changes in our schools since the 1960s.  Moira Breen provides a striking example.
As my daughter describes it, every year in her school career, from the time history was taught as a separate subject (3rd or 4th grade, I think), the teacher began the year by telling the students that he or she is not going to teach that rah-rah, Great Man, patriotic booshwa which the teacher is sure is all they've ever heard.  But they never, as a matter of fact, and have never, gotten anything but the Howard Zinn version.  This is in two different states, leaving my daughter to wonder where this fabled Fatherland indoctrination is going on.  As she summarizes the view of American history she'd have if she had no independent reading life: "American Revolution. Genocide of natives.  Slavery.  Civil War.  Jim Crow. Susan B. Anthony.  Jim Crow, Jim Crow, Jim Crow, Jim Crow, Jim Crow, Jim Crow, Jim Crow.  Civil Rights."  (Actually, since she got into high-school and the advanced history classes it's not quite that bad, and a lot more rigorous, systematic, and even-handed.  They now use several textbooks only one of which is by Howard Zinn.  But the teachers still seem to think they're rockin' the students' smug bourgeois world, man.)
Breen has much more to say, and you will want to read it all.  Not only is the curriculum unbalanced toward the left, it is often unsuited for younger children.

That's one example; those familiar with our public schools can provide thousands more.  And there is this disturbing fact:  Unrepentant terrorist (and political supporter of Barack Obama) Bill Ayers is a highly respected professor of education.

Libertarian, conservative, moderate, and open-minded liberal parents have good reason to worry about the indoctrination of their children by the public schools.  Some of them were wrong to condemn the Obama speech, but you can understand why so many parents are touchy.

(Democrats were harshly critical of a similar speech by George H. W. Bush, and even did a formal congressional investigation.

Here's the prepared Obama speech, if you want to read the whole thing.)
- 10:44 AM, 8 September 2009   [link]

Is The Obama Administration Backing Latin America Democracies?  Or subverting them?
At present, free elections are under siege south of the Rio Grande -- from narco-gangs in Mexico, from Venezuelan-backed Marxist terrorists in Colombia, from the kleptocrat Kirchner-family regime in Argentina and from Castro clones in Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Venezuela.

Hugo Chavez is not only buying extensive weaponry from Russia, but distributing arms to the FARC terrorists in Colombia next door and equipping the Bolivian military for a confrontation with Chile -- while accusing the United States of plotting multiple invasions.

Chavez has murdered, kidnapped, jailed and tortured political opponents.  He's seized control of the economy (and not just health care), wrecking it in the process.  Dissent has been crushed, with even old comrades of Chavez jailed without trial on trumped-up charges. Venezuela's media, once vibrant and free, has been destroyed.

This is the guy with whom our president's siding on the Honduras crisis.
Ralph Peters goes too far when he calls the leaders of Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Venezuela "Castro clones", but he is right to see a troubling pattern.

And Peters isn't the only one who sees that pattern.  So does Hugo Chavez.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a fierce critic of U.S. foreign policy who once called George W. Bush "the devil," said on Monday he hoped to be able to work more closely with President Barack Obama.
. . .
"With Obama we can talk, we are almost from the same generation, one can't deny that Obama is different (from Bush). He's intelligent, he has good intentions and we have to help him."
Chavez has helped other democracies by sending illegal campaign contributions to his allies, and by supporting narco-terrorists.  We can only hope that he does not help us in the same way.
- 7:07 AM, 8 September 2009   [link]

Would Obama Have Fired Van Jones If Jones Hadn't Resigned?  As far as I can tell, no "mainstream" reporter has asked that follow-up question.  On Sunday, Axelrod left it open.
The resignation of Obama administration figure Van Jones, following controversies over a petition he had signed and his comments about Republicans, did not come at the request of the president, the White House senior adviser said Sunday.

"Absolutely not -- this was Van Jones' own decision," David Axelrod told NBC's "Meet the Press" when asked if the president had ordered the resignation.
We can't know for certain whether Obama would have fired Jones if Jones hadn't quit on his own.   But the Reverend Wright controversy gives us a hint.  Obama attended Wright's church for two decades, and did not drop Wright until forced to, for political reasons.  Most likely, Obama didn't see much wrong with what Wright was saying all those years.  Most likely, Obama doesn't see much wrong with Van Jones' statements and background.  (And at least some in his administration knew something about that background.)

So the answer to my question is:  Probably not, it Van Jones hadn't become a big political liability.

(Axelrod refused to criticize Van Jones in that Meet the Press program, though Gregory gave him several opportunites to do so.)
- 5:21 AM, 8 September 2009   [link]

Strange Expressions:  Take a look at this photograph.  All right, now tell me what Obama and Joseph Medicine Crow are thinking.

My own guess is that Obama is straining to put the medal on, because of the headdress, and that Crow is 95 years old.  But that sure wasn't my first impression.

(Crow has had a remarkable life.   Among other things, in World War II he "completed all four tasks required to become a war chief".)
- 6:21 PM, 7 September 2009   [link]

A Better Battery Design?  Maybe.  We need better batteries for many reasons, so these laboratory results are very encouraging.
A new type of air-fueled battery being studied could provide up to 10 times the energy storage of designs currently available, and someday be used to power electric cars, mobile phones, and laptops, say researchers.

"Our results so far are very encouraging and have far exceeded our expectations," said professor Peter Bruce, of the University of St Andrews' chemistry department, in a news release Monday.

The new idea the researchers are examining is to replace the lithium cobalt oxide electrode in today's rechargeable lithium batteries with a porous carbon electrode.  This allows lithium ions and electrons in the cell to react instead with oxygen in the ambient air, according to a press release from the U.K.'s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, which finances the research conducted at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.
If this new design is successful, in five years we could have batteries that are lighter, more powerful, and cheaper than current lithium batteries.  That sounds almost too good to be true.

(There's a little more here.)
- 2:51 PM, 7 September 2009   [link]

Labor Union Day:  And today we can read two contrasting stories about unions.

Union leaders think they haven't gotten much from the Obama administration.
Today that [early] euphoria is giving way to a mixture of frustration and unease, as union leaders are growing concerned that the Obama White House has not delivered as much as they had expected.   Some criticize him for not pushing hard enough or moving fast enough on their issues, while others blame the deep recession and Republican opposition for his failure to do more.
. . .
"He gets an A for effort, and an incomplete for results," the incoming president of the A.F.L.-C.I.O., Richard L. Trumka.

While labor leaders, including the current A.F.L.-C.I.O. president, John J. Sweeney, say they remain extremely supportive of the president — especially his handling of the economic crisis — Mr. Trumka set off an uproar last week when he warned that unions would not support a health care bill that lacks a government-backed insurance plan.  It was a shot across the bow to the White House, which is weighing whether to compromise on the so-called public option.
Meanwhile, the public has turned against unions.  Gallup:
Gallup finds organized labor taking a significant image hit in the past year.  While 66% of Americans continue to believe unions are beneficial to their own members, a slight majority now say unions hurt the nation's economy.  More broadly, fewer than half of Americans -- 48%, an all-time low -- approve of labor unions, down from 59% a year ago.
Gallup also found that Americans think that unions help union members — but hurt non-members.

Forty-eight percent (48%) of Americans have at least a somewhat favorable opinion of labor unions, while 42% view them at least somewhat unfavorably.

But a new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds slightly stronger feelings on the negative side: While 15% view unions very favorably, 21% have a very unfavorable regard for them.

These findings are little changed from March but reflect an eight-point drop in favorability since last August.
How to reconcile these two views?  I think that the union leaders are being mostly sincere when they complain that they haven't gotten much from the Obama administration.   They contributed millions of dollars, and thousands of "volunteers", to elect him, and haven't seen him do much to pass the laws on their agenda.  (And the leaders may not realize just how unhappy many in the public are over the favorable treatment that the United Auto Workers received in the auto company bailout.)

But, at the same time, the union leaders do not recognize how many Americans have begun to see the benefits that unions, especially public service unions, have won for their members as unfair, as far too large to be justified.  When, for instance, people learn about the teachers in Los Angeles or New York who stay on the payroll for years, even though no one wants them in a classroom, they get a little unhappier with the teachers' unions, and, often, a little unhappier with unions generally.

Union leaders are unlikely to understand this shift in public opinion, because they have so little contact with those unsympathetic to unions.

Finally, it is likely that some of the shift in public opinion was caused by the election of Barack Obama.  If you suspect that the unions are getting too much, then the election of a pro-union president gives you another reason to worry about union power.

(The New York Times article does not mention it, but Richard Trumka's career gives many still another reason to dislike unions.  The union he once headed, the United Mine Workers, is infamous for violent strikes.   For example:
The [2005] strike pits some 1,500 members of the United Mine Workers against the A.T. Massey Coal Co.  Violence has become almost monotonous.  In the latest incident, a midnight explosion last week rocked the three-story brick district headquarters of the U.M.W. in Pikeville, Ky., incidentally shattering a huge portrait of the late union leader John L. Lewis that hung on the wall.  The strike has produced one death, hundreds of injuries and more than a thousand episodes of rock throwing, smashed windshields and punctured tires.  Gunfire has been commonplace.   Snipers killed a nonunion coal-truck driver, Hayes West, 35, in a convoy crossing Coeburn Mountain in late May.  Gunfire wounded Miner Judy Mullins, 40, in the hand in July while she was picketing in Canada, Ky.  The walls of an office at Rawl Sales & Processing Co., a Massey subsidiary in Lobata, W. Va., are pocked with bullet holes.  Somebody even soaped one highway and caused a nonunion truck to crash.
The violence came from both sides, but more came from supporters of the union than from opponents.   That's typical in these strikes, though you may not learn that from a "mainstream" news organization.)
- 2:07 PM, 7 September 2009   [link]

Franklin Raines Made Millions From Managing Fannie Mae:  Now, he is is serious legal trouble for decisions he made during those years.  Who is paying his legal bills?   We are.
It is still unclear what the ultimate cost of this bailout will be.  But thanks to inquiries by Representative Alan Grayson, a Florida Democrat, we do know of another, simply outrageous cost.   As a result of the Fannie takeover, taxpayers are paying millions of dollars in legal defense bills for three top former executives, including Franklin D. Raines, who left the company in late 2004 under accusations of accounting improprieties.  From Sept. 6, 2008, to July 21, these legal payments totaled $6.3 million.

With all the turmoil of the financial crisis, you may have forgotten about the book-cooking that went on at Fannie Mae.  Government inquiries found that between 1998 and 2004, senior executives at Fannie manipulated its results to hit earnings targets and generate $115 million in bonus compensation.  Fannie had to restate its financial results by $6.3 billion.

Almost two years later, in 2006, Fannie's regulator concluded an investigation of the accounting with a scathing report.  "The conduct of Mr. Raines, chief financial officer J. Timothy Howard, and other members of the inner circle of senior executives at Fannie Mae was inconsistent with the values of responsibility, accountability, and integrity," it said.
Raines is a Democrat, something Morgenson doesn't mention — but so is Congressman Grayson, who is helping to publicize these payments.  (And deserves some credit for that.)

These payments for his legal expenses are probably required by his contract, but that doesn't mean we have to like them.

(Ed Morrissey has more on this scandal.  Here's a Raines biography, and here's a limited defense of his actions when he was running Fannie Mae.)
- 11:09 AM, 7 September 2009   [link]

Obama Breaks Another Promise:  And the Chicago Tribune notices.
Why hasn't President Barack Obama kept his pledge to make Chicago's South Side his "Kennebunkport"?

Two words: Camp David.

The ultra-private, presidential mountain retreat -- a half-hour from the White House by helicopter -- has quickly found fans within the First Family.  Their stay for Labor Day weekend was Obama's 10th visit.
. . .
Obama has visited Chicago only three times as president.  The first trip in February was for three nights; later trips were in-and-out visits for part of the day.
The Secret Service is happy about this, though some Chicagoans might not be
- 8:51 AM, 7 September 2009   [link]

British Government Admits Trading A Terrorist For Libyan Oil:  The British Justice Secretary, Jack Straw, confesses to the Telegraph.
Later in 2007, he wrote to [Scottish Justice Secretary] Mr MacAskill saying that he could not exclude Megrahi from the PTA [prisoner transfer agreement with Libya].  In the letter, he cited "overwhelming interests for the UK".  The unanswered question is whether those interests included trade and, in particular, the stalled BP deal that was signed off soon afterwards.  For the first time he admits the link.

When I ask if trade and BP were factors, he says: "Yes, it was a very big part of that.  I'm unapologetic about that.  Libya was a rogue state.  We wanted to bring it back into the fold and trade is an essential part of it — and subsequently there was the BP deal."
But Straw claims that he didn't even talk to Prime Minister Gordon Brown about Megrahi's release.   That's strange, if true.  Ordinarily, British justice secretaries don't make foreign policy on their own, for the same reasons that American attorney generals don't.

Will Megrahi's release in return for oil encourage other nations to sponsor terrorism?   Probably, especially if those nations have oil.
- 8:29 AM, 7 September 2009   [link]

"Mainstream" News Organizations Were Almost Perfect On Van Jones:  But the Washington Post spoiled the record, at the last minute.
I've been waiting for the day when a prominent pol resigns and for print MSM readers it appears to be out-of-the-blue, though everyone on the Web knows the whole story.  But for WaPo's Franke-Ruta and Kornblut, this would be that case. . . . In any case, more evidence that you can't find out whats going on by reading the Times.
(The Post article was published yesterday.)
- 5:32 PM, 6 September 2009   [link]

If We Want To Get Along With The Canadians:  We probably shouldn't mess with their hockey teams.
Canada's six NHL teams are scrambling to find alternative travel arrangements south of the border after the U.S. Department of Transportation banned Air Canada's charter fleet from flying between U.S. cities.

In a furious exchange with the Obama administration over the mid-August ruling, Canada has launched its own investigation and will soon close its skies to U.S. sports team charters in retaliation, warns Transport Minister John Baird.

The sticking point is an eight-year-old exemption that had allowed sports and celebrity charters to make several pit stops in American cities.  Under existing open skies agreements, regular Canadian airline flights can only visit one U.S. city before returning.
The exemption seems perfectly reasonable to me.  I can not understand what the US gains from dropping it, especially since the Canadians have given the same exemption to US teams flying in Canada.

(Via Small Dead Animals.)
- 3:12 PM, 6 September 2009   [link]

Seattle's Latest Unwelcome Visitor has been captured and deported.
A cougar that has been prowling Discovery Park in Magnolia for about a week was released into the wild after being tracked, tranquilized and captured by wildlife officers this morning.

The 2 ½ to 3 year old male, reported to be in "great physical condition," was spotted by a park employee between 9 and 10 p.m., according to Capt. Bill Hebner of the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Wildlife officers responded to the park and tracked the cougar through the 534-acre preserve until about 1:30 a.m. today when the cat was immobilized with a tranquilizer and placed in a trap.
In 1981, there was another cougar in the same park.

Bears are regular visitors to some Seattle suburbs.  My own suburb, Kirkland, has a population of coyotes, which sometimes snack on pet cats and dogs.

(I half expected this cougar to be a male, since male cougars are much more likely to go roaming.)
- 2:51 PM, 6 September 2009   [link]

Van Gone:  Van Jones resigned early this morning.  Byron York has the best brief take on the resignation that I've seen.  Here's York's summary of the charges against the green jobs czar:
Observers had been predicting Jones' departure after word spread that Jones signed a 2004 petition supporting the so-called "9/11 Truther" movement; that he was a self-professed communist during much of the 1990s; that he supported the cop-killer Mumia abu-Jamal; that in 2008 he accused "white polluters" of "steering poison into the people of color communities"; that he was affiliated with an anti-American publication called "War Times" from 2002 to 2004; that in 2005 he said, "You've never seen a Columbine done by a black child"; and that earlier this year he called Republicans "a--holes."  When controversy erupted, Jones apologized for the "Truther" episode and his remarks about the GOP.
Remarkably, the New York Times did not cover this story until after Jones resigned, as York goes on to note.

For much more, look at Ed Driscoll's link-filled summary.
- 10:34 AM, 6 September 2009   [link]

Obama's Green Jobs Czar Was A Communist:  Historian Ron Radosh describes Jones' background.
The man in question is named Van Jones, and President Obama appointed him as a czar in charge of developing "green energy policy."  His exact title is Special Advisor for Green Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation at the White House Council on Environmental Quality.  His responsibility is to coordinate the stimulus spending to assure that a hefty portion of it goes to projects that promote green energy.
. . . .
As David Horowitz has pointed out, from 1992 until 2002, Jones was a member of a radical communist group that was dedicated to "organizing a revolutionary movement in America."  Arrested during the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles, and briefly sent to jail, Jones met, he said "communists and anarchists," and decided "'This is what I need to be part of.'"  He said that he spent "the next ten years of my life working with a lot of those people I met in jail, trying to be a revolutionary."

The group he joined was Storm, a Bay Area Marxist-Maoist collective staffed by members of radical nonprofit groups, who worked with another body Jones had founded, The Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, that sought to provide alternative to prison for African-Americans convicted of crimes.   Storm made its position clear in its published manifesto, Reclaiming Revolution:Standing Together to Form a Revolutionary Movement.  The group defined itself as a "revolutionary cadre organization," that understood that "revolutionary Marxist politics would be central to the development of a successful liberation movement in this country."  Its commitment was to "Marxist-Leninist politics," which posed a problem— since its shrewd leaders knew that "most young activists . . . were hostile to revolutionary Marxism."
(Radosh is an expert on American communism.)

So Van Jones hid his beliefs from many of his followers.  (And it is possible that he is still hiding them.)

Van Jones has said, as recently as 2005, that he was a communist.  (As I understand it, he no longer claims to be a communist, but he hasn't completely rejected that part of his life either.)

Here's how Politico's Lisa Lerer described that part of Van Jones' past.
His affiliation with a 1990s group called Standing Together to Organize a Revolutionary Movement has opened him to accusations that he associated with Communists.
When I saw that, I had to post a comment, with this final sentence.
Perhaps Lerer was a squid in an earlier life, given her ability to hide something behind a cloud of ink.
That "opened him to accusations" is a wonderful phrase, isn't it?  It implies that the accusations, are false, without saying so.  And Lerer never describes STORM, never gives the reader any idea why having an "affiliation" with STORM might make some think you were a communist.
- 4:23 PM, 5 September 2009   [link]

Japan Throws The LDP Out:  The Economist summarizes.
Japan is a decent, consensual and egalitarian country.  Much of it is still prosperous, despite a dismal period for the economy.  The beliefs of its two main political parties are often hard to tell apart.  Both their leaders are grandsons of (rival) prime ministers.  There were no loud celebrations when the results of the general election were announced on August 30th.  It is tempting therefore to write it off as no earth-shattering event.

That would be a mistake.  The vote, in which the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) broke the half-century lock of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) on power, marked the overdue destruction of Japan's post-war political system.  The question is what will now take its place.

There are three reasons to believe that this vote marks a big change.  The first is the scale of the DPJ's victory.  When the LDP lost once before, in 1993, it remained easily the biggest party in the Diet, and within 11 months was back in power.  Today, the LDP is devastated.  It keeps just 119 out of 480 seats in the lower house of the Diet, down from 300.  The DPJ has 308.
There's much more in the article, and I'll have more to say about this tsunami election soon.
- 2:25 PM, 5 September 2009   [link]

Is The Canadian Stimulus Plan Working?  So far, it looks like it is.
Canada added a better-than-expected 27,100 jobs in August, one of the biggest gains since the recession began in the country last fall.
. . .
The U.S.-equivalent based on labor market size would be 271,000 jobs gained.  The U.S. labor market is about 10 times the size of Canada's.
What was in the Canadian stimulus plan?  Mostly tax cuts, and infrastructure spending.
Among the elements of the latest budget are:
  • Tax cuts for lower and middle-income earners worth C$20bn
  • C$12bn in infrastructure spending including roads, bridges and clean energy programmes over two years
  • C$1.9bn in tax measures for businesses
  • Targeted loans and worker training programmes
The Canadian plan is smaller, relative to the size of the two economies, than the US plan, and seems better targeted.

Since most of the spending is on infrastructure, it is likely that Canadian men will get more of the stimulus jobs than women.  In contrast, the US stimulus plan directs most of the money toward women, even though US men have lost far more jobs than US women have.

(Unlike Barack Obama, Canada's leader, Stephen Harper, knows something about economics.  In fact, he earned a Master's degree in the subject, and has considerable business experience.)
- 10:06 AM, 4 September 2009   [link]

The Obama Health Insurance Plan Is Anti-Reform:  As even David Brooks has begun to recognize.
Instead of true reform we got a series of bills that essentially cement the present system in place.   The proposals do not fundamentally challenge the fee-for-service system.  They don't make Americans more accountable for their own health care spending.  They don't reduce costs.  They just add more people into the mess we've got.
(Brooks still thinks that Obama might come up with a more rational plan.  Why Brooks thinks that is unclear.  Maybe he is still admiring Obama's "perfectly creased pant".)

If we step back a bit, we can see why congressional Democrats would come up with an anti-reform plan, one that promises more of the same.  Most of the leaders have been in Congress approximately forever, and have been doing much the same things all that time.  To expect them to back a true reform plan is foolish.

It is especially foolish when those long-serving leaders come from machine politics backgrounds, as many, including Speaker Pelosi, do.  When machine politicians back reforms it is almost always because they think their own political survival is threatened.  The Democratic leaders in the House almost all have super-safe seats.

(It will be interesting to see if Senate Majority Leader Reid moderates his behavior, now that his political survival is very much in doubt.)
- 9:32 AM, 4 September 2009   [link]

Independents Are Moving Away From The Democrats:  Gary Andres explains why.
Why are these voters warming to Republicans again?  Their preference for divided government is one reason.  Surveys consistently show a majority of independents prefer divided government as a "check on the other party" rather than one-party control to "get things done."  While many still hold out hope for the success of the Obama presidency, they get squeamish about power concentrated in the hands on one party.

Independent voters are also among the most concerned with fiscal issues such as deficits and debt.   And the policies of the Obama administration and Democrats in Congress provide little relief to salve these concerns.  In fact, apprehension has grown throughout the year.  In January, 11 percent of registered voters in the Rasmussen tracking said "fiscal issues" were most important.   By August, that had risen to 18 percent.  More significant, however, is how closely independents track Republicans.  According to August Rasmussen data, 24 percent of Republicans and independents said fiscal issues were most important, compared to just 8 percent of Democrats.  Such similarities between Republicans and independents flow through all of the 2009 Rasmussen tracking surveys.

The issue matrix that animates these swing voters has shifted.  For many independents, unified Republican control of Congress and the White House led them to turn against the GOP in 2006.   Obama's post-partisan promises also resonated with them two years later.  But today we're back to unified government, only with the Democrats now in control.
And independents almost always prefer divided government.  (And they aren't always wrong in that preference.)

Could Obama and the Democratic leadership have lessened, or at least delayed, this shift?  Sure, by being half as fiscally responsible as Obama promised to be during the campaign, and by working with the Republicans on a stimulus package.  By, in other words, being a little more centrist, and a little bipartisan.

George W. Bush provided an example of how to do this.  He worked with leading Democrats to shape the No Child Left Behind Act.  Independents found that cooperation reassuring.
- 4:23 PM, 3 September 2009   [link]

E. J. Dionne Has Second Thoughts On The Town Hall Meetings:  Yesterday, the Washington Post columnist had some sensible things to say about the townhall meetings.
There is an overwhelming case that the electronic media went out of their way to cover the noise and ignored the calmer (and from television's point of view "boring") encounters between elected representatives and their constituents.
. . .
"I think the media coverage has done a disservice by falling for a trick that you'd think experienced media hands wouldn't fall for: of allowing loud voices to distort the debate," said Rep. Mary Jo Kilroy, whose district includes Columbus, Ohio.

At her town halls, she said, "I got serious questions, I got hostile questions, I got questions about how this would work, I got questions about how much it will cost.  I also got a lot of comments from people who said it's important for their families and businesses to get health care reform."
But, as Jonah Goldberg notes, that's not what Dionne was saying just a few weeks ago
But what I really like is E.J.'s tut-tutting tone about those naive and myopic electronic media types who fell for these alleged stunts.  This is the same E.J. Dionne who not two weeks ago was fretting the "politics of the jackboot," warning that these townhall meetings were the manifestation of some sort of crypto-fascist uprising of angry white militias.  No, wait, maybe that was the column two weeks before that, in which he urged the GOP to purge the dangerous "extremists" in its midst.  Whatever.
Perhaps Dionne should have started his latest column with this classic: "Never mind."

And I suppose that we should be pleased that he has calmed down, even though he may not be ready to admit that he went too far in earlier columns
- 3:36 PM, 3 September 2009   [link]

Remember Hassan Nemazee?  The Democratic fund raiser who was just arrested for trying to defraud Citibank?

One of the puzzling things about the arrest was that Nemazee had paid back the $74 million loan he had gotten from Citibank, just before he was arrested.  If he had the money, I wondered, why would he want a fraudulent loan?

Today's New York Times provides a partial answer.  Nemazee got the money to repay Citibank through fraud.
Now, prosecutors say that Mr. Nemazee engaged in another fraud — to get the money to repay the loan.

In a letter filed this week in Federal District Court in Manhattan, prosecutors said that Mr. Nemazee borrowed the money to repay Citibank from another bank, using a similar scheme that involved fake documents and forged signatures.
So perhaps he never had the money all along.

(Incidentally, kudos to the New York Times for reminding us about his Democratic fund raising in this article.

If you are interested in his business career, here's a good place to start.   After reading that Forbes piece, I concluded that I would not buy anything from the man, would not sell anything to the man, would not ever consider being his partner, and definitely would not want him to be a fund raiser for any political campaign.)
- 9:34 AM, 3 September 2009   [link]

Japan's New First Lady Is Well Traveled:  Though some of her trips have been virtual.
Japan's new Prime Minister, Yukio Hatoyama, faces formidable foreign policy challenges in dealing with an expansionist China, a nuclear armed North Korea and a sinister Russia.  But he need have no concerns about establishing friendly relations with the planet Venus — his own wife is a friend of the Venusians, having travelled there in a UFO in the 1970s.
. . .
It was in a book of interviews with prominent people, entitled Most Bizarre Things I've Encountered, that she revealed her extra-terrestrial jaunt which occurred during her first marriage.

"While my body was sleeping, I think my spirit flew on a triangular-shaped UFO to Venus," she said.   "It was an extremely beautiful place and was very green."  Her first husband suggested that it was probably just a dream — but Mr Hatoyama, she insisted, would not be so dismissive.   "My current husband has a different way of thinking," she said.  "He would surely say, 'Oh, that's great!'"
Stuffy scientists may say that radar images of Venus do not show a pleasant planet, but what do they know?

(Shouldn't I really be writing posts on the Japanese election, and its implications for the United States?  Well, sure, and I'll try to get one done in the next few days.  But I needed a humor break, and thought you might need one, too.

More seriously, I do these kinds of posts deliberately, to help me (and perhaps you) keep a little perspective.  Most of what happens in the world is humdrum, much of what happens is funny, and one can forget that if everything you write or read is grim.)
- 9:10 AM, 3 September 2009   [link]

Gallup Proves Gallup Wrong:  Last month, I criticized a Gallup study, which found that:
Since Obama was inaugurated, not much has changed in the political party landscape at the state level -- the Democratic Party continues to hold a solid advantage in party identification in most states and in the nation as a whole.
Their conclusions were incorrect, I argued, because they combined data from polls from January through June.  With political perceptions shifting rapidly against the Democrats, they must, I argued, have underestimated the current Republican strength.

Today, Gallup comes to the same conclusion I did a month ago.
In August, an average of 45% of Americans identified as Democrats or leaned to the Democratic Party, while 40% identified as Republicans or leaned to the Republican Party.  This 5-point advantage represents a decided narrowing of the gap between the parties from the 17-point Democratic advantage in January.
Note, by the way, that Gallup polled "adults", rather than voters or even likely voters.  So the election gap between the two parties is probably less than Gallup's 5 points.
- 5:04 PM, 2 September 2009   [link]

Barack Obama Will Make A Campaign Speech To School Kids Next Week:   Michael and Diane Medved are not pleased.
My wife Diane seldom gets upset about politics.  But President Barack Obama's recent demonstration of megalomania in insisting on beginning the school year by simultaneously addressing all public school kids in the United States elicited a concise response:  "it's sick."

In addition to her Ph.D. in psychology, Diane holds an M.A. in Education, and both primary and secondary teaching credentials in California.  She has raised and educated our three kids, each of whom received some combination of home schooling, parochial education, and public schools.  What bothers her (and many courageous teachers across the country) is the crude attempt by the Department of Education and the White House to blur all distinctions between education and cult-of-personality propaganda.
How do I know it's a campaign speech, since I haven't read it?  By reading the lesson plan.  The worst part of the plan is one of the things the students may be asked to do after the speech:
Write letters to themselves about what they can do to help the president.  These would be collected and redistributed at an appropriate later date by the teacher to make students accountable to their goals.
It is legitimate to ask students what they can do to help the country.  It is not legitimate — in a republic — to ask students what they can do to help a particular leader.

(One thing Obama's team seems to have missed:  This speech to school kids will provide a great straight line for many comedians, and some of those comedians will accept Obama's offer.  If you think of a good one, or hear a good one, let me know about it.)
- 2:49 PM, 2 September 2009
The White House is "clarifying" the language in the lesson plan, presumably in order to remove the more political parts.  Most likely, Obama's speech will just be an interruption of school time, not a full-blown campaign speech.

For amusement, you may want to read about reactions from Democratic leaders in 1991, when President George H. W. Bush made a speech from a school.

A few conservatives have said that they would keep their kids out of school during Obama's speech.   That's silly in my opinion; if there is anything offensive in the speech, it is better to explain that to kids after they hear it.
- 11:04 AM, 3 September 2009   [link]

Obama's Fall In The Polls:  Charles Franklin puts it in context.
Based on this estimate, Obama has the second greatest rate of decline, losing 1.6 percentage points of approval each month.  Clinton did worse, falling at a monthly rate of 2.3 points.  If you look back to the first figure, you see that Clinton fell faster and further, but then rebounded a bit at the end of the summer, making his net change a little smaller (-14) but his overall rate of decline a bit steeper.  Obama's chart shows two phases, an initial shallow decline with a bit of a rebound and a more recent decline at a higher rate.  Linear fits don't distinguish between these details.  But it is pretty clear that based on the linear trend, Clinton fell faster than Obama, contra-Brooks.

What is more interesting is how many presidents managed only slight declines or even gains in the first 8 months.  Carter and the second Bush both lost just over a half point per month.  Kennedy, Nixon and Reagan all gained, from 0.1 to 0.2 points per month.  Eisenhower gained an impressive 0.65 points per month, and the first Bush gained an astonishing 1.9 points per month.  So no, not everyone falls off.  But yes, Obama has fallen, and quite badly in comparison.  Just not quite the absolute worst.
(That's David Brooks, who, Franklin shows, doesn't know much about presidential approval polls.)

It's a fine post, and one I will want to study, though I disagree with him on one point:  Franklin says the "best perspective is the full term".  That's true if you are discussing elections, but not true if you are discussing the success or failure of a president's policies.
- 8:37 AM, 2 September 2009   [link]

When Did World War II Begin?  Easy question?  Not really.

Here's an answer that may surprise you from the second edition of A. J. P. Taylor's The Origins of the Second World War.
Most wars begin raggedly.  In the minds of Englishmen 4 August 1914 is unshakably fixed as the day when the first World war began; yet by then France and Germany had been at war for twenty-four hours, Russia and Germany for three days, Serbia and Austria-Hungary for almost a week.  The second World war was vaguer still in its opening; the Russians date it from 22 June 1941, the Chinese from November 1937, the Abyssinians, I suppose, from October, 1935, and the Americans from 7 December 1941.  The American date is the most sensible.  The war became truly world-wide— much more so than the first World war— only after Pearl Harbor.  However, that is not how it seems to English people.  We date the second World war from 3 September 1939, the day when Great Britain and France declared war on Germany (not, incidentally, from 1 September, the day Germany attacked Poland); and among non-Americans, only professional historians can remember the date of Pearl Harbor.
That's from his "Preface for the American reader", in which he explains that he is writing about the origins of the war that began in September, 1939, not the origins of the larger war.

(I found the book fascinating, but I should warn you that it is also wildly controversial.  For instance, Hugh Trevor-Roper, who is said to be a pretty good historian, called the book a "disgrace".)
- 6:55 PM, 1 September 2009   [link]

Republicans Solidify Their Lead In The Generic Vote:  Here are the latest monthly results from Rasmussen.

Trends in generic Congressional vote, 31 August 2008 - 30 August 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.)

Before Republicans order champagne, they should consider this warning:
This is now the tenth straight week GOP candidates have held the advantage.  However, Scott Rasmussen, president of Rasmussen Reports, notes that it's too early for Republicans to be celebrating.  "These numbers certainly represent weakness for the Democrats, but it's important to remember that the mid-term elections are 14 months away.  That's plenty of time for the President's party to do some damage control and pick up the pieces from what has been a tough month of August."

For Republicans dreaming of another 1994-type election, Rasmussen adds that "Democrats in 2010 will have one advantage they couldn't count on in 1994.  During the Clinton years, nobody could remember a time when the GOP controlled Congress."

Democrats held a six- or seven-point lead on the ballot for the first few weeks of 2009.  That began to slip in early February, and from mid-April through June the two parties were roughly even.

Prior to the week of March 15, however, Democratic candidates held the advantage in on the Generic Ballot for several years.
What should Republican congressional candidates unite around next year?  Fiscal prudence, and reform.  There are now enough Democratic leaders in Congress with serious ethics problems — though your local newspaper may not have said much about those problems — so that Republicans can use the second — assuming there aren't more surprises like Mark Sanford.

(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, and August for comparison.  In a few months 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.)
- 1:07 PM, 1 September 2009   [link]

Barack Obama's Arithmetic Mistake:  Keith Hennessey corrects the president.  Again and again, Obama has said that it will cost about $100 billion a year to cover every one. But to get that number, Obama, or someone on his staff, must make several elementary mistakes.
CBO estimates the "effects on the deficit of insurance coverage provisions" in the House bill, H.R. 3200, to be $1,042 billion over a ten year period.  (See page 2 of the estimate.)  The $800B — $900B figure cited by the President may be his expectation of the still-private Baucus bill.

But the program is in effect for only about five of these ten years.  In the House bill, the new coverage provision begins in year 4 (2013) and phase up to full effect only in year 6 (2015).  To calculate the per-year cost, therefore, you should divide by roughly six, rather than by 10.

In addition, the new spending grows really fast, so the spending in year 10 (2019) is much bigger than in year six.  CBO estimates the new coverage provisions would cost $202 B in 2019, rather than the President's $80 B (last Saturday) or $100 B (last Thursday) annual cost figures.
Politically, this Obama mistake may be effective.  It lets supporters, and perhaps some on the fence, believe that his plan is much less expensive than it actually is.  But it is inexcusable for those who want honest discussions of Obama's plan.

Does Obama know that he is making this mistake?  Hard to say, since there is no reason to think that he is as good with numbers as he is at reading from a teleprompter.

Some in his administration must know about this mistake, must know that he is misleading the public with his yearly cost estimates.  But so far they have not corrected him.  I don't know why they haven't, but I can't think of a good excuse for them letting Obama continue to make this claim.

(This Hennessey post illustrates two things:  Why I read him regularly, and why I think that Obama doesn't really understand policy questions.  Or, perhaps, care about whether he is telling the truth to the people.  Or, perhaps, both.)
- 10:37 AM, 1 September 2009   [link]

Tax Enforcement Is For Little People:  That's Chairman Rangel's current position.
Even as he fends off accusations about his own failure to pay taxes and fully disclose his financial dealings, Rep. Charles Rangel had quietly slipped into the health-care bill broad new provisions cracking down on taxpayers in proceedings with the IRS, The Post has learned.

The changes approved by the House Ways and Means Committee that Rangel chairs would strip away legal defenses and pile higher penalties on corporate and individual taxpayers facing IRS proceedings for what they claim are unintentional mistakes, experts said.
Naturally, he claims that his own mistakes are unintentional.  And so far, he has not had to pay any penalties.

It occurs to me that IRS officials might be responsible for those proposals, that they might have thought that this is a really good time to ask Rangel for favors, considering the favors they have given him — and the favors he may still need from them.

(Here's a review of Rangel's tax problems.)
- 9:40 AM, 1 September 2009   [link]

How David Brooks Got Conned By Barack Obama:  Want to avoid getting conned?  Then this article on how the sort-of conservative New York Times columnist got conned by Obama may have some lessons for you.

Here are the paragraphs everyone is quoting, simply because they are so embarrassing:
In the spring of 2005, New York Times columnist David Brooks arrived at then-Senator Barack Obama's office for a chat.  Brooks, a conservative writer who joined the Times in 2003 from The Weekly Standard, had never met Obama before.  But, as they chewed over the finer points of Edmund Burke, it didn't take long for the two men to click.  "I don't want to sound like I'm bragging," Brooks recently told me, "but usually when I talk to senators, while they may know a policy area better than me, they generally don't know political philosophy better than me.  I got the sense he knew both better than me."

That first encounter is still vivid in Brooks's mind.  "I remember distinctly an image of--we were sitting on his couches, and I was looking at his pant leg and his perfectly creased pant," Brooks says, "and I'm thinking, a) he's going to be president and b) he'll be a very good president."  In the fall of 2006, two days after Obama's The Audacity of Hope hit bookstores, Brooks published a glowing Times column.  The headline was "Run, Barack, Run."

These days, the center-right Brooks frequently seems more sympathetic toward Obama than the liberal Paul Krugman.  He has written columns praising Obama's Afghanistan policy, education proposals, and economic team.  Even on broad areas of disagreement--deficit spending, the sprawling stimulus bill, health care reform--Brooks tends to treat Obama and his administration with respect.  "My overall view," Brooks told me, "is ninety-five percent of the decisions they make are good and intelligent.  Whether I agree with them specifically, I think they're very serious and very good at what they do."  It is an odd situation to say the least: David Brooks, prominent conservative, has become the most visible journalistic ally of arguably the most liberal president of his lifetime.
After reading that, I only hope that no one tries to sell the Brooklyn Bridge to Brooks, because he would buy it, if the seller mixed in a few phrases about Edmund Burke, had a degree from a prestigious school, and had "perfectly creased" pants.

In short, Brooks is a sucker for the right lines, and a certain set of appearances.  And Obama, who probably knows almost nothing about Burke, took him in completely.

We shouldn't be too hard on Brooks; many of us can be taken in by a set of lines that appeal to our weaknesses, especially by people who "talk like us".
He recognizes something similar in the current president.  "Obama sees himself as a Burkean," Brooks says.  "He sees his view of the world as a view that understands complexity and the organic nature of change."  Moreover, after the Bush years, Brooks seems relieved to have an intellectual in the White House again.  "I divide people into people who talk like us and who don't talk like us," he explains.  "Of recent presidents, Clinton could sort of talk like us, but Obama is definitely--you could see him as a New Republic writer.  He can do the jurisprudence, he can do the political philosophy, and he can do the politics.  I think he's more talented than anyone in my lifetime.  I mean, he is pretty dazzling when he walks into a room.
How could Brooks have avoided this trap?  By asking himself what, if anything, Obama has ever accomplished.  Brooks should have looked at Obama's deeds — such as they are — rather than listening to Obama's seductive words.

Finally, I must add that I don't see any evidence that either Brooks or Obama knows much about policy.  In any area.

(Here's my post noting how liberal columnist Richard Cohen was conned by John Edwards.  The similarities to the way Brooks was taken in are striking; Cohen fell for the words, without ever asking himself whether Edwards had ever done anything that matched those words.  Journalists, I have thought for years, are especially likely to fall into that particular trap, because they make their living with words.)
- 9:15 AM, 1 September 2009   [link]