September 2010, Part 1

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Another Boxer Aide Gets Arrested:  Here's the story.
A senior aide for Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) was arrested Tuesday for attempting to bring marijuana into the Hart Senate Office Building, according to U.S. Capitol Police reports.

Marcus Stanley, who served as a senior economic adviser and at one time worked on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee — chaired by Boxer — was stopped by a police officer Tuesday morning when he allegedly tried to "remove and conceal" a leafy green substance from his pocket during a security screening at the Constitution Avenue door of the Hart building around noon, according to a Capitol Police report.

Police confiscated the substance, which later tested positive for marijuana, and Stanley quickly resigned.
You know, this might help explain some of the more, uh, unusual, sections of all those bills they have been passing.

Another?  Yes, indeed.
This is not the first time a member of Boxer's senior staff has been arrested.  Senior policy adviser Jeffrey Rosato, who also worked on the EPW committee, was fired in 2008 after he was arrested and charged with the receipt and distribution of child pornography.
Senator Boxer may not be choosing her aides as carefully as she should.

This arrest is timed awfully well for the Fiorina campaign, I must say, since so many Californians vote early.  I wonder how much coverage it will get in California?  Probably not much, since Boxer's a Democrat.
- 2:54 PM, 8 September 2010   [link]

Julia Gillard Stays Prime Minister Of Australia:  By one vote, after much negotiation.
Australia's first female prime minister was deemed to have "lost" the election campaign.  After all, first-term governments are usually expected to be returned for a second term by the Australian people, an unbroken run that goes back to the Great Depression.  The post-GFC national economic success story should have worked in her favour.

But, crucially, she won the post-election phase by first cutting a deal with the Greens, then wooing the Tasmanian independent, Andrew Wilkie, all the time building up momentum, and creating the impression that Labor would stand a better chance than the Liberals of forming a stable government.

This helped her win over two of the three amigos, despite the fact that Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott represent fairly conservative-minded, regional constituencies, where polls showed that electors favoured Mr Abbott as PM.
(GFC = Global Financial Crisis.)

So Gillard now has the support of 72 Labor representatives, 1 Green, and 3 independents, giving her 76 votes in the 150-member Australian House.  (Andrew Wilkie, had committed to support her earlier, even though he had defeated a Labor opponent to win his Tasmanian constituency.  Another independent (the third "Amigo"), Bob Katter, backed Abbott.)

The Australian Labor party escaped defeat by the narrowest of margins, even though times are relatively good in Australia.
During the campaign Ms. Gillard and her senior ministers promoted Labor's economic credentials.   Australia was one of the few industrialized countries to escape a recession during the global slowdown.  Last year, Australia's gross domestic product grew by a relatively robust 3.3 percent, and the unemployment rate was just 5.3 percent in July, almost half that of the United States.
Windsor and Oakeshott gave her their support after getting promises of big spending in their rural constituencies.
An hour later, having secured a "regional package" worth A$9.9bn ($9bn; £5.9bn), Mr Windsor announced his support for Ms Gillard.

He said Labor's plans for a national broadband network and its position on climate change had been major factors in his decision, as well as a feeling that if he supported Mr Abbot he would rush to the polls.
In theory, if Gillard keeps all 76 on her side, she can stay in office for the next three years.  It seems unlikely that her government will last that long.

Americans will wonder whether this election had lessons for us.  I think it does; a leftist party, which had won a solid majority after long rule by conservatives (who are mostly in the Liberal party in Australia), almost lost control of the government — even though times are good in Australia.   That suggests to me that it isn't just "the economy, stupid" here in the United States, that voters here are unhappy for other reasons, too.

(If you look through British and Australian accounts of the election, you may see that Windsor and company have promised to give Gillard "confidence and supply".  You can find an explanation of the phrase in this Wikipedia article.)
- 8:49 AM, 8 September 2010   [link]

Republicans Have Been Out-Voting Democrats This Year:  For the first time since 1930.
In another sign that the Democratic Party is in deep trouble in the 2010 mid-term elections, the average Republican vote for statewide offices (U.S. Senator and Governor) in the primaries held through August 28 exceeded the Democratic vote, the first time this has happened in mid-term primaries since 1930, according to Curtis Gans, director of American University's Center for the Study of the American Electorate.

Republican turnout in their statewide primaries exceeded Democratic turnout in theirs by more than 4 million votes.  The average percentage of eligible citizens who voted in Democratic primaries was the lowest ever.  The average percentage of citizens who voted in the GOP statewide primaries was the highest since 1970.
. . .
So far, 30,283,128 citizens have voted in the primaries.  Of that number 17,182,893 voted in Republican primaries; 12,963,925 voted in Democratic primaries and 136,310 voted in Green and Libertarian primaries or for candidates other than those running for major party nominations.  (The GOP had three more statewide contests than the Democrats—Indiana, South Dakota and Utah— but the total votes cast in those GOP primaries was 826,603, hardly accounting for the more than 4 million vote difference between the parties.)
This is the best evidence yet for the enthusiasm gap between the two parties.  That said, I expect the gap to narrow, somewhat, before the November elections, as unions and other special interests rally Democrats.

(The report, which you can download at the link, is unfinished, but contains tables that will interest every student of election statistics.  For instance, Gans ranks the states by turnout in primaries this year, and my own state of Washington came in first.  That surprises me, a little, since the biggest state-wide contest here, for the Republican senate nomination, was not close.)
- 7:22 AM, 8 September 2010   [link]

Ann Althouse Catches A Telling Detail:  Obama is now rounding off to the nearest $50 billion.

But I am not sure whether Obama knows that $50 billion here, $50 billion there, pretty soon, you're talking real money.  (To borrow a line from Everett Dirksen.)
- 7:45 PM, 7 September 2010   [link]

Pat Caddell On Obama And Democratic Prospects In November:  Carter's pollster is not a big fan of our current president. And Caddell thinks that his party is in serious trouble this November.  Three samples:
"President Obama's undoing may be his disingenuousness," Caddell says.  After campaigning for post-partisanship, Obama, he observes, has lurched without pause to the left.
. . .
"Democrats are aware of this," Caddell continues.  "They know that the general outcome is baked."  As the fall campaign kicks into gear, "the question now becomes whether Obama can mitigate their losses.  You see them trying to localize their campaigns and pretending that they don't know Nancy Pelosi.  It's all rather amusing."
. . .
"Democrats used to be the voice of the common man in America, not his dictator," Caddell laments.   "Now, with Wall Street, their mantra is, 'We'll take your money, but we won't kiss.'  The people who own the party — George Soros, the Center for American Progress, the public-employee union bosses, rich folks flying private jets to 'ideas festivals' in Aspen — they're Obama's base."
Sounds about right to me.
- 6:00 PM, 7 September 2010   [link]

Fast Food:   Very Fast Food.  (And I must say that the dining table looks rather nice.)
- 8:45 AM, 7 September 2010   [link]

What Do Economists Say The Government Should Do About The Economy?   As Greg Mankiw reminds us, the Wall Street Journal asked 53 economists that question last month and got these answers:
Despite the continued challenging conditions, 30 out of 48 economists who answered the question said the economy didn't need any more fiscal or monetary stimulus.  Six economists said more fiscal stimulus was necessary, while five want more monetary stimulus from the Federal Reserve and seven said that the economy could use both.
. . .
"The economy needs government to get out of the way," said Stephen Stanley of Pierpont Securities.

The economists, though, generally didn't support the idea of ending Bush-era tax cuts, which will expire at the end of this year unless Congress acts.  Just three respondents said that the tax cuts on individual income should be allowed to expire for everyone.  Thirty-two economists said they should all be extended, while 11 said they should be extended for people making less than $250,000 a year—the policy option backed by the Obama administration.
Peter Orszag, who was Obama's first director of the Office of Management and Budget, favors keeping most of the Bush tax cuts for two years, and would prefer keeping all of them to doing nothing.  (Francis Cianfrocca reacted to Orszag's op-ed by declaring that Orszag is "not an economist", in spite of Orszag's degrees in economics.)

Paul Krugman is arguing, as he has for months and months, that we should spend like it's World War II again.  Krugman weakens his own case by making such a big point of the Democratic losses in the 1938 elections.  A skeptical observer will wonder whether he is concerned with what is best for the economy, or what is best for the short-term prospects of his party.

In the past two years, we have had massive intrusions into the economy by the government, starting at the end of the Bush administration, and continuing on a far greater scale under Obama.  The results have been disappointing.  One can argue, as Krugman does, that a much larger stimulus would have worked, and at some level, he would be right.  But our children and grandchildren would be paying for that spending spree for the rest of their lives.

Stephen Stanley, in my opinion, has it right; Obama, Pelosi, and Reid mostly need to "get out of the way".

(For the record:  There are a few things that the Obama administration could do to help the economy.  They could, for instance, ask Congress to ratify the trade agreements that the Bush administration negotiated with South Korea, Colombia, and Panama.   But mostly the Obama administration should stop killing jobs by actions like the Gulf drilling moratorium.)
- 8:30 AM, 7 September 2010   [link]

Who Talks About Obama Like A Dog?  The only person I know who has compared him to a dog is — Obama.
Just when it seemed that Barack Obama couldn't dig himself any deeper into the political hole he's in, he does something really stupid.   "Some powerful interests who had been dominating the agenda in Washington for a very long time and they're not always happy with me," he told a union crowd in Milwaukee.  "They talk about me like a dog.  That's not in my prepared remarks, but it's true."

The comment makes him look ridiculous.  First off, there are inevitable racial overtones to it.  To be treated "like a dog" is to be treated as something less than human.  In the Muslim world, to call someone a dog is a pretty serious insult (and no, I'm not suggesting Obama is a Muslim).
. . .
The other reason he looks stupid is that he himself has described both himself and black people in canine terms.  Two days after he was elected, he referred to shelter dogs as "mutts like me", a jocular reference to his mixed race.  A month ago, he described African-Americans as "a mongrel people".  I don't have a problem with either comment but if you're going to rail about people talking about you like a dog then perhaps, er, you shouldn't do so yourself.
(I liked his "mutt" comment, because it's a classically American way to joke about the mixed ethnic backgrounds most of us have.)

Maybe some reporter will ask his press secretary, Robert Gibbs, to tell us who those "powerful interests" are who talk about Obama "like a dog".

I wouldn't use a dog metaphor to describe Obama, because he doesn't have the qualities, good and bad, that we associate with dogs.  (For instance, almost every dog, given the choice, would rather live in the country; Obama chose to live in a very large city.)
- 6:10 AM, 7 September 2010
Obama may have borrowed the line from a Jimi Hendrix song, Stone Free.  (By way of Neo-neocon.)

Andrew Malcolm joins in the fun and asks "what kind" of dog Obama would be, if he were a dog.  As I explained above, I have no answer to that critical question.
- 6:29 AM, 8 September 2010   [link]

A Not-So-Puzzling Question:  Dan Balz begins with these paragraphs:
One of the puzzling questions about Barack Obama's presidency is how the post-partisan candidate of 2008 became the polarizing chief executive of 2010.  The answer may be surprising.  He was far more polarizing from the start than many recognized.  His choices in office and his opponents' responses have only hardened that divide.

During the campaign, Candidate Obama talked about the need to put the partisan divisions of the past behind.  His victory fostered discussion about whether the country had turned a corner after years of bitter partisanship.  In the glow of his inauguration, some people heralded a new era in American politics.
Who were those "many" who didn't recognize how polarizing he would be?  Most reporters, and the independents who listened to those reporters.  But the Obama's policies changed the minds of those independents.
Most damaging politically was the impact of the domestic debates on independents.  Many of them ended up seeing the effect of Obama's policies through the prism of spending and deficits.

During the campaign, independents generally considered Obama to be a slightly left-of-center moderate, regardless of their own personal ideology.  By last year, says [University of California at San Diego professor Gary Jacobson, the most conservative independents saw him as extremely liberal - and gave him an approval rating of just 5 percent.
Most reporters did not recognize how polarizing he would be because most reporters have ideologies similar to Obama's.  They find it hard to see just how many people disagree with their views.   Independents were fooled by his calm demeanor and by reporting that, if anything, concealed his past, and his many radical connections.
- 7:54 AM, 6 September 2010   [link]

This Will Surprise Speaker Pelosi And Majority Leader Reid:  According to this New York Times editorial, the Republicans "run the show in Congress".

You may find it hard to believe that even the Times editorial writers would say something that silly, so here's some context:
Administration officials are said to be considering a package centered on business tax cuts, because those are presumably more palatable to Republicans — and to Democrats who are afraid of losing to Republicans and cannot think of a better response than to mimic their ideas.

The administration seems to have forgotten that the Republicans who run the show in Congress are happy to oppose their own ideas if Mr. Obama embraces them.  New tax cuts, especially in place of spending, are also dubious policy.  When it comes to spurring growth, direct spending to increase demand in the economy is more effective than most tax cuts.
(Emphasis added.)

Remember BDS, "Bush Derangement Syndrome"?  Here, it seems to me, we have a severe case of RDS, "Republican Derangement Syndrome".  It may be incurable.
- 2:02 PM, 5 September 2010   [link]

Brethren?  That word seems out of place in this New York Times article.
Small-breasted women have also begun to express their anger on the Internet when they suspect one of their brethren has decided to artificially augment what nature has given her.
Brethren doesn't quite fit that sentence, does it?

(Catherine Saint Louis could have used "sistren", instead.)
- 1:47 PM, 5 September 2010   [link]

If At First You Don't Succeed, Try, Try Again:  And then, if you are South Korean grandmother Cha Sa-soon, try 957 more times, until you finally succeed in passing the drivers license tests.  (She failed the written test 949 times, before she was able to advance to the driving tests.  She did not have much schooling, and so had great trouble reading and understanding the questions, in spite of study, and in spite of lessons at a driving school.)

Now she'll be able to take her grandchildren to the zoo, in the new car that Hyundai just gave her.

(There's a serious lesson in her long struggle.  All along she has had bus service, and used buses to get to work and to lessons.  But the buses seldom ran when she wanted to go somewhere, so her new car will save her time.  And, we can be almost certain that she will be able to go places in her car that she could not get to in buses.  Proponents of mass transit often ignore those advantages, as they work to get everyone else out of their cars.)
- 1:30 PM, 5 September 2010   [link]

It's Wrong To Laugh At What Just Happened To Jesse Jackson:  But I couldn't help myself.
Following the embarrassing news that Mayor Dave Bing's GMC Yukon was hijacked by criminals this week, Detroit's Channel 7 reports that the Reverend's Caddy Escalade SUV was stolen and stripped of its wheels while he was in town last weekend with the UAW's militant President Bob King leading the "Jobs, Justice, and Peace" march promoting government-funded green jobs.

Read that again: Jackson's Caddy SUV was stripped while he was in town promoting green jobs.
For the record, I hope they catch the perps promptly, and I am sorry for his loss.  (But I confess that I keep having to wipe a grin off my face every time I look at this story.)
- 1:07 PM, 3 September 2010   [link]

Sabato's Chrystal Ball:  Is now showing big Republican gains, 8-9 senators, 47 House members, and 8 governorships.  We are getting close enough to the actual election so that we can start taking such predictions seriously.

Here's his summary:
Overall, though, a strong bet is that 2010 will generate a substantial pendulum swing from the Democrats to the Republicans.  It is not that Republicans are popular—most polls show the party even less liked than the Democrats.  Many observers find it amazing that the less-liked party is on the verge of triumphing over the better-liked party.  Nevertheless, in the time-honored American way, voters will be inclined to punish the party in-power by checking and balancing it with more members from the opposition party.
Read the whole thing for details and qualifications.
- 9:24 AM, 3 September 2010   [link]

President Obama's Redecorated Office:  It must be an important story because the New York Times gave it almost two full pages, illustrated it with five photographs, and got comments from sixteen people.

Having done everything they could to convince me that this is an important story, they immediately lost me with their lead paragraph.
The Oval Office has been tweaked, in a makeover orchestrated by the California decorator Michael Smith.  In response, television audiences and the blogosphere seemed to produce a collective yawn: too brown, too dowdy, too ho hum, they pronounced as one.
(Oh, I suppose that I could say something about the new look, since almost everyone has, but, if you came here looking for advice on interior design, you've made a mistake.)

So I skipped over the article, glanced through the comments, and found, somewhat to my surprise, a small nugget of information:
Andy Borowitz


First of all, Bush's office had no phone, which confirms my suspicion that he wasn't the one making the important calls during his presidency.  But on the other hand, Bush did appear to have more books than Obama, which is shocking.  It just shows that you can't read too much into a man's décor.  The one thing both Oval Offices have in common is neither man appears to be there in August.
Borowitz spots something interesting — and immediately rejects what his lying eyes have told him.  What those two offices tell us is that Bush is a reader, and that Obama isn't.  (Similarly, John McCain's office shows that he, like Bush, is a reader.)
- 8:07 AM, 3 September 2010   [link]

Here's A Question For Megan McArdle:  (If only because she may have already thought about it.)  It's widely believed that taller men have an advantage in elections over shorter men.  And there is evidence for that conclusion, though it is not as strong as many claim.

This morning, when I saw that picture on Drudge of Carly Fiorina and Barbara Boxer together, I immediately wondered whether the same was true for women candidates.  (According to a very quick search, Fiorina is about 5'7", Boxer about 5' even, so the height difference is quite noticeable.)  Does her height give Fiorina an advantage?

As you have most likely guessed, I would really like that to be true in this particular contest.  And, according to the polls I have seen, the race is close enough so that a small advantage might make the difference.

(Many tech people are not fans of Fiorina's time at Hewlett-Packard.  I haven't followed the events there (or at Lucent) closely enough to have an opinion on that subject.  But I am impressed by most of her business career.  Not every CEO has a degree in philosophy and medieval history — or starts out as a secretary.

FWIW, women candidates — who are usually shorter than their male opponents — are widely believed to have a small advantage in elections here in Washington state.)
- 1:57 PM, 2 September 2010   [link]

And Take Your Oil With You?  The Los Angeles Mayor wants two Texas oil companies to go home.
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa on Tuesday rebuked Valero Energy Corp. and Tesoro Corp., which operate refineries in Wilmington, for bankrolling a measure that would effectively scuttle the state's efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

"Go home, Texas oil companies," Villaraigosa urged at a news conference aimed at encouraging voters to oppose Proposition 23, a November ballot initiative to suspend California's 2006 climate change law until the state's unemployment rate drops.  "We won't compromise our environmental and health standards so you can make more money," he said.
But I am pretty sure Mayor Villaraigosa doesn't want them to take their oil refining operations with them.

(Or maybe he does.  In recent decades, California has "exported" much of its pollution to other states.  For example, California now gets a significant proportion of its electricity from coal plants in other states, such as this one in Arizona.)
- 8:06 AM, 2 September 2010   [link]

Alaska Can Be Tough On Incumbent Senators:  As this post, written before Lisa Murkowski's defeat, notes.
If Miller's lead stands, Murkowski would be the third U.S. Senator in Alaskan history to fail to win her party's nomination - out of just seven men and women who have served that office from The Last Frontier State.  (With one of these, Democratic Senator Mark Begich elected in 2008, yet to face a primary challenge as Senator).

Murkowski would join Democrats Ernest Gruening and Mike Gravel as multi-term incumbents who eventually fell so out of favor that they failed to win their own party's primary in their reelection bids.
And Alaska congressmen have had their own troubles, as Eric Ostermeier goes on to explain.

(In contrast, Hawaii is notably friendly to incumbents, which is one of the reasons I think Republican Charles Djou has a good chance to keep Hawaii's 1st district.)
- 7:35 AM, 2 September 2010   [link]

Nick Schultz Wishes Obama Really Was A Chicago-Style Politician:   According to Schultz, if Obama were a Chicago-style pol, he could have made the Ground Zero mosque controversy disappear.
In full Chicago mode, Obama could have sent a minion to New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg with the following message: Name your price.  What does Bloomberg need from Obama that would make it worth his while to make the project and the controversy go away?  New York City mayors have enormous political control over their town.  That means it is easy to find all sorts of ways to make a building project stall or just go away altogether — a permitting glitch appears, a bureaucratic snafu arises, an obscure regulation is noticed or conjured that makes moving ahead anytime soon impossible.

Obama gives Bloomberg incentive to engineer an impossible problem into yesterday's news, and the American people are spared an ugly and divisive debate.
Schultz isn't quite correct, as he halfway concedes a bit farther on, when he says that a "great" Chicago pol would have figured out how to make that mosque controversy disappear.  Implicitly, a "not-so-great" Chicago pol would not have figured out how to make the controversy disappear.  And, as anyone who knows even a little Chicago history can tell you, there were many, many not-so-great Chicago pols for every great one.

So Obama is not a "great" Chicago pol.  And, as David Freddoso argued, in the best book I have seen about Obama, that Obama is a mix of a Chicago pol and a 1960s radical.  Sometimes, the two would come to similar conclusions; often they won't

In the mosque controversy, the 1960s radical side of Obama has been dominant.
- 2:52 PM, 1 September 2010   [link]

Obama's Iraq Speech Got Mixed Reviews:  Victor Davis Hanson attacked it.
But there was something bizarre about his entire Iraq speech — it was as if it were being delivered by an exhausted Obama factotum, rather than the animate Obama of old.  So we got a flat Iraq / flat Afghanistan / flat hope-and-change recession address.  It almost seemed a chore.

Perhaps Obama's ennui arises from the impossibility of squaring his circle.  How could an erstwhile fierce critic of Iraq — as well as his diplomatic team (e.g., Biden with his loud wish to trisect Iraq, and Hillary Clinton with her "suspension of disbelief")—convince us that Iraq was a "remarkable chapter"?
. . .
So was Iraq worth the cost?  And could Obama have cited anything positive other than banalities?  In some sense, that was asked post facto of every war — whether it was the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, WWI, Korea, or Vietnam.  The truth about Iraq is that, for all the tragedy and the loss, the U.S. military performed a miracle.  After nearly seven years, a constitutional government endures in that country.  It is too often forgotten that all 23 of the writs for war passed by the Congress in 2002 — from enforcing the Gulf I resolutions and stopping the destruction of the Kurds and Marsh Arabs, to preventing the Iraqi state promotion of terrorism, ending suicide bounties on the West Bank, and stopping Iraq from invading or attacking neighbors or trying to acquire WMD — were met and satisfied by the U.S. military.  It is also too often forgotten that, as a result, Libya gave up its WMD program; Dr. Khan's nuclear franchise was shut down; Syria left Lebanon; and American troops in Saudi Arabia, put there as protection against Saddam, were withdrawn.  Perhaps a peep about some of that—especially the idea that in an oil-short world, Saddam Hussein might have been more or less free to do what he pleased again in Iraq.  (The verdict is out on Iran; playing a genocidal Hussein regime against it was morally bankrupt.  Currently, Shiites participating in consensual government could be as destabilizing to Iran in the long run as Iranian terrorists are to Iraq in the short run.)
Max Boot said it was "about as good as we could expect".

(Note:  Hanson and Boot do not necessarily disagree with each other, since a speech can be "about as good as we could expect", and still be a poor speech.)

John Podhoretz praised the speech, mostly, but ended with this stinger
No wonder he was so nice to George W. Bush last night.  The speech sounded like Bush.  Not as eloquent or as memorable, but, hey, that's life.
Not many people on the left will like the idea of Barack Obama as a second-rate George W. Bush.

(I'll probably have some thoughts of my own on the speech in a few days.)
- 10:05 AM, 1 September 2010   [link]

Senator Murray Is Number 1!  While browsing in the back pages of the 2010 Almanac of American Politics, I learned that Washington's senior senator has another achievement that deserves recognition.

No, she hasn't won another "no rocket scientist award".  (I think the magazine no longer runs that contest.)  Instead, she has done something more substantive.  Here's how the Almanac describes her achievement:

These are the members at the far ends of the ideological spectrum, based on National Journal's 2008 vote ratings.  Scores are a composite of ratings of economic, social and foreign policy votes.

The most liberal senator, by that measure, was Patty Murray.  Her composite score of 92.7 beat out every other senator, including Barbara Boxer (who must be terribly jealous), Richard Durbin, Patrick Leahy, and even Socialist Bernie Sanders.

Congratulations, Senator Murray!  And let me suggest that you use this achievement in all of your campaign ads.  Don't be shy.  Let the voters know that you were the farthest-left senator in the last Congress.

(Does this make Murray officially an extremist?  I suppose so, though you will never get a local journalist to say so.)

Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 7:52 AM, 1 September 2010   [link]