September 2011, Part 4

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Some Thoughts On Those Changes In Bank Fees:  Here's the story.
Bank of America will become the first major bank to charge customers across the country a monthly fee to shop with their debit cards, part of a wave of changes that are eroding the low-cost model of banking that consumers have long enjoyed.

The $5 fee will debut next year for the bank’s basic checking accounts.  It will apply only to debit card purchases and not to ATM withdrawals, online bill pay or mobile phone transfers.  A spokeswoman said the bank is “adjusting our pricing to reflect today’s economics.”

The move is just one of the ways banks are overhauling consumers’ accounts in the wake of the financial crisis, which resulted in a regulatory overhaul for the banking system and a fundamental shift in the industry business model.  Rather than charge the riskiest consumers the heftiest fees, banks are now spreading their costs more evenly among their customers.
(Emphasis added.)

And, as they go on to say, this change is triggered by the limits on the "swipe" fees that will go into effect tomorrow.

(How much difference does that "swipe" fee change make?  Here's an example:   I set up a standard checking account with Chase a few years ago.  It is free as long as I (1) make a direct deposit or (2) use the debit card at least five times a month.  Here's a current offer from Chase, which omits that second condition, but gives you other ways to get "free" banking.  So the fees are profitable for Chase today, but won't be tomorrow.)

First, a thought on whether the changes are "fair":  As the article says, the changes make it easier for the "riskiest" customers.  You could argue that poor people are often the riskiest customers, and so this will help them, or you could argue that reckless spendthrifts are often the riskiest customers and that it is wrong to help them.  I lean somewhat more toward the second argument.

Second, we wouldn't be having this discussion if the Federal Reserve hadn't kept interest rates too low, far too long.  As almost all of you know, many banks offered "free" checking, just a few years ago as long as the customer kept a minimum balance of a thousand dollars or so.  But that system isn't profitable for the banks when interest rates are as close to zero as they have been for years.

But most of this discussion strikes me as missing the central flaw in our payment systems, the use of credit and debit cards for small direct purchases.  And I would discourage that with a simple change; I would allow retailers to charge different prices for cash, debit, and credit purchases.  (As I understand it, credit purchases are significantly more expensive to process than debit purchases.)  Not all retailers would change their policies, but I think enough would so that, for example, most people would stop paying for fast food meals with debit cards.

I think that would have a number of good effects, including slightly lower prices for consumers, and slightly better budgeting for many families.

(Many banks abused customers by charging absurd fees for overdrafts.  Some even had policies that maximized the income from those fees.  But I am not sure that regulation, rather than competition, is the best way to minimize that abuse.)
- 9:19 AM, 30 September 2011   [link]

A Tribute To The Death Of Anwar Al-Awlaki from Louis Armstrong.
- 7:31 AM, 30 September 2011   [link]

Is Fidel Castro A Racist?  Well, probably, and for many on the left this would be proof.
Fidel Castro mocked President Barack Obama on Thursday for saying he's open to changing U.S. policy toward Cuba if there is change on the island first, calling the U.S. leader "stupid."
(Maybe Castro is just trying to help Obama win more votes from Cuban-Americans.)
- 6:06 PM, 29 September 2011   [link]

Joe Biden Commits Another Kinsley gaffe.
Vice President Joe Biden told Florida radio station WLRN on Thursday that voters should hold President Barack Obama, not former President George W. Bush, accountable for the poor state of America's economy.
As I have said before, one of the things I like about Biden is his way of blurting out inconvenient truths from time to time.

(Kinsley gaffe, just in case you have forgotten.)
- 1:18 PM, 29 September 2011   [link]

"Let Them Eat Windmills"  That's the wonderful title of Mario Loyola's competent summary of Obama's energy policies, policies that are slowing growth in the US economy.

I'm not much for this sort of oratory.  I prefer when people get to the point, as when incoming Secretary of Energy Steven Chu said, before one congressional committee, "Somehow, we have to figure out how to boost the price of gasoline to the levels in Europe."  That exclamation was wonderful not just because it was simple, and clear as a mountain stream.  It was also an accurate description of the administration's energy policy.
. . .
Well, just look at the results: As of June, 10 of the 33 drilling rigs present in the Gulf before the spill had left to other countries, and another 8 that were destined for the Gulf had been detoured.  According to one recent study, 60,000 jobs were lost along the Gulf coast in 2010 alone as a result of Obama's deepwater-drilling moratorium and slow-walking of shallow-water permits.  Gov. Bobby Jindal justly called Obama's policies a "second Katrina."

Those job losses were not a collateral result of Obama's policy — they were the policy's objective.
As they say, read the whole thing.  And extend my sympathy to any of your friends and relatives who are looking for work.
- 7:12 AM, 28 September 2011   [link]

Ha, Ha, Only Serious:  That hacker phrase describes how I interpret Democratic Governor Bev Perdue's wish to cancel Congressional elections for two years.
“I think we ought to suspend, perhaps, elections for Congress for two years and just tell them we won’t hold it against them, whatever decisions they make, to just let them help this country recover,” Perdue said at a rotary club event in Cary, N.C., according to the Raleigh News & Observer.  “I really hope that someone can agree with me on that.”
Perdue's people almost immediately said that she had been joking, but I think James Taranto is almost right when he argues that what she said was more a wish than a joke.

But I think that hacker phrase is an even better way to describe what she said; she was not joking, or even wishing, exactly, but saying something impossible in order to illuminate what she sees as a damaging stalemate.

Another way to understand what she was saying is to see her as conducting a thought experiment, predicting what would happen if congressmen did not have to worry about next year's election.

And the stalemate?  It's real, and the voters caused it, by making one decision in 2006 and 2008 — and rejecting that decision in 2010.  It might be resolved if either the Democrats or the Republicans win full control of the government in 2012, but it will not be if the government continues to be divided.
- 2:23 PM, 28 September 2011
More:  The Raleigh News & Observer now says that it was not Perdue's staff who said she was joking, but news organizations, including the News & Observer.  The governor now says she was being "sarcastic", which is sort of what I said.

There's much more in the article, including past weird statements from the North Carolina governor.  For example:
When Perdue is off script, it is often an adventure.  While visiting SAS's solar farm in Cary where sheep graze, she commented to co-founder John Sall: "If we only had that ram, John, we could mate and have fun."
Even Miss Manners might find it hard to think of an immediate reply to that one.

The newspaper, which, as I understand it, has been a big supporter of Perdue, does not mention her legal troubles.  (It's rarely a good idea to lie to the FBI.)
- 11:01 AM, 29 September2011
Still More:  Journolister Dave Weigel makes a similar argument, and even uses my "thought experiment" phrase to make a point about, of all things, gerrymandering.  He attacks the Republican gerrymander, which will give them gains in North Carolina — without, of course, mentioning the Democratic gerrymander it is replacing.  Here, for example, is the infamous 12th district.

I'm opposed to the current Democratic gerrymander and, if Weigel is telling the truth, the prospective Republican gerrymander.

(Note:  I have corrected an earlier version of this update, after noticing that Weigel wrote his piece before mine.)
- 8:16 AM, 30 September 2011   [link]

Two From Smart Politics:  First, credit where due.   The special election in New York's 9th district came in right at the historical average.
Turner's 29-point net bump from the 2010 general is just 1-point shy of the 30-point average gain against the vacating party since 1962
Eric Ostermeier noted that average swing before the election; I don't know anyone else who spotted it, before or after the election.

Which Republican candidates have the most anti-Washington rhetoric?  Ron Paul, of course, and . . . . . Mitt Romney.
A Smart Politics review of the rhetoric used in the four major GOP debates held over the last three months finds that Ron Paul and Mitt Romney currently lead the field with the largest average number of attacks - at 9.5 and 9.0 statements per debate respectively.

Michele Bachmann is next at 7.0 critiques per debate, followed by Rick Perry at 5.5, Herman Cain at 4.8, Newt Gingrich at 4.5, Rick Santorum at 4.0, and Jon Huntsman at 1.0.  Former candidate Tim Pawlenty averaged 8.0 during the two debates in which he participated.
I don't mind admitting that Romney's second place surprised me.
- 8:32 AM, 28 September 2011   [link]

Garance Franke-Rota gets cruel.
Some are marveling over the informal tone of the president's reelection campaign emails, asking: "Obama campaign email subject or message from my aunt?"

But I say forget the aunties.  The false intimacy of the Obama online media campaign has finally gotten to the point where the president sounds like a plaintive boyfriend worried about trying to save the relationship.
One of Obama's great strengths in 2008 was that so many considered him "cool".  That's one of the reasons he did so well among the young, both in the primaries and in the general election.

Unfortunately for him, it's easy to lose that reputation.
- 6:51 AM, 28 September 2011   [link]

Bending The Health Cost Curve:   Upward.
The cost for businesses to buy health coverage for workers rose the most this year since 2005 and may reach $32,175 for a family in 2021, according to a survey of private and public employers.

The average cost of a family policy climbed 9 percent in 2011 to $15,073, according to a poll of 2,088 private companies and state and local government agencies by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation in Menlo Park, California, and the Chicago- based American Hospital Association’s Health Research and Educational Trust.
. . .
The health law enacted last year accounts for 1 to 2 percentage points of the premium increases in 2011, said Drew Altman, chief executive officer of the Kaiser Family Foundation.
(And most of it hasn't even come into effect.)

Remember all those promises about how ObamaCare would help us control costs?

If Obama believed them, he was misinformed.  If he didn't believe them, he was — and I'll be blunt here — lying to us.

(This time, I am not sure whether I prefer him being misinformed or dishonest.  Usually I come down on the side of dishonesty, preferring that our president know the basic facts even if he isn't willing to share them with us.  But this time it is so important that the voters understand the basics of this difficult problem, that I suppose I prefer, slightly, that he was misinformed, because, in principle, he could learn the facts, and share them with us.

That's unlikely, but not impossible.)
- 6:34 AM, 28 September 2011
More:  The Investor's Business Daily makes the same point, and has a graphic showing how much the curve bent up last year.
- 7:39 AM, 28 September 2011   [link]

Newsweek Editor Admits the obvious; Barack Obama was not ready to be president.

That was obvious in November 2008, too, but I doubt that Newsweek knew it.   If they did, they didn't share that knowledge with their readers.
- 6:01 AM, 28 September 2011   [link]

Der Spiegel Versus Dick Cheney:  Cheney defeats the interviewers from the leftist German magazine easily, even though he is outnumbered two to one.

Two samples:
SPIEGEL: You are critical that Obama no longer wants the US to decide everything unilaterally.  International partners are more involved in military interventions and share the costs.  One Obama advisor has called it "leading from behind."

Cheney: That strikes me as a totally incongruous and contradictory thing to say.
. . .
SPIEGEL: That sounds as though you don't think much of your partners.

Cheney: Germany doesn't spend very much on the military.  If we had to rely on you guys to spend enough to perform the role the United States has over the last several years, it wouldn't have happened.  I love my German friends and allies, but the bottom line is, with few exceptions, most of our NATO allies don't meet the standard that you would expect out of somebody who is seriously trying to be a successful partner.
If it had been a prize fight, the referee would have stopped it.
- 4:32 PM, 27 September 2011   [link]

Wyoming And Colorado Are Hard To Tell Apart:  If you are an average third grader.  But a White House staffer should know which one is which.
- 12:23 PM, 27 September 2011   [link]

Lincoln Studied Strategy During The Civil War:  While dipping into Carl Sandburg's biography of Lincoln recently, I found this description of his White House office:
The main executive office and workroom on the second floor, 25 by 40 feet, had a large white marble fireplace, with brass andirons and a high brass fender, a few chairs, two hair-covered sofas, and a large oak table for Cabinet meetings. . . . A tall desk with many pigeonholes soood nearby at the south wall.  Among books were the United States Statutes, the Bible and Shakespeare's plays.  At times the table had been littered with treatises on the art and science of war.
(Emphasis added.)

It would be gratifying to learn that President Obama was making a similar effort.

(Sandburg's Lincoln biography is one of those rare books that you can open to almost any page, and find something instructive and, usually, something amusing.  For example, on that same page, Sandburg tells the reader about Lincoln listening to the British ambassador giving him a formal statement on the marriage of a British prince.
Lincoln listened gravely throughout, and the ceremony over, took the bachelor minister by the hand, then quietly, "And now, Lord Lyons, go thou and do likewise."
Lord Lyons didn't take Lincoln's advice.)
- 8:22 AM, 27 September 2011   [link]

The "Fast And Furious" Story Gets even more bizarre.
Not only did U.S. officials approve, allow and assist in the sale of more than 2,000 guns to the Sinaloa cartel -- the federal government used taxpayer money to buy semi-automatic weapons, sold them to criminals and then watched as the guns disappeared.
And someone thought this was a good idea because?

From the beginning, some gun rights supporters have argued that this operation was a plot to further restrict gun sales in the United States.  (For example, see this site.)  It is getting harder and harder to resist that explanation, as crazy as it sounded at first, at least to me.

By way of Hot Air.

(Caveat:  This part of the story is coming, indirectly, from a whistle blower.  I have no reason to doubt what he has said, but we should recognize that we may not have the full story.

Some will remember that the ATF did not play an altogether admirable part in the Waco siege.)
- 7:15 AM, 27 September 2011   [link]

Colonel Peters Admires A Dangerous Adversary, Vladimir Putin.
There is one incontestably great actor on the world stage today, and he has no interest in following our script.  Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin — soon to be Russia's president again — has proven remarkably effective at playing the weak strategic hand he inherited, chalking up triumph after triumph while confirming himself as the strong leader Russians crave.  Not one of his international peers evidences so profound an understanding of his or her people, or possesses Putin's canny ability to size up counterparts.
Are there any American leaders who could match him, strategically?

Not that I can think of.  The Nixon-Kissinger team might have, but they are no longer available.  (Like Putin, they were weak on economic policy.)

How should we counter him?  In a number of ways, but mostly by bringing down the price of oil and by supporting democracy movements inside Russia.

(I would argue that Putin's foreign policies have not been wise, have not been good for Russia, long run, despite his successes.  It is hard, for example, to see how Russia will gain from a nuclear-armed Iran on their southern border.)
- 5:33 AM, 27 September 2011   [link]

Deroy Murdock Thinks Obama Is Half Right When He Criticizes Congress For Doing Nothing:  Obama is right about the Democratically-controlled Senate, but not about the Republican-controlled House
The 112th Congress has been characterized by a very active legislative pace in the Republican House, featuring the passage of many measures designed to revive America's exhausted economy.

The Democratic Senate, meanwhile, is a much lazier place, where House Republicans' measures go to die.
Murdock thinks that Obama is being deliberately deceptive on this issue.
Obama can disagree with every piece of paper passed by the GOP House.  But when he slyly bashes Republicans by accusing "this Congress" of "doing nothing," he simply is lying through his teeth.  If Obama wants the entire Congress to get something done, he should tell Harry Reid to wake up and do his job.
I am not sure that Obama is lying when he says these things, but I am absolutely sure that he is being deceptive, and that he prefers having issues in 2012 to passing bills in 2011.
- 2:03 PM, 26 September 2011   [link]

More Bad News For Our "Mainstream" News Organizations:   From two very reputable polling organizations, Gallup and Pew.

Gallup found that the public has low, but stable, opinions of our "mainstream" news organizations.

The majority of Americans still do not have confidence in the mass media to report the news fully, accurately, and fairly.  The 44% of Americans who have a great deal or fair amount of trust and the 55% who have little or no trust remain among the most negative views Gallup has measured.

Gallup has found negative opinions about our news organizations every year since 1997, except for 2004.  And even in that poll, the public was barely positive.

The perceptions of bias are even more consistent.

The majority of Americans (60%) also continue to perceive bias, with 47% saying the media are too liberal and 13% saying they are too conservative, on par with what Gallup found last year.  The percentage of Americans who say the media are "just about right" edged up to 36% this year but remains in the range Gallup has found historically.

Unlike Gallup, Pew found changes in their annual poll, changes for the worse.  (The two organizations asked entirely different sets of questions, so there may not be a conflict in the results.)

Negative opinions about the performance of news organizations now equal or surpass all-time highs on nine of 12 core measures the Pew Research Center has been tracking since 1985.  However, these bleak findings are put into some perspective by the fact that news organizations are more trusted sources of information than are many other institutions, including government and business.

In other words, we really dislike our news organizations, but we dislike other organizations even more.

Now for those twelve measures.  In seven of them, negative opinions outweighed positive opinions.  Americans believe that news organizations are often influenced by the powerful (80-15), tend to favor one side (77-16), try to cover up mistakes (72-18), often have inaccurate stories (66-25), are politically biased (63-25), don't care about the people they report on (63-26), and are immoral (42-38).  All of these were record highs for negative opinions, except for caring about the people they report on.

In one, hurt democracy, Americans were split with 42 percent agreeing and 42 percent disagreeing.

Americans still give news organizations positive marks on three measures, being professional (57-32), caring about the quality of their work (62-31), and keeping leaders doing their jobs (58-25).

Unlike Gallup, Pew found recent changes among Democrats.  For example:

Three-quarters of Republicans (76%) say news organizations are politically biased, a view shared by 54% of Democrats.  In 2007, 70% of Republicans but only 39% of Democrats said the press was politically biased.  Views on this question among independents have changed little (63% now, 61% in 2007).

(I have some speculations about this shift that I will save for another post.)

I'll be using this post as a basis for others, so I'll end here with this observation:  News organizations may worry about these findings privately, but I see little evidence that they do — and almost no evidence that they intend to do anything to change those negative opinions.  Even though those negative opinions must be costing them serious amounts of money.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 1:08 PM, 26 September 2011   [link]

Google Is Going Bipartisan:  And bi-ideological.  (Is that a word?  If not, it should be.)

I don't recall the exact numbers, but in 2008, Google gave about 90 percent of its campaign cash to Democrats.  That's changed.
Google, whose top executives have long been a bottomless cup of campaign coffee for Democrats, is finally entering its bipartisan phase, theatrically hiring Republican operatives and broadcasting the news through insider Washington publications, pumping air into a K Street tech bubble.

The shift in political strategy comes as Google faces a serious antitrust threat, punctuated by a high-profile hearing on the company held Wednesday afternoon in the Senate.   But Google's investment in the infrastructure of the conservative movement goes much deeper than what's been reported this summer.

The company known for its progressive politics is now giving money to the Heritage Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the Republican Governors Association, the GOP firm The David All Group, Crossroads Strategies, the Republican Attorneys General Association and the Republican State Leadership Committee, among others.  On Thursday, Google and Fox News cosponsored a Republican presidential debate.
Why the shift?

I can think of two broad classes of explanations:  Google may have decided that the Republicans are almost certain to control the House after the 2012 elections, will probably control the Senate, and now have about a 50 percent chance to win the White House, too.  So Google, like many companies before it, is trying to curry favor with likely winners.  Or, Google may have taken a look at the Obama-Pelosi-Reid policies and decided that they have not been a great success.

The two explanations aren't exclusive, of course.

The reporters who wrote this story are pretty sure that the first answer explains everything, and have a long, and moderately interesting, discussion of the Google's past actions, and the conflict between Microsoft and Google.

But I don't see why the second should be excluded; there are some smart folks at Google, and it is easy to believe a few of them have noticed recent numbers from the economy.  And, perhaps, the possibility of an antitrust action may have concentrated their minds.

(Here are some numbers on past Google contributions, and here's a post showing just how much Google is distrusted by some on the right.)
- 10:01 AM, 26 September 2011   [link]

Six Weeks Until A Greek Default?  That's a plausible guess.

Why six weeks?  Because the European leaders need that long to get ready to contain the disaster.
European Union governments will spend the next six weeks building a financial firewall to protect their fragile banking systems against what is now seen as an inevitable Greek default.

G20 sources said that up to 50% was likely to be wiped from the face value of Greece's €350bn debt — but not until Europe had put into place a war chest to prevent the contagion spreading.
Will that allow Greece to finally get back on a road to recovery?  Probably not, says Daniel Hannan, who believes that the Greek government and the European leaders want to keep Greece in the euro.

Hannan thinks that would be crazy, and so do I.
- 8:11 AM, 26 September 2011   [link]

It's A Mistake To Assign Hidden Meanings To Every Verbal Slip, but this one, coming from a man who listened to Reverend Wright's sermons for decades, is interesting.
Speaking at the Congressional Black Caucus annual awards dinner in Washington Saturday night, President Obama made a verbal boo-boo.

While defending his call for the rich to pay more in taxes, the president said he didn't mind people calling him a class warrior for merely asking a billionaire to pay the same tax rate as a Jew.
It is politically incorrect to point this out, but surveys show that anti-Semitism is most common among blacks, especially educated blacks.
- 5:37 AM, 26 September 2011   [link]

Two Obama Blunders:  David Ignatius says that the Obama administration is now "playing defense" in foreign policy, and gives Obama some credit for playing defense "reasonably well".

But then Ignatius goes on to describe two Obama blunders, blunders that helped make it necessary for Obama to play defense.
Obama could have avoided a lot of his current Af-Pak problems if he hadn't coupled his December 2009 troop surge with a pledge to start withdrawing those troops [from Afghanistan] in July 2011.  The wiser course would have been deliberate ambiguity.
. . .
Obama knew that America's security, and Israel's, required creation of a Palestinian state.

What happened to that promise?  It's a long and depressing story, but the simple answer is that Obama got outfoxed.  He decided not to immediately enunciate core principles for an agreement, which would have built on the remarkable progress made in 2008 by Ehud Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas, a story that awaits Condoleezza Rice's memoirs.  Instead, he picked a fight over Israeli settlements that landed him in the morass of Israeli coalition politics.
Ignatius is, of course, wrong to say that our security, or Israel's requires a Palestinian state.

But he is absolutely right to hint that Obama blundered in moving toward that objective.  And we know that because Obama managed to achieve a rare triple; the Israelis don't trust him, the Palestinians don't trust him, and even an informal peace agreement is farther away than ever.

The Nobel Peace Prize committee may have been a little premature.

Those two blunders show what is almost a perverse kind of genius.  No serious person would combine a surge and a withdrawal time table, and no serious person would expect to get concessions from the Israelis by abusing them.

I wish that I could say that I see signs that Obama learned from those blunders — but I don't.
- 12:57 PM, 25 September 2011   [link]

Jessica Grose Makes A Point:  But it's not the one she intends.
What I'm calling the Palin Principle is now blindingly clear: No matter how unqualified you are for office, if you run for President or Vice President on the GOP ticket and make a splash, it's a hop, skip and a jump to cable glory and scads of money.
Actually, as everyone should know, the same is true on the Democratic side.

But what Grose misses is this:  Wouldn't we be far better off if Barack Obama — who made a splash (and "scads of money") in 2008 — had a cable TV contract, rather than his current job?

(Obama took advantage of his "splash" to make "scads of money" on a book deal, signing it just before he became president.)
- 7:14 AM, 25 September 2011   [link]