September 2012, Part 4

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Hugo Chávez Changes With The Times:   Last year, he called President Obama a "clown” and an “embarrassment”.

This year, Chávez has endorsed Obama.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has weighed in on the U.S. presidential race, saying he prefers President Barack Obama.

"If I were American, I'd vote for Obama," Chavez said in a televised interview that aired Sunday.

The Venezuelan leader called Obama "a good guy" and said if the U.S. president were a Venezuelan, "I think ... he'd vote for Chavez."
I suppose a "clown” and an “embarrassment” can also be a "good guy", but this does seem a bit inconsistent.

(Would Obama vote for Chávez?  Good question, and I am troubled by the fact that I can't, immediately, say no.)
- 7:34 PM, 30 September 2012   [link]

The Iraq And Afghanistan Surges in two graphs.

Bush's Iraq surge succeeded — and for that some on the left will never forgive him.   As of now, we can not say that Obama's Afghanistan surge succeeded.

And it is hard to see how it can, given Obama's two decisions, one dubious — not to give General McChrystal the number of reinforcements he had asked for — and one downright crazy — setting a withdrawal date at same time as the surge.

McChrystal is a military expert; Obama is not.  If McChrystal said he need X number of troops, then Obama should have either given him those reinforcements, or found another general.

I called setting a withdrawal date crazy, because it is.  Even a complete military amateur should be able to understand that setting that date would encourage our enemies, by telling them they only had to last until then.

Did Obama not know that?  Or, even worse, did he not care?  Was he simply carrying out a campaign promise without worrying about the effects of that withdrawal date on Afghanistan, and the United States?

(More here, though I should warn you that the author is quite biased.)
- 7:11 PM, 30 September 2012   [link]

Are Financial Recessions Usually Followed By Weak Recoveries?  That's what supporters of President Obama have been claiming, in an effort to excuse the slow growth during his time in office.

Economist Michael Borda says no.
In a recent working paper for the National Bureau of Economic Research, Joseph Haubrich of the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland and I examined U.S. business cycles from 1880 to the present.  Our study not only confirms Friedman's plucking model but also shows that deep recessions associated with financial crises recover at a faster pace than deep recessions without them.
. . .
Thus the slow recovery that we are experiencing from the recession that ended in July 2009 is an exception to the historical pattern.  This can largely be attributed to the unprecedented housing bust, a proximate measure of which is the collapse of residential investment, which still is far below its historic pattern during recoveries.  Another problem may be uncertainty over changes in fiscal and regulatory policy, or over structural change in the economy.
Not being an economist, I won't study his paper, but the overall rationale for his argument — that economies tend to return to their long-term trend lines — seems plausible enough to me.
- 10:10 AM, 30 September 2012   [link]

Sarah Palin Was Right about the death panels, as Steven Rattner admitted a few weeks ago, in an op-ed in the New York Times.

He didn't give her credit, though he should have.

Her point wasn't difficult to understand, then or now.  If we are going to control health care costs through bureaucratic rationing, the bureaucrats will, inevitably, focus on the high end-of-life medical costs, and equally inevitably they will decide that, because of poor prospects, some elderly patients won't get care that might extend their lives.

"Death panels" may be an overly dramatic name for those bureaucratic committees, but her point is valid.

(Rattner has had an unusual career, going from a low-level journalist to a high-level fund manager, with a scandal or two along the way, and much help from friends in high places.)
- 9:21 AM, 30 September 2012   [link]

Metro Transit Eliminated The Free Ride Area In Seattle:  So the Seattle Housing and Resource Effort (SHARE) will be closing their homeless shelters.
Representatives of some 500 homeless people who stay in two tent cities and 16 shelters in the Seattle area — mostly churches — closed most of those facilities Friday until their demands for more free Metro bus tickets are met.
. . .
In a news release, the group said the closing of the downtown free bus-ride bus zone was "a punishing blow to poor and homeless people."  The group said that beginning Monday, it will get $50,000 worth of bus tickets from Metro, about a fifth of what it says it needs for the rest of the year.
From time to time, I think that Seattle, and homeless advocates generally, can no longer surprise me — and then they prove me wrong.

(From what I've seen, nearly all of the homeless in Seattle have both the time and the physical ability to walk anywhere in the downtown area.  And, although it rains a lot here — in the winter — we seldom have dangerously low or high temperatures.)
- 3:37 PM, 29 September 2012   [link]

The Onion Publishes an obvious joke.
According to the results of a Gallup poll released Monday, the overwhelming majority of rural white Americans said they would rather vote for Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad than U.S. president Barack Obama.
And the Iranian news agency, Fars, takes it seriously.
- 2:46 PM, 28 September 2012   [link]

Karl Rove's Electoral College Trends:  He sees Romney as behind, but not hopelessly so.

Karl Rove's 9/24/2012 presidential trend

If you study those trends, you will see that you could fit a straight line to Romney's safe electoral college votes, showing him gaining steadily since April.  Obama's trend is a mirror image, for the first months, followed by a recent bump — which may be dissipating.

In general, I have found Rove's analyses to be biased, but not by very much.  And I don't see any partisan bias in this chart, where he is mostly summarizing poll results, from a variety of sources.  (If there is any bias, it would come from those polls, not Rove.)

You can see a slightly larger version of the trends here (by clicking on the chart), along with his map, and an explanation of his methodology.

(The last link will probably be good for a week, at most.)
- 9:37 AM, 28 September 2012   [link]

Anti-Fracking Film has OPEC backer.
A new film starring Matt Damon presents American oil and natural gas producers as money-grubbing villains purportedly poisoning rural American towns.  It is therefore of particular note that it is financed in part by the royal family of the oil-rich United Arab Emirates.
The support isn't surprising, but it is a little surprising to see it given so openly.  I have wondered for years whether OPEC members might be subsidizing Green causes, but I always thought they would do it in ways that preserved "plausible deniability".
- 7:54 AM, 28 September 2012   [link]

Mendacity Or Incompetence? (2)  Back to the question of whether the Obama administration was lying about the attack on our consulate in Libya, which I discussed, most recently, here.

As you probably recall, I argued that Obama may not have been willing to accept the evidence that it was a terrorist attack, even as others in his administration have.   (Hillary Clinton is now admitting the obvious.)

Glenn Kessler has compiled a useful timeline of administration statements showing their, uh, evolution.

Now here's what I noticed about that series:  As late as two days ago, Obama was still resisting calling it a terrorist attack.  Here's an exchange from his appearance on The View.
QUESTION: “I heard Hillary Clinton say it was an act of terrorism.  Is it?   What do you say?”

OBAMA: “We are still doing an investigation.  There is no doubt that the kind of weapons that were used, the ongoing assault, that it wasn’t just a mob action.  Now, we don’t have all the information yet so we are still gathering.”
(I should add that on the day after the attack, Obama did say "acts of terror", but that's not quite the same, as any diplomat can tell you, as a "terrorist attack".)

Note that he is still reluctant to accept reality in that exchange, as if he is hoping that more information will allow him to keep most of his original position.

(Victor Davis Hanson comes to a similar conclusion about Obama; our president finds it hard to accept the reality that his Middle East policies have failed.)
- 3:09 PM, 27 September 2012   [link]

The Beer Index:  It turns out that the brand of beer you drink is correlated with both your party and your likelihood of voting.

It located me correctly.  The only beer on that chart that I have had recently is Samuel Adams — and that's a favorite of Republicans who are very likely to vote.

(My two favorite beers are Alaskan Amber and Black Butte Porter, neither of which are on the graph.)
- 2:11 PM, 27 September 2012   [link]

"Worst Economy In 50 Years"  If you are old enough, you probably remember that was what Bill Clinton was saying back in 1992 — and that enough people believed him so that he won.

How bad was the economy in 1992?  This bad:  In every quarter of 1992, the GDP grew at more than a 4 percent rate.   (In the first three quarters after Clinton became president, the growth slowed down.)

As you probably heard, today the Bureau of Economic Analysis lowered its estimate of GDP for the second quarter from 1.7 to 1.3 percent.  If the news program you were listening to was any good, they reminded you that the growth rate in the first quarter was only 2.0 percent.

But surely there have been some better quarters since President Obama was elected?   Yes, two.  In the fourth quarter of 2009, growth hit 4.0 percent, and in the fourth quarter of 2011, it hit 4.1 percent.  (Here's a graph showing all the quarters since Obama's inauguration.)

The growth rates in every quarter of 1992 — 4.5, 4.3, 4.2, and 4.3 percent — were higher than Obama's best two quarters.

What do you think Bill Clinton would say now, if he were writing speeches for Mitt Romney?

(Those with especially good memories will recall that the GDP estimates announced during the 1992 campaign were much lower.  But the revisions were announced too late to help President Bush.

That first BEA link goes to an interactive page, so you'll have to take a couple of steps to see the actual numbers.)
- 12:51 PM, 27 September 2012   [link]

Now, President Obama Says We Should Ignore that anti-Islam video.
President Obama made the case to the ladies of The View that we should "marginalize" the infamous anti-Islam video that supposedly sparked attacks on American embassies across the world by "ignoring it."
Good idea, but it would help if Obama himself would set a better example.  He could, for instance, have left it out of his latest UN speech.
- 8:01 AM, 27 September 2012   [link]

Some Of The Substitute NFL Refs Were Fired by the Lingerie Football League.
Some of the replacement referees working for the NFL -- the nation's most lucrative sport -- aren't even good enough for the Lingerie Football League, it was revealed on Tuesday.

The LFL, which fields women playing in bras and skimpy underwear, announced that it had fired several of the referees now calling prime time NFL games for 'on-field incompetent officiating.'
As well as titillating, I found that (and other revelations about the subs) mildly surprising.   There must be thousands of football referees with years of college experience, and, given our lousy job market, I would think that hundreds of them would at least be interested in even temporary NFL work.

(Some of you are going to want to know more about the LFL.  You may be surprised, for instance, to learn that they claim to be a women's professional league that is "actually growing".

The team names are: Mist, Valkyrie, Chill, Temptation, Sin, Bliss, Crush, Passion, Charm, Breeze, Heart, and Saints.  Which, I think you will agree, give one a different impression (with the exception of the Saints) than the names of NFL teams.)
- 7:41 AM, 27 September 2012   [link]

Aluminum Cans Get Recycled fast.
Aluminum is one of the easiest metals to recycle.  In 60 days, a can of beer can be sold, trashed, collected, melted, turned into sheet, cast into a new can, and filled again with fermented barley.  Cans make up 2% of the volume of recycled trash, but 40% of the value, according to the industry.
As you probably know, recycling the aluminum saves a lot of energy, about 90 percent according to the article.

The article is a bit vague on the individual collectors who earn a little extra money by picking up aluminum cans that other people have thrown away, but it looks to me as if they seldom earn even the minimum wage.

On the other hand, the barriers to entry into the business (as economists might say) are very low.
- 3:29 PM, 26 September 2012   [link]

Our "Mainstream" Journalists Wouldn't Really Excuse Murders by Obama.  But I'll bet that, when you read this piece from the Onion, you'll find yourself thinking that the usual suspects might say something like that.
More than a week after President Barack Obama's cold-blooded killing of a local couple, members of the American news media admitted Tuesday that they were still trying to find the best angle for covering the gruesome crime.

"I know there's a story in there somewhere," said Newsweek editor Jon Meacham, referring to Obama's home invasion and execution-style slaying of Jeff and Sue Finowicz on Apr. 8.   "Right now though, it's probably best to just sit back and wait for more information to come in.  After all, the only thing we know for sure is that our president senselessly murdered two unsuspecting Americans without emotion or hesitation."

Added Meacham, "It's not so cut and dried."
You may find it entertaining to try to add reactions from some of your favorite journalists to that piece, as Patterico did.
- 1:07 PM, 26 September 2012   [link]

Barack Obama Is Worse Than George W. Bush:  All right, a lot of people believe that (me, for instance), but most for different reasons than Ralph Nader.
On issues related to the military and foreign policy, Obama’s worse than Bush, “in the sense that he’s more aggressive, more illegal worldwide,” Nader told POLITICO, going so far as to call Obama a “war criminal.”
And why not?  Nader at least is being consistent, unlike most on the left.

(Nader isn't always consistent, as Peter Schweizer explains.)
- 8:39 AM, 26 September 2012   [link]

Perhaps Jay Inslee Is Trying For The Wrong Job:  The Washington state Democratic candidate for governor has been telling us that he can pick economic winners.  (And even that he has picked economic winners in the past, a claim that seems, at best, dubious, especially to those who have taken even a casual look as his personal finances.)

Suppose that he is right.  Suppose that he is one of those rare people who can tell us, in advance, which businesses will prosper over the next ten or twenty years.

If Inslee really does have that rare talent, he should be looking for a job, not in Olympia, but on Wall Street, where he can direct investments to winning companies, thereby creating jobs and even making a little money for himself.  (Okay, a lot of money, if he really is that good.)

In contrast, a Washington state governor, even with the support of party majorities in the legislature, can do much less to direct investments in the right directions.  They can, it is true, give tax breaks to favored industries, but those tax breaks will have to be paid for by tax increases somewhere else, perhaps on other businesses that would be able to prosper, if it were not for those higher taxes.

Those limits on investments are especially tight, right now, given our budget problems.

The experiences of other states (and nations) that have tried to direct investment in this way, tried to institute industrial policies, are not encouraging.  I am not saying there are no successes, but they are so rare that many nations, and many states, have given up on them.

If Inslee were to give up his campaign for governor and, instead, begin setting up the Jay Inslee hedge fund, I would wish him good luck.  But I wouldn't put my money in that fund.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 7:49 AM, 26 September 2012   [link]

Three Pinocchios To Washington Post Fact Checker Glenn Kessler:  In an earlier post, I mentioned the interesting fact that President Obama has missed more than half of his daily intelligence briefings.  Crossroads, Karl Rove's outfit, has been using that fact in an ad, an ad that Kessler thinks deserves three "Pinocchios".  (Out of a maximum of four.)

But his reasoning is bogus.  He argues that Obama gets his intelligence in other ways, that other recent presidents were worse, that the released presidential schedules are sometimes misleading, and so on.  All that may be true, but none of it touches on the truth of the claim in the ad.

Parents will recognize Kessler's excuses.  If a parent asks a child whether he missed classes, they will not be terribly surprised if they hear claims that other kids missed more classes, that he read the assignment, or even that the school records are sometimes wrong.   The wise parent will understand these excuses for what they are, attempts to evade the unpleasant truth.

Kessler probably believes what he wrote, so I am giving him three Pinocchios, rather than four.

(You can watch the ad at the Kessler link.

Should presidents have daily intelligence briefings?  In my opinion, yes, as long as the war on terror goes on, though I would listen to contrary arguments from anyone who knows what actually goes on in them.)
- 5:46 AM, 26 September 2012   [link]

Thaddeus McCotter's Aides Fail Him:  This is, undoubtedly, one of the strangest vote fraud stories I have ever encountered.

A smart, and more than a little bit odd, Republican congressman rises in the House, and even runs for president, though few noticed.  When that ends, he goes back to running for his House seat, and encounters a problem.  Four of his aides had forged the signatures on his nominating petitions, and not for the first time.
One of four former staffers to U.S. Rep. Thaddeus McCotter charged in the petition fraud scandal that drove him into early retirement pleaded no contest to five misdemeanors Tuesday.
. . .
Three other members of McCotter's staff were charged in the scandal, which involved the submission of duplicate, photocopied petitions in an effort to qualify McCotter for the 2012 ballot.  After the phony petitions were uncovered, McCotter withdrew from the race and later resigned.

The Free Press reported on Aug. 16 that duplicate and doctored petitions also were used to help McCotter qualify for the ballot in 2008 and 2010.
What makes this especially strange is that Michigan requires so few signatures — just 1,000 — that it would be easy to collect enough legitimate signatures in a few days of work.

According to Woodruff, McCotter hired staffers who "were just as quirky as he was".   Right now, that looks like a serious mistake.
- 1:17 PM, 24 September 2012   [link]

Oh, Canada:  Mary Anastasia O'Grady gives a quick summary of our northern neighbor's financial turnaround.
Former Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin has a stern warning for the U.S. political class: Get real about the gap between federal revenues and spending, or get ready for disaster.

Mr. Martin knows of what he speaks. In 1993, when he was Canada's finance minister, his country faced a daunting fiscal crisis.  It wasn't Greece, but by 1994 Canada's federal debt-to-GDP ratio was getting close to 80%, and the cost of servicing the debt had begun to eat up an incredible one-third of government revenue.
Martin says that "arithmetic" forced Canada to make the changes necessary to reduce that gap.  The changes were painful at the time, but pretty clearly beneficial in the long run.

It may have been his business career that gave Martin the experience to see that "arithmetic".  One of the many things that worries me about Obama's administration is how few in it have ever managed a company, how few have had to face the constraints of "arithmetic".

Here's something remarkable about those Canadian cuts:  To the best of my knowledge, they had little or no effect on the usual measures of outcomes, life expectancy, infant mortality, international test scores, and so on.  I will admit that I have not made a systematic search for the damage that those cuts might have caused (though I plan to do so some time), but I am nearly certain that the New York Times would have told me about the damage, if it had been significant.

(That business career also caused him problems since his holdings made him a walking, talking conflict of interest.

There are other democratic countries, Denmark, for instance, that have also faced the "arithmetic" successfully, and I hope to find some good accounts of how these other nations did that, too.)
- 12:45 PM, 24 September 2012   [link]

Bill Clinton Owes George W. Bush An Apology:  Probably many apologies, actually, but this post reminds us of a recent bit of dishonesty from Clinton.

Briefly, Bush followed Clinton's advice not to deal with Yasser Arafat — and now Clinton is blaming Bush for doing that.
- 7:41 AM, 24 September 2012   [link]

Elizabeth Warren, Democratic Senate Candidate, Law Professor, And Scofflaw?  Professor Jacobson says that Warren ignored a few of those little details that lawyers are supposed to pay attention to.
Warren represented not just Travelers, but numerous other companies starting in the late 1990s working out of and using her Harvard Law School office in Cambridge, which she listed as her office of record on briefs filed with various courts.  Warren, however, never has been licensed to practice law in Massachusetts.

As detailed below, there are at least two provisions of Massachusetts law Warren may have violated.  First, on a regular and continuing basis she used her Cambridge office for the practice of law without being licensed in Massachusetts.  Second, in addition to operating an office for the practice of law without being licensed in Massachusetts, Warren actually practiced law in Massachusetts without being licensed.
Not being a lawyer, I won't try to decide whether she did break the law or speculate on how serious these possible violations might be.

But it is interesting to learn that she had a (very profitable) law practice while on the faculty at Harvard, and that she used her Harvard office for that practice.
- 6:57 AM, 25 September 2012   [link]