December 2010, Part 2
Jim Miller on Politics
The Left Could Have Won On Taxes: Keith Hennessey explains how in this post. Hennessey first gives three bad (or, I would say, chancy) strategies before describing this one:
Option 4 — In early 2010, pass a budget resolution conference report that creates a reconciliation bill for the President's preferred tax policy.Why didn't they use that strategy to raise taxes on the rich, if they really wanted to? (And perhaps provide more middle-class tax breaks at the same time.) Hennessey isn't sure, and neither am I.
One possibility is incompetence, of course. The Democrats didn't think ahead, and didn't allow for the possibility that they might lose their House majority. That would be consistent with their allowing the estate tax to lapse this year. (Commenter AMTbuff suggests that they were exhausted by the ObamaCare fight, and didn't have the strength for another struggle.)
A second possibility is malice. It is no secret that many Democrats, and almost everyone on the left, would like higher taxes in the United States. Some Democrats may have hoped that they could survive the 2010 election, let the Bush tax cuts expire — and then restore some of them in 2011.
Since the failure to use this option was collective, it's likely that both incompetence and malice explain it; some Democrats didn't think ahead, and some Democrats hoped they could get higher taxes, without voting for them directly.
- 8:41 AM, 16 December 2010 [link]
Congratulations To Speaker Pelosi And Majority Leader Reid: With the help of your colleagues, you've set a new record.
Americans' assessment of Congress has hit a new low, with 13% saying they approve of the way Congress is handling its job. The 83% disapproval rating is also the worst Gallup has measured in more than 30 years of tracking congressional job performance.Just by a single point, but it's still a record. (Gallup speculates that the recent drop may be a result of Democratic disapproval of the tax deal.)
(The trends shown in the first Gallup graph are instructive. For example, approval of Congress rose after the 1994 Republican takeover, and — if you exclude the spike from the 9/11 attack — continued rising until about the middle of 2003. No doubt the increasing economic prosperity of that period helped cause that increase, but I think some of the actions of the Republican majorities during most of that period helped, too.)
- 7:38 AM, 16 December 2010 [link]
Now The Rare Earths Problem Is Official: I've been discussing this problem for years, and often enough so that I fear that I may have bored some of you. But the problem has become so obvious and so ominous, that even our Energy Department has noticed.
The United States is too reliant on China for minerals crucial to new clean energy technologies, making the American economy vulnerable to shortages of materials needed for a range of green products — from compact fluorescent light bulbs to electric cars to giant wind turbines.15 years! If we really wanted to solve this problem, we could solve it in 15 months. And we would create a significant number of high-paying jobs here in the United States while we were solving it. We know where our rare earths are; in fact, we only have to re-open an old mine. (Or, to be precise, speed up the re-opening of the mine.) We know how to separate them; the techniques were invented right here in the United States.
We would have to suspend some environmental rules — but we could do that without doing any great damage to the environment.
(We could even make foreign policy gains, with just a little cleverness. For example: At one time Brazil was a significant source of rare earths. We could offer to buy some of their ore for our stockpile, in order to restart mining operations there. Similarly, we could set up joint ventures with the Japanese to increase recycling of these minerals.
You can download the report here)
- 8:40 PM, 15 December 2010 [link]
Believing Is Seeing: Not always, but all too often.
For example, in art, as Michael Kimmelman admits.
In September the Prado made news. It announced that this painting, "The Wine of St. Martin's Day," a panoramic canvas showing a mountain of revelers drinking the first wine of the season, and a few of them suffering its consequences, was by Pieter Bruegel the Elder.(Emphasis added.)
And in many other things, including politics, as John Stossel reminds us. For example:
They promise to create jobs. But then they make life so complex and unpredictable that entrepreneurs are afraid to create jobs.Many of our politicians believe their own promises, just as many of those who sell worthless, or even dangerous, products believe their own stories. But that doesn't mean we should.
And we should be especially careful not to be fooled by labels, because those labels make it all too easy to see what we believe, rather than the other way around.
- 4:44 PM, 15 December 2010 [link]
The Mystery Of The Vanishing Appliances: New York City officials are puzzled.
Over the last several months, 22,741 New Yorkers contacted the city's Department of Sanitation and arranged for the pickup of refrigerators, air-conditioners and freezers. In more than 11,000 instances, the machines vanished before sanitation workers arrived in their white trucks to pick them up.Readers at Lucianne and the New York Times mostly aren't.
Nor will these disappearances puzzle anyone who has even a little street savvy. One fascinating, and probably significant, point: The city has a contract to sell all those appliances to single company, Sims Municipal Recycling of New York L.L.C. The scavengers who are picking up half of the appliances could probably give the city better deals than the Sims monopoly does, if they were allowed to do so.
(One reason the scavengers are excluded from the market is that many of the appliances contain chlorofluorocarbons. The article doesn't say so explicitly, but it is probably illegal to resell those, even if they are perfectly usable, and illegal to recycle them without carefully removing the chlorofluorocarbons.)
- 7:53 AM, 15 December 2010 [link]
Was Robert Gibbs Urging House Democrats Not To Be Childish? After watching the interview with Lawrence O'Donnell, I can't think of any other reasonable interpretation.
Here are the key lines.
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs hopes everyone in Washington grows up once a Republican majority takes control of the House of Representatives in January.That came after Gibbs and O'Donnell had been discussing whether the House Democrats would accept the Obama-McConnell compromise on taxes.
Like Gibbs, I would like to see adulthood break out among the House Democrats. But if it does, I don't expect it to last very long, not with a leader like Nancy Pelosi.
- 7:10 AM, 15 December 2010 [link]
Basic Lessons On Improving Education From The OECD: Those who want to want to improve education in the United States should, I have argued for years, find out what works, and imitate it. Since different nations pursue different education policies, there are useful lessons to be learned from international comparisons.
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development runs the Programme for International Student Assessment. Every three years, they do a comparative study of fifteen year old students in many nations. (You can find the "league tables" comparing different countries here.) I'll have more to say about the latest results some time next year, but I thought you might be interested in this succinct explanation, from the Economist, of what Britain has done wrong.
The better studies of American schools have been finding similar results for decades — but few policy makers in this country seem to know about those results.Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 9:45 AM, 14 December 2010 [link]
Modest, aren't they?
There is a growing bipartisan consensus that Hillary Clinton is the best ever Secretary of State, US President Barack Obama has said. His decision to appoint Clinton as the Secretary of State was one of his better decisions, the US President has said. Obama who made a rare appearance at the Foggy Bottom headquarters of the State Department to attend the holiday reception party hosted by the Washington's vibrant diplomatic community by Clinton said, "I think there's a consensus building that this may be one of the best Secretaries of State we've ever had in this country's history."What evidence did Obama give for his conclusion? Secretary Clinton has visited four countries in one day. Which, I have to admit, would have been hard for earlier Secretaries of State like Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe to do.
(Yes, Obama did say "one of the best", not "best ever", as the reporter should have noticed.)
- 9:07 AM, 14 December 2010 [link]
The British Do Love To Talk About Royalty: Even our royalty.
Many Americans share that — mostly — harmless habit. The habit isn't entirely harmless because we sometimes forget that our presidents, like every other elected official, are our servants, not our masters.
(Sasha's reactions to a long ceremony seem entirely normal to me for a nine year old; in fact I would worry if she weren't bored at such events.)
- 8:43 AM, 14 December 2010 [link]
Paul Krugman Catches Up With Me: It is a little disconcerting to find the New York Times columnist making the same argument I did two years ago. I was dubious then about Obama's plan to "jump-start" the economy, and argued that Obama's choice of metaphor might show that Obama did not understand our economic problems.
Here's part of what Paul Krugman said yesterday on the same metaphor.
The deal will, without question, give the economy a short-term boost. The prevailing view, as far as I can tell — and that includes within the Obama administration — is that this short-term boost is all we need. The deal, we're told, will jump-start the economy; it will give a fragile recovery time to strengthen.Disconcerting, but welcome. I agree with everything in those three paragraphs — except that last phrase.
In my opinion, the evidence is strong that our recovery is being hindered by excessive government regulation, regulation that has grown up over the last three decades at every level of government. If I am right, what the economy needs from our governments is not "sustained support", but decreased restrictions. (Note that I said "governments", not government. Anyone who has looked at where the latest housing bubble happened will realize that state and local policies must have helped cause the bubble.)
- 8:06 AM, 14 December 2010 [link]
One Judge Has Held ObamaCare Unconstitutional: (Two judges have held it constitutional.) You can find links to news stories on the decision here.   And links to the decision itself, for those who like to read the original source.
- 12:22 PM, 13 December 2010 [link]
If They Aren't Scientists, Should They Have Research Positions At Colleges And Universities? That's the question that occurred to me, after I read accounts of this split in the American Anthropological Association.
Anthropologists have been thrown into turmoil about the nature and future of their profession after a decision by the American Anthropological Association at its recent annual meeting to strip the word "science" from a statement of its long-range plan.Briefly, some cultural anthropologists want to be exotic journalists, or left wing activists, rather than scientists. And that group is now in charge of the most important anthropological association.
Exotic journalists (a phrase I got from Alice Dreger) and left wing activists are usually destructive, net, but there is no general reason to ban their work, and many reasons not to, if you respect freedom of speech, as I do.
But equally, there is no reason for tax money so support their unscientific "investigations", and no reason for a self-respecting college or university to employ them. If The Nation, or George Soros, or someone similar, wants to employ them, that's fine with me.
If they don't want to be scientists, then they shouldn't hold scientific positions, in my humble opinion.
(Here's some quibbling from the leaders of the AAA, along with their new long-range plan. Here's another news article on the decision, and here's a defense of the decision from a cultural anthropologist.)
- 9:45 AM, 13 December 2010 [link]
Adriana Iliescu Would Like To Have A Second Child: Nothing unusual about that, you may say, but most new mothers are a little younger.
A 72-year-old woman who had a daughter when she was 66 is planning to have a second child, Spanish media reported Sunday.
- 5:40 AM, 13 December 2010 [link]
Australia Has a new motorcycle gang.
Soldiers of Islam, also known as Sons of Islam, is believed to be an offshoot of outlaw bikie gang the Bandidos, which has a clubhouse at Mermaid Beach on the Gold Coast.As an offshoot of the Bandidos, they probably don't get along very well with the Hells Angels.
I suspect that they may not be entirely orthodox Muslims.
- 5:29 AM, 13 December 2010 [link]
The EPA Follows The Election Returns: (While denying that they are doing so.) Start with this odd lead paragraph from a New York Times article, if you want to know more.
The Obama administration is retreating on long-delayed environmental regulations — new rules governing smog and toxic emissions from industrial boilers — as it adjusts to a changed political dynamic in Washington with a more muscular Republican opposition.Just two paragraphs down is this admission:
Mr. Obama, having just cut a painful deal with Republicans intended to stimulate the economy, can ill afford to be seen as simultaneously throttling the fragile recovery by imposing a sheaf of expensive new environmental regulations that critics say will cost jobs.Granted, they put in the usual can't afford "to be seen" and "critics say", rather than something more positive, but we can grasp the main point: Those regulations would have destroyed jobs.
- 7:12 PM, 12 December 2010 [link]
An Unimportant Hate Crime? Here are the basic facts: On October 16th, someone threw a Molotov cocktail at the Latter Day Saints church in Mukilteo. The fire it started destroyed the building, which is valued at more than a million dollars.
Before I go farther, I want to call your attention to the question mark in my title. I don't know whether this was a hate crime. What I do know are two things. First, there are many people who hate the LDS church. You could see that hate in, for example, the fight over California's Proposition 8.
Second, if the target of this arson had been a politically correct religious organization, our "mainstream" journalists (and many of our elected officials) would have been certain the arson was a hate crime, and would be calling for a massive investigation. They would be lecturing us on the importance of tolerance, and they might even be offering to add their own money to the modest reward now being offered.
But that isn't what has happened. In fact the coverage has been minimal, and I have seen no reaction at all from our elected officials. A search on "arson + Mukilteo" with Google News found just four stories; a similar search with Bing News found five stories — none of them about this particular act of arson. (The Bing team needs to do some work on their news searches, in my humble opinion.)
What I conclude from that lack of coverage is that this hate crime — assuming it was a hate crime — is an unimportant hate crime, at least for our local journalists, and for most of our local officials.
Cross posted at Sound Politics.
(Those not from this area may want to know where Mukilteo is. As you can see, a Seattle reporter would not have to go far to cover this story.
For the record: I have what I think is a common pair of attitudes toward Mormons; I don't care for their theology (for reasons that are inappropriate to discuss here), but I have found most of them to be good people, and fine citizens.Also for the record: In general I don't care for "hate crimes", because I think they too often become thought crimes. But if we have them on the books, and we do in many places, we should enforce them evenly.)
- 4:01 PM, 12 December 2010 [link]
Financing Target Stores: Yesterday I loaned Target twenty dollars.
The terms of the loan are peculiar, to say the least. Target is paying me no interest, and will repay me, not with cash, but with merchandise in a future purchase.
By now, most of you will have figured out what happened. I took advantage of a special at Target which gave me, not an immediate discount, but a Target gift card. Or, to be precise, two ten-dollar gift cards.
(For the curious: I was buying ink refills for an HP printer. Target was offering ten dollar gift cards with each HP combo pack, or pair of cartridges. Since the 564 cartridges that I use cost about ten dollars each, I got a nice discount.)
Later, I figured out what I should have done, since I was buying a number of things from Target yesterday. I should have made two sets of purchases, getting the gift cards with the first one — and then immediately using the gift cards with the second.
(Here's my guess about the thinking behind this offer: The mark-ups on ink cartridges (and for that matter, on toner cartridges) are so high that HP and Target can sell them at close to half price and still make money. But HP doesn't want to set a price-cut precedent, so they agree to this arrangement. Target prefers it because you have to spend the price cut with them.)
- 3:06 PM, 12 December 2010 [link]
Sunset From Mt. Rainier: Taken one week ago.
(There are four web cams on the new visitor's center at Paradise; this is a view from the west cam, looking at the approach road.)
I hope some weather expert will explain the rays and the light area, shaped like a candle flame, above the sun.Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 10:55 AM, 10 December 2010 [link]
Doing Nothing Is A "Fierce Reaction"? Here are two paragraphs from Steven Erlanger's New York Times article on European reactions to the WikiLeaks release of our diplomatic messages. (I have reversed their order to make my point clearer.)
First, what the US has done about WikiLeaks:
While the Obama administration has done nothing in the courts to block the publication of any of the leaked documents, or even, as of yet, tried to indict the WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, for any crime, . . .In other words, we've done nothing officially, though many Americans have exercised their 1st Amendment rights to criticize Assange, and other Americans have exercised their 1st Amendment rights to defend him.
Second, what Erlanger says is the European perception:
For many Europeans, Washington's fierce reaction to the flood of secret diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks displays imperial arrogance and hypocrisy, indicating a post-9/11 obsession with secrecy that contradicts American principles.Some private companies, including Amazon, have taken actions against WikiLeaks, because they claim — correctly as far as I can tell — that WikiLeaks has violated their terms of service.
I don't think that Erlanger is trying to make these Europeans look like fools; I think he is just expressing his own feelings on the subject, feelings that are probably shared by most at our newspaper of record.
(There is some interesting reporting near the end of the article. Two examples:
But Renaud Girard, a respected reporter for the center-right Le Figaro, said that he was impressed by the generally high quality of the American diplomatic corps. "What is most fascinating is that we see no cynicism in U.S. diplomacy," he said. "They really believe in human rights in Africa and China and Russia and Asia. They really believe in democracy and human rights. People accuse the Americans of double standards all the time. But it's not true here. If anything, the diplomats are almost naïve, and I don't think these leaks will jeopardize the United States. Most will see the diplomats as honest, sincere and not so cynical."Those paragraphs don't exactly fit Erlanger's thesis, do they? But using a few European spokesmen to make an argument is such a convenient trick that our "mainstream" reporters will never stop using it.)
- 9:25 AM, 10 December 2010 [link]
"Obama Not So Accurate" In fact, not accurate at all in describing the histories of Social Security and Medicare. Here's a summary from Politifact
So let's recap. Obama had a point that Social Security started small and expanded slowly, but he was clearly incorrect that the first groups to be covered were widows and orphans. On Medicare, it's not accurate to say, as the president did, that the program started "small." It was up and running for elderly Americans within one year -- four years faster than it will take the health care exchanges created in Obama's own health care bill. On balance, we rate the item False.Obama will, as usual, get a pass from most journalists on these errors.
(Not only was Medicare a big program from the beginning, it was passed as part of a package with Medicaid, another big program.)
- 6:28 AM, 10 December 2010 [link]
Worth Reading: Donald Sensing explains the conventional threat from North Korea. It's mostly special forces and artillery.
In every conventional military category except two North Korea is a paper tiger. Its pilots, for example, rarely fly their outmoded planes, most getting probably only enough flight time to remain proficient in basic skills. Its ground forces number more than a million but are not well trained compared to the South's or America's. Their maneuver forces do not enjoy modern weapons. Its "new" tank, the P'okpoong, is basically a locally-made T-62, first fielded by the Soviets in 1961. Despite the North's success in sinking a South Korean corvette last March, the South's navy would not be strongly challenged in general warfare.And don't miss this comment from Reverend Sensing's own experience in Korea:
Well, basically, yes. In 1978, two weeks before I was scheduled to return home, a DPRK commando unit blew up part of the US air base installation at Osan. A ROK unit chased them through the countryside and killed them in the main street of a small town in a gun battle. So this low-intensity combat has been going on for decades."Mainstream" journalists often say that the Korean War ended in 1953. In fact, the war was suspended by an armistice in 1953, not ended. And North Korea has continued it, ever since then, with minor attacks on the South, and sometimes the United States forces in Korea.
- 2:46 PM, 9 December 2010 [link]
Congratulations To Governor Gregoire: Washington state is third. Third from the bottom, that is. Only Arizona and Illinois have larger mid-year budget deficits, relative to the size of their budgets. Ours is at 7.1 percent, Arizona's at 9.7 percent, and Illinois' deficit is at a mind-boggling 47 percent. (Republican Bill Brady, who lost the Illinois governorship, narrowly, was probably lucky.)
We're in the very best of hands.Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 1:22 PM, 9 December 2010 [link]
Two Krugmans In One: Economist Paul Krugman thinks the Obama-Republican tax compromise is a good move; leftwing activist Paul Krugman isn't so sure.
On the straight economics, the tax deal is worth doing. But the history of the past two years drives home, if anyone doubted it, that economic policy must be considered from a political economy point of view; that you have to think ahead to how current policies affect the environment in which future policies will be decided. And the more I work on this, the more concerned I'm becoming.In other words, the deal would be good for the country, but might hurt the left wing of the Democratic party.
(Krugman titles his blog, "Conscience of a Liberal", which has always struck me as unintentionally funny. But I am not sure that the Nobel reprimand recipient would understand that, even if I explained it to him.)
- 10:43 AM, 9 December 2010 [link]
Leaky Cables Are A State Department Tradition: Julian Assange, by leaking State Department cables, is only doing what the State Department did, for decades, in the early 20th century.
They didn't leak them intentionally; they just used such lousy codes that any competent cryptanalyst could read them.
No such dramatic feats were required by the British or by anyone else to read American diplomatic codes. The cryptanalysts who worked on them did not even have to furrow their brows excessively. For these codes of a great power were, from before World War I to the middle of World War II, as puny as those of many smaller nations. The United States must have been the laughingstock of every cryptanalyst in the world. And during World War I, the twenties, and the thirties, American diplomacy must have been conducted largely in an international goldfish bowl. (pp. 488-489)(Woodrow Wilson did say that he wanted "open covenants of peace, openly arrived at".)
During those years, the State Department made almost every mistake possible. For many years, they used a variant of the Vigenère cipher, which was known to be vulnerable, they used too short keywords with it, and they kept codes in use long after they were known to be vulnerable. One code, GRAY, was so well known that a retiring consul in Shanghai gave his farewell speech in it. (Which his audience had no trouble following.) We even, during the peace negotiations after World War I, used a "publicly available commercial code". Security for code books was lousy, and they were stolen many times.
- 9:55 AM, 9 December 2010 [link]
Which Country Bombed Pearl Harbor In 1941? Everyone knows that, right?
Wrong, as you can see from this Marist poll. Eleven percent of US residents got it wrong, either naming the wrong country (4 percent) or not knowing (7 percent)
At least every American knows it, right? Wrong again, Americans did only slightly better, with 10 percent getting it wrong or not knowing.
Marist gives us a breakdown by the usual sub-groups. Which group did worst on the question? Democrats. Only 81 percent of Democrats got the answer right. (Republicans and independents tied at 94 percent right.) In other words, about 1 out of every 5 Democrats does not know which nation attacked us at Pearl Harbor.
- 7:37 AM, 9 December 2010
Commenter Dave (in MA) reminded me of the Animal House scene, and made a good guess about Bluto's political party.
- 3:02 PM, 9 December 2010 [link]