March 2009, Part 2
Jim Miller on Politics
Three Keepers: As you probably have heard already, the Seattle PI will publish its last print edition tomorrow, and will become a pure on-line newspaper.
As such, it will need far fewer staff. There are two current employees and a contributor, that, were I running the newspaper, I would try hard to keep.
Bill Virgin, of course. He's simply the best business reporter in this area. And he sees the whole area, unlike many other local journalists, who are far too Seattle-centric, far too fixed on our reactionary central city. (If you are not familiar with Virgin, you can find his recent columns here. I particularly liked the three on farming, Longview development, and the stimulus.)
Editorial page editor Mark Trahant. He and I probably disagree more often than not on candidates and issues. But he is open-minded, especially for a journalist, and remarkably civil when so many aren't. And he has been willing to admit mistakes. Those shouldn't be unusual characteristics in journalists — but they are.
Contributor Karen Sykes. Since 1996, she has been writing about hikes in this area for the Seattle PI. What I have liked about her weekly pieces is that they are just about the hikes. She seems to think — and I would agree — that a hike is enough by itself, and does not need politics, philosophy, or whatever, slathered on to keep our interest. That's refreshing. (Here's her most recent hike.) At her web site, she says that she plans to continue writing about hikes — and I plan to check it regularly.
No doubt there are other keepers at the paper, but these three stand out for me.
Cross posted at Sound Politics.(Some will inevitably wonder whether there are any PI employees that I think should have been dropped long ago. One or two, perhaps, but this does not seem an appropriate time to mention them.)
- 4:14 PM, 16 March 2009 [link]
Tank McNamara Takes A Crack at Obama, in today's comic strip. I don't know if this strip is based on some news that I have missed, but the McNamara strips often are based on news stories.
(There's a fun bit of homage in the strip to a famous Edward Hopper painting, as a commenter noted here.)
- 3:32 PM, 16 March 2009 [link]
Know Any Good Northwest Blogs? I have started (finally!) on the long-promised site revision, and am beginning by revising my list of Northwest blogs, which you can see on the left side of my site. If you know of other blogs that should be on that list, please email me, with a link. I am particularly interested in finding leftist blogs — that are family friendly. (Blogs that aren't family friendly, that, for instance, habitually include obscene words, I keep in a separate, "R-Rated" group.)
For the record: The Northwest includes the states of Idaho, Oregon, and Washington. I am most interested in blogs that cover politics in this area, especially blogs where I can learn something, at least occasionally.
Cross posted at Sound Politics.(If you are on my list, please check the entry, and let me know if you find any errors. This time around, I am trying to use the blog names, rather than the names of the blog owners, so some entries will look different. Some blogs, where there have been no posts for more than a year, I have moved to a "Dormant" category.)
- 1:02 PM, 16 March 2009 [link]
More On Marginal Tax Rates: In this post, I linked to a table showing the maximum marginal income tax rates since 1913. But, as a friend pointed out, over the years you hit those top marginal rates at very different incomes. In fact, at astonishingly different incomes, as this table shows.
In 1936, for example, you hit the top marginal rate of 79 percent at an income of $5,000,000. In 1988, you hit the top marginal tax rate of 28 percent, at just under $30,000. Neither number is adjusted for inflation, so the contrast is even more stark than it may seem at first glance.
Incidentally, the table shows how close we came to a flat tax after the 1986 tax reforms. (Which I mostly favored, though I thought they went a little too far on tax rates.)
(There is much else of interest in the table, for example, the way the point at which the top marginal rate hit dropped during World War II, from $5,000,000 to $200,000.
But if you study the table, do take a careful look at the caveats.)
- 9:31 AM, 16 March 2009 [link]
You Would Think Bill Clinton Would Know The Facts Of Life: You would be wrong. Bill Clinton believes that a human embryo has not yet been fertilized. That is about as absurd as Obama's confusion over P/E.
For the record, here's the Wikipedia article on the embryo. It includes two photographs and a picture of human embryos.
How, one has to wonder, could Clinton make policy on this subject if he didn't know this essential fact?
- 9:02 AM, 16 March 2009 [link]
Good Question: But it is the man who asked it that makes it really interesting.
Not long ago, after a string of especially bad days for the Obama administration, a veteran Democratic pol approached me with a pained look on his face and asked, "Do you think they know what they're doing?"Michael Goodwin doesn't tell us his answer, but if you read the rest of the column, you might conclude that he could have said: "Probably not."
Goodwin does say this, near the end of the column:
Which brings us to the heart of the matter: the doubts about Obama himself. His famous eloquence is wearing thin through daily exposure and because his actions are often disconnected from his words. His lack of administrative experience is showing.A reminder: Obama has zero executive experience, unless you count running his legislative offices. But a majority of American voters didn't think that lack of experience was disqualifying, for one of the toughest executive jobs in the world. I fear that the Obama voters will learn, the hard way, that they were wrong.
- 6:48 PM, 15 March 2009 [link]
Worth Reading: Charles Krauthammer on Obama's decision on embryonic stem cells. Two samples:
President Bush had restricted federal funding for embryonic stem cell research to cells derived from embryos that had already been destroyed (as of his speech of Aug. 9, 2001). While I favor moving that moral line to additionally permit the use of spare fertility clinic embryos, President Obama replaced it with no line at all. He pointedly left open the creation of cloned — and noncloned sperm-and-egg-derived — human embryos solely for the purpose of dismemberment and use for parts.I suspect that we are going to be using that phrase, "morally unserious", often in the next four years.
- 4:27 PM, 15 March 2009 [link]
Early Regulators: This weekend's New Yorker calendar cartoon seems especially appropriate, given the Democratic majorities in Congress, and the policies of the new administration.
The cartoon shows a caveman who has just invented the wheel. Surrounding him are a group of cavemen (and women). One of the women is saying, "Nice, but we'll need an environmental-impact study, a warranty, recall bulletins, recycling facilities, and twenty-four-hour customer support."
- 10:09 AM, 15 March 2009 [link]
The Associated Press Tries To Cover For A Tax Cheat: Here's the story:
Maryland tax officials said that a New York representative is not entitled to a residents' tax break on the house in a Washington suburb that he has claimed as his primary residence for at least 10 years.Those rules should make it obvious to anyone that Congressman Engel did not deserve the tax break. But he claimed it anyway, successfully, for years.
Congressman Eliot Engel is a Democrat. That may explain why the AP treats his tax fraud so gently.
The AP treated the story gently, but the New York Times actually tried to cover up the crime. The Times put this headline on this story of blatant tax fraud: "Bronx Representative Loses a Tax Break".
(The New York Post followed the AP on this, but did a much better article)
- 6:55 AM, 15 March 2009 [link]
Boring Can Be Good: Thursday afternoon, while driving back from Mt. Rainier, I saw a billboard advertising Valley Bank of Puyallup. There was enough traffic so that it would have been imprudent to read the entire billboard, but I did read two of the messages. Valley Bank is not taking federal bailout money and the bank is proud to be boring.
I don't know much about the bank, but I have to say that I admire the spirit in those two messages. I like companies that don't take bailouts from the taxpayers, and I have always thought that good banks are generally more than a little boring.
Cross posted at Sound Politics.(I haven't bothered to look up more recent results, but Valley Bank appears to have been doing well, as of last year.)
- 4:09 PM, 14 March 2009 [link]
Today is 3/14: Or, Pi Day. (If you have memorized the first trillion digits, you have my respect.)
- 3:51 PM, 14 March 2009 [link]
Return To Trend In US Wealth: Here's a New York Times graph showing changes in the nation's wealth over the last six decades.
But what is mildly surprising is that, after the collapse of each bubble, the losses just took our wealth back to about where one would expect it to be, from long-term trends. Neither bubble produced a sharp dip below the long-term trend. (At least not yet, for the second bubble.) And that should surprise us a little, because breaking bubbles usually cause far more pain.
Now here's how New York Times reporter Vikas Bajaj describes those same facts:
In the last few months, most Americans have felt poorer. Now they have the numbers to prove it.And Bajaj has much more along those same lines. But he never says a word about the gains that came just before those losses, although the gains are just as obvious in that graph.
You'll probably see the losses discussed in your nightly news. (Assuming you still watch it, against my advice.) But I would be surprised if very many of the talking heads mention the gains that came just before the losses.
(I believe this is fair use of the New York Times graph, because I am criticizing the combination of the graph and article.)
- 1:05 PM, 13 March 2009 [link]
What Do You Mean, "We", Barack Obama? Yesterday, the president was talking to the Business Roundtable, and came up with this:
Richard Parsons, chairman of beleaguered Citigroup Inc., asked if Obama could offer some help in a national battle "between confidence and fear."That last sentence is illogical, since Obama must be a part of the "we" who think that things are very bad now. So he is simultaneously saying that he does think things are very bad now — since he belongs to the "we", and that the "we", which must include him, is too pessimistic.
Others reading the same passage say that Obama is trying to calibrate his message, or that Obama has been trying, deceitfully, to make our economic problems look worse than they are, or that all those "I's" in the speech show that, for Obama, it is all about Obama. There's probably some truth in all those explanations, and probably some truth in the simplest, that, as most politicians do, Obama was trying to fit what he said to his audience.
(Is that last sentence an example of the famous Russell Paradox? Looks like it to me, but I am not enough of a mathematician to be certain.
For the record, I think that the most common estimates of the state of our economy are too pessimistic. But I also think that it is hard to be too pessimistic about the future of the economy — if we do everything that Barack Obama wants us to do.)
- 7:45 AM, 13 March 2009 [link]
Here's What Mt. Rainier Looked Liked About An Hour Ago: So you can guess where I am going today.
- 9:15 AM, 12 March 2009 [link]
FBI Raid In DC: And the office they raided belonged to an Obama appointee.
Federal agents this morning are searching the Judiciary Square office of Washington, D.C.'s Chief Technology Officer.More when I know more.
- 8:11 AM, 12 March 2009
Update: The FBI has arrested two men who worked for Kundra, but not Kundra himself.
Kundra is on leave from his White House job until further details of the case become known, according to a White House official speaking on condition of anonymity because the official did not want to publicly discuss personnel matters.So far, Kundra appears to be in the clear — though if these two worked directly for him, one might wonder about his supervisory abilities.
-1:42 PM, 13 March 2008 [link]
Al Gore Won't Like these poll results.
Although a majority of Americans believe the seriousness of global warming is either correctly portrayed in the news or underestimated, a record-high 41% now say it is exaggerated. This represents the highest level of public skepticism about mainstream reporting on global warming seen in more than a decade of Gallup polling on the subject.But he may be partly responsible for these findings. His exaggerations and his bullying tactics may have put some people off, may have led them to suspect that he argues that way because he doesn't have as good a case as he says he does.
If he really believes what he says — and I am uncertain about that point — then he should clean up his act.
(Gallup's analyst, Lydia Saad, makes a mistake in her description of the "skeptics":
Americans generally believe global warming is real. That sets the U.S. public apart from the global-warming skeptics who assembled this week in New York City to try to debunk the science behind climate change.That's wrong for several reasons. First, almost all serious "skeptics" agree that there has been global warming since the beginning of the 20th century. In fact, I routinely see temperature charts on sites run by "skeptics", showing just how much the earth has warmed in recent decades. Second, most of them agree that part of the warming may be man-caused, or anthropogenic.
Their views vary so much that I can not give a simple description of their differences with Al Gore. But almost all of them are skeptical about the ability of climate models to predict future climates, accurately.)
- 7:02 AM, 12 March 2009 [link]
Speaker Pelosi Has Never Been A Big Supporter Of Our Military: She is, after all, a San Francisco Democrat. But she has found something they can do; they can provide her with chauffeurs.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has repeatedly requested military aircraft to shuttle her and her colleagues and family around the country, according to a new report from a conservative watchdog group.Expensive chauffeurs.
To be fair, the military has been flying our speakers around, for security reasons, for some time. And I think those reasons are valid, since the speaker is second in the presidential succession — and the most important elected official after the president. But that doesn't mean that a speaker should treat our pilots as her personal chauffeurs.
How would her behavior fit with my theory that Pelosi acts like her father, acts, in other words, like a machine politician? Fairly well. Though some machine politicians behave modestly, many of them love these perks of power, and more than a few machine politicians abuse them.
(There some interesting comments here from "hawkdriver", who claims to have flown some of our politicians around. Obviously I can't verify that he did, but what he says sounds plausible.)
- 1:46 PM, 11 March 2009 [link]
Camille Paglia Recycles One Of Obama's Favorite Excuses: It's the fault of the staff.
Free Barack!Paglia notices the failures, but is not ready to blame the man in charge, who, after all hired those staffers. And she doesn't understand that campaigning is very different from governing, so a skilled campaigner — Obama, for instance — is not necessarily any good at governing.
It should not surprise anyone that a man with zero executive experience has trouble hiring and managing his staff. It should not, but it does surprise many, even some as smart as Paglia.
(Obama's "staff" problems aren't new, as this Jake Tapper article from last year reminds us.
Paglia makes a rare mistake with a metaphor in the last sentence quoted. You don't "butt" heads with your arms. You can crack heads, however. Sadly, I must add that there is nothing in Michelle Obama's résumé that would suggest that she would know what heads to crack.)
- 5:46 AM, 11 March 2009 [link]
Armey's Army: The former majority leader was never a conventional politician. Dick Armey decided to run for Congress in 1984 after watching CSPAN, and deciding he could do better than the congressmen he was watching. At the time, he was chairman of the economics department at North Texas State, and had never been involved in politics. Somewhat to everyone's surprise, he defeated a Democratic incumbent, and began his congressional career. (The area was becoming more Republican, and, for most of his career, Armey faced little opposition, after his first victory.)
At first, Armey did not attract much attention. But in 1987, he began pushing an old idea, a base closing commission to get rid of obsolete and wasteful military bases. In 1988, he was able to get the commission established, with one key feature: Its recommendations could only be voted on as a whole. This prevented some of the log rolling that had blocked previous attempts to close bases and, over time, the commission was able to make savings that probably amount to billions of dollars every year. (As well as making our armed services more efficient.)
Later, Armey, along with others, was able to reduce farm subsidies — though the reduction has not lasted. But while it did, it saved the taxpayers billions of dollars. (And probably made our farms more efficient.)
Both of those were considerable achievements, but my favorite Armey victory was a spending bill. Like almost all Americans, Armey values education. Like most Americans, he wants all our children, regardless of their race, to have the opportunity to learn. And so he was shocked by the dismal conditions of the District of Columbia schools. Immense sums were spent, but the results were terrible. And so Armey decided to do something about it.
He began by introducing bills that provided scholarships for the District students, scholarships that they could use at private and even religious schools. After the 1994 Republican victory, he was able to get his scholarships passed — but Bill Clinton vetoed them. Armey did not give up. Instead, he worked with wealthy donors to fund those scholarships privately. And even raised money for those scholarships himself.
When Ted Forstmann, a very good and generous man, donated money for the Washington Scholarship Fund so 1,000 children in the DC public school system could go to schools that work, he was overwhelmed with over 7,500 applications. You can't tell me parents don't want options.(As I recall, he raised some of the money by asking those who wanted to contribute to his political campaigns to donate to this cause instead. He never sought publicity for his fund-raising efforts. He wanted to help the kids in the District, most of them poor and black, and didn't care whether journalists wrote about his effort.)
After President Bush was elected in 2000, the Republicans were able to pass a bill providing public funding for those scholarships, and so many more children could have them. By now, there must be a small army of kids who have been helped by Armey's efforts. I like to call them "Armey's Army". And here are some of the voices of that army, asking President Obama to continue the program that Dick Armey helped establish.
Will Obama help these kids as much as Dick Armey did? Will he even try to keep their scholarships going? Almost certainly not, and possibly.
(For what it is worth, the man who is attempting to end this program, sneakily, is the senior senator from Illinois, Dick Durbin.
There are more positives on Dick Armey here, including some amusing stories, and a Wikipedia biography here, which appears to include almost all of the negatives anyone could dig up on Armey. Or perhaps invent. Some of the stories appear implausible to me.)
- 3:57 PM, 10 March 2009 [link]
Count Every Absentee Ballot In New York: Legal or not. That seems to be the policy of some New York counties.
Staten Island and The Bronx were among six counties slammed by state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli (right) yesterday for accepting bogus absentee ballots - including some from voters not registered in the county.The key word is "routinely". When the level of illegal ballots is this high, eight percent, we have to conclude that the election officials are not bothering to check the ballots thoroughly.
Only one county of the seven, Dutchess, had no problem ballots. Dutchess is also the most Republican of the seven, judging by recent votes for president.
DiNapoli is a Democrat, and is criticizing mostly Democratic-run counties, so these findings are not the result of a partisan investigation.
(This shows, again, one of the weaknesses of absentee ballots. Almost certainly, some of those ballots came from legal voters, who just didn't follow directions correctly. If they had voted in person, they probably could have been helped through the process.
A quick search through the New York Times found no mention of this story, even though it is in their back yard. But then the Times is not interested in news stories about illegal ballots, though they are all too ready to tell us, in the editorial pages, that illegal ballots are not a problem.)
- 10:25 AM, 10 March 2009 [link]
What Kind Of Person Works For CNN? Among others, the presidential candidate of the far left El Salvador FMLN.
After a 12-year civil war and a peace undermined by soaring crime, leftists in El Salvador are on the verge of completing a remarkable journey from armed struggle to the presidential palace.One wonders just how fair Funes was in his CNN reports.
(By way of Newsbusters, which calls him a communist. As you will notice, I didn't go that far, since I am unfamiliar with the current programs of the FMLN, and completely unfamiliar with Funes.
Incidentally, if you read the entire Washington Post article, you will see that the reporter, William Booth, would not look out of place wearing an FMLN cheerleader's uniform.)
- 7:00 AM, 10 March 2009 [link]
$729,000? Thomas Sowell has some good questions, starting with these:
Now that the federal government has decided to bail out homeowners in trouble, with mortgage loans up to $729,000, that raises some questions that ought to be asked, but are seldom being asked.I am unable to think of any good answers to Sowell's questions, but I can think of political explanations without much effort. The politicians, most of the Democrats, who devised this plan, know that they can count on some gratitude from the recipients of these bailouts, and the same politicians hope that they can disguise the costs from the taxpayers, at least until the next election.
The enormous maximum loan that would be eligible for these bailouts has a simple political explanation, too. Most of the leaders of the Democratic party come from bi-coastal areas where their policies have driven up the price of houses, outrageously. So $729,000 for a house doesn't look like that much — to them.
We can derive some grim pleasure from the fact that the same party that is planning these bailouts for the very well-off will also be condemning the Republicans for giving too much to the rich — all the way to the next election.
- 6:26 AM, 10 March 2009 [link]
Stocks For The Long Term: In this post, I noted that Obama was probably correct to say that stocks were a good long-term investment. "Tigerhawk" excerpts some big chunks of a Barron's article to make the same point.
Point is, the odds are quite high, but not certain, that an investment in American stocks today will generate solid returns over the next five or ten years. If you are a subscriber and dig deeper into the linked article, you will see that this is generally true even if you buy at market tops and sell at the bottom, although obviously less so. So in this sense, timing the stock market is, well, not important.Of course, all such analyses assume that the past is a reliable guide to the future. And, as Tigerhawk notes, much depends on how old you are. As any investment advisor can tell you, stocks are a much better bet for someone in their 20's than someone in their 60's.
- 3:30 PM, 9 March 2009 [link]
Lake Superior Is Looking Lovely: If you like ice.
- 1:26 PM, 9 March 2009 [link]
Hope All Of You Survived The Switch To Daylight Savings Time: I am mostly, but not entirely, kidding when I say that. There does appear to be a small additional risk in the switch.
However, the time change, which occurred at 2 a.m. today (March 8) also brought with it the loss of an hour of sleep today, and that change apparently will affect out behavior in the coming week, with many of us feeling cranky, sleepy during the day, and even carries with it an increased risk of a heart attack, say researchers, who liken the feeling to jet lag.Perhaps it is from growing up on a farm, but I have never been able to see the point in daylight savings time. It's a minor, twice-a-year nuisance, without any obvious overall advantage. No doubt there are people, and groups, who prefer daylight savings time and, as far as I am concerned, they should go ahead and adjust their schedules, if they can.
(In general, I think we would be better off if we did not try to all stay on the same schedule, instead adjusting our schedules to our own body clocks, and our own preferences. Among other things, that would make commuting easier. Not all of us can set our own schedules, but more of us can than do.)
- 11:22 AM, 9 March 2009 [link]
George Galloway Stoned: It is hard to know who to root for in this encounter.
A convoy led by the maverick MP George Galloway carrying supplies for Gaza has been attacked in Egypt, apparently injuring several people travelling in his party.But I suppose that I favor, slightly, the kids who stoned the convoy, since Hamas is slightly more evil than its Palestinian opponents.
And this detail makes it easier to favor the kids.
The trip also ran into controversy when it was disclosed last month that three Islamist terror suspects arrested in northwest England had planned to leave the country under cover of Mr Galloway's convoy.Galloway has a position on terror; he's in favor of it, as long as the terrorists attack Israel, the UK, or the United States. Galloway may not have known about the men's plans, but there is no reason to think that he would have disapproved of them.
(Libel laws are tough in Britain, so they call Galloway a "maverick", rather than saying that he has a long history of siding with his nation's enemies, and a long history of dubious financial connections.)
- 6:47 AM, 9 March 2009 [link]