Archive:

March 2009, Part 4

Jim Miller on Politics




Pseudo-Random Thoughts



An Overdue Correction:  Almost four years ago, I recommended John Keegan's Illustrated History of World War I.   As part of my recommendation, I included two pictures from the book.  (It is, after all, an illustrated history.)  For the second picture, I quoted Keegan's description of the Belgian unit, which he described as "carabiners", and as part of the "Garde Civique,a part-time militia".  (The closest American equivalent to the Garde Civique would be our National Guard.  And both organizations were sometimes used for strike breaking in the past.)

Three weeks ago, I received a polite email from Britain telling me that the description was incorrect.   The picture shows carabiners, but not the Garde Civique.  Some searching on the net persuaded me that the writer was correct.  The encyclopedia entry on page 190 settled the question for me:
The armament and equipment of the [Belgian] army reflected decades of stringent budgeting.  The army had available only 93,000 modern rifles (Mauser Model 1889, 7.65mm, 5 cartridges) but the real problem was the paucity of artillery.  There were only 324 obsolete field guns and 102 machine guns (drawn by dogs in cyclist companies of carabiners).
So, military historian Keegan was wrong.  (And now that I think about it, the machine guns in the picture should have told him that those Belgian soldiers were regulars.)  And I repeated his error.

My correspondent tells me that there are other mistakes in Keegan's history.  I have not seen any, but I have only dipped in parts of the book, not read the entire work critically.  (I would still recommend it as a general history of the war, but a little less positively.)

My apologies for taking this long to write this correction, after I received that email.  And thanks to the reader for catching that mistake.  (I have put an update in the original post.)

(Carabiners — which has several accepted spellings — were originally cavalrymen who carried, logically enough, carbines.   Over time, the name spread to infantry units, and even police units.)
- 1:10 PM, 31 March 2009   [link]


The Redoubt Volcano Is Looking Impressive Today:  (And was looking impressive yesterday evening, too.)

Redoubt Volcano, 31 March 2009

Here's the webcam, so you can see for yourself.

(More info in the links in this post.)
- 10:19 AM, 31 March 2009   [link]


Rookie Mistakes?  That's what Thomas Sowell thinks we are seeing.
Someone once said that, for every rookie you have on your starting team in the National Football League, you will lose a game.  Somewhere, at some time during the season, a rookie will make a mistake that will cost you a game.

We now have a rookie president of the United States and, in the dangerous world we live in, with terrorist nations going nuclear, just one rookie mistake can bring disaster down on this generation and generations yet to come.

Barack Obama is a rookie in a sense that few other presidents in American history have ever been.  It is not just that he has never been president before.  He has never had any position of major executive responsibility in any kind of organization where he was personally responsible for the outcome.
Sowell expects us to pay, dearly, for Obama's rookie mistakes.

And there is another, even grimmer, possibility.  Some rookies learn from their mistakes, and some don't.  We don't now know how much Obama will learn from his rookie mistakes, but I am inclined to think that he will not be the best student of his own mistakes that we have had as president.  So I expect him to make rookie mistakes and, often, to repeat those mistakes.
- 7:51 AM, 31 March 2009   [link]


Extremist Appointments:  Last July, I predicted that Obama would would govern as close to his leftist beliefs as "he can get away with".   So far, I think that has been a reasonably accurate prediction.  (One possible exception:  His shift on Iraq.  But even that is consistent with some of his stands when the war was going well.)

In the same post, I predicted that he would try achieve some of his leftist goals by appointments to the Supreme Court.  (For example, same-sex marriage.)  Later, I broadened that to say that he would try to achieve some of his more extremist goals through appointments generally.

Already we have a number of appointments that support the argument I made last July, and since.   Attorney General Eric Holder, of course, but he is not the only example and is far from the most extreme.  Here's a brief list:

Harold Koh, nominated to be the State Department's legal advisor, and thought to be a prime Obama candidate for the Supreme Court.
Judges should interpret the Constitution according to other nations' legal "norms."  Sharia law could apply to disputes in US courts.  The United States constitutes an "axis of disobedience" along with North Korea and Saddam-era Iraq.

Those are the views of the man on track to become one of the US government's top lawyers: Harold Koh.
. . .
The primacy of international legal "norms" applies even to treaties we reject.  For example, Koh believes that the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child -- a problematic document that we haven't ratified -- should dictate the age at which individual US states can execute criminals.  Got that?  On issues ranging from affirmative action to the interrogation of terrorists, what the rest of the world says, goes.
So much for our Constitution.

Tom Perez, nominated to head the civil rights division at the Justice Department.
In 2006, Perez wrote a law review article for the University of Maryland's Journal of Health Care Law and Policy, in which he argued for explicit race-conscious admissions policies for medical school.

He cited a handful of studies purported to show that minority doctors are more likely to provide medical care to under-served poor minority populations than white physicians.

He then leapt to the conclusion that the best way to improve access to medical care for underserved populations was to insist that medical schools use race or ethnicity in choosing which students to admit.

In effect, Perez appears to be arguing for a form of medical apartheid in which minority patients should be served by minority doctors under the presumption that both groups benefit from this practice.   The argument is both insulting and dangerous.
Perez was Obama's second choice for this position, after his first choice, Thomas Saenz, was too radical even for a Democratic Senate.

Dawn Johnsen, nominated to head the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel.
Her bizarre equation of pregnancy and slavery was not an off-the-cuff remark.  It was her considered position in a 1989 brief filed in the Supreme Court.  At the time, she was legal director of NARAL (then the National Abortion Rights Action League, since renamed NARAL Pro-Choice America).  The case, Webster v. Reproductive Health Services, involved a Missouri law that did not ban abortion but restricted the use of state funds and resources for abortions.  It's an obvious distinction, but one without a difference — at least according to Johnsen.  Any restriction that makes abortion less accessible is, in her view, tantamount to "involuntary servitude" because it "requires a woman to provide continuous physical service to the fetus in order to further the state's asserted interest [in the life of the unborn]."  In effect, a woman "is constantly aware for nine months that her body is not her own: the state has conscripted her body for its own ends."  Such "forced pregnancy," she contends, violates the Thirteenth Amendment, which prohibits slavery.
. . .
For Johnsen, no impediment to abortion-on-demand passes muster: She opposes 24-hour waiting periods, parental-consent requirements for minors, and laws against partial-birth abortion.
. . .
Johnsen's other bête noire is national security — at least to the extent it involves detaining terrorists and enemy combatants as military opponents rather trying them as civilian criminal defendants.
You probably feel safer already, just reading that.

David Hamilton, nominated to the 7th Circuit Court.
In an article headlined "Moderate Is Said to Be Pick for Court," the New York Times reports that President Obama's first nominee to a federal appellate court seat is expected to be David F. Hamilton.  Hamilton, appointed by President Clinton to a district judgeship in Indiana in 1994 (despite the ABA's "not qualified" rating), is expected to be named to the Seventh Circuit.

It's far from clear what justifies the article's characterization of Hamilton as a "moderate" (or, as the article oddly puts it, as "represent[ing] some of his state's traditionally moderate strain"—how does one represent some of a strain?).  Was it perhaps Hamilton's service as vice president for litigation, and as a board member, of the Indiana branch of the ACLU?  Or maybe Hamilton's extraordinary seven-year-long series of rulings obstructing Indiana's implementation of its law providing for informed consent on abortion?
Judging by his record, Hamilton, like Obama, is a pro-abortion extremist.

Some will wonder whether Obama should be spending more time finding help for Secretary Geithner at Treasury, rather than finding jobs for leftwing lawyers.  But that's not the important point.  Obama is choosing appointees who are extremist by the standards of most voters — just as I predicted he would.  He hopes those appointees will change our nation's legal system, radically, without letting voters blame him for those changes.  Expect much more stealth extremism from Obama in the months and years to come.

(The contrast with President Bush on judicial appointments is instructive.  When he came into office in 2001, he reached out to Democrats by re-nominating several Clinton judicial nominees, who had not been confirmed by the Republican Senate.  To the best of my knowledge, President Obama has not returned that favor.)
- 7:04 AM, 31 March 2009   [link]


About Twenty Percent Savings:  The New York Times restarted the debate over compact fluorescents with this gloomy article.
Irritation seems to be rising as more consumers try compact fluorescent bulbs, which now occupy 11 percent of the nation's eligible sockets, with 330 million bulbs sold every year.  Consumers are posting vociferous complaints on the Internet after trying the bulbs and finding them lacking.
There do seem to be quality problems.
The Program for the Evaluation and Analysis of Residential Lighting at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., tests Energy Star-certified bulbs to see if they still meet requirements.

In the 2007-8 tests, five of 29 models failed to meet specifications for such categories as lifespan, luminosity and on-off cycling and were removed from Energy Star's list of qualified products.  Because of performance concerns, the government is expanding the watchdog program, vowing to test samples of 20 percent of the thousands of certified bulb models each year.
My own experience with the bulbs is positive — with qualifications.  They do save electricity, about 20 percent for me.  (I use electric heat, so they only reduce my bill during about half the year.)  The lights are a little slower to come on, though that is less of a problem than it once was.  In my experiments, I never found a bulb that worked well in a 3-way socket.  (Nor have I found one that will fit into a Mogul base, though I suppose there must be one, or perhaps an adapter.)  Some were too large for the harps in my table lamps.

The light quality is acceptable, though generally not as pleasant as the light from most incandescents.   The Sylvania bulb that I am using right now (with a 3000K rating) is a little yellower than I would like, for instance.

So far, not a single compact fluorescent has failed, and I use a few of them quite heavily.

If you are thinking about switching to compact fluorescents, here's my advice:  Experiment with a few bulbs first.  Pay attention to the color ratings; incandescents are typically about 2700 K, so you might want to look for a rating close to that, at least to begin with.  Given the quality problems, you might want to stick to well-known brands, for now.

Oh, and one last point:  If you are like me, most of the savings will come from a few heavily used bulbs, so there is no strong economic reason to replace all your bulbs.

(Although I am saving electricity, I am not saving money, since the rates have gone up, mostly, as far as I can tell from the bills, because of environmental regulations.)
- 2:09 PM, 30 March 2009   [link]


Far Right Or Far Left?  If Americans know about the British National Party at all, they probably think of it as a "far right" party, because that is how it the party is almost universally described by "mainstream" journalists.  But if you look at its economic policies, you would describe it as being on the left, perhaps even the far left in some cases.
We further believe that British industry, commerce, land and other economic and natural assets belong in the final analysis to the British nation and people.

To that end we will restore our economy and land to British ownership. We also call for preference in the job market to be given to native Britons.  We will take active steps to break up the socially, economically and politically damaging monopolies now being established by the supermarket giants.

Finally we will seek to give British workers a stake in the success and prosperity of the enterprises whose profits their labour creates by encouraging worker shareholder and co-operative schemes
We know why the party is almost always described as being on the far left.  "Mainstream" journalists are almost always on the left, and do not wish to be associated with parties that have racist views.   So they call those parties "far right", regardless of their views on other issues, as Daniel Hannan said, and as Jonah Goldberg noted.

As Hannan and Goldberg say, calling the BNP "far right" has the effect of denigrating the Conservative Party, by associating the two.  And I don't doubt that at least a few "mainstream" British journalists do that deliberately.

Hannan and Goldberg are right, but they do not discuss a more fundamental problem with these labels.   We are too willing to accept, without much thought, the idea that we can fit everyone on a single, left-to-right political continuum.  But many people do not fit neatly on such a continuum; views on, for example, abortion, are only roughly correlated with views on the economy.  And both are only roughly correlated with views on foreign policy.

That said, I will continue using labels like conservative and leftist, even though they are often misleading.  (And sometimes worse than misleading when applied to foreign countries.)  But I will try, from time to time, to mention some of the complexities behind those labels.

(Libertarians grasp part of the problem.  They like to describe political views with a two-axis diagram, with economic freedom on one axis and social freedom on another.  It's a clever bit of propaganda, but excludes much of the real world.  Two axes are not enough.  And, while I am mentioning their diagram, I should say that one can favor more of one kind of freedom without favoring more of the other — without necessarily being inconsistent.

For completeness I should add that there are some voters who do not really have an ideology, in the true sense of the word, because their ideas about politics are too simple.)
- 11:26 AM, 30 March 2009   [link]


Lincoln's Domestic Program:  It is easy to forget that he had one, but he did, and it was a great success, because his program provided opportunities, and let others do the hard work.
To see why, one must compare FDR's First New Deal not with the Reagan Revolution, but with Abraham Lincoln's other presidency--the one that wasn't spent fighting the Civil War.  In the first 16 months of his administration, Lincoln signed three of the most important and successful pieces of legislation in American history: the Homestead Act, the Land-Grant Colleges Act (sometimes called the Morrill Act), and the Pacific Railway Act.  The first populated the prairie and kept urban wages high; the second created Cornell, MIT, and the great state universities of the Midwest; the third led to the building of North America's first transcontinental railroad.  Congress and the president--Lincoln supported all three laws and was a factor in their passage--found the time to enact this ambitious program while battling Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, and while building the world's second-biggest navy almost from scratch.  How did they do it?

The answer to that question is the same as the answer to this one: Why did Lincoln's laws work?  Their success did not depend on complex judgments made by members of Congress or government regulators.   The statutes in question were meant to confer opportunities, not to solve problems--yet they offer a terrific model for problem-solving government.  Notice who did the hard work: not members of Congress, not Lincoln's omnicompetent cabinet, and not the president himself.  Rather, the necessary elbow grease was supplied by the private citizens whose prospects Lincoln aimed to improve.
Like William Stuntz, I think we can still learn something from Lincoln — but I doubt that many in the Obama administration agree with that.  They are so pleased with their own cleverness that they do not realize that, often, the best government policy is to provide opportunities, and then get out of the way.

(And in our modern world, often all they would need to do is get out of the way.  Our governments, at all levels, could do much to encourage economic development by eliminating many of the laws and regulations that restrict entrepreneurs.  But that isn't an idea that will even occur to many of our elected officials.)
- 8:33 AM, 30 March 2009   [link]


Worth Reading:  Nicholas Dawidoff's article on a "civil heretic", Freeman Dyson.  Dyson is a "heretic" because he does not agree with Al Gore and James Hansen about climate change.
It was four years ago that Dyson began publicly stating his doubts about climate change.  Speaking at the Frederick S. Pardee Center for the Study of the Longer-Range Future at Boston University, Dyson announced that "all the fuss about global warming is grossly exaggerated."  Since then he has only heated up his misgivings, declaring in a 2007 interview with Salon.com that "the fact that the climate is getting warmer doesn't scare me at all" and writing in an essay for The New York Review of Books, the left-leaning publication that is to gravitas what the Beagle was to Darwin, that climate change has become an "obsession" — the primary article of faith for "a worldwide secular religion" known as environmentalism.  Among those he considers true believers, Dyson has been particularly dismissive of Al Gore, whom Dyson calls climate change's "chief propagandist," and James Hansen, the head of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York and an adviser to Gore's film, "An Inconvenient Truth."  Dyson accuses them of relying too heavily on computer-generated climate models that foresee a Grand Guignol of imminent world devastation as icecaps melt, oceans rise and storms and plagues sweep the earth, and he blames the pair's "lousy science" for "distracting public attention" from "more serious and more immediate dangers to the planet."
If you read the article, you may want to note how Dawidoff uses religious terms to describe the disagreement between Dyson and Gore.  That religious language doesn't demonstrate that Gore's beliefs constitute a "secular religion", but the language should make you pause and consider the possibility that Dyson may be right about that.

And about one thing there should be no doubt:  Dyson is way smarter than Gore and Hansen, and, judging by his life, a far more decent man than either of his principal opponents.

(Environmentalism is a religion for some people.  Whether it for Hansen and Gore is hard to say, but it is certainly the case that both have treated those who disagree with them on global warming as heretics.

One of the best reporters at the New York Times, John Tierney, admires Dyson.)
- 3:16 PM, 29 March 2009   [link]


Scenes From Fargo:  (Mostly.)  Showing the people struggling to protect their homes, and the homes of their neighbors from the flood.  In many of those pictures you can see work gloves, which tells me that this is not the first time these volunteers have done real work with their hands.  That's encouraging.

By way of Small Dead Animals, which also links to this useful North Dakota State site, which has links to all kinds of information, including satellite images.

The weather forecast is relatively good.  Right now, Fargo's defenders want freezing weather, so more ice doesn't melt, and and add to the flood.

Some commenters at the Boston Globe collection of photographs wondered why people weren't moving to higher ground, why Fargo had been built on such vulnerable land.  The answer is simple:  There isn't any higher ground near by.  Fargo is built on the bottom of glacial Lake Agassiz, and the whole area is as flat as a table top.  It's great land for farming, but not flood control.

(Some commenters at the Boston Globe site also wanted to have a political fight, comparing the reactions to this flood and Katrina.  Although there are great differences between the two disasters, such comparisons can teach us something — but now is not the time to make them.)
- 7:58 AM, 29 March 2009   [link]


Hillary Clinton Is A Protestant:  So this mistake should not be completely surprising.  But you do have to wonder about the quality of her briefings and her support team, considering her early mistakes.  (And, perhaps, whether she is as good a listener as a secretary of state should be.)
- 7:06 AM, 29 March 2009   [link]


Redoubt Eruption:  The best single post I have seen on the current eruption is here, mostly because it includes so many links, especially in the comments.

You can take a direct look (probably) at the mountain through this webcam, though, when I looked this afternoon, it was fogged in (or perhaps ashed in).  But the webcam site does have this example to show you what can see in nice weather.

Redoubt Volcano

The official site for covering the eruption is the Alaska Volcano Observatory, which has much information, and a fine collection of photographs.  The Anchorage Daily News also has a good collection of photographs.

I know of two bloggers who are following the eruption closely; you can see their posts here and here.
- 3:01 PM, 27 March 2009   [link]


Obama Versus The Facts:  Obama's press conference last Tuesday got FactChecked.
President Obama sometimes strayed from the facts or made dubious claims during his hour-long evening news conference March 24.
• He said his budget projections are based on economic assumptions that "are perfectly consistent with what Blue Chip forecasters out there are saying."  Not true.  The average projection by leading private economists is now for substantially less economic growth than the administration's forecast assumes.

• He said he is reducing "nondefense discretionary spending" to less than it was under the past four presidents.  Not true.  His own forecast for the final budget of his four-year term puts this figure higher than in many years under Reagan, Clinton or either Bush.

• He said he was "angry" about "inexcusable" bonuses paid to AIG executives.  But he glossed over the fact that his own aides insisted on watering down a Senate-passed amendment that might have prevented payment of such bonuses.

• He repeated that his budget is projected to cut the federal deficit in half by the end of his term.  That's true, but deficits also are projected to shoot up again later unless big policy changes are made.
Those don't strike me as small errors.  And, as always when we find these discrepancies, we have to wonder whether the politician believes what he said.  I don't know whether Obama believes all of those dubious claims — but I fear that he believes some of them.

(I suppose that I will have to look over the transcript and see if I can find even more mistakes.)
- 11:04 AM, 27 March 2009   [link]


"This Is Not A Parody"  What do leftwing journalists say to each other in private?  I've often wondered; that's why, for instance, that I have been doing my series on KUOW's Gang of Four.  Though the discussion on that program is hardly private, it is, from time to time, more candid than what these same journalists write.

Like many others, I wondered even more after Michael Calderone wrote his piece on the JournoList.
For the past two years, several hundred left-leaning bloggers, political reporters, magazine writers, policy wonks and academics have talked stories and compared notes in an off-the-record online meeting space called JournoList.
And now Mickey Kaus has published a sample of the conversations on JournoList.  Much of it is too crude to quote here, but you can get some of the flavor from the thread title: "Marty Peretz is a Crazy-Ass Racist".  That's Martin Peretz, editor of the New Republic.  Peretz is neither a racist nor "crazy-ass".

As Kaus says, this is not a parody.  At least, I would add, not an intentional parody.

If I had to summarize my own reaction to this thread, I would say that these "journalists" are even worse than I thought they were.

And this detail may be significant.  One of the members of this group is Peter Orszag, former head of the Congressional Budget Office, and, currently, Obama's Budget Director.  Those who have read that thread will wonder about Orszag's taste.
- 10:07 AM, 27 March 2009   [link]


My Apologies For Causing The Financial Crisis:  I am not solely responsible, of course, but I am white, and I do have blue eyes.
Gordon Brown's efforts to smooth a path to international agreement at next week's G20 summit in London hit a bump in Brazil yesterday when he was told that the financial crisis was the fault of the "white and blue-eyed".

President Lula da Silva of Brazil warned that there would be spicy discussions and "tough confrontation" next Wednesday as world leaders faced up to who should pay the costs of the banking crisis.
(The blue eyes part of Lula's theory is a little puzzling.  If the eye color map you can find here is reasonably accurate, the financial crisis would appear to have started in Estonia.  If so, I missed that part of the news.)

I am not sure how I caused the crisis, but my apologies, anyway.
- 6:49 AM, 27 March 2009   [link]


Don't Trust Experts:  So says Nicholas Kristof.
Ever wonder how financial experts could lead the world over the economic cliff?

One explanation is that so-called experts turn out to be, in many situations, a stunningly poor source of expertise.  There's evidence that what matters in making a sound forecast or decision isn't so much knowledge or experience as good judgment — or, to be more precise, the way a person's mind works.
That conclusion is not new, but it deserves repeating from time to time.

Kristof is honest enough to mention one of his own mistakes in the column — predicting that the surge would fail — but just one.

But he does give us a guide for spotting especially untrustworthy experts.  They are famous, and they have strong opinions.  The second explains the first.  Journalists prefer to interview experts with strong opinions, even if those experts have been proven wrong, again and again.

Since I am feeling a little mischievous, I will apply that guide to economists.  Which living American economist is the most famous?  Kristof's colleague, Paul Krugman.  Does he have strong opinions?  I think most would agree that Krugman is no shrinking violet.

Has been Krugman been especially likely to be wrong?  I think so, but I have not made a formal study of that question.  (If I recall correctly, Krugman may agree with me.  I believe that he has said, more than once, that he has not been a good economic prognosticator.)
- 1:17 PM, 26 March 2009   [link]


1 in 50 Children Now Homeless?  That's what Ebony reporter, Kevin Chappell, said in Obama's press conference last Tuesday.

Mickey Kaus thought the number sounded bogus, and he was right, for many reasons, starting with "Now".
This is one of those statistical assertions that you know is BS before you even set out to show it's BS.  If you just live here and go around with your eyes open you know it's BS.  Sure enough, it's BS!  Chappell's question is based on this study by an anti-homelessness advocacy group with every incentive to maximize the estimate of the problem.  1) The report apparently counts all people who are "homeless" even one night over the course of a year.  That's very different from saying that one-in-50 are homeless at the same time--e.g., "now."
(And Kaus, along with James Taranto, has much more.)

Chappell is at fault for the "now".  The report makes it clear (on page 2!) that their 1-in-50 estimate is for any time during an entire year.  Chappell made that mistake, but the authors of the study are at fault for counting many children as "homeless", who are not homeless by any ordinary definition of the word.  Chappell may have made an honest mistake, but the study authors were misleading, intentionally, I think.  (The authors are semi-anonymous.  According to the study, the report was written "primarily by the staff of the National Center on Family Homelessness".)

Two questions occur to me:  First, did Obama realize that the number was bogus?  I can't tell from the transcript, and can't think of any simple way to find out.

Second, will Kevin Chappell and Ebony correct this mistake?  (I'll be looking for a correction in the next week or so.)
- 10:19 AM, 26 March 2009   [link]


Jeffrey Sachs Doesn't Like Geithner's Plan:  Not even a little bit
The Geithner-Summers plan, officially called the public/private investment programme, is a thinly veiled attempt to transfer up to hundreds of billions of dollars of US taxpayer funds to the commercial banks, by buying toxic assets from the banks at far above their market value.  It is dressed up as a market transaction but that is a fig-leaf, since the government will put in 90 per cent or more of the funds and the "price discovery" process is not genuine.  It is no surprise that stock market capitalisation of the banks has risen about 50 per cent from the lows of two weeks ago.  Taxpayers are the losers, even as they stand on the sidelines cheering the rise of the stock market.  It is their money fuelling the rally, yet the banks are the beneficiaries.
I don't understand enough about the problem, or the plan, to evaluate Sachs' criticism.  But what he says is worrisome.

(Here's the Wikipedia biography of Sachs, which is, as far as I can tell, reasonably accurate.)
- 7:23 AM, 26 March 2009   [link]


Politicians Love To Buy Votes With Pension Benefits:  But Hungarian politicians may have gone too far.
Hungary, a nation of 10 million, has three million pensioners.  Besides writing checks for regular retirees, the government gives special benefits to accident victims, the disabled, military and police veterans, mayors, widows, farmers, miners and "excellent and recognized" artists.  The average Hungarian retires at 58, and just 14% of Hungarians between 60 and 64 are working, compared with more than half of Americans.
. . .
Hungary has run fiscal deficits for years to pay for social programs, and its annual tab for pensions now surpasses 10% of its gross domestic product.  The government had sold bonds to finance these outlays.  In October, investors stopped buying them.  The International Monetary Fund provided an emergency bailout so Hungary could pay its bills.  But many international investors have pulled out of Hungary, sending the country's currency tumbling and darkening its economic outlook.
Essentially, the country is bankrupt.  And so are a few American cities from the same cause, already.  We should expect more city bankruptcies in the next few years, and it is not impossible that some of our states will flirt with bankruptcy from this same generosity.

It is not hard to understand why buying votes this way is so attractive to politicians.  The politician gets an immediate boost, but puts most of the costs far in the future.  (And, quite often, the politician boosts his own pension at the same time.)  Opponents of these increases can be made to look stingy and mean to 'accident victims, the disabled, military and police veterans, mayors, widows, farmers, miners and "excellent and recognized" artists', and other sympathetic groups.
- 6:46 AM, 26 March 2009
More:  Those three million pensioners are being supported by about four million workers.  Should have mentioned that in the original post, I suppose.
- 1:29 PM, 26 March 2009   [link]


The Iranians won't like this comparison.
At the White House's celebration of Greek Independence Day Wednesday afternoon, President Obama got a little unexpected flattery from Archbishop Demetrios, the head of the Greek Orthodox Church in the United States

Listing a series of challenges Obama will need to deal with as president, Demetrios predicted: Demetrios to Obama: "Following the brilliant example of Alexander the Great . . . you will be able to cut the Gordian knot of these unresolved issues."
Since they haven't forgiven Alexander for what he did to the Persian empire.

(If there is a sillier comparison, I haven't seen it.  Whatever else one may say about Alexander, there is no doubt that he was a genius at military tactics and strategy.  There is no evidence that Obama understands the first thing about those subjects.)
- 5:35 AM, 26 March 2009   [link]


Brutal:  Maybe even outrageous.  Almost certainly unfair.   But very funny, if you are not a fan of Obama's budget proposals.  Michael Ramirez's March 24th cartoon.

(Oh, and the cartoon is politically incorrect, for at least two different reasons.)
- 3:11 PM, 25 March 2009   [link]


Worth Reading:  Megan McArdle on the AIG bonuses.  (She is not as shocked by the bonuses as most of the talking heads on TV are — or pretend to be.)
- 2:50 PM, 25 March 2009   [link]


Latest CBO Forecast:  You can download it here.  And you can see a useful graph comparing the Obama, the Congressional Budget Office, and the Blue Chip forecasts here.  In most years, the CBO forecast is between the other two, not as optimistic as Obama's, not as pessimistic as Blue Chip's.

By way of Greg Mankiw.

(There are lots of numbers, but not much technical jargon, in the CBO forecast, so you shouldn't be afraid to look at it, even if you haven't studied economics recently.)
- 1:31 PM, 25 March 2009   [link]


Gordon Brown's Problems:  It's no consolation, but British Prime Minister Gordon Brown is performing about as poorly as the Obama administration, as far as deficits go.
Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling ordered 20 billion pounds in tax cuts and spending increases in November and forecast a deficit of 8 percent of gross domestic product.  Britain will have a deficit of 11 percent of GDP in 2010, the highest in the Group of 20, according to the International Monetary Fund.
Investors are beginning to notice.
The U.K. failed to find enough buyers for 1.75 billion pounds ($2.55 billion) of bonds for the first time in almost seven years as debt investors repudiated Prime Minister Gordon Brown's plan to stem the worst economic crisis in three decades.

Gilts slumped after the London-based Debt Management Office, which manages bond auctions on behalf of the Treasury, said investors bid for 1.63 billion pounds of the 40-year securities.  The last time the U.K. government was unable to attract enough investors was in 2002 when it tried to sell 30- year inflation-protected bonds.  The yield on the 4.5 percent gilt due 2049 rose 10 basis points to 4.55 percent.
And so is Mervyn Douglas, the Governor of the Bank of England.  (American readers may need to know that governors traditionally keep quiet on budget questions.)

As I recall, when Brown first took charge of the British budget, under Tony Blair, he was widely viewed as a prudent money manager.  I don't know whether he has changed or whether that impression was wrong.  It could, I suppose, simply be that he was doing what he needed to do to be re-elected, both then and now.
- 9:29 AM, 25 March 2009   [link]


Not In Senator Feinstein's Backyard:  And she has a bigger backyard than most of us.
In a move that could pit usual allies -- environmentalists and the solar and wind industries -- against each other, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) is preparing legislation that would permanently put hundreds of thousands of acres of desert land off limits to energy projects.  The territory would be designated California's newest national monument.

The move has triggered cries of NIMBY-ism on Capitol Hill.

"If there is such strong support for renewable energy, then why are they moving to block renewable energy production in their own state?" said Rep. Doc Hastings of Washington state, the top Republican on the House Natural Resources Committee.
. . .
California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said in a speech last year at a Yale University climate-change conference: "If we cannot put solar power plants in the Mojave Desert, I don't know where the hell we can put it."
The answer to Governor Schwarzenegger's comment is, of course, in some other state, or nation.  For quite some time California environmentalists have been blocking energy production within California.   As a result, California has been importing more and more of its energy.  That can work for a while, but no one, not even Senator Feinstein, should expect it work forever.
- 6:04 AM, 25 March 2009
Much of the Mojave is already set aside in two national parks, a national recreation area, and a national preserve.
- 8:55 AM, 25 March 2009   [link]


Projected Obama Deficits:  This Washington Post graph has gotten a lot of attention — rightly.

Projected Obama Deficits

You can see the grim picture yourself, but several points deserve emphasis.  According to Obama's own estimates, every single Obama deficit will be larger than the worst Bush deficit.  The Democrats, including Obama, criticized Bush — with some justice — for not controlling spending.  It is hard, now, to take those criticisms seriously.

According to Obama's own estimates, the deficit begins to get worse, starting in 2014.   And his estimates assume a vigorous recovery.  So his plan, by his own numbers, does not give us a long-term fix for our deficit problems.

The Congressional Budget Office paints an even gloomier picture.  (And some projections from private economist are even worse.)

The mounting deficits in later years are caused, in part, by the costs of baby-boom retirees.   The Democrats (and some Republicans) blocked Bush's efforts to find a permanent solution to our looming social security deficit, and our rapidly increasing costs for Medicare.

You may want share this graph with your friends and neighbors.
- 5:34 AM, 25 March 2009   [link]