Archive:

September 2008, Part 1

Jim Miller on Politics




Pseudo-Random Thoughts



Alice Palmer And Barack Obama:  When Barack Obama launched his bid for the Illinois state senate in the home of unrepentant terrorists Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn, he had the backing of the current state senator, Alice Palmer.
"I can remember being one of a small group of people who came to Bill Ayers' house to learn that Alice Palmer was stepping down from the senate and running for Congress," said Dr. Quentin Young, a prominent Chicago physician and advocate for single-payer health care, of the informal gathering at the home of Ayers and his wife, Dohrn. "[Palmer] identified [Obama] as her successor."
Here's how David Freddoso describes their relationship in The Case Against Barack Obama:
During her fifth year in Springfield, she had groomed Barack Obama to succeed her, even bringing him to a fundraiser at Bill Ayers's house in Hyde Park. (p. 129)
Now then, what kind of person is Alice Palmer?  Politically, that is.  (Here's a remarkably uninformative biography, which leaves out all the interesting stuff, though it does suggest that, at the very least, she is a radical.)  She's a friend of Ayers and Dohrn and, at least as late as 1986, a Soviet sympathizer.   In that year, she attended the 27th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (as a journalist), and came back very impressed.  I have seen no evidence that she has stopped being on the far left since then, though she may be less enamored of the Soviet Union than she was two decades ago.

This friend of terrorists, this leftwing extremist, thought that Barack Obama would be the right person to succeed her in the Illinois senate.  It seems unlikely that she was supporting him because she thought he was a Reagan Republican.

(I have not finished Freddoso's book yet, but so far it strikes me as a solid piece of journalism, more carefully written than Corsi's Obama Nation.  Freddoso's summarizes his thesis in his introduction:
Obama's ethnic pedigree understandably attracts much interest and fascination.  But it is far less interesting than his unusual political pedigree.  He is the product of a marriage between two of the least attractive parts of Democratic politics—the hard-core radicalism of the 1960s era and Chicago's Machine politics. (pp. x-xi)
As I said, I haven't finished the book, mostly because I am not just reading it, I am studying it.

Palmer backed Obama as her successor because she expected to move up to a seat in Congress.  When she lost the primary she asked Obama to step aside so that she could keep her state senate seat.  He refused and got her thrown off the ballot by disqualifying signatures on her petitions.)
- 8:22 PM, 8 September 2008   [link]


Bounce, Bounce:  Both candidates got bounces from their conventions, but McCain's bounce was — probably — a little larger, so he came out ahead, net.  There's a good summary of the polls here, illustrated with an informative graph.

I would add just two thoughts to the analysis:  The Gallup poll that gave McCain his biggest lead, ten points, was the only one that polled "likely voters", as opposed to registered voters.  In general, I much prefer polls of likely voters to polls of registered voters — if the pollster uses a good screen for likely voters.  (And Gallup generally does.)  However, with almost two months to go before the election, I am not sure just how good any likely voter screen can be.

Putting those thoughts together, my current guesstimate is that McCain is ahead in the popular vote, but not by Gallup's ten points.  And I would expect that his margin will slip a little in the next week.

The InTrade bettors are, as I write, giving McCain a 47 percent chance to win the election.  I would give him slightly better odds than that, right now.

(Gallup has a table of convention bounces since 1964 here; McCain's bounce was slightly above average.)
- 7:20 PM, 8 September 2008   [link]


Integration Comes To Harlem:  A little integration.
From 1990 to 2005, the percentage of white residents rose from 1.5 percent to 4.3 percent of the population — or about 5,000 residents, according to census data.  But real estate agents and politicians say they believe that number has probably at least doubled during the past three years.

During that same 15-year period, the percentage of black residents in central Harlem declined to 72 percent from 88 percent, even though the black population remained steady, at about 85,000.
And not without pain.  The reporter is honest enough to say that some women have found the environment in Harlem too hostile, too filled with sexually suggestive comments from strangers.  And some long time residents are not happy to see the newcomers.

But on the whole, this integration appears to be a positive development.

And it would not have happened had not former Mayor Rudy Giuliani cut the crime rate enough so that middle class whites feel reasonably safe in Harlem.
- 3:20 PM, 8 September 2008   [link]


New Pennsylvania:  Barack Obama forgets where he is.


That kind of mistake could happen to any of us, but I notice that again Obama did not catch his own error, at least not immediately.
- 1:52 PM, 8 September 2008   [link]


Cheer Up, Paul Krugman Thinks The Economy Will Get Worse:  Today's column by the Princeton economist warns that we may be in for hard times.  (As usual, Krugman is cagey and does not make a flat prediction.)  This cheered me greatly because Krugman has been wrong so many times since January of 2001, when George Bush took office.  If you bought stocks every time Krugman said the economy might be stalled or in a "economic quagmire", you would have done well over the last seven years.

(If I remember correctly, Krugman missed the Clinton recession that hit just as Bush was taking office.)
- 1:22 PM, 8 September 2008
More:  The continuing fall in the price of oil and other commodities is one reason I am more optimistic about the economy than Krugman.  The fall helps our economy and the economies of our major trading partners.
- 7:09 AM, 9 September 2008   [link]


Economist Greg Mankiw Has Some Answers:  Who privatized Fannie Mae?   Lyndon Johnson.  (I would say "privatized", since everyone expected the government to rescue them if they got in trouble — as they have.)  Who proposed reforms that might have reduced the problems we now face?   President Bush.   And who helped block these reforms?  Democratic Congressman Barney Frank, who is supposed to be a sophisticate.

Credit where due:  Professor Mankiw was one of those warning about potential problems with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
- 1:04 PM, 8 September 2008   [link]


Wondering What Community Organizers Do?  Wondering what Barack Obama did as community organizer?  Steven Malanga has an answer to the first question.  Samples:
The roots of community organizing stretch back to the 1930s and the efforts of organizer Saul Alinsky, founder of the Industrial Areas Foundation and author of "Rules for Radicals," to organize people in low-income areas into a political force to combat the political machine that ran Chicago.

Alinsky won many admirers on the Left, but it took President Lyndon Johnson's War On Poverty to supercharge community organizing by directing billions of federal dollars to neighborhood groups with the naive and ambiguous goal of "empowering" communities.
. . .
Yet those who designed Johnson's programs endowed them with vague goals such as "community empowerment" and often failed to demand specific, achievable results from those they funded.  Thus, money went to inexperienced local activists to run job-training programs that failed to find people jobs.  Other grants went to local groups to help businesses in poor neighborhoods get loans - with little sense of whether their clients could actually ever pay back the money.

Nothing symbolizes the failure and waste better than a federal boondoggle known as the Community Development Block Grant program.  Obama calls it "an important program that provides housing and creating [sic] jobs for low- and moderate-income people and places" - yet, over the last 40 years, the CDGB has funneled some $110 billion through community groups with little sense that it has done much good.
Byron York has an answer to the second question.  Sample:
Community organizing is just as essential in understanding Obama.  But what does it say about him?

The first thing is that he has a talent for, well, organizing.  Everyone who worked with Obama says he was good at the job.  And he has used the techniques he learned in Chicago to organize his own presidential campaign, going so far as to enlist Mike Kruglik to help start a "Camp Obama" program to instill organizing principles into Obama supporters.  The result is a campaign that even Obama's opponents admit is a very impressive operation.

But Obama's time in Chicago also revealed the conventionality of his approach to the underlying problems of the South Side.  Is the area crippled by a culture of dysfunction?  Demand summer jobs.   Push for an after-school program.  Convince the city to spend more on this or that.  It was the same old stuff; Obama could think outside the box on ways to organize people, but not on what he was organizing them for.

Certainly no one should live in an apartment contaminated by asbestos, but Obama did not seem to question, or at least question very strongly, the notion that the people he wanted to organize should be living in Altgeld at all.  The place was, after all, one of the nation's capitals of dysfunction.
Obama seems not to understand that the community organizing programs begun under Johnson mostly failed — except at providing jobs for leftwing activists.  Worse than that, they sometimes did great damage by giving money and prestige to violent groups, including an infamous street gang, the Blackstone Rangers.

Or, it is possible that Obama thinks that providing jobs for leftwing activists is enough to make the programs worthwhile.  But even I am not that cynical about Obama — yet.
- 8:39 AM, 8 September 2008   [link]


Quite A Slip:  Even for Obama.  Here's the whole exchange, from his interview with Stephanopoulos.
STEPHANOPOULOS:  You mention your Christian faith.  Yesterday you took off after the Republicans for suggesting you have Muslim connections.

Just a few minutes ago, Rick Davis, John McCain's campaign manager, said they've never done that.  This is a false and cynical attempt to play victim.

OBAMA:  You know what? I mean, these guys love to throw a rock and hide their hand.  The...

STEPHANOPOULOS:  The McCain campaign has never suggested you have Muslim connections.

OBAMA:  No, no, no.  But the -- I don't think that when you look at what is being promulgated on Fox News, let's say, and Republican commentators who are closely allied to these folks...

STEPHANOPOULOS:  But John McCain said that's wrong.

OBAMA:  Now, well, look.   Listen.  You and I both know that the minute that Governor Palin was forced to talk about her daughter, I immediately said that's off limits.  And...

STEPHANOPOULOS:  But John McCain said the same thing about questioning your faith.

OBAMA:  And what was the first thing the McCain's campaign went out and did?  They said, look, these liberal blogs that support Obama are out there attacking Governor Palin.

Let's not play games.  What I was suggesting -- you're absolutely right that John McCain has not talked about my Muslim faith.  And you're absolutely right that that has not come...

STEPHANOPOULOS: Christian faith.

OBAMA: ... my Christian faith. Well, what I'm saying is that he hasn't suggested...

STEPHANOPOULOS: Has connections, right.

OBAMA: ... that I'm a Muslim. And I think that his campaign's upper echelons have not, either.

What I think is fair to say is that, coming out of the Republican camp, there have been efforts to suggest that perhaps I'm not who I say I am when it comes to my faith -- something which I find deeply offensive, and that has been going on for a pretty long time.
(I added the bold.)

Everyone makes verbal slips from time to time, including politicians who know how expensive they can be.  But Obama does seem to make far more of them than the average politician, and he often does not catch his own slips.  (Imagine, just for fun, what "mainstream" reporters would do to a Republican who made as many slips as Obama does.)

I think that Obama misses his own slip in this exchange because he is trying so hard to get his talking points out.  Obama wants voters to think that it is unfair to think of him as a Muslim — and unfair even to inquire into his Muslim connections.  He's right about the first, but he uses it to imply that the second is also out of bounds.  And he would use similar arguments to say that the black liberation theology of the church he belonged to for two decades is also out of bounds.

Obama is hardly the first politician to try to redraw boundaries on what is acceptable and what is not, and he will not be the last.  But he is far more aggressive than most politicians in his efforts to declare some questions off limits.  Probably because he has more to hide.

(You can find the video here, though you will probably have to watch a commercial first.  The slip is near the middle of the video.)
- 7:05 AM, 8 September 2008   [link]


Compare And Contrast:  Dave Kopel says that the early coverage of Sarah Palin was terrible.
The local and national media's treatment of Palin and her family this week has been the quintessence of hypocrisy, the vilest form of the politics of personal destruction.
Clark Hoyt, the public editor at the New York Times, thinks that his paper's coverage was just fine.
By choosing a running mate unknown to most of the nation, and doing so just before the Republican National Convention, John McCain made it inevitable that there would be a frantic media vetting.  It turns out that Palin was for the Bridge to Nowhere before she was against it, that she sent e-mail complaining about a lack of disciplinary action against a state trooper who was going through a messy custody battle with her sister, and that she never made a decision as commander in chief of the Alaska National Guard, one of her qualifications cited by McCain.

The drip-drip-drip of these stories seems like partisanship to Palin's partisans.  But they fill out the picture of who she is, and they represent a free press doing its job, investigating a candidate who might one day be the leader of the Free World.
(I wouldn't use that 'drip-drip-drip" metaphor to describe a flood.)

I would be more inclined to believe Hoyt if I had seen an equal flood of stories on Biden's lobbyist son.  Or on Obama's neglect of his daughters during this campaign.

But then Hoyt and I disagree on what his job should be.  I think that his principal job is to represent the public to the New York Times; he thinks that his principal job is to defend the newspaper against public criticism, especially criticism from moderates and conservatives.
- 7:02 AM, 7 September 2008   [link]


The Vice Presidency Is A Great Job For A Mother With Young Kids:  It's part time, as John Adams complained.
Adams' two terms as Vice President were frustrating experiences for a man of his vigor, intellect, and vanity.  He complained to his wife Abigail, "My country has in its wisdom contrived for me the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived."
She could do most of her work at home.  She would have a staff to do most of the dirty work.   Most working mothers would love to have all those advantages (and decent pay, too).

We have gotten so used to Dick Cheney as vice president that we forget how exceptional he is.  Most vice presidents have not had full-time jobs.  Opening the Senate does not take long, and there are not many tied votes to break.  Because vice presidents have so little to do, many presidents have used them as political spokesmen, used them to do the party work that might appear unseemly in a president.  Other presidents haven't given their vice presidents much of anything to do.

If Sarah Palin were to become vice president, she would be moving to a much easier job than the one she now holds.
- 6:35 AM, 7 September 2008   [link]


Propaganda From The BBC:  Not just in their news stories, but in their dramas, or perhaps I should say, particularly in their dramas.  Nick Cohen (who is not a conservative) has some examples, horrible examples, and these conclusions:
As a matter of course, BBC writers have blamed crimes against humanity perpetrated by the enemies of the West on the "root cause" of Western provocation.  Occasionally, but more frequently than the casual viewer might appreciate, they have gone a step further and presented the atrocities of totalitarianism as the atrocities of the West.

Maybe they were frightened that they would upset their employers or friends if they wrote honestly.   More probably, contemporary liberal ideology has so enveloped them, they cannot understand the implications of their own work.  For whatever reason, the BBC still had the brass neck to show fanatically racist white Christian sectarians beheading a moderate Muslim, when nowhere in the world are white Christians, fanatically racist or otherwise, beheading Muslims.
Read the whole thing.

Those who follow American TV more closely than I do can probably think of similar propaganda shows, but at least ours are not usually supported by tax dollars.
- 3:21 PM, 6 September 2008   [link]


Trouble In Michigan For Obama:  The Democratic governor, Jennifer Granholm, is unpopular, with voters blaming her, fairly or not, for the state of the Michigan economy.  And, far worse, Barack Obama's strongest supporter in Michigan, Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, has just been forced to resign.
Kwame M. Kilpatrick, the charismatic mayor of Detroit who has been embroiled in legal problems stemming from a sex scandal since the beginning of the year, pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice and resigned his office Thursday morning as part of a deal with prosecutors.

He agreed to plead guilty to two felony counts of obstruction of justice and to plead no contest to a felony count of assault on a police officer; to pay restitution to the city of $1 million; to surrender his law license, forfeit his state pension to the city and be barred from elective office for five years; and to serve 120 days in the Wayne County jail, followed by five years' probation.
More than one Michigan voter will note that, just a few years ago, Kilpatrick was heralded as a young, charismatic black leader who could work with whites.  The similarities to Barack Obama will not escape those voters, especially since Kilpatrick has been such a vociferous supporter of Obama.

If McCain can win Michigan, he will almost certainly win Ohio, since the two states are similar, though Michigan leans Democratic and Ohio leans Republican.  (Bush lost Michigan by just 3 percent of the vote in 2004.)  If McCain wins both states, it is hard to see how Obama can construct an electoral college majority.  Not impossible, but hard.

(More here from Newsweek, by way of WLS at Patterico.)
- 2:53 PM, 6 September 2008   [link]


Barack Obama Admits He Was Wrong About The Surge:  Here's the exhange.
O'REILLY:  I think you were desperately wrong on the surge, and I think you should admit it to the nation that now we have defeated the terrorists in Iraq, and the Al Qaeda came there after we invaded, as you know.  We defeated them.

OBAMA:  Right.

O'REILLY:  If we didn't, they would have used it as a staging ground.  We've also inhibited Iran from controlling the southern part of Iraq by the surge, which you did not support.  So why won't you say, "I was right in the beginning.  I was wrong about that"?

OBAMA:  If you listen to what I've said, and I'll repeat it right here on this show, I think that there's no doubt that the violence is down.  I believe that that is a testimony to the troops that were sent and General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker.  I think that the surge has succeeded in ways that nobody anticipated, by the way, including President Bush and the other supporters.  It has gone very well, partly because of the Anbar situation and the Sunni awakening, partly because of the Shia military.  Look...

O'REILLY:  But if it were up to you, there wouldn't have been a surge.

OBAMA:  Look...

O'REILLY:  No, no, no, no.

OBAMA:  No, no, no...

O'REILLY:  If it were up to you, there wouldn't have been a surge.

OBAMA:  No, no, no.

O'REILLY:  You and Joe Biden, no surge.

OBAMA:  Hold on a second, Bill.  If you look at the debate that was taking place, we had gone through five years of mismanagement of this war that I thought was disastrous.  And the president wanted to double down and continue on an open-ended policy that did not create the kinds of pressure on the Iraqis to take responsibility and reconcile.

O'REILLY:  But it worked.  It worked.  Come on.

OBAMA:  Bill, what I've said is — I've already said it succeed beyond our wildest dreams.
"Beyond our wildest dreams."  (I don't think he has already said that, by the way.)

Let's review.  Obama's signature issue, when he began his campaign, was the war.  He, and his supporters, argued that he had been right on the war from the beginning, and that being right on the war showed that he had better judgment than Hillary Clinton.  In 2007, he was arguing for a precipitate withdrawal so strongly that he was even willing to accept a potential genocide.

Obama was wrong, wrong, wrong on the second biggest decision of the war.  And despite what he says, others, including President Bush — and John McCain — were right on the surge.

Obama's immense error on this decision raises doubts about his judgment, and his knowledge of military affairs.  I am only an amateur student of military history, but I understood from the beginning that we could win in Iraq — if we wanted to.  Thanks, as far as I can tell, to General Petraeus, our victory has come sooner than I expected that it would, but it was never in doubt — assuming we wanted to win.  And whatever you think about the original decision to liberate Iraq, it was clear to almost everyone that withdrawing from Iraq, as Obama wanted to do, would be a disaster, with terrible consequences for years and probably decades.

Obama's admission of error should be front page news everywhere.  But it isn't and won't be, partly because most "mainstream" journalists made the same error.

(Obama shifted positions on the war more than he or his supporters like to admit.  His shifts all seemed to fit his political needs of the moment, not a change in the events in Iraq, or a change in his analysis — assuming he ever made one — of the problem.  Even his original opposition to the war was exactly what one would expect from a state senator representing a far left district.)
- 3:23 PM, 5 September 2008   [link]


Should We Withdraw Our Community Organizers From Chicago?   Maybe.
An estimated 125 people were shot and killed over the summer.  That's nearly double the number of soldiers killed in Iraq over the same time period.
All right, that's an unfair jab at some community organizers.  Some.  But I do have a serious point.  The Chicago death toll is highest in some of the neighborhoods once represented by Barack Obama in the Illinois legislature, highest in some of the neighborhoods where he once worked as a community organizer.  Those neighborhoods need, above anything else, to be made safer, but that was never Obama's top priority.
- 12:57 PM, 5 September 2008   [link]


Congressman Rangel Writes The Tax Laws:  But that doesn't mean he understands them.
Representative Charles B. Rangel has earned more than $75,000 in rental income from a villa he has owned in the Dominican Republic since 1988, but never reported it on his federal or state tax returns, according to a lawyer for the congressman and documents from the resort.

Mr. Rangel, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, which writes the federal tax code, bought the beachfront villa at the Punta Cana Yacht Club and has received twice-yearly payments from the resort, which rents the property for $500 or more per night.
I am inclined to think this was inadvertent.  Rangel does not have a history of tax fraud or large scale graft, though he does have a history of cutting ethical corners, as he did in this case.  No ordinary citizen would have been able to get four rent-controlled apartments in New York.

But if it was inadvertent, then this shows, once again, just how complex our tax laws have become.   If the man most responsible for writing them can't get them right, then it is unreasonable to expect other citizens with complex affairs to get them right, either.

And it may show that Congressman Rangel is more careless about these matters than he should be.   If I were chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, I would have my tax returns triple checked, since I would be certain that others would be looking at them — hard.

Finally, credit where due:  As the New York Times admits, it was their tabloid competitor, the New York Post, that dug up this story first.

(Digression:  I have thought for some years that we would have far more complaints about the complexity of our tax code if software companies had not developed programs to make estimating taxes somewhat easier.)
- 12:35 PM, 5 September 2008   [link]


The New York Times May Not Like Sarah Palin:  But the Sun does.
WHY, why, why can't WE have a Sarah Palin?

That was the question churning in my mind as I witnessed this astonishing American presidential race.

A week ago few in Britain had heard of Palin.

Today, the moose-huntin' mom is the most talked-about woman in the world.

And with good reason.

Her sensational performance at the Republican convention may turn out to be the moment the White House slipped from Barack Obama's grasp.

She was an electrifying mix of passion, energy, optimism and plain speaking.  The exact opposite of the slippery, two-faced, depressing bunch of third-raters who parade on our Westminster stage.
And the Sun has about three times as many readers.  Too bad almost all of them live in Britain.
- 7:10 AM, 5 September 2008   [link]


Look At The Chart, Skip The Article:  Or at least look at the chart before reading the article.   For example, take a look at this chart, which accompanied a New York Times article on consumer spending and personal income.

Personal Income, 2007-2008

As I read that chart, personal income was close to a record high in July, and would have been at a record high, except for the stimulus checks.  As I read that chart, personal income has been growing steadily, for more than a year, again, allowing for the stimulus checks.

Here's what Catherine Rampell wrote about those numbers.
Consumer spending slowed for the second consecutive month in July and personal income fell as the effect of economic stimulus checks tapered off and inflation lingered, the Commerce Department said Friday.
. . .
Personal income fell 0.7 percent, worse than analysts' expectations.  Disposable personal income, a measure of how much money Americans have to spend after taxes, also shrank 1.7 percent in July when adjusted for rising prices.  It had declined 2.6 percent in June
You'll have to decide for yourself which to believe, Rampell or your lying eyes.  Nothing that she says is false, but she gives an entirely wrong impression by omitting anything positive.

(Notes:  The chart is not adjusted for inflation, but inflation, thanks to dropping oil prices, must have begun to turn down in July.

Ordinarily I would not copy a chart from a newspaper.  I think it is fair use in this case because I am commenting on the chart.

I often find charts that conflict with the articles they are supposed to illustrate, and you can too, especially if you follow my practice, and read the chart first.)
- 4:21 PM, 4 September 2008   [link]


They Just Can't Help Themselves:  Today's New York Times — at least the edition printed in this area — chose an Associated Press photo to illustrate yesterday's Republican convention news.  A photo of Sarah Palin speaking, to illustrate the big story of the day?   No.  Instead, a photo of Senator McCain meeting Bristol Palin's fiancé, Levi Johnston.  (I couldn't find the picture on the New York Times web site, but it probably was taken just after the first picture illustrating this post.)

To hammer the point home, the Styles section has an article on the problems facing teenage marriages, a long article, illustrated with a picture of Levi and Bristol.  This is, if I may say so, not news, because it is not new.  (I am a little disappointed that they did not mention Romeo and Juliet in the article, while they were on the subject.)  By way of contrast, in the same section the Times has an entirely positive article on transsexual adjustments in the work place.  You may think I am cynical, but I suspect the results of these surgeries may pose a few problems, too.  And may not always work out beautifully, though one would never know that from reading the article.

(To be fair, in the last day or two, the Times has given us some substance on Palin's record in Alaska, though they don't show as much enthusiasm for those stories as they do for stories on Levi and Bristol.)
- 3:53 PM, 4 September 2008   [link]


Worth Reading:  James P. Lucier, a former Staff Director of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, tells us what Sarah Palin has done — and what Joe Biden hasn't done.  Two samples:
Palin came into the governor's office and found a mess on her desk.  The oil deal struck by defeated Republican governor Frank Murkowski wasn't working.  Through creative accounting by big oil and ambiguous reporting standards, the Murkowski plan just wasn't giving the State of Alaska the pay-off that was expected.  So the former mayor of Wasilla (population 9,000, as the MSM always points out) demanded that the agreement be renegotiated and the terms be nailed down.  They laughed when she sat down to negotiate, but in the end she had a new deal that delivered 50 percent of the oil revenues to the Alaska Permanent Fund, and enabled Palin to send a check for $1,200 to every qualified Alaskan citizen.
. . .
No Senator on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has authority under the U.S. Constitution to conduct foreign relations or to negotiate treaties.  That's why Biden has no experience in foreign relations, and Palin does.  He just talks about foreign policy, and talks . . . and talks.
And much of what he has said over the years has been wrong, as Lucier goes on to say.

(From the news reports today, I gather that Palin, like Obama, can read well from a teleprompter.   That matters much less to me than what they have done, and what they are proposing to do.  I'll look at both acceptance speeches some time, but I wouldn't encourage others who have less free time than I do to do the same.)
- 1:07 PM, 4 September 2008   [link]


Small Businessmen Often Don't Like Community Organizers:  Steve Antler explains why.
To owners of small community-based businesses, and to the workers who show up at these businesses every day, "community organizers" are more often than not nothing more than shakedown artists.  Sometimes they can be friendly and professional.  Just as often, however, they present themselves as something between mildly hostile to downright threatening.
For the record:  I have seen no evidence that Barack Obama was a "shakedown artist" when he was working as a community organizer.  But I think it almost certain that some of the people he worked with were.
- 8:27 AM, 4 September 2008   [link]


Victor Davis Hanson has some advice for the Democrats.  Stop nominating lawyers.
In fact, every Democratic presidential nominee for president and vice president in the last seven elections -- except Gore who dropped out of law school to run for Congress -- has been a lawyer.
And the Democrats have lost five of those seven contests.  For my Democratic friends, I would just add this point:  Richard Nixon was a lawyer.

(Minor correction:  Though Jimmy Carter often described himself as a farmer, he was really more of a small businessman.  He did farm a few acres, but most of his income came from the family warehouse.)
- 8:10 AM, 4 September 2008
More:  And, as you probably recall, the top three Democratic candidates this year, Clinton, Edwards, and Obama, not only are lawyers, but are married to lawyers.
- 1:20 PM, 4 September 2008   [link]


And For The Biology Books:  This blooper is too good not to share.
- 7:21 PM, 3 September 2008   [link]


The Bush Record On Research And Development:  Spending on research is hard to sell to voters — with some exceptions.  The payoffs, if any, are usually far in the future, and it is often easy for demagogues to mock proposals, especially proposals that have funny names.  For example, the late Senator William Proxmire was famous for his "Golden Fleece" awards, which often attacked basic science.  Once, I took a few minutes to go over his yearly list and found that most of the projects looked legitimate, but had descriptions that would sound funny to most non-scientists.  And that, I am sure, is why he and his staff attacked those projects.  (Proxmire, who represented Wisconsin, had no trouble voting for milk price supports, so he didn't oppose all forms of waste.)

There are exceptions.  When President Kennedy promised to go to the moon in ten years, he probably had the support of most of the public.  (Though more because we were scared of the Soviets than because we wanted to support an immense research project.)  And President Nixon almost certainly had the support of the public when he declared war on cancer.  But most research proposals do not get the same public support that those two did.  And the support for the space program waned over the years.

The slow payoffs are an especially big problem for presidents, who usually stay in office for eight years, at the most.  That implies that a president concerned only with popularity would do little for research.  Having said that, let's take a look at the federal spending for research in the last three decades.  The American Association for the Advancement of Science studies this every year.  In their 2009 fiscal year report, I found this useful summary chart.

R&D Spending, 1976-2008

The pattern for the last two presidents is clear.  Allowing for inflation, President Clinton let federal spending for research and development decline during his first term, but increased it a bit during his second term, so that by his last year it was about where it had been when he came into office.   In contrast, President Bush increased spending dramatically in his first term, but has kept it roughly constant since.  Knowing only those two facts, one would have to think that Clinton was concerned with his popularity, and Bush with the nation's future.

But there's more in that simple chart.  Clinton cut back sharply on money for defense research, but increased money for non-defense research.  Bush sharply increased money for defense research.   That difference in emphasis could be explained by their different constituencies, if you are cynical, or by different estimates of threats, or both.

(The two categories are somewhat arbitrary, since defense research often has applications in non-defense areas, and vice versa.)

The increases in non-defense spending in Bush's first term almost all went to biological research, specifically, the National Institute of Health.

Non-Defense Spending by Agency, 1976-2008

In my opinion, those NIH increases were too large and too fast.  One can not train researchers in a year or two.  Nor can one expect that giving much more money to the same researchers will necessarily result in breakthroughs.  The Bush administration appears to agree; they stopped the growth of NIH and have been proposing more money for other agencies, with different research agendas.

They were right to shift more money to biological and medical research, but they were wrong to do it so drastically.

Given this record, it is strange that President Bush, and Republicans generally, have been accused of being hostile to science.  There is even a book by Chris Mooney (which I don't intend to read) titled The Republican War on Science.   Some might think that throwing billions at scientists is an odd way to conduct a "war on science", but Bush's critics do not agree.

It is strange, but understandable.  Bush's critics, in this area, as in so many other areas, have not been constrained by mere facts or much interested in boring budget numbers.  And most of them are offended by his religious beliefs, and the very idea that he might make policy decisions based partly on those beliefs.  (For some evidence on this point, look at the other books bought by readers who read Chris Mooney's book; they are not the choices of evangelicals, or even people inclined to be tolerant of evangelicals.)

Though I don't share all of Bush's beliefs, I see nothing wrong, in principle, with an elected politician using his moral and religious beliefs to guide policy, even on science.  In fact, I think that's exactly what elected politicians should do.  It is unpleasant fact that there are many interesting scientific questions that most of us would prefer not to fund.  For instance:  Is it possible to cross humans and chimpanzees?  And I can easily think of many more research questions that I would rather not have answered with my tax money.

The most dramatic example of Bush using his religious beliefs to decide policy on scientific research was, of course, the fight over embryonic stem cell research.  The debate on that subject was frequently dishonest, as Michael Fumento has pointed out, again and again, for example, here.  (My own rather cynical conclusion is that some scientists backed embryonic stem cell research with false promises because they believe that they are far more likely to win a Nobel Prize doing embryonic stem cell research than doing adult stem cell research.)

It is unfortunate that Bush has received so little credit (and so much undeserved blame) for his efforts to increase research spending.  Other elected Republicans, seeing that, will be less likely to support research, especially research that does not appear likely to have immediate payoffs.  If that results in less research, as it probably will, our descendants will be worse off than they could be.

(There was another rapid increase in research spending during Reagan's second term, again followed by a flat period.

At one time, the federal government provided most of the nation's research money, but it has been decades since that was true.  Non-federal spending, much of it by business, increased considerably during the Bush years.  Changes in the tax laws may have encouraged that increase.

This is the second post in my "Unknown Bush" series; the first, "Bookworm Bush", is here)
- 5:33 PM, 3 September 2008   [link]


Worth Reading:  Eric Posner collected examples from the New York Times on the surge.  Here's the first:
The only real question about the planned "surge" in Iraq — which is better described as a Vietnam-style escalation — is whether its proponents are cynical or delusional. -- Paul Krugman, NYT, 1/8/07
Posner has thirteen more, much like that one.

Did any of the leftists at the New York Times get the surge right?  Not as far as I know.
- 10:54 AM, 3 September 2008   [link]


All Quiet On The Sun Front:  The sun has temporarily solved its complexion problem.  Depending on how you count them (and perhaps who is counting), the sun had either no sunspots during August, or very few sunspots.

If the sun had no sunspots in August, this would be the first time the sun has been quiet for an entire calendar month since 1913.  (It has been quiet for thirty days or more during that period, but not during a single month.)

This might be important because the sun puts out a little less heat when there are no sunspots.   This may seem paradoxical because the sunspots are darker and cooler, relatively speaking, than the rest of the sun.  But there is a simple explanation:
Since sunspots are darker than the surrounding photosphere it might be expected that more sunspots would lead to less solar radiation and a decreased solar constant.  However, the surrounding margins of sunspots are hotter than the average, and so are brighter; overall, more sunspots increase the sun's solar constant or brightness.
Sunspots don't increase the sun's output much; the Wikipedia article says "on the order of 0.1%", which is a number I have seen elsewhere.

But some scientists suspect that the sun's quiet periods affect our climate here on earth in other ways.  One big reason for this suspicion — I'm not sure it should be called a theory — is the Maunder Minimum.
The Maunder Minimum is the name given to the period roughly from 1645 to 1715, when sunspots became exceedingly rare, as noted by solar observers of the time.
. . .
The Maunder Minimum coincided with the middle — and coldest part — of the Little Ice Age, during which Europe and North America, and perhaps much of the rest of the world, were subjected to bitterly cold winters.  Whether there is a causal connection between low sunspot activity and cold winters is the subject of ongoing debate (e.g., see Global Warming).
(To put it mildly.)

The key word is "coincided".  Some scientists think that the cooler climate during a time of few sunspots was not a coincidence.  (I don't know enough to have an opinion on the question.)

Maunder Minimum

Finally, this may be a coincidence, too.  The recent quiet period on the sun coincides, roughly, with our stable, or even slightly declining, world temperature.  Though it is still higher than it was in most of the 20th century.

As always when I mention global warming, I suggest you read my disclaimer, if you have not already done so.

(You can see daily pictures of the sun at the Space Weather site, if you want to follow this yourself.  I've started checking there regularly, partly out of curiosity, and partly because they also have pictures, often beautiful pictures, of the weather and sky.)
- 10:14 AM, 3 September 2008   [link]


If This Price Drop Continues:  It will be good for the United States and most of the world.
Oil prices sank to a five-month low of just more than $105 a barrel on Tuesday as traders turned their sights on signs that slower growth was spreading beyond the US into Europe, Japan and even emerging markets.

The fall led some analysts to suggest that oil prices could move back below $100 a barrel, a level not seen since March, after fears that US oil supplies could be severely disrupted by hurricane Gustav proved unfounded.
Naturally, Iran is trying to stop the decline.  (Those centrifuges aren't cheap.)
- 8:08 AM, 3 September 2008   [link]


Troubling:  Putin is starting to rehabilitate Stalin.
Stalin acted 'entirely rationally' in executing and imprisoning millions of people in the Gulags, a controversial new Russian teaching manual claims.

Fifty-five years after the Soviet dictator died, the latest guide for teachers to promote patriotism among the Russian young said he did what he did to ensure the country's modernisation.

The manual, titled A History of Russia, 1900-1945, will form the basis of a new state-approved text book for use in schools next year.
Regardless of the facts.
Prominent Russian historian Roy Medvedev dubbed the manual 'a falsification.  Stalin by no means acted rationally all of the time, and many of his actions damaged the country.'
For example, every military expert agrees that Stalin blundered horribly by murdering most of his top military leaders, just as Hitler was about to attack the Soviet Union.  (Some were sent to camps and then brought back after the war began.  Their performance after their camp experience was uneven, as one would expect.)

(One of the authors of the textbook, Anatoly Utkin, asks this question:
Can you tell me of any other leader, an American president, for example, who read 10,000 books?
He intends the question rhetorically, but I can give him a partial answer:  Thomas Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt, and probably George W. Bush.  And we don't have to look much further to see Winston Churchill, who was not only an avid reader, but a prolific author.)
- 7:47 AM, 3 September 2008   [link]


Charles Johnson doesn't care for the smears on Palin from leftwing bloggers — and the way the "mainstream" media has amplified those smears.

Neither do I.
- 7:16 AM, 3 September 2008   [link]


Another Reason To Blame President Bush:  Workplaces are getting safer.
The good news: Fewer people are dying on the job in the United States.

Last year work-related fatalities dipped 6%, to 5,488 (or 3.7 per 100,000 workers), according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' National Census of Fatal Occupation Injuries report.  That's the lowest fatality rate since the government started keeping track of those stats in 1992.
Perhaps you can blame Bush for this change.  A look at the report, which you can find here, shows that these losses were much higher while Clinton was president.  One can argue over how much a president affects those numbers, especially in the short run, but one can also be certain that many would blame Bush if the trend had gone the other way.

(There's an intriguing detail in the report.  Though overall workplace fatalities are down sharply since 1992, falls are up, from 600 to 885.  Between 2006 and 2007, the increase came from falls on the same level.  Perhaps an older work force is more brittle?)
- 3:24 PM, 2 September 2008   [link]


Insightful:  David Brooks' column on McCain's political philosophy.
John McCain is not a normal conservative.  He has instincts, but few abstract convictions about the proper size of government.  He's a traditionalist, but is not energized by the social conservative agenda.  As Rush Limbaugh understands, but the Democrats apparently do not, a McCain administration would not be like a Bush administration.

The main axis in McCain's worldview is not left-right.  It's public service versus narrow self-interest.  Throughout his career, he has been drawn to those crusades that enabled him to launch frontal attacks on the concentrated powers of selfishness — whether it was the big money donors who exploited the loose campaign finance system, the earmark specialists in Congress like Alaska's Don Young and Ted Stevens, the corrupt Pentagon contractors or Jack Abramoff.
And I would say it was insightful even if I had not come to similar views years ago.

Brooks goes on to say, Sarah Palin shares that philosophy.  Brooks also says that McCain's philosophy is rare.  It is unusual among American politicians, but it is common among America's military elite, especially among aviators.
- 1:24 PM, 2 September 2008   [link]


Hard Corps:  Jim Lindgren took a quick look and found that Barack Obama is proposing to create or expand twelve corps:  Green Job Corps, AmeriCorps VISTA, Experience Corps, Senior Corps, Classroom Corps, Health Corps, Clean Energy Corps, Veterans Corps, Homeland Security Corps, Peace Corps, and Global Energy Corps.  At least twelve.  There may be more.  And a whole bunch of agencies.

I haven't looked at all these proposals, but Lindgren is probably right in this summary:
All these programs are just the ones listed on the service pages of his campaign website.  This list doesn't include his most expensive program: health care.  All these add up to the biggest expansion of the US government since FDR.  If Obama gets most of what he wants, he will make libertarians look more fondly on the relatively modest proposals of Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon.
What's going on here?  Michelle Obama, before she was muzzled, explained the purpose:
Barack Obama will require you to work.  He is going to demand that you shed your cynicism.  That you put down your divisions.  That you come out of your isolation, that you move out of your comfort zones.  That you push yourselves to be better.  And that you engage.  Barack will never allow you to go back to your lives as usual, uninvolved, uninformed.
(And maybe even voting for Republicans.)

Michelle Obama was telling college students that they would be required to do community service.   As Lindgren explains in a separate post, Obama is promising a vast expansion of government-run community service programs, or, perhaps I should say, "community service" programs, since I am not sure that many of them actually serve the community.

What both the corps and the community service proposals have in common is that they give an administration a way to hire activists — who will work to keep Obama and his Democratic allies in office.  The leaders of the old Tammany Hall would understand this, instantly.

That isn't all, of course.  As nearly everyone knows, Obama began his political career as a "community organizer".  It is only human for him to think — regardless of the evidence — that being a community organizer is a fine thing, and to want others to have the same experience.

(It is possible that the "community" was better off for Obama's work, though I doubt it, but I have seen no evidence for that proposition.)
- 12:46 PM, 2 September 2008   [link]


Old Rules And Bristol Palin:  Yesterday, the blogosphere and talk radio were buzzing with the sad fact that a teenager had gotten pregnant without being married.  This would not be news if the teenager were not the oldest daughter of the presumptive Republican vice-presidential nominee, Sarah Palin.   I haven't said anything about this story because it struck me as a family matter, and because it doesn't tell us much about how Governor Palin would perform as vice president or even president.

It may tell us a little, but it is hard to know what it tells us without knowing more details.   Even more extreme cases aren't always clear.  Rudy Giuliani's second marriage ended disastrously, but I don't know whether that was mostly his fault, mostly Donna's Hanover's fault, or what.  I do know that he was a fine mayor for New York, which tells me far more about how he would perform as a elected official than his two failed marriages do.  (His third marriage seems to be quite happy, from what I can tell.)  And it would be easy to add many more examples.  How a candidate acts toward their family does tell us something about the candidate, but we often can't know enough to make more than tentative conclusions.

All that said, there is something interesting, and very old fashioned, about the Bristol Palin story, something that deserves comment.

When I was growing up in the 1950s and early 1960s, it was accepted by the boys I knew that, if we got a girl pregnant, we would have to marry her.  I am not sure how I learned that; I can't recall either of my parents discussing it with me, but it was something we all believed.  And I think most American boys my age had the same belief.  No law would force us into a marriage, but our families would make it very hard on us if we didn't do the right thing.

That all changed with the availability of birth control pills and legal abortion.  Starting late in the 1960s, a young man who got a girl pregnant might be expected to pay for all or part of the cost of an abortion, but would not be expected to marry her.

The Palins, and the Bristol's boyfriend's family, the Johnstons, appear to be following the old rules.   Levi is going to marry Bristol, though he may not have known that even a month ago.

The old rules had one great advantage:  They encouraged boys (and girls) to behave as responsible adults, to grow up whether they wanted to or not.

(Credit where due:  One prominent leftist blogger, Hilzoy, has asked other leftists to leave Bristol Palin alone, and has done so for the right reason, not because the issue might backfire (though it might), but because it is wrong to drag children into these political quarrels.

That's the right thing to do, just as it was right for Republicans to (mostly) leave Al Gore's son alone, in spite of his continuing problems with drugs and driving.)
- 7:56 AM, 2 September 2008
The New York Times thinks the Bristol Palin story is important.  Today's newspaper has two long articles on it, here and here, and an Adam Nagourney news analysis.   Both articles begin on the front page.  Altogether, the Times gives this story about two full pages, which is a lot for any newspaper.  (I continue to think that the story is not very important.)  As far as I know, the Times has not yet given significant space to the activities of Biden's lobbyist son.
- 2:57 PM, 2 September 2008   [link]


President Bush, Bookworm:  President Bush surprised historian John Lewis Gaddis.
So what might shift contemporary impressions of President Bush?  I can only speak for myself here, but something I did not expect was the discovery that he reads more history and talks with more historians than any of his predecessors since at least John F. Kennedy.  The President has surprised me more than once with comments on my own books soon after they've appeared, and I'm hardly the only historian who has had this experience.  I've found myself improvising excuses to him, in Oval Office seminars, as to why I hadn't read the latest book on Lincoln, or on—as Bush refers to him—the "first George W."  I've even assigned books to Yale students on his recommendation, with excellent results.

"Well, so Bush reads history", one might reasonably observe at this point.  "Isn't it more important to find out how he uses it?"  It is indeed, and I doubt that anybody will be in a position to answer that question definitively until the oral histories get recorded, the memoirs get written, and the archives open.  But I can say this on the basis of direct observation:  President Bush is interested—as no other occupant of the White House has been for quite a long time—in how the past can provide guidance for the future.
Pause for a moment and consider that description.  President Bush, often described as incurious and even anti-intellectual, is such a reader that an eminent historian finds it hard to keep up with Bush.  Moreover, Bush reads history well, so well that Gaddis uses his recommendations in his classes, with good results.

Now, add one more point.  President Bush does all this reading while being president, a job generally considered full time.

Only a true bookworm would combine that much reading with being president, a job that already requires an enormous amount of reading.  And it may be significant that Bush married a librarian.

Once we realize that Bush is a bookworm (though possibly one with more narrow tastes than most bookworms), much that is puzzling about the man and his presidency becomes less so.  For example, it explains why he cares so little about popularity; bookworms seldom care much about what most other people think.  Bush is willing, when he is seeking office, to do what he needs to do to win the hearts of the public, but no more than that.  In that, he is the opposite of his predecessor, who has spent much of his life in an obsessive pursuit of popularity.

(This post is the first in a new series, "The Unknown Bush".

Gaddis uses that beginning to launch into a discussion of a possible "Bush doctrine", which you may find of interest.)
- 7:31 PM, 1 September 2008   [link]


The 1856 Republican Platform:  The first Republican platform was much shorter than modern platforms, so you may want to read the whole thing.  If not, here are some samples:

This Convention of Delegates, assembled in pursuance of a call addressed to the people of the United States, without regard to past political differences or divisions, who are opposed to the repeal of the Missouri Compromise; to the policy of the present Administration; to the extension of Slavery into Free Territory; in favor of the admission of Kansas as a Free State; of restoring the action of the Federal Government to the principles of Washington and Jefferson; . . .
. . .
Resolved, That the Constitution confers upon Congress sovereign powers over the Territories of the United States for their government; and that in the exercise of this power, it is both the right and the imperative duty of Congress to prohibit in the Territories those twin relics of barbarism—Polygamy, and Slavery.
. . .
The right of the people to keep and bear arms has been infringed.
. . .
Resolved, That a railroad to the Pacific Ocean by the most central and practicable route is imperatively demanded by the interests of the whole country, and that the Federal Government ought to render immediate and efficient aid in its construction, and as an auxiliary thereto, to the immediate construction of an emigrant road on the line of the railroad.

Resolved, That appropriations by Congress for the improvement of rivers and harbors, of a national character, required for the accommodation and security of our existing commerce, are authorized by the Constitution, and justified by the obligation of the Government to protect the lives and property of its citizens.

The 1856 Republicans were opposed to slavery, in favor of traditional marriage, supporters of the 2nd Amendment, and supporters of improved transportation networks.  The 2008 Republicans would probably agree with their predecessors on all those points.

By way of contrast, here is the 1856 Democratic platform.  What struck me most about it was how imperialist the 1856 Democrats were.  For example, they believed that the United States should control Panama, and say so in high-flying prose.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(I corrected an obvious typo in the on-line Republican platform.

You can find the major party platforms, including the latest, here)
- 4:14 PM, 1 September 2008   [link]


It's Personal:  Though I shouldn't have been, I was a little surprised at the avalanche of personal attacks on Governor Palin from the left.  (Note: Some of the examples collected by Jeff Goldstein are not suitable for younger sprogs.)

I shouldn't have been surprised because leftists are more likely to see their opponents as evil, rather than just mistaken.  And so when a new conservative pops up, many leftists automatically look for personal evidence of that evil.  (There are conservatives who have the same attitude, and do similar things, but not as many.)

And it is also business.  Nearly all leftists want the government to do something that it is not doing, and have a touching faith in the ability of government bureaucrats to do great things.  Many conservatives, and even more libertarians, would be happier if the government did less.  You can see that difference in the leadership of the two parties; the Democrats have far more professional politicians, people who have never had any other career, than the Republicans do.

And that is also true of activists; Republican activists are much less likely to be looking to have or to continue a career in government.  Not all of them are members of the "leave us alone" coalition, but many are.  Even if leftist activists do not have, or hope to have, careers in government, they often depend on the government more than their conservative counterparts.  For instance, union leaders want friendly governments at every level, since that makes it easier for them to organize.

Because so many leftists depend on government for their livelihood, they see Palin and McCain as threats to their livelihood.  And like almost everyone who sees a threat to their livelihood, they react very sharply, often very nastily.

Probably the first explains more of the attacks on Palin; probably the second explains more of the attacks on McCain.  They hate Palin more because of who she is; they hate McCain more because he threatens their jobs.

(For some reason, conservative women seem to draw more personal attacks than conservative men.  I'm not sure why that is so.)
- 12:37 PM, 1 September 2008
Paul Krugman illustrates my case.  Unintentionally.  For Krugman, it's all about the bureaucrats.
Simply put, when the government is run by a political party committed to the belief that government is always the problem, never the solution, that belief tends to become a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Key priorities are neglected; key functions are privatized; and key people, the competent public servants who make government work, either leave or are driven out.
Those who live in the world of facts will find Krugman's criticism of the Bush administration bizarre, considering how much Bush expanded government.  But Bush didn't hire many leftists while he was doing so, and for that Krugman will never forgive him.

Fun fact:  Paul Krugman worked for Enron (as a consultant) and in the Reagan administration.
- 3:31 PM, 1 September 2008   [link]


Chicago Sun Times Columnist Mark Brown Has Some Advice For The Obama Campaign:   Don't smear Palin.  Instead, let the media do the "dirty work".

I appreciate his honesty, but I can't say I find anything else to admire in his column.
- 11:29 AM, 1 September 2008   [link]


Frosted Flakes:  A different breakfast cereal might have been a better choice.  (Especially since Biden could be considered "frosted", and both are, in some ways, flakes.)
- 11:02 AM, 1 September 2008   [link]