Archive:

September 2008, Part 3

Jim Miller on Politics




Pseudo-Random Thoughts



Don't Worry, Be Happy:  That's what economist Austan Goolsbee was saying in 2007 about the risks from subprime mortgages.
Almost every new form of mortgage lending — from adjustable-rate mortgages to home equity lines of credit to no-money-down mortgages — has tended to expand the pool of people who qualify but has also been greeted by a large number of people saying that it harms consumers and will fool people into thinking they can afford homes that they cannot.

Congress is contemplating a serious tightening of regulations to make the new forms of lending more difficult.  New research from some of the leading housing economists in the country, however, examines the long history of mortgage market innovations and suggests that regulators should be mindful of the potential downside in tightening too much.
Goolsbee was Barack Obama's economic advisor for years.  (And would be still if he had not told the Canadians that they could ignore what Obama was saying about NAFTA.)  I do not know whether he has changed his mind on this subject.
- 5:07 PM, 24 September 2008   [link]


Correction On Valerie Jarrett:  In this post, I quoted the the American Spectator saying that Obama supporter Valerie Jarrett was "Iranian-American".  The quotation was correct, as they usually are when you cut and paste, but the American Spectator was wrong.

The anonymous author of the piece may have been confused because Jarrett was born in Iran and spent her early years there.  But she was born to American parents, and so is American.  She may also be Iranian if Iran has birthright citizenship; in that case she would be American and Iranian, but not "Iranian-American".  (For what it is worth, not a lot, this site once made her "Iranian of the Day".)

Thanks to a commenter at Sound Politics for catching this mistake.   And thanks to her for motivating me to find more material for a future post on Jarrett.  In that post, I may even be able to bring you some pictures of apartments she has helped manage.  They aren't pretty.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 1:33 PM, 24 September 2008   [link]


The Gang Of Four Gets Gleeful:  Do you have any friends who work for Washington Mutual?  For Lehman?  For AIG?  Then you know that some people are greatly worried about their jobs.  And some who don't work for those companies are worried about the financial mess.

Last Friday, the journalists in KUOW's Gang of Four (with one possible exception) were delighted by the mess, delighted by the possibility that some of their neighbors (and maybe even some of their friends and relatives) would be losing their jobs.  Now to some extent this is natural for journalists, who prosper in difficult times.  But journalists have generally learned to put on sober faces when they are covering disasters, even if they are delighted by the chance to tell exciting stories.  But on their Friday appearances on Weekday, the journalists are often more honest, and show their true feelings.  (Which is why I listen to it regularly.)

They were almost as gleeful (with one possible exception) as if they had a chance to talk about another Republican sex scandal.  The possible exception was Bruce Ramsey of the Seattle Times, who seems to understand that the mess might cost the taxpayers a lot.  And he disapproves of that.

The program had three other guests, Knute Berger, Naomi Ishisaka of Colors Northwest and Michael Parks, a writer for a financial newsletter.  (Probably this newsletter.)  So last Friday there were five in the Gang of Four.  (If the Big Ten can have eleven members and keep calling itself the Big Ten, then I can keep calling them the Gang of Four even if there are sometimes five there.  And, as almost everyone knows, the original Gang of Four was sometimes thought to have five members, too.)

Their discussion of the mess was not instructive.  They missed, for instance, President Bush's warnings and the connections of Obama to Fannie Mae.  Some listeners might have wanted to know who was right about Fannie Mae (Bush and McCain), and who was wrong (Congressman Frank, Senator Dodd, and Obama).  But Scher knows his listeners better than I do, so he may have been right to steer the discussion away from such heretical topics.

The advertisements on the program are often revealing, showing what sponsors think the audience is like.  (Yes, I know they are not, technically, advertisements.)  Last Friday, they had a long ad for the movie, "Battle in Seattle".  I suspect the film company spent their money wisely.

As often happens on the program, the journalists did not show their work, instead giving us conclusions without evidence.  For example, Knute Berger told us that President Bush had "FEMA-ized" the bureaucracy, driving out all the competent people.  That must be why, for example, that FEMA performed so well in this latest hurricane, Ike.

The grade for last Friday is 0.05, mostly because Bruce Ramsey introduced a bit of reality into the discussion from time to time.  That may be generous, because Ramsey did not seem to know that McCain warned about the problems from Fannie Mae several years ago.  I thought of giving them a little credit for what Parks said, but dropped that idea after he recommended that very silly book, What's the Matter With Kansas?

You may want to tell your friends and neighbors at Washington Mutual and other companies affected by this mess that some journalists are happy about it.  Or possibly it would be kinder not to pass that along.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(Atmospheric scientist Cliff Mass usually comes on before the Weekday program, and is often worth listening to — though Steve Scher rarely asks him the obvious questions.  Last Friday, Mass had a question which Scher could have answered but didn't:  Why was there so little media coverage of devastation from Hurricane Ike?  As Scher almost certainly knows, but did not say, there was little coverage because our "mainstream" journalists could not find any way to blame Bush for problems.

As usual, the journalists did not disclose their interests.  Berger did not tell listeners that he was an Obama delegate.  Ishisaka did not say that her business depends on affirmative action (in its current meaning, not its original meaning).  And, of course Scher did not say that Republicans are far more likely to cut the budget for NPR than Democrats.

Finally, a small suggestion for improving the program.  When a guest is having problems with a word, the host should should help him out.  Parks kept saying "levering", when he meant "leveraging", and it became painful to listen to after the second time.)
- 12:21 PM, 24 September 2008   [link]


"Droves":  The headline writer on this story on the effort by "Rock the Vote" to increase participation by young voters chose an interesting word to describe those young voters:  Here's the full headline: "Young voters, solidly behind Obama, registering in droves".

My American Heritage dictionary gives this as the first definition of "drove":
A flock or herd being driven in a body.
(Driven, of course by a drover.)

So the headline writer — probably unintentionally — is implying that these young people are sheep, being driven somewhere for reasons they do not understand.

And where might a drover take a flock of sheep?  Often to better pastures, but sometimes, especially in the spring, to be sheared, and sometimes, especially in the fall, to slaughter.
- 6:10 AM, 24 September 2008   [link]


Biden's FDR Gaffe:  You may have heard this story already.
Vice presidential candidate Joe Biden says today's leaders should take a lesson from the history books and follow fellow Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt's response to a financial crisis.

"When the stock market crashed, Franklin D. Roosevelt got on the television and didn't just talk about the, you know, the princes of greed.  He said, 'Look, here's what happened,'" Barack Obama's running mate recently told the "CBS Evening News."

Except, Republican Herbert Hoover was in office when the stock market crashed in October 1929.
And, of course, television was still experimental in 1929; FDR didn't appear on TV until 1939.

But there is more to the story than that.  In fact, FDR was in office in 1929; he had been elected governor of New York in 1928*.  And it is arguable that, as governor, he had at least as much control over Wall Street, which is, after all, located in New York, as Herbert Hoover did.

And we know what he did during the 1929 crash, which was pretty much nothing.  Here's how biographer James MacGregor Burns describes FDR's actions, or rather his inaction:
Roosevelt's first reaction to the stock market crash in 1929 was more that of a Republican businesman than a Democratic politician.  While the market was tumbling on October 24 a newspaper asked for his outlook.  He did not know detailed conditions, Roosevelt wired back, but he firmly believed fundamental industrial conditions to be sound.  Shortly afterward, in a Poughkeepsie speech, he assailed speculation.  Five weeks later, after stock prices had reached their 1929 low point, he told [Louis] Howe, "It is just possible that the recent little Flurry down town will make prices comparatively low," and asked him to check on the conditions of certain stocks.

Curiously, it took Roosevelt some time to realize that finally there had come the hard times he had long prognosticated would break the Republicans' grip on the White House.  By the fall of 1930, however, he was exploiting the situation in his campaign speeches. (p. 124)
And, as New York governor, advocating increased relief even earlier in the year.

During and after the crash, FDR did not go on radio (much less television) to explain what happened.   In fact, it took months (some say years) for FDR to even understand what had happened.  (Some would argue that he never understood what had happened.  That would explain why so many of his programs made the Great Depression worse.)

(*Very narrowly; he defeated Albert Ottinger by just 25,564 votes.

Here's the video clip.   They stop it at the end of the gaffe, but I would bet that Katie Couric, who was interviewing Biden, did not realize he had made a gaffe.

There was another stock market crash in 1937, during Roosevelt's second term.  Roosevelt did little at first, again, as in 1929, not recognizing how serious the drop was until months later.)
- 5:36 AM, 24 September 2008   [link]


More On Vote Fraud In Alabama From Spakovsky:  Hans von Spakovsky adds details to the story I discussed in this recent post.  Two samples:
Evidence has already surfaced of possible absentee ballot fraud in 2008 primary elections in Alabama including in Perry County, one of the centers of the civil-rights movement.  Unfortunately, some are once again claiming that any investigation must be "motivated by racism and partisanship."  That has happened before.  In the 1990s in Greene County, Alabama, local citizens and prosecutors joined together to fight absentee ballot fraud in this predominantly black county, one of the poorest in Alabama.   Unfortunately, liberal groups like the NAACP and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference worked equally hard to undermine the effort, to the surprise of local black challengers whose elections had been stolen.  They could not believe that, instead of helping them, the NAACP defended those who committed the fraud.  The local tax assessor, the first black who had been elected to that post in the county, was furious: "if the NAACP sides with these . . . people who stole election after election . . . it is tantamount to the organization defending policemen that used the fire hoses and dogs."  He was labeled the "Chief Uncle Tom" because of his condemnation of the fraud and his call for an investigation of black officials involved.
. . .
The most important lesson of Greene County is that absentee ballots are extremely vulnerable to voter fraud.  More broadly, the case shows how voter fraud is real and how those most often harmed are the poor and minorities.  In Greene County, the county government, a source of employment and benefits for local citizens, had been so badly run by those involved in the fraud that it went bankrupt due to extensive debt and illegal spending.  Locals agree that the voter-fraud convictions were essential for putting the county on the road to financial recovery.
In other words, the poor and minorities are hardest hit by vote fraud.  And those who claim to defend the poor and minorities often defend vote fraud that hurts those groups.
- 5:09 PM, 23 September 2008   [link]


Steve Diamond Has A Different Take On The Chicago Annenberg Challenge:  In Diamond's view, the challenge was part of the "Chicago School Wars".
The grant application itself and much of what the CAC was up to emerged in the heated "Chicago School Wars" underway in that city from the late 1980s until the late 1990s.  This war was for the control of Chicago's public schools.

One side in this war was controlled by Mayor Richard M. Daley, Jr., son of the legendary Mayor Daley.

And the other side was led by Ayers and a small group of reformers that had emerged several years earlier in 1988 during a battle to create a new power center in the Chicago schools, the so-called Local School Councils, or LSCs.  The LSCs were an effort to rein in the power of unionized teachers, school principals and school administrators, in the wake of an unpopular teachers' strike in 1987.
For Diamond, those who funded the CAC hoped to break the power of the teacher's union.

Diamond's view is not incompatible with Kurtz's, though I think that Ayers had different motives than some of those providing the funds for the CAC.

(Diamond has the same view of the CACs agenda that I do:
Could anyone have realistically expected such an agenda to have improved student outcomes?

Somehow I doubt it.
It depends, of course, on what you mean by "improved".  Ayers (and possibly Obama) would say that the student outcomes would have been improved if the students became radicalized.
- 1:06 PM, 23 September 2008   [link]


Berlin is going to the boars.
Berliners are demanding a cull of wild boars that have turned parts of the capital into no-go zones.

Tuskers hunting for food now number in their tens of thousands.  They uproot gravestones, stop children being released from school, rampage into blocks of flats and block traffic.
The solution seems obvious: Bacon.  Ham.  Et cetera.

(Since the pigs causing the problems are boars, they probably do not wear lipstick.)
- 12:46 PM, 23 September 2008   [link]


Worth Study:  The only executive position Barack Obama has ever held is the chairmanship of the board of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge.  (And one can quibble about whether that was really an executive position.)  Stanley Kurtz has been investigating what Obama and his ally, unrepentant terrorist Bill Ayers, did there.  What Kurtz has found is not pretty.
The CAC's agenda flowed from Mr. Ayers's educational philosophy, which called for infusing students and their parents with a radical political commitment, and which downplayed achievement tests in favor of activism.  In the mid-1960s, Mr. Ayers taught at a radical alternative school, and served as a community organizer in Cleveland's ghetto.

In works like "City Kids, City Teachers" and "Teaching the Personal and the Political," Mr. Ayers wrote that teachers should be community organizers dedicated to provoking resistance to American racism and oppression.  His preferred alternative?  "I'm a radical, Leftist, small 'c' communist," Mr. Ayers said in an interview in Ron Chepesiuk's, "Sixties Radicals," at about the same time Mr. Ayers was forming CAC.

CAC translated Mr. Ayers's radicalism into practice.  Instead of funding schools directly, it required schools to affiliate with "external partners," which actually got the money.  Proposals from groups focused on math/science achievement were turned down.  Instead CAC disbursed money through various far-left community organizers, such as the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (or Acorn).
Ayers and his far left allies got money.  Obama and his leftist allies got political support.   Chicago kids got nothing; in fact, they may have been worse off, because their schools were disrupted.

Anyone familiar with similar efforts would have predicted those results.  Did Obama not know this?  Or were those the results he wanted?  Did he not care about the Chicago kids?

Read the whole thing.  And note that there are still many unanswered questions.  For example, as Kurtz admits, we do not know why Obama, then just out of law school with no experience in education, was chosen to head this foundation.  Kurtz believes that Ayers chose Obama, but we can not be absolutely certain about that.  It would be interesting to know what this "small 'c' communist" thought he saw in Obama.

(We have known for some time that Obama has been deceptive when asked about his relationship with Ayers.  Kurtz provides more evidence showing how close the two were.  Which can only make us wonder what else Obama may be hiding.)
- 7:08 AM, 23 September 2008   [link]


Why Not The Worst?  That's one explanation for Barack Obama's choice of Joe Biden as a running mate.  Biden is not the worst in every way, but he has a plausible claim to be the most wasteful spender in the Senate.  Or, to be precise, tied for the most wasteful with twelve other senators.

There may be a pattern developing here.  Speaker Nancy Pelosi's choice for House Majority Leader was Pennsylvania Democrat John Murtha.   In 2007, the Citizens Against Government Waste named Murtha "Porker of the Year".  Obama and Pelosi are both products of political machines; both chose wasteful spenders for their seconds.

This should not surprise us; wasteful spending is essential to a political machine, so those with machine values will see wasteful spenders as assets, not liabilities.

(Fortunately, the Democratic majority in the House has more sense than Pelosi; they chose Steny Hoyer, instead of Murtha.)
- 5:14 AM, 23 September 2008   [link]


Joel Connelly Fights Bigotry:  The Seattle PI columnist and I have had our differences over the years, but I admire almost everything he said about the Washington state fight over Initiative 1000.  Proponents of the initiative have made harsh attacks on one of the organizations opposing it, the Catholic church.  Connelly thinks those attacks have come close to open bigotry.  And so do I.

Here's a sample from the beginning of the column.

In an America where any remark hinting of prejudice can force its maker into endless mea culpas, the mocking of a world religious leader ought to invite political suicide.

But one religion, the Catholic Church, seems to be exempt -- at least by some advocates of Initiative 1000, which would legalize physician-assisted suicide.

Read the whole thing, if you are interested in this issue, or if you disapprove of bigotry, regardless of the target.

And it is great to see Connelly do some digging, to see him committing journalism.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(Almost everything.  Connelly erred when he identified Peter Viereck as a "Yale professor".   And sexism, as supporters of Hillary Clinton will tell you, is not limited to the right.

When this issue is debated, proponents of assisted suicide often wonder whether opponents have any experience with end-of-life issues.  As it happens, I do, though I prefer not to share that experience with strangers.  But I will say this:  The experience led me to be somewhat more opposed to assisted suicide than I had been.)
- 3:58 PM, 22 September 2008   [link]


It's Eliot Spitzer's Fault?  I haven't said anything about the proposed bailout, or the subprime mortgage mess, because I don't know much about them.  (Perhaps more than the average reporter, but not enough to say anything especially useful.)

But I did want to pass along this, because it is amusing, and may be partly true.  (And because I have never liked, or trusted, Eliot Spitzer.)
Why did so many smart people at so many top firms make dodgy investments?  Why were there so many unknown unknowns, now at least becoming known unknowns?  One explanation is the absence of warnings from the professionals whose job it is to identify risks at companies such as financial-services firms: the much-maligned research analysts.  For decades, the large Wall Street brokerages had armies of analysts who, when they did their jobs right, asked the hard questions and issued tough reports that often alerted both company executives and public investors to market-moving issues.

There are now about half as many Wall Street analysts as in 2000.  Former New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer eviscerated the profession with $1.4 billion in settlements and a new mandate for how the industry would be structured, which made the analysts uneconomical.
The analysts haven't disappeared, or become conceptual artists; they mostly went to work for hedge firms where — and this is important — their research, Gordon Crovitz tells us, is now proprietary.  As a result, the public has far less information than in 2000.

I have no idea how much damage "Client Number 9" actually did, but I would not be surprised to learn that he did change Wall Street for the worse.  And he did force Greenberg out at AIG.
- 1:05 PM, 22 September 2008   [link]


David Brooks Got Conned By A Master:  Howard Kurtz describes how the conservative columnist was taken in.
Perhaps Brooks's greatest apostasy was briefly falling for Obama, based on "interviews I had with him before he became the Messiah.  I found him tremendously intelligent.  I came away thinking, 'Man, he agrees with everything I think.'  We talked about Burke and Niebuhr and all the philosophers I really like and he really likes."  Republican senators, Brooks said, "viciously pounded me" for his defection.
. . .
Within months, Brooks grew disillusioned, calling Obama a combination of "Dr. Barack, the high-minded, Niebuhr-quoting speechifier who spent this past winter thrilling the Scarlett Johansson set" and "Fast Eddie Obama, the promise-breaking, tough-minded Chicago pol who'd throw you under the truck for votes."  But he was hardly a Republican cheerleader: Days before Obama picked his running mate, Brooks urged the choice of Joe Biden as an experienced if loudmouthed lawmaker.
Though I am not sure that either he or Brooks understands what happened, completely.

What Obama did should be obvious to anyone who understands even a little about how con men operate.   They try to get you to believe that they agree with you, on something you care about deeply.  And they identify and exploit your weaknesses; Obama understood that conservative philosophers are important to Brooks, so he pretended to like Burke and Niebuhr, too.  (I doubt that Obama has read much of either philosopher.)

There is nothing novel about what Obama did to Brooks; politicians have been conning people for thousands of years — that we know of.  If you want to avoid being taken in, pay more attention to what a politician does than what he says.  And recognize your own vulnerabilities.

Am I saying that Obama is a con man?  Yes, though that isn't all he is.

(Here's a similar story about how columnist Richard Cohen was taken in by John Edwards.

Backing Biden shows that Brooks has another weakness, confusing credentials with accomplishments.   Biden is experienced, in the sense that he has been in the Senate a long time, but he has few accomplishments, considering how long he has been there.  And there is no evidence that Biden has learned much in all those years.)
- 8:25 AM, 22 September 2008   [link]


Obama Campaign Behind Palin Smears?   Maybe.
Extensive research was conducted by the Jawa Report to determine the source of smears directed toward Republican Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin.  Those smears included false allegations that she belonged to a secessionist political party and that she has radical anti-American views.

Our research suggests that a subdivision of one of the largest public relations firms in the world most likely started and promulgated rumors about Sarah Palin that were known to be false.  These rumors were spread in a surreptitious manner to avoid exposure.

It is also likely that the PR firm was paid by outside sources to run the smear campaign.  While not conclusive, evidence suggests a link to the Barack Obama campaign.
Or, more likely, in my opinion, an Obama supporter did it, without his campaign's knowledge.

What is certain is that some prominent left-wing blogs were delighted to spread these smears — not caring whether they were true or false.
- 7:02 AM, 22 September 2008
Update:  What is now certain is that an Obama supporter, Ethan Winner, produced the video, since he has confessed.   What we still do not know is whether Winner coordinated with the Obama campaign in any way.
- 4:01 PM, 23 September 2008   [link]


Antenna Oddity:  Since I switched to digital TV, using a Zenith converter box, I have mostly had good reception using an inexpensive rabbit ears antenna.  (Channel 20 was an exception, but then I don't watch their programs anyway.)  But in the last few weeks I started losing the program on different stations, more and more often.  Annoyingly, those break-ups often happened during football games*, especially replays.

The break-ups were annoying enough so that I started looking for a new antenna.  (With a digital signal, you either see a clear picture and hear clear audio, or you see a scramble and hear nothing that you can understand.)  The search was discouraging because the best reviewers seemed to agree that the best antenna would be outside, which would be awkward for me, and that to find one that works in your home, you may have to experiment.  Some even suggested buying three or four antennas at a store, taking them home for a week, and keeping the one that works best.

Yesterday, after spending too much time on line, I decided to get more information with some simple experiments.  First, I decided to see if I could adjust the antenna so that the picture would always break up.  If I had been thinking I would have turned the UHF part of the antenna backwards, or something like that, since all the digital stations in my area are currently using UHF.  (Some will be using VHF after the transition next February.)  But I wasn't thinking, and so I started by pushing the rabbit ears in half way, so they were extended 15 inches, instead of 30.

And that, rather that making the break-ups happen more often (as I was expecting) or making no difference (as I should have been expecting), solved the problem.  I could even see Channel 20, which I had never been able to see before.  Naturally, I extended the rabbit ears again to see if the problem came back, and it did.

Not being an expert on TV antennas, I can only guess why pushing the rabbit ears in solved the problem.  What was happening, I suppose, is that the rabbit ears were interfering with the UHF signal.

(*Pure speculation:  If the picture is transmitted as changes from the previous picture, then a detailed fast-moving picture would be more subject to break-ups, because the data rate would be higher.

Now that I think I understand the problem, I suspect that I could pick up a few more stations by getting a better UHF antenna.  But none of the stations I would gain look interesting, so, for now, I will stick with my cheap rabbit ears.)
- 2:58 PM, 21 September 2008   [link]


Shouldn't Someone Have Warned Us About Fannie Mae?  Someone did.   Repeatedly.  For instance, in 2001.
April: The Administration's FY02 budget declares that the size of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac is "a potential problem," because "financial trouble of a large GSE could cause strong repercussions in financial markets, affecting Federally insured entities and economic activity."
And President Bush repeated that warning in 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2007, and 2008.

Why didn't Congress pay attention?  Because Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac lobbied against the president, aggressively and successfully.  And the two had a great combination, payoffs to the politically well-connected, mostly Democrats, and a claim* that they were helping poor and moderate income people buy homes.

(GSE = Government Sponsored Enterprise.  Get used to those initials; you'll be seeing them often in the next year or so.

*Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac had an advantage over their commercial competitors, since they were able to borrow money more cheaply.  I have seen a claim that that advantage did nothing to keep the cost of housing down, but went entirely to the people running the GSEs.  I don't know whether that is true, and I am not sure I could evaluate such a study, even if I read it.  But it does seem plausible.

I've added this post to my "Unknown Bush" series.)
- 8:14 AM, 21 September 2008
Credit were due:  During the Clinton administration, Treasury Secretary (as he was then) Lawrence Summers also warned us about the two GSEs:
[He] . . tried to rein in Fannie Mae's and Freddie Mac's investment activities, unsuccessfully, and warned that the government-chartered companies could put taxpayers at risk in an economic downturn.  More recently, before the financial crisis, Mr. Summers was writing and speaking on the need for strengthened financial regulation.
I don't know how much backing, if any, President Clinton gave him.
- 12:43 PM, 22 September 2008   [link]


McFeatters Gets Research Spending Wrong:  Columnist Ann McFeatters goes to a press conference — but doesn't bother to check boring budget numbers.  As a result, she gets the Bush record on support for research wrong, wrong, wrong.

President Bush did little for eight years to shore up America's competitiveness.  During his watch we added $4 trillion to our $10 trillion national debt and now he is taking us into more debt to bail out insurance conglomerate AIG with $85 billion, $200 billion for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and billions  more for Bear Stearns.  Now there's talk of a half-trillion dollars more to buy out troubled loans.  But the government spends only a few billion a year on basic research that made this country a superpower.

In fact, under President Clinton, overall federal spending for research and development stagnated.   It fell slightly in his first term, and then recovered in his second.  In President Bush's first term, it rose by 40 percent, from about $100 billion to about $140 billion.  Spending on research has been almost stable during his second term, rising only slightly.

McFeatters is especially concerned about money for energy research.  She should look at the second chart, which shows that research funds for the Department of Energy have increased significantly since Bush took office.

These numbers are not hard to find; the American Association for the Advancement of Science does a set every year, and shares them with the public.  And I am sure that the White House would have been happy to give budget numbers to Mcfeatters, if she didn't want to spend a few minutes searching for them on line.

One can agree, or disagree, with Bush's spending decisions on research and development.  (I think he made the right decision to increase federal spending on research, but made some mistakes in some of the allocations.)  But one should not criticize Bush for not spending enough on research — without bothering to look at Bush's research budgets.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(Those who have been following the great debate — though that may be too kind a word — over embryonic stem cell research may be interested to know that Bush gave especially big increases to the National Institute for Health.  I doubt that McFeatters knows that, either, though it was covered by a few newspapers.

Changes in the tax code under Bush may have encouraged more research by American companies, though I haven't seen any estimates on that.)
- 4:30 PM, 20 September 2008   [link]


Mt. Rainier Delivery Truck:  While I was hiking on Mt. Rainier last week, I saw this helicopter deliver load after load of supplies higher on the mountain.

Helicopter on Mt. Rainier

Two of the loads, I was told, went up to Camp Muir.   The other loads were delivered lower on the mountain, and were supplies for repair work on trails and, perhaps, meadows.

It may seem odd to use a helicopter as a delivery truck, but a helicopter is often the most practical way to get substantial loads up on the mountain.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(One political thought:  The Bush administration has spent large sums improving facilities at Mt. Rainier.  After the disastrous flood of 2006, emergency appropriations were obtained to repair the damage, especially to the roads that had been wiped out.   The old Jackson Visitor Center is being replaced by a new building more suited to the mountain — though perhaps not as well suited to Hawaii.  On the whole, the meadows around Paradise look much better than they did a decade ago, fewer bare spots, less obvious damage.

In short, President Bush has been a good steward of this park — though he has not received much credit for his stewardship from "mainstream" journalists.)
- 3:26 PM, 20 September 2008   [link]


Is Barack Obama "Well-Informed"?  In this post, Megan McArdle makes a claim that I think she sees as uncontroversial.
This is flat out untrue.  And I know that Barack Obama is smart, and well-informed, enough to know it.
McArdle is right that Obama had said something untrue.  And I will concede that anyone who graduates from that famous trade school, Harvard Law, is almost certainly "smart".

But, as I said in a comment to her post, I am not sure that he is generally "well-informed".  (McArdle never explained why she thinks he is "well-informed", although other commenters also had doubts about that point.)

There are several lines of evidence that lead me to think that Obama may not, in fact, be well-informed.

We don't know much about Obama's undergraduate studies at Occidental and Columbia.  From what little we do know, he seems to have gravitated toward the fashionable left.  If he did learn anything significant from his courses as an undergraduate, it was probably mixed with misinformation, and even nonsense.

There are other ways to become well-informed, for example by reading.  But, although he is a writer, Obama does not seem to be much of a reader. (Unlike that bookworm, George W. Bush.)  Amazon interviewed Obama after Audacity of Hope was published and asked him about his reading habits.  Obama's answer, as I mentioned in this post, was pitiful, considering that he was running for president
Q: Do you ever find time to read?  What kinds of books do you try to make time for?  What is on your nightstand now?

A: Unfortunately, I had very little time to read while I was writing.  I'm trying to make up for lost time now.  My tastes are pretty eclectic.  I just finished Marilynne Robinson's Gilead, a wonderful book.  The language just shimmers.  I've started Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin, which is a great study of Lincoln as a political strategist.  I read just about anything by Toni Morrison, E.L. Doctorow, or Philip Roth. And I've got a soft spot for John le Carre.
He says his tastes are "eclectic", but his own description does not support that. Gilead is a novel set in Iowa.  (The interview took place during his Iowa campaign.)   Morrison, Doctorow, Roth, and Le Carre are novelists fashionable on the left.  (The suspicious will note that he mentions four names of novelists, but no names of novels.)  He claims to have started Goodwin's book, but he does not mention any other history books.

What is even more startling is what is not on his list.  There are no books on policy, on the military, on economics, or even on politics.  By his own account, he prepared for the presidency by writing a book about his favorite subject — Barack Obama.

That Obama reading list might be impressive if he was a high school freshman who intended to major in literature.  It is laughable for a presidential candidate.

There are other ways besides undergraduate courses and reading books that Obama might have become well-informed.  No doubt he learned something about constitutional law at Harvard.  But is is quite unlikely that he learned much about the economy there, and almost certain that he learned nothing about the military.

Since then, as a full time politician (regardless of his job title), he has had many opportunities to learn by listening.  He doesn't seem to have taken them.  Although chairman of a Senate subcommittee, he had never even bothered to call a hearing.  And the reports on his visits to Iraq describe him as a lecturer, not a listener.  For example, here's what Amir Taheri said:
While campaigning in public for a speedy withdrawal of US troops from Iraq, Sen. Barack Obama has tried in private to persuade Iraqi leaders to delay an agreement on a draw-down of the American military presence.

According to Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, Obama made his demand for delay a key theme of his discussions with Iraqi leaders in Baghdad in July.
(Note: Obama had "discussions", not briefings.  And he seems to have done most of the talking, even making a "demand".)

Pete Hegseth gives us a similar report.
How else can you explain the actions of a senator who travels abroad and calls the commander-in-chief "weak," and the war we are winning "illegal"?  My sources tell me he made few friends among warriors and diplomats in Iraq; yet he wasn't actually interested in hearing from them, only preaching to them.   He really believes — as do many of his antiwar colleagues — that they know better than generals and Iraqi leaders.  And he was hoping to have Iraq's help in confirming that self-regard, in making him look like an expert.  Alas, no longer.
It is natural for people to think that a man who graduated from Columbia and Harvard is well-informed.   But I have seen no evidence that Obama actually is well-informed, in spite of his opportunities.  And some evidence that he is not — including McArdle's post.

As it happens, I would much prefer that Obama was well-informed, since there is a good chance that he will become our president.  If Megan McArdle, or anyone else, can give me some evidence that he is well-informed, rather than that he should be, I will be delighted to publish it here.

(I like le Carre's earlier novels, especially Tinker, Tailor, but haven't even bothered to look at his later books.

McArdle is generally a good blogger; for some examples of her better work, see here and here.  But she does blunder from time to time, as she did here.)
- 2:59 PM, 19 September 2008   [link]


Steve Kelley Has A Sly Sense Of Humor:  (I think.)  I don't look for political jokes in the sports pages, but when I find a good one, I share it.  Today, over lunch, I found this one in a column in the Seattle Times on the University of Washington's new athletic director, Scott Woodward.

Woodward got his introduction into politics, as well as college athletics, at LSU. He worked with longtime family friend James Carville in the mayor's office in Baton Rouge, La.  Later he worked with Carville to help get reform governor Buddy Roemer elected.

"I learned from James that you can't BS people," Woodward said.  "You have to shoot people straight and what you see is what you get.  That's the beauty of James.  He is genuine, the kind of guy who is as straightforward and honest as he can be."

Right.  I love the way Kelley just passes that on, without even a wink to the reader.

Kelley expects us, I suppose, to supply the punch line ourselves, perhaps by noting that Carville is most famous for his work for Bill Clinton, who may, just once or twice, have tried to "BS" someone.  Those familiar with politics as it is played in Louisiana will be able to think of other punch lines, perhaps by quoting former governor (and felon) Edwin Edwards.  Or even the late Huey Long.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(Could that be an accidental joke?  I doubt it.  Even a sports columnist must know that most people don't consider Bill Clinton "straightforward and honest".  But I'll send Kelley an email to check.)
- 12:35 PM, 19 September 2008   [link]


Can You Trust "Mainstream" Reporters To Get Basic Facts Right?  Stuart Taylor can't.
We still have many great journalists, but I no longer trust the major newspapers or television networks to provide consistently accurate and fair reporting and analysis of all the charges and countercharges.   This in an era when the noise produced by highly partisan TV hosts and blogs creates a crying need for at least one newspaper that we can count on to play it straight.
I am not sure we ever could trust them, but I do think our major newspapers have become more partisan over the last two or three decades — and less trustworthy.  (And it may not be a coincidence that our journalists have become worse as they have become more "professional", more likely to be products of journalism schools.)

(Incidentally, Taylor is the first person I have seen get McCain's much-criticized sex education ad right.  The McCain ad was correct in its description of the bill, as Byron York demonstrated, but wrong in other ways.)
- 8:10 AM, 19 September 2008   [link]


None Dare Call It Victory:  That's the conclusion that I draw from this David Ignatius column on Iraq.  Here's the key paragraph:
By force of will, Petraeus and his president, George W. Bush, turned that around.  They didn't win in Iraq, but they created the possibility of an honorable exit.
All right, if Petraeus and Bush — I would say the United States — didn't win, or more precisely aren't winning, who is?

Al Qaeda?  Even readers of the Washington Post must know that they have been almost entirely driven from Iraq.

Sunni insurgents?  They've joined the winning side.

Shiite insurgents?  Some have been suppressed; some have joined the winning side.

Why can't Ignatius say this?  Would he be fired by the Post?  Or, more likely, would he lose his chance at promotion* there?

Or does he actually still believe that we can't win in Iraq?  (For the record, I have always said that we could win in Iraq if we wanted to.  And I think that anyone who looked at the resources available to each side would agree with that, would think it so obvious that it doesn't deserve discussion.)

Perhaps we have a cognitive failure here.  Ignatius doesn't deny the progress on the battle field, but is unwilling to take the next logical step, to admit that victory is within reach.  (This sappy column on Barack Obama's choices for vice president makes the cognitive failure argument more plausible; in it Ignatius dreams that Obama will actually be bipartisan, though almost nothing in Obama's hard left career suggests that he would take that path.)

Ignatius wouldn't be the first journalist to have trouble reasoning, but I wouldn't say that explains this column without more evidence.  So, for now, I will just leave the question open.

I do have to give Ignatius credit for one thing; he gave President Bush credit for turning around the war in Iraq.  I hope that bit of heresy won't get Ignatius tossed out of his guild.

(*Looking at his biography, it seems plausible that he would like to step up to either editorial page editor or executive editor.)
- 5:04 PM, 18 September 2008   [link]


Need A Scorecard For The Bailouts?  Here's one.  The third point, explaining why Bear Stearns was bailed out, is especially interesting.
- 3:10 PM, 18 September 2008   [link]


That Was Quick:  The person who hacked into the Palins' email account may have been identified.  Let me repeat, may have been identified.  He's David Kernell, the son of a Tennessee Democratic state representative.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(I am no expert in such matters, so I have no opinion on how strong the evidence against him is.   But I would be interested in hearing from security experts on that question.)
- 2:40 PM, 18 September 2008   [link]


James Taranto asks a good question:
Do journalists care about your privacy if you aren't a terrorist?
I would phrase the question differently:  Do journalists care about your privacy if you are a Republican?  Most journalists don't, as far as I can tell.
- 12:56 PM, 18 September 2008   [link]


Worth Reading:  Steve McIntyre explains why he is not impressed by "consensus".  In climate studies, or the stock market.  He has a timely example:
Turning now to Lehman Bros. I looked quickly at their website this morning, which reports that in the last two years, Lehman Bros has been ranked #1 by both Barron's and Fortune:
Since his site is mostly about global climate change, he adds this:
Lehman Bros also seem to have been actively interested in climate change, producing a couple of reports, most recently here dated Sept 2007.  In their acknowledgements, they thank James Hansen for clearing up some "questions that had been niggling us":
In other words, Lehman Brothers was getting advice on climate change from an extremist, though one much respected by the world's press.

(McIntyre doesn't describe Bre-X; here's the Wikipedia article on this fraudulent mining company.)
- 12:44 PM, 18 September 2008   [link]


Community Organizers Are Not Always Political Tacticians:  As Obama's advice to his supporters shows.
In Elko, Obama tried to anticipate his critics and called on the crowd of about 1,500 to sharpen their elbows, too.

"I need you to go out and talk to your friends and talk to your neighbors.  I want you to talk to them whether they are independent or whether they are Republican.  I want you to argue with them and get in their face," he said.

"And if they tell you that, 'Well, we're not sure where he stands on guns.'  I want you to say, 'He believes in the Second Amendment.'  If they tell you, 'Well, he's going to raise your taxes,' you say, 'No, he's not, he's going lower them.'  You are my ambassadors.  You guys are the ones who can make the case."
Most political tacticians will tell you that you win more votes by listening to those who disagree and, if they appear open, giving them some new information or appealing to their values.  Getting in their faces is likely to anger them and make them check your claims.  And, in fact, Obama's two claims here about guns and taxes will not survive scrutiny.

Although getting in people's faces is almost always an error in political campaigns, it often works in community organizing, where activists often get what they want by being obnoxious.
- 8:10 AM, 18 September 2008   [link]


Death Threats:  While I am discussing vile behavior by the left, I must mention this from the follow-up Amir Taheri column on Obama's interference in Iraq.
While I am encouraged by the senator's evolution, I must also appeal to him to issue a "cease and desist" plea to the battalions of his sympathizers - who have been threatening me with death and worse in the days since my article appeared.
Death threats!  From, almost certainly, Obama supporters.

(Earlier post here.)
- 5:00 PM, 17 September 2008   [link]


Vile Violations Of Privacy:  Michelle Malkin has the story.

Scroll for update . . . Wired News confirms . . . McCain camp responds: "This is a shocking invasion of the Governor's privacy and a violation of law.  The matter has been turned over to the appropriate authorities and we hope that anyone in possession of these emails will destroy them.  We will have no further comment" . . . the feds are investigating. . .

Sometime early this morning, between approximately 3:00am - 4:00am, members of an infamous group of hackers broke into Gov. Sarah Palin's private Yahoo e-mail account.  The incriminating discussion threads included screenshots of Palin's e-mail and private e-mail addresses of her contacts.  The threads have since been deleted. . . .
The Gawker smear machine — see here for all the background you need — has posted private family photos of Palin's children that were apparently stolen from the e-mail account.

They have used Bristol Palin's illegally obtained private cell phone number from her mom's private account, recorded her voicemail message, and posted it on their website.

They have reprinted her husband Todd's private e-mail address and son Track's private e-mail address.

I can understand someone looking at Palin's private email to see if she had used it for public purposes.  I wouldn't agree with that, but I can understand it.   But her kids and her husband?  That's vile.

One of the strongest arguments against electing Barack Obama, and other leftists, is the often vile behavior of some of their supporters.  Those supporters have just reminded us of that important point.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 4:34 PM, 17 September 2008   [link]


No Enemies On The Left?  In the 1930s, that slogan was used to justify alliances between moderate leftists, socialists and communists.  (Often such alliances were called "popular fronts".)   After the Cold War began, such alliances became less common, and moderates on the left and right were more likely to combine against extremists, especially totalitarian extremists, on both wings.

Shannon Love argues that leftists are, more and more, following that old slogan and seeing nothing wrong with alliances with leftwing extremists, even unrepentant terrorists such as Bill Ayers.  .
The ugly truth is that radical extremism is far more common and far more accepted on the Left than on the Right.  Radical leftists with views alien to the vast majority of Americans hold great sway over the Left compared to their counterparts on the Right.  You won't find Republicans who started their careers in the homes of terrorists or who belonged to organizations that voted to assassinate congressmen.
You might find a few such Republicans — but those Republicans do not become the party's presidential candidates.

(Popular front alliances didn't always form.  In Germany, the communist party kept up its continuing attacks on the socialists and the moderate parties — until Hitler took power, and even afterwards.  There are serious historians who believe that Hitler might never have become Germany's leader, had it not been for the help he got, indirectly, from Germany's communists — on Stalin's orders.

Here's a similar argument from Donald Douglas.

A. M. Rosenthal and Michael Totten caution those on the right not to make the same error, and find no enemies on the right.  They are correct, though this error is far more common on the left.)
- 1:31 PM, 17 September 2008   [link]


Is Sarah Palin running for president, unopposed?  You would think so, reading the ABC Blotter.

Kevin Williams suggests that we send a tip to ABC about another candidate who might need investigating, Barack Obama.  And I think I will, right after I put this post up.
- 12:49 PM, 17 September 2008   [link]


Raffella Fico Has Never Heard the old joke.

(Which old joke?  The one that ends with these lines:  "We've established that.  We're just negotiating over the price.")
- 9:47 AM, 17 September 2008   [link]


Joel Connelly Interviews Valerie Jarrett:  And fails to ask her any interesting questions.

Near the end of the 1996 campaign, the Seattle PI columnist had a chance to interview Bill Clinton.   At that time, the Chinagate scandal was beginning to emerge, beginning to become a significant issue.  (Some observers think the scandal cost Clinton his absolute majority and the Democrats control of the House.)  In his interview, at least the part he published, Connelly did not ask Clinton about the scandal, not even a question just for the record.  The Chinagate scandal is, in my opinion, by far the worst of modern times — but it did not interest Connelly, even though it was very much in the news.  Instead, he wrote a sycophantic column praising Clinton.  Even now, I can recall blushing with embarrassment — I really did blush — for Connelly when I read that column.

This year, Connelly has not — so far — had a similar opportunity, but he did have a chance to interview a close Obama adviser, Valerie Jarrett.  Here's how Connelly describes her:

Jarrett is a lawyer and businesswoman who managed to hold top jobs under Chicago Mayors (and, for a time, archrivals) Harold Washington and Richard Daley.  She hired Michelle Robinson, then Obama's fiancée, as a city commissioner.

And here's a more informative description from the American Spectator:

She is Iranian-American, for one thing, and the Obama campaign has sought to keep her ties to Iran from press views, as it has also sought to keep her political background and deep and tangled business and personal relationship to the Obama family from sight.  For example, while it's true that Jarrett is a business executive, she also has been a well-known political operative for Chicago Democrats back to her days working in the background as an adviser to late Chicago mayor Harold Washington, as well as the Daley family.
. . .
Jarrett is the chief executive of Habitat Co., which developed and managed large housing projects in and around Chicago -- and in Obama's state legislative district -- that were subsidized by federal and state housing dollars, and which were ultimately seized by federal authorities for what were unlivable conditions.  While overseeing the company that managed these housing facilities, Jarrett also worked with long-time Obama friend and convicted felon Tony Rezko in raising money for Obama's political career.

Jarret is, in other words, a part of the corrupt Chicago machine, and a slumlord.  A slumlord who received substantial subsidies from the taxpayers of Illinois and the United States.

You wouldn't have to be a professional journalist to think of some interesting questions to ask Jarrett, given that background.  For instance:  What exactly was (is?) Obama's relationship with Tony Rezko?  Or:  What ties do you have to Iranian regime?  Or even:  Why was your project seized by the federal government?  But Connelly doesn't think of those questions.  Or any others that might help the voter understand Obama.  Instead he uses Jarrett to describe Obama as a gentle soul, without a nasty bone in his body.  Anyone familiar with Chicago machine politics will suspect that a gentle soul would not succeed there, but Connelly does not explore that question.

It would be easy to pass off this column as a single failure, and one that would not surprise those familiar with Connelly's work.  But in fact this column is an example of the kind of coverage we have been getting from our "mainstream" journalists during this campaign.  Far too many of them have changed from honest journalists to PR representatives for the Obama campaign — without the constraints that most PR people have.

Why they think Republicans, independents, and open-minded Democrats will trust them after the campaign is a mystery.  Perhaps Connelly and others have just not thought that far ahead.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(Some background on Connelly for those who do not read him regularly.  He is not a left wing extremist; he is, as you may have guessed, an extreme partisan.  That partisanship often cripples his work, despite his considerable talents.  He often makes me think of the famous quip about the Bourbons; like them, he has "learned nothing and forgotten nothing".  That's a little too strong; Connelly did recently figure out that the Clintons were not always nice people or even good for the Democratic party — but it took Connelly an awful long time to figure that out.  But the quip does capture some of his strengths and weaknesses.)
- 9:04 AM, 17 September 2008
Correction:  Valerie Jarrett is not "Iranian-American".  I quoted the American Spectator correctly, but they made an error.  For more details, see this post.
- 1:42 PM, 24 September2008   [link]


Ever Wonder What Happened To John Kerry?  He just won his senate primary.  The Boston Globe says "decisively", which is a reasonable description of a 69-31 result.   But it is also true that a senator running for a fifth term seldom faces a significant primary challenge, much less one that takes 31 percent of the vote.

(Kerry's opponent, Edward O'Reilly, criticized Kerry for being out of touch, and for being wrong on the Iraq war.)
- 7:32 AM, 17 September 2008   [link]