August 2009, Part 1
Jim Miller on Politics
Worth Reading: This high-level discussion of the problems of Britain's National Health Service.
There is a truth about modern healthcare that, in the politics of the day, is consistently ignored. Demand will always beat supply. A story could be written every day with the same basic message. There is never enough. The latest instance is that one in twenty NHS posts for doctors and dentists is vacant; the places are filled with exorbitantly expensive agency staff (see page 16).Demand will always beat supply — if patients do not pay for their own health care.
Bureaucracies do sometimes improve efficiency, but that's not the way to bet, especially when the bureaucracies are providing something as emotionally charged as health care.
(Incidentally, British Conservatives are doing their best to ignore these facts, just like their opponents in the ruling Labour party.)
- 2:03 PM, 8 August 2009 [link]
Losses Mount At Fannie Mae: This story should get more attention.
Fannie Mae, the mortgage-finance company taken over by the government, asked the U.S. Treasury for a $10.7 billion capital investment as an eighth straight quarterly loss drove its net worth below zero once again.But it won't because our "mainstream" journalists know that those responsible for these immense losses are not, for the most part, Republicans.
(To appreciate the waste, just think about how much $100 billion could buy.)
- 1:03 PM, 7 August 2009 [link]
Barney Frank Won't Like This: President Obama wants him to be quiet.
But I don't want the folks who created the mess to do a lot of talking. I want them to get out of the way so we can clean up the mess. I don't mind cleaning up after them, but don't do a lot of talking.Congressman Frank helped block reforms of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac that might have saved us hundreds of billions of dollars, so he is certainly one of the people who "created the mess".
But I wouldn't bet that Frank will be quiet and get out of the way. In fact, as far as I can tell — and I don't follow him closely — Frank is trying to repeat some of the mistakes that got us into this mess, trying to extend mortgages to people who aren't ready to have them,
- 8:32 AM, 7 August 2009 [link]
Fractions Are Often Difficult For The Innumerate: If you read the portion of this speech beginning with: "The plan was divided into three parts.", and ending with: "So that's the second half.", you may conclude that the speaker has trouble with fractions.
To be fair, he probably just got lost in his prepared text. But the floundering does make me wonder just how good Obama is with arithmetic.
By way of James Taranto.
- 2:48 PM, 6 August 2009 [link]
Is The Obama Administration Backing Away From Ousted Honduran President Zelaya? Maybe.
We can certainly hope so, since supporting Zelaya is against both our interests and our values.
- 2:29 PM, 6 August 2009 [link]
One Down, Many To Go: Former Democratic Congressman William Jefferson has convictions — eleven of them.
Former Democratic Congressman William Jefferson was found guilty of 11 of 16 corruption charges today by a federal jury.(You have to give him some credit for taking care of his family, I suppose.)
There are other congressmen, or former congressmen. who should be in jail. The most prominent example is probably Pennsylvania Congressman John Murtha — who was Speaker Pelosi's choice to be majority leader.
There are two general lessons from Jefferson's convictions. When voters choose leaders based on identity politics, they are more likely to get crooks. And, as globalization spreads, so does the corruption from corrupt nations. The more business dealings we have with countries like Nigeria, the more likely some of our businessmen and political leaders will be offered bribes, or will solicit bribes.
- 10:19 AM, 6 August 2009 [link]
Coulter On Conspiracy Nuts: Her conclusion, that the Democratic party has more of them than the Republican party, is hard to argue with.
And as has been recently noted, a 2007 Rasmussen poll showed that 35 percent of Democrats believe Bush knew about the 9/11 attacks in advance, while 26 percent aren't sureThere are more conspiracy nuts in the Democratic party, but Democratic leaders are less willing to confront their nuts than Republican leaders are to confront their nuts.
- 7:54 AM, 6 August 2009 [link]
Senator Grassley Points Out the obvious.
President Obama is too inexperienced in national politics to really understand the legislative process, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said Wednesday.Or much else, for that matter.
But we are stuck with him until at least 2013.
- 7:01 AM, 6 August 2009 [link]
Ruth Marcus Catches On: Here's her summary on Obama and long-term budget problems.
On the larger fiscal situation, the picture is equally clear. Obama wants a government that is bigger than the revenue it generates, but he is unwilling to acknowledge the implications of that stance. It is politically easier to pretend that the entire problem can be solved on the backs of corporations and wealthy individuals. I'm all for a tax code that is heavily progressive and free of loopholes, but the arithmetic won't allow all the balancing to be done on a sliver of the population.It is good to see this leftwing Washington Post columnist admit the obvious: Obama's numbers don't add up. He can not keep his promises on both spending and taxes. (I am not sure he can keep his promises on either and stay fiscally responsible, but that's a more difficult question.)
Or did she just figure this out? Perhaps Marcus knew all along that Obama's numbers didn't add up, knew during the campaign that Obama could not possibly keep his promises on spending and taxes.
If she did know, then she chose not to tell us during the campaign, chose to support a man she knew was lying to the American public. If she didn't know, then we must wonder about her competence.
If she just now has figured this out, then she owes readers an explanation and an apology. And she ought to admit — however hard this is for her to do — that many Republicans warned us last fall that Obama's numbers didn't add up.
And, just in case she wants to be an honest journalist, I'll give her this hint about Obama and his Chicago machine ways: Machine politicians do not care whether what they say is true; for them, politics is not public service but their business, often their family business. They will say whatever they have to say to get elected. That often gives them a big advantage in campaigns — especially when "mainstream" journalists are unwilling to take even a quick look at their campaign promises.
(If Marcus knew during the campaign and chose not to tell us, she would hardly be the first journalist to conceal important matters from the public. Joe Klein, to take a notorious example, concealed Bill Clinton's reckless personal conduct during the 1992 campaign, and then wrote a novel about it. As far as I can tell, journalists generally do not think worse of Klein for his efforts to protect Clinton. Readers should, since Klein has showed us that we can not trust him.
Another leftwing journalist, Jackie Calmes, who caught on briefly to the flaws in Obama's arithmetic, is back cheerleading for the president. I'll have to send a note to the New York Times asking for a picture of Calmes in her Obama cheerleader uniform.)
- 6:27 AM, 6 August 2009 [link]
Bailouts For Warren Buffett? Sure looks like it.
Banks that couldn't finance their balance sheets would have sold toxic assets at market prices, and the losses would have wiped out their shareholder's equity. With $7 billion at stake, Buffett is one of the biggest of these shareholders.But you will want to read the comments, some of which disagree with the author, Rolfe Winkler. And I would be very interested in seeing Buffett's reply, if he ever makes one.
- 10:40 AM, 5 August 2009 [link]
Big Upset Victory In Delaware? This is not an important story in itself, but what I did in checking it will show you something about my methods.
Yesterday, I noticed this post, by Brett McCrae, at the American Thinker. McCrae was happy to report this result in a special election for a seat in the Delaware state senate:
Nevertheless Joe Booth won, taking a seat that was held by the Democratic Party for roughly 40 years in a state where the Democrats rule the House, Senate, and the Governor's office.Not an immensely important election, but a nice result, and possibly, I thought, an indicator of a trend toward the Republicans.
So I went looking for numbers to support McCrae's conclusions.
First, I checked the results of the last presidential election. The district is in Sussex, the southernmost of Delaware's three counties. The 2008 Almanac of American Politics describes the area as having many "southern-accented" farmers. John McCain carried the county, with 47,939 votes to Obama's 40,299 votes.
Perhaps the 19th senate district is in a "heavy Democrat" part of the county? A little searching found the answer.
There are more than 26,000 voters in the district, with Democrats holding a slight edge over Republicans, but the more than 5,000 unaffiliated and minor-party voters make it an effective toss-up.So, if anything, the district leans Republican, even though it was represented by a Democrat for many years.
Perhaps the big margin shows Republican gains? Possibly, but turnout was low (about 25 percent), and the Democratic candidate, Polly Adams Mervine, ran a poor campaign. (Mervine is the daughter of Thurman Adams, who had held the seat for many years. She had never run a campaign before.)
There is big lesson for all of us in this small analysis. We should be especially wary of believing stories that we really, really want to believe. I suspect that McCrae would have been far more cautious in his analysis if he had not been so pleased by the result. All of us, certainly including me, sometimes believe stories because the stories please us, even though a few simple checks would show us that we are wrong.
(Many of the comments after the American Thinker article show another kind of mistake. The commenters were worried greatly about whether Booth was a pure enough conservative. Given how few Republicans are in the Delaware state senate — the Democrats have more than a 2-1 margin — that wouldn't be my first concern.)
- 10:09 AM, 5 August 2009 [link]
Waxman-Markey Will Cost Jobs: It is no surprise that the cap-and-trade (or, if you prefer, cap-and-tax) bill that passed the House will cost jobs. The bill, as everyone knows, would raise the price of energy. Basic economic theory tells us that increase will cost jobs, and if economic theory isn't enough, we need only consult the experience of the last few decades, only notice what happens to our economy when oil prices jump.
But it is a bit of a surprise, and a pleasant one, to find that a study, requested by Waxman and Markey, comes to that conclusion.
The Energy Information Administration report, requested by the two Democrats who wrote the House bill, says the short-term economic consequences are small, but "after 2025, the rapid increase in energy prices causes the economy to contract" as more rigid requirements kick in.(You are not being too cynical if you recognize that the authors of that report had strong incentives to come to the opposite conclusion. I give credit to them for producing this report, while recognizing that they may, if anything, have minimized job losses from Waxman-Markey.)
Speaker Pelosi claimed that the bill would create many jobs, and may even have believed her claim — but serious people shouldn't, as this EIA report shows. (One can still argue that Waxman-Markey, or something like it, is necessary, if you believe that the effects of climate change will be that severe. But honest proponents of the bill should stop claiming that it will increase jobs, unless they can find a better study to support their case.)
- 8:56 AM, 5 August 2009 [link]
Generic Vote Trend, August 2009: The latest results from Rasmussen will cheer Republicans.
Here's how Rasmussen describes their latest result:
Support for Republican congressional candidates has risen to its highest level in recent years, giving the GOP a seven-point lead over Democrats in the latest Congressional Ballot and stretching the out-of-power party's lead to six weeks in a row.(That's actually a five point lead, as you probably noticed.)
Last month, I was not sure there was a trend. Now the trend is clear; the Republicans have taken a lead, and, if anything, are continuing to expand it. And the Republicans are winning the center; voters unaffiliated with either party now back them 43 percent to 22 percent.
(Caveat: As I mentioned in the original post, some pollsters do not care for Rasmussen's methods. You should know that he samples likely voters and weights his samples by party. Other pollsters often sample voters, or even adults, and are less likely to weight their samples as Rasmussen does. Those differences explain, at least partly, why Rasmussen's polls are almost always more favorable to Republicans than other polls.
Here are the graphs for May, June, and July, for comparison. In a few months I'll probably do a graph showing more than a year at a time, for those who would like to look at the bigger picture.)
- 2:57 PM, 4 August 2009 [link]
Why I Haven't Said Anything About The Obama Birth Certificate Controversy: Because — in my opinion — there is almost nothing to be said. There is no evidence that his mother was not an American, or that he was not born in Hawaii, and considerable evidence for both of those things. So that settles whether he is legally qualified to be president.
And, as a practical matter, the vote of the electoral college, and acceptance of that vote by the Congress, settled the matter. He'll be president until the end of his term, unless he dies in office. I hope, for many reasons, that he lives until January 2013, and hope, for even more reasons, that he watches his Republican successor sworn in then. And if he wants to go back to writing fictionalized autobiographies, that's fine with me.
But there is something to say about the widespread belief that he is illegitimate, that he is not really an American. I may get around to saying more about that, though the belief does not strike me as nearly as dangerous as the widespread belief — mostly on the left — that George W. Bush was somehow involved in the 9/11 attack.
Almost nothing. I added that "almost" because, at times, it seems as if Obama and his team have wanted to encourage this belief. He has never released the long form of his birth certificate, which, inevitably, leads some to speculate that there is something important in the long form that isn't in the short. When he did release the short form, he didn't do it directly, giving it to the Associated Press, the Washington Post, the New York Times, and so on, but indirectly, through a leftwing blog site. Again, if his team wanted to encourage speculation, that's a good way to do it.
And, of course, he has hidden so much of his past and so often not been entirely accurate about what he has revealed. Naturally, that makes many of us suspicious of everything he says. And you can include me in that suspicious group. But I don't see reason to doubt that he is a natural born citizen, or that he was legally elected.
Now, back to important issues.
- 10:54 AM, 4 August 2009
More: I said that Obama has not been entirely accurate about his past; Andrew McCarthy supplies many examples of Obama concealing or rewriting his past. And examples of important incidents in Obama's life that our press has almost totally ignored, including this one:
How many Americans know, for example, that as a sitting U.S. senator in 2006, Obama interfered in a Kenyan election, publicly ripping the incumbent government (a U.S. ally) for corruption while he was its guest and barnstorming with his preferred candidate: a Marxist now known to have made a secret agreement with Islamists to convert Kenya to sharia law, and whose supporters, upon losing the election, committed murder and mayhem, displacing thousands of Kenyans and plunging their country into utter chaos?I follow politics fairly closely. (All right, obsessively.) But I did not learn about Obama's 2006 actions in Kenya until after our election. Wouldn't it be interesting to know why Obama backed that Kenyan candidate, Raila Odinga?
- 4:16 PM, 4 August 2009
Long form and short form: Tom Maguire explains, again, the differences between the two birth certificates, and why we haven't seen the first: Obama hasn't asked the state of Hawaii to release it. The differences almost certainly don't matter, but it is amazing how many supposedly serious journalists confuse the two.
- 2:37 PM, 11 August 2009 [link]
"Cash For Clunkers" Isn't Even A Clunker: A clunker is an almost worthless car that still functions. But this program doesn't function, economically. (Politically, it may work just fine.)
On the other hand, this is crackpot economics. The subsidy won't add to net national wealth, since it merely transfers money to one taxpayer's pocket from someone else's, and merely pays that taxpayer to destroy a perfectly serviceable asset in return for something he might have bought anyway. By this logic, everyone should burn the sofa and dining room set and refurnish the homestead every couple of years.More here, here, and here.
- 3:56 PM, 3 August 2009 [link]
How Not To Measure Changes In Party ID: Gallup shows us.
First, Gallup's conclusions:
Bottom LineHere's how Gallup came to those conclusions:
An analysis of Gallup Poll Daily tracking data from the first six months of 2009 finds Massachusetts to be the most Democratic state in the nation, along with the District of Columbia. Utah and Wyoming are the most Republican states, as they were in 2008. Only four states show a sizeable Republican advantage in party identification, the same number as in 2008. That compares to 29 states plus the District of Columbia with sizeable Democratic advantages, also unchanged from last year.(Emphasis added.)
So Gallup does not have any data from July in their study, and any gains for the Republicans that took place in April, May, or June, would be diluted by Obama honeymoon effects in the first three months of the year. Consequently, Gallup's results tell us approximately nothing about the current support for the two parties in our states.
That's not just a theoretical criticism, as we can see by looking at changes in party ID in Minnesota.
In Minnesota, Republicans had endured double-digit net deficits to the Democrats in party ID in four polls this year: -15 points in January, -12 points in March, -13 points in April, and -13 points in June.Some were less than that, but, on the average, Democrats had about a 10 point lead over Republicans in Minnesota in the first half of this year. (Gallup's study found a 17 point lead for the Democrats in Minnesota.) But all of that Democratic lead was gone in the latest Survey USA poll. Of course the poll may have been an outlier, may have been one of those odd results that every pollster gets from time to time. But it is consistent with recent Republican gains in many other states, including New Jersey and Virginia.
(You can understand why Gallup analysts would make this mistake. Gallup does not regularly do state polls, so, to get state results, they have to pool the results from their national polls. But when changes are happening this quickly, you get meaningless results from that kind of analysis. It would be like using the average temperature from January through June to describe the temperature in July.)
- 12:38 PM, 3 August 2009 [link]
Minnesota Shifts Toward the Republicans: Ed Morrissey passes on some conclusions from Eric Ostermeier
It took four years of George Bush's second term to push Republicans to a recent nadir in registration in Minnesota. It only took six months of Barack Obama to push the GOP back into parity with the DFL, the state's Democratic Party.Regular readers of this site will not be surprised by this shift, since I predicted it last September.
There are enough older voters whose memories of 1994 have lapsed, and new voters who know nothing about the issues in that election, much less the elections of 1968 and 1980, so that Barack Obama could win this November. If he does, the result will not be pretty, since he is even more out of touch with reality than Lyndon Johnson and Jimmy Carter. If he does win, the voters will catch on — in spite of our "mainstream" news organizations — but it may take us decades to repair all the damages.Sadly, there are now even stronger reasons to worry about how long it will take us to repair the damage from the Obama-Pelosi-Reid blunders.
- 8:52 AM, 3 August 2009 [link]
Worth Reading: Eliot Cohen summarizes the similarities between the Bush and Obama foreign policies.
Set aside the administration's conceit of "smart power," since only fools (read: Team Obama's predecessors) would prefer stupid power. Continuity is the dominant note.(Cohen lists more similarities in the paragraphs that follow.)
And the differences:
A few differences, however, do stand out. Mr. Obama has pledged to close Gitmo, once he figures out what to do with the enemy combatants detained there. Whereas the Bush administration only grudgingly accepted the perils of climate change, preferring the invisible hand of high energy prices and entrepreneurial innovation to combat it, the Obama administration has embraced cap and trade, with windfalls to favored clients and hidden taxes galore. It remains to be seen how Team Obama will bring the burgeoning Indian and Chinese economies, with their vast production of carbon, into a system of controls.And gratuitously insulted Prime Minister Gordon Brown, the leader (for now) of our closest ally.
Most of all, the Obama administration, which is filled with people who believe they are "realists", has an entirely unrealistic belief in the power of words.
The Bush administration mulled this, and even tried it, diplomats warily meeting Iranians in various venues. But when Mr. Obama said to the leaders of Iran and other despotisms, "We will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist" he did not expect to find the Supreme Leader's paws sticky with the blood of freshly slaughtered protestors. Remarkably, rather than adjust the policy, the administration almost immediately released five Iranian "diplomats"—in truth, members of the Revolutionary Guard Corps—that we held in Iraq.It is odd, to say the least, to find that faith in a product of the Chicago machine. Odd, but not unprecedented. FDR, who was entirely familiar with bare-knuckle politics as practiced in the United States, seems to have believed that he could sweet talk Joseph Stalin. And LBJ, who was no stranger to the harder side of politics, thought that he could make a deal with the North Vietnamese, if they would only sit down with him.
Cohen expects that the Obama approach to diplomacy will have bad results. Bad results is a soft way of saying, for example, a nuclear-armed Iran and a possible nuclear war in the Middle East. I hope Cohen's prediction is wrong, but I wouldn't bet against him.
- 7:50 AM, 3 August 2009 [link]
Big Losses For Almost No News: Those prime time Obama press conferences are costing the networks millions.
The financial stakes are considerable. ABC, CBS and NBC have given up as much as $40 million in advertising revenue to carry this year's East Room events. "We lose more than $3 million a show," [CBS chief executive Les] Moonves told Mediaweek. The Fox broadcast network has declined to carry the last two Obama sessions.And, more importantly, they aren't producing much news.
While it is interesting to see how a president handles questions, [CBS senior vice president Paul] Friedman says, "there was nothing" at the July 22 session, which was dominated by health-care questions. "There hardly ever is these days, because there's so much coverage all the time."What these "news conferences" are, of course, is campaign events, though it is always possible that news may break out at one of them, as it sometimes does even at carefully-staged campaign events.
It will be interesting to see how long our "mainstream" networks are willing to continue subsidizing the Obama campaign, considering how much it is costing them.
- 7:03 AM, 3 August 2009 [link]
Mark Steyn Reads Jacob Weisberg: And catches him blaming Bush for Obama's mistakes.
What's a columnist to do? It's getting a little old to blame Bush for the horrors of the Bush presidency. So why not blame Bush for the horrors of the Obama presidency?And that's just what Weisberg does.
(Weisberg may be feeling a little down these days, given the inevitable commercial decline of his franchise. As far as I know, Weisberg does not intend to do a book of Obamaisms, though there is already a rich lode to be mined.)
- 5:06 PM, 2 August 2009 [link]
Barack Obama Will Raise Taxes On Everyone: I knew that last fall. And I make no claim to prescience since all I had to do to figure that out was to add up his promises, and note that the "rich" didn't have enough money to pay for them all. It wasn't hard to come to that conclusion.
But that conclusion appears to have surprised Jackie Calmes of the New York Times, though she does, gamely, quote Isabel Sawhill for her summary paragraph.
"There is no way we can pay for health care and the rest of the Obama agenda, plus get our long-term deficits under control, simply by raising taxes on the wealthy," said Isabel V. Sawhill, a former Clinton administration budget official. "The middle class is going to have to contribute as well."(Calmes does not tell us in the article that Obama's Republican opponents predicted this during the campaign, nor does she mention that the ruling Democrats have already increased taxes on tobacco products, which are more likely to be used by the poor than the rich — but we can't expect too much frankness from our newspaper of record, at least not when Calmes is the reporter.)
Calmes deserves some credit for noting that, in some high tax states, marginal tax rates are projected to hit nearly 60 percent for the wealthiest. (On the other hand, she seems to take seriously the Democratic claim that they will cut back Medicare payments. I assume that Calmes knows that retired people vote, but I could be wrong.)
- 2:13 PM, 2 August 2009 [link]
Field Research On Mt. Rainier: Two members of the Sound Politics research team examine the Nisqually Glacier on Mt. Rainier.
The team spent most of its time studying the effects of climate change, but did do some botanical investigations. Many of the wildflowers are near their peak at Paradise, though most of the avalanche lilies* were looking a little tired. We saw dozens of different species, including anemone, bear grass, bistort, devil's club, heather, and lupine. Some of the bear grass flowers were simply spectacular. The fields of lupine looked as healthy as I have ever seen them.
Unfortunately we did not have a team member who could assess some of the recreational possibilities properly. But there are still a few snow fields close to the visitor's center, so it is possible for kids to make and throw snowballs there, even when the temperature is above 80 degrees. But I wouldn't expect those snow fields to last more than a week or so. (One section of the Skyline Trail was closed because the snow was too deep, but getting to that part would be a bit of a hike for younger kids, since it is about 1500 feet above Paradise.)
Cross posted at Sound Politics.(*For years, I have been trying to remember the difference between avalanche lilies and glacier lilies. I'm not the only one to be confused on that point, since those two common names are often applied to different species, sometimes with qualifiers. But you probably won't go wrong if you call an Erythronium montanum an avalanche lily, and an Erythronium grandiflorum a glacier lily. Avalanche lilies have white petals; glacier lilies have yellow petals.)
- 10:02 AM, 2 August 2009 [link]