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September 2011 Archives

September 12, 2011

Please Look at the Jury System

The draft notice comes in the mail, not unlike the one from the 60s: "Jury Summons: You have been radomly selected to serve as a juror in King Country Superior Court. By order of the Court you are summoned to appear at King County Superior Court at....."

Several hundred persons, mostly middle class and white, show up on a Monday morning at 8 a.m. They are given a pep talk on an American's right to trial by a jury of his peers, then a film. Then they are advised that as jurors they will be paid ten dollars a day ("the same as in the Eisenhower Administration"), and immediately thereafter they are asked if they would like to donate that daily ten dollars to a fund to provide day care for the children of defendants on trial. In the moment, many prospective jurors, including yours truly, sign the form to make this donation.

Seven or so years ago, when I last was summoned to jury duty, the same request was made to provide funds to support day care for defendants. Sitting there in the jury room on a recent morning, I wondered, why has the Legistlature after all this time not provided for such purposes and why is there no fund to support day care for the children of impoverished jurors--the folks paid the measly $10 a day? Why are jurors, when they are feeling vulnerable, hit up for this purpose--hit up to help defendants just as they are being assembled for particular cases that happen to involve, after all, defendants?

Continue reading "Please Look at the Jury System" »

September 1, 2011

The High Cost of Doing Good

From the Open Europe news site of the European Union today:

EU light bulb ban further increases cost of energy-saving lamps by 20-25%

Manufacturers have signalled that they intend to raise the price on energy-saving lamps in Germany by 20-25%, following today's EU ban on 60-watt light bulbs. The manufacturers say that increases in the costs of raw materials from China are to blame for the rise. Osram CEO Martin Goetzler told FTD the price increases of 20-25% will apply from today. Philips also intends to raise prices of energy-saving lamps by 20-25% in Germany over the coming months, a company spokesperson told (Die) Welt.

Rove (of all People) Says, Don't Count on Polls

Karl Rove, former Presidential aide and "the architect" of G. W. Bush's victories, probably is one of the most savvy of poll data users. Yet, in his professional capacity the present-day analyst and pundit is warning, don't put much stock in polls today for an election fourteen months from now. He has many good historical examples.

Indeed, you can't even count on polls two weeks before an election (or Tom Dewey would have beat Harry Truman in 1948), or, in the case of the 2000 election, even the polls taken the night before an election.

I see at least one wild card in any hand the pollsters try to deal before an election: turnout. Many young people don't own land phone lines, so polls can't really measure them adequately, and their turnout can spike unpredictably as election excitement grows, as it did in 2008. Similarly, they and other supposed voting blocs (labor, Latinos, blacks) may vary widely in enthusiasm, dropping off (for example) greatly, as in 2010. Regardless, anticipating turnout over a year in advance is really risky.

Besides, polls don't tell you much about the complex weave of motivations that move voters--and decide elections.

September 2, 2011

China Daily Grows Semi-Official Influence in U.S.

China Daily, the state-owned English language paper produced in Beijing, arrives at the stoop of thousands of Seattle residences at least once a week, unbidden and, of course, un-purchased. The same happens in New York, Washington, DC, Chicago, Los Angeles, Houston and Atlanta. The paper says that Boston enters the list next. A new 28 page insert of commentary also was introduced today. China Daily claims 150,000 circulation in the U.S. now and expects that figure to rise to 200,000 soon.

When you are giving away papers, as well as selling them, who knows what "200,000" actually means? But at the least it means the Chinese government has a new way to influence U.S. public opinion. Well, okay, but that does make one wonder whether a U.S. paper produced by the state would be welcome to circulate free in China in such numbers.

Continue reading "China Daily Grows Semi-Official Influence in U.S." »

September 6, 2011

Censorship of Science Celebrated

"Science" has now become another term of political correctness, subject to routine ideological censorship. So it is that a peer-reviewed paper critical of computer models used to predict global warming has led to the resignation of the journal editor of Remote Science who approved the publication of the paper. Dr. Wolfgang Wagner of Vienna has even agreed to denounce himself as part of a process by which, in time, he presumably can be "rehabilitated" by the "scientific community."

"Community" as a term for a demographic or occupational category of people is another Orwellian term. It is a way of saying, "this whole group of people can be assumed to hold a certain opinion and, as such, it cannot be challenged."

US scientists Ray Spencer and William Braswell wrote in their paper that cloud cover was not taken into account adequately in global warming projections based on computer models. That may or may not be the case, but the attack on the paper seems to have been entirely an attack on the authors, not their argument. In the BBC story, there isn't even any effort to dispute the facts or analysis, other than to say someone thinks it's wrong.

Dr. Wagner "did the right thing" by resigning, an observer comments. That doesn't sound as if he was given a choice.

Blocking AT&T, T-Mobile Merger Won't Create Jobs

(from Disco-Tech site)
Hance Haney, Discovery Sr. Fellow

Blocking the merger between AT&T + T-Mobile is apropos of this administration's strategy for creating jobs, according to James M. Cole, the deputy attorney general.

The view that this administration has is that through innovation and through competition, we create jobs. Mergers usually reduce jobs through the elimination of redundancies, so we see this as a move that will help protect jobs in the economy, not a move that is going in any way to reduce them.

Remarkably, someone forgot to include that in the complaint filed by the Department of Justice in the District Court for D.C. The complaint itself does not allege that the merger will cost jobs, nor does it suggest that blocking the merger would create or save jobs. As a technical matter, antitrust is not concerned with job protection, although many seek to exploit it for that and other purposes. More on why that is a bad idea in a minute.

Continue reading "Blocking AT&T, T-Mobile Merger Won't Create Jobs" »

September 14, 2011

NY's Turner Caught an "Express", Not a "Local"


Nate Silver of the New York Times analyzes yesterday's Republican win of the New York-9 Congressional seat vacated by Rep. Anthony Weiner and concludes that "local" concerns played a major role. One of the "local" issues is that a large part of the district includes heavily Jewish neighborhoods in Brooklyn that, says Silver, may have been tipped by "Israeli issues." Among other things, Turner was helped by "local" rabbis and the "local" former Mayor Ed Koch.

"Israeli issues" are now "local"?

The Republican winner, Bob Turner, is a Catholic. His opponent, David Welpin, whom he beat by eight points, is an Orthodox Jew. Yet Turner won the votes of Jewish voters in the normally Democratic district.

Many Jews (and others) are upset with the Obama Administration's tepid support for Israel. If this is a "local" issue in Brooklyn, it may turn out to be local also to Israel supporters elsewhere in New York, New Jersey, Florida--and on and on.
The political subway train Turner caught would seem to be more an Express than a Local.

If the Obama Administration's spine suddenly stiffens at the United Nations this fall and vetoes endorsement of a Palestinian state (without a peace agreement with Israel) it may be the result of "local" considerations all over the country.


September 15, 2011

Gaddafi May be in Desert Oasis

Late Thursday reports have it that Libyan rebels have entered the Gaddafi stronghold city of Sirte. However, Debka Files is reporting that Col. Gaddafi, two of his sons and a cadre of loyal troops have established a base in Targan, a widespread Sahara oasis far from Tripoli. Capturing it will take a lorgistical effort of which the rebels and NATO so far have not been capable. Also, Gaddafi is thought to have the backing of a least one major tribe in the area.

September 16, 2011

China's New "Buy American" Plan

Many Americans think that the path of patriotism is to "Buy American," but consternation arises as China announces that it may like to follow the same road: buy into Intel, Apple, Boeing, etc. Meanwhile, the Chinese will sell U.S. Treasuries as soon as it is "safe".

How bad is this? At first blush, not so bad. True, the Chinese may be mainly interestered in cutting edge technology and the ability to get close to it. But, if so, they might find it more difficult than they think to gain access to trade secrets unless they buy whole companies and take them over. I own stocks in several companies whose activities I find truly confusion. Will it be easier for the Chinese?

It also bears recalling that the last time we had a scare of this sort was in the late 1980s when Japan was considered the economic suiperpower. Americans panicked when the Japanese bought motion picture studios and such iconic properties as Rockefeller Center. But buying into America actually is risky, as Americans know, and as the Japanese found out. In any case, what are you going to do with your American property, move it home?

Some national security restrictions make sense. But on balance, the American economy has more to fear from Washington, DC, than from Beijing.

No Storm Yet on Charitable Deductions

Most of what President Obama proposes to do with his jobs plan puts money either in the hands of people who already have jobs or extends unemployment compensation for the jobless. It does little to create new jobs. Mr. Obama also wants to hire more public workers--a core political constituency--that also will do little spur economic growth.

On the other hand, the President's bill, if passed, likely would destroy jobs in the non-profit sector. The President proposes to pay for his program by removing deductions for "rich" people (those making $200,000 or more, or those couples making $250,000 or more). That would raise about $400 billion, largely by disallowing charitable deductions.

Some unknown percentage of donors are incentivized by a tax break to support charities. If the tax break disappears there will be billions of charitable contributions foregone. That's why when this sort of thing was opposed by the non-profit sector when it was first offered in 2009. NGO programs operate on small margins, so NGO leaders understood that a cut in donations could prove devastating.

But back in 2009 the Administration said, don't worry; this law won't take effect until 2011. Of course, back in 2009, even under a new Democratic president and his Democratic Congress, the proposal to end tax deductibility for donations by the wealthy failed. However, note that if it had been adopted back then it would be in effect now. Would that be helping the job picture today?

I suspect that NGO leaders today are quiet mainly because they sense, correctly, that Mr. Obama's plan is not going anywhere. But if the proposal somehow does gain traction, the voluntary sector will wake up with a start.

September 19, 2011

Book: Obama Foiled by Appointees


Obama's aides ignore Obama. So, what else is new?

Ron Suskind, a former Wall Street Journal writer, has a book out tomorrow from HarperCollins saying that White House and Treasury aides to President Obama frequently ignored or stalled implementation of his directives on economics. The book, Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington and the Education of a President, alleges that decisions Mr. Obama made were stonewalled or delayed by Larry Summers and Tim Geitner, among others.

The truth is, that kind of situation is not unknown. In the Reagan years Deputy Chief of Staff Richard Darman, whose job it was to implement the president's decisions, often took it upon himself to frustrate the decisions made. How did he get away with it?
The answer is that executives rely on their aides to such an extent that firing them may cause more disruption than allowing them to get away with what looks like insubordination.

Reagan often ignored a failure to implement a policy decision and simply reasserted it the next time the subject came up. For example, he agreed strongly with a plan to raise the personal exemption in the income tax (to double it) in order to help families raising children. Darman repeatedly took it out of the President's tax reform plan. Mr. Reagan had to put it back in three times before Darman gave up.

Such is infighting in the White House. According to Presidential historian Richard Neustadt, when former Gen. Dwight Eisenhower was elected President, former President Truman joked, ""He'll sit here, and he'll say, 'Do this! Do that!' And nothing will happen. Poor Ike--it won't be a bit like the Army. He'll find it very frustrating."

Reuters/Wikimedia Commons

European Political Union Fades Along with Euro

Maybe the governments of Europe should curb their diplomats' zeal for obfuscation and admit that the crisis in the Economic and Monetary Union is also a political crisis. Full European Union, politically speaking, is now deader than Monty Python's parrot.

Was it a mere two years ago that the Europeans seemed eager to enter into full political union? Only the votes of a Dutch plebiscite (then the Irish) initially held it up. U.K. elites (including especially the snide media elites at organs like The Economist and the Financial Times) were poised to surrender British sovereignty, and meanwhile to give up the British pound. Supposedly, only nostalgic right wingers opposed the trend. But in a national election David Cameron required a Tory/Liberal coalition in order to govern, in part because of his failure to attract enough Euro Skeptic votes to give his Conservative Party a majority on its own. Then the current economic crisis of the Euro hit. You don't hear much about a stronger EU any more.

Even the future of the currency union is suffering as ordinary voters who never had much time for EU politics realize that the full faith and credit of their own countries have been tied to the spendthrift nations like Greece that regard debts rather differently than do the bankers in Frankfurt or London.

British writer Roger Scruton thinks that culture, indeed, is at the heart of the matter. Writing in The American Spectator, he concludes,

"It was not economics but culture that engendered the euro--a culture of a ruling class at war with the people of Europe, wishing to establish trans-national government at all costs, and hoping to wipe away yet another trace of nationhood. By destroying those ancient currencies through which the people of Europe had expressed and managed their apartness, the European elite hoped to make a decisive move toward the goal of Union. Instead they have burdened the continent with new debts, new resentments, and a looming disaster that was not foreseen only because it had been ruled out as impossible."

The need for co-operation among the developed nations has never been more obvious, but it can't come at the cost of sovereignty. Ordinary people held back the tide. Bleak as prospects are now, they could have been worse.

September 24, 2011

Religion Up, Atheism Down in U.K.

Public expression of religion in Britain should be encouraged, say a majority of the British public. In an article by Jonathan Wynee-Jones in the London Telegraph, Anglican Archbishop Rowan Williams bemoans the reality that "atheism is cool" in the U.K., but his real beef seems to be with media elites, not with the general public.

Indeed, the Telegraph article says that since the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to Britain one year ago, professed Christian belief has risen to 50 percent and atheism has declined from 18 percent to 16 percent. Evidence to the contrary, as described by the Archbishop of Canterbury, is the warmth with which books by atheists such as the biologist Richard Dawkins are received versus those taking a different view.

Of course, the same is true in the U.S., with the difference being that some of the newspaper reporters on the religion beat in England tend to be sympathetic to orthodox Christianity. The same is not true of the BBC, however.

A survey of 2,049 adults by the Opinion Research Business (ORB) found "found 59 per cent of Britons agree there should be a place for religion in public life." The survey said half of Britons wanted the Catholic Church to take a lead in defending the family.

September 26, 2011

Iran to Execute Christian for his Faith

Tertullian wrote that "The blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church." If so, Iran is about to become a well-publicized seed bed with the judicial murder of a Christian for the sin of apostasy. The idea is that once someone becomes a Muslim he can never become something else or he can (should) be killed. Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani became a Christian as a teen-ager. Not only is he slated for execution, but his attorney has been put on trial, too. (Thanks to Nina Shea of National Review Online, who in turn got this story from human rights activist Paul Marshall.)

Iran today is the North Korea of Islam. The country's reformers demonstrated a couple of years before the "Arab Spring," but were put down ruthlessly and, it seems, successfully. An account by Reuters' Parisa Hafezi says, "With mounting international pressure over Iran's disputed nuclear program, rising prices, long queues of jobless and investors keeping a tight hold on their purses, analysts say the establishment ultimately needs to give limited freedoms.

"The high oil price is helping the establishment," said economist Reza Hazegh. "But the government, dependent on petrodollars to run the country, may face domestic tension in the long term if the price of oil drops."

September 27, 2011

Tech Financier: "The End of the Future"

Peter Thiel, the high tech entrepreneur who founded PayPal and the angel investor of Facebook, has the cover article this week in National Review (not yet online), "The End of the Future." Science and technology are not living up to their billing, he writes. Suffocating government regulations and ideological blinders are slowing progress. Moreover, we are not at the beginning of this decline, but about forty years into it. Real economic progress, which follows scientific and technology gains, has not recovered from the oil crisis of the 70s. While the computer may have advanced society, continuing failure in the energy realm has pulled us back.

"Even before Fukushima, the nuclear industry and its 1954 promise of 'electrical energy too cheap to meter' had long since been defeated by environmentalism and nuclear-proliferation concerns."

It is hard to put ones mind around the many complex fields of science, let alone to evaluate them, Thiel says. But, "Indeed," he asks, "how do we even know whether the so-called scientists are not just lawmakers and politicians in disguise, as some conservatives suspect in fields as disparate as climate change, evolutionary biology, and embryonic stem cell research, and as I have come to suspect in almost all fields?"

Thiel has harsh words for cultural decay, "from the soft totalitarianism of political correctness in media and academia to the sordid worlds of reality television and popular entertainment." But at the root is a decline in science and technology. On the other hand, he wonders "whether the endless fake cultural wars around identity politics are the main reason we have been able to ignore the tech slowdown for so long."

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