Archive:

April 2013, Part 4

Jim Miller on Politics




Pseudo-Random Thoughts



Federal Furloughed Golfers Are In Luck:  If they live in northern Virginia.
Furloughed federal employees who like to play golf are in luck.  There's a deal waiting for them, courtesy of the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority.

"Thousands of area federal employees will be furloughed on certain days between April and September this year as a result of the Federal Sequester.  In response, the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority (NVRPA) is offering a special deal for those furloughed federal employees who enjoy the outdoors and a good round of golf," the group writes in a press release, announcing its sequester deal.
The only problem I see with this deal is that it might tempt federal workers who are not furloughed to call in sick, and hit one of the golf courses.
- 2:14 PM, 30 April 2013   [link]


What's The Second Most Important Story In Today's Seattle Times?  The personal life of an NBA player I had never heard of, Jason Collins.  (The most important story is the NBA's rejection of Seattle's attempt to steal a team from Sacramento.)

Collins is on the front page, the front of the sports section, and even has his very own editorial, where they use him to attack the Boy Scouts.

Is the newspaper just a trifle obsessed with gay issues?  I would say so.

(As you may have guessed, they have given the minimum possible coverage to the trial of the accused Philadelphia baby killer, Kermit Gosnell.)
- 1:43 PM, 30 April 2013   [link]


Have You Been Wondering Why The Tsarnaevs Were Admitted To The United States As Refugees?  If you connect a few dots, you can see a possible explanation here.
An uncle of the Boston bombers was previously married to a CIA officer's daughter for three years, it emerged today.

Ruslan Tsarni, who publicly denounced his two terrorist nephews' actions and called them 'Losers', even lived with his father-in-law agent Graham Fuller in his Maryland home for a year.
A possible explanation, perhaps even a plausible explanation, but not a certain explanation.
- 7:34 AM, 30 April 2013   [link]


Sometimes The Smaller Scams Are the most obvious.
After superstorm Sandy struck, mountains of rubble were collected and taken to temporary storage sites.  In Ocean County, those locations included a parking lot in Ortley Beach, a ball field in Bay Head, a recycling center in Berkeley.  From there, trucks hauled it all to the county landfill in Manchester.

The distances of those trips varied.  But on bills submitted by the debris removal firm, they had something in common:  They were all recorded as being just over or, in some cases, exactly 16 miles.
You can probably guess why 16 miles was important to the truckers, even without reading the rest of the article.

(The article doesn't explain why New Jersey drew up contracts with this odd provision.  However, a similar one was used after Katrina, and produced similar scams.  So pehaps this is a common practice in the trucking industry.

But the article does remind us of two things we all should know:  Some states, definitely including New Jersey, have more corruption than others.  And when you rush to provide services after a disaster, you provide more opportunities for corruption.)
- 7:18 AM, 30 April 2013   [link]


Now We Have An Overall Number for the Tsarnaev family welfare benefits.
The Tsarnaev family, including the suspected terrorists and their parents, benefited from more than $100,000 in taxpayer-funded assistance — a bonanza ranging from cash and food stamps to Section 8 housing from 2002 to 2012, the Herald has learned.
And one that seems about right to me, since the parents and the older brother did work, from time to time, though not at jobs with high pay.

The family doesn't seem very grateful for the help they received from the taxpayers, do they?
- 6:30 AM, 30 April 2013   [link]


Limbaugh's Leftist Lingo:  If, during the 1960s and 1970s, you heard someone attacking the "ruling class", the "elites", and the "establishment", where would you place them on the political spectrum?

If you put them on the left, you would have been correct at least 9 times out of 10.

So, when I hear conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh using those same words and phrases, I have an odd reaction — I wonder why he is using leftist lingo.  And not just the lingo.  Some of his attacks on Republican leaders have marked similarities to attacks by leftists on the leaders of both major parties back in the 1960s and 1970s.

For example, Limbaugh often criticizes Republican party leaders as belonging to an "establishment" that frustrates the will of the people.
The Establishment is a term used to refer to a visible dominant group or elite that holds power or authority in a nation or organization.  The term suggests a closed social group which selects its own members (as opposed to selection by inheritance, merit or election).  The term can be used to describe specific entrenched elite structures in specific institutions, but is usually informal in application and is more likely used by the media than by scholars.
Back in the 1960s, Tom Hayden probably saw his opponents as belonging to a party "establishment", just as Rush Limbaugh does, now.

As I have said before, I don't think that there is a Republican establishment, but if there were one — and I find this amusing — Limbaugh would have been a member almost since birth, given his grandfather's position in the party.

(Incidentally, a traditional conservative might well have positive feelings toward an "establishment, and wish to support it, or even join it.)

At this point, I probably should explain, at least a little, why I don't think there is a Republican establishment.  The Republican Party does two principal things:  It chooses candidates, and it writes platforms that those candidates are supposed to stand on, at least in part.  Neither of those processes are controlled by insiders.  George W. Bush was chosen as the Republican nominee in 2000, not because the leaders of the party liked him, though many did, but because the Republican voters of South Carolina (and other states) thought he was a better choice than John McCain.  The Republican Party toughened its stand against abortion in 2012, not because the party leaders wanted that change, but because the Republican voters who felt most strongly about the issue did.

Similarly, Mitt Romney won the nomination in 2012, not because he had the support of the establishment, but because Republican voters in Florida preferred him to Newt Gingrich, and Republican voters in Ohio preferred him to Rick Santorum.

If you have been following national politics for a while, you should be able to think of many similar examples.

Why does conservative Rush Limbaugh use this leftist lingo?  For two reason, in my opinion:  First, because using more accurate terms, for example describing his opponents in the party as pragmatists and himself as a purist, would weaken the emotional force of his argument.

And second, because our "mainstream" media is so dominated by leftists that many of us lack the vocabulary to discuss politics, except in their terms.  Or, even if we have the vocabulary, we may find it hard to use, because so few are accustomed to thinking outside those categories.

For example:  Many of our political fights are over which "class" deserves more help from the government.  But classes, however useful, are not the only way to divide up the electorate, and often not the most useful way, when thinking about policies.  But even staunch conservatives like Limbaugh will discuss issues in terms of classes, because we are so accustomed to hearing our political questions discussed in those terms.

(Limbaugh's views probably come from fights in the 1940s and 1950s, by way of his father and grandfather.  There are some striking similarities between the critiques some Republicans made of Thomas Dewey and what Limbaugh says now.  I should review that history some time, but this post is already a bit long to include it here.)
- 3:19 PM, 29 April 2013   [link]


Congresswoman Barbara Lee almost gets the punch line right.

But I fear that she came that close because she has never heard that old joke:
Q: If the world came to an end tomorrow, how would the New York Times report it?

A: “World Ends, Women and Minorities Hardest Hit”
And might not understand the joke, even if she did hear it.
- 1:48 PM, 29 April 2013   [link]


Is Barack Obama A Good Financial Planner?   No.

Well, we all should know that by now.  But is he a good financial planner with his own money?

No, again.

You don't have to be a financial planner to spot one of his mistakes.

By way of Professor Greg Mankiw.
- 10:22 AM, 29 April 2013   [link]


Money, Skills, Or Values?  Which should be the most important when we choose which immigrants to accept?

Currently, we mostly use money, at both the top end and the bottom end.  If you are rich, you can reside in the United States, and probably get citizenship.  If you are poor, you can reside in the United States illegally, without much worry, in many parts of the country.

George Soros can come here, and so can an illegal gardener who wants to work for Soros.

Economists think that we should mostly use skills, that we should give preference to those who have special skills, especially the technical skills central to the fast-growing areas of our economy.  And, if growing our GDP was the only criterion, I might agree with the economists.

But I think there is more to a nation than its GDP, and so I have concluded that we should prefer people who already have American values, who already believe in democracy, self reliance, honest hard work, and strong families.

So I would be inclined to favor families like the Romeikes over those with technical skills, but without those values, and I would favor those with technical skills over both those with money, and those without money.

(For those who care about inequality, such a policy would tend to reduce it, for reasons I assume are obvious.)
- 7:29 AM, 29 April 2013   [link]


An Unconfirmed Report And A Warning From Israel:   These two stories seem to go together.

First, the report.
The Free Syrian Army says Israeli air force jets flew over President Bashar Assad's palace and bombed a chemical weapons site near Damascus, Maariv reported.
Which, I repeat, is unconfirmed.

Next the warning, from Israeli ambassador Michael Oren, on Fox News Sunday.
[Chris] WALLACE:  I understand you're not calling for any action.  But is your government troubled at all that red lines, and enormous consequences have now become a, quote, "long-term proposition"?

OREN:  We have a different red line entirely.  Our red line, Chris, is that if the Syrian regime tries to transfer chemical weapons, or what we call game changing weapons, could be anti-aircraft systems, to terrorists in Lebanon, particularly to Hezbollah in Lebanon, Israel will react.  And we're very serious about that red line.   We're sticking by that red line.  And I think the people in Syria know that.
If there was an Israeli attack on a "chemical weapons site", then the Israelis may have decided that the Assad regime had crossed that Israeli red line, or they may just be reminding the regime that the red line is there.

(Destroying chemical weapons by air attacks risks horrible consequences to anyone in the vicinity; trying to capture them with a ground attack may be an extraordinarily risky military operation.  There are no good alternatives.)
- 6:34 AM, 29 April 2013   [link]


Not A Time To "Commit Sociology"  That was part of Prime Minister Harper's sensible reaction to the terror arrests in Canada.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper said this is not the time to "commit sociology" when asked about the arrests of two men this week who are accused of conspiring to carry out a terrorist attack on a Via train.

Harper was asked during a news conference with Trinidad and Tobago's prime minister about concerns with the timing of the arrests.  He was also asked about when it's appropriate to talk about the root causes of involvement with terrorism.
In general, discussions of root causes by sociologists or others are attempts to shift the blame away from the terrorists.

This is not to say that we should not study what makes men — and they are almost all men — more likely to commit acts of terrorism.

But we should begin by trying to prevent their acts of terrorism, as the Canadian government did, and the American government did not, and when we fail to prevent them we should first try to capture the terrorists if possible, and trace down their networks of support.

(I've suggested to some of our Canadian friends that we trade leaders, but haven't found any takers, so far.)
- 5:06 AM, 29 April 2013   [link]


Are We All Alien Invaders?  Or, to be precise, descendants of alien invaders?

That's what a few scientists have thought for years.  Now, there is a study that provides some very tentative support for that idea.
Alexei Sharov of the National Institute on Aging in Baltimore and Richard Gordon of the Gulf Specimen Marine Laboratory in Panacea, Fla., plotted the genome size of different kinds of organisms against their presumed date of origin.  Armed with just five data points they concluded that genome complexity doubles every 376 million years in a sort of geological version of Moore's Law of progress in computers.

When the researchers extrapolate the chart backward, they find the origin of life must have happened almost 10 billion years ago, long before Earth existed.  Therefore life may have spent its first five billion years on a different planet and got here as bacterial spores deep inside rocks that drifted through the vacuum after some cosmic explosion.
Very tentative, but interesting anyway.

There are even a few scientists, for example, Francis Crick, who have speculated that life was deliberately spread.  (If I understand that Wikipedia article and its reference correctly, Crick now thinks that the odds against life beginning on earth are not as great as he had once thought.)

(Some science fiction authors, for example, Larry Niven, have written stories in which "directed panspermia" is used to prepare alien worlds for human life.)
- 6:26 PM, 28 April 2013   [link]


In World War II, Hollywood Was On Our Side:   For example.

Seems kind of weird now, doesn't it?
- 5:50 PM, 28 April 2013   [link]


What's The Big Issue In Seattle?  A 1986 video.

Interim Seattle Police Chief Jim Pugel has issued an apology for his role in a 1986 department-sponsored video that mocks the homeless.

The 1986 video shows a group of Seattle police officers, including Pugel, dressed as homeless men underneath the Alaskan Way Viaduct, drinking, breaking into cars and being rousted by police.

Here's the video;

In my opinion, it isn't a bad satire, though it is inappropriate for the police to create such a video, on department time.

But should it be a big issue, now?

No.

Though it may well prevent Pugel from getting the top job, permanently.

And that would be ironic because, according to Pugel, tips about the video came from people in the department who "are trying to undermine his role in implementing court-ordered department reforms".  (A better way to say that is that these "reforms" are the result of an unbalanced investigation by the scandal-plagued Obama Justice department.)

And just to add to the irony, I'd say that Pugel's groveling attempts to apologize for this video make him a poor choice for the top job.  A police chief needs a sense of proportion, needs to understand what is important, and what isn't — especially in a city like Seattle, where so many elected officials are missing that sense of proportion.

One last thought:  As far as I know, although the video is satire, it is satire based on truth.  The homeless in Seattle do often have "substance abuse" problems, do sleep in the rough, and do commit more than their share of petty crimes.  You can say those things in a formal report, especially if you disguise the facts with a layer of bureaucratese, but you shouldn't put them to music — if you are a Seattle policeman.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 3:23 PM, 28 April 2013   [link]


Raising Children For Fun And Profit In Early America:   My apologies for the the glib title, but it popped into my head as soon as I read this paragraph from Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations — and I haven't been able to think of a better title.
But though North America is not yet so rich as England, it is much more thriving, and advancing with much greater rapidity to the further acquisition of riches.  The most decisive mark of the prosperity of any country is the increase of the number of its inhabitants.  In Great Britain, and most other European countries, they are not supposed to double in less than five hundred years.  In the British colonies in North America, it has been found that they double in twenty or five-and-twenty years.   Nor in the present times is this increase principally owing to the continual importation of new inhabitants, but to the great multiplication of the species.  Those who live to old age, it is said, frequently see there from fifty to a hundred, and sometimes many more, descendants from their own body.  Labour is there so well rewarded, that a numerous family of children, instead of being a burden, is a source of opulence and prosperity to the parents.  The labour of each child, before it can leave their house, is computed to be worth a hundred pounds clear gain to them.  A young widow with four or five young children, who, among the middling or inferior ranks of people in Europe, would have so little chance for a second husband, is there frequently courted as a sort of fortune.  The value of children is the greatest of all encouragements to marriage.  We cannot, therefore, wonder that the people in North America should generally marry very young.  Notwithstanding the great increase occasioned by such early marriages, there is a continual complaint of the scarcity of hands in North America.  The demand for labourers, the funds destined for maintaining them increase, it seems, still faster than they can find labourers to employ.
(Emphasis added.)

If you are wondering how children could be so profitable, I imagine that laws and customs then were similar, especially for farm families, to what they were in Abraham Lincoln's time.

Lincoln had almost no formal schooling, and would have been working on his father's farm by the age of five or six, doing chores, and being worth his keep by the time he was ten or eleven.  By law, Lincoln's father was entitled to his wages until Lincoln turned twenty-one.

So there is good reason to think that Lincoln's father profited from raising Lincoln — and, as far as we know, mostly enjoyed it, too.

It is interesting to speculate on what would happen to our educational systems, and our families, if children were now required to give most of their first ten years of earnings to their parents.  But you may not want to mention that idea to your own children.

(The paragraph is in chapter VIII, "The Wages of Labour".

As you may have noticed, Smith was completely wrong in his demographic predictions.  The growth of the population in the United States slowed down, and the growth in Britain accelerated, so that the US population did not pass the population of the British Isles until the second half of the 19th century.  In 1850, the US population was about 23 million and the population of the British Isles, about 28 million.  Excluding what is now Ireland would make the two populations about equal in 1850)
- 3:17 PM, 27 April 2013   [link]


President Obama Is Getting Some Adult Supervision From The Courts And The Congress:  So says George Will.

Here's Will's first example:
Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Tex.), chairman of the Financial Services Committee, has told Richard Cordray not to bother.  This is part of the recent evidence that government is getting some adult supervision.

Barack Obama used a recess appointment to make Cordray director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.  But a federal circuit court has declared unconstitutional three other recess appointments made the same day because the Senate was not in recess.  So Hensarling has told Cordray not to testify before his committee: “Absent contrary guidance from the United States Supreme Court, you do not meet the statutory requirements of a validly serving director of the CFPB, and cannot be recognized as such.”
Obama needs that adult supervision, as do many other elected and appointed officials.

(The last four Democratic presidential candidates — Clinton, Gore, Kerry, and Obama — all seem adolescent, in some ways.  The Democratic Party has adult leaders, though fewer than it once had, but hasn't chosen them, recently, for the position that most needs an adult.)
- 8:21 AM, 27 April 2013   [link]


Ever Wonder How The Federal Reserve Adjusts Interest Rates?  Yesterday's New Yorker cartoon will show you.
- 1:01 PM, 26 April 2013   [link]


This Story Is Way Too Good to check.
An off-duty US navy sailor wrestled a bus driver to the ground and beat him into submission after he attempted to rape her at knife point, a court heard yesterday.

Prosecutors said that she knocked the knife from his hand, broke it in two, bit him in the hand, forced him to the ground and locked him between her thighs.

The woman, 28, was on 24-hour shore leave in Dubai and was attacked as she returned to the port where she was based after a day shopping.
(I am reasonably certain that it is true, but have learned to be wary of stories this good.)
- 10:55 AM, 26 April 2013   [link]


Why Was The "Non-Mirandized" Interrogation Of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev Interrupted?  News reports make it clear that the FBI interrogators were planning to continue questioning the accused terrorist, without the Miranda warning, but were interrupted.

But who made the decision that caused that interruption?  This Wall Street Journal article (which may be behind their pay wall), says that it was a federal judge, Marianne Bowler.
A federal judge decided to advise Boston bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev of his Miranda rights, even though investigators apparently still wanted to question him further under a public-safety exception.
But Andrew McCarthy explains that the judge had no choice in the matter.
It has now been reported by Fox’s Megyn Kelly that the FBI’s interrogation of accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was short-circuited when the Justice Department arranged for him to be given a presentment hearing in the hospital.

In point of fact, it was not the hearing that caused the suspension of vital intelligence-gathering.  It was the Obama Justice Department’s decision over the weekend immediately to file a criminal charge against Tsarnaev.  Once that was done, the presentment hearing was inevitable.  It is required by Rule 5 of the federal rules of criminal procedure.  An arrested person must be brought before the nearest available magistrate.  The purpose of the proceeding is to get him out of the clutches of law enforcement, have a neutral judicial officer advise him of what he’s been charged with, make certain that he has counsel assigned, and – most significantly – ensure that he knows he is under no obligation to make statements to the police and that, if he has already made some statements, he may stop.
McCarthy thinks that the Justice Department should have put off that filing, in order that the questioning could continue, and I am inclined to think that he is right.
- 10:01 AM, 26 April 2013   [link]


Speaker Boehner Is Setting A Good Example:  By cutting spending in the House of Representatives.
The House of Representatives will spend 15% less on its own operations this year than it did three years ago under a cost-cutting effort launched by Speaker John Boehner that is on pace to save taxpayers more than $400 million by the end of this year.
. . .
Leading Democrats have chafed at the belt tightening, arguing it undermines adequate personnel resources for research and oversight.  "We are past the point of cutting what we want, and we are now into cutting what we need — our ability to attract and retain expert staff," said Rep. Robert Brady, D-Pa., in opposition to further committee cuts approved in March.
You can decide for yourself, after reading about some of the cuts, whether the Democrats are right.

But I don't doubt that Republican political operatives are delighted by those complaints.
- 9:13 AM, 26 April 2013   [link]


The Deval Patrick Administration Doesn't Want To See any more scoops in the Boston Herald.
The Patrick administration clamped down the lid yesterday on Herald requests for details of Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s government benefits, citing the dead terror mastermind’s right to privacy.

Across the board, state agencies flatly refused to provide information about the taxpayer-funded lifestyle for the 26-year-old man and his brother and accused accomplice Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19.
And that's understandable, if not admirable, since the first set of revelations were so embarrassing.

I don't know what Massachusetts law requires, or allows, but in general almost all payments from a government should be available to the public.

(There are, and should be, exceptions for national security and law enforcement, but not much else.)
- 8:57 AM, 26 April 2013   [link]


Does Putting Criminals In Prison Reduce Crime?   Philip Johnston considers an unfashionable hypothesis, here in the United States, and in Britain.
But something else has happened since crime began to fall in the mid 1990s: the prison population has doubled.  Is there a connection, and why are those poring over these statistics today seemingly reluctant to consider that there might be one?   In the 1980s, the rapid rise in crime coincided with a fall in the incarceration rate and an increased use of cautions and unrecorded warnings.  Studies have found strong links between the falling risk of punishment and rising crime.  From 1993, Home Office policy changed and the use of prison was encouraged, especially for repeat offenders.

The last Labour government introduced a series of criminal justice laws aimed at increasing prison terms for violent offences.  It is hard to believe there is no connection between the two.  The problem is that there is a very powerful penal reform lobby which is determined to deny any causation: the very notion that “prison might work” is anathema to many campaigners in this field.
To any American who follows these issues, this sounds almost spookily familiar, although the timing is different.  (And Johnston does discuss our experience.)  We saw the same decreasing chance of prison for crimes, the rise in crime, the increase in prison sentences, and the decrease in crime.

And yet many people, some with very impressive credentials, want to deny that putting more criminals in prison is one of the main reasons crime has declined, first in the United States and then in Britain.

And I suppose that the "want to" is the key to understanding their thinking.  They simply don't want to accept this admittedly unpleasant conclusion — and so they ignore the obvious.  Which would not matter much, except that people with these tightly-held beliefs are often in positions of influence.

(A brief review of the basics:  Putting criminals in prison reduces crime in two ways.  It incapacitates them; a man in prison will find it far more difficult to commit some crimes, and impossible to commit many of them.  There are, for example, no cars to steal.

About three decades ago, I read an account of a large study (by Rand?) which concluded that, by putting criminals in prison for five years after their third conviction, you would reduce crime by about half.

Prisons also will deter some crime, and the more likely a crime will result in a prison sentence, the more likely a potential criminal will decided not to commit it.  Surely, one of the reasons that Britain had fewer burglaries in 1954 is that a mann committing a burglary then had 1 chance in 3 of going to prison, while now he has only 1 chance in 22.)
- 7:41 AM, 25 April 2013   [link]


Gracious And Patriotic:  That's former president George W. Bush, according to President Obama.

That Obama mentions those qualities — which every elected American official should have — tells us that many people in his world aren't gracious, aren't even patriotic.

You can decide for yourself whether Obama is, in effect, admitting that he is less gracious and less patriotic than Bush.
- 6:46 AM, 25 April 2013   [link]