August 2013, Part 1
Jim Miller on Politics
Greenberg Versus Spitzer: On the whole, I think that we have too many lawsuits, that we spend too much time (and money!) settling matters in courts that should be settled elsewhere.
But I look forward to this trial.
If Eliot Spitzer wins the race for city comptroller, his first job may be defending himself in court. Last month a libel suit was quietly filed against him in a state court in Carmel by Maurice “Hank” Greenberg, the biggest of the tycoons Spitzer targeted as state attorney general.Because Greenberg is a public figure, he would have to prove not only that Spitzer said false things about him, but that Spitzer was acting out of malice. That seems obvious enough to me, but might not to a judge and jury.
The issues in the original case are complex, but I think this tells us something:
In March 15, 2005, AIG's board forced Greenberg to resign from his posts as chairman and CEO under the shadow of criticism from Eliot Spitzer, attorney general of the state of New York. On May 26, 2005, as part of a series of actions against the alleged criminal activities of large corporations, Spitzer filed a complaint against Greenberg, AIG, and Howard I. Smith (ex-CFO of AIG) alleging fraudulent business practice, securities fraud, common law fraud, and other violations of insurance and securities laws.If Greenberg had committed all those crimes, you would think that Spitzer, or one of his successors, would have been able to get at least one conviction.
Spitzer's long history of ethical lapses also tells us something. In my opinion, the prostitution scandal that forced him from office barely makes the top ten.
(If you are wondering why Spitzer has prospered for so long, politically, you can find 500 million reasons here.)
- 10:09 AM, 8 August 2013 [link]
Vladimir Putin Sends A Get-Well Message to George W. Bush — and a little reminder to Barack Obama.
Russian President Vladimir Putin sent a telegram on Thursday to his old sparring partner, former U.S. President George W. Bush, wishing him a quick recovery from heart surgery.You do get the feeling that Putin might have one of these pictures in his private office.
We don't have transcripts, so we don't know what went wrong in the private meetings between Obama and Putin, but something obviously did.
- 8:17 AM, 8 August 2013 [link]
"The Bling Apparently Begins With A Blam" Joel Achenbach came up with that line. But he could also have said: "There's gold in them thar stars." Because what he is referring to is this finding:
On June 3, 3.9 billion light-years away, two incredibly dense neutron stars— bodies that are each about 1.5 times the mass of the sun but just the size of mere cities—collided. Scientists studying the event say it solves an enduring mystery about the formation of elements in our universe.To be specific, elements heavier than iron and nickel.
That these heavy elements were not created in the big bang, and are not created in ordinary stars, has been known for many years. Until recently, most astrophysicists believed they were created in Type 2 supernovas. The Berger team has found another way that the heavy elements can be created.
This particular collision created a lot of gold, "about ten times the mass of the moon", but it might be tricky to collect it, and to separate it from the other elements.
(Minor correction: The stars collided somewhat before June 3rd. That was when we detected their collision.)
Dennis Overbye admired Achenbach's line, and tried to top it by adding a recent finding about dung beetles to his article. It turns out that dung beetles use the Milky Way to navigate, which is interesting, but not particularly related to the neutron star collision.)
- 10:45 AM, 7 August 2013 [link]
Filner, Veterans, And Pelosi: Many In Washington, D. C. were aware of Bob Filner's crude behavior toward women.
The latest example to become public seems especially obnoxious. (Assuming, of course, that his accuser is telling the truth.)
Mayor Bob Filner sought a personal relationship from a San Diego nurse who asked him to help an injured Marine ensnarled in Veterans Administration red tape, lawyer Gloria Allred said Tuesday.You might wonder why Tyler asked the mayor of San Diego for help with a veteran's problem. That's because this case started before Filner became mayor, while he was still representing the 51st district in California, and possibly while he was chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs. He would, in short, be exactly the exactly the kind of elected official who you would want to ask for help with a veteran's problem.
(Basic congressional review: What Filner, if he is like most congressmen, would do, is turn the problem over to a staffer, probably one who specializes in solving veterans' problems. Such staffers are one of the reasons why congressional incumbents can be so hard to defeat. Over the years, a congressman's staff can do hundreds or even thousands of such favors for constituents.)
How did Filner get to be chairman of that committee? He campaigned for it, and he got the support of Nancy Pelosi.
In 2007, Filner became chairman of the Veterans' Affairs Committee, following a contest with Rep. Michael Michaud, D-Maine. Bolstered by support from then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, with whom he sometimes had a testy relationship, Filner won the Democratic Caucus vote over Michaud, 112-69.Some of those who voted for him must have known about his crude approaches to many women. It is possible that Nancy Pelosi knew when she backed him for the chairmanship, and, in my opinion, likely that some on her staff knew.
(Way back in November 2007, I suggested that Pelosi 'should limit leadership positions in the new, "clean" House to congressmen and congresswomen who have committed enough crimes to deserve time in prison.' So far, I haven't seen anything to show that Filner would meet that requirement, but Pelosi knows him better than I do.)
- 7:46 AM, 7 August 2013 [link]
David Brooks On The Alex Rodriguez Scandal: Yesterday's column contained some gems, including this generalization:
When he was drafted first by the Seattle Mariners, he hired the superagent Scott Boras, who damaged whatever chances Rodriguez had of becoming a normal human being.And this detail, from Selena Roberts's book:
By the time he reached the Rangers, according to Roberts, a clubhouse attendant was required to put a dab of toothpaste on his toothbrush after every game.Now, if Brooks would only do something similar for Barack Obama.
- 5:35 AM, 7 August 2013 [link]
Well, We All Make Mistakes: But this one's a beaut.
ABC News editor Don Ennis strolled into the newsroom in May wearing a little black dress and an auburn wig and announced he was transgender and splitting from his wife. He wanted to be called Dawn.According to the article, he believes this confusion was — partly — his mother's fault, "because his mother gave him female hormones as a child that made him look and sound young to prolong a bit-part acting career".
(If you want an informed opinion on whether that explanation makes sense, consult an endocrinologist. All I can say is that it doesn't seem inherently implausible.)
If I were a little more cynical, I would suspect that the original switch was a career move.
But I don't, though I will make this observation: As I understand it, editors are supposed to be the sober, sensible folks who, among other things, make sure that the reporters don't get beyond the facts. So this switch and re-switch does make me wonder, even more, about the rest of the people at ABC.
(According to reports I have seen, most of the people who have surgery to "change their gender" regret it later. But I can't recall seeing a good formal study of the question.)
- 1:05 PM, 6 August 2013 [link]
"Wishful Thinking On The War On Terror" That's how the Washington Post describes Obama's policies.
Here's their summary, which will sound familiar to long-time readers of this site.
Mr. Obama is right to worry about the corrosive effect, for example on civil liberties, of perpetual war. But like all wars, this one will end only if one party is defeated or both agree to lay down their weapons. Neither appears likely any time soon, and the president’s eagerness to disengage, while understandable and in sync with U.S. public opinion, may in the end lengthen the conflict. His hope of fighting the bad guys as antiseptically as possible, with drone strikes and a minimal presence, may prove as forlorn as President Clinton’s similar effort in the 1990s, when the equivalent weapon at his disposal was cruise missiles.I would add one important qualifier: Wars usually end when one party is defeated — and accepts its defeat, or is so completely defeated that it is unable to continue the struggle in even minor ways.
The American Civil War ended with Robert E. Lee's surrender at Appomattox because Lee accepted his defeat, and persuaded his army to accept it. He could have, as a few Confederates did, continued to fight, perhaps as the leader of a guerrilla force. Thankfully, we were spared that horror.
But there is no reason to think that our jihadist enemies share Lee's values, or even his ability to assess military realities.
From the beginning of this conflict I have argued that we should be prepared for it to last a century or more. That is not a conclusion that should make anyone, other than our enemies, happy, but it is a conclusion I think most military historians would agree with.
- 6:15 AM, 6 August 2013 [link]
Can Anyone At The Seattle Times Explain Their Pope/Westboro Editorial? If so, I'd like to hear from them because, if I had written that gem, I would be thinking of blaming it on an impersonator, or, if that didn't work, temporary insanity.
Here's the editorial, in case you don't read the Seattle Times regularly.
As you can see, the editorial writer contrasted the Westboro Baptist Church (Boo!) with the pope (Yay!) on their attitudes toward gays.
That's a silly comparison, for all sorts of reasons, but if I commented on every silly editorial I read, I wouldn't have time to do anything else.
Where the editorial went beyond the merely silly is in these two sentences:
You don't need to know a lot about Catholic theology (or most other theologies), to know that Catholics believe their religious truths are eternal, that they haven't changed in more than two millennia — and shouldn't.
To understand what's wrong with the second sentence, consider this one, which is an almost equally arrogant put down: The editorial writer knows how to write actual sentences.
For the record: What the pope said was merely a restatement of an old Christian doctrine, that you should hate the sin, but love the sinner. (Those who are interested in why he said it the way he did may want to read this post for a possible explanation.)
I'll end with one parting thought and two jokes.
For some years I have been expecting the Seattle Times to lose a civil rights lawsuit because of their hostile attitudes toward traditional religious organizations, such as the Catholic Church. This editorial gives us one more reason to think that will happen, possibly soon.
I am not now, nor have I ever been, a member of the Catholic Church. Would the editorial writers at the Seattle Times understand that joke? Probably not, but they might understand this one: "Not that there is anything wrong with that."Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 2:07 PM, 5 August 2013 [link]
Two Jokes With Lawyers That Aren't Lawyers Jokes: During this last week, the New Yorker calendar had two examples of that comparatively rare category.
I liked the first one, and loved the second one.
(You know the lawyers jokes I mean, the ones with punch lines like "professional courtesy", or "not enough mud".
For what it is worth, the New Yorker has 650 cartoons in its lawyers category)
- 10:24 AM, 5 August 2013 [link]
Vladimir Putin, Defender of the Faith.
Vladimir Putin said last week that he observes “with alarm” that “in many of the world’s regions, especially in the Middle East and in North Africa, inter-confessional tensions are mounting, and the rights of religious minorities are infringed, including Christians and Orthodox Christians.”Russian history is filled with examples of tsars who mixed genuine concern for persecuted Christians, with attempts to extend the Russian Empire.
Sometimes Western powers, notably Britain, approved those attempts, often they opposed them.
And I think we are seeing something similar here. Putin is, at least formally, a Christian (and I think may be one in some real sense), and he understands how this stance would appeal to many outside Russia, especially in formally Orthodox countries such as Greece and Serbia.
That said, we should not overlook the real increase in the persecution of Christians in almost every Muslim country, and in a few non-Muslim countries.
(For an example of how religion and great power interests can get mixed, take a look at the Wikipedia article on the Crimean War.)
- 7:11 AM, 5 August 2013 [link]
Worth Reading: Neo-neocon's review of how President Obama has, again and again, accused his opponents of racism.
For years I’ve marveled at Obama’s subtly clever use of the racism charge, performed while he simultaneously pretends to take the high road on race. It’s a highly developed balancing act, probably one he’s been practicing for a long time. He demonstrated fine use of it during the 2008 campaign. And of course the MSM cooperates in further disseminating the meme that all criticism of Obama is racism.He uses the racism charge because it works, especially with our "mainstream" journalists.
Note also, as she says, that he is especially effective because he is almost always non-specific; Obama doesn't name individuals, but groups, and usually amorphous groups. So no individual feels it necessary to reply to Obama's charges, even though many have been tarred by his charges.
- 6:13 AM, 5 August 2013 [link]
Homeless, Illegal, And Probably Insane: Those three words describe the woman who is accused of vandalizing the National Cathedral, and suspected of vandalizing the Lincoln Memorial.
Moments before D.C. police found Jiamei Tian hiding in a bathroom stall at Washington National Cathedral, a family of tourists had spotted her in a back pew of the Children’s Chapel guarding two bags and muttering softly in a foreign language.(Police are now calling her Jia M. Tian.)
Homeless according to some homeless "advocates", who have seen her around DC. Illegal because her Chinese tourist visa has expired. And probably insane, considering her odd behavior.
So she's a member of three groups that we have trouble dealing with, legally. None of the articles I've seen explain how she got to the United States, something that definitely needs explaining.
(She's probably not a Confederate sympathizer, as I first suspected.)
- 5:38 AM, 5 August 2013 [link]
California Legislators On Junket to Cuba?
State Senator Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, whose offices were raided by FBI agents in June, traveled to Cuba during the legislature’s spring break with Sacramento’s “best connected” lobbyist, state campaign finance disclosure reports have revealed. Calderon was one of eight state legislators that secretly traveled to Havana with Darius Anderson, the founder and president of the powerhouse lobbying firm Platinum Advisors.John Hrabe is most interested in the possible corruption in this trip, and so would I be if the trip were to a friendly country such as Costa Rica.
But a junket to Castro's prison raises more serious questions, at least for me.
By way of Babalú.
(The junket was bipartisan, barely, with one Republican among the eight.)
- 4:10 PM, 4 August 2013 [link]
"Every Minute Of Every Day" Remember that Obama promise?
That promise had an exceptionally close expiration date.
President Obama, who turns 52 Sunday, spent today playing golf with friends at Joint Base Andrews, but before he went he was briefed on the terrorist threat that will cause 21 U.S. embassies to close Sunday.Those aren't the advisors most of us would choose, if we were looking for ways to "make this economy work for working Americans again". (Or the advisors most of us would choose if we were looking for ways to meet a new terrorist threat.)
What bothers me about that "every minute of every day" promise is that it is so silly. But apparently Obama thinks we will believe what he says, even when he makes obviously impossible promises. Worse yet, either no one in the White House was willing to tell him it was silly, or no one there realized it was silly. The first seems more likely, but, unfortunately, I can't rule out the second.
(Some, having seen "expiration date", will want a look at one of Jim Geraghty's lists. There are, I am sure, more recent expired promises that could be added to that list.)
- 3:29 PM, 4 August 2013 [link]
The Telltale Thermostat: Somehow, I missed (or forgot) this detail in the story, when it came out in 2011.
These days, hacking isn't limited to computers and smartphones. When Chinese hackers recently struck the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington, D.C., a thermostat in a townhouse owned by the Chamber was found to be beaming signals back to China.So far, hackers are mostly proving that these gadgets are vulnerable, rather than doing damage, publicly, anyway.
Here's one of their best stunts, so far:
Mr. [SeungJin] Lee, a security researcher and doctoral student at Korea University in Seoul, said he can use virus-laden emails or websites to take over a Samsung TV set so that it beams images of what is happening in front of it to a computer elsewhere. It can even do this when the set appears to be off. Mr. Lee declined to explicitly mention who made the TV, but it rested in a Samsung box.It isn't obvious to me that the gains from connecting all these devices to the Internet are worth the potential security problems — for most people.
(Why would Chinese hackers want to take over a thermostat? My guess is that they took over every device on the Chamber of Commerce site, and so they just happened to pick up the thermostat, too.)
- 7:57 AM, 4 August 2013 [link]
In Venezuela, The Corrupt Chavista Government has called for a protest, or rather a "counter protest", against corruption.
Yet, the facts are quite simple. The opposition, justly incensed by the fraudulent accusation of corruption on one of its representatives and his punishment before trial, has called to a rally in Caracas and a few other cities to protest the real corruption in Venezuela. The regime bereft of any new idea and dead set in retaining office at any price had no other idea but to call a counter protest on the same day, same time, same motive even though ALL in Venezuela know that the corruption is way, way more over chavismo side than the opposition.Daniel finds this extraordinary, but I don't.
It is, in fact, routine in communist regimes. Venezuelan is not formally communist, of course, but the regime has taken much of its ideology from communist regimes, and some of its tactics. And those regimes, going all the way back to Lenin's Soviet Union, often ask the people to help fight the regime's own corruption.
This seems paradoxical, but it is not. By running such campaigns, the regime redirects hostility from the regime to some low-level, or even mid-level, officials, and sacrifices them in order to keep some popular support. (When high-level officials get caught in such campaigns, it is usually a result of an internal power struggle.) Absolute monarchs often did similar things, for similar reasons.
What is interesting is that the regime found it necessary to stage a counter protest at the same time as the opposition protest. That suggests to me that they are beginning to worry about the extent of popular feeling about corruption — and that the new president, Nicolas Maduro, is not as skilled a demagogue as his predecessor, Hugo Chávez.
(The representative he refers to is Congressman Richard Mardo, who has lost his parliamentary immunity, illegally, according to Juan Cristobal Nagel.
In the United States, a rough equivalent would be the Republicans calling for a unity rally, a rally to decrease divisiveness — which, by the way, would be a good idea, politically — and the Obama administration calling for a counter rally.)
- 10:15 AM, 3 August 2013 [link]
Seattle Has Discovered another offensive phrase.
Government workers in the city of Seattle have been advised that the terms "citizen" and "brown bag" are potentially offensive and may no longer be used in official documents and discussions.You probably aren't the least bit surprised that they think "citizen" possibly offensive — or that their proposed alternative, "resident", does not mean the same thing.
But, if you are like me, you were a little surprised by "brown bag" — and may agree with me that the explanation for its supposed offensiveness sounds bogus. I'm not saying that nothing like that ever happened — this is a big country, after all — I'm just saying that, if it did happen, it was rare, and mostly happened a long time ago.
We should not let this example distract us from a more general point: The Constitution does not grant us the right not to be offended. Nor should public employees expect that as a condition of their employment. In fact, many public jobs require public employees to be offended, from time to time.
(If I thought that Elliott Bronstein of Seattle's Office for Civil Rights read this site, I wouldn't mention this, but by his criteria, "snowball" could also be offensive, because between 1850 and 1900, it was sometimes used as a derogatory term for "A Negro, esp. an elderly, white-haired Negro". One of the things that you can learn by flipping through a dictionary of slang is that almost every word could offend someone.)
- 8:04 AM, 2 August 2013 [link]
Russian President Vladimir Putin Doesn't Respect President Obama: And neither do the girls on the University of Connecticut basketball team.
And in both cases, Obama invited the disrespect.
Of course the girls should have declined his invitation. And so should Putin, if he were thinking of the long-term interests of Russia. But if you ask to be disrespected, most people will oblige you.
(Obama and the girls may not know this, but putting "horns" on a man's head is a traditional way of calling him a cuckold.)
- 6:52 AM, 2 August 2013 [link]
The Gore Effect on an almost continental scale.
Now that is impressive.
(The Gore effect also has a boring meaning, besides its main meaning.)
- 1:17 PM, 1 August 2013 [link]
"Potash Cartel Breakup" Did you know there was a potash cartel (or by some accounts a pair of them, working together)? I didn't, but I was still pleased to learn that it might be breaking up.
U.S. farmers could benefit from lower fertilizer prices following Russian potash producer Uralkali (URALL)'s move Tuesday to pull out of a sales partnership with Belarus, marking the end of a global cartel in the potash market.According to the article, the resulting price drop will save, for example, about $10 an acre for the average US corn farmer. The price drop will probably be even more important in countries like India, where I would expect the fertilizer to be a larger share of many farmers' costs.
I said "might be", because some think the Russian company did intend to lower prices, but in order to preserve the cartel, not break it up. Potash prices had reached a level that was attracting new firms to the business, some with new technology, and no rational cartel wants competition.
So, though we should be pleased by the price drop, we should also hope that some of those new entrants are successful.
(The potassium in potash is the third ingredient in the standard United States and Canadian fertilizer labels. For example, a hundred pound bag of fertilizer labeled 15-10-10 would contain 15 pounds of nitrogen, 10 pounds of phosphorus, and 10 pounds of potassium.
You can find more than almost anyone would want to know about potash in this Wikipedia article.)
- 8:14 AM, 1 August 2013 [link]
Ian Tuttle Is Unfair to Texas.
Texas has done a lot of good for this country: the King Ranch and Texas-style chili. Dr. Pepper and the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders. Rick Perry and Ted Cruz. Patrick Swayze.It is only the 18th district in Texas that has given us Congresswoman Lee, not Texas as a whole. And the district gave us Barbara Jordan, earlier, which makes up for Lee, a little.
Jackson Lee is in the news because the Congressional Black Caucus has proposed that she be the new Secretary of Homeland Security.
She would bring a dramatic new management style to the department.
In Washingtonian magazine's annual poll of House staffers, Jackson Lee has won best "Show Horse" every Congress since 2000, and she has routinely taken top honors in the poll's "Biggest Windbag" category.There is much more in the article about how she treats her staff, for those interested in the dismal details.
Not surprisingly, many of the "little people" who work for her have left to look for other jobs.
(It might be fair to blame Jackson Lee on Yale, where she earned her undergraduate degree, or the University of Virginia, where she earned her law degree, or even her sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha.)
- 7:18 AM, 1 August 2013 [link]