December 2013, Part 1
Jim Miller on Politics
President Obama Was Outraged By The IRS Scandal, But Now He Isn't: The Chris Matthews interview revealed that presidential shift.
A leading advocate for groups targeted by the Obama administration’s Internal Revenue Service is lambasting the president for his sudden reversal of tone over the IRS audit scandal.How should we interpret that shift? I can think of several possibilities. Obama has changed his mind. (It could happen.) Obama was, in both cases, just saying what his audience wanted to hear. Or, and this is my favorite, Obama never thought it was a scandal, but felt he had to say so, and has now changed his mind on that.
David French, who is representing some of those attacked by the IRS, notes that it became a "phony" scandal when it got close to the White House, and says he has seen no evidence of a serious FBI investigation.
- 6:27 PM, 8 December 2013 [link]
Having Daughters Leads To Republican Voting?! Here's the factoid.
In two-child families, mothers and fathers of girls are more likely to vote Republican, according to a recent study. The correlation is even stronger among high-income familiesSpecifically: "Parents of two boys are 14% more likely to vote Democrat than parents of a girl and a boy." In contrast: "Parents of two girls are 11% more likely to vote Republican than parents of a boy and a girl."
The researchers don't know why this relationship exists, but they speculate that "men and women might want more socially conservative policies when they have daughters".
That's plausible, I would say, and better than any explanation I have come up with.
(The study is behind a pay wall, but is probably accessible to most of those with access to research libraries.)
- 6:03 PM, 8 December 2013 [link]
Is There An Inslee Effect? We all know about the Gore effect, the way that cold weather follows the former vice president around to so many climate change conferences.
Washington state Governor Jay Inslee is another believer in the climate change religion. On Friday, he opened a meeting of the state's Climate Legislative and Executive Workgroup.
There are meetings scheduled for the 13th and 18th of this month, so residents here should be prepared for more cold snaps, even if, like me, they need more evidence before they decide there is an Inslee effect.
Cross posted at Sound Politics.
(I suppose some time I should treat Inslee's ideas on global warming, such as they are, more seriously. But I find that hard to do, since his views seem more religious than political, and I am no expert on comparative theology. If that account by Andrew Graber is reasonably correct — and it might be — Inslee objected to the very idea of considering costs and benefits of different climate change policies.I should add that, as far as I can tell, Inslee is sincere in his beliefs. I mention that because so many people have noticed that Al Gore's personal behavior — he has a carbon footprint nearly as large as that of entire provinces in some poor nations — is inconsistent with what he says he believes.)
- 7:29 AM, 8 December 2013 [link]
President Obama Asks George W. Bush for some help.
That's one way to interpret this invitation, an idiosyncratic way, admittedly.
But, in fact, I do think that the Obamas asked the Bushes to come along with them, because the Obamas think that might help them, a little, politically. You can probably work out why it might without much effort.
(I am nearly certain that Obama is not smart enough to spend part of the trip asking for Bush's insights on foreign leaders — but he should.)
- 3:47 PM, 7 December 2013 [link]
Pearl Harbor Day: This year, like last year, I will just recycle three of my four posts from 2011: the complete failure of the first phase of the Japanese attack, why we were surprised, and Roosevelt's "day of infamy" speech.
As usual, Bing is remembering the attack, and Google isn't.
- 3:29 PM, 7 December 2013 [link]
Did President Obama Insult Chris Matthews? And did Matthews show that he deserved the insult?
When I heard that Obama had scheduled an interview with Matthews, at a time when the president really needs some favorable treatment, I wondered about the first question. Was Obama showing, by his choice, that he thought that Matthews would not do a serious interview?
If so, Obama was right.
I’m not sure what Chris Matthews was doing with President Obama yesterday, but it wasn’t hardball.We can't be sure that Obama intended to insult Matthews, but we can be sure, after that performance, that Matthews deserved to be insulted.
Just in case you don't want to read the whole column, this detail: The interview was held on the campus of American University, so Obama could have "an actual cheering section of young people who were likely to be on his side". Amazing.
(Oh, and the interview bumped a scheduled rehearsal for some young ballerinas.)
- 3:46 PM, 6 December 2013 [link]
The Best Mandela Obituary I Have Seen Is this brief Wall Street Journal editorial. What fascinates them (as it does me) is his transformation:
The bulk of his adult life, Nelson Mandela was a failed Marxist revolutionary and leftist icon, the Che Guevara of Africa. Then in his seventies he had the chance to govern. He chose national reconciliation over reprisal, and he thus made himself an historic and all too rare example of a wise revolutionary leader.You'll want to read the whole thing.
F. W. de Klerk, the former South African president, recognized (and may have encouraged) that transformation.
De Klerk first met Mandela on 13 December 1989 when the ANC leader was still in prison – "we both reached the conclusion that we would be able to do business with one another" – and again two days prior to Mandela's release on 11 February 1990.(ANC = African National Congress.)
Mandela could not have transformed South Africa without de Klerk as a partner — though few today are giving de Klerk the credit he deserves.
Keith Richburg, who is no Pollyanna about Africa's problems, gives us a good description of the problems faced by Mandela and de Klerk.
Juan Williams gives us a personal account of Mandela's intense curiosity about the United States.
- 3:18 PM, 6 December 2013 [link]
This Signe Wilkinson cartoon doesn't make any big political point.
But it's funny — on several levels.
- 10:07 AM, 6 December 2013 [link]
HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius Was In Charge Of Implementing ObamaCare: So, how often did she meet President Obama, officially, to discuss any problems? By one reasonable count, once.
A new Government Accountability Institute (GAI) analysis finds that from July 12, 2010, to Nov. 30, 2013, the president’s public schedule records zero one-on-one meetings between Obama and Sebelius. Equally shocking, over the same period, the president's calendar lists 277 private meetings with his other Cabinet secretaries (excluding full Cabinet meetings).There may, of course, been other meetings that didn't show up on official calendars, may have been many discussions between aides of the two, but I don't know of any evidence even that minimal amount of coordination happened.
This is, to say the least, extraordinary — on both sides. President Obama appears to have thought that implementing an immensely complex set of programs would just happen, once the law had been passed, and Sibelius didn't resign when she was frozen out of almost all contact with Obama, even though she was, formally, in charge of these programs.
(There is nothing in her background to suggest that Sebelius is qualified to manage a large software project. I believe Obama chose her for the HHS position because she was a successful politician — and because she holds the same extreme pro-abortion position that he does.)
- 8:43 AM, 6 December 2013
The White House Press Secretary, Jay Carney, is saying that Sebelius visited "frequently", and that visits by Cabinet secretaries don't "regularly get entered into the White House visitors logs".
Perhaps. But, if so, that leaves us wondering what the two talked about during those meetings.
- 8:20 AM, 8 December2013 [link]
Marijuana And Man Boobs? This story is too amusing not to pass on.
So, concludes Dr. Anthony Youn, marijuana can cause man boobs, "probably". (Along with, I note, some other rather disturbing effects, if you are a man, or married to a man and want to have children.)
Although I am passing this story on, I am not endorsing it, since I have not looked at the studies myself, and don't intend to spend weeks doing so. The issue of marijuana use has become so politicized — both by those who favor greater use, and those who oppose it — that it is not easy to sort through even the scientific studies. Or, to be blunt, to trust them, after you have sorted through them. It's my impression that, on the whole, its dangers were exaggerated by the popular press decades ago, and are now minimized, or even denied.
For example, during the debate over marijuana legalization here in Washington state, there was very little discussion of any possible bad effects from marijuana use from our local journalists.
And that may be because so many of them are, or have been, users. Some time ago I read a piece by a libertarian that noted that journalists almost all have used the weed. He seemed to think that was an argument for more use, but, considering the quality of so much current journalism, I would say that it is, instead, evidence that people who want to think clearly should avoid smoking pot.
Cross posted at Sound Politics.(In the past, journalists were reputed to be much more likely to be problem drinkers, even alcoholics, than the average person. If so, it would be interesting to compare the the quality of the work they did to that of our current journalists, who may drink less, and smoke more marijuana.)
- 7:13 AM, 6 December 2013 [link]
How Good A Nuclear Negotiator Is Wendy Sherman? Sherman, the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, is the person most responsible for the sort-of agreement we just came to with Iran.
Naturally, the New York Times thinks she's wonderful.
Jonathan Tobin has a different opinion, based on this bit of history.
But unfortunately, along with other flattering details [David] Sanger doesn’t spare us, Sanger was forced to include the most embarrassing item in her biography that ought to inform the country about dealing with Iran: the all-too-similar nuclear disaster she crafted with North Korea. While Sanger can claim that she is now “pushing back” against critics who cite her last nuclear disaster claiming that this discussion is based on “tempting, but overly simplistic sound bytes,” it’s apparent that most of the widely acknowledged determination that Sherman is known for is spent on ignoring the lessons of her past mistakes.The person who botched a North Korean nuclear agreement wouldn't be my first choice to negotiate a nuclear agreement with Iran.
(Her Wikipedia biography has some revealing tidbits, including this one: She was on the operating board of Fannie Mae, and used her time there to make a nice job for herself, as president of the Fannie Mae Foundation.)
- 7:58 PM, 5 December 2013 [link]
BMW Arbitrage: According to an article in Tuesday's Wall Street Journal, BMWs can be sold in China for almost three times what they cost in the United States. For example, a BMW X5 xDrive35i has a sticker price of $56,025 in the United States, but $153,176 in China.
This has led, just as you would expect, to BMW arbitrage, to people buying US BMWs, and shipping them to China. According to some prosecutors, this can become fraudulent in the United States "if straw buyers misrepresent their intentions to dealers and auto insurance companies". And, it turns out, many US dealers require buyers to promise that they won't export the cars for a "certain period". (A year? Five years?)
Left completely unexplained is why the prices for identical, or almost identical, vehicles are almost three times higher in the People's Republic of China than they are in the mostly capitalist United States. (If I had even a tentative explanation, I would share it with you.)
(Here's a blog post that repeats much of the information in the article, which is behind their pay wall.)
- 8:04 AM, 5 December 2013 [link]
"Democrats' 2013 Drop-Off Problem" Sean Trende has some numbers.
We can enlarge our data set, however. Of 100 House of Delegates races in Virginia, there were 43 where both a Republican and Democrat ran. The latter ran ahead of Obama in only seven of those (using data helpfully compiled by DailyKos Elections). We see a drop-off similar to the other numbers in Democratic performance: four points on average, with a median drop-off of 4.2 percent.As you would expect, results from other states tend to show more Democratic drop off than in Virginia — where the Republican gubernatorial candidate was weak — and less drop off than in New Jersey — where the Republican gubernatorial candidate was strong.
Trende cautions, as I would, that there is still much time between now and the 2014 elections, and that Democrats could see their prospects improve. But it is also true that their prospects could get worse.
(Democrats might have done even worse in Virginia and New Jersey if it hadn't been for the money they received from Tom Steyer.)
- 6:38 AM, 5 December 2013 [link]
Is There An Unscrupulous Republican Operative At HHS? As regular readers may recall, I have sometimes joked that Michelle Obama's trips are planned by an "unscrupulous Republican operative".
Now, I have to wonder whether there isn't another such operative in HHS.
The Department of Health and Human Services has crowned a YouTube video entitled “Forget About The Price Tag” as the grand prize winner in a contest meant to encourage young people to sign up for Obamacare.Those lyrics could be designed to draw attention to the price tag.
(There must be few Republicans at HHS, given the size of the department, but I would guess that they are generally discrete about their vote choices, and may even keep them secret.)
- 6:13 AM, 5 December 2013 [link]
Who Do You Believe, The Uncle, or the nephew?
President Obama's uncle has testified at his deportation hearing that he housed his famous relative for a few weeks when he was student at Harvard Law School.I'm going with the uncle, who has a witness for his claim, a witness with no obvious reason to lie.
(The Washington Post gave less space to their version of this story — but it is currently the most popular political piece there.)
- 1:16 PM, 4 December 2013
Odd: The White House is now saying that Obama did stay with his uncle, and that in 2011 year they didn't bother to actually ask Obama whether he had met his uncle. To believe this new story, we have to believe that either Obama did not see last year's incorrect story, or he saw it and didn't bother to correct it. The second seems a little more plausible than the first, but both seem less likely than the original story being a fib.
- 7:31 PM, 5 November 2013 [link]
If I Were An Unscrupulous Left Wing Millionaire, I Would Consider Subsidizing Conservative Groups That Cause Problems For The Republican Party: Which is why I read this story with considerable suspicion.
Google has been playing both sides of Washington's streets by making contributions to conservative political groups that have left-wingers seeing red, it emerged today.In fact, Heritage Action is one of the groups I would subsidize — if I were an unscrupulous left wing millionaire who wanted to cause problems for the Republican Party. Norquist's group would be a closer call, though they have caused Republican candidates problems from time to time. (I am not a millionaire, and I try to have some scruples.)
If you think that possibility is too paranoid, consider this example from the 2002 California gubernatorial campaign.
During the 2002 election campaign, [Gray] Davis took the unusual step of taking out campaign ads during the Republican primaries against Los Angeles mayor Richard Riordan. Davis claimed that Riordan had attacked his record and that his campaign was defending his record. Polls showed that, as a moderate, Riordan would be a more formidable challenger in the general election than a conservative candidate. Polls even showed that Riordan would defeat Davis. Davis attacked Riordan with negative ads in the primary. The ads questioned Riordan's pro-choice stance by questioning Riordan's support of pro-life politicians and judges. The ads pointed out Riordan's position of wanting a moratorium on the death penalty as being to the left of Gray Davis, who strongly supported it.The conservative Republican voters were, in this interpretation, played for suckers by Governor Davis. And I can think of other elections,where Democrats have used similar strategies, notably the 2010 Nevada Senate election where Harry Reid helped Sharron Angle win the Republican nomination, over the more electable Sue Lowden.
(Lowden made some serious mistakes during the primary campaign, but Reid didn't know that was going to happen when he made that attack.)
- 12:58 PM, 4 December 2013 [link]
Washington State Is Number One! According to a recent study, people here are the least likely to curse during a business phone call.
We shouldn't get too proud, however, since the same study found that we didn't make the top five in saying "please" and "thank you". (The five states that did are, in order, South Carolina, North Carolina, Maryland, Louisiana, and Georgia.)
Cross posted at Sound Politics.
(How good is this study, how accurately does it reflect actual speech patterns? There is one obvious problem: There are too few calls with curses in them to allow for accurate comparisons, especially comparisons between states with smaller populations.
Beyond that, it's hard to say from the blog posts, and I don't plan to take the time to look at the whole study, even assuming it is available on line. If it is, and I did take the time, I would start by looking at which businesses were studied, since I know that some businesses are far more likely to make me want to curse than others.Does this imply that Washington residents who curse a lot are "un-Washingtonian"? Perhaps.)
- 8:53 AM, 4 December 2013 [link]
Lt. Col. Zumwalt Doesn't Like The Interim Nuclear Agreement with Iran.
For example, he finds this minor disagreement troubling.
The Geneva agreement is an interim deal to establish trust over the next six months, with various actions required on both sides. A comprehensive agreement by the end of that term is then required. (Interestingly, Syrian President Bashir Assad simultaneously announced the rebels would be defeated within the same six-month period.)It would seem like a good thing if the two sides agreed on what the agreement says about the central issue.
(Here's a biography of Zumwalt, and here's a list of some of his recent articles.
- 8:59 AM, 3 December 2013 [link]
SF Teachers play hooky.
More than 600 teachers and classroom aides looking to get an early start to the Thanksgiving holiday weekend skipped school Tuesday in San Francisco, leaving officials desperate to find substitutes.Which they can do, without penalty, thanks to their union contract.
From time to time, you read about high levels of student absences in urban districts, but usually the teachers and the aides show up.
- 8:02 AM, 3 December 2013 [link]
From Reuters, their best pictures of the year. (Even though the year isn't over.)
My favorite is probably the Obama-Putin photograph, about half way down, not because it's the best photograph in the collection, but because of what it shows about the relationship between the two men.
- 7:39 AM, 3 December 2013 [link]
Those Neoconservatives Are Everywhere! They are even in Croatia defending traditional marriage.
The article headline is: "A neoconservative revolution". And here's the key paragraph:
For a year now we have also been witnessing the birth of a movement gathered around the “On Behalf of the Family” initiative, which advocates the heterosexual family. Inspired by the Tea Party in the US, close to conservative circles, the Croatian initiative and its supporters are demanding that marriage be set out in the Constitution as the exclusive union of a man and a woman. With this in mind, they have collected 700,000 signatures for a referendum on marriage. Given the small number of openly gay people in Croatia, it is clear that gay marriage is merely a symbol of the distrust of the "other" and the "different", as well as a pretext for challenging the government and authority.It doesn't surprise me to see that citizens of a traditionally Catholic country like Croatia favor traditional marriages, but I was amused to see this writer blaming the movement on neoconservatives and the Tea Party.
Why did Slavenka Drakulić pick those targets? Perhaps because other journalists blame them for almost everything else.
For many "mainstream" journalists, neoconservatives now serve the same purpose that witches did in the Middle Ages; anything that goes wrong can be blamed on them. And the same thing appears to be happening to the Tea Party.
- 7:03 AM, 2 December 2013 [link]
It's Always Good To See A Grandmother Teaching Her Descendants How To Earn A Living: Well, almost always.
In this quiet residential district on the fringes of the Bulgarian city of Stara Zagora, 77-year-old Donka Panova is everyone’s favourite Roma grandmother and much revered.If you believe even half of the stories they tell, the family has done very well from picking pockets, over the years.
- 6:22 AM, 2 December 2013 [link]
Some Thoughts On The ObamaCare Web Site Disaster from John J. Xenakis, who describes himself as a "senior software engineer".
Here's his lead paragraph:
The historic IT disaster known as the Obamacare web site has been of intense interest to me, since I've been a Senior Software Engineer for decades, and I have personally participated in, witnessed, and reported on (as a technology reporter) a number of IT disasters. But even so, the size of the Obamacare web site catastrophe on October 1 still takes my breath away. When I first heard, shortly after October 1, that there was 500 million lines of code in Healthcare.gov, I quickly rejected that figure, because it's impossible.But it seems to be true, which means that many of those lines will have to be re-written or, better yet, discarded.
Judging by what Xenakis says, and what I have read elsewhere, the project failed in the ways that most experienced software people would have expected it to fail, but on a grander scale.
And I think almost all of them would agree with me that a minimally competent administration — including Obama — would have known it was failing by August, at the latest.
But to know that, they would have had to listen to the people who were telling them about the problems, and this administration is not very good at listening.
Instead, the administration people who were, sort of, supervising the project, adopted a traditional policy: They continued the beatings, expecting that morale (and the product) would improve.
(Minor technical point: Xenakis gives an estimate of programmer productivity of six lines per day, which he got from Fred Brooks, and the IBM 360 project. But that was system software, which is usually harder to write than application software, like that written for the site. So application software programmers can often do better than six lines a day.)
- 2:55 PM, 1 December 2013 [link]
"Pigskin Pride And Prejudice" Maureen Dowd has loved Jane Austen, and has disliked football, for most of her life.
Re-reading Austen, I could get lost in a fascinating honeycomb of relationships. I could delve into a rigid male-dominated hierarchical society with pompous wealthy overlords and opportunistic strivers and alluring young protagonists faltering with immature misjudgments and public opprobrium.But then the Washington Redskins drafted Robert Griffin III, which got her interested in football, where she discovered some parallels between Austen and football.
And funnily enough, I was soon getting lost in a fascinating honeycomb of relationships. I was delving into a rigid male-dominated hierarchical society with pompous wealthy overlords and opportunistic strivers and alluring young protagonists faltering with immature misjudgments and public opprobrium.I am not familiar enough with Austen's writing to know whether this comparison really works, though it wouldn't surprise me if it did, since what Dowd is describing are universals, found in every society.
For all her problems, the woman can write — and sometimes does.
- 1:49 PM, 1 December 2013 [link]
Digital Gadgets Leave Digital Tracks: And may have helped solve a Michigan murder case.
It had been more than two months since a popular University of Michigan medical student was shot to death, and police seemingly had few leads. But on Oct. 3 — 45 miles from where student Paul DeWolf was killed in his Ann Arbor fraternity — a man in Detroit attempted to log onto a computer he’d just purchased through Craigslist. The man didn’t know it, but the Mac laptop had been stolen from DeWolf’s next-door neighbor around the time he was killed.By following up on this lead, the police found two suspects in the theft, and have already learned that one of the suspects, Joel Jordan, has a cell phone that was pinging a cell tower near the murder, at the time of the murder.
- 7:36 AM, 1 December 2013 [link]
Two "Detainees" Don't Want To Leave Gitmo: The story from the Friday edition of the Wall Street Journal is behind their pay wall, but is still worth mentioning.
Two Algerian citizens held at the naval base in Cuba are fighting a transfer to their homeland, people familiar with their situation say. The two men say they fear that Islamist extremists will try to recruit them and may attack or kill them when they discover the detainees don't share their commitment to violence, these people say.So Belkacem Bensayah and Djamel Ameziane would rather stay in Guantanamo.
We need not accept that description of the two men's motives — which probably comes from their lawyers — to believe that the two really don't want to go back to Algeria, which has a government that doesn't worry much about legal niceties. And doesn't much like radical Islamists.
The two aren't alone, by the way; there are other detainees who would rather stay in prison than go back home.
(Belkacem has had a case go all the way to the Supreme Court. Wikipedia says that he has Bosnian citizenship, but the Journal says that he doesn't, though his wife and daughters, who live there, do. I suspect the Journal is right on this point.
I haven't tried to come to any conclusion about his guilt, since so much of the evidence is secret.)
- 6:49 AM, 1 December 2013
More: Here's essentially the same story, but from AFP, so it isn't hidden behind a pay wall.
- 6:14 PM, 1 December 2013 [link]