Archive:

December 2014, Part 1

Jim Miller on Politics




Pseudo-Random Thoughts



The NYT Left Something Important Out of their feature article on Hillary Clinton.
In a five year span, the William J Clinton Foundation gave five grants totaling $851,250 to the University of Virginia's Miller Center.  One year in particular, 2007, the Clinton gift was specifically marked: "Oral history project of Clinton presidency."

Well, today the New York Times has a front page feature on the newly released oral history project about the Clinton presidency.  The one the Clintons helped pay for.  But nowhere in the 2,600 word piece do Times writers Amy Chozick (who is on the Clinton beat) and Peter Baker (longtime White House reporter) disclose the obvious conflict of interest.
The Times should disclose this conflict of interest, which, to be fair, they may not have known about.  But they should know by now that the Clintons are quite good at manipulating the record.  I am still amused that Bill Clinton was able to sell himself as "the man from Hope", a town where he spent the first few years of his life.  He is actually the man from Hot Springs, which may have been the most corrupt place in Arkansas, when he was growing up there.

(For the record:  I haven't even skimmed the Times article, partly because I was doing other things, partly because I have learned that such articles are often misleading.)
- 7:27 AM, 8 December 2014   [link]


246 Or 247:  One of those — unless there is some shocker in one of the official counts — will be the final score in the House races.
The GOP retained control of two seats in runoffs in Louisiana, expanding the advantage for Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, who can afford defections from his increasingly conservative caucus and still get legislation passed.  Combined with the Republican takeover of the Senate, Congress will be all-GOP for the final two years of President Barack Obama's second term.

The latest count gives the GOP a 246-188 majority.  One race, in Arizona, is still outstanding.
. . .
In a Democratic-held district in the Tucson, Arizona-area, an automatic recount will determine whether Rep. Ron Barber keeps his seat or Republican challenger Martha McSally prevails.   McSally led by fewer than 200 votes.

If McSally wins, Republicans would have 247 seats, the largest majority since 1929-31 when the GOP controlled 270 seats in President Herbert Hoover's administration.
(In the most recent count I have seen, McSally's lead was 161 votes.)

The outcome of the race in Arizona's 2nd district won't matter much except to the people of the district, and, of course, to incumbent Ron Barber and challenger Martha McSally — except for bragging rights.  If McSally loses, the Republicans will tie their record in the 1946 election; if she wins, they will have the most seats since the 1928 election.

However, Democrats can already claim the opposite of bragging rights.  In the 1946 election, one third-party candidate, the American Labor Party's Vito Marcantonio, won, so we already know that the Democrats have won their fewest seats since the 1928 election.

(Barber and McSally had contrasting careers; he was a boss social worker for many years, heading Arizona's Division of Developmental Disabilities, and she was was an A10 pilot and squadron commander.)
- 6:59 AM, 8 December 2014   [link]


If You Follow Louisiana Politics From Afar, You May have Missed This Story:  Edwin Edwards lost, too.
Republican Garret Graves is headed to Washington to represent Louisiana's 6th Congressional District.  And four-time former governor and ex-convict Edwin Edwards -- a Louisiana icon, both beloved and reviled -- has lost his first, and likely last, political race at the ballot box.

As the sun sets on the 87-year-old Edwards' illustrious and controversial political career, it's rising for the 42-year-old Graves, who will take his first position in elected office.

Aided by a massive campaign war chest and a gerrymandered district that leans heavily conservative, Graves won Saturday night's runoff election handily.  In unofficial results, Graves had 62.43 percent of the vote compared to 37.57 for Edwards.
Although I would have voted for Graves without hesitation, I do have a soft spot for that entertaining old scoundrel.

Here are two Edwards stories, for those who are wondering why I have that soft spot.
In February 1985, soon after his third term began, Edwards was forced to stand trial on charges of mail fraud, obstruction of justice, and bribery, brought by U.S. Attorney John Volz.   The charges were centered around an alleged scheme in which Edwards and his associates received almost two million dollars in exchange for granting preferential treatment to companies dealing with state hospitals.  Edwards proclaimed his innocence and insisted that the charges were politically motivated by Volz and the Republican Party.  The first trial resulted in a mistrial in December 1985, while a second trial in 1986 resulted in an acquittal.  After Edwards and his four co-defendants were acquitted, the hotel where the jurors had been sequestered revealed that half of the jurors had stolen towels as they left.[38] Edwards quipped that he had been judged by a "jury of my peers".[39]
. . .
On July 29, 2011, Edwards married Trina Grimes Scott (born August 1978), originally from Baton Rouge, at the Monteleone Hotel in New Orleans.  A prison pen pal, she is fifty-one years his junior and was born midway in his second term as governor.[70] She is a Republican.[71]

Edwin and Trina Edwards were the subjects of the reality show The Governor's Wife, which premiered October 27, 2013, on the Arts & Entertainment Network.  The program focuses on Trina's rearing of teenaged sons and acting as stepmother to Edwards' daughters who are almost twice her age.  According to the A&E description of the program: "Between school projects, running for president of the Homeowner's Association, fending off skeptics who think she's a gold digger, and thoughts of adding a baby of their own to the mix, the Edwards clan truly represents a new take on the modern family."[72]  The couple announced February 15, 2013 that Trina was pregnant.[73]  Trina gave birth to their son, Eli Wallace Edwards, on August 1, 2013.[74]
(You can see some pictures of the third Mrs. Edwards, here.)

I won't claim that Edwards is admirable — but I think you will agree with me that he has never been boring.  And, as lively as he is at 87, I wouldn't bet against him making another run or two for office.

(Here's the Wikipedia biography of his opponent, Garret Graves.)
- 9:36 AM, 7 December 2014   [link]


54R-46D:  That will be the party balance in the senate, beginning next January, thanks to Mary Landrieu's defeat.
In the final insult of a devastating 2014 election for Democrats, Sen. Mary Landrieu, the party’s last remaining statewide officeholder from the Deep South, was trounced Saturday in the head-to-head Louisiana Senate runoff election.

Republican Bill Cassidy’s resounding victory is the ninth Senate seat picked up by the GOP in this year’s elections, three more than the party needed to take control of the chamber.   With nearly all the ballots counted, Cassidy led Landrieu by 14 points, 57 percent to 43 percent.
Democratic leaders decided that she had no chance to win the runoff (or, most likely, any other state-wide election in Louisiana), and so they abandoned her after the November results.

She had had close calls before, winning by just 5,788 votes in 1996 and 42,012 votes in 2002, but her margins had been improving, and she must have thought that she could stay in the senate by following, as she did, a generally moderate course.

But her support for Obama's programs doomed her, in this very Republican year.  And, as you can see in this poll chart, the Republicans were able to link her to Obama, during the campaign.  She didn't have any good way to break that link, since she needed the support of black voters, who are still strongly pro-Obama.  She did find one ploy that probably helped her a little, near the end of the campaign.

But in the end, there was just no way for her to appeal to blacks and enough moderate whites, at the same time.

(Here are the current numbers for the race.)

Like Nancy Pelosi and Kathleen Sebelius, Landrieu is a professional politician from a family of professional politicians.  That family connection doesn't bother me, since I think it natural for sons and daughters to go into the same business where their parents were successful.  But I do think we should give these second and third generation candidates the same scrutiny we give to candidates without their family advantages.

And here's the Wikipedia biography of her successful opponent, Bill Cassidy, who was a Democrat until rather recently.  He strikes as very compassionate conservative.)
- 8:17 AM, 7 December 2014   [link]


Sugar Is Brain Food:  And even a temporary shortage of the sugar our brains use, glucose, can affect our ability to think rationally.

That's one of the many interesting things I learned from Daniel Kahneman's Thinking, Fast and Slow.

In this weekend's Wall Street Journal, Robert Sapolsky gives us some more examples of the importance of glucose.
Let’s say researchers make someone’s frontal cortex work hard with a cognitive self-control task—for instance, rapidly reciting the months of the calendar backward, resisting the temptation to recite them in the easy, forward direction.  When you increase such “cognitive load” on someone’s frontal cortex, he or she exhibits less self-control on subsequent tasks—just like muscle that’s been exercising hard, then balks at having to move you one step more.

Moreover, during a tough self-control task, circulating glucose levels plummet, consumed by hardworking frontal neurons.  And, remarkably, self-control improves if subjects sip sugary drinks during the task (with control subjects consuming sugar-free drinks).
Read the whole column to learn why Sapolsky recommends that married couples eat a little chocolate before discussing contentious subjects.  (It's the sugar in the candy, not the chocolate, that makes the difference.)

For years, Ronald Reagan kept a jar of jelly beans on his desk.  People seemed to think this was just a pleasant quirk — but maybe those little candies helped him work, when he was thinking hard.
- 2:59 PM, 6 December 2014   [link]


"Happy Bertha-day"  The Seattle tunneling machine has been stuck for one year, and now the date for its return to service has been postponed, again.

At the one-year anniversary of the stalling of tunnel boring under Seattle, new problems have emerged in the form of about 1.2 inches of ground subsidence at the site.

Over the weekend, state transportation crews will be inspecting and ground and several spans of the Alaska Way Viaduct to determine the cause and extent of the sinking.  It was detected after the Thanksgiving holiday.

Postponed by just one month, from March to April, a slip that will not reassure those familiar with large projects.  (In such projects, a small slip is often a harbinger of more small slips, and perhaps a large slip, yet to come.)

Some will find this postponement ironic, since the tunnel is intended to replace the Viaduct, because the Viaduct might collapse during an earthquake.  Now, the tunneling may be endangering the Viaduct.

This series of failures, if not exactly predictable, should not surprise anyone, for two reasons: First, as the largest tunneling machine ever built, Bertha is a prototype, and prototypes often require re-design, or at least some minor fixes.  Second, the Washington State Department of Transportation, which is supervising the project, has been in charge of a whole series of disasters, enough to make almost anyone conclude that either the department is exceptionally unlucky, or it is not as competent as it ought to be.

It won't happen, but, as I have said before, we really ought to rename the machine after the person responsible for this disaster, former governor Christine Gregoire.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(The title was shamelessly stolen from this Crosscut article, where you will find some interesting background, and an odd historical parallel.

For the record:  I have always been dubious about this project, because of its expense, the technological and managerial risks, and the failure to increase the capacity of the route, in an area plagued by clogged roads.  A better solution — perhaps even now — would be to refit the Viaduct in the next year or two, and look hard at replacing it with more capacity on I-5 in the next decade or two.)
- 8:19 AM, 6 December 2014   [link]


Are American Universities Selling Out To The Chinese Communists?   Yes, some are.
China's authoritarian government is gaining a foothold on American campuses by funding dozens of institutes that project a rose-tinted view of the Asian nation that compromises the academic integrity of U.S. universities, a congressional hearing was told Thursday.

Scholars of China testified that these state-funded Confucius Institutes teach nonpolitical subjects like Chinese language and culture but suppress discussion on sensitive topics like Tibet and the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown on democracy protesters.

The hearing was chaired by House Republican Rep. Chris Smith, an arch critic of Beijing, who questioned whether American education was "for sale."
It is dismaying that so many American universities — about 90, according to the article — have agreed to these institutes.  Especially since so many of our universities have been targets for Chinese espionage.
- 8:41 AM, 5 December 2014   [link]


This Sounds Like a joke.
The EU's top human rights court on Thursday ordered France to pay thousands of euros to Somali pirates who attacked French ships for "violating their rights" by holding them an additional 48 hours before taking them before a judge.

The Somali pirates were apprehended on the high seas by the French army on two separate occasions in 2008 and taken back to France for trial.
But it isn't.  Not an intentional joke, anyway.

Fortunately, despite this kind of nonsense, the Somali pirates are less of a problem than they were:
At their peak in January 2011 Somali pirates held 736 hostages, some onshore and others aboard their vessels, as well as 32 seized boats.
The article doesn't give any current numbers, but I'd guess that those are both lower by an order of magnitude.  Thanks of course to armed ships patrolling the area, and armed men on the merchant ships passing through it.

A permanent solution would probably require destroying their bases on shore, and that is unlikely to happen any time soon.
- 7:07 AM, 5 December 2014   [link]


We Have Liftoff!  BBC America opened their program this morning, with live coverage of the Orion test flight.
A rocket has launched from Florida carrying an unmanned version of the US space agency's new crew capsule - Orion.

The ship is designed eventually to take humans beyond the space station, to destinations such as the Moon and Mars.

Orion's brief flight today will be used to test critical technologies, like its heat shield and parachutes.
If you watch the full two minutes, you'll see video taken from the rocket, looking down at the earth — which just happens to be round.

(The design conservatism of the current NASA plan for Mars disappoints me.  For instance, I would like to see them looking harder at Robert Zubrin's Mars Direct plan, and at more advanced propulsion systems than chemical rockets.  We still may need big chemical boosters for the first step to orbit, but for the rest of the journey we should be able to come up with a better plan, and better technology, than what Wernher von Braun proposed, so long ago.)
- 5:52 AM, 5 December 2014   [link]


Who Loses And Who Wins From Riots Like Those In Ferguson?   Thomas Sowell has answers to both questions:
The first victims of the mob rampages in Ferguson have been people who had nothing to do with Michael Brown or the police.  These include people — many of them black or members of other minorities — who have seen the businesses they worked to build destroyed, perhaps never to be revived.

But these are only the first victims.  If the history of other communities ravaged by riots in years past is any indication, there are blacks yet unborn who will be paying the price of these riots for years to come.
. . .
Who benefits from the Ferguson riots?  The biggest beneficiaries are politicians and racial demagogues.
And there is another set of winners, which Sowell doesn't mention: irresponsible journalists, who benefit from conflicts generally, but especially conflicts that can be portrayed as about race.

(Megan McArdle makes the same point about losers, using the 1968 riots in Washington, D.C. as her example.  People died in those riots because ambulances couldn't get through.   And the long-term financial losses were staggering.  If you haven't seen riot areas, especially riot areas a year or two after the riots, you may find it easy to underestimate the losses to families, losses that may be greater than what they have spent decades accumulating.

Back in the 1960s and 1970s, there were several well-documented cases where TV crews urged civil rights demonstrators to throw rocks, in order to provide the violent pictures the crews wanted.  I'm not saying that was common, but it did happen.)
- 9:57 AM, 4 December 2014   [link]


Teenagers And AP Teenagers:  If you look in a standard dictionary — I consulted the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary and the American Heritage Dictionary — you'll learn that a teenager is someone between 13 and 19, someone whose age (in English) ends in "teen".  Which is logical enough.

But if you look into an Associated Press Stylebook, you'll learn that they advise calling people who are 18 or older, men and women.  Which is also logical enough, since in the United States you gain the right to vote and join the armed services at that age.  (And logical enough in a biological sense because most of us have become adults physically, though perhaps not entirely, mentally, by that age.)

So the AP has a good reason for using a different definition of "teenager" than the dictionaries do.

Which makes it even more striking that they have, at least seven times, referred to the late Mike Brown as a "teen" or "teenager", breaking their own rule, a rule they must have thought about seriously, some time ago.

We all can guess why those reporters broke that rule; other journalists were doing it, and the propaganda power of the phrase "unarmed black teenager" was just too much for them to resist.   I heard it so many times that I began to think of it as a single word: unarmed-black-teenager-Mike-Brown.  (Incidentally, describing a young man that big as "unarmed" is true but misleading, even if he hasn't had training in martial arts.)

But it is worth taking a moment to think about how different the psychological effect would have been if our news organizations had used the neutral "young man" or even the loaded, but correct, "strong arm robber".  Or a phrase, again loaded but correct, like "high on drugs", to describe Brown's mental state.

It's hard to tell, from the outside, whether our journalists were consciously trying to fool us.  I suppose some were, and some believed what they were saying, but have no idea how many were in each group.

(I don't know whether other news organizations use the AP definition, though I wouldn't be surprised to learn that they do.  I suppose that some time I should pick up a copy of the New York Times style book, to resolve that, and other questions that I have about our newspaper of record.

This isn't the first time I found the Associated Press using non-standard definitions; I am still a little surprised by their definition of North America.)
- 8:53 AM, 4 December 2014   [link]


Another Marital Conflict Of Interest:  Like her husband, Chuck Todd, Kristian Denny Todd is a Democratic activist.  Unlike him, she gets paid, not by a news organization, but by Democratic candidates and organizations.

In the past, her jobs have created conflicts of interest for Todd, and her latest is the biggest.
Kristian Denny Todd, the Democratic strategist and wife of "Meet The Press" moderator Chuck Todd, is working with former Sen. Jim Webb as he considers a 2016 presidential bid, a Webb spokesperson confirmed on Tuesday.

"She's been helping and advising him," Webb spokesperson Jessica Vanden Berg said.

Todd previously served as the communications director for Webb's 2006 Senate campaign in Virginia.  She is not currently being paid by Webb's office, according to spending reports for Webb's political action committee.
Even though she isn't currently taking any pay for her work.

Ask yourself this question:  How can Chuck Todd do stories on the nomination fights — and you would expect him to be doing a lot of those stories in the next two years — without beginning each story with a warning about his conflict of interest?

I don't see any simple solutions to these conflicts of interest — but I think we ought to be aware of them.

(The Webb campaign put out this story, I would guess, because they knew it would come out eventually, and preferred that it come out from them.)
- 8:30 AM, 3 December 2014   [link]


Two Jokes, One Bizarre And One Bitter:   (Both jokes were, as far as I can tell, unintentional.)

First, from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a declaration that San Francisco "is the model of living the gospel".

(This Wikipedia biography is not explicit on the point, but I believe that Pelosi received all her formal education in Catholic schools.  Somewhere, there must be a very elderly nun who is wondering, even now, how she failed to teach Nancy the basics of Catholic doctrine.)

Second, on Monday President Obama said he wants to build trust between police and local communities.  Here's a typical article.
President Barack Obama said Monday that he wants to ensure that the United States isn't building a "militarized culture" within police departments, while maintaining federal programs that provide the type of military-style equipment that were used to dispel racially charged protests in Ferguson, Mo.

Instead, Obama is asking Congress for funding to buy 50,000 body cameras to record events similar to the shooting death of an unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown and look for ways to build trust and confidence between police and minority communities nationwide.  He announced the creation of a task force to study success stories and recommend ways that the government can support accountability, transparency and trust in police.
And here's a similar article from the Wall Street Journal.  The headline in the print edition is: "Obama Seeks To Rebuild Trust in Police".

And who better to rebuild that trust than Attorney General Eric Holder and Obama's ally, Al Sharpton?

(If the jokes weren't unintentional, then Pelosi and Obama are even more cynical than I have thought.)
- 7:38 AM, 3 December 2014   [link]


The US Debt Hit About $18 Trillion:  So it is time to take out a calculator, and try to get some idea of just how large that number is.

For fun, before you get out the calculator, try to guess how long it would take you to spend that much money, if you were to spend a dollar every second.  Astronomers, who are used to working with really big numbers, might be close in their guesses, but I suspect very few others would be.  (I wasn't.)

The US debt is now about 70 percent higher than it was when President Obama took office — and he still has more than two years to go.

(Some will find the constantly changing numbers in this debt clock mesmerizing, but others will find them distressing.  Almost everyone will find some of them interesting.)
- 1:05 PM, 2 December 2014   [link]


Andrew Malcolm's Weekly Collection of jokes.

Malcolm liked this one best:
Conan: Analysts say President Obama’s immigration plan includes deporting violent criminals.   So this could impact your fantasy football team
But I prefer this one:
Conan: Charles Manson has applied for a license to marry his 26-year-old girlfriend.  There you go folks, another eHarmony success story!
(I like to think the eHarmony folks would find that joke funny, too.)

And I think I like yesterday's New Yorker cartoon better than either.
- 11:03 AM, 2 December 2014   [link]


"Why Is the FBI Still Targeting Petraeus?"  Eli Lake and Josh Rogin ask an interesting question.
By all outward appearances, David Petraeus appears to be mounting a comeback.  The former general landed a job at powerhouse private-equity firm KKR, has academic perches at Harvard and the University of Southern California and, according to White House sources, was even asked by the President Barack Obama's administration for advice on the fight against Islamic State.  Yet it turns out that the extramarital affair that forced him to resign as director of the Central Intelligence Agency is still hanging over him.

Most importantly: According to current and former U.S. intelligence officials who have spoken to us, the FBI still has an open investigation into whether Petraeus improperly provided highly classified documents to Paula Broadwell, his biographer and the woman with whom he had an affair.
(President Obama has said that Petraeus did no damage to national security.)

The Instapundit thinks he knows the answer to that question: "to keep him from talking".  And some of Petraeus's friends and supporters appear to share that view.

That's possible.  It's also possible that the man running this investigation at the FBI has a touch of Javert about him, and is continuing the investigation because that's what he does.

Whichever is true, it is certain that Eric Holder — if he wanted to — could exercise prosecutorial discretion and call the investigation off, or order it closed with a slap on the wrist for Petraeus.  Which is the resolution I favor.
- 6:41 AM, 2 December 2014   [link]


The Headline Says Almost All:  Here's the headline: "Russian Money Suspected Behind Fracking Protests".

And to understand the gist of the article, you just need to add "in Eastern Europe".
Pointing to a mysteriously well-financed and well-organized campaign of protest, Romanian officials including the prime minister say that the struggle over fracking in Europe does feature a Goliath, but it is the Russian company Gazprom, not the American Chevron.
. . .
This belief that Russia is fueling the protests, shared by officials in Lithuania, where Chevron also ran into a wave of unusually fervent protests and then decided to pull out, has not yet been backed up by any clear proof.  And Gazprom has denied accusations that it has bankrolled anti-fracking protests.  But circumstantial evidence, plus large dollops of Cold War-style suspicion, have added to mounting alarm over covert Russian meddling to block threats to its energy stranglehold on Europe.
It's one of those conspiracies that are so plausible that you half believe it, even without direct evidence.

(Similarly, many, including me, have wondered whether money from the Middle East has found its way to the Greens who are trying to block oil and gas production in the United States and Canada.

Come to think of it, you could see Al Gore's sale of his money-losing network to Al Jazeera America as just such interference in our politics.  And there may be other examples.

For the record:  So far, fracking has not yielded the results in Eastern Europe that it has in parts of the United States.  We can only hope that Chevron, and other companies, will be able to solve the problems they have run into, and soon.)
- 7:06 PM, 1 December 2014   [link]


What Can We Learn About Health From Hispanics?  First, an introduction to the "Hispanic Paradox".
The Hispanic paradox, or Latino paradox, also known as the "epidemiologic paradox," refers to the epidemiological finding that Hispanic and Latino Americans tend to have health outcomes that paradoxically are comparable to, or in some cases better than, those of their U.S. white counterparts, even though Hispanics have lower average income and education.  (Low socioeconomic status is almost universally associated with worse population health and higher death rates everywhere in the world.)[1]  The paradox usually refers in particular to low mortality among Latinos in the United States relative to non-Hispanic whites.[2]  The specific cause of the phenomenon is poorly understood, although the decisive factor appears to be place of birth,[3][4] raising the possibility that differing birthing or neonatal practices might be involved via a lack of breastfeeding combined with birth trauma imprinting (both common in American obstetrics[5]) and consequent mental and physical illness, the latter compounded by the impact of psychological problems on the capacity for social networking.[6]  It appears that the Hispanic Paradox cannot be explained by either the "salmon bias hypothesis" or the "healthy migrant effect,"[7] two theories that posit low mortality among immigrants due to, respectively, a possible tendency for sick immigrants to return to their home country before death and a possible tendency for new immigrants to be unusually healthy compared to the rest of their home-country population.  Historical differences in smoking habits by ethnicity and place of birth may explain much of the paradox, at least at adult ages.[8]  However, some believe that there is no Hispanic Paradox, and that inaccurate counting of Hispanic deaths in the United States leads to an underestimate of Hispanic or Latino mortality.[9]
That's a little academic for some tastes, so let me translate:  In spite of being poorer and less educated than other people living in America, Hispanics are healthier; in particular they have lower rates of infant mortality and longer lives than other Americans.

Why?  What are Hispanics doing that the rest of us should do, too?  The Wikipedia article gives a whole series of explanations, but doesn't seem entirely satisfied with any of them.

The most plausible, in my opinion, is what the article calls the "Barrio advantage":
One hypothesis for the Hispanic Paradox proposes that living in the same neighborhood as people with similar ethnic backgrounds confers significant advantages to one’s health.   In a study of elderly Mexican-Americans, those living in areas with a higher percentage of Mexican-Americans had lower seven-year mortality as well as a decreased prevalence of medical conditions, including stroke, cancer, and hip fracture.[19] Despite these neighborhoods' relatively high rates of poverty due to lack of formal education and low paying, service sector jobs, residents do not suffer from the same mortality and morbidity levels seen in similarly disadvantaged socioeconomic neighborhoods.   These neighborhoods do have intact family structures, community institutions, and kinship structures that span households, all of which are thought to provide significant benefits to an individual’s health.[19]  These social network support structures are especially important to the health of the elderly population as they deal with declining physical function.
(Emphasis added.)

So diversity within neighborhoods may be bad for people's health, a conclusion that probably will not make the front page of the New York Times any time soon.

The importance of strong families shows up in many other areas, so we shouldn't be surprised to see it here, as well.  Modern capitalism — and social welfare programs — both tend to weaken families and communities.  Leftists are more likely to see the first, conservatives the second.  (And libertarians tend to avoid the subject all together.)

It doesn't have to be just one thing, of course.  It seems certain that Hispanics use less illegal drugs than others, at least when they first come to the United States, and that this is one of the big reasons they have lower rates of infant mortality.

Unfortunately, it is hard to derive obvious public policies from these findings, hard, for instance, to see how we can do much to strengthen families and communities.  But we ought to at least begin thinking about what the "Hispanic paradox" implies for public policies.

(I wrote about this Hispanic advantage back in October, and have been fascinated by it for years.)
- 2:47 PM, 1 December 2014   [link]


My Ferguson Coverage Dilemma:  If you think, as I do, that there has been far too much attention paid to the death of Michael Brown, after he attacked Officer Darren Wilson, then you naturally feel some ambivalence about doing your own posts on the the subject.

But when so many are paying so much attention to the death, I find it nearly impossible to avoid writing about it from time to time.

But I will try to balance those posts with posts on more important subjects — and my next post will give you an example of that.

(By the way, I would feel this way even if the worst story were true, even if Officer Wilson had killed Brown when he was trying to surrender.  Though tragic, it would be but one death in a nation of more than 300 million, and a death that — by itself — would tell us almost nothing about how police usually behave.  Almost all of us see these dramatic stories, and generalize from them — but we shouldn't.)
- 1:57 PM, 1 December 2014   [link]


Early American Grand Juries Were Less Formal — and far more open to ordinary citizens.
In the early decades of the United States grand juries played a major role in public matters.   During that period counties followed the traditional practice of requiring all decisions be made by at least twelve of the grand jurors, (e.g., for a twenty-three-person grand jury, twelve people would constitute a bare majority).  Any citizen could bring a matter before a grand jury directly, from a public work that needed repair, to the delinquent conduct of a public official, to a complaint of a crime, and grand juries could conduct their own investigations.

In that era most criminal prosecutions were conducted by private parties, either a law enforcement officer, a lawyer hired by a crime victim or his family, or even by laymen.   A layman could bring a bill of indictment to the grand jury; if the grand jury found there was sufficient evidence for a trial, that the act was a crime under law, and that the court had jurisdiction, it would return the indictment to the complainant.  The grand jury would then appoint the complaining party to exercise the authority of an attorney general, that is, one having a general power of attorney to represent the state in the case.

The grand jury served to screen out incompetent or malicious prosecutions.[16]  The advent of official public prosecutors in the later decades of the 19th century largely displaced private prosecutions.[17]
(I looked at the Wikipedia article to learn a little more about how grand juries operate, and found that fascinating bit of history.)

Currently, according to the article, about half of the states use grand juries, though all "have provisions" for them.  I suppose there must be some studies comparing the two groups of states, but I haven't even seen any articles on them, much less the studies.

I do think we need somewhat better controls on prosecutors, but have no idea whether grand juries serve that purpose, or even could serve that purpose.
- 10:58 AM, 1 December 2014   [link]


On Some Subjects, Our "Mainstream" Journalists Are Routinely Dishonest:  Sadly, one of those subjects is race.

Here's a particularly egregious example of that dishonesty.
From day one, CNN has twisted the Ferguson story.  The network decided early on that an injustice had been done, contrary facts aside.  When the grand jury decided not to indict, CNN was primed for outrage, because there was no way Officer Darren Wilson could have acted appropriately.

The network helped stir up a nation to the point of violence.  Yet, since the protesters must always be on the side of the angels, CNN lies about the destruction that follows.
CNN lied, not once, but again and again.

And the network openly discussed whether they should show the video of Louis Head, Mike Brown's mother's boyfriend — who was not Brown's stepfather, though our journalists keep calling him that — calling for Ferguson rioters to: "Burn this bitch down!"  Which did not exactly fit the narrative about peaceful protesters the network was trying to sell.

(I said dishonest, rather than routinely lie, because often their dishonesty is in omitting pertinent facts, rather than saying things that aren't true.  For example, it is, I think, relevant that Brown had just committed a strong-arm robbery, and was high on marijuana, when he encountered Officer Wilson.  But you won't see those facts in most Ferguson stories.)
- 10:24 AM, 1 December 2014
Correction:  According to this Smoking Gun report, Mike Brown's mother, Lesley McSpadden, and Louis Head were married "several months before Brown's killing".  (They cite, but don't link to, a USA Today story.)  So Head was, almost certainly, Brown's stepfather, for a few months.  Head may not have been the best role model, however long he was in Brown's life.
Head is an ex-convict whose rap sheet includes two felony narcotics convictions, according to state records.  He pleaded guilty in 1997 to a marijuana distribution charge and was put in a shock incarceration program and placed on probation for five years.  After violating probation, Head’s release was revoked and he was remanded to state prison.

In mid-2003, Head was charged with narcotics trafficking, a felony count to which he later pleaded guilty.  The St. Louis native was sentenced to seven years in prison.  He was released in June 2008 after serving about five years in custody.

Along with McSpadden, Head is at the center of an ongoing Ferguson Police Department investigation of an incident last month during which three vendors selling commemorative Michael Brown merchandise were assaulted.  One of the victims, Michael Brown, Sr.'s mother-in-law, identified McSpadden and Head as among the “attackers” who ransacked her stands and stole $400 in cash and merchandise valued at $1500.
Brown was living with his grandmother at the time of his death, how long I'm not sure.  Usually, that happens when neither parent wants the kid around.  For good reasons — and bad.
- 1:06 PM, 1 December 2014   [link]


Chris Cillizza Admits He Was Wrong:  The article will be only mildly interesting to most readers.
In the above passage -- and repeatedly during the 113th Congress -- I wrote that Boehner would struggle to win another term as speaker no matter what happened on Nov. 4.  My reasoning was pretty straightforward: Boehner had narrowly avoided a second ballot vote as speaker at the start of 2013 despite the incredible disorganization of the forces aligned against him in the House.  He spent almost the entirety of the 113th watching his plans to unite the GOP conference against President Obama fail thanks to his inability to rally tea party conservatives behind his plans.

Right?  Wrong.  As in, I was wrong.  (This isn't the first time. Remember when I said the nuclear option would never be deployed in the Senate?)   When I miss, I try to figure out why.  Here's my best explanation for why Boehner not only won't be ousted as speaker in the 114th Congress but has, inarguably, a stronger hand heading into the new session in January than he did for the past two years.
But I think many of you will be delighted to see a "mainstream" journalist admit — so frankly — that he was wrong, and then try to discover why he was wrong.  (His discussion seems plausible, at least to me.)

It is not terribly surprising that our "mainstream" journalists are often wrong — they have to cover subjects about which they know little and people who are often trying to fool them.  And, often, they must write their articles, or prepare their TV stories, on deadlines that do not allow time for thorough investigations.  So errors are inevitable.

But the corrections, except on trivial matters like the spelling of names, do not follow those errors nearly as often as they should.  I no longer find it surprising that most "mainstream" journalists resist corrections, but I still find it distressing — and counter-productive.  When a journalist refuses to make a correction, refuses to admit he was wrong, I pay less attention to him, and automatically distrust his stories, afterwards.

(There are exceptions; the late David Broder understood that mistakes were inevitable, and should be corrected.  Although the Wikipedia biography doesn't mention it, he kept track of his, and did a yearly column of corrections.  I always found that worth reading.)
- 9:43 AM, 1 December 2014   [link]