Archive:

February 2015, Part 2

Jim Miller on Politics




Pseudo-Random Thoughts



Is Today's Federal Holiday President's Day, Presidents' Day, Or Presidents Day?  No.

It's Washington's Birthday.  But, depending on the state, it may also have other names.  In Arkansas, for instance, it is also Daisy Gatson Bates day.

(When was Washington born?  If you go by the dates used when he was born, 11 February 1731; if you go by the official dates established in 1750, 22 February 1732.  Here's an explanation, if you need one.)
- 7:37 AM, 16 February 2015   [link]


Two Supreme Court Justices Prepared For A Painful Experience In An Old-Fashioned Way:   Before modern anesthetics were invented, doctors often used alcohol to dull pain.  (And some of us still do.  Almost everyone has heard this used to describe a man who was inebriated: "He was feeling no pain.")

Justices Kennedy and Ginsburg could not take my advice and skip sitting through Obama's latest State of the Union speech.  Moreover, as judges, they aren't supposed to react to the speech, no matter how nasty, or silly.

But they found a way to dull the pain of listening to it.
The winery which produced the sleep-inducing bottle of wine that made Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg fall asleep during President Barack Obama's State of the Union address is cashing in on its new fame.

Ginsburg, who said she wasn't '100 per cent sober' when she nodded off during President Obama's speech last month, blamed her nap on a bottle of 'very fine California' wine that her colleague Anthony Kennedy brought to dinner.
That was both kind and thoughtful of Justice Kennedy.

(Should President Obama make his speeches less painful, for instance by making these formal speeches shorter?  Of course.  But experience shows that we shouldn't expect him to show any consideration for his audience, shouldn't expect him even to show up on time.  So those who must sit through his speeches may want to follow the example of Justices Kennedy and Ginsburg.

The winery that supplied the delicious anesthetic is Opus One.)
- 8:48 AM, 15 February 2015   [link]


Happy Valentine's Day!  With the usual exceptions.
- 1:38 PM, 14 February 2015   [link]


Soon, Oregonians Will Be Able To Miss Governor Kitzhaber:   Starting on February 18th, next Wednesday, to be exact.
Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber resigned effective Wednesday, Feb. 18, in a letter submitted to Secretary of State Kate Brown.

"I am announcing today that I will resign as Governor of the State of Oregon," he wrote in a statement released just after noon Friday.

Brown, also a Democrat, will be sworn in as Oregon's 37th governor, but the timing of that ceremony is uncertain. Kitzhaber's resignation does not end the criminal investigation against him and his fiancee, Cylvia Hayes, or the state ethics review.
But he won't go away completely, since, from time to time, there are going to be stories about the criminal investigations of both Kitzhaber and Hayes.

For some months, I've thought this was almost inevitable, that the only way he could possibly save himself was by abandoning Hayes.  (Assuming, of course, that he could argue, plausibly, that he didn't know what his fiancée was up to.)

(I've been dubious about her role in his administration since February 2011, at least.)
- 2:18 PM, 13 February 2015   [link]


Scott Walker, Political Entrepreneur:  Years and years ago, I recall reading an article about new millionaires, about men — and they were all men — who had made a fortune quickly, starting with very little.  Many, I was mildly surprised to learn, were dropouts, usually college dropouts, but there were one or two who had dropped out of high school.  (The great exception was Edwin Land, which will give you an idea of how old that article is.)

Thinking about it at the time, I decided that it made sense that so many were dropouts.  These were men who really, really wanted to be rich, and as soon as they saw an opportunity, they went for it.

Some years after that, influenced by this book, I realized that there political entrepreneurs who followed the same pattern, that there were men — and they were mostly men — who had decided they wanted a political career in high school, or even earlier, and had gone for it as soon as they could.

Because the requirements for a political career are different from those for a business career, few were dropouts, but that isn't, in my opinion, because they wouldn't have dropped out, if they had had a real opportunity to run for office.

(A typical career for such folks now would be to begin, while a college student, as an intern in another politician's office, to turn that into a paid job as an aide, and then to run for the first available office, often a seat in a city council or legislature.)

And so, when I read this longish Washington Post article on Scott Walker's failure to complete a college degree, I was encountering a type I had seen before, first in business, and then in politics.

Here's the key part of the article:
“During my senior year at Marquette University, I was offered a full-time job at the American Red Cross.  I thought I would squeeze in a course here or there and finish things off in a year or two, but then Tonette and I got married,” Walker said in his State of the State speech in 2013.   “Next thing you know, you’re putting all your extra time and money into your kids.”

In his first year after leaving Marquette, though, Walker wasn’t studying and he wasn’t married; he was running for office.

“In hindsight, there was really no chance,” said John Hiller, who was Walker’s campaign treasurer in his first real-world campaign.

Walker had decided to challenge Gwen Moore (D), an African American woman who represented a partly white and deeply Democratic state assembly district that surrounded Marquette, Hiller said.

Republican leaders welcomed Walker’s bid.  He wouldn’t win, but he would still force Moore to spend money and time defending the seat.  (Walker later moved to suburban Wauwatosa, and it was there that he won his seat in 1993.)
So, although the Post begins by telling us how many people see his decision to drop out as mysterious, it doesn't seem any more mysterious to me than Bill Gates's decision to drop out of Harvard and found Microsoft.

Nor is Walker's decision to drop out unique.  Former Seattle mayor Greg Nickels dropped out of the University of Washington to go into politics.  (I don't recall that being an issue in Seattle, in any of his campaigns.)

So there is nothing mysterious about either politician's career; each saw an opportunity, and took it, as soon as he could.

(Whether this kind of path to elected office is good for us is a question better treated in a separate post.)
- 10:10 AM, 13 February 2015
Correction:  Edwin Land was a dropout, too.   I was fooled by his honorary degree from Harvard, and the fact that he was, almost universally, referred to as "Dr.", including in that article I read long ago.
- 2:42 PM, 13 February 2015   [link]


Was Bob Simon's Death The Result Of An Attempted Suicide?   That's what the Daily Mail is suggesting may have happened.  (They also mention other possibilities.)
The cab driver in the crash which killed veteran CBS correspondent Bob Simon had his license suspended at least half a dozen times prior to the fatal accident and had two traffic convictions, the NYPD confirmed today.

Reshad Abdul Fedahi, 44, of Queens, New York, had multiple cleared suspensions and was driving on a probationary license.
. . .
Fedahi is estranged from his wife, Shekiba, with whom he has a daughter.

His cousin, Rauf Sharif, claims that after the separation from his wife, Fedahi tried to take his own life.

'He was on a suicide mission,' said the man.
(The article does not explain why a man with that record was still driving, commercially.   I am not a big fan of regulation in general, but I do think some safety regulations are needed.  I think almost everyone will want to know why those suspensions were cleared, and who cleared them.)

Anyone who reads the article can construct scenarios that explain Fedahi's actions which appear, at the very least, to have been reckless.  (To their credit, the police investigating the crash appear to be keeping an open mind, and investigating all the possibilities.)
- 8:26 AM, 13 February 2015   [link]


Here's An Interesting Connection:  The Oregon attorney general, Ellen Rosenblum, (who has started an investigation of the Oregon governor, John Kitzhaber), is married to Richard Meeker.

Who just happens to be the publisher (and co-owner) of the Willamette Week, one of the newspapers that has been digging up dirt on Governor Kitzhaber.

So it is fair to conclude that she may have known something about his problems before the 2014 election.
- 3:29 PM, 12 February 2015   [link]


Important Birthdays, Unimportant Birthdays:  Today's Seattle Times gave us four examples of the first: "Basketball great Bill Russell, 81.  Actor Josh Brolin, 47.  Singer Chynna Phillips, 47.  Actress Christina Ricci, 35."

It's easy to understand why they mentioned just four.  More than 800,000 people are celebrating birthdays in the United States today, and it would be impractical to mention all of them.  Though I can't name them all, I would like to wish all of them a happy birthday.   (Well, almost all of them.)

But I do think our local monopoly newspaper could have given a line or two to this fellow.   Even if he is a dead white male.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 1:09 PM, 12 February 2015   [link]


What Happened To News Agents In Britain Who Sold That Special Issue of Charlie Hebdo?  Some were visited by the police.  A few were even asked for the names of the people who bought the magazine.
Two more police forces have been caught asking British newsagents which sold copies of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo for details of the customers who bought it.

Officers from Wales and Cheshire police have approached shopkeepers and demanded personal information on readers of the magazine, according to reports.

It comes after police in Wiltshire caused outrage by demanding similar details be handed over in the wake of the Paris attacks.
From what I can tell, this was an over reaction by local police forces to a warning to watch out for possible trouble in the places that sold the magazine.  The police forces are apologizing, as they should.

But it still reminds us that, when faced with a conflict between keeping order and enforcing the law, police will sometimes choose the first.  When faced by a legal, but provocative, demonstration (or magazine), some police officers will be inclined to suppress the provocation, rather than protect the provocateurs.  (You'll sometimes see parents do something similar, asking a child who is behaving reasonably to accommodate a child who isn't.)

(This story was so surprising that I checked to see if the BBC had it, too.  They do, as you can see here and here.   In fact, it is likely that the Daily Mail copied much of their story from the BBC.)
- 6:27 AM, 12 February 2015   [link]


"The EPA Annexes Sweden"  When I saw that headline on this Wall Street Journal column, I assumed the columnist, Holman Jenkins, Jr., was discussing how the EPA was borrowing a whole batch of ideas from Sweden.  But what is happening is more imperialistic:
Or maybe not so wonderful: Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts has more than once criticized what he has called “the growing power of the administrative state,” by which he presumably means arbitrary power.  Here’s such a case: Sweden’s Volvo last month appealed to the high court to overturn EPA penalties imposed on Volvo engines not built in America, not sold in America, unlikely ever to end up in America, and not subject in any way to the EPA’s statutory jurisdiction.
That seems like a bit of reach, even for the EPA.

(As far as I know, Sweden's parallel agency has not started fining American companies for what they do in America.)
- 6:32 PM, 11 February 2015   [link]


The Mysterious West Coast Ports Labor Dispute:  When I got up this morning I was planning a post on that dispute, which has gone on since last summer, and is doing more and more damage to our economy.

But then I realized that I had very little hard information on the dispute.  I know that the terminal operators, the Pacific Maritime Association, have accused the longshoremen of conducting a slowdown, and that the International Longshoremen and Warehouse Union has denied that.  I know that the PMA has made an offer to the ILWU that at least sounds generous, but that the union has not accepted it, without explaining why.

And I am reasonably sure that Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez, President Barack Obama, California Governor Jerry Brown, Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber, and Washington Governor Jay Inslee have done nothing significant to end the dispute, despite the damage it is doing to our economy, especially in those three states.  (Last night, Governor Inslee claimed that he had offered to mediate — quite recently — and been turned down.  The federal government did send a mediator, after both sides requested one , but, as I understand it, the law requires them to do that.)

But that's about all I know.  I do not know what the ILWU wants — more jobs perhaps? — or why those Democratic officials have been so unwilling to do anything to end this dispute.

And so for now that's all I can say.  Which I find very frustrating.

(It is also not clear to me how hard our "mainstream" journalists have tried to find out what the dispute is about.  They may have been wearing out their phones and their shoe leather, but learning nothing.  Or, they may have done very little, not being interested in such mundane subjects.

You can find some background here and here.)
- 12:52 PM, 11 February 2015   [link]


The Oregon Attorney General Is Investigating the Oregon governor.  Which doesn't happen every day.  Fortunately.
Oregon's attorney general has opened an investigation into mounting influence-peddling allegations surrounding Gov. John Kitzhaber and his fiancée.

The Oregonian reports that the investigation of a sitting governor may be unprecedented.   Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum confirmed the probe just hours after Kitzhaber, a Democrat, on Monday asked the AG to look into the ethics issues surrounding him and his wife.

"Thank you for your letter," she wrote to Kitzhaber.  "My office has already opened an investigation into this matter.  I appreciate your intent to cooperate fully."
Given the evidence already made public, she almost had to open an investigation.  In fact, one could argue that she should have opened it before the 2014 election.

Rosenblum is a Democrat, and, judging by the brief Wikipedia article, a conventional leftist.

It isn't hard to understand why this story hasn't received the national attention it deserves; our "mainstream" journalists agree with Kitzhaber's policies and like his style, his habit, for instance, of wearing jeans to formal occasions.  Not being able to say anything nice about his present predicament, most have chosen to say nothing at all.

But it's a fascinating story, even if it hasn't received much national coverage.

(Here's some background in this recent post.)
- 6:58 AM, 11 February 2015   [link]


Mirror-Image Twins:  I knew they existed, but hadn't realized how common they were, and didn't know how they formed.

The Daily Mail found a cute pair of girls to begin their article on mirror-image twins.
Every morning, when nine-year-old identical twins Taylin and Katelin Michael run into school, they turn to wave goodbye to their mother as she stands watching them from the gate.

Even though the girls are so similar that Traci struggles to tell them apart, this simple gesture means she immediately knows which one is which — because Taylin always stands to the left of her sister and waves with her left hand, while Katelin waves with her right.
And then provided some of the science.
The phenomenon, which is believed to affect up to a quarter of all identical twins, is caused when the babies are still in the womb.

While identical twins are the result of a single fertilised egg that splits into two embryos between four to eight days after conception, it is thought that with mirror twins the split is delayed, occurring at between nine and 12 days — by which time the asymmetry is established.
What a difference a few days make.

For those who want to know how common these mirror-image twins are, here's the other number you need:  Roughly 3 births in 1,000 produce identical twins.   (Interestingly, the rate of fraternal twins varies sharply with ethnicity, but the rate of identical twins does not.)  So, there is a fair chance that you have encountered one or more mirror-image twins, though you probably didn't know it at the time.
- 6:06 AM, 11 February 2015   [link]


Andrew Malcolm's Weekly Collection of jokes.

He liked this one best:
Fallon: The CDC has announced 102 measles cases in the U.S.  You can tell things are getting bad because today, Disneyland opened a new ride called "It's a Small Pox World.”
I preferred these two from the Alfalfa dinner:
Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell at the Alfalfa Dinner: I can work with the president.  We’re honest with each other.  I told him once that I thought he was aloof and condescending.  He said, ‘I am not condescending.  I am just too busy thinking about far more important things than you would understand.’

[Robert] Gates: Washington is the only place where you can see someone walking down Lovers Lane, holding his own hand.
Yes, that McConnell joke is more than a little snarky — but you could argue that Obama deserves a few snarks, in reply to all those he passes out.
- 2:03 PM, 10 February 2015   [link]


Is Dodd-Frank Killing Community Banks?  In December, surprised by the almost complete absence of new community banks, I speculated that the regulatory requirements of Dodd-Frank might be preventing the formation of such banks.

Now, two researchers at Harvard have put out a working paper on the loss of market share by community banks.  Although they were looking at a different question, their findings are consistent with my speculation.

Here's their Abstract:
This working paper focuses on the plight of community banks in the United States.  It begins by examining different definitions of what constitutes a community bank, and goes on to review what makes these institutions unique and distinguishes them from larger regional or national peers.  Our assessment of Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation data finds that community banks service a disproportionately large amount of key segments of the U.S. commercial bank lending market – specifically, agricultural, residential mortgage, and small business loans.  However, community banks’ share of U.S. banking assets and lending markets has fallen from over 40 percent in 1994 to around 20 percent today.   Interestingly, we find that community banks emerged from the financial crisis with a market share 6 percent lower, but since the second quarter of 2010 – around the time of the passage of the Dodd-Frank Act – their share of U.S. commercial banking assets has declined at a rate almost double that between the second quarters of 2006 and 2010.  Particularly troubling is community banks’ declining market share in several key lending markets, their decline in small business lending volume, and the disproportionate losses being realized by particularly small community banks.  We review studies on the impact of regulation, consumer trends and other factors on community banks, and examine the consequences of consolidation on U.S. lending markets.  We conclude with a discussion of policies that could promote a more competitive and robust banking sector.
The working paper is just 32 pages long, and quite readable.

Some speculation about the overall effects of this decline in community banks:  Since they have a disproportionate share of the lending to small businesses and the construction industry, their decline may be part of the reason that the recovery has been slower than we would like.

Paper by way of Todd Zywicki.

(According to the paper (and everything I've seen), community banks didn't contribute to the financial crisis.  So, it appears that they are being punished for others' sins.)
- 1:06 PM, 10 February 2015   [link]


Reducing CO2 Emissions And The Prisoner's Dilemma:   Anyone who knows even a little about elementary game theory will have noticed this already, but I haven't seen the argument made publicly, before.

Briefly, Eric Worrall shows why cooperation in reducing CO2 emssions, among nations, will be difficult to achieve.

(If you want to know more about the Prisoner's Dilemma, here's the Wikipedia article.   There's some math, but you can skip over it, if you like.)
- 7:37 AM, 10 February 2015   [link]


Everyone Did It:  But only women of color were punished.

That, according to this Seattle Times article is the claim made in a most unusual lawsuit.
Six women of color who worked as Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) customer-service representatives hit the city with a discrimination lawsuit, claiming Caucasian managers at the agency made them scapegoats for a bill-fixing scandal.

The plaintiffs allege they were each fired, suspended or forced into retirement in 2013 after being investigated for performing transactions in their own utilities accounts and the accounts of family members and friends.

They argue the practice was commonplace in SPU’s call center until a 2011 state audit found that the agency lacked adequate controls over customer accounts and that it might have lost millions of dollars in revenue to the city by allowing employees to reduce bills without ensuring the reductions were legitimate.
I would like to think that the lawsuit has no chance of success. but it is hard to know what a Seattle jury might do.  Most Seattle jurors would find the plaintiffs — one Filipina and five African-American women — sympathetic.

If the plaintiffs are right that many others were giving favored customers the same special customer service, I hope that Seattle will reopen the investigation.

(According to the article, the utility did not prohibit customer representatives from adjusting their own accounts, or the accounts of family and friends, until March 2011.  That seems rather careless.

Here's the Wikipedia entry for the utility, if you are wondering what SPU does.  There's nothing in the entry about the bill-fixing scandal.)
- 7:06 AM, 10 February 2015   [link]


"Where's The Snow?"  That's the big headline over the lead story in today's Seattle Times.  We have had so little snow this winter that people here are beginning to get worried.

So far, it's mostly skiers and those who cater to them who have been hurt by our lack of snow.  The rains we have been getting instead, have filled the reservoirs that provide us water and hydroelectric power.  (And, east of the Cascades, water for irrigation.)

On the back of the first section, another article provides what I think may be part of the answer.  The headline is: "Another storm may bury New England for days".

For several decades I have thought that the Northwest and Northeast tend to have opposite weather patterns.  If it is relatively warm here, as it has been this winter, then it is likely to be colder than average in the Northeast.

I've even constructed a small, very amateur explanation for this pattern.  The northern jet stream, which steers so much of our weather, marks the boundary between Arctic and temperate weather regions.  If it is far to the north here, as it has been for much of the winter, then it has to be farther to the south somewhere, and the Northeast is the most likely place.

Conversely, if the jet stream was south of us here, it would be more likely to be farther north over the Northeast.  Our winter would be relatively colder, and theirs, relatively warmer.

(I haven't seen any statistical tests of this theory, although simple ones would be easy enough to construct.  You could, for instance, just look to see if there was a negative correlation between temperatures in, for example, Boston and Seattle.)
- 3:25 PM, 9 February 2015   [link]


A Long Running Basketball Pick-Up Game:  Very long running.
And then there were Bogdos and Herman, whose matchup might not have seemed all that unusual — except that Bogdos is 82, Herman is 77, and their rivalry dates to 1979, to the early days of a recurring game that continues to feature the same cast of characters at the same neighborhood Y.
Basketball has always been a city game, so it won't surprise you to learn that this neighborhood Y is in New York.

This quip has more than a little truth to it:
“We’ll be crawling up and down the court,” said Steve Harris, 55, a professional voice-over artist and one of the game’s top outside shooters.  “The minute there’s a woman in the stands, everybody starts playing like we’re being scouted for the N.B.A.”
Two observations:  First, the pictures show that the players are in good condition — and not just good condition "for their ages".  Second, the players have — or had — sedentary jobs, which explains why this exercise has been so important to them.
- 9:59 AM, 9 February 2015   [link]


Eric Holder Is Proud Of What He Has Done As Attorney General:  John Fund and Hans von Spakovsky disagree.

Two samples:
Holder said that the “notion” that DOJ has been politicized is “totally inconsistent with the facts.”   But the facts show that the politicization started almost immediately, such as when political appointees at Justice ordered the dismissal of the New Black Panther Party voter-intimidation case at the beginning of 2009 because they did not want to enforce the Voting Rights Act against black defendants, ending the race-neutral enforcement of the law.

It was pure politics that dictated the policy that no cases be filed under the National Voter Registration Act to enforce the requirement that states maintain the accuracy of their voter rolls.
. . .
What is sad is that Holder is “proud of the historic things” he has done at Justice.  Does that include the politically motivated pardons — for international fugitive Marc Rich or the unrepentant Puerto Rican FALN terrorists — that he arranged in his prior tenure at Justice during the Clinton administration?

Through his mishandling of Operation Fast and Furious (which provoked a contempt citation from Congress), his imposition of the Clinton-era model of handling terrorism as ordinary criminal violations, his refusal to provide Congress with the information it is entitled to in its oversight function, his arbitrary refusals to enforce or defend federal laws that he and President Obama don’t like, Holder politicized the department to an extent never before seen, despite his furious denials.  That is not a “historic” record to be proud of.
There's much more in the article, all of it dismaying.

(And, I assume, there is even more in their book on Holder, Obama's Enforcer.)
- 8:47 AM, 9 February 2015   [link]


What Did NBC Executives Know About Those Brian Williams Tall Tales?  And when did they know it?

It was clear to me, from the very beginning, that some people at NBC — at a minimum, his camera crew — must have known he was making stories up about his experience in Iraq.  It seemed likely to me that some executives at NBC must have know he was telling tall tales.

Variety did some straightforward reporting and found one executive who said that Williams had been warned, and one executive to say that he hadn't.  Both anonymously, of course.

Now, here comes Maureen Dowd to say that NBC executives did know, at least a year ago.
This was a bomb that had been ticking for a while.

NBC executives were warned a year ago that Brian Williams was constantly inflating his biography.  They were flummoxed over why the leading network anchor felt that he needed Hemingwayesque, bullets-whizzing-by flourishes to puff himself up, sometimes to the point where it was a joke in the news division.

But the caustic media big shots who once roamed the land were gone, and “there was no one around to pull his chain when he got too over-the-top,” as one NBC News reporter put it.
Assuming that anonymous reporter is Dowd's source, what he (or she) probably told Dowd is that he warned NBC executives a year ago, and they did nothing.

But they may have known about their problem with Williams long before.  They should have.

But when your anchor has the top-rated evening network news, it may be hard to tell him to stick to the facts.

(Dowd is being cute here.  She doesn't give a source for that warning, but implies that a reporter told her.  But there are other possibilities.  For instance, Dowd's colleague, Gail Collins, is married to an NBC producer, Dan Collins.  It is easy to imagine that Gail would realize that she couldn't use NBC gossip directly, but that she could pass it on to Maureen, with, perhaps, a name or two of a reporter who could confirm the story.

Dowd makes a common error, later in the column:
One anchor exerted moral authority once and that was Walter Cronkite, because he risked his career to go on TV and tell the truth about the fact that we were losing the Vietnam War.
Actually, at the time Cronkite turned, we were winning the war, though it might be a firing offense to say so at the New York Times.  And we did even better once General Creighton Abrams took command.  By 1972, American troop strength had been reduced to 49,000 men, but South Vietnam was still able to repel a "full-scale" North Vietnamese invasion.)
- 6:42 AM, 9 February 2015   [link]