January 2013, Part 3
Jim Miller on Politics
"How Come We Never Sleep At My Place?" That's the caption on yesterday's New Yorker cartoon. You may want to try to guess what the cartoon looks like before you see it.
(I wouldn't have come close, even with many guesses.)
- 8:26 AM, 24 January 2013 [link]
Amalgamated Transit Union Versus NY School Kids: The ATU has an illegal contract to drive New York City school buses and is striking in an attempt to extend that contract, or, more likely, to get a big payout in order to go away.
You can understand why the union is striking when you find out how much that contract costs the city.
Under the terms of the current contracts, providing this bus service costs — I hope you’re sitting down before you read this next clause — $7,000 a year per passenger.All together, the city spends more than $1 billion per year for this bus service.
As you would expect, the kids most hurt by this strike are handicapped kids, kids who depend on their special buses to get to school.
- 8:09 AM, 24 January 2013 [link]
That Bill Richardson Trip To North Korea may not have been a success.
Defying a resolution issued by the United Nations Security Council on Tuesday that condemned Pyongyang for test-firing a missile in December and tightened existing sanctions on the regime, North Korea's National Defence Commission said the new nuclear test would be part of its action against the "sworn enemy of the Korean people".But then there was no reason to expect that the Richardson trip would be a success, and some reason to expect that it would encourage bad behavior from the North Korean regime.
- 6:24 AM, 24 January 2013 [link]
We Aren't Worthy Of Obama's "Moment Of Opportunity" About half of us aren't worthy, anyway, according to Dan Pfeiffer, Obama’s communications director.
There’s a moment of opportunity now that’s important,” Pfeiffer said. “What’s frustrating is that we don’t have a political system or an opposition party worthy of the opportunity.”Sorry about that.
(Earlier in the article, Scott Wilson tells us that Obama is a pragmatist, while giving strong evidence that Obama is not.
As one senior administration official described the brainstorming sessions, Obama has made a request that challenges the instinctive pragmatism he has shown in office.I have never quite figured out why so many "mainstream" journalists think Obama is pragmatic. A real pragmatist would limit himself to what is possible and doable, instinctively)
- 6:02 PM, 23 January 2013 [link]
"Chicks Up Front!" That was the direction given at many left-wing demonstrations in the 1960s and 1970s; now it is the official policy of the United States Defense Department.
Leon Panetta, in one of his last acts as President Obama's defense secretary, is preparing to announce the policy change, which would open hundreds of thousands of front-line positions and potentially elite commando jobs after more than a decade at war, the Pentagon confirmed Wednesday.The left-wing organizations wanted the "chicks", as they were often called in those times, up front, because any efforts by the police (or sometimes the National Guard) to move them, or even restrain them, would look bad on TV.
Somehow, I don't think our current enemies will be bothered by such things.
- 1:45 PM, 23 January 2013
Valerie Jarrett sends out an ill-timed tweet: "If there's one thing we should all agree on, it's protecting women from violence."
- 3:32 PM, 23 January 2013 [link]
Big Bucks From Government Subsidies For "Green" Energy: No, it's not Al Gore and his cronies this time; it's an older organization.
Inside a midnight-blue BMW, a Sicilian entrepreneur delivered his pitch to the accused mafia boss. A new business was blowing into Italy that could spin wind and sunlight into gold, ensuring the future of the Earth as well as the Cosa Nostra: renewable energy.They did very well for a while, but now prosecutors are objecting to some of their methods.
(Many will pleased to see that the Cosa Nostra got into the business for the sake of the children. Which, as you know, is almost enough by itself to end any petty quibbling about their methods.)
- 12:06 PM, 23 January 2013 [link]
Best And Worst Bosses On Capitol Hill: The Washington Times did a simple statistical analysis and found that congressmen and senators with high staff turnover rates tended to have reputations as bad bosses.
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, Texas Democrat, has a reputation as one of the toughest taskmasters in Congress to have as a boss, and the numbers appear to justify it.Most of the congressmen with high turnover rates (the worst bosses) — 18 of 27 — were Democrats. On the other hand, 3 of the 4 with lowest turnover rates were also Democrats.
The article's description of Hagel's behavior toward his staffers will explain why many of his colleagues think he is unsuited, temperamentally, to be Secretary of Defense.
It's a nice little analysis, and I thought they presented it with about the right level of confidence.
(They have a table showing turnover rates for all the members, so you can look up your own congressman and senators, if you are curious.)
- 8:45 AM, 23 January 2013 [link]
The Higher Cigarette Taxes Are In A State, The More Cigarettes Are Smuggled Into That State: That's not a surprise, but the extent of the smuggling into high tax states is, at least to me. (It probably isn't to smokers who live in those states.)
New York is the highest net importer of smuggled cigarettes, totaling 60.9 percent of the total cigarette market in the state. New York also has the highest state cigarette tax ($4.35 per pack), not counting the local New York City cigarette tax (an additional $1.50 per pack). Smuggling in New York has risen sharply since 2006 (+170 percent), as has the tax rate (+190 percent).Caveat: The authors used a statistical procedure to estimate the smuggling rates. That's probably the best approach, given the inherent problems involved in counting illegal activities, but we should recognize that their estimates have high error bounds. For instance, that 60.9 percent for New York is probably accurate to within five or ten percent, at best.
(In high tax states and cities, some people actually make a living selling "loosies", single cigarettes, usually from packs that have been smuggled into the state.)
- 6:45 AM, 23 January 2013 [link]
Did John Boehner Tell Barack Obama A Smoking Joke? Was that the cause of Michelle Obama's eye roll?
It is consistent with the reactions of the Obamas; he laughs out loud, and she looks annoyed.
- 6:07 AM, 23 January 2013 [link]
What Did President Obama Say About Foreign Policy In His Second Inaugural? Not much.
Here's all that I found in his speech.
This generation of Americans has been tested by crises that steeled our resolve and proved our resilience. A decade of war is now ending. An economic recovery has begun.(Emphasis added.)
Al Qaeda, and its allies, do not think that the war lasted only a decade, or that it is ending. They see the last decade as part of a war that began with founding of Islam, and will only end when all submit to Islam. The Iranian mullahs, who have carried on a low-intensity war against us ever since they overthrew the Shah, do not think the war lasted only a decade, or that it is "now ending". The Korean War has not ended, but has been suspended with an armistice that the North Korean regime violates from time to time.
Does President Obama not know these things? Does he not want to know them?
Finally, does he not know that "peace in our time" is what British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain claimed to have achieved with the 1938 Munich agreement?
I don't have answers to any of those questions except the last, and there all I can say is probably not. The president, and his speech writers, probably do not know much about the Munich agreement.
(The resemblance to Chamberlain rests on more than the single phrase, "peace in our time". In his wildly controversial book, The Origins of the Second World War, historian A. J. P. Taylor said that the Munich agreement was a "triumph for all those who had preached equal justice between peoples". In an "Afterword" in the second edition, Taylor explained that he was joking — but then went on to explain that he was making a serious point with his joke: Many people in Britain (and in the United States) did view the Munich agreement as a triumph of justice, since it gave the Sudeten Germans, like other peoples, the right to live in their own country.)
- 10:27 AM, 22 January 2013
Minor correction: Neville Chamberlain actually said "peace for our time", misquoting his predecessor, Benjamin Disraeli. But almost everyone familiar with the Munich agreement thinks he used Obama's phrase.
- 1:14 PM, 23 January 2013 [link]
Need A Good Joke To Start The Work Week? Andrew Malcolm has his regular collection from the late night comics.
Here's my favorite:
Leno: The mayor of Los Angeles, Antonio Villaraigosa, was seen partying in Mexico with Charlie Sheen. When will Charlie Sheen learn that people judge you by the company you keep? This is going to ruin Sheen's reputation.You can find some of Villaraigosa's scandals here and here.
Despite these scandals, the Obama team chose him to be the Chairman of the 2012 Democratic National Convention.
- 9:27 AM, 22 January 2013 [link]
Today Is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day: And it is tempting to use the day to make contemporary points, or to try to make some balanced assessment of his career. But again I decided to put that all aside and just look at his words.
His most famous speech, which he gave many times, in different versions, became famous when he delivered it to the 1963 March on Washington. It is named for a phrase that he used again and again, "I have a Dream". Contrarian that I am, I think his earlier letter from a Birmingham jail is more impressive. And his speech to the First Montgomery Improvement Association helps me understand why he was able to move so many.
But King's words that move me most are in his last formal speech, when he was supporting the Memphis sanitation workers. The speech meanders, but much of it is taken up with King's thoughts on his own mortality. It ends with these words:
Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!He was assassinated the next day. And we lost a great man.
(If you need a review on his life, here's the Wikipedia biography.
Through Orrin Judd, I found this useful site, which has 100 famous American speeches. They aren't the 100 I would choose, but I like most on the list. And all come in mp3 files, as well as text files, so you can listen to them as well as read them.
Recycled from 2007.)
- 4:35 PM, 21 January 2013 [link]
Spain Had A Celebration This Weekend, too.
The annual Jarramplas Festival in Piornal involves hundreds of villagers attacking a man dressed in a devils mask with 15,000 turnips. The best part? No-one really knows why.If they were to use something softer than turnips, it could be fun. As it is, I hope the Jarramplas wears padding under that costume.
(The festival is held on Saint Sebastian's Day. According to legend, the saint was also a target of missiles, though they weren't turnips.)
- 12:53 PM, 21 January 2013 [link]
How Popular Was Obama In His First Term? More than Ford and Carter, less than Johnson, Kennedy, Eisenhower, G. W. Bush, G. H. W. Bush, Nixon, Truman, Reagan, and Clinton.
Obama's Gallup average job approval rating was 49.1 percent. (And at least thirty points higher among "mainstream" journalists, I would guess.)
- 8:40 AM, 21 January 2013 [link]
Actor Leo DiCaprio Plans to improve the world.
"I would like to improve the world a bit. I will fly around the world doing good for the environment."The plants that absorb the CO2 that those flights will produce will definitely think that he is improving their environment.
(I haven't followed his career, so I can't say whether him not making films would also improve the environment.)
- 7:50 AM, 21 January 2013 [link]
Doesn't It Seem Appropriate, Somehow, That The Official Swearing-In Was in private, and so the public swearing-in tomorrow will be fake?
And that Obama's first word after the official ceremony was "I"?
- 4:31 PM, 20 January 2013 [link]
Which Inaugural? You could watch the inaugural celebrations today, or you could read and study Lincoln's Second Inaugural.
I'd recommend the Lincoln speech — but not necessarily because it will take less of your time. The Second Inaugural is brief, but so packed with meaning that you will want to read it with care.
For me, the most remarkable thing about the speech is the way Lincoln shifts his tone. He begins in an almost lawyerly fashion, turns philosophic, then darkly religious, and then ends with this shining sentence:
With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan—to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves, and with all nations.Wars, especially civil wars, seldom end with "malice toward none", and ours certainly didn't. But Lincoln was right to try to call for that kind of ending, and as great as the bitterness was at the end of the Civil War, it was less because of Lincoln's example.
(Lincoln used many Biblical references in the speech; you can find some of them in this Wikipedia article.)
- 7:25 AM, 20 January 2013 [link]
Former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin Gets Indicted For Corruption: News organizations are reluctant to tell us his party — which will tell most of you that Nagin is a Democrat.
The main New Orleans newspaper gives us a short article, but doesn't include his party. They do, however, show a picture of Nagin with George W. Bush, who has no connection to these charges of corruption.
Our newspaper of record, the New York Times, gives us a long article, but doesn't find space in that article to mention Nagin's party.
ABC, CBS, and NBC all mentioned the indictment in their nightly newscasts; none of the three mentioned Nagin's party.
(Credit where due: Reuters did mention Nagin's party, in the sixth paragraph of their story.)
- 2:56 PM, 19 January 2013 [link]
Reporter Reports That Reporters "Swooned" When They Got a chance to mix with Obama.
And gets ostracized and banished for his reporting.
Naturally, [Buzzfeed reporter Michael] Hastings was chastised by many of his campaign colleagues for revealing some of the precious details of the event.We had many reasons to assume that the campaign reporters were behaving this way, but it is good to get this confirmation.
However, we should not miss this point: Almost all the reporters wanted to suppress this news, which is — or should be — odd behavior for reporters.
- 2:36 PM, 19 January 2013 [link]
The Associated Press Tells Us That Obama May Not Be Able To keep this promise.
In September, campaigning in Colorado, Obama was talking to a potential voter who mentioned he had been one of the hundreds of thousands of people outdoors at Obama's bone-chilling first inaugural when the noontime temperature was an unseasonable chilly 28 degrees. Obama promised: "This one is going to be warmer."What worries me is that there may be some people who think Obama can control day-to-day weather. That would explain why Seth Borenstein wrote this article.
- 1:38 PM, 18 January 2013 [link]
Lance Armstrong Confesses Or Murdered Americans In Algeria? This morning, I assumed the second would be the big story on the "mainstream" network news shows. I was wrong, as I found when I quickly surfed the shows. Instead, it was the Lance Armstrong confession.
Which was not news, since everyone who cared knew that he was going to confess publicly to Oprah, and even people who follow competitive cycling casually have known that he was guilty for many months.
Obviously, those networks have different priorities than I do.
(As I understand it, people who do follow cycling closely have been suspicious of Armstrong for years. I don't, but I remember thinking, as his streak of wins got longer and longer, that his success seemed improbable, unless he was getting some illegal chemical help. That said, I think it certain that some, perhaps many, of his competitors were getting similar help.)
- 1:07 PM, 18 January 2013 [link]
Congratulations To Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn: His city has moved up 14 places in the Orkin index, and is now 13th on the Orkin list of 50 American cities with bedbug infestations.
How seriously should we take this index? Not very. Orkin is counting treatments and they are far from the only company that offers them. That may be why New York is only ranked 10th on their list, even though almost everyone believes they are number 1 in infestations. Most likely, if we could count total treatments, New York would lead the list.
But it is likely that the changes in the numbers of treatments do tell us something, likely that Seattle has a growing bedbug problem.
This map, based on self reports, will show you where in Seattle you are most likely to encounter bedbugs.Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 6:44 AM, 18 January 2013 [link]
Germany Is Taking Back Some Of Its Gold: During the Cold War, Germany thought it prudent to store most of its gold reserves outside Germany, specifically in New York, London, and Paris.
(Germany has about
Now they are planning to move 300 tons of their gold from New York, and all of it from Paris.
On Wednesday, the Bundesbank said that it would begin moving some of the reserves, the second-largest stock in the world after that of the US. The goal is to house more than 50 per cent of German gold in Bundesbank vaults in Frankfurt by 2020, up from a little less than a third today, the bank said.But not, interestingly, from London, even though the Bank of England charges them storage fees, which our Federal Reserve does not.
James Delingpole says the Germans are making this transfer because they no longer trust the United States. That's going too far because the Germans are, after all, leaving some of their gold in New York. But I think it fair to say that they trust President Obama with their gold less than they did President Bush.
- 5:41 AM, 18 January 2013
Correction: Yesterday's Wall Street Journal said that Germany had 3,400 tons of reserves, not 2,400. Since that makes the 11 percent come out right, I assume the Journal is correct and my copy of the Times wrong. I've corrected the text above. (You may chuckle at this, but that inconsistency was bothering me all morning.)
- 1:18 PM, 18 January 2013 [link]
Socialism Leads To War In Arthur C. Clarke's Earthlight: Clarke's Earthlight is one of those science fiction novels I go back to regularly. Not because it is one of his best — but because I enjoy seeing which parts of it still seem plausible, and which parts don't. (Examples of each: Most of the action takes place at observatory on the moon, but the astronomers use punch cards to program their computer.)
As the story opens we learn that there are two contending governments in the solar system, the Earth and an earth colony on the Moon, and everything else in the Federation. The two are in conflict because many heavy metals can obtained only from the Earth, and the Earth's government is cutting back on the quotas of those heavy metals that it ships to the Federation.
The conflict becomes an open war when the Earth discovers a way to mine those metals from deep within the Moon — but does not share this new treasure with the Federation.
Clarke does not tell us much about the government of the Earth, but he makes it sound much like a Labour government in Britain, at the time the novel was published (1955). The government may not own the mines that produce those heavy metals — but it certainly controls their output.
Now suppose that instead that mineral output was controlled by a large number of independent companies. If the Federation wanted more titanium, for example, it would be able to get it by out-bidding customers on the Earth, at one or more of those companies. Even if the Federation couldn't afford the metals they wanted to buy, they would have no reason to attack Earth, since the government of Earth would not be blocking their purchases. (They might whine for more foreign aid.)
There is, I think, a general lesson about the pacific effects of free trade and limited government in this story. The two of them, in combination, may decrease the chances for war by removing many of the reasons nations go to war.
(Clarke's idea that heavy metals could be obtained only from the Earth is one of the implausible parts of the story. Although he explains it extensively — the tides of the Moon stirred up Earth's crust while the Earth was forming — he never explains why those metals could not be found in some of the asteroids, or on Mercury, where the Sun must have done a similar stirring.)
- 7:02 PM, 17 January 2013 [link]
Our Upside Down Weather: If you glanced at the web cam pictures from Mt. Rainier and Mt. St. Helens, you probably thought I was enjoying sunshine today. In fact, we had fog this morning — and we still have fog. (I am hoping that it breaks in time for a walk, but don't expect it to.)
Moreover, for the past few days, a temperature inversion has meant that it is sometimes warmer at Paradise on Mt. Rainier (elevation > 5,000 feet) than it is here close to sea level.
None of that would bother me except that these inversions, as most of you know, trap pollutants, and the dirty air is making me cough and sneeze more than usual.
- 2:16 PM, 17 January 2013 [link]
Hugo Chávez Has been Replaced by an autopen.
Which will work for a while, but is not a permanent solution.
Assuming he is alive, how sick is Chávez? This signature is the first public sign of life in more than a month, and it is probably a false sign. There have been no signatures from his hospital room in Havana. There have not even been a few taped words from him. So he is too sick to scrawl his name, or even speak a few words.
(Yesterday's Wall Street Journal had a funny story — behind their pay wall, unfortunately — showing how hard it will be for Venezuelan Vice President Nicolás Maduro to replace Chávez. Last year Chávez delivered a nine-hour speech on the state of the union; this year Maduro delivered a seven-minute speech.)
- 11:00 AM, 17 January 2013 [link]
Worrisome: Here's another reminder of our vulnerabilities.
A computer virus attacked a turbine control system at a U.S. power company last fall when a technician unknowingly inserted an infected USB computer drive into the network, keeping a plant off line for three weeks, according to a report posted on a U.S. government website.As the article goes on to explain, the USB drive got around the "air gap", the fact that the computer was not directly connected to the Internet.
Because of this danger from USB drives, I have been wondering for years whether computers in critical applications like this one should have working USB connections. Security people might consider physically sealing USB ports or, if they are available, insisting that the organizations buy computers without those ports.
(Some years ago, I read about an experiment where USB drives were left lying around in public as if they had been lost. Many people picked them up and plugged them into their computers — which is about as sensible as picking up a dirty, half-eaten sandwich from the ground and eating it.)
- 10:29 AM, 17 January 2013 [link]
Maureen Dowd Is Disappointed In President Obama: As she showed in yesterday's column, which begins with this sentence: "President Standoffish doesn't want to be seen as a stiff."
And eventually meanders to this devastating criticism:
And Obama underwhelmed on traits everyone thought he'd excel at: negotiating, selling, charming, scaring, bullying-pulpiting, mobilizing, dealing with Capitol Hill, and, especially, communicating. It's taken the White House four years to develop a coherent message; Pay your bills.(Fans of Dowd should not worry. She made an almost perfunctory criticism of George W. Bush just before that.)
You'll notice that this criticism is essentially the same as the one that Ruth Marcus made the day before yesterday; Obama lacks the skills and willingness to be an effective legislator. Since the column is by Dowd, the writing is more amusing, and mere facts are more often ignored, but she and Marcus agree on the diagnosis.
Dowd ignores facts when she says that "everyone" thought Obama would be excel at those traits. Anyone who looked at his record of non-accomplishment would have suspected that he was no LBJ when it came to passing legislation. But it is snappier to say it the way Dowd did. It is downright funny to see her repeat that "Pay your bills" claim, without mentioning that what Obama wants to do is borrow more money to pay our bills. There are tens of millions of families who can explain to her why that won't work in the long run.
What neither lady considers — at least in those two columns — is whether Obama has made good policy choices, whether, for example, his proposed legislation on immigration, or gun control, would make us better off, or worse off. They both assume Obama's ideas are (mostly) good, and need only to be put into practice.
So I suppose we should give them a little credit for finally noticing what many saw in 2007 and 2008, that Obama was good at reading from a teleprompter, but not good at legislating. But at the same time, we have to give both substantial debits for not even considering whether Obama's policies are good for the country.
(It is, I think, significant that neither Marcus nor Dowd even mentioned the devastating effects of continued high unemployment, effects that can be partly blamed on Obama's policies.)
- 8:04 AM, 17 January 2013 [link]