July 2013, Part 1
Jim Miller on Politics
More On The Risks Of Shipping Oil By Rail: Today's Wall Street Journal has a very informative, front-page article on the recent surge in shipping oil by rail in Canada and the United States.
Unfortunately, the article is behind their pay wall. But I can give you a couple of excerpts:
In the U. S., shipments of crude by rail have gone from 9,500 carloads in 2008, the year widely seen as the beginning of the current oil boom, to 233,811 carloads in 2012, according to the Association of American Railroads. A carload is typically about 740 barrels.With the article are four graphs, including one that compares oil spills by pipeline and rail, 38 and 80 gallons per billion shipped, respectively. So Willis Eschenbach is probably correct when he claims that pipeline shipment is safer than rail shipment.
(So far, I haven't seen any explanation for the runaway train that devastated Lac-Mégantic.)
- 7:15 PM, 8 July 2013 [link]
As A Fan Of Bob Dylan, Professor Althouse should like this cartoon.
And she deserves a laugh, since she has been forced to close comments at her site, as there were just too many abusive comments.
(I have never quite figured out why some commenters believe that they are entitled to abuse the people who write the posts. But some, as I learned from unpleasant experiences at Sound Politics, do. And I don't think all of them are simply trying to discourage posters and damage the site, though some are.)
- 2:17 PM, 8 July 2013 [link]
Party Of Government, Party Of Business: Sometimes, it's useful to review the basics. I don't recall where I first read this generalization: Democrats are the party of government, Republicans the party of business.
But it struck as mostly true at the time, and even more true now, with the growth of government unions such as the Service Employees International Union, and the transformation of the National Education Association from an ineffectual professional association into a union of government employees.
A Democratic candidate for president is unlikely to gain the nomination unless he is at least acceptable to the SEIU and the NEA.
Similarly, a Republican candidate for president is unlikely to gain the nomination unless he is at least acceptable to the U. S. Chamber of Commerce.
Let me repeat, mostly true. There is much more to both parties, especially on social issues.
But that generalization has enough truth in it to explain many things. For example, as we all know, most of our "mainstream" journalists are Democrats. So we should not be surprised to see them identify with our governments — and judge them by lower standards than they apply to our businesses. They will often excuse government failure with "mistakes happen", or something similar; they are much less likely to do the same for business failures.
In contrast, libertarians will often do the opposite, excusing business failures, but being hard on government failures.
(This comparison of the two parties comes from a partisan source, but I think you will agree that it is consistent with that generalization.)
- 2:01 PM, 8 July 2013 [link]
ObamaCare Requires Mass Irrationality Says George Will: He got off some good lines on ABC's This Week, including this one:
What Obamacare requires for it to work - mass irrationality, both on the part of employers to ignore that incentive and on the part of young people who are supposed to pay 3, 4, 5 times more for health insurance than it would cost them to just pay the fine and ignore it.There's more before that.
(I got curious about what happened after that line, so I listened to the show here. The substitute host, Jonathan Karl, did not ask the other members of the panel for their reactions to what Will had said. Instead, he turned to political strategist Donna Brazile, who gave a generalized defense of ObamaCare. The other two panelists, Cokie Roberts and ABC's Rick Klein, didn't respond to what Will had said, either.)
- 7:13 AM, 8 July 2013 [link]
Britain Deports An Unwanted Visitor: But it wasn't easy.
Theresa May last night promised to change the law to stop terrorists abusing human rights appeals after finally getting rid of Abu Qatada.It took Britain almost ten years to jump through all the legal hoops. During that time, Qatada and his family were supported by the British taxpayer, at a cost of millions of pounds. So the British government was supporting bin Laden's British spokesman, and paying his very large legal bills.
No wonder he had a smirk on his face.
(They couldn't deport him because Britain believed that some of the evidence against him had been collected by torture. May had to negotiate a treaty with Jordan, excluding that evidence, in order to send him back. Qatada ended his legal fight, after that, and is going back voluntarily.
She succeeded, where a whole series of home secretaries — whose duties are something like those of our attorney generals — had failed. Her success has some talking about her as a future prime minister.
The protection Britain has given to Islamic extremists has led some to dub the British capital, "Londonistan". Melanie Phillips used that as the title for her book, attacking those policies.)
- 5:30 AM, 8 July 2013 [link]
Abraham Lincoln, Wire Tapper: Yesterday's New York Times made up for the Julia-Julia op-ed with a fascinating op-ed by Professor David T. Z. Mindich.
Here's the essential paragraph:
In 1862, after President Abraham Lincoln appointed him secretary of war, Edwin M. Stanton penned a letter to the president requesting sweeping powers, which would include total control of the telegraph lines. By rerouting those lines through his office, Stanton would keep tabs on vast amounts of communication, journalistic, governmental and personal. On the back of Stanton's letter Lincoln scribbled his approval: "The Secretary of War has my authority to exercise his discretion in the matter within mentioned."(Lincoln didn't believe in elaborate bureaucratic procedures, did he? And he probably understood that the fewer people who knew about this, the better.)
Professor Mindich does not disapprove of what Lincoln did during war time, seeing it as "necessary evil", but argues that such measures should be dropped after a war ends. I agree.
But from that he makes a naive jump to arguing that we should get rid of the NSA surveillance by ending the war on terror.
There are two problems with this: First, the terrorists are not our only enemies.
Second, we can't end this war on our own. Given the motives of the terrorists, I think we should plan on it lasting a hundred years, or more. Religious wars almost never end quickly, or easily.
- 7:18 PM, 7 July 2013 [link]
The New York Times Is Surprised by Anthony Weiner's strong showing in the polls.
Written off by election experts and shunned by the political establishment Mr. Weiner has once again upended popular conceptions about him, vaulting to the front of the race for mayor.They shouldn't be.
Most voters view personal failings, even spectacularly embarrassing personal failings, as one part of their evaluation of a candidate. And a candidate who seems attractive in other ways — as Weiner does to some — may be able to win them over in spite of those failings. (My favorite example is "Big Jim" Folsom, both for his personal failings, and his election wins.)
Nor should it surprise us that Weiner is drawing best among young men — most of whom can think of a time or two when they have made a fool of themselves over a woman.
Near the end of the article, the Times does give readers a cautious warning: They quote Congressman Charles Rangel (who has an ethical problem or two of his own) as saying that Weiner was not a "great legislator", which is true enough.
But he is a very good campaigner.
(Michelle Cottle reveals her ignorance of history by claiming that this kind of tolerance is something that we had, and lost. For example, voters in 1960 didn't tolerate John Kennedy's reckless promiscuity — because very few voters knew about his behavior.
And I have to give credit to the Times. I didn't notice any double meanings in the story — and it can't have been that easy to avoid them.)
- 4:59 PM, 7 July 2013 [link]
Julia Misses Julia: Australian feminist Julia Baird misses former Australian prime minister Julia Gillard, and tells us, in the first three paragraphs of this op-ed, that Gillard faced terribly unfair criticism because of her sex.
But then Baird switches and admits that Gillard was not a great prime minister. She overthrew her Labor predecessor, Kevin Rudd, in an internal party struggle, to become prime minister, thus getting off to a bad start.
And neither her policies nor her personality were a good fit for Australia:
But she made many mistakes: abandoning a promise not to introduce a carbon tax, being slow to condemn corruption in her party, and negotiating a limp tax that failed to reap substantial revenue from Australia's mining boom.After these admissions, Baird quickly goes back to blaming Gillard's fall on sexism. And no doubt there was some — just as there is no doubt that Gillard exploited sexism to win control of the Labor Party, and her one, narrow popular victory.
But none of the criticisms of Gillard seem as rough as those directed at Margaret Thatcher, or George W. Bush, for that matter.
(In every Western country, political attacks vary, in predictable ways, by sex. Women are attacked for their looks far more often than men; men are attacked for a lack of personal courage far more often than women. Neither seems rational to me, so I try to avoid both.)
- 10:07 AM, 7 July 2013 [link]
Tragedy In Lac-Mégantic, Quebec: The Daily Mail had the best collection of pictures that I could find in a brief search, so I am linking to their article.
The center of a Quebec town has been wiped out, according to the mayor, after a runaway freight train carrying crude oil derailed and exploded in a fireball at 1am on Saturday.(Many of the missing may have been out of town, but it seems likely that the death toll will rise in the next few days.)
We can, says Willis Eschenbach, draw some lessons from this tragedy. The energy that makes our civilization possible is inherently dangerous, whether we are generating it, storing it, or transporting it.
But some ways of transporting energy are more dangerous than others:
In terms of danger, railroads aren’t the most dangerous. That’d be the fuel trucks carrying gasoline, diesel, kerosene, and propane on the highways. Plus of course the stored energy in the fuel tanks of the cars and trucks involved in every crash. If you consider an electric power line transporting energy running alongside a freeway, with each vehicle transporting stored energy in the form of liquid fuel, and how often lives are lost or damage done from the power lines, versus how much damage the stored energy does when a tanker truck crashes and catches fire on the freeway, you’ll get a sense of what I’m talking about.Super tankers are, now, the safest way to move oil (and its products) over water; pipelines are the safest way to move oil (and its products) over land.
We shouldn't conclude from this tragedy that railroads aren't — almost always — safe ways to move energy. They are. But they aren't quite as safe as pipelines, and we should remember that when we consider approving the Keystone XL pipeline, and similar projects.
- 6:14 AM, 7 July 2013 [link]
Popocatépetl Is Erupting: So you may be able to see some interesting pictures from the web cam down on the left. Earlier, the web cam was showing us pictures of the ash, and was probably pointed directly at the volcano, as usual. As I write, the operators were turning it in different directions, giving views of the observatory, and different looks at the ash fall.
But I won't promise that you will, since pictures from the inside of an ash fall tend to be rather similar, and not at all colorful.
You can find news of the eruption here and here, and some background here.
- 7:44 AM, 6 July 2013
Update: The camera is "momentánemeante fuera de servicio". I know very little Spanish, but I suspect that means "temporarily out of service", which isn't surprising, since volcanic ash can't be good for a camera. On Saturday, I must have seen it in the last hours that it was working.
- 4:20 PM, 7 July 2013 [link]
Kevin Rudd's Cabinet: The old/new Australian Prime Minister had an obvious political problem after he deposed Julia Gillard (who, as I am sure you recall, earlier deposed him). He didn't want to appear anti-woman.
So he made an obvious political move, which, just for fun, I will describe by giving the first names of his ministers: Anthony, Chris, Penny, Jacinta, Kim, Tony, Joel, Mark, Julie, Brendan, Catherine, Melissa, Bill, Richard, Don, Gary, Mark, Tanya, Jenny, Stephen, Bob, Jason, Kate, Warren, David, Kate, Sharon, Mike, and Jan.
Chris and Kim happen to be men, but I think you see the pattern: Rudd picked as many women for his cabinet as he could, setting a new record for Australia.
(Only Neanderthals will wonder whether all of these women are otherwise qualified, so the rest of us shouldn't even think about that question, however briefly.
It is a little hard, from this distance, to explain why first Julia replaced Kevin and then Kevin replaced Julia. The ideological differences between them are small, as far as I can tell. Both appear to have trouble getting along with the people around them, which is a rather odd defect to find in a professional politician.
President Obama shares that odd defect; he has acolytes — and the religious term seems especially appropriate in this context — but gets along well with very few of his peers.)
- 9:16 AM, 5 July 2013 [link]
Kandahar Might Not Be The Best Location for this event.
Assuming, that is, we are still interested in winning hearts and minds in Afghanistan.
- 8:25 AM, 5 July 2013 [link]
The Boston Herald Is Complaining about the timing of John Kerry's vacation.
Secretary of State John Kerry is spending a sun-splashed Fourth of July on Nantucket, even as a chaotic overthrow of the government rocks Egypt and continues to test diplomatic relations in Washington.But I think it is probably best if this aging adolescent stays away from crises, as much as possible.
- 8:09 AM, 5 July 2013 [link]
Hang On, Ruthie, Ruthie, Hang On: More than one Republican will be humming that song, after reading this story:
At age 80, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, leader of the Supreme Court's liberal wing, says she is in excellent health, even lifting weights despite having cracked a pair of ribs again, and plans to stay several more years on the bench.Until, of course, a Republican can be elected president.
(I have never been happy with these calculations of electoral success and Justice longevity — but we wouldn't have to worry as much about them it the Supreme Court had left more issues to elected officials, as they should have.)
- 6:23 PM, 4 July 2013 [link]
Happy 4th Of July! And thank you to those who make it possible.
- 5:59 PM, 4 July 2013 [link]
Vicksburg And Gettysburg: You'll be hearing much about the Gettysburg Campaign this year, since the climactic battle was 150 years ago.
But I have believed for years that the Vicksburg Campaign, which ended with Pemberton's surrender on July 4th, 1863, was a more important Union victory.
(If, like me, you have old eyes, you may want to look at this larger version of the map, or even this 2,747 × 2,079 pixel version.)
It was also a dazzling display of generalship by Ulysses S. Grant.
To understand what Grant achieved, look at the Chickasaw Bluffs. (Vicksburg and the area along the river to the north.) This high ground was the key to the control of the Mississippi River. Unfortunately, from the Union point of view, there was no direct approach to those bluffs from the north, since any supply line would have to go through miles of trackless swamps, or through hundreds of miles of roads that would be subject to Confederate raids.
So Grant established a supply line west of the main branch of the Mississippi, and then crossed the Mississippi south of Vicksburg.
He was expecting to meet Union troops coming up from New Orleans and Baton Rouge. They weren't anywhere close to where he expected them to be. (General Nathaniel Banks, who commanded these forces, "was occupied with operations on the Red River".)
So Grant made a bold (and brilliant) decision. He abandoned his supply line and marched northeast between the Confederate forces in Vicksburg and the Mississippi capital (and railroad center) of Jackson. He defeated Joseph Johnston and drove him away from Jackson, and then turned west and defeated John C. Pemberton in a series of battles, driving him back into Vicksburg. When Grant's forces reached the Chickasaw Bluffs, and restored his supply line in the middle of May, he had won, though it took a formal siege to end the campaign.
The victorious campaign divided the Confederacy, and allowed Union commerce to use the Mississippi River again. Texas and Arkansas were of little importance to the Confederacy during the rest of the war, and much of the state of Mississippi was occupied by the Union forces.
In contrast, Gettysburg was a defensive victory for the Union that left the two sides in about the same positions at the end of the campaign, as at the beginning.
(Grant's campaign was helped by Grierson's raid through Mississippi.)
- 8:19 AM, 3 July 2013 [link]
Electricity Prices Hit Record in the United States.
The price of electricity in the United States for May was 13.1 cents per kilowatt hour (KWH), which is the highest it has been on record for that month, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), which tracks the price going all the way back to 1984.Three thoughts:
First, those prices aren't controlled for inflation, so in real terms that wouldn't be a record. (Moreover, electricity prices fell during much of the 20th century, so the actual record would be much older.) That said, this is not a good trend.
Second, there is no external shock, no increase in fuel prices as there were in the late 1970s and 1980s. (In the early 1970s, oil from the Middle East was so cheap that we got a significant part of our electricity from burning it.) So this increase in price is due to our own policies, in states like Washington, and nationally.
Third, these price increases hit the poor harder, since electricity is a bigger share of their budgets.
- 7:00 AM, 3 July 2013 [link]
The "Door Of No Return" Makes For Great Photo-Ops: Too bad it's a myth.
President Obama visited one of Africa’s most famous memorials to the slave trade on Thursday, the House of Slaves on Senegal’s Goree Island. The official story is that millions of African slaves passed through the house’s Door of No Return, which faces West across the Atlantic; countless visitors have come to contemplate the slave trade and to pay heartfelt tribute, including Nelson Mandela, Pope John Paul II and the last three U.S. presidents.The door was used, historians believe, not to send slaves from Africa, but to dump trash into the ocean.
Does President Obama know it's a myth? Probably not. Would he have skipped the photo-op if he did know? Probably not, again.
- 5:58 AM, 3 July 2013 [link]
Washington Governor Jay Inslee Doesn't Want Washingtonians to know how much "Green" energy is costing us. That's how I interpret his veto of this budget item.
Included in the budget was a provision for the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee (JLARC) to study the extra costs to customers of the state's renewable energy mandates. JLARC was to report back on "the electricity cost impacts for each qualifying utility to meet the 2016 and 2020 renewable resource and conservation targets," which was to include "an analysis of the impacts on each utility's commercial, industrial, and residential customers, including an additional analysis of the impacts on low-income residential customers."From time to time, I study my baffling electricity bills from Puget Sound Energy, trying to guess how much extra I am paying for our "Green" electricity, mostly from wind. I have never been able to make even a rough estimate.
But I can tell you that my cost per kilowatt hour has gone up significantly since the state mandated greater use of "Green" energy, by passing Initiative 937. So I am subsidizing the wind power industry, but I don't know by how much.
(There are other state mandates, but the most important are in I-937.)
- 8:10 AM, 2 July 2013 [link]
Payroll Cards for low income workers.
A growing number of American workers are confronting a frustrating predicament on payday: to get their wages, they must first pay a fee. For these largely hourly workers, paper paychecks and even direct deposit have been replaced by prepaid cards issued by their employees. Employees can use these cards, which work like debit cards, to withdraw their pay.But there will almost always be a fee for any withdrawal. And there are enough other fees on some of these payroll cards so that a few workers end up paying as much as $40 or $50 a month to use them.
Employers like these cards because they are cheaper than checks.
— a calculator on Visa's Web site estimates that a company with 500 workers could save $21,000 a year by switching from checks to payroll cards.And sometimes the employers get rebates for signing workers up for the cards.
The Times is, naturally, concerned about the fees, but I think they are looking at the wrong end of the problem. After all, many of these workers are "unbanked", and so their only alternative is often a check-cashing place, which is likely to be more expensive than the card fees. (According to the article, check-cashing places typically charge about 3 percent to cash a payroll check.)
Often the best alternative for these workers — assuming they don't live in a high crime area — would be to cash out the card in one operation each time they get paid, and so pay a single fee each pay period.
It's my impression that "reforms", such as the Dodd-Frank bill, have made most checking accounts with modest balances unprofitable for banks, and so the number of "unbanked" people has grown. And as a result, more people are getting their pay on a plastic card, instead of a paper check, or a direct deposit.
- 7:18 AM, 2 July 2013 [link]
Happy Birthday! To our Canadian friends, who are celebrating Canada Day.
Since Canada was founded in 1867, this is their 146th birthday. The man most responsible for that founding was Canada's first Prime Minister, John Macdonald.
Recycled, with some changes from 2008.
(Picture notes: This flag appears every Canada Day, a few blocks from where I live, along with the American flag, which you can just see behind it. In 2008, I finally met the couple that own the flags. He's American; she's Canadian. And the two seem to be getting along very well, which may be a lesson for our two nations.)
- 7:39 PM, 1 July 2013 [link]
"Eminem Terrified As Daughter Begins Dating Man Raised On His Music" And what father wouldn't be?
Hip-hop artist Marshall Mathers, a.k.a. Eminem, said he was left wholly terrified today after meeting his daughter Hailie’s new boyfriend Justin Denham, an 18-year-old who was reportedly raised on the rapper’s music.All right, it's from the Onion, but it should be true.
By way of Kathy Shaidle.
- 12:56 PM, 1 July 2013 [link]
President Obama Should Respect religious beliefs in Kenya, says their Deputy President.
Deputy President William Ruto on Sunday urged US leader Barack Obama to respect Kenyans’ culture, saying they would not abandon their traditions that condemn same-sex marriages.Given the religious beliefs of most Kenyans, more than 70 percent Christian and more than 10 percent Muslim, it is likely that a very large majority of adults in Kenya would agree with Ruto.
Whatever you may think about gay marriage, you should realize that it was profoundly undiplomatic of Obama to urge the African nations to adopt a stand they find repugnant — and that Obama himself said he rejected less than two years ago.
Often, the best thing for a diplomat to say is — nothing.
- 9:58 AM, 1 July 2013 [link]
John Kerry Says Nations Often Spy on allies.
Speaking to a press conference today, Kerry said: 'I will say that every country in the world that is engaged in international affairs and national security undertakes lots of activities to protect its national security and all kinds of information contributes to that. All I know is that is not unusual for lots of nations.'Is he right? Sure.
For instance, our allies the French often try to steal our industrial technology.
Here's my semi-informed guess on who we spy on (not counting those official spies, military attachés).
Given the close cooperation between Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the United States in programs like ECHELON, I suspect we don't spy on Britain, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.
But I have always assumed we spy on everyone else. (With, perhaps, a few exceptions for tiny countries like San Marino.)
Very occasionally, we learn about some of the results of that spying. Two examples: French authorities once complained about our snooping, and we noted that this snooping revealed that the French were bribing another nation's officials, in an effort to win a big contract. During the Reagan administration, a German chemical company contracted to build a poison gas plant for Libya. We found out about it, complained privately to the German government, and when that didn't stop the plant, complained publicly.
(Similarly, I suspect that at least a few German firms have been helping Iran in its efforts to build nuclear weapons. And I hope we have been spying on them.
If I recall correctly, I have seen a few reports that the cooperation between our National Security Agency and its counterpart in Great Britain, GCHQ, is so close that each helps the other to evade its own country's laws. For example, suppose that the British suspect some British subject, but do not have enough evidence to bug him under British laws. They might ask NSA to do the trick for them.)
- 6:49 AM, 1 July 2013
Here are three links to the specifics I was trying to remember: Spying by other countries, including France. American attempts to spy on European corruption. The Libyan poison gas plant.
- 4:42 PM, 1 July 2013 [link]
What's The German Word for "sucker"?
While our respective security services still need to collaborate on both sides of the Atlantic to pursue and prevent organized crime and terrorism, it must be done in a way that strengthens civil liberties and does not reduce them. Although we would like to believe in the Mr. Obama we once knew, the trust and credibility he once enjoyed in Germany have been undermined.Because Green politician Malte Spitz deserves that label.
Note that he says that he and others would "like to believe" in Obama. Spitz is simply asking to be fooled, again. But I don't think Obama will oblige him.
(Spitz favors, he says, civil liberties, but I doubt very much that he favors the freedom of speech and press that we still enjoy, in principle, here in the United States.
He is, I suppose, a victim of the absurdly unfavorable press coverage that George W. Bush had in Europe, and the absurdly favorable press coverage that Barack Obama had, almost everywhere. But I doubt that will cause him to read articles on the two men from the New York Times, the Guardian, or Der Spiegel, more critically.)
- 5:51 AM, 1 July 2013 [link]
Tragedy In Arizona: Here's a story from Arizona on the loss of those 19 firefighters, and here are some pictures.
So far, I haven't seen any explanation for the tragedy, or the loss of much of the small town of Yarnell, which has been inhabited at least since 1865.
(Ordinarily, I would expect a town that old to have been "fire proofed" by now, expect that the people there would have learned to keep burnable material away from their homes by now.)
- 5:13 AM, 1 July 2013 [link]