Archive:

July 2014, Part 4

Jim Miller on Politics




Pseudo-Random Thoughts



General "Chicken" Escapes Our Net:  Venezuelan General Hugo Carvajal was arrested for drug trafficking, but escaped our net.
The Netherlands' release of a former top Venezuelan official wanted by the U.S. for alleged drug trafficking came after Venezuela raised economic and military pressure on two Dutch islands in the Caribbean, a top Aruban official said Monday.

Aruba's chief prosecutor Peter Blanken said that Venezuelan navy ships neared Aruba and Curaçao over the weekend as Dutch officials were debating what to do with Hugo Carvajal —Venezuela's former chief of military intelligence who was jailed in Aruba last week on a U.S. warrant.

"The threat was there," Mr. Blanken said. "We don't know what their intentions were, but I think a lot of people in Aruba were scared that something would happen."
We were able to get him arrested, originally, because, although Venezuela had made him head of the consulate in Aruba, and thus, in principle, protected by diplomatic immunity, the Netherlands had not gotten around to granting him that diplomatic immunity.

Let's note the obvious — which the Wall Street Journal did not.  The Netherlands is a member of NATO, and so entitled to military help from the United States, should it, or any of its possessions, be attacked.  In a conflict between the United States and Venezuelan navies, the Venezuelan navy would last less than 24 hours, after hostilities started.   The Netherlands commercial ties to the United States are orders of magnitude greater than their commercial ties to Venezuela.

Nonetheless, if we take them at their word, the Netherlands was intimidated by Venezuela, but appears to fear no unpleasant consequences from the United States.  It would be interesting to know whether President Obama or Secretary of State Kerry offered our support to the Netherlands.

(General Carvajal is nicknamed "el Pollo" (the chicken).  I do not know when or why he acquired such an unmilitary nickname.

If you are wondering why we indicted him, there's a good summary in this New York Times article.

There are many odd aspects to this affair.  You can find an extended discussion of them here, here, and here.)
- 1:32 PM, 31 July 2014   [link]


Hang On, Ruthie, Ruthie, Hang On (2):  Republicans will be pleased by this announcement
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has not changed her tune on retirement in the past year, saying Wednesday she plans to stay for “a while.”

"My answer is, I will do this job as long as I can do it full steam," she told Yahoo News.  "When I feel myself slipping.  When I can no longer think as sharply, write as quickly, that will be the time for me to leave the court."

Some liberals have urged her to retire so President Obama could nominate a successor while Democrats control the Senate.
As I said last year, for the same reason.

If I may be a little cold-blooded for a moment, she only has to hang on until after this year's election — assuming the Republicans win control of the Senate.  If not, then I think that Obama will not be able to name a successor, should she resign, in the last months of 2016.   (The current Senate rules still allow filibusters of Supreme Court nominees.)
- 12:49 PM, 31 July 2014   [link]


There Obama Goes Again on Muslim contributions to the United States.
In the United States, Eid also reminds us of the many achievements and contributions of Muslim Americans to building the very fabric of our nation and strengthening the core of our democracy. That is why we stand with people of all faiths, here at home and around the world, to protect and advance their rights to prosper, and we welcome their commitment to giving back to their communities.
(Emphasis added.)

For example?

This is funny, but not just funny (unfortunately).  Robert Spencer reminds us that milder forms of false history about Muslims have already made their way into our school books.  You can see some examples of that tendency in this Wikipedia article, which mixes fact and fantasy, indiscriminately.

But even there you won't find any claims as sweeping as Obama's.

(If you are wondering what that celebration is about, here's an explanation — with no guarantees.)
- 7:29 PM, 30 July 2014   [link]


The Drudge Advertiser Trap:  I accidentally left my browser window open to Matt Drudge's site and when I came back from lunch I found that I would have had to left click about thirty times to exit from the site.

Drudge has his site designed that way — I have tentatively concluded — to increase the number of times visitors see his ads.  (There are other sites that do the same thing, though his is the worst I have encountered.)

You can escape that trap, in Firefox, by holding the right mouse button down and then going back as many links as you wish.  (I assume that there are similar ways to escape in other browsers, and on the Mac, but I haven't explored them.)

I do not try to avoid all Internet ads — after all the advertisers are often paying for the material I read or look at — but I do prefer sites that treat the visitors with some respect.  For example, Real Clear Politics asks you to look at an ad when you enter the site, but then mostly leaves you alone.  That's a reasonable policy, in my opinion.
- 12:50 PM, 29 July 2014   [link]


Russia Has Been Violating The 1987 INF Arms Control Treaty For Years:  As even the Obama administration has had to admit, and finally weakly protest.
The United States has concluded that Russia violated a landmark arms control treaty by testing a prohibited ground-launched cruise missile, according to senior American officials, a finding that was conveyed by President Obama to President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia in a letter on Monday.

It is the most serious allegation of an arms control treaty violation that the Obama administration has leveled against Russia and adds another dispute to a relationship already burdened by tensions over the Kremlin’s support for separatists in Ukraine and its decision to grant asylum to Edward J. Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor.

At the heart of the issue is the 1987 treaty that bans American and Russian ground-launched ballistic or cruise missiles capable of flying 300 to 3,400 miles.  That accord, which was signed by President Ronald Reagan and Mikhail S. Gorbachev, the Soviet leader, helped seal the end of the Cold War and has been regarded as a cornerstone of American-Russian arms control efforts.

Russia first began testing the cruise missiles as early as 2008, according to American officials, and the Obama administration concluded by the end of 2011 that they were a compliance concern.  In May 2013, Rose Gottemoeller, the State Department’s senior arms control official, first raised the possibility of a violation with Russian officials.
The timing is significant.  According to the Obama administration, the Russians began cheating as George W. Bush was about to leave office.  The Obama administration took three years to officially see the violation, two more years to raise the issue with the Russians, and another year to protest, officially — with a letter, which, if the New York Times article is correct, can not be described as stern.  (It is possible that the Russians hid these tests from our intelligence services until 2011, but I think that unlikely.)

During this period — 2008 to 2014 — the Obama administration negotiated and signed another significant arms control treaty, New START.  It s unclear to me whether the negotiators were aware of these violations — but they should have been by 2010, when the treaty was signed.

This may be another example of that "smart diplomacy" Obama promised us.

(Here's the Wikipedia description of the 1987 INF Treaty, and here's a list of important arms control treaties.)
- 9:19 AM, 29 July 2014   [link]


The Latest Senate Forecast from John Sides and company.
Thus, although current polls adjust our model’s forecast for individual races, the polls do not change our topline prediction, which is currently bullish for the GOP.

Why so bullish? Here’s an explanation in a nutshell.  Most analysts give the GOP a very good shot at controlling at least 46 seats.  See the list over at The Upshot.  Control of the Senate depends on nine apparently competitive seats: Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, North Carolina, and Michigan.  The GOP needs to win at least five of those seats to control a majority (since the Democrats would presumably control the Senate with 50 seats, given Vice President Biden’s tie-breaking vote).

At the moment, our model suggests that the GOP has a very good chance of winning the Republican-leaning states: Alaska, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, and Louisiana.  That gives them five seats.  They also have a better than 50-50 chance of winning Iowa, where Joni Ernst’s recent surge has made the race neck-and-neck —a trend that is consistent with what our model suggested about the Iowa race back in May. Meanwhile, Democrats have a good chance of winning Colorado, Michigan, and North Carolina.
Adding it all together, the model gives Republicans an 86 percent chance of winning control of the Senate.

They are also predicting that Republicans will gain in the House races:
The updated forecast for the House is nothing surprising.  In line with what we’ve previously written, we estimate that the Democrats have less than a 1 percent chance of taking the House.   Our model currently estimates that the Democrats will win 193 seats, down slightly from the 201 they controlled after the 2012 election and the 199 they currently control, given existing vacancies.  We expect to update this forecast with additional data about the candidates once the primaries are over, and with polling data as well.  But, given how strong the Republicans’ position is, we would be surprised if any new information significantly altered the strong odds of continued Republican control.
(In the 2010 House election the Democrats won 193 seats, so Sides and company are predicting that this election will wipe out their 2012 gains.)

The general description Sides has given of the model is essentially the same as the model I would construct, were I in that business, combining as it does voting history, the current Obama unpopularity, and polls.  But I haven't looked at the details of the model, and so that is all I can say, for now.

The usual it's-early caveat applies, as Sides says, at the end of the post.

(Sides doesn't mention one interesting possibility, which could affect control of the Senate.   As I have mentioned before, Maine independent Angus King has said, more than once, that he might switch sides from the Democrats to the Republicans.  I would guess that King is hoping that Republicans win five seats, net, which would make him extremely popular with his colleagues, for a while.  And then extremely unpopular with half of them.)
- 4:10 PM, 28 July 2014   [link]


One Reason India Has So Many Poor People:  And here I am sorry, but I have to be blunt, on a subject that some will find distasteful.  That reason is widespread open defecation, which causes many diseases and even malnutrition in small children.  The New York Times article begins with the example of a one year old child, who has all the symptoms of malnutrition, in spite of getting more than enough food.
Like almost everyone else in their village, Vivek and his family have no toilet, and the district where they live has the highest concentration of people who defecate outdoors.  As a result, children are exposed to a bacterial brew that often sickens them, leaving them unable to attain a healthy body weight no matter how much food they eat.

“These children’s bodies divert energy and nutrients away from growth and brain development to prioritize infection-fighting survival,” said Jean Humphrey, a professor of human nutrition at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.  “When this happens during the first two years of life, children become stunted.  What’s particularly disturbing is that the lost height and intelligence are permanent.”
(Emphasis added.)

There's much more in the article, which I found persuasive, although this finding is new enough so that one would like to see the question tackled by other scholars.

The good news is that there are inexpensive solutions to this problem.  We know that because some have already found them.
In a little-discussed but surprising finding, Muslim children in India are 17 percent more likely to survive infancy than Hindus, even though Muslims are generally poorer and less educated.  This enormous difference in infant mortality is explained by the fact that Muslims are far more likely to use latrines and live next to others also using latrines, a recent analysis found.

So widespread housing discrimination that confines many Muslims to separate slums may protect their children from increased exposure to the higher levels of waste in Hindu communities and, as a result, save thousands of Indian Muslim babies from death each year.
It occurs to me that the new leader of India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, may be a good person to inspire changes in these dangerous practices — because he is a devout Hindu.

(As some of you have already guessed, this is what I was hinting at yesterday.  Treating malnutrition world wide may require more toilets, as well as nutritional supplements.)
- 1:40 PM, 28 July 2014   [link]


India's New Poverty formula.
June's report, which the Indian government commissioned but hasn't formally endorsed, includes two major changes to the official methodology.  Using updated medical research, it sets minimum requirements for protein and fat in people's diets in addition to a baseline for mere calories.

In addition to the cost of food, the new formula adds the median monthly expenditure, in a government survey of 100,000 households, on four "essential" goods: education, clothing, shelter and transportation. An additional amount, for all other spending, is tacked on.

The result: You're poor in India if you earn less than 972 rupees a month in rural areas or 1,407 rupees a month in cities.  At market exchange rates, that is about $16 and $23, respectively.  The current thresholds are $14 and $17.
By way of comparison, the World Bank's threshold is currently $1.25 a day — and about 1.2 billion people, world wide, are below that threshold.

There's much more in the article, including a graph showing the enormous progress since 1990 in reducing poverty in the poorer regions of the world.
- 1:09 PM, 28 July 2014   [link]


One Year to Pluto.
There has been some fanfare this week over the 45th anniversary of Apollo 11.  If the celebration has made you despair at the listless state of today’s space program, you may be comforted by another astronomical date, a sort of pre-anniversary: One year from now, for the first time in human history, a probe will reach Pluto.  The probe is a compact-car-sized NASA spaceship called New Horizons.  It left Earth in 2006.  Pluto’s a long way away.

Pluto used to be our smallest, remotest planet, the ninth planet from the sun.  In 2006, the International Astronomical Union redesignated Pluto as a “dwarf planet.”  Despite the indignation of everyone who grew up with a now-obsolete solar-system mnemonic, the demotion was not without justice.  According to the IAU, a planet ought to “clear its neighborhood” — that is, it should be the dominant massive object in its orbit.  In fact, Pluto is less than a tenth of the total mass following its path around the sun.  Earth, for reference, is very nearly 100 percent of the mass in our orbit.  Pluto is smaller than Earth’s moon.  It’s smaller than Saturn’s largest moon, and Neptune’s, and all four of Jupiter’s major, “Galilean” moons.
Here's the Wikipedia article on the New Horizons probe, which left Earth on 19 January 2006, has already passed asteroid 13254 APL and Jupiter, where the controllers tested some of the instruments.

(If you haven't read the peculiar story of Pluto's discovery, you can at the Wikipedia article on the planet.  The article also has a reasonably clear explanation of why Pluto and Neptune will not collide any time soon, even though their orbits appear to intersect.)
- 12:47 PM, 28 July 2014   [link]


Here's A Mining Executive who understands boys.  (Even boys who are long past the age of majority, 18 in Australia, 21 in the United States.)
- 8:01 AM, 28 July 2014   [link]


53-44 And 42-55:  Those were the most interesting numbers in a recent CNN/ORC poll.  The first is the score in a hypothetical Romney-Obama contest; the second is the score in a hypothetical Romney-Clinton contest.

That's right; voters now think they made a mistake in 2012, but the same voters would repeat their mistake if they were choosing between Mitt Romney and Hillary Clinton.

Noah Rothman has much to say about the first result, but mentions the second only in passing.

But I think that any Republican strategist would reverse that emphasis.  What that second result tells me is that Republicans are still losing the war of ideas, as they have been for most of the last decade.  Swing voters have given up on Obama as a leader, but they have not rejected his ideology.  And that, considering all the failures we've seen, is discouraging.
- 6:42 AM, 28 July 2014   [link]


Does Governor Inslee Care About Starving Children In Asia?   First, some background so that you can understand why I ask that question.  There has been a long dispute between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and a grain exporter, United Grain, which has a facility at the mouth of the Columbia River.

Last year, the National Labor Relations Board found that both sides were at fault:

NLRB regional director Ronald Hooks in Seattle says United Grain should have provided the union with a “timely, clear and complete offer” of what it needed to do to avoid to a lockout.

United Grain disputes the finding. An administrative law judge will hear the matter June 30.

Separately, Hooks said the longshoremen violated labor law by engaging in threats and violence early in the lockout.  For example, he said, picketers threw rocks at a security officer and threatened to rape a manager’s daughter.

I don't know about you, but to me violence, and threats of violence, seem worse than not making a clear offer.

United Grain continued operating, and the picketing continued.  As did threats of violence against anyone crossing the picket line, including state grain inspectors.   For a time, Washington state Governor Jay Inslee provided state patrol officers to protect those inspectors, but he has now withdrawn them.

With the expected result:

To assuage the fears of state inspectors from the Washington State Department of Agriculture, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee directed state troopers to provide an escort past the longshoremen’s picket lines in October 2013.

“They were being harassed. A lot of verbal abuse, obscenities and remarks our staff took as threats,” said Hector Castro, spokesman for the WSDA.

Citing a lack of progress in labor talks between ILWU and several Northwest grain handlers, Inslee discontinued those escorts, which caused state inspectors to stop entering the United Grain facility on July 7.

(WSDA = Washington State Department of Agriculture.)

If the grain isn't inspected, it can't be exported.

Let's summarize:  On the left side, we have Governor Inslee and the ILWU.   On the right side, we have United Grain, farmers and farm workers, all the people who move that grain from the farms to the markets, the state inspectors, and those starving children in Asia.  (All right, technically, not all of the food will go to children, and not all of the children are currently starving, though some of them are certainly very hungry.)  I know which side I'm on.

We can't say, from this evidence, that Governor Inslee doesn't care about those children (and all the others on the right side of that dispute), but we can say that he cares more about the ILWU than the children and the rest.  And we can say that he isn't put off by the ILWU's tactics.

By way of Lars Larson, who has an interview with Hector Castro you can listen to.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 3:56 PM, 27 July 2014   [link]


Worth Buying:  (As it almost always is.)  This weekend's Wall Street Journal.

Two pieces are of special note, Douglas Belkin's article on Mitch Daniel's efforts to reform Purdue University, and Matt Ridley's long opinion piece on how to help the world's poor.

Here are samples from the first:
Mr. Daniels suggested the rainy-day funds, which totaled "somewhere in the mid-nine figures" and were kept by a host of academic departments for operating expenses, be moved out of low-interest-bearing accounts and put to better use.

It was the first of many steps Mr. Daniels has taken as he seeks to reorganize Purdue's sometimes-antiquated systems.  A year and a half into his tenure, Mr. Daniels has frozen tuition (for the first time in 36 years), cut the cost of student food by 10% and introduced volume purchasing to take advantage of economies of scale.
. . .
Mr. Daniels cut millions from state higher education as governor, but millions more pay for the administrative salaries that have ballooned at Purdue, along with most universities around the country.  At Purdue, there are now 75% more administrators and staff on the payroll than there were 13 years ago.
It isn't entirely clear, at most universities, whether most of those extra administrators are necessary, or even useful.  (Some are there to fill out additional paperwork for the federal government.)

And from the second:
The Copenhagen Consensus Center process has won world-wide respect for its scrupulously fair methods and startling conclusions.  Its 2012 report, published in book form as "How to Spend $75 Billion to Make the World a Better Place," came to the conclusion that the top five priorities should be nutritional supplements to combat malnutrition, expanded immunization for children, and redoubled efforts against malaria, intestinal worms and tuberculosis.

Their point wasn't that these are the world's biggest problems, but that these are the problems for which each dollar spent on aid generates the most benefit.  Enabling a sick child to regain her health and contribute to the world economy is in the child's interest—and the world's.

The numbers produced by this exercise are eye-catching. Every dollar spent to alleviate malnutrition can do $59 of good; on malaria, $35; on HIV, $11.  As for fashionable goals such as programs intended to limit global warming to less than two degrees Celsius in the foreseeable future: just 2 cents of benefit for each dollar spent.
You don't have to be Warren Buffett to figure out which of those four investments is a bad idea.

Incidentally, recent research suggests that the first objective might be better combined with another objective.  Which will lead you to guess that I have another post in mind, which you may see soon.

(Fans of the Watergate scandal — and there are a few such fans left, even a few who are younger than sixty — may also want to look at two reviews, one by John Lewis Gaddis of The Nixon Tapes and another by Frank Gannon of Elizabeth Drew's Washington Journal and John Dean's The Nixon Defense.  I am less interested in this subject than I once was, partly because I share his conclusion:
Forty years on, there are many genuine mysteries still surrounding Watergate, and "The Nixon Defense," for all its density and the publisher's claim that Dean has produced an "authoritative" work, doesn't begin to answer most of them.  We still don't even know who ordered the break-in or what the burglars were looking for.
I would like to know the answers to those questions, but doubt very much that I ever will.)
- 9:34 AM, 27 July 2014   [link]


Why The "Underpants" Bomber failed:
The notorious underwear bomber's plot in 2009 to blow up a plane on Christmas Day failed because the explosives became 'degraded' after he wore the same pair of underpants for two weeks, according to a U.S. official.
We can be grateful that he didn't listen to his mother's advice about changing his underwear — assuming Nigerian mothers give the same advice as American mothers.

More seriously, it looks to me as if we got lucky — and that we shouldn't count on being lucky in the same way the next time.
- 9:21 AM, 26 July 2014   [link]


Today's New Yorker Cartoon shows a modern party invitation.
- 7:10 AM, 25 July 2014   [link]


Local Entrepreneur Harassed By Feds:  Eric Jay Smith is in trouble for a little business he had on the side.
A Bellevue anesthesiologist is taking an immediate voluntary leave of absence as federal investigators continue to build a case against him alleging he ran a large prostitution ring using young women smuggled from Thailand and housed in several of Bellevue's ritziest high rises.
The company Dr. Smith works for, Matrix Anesthesia, provides services for one of the top hospitals in this area, Overlake.

The news accounts haven't said whether these young women had skills rare in the United States, whether they were doing work American women won't do, or some combination of the two.  But I expect those in favor of greater immigration will tell us, soon.

It all seems very multicultural to me, especially since his (unnamed) "close female associate" is almost certainly a woman from Thailand.

His money laundering technique seems a bit amateurish.
Federal investigators say the doctor used BECU ATM machines at a busy downtown Bellevue intersection on Bellevue Way and 2nd Street to deposit thousands of dollars in cash from the prostitution ring and launder the money.
(BECU = Boeing Employee Credit Union.  It has been many years since you had to be a Boeing employee to belong to this credit union.)

But I will admit that I don't know how professionals launder large amounts of illegal cash.

(FWIW, this story, except for the prominence of the Dr. Smith, is similar to other stories, in recent years, about brothels in Seattle's eastside suburbs.)
- 6:37 AM, 25 July 2014   [link]


Michelle Obama Has A Better Sense Of Humor Than I would have guessed
First lady Michelle Obama on Thursday night urged Democrats to “dig deep” into their pockets and “write a big fat check” before the midterm elections, but minutes later complained of too much money in politics.
That almost has to be a joke, especially coming after another big Barack Obama fund-raising trip.  Her timing might need a little work, though.

(You don't suppose that she really didn't see the contradiction, that she didn't intend that as a joke?)
- 5:47 AM, 25 July 2014   [link]