Archive:

March 2014, Part 1

Jim Miller on Politics




Pseudo-Random Thoughts



I Wasn't Going To Mention This Mistake, which seems like the kind of slip all of us make from time to time, but then the White House decided to try to hide it.
The White House stenographer appears to have given President Obama a little too much "respect."

Introducing soul legend Aretha Franklin at a White House performance Thursday night, the president flubbed the spelling of her signature song.

"When Aretha first told us what R-S-P-E-C-T meant to her..." Obama said, prompting laughter from the crowd.
. . .
But anyone reading the official transcript of the event provided by the White House would have had no idea of the president's mistake.  In that version, the president correctly spells out the word.
What's interesting is that he recognized his mistake, but didn't correct it at the time.

(Some of you will want to hear the song, having been reminded of it.  Here's a later, live version, and here's an explanation for why the song is important to some people:  Franklin's version "was a landmark for the feminist movement".

There are many songs of hers that I like better, for example, "You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman".)
- 3:10 PM, 7 March 2014   [link]


"HHS Doesn't Know How Many Uninsured Are Signing Up For Obamacare"  The main purpose of ObamaCare, you will recall, was to insure the uninsured.

So, how many of the uninsured have signed up?  They don't know.  In fact, they aren't even keeping a count of that number.
How many uninsured people are signing up?

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the health care law will reduce the number of uninsured people by about 24 million over the next few years, and that about 6 million previously uninsured people will gain coverage through the law's exchanges this year. So,  is enrollment on track to meet that goal?  Overall enrollment is looking pretty decent, but how many of the people who have signed up were previously uninsured?

"That's not a data point that we are really collecting in any sort of systematic way," [Gary] Cohen told the insurance-industry crowd on Thursday when asked how many of the roughly 4 million enrollees were previously uninsured.
Gary Cohen is "the soon-to-be-former director of the main implementation office at the Health and Human Services Department", so, if he doesn't know, most likely no one knows.   Officially.

But the findings of two recent surveys can not bring cheer to Cohen, and the rest at Health and Human Services.
The new health insurance marketplaces appear to be making little headway in signing up Americans who lack insurance, the Affordable Care Act’s central goal, according to a pair of new surveys.

Only one in 10 uninsured people who qualify for private plans through the new marketplaces enrolled as of last month, one of the surveys shows.  The other found that about half of uninsured adults have looked for information on the online exchanges or planned to look.
To be fair, insuring the uninsured is not an easy thing to do, as any insurance salesman can tell you.  But we would have been better off, in the long run, if those backing the bill had been more honest about that difficulty.
- 9:38 AM, 7 March 2014   [link]


So What Did Obama And Putin Talk About During That Hour?  I can't be the only person who is puzzled by the length of this conversation.
President Barack Obama held an hour-long telephone conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin Thursday afternoon in an effort to resolve the ongoing crisis in Ukraine, according to the White House.

The White House statement indicated no breakthrough or even any progress in the dispute about Russian troop movements into Ukraine’s Crimea region and Russia’s support for a referendum on making Crimea a part of Russia.

However, the statement said Obama urged Putin to work towards a diplomatic resolution to the standoff.
Urging Putin to "work towards a diplomatic resolution" would take one minute, or five minutes if they are talking in diplomatese.  Warning Putin about sanctions would take two minutes, or ten minutes in diplomatese.

That gets us up to about fifteen minutes, max.

I fear that Obama filled that hour by repeating his arguments, which would at first amuse Putin, and then annoy him.

(It's possible, of course, that Putin is responsible for the length of the phone call.  Some of his predecessors were famous, or perhaps infamous, for their long speeches.)
- 9:05 AM, 7 March 2014   [link]


A Family Of Smart Crooks Finally Gets Caught:  For years, I've wondered about the explanation for this fact:  Prisoners have lower than average IQs.  (And from time to time, you read about criminals who demonstrate that lack of intelligence, in spectacular fashion.)

There are two not-necessarily-conflicting explanations for that relationship:  Crime attracts people who aren't smart enough to see that it isn't a good career option, and we are more likely to catch the not-too-bright criminals.

The long, and one would have to admit, very successful criminal career of the Bogdanov family provides, at the very least, an example for the second explanation.
The suburban Chicago family stole with startling efficiency from toy stores, booksellers and coffee shops from Maryland to Texas, its matriarch often dressed in a bulky black dress outfitted with compartments for stuffing large merchandise, federal authorities said Wednesday.

Lego blocks, expensive dolls, electronics, cosmetics -- even bags of coffee from Starbucks – were concealed under clothing and slipped out of the stores.  Little by little, year after year, the three family members were able to make off with millions of dollars of merchandise from well-known retailers such as Barnes & Noble and Toys R Us, fencing the thousands of items on the online auction site eBay, charges alleged.
Millions of dollars from shop lifting, and shop lifting mostly relatively low value items at that.   These three, Branco Bogdanov, his wife Lela, and their daughter Julie, knew how to go about their illegal business.

They did get caught a few times at individual stores, and paid fines.  What finally tipped off authorities to the scale of their thefts was the fact they used a single fence, who sold the stolen items on eBay, from a single account.  When a large batch of thefts matched items there, the detectives had the clue they needed.

The Bodanovs, according to the article, are immigrants from the "former Yugoslavia".  We may have made a mistake letting them in.
- 2:23 PM, 6 March 2014   [link]


What Happened When Michelle Obama's Lunch Standards Were Imposed On School Lunch Rooms?  Pretty much what anyone who has paid attention to bureaucracies and kids would have expected.
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a wide-ranging audit of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act nutrition standards last week, finding 48 out of 50 states faced challenges complying with Mrs. Obama’s Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act.

The new standards led to kids throwing out their fruits and vegetables, student boycotts, higher lunch costs, and odd food pairings such as “cheese stick with shrimp” in order for schools to comply with the complicated rules.

The National School Lunch Program saw a sharp decline in participation once the healthy standards went into effect during the 2012-2013 school year.  A total of 1,086,000 students stopped buying school lunch, after participation had increased steadily for nearly a decade.
The Department of Agriculture says the new standards are "proving popular".

Not with the kids who, if they don't have free lunches, are having to pay more for less food.
- 1:48 PM, 6 March 2014   [link]


Has Putin Finally Gone too far?
Vladimir Putin has put President Barack Obama’s vacation plans on hold.

Obama is headed to Coral Reef High School in the southern part of Miami, Fla., on Friday for an event about education and the economy that first lady Michelle Obama had been expected to attend as well.  What hadn’t been known was that Obama’s daughters were planning to come with them, and that the four were going to extend the trip for a brief family getaway.

Now, the White House tells POLITICO that he’s reconsidering.
- 12:54 PM, 6 March 2014   [link]


NPR Makes an amusing, and possibly significant, mistake:
Just now on NPR’s Morning Edition (yes, I often listen) a story on yesterday’s failed vote on Debo Adegbile began “a handful of southern Democrats joined Republicans yesterday to defeat president Obama’s choice to head the Justice Department’s civil rights division.”
And then, according to commenters, did a stealth edit, so that if you listen to the story you will hear the host (probably Renée Montagne) say a "handful of Senate Democrats".

The story that follows lacks balance and insight.

The story was all about how effective the Federation of Police was in the lobbying, but did not mention the lobbying on the other side, or explain why many find the case against Adegbile so compelling.  Nor did it explain why President Obama and Majority Leader Reid decided to go ahead with this vote, even though they should have known they were going to lose.

(The most likely explanation, in my opinion, is that President Obama insisted on the vote, believing that he was standing up for justice.  It was a political mistake to nominate Adegbile, and it was a worse political mistake to force senate incumbents to make this difficult vote in an election year.

Note: I put up a post for a few minutes after I read the Goldberg post and listened to the edited introduction, saying that Goldberg had heard it wrong.  After reading the comments, I am almost certain that the recording was edited.  My apologies for not making one more check.)
- 8:39 AM, 6 March 2014   [link]


Andrew Klavan Is Having Way Too Much fun.
House of Cards, the Netflix series about a lethally unscrupulous Washington politician, is a wonderful show, but it does sometimes stretch the limits of credulity.  I have no trouble believing that a Democratic congressman would push a reporter in front of a train, but the idea that anyone in the press would try to expose him for it is flat-out ridiculous.  After all, Barack Obama has been pushing reporters under the bus for six years and nobody’s said a word.  Ah, well.  If the show gives leftist politicos nightmares about being held accountable for their actions by American journalists, they can simply keep repeating, “It’s only a movie, it’s only a movie.”
But Klavan is making some serious points, along the way.

In the third paragraph, for example, he describes a famous error by Andrew Rosenthal, who was rewarded for that error (and others) by a series of promotions, and is now the editorial page editor of the New York Times,  (Being the son of the executive editor, A. M. Rosenthal, may not have hurt his career.)

(Full disclosure:  I haven't seen House of Cards and currently don't intend to, but may have to, given its popularity in our capital.)
- 6:28 AM, 6 March 2014   [link]


More On Moazzam Begg:  Three days ago, I put up a post on the jihadist, arguing that he belonged in Guantánamo.

Here's a brief and very well-informed article supporting that position
Moazzam Begg and his allies claim he was wrongly detained and tortured. Human rights organizations and civil liberties groups have repeatedly endorsed this version of Begg’s life, making him one of the chief spokesmen for the anti-Gitmo crowd.  Amnesty International and the ACLU have enthusiastically promoted Begg as a truth teller.

There has always been much evidence to the contrary.  The real Moazzam Begg freely admitted to being part of the international terrorist network while at Guantanamo, according to official U.S. investigations.  And Begg was never tortured – far from it.  Instead, he willingly cooperated with FBI agents, who did not use harsh interrogation measures at Guantanamo.

The Department of Defense investigated Begg’s allegations of abuse three times and “found no evidence to substantiate his claims,” according to a report prepared by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) at the Department of Justice.
There's more in the article, especially this:  "And when the Obama administration sought to build additional support for resettling detainees in Europe, Begg was seen as an ally."

If you are like me, you'll find that both infuriating and amusing, but more infuriating than amusing.
- 7:04 PM, 5 March 2014   [link]


The Senate Rejected Debo Adegbile,
The Senate voted 47-52 Wednesday to reject controversial nominee Debo Adegbile to lead the Department of Justice's Division of Civil Rights.

Seven Democrats voted against moving forward with President Obama’s nomination of Adegbile, which the Fraternal Order of Police and other groups opposed because of his involvement in the defense of Mumia Abu-Jamal, who was convicted of killing a Philadelphia police officer in 1981.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) switched his vote from "yes" to "no" in a procedural move that allows him to bring the nomination up again for a future vote.
The seven Democrats who voted against him are Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), Joe Manchin (W.Va.), Mark Pryor (Ark.), Joe Donnelly (Ind.), John Walsh (Mont.), Chris Coons (Del.) and Bob Casey (Pa.).

Heitkamp, Manchin, and Donnelly represent states where Obama is especially unpopular.   Pryor and Walsh face tough races this November.  Casey and Coons represent states where there has been extensive coverage of that killing.

What's interesting is that other threatened Democrats did not vote against him, even though it must have been obvious that he was going to be defeated.

If you are wondering why he deserved to be defeated, you can find the answer here.

(Fun fact:  Mr. Adegbile's last name can be re-arranged to spell "aged bile".)
- 12:58 PM, 5 March 2014   [link]


The Barack Obama, Chris Christie, And Cory Booker Scandals:   Remember the government "shutdown"?  The Obama administration deliberately closed facilities to make the shutdown as painful as possible.  Most journalists seemed to think that this was not a scandal, just ordinary, hardball politics.

During his re-election campaign, several aides of Chris Christie decided to close lanes on a main bridge to punish a mayor who was not supporting Christie.  Many journalists seemed to think this was a big scandal, and the only question was whether Christie, who appears not to have known about the closing, should resign.

Then there are the Cory Booker scandals.  Have you even heard about them?   Probably not, unless you are a Republican with an obsessive interest in politics.  But there was a scathing column in, of all places, yesterday's New York Times, demonstrating that his time as Newark's mayor was a triumph of PR, but, on the whole, a failure otherwise.

There are a number of the scandals in the column; here's the first:
But a recent state audit underlines that the former mayor might have paid more attention to the prosaic business of running his city.  Instead of shoveling driveways — he loved on snowy days to run about Newark with his shovel — he could have attended a meeting, just one, of his Newark Watershed and Development Corporation.

It turns out this corporation, which the mayor championed and empowered, was pilfering Newark blind.

The executive director, Linda Watkins-Brashear, who was a close ally of the mayor, acted like a bear come to a honey pot.  The state controller found her total compensation over seven years came to $1.98 million.  Yet her salary during those years came to $1.16 million.

It seems she cut herself checks from the agency's accounts.  She also handed millions in no-bid contracts to friends and a former husband.  She has denied wrongdoing.
Let me repeat, that's just the first of the scandals in the column.  If you care about clean government, you'll want to read the whole thing.  And after that, just for contrast, you may want to read this admiring Washington Post article, which asks whether Booker will be a "perfect senator for ‘This Town’".)

This collection of scandals seems far more important to me than Obama's petty behavior during the shutdown, or what Christie's aides did in the lane closing.

(It is not clear to me what the Watershed agency was supposed to be doing, but judging by legal notice at their site, they may not be doing it much longer.

Here's the Wikipedia article on Cory Booker.  If you read it, you'll notice that it is, shall we say, incomplete.)
- 9:25 AM, 5 March 2014   [link]


No, The Niagara Falls Aren't "Frozen Over"  But they are frozen more than in most winters, giving photographers the opportunity to take some beautiful and eerie pictures.

By way of WattsUpWithThat.

(A little bit of thought will show you that, if the falls were frozen over, there would be, immediately, massive floods up stream.  Even in the winter, 50,000 cubic feet of water goes over the falls every second.)
- 8:16 AM, 5 March 2014   [link]


C-Sections And Later Obesity?  There appears to be an association.
People born by Caesarean section are more likely to be obese later in life than those born naturally, a large analysis suggests.

The analysis of 38,000 births, published in the journal PLoS One, showed the odds of being obese were 22% higher.
(Like the authors of the study, I would call this a "meta-analysis", since it is a study of studies.

There were different numbers of births used in different parts of the analysis, depending mostly on what data the previous studies had collected.  The researchers identified 15 studies that met their main criteria, but used just 12 of those studies for their "Primary analyses".  That's where that 38,000 number comes from.  In other articles on the study, you will see much higher numbers.)

An earlier and similar study found this weight gain pattern.
On average, kids delivered by C-section were born slightly smaller - by less than two ounces - than those who went through vaginal birth.

Starting at six weeks of age, however, C-section babies were consistently heavier than vaginally-born infants at almost all check-ins.  That link was especially strong among children born to overweight mothers, [Jan] Blustein and her colleagues report in the International Journal of Obesity.
In both studies, the authors were careful to say that they had found an "association", and that they did not know what caused that association.  But it is an interesting association.

And that isn't the only association that has been found in such studies, as you can see in this bit from the study itself.
Adverse effects of CS on the neonate immediately post-partum are widely recognised.  CS is associated with the highest rates of neonatal morbidity and mortality of all modes of delivery [9], with increased risk of a low 1-minute Apgar [10], respiratory distress, hypoglycaemia and a prolonged stay in a neonatal intensive care unit [11].

Controversially, it has been suggested that birth by CS predispose offspring to adverse health outcomes in childhood [9].  A 20% increased odds of asthma and type-1 diabetes, and a 23–32% increased odds of atopic disorders have been reported.
(CS = C-Section.  If I wasn't fooled by my quick search, an "atopic disorder" is a "tendency to be “hyperallergic".)

By way of this brief New York Times article.

(If C-sections do make obesity more likely, how does that happen?  I found two speculations about possible causes:  Babies born in C-sections may not get the right symbiotic intestinal bacteria, or they might not have the right genes "turned on" by the stress of a normal birth.

The BBC prefers "Caesarean", the Times, "Cesarean".  The first is how I would have spelled the word, but the second may be more common on this side of the Atlantic.)
- 4:50 PM, 4 March 2014   [link]


Andrew Malcolm's Weekly Collection of jokes.

It won't surprise you that Malcolm and I liked this one best:
Fallon: Obama tells supporters they’re doing God's work promoting ObamaCare.  God said, “Whoa!  Look, I’m flattered.  But ObamaCare?  That’s all you, man!”
This one's pretty good, too:
SethMeyers: Although Ukraine has been all over the news for weeks, a survey finds 64% of U.S. students still can’t find Ukraine on a map.  Said Vladimir Putin, “Soon, nobody will.”
- 8:35 AM, 4 March 2014   [link]


"Let’s Not Get Crazy About This Diversity Idea."  Who said that? The far left Democrat, and New York mayor, Bill de Blasio.
Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio, who vowed throughout his campaign to build an administration that mirrored the city, laughed off the idea of hiring Republicans this morning at a press conference announcing his latest pick.

“Let’s not get crazy about this diversity idea,” joked Mr. de Blasio when asked whether he was considering appointees from across the aisle as he works to fill his incoming administration.   The response draw laughs from Mr. de Blasio and many in the audience, including his wife.
For the record, de Blasio has hired at least few people who worked for a Republican mayor, Rudy Giuliani, but I think his joke tells us much about his plans, as jokes often do.

In Communist countries, the rulers often debated whether to fill posts with experts or ideologically pure party men.  Mayor de Blasio favors the latter approach.

This news has even reached the New York Times, where Nikita Stewart begins her article on his hiring polices with these two paragraphs:
In Bill de Blasio’s City Hall, it seems more and more, there is only a left wing.

The mayor, who advanced in politics by grass-roots organizing, has built a team filled with former activists — figures more accustomed to picketing administrations or taking potshots from the outside than working from within.
Activists whose administrative skills are, shall we say, unproven.

(As you would expect, de Blasio had promised during the campaign to have an administration that mirrored the city; as you should expect, he didn't really mean that.

He had an unusual early life, beginning as Warren Wilhelm, Jr. and going through two name changes to become Bill de Blasio.)
- 7:37 AM, 4 March 2014
Correction:  I was not paying enough attention to the date on the Politicker article — 22 December — and called de Blasio the mayor-elect, instead of the mayor, which he has been since 1 January.  I have corrected the text.
- 6:18 PM, 4 March 2014   [link]


One More Time For Glenn Kessler — Health Insurance Is Not The Same As "Access To Health Care", No Matter How Many Times Obama Says So:   And I plan to keep saying that until Kessler gets it right, and stops repeating Obama's statements confusing the two.

(I don't expect that Obama will ever straighten out the confusion he has caused on this, but that doesn't mean that Kessler should help Obama spread the confusion.)

Mostly for fun, let's start with the conclusion of Obama's primary victory speech in 2008.
Because if we are willing to work for it, and fight for it, and believe in it, then I am absolutely certain that generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless; this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal; this was the moment when we ended a war and secured our nation and restored our image as the last, best hope on earth.
(Emphasis added.)

Think about that part that I put in bold for just a moment.  Obama was implying that no one provided "care for the sick" before his nomination victory.  That got less attention than the oceans line, but it is far worse, because Obama was lying about the past, and the present, not making a wild prediction for the future.

Humans have always provided some care for the sick, and Americans have provided care for each other, in more and more organized ways, as we have become better able to afford it.   In fact, we spend more on care for the sick — by a considerable margin — than any other country.

What Obama was doing with that phrase was converting a routine campaign promise, to extend taxpayer-subsidized health insurance to more people, to the absurd claim that we could begin to provide care for the sick.

(As far as I know, the crowd listening to him did not roar with laughter, but they should have.)

And, though his language has usually been less grandiloquent since then, Obama continues to try to confuse us into thinking that access to taxpayer-subsidized health insurance is the same as access to health care.

And the "Fact Checker" at the Washington Post continues to accept that Obama deception, as he did in this piece.

Obama claimed that the expansion of Medicare had resulted in seven million more people having "access to health care for the first time".  Kessler showed, to his satisfaction, and mine, that somewhere between 1.1 million and 3.6 million had signed up for Medicaid insurance because of ObamaCare, and concluded that Obama was overestimating the effects of ObamaCare by millions.

Except that Obama didn't say what Kessler was refuting, but something far more grandiloquent, something more like that victory speech.

Let me give you first a personal example:  I have not had dental insurance for years.   Does that mean that, if I were to get it, I would, for the first time, have access to dental care?   No.  I have had access to dental care all my life, sometimes paid for by my parents, sometimes paid for partly by group dental insurance, and sometimes, now for instance, paid for entirely by me.  (With, once, a tax break that cut my net costs a bit.)

With that example in mind, consider one of the findings of the famous Oregon Medicaid experiment, in which some low-income people were enrolled in Medicaid, and a control group was not:   "On average, Medicaid patients spent $1,172 more than uninsured patients."  Which is not surprising because they received more health services.

And how many in that control group had no "access to health care"?  None, as far as I can tell, though many no doubt could not afford, or find, the kind of health care they might have chosen if someone else had been paying for part of the bills.  We know that because on the average they spent some money on health care.

If none seems too extreme, consider this:  Hospital emergency rooms are required to give emergency care to anyone who walks in, regardless of whether or not they have insurance, or even cash.  So everyone in the United States has access to some care.  And some of the best and most effective medical treatments, vaccinations for example, are so inexpensive than anyone can afford them.

So the correct conclusion is that Obama's Medicaid expansion provided taxpayer-subsidized insurance to somewhere between 1.1 million and 3.6 million, but "access to health care for the first time" to approximately no one.

(I've sent one email to Kessler pointing out this mistake in an earlier Fact Check.  I'll send him another this time, and every time he makes this error.

Credit where due:  "Patterico" spotted the same mistake.)
- 7:51 PM, 3 March 2014   [link]


Congratulations To Gary Locke:  This reaction to the departure of our ambassador to China suggests to me that he was more of a success in that job than many of us expected.

A major Chinese government news service used a racist slur to describe the departing American ambassador in a mean-spirited editorial on Friday that drew widespread public condemnation in China.

The article - which called former Washington Gov. Gary Locke a "rotten banana," a guide dog for the blind, and a plague - reflected Chinese nationalists' acute loathing toward the first Chinese-American to have been Washington's top envoy to Beijing.

Locke's ethnic background particularly interested the Chinese government and people.   Locke won public applause when he was seen carrying his own bag and flying economy class but he drew criticism from Beijing as his demeanor was an unwelcome contrast to Chinese officials' privileges and entitlements.

That personal attack suggests to me that the rulers of China are genuinely worried about the example he set.  (Although I have to admit that it isn't as good as some of their past rhetorical efforts such as "running dog of imperialism".)  And for that, Locke deserves some credit.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(If you aren't up on racial slurs, by calling him a "banana", they were saying that he is yellow on the outside and white on the inside.

I am old enough to remember how some in the Northeast were surprised when they saw the late senator Henry M. Jackson carrying his own bags during the 1972 presidential campaign — and how I was surprised that they were surprised.)
- 1:53 PM, 3 March 2014   [link]


After Reading Today's Paul Krugman Column, I wondered, briefly, whether the price for straw had gone up in the Princeton, New Jersey market.   Over the years, Krugman has constructed so many straw men that you begin to suspect that he has, all by himself, driven up the price in his area.

Two examples:
In part it reflects the belief that the government should never seek to mitigate economic pain, because the private sector always knows best.
. . .
The flip side of this anti-government attitude is the conviction that any attempt to boost the economy, whether fiscal or monetary, must produce disastrous results — Zimbabwe her we come!
Now I don't doubt that you could find a few people who hold those views, but they are not the views of the conservative economists that Krugman is attacking in the column.  (And I don't think it is accidental that the only two economists Krugman criticizes by name, Friedrich Hayek and Joseph Schumpeter, passed away years ago and so are unable to reply to Krugman.)

It is especially unfortunate that Krugman used these straw men in today's column, because he has a legitimate point to make.  He is right to say that many economists, not all of them on the right, expected more inflation from the Federal Reserve's easy money policies than we have seen.  If he had spent less time constructing his straw men and more time discussing why we haven't seen that inflation, readers might have learned something.

(Here's a review of the straw man argument.  Not so incidentally, President Obama is quite fond of this particular fallacy.

And, if you want more examples, you can find them here, from some acolytes — and I use the religious term deliberately — of Professor Krugman.)
- 1:25 PM, 3 March 2014   [link]


Science Denier Tim Egan:  New York Times columnist Tim Egan denies a basic biological fact, a fact that has been known since the 19th century.
As a corporation, Hobby Lobby asserts that life begins at conception.  It opposes the health care law's birth control mandate.  A day-old zygote is a person.  Preventing the implantation of of a fertilized egg with a standard intrauterine device, or I.U.D., is a form of abortion in their argument.

You can see where this is going: religion that trumps science, backed by the high court.
(Emphasis added.)

Actually, Mr. Egan, it's not just Hobby Lobby that asserts that human life begins at conception, but every reputable biologist.

A person, even a "mainstream" journalist, can accept that scientific fact and still favor abortion, but apparently that's too hard for Egan, who wants to pose as being on the side of science, even while he denies a basic scientific fact.
- 7:26 AM, 3 March 2014   [link]


Is President Obama A Realist Or A Fantasist?  Last week, I ran across Fred Kaplan's claim that Obama is a realist (like Kaplan himself).
More than five years into Obama’s presidency, the single word that best sums up his foreign policy is “realist”—in some cases, as one former adviser told me, “hard-nosed,” even “cold” realist.

Like all postwar presidents, Obama speaks in hallowed terms about America’s global mission.   But his actions reveal an aversion to missionary zeal.  He has ended the regime-changing wars he inherited, and done much to avoid new ones.  He rarely hectors foreign leaders about their internal affairs, at least in public.  He suffers no ideological hang-ups about negotiating with dreadful rulers or sworn enemies, such as Iran, for the sake of national-security interests.  To ease America’s way out of Afghanistan, he has cozied up to Central Asian autocrats and tolerated Pakistan’s duplicity.  With almost clinical detachment, he has reassessed U.S. relationships in East Asia, embracing authoritarian regimes in Myanmar and Vietnam to promote trade and check an expansive China.

Obama’s belief in American values isn’t entirely rhetorical; he will sometimes place ideals above interests, though rarely when the two collide.
(You may recall that, during the 2008 campaign, he admitted that genocide might be a consequence of his preferred Iraq policy.  Whether that is "realistic" or not, it is certainly cold.)

Today, the Washington Post published an editorial titled "President Obama’s foreign policy is based on fantasy".
For five years, President Obama has led a foreign policy based more on how he thinks the world should operate than on reality.  It was a world in which “the tide of war is receding” and the United States could, without much risk, radically reduce the size of its armed forces.  Other leaders, in this vision, would behave rationally and in the interest of their people and the world.  Invasions, brute force, great-power games and shifting alliances — these were things of the past.  Secretary of State John F. Kerry displayed this mindset on ABC’s “This Week” Sunday when he said, of Russia’s invasion of neighboring Ukraine, “It’s a 19th century act in the 21st century.”

That’s a nice thought, and we all know what he means.  A country’s standing is no longer measured in throw-weight or battalions.  The world is too interconnected to break into blocs.  A small country that plugs into cyberspace can deliver more prosperity to its people (think Singapore or Estonia) than a giant with natural resources and standing armies.

Unfortunately, Russian President Vladimir Putin has not received the memo on 21st-century behavior.  Neither has China’s president, Xi Jinping, who is engaging in gunboat diplomacy against Japan and the weaker nations of Southeast Asia.
. . .
But it’s also true that, as long as some leaders play by what Mr. Kerry dismisses as 19th-century rules, the United States can’t pretend that the only game is in another arena altogether.   Military strength, trustworthiness as an ally, staying power in difficult corners of the world such as Afghanistan — these still matter, much as we might wish they did not.  While the United States has been retrenching, the tide of democracy in the world, which once seemed inexorable, has been receding.  In the long run, that’s harmful to U.S. national security, too.
So, is Obama a realist or a fantasist?

My short answer, which is not as paradoxical as it may seem, is that he is both.

When it comes to winning power here in the United States, he has been a supreme realist, willing to say, and sometimes do, whatever he thinks he can get away with.  He has been willing to have as allies men — Reverend Wright and Tony Rezko come to mind — who other politicians would have considered too unsavory.  And that didn't stop when he reached the White House; one of the guests at the state dinner for French President Hollande was race hustler Al Sharpton.

But when it comes to foreign policy, he has been a fantasist.  He appeared to actually believe that his Cairo speech could change relations between Muslims and the West.   He has pursued a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, even though it is clear that Palestinian leaders do not want an agreement — and might not stay in power, or even alive, if they signed one.

He has needlessly offended friends and allies.

At a time when our potential opponents are increasing their armed strength, he is calling for cutting back on ours.

Worst of all, from my point of view, Obama does not appear to have learned from his mistakes.   Say what you will about Jimmy Carter, he did change American policies after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.  Unfortunately, there is nothing in Obama's record to suggest that he might do something similar.

(I would argue that Obama is also often a fantasist about domestic policy, as opposed to politics.  He understands how to win power, but not how to devise programs that actually work.

For more on this question you could read Thomas Donnelly, who mostly disapproves of Obama's foreign policies, and thinks they are unrealistic, or James Fallows, who mostly approves of Obama's foreign policies, and thinks they are realistic.)
- 6:37 AM, 3 March 2014   [link]


"Putin Bullying Obama?"  CNN gets suspicious.  Or perhaps I should say, even CNN gets suspicious.
- 5:02 AM, 3 March 2014   [link]


Moazzam Begg Should Have Stayed In Guantánamo:   That's the conclusion I draw from his arrest.
Former Guantanamo Bay detainee Moazzam Begg has been remanded in custody after appearing in court charged with terror offences related to Syria.

Mr Begg appeared at Westminster Magistrates Court and denied the charges of providing terrorist training and funding terrorism overseas.
Begg fooled some "human rights" organizations, including Amnesty International — which may have wanted to be fooled.

The BBC gives a brief explanation for him being in Guantánamo.
He is a British citizen who moved to Afghanistan with his family in 2001, before moving again to Pakistan in 2002 when the Afghanistan war started.
So brief as to be misleading.  A very quick search led me to this post, which gives a more accurate description of his background.
Secondly there is the issue of Begg himself.  In Norwich he stated that his rendition was due to a UK intelligence services dossier re his visits to Bosnia in the early 1990s.  This told the Americans he was a threat. Nothing more was said that evening, yet anyone with even a cursory glance of Begg’s book ‘Enemy Combatant’ can see this is far from being the whole truth.

In 1993 Begg visited a Jamaat-e-Islami training camp in Afghanistan, a camp still operating some four years after the Soviets had left the country. He then visited an adjoining Arab camp (p.50-57).

He explains to his future wife that something may happen to him if he goes to Bosnia (p.59) before going to a Mujahideen camp in the country (p.66-67).  He subsequently plans a trip to Chechnya – not exactly the sort of place you go to for a Club 18-30 – but is stopped on his way out of the UK by the security services.  He attempts to travel there anyway, but is refused entry to Georgia (p.87) so cannot reach his desired destination.
Note, please, that Paul Stott is using Begg's own book to make the case.  It is likely that the British and American security services have much more on the man.

(Begg is connected to one of the murderers of But just from what he has written, I would say that it is nearly certain that Begg has been a professional jihadist for decades.

(Begg is connected to one of the murderers of Lee Rigby.

Begg received "£1million compensation by Britain for alleged complicity in his torture".  I have no idea whether he was actually tortured by us, by the British, by the Pakistanis, or the Afghans.  But I do know that Al Qaeda operatives are expected to charge that they have been tortured, whether or not they actually have been.)
- 5:34 PM, 2 March 2014   [link]


New York Times Columnist Gail Collins Can't Understand Why American Have Become More Accepting Of Gay Marriage, But Not Abortion:  Ann Althouse, who read Collins so you don't have to, tries to explain.

It's a good post, but I thought, if anything, Althouse gave Collins too much credit.

Collins was born in 1945, and has worked as a journalist all her adult life.  At the peak of her career, 2001-2007, Collins was the editorial page editor of the New York Times.

Despite all that experience — and a BA in journalism and an MA in government — Collins is unable, or unwilling, to describe the thinking, accurately, of the pro-life side of the abortion debate.

Now, that is extraordinary.  It's like meeting an American sports reporter who couldn't explain the differences between football and baseball.  Or a food writer who can't explain the differences between fish and fowl.

A moderately informed high school student should be able to describe, roughly, both sides of the debate over abortion.  But somehow that simple task is beyond one of the most prominent journalists in America.

(Those who have read about Jonathan Haidt's findings will not be entirely surprised by this.   Among other things, he found that social conservatives were more likely to understand liberals than liberals were to understand social conservatives.)
- 5:33 PM, 1 March 2014   [link]


Two High-Stress Cartoons I Liked:  Those who go to too many business meetings will recognize this first one, though I can't guarantee they will like it.

And some parents will think that this second one has an idea worth considering.
- 4:44 PM, 1 March 2014   [link]


More Than Routine Food Stamp Fraud:  In this area, when a store owner is arrested for food stamp fraud, you can be nearly certain that the owner is an immigrant, and that he or she was paying at most 50 cents on the dollar for the EBT cards.  (Which always makes me wonder just how much the sellers needed those cards, in order to get enough to eat.)

This latest case, from a city north of Seattle, Everett, had both those standard features, but also had more, much more.
A police raid on a downtown mini-mart Tuesday morning was the culmination of a 17-month investigation into food-stamp fraud.

Fraz A. “Tony” Mushtaq, 34, the owner of the A One Smoke & Grocery store at Everett and Colby avenues, is suspected of paying people cents on the dollar for access to their state food-benefits cards.

He also is under investigation for allegedly buying and selling merchandise shoplifted from area stores, money laundering and selling an illegal form of synthetic marijuana known as “spice,” police say.
. . .
Mushtaq is from Pakistan and became a U.S. citizen a couple of years ago, (Everett police Lt. Jim] Duffy said.  Investigators believe he was sending money from his store back home to Pakistan.

They found no evidence the money was being used there for any improper activities, Duffy said.
So he and his brother Ayaz Ahmed, who was also arrested, are not accused of financing terrorism, just selling drugs and stealing us blind.

So far, I haven't seen any explanation for his admission to this country, and to citizenship.

At this point, I'm going to say something that would get me in trouble with the diversity police, if they were ever to read this blog:  The amount of corruption varies widely from nation to nation, with most nations having much more corruption than we do.  When we admit people from a country where corruption is routine — Pakistan, for instance — we are likely to bring in many people who see no reason to give up corruption, just because they have a new address.

Economists, who mostly favor increased immigration, generally ignore that problem and instead talk about the advantages — to us — of bringing in highly-educated and well-off immigrants.  I won't say they are always wrong, or even usually wrong, but I will say that we also should look at the values of potential immigrants, or what an older generation would have called their morals.
- 4:23 PM, 1 March 2014   [link]