Archive:

March 2014, Part 2

Jim Miller on Politics




Pseudo-Random Thoughts



What Happens When You Give Pro-Vaccination Information To American Parents?  They become less likely to favor vaccinations for their children, mostly because the messages failed with the group public health officials most want to reach:
A recent study of the efficacy of pro-vaccine messages found that they had an unexpected effect on American parents:  They made those already skeptical even less likely to vaccinate their kids.
Unlike David Goldenberg I don't find that result to be at all "unexpected".

(You can find more, with links, in this rather snarky article, though Amanda Marcotte does not mention the inconvenient fact that skepticism about vaccines is more common on the left than the right.)
- 8:31 PM, 16 March 2014   [link]


We Are Still In A "Mancession"  Floyd Norris brings us the welcome news that the number of private sector jobs is finally back to its January 2008 peak.  (Although, of course, our working age population has grown considerably in those six years.)

However, the gains have been slow, and unevenly distributed.
At the bottom of the cycle , in February 2010, the number of employees was down 7.6 percent from the peak.

There have been six cycles since 1950 in which the number of people employed by the private sector fell by at least 3 percent from the peak before the downturn.  Until the latest one, the largest decline was 5.6 percent, during the sharp downturn in jobs that began in 1957 and ended in 1959.

Men suffered more than women in the recent downturn, with the number of jobs held by men falling by 9.9 percent at the worst point, twice the decline in jobs held by women.  Women now hold more private sector jobs than ever before, but it is likely to be sometime in 2015 when men surpass their previous high, assuming the recovery continues at its current pace.
(There is a neat symmetry in those changes; women have 1.4 percent more private sector jobs than they held in 2008; men have 1.4 percent fewer jobs than they held then.)

How much did Obama administration policies cause those different results?  Not a lot, in my opinion, though, as you may recall, Obama did agree to shift stimulus money away from jobs held mostly by "burly men".

We should, I think, be looking harder for ways to help men find jobs — and I like to think I would say that, even if I weren't a man.

(This last recession combined the worst aspects of both the earlier and later recessions in those six.  Like the earlier recessions, the drop off in jobs was sharp; like the later recessions, the recovery has been slow.)
- 7:51 PM, 16 March 2014   [link]


More On The CIA-Feinstein Fight:  This Washington Post article is, I think, broadly consistent with my somewhat snarky summary, yesterday.

But there were two details in it that I found fascinating:
Bipartisan backing for the probe unraveled when it became clear that CIA operatives, who also faced a Justice Department criminal inquiry, were not going to cooperate.

“I thought the investigation would be totally lacking” without the ability to interview CIA employees involved in the program, said former senator Christopher “Kit” Bond (Mo.), who was the ranking Republican.  He and other GOP members backed out.

Republicans also voiced concern that the report would be shaped by political interests.

The partisan split extended through the staff ranks.  Republican aides who had been reviewing documents alongside their Democratic counterparts were soon kept out of the document facility by a newly installed security keypad on the door, officials said.  They were later given access in a separate room so they could keep reviewing the raw files and possibly submit dissenting views on the final report.
So the Democrats were going to conduct an investigation without talking to the people they might be accusing of committing crimes — and, for a time, kept the Republicans from looking at the documents and, even now, are preventing those Republican aides from watching the Democrats.

(There are almost always conflicts between simultaneous criminal and congressional investigations.  We have ways of resolving those conflicts, for example, grants of immunity, but none of those ways is entirely satisfactory.)
- 9:23 AM, 14 March 2014   [link]


Did Karama Blackhorn Disinvite Herself?  If you follow conservative sites, or listen to talk radio, you probably heard this story.
A group of employees, under the name “Staff, Faculty and Administrators of Color,” at South Puget Sound Community College in Olympia sent an invitation to all 300 staffers to attend a diversity “happy hour,” a local news station [King 5] reported.

School officials were asked to reply to the invitation to find out the confidential date and time of when the event would be held.  According to the station, the invite made it clear white people were not invited.

“If you want to create space for white folks to meet and work on racism, white supremacy, and white privilege to better our campus community and yourselves, please feel free to do just that,” the email read.
Ms. Blackhorn is sticking to her position, though the college isn't:
“When trying to explicitly talk about race it can be a really difficult conversation for a lot of people,” she told the station.

“That space is not for white people.  That space is for people of color,” she said of the center.

But the school disagreed and canceled the event, issuing an apology on its Facebook page.
But there was a detail I learned this morning when I decided to find out more about her.   In 2009, she received a scholarship from the Pride Foundation.   Here's how they described her in their list of awards:
Karama identifies as a low income, first generation, Scottish and Kahosadi activist dyke.   She has been involved with queer, youth and education activism since she was 15 years old and is attending The Evergreen State College for a B.A. in Queer Studies and Social Justice.   Karama created Queering Olympia, Queer Space Reclamation project, and coordinates the Evergreen Queer Alliance.
(If you are a suspicious type, you may wonder why she said "identifies", rather than "is".)

Never having heard of a Kahosadi tribe, I did a brief search for them, and came up empty, except for her claim that the tribe belonged to the Siletz Confederation.  But the Kahosadi weren't listed on that official site.

This doesn't mean that the tribe doesn't exist, since the "official" tribes aren't exactly the same as the *actual tribes, but it does make you wonder.

As does the picture accompanying this article.   You can decide for yourself whether she looks more Scottish or Kahosadi.

(*It can be hard to make official lists of Indian tribes because they did not have written languages until after they encountered whites.  Even when the tribes used consistent names for themselves — and they didn't always — those names were written down, in many different ways, by the explorers and fur traders who first encountered them.)
- 8:24 AM, 14 March 2014
Update:  The Kahosadi are a sub-division of the Shasta tribe, but, so far, I haven't found any evidence that Blackhorn is a Kahosadi, or that she is an enrolled member of another tribal group.
- 2:16 PM, 17 March 2014   [link]


If You Want To Understand The CIA-Senator Feinstein Dispute, I'd suggest reading this Debra Saunders column.
In March 2009, the [Senate Intelligence] committee voted to conduct a comprehensive review of Bush interrogation and detention policies and asked the CIA for all relevant documents.   This is one of those "be careful what you ask for" moments.  As Feinstein noted Tuesday, there followed a classic "document dump."  Under then-CIA Director Leon Panetta, the CIA delivered 6.2 million pages of documents -- so many that only the CIA could process the data.

In 2010, committee staff first noticed that some documents had disappeared.  DiFi protested.  A CIA liaison apologized.  The same year, staffers somehow found draft versions of the "internal Panetta review," which, according to Feinstein, included "analysis and acknowledgment of significant CIA wrongdoing."  Feinstein doesn't know whether the Panetta docs got into the committee computer "intentionally by the CIA, unintentionally by the CIA or intentionally by a whistle-blower."
Why did the Democrats on the committee want all these documents?  In order "to re-litigate Bush policies that have been the target of Democratic denunciation for years and the subject of many revealing investigations".

And you should not miss this important detail:
In the process of the back and forth over the summaries, the CIA discovered that the Senate committee already possessed the documents that it had requested, according to the U.S. official.  That discovery triggered an audit of the CIA databases used by the Senate staff members by the agency’s own information technology specialists, the official added.

The agency's audit concluded that the Senate staffers using the database had accessed documents they were not authorized to see.
(Emphasis added.)

So some staffers may have been spying on the CIA.

Here's my own speculative — let me repeat, speculative — summary of what has happened:

Some Democratic senators, and some of their staffers, are absolutely convinced that the Bush administration, especially the CIA, was too mean to terrorists.  (A few even believe that the Obama administration has been too mean to terrorists.)

In order to prove this —' to their satisfaction — they requested this document dump, which the CIA was in charge of.

Those Democrats put out a classified report saying that the Bush administration was, indeed, too mean to terrorists.  And that being too mean hadn't helped us learn anything, anyway.

The CIA disputed those conclusions.

Some Democratic staffers accessed documents they were not supposed to, in order to bolster their argument that the Bush administration was too mean to terrorists.

The CIA heard about this and did an audit — which Feinstein is calling spying on Congress.

Most likely none of this would have happened, if the CIA had simply agreed with the Democratic attacks on the Bush administration.
- 9:44 AM, 13 March 2014   [link]


Senate Update From Sabato's Shop:  Here's the bottom line in their state-by-state analysis.
So the 10 races we judge likeliest to change parties in November are all currently held by Democrats.
I don't see any races where I would disagree, though I should add that I do not know enough about the candidates in some of the states to have an opinion on those summaries.

(I am a little more impressed than Kyle Kondik, who wrote the piece, by Michigan Republican Terri Lynn Land, mostly because she won two statewide races in Michigan, in 2002 and 2006.  (She couldn't run again for secretary of state because of term limits.)  She's a Gerald Ford Republican originally, which is probably still a small plus, in Michigan.
- 8:46 AM, 13 March 2014   [link]


What Issue Areas Do Americans Worry About, Personally?  Gallup has new survey results on that question.  It won't surprise you that at the top is the economy, and close behind are "federal spending and the deficit" and "the availability and affordability of health care".

But what interested Gallup most was an issue area next to the last in that list.
Twenty-eight U.S. senators held an all-night "talkathon" Monday to call attention to climate change, an issue that only 24% of Americans say they worry about a great deal.  This puts climate change, along with the quality of the environment, near the bottom of a list of 15 issues Americans rated in Gallup's March 6-9 survey.  The economy, federal spending, and healthcare dominate Americans' worries.

This was the first year Gallup included "climate change" in the list of worries tested in the annual March Environment survey.  Americans are less worried only about race relations than they are about climate change.  The majority of Americans say they worry about these two issues "only a little" or "not at all"; more than half of Americans worry about the other 13 issues at least "a fair amount."
Specifically, 24 percent of the respondents said they worry about climate change a "great deal", and 25 percent said they worry about about it a "fair amount".  For race relations, the corresponding numbers were 17 and 26 percent.

Given that climate change is not an important issue to most Americans, why would those twenty-eight Democratic senators pull that all-nighter?  Explanations vary (and no doubt are not the same for all twenty-eight).  You could say they are being idealistic, trying to warn Americans about a danger they see coming.  You could say the senators are being cynical, and using the talkathon to raise money from gullible people like Tom Steyer.

Those who hold the second view would note that the Senate, controlled by the Democrats, did not even vote on the cap-and-trade bill that passed the House after the 2008 election.  And they would add that the twenty-eight did not propose any specific legislation during the talkathon.

And those who are even generally familiar with policies and elections would note that the "availability and affordability of energy" ranks higher among our concerns.  Americans are more likely to care about the price of gasoline now than the temperature of the earth in 2114.

(Gallup calls these "issues"; I prefer "issue areas", since each of them includes many different issues.

Gallup asked the respondents how much they worried about each issue area, "personally".  I assumed Gallup added the "personally" in order to identify issues that might affect votes.

Last month, I noted that the budget deficit would be an important issue for many voters.   These findings support my argument.)
- 4:14 PM, 12 March 2014   [link]


A Republican Wins A Special House Election In A District That Has Been Republican Since 1954:  So, should we draw any great conclusions from David Jolly's win over Alex Sink in Florida's 13th district?  Should Republicans be jolly, and should Democratic hopes sink?  (Sorry, couldn't resist playing with the names of the two candidates.)

Probably not.

First, some background on the district.  It has been renumbered and, of course, redistricted, but the district, in Pinellas County, can be traced back to a district won by Republican William Cramer in 1954.  That win was the first House win for a Republican in Florida since Horace Bisbee, Jr. won in 1882.

The district had been becoming more Republican for some time, mostly thanks to Republicans moving in from the north, and it continued to do so for some decades, but in recent years the district has gained Democrats and become a true swing district.  Robert Cook rates it R+1, which looks reasonable to me, since Bush won it in 2004, 51-49, and Obama won it in 2012, 50-49.   Bill Young, who had represented the district since 1970, won the district 58-42, in 2012, which is a solid, but unspectacular, win for a man who had been representing the district that long.

In short, a win for either party would not be surprising, but, everything else being equal, we should expect that a Republican candidate would have a small edge.

Nonetheless, Stuart Rothenberg called the race a "must win" for the Democrats.
It’s rare in politics that anything other than a presidential contest is viewed as a “must win” — but the special election in Florida’s 13th District falls into that category for Democrats.

A loss in the competitive March 11 contest would almost certainly be regarded by dispassionate observers as a sign that President Barack Obama could constitute an albatross around the neck of his party’s nominees in November.  And that could make it more difficult for Democratic candidates, campaign committees and interest groups to raise money and energize the grass roots.
In my opinion, Rothenberg put too much importance on this race.  Like many others, he is looking for clues for what might happen this fall.  And, if you pore over the entrails long enough you are likely to see something — whether it is there or not.

(Too mildly technical points and two fun facts:

One reason that Rothenberg thought the Democrats had a good chance to win the district is that they got their A-list candidate.   Alex Sink had run for, and won a statewide election in Florida, and came awfully close to being elected governor in 2010, losing to Rick Scott by just 1 percent.  Most observers thought she was the stronger candidate, even though she did not live in the district when she decided to run.

A Libertarian, Lucas Overby, took 4.8 percent of the vote.  Most political observers would expect a Libertarian to hurt the Republican more than the Democrat, but that isn't necessarily true.

Alex Sink is descended from one of the famous Siamese twins.

The 13th district is the site of the very first Hooters restaurant.)
- 6:30 AM, 12 March 2014   [link]


Great (Though Unintentional) Joke:  This morning, I saw a claim at local leftist web site that "lefty blogs are so much funnier than the conservative ones".  I've been reading the site regularly for years, and can't ever recall seeing a good joke there, or even a mediocre joke.

But then I came across this post about a dispute at ThinkProgress, one of the top leftist blogs.  As part of the discussion the author of the post included this comment from ThinkProgress's Editor-in-Chief Judd Legum: "ThinkProgress doesn’t have policy positions per se — we are a news site."

Now, that's funny.  In fact, I will say that it is funnier than anything I have put up here in the last few days.

So perhaps that local author, who I will not link to out of kindness, had a point — if you include unintentional humor.
- 1:13 PM, 11 March 2014   [link]


Every Year About This Time, my eyes remind me that they really don't like tree pollen.

And every year that comes as a little bit of a surprise to me, so it takes me a day or so to remember to take an antihistamine.  (And then I get reminded that even second-generation antihistamines, like this one, often leave me wanting a nap, badly.)

All of which is a long way of explaining why you have seen fewer posts here in the last few days.
- 12:42 PM, 11 March 2014   [link]


Congratulations To Kim Jong-un on his remarkable election victory
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has been elected to the country's rubber-stamp parliament with a unanimous vote from his district, state media say.

Mr Kim's 100% approval from his Mount Paektu constituency reflects the "absolute support" of people in the country, KCNA news agency says.
Turnout was quite good, too.

To help us understand this election triumph, the BBC compiled a brief list of similar elections, and makes this general point:
Many like Jong-un were unopposed.  But in other cases, token or sham opposition candidates are put up, says [Michael] Svetlik.  Autocrats realise that to "play this game they need to have competition, so they create competition".
These fake elections, whether the results are unanimous or nearly so, are an odd tribute to democracy.  The tyrants understand that, in the modern world, elections can give legitimacy to a government, and so they put elections on for show.
- 6:01 AM, 11 March 2014   [link]


After John McCain Described President Obama's Foreign Policy as "feckless" and columnist Dana Milbank described Obama, jokingly, as a "feckless tyrant", a certain kind of person — me, for instance — will start wondering what a feck foreign policy, or what a feck tyrant, would be like.

As it turns out, "feck" is a real word, though so uncommon it doesn't appear in my American Heritage dictionary.  It does appear in my Shorter Oxford English Dictionary and, in a longer entry, in Wikipedia.

As it turns out, the word has several modern slang meanings, but the original meaning tells us where feckless comes from:
Feck (or fek) is a form of effeck, which is in turn the Scots form of effect.  However, this Scots noun has additional significance:

Efficacy; force; value; return
Amount; quantity (or a large amount/quantity)
The greater or larger part (when used with a definite article)

From the first sense we derive feckless, meaning witless, weak or ineffective; worthless; irresponsible; indifferent; lazy.
So a "feck" foreign policy would be an effective foreign policy, which makes sense.  And a "feck" tyrant would be an effective tyrant, which is understandable, but makes less sense.

(I suspect that "feck" fell out of use in part because of its similarity to another English word.   For what it is worth, the Shorter OED has no entries for "fick" or "fock", which could also be confused with that word.  The dictionary does have "fack", as a non-standard way to spell "fact".)
- 8:15 AM, 10 March 2014   [link]


"Fukushima Radiation To Hit West Coast"  That's the Drudge headline for this article, which is less alarmist than most such articles.
Very low levels of radiation from the Fukushima nuclear disaster likely will reach ocean waters along the U.S. West Coast next month, scientists are reporting.

Current models predict that the radiation will be at extremely low levels that won't harm humans or the environment, said Ken Buesseler, a chemical oceanographer at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution who presented research on the issue last week.
But the article leaves out two homely comparisons that would help most readers understand what he means by "very low levels of radiation".

The first question I would ask Buessler is whether there is any way a person on the West Coast could get a higher dose than they get from eating one banana.
Bananas are naturally slightly radioactive,[20][21] more so than most other fruits, because of their potassium content and the small amounts of the isotope potassium-40 found in naturally occurring potassium.[22]  The banana equivalent dose of radiation is sometimes used in nuclear communication to compare radiation levels and exposures.[23]
The second question I would ask Buessler is whether there is any way a person on the West Coast could get a higher dose than they could get from owning a granite countertop.
Granite is a natural source of radiation, like most natural stones.  However, some granites have been reported to have higher radioactivity thereby raising some concerns about their safety.

Some granites contain around 10 to 20 parts per million of uranium. By contrast, more mafic rocks such as tonalite, gabbro or diorite have 1 to 5 PPM uranium, and limestones and sedimentary rocks usually have equally low amounts.
. . .
There is some concern that materials sold as granite countertops or as building material may be hazardous to health.  Dan Steck of St. Johns University, has stated[15] that approximately 5% of all granite will be of concern, with the caveat that only a tiny percentage of the tens of thousands of granite slab types have been tested.
That's a harder question since the range of radioactivity is greater in granites than in bananas, but it is still a question that Buessler should be able to answer.

I can't answer either question right now, because I haven't seen any estimates for the Fukushima radiation (or any descriptions of natural processes that might concentrate it).  But I suspect that the answers to both questions would be no, because the Pacific Ocean is a good place to dilute almost anything, and because enough time has passed so that the radiation has been reduced by natural decay.

(Fun fact:  Some granite buildings emit enough radiation so that they would be illegal — if they were nuclear power plants.)
- 7:12 AM, 10 March 2014   [link]


Jonathan Turley May Be A Leftist, But He's A Leftist with principles.
Recently, a bizarre scene unfolded on the floor of the House of Representatives that would have shocked the framers of the Constitution.  In his State of the Union address, President Obama announced that he had decided to go it alone in areas where Congress refused to act to his satisfaction.  In a system of shared powers, one would expect an outcry or at least stony silence when a president promised to circumvent the legislative branch.  Instead, many senators and representatives erupted in rapturous applause; they seemed delighted at the notion of a president assuming unprecedented and unchecked powers at their expense.

Last week, Obama underlined what this means for our system: The administration unilaterally increased the transition time for individuals to obtain the level of insurance mandated by the Affordable Care Act.  There is no statutory authority for the change — simply the raw assertion of executive power.
And such leftists have become rare in the Obama years, so when we see one, we should give him, or her, a little credit, perhaps even more than a little credit.  You can do that by reading the whole op-ed.  You may even want to pass it along to friends and family.

Turley says that he "happen[s] to agree with many of the president's policies", while condemning the lawless way Obama has gone about implementing many of them.

He is right, in my opinion, to emphasize that doing the right thing is not enough in itself, since in government we usually need to do the right thing, in the right, that is, the constitutional, way.

Turley worries that Obama is setting precedents that future (Republican) presidents will abuse.  I see less to worry about there than he does, since Republicans are more likely to adhere to the rule of law than Democrats, and far more likely to be castigated by our "mainstream" journalists, if they step over the line.

(Those who are unfamiliar with his work may want to glance through this Wikipedia biography.

Although he has principles, Turley does not mention what you have probably already guessed, that the senators and representatives who were applauding were Democrats, not Republicans.)
- 7:29 PM, 9 March 2014   [link]


When I First Read The Sad Story of Gemma Worrall's unfortunate tweet, I felt sorry for her.
When a young British beautician realised relations between Russia and Ukraine were at crisis point, she decided to share her feelings on Twitter.

Without pausing to check her facts, or her spelling, Gemma Worrall, 20, wrote: 'If barraco barner is our president, why is he getting involved with Russia, scary.'
Because, as you can imagine, people all over the world are laughing at her.

But then old habits kicked in, and I began to try to reconstruct Miss Worrall's political world view.

It is safe to say, I think, that she does not spend much time reading political news, or she would have come closer to the actual spelling of President Obama's name.

That's the easiest part of her world view — oh, heck, let's go ahead and say her weltanschauung — to figure out.  But the rest isn't that complicated — if you have been doing this kind of thing for years.

Thinking that Obama is her president isn't hard to understand; a great many people, especially in the free world, think that the American president belongs to them, too — and that they should have some say in picking our president.  You may recall that Britain's Guardian actually tried, unsuccessfully, to influence our 2004 election, with their operation Clark County.   (The newspaper didn't seem to think that we should have the same say in picking their prime minister.)

Nor is the idea that the United States, and President Obama, are interfering in Russia's affairs.   That idea has been around, approximately forever, especially in left-wing circles.  You can find, on almost any college campus, distinguished professors who share her belief, though they might explain their thoughts in words with many more syllables.  They, like Worrall, are part of what Jean Kirkpatrick called the "Blame America First" crowd.

So this beautician's tweet, which drew so much scorn, turns out to be similar to the thoughts of many well-educated leftists, though, no doubt, most of them would have spelled Obama's name correctly.

(Here's a defense of Worrall that you may find amusing, or even, possibly, enlightening.

She's not completely uneducated, by the way, since she earned a GCSE in English, before becoming a beautician.)
- 2:13 PM, 9 March 2014   [link]