Archive:

November 2013, Part 1

Jim Miller on Politics




Pseudo-Random Thoughts



Is Secretary Sebelius Going Under The Bus, Soon?   Maybe, as you can see from this NBC interview.
CHUCK TODD:

You still have full confidence in Kathleen Sebelius?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:
You know, I think Kathleen Sebelius, under tremendously difficult circumstances over the last four and a half years-- has done a great job in setting up-- the insurance markets so that there is a good product out there for people to get.  You know, Kathleen Sebelius doesn't write code.  Yeah, she wasn't our I.T. person.  I think she'd be the first to admit that-- if we had to do it all over again, that there would have been a whole lot more questions that were asked, in terms of how this thing is working.  But my priority right now is to get it fixed.  And-- you know, ultimately, the buck--

CHUCK TODD:

Is she still the right person (UNINTEL)?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:
Ultimately, the buck stops with me.  You know, I'm the president.  This is my team.  If it's not working, it's my job to get it fixed.
You'll notice that Obama never answers that "full confidence" question.

(Programmers will pleased to learn that Sebelius wasn't writing the code for the ObamaCare site, since she appears to have no experience writing code, or experience successfully managing large software projects, either.

Judging by this Wikipedia biography, Sebelius was not eager to join the Obama cabinet, but does (or did) have presidential ambitions.  I think we can understand her reluctance, now, if we didn't before.)
- 8:53 AM, 8 November 2013   [link]


A Win For The Angels:  One Angel, anyway.

[Rodney] Tom and his coalition that runs the Senate will welcome Republican Jan Angel as the group's 26th member.  Democrat Nathan Schlicher conceded the 26th District race Thursday after Angel’s lead widened to 1,543 votes on the third day of counting ballots.

Today, one vote is all that keeps the majority in the hands of 23 Republicans plus Democrats Tom of Medina and Tim Sheldon of Potlatch. Losing a single member risks allowing Lt. Gov. Brad Owen, a Democrat, to step in to break a 24-to-24 tie.

How important was this election?  So important that, according to the article, the two sides spent about $3 million on the race, or roughly $75 per vote.

This victory means that the moderate-conservative coalition should be strong enough, at least until after the 2014 elections, to block most silly left-wing bills.  And that is here in Washington state, a state many consider hopelessly Democratic.

(Those outside Washington state may not know this:  The districts for the state house and senate are the same, except that two house members are elected in each district.  This victory shows that Washington Republicans have a real chance to control both houses — if they can find the right candidates for the lower house elections.)

Angel's victory reminds us of something obvious, but something that deserves repeating from time to time:  It is harder to use the "war on women" tactic against a woman, especially a grandmother and a great-grandmother.  Not impossible, but harder.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(You can see the latest count here, and the estimates of the ballots to be counted, for each county, here.)
- 7:08 AM, 8 November 2013   [link]


Michael Ramirez Scores again.

(One of the reasons I like Ramirez's Obama cartoons is that he draws Obama as if Obama's middle name were "Arugula", as I have suggested it should be.
- 2:27 PM, 7 November 2013   [link]


Who Contributed To Kenneth Cuccinelli's Campaign?   Mostly the Republican Governor's Association, which gave him about $8 million.

Even more interesting is who didn't:
Angered by what they believed was meager spending by establishment Republicans on Virginia gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli’s losing effort, some Tea Party groups and supporters have been assailing the Republican National Committee today in statements and on talk radio.
. . .
But according to a donor search, none of those groups gave any money to the Republican or made independent expenditures for Cuccinelli, who lost by 2.4 percentage points to Democrat Terry McAuliffe, raising cries of hypocrisy from Republican associates who argue that Tea Party groups sold out their candidate.
The RNC spent about $3 million on the race, which seems roughly reasonable to me, given the fact that McAuliffe appeared to be building a lead in September and October.  (I don't know what private polls, if there were any, showed.)

Yesterday and today I have been hearing that the Republican Party did almost nothing for McAuliffe.  $11 million doesn't look like almost nothing to me, but others may see it differently.
- 2:06 PM, 7 November 2013   [link]


Four Examples Of What You Can Learn From The Exit Polls:   (But may not be in the articles about them, or in the speeches from most talk show hosts.)

First, more Virginia voters described themselves as moderates (44%) than conservatives (36%) or liberal (22%).  If you think the median voter theorem has something to tell us, as I do, then you will conclude that a candidate would have the best chance of winning if the voters saw him as a moderate, or a moderate conservative.  And if you look further down, you see that Terry McAuliffe was seen as "too liberal" by 41 percent of the voters, and Kenneth Cuccinelli "too conservative" by 50 percent of the voters.

Second, more voters, in spite of some minor scandals and one major scandal, approve of their current governor, Republican Bob McDonnell, than disapprove (52-41%).   (Virginia does not allow governors to run for re-election.  If it did, I assume that McDonnell would have run.  If his opponent had been McAuliffe, McDonnell would have won, in my opinion.)

Third, there is no strong reason to think that Libertarian Robert Sarvis cost Cuccinelli the election.  In a hypothetical two-way race, McAuliffe would have won by two percentage points, just as he did in the actual race.

Fourth, there were more Democratic voters than Republican, 37 percent to 32 percent, with 31 percent describing themselves as independents.  As any political scientist could tell you, that meant that the Republican candidate would have to work harder to reach out to independents, and to persuadable Democrats, while the Democratic candidate could emphasize party loyalty.  Cuccinelli did do better among independents (47-38%), but won just 2 percent of the Democrats.
- 1:20 PM, 7 November 2013   [link]


You Can Read Analyses Of The New Jersey And Virginia Elections:   Which will be based, almost entirely, on the exit polls.  Or you can read the exit polls yourself, which is what I recommend.  You can find the New Jersey poll here, and the Virginia poll here.

(If you are feeling ambitious, you can read the polls and the analyses, and decide for yourself whether the "mainstream" journalists are describing the findings correctly.  Usually, the journalists are mostly right, in my experience.)
- 7:08 AM, 7 November 2013   [link]


Cash For Clunkers Was A Clunker That Wasted Cash:  George Will summarizes a Brookings study.
Now a study by Ted Gayer and Emily Parker, published by the Brookings Institution, a mildly liberal think tank, concludes: “The $2.85 billion in vouchers provided by the program had a small and short-lived impact on gross domestic product, essentially shifting roughly a few billion dollars forward from the subsequent two quarters following the program.”

Most of the 677,842 sales were simply taken from the near future.  That many older vehicles were traded in — and, as required by law, destroyed. Gayer and Parker accept as reasonable an estimate that the cost per job created by the program was $1.4 million.
In short, what the critics said would happen is exactly what happened.

The critics weren't prescient; they just understood elementary economics.
- 6:38 AM, 7 November 2013   [link]


It Should Be Much Easier To Be Mayor Of Seattle Than Mayor Of Detroit:  Seattle is prosperous, and has actually been growing in recent years.  Moreover, the gentrification in parts of the city has had the side effect — unintended, I am sure — of driving some of the city's "underclass" out of the city to some of the poorer suburbs.

The citizens are not split deeply by ideology; almost all are, to use the usual Seattle term, "progressives", that is, leftists, but not especially violent or aggressive leftists.  Most in Seattle were genuinely surprised by the 1999 WTO riots.  (I wasn't.)  Since they are fairly peaceful themselves, they tend to be surprised when others, especially their ideological allies, are not.

But recent Seattle mayors have not fared well, politically.

Paul Schell was elected in 1997, and then defeated by Greg Nickels in 2001.

Nickels was re-elected in 2005, but humiliated in 2009.
A late 2008 poll of likely Seattle voters reflected dissatisfaction with the incumbent mayor, showing that 31% approved of Nickels's performance as mayor while 57% disapproved.[5]  Nickels' low popularity numbers did not recover by August 2009, when he was defeated in the primary election in his bid for a third term as Seattle's mayor.
He came in third in that primary.

His successor, Mike McGinn, won, but was just defeated by Ed Murray.  (Some were not expecting McGinn to survive the primary.)

Is there any general lesson in this?  I think so.  Political ideologies are, in part, theories about how humans behave.  The soft leftism that predominates in Seattle includes ideas about people that are inconsistent with the real world.  That explains why all of Seattle's recent mayors have had problems with crime and the police, though Seattle's crime rates are lower than those in many American cities.  Controlling crime — and a police force, for that matter — require a certain hard-headed view of human nature, a view that does not come naturally to most Seattle politicians, or citizens.

There is a second, more general, lesson.  A legislator can often remain popular with his constituents just by taking the correct stand on issues that are important to them.  But an executive is expected, eventually, to perform.  As Greg Nickels could tell you, it is not enough for a mayor to be in favor of clearing the snow from the streets; he must actually find a way to clear that snow.
- 7:16 PM, 6 November 2013   [link]


The Detroit Mayoralty Election Is More Evidence That We Are getting beyond race.
When Mike Duggan recites the oath of office in January as Detroit's first white mayor in four decades, he may — in a way — give the eulogy to a period of racial divide that has defined much of the city's past.

Unofficial general election results Tuesday night showed Duggan defeating Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon 55 percent to 45 percent with all of the city's 614 precincts reporting.
Interestingly, Politico did not mention Duggan's race until the very end of their article on Duggan's victory — which is another good sign.

There were two striking things about Duggan's campaign; he took the top spot in the primary with a write-in campaign — and he moved into Detroit in order to run for mayor.  There's a man who is looking for a challenge.

Duggan appears to have the right experience and, perhaps, skills to be a good mayor for Detroit; he has worked as a prosecutor and has real executive experience.

(If you are wondering why he ran as a write-in, you can find the explanation here, along with an amazing list of people who wanted that awful job.

When I look at the problems awaiting any mayor of Detroit, and the lack of any real power in the position as long as the city is controlled by the bankruptcy laws, I am reminded of William Buckley's famous quip.
In 1965, Buckley ran for mayor of New York City as the candidate for the new Conservative Party.  He ran to restore momentum to the conservative cause in the wake of Goldwater's defeat.[62]  He tried to take votes away from the relatively liberal Republican candidate and fellow Yale alumnus John Lindsay, who later became a Democrat.   Buckley did not expect to win; indeed, when asked what he would do if he won the race, Buckley responded, "Demand a recount."[63]) and used an unusual campaign style; during one televised debate with Lindsay, Buckley declined to use his allotted rebuttal time and instead replied, "I am satisfied to sit back and contemplate my own former eloquence."
Duggan has not demanded a recount, though I could understand it, if he did.)
- 4:24 PM, 6 November 2013   [link]


Issues That Weren't Important In Virginia:  At least not very important, as far as I can tell from the coverage, and the election returns.

There were three Republicans running, state wide.  The candidate for governor was Kenneth Cuccinelli, a Catholic of Italian and Irish descent, the candidate for lieutenant governor was E. W. Jackson, a Baptist of African-American descent, and the candidate for attorney general was Mark Obenshain, a Presbyterian from an old Virginia family.  (If I had to guess, I would say that the Obenshains originally came from Scotland, but I could be wrong.)

The first two lost; the third is leading, but by so narrow a margin that there will, almost certainly, be a recount.

But few seem to think that their ethnicities, or their religions, had much to do with the election results.  Cuccinelli ran well in heavily Protestant parts of Virginia; Jackson ran well among whites, and so on.

We are, perhaps, beginning to judge people more on the content of their character than their religion, or the color of their skin.

Some may think that their slightly different results — they finished in this order: Obenshain, Cuccinelli, Jackson — shows some lingering prejudice.  That's possible; in fact, I would say that in a election with more than 2 million voters, it is certain that some voted against Jackson because of his race and against Cuccinelli because of his religion.  And also certain that a few voted for each man for the same reasons.

But, before you make too much of that admission, I will add this:  The candidates also finished in order of their political skills, and the reverse order of their perceived extremism.  Obenshain is the most skilled of the three, and Jackson is seen as the most extreme.

There are still places — most of them controlled by Democrats — where race, ethnicity, and religion determine voting results, but Virginia, at least on the Republican side, no longer appears to be one of them.

(McAuliffe is nominally Catholic.)
- 10:26 AM, 6 November 2013   [link]


Washington State Senate Races:  There were three special elections for the state senate in Washington yesterday; Republicans are leading in all three.

The important race is in the 26th district.   If Jan Angel holds her lead, and right now I expect that she will, the Republicans will gain one seat in the state senate, making the line-up 24 Republicans, 2 fiscally conservative democrats who have formed a coalition with the Republicans, and 23 Democrats.  In short, what I like to call the "reform coalition" will have gained one much-needed vote.

That Republicans are leading in the other two races is not surprising because, thanks to our "top two" primaries, in both races the Democrats had been eliminated in the primaries, and so the Republicans were running against Republicans.
- 9:14 AM, 6 November 2013   [link]


Somehow, I Missed this New York Post cover picture.

Not especially subtle, even for a tabloid, is it?

But is it fair, even by tabloid standards?

Perhaps not, but I couldn't say for certain without knowing more about what mayor-elect de Blasio believes now.

He was, almost certainly, a Marxist in his youth, but he may have, to misuse an often misused word, evolved.  Unfortunately, political DNA tests are not available, so we can't know for sure.

(New York City has had elected officials on the far left before; one of the most famous was Vito Marcantonio, who, this may amuse you to learn, was once, at least formally, a Republican.)
- 7:40 AM, 6 November 2013   [link]


The Washington GMO Labeling Initiative, I-522, Looks To Be Headed For Defeat:  The local news anchors were puzzled by that this morning and ascribed the likely defeat to out-of-state corporate money.  It is true that the opponents of the initiative did get most of their money from companies like Monsanto, but it is also true that those who favored the initiative had millions to spend supporting it — and that much of that money also came from outside Washington, some of it even from — shock — corporations.

There is a simpler and more plausible explanation for the likely defeat of I-522, an explanation that you can see in this map.

In general, those who produce food — or who know people who produce food — voted against the initiative; those who live where the only important cash crop is marijuana voted for it.

Or, to put it another way, those who know something about modern scientific farming voted against it; those who are in the grip of Green superstition voted for it.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(Those unfamiliar with Washington politics may wonder why Whatcom County voted for the measure.  Most likely, that shows the influence of Western Washington University.)
- 7:17 AM, 6 November 2013   [link]


It's McAuliffe In Virginia:  Almost certainly.  I looked through the results by city and county in Virginia and found that about 200 more precincts had yet to report from counties and cities where McAuliffe was leading.

It wasn't a complete count, because some cities and counties have not reported any results yet, and because I excluded Prince William and Virginia Beach City, where the results were very close.

But that is a large enough margin so that I am almost comfortable in saying that McAuliffe will win, though perhaps by a little less than the polls predicted.

(As often happens with these predictions, I hope I am wrong.)
- 6:21 PM, 5 November 2013   [link]


The Libertarian Governor Candidate In Virginia has an interesting contributor.
A major Democratic Party benefactor and Obama campaign bundler helped pay for professional petition circulators responsible for getting Virginia Libertarian gubernatorial candidate Robert C. Sarvis on the ballot — a move that could split conservative votes in a tight race.

Campaign finance records show the Libertarian Booster PAC has made the largest independent contribution to Sarvis’ campaign, helping to pay for professional petition circulators who collected signatures necessary to get Sarvis’ name on Tuesday’s statewide ballot.

Austin, Texas, software billionaire Joe Liemandt is the Libertarian Booster PAC’s major benefactor.  He’s also a top bundler for President Barack Obama.
I've often wondered whether Libertarian candidates have received this kind of help, but don't recall seeing this clear an example.

To be fair, I have to add that there are a few people, though fewer than there once were, who see Obama as mostly compatible with libertarianism.  It is possible, though unlikely, that Liemandt falls into that category.

(For similar reasons, I would not be absolutely astonished to see Republican operatives giving a little help to Green candidates, though I don't know of any examples.

For what it is worth, "top two" primaries prevent using a third party to split another party's vote.)
- 3:45 PM, 5 November 2013   [link]


Election Predictions:  You can find some, though they aren't described that way, in this post on the latest polls.

For example:
On the eve of Virginia's election for governor, a handful of new surveys conducted over the weekend confirm the result shown by every public poll since July: Democratic nominee Terry McAuliffe appears poised to defeat Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli.  If the polls prove to be collectively accurate, the only uncertainty appears to be the size of McAuliffe's margin.  A final poll from Quinnipiac University, conducted over the past week and released Monday, shows McAuliffe leading Cuccinelli by 6 percentage points, 46 percent to 40 percent, with libertarian Paul Sarvis at 8 percent.  Similarly, a final automated telephone poll from the Democratic-affiliated firm Public Policy Polling (PPP), gives McAuliffe a 7-point lead (50 to 43 percent) but shows Sarvis winning just 4 percent of the vote.
If you scan through the whole post, you will find that the polls in both New Jersey and Virginia vary widely, and that polls in such contests are sometimes systematically wrong, as they were in Nevada in 2010.

I don't have anything special to add to their discussion, but I do have a thought about the most important statewide contest here in Washington, the fight over the genetic engineering label initiative, 522:  It occurred to me yesterday — and should have occurred to me earlier — that Seattle, where there is a spirited mayor's race, will probably cast a disproportional share of the ballots in the state  And that there are more superstitious Green voters there than in the rest of the state.

Polls had shown the "No" vote gaining all through the campaign, but it is awfully hard to predict turnout in this kind of election.

(Could the backers of I-522 have chosen this election in order to improve their chances?   Sure.)
- 2:39 PM, 5 November 2013   [link]


Last-Hour Voters?  I just dropped off my ballot at the local post office and noticed an unusually large — for this date and time — number of cars dropping off mail.  I suspect some of them were voters who had waited until the last day to mail their ballots, just as I had.

(Not last minute, because Washington state accepts ballots postmarked today.  In the past and possibly still, you could make the deadline by finding a post office that stayed open until midnight.  Since this is an off-off-year election, I'm not sure any of them are making a special effort today, but there was, and probably still is, a branch at the Sea-Tac Airport that stays open later than most other branches.)
- 2:16 PM, 5 November 2013   [link]


How Big Will Chris Christie's Victory Be?   Very.  (Unless all the polls are very wrong.)
If Christie matches his current numbers in the RCP Average, he would have the fourth-best showing of any Republican in the state in the post-World War II era.  Only Sen. Clifford Case in his 1972 re-election, Dwight Eisenhower in the 1956 presidential re-election, and Gov. Tom Kean Sr. in his 1985 re-election put up better numbers.
As you will probably guess as soon as you look at that table, Sean Trende is comparing percentages of the two party vote, not the total vote.  Usually, that won't matter much, but in some elections it would, including Christie's win in 2009.   There was a serious independent candidate in that race, Chris Daggett, who received 139,579 votes, 5.8 percent of the total.  (In at least one poll, Daggett had reached 20 percent, but he faded at the end of the campaign, as independents and third party candidates often do.)

I see the almost certain Christie landslide as less significant than Trende does, seeing it as partly a result of public approval of his performance during Sandy.  That might help Christie in neighboring states, but might not do much for him, nationally.  Nonetheless, it would be impressive to see a Republican win that big, in a state where Democrats have such a large lead in registration.

(According to the 2014 Almanac of American Politics, the registration by party in New Jersey is: Democrats - 1,787,480, Republicans - 1,084,757, independents and others - 2,625,085.   The latest numbers are probably close to those — and both would be somewhat deceptive.  In New Jersey, an independent can vote in either party's primaries, so there is an advantage in registering as an independent.  No doubt that has encouraged many to register as independents, even though they are, in fact, Republicans or Democrats.)
- 7:25 AM, 5 November 2013   [link]


Nice Work, if you can get it.
A gay sex columnist has been paid $24,000 to speak to college students and promote the school's 'kinky' new app.

Dan Savage took home the hefty sum after giving a talk to students at the University of Oregon and fielding questions about explicit sexual fantasies and techniques.
For decades, our public colleges and universities have subsidized left-wing activists in a variety of ways, from giving them faculty positions to paying them for appearances.  Now that many of the fights between left and right are over cultural issues, it should not surprise us to see them subsidizing cultural extremists like Dan Civilized.  (Some months ago, I decided to improve his name, as a favor to him.)

According to this news account, there were 300 in the audience.

You can get something of the flavor of Mr. Civilized's thinking from this Q&A.   For example:
What’s the best sex advice you can give to college students?

Be who you are.
Would it be a cheap shot to observe that both Ted Bundy and Jimmy Savile would have agreed, entirely, with that answer?

I don't think so.  Though I should note that Civilized, at least formally, says he is in favor of limiting sex to consenting adults.  On the other hand, his newspaper, the Strangler, does not regularly crusade against under-age prostitution in Seattle.  (Other news organizations do, but they almost always worry about girls, not boys.)
- 6:14 AM, 5 November 2013   [link]


Black Victims In Detroit:  Crime, most of it committed by black criminals, drove many whites out of Detroit — and it continues to make life harder for the law-abiding blacks who still live there.

This article describes the problems caused by burglary, beginning with this example:
First, she had to put iron bars on her windows. Then, she had two types of alarm systems installed.  But despite all the precautions, Renee Gilmore was still scared to enter her east-side Detroit house when she came back from work every evening.

“I could hardly come home without looking at the house first, just to make sure,” said Gilmore, 41.

They’d broken in three times so far, tried four other times.  Now she had to make sure they weren’t still inside.
And including this chilling detail.
“It’s a nice neighborhood, but they got their little lookouts who sit on the vacant porches and watch your house,” said Lenorris Travier, 39.

He was nearing the end of his mail delivery route on a fall weekday, a block from Gilmore’s street and just four blocks from where he used to live not long ago.

“They” are pretty much always the same, even if their names and faces are different from street to street.  They stay in one or maybe two houses on the block, right among their victims, studying the neighbors and waiting for the right time to steal from them.
So, if you get burglarized, it is likely, even in Detroit's nicer neighborhoods, that one of your neighbors was involved in the crime, if only as a lookout.

In the old South, crimes by blacks against whites were treated harshly, but crimes by blacks against blacks were often treated leniently, especially if the black criminal had a white patron.  Sadly, we now seem to have a somewhat similar pattern, in practice, in many northern cities.
- 3:07 PM, 4 November 2013   [link]


Over The Weekend, I caught a cold, or perhaps I should say, considering the epidemiology, that a cold caught me, which is why you haven't seen many posts here in the last two days.

The cold did have one good effect.  Yesterday, I put on the Seahawks game, planning to watch most of it (while, as usual, I was cleaning and picking up a little bit), lay down on the couch to relax, and woke up after I had missed the 21-0 Tampa Bay start.  I'm not a big fan, but I am just as glad that I missed that part of the game.
- 2:34 PM, 4 November 2013   [link]


How Long Has There Been Genetic Engineering?  The big fight over Initiative 522 here in Washington state reminded me of some old facts, and made me realize just how long genetic engineering has been going on.

First a restatement of the obvious:  Most of our food has been genetically engineered for thousands of years.  The wheat, rice, and corn that supply so much of our diet were domesticated long ago, by early farmers who picked the best strains and preserved them.  The same is true of most of our food animals; the chicken, beef, mutton, and pork that we eat come from animals that have been bred — that is, genetically engineered — for thousands of years.  The one great exception in our modern diets would be wild-caught sea food, although even there the wild varieties are being displaced more and more by "farmed" varieties.

It is true that genetic engineering techniques have changed over these thousands of years, just as other kinds of engineering techniques have changed.  But just as we recognize that the Romans who build their great roads were engineers, we should recognize that the anonymous Middle East farmers who gave us wheat, and the anonymous Central American farmers who gave us corn were genetic engineers.

In the 20th century, as scientists began to understand more about genetics, they added new techniques; in particular, they used radiation and chemical mutagens to create new varieties, with, very occasionally, useful properties.  (We owe our super sweet corn, I learned recently, to one such successful experiment.)  At the time, there was some concern about the dangerous plants and animals that might be produced by those experiments.  That concern was not entirely unwarranted, but few who worried understood that radiation and chemical mutagens had been changing plants and animals for billions of years, so the scientists were just speeding up natural processes.

The earliest human genetic engineering occurred when we domesticated dogs, somewhere between 15,000 and 33,000 years ago.  Roughly.

But was that the first example of genetic engineering?  No, not by millions of years, perhaps not by tens of millions of years.

We call what beavers build dams and lodges, recognizing that they are functionally equivalent to the dams and lodges we build.

Similarly, we recognize that some ants have symbiotic relations with other plants and animals, relationships that have gone on so long that we can say that the ants domesticated some species.  For example, some ants raise fungi.

Ant-fungus mutualism is a symbiosis seen in certain ant and fungal species, in which ants actively cultivate fungus much like humans farm crops as a food source.  In some species, the ants and fungi are dependent on each other for survival.  The leafcutter ant is a well-known example of this symbiosis.[1]  A mutualism with fungi is also noted in some species of termites in Africa.[2]

Over millions of years, the ants selected the fungi to farm, just as early human farmers selected the plants to raise.  They were engaged, though not consciously, in genetic engineering.

There is an extraordinary variety of such mutual arrangements among ants.   I'll just mention one more well-known example, the bullhorn acacia, which also shows genetic engineering in action.

How long has this kind of genetic engineering been going on?  I'm not sure that even the top ant and termite experts — and I glanced through Hölldobler and Wilson's The Ants before writing this post — could give us a better estimate than that millions, of perhaps tens of millions, of years guess.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(Some are concerned about the relatively new technique of horizontal gene transfer, but we are learning, more and more, that the technique is new only for us, that it has been occurring in nature for billions of years.  Here's a quite remarkable example of such transfers.)
- 7:37 AM, 4 November 2013   [link]


More Evidence That The NYT really needs a court jester.
Congressional Republicans have stoked consumer fears and confusion with charges that the health care reform law is causing insurers to cancel existing policies and will force many people to pay substantially higher premiums next year for coverage they don’t want.  That, they say, violates President Obama’s pledge that if you like the insurance you have, you can keep it.   Mr. Obama clearly misspoke when he said that.
And he "misspoke" again, and again, and again, . . . .

What I fear is that there is no one on the editorial board at the Times who realizes just how silly that excuse sounds.  It's like something a third grader, without much practice in lying, might think up.
- 5:28 AM, 4 November 2013   [link]


Did Obama Know That People Wouldn't Be Able To Keep Their Insurance Plans, When He Promised That They Would, Again And Again?  As usual, Professor Mankiw is exceptionally clear, arguing that there are just three alternatives:   Obama's aides did not know, Obama's aides did not tell him, or Obama was told and ignored what he was told.

The weekend's Wall Street Journal ran a front page article (behind their pay wall, unfortunately) that allows us to exclude the first possibility.

Again, unfortunately, the article is muddled, perhaps because it has three reporters, Colleen McCain Nelson, Peter Nicholas, and Carol E. Lee, a contributor, Louise Radnovsky, and, I am sure, at least one editor.  Even more unfortunately, the team seems to have been more interested in excusing President Obama's behavior than telling us what happened.

But there was one reasonably clear paragraph in the muddle:
One former senior administration official said that as the law was being crafted by the White House and lawmakers, some White House policy advisers objected to the breadth of Mr. Obama's "keep your plan" promise.  They were overruled by political aides, the official said.  The White House said that it was unaware of the objections.
Assuming that paragraph is reasonably accurate — and it does have some support in the rest of the article — then the aides knew and may have kept it from Obama.

In my opinion — and I have no direct evidence to support it — Obama probably did know about the dispute, though he may never have received a formal memo on the subject.

He certainly should have known.

He should have known because, as Megan McArdle argues:
It’s absolutely true that every policy wonk who was writing or speaking about the law in 2009 and 2010 understood that it would mean premiums going up for at least some people, many of whom would lose insurance that they would have preferred to keep.  Who it would be depended a bit on how the law unfolded, of course, but at a minimum, young, healthy people who made more than $46,000 a year could expect to pay higher premiums for the same level of coverage.  They had to; mathematically, it was not possible for coverage to expand and everyone’s premiums to go down -- not unless you spent more in premium subsidies than the government could afford.
You didn't even need to be a policy wonk to understand that, just someone who understood the basics of health insurance.

But a great many voters don't understand those basics and many were fooled, just as the political aides and, probably, Obama, intended.

(If Obama did not understand that about his plan then he either does not understand the basics of health insurance, or didn't think about how those basics apply to ObamaCare.)
- 4:56 PM, 3 November 2013   [link]


Breezy:  It's breezy enough here so that they have closed one of the two bridges across Lake Washington (520), about 40,000 people have lost power, and I plan to put up just this one post today, just in case my power dies, too.
- 12:43 PM, 2 November 2013   [link]


Are The ObamaCare Site Problems "Glitches"?  Not by the original meaning of the word.

My American Heritage dictionary (3rd edition) describes the word's history:
Although in retrospect glitch seems to be a word that people would always have found useful, it is first recorded in English in 1962 in the writing of John Glenn:  "Another term we adopted to describe some of our problems was 'glitch.'"  Glenn then gives the technical sense of the word the astronauts had adopted:  "Literally, a glitch is a spike or change in voltage in an electrical current."
It is easy to understand how that meaning came from the Yiddish glitsch, meaning slip or lapse, and easy to understand how its meaning might expand to mean almost any "minor malfunction".

But, given its history, I think it ill-suited to describe most software problems, especially problems as severe as those the ObamaCare site has been suffering from.

As we all know, electrical spikes often do no harm — we are typically surprised when our lights flicker, but no more — and glitches even more often do not require human intervention to cure.  (At least with modern electrical equipment.  Electrical engineers have done great work over the years in both controlling electricity and hardening equipment so that the equipment can withstand changes in voltage.)

I would have to know more about the site's problems before I chose a single word to describe them with certainty, but for now I would describe them as failures, not glitches.
- 1:13 PM, 1 November 2013   [link]


Terry Versus Ohio:  We're going to hear more about "stop and frisk", thanks to two recent court decisions, which you can read about in editorials in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. (The Times liked the first decision; the Journal liked the second.)

In looking for background on stop and frisk, I found this Wikipedia article, describing one of the key court cases.

Here are the first two paragraphs:
Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968), was a landmark decision by the United States Supreme Court which held that the Fourth Amendment prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures is not violated when a police officer stops a suspect on the street and frisks him or her without probable cause to arrest, if the police officer has a reasonable suspicion that the person has committed, is committing, or is about to commit a crime and has a reasonable belief that the person "may be armed and presently dangerous."[1]

For their own protection, police may perform a quick surface search of the person’s outer clothing for weapons if they have reasonable suspicion that the person stopped is armed.  This reasonable suspicion must be based on "specific and articulable facts" and not merely upon an officer's hunch.  This permitted police action has subsequently been referred to in short as a "stop and frisk," or simply a "Terry frisk".  The Terry standard was later extended to temporary detentions of persons in vehicles, known as traffic stops; see Terry stop for a summary of subsequent jurisprudence.
You'll want to read the description of what the police officer saw and did to understand those vague generalities, or at least to have one example of them.

Eight of nine justices found that what the police officer did was reasonable, and did not violate constitutional protections.  But I think we can all see how stop and frisk could be abused.
- 11:14 AM, 1 November 2013   [link]


Almost As Funny As Those Steve Kelley Cartoons is this claim from presidential advisor, Dan Pfeiffer.
“From the moment the health care bill was signed into law the president was very focused on making sure it was implemented correctly,” said Dan Pfeiffer, a senior White House adviser.  “In just about every meeting, he pushed the team on whether the website was going to work.  Unfortunately, it did not, and he’s very frustrated.”
Tom Maguire asks some serious questions about this absurd claim, but I just chuckled.

We know that the folks trying to build the site were warning, explicitly, that the site was failing tests, and that they tried to communicate these failures to Secretary Sebelius and President Obama.

And we are asked to believe that these explicit warnings never reached Sebelius and Obama — and that both were paying close attention to implementation problems.

You can ask us to believe in either of those, but not both, simultaneously.

(Back in March, relying only on publicly available information, I agreed with those who said the web site was unlikely to be available on schedule.   This was not — let me repeat, not — any great insight.  In fact, I suspect that at least 90 percent of those familiar with large software projects, and at least 95 percent of those familiar with large government software projects, would have come to the same conclusion, with the same information.

Though I suspect that most of us who have that familiarity are mildly surprised that the Obama administration didn't ask for a time extension some time in September.  I suppose they were having too much fun fighting the Republicans who were asking for a delay.)
- 10:30 AM, 1 November 2013   [link]


Steve Kelley's Cartoons Attacking ObamaCare these last three days are very funny.

I especially liked the trick-or-treaters cartoon.
- 8:54 AM, 1 November 2013   [link]


Only Court Photographers Are Allowed inside the royal palace.
Editors of The Associated Press condemned the White House’s refusal to give photojournalists real access to President Obama, who prefers to circulate press release-style pictures taken by his own paid photographers.

These official photographs are little more than propaganda, according to AP director of photography Santiago Lyon.

The AP has only been permitted to photograph the president in the Oval Office on two occasions.  Both were during his first term.  All other pictures of Obama in his office were taken by White House photographers and distributed to the press.
It's a policy that most monarchs — and almost every dictator — would approve.  But it does seem out of place at the "most transparent administration in history".

(Some of those White House photos are revealing, anyway, like the one showing Obama admiring himself in a mirror, a photograph that has been parodied, again and again.  Or the ones that show him with his feet up on the desk.  The bin Laden compound attack photo is so revealing that I have been meaning to write a longish post about it, ever since I first saw it.)
- 8:24 AM, 1 November 2013   [link]