Archive:

November 2013, Part 3

Jim Miller on Politics




Pseudo-Random Thoughts



NYT And WP On ObamaCare Site Development Problems:   Yesterday the Washington Post and the New York Times published articles on the ObamaCare site development problems.

The Post article has more details, but is written too much from the government's point of view, so if you are going to read just one, I would suggest the Times article.

(But I might not read either one if I were in a good mood, and thought that the Obama administration knew what they were doing.  Many of us prefer to hang on to our illusions.)

From the Times article, here is the basic contradiction:
The prime contractor, CGI Federal, had long before concluded that the administration was blindly enamored of an unrealistic goal: creating a cutting-edge website that would use the latest technologies to dazzle consumers with its many features.  Knowing how long it would take to complete and test the software, the company’s officials and other vendors believed that it was impossible to open a fully functioning exchange on Oct. 1.

Government officials, on the other hand, insisted that Oct. 1 was not negotiable.  And they were fed up with what they saw as CGI’s pattern of excuses for missed deadlines.   Michelle Snyder, the agency's chief operating officer, was telling colleagues:  "If we could fire them, we would."
. . .
CGI and other contractors complained of endlessly shifting requirements and a government decision-making process so cumbersome that it took weeks to resolve elementary questions, such as determining whether users should be required to provide Social Security numbers.  Some CGI software engineers ultimately walked out, saying it was impossible to produce good work under such conditions.
That is, to say the least, unusual behavior.  But I will bet that those software engineers are now glad they made that decision.

In short, it was another one of those "Death March" projects I described in October.

Who was in charge?  No one, exactly.  Instead, Henry Chao, who has no education in software engineering, and had no real authority, was supposed to keep things coordinated, somehow.  (It's hard not to feel sorry for him.)

Neither article clarifies what, if anything, President Obama knew about the approaching disaster.  But, given the resistance of the federal bureaucrats to accepting the unpleasant facts about the project, I am inclined to think that he may have been at least somewhat surprised by the scale of the disaster.

(One dispute between the contractors and the government was over which database software to use.  The government insisted that they use database software from MarkLogic, rather software from Oracle, IBM, or Microsoft.  I don't know anything about the company, or its software, so I can't judge for certain whether that was an error.  But I can say that, in time-critical projects, it usually is wise not to ask programmers to learn any more new systems than absolutely necessary.)
- 3:19 PM, 24 November 2013
More:  Here's a ten-point summary of the New York Times article, with commentary from Professor Althouse and her readers.

By the way, she says you can access the Times article through her link, without using up your free monthly quota.
- 6:43 AM, 25 November 2013   [link]


Real Crime Experts Are Advising New York Mayor-Elect Bill de Blasio.
Forget Ray Kelly, Bill de Blasio is getting his policing advice from the real experts — hardened criminals.

A group of 50 ex-cons, junkies and chronic vagrants gathered at a Manhattan “Think Tank” Thursday to describe what they thought the NYPD should be doing to make their lives easier.
As far as I know, he is not getting advice from any of their victims.

You will probably not be completely surprised to learn that this gathering was sponsored by George Soros.
- 7:50 AM, 24 November 2013   [link]


When I Need A Feel-Good Story, I sometimes take a look at Martha Payne's NeverSeconds site, and almost always come away feeling a little more cheerful.

For instance, today, I was charmed, again, by this March post by a Japanese school dietitian describing the competitions they have, competitions that let them improve through "friendly rivalry".

Here's how it begins:
Hello everyone.  Doni is here.

Thank you very much for deeply-appreciated message.
Arigato gozaimasu.  And I'm sorry for my terrible at English.  I was a student with poor English.  As you might know, my best subject was the lunch time at school.
So, it would appear, she went into the right field.

(Here's my post explaining how nine year old girl from Scotland became semi-famous.)
- 6:37 AM, 24 November 2013   [link]


Toronto Mayor Rob Ford Has A Higher Approval Rating than President Obama.
Toronto Mayor Rob Ford has admitted to smoking crack cocaine and being a raging alcoholic, ranted about killing someone on tape and knocked down an elderly councilwoman - and yet he has a highest approval rating than the president of the United State[s]

According to the latest poll carried out by Forum Research, the foul-mouthed, irascible Toronto mayor continues to enjoy a 42 per cent job performance rating.
And why not?  Whatever one thinks of Mayor Ford's private life, he has been performing better, as a public official, than President Obama has.

If I were trying to sum up Rob Ford in just a few words, I might say something like this:  He is a loud, politically incorrect, populist.
- 1:11 PM, 23 November 2013   [link]


In Negotiations like this one, don't you wish our chief negotiator was Henry Kissinger?
Negotiations in Geneva over Iran’s nuclear program have “reached the final moment,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said Saturday.
. . .
Earlier Saturday, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle announced he would also fly to Geneva to attend the negotiations, on the heels of a US State Department announcement that US Secretary of State John Kerry would attend the talks.
Or Dick Cheney.  Or even Colin Powell.  Someone, in short, who is serious, competent, and not in a rush to make a deal.

If Kerry botches the negotiations, maybe Laurent Fabius will save us again.
- 10:55 AM, 23 November 2013   [link]


Fifty Years Ago, John F. Kennedy Was Killed By A Communist:   Killed by Lee Harvey Oswald because Oswald hated the United States, and especially hated the American policies toward the Communist dictatorship in Cuba.

Our "mainstream" journalists found that fact hard to face at the time.

James Reston, then chief political correspondent for the New York Times, published a front-page column the day after the assassination under the title, "Why America Weeps: Kennedy a Victim of Violent Streak He Sought to Curb in Nation."  Chief Justice Earl Warren, who would soon head the investigation into the shooting, blamed "bigots" for the assassination.  Syndicated newspaper columnist Drew Pearson wrote that JFK was the victim of a "hate drive."  Sen. Mike Mansfield, in a eulogy, attributed the assassination to "bigotry, hatred, and prejudice."

And still find it hard to face.

This morning, I picked up three newspapers, the Seattle Times, the New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal.  Each put the anniversary of the assassination on their front page.

The Seattle Times ran an "essay" by Ted Anthony of the Associated Press.  In the entire essay, Anthony mentions Oswald only once, near the end, and does not mention Oswald's Communist beliefs, at all.  (The newspaper also ran a piece by Eric Lacitis on the views of the assassination at a Catholic school named after Kennedy (John F. Kennedy High School in Burien).  Oswald isn't mentioned in that article.)

The New York Times ran a full-page article by Sam Tanenhaus, which, like Anthony's essay, mentions Oswald only in passing, and mentions his Communist beliefs not at all.

The Wall Street Journal did something different, perhaps because the editors had read the op-ed I linked to at the beginning of this post.  They committed journalism by running four short articles on people whose lives were changed that day, including Buell Frazier, who had given his co-worker, Lee Harvey Oswald, a ride to work that day.

But the Journal's approach is atypical.  Most of our "mainstream" journalists treat the assassination as the Seattle Times and the New York Times did today.

I can understand why, in 1963, journalists were reluctant to blame a Communist for Kennedy's assassination.  If the government of the Soviet Union or Cuba had been involved in the assassination, then they had committed an act of war against us — and both sides had nuclear weapons.

(As far as I can tell, the Soviet Union was not involved, but I think it possible that the Castro regime knew that Oswald would try to assassinate Kennedy.)

I can even understand why some jumped to the conclusion that right wingers were to blame for the killing.  There were right wingers who hated Kennedy — and his predecessor, Eisenhower, for that matter — and some of them were capable of violence.

But in the fifty years since then, anyone who wanted to could learn the truth about Oswald, his ideology, and his likely motivations.  It is past time for our "mainstream" journalists to face those facts.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 1:33 PM, 22 November 2013   [link]


Yesterday, I Said that it was likely that some white thugs were playing the "knockout game".

Yesterday evening, I ran across this example from Britain.
These vicious scenes show a 17-year-old boy wildly attacking strangers at random in the street - just days before he murdered a man with a single punch.

Eden Lomax, of Bolton, was caught on CCTV dealing one-punch knockouts to two innocent men during what he boasted were his personalised ‘bomb’ attacks.

As one victim collapsed unconscious into the entrance of the nearby bus, Lomax was overheard joking: ‘I think he wants an adult day saver’.
Thugs come in all colors, and they often imitate each other.
- 6:43 AM, 22 November 2013   [link]


"Democracy Returns To The Senate"  So says the New York Times, applauding the Harry Reid rule change that prevents filibusters of most Obama nominees.  (The exception, for now, is nominees to the Supreme Court.)

Which would lead any logical person to conclude that, in 2005, the Times was opposed to democracy in the Senate.  But for it when Clinton was president.

These shifts would be funnier if they came from some "alternative" newspaper, but the Times is supposed to be serious.

Early in this series of shifts, the Times would sometimes try to explain why it had changed its position; now they don't even bother to do that.

And, if I may be serious for a moment, here's a brief explanation of what the fight is about.
The more serious concern here is that the Democrats are attempting to pack the courts, especially the D.C. Circuit court, with a rogue’s gallery of far-left nominees.  That is worrisome in and of itself, but there is a deeper agenda: Much of what President Obama has done in office is of questionable legality and constitutionality.  The president no doubt has in mind the sage advice of Roy Cohn:  “Don’t tell me what the law is.  Tell me who the judge is.”  He is attempting to insulate his agenda from legal challenge by installing friendly activists throughout the federal judiciary.  That is precisely what he means when he boasts, “We are remaking the courts.”  Republicans are in fact obstructing those appointments; unlike the nomination of John Roberts et al., these appointments deserve to be obstructed.
The Times favors that power grab, and is indifferent to the "questionable legality and constitutionality" of so many Obama actions.
- 6:14 AM, 22 November 2013   [link]


What Kind Of Record Does Mel Watt Have?  Mixed, I would say.  The 2014 Almanac of American Politics says that he grew up in circumstances more like Clarence Thomas's than Barack Obama's.  He grew up near Charlotte in a tin-roofed house with no electricity or running water.  Despite not going to a fancy prep school, he was admitted to the University of North Carolina (as one of the first black students), earned a BS degree there, and then went on to earn a law degree at Yale, which is said to be pretty good school.

After that, he established a civil rights practice in Charlotte, was elected to the legislature, and managed Harvey Gantt's campaigns.

In 1992, when a House district was created for a black Democrat, he ran for Congress, won the primary easily, and has been in the House ever since.

(His 12th district shows up in the news whenever a journalist wants an extreme example of gerrymandering, so you may have seen it before.  It is now, believe it or not, less bizarre than it was originally.)

When he was chairman of the Black Caucus (2005-2006), he reached out to President Bush — who then included some of his ideas in a State of the Union speech.

Those are all pluses, and there are a few more that I haven't mentioned.  But there are some minuses, too.
The country's largest bank Bank of America is headquartered in Charlotte in Watt's congressional district and has threatened to leave.  The Sunlight Foundation reported that 45% of Watt's campaign contributions for 2009 are from corporations in the real estate, insurance and finance industries, the seventh-highest percentage of any member of Congress.[19][20]  Watt’s largest contributors included American Express, Wachovia, Bank of America and the American Bankers Association.[21]
. . .
Congressman Watt was formally investigated by the Office of Congressional Ethics over a series of fundraising events he was involved in.  On December 9, 2009 Watt held a fundraiser and soon after withdrew a proposal he had introduced to subject auto dealers to more stringent regulations.  The fundraiser brought donors mainly from large finance companies such as Goldman Sachs.[23] Watt was later cleared of charges or wrongdoing.[24] In what the nonpartisan Citizens for Responsible Ethics in Washington called “disgraceful”,[25] Watt introduced legislation to slash funding for the Office of Congressional Ethics.[26]
Those minuses don't disqualify him from being the director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, though they do make me want to know more about the details.

But what does disqualify him, in my opinion, is his lack of experience.  Though he has spent years on committees that watch federal housing policies, I would not say that he is an expert, and he does not have the kind of executive and regulatory experience that the position requires.

(Why did Obama choose him for this job?  For a whole set of political reasons, I imagine.  And I would guess that Obama was hoping for a political fight with the Republicans over this nomination.)
- 5:22 PM, 21 November 2013   [link]


The Judicial Issue In The 2014 Elections:  Harry Reid and the Senate Democrats have just voted to change the rules on most presidential nominations.
The Senate voted Thursday to change its rules to prevent the minority party from filibustering any nominations other than nods to the Supreme Court.

The change was approved after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) triggered the “nuclear option,” which allows a change to Senate rules by majority vote.

The 52-48 vote dramatically changes the rules of the Senate and limits the minority party's ability to prevent confirmation of presidential nominees. Sens. Carl Levin (Mich.), Mark Pryor (Ark.) and Joe Manchin (W.Va.) were the only Democrats to vote against Reid's rules change.

It will allow all three of President Obama's nominees to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals to go forward, as well as his nomination of Rep. Mel Watt to lead a housing regulatory agency.
The consequences may be ironic.  When Republicans blocked controversial judicial nominees, they protected vulnerable Democrats from having to vote on the nominees.  If those Democrats voted for the nominees, they risked their votes being used against them in a general election; if they voted against the nominees, they risked rejecting a nomination from a Democratic president.

Republican opposition researchers are, if they have any smarts, already preparing dossiers on some of the more objectionable judicial nominees.

In principle, Obama could foil that Republican tactic by nominating bland judges — but I don't think that he will do that, at least not consistently.

(For the record:  In general, I am opposed to delaying tactics, including filibusters, on executive branch nominees.  If a nominee serves at the pleasure of the president, then he or she should have prompt hearings, and a prompt, up-or-down vote.

As I am sure almost all of you know, Reid took a different position when George W. Bush was president, and the Democrats were a minority in the Senate.)
- 10:41 AM, 21 November 2013   [link]


Worth Reading:  Thomas Sowell's troubling column on the "knockout game".
New York City police authorities are investigating a series of unprovoked physical attacks in public places on people who are Jewish, in the form of what is called "the knockout game."

The way the game is played, one of a number of young blacks decides to show that he can knock down some stranger on the streets, preferably with one punch, as they pass by.   Often some other member of the group records the event, so that a video of that "achievement" is put on the Internet, to be celebrated.
. . .
Many aspects of these crimes are extremely painful to think about, including the fact that responsible authorities in New York seem to have been caught by surprise, even though this "knockout game" has been played for years by young black gangs in other cities and other states, against people besides Jews -- the victims being either whites in general or people of Asian ancestry.
As you would expect, our news organizations have been reluctant to give much coverage to these attacks — and very reluctant to mention the racial, and now religious, aspects.

(Have some white, Hispanic, or Asian thugs also played this "game"?  I assume some have, though I have not seen any examples, yet.)
- 9:07 AM, 21 November 2013   [link]


Even Congressional Democrats Are Beginning to miss George W. Bush.
Meanwhile, at a recent caucus meeting with Senate Democrats and White House chief of staff Denis McDonough, one senator stood up and asked for a political point of contact at the White House.

“There’s been an increase in frustration because people feel like they are continuing to be blindsided,” said one Democrat who attended the caucus meeting, adding that there’s a “check-the-box” mentality at the White House in dealing with lawmakers.

Democrats around Capitol Hill say there are lots of people to blame for the debacle that has engulfed them.  But increasingly the anger is directed at one person only: Obama.

“Is he even more unpopular than George W. Bush?  I think that’s already happened,” said one Democratic chief of staff.
Most of you will recognize the political malpractice in that first paragraph, but if you need to explain it to someone else, here's an analogy.  Think of the White House as a sales organization.  One of their most important customers is saying that he doesn't know who to call if he has a suggestion, or a question, about their products.
- 7:12 AM, 21 November 2013   [link]


"Gypsies, Camps, And Thieves"  Bruce Bawer surveys the problems being caused by Gypsies in Britain — and the attempts by leftist journalists to minimize those problems, and to attack those who complain.

Sample:
How bad have things gotten in Page Hall?  Here’s how bad: as the Daily Mail noted on Tuesday, “the local Pakistani community association is running ‘official’ warden patrols between 8pm and 10pm every weekday with the intention of ‘educating’ the Roma population about ‘how to behave in England.’”  (If it weren’t so tragic, it would be funny.)   On Saturday, the Telegraph called the local atmosphere “poisonous.”  Vast groups, each consisting of dozens of Roma, congregate on the streets every single night, “shouting, smoking, fighting,” blocking traffic, and throwing refuse everywhere.  There’s a curfew for minors, but it’s totally ineffective, with police making only the most perfunctory, lackadaisal efforts at enforcement.  As for the daytime situation, some Roma work, but most do not; “hordes” of them gather at gambling machines in a local shop, while others “walk the streets, content to pick up benefits” amounting to $800 a head per week.   At a pub visited by the Telegraph‘s reporter, the language about the Roma was “incendiary,” with one patron warning: “There is going to be a battle eventually.” A shopkeeper agreed: “When it goes off, it will be like an atom bomb here.”  The above-mentioned fish-and-chips merchant concurred: “If something doesn’t change round here there will be a pitched battle….This is a boiling pot ready to explode.”
(Page Hall is in Sheffield, a depressed industrial city somewhat similar in its problems to cities in the American "Rust Belt".)

Don't miss the first part of the article, in which Bawer describes how Britain dropped immigration controls for people coming from the new eastern European Union countries, expecting 13,000 immigrants — and got more than a million.

(Here's the Daily Mail story on the patrols, and here's another one on rising tensions.

Back in 2010, the Guardian described Gypsies as people "decoupled from standard western ideas about property rights", which is the funniest euphemism for "thieves" I have seen.)
- 7:03 PM, 20 November 2013   [link]


Some Western European Countries have Minimum Wages; Some Don't:  So, how do the unemployment rates vary between those two groups?

The average unemployment rate for the countries that have minimum wages — Belgium, France, Greece, Ireland, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, and the United Kingdom — is 13.8 percent.

The average unemployment rate for the countries that do not have minimum wages — Austria, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Italy, Norway, Sweden, and Switzerland — is 6.1 percent.

It would be wrong to ascribe all of that 7.7 percent difference to differences in minimum wages; it would be even more wrong to assert that none of that difference can be ascribed to minimum wages.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(Caveat:  Different countries measure unemployment in different ways, so you should think of those averages as rough estimates.

You can find some background here, along with the argument — made by economic advisors to both George W. Bush and Barack Obama — that the minimum wage is an inefficient way to help the working poor.

In both Germany and Poland, some are now pushing for the establishment of minimum wages.)
- 2:44 PM, 20 November 2013   [link]


The Precision Of His Estimate makes it even more impressive.
Henry Chao, the Obama administration official who oversaw the technical development of the federal health insurance marketplace, said Tuesday that his team has yet to complete 30 to 40 percent of the overall project.

Speaking before a subcommittee of the House Energy and Oversight Committee, Chao said the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is still working on a number of “back office” aspects of the project, including a system to send payments to insurance companies.
All right, I am being sarcastic, and I suppose I should give Chao some credit for being honest about his uncertainty.  (Here's how most of those familiar with large programming projects, or even medium-sized programming projects, would interpret that 30 to 40 percent:  Chao thinks they have done more than half of the programming, but isn't sure.  It is anyone's guess how much of the testing they have completed.)

On a more serious note, most insurance companies want to be paid before they issue insurance, so that little missing part is, in fact, essential.

(I haven't seen any press reports confirming this, but I strongly suspect that many of those working on this project knew that it was a disaster, and attempted, without success, to get top management to recognize that unpleasant fact.  Those workers are, I suspect, taking some grim satisfaction in the revelations now coming out.)
- 10:13 AM, 20 November 2013   [link]


John Kerry Versus Susan Rice:  They disagree, openly, on our policy toward Egypt.
Before Secretary of State John Kerry’s recent trip to Cairo, National Security Adviser Susan Rice told him to make strong statements in public and private about the trial of deposed President Mohamed Morsi.  On his own, Kerry decided to disregard the White House’s instructions.

The tension between the national security adviser and the secretary of state spilled over into public view in the past week, when Rice laid out her critical appraisal of the Egyptian government, which contradicted Kerry’s assessment that Egypt was “on the path to democracy.”  The now public rift has been simmering behind the scenes for months and illustrates the strikingly divergent Egypt policies the White House and the State Department are pursuing.
(Emphasis added.)

Two questions will occur to almost everyone who reads that:  First, is Kerry defying Rice, or Rice and President Obama?  Second, which policy would be better for the United States, in the long run?

The article does not give me enough information to answer the first question.  As for the second, in most cases it is better for a nation to have one policy, rather than two conflicting policies, and if I had to choose between the two, I would choose Kerry's.

(The article, which is written from Rice's point of view, says that she "has a long record of emphasizing human rights and democracy concerns".  That may be true, but I think Josh Rogin should have added something about her behavior during the Rwandan genocide.)
- 8:48 AM, 20 November 2013   [link]


150 Years Ago, Lincoln Delivered The Gettysburg Address:   Here's the text.
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.  We are met on a great battlefield of that war.  We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live.  It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground.  The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract.  The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.  It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.  It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
And here's a description of the battle that had been fought there, in July.

(As I have mentioned before, I find Lincoln's 2nd Inaugural speech even more powerful.  If you have never read it, take a look at it now.)
- 7:07 PM, 19 November 2013   [link]


Female Competition Experiment:  John Tierney introduces the subject and then describes this experiment.
To see how female students react to a rival, researchers brought pairs of them into a laboratory at McMaster University for what was ostensibly a discussion about female friendships.   But the real experiment began when another young woman entered the room asking where to find one of the researchers.

This woman had been chosen by the researchers, Tracy Vaillancourt and Aanchal Sharma, because she "embodied qualities considered attractive from an evolutionary perspective," meaning a "low waist-to-hip ratio, clear skin, large breasts."  Sometimes she wore a T-shirt and jeans, other times a tightfitting, low-cut blouse and short skirt.

In jeans, she attracted little notice and no negative comments from the students, whose reactions were being secretly recorded during the encounter and after the woman left the room.   But when she wore the other outfit, virtually all the students reacted with hostility.
And not just a little hostility.

There's much more in the article, though little that will surprise those who have watched the often indirect ways in which women compete — for men.

(Tierney mentions researcher Sarah B. Hrdy.  Some years ago, I read her book, The Woman That Never Evolved, and found it fascinating, and a useful correction to male-centered accounts.)
- 1:17 PM, 19 November 2013   [link]


If The 2012 Election Were Held Today, Mitt Romney Would Win:  Probably.  That's the most interesting finding in this ABC/Washington Post poll.
And perhaps adding insult to injury, registered voters divide numerically in Mitt Romney’s favor, 49-45 percent, if they had a mulligan for the 2012 presidential election.  While the difference between the two is within the poll’s error margin, Obama’s support is 6 points below his actual showing a year ago.
There isn't any good news for Obama in the poll except for this:  Americans are about as likely to see the Republicans as too conservative, as they are to see the Democrats too liberal (43 and 46 percent, respectively).

Perceptions of Obama's honesty have changed since he was inaugurated.  In January 2009, he was considered honest by 75 percent of the respondents, and dishonest by just 18 percent.  Now those numbers are 47 and 50 percent, respectively.  The have asked that question four times since January 2009; each time, he has lost ground.

The more we see of Obama, the less we trust him.  Which will make it very hard for him to recover.

(You can find the full poll results here.)
- 9:27 AM, 19 November 2013   [link]


Bitcoins For Assassinations:  Someone is trying to establish an unusual market.
As Bitcoin becomes an increasingly popular form of digital cash, the cryptocurrency is being accepted in exchange for everything from socks to sushi to heroin.  If one anarchist has his way, it’ll soon be used to buy murder, too.

Last month I received an encrypted email from someone calling himself by the pseudonym Kuwabatake Sanjuro, who pointed me towards his recent creation: The website Assassination Market, a crowdfunding service that lets anyone anonymously contribute bitcoins towards a bounty on the head of any government official–a kind of Kickstarter for political assassinations.  According to Assassination Market’s rules, if someone on its hit list is killed–and yes, Sanjuro hopes that many targets will be–any hitman who can prove he or she was responsible receives the collected funds.
According to the article, the current targets are Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, President Barack Obama, and National Security Agency Director Keith Alexander — none of whom deserve assassination, in my opinion.

I would like to think that most fans of markets, and even many anarchists, will reject this particular market.  But it wouldn't take very many people to make it a "success".

(Here's the Wikipedia article on Bitcoins.  The usual caveats apply, but I don't think many would disagree with the conclusion that Bitcoins are especially useful in illegal transactions — and that that is one of their advantages.)
- 8:13 AM, 19 November 2013   [link]


Left-wing Journalist Robert Kuttner Agrees With The Guess I Made In September:  I suggested that Obama, Pelosi, and Reid had rejected a "Medicare down" strategy because the costs could not be hidden.
There would have been real political benefits to extending Medicare down.   It would immediately have helped those who had been laid off late in their working lives, and thus lost their employer-provided health insurance.   It would have made other older people, with chronic but not serious medical problems, more employable, because an employer would no longer have to pay much of their health care costs.   It would have been easier to explain.    It would have received support from all those who really want a single-payer system.  The proponents could have avoided difficult constitutional questions.

And so on.

My guess, and it is only a guess, is that they rejected extending Medicare down because the cost estimates were far too high — and, even worse from a politician's point of view, couldn't be hidden.
Here's what Kuttner says.
As many of us wrote at the time, Medicare for All would be simpler to execute, easier to understand, and harder for Republicans to oppose.  If doing Medicare for All in a single stroke was too heavy a lift, start with 60-year-olds, then 55-year-olds, then young people under 25, and fill in the qualifying age brackets over a decade.
. . .
President Obama, looking to fund his initiative without raising taxes, hit on the idea of imagining a trillion dollars in yet-to-be specified savings in Medicare.  Seniors, not unreasonably, became concerned that their own coverage would suffer.  The mid-term electoral disaster of 2010 was one part older Americans deserting the Democrats for fear of the ACA's impact on Medicare, and one part the Republican right seizing an anti-Wall Street backlash because Obama's economic team was too cozy with the big banks.
(Emphasis added.)

There were a few other reasons for those losses, too, but note that Kuttner says that Obama — I would say the Obama-Pelosi-Reid team, or their staffers — came up with ObamaCare, instead of extending Medicare down, in order to avoid an open tax increase.

There's a British phrase that may apply to the OPR team's decision to reject a Medicare down strategy for ObamaCare.  They were too clever by half.  A straightforward, honest proposal, even if they lost, would have worked out better for them, politically, in the long run.

(You probably recall that Chief Justice Roberts was able to rule that most of ObamaCare was constitutional only by labeling it a tax increase — which is ironic, to say the least.)
- 7:29 AM, 19 November 2013   [link]


Al Qaeda Strikes Iran:  With, as usual, a suicide bombing.
At least 22 people have been killed and more than 140 injured in a double suicide bombing outside the Iranian embassy in the Lebanese capital Beirut.

There are conflicting reports as to whether the Iranian cultural attache survived the attack.

Iran is a major backer of the Lebanese Shia militant group Hezbollah, which has sent fighters to Syria to back the government of Bashar al-Assad.

A jihadist group linked to al-Qaeda said it carried out the attack.
My first reaction was to remember Kissinger's quip during the Iran-Iraq war: "It's a pity they can't both lose."

But, more seriously, we have to worry that the civil war in Syria will spread to neighboring countries, including Lebanon, Iraq, and, possibly, Jordan.

(The Iranian embassy is a natural target.  That is probably where the Iranian agents who more or less control Hezbollah operate.)
- 6:23 AM, 19 November 2013   [link]


Cheaters Are More Likely To Go Into "Public Service"   Here's the abstract from Rema Hanna and Shing-Yi Wang's paper, "Dishonesty and Selection into Public Service":
In this paper, we demonstrate that university students who cheat on a simple task in a laboratory setting are more likely to state a preference for entering public service.   Importantly, we also show that cheating on this task is predictive of corrupt behavior by real government workers, implying that this measure captures a meaningful propensity towards corruption.  Students who demonstrate lower levels of prosocial preferences in the laboratory games are also more likely to prefer to enter the government, while outcomes on explicit, two-player games to measure cheating and attitudinal measures of corruption do not systematically predict job preferences.  We find that a screening process that chooses the highest ability applicants would not alter the average propensity for corruption among the applicant pool.  Our findings imply that differential selection into government may contribute, in part, to corruption.  They also emphasize that screening characteristics other than ability may be useful in reducing corruption, but caution that more explicit measures may offer little predictive power.
Presumably those cheaters aren't just planning to serve the public, in those "public service" jobs.

By way of Mark Blumenthal.

(I haven't bought the paper yet, but I probably should, even though my to-do stack is approaching the height of Mt. Rainier, and I am only slowly getting over a cold.)
- 8:35 PM, 18 November 2013   [link]


Coincidentally, this Joanne Jacobs post on how fashionable "foodie" parents are trying to make their kids eat "gluten-free kale salads", and other delights, came out the same day that this cartoon popped up on my New Yorker calendar.

The cartoon could, with a few word changes, be a kid's reply to those parents.
- 8:30 AM, 18 November 2013   [link]


Hair Pulling in the NFL.

It was inevitable, once long hair became fashionable in some circles, but, by traditional standards, is not very manly.

(I would guess that it is more common in pile-ups, where the officials can't see what the players are doing to each other.)
- 6:52 AM, 18 November 2013   [link]


Is Left-Wing Journalist Todd Purdum Getting Ready To Throw Barack Obama Under The Bus?  It sure looks like it.
From the moment of his improbable emergence as a presidential contender seven years ago, Barack Obama has always positioned himself as something better than a politician.   And he has always presented his goals for progressive change as something bigger than the bare minimum a Democrat might hope for in a country that skews center-right.

So the fiasco of the launch of Obama’s sweeping health care overhaul has put the reputation of Big Government progressivism at risk for at least this generation.  And its future now rests on the president’s ability to reverse that debacle and to demonstrate that his approach to covering millions of uninsured Americans is not only an enlightened — but workable — policy.  He set the bar himself.
And now that he has crashed into that bar, "progressives" like Purdum are beginning to think they might be better off, in the long run, if they abandon Obama.

"Progressive" journalists have two additional reasons to consider abandoning Obama:  In spite of the spectacularly favorable coverage they have given him, he obviously holds most of them in contempt, and has used the law against journalists more than any other recent president.

(Here's the Purdum's Wikipedia biography.  He's married to former Clinton White House Press Secretary Dee Dee Myers — but is not good friends with Bill Clinton.)
- 6:31 AM, 18 November 2013   [link]


Hard-Driving Dissidents:  On the front page of today's New York Times is an article about a UN conference on how global warming is ruining small, poor countries and therefore how the large, rich countries owe those small countries something.

It's the usual list of worries, with, as usual, no mention of the more than fifteen years with no warming, or the failure of climate models to predict that pause.

And on the Automobiles page, at the back of the Sports section, are two articles by Ezra Dyer on the Corvette Stingray and the SRT Viper (which used to be called the Dodge Viper), two positive articles on just the kind of carbon-dioxide producing toys that the reporters on the first article, Steven Lee Myers and Nicholas Kulish, would probably say we should give up.

And that pattern, I have noticed, is common.  Car reviews are still written by car guys, and although they may care in some abstract way about all those poor folks in poor countries who — if you believe the New York Times — are about to starve, drown, or both, when it comes to car reviews, the car guys write in the old way.

Which, nowadays, seems mildly transgressive.

(The front-page article does have some interesting information.  For example, China is now emitting more CO2 than the next two countries (the United States and India) combined.   (About 27 to 23 percent, if I am eyeballing the chart correctly.)  Per capita, we are only twelfth on the list.  The top ten countries are Qatar, Trinidad and Tobago, Kuwait, Netherlands Antilles, Brunei, United Arab Emirates, Aruba, Luxembourg, Oman, and Bahrain.  (They don't give the eleventh ranking country in the chart.))
- 6:33 PM, 17 November 2013   [link]


Republican Tom Price Predicted One of the problems with ObamaCare.
Go back to June 23, 2009.  The House Education and Labor Committee, chaired by Democratic Rep. George Miller, held a hearing on a draft of Obamacare.  Christina Romer, then chair of the Council of Economic Advisers, testified.  Among the Republicans who questioned Romer was Rep. Tom Price, who is also a doctor.  Price pressed Romer to cite a basis for the president's promise, and in the process predicted much of what would happen more than four years later, in late 2013.  Obama's promise fell apart right there in the hearing room.
In particular, Price showed that millions, in spite of Obama's promise, would not be able to keep their insurance.

If you read the exchange between the two, you'll see that Romer, who is a smart woman, and relatively honest (as far as I know), has no real answers to Price's questions.

(Here's the Wikipedia article on Price, with the usual caveats.)
- 5:06 PM, 17 November 2013   [link]


The Timing Of The Firing Does Seem suspicious.
A day after he questioned President Obama’s decision to unwind a major tenet of the health-care law and said the nation’s capital might not go along, D.C. insurance commissioner William P. White was fired.
White didn't oppose the change directly, but he "hinted" that he did, and that was enough.
- 11:28 AM, 17 November 2013   [link]