October 2013, Part 4
Jim Miller on Politics
New York City Reverts To Partisan Elections: Here's a bit of trivia that almost everyone has known for years, but still amuses me: That very Democratic city, New York, has been governed, for almost twenty years, by two men who were first elected* as Republicans, Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg.
We can understand this if we recall that mayoralty elections in the United States can be divided into four categories:
officially non-partisan/actually non-partisan
officially partisan/actually partisan
officially non-partisan/actually partisan
officially partisan/actually non-partisan
The first two categories are easy enough to understand, and the third is common enough so that most of us have no trouble thinking of examples. In my area, for example, King County elections are now officially non-partisan — but anyone who pays attention knows that the county executive, Dow Constantine, is a Democrat, and that Democrats control the county council. Similarly — somewhat to my surprise — Chicago mayors are now, officially, non-partisan, but I am sure that almost everyone there knows that Rahm Emanuel is a Democrat.
The fourth category is the rarest and, in some ways, the most interesting. In those elections, most voters ignore the partisan labels and vote more on issues and personalities. Rudy Giuliani defeated David Dinkins because many New York Democrats thought he was a better leader, and would do more about the city's problems, especially crime. He was successful enough so that Michael Bloomberg could follow him — with a little help from Bloomberg's vast fortune.
Given their successes, you might think that New Yorkers would, one more time, ignore party labels and elect the Republican candidate, Joseph Lohta, over the Democratic candidate, Bill de Blasio. But they aren't likely to.
This time de Blasio has argued that Lohta is a Republican, while Lohta has argued that de Blasio will bring back some of the policies that almost destroyed New York. (Both are right.) You can see, from these poll results, which argument has been winning.
Partisanship, suppressed all those years, has returned.
(*I put it that way because Bloomberg began as a Democrat, switched to a Republican before he ran for mayor, and then switched to independent in 2007. As Wikipedia puts it, he then "was elected to his third term in 2009 as an independent candidate on the Republican ballot line". His principal opponents in the three mayor's races were all Democrats.
De Blasio is probably also benefiting from the usual "time for a change" feeling that voters often have after one party has been in office for many years.)
- 9:43 AM, 31 October 2013 [link]
Did President Obama commit "Fraud in the Inducement"?
Let's say you make a business deal with someone. But you lie about pertinent facts in the process. This is called "Fraud in the Inducement." Here's the definition from a legal dictionary: "the use of deceit or trick to cause someone to act to his/her disadvantage, such as signing an agreement or deeding away real property. The heart of this type of fraud is misleading the other party as to the facts upon which he/she will base his/her decision to act. Example: 'there will be tax advantages to you if you let me take title to your property,' or 'you don’t have to read the rest of the contract–it is just routine legal language.' but actually includes a balloon payment"Not in any legal, prosecutable way, of course.
But a CEO who did the same thing to sell a defective product might well cause legal problems for his company.
(It is an interesting — but probably unanswerable — question: Would ObamaCare have passed without those false promises? Maybe some bold political reporter will ask the moderate Democrats who provided the margins in the House and the Senate whether they think they were deceived.)
- 7:35 AM, 31 October 2013 [link]
How Bad Have The Relations Between The Karzai And Obama Governments Gotten? This bad.
A bungled attempt by the Afghan government to cultivate a shadowy alliance with Islamist militants escalated into the latest flash point in the troubled relationship between Afghanistan and the United States, according to new accounts by officials from both countries.President Karzai has always been a difficult ally — but I don't recall President Bush having as much trouble with him, or with their disagreements becoming so public, so often.
(If you read the whole article, or if you have just been following events in Afghanistan, you may conclude, as I have, that Karzai and company don't trust Obama, and don't think he respects them. I don't see any possible cure for that distrust, especially with John Kerry as secretary of state.)
- 7:22 PM, 30 October 2013 [link]
Canadian Authorities Catch a bomb parts smuggler.
Piazza, 71, formerly known as Houshang Nazemi, was arrested Sunday after allegedly bringing a bag containing concealed explosive devices through customs at Trudeau Airport.According to a New York Times article, he had "all but one component needed to make a bomb aboard a Los Angeles-bound flight".
That explains why they questioned all the other passengers; the security people must have suspected, as I would have, that he had an accomplice who would bring on that component, separately.
But there are other possibilities. This could have been a test run, to see whether it was possible to get bomb parts through Montreal security.
(Nazemi/Piazza has a number of convictions in his past. He says he was carrying the bag for someone else — and he may be telling the truth. I can easily imagine some terrorist thinking that he could fool this small-time crook into carrying the bag, with, perhaps, a hint that what he was carrying was drugs, or money to be laundered.)
- 5:32 PM, 30 October 2013 [link]
Why Won't President Obama Fire Secretary Sibelius? Because she is another basketball player.
With the disastrous HealthCare.gov rollout, you would think that if President Obama had not fired Kathleen Sebelius by now, he would have at least seriously considered it. And you'd think she might have readied a resignation letter or even offered to quit. But those close to the White House and Sebelius say there has been no such come-to-Jesus moment between the two and they don't see one happening anytime soon. In short, Sebelius is staying.(Emphasis added.)
All right, there are other reasons, too. Obama may feel some gratitude to her for her early support in the 2008 nomination fight, although he has never struck me as an especially grateful man. More likely, he admires her political skills, and thinks she is about as good a spokesman as he can get.
Or, more darkly, he may prefer to have her on the inside than out, may prefer to have her taking responsibility — sort of — than have her putting it on the White House staff. (You may recall that I suspect that she, or one of her supporters, was already trying to blame the White House staff.)
But do I think that their "shared love of basketball" is also part of it? Absolutely, because there are so many basketball connections in this administration.
(Sebelius did not star at a basketball power. Instead, like Nancy Pelosi, she attended and graduated from Trinity Washington. Both women earned BAs in political science from the school, which makes me wonder what the department was teaching the girls in the late 1950s and the 1960s.)
- 1:11 PM, 30 October 2013 [link]
Glenn Kessler Gives President Obama four more Pinocchios.
The FactsThis is, perhaps, the least surprising Pinocchio award from Kessler, yet.
(I plan to ask some of our local journalists to defend Obama, in public, as I suspect they do in private.)
- 12:32 PM, 30 October 2013 [link]
Richard Cohen Uses The 'C' Word To Describe The Obama Administration: No, not the four-letter 'c' word, the ten-letter 'c" word: competence. It is, the liberal columnist says, what is now lacking in the Obama administration, much to Cohen's surprise.
This is a surprise — at least to me. If Barack Obama has an image, it is of the infinitely cool, cerebral leader. The man can give a rousing speech, but he is, at heart, a planner and a plodder. Both of his presidential campaigns were exercises in micromanagement — digital all the way. Obama was the better candidate, but he had, by far, the better organization.Cohen is, I think, being honest when he describes both his original — incorrect — assessment of Obama, and the failures that have led Cohen to question that assessment. He was fooled by the Obama campaigns, and Obama's demeanor, and he is just now beginning to see what he could have seen in 2007 — if he had been paying more careful attention: Obama has had the help of some superb (and unscrupulous) campaign staffers, for example, David Axelrod, but there is no evidence that Obama himself has any of the skills essential to an executive — as opposed to a campaigner. And considerable evidence that he does not.
Which, assuming Cohen was honest in that column, Cohen has managed to ignore, at least since 2007.
Nonetheless, Cohen's column is worth reading, because so many other people deceived themselves in much the same way that Cohen did, mistaking speeches for deeds, and a calm public demeanor for the ability to think strategically.
(Cohen's liberal colleague, Dana Milbank, is a bit more cynical than Cohen, and caught on to some of Obama's problems, earlier. Yesterday, Milbank gave us an entertaining list of all the things in his own administration that Obama, supposedly, did not know about. It wasn't as comprehensive on foreign policy as Bret Stephens's list, but it was funnier.)
- 7:50 AM, 30 October 2013 [link]
California's "Green Gentry" Versus The Working Class And The Middle Class: Joel Kotkin makes a powerful argument that wealthy and powerful environmentalists have hurt most others in our most populous state.
Primarily, this modern-day program of class warfare is carried out under the banner of green politics. The environmental movement has always been primarily dominated by the wealthy, and overwhelmingly white, donors and activists. But in the past, early progressives focused on such useful things as public parks and open space that enhance the lives of the middle and working classes. Today, green politics seem to be focused primarily on making life worse for these same people.Hurt them by, for example, increasing energy prices.
Kotkin names a few names:
Even more critical, billionaires such as Google’s Eric Schmidt, hedge fund manager Thomas Steyer and venture firms like Kleiner Perkins have developed an economic stake in “green” energy policies. These interests have sought out cozy deals on renewable energy ventures dependent on regulations mandating their use and guaranteeing their prices.(In my opinion, he is unfair to the Tories, in that comparison.)
As Kotkin goes on to say, these policies have hurt most "the very ethnic minorities who also constitute a reliable voter block for Democratic greens". And that explains the rise of that odd character, Van Jones, who was useful to Greens and the Left because he claimed to have found ways to make Green policies benefit blacks and Hispanics, economically.
- 3:00 PM, 29 October 2013 [link]
If You Are Wondering Why Software Projects Are So Hard To Manage, you might want to take a look at Fred Brooks's classic, The Mythical Man-Month.
I'll add something that — I believe — is more true now than when Brooks wrote the book: Software development tends to attract people who are more individualistic, and less team-oriented, than most other fields — which is why managing programmers is often compared to herding cats.
- 1:36 PM, 29 October 2013 [link]
Here's One Explanation For Why CGI Got That No-Bid Contract to build the ObamaCare web site.
First Lady Michelle Obama’s Princeton classmate is a top executive at the company that earned the contract to build the failed Obamacare website.One explanation, though not the only possible explanation. But the decision to choose CGI is definitely something that needs an explanation.
Especially since there is nothing in that brief description of Townes-Whitley's career that suggests that she would be good at managing a large programming project.
Students of Chicago-style politics will think that this looks familiar, since they have seen so many similar decisions before.
(The two ladies seem to have stayed in touch after graduation.)
- 1:19 PM, 29 October 2013 [link]
The Russians Spied — Or Tried To Spy on the leaders at the G-20 meeting.
Participants of the G20 meeting held on September 5 in St Petersburg received a “poisoned gift”, reports La Stampa: a set of USB drives which hid spying devices designed to collect data from computers and smartphones.The only surprise in this story is the use of the USB drives — which would automatically make any computer expert suspicious.
(I don't read Italian, and I don't particularly trust computer translations, so I haven't tried to learn more technical details from La Stampa's article.)
- 6:09 AM, 29 October 2013
There's a little more here, indirectly, from another Italian newspaper. Apparently the Russians used mobile phone "recharge cables", as well as USB drives.
- 12:50 PM, 29 October 2013 [link]
Hugo Chávez's Successor Has Come Up with an interesting innovation.
In the latest move by the Maduro Government, the Vice-Presidency for the Supreme Social Happiness of the Venezuelan people was created this week. While many have laughed at the idea, I disagree. I think this office was badly needed and will play an important role in celebrating life in Venezuela and making its citizens happy.It is possible that Miguel Octavio is being sarcastic in that post. But even critics of the Venezuelan government will admit that "Supreme Social Happiness" is an impressive goal.
(I corrected a minor typo in the quote.)
- 5:06 AM, 29 October 2013 [link]
If Only Obama Knew: Like neo-neocon, I suspect we are going to see that excuse more and more frequently.
If you missed her reference, she explained it here. (Earlier, peasants in imperial Russia sometimes believed that an injustice would be ended "if only the Czar knew" about it. Occasionally, they were right; usually, they weren't.)
Now that I think about it, I suspect that there were peasants in ancient Egypt who were sure that if only the pharaoh knew about some injustice, it would be ended.
- 3:34 PM, 28 October 2013 [link]
In General, It Is Good For City Council Candidates To Have Had Many Contacts With Their City Government: But I am not sure Kirkland voters will see it that way for this candidate.
Kirkland City Council candidate Martin Morgan owes the city more than $8,000 in unpaid utilities, which he said stems from an ongoing civil dispute with his neighbor over his water line.As far as I know, I have never met the man, but I might well have run into him and not know it.
I thought you might like a brief break from life-and-death issues. I know I needed one.
(Here's Morgan's campaign site.)
- 1:43 PM, 28 October 2013 [link]
Here We Go Again, Wondering Whether Obama Knew What His Administration Was Doing: In particular, whether he knew that the NSA was intercepting Angela Merkel's phone calls. A German newspaper says he did.
President Barack Obama personally authorised the phone tapping of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s mobile because he wanted to 'know everything' about the world’s most powerful woman, it was claimed on Sunday.The administration says he didn't know, and stopped it when he learned about it.
The officials quoted by The Wall Street Journal said it was understandable that Obama did not know about the phone tapping of Merkel and other leaders for nearly five years of his presidency. Because the NSA has so many eavesdropping programs, it would not have listed all of them for the president, according to the officials.So, who should we believe, the Obama administration, or a sleazy German newspaper?
It's a hard choice, isn't it?
I thought that Obama was — probably — genuinely surprised by the ObamaCare site roll out disaster. But in this case, I think it more likely that Bild, rather than Obama, is telling the truth, mostly — with one possible, and very important, technical qualification.
It is not clear to me whether NSA was listening to Merkel's phone calls (and reading her text messages) or just tracking them, keeping a record of what numbers she called, and took calls from. (The Daily Mail (and presumably, Bild, are quite certain on that point, but this is something that journalists often get wrong.)
Should we have been tracking Merkel's phone calls and should we have been listening to her? It might have been hard to avoid the first, if the NSA was running some sort of general sweep of German phone calls. But listening to them seems, to me, like a serious error.
- 10:35 AM, 28 October 2013
More: The Wall Street Journal makes a robust defense of our spying, arguing that recent history gives us good reasons to do it. And that many other nations also spy; for instance: "Madeleine Albright noted recently that the French were eavesdropping on her private conversations when she was U.N. ambassador in the 1990s."
It is also possible that this administration denial that Obama knew is one of those polite lies that diplomats tell all the time, that it is intended to reduce the outroar from Europe, even though few will believe it. (To make it more plausible the Obama administration would have to fire one or more officials in charge of the program, but I am not sure that Obama understands that, if that is, in fact, their strategy.)
- 12:51 PM, 28 October 2013 [link]
No Atheists In Fox Holes? That was my first and, admittedly, mean-spirited reaction to this story.
President Obama and his family attended Sunday services at St. John's Episcopal Church, which is across Lafayette Park from the White House.With the incoming political fire increasing in the last few weeks, one can understand why President Obama might want to engage in some reflection.
(Keith Koffler keeps track of these things, and can tell you how often Obama attends church, and how often he plays golf. Not that there is anything wrong with playing golf. In fact, as I have said before, I would prefer that Obama played more golf.)
- 9:22 AM, 28 October 2013 [link]
Hours Before The Normandy Invasion Was About To Begin, Eisenhower scribbled a little note to himself, just in case things went horribly wrong.
Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place were based on the best information available. The troops, the air and navy did all that bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone.Great leaders accept responsibility — especially for failures.
(The note can be found in many places; I've taken it from John Keegan's Six Armies in Normandy, a book I would recommend to anyone interested in the problems of coalition warfare.)
- 8:17 AM, 28 October 2013 [link]
Worth Buying: (Even though you can read it, for now, on line.)
The Leader and the detailed article in the 19-25 October issue of The Economist, describing the troubles with big science. (Although they don't call it big science, they should.) I bought it today, and you may be able to buy it, too, if you look quickly. If not, you can find that issue in almost any library.
From the Leader:
Too many of the findings that fill the academic ether are the result of shoddy experiments or poor analysis (see article). A rule of thumb among biotechnology venture-capitalists is that half of published research cannot be replicated. Even that may be optimistic. Last year researchers at one biotech firm, Amgen, found they could reproduce just six of 53 “landmark” studies in cancer research. Earlier, a group at Bayer, a drug company, managed to repeat just a quarter of 67 similarly important papers. A leading computer scientist frets that three-quarters of papers in his subfield are bunk. In 2000-10 roughly 80,000 patients took part in clinical trials based on research that was later retracted because of mistakes or improprieties.I would have guessed that "landmark" papers would be more likely to be correct, that they would receive more extensive checking from the reviewers. But perhaps not. Or maybe less important papers are even more likely to be wrong.
From the article:
Fraud is very likely second to incompetence in generating erroneous results, though it is hard to tell for certain. Dr [Daniele] Fanelli has looked at 21 different surveys of academics (mostly in the biomedical sciences but also in civil engineering, chemistry and economics) carried out between 1987 and 2008. Only 2% of respondents admitted falsifying or fabricating data, but 28% of respondents claimed to know of colleagues who engaged in questionable research practices.Of course, fewer people admit bad behavior than commit it. And it is awfully easy to fool ourselves first, to, for example, leave out a few samples or data points that might ruin an otherwise perfectly good research paper.
(The article includes a discussion of common statistical problems. It's my impression that the discussion can be understood on some level, even for those who have never taken a statistics course. If you find it mystifying, let me know, and I will get out some stat books, and try to extend their discussion.)
- 5:52 PM, 27 October 2013 [link]
Worth Skimming (At Least): This longish Washington Post interview of Australia's new prime minister, Tony Abbott.
You said in your victory speech that Australia is once again open for business. Does that mean you believe that the previous government was unfriendly to businesses?I rather like that "green tape" phrase, and plan to borrow it in the future.
If you read all the way to the end of the interview, you will find support for my argument that the Labor Party in Australia lost the election more than Abbott's Liberal/National coalition won it.
(Fun fact: Abbot has been a volunteer fire fighter (or, as Australians might say, a "firey") since 2001 — and saw no reason not to keep volunteering, now that he is prime minister.
- 5:15 PM, 27 October 2013 [link]
Parents, Especially Mothers of Teenage Daughters, will like this cartoon.
- 10:37 AM, 27 October 2013 [link]
NSA Shouldn't Spy On The French, Say The French: That's the job of the French government.
Days after Hollande sternly told the U.S. to stop spying on its allies, Le Monde disclosed that France has its own large program of data collection, which sweeps up nearly all the data transmissions that come in and out of FranceAccording to Le Monde (a very respectable left-wing newspaper), the French spying is illegal. You don't need to know French to understand this:
Ce Big Brother français, contrairement aux Etats-Unis où le programme de la NSA est secrètement validé par le Congrès, est totalement illégal.(As I am not a French lawyer, I have no opinion on whether these activities are illegal under French law — but I wouldn't be surprised if they were.)
In general, says Stewart Baker, European nations have fewer protections for privacy than the United States does, and watch their citizens much more closely. For example:
And it shows in the surveillance statistics. Residents of Italy and the Netherlands are more than 100 times more likely to be the subjects of government surveillance than Americans, according to a study by the Max Planck Institute.The sub-head in the scanned French newspaper tells the story: "Tout le monde écoute tout le monde, depuis toujours" (All the world listens to all the world, since forever). For what it is worth, the United States has been less likely to intrude on its own citizens' privacy than almost every European country. And probably still is, despite the howls you may be hearing from Europe.
(In 1929, then-Secretary of State Henry Stimson shut down the principal American cryptanalysis operation, the Black Chamber, saying: "Gentlemen do not read each other's mail." He changed his mind later, when he had to deal with non-gentlemen. Stimson may have been unaware that our friends had been reading our diplomatic messages, all through the 1920s.)
- 7:15 AM, 27 October 2013 [link]
Harry Reid Says No More Mr. Nice Guy: The Senate Majority Leader was speaking to a friendly reporter. (Ideologically friendly, anyway, odds are.)
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Thursday he regrets being "too lenient" in previous budget talks with Republicans.(KNPR is an NPR affiliate, just as the name suggests. Here's their article on the interview, with a link to the audio.)
One of the more curious things about our current political situation is that most Democrats think they lost out in the negotiations that led to the extension of almost all Bush tax cuts, and the sequester — while few Republicans think they won, or at least are willing to say so in public.
(I am about 90 percent certain that Speaker Boehner and Minority Leader McConnell think they won about as much as they could have in those negotiations, but realize it would be impolitic to boast about their victory. But I suspect many Republican voters don't realize how big a victory it was, in the circumstances.)
If you read either article, you'll see that Reid is ruling out even discussing any reforms of entitlements — reforms that almost all budget experts agree are essential to our fiscal health in the long run.
There are people, myself included, who think that just a trifle irresponsible.
- 9:13 AM, 25 October 2013 [link]
Fogged In: That's what we have been, mornings, in this area for days. (Sometimes the fog breaks up in the afternoon, sometimes it doesn't.)
The fog has produced a number of weather oddities (along with all kinds of traffic problems) including this one: Yesterday the high in Seattle was 50 degrees and the high at Paradise on Mt. Rainier 62 degrees. (Paradise is a mile higher than Seattle.)
You can see some pictures of the fog here. I especially like the one taken from the Space Needle.
(If you want some politics with the fog, here's a possibility. Think of the fog as being produced by Obama's White House staffers, and the rest of the metaphor should follow easily.)
- 7:21 AM, 25 October 2013 [link]
Tom Maguire Asks the question: "What Did Obama Not Know And When Did He Not Know It?"
What, in other words, did President Obama not know on 30 September about the about-to-be-disastrous ObamaCare site roll out?
My own view — for which I have no evidence one way or another — is that Obama was, to some extent, genuinely surprised by the disaster. He is less interested than any other modern president in mere details, and, as others have noted (including Maguire), his staff may have thought the politics would play better if Obama didn't know how bad things would be.
There is another, broader reason why Obama may not have known — and many on his staff may have been somewhat surprised. Simplifying outrageously, those on the modern right are more interested in production, those on the modern left in redistribution, so the difficulties in producing a complex software product are of less interest, in general, to leftists.
(Younger people may not know that Maguire is inverting a famous Howard Baker question from the Watergate hearings.)
- 6:34 AM, 25 October 2013 [link]