Archive:

October 2014, Part 1

Jim Miller on Politics




Pseudo-Random Thoughts



It's Time For Seattle To Allow People There To See "The Simpsons"  I don't know how or why — perhaps because it is a Fox show — Seattle has blocked this program, but it is time for the city to end this censorship.

A few of you, especially in this area, will wonder why you haven't heard of this censorship.  Some will even claim that the show is available in Seattle.

But I don't think that's possible.  And for evidence, let me present this Seattle Times story.

Rather than mount an aggressive campaign against a back-to-the-future monorail ballot measure critics consider less than half-baked, Seattle officials and mainstream boosters of public transit are mostly just praying that voters reject it.

The measure, which will appear on the Nov. 4 ballot as Seattle Citizen Petition No. 1, would create a new government entity called the City Transportation Authority (CTA) and task it with planning a 16-mile elevated monorail line between Ballard and West Seattle.

The CTA would be run by an independent board with the power to put taxpayers on the hook for bond debt and would impose a $5 citywide car-tab fee on vehicles at least a year old, raising about $2 million a year.

Here's a time line of previous failures, in case you were thinking this was a new idea.

It is impossible, I would argue, for a city, even Seattle, to make this kind of decision if they had seen "Marge vs. the Monorail".  That episode, as well as being amusing, teaches a clear lesson, so clear that even the most reactionary voter in Seattle would understand it.

So I conclude that, somehow, the city has been blocking the program.  To conclude otherwise would be to insult the intelligence of Seattle voters.

Seattle should stop this censorship before the vote this November.

Some of you, having been reminded of the episode, will want to hear the theme song.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 7:19 PM, 8 October 2014   [link]


"Newspapers Prefer Lesbians"  As you can see, here.

I have noticed this pattern in local stories on gay marriage.  The TV stations and the newspapers in this area prefer to illustrate gay-marriage stories with lesbian pairs, often two sweet elderly ladies.

I suspect that, in making those choices, our jounalists are hiding some of the more interesting pictures from us.
- 6:09 PM, 8 October 2014   [link]


This Juxtaposition Is Too Funny not to share, though I will admit that fans of Bill Clinton will not laugh at it as long as the rest of us.

(Could it have been deliberate?  That's an amusing thought, but I think it unlikely, given the network.)
- 1:33 PM, 8 October 2014   [link]


A Powerful Attack On Federal Aid To Higher Education:  From the New York Times.
In 1987, when he was Ronald Reagan’s education secretary, the conservative culture warrior William J. Bennett wrote a famous essay denouncing federal aid for higher education because it allowed colleges “blithely to raise their tuitions,” at little benefit to students.

Nearly two decades later, it seems, he was broadly right.  Indeed, he didn’t know the half of it.

It’s not just that many colleges and universities are bleeding taxpayers.  The government’s overall strategy to subsidize higher education is failing at its core task: providing less privileged Americans with a real shot at a college degree.  Alarmingly, it is burdening low-income students with risks they cannot bear and steering them into low-quality educations.
In other words, federal aid is hitting the poor and minorities hardest.

Eduardo Porter gives some of the evidence for this argument, and then continues, as he often does, with some international comparisons.

But, whether we agree with that part of his discussion or not, I think we shouldn't let it distract us from the main point:  Federal aid to higher education damages many of the students it is intended to help, and that is especially true for poorer students.

Porter's conclusion should lead elected officials to reduce, or at least change, our system of federal aid — but I don't think many Democratic congressmen are going to rush to introduce bills to do either.  Nor do I expect President Obama to argue for reductions or reforms in one of his campaign speeches.
- 1:23 PM, 8 October 2014   [link]


C. Difficile Versus Ebola:  Unless you are a medical professional you will probably, like me, have to think a bit before you even remember what c. difficile is, much less why we should care.

(I have written about it in the past, mostly because I found a promising cure so interesting, though it is not a cure you will want to talk about during a meal.)

Some numbers on c. difficile:
The incidence of the potentially deadly bacterial infection known as Clostridium difficile doubled in hospitals between 2001 and 2010, researchers report, and leveled off between 2008 and 2010.

C. difficile is a hospital-acquired infection linked to 14,000 deaths a year.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the main cause is the overuse of antibiotics.
The antibiotics wipe out the good and harmless bacteria in your gut, and allow c. difficile to take over, with unpleasant consequences.

So, roughly 14,000 deaths a year are caused by this pathogen, in the United States.   (It's a serious problem in Europe, too.)

In contrast, there has been a single Ebola death in the United States, so far, and there are, so far, no known Ebola infections in the United States.

If there are still no known infections, in, say, two weeks from now, I think we would be right to turn our attention to more serious threats, such as c. difficile.   If there are only a few, and all of them in people who had close contact with Thomas Eric Duncan while he was symptomatic, then I think we should recognize that Ebola is only a minor problem here in the United States, a problem we can control without great effort.

(Here's the study referred to in the article, and here's the Wikipedia article on c. difficile.)
- 9:43 AM, 8 October 2014   [link]


Speaking Of Names, the host for an Obama fund raiser in Connecticut has a perfect name: "Rich Richman".

According to the post, Richman "made his fortune in the affordable housing and investment racket", which would give him very, shall we say, practical reasons for all those donations he has given to Democrats.
- 8:23 AM, 8 October 2014   [link]


The Operation With No Name:  President Obama has committed American forces to the fight against ISIS (or ISIL, as he calls it), but so far, his administration has not given a name to the operation.
For weeks, military planners have debated a thorny strategic problem.  In recent days, they sent a suggestion to the Pentagon’s top brass.

It was rejected. America’s newest war won’t be called Operation Inherent Resolve.

Two months since war planes first started striking Islamic State targets, operations in Iraq and Syria don’t have a fancy name.  One of the generic placeholders found on classified Pentagon PowerPoint slides reads: “Operations in Iraq and Syria.”
Which, I think you will agree, is not as impressive as, for example, "Desert Storm".

Julian Barnes goes on to explain how operation names are chosen, and why they are important to us and to our allies.

There are already unofficial names for the operation, none of them flattering.  Almost everyone will think of "Pinprick", but it takes a wit to come up with one that Barnes says is circulating in the Pentagon: "Hey That’s My Humvee", referring to all the US equipment ISIS has captured.
- 7:59 AM, 8 October 2014   [link]


Registration Fraud In Australia?  Sure looks like it, though probably not enough to change the result even in this close election.
Voters at the centre of a probe into enrolment fraud have deleted potentially incriminating tweets and other details from social-media profiles since weekend revelations of alleged wrongdoing in a close federal election contest.

Staunch supporters of Cathy McGowan, the independent who won the seat of Indi a year ago, have erased material showing they were living and working in Melbourne and elsewhere at the time they were voting in Indi.

The Weekend Australian revealed how a number of voters, who called themselves “Indi expats” and teamed up to oust the Liberal Party’s Sophie Mirabella, helped ensure Ms McGowan’s win by switching to Indi to enrol shortly before the rolls closed.
There are allegations of what Americans would call illegal registrations against 27 voters, and the winner's margin was 439 votes.

Nonetheless, this is the kind of thing you want to stop before it becomes a habit.

(If you are obsessed by elections, like me, you will want to know how the Liberals lost this safe seat, in a good year for the party.  It turns out that the incumbent, Sophie Mirabella, was not the most likable politician in Australia.  Over the years, she had annoyed enough people so that a group searched for an alternative, and found independent Cathy McGowan.

Most likely, some of those annoyed by Mirabella were so annoyed that they couldn't resist joining in the fight, even though they didn't live in the district.)
- 3:42 PM, 7 October 2014   [link]


Should Former Members Of An Administration Be More Loyal To The Nation, Or To The President They Served?  Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank thinks they should be more loyal to the president.  
Leon Panetta, in an interview with USA Today’s Susan Page published just before [Bobby] Jindal’s speech, criticized Obama in harsh terms that would have been dismissed as partisan sniping — if Panetta weren’t a Democrat who had served as Obama’s CIA director and secretary of defense.

Panetta criticized his former boss for having “lost his way” — allowing the power vacuum in Iraq that created the Islamic State, rejecting Panetta’s and Hillary Clinton’s advice to arm the Syrian rebels and failing to enforce his own “red line” barring Syria’s use of chemical weapons.
. . .
George W. Bush got criticism from former advisers (Paul O’Neill, John DiIulio), as did Bill Clinton (George Stephanopoulos, Dick Morris), but this level of disloyalty is stunning, even though it is softened with praise for Obama’s intellect.
(Emphasis added.)

Note that Milbank doesn't say that Panetta is wrong in those criticisms, or that the nation would not be better off if Obama had taken Panetta's advice — just that Panetta shouldn't be making those criticisms.

And when the same criticisms come from Republicans, they can be "dismissed as partisan sniping".  That combination would seem to protect Obama from almost all criticism, despite his many mistakes.  (Presumably, Milbank would say that left wing journalists can still criticize Obama.)

Although I don't agree with this column — to put it mildly — I am grateful that Milbank wrote it, for what it reveals about his thinking, and, I fear, the thinking of many other "mainstream" journalists.
- 2:22 PM, 7 October 2014   [link]


The Obama Administration Is Prosecuting Reporter James Risen:  Not surprisingly, Risen does not think they like him, or his colleagues.
Sandy Maisel, the William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of Government and director of Colby’s Goldfarb Center for Public Affairs and Civic Engagement, asked Risen what role Attorney General Eric Holder and President Barack Obama have in the prosecution of Risen and other journalists who write exposes on national security issues.

Risen said he and other journalists have debated that issue in the newsroom.

“I don’t think any of this would be happening under the Obama administration if Obama didn’t want to do it,” Risen said.  “I think Obama hates the press.   I think he doesn’t like the press and he hates leaks.”

Risen said he thinks one of Holder’s most important jobs is to protect Obama from direct criticism.

“He has often tried to do it on this issue.”
(Emphasis added.)

So, Risen thinks that Obama hates the press, or just doesn't like the press, but is sure that Obama hates leaks.  To the last I must add an important qualification:  Obama loves his leaks, some of which have compromised US security, but he hates unauthorized leaks.  Every president dislikes unauthorized leaks, but from what I can tell, Obama is more intense in his dislike than his predecessors.

Many on the right will find it amusing to see Risen make this criticism of Obama, considering the way Obama was built up, and is still often protected, by our "mainstream" journalists.

But President Obama has never struck me as man who is often overcome by gratitude.   In fact, I don't know of even one time when he was overcome by gratitude.

(For the record:  As I said in August, I agree with Gabriel Schoenfeld that Risen probably should go to jail.  In 2011, I noted a story that Risen had, almost certainly, gotten completely wrong.  In 2006, I criticized his anti-democratic views.   Like many other "mainstream" reporters, Risen seems to see himself as a member of an aristocracy, with the right to overrule elected officials whenever he feels like it.

Finally, I should add that Risen's description of anti-slavery martyr Elijah Lovejoy exaggerates Lovejoy's isolation.  There were many other abolitionists, and in some parts of the North, they were so strong that southern agents searching for escaped slaves required police protection.)
- 1:38 PM, 7 October 2014   [link]


A Senator And A Crony Capitalist Sleeping Together:   Literally.
Sen. Kay Hagan’s husband and son created a solar energy contracting company in August 2010, and then, using $250,644 in federal stimulus grant funds, her husband hired that same company to install solar panels at a building he owns.

Public records show that Green State Power was formed seven weeks before JDC Manufacturing — a company owned in part by Greensboro attorney Charles “Chip” Hagan III, Sen. Hagan’s husband — received the stimulus grant for the solar project at a 300,000-square-foot facility in Reidsville, N.C.

A story in late September on the Washington, D.C.-based website Politico revealed that JDC Manufacturing received “nearly $390,000 in federal grants for energy projects and tax credits created by the 2009 stimulus law, according to public records and information provided by the company.”
Those arrangements worked out nicely for the Hagans, but not, I would guess, for the taxpayers.

For years I have worried about the way that the rise of dual-career families facilitates some kinds of corruption.  I don't have any good solution to offer, but I would like to see our Congress take a little more time to discuss the problem.
- 8:50 AM, 7 October 2014   [link]


Those Republicans All Look Alike:  So this confusion is understandable.
A Congressional Quarterly reporter published an exclusive sit-down interview with House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) this week.  The only problem with the piece was that the reporter never actually interviewed House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy.

On Thursday, Amrita Khalid, the young reporter, published an edited transcript, behind CQ's paywall, of what appeared to be an interview with McCarthy.  Gillian Roberts, an editor at CQ, tweeted the piece out as "CQ's exclusive with @GOPLeader, including his advice for frosh lawmakers."

On Friday, the majority leader's office told POLITICO that McCarthy had never sat for an interview.  Soon afterward, CQ removed the story and replaced it with an editor's note: "A story posted earlier mistakenly attributed remarks to Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.  The story has been removed and we apologize for the error."
It was apparently a case of mistaken identity; Khalid had interviewed another Republican member, assuming for some reason he was McCarthy.

Usually, our "mainstream" journalists, for all their faults, get the names right.

(Ms. Khalid has more journalistic experience than I would have guessed.

I'm sure she won't mind me pointing out that she can find pictures of the House Majority Leader in many places, including here.)
- 7:04 AM, 7 October 2014   [link]


Mia Farrow's Part In The Massive Corruption In Ecuador Was Small, but stll worth noting.
A few months ago, a New York court found the Chevron judgment was obtained by fraud and bribery — mostly masterminded by Manhattan-based attorney Steven Donziger.  The fraud was so outrageous that the judge found the Ecuadorian lawsuit was the equivalent of organized crime extorting money from Chevron.

The RICO laws, normally used against organized crime, are now being applied to Donziger and his associates.
. . .
But none of this sleaze had rubbed off on Mia Farrow.  At worst, she seemed a naïve pawn — an artist who’d been altruistically trying to help peasants against the rich and powerful.

That is, until news broke that the Ecuadorian government had secretly paid her $188,000 to go there and hype the case against Chevron.  Her “oily hand seen around the world” may have been the most lucrative gig of her acting career.
Ms. Farrow is refuising to comment.

I think she should start by donating that money to an honest Ecuadorian charity, assuming there is one.

(Here's the book, Law of the Jungle, that Phelim McAleer mentions in the op-ed.  You'll notice that the reviewers mostly either love it, or hate it)
- 6:27 AM, 7 October 2014   [link]


Public Health Warning:  Do not watch Rick Steves' latest propaganda special, the "Holy Land", unless you are prepared.

Watching it without preparation will leave you at risk, just as handling Ebola patients without protective gear will leave you at risk.  For Ebola, you need protective gear and training; for the Steves special you need lots of skepticism, and some basic facts about the history of Israel.

To explain, briefly, the problem with the special, I'll borrow a quip from a great Republican leader, Speaker Thomas B. Reed:

Of two particularly inept speakers, he remarked, "They never open their mouths without subtracting from the sum of human knowledge." (p. 117)

If you watch that special without that skepticism and that knowledge, you will know less at the end of the program than you did at the beginning.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 2:17 PM, 6 October 2014   [link]


Hyenas Are Really Weird Animals:  David Thompson thought this article was funny
Maruyama Zoo in Sapporo said it had been given the spotted hyenas, Kami and Kamutori, as a "male and female pair" as part of an exchange with a South Korean zoo in 2010.

After the two animals struggled to reproduce, the zoo conducted a gender test under anaesthesia.

The results confimed that Kami, the now five-year-old "female", was actually a male.
But then had the hyena facts of life explained to him in the comments.

Scroll down to Darleen's comment if you want the details.
- 12:34 PM, 6 October 2014   [link]


Megan McArdle Is Incomplete On Regulatory Capture:   She's absolutely right to say that it is "normal".
I’m in Chicago this week, preparing to give a seminar on covering the policy process at the Institute for Politics.  So I don’t have much time to write about the secret Fed tapes that were released by "This American Life" last week.  But I do want to make one point: This is not surprising.  It’s normal.

Academics call it “regulatory capture,” the process by which the regulators who are put in place to tame the wild beasts of business instead become tools of the corporations they regulate, especially large incumbents.
And she has a very good discussion of why this happens.  (Incidentally, it often happens with unions, as well as corporations.)

But she only hints at the life cycle of these regulatory bodies.  For that we can turn to this somewhat cynical summary from John Kenneth Galbraith, who is describing how Wall Street came to be regulated.
Most important, the principle was enunciated that the New York Stock Exchange and the other exchanges were subject to public regulation and the Securities and Exchange Commission was established to apply and enforce such regulation.

This was somewhat bitter medicine.  Moreover, regulatory bodies, like the people who comprise them, have a marked life cycle.  In youth they are vigorous, aggressive, evangelistic, and even intolerant.  Later they mellow, and in old age — after a matter of ten or fifteen years — they become, with some exceptions, either an arm of the industry they are regulating or senile. (p. 171)
(Context:  Galbraith is explaining why Wall Street did not resist the SEC as much as one would have expected.  As it happened, just when they might have put up a fight, the former president of the New York Stock Exchange, Richard Whitney, was arrested for embezzlement.)

Regulatory capture is so common, so much in the normal state of things, that I am certain that a classical historian could find examples of it in the Roman Empire, and probably earlier.

Are there ways to avoid it?  I am no expert on this subject, but two ideas occur to me:  In general, the simpler and clearer the regulations, the easier it will be for voters, and elected officials, to see whether the agency is enforcing them.  Second, in some cases it will be possible to establish regulations that give competitors incentives to see that they are enforced, fairly.
- 10:06 AM, 6 October 2014
More:  The Wall Street Journal adds many background details, and these specific policy recommendations:
Once one understands the inevitability of regulatory capture, the logical policy response is to enact simple laws that can’t be gamed by the biggest firms and their captive bureaucrats.  This means repealing most of Dodd-Frank and the so-called Basel rules and replacing them with a simple requirement for more bank capital—an equity-to-asset ratio of perhaps 15%.  It means bringing back bankruptcy for giant firms instead of resolution at the discretion of political appointees.  And it means considering economist Charles Calomiris’s plan to automatically convert a portion of a bank’s debt into equity if the bank’s market value falls below a healthy level.
If you aren't familiar with economist George Stigler (who is mentioned in that editorial), here's his Wikipedia biography.   And if you are wondering who the columnist mentioned in that editorial is, you can find the answer here.
- 12:50 PM, 6 October 2014   [link]


Less Hugging And Kissing In Liberia:  Liberians are adapting to the threat of Ebola, but it isn't easy, as this New York Times story tells us.
It is hard enough to push away family and friends, shunning an embrace or even a handshake to protect yourself from Ebola.

But imagine trying not to touch your 2-year-old daughter when she is feverish, vomiting blood and in pain.

Precious Diggs, a 33-year-old contractor for a rubber company, had heard the warnings from the legions of public-health workers here in Liberia.  She had seen the signs along the road from Harbel, where she works, to the capital, Monrovia, 35 miles away: “Ebola is Here and Real!” they say. “Stop the Denial!”

But when her toddler, Rebecca, started “toileting and vomiting,” there was no way her mother was not going to pick her up.

“Na mind, baby,” Diggs whispered in her baby’s ear. “I beg you, na mind.”
I think most mothers would have done the same thing for their child.  But in other, less intimate, relationships, Liberians have become less "tactile".  Wisely.

We can all hope that Rebecca recovers soon from her sickness, whatever it is.  And that her mother doesn't catch it from her.
- 9:18 AM, 6 October 2014   [link]


Hobby Lobby Comes to Seattle.  Yes, that Hobby Lobby

Not every local is making them welcome.

(It's not a store where I am likely to shop, but I would like it if a Chick-fil-A opened up within walking distance.)
- 7:47 AM, 6 October 2014   [link]


What A Football Game Yesterday Between USC And ASU!   Yesterday afternoon, feeling lazy, I decided to watch some college football and the best game I could find, not having cable, was between the University of Southern California and Arizona State.  I tuned in some time in the third quarter, and was rewarded by an incredible finish.

The main Phoenix paper has a better account than the main Los Angeles paper, so I'll use that.
With seven seconds left, Arizona State needed a miracle.

` Mike Bercovici provided one.

Playing in front of friends and family, Bercovici — the same quarterback everyone expected to transfer — hit junior receiver Jaelen Strong with a 46-yard Hail Mary pass on the final play of the game, giving the Sun Devils a shocking 38-34 win over No.16 USC at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
But that was just the final play of a very exciting 233 seconds.
The Sun Devils rallied from 27-18 and 34-25 fourth-quarter deficits.  They scored 20 points in the final 3 minutes, 53 seconds.  They overcame another special-teams letdown, a defense that couldn't get off the field and a coaching staff that once again prematurely burned all its time outs.
You don't have to be an expert on football to know that USC had two possession in those 233 seconds, but you may be surprised to learn that they scored on their first.  The teams scored four touchdowns in less than four minutes.

(Confession:  After USC went ahead 34-25, I assumed the game was over, and missed the second ASU touchdown.  You don't always win by playing the odds.)
- 2:17 PM, 5 October 2014   [link]


In A Good Year For A Party, That Party Will Find It Easier To Recruit Strong Candidates:  For example, Republican Elise Stefanik, who is running for the House in New York's 21st district.
For those curious about the young U.S. House hopeful, here are 10 facts about her:

1. She's a Small Businesswoman

Elise Stefanik previously worked for Premium Plywood Products, Inc., her family's company founded in upstate New York more than 20 years ago.  There she focused on North Country sales, marketing and management.

2. She Has a Degree From Harvard Stefanik graduated with honors from Harvard University in 2006. She was also one of three women honored with the Women's Leadership Award.  As the first of her immediate family to graduate from college, Stefanik spent her time at the university serving on the student Advisory Committee of Harvard's Institute of Politics and contributed to The Harvard Crimson as an editorial editor, writing pieces on everything from matters of love to criticism of student protesters (the headline: "Political Vomit").
The other eight are all positive, too.

If you were designing a Republican candidate for that district, you might come up with someone very much like Stefanik.

(In a bad year for a party, that party will find it harder to recruit good candidates, which may explain why Democratic incumbent Bill Owens decided not to run for re-election.  His three previous wins (one in a special election) were made possible by feuding between Republican factions, but he won't have that advantage this year.

Here's the 21st district; as you can see, it's as "up state" as you can get in New York.

Single Republican men may want to know that Stefanik is single, and apparently not currently dating anyone seriously.  Dog lovers will have an advantage.)
- 1:35 PM, 5 October 2014   [link]


If You Are Wondering How Ebola Spread To Three African Countries, the map illustrating this BBC article should answer that question.

The outbreak began in south-eastern Guinea, close to Sierra Leone and Liberia.
Researchers from the New England Journal of Medicine have traced the outbreak to a two-year-old girl, who died on 6 December 2013 in Meliandou, a small village in south-eastern Guinea.

In March, hospital staff alerted Guinea's Ministry of Health and then the charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF).  They reported a mysterious disease in the south-eastern regions of Gueckedou, Macenta, Nzerekore, and Kissidougou.

It caused fever, diarrhoea and vomiting. It also had a high death rate.  Of the first 86 cases, 59 people died.

The WHO later confirmed the disease as Ebola.
(If the map showed individual cases and roads, I suspect the pattern of the spread would be even more obvious.)

In looking at the map, try to "correct" for the fact that Liberia is reporting confirmed and suspected cases, while the other two nations are only reporting confirmed cases.

The map does not show this partial success.
The outbreaks in Senegal and Nigeria have been "pretty much contained", as there have been no new cases reported there since 5 September.

According to the WHO, the situation in Guinea also appeared to be stabilising however there appears no indication of a reversal in Sierra Leone and Liberia.
It is possible, of course, that authorities in Senegal and Nigeria are mistaken (or fibbing), but I think it likely, as of now, that those two countries did succeed in stopping the disease.

For which we can all be very grateful, tentatively.

(Here's the Wikipedia article on Guéckédou, the market town that is the center of the outbreak.)
- 10:38 AM, 5 October 2014   [link]


A Missing Leader, And A Sudden Visit, Have North Korea Watchers Wondering What Is Going On In That Nation:  The BBC has the blandest account, for those who want the facts, and just the facts.

The Washington Post article includes some legitimate speculation.
North and South Korea have agreed to hold another round of high-level talks after a top-level Northern delegation, including the men thought to be second and third in command behind Kim Jong Un, paid a surprise visit to the South on Saturday.

The unusual and unannounced trip — the first such high-level visit in more than five years — comes at a time of intense speculation about North Korea’s leadership, given that Kim, the third-generation leader of the communist state, has not been seen in public for a month.
And the Daily Mail goes wild — but not necessarily wrong.
A former North Korean counter-intelligence officer has claimed that Kim Jong-Un is no longer in control of the nation and is now just a 'puppet leader'.

Jang Jin-sung, who used to be an influential officer in Kim Jong-il's propaganda division, made the sensational assertion at a September conference in Holland attended by several elite exiles, it's been reported.

The capital, Pyongyang, meanwhile, has been placed into lockdown with even the elite banned from entering or leaving, according to a respected news site.  This adds weight to Jin-sung's claim, as a North Korean expert said that this kind of measure is only put in place when a coup has taken place - or is suspected.
Exiles are often the best sources on such regimes, so I wouldn't be too skeptical of this man's claims.

Almost any change in North Korean leadership would be an improvement over Kim Jong-un.

(Probably unrelated:  Kim's half brother, Kim Jong-nam, has been sighted in Paris, where his son is studying.)
- 2:14 PM, 4 October 2014   [link]


There Are Ebola Vaccines Under Development, and one of them may be available to health care workers as early as this November.   That's the good news in this unnecessarily gloomy article from Science.
An Ebola vaccine made by GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) in Rixensart, Belgium, is the furthest along, having entered phase I human trials on 2 September.  GSK has committed to manufacturing up to 10,000 doses of the vaccine, which consists of an Ebola surface protein stitched into a weakened chimpanzee adenovirus, by the end of the year.  If it passes muster in the early studies, it could be given to health workers as soon as November.   But hundreds of thousands of doses would be needed to put a dent in the outbreak.   That “would take one-and-a-half years at the scale we’re working at,” says Ripley Ballou, who heads the Ebola vaccine program for GSK.

The scientific hurdles are not particularly high.  Companies have made similar vaccines at high volume, and animal studies have shown that Ebola virus is fairly easy to defeat with the proper immune response.  “Although Ebola is a very scary, hemorrhagic virus, all you need is fairly modest neutralizing antibody response and you’re protected,” says John Eldridge, chief scientific officer at Profectus BioSciences, a Maryland and New York–based company making an Ebola vaccine that has struggled to attract funding.
. . .
NewLink Genetics of Ames, Iowa, has a second vaccine in a phase I trial that consists of a crippled vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV), which infects livestock, with the gene for the Ebola virus surface protein.  Only 1500 doses exist.  Profectus makes a similar vaccine that should be ready for human testing next June.  Like GSK, Profectus needs a commitment from a funder before it can scale up production from the planned 5000 to 20,000 doses, Eldridge says.
Probably, getting useful amounts of the vaccines produced is just a matter of spending enough money, where enough would be measured in the tens of millions of dollars.  Which is not a lot of money to control such a nasty disease.

(Science and another science magazine, Science Translational Medicine, to their credit, have a whole collection of articles on Ebola available to the public, free,)
- 1:30 PM, 4 October 2014   [link]


Was Kinshasa The Origin Of AIDS?  That's what a team of scientists has concluded.
The origin of the Aids pandemic has been traced to the 1920s in the city of Kinshasa, in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo, scientists say.

An international team of scientists say a "perfect storm" of population growth, sex and railways allowed HIV to spread.

A feat of viral archaeology was used to find the pandemic's origin, the team report in the journal Science.

They used archived samples of HIV's genetic code to trace its source, with evidence pointing to 1920s Kinshasa.
(I haven't had a chance to read the Science article yet, but the study looks solid, judging by the articles I've seen.)

The BBC article leaves out this significant detail.
Further social changes brought about as a result of independence in 1960 helped the virus to “break out” from small groups of infected people into the wider population, including immigrant workers from Haiti who then carried their infection back home from where it would eventually be transmitted to visitors from the US.
Let's not be as silent as the BBC, or as coy as the Independent.  Those "visitors from the US" were sex tourists, specifically gay sex tourists.

Our "mainstream" journalists know that, or at least should know that, but they don't feel it wise to share that fact with their readers.

(As you would expect, the Daily Mail has the story, too, but with lots more pictures.

In the comments following both newspaper articles, you can see some of the more common conspiracy theories.

Here's the Wikipedia article on Kinshasa.)
- 9:28 AM, 3 October 2014   [link]


Has Pelosi Given Up On Obama?  In his latest campaign speech, President Barack Obama said the vote this November will be all about him.
President Obama was at Northwestern University on Thursday to deliver an economic speech that, he and his team hoped, would lay out the case for why the public is better off today than they were six years ago -- even if they didn't feel it in their everday lives.   Instead, Obama just gave every Republican ad-maker in the country more fodder for negative ads linking Democratic candidates to him.

Here are the four sentences that will draw all of the attention (they come more than two thirds of the way through the speech): "I am not on the ballot this fall.  Michelle’s pretty happy about that.  But make no mistake: these policies are on the ballot.   Every single one of them."  Boil those four sentences down even further and here's what you are left with: "Make no mistake: these policies are on the ballot.  Every single one of them."
Republican ad-makers were going to tie Democrats to Obama anyway, but that will make it easier.

In 2008, perhaps even in 2012, Obama helped Democrats, net.  Now, he is a drag, net.

And that may explain why Nancy Pelosi is looking forward to 2016.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) predicted a Democratic sweep in 2016.

If Republicans keep the House in November, Pelosi said they wouldn’t hold their majority for long.

“Their days are numbered.  I know that in two years, I know we’ll have a Democratic Congress and a Democratic president,” she told reporters at her weekly press conference.
She backtracked a bit since — as party leaders are required to do by their positions — she had to say that she was expecting gains in November.

But I think what she said first comes closer to her actual thinking, which I suspect is something like this:  Democrats will have to wait until Obama is about to leave office before they can even think about taking back control of the House.
- 8:39 AM, 3 October 2014   [link]


After That Grim Subject, it's natural to turn to something more cheerful, like Andrew Malcolm's weekly collection of jokes.

Malcolm liked this one from "Saturday Night Live" best:
SNL: New grandmother Hillary Clinton said she couldn't be any happier about daughter Chelsea’s new baby unless the baby was a Latina in a swing state.
These two were my favorites:
Fallon: Obama says he will “degrade and ultimately destroy” the terror group ISIS.   Asked how, he said, "I’m gonna build their website."

Conan: The New York Times had to issue a correction after an article referred to Dick Cheney as President of the United States.  The Times apologized to Dick Cheney, and changed his title to Former President of the United States.
Recently, these comedians have been making President Obama their target more often, which is good for the country.  In a democracy, it is healthy for the people to, from time to time, laugh at their elected leaders.
- 9:26 AM, 2 October 2014   [link]


Some Perspective On Ebola from Michael Fumento:
We’re now witnessing the worst Ebola epidemic ever — and on your list of worries it belongs . . . nowhere.

Here’s a rule of thumb about diseases: The rarer and less likely they are to kill you, the more hype they get.  The New York Times ran more than 2,000 articles on SARS, which ultimately killed zero Americans.

This is only the deadliest outbreak of Ebola virus disease because past ones were so tiny.  At this writing, there have been 1,603 reported cases in Africa and 887 deaths.

That’s too many.  But every day about 600 sub-Saharan Africans die of tuberculosis, and contagious diarrhea claims the lives of 2,195 children, the vast majority of them in sub-Saharan Africa.
His headline, "Why Ebola's nothing to worry about" exaggerates, but Fumento is right to say that it isn't on the top ten disease list in sub-Saharan Africa, and right to say that there are much, much larger health threats here in the United States, notably the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

If Ebola mutated so that it could be transmitted by a sneeze or cough, then we would have more reason to worry, but so far it hasn't.

For now, our public health officials seem to mostly be reacting as they should.  The Ebola outbreak in Africa is another reason, in a long list of reasons, for improving border security.  But it is not a reason for panic.

(If, like me, you had forgotten about SARS, here's the Wikipedia article.

And here's the article on Ebola.

A personal note:  When the AIDS epidemic broke out, there was an even greater hysteria, so much so that I toyed with the idea of taking time out to write something to give us a little perspective.  But then Fumento wrote The Myth of Heterosexual AIDS, and there was no reason for me to duplicate what he had done, better than I could have.

The book, with its many politically incorrect arguments, was boycotted extensively.  At one time, there wasn't a single bookstore in all of Washington state that carried it.  But in the years since, we have s seen that Fumento was, mostly, right.)
- 8:47 AM, 2 October 2014   [link]


Barack Obama's Emotional Isolation:  This confused Ruth Marcus column on Eric Holder's resignation includes a fascinating bit:
For a year, the president knew that Holder wanted out.  But, I am told, Obama thought he could convince the attorney general to stay.  Holder is one of the few Cabinet secretaries whom the president wants to spend time with.  Insularity combined with arrogance bred a belief that the brewing problem of Holder’s departure would not materialize.
(Emphasis added.)

President Obama chose those Cabinet secretaries — and couldn't find more than a few he is willing to spend time with.  It is routine for presidents to be unhappy with a few of their Cabinet choices; it is extraordinary for a president to be unhappy with almost all of them.

Most politicians are gregarious, so much so that we aren't surprised when one who is compulsorily gregarious — Bill Clinton, for example — comes along.  So it is odd to find a man in the White House who doesn't like to spend time even with most of the people he has chosen.

(Some, especially those old enough to remember Richard Nixon's presidency, will wonder whether Obama resembles Richard Nixon, in this way.  It is true that Nixon was, for a politician, rather solitary.  But it is also true that Nixon was comfortable with many in his administration, and had strong friends he had met in his many years in politics.  In contrast, Obama spends his spare time with a few subordinates — and with a few old friends from high school.)
- 6:45 AM, 1 October 2014   [link]