Archive:

September 2014, Part 3

Jim Miller on Politics




Pseudo-Random Thoughts



Let's Take That Simple-Minded Analysis Of The Fight For Senate Control that I did yesterday one step farther.

You will recall that the current polls pointed to the Republicans gaining five seats, net, enough for a tie.  And that there were two races, Iowa and Colorado, where the poll averages were almost ties.

Simplifying drastically for the purposes of this post, let's assume that the Republicans do win five seats, net, outside Iowa and Colorado, that the odds are currently even for each of those two close races, and that the two races are statistically independent (which is unlikely).  If all that is true, then the Republicans have a 75 percent chance of taking control of the Senate.

Now that's a lot of assumptions, not all of which I believe, so I am not saying that is my current estimate.  In fact, I haven't made one, yet.  But, after I finished that very simple analysis, I looked at the Iowa election market and found that the current odds were almost exactly 75 percent (74.1 bid, 76.4 ask).

That was a pleasant surprise — but I am still not ready to make my first formal estimate of the odds.  I doubt that it will be sooner than one month before the election.
- 8:22 PM, 24 September 2014   [link]


Too Weird Not To Pass On:  This post about, to use the original headline: "Polygamist women dressed 'like ninjas' attack home of witness in Utah sex assault case".

Before you read the post, and perhaps the story, let me reassure you that no one, polygamist or non-polygamist, was seriously harmed in this incident.  In spite of the sword used by one of the defenders.

(If you are wondering — I was — West Jordan is a large and prosperous suburb of Salt Lake City.)
- 1:31 PM, 24 September 2014   [link]


Yesterday, President Obama Joked About the traffic problems he causes.
President Barack Obama joked today during a New York speech that he doesn't seem to have the traffic problems the city's residents are always complaining about.

'It's actually pretty smooth for me during the week,' Obama said, after playfully arguing that everyone in New York 'hypes' the traffic.

'I don't know what the problem is,' he told attendees of the Clinton Global Initiative's annual meeting. 'I haven't noticed.'
For some time, for example, here, I have been arguing that Obama may have been deliberately scheduling his trips to cause maximum traffic disruptions. I wouldn't call that joking a confession, exactly, but I do think it supports my tentative conclusion that Obama enjoys causing these disruptions.

What makes this especially interesting is that these traffic disruptions are, as any political consultant could tell you, bad politics.  But, apparently, Obama and, I suspect, many of his supporters, are willing to trade some loss of support for the pleasure they get from disrupting so many people's lives..

(For the record:  As far as I can tell, Obama's traffic disruptions haven't lost him much support in this area, though he has lost support for other reasons.  In fact, I can't recall even hearing anyone else talk about it, not even local conservative talk show hosts.)
- 1:02 PM, 24 September 2014   [link]


The IRS Targeted Groups That Educated People On The Constitution:   Law Professor Nicholas Rosenkranz draws our attention to one of the most disturbing examples of IRS misbehavior.
It is now well known that the IRS targeted tea party organizations.  What is less well known, but perhaps even more scandalous, is that the IRS also targeted those who would educate their fellow citizens about the United States Constitution.

According to the inspector general’s report (pp. 30 & 38), this particular IRS targeting commenced on Jan. 25, 2012 — the beginning of the election year for President Obama’s second campaign.  On that date: “the BOLO [‘be on the lookout’] criteria were again updated.”  The revised criteria included “political action type organizations involved in … educating on the Constitution and Bill of Rights.”
. . .
What is most corrosive about this IRS tripwire is that it is triggered by a particular point of view; it is not, as First Amendment scholars say, viewpoint-neutral.  It does not include obfuscating or denigrating the Constitution; only those “involved in … educating on the Constitution” are captured by this criterion.
As Rosenkranz notes, this was done by bureaucrats who had taken an oath to defend the Constitution.

(Here's the full January 2012 table item:
Criteria changed to “Political action type organizations involved in limiting/expanding government, educating on the constitution and bill of rights, social economic reform/movement” based on Determinations Unit concerns that the July 2011 criteria was too generic.
You don't have to be a political pundit to realize that everything in that, except the part about the Constitution and Bill of Rights, is so generic as to provide no guidance at all.)
- 8:53 AM, 24 September 2014   [link]


People Living In Seattle Don't Compost Every Scrap Of Food Waste, so the Seattle City Council decided to encourage them.
The Seattle City Council passed a new ordinance Monday that could mean $1 fines for people who toss too many table scraps into the trash.

Under current Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) rules, people living in single-family homes are encouraged but not required to dispose of food waste and compostable paper products in compost bins.
. . .
Under the new rules, collectors can take a cursory look each time they dump trash into a garbage truck.

If they see compostable items make up 10 percent or more of the trash, they’ll enter the violation into a computer system their trucks already carry, and will leave a ticket on the garbage bin that says to expect a $1 fine on the next garbage bill.

Apartment buildings and businesses will be subject to the same 10 percent threshold but will get two warnings before they are fined.  A third violation will result in a $50 fine.   Dumpsters there will be checked by inspectors on a random basis.
This new ordinance passed unanimously.

When I first heard this story, I was, briefly, at a loss for words.  I don't expect much from the Seattle City Council, but I would have thought one of the nine members would have seen some of the difficulties with this plan.  For instance:  Most people use opaque garbage bags, so collectors would have to open bags to make these estimates.

No doubt many other difficulties will occur to you, and no doubt many will agree with Seattle talk show host Dori Monson, that this spying on people's garbage is more than a little creepy.

(What makes this even stranger is that, years ago, Seattle did something very sensible to reduce solid waste.  They charged extra for extra garbage cans.  You can find a good description of how well that worked in a fascinating book, Rubbish!.)
- 7:27 AM, 24 September 2014   [link]


What Does A Simple-Minded Count Tell Us About The Battle For Control Of The Senate?  No doubt you have seen stories about the models and their changing probabilities.  (And I will be looking at them, soon.)

But it often useful to begin with the simplest kind of analysis, and that's what I will do in this post.  I'll be using the Real Clear Politics summary for data so you may want to open it in a separate tab or window.

Let's start by eliminating the eight seats they label as safe.  Four are safe for Democrats: Illinois Durbin (D), New Jersey Booker (D), Oregon Merkley (D), and Virginia Warner (D).  Four are safe for Republicans: Mississippi Cochran (R), Montana open (D), South Dakota open (D), and West Virginia open (D).

So, from the safe seats, the Republicans should gain three of the six they need to take control of the Senate.  Assuming, as most do, that independent Angus King of Maine does not switch sides.  (Quibble:  In almost every wave election, there is a surprise or two, and a candidate thought to be safe, loses.)

Now, let's take the rest in order, and assign each race to the party that is currently leading in the RCP poll average:

Michigan open (D) - D hold
Minnesota Franken (D) - D hold

Alaska Begich (D) - R gain
Arkansas Pryor (D) - R gain
Colorado Udall (D) - D hold
Georgia open (R) - R hold
Iowa open (D) - D hold
Kansas Roberts (R) - D gain
New Hampshire Shaheen (D) - D hold
North Carolina Hagan (D) - D hold

Kentucky McConnell (R) - R hold
Louisiana Landrieu (D) - R gain

If all of those were correct, Republicans would gain, net, five seats, enough to tie the Senate, and give Vice President Biden some serious work to do.

But two races I assigned to Democrats have exceptionally close margins: Colorado (0.6 percent) and Iowa (0.1 percent), and, in each of those, the Republican candidate has gained since the start of the campaign.

So this simple-minded count tells us that the battle is, indeed, close — especially considering how close those races in Colorado and Iowa are.

The surprising weakness of Roberts in Kansas explains this:
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush will stump for Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts next week with an unlikely guest: Sarah Palin, the former vice presidential nominee.

Bush and Palin will join the three-term senator — currently in a tight re-election race — at a luncheon in Wichita.
That combination doesn't strike me as surprising; that combination strikes me as smart.  Two representatives of wings of the party — as they are seen by activists — come together to urge Republicans to unite.  And if they unite, they will win.  According to the 2014 Almanac of American Politics, Republicans have 44.6 percent of the registered voters (790,345), while Democrats have only 25.2 percent (446,237).

These kinds of unity events are common at this stage in campaigns.

(Minor technical note:  The 2014 Almanac was published in 2013, so those numbers are a little out of date.

Both sides are right:  Those who support "Tea Party" challenges to incumbents will say that "establishment" Republicans should have found a better candidate than Roberts; supporters of Roberts will say that Milton Wolf's primary challenge made it much more likely that Republicans will lose the seat.  I agree with both conclusions.

But, as a practical matter, I have long thought that it is almost always better not to challenge incumbents of your own party in seats that the other party could win, unless, of course, there is a serious scandal.  The odds are against you winning the primary, and, if you do, you will usually lose the general election.

Since resources are limited, it is better to save them for straight fights with the other party.)
- 6:02 PM, 23 September 2014   [link]


There Are Already American "Boots On The Ground" In Iraq:   David Ignatius explains.
Here’s a national-security riddle: How can President Obama provide limited military support on the ground to help “degrade and ultimately destroy” the Islamic State without formally violating his pledge not to send U.S. combat troops?  The answer may lie in the legal alchemy known as “Title 50.”

Title 50 of the U.S. Code regulates the activities of the Central Intelligence Agency.  An often-cited passage is Section 413(b), which deals with presidential approval and reporting of “covert actions.”  In essence, this statute gives the president authority, with a proper “finding,” to send U.S. Special Operations forces on paramilitary operations, under the command of the CIA.  The best-known example was the 2011 raid on Abbottabad, Pakistan, that killed Osama bin Laden.
. . .
Let’s be honest: U.S. boots are already on the ground, and more are coming.  The question is whether Obama will decide to say so publicly, or remain in his preferred role as covert commander in chief.
Let's be honest:  There are political advantages to Obama in denying, as he continues to do, that there are American ground forces fighting in Iraq.  Democrats are already dispirited, and an open reversal by Obama would only discourage them more.

But it seems unlikely that those political advantages will last long, unlikely that even Democratic partisans will fail to notice that there are American troops in Iraq, and perhaps soon in Syria, and that they are taking part in the fighting.

(Ignatius has, I thought, a good discussion of the strategic advantages — and disadvantages — of these kinds of covert operations.)
- 6:04 AM, 23 September 2014   [link]


Kristof Has Second Thoughts On The Obama Administration:  One of the best examples of the second thoughts I referred to, just below, is in this Nicholas Kristof column on the ISIS campaign.

Here are his first and last paragraphs:
President Barack Obama's rollout of a military campaign in Syria against the Islamic State gets messier by the day.
. . .
For now, we seem to be setting out on an uncertain mission with unclear objectives on an unknown timetable using ambiguous methods with unreliable allies.  Some of that is inevitable, for foreign policy is usually conducted in a fog, but I'd be more reassured if the White House could at least locate its enemy on the map.
And so would almost all of us.

(Kristof, for those who don't follow him, is an example of a type that used to be more common: bleeding heart liberals.  From what I can tell, he genuinely cares about victims, especially female victims, all over the world.  And that, I think, is greatly to his credit.   I won't say that he always cares about them, intelligently, though.)
- 3:20 PM, 22 September 2014   [link]


Here's Another Brutal, But Funny, Cartoon from Michael Ramirez.

(To be fair, it may be a little dated.  Recently, I have been seeing second thoughts on President Obama from a number of "mainstream" journalists.)
- 3:01 PM, 22 September 2014   [link]


"Jersey Jihadist"  Steven Malanga describes the accused murderer, Ali Muhammad Brown, one of the victims, Brendan Tevlin, and wonders why investigators have "downplayed a murder suspect’s radical beliefs".

And why the murders have drawn so little national attention.  One of the victims, Leroy Henderson, was black, and two of them, Dwone Anderson-Young and Ahmed Said, were gay.

It seems likely that Brown deliberately targeted the two gay men, since he used a gay dating site to meet them, so those murders would have been anti-gay hate crimes, too, which ordinarily draw all kinds of attention from our press.

But our journalists, like the Obama administration, are reluctant to ascribe killings to radical Islam, and so they have mostly ignored this story.

And I suspect that the New Jersey investigators were quiet about that part of the Tevlin murder investigation, for the same reason.
- 7:32 AM, 22 September 2014   [link]


Smoked Salmond:  Alex Salmond, having lost the Scottish referendum, has resigned.
Alex Salmond quit last night after having failed to realise his lifetime ambition of Scottish independence.

The First Minister, who days ago looked on the cusp of victory, said it was time to hand over to a new leader after the nationalists were defeated.
I suspect that, if the result had been close — a margin of one or two points — he would have stayed on.

We shouldn't make too much of this, but I was charmed to see that his likely replacement, the deputy leader, is named Sturgeon, Nicola Sturgeon.

This longish article describing Salmond has many stories about his life and political career, including this one:
He was as Labour as his father Robert in those days – until he had a row with his girlfriend, a pretty English girl called Debbie Horton.  Their ideological clash ended with her screaming: ‘If you feel like that, go and join the bloody Scots Nationalists’.

The following day the teenage student in economics and medieval history found himself in the Dundee offices of the SNP.  Little would they imagine the constitutional ramifications of his conversion to their cause.
Which, I will admit, I found hard to believe.  So I checked and found it in the Wikipedia biography, with this book, by a respected author, David Torrance, as the source.

(Headline stolen from Guido Fawkes.)
- 2:30 PM, 20 September 2014   [link]


Worth Buying:  Steven Koonin's summary article, "Climate Science Is Not Settled".

Sample:
Rather, the crucial, unsettled scientific question for policy is, "How will the climate change over the next century under both natural and human influences?"  Answers to that question at the global and regional levels, as well as to equally complex questions of how ecosystems and human activities will be affected, should inform our choices about energy and infrastructure.

But—here's the catch—those questions are the hardest ones to answer.  They challenge, in a fundamental way, what science can tell us about future climates.

Even though human influences could have serious consequences for the climate, they are physically small in relation to the climate system as a whole.  For example, human additions to carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by the middle of the 21st century are expected to directly shift the atmosphere's natural greenhouse effect by only 1% to 2%.  Since the climate system is highly variable on its own, that smallness sets a very high bar for confidently projecting the consequences of human influences.
We shouldn't be surprised that the global climate models have not given us useful predictions about climate change; the hardest problems are rarely the first to be solved.  Nor should we be surprised that the people who have spent years of their lives constructing those models think they are useful; most people value their creations more than they should, and the more work they have put into them, the more likely they are to claim that the models have capabilities that they don't.

But we can — and should — be disappointed that so many scientists have rejected data, and attacked skeptics.  Scientists, being human, often do misbehave in those ways, but as scientists, they shouldn't.

(For a broadly similar take, at a somewhat lower scientific level, take a look at Judith Curry's presentation to the National Press Club.)
- 1:47 PM, 20 September 2014   [link]


Tuesday's New Yorker Cartoon Illustrated one of the problems for the unemployed.

(For the record:  This week, I saw one of my favorite indicators of an improving job climate: a fast-food place (Wendy's) with little hiring notices on its tables.  But that is the only one I have seen, in years.)
- 8:44 AM, 19 September 2014   [link]


President Obama's Generals Don't Think He Knows What He Is Doing:  That, though stated more politely, is what this Washington Post article is saying.
Flashes of disagreement over how to fight the Islamic State are mounting between President Obama and U.S. military leaders, the latest sign of strain in what often has been an awkward and uneasy relationship.

Even as the administration has received congressional backing for its strategy, with the Senate voting Thursday to approve a plan to arm and train Syrian rebels, a series of military leaders have criticized the president’s approach against the Islamic State militant group.

Retired Marine Gen. James Mattis, who served under Obama until last year, became the latest high-profile skeptic on Thursday, telling the House Intelligence Committee that a blanket prohibition on ground combat was tying the military’s hands.  “Half-hearted or tentative efforts, or airstrikes alone, can backfire on us and actually strengthen our foes’ credibility,” he said.  “We may not wish to reassure our enemies in advance that they will not see American boots on the ground.”
There is nothing in Obama's education, experience, or performance in office to suggest that he understands even basic military strategy.  Nor, from what one can tell from the outside, is there anyone close to him who can make up for his deficits.

Even worse, I don't think that he realizes how much he doesn't know, how wrong many of his ideas about strategy are.  Sometimes, in a sour mood, I picture him telling Valerie Jarrett that he is a better general than his generals.  I don't suppose that's actually happened, but his actions show that he does think he is better at setting military strategy than those who have studied it all their adult lives.

There is a good chance, I think, that one or more of his generals will resign, rather than execute policies they think have little chance of success.

(Many of the soldiers, as well as the generals, have their doubts about Obama, though that 90 percent estimate is probably too high.)
- 8:18 AM, 19 September 2014   [link]


Scottish Referendum Predictions:  Predictions, because I will, almost certainly, "revise and extend" the prediction as more results come in.

However, with 12 of the 32 councils reporting — most of them smaller in population — I am ready to say that I think the "no" vote will win by more than the 8 percent predicted in an after-the-vote poll by YouGov.

The polling organization found an 8 percent margin for "No", 54-46.

From what I have seen so far, I think the margin will be closer to 9.5 percent.

(Minor, but important, psychological point:  If the margin were to be more than that round number, 10 percent, it would do additional damage to the SNP, and their leadership.  How close the result is will make a difference.)
- 8:46 PM, 18 September 2014
The councils I needed came in too late for me to update the post before I fell asleep.  The margin was 10.6 percent, so I would rate my prediction a failure, since it wasn't within 1 percent of the result.  Just missed, I would say.

Here's something curious:  It looks to me as if you could have come close to the final result if you had averaged all the poll results shown in that scatter plot — excluding the last three weeks, where a whole batch of polls were wrong, wrong, wrong.
- 5:29 AM, 19 September 2014   [link]


The SNP In WW II:  In that Wikipedia article on the Scottish National Party is this little historical nugget:
The SNP was formed in 1934 through the merger of the National Party of Scotland and the Scottish Party.  Professor Douglas Young, who was the leader of the Scottish National Party from 1942 to 1945 campaigned for the Scottish people to refuse conscription and his activities were popularly vilified as undermining the British war effort against the Axis powers.  Young was imprisoned for refusing to be conscripted.

The SNP first won a parliamentary seat at the Motherwell by-election in 1945, but Dr Robert McIntyre MP lost the seat at the general election three months later.
And then didn't win any seats until 1967, perhaps because most Scots were rightly proud of the part they had played in winning World War II.

(Professor Young strikes me as one of those academics who are filled with ideas, many of them wrong.  The ones I have known are often quite likable, though unsuited for any position of power.

Here's a famous example of Scottish bravery during World War II.)
- 3:03 PM, 18 September 2014   [link]


Here's the BBC story on the foiled ISIS plot in Australia.
Police have carried out anti-terror raids in Sydney sparked by intelligence reports that Islamic extremists were planning random killings in Australia.

PM Tony Abbott said a senior Australian Islamic State militant had called for "demonstration killings", reportedly including a public beheading.

The raids, with at least 800 heavily-armed officers, led to 15 arrests.
Since this is the BBC, they have to add this, in an "Analysis" section.
The news of an alleged plot to publicly behead a random Australian will shock many people here, including the vast majority of this country's long-established moderate Muslim community.
Of course.  And that is probably true, to some extent.

There's much more in the article, including an intriguing map showing the national origins of the foreign ISIS fighters in Syria and Iraq.  (I have no idea how accurate the map is, or even what sources the two think tanks they cite have.)

Important point:  Australia will have "boots on the ground" in Iraq, a 600-man unit of their special forces.

As you would expect, Tim Blair has Australian reactions to the raids, with links.
- 8:01 AM, 18 September 2014   [link]


This Doesn't Seem Prudent:  Especially if the "no" side wins, narrowly, as the polls are predicting.
Fears of violent clashed between Yes and No supporters have been raised after pubs were granted special licences to keep serving alcohol all through tomorrow night into Friday morning.

Bars across Scotland which applied for the late licence will now be open throughout the count, which is not supposed to be finished until 6am on Friday at the earliest.

With the mood in Scotland turning increasingly bitter amidst toxic allegations of bullying and intimidation, senior politicians and police officers described the plan for all-night drinking as ‘absolute madness’.
Could it be that the leader of the Scottish National Party, Alex Salmond, is hoping for violence?
- 7:15 AM, 18 September 2014   [link]


Vice President Biden May Want To Think Harder About His Metaphors before he uses them.

Here's what he said while campaigning in Iowa today.
Biden promoted the growth occurring in the private sector jobs during the Obama administration, but he mentioned President Barack Obama only once and not by name.  He credited the nuns with "fighting like the devil" for the health care law enacted in 2010.
If the AP reporter, Thomas Beaumont, was surprised to hear Biden complimenting nuns by comparing them to the devil, he doesn't show that surprise in the rest of the article.

(Pro-life Catholics, a group that may or may not include those nuns, may agree with his comparison, now that ObamaCare is paying for abortions.)
- 5:02 PM, 17 September 2014   [link]


Which Side Will Win The Vote On Scottish Independence?  If the bookies are right, the "no" side.
Betfair is so confident of a "No" vote in Thursday's Scottish independence referendum that it is already paying out to those who have staked money on it.

The online bookmaker says it is paying out a "six-figure sum".

Despite polls ahead of the vote continuing to be close, betting markets have been overwhelmingly in favour of the Better Together camp winning on Thursday.

Betfair said this morning that gambling patterns indicate a 79pc likelihood of a "No" vote.
Bookies are usually right, if only because the ones who aren't don't stay in business long.
- 12:56 PM, 17 September 2014   [link]


Chancellor Merkel Speaks Out Against Anti-Semitism:  This BBC article is incomplete and biased, but still gives an idea of what Merkel said, and why she said it, now.
Fighting anti-Semitism is every German's duty, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has told a rally in Berlin.
. . .
On stage, Chancellor Merkel began her speech saying the 100,000 Jews living in Germany were a "national treasure".

"Jewish friends, neighbours and colleagues, consider yourselves at home here," she told the crowd, put at up to 5,000 people.

However, because of the sharp rise in anti-Semitic attacks, she said there was "not a single Jewish institution" in the country that does not require police protection in the current climate, and it was "every German's duty" to take a stand.
Appealing to duty is likely to be more successful in Germany than in many other countries.

From this account, and others I have read, it sounds as if Merkel said what needed to be said, and said it in the right way.

The only troubling thing is the small size of the crowd.

(Incomplete and biased?  Sure.

The BBC chose not to tell readers that much of the anti-Semitism is coming from Muslims, something even the Guardian mentioned.  And their description of the fighting in Gaza omits entirely what Hamas did, including the fact that Hamas started the conflict, and then re-started it a number of times, breaking armistice agreements each time.)
- 12:34 PM, 17 September 2014   [link]


Cute Kids, Nasty Sign:  In Sydney, Australia.
One of the more redundant protest signs at recent demonstrations appeared during Sydney’s Islamic insurrection of 2012.  Many involved in the protest, including extremely young children, carried the sign: “Behead all those who insult the prophet.”
The sign shown is printed on a large sheet of paper, which suggests to me that it was an official part of the demonstration, approved by the leaders of the demonstration.

Not all Muslim immigrants to Australia have learned tolerance from their Australian neighbors.

(Tim Blair uses that sign to make a traditional — and up-to-date — point about radical Islam.  His argument is, I should warn you, politically incorrect.)
- 7:51 AM, 17 September 2014   [link]


If You Thought That The "Mainstream" Media Had Made Things Worse In Ferguson, you aren't alone.
The vast majority of St. Louis County residents are giving the media low marks for their reporting on racial strife in Ferguson, Missouri.

Seventy-three percent of those surveyed say the press made things “worse” in the wake of the police shooting of unarmed teen Michael Brown, according to a new poll by the Kansas City-based Remington Research Group.  Eighteen percent said the media had made things better and the remainder had no opinion.

In terms of the racial breakdown, 81 percent of whites thought the press made the situation worse, while 50 percent of African-Americans agreed.
A majority of the respondents in the poll thought the shooting of Michael Brown was justified.  The racial division wasn't as sharp as you may have thought from the press coverage; 62 percent of whites thought the shooting justified, as did 38 percent of blacks.  And you can find similar splits on other questions in the survey.

(For the record:  I would have answered "don't know" on the justified question, since the stories of the encounter between the officer and the young man conflict, and the prosecutor has not yet sorted out the evidence.

St. Louis County does not include the city of St. Louis, but does include most of the St. Louis suburbs.)
- 6:19 AM, 17 September 2014   [link]