April 2014, Part 1

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Michael Ramirez recycles some of President Obama's greatest hits.

And reminds us that we should treat Obama's latest claims with a certain amount of skepticism.   (I believe even a few "mainstream" journalists are beginning to figure that out.)
- 3:06 PM, 8 April 2014   [link]

"Banned in the British Library"  Daniel Pipes discovered that: "You can check out Hamas’s websites, but not the Middle East Forum’s."  Nor can you access Pipes's own site.

I've linked to his site for some years; I suppose I will have to add the Middle East Forum, and visit it from time to time, too.

You can decide for yourself whether these are intolerant sites by looking at them unless, of course, you happen to be in the British Library, or some place with similar policies.

(For the record:  Hamas is a hate-filled organization, but I wouldn't ban access to their sites at any research library.)
- 2:45 PM, 8 April 2014   [link]

Palestinian Work Accident In Prague?  That's what the death of the Palestinian ambassador, Jamal al-Jamal, looked like to me, in January.

And that, apparently, is the conclusion that investigators are coming to.
The Palestinian ambassador to Prague who died in a blast in January was most likely killed by a decades-old charge of Semtex plastic explosive concealed in a book, a newspaper reported on Tuesday citing a police investigator.

Police had decided Jamal al-Jamal was not assassinated, but had simply unwittingly opening a book booby-trapped years earlier, the source told daily newspaper Mlada Fronta Dnes.
We probably won't learn why someone, years ago, decided to booby trap a book, and may not even learn which book they chose.

But we can make a pretty good guess at why the book included Semtex, since the explosive has been manufactured in Czechoslovakia since the 1960s, and, as the article notes:  "Large amounts of the explosive were shipped abroad during the Cold War."  Often (usually?) to terrorists, or their supporters.

So the book may have been a sample, given to a good customer.

By way of Frau Katze.

(Semtex is still manufactured in the Czech Republic, but the company that makes it, Explosia, now adds a "taggant" to make it easier to detect.)
- 8:18 AM, 8 April 2014   [link]

Under Obama, Our Relationship With India Has Soured:  So says Gardiner Harris in this New York Times article.

Two samples:
But almost four years later [after Obama praised the improvement in relations], the US and India have found themselves on opposite sides of the world's most important diplomatic issues, from the crisis in Ukraine, in which India came to Russia's defense, to a long-awaited vote to investigate Sri Lanka's government for atrocities committed at the end of its civil war (India abstained).  Even critical military coordination over the reduction of troops in nearby Afghanistan has suffered.

Far from coordinating on major global issues, the two countries are embroiled in a series of spats over privileges, visas and even swimming pools in a nasty fight stemming from the arrest and strip-search in New York City of Devyani Khobragade, an Indian consular official, in December on charges of submitting false documents to obtain a work visa for a housekeeper whom she then severely underpaid.
. . .
"There is a growing feeling among Indian policymakers that no matter what concessions or policy adjustments our leadership pushes through at the request of American businesses and the administration, there is always something new to complain about," said a senior Indian diplomat, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly.  "There is a feeling that no one in this administration is a champion of the India-US relationship."
Given how long these problems have been growing, we can blame President Obama, former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, and our current secretary of state, John Kerry.

Although Harris doesn't mention this — perhaps not wanting to shock leftist readers with too much truth telling — relations between the two largest democratic nations, India and the United States, improved markedly while George W. Bush was president.  In fact, I think almost every unbiased observer would say that they improved because he was president.

Since India and the United States have so many interests in common, a better relationship is in both countries' interests.  That Obama, Clinton, and Kerry have managed to make the relationship worse is, in its own way, remarkable.

(Many in India do not like Nancy Jo Powell, who was our ambassador to India from 19 April 2012 through 31 March 2014.  For what it's worth, the Bush administration replaced her as ambassador to Pakistan with Ryan Crocker in 2004, and then made her ambassador to Nepal in 2007, a severe demotion.

Here's a description of the Khobragade incident, along with my reaction.

The main Wikipedia article on India will give you a few reasons why we might want good relations with that nation.

There have been similar diplomatic failures with other nations, as James Jay Carafano explains in his column, "Five of the Obama Doctrine's stealth foreign policy failures".)
- 2:58 PM, 7 April 2014   [link]

Nancy Pelosi Misses George W. Bush?!  That's the conclusion I draw from this New York Times article on a "high-concept lunch date" between Pelosi and actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus, with reporter Philip Galanes there to record what they said.

(If, like me, you don't follow the entertainment world closely, you may need to know that Louis-Dreyfus, best known for her role in "Seinfeld", is playing a vice president in the HBO comedy, "Veep".)

Most readers will find something of interest in the article, which describes the conversation between the two women.  What I found most interesting is what Pelosi said about working with President Bush — and what she didn't say about working with President Obama.
PG:  Why do you think shows about Washington politics are so popular right now?  "Veep," "Scandal," "House of Cards" . . .

JLD:  Well, politics has become more contentious than ever.  Maybe people need to see that played out comedically or dramatically, as a sort of a cultural catharsis.  That sounds lofty.  But there are such extreme points of view and dialogue doesn't seem to be happening.

NP:  Not since President Obama was elected.  We [Democrats] actually worked well with President Bush.  We disagreed with him on a number of issues — the Iraq War, privatizing Social Security — but we still got things done.  Now the level of obstruction is stunning. . . . .
Later in the interview, Pelosi adds this story:
PG:  Nancy, do you think your dad, a former congressman and mayor of Baltimore, would be shocked at the level of success you've had?

NP:  Well, he came to my swearing-in [as speaker of the House] and died three months later.  And George Bush, to his credit, made a beautiful speech.  He said: Thomas D'Alesandro, the congressman from Maryland is here, he worked with this president and that president, and he had heard all kinds of things in this chamber, but never would he have imagined that his daughter would be speaker of the House.

JLD:  Oh, that's so touching.
Pelosi complimented Bush twice during that "high-concept" lunch, describing him as a good leader and a good man.  Note that both times she was not prompted by questions from Galanes, but brought up Bush on her own.

She said nothing critical about Bush in the entire article.

What did she say about President Obama?  Nothing.

And that absence should tell us something too, should tell us that she didn't, or perhaps even couldn't, think of anything complimentary to say about Obama, to pair with what she had said about Bush.

(Yes, she is exaggerating just a little bit on how well congressional Democrats worked with Bush, but there is some truth in what she said.

What else was interesting in the article?  For me, the frank discussion between the two women on acting tips.)
- 8:29 AM, 7 April 2014   [link]

Sometimes A Juxtaposition Can Be Painful:  Yesterday, I picked up my copy of the New York Times and turned to the op-ed page where I found this powerful op-ed on the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide by Jen-Marie Kamatali.
I met my client Pierre in a southern Rwandan prison in 1998.  “The authorities ordered us to kill Tutsis,” he explained.  It was, he was sure, a defense that would lighten his sentence.
Next to it was a Gail Collins column, mostly on campaign minutiae.
Here’s the latest life lesson from the campaign trail: If you are, say, making a home movie about how great your family is, try to remember to use pictures of your actual relatives, and not random attractive strangers.

We bring you this important tip from South Dakota, where Mike Rounds, a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate, came up with a debut video in which he tells prospective votes that the rest of the nation "could learn a lot from the people of South Dakota."  Meanwhile, the viewer is treated to pictures of folks building houses, having meetings, playing with the family — doing all sorts of positive things that presumably exemplify the state's wholesome lifestyle.
And those pictures were, Collins tells us triumphantly, stock videos that didn't necessarily show actual South Dakotans.

Kamatali wrote his op-ed in order to understand why the Rwandan genocide happened, and how Rwandans have changed, and should change some more so that something similar can never happen again.

To understand why Collins wrote her column, you have to read down to the eighth paragraph (of thirteen) where she mentions the problem that Democratic Senate candidate Bruce Braley is having in Iowa, thanks to a candid video where he insulted farmers and Iowa's senior senator, Chuck Grassley.

Collins recognizes that Braley erred, and that it may cost him a seat in the Senate, and so she is trying to protect him by telling all of us — but especially big bucks leftists, who might be planning to contribute to Braley — that all kinds of candidates make these mistakes.

Which is true enough, but painful to read, next to that op-ed on genocide.
- 10:12 AM, 6 April 2014   [link]

How Bad Has John Kerry Been As Secretary Of State?  This bad, says Charles Krauthammer.
When has a secretary of state been involved in so many disastrous, self-initiated negotiations?  First, John Kerry convenes — against all advice and holding no cards — Geneva negotiations to resolve the Syria conflict and supposedly remove Bashar al-Assad from power.  The talks collapse in acrimony and confusion.

Kerry’s response?  A second Geneva conference that — surprise! — breaks up in acrimony and confusion.

Then, even as Russian special forces are taking over Crimea, Kerry goes chasing after Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov — first to Paris, then Rome, then London — offering a diplomatic “offramp.” Lavrov shrugs him off.  Russia annexes Crimea.

The crowning piece of diplomatic futility, however, is Kerry’s frantic effort to salvage the Arab-Israeli negotiations he launched, also against all odds and sentient advice.  He’s made 12 trips to the region, aiming to produce a final Middle East peace within nine months.
Which, as Krauthammer goes on to explain, is somewhere beyond foolish.

Kerry has been so bad, say Washington Post reporters Karen DeYoung and Ann Gearan, that even the Obama White House (!) has noticed.
When his aides get discouraged about the prospects for Middle East peace, Secretary of State John F. Kerry often bucks them up with a phrase: “Don’t be afraid to be caught trying.”

But as his tireless efforts to broker Israeli-Palestinian negotiations hit bottom Thursday, with Israel’s cancellation of prisoner releases that were considered crucial to keeping the talks alive, there are some around Kerry — including on his senior staff and inside the White House — who believe the time is approaching for him to say, “Enough.” Kerry risks being seen as trying too hard at the expense of a range of other pressing international issues, and perhaps even his reputation, according to several senior administration officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity about sensitive internal and diplomatic matters.
Even President Obama — if we can believe the article — has noticed that Kerry's obsessive pursuit of an Israeli-Palestinian agreement is not likely to be a success.

In other words, even the Obama White House is telling Kerry to cut his losses.

(When we get around to summarizing the difference between Hillary Clinton and John Kerry as secretaries of state, I suspect we will say that she did less damage than he did.  That's more or less what I said last June, and I haven't seen any reason to change my mind, since.)
- 9:13 AM, 4 April 2014   [link]

If You "Underperform", Do You Deserve A Pay Raise?   Congressman Jim Moran thinks he does.
Virginia Democrat James P. Moran said he plans to highlight the injustice by introducing an amendment to the Legislative Branch bill during its full committee markup, and at floor consideration of the bill.  Moran made the comments while the bill that funds members’ $174,000 salaries was being marked up in the Legislative Branch subcommittee.

“I think the American people should know that the members of Congress are underpaid,” Moran told CQ Roll Call.  “I understand that it’s widely felt that they underperform, but the fact is that this is the board of directors for the largest economic entity in the world.”
Incidentally, since his Virginia 8th district is just across the Potomac from Washington, D.C., he doesn't need to maintain two residences, unlike most other congressmen.

I may surprise some of you by saying that Moran has a point.  If it were possible to improve the quality of our congressmen 25 percent by raising their pay 25 percent, I'd be all in favor of that.  But I don't see any way to do that, within the Constitution.

On the other hand, failure should be punished, and so there are many congressmen, Moran included, who should take pay cuts.  And some — Nancy Pelosi comes to mind — who should be paying us for the damage they have done.

(Moran has more ex-wives, two, than is fiscally prudent for a man trying to live on a congressman's salary.)
- 8:36 AM, 4 April 2014   [link]

In 2004, Snohomish County Considered Buying Many Of The Homes That Were Destroyed In The Oso Mud Slide:  The Seattle Times has the story.
Only two years before allowing people to build new homes near the slope that collapsed last month, Snohomish County officials had explored taking the community in the opposite direction.

Concerned that a landslide there could “threaten life and property,” they considered buying up the properties and emptying much of the Steelhead Haven neighborhood.

The year was 2004, two years before a mudslide blocked the North Fork of the Stillaguamish River and threatened homes.  The county Department of Public Works said a major slide could come down the Hazel slope, cross the river and inundate Steelhead Haven.
They estimated the cost at about $1.1 million, a lot of money but not beyond the means of a county as large and prosperous as Snohomish.

Some residents, and former residents, of the area say that the county did not warn them of the danger.  And it is a fact that the county continued to sell permits to build in the area, even after the county had decided it was unsafe.

As good as this article is, the reporters do not take the next step, do not identify the elected official most responsible for the decision not to buy the homes.  He's former county executive Aaron Reardon, who was in office from 2003 until 2013, when he was forced to resign by a sex scandal.   Reardon is a Democrat, and has been a politician all his adult life.

(For the record:  The mud slide was larger than predicted in the study made for the county, so at least a few homes that were destroyed on 22 March would not have been purchased.)
- 12:59 PM, 4 April 2014   [link]

"Seven Ironic Post-Arrest Leland Yee Press Releases"   Peter Hartlaub found seven that read rather oddly, after Yee's arrest.

Here's my favorite:
3. Society of Professional Journalists Honors Yee With Sunshine Award (March 20, 2014)

Excerpt: Yee is the past recipient of the Sunshine Award from the Society of Professional Journalists, the Freedom of Information Award by the California Newspaper Publishers Association; Champion of Journalism Education Award by the California Journalism Education Coalition; Beacon Award by the First Amendment Coalition; and the Friend of Scholastic Journalism Award by the Journalism Education Association.

Analysis: This was widely publicized when the news broke: Less than a week before his arrest, Yee received an award from the Society of Professional Journalists for his efforts to “bring greater government transparency.”  In fact it was his second award from the group, among more than a dozen awards bestowed by various journalism groups.  (Fun fact: In one press release, Yee referred to himself as “Senator Sunshine.”)
If you are like me, you will like the other six, too.

By way of the Instapundit.

(The journalists who gave him those awards do seem to be a gullible lot, don't they?)
- 8:26 AM, 3 April 2014   [link]

The Threat Of Global Warming:  


You are, I suspect, wondering why I chose to illustrate a post on global warming with a picture of a PzKw IV.  As it happens, I'm just helping the New York Times, adding an appropriate picture to this Mark Bittman column.
In the ’30s, as Germany rearmed, we said, “Yeah, France can handle that.”  Earlier this week, the Panzer Corps of climate change zoomed right around our Maginot Line of denial, and we all became the retreating French.

The disaster we refused to acknowledge has arrived.  And now, as then, many people are just giving up.  "Oh well," countless friends and co-workers muttered Monday, "nothing to do now."
Those two paragraphs almost demand a picture of the main German battle tank of World War II.  (Or the PzKw III.)

That dramatic opening is Bittman's way of telling us that we should be really, really worried about the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which frightened Bittman into using that metaphor.

By the sixth paragraph, he appears to have decided that even Hitler isn't a big enough threat and so switches to an alien invasion, which he visualizes as something like that depicted in the Topps bubble gum trading cards and, later, in the Jack Nicholson movie based on the cards.

Mars Attacks trading card

We know that when little green men with Shar Pei-like faces invade earth, we'll recognize that we are all one and act accordingly, uniting to defeat them and creating a world that recognizes our elemental mutual needs of land, water, and air, and maintains their sanctity.
It is hard to know just how to respond to that kind of column, other than to wish that Bittman would go back to writing about food, which he did rather well, I thought.

But we can learn from his emotionalism; we can recognize that there are people — some more serious thinkers than Bittman — who really do see global warming as a threat comparable to an alien invasion.  It's likely, for instance, that billionaire Tom Steyer would agree, mostly, with that column.

(If he had read as much science fiction as I have, he would know an alien invasion would not necessarily unite us.)
- 7:10 AM, 3 April 2014   [link]

Worth Reading:  This interview with Freeman Dyson.

This pair of questions has drawn the most attention:
You’ve developed a reputation as a maverick scientist with contrarian views.   Where do you think that comes from?

I think the notion that I always like to oppose the consensus in science is totally wrong.   The fact is there’s only one subject that I’ve been controversial, which is climate.  I spend maybe 1 percent of my time on climate, and that’s the only field in which I’m opposed to the majority.  Generally speaking, I’m much more of a conformist, but it happens I have strong views about climate because I think the majority is badly wrong, and you have to make sure if the majority is saying something that they’re not talking nonsense.

With a majority of scientists on the other side of this issue, what would it take to convince you to switch sides?

What I’m convinced of is that we don’t understand climate, and so that’s sort of a neutral position.  I’m not saying the majority is necessarily wrong.  I’m saying that they don’t understand what they’re seeing.  It will take a lot of very hard work before that question is settled, so I shall remain neutral until something very different happens.
But the question and answer that follows strikes me as more important, and even more interesting.
You became a professor at Cornell without ever having received a Ph.D.  You seem almost proud of that fact.

Oh, yes. I’m very proud of not having a Ph.D.  I think the Ph.D. system is an abomination.  It was invented as a system for educating German professors in the 19th century, and it works well under those conditions.  It’s good for a very small number of people who are going to spend their lives being professors.  But it has become now a kind of union card that you have to have in order to have a job, whether it’s being a professor or other things, and it’s quite inappropriate for that.  It forces people to waste years and years of their lives sort of pretending to do research for which they’re not at all well-suited.  In the end, they have this piece of paper which says they’re qualified, but it really doesn’t mean anything.  The Ph.D. takes far too long and discourages women from becoming scientists, which I consider a great tragedy.  So I have opposed it all my life without any success at all.
Our system for training most scientists is "an abomination".  And makes it harder for women to become scientists.  Now those are not conformist opinions.

(Is he mostly right about the Ph.D.?  I think so.

Wikipedia has a good biography of this most interesting man.  I would recommend his book, Disturbing the Universe, to almost everyone.)
- 3:19 PM, 2 April 2014   [link]

The Supreme Court Struck A Blow For Freedom Of Speech, even in election campaigns.
But Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., in the controlling opinion in the 5-4 ruling, said that while the government has an interest in preventing corruption of federal officeholders, individuals have political rights that include being able to give to as many candidates as they want, in order to show support.

“Money in politics may at times seem repugnant to some, but so too does much of what the First Amendment vigorously protects,” the chief justice wrote.  “If the First Amendment protects flag burning, funeral protests, and Nazi parades — despite the profound offense such spectacles cause — it surely protects political campaign speech despite popular opposition.”
Justice Stephen Breyer, who voted against the decision, gives it too much credit.
“Taken together with Citizens United v. Federal Election [Commission], today’s decision eviscerates our nation’s campaign finance laws, leaving a remnant incapable of dealing with the grave problems of democratic legitimacy that those laws were intended to resolve.”
These incumbent-protection laws deserve to be eviscerated, but those two decisions weaken them, rather than killing them.
- 2:45 PM, 2 April 2014   [link]

How Large Was The Oso Mud Slide?  About "6-7 million cubic yards".
Seven million cubic yards is enough to cover 547 football fields, including end zones, six feet deep.
That's about twice as much volume as the concrete used to build Hoover Dam.
- 7:56 AM, 2 April 2014   [link]

"The Single Greatest Example Of Name That Party"?  Well, it's a very good example, one mayor and five former mayors of big cities in legal trouble named, with not one identified by party.  At which point even Democrats will recognize that the Associated Press, for its own reasons, chose not to tell us that Patrick Cannon, Ray Nagin, Tony Mack, Bob Filner, Kwame Kilpatrick, and Larry Langford are all Democrats.

But there have been so many such articles that I would hesitate to agree with Mary Ham's conclusion that this one is the "greatest".

(She adds an interesting detail on the latest mayor to get in trouble, Charlotte's Patrick Cannon   He has, or says he has, strong connections with the Obama White House.)
- 6:30 AM, 2 April 2014   [link]

Is Marine Le Pen On The "Far Right"?  That's how the new leader of the French National Front (Front National) is usually described by American journalists.

But that isn't at all how she describes herself.  In fact she describes herself as "ni droite ni gauche", neither right nor left.  In American terms, we might describe her as having positions on both the right and the left.  She favors restrictions on immigration, a position more common on the right, here.  She also favors a strong government with much regulation of the economy, a position more common on the left, here.  She has described herself as to the left of Barack Obama — and on some issues she is.

But our journalists tend to see incidents like this one:.
Marine Le Pen stirred up controversy during the internal campaign [in 2011, for the leadership of the National Front].  During a speech to the party faithful in Lyon on 10 December 2010, she said that the weekly illegal blocking of public streets and squares in multiple French cities (notably the rue Myrha in the 18th arrondissement of Paris) for Muslim prayers was comparable with an occupation of parts of French territory.  The fact that she had mentioned World War II[35] brought claims from the media and politicians that she had drawn a controversial parallel with the German occupation of France (May 1940 – December 1944).
And tend to miss her economic positions.

And so they force her into an American category, where she does not belong.

The Front National deserves our attention, as it is now France's third party, and not a distant third, either.  In 2012, Le Pen won 17.9 percent of the first-round vote for president of France.

(For many years, I have been unhappy with the near universal use of a single left-to-right spectrum to describe leaders all over the world.  (Honorable exception:  The National Journal rates members of Congress on three different scales, economic, foreign policy, and social.)  That spectrum may work, roughly, for most politicians in the United States, Britain, and similar countries, but usually fails, at least partially, outside them.

And that spectrum fails completely in nations where tribes, or religions, are the most important to voters.)
- 1:43 PM, 1 April 2014   [link]

April Fools' Day:  So it is time to point you, again, to this list of classic pranks, this list of this year's pranks, this list of tech pranks, and this list of stories that sound like pranks, but weren't.

(The BBC is consistently good at covering these stories, and even inventing a few, such as the famous "spaghetti trees" prank.  Is that, perhaps, a reaction to being such a serious news organization all the rest of the year?  Seems plausible.)
- 12:42 PM, 1 April 2014   [link]

Rural Areas Hardest Hit By ObamaCare? (2)   Apparently.
Bill Fales wanted a new baler and a better irrigation system for the 700-acre ranch where he raises grass-fed beef cattle, but he scrapped those plans when he saw his new health insurance premiums.

His Cold Mountain Ranch is in western Colorado's Rocky Mountains, a rural area where outpatient services are twice as expensive as the state average.  Fales recently saw his monthly premiums jump 50 percent, to about $1,800 a month.

Health care has always been more expensive in far-flung communities, where actuarial insurance data show fewer doctors, specialists and hospitals, as well as older residents in need of more health care services.  But the rural-urban cost divide has been exacerbated by the Affordable Care Act.
(Emphasis added.)

Health care has not always been more expensive in rural areas, nor is there any necessary reason it should be.  (In fact, rural areas typically have some cost advantages over urban areas, cheaper buildings, for example.)

Regulations have reduced competition between health care providers almost everywhere.  Rural areas have been affected most, because they had the fewest competitors to begin with.  Those reductions in competition are encouraged by ObamaCare, and are, most likely, the principal reason for the growth in that differential.

(I wish I could rid myself of the suspicion that some backers of ObamaCare see the growth in that differential as a good thing — but I can't.)
- 7:19 AM, 1 April 2014   [link]