April 2014, Part 4

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

This Eric Allie cartoon on the Sotomayor dissent is pretty good.

(If you liked that one, you'll probably like others by him.)
- 3:48 PM, 30 April 2014   [link]

Man Up, President Obama, Says Maureen Dowd:  No, seriously.
Stop whining, Mr. President.

And stop whiffing.

Don’t whinge off the record with columnists and definitely don’t do it at a press conference with another world leader.  It is disorienting to everybody, here at home and around the world.

I empathize with you about being thin-skinned.  When you hate being criticized, it’s hard to take a giant steaming plate of “you stink” every day, coming from all sides.  But you convey the sense that any difference on substance is lèse-majesté.

You simply proclaim what you believe as though you know it to be absolutely true, hoping we recognize the truth of it, and, if we don’t, then we’ve disappointed you again.
She even quotes this fine Leon Wieseltier essay.
Ignoring the master [Putin], of course, has the consequence of ignoring the master’s victims: the Obama administration abandons to their fates one people after another, who pay the price for the president’s impatience with large historical struggles.  The Ukrainians, the Syrians, the Iranians, the Israelis, the Palestinians, the Egyptians, the Saudis, the Moldovans, the Poles, the Czechs, the Japanese, the Taiwanese, the Baltic populations: they are all living with the jitters, and some of them on the cusp of despair, because the United States seems no longer reliable in emergencies, which it prefers to meet with meals ready to eat.  No wonder that so much of our diplomacy consists in tendering reassurances.
(The essay is definitely worth reading, by the way.)

Does Dowd admit that she was wrong, and that conservative critics, who predicted these failures, were right?

No, but it is still good to see her taking this step toward reality.

(Baseball fans will be annoyed by her misuse of a baseball metaphor.  She should be criticizing Obama for refusing to swing at pitches, not for "whiffing", not for striking out while swinging.  It is not unusual for home run hitters — which is what she says she wants him to be — to have many strikeouts, to whiff often.   Babe Ruth may be the most famous example of that, but there are many others.)
- 1:42 PM, 30 April 2014   [link]

Which Animals Are The Most Dangerous?  Bill Gates has an infographic with an answer to that question.

(One of the pleasant surprises about living in this Seattle suburb is the effectiveness of the mosquito control in this area.  I haven't been bitten even once in the last ten years.  The mosquito control is so effective that I can not recall even seeing an article explaining their success.   There are, of course, many mosquitoes in the foothills of the Cascades, not far from here, but somehow the public health authorities keep them from spreading into this area.)
- 8:41 AM, 30 April 2014   [link]

Racism Is, Almost Certainly, Inherent in human nature, whether that nature was formed by evolution, or by a creator.  Every tribe treats tribe members better than outsiders.  And there are old men (and old women) in every tribe who can explain to younger folks why they should stick to their own kind.

Knowing this, I was not terribly surprised to learn that Donald Sterling had given that advice — privately — to a young woman, with whom he was involved.

His advice may have been politically incorrect, may have been foolish in our society, but there was nothing the least bit new about it.

Nor is it surprising that the young woman, knowing how powerful a weapon he had handed her, used it against him in their ongoing dispute.

You have probably guessed by now that I think that the coverage of this story may have been excessive — but that, too, is not surprising, since most "mainstream" journalists would far rather write and talk about this story than cover, for instance, another failure by President Obama.

(Was racism — in its broadest meaning — a survival trait?  I suspect so.   Our ancestors who treated people who looked (or talked) differently with suspicion were probably more likely to survive than those ancestors who treated strangers like members of their own tribe.
- 8:08 AM, 30 April 2014   [link]

Former Congressman David Bonior Discovers some of the problems of a small business.
Over tasty Caesar salad and tacos at Agua 301, the mild-mannered, thoughtful Bonior — chastened by local regulators and fickle weather — sounds more born-again capitalist than fire-breathing lefty.

“Small-business people work very hard,” said the 68-year-old, who has spent most of his life in government.  “If you are a small-business guy, you are out there and not as protected as a government employee.  They struggle every day.  A snow day, a government worker is off.  A restaurant person takes a hit from that snow day.  This winter was very, very tough on the [restaurant] industry.”
. . .
Bonior said if he had the power, he would lighten up on pesky regulations.

“It took us a ridiculous amount of time to get our permits.  I understand regulations and . . . the necessity for it.  But we lost six months of business because of that.   It’s very frustrating.”
This is eerily similar to the late Senator George McGovern's discovery.
McGovern had made several real estate investments in the D.C. area and became interested in hotel operations.[239]  In 1988, using the money he had earned from his speeches, the McGoverns bought, renovated, and began running a 150-room inn in Stratford, Connecticut, with the goal of providing a hotel, restaurant and public conference facility.[239][249]  It went into bankruptcy in 1990 and closed the following year.[250]  In 1992, McGovern's published reflections on the experience appeared in Wall Street Journal and the Nation's Restaurant News.[249][251]   He attributed part of the failure to the early 1990s recession, but also part to the cost of dealing with federal, state and local regulations that were passed with good intentions but made life difficult for small businesses, and to the cost of dealing with frivolous lawsuits.>[249]  McGovern wrote, "I ... wish that during the years I was in public office I had had this firsthand experience about the difficulties business people face every day.  That knowledge would have made me a better U.S. senator and a more understanding presidential contender."[249]
For years I have preferred candidates who had experience at other things than politics.  In recent years, I have begun to prefer candidates who have experience from the other side, Democrats who have owned their own businesses and Republicans who have helped run unions or government bureaucracies.  I have long thought that Ronald Reagan and Jack Kemp were strengthened by their experiences as heads of labor unions, respectively the Screen Actors Guild and the AFL Player's Association.

Unfortunately, our modern politicians seem more likely to be professionals, more likely to have done nothing except politics all their lives.  This gives them the usual advantages professionals have over amateurs in campaigns — but makes them worse in governing.
- 8:28 AM, 29 April 2014   [link]

What Do Bureaucracies Do With Unsatisfactory Employees?   Often, they move them.
A Veterans Affairs official accused of keeping double books to hide the fact that dozens of veterans died awaiting care previously ran a Washington state VA facility that allegedly fudged suicide numbers, has learned.

Sharon Helman, director of the Phoenix Veterans Affairs Health Care system, is accused with other management officials of keeping a fake waiting list that made it appear sick veterans were being treated in a timely manner -- while hiding the real list that showed up to 1,600 sick veterans were waiting months to see a physician. Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, said investigators have evidence that two sets of records were kept by the facility to conceal the lengthy delays in care.
. . .
Helman was director of the Spokane facility at the time the number of suicides were being misreported.  Shortly after news revealed that such data had been falsified, Helman was transferred to the VA facility in Hines, Ill., after having spent less than two years in Spokane.   From there, Helman moved to Phoenix, where she became director of the Phoenix Veterans Affairs Health Care system in February 2012.
Those who are familiar with bureaucratic politics will suspect that first Spokane, and then Hines, passed her along like a hot potato.  Firing her would have been, her supervisors might have concluded, too difficult, so they decided to protect themselves — at the expense of others in Veterans Affairs.

There's another standard lesson in this story:  If you use numbers to determine rewards, you should expect some level of cheating with those numbers.  The bigger the rewards (or punishments) determined by those numbers, the more likely you will see numbers that someone made up to make themselves look good.

(In the New York City school system, it is nearly impossible to fire teachers.  One of the things that makes a principal successful in that system is his or her skill at passing the failures along to other schools.)
- 12:39 PM, 28 April 2014   [link]

Michael Goodwin Indicts Our "Mainstream" Journalists:   They have failed, he says, to treat Barack Obama with the skepticism that every politician deserves.
The accounts and others like them amount to an autopsy of a failed presidency, but the process won’t be complete unless it is completely honest.  To meet that test, the Times, other liberal news organizations and leading Democrats, in and out of office, must come to grips with their own failures, as well.

Obama had a free hand to make a mess because they gave it to him.  They cheered him on, supporting him with unprecedented gobs of money and near-unanimous votes.  They said “aye” to any cockamamie concept he came up with, echoed his demonization of critics and helped steamroll unpopular and unworkable ideas into reality.

Some of his backers knew better, and said so privately, but publicly they were all in.
Goodwin says, without being precise as to the timing, that Obama "began to believe" the sycophantic coverage.  I think that Obama does believe much of that coverage, but that he had that unrealistic opinion of his own abilities and ideas long before journalists began to write stories about him.

(The column headline, "The media is turning on President Obama", is misleading.   It is true that there are more critical stories about Obama now, true that you can even find some in the New York Times, but most of our "mainstream" journalists are still not willing to face up to the Obama disasters that they helped enable.  For an amusing example of that reluctance to hold Obama to account, to even ask him serious questions, see this story.)
- 8:24 AM, 28 April 2014   [link]

Germany's CDU Party Has A Descriptive Name:  CDU stands for Christian Democratic Union.  (Or, in German, Christlich Demokratische Union Deutschlands.)  You don't have to know a lot about comparative politics to guess, roughly, what the party stands for.

So it is amusing to see one of their candidates get a little too ecumenical, and forget about the Christian part of the name.

(I am inclined to believe him when he says he was trying to make a national point, not a religious point — just because the logo change was so blatant.)
- 3:42 PM, 27 April 2014   [link]

John Kerry Succeeded In Getting A Peace Agreement:   Unfortunately, it wasn't the agreement he was trying to achieve.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah party and Hamas signed a reconciliation agreement on Tuesday, with the aim of forming a unity government in the coming weeks.

Hamas rejects Israel's right to exist and is designated a terrorist group by the US, EU, Israel and other countries.
Is it fair to give Secretary Kerry (and President Obama) credit (debit?) for this agreement?

I think so.  Not all the credit, but certainly some credit.  By pushing Israel so hard to make unilateral concessions, he encouraged those in both terrorist organizations — Fatah is one, though we pretend it isn't — to take an even harder line.

This is a worse outcome than even the "cynics" predicted.  A bad outcome for Kerry's efforts was predictable, but few thought it would be quite this bad.

(Hamas and Fatah are likely to fall out again, but it would be hard for even experts, with access to intelligence reports, to predict when that will happen.)
- 8:42 AM, 25 April 2014   [link]