April 2015, Part 3

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Just In Case You Missed this front page from the New York Post.

(Clinton fans will like it less than I did.)
- 9:40 AM, 24 April 2015   [link]

The Origin Of "Blockbuster"  It occurred to me, after I used it the other day, that not everyone may know the origin of the word.
A blockbuster bomb or cookie was any of several of the largest conventional bombs used in World War II by the Royal Air Force (RAF).  The term blockbuster was originally a name coined by the press and referred to a bomb which had enough explosive power to destroy an entire street or large building through the effects of blast in conjunction with Incendiary bombs.
So, when I used the word, I was implying — deliberately — that the article could destroy a large part of Hillary Clinton's campaign.

And, you can probably guess that I would avoid using "blockbuster" to describe a very popular movie, unless I thought the movie was destructive in some way.

(There's a common phrase, "first rate", that also has a military origin, though a much older one.)
- 8:02 AM, 24 April 2015   [link]

President Obama Should Have Nominated John Ashcroft To Be Attorney General:  (Or someone like him.)  Assuming, that is, that Obama wanted to do the best thing for the country.

Eric Holder has been a disaster as attorney general.
Attorneys general are obligated to enforce the law in an objective, unbiased, and non-political manner.  They must demonstrate the highest regard for the best interests of the public and for their sworn duty to uphold the Constitution and the laws of the United States.   Prior attorneys general of both political parties — Benjamin Civiletti, Griffin Bell, Ed Meese, Michael Mukasey — have fulfilled that duty to the highest ethical and professional standards.

But not Eric Holder.  He has put the interests of his political boss ahead of the administration of justice.  When President Obama bent, broke, changed, or rewrote the law, the person at his side advising him how to do it was Eric Holder.  All the while, he maintained a façade of respect for the rule of law, something for which he and the president have at times demonstrated utter contempt.
Holder's performance was one, not the most important, but still one of the reasons voters reproved Obama in 2014, giving Republicans control of the Senate, and the largest majority in the House since the 1928 election.  Obama should have accepted that reproof, and reached out to the winning party by bringing in a Republican to clean up the Department of Justice.

I hope that I am wrong, but it looks to me as if Loretta Lynch was nominated in order to continue Holder's disastrous policies, which is why her confirmation vote was relatively close (56-43).  (A white guy, similar in other ways, would probably have lost that vote.)

(Besides John Ashcroft, Michael Mukasey would also be a good choice.)
- 7:43 AM, 24 April 2015   [link]

Two More Clinton Foundation Links:  Here's a good bullet-point summary.

And here's some Clinton scandal history from Kimberly Strassel.
Say this about Bill and Hillary Clinton:  They are predictable.  Some politicians dare to change, even to evolve, but not the former first couple.  In these uncertain political times, Team Clinton’s lack of ethics—and its stock response when caught—is our one constant.

The details change, of course.  In 1978 it was lucrative cattle futures; in 2014 it was lucrative speeches.  In the 1990s it was missing Whitewater and Rose Law firm records; today it is missing emails.  In 2000 it was cash for pardons; now it’s cash for Russian uranium mines.  In Little Rock, it was Bill’s presidential campaign vehicle; in New York, it’s Hillary’s—and now known as the Clinton Foundation.  Details.
As Strassel says, they have usually avoided provably illegal actions (Bill Clinton's admission of perjury would be an exception), while behaving unethically — and hiding and destroying evidence.

Strassel thinks they will come through this, as they have come through other scandals, but I am not so sure of that.

(Bill Clinton' reckless behavior surprised me this time, as it has before.  I think 4 of 5 men would have known, a few minutes after meeting Monica Lewinsky, that she would not keep secrets.  (And 9 of 10 women.)  I thought then that he could have found a discreet partner, if he wanted one, and it looks to me as if he could have gotten almost as much money for the Clinton Foundation without taking risks with some of those dubious connections.

There are a few people who deliberately seek out risks, and I have thought, for years, that Bill Clinton might be one of them.)
- 6:44 AM, 24 April 2015   [link]

What A Morning To Wake Up With A Cold!  If, like me, you want to do some intelligent commentary on today's big stories.

But I can still give you links to the three big Clinton Foundation stories, in order of increasing importance.

First, from Reuters.
Hillary Clinton's family's charities are refiling at least five annual tax returns after a Reuters review found errors in how they reported donations from governments, and said they may audit other Clinton Foundation returns in case of other errors.
Second, from the Washington Post.
Bill Clinton was paid at least $26 million in speaking fees by companies and organizations that are also major donors to the foundation he created after leaving the White House, according to a Washington Post analysis of public records and foundation data.

The amount, about one-quarter of Clinton’s overall speaking income between 2001 and 2013, demonstrates how closely intertwined Bill and Hillary Clinton’s charitable work has become with their growing personal wealth.
Third, the blockbuster from the New York Times.
The headline in Pravda trumpeted President Vladimir V. Putin’s latest coup, its nationalistic fervor recalling an era when the newspaper served as the official mouthpiece of the Kremlin: “Russian Nuclear Energy Conquers the World.”

The article, in January 2013, detailed how the Russian atomic energy agency, Rosatom, had taken over a Canadian company with uranium-mining stakes stretching from Central Asia to the American West.  The deal made Rosatom one of the world’s largest uranium producers and brought Mr. Putin closer to his goal of controlling much of the global uranium supply chain.

But the untold story behind that story is one that involves not just the Russian president, but also a former American president and a woman who would like to be the next one.
(The NYT article is longish — more than 4,000 words — so you may want to save a copy for later study.)

Why are we seeing these articles in the Post and the Times now?  Because Peter Schweizer dug up facts for his book, Clinton Cash, that those newspapers could not ignore.  So they are working with him.
- 10:49 AM, 23 April 2015   [link]

A Different Way To Celebrate "Earth Day"  An unconventional way, perhaps, but instructive.  Some people celebrate by publishing lists of failed predictions from the original Earth Day.

Here's an example.
4. “Population will inevitably and completely outstrip whatever small increases in food supplies we make,” Paul Ehrlich confidently declared in the April 1970 Mademoiselle.  “The death rate will increase until at least 100-200 million people per year will be starving to death during the next ten years.”

5. “Most of the people who are going to die in the greatest cataclysm in the history of man have already been born,” wrote Paul Ehrlich in a 1969 essay titled “Eco-Catastrophe! “By…[1975] some experts feel that food shortages will have escalated the present level of world hunger and starvation into famines of unbelievable proportions.  Other experts, more optimistic, think the ultimate food-population collision will not occur until the decade of the 1980s.”

6. Ehrlich sketched out his most alarmist scenario for the 1970 Earth Day issue of The Progressive, assuring readers that between 1980 and 1989, some 4 billion people, including 65 million Americans, would perish in the “Great Die-Off.”
There are three more from Ehrlich, and twelve more from others, if those weren't enough.

So, did these failed predictions discredit the people who made them?  On the whole, no.  For example, one of Ehrlich's colleagues and co-authors, John Holdren, is now giving scientific advice to President Obama.
- 7:12 PM, 22 April 2015   [link]

Who Should Get Credit For Congress Working Again?  Chris Cillizza summarizes recent movement, and then asks why.
Suddenly, Congress is actually doing things.  Making compromises.  Passing legislation.  Confirming people.

In short order, Congress has passed the "doc fix" to close a Medicare payment loophole that had been kicked down the road dozens of times, moved toward giving President Obama fast-track negotiation authority on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, scheduled a vote on the long-delayed confirmation of Loretta Lynch as attorney general and, with it, struck a deal on legislation aimed at human trafficking.
Cillizza is honest enough to let Republicans have their say.
"I think there was a significant pent-up desire on both sides to return to legislating," said Billy Piper, a former top aide to Sen. Mitch McConnell and now a GOP lobbyist.  "These guys don't work so hard to win elections to just come up here and be potted plants.  They want to accomplish things, and the last several years they have been prevented by Leader Reid from even trying."

Added another smart Republican mind: "Following the collapse of the Grand Bargain talks in the summer of 2011, Reid essentially shut down the Senate (presumably at President Obama’s request) until after the presidential election. . . . Now, McConnell is making the Senate work again, . . .
But not honest enough to make the two obvious comparisons.  In the last session, the House — controlled by Republicans — passed literally dozens of bills that Harry Reid would not allow the Senate even to consider.

After the 2006 election George W. Bush was able to work with Democratic leaders, to some extent.

Although Reid was directly responsible for much of the blockage in the Congress, he was doing so with at least the tacit approval of President Obama, who deserves a considerable share of the blame.

(Cillizza also gives arguments from one Democrat (Manchin of West Virginia) who blames Reid, and and some who don't.

For the record:  Cillizza begins by suggesting that no one saw this coming.  In fact, Republicans argued, before the 2014 election, that they would get the Senate back to work if they were given control.)
- 12:51 PM, 22 April 2015   [link]

More Illegal Teacher Strikes In Washington State:  It is illegal for public employees, including teachers, to strike in Washington state.  Nonetheless we regularly have teacher strikes; in fact, we're having a few right now.   For example.

Why?  Because the legislature has chosen, over the years, not to impose penalties on the strikers, or even the union leaders.  It is just possible that the legislature may have been influenced by the fact that our statewide teachers union, the Washington Education Association, is the most powerful lobby in the state capital.

(In a 2003 strike, a judge ordered teachers back to work.  But that is the only example I know of where a judge has intervened.)

The current strikes are not against individual school districts, but against a potential state budget that raises the amount spent on education here, substantially, but not enough to satisfy the WEA.

So, why don't they just stage a big demonstration at the state capital?  Well, they are going to do that, too.  But these individual district strikes will remind legislators of the power of the WEA.  I haven't checked, but I suspect that most of them will occur in marginal districts, districts held by Republicans or relatively moderate Democrats.

(Full disclosure:  Years and years and yeras ago, I belonged to a teachers union that went on strike.  In that state, the strike was legal.  I don't recall feeling strongly about the strike, one way or another at the time.)
- 8:58 AM, 22 April 2015   [link]

Would You Like To See Some Numbers And A Few Real Scientific Graphs On Anthropogenic Climate Change?  Last September, I recommended Steven Koonin's Wall Street Journal article, "Climate Science is Not Settled", for its clear explanation of the difficulties in measuring the human effects on climate, and its clear description of problems with the global climate models.

Given his audience, and the space limitations, Koonin had to leave out some mildly technical material, and much supporting evidence.  He has now provided both, in a post at Judith Curry's site, and a pdf file.

In the post, he explains what he means when he says the anthropogenic effects are small, about 1 percent to two percent.  In the pdf file, he provides documentation for the claims he made in that Journal article.

I would recommend both, to almost everyone.

If you are trying to get a friend who is a strong believer in dangerous anthropogenic climate change to read Koonin, you might tell them these two facts:  Koonin uses data from the UN committee, the IPCC, to make his arguments.

And he has credentials that should impress almost everyone:
Dr. Koonin was undersecretary for science in the Energy Department during President Barack Obama's first term and is currently director of the Center for Urban Science and Progress at New York University.  His previous positions include professor of theoretical physics and provost at Caltech, as well as chief scientist of BP, where his work focused on renewable and low-carbon energy technologies.
(Some will be bothered by his service in the Obama administration, others by his work for BP; neither bothers me.  And his training and experience as a "computational physicist" is exactly what we would want in an expert on this subject.  Here's his Wikipedia biography, if you would like to know more about the man.)
- 7:44 PM, 21 April 2015   [link]

Need A Feel-Good Story?  Here's one.
US teacher Kyle Schwartz, 26, from Colorado, asked the eight- and nine-year-olds at her Denver inner city school to write down something they wished she knew about them, partly as a writing exercise, and partly as a way for her to learn about her pupils.

Responses included "I don't have pencils at home to do my homework," and "I want to go to college," to one tear-jerker from a girl who said she had no friends to play with at recess.
You'll notice that this story made it all the way to Australia.  And if you read the whole story, you'll find that the teacher was able to solve one of the problems.

(Yes, you are right; sometimes I am a bleeding heart conservative.)
- 2:12 PM, 21 April 2015   [link]

Two Routine Vote Fraud Cases:  I haven't done this for a while, so I'll do two of them together.

First, from New jersey.
PERTH AMBOY – Last month, when a Superior Court judge tossed November's election results for a City Council seat, she also slammed the city's Democratic chairwoman for engaging in possible vote-by-mail fraud and taking advantage of frail nursing home residents.

Leslie Dominguez-Rodriguez stepped down from her leadership role two days later, but it was still back to business as usual.

A day or so after the ruling, Dominguez-Rodriguez went to the Middlesex County Clerk's Office in New Brunswick and tried to take out a thousand vote-by-mail ballot applications, has learned.
Second, from eastern Kentucky.
FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) -- On election day in Magoffin County, Jerry Adams said his second cousin drove him to the local Save-a-Lot and gave him $25 to vote for Michael "Doc" Hardin for county judge executive - a key office that controls a lot of jobs in this economically depressed area.

Hardin would go on to win the election by 28 votes over Republican challenger John Montgomery.  But Montgomery would challenge the results in court, and in February a circuit court judge took the unusual step of declaring the office vacant after ruling that Adams and at least three others were paid for their votes while other voters benefited from property improvements from county workers prior to the election.
I call these routine because both occurred in places, and in ways, where I have learned to expect vote fraud.  Usually, vote fraud is comitted with absentee ballots (except in eastern Kentucky), usually it is committed by Democrats, and usually it is committed in places that have had vote fraud problems for years.

The New York Times has told us that vote fraud is "mythical".  You can understand why our newspaper of record might miss one of the quaint customs of eastern Kentucky, but Perth Amboy is just across the Hudson River from New York City.  If the Times editorial writers wanted to see vote fraud in Perth Amboy, they could, without much effort.

(Since it has been a while since I have done one of these, I'll describe my "methodology".   I do a simple search with Google or Bing on "vote + fraud".  And I always find new examples.)
- 1:48 PM, 21 April 2015   [link]

"So Why No Backlash Against The Pulitzers?"  Asks Jack Shafer.
Why does Pulitzer worship persist in a culture that promotes skepticism?  The annual nature of journalism prizes suggests an answer.  Most religions mark their calendars with a sacred new year, which celebrates the previous year and provides a reflective starting point the next.  The annual Pulitzers, not so coincidentally announced at the time of the spring equinox, consecrate the past and mark journalism’s limitless rebirth.  New Year’s celebrations are often marked by prayer, raucous merriment, solemn ceremony, or a bit of all three.  The Pulitzers satisfy this yearning, distributed as they are at a swank luncheon on the Columbia campus that is indistinguishable from a religious investiture.
So the awards are like a religious rite — for journalists.

But not for most of their audience, who, at least in the United States, trust journalists less and less.  I suspect more than a few Americans would agree with my half joke that the journalism prizes should be thought of as reprimands, and, in a just world, would come with fines, rather than prizes.

Here's a 2005 example of that argument.

(Shafer does not discuss the most serious mistake made by a Pulitzer committee, the awarding of a prize to Walter Duranty in 1932.  Duranty's reporting on the Soviet Union was dishonest; he transmitted Stalinist propaganda, and covered up immense crimes.  Amazingly, the New York Times, for whom he worked in 1932, did not ask that his prize be revoked, and the Pulitzer committee did not do so on its own.)
- 9:34 AM, 21 April 2015   [link]

Here's A Pretty Good Joke:  

cat that identifes as a German Shepherd

Naturally, it caused a fuss.

But I think it is more interesting to ask whether a cat could identify as a German Shepherd.  My tentative answer is yes.  We know that many birds can identify as all kinds of animals and even inanimate objects, through imprinting.

And I believe that, to some extent, cats can, too.  Years ago, I read of a cat that was adopted by a young woman — before the cat's eyes opened.  The young woman loved salads and showers, and so did her cat, as it grew up and imitated its substitute mother.

So, if a kitten was adopted by a German Shepherd mother very early, the kitten would probably grow up thinking of itself as a German Shepherd.  (It's early in the day for me, so I won't make any political points out of that observation.)
- 8:57 AM, 21 April 2015   [link]

Cartoonist Gary Trudeau Commits Serious Factual Mistakes — And A Logical Fallacy:  His Polk Awards acceptance speech drew considerable attention for its attack on the murdered Charlie Hebdo cartoonists.
Traditionally, satire has comforted the afflicted while afflicting the comfortable.  Satire punches up, against authority of all kinds, the little guy against the powerful.  Great French satirists like Molière and Daumier always punched up, holding up the self-satisfied and hypocritical to ridicule.  Ridiculing the non-privileged is almost never funny—it’s just mean.

By punching downward, by attacking a powerless, disenfranchised minority with crude, vulgar drawings closer to graffiti than cartoons, Charlie wandered into the realm of hate speech, which in France is only illegal if it directly incites violence.  Well, voila—the 7 million copies that were published following the killings did exactly that, triggering violent protests across the Muslim world, including one in Niger, in which ten people died.   Meanwhile, the French government kept busy rounding up and arresting over 100 Muslims who had foolishly used their freedom of speech to express their support of the attacks.
Trudeau's remarks drew a thoughtful reply from David Frum. and an angry reply from Mark Steyn.  (Read one or both for essential background, and some interesting history.)

Actually, satire has traditionally been directed at the tastes of the target audience, for obvious reasons.  If, for instance, you wanted to entertain a group of teachers with some light satire, you could probably get laughs by satirizing principals — or students, by directing your humor up, or down.  Nor is it true that the playright Molière or the artist and caricaturist Daumier "always punched up".

The Muslims in France are mostly French citizens, and are neither "disenfranchised", nor "powerless".  That is even more true of Muslims, world wide.  They are more often victimizers than victims.  Moreover, a violent minority of Muslims has gained considerable power in the West by their willingness to attack and kill those they believe have insulted their faith.

But, even were Trudeau right about the facts, he would still be committing a logical fallacy, one that I described, and even attempted to name, in 2004.

The ad subcanem fallacy was, I said, an appeal to the underdog.  For many in the West, especially on the left, once you knew who the underdog was in a conflict, you knew who to sympathize with, who, in Trudeau's formulation, must not be punched.

It is trivial to think of examples where we should not sympathize with the underdog.   That so many refuse to take those few minutes to examine their beliefs should not surprise you, but, if you are like me, will sadden you, just a little.

(Younger readers may wonder whether Trudeau was ever funny.  He was, sometimes, early in his career.  For instance, in one strip, he drew Mike Doonesbury sitting on a wall watching Mark the radical rant.  When Mark finishes, Mike says to him, wonderingly, "You actually believe that stuff, don't you."  Or something similar.

The first part of Trudeau's speech will give you some hints, I think, about how and why Trudeau lost his ability to be funny.)
- 4:33 PM, 20 April 2015   [link]

"The Surreal World Of Venezuela's Queues"  The BBC shows us what price and currency controls have done to Venezuela, first with a summary:
A combination of woeful economic management - or mismanagement - and the steep fall in oil prices has left the government with a serious cash flow problem.  And it's left the people of Venezuela standing in queues across the country every single day, often for hours at a time.
. . .
The government regulates the price of these [basic] goods.  It doesn't subsidise them - it tells the producer what they can charge.  That might just about make sense in a buoyant economy but with inflation running at over sixty percent and the value of the currency plummeting, it appears producers are not only failing to make a profit but are operating at a loss.   Similarly companies who export food to Venezuela have given up waiting to be paid by a government that's down on its luck and are now selling their goods elsewhere.
. . .
[The Maduro government has] told shopkeepers to move the queues underground, into basements and subterranean car parks - apparently to protect their customers from getting sunburnt.   Journalists are prevented from filming empty shelves.  Shoppers have also been given instructions.  You can only buy scarce goods on certain days of the week depending on what number your ID card ends in.  So, for example - if it ends in a zero or a one then you can stand in line on Monday.  However that doesn't necessarily mean that the milk or soap you want to buy will be available on Monday.
And then with a four minute video showing their reporter attempting to buy eight basic items: corn flour, milk, coffee, cooking oil, dish soap, detergent, shampoo, and toilet paper.  He begins at nine in the morning, shops until almost three in the afternoon, and finds just three: corn flour, dish soap, and detergent.

(The BBC is careful to give the government's side in that story.  That surprised me a little because in their coverage of the United States, the BBC very often produces completely one-sided stories, stories without even a token attempt at balance.  They may be trying to protect their reporters in Venezuela.)
- 7:45 AM, 20 April 2015   [link]

When I read this story, . . .
Prostitutes at the legal Bunny Ranch brothel in Nevada are supporting Hillary Clinton with a “Hookers 4 Hillary” campaign.
. .. I found it almost impossible to resist making some jokes.  But I try to keep the site family friendly, so I won't make any of the obvious jokes.  Or even some of the less obvious jokes.

Not on the site, anyway.
- 7:26 PM, 19 April 2015   [link]

Governor Inslee Challenges Reporter To A Fight:  No, seriously.
Gov. Jay Inslee grew testy Wednesday after reporters questioned his response to allegations surrounding embattled State Auditor Troy Kelley.

The usually jovial Democrat snapped at one reporter, suggesting they “go out in the alleyway” to settle the matter.  No fisticuffs ensued.
(The reporter, John Stang, doesn't appear to have written about the challenge.)

As I said two weeks ago, a Republican partisan will want this to drag on until some time next year.  There's a good chance that will happen, since Kelley has hired some expensive lawyers, and is promising a court fight.

So I am not surprised that Democratic partisan Inslee is a little "testy" these days.  And he may be especially so now, since the indictment came with just two weeks to go in the legislature's regular session, making it even harder for Inslee to get attention for his proposals.

As I understand it, there are three ways Kelley could be forced to leave office.  He could be recalled by the people, which would require a big signature campaign and a special election, he could be impeached and convicted by the legislature, or he could be forced to leave if he is convicted of a crime.  A few legislators are already talking about the second.

You'll notice that the governor doesn't control any of those.

(If you are wondering who would win that fight, the answer is probably Inslee, who was a pretty good athlete in high school, and who appears to be in reasonable condition.)
- 7:03 AM, 17 April 2015   [link]