December 2012, Part 3

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Today's' New Yorker Cartoon Is Timely:   But not exactly traditional.
- 1:38 PM, 24 December 2012   [link]

The NEA And The AFT Must Be Jealous:  We think that our teacher's unions are powerful, but they are 98-pound weaklings compared to Mexico's.
Many countries around the world grapple with powerful teacher unions, but Mexico's is legendary by almost any standard.  The union, with its 1.4 million members, is the largest in Latin America, and makes up half of Mexico's government workers.   Until a few years ago, teachers who retired would routinely give their lifelong post to a relative or sell it to a newcomer.

Even today, some states still llet teachers sell their posts, which fetch between $4,700 to $11,800, according to the government.
The union controls the curriculum and appointments.  Mexican teachers work short days and, judging by test scores, teach poorly, even during those days.  Oh, and the head of the union, Elba Esther Gordillo, is surprisingly wealthy, for a teacher.  (She admits that she is "no angel", but claims not to have killed anyone (probably true) or stolen (more doubtful).

All this is about to change, since Mexico's Congress has passed a constitutional amendment giving the government the power to evaluate and even fire teachers.  The amendment must be ratified by the most of the Mexican states, but apparently that is almost certain to happen.
- 4:32 PM, 23 December 2012   [link]

"Today We Are Gathered … To Hear More About Me"   Slate's Emily Yoffe thinks that President Obama's eulogy for the late Senator Daniel Inouye should have been more about the senator, and less about Obama.
Someone needs to tell Barack Obama—it must get particularly confusing this time of year—that his own birth is not Year One, the date around which all other events are understood.  His much-noted, self-referential tic was on cringe-worthy display Friday when the president gave his eulogy for the late Sen. Daniel Inouye, who served in Congress for half a century representing Obama’s birth state of Hawaii.
(Yoffe is not Slate's token conservative; in fact, as far as I know, they don't have a token conservative.)

Daniel Halper did the counts so we don't have to.
President Barack Obama used the funeral for Hawaii senator Daniel Inouye to talk about himself.  In the short 1,600 word speech, Obama used the word "my" 21 times, "me" 12 times, and "I" 30 times.
Alice Roosevelt Longworth once said about Teddy Roosevelt: "My father always wanted to be the corpse at every funeral, the bride at every wedding, and the baby at every christening."  But even Roosevelt could have given a better eulogy for Inouye than Obama did.

Bing found more than 7,000 images when I searched on "Obama + Narcissus".   You can see some of the better ones here, here, and here, and you can see one very crude, but funny, one here.

(James Fallows thought the speech was OK, which forced me to read it.   He's wrong.)
- 1:28 PM, 23 December 2012   [link]

Coffee On A WW II Carrier:  Here's a thought that should go well with your morning coffee. In the Introduction to Morison's 7th volume, Commander James C. Shaw describes the typical operation of an American fleet carrier during World War II.  Coffee, it turns out, was essential.
On a strike day the amount of coffee drunk by the ship's company reaches a staggering quarter-ton, twice the normal consumption.  It is brought to the highest gun stations in used powder cases; is put into percolators in every nook and cranny below decks.  Along with the coffee go huge cartons of fresh doughnuts; and at noon plank-size sandwiches are served at battle stations. (p. xxxvii)
The Essex class carriers had a crew of more than 2,000 — Shaw says 2,500 — so that's somewhere between a fifth and a fourth of a pound of coffee per man.

(If you are interested in the Morison series, you can buy it in a quality paperback version.)
- 8:15 AM, 22 December 2012   [link]

Two Timely New Yorker Cartoons, And One Funny Cartoon:  On Tuesday, the daily cartoon showed a wealthy man giving some unpleasant news to his young son: "Kenny, I want you to hear this from me before you hear it from anyone at school:  I'm an investment banker."

Yesterday, the daily cartoon showed speech writers getting their orders: "The President wants a calm, measured, evenhanded speech that kicks some serious butt."

And Wednesday's?  I could describe it, but I think it would be best if you just took a look.

(I could make a political connection to that cartoon, but won't.  For now.)
- 6:56 AM, 21 December 2012   [link]

Why Did Boehner Think He Had The Votes For "Plan B"?   When Speaker Boehner offered President Obama a compromise that would have raised taxes on taxpayers making more than a million dollars, he said he had the votes in the Republican caucus for this measure.

Late yesterday, he learned that he didn't.
Short of votes, House Republicans pulled Speaker John Boehner’s “Plan B” tax bill from the floor late Thursday, testing the Ohio Republican’s hold on his conference and throwing year-end efforts to avoid the fiscal cliff into further chaos.

Party leaders had voiced confidence throughout the day they had enough Republican votes to pass the measure over unified Democratic opposition, but amid mounting defections, they announced shortly before 8 p.m. that the vote would be canceled.
Ordinarily, on a measure as important as this one, the Republican leadership would do a "whip count", would ask the individual members whether they would vote for the bill before the vote.  Usually, such counts are quite accurate, predicting the final vote within a few votes.

Assuming they did a whip count, then we have to conclude that some members changed their minds after that count.

But, so far, I haven't seen any explanation for that change.

This defeat will weaken Speaker Boehner's bargaining position, and make it more likely that Republicans will, in the end, simply surrender to President Obama on this issue.  Obama will get the tax increase that he wants — and will be able to blame it on the Republicans.

(Incidentally, Boehner's Plan B is quite similar to what Nancy Pelosi has argued for in the past.  She agreed with President Obama that the "rich" should pay more but, perhaps because she represents high-cost-of-living San Francisco, thought his threshold for the rich, $250,000 for a married family, was too low.

Does Obama also want a "middle class" tax increase?  Probably, as long as he can escape blame for it.  Even Obama must know that his plans require far more money than he can get, just from the top two percent.)
- 6:20 AM, 21 December 2012   [link]

What's Obama's Record On Gun Control?  His recent posturing shouldn't surprise anyone.
Obama’s response to the tragedy at Newtown has been admirable in tone (boy, this guy can give a speech) but actually quite light in content.  “These tragedies must end,” he said, implying serious action to reform access to guns – and the White House has promised that he will act "swiftly".
Which is pretty much what he said and did after Congresswoman Giffords was shot.

But his actual record might:
In the same op-ed in which he called for “a new discussion” following the Giffords shooting, he added this telling caveat: “Like the majority of Americans, I believe that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual right to bear arms.  And, in fact, my administration has not curtailed the rights of gun owners — it has expanded them.” [Emphasis added].

The Prez wasn’t lying.  According to ABC, in his first few months in office he overturned a ban on carrying loaded guns on federal land.  Ten months later, he lifted a ban on transporting guns on a train; thanks to Obama, rail travelers can now carry unloaded, locked weapons in their cases.  All of this earned him an “F” from the Brady Center for Gun Violence in 2010 for “extraordinary silence and passivity” on gun control.
It certainly surprised me.

But it is understandable in retrospect.  Like almost every ambitious Democrat, Obama would know that the NRA, and gun rights supporters generally, were a big factor in the Republican 1994 win, and so he was pandering to them before the 2010 election.

Gun rights supporters are a bigger factor in elections than you might think from their numbers, because they are often single-issue voters.
- 8:17 AM, 20 December 2012   [link]

Good News On Global Warming:  From Nic Lewis, by way of Matt Ridley.
In short: We can now estimate, based on observations, how sensitive the temperature is to carbon dioxide.  We do not need to rely heavily on unproven models.   Comparing the trend in global temperature over the past 100-150 years with the change in "radiative forcing" (heating or cooling power) from carbon dioxide, aerosols and other sources, minus ocean heat uptake, can now give a good estimate of climate sensitivity.

The conclusion—taking the best observational estimates of the change in decadal-average global temperature between 1871-80 and 2002-11, and of the corresponding changes in forcing and ocean heat uptake—is this: A doubling of CO2 will lead to a warming of 1.6°-1.7°C (2.9°-3.1°F).
Which, Ridley says, would actually be an improvement over our current climate.  According, he says, to the International Panel on Climate Change scientists.

I suppose we shouldn't be surprised to see optimism from the man who wrote The Rational Optimist, but I can add that I found most of his arguments in the book persuasive.

As usual, when I discuss climate change, I will link to my disclaimer (which I plan to update early next year).

(Lewis has concluded from the data that there is a small, positive feedback from the increase in carbon dioxide.  You can see his discussion of the Ridley op-ed here.   You can read a brief discussion of carbon dioxide temperature feedback here, in a post with many links.)
- 7:20 AM, 20 December 2012   [link]

Andrew Malcolm provides Us A Benghazi summary.

Near the end is this bitter paragraph, describing the board report that was just issued.
Bottom Line: Although it ardently sold the phony video meme idea for weeks, the Obama White House was not implicated in the official report.  Although she's been in charge of the State Department for the entire term, Clinton was not implicated in the official report.
So there you have it.  The State Department, which is headed by Hillary Clinton, failed, over and over again, and four Americans died.  However, Clinton is not responsible in any way for those failures.

President Obama, again and again, put out a false story about the attack, even sending out his UN ambassador to push the story on five different TV shows.  However, Obama is not responsible in any way for spreading that falsehood.

(Would Clinton or Obama be responsible if they were Republicans?  Probably.)
- 9:19 AM, 19 December 2012   [link]

Charles Lane — A Journalist — Thinks Journalists Should be more accurate when they cover stories like the Newtown massacre.
While we’re at it, let’s soul-search about the fact that the instantaneous spread of misinformation after mass killings is becoming almost as frequent as the massacres.  And some of our leading media institutions are culpable.
. . .
Journalism doesn’t need new laws to adapt — just a genuine rededication to the values of accuracy, skepticism and prudence with which we already claim to operate.   No more excuses.
I doubt that his fellow journalists will pay attention to him in the next tragedy — but they should.

And I will make this one small suggestion:  It is OK for journalists to tell us they don't know what is happening, when they don't.
- 4:02 PM, 18 December 2012   [link]

Our Two-Level Weather:  This will be familiar to anyone who has lived in the Seattle area, but may not be to those who haven't.

Up on Mt. Rainier, winter has come in with piles and piles of snow, which those plows are trying to remove from the main parking lot.

View from Mt. Rainier guidehouse, 18 December2012

( I haven't seen any visitors in the lot, but the visibility isn't great, so there may be a few there.)

Down here, at least 5,000 feet closer to sea level, we have had rain and wind, a lot of rain and wind, enough to sink two boats at Kirkland's public marina.
The weather was causing plenty of grief already with high winds sinking two boats at Kirkland Marina and a mudslide derailing a freight train Monday.  Then evening snowfall on parts of the Puget Sound area made things worse.
(Take a look at picture two for one of the boats being recovered.  If I had brought a camera on my walk yesterday afternoon, I would have had a much better picture, showing a salvage boat, belonging to Donato's Boatyard, and a set of pumps on the dock, pumping out one of the boats.)

The boundary between the two levels, between snow and rain, goes up and down during the winter, as you would expect.  But it is very rare for it to rain up there on Rainier during the winter, and it is unusual for it to snow down here, so close to sea level.
- 3:32 PM, 18 December 2012   [link]

If You Want To See A Rational Discussion Of Gun Control, you might want to start with this op-ed by David Kopel.  (You can find irrational discussions in almost every American newspapers.)

You won't find this point in many newspapers or on many "mainstream" news programs, but I agree that it seems plausible.
Since gun controls today are far stricter than at the time when "active shooters" were rare, what can account for the increase in these shootings?  One plausible answer is the media.  Cable TV in the 1990s, and the Internet today, greatly magnify the instant celebrity that a mass killer can achieve.  We know that many would-be mass killers obsessively study their predecessors.
Years ago, I read an article by James Q. Wilson, perhaps our greatest expert on crime, discussing how much crime reduction we could get from gun control.  His conclusion was not much, and I found his reasoning persuasive.

But it is hard for those who didn't grow up knowing about guns to avoid what I would call "magical" thinking about guns.  They see guns as having magical properties, leading to violence by people who would have been peaceful without them.
- 2:47 PM, 18 December 2012   [link]

Gun Prosecutions Down 40% Under Obama?  Here's a surprise.
Despite his calls for greater gun control, including a new assault weapons ban that extends to handguns, President Obama's administration has turned away from enforcing gun laws, cutting weapons prosecutions some 40 percent since a high of about 11,000 under former President Bush.

"If you are not going to enforce the laws on the books, then don't start talking about a whole new wave of new laws," said a gun rights advocate.
But it is less surprising when you look at the source.   It is true that weapons prosecutions have declined since a peak under Bush, but it is also true that the decline began under Bush and continued under Obama.  The decline is steady and looks to me like a consequence of internal, bureaucratic decisions that neither president had much to do with.

That said, it is still true that President Obama (and Attorney General Holder) could have changed those bureaucratic priorities, if they had wanted to.  (For an example of that kind of change, take a look at the way immigration prosecutions soared under Bush.  Or, for that matter, the way drug prosecutions rose under Clinton.)

What kind of prosecutions have increased under Obama?  Drug prosecutions.

(For the record:  I have no idea whether those changing prosecution priorities are even close to what we would want in an ideal system.  It may be, for instance, that violations of gun laws have been declining steadily during that same period, making a decline in prosecutions appropriate.)
- 9:11 AM, 18 December 2012   [link]

South Carolina Senator Tim Scott:  Sounds good, doesn't it?  And, let's admit it, Scott looks good, too.
Timothy Eugene Scott was growing up poor and black in Charleston, S.C., the son of a nurse’s aide who worked 16-hour shifts, when Strom Thurmond, who ran for president as the standard-bearer for segregationists, was at the peak of his powers in the Senate.

On Monday, the congressman was named to fill the office once held by Thurmond (R), making him the first black Republican to serve in the Senate since Edward Brooke of Massachusetts lost his bid for reelection in 1978.  It also makes him the first African American senator from the South since Reconstruction and only the seventh black person ever to serve in that chamber.  Gov. Nikki Haley (R) selected him to succeed Jim DeMint (R), who is retiring.
Scott had a successful business career before turning to politics, and still owns an insurance agency (which may have given his some useful experience, experience that, to take an example not quite at random, Barack Obama does not have).

Scott was troubled as a teenager, as many fatherless boys are, but was turned around by a mentor.
Scott comes to national prominence with a remarkable personal story of resilience and good fortune.  In an essay on his 2010 campaign Web site, he said he was flunking out of high school as a ninth-grader.

“I found myself in a position where I felt like the future was nonexistent,” Scott said.  A year later, he met John Moriz, a conservative businessman who ran a Chick-fil-A restaurant where Scott ate when he worked at a movie theater next door.

“One day he came down to the movie theater and slid a Chick-fil-A sandwich across the desk.  John was smart enough to know that food is a good way to start a conversation with a kid who likes to eat,” Scott said.  Over the next few years, he said, Moriz, who is now deceased, taught him about self-reliance and individual responsibility.
The Post article doesn't tell us why Moriz helped Scott.
- 6:57 AM, 18 December 2012   [link]

That End-Of-The-World Mayan Prophecy didn't come from the ancient Mayans.
The Maya, whose civilization flourished in Mexico and Guatemal, built pyramids and observatories.  Their calendar was based on 394-year cycles called baktuns.  The 13th of those cycles since the date of the Mayan creation story 5,126 years ago ends Friday.

But that doesn't mean they thought the world was going to end, said Rosemary Joyce, a professor of anthropology at University of California-Berkeley.

"It's not the end of the calendar," Joyce said.  "It's the end of a cycle.  It rolls over, like an odometer."

Joyce said the fears began generations ago, when scholars who hadn't yet learned how to read Mayan hieroglyphics mistakenly concluded that they were describing mystical prophecies
For those who are interested in such predictions, there's much more in this Wikipedia article.
- 2:47 PM, 17 December 2012   [link]

"Without Babies, Can Japan Survive?"  The answer to that question in the headline of this New York Times opinion piece seems obvious enough, especially since Japan does not exactly welcome immigrants and immediately start turning them into Japanese.

Obvious enough, after you see their current fertility rate.
Although Japanese couples consistently say in surveys that they would like to have more than two children, they don’t.  Part of the problem is Japan’s prolonged economic malaise.  Years of stagnant (or declining) incomes have made Japanese men less attractive as potential partners.  And economic uncertainty has led couples to delay getting married and having children.  The shortage of public day care centers, especially in cities, has made the cost and burden of parenthood so high that today’s couples either have fewer babies or none at all.  (Japan’s birthrate is just 1.39 children per woman.)
(Emphasis added.)

Demographers often claim that fertility rates moderately below replacement, say 1.8 or 1.7 children per woman, allow a nation to decline gracefully, but rates as low as Japan's do not.  And if you do a few back-of-the envelope calculations about how many older people a Japanese kid born now will have to support, you'll see why a graceful solution is not likely.  (And why the Japanese are working hard on developing robots that can take care of old people.)

And it should be equally obvious that Alexandra Harney's main solution — more publicly subsidized day care centers — won't work.

If that isn't obvious to you, take a look these three lists of nations by fertility rates.  Are the nations with high numbers, for example, Niger, Uganda, Somalia, and Yemen, famous for their subsidized day care?  Or take a look at the bottoms of those lists.  Without much effort, you can find some nations that probably have wonderful subsidized day care.

(What would work?  Many nations have tried to encourage their people to have more children, often with a variety of subsidies.  Almost all of those efforts have made little difference.  Having children is not, in our modern industrial societies, an economic decision; it's a cultural, and more often than not, a religious decision.

There are some things governments could do that might work, and I plan to come back to them in later posts.)
- 10:47 AM, 17 December 2012   [link]

Canada Pulls Out of the Kyoto Protocol.
Canada has officially withdrawn from the Kyoto climate agreement.

The death notice comes years after the Stephen Harper government made clear it rejected the terms that were negotiated by the Jean Chretien government in 1997.
. . .
Environment Minister Peter Kent pointed to the fact the United States and China - the two largest carbon emitters - never signed on as reason to abandon the agreement.   And one year ago Canada officially announced its repudiation of it, becoming the first country in the world to do so.
The article does not mention two other factors that might have influenced Canada's decision.  They are unlikely to meet the emission targets they agreed to meet, and Canada is one of the countries — Russia is another — that would probably benefit, net, from a few degrees of global warming.

New Zealand is also pulling out, and I would expect Australia to join them, as soon as Julia Gillard is replaced by Tony Abbot.

(You will often hear George W. Bush blamed for the United States not ratifying the Kyoto Protocol.  In fact, it was defeated, unanimously, by the United States Senate in 1997, years before he became president.
Although yesterday's news that the treaty was nearing agreement in Kyoto brought a new round of Senate denunciations, the global warming pact was in trouble from the start.  During the summer, the Senate voted 95 to 0 to assert its opposition to any treaty that endangers the U.S. economy and spares developing countries from constraints imposed on developed nations.
The Clinton administration never even bothered to send the treaty to the Senate, where it would have been voted down, though perhaps not unanimously.

When Bush became president, he explored the idea of changing the treaty so that nations were treated equally, but the leaders who had signed it preferred to have the issue, rather than a more equitable agreement.

You could blame Al Gore, for negotiating an agreement that he should have known could not be ratified.)
- 8:15 AM, 17 December 2012   [link]

A Pacifist Secretary Of Defense?  That would be different — especially for those who remember that, until after World War II, we didn't have a Secretary of Defense, but we did have a Secretary of War.

Former senator Chuck Hagel might not be a complete pacifist, but he is closer to one than any other Defense Secretary I can think of.

And that might be one of the reasons that President Obama is thinking of nominating Hagel to be Secretary of Defense.

That, and the fact that Hagel is much less supportive of Israel than the average American politician, something that pleases the Iranians greatly.
- 7:31 AM, 17 December 2012   [link]

Britain Just Can't Get Rid of hate preacher Abu Qatada.
Abu Qatada has been called “the spiritual leader” of al-Qaeda in Europe and been tied to terrorists across the map from Spain to Chechnya.  Her Majesty’s Government in London has spent a decade trying to deport him to no avail.  In the course of his legal battles, British taxpayers have given him half-a-million pounds in various forms of welfare.  Currently out on bail, he’s now been moved into a three-quarter-million dollar home at public expense.
Mark Steyn spots a grimly humorous detail in this infuriating tale, but we shouldn't let our laugh at the vicar's expense detract us from recognizing just how big a mess the British and European courts have made.  And we should, again, recall just how often Western welfare turns out to be the chief support of terrorists.

(This Wikipedia biography looks like a reasonable account of the so-far endless Abu Qatada legal maneuvers.)
- 5:46 AM, 17 December 2012   [link]