December 2013, Part 2

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Angela Merkel Will Become German Chancellor for a third time.
After nearly three months of talks, Germany is poised to install a new government this week, with Angela Merkel leading the country in her third term as chancellor.  On Saturday, Merkel's future junior coalition partner, the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) concluded a vote among its members that resulted in an overwhelming majority supporting plans to govern together with the chancellor's conservatives.
But she will have to accept Social Democrats as part of her government, and adopt many of their policies.

As I said in September and October, the election results were not a triumph for her, since she lost her coalition partner, the Free Democrats.  That was careless of her, in my opinion.

(Here's the Wikipedia article on the election.)
- 7:58 PM, 16 December 2013   [link]

Forced On To The ObamaCare Exchanges By Design?   New York's "professional and cultural elite".
Many in New York’s professional and cultural elite have long supported President Obama’s health care plan.  But now, to their surprise, thousands of writers, opera singers, music teachers, photographers, doctors, lawyers and others are learning that their health insurance plans are being canceled and they may have to pay more to get comparable coverage, if they can find it.
Even though many of them had quite good insurance policies, often through their professional associations.

Many, for example, Professor Althouse, were amused by this elite's reactions.  And some of the comments they made are funny.

But I was struck most by this:
But while those policies, by and large, had been canceled because they did not meet the law's requirements for minimum coverage, many of the New York policies being canceled meet and often exceed those standards, brokers say.  The rationale for disqualifying those policies,says Larry Levitt, a health policy expert at the Kaiser Family Foundation, was to prevent associations from selling insurance to healthy members who are needed to keep the new health exchanges financially viable.
(Emphasis added.)

In other words, whoever drew up that part of the immense ObamaCare bill intended, all along, that these elites should lose their current policies.  Did President Obama know this would happen, when he made all those assurances that it wouldn't?  I think that, in some general sense, he must have.

(I put a question mark after the post title because Anemona Hartocollis did not say that the authors of ObamaCare intended that result, though I think they did, as Levitt says.

Incidentally, Hartocollis has written other good articles on health care; I linked to one in July.)
- 2:16 PM, 16 December 2013   [link]

Looking Forward To The 2014 Congressional Elections:  If the party balance on 4 November 2014 is about what it is now, how will the congressional elections turn out?

According to David Wasserman, the Republicans would make gain seats in the House.
As long as the 2014 cycle doesn't take a drastic turn, the "best case scenario" for House Democrats next fall is probably a gain of 12 seats, and the "worst case scenario" is a loss of 21 seats.  However, given the current map, even a return to a "neutral" political environment is likely to produce a small Republican gain.  As such, we have updated our House outlook to reflect a GOP gain of between zero and ten seats.
(The Democrats would need to gain seventeen seats to take control of the House.)

According to Sean Trende, the Republicans would make gains in the Senate.
[In 2010, t]here was something of a “break point” in the PVI around D+2.  Republicans won most of the Democratic Senate seats that were more Republican than D+2, and generally lost the rest.  This tendency is more pronounced when you take into account that the GOP is widely regarded as having blown great opportunities in Nevada and Colorado with poor candidate selection, and was faced with a uniquely strong candidate in West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin.  This tendency is all the more marked when you realize that the GOP swept six of its own vulnerable Senate seats in the D+2 to R+4 range in that year; it overall won 83 percent of the seats that were D+2 or more Republican.

But there are a lot more seats in this category this time around.  If they won 83 percent of the D+2 or better seats in 2014, plus one of the less competitive races (as they did with Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk’s seat in 2010), they’d pick up nine seats, and this assumes them losing two or three seats due to poor candidate selection or uniquely strong Democratic opponents.  If Republicans don’t throw away a few seats a la 2010, winning at a similar rate would produce gains in excess of 10 seats.
There are currently 45 Republicans, 53 Democrats, 1 Socialist (Bernie Sanders of Vermont), and 1 independent (Angus King of Maine) in the Senate.  Sanders and King caucus with the Democrats, so the Republicans need a net gain of 6 seats to take control of the Senate.  (If they gained 5, Vice President Biden would break the tie.)

Trende does not give a probability estimate for a Republican takeover.  (It is early.)  If I were forced to give one, I would say, right now, that I think they will come close to winning 6 seats net, but not quite get there.  I say that in part because I do not see good Republican candidates in all the Democratic-held seats, and because so many Republican activists and talk show hosts see pragmatic Republicans as their enemies.

(Trende looks ahead to the 2016 election, too, and finds that it looks much better for the Democrats than 2014, enough so that the Democrats might take the Senate — even if a Republican wins the presidency.

Here's a list of senators, with their "classes", if you would like to do your own analysis.)
- 1:43 PM, 16 December 2013   [link]

Morning Movie Megahits:  Two of the sub-channels broadcast in the Seattle area regularly broadcast movies early in the morning, somewhat to my surprise, since I think of movies as evening or, occasionally, afternoon entertainment.

The quality of the movies varies wildly; sometimes they broadcast the "Three Stooges", and other times I see "A Man for All Seasons" or, this morning, Pennies from Heaven, as I surf through the channels in search of weather forecasts, and news stories that are not too terribly biased.

For a while, the timing of these broadcasts puzzled me, but I have arrived at a tentative explanation of these morning movies:  They are broadcast on sub-channels, and the stations, KZJO and KOMO, are looking for programming that will not compete with their morning news programs.  A person who may want to watch "Pennies from Heaven" at 6 AM may not, ordinarily, spend much time watching the news in the morning.

This may also explain why another local station, Q13, dropped their weather sub-channel.  (Much to my dismay.)  They may have found that it took viewers away from their news programs.  At one time, the weather men (and women) were the biggest draws on most local news programs, and I believe they still are.

But nothing explains why another local station, KONG, broadcasts the same material on both of its sub-channels, though at different resolutions.  This seems incredibly wasteful, but they have been doing it ever since the sub-channels were introduced.

(As I understand it, the quality of broadcast TV is usually now higher than the quality of cable TV, so the movies can look pretty good, if you have a decent TV set.)
- 8:48 AM, 16 December 2013   [link]

President Obama Is Planning A 17-Day Christmas Vacation in Hawaii.
This will be the First Family's sixth Christmas in Hawaii since he was elected president, and in keeping with tradition they are expected to spend it on the island of Kailua.

The White House announced on Friday that the Obamas will depart next week after what is expected to be a light work schedule for the president in Washington.
As they usually do on vacations, the Obamas will be spending their time with servants — and the 1 percent, perhaps even the .1 percent.  (And a few of Obama's high school friends, most likely.)

The symbolism will delight Republican operatives — and may even annoy a "mainstream" journalist or two.

But before you condemn this long, expensive, tropical vacation entirely, consider this:   Would you rather have Obama back in the White House, working on, for example, some of the flaws in ObamaCare?  Before you answer that question, think about it for a bit.

Reluctantly, I have to admit that, despite the cost, despite the annoying poke-in-the-eye symbolism, I would rather have Obama in Hawaii, not doing much to govern the nation.   His appointees, sometimes with the help of bureaucrats, will be doing enough damage without his help.

On the whole, we frogs should wish him to play King Log for the rest of his time as president, rather than King Stork.
- 7:59 AM, 16 December 2013
Bob Woodward supports my general conclusion, arguing that the budget deal happened "because Obama was not part of the negotiations".  Woodward says that Obama is not a "good negotiator", which tells me that Woodward thinks that Obama will fail, again and again, at a central part of his job.
- 9:35 AM, 16 December 2013   [link]

The British Parliament Had Some Sharp Words for the BBC.
"Cronyism" at a "dysfunctional" BBC led to executives getting larger pay-offs than they deserved, MPs have said.

In July it emerged the BBC paid £25m to 150 outgoing executives - £2m more than their contracts stipulated.

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) called it a "serious breakdown" that "cast doubt" on the BBC's governance.
What first drew their attention was this scandal:
MPs first expressed concern over pay-offs when director general George Entwistle resigned in November 2012 following the Jimmy Savile scandal with a £450,000 payoff after spending 54 days in the job.
There's an American connection; the former head of the BBC, Mark Thompson, is now the New York Times chief executive officer.  Despite the BBC scandals — when he was in charge of that organization — the newspaper says they have "full confidence" in him.

Will the parliament go much further than sharp words?  Probably not, in part because of the power of the BBC to injure politicians they don't like.  (American politicians, similarly, have often decided it was best not to pick fights with anyone who "buys ink by the barrel".)

(Thompson argues that the payouts saved the public money, by reducing the top staff.  He may be right in some cases, but others look awfully suspicious, even from one third of the way around the world.

The BBC article has many links, but none to the Jimmy Savile scandal.)
- 6:14 AM, 16 December 2013   [link]

The NYT Doesn't Print Every US Intelligence Secret:   Yesterday, the Times printed a long, front-page article on the disappearance of Robert Levinson, who appears to have been working — a little too informally — for the CIA, in its efforts to penetrate Iran.  Levinson was, apparently, captured by the Iranians, and has been held by them since 2007.

But what I found most interesting in the article was this side note:
The New York Times has known about the former agent's C. I. A. ties since late 2007, when a lawyer for the family gave a reporter access to Mr. Levinson's files and emails.  The Times withheld that information to avoid jeopardizing his safety or the efforts to free him.
But now that the Associated Press has published the story, the Times feels free to print it, too.

I hope that you will not think me too cynical if I say that I suspect that the Times would have published this story in 2007 — if they had gotten it from a CIA official who was trying to undermine the Bush administration.  The Times does not say whether the lawyer for Levinson's family agreed to show the newspaper that material only after they had agreed to keep it secret, but that seems likely to me.

(There is one tidbit in the story that I found especially interesting:  According to the Times, Levinson was led into the Iranian trap by tips from a friend, "retired NBC investigative producer" Ira Silverman.)
- 7:18 AM, 15 December 2013   [link]

Weird Criminal Defenses Sometimes Work:  Years ago, I read about a prominent, and very wealthy, Texas defense attorney who specialized in getting acquittals, or probation, for clients who were obviously guilty of serious crimes.

If you were a wealthy Texan who had murdered someone, and didn't want to spend time in prison, this lawyer was the man you called.

It appears that he has a worthy successor.
To the families of the victims, Ethan Couch was a killer on the road, a drunken teenage driver who caused a crash that left four people dead.

To the defense, the youth is himself a victim -- of "affluenza," according to one psychologist -- the product of wealthy, privileged parents who never set limits for the boy.

To a judge, who sentenced Couch to 10 years' probation but no jail time, he's a defendant in need of treatment.
We have to admire, however reluctantly, the skill of the defense lawyer who came up with this absurd defense, and who guessed, correctly, that he could sell it to the judge.

But we don't have to draw any general conclusions from this — unless we happen to be wealthy Texans who have committed serious crimes.  Or we are going to appear before that judge.

(The original defense lawyer excused his behavior, in part, by saying that he took all of his clients' money, so they didn't escape all punishment.  Something similar is likely to happen to the parents in this case.)
- 6:32 AM, 15 December 2013   [link]

Worth Reading:  Cathy Young's description of the rising anti-Semitism in Europe.

Two samples:
Is hostility toward Israel linked to hostility toward Jews? A report on anti-Semitism in Europe, released on November 8—the day before the anniversary of the Kristallnacht pogrom that marked the start of the Nazi war on Jews 75 years ago—addresses this contentious question.  While Israel’s supporters have long warned of a new strain of anti-Semitism camouflaged in pro-Palestinian advocacy and opposition to Israeli policies, Israel’s critics complain that charges of anti-Jewish bigotry are used to silence dissent.   Yet the latest study, “Discrimination and Hate Crime Against Jews in EU Member States,” strongly suggests that “the new anti-Semitism” is not a propagandist myth but a depressing reality.
. . .
This tendency is even stronger for anti-Semitic hate speech, from Holocaust denial to claims that the Jews “exploit Holocaust victimhood” or have too much power.  (The exceptions are Latvia and Hungary, where anti-Semitism is more likely to be of the traditional far-right variety.)  Among Western European Jews who reported encountering such slurs in the past year, 57 percent had seen or heard them from left-wingers; 54 percent, from Muslim extremists; 37 percent, from right-wingers; 18 percent, from Christian extremists.   Moreover, the most common anti-Jewish comment reported in the survey was that Israelis act “like Nazis” toward the Palestinians—rhetoric European institutions have repeatedly condemned as anti-Semitic.
You can see the same patterns here in the United States, in a weaker form.  But you also see tremendous support here for Israel and Jews from evangelicals, and from political conservatives.  (The two groups overlap, of course, but have different reasons for supporting Israel.)

(The founder of "Peace Studies", Norwegian professor Johan Galtung, provides us an instructive, and disturbing, example of this growing anti-Semitism.

Here's the study, and here's the Wikipedia article on the subject.  Note, please, that the study did not have a random sample, presumably because of the high cost of doing the study that way.)
- 2:36 PM, 14 December 2013   [link]

Here's A Description, From Solzhenitsyn, of what happened in 1937 to a Soviet citizen who stopped clapping too soon.

Along with two other bits of advice about what not to do when you are ruled by a Stalin, a Saddam, or someone similar.

(1937 was the peak of the Great Purge, so it was an especially bad time to suggest, in any way, that you weren't completely loyal to Stalin.)
- 2:03 PM, 14 December 2013   [link]

The $14 Nigerian Hamburger:  Wednesday's Wall Street Journal described how American hamburger chains are setting up in Africa — and explained why a $5.49 Johnny Rockets hamburger costs $14 in Nigeria.
For hamburger chains, perhaps the biggest problem is getting meat.  From Nigeria to Namibia, slaughterhouses rely on local herdsman as a source of beef.

But herdsman come and go, says Jaye Sinclair, the chief executive of Burger King South Africa.  That prompted Mr. Sinclair to invest $5 million in a local cattle ranch that is gearing up to churn out 1.2 million Whopper patties a week.  The chain, he says, is in discussions to open restaurants in Angola, Kenya, Nigeria and Ghana.
. . .
[Chris Nahman's] final product for the 1950s style diner is pricey.  To give an authentic taste of the U.S., he flies in onions, mushrooms and iceberg lettuce.  Burgers start at $14 for the Rocket Single, a lone patty topped with a Cheddar slice.

Nevertheless, the diner serves a steady 300 to 400 customers a day, Mr. Nahman says—oil workers, bankers and Nigerians who have returned from the U.S.  They aren't exactly the emerging African middle class, Mr. Nahman concedes, but they pay the bills.
There's a picture graph accompanying the article with some comparative numbers for the ingredients.  For example, tomatoes cost $3.45/kilogram in the US, but $10.73/kilogram in Nigeria.  Similarly, cheddar cheese is $4.12/kilogram here, and $13.88/kilogram there.

It is easy to forget, living here in the United States, what food bargains we have, and what complex, market-driven systems deliver them to us.

(When McDonalds set up in Russia, they were unable to find any local suppliers who could give them the potatoes they needed for French fries.  So they brought in their own varieties.  I don't recall whether they worked with local farmers, or actually ran the farms themselves, but the former seems more likely.

At one time, the two top volume McDonalds outlets were in Moscow and Beijing, so establishing that potato farm was probably a good move.)
- 1:35 PM, 14 December 2013   [link]

Speaking Of Diversity, a "cultural diversity coordinator" at the University of Colorado in Denver had an interesting side job.
A veteran University of Colorado Denver administrator is under investigation and has been placed on paid administrative leave for apparently operating a phone sex business at the same time she has been getting paid by the university.
That's certainly diverse — and there are people who would claim that it is cultural, that it is art form of sorts.

It's only fair to add that, so far, we haven't heard Resa Cooper-Morning's side of the story.  Perhaps she would cite this:
In 2008, the University of Colorado honored Cooper-Morning for her service to her community and to CU.

“Her engaged and respectful participation in department dialogue touches the intellect and spirit of everyone involved,” wrote Donna Langston, ethnic studies department chair.
There are many different ways to touch someone's intellect and spirit, she might argue.
- 10:08 AM, 13 December 2013   [link]

The Original Headline on this Daily Mail article was funnier — since it left out the "l" in public.

But there is a serious lesson in the article although it is not stated explicitly:  "Diversity" policies have led to more of some kinds of diversity in the British government, and less of another.
The paper warned that current diversity policies are far too narrow, focusing on gender, disability and ethnicity to the exclusion of class.

It found that while the number of female and minority ethnic MPs has risen since the end of the 1970s, the percentage of manual workers in parliament has substantially diminished - from 98 (16 per cent) in 1979 to 25 (4 per cent) in 2010.

The working classes are also underrepresented on magistrates benches.
Similar policies have had similar effects in the United States.
- 8:38 AM, 13 December 2013   [link]

Congratulations To President Obama:  New York Times columnist Tim Egan says that Obama needs some memorable words.
Today, wallowed in the worst slump of his presidency, President Obama should reach for some words that will outlive him.
PolitiFact says Obama has already said some of those words, and gives him the Lie of the Year award.
Boiling down the complicated health care law to a soundbite proved treacherous, even for its promoter-in-chief.  Obama and his team made matters worse, suggesting they had been misunderstood all along.  The stunning political uproar led to this: a rare presidential apology.

For all these reasons, PolitiFact has named "If you like you health care plan you can keep it," the Lie of the Year for 2013.  Readers in a separate online poll overwhelmingly agreed with the choice.
Whatever else you may think about that promise, you have to admit that it is memorable, so memorable that it is certain to outlive Obama.

(Those picky folks at Hot Air note that it has taken PolitiFact some time to realize that Obama was not telling the truth.

I suppose we have to put this in the "better-late-than-never" category, along with so many other belated criticisms of Obama from our "mainstream" journalists.

Hot Air's "Allahpundit" says that the delay might be caused by our "mainstream" journalists' lack of expertise in analyzing policy, or their reluctance to cause political problems for Obama.  I would replace that "or" with an "and".

And I would make a more general point, which the Egan column illustrates neatly:  People who make their living with words tend to overestimate the importance of words.)
- 6:43 AM, 13 December 2013   [link]

Spectacular Aurora Picture from Iceland:

Which I would like to show you, and put up temporarily, but am taking down now that I have come to think that the picture belongs to a news agency, CATERS.

But you can see the picture, along with some others, in this article.
- 8:05 PM, 12 December 2013   [link]

Bye-Bye Uncle Jang:  That was quick.
North Korea said early Friday that the uncle of supreme leader Kim Jong Un, who was until recently the country's de facto No. 2 official, was executed for trying to overthrow the government.

The claim, which was reported by the official Korea Central News Agency, couldn't be independently verified.  Earlier this week, Jang Song Thaek had been stripped of all his titles, but his fate was left unclear.
. . .
But Friday's report says Mr. Jang harbored "a wild ambition to grab the supreme power of our party and state," and "overtly and covertly" stood in the way of the younger Mr. Kim's rise to power, following the death of his father, former leader Kim Jong Il, in December 2011.

After the younger Mr. Kim's succession, Mr. Jang "behaved so arrogantly and insolently as unwillingly standing up from his seat and halfheartedly clapping," the report said.
If, worst came to worst, and you were under the rule of a Communist dictatorship, remember not to clap for the leader "halfheartedly".  (At some Stalin speeches, listeners who understood that peril clapped so long and hard that they fainted.)

I must admit to being slightly disappointed in how the regime described Jang:  He was, they say, an "anti-party, counterrevolutionary factional element and despicable political careerist and trickster".  Usually, Communist regimes come up with more colorful descriptions of those they purge.

They are, however, following tradition, and are air-brushing him out of official pictures.

Most likely, no one outside North Korea (and very few inside) know why he was purged, but a South Korean newspaper has an interesting theory.
The ouster of North Korean eminence grise Jang Song-taek seems to have been triggered by rampant corruption in a state agency tasked with feeding and clothing the Stalinist country's million-strong army.

Department 54 supplies electricity, coal, fuel, clothes and other necessities to the military.  It used to be under direct army control but was moved to the National Defense Commission after Jang became its vice chairman and entrusted his confidant Jang Su-kil with running it.
If this story is true, it probably wasn't the corruption, but the fact that the Department wasn't following Kim's orders.

(Here's Jang's Wikipedia biography.
- 7:11 PM, 12 December 2013
Now that's more like it.   Tim Stanley passes on some more colorful condemnations.
Despicable human scum Jang, who was worse than a dog, perpetrated thrice-cursed acts of treachery in betrayal of such profound trust and warmest paternal love shown by the party and the leader for him.
That should teach everyone else in North Korea not to clap "halfheartedly".

Stanley is right to caution us about treating North Korea as entirely a joke.  It is possible, as many leaders have shown us, to be simultaneously absurd and evil.

It is harder to say whether Stanley is also right to argue that we should cut back trade with China as long as they prop up this horrific regime.  (I do think we should do more to get the Chinese to change their policies, but see no obvious winning strategy.  The Chinese value the Kim regime, it appears, precisely because it is a nuisance and a danger to us and our friends.)
- 7:54 AM, 13 December2013   [link]

What's A European Union Passport Worth?  It varies, but you can now buy one from Malta for 650,000 euros.  (Roughly, at current exchange rates, 900,000 dollars.)
UK ministers are under growing pressure to intervene against plans by the island of Malta to sell EU passports for 650,000 euros, allowing buyers immediate rights of residency in all member states.

Several EU states already give wealthy foreigners a fast-track to citizenship on the back of a government bond or property investment.  But the new scheme – due to be formally opened by the Maltese government later this month – is unique in offering an instant passport to approved applicants with no requirement to be resident in the country beforehand.
Many nations, including the United States, have similar programs, but most are more disguised than Malta's, requiring "investments" in the nation that issues the passports.

I'm opposed to all such programs, although I will cheerfully admit that we sometimes gain productive entrepreneurs by them.  But the possibilities for corruption are, or should be, obvious.
- 9:28 AM, 12 December 2013   [link]

What Obama's Personnel Changes Tell Us about his policy goals — and how he intends to pursue them.
President Obama’s decision to haul John Podesta and Phil Schiliro into the White House is bad news for the Republic.  Because Obama is clearly finished with the messiness of democracy, and he intends to rule as much as possible from the White House.
. . .
I’ve known and watched Podesta and Schiliro for many years.  They are partisan, true-believing liberal democrats.  They are relentless and efficient.  They have worked with Republicans – and are respected by many of them for their skill and forthrightness – but their passion is leftist policymaking.
In other words, we should expect many leftist executive orders, some of them of dubious constitutionality.

Schiliro was Henry Waxman's "right hand man" for many years.  If you are familiar with the California congressman, that will tell you what need to know about Schiliro.

(Talk show host Rush Limbaugh is fond of mocking Waxman's appearance.  That's both childish and foolish, childish because it leads listeners to focus on the superficial, foolish because it leads listeners to underestimate Waxman's effectiveness.)
- 9:24 AM, 11 December 2013   [link]

"President Selfie"  John Kass summarizes President Obama's performance at Mandela's memorial.

(You can see the picture, along with some sharp comments, here.)
- 8:21 AM, 11 December 2013   [link]

"Paul Krugman, Republican"  James Taranto catches the Princeton economist (and New York Times columnist) contradicting his own textbook.

Perhaps his wife, Robin Wells, wrote that section of the textbook, and Krugman never got around to reading it.

Or, perhaps, that unhappy graduate student wrote his most recent column, as I first jokingly suggested back in 2003.
- 2:15 PM, 10 December 2013   [link]

Who Persuaded Nelson Mandela To Pursue Free Market Policies?  Communists.

But as the five-day conference of high-level speed-dating wore on, Mr. Mandela soon decided he needed to reconsider his long-held views: “Madiba then had some very interesting meetings with the leaders of the Communist Parties of China and Vietnam,” Mr. Mboweni wrote, using Mr. Mandela’s clan name.  “They told him frankly as follows: ‘We are currently striving to privatize state enterprises and invite private enterprise into our economies.  We are Communist Party governments, and you are a leader of a national liberation movement.   Why are you talking about nationalization?’ ”

“It was those decisive moments which made him think about the need for our movement to seriously rethink the issue,” Mr. Mboweni said.
(That's Tito Mboweni, a "former governor of the South African reserve Bank".)

Would Mandela have accepted the same arguments from capitalists?  Probably not, but we can still give him some credit for accepting the arguments, in spite of his long-held positions in favor, for example, of nationalization of major industries.
- 1:26 PM, 10 December 2013   [link]

Generational Conflict:  Occasionally, I can understand political cartoons in foreign languages, for example, this one, contrasting the attitudes of pro-European Union protesters in Ukraine, with the attitudes in Europe.

(If you don't read any French, one protester is saying that we love Europe, and one older European woman is saying "pfffft" to Europe.  Most of you will probably recognize the FEMEN in the cartoon, since they are depicted in their usual dress, or, if you prefer, undress.

Incidentally, one of the things that makes foreign political cartoons hard for me to decipher is that I don't recognize the leaders being caricatured.  But it still can be fun to try to puzzle out what the cartoonist is trying to say.)
- 7:14 AM, 10 December 2013   [link]

A Split-The-Differences Budget Deal?  According to this article, that is what the budget chairmen, Paul Ryan and Patty Murray, are coming to.
The good news for Congress is that if both houses pass a budget deal by Friday, they get to go home for Christmas break with no high-stakes fiscal grudge match awaiting them when they get back.  And the prospects for passing a budget deal being hammered out by Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), maybe even without the histrionics of recent years, seem to be pretty good.
. . .
The deal reportedly proposes to authorize about $1.015 trillion in discretionary funding, more than the $967 billion sought by Republicans — the amount specified in the budget-slicing sequestration that kicked in earlier this year — and less than the $1.058 trillion sought by Democrats.  Sp[l]itting the difference — so far, so good.
On the whole, according to Peter Weber, the Republicans seem to be winning most — thanks to the leverage given them by the sequester law.

Without making any judgements about the wisdom of this tentative deal, I can say that it would mark a return to normal, since split-the-differences agreements are the standard way to resolve budget disagreements.  It's the standard way, but something we haven't seen in recent years.

There are many reasons I dislike the Democratic Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid, but the biggest is his refusal to even pass budgets in the Senate for so many years.  That struck me then, and strikes me now, as spectacularly irresponsible, like seeing a driver let go of the steering wheel.

(The budget hawks at the Concord Coalition don't like the tentative deal, but I think it may be about the best we can get, until the Republicans win control of the Senate and, perhaps, the presidency.)
- 6:45 AM, 10 December 2013   [link]

"A Habitable Fluvio-Lacustrine Environment At Yellowknife Bay, Gale Crater, Mars"  That's the title of a paper, just published on line, in Science.
NASA’s steady reconnaissance of Mars with the Curiosity rover has produced another major discovery: evidence of an ancient lake — with water that could plausibly be described as drinkable — that was part of a long-standing, wet environment that could have supported simple forms of life.
. . .
Gale Crater is in an area with rocks about 4.2 billion years old.  The lake, which scientists think existed a little more than 3.5 billion years ago, was roughly the size and shape of one of New York’s Finger Lakes.  The freshwater lake may have come and gone, and sometimes been iced over, but the new research shows that the lake was not some momentary feature, but rather was part of a long-lasting habitable environment that included rivers and groundwater.
. . .
“If we put microbes from Earth and put them in this lake on Mars, would they survive?   Would they survive and thrive?  And the answer is yes,” said John Grotzinger, a Caltech planetary geologist who is the chief scientist of the Curiosity rover mission.
Could humans survive in that environment?  Yes, with the right equipment and modern plants and animals from earth.  Whether we would thrive there is harder to tell.   We don't know, for instance, how the lower gravity would affect us, long term.

(There is a phrase in the article, which might puzzle you, as it did me, briefly.  Joel Achenbach says that the rover detected molecules of "organic carbon".  But there is no such thing as organic carbon, or inorganic carbon, for that matter.  There is just carbon, one of the elements essential for life (as we know it), but found everywhere in the universe, whether or not there is any life near by.  Presumably, what Achenbach means by that phrase is that the rover detected molecules of carbon compounds, compounds that are usually produced by living things.)
- 6:12 AM, 10 December 2013   [link]

Worth Reading:  Bradley Smith explains how the Internal Revenue Service intends to attack political free speech — again.
Six months after the Internal Revenue Service's inspector general revealed that the tax-collection agency had been targeting conservative organizations for added scrutiny and delaying their applications for tax-exempt status, the IRS has proposed new rules for handling political activity by nonprofits.  The proposed rules would plunge the agency deeper into political regulation.

The rules would upset more than 50 years of settled law and practice by limiting the ability of certain tax-exempt nonprofits, organized under Section 501(c)(4) of the Internal Revenue Code, to conduct nonpartisan voter registration and voter education.  Such organizations would be forbidden to leave records of officeholder votes and public statements on their websites in the two months before an election.
. . .
Why is the IRS regulating political activity at all?

The answer is that many Democratic politicians and progressive activists think new rules limiting political speech by nonprofits will benefit Democrats politically.
You'll want to read the whole thing, but here are two key points:  The 501(c)(4) organizations do not get tax breaks.  Donations to them are not tax deductible.  Second, many on the left want to know the names of the donors to conservative organizations so they can harass those donors.

And when I say many on the left, I am definitely including Barack Obama.  As you may recall, in 2010, he urged Latinos to "punish our enemies".  To punish your enemies, you have to know who they are.
- 2:38 PM, 9 December 2013   [link]

North Korean Regime family values.
North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un’s uncle — once considered the second-in-charge in the closed country and a key figure in his nephew’s rise to power — was dragged by police from a political meeting, the state-run media reported Monday.

The state-run media outlet KCNA said the uncle, Jang Song Thaek, had “led a dissolute and depraved life” and had been dismissed from his political position because of corruption, womanizing and taking illegal drugs, NBC reported.
In other words, he was much like other members of the family.  But, one guesses, not quite as adept as he should have been in an internal power struggle.

(It will be interesting to see whether the regime finds it necessary to explain how the uncle fooled Kim Jong-un's father, Kim Jong-il.)
- 9:35 AM, 9 December 2013   [link]

A British Judge says something shocking.
Couples who want to have children should get married to provide a stable family environment, a High Court judge said yesterday.

Sir Paul Coleridge said would-be parents have ‘responsibilities and duties to do right by [children]’, while also accusing politicians of displaying a ‘high level of ignorance’ towards the virtues of married life.
Coleridge has been an advocate for children all his professional life, which may explain why he has come to hold these eccentric ideas.  (He is careful, however, to add that he is not trying to "preach morality".)
- 8:43 AM, 9 December 2013   [link]

Nelson Mandela Was a Communist.
In 2011, the British historian Stephen Ellis published a paper concluding that Nelson Mandela had been a member of the South African Communist Party — indeed, a member of its governing Central Committee.  Although Mandela’s African National Congress and the Communist Party were openly allied against apartheid, Mandela and the A.N.C. have always denied that the hero of South Africa’s liberation was himself a party member.  But Ellis, drawing on testimony of former party members and newly available archives, made a convincing case that Mandela joined the party around 1960, several years before he was sentenced to life in prison for conspiring to overthrow the government.
Bill Keller goes on to argue that Mandela's membership in the Communist Party, and his alliance with them later, was a matter of pragmatism, that he accepted whatever allies he could find.

I think it more likely that Mandela did believe in much of the Communist doctrine at that time, and that he gave it up as he learned more about the world during his many years in prison.

But I give the former New York Times executive editor considerable credit for saying what few journalists will say at a time like this.  And even more credit for adding this:
The third reason the Communist affiliation matters is that it helps explain why South Africa has not made greater progress toward improving the lives of its large underclass, rooting out corruption and unifying a fractious populace.
The current leaders of South Africa are, in this interpretation, partly trapped by their history, unable to move beyond the liberation struggle that brought them to power.

(Keller does not say, but could have, that the African National Congress did engage in terrorism from time to time.  You can find some spectacular examples in this biography of Winnie Mandela.

Mandela grew up Christian, but gave up his faith soon after becoming an adult, or perhaps I should say, exchanged his Christian beliefs for another, grimmer creed.)
- 8:23 AM, 9 December 2013   [link]