December 2014, Part 4

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Speaker John Boehner And Budget Chairman Paul Ryan Deserve Some Credit for this.
The federal budget is shrinking as a percentage of gross domestic product, falling just below 20 percent in the third quarter of 2014.  That's down four points from its peak of 24 percent in 2011, according to market analysis firm Strategas' survey of recent Treasury Department data.

"That's a pretty large drop in government spending," said Daniel Clifton, head of policy research for Strategas.

The drop puts current federal spending close to the norm for the last half-century.  While the budget has grown in absolute numbers — the omnibus spending bill passed earlier this month totaled more than $1 trillion — federal spending has averaged just over 19 percent of GDP since 1963.
In fact, Boehner and Ryan deserve a lot of credit for that percentage decline, since they were able to control spending without controlling the Senate or the White House.

Some of that decline would have happened without their efforts, but not all.

(Ryan will be chairing the tax committee, Ways and Means, starting in January.)
- 8:19 AM, 31 December 2014   [link]

The Tawana Brawley Hoax Helped Make Al Sharpton Nationally Famous:  It should have discredited him with every decent, informed person, as Jean Kaufman (neo-neocon) explains:
After Al Sharpton and several lawyers started to take charge of the publicity on the case, that’s when her charges got a great deal more specific and became a national scandal:
Sharpton, Maddox, and Mason generated a national media sensation.  The three claimed officials all the way up to the state government were trying to cover up defendants in the case because they were white.  Specifically, they named Steven Pagones, an Assistant District Attorney in Dutchess County, as one of the rapists, and called him a racist, among other accusations.
A grand jury ended up finding that no crime had occurred.  But many members of the black community, whipped up by Sharpton and company, believed that Brawley had gotten a raw deal and that guilty and abusive white men had been let off scot-free.  This further fed into their perception that they couldn’t get justice from a skewed and racist legal system.  Sound familiar?  It should.
Pagones won a defamation suit; Sharpton went on to fame, and political power.
- 7:51 AM, 31 December 2014   [link]

Globalization And Ebola (2):  In November, I speculated that this Ebola outbreak was so much larger than previous outbreaks because of globalization.
One possibility, of course, is that the virus has mutated so that it spreads from person to person more easily.   (It's an RNA virus, so it has a high natural mutation rate.)

That's possible, but I think it less likely than another explanation: globalization and the resulting rising prosperity in parts of Africa.   How would that help spread the disease?   By breaking down the old village-based social structures, so that relatives are more spread out, and transportation to and from the villages is easier.
Today's long — eight full pages — New York Times article on the spread of Ebola is broadly consistent with my speculation, though I did miss on one detail, not realizing how important motorbikes are in the area of the outbreak.

There's much more in the article, which describes some of the mistakes that almost everyone with official responsibilities in the area made.  But I am sure that the responses to earlier outbreaks were not perfect, either.  So I am more inclined to think that my November speculation is plausible.

If I am right, then we need to think hard about ways to identify outbreaks of Ebola — and many, many other diseases — and to control them when they occur.  Because now the improvements in transportation all over the world has made it far easier for these diseases to spread.

(The Ebola outbreak mainly hit the Kissi people, who live in all three countries.)
- 2:55 PM, 30 December 2014   [link]

Today's New Yorker Cartoon is very Seattle.

But you will probably like it, even if you don't live in this area.
- 12:51 PM, 30 December 2014   [link]

Anti-Israel, Anti-Cop:  William Jacobson describes the link between two groups of protestors
One of the great under-told stories of the anti-police turmoil after the Michael Brown and Eric Garner grand-jury decisions is the instigating role played by anti-Israel activists.
That role is something you won't see covered by many "mainstream" reporters, just as few of them will cover the role played by the far left, including openly communist groups, in those protests.

If "mainstream" reporters did cover such things, it might spoil their racial injustice narrative.

Some might see this as just another example of Blair's Law: "the ongoing process by which the world's multiple idiocies are becoming one giant, useless force".

But, in these protests, I think it is simpler than that.  The groups are on the left, and so are natural allies, however little their causes may have to do with each other.

(Just in case you don't click through that last link, here's an example of Blair's Law that I had either missed, or, more likely, forgotten:  David Duke supported Cindy Sheehan's anti-war protest at Crawford, Texas.)
- 9:38 AM, 30 December 2014   [link]

Just In Case You Missed It Elsewhere, here's Dave Barry's   Year in Review.

Which is, as usual, brilliant.

Samples from January and March:
In Colorado, the new year begins on a “high” note as the sale of recreational marijuana becomes legal.  Despite dire predictions from critics that this will lead to increases in crime and addiction, state law-enforcement officials report that if you stare for a while at the flashing lights on top of their cars, you can see some amazing colors.

The U.S. Senate confirms Janet Yellen as chair of the Federal Reserve after she assures senators that she will let them know if anybody ever figures out what the Federal Reserve actually does.

In a major speech, President Barack Obama, responding to allegations that the National Security Agency has been electronically snooping on foreign leaders, announces that all federal agencies will henceforth follow strict new guidelines on the sale and distribution of photos of Angela Merkel naked.
. . .
Abroad, the big story involves the Crimea, which until now many of us thought was a disease, as in “Bob has a bad case of the Crimea,” but which turns out to be a part of Ukraine that Russia wants to annex.  As tension mounts in the region, the United States and the European Union issue Stern Warnings to Russia, such as “You better not annex the Crimea!”  And: “Don’t make us turn this car around!”  Nevertheless Russia goes ahead and annexes it, forcing the U.S. and Europe to escalate from Stern Warnings to Harsh Sanctions, including the suspension of Vladimir Putin’s Netflix account.
You'll want to read the whole thing.  (But, unless you are very, very good, you probably shouldn't try to imitate it.)
- 9:12 AM, 30 December 2014   [link]

A Security Firm Says The FBI Was Wrong About The Sony Hack; The FBI Says It Has Intelligence Evidence Supporting Its Conclusion:  Here's the gist of the story:
Researchers from the cyber intelligence company Norse have said their own investigation into the data on the Sony attack doesn’t point to North Korea at all and instead indicates some combination of a disgruntled employee and hackers for piracy groups is at fault.
. . .
The FBI said Monday it is standing behind its assessment, adding that evidence doesn’t support any other explanations.

“The FBI has concluded the Government of North Korea is responsible for the theft and destruction of data on the network of Sony Pictures Entertainment.  Attribution to North Korea is based on intelligence from the FBI, the U.S. intelligence community, DHS, foreign partners and the private sector,” a spokeswoman said in a statement.  “There is no credible information to indicate that any other individual is responsible for this cyber incident.”
(Emphasis added.)

As I said a week ago, we haven't seen that intelligence evidence, so we — including Norse — can't evaluate the FBI's conclusion, fairly.

That is, granted, frustrating, as the real world often is.

And it occurs to me that, by making their tentative conclusion public in this way, Norse may be gaining some valuable publicity.

(Here's the original FBI press release, where they say explicitly that they can not reveal much of the evidence because they need "to protect sensitive sources and methods", which is the usual line intelligence agencies use when they don't plan to share their secrets with the public.

Pure speculation:  It is possible that one or more "insiders" (former employees?) helped the North Koreans with the attack; it is even possible that there were two attacks on Sony, one from North Korea, and one from somewhere else.)
- 7:41 AM, 30 December 2014   [link]

Even Funnier This Year:  While looking for Karl Rove's 2013 predictions, I ran across my post on a Froma Harrop column, where she said:
Almost no one cares about homosexuality anymore, including most young conservatives.
I noted that the Seattle Times was obsessed with homosexuality, as were many others, but even I did not expect this kind of example for my argument:
Oprah Winfrey's documentary on gay NFL tryout (and washout) Michael Sam airs on Saturday night.  Secular leftist journalists and gay activists desperately wanted a happier story line than the one that unfolded.  What was pitched a Major Historical Moment vanished into put-on-waivers obscurity.

Bryan Curtis at ESPN's Grantland site compared the Sam kiss, carefully choreographed for the ESPN cameras by ESPN activists (what other seventh-rounder has a camera crew?), to Victory Over Japan in 1945:
That's too strong; actually ESPN was comparing it to a famous photo.  (Which may not be the best example for their cause, since, as you can see in the photo, the sailor is kissing the nurse, but the nurse isn't kissing the sailor.)

Our news organizations and entertainment corporations are so obsessed with homosexuality that they have led ordinary Americans, especially young Americans, to wildly over-estimate the proportion of homosexuals in the population.

Sadly, I don't think that Harrop realized what she wrote was funny.  And probably still doesn't realize it.
- 7:42 AM, 29 December 2014   [link]

How Good Were Karl Rove's 2013 Predictions?  He got the main result right; the Republicans did make gains in the Senate, but he underestimated the size of their win, predicting 50-51 seats instead of the actual 54.

(He may have been reacting to his too-optimistic 2012 predictions.)

However, he did better than I did.  I don't recall why I was so pessimistic then.  It may have been because I had seen Republican activists and leaders miss so many opportunities in previous years.  I suppose I wasn't realizing that they might have, collectively, learned something from their mistakes.

(As I write this, his site doesn't show any predictions for next year, or 2016.)
- 6:47 AM, 29 December 2014   [link]

In Recent Months, If You Wanted To Learn About Cuba from the New York Times, you would often do best by looking in the sports pages.
Possibly the finest baseball in the world alongside the United States and the Dominican Republic is found on this 780-mile long island nation.  Yasiel Puig, Jose Abreu, Aroldis Chapman, Jose Fernandez, Odrisamer Despaigne, Yoenis Cespedes and so on: It’s as if this island has a baseball minting room.  No one knows how many Cubans might be capable of playing in the majors, although major league scouts who figuratively pace around this island like cats around a candle — M.L.B. has officially banned scouting here — place the number in the many dozens.

The Cuban government pays the baseball players, who make, on average, $40 a month.  That’s twice as much as the average Cuban, but in no fashion leaves them well off.  (Cubans get subsidized rents and free medical care.)
(Emphasis added.)

Let's repeat that point, for emphasis:  The average Cuban worker earns — $20 a month.  But he can do twice as well if he is a professional baseball player.

It is not much of an exaggeration to call that level of pay, "slave wages".

When Castro took over, Cuba was one of the richer (or, if you prefer, less poor) Latin American countries.  Now, it is one of the poorest.

Apologists for Cuba often blame the poverty on a United States embargo, but that embargo was an inevitable result of Castro's policies — and it does not include food and medicines, which we have been selling to Cuba, for decades.

(Cubans who work in the tourist economy can do much better, if they get tips.  Which led some Cuban to come up with this joke:
Juan is trying to impress a young woman he has just met, so he tells her he is the head doorman at an international hotel.

An acquaintance of Juan's won't let him get away with this, and says: "Don't believe him.  He's actually the head surgeon at the local hospital."
And so would have a much lower income than the doorman.

In recent months, the editorials in the Times have been so positive toward the Cuban regime, that I have been half expecting them to call for volunteers to help with the Cuban sugar harvest, as leftist organizations used to do.)
- 8:29 AM, 28 December 2014   [link]

Today's New Yorker Cartoon Is Timely:  And pretty funny, in my opinion.
- 7:49 AM, 26 December 2014   [link]

Have Any Children (Or Grandchildren)?  Then you may want to share this article with them.
Even if you were not thrilled with one of your presents yesterday, it might be worth sending a thank you letter anyway.

Those who take the trouble to put pen to paper stand to get something much better next year, according to research.

More than 80 per cent of gift givers say they will spend an extra £20 next Christmas on friends and relatives who send them a note.
There's another reason for writing that note, as regular gift givers know:  The feedback it gives can help guide the choice of the next gift.

(One of the things that has amused me over the years is that I understood this practical reason for writing thank-you notes when I was fairly young, ten or so — but I have met so many people over the years who don't understand it, even as adults.

I'm not saying, by the way, that I have been particularly good at thank-you notes — I haven't been — but that I understood their practical uses, quite early.)
- 7:30 AM, 26 December 2014   [link]

Merry Christmas!

To all those who are celebrating it today.
- 11:18 AM, 25 December 2014   [link]