February 2013, Part 3

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

This Instapundit's Op-Ed Might Lessen Your Enjoyment Of The Oscars:  But you should read it anyway.

Here's how he begins:
At the Democratic National Convention last year, actress Eva Longoria called for higher taxes on America's rich.  Her take: "The Eva Longoria who worked at Wendy's flipping burgers—she needed a tax break.  But the Eva Longoria who works on movie sets does not."

Actually, nowadays an Eva Longoria who flipped burgers would probably qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit and get a check from the government rather than pay taxes.  It's the movie set where she works these days that may well be getting the tax break.
And it isn't just subsidies and tax breaks for Hollywood; they also received an enormous gift from the 1998 20 year copyright extension.

That extension was worth billions to the big studios — billions taken directly from the American public.

(For comparison, here's a Wikipedia list of the copyright lengths in most nations.)
- 8:47 AM, 24 February 2013   [link]

Obama Is "Just Playing Politics" On The Sequester:  Well, sure, but it is interesting to see that coming from Evan Thomas.  And on PBS, no less.

(As you may recall, Thomas once described Obama as a "sort of God".  Later, he tried to walk back from that comment.  You can decide for yourself whether he succeeded.)
- 7:54 AM, 24 February 2013   [link]

Belgium Is Killing Some Of Their Children:  And if this article is correct, they are fine with that, even though the practice is technically illegal.
Belgian legislators opened a debate Wednesday on whether to amend a decade-old law on euthanasia to cover minors, being told by experts that it was already taking place in practice without any set guidelines.

Currently, the law applies to those over 18 but one expert told the upper house of parliament that it was clear that euthanasia was being carried out on younger people, the Belga news agency reported.
In passive euthanasia, medical treatment that might extend a person's life is withheld; in active euthanasia, the person is killed, most often, as I understand it, with an injection.

The article doesn't say which is being used in Belgium, but I would guess that both are.  So sometimes a Belgian child who has been diagnosed as being terminally ill would be allowed to die of dehydration, and other times the child would be given a shot to kill them immediately.

No doubt euthanasia does save them some money, and I suppose an occasional mistake or two is, from their point of view, just one of the costs of progress.

(Those who have followed the death penalty debate will know that some death penalty opponents have argued that injections are a cruel and unusual punishment.  I am certain that some of those same opponents would favor active euthanasia by means of injections.  You can decide for yourself in individual cases whether the opponent is being inconsistent, or dishonest.)
- 4:37 PM, 22 February 2013   [link]

What Kind Of Father has to be one up on his daughters?

(From what I can tell from a distance, the Obamas have been fairly good parents — which is why I found this so jarring.)
- 1:30 PM, 22 February 2013   [link]

You Have Probably Seen Ashlee Arnaus's Flip Shot, but it won't hurt you to watch it again.

As far as I know — and I am not an expert on basketball rules — the shot is legal, as well as amazing.
- 1:00 PM, 23 February 2013   [link]

California Bureaucracy Versus local patriots.
For three years, a private citizen named Steve LeBard has led the effort to build a privately funded memorial in Orcutt, California—a tranquil small town located on the Golden State’s gorgeous Central Coast—to honor military veterans.  And for the better part of those three years, he has run into a toxic blend of political correctness, anti-Americanism, and bureaucratic senselessness.   Today, the memorial, which was to be built with private funds on a small piece of public land, remains unbuilt.
Some of the objections that CalTrans raised to this memorial are astonishing.  For instance, they initially objected to LeBard's group putting up an American flag.
- 7:36 AM, 22 February 2013   [link]

Would Obama's Proposed Pre-School Program Work?  Would it improve long-term outcomes for kids, especially poor kids?

Almost certainly not, says Charles Murray.

“Study after study shows that the earlier a child begins learning, the better he or she does down the road,” said U.S. President Barack Obama in Feb. 14 speech in Decatur, Georgia.  “Every dollar we invest in high-quality early education can save more than seven dollars later on -- boosting graduation rates, reducing teen pregnancy, reducing violent crime.”

Obama wants to help our nation’s children flourish.  So do I.  So does everyone who is aware of the large number of children who are not flourishing.  There are just two problems with his solution: The evidence used to support the positive long-term effects of early childhood education is tenuous, even for the most intensive interventions.  And for the kind of intervention that can be implemented on a national scale, the evidence is zero.

Will our anti-scientific president pay any attention to this evidence, including evidence from his own Department of Education?

It's not impossible, but it's unlikely.  Programs like Head Start may not do anything measurable, long term, for the kids in them, but they have done a lot for the politicians who have promoted them.

And so, most likely, Obama won't even sit down to look at this evidence.

We had a parallel experience here in Washington state.  Former governor Christine Gregoire promoted early childhood education with almost identical arguments.  As far as I could tell, she rejected the studies that found that it usually has no long-term effect.  And I am almost certain that her programs did not include the kind of long-term testing that would enable us to decide whether they were worth while.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(I should add that it seems as if these programs should work, seems as if giving kids, especially poor kids, extra years of early schooling would, in fact, give them a head start, and that the effects of that head start would continue after, say, the third grade.   I haven't seen any explanation for the almost universal failures of these programs — and so I would strongly favor more research on the problem.)
- 12:36 PM, 21 February 2013   [link]

Corruption And "Obamaphones"  Did the Federal Communications Commission, in its desire to get as many free phones out as possible, enable corruption?   That's the tentative conclusion I would draw from an article in Tuesday's Wall Street Journal.  (I used a Google News search to get around their pay wall.  You may have to do the same, if you don't have a subscription.)

Regulators are finding extensive corruption in the program.
Investigators say they have turned up some unorthodox tactics by companies participating in the program, such as signing up customers in hospital rooms and enrolling subscribers by mailing them unsolicited phones.  In other cases they have uncovered more straightforward attempts to sign up ineligible customers, according to federal and state documents.

While the inquiries have touched only a small number of the dozens of companies that provide the wireless service, they reflect regulators' growing concern that a program aimed at ensuring people have the ability to call their families, jobs or for emergency help has got out of hand as the number of companies providing the service has exploded.
One policy, all by itself, made fraud inevitable:  "Until 2012, the FCC allowed consumers to self-certify their eligibility, and in many states documentation wasn't required."

According to the article, most of these problems began when new — some would say fly-by-night — companies entered the business.  Their share of the business jumped sharply in 2009, again in 2010, and again in 2011.  (The graph accompanying the article shows their growing share of the market.)

Did the Obama administration encourage this change in policy?  Probably, and the timing suggests they may have, but the article doesn't discuss that point.

It is also possible, of course, that these dubious phone companies were learning how to exploit the system, and that the big increase in fraud just happened to occur after Obama became president.   (Or that changes in the laws after the 2006 Democratic takeover of Congress enabled the increase in fraud.)

Whichever explanation is correct, this should remind us, again, of the perils of public-private partnerships.  Those partnerships often encourage corruption — and usually allow elected officials to escape almost all of the blame for the corruption.

(You can find a description of the origins of the program in this rather dry Wikipedia article.  The usual Wikipedia caveats apply.)
- 7:23 AM, 21 February 2013   [link]

Can We Bore Our Enemies To Death?  That may be John Kerry's strategy.

And if I thought there was any chance it would work, I'd be delighted that he was trying it.

But almost all of our enemies have more patience than we do.  Our politicians generally think two, four, or six years ahead; our enemies often think ten and twenty years ahead (if they are Communists) or centuries ahead (if they are radical Islamists).
- 5:52 AM, 21 February 2013   [link]

What Was Former EPA Head Lisa Jackson Hiding?  We now learn that Jackson used at least two secret email accounts to carry on EPA business.
Former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson used her old New Jersey state government email account to supplement the account that she operated under the alias “Richard Windsor,” which a watchdog group suggests was another attempt to avoid transparency laws.

“It was no longer an account anyone would think to search under any open records request because there was no defensible reason it still should be in operation,” the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s Chris Horner said in a statement today.  “In other words, like the ‘Richard Windsor’ account, it looks like she assumed this was a safe harbor from the horrors of transparency in public office.”
These accounts are against official EPA policy — but may have been unofficial policy under Jackson, since at least two of her subordinates also had such accounts.

You would think that these secret EPA email accounts would draw the attention of our "mainstream" journalists, but so far as I can tell, they haven't.
- 5:39 AM, 21 February 2013   [link]

Snow In The Tucson Area:  Enough to force the suspension of a golf tournament.
Snowfall postponed first-round play Wednesday at southern Arizona's premier golf event in Marana, while winter weather canceled classes in Flagstaff, Bisbee and Show Low and battered other parts of the state.

The storm that moved into Marana forced officials to suspend play at the Match Play Championship at about 11 a.m.  The tournament at Dove Mountain, the high desert course about 2,800 feet above sea level, was called off for the day two hours later.
Let's see, should we blame this snow storm on global warming or George W. Bush?  Global warming seems more plausible, but as anyone who gets their news from our "mainstream" journalists knows, it is never wrong to blame anything on Bush.  (Those who are undecided can blame both, of course.)

(Most of those who aren't golfers seem to be enjoying the snow.)
- 3:05 PM, 20 February 2013   [link]

Washington Legislator Claims He Didn't Read His Own Gun Bill:   Three times.

Here's the story.
. . . the troubling Senate Bill 5737 to my attention.  It’s the long-awaited assault-weapons ban, introduced last week by three Seattle Democrats.
. . .
But then, with respect to the thousands of weapons like that already owned by Washington residents, the bill says this: “In order to continue to possess an assault weapon that was legally possessed on the effective date of this section, the person possessing shall ... safely and securely store the assault weapon.  The sheriff of the county may, no more than once per year, conduct an inspection to ensure compliance with this subsection.”

In other words, come into homes without a warrant to poke around.  Failure to comply could get you up to a year in jail.
. . .
I spoke to two of the sponsors.  One, Sen. Adam Kline, D-Seattle, a lawyer who typically is hyper-attuned to civil-liberties issues, said he did not know the bill authorized police searches because he had not read it closely before signing on.

“I made a mistake,” Kline said. “I frankly should have vetted this more closely.”
(The other sponsor, Ed Murray, agrees that provision should not be in the bill, but does not claim he didn't know it was there.)

You may have trouble believing Kline, after you learn that he co-sponsored bills with similar provisions in 2005 and 2010.

(Should the Seattle Times columnist have done the digging that blogger (and friend) "Pudge" did?  Well, sure.  But I doubt that Danny Westneat will even do a follow-up column.)
- 10:19 AM, 20 February 2013   [link]

Two Good Jokes From Andrew Malcolm's weekly collection.   (Republicans are more likely to laugh at the jokes than Democrats.)
Leno: An interesting break with tradition at the State of the Union in Congress the other night.  When Obama walked in, instead of “Hail to the Chief,” they played, "Hey, Big Spender."

Leno: President Obama visited a pre-school in Georgia the other day.  And all the kids had the same question, "Shouldn't you be working?"
(That Georgia pre-school was on vacation, but they changed their schedule to accommodate the Obama campaign's desire for a photo-op.)
- 9:36 AM, 20 February 2013   [link]

Two Democratic Legislators Propose Taxing "Biased" Newspapers:   Here's the story from the Freedom Foundation.
By far the kookiest idea on the agenda was SB 5041, which would (among a host of other things) tax newspapers based on content.  A "dominant" and "biased" newspaper would lose its current tax deduction.  Offered by two of Washington's farthest-to-the-left Senators, the bill offers no definition of bias nor does it define who would do the ideological policing.  SB 5041 is almost certainly unconstitutional on its face, since it would create uncertainty about what speech might be penalized by the state.
SB 5041 is one of those catch-all tax bills, containing a number of unrelated changes in Washington's tax laws.

Here's the addition that state senators Bob Hasegawa and Steve Conway are proposing:
(3)(a) The legislature intends that democracy requires an informed citizenry that has free access to unbiased information.

(b) A newspaper is immediately ineligible for the tax exemption under this section, if the newspaper gains a dominant market share and becomes a dominant provider of opinion in the market wherein it promotes the bias of its editorial board without opposing opinion by another newspaper in the same market, unless the newspaper implements a plan to correct the dissemination of biased information to the citizenry.
(This would be added to sections 104 and 105 of RCW 82.08.0253.)

What's going on here?  Hasegawa and Conway are probably just sending a little reminder to the Seattle Times.

In last year's election, the newspaper not only endorsed Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob McKenna, but actually ran paid ads for him, as well.  The public employee unions were not happy with the newspaper, since they much preferred the pliable, and not too bright, Democratic candidate, Jay Inslee.

(Both Hasegawa and Conway are former officials in labor unions, respectively the Teamsters and the United Food and Commercial Workers.

By way of Ron Hebron.)
- 6:48 AM, 20 February 2013   [link]

Math Professor Goes Too Far In Supporting Obama:   Maybe.
A Florida college algebra teacher faces termination for urging students -- and in some cases forcing them -- to sign pledge cards promising to vote for President Obama last November.

Officials at Brevard Community College recommended the dismissal of Sharon Sweet after a three-month investigation prompted by complaints.
Maybe, because we don't know whether she will actually be dismissed.  Sweet has tenure, and is a member of a "faculty bargaining unit", so she has more protections against dismissal than most employees.

It does seem fair to expect algebra instruction in an algebra class, but perhaps Brevard has different rules than most colleges.

(One puzzle:  Does Sweet know about the secret ballot?  It would be easy enough for students in her class to sign that pledge and then break it in the voting booth.  In fact, I hope that's exactly what some of them did.)
- 2:45 PM, 19 February 2013   [link]

The Seattle Times Thinks That We Should Choose Elected Officials By The Color Of Their Skin, Not The Content Of Their Character:  Or at least some elected officials.  In the opinion of our local monopoly newspaper, too few Latinos are being elected to offices in Washington state.

Here's an example of what the newspaper sees as a problem:

Though Latinos make up more than 33 percent of the population in 10 counties across Central Washington, they hold less than 4 percent of local elected offices in those areas.

The Associated Press notes the city of Yakima is now 41 percent Latino, but voters there have never elected a Latino member to the City Council.  The American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit against the city in 2012 after council members refused to allow an initiative on the ballot that would have required them to run in districts, rather than citywide.

Later, voters also defeated an initiative to alter the status quo.

To remedy that problem, the newspaper wants the legislature to rig the local election system in order to force local governments to change to district elections, whether or not the people in that city (or county) want that change.  Getting the skin colors right is more important to the Times than mere abstractions like democracy.

(This news may not have reached the Times, but choosing by skin color is not an infallible rule.  For an example, the editorial writers may want to study the 2nd Illinois House district.  In recent years, it has been represented by Gus Savage, Mel Reynolds, and, until his resignation, Jesse Jackson, Jr..   All had the correct skin color; none would be considered great statesmen.  When a different skin color was predominant in the district, it was represented by Morgan Murphy, who had the correct skin color for the district — but wouldn't be considered a great statesman, either.)

Decades ago, idealistic leaders argued that we should not judge people by the color of their skin.  Many Americans still hold that view.  That's why, for instance, that Washington state, despite the votes from reactionary Seattle, was able to pass the civil rights initiative, I-200.  That's also why the voters in Washington's 3rd House district have elected Jaime Herrera Beutler, even though the district is not predominantly Hispanic.

But that idealistic belief is rare in our newspapers, and almost unknown among the leaders of the Democratic party, who have, some might think, returned to their older rule of judging elected leaders, first of all, by the colors of their skins.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(When journalists use numbers, I always worry, just as I worry when I see children playing with sharp knives.  That 33 to 4 percent comparison is bogus, for several reasons.  I'll just mention the most obvious:  Many Latinos are not American citizens.

Is that editorial racist?  That would depend on two definitions.  Latinos — I would call them Hispanics — are not, by any scientific definition, a race, but they are often treated as a race by journalists and other political types.

And it would depend on whether you think that "liberal racism", as described by Jim Sleeper, is also racism, without the qualifier.

I wouldn't say that, but wouldn't quarrel with anyone who does.  But I think that the editorial unquestionably reveals the "soft bigotry of low expectations", in the words of our last successful president.)
- 1:36 PM, 19 February 2013   [link]

"The Jihad Seekers Allowance"  A Muslim preacher in Britain, Anjem Choudary, has been explaining to his followers how welfare benefits can support terrorism.

Unfortunately for him, a very tabloid newspaper, The Sun, decided to commit journalism, and was recording what he said at these private meetings.
Former lawyer Choudary — twice banned from running organisations under the Terrorism Act — said some revered Islamic figures had only ever worked one or two days a year, adding: “The rest of the year they were busy with jihad (holy war) and things like that.”

He went on: “People will say, ‘Ah, but you are not working’.

“But the normal situation is for you to take money from the kuffar.

“So we take Jihad Seeker’s Allowance.  You need to get support.”
Choudary takes his own advice.  According to the newspaper, he receives "more than £25,000" a year in benefits, equivalent to a taxed salary of £32,500, or about $50,000 a year at current exchange rates.

Choudary is not typical, of course.  Many, perhaps most, Muslims in Britain despise him.

But he does have some followers, and even a few terrorists can do immense damage.

His long career shows that Britain's current laws aren't adequate to deal with terrorists like Choudary.  Or perhaps the laws are adequate, but the lawyers in the government are unwilling to use them.

(In an earlier century, Choudary would either have been hanged or kept in a prisoner-of-war camp, with very limited contact with outsiders.  Sometimes I think our ancestors were more practical than we are.)
- 5:37 AM, 19 February 2013   [link]

"A Shooting Star, Not A Meteor"  Last Friday morning, I did something I rarely do; I watched ABC's "Good Morning America".  (I was hoping to see more video from the Chelyabinsk meteor.)

And I got a reminder that our news readers are not necessarily familiar with grade school science.  A little after one minute into the program, Dan Harris showed us a picture of a bright moving object over the San Francisco area.  He assured us that we could relax because scientists had identified it as a "shooting star", not a "meteor".

I was so startled by that mistake that I watched most of the program to see if anyone would correct him.   None did.

Thinking that I might have heard him wrong, I watched that part of the program twice this morning, and he really did say that a shooting star is not a meteor.

(While watching the rest of the show on Friday, I got a chance to see this gushing, will-she-run segment on Hillary Clinton.  As I watched it, I couldn't help wondering whether they knew as little about her record as they do about meteors.

Here's a quick review of meteors for any news readers.  (It's a meteoroid while it is in space, a meteor or shooting star when it is burning up in the atmosphere, and a meteorite when it hits the ground (assuming it didn't burn up completely).  So a rock can change its name twice in minutes.)

Having read that Wikipedia article, I have to pass on this bit from Thomas Jefferson, who was skeptical when a scientist first suggested that a meteorite could have come from outside the earth: "I would more easily believe that (a) Yankee professor would lie than that stones would fall from heaven."  His view was common when he wrote, and it wasn't until the 1830s that many people began to believe that stones could fall from the heavens.)
- 8:03 AM, 18 February 2013   [link]

Call Him A Cock-Eyed Optimist:  Today, New York Times columnist Tom Friedman tries to explain why the American economy is so sluggish.  But he almost lost me with his opening lines.
I was struck by one particular moment during President Obama’s State of the Union address.  The president proposed a $1 billion investment to build a new National Network for Manufacturing Innovation to spur high-tech manufacturing in America.  I’m sure that would be helpful, and I’m sure the president will have to beg to get any such funding out of Congress.
(Emphasis added.)

And Friedman is sure it would be helpful because?

He never says.  Instead he immediately notes that Apple is sitting on a $127 billion pile of cash, enough, one would think, to sponsor that manufacturing network, all by themselves.  And then Friedman goes on to argue that uncertainty is keeping our growth sluggish.

It is easy to think of reasons why such a network would not be helpful.  There is, for example, the competition problem:  Companies making competing products have many reasons not to share any good ideas they may have with their competitors.  Then there is the fact that universities, especially universities with "tech" in their names, have been working on manufacturing innovation for decades.  There are departments, and even colleges within those universities, that have made substantial contributions to manufacturing.   If we did decide to spend more money on manufacturing innovation, we probably would be better off if we gave the money, not to a new organization, but to the departments and colleges that have already done good work in manufacturing.

You can probably think of other objections to this scheme without much effort, unless you, too, are a cock-eyed optimist.

(I did find Friedman's column cheering.  He's certainly more pleasant to read than, for example, Paul Krugman.  But all that certainty does seem childish.  A ten year old boy brimming with optimism can be a pleasant companion, but I am not sure I would choose him to write columns for the New York Times.

In the rest of column Friedman argues for another try at a "grand bargain" between Obama and the congressional Republicans, or at least some of them.  He does not explain why congressional Democrats, who are more than a little disenchanted with Obama, would automatically agree to such a compromise.)
- 3:19 PM, 17 February 2013   [link]