February 2014, Part 2

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

World War II In Seven Minutes And Fourteen Seconds:  If you would like to see a very high-level picture of the war, here it is:

(For almost all of you, it will be better if viewed in full screen mode.)

That's impressive.  And for some, informative,

By way of Reverend Sensing.

(According to this post, the author has done a similar animation for the Civil War.)
- 6:57 PM, 16 February 2014   [link]

Fannie Mae And Freddie Mac Shareholders Are Excluded from future profits.
Would you buy stock in a company that barred you from sharing in its future earnings?  Of course not.  Participating in the upside is what stock ownership is all about

And yet, as of December 2010, holders of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac common stock were subject to such a restriction by the United States government.  They didn't know it at the time because the policy was not disclosed.
(Emphasis added.)

I don't know a lot about securities law, but I suspect that a private company that didn't mention that little point in its filings would have been breaking a law or two.  But you needn't take my opinion for it; Gretchen Morgenson found a securities law expert, Lewis D. Lowenfels, who says that this policy is, indeed, "material" and should have been disclosed by the federal government.

What they did — with a memo from a Treasury undersecretary, Jeffrey Goldstein, to then Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner — amounts to a stealth nationalization that we are learning about only because of some lawsuits, which is not how we should learn about these decisions.

But by now we should have learned to expect this kind of hidden decision making from the "most transparent administration in history".

(There's more in the column, including claims that the decision may have been illegal, and the odd book keeping, in which Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have paid back the money they borrowed from the Treasury, but are still on the books for owing the $189.5 billion.  Don't ask me to explain that, because I can't.)
- 5:54 PM, 16 February 2014   [link]

What Kind Of People Are Internet Trolls?  According to two recent studies by a team of researchers, not very nice.

Both studies revealed similar patterns of relations between trolling and the Dark Tetrad of personality: trolling correlated positively with sadism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism, using both enjoyment ratings and identity scores.  Of all personality measures, sadism showed the most robust associations with trolling and, importantly, the relationship was specific to trolling behavior.

Judging by the article and the abstract, it seems like a reasonable pair of studies — although some might fault the researchers for spending time and money discovering the obvious.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(You can read the abstract and, if you like, buy the paper here.)
- 1:40 PM, 16 February 2014   [link]

Vice President Biden stays positive.
Biden was addressing the House Democratic Caucus Issues Conference in Cambridge, Md. on Friday when he discussed why he feels positive about America and the upcoming mid-term elections.

“It always surprises me when we don’t have the degree of optimism that we should about the state of the nation," Biden said.  "And in spite of who’s president, in spite of who’s in the Congress, the American people are so much stronger, so much more resilient, so much more capable, that even the ridiculous policies of our friends on the right cannot keep them from moving forward.”
(Emphasis added.)

Was that a Kinsley gaffe, was Biden saying what he actually thinks?  Probably not, but it's fun to imagine that he was.
- 2:27 PM, 14 February 2014   [link]

Looking For Love In All The Wrong Cities?  Yesterday's Wall Street Journal had an article, "The Best Places to Find Love", with some data on that subject.  The Journal used an analysis from Facebook, which last October ranked major American cities 'according to the percentage of singles that went from "Single" to "In a relationship."'

The ten worst cities were:
1. San Francisco
2. Washington, D. C.
3. New York
4. Los Angeles
5. Atlanta
6. Miami
7. Boston
8. San Jose, Calif.
9. Seattle
10. Philadelphia

(The best of the forty-eight cities studied was Colorado Springs.)

In general, people were more likely to find love in cities where most people have traditional values, for example cities in the South and cities with heavily Mexican-American populations.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 8:36 AM, 14 February 2014   [link]

Happy Valentine's Day!  With the usual exceptions.
- 6:19 AM, 14 February 2014   [link]

Obama Is More A Leftist Law Professor Than A Lawyer:  When Barack Obama took office in January 2009, I was not optimistic about his presidency.

But there was one area where I misjudged him, one area where my expectations have been wrong.  Traditionally, we think that lawyers follow the letter of the law, however much they may abuse its spirit.  And so many of Obama's attacks on President Bush were legal attacks that I expected Obama to follow that kind of pattern, expected that he would follow the letter of the law, while not necessarily honoring its spirit.

I was wrong.  Obama has, especially with ObamaCare, chosen to ignore the letter of the law again and again.  Even some leftists, like the Washington Post editorial board and Professor Jonathan Turley, are beginning to see that Obama is, at the very least, careless about following the law.

What I should have recognized in 2009 was that Obama was more a leftist law professor than a lawyer — and leftist law professors are notorious for reading the laws to mean what they want them to mean, regardless of the intent of the legislators and the plain meaning of the words in the laws.  For an example of that kind of thinking, consider the gay marriage court decisions, which have been applauded by so many of those leftist professors — despite precedents that go back, in some cases, centuries, and despite clear records of the intent of the legislators (or, sometimes, voters) who had passed those laws.

Whatever you may think of gay marriage, you should recognize that those court decisions were absurd, were classic examples of the courts creating laws from nothing.

But you would have to look long and hard to find a leftist law professor who would admit that; they have been too happy with the results to criticize how those results were achieved.

And like them, Obama is too pleased by the political effects of his decisions to worry much about the actual words of our laws, or about what those who passed them intended.
- 2:55 PM, 13 February 2014   [link]

A Very Special Interest Tax Cut:  So special that it is going to a single couple here in Kirkland.

The owners of the Parkplace Cinema, Jeff Cole and Chris McKenzie, were finding it hard to afford the new digital projectors, so the city decided to help them out.

But on Jan. 21, the Kirkland City Council helped keep those changes looking positive when they passed an amendment to the Kirkland Municipal Code, which authorized Cole and co-owner, wife Chris McKenzie, to utilize the seat tax within ticket prices toward the cost of going digital for three years.

“I’d been talking to our mayor at the time, Joan McBride -- she’s a big movie fan and comes to the theater a lot,” Cole said.  “She had talked to me about her concern that the movie theater would close.”
. . .
Forgoing the seat tax for three years wouldn’t finance the entire project, but it would help offset the $250,000 price tag.

City documents state the Finance Department estimates the city will lose $39,000 a year in admissions tax revenue, or $117,000 until June 30, 2017.

That's a pretty nice tax cut.  The city says that it was justified because Kirkland would have lost more than that — if the theater had closed and not been replaced.

Is the tax cut justified?  Judging only by the information in that article, I would say no.  In general, both for economic efficiency and basic fairness, I prefer tax systems with few loopholes and special deals, and low rates.

Those who have followed these tax debates for some time will not be surprised to learn that Joan McBride, the former mayor, is a Democrat, and is running for another office, against a man who has sinned — from the Democratic Party's point of view — by favoring prudent budgeting.

In theory, most Democratic politicians favor higher tax rates.  In practice, most Democratic politicians love handing out tax breaks to rich people, if those rich people support the Democratic Party.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(For some time, I have thought that there was a good argument to be made for increasing taxes on the movie industry.  I would even argue that there is a good argument for imposing a Pigouvian tax on them, given the damage so many American movies do, here and abroad.)
- 1:07 PM, 13 February 2014   [link]

It's Probably Just a coincidence.
House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R., Mich.) said Tuesday that the committee’s investigation of the Internal Revenue Service found that 100 percent of the tax-exempt groups that were flagged and targeted with an audit were right-leaning.
And if the opposite occurs during a Republican administration, that will be a coincidence, too.
- 7:39 AM, 13 February 2014   [link]

What Party Does Former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin Belong To?  You might think that his party would be a routine part of any story on his conviction on 20 of 21 counts of corruption.   If you are a Republican, you might suspect that his party would come late in the story, many paragraphs down if it appeared in a newspaper, near the end of the segment if it was in a radio or TV story.

In fact, our news organizations have mostly chosen not to mention his party at all.  You won't find it in that CNN story I linked to, or in this good opinion piece from the main New Orleans paper.  It wasn't in a New York Times story I saw the other day.  And it wasn't mentioned in any of the evening newscasts.

All, or almost all, of the journalists who chose not to mention his party know that he is a Democrat — but they see no reason to share that part of the story with their readers and listeners.

(Although the CNN story omits Nagin's party, it does include one more attack on George W. Bush, for his response to Katrina.  The reporters, Matt Smith and Deanna Hackney, do that attack in the usual way, attributing it to unnamed supporters of Nagin.)
- 7:15 AM, 13 February 2014   [link]

The Washington Post Chastises President Obama for his "increasingly cavalier approach" to implementing ObamaCare.
The Obama administration on Monday announced that it was delaying, once again, enforcement of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) “employer mandate.”  Yes, Republicans have done everything they can to impede implementation of this law.  Yes, their “solution” — gutting the individual mandate — is an awful idea.  And, yes, their public response to the administration’s action was predictably over-the-top.  But none of that excuses President Obama’s increasingly cavalier approach to picking and choosing how to enforce this law.  Imagine how Democrats would respond if a President Rand Paul, say, moved into the White House in 2017 and announced he was going to put off provisions of Obamacare he thought might be too onerous to administer.
(Emphasis added.)

Note how hard they try to soften their blow by first attacking Republicans for obstruction.  Despite that, they still can't avoid their two conclusions, that the Obama administration is ignoring the letter and meaning of parts of the law, and that Obama is setting precedents that future Republican presidents may abuse.

Most editorials in the Post, unlike many editorials in New York Times, strike me as written from principle, not partisanship.

By way of Jen Rubin, who has more to say about Obama's "rampant lawlessness".

(In general, I think those arbitrary number boundaries, fifty, and now one hundred, are a bad idea in laws.  They tend to produce odd boundary effects, as we can see from the French experience, effects that often make the economy less efficient, and always, in my opinion, less fair.  Avoiding them often requires more thought initially, but is usually worth the effort.

For similar reasons, software designers have learned that it is almost always wise to avoid arbitrary numbers.  Again, avoiding those numbers may require more thought during the design phase, but almost always produces better programs.)
- 5:27 PM, 12 February 2014   [link]

Bertha Blocked For Months?  The big tunneling machine that has been digging a replacement for Seattle's Alaskan Way Viaduct ran into a pipe, was damaged, and may take months to repair.
Workers might have to dig a hole up to 115 feet deep to reach and repair the damaged drive system of tunnel-boring machine Bertha, contractors now say.

Once the pit was dug, the 630-ton cutter head would be detached and lifted using a crane, supported by wide footings as if on duck feet so it wouldn’t sink into the soft waterfront soils.
They might be able to fix it from the back, which would probably be faster and less expensive.

This is the latest fiasco from WashDoT, the Washington State Department of Transportation.  The state is blaming the contractor — but the state chose the contractor and approved their plans.

(Bertha is named after Seattle's first, and so far only, woman mayor, Bertha Knight Landes.  Her descendants might want to ask WashDoT to change that name to, say, Christine Gregoire, after the governor who approved this project.)
- 7:59 AM, 12 February 2014   [link]

According To Chris Matthews, Nazi References Are Wrong — unless Chris Matthews (or, I suppose, one of his allies) is using them.
- 6:59 AM, 12 February 2014   [link]

Americans Like First Lady Michelle Obama More Than Hillary Clinton, but less than Laura Bush.
- 6:43 AM, 12 February 2014   [link]

The George Ryan Precedent:  In 2000, the Republican governor of Illinois, then in serious trouble, suspended the death penalty in his state.   He received many plaudits from the usual suspects, but that did not save him from justice.

Ryan received national attention for his 1999 moratorium on executions in Illinois and for commuting more than 160 death sentences to life sentences in 2003.  He was convicted of federal corruption charges after leaving office and spent over five years in federal prison.   Ryan then served 7 months in prison for home confinement.  He was released from federal prison on July 3, 2013.

(The Wikipedia article gives two years, 1999 and 2000, for his initial action. I've gone with second because it is consistent with the New York Times article they link to in footnote 19.)

Did Governor Ryan unilaterally suspend the death penalty to distract from his legal troubles?   I doubt that that was his only motive, or even his most important motive.  But as a career politician, it is likely that he knew that he was in legal danger, and likely that he knew that his action on the death penalty might help him out, later.

So it is only natural to wonder whether Washington Governor Jay Inslee might also have some motives for today's decision that he would rather not tell us about.

Gov. Jay Inslee said Tuesday he was suspending the use of the death penalty in Washington state for as long as he’s in office, announcing a move that he hopes will enable officials to “join a growing national conversation about capital punishment.”

In Inslee's case — if he does have hidden motives — they are more likely to relate to political problems than legal problems.  Inslee is a good campaigner, but has no talent at all for governing, and it is harder for an executive than a legislator to hide failures.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(Ryan had more reason to suspend the death penalty than Inslee does.  Illinois had a number of men on death row who had not received fair treatment, and some who were probably innocent.  The nine men who were on Washington's death row all belonged there.

Four of the last seven elected governors of Illinois, Otto Kerner, Dan Walker, George Ryan, and Rod Blagojevich, spent time in prison.  (Blagojevich, a long-time Obama ally, is still in prison.)  Ryan is the only Republican in the group.)
- 6:25 PM, 11 February 2014   [link]

Confirmation Bias And That 700,000 Crowd Estimate:  Here's a brief explanation of confirmation bias:
Confirmation bias (also called confirmatory bias or myside bias) is the tendency of people to favor information that confirms their beliefs or hypotheses.[Note 1][1]  People display this bias when they gather or remember information selectively, or when they interpret it in a biased way.  The effect is stronger for emotionally charged issues and for deeply entrenched beliefs.  People also tend to interpret ambiguous evidence as supporting their existing position.  Biased search, interpretation and memory have been invoked to explain attitude polarization (when a disagreement becomes more extreme even though the different parties are exposed to the same evidence), belief perseverance (when beliefs persist after the evidence for them is shown to be false), the irrational primacy effect (a greater reliance on information encountered early in a series) and illusory correlation (when people falsely perceive an association between two events or situations).
We tend to look for facts that support our theories, and reject facts that do not, especially when we feel strongly about some person, policy, or event.

There are many examples of confirmation bias in the comments after this Seattle Times article on the size of the crowd that welcomed the Seahawks back, after their Super Bowl win.  It had been reported, widely, that there had been about 700,000 in the crowd, and it was clear that the estimate made many fans happy.  (I heard it on TV, and knew immediately that it was too high.)

So when the reporter, Erik Lacitis, gently pointed out that the estimate was too high, did the commenters thank him for correcting the record, for giving them the facts?  Most did not.   Here are three typical comments:
The crowd with people walking around and watching from buildings both on 4th and near by was easily 500k+.  But what I am most infuriated about is the fact that the Seattle Times would make this a story and run it in the first place!  Way to rain on our parade, literally.
. . .
All the folks nit picking about whether it's 700,000 or not just don't get're like the types that when someone makes a great point on here...all you can do is point out a typo on their statement!

Paul Allen said there must be a million out that day....and if Paul Allen says a million then that's good enough for me!

Go Hawks!
. . .
Bah Humbug!  It sure as heck felt like 700,000 from ground level.  Experts get paid to pontificate.  Did they even get a glance at the lines at the porta-potties?  I still say it was the biggest party I have even been to.  Go Seahawks!!
It is easy to see the mistake these commenters are making (unless you are a rabid Seahawks fan), but not so easy to see our own mistakes.  And in politics that can make it difficult for us to assess candidates and policies, accurately.  And the stronger we feel about those candidates and policies, the more likely we are to fall into that trap.
- 7:31 AM, 11 February 2014   [link]

There Are People Who Wish Senator Patty Murray Would Run For President:  Seriously.

The author does not mention her two "no rocket scientist" awards or her vast executive experience, but he should.

Murray is planning to run for re-election to the Senate, which is unfortunate.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(You can find some background on Murray in this 2003 post.)
- 6:17 AM, 11 February 2014   [link]

People In DC Have Confidence In Our Economy:   People in all 50 states do not.
Although scores on Gallup's Economic Confidence Index improved in most U.S. states in 2013, the index remained negative in all 50.  Only the District of Columbia had a positive index.   Indexes were least negative in Massachusetts, Minnesota, and California.  They were most negative in West Virginia, followed by Alaska.
(California!?  With some of the highest unemployment in the nation?)

You can explain those confidence scores in a variety of ways, partisanship, policies, and economic conditions.  People in states that voted for Obama are more likely to be confident about the economy.  People in states that are especially hurt by Obama administration policies, for example West Virginia and Alaska, are less likely to be confident.  And we shouldn't be surprised that the District of Columbia, which gave Obama 91 percent of its vote in 2012, has benefited from his policies, and is booming, would be an outlier.
- 7:31 AM, 10 February 2014   [link]

Fred Meyer Goes Into Retail Banking:  Yesterday's Seattle Times came with the usual Sunday load of advertisements, including the usual ad from Fred Meyer, the Northwest "superstore" chain.

But with that ad was a page announcing a new set of services, inexpensive check cashing, bill paying, money orders, and so forth.  So now you can stop at a Fred Meyer store, cash your payroll check, send a money order to your brother, buy a new set of tires, buy a pearl necklace for your wife, buy a shirt for yourself, buy some WD-40 for a squeaky door, buy a toy for your son, and, of course, get groceries.

Increasing regulation has made low-end banking services unprofitable for banks, so now big retailers are stepping in to serve that part of the market.  Fred Meyer is following the example of Walmart.  It will be interesting to see how much business these chains take away from the check cashing places.   In this area, Fred Meyer is offering $1 check cashing (with some limits) until 13 April, an offer that seems directly aimed at the check cashing businesses.

(Fred Meyer stores have had, for many years, bank or credit union branches inside the stores.   Apparently, those branches could not, or were not, offering some of these services.)
- 6:20 AM, 10 February 2014   [link]

The NYT Explains How Edward Snowden Was Able To Steal All Those Files:  And, from a different point of view, the Times is unable to explain how Snowden was able to steal all those files
Using "web crawler" software designed to search, index, and back up a website, Mr. Snowden "scraped data out of our systems" while he went about his day job, according to a senior intelligence official.  "We do not believe this was an individual sitting at a machine and downloading this much material in sequence," the official said.  The process, he added was "quite automated."
I had assumed, because of the volume of material, that Snowden had done something like that, though it puzzled me that there were not the standard kinds of security checks on that kind of operation.  It puzzles the Times, too.  They say that the Hawaii operation was last on the list to install the security software that would have prevented Snowden from using a web crawler.

That's as negligent as not keeping secret documents in safes.

Did Snowden seek a job in Hawaii because he knew about that vulnerability?  We may never know for sure, but I think that he did.

There's one detail in the article that may shed light on Snowden's motives:  According to Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, Snowden's web crawler retrieved a "disproportionately large number of documents detailing American military movements, preparations and abilities around the world".  (I should add that the reporters, David Sanger and Eric Schmitt, say that investigators "have found no evidence that Mr. Snowden's searches were directed by a foreign power".  And they may be correct, but we should not forget that insiders would have reason to minimize the possibility that Snowden is a traitor, and that the Times has been acting as his co-conspirator, by publishing some of the material he stole.)
- 6:51 PM, 9 February 2014   [link]