February 2015, Part 1

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Another Look At That Gallup State Level Data:  Philip Bump took another look at the changes that Gallup found since 2008 in the partisanship by state, came up with some nifty graphics, and a better summary than Gallup had.
Since the dawn of the Obama era, the whole country has shifted to the right. Literally every state but one is now more Republican it was than six years ago. (Which one? Be patient.)
. . .
There are some special cases worth calling out.  The state that has moved the furthest to the right since 2008 is Montana.  The only state to move to the left?  Alaska -- certainly thanks in part to the partisanship engendered by having a native daughter on the 2008 ballot.  The state that has been most consistently Democratic is Rhode Island; the most consistently Republican, Wyoming.
My own explanation for the Alaska shift is somewhat different.  I think that many voters in Alaska have been put off by the fighting within the Republican Party, fighting that led to this odd result in 2010, and this odd result in 2014.

One reason I think that is that, last year, there were more people in Alaska (22.3%) who refused to admit belonging to either party than in any other state, except Vermont (22.5%)   That suggests that many in Alaska (and, apparently, Vermont) are unhappy with both parties.  It is easy to understand why Alaskans would be unhappy with the Democratic Party under Obama, and easy to understand why this constant infighting would make them unhappy with the state's Republican Party.  (Gallup pushes the respondents pretty hard on partisanship, since they believe, correctly, that most of us really do identify with one of the two major parties, even though we may be reluctant to say so.)
- 3:29 PM, 7 February 2015   [link]

A Very Mixed Metaphor:  The lead story in this weekend's Wall Street Journal has this headline:  Job Market Ripe for Liftoff".

You could say "Ready for Liftoff", or even "Fueled for Liftoff", but "Ripe for Liftoff" just doesn't work.
- 2:39 PM, 7 February 2015   [link]

Since 2008, The Republican Party Has Gained Almost Everywhere In The United States:  That's the main conclusion I draw from this Gallup post.   But — and this is something that Republican partisans should pay special attention to — the party is still behind, nationally.
The combined percentage of residents who identify with the Democratic Party or lean toward it, versus the percentage of Republican identifiers and leaners, gives an indication of the relative strength of each party within a state.  The full 2014 results for each state are shown in a table at the end of the article.  Nationally, Democrats had a slim three-percentage-point advantage in 2014.
. . .
There are similar numbers of states in each of the major categories, including 17 solid or leaning Democratic states, 15 that are solid or leaning Republican and 18 that are competitive.   Those totals have been fairly consistent since 2011 -- but continue to mark a major shift away from the Democratic Party since 2008, the apex for Democratic strength nationally in the last 25 years.  That year, Gallup classified 29 states as solidly Democratic and an additional six as leaning Democratic, to only five solid or leaning Republican.
If you look at the first link in the quote, you'll see that both parties have lost supporters since 2008, but that the Democrats have lost more.  And that you could say that the Republicans have returned to about the level they were, before the gains they made during George W. Bush's first term.

So the Republicans are in relatively better shape than they were in 2008, but have no reason at all to get cocky.  (And the Democrats are in more trouble than most of the party's leaders appear to realize.)

Another way to say the same thing is that an odds maker would give the Democrats a slight edge in the 2016 presidential election — if he believed the candidates and issues would be equal, but less of an edge than Democrats would have expected in 2008.

For reasons that I explained in September, 2008. I expect that, in 2016, the issues will favor Republicans.

(At the end of the post, Gallup has a useful table showing party identification by state.  It is particularly useful for states like Washington, which don't have registration by party, or states where the rules (or local political considerations) encourage voters to register in the wrong party.

Technical quibble:  To get enough respondents for the smaller states, Gallup has to group all of the respondents for an entire year.  That can miss trends during the year.  For those you have to look at trends in national data.)
- 9:44 AM, 6 February 2015   [link]

What's The Big Story In This Area Today?  There isn't a really big story in this area, but if I had to choose one, based on skimming the Seattle Times and listening to more than an hour of news on a local news station, KOMO, it would be Lolita.

The novel?  No, the whale.
Lolita, a captive orca that has spent more than four decades in an aquarium tank, deserves the same endangered species protection as her wild relatives, officials said Wednesday.

Advocates hope the ruling will lead to her release from the Miami Seaquarium where she has lived for the past 35 years, but the matter of Lolita's care remains at the center of a legal dispute.

She was captured as a juvenile from the waters off the western US state of Washington in 1970, along with six other calves that were sent to marine parks around the country.
Many folks in this area hope that she can be returned to the wild.  I have my doubts as to whether that would really be best for her, after all her time in captivity.

(And the Brian Williams story?  It got a few lines in the Seattle Times in a catch-all "Odds & Ends" category.  I didn't hear anything about it on the news radio, but our local conservative talk show hosts loved it.)
- 1:05 PM, 5 February 2015   [link]

What, If Anything, Did His Camera Crew Say About Brian Williams's Iraq War Story? For which he has now, sort of, apologized.
According to Stars and Stripes, NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams has admitted to telling a false story about his coverage of the invasion of Iraq in 2003.  The anchor had claimed that he was aboard a helicopter that sustained fire from an rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) and was forced to the ground, according to the publication.  In fact, Williams wasn’t in that Chinook or two others that also took on incoming fire; he arrived in another helicopter an hour later.

“I would not have chosen to make this mistake,” Williams told Stars & Stripes.  “I don’t know what screwed up in my mind that caused me to conflate one aircraft with another.”
It doesn't seem that hard to understand; like many others, Williams chose to tell a story that made him look like a war hero.

Nor is it surprising that he was finally busted by the men who actually had been under fire.

But what does puzzle me, a little, is what, if anything, his NBC camera crew did.  He would have been accompanied on that trip by them, how many I'm not sure, but would guess at least four or five.  Over the years, these men (or women) must have heard that false story many times.  And, when they heard it they would have known, from their own experience, that it was false.

What did they do?

It seems to me that there are two main possibilities:  They might have tried, in private, probably indirectly, to get Williams to correct the record.  In the organizations I've seen over the years, that's common.  (Old time secretaries were often very good at doing this, discreetly.)

Or, and this is the most troubling possibility, those members of the crew might have chosen to keep quiet — which would be rather odd behavior for what is, after all, a news organization.

It is troubling because, when subordinates are not willing to correct their bosses, there is almost something wrong with the boss, the subordinates, their relationship, or all three.

Which would give us even more reason to distrust anything put out by NBC, especially if Brian Williams had anything to do with it.

(There is a third possibility that should be mentioned.  Members of the crew may have gone to Williams's superiors with their story, and been dismissed.  That doesn't happen very often, but it does happen.

If, by some chance, you haven't read Scoop, you may not have run across the way subordinates would correct a British press lord in that classic.  When he was right, they would agree with him; when he was wrong, they would say: "Up to a point, Lord Copper."  Someone at NBC should have told Lord Williams that his story was true, "up to a point".)
- 9:27 AM, 5 February 2015
Updates:  If this story is correct, Williams was traveling with three NBC staffers, so I may have off by one or two.

Erik Wemple agrees with me that the NBC crew must have known the story Williams was telling was false.  According to Variety, Williams may have been told to stop telling the story by NBC executives.
What makes Williams’ admission worse, according to one person familiar with the situation, is that he had been counseled in the past by senior NBC News executives to stop telling the story in public.  The advice, this person said, was not heeded.  One person familiar with current NBC News operations disputed that information.

Williams’ version of the story has never been allowed in NBC News programs, according to three people familiar with the unit.  Indeed, in a March 2003 episode of “Dateline,” Williams described the helicopter trip accurately.  “On the ground, we learned the Chinook ahead of us was almost blown out of the sky,” he said while narrating a report.
There are, we can be sure, reporters checking all those claims, right now.  However, that he had been "counseled" may be impossible to check, since there may not be a record, though, if it happened, I can imagine the executive writing a brief, confidential memo for the record.
- 6:21 PM, 5 February 2015   [link]

"John Kitzhaber Must Resign"  Oregon's largest newspaper, by far, just called for the incumbent Democratic governor to resign.   Those who have been following my posts on the governor's fiancée, Cylvia Hayes, especially the most recent, won't be surprised.

The more recent investigations into her odd combination, being Oregon's "first lady" while operating a business that lobbied the state government — from the governor's mansion — found more conflicts of interest and, possibly, law breaking.  As far as I can tell, these investigations were started by journalists at smaller newspapers, but, to its credit, the "mainstream" Oregonian joined in, and contributed a key piece of the puzzle.
Two longtime associates of Gov. John Kitzhaber helped create jobs for first lady Cylvia Hayes with groups hoping to influence Oregon's state energy policy, The Oregonian/OregonLive has learned.
. . .
One paid her $5,000 a month for five months just after Kitzhaber started his third term as governor.  Greg Wolf, currently Kitzhaber's deputy chief of staff for field implementation, was key in creating the job and recommending Hayes for it just before he joined the administration, according to key participants including Wolf.

Another paid her $118,000 over two years, a fellowship orchestrated by Dan Carol, a Kitzhaber campaign adviser.  He joined Kitzhaber's staff the same month Hayes started collecting on her fellowship.
Those two jobs allowed her to earn significantly more, per month, than Kitzhaber.

Here's the heart of the editorial:
More ugliness may surface, but it should be clear by now to Kitzhaber that his credibility has evaporated to such a degree that he can no longer serve effectively as governor.  If he wants to serve his constituents he should resign.

To recite every reported instance in which Hayes, ostensibly under Kitzhaber's watchful eye, has used public resources, including public employee time and her "first lady" title, in pursuit of professional gain would require far more space than we have here and, besides, repeat what most readers already know.  Suffice it to say there's a pattern, and the person who bears the responsibility for allowing it to form and persist is Kitzhaber, who should know better.  After all, as he pointed out during Friday's press conference, he's been serving in public office on and off since the 1970s.
The Oregonian is not sure how much Kitzhaber knew about all her activities, and the blatant conflicts of interest.  Kitzhaber may be more a fool in love than a knave.  Either way, he should, they think, resign.

(Inquiring minds may want to know:

What were their love lives like before they met?   Complex.   (She's been married three times, he twice.)

Did the Oregonian endorse Kitzhaber in 2014?   Yes.

What kind of advice was Hayes giving Kitzhaber?  Her posts at this news site will probably give you a good idea.)
- 7:35 AM, 5 February 2015   [link]

The Huffington Post Has Had Two Positions On Vaccines:  For years, they gave space to vaccine opponents, when that was cool;  Now that it is cool to attack Republican politicians for being insufficiently pro-vaccine, they are screamingly pro-vaccine.
On its front page Tuesday morning, the Huffington Post's headline screamed "Vaccine Vacillators."  Below was a picture of Sen. Rand Paul and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, with links below to several stories about how experts are alarmed, measles outbreaks are skyrocketing, and so on.
. . .
But [Huffington Post associate editor Igor] Bobic somehow forgot to mention that the Huffington Post itself had for years basically led the crusade against measles vaccines by providing a prominent platform for scaremongers who claimed the vaccine was behind the rise in autism.  Nor does the story mention that the Huffington Post has been repeatedly called on this irresponsible journalism.
The Investor's Business Daily is right, of course.  I glance at the Huffington Post about every other day and have noticed that they regularly give space to anti-science "New Age" ideas, including space to vaccine opponents.  But they don't even mention that in articles like this one by Jonathan Cohn, attacking Rand Paul.

(By the way, if you read some of the comments, you'll see that the campaign against Republicans on this issue has succeeded with some people.)
- 7:49 AM, 4 February 2015   [link]

Green Packages Of Raisins:  And now for a lighter subject, and a lesson that a few of you may even find useful.  A few days ago I was in a Fred Meyer supermarket, looking for one of the items on my list, raisins.  Since I don't know of any differences between brands like Sun-Maid and the store brands, I was looking on the bottom shelf for the cheaper store brand.  There I saw a green cardboard canister with a picture of green grapes on it.

For a minute or so, I assumed that couldn't be a container of raisins, and kept looking.  But then, not finding what I was looking for, I came back to the canister, read the label, and discovered that, despite appearances, it was a package of raisins.

So why were the raisins in such a confusing package?  I don't know, but I do have a theory.  As almost everyone knows, the store brands are often produced by the companies selling the more expensive national brands.

This doesn't make the national brands happy, of course, but usually there is enough competition so that the big supermarket chains — and Fred Meyer is now a subsidiary of Kroger — can get the store brands supplied to them, often in packages that resemble the original.

But suppose a supplier, Sun-Maid for instance, controlled so much of the supply that they could set conditions, that for instance they could require the stores to accept store brand packages that didn't look anything at all like the national brand packages.

And that explains, I think, those green canisters of raisins.  The raisins taste fine, by the way.
- 7:42 PM, 3 February 2015   [link]

Worth Study:  Michael Doran's longish essay, "Obama's Secret Iran Strategy".

Very briefly, Doran argues that Obama has a consistent picture of the world, and that, as part of that picture, he believes that an agreement with Iran that turns them into a de facto American partner is possible — and highly desirable.  He has been pursuing that agreement, mostly in secret, since the beginning of his presidency.

Obama has pursued that strategy, despite persistent failures, with his usual political tactics.
Meanwhile, the president is depicting his congressional critics as irresponsible warmongers.   He would have us believe that there are only two options: his undeclared détente with Iran and yet another war in the Middle East.  This is a false choice.  It ignores the one policy that every president since Jimmy Carter has pursued till now: vigorous containment on all fronts, not just in the nuclear arena.  Obama, however, is intent on obscuring this option, and for a simple reason: an honest debate about it would force him to come clean with the American people and admit the depth of his commitment to the strategy whose grim results are multiplying by the day.

As a matter of ideology as much as strategy, Obama believes that integrating Iran into the international diplomatic and economic system is a much more effective method of moderating its aggressive behavior than applying more pressure.  Contrary to logic, and to all the accumulated evidence before and since the November 2013 interim agreement, he appears also to believe that his method is working.
Others disagree.  It may not be entirely coincidental that the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists — which is not a conservative publication — has moved its "Doomsday Clock" forward twice during Obama's presidency, after moving it back one minute in 2010.

Ideologies are, among other things, theories about how the world works.  A sophisticated statesman will recognize that his ideology is, at best, only partially correct, and that it must be tested, again and again, against the facts.  Even Jimmy Carter recognized, after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, that he had misjudged the Soviets, and changed policies (and to some extent his ideology) to fit the facts.  Obama appears all too willing to ignore any facts that do not fit his ideology, while presenting himself, again and again, as a pragmatist.

Sometimes this makes me feel as if I were a passenger in an airplane flown by a pilot who has confused the pretty display from a video game with the dangers he could see, if only he would look out of his cockpit.

(For the record:  The BAS did not mention Iran's growing nuclear capability in those two moves, but they must be aware of them, since in 2012 they mentioned the "potential for regional nuclear conflict".

Doran essay by way of Neo-Neocon.)
- 7:06 PM, 3 February 2015   [link]

Maybe That Russell Wilson Pass Play Wasn't The Worst Call, Ever:  Tom Maguire links to this analysis..
You might argue that the logic there doesn’t include the danger of throwing the football and the downside of an interception, and that’s true, but there are negative possibilities in every play call.  In fact, this season it was more dangerous to run the football from the 1-yard line than it was to throw it.  Before Sunday, NFL teams had thrown the ball 108 times on the opposing team’s 1-yard line this season.  Those passes had produced 66 touchdowns (a success rate of 61.1 percent, down to 59.5 percent when you throw in three sacks) and zero interceptions.  The 223 running plays had generated 129 touchdowns (a 57.8 percent success rate) and two turnovers on fumbles.

Stretch that out to five years and the numbers make runs slightly superior; they scored 54.1 percent of the time and resulted in turnovers 1.5 percent of the time, while passes got the ball into the end zone 50.1 percent of the time and resulted in turnovers 1.9 percent of the time.  In a vacuum, the decision between running and passing on the 1-yard line is hardly indefensible, because both the risk and the reward are roughly similar.
Bill Barnwell then argues that the Seahawks-Patriots match-ups made a run the better play.   Perhaps, but as any game theorist can tell you, it is a mistake to always choose the highest probability play, because that makes you too predictable.

(Those who are serious about this kind of analysis will want to read the whole piece, especially the part explaining why the Seattle coaches might be especially sensitive to time management.)

Jayson Jenks of the Seattle Times looked at what the Seahawks had done in similar short-yardage situations and found similar results; Marshawn Lynch had scored 5 of 11 times when running at the three-yard line, or closer.   Russell Wilson had passed for touchdowns 2 of 6 times in similar situations.

(The statistics are not quite comparable because Barnwell was looking at attempts from 1 yard or less, and Jenks was looking at attempts from 3 yards or less.)

There was one short-yardage alternative that worked both times the Seahawks tried it:
Wilson carried the ball twice.  He scored touchdowns on zone-read plays in which he faked a handoff to Lynch, then pulled the ball back and took off running.  He scored untouched both times.
The numbers are so small for the Seattle plays, that it would be a mistake to infer too much from them.

But I am willing to go this far:  That play call was not obviously the worst, ever.

And I will end with this bit of speculation.  A pass play may have been about as likely to succeed as a run play, but it may be that the Seahawks should have called a different pass play.

It looked to me as if Wilson had to see too many players on that play — which would make it far more likely that he would miss one or more of the defenders.  (Actual football experts should feel free to tell me why I am wrong on that point, if they think I am.)
- 1:29 PM, 3 February 2015   [link]

Tired Of Long Lines?  So is Venezuela's, uh, leader, Nicolás Maduro.   And he's doing something about them.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro says the owners of an unnamed chain of shops have been arrested for artificially creating long queues.
That will teach them.

For general background, see this post; for specifics on the arrests, see this post.

How can a nation with the oil wealth of Venezuela have continuing shortages of essentials?   By having a government with spectacular levels of both corruption and mismanagement.

The government is trying — with how much success is unclear to me — to blame their failures on Venezuelan businesses, and, of course, outsiders.

(That pause before "leader" is because I don't have an appropriate informal title for President Maduro.  Formally, he is president of Venezuela, but in many ways — for example, jailing political opponents — he has been acting more like a dictator.   I considered merging the two, president and dictator, but the obvious mergers are crude.)
- 9:54 AM, 3 February 2015   [link]

Mayor Lutfur Rahman's Private Trial:  The Muslim mayor of Tower Hamlets, a London borough, has had a most eventful life.   He was brought from what is now Bangladesh as a child, and went through English schools, becoming a lawyer, and eventually a partner in a law firm.  He went into politics, joined the Labour Party and rose, becoming the Labour Party's candidate to be the first elected mayor of Tower Hamlets.

However, on learning of his connections to the Islamic Forum of Europe and hearing accusations of vote fraud in the selection process, Labour de-selected him.

He ran as an independent and won, fairly easily, in the 2010 election, against divided opposition.  He was re-elected, though not as easily, in 2014.

His time in office was marked — opponents would say marred — by accusations of vote fraud and corruption.  He has never been charged by the government, but the national government has sent in commissioners to oversee the borough's grants.

He has not been charged with vote fraud by the police, who say they have investigated and found that most of the charges against him are unsubstantiated.  (Given the public evidence against him, that seems surprising.)

However, British law (specifically the 1983 Representation of the People Act) allows private citizens to bring charges in vote fraud cases, and four of them, after the 2014 election, did just that.  (The four have to pay the costs of the trial.)  The trial began on Monday.

You can read accounts of the trial from the Guardian, the BBC, Breitbart, and the Daily Mail.   (The last has by far the most details.)

Andrew Gilligan, a long-time opponent of Rahman, gives us a preview of some of the forensic evidence against Rahman and his associates.
Forensic examination of postal votes cast for the extremist-linked mayor of Tower Hamlets, Lutfur Rahman, has shown that many appear to have been forged.

The evidence, from an independent forensic scientist agreed by Mr Rahman himself, will form the centrepiece of a rare election fraud trial opening at the High Court on Monday.  Directly or through people working for him, Mr Rahman is accused of “corrupt and illegal practices” during his controversial re-election last May, including filling out other people’s ballot papers, ghost voting, ballot-paper tampering, smearing his Labour opponent as a racist, paying canvassers, intimidation and bribery.
(The column shows what a document expert can do, especially when looking at the work of careless forgers.)

I expect to have more on this trial in future posts.

(Here's an earlier post on Tower Hamlet, and here's a general post on the British problems with postal ballots, or as we would call them, absentee ballots.)
- 8:13 AM, 3 February 2015   [link]

Here's Wishing Michael Medved A Speedy And Complete Recovery:   On Friday, the author and talk show host explained why he had to take some time off.

Popular conservative radio host Michael Medved has stage three throat cancer, and is taking a leave of absence while undergoing treatment.

He told listeners that he had been undergoing chemo and radiation therapy while doing his show, but that his voice no longer allowed that.  (I am more than a little amazed that he carried on as long as he did.)

Medved says that his prognosis is good, so there is reason to hope that he will live and will soon be well.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 9:02 AM, 2 February 2015   [link]

For Those Who Need A Transition from yesterday's game (or just need a laugh on a Monday morning), here's a recent New Yorker cartoon.

And, if you are ready to get back to politics, here's the latest Michael Ramirez cartoon, which I found just as funny.  (Obama fans may have a different reaction.)
- 8:35 AM, 2 February 2015   [link]

Fans All Over The Northwest Are Mourning The Seahawks' Loss, finding it "heartbreaking" and blaming the "worst call ever" for the interception that ended the team's chance to repeat.

If you live in the Seahawks area — Alaska, Washington, most of Oregon and Idaho — or just know someone from there, you may want to be more gentle with them for the next few days.

(You don't have to be more gentle with me.  As I have mentioned before, I am that contradictory kind of person, a "mild fan" of our professional teams.  I like it when they win, but am not much bothered when they lose.  I was annoyed by the ugly ending of yesterday's game, which didn't fit what had been an entertaining game up to that point.

For the record:  I was surprised by that call, but I have no idea what the odds were that it would succeed, which is the key point.  It did surprise me a little that the team chose to pass rather than run, because a run would use up more time than a pass.)
- 7:18 AM, 2 February 2015   [link]

Smallest Margin Of Loss To Kansas City?  This weekend's Wall Street Journal includes an article on one of those Super Bowl indicators that seem vaguely plausible.

One team beat both Super Bowl teams in the regular season, something that has happened 17 times before.
Potentially, that’s a large enough sample size to produce a pattern worth considering.  Is margin of loss to their shared conqueror in any way predictive of Super Bowl outcome?  As it turns out, in two of the 17 previous cases, the margin of loss was identical.  In the 15 cases where it wasn’t, the Super Bowl teams with the larger margin of loss have a record of 4-11.
Seattle lost to Kansas City 24-20; New England lost to Kansas City 41-14.

It is not hard, even for someone who knows as little about football as I do, to construct a theory that fits that pattern.

But I think this general warning is appropriate, before you do:  Literally tens of thousands of people have been looking for patterns like that.  Some of those will find patterns, through sheer chance, and a few of them will publish the patterns they find.

So, as the article says, "this insight doesn’t warrant mortgaging the house for a bet on Sunday’s game".  Or maybe even betting the egg money on it.
- 3:02 PM, 1 February 2015   [link]