February 2016, Part 1

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Cam Newton Didn't Just Lose The Super Bowl Yesterday:  He also lost money, thanks to California's "jock tax".

The details are complex, so I'll skip over them to the bottom line.
Newton will pay California 86.3% of his Super Bowl earnings if the Panthers win.  Losing means his effective tax rate will be a whopping 172.2%.  Oh yeah, he will also pay the IRS 40.5% on his earnings.
No wonder he was looking unhappy at the end of the game.

Most politiicans love these "jock taxes", because the people taxed are almost never in a position to vote against the politicians.  It's an lamost pure case of taxation without representation.

Governor Jerry Brown should at least send Newton and his team mates thank you notes.

(Since they are part of a state's income tax system, I assume they don't apply in states, such as Washington, that don't have income taxes.)
- 1:54 PM, 8 February 2016   [link]

They Did The Coin Flip Wrong:  Yesterday, I watched most of the Super Bowl (which lived down to my expectations) and noticed that they were doing the coin flip wrong.

The coin flip should be called while the coin is in the air to prevent the person flipping it from determining the outcome.  (The coin turns over so few times that it is not hard to control which side will land up, with a little practice.)  If it is called in the air, the person flipping it can still determine the winner, but he would have to know in advance what the call would be.

And it should be flipped much higher, to increase the number of rotations, making it harder to control the outcome.

(There is a better way to use a coin, if you want almost random outcomes.  Instead of flipping it, stand the coin on edge on a hard surface — this is easier to do with larger coins — and then spin it.  If you do that carefully, it will spin so many times, that it would be much harder to control the outcome than in a standard coin flip.

Am I suggesting that Hillary Clinton's people controlled some of those coin flips in the Iowa caucuses?  No, but i do think it possible, and fairly easy if the coin flips were done in the same way they were done in yesterday's Super Bowl.)
- 9:31 AM, 8 February 2016   [link]

Andrew Malcolm's Latest Collection of jokes

Malcolm liked this one best:
Conan: Donald Trump praised the Bible, saying “There’s nothing like it.” Of course, Trump changed his mind the minute he found out the book is full of Middle Easterners
I preferred these two:
Conan: Super Bowl 50 was weird when they did the coin toss before the big game, and the winner was still somehow Hillary Clinton.

Meyers: Bernie Sanders talks very loudly, like he always has a bad phone connection.   “No, I said milk!  I want you to pick up some milk!  And break up the big banks!”
(Malcolm was doing these weekly, but has switched to almost daily jokes on Twitter and "occasional" collections.)
- 9:04 AM, 8 February 2016   [link]

Fingernail Drives?  Included in my last Amazon order was a USB drive, of the kind that are often called "thumb drives", because in the past they were often about the size and shape of a thumb.  (I plan to use if for back-ups, and transferring files between computers.)

I didn't pay much attention to the choice, just looked for a 3.0 speed drive with more than enough space, from a company I'd heard of before.

So I was a little startled when it arrived, and I saw how small it is.  One side has about the same area as one of my fingernails — and I don't have especially big hands.  It's thicker than a fingernail, but only because the standard USB connector has to be thicker to fit in a standard USB slots.

Now I am going to have to be extra careful not to lose it, perhaps keeping it an a little dish on my desk.

(On a more serious note:  These little drives are probably driving security people nuts, since they are so easy to conceal, and so easy to copy sensitive files on to.  As I've said before, people with classified material on their PCs should consider having all USB ports sealed.  Or buying PCs without USB ports, assuming they are available.)
- 2:58 PM, 6 February 2016   [link]

Here's A Far-Sighted Campaign Platform:  While looking through a Sidney Harris cartoon collection, I ran across a cartoon showing a congressional candidate making this argument for electing him:
"Our sun is more than four billion years old, and has already reached about half its like expectancy.  It is now time to plan for the future of mankind, and a positive first step is the election of someone who is willing to face this vital problem . . . "
Incidentally, there are some thinkers who have been worrying about this problem for years, though I don't know of any who have run for Congress on that platform.

(I can imagine Newt Gingrich getting interested in it, though even Gingrich is too practical a politician to make it a big part of a campaign.  Physicist Stephen Hawking might be interested, though, as I understand it, he is far more concerned about more immediate problems, disasters that might hit us in the next thousand years.)
- 10:37 AM, 6 February 2016   [link]

British Bettors Turned Sharply against Trump this week.
On Monday Trump was a 50% shot on Betfair to be Republican nominee.  That's now 23.5%
Do take a look at the chart, which is remarkable.

Reminder:  :At this stage in the election cycle, I prefer betting markets to polls for primaries, and economic models to both for the general election.  Not that any of the three are very good at this stage, but the betting markets and the models are less bad than the polls.

Incidentally, at those Monday odds, I would have bet against Trump.

(Here's the Wikipedia article on Betfair.)
- 3:51 PM, 5 February 2016   [link]

Why Did Goldman Sachs Give Hillary Clinton $675,000?  (Directly, and, no doubt, more indirectly.)

The Wall Street Journal explains:
The long-standing arrangement between Democrats and financial giants like Goldman is that the politicians collect money and get to pose as populists by publicly attacking the big banks, and in return the big banks enjoy high regulatory barriers that prevent smaller firms from competing with them.  New York Sen. Chuck Schumer has perfected this bargain, which may have reached its zenith with the Dodd-Frank law of 2010, which brought Wall Street giants and Washington into a historically intimate embrace.

Yes, Wall Streeters love to complain about Dodd-Frank, but they also know it virtually ensures that no upstart finance company in the Midwest is going to challenge Goldman’s position in global finance.  “More intense regulatory and technology requirements have raised the barriers to entry higher than at any other time in modern history,” said Goldman CEO Lloyd Blankfein last year.  “This is an expensive business to be in, if you don’t have the market share in scale.”
(Emphasis added.)

Increased regulation almost always helps larger firms compete against their smaller rivals, so it shouldn't surprise us that those larger firms benefit from regulations they may have opposed, publicly.

No doubt the folks at Goldman Sachs don't believe what Clinton is now saying about being mean to the big banks, just as many economists don't believe what she is saying about free trade.

And both groups probably see her as an honest politician — by the definition often attributed to Simon Cameron.

(The Journal doesn't mention this, but they could:  Big banks invested a lot of money in Obama in the 2008 election and it has worked out reasonably well for them; their profits are up and, although =many have had to pay fines, few leaders have had to worry about prosecutions.)
- 8:39 AM, 5 February 2016   [link]

Pepper And Salt Reminds Us that global warming has advantages, too.
- 7:29 AM, 5 February 2016   [link]

Wondering Why The Polls Were Wrong, Wrong, Wrong In Iowa?   (As I warned you they might be.)

Here are some reasonable, if a bit rambling, speculations from Nate Cohn.

Here's what he thinks are the most important factors:
This year, there is extremely strong evidence to support the “late movement” scenario, some evidence to support the likely-voter problem and little evidence to support the sampling problem — even if it can’t be ruled out.
Late deciders are common in caucuses and primaries — and there is very little pollsters can do to poll them accurately.  Similarly, the turnout models that work in one caucus, one year, often fail in the next election, and there is little the polling firms can do about that, either.

All that said, this was one of the biggest misses, ever:
That 10-point swing was enough to make Mr. Trump’s defeat the biggest polling error in an early primary since Hillary Clinton defeated Barack Obama in New Hampshire in 2008.   But even that measure understates the extent that the polls misjudged Mr. Trump’s strength.

Mr. Trump was at 31 percent in the final polls, but finished with just 24 percent. In our data set of early primary polls from New Hampshire and Iowa since 2004, no candidate underperformed the final surveys by as much as Mr. Trump.
Should we conclude from this that Trump's support is overstated, nationally?  Probably not, but we should not see it as particularly stable, or a very good predictor for the primaries.
- 7:11 PM, 4 February 2016   [link]

Comrade Sanders Hasn't Learned Anything At Least Since He Became Mayor Of Burlington:  So says New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, who began covering Sanders in 1981.
I admire Sanders’s passion, his relentless focus on inequality and his consistency.  When he was sworn in as mayor of Burlington, he declared: “The rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer and the millions of families in the middle are gradually sliding out of the middle class and into poverty.”  That has remained his mantra across 35 years
What Kristof quotes is the heart of Marxist doctrine (though Kristof doesn't seem to realize that).

We can go a little further back.  I would say that Sanders has held those views since 1961: that is, 55 years, at least.  (Probably since 1956, judging by his Wikipedia biography.)

One or two things have happened since 1961, the socialist Cambodian genocide, the collapse of the socialist Soviet Union, the economic failure of socialist Cuba, the rise of China, after the nation switched more to markets, and so on.

None of these events have shaken Sanders' Marxist faith — which is simultaneously impressive and depressing, impressive because of his ability to believe in spite of all the evidence around him, depressing because the people of Vermont kept electing him.

It is especially depressing because anyone who bothered to look at the evidence could have seen — since the 19th century — that the data did not support Marx's "scientific" theory.  In fact, one of Marx's followers, Eduard Bernstein, broke with Marx in part because of those failures.

Bernstein was closer to the truth than Marx in many ways, but that hasn't affected the beliefs of people like Comrade Sanders.

(Kristof is honest enough to note that Sanders hasn't accomplished much in all his years in Congress.

I was amused to learn that young supporters of Sanders often sing the Beetles song, "Revolution", not realizing that it is not pro-revolution.)
- 3:08 PM, 4 February 2016   [link]

Speaking of Movies, here's a bargain I ran across on Amazon three days ago: two great movies, "Casablanca" and "African Queen", for just $13.89.

(I was ordering a Blu-ray player and realized that I didn't have any test disks, so I was searching for a movie that I could stand watching — I'm not very good at watching movies or TV — and ran across this pair of classics.  At a bargain price.)
- 11:09 AM, 4 February 2016   [link]

Donald Trump As Norma Desmond?  Never having seen "Sunset Boulevard", the comparison didn't occur to me.

But the New York Daily News found some uncanny resemblances between what Trump says, and what the "washed up" star, Norma Desmond, says in the movie.

Donald Trump, on 2016 Twitter: “Sorry losers and haters, but my I.Q. is one of the highest — and you all know it! Please don’t feel so stupid or insecure, it’s not your fault.”

Norma Desmond: “Shut up, I’m rich! I’m richer than all this new Hollywood trash! I’ve got a million dollars."
. . .
Donald Trump: “The media has not covered my long-shot great finish in Iowa fairly.   Brought in record voters and got second highest vote total in history!”

Norma Desmond: “There once was a time in this business when I had the eyes of the whole world!  But that wasn’t good enough for them, oh no!”
This comparison isn't going to please Trump, or his fans, but it struck me as too funny not to pass on.
- 10:53 AM, 4 February 2016   [link]

Today's New Yorker Cartoon is pretty good — but left me wondering what they had been talking about before that question.
- 5:51 AM, 4 February 2016   [link]

Venus Flytraps Can Count!?  They don't look as if they could, since they don't have fingers.

Venus flytrap

But this New York Times article says they can.
When an insect lands and bumps into trigger hairs on the surface of these leaves, the trap closes.   As digestive enzymes seep into the trap, it becomes what Dr. Hedrich calls a “green stomach,” and the prey is gradually turned into a nourishing soup.

Scientists knew that an insect had to bump the trigger hairs more than once to cause the trap to shut, presumably to avoid wasting energy by responding to random raindrops and windblown debris.

In the recent experiment, researchers studied how the plant was responding to movement of the trigger hairs, and determined that it was counting electrical pulses from them.
I suppose it depends on how you define "counting".  It's still an interesting finding, even if you think calling it counting is going a little too far.

(Back in September, I noted that some scientists suspect the plant has acquired some insect genes, presumably from prey.)
- 12:57 PM, 3 February 2016   [link]

If You Have Wondered Why I Routinely Warn You about political articles in Wikipedia, take a look at this entertaining and instructive New York Times article, "On Wikipedia, Donald Trump Reigns and Facts Are Open to Debate".

Two samples:
Ted Cruz’s birthplace became a presidential campaign issue last month when Donald J. Trump added it to his tool belt of attacks.

But it was hardly news to the readers and volunteer editors of Mr. Cruz’s Wikipedia page, where mentions of his Canadian birth have been added to, deleted or modified more than 600 times since 2009.
. . .
The online encyclopedia famously allows the public to edit it, but it also publishes reams of data about itself: about what articles used to say, who added or deleted passages and how many people read the articles.

Page-view statistics, for example, show that on some primary days, Wikipedia may be able to predict the winner.
Which is a lot cheaper than doing a formal poll.

There's much more, including the pictures of Donald Trump the contributors were fighting over.

(Here's my rule of thumb:  You can trust most scientific articles on Wikipedia — unless they are on some politically-charged subject, such as global warming.  Simple facts such as dates of births are usually correct in the political articles, but you should distrust and try to verify other claims.  Sometimes you will find that a footnoted source does not say what the text claims it says.  Historical articles tend to be in between, more trustworthy than political articles, but less so than scientific articles.)
- 9:34 AM, 3 February 2016   [link]

Can We Call Him Comrade?  Of course we can; it's still a mostly free country.

But let me put the question more precisely:  Is it fair to call presidential candidate Bernie Sanders "Comrade"?.  In the past, most journalists would have said no, that calling him "Comrade" implied he was a Communist.

But socialists of the non-communist variety often used "Comrade", too, and in the past socialist Sanders has shown a dismaying sympathy for Communist movements, and even Communist dictatorships.  He has not, to the best of my knowledge, ever said he was wrong then, and has since changed his mind.

And Sanders does, in his standard campaign speech, call for a "revolution" in America, mostly peaceful perhaps, though he doesn't add that adjective in the speeches I've heard.

So I do think it is fair to call him Comrade, Comrade Sanders if we are being formal, Comrade Bernie if we are being informal.

(Vermont is a small state, and so you could say that Sanders had Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn as a neighbor from 1976 to 1994.  As far as I know, Sanders never even attempted to meet his famous neighbor during all those years.

It would be great, by the way, if a "mainstream" reporter were to ask Comrade Sanders whether he had tried to meet the famous author and, if hot, why not.)
- 8:58 AM, 3 February 2016   [link]

Worth Reading:  Today's Washington Post editorial on another Obama foreign policy failure, his opening to Cuba.
Yet there is scant evidence so far of a sea change in Cuba — perhaps because Mr. Obama continues to offer the Castro regime unilateral concessions requiring nothing in return.  Since the United States has placed no human rights conditions on the opening, the Castro regime continues to systematically engage in arbitrary detention of dissidents and others who speak up for democracy.  In fact, detentions have spiked in recent months.  The state continues to monopolize radio, television and newspapers.
Ordinary Cubans are, if anything, worse off because of that opening — and I can't think of a single gain for the United States, from it.

By way of John Hinderaker, who thinks that:  "The purpose of Obama’s deal with the Castros was to prop them up and keep them in power."

I wouldn't go that far; instead, I think that Obama wanted the opening to Cuba because he thinks it is the right thing to do, almost regardless of the consequences to ordinary Cubans.   (Obama probably does hope that the Cuban regime will soften over time, as he says he does.)
- 1:28 PM, 2 February 2016   [link]


Donald Trump

Okay, I won't do that again — but I couldn't resist after all Trump's trash talking, and last night's second place finish in Iowa.
- 12:29 PM, 2 February 2016   [link]

This Year, Gallup Decided Not To Poll The Primaries:  I think it's likely that one of the reasons for that decision is that it has always been hard to poll primaries, and it has gotten even harder in recent elections.  (And, of course it is even harder to poll caucuses.)

So, having warned you that the polls for the Iowa caucuses may not be absolutely on target, here's the poll data for the Republicans and the Democrats.

Note, please, that there is good reason to expect a fair amount of the tactical voting in the Republican race — but that it isn't obvious how that will affect the results.

And, just to complicate things further, the snow storm that is approaching Iowa might affect the results — and we can be nearly certain that one or more losing candidates will use it as an excuse.

I'm not the only one who doesn't know what to make of these polls; you'll notice that FiveThirtyEighty is not exactly making a clear prediction in the Democratic race.

(Here's a whole set of reactions to Gallup's decision.)
- 4:04 PM, 1 February 2016   [link]

The NYT Complains About Iowa in today's lead editorial.
Small and mostly rural, overwhelmingly white and unusually religious, Iowa is not a microcosm of America.  But it’s the undeniable birthplace of political success stories that few saw coming.  From Jimmy Carter to Barack Obama, Iowa’s esoteric caucus system is a crucible where a long shot without much money and a lot of time to shake hands can make it onto the nation’s radar screen.
(Emphasis added.)

Actually, Iowa hasn't been "mostly rural" for decades.
Iowa's population is more urban than rural, with 61 percent living in urban areas in 2000, a trend that began in the early 20th century.[60]  Urban counties in Iowa grew 8.5% from 2000 to 2008, while rural counties declined by 4.2%.[75]   The shift from rural to urban has caused population increases in more urbanized counties such as Dallas, Johnson, Linn, Polk, and Scott, at the expense of more rural counties.[76]
If we extrapolate from those numbers, we might guess that Iowa is about two-thirds urban, now — but that news hasn't reached the editors at the Times.

It is true that Iowa is different from the rest of the United States in many ways — and one of those ways is that the level of what you might call "civic virtue" is exceptionally high in Iowa.  Voters there are more likely to be good citizens, more likely to try to vote for what is best for the nation.

So I don't mind them going first.

(But I do worry about choosing someone from Iowa as secretary of state.  For that position, I prefer someone who grew up in a tough neighborhood, a place where you could not trust many of your neighbors.

Is "crucible" an appropriate metaphor for the Iowa caucuses?  No, as you can see immediately if you try to visualize it.)
- 8:20 AM, 1 February 2016   [link]

Today's New Yorker Cartoon is a touch macabre, but still funny — I think.
- 7:36 AM, 1 February 2016   [link]