Archive:

February 2016, Part 3

Jim Miller on Politics




Pseudo-Random Thoughts



President Obama Proposes Closing Guantánamo, One More Tune:  (If you somehow missed that story, you can find a detailed account of his efforts to close it, in this very opinionated article by Charlie Savage and Julie Hirschfeld Davis.)

Let me begin by asking a question that may seem a little silly:  Are we at war with ISIS, al Qaeda. and their allies?

I suspect that, if I were to ask you that question in person, about 90 percent of you would give me a dubious look, say yes, and then ask me why I was asking that question.   (The remaining ten percent would find some polite way to answer the question, without giving me one of those looks.)  But I have a reason for asking that question, which I will come back to.

If we are at war, then certain things follow.  Assuming we want to win the war*, then we will want to defeat our terrorist enemies and we will recognize that we are usually better off if we can capture them, rather than killing them.  If we capture them, we can ask them questions, and often get useful intelligence.  And, as anyone who has read a little military history can tell you, enemies that surrender almost always weaken the morale of those who are still fighting.  (That would be especially true when many of those enemies are actually seeking martyrdom.)

After you capture them, you almost always want to keep them for the duration of the war.  And if that means for decades, because the terrorists refuse to end the war, that's their fault, not ours.

The average boy in a high school ROTC class would understand that logic.

But — and now I come back to the reason that I asked that silly question — Obama, and many of his followers, don't accept that logic.  They will, if pressed, admit that we are at war, but they are unwilling to act as if we are at war.


This may not make sense to you or me, but it can make sense to someone who sees the world, only through the eyes of a lawyer.

President Obama is a lawyer, married to a lawyer.  For much of his time in office, his National Security Advisor was Tom Donilon, a lawyer.

(*I have often wondered whether President Obama would prefer to end these wars with a negotiated settlement, rather than win them.)
- 10:53 AM, 24 February 2016
To be more precise, I should have said that Obama, and the others who see this conflict through the eyes of lawyers, see many of the terrorists at Guantánamo as men who have been arrested — but not even formally charged.
- 9:17 AM, 25 February 2016   [link]


Evo Morales Lost His Bid for a fourth term:
Bolivian President Evo Morales was dealt a stinging defeat by millions of voters who rejected his plan to change the constitution and run for office again in a referendum closely watched by Latin America’s left as its power wanes in the region.

Fifty-three hours after voting ended, the agency released results confirming a narrow “No” victory. It said that 51.3% voted against the constitutional amendment and 48.7% voted for it in Sunday’s referendum.  The agency said it had counted 99.7% of the ballots.

The result is a major upset for Mr. Morales, who said last month that he expected to win in a landslide.  After early voting results showed he could lose, Mr. Morales maintained hope that he could still squeak out a victory with a surge in rural support.  He said Monday that he would respect the outcome of the referendum.
Ryan Dube goes on to discuss why left-wing governments in Latin America have suffered election defeats in Venezuela, Argentina, and now Bolivia.  From what I can tell, the causes vary from country to country, although in each of them corruption was one of the reasons for the defeat.  (It seems likely that the leftist government in Brazil will not survive its massive corruption scandal.)

(Wikipedia has the actual numbers for the referendum.

Credit where due:  The exit polls appear to have been quite accurate.

The Journal article was he best I could find in my search, the most informative by far, and balanced enough so that I could not tell, for certain, which side Dube favored.)
- 7:18 AM, 24 February 2016   [link]


The Daily Mail Couldn't Resist running this story one more time.
Meerkat expert is cleared of assaulting monkey handler with wine glass in London Zoo Christmas party catfight over man who looked after the llamas
And I couldn't resist linking to it, at least once, just for that headline.

(I do hope the two ladies are able to get along better in the future.  Or avoid each other, if they can't.)
- 6:07 AM, 24 February 2016   [link]


Is Donald Trump French?  Oh, I.m pretty sure he isn't a French citizen — though he seems so interested in such matters that I do wonder from time to time.  He probably isn't even of French descent, since "Trump" is a Dutch name, and his mother was from Scotland.

But then John Kerry isn't French, but many wondered whether he was too inspired by French thinking when he ran for president in 2004.

When I look at Trump's economic ideas ideas, they remind me of the very French dirigisme:
. . . an economic system where the state exerts a strong directive influence over investment.  It designates a capitalist economy with a strong directive, as opposed to a merely regulatory role for the state.[1]
To the extent that there is a coherent structure to Trump's economic ideas, that's a pretty good description of them, don't you think?

And Trump shares some qualities of a Frenchman who was famous in the 1950s, Pierre Poujade, a populist who didn't think much of French legislators:
The movement's "common man" populism led to antiparliamentarism (Poujade called the National Assembly "the biggest brothel in Paris" and the deputies a "pile of rubbish" and "pederasts"), a strong anti-intellectualism (Poujade denounced the graduates from École Polytechnique as the main culprits for the woes of 1950s France and boasted that he had no book learning), xenophobia, and antisemitism especially aimed against Pierre Mendès-France (claiming "Mendès is French only as the word added to his name"), who was perceived as responsible for the loss of Indochina.[4] Poujadism also supported the cause of French Algeria.[5]
It would take just a few minor changes to convert that kind of talk into Trumpisms.
- 2:06 PM, 23 February 2016   [link]


News You May Be Able To Use:  If you are a rat, and want to be smarter as you age.

Gretchen Reynolds reports on a study in which male rats were given three different types of exercise, distance running (on wheels inside their cages), intense running for shorter distances, and weight lifting.

The researchers found that the first type of exercise stimulated the growth of brain cells in the hippocampus more than the second, and that the third had no effect on the hippocampus, although the rats did get much stronger.

The researchers think these findings are probably applicable to humans, which is why the Times headlined the article in its print version:  "For a Happy Hippocampus, Run".

And we all should want to keep our hippocampi happy.

(Two interesting details:  The rats did not have to be forced to run, just given a running wheel.  They typically ran "every day for several miles" — which is a lot, for a rat, I would think.  I can't help but wonder whether they would have run as much it they had been able to see TV programs from inside their cages.)
- 1:13 PM, 23 February 2016   [link]


Anti-Semitism At Oxford:  Specifically, at the Oxford University Labour Club.

I wasn't surprised to learn about the anti-Semitism at Oxford; in fact, I would expect it at a place, like the Labour Club, that would attract many young leftists.

But when I read about it at Guido Fawkes, I was surprised by the crudity of the sentiments expressed.  And so I looked for another source, just to check.
The Labour party’s national student organisation has launched an inquiry into allegations of antisemitic behaviour and intimidation at Oxford University Labour Club.  Ed Miliband, the former Labour leader, who was due to address the club’ s annual John Smith memorial dinner in a few weeks’ time, said he was “deeply disturbed” by the reports and was postponing his appearance until an investigation had been carried out.

A co-chairman of the club, Alex Chalmers, resigned earlier this week, claiming a large proportion of members “have some kind of problem with Jews”.  He alleged that some members had expressed support for the Islamist group Hamas.
The Guardian agreed on the essentials of the story, but left out any description of the more damming incidents, for example:
One member was formally disciplined by their college for organising a group of students to harass a Jewish student and to shout ‘filthy Zionist’ whenever they saw her
We have seen similar incidents at American colleges and universities.  As far as I can tell, anti-Semitism is not as common here as it is in much of Europe, nor is it, usually, quite as openly vile.

(The club says they are opposed to anti-Semitism, and that they will cooperate with the investigation.)
- 10:07 AM, 23 February 2016   [link]


"Adult Books"  That's the sign over a sleazy looking store in a Sidney Harris cartoon.  Near the door is a warning:  "You must be over 18".

We can see a few titles in the window display: "Set Theory", "Monoclonal Antibodies", and "Paleo Geology".

Which all strike me as definitely meant for adults.

(You can find the cartoon is in his collection, "Einstein Simplified".  You may be able to find it at his site, as well.)
- 9:11 AM, 23 February 2016   [link]


The Clash Between Islam And Laïcité In France Has Gotten Worse After The Terror Attacks:  And is making almost everyone more fearful.  Muslims believe they are more often targets of discrimination, employers are beginning to enforce rules they had ignored before, including rules on beard lengths, and the sides are running into conflicts where there may be no room for compromise, in the long run,

For example:
Because they work for a public entity, employees of the RATP, the Paris transport authority, are expressly prohibited from “any behavior or wearing of conspicuous signs that could reveal an affiliation with any religion or philosophy whatsoever.”  Violations of this rule are meant to be subject to disciplinary action, including potential termination.

So when Christophe Salmon, a delegate for CFDT, a leading French labor union, started receiving complaints about a group of male bus drivers who were refusing to address female colleagues or shake their hands, he raised the alarm.  At certain bus depots, he said, some male employees wouldn’t take the wheel of a vehicle that had been previously driven by a woman.

Rather than report the behavior to the authority’s human resource managers, Mr. Salmon said that supervisors simply adjusted the drivers’ schedules and routes to avoid handoffs between women and men.  In one case, Mr. Salmon said, a woman who lived within walking distance of her depot asked to be transferred to a job across town rather than stay and continue to endure the harassment.
Some of the drivers were reprimanded, none were fired.

This shouldn't surprise you:  Sometimes employers don't enforce laws and rules out of fear, fear of radicalizing Muslims, and ordinary physical fear.

(Here's the Wikipedia article on laïcité.)
- 6:34 PM, 22 February 2016   [link]


Too Many Governors, Too Few Governors:  The Republican Party had too many governors in this year's race for the presidency.

At the beginning, there were four governors:  Chris Christie, Bobby Jindal, John Kasich, and Scott Walker.  And five former governors:  Jeb Bush, Jim Gilmore, Mike Huckabee, George Pataki, and Rick Perry.

(In 2000, in contrast, there were only two, Texas Governor George W. Bush, and former Tennessee governor, Lamar Alexander.)

Since they were running on similar platforms — at least as far as most voters could see — they competed with each other and prevented any one of the nine from standing out.  (I am not saying that there weren't important differences, just that the differences would not be obvious to most voters.)

We can't do an experiment and run any of the races over, but take a look at the result in, for instance, New Hampshire, and ask yourself how well John Kasich would have done if none of the other governors had been running.

Given his low negatives, it is certain that he would have at least finished a stronger second, and might actually have won the state.

(I have seen a number of explanations for Jeb Bush's problems, but I haven't seen anyone mention this surplus of governors.)

The Republicans had too many governors, the Democrats had too few.  There were two:  Lincoln Chafee and Martin O'Malley.  Neither seemed like a serious candidate to me, and the voters apparently agreed.

Why didn't other Democratic governors, or former governors, run?  Thanks to Barack Obama there are fewer of them than there once were, but there are still some, notably Jerry Brown of California and Andrew Cuomo of New York.  Each "junior" would have had problems, but each would also have brought strengths to a presidential campaign.

(Though I am not a fan of either man, I think both would be better than the two remaining Democratic candidates, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.)

I think the answer can be summed up in two words:  Identity politics.  If their principal opponent had not been a woman, they might have run, despite Brown's age and despite Cuomo's problems in New York,  (For that matter, either might have run if they were Ann Cuomo or Geraldine Brown.)

(There were other strong Republican governors who might have run in 2000, for instance, John Engler and Tommy Thompson.   I don't know why none of them did.)
- 3:28 PM, 22 February 2016   [link]


A Desire Named Streetcar:  In January, Seattle opened a second streetcar line.  The first, the South Lake Union line, has not been a great success.
A similar free-ride promotion drew more than 3,900 people a day for three weeks in December 2007 when the SLU line opened during the holiday shopping season.   It currently carries around 2,700 on weekdays, losing hundreds who find it quicker to walk.
(Though it did inspire a crude nickname: South Lake Union Trolley.)

The new line, First Hill, will also often be slower than walking, as you can tell from the times, and that U-turn at one end, especially if you include waiting.  Parts of the area are hilly, so some might prefer the streetcar, even though it doesn't save time.

The streetcar will travel on an ordinary street, moving no faster than the rest of the traffic.  I wouldn't be surprised if it actually slows the traffic by its presence.

Now, for me, here's the interesting part:  Seattle voters voted to raise taxes for this and other similar projects.

Why?

Why spend tens of millions of dollars to provide a service that buses can do better, faster, and cheaper?

At one time, I thought this project, and similar projects in the area, could be understood as similar to the cargo cults; Seattle was building fake facilities to attract visitors.

Now I think it is more a case of trying to imitate what the big cities do (or did, in the past).  The voters in Seattle are trying to get respect from London and New York by imitating them.  (As far as I know that hasn't worked.)

Similarly, London put up a large Ferris wheel near the city's center, and, just a few years later, Seattle put up one on its water front.

This tendency to imitate the bigger cities strikes me as unenterprising, and more than a little sad.  At one time, people in Seattle thought they were finding better ways to do things than New York, and all the rest.  Now, despite all the talent here, the people of the region seem content to imitate what was done elsewhere in the 19th and 20th centuries.

(It's my impression that this desire named streetcar is found in many other American cities — which makes it even sadder.)
- 1:57 PM, 22 February 2016   [link]


Did Bolivian President Evo Morales Lose The Referendum allowing him to run for a fourth term?

As of today, it isn't clear.
Tensions rose in Bolivia on Sunday night after a closely fought referendum on whether to allow left-wing Bolivian president Evo Morales to stand for a fourth term went down to the wire.

Following the national vote, surveys suggested Morales may have suffered his biggest election setback in 10 years, but as of midnight the final count was still too narrow to call.
(If it's close, they can cheat.)

Last night, I almost put up a post saying he had probably lost, using a BBC story for my source — but then I reconsidered, because they were relying on two very close exit polls.  If exit polls can be off here in the United States, then they can be off in Bolivia, too.

For now, all we can do is hope that he lost — and, if so, that he accepts his loss.

(There is another reason to think that the exit polls might be off in Bolivia.  Morales's strongest supporters are among the Bolivian Indian tribes, and it is possible that they are less willing to talk to pollsters than other Bolivians.

If you are wondering why I hope he lost, see this post.

Fun fact:  In 2009, Bolivia renamed itself the "Plurinational State of Bolivia" (Estado Plurinacional de Bolivia), in order to reflect the country's diversity,)
- 8:26 AM, 22 February 2016   [link]


Today's "Pepper And Salt" made me chuckle.
- 6:39 AM, 22 February 2016   [link]


Want To Look At Some Numbers On The Presidential Races? Wikipedia has some for the Republicans, and for the Democrats.

Some of you will be wondering what the British bettors think.

As I write — remember these numbers are updated every five minutes — I notice two interesting things:  The British bettors really don't think much of Ted Cruz's chances (2.9% nomination, 1.2% general), and, though they give Marco Rubio a smaller chance of winning the nomination than Donald Trump (43.3% to 47.8%), they give Rubio a higher chance of winning a general election (18.4% to 15.4%).

For what it is worth, I agree that Rubio would have a better chance of winning a general election than Trump, much better.

(You may want to bookmark those articles, if only for their big tables.)
- 6:10 PM, 21 February 2016   [link]


Another Trump Business Failure!?!  Joe Nocera is no fan of Donald Trump as a businessman, and has been chronicling Trump's failures in columns for some time.

Yesterday, Nocera reminded us of some of those failures:
Last year, I wrote several columns about Donald J. Trump’s record as a businessman.  Far from mastering “The Art of the Deal” — the title of his 1987 best seller — Trump made real estate blunders that turned billions in potential profits into mere millions.  His foray into Atlantic City brought him perilously close to personal bankruptcy.  As for all of his claims about owning a sprawling business empire, what he actually runs these days is a licensing company that slaps the Trump name on everything from buildings to steaks to an education company that was sued by New York State in 2013 for “persistent fraudulent, illegal and deceptive conduct.”  My conclusion — and I say this as a grizzled veteran of business journalism — was that Trump’s business acumen (not to mention his net worth) was wildly overstated, not least by Trump himself.  His core business skill is self-promotion.
And then added another failure that Nocera had forgotten:
It occurred to me, though, that there was one episode of his business life I had overlooked.  In 1984 and 1985, Trump owned the New Jersey Generals, who competed in the short-lived United States Football League.  It is worth recalling for what it can tell us about the way Trump makes decisions, hires key people, works (or doesn’t work) for the greater good and so on.  Not to blow the punch line, but it is not much of an exaggeration to say that once Trump got his hands around this promising idea, he basically strangled it.
Nocera doesn't have all of the numbers you would like to see before accepting that argument, but he has enough to make a plausible case for his conclusion.

Nor should it surprise us that a man who has gone through four corporate bankruptcies, and had so many other business failures might have one more.

(Of all his failures, the one that troubles me most is Trump University.)
- 1:31 PM, 21 February 2016   [link]


The Vote In The Pahrump Precinct Was Tied, so they determined the outcome in true Nevada fashion:   "Hillary's ace beat Bernie's six."

(Pahrump has had some famous residents.)
- 9:51 AM, 21 February 2016   [link]


Friday's New Yorker Cartoon puts a twist on an ancient saying.

(It's even more ancient than I would have guessed.)
- 9:32 AM, 21 February 2016   [link]


Manoj Mishra, India's Most Famous Truant Officer:  He's reduced the truancy rate from about 40 percent to about ten percent.

Among the teachers in the rural area where he operates.

It seems many educated Indians would like to have the pay a teacher gets — but don't want to spend much time in the poor villages where many of the schools are located.  And, if you had the right political connections, you could get away with that.

Some missed years, and one teacher actually lived 1,000 miles away from the school where he supposedly taught.  You'd need a jet, preferably a supersonic transport, for that commute.

According to the article, one of the reasons for his success is that the Indian National Congress was recently defeated by the Bharatiya Janata Party.  (The first is often referred to as the Congress Party, the second, by its initials, BJP.)  Political connections that used to work suddenly stopped working.

I have tried to imagine how those village schools operated with those truancy rates — and failed.
- 1:26 PM, 20 February 2016   [link]


Great News On Bananas:  The genetic engineers have produced an enriched banana.
A super-enriched banana genetically engineered to improve the lives of millions of people in Africa will soon have its first human trial, which will test its effect on vitamin A levels, Australian researchers said.

The project plans to have the special banana varieties — enriched with alpha and beta carotene which the body converts to vitamin A — growing in Uganda by 2020.  The bananas are now being sent to the United States, and it is expected that the six-week trial measuring how well they lift vitamin A levels in humans will begin soon.
Tests are now about to begin in that center of scientific agriculture, Iowa.
Iowa State University researchers plan to move ahead this year with a long-delayed project in which a dozen students would be paid to eat genetically modified bananas.

The trial is controversial, because natural-food proponents claim genetically modified foods can be dangerous.  Many mainstream scientists, including those running the ISU project, disagree.
Now that's a great student job, being paid to eat bananas.  And the extra Vitamin A might be good for some of them.

If you are wondering why this is important, take a look at this section of the article on Vitamin A.

(I learned of this advance in an indirect way, by seeing a TV story on activists, some dressed as bananas, protesting these tests.

You can see two earlier posts on another enhanced crop, golden rice, here and here.)
- 1:55 PM, 19 February 2016   [link]


American Air Strike On ISIS In Libya:  The BBC has a restrained description.
US warplanes have carried out attacks on militants from the so-called Islamic State (IS) in Libya, killing at least 38 people.

The strikes hit an IS camp in Sabratha, around 70km (43 miles) west of Tripoli.

US officials said it was "likely" that the strikes had killed senior Tunisian extremist, Noureddine Chouchane.

Chouchane has been linked to two attacks that took place in Tunisia last year, including an attack that killed 30 Britons.
The Daily Mail is less restrained and has more pictures.

This shows the latest change in our policy toward ISIS.  A few months ago, we were at war with ISIS in Iraq and Syria, but not in Afghanistan or Libya.  First, the Obama administration decided we could bomb them in Afghanistan, and now in Libya.

I'm not making that up; we really were, for some time, both at war with ISIS, and not at war, depending on the location.

The Daily Mail adds this interesting tidbit:
British, French and Italian special forces also have been in Libya helping with aerial surveillance, mapping and intelligence gathering in several cities, including Benghazi in the east and Zintan in the west, according to two Libyan military officials who are coordinating with them.
How did US intelligence locate these terrorists?  So far I haven't seen any explanation, but I wouldn't be surprised if we got intelligence from the Tunisian government, from tracing their cell phones, or some combination.

(As I said in December, I'd really like to see some Western power, preferably some other Western power, re-capture the port city of Sirte from the terrorists.

Here's the city, Sabratha, where the air strike took place.  It's about 2600 years old.)
- 11:09 AM, 19 February 2016   [link]


Trump Versus The Pope — And His Own Church:   As I said three weeks ago, writing about Donald Trump is not my favorite chore.

Fortunately, Mollie Hemingway has done most of the hard work and explains what the Pope actually said, and why he shouldn't have said it.  She also notes that Trump's response was, even for him, exceptionally hypocritical.

I'll just add one point:  It is impossible to know exactly what religious beliefs Trump holds.  But we can see what he does and doesn't do.  He claims to be a Presbyterian, but he does not regularly attend a Presbyterian church, and the church he says he does attend, Marble Collegiate, says he is "not an active member".

You can draw your own conclusions from those facts.  (And I hope I don't have to come back to this subject.)

(Whether he is still a formal member of the Presbyterian Church would depend on that denomination's rules, but it seem clear that he is not a formal member of any particular church.)
- 9:48 AM, 19 February 2016   [link]


Today's New Yorker Cartoon Is Surprisingly Appropriate, since it refers to one of Donald Trump's favorite Bible verses.

Well, now that I think about it, maybe not his absolute favorite.  (I assume all of you know that, when asked for his favorite verse, he was unable to come up with an example, not even the shortest one.)
- 9:07 AM, 19 February 2016   [link]


Could The NSA Crack That Terrorist Phone?  Could our National Security Agency break into the Apple iPhone belonging to the San Bernardino terror pair?

I am about to speculate about some technical questions,  I know some of you know more about them than I do and so, if I am wrong — and you can tell me — please do.

As I understand it, the phone is protected by a password.  If a person tries ten wrong guesses in succession, the phone erases the data.  Since you aren't likely to guess it in those ten tries, that simple approach would be unlikely to work.

But a variant of it might.

Suppose you made a copy of the phone — a virtual copy, stored inside a computer,  When your first ten guesses fail, and the virtual iPhone erases the data, you just make another virtual copy, and continue.  To speed the process up, you will probably want tu run many virtual copies in parallel.

(You might also need some special hardware to mimic parts of the phones.)

Eventually, one of the virtual phone programs will guess the password, and unlock the virtual phone.  And there you are.

So, it seems possible to me that the NSA could crack that iPhone, given some time and money.  But I doubt that they would think it worthwhile, and I am certain that they would not want anyone to know they had done so.

(They might think it worthwhile if they were developing a technique they could use many times.

Here's some background from the New York Times.   I didn't see any mistakes in it, but I am far from an expert on this subject.)
- 6:39 PM, 18 February 2016   [link]


Latest British Betting Odds On Our Presidential Election:   They are updated every 5 minutes, so by the time you look at the site, they may have changed.

That said, as I write, the Democratic candidates, Clinton, Sanders, and Biden, together have a 61.4 (51.7 + 8.5 + 1.2) percent chance of being elected president.  Which implies that the Republicans, together, have less than a 39 percent chance, and less than a 37 percent chance, after you allow for Bloomberg's 2.0 percent.

So are the Republican candidates banding together to make sure that one of them can be elected?  Not that I have noticed.

You could argue that you really should add the Bill Clinton Democrat, Donald Trump, to the Democratic side — which would mean that Republicans have less than one chance in four of winning the presidency.

(Four days ago, Professor Althouse noted that Trump doesn't seem to think of himself as a Republican.

For the record:  I think the British bettors are underestimating the Republican chances.)
- 1:07 PM, 18 February 2016   [link]


Since I'm Feeling A Bit Mischievous Today, I'll suggest that President Obama should go ahead and nominate a justice to replace Antonin Scalia — specifically, Miguel Estrada.
Miguel Angel Estrada Castañeda (born September 25, 1961) is an attorney who became embroiled in controversy following his 2001 nomination by President George W. Bush to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.   Senate Democrats, claiming Estrada was a conservative ideologue with no experience as a judge, and unable to block his nomination in the Senate Judiciary Committee after the Republican Party took control of the Senate in 2002, used a filibuster to prevent his nomination from being given a final confirmation vote by the full Senate.
A confirmation vote that Estrada would have won.

I'm not sure what would happen if Obama did make that nomination, but it would be entertaining, with dozens of senators instantly switching their positions.
- 10:07 AM, 18 February 2016   [link]


The Ideological Color Switch In American Politics that occurred around 2000 spoiled many crude, but useful, terms.  In Britain, for example, Ken Livingstone — whose views are similar to those of Bernie Sanders — is often called "Red Ken", as a short way of describing his political beliefs.

But our "mainstream" journalists would be shocked if opponents of Sanders began calling him "Bernie the Red", or even my favorite, "Bernie the Parlor Pink".

(I have long thought that some of the journalists who started using red for Republicans made the switch deliberately, and thought it foolish for Republican activists to go along with the switch.  Having spent some time as a kid learning to hide under a desk from a possible attack by the "Reds", that acceptance seemed bizarre to me.

Once or twice I've seen explanations in the British press for the American color coding, which is the reverse of that found in the rest of the world.)
- 9:38 AM, 18 February 2016   [link]


This New Yorker Cartoon makes a bitter point.

People who believe in secret shadow governments, ruling classes, power elites, establishments, et cetera, often believe that these secretive rulers are at least competent, ill-intentioned perhaps, but competent.

It is easy to understand why people — of all ideological colors — would come to that conclusion.  (Noam Chomsky, who is on the far left, is one of my favorite examples.  He believes, or says he believes, in an American government far more competent and far-sighted than the actual government.  I've often wished that our CIA were as effective as he thinks it is.)   If these rulers are competent, then it is possible to change policies just by changing the rulers, or even by changing the rulers' minds.

On the other hand, if there are no secret rulers, if no one is in charge because, for instance, of Madisonian deadlock, then those easy solutions don't exist.

Which, I'll admit, is no fun at all.
- 8:45 AM, 18 February 2016   [link]


Worth Reading:  Mary Anastasia O'Grady's grim column, "The Bolivia-Jihadist Axis of Cocaine".
A Boko Haram massacre in a northeastern Nigerian village last month captured world-wide attention as it was reported that the terrorists burned children alive.

Far less reported are credible allegations that a key source of funding for Boko Haram and other Islamic extremists is cocaine, produced and exported by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and other drug-smuggling cartels working in concert with the Bolivian government.  This is the same FARC supposedly negotiating a peace agreement with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos—an agreement that would derail its drug-trade gravy train.
I've been wondering for years where Boko Haram got its money, and that seems like a reasonable explanation to me.  (Nigeria's oil production is in the southern part of the country, away from areas controlled by the terrorist organization.)

There are more sensational charges in the column, charges for which O'Grady appears to have solid evidence.

I can, however, end on brighter note than she did.  According to this op-ed in today's New York Times, a "Love Scandal May Doom Bolivian Leader's Push for a Fourth Term".  It isn't that Evo Morales fathered a child out of wedlock, though he did, but that the mother of that child, Gabriela Zapara, appears to have profited from their relationship, thanks to government contracts.  (The child died "shortly after birth".)

The referendum on changing the constitution to allow Morales to run again in 2019 will be held this Sunday.

(Here's the Wikipedia biography of Evo Morales, with more than the usual caveats.)
- 3:45 PM, 17 February 2016   [link]


Which Candidates Scare America The Most?  In order, Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and Bernie Sanders.

USA Today had its pollster ask a somewhat different question:
WASHINGTON — Americans aren't just for or against presidential candidates this year:   Color them scared.

In a national USA TODAY/Suffolk University Poll, likely voters given the choice of four options — enthusiastic, satisfied, dissatisfied or scared — are most inclined to say the prospect of Donald Trump winning the Republican nomination or Hillary Clinton winning the Democratic one would leave them fearful.
. . .
But for Trump, 38% of likely voters would be scared if the real-estate mogul won the GOP nomination — including not only 62% of Democrats but also 17% of Republicans.   A third of independents, 33%, feel that way.  Of the three candidates tested, voters were inclined to have a positive reaction only for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.   Thirty-one percent of those surveyed say they would be satisfied if he won the Democratic nomination, a bit more than the 28% who would be scared.

And for Clinton, a former secretary of State, 33% would be scared — including 60% of Republicans and also 8% of Democrats.  Just over a third of independents, 35%, agree.  Sanders is viewed somewhat more positively by Republicans and independents than Clinton was.  However, Democrats are more likely to be scared his nomination: 45% of Republicans, 28% of independents and 12% of Democrats say that would be their reaction.
All three scare me, though for different reasons.

And I should note that Suffolk did not ask that question about the other candidates.

(You can find the full poll results here, by clicking of the 17 February tab.  Note that — judging only by that poll — if Republicans want to win, they should nominate John Kasich, and should consider making Marco Rubio the vice presidential choice.)
- 1:12 PM, 17 February 2016   [link]


What Made This A National Story?  Let me describe it, abstractly:  A large state university has an expanding student body.  To meet the need for housing, the city where it is located re-zones an area to allow for high-rise student apartments.  A private company builds a high-rise complex, and the students move in.

Soon after, a neighbor begins to complain that the students sometimes throw beer bottles and cans on the neighbor's property.  Once, the thrown cans came close to one of the neighbors.  Another time, someone shouted a nasty insult at one of the neighbors.  And so on.

At this point anyone familiar with American college students will probably be thinking that all of this is, alas, exactly what you should expect when you put a large number of college students in any area.  In fact, anyone familiar with American college students will wonder why there haven't been any after-a-big-victory riots in the area.

The behavior is not admirable, and may deserve legal punishment, but it is not surprising.  So why is it national news?  Why is it important enough so that our newspaper of record runs a whole article> on these minor incidents?

Because the neighbor of those high-rise student apartments in Tucson is a mosque.

Would the Times run the story if the neighbor were a church?  Of course not.  What about a synagogue?  Possibly, but it's unlikely.  An older white man who simply wanted to live a peaceful life?  It's hard to even imagine that.

My little apartment building is on a mostly peaceful street without a lot of traffic.  It is not near any large university.  But I still, from time to time, pick up bottles, cans, and other trash that were thrown on to the property.  And there have been a few unpleasant incident with passers by.

But I never thought these incidents were a national story.

(College towns often have two-tier rental systems, one for the students, and one for everyone else, precisely because of these problems.  And, occasionally, it's a matter of schedules.  College students may find it hard living next to a family with a baby, however well behaved, since the baby will wake up earlier than almost all college students.)
- 10:26 PM, 17 February 2016   [link]


For Sheer Entertainment, it's hard to beat Senator Chuck Schumer's claim that he didn't say what he did say in 2007.
Supreme Court vacancies tend to showcase political consistency—or lack thereof.   So it is amusing to watch how thoroughly New York Senator Chuck Schumer has been reduced to self-parody as he tries to excuse his 2007 demand that Democrats reject, sight unseen, any of George W. Bush’s nominees “if—God forbid—there is another vacancy under this President” during the last 18 months of his Administration.
Perhaps Schumer should quote that famous Groucho Marx Line: "Who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?"

Schumer still has a little way to go before he can match the New York Times on filibusters.  As I recall, they have changed their position on filibusters three times in recent years, always, coincidentally no doubt, in a way that favored Democrats, tactically.
- 6:30 AM, 17 February 2016   [link]