January 2013, Part 4

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

The United States Is Now Tied For Last With Papua New Guinea:  In what, you may wonder, since there would seem to be little resemblance between the US and that impoverished island nation.

In the time it takes to get a permit for a new mine, according to a Daniel McGroarty op-ed in today's Wall Street Journal.

Unfortunately the op-ed is behind their pay wall, but I can quote a few words from it.
. . . American manufacturing is more dependent on metals and minerals access than ever before.  yet there is no country on the planet where it takes longer to get a permit for domestic mining.  Among other consequences of this red tape, there are now 19 strategic metals and minerals for which the U. S. is currently 100% import-dependent — and for 11 of them a single country, China, is among the top three providers.
MGroarty goes on to point out that many of the metals and minerals that we have to import are critical for the new "green" technologies — and for our advanced weapons systems.

We could, he says, mine 18 of those 19 metals and minerals here, if we could get the permits to do so.

If he had more space, he might have added two more points in his op-ed:  The United States has much cleaner and safer mining practices than, for example, countries like China.  And mining creates high paying working class jobs, which we could use more of, right now.
- 7:06 PM, 31 January 2013   [link]

Jay Leno Beats Most "Mainstream" Journalists To The Senator Menendez Prostitute Story:  With a couple of pretty good jokes.

(Caveat:  We should recognize that Menendez's accusers are not necessarily the most reliable people in the world, but we should also recognize that the senator has a long record of scandal, long enough so that some of it even got into his Wikipedia entry.   His principal accusers aren't Girl Scouts, but he isn't a Boy Scout, either.)
- 1:29 PM, 31 January 2013   [link]

Raspberry Pi:  This little computer looks like fun, and a good teaching tool, just as intended.
Raspberry Pi may sound like the name of a math-based dessert.  But it is actually one of the hottest and cheapest little computers in the world right now.  Almost 1 million of these $35 machines have shipped since last February, capturing the imaginations of educators, hobbyists and tinkerers around the world.
It isn't really a $35 computer, since you have to add an SD card for storage, and connect it to a display.  And you are almost certainly going to want a keyboard.  But SD cards are cheap and keyboards inexpensive.  Displays cost more, but many people have a display that can be used with this little computer.  (The display probably should have an HDMI connector, but those are quite common now.)

What can you do with it?  Most of the things you can do with any other PC, though I don't think I would try to edit videos with it.  You can get some ideas of the possibilities from this set of projects.

Here's the official, but very informal, Raspberry Pi site.

(You can buy Raspberry Pis at Amazon, though not yet for list price.  But Amazon might be a good place to pick up a book or two on the little computers.

Here's the somewhat dated Wikipedia article.)
- 12:46 PM, 31 January 2013   [link]

It's Easy To Understand Why This "Activist" doesn't want women to have guns.
- 7:43 AM, 31 January 2013   [link]

Happy Conclusion For MF Global?  Remember MF Global, the firm that Jon Corzine, the former Democratic governor of New Jersey, bankrupted by reckless trading?

You'll be pleased to learn — from the New York Times, no less — that the bankruptcy is coming to a "Happy Conclusion".
On Thursday, a bankruptcy court will review a proposal that would return 93 percent of the missing money to customers like Mr. [Mahesh] Desai.  And the trustee who submitted the proposal, James W. Giddens, has quietly identified a way that, if approved by the judge, could plug the remaining shortfall for customers in the United States, according to people involved in the case.
So Desai and other customers will get most of their money back — if they are in the United States.  (Not all US customers will get all their money back, even in the best case, since some had sold their claims to banks and hedge funds.)

And the employees of MF Global?  Some of the top people stayed to help with the bankruptcy, and will be moving on soon.  And the others?  The reporter, Ben Protess, doesn't mention them.

Investors in MF Global, will, I suppose, lose almost everything, though Protess doesn't mention them, either.

But he does tell us a lot about how Jon Corzine "has started to regain his footing" and is "moving on", which is happy for him, I suppose.  (There is still that "nagging federal investigation" for him to worry about, though Protess hastens to assure us that the investigators are not acting as if they believe that Corzine is guilty of some crime.)

Maybe I am old-fashioned, but I don't see this as a happy conclusion, but rather one that is less unhappy than some feared it would be.  And I don't think that Corzine, after his reckless destruction of this firm, should be able to move on, without paying some kind of penalty.

(I have no opinion on whether Corzine broke any laws, since I don't know much about the laws governing firms like MF Global.  I wouldn't be surprised if he had, and that the authorities have decided, so far, that they don't have enough evidence to convict him.)
- 7:01 AM, 31 January 2013   [link]

Should We Have Been Surprised by this advance estimate?
Real gross domestic product -- the output of goods and services produced by labor and property located in the United States -- decreased at an annual rate of 0.1 percent in the fourth quarter of 2012 (that is, from the third quarter to the fourth quarter), according to the "advance" estimate released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis.  In the third quarter, real GDP increased 3.1 percent.
I wasn't because I hadn't thought about the question.  But those who are paid to think about that question, and similar questions, were.

But maybe they shouldn't have been (says he, with the benefit of hindsight).  The third quarter was "unexpectedly" good last year, just in time to help get Barack Obama re-elected.  It now looks as if some of the growth in the third quarter was "borrowed" from the fourth quarter since one of the reasons for the slow down was lower federal spending.

(I wouldn't want to make too much of this, but if you average the two quarters together, you get a growth rate of 1.5 percent, close to the average for the Obama years.)
- 9:43 AM, 30 January 2013   [link]

Another Diplomatic Defeat For The Obama/Clinton Team In Latin America:  In 2011, CELAC, the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States was founded.
CELAC is an example of a decade-long push for deeper integration within the Americas.[7]  CELAC is being created to deepen Latin American integration and to reduce the once overwhelming influence of the United States on the politics and economics of Latin America.  It is seen as an alternative to the Organization of American States (OAS), the regional body organised largely by Washington in 1948, ostensibly as a countermeasure to potential Soviet influence in the region.[7][8][9]
(Emphasis added.)

Cuba has been excluded from the Organization of American States; the United States and Canada are excluded from CELAC.

And now, to add insult to injury, the presidency of CELAC has been given to Cuba.

Every single nation in CELAC has strong practical reasons for wanting good relations with the United States (and Canada).  That CELAC made an avowed enemy of the United States their president shows how little they think of Obama, Clinton, and Clinton's successor, John Kerry.

This is another serious diplomatic defeat for Obama and Clinton.  And it is a defeat that shouldn't have happened.
- 8:11 AM, 30 January 2013   [link]

Blacks Have Become Worse Off During The Obama Administration:  That's what NAACP President Ben Jealous said on "Meet the Press" last Sunday.
“The country’s back to pretty much where it was when this president started,” Mr. Jealous told MSNBC host David Gregory on “Meet the Press.”  “White people in this country are doing a bit better.  Black people are doing far worse.”

The black unemployment rate was 12.7 percent when Mr. Obama took office.  While the unemployment rate in the U.S. as a whole is below 8 percent, the Labor Department reported the black jobless rate was up from 12.9 percent to 14 percent for December.
(The transcript doesn't seem to be available yet, but you can see the video here.  The Jealous comments start about 30 minutes into the video.  Former senator Jim DeMint comes back to them later, but no one else on the panel does.)

Jealous is correct; blacks have become worse off during Obama's time in office.  But can we can we take the step that DeMint did later and say that blacks are worse off because of Obama policies?

I think so.

On the whole, the policies that the Obama/Pelosi/Reid team devised in 2009 and 2010 have meant slower growth, with many of the rewards going to crony capitalists like Al Gore.  Since proportionately more blacks are marginal workers, the last to be hired and the first to be fired, they have been hurt more by the slow economy.   Since fewer blacks have the money or the background to get in on the renewable energy deals, they didn't didn't get even temporary profits from those.

Since blacks have lower incomes, on the average, than whites, they have been hurt more by the rise in food prices, a rise partly caused by the efforts of Obama (and Bush) to encourage ethanol use.  Similarly, the rise in energy costs, which is partly the result of Obama policies, has hurt blacks more than whites.

Not all of the Obama policies have hurt blacks, of course.  The administration's efforts to increase subsidies to state and local governments helped many middle class blacks, since they have a disproportionate share of government jobs.

But, on the whole, Obama polices have been harder on blacks than on whites.  The lady who was so pleased with her free "Obama phone" has been finding it harder to find and keep a job, and harder to pay for food and energy.  She should give Obama some debits for those, even while giving him credit for the phone.
- 6:30 AM, 30 January 2013   [link]

David Suzuki Is A Canadian Environmental Saint:  (As you can see in his Wikipedia biography.)

And, as happens sometimes, this saint has done very well, monetarily.

So why is he charging a small Canadian junior college more than 40K for a speech that lasted less than an hour?  (30K for the speech, more than 10K for various expenses, including more than 3K for "chairs".  So far I haven't seen an explanation for that item.)

And why did he have this special requirement?
Here is an exact quote from John Abbott College’s Mary Milburn, in an e-mail obtained through access to information:  “We have learned, via Dr. Suzuki’s assistant, that although the Dr. does not like to have bodyguards per se, he does not mind having a couple of ladies (females) that would act as body guards in order that he may travel from one venue to another without being accosted too many times along the way.

“Why females you ask?  Well, he is a male.  No seriously, I believe it is his way of being discrete and less intimidating.”

What makes this more than mildly annoying is that officials at the college seemed to see nothing wrong with his charges, or his special requests.  When a saint visits, you don't ask embarrassing questions.

(Oh, and Suzuki made it clear that he wanted pretty young women for those "bodyguards".)
- 3:12 PM, 29 January 2013   [link]

Brazilian Workers In An Ancient Profession Are Preparing for the World Cup by learning English.

(The post may not be suitable for all offices, or younger sprogs.)
- 2:06 PM, 29 January 2013   [link]

Barack Obama Is our most polarizing president since modern polling began.
It needs to be said that we do live in an unusually polarized age.  But Mr. Obama knew that when he took office four years ago.  And the promises he made were unqualified.  If we elected him, Obama promised, he would heal the breach.   Yet here we are, four years later, with Obama having presided over an era of petty grievances, false promises, recriminations, and worn-out dogmas that have strangled our politics.  And by every sign, the next four years will be even more divisive and acrimonious.  There is blame to go around; but the president is primus inter pares.
Occasionally, Obama pays lip service to reducing polarization — but he far more often attacks his political opponents' motives, and says and does other things that increase our political divisions, and make it harder for Republicans and Democrats to work together, as they sometimes — but not always — should.

Many Americans wanted a unifying leader when they voted for Obama in 2008, but they got a community organizer, intent on creating divisions where he thinks he can profit from them.
- 1:57 PM, 29 January 2013   [link]

"Blanco Verse"  Andrew Ferguson has some fun with Richard Blanco's inauguration poem, "One Today".
Like Lennon and McCartney, Blanco’s poem followed the sun.  From the first line his imagery was confusing.  When the sun rose, it “kindled over our shores.”  Can you “kindle over” something, like a shore, without setting it ablaze—especially if right away you go on “peeking .  .  . greeting .  .  . spreading” and “then charging across the Rockies”?  It makes the sun sound like an arsonist on the lam.  In addition to the one sun, there are also one sky, one light, and one ground.  This one ground is “rooting us to every stalk of corn, every head of wheat sown by sweat .  .  .”  I can see how the stalk could be rooted to the ground, but not how the ground could root us to the stalk.  And I’ve thought about this pretty hard.  As for the sweat sowing heads of wheat .  .  . never heard of such a thing.
And along the way makes a serious point:  Most of our official modern poetry is terrible.

Here's the text of "One Today", if you need more evidence for that conclusion.  It would be mean to conclude that Blanco was chosen to write this inaugural poem because he is a gay Latino, mean but almost certainly correct.

(If you do read "One Today", you may want to follow it with something better.  I chose Robert Frost's "Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening".)
- 6:24 AM, 29 January 2013   [link]

Seattle's "Successful" Gun Buy Back:  On Sunday, Seattle held another gun buy back, which, our local news organizations told us, was a "success".  They knew it was a success because the city ran out of gift cards, worth up to $200 for "assault rifles".

Some of the same news organizations were honest enough to remind us that an earlier Seattle buy back had had no effect on gun crime in this area — which might lead some to think that we should wait to decide whether this buy back was a success.

But the buy back was a success for some buyers.  The long line became, in part, a gun "flea market", with informal buyers offering cash and immediate purchases, rather than gift cards and long waits.  Naturally, some sellers decided that the informal buyers were offering better deals than the city was.

So, for those buyers and sellers, the buy back was, indeed, a success.

Was it a success for Seattle as a whole?  Almost certainly not, if by success you mean that it will reduce gun crimes measurably.

(One buyer even purchased a used launcher for a Stinger ground-to-air missile.   Without the missile, it's harmless, but authorities do want to find out where the seller got it.)
- 5:11 AM, 29 January 2013   [link]

Debbie Halvorson May Win Jesse Jackson, Jr.'s seat
A white ex-congresswoman with an “A” rating from the National Rifle Association is the front-runner to replace former Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. in a majority-black Chicagoland district with inner-city neighborhoods wracked by gun violence.

At first glance, Debbie Halvorson should have no business winning the Feb. 26 special election.  The former Democratic congresswoman was crushed by Jackson in a primary last year.  She’s a white Democrat seeking to represent a district in which 54 percent of voters are African-American.
But there is no run-off, so she just has to come in first — and she has sixteen black opponents, none of them with the kind of name recognition that Jackson has.

If she does win the primary, she is almost certain to win the general election, since the district is one of the most Democratic in the nation.

(None of the recent congressmen from the 2nd district would be candidates for ethics awards.

Halvorson is an experienced saleswoman; she represented Mary Kay for 13 years.)
- 9:28 AM, 28 January 2013   [link]

Nixon Bombing Cambodia Bad, Obama Bombing Libya Good:   That appears to be John Kerry's position, although he is unable to come up with a plausible justification for it.  (And President Obama's position, as I understand it.)

As a legal matter, President Nixon was on much stronger ground than President Obama.

("Allahpundit" says that "the Senate was perfectly happy to have Obama act unilaterally on Libya".  That's not true; some senators did protest, including Richard Lugar.)
- 8:11 AM, 28 January 2013   [link]

What If They Held A Referendum And Four Out Of Five Voters Didn't Come?  Bulgaria is in that odd position after a referendum on nuclear power.
A controversial referendum on whether to build a new nuclear power plant in Bulgaria appears to have been invalidated by low turnout.

An exit poll put turnout at around 20% - far below the 60% required for the poll, which was called on the basis of an opposition petition.

The opposition Socialists want the centre-right government to reverse its decision not to build the plant.
The Russians had the contract to build the new plant, which probably explains why the left was backing it, and the right opposing it.

Bulgaria currently gets about 34 percent of its electricity from a Russian-built nuclear power plant.

If Europe were serious about reducing carbon dioxide emissions, they would be building nuclear power plants and increasing their natural gas production.  The Europeans are resisting both — ironically, for environmental reasons — and building new coal power plants.

Almost all European leaders say that global warming is a great threat to the world; almost all European leaders act as if it isn't, except for building heavily-subsidized (and politically profitable) wind and solar plants.
- 7:35 AM, 28 January 2013   [link]

Burning Batteries, Boeing, And Japan, Inc.  New York Times columnist James Stewart wonders whether those burning batteries on Boeing's Dreamliner might be a result of the tacit bargain Boeing has made with Japan.

In the column, Stewart argues that Boeing dominates the market for commercial aircraft in Japan because Boeing uses Japanese suppliers — even when those suppliers might not be the best from a purely economic point of view.

But Boeing has long been dogged by suspicions that in return for its awarding major contracts to Japanese companies, which also receive subsidies from Japan’s government, the country’s airlines buy Boeing aircraft almost exclusively.

To support his argument, Stewart quotes an aviation analyst, Richard L. Aboulafia, and an anonymous retired Boeing executive.

If this were done formally, in writing, it would be a violation of a trade agreement, signed by both Japan and the United States.  If it is done tacitly as Stewart says, then you would have to ask your local expert on trade agreements whether it would be illegal, and, if so, whether it would be possible to prove its illegality.

Is it possible that GS Yuasa, the Japanese company that made those burning lithium batteries, erred in their design or construction?  Sure.  Although the company is a big battery manufacturer and has made batteries for "over 50 satellites", this was its first battery for a commercial airplane.  And lithium batteries are often hard to get right, as laptop manufacturers can tell you.

Stewart is careful not to accuse GS Yuasa of producing a defective battery, but he certainly wants you to think about that possibility.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 2:50 PM, 27 January 2013   [link]

Obama Has Finally Gone Too Far:  We're losing Tina Turner.
US pop legend Tina Turner, who has been living in Switzerland since 1995, will soon receive Swiss citizenship and will give up her US passport, Swiss media reported Friday.
Is it fair to blame Obama for Turner's decision?  No, but we all know that if she had made it during the previous administration, President Bush would have been blamed.
- 7:37 AM, 27 January 2013   [link]

Know Your Neoconservatives:  For years, the principal neoconservative journal was the Public Interest.  It has ceased publication, but the back issues can be found here.

Anyone who wants to understand the neoconservatives — out of curiosity or to know an enemy — will want to look through the back issues.  I expect that supporters of the candidate who must not be named, and the president who must not be middle named, will find the issues of special interest.

Both will want to study the many articles on foreign policy, I am sure.

Full disclosure:  I subscribed to the journal for a number of years, and still have some of the issues.  In fact, I am perverse enough to think that some of those articles still have something to teach policy makers.

For example, if President Obama, or anyone on his staff, had read this Bruce Bartlett article, they would not have been surprised to learn what every other post-World War II president also learned the hard way, that there are few "shovel-ready" jobs in public works.

And I am still thinking about this article on the Swiss system of welfare, which at the time had not created a dependent class, unlike the systems in almost every other Western country.

There's much of interest in the article.  Here's a sample:

The Swiss rate of paternal determination and paternal support (outside marriage) is also much higher than in most other nations.  We should note that the Swiss rate of children born out-of-wedlock is low: 5 percent in 1982, 3.8 percent in 1970.   Over one-third of such births are quickly followed by marriages.  In the United States, the 1980 figure is 18.4 percent and the 1982 estimate is closer to 23 percent; similar levels are found in many other industrialized nations.

Consider one example of the discretion of these courts: In a conversation with a Swiss banker, I learned that he had recently provided a bond to guarantee child support.  This was occasioned when a divorced man from a small town in Switzerland was summoned to meet with the divorce judge.  The judge was concerned that the man's publicly-announced betrothal and eventual marriage to a second wife might result in his nonpayment of the scheduled child and spousal supports.  The judge indicated that, although he was not legally concerned as a judge, he was concerned as a citizen of the community.  He did not want to see the community having to support the man's first family.  He indicated that, because of his concern, he planned to appear at the impending marriage to protest that this new marriage was fundamentally immoral in that the man intended to develop a new family at the community's expense.  The judge was dissuaded from his plan to publicly protest the marriage only after the man had posted a bond, participated in by his brothers, sisters, and parents, which guaranteed continued child and spousal support until the children of his first marriage were grown.

(I believe lessons from the Swiss system had some influence on the 1996 Gingrich/Dole welfare reform.)

Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 6:26 PM, 26 January 2013   [link]

Tailbacks Divided By A Common Language:  I have known for several years that "tailback" meant something different in Britain than it does in the United States.  To be specific, according to the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, a tailback is:  "A queue of stationary or slowly moving vehicles, esp. extending back from an obstruction".

For example:  A car fire on I-5 during rush hour caused a ten mile long tailback.

(We could use that meaning a lot in this area.)

But when I looked up the word the other day, I found that whoever wrote the American part of the entry was not familiar with American football:  "AMER. FOOTBALL. The player furthest from the forwards".

Which is wrong in two ways, because there are no forwards in American football, and because "tailback" is used only to describe a player in an offensive formation.

(If your football knowledge is as outdated as mine, you may want to look for the actual meaning of tailback, which you can find here and here.)
- 3:56 PM, 25 January 2013   [link]

Are The North Koreans Starving Their People Again?   (I almost said as usual.)

That's what this article says.
The dark secret behind all of this new capital glitz and glamour has been a raging famine in the two Hwanghae provinces, where by some estimates 20,000 people have died of starvation in South Hwanghae alone in the year since Kim Jong-il died in December 2011 and was succeeded by his son and heir, the 29-year-old Kim Jong-un.
And the author, Todd Crowell, thinks that Kim has a simple (and very old-fashioned) political strategy.
The country has only limited resources of capital and foreign exchange, and much of these funds have been diverted to pay for elaborate entertainment complexes, including roller coasters from Italy and dolphins to stock a theme park instead of food.   “You can see where Kim Jong-un’s priorities lie,” said [Jiro] Ishimura.

In order to consolidate his rule, the young Kim must have these two important elements of North Korean society on his side.  That's why, according to Ishimura, so much of the food from Hwanghae has been taken away for the “food for the army” and “food for the capital.”  His organization reports on regime commissary officers ransacking villages and dwellings looking for hidden stockpiles.
Some Roman and Chinese emperors followed similar strategies.  For example, Emperor Septimus Severus is said to have told his sons to "enrich the soldiers and scorn all other men".   (According to McEvedy, the advice was given in a much cruder form.)

By way of Bethany Mandel, who thinks that Kim's recent belligerence may be related to the famine.  That would be consistent with what she calls — correctly — the North Korean "pattern of extortion".
- 7:04 AM, 25 January 2013   [link]

The Algerian Gas Compound was a gun-free zone.
The companies operating the gas facility in the Sahara that was attacked last week had chosen not to deploy armed guards inside the sprawling compound, leading security analysts to question whether the assault by more than 30 Islamist militants might have been slowed if security had been tighter.
You don't have to be a security analyst to come to that conclusion.
- 6:21 AM, 25 January 2013   [link]