January 2014, Part 1

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

So Far, The Seattle Times Doesn't Think The Robert Gates Book Story Is Fit To Print:  You have probably heard about the book, even if you rely on our local monopoly newspaper (or another newspaper with similar policies).  The book contains some sensational charges.

For example.

Leveling one of the more serious charges that a defense secretary could make against a commander in chief sending forces into combat, Gates asserts that Obama had more than doubts about the course he had charted in Afghanistan.  The president was “skeptical if not outright convinced it would fail,” Gates writes in “Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War.”
. . .
Gates offers a catalogue of various meetings, based in part on notes that he and his aides made at the time, including an exchange between Obama and then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton that he calls “remarkable.”

He writes: “Hillary told the president that her opposition to the [2007] surge in Iraq had been political because she was facing him in the Iowa primary. . . . The president conceded vaguely that opposition to the Iraq surge had been political.  To hear the two of them making these admissions, and in front of me, was as surprising as it was dismaying.”

Naturally, the book attracted considerable attention yesterday, when the first, pre-publication reviews were published.  It may have been the most-discussed subject in the American part of the blogosphere.  Today, the Wall Street Journal made it their lead story, and published an excerpt.  The New York Times — which can't have been happy about these revelations — published a solid story.

British journalists thought it was important, too.  Without any extensive searching, I found stories at the BBC, the leftist Guardian, the conservative tabloid, the Daily Mail, and the conservative Telegraph.

A quick search at Bing found many more news stories.

But the Seattle Times did not, today, find this story fit to print.   (And that, in spite of the fact that there is a local connection.  Gates's permanent home is here in Washington state, and he wrote the book while living here, in Skagit County, north of Seattle.)

Why not?

Most likely because of something I discussed before:  Our local monopoly newspaper acts as if its main objective in political reporting is to comfort our comfortable Seattle-area leftists.  And there is no doubt that few of those leftists would be comfortable while reading this story.  (You could argue, and I wouldn't disagree, that they should read such stories, because they find them uncomfortable.)

No doubt the Seattle Times will get around to the story, perhaps even in a day or two.  But their reluctance to publish it tells us something about the newspaper, something unfortunate, in my opinion.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(Credit where due:  Hyper-partisan Seattle PI columnist Joel Connelly wrote a column on the book, a column that includes some of the more sensational charges.

As I write, even though the book is not available yet, it is the 24th best seller on Amazon, and the 2nd best among their Kindle books.)
- 2:31 PM, 8 January 2014   [link]

Andrew Malcolm's Weekly Collection of jokes.

He liked this one:
Conan: The digital team behind both of President Obama’s campaigns is already preparing for a Hillary Clinton run.  They’re starting early because they’ve got to delete 10 years of Bill Clinton’s browser history.
I liked these two best, though the first is unfair but funny, and the second is nasty but funny:
Leno: President Obama’s approval is the lowest of any president after five years since Richard Nixon.  Jimmy Carter says that’s unfair.  If he had a fifth year, he’s sure he'’d have won.
. . .
Letterman: So Khloe Kardashian and Lamar Odom are divorcing. Did you know though if Odom is ever arrested, his Kardashian marriage counts as time served.
Even those who know almost nothing about the Kardashians, me for instance, can get that joke.

(Speaking of unfair but funny, that's how I would describe the picture of Hillary Clinton he used to illustrate the post.)
- 10:15 AM, 8 January 2014   [link]

How Is Toronto Mayor Rob Ford Doing?  Not well; although his approval rating rose to 47 percent in a recent poll, he still doesn't have majority approval.  But Mayor Ford is doing better than President Barack Obama.

It's almost as if the two electorates are judging the men mostly on their actions and policies, rather than their personal lives.
- 8:09 AM, 8 January 2014   [link]

Germany Shut Down Its Nuclear Plants After The Disaster In Japan:   (Although tsunamis do not seem like a great threat to Germany.)

So what has replaced that nuclear-generated electricity?  Lots of expensive renewable power — and coal.
Electricity output from brown coal plants rose 0.8 percent in 2013, said Jochen Diekmann of the German Institute for Economic Research.  As a result, Germany's CO2 output is expected to have risen in 2013, even as power from renewable sources has reached 25 percent of the energy mix.

Part of the reason, said Diekmann, is the low price of CO2 emissions permits in EU trading scheme.  Another reason is that new brown coal plants, with a capacity of 2,743 megawatts, came on line in 2012, far exceeding the 1,321 megawatts from old plants shut down that year.
. . .
Power output from anthracite coal also rose, by eight billion kilowatt hours to over 124 billion, while output from gas-fired plants fell by 10 billion to 66 billion.  That means that coal plants are making up for the bulk of the energy production lost due to the 2011 shutdown of eight nuclear plants, while gas plants, which emit less CO2 but are more expensive to run, are barely profitable at present.
So, net, Germany is spending more on electricity — and producing more CO2.

That doesn't sound like a win to me.

(The article doesn't mention increased pollutants from the new coal plants, though coal is a dirty fuel.  The new plants probably have better controls, so there may not have been increases in sulfur dioxide, and all the other pollutants.

In the United States, brown coal is often called lignite.)
- 7:19 AM, 8 January 2014   [link]

When Robert Gates Agreed To Stay On In The Obama Administration, I wondered whether he was motivated by patriotism, wondered whether he expected bad things from them, and was staying in office in order to limit the damage.

I don't wonder any more.
In a new memoir, former defense secretary Robert Gates unleashes harsh judgments about President Obama’s leadership and his commitment to the Afghanistan war, writing that by early 2010 he had concluded the president “doesn’t believe in his own strategy, and doesn’t consider the war to be his.  For him, it’s all about getting out.”

Leveling one of the more serious charges that a defense secretary could make against a commander in chief sending forces into combat, Gates asserts that Obama had more than doubts about the course he had charted in Afghanistan.  The president was “skeptical if not outright convinced it would fail,” Gates writes in “Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War.”
There's much more, and almost all of it supports the case the more responsible critics have been making against the Obama administration.

It seems likely, if not certain, that Obama's choice of Gates was cynical, that Obama chose Gates (and made some policy decisions) in order to appear responsible on national security.

(Should Gates have resigned when Obama combined the Afghanistan "surge" with a deadline for their exit?  Perhaps.  I thought at the time that Gates and the military may have been expecting that events would force a change in that idiotic combination.)
- 4:06 PM, 7 January 2014   [link]

Merry Christmas!

To all those who are celebrating it today.  Or celebrated it yesterday, or will be celebrating it on 16 January.

(Yes, even to Russian President Vladimir Putin.)
- 9:21 AM, 7 January 2014   [link]

The Taliban Doesn't Think Girls Should Go To Public Schools:   But they have found other things for girls to do.
An eight-year-old girl wearing an explosive suicide vest was stopped by Afghan police as she tried to carry out a deadly attack.

The Interior Ministry said police had apprehended the young girl who had intended to carry out a suicide attack against Afghan border police in southern Helmand province.
The Taliban use boys for these tasks, sometimes, too.

(Quibble:  The authorities probably don't know exactly how old she is.  Because of widespread malnutrition in Afghanistan, children there often look younger than they are.)
- 8:50 AM, 7 January 2014   [link]

You Knew Some Global Warming Scientist was going to make this argument, didn't you?
Global warming may be contributing to the "polar vortex" causing frigid temperatures across most of the nation on Monday, according to some climate change researchers.

While it seems counter-intuitive, the research argues that plunging temperatures could come from changes in the jet stream caused by climate change.

Rutgers University climate scientist Jennifer A Francis has released a number of papers about changes in the jet stream brought about by warming Arctic temperatures.
And it may even be true, though I have my doubts.

Cliff Mass, who knows way more about this subject than I do, disagrees.
The bottom line: the claims that greenhouse warming causes more cold waves like we have seen this week really seems to be without any basis in observational evidence or in theory.  The media needs to stop pushing this unsupported argument.
But they won't, as Mass probably understands.
- 8:27 AM, 7 January 2014   [link]

Do "Organic" Foods Cause Autism?  Before you answer, take a look at this chart, and that correlation.

Steven Hayward is joking, of course, but it is an impressive correlation.

(I put "organic" in quotes because almost all of our foods are organic, almost all of our foods come from plants, animals, or micro-organisms.  If you consider salt a food, that would be an exception, but that's the only one that I can think of right off.  "Traditional" would be a better word than "organic", because those who favor "organic" foods want us to return to varieties and farming methods used centuries ago.)
- 4:59 PM, 6 January 2014   [link]

Michigan Lighthouses:  Encased in ice.   According to the photographer, this happens every year, though I suspect that few years produce the spectacular scenes you can see in those pictures.

(In this area, temperatures are about normal, and precipitation, usually rain in the lowlands and snow in the mountains, is below normal.)
- 3:49 PM, 6 January 2014   [link]

Michael Ramirez Picks His 10 Best For 2013:  My favorites in this group are numbers 4 and 5.

I don't believe any of them were published in our local monopoly newspaper, the Seattle Times.  Or in the New York Times, for that matter.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 1:21 PM, 6 January 2014   [link]

Bill De Blasio Was A "Clinton Kid"  You can learn something even from the Daily Beast.
After all, De Blasio is, in many ways, a Clinton kid. He worked in the Clinton administration as a top deputy to then-HUD Secretary and now New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.  He was selected to manage Hillary Clinton's New York State Senate campaign in 2000.  The Clintons now benefit from one of their own at the helm of America's largest city while some pundits argue that association with de Blasio might help Hillary fend off a primary challenge from the resurgent left-wing of her party in 2016.

But if you looked past the symbolism and actually listened to the inaugural speeches, de Blasio's swearing-in ceremony was a persistent rebuke to the centrist spirit of Clintonism.  And that says a lot about the growing divisions inside the Democratic Party.
(Like most observers, I always thought that Bill Clinton was more of a centrist than Hillary.)

John Avlon adds something about de Blasio that isn't terribly surprising, but is worth noting; de Blasio has "literally never worked in the private sector".  Which suggests to me that he may have trouble understanding the problems of, for example, a shift manager at McDonalds, and will be completely lost when he tries to understand the problems of a Wall Street broker.  New York City's economy is heavily dependent on Wall Street, of course, so he needs to understand both.

(You do have to read Avlon's article with care.  He describes Harry Belafonte as a "[m]usician and civil rights legend", which is misleading, if not intentionally dishonest.  Our journalists are reluctant to describe those on the far left accurately, reluctant, for instance, to described Belafonte as a Communist sympathizer — which he is.)
- 10:22 AM, 6 January 2014   [link]

President Obama May Not Be Good at governing.

That isn't a surprising conclusion, now, and shouldn't have been even in 2008.  But the person coming to that conclusion, a "former Obama White House person", makes it more interesting, as does the person's advice to Obama:  Find an issue he can campaign on.

And meanwhile, who will do the president's job?  If the "person" had an answer to that question, it doesn't appear in that short segment.

(I suspect most Washington insiders know who that "person" is.  The term the reporter, Peter Hamby, used, "person", makes me think the person was not a low-level aide.)
- 9:47 AM, 6 January 2014   [link]

Another Michelle Obama Story That Makes me say "H'mmm."
President Barack Obama is going to give his wife the birthday present that many parents can only dream of - time off, alone, without the children.

The White House said on Saturday first lady Michelle Obama would stay in Hawaii, where the family has been on vacation for the last two weeks, rather than return home with her husband and their two girls.

"As part of her birthday gift from the president, the first lady will remain in Hawaii to spend time with friends ahead of her upcoming 50th birthday," a White House official said.
And I'll leave it at that, except to note that the people paying for much of this gift, are the taxpayers — and I don't think she will send us a thank you note.
- 5:32 PM, 5 January 2014   [link]

Anthony Watts Thinks He Knows Why The Akademik Shokalskiy Got Stuck in the ice.
The real answer to that event lies in the blog of the Australian green politician on-board, Janet Rice.  WUWT commenter Aphan gave us the scoop from her log on how the stage was set for getting stuck, because the passengers weren’t heeding the captain’s warning quickly enough.  Clearly the captain knew what was coming, but the passengers were just too slow.  He couldn’t abandon them, so he had to wait, and this delay put the ship in jeopardy.
(Emphasis added.)

Some of the passengers, including the leader of the expedition, Chris Turney, had left the ship for sight seeing, and were slow to get back.  The ship might have gotten stuck anyway, but the passengers should have listened to the captain's warnings.

Although this is funny — from a certain perspective — we should not forget that the efforts to rescue the ship were expensive, and disrupted more serious scientific work.
- 8:46 AM, 4 January 2014   [link]

51 Percent:  That's how many Boeing Machinists voted to approve a contract that will keep much of the 777X work here in the Seattle area.
Boeing machinists narrowly approved a contract Friday that concedes some benefits in order to secure assembly of the new 777X airplane for the Puget Sound region, solidifying the aerospace giant's presence in the Seattle area for years to come.

The issue fractured the union and drew unusual pleas from politicians who said the deal was necessary to support the area's economic future.  Boeing has been exploring the prospect of building the 777X elsewhere, a move that could trigger a steady exodus of aerospace jobs from the place where Boeing was founded.
An earlier, similar contract was rejected by the local by about a two-thirds vote.  There would not even have been a second vote, if the national leadership had not insisted on it.

Democratic Governor Jay Inslee did nothing to get the contract ratified, but is now praising the result of the agreement, presumably because he thinks it will make it easier for him to run for re-election in 2016.

(I expect that Boeing, despite this contract, will continue to move work out of this area.

From time to time, I toy with the idea that Boeing's competitor, Airbus, is manipulating the union leaders in this area.  I always reject it, since I know of no evidence for this particular conspiracy theory, but it is easy to see why Airbus might be tempted to encourage union militancy here.)
- 7:31 AM, 4 January 2014   [link]

Venezuela 2014 Predictions:  They are worth looking at, not only because Venezuela is important, but because the regime's oil is keeping other hostile nations, notably Cuba, afloat.

Juan Nagel begins with a surprise from last year (link fixed).
In early December, Venezuelans went to the polls to elect mayors and local council members.   After a disputed presidential election and months of economic hardship, many observers were predicting that the opposition would win the popular vote.  Instead, the government's forces won, solidifying President Nicolás Maduro's hold on power.

Yet if Maduro's grip is solid, why is Moody's downgrading Venezuela's bonds?  Why is Venezuela's bond spread the highest among emerging markets?  The answer is simple: The Maduro regime, like glass, might appear strong, but it's also brittle, increasingly vulnerable to the sharp shocks that are likely to come from a complicated political situation and a rapidly weakening economy.
Read the whole analysis to find out, among other things, the crude ploy Maduro used before those elections, or skip to the end to find this tentative conclusion:
As mentioned before, the bond markets now consider Venezuela to be the riskiest of all emerging markets, with premiums that surpass Greece or Argentina.  A revolution where the key players hold all the cards but is still in desperate need of foreign financing, where the economy and the viability of the political system depend on the volatile price of a single commodity, is not a safe bet.  The markets know this, and that is why, in spite of Maduro's grip on power, they don't solid.  They know that, if oil prices take a prolonged dip, all bets are off on Venezuela's stability.  In short, Venezuela's glass revolution is more vulnerable than it appears.
Specifically, Nagel believes that the regime can survive if oil prices stay at or above $100 a barrel, but might not if the prices fall much below that level.
- 9:39 AM, 3 January 2014   [link]

That Safe Explosion Story In The Czech Republic gets even more interesting.
The Czech Foreign Ministry expressed concern Thursday over the discovery of a large, illegal weapons stockpile at the home of the Palestinian ambassador in Prague, Jamel al-Jamal, a day after he was killed in an explosion there.
. . .
The ambassador’s daughter, 30-year-old Rana Al-Jamal, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview from Ramallah in the West Bank that she thought foul play was involved.

“The Palestinian official account is baseless.  The safe box has been in regular use — my mom (who lives there) told me that.  The box was moved a day earlier and apparently something happened in the way,” she said.
I am still inclined to think that a cache of old, unstable explosives explains the accident.   Technical experts may be able to find evidence that will support, or undermine, that theory.
- 8:03 AM, 3 January 2014   [link]

Michael Ramirez Pays Tribute to New York Mayor Bill de Blasio.

(Unfair?  Perhaps, though cartoonists get more leeway than writers — and I can't think of a softer way to make the same point.)
- 7:29 AM, 3 January 2014   [link]

A Corollary To Adam Smith's Conspiracy:  Even most people who have never even tried to read Smith's Wealth of Nations have heard about this paragraph:.
People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.  It is impossible, indeed, to prevent such meetings, by any law which either could be executed, or would be consistent with liberty and justice.  But though the law cannot hinder people of the same trade from sometimes assembling together, it ought to do nothing to facilitate such assemblies, much less to render them necessary.
In our age, it is not necessary for people of the same trade to meet, physically, in order for them to coordinate — which makes it far easier for them to "conspire" against the public, or if you prefer a softer way of putting it, to act together.  (There were, of course, ways for them to "conspire", without meeting, in the late 18th century, but they were far less convenient, and in most countries, less secure.)

Our "mainstream" journalists sometimes "conspire", just as Smith's tradesmen did, and often "coordinate" their coverage.  I would say that the JournoList was an example of a conspiracy, or more precisely, that it hosted a set of conspiracies, though I recognize that most members would not agree, at least publicly, with that assessment.

But, though dramatic, such direct coordination is relatively rare, and you are more likely to see indirect coordination, in which our "mainstream" journalists all have the same reaction to an event.  This morning, talk show host Rush Limbaugh gave two examples of that coordination, one from the 2000 presidential campaign, and one more recent:
So the New York Times has come up with a story over the weekend that spreads those lies that it wasn't Al-Qaeda.  "Benghazi?  No big deal.  It was just a video, everything Hillary said," and everybody knows what this is.  It's the New York Times paving the way and getting this issue out of the way for Hillary, and we put together another media montage of all the media saying the exact same thing about it.

JOHN BERMAN:  Al-Qaeda was (music) not behind the 2012 attack.  The attack was likely carried out by independent Libyan militias and that those fighters were, in fact, infuriated by that anti-Muslim movie.
Limbaugh's staff found eleven more examples from different "mainstream" journalists.  You will find it hard to tell them apart.

Those twelve "mainstream" journalists almost certainly did not meet together, probably did not even exchange emails.  Instead, because they share ideologies and world views, they reacted the same way to that dubious New York Times article.  The article gave them the talking points they wanted, and they happily transmitted those talking points, often without noting some of the qualifications in the article.

Now let's consider this from the public's side.  Does it matter very much to the public that those journalists did not formally coordinate their stories?  Not really, in my opinion.

So, to generalize and summarize, here is my corollary:  American "mainstream" journalists often produce the same coordinated talking points that would come from a formal conspiracy against the public.
- 4:01 PM, 2 January 2014   [link]

Should We Try To Decrease National Or International Inequality?  The left is now on one of its usual crusades (if we can still use that word) against inequality.  And, as usual, they are evading one of the most important questions.

Let's suppose that leftists genuinely want to decrease economic inequality — and I think most of them do, although they may not be willing to sacrifice much, personally, in pursuit of that objective.  And then suppose you could describe to an American leftist the problems of a young Bangladeshi woman, Mahinur Akhter, who earned about $100 a month in a garment factory, before it collapsed.

If you were to ask them whether it was more important to help Akhter, or some American making the minimum wage, which in Washington state would give them an income (assuming they worked forty hours a week) of more than $1,500 a month, they would choose Akhter.

But in practice, they would mostly favor policy changes that they believe would help that minimum wage worker in the United States.  In practice, they favor policies that they think will decrease inequality, nationally.

(Exception:  Many of them favor unrestricted immigration, which almost always helps the immigrants, and often hurts the Americans those immigrants compete with, though our leftists mostly ignore that secondary effect.)

And outside the United States, Western Europe, and other such prosperous places, I would not be surprised to learn that leftists favor policies that they think would decrease inequality, internationally.

It would be interesting to see a debate between the two groups.

I should end by saying that I don't have a simple answer as to which is more important, though, as a sometimes compassionate conservative, I lean more toward the second than the first.

(The problem is not, in my opinion, simple.  For one small example of some of the complexities, see this post.)
- 1:38 PM, 2 January 2014   [link]

Where Would A Minimum Wage Of $15 An Hour Put You?   If you are single, then by world standards, probably in the top 5 percent, almost certainly in the top 10 percent.

Here's how I come to that tentative conclusion:  A $15 an hour wage gives you a yearly gross income of $30,000, assuming you work 40 hours a week, 50 weeks a year.

In 2005, a net yearly income of $34,000 put you in the top 1 percent, world wide.

The United States holds a disproportionate amount of the world's rich people.

It only takes $34,000 a year, after taxes, to be among the richest 1% in the world.   That's for each person living under the same roof, including children.  (So a family of four, for example, needs to make $136,000.)

So where do these lucky rich people live?  As of 2005 -- the most recent data available -- about half of them, or 29 million lived in the United States, according to calculations by World Bank economist Branko Milanovic in his book The Haves and the Have-Nots.

If we allow for economic growth and inflation, that $34,000 might be, say, $40,000 now.

And that would be after taxes, so even in 2005 a gross income of $30,000 would not put a single person as close to the 1 percent as you might think, at first glance.  So that is why I suggested that singles earning a wage of $15 an hour would now be in the top 5 or 10 percent, rather than, say, the top 2 percent.

Different people, depending mostly on their ideologies, will draw different conclusions from my back-of-the-envelope analysis.  But I think most of you will agree that those who live in the United States are fortunate.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(Here's Milanovic's book.)
- 9:42 AM, 2 January 2014   [link]

The Passengers on the Akademik Shokalskiy have been flown to safety.
Rescuers in Antarctica have safely transferred all 52 passengers stranded on the ice-bound research vessel Akademik Shokalskiy.

The Australian rescue operators said the scientists and tourists were now all aboard the ship Aurora Australis.

They were flown there in groups by a helicopter from a Chinese ice-breaker.
The crew will wait with the ship, hoping that the Antarctic summer will break up the ice enough so that they can get the ship out, perhaps with the help of an icebreaker.

Anthony Watts has many questions about this fiasco.

This one fascinates me:  "How did the ship, in these days of satellite imaging, high quality weather forecasts and radar, come to get stuck in ice?"

Good question, and I can't help wondering whether those running the trip believed their own theories about declining ice cover, a little too strongly.
- 8:53 AM, 2 January 2014   [link]

This Story on a "work accident":
The Palestinian ambassador to the Czech Republic has died after an explosion at his apartment in Prague.

Ambassador Jamel al-Jamal was taken to hospital with serious injuries from the blast this morning and put in a medically induced coma, but died this afternoon.

The 56-year-old diplomat was in the flat with his family at the time of the explosion.

The Palestinian Foreign Ministry said the explosion occurred when the ambassador was moving an old office safe box.
(There seem to be two principal theories about the cause of the accident, that the safe had been rigged with a booby trap to protect its contents, and that he didn't know it, and that explosives inside had become unstable over time, as many explosives do.  The latter seems more likely to me.  If that explanation is correct, then most of us would really like to know why the organization was storing explosives all these years in what is supposed to be an embassy.  But I don't expect to see the answer to that question.)

Led me to this more interesting story on how a young man, formally a British citizen, though more loyal to extreme Islam than to the queen, became a jihadi.
Abdel-Majed Abdel Bary, 23, is the latest in a growing stream of young men to join militant groups in the war-torn Middle Eastern country [Syria].

He walked out of his family's £1million home several months ago telling them he was 'leaving everything for the sake of Allah'.

Friends said Bary – an aspiring rapper on the 'grime' music scene – grew increasingly radical and violent after mixing with thugs linked to hate preacher Anjem Choudary.
If you read the entire article, which will take you just a minute or two, you will be able to see the outline of the family story.  His father was given asylum by the British government — and repaid that government by joining Osama bin Laden.  The family was not persecuted in Britain; in fact they seem to have done quite well there.

Bary is not depraved because he's deprived, to borrow a line from "West Side Story", but he is depraved.
- 7:27 AM, 2 January 2014   [link]

Here's the JibJab Year in Review.

Which may not be their best, but is still worth watching.
- 4:21 PM, 1 January 2014   [link]

Happy New Year!

- 4:06 PM, 1 January 2014   [link]