January 2014, Part 3

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Here In The Seattle Area, It's All Richard Sherman, Almost All The Time:  Our talking heads, and even our political talk show hosts, just can't stop talking about his rant after the game with San Francisco.

I have to admit, or perhaps confess, that I didn't care much about the incident when I first saw it, and now don't care about it at all, after I heard about some of what had happened earlier, and saw the footage showing Michael Crabtree refusing to shake hands with Sherman, and then pushing him.

But that definitely puts me in a minority in this area.

(If you missed out on the story, you can read about Sherman here, and see his later, sort-of apology here.

But I do care about the criminal actions of far too many professional athletes, definitely including players in the NFL.)
- 4:16 PM, 24 January 2014   [link]

Obama's Ambassador-Nominee To Norway doesn't seem to know much about Norway
To recap: [George] Tsunis described Norway as having a president (“apparently under the impression that the country is a republic rather than a constitutional monarchy,” as the Local Norway's News notes dryly).  And he characterized the anti-immigration Progress Party as being among “fringe elements” who “spew their hatred” and have been denounced by the government.

That prompted McCain’s disbelieving answer: “The government has denounced them?  The coalition government — they're part of the coalition of the government.”
But Tsunis does understand the basics of campaign finance.
In the 2012 cycle, Tsunis and his wife, Olga, are listed among the “top individual contributors” on the strength of having given $267,244, roughly 89% of which went to Democrats and 10% to Republicans.  In all, he raised $988,550 for Obama and gave $300,000 to Democratic super PACs and $75,800 to the Obama Victory Fund.

Tsunis became a Democrat in November 2009 — after giving $50,000 to Republican Sen. John McCain’s 2008 campaign.
Two thoughts:  Tsunis apparently did not prepare for this hearing, which he could have done in many ways, including having the State Department brief him.  Or even by reading this Wikipedia article on the 2013 Norwegian parliamentary election.   Given the timing of the nomination, last September, John Kerry presumably approved this nomination, or at least didn't object.

This nomination hearing isn't big news here in the United States  but it is in Norway.

My apologies to Norway.

By way of Ed Morrissey.

(Norway's Progress Party deserves study, for its troubled history, its successes, and its ideology.  The Wikipedia authors have trouble describing that ideology, but most often call it "conservative liberalism".   Until this last election, the party was unacceptable as a national coalition partner to other parties in the Norwegian parliament because of its "alleged irresponsibility" and its support for more controls on immigration.

The video in the article begins with the last part of an answer to a McCain question to Obama's ambassador-nominee to Hungary, soap opera producer Colleen Bradley Bell.   After watching that bit — which reminded me of the answers that beauty contestants give when asked how to work toward world peace — I had to look up Bell's Wikipedia biography.  There is nothing in the biography that suggest that she knows anything about Hungary, or would be a good ambassador, except this: "In September The New York Times reported that Bell is one of Obama's top bundlers."  Wikipedia articles can, of course, be incomplete and biased, so perhaps she has qualifications that do not appear there.)
- 9:10 AM, 24 January 2014   [link]

My Apologies To Canada:  President Obama often makes me feel like the parent of a misbehaving child.  I feel I ought to apologize to friends and neighbors for his misbehavior.  So, for what it is worth, my apologies to our friends and northern neighbors, who deserve better treatment than he has given them.

My latest apology is triggered by Charles Krauthammer's epic rant on Obama's failure to make a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline.
If Obama wants to cave to his environmental left, fine.  But why keep Canada in limbo?  It’s a show of supreme and undeserved disrespect for yet another ally.  It seems not enough to have given the back of the hand to Britain, Israel, Poland and the Czech Republic, and to have so enraged the Saudis that they actually rejected a U.N. Security Council seat — disgusted as they were with this administration’s remarkable combination of fecklessness and highhandedness.  Must we crown this run of diplomatic malpractice with gratuitous injury to Canada, our most reliable, most congenial friend in the world?

And for what?  This is not a close call.  The Keystone case is almost absurdly open and shut.
Krauthammer is kinder to Obama than I would be; he doesn't mention that the adherents to the Green religious beliefs include big donors to the Democratic party, donors who have threatened to cut back their contributions if Obama doesn't block the pipeline.

(Incidentally, to have the Israelis and the Saudis unhappy with you simultaneously is a considerable achievement.)
- 7:20 AM, 24 January 2014   [link]

Importing Inequality (2):  Importing poor people into the United States will increase inequality; so will, for the same reasons of simple arithmetic, importing rich people.

Many of the poor come in illegally; most of the rich come in legally (as far as I know), some through a program originally meant to encourage entrepreneurs to establish businesses here, but a program that is subject to abuse.

Here's the most recent example.
A conservative-leaning group has filed an ethics complaint against Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, accusing him of violating the chamber’s code of conduct by pushing to help a politically connected casino get visas for foreign investors.

The Washington Times reported in December that after repeated pressure from Mr. Reid and his staff, the Obama administration overruled career Homeland Security officials and expedited visa applications for about two dozen foreign investors for the casino.
. . . .
The complaint also says that Mr. Reid’s son, Rory Reid, and his law firm are legal counsel to the SLS Hotel & Casino.
Another prominent Democrat has been accused of selling visas for cash.
Having never held elective office, Democrat Terry McAuliffe touts his leadership of an electric car company and other business ventures as proof that he has the executive experience needed to run Virginia as governor.

His role in GreenTech Automotive, however, has drawn intense scrutiny over the past few days, when it was learned that he quietly resigned as chairman months ago and that the company owed back taxes on land it owns in Mississippi.  More trouble surfaced Wednesday in the form of e-mails that Virginia economic development officials exchanged about the project in 2009, when McAuliffe considered locating the facility in the commonwealth.

Virginia officials expressed concerns about several aspects of GreenTech, including its financing.  Among those concerns was that the project would rely too heavily on a federal program that provides visas to foreign investors who create U.S. jobs.

One official went so far as to write that she was concerned that the project was “a visa-for-sale scheme with potential national security implications,” according to an e-mail obtained by The Washington Post.
The more I learn about EB-5 visas, the less I like them.  You can, just barely, defend the original plan, which required the immigrant to establish a new business, but it is hard to see the current program as anything other than selling visas — with the money going, not to the taxpayers, but to crony capitalists.

We have enough home-grown corrupt businessmen; there is no need to import more.

If reducing inequality in the United States is important to you, you should favor ending this program, unless, of course, you see benefits in it that I don't.

(If foreigners want to invest in businesses in the United States, there is little to stop them.  (With, of course, a few exceptions for national security.)  So, if those investments make economic sense, then the foreigners can just send their money.
- 9:21 AM, 23 January 2014   [link]

Importing Inequality (1):  In Robert Samuelson's column discussing the successes — and the failures — of LBJ's "War on Poverty, there is a single, almost throwaway, line that deserves attention:
People at the bottom aren’t well-off, but they’re better off than they once were.  Among the official poor, half have computers, 43 percent have central air conditioning and 36 percent have dishwashers, report Meyer and Sullivan.  These advances are especially impressive because the massive immigration of unskilled Hispanic workers inflated the ranks of the poor.  From 1990 to 2007, the entire increase in official poverty was among Hispanics.
(Emphasis added.  I assume he is using 2007 because that's as far as the data, or study, that he using, goes.)

First, a small technical note, which most of you probably won't need:  What he means, almost certainly, is the entire net increase in official poverty.  Many whites and blacks became poor during those years, but just as many of them escaped poverty.  Many Hispanics also escaped poverty, but so many poor Hispanics came during those years that the number of poor Hispanics grew.

If you bring a large number of poor people into a country, where most are better off, then you will, as matter of simple arithmetic, increase inequality in that country.  And that is just what we have done over the last twenty years.

And you will increase inequality in another way; the poor immigrants will compete with slightly better off natives and earlier immigrants for the same jobs, depressing wages.  You can find a longer discussion of that point in this Tom Maguire post.  This quote from authority George Borjas will give you an idea of the size of the effects.
Although the net benefits to natives from illegal immigrants are small, there is a sizable redistribution effect.  Illegal immigration reduces the wage of native workers by an estimated $99 to $118 billion a year, and generates a gain for businesses and other users of immigrants of $107 to $128 billion.
It is probably relevant that there was lower inequality in the United States, by the usual measures, during the 1950s, when immigration was sharply restricted.

(Here's my previous post on the Samuelson column.)
- 7:56 AM, 23 January 2014   [link]

Barack "Arugula" Obama (2):  Way back in 2007, I argued that Obama was wealthy, snobbish, and out of touch with ordinary people.  Since then, we have seen much evidence to support that argument.  Martha's Vineyard is, no doubt, a pleasant place to vacation, but it is a place reserved for the rich — and their servants.

What I should have added was that Obama was certain kind of snob, something I understood then, but did not say.  Now, Fred Siegel has come along to say that, and to put Obama's attitudes in historical context.
In the 1920s ... what looked like freedom and progress to most white Americans was an affront to liberals and intellectuals," as Siegel tells us.  He quotes Malcolm Cowley as saying much later, "It wasn’t the depression that got me.  It was the boom."

The role of the leader was not to lead and/or shape public opinion but to govern against it, fighting the crassness that governs the herd.  They loved Roosevelt and Kennedy for their glamor and privilege, but those with the middle-class taint — such as the failed merchant from Independence, Mo., named Harry Truman — came in for a roasting.  Their prototype candidate was Adlai Stevenson, who explained his two losses to Dwight Eisenhower by saying the voters were too dim to get him.   Until Obama came by.
Obama looks down on the middle class (and ignores the working class) because they don't share his taste for arugula, and his fashionable leftist ideas.

It may seem odd to say that his ideas are "fashionable", odd to use such a light word to describe weighty policy choices, but I long ago decided that the was the right word to describe how many of our politicians (and intellectuals) choose their positions.

(Credit where due:  Tom Wolfe has making this argument for years, most notably in Radical Chic.

Here's Siegel's book, which will be out on 28 January.)
- 7:19 AM, 23 January 2014   [link]

Would Governor Andrew Cuomo Welcome Pope Francis To New York?  Probably, even though Francis is a Catholic, and so adheres to two of the beliefs that Cuomo said were not welcome in New York, opposition to gay marriage and opposition to abortion.  (I don't know what the pope's position is on our 2nd Amendment, or even if he has one.)

The new pope is quite popular now, and I think that Governor Cuomo would try to share in that popularity.

But such a welcome would, for many of us, seem a bit odd, after Cuomo's remarks that people with such extreme beliefs were not welcome in New York.  (He has since claimed that he was only talking about their ability to win elections in the state, but this isn't the first time he has said similar things, without that qualification.)

It is strange, at least to me, to see so many prominent Catholic politicians openly oppose central church doctrines.  (Examples:  Nancy Pelosi, John Kerry, former Washington governor Christine Gregoire, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, and many, many others.)  As someone who was raised as a Protestant, I halfway expect them to leave the Catholic church, but they rarely do, though they may not attend worship services, or contribute much to the church they belong to.

Decades ago, Catholic politicians routinely claimed to follow their church's doctrines in public, however much they might sin in private.  John F. Kennedy was publicly pro-life, though he might have benefited from an illegal abortion or two in his private life.  His brother, Ted Kennedy, began as pro-life, but switched.  And, as you may know, Cuomo's father, Mario Cuomo, tried to have it both ways, opposing abortion in private and supporting it in public.

But even that dodge doesn't seem necessary, now.

(Cuomo, like French President Hollande, thinks that marriage is for gays, but not for him.

Michael Gerson gives Cuomo's remarks a more serious treatment.)
- 7:50 AM, 22 January 2014   [link]

Edward Snowden's Odd Career:  In an aside, former attorney general Michael Mukasey described that career (behind their pay wall), giving details I had not seen before.
Forgive this brief demurrer, but consider:  A young man gets a medical discharge from the military notwithstanding that his avocations include kickboxing, then has a rocky and brief tenure at the CIA that ends with the negotiated retention of his security clearance—which allowed him then to be employed by a military contractor in a job that gave him access to the secrets he later leaked—and then he manages to disable a complex computer system and steal more than a million-and-a-half documents.  Are we not entitled at least to some brief assurance that the holes in the system that allowed Edward Snowden to do what he did have been sewn up?
Good question.  Though not one that interests many of our "mainstream" journalists, who mostly seem to see Snowden as an heroic whistle blower.

Would you give someone with that career access to millions of dollars, or millions of secrets?   I would be dubious about him, and would definitely want to know more about his discharge from the Army, and his forced departure from the CIA.  (And how he had gotten the job at the CIA to begin with.)

Two general thoughts:  If you don't share secrets widely, then intelligence analysts may not see key pieces of evidence.  If you do share secrets widely, then some will inevitably leak out, or even be stolen.  Before 9/11, we were, almost certainly, not sharing our secrets as widely as we should; since 9/11, the Snowden and Bradley Manning cases suggest that we are sharing our secrets far too widely.

Those two cases also suggest that our vetting of people for security clearances has become lax, especially for people who are thought to have computer skills.

(The Mukasey op-ed is a defense of National Security Agency practices, and a critique of President Obama's proposed changes.  It's worth reading, even without that aside.

Snowden continues to puzzle me, since there was such a sharp, apparent, change in his beliefs.  I don't think we can rule out the possibility that the change was only apparent, but, if it was a real change, then we need some explanation of when, how, and why it happened.)
- 5:43 AM, 22 January 2014   [link]

Australian Journalist Tim Blair Can Write:  It may seem odd to compliment a journalist on what you might think would be a requirement for the job, but so many "mainstream" journalists do not write clearly that when you encounter one who does, consistently, you feel compelled to recognize his skill.

Two examples:

Blair explains why a Japanese soldier did not know that World War II had ended; he was getting the news from the Australian Broadcasting Company, a taxpayer-supported news organization like the BBC or our NPR.

And in a post below that one, Blair compares the effects of two Australian parties' policies on "boat people".
Under Labor, around one thousand asylum seekers were killed.

Under the current government, a few asylum seekers are spoken to rudely.

Leftists favour a return to Labor’s policies, presumably because dead people can’t hear anything.
My apologies for quoting the whole post, but I didn't see any way to avoid it.

Blair gave us more facts in a later post, explaining why some "asylum seekers" might deserve a few rude words.

(Often, our "mainstream" journalists can write clearly, but choose not to.  If, for example, there is a government disaster that can be blamed on an elected Democrat, our "mainstream" journalists will describe the disaster passively, as if no one, other than perhaps a low-level bureaucrat or two, is to blame.)
- 7:51 AM, 21 January 2014   [link]

"Key Facts Blurred" In Wendy Davis's Life Story:  By, according to this Dallas News article, the leading Democratic candidate for Texas governor, Wendy Davis.

Some of the "blurring" is so serious that some might even call it "smudging".
While her state Senate filibuster last year captured national attention, it is her biography — a divorced teenage mother living in a trailer who earned her way to Harvard and political achievement — that her team is using to attract voters and boost fundraising.

The basic elements of the narrative are true, but the full story of Davis’ life is more complicated, as often happens when public figures aim to define themselves.  In the shorthand version that has developed, some facts have been blurred.

Davis was 21, not 19, when she was divorced.  She lived only a few months in the family mobile home while separated from her husband before moving into an apartment with her daughter.

A single mother working two jobs, she met Jeff Davis, a lawyer 13 years older than her, married him and had a second daughter.  He paid for her last two years at Texas Christian University and her time at Harvard Law School, and kept their two daughters while she was in Boston.  When they divorced in 2005, he was granted parental custody, and the girls stayed with him.  Wendy Davis was directed to pay child support.
No doubt she will emphasize, in her campaign, how much she cares for children.

(Her story reminds me a bit of Elizabeth Warren's.   Warren used two husbands as stepping stones in her career.  Although the Wikipedia article — which should be treated with some skepticism — does not mention it, her first law school jobs appear to have come to her because she was married to her second husband, Bruce Mann.)
- 11:15 AM, 20 January 2014   [link]

To Russia With Love?  Yesterday's Meet the Press began with another attack on New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.  That was unfortunate, because following that was a segment on the National Security Agency, a segment that many might have missed as they turned away from the crude attacks on Christie.  In that second segment, the chairs of the intelligence committees raised serious questions about possible Russian connections to Edward Snowden.

First, House chair Mike Rogers:

Well, first of all, I mean, I couldn't disagree more.  That's like having the janitor at a bank who figured out how to steal some money deciding matters of high finance.  This was a thief, who we believe had some help, who stole information the vast majority had nothing to do with privacy.  Our Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines have been incredibly harmed by the data that he has taken with him and we believe now is in the hands of nation states.


Who helped him?


Well, there were certain questions that we have to get answered.  Where some of this aid, first of all, if it was a privacy concern he had, he didn't look for information on the privacy side for Americans.  He was stealing information that had to do with how we operate overseas to collect information to keep Americans safe.  That begs the question.  And some of the things he did were beyond his technical capabilities.  Raises more questions.  How he arranged travel before he left.  How he was ready to go, he had a go bag, if you will.


But how high level, do you think?


Well, let me just say this.  I believe there's a reason he ended up in the hands, the loving arms, of an FSB agent in Moscow.  I don't think that's a coincidence, number one.  Number two, and let me just talk about this. I think it's important.
(Mike Rogers was an FBI special agent, 1988-1994, so he should know something about criminal investigations.)

Next, Senate chair Dianne Feinstein:
Now, let me say one thing about Mr. Snowden.  I heard him on television say that he went there [to Hawaii] with the intent to scrape our systems, that he obtained a scrape tool, and he began to scrape over, I believe, a two-month period as much as he could get a hold of.  If this is somebody who comes upon something and says, "This isn't the right thing for the government to do.  I want to go out and talk to people about it."  He came there with the intent to take as much material down as he possibly could.


And do you agree with Chairman Rogers that he may have had help from the Russians?


He may well have.  We don't know at this stage.

We know he had help from some of the Wikileaks people when he was stealing the files.   As of now, I would say that it is likely that he also had help stealing the files from Russia, China, or both.

I say that because those countries benefited from his revelations.  Before his flight, the immense espionage efforts of the Chinese government were getting more and more attention here in the United States.  Even PBS ran a program on those attacks and how they might have contributed to the bankruptcy of a Canadian company, Nortel.

But since Snowden's flight, the American press has given little attention to those continuing attacks — even though both the New York Times and the Washington Post were targets of Chinese attacks.  (In fact, those two newspapers have been, one could say without too much exaggeration, Snowden's co-conspirators.)

It is possible that the timing of Snowden's flight was a coincidence, but Gordon Chang doesn't think so, and neither do I.
- 7:54 AM, 20 January 2014   [link]

Michelle Obama's Creed?  Inside this long article on possible Obama marital problems are quotations that I found fascinating.
The formidable and often forthright First Lady, who has routinely been portrayed as the one who really wears the trousers in the Obama household, says she wants to be more like her mother.

‘She does exactly what she wants to do every single day without apology,’ Michelle said.

Long an icon of wholesomeness with her campaigns for regular exercise and healthy eating, Mrs Obama even admits she wouldn’t rule out plastic surgery or Botox to keep her looks:   ‘Women should have the freedom to do whatever they need to do to feel good about themselves.’
Now it is possible that all of that is about looks, and ways of enhancing them, even though that isn't what she said, but I think it more likely that Michelle Obama is saying what she thinks, that she is saying that she has had enough of doing what others think is her duty.

(Even if it were just about looks, it would be wrong.  In any society, those who want to get along with others present themselves in ways consistent with that society's norms.  Although most of the enforcement is informal, there are laws in most societies to enforce those norms, at the extremes.  In most places in the United States a person can not go naked, even if that would make them "feel good about themselves".  And France is now enforcing, from time to time, laws against wearing burkas in public places.)

We have grown so used to certain kinds of double standards that we can be certain that the interviewer did not ask her whether men should have the freedom to do whatever they need to do to feel good about themselves.  Unfortunately, because that question might have produced an interesting answer.

(For the record:  I have no idea whether there is any truth in the gossip about the Obama's marital problems, but I can see why it might be hard to get along with a woman who holds those values.  And I can see other reasons why a woman might find Barack Obama hard to get along with.)
- 8:02 PM, 19 January 2014   [link]

"America Hates The Seahawks"  Well, not actually, what the map actually shows is that people tend to favor teams nearer to them.  (And teams that win the the Super Bowl, which the Seahawks haven't done.)

The second map, showing the fan balance between Denver and New England, is more interesting, in my opinion.
- 7:51 AM, 19 January 2014   [link]

Welcome To Our German Visitors!  Welcome to legislators Mr. Ronald Peter Kaiser and Mr. Hansjoerg Schmidt.  Welcome also to English language officer Mr. Marek Kuzma.

There are more connections between us than you might guess, since my paternal grandfather was an immigrant of German descent, from Imperial Russia.  He arrived in the third great wave of German immigration to the United States, an economic wave.  (Simplifying considerably, you could say that the first wave was religious, and the second, political.)

He settled first in North Dakota and then, later in life, in the Wenatchee Valley.  There's good chance you have used products from near that valley, because there is a large aluminum smelter south of the principal city, Wenatchee.  As you go up the valley, you would find many fruit orchards, and a small candy making company, founded by two immigrants from Armenia.  When you reached the Cascades, you would find the tourist town of Leavenworth, which was depressed while I was growing up, but reinvented itself.

I hope you have time to tell us a little about your national election, which I have written about, briefly.  (Especially if you think I am completely wrong.  Or that the Wikipedia article that I relied on has significant errors.)

And I have a speculation about Chancellor Angela Merkel that I would like to try out on both of you.

If we need more things to talk about, we can find a whole list here.
- 8:41 AM, 17 January 2014   [link]

Off To Seattle In A Few Hours:  This morning, I will be meeting two legislators from Germany at the World Affairs Council.

It should be interesting.
- 5:33 AM, 17 January 2014   [link]