January 2014, Part 4

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

An Example Of Posts That I Don't Write:  If you will indulge me for a moment, I'd like to give you an example of a post that I didn't write.  This morning, I ran across this story, with this headline: "DHS seizes $21.6 million in fake NFL merchandise, arrests 50 involved".

Like most of the commenters on the article, my first reaction was to wonder why in the world the Department of Homeland Security was involved in this case, wonder why they aren't spending their time and resources looking for terrorists.

And I actually started to write a snarky post making that argument.  But then I looked at the story more closely, saw that Customs was involved, and remembered that Customs had been folded into DHS when the department was created, so the headline probably should have read: "Customs seizes $21.6 million in fake NFL merchandise, arrests 50 involved", which wouldn't provoke me or, I would guess, most of those commenters, since keeping out fake goods is one part of Customs' job.

This isn't an important story, but I mention it to show you that I do try to check out stories before I write a post, and to remind you that, if you think I haven't gotten something wrong, I would appreciate you telling me where you think I have erred.

(Most likely, someone at DHS decided to make it a DHS story, hoping to grab credit from their subordinates at Customs.  That may have been a mistake.)
- 9:27 AM, 31 January 2014   [link]

Edward Snowden Has Been Nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.  Michael Moynihan is unimpressed, because so many people can make those nominations, and because so many past nominations have been absurd.

(For years, I have been arguing that the prize is best understood as a reprimand, though there was an exception in 2010.)
- 8:41 AM, 31 January 2014   [link]

Prominent Political Mixed-Race Families:  When I was young, opposition to "race mixing" came mostly from Southern whites, who liked to ask whether those who favored integration would be happy to see their sisters marry someone of another race.   (Even then, there was also opposition to race mixing from extremist black groups, for example, the Nation of Islam, but they were less numerous and less prominent.)

There was less attention then to another way a family could become biracial, adoption, because it violated fewer taboos.

Since then, interracial marriages and adoptions have become more common, so common that few notice how many prominent political figures are in mixed-race families.  I was reminded of that by MSNBC's tweet — since retracted — saying that conservatives would not like a biracial family shown in a Cheerios ad.  Conservative columnist Michelle Malkin reacted strongly to this, and had good reasons to do so, since she is married to a man of a different race, and has two biracial children.

Not only are such families more common, they don't seem to be political liabilities, as they once would have been.  To show that, here are two (partial) lists of prominent political figures who have mixed-race families, either through marriage or adoption.

First, Republicans: Second, Democrats: Those are the prominent biracial political families that I can think of, off hand.   (If you include grandsons, I could have added Mitt Romney.)  I am sure there are others that I don't know about.  But I think the slight disparity in the length of those two lists reflects a real difference between the leaders in the two parties;  Republican leaders are more likely to marry outside their own race, and more likely to adopt children of different races.

The organized opposition to interracial adoptions mostly comes from groups like the National Association of Black Social Workers — groups that do not support the Republican party.

(In this post, I used "race" as most journalists do, not as most scientists would.  Many scientists would put people from the Indian sub-continent in the same race as Europeans, despite their darker skins, but most of our journalists use skin color, rather than ancestry, to classify the races.)
- 8:31 AM, 30 January 2014   [link]

Americans Are Less And Less Inclined To Listen to President Obama.
On Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2014 President Barack Obama delivered his second State of the Union address of his second term in office.  The address was carried live from 9:00 p.m. to 10:15 p.m. on 13 networks and tape-delayed on Univision.  The sum of the average audience for those networks was 33,299,172 viewers with a combined household rating of 20.7.  The networks carrying the address live were CBS, ABC, NBC, FOX, Azteca, Fox Business, Fox News Channel, CNN, MSNBC, CNBC, Al Jazeera America, Galavision and Mun2.
Those roughly 33 million viewers were the fewest since Clinton's 2000 State of the Union speech, which drew about 31 million viewers.  And our population has grown about 12 percent since then.

(How accurate are those Nielsen numbers?  Certainly not to the extent reported in recent years; we can be certain, for example, that Obama did not draw exactly 33,299,172 viewers for his most recent State of the Union speech.  If I had to guess I would say they might be accurate to within 1 million.  But, unless Nielsen has been changing their methods, the numbers can be used for showing trends, as long as we remember to qualify them with "roughly", or some similar adjective.)
- 6:00 AM, 30 January 2014   [link]

President Obama's Half-Brother, Malik, is making a statement with a picture.
Malik Obama is Barack Obama’s half-brother, but he is close enough to the president to have been the best man at Barack and Michelle’s wedding.  He has also visited the White House, and is president of the Barack H. Obama Foundation.
In that picture, Malik is wearing a scarf that is the symbol of a terrorist organization, Hamas.

If you want to translate that to political terms, imagine that Malik was wearing a scarf covered with swastikas.

(In the post, Bryan Preston claims that the foundation received special treatment from the Internal Revenue Service, including back dating the approval of their status, which, he says, is illegal.   I believe he is correct about that, though I haven't seen an analysis by a tax expert.)
- 7:19 AM, 29 January 2014   [link]

Biased BBC, Example 9:  This morning, BBC America, which I can watch from 5:30 to 6:00 on our local PBS station, KCTS, made President Obama's State of the Union speech their lead story, and gave it ten minutes of their time.

How much of that ten minutes did they give to the Republican responses, either the official one by Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers, or the two unofficial replies?

Zero.  Not one word.  They did not even mention that there was an official reply.

That wasn't all that the BBC didn't mention.  They didn't mention any of the "fact check" critiques, such as this one at the Washington Post, or this one at Politico.  (For our foreign friends:  Both those news organizations are, on the whole, friendly to Obama.)

What did they discuss during those ten minutes?  Mostly Obama's promise to reduce economic inequality — which has, by most measures, increased while he was president — and whether he could do something about it by decree — although of course they didn't say "decree".  What they would like, it was clear, is for Obama to act as a monarch, a constitutional monarch perhaps, but a monarch nonetheless.

(They made a common, but annoying, mistake in the story:  They described the disagreement as between the President and Congress.  In fact, as anyone with the slightest understanding of American politics should know, the Senate is controlled by the Democrats, who have given Obama most of what he wants.

Those who would like to read or watch Rodgers speech can find it here.  I liked it, and think that almost every mother would find it touching.)
- 6:29 AM, 29 January 2014   [link]

Don't Hold Back, Mr. Williamson, tell us what you really think of the State of the Union speeches.
The annual State of the Union pageant is a hideous, dispiriting, ugly, monotonous, un-American, un-republican, anti-democratic, dreary, backward, monarchical, retch-inducing, depressing, shameful, crypto-imperial display of official self-aggrandizement and piteous toadying, a black Mass during which every unholy order of teacup totalitarian and cringing courtier gathers under the towering dome of a faux-Roman temple to listen to a speech with no content given by a man with no content, to rise and to be seated as is called for by the order of worship — it is a wonder they have not started genuflecting — with one wretched representative of their number squirreled away in some well-upholstered Washington hidey-hole in order to preserve the illusion that those gathered constitute a special class of humanity without whom we could not live.

It’s the most nauseating display in American public life — and I write that as someone who has just returned from a pornographers’ convention.
I don't agree with Kevin Williamson, entirely, though I can understand why he said that.  My reaction may be milder in part because I do not plan to watch the spectacle, for the same reasons I do not watch most political speeches:  I can get their content later, without the show business flourishes.  And I can read, and even do a partial analyses, of most political speeches in less time than it takes me to watch them.

I do sometimes watch the speeches if I am interested in the emotional effects the speeches might have on the audiences, if, in other words, I am interested in how effective a speech might be as a political tactic.

(Would Kevin Williamson be less unhappy if the speech tonight were being delivered by a conservative Republican?  Probably.)
- 5:34 PM, 28 January 2014   [link]

Pete Seeger Has Passed Away:  And the best that you are likely to see about his Communist past from our "mainstream" journalists will be lines like this one:
Briefly a communist and a life-long activist for social and environmental issues, he was indicted for contempt of Congress in 1957 while playing, recording and listening to songs by those at the bottom of the ladder.
How "briefly"?  As it happens, the Wikipedia biography is informative on that question.
In 1936, at the age of 17, Pete Seeger joined the Young Communist League (YCL), then at the height of its popularity and influence.  In 1942 he became a member of the Communist Party USA (CPUSA) itself.  He eventually "drifted away" (his words) from the Party in the late 1940s and 1950s.[58]

In the spring of 1941, the twenty-one-year-old Seeger performed as a member of the Almanac Singers along with Millard Lampell, Cisco Houston, Woody Guthrie, Butch and Bess Lomax Hawes, and Lee Hays. Seeger and the Almanacs cut several albums of 78s on Keynote and other labels, Songs for John Doe (recorded in late February or March and released in May 1941), the Talking Union, and an album each of sea chanteys and pioneer songs.   Written by Millard Lampell, Songs for John Doe was performed by Lampell, Seeger, and Hays, joined by Josh White and Sam Gary.  It contained lines such as, "It wouldn't be much thrill to die for Du Pont in Brazil," that were sharply critical of Roosevelt's unprecedented peacetime draft (enacted in September 1940).  This anti-war/anti-draft tone reflected the Communist Party line after the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, which maintained the war was "phony" and a mere pretext for big American corporations to get Hitler to attack Soviet Russia.  Seeger has said he believed this line of argument at the time—as did many fellow members of the Young Communist League (YCL).  Though nominally members of the Popular Front, which was allied with Roosevelt and more moderate liberals, the YCL's members still smarted from Roosevelt and Churchill's arms embargo to Loyalist Spain (which Roosevelt later called a mistake),[59] and the alliance frayed in the confusing welter of events.
When Hitler attacked the Soviet Union, Seeger and his comrades immediately switched their position to supporting the war against fascism.

So, by his own account, Seeger was a Communist for more than a decade.  That doesn't fit my definition of brief.  And his actions during that time show that he was a loyal follower of Stalin — even when Stalin was, in effect, allied with Hitler.

Most of us do not think that Stalin was "at the bottom of the ladder".

Seeger continued to be, for decades, if not a Communist, a formal member of the party, at the very least a communist, again by his own account.  He did, eventually, under pressure, write a song criticizing Stalin — in 2007.

All that said, it is still true that Seeger was an artist with considerable talent, an artist whose songs we can enjoy, even while we condemn his support of Stalin, and other brutal Communist dictators.  Similarly, we can be impressed by some of the work of another artist, Leni Riefenstahl, without forgiving her for support of Hitler.

(I rather like Seeger's version of Die Gedanken Sind Frei, not because it is one of his best efforts, but because it is so ironic to hear that song sung by a long-time supporter of Stalin.)
- 10:02 AM, 28 January 2014   [link]

That Story On The Growth Of The British Economy may be the most important story in Britain today, but it isn't now the most-read story at the BBC site.

This one is.

Surprised?  I was, which probably just shows how out of touch with pop culture I am.
- 7:07 AM, 28 January 2014   [link]

Britain's Economy Is Improving:  But is still not doing well.
The UK economy grew by 1.9% in 2013, its strongest rate since 2007, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

But growth in gross domestic product (GDP) for the fourth quarter slipped to 0.7%, down from 0.8% in the previous quarter, it said.

And economic output is still 1.3% below its 2008 first quarter level,
The Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition is claiming that these numbers show the success of their economic policies, and they may well be right, comparatively.  A look at the table at the end of the 21 December-3 January issue of the Economist shows that Britain did better in 2013 than any other major economy in Europe, better than Germany (.5 percent growth) and better than France (.2 percent growth).  (The Euro area, as whole, shrank by .4 percent in 2013.)

Not only that, but Britain grew about as fast as Canada and the United States during 2013.

But — and this is a big qualification — a glance at the chart that accompanies the BBC article will show you that this British recovery has been disappointing, compared to other, recent British recoveries.  It looks, in fact, much like the last two American recoveries.

At this point, I should make a partisan, or perhaps bipartisan from another point of view, observation.  The similarities in the American and British recoveries (and the recoveries in other, similar nations) suggest that we should be slow to blame our current administration, or the previous one, for the slow recovery, unless we can show similarities in the policies that these different administrations, and nations, pursued.

And I think that we can.  The high prices for energy affected both administrations, and all of these nations, and both administrations and all of these nations pursued policies that increased those prices, by pushing shifts from fossil fuels to "renewable" sources.   (The Bush administration was a partial exception; they did encourage the shift, but they also, especially during his first term, tried to encourage the production of fossil fuels.)

That switch to renewables may have been the right thing to do, if the global warming alarmists are correct, but there are strong reasons to believe that those policies slowed growth.

(From the dates, you will probably already have figured out that those 2013 figures from the Economist are estimates.)
- 6:22 AM, 28 January 2014   [link]

Epigenetics:  Epi- what?  Epigenetics.  Which I can best explain by starting with this example.
It turns out that there is a long and circuitous route, with many feedback loops, from a particular set of genes to a feature of the adult organism.  Epigenetics explores the way that different environments shape this complex process, including whether a gene is expressed at all.

A famous epigenetic study looked at two different strains of mice.  The mice in each strain were genetically identical to each other.  Normally, one strain is much smarter than the other.  But then the experimenters had the mothers of the smart strain raise the babies of the dumb strain.  The babies not only got much smarter, they passed this advantage on to the next generation.
(Emphasis added.)

It's the passing on of that advantage that boggles my mind.

Those who want more details on epigenetics can find them in this Wikipedia article.

Now then, suppose for the moment that the study is correct — and I think it probably is, for reasons I explain below — and that what is true of mice might also be true of people, which seems likely, at least to some extent.

What would be the implications for public policy?  Should we, for instance, ask prospective adoptive parents to take IQ tests before approving them?

You should be able to think, easily, of many more possibilities.

(I think that the mouse study is probably correct, because it is so mind boggling, and because it comes so close to that scientific heresy, Lysenkoism.  The scientists who did the study would have strong reasons to doubt their own results, and other scientists would have strong reasons to try to disprove the finding.

Alison Gopnik is consistently interesting.  You can find much more by her at her site, including this list of her Wall Street Journal columns.)
- 4:54 PM, 27 January 2014   [link]

Zoo Elephants In America Share One of our problems.
A recent study found that three-fourths of North American zoo elephants were overweight.   The conclusion was drawn by researchers who made their determinations in part by studying the size and shape of the pachyderms' posteriors.  They had too much junk in the trunk.
(They are using trunk, as we do here in the United States, to mean the back end of a car (or person).  That dubious Journal joke wouldn't work in Britain.)

And now, a few elephants will be sharing a solution that richer Americans sometimes use.
But now there is hope.  In the rural, rolling hills of Northern California, plans are under way for a 4,900-acre preserve that would keep African elephants healthy, in shape and breeding.   Part fat farm and part laboratory, the elephant preserve would start with three to five elephants and let them grow into a herd of 12 to 15 over two decades.
Tehama County, where the preserve will be located, is strongly Republican, so the elephants should feel right at home there.

More seriously, this sounds like a good idea.

(A Las Vegas TV station borrowed the Journal article for one of their own, but did start their article with an old joke.
How can you tell if an elephant is under your bed, goes the old Boy Scout joke?  Answer: The ceiling is close.
If you an adult, you may put that joke in the so-bad-it's-funny category.)
- 2:53 PM, 27 January 2014   [link]

This Chart Will Amuse most people (and may give a hint to some investors).
- 8:54 AM, 27 January 2014   [link]

Does Amy Glass Realize Her Strategy only works for one generation?

Probably not, though some of the commenters try to explain that to her.

It may seem unfair to pick on this young woman, but views like hers, though less extreme, can be found among many feminists.  Some years ago, I heard a certified expert on Michael Medved's show, who argued that women should have exactly one child, and then get their lazy selves back to work.  (Although she didn't put it exactly that way.)

Her strategy works more than one generation, but fails eventually.  And causes considerable problems along the way, even with many robots to help out.  (Those with a taste for arithmetic may want to work out how many generations her strategy would last.)
- 8:20 AM, 27 January 2014   [link]

Rush Limbaugh Should Fit His Election Arguments To The Facts, Not The Facts To His Arguments:  On Friday, Limbaugh described Wisconsin as follows:
Yesterday there was really profound, great news out of the state of Wisconsin.  In my mind, earth-shattering news.  In my mind, it's the kind of news that should have caused a political earthquake, and probably did.  It's just that nobody reacted to it.   Here you have one of the bluest of blue states.
. . .
I think what Governor Walker has done in Wisconsin is a huge story.  It's a huge story for the Tea Party.  It's a huge story for conservatism.  It is the way out.  It shows what we can do nationally.  Scott Walker's not the governor of a Republican state.  He's the governor of a huge Democrat state.  This is not supposed to be possible, what's happened there.
(Emphasis added.)

Is Wisconsin one of the "bluest of blue" states?  Is it a "huge Democrat state"?

Consider the evidence.  Wisconsin has a Republican governor, a Republican senator, and 6 of 9 Republican congressmen.  Both houses of the state legislature are controlled by Republicans, the Senate 18-15 and the Assembly 60-39.  (In general, I think that legislature numbers are the best guides to party balances in the states.)

Democrats have won the state in recent presidential elections, but not by overwhelming margins.  In 2004, Bush lost the state by just 11,384 votes, and was even closer in 2000.   In my opinion, Wisconsin moved against the Republicans in a reaction to Bush policies (especially the war in Iraq), and is now returning to its natural position as a swing state.   (Three of the last six governors have been Republicans, including the most popular, Tommy Thompson.)

So Wisconsin is not, by any means, a huge Democratic state.

Those who do not listen to Limbaugh regularly may wonder why he made this claim.  He has been arguing for years that Republicans can win only by running pure conservatives.   To hype Governor Walker's real accomplishments, Limbaugh presented a false picture of Wisconsin as a state where Republicans had little chance except by running Limbaugh's kind of candidate.  To make that argument he had to ignore the actual party balance, and the earlier election successes of moderate conservative Tommy Thompson.

We are all tempted, from time to time, to fit the facts to our arguments.  That may be especially true for successful talk show hosts, who usually know what their listeners want to hear.  But, for that very reason, those hosts should try hard to avoid that common trap.

Limbaugh is unlikely to correct this error — but he should.

(I am using the numbers from the current Almanac of American Politics; they may be slightly different now because of resignations, or deaths.)
- 3:05 PM, 26 January 2014   [link]

"Do The Republicans Owe Their Current Congressional Majority To Gerrymandering?"  Jowin Chen and Jonathan Rodden begin by asking that question, and conclude, after building and running simulations of randomly constructed districts, that the answer is no.
The results were not encouraging for reform advocates.  In the vast majority of states, our nonpartisan simulations produced Republican seat shares that were not much different from from the actual numbers in the last election.
Simply put, Democratic voters are too concentrated in urban centers, and in college towns, where they are usually surrounded and outnumbered by rural Republicans.

This is not a new conclusion — I've said similar things myself from time to time, as have others — but it is nice to see the conclusion supported this way.

(As the authors note, Democratic gerrymanders have helped the Democrats in a number of states, including Maryland and Illinois.  They also provide support for the argument that California's redistricting commission may have been snookered by the Democrats, as others have suggested.)

That concentration is, historically speaking, relatively recent.  When Ronald Reagan ran for governor of California in 1968, his opponent in the Republican primary was George Christopher — who had finished his second term as mayor of San Francisco in January, 1964.   Christopher was the last Republican major of San Francisco.

As San Francisco became more Democratic, so did most other large cities.

There are many reasons for our big cities becoming more Democratic (and our rural areas more Republican).  One, I am certain, is that Republicans are more likely to flee cities controlled by Democrats.  If you want a vivid example of how that happened, think of Detroit.
- 1:58 PM, 26 January 2014
Minor correction:  Christopher was not the mayor when he ran against Reagan.  I have corrected the text.
- 3:29 PM, 26 January 2014   [link]

Prison Management In Venezuela may be a bit lax.
Discotheques have long operated inside Venezuelan penitentiaries, the head of the country's prison service said Thursday in response to a public uproar over the death of a young man after partying at a disco behind bars.
. . .
In the first nine months of 2013, more than 300 inmates died in prisons around the country, while in 2012, 591 inmates died, according to the independent Venezuelan Prisons Observatory.
The Prison Services Minister, Iris Varela, was brought in to reform the prisons, and claims to have made some progress.

That prison disco was so open that it even advertised on local radio stations.

(In 2012, I was mildly surprised to learn that inmates in Venezuelan prisons may be better armed than the guards.)
- 6:45 AM, 26 January 2014   [link]

"Gold Bar Santa's Secret"  This story doesn't have any national significance, but it is interesting.
Authorities believe they have finally caught up with Dennis “Slick” Lilly, a fugitive who slipped out of a Missouri prison while posing as a guard nearly 30 years ago.

Turns out Lilly apparently was living in Gold Bar under the alias Dave Murray.  It also turns out that Lilly likely is dead.  His wife told detectives that Lilly, 64, died from pancreatic cancer in 2012.

She admitted to burying him in the back yard.
Read the whole thing for his extensive criminal history, his escapes, his apparently model life after the last escape, and how she was finally.

(Gold Bar is not a large town, so I would expect the people there to be curious about the couple's past.)
- 3:46 PM, 25 January 2014   [link]

Good News On Antibiotics:  From yesterday's Wall Street Journal, though it is behind their pay wall.

But I can quote two paragraphs, plus a sentence, without violating their copyright.  (And you can find the full article in any decent library.)
Pharmaceutical companies moved out of antibiotic development en masse in the past 15 years, citing high research costs, poor returns and onerous regulations.  Consequently, the pipeline for new antibiotics dried up.  In the 1980s, 30 new antibiotics gained approval in the United States.  Between 2010 and 2012, only one did.
. . .
Luckily for public health, the unfavorable economics are changing.  Regulators in the U. S. and Europe recently have moved to clear road blocks that have impeded antibiotic development, with the U. S. granting priority review for innovative new drugs.

Research funding is beginning to flow as well.
This is good news, but good news only in contrast with the last 25 years or so.  Congress should take a hard look at those "onerous regulations", and then prune them back.  Or even eliminate many of them entirely.

We need new antibiotics because the bugs will, invariably, develop resistance to the older ones.  According to the article, 2 million people get sick each year in the United States from drug-resistant infections, and 50 thousand people die in Europe and the United States each year from them.
- 1:35 PM, 25 January 2014   [link]