January 2015, Part 1

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Karl Rove Reviews His 2014 Predictions, And Makes New Ones for 2015.

Two samples:
Every Republican senator and virtually every congressman challenged as insufficiently conservative won their primaries.  Democrats outspent Republicans in the midterms, roughly $1.87 billion to $1.84 billion.
. . .
Given a choice between conciliation and confrontation, Mr. Obama will liberally threaten to use his veto.  Democrats will eventually rebel against defending his obstructionism.  By year’s end, polls will show voters blame him for gridlock.
That first explains some of the anger you often see among activists on the right; they were mostly defeated by those they like to call "RINOs", or members of the "establishment".  (I don't think either term makes much sense, but you can sometimes describe the struggle as between purists and pragmatists.)

Unfortunately, Rove's prediction seems all too likely to come true.  Obama has already picked fights with the new Republican majorities, and is nearly certain to pick more.

What is less clear, at least to me, is to what extent our "mainstream" journalists will report that basic fact, will even blame Obama for his obstruction.
- 8:06 AM, 8 January 2015   [link]

Or The Terrorists Could Have Been Martians:   Leftist Ed Kilgore adds a comic note to the terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo by writing that the attack could have been a "false flag" operation.
Now in thinking about this it should occur to you that the same strategy would make sense to rightwing fanatics who might put on a fake Islamic atrocity to provoke a backlash not as a method of Islamic mobilization but as an end in itself.  So perhaps we should all (and I’m admonishing myself here as well) be a bit more careful about assuming this attacks was what it appeared to be.  We will probably know soon enough.
For that matter, it could have been left wing fanatics, though that is not a hypothesis likely to occur to Kilgore.

It's a big world, so it is possible that the attack was committed by "rightwing fanatics", hoping to inspire hate against Muslims.  But anyone who has been paying attention in the last decade will have noticed that there have been tens of thousands of terrorist attacks by Muslims, and almost no — I can't think of any, offhand — false flag attacks by those on the right (or the left).

But for leftists like Ed Kilgore, the usual suspects will always be on the right, even when the evidence points elsewhere.
- 7:40 AM, 8 January 2015   [link]

"The Grown-Ups Are Now In Control Of The Congress"  Professor Jacobson calls attention, rightly, to this Charles Krauthammer summary of the changes we can expect, now that Harry Reid is no longer Senate Majority Leader, no longer able to block everything that might embarrass President Obama, and vulnerable Democratic senators.  That includes, of course, the Keystone XL pipeline.

Minor correction:  The oil in the pipeline would be mostly Canadian oil.

(The video is worth watching, too, if only for what it reveals about Chuck Schumer's plans to continue obstructing the Keystone XL pipeline, but with different tactics.  If you can't tell that he is lying, you need to watch the video more closely.

If you don't follow the Senate, you may not understand the full import of Krauthammer's criticism of Reid.  Reid has been blocking the minority from even presenting amendments to be voted on.)
- 7:16 AM, 8 January 2015   [link]

Cliff Mass Has Maps Showing How Bad — And How Uneven — our rain storm on Monday was.
Here is the latest 24h amounts.  Amazing totals.  As much as 13 inches on the coast, with many locations getting 5-8 inches.  But less than a quarter of an inch in the rain shadow over parts of Puget Sound and NW Washington.
The local responses to the storm mostly seem to have been sensible.  So far, I have not heard of any responses from our governor, Jay Inslee (D), or our King County Executive, Dow Constantine (D).

To be fair to Inslee and Constantine, I have to add that the places hardest hit are in small cities and rural areas, places where there are fewer Democrats than in, say, Seattle.
- 3:11 PM, 7 January 2015   [link]

This Speech By Turkish President Recep Erdogan may have been ill-timed, coming, as it did, just before the Islamist attack on Charlie Hebdo.
ANKARA: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday warned the European Union it should crack down on “Islamophobia” amid rising anti-Muslim protests instead of trying to teach Turkey lessons about democracy.
By way of Mr. Fur.

(I did a very quick search and didn't find any Erdogan condemnations of the attack.  But this should not surprise us, since President Erdogan is not famous for his support of free speech.)
- 9:38 AM, 7 January 2015
Erdogan has now issued a statement condemning the attack.  You can decide for yourself whether to believe him.  (To be fair, he might oppose such attacks on tactical grounds.)
- 2:46 PM, 7 January 2015   [link]

The Terrorist Attack On Charlie Hebdo:  The best account in English that I have found is in the Daily Mail.
Twelve people were killed today when gunmen carried out a 'massacre' at the offices of a notoriously anti-Islamist magazine in Paris - including a police officer who was executed as he begged for mercy on the pavement.

Two masked attackers brandishing Kalashnikovs burst into the Charlie Hebdo headquarters, opening fire on staff after seeking out journalists by name.

Those executed also included four of the most famous cartoonists in France – men who had regularly satirised Islam and the Prophet Mohammed – along with the magazine’s editor-in-chief, Stephane Charbonnier.

The killers were heard to shout 'the Prophet has been avenged' and 'Allahu akbar!' as stalked the building.
(With the usual caveat that early reports are often wrong in some of the details.)

It is more accurate to describe Charlie Hebdo (Charlie Weekly, in English) as anti-religious, rather than anti-Islam.  They have satirized all the major religions, but, as Ian Black notes, with British understatement: "Satire and Islam do not sit well together, especially if the format is visual representation of the prophet Muhammad . . . ".

Alternatives:  The BBC story is, frankly, disappointing, too short and too soft.  The New York Times story is better, and gives some background, along with a plug for President Obama.

None of the three articles included examples of the cartoons that offended the attackers, but you can see a few of them at the Gateway Pundit.

Jim Hoft does not lack courage.
- 8:33 AM, 7 January 2015   [link]

The FBI Shows Another Card:  When the FBI announced that North Korea was responsible for the hacking attack on Sony, many security experts said they hadn't proved their case with the evidence they had released.

I agreed, but noted that the FBI claimed they had more evidence that they could not reveal, which left us in the frustrating position of not knowing how strong the case against North Korea really was.  We were, I said, trying to guess how strong a poker hand was, without being able to see most of the cards.

On Friday, the FBI (and perhaps some intelligence agencies) showed us another card, in this article.
The FBI and U.S. intelligence agencies for years have been tracking the hackers who they believe to be behind the cyber attack on Sony, according to current and former American officials.   And during that long pursuit, U.S. agencies accumulated still-classified information that helps tie the hackers to the recent Sony intrusion.
If these anonymous "American officials" are telling the truth, that strikes me as a very high card, if not an ace, at least a king.

(Bruce Schneier, one of those experts, is sticking to his story, and does not even confront the fact that he hasn't seen all the evidence.)
- 8:20 AM, 6 January 2015   [link]

Bureaucracies And Snow Plowing On Mt. Rainier:  Yesterday morning, I was amused to see snow plows clearing the main parking lot at Paradise on Mt. Rainier, amused for two reasons:  The road was closed to Paradise, so no parking spaces were needed for visitors, and it was so warm and wet that the snow would soon be cleared by the rain that was falling.

Nonetheless, there were two large snow plows out there, pushing the snow out of the parking lot.


Because that is the way bureaucracies operate.  The park has rules about how and when snow should be plowed, and they follow those rules, even when following them doesn't make any sense, as was true yesterday.

This is not only the kind of behavior we should expect from bureaucracies; it is also how — within limits — we want bureaucracies to behave.  We want them to follow rules because, that way people are more likely to be treated equally, because government workers are clearer about what they are supposed to do, and because allowing those workers large amounts of discretion often leads to abuses.

We don't want a snow plow driver on Rainier to give special treatment to some visitors, we do want him to be clear about what his job is, and we don't want him to take a day off, just because he feels bored with the job.

Of course, we want the rules those bureaucrats follow to correspond with reality as closely as possible — but it isn't always easy to find the best rules, even with some experience.  (If you doubt me, spend a few minutes trying to think of rules for those snow plow drivers up on Mt. Rainier — and then try to think of exceptions where your rules would not work.)

(Minor technical point:  The snow plow drivers may be contractors, not park employees, but that doesn't affect my central argument.)
- 7:56 AM, 6 January 2015   [link]

That Anti-Boehner Poll Has Been Misinterpreted:  Aaron Blake explains.  Boehner wasn't matched against an actual candidate, but against "someone new".
Conservatives on social media are abuzz over a new poll showing Republican voters would prefer someone besides John Boehner serve as their speaker.
. . .
A more accurate summary of the poll, then, would be: "Republican voters overwhelmingly want generic ideal politician to replace Boehner as speaker."

The poll is hardly a sign of Boehner's strength, but it's also being over-sold.  It shows 43 percent of Republican voters have a favorable view of Boehner, while 34 percent have an unfavorable one. And just 11 percent have a "strongly" unfavorable view of him.

That's hardly the stuff of a pariah.

In addition, GOP voters say 52-37 that they trust Boehner to "fight for the issues that are important to most Republicans."
This isn't a new kind of finding; generic candidates almost always do better than actual candidates; in June 2011, for example, a generic Republican was five points ahead of Barack Obama, which led me to joke that Republicans should pick a candidate "to be named later", that is, after the election.

(Here's a "whip count" for those wondering whether Boehner will win re-election, and here's a longer discussion of generic candidates versus actual candidates.)
- 7:18 AM, 6 January 2015   [link]

Bulls, Bears, Bacteria, And Political Partisans?  In 2004, and then again in 2008, I argued that much political behavior could be explained if you assumed that voters follow the same rule that (many) bacteria and (most) successful speculators do:  "Cut your losses short, and let your profits run."

In general, I believe that political parties follow that same rule.  If they won the last election with a particular set of programs and leaders, they keep those programs and leaders.  If they lost, they change programs and leaders.

So no one thought it odd that, for example, Dick Gephardt stepped down after losing the 2002 election for control of the House, or that many, in and out of the Republican Party, were calling for changes after the presidential losses in 2008 and 2012.

Which makes the current fights over elections for congressional leaders so odd.

Republicans won the last election — big — and Democrats lost.  So, ordinarily, we would expect challenges to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and soon-to-be Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid.

If there are any such challenges, they have escaped my notice.

Instead, we had primary challenges to both Speaker Boehner and soon-to-be Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and we have a number of Republican backbenchers, who are loudly telling the world that they will not vote for Boehner.

Should we conclude that these men — and the ones I have heard about are all men — are not as smart as the average bacteria?

Since comparative IQ tests are not practical, we don't have a way to get a definitive answer to that question.  But on general grounds I am willing to concede that those congressmen are smarter than the average bacteria.

Which means that we need a different explanation for their actions than the usual one.  Ordinarily, we expect democratic politicians to, above all, seek to win elections.   (Those that don't are usually eliminated by those that do, just as those businessmen who do not seek profits seldom last long against competitors who do.)

There are admirable explanations, and those backbenchers have, I would guess, already supplied them.  But I think we ought to be honest enough to consider two others, neither of which is entirely admirable.  First, taking a stand like this can be useful fund raiser, can attract money from activists all over the country.  Second, some people — and politicians are probably more prone to this than others — value attention in and of itself.  And there is no doubt that these backbenchers are currently getting a great deal of attention.

Whether this fund raising and this attention seeking are good for the country is something I will leave up to you to decide, without my input.  (Though you can probably guess my opinion.)

(For the record:  When I say that we expect democratic politicians to seek to win elections above all, I am being descriptive, not prescriptive.  I am not saying that is the right way for them to behave — sometimes it is, sometimes it isn't — just that it is what we should expect.  And I suppose I should add that exceptions, such as the ones Theodore Sorenson described in Profiles in Courage, deserve all the more honor because their behavior is so unusual.)
- 7:59 PM, 5 January 2015   [link]

Unintentional Comic Gold:  New York Times reporter Michael Schmidt obviously intended his article on President Obama's golf game to be a puff piece.  And it is, mostly.

But his third paragraph cracked me up:
Six years into his presidency, there seems to be almost nothing the nation does not know about Mr. Obama, ranging from his views on the use of drones to target terrorists to how his daughters have less interest in hanging out with him as they become teenagers.
You don't even have to be a conservative to realize just how funny that is, just read a few pieces from "mainstream" journalists who have tried to cover him.   For example.

It is possible, of course, that Schmidt intended that paragraph as a joke, but if you skim through the rest of the article, you'll see how unlikely that is.

(I suspect those of you who know golf may see more jokes in the article, jokes that I missed.)
- 6:48 PM, 5 January 2015   [link]

Bill Clinton And Jeffrey Epstein:  Shortly after I put up that brief post on the Jeffrey Epstein scandals, Matt Drudge put up a link to this Daily Mail article that recycles all that is known about Bill Clinton's links to Epstein.
A new lawsuit has revealed the extent of former President Clinton's friendship with a fundraiser who was later jailed for having sex with an underage prostitute.

Bill Clinton's relationship with Jeffrey Epstein, who served time in 2008 for his illegal sexual partners, included up multiple trips to the onetime billionaire's private island in the Caribbean where underage girls were allegedly kept as sex slaves.

The National Enquirer has released new details about the two men's friendship, which seems to have ended abruptly around the time of Epstein's arrest.
Two reasons for skepticism: that "allegedly" and the source, the National Enquirer, which is sometimes, but not always right in their scandal coverage.

And one reason not to be skeptical:  This is Bill Clinton we are talking about.
- 12:32 PM, 5 January 2015   [link]

The Steve Scalise Scandal That Wasn't:  When the charges against the Louisiana congressman (and majority whip) popped up, I did what I usually do; I looked him up in the Almanac of American Politics.

What I found there made me skeptical about the accusations, for two reasons.  Speaking before a David Duke gathering would seem to be mistake that a smart, experienced politician wouldn't make.  And Scalise was both smart and experienced; he had earned a degree from Louisiana State in computer science and worked for ten years as a "systems engineer".  Even while earning that degree, he had been involved in politics, serving as speaker of the student assembly.

Second, Scalise has been friends with Cedric Richmond, since their days together in the Louisiana legislature.  Nor is Richmond the only Scalise friend who has a better natural tan than I do.

So the story that I was seeing didn't fit with what I learned about Scalise, in that quick check.  And so I set it aside, until I could learn more.

Now, anyone who wants to can find out why it didn't fit.  It is false.
Scalise, the House majority whip now under fire for having spoken back in 2002 to a white-supremacist group tied to the former Klansman Duke, says he did not know the nature of the group to which he spoke.  The Duke lieutenant who invited him confirms that account, as does another attendee.   Indeed, he says that technically Scalise spoke not at the supremacist group at all, but to a civic-association meeting just before the supremacist conference began.

By all accounts, Scalise spoke not on racial issues, but on taxes and spending.

In short, the more we find out about that event, and about Scalise, the more this whole “scandal” looks like a case of guilt not just by association, but by unintentional, second-degree association — a guilt wrongly assessed against a man with a long record of working not to divide the races but to bridge the differences between them.
Scalise may be innocent, but that doesn't mean that those on the left (and, oddly, some Republicans opposed to Speaker Boehner) won't keep using the scandal against him, though they may use weasel words like this:
. . . after it was reported that Scalise once spoke before a white supremacist group."

CBS is not claiming that Scalise spoke before a white supremacist group, they are merely observing, using the passive voice, that it had been reported that Scalise once spoke before a white supremacist group.
But most people won't notice what commenter "Terry" did, and will hear that as a flat statement that Scalise spoke before the group.
- 9:57 AM, 5 January 2015   [link]

If You Are Wondering About Those Prince Andrew/Jeffrey Epstein Stories, you can find a partial explanation in this survey article from the Washington Post.
Overlooking the Atlantic’s azure waters along the coast of Palm Beach, Fla., a seemingly endless line of megamansions hide behind tall walls.  There, some of the planet’s richest people play host to glamorous balls and parties.  But in one of those houses, tucked away on El Brillo Way and once guarded by winged gargoyles, such glamour collided with scandal.

The estate belonged to New York financier Jeffrey Epstein — a sex offender once linked with former president Bill Clinton, Nobel Prize-winning scientists, Kevin Spacey and British royalty.   A stream of young girls allegedly flitted in and out of the house in the mid-aughts, attending naked pool parties and, police records showed, dispensing massages to Epstein and other guests.
For fairness sake, note the "allegedly".

And now you know at least as much about the scandal as I do.

(The article does not mention Alan Dershowitz, not even his denials.

I don't why I had missed (or forgotten) the Clinton connection.  But it does seem like something that our "mainstream" journalists ought to investigate.)
- 9:12 AM, 5 January 2015   [link]

Après Le Déluge, It Will Be Time To Venture Out:   Western Washington is going through one of our standard flood scenarios, heavy rain falling in the mountains on top of snow.
Heavy wind and rain are causing power outages, mudslides and flooding conditions around the Puget Sound.

The rains have prompted the National Weather Service to issue a flood watch for much of Western Washington.
. . .
6:23 a.m. - A mudslide in Hoquiam pushed two homes off their foundations.  The slide occurred in the 2500 block of Queets Avenue.  No one was hurt.

6:15 a.m. - Hoquiam School District closed.

6:02 a.m. - Aberdeen has received 5 inches of rain in the last 12 hours. Roads are covered with 8 to 12 inches of water.  Highway 12, the road into Aberdeen, is blocked near Aberdeen after part of a cliff came crashing down.  The highway is expected to be closed most of the day.  Flooding was also being reported in Hoquiam.
The hardest hit places are not in the Puget Sound, but are, like Hoquiam and Aberdeen, in the southwest corner of Washington state.  (Despite its reputation, Seattle actually gets less rain than most other parts of western Washington, thanks to the rain shadow of the Olympic Mountains.)

But there is enough rain here to keep me indoors for much of today.

(If you are wondering about the title, I borrowed it, with a minor change, from a saying attributed to a French king.)
- 8:09 AM, 5 January 2015   [link]

Progress In Kenya From Mobile Phones, Micro Payments, And Solar Panels:  This story, from Friday's Wall Street Journal, sounds almost too good to be true.  It begins with this example:
The wife of a cow herder recently switched on a light in her home for the first time ever, all thanks to a mobile phone.

Rokoine Tipanoi used the mobile phone in November to make a tiny down payment on a solar panel on her roof that provides electricity to her home.  The payment was so small, in fact, that it’s cheaper to light her room now than it was to fill her old kerosene lantern.

Hundreds of thousands of such payments have allowed a Kenyan startup called M-Kopa LLC to build a business, one light bulb at a time.

“Now I have two lights, instead of one lamp.  And I can charge my phone,” Ms. Tipanoi said of the new solar panel she snagged for a $30 deposit and daily fees of 40 Kenyan shillings, or less than 50 cents.
(Before getting this solar panel, she probably would have to rely on a man coming around with a car battery, to charge her phone.)

Although solar energy has been much over sold, there are situations where it is the best solution — and this appears to be one of them.

According to the article, it will take her about a year to pay for the panel, at 40 Kenya shillings per day.

Mobile phones, once an expensive toy for the rich, are becoming a key to improving life for the "bottom billion", especially in Africa.  There are more examples in the article, some of them surprising, at least to me.

(Here's the company's web site.  They have already expanded to Uganda and Tanzania.)
- 7:33 AM, 4 January 2015   [link]

The Obamas Use Their Hawaii Vacation To Get In Touch with the middle class.
President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama enjoyed a nearly three-hour, multi-course meal Thursday night at Vintage Cave, an exclusive fine dining restaurant in Honolulu.

With a prix-fixe meal of $295 per person and expensive wines likely paired with the haute cuisine meal, a dinner for two can run upwards of $1,000, according to Honolulu Magazine.

And the exclusive spot also offers "memberships" to prospective clients who can apply to become half-million dollar "charter members" or $50,000 "special members."
In the picture, Michelle looks genuinely happy — which is not her usual expression.
- 7:34 AM, 3 January 2015   [link]

If You Doubt That The United States Is Exceptional, take a look at the graph illustrating this article.
How's your day: typical, particularly good or particularly bad?

Researchers at the Pew Research Center have posed this question to some 48,542 people in 44 countries.

The results show Americans are significantly more positive about how their days are going — standing out in stark contrast to most other rich nations.
Now that is what statisticians call an outlier!

You can see that all the other nations in the study fit, fairly well, along a simple curve, with positive attitudes declining as income rises.  Then there is the United States, way off by itself.

If I had an explanation for that distance, or even an interesting speculation, I'd share it with you.  But I don't.

(Here's the Pew post that the Daily Mail is using.)
- 2:46 PM, 2 January 2015   [link]

There's A New Baby In This Area:  A very large new baby.
A newborn orca calf, seen in waters northeast of the Olympic Peninsula, is a surprise because of its mother’s age, according to the Center for Whale Research.

Orca J16, known as Slick, was seen with a new baby that is less than a week old.

The birth brings the number of the Salish Sea’s southern resident killer whales to 78.
That's the first report; now scientists aren't so sure who the mother is — and have an interesting speculation about the birth.
Balcomb said it's possible the real mother may be J16's daughter, J36.

He also said bite marks on the baby indicate another orca may have helped deliver the baby by pulling it out of the womb with its teeth.  He and other researchers believe J16 may be the orca midwife and grandmother to the new orca.  Balcomb said J16 may be helping her daughter recover from a difficult birth by babysitting J50.
Not being an expert on orcas, I won't venture an opinion on the likelihood that this theory is correct.  But orcas are smart and very social animals, so it doesn't sound impossible.

(You can see more pictures of the new baby at the Center for Whale Research site.

How large?  About 400 pounds.)
- 8:12 AM, 2 January 2015   [link]

How About Using "Pre-Cambrian" Rather Than "Jurassic"?  Yesterday, I saw another person describing political opponents as belonging to the Jurassic age, belonging, in other words, to the age of stupid dinosaurs.

Over the years, I've seen this so many times that I have begun to wish that people would use a different comparison.  Partly that is because I am bored by Jurassic, which has become a cliché; partly that is because I think any animals as successful as the dinosaurs deserve a little respect.

And so, in hopes of at least seeing a different cliché, let me suggest that writers substitute Pre-Cambrian for Jurassic.  Although there are ongoing arguments about smart the dinosaurs were, there is no doubt that Pre-Cambrian animals would not have gotten high scores on IQ tests.

(I suppose it is mostly because of the book and the movie that we have come to think of dinosaurs as living in the Jurassic, rather than in all three periods: Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous.)
- 7:15 AM, 2 January 2015   [link]

"Voter Turnout Boomed Under Bush --- Not Under Obama"   Michael Barone points out another politically incorrect fact.
There is a widespread assumption that President Obama has expanded the electorate and inspired booming voter turnout.  One could make a case for that based on the 2008 election.   But since then, not so much.

Looking back over the past 15 years, the biggest surge in voter turnout came during George W. Bush’s presidency.  In the Obama years, turnout actually declined in both the 2012 presidential and the 2014 congressional elections.
. . .
The 2012 Obama turnout operation outshone the Republicans and Obama was re-elected.   Even so, he got 3.6 million fewer votes than he did four years before.  That proved to be enough, because Mitt Romney received only 1 million more votes than John McCain.  Overall turnout sagged from 131 million to 129 million.  Both sides seemed dispirited
The United States population grew by more than nine million between 2008 and 2012, so you would expect, everything else being equal, that total turnout would have increased by about four million, rather than declined by more than two million.

(Here's my very rough guesstimate, if you are wondering where that four million comes from:   I assumed that two-thirds of that nine million are old enough to vote, and eligible in other ways.   And I assumed that two-thirds of that six million actually vote.  You could refine that estimate in a number of ways, but even after doing that I doubt that your final estimate would be much smaller than three million, or much larger than five million.)
- 6:47 AM, 2 January 2015   [link]

Happy New Year!

- 12:48 PM, 1 January 2015   [link]