January 2015, Part 4

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

"The Democratic Bench Is Shockingly Weak"  Jay Cost notes that there are no plausible declared alternatives to Hillary Clinton in the race for the Democratic nomination.  And almost no plausible alternatives in the governorships and the Congress.

I have observed the same thing for some years, and have worried about it.

No, seriously.  Even though I usually vote for Republican candidates, I want the Democratic Party to have plausible leaders — because I recognize that sometimes Democrats will win elections, whether they deserve to, or not.

Unfortunately, though the Democrats have few leaders who can govern, they have many who are reasonably effective campaigners.  Washington state's governor, Jay Inslee, is a good example of that combination.  He has been a joke of a governor, but he ran a better campaign in 2012 than his opponent, the Republican attorney general, Rob McKenna.
- 8:15 AM, 30 January 2015   [link]

Senator McCain Shouldn't Have Said It:  And I shouldn't have laughed at what he said.

But I'll bet I'm not the only one who thinks that his description of the Code Pink protesters has some truth to it.

(To be more serious for a moment, one of the things that has always interested me was the tacit alliance between Code Pink and parts of the Democratic Party.  And the way our "mainstream" reporters ignore that alliance even though the founder of Code Pink, Jodie Evans, was an Obama bundler in 2008, and a long-time Democratic activist.)
- 7:25 AM, 30 January 2015   [link]

Andrew Malcolm's Weekly Collection of jokes.

Malcolm liked this one best:
Meyers: Liam Neeson said he believes America has too many guns.  And nearly all of them were used by Liam Neeson in ‘Taken 3.’
I preferred these three:
Meyers: “American Sniper” made $90 million last weekend.  But director Michael Moore says snipers aren’t heroes.  I don’t know, Michael Moore.  But if you’re that easy to spot, do you really want to make an enemy out of snipers?
. . .
Meyers: A Seattle dog knows how to ride the bus to take itself to the dog park without its owner.  It sounds cute until you find out the dog’s only taking the bus because he has four DUIs.
. . .
Conan: After his State of the Union speech Obama talked with three YouTube celebrities.  Right, the president met with a cat, a bear and a water-skiing squirrel.
Which might have been better than the three that he did meet with.
- 1:52 PM, 29 January 2015   [link]

More Payments To Cylvia Hayes:  Remember Cylvia Hayes, Oregon's "First Consort", a woman who has found a way to profit from living, and working, in the governor's mansion?

Oregon journalists have found another dubious set of payments to her.
More of the consulting work done by Gov. John Kitzhaber's fiancée is coming to light.

Cylvia Hayes confirmed in an email to the East Oregonian that she was paid $118,000 over two years to work with a clean energy organization.   At the time, she was advising the governor on similar topics.

Neither Hayes nor the organization, the Clean Economy Development Center of Washington, D.C., would provide details about the work she did during a paid fellowship.
Some will find the "Clean" in the name ironic, especially after they have seen these details.
Public records also yield few details about the Clean Economy Development Center, which functioned largely under the radar of the IRS, state attorneys general and other regulators.  As a nonprofit it filed just one federal tax return — in 2010, when it reported more than $900,000 in revenue.  In May 2014, the IRS revoked the group’s tax-exempt status due to its failure to file returns for three consecutive years.

California and most other states require charities to register, often with the attorney general’s office, if they solicit contributions.  But despite receiving grants from at least one California nonprofit, the Clean Economy Development Center did not register in California.
All that paperwork can be a hassle.

Two puzzles, to which I have no answers, or even plausible speculations:  Why the two haven't gotten married, which seems like the practical thing to do, and what, if anything, Governor Kitzhaber knew about her "consulting" business.  (Presumably, they don't file joint tax returns.)

(Some will wonder why, given these scandals, Oregon voters re-elected Kitzhaber last fall.   Apparently, the voters there like him — and the Republicans weren't able to find a strong candidate.   They might have done better if the scandals had broken before they chose their candidate.

So Kitzhaber was hurt by the scandals, but survived, with 49.89 percent of the popular vote.

Hayes and Kitzhaber have been "romantically involved" since her (unsuccessful) 2002 campaign for a seat in the Oregon legislature.)
- 1:23 PM, 29 January 2015   [link]

What's The West Coast Port Slowdown All About?  Jobs, specifically jobs maintaining and repairing truck beds.
The dockers are not angry about wages—which are relatively high for blue-collar workers at $25-$35 an hour—but about outsourcing.  They want shippers and terminal operators to stop hiring non-union labour to maintain and repair the chassis, or truck beds, that carry cargo from dockside yards to warehouses.  On January 26th the two sides reportedly reached a tentative agreement on this issue, but it may take weeks or months until they formally approve a new contract—and the ports run properly again.
I haven't seen any estimate of how many jobs they have been fighting over, but it seems unlikely that there are more than a few hundred.  (The total membership of the ILWU is less than 40,000.)

The losses to American exporters have already been considerable, though, again, I haven't seen any formal estimates.  From the stories I've read, it's my impression that farmers have been hit hardest by the slowdown.  That seems plausible, since farm products are often both perishable and too cheap to be worth shipping by air.

(I have seen a number of funny stories, too.  For instance, in December McDonalds was forced to fly "nearly 1,000 tonnes of spuds" to Japan, in order to keep its outlets supplied with French fries.  Though, come to think of it, that may be funnier to those who do not supply, or work for, McDonalds.)

So far, I haven't seen any evidence that the Obama administration, or that the three West Coast governors — all Democrats — have made a serious effort to end this slowdown, in spite of the economic damage it has had.  The Obama administration did send out a low-level mediator, but only after the union had agreed to request one.  And it is possible that Governors Inslee (Washington), Kitzhaber (Oregon), and Brown (California) have made quiet efforts to end the slowdown.  Possible, but unlikely, in my opinion.

(For the record:  The International Longshore and Warehouse Union claims that the slowdown is the fault of management.   The Economist doesn't believe them, and neither do I.)
- 8:21 AM, 29 January 2015   [link]

How Dangerous Is Measles?  More than I would have guessed, from my own childhood experience.  When I was a kid, everyone got measles and almost everyone recovered, fairly quickly.  (There were tragic exceptions.)

It was, along with mumps, chicken pox, whooping cough, and a few others, a "childhood disease", an inevitable part of growing up, but not something to be terribly afraid of.  (Polio, on the other hand, before the Salk vaccine, frightened most of us, badly.)

Long after I had had the disease, I learned, from William McNeill and others, that measles was, and still can be, extremely serious:
Measles is an airborne disease that is spread through respiration (contact with fluids from an infected person's nose and mouth, either directly or through aerosol transmission via coughing or sneezing).  The virus is highly contagious—90% of people without immunity sharing living space with an infected person will catch it.[4]
. . .
Complications with measles are relatively common, ranging from mild complications such as diarrhea to serious complications such as pneumonia (either direct viral pneumonia or secondary bacterial pneumonia),[10] otitis media,[11] acute brain inflammation[12] (and very rarely SSPE—subacute sclerosing panencephalitis),[13] and corneal ulceration (leading to corneal scarring).[14]  Complications are usually more severe in adults who catch the virus.[15]  The death rate in the 1920s was around 30% for measles pneumonia.[16]

Between 1987 and 2000, the case fatality rate across the United States was three measles-attributable deaths per 1000 cases, or 0.3%.[17]  In underdeveloped nations with high rates of malnutrition and poor healthcare, fatality rates have been as high as 28%.[17] In immunocompromised persons (e.g., people with AIDS) the fatality rate is approximately 30%.[18]
(Emphasis added.)

So, if measles is around, you are almost certain to get it — if you aren't vaccinated, or haven't had the disease — and it can be serious, even deadly.  (Although the measles vaccine is one of the most effective, it does not protect everyone who gets it, for reasons that are still obscure.  But those people are still safe, if everyone around them has had the disease, or has been vaccinated.)

Measles was completely eliminated from the United States, but now it is back and is likely to be a chronic problem, thanks to increased air travel to and from nations that have not eliminated the virus, and our own vaccination opponents.

The measles outbreak that started at Disneyland wasn't the first — and won't be the last.

(You can see the spread of anti-vaccination beliefs in these maps of California.   In the past, those who opposed vaccinations in the United States were mostly people who belonged to traditional religious sects; as the maps show, now they are more likely to be wealthy leftists.

One of the reasons that measles could be so deadly for primitive peoples is that it would often affect nearly everyone in a village at the same time, leaving too few able to do basic nursing.)
- 6:47 AM, 29 January 2015   [link]

Are The Russians Subsidizing Green Groups Here, Too?  That's the charge in this Free Beacon article.
A shadowy Bermudan company that has funneled tens of millions of dollars to anti-fracking environmentalist groups in the United States is run by executives with deep ties to Russian oil interests and offshore money laundering schemes involving members of President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle.

One of those executives, Nicholas Hoskins, is a director at a hedge fund management firm that has invested heavily in Russian oil and gas.  He is also senior counsel at the Bermudan law firm Wakefield Quin and the vice president of a London-based investment firm whose president until recently chaired the board of the state-owned Russian oil company Rosneft.

In addition to those roles, Hoskins is a director at a company called Klein Ltd.  No one knows where that firm’s money comes from.  Its only publicly documented activities have been transfers of $23 million to U.S. environmentalist groups that push policies that would hamstring surging American oil and gas production, which has hurt Russia’s energy-reliant economy.
Lachlan Markay makes a strong, but circumstantial, case in the article.

And it isn't as if this would be a new method for the Russians.  During the Cold War, they subsidized all kinds of organizations in the West, from the French Communist Party to, probably, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.

An old KGB man like Putin would know all about such past activities, and probably would be proud of some of the successes they had.

(In early December, the New York Times published an article describing the suspicions, in Eastern Europe, that the Russians had been subsidizing anti-fracking protests in Lithuania and Romania.  I thought that the charges were plausible, but saw no direct evidence in the article.

That French title can be translated, literally, as: "The Silver of Moscow: The most secret history of the Communist Party of France".  Since the French sometimes use "silver" as we do "gold", as a synonym for money, a more idiomatic translation would be: "Moscow's Money: . . . ".)
- 7:24 AM, 28 January 2015   [link]

Worth Buying:  Today's Wall Street Journal, for a number of reasons, including this Bret Stephens column, reminding us of some of the "micro" problems with the Greek economy, including the by-now famous OliveShop example.

Here's the bottom line:
It took 10 months to get all the right stamps, certificates and signoffs.  The problem with the bank was resolved only when Mr. Antonopoulos opted for PayPal instead.   Registering with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, by contrast, took him all of 24 hours and one five-minute digital form.
(The bank wanted them to have a web site entirely in Greek — even though they were planning to sell most of their goods to foreigners.)

In Greece, as in many other countries, the owners of this business could have gotten the permits they needed more quickly, with the help of a few "little envelopes".

This practice is so common in Greece that some Greeks can't understand how we (mostly) do without it.
When I interviewed Syriza leader (now Prime Minister) Alexis Tsipras in New York two years ago, his first question to me was: “Here in the United States, why do you not have this phenomenon of passing money under the table?”
You may not find Stephens's answer entirely satisfying — I didn't — but he is right to call our attention to that question.

(For the record:  In some nations, low levels of bribery have helped businesses cope with ridiculous regulations, and sometimes even allow them to approach the efficiency they would have in an honest free market.  That's not an admirable solution, but it may be the only one available to a business, especially a small business.)
- 1:59 PM, 27 January 2015   [link]

Why Doesn't President Obama Use Nicotine Patches?  On his visit to India, Obama again offended some locals by publicly chewing Nicorette gum.
President Obama, in India for a state visit, was chided by local press after he was spotted chewing gum during Monday’s Republic Day parade, which celebrates the day that India’s 1950 constitution went into effect.

Calling the incident “an ungainly sight,” the Times of India reported: “In the picture captured by cameras and posted on Twitter by some users, Mr. Obama was spotted removing his chewing gum while [Indian Prime Minister Narendra] Modi was seen trying to explain something to the US president.”
The Christian Science Monitor says that Obama has done this in China, in France (at a World War II commemoration), and at his own inauguration.

I have some sympathy for anyone trying to cope with nicotine addiction, as Obama has been doing, but I can't help but wonder why he doesn't use an unobtrusive fix at public events, like nicotine patches.

It's not a big issue, but that he doesn't use patches (or just tough it out at public events) tells us something about the man — and his lack of respect for others.
- 1:01 PM, 27 January 2015   [link]

The Sheldon Silver Arrest:  David Freedlander summarizes the New York background and the arrest.
One New York governor visited high-priced hookers.  A congressman accidentally tweeted a picture of his penis to his followers.  The state’s top financial officer was sent to prison.  The Senate majority leader was convicted of accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars of bribes from a businessman.  A senator was charged with diverting state aid from a Little League to his own cigar business.  Another was charged with slashing his girlfriend’s face with a broken glass.  A state lawmaker took bribes to pay for his legal counsel while on trial for bribery.  State government ground to a halt for a month when Republicans and Democrats couldn’t settle who was in charge of the Senate.  At least three lawmakers were busted for inappropriate relations with young staffers.

Over the last 20 years of New York state political scandals, each seemingly more baroque than the last, Sheldon Silver has remained, Sphinx-like, seemingly untouched by chaos, with his power as speaker of the state Assembly and one of the “three men in a room” who rule New York uninterrupted.

That is, until midnight Wednesday, when the 70-year-old Silver was arrested for allegedly collecting millions of dollars in bribes from real-estate and medical interests with business before the state of New York.
(Freedlander doesn't say which party most of those miscreants belong to, which will make readers guess, correctly, that most of them are Democrats, very definitely including Silver.)

If the prosecutor, Preet Bhahara, is right in most of his charges, then Silver had many accomplices, and many more, especially in the Democratic Party, must have at least suspected that Silver was crooked.

But he was not a man you crossed, not if you wanted to succeed in New York politics, especially if you were a Democrat.

Freedlander says:  "But for liberals, Silver was a hero."  Which, as the rest of the paragraph shows, Freedlander intends as a compliment to Silver.  But, if you disregard his partisan claims (as you should), that seems more like an indictment of New York liberals.

(Here's Silver's Wikipedia biography, with even more caveats than usual.)
- 99:99 AM, 27 January 2015   [link]

The European Union Is Less Trusted In Greece:  No surprise, there.  It is also less trusted now than it was in 2007, in nine of ten major states polled, all except Finland.  (Finland doesn't trust the EU now, but trust there has risen from 29 percent to 35 percent, probably because the EU has given Finland some support against Russia.)
Europe is being swept by a wave of popular disenchantment and revolt against mainstream political parties and the European Union. In 2007, a majority of Europeans - 52 per cent - trusted the EU.  That level of trust has now fallen to a third.

Once, Britain's Euroscepticism was the exception, and was seen as the biggest threat to the future of the EU.
Now, it is found in every EU nation.  Of the ten major states, only in Ireland is the trust above 50 percent, but just barely, at 53 percent.

The reasons for the distrust vary.  Some, especially in nations like Spain, Italy, France, and Greece, blame the EU for economic stagnation; others, especially in nations like Sweden, Britain, and the Netherlands, blame the EU for unchecked immigration.

There is some truth to both critiques.

(The map is interactive, so you can mouse over it to see the numbers and basic facts for each nation.)
- 5:42 AM, 27 January 2015   [link]

Mitch McConnell Promised That He Would Allow The Senate To Vote:  He's keeping that promise.
The new Republican-controlled Senate has already voted on more amendments in one week than the Democratic-controlled Senate considered in all of 2014.

Republican senators applauded the feat when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) announced it on the Senate floor.

“We’ve actually reached a milestone here that I think is noteworthy for the Senate.  We just cast our 15th roll-call vote on an amendment on this bill, which is more votes — more roll-call votes on amendments than the entire United States Senate [did] in all of 2014,” he said.
It seems odd to celebrate a legislative body actually voting on amendents, but sometimes a return to normal is worthy of celebration.

Reid's stratedy may have been an error, in the long run.

Non-voting was an issue in Alaska last November, as Republicans pointed out that the incumbent Democratic senator, Mark Begich, had not gotten a vote on "a single amendment he sponsored during his six-year career".

He lost.  The margin was close enough — 2.13 percent — so that those non-votes may be part of the reason he lost.

(I haven't seen any good explanation for Reid's grip on power in the Democratic caucus.  I was more than half expecting that he and Nancy Peolosi would draw challenges after their election defeats, but neither did.).
- 9:15 AM, 26 January 2015   [link]

Boxes For Babies:  The BBC describes a traditional Finnish program.
For 75 years, Finland's expectant mothers have been given a box by the state.  It's like a starter kit of clothes, sheets and toys that can even be used as a bed.  And some say it helped Finland achieve one of the world's lowest infant mortality rates.

It's a tradition that dates back to the 1930s and it's designed to give all children in Finland, no matter what background they're from, an equal start in life.
. . .
Mothers have a choice between taking the box, or a cash grant, currently set at 140 euros, but 95% opt for the box as it's worth much more.

The tradition dates back to 1938.  To begin with, the scheme was only available to families on low incomes, but that changed in 1949.
It sounds like a good idea, though better suited to small, relatively homogeneous countries like Finland, than to the United States.

(Incidentally, the cardboard box sounds slightly safer to me than the traditional cribs used here in the United States.)
- 8:34 AM, 26 January 2015   [link]

Greece Has Just Given Power To The Radical Left:  Literally.  The name of the winning party, SYRIZA, means "Coalition of the Radical Left".

SYRIZA came in first, with about 36 percent of the popular vote.  Under a peculiar Greek rule — the party with the most popular votes gets a bonus of 50 seats in the 300 seat parliament — that was almost enough to give them a majority.  Right now, they have 149 seats.  (The news reports I have seen describe the results as "preliminary", which suggests they might change, slightly.)

So, SYRIZA is forming a coalition with another party, the "conservative" Independent Greeks, somewhat to my surprise.  (I had half expected them to get at least tacit support from the Communist Party of Greece.)
The far-left Syriza party, the winner of Greece's election, has formed an anti-austerity coalition with a right-wing party, the Greek Independents.

The coalition will have a comfortable majority in the new parliament.

Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras has vowed to renegotiate Greece's bailouts, worth €240bn (£179bn; $268bn).

European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker congratulated Mr Tsipras while reminding him of the challenge of "ensuring fiscal responsibility".
There is an ancient quip that, if you owe a small amount of money to a bank, the bank owns you, but if you owe a large amount, you own the bank.

In the next few months we will see whether Greece owes enough money to the European Union so that it can re-negotiate their agreement and write off much of their debt.  I am inclined to think that they will not be able to get substantial relief, because those who run the EU and finance it worry about "contagion", about the possibility that other debtor nations will seek similar deals.

(Oddly enough, almost no one in power in the EU, or in Greece, seems willing to consider what seems to me to be the obvious solution:  Greece should go formally bankrupt, and leave the European Union.  Belonging to the EU has been terrible for Greece, first by tempting the Greeks with easy credit, and then by imposing an austerity regime that has caused considerable suffering.

A note on terminology:  I write SYRIZA, since it is an acronym like NATO.  The BBC, following a practice more common in Britain than here, capitalizes only the first letter of the party's name.

It is possible that the Greek Communists and the Golden Dawn party are not considered fit for membership in coalitions, in Greece.  That would make it harder, after some elections, to form a majority coalition.)
- 8:01 AM, 26 January 2015   [link]

Here's a fine Scott Stantis cartoon.

And I was simply astonished to see it, yesterday, in the Seattle Times.  If I were trying to imitate their choices of editorial cartoons, I would follow this procedure:  Look for a boring, soft-left cartoon and, above all, avoid one that criticizes President Obama or Senator Patty Murray.  And I think I would come close to their choices about 90 percent of the time.  So this one was an absolute surprise.

(The Times does publish his comic strip, "Prickly City".)
- 6:53 AM, 26 January 2015   [link]