July 2010, Part 2
Jim Miller on Politics
Hassan Nemazee Sentenced: Though it probably isn't the lead story in your local newspaper, judging by these accounts in the New York Times and the Washington Post.
A wealthy Manhattan investment banker and former top Democratic fundraiser was sentenced Thursday to 12 years in prison for defrauding banks of $292 million, some of which he donated to politicians including Barack Obama, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Al Gore.Last year, I admitted to being puzzled by what Nemazee hoped to achieve by his fund raising. I'm still puzzled, though there are reports that he hoped for a Cabinet position in the Obama administration.
(Do his ties to Obama, Kerry, Clinton, Gore, and other Democratic leaders reflect badly on them? Yes, because his dubious business practices have been public knowledge for years, and were enough to derail his nomination as ambassador to Argentina. If these Democratic leaders had wanted to know he was bad news, they could have.
And they could have known, if they had wanted to, about his troubling ties to the Iranian regime)
- 7:26 AM, 16 July 2010 [link]
Why Do They Keep Exaggerating The Effects Of The BP Oil Spill? On June 15th, in his speech to the nation on the BP oil spill, President Obama described it as the "worst environmental disaster America has ever faced". (With a little help from the New York Times, I corrected him, here.)
This last weekend, in an appearance on Fox News Sunday, presidential advisor David Axelrod topped Obama, claiming that the spill was the "greatest environmental catastrophe of all time". (I corrected him here, partly, I admit, because I love writing about the end-Permian catastrophe, 250 million years ago.)
On Monday, NBC reporter Jay Gray came on a King 5 local news program, and said that the spill was "the worst environmental disaster in US history". (I don't know if a transcript is available anywhere, but you can find that claim at about 5:15 PM in their broadcast.)
What I honestly don't understand is why Obama, Axelrod, and Gray keep making these wild claims. Have none of them heard of the Dust Bowl? Has Axelrod never heard of the asteroid that got the dinosaurs? Are all three really that ignorant of both history and science? (And why can't Obama and Axelrod agree on a story?)
And if they are not that ignorant, why do they expect us to believe their wild claims?Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 2:26 PM, 15 July 2010 [link]
Our Enormous Coal Reserves: In the post I linked to just below, Carl says that the United States has "abundant" reserves of coal. And how!
Here's just one example, from the Roadside Geology of Wyoming.
Coal resources in the Powder River Basin are enormous! More than 12,000 square miles overlie coal-bearing strata. The coal reserves beneath Campbell County alone could supply the Nation's needs for the next 200 years. Powder River coal is highly valued by utilities because of its low sulfur content and low concentrations of toxic elements. (p. 89)As I have mentioned before, our fossil fuels — oil, natural gas, and coal — are, at some price and given some time to build the necessary plants, substitutes for each other. So these enormous reserves of coal could provide diesel fuel for our automobiles and trucks, as well as electricity for our factories, homes, and offices.
(Here's Wyoming's Campbell County.)
- 8:08 AM, 15 July 2010 [link]
Coal Is Still king.
Thus for all the talk of alternative energy, the reality, world-wide, is that coal is the largest share of generation and will continue to remain this way for the foreseeable future. So if you believe that we are moving to alternative energy as a whole, it isn't true, and if you believe that coal is going away, if anything it is going to almost double in the next 25 years.If you wonder why, take a look at this article on the direct costs of renewable energy in Nevada. Burning coal, even with all our modern pollution controls, is a cheap way to generate electricity. (As for now, is natural gas.)
(Of course, it will be impossible to reduce greenhouse gas emissions with that growth in coal use, unless there is some incredible breakthrough in CO2 sequestration and storage.)
- 7:34 AM, 15 July 2010 [link]
Dr. Donald Berwick Believes In Rationing: For other people.
Donald Berwick, recess-appointed by President Obama to head Medicare and Medicaid, is a well-known advocate of health care rationing and admirer of Britain's National Health Service. Rising health costs and limited resources "require decisions about who will have access to care and the extent of their coverage," Berwick wrote in 1999. Last year, he said, "The decision is not whether or not we will ration care -- the decision is whether we will ration with our eyes open." Of the NHS, Berwick says simply, "I love it," adding that it is "one of the great human health care endeavors on earth."Curiously enough, Berwick did not ask them to provide the health care in Britain.
As Byron York notes, Berwick's recess appointment allowed him to avoid questions on this, and on many other matters.
(Berwick also believes, strongly, in redistribution — for other people, judging by his total pay and benefits while working at the Institute.)
- 6:24 AM, 15 July 2010 [link]
Fisherman's Paradise: Thanks to methane seepage?
Just off New York City lies the Hudson Canyon, a deep gash in the seabed that runs for hundreds of miles. Charter boats and commercial fishermen have long known that the canyon's headwaters swarm with tuna, swordfish, monkfish, tilefish, red crabs and other sea life.So maybe that BP oil spill isn't all bad, just as Roger Sassen said.
(This doesn't seem surprising to me. Petrochemicals are composed, mostly, of the remains of dead animals and plants. In other words, they are composed of exactly the chemicals that living animals and plants need for food.)
- 7:07 PM, 14 July 2010 [link]
"The Devil's Excrement" I just added the blog by that name to my small group of Latin American blogs. It's a fine site, and I have been meaning to add it for some time.
The name of the blog may require some explanation, which you can find at the very top of the site. I would make the point somewhat differently; not "easy" wealth, but unearned wealth is the sure path to failure, for individuals, and for nations. (All right, "almost sure", since one can find exceptions.)
- 1:18 PM, 14 July 2010 [link]
Speaker Pelosi Is Unhappy with White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs. Because Gibbs committed a Kinsley gaffe, by saying what every informed political observer knows to be true: The Democrats may lose control of the House this November.
Though every informed political observer knows this, Democratic officials, especially in the national party committees, and the White House, are not supposed to admit it, just as coaches of hopeless teams are not supposed to admit, at the beginning of a season, that their team has no chance of a winning a championship.
(Someone of a conspiratorial turn of mind could compile quite a bit of evidence that Gibbs is a Republican plant, considering how much damage he has done to Obama, and to the Democrats generally. And you could have constructed a similar argument for Bush's White House Press Secretary, Robert McClellan. Since I am not — usually — of a conspiratorial turn of mind, I interpret their behavior as incompetence, rather than malice.
I can not explain why Bush kept McClellan on as long as he did, but I suspect that Obama, on the whole, likes what Gibbs is doing.)
- 9:29 AM, 14 July 2010 [link]
For Your Viewing Enjoyment: This strange ad attacking our senior senator, Patty Murray.
If you want to support the organization that made the ad, you can do so, here.
(Those unfamiliar with her career may need an explanation for the tennis shoes. According to Senator Murray, a lobbyist once told her that she couldn't accomplish much because she was just a "mom in tennis shoes".
Did that actually happen? Who knows? I have never seen the lobbyist who supposedly said that identified, or the time, or the place. But the story has been a boon to her political career.)
Is the ad fair? No, but political ads seldom are. But it makes a legitimate point; the policies that Murray has supported have often hurt small businesses, families, and children. Murray almost certainly doesn't understand that, for reasons I outlined here.Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 7:36 AM, 14 July 2010 [link]
Pakistan Is #1: In on-line searches for pornography.
Google ranks Pakistan No. 1 in the world in searches for pornographic terms, outranking every other country in the world in searches per person for certain sex-related content.I would rather have their young men searching for pornography than for ways to blow up innocents, but I fear that many of them are doing both. And that the first may lead, indirectly, to the second.
- 6:36 AM, 14 July 2010 [link]
Denis McDonough, The Man Who (Almost) Isn't There: Last Saturday, the New York Times ran this profile of Denis McDonough, the National Security Council's chief of staff. The Times described him as President Obama's most influential advisor on national security. In fact, almost his only advisor.
When it comes to national security, Mr. Obama's inner circle is so tight it largely consists of Mr. McDonough, a 40-year-old from Minnesota who is unknown to most Americans but who is so close to the president that his colleagues — including his superiors — often will not make a move on big issues without checking with him first.After that introduction, I dug into the profile for what it might tell us about Obama's strategic thinking (if any). And came up with almost nothing. (Jack Shafer of Slate had the same non-result.)
So I did a little on-line searching — and found almost nothing. In an era where almost everything is on line, McDonough has managed to stay almost invisible, despite a long career as a congressional staffer, and a few years at a leftist think tank, the Center for American Progress.
It is nearly certain that McDonough is almost invisible because he wants to be almost invisible. (He declined to be interviewed by the Times for that profile, which is unusual, to say the least, for any official, but especially an official in a Democratic administration.)
And so, until the New York Times or some other news organization does some more digging, we can only speculate about McDonough's views.
There is one important clue; McDonough worked for the former Democratic Senate leader, Tom Daschle. Daschle, for years, carried on a clever balancing act, voting mostly left in the Senate, but posing as a moderate or even a conservative back home in South Dakota. An aide working for him would have learned that it is often better to say nothing (though perhaps in many words), in order not to risk giving a sound bite to a Daschle opponent.
I don't want to take this speculation too far, but there are clues in Daschle's career to his views and, probably, to McDonough's views. Daschle volunteered for George McGovern while he was in the Air Force. After the Air Force, he went to work for Senator James Abourezk, at that time one of the farthest left senators on foreign policy — and one of the most anti-Israel senators ever.
It would be unfair to assume that Daschle, much less McDonough, shares all of Abourezk's foreign policy views; it would be foolish not assume that Daschle (and probably McDonough) shares some of them.
And that connection may give us a small clue on what kind of advice McDonough is giving President Obama.
(Is McDonough a profound strategic thinker? Obviously, I can't answer that question. But there is nothing in his education, or his career, to suggest that he is.
One interesting Daschle connection: He worked for Abourezk at the same time a woman who became a Cuban spy did.)
- 2:05 PM, 13 July 2010
Roger Cohen, who is no conservative, has some of the same doubts about McDonough that I do:
The situation might be slightly less troubling if the boys in the White House — and they are overwhelmingly boys — were foreign-policy heavyweights. They're not. Indeed, I'm told Henry Kissinger refers to them as "the kids."In sum, our global strategies are being devised by lightweight "kids", who are not competent to "think big about the world".
(The column is a thinly-disguised Clinton attack on Obama. Obviously the Clintons have not forgiven him for the loss of the nomination — and probably never will. Bill Clinton, who has excellent political instincts, must be sensing weaknesses in Obama, for this attack to be made now. But, despite the obvious purpose of the column, I am inclined to think that Cohen is being mostly honest about McDonough, because it is consistent with everything else I have been able to learn about the man.)
- 7:05 AM, 15 July 2010 [link]
We Get By With Help From Our Little Friends: First, a miraculous cure:
In 2008, Dr. Khoruts, a gastroenterologist at the University of Minnesota, took on a patient suffering from a vicious gut infection of Clostridium difficile. She was crippled by constant diarrhea, which had left her in a wheelchair wearing diapers. Dr. Khoruts treated her with an assortment of antibiotics, but nothing could stop the bacteria. His patient was wasting away, losing 60 pounds over the course of eight months. "She was just dwindling down the drain, and she probably would have died," Dr. Khoruts said.Sounds a little disgusting, doesn't it? But less disgusting if you realize that we all have colonies of symbiotic bacteria.
We continue to be colonized every day of our lives. "Surrounding us and infusing us is this cloud of microbes," said Jeffrey Gordon of Washington University. We end up with different species, but those species generally carry out the same essential chemistry that we need to survive. One of those tasks is breaking down complex plant molecules. "We have a pathetic number of enzymes encoded in the human genome, whereas microbes have a large arsenal," said Dr. Gordon.Scientists are just beginning to understand how we interact with these colonies. They have learned enough to be enormously impressed, but not enough to explain even some of the simpler variations, like this one:
Only 13 percent of the species on two people's hands are the same. Only 17 percent of the species living on one person's left hand also live on the right one.Bacterial species have ample opportunities to move from one person's hand to another person's. They have even more opportunities to move from a left hand to a right hand, and vice versa. But they don't always take those opportunities. (I can't help wondering what kind of colonies a hand-shaking politician has on their hands, especially one who doesn't routinely use an anti-bacterial agent after every bout of hand shaking. My guess is that even in that extreme case, the colonies that are already on the politician's hands are usually able to defend themselves against interlopers.)
Parents who aren't too fussy about dirt will be pleased by some of the details in the article. There is good reason to think that kids benefit, long term, from moderate exposure to a variety of bacteria.
And all of us can be hopeful that better understanding of our interactions with all these little friends will lead to more miraculous cures.
(Dr. Khoruts has done the same "transplant" on 15 other patients — and cured 13 of them.) .
- 12:53 PM, 13 July 2010 [link]
What Happens When Congressmen Abuse Staffers? Usually nothing. Probably. (I assume that most cases never become public, since most staffers would rather move to another office than go public.)
But sometimes the cases do get official attention, though confidentially, and the staffers get paid off — with your tax money.
Taxpayers have paid out nearly $1 million per year in settlements to congressional employees who have been harassed or otherwise treated badly by their political bosses over the past 14 years, according to records from the Office of Compliance.It's not entirely unfair that taxpayers have to pay for these settlements; after all we elected the congressmen who committed the abuses. But if we are going to pay for these abuses, we ought to know who is committing them.
I have long thought — without the least bit of originality — that you can learn more about a man's character by how he treats subordinates, than by how he treats equals and superiors. So I hope we learn more about these settlements, above all which congressmen have cost us the most.
- 9:24 AM, 13 July 2010 [link]
NASA's First Job Not Actually Outreach To Muslims, Says White House: The Obama administration is backtracking, rapidly.
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Monday that NASA Administrator Charles Bolden must have misspoken when he told Al Jazeera last month that one of his top priorities is to reach out to Muslim countries.If Bolden did misspeak, he did so more than once.
Although few, if any, lawmakers knew it, Bolden had previewed the idea even earlier. In a February 2010 blog item, the Orlando Sentinel reported that Bolden told a group of engineering students Obama had asked him "to find ways to reach out to dominantly Muslim countries."Most likely, the Marine aviator, test pilot, and astronaut, Charles Bolden, is telling the truth. Most likely, the press secretary, Robert Gibbs, is not. Most likely, Obama did give Bolden that mission.
Most likely, neither realized how silly it would sound to most voters, and, of more immediate consequence, how silly it would sound to most congressmen, who have this odd idea that it is the public laws they write that set NASA's priorities, not private presidential directives.
(I have more than a little sympathy for Charles Bolden, who appears to be a fine man, though more than a little naive. If his story is correct, he is in trouble for following foolish presidential orders, not for coming up with those foolish orders himself.)
- 7:39 AM, 13 July 2010 [link]
Private Colleges Don't Like Farm Kids: Inside this extensive discussion of bias in admissions at private colleges was this surprising finding.
But what [Thomas] Espenshade and [Alexandria] Radford found in regard to what they call "career-oriented activities" was truly shocking even to this hardened veteran of the campus ideological and cultural wars. Participation in such Red State activities as high school ROTC, 4-H clubs, or the Future Farmers of America was found to reduce very substantially a student's chances of gaining admission to the competitive private colleges in the NSCE database on an all-other-things-considered basis. The admissions disadvantage was greatest for those in leadership positions in these activities or those winning honors and awards. "Being an officer or winning awards" for such career-oriented activities as junior ROTC, 4-H, or Future Farmers of America, say Espenshade and Radford, "has a significantly negative association with admission outcomes at highly selective institutions." Excelling in these activities "is associated with 60 or 65 percent lower odds of admission."The ROTC disadvantage doesn't surprise me, though I think it is disgusting to discriminate against the young men and women who may be protecting us all, soon. But the discrimination against farm kids does surprise me, though, like Russell Niell, I have seen a lot of discrimination at our colleges and universities.
(The whole article is worth reading, though the extensive racial biases in admission may shock some readers.)
- 8:56 AM, 12 July 2010 [link]
"The Greatest Environmental Catastrophe Of All Time" That's how Obama advisor David Axelrod described the BP oil spill. Here's the complete quotation from Fox News Sunday:
WALLACE: But does it worry you when you see one oil driller already moving . . ."Obviously."
Or maybe not so obviously. John Steele Gordon, who drew my attention to Axelrod's claim, lists a few recent ecological disasters that were worse, including the 1930s Dust Bowl.
Gordon was limiting himself to recent, man-caused ecological disasters. But Axelrod didn't say man-caused, and did say "of all time". I hope I don't sound unsympathetic to the problems in the Gulf, but I don't think the BP oil spill was as bad as the end-Permian extinction.
The Permian-Triassic (P-Tr) extinction event, informally known as the Great Dying, was an extinction event that occurred 251.4 million years ago, forming the boundary between the Permian and Triassic geologic periods. It was the Earth's most severe extinction event, with up to 96 percent of all marine species and 70 percent of terrestrial vertebrate species becoming extinct; it is the only known mass extinction of insects. Fifty-seven percent of all families and 83% of all genera were killed. Because so much biodiversity was lost, the recovery of life on Earth took significantly longer than after other extinction events. This event has been described as the "mother of all mass extinctions".Axelrod may not have heard of this minor event, but he should have heard about the asteroid that got the dinosaurs, and he should have heard about the Ice Ages, which were kind of rough on much of the environment, too.
But let's assume Axelrod doesn't read science news — though I would see that as a fatal defect in a presidential advisor at his level — and just note his worry about "so many people out of work". Many (most?) of those out-of-work people are out of work, not because of the oil spill, but because the Obama administration, against the advice of experts, has imposed a moratorium on deep drilling in the Gulf. So far, the administration's moratorium has lost in court challenges, but I see no sign that Obama and Axelrod will give up on it, and let those people go back to work.
(For more on the end-Permian extinction, I recommend Michael Benton's When Life Nearly Died.)
- 8:21 AM, 12 July 2010 [link]
The Octopus Or The Vice President? Paul the octopus is predicting a victory for Spain in the World Cup. Joe the vice president is predicting a victory for the Netherlands. Since I know nothing about soccer, I will not make a prediction, though I will note that Paul has a better prediction record than Joe does.
(For what it is worth, the bookies agree with Paul.)
- 4:24 PM, 10 July 2010
Another correct prediction by the octopus, who is, the Telegraph reminds its readers, from England, originally.
Reverend Sensing says that the Dutch "deserved to lose", because of their dirty play. (I watched bits of the game, mostly in a vain attempt to understand why much of the world found it so exciting, and even I noticed that the officials had to give the Dutch many penalties.)
- 7:31 AM, 12 July 2010 [link]
CIA Veteran Gene Coyle Doesn't Think Much of the spy swap.
The history of U.S.-Russian relations shows that dealing respectfully but firmly is what works best. Most importantly, Moscow only agrees to anything that it perceives to be at least 50 percent in its self-interest, not because we've been nice guys. The only thing releasing all of these deep-cover Russian intelligence officers within a matter of days is going to teach Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, an old KGB officer, is that Obama is a pushover -- overly focused on making sure not to offend Russia.In effect, Obama just stuck a "kick me" sign on his back.
Coyle is kind enough to say that Obama didn't get "very good advice from his intelligence community or Russian experts" on how to handle this. I'll be less charitable and suggest that Obama did not even ask our intelligence community or Russian experts for advice. (I don't consider Leon Panetta, even though he is head of the CIA, part of the intelligence community, since he has no experience in intelligence work.)
(If Obama was not listening to our intelligence community, he would be like another Democratic president, Bill Clinton. Former CIA Director R. James Woolsey likes to tell this joke:
Remember the guy who in 1994 crashed his plane onto the White House lawn? That was me trying to get an appointment to see President Clinton.In his two years as CIA director, Woolsey says he never had a private meeting with Clinton.)
- 10:07 AM, 10 July 2010 [link]
That Spy Swap Was Quick: Too quick. I wasn't bothered much by us swapping ten for four; that kind of numerical disparity has happened many times in these exchanges. I wasn't bothered much by us swapping ten Russians for four Russians; again, similar things have happened before. I wasn't bothered much that one of the Russians they are sending us says he is innocent. Again, there are precedents. I wasn't even bothered, though I am a single guy, by us giving up the redhead without a fight.
But I was bothered by the speed of the swap, because we gave up a chance to interrogate the spies we had caught. And with so many of them, a few would have, almost certainly, told us more about Russian intelligence operations. (The Russians have had years to interrogate the four they are sending us.)
I'm not the only one to be surprised by the speed of the swap; John Martin, who negotiated some of the earlier exchanges, calls this one "nearly unprecedented" because it happened before the spies were sentenced.
We gave up that chance to interrogate them in order, unofficial Obama spokesman Marc Ambinder says, to preserve the "healthy relationship" the two nations have under the Obama administration
Sure, U.S. and Russian spy services are agitating for a spy swap, but the fact that the two countries managed to so quickly figure out a mutually beneficial solution after the arrests of Russian spies last week suggests that Moscow and Washington work together well and that both countries believe it is in their best interest to move on from the wilderness of mirrors. In other words, it's a sign of a healthy relationship. Aside from President Obama's relationship with his Russian counterpart, the U.S. Attorney General has built a good working relationship with Russia's top law enforcement official. Ties between the CIA and the SVR are actually solid; the two recently shared intelligence about Iran's nuclear program.I am not terribly worried that the Obama administration — through their unofficial spokesman — would say something like this; I am worried that they may believe what they are saying.
(A whole team of New York Times reporters seem to agree that it was best to send the spies back to Russia without interrogating them, so as not to "disrupt" our friendly relations. The team did not discuss the possibility that the case might be evidence that the Russians do not really want good relations with the United States.)
- 9:12 AM, 9 July 2010 [link]