July 2014, Part 3

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Accused Terror Supporter Arrested in Seattle suburb.
The two U.S. women — Muna Osman Jama, 34, of Reston, and Hinda Osman Dhirane, 44, of Kent, Washington — were arrested Wednesday and have been charged with 20 counts each of providing material support to a foreign terrorist group, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Virginia.  The U.S. designated al-Shabab as a terrorist group in 2008; in 2012, leaders of al-Shabab and al-Qaida announced they were merging.

Jama faced an initial appearance Wednesday afternoon at the federal courthouse in Alexandria, and Dhirane appeared in U.S. District Court in Seattle.  Dhirane's husband, Rashid Jama Barhadle, told Seattle's KING-TV that she has done nothing wrong.
There are some odd aspects to this story.  The amounts transferred — $100 to $1500 — are small.  If you watch the King 5 video, you'll see that she lives with her husband and six children in a large, and almost certainly expensive, house.

All five accused are women.  Most likely, given what we know about Somali society, they were acting as directed by their husbands, who in turn were following orders from clan elders, who thought that transfers coming from women would be less suspicious.  But it is possible that the women were acting on their own.

(When the United States permitted thousands of Somalis to settle here, we saved many of them from death.  Not all of them have been grateful to us, for that.)
- 2:47 PM, 24 July 2014   [link]

Senator Elizabeth Warren Is More Modest Than President Woodrow Wilson:  Wilson, as I am sure you recall, proposed Fourteen Points; Warren has proposed just eleven "commandments", as the National Journal calls them.

But perhaps we should say less immodest, rather than more modest, bearing in mind French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau's famous quip about Wilson's Fourteen Points:  "Le bon Dieu n'en avait que dix!"  (The good Lord had only ten!)

(Some critics of Warren would say she has even more to be modest about than Wilson did.

For the record:  To be precise, I should say the quip attributed to Clemenceau, and note that at least two versions have come down to us.  My Oxford Dictionary of Quotations (3rd ed.) has this version:  "Quatorze?  Le bon Dieu n'a dix."  For those who don't read French, that would change the "had" to "has".)
- 2:07 PM, 24 July 2014   [link]

Who Is Paying For Those Obama Fund-Raising Trips?  You are, mostly.

For the record:  Obama's predecessors have done the same thing, though I can't recall any of them doing it to this extent.

(One detail that has amused (and sometimes annoyed) me for years:  Air Force 1 officially costs "$228,000 to $288,000 an hour" to operate, and there are many other costs associated with these trips, so the taxpayers are probably putting more money into these trips than Obama is collecting from those wealthy donors.  Economists would see that as inefficient.)
- 7:33 AM, 24 July 2014   [link]

Meriam Ibrahim Has Left Sudan And Landed In Rome:  For her escape, we can thank Italian diplomats, of whom the most important appears to be Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs Lapo Pistelli.

She was met at the airport by the Italian Prime Minister, Matteo Renz.

In a few days, she'll be flying to the United States with her American husband and children.   Somehow, I don't expect them to be met here by President Barack Obama, or even Secretary of State John Kerry.  I do hope President Obama has at least thanked the Italians for their help in rescuing those two small American citizens, her children.
- 7:01 AM, 24 July 2014   [link]

Window Blinds In Scotland, Controlled from England.
The BBC has been condemned as “ludicrous” after it emerged that staff in Scotland have to call an office in England - for permission to open the blinds.
It isn't clear to me, from the article, why they have this arrangement, though a bureaucratic desire for central control seems most likely.  Scottish nationalists have their own explanation for this "ludicrous" arrangement, as you would expect.

(It is likely that the company controlling the blinds wants that control in order to reduce energy costs.)
- 1:44 PM, 23 July 2014   [link]

You Can Understand Why European Nations Are Reluctant To Offend Russia if you look at the picture of trade relations between Russia and five European nations — Britain, Germany, Holland, France, and Italy — accompanying this Daily Mail article.

France is determined to sell Putin the means to wreak murder and destruction in Russia’s name against innocent people.

The French only have small reliance on Russian gas, but they have an increasing dependence on Russia’s belligerent defence ministry to keep their armaments industry going.

The Kremlin has bought two Mistral-class helicopter-carrier assault ships for deployment in the Black Sea — from where they could be used for attacks on Ukraine and, indeed, on any aircraft in danger of straying into Ukrainian airspace.

The deal guarantees 1,000 French jobs over the next four years in the otherwise run-down dockyard town of St Nazaire — vital for a country whose economy is a basket-case.
(Eastern European leaders have protested this sale.  Even the Obama administration is "concerned".)

But what you may not understand from that picture is why Putin is not reluctant to offend the Europeans.  After all, Russia is even more dependent on trade with those European countries than they are on trade with Russia.

(I have seen a report that the greater efficiency of the Russian army in recent years is partly the result of training by a German company or companies.  I haven't seen enough details to say anything definitive about that.)
- 1:20 PM, 23 July 2014   [link]

The IRS Story About Lois Lerner's Hard Drive keeps changing.
Top IRS officials told congressional investigators that Lois Lerner's hard drive -- the one containing emails that could shed light on the IRS targeting scandal -- was irreparably damaged before it was destroyed completely in 2011.  But now, investigators have had a chance to talk to the technical experts inside the IRS who actually examined Lerner's computer, and the experts say the hard drive in question was actually just "scratched," and that most of the data on it was recoverable.

The IRS computer experts also told the committee that they had recommended seeking outside help in recovering the data from Lerner's computer — something IRS management declined to do.
It is hard to think of anything, other than a fire, that could happen to a hard drive in an ordinary office that would not leave most of the data on it recoverable — though possibly at considerable expense.

It is even harder to think of any legitimate reason that the top IRS officials did not tell investigators the truth about that hard drive from the beginning.
- 6:24 AM, 23 July 2014   [link]

Could All Of Those Hard Drive Failures In Lois Lerner's Group At The IRS Have Happened By Accident?  "Ironman" provides you a simple tool (and some basic numbers) so you can calculate the probabilities, for different sets of assumptions.
Fortunately, we have an app for that!  You just need to enter the relevant data, which we have below, or adjust it as you might like, and we'll figure out the odds of so many members of such a small group of IRS employees and supervisors going through the experience of their hard drive crashing so bad that no information related to potentially unlawful activities would ever be retrieved from them.
So there you are.  Just plug in the numbers, and see for yourselves.

(Quibble:  Ironman is assuming independent failures, but on rare occasions a company produces a bad batch of drives.  It is possible, though unlikely in my opinion, that the IRS just happened to be unlucky enough to purchase computers with drives from such a batch.)
- 7:26 PM, 22 July 2014   [link]

Potwalloper:  While browsing through my copy of Fowler's yesterday, I came across that word, a word, I learned, after a few searches, that had once been important in British politics.

Literally, it once meant almost the same thing as potboiler once meant, someone who boils a pot.  But in some boroughs in England and Ireland, the franchise was extended to every householder, and a man could be considered a householder if he had his own fireplace, his own place to boil a pot.  These boroughs were typically controlled by a local lord, were one kind of the infamous "rotten boroughs".
Rotten boroughs were one of the curiosities of the British electoral system.  Rotten boroughs were a product of a system that did not want change, where fathers passed on constituencies (and the power as a MP that went with this) to their sons as if they were personal property.   In many such boroughs the very few electors could not vote for whom they truly wanted due to the lack of a secret ballot or simply due to the lack of a candidate desirable to their political philosophy.  The term rotten borough came into use in the 18th century, and was used to mean a parliamentary borough with a tiny electorate, so small that voters were susceptible to control in a variety of ways.  The word "rotten" had the connotation of corruption as well as that of long-term decline.
Because voting was not secret in Britain until 1872, it was easy for, for example, a landlord to tell his tenants how to vote, perhaps rewarding them with a drink or two after the vote.

In time, the term potwalloper was extended from the poor householder in such boroughs to the borough itself.

There is, of course, a modern lesson in this little bit of history.  If you want to reduce vote buying and intimidation, you should use secret ballots.  But in both Britain and the United States, we have gone in the opposite direction in recent decades, with "postal" ballots in Britain and "absentee" ballots here.  Those who know a little about British history (or American history) will not be surprised that the shift to mailed ballots in both countries has resulted in an increase in vote fraud in both countries.
- 4:31 PM, 22 July 2014   [link]

Biologists (Or Just People Who Like Biology) Will Like today's New Yorker cartoon.
- 1:33 PM, 22 July 2014   [link]

How Does Vladimir Putin See The World?  George Friedman thinks he knows, and shares his views in this surprisingly sympathetic article, "Can Vladimir Putin Survive?"

Friedman begins, naturally, with Ukraine:
Ukraine is, of course, the place to start.  The country is vital to Russia as a buffer against the West and as a route for delivering energy to Europe, which is the foundation of the Russian economy.  On Jan. 1, Ukraine's president was Viktor Yanukovich, generally regarded as favorably inclined to Russia.  Given the complexity of Ukrainian society and politics, it would be unreasonable to say Ukraine under him was merely a Russian puppet.  But it is fair to say that under Yanukovich and his supporters, fundamental Russian interests in Ukraine were secure.

This was extremely important to Putin.
And ends with this sobering conclusion:
Those who think that Putin is both the most repressive and aggressive Russian leader imaginable should bear in mind that this is far from the case.  Lenin, for example, was fearsome.   But Stalin was much worse.  There may similarly come a time when the world looks at the Putin era as a time of liberality.  For if the struggle by Putin to survive, and by his challengers to displace him, becomes more intense, the willingness of all to become more brutal might well increase.
Which probably explains the sympathetic tone in the rest of the article.

Friedman's analysis is plausible; in fact I would say that it almost certainly contains much truth.  But I think he neglects the effect of Putin's participation in the end of the Cold War, which — in my opinion — left Putin far too willing to see the United States (and NATO) as his main adversary.

Friedman portrays Putin as an unscrupulous, power-seeking leader, a leader who is trying to increase his nation's influence in world affairs.  Such leaders are common in world history, and sometimes successful, if they are skillful as well as being unscrupulous.  But many of them, like Putin, do not change their views as much as they should, when the world changes.
- 1:17 PM, 22 July 2014   [link]

President Obama Deserves Some Perverse Credit For the scheduling on his latest fund raising trip to Seattle.  If he were trying to wreck the afternoon and evening commute, that's what the schedule would look like.

This has happened often enough in this area so that I suspect that Obama — and his millionaire contributors — are timing these visits to disrupt traffic intentionally, that they enjoy the pain they cause for so many ordinary commuters.  (Here's another example of bad timing in a Seattle visit from last November.   Note that Obama was also able to disrupt traffic in Los Angeles on that same visit.)

Polls before the 2012 election showed that most voters thought that Obama cared about ordinary people; these fund raising schedules show that he doesn't.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(For those unfamiliar with the roads in the Seattle area:  There are two bridges over Lake Washington connecting Seattle with the east side suburbs.  The main one, I-90, has just one lane open in one direction, thanks to construction; the other, 520, will be closed by the Obama motorcade between 5 and 6 PM.  To get back to the airport, Obama will probably close I-405, one of the two main north-south routes, between 6 and 7 PM.

For the record:  I don't think the traffic tie-ups will be quite as bad as some are predicting — mostly because the people who can will change their schedules to avoid the president.)
- 7:23 AM, 22 July 2014   [link]

Worth Reading:  Alex Berezov's opinion piece, "Outbreak of Political Correctness in Science Media".

He gives a series of examples to illustrate his argument, and concludes with this: "Unfortunately, political correctness is a disease with no cure."

No medical cure, anyway.

(Berezov has written, with Hank Campbell, a book on this subject, Science Left Behind: Feel-Good Fallacies and the Rise of the Anti-Scientific Left.)
- 1:57 PM, 21 July 2014   [link]

False Precision On Fire Size Estimates:  When I linked to a King 5 story on the "Carlton Complex" fire on Saturday, I copied and pasted their estimate of the size of the fire: "215,153 acres".

I chuckled at that false precision, as I suspect many of you did, and spent some time wondering where that exact number came from.  Or I should say wasted some time because I didn't come up with an answer.  (They might have added up a number of estimates from different sources.)

And wondered, again, just how good our journalists with even simple math.  This is something that people should learn in high school, especially in their physics classes.

(For the record the King 5 story has been updated to reflect the growing size of the fire, and the estimate is now 238,000 acres.  That's probably still too precise, though not ludicrously so.

Some false precision numbers appear when a writer converts from one system of units to another.  For example, if a European estimated that a car was traveling 100 kilometers per hour, it would be easy for American reporter to convert that to 62 miles per hour, or even 62.137 miles per hour.  It would be better to say about 60 miles per hour.

For your own example of how this can happen, try converting 200,000 acres to hectares.)
- 1:31 PM, 21 July 2014   [link]

Jill Abramson On What Hillary Clinton Expects from women journalists.
In our chat, Abramson spoke about press freedom, her career and the powerful women she’s encountered along the way.

Among them was Hillary Clinton, whom she met in 1978, while Bill Clinton was running for governor.  At the time, Abramson found her to be friendly and very helpful as a source.  But once Hillary became first lady, their relationship cooled.  “Hillary is incredibly unrealistic about journalists,” Abramson told me.  “She expects you to be 100 percent in her corner, especially women journalists.  She got angry with me because when I became the top-ranking woman at the New York Times, she thought I should be loyal.  An editor is going to be independent, always.”
Gail Sheehy doesn't contradict Abramson, but as Tim Graham reminds us, many journalists, not all of them women, have in fact been loyal to Hillary and her husband.
- 7:21 AM, 21 July 2014   [link]

This Week Will Be Horrible for Seattle-area commuters.
Prepare thyselves, travelers.  Starting Friday night, lane and ramp closures will occur on westbound Interstate 90 between Bellevue and Mercer Island for an entire week, constricting the thoroughfare down to one lane at the height of the closures. Like a clogged artery, the effects are expected to be felt throughout the Seattle region, with some reports warning of 10-mile backups and advising adding an hour to the commute time.

Furthermore, President Barack Obama is expected to visit the area on Tuesday.  His motorcade will probably pile on more road closures.  Oh, boy!
(I-90 is the main east-west route in this area.)

In the past, Obama's fund raising trips to this area have caused serious delays for tens of thousands of commuters.  The timing of his motorcades has been so bad for commuters that I have wondered whether the timing was deliberate, wondered whether he and his wealthy supporters took some pleasure in the pain they were causing to all those drivers stuck in traffic.

And now I wonder whether he chose this Tuesday to visit because he knew it would make a bad traffic scene even worse.

(The area has chronic traffic problems, partly because of local geography — all those lakes and hills — but mostly because our growing population has not been matched by the necessary investment in roads.  Instead, we have spent billions on a show project, Link Light Rail.  Voters here don't want to give up their cars, but they believe that others will — in spite of the evidence to date.)
- 6:52 AM, 21 July 2014   [link]

Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren Doesn't Believe Much In Democratic Accountability:  We can see that in her creation, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
Four years ago, the big-government liberals got the agency of their dreams, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.  It was the brainchild of Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who was a Harvard law professor in real life and a Cherokee Indian in her dreams before she was elected to the U.S. Senate.  There she beats the drums for the bureau to serve as a “cop on the beat” to protect consumers from undisciplined capitalism.  The bureau is mired in undisciplined corruption.

Created through the passage of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street regulation act, the bureau was crafted with uniquely undemocratic features.  The bureau pays its bills by drawing funds directly from the Federal Reserve, bypassing Congress.  It was set up this way to ensure it would operate as a fiefdom free from congressional scrutiny, and it shows.

The bureau’s head, currently Richard Cordray, cannot be fired, no matter how poor his performance.
And it has been pretty poor.

The design of this agency tells us much about the designer, tells us that Warren does not trust elected officials supervising bureaucrats, does not, in other words, trust elections.   Which tells us something about how she sees us voters.

(Professor William Jacobson has done us all a favor by creating a "Wiki" dedicated to Elizabeth Warren.   She is a talented politician with a habit of distorting her own past, so it is good to have this resource on her life and career.)
- 8:10 PM, 20 July 2014   [link]

45 Years Ago Today, Americans Landed on the moon.

Buzz Aldrin setting up experiment on moon

The astronauts collected moon rocks, took photographs, and set up experiments.  After less than a day on the moon's surface, they returned to lunar orbit and the command module, and then to earth, safely, landing in the Pacific Ocean on 24 July.

Apollo 11 moon lander returning from the moon

It is natural to ask why we could do such things then, but find them so hard to do now.  Here's one answer to that question from Robert Zubrin.
- 2:41 PM, 20 July 2014   [link]

Two Sets Of Pictures Of The Fire Devastation At Pateros, And The Surrounding Area:  One slick set from the Daily Mail.

And then, in contrast, four minutes of video taken by a drone, flown by Chelan HD Productions.  Here's their brief explanation of what you are seeing in that video.

Video starts on outskirts of Pateros, Moves to Alta lake, then to Indian Dan Canyon and ends in the City of Pateros.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 1:24 PM, 20 July 2014   [link]

McEvedy On Austro-Hungarian Diversity:  In his Atlas of Recent History, Colin McEvedy describes the central problem of the Austro-Hungarian empire, during its last century: too much diversity.  Here's his explanation from 1848, a year that was to stress many European nations.
Of the big five, four were nation states.  It isn't difficult to define what one means by this: in each of these countries, a majority of the citizens shared a common language and religion.   At least 90 per cent of Frenchmen spoke French and the same proportion belonged at least nominally to the Catholic Church.  More than eight in every ten Prussians were German (the rest were mostly Poles) and of the Germans 70 per cent were Protestant.  The Tsar's seventy million subjects included some notable minorities (five million Poles, three and a half million Finns, Ests, Letts and Latvians and three million assorted Caucasians, but that still left fifty millions who were both Russian and Orthodox.  And the inhabitants of the British Isles were 90 per cent English-speaking and 70 per cent Protestant.  Countries like these needed little holding together: they had an intrinsic cohesion.  By contrast the Austrian Emperor ruled an ethnic mishmash that must have made him groan every time he thought about it.  He and eight million of his subjects were German, but twice as many were Slavs of one sort or another (Czechs, Slovaks, Poles, Slovenians, Croats and Serbs), five million were Hungarians, five million Italians and two million Rumanians.  What sort of nation did that make?

The answer is none at all.
(A large majority of the Emperor's subjects were Catholic, but as religion faded and nationalism grew, that common religion did less to hold the empire together.  And of course the Serbs were mostly Orthodox.)

The empire survived the 1848 crisis with the help of Russian troops, it survived its defeat by Prussia in 1866 by dividing in two and giving the Hungarians equal status with the Germans, but it collapsed into its component pieces at the end of World War I.

As McEvedy explains, it lacked cohesion.

This conclusion is one that most historians of the period would agree with (and what many statesmen thought at the time), but it is a conclusion that we in the West are reluctant to learn from.   Instead, many on the left worship diversity, despite the evidence of its costs, as well as its benefits.
- 4:34 PM, 19 July 2014
Correction:  I left out the phrase at the end of the sentence about the Tsar's subjects.  I've corrected it above.
- 12:46 PM, 20 July 2014   [link]

Eastern Washington State Is Being Hit Hard By Wild Fires:  The worst of them, the "Carlton Complex", has already burned more than three hundred square miles.
The Carlton Complex fire destroyed one home in Malott Friday night and early Saturday morning.  The evacuation level for Malott is still a Level 3 Saturday morning but residents were allowed back in to check for damage.  Malott has about 500 residents.

Okanogan County Sheriff Frank Rogers told KREM 2 News just before noon on Saturday that the fire is moving northeast of Pateros with no homes currently at risk, but wind gusts of 25-35 mph are expected Saturday until 9 p.m.

Fire officials estimated the Carlton Complex fire grew to 215,153 acres Saturday morning. The fire is 0% contained.
The fire destroyed most of the homes in the small town of Pateros.
Residents strolled through the smoldering rubble of their neighborhoods, some wearing surgical masks to protect their lungs from the smoke and ash lingering in the air of the riverside community they call "Paterodise."

"Paterodise is hurting right now," said one, Stephanie Brown, as she surveyed what was left of a friend's home.

A wind-driven, lightning-caused wildfire racing through rural north-central Washington destroyed about 100 homes Thursday and Friday, leaving behind solitary brick chimneys and burned-out automobiles as it blackened hundreds of square miles in the scenic Methow Valley northeast of Seattle.
So far, I haven't seen any explanation of how the fire hit Pateros, and why authorities were not able to make a fire line to protect it.   Pateros is not in the woods; it's at the "confluence of the Methow and Columbia Rivers".   Probably, the fire came down from the hills and into the brush so rapidly that the townspeople, and the fire fighters, were unable to react in time.

Pateros, Washington

The state's response to the fires may have been delayed because Governor Jay Inslee was on a European vacation visiting the Farnborough air show.
- 2:38 PM, 19 July 2014   [link]

President Obama's Odd Reaction To The Loss of Malaysian airliner MH17.
'Before I begin, obviously the world is watching reports of a downed passenger jet near the Russia-Ukraine border.  And it looks like it may be a terrible tragedy.  Right now we’re working to determine whether there were American citizens on board.  That is our first priority.'

'And I've directed my national security team to stay in close contact with the Ukrainian governemnt.  The United States will offer any assistance we can to help determine what happened and why. And as a country, our thoughts and prayers are with all the families and passengers, wherever they call home.

Obama then jarringly quickly returned to his prepared remarks.
You can watch a one-minute video of those remarks at the Daily Mail article.

(The campaign speech and the statement on the airliner should have been separated completely, in my opinion, given the tone — joking — and the subject — more spending on pork barrel transportation projects — of the speech.)
- 7:23 AM, 18 July 2014   [link]

If You Were Looking For A Soviet-Era Missile System to destroy a civilian airliner flying at cruising altitude, you'd probably choose the Buk.

Buk missile system

Which doesn't mean, for certain, that it was a Buk that destroyed the Malaysian flight MH17, but it is, I would say, the most plausible explanation at this point.

(There is speculation that pro-Russian rebels in the Ukraine mistook the airliner for a Ukrainian military plane.  I don't know how much evidence there is for that theory about what happened, but it seems plausible.)
- 6:51 AM, 18 July 2014   [link]

Speaker Hillary Clinton is high maintenance.   She charges a lot of money (for an ordinary speech), and she imposes many conditions.

For example, her contract with the University of Nevada, Las Vegas included this provision:
“Speaker’s participation at the event including the speech and reception will be closed to the press, unless otherwise agreed to in writing,” the contract stipulates.  “There will be no other media opportunities or availabilities (i.e.. press conferences, statements. etc.).”
That will lead any normally suspicious person to wonder what questions she doesn't want to have to answer.

(The Washington Post has a similar article on her contract with the University of Buffalo.  One striking detail:  The university had to pay for a stenographer — but was not allowed to have a copy of the transcript, or to tape the speech.)
- 7:59 AM, 17 July 2014   [link]