June 2011, Part 4

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Mark Halperin's Suspension Reminds Me Of A Joke From The Cold War:   A drunken Soviet citizen is marching up and down in Red Square shouting, "Khrushchev is a fool!".

A KGB officer arrests him and says:  "Comrade, for this you will get 15 years in the Gulag."

The drunk, who is beginning to sober up, asks:  "Why fifteen years for such a small offense?"

The officer replies:  "Two offenses, comrade.  Five years for insulting our supreme leader, and ten years for revealing a state secret."

(If you have somehow missed the Halperin story, you can read all about it here.)
- 2:42 PM, 30 June 2011   [link]

Hugo Chávez's "economic miracle".
Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez's critics have taken advantage of his nearly three-week absence for treatment of an undisclosed illness in Cuba to blame him for all kinds of misdeeds, but it's time to give him credit for having performed a true economic miracle in his country.

I'm not kidding.  What Chávez has done in Venezuela over the past 12 years is nothing short of an economic miracle: despite benefitting from the biggest oil boom in Venezuela's history, he has somehow managed to turn the country into shambles.

Venezuela has one of the highest inflation rates in Latin America, one of the lowest economic growth rates in the region, daily electricity blackouts, food shortages, and unprecedented crime rates.   What's even more amazing for one of the world's biggest oil producers, Electric Energy Minister Ali Rodriguez announced June 15 that Venezuela has started importing electricity from Colombia to restore power to various parts of the country.
As I have begun to follow events in Venezuela more closely, I have become more and more impressed by the "miracle" that Andres Oppenheimer describes.  And the miracle is not just economic; under Chávez crime has soared so that, for example, Caracas is now one of the most dangerous cities in the world.

Oppenheimer says that part of Chávez's miracle is "frankly unexplainable".  I can't say that I can come any closer than he does to explaining it, but I am impressed.  Failure on this scale shows a perverse kind of genius.

(Although his record should have gotten him thrown out of office years ago, we have to recognize that Chávez does have considerable political skills.)
- 8:07 AM, 30 June 2011   [link]

Nuclear Proliferation In The Middle East?  It's almost inevitable.  Iran can probably not be stopped from building nuclear weapons, which will lead its some of its neighbors to do the same.

For example:
Prince Turki al-Faisal, a former Saudi intelligence chief and ambassador to Washington, warned senior Nato military officials that the existence of such a device "would compel Saudi Arabia . . . to pursue policies which could lead to untold and possibly dramatic consequences".

He did not state explicitly what these policies would be, but a senior official in Riyadh who is close to the prince said yesterday his message was clear.

"We cannot live in a situation where Iran has nuclear weapons and we don't. It's as simple as that," the official said.  "If Iran develops a nuclear weapon, that will be unacceptable to us and we will have to follow suit."
Who's next, as Tom Lehrer asked, years ago?  Egypt has made threats similar to those now coming from Saudi Arabia.   Turkey would be likely to join in, especially if they get a new, saner government.  Iraq would probably ask us for a nuclear umbrella, and if that wasn't forthcoming, might start re-activating some of Saddam Hussein's old programs.

Anyone who knows even a little Middle East history knows that the Shiites (Iran) and the Sunnis (Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey, and many other nations), have fought each other for centuries — and are still doing so from time to time.
- 7:41 AM, 30 June 2011   [link]

Nat Hentoff Endorses Allen West:  Or, to put it another way, an old socialist endorses a conservative retired lieutenant colonel.
Also among these black strikingly independent Republicans (but not party-line Republicans) is a man I hope will eventually run for president so that I may vote for him: Rep. Allen West of Florida.
. . .
I may ultimately have some disagreements with a President West, but I'll sure know wholly who he is.   He'll not be leading from behind.
In contrast to, say, Barack Obama.

I have some policy differences with both men (especially Hentoff), but I admire both for their integrity and for their willingness to take unpopular stands.
- 6:55 AM, 30 June 2011   [link]

Was The Original Source Of The E. Coli Outbreak In Egypt?   Maybe.
European health officials have cautiously identified contaminated fenugreek seeds from Egypt as a probable common link between the devastating E. coli outbreak in Germany and a smaller outbreak in France, saying that there was still much uncertainty about "whether this is truly the common cause of all the infections."

A report by the European Food Safety Authority on Wednesday said that sprouts grown from fenugreek seeds imported from Egypt in 2009 and 2010 "are implicated in both outbreaks."
An earlier article in the Times said that this E. coli strain was so dangerous because it combined a toxin with the ability to stick to intestinal walls.

(Here's the Wikipedia article on fenugreek in case fenugreek is greek to you — as it was to me.)
- 5:45 PM, 29 June 2011   [link]

Michael Ramirez Explains Obama's Policy in Afghanistan.

(Just to be fair, here's a competing explanation from E. J. Dionne, who is getting desperate enough to invoke George H. W. Bush.  Dionne does not compare Bush's and Obama's efforts to balance the federal budget — but he should.)
- 3:29 PM, 29 June 2011   [link]

Fannie Mae And Friends:  Gretchen Morgenson and Joshua Rosner begin Reckless Endangerment with a cast of characters, in four categories.  The first is "Fannie Mae and Friends".  (One of the categories, "Doubters and Those who Pushed Back", is a list of white hats.  The other two, "Subprime Lenders and Their Enablers" and "Feckless Regulators", list people with some responsibility for the 2008 financial breakdown.  I hope to get to all four categories, in time.)

Here's the first group, with links to their Wikipedia articles, where they exist:
Though they don't say so, Morgenson and Rosner appear to have listed them in order of declining culpability, with James A. Johnson the most guilty for Fannie Mae's failure, and Maxine Waters the least.

(David O. Maxwell was the Fannie Mae chief executive officer from 1981 to 1991, just before James A. Johnson.  Although, according to Morgenson and Rosner, he had run the company well, he erred by picking Johnson as his successor.  Leland Brendsel was the chief executive of Freddie Mac, 1987-2003.  Timothy Howard was the chief financial officer of Fannie Mae, 1990-2005.   Herb Moses was Barney Frank's "partner" for many years.  Congressman Frank asked Fannie Mae to give Moses a job.  They did, and Frank in return gave Fannie Mae favors — at our expense.)

In front of each name, I've given my best guess at their party affiliation, except for Timothy Howard.  I suspect he's a Democrat, but was unable to find any direct evidence in a quick search.

As you can see, this is a predominantly Democratic scandal.  And I think that it is fair to say that James Johnson deserves more of the blame than all the rest put together, so it is even more a Democratic scandal than a simple count of the D's and R's would make you think.

But it is a scandal that has done little damage to most of the people on that list.  (And little damage to most of the people on the "Subprime Lenders and Their Enablers" and "Feckless Regulators" lists.)

Most of the Democrats on that list have Obama connections.  Obama asked Johnson to be on his vice-presidential search committee, but dropped Johnson after "it was reported that he had received loans directly from Angelo Mozilo, the CEO of Countrywide Financial, a company implicated in the U.S. subprime mortgage crisis".  Franklin Raines has also advised Obama, at least informally.  Clinton's wife works in the Obama administration.  Thomas Donilon is currently Obama's National Security Advisor.  Larry Summers was Obama's first head of the National Economic Council.  Robert Rubin is one of Obama's part-time economic advisors.  Richard Holbrooke served in the Obama administration as a special envoy, until his death last December.   Thomas R. Nides is currently Obama's Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources.   Peter Orszag was Obama's first head of the Office of Management and Budgeting.

Obama chose at least 2 people on that list to be informal advisors, and named 6 of them to official positions in his administration.  (I think it likely that he would have found a place in his administration for Johnson and Raines, if it weren't for their legal problems.)  It is almost as if helping destroy Fannie Mae and cause the 2008 financial crisis was a resumé-enhancer for our current administration.

Does Obama know that these advisors and appointees are intimately connected with the Fannie Mae disaster?  I don't know — but I would certainly like to know the answer to that question.

(Jamie Gorelick, mistress of disaster, is not on the list, even though she was vice chairman of Fannie Mae, 1997-2003.  In fact, she is not even listed in the index to Reckless Endangerment.)
- 1:38 PM, 29 June 2011   [link]

Does The Obama Administration Really Have No "Clear Plan" For Captured Terrorists?  That's what this Washington Post article says.
The top military official involved in the raid that killed Osama bin Laden said Tuesday that the Obama administration has no clear plan for handling suspected terrorist leaders if they are caught alive outside a war zone.

Vice Adm. William H. McRaven told a Senate panel that contingency plans for detaining terrorism suspects are developed on an ad hoc basis and approved by the White House, but that there are no set rules.  "That is always a difficult issue for us," he testified.  "No two cases seem to be alike."

In response to senators' questions, McRaven said that "in many cases" suspects captured in secret operations by Navy SEALs or the Army's Delta Force are taken to a U.S. Navy ship until they can be tried in a U.S. court or transferred to the custody of an allied country.  But if neither option turns out to be feasible, the prisoner is ultimately let go, he said.
Note the qualifier.  They have no clear plan for terrorists captured "outside a war zone".  So we can say that they have no clear plan for some captured terrorists.  (Presumably, we treat those captured in war zones as captured soldiers.  I thought the whole world was their war zone, but I think I know what the admiral means.)

Traditionally, under the rules of civilized warfare, a captured enemy was kept in custody until the end of the war.  And if you thought he had any useful information, you questioned him.  But if you see this as a low enforcement problem, rather than a war, you would act as the Obama administration is, apparently, doing.

And that's if they were wearing uniforms and were part of a regular army.  Those who disguised themselves as civilians, as many terrorists do, had almost no rights.  (The purpose of that distinction was to protect civilians and, though modern wars have often targeted civilians, that distinction is worth preserving.)

The terrorists see themselves as warriors, not criminals.  I think we should take them at their word, though many may be criminals as well as warriors.

(In primitive wars, captives were usually killed, though there were some interesting exceptions.)
- 9:02 AM, 29 June 2011   [link]

The Global Poverty Act:  One of the few things that Barack Obama did as a senator was co-sponsor the Global Poverty Act.

Not the Global Anti-Poverty Act, the Global Poverty Act.

Well, we can't say he didn't warn us.

(Yes, I know that an assumed "anti" is common usage, for example, in names like the American Cancer Society.  But those who want to reduce poverty usually include the "anti", or something else like "war on" to indicate which side they are on.

Thanks to commenter "Neo" for the reminder.)
- 7:31 AM, 29 June 2011   [link]

For Some Jobs, It Helps To Have A Dirty Mind:  Years ago, I read that one of the big car companies had an employee who was able to see every possible double meaning in a new car name.  And that was the main reason they kept him on the payroll; he helped them avoid public embarrassments.  (I have no idea whether that's true or not, but it's a good story.)

People choosing Internet domain names could use the help of someone like that, as these 15 examples show.  (The article is probably safe for work at most work places, though you may want to read it discretely.)

(Similarly, if you want to stop crimes, you need someone who can think like a criminal.)
- 6:53 AM, 29 June 2011   [link]

Meanwhile, Back In Barack Obama's Illinois (8):  Former governor (and former Barack Obama political ally) Rod Blagojevich has been convicted (again), perhaps because he insisted in testifying in his own defense.
The more Rod Blagojevich spoke, the less he was believed.  When the former Illinois governor exercised his Fifth Amendment right to remain silent during his first federal corruption trial, the jury came back mostly deadlocked.  This time around, after Blagojevich spent day after day on the witness stand in his own defense, trying vainly to explain away all those catchy phrases caught on all those wiretaps, the jury socked him with convictions on 17 of the 20 counts against him.  So long, pal, nice to know you.
Is it unfair to note that Blagojevich and Obama were political allies?  Or to note that writer Andrew Cohen just wants him to "go away".  (Wouldn't it make more sense to hope that Blagojevich now decides to tell prosecutors what he knows about his former associates?)

Perhaps that is unfair.  Both Blagojevich and Obama are Democrats, after all.

But having noted it, I should go on to add that the list of corrupt Illinois governors is bipartisan.
Six Illinois governors have been charged with crimes during or after their governorships; four were convicted, and of those, one (Blagojevich) was first impeached and removed from office.
However is it also true that, in recent decades, Illinois has had Republican governors who were not corrupt, but has not had elected Democratic governors who were not corrupt.  (The current Democratic governor, Pat Quinn, has not been convicted of anything, may even be personally honest, but has associated with an awful lot of crooks.)

Voting Republican in Illinois does not guarantee you against corruption, but it does improve the odds.
- 10:36 AM, 28 June 2011
Judging by the "mainstream" networks, it was unfair for me to mention Blagojevich's party, and so it probably was super unfair for me to mention his long-time ally, Barack Obama.
- 9:22 AM, 29 June 2011   [link]

Prince Charles Is A Cheapskate:  Some in Britain are complaining about his travel expenses during the most recent financial year.
His travel costs leapt from £692,000 to £1.08 million in the same period, despite the number of miles he travelled falling from 42,910 to 34,287.
(£1.08 million is about $1.71 million.)

But Michelle Obama managed to spend $.5 to $.8 million on a single trip.
While her husband continues to battle a flagging economy at home, Michelle Obama's 'goodwill tour' of Africa cost taxpayers an estimated $800,000, it has emerged.

According to the First Lady's trip to South Africa and Botswana last week will certainly cost well over half a million dollars and could be as much as $800,000.
Caveat:  British tabloids are not always accurate on these minor details.  But I would say that our First Lady likes traveling like a queen more than she should in a republic.
- 9:49 AM, 28 June 2011   [link]

Are More Nations Giving Up In The Fight Against Slavery?  That's what the latest State Department report implies.
The State Department's annual Trafficking in Persons report is out today and it faults 23 countries for not doing enough to combat modern slavery, a designation that could lead to U.S. sanctions.   That's nearly double the 13 countries cited in last year's report.  This year's report also warns over 40 other countries they are in danger of slipping onto the black list.

Making the so-called Tier 3 list again are perennial human rights violators Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Burma, Zimbabwe and Saudi Arabia.  Newcomers to the list include Libya, Yemen, and Venezuela.  The Dominican Republic was the only country to get off of last year's Tier 3 list.
Here's the official definition of Tier 3:
Countries whose governments do not fully comply with the minimum standards and are not making significant efforts to do so.
But the matter is less clear cut than that post implies.  The State Department classifies nations in four categories, from best to worst: Tier 1, Tier 2, Tier 2 (watch list), and Tier 3.

This year, the State Department began moving nations from Tier 2 (watch list) to Tier 3 if they have been on the watch list for two consecutive years, and would be again this year.  (The Secretary of State can give countries a waiver.)

So the increase in number of countries in Tier 3 is, probably, a consequence of the change in the law, not an increase in slavery.

Skimming through the long introduction, I was struck by the constancy during the last five years of prosecutions and convictions in the different regions.  There are several possible explanations for that constancy.  It may be, for instance, that nations have assigned just so many law enforcement people to these offenses, and that they work at roughly constant rates.

But, if I had to guess, I would say that the amount of slavery world wide, has probably stayed roughly constant during those years.

(You could argue — and I wouldn't necessarily disagree with you — that the State Department errs by grouping such different crimes under the same name.  In particular, I am not sure that all of their cases of "child labor" are as heinous as some of the other categories.   A little boy who earns a few pennies shining shoes or picking coffee beans is likely to suffer less damage than a little girl who is abducted for forced prostitution.)
- 9:17 AM, 28 June 2011   [link]

What If They Switched Questions?  Over this weekend, our local reporters were covering two stories that required them to step up their political correctness to maximum levels.  The reporters were delighted by New York state's new gay marriage law, and they were distressed that anyone might think that even a few Muslims might support terrorists.

After a while, the political correctness got to me, and I began to feel that our news programs had been taken over by some weird cult.  Or, to be more precise, two cults, one arguing that the gay marriage law was the greatest advance in civil rights in this century (and that any religious people who held different views were just mouth-breathing troglodytes), and the other arguing that Islam is everywhere a religion of peace.

The unanimity was depressing, providing more evidence, not that we needed any, that our newsrooms lack real diversity, ideological diversity, that is.

And then a mischievous thought occurred to me:  What if some of the reporters got confused, and switched questions?  For example, instead of asking the local Islamic leaders about the latest terrorist plot, why not ask them what Islam has to say about gay marriage?  Instead of asking gay leaders about the New York law, why not ask them whether we might learn something from Islamic countries like Iran?

I don't know whether they would have gotten any honest answers if they had switched questions, but the interviews might have been less annoying, might even have been instructive.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 6:54 AM, 27 June 2011   [link]

Divorce Lawyers Are Happy About New York's New Law:   Understandably.
Same-sex couples aren't the only ones rejoicing over New York's legalization of gay marriage - divorce lawyers are also breaking out the champagne.

More marriages will ultimately mean more divorces - and in the short-term more prenuptial contracts to draw up, experts say.  "We are certainly going to see a significant increase in business over the next decade," said Manhattan attorney Alton Abramowitz, who is also vice president of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers.
That increase won't be good for the rest of us, but it should produce some entertaining trials.
- 6:30 AM, 27 June 2011   [link]

Mitt Romney Borrows An Idea From Maggie Thatcher:  

Obama isn't working ad

(And gives her credit for the idea.)
- 5:50 PM, 26 June 2011   [link]

We Now Have A Rumor On Chávez's Medical Problem:  On of the odder things about his illness, as far as I was concerned, is that there weren't even any unofficial rumors.  When the leader of a state tells an incomplete story about his health problems, you expect many people to guess at what he is hiding, but I didn't see any guesses until yesterday — and I was checking every day in the obvious places.

Now we have a rumor.  It's just a rumor but, as far as I can tell, it is consistent with what we know.  People are guessing that the Venezuelan leader might have late-stage prostate cancer.  (Another possibility is late-stage colon cancer.)

I haven't been looking for rumors simply out of curiosity.  Some observers think that his regime is held together by Chávez, that there is no natural successor, and that there are deep divisions among his followers.  So his regime might not survive him.

One possibility is that he lives long enough to contest the election next year, but loses because of his illness.  If I understand Daniel, that might be the best result.

Chávez's departure, however it happened, would have consequences outside Venezuela.   The Castro regime would find it hard to survive without his subsidies.  Other leftists in this hemisphere would miss his cash.  The Iranian regime would lose a valuable ally.
- 4:50 PM, 26 June 2011   [link]

Marriage And Governor Andrew Cuomo:  No one else, or at least no "mainstream" journalist will mention this, so I will.

Isn't it strange that the governor who signed New York's gay marriage law refuses to marry his mistress?
- 9:29 AM, 26 June 2011   [link]