June 2014, Part 1

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Seattle Pacific shooting:
Seattle Pacific University's community was "in a state of shock” Thursday afternoon after a gunman opened fire inside an engineering building, killing a 19-year-old man and seriously injuring a 20-year-old woman before being disarmed by a student.

A student working as a building monitor at SPU's Otto Miller Hall subdued the shotgun-wielding gunman with pepper spray after he shot three people in the building's entry, Seattle police say.  Armed with a knife and carrying spare shells, the shooter apparently stopped to reload when he was taken down.

SPU identified the hero student as Jon Meis.  Classes were canceled Friday.
Meis is an electrical engineering student who will be graduating — and getting married — quite soon, according to the accounts I have heard.  Since he subdued the gunman when the shooter had to stop to reload the shotgun, he was acting intelligently as well as bravely.

According to accounts I have heard, the gunman was inspired — if that's the right word — by the school shootings at Columbine, and elsewhere.

(Here's the Wikipedia article on the university.  I would guess, from the location, that they have "building monitors" because petty criminals come into the campus from time to time.)
- 8:31 AM, 6 June 2014   [link]

Remember Leland Yee, the California Democrat who has been charged with an amazing set of crimes?

Despite those charges, despite the fact that he withdrew from the race for California secretary of state, he still has supporters.
One of the odder stats of Election Night: As of Wednesday morning, 287,590 Californians had cast ballots for indicted state Sen. Leland Yee for secretary of state.  That’s good for nearly 10 percent of the vote.

That’s also more votes than five other secretary of state candidates who haven’t been indicted received. Never mind for a second that the San Francisco Democrat has been indicted on multiple federal money laundering and weapons charges.  Yee DROPPED OUT of the race in March.   Folks were voting for an indicted man who didn’t even want their votes.
Given Yee's record, I don't think we can be entirely sure that he didn't want those votes.  And it would be interesting to know how many of those who voted for him knew about the charges.

(Reminder:  Both journalists and Democratic leaders in California appear, at best, to have been unaware of his side businesses, in spite of some fairly public hints that he wasn't entirely honest.

Here are the "semi-official" counts for the California primary, including the secretary of state, if you want to see how Yee is doing, now.)
- 7:44 AM, 5 June 2014   [link]

Obama Goes "Rouge"  I don't pay that much attention to the president's appearance, so I was surprised by this point in a Daily Mail story: "President is blasted for 'going rouge' and not telling Congress in advance of the prisoner swap".

Maybe they just mean that he is embarrassed, and showing it in the usual way.

(I won't guarantee that the mistake will still be there when you look, but it has been since this morning.)
- 4:27 PM, 4 June 2014   [link]

Two Open Questions On The Bergdahl-For-Five-Terrorists Exchange:  (There are more than two, but these two are the ones that I find the most puzzling.)   According to this account, Bergdahl was not held by the Taliban, but by the Haqqanis.
According to reports, Sgt. Bergdahl was under the influence when he walked off his base in Paktika Province, Afghanistan and into the arms of the Haqqani terrorism network.

It is important to note that the Haqqanis are not the same thing as the Afghan Taliban.  The two are different groups.  They each have their own distinct and separate leadership council, or “Shura” that they report to.  The Haqqanis are heavily tied to both Al Qaeda (providing them safe passage and support) and the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence agency, also known as the ISI.  The Haqqanis are a heavily criminal enterprise sowing and feeding off of the chaos in the Afghanistan/Pakistan region.  Envision Al Qaeda crossed with the Sopranos and you begin to get the picture of what these thugs are like.
Assuming for the moment that he was held by the Haqqani network, rather than the Taliban, then you have to wonder, with Brad Thor, what the Haqqanis got out of deal.  Usually, they want money, according to Thor, but we do hold at least one of their top men.  (One possibility, of course, is that they got money, but not directly from us.)

Second, why did the Obama White House not anticipate the negative reaction to this trade?   According to NBC's Chuck Todd, the White House expected "euphoria" over the release.  And in this area, they got that from our "mainstream" journalists for about a day.  On June 2nd, the Seattle Times actually headlined a reasonably balanced New York Times article on the trade: "Intricate prisoner swap a triumph for both sides".

But the euphoria evaporated in less than a day, as the reactions from the military, especially the men who had known Bergdahl, came in.  What many have concluded, for example, Ralph Peters, is that the Obama administration misjudged the reaction because they do not understand military values.

But I wonder whether the Obama White House might have missed for other reasons, too, missed, for example, that some journalists would be bothered by Obama breaking a law that requires, and a promise that he had made, that he consult Congress before releasing any of these bad guys.
- 4:03 PM, 4 June 2014   [link]

Good Sense On Chemicals From A Retired Cranberry Farmer:   Thomas Gelsthorpe fights "obscurantism" with science.
Popular notions that Mother Nature is benign have achieved cult-like devotion across a host of issues.  For decades "organic" food and "organic" agriculture have made extravagant claims for being healthier.  In the science of chemistry, organic means "containing carbon."  Organic ideology — as distinguished from organic chemistry — defines what things should not contain: "synthetic" ingredients, which are tricky to define, or "chemicals," an even vaguer term.

The science of chemistry (everyone reveres science, right?) shows how matter is composed of elements.  In this sense, everything is made of chemicals — air, carrot juice, horse manure and shampoo.  In the all-natural cult, synthetic, chemical, or worse yet, "synthetic chemicals," are vaguely synonymous with "poison," which obscures several basic facts.

1. Not all manmade substances are toxic.

2. Not all natural substances are harmless.
There's more, and it's all good.
- 1:41 PM, 4 June 2014   [link]

"What If Team Obama Had Just Told The Truth About Bowe Bergdahl?"  Byron York asks a radical question:
Bill Clinton's critics in Arkansas used to say that he would rather climb a tree and tell a lie than stand on the ground and tell the truth.  In other words, Clinton would lie when the truth would do -- and when telling the truth would be easier.

The saying might apply to the Obama administration's public statements about Bowe Bergdahl, the U.S. soldier released from captivity in Afghanistan in a trade for five Taliban commanders held at Guantanamo Bay.  There is substantial evidence to suggest that Bergdahl abandoned his post in 2009 -- he went AWOL, he deserted, whatever one calls it, Bergdahl walked away from the U.S. Army and his fellow soldiers while on duty in a war zone.

So why did the White House send National Security Adviser Susan Rice to the Sunday shows to claim that Bergdahl "served the United States with honor and distinction"?
When Bill Clinton came on the national scene, I was startled by how often he told lies — even "when the truth would do".  I eventually decided that he lied because he enjoyed lying, because he liked trying to con people, liked the risk involved.

But I can't explain, yet, why Susan Rice was sent out, again, to tell a story that no serious person could believe.  Okay, I can explain why they chose Susan Rice — she'll say anything — but I can't explain why they gave her that particular talking point.

Although I am not impressed by the competence of the Obama White House, I find it almost impossible to believe that the people who briefed her did not know that Bergdahl left his unit under suspicious circumstances, and that he was not a model soldier.  Almost.

If incompetence doesn't explain what she said, what would?  An arrogance akin to Clinton's?  A feeling that they had gotten away with so many lies, and not been called on them by the press, that they could get away with telling another whopper?  Perhaps.
- 1:13 PM, 4 June 2014   [link]

What The NYT Didn't Say About Barack Obama And Poland:  Yesterday's New York Times carried an article by Rick Lyman that described how feelings in Poland had cooled toward the United States, how what was once a love affair had become just a friendship.
WARSAW, Poland — “Poland is the most pro-American country in the world — including the United States,” goes a quip, well-known here, by an American foreign-policy expert more than a decade ago.

“Yes,” Marcin Zaborowski, director of the Polish Institute of International Affairs, said a little ruefully last week.  “We had long periods like that.  But not so much now.”
Lyman explains — and I don't think he is wrong in what he writes — that the Poles now worry more about economic issues and less about national security, and that younger Poles are not as attached to the United States as their parents.

But, though the article is illustrated with a small picture of Obama meeting Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski in 2011, President Obama is never mentioned in the article.

And that is unfortunate, because there is good reason to think that Obama's actions might have something to do with that change in Polish opinion.
President Barack Obama has an appalling track record when it comes to insulting Poland, a key U.S. ally in Eastern Europe.  In 2009, his administration humiliated Warsaw when, in deference to Russian demands, it pulled out of an agreement over Third Site missile defense installations in Poland and the Czech Republic.  In 2010, the president opted to play golf on the same day the Polish people were mourning the death of their president, Lech Kaczysnki, Kaczynski’s wife and 94 senior Polish officials killed in the Smolensk air disaster.  Obama had been due to attend the funeral but was unable to fly there because of a large cloud of ash that had formed over parts of Europe.

In 2012, Obama sparked outrage in Poland when he described a Nazi death camp from World War II as “a Polish death camp.”  He made the comment during the ceremony awarding the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Jan Karski, a Polish resistance fighter.  Obama’s remarks prompted Poland’s foreign minister Radek Sikorski to publicly call for an apology from the White House, attacking the “ignorance and incompetence” on display.  More than 6 million Poles, including 3 million Jews, died at the hands of Nazi Germany during the war.

Obama’s shoddy treatment of the Poles has won him few friends in one of the most pro-American nations in Europe.  Lech Walesa, national hero and leader of Poland’s Solidarity Movement in the 1980s and 1990s, refused to meet with Obama when he last traveled to Poland in 2011.   More recently, Walesa criticized the lack of U.S. leadership on the world stage, telling the Associated Press that “the world is disorganized and the superpower is not taking the lead.”
Rick Lyman and his editors at the Times should know all of those facts — and must know some of them.  But they chose not to share any of them in that article, chose not to tell readers that President Obama's actions might be one reason Poles are less friendly to the United States than they were when his predecessor was in office.

(Over the years I have observed that American leftists often dislike our friends and allies even more than they dislike the United States.  I am not saying that Obama, though a leftist, necessarily shares those attitudes, but I am reasonably certain that some in his inner circle do.  And I suspect those attitudes may explain some of his blunders.)
- 7:32 AM, 4 June 2014   [link]

Three Recent New Yorker Cartoons I Liked:  Which I will introduce by mentioning what kind of person might like to skip looking at each one.

Crime fighters.

Cat lovers.

Recent graduates (or their parents).
- 3:01 PM, 3 June 2014   [link]

Islamic Infiltration In The Nigerian Army:  In May, I speculated about problems within the Nigerian army.

Now, if this account is correct, and these convictions are deserved, then the problems are even worse than I thought they might be.
Ten generals and five other senior military officers were found guilty in courts-martial of providing arms and information to Boko Haram extremists, a leading Nigerian newspaper reported Tuesday.

The news follows months of allegations from politicians and soldiers who have told The Associated Press that some senior officers were helping the Islamic extremists and that some rank-and-file soldiers even fight alongside the insurgents and then return to army camps.  They have said that information provided by army officers has helped insurgents in ambushing military convoys and in attacks on army barracks and outposts in their northeastern stronghold.

Leadership newspaper quoted one officer saying that four other officers, in addition to the 15, were found guilty of "being disloyal and for working for the members of the sect."
As far as I can tell, the Nigerian government has not announced this, at least not yet.  (And they might not want to, if this was part of an ongoing investigation.)

So I would conclude, so far, that there are almost certainly problems with Islamic infiltration in the Nigerian army and that probably the Nigerian government is beginning to attack that problem.

(Here's the Nigerian newspaper's web site.

If I had done some routine searches in May, I would have learned that many others shared my suspicions.)
- 1:19 PM, 3 June 2014   [link]

More On McConnell's Close Race:  In May, I said that Minority Leader Mitch McConnell had to be rated the favorite in his senate race against Alison Lundergan Grimes, but "just barely".

On Sunday, Chris Cillizza said essentially the same thing, at more length and with more data.

There is nothing in his piece that I would disagree with.  I even agree with him on this:
The question at the heart of this campaign — and one we won’t probably know the answer to until the day after the election — is this: Whose unpopularity matters more, McConnell’s or Obama’s?
But I will add that an apparent trend in recent polls makes me a little more hopeful about McConnell's chances now, than I was in May.  One plausible interpretation of the pattern we see there is that McConnell was damaged by the primary campaign — but is beginning to recover.
- 9:51 AM, 3 June 2014   [link]

"The Obama Paradox"  Doesn't seem paradoxical at all, to me.  This long Politico article (which you may find easier to read and search in its print format) has drawn considerable attention for its portrait of a dispirited President Obama, so dispirited that he is even turning to crude superstition.
The ritual started in earnest last fall in the midst of the biggest humiliation of Barack Obama’s presidency, the failure of the health care website.  Anytime he heard a sliver of good news, the president reacted the same way: He knocked on the polished cherry wood table in the Roosevelt Room.

It’s a small thing, almost a nervous tic, but Obama’s habit of knocking on wood during Obamacare meetings had become notable, something that close advisers talked and even joked about among themselves.

Obama had always projected the aura of a deeply confident man, someone who on the basis of past experience was justified in assuming that good luck just naturally happened to him.   But in the second term, confronted by recurring setbacks and regular reminders of the limits of his power, he began to convey a sense that even hopeful news might be ephemeral, a mirage.
Reality is catching up with him — and he is reacting by turning to superstition.

And to more partying.  The headline on Howard Kurtz's commentary on the Politico article is: "Obama in Winter: Scaled-down ambitions and ramped-up partying".   That's an accurate headline for both the commentary, and the original article.

Carrie Budoff Brown and Jennifer Epstein are too sympathetic to Obama to give us a comprehensive analysis of why Obama is failing, but they give us hints by what is in the article — and what is not in the article.

For an example of the first, consider his reluctant, and very late, attempts to get along better with Congress.
The most notable shift was toward accommodating the personal requests of lawmakers, mostly Democrats, who tend to dwell on the perks such as rides on Air Force One, invites to bill signings and White House tours.  It’s an acknowledgment that for years the White House put too little stock in the value of meeting these requests, which often hold outsize importance to lawmakers.

For the first time, aides said, Obama is trying to respond to almost every letter from an individual lawmaker with a handwritten note.  He is doing more public bill signings at the request of members, as he did May 23, when Rep. Denny Heck (D-Wash.) and Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) got an Oval Office ceremony for two minor pieces of legislation establishing new congressional gold medals.  Almost 40 lawmakers have received invites to travel on Air Force One this year, an increase from 28 at this time last year.  He’s directed staff to organize another round of cocktail hours with House and Senate Democrats at the White House.
Any political scientist who has studied Congress (or other legislatures), any political professional, would find that neglect extraordinary, and any in either group would tell you that this late effort won't make much difference.

For an example of the second, of what is left out, consider this:  In the entire seven-page article there is no mention of unemployment, and almost nothing about the economy.  Obama, and his White House staff, are simply not much interested in the problems caused by our sluggish economy.  Except, of course, when that sluggish economy hurts them, politically.

In fact, after reading the article, I think it fair to generalize:  Obama and his staff do not see themselves as stewards, with responsibilities to the nation, and the world.  They do think we have responsibilities to them, however, and they may think we are failing them.

You can see that in the Brown and Epstein's discussion of Obama's new freedom — as he sees it — to speak frankly on race.  What is important, from his point of view, is that he can now say what he has wanted to say all along.  What is not even mentioned in the article is whether his actions, and what he is saying, will help heal the racial wounds his administration has aggravated, whether they will even help the blacks he claims to care about.

(If you don't want to read the whole article, here's a somewhat hostile summary.

In January 2009, I predicted — unhappily — that Obama would fail as president.  You can decide for yourself how accurate that set of predictions was.  As I said then, I was hoping to be proved wrong.)
- 9:12 AM, 3 June 2014   [link]

Another Democratic Attack On Freedom Of Speech:   The 1st Amendment to the United States Constitution reads as follows:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Many politicians, especially incumbents, have found these prohibitions inconvenient, and have made all kinds of laws limiting political speech, sometimes the speech of unpopular minorities, and, in recent years, often the speech of their political opponents.   Sometimes our Supreme Court — to its shame — has accepted these limits.  But anyone who genuinely believes in freedom of speech will be pleased that, in recent years, notably in the Citizens United case, the Supreme Court has begun to undo some of the damage.

Incumbents, especially incumbent Democrats, are unhappy with this shift back toward freedom of speech — even for their opponents.  So unhappy that a group of Senate Democrats, led by New Mexico's Tom Udall, have introduced a proposed amendment, an amendment which would repeal much of the 1st Amendment.

Here is the text of the proposed amendment:

SECTION 1. To advance the fundamental principle of political equality for all, and to protect the integrity of the legislative and electoral processes, Congress shall have power to regulate the raising and spending of money and in-kind equivalents with respect to Federal elections, including through setting limits on—

(1) the amount of contributions to candidates for nomination for election to, or for election to, Federal office; and

(2) the amount of funds that may be spent by, in support of, or in opposition to such candidates.

SECTION 2. To advance the fundamental principle of political equality for all, and to protect the integrity of the legislative and electoral processes, each State shall have power to regulate the raising and spending of money and in-kind equivalents with respect to State elections, including through setting limits on—

(1) the amount of contributions to candidates for nomination for election to, or for election to, State office; and

(2) the amount of funds that may be spent by, in support of, or in opposition to such candidates.

SECTION 3. Nothing in this article shall be construed to grant Congress the power to abridge the freedom of the press.

SECTION 4. Congress and the States shall have power to implement and enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

Section 3 gives the Democrats' game away; by explicitly protecting those who own large news organizations, the sponsors implicitly concede that they are stripping away 1st Amendment protections from all the rest of us.  (An earlier version of the proposed amendment did not even protect large news organizations.)

If Congress and our other legislatures have that unlimited power over campaign expenditures, they can prevent effective campaigning in all except the smallest constituencies.

As I read that, if the amendment passed, it would be entirely constitutional for them to shut down everything from the Republican National Committee to my modest web site — if we spent too much money.  And our incumbent legislators would be the ones who determine what "too much" was.

For more, and some examples that should frighten you, read Senator Ted Cruz's superb op-ed.

At this stage, the proposed amendment is mostly a fund-raising and propaganda device.   But I believe that Udall, and the other Democrats sponsoring this amendment, would pass these limitations on political speech — if they had the power.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 3:06 PM, 2 June 2014   [link]

This Washington Post Headline Confuses, And Then Partly Clarifies:  Here's the headline: French suspect held in Belgian Jewish museum shootings spent a recent year in Syria, prosecutor says

If we read the even the first two paragraphs of the article article, the identity of the "French" suspect becomes clearer.
A suspected French jihadist who spent time in Syria is in custody over the shooting deaths of three people at a Belgian Jewish museum, prosecutors said Sunday, crystallizing fears that European radicals will parlay their experiences in Syria into terrorism back home.

When Mehdi Nemmouche was arrested Friday in southern France, he was in possession of firearms, a large quantity of ammunition and a video claiming responsibility for the May 24 attack, a Belgian prosecutor said.
No doubt, in some formal sense, Nemmouche is French.  Very probably he had a French passport when he traveled to Syria to kill Syrians (and perhaps a few Iranians and Palestinians, too).

But I think we can be reasonably certain that his first allegiance is not to France.  And I think that headline would be better if it were clearer on that point.

(There are jihadists in Syria who have American passports, according to one estimate, about 70.   Or perhaps, now, 69.)
- 11:05 AM, 2 June 2014   [link]

Who Did Obama Give Up To Get Sergeant Bergdahl Back?  The five men, Mullah Mohammad Fazl, Mullah Norullah Noori, Abdul Haq Wasiq, Khairullah Khairkhwa, and Mohammed Nabi Omari, do not look like Boy Scouts, at least to me.
While not as well known as Guantanamo inmates like 9-11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the Taliban 5 were some of the worst outlaws in the U.S. war on terror.  And their release will end up replenishing the diminished leadership ranks of the Afghan Taliban at a moment when the United States is winding down the war there.
. . .
Fazl, for example, was the Taliban’s former deputy defense minister and is wanted by the United Nations for his role in massacres targeting Afghan’s Shi’ite Muslim population.
You have to be careful with historical analogies, but here is what this swap reminds me of:   It is as if, in 1944, FDR had swapped five Nazi generals, including the one responsible for the Oradour-sur-Glane massacre, for a single American sergeant, a sergeant who had been accused of desertion.

(According to news stories, the five will stay in Qatar for a year and then — well, it is not clear what will happen to them at the end of that year.  But I suspect they will be rejoining their terrorist friends, after a year of plotting and propagandizing.)
- 7:21 AM, 2 June 2014   [link]

Now, Here's A Good lead sentence:
A soccer referee named Ibrahim Chaibou walked into a bank in a small South African city carrying a bag filled with as much as $100,000 in $100 bills, according to another referee traveling with him.
You can probably guess, just from that, what the article is about, fixed international soccer games.  But there is much more of interest in the article, even for those, like me, who don't follow soccer.

For instance:  Chaibou is from Niger, the May 2010 game he refereed that evening was between South Africa and Guatemala, and Chaibou was working for Football 4U International, a syndicate based in Singapore.  Now that's globalization.

(The bank was so pleased by the large deposit that they gave Chaibou some Nelson Mandela comemorative coins.)
- 12:59 PM, 1 June 2014   [link]

This Sounds Like a joke.
Medicare can no longer automatically deny coverage requests for sex reassignment surgeries, a federal board ruled Friday in a groundbreaking decision that recognizes the procedures are medically necessary for some people who don't identify with their biological sex.

Ruling in favor of a 74-year-old transgender Army veteran whose request to have Medicare pay for her genital reconstruction was denied two years ago, a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services review board said there was no justification for a three-decade-old agency rule excluding such surgeries from treatments covered by the national health program for the elderly and disabled.
But it isn't.

It is now official government policy to pay for the mutilation of confused old people — rather than offer them the mental health treatment they need.
- 7:08 AM, 1 June 2014   [link]