June 2014, Part 2

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

What Does The ACLU Think Of The Udall Amendment?  They are against it, and see it as an attack on freedom of speech.

In their letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee, they gave seven examples of what the amendment would allow:

  • Congress would be allowed to restrict the publication of Secretary Hillary Clinton’s forthcoming memoir “Hard Choices” were she to run for office;
  • Congress could criminalize a blog on the Huffington Post by Gene Karpinski, president of the League of Conservation Voters, that accuses Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) of being a “climate change denier”;
  • Congress could regulate this website by reform group Public Citizen, which urges voters to contact their members of Congress in support of a constitutional amendment addressing Citizens United and the recent McCutcheon case, under the theory that it is, in effect, a sham issue communication in favor of the Democratic Party;
  • A state election agency, run by a corrupt patronage appointee, could use state law to limit speech by anti-corruption groups supporting reform;
  • A local sheriff running for reelection and facing vociferous public criticism for draconian immigration policies and prisoner abuse could use state campaign finance laws to harass and prosecute his own detractors;
  • A district attorney running for reelection could selectively prosecute political opponents using state campaign finance restrictions; and
  • Congress could pass a law regulating this letter for noting that all 41 sponsors of this amendment, which the ACLU opposes, are Democrats (or independents who caucus with Democrats).

(For clarity, I removed some footnotes, but you can find them at the link.  For the record:  I would oppose all seven example restrictions.)

This is not a new position for the ACLU; they have opposed campaign finance restrictions for many years, seeing those restrictions, correctly, as attacks on free speech.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(Here's my original post on the Udall amendment, with its text.)
- 1:28 PM, 16 June 2014   [link]

You'll Probably Like this headline: "Where Dishonesty Is Best Policy, U.S. Soccer Falls Short"

According to the article, American players are terrible at an important part of the game — cheating:
For better or worse, gamesmanship and embellishment — or depending on your sensibilities, cheating — are part of high-level soccer.  Players exaggerate contact.  They amplify the mundane.  They turn niggling knocks into something closer to grim death.

They do all this to force the referee to make decisions, with the hope that if he is confronted by imagined bloodshed often enough, he will ultimately determine he has seen some.   Applying this sort of pressure on the official is a skill that, by their own admission, United States players generally perform poorly, if they perform it at all.
On the whole, I think this is a reason for pride.  (But I will admit that there is a small part of me that wishes the American team would discreetly hire a good drama coach.)
- 12:49 PM, 16 June 2014   [link]

Why Did We Admit This Algerian?  That's the question that popped into my mind, after I read about Hamza Ali Ben Ali's latest crime spree.
In a bizarre (but somewhat unsurprising) twist of fate, a motorcyclist who recorded video of himself speeding away from a police car while wearing a court-ordered GPS anklet for an unrelated offense—and who then proceeded to post the video footage to YouTube—has been apprehended, tried, and sentenced to a four-year prison term.
. . .
Ali—an Algerian citizen with prior convictions, including aggravated battery against a police officer and possession of a stolen motor vehicle—might have gotten away scot free since his motorcycle did not have plates, but the combination of information gleaned from the YouTube video and the GPS anklet led the cops to his doorstep.
I can understand why he has not yet been deported, despite those convictions — our legal system provides so many ways to delay punishments — but I can't understand why he was admitted in the first place, since he seems to have no redeeming features.  (He apparently has worked as a truck driver, which is not an exceptionally high-skilled job.)

He may have overstayed a tourist or student visa, or he may have been admitted as a political refugee.  It is important to know why he was admitted, because we should learn from our mistakes, and letting him in was definitely a mistake.
- 7:12 AM, 16 June 2014   [link]

Bribe, Campaign Contribution, Or Both?  It is hard to know which is the best description of Chelsea Clinton's salary.
Chelsea Clinton earned an annual salary of $600,000 at NBC News before switching to a month-to-month contract earlier this year, sources with knowledge of the agreement told POLITICO.

Clinton, who joined NBC News as a special correspondent in November 2011, was up for renewal or nonrenewal this year.  Instead, the sources said, the network decided to keep her on the payroll on a month-to-month basis so the two parties could sever ties if Clinton’s mother, Hillary Clinton, runs for president.
If it is a bribe, then it is probably motivated by NBC's parent company, GE, which has many reasons to seek favor with someone who might be the next president.

If it is a campaign contribution, then the person giving it is, almost certainly, Jeff Zucker.

The second explanation seems more likely to me, but I wouldn't exclude the first, or a combination of the two.

(The New York Times has been running stories on how American firms, especially banks, have been hiring the sons and daughters of Chinese leaders.  There is an ongoing Securities and Exchange Commission investigation of this practice, which can be illegal, under American laws.  As far as I know there is no similar investigation of Clinton's contract, which looks identical, ethically, though perhaps not legally.)
- 5:32 AM, 16 June 2014   [link]

"Scenes From D-Day, Then And Now"  For the 70th anniversary, photographers Peter Macdiarmid Chris Helgren selected 21 photos from the archives, and then photographed the same places, showing what they look like today.

By way of Frau Katz.

(Strictly speaking, not all of the old photographs were taken on D-Day.  There are dates on all the pictures, though some are only approximate.)
- 9:41 AM, 15 June 2014   [link]

Seems Kind Of Careless Of The IRS:  And Lois Lerner.
The Internal Revenue Service said Friday it has lost a trove of emails to and from a central figure in the agency’s tea party controversy, sparking outrage from congressional investigators who have been probing the agency for more than a year.

The IRS told Congress Friday it cannot locate many of Lois Lerner’s emails prior to 2011 because her computer crashed during the summer of that year.

Lerner headed the IRS division that processed applications for tax-exempt status.  The IRS acknowledged last year that agents had improperly scrutinized applications for tax-exempt status by tea party and other conservative groups.
Careless, or awfully convenient.

I would have expected the IRS — especially the IRS — to automatically archive copies of all emails from their staff, as part of the process of sending the emails.   This is, as any software expert can tell you, not a new idea, or especially difficult to implement.

(Minor technical point:  I think most system designers would set up the system so that the email program first made an archive copy or copies, and then sent the email.  This provides protection against those (hopefully) rare cases where something goes wrong in the system between sending the email and archiving it.)
- 2:24 PM, 14 June 2014
Update:  A number of software experts have spoken out, and find this lack of archived copies — even if there was a computer crash — implausible.  John Hinderaker, who has some legal experience with similar matters says that it is official IRS policy to archive all their emails — as it should be.

Incompetence explains more than malice, but in this case, the claims made by the administration are so implausible that I lean toward malice.  I think those emails were not lost in a local disk crash and, if they don't exist, it is because someone deliberately destroyed them, almost certainly because they are incriminating.
4:42 PM, 15 June 2014   [link]

Maybe The NYT Is Afraid of what that investigation might reveal.
The New York Times has no plans to investigate the work of its former reporter Chris Hedges amid allegations that he plagiarized multiple stories for other publications over the past decade.

The New Republic reported on Thursday that the Pulitzer winner has been accused of plagiarizing passages in stories written for Harper’s, Truthdig, and his 2002 book War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning.
The evidence of his plagiarism looks solid to me.

I was always dubious about his writing, but for other reasons.  A man who can write a book, in 2008, titled "American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America" does not appear to be in complete touch with reality.  Which, I would like to think, would be a handicap for a journalist.

(Here's the usual Wikipedia biography, with more than the usual caveats.  You'll note that he has won a number of journalistic prizes, and even shared in a Pulitzer.  I am not joking when I say that — usually — journalistic Pulitzers should be viewed as reprimands.)
- 4:11 PM, 13 June 2014   [link]

For Another Example Of A Smart Person Doing Something Stupid, see Paul Krugman's 1998 prediction on the economic importance of the Internet.
- 8:00 AM, 13 June 2014   [link]

Noemie Emery Must Have Been In A Bad Mood When She Wrote this column.
President Obama has an IQ "off the charts," as Michael Beschloss told Don Imus in November 2008, in the first fine flush of Obama-mania.

Unfortunately, he didn’t specify which end of the chart it was off of, but at the moment it doesn’t look high.
That's followed by a list of stupid Obama policy decisions, a list I almost entirely agree with.

But I could counter with an almost equal list of smart political decisions. (For example, his recognition that Hillary Clinton could be beaten in the 2008 nomination contest.)   Obama may not have come up with those ideas, but if so he was smart enough to accept smart advice from people like David Axelrod.

This contrast between stupid policy decisions and smart political decisions may seem, at first glance, paradoxical, but it isn't.  All of us are smarter at some things than others, and almost all of us have known people with high IQs, who behaved stupidly in some areas.

This combination, stupid policies and smart politics, has, as we have seen, terrible results.  Obama's ability at politics makes it harder to block his stupid policy decisions, or even to make him pay for them.

Example:  Obama's decision to ally with Al Sharpton, despite Sharpton's horrible record, was probably smart politics, probably helped Obama solidify support in some parts of the black community.  But it also helped divide the races in this country, at a time when Obama had a unique opportunity to further our long process of racial reconciliation.

(For the record:  I don't think Obama is "off the charts" in either direction.  From what I can tell, he's above average in intelligence, but not exceptionally so.  I don't know why Michael Beschloss has come to a different conclusion.)
- 7:44 AM, 13 June 2014   [link]

Biggest Bank Heist Ever?   Probably.
Of the many stunning revelations to emerge out of the wreckage of Mosul on Wednesday — 500,000 fleeing residents, thousands of freed prisoners, unconfirmed reports of “mass beheadings” — the one that may have the most lasting impact as Iraq descends into a possible civil war is that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria just got extremely rich.

As insurgents rolled past Iraq’s second largest city, an oil hub at the vital intersection of Syria, Iraq and Turkey, and into Tikrit, several gunmen stopped at Mosul’s central bank.   An incredible amount of cash was reportedly on hand, and the group made off with 500 billion Iraqi dinars — $425 million.
And that wasn't the only bank they hit.

(The article doesn't explain why the bank had that much cash on hand.)
- 8:39 AM, 12 June 2014   [link]

Eric Allie reacts to Hillary Clinton's claim that she and Bill were "dead broke" when they left the White House in 2001.

Those who wonder how much truth there was in her claim can find some numbers, but no firm conclusion, here.

(If you need some background, you can find it here.)

I can't recall where I saw it, but I wasn't the only one who thought of this song, when I read about Hillary's claim.
- 2:42 PM, 11 June 2014   [link]

Is Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott suggesting that President Obama should spend less time in the office?

If so, Abbott has come to the same sad conclusion that I have, that we are better off when Obama is on the golf links, or in the water.
- 1:51 PM, 11 June 2014   [link]

"None Of These Candidates" Won The Democratic Gubernatorial Primary in Nevada.
Many Nevada Democrats turned up their noses Tuesday at the eight candidates battling for the right to face Gov. Brian Sandoval in November, with the "none of these candidates" option receiving the most votes.

With 80 percent of precincts reporting early Wednesday, the "none of these candidates option" had received over 20,000 votes (30 percent), putting it over 3,600 votes ahead of the man who will face Sandoval in November, former State Economic Development commissioner Robert Goodman.  Goodman received 25 percent of the vote.
None has won other races in Nevada.

Some may be disappointed to learn that None's victory will have no practical effect.
- 6:58 AM, 11 June 2014   [link]

The Cantor Upset:  Surprised me, along with almost everyone else who pays attention to such things.  (I had glanced at the stories that said that he was ahead in the polls, and hadn't gone any further than that.  I also thought that a seven-term congressman would have, if he had taken routine care of his district, a solid personal base of support.)

Here's an account of the election, along with some speculation about the likely results of the Cantor's defeat.  Two interesting bits:
Virginia strategist Larry Sabato said Democrats in the state might have turned out in the open primary to help defeat Cantor.
. . .
[Dave] Brat will square off next against Jack Trammell, another fellow Randolph-Macon professor, who won the Democratic nomination.  (Cantor could run in the general election as a write-in candidate, however.)
And here's an analysis, which I share without endorsing.
Cantor, in contrast to past victims of GOP primary challenges, such as Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska or former Indiana senator Dick Lugar, has little history of bucking his party.  As you might expect of a Republican in a leadership position, he’s voted with his party 95 percent of the time.   Because Cantor’s party is quite conservative, his votes have been quite conservative.

But his position of authority also saddles him with any grievances that voters might have against the GOP leadership.
Many observers think that Cantor lost in part because of his too-soft position on immigration, a position that is substantially to the right of Ronald Reagan's.
- 6:40 AM, 11 June 2014   [link]

There's A Shortage Of Dollars In Venezuela:  But the oldest profession is working to ease the situation.
The arrival of a Liberian-flagged freighter with Ukrainian, Arab and Filipino sailors spells one thing for Elena -- dollars.  And greenbacks are king in Venezuela, the 32-year-old prostitute says.

Within hours of hearing of the ship’s imminent arrival, she has packed her bags and is heading to the crumbling city of Puerto Cabello.  It is a 450-kilometer (280-mile) journey from her home in the Western state of Zulia that Elena finds herself doing more often now as Venezuela’s economy contracts, the bolivar slumps and prices soar.

Prostitutes more than double their earnings by moonlighting as currency traders in Puerto Cabello.
(Prostitution is legal in Venezuela — but free market currency trading isn't.)

The official exchange rate is "6.3 bolivars per dollar"; the black market rate is about 71 bolivars per dollar.

It is easy to chuckle at this, until you read some of the consequences of the regime's policies.   For example:
So much fun to go back to Caracas.  You are excited when you arrive, but somewhat relieved when you leave.  Some glimpses:

-Water.  How easily one forgets about water shortages.  It is so much fun to sleep in late on a Sunday, as you have nothing to do until later in the day.  Stay in bed, read a book.  Then, about 8 AM the pipes start making a gurgling noise, you realize that they are shutting off the water.  Jump out, get under the cold shower.  Shoot!  You end up drying even the soap, not enough time. At least you feel clean…
And that is just the first in a long list.

(There have been good solutions to the problem of providing water to cities for more than two millennia.  So I suppose the Chávista regime deserves some perverse credit for managing to fail at that, too.)
- 1:46 PM, 10 June 2014   [link]

Andrew Malcolm's Weekly Collection of jokes.

Malcolm liked this one best — and so did I, after I got over being startled by that joke in that place.
Jay Leno spoke at an awards ceremony in Israel recently honoring Michael Bloomberg.  He commented on how Obama‘s administration has handled its 'special relationship' with Israel.

Leno said, “President Obama declared the month of May to be Jewish American Heritage Month.  He is calling it an opportunity to renew our ‘unbreakable bond with the nation of Israel.’   And Obama knows it’s unbreakable because he’s been trying to break it for the last five years.”
There were others I liked, including these two:
Conan: A 13-year-old is the youngest female to climb Mount Everest.  She didn’t mean to.   She was just texting her friend and next thing she was atop Mount Everest.
. . .
Meyers: A six-year-old Phoenix girl helped deliver her baby sister after her mother prematurely went into labor.  Best.  Show and Tell.  Ever.
- 12:49 PM, 10 June 2014   [link]

The Latest Michael Ramirez cartoon is nasty — and funny.

(Younger readers may need to know that Ramirez is paraphrasing a speech by General George Patton.)
- 8:05 AM, 9 June 2014   [link]

Worth Reading:  (Even if you have to use Google to sneak around the Wall Street Journal pay wall.)  Kimberly Strassel's "Meet Obama's Kissingers".

If the Bergdahl uproar feels creepily reminiscent of the Benghazi uproar, or the Syrian "red line" uproar, or the choose-your-own- Obama -foreign-adventure uproar, it's because they all have a common denominator.  This is what happens when political hacks formally take over foreign policy.

It's the "formal" point that bears some meditation.  Barack Obama isn't the first president to make foreign-policy decisions on the basis of domestic political calculations.  He does, however, win the distinction of being the first president to utterly disregard—to treat with contempt—the institutions and procedures that were designed to help the commander in chief insulate the serious business of foreign policy and national security from baser political concerns.
It is an odd — and disturbing — fact that President Obama's last two national security advisors, Tom Donilon and Susan Rice, are best known for disasters, Donilon at Fannie Mae and Rice in covering up the Rwanda genocide.  (Obama's first advisor was retired Marine Corps general James Jones.   He didn't last long.)

The disasters the two were associated with were so great that neither should have been considered for any government position.

(Here's a list of our National Security Advisors, for comparison.)
- 7:38 AM, 9 June 2014   [link]

44 Enemies Of The 1st Amendment:  Here's the current list of cosponsors of the Udall amendment, which would remove 1st Amendment protections for free political speech, from everyone who did not own a news company.

Any senator who is on that list should consider resigning.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(For the record:  It is unlikely that this amendment will even pass the Senate.  It is, for now, a cynical election ploy, rather than a serious legislative proposal.  But it shows us something about how Democratic incumbents would like to rig the election game, by making it harder for potential opponents to describe the defects in their records and proposals and, in the case of Majority Leader Harry Reid, the defects in his character.)
- 6:48 AM, 9 June 2014   [link]