March 2014, Part 4

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

We Are Slowly Learning More About The Oso Mud Slide Area:   Today, the Seattle Times filled in another piece of the puzzle.
State regulators have been using outdated boundaries to restrict logging above the Snohomish County slope that collapsed March 22, failing to incorporate newer research that would have protected a swath of land that wound up being clear-cut, according to a Seattle Times analysis of documents and geographical data.
. . .
In 2004, DNR approved the clear-cutting of 7½ acres on the plateau — about 5 of which would have been protected under [geologist Daniel J.] Miller’s boundaries.

Grandy Lake Forest, the owner of that property, finished harvesting the acreage by August 2005.  The 7½ acres took the shape of a pizza slice — with its tip just touching the part of the slope that fell away this month, releasing millions of cubic yards of sand, silt and clay.

The Seattle Times previously reported the actual harvest appeared to extend past the permitted area, with about an acre cut in restricted land.
Snohomish County also knew, officially, about the dangers in the area — but kept issuing permits for homes along Steelhead, the neighborhood that was destroyed by the slide.

And still another piece was filled in by Cliff Mass.
Seattle has had the wettest March in its historical record.

As of 5 PM last night, there was 9.44 inches in the gauge at Seattle-Tacoma Airport, more than TWICE the normal March monthly total of 3.72 inches.  This is the all time monthly record for March at this location, for a record going back into the late 19th century (at the airport until 1948 and downtown Seattle before that)
. . .
Deep-seated landslides, such as the Oso slide on March 22rd, respond more to longer-period rainfall rather than heavy rainfall over hours or a day that result in many shallow slope failures.  Why the slope near Oso failed during this particular period is something that will undoubtedly be studied by geomorphologists more knowledgeable than I am in such matters, such as UW's Professor David Montgomery.
In other words, we have been having just the kind of steady, cumulative rain that makes "deep-seated" landslides, like the one at Oso, more likely.

I doubt that we will ever know, for certain, whether all that rain triggered a landslide that was going to happen eventually, or made it worse than it would have been otherwise, but that is, for now, probably the way to bet.

As to whether the decision of the state to allow logging, and logging closer to the edge than some would like, had anything to do with the mud slide, I think for now we have to say that's an interesting possibility, but no more than that.
- 7:19 PM, 31 March 2014   [link]

Fresh Snow On Mt. Rainier:  But not very many people up there to enjoy it, yet.

View from Rainier Guide House, 31 March 2014

Those ski tracks were, I would guess, mostly made by employees of the park, given the day of the week and the time of day.

You can see how much snow has accumulated since the end of last year, by comparing it to this picture
- 8:39 AM, 31 March 2014   [link]

What Did Bay Area Journalists Think Of Leland Yee?   (Before this recent unpleasantness, that is.)

They praised him, as I just learned from this Debra Saunders column:.
I wonder if Yee's exit from the secretary of state race led to gnashing of teeth at the local Society of Professional Journalists chapter that so recently hailed Yee for his support of good government.
. . .
Friday the Senate voted to suspend Yee, in a move that allows him to collect his $95,291 salary.  Yee joins what was an existing paid-leave team of two, state Sen. Rod Wright, D-Inglewood (Los Angeles County), who remains on the state payroll after a jury convicted him of felony perjury and other counts, and Sen. Ron Calderon, D-Montebello (Los Angeles County), who has pleaded not guilty to 24 federal corruption counts.

Like Calderon, Yee enjoys the presumption of innocence.  Still, it doesn't look good when more than 10 percent of the Senate Democratic caucus is looking at prison time.  The next time you hear a California Democrat extol "public service," hold onto your wallet.

Journalists should ask themselves whether we could have done a better job reporting on Sacramento and Chinatown.
Yes, they should — but I doubt that many of them will.

(There's much more in the column, which is mostly about the relationship between the FBI and mob boss Raymond "Shrimp Boy" Chow.)
- 5:16 AM, 31 March 2014   [link]

What Did The Friends Of Leland Yee Know?  In this post, I am going to use "friends", loosely, to mean prominent politicians who were in positions to know that he might be doing some ethically dubious things.  Because I am not familiar with the details of Democratic politics in the Bay Area, I am going to choose four politicians by their positions.

For a parallel, think of a cop who has worked a particular beat for years and gotten to know the people there well.  That cop probably has a good idea who most of the crooks in his neighborhood are, even if he doesn't have enough evidence to slap the cuffs on them, right at that moment.  His position should give him considerable knowledge of the local wrongdoers.

Although the four I will name are Democrats, I would not be surprised if some Republicans also should have known something about the crimes he has been accused of.  But to know which Republicans might have had that knowledge, I would have to know far more about the California legislature than I do.

California Governor Jerry Brown:  Brown has been around since the Pleistocene, or thereabouts, and must have been learning who was honest, and who was not, when he was growing up as the son of Governor Pat Brown.   Any mayor of Oakland, which Jerry Brown was for eight years (1999-2007) would want to know the players on the other side of the Bay.  As governor, Brown would be in as good position as anyone to see a legislator's shenanigans — if he was looking for them.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi:  Pelosi's 12th House district and Leland Yee's 8th State Senate district overlap now, and overlapped even more before the last redistricting.  Pelosi and Yee were representing many of the same people, working with many of the same Democratic activists, and may — I repeat, may — have been raising money from some of the same people, locally.

Democratic Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer:  Both are from the Bay area; Feinstein was even mayor of San Francisco from December 1978 to January 1988.  Both women would have had many reasons to work with Yee, and with the people associated with Yee.

Did any of these four see evidence that Yee was not always operating on the right side of the law?  Possibly, but I think it more likely they didn't know because they didn't want to know.  So, most likely, they neglected one of their duties — as almost all politicians do from time to time — and did not look for possible corruption in their party.

(There is another group that should have caught on, sooner: the political journalists who cover San Francisco and the state legislator.  Like a good cop, those journalists often have a good idea who is honest, and who is not, even when they can't put that knowledge in a story.

And, as it happens, today I ran across an article showing just how easy it would have been for such journalists to dig up troubling connections — if they had bothered to look at Yee's record.
The Chronicle review of his voting record in the Legislature, where he is currently in his 12th year, shows more than 30 instances dating back to 2003 where he cast votes that were arguably counter to his stated positions or the interests of his constituents in San Francisco and San Mateo counties, and then received large campaign contributions from the industries that benefited.  Those included chemical, oil and insurance companies, campaign contribution records show.

In May 2003, for example, Yee voted against a bill that would have stopped oil companies from dictating prices in specific geographic regions.  The legislation was designed to introduce competition into the wholesale fuel market and drive down gasoline prices in the Bay Area and regions that are the target of "zone pricing."
In the article, you'll find a few hints that could have tipped off Brown, Pelosi, Feinstein, and Boxer, if they had been paying attention.)
- 4:13 PM, 30 March 2014   [link]

Former Senator Bob Kerrey speaks his mind.
Former U.S. Senator Bob Kerrey thinks President Barack Obama, a fellow Democrat, was re-elected in 2012 because he 'sucked less' than former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

The Nebraskan straight-talker told MailOnline in an exclusive interview that Obama isn't up to the job of bringing liberals and conservatives to the table to rescue America's slowly choking entitlement programs.

And Obama, he said Wednesday in his Manhattan office, knew full well he was lying when he promised that the Affordable Care Act would allow Americans to keep insurance plans they liked.
And there is more, most of which I agree with.

Let's see.  We all know that some are already ascribing this criticism to racism.  What else should we note about it?  Two things occur to me immediately.

First, there has been a decline, in the last three decades, in the overall quality of the Democrats in Congress.  There are far fewer who would even think something like that, much less say it.

Second, Bob Kerrey has a history of saying interesting, and sometimes undiplomatic, things.   (The most famous example is when he said that Bill Clinton was "an unusually good liar".)   So, why hasn't some enterprising reporter for an American news organization asked him for his thoughts on Obama and ObamaCare?

(What don't I agree with?  Among other things, I'd put qualifiers on that "sucked less" comparison, instead saying something like this:  Obama won because, thanks to a partisan press, many voters thought he "sucked less" than Romney.  Though I probably wouldn't say it quite that crudely.)
- 1:36 PM, 30 March 2014   [link]

The News From Oso is less bad.
More than a week after the slide destroyed a mountainside community north of Seattle, crews using heavy machinery and their bare hands continued their work.  Late Saturday, authorities said the number of people believed missing decreased substantially, from 90 to 30.
That number was originally 176, which I believe was just a count of the number of phone tips they had, or something similar.  When they lowered it to 90, and kept it there for a few days, I thought they had a fairly solid count.

I was wrong.

(In retrospect, I should have paid more attention to my doubts, and made a rough estimate of how many people lived in that little neighborhood on Steelhead Drive.  (There were also a few people caught who didn't live in Oso, but were on Route 530 when the mud slide hit.  But that road does not have lot of traffic.)

It may be quite some time before we have an final count, for reasons I described in the post, just below.)
- 1:02 PM, 30 March 2014   [link]

The Death Toll From The Oso Mud Slide Will Continue To Rise, Slowly:  Here's the current, official word.
Another day of sifting through the wreckage trapped beneath the deadly Snohomish County mudslide increased the number of confirmed victims but failed to provide answers for the nearly 100 families anxious for word of missing loved ones.

By the end of Thursday, the number of missing — 90 — remained unchanged from Wednesday while the list of recovered bodies increased by one despite a search involving 200 members of local, state and federal teams, according to the head of the county’s Department of Emergency Management.

Seventeen bodies have been recovered from the square-mile area covered by mud, the Snohomish County Medical Examiner’s Office said Thursday night.  Officials also released the names of three adults and one child killed in Saturday’s mudslide
In my original post on the disaster, I said that the final death toll would be "more than twenty".  That was an underestimate, almost certainly.

Assuming that list of the missing is close to accurate, then almost certainly the final death toll will be more than one hundred.

And we may not know the final death toll for weeks, perhaps even months.  Because they are looking for bodies, the searchers are having to disassemble that immense pile of mud and debris by hand.   (Here's a video showing some of the workers.  As you can see, they are mostly using shovels, not bulldozers.)  And we had more rain today, which won't help.

One thing that has helped in this effort is that many of the volunteers are loggers from the local area, men who are used to standing in mud, working with chainsaws.
- 12:41 PM, 28 March 2014   [link]

The Amazing Leland Yee Story:  California State Senator Leland Yee — a Democrat — has already had a remarkable political career.
Prior to becoming state senator, Yee was a California State Assemblyman, Supervisor of San Francisco's Sunset District, and was a member and President of the San Francisco School Board.  In 2004 Yee became the first Asian American to be appointed Speaker pro Tempore, making him the second highest ranking Democrat of the California State Assembly.  He was an award-winning gun control advocate.[2]
And he has been hoping to go higher.  In 2011 he ran, unsuccessfully, for mayor of San Francisco and in 2012 announced that he would run for California Secretary of State in 2014.

But all that success, and the chance of more, was not enough for Senator Yee.  If the FBI is correct in their allegations, he was also breaking a few laws, as well as making them.  A few examples:
Yee told an FBI agent to give him a shopping list of guns:  "Senator Yee asked [the agent] to provide an inventory list of desired weapons [...] [The agent] told Yee he would deliver $2,000,000 cash."

Yee could arrange from some serious firepower:  "[The agent] asked about shoulder fired automatic weapons.  Senator Yee responded by saying the automatic weapons are the equivalent to the "M16" Automatic Service Weapon [...] [The agent] asked about the availability of shoulder fire missiles or rockets.  Senator Yee responded 'I told him about the rockets and things like that.'"
. . .
Yee had connection with Filipino rebel groups:  "Keith Jackson advised that Senator Yee had an unidentified Filipino associate who was supplying 'heavy' weapons to rebel groups in the Philippines."

Including Muslim terrorists:  "According to Senator Yee, Mindanao was largely population by Muslim rebel groups who were fighting the federal government.  Yee continued by saying the Muslim rebels had no problem 'kidnapping individuals, killing individuals, and extorting them for ransom."
(Keith Jackson has been a fund raiser for Yee.)

Now that alone would be pretty sensational, but there is much more.  The Yee investigation is unlikely, however, to be the lead story on any "mainstream" news broadcast, unlikely to make the front page of the New York Times.

And I think we all know why.  Yee is a Democrat, a minority, and a spokesman for a cause, gun control, that has strong support in our newsrooms.

(Article by way of Bryan Preston.

There is disagreement, in the accounts I've read, on whether Yee was buying guns from Muslim terrorists, or selling guns to them, or both.  His main supplier is, allegedly, an illegal Russian dealer, so selling the guns to them seems more likely.)
- 9:41 AM, 28 March 2014   [link]

Who Should We Believe, Pope Francis or President Obama?
Charles Krauthammer said Thursday on “Special Report with Bret Baier” that people can either believe President Obama’s version of what happened at his meeting with Pope Francis, or they can choose a different option offered by the Vatican.

While President Obama said he avoided discussing “social schisms” during his meeting with Pope Francis, the Vatican’s official readout said discussion turned to “the exercise of the rights to religious freedom, life and conscientious objection, as well as the issue of immigration reform.”

“On the one hand, you’ve got the bishop of Rome, the Holy See, of whom a billion co-religionists believe in his infallibility,” Krauthammer, a syndicated columnist and Fox News contributor, said.  “On the other hand, you’ve got the man who said, 'If you like your plan, you can keep your plan.’”
Krauthammer notes that there is one way to reconcile the two reports, a way that would make what the White House said merely deceptive, rather than false.

But I think it more likely that the Pope did have some words for Obama about those difficult issues, and I think Doyle McManus of the Los Angeles Times would agree, judging by this column.

(One of the things that fascinated me, first about Bill Clinton and now about Barack Obama, is that the two men are more willing to tell direct falsehoods than the average politician, sometimes willing even to tell falsehoods that they should know that their opponents can prove to be falsehoods.  Almost every successful politician deceives from time to time, but most are slower to tell outright lies than most voters suspect.

Given their political successes, we should expect other politicians to follow their example and some, Harry Reid, for instance, may already have decided to follow that lead.)
- 7:53 AM, 28 March 2014   [link]

Congressman Bruce Braley Is A Trial Lawyer Who Owes His Seat In Congress To Trial Lawyers:  He had a successful career as a trial lawyer, so successful that he was elected president of the Iowa Trial Lawyers Association.

When he ran for Congress in 2006, he won the Democratic primary narrowly, beating second place finisher Rick Dickinson by just two points (36-34), even though he had a large monetary advantage.  According to the Almanac of American Politics, he "drew considerable support from the Association of American Trial Lawyers and many of its members and officers".  The Almanac does not give specific numbers or claim, specifically, that those donations made the difference in the primary, but I think it likely they did, and even more likely that Braley thinks they did.

So, now that he is running for Senate from Iowa, it is not surprising that he would be raising more money from trial lawyers, outside Iowa, or that he would try to appeal to them by putting down his political opponents.

But he made two mistakes; he attacked the most popular politician in Iowa, their senior senator, Charles Grassley, for being an Iowa farmer — and he didn't realize that he was being recorded by, I imagine, someone who is not a fan of his.  (The video is short, just 38 seconds.  You'll see a possible explanation for his candor in the background.)

Naturally, he has apologized; naturally Republicans are delighted by his gaffe, and hope that it may be enough to give them a victory they weren't expecting.

(Long ago, I thought I had heard every lawyers joke, though not in every variation.  Now, thanks to Congressman Braley, I realize there may be a few I have missed.

Senator Grassley has earned the respect of Iowans, in my opinion.)
- 9:31 AM, 27 March 2014   [link]

"President Obama Got Elected On Competence."  The first sentence in the headline of the Chris Cillizza post sounds like a joke now, doesn't it?  But Cillizza is right; in 2008, a majority of Americans did see Obama as competent, certainly more competent than George W. Bush.

The second sentence in the headline shows how perceptions have changed, even for Cillizza:   "Now people are starting to wonder."

That is too soft a description of the poll findings.
A new CNN/ORC national poll reveals the problem.  Asked whether Obama can "manage the government effectively," nearly six in 10 (57 percent) say that statement didn't apply to the president.  Compare that to where Obama stood just before he was inaugurated, when 76 percent of respondents in a December 2008 CNN/ORC poll said he was an effective manager, and you see just how far he has fallen.  Not only that but in the most recent CNN/ORC poll, Obama's standing on the "effective manager" question was the lowest he scored on any of the 11 characteristic questions asked in the survey.
A majority of Americans are not starting to wonder; a majority have decided that Obama is not an effective manager.  Decided correctly.

And if you have any doubt about that conclusion, consider this:  Any competent manager would have known that the ObamaCare web site would not be ready on time.  I believe Obama's claim that he did not know — and consider that an astonishing admission of incompetence.

Americans have come to the conclusion that Obama is not an effective manager, in spite of the determined efforts of most "mainstream" journalists to prop Obama up before he was elected, and since then.

We learn from events, whether we want to, or not.

(One of the events Cillizza chose to illustrate his argument, misbehaving secret service agents, deserves some explanation.  There have been enough such incidents that I have begun to wonder whether the morale of those protecting the president is low, because they feel they have been treated badly.

You can decide for yourself whether I was correct in my January 2009 predictions that he would fail, and that his administration would not be transparent.)
- 8:15 AM, 27 March 2014   [link]

"A Brief History Of Obamacare Delays"  Politico lists "some of the most prominent Obamacare delays".  There are ten items in their incomplete list, in reverse order, beginning and ending with these two:
March 25: Final enrollment deadline extended.  The March 31 deadline — the end of enrollment for 2014 — will be loosened for people with special sign-up circumstances.
. . .
Nov. 15, 2012: Exchange deadline delayed.  The Department of Health and Human Services gave states an extra month to decide whether they would set up their own health insurance exchanges — a decision it announced just one day before the original deadline.
They don't tell us which of these are in direct conflict with the explicit language of the law.  I am fairly certain that the most recent one is, and probably others, as well.

It seems certain that no one at the top of the administration has read that little classic, The Mythical Man Month.  One of the many bits of advice that Brooks gives in that book — advice he ascribes to "P. Fagg, an experienced hardware engineer" — is to:  "Take no small slips."  In other words, when you realize a project is going to be late, do not slip the schedule the minimum number of days, weeks, or months that you think might be necessary, if all goes well.

There are two principal reasons for that advice, one internal and one external.  First, the fact that you missed in your original estimation should make you distrust other parts of your planning, should make suspect that you may encounter, as Donald Rumsfeld might say, unknown unknown problems that you did not anticipate before, and do not see, now.

Moreover, making the slip small often encourages those working on the project to go into a "death march" mode.  Almost always, that results in more delays than you would have had with a rational schedule, as tired and stressed workers make mistake after mistake.

Second, you are less likely to offend your customer if you take one large slip than many small ones, even if the total time is about the same amount.

(How big a slip should they have asked for, and when?  Many of the details I would need to make even a rough guess aren't public, but I would say that they should have asked for at least a year's delay, when it became obvious, even to managers, that the web site would not be ready on time.)
- 4:07 PM, 26 March 2014   [link]

President Obama's View Of Russia?  Jonathan Karl asks Obama an interesting question — and gets an interesting answer.
Asked by ABC News if he now agrees with former political rival Mitt Romney's assertion that Russia is America's top geopolitical foe, Obama pushed back, saying: "Russia's actions are a problem.  They don't pose the number one national security to the United States.   I continue to be much more concerned when it comes to our security with the prospect of nuclear weapon going off in Manhattan."

"Ukraine has been a country in which Russia had enormous influence for decades - since the breakup of the Soviet Union.  And you know, we have considerable influence on our neighbors.  We generally don't need to invade them in order to have a strong cooperative relationship with them.  The fact that Russia felt compelled to go in militarily and lay bare these violations of international law indicates less influence, not more," he added.
Interesting in at least three ways:  He did not concede that Romney might have been, at least partly, right.  Obama put down Russia, describing it as a regional power — in spite of the fact that they are still one of the two nuclear superpowers, and have been making it difficult for us in recent years, all over the world.  Finally, he claims that a successful, almost bloodless, invasion, will reduce Russia's influence in the area.

Interesting questions don't always produce interesting answers, but they do often enough so that I hope that other "mainstream" reporters will notice this, and follow Karl's example.

(I put a question mark in the title because I am not certain how much of what Obama said about Russia is what he believes.  At a guess, I would say most of it, but, as is so often true, we should not assume that Obama — or any other politician — is saying exactly what he believes.)
- 6:20 AM, 26 March 2014   [link]

The Daily Mail Has An Even More Complete Set of pictures from the Oso landslide disaster than the Seattle Times had.

If you look at some of the aerial photographs, you'll be able to see the scars of other, earlier landslides in the area.

(If you haven't done so before, you may want to look at some of the comments after the article, especially the "Worst rated" and the "Best rated", just to see how differently people react to this kind of event.  Many of those reactions wouldn't appear in most news stories, but they are out there.  (There is no fracking in that area, if you are wondering.))
- 5:51 AM, 26 March 2014   [link]

The Landslide That Hit Oso was predicted.
Since the 1950s, geological reports on the hill that buckled during the weekend in Snohomish County have included pessimistic analyses and the occasional dire prediction.  But no language seems more prescient than what appears in a 1999 report filed with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, warning of “the potential for a large catastrophic failure.”

That report was written by Daniel J. Miller and his wife, Lynne Rodgers Miller.  When she saw the news of the mudslide Saturday, she knew right away where the land had given way.   Her husband knew, too.
And they weren't the only geologists who predicted landslides in that area.  In fact, you don't have to be a geomorphologist, or another kind of geologist, to see the hazards, just someone who has a feeling for the land, and who looks at the history of landslides in the area, or at some aerial pictures of the area — where you can see the scars of previous landslides.

All that said, it also appears to be true that most of the experts did not predict a catastrophic landslide.

(Cliff Mass suspects that what made it catastrophic was the very heavy rain we've been having.  he's a weather guy, so you sort of expect him to say something like that, but he's probably right.

Those familiar with small towns won't be surprised to learn that officials have too many volunteers.  The slide area is still very dangerous and authorities are worried that some of those who want to help will get trapped in the mud.)
- 3:49 PM, 25 March 2014   [link]

To Reduce Food Waste, Tesco will be using more plastic.
Traditional cardboard egg cartons are to be replaced by recyclable plastic packaging to save more than a million free range eggs from going to waste each year.

Most eggs are currently sold in pulp cartons so if there are any breakages during delivery, the egg can leak through the box and damage other surrounding packs.

Following a successful trial, Britain's biggest egg retailer Tesco is now replacing the packaging of its free range eggs.
It 's a good idea that I hope spreads to the United States.  And the recyclable claim may get it past the Greens.

(In the last year or so, I have started buying grapes from Trader Joes, because they package grapes in plastic boxes, unlike their competitors.  The prices per pound are about the same, but I have much less waste with the boxes than with the plastic bags the other stores use.)
- 5:58 AM, 25 March 2014   [link]