March 2015, Part 4

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Need A Break From All The Grim News?  I do from time to time, which is why I recently picked up another collection of New Yorker cartoons.

The collection begins with an analysis of the famous Charles Addams skier cartoon, which you can see here.   (Or by doing the obvious image search.)

Although I analyze jokes all the time, I do so recognizing that analyzing a joke can be like dissecting a frog; in either case, at the end of the process the object is dead.  But, somewhat to my surprise, I found that analysis interesting for what it showed me about the visual design of the cartoon.

And, if you don't like that cartoon, there are 250 other cartoons in the collection, and I can almost guarantee that you will like some of them, though perhaps not the same ones I like.

(Here's the usual Wikipedia biography.)
- 1:38 PM, 31 March 2015   [link]

Troy Kelley's Suspicious Fire:  In 2008, our Democratic state auditor had a fire in a business office, a very convenient fire.
A spectacular nighttime fire that destroyed the Stewart Title Co. building is playing a key role in a federal investigation into state Auditor Troy Kelley’s business dealings.

Kelley, 50, a Democrat serving his first term, is being investigated for unpaid taxes in connection with an escrow-services business he owned, according to a report in the upcoming edition of Seattle Weekly.
. . .
His business partner, Old Republic Title, used Kelley’s escrow company to collect fees from customers who paid off their mortgages.  Old Republic claimed that Kelley pocketed $1.2 million which he should have returned to their clients.

Kelley, a former federal prosecutor, claimed he could have proved the allegations were untrue, but all the records from his Tacoma business were destroyed in the 2008 fire at the Stewart Title building, where he kept an office.  The cause of the fire has not been determined.
Old Republic reached an agreement with Kelley, before the case went to trial.  The agrement was sealed, but I believe the company has offered, more than once, to release it to the public.

It is worth repeating something I have said before:  Our local journalists are now making the investigations they could have made during the 2012 campaign; they are now looking at public records they could have looked at, then.
- 8:34 AM, 31 March 2015   [link]

Late Last Year, A Community Bank Celebrated Its First Year:   That may not sound like national news, but it is.
Based in a rural village in the heart of Amish country, Bank of Bird-in-Hand is the only new bank to open in the U.S. since 2010, when the Dodd-Frank law was passed and enacted.   An average of more than 100 new banks a year opened in the three decades before Dodd-Frank.

Bankers say the drought is a sign of new regulatory requirements in the wake of the financial crisis, which are boosting expenses and discouraging potential startups from even trying.   Regulators say the profit squeeze from rock-bottom interest rates is a bigger problem.
It doesn't have to be just one or the other, of course.

In my view, we now have enough evidence so that we should repeal — at the very least — large parts of Dodd-Frank, and should consider repealing all of it, and starting over.

(Chris Dodd reitred from the Senate, and became a lobbyist; Barney Frank retired from the House, and has written a book, about himself, naturally.)
- 7:42 AM, 31 March 2015   [link]

Sometimes The Obama Administration does something right.  Assuming, that is, you believe the Iranian regime.
Iran's Revolutionary Guard says a U.S. drone strike killed two of its advisers near the Iraqi city of Tikrit, where a major offensive is underway against the Islamic State group, but the U.S. said Monday its coalition conducted no airstrikes in the area during the time of the incident.

U.S. Central Command said it didn't target the area around Tikrit from March 22 through March 24, the window when the Guard said the two men were killed.
We have, as anyone who has followed events in Iraq closely knows, some scores to settle with the Revolutionary Guard.  If we did get a couple of their operatives, that would be something to celebrate.

(For the record:  The Iranian claim is probably false, but it's still a nice thought.)
- 7:14 AM, 31 March 2015   [link]

This Branco Cartoon Is Unfair, Brutal — and funny.

(All right, funny to about half of us.)
- 2:34 PM, 30 March 2015   [link]

"Germanwings Crash Settlements Are Likely To Vary By Passenger Nationality"  Here's something I hadn't known, hadn't even thought about, to tell the truth.
The extraordinary circumstances that led to last week’s crash of the Germanwings jet, where a pilot seemingly brought down an airplane, killing everyone aboard, means that the airline’s insurers could end up paying hundreds of millions of dollars to the victims’ families, according to legal experts.

But while the airline is responsible for the actions of its pilot, not all relatives will be entitled to the same payout.  The families of the three American victims, for instance, are likely to get a larger payment from the airline than other passengers because courts in the United States usually award larger compensation than European courts.
How much larger?  More than three times, according to the article, about $1.3 million for each German victim, and about $4.5 million for each American victim.  And families in some countries may have legal rights only to the minimum set by the Montreal Convention of about $170,000 per victim.   (I assume Germanwings's parent, Lufthansa, will offer them larger settlements, anyway.)
- 1:59 PM, 30 March 2015   [link]

Vladimir Putin's World View Was Shaped By The Fall Of East Germany:  That's the claim made by Chris Bowlby in this long BBC article.
Anyone who wants to understand Vladimir Putin today needs to know the story of what happened to him on a dramatic night in East Germany a quarter of a century ago.

It is 5 December 1989 in Dresden, a few weeks after the Berlin Wall has fallen.  East German communism is dying on its feet, people power seems irresistible.
Putin called for Soviet tanks to come and protect his headquarters — and they didn't come.

Anyone interested in understanding Putin's thinking will want to read, and perhaps even study, the whole thing.
- 9:48 AM, 30 March 2015   [link]

For Years, I Have Been Saying That I Hoped Obama Was Lying:  It was better, I thought, that he was lying than that he was deluded, better that he had a basically accurate view of the world — even though he wasn't sharing it with us — than that he was living in a fantasy world.

Quite often, I have been unable to decide whether he was lying, deluded, or some mixture of the two.  I am inclined to think, for instance, that he believed some of the lies he told about ObamaCare.  (He wouldn't be the first politician, or salesman for that matter, who believed most of his own pitch, despite the evidence against it.)

Now Michael Tomasky, who calls himself a liberal, has come to the same unhappy conclusion; he hopes Obama, and his administration, are lying about Iran.
And so what I hope is that Obama administration officials are, well, lying.  That is, I hope they’re just saying this stuff about a new and improved Iran because they think it might help build public support for a deal.  That’s not very appealing, but it’s better than the other possibility, which is that they actually believe this stuff.

And if they are just saying this for public consumption, then we can hope that once a deal is consummated, they’ll switch gears and start saying what they need to say to reassure people in the region, which is:  OK, this is good, we have a deal on nukes, but it doesn’t mean anything else.  We’re still with the Saudis on returning President Hadi to power in Yemen.  And while we’re with you in Iraq when it comes to fighting ISIS, we’re against you in that we want a pluralistic state that isn’t just an Iranian satellite, which is a point we somehow don’t seem to emphasize lately.
Like Tomasky, I hope Obama is lying about relations with Iran.  Judging by the tone of his column, I would guess that he puts that probability at 1 in 10, or less.  I would put it at 1 in a 1000, or less.

But I would be delighted if, by some chance, I were wrong.

Tomasky column by way of the Instapundit.

(For the record:  I don't agree with Tomasky that our choices are limited to war, or an agreement with Iran.)
- 9:20 AM, 30 March 2015   [link]

Last Wednesday, I said that the timing of the Bowe Bergdahl announcement suggested that the Obama administration didn't know what was happening.

Here's an exchange from Josh Earnest's latest press conference between Earnest and a reporter named "Francesca":
Q  Was the White House aware that the Army would release its report today on Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl and whether he deserted or not?

MR. EARNEST: I’m not aware of any plans for them to do that, but this is a process that’s being run by the United States Army, so I’d direct you to the Pentagon for an answer.
Which appears to confirm my speculation.

(As I explained on Wednesday, this is good sign.  For all their faults, we will be better off if our bureaucrats are making decisions, and setting policies, rather than Obama.)
- 8:20 PM, 29 March 2015   [link]

President Obama Has At Least Two Obsessions, Says Peter Wehner:  Weakening Israel and emptying Gitmo.
So we have a president with at least two obsessions: One of them is attacking the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and weakening the Jewish State of Israel; the second is to empty Guantanamo Bay and release terrorists committed to killing as many Americans as possible.
I'd add race issues to those two, but I think that Wehner is right.

And that should trouble all of us.

In general, calling someone "obsessive" is not a compliment.  There are exceptions, of course; companies, for instance, sometimes like to claim they are obsessive about quality.   But, on the whole, when we say someone is obsessive, we are implying that they are not entirely rational, or maybe not rational at all.

If Obama is obsessive about these two great issues, then he can not be easily argued out of his positions, as anyone who has tried to persuade an obsessive to change his mind about something can tell you.  It is generally a waste of time even to try.

(For some background on Obama's relations with Israel, see this post by David Bernstein.   It has a misleading title; there is nothing false about Obama's dislike for Israel and Prime Minister Netanyahu, but it's a good summary anyway.)
- 8:02 PM, 29 March 2015   [link]

The Odd Presentation Of Names In That Press Conference Transcript:   Before I wrote the post just below, I followed James Taranto's link to the transcript of the press conference, and was surprised because Taranto had used a standard way of presenting a press conference or interview, but the original did not.  Taranto had given Jonathan Karl's full name and company, and then identified Josh Earnest and Karl by their last names, in bold.

Here's how the White House press office displayed some of the same material:
Q  Josh, just a quick one first on Yemen.  I know you’re asked this every time something terrible happens in Yemen.  But now that we have essentially complete chaos in Yemen, does the White House still believe that Yemen is the model for a counterterrorism strategy?

MR. EARNEST:  Jon, the White House does continue to believe that a successful counterterrorism strategy is one that will build up the capacity of the central government to have local fighters on the ground to take the fight to extremists in their own country, and the United States can serve both to diplomatically offer up some political support to central governments.  We can offer very tangible support to local security forces in the form of training and equipping, and we can also support the operations of those security forces through whether it’s the deployment of ISR capability, or even in the case of Iraq, military airstrikes.
(ISR = "intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance".)

All through the transcript, reporters are identified only by their first names; all through the transcript, Josh Earnest is identified as "MR. EARNEST".

Doesn't that remind you of a grade school class, with one teacher, and a bunch of kids?

(As a practical matter, that transcript makes it almost impossible, for anyone who does not follow White House reporters closely, to identify the reporters, without doing searches.  There are, as I can tell you, a lot of men named "Jim"; there are even a lot of reporters with my common first name.  And some of the questions aren't linked to any reporters, even by first names.)
- 8:07 AM, 27 March 2015   [link]

What Would Failure In Yemen Look Like?  Last September, President Obama was claiming success for his policies in Yemen.  Now, the United States has been forced out of that country, and the pro-American president has had to flee for his life.  There is a multi-sided civil war going on in the county, with none of the principal factions friendly to the United States.

About everything that could go wrong for us in Yemen, has.

So reporters naturally asked Obama's spokesman, Josh Earnest, whether the administration still considered their policies in Yemen a success.

They do.   Or at least say they do.  (You can get directly to the entire "Best of the Web" through this search.)

If I were a White House reporter and quick witted enough, I would have followed up by asking that question in the title: What would failure in Yemen look like?

I might even have said something snarky about Obama imitating Monty Python's Black Knight.

(Background:  If you want to know the basics about Yemen, you might start with this BBC Q&A.

Adam Baron argues that any foreign intervention in Yemen would be a mistake.   He may be right, but I must note that the Iranians appear to have had some success with their intervention.)
- 7:27 AM, 27 March 2015   [link]

Alex Berezow Is Unhappy With The NYT's Science Coverage:   Very unhappy, as the title of his post shows: "The New York Times Should Seriously Consider Not Writing About Science Anymore".

Here's the essence of his complaint:
The NYT's science coverage is particularly galling.  While the paper does employ a staff of decent journalists (including several excellent writers, such as Carl Zimmer and John Tierney), its overall science coverage is trite.  Other outlets cover the same stories (and many more), in ways that are both more in-depth and more interesting.  (They are also usually free to read.)  Worst of all, too much of NYT's science journalism is egregiously wrong.
On the whole, I agree with him, though I wouldn't put the argument as strongly.  The coverage of science at the Times has deteriorated and there are too many mistakes in the articles on science.  (Though, to be fair, those mistakes are often outside the Tuesday "Science" section, and made by a reporter who does not specialize in science coverage.)

Unfortunately for readers, our newspaper of record is especially likely to be wrong on food issues, wrong, in other words, on the issues that are most likely to affect our daily choices.   If you see a scientific article on food in the Times, distrust it, and spend some time verifying it, before you act on it.
- 8:11 PM, 26 March 2015   [link]

If You Know About Schrödinger's Cat, you'll like this cartoon. (It's the fifth in the slide show.)

And, if by some chance you don't know about the paradox, look it up.   It will boggle your mind.

Thanks to Jack is Back for the pointer.
- 3:04 PM, 26 March 2015   [link]

The More We Learn About Troy Kelley's Associate, Jason Jerue, the more interesting he becomes.
In 2010, when attorneys sued Troy Kelley — now the Washington state auditor but then the owner of an escrow-services company and Jerue’s boss — they failed to track down Jerue for a deposition.  Few at the company, Post Closing Department, said they ever saw him.

Jerue’s wife said under oath the couple had separated and she didn’t know where he was — even when he was tending to their baby — or the names of his friends, “except by their fictitious X-Box names,” according to court records.
. . .
Jerue and Kelley met in the early 1990s in California when they both worked for First American Title Insurance Company, according to court documents from that state and Washington. Kelley was an in-house attorney.

Both men were fired in 2000, and both sued for wrongful termination.  Their cases were so similar they were consolidated in Los Angeles County Superior Court.

Kelley withdrew his claim days after First American’s attorneys won a motion that would have let them explore allegations that Kelley stole artwork from a company office after his termination, according to the court docket and documents filed in California.
There's much more in the article, but that's probably as much as I can give you, without going beyond fair use.

But I can remind you of this:  Jerue has been working for the auditor's office, part time — by email from California.  And there is some confusion about what Jerue's last name is, since it appears in three different forms in official documents.

Meanwhile, there's another small mystery about our Democratic auditor:
Much of Kelley’s day-to-day activity even before now has been a mystery.  He’s less visible than most state elected officials, and his involvement in the internal workings of the Auditor’s Office is hard to determine.

His calendar isn’t much help.  It doesn’t account for his whereabouts on more than 150 nonholiday weekdays between when he took office in January 2013 and November 2014.

That’s about one in every three weekdays.
It could be that Kelley, and his staff, just aren't very good about filling out his calendar, but that seems unlikely.

Unfortunately, we can'y ask Kelley about his calendar because he, and his official spokesman, aren't talking.

(In 2012, the Seattle Times endorsed Kelley.  Yesterday, the Times ran an editorial confessing they had endorsed him, and calling for him to "come clean".  But they aren't quite ready to admit they made a mistake in 2012.)
- 2:48 PM, 26 March 2015   [link]

Will The Scottish National Party "Win" The British Election On 7 May?  They might, and that should worry the United States (and everyone else who wishes Britain well).

First, some background:  In the last election, in 2010, you could have described the British party system as a two-and-a-half party system: Conservative, Labour, and Liberal Democrat.

That would have been a simplification; there were a number of minor parties that won seats, but the three parties together won 88.1 percent of the total popular vote, and 610 of the 650 seats in the House of Commons.  (After the election, the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats formed a formal coalition, and have been governing, together.)

All three parties have lost seats since 2010, and minor parties have increased their appeal, to such an extent that some see a six-party system, or even a seven-party system.
The Liberal Democrats have been the third party in the UK for many years; but as described by various commentators, other parties have risen relative to the Liberal Democrats since the 2010 election.[25][26]  The Economist described a "familiar two-and-a-half-party system" (Conservatives, Labour, and the Liberal Democrats in third place) that "appears to be breaking down" with the rise of UKIP, the Greens and the SNP.[27]  Newsnight[28] and The Economist[29] have described the country as moving into a six-party system, with the Liberal Democrats, SNP, UKIP and Greens all being significant.   Ofcom, in their role regulating election coverage in the UK, have ruled that for the general election and local elections in May 2015, the major parties in Great Britain are the Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats, with UKIP a major party in England and Wales, the SNP a major party in Scotland, and Plaid Cymru in Wales, and that the Greens are not a major party.[30]  The BBC's draft guidelines for coverage broadly concur with Ofcom.[31]  Seven parties (Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat, UKIP, SNP, PC and Green) are the proposed participants in the election leadership debates.[32]
(I omitted all the standard links in that selection.)

The Scottish National Party (SNP) may be the third largest party after the election, and they might hold the balance of power between Conservatives and Labour.

If that happens, they have promised to put Labour into power, but not join in a formal coalition, which would allow them to make much mischief.  They would have enormous power, without any responsibility.
What the ever-cunning and canny Mr [Alex] Salmond appears to have in mind is not a coalition with Labour (which has already been rejected by Mr [Ed] Miliband), or even a less formal ‘confidence and supply’ arrangement which would involve giving general support.

Instead, he appears to imagine backing Labour on an issue-by-issue basis — in other words keeping it in power but not voting for all its legislation.  Mr Miliband might not relish such highly conditional endorsement, but if he wished to continue to rule he would have no choice but to accept it.
Stephen Glover goes on at length about what Salmond might demand in return for allowing Miliband to be prime minister — and the damage Salmond could do to English-Scottish relations.

I'll be following this election closely, but I don't plan, as of now, to make any predictions.   It's just too complex, especially with the likelihood that there will be a fair amount of tactical voting, with many voters choosing their second, or even third, choice, in order to block candidates they dislike.

(In principle, Conservatives and Labour could defeat the SNP by working together, in various ways, up to a grand coalition.  I don't think either party would find that attractive, now.

By "confidence and supply", Glover means that a party agrees to vote against no confidence motions, and for the money necessary to run the government.)
- 9:50 AM, 26 March 2015   [link]

The Alps Crash Was Mass Murder:  As I am sure you know by now.  Here's the Daily Mail story, which, as you would expect, has many pictures.
The co-pilot of the doomed Germanwings Airbus A320 locked his captain out of the cockpit before deliberately crashing into a mountain to 'destroy the plane', it was sensationally revealed today.

French prosecutor Brice Robin gave further chilling details of the final ten minutes in the cockpit before the Airbus A320 plunged into the French Alps killing 150 people.
But no speculation worth mentioning.

(Tacked to the end of the story are earlier stories with speculations that have since proved to be false.  I found them mildly interesting, for what they show about "experts", and the need of journalists to put up something after a disaster.)
- 8:06 AM, 26 March 2015   [link]

Today's Michael Ramirez Cartoon is excellent.
- 3:04 PM, 25 March 2015   [link]

The Small Surprise In The Bergdahl Announcement:  The charges are no surprise to anyone who has followed the story.
Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who was captured by the Taliban after abandoning his post in Afghanistan and then freed five years later in a controversial trade for five Guantanamo detainees, was charged Wednesday with desertion.

U.S. Army Forces Command announced the decision at Fort Bragg in North Carolina.

He was charged with misbehavior before the enemy, which carries a maximum sentence of up to life in prison. He was also charged with desertion, which carries a maximum of five years.
But this was mildly surprising: today's date.  I expected the announcement would come at a time when it would attract less attention, probably late on a Friday, the traditional time to break bad news.

That it did not gives me a little hope; it makes me think that the Army is not doing everything it can to protect the Obama administration, politically.

(By the way, it is common for federal bureaucracies — and the Army is, among other things, a bureaucracy — to escape, somewhat, from a president's control, late in his administration.  It is not hard to understand why; the bureaucrats begin to look ahead, having less reason to fear punishment, and less reason to expect rewards, from the current administration.)
- 2:32 PM, 25 March 2015   [link]

Another Victory For Seattle In The City's War Against Cars:   Though it wasn't reported that way.
A semi-truck hauling fish overturned on State Route 99 near the Alaskan Way Viaduct Tuesday afternoon.  Blocking all southbound lanes for nine hours.  The lanes were re-opened just before midnight.

The accident happened near Atlantic Street, just south of the viaduct.

Traffic on the viaduct was at a standstill and the gridlock extended through the streets of downtown Seattle.  Entire busloads of people stuck on the viaduct decided to disembark and walk off the viaduct.

Traffic flow was reversed so drivers could exit off the viaduct off the Columbia Street on-ramp.  Motorists were also on exiting Highway 99 at Denny Way, just north of the Battery Street Tunnel.
Why is this a victory?

Because incidents like this will make at least a few drivers decide — the city hopes — to switch to public transportation, preferably rail transportation.

(For the record:  Seattle elected officials routinely deny waging a war on cars — and, just as routinely, pursue policies that make it harder to drive, and more expensive to park, in Seattle.)
- 12:29 PM, 25 March 2015   [link]

"Jazz Hands"  I'll admit that I had never heard of that way of performing, and, though I am fascinated by politics, would not have guessed that jazz hands would be proposed as a substitute for clapping, to protect sensitive folks.

It can be so hard to distinguish intentional from unintentional parody these days.  If I had been told about that, without the context, I think I would have guessed that it was intentional, that someone was mocking politically correct groups, especially feminists.

(The National Union of Students has a long, and very leftist, history.)
- 9:37 AM, 25 March 2015   [link]

Another EB-5 Visa Scandal:  First, a review from the Wikipedia article.
The EB-5 visa provides a method of obtaining a green card for foreign nationals who invest money in the United States.[1]  To obtain the visa, individuals must invest $1,000,000 (or at least $500,000 in a Targeted Employment Area - high unemployment or rural area), creating or preserving at least 10 jobs for U.S. workers excluding the investor and their immediate family.[1] Initially, under the first EB-5 program, the foreign investor was required to create an entirely new commercial enterprise; however, under the Pilot Program investments can be made directly in a job-generating commercial enterprise (new, or existing - "Troubled Business"[2]), or into a "Regional Center" - a 3rd party-managed investment vehicle (private or public), which assumes the responsibility of creating the requisite jobs.  Regional Centers may charge an administration fee for managing the investor's investment.

If the foreign national investor's petition is approved, the investor and their dependents will be granted conditional permanent residence valid for two years.[2]   Within the 90 day period before the conditional permanent residence expires, the investor must submit evidence documenting that the full required investment has been made and that 10 jobs have been maintained, or 10 jobs have been created or will be created within a reasonable time period.[2]
(Which is accurate, as far as I know.)

You don't have to be an expert on investment, or government, to see weaknesses in this program.  If there is a good business opportunity in a "Targeted Employment Area", then there is no need to pass out visas to encourage investors, even foreign investors, who can just send money.  If the bureaucrats try to enforce the provisions of the law, then the approval is likely to be delayed for years, at a time when many investors think in months, not years.

But there can be a way for people with the right connections to speed up matters, and that's what the Virginia governor, Democrat Terry McAuliffe, is accused of doing.
Not long before he became governor of Virginia, Democrat Terry McAuliffe received special treatment on behalf of his electric-car company from a top official at the Department of Homeland Security, according to a new report from the department’s inspector general.

McAuliffe was among several politically powerful individuals from both parties, including Sen. Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), seeking special visas for foreign investors through a program administered by the department.  But intervention on behalf of McAuliffe’s GreenTech Automotive company by Alejandro Mayorkas, now the department’s No. 2 official, “was unprecedented,” according to the report.
Those who have followed McAuliffe's career, even casually, will find nothing surprising in this story.

Mayorkas appears to have been rewarded for his efforts.  Which tells us something about the Obama administration.

(For the record:  I have long thought that we should simply abolish this program, that it makes no sense economically, and is subject to abuses, of many kinds.

His Wikipedia biography will show you why I am not surprised to see McAuliffe in still another scandal.)
- 8:28 AM, 25 March 2015   [link]