May 2014, Part 2

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

A Big Win In The World's Biggest Democracy:  Narendra Modi's BJP has won an absolute majority in India's parliament.
As the leads poured in on Friday morning, it was clear that the party is steaming ahead to its biggest victory in 30 years.  This, after two losing two elections in a row - the party was able to mop up only 116 seats in 2009.

Today, the BJP on its own is on course to win more than the 272 which it needs to gain a simple majority, and its 28-party coalition is leading the vote count in over 300 seats.

The scale of victory is truly gigantic in India's fractured polity where no party has managed to get a simple majority since Congress in 1984 won 415 seats riding on a sympathy wave after the assassination of Indira Gandhi.
In American terms, the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) is center right, socially conservative, nationalist, and relatively more inclined to free markets than its main opponent, the India National Congress.

(You can read their election manifesto, in many different versions, at the party's web site.  I skimmed through their abridged English version before writing that brief summary.)

But, at the same time, we should not forget that it is a Hindu party, for which there is no real equivalent, here.

Narendra Modi is controversial in India, and in much of the West, because of anti-Muslim riots that occurred in his state, Gujarat, in 2002.  If the Wikipedia biography is correct, a "Special Investigating Team", appointed by India's Supreme Court, "did not find any substantial incriminating evidence against Modi of willfully allowing communal violence in the state".

Since I know no more about those riots than what I have read in a few news articles, and a few Wikipedia articles, I won't venture an opinion on whether they give us any reason to be suspicious of Modi.

But I can say that, especially in recent years, he seems to have been an honest, pragmatic, and competent leader of his state.

(Americans will find this story from the Wikipedia biography of interest:
A report in April 2014 in the Sunday Guardian revealed that by the end of 2012, a reversal in foreign policy towards Modi by Obama had occurred.  Previously, during the tenure of former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, efforts were made to "get Narendra Modi", apparently for the 2002 Gujarat riots, but in reality "for taking stands that may be different from that favoured by the US administration".  The clandestine operation had run through European NGOs, and efforts were made to find mass-graves in Gujarat, which could be presented as "evidence of genocide" to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva.  According to the report, despite six years of searching, aided by local politicians, "no evidence whatsoever of mass graves was uncovered".[160]
I haven't the faintest idea whether the story is true, though I will add that it doesn't seem implausible.)
- 9:42 AM, 16 May 2014   [link]

Democratic Party Still Seen Less Negatively Than GOP:   Though I had to correct the headline on this Gallup post, there is much of interest in it.
Americans view the Democratic Party more favorably than the Republican Party, even though both parties have a net unfavorable rating.  Democratic Party favorable ratings have held steady since last June, while Republican favorables have increased slightly from their all-time low last year.  Still, if the Republicans' current favorability ratings hold, they will be the lowest ever for either party in an election year.
The timing makes it obvious that the government shutdown — which wasn't much of a shutdown — hurt the Republicans badly.

You may think that unfair, but it is still a fact.

As is this:
The Democrats' net favorable rating stands at -6 (44% favorable and 50% unfavorable), marking the fifth consecutive poll, dating to June 2013, in which Americans have viewed this party more unfavorably than favorably.  The Democrats' net favorable rating throughout Barack Obama's presidency has alternated between episodes of positivity, such as in 2009 and in late 2012, and negativity, such as throughout 2010 and 2011.  Prior to Obama's presidency, the Democratic Party had nearly always been viewed more positively than negatively -- averaging a 15-point net favorable rating between 1992 and 2008, despite holding Congress or the presidency for no more than half of that time.
(Emphasis added.)

Andrew Dugan implicitly gives Obama all the credit (or, if you prefer, debit) for that decline in Democratic Party favorability ratings.  Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid have helped push them down, too, as have other Democratic leaders (and a few followers).
- 7:55 AM, 16 May 2014   [link]

Affirmative Action Hire, Affirmative Action Fire, Affirmative Action Hire?  New York Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. never got along well with now fired executive editor, Jill Abramson.  So, it is not entirely surprising that he fired her, as he announced yesterday.

But that doesn't explain why he promoted her to begin with.  There may be a hint here:
When former executive editor Bill Keller informed Sulzberger he planned to step down, Sulzberger hesitated to appoint Abramson, who had seniority at the paper, where it’s important, to replace him.  He toyed with choosing [Dean] Baquet, whom many in the newsroom knew.  “When Arthur picked Jill, it was by the slimmest margin,” a person close to the talks said.  “He really wrestled with that decision.”
According to that account, and other accounts I have seen, Sulzberger gave serious consideration only to those two, each of whom checks off one affirmative action box.  Sulzberger may have decided that, since the two were tied in that all-important category, he would choose the most senior, who happened to be Abramson.)

In other words, if Abramson were a white guy, with the same conflicts with Sulzberger, he would never have been offered the top job.

That's speculative, but consistent with the public evidence, especially the choice of her replacement.

Finally, I should add that I have long thought that the Times needs a new publisher.

(On one issue, I would have to side with Abramson:
After a prolonged search in which the Times was without a CEO, casting an uncomfortable spotlight on Sulzberger, he finally chose former BBC director general Mark Thompson.   After Thompson had been hired for the job but before he’d started, Abramson sent Matthew Purdy, a hard-charging investigative reporter, to London to examine Thompson's role in the Jimmy Savile scandal at the BBC.  Abramson’s relationship with the two executives never recovered.
That was imprudent of her, but produced some interesting stories.

I am not a big fan of her work as a reporter.  She has written three books for adults, one about raising a puppy, one about the women of 1974 Harvard Law, and, with Jane Mayer, a hit piece on Clarence Thomas.)
- 1:27 PM, 15 May 2014   [link]

Just In Case You Missed The Cat Rescuing The Small Boy, here's the Daily Mail article, with stills and the video.

The cat appears to have done everything right in that brief incident.
- 7:24 AM, 15 May 2014   [link]

Andrew Malcolm's Latest Collection of jokes.  (Link fixed.)

He liked the "Obama High" joke best; I prefer this pair of crab jokes.
SethMeyers: Heisman QB Jameis Winston was arrested for stealing crab legs from a Florida supermarket.  Police became suspicious when he was spotted running out the door sideways.

Fallon: Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston of Florida is in trouble for shoplifting $32-worth of crab legs from a grocery store.  Experts say if he doesn't clean up his act and straighten out, he could end up in the NFL.
- 7:05 AM, 15 May 2014   [link]

Important And Unimportant Race News:  I don't have to tell you that what an old (and possibly demented) man said in private to his gold-digging mistress is big news.  It is hard to avoid stories about Donald Sterling, even if you want to.

But if you want a little statistical evidence, search on his name.  Bing found 12.7 million hits a few minutes ago, so I think we have proof that what he said is very important news.

Yesterday, Ras Baraka won the mayor's race in New Jersey's largest city, Newark.
Ras Baraka, a councilman and fiery community activist who campaigned on the vow to "take back Newark" from outsiders, was elected mayor of New Jersey’s largest city in decisive fashion Tuesday night, declaring victory before the votes were even fully counted.
After a campaign in which he made a public speech urging black gangs to attack whites.  (At 45, it is unlikely that Baraka is suffering from dementia.)

As I said in that post nine days ago, I think what Baraka said is more important than what Sterling said.  But I am obviously in a small minority; Bing found just 34,900 hits for "Ras Baraka", and just 4,230 when you qualify his name with "racist speech".

There are some, mostly on the left, who think that racism is acceptable, or not terribly important, if it is found in a racial minority.  (There are even people who say that members of racial minorities can not be racist.)  They probably would not put it as bluntly as I just did; they might even deny it when faced with that blunt way of saying it.  But what they do shows what they think.

And the differing importance of these two stories shows us much about what our "mainstream" journalists think.  As George W. Bush put it, they suffer from "the soft bigotry of low expectations".

(In that original post, I said that I was not absolutely sure that the speech hadn't been edited.  I am nearly certain now that the video was legitimate, after seeing an article in the New York Times referring to it.)
- 9:30 AM, 14 May 2014   [link]

"Spurious Correlations"  Exactly what the name implies.

Two examples from the site:
US spending on science, space, and technology correlates with suicides by hanging, strangulation and suffocation
. . .
Divorce rate in Maine correlates with Per capita consumption of margarine (US)
He's promising a new one every day.

(Warning to those who share one of my weaknesses:  You may be tempted, by some of the examples, to try to find causes for the correlations.  Nothing wrong with that — in fact, it can be a good mental exercise — as long as you do it with appropriate caution.)
- 8:12 AM, 14 May 2014   [link]

Why Did President Obama Change His Position On The IRS Scandal?  I don't have a solid answer to that question, but I think it deserves some thought.

Here's a brief description of Obama's shift from James Taranto:
Obama initially paid lip service to the seriousness of the scandal, commenting a year ago tomorrow that the abuse of the IRS was "outrageous, and there is no place for it, and they have to be held fully accountable. . . . I have got no patience with it, I will not tolerate it, and we will make sure that we find out exactly what happened on this."

By this February he had changed his tune utterly, telling Fox News's Bill O'Reilly that while the agency might have made "some boneheaded decisions," there was "not even a smidgen of corruption."  He cited "multiple hearings on this" but didn't mention that congressional investigations were stymied by ex-IRS official Lois Lerner's refusal to testify and by the IRS's failure to turn over documents.
The kindest explanation is that Obama learned, possibly from the hearings, that it was not a serious scandal, and that his first assessment had been incorrect.  But I think it more likely that he and his political team decided, on second thought (and perhaps after some discreet polling), that they could brazen it out.

With, of course, some help from our "mainstream" journalists.

(FWIW, 26 House Democrats joined 224 Republicans in asking Eric Holder to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the IRS scandal.  Some of the Democrats, no doubt, consider it a safe vote, thinking that Holder will never agree to a special prosecutor, but I think a few may be genuinely troubled by the actions of Lerner and others.  And some may worry about the precedent the IRS scandal is setting for a future Republican administration.)
- 4:56 PM, 13 May 2014   [link]

Finance "Reform" In Colorado:  In 2002, Colorado voters passed a finance "reform" measure, Amendment 27, intending to limit expenditures, and the influence of the parties.

But that wasn't the result.
For example, look at Colorado’s experience in the wake of Amendment 27, a campaign finance reform initiative that voters passed in 2002 in part to limit the influence of parties in state legislative elections.  As described in the book “The Blueprint”, a wealthy group of liberal activists worked with the state’s Democratic Party to create a network of 527s and independent expenditure committees to channel millions of dollars toward competitive races where previously only thousands had been spent.  The gambit worked; Democrats managed to take over the statehouse in 2004, the same year that Bush won the presidential race in that state.  But not only had state legislative races seen more money than ever before, it was now profoundly harder to trace that money.  Transactions that had once taken place solely between donors and candidates now involved multiple actors with only minimal reporting requirements.
(Emphasis added.)

Take a look at the chart illustrating that argument.  Note, for instance, the central positions of three organizations with bland, uninformative names, "Twenty First Century Colorado", "The Neighborhood Project", and "Accountability for Colorado".  Do you think the average Colorado voter would recognize that the three are front groups for Democratic Party activists?  Those names were chosen in order to hide that from the voters.
- 4:26 PM, 13 May 2014   [link]

"Voter Enthusiasm Down Sharply From 2010"   Understandably.
A majority of U.S. registered voters, 53%, say they are less enthusiastic about voting than in previous elections, while 35% are more enthusiastic. This 18-percentage-point enthusiasm deficit is larger than what Gallup has measured in prior midterm election years, particularly in 2010 when there was record midterm enthusiasm.

Among registered voters, 42% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents currently say they are more enthusiastic than usual about voting, while 50% are less enthusiastic, resulting in an eight-point enthusiasm deficit.  But Democrats are even less enthusiastic, with a 23-point deficit (32% more enthusiastic vs. 55% less enthusiastic).
Simplifying drastically, we can say that Democrats are disappointed that Obama has not produced what he promised, and Republicans fear that they may not be able to reverse much of the damage he has done.

Both parties will try to change their voters' minds between now and November, but it is unlikely that either will succeed to any great extent.

There is less to be enthusiastic about, and voters recognize that.  We are in a period where, in both domestic policies and foreign affairs, we often will have to choose, not between good and bad, but between bad and worse.
- 9:23 AM, 13 May 2014   [link]

Worth Reading:  George Will's column attacking some lawless Wisconsin prosecutors.  Here's how Will begins and ends.
U.S. District Judge Rudolph T. Randa, revolted by the police-state arrogance of some elected prosecutors, has stopped a partisan abuse of law enforcement that was masquerading as political hygiene.  Last Tuesday, Randa halted the corruption being committed by people pretending to administer campaign regulations — regulations ostensibly enacted to prevent corruption or the appearance thereof.  The prosecutors’ cynical manipulation of Wisconsin’s campaign laws is more than the mere appearance of corruption.
. . .
O’Keefe’s persecution illustrates the problem his lawyer David Rivkin calls “dark power” — government power wielded secretively for vengeance and intimidation.  Judge Randa quoted the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision: The First Amendment is “premised on mistrust of governmental power.”  And he noted that “the danger always exists that the high purpose of campaign regulation and its enforcement may conceal self-interest.”

Randa is insufficiently mistrustful. Campaign regulation, although invariably swathed in lofty rhetoric, is designed to disguise regulation’s low purpose, which is to handicap political rivals.  If Wisconsin is serious about eliminating political corruption, it can begin by eliminating corrupt prosecutors and processes, and the speech regulations that encourage both.
It is true that some, perhaps even most, of those who have backed campaign finance "reform" did so for decent motives.  But it is also true that its effects have been, net, bad for free speech, and bad for honest and responsible government.  It has not reduced the amount of money in politics; it has just driven much of it away from the light.

And it has given another advantage to incumbents, who already have more than they deserve.

("Mainstream" journalists almost all love campaign finance "reform", at least in principle.   I long ago concluded that they like it in part because it helps them control the agenda, though they may not admit that, even to themselves.

Wisconsin law Professor Ann Althouse likes the column, partly for the "severity of Will's tone".)
- 4:55 AM, 12 May 2014   [link]

An Argument For A $15 Minimum Wage Now — In Seattle:  Because I wish the people working in Seattle well, I mostly oppose the $15 an hour minimum wage, whether it would be imposed immediately, or in a series of steps, with exceptions, as Seattle Mayor Ed Murray recently proposed.

I oppose it because I agree with most economists that such a wage would reduce employment, especially for unskilled young people looking for their first jobs.

But a smaller part of me values the data we would obtain from such an experiment, which is why I partly hope that Kshama Sawant wins and imposes that wage now.   There are, all over the United States, places in which you can cross a state line and find a higher minimum wage.  But I don't know of any place where the differential is as great as it would be in the Seattle area, if Sawant wins.  (The current Washington state minimum is $9.32; a $15 minimum wage would be 61 percent higher.)

Now suppose you are a businessman planning to start a fast food place, one that hires beginning workers at the minimum wage, and that you are going to locate it near where North 145th Street forms part of the city's northern boundary.  If you put your restaurant on the south side of 145th, you will have to pay your beginning, unskilled workers $15 an hour; if you put it on the north side of the street, you will have to pay them $9.32 an hour.  (In most such places, the more skilled, and more experienced, workers get a little more than inexperienced beginners, so you will have to pay them higher wages on the south side of the street, too.)

On which side of the street do you think you will locate your restaurant?

Now consider a larger example.  Some stores in downtown Seattle compete, directly, with stores in Bellevue Square.  For most people, even in much of Seattle, Bellevue Square is easier to get to, if you are driving.   The stores in Bellevue Square do have some minimum wage workers, and many other workers who get paid relative to the minimum wage.

Do you think that a $15 minimum wage in Seattle would increase Bellevue Square's advantages over downtown Seattle?

Finally, consider a high school dropout with no job experience and no commercially valuable skills, living in or near Seattle.  If this young man (or woman) came to you asking where they should look for their first job, after Seattle had imposed the Sawant minimum wage, what would you tell them, that they should look in Seattle or outside of Seattle?

An experiment on the scale that Sawant is proposing would yield data on those three questions, and many others.

You may think I am being a little cold-blooded, that I am treating Seattleites like the prisoners who volunteer to be test subjects for medical experiments.  I can only repeat that I do oppose the $15 minimum, and would only accept an experiment if the voters in Seattle approve it.  I advise them not to volunteer for this experiment, but would not stop them, even if I had the power.

(Conspiracy theorists may want to play with the idea that Sawant intends the $15 an hour minimum wage as an experiment, that she is working for some shadowy group of, for example, economists who want that data, and don't care much who is damaged by the experiment.)

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

In February, the New York Times published an article, which you can read here or here, on the effects of a $1.85 minimum wage differential at the boundary between Oregon and Idaho. .  You can find some commentary, with lengthy excerpts, here.)
- 12:54 PM, 12 May 2014   [link]

Has Someone In Michigan Been Taking Lessons From Barack Obama?   You may recall that Barack Obama won his first election to the Illinois state senate by disqualifying his opponents in the Democratic primary.  (If he hadn't done that, he probably would have lost to the incumbent, Alice Palmer.)

Now a candidate for Congress in Michigan is trying to do the same thing to a man who has been in Congress since the 1964 election, John Conyers.
After a second review of petitions turned in by U.S. Rep. John Conyers, the Wayne County Clerk has found the longtime congressman only turned in 592 valid signatures, far short of the 1,000 needed to qualify for the Aug. 5 primary ballot.
Conyers would have had enough valid signatures, except that "only five of eight circulators challenged by Conyers’ Democratic opponent, Rev. Horace Sheffield, were properly registered to vote, a requirement under state law".  So the signatures gathered by those three circulators are invalid.

I am not a big fan of Congressman Conyers, but I am still bothered by this kind of tactic, which takes the choice away from the voters.
- 6:18 AM, 12 May 2014   [link]

What Was The Biggest Story On The Front Page Of Saturday's Seattle Times?  A story about a very popular local kitten camera.
You know, if you people didn’t find cats so adorable, then we might be writing about highlights from this year’s state Legislature.

But cats it is.
Those first two paragraphs make me think that Erik Lacitis, a serious reporter, would rather be doing serious articles.

But I suppose that the kitten story comforts the Seattle area's comfortable leftists — which appears to be our local monopoly newspaper's principal goal, these days.

(I said "biggest" rather than "lead" because another story, about a BMW composite plant expansion, is at the top of the page.  But the kitten story took up more than twice as much space.)
- 5:47 AM, 12 May 2014   [link]

Happy Mother's Day!:  To all the mothers out there.

Mother's Day duck, 2012

(This mother duck has six more ducklings, besides the three you see in the picture, to look after.  But she still has time to take a brief break to preen her feathers, as she was doing just before I snapped this picture.)

Recycled from last year.

And, if you need more ducks, and some flowers, you can find them here.
- 1:58 PM, 11 May 2014   [link]

The Scientist Who Headed The Team That Added X and Y To The Genetic Alphabet Is A Busy Man:  With a remarkably eclectic set of research interests.

"Interdisciplinary science encourages you to look at problems in a unique way," says Floyd Romesberg, assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI), shortly before offering a tour of his lab.  "That's what attracts me to science and to Scripps."
. . .
One area of research in Romesberg's laboratory involves studying the flexibility and dynamics of proteins using spectroscopy—a new, specialized application of an old tool.

"This is absolutely standard spectroscopy that people have done on small molecules for years," says Romesberg.  For years laboratories have routinely used light spectrometers, say, to measure protein concentration or to follow enzymatic reactions.

However, Romesberg's spectrometer is not the kind you might find in any catalog of equipment lying around the lab.  It is a custom-built femtosecond (10-15 second) laser spectrometer that takes up nearly an entire room.  Nor is the application he is using it for a routine measurement—he is directly probing the flexibility of proteins in solution.
The molecules vibrate so fast that he needs a very fast "camera" to catch their changing shapes.
- 3:01 PM, 10 May 2014   [link]

Michelle Obama Is A Good Friend Of The Prada-Wearing Devil, Anna Wintour:   Such a good friend that Obama gave a speech promoting Wintour's latest "charity".  A speech that left Matthew Continetti almost speechless.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City has named its collection of used clothes—a sort of consignment shop one must pay to enter and where nothing is for sale—after Anna Wintour. A trustee of the Met since 1999, the editor of Vogue, artistic director of Condé Nast, and inspiration for The Devil Wears Prada has over the years raised some $125 million for the museum.  Earlier this week, at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Anna Wintour Costume Center, Michelle Obama delivered a speech.  Never have I read one quite like it.

The first lady’s presence at the occasion was no surprise.  Some of Anna Wintour’s favorite charities, after all, are the Democratic Party and the career of Michelle Obama’s husband.  Since 2004, every cent of Wintour’s political contributions—$114,750 in total—has gone to Democratic candidates and to Democratic groups, including to the DNC, to Hillary Clinton, and to Barack Obama.
I wasn't quite as taken aback as Continetti — but I have to agree with him that a speech that claims, for example, that Wintour "hates being the center of attention" is out of touch with reality.

If you want one more reason to think that the Obamas are out of touch with ordinary working people in the United States, as well as reality, you have one.

(Judging by this Wikipedia biography, Wintour lives the kind of life that helped bring on the French Revolution.  Interesting detail:   One of her brothers, Patrick Wintour, is the political editor of The Guardian, one of the most important left-wing newspapers in the world.)
- 1:38 PM, 10 May 2014   [link]

Four More Pinocchios for President Obama.
In addressing a dinner of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in Los Angeles, President Obama made a rather striking claim—that Senate Republicans have filibustered “500 pieces of legislation that would help the middle class.”
. . .
On just about every level, this claim is ridiculous.

We realize that Senate rules are complex and difficult to understand, but the president did serve in the Senate and should be familiar with its terms and procedures.   Looking at the numbers, he might have been able to make a case that Republicans have blocked about 50 bills that he had wanted passed, such as an increase in the minimum wage.  But instead he inflated the numbers to such an extent that he even included votes in which he, as senator, supported a filibuster.
(Emphasis added for the ironic parts.)

In theory, every modern president has fact checkers who prevent this kind of mistake in the president's written speeches; in practice, President Obama's fact checkers are, for whatever reason, unable or unwilling to keep his speeches truthful.

(As I have mentioned before, most American politicians tell fewer direct lies than many voters think.  Instead, the ordinary politician will say things that are true, but deceptive.  But both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama are exceptions to that rule; both often tell direct lies, and they often tell direct lies, when they could be almost as effective by telling the truth, or part of the truth.  In other words, they tell lies even when they have little to gain from those lies.

For example, Obama's speech would have been just as effective if he had said 50, instead of 500.)
- 8:54 AM, 9 May 2014   [link]