May 2014, Part 3
Jim Miller on Politics
President Obama Works the refs.
At a fundraiser last night, President Obama unleashed a surprisingly spirited and comprehensive attack on both-sides-to-blame media coverage. While he has taken issue with Beltway coverage before, what was particularly noteworthy this time is that he made the case that “false equivalence” coverage is fundamentally misleading in the sense that it obscures the basic imbalance that currently exists between the two parties.In that speech Obama was encouraging our "mainstream" journalists, our "referees", to continue to treat Republicans unfairly.
Does Obama believe much of what he said? Probably. There are players in the NBA who honestly believe they have never committed a foul (other than intentional fouls, of course).
(From the tone of the piece, I would say that Greg Sargent is one referee who is going to continue giving Obama the benefit on calls.)
- 1:43 PM, 24 May 2014 [link]
Please Don't Buy The Fiat 500e Electric Car: What makes that newsworthy is who said it.
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles Chief Executive Sergio Marchionne has a request for potential buyers of the automaker's Fiat 500e electric car: Don't buy it. He's tired of losing money.Auto manufacturers are required by California to sell a certain number of "zero-emission" vehicles, and the Fiat 500e qualifies, even though much of the electricity for electric cars in California comes from not-at-all zero-emission coal burning plants in places like the Navajo Reservation in the Four Corners area.
I can understand why millionaires and billionaires in Hollywood and the Silicon Valley might like this arrangement, but I am unable to see why it makes sense as national or state policy.
- 8:49 AM, 24 May 2014 [link]
Ed Morrissey Has The Basic Budget Numbers For The Veterans Administration: Here's the key paragraph in his post.
OMB historical data on budget outlays by department are easily available at the White House website, and the spreadsheet tells a very interesting story. Since 9/11, the VA budget has increased by 235%, from FY2001′s $45 billion annual budget to FY2014′s $150.7 billion. On a percentage basis, the only Cabinet agencies that had larger budget increases over that arc have been State (271%) and Homeland Security (245%), the latter of which barely existed at the start of that period. In the Bush era, comparing the final budget with his signature (FY08) to the final Clinton budget (FY01), VA spending rose 88.3% to $84.7 billion. Defense spending rose 104% in the same period.Morrissey links to a John Merline op-ed that you will want to look at, too, especially those two bar graphs.
- 6:57 AM, 23 May 2014 [link]
The Islamist Takeover Of Tower Hamlets: The takeover of the London Borough was done by votes — but not all of them were legitimate.
And, once in power, Lutfur Rahman and the rest of his gang did not always behave ethically, or even legally, if the police reports are accurate.
1) In 2008 Rahman (then a Labour councillor) won the leadership of Tower Hamlets council with the close help of an Islamic extremist group, the Islamic Forum of Europe, which works to create a sharia state and an "Islamic social, economic and political order" in Britain. In secret filming, IFE activists described how they exercised “consolidated… influence and power” over the council.(I corrected a typo, eliminating a double "which" in the first paragraph. I think I copied all the links correctly.)
There are twenty-seven more points in that indictment, and I think you will find almost all of them of interest.
By way of Mr. CatFur.
(Here are two articles on the scandals, from the different perspectives of the Guardian and the Daily Mail.)
- 5:24 PM, 22 May 2014 [link]
Today's Ramirez Cartoon shouldn't have made me smile — but it did.
- 2:56 PM, 22 May 2014 [link]
If You Want To Understand The Veterans Administration Scandal, I recommend reading, or watching, some episodes of Yes, Minister.
Because the VA failures that we are learning about are characteristic of government bureaucracies, so characteristic that we can learn something about those failures even from a comic treatment of British bureaucracies.
Above all, we can learn that bureaucracies get much of their power over elected officials from their control over information. Which implies that even relatively honest bureaucrats — and there are many of those in the United States — will often conceal information, and others, less honest, will even create disinformation.
Intelligent and experienced managers know about this information problem and will cope with it in various ways, including getting the information they need outside regular channels.
(I don't know whether President Obama doesn't know about this problem, or doesn't care about the fact that bureaucrats are routinely concealing information from him, and that some are even creating disinformation for him. Most likely it is a combination, partly don't know, partly don't care.)
Which episodes should you start with? Tastes differ, so consider these two just suggestions. I would start with the first, "Open Government", to set the scene, and then watch (or read) the fourth, "Big Brother", where the minister, Jim Hacker, wins his first victory over the head bureaucrat in his department, Sir Humphrey Appleby.
(You can find brief descriptions of all the episodes, here, if those two don't interest you, or if you just want to see the alternatives. I believe all of the episodes are available on line.)
- 10:34 AM, 22 May 2014 [link]
Mitch McConnell's Primary Win On Tuesday Wasn't A Squeaker: But it wasn't impressive, compared to similar contests.
McConnell wins the lowest percentage of the primary vote among the last 22 Kentucky U.S. Senators vying for a renomination bid following the 1938 electionCommenter Scott Reed argues that earlier incumbents "never faced a well funded candidate like Matt Bevin". That's (probably) true, or mostly true, but the argument cuts both ways. Bevin attracted that funding in part because there were people who thought he had a real chance to win.
McConnell is a smart and experienced politician. Right now, I would make him the favorite in his race against Alison Lundergan Grimes, but just barely — which is consistent with the polls.
(I assume that McConnell will continue to depict Grimes as a supporter of President Obama. If he is successful, that will force her to either break with Obama in some striking way and disappoint core Democratic voters, or lose support with moderates and independents. It will be interesting to see what she will do in reaction to that strategy.)
- 6:57 AM, 22 May 2014 [link]
Andrew Malcolm's Weekly Collection of jokes.
Two I liked:
Conan: A new report calls Venezuela the most miserable country on Earth. After hearing this, Kim Jong Un said, “What do I have to do?”Don't miss Malcolm's own joke, the caption to that picture of Yemenis.
- 6:08 AM, 22 May 2014 [link]
Kate Riley Leaves Out The Who — Three Times: The editorial page editor of the Seattle Times approved an editorial that made that mistake three times. The second omission is mostly harmless, the first and third not so harmless.
The omissions are in today's editorial, which argues that Washington state should mandate insurance coverage for autism treatment. Here are the offending paragraphs, in order:
Let's suppose a reader wanted to know whether that actuary — who apparently earns his living making these estimates — is any good professionally. But that is rather hard to find out if you don't know who he is, or even which Regence affiliate hired him.
The reader should not have to search for that information.
The editorial writer doesn't name the Missouri "insurance commissioner", but a quick search turns up John M. Huff, a lawyer and a political appointee, who was given that job by the Democratic governor of the state, Jay Nixon. Probably, Huff was referring to data from one of a series of annual autism reports, such as this one.
(Technically, Huff is the "director of the Missouri Department of Insurance, Financial Institutions and Professional Registration", not the state's insurance commissioner. But he's the closest thing Missouri has to an insurance commissioner.)
So it is possible, without a lot of work, to find the name of the Missouri insurance commissioner, and some of the data referenced in that vague second paragraph. But readers shouldn't have to do that work, shouldn't have to spend time searching for that information.
Finally, suppose you wanted to look at that "2011 study in Minnesota". All you have to work with is a dollar estimate, a state, and a year. You don't know whether the study was done by an actuary, whether it was published, and, if so, where, and so on. I suppose that, if I wanted to take the time I could find it, given those three hints, but I don't know how long that search would take, and there is no reason that I, or any other reader, should have to do those searches.
"Who" is the first of the "Five Ws", and rightly so, since it is usually the first thing that readers want to know. When it is left out, as it was in that editorial, the omission(s) should be corrected. Ms. Riley should give readers those three names, with their titles, in a small follow-up editorial.
This is not the first time I have seen this kind of omission in our local monopoly newspaper, not the first time that most readers would have to search to find who wrote a study the journalist referred to.
Cross posted at Sound Politics.
(Including the who would almost always improve the writing, too. For example, that first paragraph would be better if it read something like this:
(I am guessing that the letter came from a manager, not the actuary, but I could be wrong about that.)
For your own amusement and edification, you may want to try re-writing the second and third paragraphs in a similar way.Would an autism mandate be a good idea? I didn't know before I read and studied that editorial, and I don't know now, since it was not easy to check key assertions in the editorial.)
- 3:52 PM, 21 May 2014 [link]
Election Results, So Far: Politico has a useful summary of the primary contests, so far, for governors, the Senate, and the House.
One thing I have noticed is that Republican voters are not always showing up in big numbers; in both North Carolina and Kentucky, the Republican Senate primaries drew fewer voters than the Democratic primaries, even though the Republican primaries had more competition.
The Washington Post, following conventional wisdom, thinks that, so far, Republican voters have picked fewer duds than they did in 2010 and 2012.
(Ordinarily, I wouldn't comment on such things, but since the Democratic Senate candidate in Kentucky, Alison Lundergan Grimes, raised the issue, I will make an exception. In her victory speech, she said that she is not an "empty dress". Having seen a number of pictures of her, I would have to agree. In fact, I'll go further and say that, if this were a beauty contest, she would easily defeat Mitch McConnell.
Her career has been, so far, similar to Nancy Pelosi's; both are daughters of career politicians, both began campaigning for their fathers when they were barely out of diapers, both are nominally Catholic, and both followed conventional career patterns for women of their times, Pelosi marrying a wealthy man and being a housewife for some years, Grimes getting a law degree before going into politics.)
- 6:28 AM, 21 May 2014 [link]
Worth Reading: Dorothy Rabinowitz's critique of William Cohan's Price of Silence.
In the outpouring of praise for William D. Cohan's new book "The Price of Silence"—a work, remarkably enough, being celebrated as a model of evenhandedness, scrupulous objectivity, etc.—one essential has gone overlooked. Namely, the central point of this tale about the Duke lacrosse case and accusations against three players of rape and assault at a house party. It takes no close reading to see that the book is meant to recast the story so as to nullify the outcome Americans thought they knew—that the players were exonerated and had been falsely accused. In Mr. Cohan's portrayal, the workings of decency and justice were undone by malign forces—among them, it would seem, the ability to hire defense attorneys.Cohan wants to "recast the story" and "nullfy the outcome", because the politically incorrect people won. It's that simple. And, as you'll see from the rest of the op-ed, he isn't scrupulous about how he tries to do that.
One of the organizations that misbehaved during the case was the New York Times, where the coverage was incredibly biased against the lacrosse players. The newspaper doesn't seem to have learned its lesson, because, three weeks ago, they put Cohan's book on their Editors' Choice list.
(I can recommend, without reservation, Stuart Taylor and K. C. Johnson's book on the scandal, Until Proven Innocent.
Last year, Jill Abramson picked Pamela Paul to replace Sam Tanenhaus as editor of the New York Times Book Review. I don't read the Review as closely I once did, but I have noticed a definite decline in quality since she took charge of the publication. And I am not the only one who has noticed that.)
- 2:16 PM, 20 May 2014 [link]
"Obama Suggests Republicans Are Not Patriotic" That's Keith Koffler's soft headline for this post.
But if we look at the quotation, we see that what Obama said was not just a suggestion — and was not just a single insult.
We’ve got one party in Congress right now that has been captured by ideologues whose core premise is “no” — who fundamentally believe that the problem is government; who don’t believe that we as a community, as a country have any serious role to play in giving people a hand up; whose budget reflects an interest in cutting back commitments to the most vulnerable and freeing the most powerful from any constraints; and whose principal focus at any given point in the day is trying to figure out how can they make people sufficiently cynical, sufficiently angry, sufficiently suspicious that they can win the next election.(Emphasis added.)
President Obama used five adjectives to describe the kind of Republican Party he wants, and made it clear that he thinks we do not have that party, today. So if we put in obvious antonyms, we can see that he is accusing the Republican Party of being ineffective, unserious, unpatriotic, incapable, and drunken.
He is doing that indirectly, which is clever I suppose, but his audience — he was speaking at a fund raising dinner — will understand what he meant.
He is, as I have said before, deliberately divisive, whenever the thinks it may benefit him, politically.
- 12:56 PM, 20 May 2014 [link]
"Don’t Feel Sorry For The Overpaid, Self-Pitying Jill Abramson" That good advice comes from Andrea Peyser.
Me! Me! Me! Me!Good advice, but the people who should take it, mostly won't.
(In January, I criticized Abramson for violating the spirit of our civil rights laws. To put it bluntly, I have seen nothing in her career to make me think that she wants equal treatment.)
- 7:45 AM, 20 May 2014 [link]
Chinese Cyber Spying Results In Five Indictments: With more to come.
A federal grand jury in Pittsburgh has found that five Chinese People's Liberation Army members hacked into the computers of a number of businesses and organizations in western Pennsylvania -- including U.S. Steel, Westinghouse Electric, and United Steel Workers.Derek Scissors of the American Enterprise Institute is mildly pleased that our government has, at last, taken this "small step".
The Justice Department today announced charges against five members of the Chinese military for cyber espionage conducted against American companies and a labor union. This constitutes an escalation of the American response to large-scale, government-sponsored theft of technology and trade secrets by the People’s Republic. However, it is a small step toward meaningful public action by the US, not a big one.Although the Post article doesn't mention it, the Chinese have been cyber spying on almost everyone for years, with few if any consequences elsewhere, as well as here.
(Ever since the Edward Snowden story broke, I have been struck by this fact: The timing of his departure was almost perfect for the Chinese government, since it took the spotlight away from their activities and put it on the United States, just as the stories of their cyber spying were beginning to get serious attention. I won't rule out coincidence — but I can't help wondering whether some Chinese spy master intended that result.)
- 5:15 PM, 19 May 2014 [link]
Patty Murray Fights For Veterans: As you can tell from her Senate web site.
I can not imagine how such a "tireless advocate" missed the Veterans Administration scandal. Perhaps one of our local reporters will ask her why she missed the scandal — but I wouldn't suggest that you hold your breath waiting for them to ask her that kind of question.Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 4:06 PM, 19 May 2014 [link]
Boko Haram's Logistics: As you probably recall, in discussing military affairs, "amateurs talk tactics, professionals talk logistics".*
So, what do we know about Boko Haram's logistics? This CNN article gives us some hints.
Hundreds of Boko Haram fighters stormed the villages of Menari, Tsangayari and Garawa in the ethnic Shuwa-dominated Kalabalge District on Tuesday. Boko Haram -- the group responsible for the kidnapping of nearly 300 schoolgirls from the same region -- was met with stiff resistance as locals put up a fierce fight, witnesses said.(I'm dubious about the claim that tanks were used in the attack. It is possible that the villagers captured an armored car, though.)
As in other recent attacks, many of the Boko Haram fighters arrived in trucks. What any military planner would want to know is where they got those trucks. And, perhaps even more important, where they are getting the fuel for those trucks. Village blacksmiths can make rifles, sometimes pretty good rifles, but they can't build trucks. A village witch doctor can make potions, but he can't make the kinds of fuels that modern trucks need, in any quantity.
You don't have to be an expert in military affairs to recognize that cutting off their supply of trucks would handicap them greatly, and that cutting off their fuel supply would hurt them just as much, and even more quickly.
A military planner would also want to look hard at the road network in the area, to see how it would constrain the Boko Haram movements. Granted, "all-terrain" vehicles are not entirely limited to roads — but they aren't really "all-terrain", either.
(*I don't know who first said that, though it has been around for some time — with some variations.
Pure speculation: It is likely, I think, that Boko Haram is getting money from outside the area, perhaps from sympathizers in Saudi Arabia or the Gulf states, and that they are using the money to smuggle trucks and fuel from southern Nigeria. But there are other possibilities, both for their finances and their supplies.)
- 1:09 PM, 19 May 2014 [link]
A Lesson For The Washington Post On Where Babies Come From: When I saw this silly Philip Bump article, I immediately decided to write a reply, but hadn't gotten around to it when I found this passionate reply from Mollie Hemingway, who explains at considerable length that human life begins at conception, not implantation.
This is not — or should not — be controversial, scientifically. But, as Hemingway explains, and as you probably guessed, it is an inconvenient fact for those who are pro-abortion.
(If you run into someone who has trouble grasping this point, asking them why we say that in vitro fertilization produces "test tube babies", why we recognize that the babies produced that way begin their lives in test tubes or, to be precise, usually Petri dishes.)
- 10:03 AM, 19 May 2014 [link]
Another Clinton Scandal: This one in Haiti.
The news website Tout Haiti reported last month that two prominent lawyers have petitioned Haiti's Superior Court of Auditors and Administrative Disputes, demanding an audit of Bill Clinton's management of the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission (IHRC). There are powerful interests that won't want to see the petition succeed and it may go nowhere. But the sentiment it expresses is spreading fast. In the immortal words of Charlie Brown, Mr. Clinton has gone from hero to goat.One possibly significant detail: While spending these hundreds of millions, Bill Clinton was reporting to — the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton.
There might have been a conflict of interest in that arrangement.
(For the record: Foreign aid is always hard to manage, and foreign aid to a country as devastated, poor, corrupt, and backward as Haiti, is especially hard to manage. A genius and super-honest manager, someone like Mitt Romney, might be able to do it working full time, but it is not a job for an ordinary politician working part time, however famous that politician may be.)
- 8:47 AM, 19 May 2014 [link]
Mt. St. Helens Anniversary:
It's been 34 years since the big eruption.
Since then, St. Helens has been (mostly) rebuilding. That rebuilding includes the Crater Glacier, which is now wrapped around the central dome. (You should remember to call it the Tulutson Glacier if you work for the Forest Service or the state of Washington.)
The best picture of the glacier I have found, though it is a little out of date, is this one from 2006.
Note that the two lobes of the glacier are convex. That's typical of advancing glaciers. Retreating glaciers are more likely to have concave lobes.
(More:A collection of pictures from the old web cam here.
A video from NASA showing the changes in the mountain over ten years.
And, finally, a set of scrolling, 360 degree pictures of the mountain.Recycled, with a few changes, from 2011.)
- 9:25 AM, 18 May 2014 [link]
The Mystery Of The Missing Medical Nitroglycerin: There is currently a shortage of medical nitroglycerin in the United States.
An ongoing shortage of the drug nitroglycerin is causing problems and concerns for doctors and hospitals in the United States. The drug is often the first therapy used by emergency room doctors when treating a heart attack patient.When I saw this story in the New York Times, I was puzzled by its incompleteness, puzzled by what it left out. A high school student in a chemistry class can make nitroglycerin easily, though not legally, as this example reminds us.
(Reminder: Do not try this at home; the stuff really is dangerously unstable. I believe that I could make nitroglycerin in less than a week — and almost all of that week would be spent buying the ingredients separately, with different cover stories for each ingredient. It wouldn't be pharmaceutical grade, but it would probably work to reduce heart pains.)
And so, of course, can any number of pharmaceutical companies. Moreover, it should be easy for one of those companies to expand production, if there was a shortage. All they would have to do is raise their prices a little, and ask some of their technicians to work a little overtime or, if the demand was great enough, put on a second shift.
But that hasn't been happening. In fact, companies had been withdrawing from the market for some time.
The only thing that can explain the combination of shortages and reduced production is, it seems to me, price controls, not necessarily formal price controls, but price controls, nonetheless. Somehow, government regulations have made it unprofitable for companies to produce this drug and so they had been leaving this market. But if you have another explanation, please let me know.
(Here's the usual Wikipedia article.)
- 3:08 PM, 17 May 2014 [link]
If You Want To Get A Feel For The War Between Boko Haram And The Nigerian Government, you might want to read this article and watch this BBC video, by John Simpson.
What shocked me was that Boko Haram could launch a major attack on a smallish town like Gamburo, close to the border with Cameroon, and kill 375 people - and yet this would scarcely be reported in the rest of Nigeria, let alone the outside world.This sounds suspicious:
Boko Haram attacked it with a fury that is fortunately rare. It was as though they wanted to wipe it off the face of the earth. They arrived in extraordinary force - there were 400 of them, according to one man who watched the attack from hiding - and set about killing people and destroying cars and buildings coldly and methodically.(Emphasis added.)
You would want to know who ordered those soldiers "somewhere else", when that happened, and why they were re-deployed.
(You can find some statistical background on the war here, and the Wikipedia article on Bornu State, here.)
- 2:19 PM, 17 May 2014 [link]