November 2011, Part 3

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Happy Thanksgiving!     (Though Audubon's turkey may not share the sentiment.)

Audubon's turkey

(Yes, I am fond of that painting — and wild turkeys.)
- 3:14 PM, 24 November 2011   [link]

John Kass Saves The Tribune's Honor:  By giving us some of the facts about Tony Rezko and Barack Obama that his colleague, Annie Sweeney, refused to give us.

Kass even makes a bitter, but correct, comment about his own industry.
The old Rezko was sleek and obvious, as genuine as an alderman's handshake.   He was the guy who knew guys and a way around almost anything.  He was the wizard who bought that enchanted strip of land that was good for nothing except that it allowed the Obamas to get that dream house they couldn't afford.

The old Rezko had helped Obama take those first few steps along The Chicago Way, a dangerous tango that the president himself once described as "boneheaded" but not criminal.  Rezko could samba with Democrats like Gov. Rod Blagojevich one day, then foxtrot with top Illinois Republican bosses like convicted William Cellini the next.  They were all part of the Illinois Combine, which knows no party, only appetites.
. . .
Obama will campaign for re-election, and with the media's help, he'll levitate above Chicago politics, unstained, as if his feet never got dirty here.
But they did, though you may not have been told about that dirt by your local newspaper or TV stations.

(You can find examples of the Rezko-Obama connections here.)
- 2:59 PM, 23 November 2011   [link]

Steven Malanga Summarizes Jon Corzine's career:
Whether in government or finance, he seemed to always believe there’d be a bailout.   He destroyed MF Global by betting that the European Union wouldn’t let some of its troubled governments default because they were, of course, too big to fail.  In Jersey, he simply ignored one of the worst pension crises in the country because the idea that we’d let hundreds of thousands of government workers lose their pensions is also unthinkable.

In the worlds where Corzine operates, the next bailout is always just around the corner if you are big enough and daring enough.
New Jersey taxpayers will be paying for his mistakes for the next generation; MF Global customers will probably never get all their money back.
- 9:10 AM, 23 November 2011   [link]

Tatyana Limanova Doesn't Like President Obama:  And showed her dislike with a traditional gesture.
An award-winning Russian newscaster appears to have given President Barack Obama the middle finger during a live broadcast on federal television in a potentially job-threatening blunder that has raised eyebrows in the United States.
According to the story, it was the mere mention of Obama's name that set her off.

That "reset" in Russian-American relations may not be a complete success.

(Her network is not hostile to everything American; they broadcast a number of American programs, including The Simpsons and M*A*S*H.)
- 8:01 AM, 23 November 2011
This will disappoint some, but her gesture was, apparently, not directed at President Obama.
- 2:46 PM, 27 November 2011   [link]

Bryan Preston Gives Frank Rich what Rich richly deserves.
Today marks the 48th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.   The slain president’s wife, his successor, and the liberal media blamed the murder on Dallas’ “climate of hate.”  That smear cast a pall on the innocent citizens of that city for decades.  I know, because I grew up in the shadow of Big D and in the shadow of Kennedy’s killing.  For decades after Nov. 22, 1963, you could go anywhere in the country, tell anyone you were from Dallas, and if you spent enough time with that person, Kennedy’s assassination would inevitably come up.

Frank Rich chose to mark the 48th anniversary by smearing Dallas, again, and by extension conservatives of the present.  It’s a column which should get him ridiculed and fired; no one who is so irresponsible with the hard facts of life has any place in the commentariat.  The title gives Rich’s game away.  It’s “What Killed JFK?” not “Who Killed JFK?” as it should be.  A “what” is much easier to abstract, isolate, and attack than a “who” who had inconvenient opinions and motivations, and a madness to move.
. . .
Frank Rich’s hatefulness is killing civil discourse in America.  It dishonestly condemned an entire city for generations and turns an innocent campaign map into a murder map.   It replaces individual responsibility with collective guilt, and turns what should be a unifying national tragedy into corrosive partisan crossfire.
That's the beginning and the ending; you'll want to read the middle parts, too.

(And if you still have any doubts about Oswald's guilt, pick up a copy of Posner's Case Closed.)
- 5:48 PM, 22 November 2011   [link]

Tony Rezko Sentenced:  And Chicago Tribune reporter Annie Sweeney manages to write a lengthy story on the sentencing without ever mentioning Rezko's party (Democrat), or his famous friend and long-time political ally (Barack Obama).

Sometimes the bias is so blatant as to be funny.

Why was Rezko finally sentenced now, after all these years?  Pure speculation, but I would guess that the prosecutors decided that he wasn't going to give them any usable information on other miscreants.  That would also explain the longer-than-usual sentence, 10.5 years.
- 1:10 PM, 22 November 2011   [link]

New Jersey Congressman Andrews Has Taken His Campaign to Scotland.
Rep. Robert Andrews, D-N.J., spent more than $9,000 in campaign funds so he and his family could be in Scotland for the wedding of a donor, a New Jersey newspaper reports.

The Star-Ledger of Newark reviewed Andrews' campaign-finance reports and found Andrews spent $7,725 for three nights in a ritzy hotel in Edinburgh, $953 in cab rides, meals, tips and airline baggage fees, and $463 on china as a wedding gift -- all paid for out of his campaign account.
The bride, who is not identified in these news articles, must be truly touched by this.

Congressman Andrews represents New Jersey's 1st district, which is rated +12 Democratic, so you might think that he doesn't need to raise campaign funds, much less go to Scotland to please a donor.  But he has statewide ambitions.  In 2008, he ran in a Democratic primary against Senator Lautenberg, losing 59-35.  And many expect him to try again for a statewide office.

(Andrews has a history of using campaign funds in entertaining ways.  Legal ways in every case, I'm not so sure about, but definitely entertaining.)
- 7:03 AM, 22 November 2011   [link]

Conservatives Win Spanish Election:  In what amounts to a landslide in an election with proportional representation. Or, to be more descriptive, we should say that the ruling Socialist Workers Party lost in a landslide to the moderate conservative Peoples Party.

Here's a brief article on the election from the Post,
In an election marked by bitter disappointment and desperation over the euro zone’s highest unemployment rate, the Socialists who have led the country since 2004 were cast from office in their worst showing in the modern era of Spain’s democracy.

Conservatives won 186 of the 350 seats in parliament; the Socialists won 110.  But the sharp swing was more a result of millions of voters abandoning the Socialists for smaller parties, not conservatives picking up new voters, suggesting a country more dispirited with the policies of the past than excited about the future.
Those who prefer to see more numbers will want to look at this Wikipedia article, where we learn that Socialist Workers Party lost 15.14 percent of the popular vote, while the Peoples Party gained just 4.68 percent.  (The other parties that gained votes have a mix of ideologies.)

I would caution everyone, but especially conservatives, against over-interpreting the results, ideologically.  The PP victory is almost certainly due more to Spanish unemployment being above 20 percent than the appeal of conservative ideas.

That said, if conditions improve, especially if they improve because of PP policies, the party is likely to be rewarded by the Spanish voters — and should be.

(As I have said before, some voters use the same strategy that bacteria do.  Last night, just for fun, I was re-reading Dusenbery's Life at a Small Scale, and ran across this:
Nevertheless. bacteria can work their way along a gradient by taking longer steps in one direction and shorter steps in the other.  As a result, the random walk is biased in the direction of the stimulus field, a method of navigation termed "indirect guiding."   The basic strategy can be described as "if conditions are improving, keep going; otherwise try a new direction."
So even bacteria could have figured out that it was time to try a new party in Spain.)
- 3:15 PM, 21 November 2011   [link]

Did They Say $600 Million Was Missing At MF Global?  They did.  But now they have raised that to a possible $1.2 billion.
The court-appointed trustee overseeing MF Global's bankruptcy says up to $1.2 billion is missing from customer accounts, double what the firm had reported to regulators last month.

The trustee, James Giddens, also said in a statement Monday that his plans to release about $520 million from accounts that have been frozen will mean nearly all the assets under his control will be distributed.
As the second paragraph notes, MF Global customers won't lose everything; in fact those with "cash-only" accounts will be getting some of their money back almost immediately.

But it looks as if they should not expect to get all of it back, ever.

While Jon Corzine is lawyering up (as I assume he is doing), he could start writing some of those thousands of letters of apology that he owes his former customers.

(Thanks to Rick Ballard for the tip.)
- 1:57 PM, 21 November 2011   [link]

The Full Chris Matthews Interview:  If you surf the net at all, you probably have seen a segment of the Alex Witt-Chris Matthews interview.   Many have concluded, from that segment, that Matthews has lost his love for Obama, that he no longer feels that "tingle".

As usual, I wanted to see the whole thing, and found it here, along with a transcript, so you can read what he said, if you prefer.  Not all of it is negative, but the negative parts are devastating, especially coming from Matthews.

ALEX WITT, HOST:  You say, “Nations die or thrive on the ability and judgment of their leaders to stir them at perilous times.”  Does Barack Obama have that ability to pass the proper judgment, to properly analyze and to stir this nation?

CHRIS MATTHEWS:  Well, he has great analytical ability.  Clearly has made the right judgments in his executive leadership.  He has moved us very effectively in self-defense in fighting terrorism.  I'm not sure he's able to move the country.  He had that ability as a candidate, and then the day he was inaugurated, with the Mall filled with people, African-Americans and everyone else, he sent us all home.   It was the worst mistake of his presidency.  The day he got inaugurated, he sent us all home and said, “Thank you, now watch how smart I am.”  That's the worst kind of a notion of the presidency.
. . .
I don't have a sense that he's ever had a meeting.  I hear stories that you will not believe.  Not a single phone call since the last election.

WITT:  Tell me one.

MATTHEWS:  They don't call.  He never calls.  That's the, that’s the message.  Members of Congress, I keep asking, “When did you hear from him last?”

WITT: Silence.
Members of Congress, being human, like being asked for their opinions, and their support.  Effective presidents understand that.

Does President Obama not understand that, or does he not care whether they support him?
- 8:47 AM, 21 November 2011   [link]

The "Super Committee" Has, Almost Certainly, Failed To Find A Compromise:  So, is President Obama working hard to try to salvage a last-minute agreement?  No, in fact, nothing related to the committee is even on his schedule today.

But he is going a celebration of country music this evening.

At the risk of being tedious, I will repeat something I have said before:  President Obama ignored his own deficit panel, and has not even bothered to present a plan for solving our deficit problem.
- 8:21 AM, 21 November 2011
More:  If you think I am too harsh on President Obama, take a look at what Erskine Bowles, the Democratic co-chairman of his deficit reduction panel, said.  If anything, he's tougher than I was.  And he is explicit about blaming the "Chicago guys", Obama's political team.
- 3:45 PM, 21 November 2011   [link]

Canadian Biologists Lost Almost 300,000 Caribou:  But they believe they have found them again.
A vast herd of northern caribou that scientists feared had vanished from the face of the Earth has been found, safe and sound -- pretty much where aboriginal elders said it would be all along.

"The Beverly herd has not disappeared," said John Nagy, lead author of a recently published study that has biologists across the North relieved.
. . .
It turns out that the Beverly herd has simply shifted its calving grounds north from the central barrens near Baker Lake, Nunavut, to the coastal regions around Queen Maud Gulf.  Nagy's analysis of radio-tracking data showed caribou in the region once thought to belong to the Ahiak herd are, in fact, Beverly animals.
Naturally, some were blaming the disappearance of the herd on "mining exploration and development".  I would guess that few of those who made those charges will correct the record, now that the herd has been found.

This post on large live animals comes by way of Small Dead Animals.

(More on caribou at the Wikipedia article.)
- 7:38 AM, 21 November 2011   [link]

Who Stole Money From The NEA?  The teachers union isn't saying.
Who stole more than $227,000 from America's public school teachers?  And how did the National Education Association fail to notice this for five years?  These are among the questions that the nation's largest teachers union refuses to answer.

Last year, the NEA reported to the U.S. Department of Labor that it lost $227,626 over a five-year period "due to the actions of two former employees."  The union didn't discover the money was lost until April 2010.

After learning of the problem, the NEA let the two employees go.  It didn't press charges but rather "secured commitments from the two individuals to make full restitution."  According to its report to the Labor Department, less than half of those funds were recovered and the NEA may have had to file a claim with its fidelity bond carrier to recoup the rest.  The union also took "an array of corrective actions," it assures us.
But they should.

And they should explain why they chose not to press charges.
- 7:11 AM, 21 November 2011   [link]

The Aaron Reardon Scandal:  This area now has an old-fashioned political scandal, a very old-fashioned political scandal.

So old-fashioned that I suspect that classics scholars can find parallels from thousands of years ago.

The Snohomish County Executive, Aaron Reardon, has been accused of having a long-term affair with a county employee — and paying for some of the affair with county funds.  Oddly enough, the revelation of the affair apparently came, not from a political opponent, but from the woman.  (He just won re-election easily, over Republican Mike Hope, after a nasty campaign.  This story began to come out publicly a few days before the election.)

Reardon is a Democrat, and a relentless self-promoter, so I won't miss him if he goes.  And he might, according to some local news stories.

Much more here, including pictures of the "other woman", who does look interesting, I must say.

(Snohomish County is over-shadowed by King County (which includes Seattle) just to the south, but it's a substantial place, with a population of more than 700,000.)
- 6:52 PM, 20 November 2011   [link]

Vanishing North American Bears?  Jonathan Sumption's review of Pastoreau's The Bear has much interesting history, and pre-history, but was spoiled for me, partly, by his failure to get the present right.

Near the end of the review, Sumption says:
Our own age has witnessed the ultimate humiliation of the bear.  A handful of bears survive in Europe, mostly in the Pyrenees.  There are many more in North America, but outside the national parks they too are well on the way to extinction
Every one of those claims is wrong.

There is just one bear in Europe, the brown bear.
In Europe, there are 14,000 brown bears in ten fragmented populations, from Spain (estimated at only 20-25 animals in the Pyrenees in 2010,[26][27] in a range shared between France, Spain and Andorra, and some 85-90 animals in Asturias, Cantabria, Galicia and León, in the Picos de Europa and adjacent areas in 2003[28] and some 100 animals in 2005[16]) in the west, to Russia in the east, and from Sweden and Finland in the north to Romania (4000–5000), Bulgaria (900–1200), Slovakia (with about 600–800 animals), Slovenia (500-700 animals)[29] and Greece (with about 200 animals) in the south.
So there are more than a "handful" of bears in Europe, and most of them do not live in the Pyrenees.  (Their populations would probably grow in many of the countries, if hunting were controlled more tightly.)

There are three bears in North America: black bears, brown bears, and polar bears.

Black bears in Canada are "stable"; black bears in the United States are "either stable or increasing" in almost all states where they are found.  Instead of being limited to national parks, they appear to "have expanded their range" in the last decade.

Although there are many fewer brown bears in the United States, they are expanding their ranges, with some human help.
There are about 200,000 brown bears in the world.  The largest populations are in Russia with 120,000, the United States with 32,500, and Canada with 21,750.  About 95% of the brown bear population in the United States is in Alaska, though in the lower 48 states, they are repopulating slowly but steadily along the Rockies and the western Great Plains.
There are even fewer polar bears in North America.  There is intense debate about whether the population has been growing, and whether it is threatened by global warming.
Warnings about the future of the polar bear are often contrasted with the fact that worldwide population estimates have increased over the past 50 years and are relatively stable today.[127][128] Some estimates of the global population are around 5,000–10,000 in the early 1970s;[129] other estimates were 20,000–40,000 during the 1980s.[31][44] Current estimates put the global population at between 20,000 and 25,000.[26]

There are several reasons for the apparent discordance between past and projected population trends:  Estimates from the 1950s and 1960s were based on stories from explorers and hunters rather than on scientific surveys.[130][131]  Second, controls of harvesting were introduced that allowed this previously overhunted species to recover.[130]  Third, the recent effects of climate change have affected sea ice abundance in different areas to varying degrees.[130]
You'll notice that the discussion is somewhat confused, but I think that a reasonable person would conclude that, most likely, the limits on hunting since 1950 did allow the population of polar bears to grow.

So Sumption is wrong about all three species of bears in North America.

Why?  On a surface level, the answer is obvious:  Sumption is a British barrister, not a North American wildlife expert.  But that would only explain his ignorance, not his false ideas about bears in North America.

I don't know why he is so wrong, but I can speculate.  I suspect that he is projecting, that he is assuming that North American bears have been treated like the bears in the parts of Europe he is most familiar with.  And I suspect that he gets much of his information on North America from the BBC.  They wouldn't necessarily give him false information, but they may well give him misleading information.

A man who sees dozens of BBC stories on the threatened polar bears might assume that all the bears in North America are threatened.  But that's only a guess.

And I can't even speculate on why his editor at the Wall Street Journal didn't spot those mistakes.

(All three species of bears are hunted legally.  In my opinion, that hunting is the main check on their population growth, over all.)
- 9:48 AM, 20 November 2011   [link]

Congressman Clyburn Shouldn't Tempt Me With Straight Lines like this one:
Democrats have rejected the latest deficit-reduction proposal from supercommittee Republicans as an insult.

A Democratic member of the supercommittee, Rep. James Clyburn (S.C.), denounced the latest GOP offer, which he described as containing $600 billion in program cuts with “only $3 billion in revenue.”

“Do we look stupid?” he told The Hill after leaving a meeting with Democratic members of the panel.  “I mean, I don’t know, maybe we do.  I certainly am not stupid.”
Because I can't always resist.

I won't say anything about Congressman Clyburn — but I will note that Senator Patty Murray, the Democratic co-chairman of the deficit reduction "super committee", won the "no rocket scientist" award, twice.
- 6:30 AM, 20 November 2011   [link]

What Happened To The Missing $600 Million At MF Global?   This guess is reasonable, and is consistent with the news articles I've seen
After three weeks of intense investigation, no one seems able to find it — and it’s beginning to look like MF Global burned through it in an attempt to cover their own losses.
Or, to put it another way, it looks like Jon Corzine took the money in a reckless attempt to keep his company going.  And, again according to the news stories I've seen, it looks as if the company's customers will be out most of that money.

Very few of them are likely to be as wealthy as Jon Corzine is, or was.
- 4:20 PM, 19 November 2011   [link]

It's Easy To Confuse Oregon And Washington:  If you work for the New York Times.
And a map with the article mislabeled, in some editions, the state in the upper left corner of the contiguous United States that is considered solidly Democratic.  It is Washington, not Oregon.  (Though the outcome of some races may be in doubt, one thing is for certain: Oregon will always be solidly under Washington.)

(To be precise the state was labeled "Ore.", not "Oregon".)

I blame Timothy Egan.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(Would I consider the state "solidly Democratic"?  No.  Republicans hold four of the nine House seats, and their top statewide vote getter, Attorney General Rob McKenna, has run ahead of Democrats like Governor Chris Gregoire in recent elections.  For example, in 2008, a Democratic year, he was re-elected, 59-41, while she was re-elected, by a narrower margin, 53-47.

Washington state leans Democratic, but is not, in my opinion, solidly Democratic.)
- 2:23 PM, 18 November 2011   [link]

Kindle Fire Versus Nook Tablet Versus IPad:  Here's the Mossberg review.

When compared to the iPad 2, I suspect the Fire will appeal to people on a budget and to those who envision using the iPad mainly to consume content, as opposed to those who see the larger tablet as a partial laptop replacement.  For instance, while the Fire has a decent Web browser and a rudimentary email program, it lacks basic built-in apps, such as a calendar, notepad or maps.  However, for people primarily interested in reading books and periodicals, the Fire may seem too heavy and costly when compared with a low-end Kindle or Nook.
. . .
The Nook Tablet boasts double the internal storage and a slot to expand it.  It has better battery life and a more interactive approach to children's books.  But beyond books and magazines, it lacks either Amazon's or Apple's large, simple, built-in ecosystem for other kinds of content, such as music, movies and TV shows.

Instead, Barnes & Noble boasts it offers choice, by including video apps like Netflix and music apps like Pandora.  However, these same apps also appear on the Fire and the iPad, along with the Amazon and Apple stores.
Three thoughts:  I haven't had much trouble using a color Nook, when I've experimented with one in a store — but I can't claim to be an average user.

Second, if you are just interested in reading books and periodicals — with no significant color content, you would be better off buying one of the cheaper tablets without color.   The display will be a easier to read, especially in bright light, and you'll save money.  (Journal reviewer Katherine Boehret likes the Barnes & Noble Nook Simple Touch better than the Amazon Kindle Touch, because it's cheaper, and, she thinks, a little easier to use.)

Third, the software, including the user interfaces, on all these devices may improve over the next year or two, so you may want to wait for version 3.0.

(Or, if you prefer, you can watch a video review, instead.)
- 12:48 PM, 18 November 2011   [link]

Yes, President Obama Did Say That Americans Have Gotten "A Little Bit Lazy"  Although some of his supporters, including some "mainstream" journalists, have tried to deny that.

Not only did Obama say that Americans have gotten lazy, he has said similar things in the recent past.

Jonah Goldberg makes a shrewd point about this Obama habit.
The point of all this is pretty obvious.  Obama has a long-standing habit of seeing failure to support his agenda as a failure of character.  The Democratic voters of western Pennsylvania refused to vote for him, he explained, because they were “bitter.”  He told black Democrats lacking sufficient enthusiasm for his reelection to “Take off your bedroom slippers.  Put on your marching shoes.   Shake it off.  Stop complainin’.  Stop grumblin’.  Stop cryin’.”

And in the context of the country’s economic doldrums, Obama sees a lack of ambition, softness, laziness, etc., in anyone who doesn’t support his agenda.  He has spent several years now exhorting Americans about how we have to “win the future” by doing what he says.   He has told us repeatedly that this is our “Sputnik moment” when all Americans must drop their selfish, cynical, or foolish objections to his program.   People who disagree aren’t putting their “country first.”
(Emphasis added.)

This habit can be politically effective in the short run, especially if his opponents reply to it by defending their characters.  They would do better to ignore it, and criticize Obama's policies.

(Minor correction:  Goldberg says that Bush had a "deficit" of $9 trillion.   Actually, the debt reached $9 trillion while Bush was in office.)
- 8:52 AM, 18 November 2011   [link]

Another Use For Lemons:  This one from a New Yorker cartoon.

Two men are sitting at a bar.  One is an ordinary-looking middle-aged businessman.  The other looks just like G. Gordon Liddy.  The Liddy-like character is saying: "When life gives me lemons, I know twenty-six ways to kill a man with a lemon."
- 6:27 AM, 18 November 2011
If you would like to buy a copy of the cartoon, or just take a look at it, here it is.  Thanks to a friend for the tip.
- 4:07 PM, 19 November2011   [link]

Meanwhile, Back In Barack Obama's Illinois (10):  There is fresh coverage of an old scandal.
Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan cost taxpayers nearly half-a-billion dollars by blocking repeated efforts to restructure McCormick Place bonds and finance a much-needed second hotel at the convention center, a Crain's investigation finds.

Between 2005 and 2010, Mr. Madigan stopped five refinancing bills, ignoring declining interest rates that would have saved hundreds of millions.  At the time, he never explained why, but his reasons seem petty and political:   McCormick Place CEO Juan Ochoa, an appointee of then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich, had fired a Madigan ally at the convention center, and lawmakers from both parties say the speaker wanted retribution.
You can't blame Obama directly for this failure, since he served in the Illinois Senate, not the House.  But it does show, again, something about how politics is played in his home state.

(Michael Madigan has a good claim to be the most powerful politician in Illinois, but no one would claim he is the most honest.  Or even in the top ten for honesty.)
- 7:32 AM, 17 November 2011   [link]