November 2012, Part 3

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Here's A Possible Opportunity for crony capitalists.
President Obama is considering allowing corporate donors to help fund his inauguration in 2013, the Wall Street Journal reports. Such a move would be a reversal of Obama's 2009 ban on such donations, which was then meant as a symbolic gesture.
If his inaugural committee does accept corporate donations, it will be fun to try to figure out what those corporations want in return.
- 9:04 AM, 24 November 2012   [link]

Why I Link To Guido Fawkes:  (And read his site regularly.)

Because he tells me about all the prominent British scandals, and I can follow what he is talking about almost half the time.  This may seem odd, but those scandals actually give me a relatively good feeling about Britain, because few of them are terribly important.   For instance, some members of Parliament appear to have been cheating on their expense accounts by leasing apartments from each other.  This is wrong, of course, but it is not something that will bankrupt, or endanger, Britain.

(It's actually kind of fun to try to figure out what happened in the different scandals, without using Google, Bing, or some other search engine.)

Yesterday, much to my pleasure he took on Huffington Post for hypocrisy.  From time to time, they tut-tut about other publications showing pictures of almost naked women — and they always run pictures of almost naked women.
Guido has been greatly enjoying the Huffington Post’s coverage of I’m a Celebrity, in particular their entire posting “Helen Flanagan Shows Off Weight Loss As She Strips In Jungle Shower (PICS).”  Not even the Mail would also include a gallery of 29 “Almost Nude” shots that leave Page 3 looking like a walk in the park.  Talking of the Sun, it seems the lefty liberals over at HuffPo are hardly consistent in their policy:
And today, he noted that they are running a blurred picture of a child model in a bikini.

Will the Huffington Post run fewer pictures of almost naked women, or stop criticizing others for doing that?  No, and no.

Oh, and in both posts, he adds some less sexy, but perhaps more substantial, criticisms of the site.

(Here's some background on Paul Staines, the creator of the site.)
- 4:14 PM, 23 November 2012   [link]

Meanwhile, Back In Barack Obama's Illinois (19):   The state's public pension funds are going bankrupt, and taking the state with them.
Illinois's pension system is heading for a meltdown and may now be beyond help.   That's the forecast from a Chicago business group, which told its members last week that the state's pension crisis "has grown so severe" that it is now "unfixable."

The Commercial Club of Chicago wrote that because the November elections did not bring in lawmakers willing to push real reform, the state's roughly $200 billion debt now threatens education, health care and basic public services.  The problem is worsening so fast that the usual menu of reforms won't be enough to keep public pensions from sucking taxpayers and whole cities into its yawning maw.
There's more in the editorial, including Governor Quinn's mascot, "Squeezy, the Pension Python", but there isn't much reason for hope.

It's worth quoting, again, what Walter Russell Mead said about the financial mess in Barack Obama's Illinois.
Illinois politicians, including the present President of the United States, have wrecked one of the country’s potentially most prosperous and dynamic states, condemned millions of poor children to substandard education, failed to maintain vital infrastructure, choked business development and growth through unsustainable tax and regulatory policies — and still failed to appease the demands of the public sector unions and fee-seeking Wall Street crony capitalists who make billions off the state’s distress.
. . .
But where liberals in America have the freest hand—in states like New York, California and Illinois—we see incontrovertible evidence that the policies they choose don’t have the consequences they predict.  California by now should surely be an educational, environmental and social utopia.  New York should be a wonder of glorious liberal governance.  Illinois should be known far and wide as the state that works.
Is it possible that the leftist politicians who have been governing these states have, for years engaged in wishful thinking in a "systematic, all-encompassing way"?  I think so.
- 12:59 PM, 23 November 2012   [link]

Paul Krugman Was Delighted By The Mario Rubio Interview, in which Rubio said he didn't know how old the earth was.  So delighted that Krugman used that, in today's column, to prove that Republicans are out of touch with reality.
But we shouldn’t let go that easily.  Reading Rubio’s interview is like driving through a deeply eroded canyon; all at once, you can clearly see what lies below the superficial landscape.  Like striated rock beds that speak of deep time, his inability to acknowledge scientific evidence speaks of the anti-rational mindset that has taken over his political party.
Toward the end of the column, Krugman asserts that liberals — he should say leftists — are not similarly affected.
And, no, it’s not symmetric.  Liberals, being human, often give in to wishful thinking — but not in the same systematic, all-encompassing way.
I think it fair to conclude that Krugman wrote the column not knowing that President Obama had said almost exactly the same thing that Rubio had.

You should not hold your breath waiting for Krugman to attack Obama and Democrats in the same way he just attacked Rubio and Republicans.

(Are Krugman's columns, taken as a whole, evidence that some leftists are prone to wishful thinking in a "systematic, all-encompassing way"?  I think so.)
- 12:28 PM, 23 November 2012   [link]

College Can Cost As Much As $130,000 In China:   And that just covers the bribe to get a student into a high school "linked" to the prestigious Renmin University.

According to this New York Times article, corruption is pervasive in Chinese schools.
Nearly everything has a price, parents and educators say, from school admissions and placement in top classes to leadership positions in Communist youth groups.   Even front-row seats near the blackboard or a post as class monitor are up for sale.
. . .
Surrounded by a culture where cash is king, teachers often find their own ways to make up for their dismal salaries.  Ms Qin Liwen, a journalist who writes about education, said that some instructors run cram schools on the side and encourage attendance by failing to teach their students a vital chunk of the curriculum during the school day.
Many teachers take full advantage of the annual "Teacher Appreciation Day".   Parents who want their child to do well will send them to school on that day with a gift that costs way more than an apple.

A few parents, in reaction to this corruption, are sending their children abroad for their schooling.

(In sad contrast, Chicago is bribing parents to "pick up their children's report cards and participate in teacher conferences".)
- 7:14 AM, 23 November 2012   [link]

Want To Control Your Spending?  Leave your credit and debit cards at home — but you already knew that.

But you may not have known that you will spend less if you carry clean crisp bills, as long as your friends aren't watching
In five studies with University of Winnipeg undergraduates, the researchers found that people tend to spend worn bills faster to get rid of them.  But when they think they’re being watched, pride kicks in and they pull out crisp bills to show off.
. . .
The professors identify what they call a “push-and-pull emotional mechanism.”   Namely, “People generally spend more when they have worn bills and spend less when they have crisp bills.”  However, “People tend to spend crisp bills more when they believe they are being socially monitored.”
Economists in the Obama administration may already be thinking of ways to dirty up our cash, in order to encourage us to spend more.

Here's a video, with a description of the experiment, and some numbers.
- 6:43 AM, 23 November 2012   [link]

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

Audubon's turkey

(Yes, I am fond of that painting — and wild turkeys.)
- 1:07 PM, 22 November 2012   [link]

Obama And Rubio, Alike On The Age Of The Earth:   Both dodged, when asked about that question, and they did so in much the same way.

You'll probably want to read the whole column to see why Slate columnist Daniel Engber reached this conclusion:
In light of these concordances, to call Rubio a liar or a fool would be to call our nation's president the same, along with every other politician who might like to occupy the Oval Office.  If a reporter asks a candidate to name the age of Earth, there's only one acceptable response: Well, you know, that's a complicated issue … and who am I to say?
It was a pleasant surprise to find this comparison, and especially pleasant to find it in, of all places, Slate.

(How old is the earth?  About 4.5 billion years.)
- 9:01 AM, 21 November 2012   [link]

Corruption In The Detroit Public Library System:   Enough so that the FBI is making raids.
The federal government’s ongoing probes into public corruption landed today on the doorsteps of the city’s main library branch, where FBI agents raided the historic landmark over allegations of contract fraud.

“There may be an individual who awarded contracts for personal gain.  And if that is the case, it is a total violation of the public trust,” Jonathan Kinloch, president of the Detroit Library Commission, told the Free Press.

According to Kinloch, the contracts involve two technology firms that were hired for at least $2 million to update the library’s computer systems.  A library official allegedly had ties to at least one of the contractors, and benefited personally from the million-dollar deals, he said.
Sounds like another one of those public-private partnerships President Obama is so fond of.

Meanwhile, the library has been laying off employees — in a city where finding a new job is not all that easy.
- 7:36 AM, 21 November 2012   [link]

The 700,000 Year Trip From Mars:  Today's New York Times had a brief Q&A about the Tissint meteorite, which was knocked out of Mars by another meteorite about 700,000 years ago.

It hit Earth finally, but there is nothing in the length of the trip that should surprise us, as the Times explained.

But you may have been wondering how they knew roughly how long it had been in space, and the Times had an answer for that, too.
As for the timeline, Michail I. Petaev, senior scientist at the Center for Astrophysics, said that the slow, spiraling orbit of such a small object was very complex, as it was pulled by the gravity of "how many bodies we will never know."  But as Tissint was knocked loose, its freshly exposed surface began to be hit by cosmic rays, very high energy particles from long-ago stellar explosions.

The particles produced radioactive isotopes that decay at a known rate, Dr. Petaev said.  These indicate the time since Tissint was knocked off Mars, or at least since its most recent major collision.
At this point, many of you may have one more question:  How do they know the meteorite (and others like it) are from Mars? Fortunately, Wikipedia has the answer to that question, and just where you would expect to find it.
By the early 1980s, it was obvious that the SNC group of meteorites (Shergottites, Nakhlites, Chassignites) were significantly different from most other meteorite types.  Among these differences were younger formation ages, a different oxygen isotopic composition, the presence of aqueous weathering products, and some similarity in chemical composition to analyses of the martian surface rocks in 1976 by the Viking landers.  Several workers suggested these characteristics implied the origin of SNC meteorites from a relatively large parent body, possibly Mars (e.g., Smith et al.[3] and Treiman et al.[4]).  Then in 1983, various trapped gases were reported in impact-formed glass of the EET79001 shergottite, gases which closely resembled those in the martian atmosphere as analyzed by Viking.[5]   These trapped gases provided direct evidence for a martian origin.  In 2000, an article by Treiman, Gleason and Bogard gave a survey of all the arguments used to conclude the SNC meteorites (of which 14 had been found at the time) were from Mars.  They wrote, "There seems little likelihood that the SNCs are not from Mars.  If they were from another planetary body, it would have to be substantially identical to Mars as it now is understood."[2]
So they have three more than three different kinds of evidence, including isotopes, aqueous weathering, and trapped gases.  (I had guessed the first, but hadn't thought of the second and third.)
- 7:27 PM, 20 November 2012   [link]

In Retrospect, It's Unfortunate That Mitt Romney Promised to defund Big Bird, instead of Elmo.

But that's a crass political point, for which I hope you will forgive me.
- 3:21 PM, 20 November 2012   [link]

What Does UN Ambassador Susan Rice Know About Diplomatic History?  Less than she should.
Uneasily I recalled an interview I had watched on TV during the 2008 election campaign.  Susan Rice, then a foreign-policy adviser to candidate Barack Obama, was asked to defend Obama’s statement that as president he would be willing to meet, free of preconditions, with leaders of nations that were hostile to the U.S.

A questioner asked Rice about the difficulties encountered by President John F. Kennedy when he went to Vienna in 1961, at the beginning of his term, to meet with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev on an open agenda.  Rice asserted that the Kennedy-Khrushchev sessions were actually constructive because the personal relationship established by the two leaders allowed them, the following year, to resolve the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Which is roughly the opposite of what actually happened at that disastrous meeting in Vienna.

Like David Landau, I would very much like to know more about what Rice believes happened at that Vienna meeting, especially if she is nominated to be secretary of state.
- 2:35 PM, 20 November 2012   [link]

On Saturday, Obama Urged Us to work hard.

But didn't follow his own advice in preparing for his trip to Asia.
It is rather embarrassing, as well as sad, that the leader of the free world can’t even pronounce the name of the most famous human rights activist on the planet.  Or that he is so quick to appease Burma’s authoritarian regime by calling it “Myanmar”.   Barack Obama’s gaffes demonstrate not only a marked lack of attention to detail and a high degree of amateurishness on the part of the White House, but also a disturbing willingness to curry favour with unsavoury regimes.  Hardly a good omen for Obama’s second term.
(Emphasis added.)

If George W. Bush had blundered in the same way, "mainstream" journalists would have — well, you can finish this sentence for yourself.  But you probably won't even hear about these latest gaffes on network TV, or see critics there wondering if Obama should not have spent an hour or two preparing for these meetings.
- 2:11 PM, 20 November 2012
Here's a description and picture of Obama's worst gaffe.
[Burmese dissident Aung San Suu Kyi] consented to appear jointly with the president on her front porch.  Both spoke briefly, she more cautiously than he.

Eager to take advantage of such a photo opportunity before the world media, Obama leaned in for a little kiss, as a Chicago pol might at a South Side rally where women would squeal for a presidential peck.  Obama is a big political kisser.  He kisses females everywhere.  Introduce him at a rally, you get a kiss.  Hug too, probably.  He knows the ladies love it.

But Asia ain't Hyde Park.  Public kissing, even between husband and wife, is rarely seen.  Between a man and woman not married it's downright outrageous, even scandalous.  So Obama's presumably affectionate but impolite, totally out of place smooch created an international moment more awkward than a first date.
Andrew Malcolm suspects that Obama skips his protocol briefings, as well as his intelligence briefings.
- 7:52 AM, 21 November2012   [link]

Chris Cillizza Says "Things Aren’t That Bad For Republicans"  And gives us four reasons why Republicans should be optimistic, or at least not totally pessimistic.

(I would add a fifth that I have mentioned before.   I expect Obama's policies to fail, and I expect that most voters, in their own good time, will realize those policies have failed.)
- 8:18 AM, 19 November 2012   [link]

In His Defense Of Ambassador Susan Rice, Obama Insulted Women:  So say Ann Althouse:
Women serving in positions of power are subject to the same criticisms as men, and efforts to defend them that are premised on the idea that women deserve special protection, solicitude, or respect or that deploy metaphors from the realm of domestic violence are perversely implying that women do not belong in power.  It is absolutely disgusting to defend Susan Rice this way.  If we were required to moderate our criticism of women in power, we would need to oppose having women in power in order to preserve our freedom as American citizens.
And neoneocon.
Try as I may, I cannot recall any other president implying that criticism of the statements of an ambassador to the UN, acting in his/her official capacity as spokesperson, should be off-limits — and especially the approach Obama takes here, which is to say that the men who criticized Rice (McCain and Graham) are somehow “besmirching” her reputation (Rice is a vulnerable little woman, not just a gender-neutral official, when it suits Obama’s political purposes) and that such comments are “outrageous” and beyond the pale.
You may know that Senator Kelly Ayotte joined Senators McCain and Graham in their criticism of Rice.  Obama ignored her in order to play the sex card in his attack on McCain and Graham.

Obama played the sex card (and, implicitly, the race card) in this matter because he wants to distract us from the plain fact that what Rice told us was not true — and she should have known it was not true.
- 7:24 AM, 19 November 2012   [link]

Ralph Peters Says Obama Insults Our Intelligence, by asking us to believe too many impossible things about the Benghazi attack.

For example:
That doctoring the early CIA analysis to eliminate any mention of terrorism was purely a bureaucratic quirk (having coped with the interagency process, I assure you it would be easy to identify who neutered the analysis — if the White House wanted to).
Peters has ten more, enough so that even the Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland might have trouble swallowing them all.

But many of our "mainstream" journalists seem determined to swallow most of them.
- 6:09 AM, 19 November 2012   [link]

If I Understand The Seattle Times Correctly, we should elect Senators Murray, Cantwell, and company — but not pay them.

The first part is easy to understand, since the Times endorsed both in their latest runs for the Senate.  (Murray was elected, with the endorsement of the Times in 2010; Cantwell was elected, with the endorsement of the Times, in 2012.)

The second part is, I think, a fair inference from yesterday's editorial.

Partisanship has grabbed a hold of the Beltway and won’t let go.  Nowhere is this more obvious than in the U.S. Senate, where lawmakers have failed to agree on a budget for three consecutive years.
. . .
In March, the Senate held a hearing on No Labels’ proposed No Budget, No Pay Act, which would require members of Congress to pass a budget and annual spending bills on time or not get paid.

As everyone should know, the people responsible for those three years of Senate failures to pass a budget are Majority Leader Harry Reid, and the Democrats — definitely including Murray and Cantwell — who supported him.

The Times could take this one step farther.  They could ask Murray, Cantwell, and company to refund some portion of their benefits and pay for those three years, say 30 percent for each year.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 5:05 PM, 18 November 2012   [link]

Libertarians And Republicans, Greens And Democrats:   In my recent post rejecting the idea that Libertarians had cost Republicans nine races in this last election, I noted that, for similar reasons, Ralph Nader may not have cost Al Gore the 2000 election.

I should have linked to this 2004 post, which has some numbers supporting that argument.  Note that, everything else being equal — which it wouldn't have been — Gore would have gained a net of 18 percent of Nader's popular vote, if Nader had not run.

That's much less than my guesstimate that Republicans would have gained a net of 47 percent of the Libertarian votes in those nine races, if Libertarians had not run.

(I think a somewhat higher percentage is justified in those nine races, because voters are more likely to stay home if they don't see a satisfactory candidate for president on the ballot.   And once they have decided to vote for president, they are more likely to make choices in the down-ballot contests)
- 2:04 PM, 18 November 2012   [link]

$9000 Per Fish:  That's how much the Bonneville Power Administration has spent in order to restore a sockeye run on the Snake River
It's taken fish managers in six federal, state and tribal agencies to get this far.  They oversee the lives of these fish, plotting their genetics on spreadsheets, mixing their gametes in plastic bags, and whisking them in various life stages around the Pacific Northwest in plastic shipping tubes, barges, trucks and planes, using five different facilities in three states to hatch, incubate and rear them, in both fresh water and salt.

By now, Bonneville Power Administration ratepayers have spent nearly $9,000 for every sockeye that's made it back to Idaho since this all started in 1991.
The cost per fish should go down, if the run continues to grow in size.  In a few years, it might be as low as $1000 per fish — if all goes well

But I think we can be reasonably certain that the restoration effort will never make economic sense.

Now we might pass this off as a program that is worth doing for what we learn about the fish, and because it is valuable, from time to time, to take on nearly impossible tasks.

Except, this isn't a solitary program, and these Bonneville fish restoration programs have cost "more than $12 billion since 1978, depending on how you count it".

If we think of this as a religious rite of a nature-worshiping cult, it makes more sense.  I wouldn't much mind others worshiping nature this way, if I didn't have to pay more for my electricity to support their rites.

(Here's a brief Wikipedia article on the BPA.)
- 1:31 PM, 18 November 2012   [link]

How Many Campus Professionals Think Free Speech Is Safe On Campuses?  Just 18.8 percent.
A 2010 survey by the American Association of Colleges and Universities found that of 24,000 college students, only 35.6% strongly agreed that "it is safe to hold unpopular views on campus."  When the question was asked of 9,000 campus professionals—who are more familiar with the enforcement end of the censorship rules—only 18.8% strongly agreed.
You can find that, and much more, in the Wall Street Journal Greg Lukianoff interview.

At this point, I am tempted to remind you of Abigail Thernstrom's famous line, that a western university is often an "island of repression in a sea of freedom".  Except — since she said those words, we have seen limit to free speech spread outside the universities.
- 4:09 AM, 17 November 2012   [link]

Who Built Romney's Orca?  The voter contact software failed on election day, and failed in a way that must have frustrated many volunteers.

But when you find out who built it, and when, the failure is no surprise.
The truth, according to sources familiar with the matter, is that the applications powering Orca were developed by an internal "skunkworks," one made up of both campaign staffers and volunteers—not by a big-name consulting firm.
. . .
The investment in Orca, however, was a tiny fraction of the campaign's IT spending.   Sources tell us the Romney campaign tried systems similar to Orca during the Republican primaries, but on a much smaller scale.  To prepare for the general election, the campaign pulled together a makeshift team of IT people and volunteers, and it was this team that built the full version of the Orca Web app and developed the backend systems to power it.
Nor should the "makeshift" team get much blame for this failure.  Even a top software team that has worked together for years will generally find it hard to put together a complex system like this — and test it adequately — under that kind of time pressure.

I've thought for the last week that Romney might have won if he had had another or week or two to campaign — and maybe they could have tested this software more thoroughly in that extra time, too.
- 2:44 PM, 17 November 2012   [link]