November 2014, Part 4

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

This Song Goes Out To Marissa Johnson And The Other Westlake Mall Protesters:  Which Song?

The obvious song, which you can read here, or hear here.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(Here's the best video I found of the protests, though they don't show the children's choral group that was forced to cancel because of the protests.)

- 2:46 PM, 30 November 2014   [link]

Reverse Groucho Marx At The Defense Department?  Groucho Marx, recycling an old joke, claimed to have sent the Friar's Club the following telegram:
After two plausible candidates to replace Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense — Michèle Flournoy and Jack Reed — publicly turned him down, President Obama is searching (or his staff is) for someone who will take this unwanted job
To understand why Flournoy and others are dropping out of the running for secretary of defense, just think about the job description:

You’ll be working for a president who once declared that he was elected to end wars but who now finds himself stuck, reluctantly, in a new one in Iraq and a prolonged one in Afghanistan — and who badly wants to finish up both in two years, though that’s probably impossible. He’s also a president who won’t listen much to you, since he apparently has little intention of altering the White House’s tight grip on the national security apparatus, which was the bane not only of Hagel but his two Pentagon predecessors, Leon Panetta and Bob Gates.

Flournoy “doesn’t want to be a doormat, and I think they want a doormat,” said one former Defense Department official who worked there during Flournoy’s tenure.  “I do not think they’re looking for someone more aggressive and independent.”
Worst of all, the new secretary will have to defend Obama policies that are, to put it mildly, incoherent, policies where the means are routinely inconsistent with the ends that Obama claims to be pursuing.

Which leads me to this gloomy speculation:  Anyone who would accept the job, under the current conditions, is probably not fit to be secretary of defense.  At best, we are likely to get a bureaucrat who will not mismanage the department too badly, in the remaining years of the Obama presidency.
- 10:28 AM, 29 November 2014   [link]

Jian Ghomeshi has been charged.
Former CBC host Jian Ghomeshi is facing five charges in relation to a sexual assault investigation.

Mr. Ghomeshi, 47, has been charged with four counts of sexual assault and one count of “overcome resistance – choking,” Toronto police said in a news release.

According to the Criminal Code, anyone found guilty of attempting to choke someone to overcome their resistance to the commission of an indictable offence faces a maximum punishment of life in prison. Sexual assault carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.
As I said in my original post, what makes this an especially exciting Canadian sex scandal is the charge that some officials at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation have known about his sex problems for twelve years.

(Oddly enough, our journalists seem less interested in covering this sex scandal than they are in covering, for example, a scandal involving a Catholic priest or a Republican official.  Search news sites on his name, if you want evidence for that conclusion.)
- 10:26 AM, 26 November 2014   [link]

Republicans May See Today's New Yorker cartoon, as showing one of the weaknesses of ObamaCare.

Democrats may see it as showing one of the weaknesses of private medical insurance.

And they might both be right.
- 9:08 AM, 26 November 2014   [link]

Sometimes You Need National Guard Back-Up For A "Blue Flood"  In August, I argued that what Ferguson needed to stop the riots was a blue flood, a massive influx of police officers to restore order.  Instead what we have seen is a repetition of all the tactics that were tried — and failed — in the 1960s and 1970s.

What also worked back then, though not as well as blue floods, was bringing in the National Guard, in order to back up the police.  The Guard has to be used intelligently since Guardsmen are not police officers.  Perhaps the best use is to have them guard places and people, freeing the police to go out and sweep up the arsonists and looters.

The mayor of Ferguson, James Knowles, III, understands that his city needs more uniformed men to restore order, and asked Democratic Governor Jay Nixon for the help of the National Guard.  Which Governor Nixon promised, but didn't deliver.
Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson said he was assured weeks ago that his city would get as many soldiers as needed to secure the businesses.  Then the plan changed, without explanation.
. . .
A frustrated Mayor James Knowles III called the guard’s delay “deeply disturbing.”  Early plans were to shield vulnerable businesses with a protective line of guardsmen, Knowles said.

“What should have happened last night?” Knowles asked.  “They should have had National Guard troops protecting the hard targets in Ferguson and allowed law enforcement to pursue a very mobile crowd of looters and arsonists.  That’s the problem.  (The police) could not secure the commercial districts.”
Governor Nixon hasn't explained his decisions, hasn't even explained why he has been unwilling to talk to Mayor Knowles, since August.

So what follows is speculation.

For a Democratic politician, Nixon has had surprisingly weak support from blacks, partly because of this history:
Nixon has overseen the state's involvement in the court settlements that ended mandatory urban busing in St. Louis and Kansas City's public schools.[7]  His role in the desegregation cases has caused friction with some African American leaders.
And probably for other reasons.

That may make him vulnerable to pressure from President Obama and Attorney General Holder, pressure that would cause Nixon to hold back the Guard, when he should have sent them in, months ago.
- 8:53 AM, 26 November 2014   [link]

Many People, Including Some Prominent Conservatives, Misjudged Obama's Temperament:  Noemie Emery reminds of those 2008 mistakes, and comes to this conclusion:
What these brains helped to give us was the worst presidential temperament since Richard M. Nixon, an under-experienced brittle narcissist, lacking in all the political skills save those of campaigning, whose main legacies will be an unworkable healthcare “reform” and a wholly avoidable Middle Eastern crisis.  Obama's lack of political sense has gotten him into many disasters, which his lack of political temperament only makes worse.
Which is, I think, unfair to Richard Nixon.  And leaves out the deepened racial divisions that he and Eric Holder have caused.

But I think she is mostly right.

Emery refers to a National Journal article, "Obama's Forging His Own Reality".  When I saw the article title, I immediately thought that people who forge their own realities belong in psychiatric hospitals, not the Oval Office.  But, having read the article, I can say the title is a bit misleading.  Obama and his close aides are ignoring the lessons of the 2014 election, are reading polls as they want to read them (as partisans often do), but they are not totally out of touch with reality.

(As I recall, I had doubts about Obama's temperament in 2007 and 2008, but looking back I don't think that I saw how large a problem it would be for him — and us.)
- 7:43 AM, 26 November 2014   [link]

Revenge Of The White Van Man:  A leader of the Labour Party resigned her position, after a tweet, accompanied by this picture:

White van man with English flags

The Guardian attempts to explain why that picture (and the tweet) caused so much fuss..
If you’re not British, Labour politician Emily Thornberry’s resignation for posting a tweet of a house, some flags and a van may seem baffling.  Here’s why it happened

Emily Thornberry’s resignation from the Labour shadow cabinet for posting an image of a house in Rochester has provoked fury in Britain and bafflement abroad.  While political commentators in the UK were divided over whether she should have resigned, they were fairly united in the belief that Thornberry had committed an embarrassing and potentially devastating faux pas.

At worst, she had shown her (and therefore Labour’s) contempt for the patriotic working classes.   According to the prime minister, David Cameron, “effectively what this means is Ed Miliband’s Labour party sneers at people who work hard, who are patriotic and who love their country. And I think that’s completely appalling.”
For Americans:  The flags are English flags, often thought to be associated with racism, and the van is a symbol of the working class — which Labour once represented.

For an American equivalent, imagine a prominent Democrat posting a picture from, for example, Harlem, that appeared to sneer at blacks.

(Lady Nugee, as she is also known, doesn't seem to be particularly neighborly.

Thornberry was the "shadow" attorney general, which means that she would have been their head lawyer, if Labour won the next election.)
- 6:35 PM, 25 November 2014   [link]

Glenn Kessler Corrects The White House — And The New York Times — On Immigration:  It's a nice piece of research.

Here's the claim:
President George H.W. Bush “expanded the family fairness program to cover more than 1.5 million unauthorized spouses and children.  This represented about 40 percent of the undocumented population at the time.”

– White House press secretary Josh Earnest, news briefing, Nov. 19, 2014

“If you look, every president — Democrat and Republican — over decades has done the same thing.  George H.W. Bush — about 40 percent of the undocumented persons, at the time, were provided a similar kind of relief as a consequence of executive action.”

– President Obama, interview on ABC News’ “This Week,” Nov. 23, 2014
Here are the facts:
Bush’s action in 1990 was designed to ease family disruptions caused by the landmark 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act, which allowed nearly 3 million illegal immigrants to gain legal permanent residency.

Under typical immigrant patterns, families do not all arrive together.  Thus some family members qualified for residence but others still faced deportation.  President Ronald Reagan at first eased the rules for minor children, and then Bush in early 1990 extended it to cover children and spouses, including authorization to work.  However, the new rule did not make them legal residents, and they were required to renew their ”voluntary departure” status annually; they also had no legal basis to return to the United States if they left the country.
How many were affected by that executive order, and the law that superseded it less than a year later?  What's the right number and the right percent?  Not 1.5 million but about 100,000, not 40 but about 6, says Kessler.

But the White House has their story, and they are sticking to it.

It is dismaying to see how unwilling this White House is to admit they were wrong, even when presented with irrefutable evidence.

(And the New York Times?  The White House estimates appear to have come from a 1990 article, based on a confused exchange in Congressional testimony, an exchange that the Times apparently did not bother to check.)
- 1:16 PM, 25 November 2014   [link]

The Most Important Story Yesterday Was The Failure Of Nuclear Talks With Iran:  Technically, they didn't fail; they were just extended for seven months.
The US and Iran say they are confident of reaching a deal over Tehran's nuclear programme after agreeing a seven-month extension to talks.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said a deal was close but US Secretary of State John Kerry warned that several points of disagreement remained.

Six world powers want Iran to curb its nuclear programme in return for the lifting of economic sanctions.
Extended because we, and our allies, are unwilling to admit that the talks have failed, and have no realistic chance of succeeding.

Among those "several points" are whether or not Iran should have nuclear weapons (and ballistic missiles).  When John Kerry is issuing warnings, we can conclude, tentatively, that the talks are failing, and that, at the very least, he fears that no agreement can be reached.

If John Kerry has gotten that far, the rest of us should be able to reach the obvious conclusion.

So why are we talking to Iran?  Hope on our side, and money on their side.
On 24 November 2013, Iran agreed an interim deal with the European Union and the so-called P5+1 - the US, UK, France, China, Russia plus Germany - that saw it commit for a six-month period to curb its uranium enrichment activities.  Iran also agreed not to commission or fuel the Arak heavy-water reactor, from whose spent fuel plutonium could be extracted.  The two sides subsequently agreed that the interim deal would be implemented on 20 January 2014.

In return, the P5+1 and EU will provide sanctions relief that the White House values at between $6bn (£3.65bn) and $7bn (£4.26bn).  They have committed to suspend sanctions on Iran's petrochemical exports; imports of goods and services for its automotive manufacturing sector; and its import and export of gold and other precious metals.  They will also license the supply of spare parts and services for Iran's civil aviation sector; help establish a financial channel to support humanitarian trade and facilitate payments for UN obligations and tuition payments for students studying abroad; and modify EU procedures for the authorisation of financial transactions.

The P5+1 and EU have also committed to facilitate Iran's access to $4.2bn in restricted funds on a set schedule at regular intervals throughout the six-month period.
So, in effect, we are paying them to talk to us, and, in return are getting promises to suspend some of their efforts to get nuclear weapons.

Michael Ledeen thinks that we should learn from history.
It's not Barack Obama's unique failure; the same thing happened to Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.  Both of them came to believe they had a deal with Khamenei, and both of them were rudely disabused of their error when the Iranians walked away.  Bush's secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, was so sure it was a done deal, and so intent on getting it signed and sealed, that she issued three hundred visas over a single weekend in September 2006, for passengers to travel on Ali Larijani's plane to New York for a signing ceremony at the UN.   She then flew to New York to await the Persians.  But Larijani's plane sat on the tarmac in Tehran, and neither he nor the 300 ever came.

It's time for serious students and policy makers to draw appropriate conclusions from this consistent pattern, and to rethink their Iran policy views.

The basic conclusion: Khamenei does not want a deal with the United States (aka “The Great Satan”).  Obama has been pursuing a strategic alliance with Iran since 2008, well before his inauguration and even before his election.  During the election campaign he quietly dispatched retired Ambassador William Miller to Tehran to inform the mullahs that a new era in Iranian-American relations was about to begin, and the "dialogue" between Washington and Tehran has continued for more than six years.  No sensible person doubts Obama's willingness to be generous to the Iranians.  Any lingering skepticism should be definitively eliminated by the latest "extension," which reportedly bestows $700 million on Khamenei every month for continuing to talk.
What does Ledeen think we should do?  Support those inside Iran — and there are millions of them — who want to overthrow this evil regime.

I have no idea whether that could work, now, but I do think it would be better than our current delusional policy.  Unfortunately, we are probably stuck with that policy until we have a new president in 2017.
- 9:00 AM, 25 November 2014   [link]

"Protests" Or "Rioting Mainly For Fun And Profit"?  Our news organizations prefer to describe what happened in Ferguson, Missouri last night with the first word, although admitting that there was some vandalism and looting.  But even that, they often imply, was triggered by righteous anger at the decision of the grand jury not to indict Officer Darren Wilson.

But they very seldom — these days — describe similar behavior by young white men, for example the "pumpkin riot" in New Hampshire, as partly a protest, or as having any understandable motives.

In fact, there is considerable overlap in motives between the rioters in New Hampshire and Missouri.  Some young men find it fun to break things, set fires, and pick fights with the police.  Which they will do, given a chance, after their team wins — or loses — a big game.  Or a big court verdict.

What makes the Ferguson riot different from the New Hampshire riot is that many of the Ferguson rioters are also motivated by profit, by the chance to get electronics, food, clothes, and liquor at one hundred percent discounts.

There are, of course, people on the far left in Ferguson (including Communists) who are rioting mainly for political reasons, but I think we should recognize that many are out in the streets more for fun and loot than making a political statement.

(Long-time readers will recognize the ideas of Edward Banfield, especially the ideas in his wildly controversial book, The Unheavenly City, and the revised version, The Unheavenly City Revisited.

Today I learned that he made all of his works, including that book, available, free.  The scans aren't great, but they are readable.)
- 7:21 AM, 25 November 2014   [link]