November 2015, Part 4

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Apparently, Washington State Governor Jay Inslee has never heard about the Ice Ages.
Gov. Jay Inslee is headed on Friday to Paris to show the state’s commitment to combat what he calls the “the scourge” of climate change as he attends an international conference expected to draw tens of thousands of people.

“We are the first generation to feel the sting of climate change, and we are the last to be able to do something about it,” Inslee said in an interview with The Seattle Times.
Because I am pretty sure that humans felt the sting of climate change during the Ice Ages, especially the last one.

And I am also pretty sure that Jay Inslee is unfamiliar with the Holocene Optimum.

So far, Governor Inslee has not changed many minds on global warming, which may explain why he is using such apocalyptic language.  In the last session of the legislature he was unable to get the lower house of Washington's legislature, controlled by Democrats, to even vote on his proposals for reducing carbon dioxide emissions.
- 7:55 PM, 30 November 2015   [link]

"Yes, We Should Consider Refugees’ Religion"  Despite what President Obama, and many other Democrats, say.

To see that, if you don't already — or if you want an argument to pass on to a friend — try this little thought experiment.  Suppose you are commanding a small boat that has come to rescue refugees, who are in danger of immediate attack from ISIS forces.

There are two groups, each large enough to fill your boat.  One group consists of Yazidis, the other of orthodox Sunnis.  If you don't take the Yazidis, you haven't been paying enough attention to stories like this one.
Three more mass graves have been found in northern Iraq - a day after the boob-trapped remains of 120 Yazidis were discovered nearby.

The graves are believed to contain between 80 to 100 bodies and were found in and around Sinjar, which was recaptured from ISIS militants earlier this month.

It comes a day after a mass grave rigged with explosives and believed to hold the remains of more than 120 ISIS victims, was discovered in the town.
. . . .
Another mass grave found in the area was believed to hold the bodies of some 80 women aged from 40 to around 80 who one official said may have been executed because they were deemed too old to enslave and rape.
The Sunnis are likely to survive if captured by ISIS, the Yazidis, except for those take as sex slaves, won't.

Rescuing the Yazidis first in that situation is the obvious thing to do; it is also, as Michael Mukasey reminds us, consistent with the law.
Americans have heard a lot of nonsense in the past week about the role of religion in our refugee policy – from both sides. Senator Ted Cruz has been derided, mostly justly, for saying that no Muslim refugees – but only Christians – should be admitted to this country from the killing fields of Syria and Iraq.  But President Obama’s angry reaction that use of a “religious test” for evaluating asylum seekers would be “shameful” and “not American” is even more wrongheaded.  “That's not who we are,” he said to an audience in Turkey, apparently in response to Cruz. “We don’t have religious tests to our compassion.”

Except we do.  It’s in the law.

The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which governs these issues, defines “refugee” as someone who has fled from his or her home country and cannot return because he or she has a well-founded fear of persecution on account of “religion” – as well as race, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group.  This certainly doesn’t let us use a religious test to filter otherwise-eligible immigrants out.   But it does mean that when we’re deciding who to admit as refugees, religion matters.
Does President Obama know about that law?  Possibly.  Does he care?  It's hard to say.

(For the record:  We have accepted some Yazidi refugees; there is, for example, a small group in Lincoln, Nebraska.)
- 4:05 PM, 30 November 2015   [link]

General Petraeus Versus Candidate Obama, 2007:  There is a telling story in this long (6,689 words) article by Stephen Hayes and Thomas Joscelyn:
Four months before he was elected president, Obama traveled to Iraq for briefings on the war he had long opposed.  He met with General David Petraeus, who was then seeking to consolidate U.S. and coalition gains resulting from the surge in American forces and the Anbar Awakening.  When Petraeus insisted that Iraq, not Afghanistan, was the central front in the war against al Qaeda, Obama challenged him, arguing that Al Qaeda in Iraq—the organization that would grow to become ISIS—had little ambition or reach beyond Iraq.

According to an account of the meeting in The Endgame: The Inside Story of the Struggle for Iraq, from George W. Bush to Barack Obama, by New York Times correspondent Michael Gordon and General Bernard E. Trainor, Obama questioned “whether al Qaeda in Iraq presented a threat to the United States.”  He said: “If AQI has morphed into a kind of mafia then they are not going to be blowing up buildings.”  Petraeus pointed to an attempted attack in Glasgow, Scotland, in 2007, as an example of AQI’s reach and expressed concern about “the potential of AQI to expand its influence to Syria and Lebanon.”  Obama was unmoved.  “The al Qaeda leadership is not here in Iraq.  They are there,” Obama said, pointing to Pakistan on a map.

It was an instructive exchange.  Obama, a first-term senator with no experience in military or intelligence matters, challenged the general who had beaten back a jihadist insurgency in Iraq, led a remarkable turnaround in the country, and was a leading figure in America’s broader war on terror.  The assessments Petraeus offered were based on years of personal experience guiding U.S. troops against jihadist armies generally, and Al Qaeda in Iraq specifically, and they were bolstered by mountains of intelligence reporting on the enemy, its objectives, and its practices.

Obama simply thought he knew better. His challenge wasn’t based on facts that contradicted Petraeus, or on facts at all.  Rather, Obama made a series of assertions based on nothing more than his long-held conviction that Iraq was a distraction from the war on terror.  And when he was presented with evidence that contradicted his thesis, Obama simply set it aside and restated his own view.  It’s a pattern that would play out repeatedly throughout his presidency.
(Emphasis added.)

Even General Petraeus couldn't confuse Obama with facts.  And neither could anyone else, according to the other stories in that article.

(Here's the book they refer to.

Some will wonder why Obama, after that encounter, chose Petraeus to be head of the CIA.  Most likely — and I hate to be so cynical — to keep Petraeus from criticizing Obama, openly.)
- 9:37 AM, 30 November 2015   [link]

The Climate Summit In Paris Will End In Honest Disagreement — Or Dishonest Agreement:  And it won't matter very much, to the earth's temperature, which.

To understand that consider how three countries, China, the United States, and India are likely to act, during the next ten years.  China is has been growing rapidly, and has been able to stay stable, politically, because of that.  In effect, the Chinese Communist Party has made a deal with the Chinese people:  We will keep the country's economy growing, if you stay passive politically.  And there is no way, at present, for them to keep the economy growing without using more and more fossil fuels.

In the United States, the Republicans have what looks like a lasting majority in the House of Representatives.   To keep that, they will reject any serious measures, for example, a high "carbon" tax, that would slow the economy even further.  Moreover, many of them have strong support from voters and contributors who have been hurt, or would be hurt, by such measures.

For India, with its mass of poor people, development will, for some time, trump any worries about climate change.  Oh, it is possible to imagine India accepting gifts of solar or wind power facilities, but not to an extent that they matter much in India's economy.

And for the smaller nations, rich or poor, it really doesn't matter much what they do, if the three largest emitters of carbon dioxide don't drastically reduce their emissions.

(For the record:  Naturally, I would prefer honest disagreement to the alternative.

You can see how unserious the Obama administration is about global warming, by their indifference to the closing of nuclear power plants, such as this one in upstate New York.   That indifference is more than matched by the hypocrisy of the Cuomo administration.

Obama has made some symbolic gestures toward nuclear power, but that's about all.

I'll repeat what I have said before:  If you think global warming is a serious threat — and can do arithmetic — you will favor the replacement of fossil fuel plants by nuclear plants.)
- 8:04 AM, 30 November 2015   [link]

Steven Hayward's Weekly Collection of pictures.

My favorites were the first Ramirez cartoon, and the "Huff Post" cartoon.
- 6:38 AM, 30 November 2015   [link]

Ted Cruz, Preacher's Son:  When I was growing up, many of the people I knew believed that preachers' sons were especially likely to misbehave.  They were, we thought, under extra pressure to behave well all the time and reacted as many normal boys would in that situation:  They didn't commit more serious crimes, but they were more likely to defy authority and commit minor kinds of mischief.

That belief is probably not true, statistically, but just reflects that fact that we notice it more when a preacher's son misbehaves.

But it still amuses me to see Senator Cruz, in his time in the Senate, and in his presidential campaign, fit that old stereotype, since he is, as a matter of fact, a preacher's son.

And he has had, as anyone can tell from his biography the most "establishment" career of any of the Republican presidential candidates.  (Hillary Clinton would match him on the Democratic side.)  So, he would have even more reason to act up — if you believed that old theory about preachers' sons.

(This topic will remind some of you of the Dusty Springfield song.)
- 9:55 AM, 29 November 2015   [link]

The Venezuelan Election Campaign Is Getting Rough:  Very rough.
No sooner had the campaign for Venezuela’s Parliamentary elections began that acts of violence began.   There have been at least seven acts of violence during campaign events.  Curiously, all of them have been against the opposition.  These are not simple threats or side shows.  As shown above, one of these incidents involved hooded activists, most wearing the emblematic Chavista red shirts, some of them holding machine guns.

Then, two nights ago, as an opposition rally was winding down, the Secretary General of Accion Democratica in Guarico State, Luis Manul Diaz, was shot death.  This was no ordinary rally, the wife of jailed opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, Lilian Tintori, was present and close to the shots, there were over three thousand people in attendance and the bullets sprayed walls and luckily did not hit anyone else.

When the violence follows Maduro’s statements that Chavismo will win the elections “Como sea” (In any way…”), it is difficult to dismiss the meaning of these acts of violence.  But when there are deaths involved, it becomes particularly dangerous to dismiss the violence or not remind the Government that it is in charge of law and order.
Rough, because the polls show that the opposition is almost certain to win.
Parliamentary elections will be held in Venezuela on 6 December 2015.[3]  Members of the opposition have speculated that President Nicolás Maduro may suspend the elections, but Maduro has stated the elections will happen even under the most adverse circumstances.[4] Polls show the opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable leading by comfortable margins the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela, giving them a chance to retake the National Assembly for the first time since the early 2000s.[5]
By "comfortable margin" they mean about 50-25 percent, according to polls taken last month.  (I have no idea how accurate polls are in Venezuela, but that's a pretty big margin.)

If the opposition coalition wins on 6 December, the size of their win will matter.  As in the United States, some legislative actions require two-thirds majorities.

Caracas Chronicles has a vote-to-seats calculator that you can use to predict the outcome — if you happen to know what the popular vote will be.  According to the authors, it takes into account some of the peculiarities of the election system.
What the system does do is over-represent rural states, which pick more representatives per head of population than urban states.  This is a consequence of having only one chamber, because you must design the system in a way that small states are guaranteed some weight in the House.  Historically, the opposition vote has been bunched mostly on urban areas, while chavismo has been stronger on rural states; giving them an additional edge.  As a consequence simulations tend to favor PSUV if the election is close, but switch to creating oversized majorities for whichever side is the winner, when the election is not close.

And this election seems anything but close.
(You can see the Chavista advantage in the previous election; the popular vote was almost tied (48.2-47.2%), but the Chavistas won a solid majority of seats (98-64).)

I have no idea what will happen if, as seems likely, the opposition controls the legislature while Nicolas Maduro continues as president.  (His term expires in 2018.)

(Here's the Wikipedia biography of Leopoldo Lopez, who, they say, "has become the most popular politician in Venezuela".)
- 10:31 AM, 28 November 2015   [link]

Black Friday Deals Aren't Special:  But there are Internet tools that will let you find deals, according to Brian X. Chen.
Black Friday, which has traditionally been the moment to flock to stores for steep discounts, and which has evolved to also include major online sales events for retailers like Amazon, Best Buy and Walmart, is not all that it is billed to be.  We asked J. D. Levite, the deals editor of the product recommendations website The Wirecutter, for some data on just how beneficial the deals are on Black Friday — and the answer was not encouraging.

Year round, Mr. Levite and his team track product prices across the web to unearth discounts on goods of all types, from gadgets to kitchenware.  They also look at whether the product is high quality and durable based on their own testing and other reviews, and whether the seller or brand has a reasonable return or warranty policy.  By those measures, Mr. Levite said, only about 0.6 percent, or 200 out of the approximately 34,000 deals online, which typically carry the same price tags inside retailers’ physical stores, will be good ones on Black Friday.  “There are just more deals on that day than any other day of the year,” he said. “But for the most part, the deals aren’t anything better than what you’d see throughout the rest of the year.”
Chen goes on to describe predictable yearly variations for some products, and tools that you can use to find real bargains.  For example, I wondered whether Amazon's $247.99 price for the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200 was a good deal.  A quick check with PriceGrabber showed me that it is.

(The camera, a very good "super zoom", is being discontinued, in favor of a more expensive, and somewhat fancier, model.)
- 7:18 AM, 28 November 2015   [link]

CTV Made A Crude, And Very Funny, mistake on their new prime minister's name.  They corrected it quickly, but not before someone captured the screen.

The mistake is so perfect that you have to wonder whether it was a mistake, or whether someone at Canada's largest private TV network was expressing their opinion of Trudeau.

It is also possible that the person who typed that didn't consciously intend the mistake, but said something in public that he or she had been saying in private.

(Odd fact:  CTV means Canadian Television, but not officially.  According to Wikipedia. anyway.)
- 10:26 AM, 27 November 2015   [link]

George Will Has Some Fun, Surveying our college campuses.

Here's how he begins:
Give thanks this day for some indirect blessings of liberty, including the behavior-beyond-satire of what are generously called institutions of higher education.  People who are imprecisely called educators have taught, by their negative examples, what intelligence is not.

Melissa Click is the University of Missouri academic who shouted “I need some muscle over here” to prevent a photojournalist from informing the public about a public demonstration intended to influence the public.   Click’s academic credentials include a University of Massachusetts doctoral dissertation titled “It’s ‘a good thing’: The Commodification of Femininity, Affluence, and Whiteness in the Martha Stewart Phenomenon.”  Her curriculum vitae says she has a graduate certificate in “advanced feminist studies.” Advanced.  The best kind.
And he is kind enough not to spoil Thanksgiving by reminding us that we are paying for all this nonsense.

(If you look at the "Read more" list at the bottom, you'll see that other Post columnists, none of them conservative, agree with much of what he says.)
- 7:40 AM, 27 November 2015   [link]

Black Friday As Retail Theater:  The Wall Street Journal explains.
When shoppers head out in search of Black Friday bargains this week, they won't just be going to the mall, they'll be witnessing retail theater.

Stores will be pulling out the stops on deep discounts aimed at drawing customers into stores.  But retail-industry veterans acknowledge that, in many cases, those bargains will be a carefully engineered illusion.

The common assumption is that retailers stock up on goods and then mark down the ones that don't sell, taking a hit to their profits.  But that isn't typically how it plays out.  Instead, big retailers work backward with their suppliers to set starting prices that, after all the markdowns, will yield the profit margins they want.
(Emphasis added.)

If the TV stations in your area are like those in mine, they will be cheering the performance — but not telling viewers that it is a performance.

And the retailers will — within limits — be happy about all those stories about crazed crowds.  (The limits are partly legal, partly PR.)  Happy because it is awfully easy for customers to think that any sale that attracts crazed crowds must have many real bargains.

(There will, of course, be a few real bargains, some of them loss leaders to tempt shoppers into the store, or on to the web site.)

Recycled from 2013.
- 7:04 AM, 27 November 2015   [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.)
- 10:51 AM, 26 November 2015   [link]

Public Policy Polling Knew Who Would Win This Contest:  But they ran their poll, anyway.
Donald Trump leads PPP's newest poll by a wide margin...on which candidate Americans think would be the most likely to say something inappropriate at the table and ruin Thanksgiving Dinner. 46% say they think Trump would be the candidate most likely to ruin Thanksgiving, as much as all the rest of the candidates combined.   Hillary Clinton at 22%, Bernie Sanders at 7%, Jeb Bush and Ben Carson at 6%, Ted Cruz at 4%, and Marco Rubio at 1% round out the standings on who people think would be most likely to wreck the holiday.
PPP probably even knew who would come in second.
- 8:36 AM, 25 November 2015   [link]

Andrew Malcolm's Weekly Collection of jokes.

Malcolm liked this one best:
Fallon: Bernie Sanders got an endorsement from the American Postal Workers Union. Well, Bernie Sanders' neighbor got the endorsement meant for Bernie. But Sanders got it eventually.
I din't see any that I particularly liked, so I decided to take a big jump and link to this David Low biography, where you will see one of the funniest political cartoons ever drawn, "Rendezvous".

(Incidentally, I had not realized — though I should have — that "many [British] citizens felt disdain for his depictions of appeasement".)
- 8:16 AM, 25 November 2015   [link]