September 2013, Part 3

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Isaac Asimov On Same-Sex Marriage:  You didn't know the famous writer had an opinion on same-sex marriage?

Well, he did, a conventional opinion for his time and place.  In his second joke book — which is not nearly as good as his — first you can find this joke:

A witness, small, uncertain, and nervous, was being cross-examined.
The lawyer thundered, "Have you ever been married?"
"Yes, sir," said the witness in a low voice.  "Once."
"Whom did you marry?"
"Well, a woman."
The lawyer said angrily, "Of course you married a woman.  Did you ever hear of anyone marrying a man?"
And the witness said meekly, "My sister did."
The joke book was published in 1992, just twenty-one years ago.  At that time, Asimov, a very bright, and mostly well-informed, man, thought the idea of same-sex marriage was absurd — and assumed that his readers thought so, too, as he did not bother to explain the joke.

Beliefs have changed.  And very swiftly.

(I'm inclined to agree with those who think that what prompted the change was mostly the AIDS epidemic, but I haven't seen a formal study of the question.

For those not familiar with Asimov, I'll add that he was quite old-fashioned in his views on families and sex, unlike his contemporary and competitor, Robert Heinlein.)
- 7:36 PM, 24 September 2013   [link]

As You May Have Noticed, I haven't said anything about the junior senator from Texas, Ted Cruz, and his crusade to defund ObamaCare.  That's because I don't have much to say, because I don't know him well enough, yet.

His filibuster seems like a silly idea, since it almost certainly will end in an ignominious defeat, and may well damage the political prospects of his allies.  (He seems to know that — and not to care.)

There is one tentative observation about Cruz that I can share:  Political professionals are good at working with people who disagree with them on policies and tactics; they are, compared to the average person, much better at playing well with other children.   That's especially true of legislators, who can never pass legislation without the help of many others.

So when a senator or congressman comes along who offends those professionals badly, I am inclined to think that there is something wrong with him (or her), inclined to think that he is not even trying to work with others, for whatever reason.

But then I have always been more impressed by the work horses than the show horses.

(And when supporters of Cruz, like Erick Erickson, call Republican opponents of Cruz, "cockroaches", I am even more inclined to think that the fault lies with Cruz.)
- 3:55 PM, 24 September 2013   [link]

We Often Prefer The Legend To The Truth:  Victor Davis Hanson makes that point, and reinforces it with a series of examples from the left.

Here's the oldest:
Many of the progressive tales that Americans grew up with in the 20th century have also been proven either noble lies or half-truths.  The American Left has canonized the narrative that anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti were framed, subjected to a show trial, and then executed as a result of widespread American prejudice, xenophobia, and reactionary fear-mongering.  Their executions sparked worldwide protests, novels, and plays reacting to the intolerance of a morally suspect America.  Yet decades later, most historians, while they concede that the trials of 1921 did not match jurisprudence of a near-century later — nevertheless also quietly accept that the two were indeed anarchist terrorists, and at least one was probably guilty of armed robbery and murder, and the other of being an accessory after the fact.  Bigots do not always arrive at bigoted verdicts.
You can find similar examples on the right, though they are less common, since there are fewer conservative journalists and academics.

(And you can find many similar examples outside of politics.  Mothers often believe lies they have told themselves about their misbehaving children, sports fans often believe the officials cheated their team, and so on.)

I had made a similar argument — though not as well — in a private conversation, a few days ago.  I even cited the same movie, as an example.

Unlike Hanson, however, I don't think these stories are spreading much faster than they did a century ago.  They may be amplified more quickly now, but the telegraph was not a slow means of communication.  And it linked much of the world a century ago.

(Here's a review on Sacco and Vanzetti.)
- 2:04 PM, 24 September 2013   [link]

Here's Andrew Malcolm's weekly collection of jokes.

I smiled at some of them, but didn't see any I thought were outstanding — perhaps because I have been in a bad mood recently.
- 1:37 PM, 24 September 2013   [link]

Religious Liberty Versus Gay Marriage And Abortion:  Last Friday, the Wall Street Journal published a thoughtful op-ed by Mollie Ziegler Hemingway on the conflicts between religious liberty and gay marriage.  (The op-ed is behind their pay wall, unfortunately.)

Hemingway describes three recent court cases in Washington, Oregon, and New Mexico, in which small businesses were penalized because their owners have religious objections to gay marriage.  They held, in other words, the same beliefs that President Obama said he held before last year.

In addition, many minor officials have been forced to resign their positions because they could not accept gay marriages, for religious reasons.

We should expect many more such cases, as she explains in her last two paragraphs:

Long before the lawsuits, fines and penalties starting piling up, many legal scholars recognized that gay rights and individual religious liberty were on a collision course.   In 2006, Chai Feldblum, a legal scholar and gay-rights activist later appointed by President Obama to the Equal Opportunity Commission, acknowledged the conflict:  "There can be a conflict between religious liberty and sexual liberty, but in almost all cases the sexual liberty should win because that's the only way that the dignity of gay people can be affirmed in any realistic manner."

It is only now becoming clear to many Americans what sort of compromise has been imposed on them.

In Washington state, we have had a similar fight, earlier, only over abortion.   Washington Governor Christine Gregoire attempted to force pharmacists to distribute emergency contraceptives that produce abortions.

With unemployment above 9 percent Washington governor Christine Gregoire is working hard to shutter small businesses and force workers from their profession.  The reason?  Some pharmacists and pharmacy owners have religious beliefs that conflict with Gregoire's agenda, and she would rather put them out of business than accommodate their consciences.

These attacks on religious freedom are extremely troubling — and I say that as someone who is not particularly opposed to gay marriage or opposed to all abortions.   Within very wide limits, I favor religious toleration, and I worry about these new limits on religious beliefs and practices.

What makes me worry even more is that so many of our "mainstream" journalists appear biased — I almost said bigoted — against those with traditional religious beliefs on gay marriage and abortion.  If our local monopoly newspaper, the Seattle Times is capable of treating, for example, traditional Catholics, Catholics who hold the same view on gay marriage that President Obama said he did until last year, fairly, it isn't apparent in their articles, columns, and op-eds.

Because that bias is so prevalent, I must add that I am not now, nor have I ever been, a Catholic.  But I do think the broad religious tolerance that the West has achieved over the centuries is something worth protecting, even when it conflicts with leftist pieties.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(Like House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, another extreme supporter of abortion, Gregoire is formally Catholic.)
- 9:22 AM, 24 September 2013   [link]

Bertha Is Finally Back At Work:  After illustrating, nicely, some of the dysfunctional transportation policies in this state.

The project, to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct, can not be justified on cost-benefit grounds (except for some property owners on the waterfront), will not increase the capacity of the highway, and already has shown that it is almost certain to cost far more than promised.

As you may recall, a jurisdictional dispute between two labor unions stopped construction work.  Eventually, as the costs for the stoppage mounted, Democratic Governor Jay Inslee intervened, and got the unions to agree to a truce, so that work could resume.
Bertha, the world's largest tunnel boring machine, has resumed digging its way under downtown Seattle.

Transportation Department spokeswoman KaDeena Yerkan says work resumed at 4:48 a.m.   Monday, after being shut down since Aug. 20 by a labor dispute.  The Longshore union had put up a picket line in a dispute with another union over four jobs moving excavated dirt.
How much did that month stoppage cost?  I haven't seen a firm estimate, but the news stories I have seen say "millions".

Inslee did not intervene until after he had received some rather heavy-handed prompting from some of our "mainstream" journalists.  Like President Obama, he seems more comfortable campaigning than governing.
- 6:34 AM, 24 September 2013   [link]

Where Is The ACLU When You really need them?
A series of videos produced for the National Park Service shows American Muslim students blaming hatred against their faith on the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.  The videos also promoted Islam as a pioneer in women’s rights and addressed a “general ignorance about what Islam is.”

“Islam within itself, Islam itself means peace,” the government video states. “Islam brings nothing but peace if you truly look into it.”
Tax dollars didn't pay for the videos, directly, but the group that did may surprise you.
The National Park Service tells me no federal taxpayer dollars were spent on the production of the videos.  They said the funding came through a donation from the Friends of Women’s Rights National Historical Park.

“The videos are part of the park’s ongoing effort to share the story of the women’s rights movement and show that the fights for human and civil rights – including the freedom to worship – are struggles that continue to this day,” chief spokesman Mike Litterst said.
Amazing, simply amazing.

But perhaps we shouldn't be entirely amazed.  You may recall that the head of NASA, Charles Bolden, said that one of the top three goals that Obama gave him was to "reach out to the Muslim world" and "to help them feel good about their historic contribution to science . . . ".   Someone in our National Park Service may have received a similar directive.
- 6:02 AM, 24 September 2013   [link]

Worth Reading:  Charles Krauthammer on the Navy Yard shooter, Aaron Alexis.

Here's what would have happened to Alexis thirty-five years ago, if he had made the same complaints to police in Boston that he did in Rhode Island.
Had this happened 35 years ago in Boston, Alexis would have been brought to me as the psychiatrist on duty at the emergency room of the Massachusetts General Hospital.  Were he as agitated and distressed as in the police report, I probably would have administered an immediate dose of Haldol, the most powerful fast-acting antipsychotic of the time.

This would generally have relieved the hallucinations and delusions, a blessing not only in itself, but also for the lucidity brought on that would have allowed him to give us important diagnostic details — psychiatric history, family history, social history, medical history, etc.   If I had thought he could be sufficiently cared for by family or friends to receive regular oral medication, therapy and follow-up, I would have discharged him.  Otherwise, I’d have admitted him.  And if he refused, I’d have ordered a 14-day involuntary commitment.
You'll want to read the whole thing.

(Here's the Wikipedia article on Haldol.)
- 7:41 PM, 23 September 2013   [link]

The Swiss Vote to keep conscription.
Switzerland will remain one of the last countries in western Europe with mandatory military service after voters overwhelmingly rejected a pacifist initiative to scrap conscription.  The vote is a resounding victory for the government.

Defence Minister Ueli Maurer said the defeat of the proposal by the pacifist Switzerland without an Army group to end conscription and introduce a professional army of volunteers was a vote of confidence in the current militia system.

“It is a yes to the army and to more security,” he told a news conference on Sunday.

He said he was now cautiously optimistic about a vote next year on the purchase of 22 Gripen fighter jets from Sweden, given the 73 per cent majority in favour of conscription.
According to this article, that's the third time the Swiss have voted against a referendum to end conscription.

(Here's the Wikipedia article on Swiss conscription, and here's very entertaining book on the subject.)
- 7:15 PM, 23 September 2013   [link]

Jerry Large Comforts Seattle's Comfortable Leftists:   Two weeks ago, I argued that you could understand our "mainstream" journalists if you assumed that their objective was to comfort our comfortable leftists, that they were trying, though not necessarily consciously, to write articles that well-off leftists would find pleasant to read.

So, for example, they avoid direct criticisms of leftist leaders, and any subjects that comfortable leftists might find uncomfortable, for instance any of the bad effects leftist policies might have on the poor, or even the working class.

Today, Seattle Times columnist Jerry Large gives us another example of that tendency, in his column on Harry Belafonte.

What Large says is not wrong; for instance, as far as I know, this is broadly correct:

His career soared in the 1950s and 1960s at the same time the modern civil-rights movement was pressing the country to truly embrace equality, and he used his stardom to support the movement.  He was a close friend and confidante of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Belafonte got fellow entertainers involved — Charlton Heston, Marlon Brando, Tony Bennett and many more.  He put his life at risk on the front lines in the South and wove his social and political conscience into his career.

Though I have my doubts about how close he actually was to King, and how much risk he took with his own life.

But it is incomplete, as you can tell even from reading this generally favorable Wikipedia biography.

Belafonte has been a longtime critic of U.S. foreign policy.  He began making controversial political statements on this subject in the early 1980s.  He has at various times made statements opposing the U.S. embargo on Cuba; praising Soviet peace initiatives; attacking the U.S. invasion of Grenada; praising the Abraham Lincoln Brigade; honoring Ethel and Julius Rosenberg and praising Fidel Castro.[28]  Belafonte is additionally known for his visit to Cuba which helped ensure hip-hop’s place in Cuban society.  According to Geoffrey Baker’s article “Hip hop, Revolucion! Nationalizing Rap in Cuba”, in 1999 Belafonte met with representatives of the rap community immediately before meeting with Fidel Castro.  This meeting resulted in Castro’s personal approval of, and hence the government’s involvement in, the incorporation of rap into his country’s culture.[29]  In a 2003 interview Belafonte reflected upon this meeting’s influence:Belafonte speaking at the 1963 Civil Rights March on Washington, D.C

“When I went back to Havana a couple years later, the people in the hip-hop community came to see me and we hung out for a bit.  They thanked me profusely and I said, 'Why?' and they said, 'Because your little conversation with Fidel and the Minister of Culture on hip-hop led to there being a special division within the ministry and we've got our own studio'."[30]

In short, Belafonte has been, for decades, a Communist sympathizer, a sympathizer of a movement that is responsible for approximately 100 million deaths.

Perhaps Belafonte's support for that movement was all in the past? No.

The American singer-songwriter, once considered the “Kind of Calypso,” this week ignited outrage – and plenty of eye rolls – after speaking with MSNBC’s Al Sharpton and saying President Obama should rule like a third-world dictator and toss his GOP opponents behind bars.

“That there should be this lingering infestation of really corrupt people who sit trying to dismantle the wishes of the people, the mandate that has been given to Barack Obama, and I don’t know what more they want,” he said.  “The only thing left for Barack Obama to do is to work like a third world dictator and just put all these guys in jail.”

Belafonte's friend, Fidel Castro, would certainly approve of that plan.  I would like to think that Jerry Large would not, though I don't know for sure.

But I do know this:  The column would have been far more interesting if Large had asked Belafonte about that statement, about his history of sympathizing with Communists, or even about Belafonte's 2011 attack on President Obama.

But asking such questions would have produced a column that would have distressed this area's comfortable leftists, and our local monopoly newspaper has gotten quite good at protecting them from unpleasant facts, in recent years.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 4:01 PM, 23 September 2013   [link]

Wikipedia As An Election News Source:  If you followed all my links in that first post this morning, you found that one of them linked to a Wikipedia article, the "German federal election, 2013".

In recent years, I've found that the Wikipedia election articles are often better than the accounts in prestige newspapers like the New York Times or the Washington Post.  That's especially likely to be true of elections in foreign countries.

For example, American newspapers are unlikely to run anything half as comprehensive as that large summary table.  It would be exceptionally difficult to present the same facts without using a table, unless you were willing to bore your readers to tears, or were an exceptionally talented writer.

Not only is there far more information, there are also standard links to previous elections, so that it is easy to make some of the obvious comparisons.

Though I have begun to rely on these articles, I am still mildly surprised by how quickly they are updated, how fast the news reaches the encyclopedia.

(It is, I believe, still significantly more difficult to create tables for print newspapers than it is for on-line publications.  And good editors would know that many of their readers (and some of their reporters) are not comfortable with tables, and will skip over articles that contain them.

TV is even worse, of course.  You rarely see any tables, and, when you do, they are almost always simple, 2x2 tables.)
- 8:17 AM, 23 September 2013   [link]

The Nairobi Mall Attack:  The Daily Mail has the best account I've seen, although I would assume that some of their details are wrong, as they almost always are in the early stories.

Eli Lake has the best analysis of al-Shabaab, the terrorist organization that has claimed responsibility for the attack, that I've seen.  This may explain the timing of the attack:
The military-style assault Saturday at the Westlake Shopping mall in Nairobi was the first major al-Shabaab attack outside of Somalia since 2010 when the group set off bombs at multiple locations in Kampala, Uganda, killing more than 70 people who had gathered to watch the world cup.

Since then, al-Shabaab and its supporters have launched cross-border raids and smaller attacks inside Kenya, a country that has trained and supported Somali fighters aligned with the country’s weak interim government.  In this same period, though, the group has lost its base of operations in southern Somalia.  The last strong hold for al-Shabaab fell in October 2012 when Somali government forces, along with African Union peacekeepers, drove al-Shabaab out of its last safe haven in the port city of Kismayo.
(Emphasis added.)

So they have been losing, militarily, in Somalia itself.

(The Daily Mail article includes this detail:
Elaine Dang, 26, a graduate of the University of California at Berkeley, has been named as one of the injured and is recovering in hospital today.  She tweeted on Sunday: 'I am recovering.  Thank you for all the love and support - in Kenya and overseas.   Terrorism knows no religion.'
We can only hope she continues to recover from her injuries — and perhaps from her Berkeley education.)
- 7:44 AM, 23 September 2013   [link]

Chancellor Angela Merkel Won A "Stunning Election Triumph"   So say many news organizations, including the AFP.
A stunning election triumph has left German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the apex of her power, humiliated foes and old allies alike, and rung in what one newspaper dubbed "the era of Merkelism".
And the German press.
Germany's press is united in seeing Angela Merkel's emphatic election win as confirmation of her unchallenged political dominance.
If you look at just the gains for her CDU/CSU parties — 72 seats in the Bundestag and 7.8 percent in the party vote — you could come to that conclusion.

But if you look at the results for the ruling coalition, CDU/CSU + FDP, you would come to a different conclusion.  Her coalition partners lost more seats and votes — 93 seats and 9.8 percent of the vote — than the CDU/CSU gained.   Crucially, the Free Democrats fell just below the 5 percent level required for seats in the Bundestag.  So, assuming those election results don't change, before the election, she could govern in a coalition with her preferred coalition partner, but now she must form a coalition with the Social Democrats or, just possibly, the Greens.

It is also just possible that the Social Democrats could form a government with the support of the Greens and the Left.

A "stunning triumph" doesn't ordinarily result in a leader being forced to share power with the main opposition party, or even, just possibly, being forced from power.

(One of the reasons the ruling coalition lost seats was the rise of the AfD party, the Alternative for Germany party, which favors abandoning the euro currency.  Like the FDP, they fell just below the 5 percent threshold and, most likely took votes mostly from the three parties in the ruling coalition.)
- 6:11 AM, 23 September 2013   [link]

Germany Is Voting Today:  If the polls are correct, Angela Merkel's CDU/CSU will easily come out ahead of Peer Steinbrück's SPD.

In American terms, the center-right party will defeat the center-left party, by about 40-27 percent.

So that means that the current government will stay in office?  Not necessarily, thanks to the German voting system of one man, two votes.
As with the old system, every voter gets two votes.  The first allows voters to choose their candidate of choice in their district.  The second is for the party they support.   Every candidate who wins in one of the country's 299 districts -- based on voters' first votes -- automatically gets a seat in parliament.  This means that every district sends a lawmaker to Berlin.

The rest of the Bundestag's base number of 598 seats is allocated based on the percentage of the vote received nationwide -- based on voters' second votes.  Only parties that surpass the five percent threshold are allowed to send representatives to Berlin based on the second-vote count.  It is this percentage that will be announced on election night and which determines the ultimate make-up of parliament.  The five percent threshold is intended to prevent fragmentation and to keep extremist parties like the National Democratic Party (NPD) from entering into parliament.
The current coalition partners of the CDU/CSU, the FDP, a relatively libertarian party, may not make that threshold.  And if they don't, there would have to be a new coalition, perhaps between the CDU/CSU and the SPD.  For a very rough American equivalent, imagine a coalition between the Republicans and the Democrats.

The last time a party won an absolute majority in the lower house of parliament, the Bundestag, was 1957, so coalitions are the norm in German politics.

(The German National Democratic Party is generally considered the heir to the Nazis; the German Left party (Die Linke) is generally considered the heir to the Communists.  So far, the first has been kept out of Bundestag, but the second won almost 12 percent of the vote in the last election, and currently has 76 of the 622 seats.)
- 7:46 AM, 22 September 2013   [link]

Glenn Kessler Gives President Obama four more Pinocchios.

Here's what Obama said:
You have never seen in the history of the United States the debt ceiling or the threat of not raising the debt being used to extort a president or a governing party and trying to force issues that have nothing to do with the budget and nothing to do with the debt.
And here are the facts:
Clearly, Obama’s sweeping statement does not stand up to scrutiny, even with his caveat.   Time and again, lawmakers have used the “must-pass” nature of the debt limit to force changes in unrelated laws.  Often, the effort fails — as the GOP drive to repeal Obamacare almost certainly will.  But [researchers Linda K.] Kowalcky and [Lance T.] LeLoup speculate that one reason why Congress has not eliminated the debt limit, despite the political problems it poses, is because lawmakers enjoy the leverage it provides against the executive branch.
In other words, precisely because they can use it in the way that Obama said they never do.

(It is possible that Obama does not know this history, though many in his administration should.  Many of his supporters appear to believe, honestly, that the Republicans have treated Obama far worse than other presidents have been treated — despite the lack of evidence for that notion.)
- 9:39 AM, 20 September 2013   [link]

The Political Prosecution Of Tom DeLay:  The National Review has a good summary of the prosecutor's sins, and a judge's error.

Here's one detail I had forgotten:  Those who follow the courts often say that a prosecutor can get a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich, since grand juries usually do what the prosecutor tells them to do.  Ronnie Earle, the prosecutor who went after Tom DeLay, had to empanel three different grand juries before he could find one that would indict DeLay.   And this was in Travis County (Austin), where Republicans, especially Republicans like Tom DeLay, would not have many friends.

And here's one detail I don't think I had heard:
That DeLay was convicted at all is a product of judicial incompetence at the trial-court level, also attested to by Justice Goodwin’s opinion.  The jury, justifiably confused about how Mr. DeLay could be convicted of money laundering without an underlying crime producing dirty money to be laundered, sent the judge a question: “Can it constitute money laundering if the money wasn’t procured by illegal means originally?”  Justice Goodwin again: “The proper answer to the question is ‘no.’  The jury’s question about the law was not answered, however.”  Which is to say, the judge refused to answer an explicit jury inquiry about the fundamental legal question at stake in the case.
Earle used our campaign finance laws in this prosecution, which is another reason to think that we would be better off if most of those laws were repealed.
- 8:29 AM, 20 September 2013   [link]

Are We All Martians?  One expert on life's origins, Steven Benner, thinks that some of the conditions necessary for life may have been available on Mars before they were on earth.

Specifically, Benner thinks that life started with RNA, and that some of the reactions needed to turn precursor molecules into RNA are more likely to happen in the presence of borate and molybdate, minerals more likely to be found, billions of years ago, on Mars.

After life began on Mars, it would have gotten to earth by splashes from meteorite strikes.

Not being a biochemist, I haven't the faintest idea how plausible this idea is.

And I should note that there are other biochemists who don't think that life began with RNA.

(Here's the Wikipedia biography of Benner, and, if you would like to be confused on a higher level, you can tackle the Wikipedia article on the origins of life.)
- 7:14 PM, 19 September 2013   [link]

Senator Dick Durbin's Dream?  Or nightmare?
In 2012, Sen. Durbin took to the floor of the Senate and held up a gigantic photograph of a smiling young woman wearing a Muslim hijab with an American flag in the background.  He introduced her as Alaa Mukahhal, a Kuwaiti-born 'Dreamer' activist whom he described as being 'of Palestinian descent,' and who was brought to the country illegally at a young age by her parents, went on to become an honor student, get a degree in architecture and now needed a path to citizenship so, Durbin said, she could fufill her American dream.   Durbin even went so far as to feature Alla on his own official webpage.
. . .
A look her Facebook page paints a different picture of Alaa than Sen. Durbin's glowing ode: she's a potty mouthed, politically correct, Israel hating radical activist who drops F bombs and politically correct buzzwords with equal acumen.

After Sen. Durbin held up the photo of her with the US flag featured prominently, Alaa took to her Facebook page to chortle about how the flag wasn't there to show any love for the United Stated -- a country she said she hated when she came here -- but a PR prop.
(There are a couple of typos in those quotes, as you may have noticed.)

For years, I have thought that we should pay more attention to values in those who want to become American citizens, that we should reject those who do not already have most American values.  And we should realize — as Senator Durbin did not — that many would-be immigrants will lie to us, so we should guard against those lies.

(Here, I believe, is the letter that Mukahhal used to fool Senator Durbin.

I searched for a while, but was unable to learn what her parents did for a living.   According to her, they have been in this country illegally since 1993 but, apparently, have not been bothered by the Immigration and Naturalization Service, or had trouble earning a living here, a good enough living so they could pay for her college expenses.

The reason her parents were forced to leave Kuwait, as she admits, is that many of the Palestinians living in Kuwait had sided with Saddam Hussein in the 1st Gulf War.  In other words, they were disloyal to the country that had taken them in, and treated them relatively well.)
- 3:34 PM, 19 September 2013   [link]

Justice DeLayed is justice denied.
A Texas Court of Appeals has ruled the evidence against former House majority leader Tom DeLay was “legally insufficient” to sustain the conviction.  A three-judge panel voted 2 to 1 to formally acquit DeLay on Thursday morning.
But the charges, and the conviction, took DeLay out of politics for years, just as they were intended to do.

(Here's some background, and I may have more later.)
- 3:01 PM, 19 September 2013   [link]

Goebbels, Mickey Mouse, And Hitler:  That's not a combination that had occurred to me, but it did happen.
Mr. Urwand’s book has little wit or style.  There’s a welcome respite when he shares his research on Hitler’s love of American movies, including the revelation of his childlike rating system.  Hitler had “good,” “very good,” “very nice and thrilling,” or “excellent” on one side, and “bad,” “very bad,” “particularly bad,” or “extraordinarily bad” on the other.  A movie could also be listed as “switched off by order of the Führer,” an ominous review.   (The news that Goebbels gave Hitler a set of Mickey Mouse cartoons one Christmas conjures a mind-boggling image of the Führer sitting by the holiday tree watching “Mickey’s Fire Brigade.”)  But for the most part the author grinds forward.
(In his book, Ben Urwand argues that Hollywood collaborated with Hitler.  The reviewer, Jeanine Basinger, thinks Urwand goes too far with that argument.)

Nazi Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels was closer to Hitler, personally, than anyone else that high in the Nazi hierarchy, so he probably knew Hitler's tastes quite well.

(I got to the review by using Google's news search; you may have to do the same to bypass the pay wall.)
- 7:23 AM, 19 September 2013   [link]

California Is Saving The Planet by helping wealthy people buy expensive sports cars.
To get more electric cars on the road, the state also offers consumers $2,500 rebates financed by a $20 "smog abatement fee," which all drivers in the state must pay for their first six registration years.  The rebate is on top of the $7,500 federal tax credit and $1,000 or more the state pays drivers to retire their gas guzzlers.  The combined government incentives can reduce the price of a Nissan electric Leaf to about $18,000.

But wait: According to state survey data, the typical rebate recipient earns over $150,000 and owns at least one other non-electric car.  About 80% hail from the Bay Area, Los Angeles and Orange County.  The most popular car among rebate recipients this year has been Tesla's Model S sports sedan, which runs between about $70,000 and $100,000.
Since that smog abatement fee is a flat fee, the program redistributes money from almost everyone to the rich.

But they are saving the planet, so that's okay with California.

(Whether they are actually saving the planet, even by their own standards, depends on where the electricity comes from, of course.  If it comes from burning coal, as much of California's electricity does, then the cars are probably helping kill the planet.)
- 6:46 AM, 19 September 2013   [link]

Meanwhile, Back In Barack Obama's Illinois (23):  Chicago became the nation's murder capital.
The city of Chicago registered more homicides than any city in the nation in 2012, surpassing even New York — despite the fact that the Second City has only one third as many residents as the Big Apple.

In new crime statistics released Monday, the Federal Bureau of Investigation reported 500 murders in Chicago in 2012, up sharply from the 431 recorded in 2011.  New York reported 419 murders last year, compared with 515 in 2011.

But residents of Chicago and New York were much less likely to be victims of a homicide than residents of Flint, Mich.  Sixty-three murders occurred in 2012 in Flint, a city of 101,632, meaning one in every 1,613 city residents were homicide victims.  Detroit, which experienced 386 homicides in 2012, was almost as unsafe; that’s enough murders to account for one in every 1,832 residents.
One should not make too much of this increase in Chicago murders — yet.  The number of murders in Chicago peaked in 1974 at 970; the rate hit 34 per 100,000 in 1992.  So murders are down significantly in Chicago (as they are almost everywhere in the United States) from their all-time highs.

But murders in Chicago have not declined nearly as fast as they have in New York City, in part — you knew this was coming — because Chicago has not elected a reform Republican mayor.  Nor have the city's political leaders, definitely including Barack Obama, been willing to imitate the policies that succeeded in New York.

(In the past I have mentioned that Hyde Park, where the Obamas decided to live, has a lower crime rate than Chicago as a whole, as you can see in this neighborhood map.

The Wikipedia article article on Hyde Park explains, bluntly, how this was accomplished.
During the 1950s, Hyde Park experienced economic decline as a result of the white flight that followed the rapid inflow of African Americans into the neighborhood.[9]  In the 1950s and 1960s, the University of Chicago, in its effort to counteract these trends, sponsored one of the largest urban renewal plans in the nation.[17][18]   The plan involved the demolition and redevelopment of entire blocks of decayed buildings with the goal of creating an "interracial community of high standards."[6]  After the plan was carried out, Hyde Park's average income soared by seventy percent, but its African American population fell by forty percent, since the substandard housing primarily occupied by low-income African Americans had been purchased, torn down, and replaced, with the residents not being able to afford to remain in the newly rehabilitated areas.  Yet, despite its classist (and arguably racist) motives, the ultimate result of the renewal plan was that Hyde Park did not experience the economic depression that occurred in the surrounding areas and became a racially integrated middle-class neighborhood.
And the poor blacks that were displaced?  Most of them, I suppose, moved to working class black neighborhoods.

Which was fine for well-off people like the Obamas, but maybe not so good for those with less money and fewer connections.
- 5:28 AM, 19 September 2013   [link]

Was Aaron Alexis, The Navy Yard Killer, A Schizophrenic?   He certainly seems to fit the definition.
Schizophrenia (/ˌskɪtsɵˈfrɛniə/ or /ˌskɪtsɵˈfriːniə/) is a mental disorder characterized by a breakdown of thought processes and by a deficit of typical emotional responses.[1]  Common symptoms are delusions and disorganized thinking including auditory hallucinations, paranoia, bizarre delusions, disorganized speech, and it is accompanied by significant social or occupational dysfunction.  The onset of symptoms typically occurs in young adulthood, with a global lifetime prevalence of about 0.3–0.7%.[2]   Diagnosis is based on observed behavior and the patient's reported experiences.

Genetics, early environment, neurobiology, and psychological and social processes appear to be important contributory factors; some recreational and prescription drugs appear to cause or worsen symptoms.
(Not being a psychiatrist, I am free to speculate even though I have never met the man, much less given him an examination.)

The incident in Rhode Island seems especially telling.
Alexis called police in Newport, R.I., on Aug. 7 after he switched hotels three times because he heard voices in the walls and ceilings talking to him, trying to keep him awake, and he wanted to file a harassment report, according to police documents.

Alexis told police that he heard voices that he feared were "sending vibrations through his body" and were out to harm him, noting that he had gotten into an argument on a plane to Rhode Island and he was convinced the person he argued with had sent three people to follow him.

Alexis "stated that the individuals are using 'some sort of microwave machine' to send vibrations through the ceiling, penetrating his body so he cannot fall asleep," officers wrote in the police report.
As I understand it, "auditory hallucinations" are an especially common symptom in schizophrenics.

(There is one fascinating detail in that Wikipedia article that I will have to come back to in another post:
Environmental factors associated with the development of schizophrenia include the living environment, drug use and prenatal stressors.[2]  Parenting style seems to have no major effect, although people with supportive parents do better than those with critical or hostile parents.[3]  Living in an urban environment during childhood or as an adult has consistently been found to increase the risk of schizophrenia by a factor of two,[2][3] even after taking into account drug use, ethnic group, and size of social group.[37]  Other factors that play an important role include social isolation and immigration related to social adversity, racial discrimination, family dysfunction, unemployment, and poor housing conditions.[3][38]
(Emphasis added.)

So cities drive some people nuts?)
- 7:35 AM, 18 September 2013   [link]

More Evidence Of A Benghazi Cover up?
A CIA employee who refused to sign a non-disclosure agreement barring him from discussing the Sept. 11, 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, has been suspended as a result and forced to hire legal counsel, according to a top House lawmaker.

Rep. Frank Wolf (R., Va.) revealed at an event on Monday that his office was anonymously informed about the CIA employee, who is purportedly facing an internal backlash after refusing to sign a legal document barring him from publicly or privately discussing events surrounding the Benghazi attack.
Caveat:  There may be operational details that the CIA, rightly, wants to keep secret.  But I think it more likely that the CIA is providing political protection for President Obama, and former secretary of state Hillary Clinton.

(Republicans who are investigating the Benghazi attack should — however much it pains them — take some advice from Dana Milbank:  They will be more credible if they stay away from wild conspiracy theories.

And, in turn, Milbank would be more credible if he considered the possibility that the Obama administration has been wrong about the possibilities of cooperation with the Muslim Brotherhood, and other radical Islamists.  As you may recall, Obama's Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, once described the Brotherhood as "largely secular".  He backed off from that, after criticism, but you do have to wonder what he was telling Obama about the Brotherhood, in private.)
- 7:09 AM, 18 September 2013   [link]

Damning Obama Aides With High Praise:  We've all heard of damning with faint praise, but people can also damn with high praise.

There is an old Washington joke about how a senator should refer to fellow senators:  If the senator thinks a fellow senator is a fool, he should refer to him as the "distinguished and honorable" senator; if he knows a fellow senator is a fool, he should refer to him as the "very distinguished and honorable" senator.

I was reminded of that joke when I read this article from The Hill, where former administration officials from Obama's first term talk about the current bunch.
“I don’t think he would have made that kind of mistake in the first term,” one former administration official said on Tuesday.  “Sometimes it feels like there’s a void over there.  There are some new, extraordinary folks over there, but it definitely leaves something to be desired.”
. . .
Former Obama aides and other political observers say that, while the White House is chock full of talent, the campaign-type mentality of first-term aides who sought to win every messaging cycle is missing.
. . .
But [former Obama aide Tommy] Vietor emphasized, “The people in that building are incredibly capable.”
(The mistake was mixing a brief statement on the Navy Yard killings with a partisan attack on Republicans.)

When you say that White House officials are "extraordinary", "chock full of talent", or "incredibly capable", you automatically create doubts about their abilities, doubts that, I am sorry to say, seem warranted.

(Given the number of highly-talented people who want jobs in the White House, it should be routine to staff an administration with people who have exceptional, if not necessarily extraordinary, abilities — if the president is good at choosing people for executive positions, or delegates that job to someone who is.

Incidentally, one of the signs of a failing administration is an emphasis on messages, rather than policies.  Sometimes the policies are good ones, and the administration just needs to explain them better; more often the policies need changing.)
- 5:18 AM, 18 September 2013   [link]

Some Of Us Contain Multitudes:  Well, not multitudes exactly, but more than one set of DNA.  As we get better and better at sequencing DNA, more and more such examples are being found.
But scientists are discovering that — to a surprising degree — we contain genetic multitudes.  Not long ago, researchers thought it was rare for the cells in a single healthy person to differ genetically in a significant way.  But scientists are finding that it's common for an individual to have multiple genomes.  Some people, for example, have groups of cells with mutations that are not found in the rest of the body.  Some have genomes that come from other people.
How can we get them from other people?  In several ways.  Non-identical twins can share DNA with each other.  (In one famous example, this caused a woman to have two types of blood, A and O.)  Sometimes, two separately fertilized eggs fuze.   Recipients of transplants often have cells from the donor at other places than the site of the transplant.  And mothers almost always have some cells with DNA from the children they have born.

There's more in the New York Times article, and there is much more in this Wikipedia article.
- 1:55 PM, 17 September 2013   [link]

Did Seattle Prosecutors Miss A Chance To Stop The Navy Yard Shooter?   Maybe.
A gunman suspected Monday in one of the nation's worst mass shootings, a massacre at a Washington, D.C., Navy installation, was previously arrested in Seattle for opening fire during a parking dispute.
. . .
[Aaron] Alexis was living in Seattle in 2004 when he was suspected of shooting out another man’s tires in what police described as an anger-fueled “blackout.”  According to police, Alexis' father claimed his son helped in rescue efforts during the Sept. 11 attacks while living in New York City.
. . .
Seattle detectives ultimately arrested Alexis a month later.  According to police, Alexis told detectives he had been “mocked” by construction workers and said they had “disrespected him.”
. . .
Seattle detectives referred the case to the Seattle Municipal Court for charges.  Court records indicate Alexis was not charged.
So far, I haven't seen any explanation for the decision not to charge him.  It may simply have been a matter of resources, with prosecutors seeing the crime as less serious, or less interesting, than other crimes that had been referred to them.

(At that time, Alexis was living with his grandmother in Seattle, perhaps because he was not getting on well with his parents, or other relatives.)
- 7:24 AM, 17 September 2013
Update:  Seattle prosecutors are saying they never got the paperwork.  If both the police and the prosecutors are telling the truth, then a clerk or an administrator somehow "lost" the papers.  That's not impossible, but it is — one hopes — unusual.  Since whatever happened, happened nine years ago, it's likely we will never know who messed up.
- 8:02 AM, 17 September 2013
Update 2:  The Seattle Times has more details.
Police said in a news release Monday they referred the case to Seattle Municipal Court — although it is the City Attorney’s Office, not the court, that handles misdemeanor charging decisions.

The Seattle City Attorney’s Office said Monday that it never received a police report documenting the malicious mischief.
. . .
After his arrest, Alexis made a first appearance in court on June 4, 2004, handled by the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, said Dan Donohoe, a spokesman for the office.  At the hearing, Alexis was released on his personal recognizance with conditions, Donohoe said.

Alexis appeared in court again three days later but was released when no charges were referred by Seattle police to the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, which normally handles felony charging decisions.
If you find these explanations confusing, you aren't alone.
- 2:17 PM, 17 September 2013   [link]