Last updated:
8:32 AM, 19 December 2014



Jim Miller on Politics

  Email:
jimxc1 at gmail.com



What's he reading? Francis Parkman.

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<pudge/*>
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Media Blogs:
Andrew Malcolm
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R-Rated:
Horse's A**
Huffington Post

*new



Pseudo-Random Thoughts

The Curious Case Of The Missing Banks:  In Tuesday's Wall Street Journal, there was a pair of articles that puzzled me.  In the second article (which I won't bother to link to because I found it confusing), the Journal described the findings of a McKinsey report on world-wide banking profitability.
U.S. banks are leading the recovery, though profitability is still well off precrisis highs.   With profits of $114 billion in 2013, U.S. banks earned slightly less than the record they produced in 2007.
So — take your pick — US banks are almost earning record profits, or they are still far from their peak.

But put that aside (unless you have some reason to analyze the banking industry) and consider this point:  The US banking industry is making more money than it did a few years ago.   Profits, in other words, are growing.

So, you would expect those growing profits would attract new entrants, that businessmen would be founding new community banks, especially in fast-growing communities.

But that hasn't been happening according to the first article, describing an unusual case of an unhappy businessman setting up his own bank
Bill Greiner is fed up with banks. But instead of quietly seething or complaining to customer service, the 48-year-old is taking a more radical approach: He is trying to launch his own lender.

Mr. Greiner’s proposal, filed with regulators in October, is the first deposit-insurance application for a new bank that the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. has received all year.  If Primary Bank, Mr. Greiner’s proposed firm, wins approval, it would be only the second new bank the FDIC has cleared in the U.S. since 2010.  The FDIC declined to comment on Primary Bank.
If you read the whole article, you'll see that Greiner is planning to exploit a niche market of local businesses that have had trouble getting loans from larger, branch banks.  This is a standard tactic, and was often successful in the past, because a community bank can exploit local knowledge to make loans that a large bank wouldn't.

So, why is Greiner the only one doing this, the only one setting up such a bank?

The article mentions "renewed regulatory scrutiny, competition for a limited pool of loans and low interest rates" as problems for banks, but doesn't explain why they are such severe problems for new community banks.  Recall that banks as whole are profitable, and that their profits have been growing, which should make it easier to start new banks.

No doubt fear of another collapse is part of the explanation, but I can't help wondering whether increased regulation, especially Dodd-Frank, isn't the main reason we aren't seeing the new banks that we ought to see.

Something to think about, especially if you happen to watch "It's a Wonderful Life" this Christmas season.
- 8:32 AM, 19 December 2014   [link]


The Baby Bird That Pretends It's A Caterpillar:  A poisonous caterpillar
Let’s say you’re a baby bird.  In particular, you’re a chick belonging to the species Laniocera hypopyrra, which also goes by the elegant common name of the cinereous mourner.  You hatch out of your egg and find yourself in a nest up in tree in a rain forest in Peru.  You can’t fly. You can only wait for your parents to bring you food.  You are, in other words, easy pickings.

So what might you do to avoid getting snatched up by a predator?  Perhaps you might hold very still so as not to attract attention.  Perhaps you might also grow dull, bark-colored feathers to help you blend into you background.

If you’re a cinereous mourner, however, this is not what you do.  As you can see in this video, you grow brilliant orange plumage.  You make yourself absurdly easy to see.
And you look and act like a poisonous caterpillar (as yet unnamed) that is found in those same tree tops.

(This example of Batesian mimicry is the first to be found in a bird.)
- 7:10 AM, 19 December 2014   [link]


Methane On Mars:  Astronomers have detected "plumes" of methane on Mars.

Methane plumes on Mars

"Methane is quickly destroyed in the Martian atmosphere in a variety of ways, so our discovery of substantial plumes of methane in the northern hemisphere of Mars in 2003 indicates some ongoing process is releasing the gas," said Dr. Michael Mumma of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.  "At northern mid-summer, methane is released at a rate comparable to that of the massive hydrocarbon seep at Coal Oil Point in Santa Barbara, Calif."

Methane -- four atoms of hydrogen bound to a carbon atom -- is the main component of natural gas on Earth.  It's of interest to astrobiologists because organisms release much of Earth's methane as they digest nutrients.  However, other purely geological processes, like oxidation of iron, also release methane.  "Right now, we don’t have enough information to tell if biology or geology -- or both -- is producing the methane on Mars," said Mumma.  "But it does tell us that the planet is still alive, at least in a geologic sense.  It's as if Mars is challenging us, saying, hey, find out what this means." Mumma is lead author of a paper on this research appearing in Science Express Jan. 15.

If microscopic Martian life is producing the methane, it likely resides far below the surface, where it's still warm enough for liquid water to exist. Liquid water, as well as energy sources and a supply of carbon, are necessary for all known forms of life.
Bacterial life is so ubiquitous here on earth that I have long thought that we would find it on Mars, too, with the right kind of search.  It is just possible that such life might be very useful to us, as a few extremophiles have proved to be, here on earth.

The Curiosity Rover also detected the methane, and has found some carbon compounds, which gives us more weak evidence for life on Mars.

(Here's the Wikipedia article on methane.)
- 10:17 PM, 18 December 2014   [link]


I Can Think Of Two Countries Where Relations With The United States Have Improved Since Barack Obama Became President:  Iran and Cuba.

No doubt there are a few others; there are many countries, and I don't claim to be familiar with our relations with all of them.

But I can't think of any important democratic country where relations with the United States have improved, long term.

Nor can I think of any significant gains for the United States that have come out of Obama's negotiations with Iran and Cuba.
- 8:17 AM, 18 December 2014   [link]


It Isn't Every Week That Seattle "Congressman-For-Life" Jim McDermott And Florida Senator Marco Rubio Agree:  So, it is worth mentioning, when it happens.  The other day, Congressman McDermott said that President Obama doesn't know how to negotiate; today, Senator Rubio agreed.
Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) laid into President Barack Obama’s impending normalization of relations between the U.S. and Cuba on Fox News Wednesday morning, saying Obama had traded away concessions for “symbolic gestures,” and that Obama was “the worst negotiator that we’ve had as president…maybe in the modern history of the country.”
This accidental agreement would probably embarrass both men — assuming Congressman McDermott is capable of embarrassment.

And, no, I don't think this agreement reflects a new era of bipartisanship.  (But I do think that some pragmatic Democrats are going to be looking for ways to work with Republicans, even if that puts them in opposition to President Obama.)
- 1:39 PM, 17 December 2014   [link]


Cuba And Venezuela:  Last night, when I wrote that post on the likely bankruptcy of Venezuela, I didn't mention the effects such a bankruptcy would have on the Cuban regime.

But there is no doubt that they would be severe.  In fact, there are some who believe that the Cuban regime would have fallen already, had it not been for the support they receive from Venezuela, especially the almost free oil.  (In return, the Cuban regime has given the security services of the Venezuelan regime important assistance, how important it is hard to tell from public sources.)

So, after the Obama administration announced the normalization of relations with Cuba, I couldn't help but wonder whether Obama just saved the Cuban regime from that almost-inevitable collapse.

And whether we might not have gotten a much better deal, if we had waited a year or two before making that agreement.

(In principle, the Cubans could find another supportive regime, as they did after the collapse of the Soviet Union, but it is hard to see a country that would give them the massive support they need, in return for the problems the Cubans can cause for democratic countries in Latin America, and for the United States.  Russia has been hurt almost as much as Venezuela by the collapse in the price of oil.  China doesn't mind causing us problems, for their own nationalist reasons, but it isn't obvious that they would want to spend the money they would have to, in order to prop up the Castro brothers.)
- 12:58 PM, 17 December 2014   [link]


247!  Congratulations to Congresswoman-elect Martha McSally.
Republicans will have their largest U.S. House majority in 83 years when the new Congress convenes next month after a recount in Arizona gave the final outstanding race to the Republican challenger.

Martha McSally won a House seat over Democratic incumbent Ron Barber by 167 votes out of about 220,000 cast, according to results released Wednesday.
And to Speaker Boehner and his team, for recruiting and backing the candidates who made this record victory possible.

(Here's my earlier post on the recount.

In general, recounts in American elections do not change the results, which is mildly encouraging.

Quibble:  I would say in 86 years, since I count these from election to election (1928-2014), not congressional term to congressional term.)
- 10:15 AM, 17 December 2014   [link]


When I Am In A Large Supermarket And See Someone Who Is Looking At The Shelves, but may not be able to reach the top items, I sometimes offer to help them.*  I never thought much of that small courtesy, and never would have been bothered by someone mistaking me for an employee — which has happened occasionally.

So this Michelle Obama incident, in which she describes being offended by being asked to help get something from a higher shelf, struck me as odd.  At first.

But then I realize that I live in a much more egalitarian world than she does.  I don't think of store employees as servants, and myself as a master.  In fact, the whole idea of servants has always been abstract to me, something I read about in books, but didn't encounter in my own life.  (I suspect that's true for most Americans, which may explain our fascination with shows like "Downton Abbey".)

But there are other Americans, I learned long ago from Tom Wolfe, who do not live in that same kind of egalitarian world.  For a celebrity leftist like the late Leonard Bernstein, servants are not just a routine part of their world, but a psychological necessity.

And the division between masters and servants, in their worlds, is sharp.

And so, by analogy, I think I can understand why Michelle Obama was offended.  But she shouldn't have been.

(*All right.  When I have offered my help, it has almost always been to a lady, but I would help a man, too, if asked.)
- 9:38 AM, 17 December 2014   [link]


Venezuela May Go Bankrupt Within The Next Year Or Two:   Which is a pretty good trick for a nation with, by one measure, the world's largest oil reserves.

If you are wondering how they are going bankrupt, you can find an explanation in this article, or you can just look at the five charts the article points to.
Among oil producing counties, Venezuela may be the worst prepared for lower oil prices, with dwindling reserves and a budget deficit of 17 percent of gross domestic product (GDP).  Oil accounts for 95 percent of Venezuela's export earnings and, combined with gas, it's 25 percent of the country's GDP. Rampant inflation has pushed consumer prices up as much as 50 percent a year, while currency controls have caused shortages of many consumer goods.
. . .
"Venezuela was already knee-deep in a financial and political crisis before oil prices began to slide," Nicholas Spiro, managing director at Spiro Sovereign Strategy, said via email.  "The fact that default is now being considered as an option shows the extent of the oil-exacerbated deterioration in the country's creditworthiness and economy.  Indeed, some economists advising the opposition movement claim the country has already defaulted on its citizens and contractors and should stop prioritizing its foreign bondholders."
(Minor clarification:  The reserves mentioned are financial, not oil.)

In that article, and others, I have seen the claim that Venezuela needs an oil price of about $120 a barrel just to stay afloat; the current price is about half that.

That decline explains the parallel decline in the value of Venezuela oil bonds, which are now yielding something like 30 percent (and are probably a bad bargain, even at that yield).

How did Venezuela get into this mess?  The regime did almost everything wrong; they bought support by lavish spending, they tolerated massive levels of corruption, and they mismanaged the economy spectacularly.

The regime is already blaming the United States for its failures, and will probably step up that propaganda, as the failures become worse and worse.

(The Venezuelan regime reminds me of this old Cold War joke.  In 1987, two Soviet citizens are talking.  The first says:  "You know, Ivan, this must be the richest country in the world."

"Why do you say that?", asks Ivan.

"Because for seventy years everyone has been stealing from it, and there is still stuff left to steal.")
- 7:19 PM, 16 December 2014   [link]


A Minor Technical Point About The "Cromnibus" Negotiations:   We all know about the power a supplier monopoly has to set prices, and we all should know about the power a buyer monopsony has to set prices.

But what you may not know is what happens when a monopoly, a single supplier, negotiates with a monopsony, a single buyer.  And what economic theory and game theory tell us is that the outcome of such negotiations is usually predictable only within a range, often a large range.

And that, I think, is how we should understand the negotiations between the Senate Democrats and the House Republicans.  (You can decide for yourself which side was the buyer, and which the seller.)

An agreement between the two was inevitable, but there was no way to predict exactly where, in the range of possible agreements, the two would converge.

Which implies that those on the left, and on the right, who think that their side could have done better in the negotiations, may both be right.

But it is also true that experienced negotiators, and Speaker Boehner and Majority Leader Reid are certainly experienced, understand that insisting on too big a share can be damaging, long term.  And so it was likely that the two would come to an agreement that no one particularly liked but most didn't hate, which, as far as I can tell, is just what happened.
- 9:26 AM, 16 December 2014   [link]


Seattle's "Congressman-For-Life" Jim McDermott thinks that President Obama doesn't know how to negotiate.
"The president is going to have to listen to some people other than the little group of people around him now,” McDermott said.  “He is all by himself.  He doesn’t have the Senate to save him as they have in the last six years.  He is really in danger of really doing some awful things because he really doesn’t understand.”

McDermott was baffled by Obama’s move announcing his intent to sign the [Cromnibus] bill if passed, comparing it to a bad move in poker.
Is McDermott right?  In general, yes — and possibly on the Cromnibus, too.   The Democrats might have been able to get more in the negotiations if Obama had not announced his position on the bill as early as he did.

But we have to recognize that Obama doesn't care much about the details of these negotiations, or about the fates of the Democrats who are, more and more unhappily, tied to him.  So, losing a few points in the negotiations, or a few more House members, simply doesn't matter much to him.  That's why, for instance, Obama has had the worst congressional operation of any modern president.  I was startled when I learned that the Obama White House was not routinely returning phone calls from congressmen.

But you can understand that political malpractice if you realize that Obama just doesn't care much about many of the things that almost everyone else in Washington cares about, deeply.

(For the record:  There is no reason to expect Obama to listen to anyone other than "the little group of people around him" — and no reason to expect that little group to start giving him better advice.)
- 8:48 AM, 16 December 2014   [link]


Two Different Takes On The Taliban School Massacre:  One from the BBC.
Militants from the Pakistani Taliban have attacked an army-run school in Peshawar, leaving at least 135 people dead, most of them children.

Pakistani officials say the attack is now over, with all of the attackers killed, although security forces are still checking for bombs.
It's the deadliest attack by the Taliban in Pakistan, according to the BBC.

And one from the Daily Mail.
A teacher was burned alive while her pupils were forced to watch during the massacre at the Peshawar school that saw over 130 killed, it has been reported.

Nine Taliban gunmen stormed a military school in the north-western Pakistani city today, in the worst ever militant attack to hit the troubled region.
The BBC's Aamer Ahmed Khan thinks this attack may turn public opinion in Pakistan even more against the Taliban.  We can hope he's right, while recognizing that terrorists don't need a lot of public support.
- 7:52 AM, 16 December 2014   [link]


Did The National Security Agency "Tap" German Chancellor Angela Merkel's Phone?  That was the sensational charge that the German magazine, Der Spiegel, relying on material from Edward Snowden (or his Soviet handlers?), made, last year.

(It was never clear to me whether "tap" was the right word to describe the charges.  In the United States, when we tap a phone, we do so to listen to the conversations.  But it is also possible to gain useful intelligence just by keeping track of what numbers that phone is connected to, and for how long.  In war, this kind of data collection is used in "traffic analysis").)

Now, the German federal prosecutor, Harald Range, who was investigating the charges, has said, in effect, "Never mind."
Range said at a year-end news conference Thursday that his agency doesn't have an original NSA document ordering the surveillance, the NSA has declined to comment and NSA leaker Edward Snowden hasn't responded to an offer to give a statement.

Range said: "As of today, there is no evidence leading to charges that connection data were recorded or a phone call by the chancellor was listened to."
Which implies that President Obama may have apologized to Chancellor Merkel for "nothing".
Which leads to a whole bouquet of new questions: could Snowden’s information possibly be inaccurate, or could it be some sort of disinformation?  What was the Der Spiegel document that seemed so convincing a few months ago?  And: if the tapping wasn’t real, why did Obama rush to apologize and make nice to Merkel?  If true that there was no wiretap, an entire diplomatic drama needs to be reinterpreted.
It is easy for me to believe, even without any direct evidence, that President Obama never bothered to check to see whether the charges were true.

But that still leaves some mysteries.

Meanwhile, Der Spiegel has their story, and they are sticking to it.   And they are getting support from Deutsche Welle, and many German leftists.)
- 8:15 AM, 15 December 2014   [link]


If You Want To Follow The Australian Hostage Crisis, you might want to keep a tab open to Tim Blair's site, and refresh from time to time.

Blair may not always have the most up-to-date news, but he will be funny, and he won't be politically correct.

As usual, it is good to remind ourselves that first reports, in such situations, are often wrong.
- 7:00 AM, 15 December 2014   [link]


Archives

June 2002
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October 2002, Part 1 and Part 2
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January 2003, Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3
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January 2006, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4
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January 2007, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4
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January 2008, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4
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January 2009, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4
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January 2010, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4
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March 2010, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4
April 2010, Part 1 Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4
May 2010, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4
June 2010, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4
July 2010, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4
August 2010, Part 1 Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4
September 2010, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4
October 2010, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4
November 2010, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4
December 2010, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4

January 2011, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4
February 2011, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4
March 2011, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4
April 2011, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4
May 2011, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4
June 2011, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4
July 2011, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4
August 2011, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4
September 2011, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4
October 2011, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4
November 2011, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4
December 2011, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4

January 2012, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4
February 2012, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4
March 2012, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4
April 2012, Part 1 Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4
May 2012, Part 1 Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4
June 2012, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4
July 2012, Part 1, Part 2 Part 3, and Part 4
August 2012, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4
September 2012, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4
October 2012, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4
November 2012, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3and Part 4
December 2012, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4

January 2013, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4
February 2013, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4
March 2013, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4
April 2013, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4
May 2013, , Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4
June 2013, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4
July 2013, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4
August 2013, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4
September 2013, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4
October 2013, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4
November 2013, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4
December 2013, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4

January 2014, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4
February 2014, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4
March 2014, Part 1. Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4
April 2014, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4
May 2014, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4
June 2014, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4
July 2014, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4
August 2014, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4
September 2014, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4
October 2014, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4
November 2014, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4
December 2014, Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3






Coming Soon
  • Plan 17 Conservatives
  • FDR and Waterboarding
  • How Long Do Wars Last?
  • Carbon, Carbon Dioxide, and Crescent Wrenches
  • De-Lawyering and Attorney General McKenna


Coming Eventually
  • JFK and Wiretaps
  • Green Republicans
  • The Rise and Fall and Rise of Black Voting
  • Abortion, Cleft Palates, and Europe
  • Kweisi Mfume's Children
  • Public Opinion During Other US Wars
  • Dual Loyalties
  • The Power Index
  • Baby Dancing
  • Jocks, but no Nerds
  • The Four Caliphs




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