November 2013, Part 4

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Another Example Of Dry British Humor?  That was, so help me, my first reaction to this column from the Guardian.

Here's the headline:  "Barack Obama's on a diplomatic roll that shouldn't end with Iran"

And here's a typical paragraph:
But the Geneva deal does not guarantee total Iranian disarmament.  The pact struck last week is interim and incomplete: Iran retains some limited ability to enrich uranium and the like.  It is not an Iranian surrender.  Which is why Netanyahu denounced the agreement as a "historic mistake", making him a lone public voice against the international chorus of celebration and relief.  (As it happens, the Saudis and the Gulf states also oppose the deal, which they think lets Iran, their great regional rival, off the hook: but only Bibi said so out loud.)
Was the Israeli prime minister actually a "lone public voice"?  Well,no.  Many American conservatives criticized the deal, including John McCain.   And not just conservatives; one of the most powerful Democrats in the Senate, Charles Schumer, was also publicly dubious about the deal.

The rest of the column will make the informed reader wonder even more about Jonathan Freedland's attachment to reality.  He appears to believe that peace can be achieved between the Israelis and the Palestinians — if only an American president is sufficiently mean to the Israelis.

It is, to be fair to Freedland, a common belief, especially in Europe.  It is, however common, nuts, to use a technical psychological term.  The Palestinians can't even make a peace agreement with themselves, can't even resolve the civil war between Hamas and the PLO.

So the column isn't intended as a joke — which is unfortunate.

(Freedland is, as you can see from his profile, a serious journalist.  But I think he might do well to concentrate on his side career, as a writer of mystery novels.)
- 1:20 PM, 30 November 2013   [link]

Under Capitalism, Man Exploits Man:  And under socialism, it's the other way around, goes the old joke.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro just produced a modern version of the joke, unintentionally, I assume.
In the midst of a fiery and passionate speech he said “capitalists speculate and steal as we do”.

“I want to tell shop owners of this country, small and medium, these shop owners that you know so well from your neighborhood, they are also victims of capital, of the capitalists that speculate and steal, as we do...because they are squeezed by suppliers and wholesale people, and are also squashed by the big shopping malls, they are twice squeezed” said the Venezuelan leader.

The phrase immediately triggered a twitters' tsunami with the Chavistas arguing that what Maduro really said was that Chavism is a victim of speculators while on the opposite side, the anti-Chavists described it as a 'sincericide'.
"Sincericide", a word I can't recall having seen before, appears to be roughly equivalent to a Kinsley gaffe.
- 11:05 AM, 29 November 2013   [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.)
- 9:54 AM, 29 November 2013   [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.)
- 9:54 AM, 28 November 2013   [link]

Obama's Maximum Feasible Traffic Disruption In Los Angeles, Too:  On Monday, I wrote about the timing of President Obama's departure from Seattle, a timing that could have been chosen to cause the maximum feasible traffic disruption.

After I wrote that post, I looked at the rest of his official schedule for the day.  He visited San Francisco in the middle of the day, and then flew into Los Angeles.  When was he scheduled to arrive?  At 4:35 PM, a time that must be close to the optimum, if he intended to cause the maximum feasible traffic disruption there, too.

The Los Angeles police put out warnings, and Jimmy Kimmel joked about the traffic disaster.
As usual, the President’s motorcade made our normally miserable traffic even worse.   He basically turned the westside of Los Angeles into the traffic equivalent of the ObamaCare website.
I have seen this happen often enough so that I believe that Obama often deliberately chooses times to arrive and depart that will cause the maximum feasible traffic disruptions.

(One of the more ironic aspects of the 2012 presidential campaign is that voters generally thought that Obama cared about ordinary people, and that Romney didn't.)
- 7:04 AM, 27 November 2013   [link]

Good Moms And Free Milk:  Good moms often make cold lunches for their kids to take to school.  They have learned, over time, what their kids like to eat, and are able to make lunches for them that are nutritionally balanced — and that their kids will eat, even when the moms aren't standing over them.

These moms know that one of the best ways to make sure the lunches are good nutritionally is to add a carton of milk.  And, until recently, the kids could get that carton free at school, which most of the moms liked, because then they didn't have to worry about lunch money, or about the kids keeping milk from home in a refrigerator at school.

Now, if this account is correct, those kids can no longer get that free milk.
The Obama administration’s unquenchable ambition to replace Americans’ own choices with those made by bureaucrats in Washington has taken yet another stupid turn, it appears.   Either that, or the federal school lunch policy is so confusing that city officials cannot figure out how to serve milk.

“We’re not able to offer the free milk-only option.  In order to have the free milk, the students are required to choose the required meal component,” Manchester Superintendent Debra Livingston told the Board of School Committee on Monday night.  Manchester has long offered milk free of charge to its students.  Washington reimburses districts for the price of milk — and everything else offered in the basic school lunch — as part of the National School Lunch Program.  But now the superintendent says the district is no longer allowed to give free milk to kids who do not buy an entire lunch.
Apparently, the control-freak bureaucrats in the Obama administration do not believe that good moms exist.  Or if they do know about good moms, are unwilling to adopt policies flexible enough to meet the needs of their kids.

(As anyone who has paid attention to actual kids would expect, these heavy-handed policies are being subverted by some of the kids, who are throwing away the "healthy" food, or trading it for candy or junk food.  There are reports, which seem all too plausible to me, that food waste has gone up sharply under the new policies.

A good mom who was unscrupulous could tell her kids to take a whole free lunch, and then throw away everything except the milk.)
- 6:05 AM, 27 November 2013   [link]

Now They Tell Us Part Of The Truth About Kshama Sawant's Extremism:  When I investigated Seattle's newest city councillor, it took me about thirty seconds to find out that she was a left wing extremist, and that she belonged to a Trotskyite organization.

To learn that interesting fact, I didn't do anything exotic, didn't use any obscure search techniques or sources, I just checked her Wikipedia biography, and then followed some of the links.

But many in Seattle, according to Emily Heffter at the Seattle Times, are surprised by Sawant's extremism.

A few days after her upset Seattle City Council victory, Kshama Sawant made national news when she said the government should use eminent domain to take over Boeing’s factories.

“We are doing the work!” she shouted at a rainy downtown rally.  “Boeing should be owned by the workers.”

The suggestion seemed to surprise people, but it shouldn’t.  Sawant, an Occupy Seattle protester and socialist, has proposed the same thing before.

They are surprised because they trusted our "mainstream" journalists, who must have learned the same things I did in those thirty seconds — but mostly chose not to share them with their readers, viewers, and listeners.

This is an old, old trick.  Years ago, I was fascinated by the way most journalists referred to Angela Davis.   She was the Communist candidate for vice president twice, but they would refer to her, not as a Communist, but as a "militant", or even a civil rights "activist".  (Incidentally, some on the far left were annoyed by the unwillingness of our "mainstream" journalists to give them accurate ideological labels.  They were proud of being Communists, of one variety or another, and wanted that recognized, instead of hidden.)

It is an old, old trick, because it keeps working, because too many of our "mainstream" journalists are willing, even eager, to conceal unpleasant facts about the far left.  That isn't professional; it isn't even, to be blunt, honest — but it does keep friends and co-workers of those journalists happy.  And, as I have said before, our local journalists see as their principal objective, comforting this area's comfortable leftists.

A well-informed reader will notice that Heffter is still not telling us all she knows — or should know — about Sawant's extremism.

And it isn't hard to see why, if you look at what the article reveals about Heffter's own ideology.  She quotes John Nichols, a writer at a far left magazine, The Nation, but no moderates, and no conservatives.  (Heffter should know that during the 1930s and 1940s The Nation was accused, often justly, of being apologists for Stalin.)

You can tell from the article that Heffter sympathizes and, to some extent, agrees with Sawant.  (That is so obvious that the article should, perhaps, have been labeled "analysis", or even "opinion".)

If you want the truth, and the whole truth, about Sawant, and others like her, you will have to look for other sources than our "mainstream" journalists.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(Because I am a nice guy, I will pass on a small reading suggestion for Councillor Sawant and Ms. Heffter:  Take a look at this cheerful book. Oh, and if either of you prefer to read it in the original French, I'll be happy to lend you my copy.)
- 2:24 PM, 26 November 2013   [link]

Another Modern Slavery Case In Britain:  No, not Muslims (which was my first guess), Maoists.
The couple accused of keeping three women as slaves for more than 30 years ran a communist sect worshipping Chinese leader Mao Zedong, it was revealed today.

The pair, of Indian and Tanzanian origin, are reportedly Aravindan Balakrishnan, 73, and his wife Chanda, 67, whose far-Left activities allegedly led to them being arrested and jailed in the 1970s.

They were held by police last Thursday after three alleged victims - a 30-year-old Briton called Rosie, a 57-year-old Irishwoman and a 69-year-old Malaysian - accused them of years of 'physical and mental abuse' and keeping them in servitude for decades.
The Balakrishans were true followers of Mao, since physical and mental abuse, and slavery, were key characteristics of his rule.
- 1:17 PM, 26 November 2013   [link]

Andrew Malcolm's Weekly Collection of jokes.

Three I especially liked:
Letterman: OK, the Obama White House hired a consulting firm on ObamaCare.  The consultants told him the website was not ready.  Not ready.  But the White House went ahead anyway.  Turns out, the problem is the Obama White House doesn’t know how to open emails.

Letterman: So now the Obama White House has hired a consulting firm to teach them to pay attention to consultants.  All taxpayer dollars.
. . .
Leno: Did you see Obama stopped using 'ObamaCare' in speeches?  Now its 'Affordable Care Act.'  A really bad sign when Obama is running from his ObamaCare.  ‘No,’ he says, “it’s BidenCare now.”
. . .
President Obama to a Seattle fundraiser Sunday night: "I’m not a particularly ideological person.”
If Obama delivered his joke with a straight face, it would be the best of the three.  But the fund raiser was private, so we don't know whether he smiled when he said that.
- 8:38 AM, 26 November 2013   [link]

The Sad End of the Duke lacrosse case.
Remember the so-called “Duke lacrosse rape case”?  That was the scandal that briefly riveted the nation’s attention not once but twice.  The first time was in March 2006 when a black stripper called Crystal Mangum accused three Duke University lacrosse players of kidnapping and rape.  Yikes.  The bien pensant commentariat went into overdrive to condemn not just the three lacrosse payers, but the entire Duke lacrosse team and indeed the “racist” culture of white privilege at Duke.

A few days ago, Ms. Mangum was convicted of second-degree murder in the death of her boyfriend who died from wounds she inflicted with a kitchen knife.  That hasn’t made too many headlines, but its is a sad, if ironically apt, coda to the whole sorry story.
As I am sure you know, the lacrosse players were, eventually, found innocent, and the prosecutor, Michael Nifong, disgraced and disbarred.

And the Duke faculty members, the Group of 88, who led the witch hunt against the lacrosse players?  They've done just fine, some even moving on to promotions at other universities.

For example, one of the leaders of the Group, Houston Baker, was given a "distinguished professorship at Vanderbilt University".  (You can find a sample of his thinking here.)

Like Roger Kimball, I believe the incident shows just how troubled parts of our universities are.  Like Stuart Taylor, Jr. and K. C. Johnson, the authors of Until Proven Innocent, I believe this case shows the dangers of unscrupulous, out-of-control, prosecutors.
- 8:01 AM, 26 November 2013   [link]

Maryland Is Cheating On School Test Scores:  As school test scores have become more important, cheating has, inevitably, increased.   Usually that cheating is done in individual classrooms, or schools, but Maryland shows how an entire state can cheat.
Let's not sugarcoat it:  Maryland schools have artificially inflated their performance on a key standardized reading test by excusing students with learning disabilities and weak English skills from the exam.  The policy is so out of whack with the rest of the nation that Maryland schools are excusing students from the test at a rate five times higher than the national average and more than double that of any other state.

The effect has been to drive up Maryland’s reading scores and rankings in the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a test known as “the nation’s report card” that is administered in odd-numbered years to a sampling of fourth- and eighth-graders.
Excluding students who will do poorly on the tests is one of the more common ways to cheat, but this is the first time I have seen the tactic employed by an entire state.

It is probably not a coincidence that Democratic Governor Martin O'Malley has been boasting about the successes of Maryland schools.  (O'Malley, as you may have heard, is considering a presidential run.)

The ones who lose most from this kind of cheating — in the long run — are the students in those schools.  If the measurements of learning are wrong, then the state is likely to choose the wrong policies, likely to avoid the necessary reforms.
- 6:38 AM, 26 November 2013   [link]

Britain Has An Exceptionally Gaudy Scandal, with sex, religion, drugs, and corruption, in which the central figure is a mild-looking Methodist minister named Paul Flowers.

Here's a summary of the scandal, which sounds like the plot of a novel written by an author who won't mind the reviews calling that plot over the top.

One puzzling thing about Flowers is how he got to be the chairman of a very large bank, without having much in the way of education or experience in banking.  Dominic Lawson thinks he has an explanation.
Forget - as you probably will want to - the sordid sexual shenanigans of the former chairman of the Co-operative Bank, the Reverend Paul Flowers.  The question that must remain in all our minds is this: why in 2010 did the Financial Services Authority approve the appointment of this man to preside over a bank with almost £50  billion of assets and 4.7 million customers?

As everyone now knows, he had no career banking experience - bar a few years as a teller, immediately after leaving school.
. . .
Now here is where the Methodist minister — a ringer for Uncle Monty from Withnail And I, as portrayed by the late Richard Griffiths — ticked at least one of the FSA’s boxes.  The organisation (which this year has finally been split up and stripped of its banking regulation role) had become obsessed with the fashionable issue of ‘diversity’.

This did not mean that its staff were interested in differences of opinions on financial regulation:  the term, in its bureaucratic meaning, refers only to sexual and ethnic identity.  It was New Labour, under Gordon Brown’s chancellorship, which had foolishly moved banking regulation from the Bank of England to the FSA: as if in gratitude the FSA slavishly endorsed the so-called ‘equalities agenda’ which that government regarded as its social mission.
That answer seem plausible, assuming "diversity" is as important in Britain as it is in some parts of the United States.  (I suspect him being a minister helped, too.)

(If you are unfamiliar with Britain's Co-Op — I was — you can find a description here.)
- 3:00 PM, 25 November 2013   [link]

So Far, I Haven't Had Time To Study The Details of the agreement with Iran.

So I don't have a position on it, yet, though I strongly suspect I will oppose it when I do know more.

So, for the time being, here are two arguments, one on each side.

It is an interim agreement, not a treaty (which means, among other things, that it doesn’t require Senate ratification).  It is meant as a first step toward a comprehensive treaty to be negotiated in the next six months.  More than that, it expires in six months.  In other words, if Iran and the other powers can’t agree on a follow-on accord in six months, nobody is stuck with a deal that was never meant to be permanent.  There is no opportunity for traps and trickery.

Meanwhile, Iran has to do the following things: halt the enrichment of all uranium above 5 percent and freeze the stockpile of uranium enriched to 3.5 percent; neutralize its stockpile of uranium that’s been enriched to 20 percent (either by diluting it to 5 percent purity or converting it to a form that cannot be used to make a weapon); stop producing, installing, or modernizing centrifuges; stop constructing more enrichment facilities; halt all activities at the Arak nuclear reactor (which has the potential to produce nuclear weapons made of plutonium); permit much wider and more intrusive measures of verification by the International Atomic Energy Agency, including daily inspections of all facilities.
President Obama is hailing a weekend accord that he says has "halted the progress of the Iranian nuclear program," and we devoutly wish this were true.  The reality is that the agreement in Geneva with five Western nations takes Iran a giant step closer to becoming a de facto nuclear power.

Start with the fact that this "interim" accord fails to meet the terms of several United Nations resolutions, which specify no sanctions relief until Iran suspends all uranium enrichment.  Under this deal Iran gets sanctions relief, but it does not have to give up its centrifuges that enrich uranium, does not have to stop enriching, does not have to transfer control of its enrichment stockpiles, and does not have to shut down its plutonium reactor at Arak.
Two observations:  There are always opportunities for "tricks and traps".  According to an article in today's Wall Street Journal, enriching uranium fuel to 5.0 percent U-235 (from the natural level of 0.7 percent) does three-quarters of the work needed to get to the 90 percent, weapons-grade level.
- 1:29 PM, 25 November 2013   [link]

The French Were Planning To Kill Abu Hamza?  The sourcing on this story is unclear, but it is so interesting that I am passing it on, anyway.
French spies hatched a plan to murder hook-handed hate preacher Abu Hamza on the streets of London, it was claimed last night.

Intelligence services plotted to assassinate the cleric while posing as members of the far-Right group Combat 18.

They came up with the audacious plan because they were “fed up” with Britain harbouring terrorists as tensions rose over the scale of Islamist extremism in Britain.

A report, by the campaign group Hope not Hate, also claimed that French spies planned to send fake death threats to Hamza purporting to be from Combat 18 before shooting him with a rifle.
There's nothing implausible about this story — but you would like to know where it came from, before swallowing it whole.

Here's a bit of irony:  The United States may have saved his life by indicting him, and bringing him here for a trial.

(HOPE not Hate is opposed to the British National Party, the English Defense League, and now to Muslim extremists.

The report is not free on line, so I have not read it.  None of the news accounts that I have seen told us where the group heard this story.

Here's Abu Hamza's Wikipedia biography.   In a quick reading I didn't notice any errors, but I am not an expert on this particular terrorist.)
- 7:29 AM, 25 November 2013   [link]

Obama's Maximum Feasible Traffic Disruptions:  When I learned that President Obama would be visiting this area's .1 percent — to extract money from them, in order to elect more Democratic hacks to Congress — I was at first surprised to learn that he would come in on a Sunday.

In the past, his Air Force 1 visits have usually been on week days, and were timed so that there was at least one presidential motorcade during a morning or evening rush hour.

But then I learned that he will be taking a motorcade from downtown Seattle, leaving this morning from downtown Seattle for a departure, somewhere between 8:30 and 9:00, from the SeaTac airport, and was reassured.  Whoever plans his schedules here is again going for the maximum feasible traffic disruptions.

Commuters — unless they voted for Obama in 2012 — have my sympathy.

You can get some idea just how bad it will be from yesterday's disruptions.

(Oddly enough, our traffic reporters appear to be pleased by this visit, in spite of the effects it will have on the 99.9 percent.)

While he is here, will Obama mix with the middle class, even to raise money?  Answer questions from those tribunes of the people, our reporters?  No, and no.

Will any of our "mainstream" journalists notice that his timing is unnecessarily disruptive?  If they do, and some may, they won't share that observation with us — and some, I am sorry to say, may even approve of the disruption.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(It would be easy to change his schedule so as to cut down on these disruptions.  Obama could, for instance, have stayed near the airport last night.  Or left a couple of hours later.)
- 5:09 AM, 25 November 2013   [link]