Monday, November 30, 2015

Short: Textbook example of secret campaign donors

Here's a great example of what they've gotten from the Citizens United decision. This Politico article shows how Joni Ernst, the newly elected senator from Iowa, got a huge helping hand from an organization called Trees of Liberty. You can easily skip the first portion of the article and scroll down to where they discuss Trees of Liberty.

The story is chilling. Trees of Liberty pretended to be a social welfare organization, but it spent most of its funds on advertising. It avoided being called out as a political organization by pulling "down the television ads just before the calendar reached the one-month election countdown."

The only good news is that Trees of Liberty is a 501c(4) organization, so those secret donors weren't able to deduct their contributions. That's not much consolation when a few fabulously rich people can flood our political system with money, and 'liberty' means their liberty to do so.

When the Tree of Liberty was a tree, not a slush fund.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Downed Russian plane cools cries for war

After the attacks in Paris, conservatives were complaining how lackadaisical Obama is in fighting ISIS. So what did the conservatives say after the Russian bomber was shot down? Did any of them walk back their calls to increase our involvement? Did any of them say that maybe involvement isn't such a good thing?

Well, no, the conservatives didn't say that. Hardly anyone in politics or punditry admits a mistake, so it's no surprise. But it did mute their cries for the US to get further involved, especially as a strong man dictating what should happen. Maybe it also paused their admiration for Putin as a strong man who gets the job done.

The downing of the Russian plane should give everyone pause. Russia may want to respond by shooting down some Turkish planes or destroying something in Turkey, but there would be a high price for doing that. Turkey is in the NATO alliance, and you can't just start a war with a NATO country without bringing much of NATO down on you. Because of that, I think Turkey isn't going to suffer any major consequences for downing the plane, and Putin is going to have to take his lumps on it.

Charles Krauthammer, a supreme neocon, is backing down somewhat. He said these unexpected words:
"I give Obama credit for this..."
The credit being that Obama doesn't want Russia in the coalition fighting ISIS--the coalition having 65 member countries. Krauthammer was singing a different tune just 6 weeks earlier;
"And he said, oh yes, ‘the community of nations’ will take it on. The community of nations doesn’t exist."
I agree with Obama's limits on involvement. The Syrian conflict is amazingly messy, and no side is going to get a clean win, no matter how much money and troops they commit. If that's true, that there can't be a clean win, what should our strategy be? Does military history provide us with an answer?

Not that I know of. It doesn't look like anyone else has the answer either, no matter know loud they shouted a week ago.


Extras. HotAir has little analysis of what it means to the US role in Syria. Marco Rubio thinks Russia got what it deserved. Paleoconservatives, being a different breed from neocons, say that this clearly shows what a mess Syria is. Weird theories from the internet here and here. Much more sober analysis here, including a reminder that this would be much more common with a no-fly zone. Hillary will want to rethink her support for a no-fly zone if she's elected. Finally, a round-up of crazy courtesy our presidential candidates.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Where is the battle? Why is it there?

I've been very busy with work and reading a slew of interesting books. That prevents me from going hyperbolic over the terrorist attacks in Paris, but I wasn't likely to go hyperbolic anyway.

The attacks in Paris aren't surprising. There are a lot of Muslims there, and some are radicalized. Military-style weapons aren't readily available, but they can be smuggled easily enough from other places where they are readily available. Perhaps the surprising thing is that there aren't more attacks. And not just in France, but all over Europe, in the US, in Canada, Australia, Saudi Arabia, India, Egypt, Jordan. Why are all these places relatively quiet versus the level of bombings in Iraq or in much of northern Africa?

Of course I'm glad that we don't do have all out warfare over much of the globe. But wouldn't it be helpful to understand why some areas are fairly peaceful and others aren't? It is because the security and surveillance networks are working well in the US, but less well in France? Maybe there are other reasons.

Another question is how bombing more targets in Syria, which France has started to do, has anything to do with terrorists acts in France. The problem is in France, not in Syria, isn't that correct? That seems the obvious logic to me, and there would have to be quite an explanation for why the problem is in Syria, and not France. Of course, the French response could be a case of do-something-ism--making a show of a response.

I may be asking questions that don't take many words to express, but the answers aren't going to be simple. Some people, like too many commenters on this thread, want to wipe out all Muslims, or maybe just all violent Muslims, or all Muslims in the middle east. Ideas like that are fraught with difficulties--moral, ethical, operational, etc.

So when I ask a simple question, I'm not looking for a simple answer. I'm hoping for a greater understanding of very important, difficult, widespread, and deadly issues. Don't try to give me a quick fix. It's not going to work, and most of us know that.


Extras. I googled 'terrorist killings in Egypt' and didn't find long lists. Well-known was the recent bombing of Russian plane. Not well-known was the killing of Mexican tourists.

Complaints that Obama isn't hyperbolic in his response. What part of "It's going to take time" is wrong?

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The power of football players

Who knew that college football players had so much latent power? The players at the University of Missouri just deposed the president of the college. It seems that he wasn't proactive enough about racial incidents, and the mostly black football squad exercised some collective bargaining power against him. Good for them.

The racial balance at the university does sound pretty awful, with very few black faculty and staff. The black students have been organizing heavily this fall (as discussed in this fascinating interview), but the knock-out was from the football team. They refused to practice or play until the president resigned. That gave the president a very short timeline--less than a week until the team defaulted on a game this upcoming weekend and the university faced a $1 million fine.

I do wonder what football players here and elsewhere will do next. I hope they use their power wisely. I hope other football teams also use their power wisely. However it's beyond my ability to predict, so of course I can't wait to see.


Extra. Maybe this issue deserves its own post, but I'm not sure. The students (with faculty provocateurs) forced journalists out of the center of campus, asserting their right to deny other people's rights. How quickly revolutions turn to tyranny--one day in this case. Be sure to watch the entire video. Note the faculty member who is ordering journalists out. Also note all the sheep doing her bidding. It's instructive. 

By the way, this is my advice to the journalists: Sit down. Then they can't push you. They have to step over, on, or around you, and it's on them if you get hurt.

The aftermath: praise for the journalists, hasty 'apology' from the tyrannical faculty provocateur. 

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Scary study about non-citizens voting (but not really)

A jerk/troll commenter on Bernstein's blog complained about the 'illegal alien electorate.' I decided to research how large this electorate could be, and the search was fruitful.

Did you know that non-citizen voters could have provided the margin of victory in five state in 2008? The states are North Carolina, Florida, Indiana, Nevada, and Virginia, according to this article.

But before anyone jumps up and screams about fraud and stolen elections, let's think about this. The population or the US is about 320 million. The immigrant population is about 20 million, or 6.25%. So any state with a margin of victory less than 6.25% might have been swayed by non-citizen voting. And if a state has even more non-citizens, they could steal an election more easily by overcoming even more legal votes. In a closer election, like in 2012, non-citizen votes are even more likely to overthrow legitimate votes. This is a travesty!

But wait. This is based on a couple of surveys from 2008 and 2010. In the 2008 survey, 67 respondents claimed to be non-citizens, but still registered to vote. 38 claimed to have voted, and this is out of 338 respondents who said that weren't citizens. You might think that 11% of non-citizens are voting!

But the numbers are much fuzzier than that. The survey sample in 2008 was 32,800. If 6.25% of those were non-citizen, there should have been 2050 non-citizens in the survey, not 338. Can you really extrapolate from this survey when its sampling of non-citizens is so poor?

The survey asked about election participation, issues importance, and selection of candidates. Maybe the survey didn't get data from very many non-citizens because they didn't participate since they aren't voters. The sample of non-citizens in the survey could be skewed to those who don't know they can't vote, but still only about 11% of them voted. By 2010, the percentage of non-citizens claiming to have voted had fallen to 3.5%.

A better extrapolation of the number is not that 11% of non-citizens voted, but that 0.2% to 2,8% of non-citizens voted, or 40K to 500K votes across the whole country.

But don't even believe those numbers. In this survey, respondents may have incorrectly indicated that they were non-citizens when they actually were citizens. Or maybe a lot of non-citizens incorrectly said that they citizens on this survey, and we have to worry about some of those 'citizen' votes being illegal.

Maybe that study is a totally worthless piece of trash. Except if you want to claim:

Jaw-Dropping Study Claims Large Numbers of Non-Citizens Vote in U.S.

Lining up to vote in our their elections.

Extra. My earlier post, showing 100 non-citizens voting in one state, 200 in another. No massive fraud to unhinge your jaw.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Short: The danger of a president with weird ideas

What would President Carson be like? Let's speculate...

We might have weekly inanities about immorality, wickedness, Satan tempting people, and the dangers of believing scientists rather than the bible, preachers, and the goodly prez. That could be easily ignored.

However, what would Carson do in a crisis? Will the soft-spoken believer freeze up? Will he blindly choose some odd course of action based on an obscure biblical passage? Who knows. By the grace of God, we won't find out what he'd do. I may be curious, but I'm not crazy. This is an experiment I don't want to run.

Predicting what Carson will do...

Extras. Inspired by this article, and particularly this sentence: "Now stay with me while I argue that Ben Carson’s views on the provenance of the pyramids actually do matter."

Need another laugh? "So when does the real Ben Carson, celebrated brain surgeon, finally manage to break free of his captors and emerge to confront the impostor?" -- some guy on twitter

Monday, November 2, 2015

Trump's exit strategy

Donald Trump is probably not a graceful loser--does anyone doubt this? No, probably not. Also, his chances of winning the GOP presidential nomination are pretty small, at least according to the conventional wisdom of collective political scientists.

So, I've always expected Trump to bow out of the race at some point with complaints that:

  • He coulda won if he stayed in.
  • He was treated unfairly by the Republican party, or the media, or Fox News, or whomever.
  • He's got better things to do.
This has been my expectation for a while, but why am I writing it now? Because of this:

Trump will negotiate directly with networks on debates

Well, maybe I'm reading too much into this. Trump might not demand too much, have his requests denied, and skip one or more debates in anger. But somehow, some way, he will get angry, go home in a huff, and blame someone else. Mark the prediction--it will be vindicated.


Sunday, November 1, 2015

Rubio scores with rhetoric and (gasp) truth

I'm very impressed with part of Rubio's performance in the recent debate. He took down criticism of a local paper, the debate moderators, and Jeb Bush, and he did it very well and cleanly.

This was perhaps the most talked-about moment in the debate. Rubio was able to turn the tables on Jeb Bush after Bush attacked him. It's worth looking at how Rubio did this.(Video here, transcript here.)

The moderator referred to recent criticism that Rubio is skipping a lot votes in the Senate while he's campaigning. Rubio handled this so deftly that it should be a blueprint for others. He said:
"in 2004, John Kerry ran for president missing close to 60 to 70 percent of his votes. I don't recall the Sun -- in fact, the Sun-Sentinel endorsed him. In 2008, Barack Obama missed 60 or 70 percent of his votes, and the same newspaper endorsed him again."
Then Jeb Bush piled on, saying he was criticizing him as a constituent. This is how Rubio answered him:
"'re modeling your campaign after John McCain... You know how many votes John McCain missed when he was carrying out that furious comeback that you're now modeling after? ...I don't remember you ever complaining about John McCain's vote record. The only reason why you're doing it now is because we're running for the same position, and someone has convinced you that attacking me is going to help you."
How Rubio turned the tables

First, Rubio didn't deny that he was missing votes, He didn't get defensive about why it was OK for him to be missing votes. Instead, he pointed out the important issues facing the country, implying (correctly) that's where the focus should be, not on a tiny non-issue of a senator missing non-important votes:
"For the first time in 35 years, we have more businesses closing than starting. We have a world that's out of control and has grown dangerous and a president that is weakening our military and making our foreign policy unstable and unreliable in the eyes of our allies."
He also didn't get whiny, with his focus on the unfairness of it all. His focus was on the argument being made, and how weak it was.

Rubio pointed out the same newspaper that complained about him endorsed both Kerry and Obama for president, even though both missed many more votes than Rubio did. The clear implication is that 'missing votes' was a smokescreen, showing the complaint was likely a partisan attack, not a major point of principle. Well done!

When Jeb Bush piled on, Rubio was clearly ready. "Someone has convinced you that attacking me is going to help you" is a very raw truth, and it definitely rings true. Bush is not politically very different from Rubio, so his attacks aren't going to be on major issues, but on minor kinks that he'll need to exaggerate in an attempt to gain an advantage.

Don't sweat the small stuff

The truth is that missing Senate votes isn't generally a huge issue for the few senators who are campaigning. However, it's used as an attack because it shows that the candidate isn't PERFECT. Well, duh, we know that. Candidates get into trouble by pretending they are perfect. Rubio definitely avoided this pitfall. Other candidates would be wise to study and learn that technique.

So what is the blueprint for handling attacks? If it's a nothingburger complaint, as this one was, point out how shallow it is, and how hypocritical your opponent is for making such an attack. Of course, this means that you have to live by that standard. I hope Rubio does, as I would hope that all candidates would.

Note that this strategy doesn't help with the big attacks on big issues. That's so different that it has to be a different post.