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Monday, December 26, 2016

Review: Blind Goddess by Anne Holt

Audiobook. Excellent police procedural, first in a series, read by the inimitable Kate Reading. The only caveat I have about listening to this as an audiobook is sorting out the Norwegian names and keeping the characters straight.

Hanne Wilhelmsen is a detective inspector in Oslo and the putative protagonist of this series, yet she came across as almost a minor character. The story, hardly a spoiler, involves corruption at the highest levels, but the solution lay more with the foolishness and errors of the bad guys rather than any particularly illuminating insights of the cops.

Certainly others in the series will be worth reading.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

The Blue States are the Real Tea (and States Rights) Parties

The Tea Party movement was intended to reflect concerns of the original settlers who resented paying taxes to England when they weren't represented. Ironically, many of the large states, most of them blue, find themselves in precisely the same situation because of the Electoral College where every state gets a number of electors equal to its congressional delegation. The Tax Foundation did an analysis of how much each state gets back from the federal government compared to what it pays in federal taxes. It revealed substantial inequities. ( For example, New Mexico and Mississippi get back over $2.00 for each $1.00 sent to Washington. That's true of many of the smaller states. Yet because of the electoral College, the residents of those smaller states have far more power in the Electoral College per voter than do larger states. "So California's 55 electoral votes reflect 53 House members and two senators. For seven states, including Wyoming, Delaware and the Dakotas, those extra two electoral votes bring their total to the minimum of three. Put another way, Alaska's three electors will cast 0.56 percent of the 538 electoral votes despite casting just 0.23 percent of the national popular vote. But the advantage doesn't just favor Republicans. Democratic Nevada makes up 1.12 percent of the Electoral College but cast less than 1 of a 100 national ballots. (

On the other hand, because the federal government really has little enforcement power in the states, any president has to rely on local enforcement since it doesn't have the resources to accomplish any president's goals. Marijuana is a perfect example. Several states have effectively legalized the sale of the drug even though it remains illegal under federal law. The feds just don't have enough manpower to enforce it. Trump may discover that enforcing his immigration policies may become impossible in those states where the state (or city) government refuses to assist in enforcement. How he goes about making deals to accomplish his goals may be interesting to watch.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Why Hillary Lost.

My good friend Andy, who teaches political science and who studies election returns and history with a passion that's gratifying, have been spending the past 18 months debating, arguing, and analyzing the recent presidential and senatorial (not so much the congressional) elections. I had made a monetary bet (a nickel to be precise) over 12 months ago that Trump would be nominated by the GOP and probably win. I won the bet, of course, which seemed contrary to the conventional wisdom. Here are several reasons why I think Hillary lost. (Note that I use first names not out of disrespect but to distinguish Bill and Hillary as Bill played a large role in her loss. See below.)

The Democrats had an Electoral College strategy. That backfired. The assumption was that the so-called Rust-Belt states would continue to vote Democratic and that would give them an Electoral College win. Mistake. The Electoral College is an anachronism and should be abolished. It was created as much to prevent the abolition of slavery as anything else, but both parties have used it to their advantage and small states love it so it will not go away.

It's very difficult for the party in power to be re-elected following eight years in office. That’s only happened twice since 1828 for the Democrats, when the modern two-party era started in earnest. In 1836, the Democratic Vice President Martin Van Buren succeeded Andrew Jackson by defeating four Whig candidates, while President Franklin D. Roosevelt succeeded himself in 1940 by running for an unprecedented third term.” FDR was such a special case as to be discounted.

People don't vote for rational reasons. They vote emotionally. Aristotle taught us that 2,000 years ago and Trump (perhaps accidentally) tied into a growing anger at the elites in Washington who fail to understand the impact of the majority of people whose income has dropped over the past couple of decades and who, rightly or wrongly, blame trade deals for the loss of many jobs. Trump appealed directly to that anger. If you listened to his speeches he hammered away on the economic theme constantly, i.e. immigrants are taking your jobs, NAFTA is taking your jobs, and only he can fix that. Hillary, through Bill, was tied directly to NAFTA and she had been very supportive of the TPP saying it was the “gold standard” of deals. Denying later that she had ever said it when there was tons of video showing that she had contributed to the “untrustworthy” image already out there. Not to mention that changing her position also contributed to that perception. She would have been far better to defend her position and argue why it was a good thing.

DNC sabotage of Sanders. If the Russian hacks had any effect it was because of the release of the DNC emails showing how they had tried to sabotage the Sanders campaign. But even worse, in my opinion, were the Podesta emails which showed how the Clintons were enamored of the Washington elite and really dispensed with the “deplorables” (more below) and that she was out-of-touch with the economically disadvantaged, not to mention her groveling before Goldman Sachs and that ilk. As I note below, it was the content that hurt her, not the release.

The constant dribble of problems with regard to the email server hurt. She never faced the issue head on. It should have been dispensed with right up front when Sanders wrongly said no one cared about the issue in the debate. Had she been right up front a year ago, released all the emails, said it was a dumb mistake, I don't think it would have continued to haunt her. Personally, in this day and age, any politician who uses email for anything, on or off government servers, is dumber than a post. Just look at General Patraeus for another example of email stupidity.

Hillary's association with Bill was always problematic, but his visit to the AG Loretta Lynch was horribly destructive. His wife was under federal investigation, so meeting with her, regardless of whether it was innocuous or not, created the perception --and we all know that perceptions are far more important than reality-- that he was trying to influence the outcome. The practical result was that Lynch had to recuse herself from anything to do with the investigation putting FBI Director Comey in the hot seat and he knowingly or unwittingly devastated her campaign with his announcements, first that she was culpable but not indictable (coming barely a week after the Bill visit to Lynch making the appearance of impropriety even worse), then the announcement of more emails just days before the election. The FBI rank and file didn't like Hillary and it showed.

Hillary never campaigned in Wisconsin or Michigan. The assumption was that the Obama strategy of getting out the vote would suffice. Note, however, that Obama had campaigned actively in Wisconsin. Had she spent time there she might have won. The margin was very small. Same problem in Michigan. The Detroit Free Press noted her loss came from , “Clinton’s neglect of the region and her failure to fully mobilize her party’s own base, including young voters and African-Americans.” Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania were each decided by about one percentage point. Her comment calling Trump supporters deplorable needs no analysis. It was dumb.

Trump's savvy manipulation of media. Trump was running rings around the media, especially the Washington press corp who basically just talk to each other and reinforce each others' myopic views of the country. He cleverly used them to keep his name out front with outrageous remarks they dutifully reported and openly despised, thus reinforcing the view that the elites had abandoned the working class who were suffering from trade deals and immigration (whether they are right or not is immaterial.) To reuse an overworked phrase, the media treated Trump differently than did his supporters. They took Trump literally but not seriously; his supporters took him seriously but not literally. The east coast elites totally misjudged the level of anger in the country where traditional Democrats, blue-collar workers, have felt abandoned by their party. These “deplorables” (to use Hillary's deplorable designation) have felt abandoned. She did nothing to assuage their anger. Trump played on it.

Jill Stein may have made a difference in Wisconsin and Michigan where the Trump margin of victory was 22,177 and 10,704 respectively, but not in Pennsylvania where it was over 70,000. Her recount campaigns are a guilt-trip only since she probably lost both Wisconsin and Michigan for Hillary. My guess is the recounts, which involve examining the paper ballots will show no hacking of the computers and that the counts are reasonably close to the total originally reported so Stein is right to feel guilty but it would not have made a difference in the outcome even if she had not run.

Russian hacking didn't affect election except indirectly by revealing how the DNC had tried to sabotage Bernie although she still beat him in number of total votes (ironic in light of the presidential election.) It would have been virtually impossible to hack the voting system. In Wisconsin, the election systems are controlled by the counties sometimes even municipalities and multiple mechanisms abound. But it was the content of the emails that hurt her not the fact they had been released. Again, the attempt to suppress the content argued against her claim of transparency. The Democrats have consistently argued the emails were no big deal. Now they claim they cost them the election. You can't have it both ways.

The election was won not because of misogyny nor racism (although for some that might have been a motivation.) The fact is Trump won the votes of many college-educated women (45%) and blacks (Trump got a substantially larger percentage of black voters than did Romney.) Blacks have continued to suffer economically and feel betrayed by the Democrats. The Clinton campaign took the black vote for granted as they did the female vote. A big mistake.

Hillary continued to be seen as “untrustworthy” and “dishonest” in spite of numerous media reports showing her to be much more factual than Trump in her statements. She hurt herself though after each loss in the primary by talking about how she would have to change her message to appeal to the voters. With Sanders and Trump there was never any doubt about changing the message; it was always consistent.


Thursday, December 08, 2016

Review: Everyone Brave is Forgiven

Let me begin by saying that Cleave is a very good writer.  He has a facility with metaphors, similes and images that is quite startling.  I just found the plot (was there one?) to be worse than thin. You can read elsewhere what purports to happen, I’ll just note that it follows several characters as they experience the first couple years of WW II in Britain and Malta.

Some things just didn’t ring true. The racism experienced by Zachary brought South Carolina to mind, not pre-war England, there just weren’t that many blacks around, let alone American blacks. and I suspect that a black child moved to the country to escape the bombing would have been seen more as a curiosity rather than an object to be bullied.

Note that I was in the distinct minority in our reading club.

Review: Grifter's Game by Lawrence Block

Lawrence Block has to be one of the most prolific and savvy writers.  Having written under numerous pen names during his early career, he has begin reissuing many of them as e-books or under the Hard Case label. Grifter’s Game is one of the latter, having gone through two previous iterations first as “Mona”, then “Sweet Slow Death”.   It was originally released in 1961.

The plot is hardly original: con man meets beautiful girl; they fall in love; she is married to gangster; they conspire to kill said gangster, etc.  But the treatment is original Block and always enjoyable. The end is surprising.  I listened to this as an audiobook masterfully read by Alan Sklar, one of my favorites.