Archive:

April 2016, Part 4

Jim Miller on Politics




Pseudo-Random Thoughts



As A Single Guy, I Couldn't Skip This Local Story:   Especially in its Daily Mail version.

And I am sure you are at least as outraged as I am.

But that doesn't mean you can't save personal copies of those pictures — for research purposes, of course.
- 4:10 AM, 30 April 2016   [link]


"Venezuela Doesn't Have Enough Money To Pay For Its Money"  That sounds like a joke, doesn't it?

But it's not.
Venezuela’s epic shortages are nothing new at this point.  No diapers or car parts or aspirin -- it’s all been well documented.  But now the country is at risk of running out of money itself.

In a tale that highlights the chaos of unbridled inflation, Venezuela is scrambling to print new bills fast enough to keep up with the torrid pace of price increases.  Most of the cash, like nearly everything else in the oil-exporting country, is imported.   And with hard currency reserves sinking to critically low levels, the central bank is doling out payments so slowly to foreign providers that they are foregoing further business.

Venezuela, in other words, is now so broke that it may not have enough money to pay for its money.
Venezuela needs an immense number of bills because its "largest bill, the 100-bolivar note, today barely pays for a loose cigarette at a street kiosk".

For a dinner out, couples need so many bills that they sometimes bring them in "backpacks and gym bags".
- 2:55 PM, 30 April 2016   [link]


Andrew Malcolm's Latest Collection of jokes.

Malcolm liked this one best:
Meyers: Bernie Sanders visited Coney Island the other day.  Somehow, after he rode the roller coaster, his hair was neater.
I preferred this one:
Meyers: Two of Donald Trump’s children weren’t able to vote in New York’s Republican primary because they failed to register before the deadline.  So, I guess Ted Cruz lost two votes.
(Trump supporters sometimes point to the behavior of his children as evidence that he isn't as bad as almost everyone says; cynics will note that the prospect of being cut out of a will can affect a person's behavior.)
- 2:05 PM, 30 April 2016   [link]


Donald Trump's Generosity Is Truly Remarkable:   As you can see from this analysis of his giving patterns.
Since the first day of his presidential campaign, Donald Trump has said that he gave more than $102 million to charity in the past five years.

To back up that claim, Trump’s campaign compiled a list of his contributions — 4,844 of them, filling 93 pages.

But, in that massive list, one thing was missing.

Not a single one of those donations was actually a personal gift of Trump’s own money.
(Emphasis added.)

It is remarkable how many ways Trump has found to get credit for being charitable — without ever spending any of his own money.

After reading that article, I realized that I give more or my own money to charities than Trump does of his, because I slip a few dollars into those Salvation Army kettles at Christmas time and make donations to the Girl Scouts, instead of buying their cookies

Most likely you give more of your own money, too.

To be fair, when Trump was much younger, he did make a few, highly-publicized gifts out of his own pocket, but he hasn't done so in the last five years.

(Some will be interested to learn that, even indirectly, Trump does not give much to Christian charities.

If you read the whole article, you will have serious doubts about Trump's executive abilities.  The article is based on a list provided by the Trump organization, and the list is an incredibly sloppy piece of work.)
- 8:10 AM, 29 April 2016   [link]


"Now—How Much Do You Charge?"  That's the caption on today's New Yorker cartoon, which shows a businessman asking that question of a singing bird.

Come to think of it, the man could be an economist, though he is drawn as an old-fashioned businessman.

(No link to the cartoon, because the caption is too common to work in simple searches.)
6:45 AM, 29 April 2016   [link]


Labour's Anti-Semitism Problem:  First, MP Naz Shah was caught saying things about Israel she shouldn't have.  And then when former London mayor "Red" Ken Livingstone tried to defend her, he made the scandal worse.

Here's the muted version of the story from the BBC.

And here's the much louder version from the Daily Nail.
- 7:36 PM, 28 April 2016   [link]


On Tuesday, Donald Trump Swept Five States; On Tuesday, Donald Trump Came In Third, Second, Third, Second, And Third:

Specifically, third in Connecticut, second in Delaware, third in Maryland, second in Pennsylvania, and third in Rhode Island.

As you probably recall, he came in third in his home state, New York, far behind the Vermont socialist, Bernie Sanders, so Comrade Bernie has beaten Donald in four of the six most recent states.   (And Hillary in one, Rhode Island.)

This does not bode well for the general election, if Trump is the Republican nominee.

It is true that all of these states tend to be more Democratic than Republican; it is also true that, in a recent poll, Kasich had a 16 point lead over Clinton in Pennsylvania.

Paul Kengor has noticed the same pattern, and makes this gloomy prediction:
Barring a major reversal by Ted Cruz as he goes West (which is actually still possible), Donald Trump is headed toward the Republican nomination, thus ensuring that Hillary Clinton will win at least 40-45 states in November.  Trump still remains the one odd Republican who consistently loses by double digits to not only Hillary Clinton but Bernie Sanders.
I wish I could disagree with Kengor — but I can't.

(You can look at the numbers for the Democrats here, the Republicans here.

Like Kengor, I am simply astonished by the way Trump insults his supporters, and they take it and come back for more.  Most demagogues flatter their supporters.)
- 3:09 PM, 28 April 2016   [link]


Governor Jay Inslee, Profile In ?  In 2012, Washington state voters passed Initiative 1240, which established publicly-supported charter schools.  (The vote was very close, 50.69 percent to 49.31 percent.)

In 2012, Washington voters also elected Jay Inslee governor, who received strong support from the powerful teacher's union, the Washington Education Association, which is, no surprise, opposed to charter schools.

Charter schools were established, and now have about 1,000 students.

Our elected state supreme court ruled that the initiative was unconstitutional, so the legislature tried for a fix in this last session, and passed one shortly before the end.  (They may have been responding to TV ads for the schools, ads showing cute kids who really liked their new schools.)

This left Governor Inslee in an awkward position; if he signed the bill he would offend the most powerful union in the state; if he vetoed it, he would lose credit with education reformers, and the people who thought those cute kids deserved better schools.

So he punted.
Caught between well-funded advocates trying to save charter schools and charter opponents urging a veto, including the state’s largest teachers union, Gov. Jay Inslee is choosing to do nothing.

In a letter to Secretary of State Kim Wyman released Friday afternoon, Inslee said he will allow Senate Bill 6194 to become law without his signature, rather than vetoing it or signing it.  In the letter, he expressed concerns that the unelected boards of charters would still be allowed to make decisions about how to spend public money.
Governor Inslee has a good profile, but not much courage.

This reminds us that a politician can be a good campaigner, as Inslee is, without being good at governing.  That lack of governing ability can be hidden in a legislator, as Inslee was for many years, but not in an executive.

As you might expect, Inslee's main opponent, Bill Bryant, is not impressed by this non-decision.

(I have no idea whether the state supreme court was right in the decision.  On general grounds, I suspect not, since they have been acting as if we had elected them to be the state school board.  We didn't.

As some of you may have guessed, I was repeating an old quip about John F. Kennedy, who was once urged to show less profile, and more courage.  Incidentally, the book that inspired the quip is definitely worth reading.)
- 11:02 AM, 28 April 2016   [link]


Teixobactin, A Promising New Antibiotic:  Here's the basic version of the story from Forbes.
Teixobactin is the first new class of antibiotic announced in decades.  That news and even more importantly, the elegant way it was discovered, are the most exciting news I’ve seen in some time.

Antibiotic development has stagnated as pharmaceutical companies have instead turned their attention to the far more profitable ventures of drugs for chronic diseases, like diabetes or heart disease.  Antibiotics had been relegated to the role of the unwanted stepchild, it seemed.

Yet as antibiotics have been overused by healthcare workers (often at the demand of patients), sold over-the-counter in many countries, and wasted by agricultural misuse, we have seen their efficacy diminish.
Wikipedia is more technical, and includes this fascinating detail:
Teixobactin was discovered by screening previously unculturable bacteria present in a sample of soil from “a grassy field in Maine,”[5] using the iChip (isolation chip).[6]

The multiple independent iChip culture cells in a block of plastic are inoculated with soil diluted to deposit about one bacterium in each cell, and then sealed with semi-permeable membranes.  The iChip is then planted in a box of the soil of origin.  Nutrients and growth factors diffusing from the ambient soil into each culture cell through the membranes nurture growth of the bacterium into a colony that is then self-sustaining in vitro.  This arrangement allows growth of only one species in some of the cells.
So they used a new technique to find this antibiotic, a technique that might be used with many more previously "unculturable" bacteria.

Micro-organisms have been waging chemical warfare against each other for billions of years; the more we can copy the weapons they have developed over those years, the better for us.

(Here's a still more technical discussion of the antibiotic, and here's the abstract of the original paper in Nature.  If you scroll down from the Sci-News article, you'll find a comment, saying that another promising new antibiotic has been discovered, but hasn't received the same attention.

I learned (or perhaps was reminded) of this new antibiotic from a misleading article in the Daily Mail.   Reading it reminded me that the history of the discovery of penicillin is way more complicated than what you will find in a grade school textbook.)
- 9:02 AM, 28 April 2016   [link]


Today's Ramirez Cartoon is bitter, but funny.

(Some Trump supporters may need it explained to them.)
- 7:38 AM, 28 April 2016   [link]


Michael Hayden Stayed On As CIA Director While President Obama Was Finding A Replacement:  In those weeks, he and his staff had to make some "adjustments".
We continued to make our adjustments to the new team.  The president's staff demanded brevity in writing intelligence products, so much so that one analyst labeled what we were writing for the morning briefing as PDB haiku..  I gave an operational update, scaling back the detail I knew President Bush liked, and I was still told never to brief the president on such minutiae again.
(PDB = Presidential Daily Briefing.)

It is possible to say a lot in 17 syllables, but even the most talented analyst would find it hard to summarize world events in that short a space.
- 4:39 PM, 27 April 2016   [link]


The Washington Post Asks An Obvious Question:   "What is Mr. Trump hiding by not releasing his tax returns?"

And then speculates about some possible answers:
Mr. Trump’s primary defense is that the Internal Revenue Service is auditing his tax submissions.  This presents no obstacle to him releasing earlier returns. There is also nothing stopping Mr. Trump from disclosing his preliminary tax documents even while the government is reviewing them.  The differences pre- and post-audit could be illuminating.  So could many other details.  Maybe the returns would provide evidence that Mr. Trump’s business dealings are not generating as much profit as one might expect.  Perhaps they would demonstrate that he does not give much to charity, as reporting from The Post’s David A. Fahrenthold and Rosalind S. Helderman suggests.   Maybe there would be other surprises.
Whatever he is hiding, we can be nearly certain that Trump would release those returns — if he thought they made him look better.

(And the other candidate who needs to release more tax returns?  Bernie Sanders.)
- 2:37 PM, 27 April 2016   [link]


Worth Reading:  The amazing story of Professor John McAdams.
Milwaukee’s Marquette University is poised to fire a tenured political science professor, John McAdams, for speaking his mind.

McAdams's sin?  He dared to defend an undergraduate who thought that the ethics of same-sex marriage was an open question—a question worth discussing openly in an ethics class.
As you probably know, Marquette is a Cahtolic University, specifically a Jesuit university.  If the facts in this article are correct, the student was told he could not present the Cahtolic church's view on same=sex marriage in class, because that would be homophobic.

McAdams got involved when he wrote a blog post, arguing that the debate should not be muzzled in that way.

(Here's Professor McAdams' site, where you can find more, including extensive quotations from the university's arguments.).
- 10:10 AM, 27 April 2016   [link]


Here Are The Updated Scorecards:  Though, as I write, they don't have complete results from yesterday's primaries.

Republican. and Democratic.

The British bettors think the glass is about 25 percent full; we have about a 25 percent chance of avoiding a Clinton-Trump race this November.
- 8:38 AM, 27 April 2016   [link]


We Are Attacking' ISIS's Logistics:  By destroying their cash.
Up to $800m (£550m) in cash held by so-called Islamic State (IS) has been destroyed in air strikes, a US military official says.

Maj Gen Peter Gersten, who is based in Baghdad, said the US had repeatedly targeted stores of the group's funds.
According to the general, the attacks have hurt ISIS's morale, and made it harder for ISIS to recruit fighters.

Now that's a fun way to fight a war.
- 8:04 AM, 27 April 2016   [link]


Thomas Friedman's Little Joke:  The very eminent New York Times columnist began his latest column as follows:
Dakar, SENEGAL — You can learn everything you need to know about the main challenges facing Africa today by talking to just two people in Senegal: the rapper and the weatherman.  They’ve never met, but I could imagine them doing an amazing duet one day — words and weather predictions — on the future of Africa.
Right.

Friedman doesn't intend that as a joke, but it's a pretty good one, anyway.

Although the column doesn't deserve serious treatment, I'll give it a little.  The rapper, Babacar Niang, is calling for Senegalese not to go to Europe in search of work, but to stay and build a better Senegal; the weatherman, Ousmane Ndiaye, thinks global warming has already arrived in Senegal and has some data to support that conclusion.  (I couldn't help wondering whether he might just be seeing an "urban heat island" effect, since it is likely the readings were taken in Dakar, a city that has grown greatly since 1950.)

Judging by what is not in the column, Friedman believes we do not need to know anything about Islamic terrorism, tribalism, demography, the recent surge in economic growth in much of Africa, or many other things — in order to understand Africa

(Friedman is working on a special on climate change for the National Geographic channel.  For years, he has been flying around the world, emitting tons of carbon dioxide, — in order to write about the dangers of carbon dioxide emissions.  As far as I can tell, Friedman, like President Obama, sees nothing odd about that combination.

Here's the Wikipedia article on Sengal, if you actually want to know something about the country.)
- 7:17 AM, 27 April 2016   [link]


Troy Kelley Verdict:  Here's a surprise, at least to me.
Washington State Auditor Troy Kelley hugged and kissed his wife and shook his lawyers’ hands as he was found not guilty Tuesday on a charge of making a false statement to the IRS.

A federal jury in Tacoma deadlocked on the remaining 14 counts, including charges of possession of stolen property, and money laundering.  The dramatic turn of events followed nearly four days of deliberations and comes almost exactly a year after Kelley was indicted by a federal grand jury.

Prosecutors did not immediately indicate if they intend to re-try Kelley on any of the charges.
A news analyst — I can't remember which one — said near the end of the trial that the prosecutors had presented so much evidence that they needed to summarize it clearly so the jury could make sense out of it.

If they try the Democrat again, maybe the prosecutors will improve.

Kelley has been represented by some very expensive, and likely very competent, attorneys.

(My impression, for what little it's worth, is that he was guilty, but that it might be difficult proving that to an ordinary jury, because of the complexity of the case.).
- 3:48 PM, 26 April 2016   [link]


Fun Fact About Earth's Water:  Much of it may be older than the sun.
It’s a mystery how the world became awash in it.  But one prevailing theory says that water originated on our planet from ice specks floating in a cosmic cloud before our sun was set ablaze, more than 4.6 billion years ago.

As much as half of all the water on Earth may have come from that interstellar gas according to astrophysicists’ calculations.
So, when you raise a glass of any beverage, you may be drinking, among other things, water that is more than 5 billion years old.  Cheers!

(Nicholas St. Fleur doesn't explain how astronomers know this, other than saying it has something to do with deuterium.  Perhaps I can find another source that does explain how they used deuterium to make that estimate, though I won't start the search on this election day.

There's another simple molecule that may be equally old, methane.  Although most of the methane found on earth appears to come from biological sources, it is so common in other places in the solar system, that I have long believed that some part of earth's methane was here from the beginning.).
- 1:44 PM, 26 April 2016   [link]


"Why Cruz-Kasich Deal Has The Potential To Stop Trump"   Nate Cohn explains.

The key, Cohn believes, is Indiana, where there is a potential anti-Trump majority, just as there was in Wisconsin.
As I wrote recently, the whole Republican contest could come down to Indiana.  The state has 57 pledged delegates, and it awards those delegates on a winner-take-all basis statewide and by congressional district.  As a result, the difference between a narrow win and a loss is huge for Mr. Trump.  If he wins statewide — even by a point — it will be fairly easy for him to reach 1,237 delegates with a victory in California, which on paper is probably an easier state for him than Indiana.
Cohn's analysis seems plausible, but I haven't checked the rules, or even his arithmetic.

Here's the Real Clear collection of polls on the Indiana race.

At the current averages, 39.3 percent for Trump and 33.0 percent for Cruz, Cruz would need about one in three Kasich voters to vote tactically for Cruz to win the state, since Kasich is at 19.3 percent.  (I have no idea how good those polling organizations are, and remind you that primaries are harder to poll than general elections.)

Something like that appears to have happened in Wisconsin, so a Cruz win in Indiana is definitely possible, though I would say the odds are against it, right now.

(The British bettors appear to agree; as I write Trump has a 66.0 percent chance of winning Indiana.)
- 10:07 AM, 26 April 2016   [link]


Startling New Scientific Finding from Britain.
Marriage matters and is a central factor in children’s chances of success in life, according to a Government report.

Children do worse if they are brought up by a lone parent or by parents who are not married, researchers found.

The large-scale report rejects the idea that marriage is no more than a lifestyle option or a choice favoured by better-off couples, and presents powerful fresh evidence that a couple who commit to each other with a wedding are much more likely to have a successful family.
Okay, it's not that startling.

But, if you look in the comments, you'll see why so many resist it.  Single mothers take such findings personally.

(Years ago, I read that single-parent families headed by a widow did much better than other single-parent families.  The commitment mattered even after one of the parents had passed away.) - 8:31 AM, 26 April 2016   [link]


Today's Michael Ramirez Cartoon is pretty funny.

Unless you happen to be a supporter of one of the two front runners.
- 6:09 AM, 26 April 2016   [link]


Two Columns On Donald Trump, One Depressing And One Funny:  First, Nat Hentoff looks for dirt on Trump's new front man, Paul Manafort, and finds — a lot.

Here's how Hentoff summarizes Manafort's career as a lobbyist:
Manafort has made a fortune representing some of the worst people in the world during his four-decade career as a Washington, D.C., fixer and lobbyist.  His clients have included a sordid assortment of kleptocratic dictators, corrupt narco states, Mafia-connected oligarchs and African warlords who use child soldiers, systemic rape and mass starvation as weapons of war.
There's more, much more, enough so that you will wonder how Manafort has avoided prison time.

Second, L. Gordon Crovitz notes that Trump's current preaching against H-1B visas is inconsistent with his past practices:
“I’m on a 1 visa—‘extraordinary abilities,’ ” the Swedish model says, rolling her eyes:   “ ‘Extraordinary ability’ is not really what models are.  That’s what I think at least.  So it’s kind of a tricky situation.”

T he young woman, in an interview with the new Heat Street website, was referring to the H-1B work visa for “exceptional ability in the sciences, arts or business.”  She is represented by Trump Models, one of 250 women for whom Donald Trump’s agencies sought such visas, according to Reuters.   Heat Street reports that most of the women represented by Trump Models were born outside the U.S., including Mr. Trump’s wife, Melania, who came to the U.S. from Slovenia on an H-1B.
Judging by that, the Swedish model is more honest than a certain presidential candidate.

(In the remainder of the column, Crovitz makes the usual defense of H-1B visas.   I am more skeptical of the program than he is because there have been so many reports of scandals, and because it does not consider values, as well as talents.)
- 4:24 PM, 25 April 2016   [link]


Michael Hayden On European Critics:  There's one more thing in that surprising Chapter 2 I should mention: what Hayden says about Echelon and the Europeans.
As for the Europeans, they were a self-righteous nuisance; I refused to meet with them.  They spent more time researching us than their own security services, several of which actually did conduct economic espionage.  And the reason they researched us was that American espionage is far more transparent than European.  Talk about looking for your car keys under the lamppost.  I suppose we were a little contemptuous.  Looking back now, that still feels about right.
If you need a specific example for those accusations, think France.

Just so there is no misunderstanding:  Later in the book, he makes it clear that he worked hard to have good relations with most of the world's intelligence services.  In the quoted paragraph, he's talking about elected officials, and journalists.

(I probably should have mentioned this before now, but Hayden's book title refers to his willingness to go up to the edge of legality, in order to protect the nation.).
- 2:08 PM, 25 April 2016   [link]


Paul Krugman Isn't Joking:  (I think.)  But almost anyone else would be who made this claim.
Back in 2008, one of the ads Hillary Clinton ran during the contest for the Democratic nomination featured an imaginary scene in which the White House phone rings at 3 a.m. with news of a foreign crisis, and asked, “Who do you want answering that phone?”  It was a fairly mild jab at Barack Obama’s lack of foreign policy experience.

As it turned out, once in office Mr. Obama, a notably coolheaded type who listens to advice, handled foreign affairs pretty well — or at least that’s how I see it.
The people of Libya, Egypt, Israel, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and many other nations, might disagree.

That Krugman assessment gives me another reason to think there may be some truth in my joke about the graduate student.

(The rest of the column argues that Hillary Clinton would be the best, of the current candidates, to handle a financial crisis.  You may be interested to know how he sees the effects of shale oil, which has done so much for consumers.)
- 11:14 AM, 25 April 2016   [link]


A Worker Explains To Co-Workers Why He Decided to make a career change.
- 10:02 AM, 25 April 2016   [link]