April 2017, Part 3
Jim Miller on Politics
Worth Reading: Josh Meyer's article, "Obama’s hidden Iran deal giveaway".
The seven Iranian prisoners President Obama traded for American hostages held by Iran were not innocent civilians, despite what he and his administration said.
In reality, some of them were accused by Obama’s own Justice Department of posing threats to national security. Three allegedly were part of an illegal procurement network supplying Iran with U.S.-made microelectronics with applications in surface-to-air and cruise missiles like the kind Tehran test-fired recently, prompting a still-escalating exchange of threats with the Trump administration. Another was serving an eight-year sentence for conspiring to supply Iran with satellite technology and hardware. As part of the deal, U.S. officials even dropped their demand for $10 million that a jury said the aerospace engineer illegally received from Tehran.We should not be surprised by this; President Obama was so eager to make an agreement with Iran that he was almost certain to make a bad one.
Nor should we be surprised that the Obama administration misrepresented that part of the deal.
(For some months I have been thinking that we should prepare for the next hostage exchange with Iran by collecting many high-value Iranian hostages. An aggressive prosecutor could probably find many legitimate targets. At the same time, we should do what we can to discourage Americans from getting anywhere near Iran.)
- 1:55 PM, 24 April 2017 [link]
The Executions In Arkansas Are Inspiring The Usual Discussion About Capital Punishment: Which is unfortunate, because the usual discussion is so incomplete as to be misleading.
It omits the possibility that the death penalty deters murders. Having looked at some of the studies — though not in the last few years — I have concluded that the death penalty does have some deterrent effect. "Probably."
Gary Becker, who has way more credentials than I do, has came to the same conclusion.
But you will still see news articles that assert, categorically, that there is no evidence for the deterrent effects of the death penalty.
(If you need more examples of how misleading the usual discussion is, you can find some in this Jonah Goldberg column.
The refusal to see studies that show deterrent effects is an extreme example of confirmation bias.)
- 10:21 AM, 24 April 2017 [link]
Adviser, Advisor, Advisory: You may have noticed that I use "advisor" rather than "adviser", even though the first is more common in the United States. (The second is more common in Britain.)
I do that for two reasons: First, because the adjective for both is "advisory". By using advisor I can avoid sentences like this one: The adviser said he had not been acting in an advisory role.
Second, because advisor tends to be used more often when the position is official, which is how I almost always use it.
- 9:39 AM, 24 April 2017 [link]
Cubicle Dwellers May Like this cartoon.
- 8:59 AM, 24 April 2017 [link]
Macron Will Face Le Pen In The Second Round Of The French Presidential Election, Two Weeks From Today: That's what pollsters have been projecting, for hours now, and unofficial vote totals confirm their projections. As I write, Emmanuel Macron has 7,899,305 votes (23.49%), and Marine Le Pen has 7,431,410 votes (22.10%). They are followed closely by François Fillon, who has 6,642,361 votes (19.75%) and Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who has 6,536,936 votes (19.44%).
The polls were exceptionally accurate, which makes me comfortable in predicting that Macron will defeat Le Pen in the second round by about 65-35.
That would be a big defeat, but she would still do much better than her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, did in the 2002 runoff, when Jacques Chirac defeated him 82-18.
- 4:47 PM, 23 April 2017 [link]
Why The Rising Support in France For Mélenchon? If you glanced over that graph of French poll results, you were probably struck by two trends, the decline in support for François Fillon after the stories about his wife's no-show job, and the rise of a far-left candidate, Jean-Luc Mélenchon.
Pamela Druckerman thinks the French are so desperate that they are ready for a "Hail Mary" play.
The ’ail Marie — as I’ve been pronouncing it — is the best metaphor I’ve found for the French elections this Sunday. The country that gave us the Enlightenment, Cartesian logic, the Napoleonic Code and possibly reason itself may be about to just throw a ball into the distance and see what happens.Marine Le Pen may prefer Russia as an ally, but, like Mélenchon, she wants France to leave NATO.
Like Druckerman, I don't see that as a rational position.
But my explanation for Mélenchon's rise is simpler than hers; French President François Hollande has discredited the Socialist Party at least temporarily, which left millions of voters on the left looking for a candidate they could support.
- 9:29 AM, 23 April 2017 [link]
Having Paid Almost No Attention To Bill O'Reilly Over The Years, I have little to say about his dismissal — except that he seems to be accused of behaving like Bill Clinton.
- 7:39 AM, 23 April 2017
Try this link and look for April 20th, if you missed the Clinton cartoon.
- 2:42 PM, 24 April 2017 [link]
Here Are The Opinion Polls On The French Presidential Election: They should be the latest available, since France prohibits publishing polls on the day before the election.
French pollsters have a "near-perfect" record in recent presidential elections, but this election may be harder to poll because:
With four candidates within 3% of one another in the polls, France’s presidential election remains volatile. The two most dramatic statistics frequently ignored in the past few weeks, however, are the high level of undecided voters (as much as one third) and those who say they won’t vote (about 28% in a country where 80% turnouts are the norm).Barack Obama is backing Emmanuel Macron; Donald Trump is backing Marine Le Pen.
(Both Obama and Trump should have kept a discreet silence, just as they should have before the Brexit vote.)
None of the top four candidates are what I would call pro-American, though Macron and Fillon would probably work with us, from time to time.
British bettors are expecting Macron to finish first, Le Pen second, and for him to easily defeat her in the second round.
- 4:00 PM, 22 April 2017 [link]
CRISPER (1): For my contribution to science today, I won't be marching; instead I'll be starting to learn the basics on CRISPER.
Clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR, pronounced crisper) are segments of prokaryotic DNA containing short, repetitive base sequences. These play a key role in a bacterial defence system, and form the basis of a genome editing technology known as CRISPR-Cas9 that allows permanent modification of genes within organisms.Okay, the "short palindromic repeats" makes sense, but I'll have to spend some time studying, before I understand the rest.
I do already understand, vaguely, why this is important: The new technique may make possible precise genetic engineering. The potential improvements over current techniques are so great that some are suggesting we call the new technique '"gene editing", as opposed to "gene modification".
- 1:27 PM, 22 April 2017 [link]
Before Yesterday, People In This Area Were So Starved For Sunlight that this cartoon fit the local mood.
(Yesterday was almost perfect, sunny all day, with a light breeze and a high around 65 degrees. But it came after a miserable, miserable winter, and the forecasters aren't predicting another like it in the next five days.)
- 12:55 PM, 22 April 2017 [link]
For Years I have Been Arguing That We Should Pay More Attention To Values In Deciding Who Can Come To The United States: (For example, in this
Now, the Australian government has come to a similar conclusion for Australia, and is acting on it.
It may soon become harder for immigrants to become Australian citizens. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull proposed sweeping changes Thursday.For example, if a man thinks it is his right to beat his wife or marry off his underage daughters, he should not be allowed to become an Australian citizen.
Though most who worship "diversity" would disapprove of both wife beating and underage marriages, they will find this common sense proposal troubling.
Economists will mostly continue to ignore values, and say that we should judge potential immigrants on their skills. That isn't a criteria we should ignore, but I will remind you that the late Osama bin Laden was highly skilled.
- 10:44 AM, 21 April 2017 [link]
Lincoln Beauregard: I don't plan to write further posts on Seattle Mayor Ed Murray's legal problems, but I can't help but mention that I am charmed by the name of Delvonn Heckard's lawyer: Lincoln Beauregard.
Lincoln led the Union during our Civil War — and Beauregard is the last name of a famous Confederate general.
It would be interesting to know why his parents chose that combination.
- 8:37 AM, 21 April 2017 [link]
Worth Reading: Charles Krauthammer's column, "With North Korea, we do have cards to play".
The crisis with North Korea may appear trumped up. It's not.We can only hope that Trump administration officials are playing those cards, intelligently.
(Krauthammer doesn't mention what we might call the Chicago card — but I think it might come up in our talks with the Chinese, very discreetly, of course.)
- 7:51 AM, 21 April 2017 [link]
This Week's Collections Of Political Cartoons from Politico and RealClearPolitics.
My favorites: In Politico, Rick McKee's Jon Ossoff; in RealClearPolitics, Signe Wilkinson's Step Two.
- 7:27 AM, 21 April 2017 [link]
No Doubt There Is An Explanation for this donation.
Venezuela has donated $500,000 to US President Donald Trump's inauguration, newly released records show.But so far it has eluded me.
- 8:54 PM, 20 April 2017 [link]
The Lawsuit Against Seattle Mayor Ed Murray: Wikipedia has a brief summary.
In April 2017, a lawsuit was filed against Murray by Delvonn Heckard  who claimed that Murray "raped and molested him" when he was a teenager in 1986. The lawsuit alleged Murray paid the then-teenager $10 or $20 in exchange for sexual contact. Heckard says he was a high-school dropout and addicted to crack-cocaine. Jeff Simpson and Lloyd Anderson made similar allegations against Murray in 2007. Additionally, in 1984, Simpson accused Murray of sexual assault while he was still a teenager. He spoke with a social worker and detective at the time; however, no charges were filed.Heckard lives in the Seattle area, Simpson and Anderson in Oregon. The detective did pass on Simpson's accusations to the prosecutor's office, but they decided not to file charges. At the time, Murray was working as a legal aide in the public defender's office.
Simpson attempted to publicize these charges in 2007 and 2008. News organizations, including the Seattle Times, investigated, but ran no stories. The investigations were not extensive.
So there you are: Three accusers, all with troubled lives, all telling similar stories. So far, I have seen no evidence that Heckard knew the other two before he filed this lawsuit.
So far, I have seen no evidence that the charges are politically motivated.
I'm not sure how I would vote, from the evidence so far, were I on a jury.
As you can imagine, this has upset politics in Seattle, and this year's mayor's race. Murray has drawn several new challengers since the lawsuit was filed, including the man he defeated, Mike McGinn.
(There are more details in this Seattle Times article.
The "anatomical claim" is a supposed mole. So far, none of the stories I have seen have mentioned that it is not unusual for moles to disappear on their own.)
- 3:41 PM, 20 April 2017 [link]
Since I Was A Skinny And Geeky Guy In My Youth, I guess I can get away with saying this:
Jon Ossoff, the Democratic candidate in Georgia's 6th district, looks a lot like "Pajama boy".
With, of course, the exchange of pajamas for suits.
- 11:15 AM, 20 April 2017 [link]
"Only" Three Were Killed In Yesterday's Protests In Venezuela: Only? Yes, I said that because I was expecting more, given the size of the protests, and the deaths, five I believe, in earlier protests. And, of course, the willingness of Chavistas to use violence against peaceful protesters.
At least three people have been killed in Venezuela in protests against the government of President Nicolas Maduro.More massive protests are planned for today, so there is a good chance that there will be more deaths.
This BBC story is a good, though incomplete, description of the background. For example:
What does the opposition want?Humanitarians have offered food and medicines to Venezuela; as far as I know, the government has rejected all such offers.
("Mainstream" news organizations, including the BBC, routinely leave out the Cuban influence within the Venezuelan government. Some observers have even said that the Chavistas made Venezuela into a Cuban colony. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that, right now, experts from the Cuban dictatorship are helping Maduro plan repressive measures.)
- 10:44 AM, 20 April 2017 [link]
There Are Suspicious People Who Will Believe Those Chinese Decisions Aren't entirely coincidental.
SHANGHAI (AP) — Since her father was elected president of the United States, global sales of Ivanka Trump merchandise have surged and the company has applied for at least nine new trademarks in the Philippines, Puerto Rico, Canada and the U.S. The commercial engine of the first daughter's brand is stronger than ever even as she builds a new political career from her West Wing office.(Emphasis added.)
For fun, I once tried to work out what Donald Trump could do to avoid conflicts of interest. I concluded that he, and his children, would have had to begin selling their businesses — at least five years before he started his 2016 presidential campaign — that it would have taken that long to unload all those properties.
And even then, there would have been all those"Trump" signs on hotels.
- 8:02 AM, 20 April 2017 [link]
Science Fiction Fans Will Like This Cartoon:
(If you are puzzled, you can find an explanation here, though you will notice a two or three minute mistake in the cartoon.)
- 7:22 AM, 20 April 2017 [link]
Here's Another Reason to like Prime Minister Theresa May.
Theresa May will not take part in TV debates ahead of the planned general election, she has told the BBC.We can hope that her example will inspire imitators on this side of the Atlantic — but we probably shouldn't expect many.
- 4:04 PM, 19 April 2017 [link]
The Vote In The House Of Commons was not a squeaker.
Theresa May's dramatic call for a snap election was backed by MPs today as she kicked off the campaign by warning that Jeremy Corbyn is 'simply not fit to lead'.Since there are 649 voting members of the House of Commons — the Speaker does not vote — you can see that many members, including the 54 Scottish Nationalists, abstained.
- 3:45 PM, 19 April 2017 [link]
Another Story From North Korea Too Weird not to share.
Don’t think about asking your barber for “The Kim Jong Un” in North Korea.Democratic leaders usually see imitation as flattery.
- 3:19 PM, 19 April 2017 [link]
Sean Trende's Analysis Of The Georgia 6th Special Election Looks About Right To Me: (But then I would say that, since it is a much more complete version of what I said on Monday.)
All other things being equal, Republicans weren’t neutral on the outcome here. They would have preferred that Ossoff wind up in the low 40s or even the 30s, instead of taking them to the wire. This district is, at its core, a Republican one, which a Republican should have won easily. As I put it Tuesday, there was a continuum of concern among Republicans from hardly any at all if Ossoff won 40 percent of the vote to panic if he won the district outright, with genuine concern starting in at around 45 percent. I still think that’s correct, and this outcome was closer to panic than “meh.”Trende is right, I think, to say that this result should give Republicans reason to fear losing the House in 2018 — and that Trump will continue to be a drag, net, on Republicans.
(You can find the numbers at Wikipedia.)
- 6:59 AM, 19 April 2017 [link]
Hardened Trumpistas Won't Like yesterday's New Yorker cartoon — but most other people will (assuming they don't live in North Korea).
- 6:31 AM, 19 April 2017 [link]
Kirkland Mobile: For many years this mobile has fascinated me. I've never taken a picture of it that truly satisfied me; this is as close as I've come.
(I realized some time after I took the picture that I really should take a short video of it moving — but by the time I figured that out, it had been removed from its base. The base is still there, so perhaps it is just being repaired.)
- 6:51 PM, 18 April 2017 [link]
I Was So Pleased By That April-May-June Sequence this morning that I forgot to mention this detail.
The next general election in the United Kingdom is proposed to take place on Thursday 8 June 2017. In line with the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011, this date will require a motion to be passed by a super-majority of two-thirds of the House of Commons, which the Prime Minister is expected to move on 19 April and which is expected also to be supported by the opposition parties, including Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Green Party. In the event of the motion failing, the election must be held on or before Thursday 7 May 2020.Before the passage of that act, a majority party could call an early election, with, I believe, just a simple majority.
(Will the Scottish Nationalists, who have
- 4:43 PM, 18 April 2017 [link]
Is Russia Interfering In The French Election? That's what Senator Burr thinks.
The broader question as France charges toward the first round of the presidential election on Sunday, however, is what exactly lies behind what looks to many, particularly supporters of the liberal front-runner, Emmanuel Macron, like a replay of Russia’s interference in the presidential election in the United States last year.(Links omitted.)
Will the Russian interference make a difference in the French election? Probably not, in my semi-informed opinion.
But it will increase distrust of the electoral system, just as it did here.
(There's much more in the article, including a reminder of how important anti-Americanism still is in French politics.)
- 4:12 PM, 18 April 2017 [link]
A New Antibiotic From Dragon Blood?! This sounds promising.
Biochemists may have discovered a type of antibiotic that sounds like something out of a fairy tale: It is based on dragon blood.As any health expert can tell you, we really could use some new antibiotics, to attack the bacteria that have developed resistance to the older ones.
I suppose we shouldn't be surprised to learn that Komodo Dragons, which have been around for millions of years, have developed a few useful tricks.
(Here's a review on gram negative bacteria, if, like me, you need one.)
- 10:30 AM, 18 April 2017 [link]
In April, May Calls A June Election: (Sorry, I just couldn't resist that headline.)
Here's the story from the BBC, and the Daily Mail.
Theresa May has announced a snap general election for June 8 to give Britain the 'strong and stable leadership' needed to deliver Brexit.(Links omitted.)
The Conservatives have been running about 20 points ahead of Labour in the polls, so this election isn't a total surprise.
(The first round of the French presidential election is this Sunday, the second on May 7th. The German federal election will be held in September.)
- 6:20 AM, 18 April 2017 [link]
The German Government has banned dangerous dolls.
On a campaign to promote digital privacy, authorities warn that “My Friend Cayla” makes children vulnerable to malicious surveillance—parents who fail to destroy the doll face a €25,000 fine; ‘destroy it with a hammer’(The doll has an Internet connection, if you are wondering.)
Since the euro is worth a little more than the dollar, that's a serious fine.
(You can find more details, and pictures of the doll, here and here.)
- 5:54 AM, 18 April 2017 [link]
Georgia 6th Special Election: As usual, the Wikipedia article is a better guide than any number of news articles.
A special election will be held on Tuesday April 18, 2017 to determine the member of the United States House of Representatives for Georgia's 6th congressional district. Republican Incumbent Tom Price resigned from the seat following his appointment and confirmation as the United States Secretary of Health and Human Services in the Trump Administration.Assuming those polls are roughly accurate — something not always safe to do in special elections — Democrat Jon Ossoff will finish first, but will not pass 50 percent, Republican Karen Handel will come in second, and Republican Bob Gray will come in third.
That's awfully tentative, I know. However I can make one firm prediction: Whatever the result, Trump and his supporters will claim it as a victory (or a defeat due to malevolent forces), and their opponents will say it was a defeat for Trump.
- 7:12 PM, 17 April 2017 [link]
Most Americans Don't Know About PEPFAR, I Would Guess: Which is unfortunate, because it is a remarkable American success.
My administration launched PEPFAR in 2003 to address the HIV/AIDS pandemic that threatened to wipe out an entire generation on the continent of Africa. Nearly 15 years later, the program has achieved remarkable results in the fight against disease. Today, because of the commitment of many foreign governments, investments by partners, the resilience of the African people and the generosity of the American people, nearly 12 million lives have been saved. And nearly 2 million babies have been born HIV-free to infected mothers.Military historians often measure wars by lives lost; public health historians often measure public health programs by lives saved.
By that measure, PEPFAR (President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) is one of the great public health successes, comparable to, for example, the fight against smallpox.
The success is especially impressive when you remember that the African nations that received the aid — let me put this diplomatically — do not always have exceptional bureaucracies to administer the aid.
You can find pictures of George W. Bush with a few of those mothers and babies, here and here.
(The Wikipedia article on PEPFAR is disappointing, but instructive.)
- 4:31 PM, 17 April 2017 [link]
Jared Kushner Comes From an interesting family.
The short version is: In 2004, Jared Kushner's father Charles, a real estate magnate in New Jersey and New York, pleaded guilty to a tax fraud scheme in which he claimed hundreds of thousands of dollars in phony deductions for office expenses at the partnerships he created to manage the apartment buildings he owned. Kushner, a major donor to the Democratic Party, also pleaded guilty to fraudulently making hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions in the names of employees and associates who didn't know their names were being used. Finally, Kushner pleaded guilty to retaliating against a cooperating witness in the case — his sister. He did so by setting a trap in which he hired a prostitute to lure his sister's husband into a sexual encounter in a New Jersey hotel, where the action was secretly photographed and videotaped. Kushner sent the pictures and tape to his sister as revenge, apparently motivated by Kushner's belief that she and her husband were helping U.S. Attorney Christie and his prosecutors.There's more, if you have a taste for such things (and most of us do, at one time or another).
Kushner family get togethers might be little awkward, after all that.
(I first mentioned Charles Kushner back in 2004.)
- 3:47 PM, 17 April 2017 [link]
Last Week's Collections Of Political Cartoons from Politico and RealClearPolitics.
My favorites: In Politico, Bill Bramhall's Jared Kushner cartoon; in RealClearPolitics, Steve Breen's Rubik's cubes and Gary Varvel's babysitter.
- 9:09 AM, 17 April 2017 [link]