Archive:

July 2016, Part 2

Jim Miller on Politics




Pseudo-Random Thoughts



Another Attack On Science:  This time in Connecticut:
According the Connecticut Department of Children and Families (DCF), which published an LGBT glossary of more than 250 terms, the belief that there are only two genders — male and female — should be treated as “genderism.”
Presumably, the state will soon require high school biology textbooks to be revised.

It isn't absolutely clear to me from the article whether this is also an attack on freedom on speech, but it often is, in these cases.
- 2:33 PM, 16 July 2016   [link]


The Timing Of This Story could be better for the French president.
PARIS—Heavy is the head that wears the pricey French haircut.

For years, the cost of maintaining François Hollande’s hair—jet black wisps gently combed back from the forehead and behind the ears—was a closely held secret inside the corridors of the Élysée Palace.

That crown suddenly weighs on his presidency.  An exposé this week in French satirical daily Le Canard enchaîné revealed that Mr. Hollande’s office keeps a barber on call to groom the head of state under a five-year contract that will total more than a half-million euros by the end of the president’s term next year.  That translates to nearly $11,000 a month, presumably including tip.
Presumably.

The article doesn't say how often Hollande gets haircuts, so we can only guess at the cost per session.

The article mentions other famous haircuts, but they missed Obama's, and they missed the best one of all. Julia Gillard's.  (Judging by the pictures I've seen, she has the best results, too.)
- 9:35 AM, 16 July 2016   [link]


President Obama Keeps Making That Weird Claim About How Easy It Is To Buy A Glock:  And the fact checkers aren't letting him get away with it.

This correction, from the Washington Post, is typical:
This is a catchy talking point that people obviously paid attention to, but it doesn’t make much sense.  Literally speaking, not all states allow people under 21 years old to buy a handgun.  And as far as we know, there’s no minimum age or a background check required to get a book or use the computer for free at a public library.

The White House noted that in the context of the speech, Obama was speaking about the lack of opportunity and ready access to guns in many communities, particularly lower-income areas.  It’s accurate to say there are communities that lack education, employment and health-care resources.  And it’s fair to say that in some communities, there is ready access to illegally obtained guns for teens who can get them easily from a fellow gang member, friend or a family member — perhaps without even having to leave their home or their street.

But the president can make that point without resorting to such an exaggerated claim based in no real statistics, and which does nothing but distract the public.  The president earns Three Pinocchios.
You can find similar fact checks at Politifact, FactCheck.org, and probably many other places.

What interests me is that Obama made this absurd claim in the first place, and then keeps making it, even though he should know it has been debunked.  Did no one on his staff tell him that it was nonsense?

(This persistence in error reminds me more than a little of similar behavior by Donald Trump; each man will stick to a false line, because, I suppose, he likes the effect it has on an audience.)
- 3:46 PM, 15 July 2016   [link]


Ordinary Objects Used For Terrorist Attacks:  The truck attack in Nice reminds me of something I have worried about for years — but have deliberately chosen not to write about:  Terrorists don't need bombs or guns, since there are so many ordinary objects that can be used as deadly weapons.

I chose not to write about the subject because it would have been difficult to say much of interest, without giving specific ways to kill people.  And I don't want to take even the tiniest of chances that those specifics might get into the wrong hands.   (If you are curious, ask almost any scientist or engineer for ideas on the subject.)

But our enemies were bound to see some of the possibilities that I saw, and many that I haven't even thought about.  So we should expect more attacks staged with ordinary objects, and our security people will have to think even harder about hardening obvious targets.

(If you would like a challenge on this subject, look at this cartoon, and see how many ways you can think of.

Younger readers may need to know that's G. Gordon Liddy.)
- 1:48 PM, 15 July 2016   [link]


You Can See How The French Are Covering The Terror Attack In Nice at, for example, Le Figaro.

There are so many shared words between French and English that you should be able to get the general sense of most articles, even if you know only a few words of French.

Though, for those who know even less French than I do, I should add that the French word "enfants" means children, not infants.
- 9:29 AM, 15 July 2016   [link]


Another Day, Another Trump Lawsuit:  This time, Trump is suing, rather than being sued.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is seeking $10 million in damages from former senior campaign consultant Sam Nunberg, alleging that Nunberg leaked confidential information to reporters in violation of a nondisclosure agreement.

In a court filing obtained by The Associated Press, Nunberg accused Trump of trying to silence him "in a misguided attempt to cover up media coverage of an apparent affair" between two senior campaign staffers.

Such a legal dispute is highly unusual for a presidential candidate.  It reflects Trump's efforts to aggressively protect the secrecy of his campaign's inner workings, as he has for years fought to protect the secrecy of his businesses and family.
Trump is not now, nor has he ever been, Mr. Transparency.

I don't know enough to have an opinion on the merits of the case, on whether Nunberg actually revealed anything he had promised to keep secret, but, as the Associated Press says, this is "highly unusual" in politics.

(You can find some speculations about the controversy, here.   If you read the comments, you'll see that Trumpistas believe that Nunberg did break an agreement — which may be true — and that Trump keeps his agreements — which is not at all true.)
- 3:12 PM, 14 July 2016   [link]


Theresa May's Powers:   As I've mentioned before, an American president has less power, within his country, than many other world leaders.

You can see a striking example of that as Britain's new prime minister, Theresa May, selects her cabinet.

May has already named more than 20 cabinet ministers — none of whom will need confirming.  She has eliminated at least one cabinet position, and created at least one — without having to ask Parliament to pass legislation authorizing these changes.

She has almost complete control over her own party.
One of my favourite quotes from the former CON leader, William Hague, is that the Tories are “an absolute monarchy, moderated by regicide”.   For there’s no doubt about the level of power and influence the leader has over policy, preferment, and the whole direction of the party.
(Labour leaders are somewhat weaker within their party, since they must share power with a National Executive Committee.)

Impressive powers, aren't they?

(My apologies for being somewhat vague about the changes; May is still forming her government, and so the news accounts are not as complete as they will be, soon.)
- 2:43 PM, 14 July 2016   [link]


Why The Poll Gains For Donald Trump?  In my opinion, principally because of the murders of the Dallas police officers.

The timing seems right, and law and order has been, for decades, an issue that pushed moderates toward the Republican Party.

That's why, in 1992, Bill Clinton promised to put 100,000 more police officers on the street.

Caveat:  I haven't seen any specific polling data to support that opinion.

(Here's the usual summary graph from Pollster.com, and here's a whole passel of polls from the same source.)
- 9:23 AM, 14 July 2016   [link]


President Obama says the darnedest things:
It's easier for a teenager to get his hands on a Glock than a computer...or even a book!
But he shouldn't have said that at a memorial service.
- 8:27 AM, 14 July 2016   [link]


If You Are A Fan Of The "Godfather" Movies (Or The Aztecs), you may like today's New Yorker calendar cartoon.
- 6:35 AM, 14 July 2016   [link]


Chuckle:  When I learned that Boris Johnson was to be the Foreign Secretary in Theresa May's cabinet, I immediately thought of that crude metaphor; she had decided that it was better to have him inside the tent . . .. .

And then was amused to see a political expert on BBC America use the same metaphor, bowdlerizing it to "inside the tent looking out, . .. .."   (He first noted that he wasn't getting the metaphor exactly right.)

Too bad the cruder version is not family friendly, because it's a much stronger way of making the point.

(Lyndon Johnson was fond of that metaphor, which won't surprise anyone who knows even a little about the man.)
- 5:49 PM, 13 July 2016   [link]


Was I Too Cynical On Monday?  When I said that President Obama wants to keep racial tensions at a level that gives him the most political power?

It's not a conclusion I like, but it's a conclusion that is consistent with Obama's actions as president, and before he became president.  Moreover, the strategy has been used by ethnic politicians in the United States for centuries, so I am not suggesting that Obama has been doing something novel.

The strongest piece of evidence for my claim is Obama's alliance with Al Sharpton.  The initiative for that alliance came from the Obama team; in 2008 they sought out Sharpton and asked for his tacit, quiet support, and they got it.  They did this in spite of Sharpton's horrible record.  (If you need a review on that record, read this post and this post.)

There were other, decent black leaders Obama could have reached out to, but he chose Sharpton, instead, chose him, I believe, because of Sharpton's ability to stimulate racial confrontations.

It isn't hard to see what each side got out of the alliance; Obama got support and, from time to time, confrontation that would help energize blacks, politically.  Sharpton, who once said cops should be murdered is now a welcome guest at state dinners in the White House.  (The alliance has probably been very profitable for Sharpton, too, though I haven't seen any numbers on that.)

You can be an ally of Al Sharpton, or you can seek racial healing, but you can't do both at the same time.

(When I made my predictions about Obama's presidency in January 2009, I didn't even suggest that he might heal racial wounds.

Cold political calculation:  For some time, I have thought that Obama has been increasing racial tensions above the optimum level for political support.  He may agree he has gone too far; that would explain the subject of today's White House conference.)
- 1:15 PM, 13 July 2016   [link]


Britain's Labour Party May Have A New Leader Soon, Too:  Jeremy Corbyn is being challenged by a woman with the wonderful name of Angela Eagle.

She's a "two-fer", which may help her in the party, just as it would help a Democrat in many parts of the United States.  She appears to be more in touch with reality than Corbyn, which puts her in the top 95 percent of British politicians.  Unlike Corbyn, she comes from a working class family.
- 11:09 AM, 13 July 2016   [link]


Wondering What Kind Of Prime Minister Theresa May Will Be?  There are many clues in this Guardian article.
Indeed, the most intriguing political comparison is arguably not with Thatcher, but with Gordon Brown, the last political figure dominant enough to become prime minister basically by acclamation.  Two serious-minded children of religious ministers, steeped in moral purpose, both possessed of an iron need to control.  May is a famously reluctant delegator, needing to know exactly what her juniors are doing and to chew over every detail of decisions – a micromanagement style she cannot hope to apply to an entire government – and like Brown, she demands unswerving loyalty.   (Although unlike him, she generally won’t say behind your back what she wouldn’t say to your face).

Yet for all her apparent stubbornness, in private May is surprisingly open to a well-sourced argument.  A former junior minister who observed her playing hardball in negotiations says she will usually do a deal in the end:  “It’s not just ‘because I say so’ – if you make a good argument to Theresa, she can be willing to change her position.”
Hard working and competent, respected rather than loved.

And – this will disappoint some – not at all entertaining.

I don't know enough about her to judge the accuracy of the description, but it is consistent with other things I've read, for example.

(Americans may be surprised to learn that her faith is a minus, in British politics.

Here's an explanation of "Cobra meeting".  No actual snakes are involved.)
- 10:37 AM, 13 July 2016   [link]


Larry Will Be Keeping His Position At 10 Downing Street:   He's a civil servant, and "well-suited to his post".
- 9:07 AM, 13 July 2016   [link]


Today's New Yorker Calendar Cartoon may not make you laugh, but it might make you think.

(I assume most of you know that a few deep thinkers have made similar speculations for centuries.)
- 8:43 AM, 13 July 2016   [link]


Two Worth Buying:   Today's Wall Street Journal for Jason Riley's sensible op-ed, "Healing After Dallas, Without Obama".
President Obama is scheduled to speak in Dallas Tuesday at a memorial service for the five police officers gunned down last week—but haven’t we already heard enough from him?
Riley is a modern civil rights hero, in my opinion, since he is willing to face truths, however uncomfortable, and look for what works.  I haven't ordered his book yet, but I should.)

Second, today's New York Times for Amy Harmon's article, "How Square Watermelons Get Their Shape, and Other G.M.O. Misconceptions".  (In my print edition, the title is the snappier "G.M.O. Myths Spread".)

Here's the most important:
Misconception: G.M.O. labels highlight a documented health risk.
Actually: These are not warning labels.  The scientific consensus is that genetically engineered crops are as safe to eat as other crops.
Perhaps safer, because they have been tested more.  (Some years ago, I read about a variety of celery that had been cross-bred with a wild variety to make it more resistant to, as I recall, insect pests.  Unfortunately, those wild celery genes also gave food handlers, rashes.)

Though on very different subjects, the op-ed and the article are both attempts to dispel myths, damaging myths.

(Harmon and I disagree on one myth.  I think it fair to say that nearly all of our foods are genetically modified, since they have been developed through years, centuries, or even millennia of selection and cross breeding.  Harmon disagrees, citing common usage.)
- 2:22 PM, 12 July 2016   [link]


Excellent News On US Fisheries:  Here's the bottom line in this Wall Street Journal op-ed, "Restoring Fisheries, Scoring a Net Gain".
The U.S. has reversed the seemingly intractable downward trend in fish stocks that began in the 1980s.  A composite health index of federal fisheries is at an all-time high.  American jobs supported by domestic fisheries now number 1.83 million, up 15% since 2011.
A 2006 reform bill that combined good science with property rights deserves much of the credit for this turnaround, according to the authors.
- 10:32 AM, 12 July 2016   [link]


The United States Is Facing a serious shortage.
The craft-beer industry is running out of hop names.

It has used up Hops of Wrath, Hopsickle, and Hop Drop ‘n Roll. So too with Hopivore, Aurora Hoppyalis, Hoptimum, Hopsecutioner and Notorious H.O.P.

Beer makers have also mown through the animal kingdom in search of catchy names, with hundreds of beers named after bears, dozens tied to moose and more than 100 named after the lowly squirrel.  Other well-trod terrain include natural features and historical references—and head-scratching categorical combinations. (DirtWolf Double IPA?)
Okay, maybe it isn't that serious, but it is keeping marketers and lawyers busy.

(Eric Ottaway's confession near the end suggests this rule of thumb for buying a craft beer:  Choose the type, porter, IPA, whatever, and then buy the brand that's on special that day.)
- 8:39 AM, 12 July 2016   [link]


The Inside/Outside Game In Civil Rights Politics:  Let me begin by saying that there were and are genuine heroes in the civil rights movement in the United States, people who want everyone treated equally, people who want better relations between races.  But there are also politicians and activists who use the movement to seek power and, often, money.

(And, humans being human, many have a mix of good and bad motives.)

Often they seek power and money by playing an "inside/outside" game.  For example, suppose we have Scary Sam, a radical who threatens violence, and Reasonable Ron, a moderate who opposes violence and says it can be prevented if he is given a police review board, summer jobs, a neighborhood center, or whatever.

The scarier Sam looks, the stronger Ron's bargaining position is — as long as there is no large scale violence.

There can be complexities to this game, but that should give you an idea of how it works.

And it is a enough so we can answer this question:  Does President Obama want racial healing?  Law Professor <Ann Althouse thinks he does; law Professor Glenn Reynolds thinks he doesn't.

Both are wrong, in my opinion; as a power seeker, Obama wants whichever will give him the most power.  Sometimes that means increasing racial tensions, sometimes it means decreasing them.

We can be more precise.  Obama wants racial tensions at a level that energizes the black community politically, but not at a level that drives away moderate whites.   Mostly he plays Mr. Insider, and leaves the outsider role to allies like Al Sharpton.

(Tom Wolfe described how the game was played at a low level, years ago, in "Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers".)
- 4:24 PM, 11 July 2016   [link]


Meet Britain's Next Prime Minister, Therea May.

Here are the stories from the BBC and the Daily Mail.

Her easy victory in the leadership contest tells me that she is respected in the Conservative Party, but I know little about her, otherwise.

(Her current position as Home Secretary (formally "Her Majesty's Principal Secretary of State for the Home Department") has no exact American equivalent.)
- 9:38 AM, 11 July 2016   [link]


Donald Trump, Poverty-Stricken Home Owner?  Here's another small glimpse into Donald Trump's taxes, "New York Strips Donald Trump of Homeowner Tax Break".
New York City removed a property tax break that Donald Trump had been receiving for homeowners with incomes under $500,000, tacking $1,046.41 onto the presumptive Republican presidential nominee’s tax bill.

The city made the change over the weekend in response to a request from Mr. Trump’s attorney, said Sonia Alleyne, a spokeswoman for the city’s finance department.  Ms. Alleyne wouldn’t say whether the city had determined that Mr. Trump legally qualifies for the break.
So he was getting a big tax break because his income was — relatively — low, but has given it up because?

There are a few experts in New York tax laws who could give you informed guesses about what was going on, but I am not in that small group.

As for his federal income taxes, I suspect that they would show that he is not as rich as he claims, and that he has not been paying his fair share for many years.  Which is why we will not see them, unless someone leaks them, illegally.
- 7:36 AM, 11 July 2016   [link]


Election Scorecard 7/11:  Two weeks ago, I said not much had changed since 21 June.

That's still true, with one minor exception.

The poll average has barely budged; Hillary Clinton's lead is now 5.8 percent,down one point after two weeks of bad news.   (I expect her to recover that point, and perhaps a little more, if Comrade Sanders endorses her this week, as news reports suggest he will.)

The British bettors are still giving Trump about a 22 percent chance of winning the general election, but they seem to have given up on the idea that he might lose the nomination at the convention.

Why haven't the polls and the betting markets changed?  Probably because most voters made up their minds about Hillary Clinton long ago, just as Maureen Dowd says, and we haven't seen anything new to change our minds about Donald Trump.

(Maureen Dowd isn't wrong all of the time, and she is mostly right in that column.)
- 6:44 AM, 11 July 2016   [link]


Last Friday's "Pepper & Salt" Cartoon seems more like a Monday cartoon to me.

(It's the one with the Shakespeare quotation.)
- 6:00 AM, 11 July 2016   [link]


Grim, But Worth Reading:  Heather MacDonald's indictment of President Obama, "Obama’s Ferguson Sellout".
On November 24, 2014, President Obama betrayed the nation.  Even as he went on national television to respond to the grand jury’s decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson for fatally shooting 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, the looting and arson that had followed Brown’s shooting in August were being reprised, destroying businesses and livelihoods over the next several hours.   Obama had one job and one job only in his address that day:  to defend the workings of the criminal-justice system and the rule of law.  Instead, he turned his talk into a primer on police racism and criminal-justice bias. In so doing, he perverted his role as the leader of all Americans and as the country’s most visible symbol of the primacy of the law.
MacDonald thinks that Obama believed what he said that evening — which would require Obama to ignore the physical evidence and witness testimony presented to the grand jury.

But there is another, more cynical explanation:  Obama did not care what the facts were, but wanted that issue to exploit.

MacDonald's explanation is more likely but, sadly, I can not exclude the other.
- 6:44 PM, 10 July 2016   [link]


Scott Johnson Takes A Stand for civility, even in Internet comments.

Good for him.  I can tell you, from my own experience, that keeping these political discussions civil can require considerable time.

Some thoughts, and a funny story:  Some commenters use obscenities as a form of bullying, often because they think they are losing an argument.   Others use them as part of a general attack on a site, or person.  It's an adolescent tactic, but it can wear a person down, over time.

Several years ago, in a similar discussion, I noted that anyone who can read and access the Internet can read thee posts and comments, and so I try to keep my own posts and comments "family friendly".  I didn't say anyone else should do the same; I just described my own rule, and explained why I had adopted it.   That inspired an obscene reply, from a commenter who thought I was censoring him.

(By now, almost everyone knows that people are less, shall we say, inhibited, when commenting on the Internet than when speaking in public.  It's odd, because the Internet is now about as public a place as there is — but it still feels private, to many people.)
- 3:23 PM, 10 July 2016   [link]


"It's Getting Better All The Time"  Cheering, though baffling, medical news.
Something strange is going on in medicine.  Major diseases, like colon cancer, dementia and heart disease, are waning in wealthy countries, and improved diagnosis and treatment cannot fully explain it.

Scientists marvel at this good news, a medical mystery of the best sort and one that is often overlooked as advocacy groups emphasize the toll of diseases and the need for more funds.  Still, many are puzzled.
There's more good news in the rest of the article, and more puzzles.

(If you come up with any interesting hypotheses to explain these improvements — I haven't — pass them on to your neighborhood medical researcher.)
- 2:38 PM, 10 July 2016   [link]


It Took Me A Day To Figure Out Friday's New Yorker Cartoon:  But it was worth it, when I did.

(Fans of Hillary Clinton may disagree.)
- 2:02 PM, 10 July 2016   [link]


This Joke From The 1930s May Seem Appropriate, Today:  Two friends are sitting together on a park bench.  For a long time neither says anything.  Finally, one man lets out a long sigh.

The other turns to him and says:  "Must you always be talking about politics?"
- 2:47 PM, 9 July 2016   [link]


My Sympathies To The Families And Friends Of Those Dallas Police Officers:  More later.
- 2:28 PM, 9 July 2016   [link]