March 2018, Part 2

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Steve Bannon Is An Admirer Of Mussolini?!?  That's what he said in an interview.
In an interview with The Spectator — a U.K. based magazine — Bannon lavished praise upon Benito Mussolini, the former fascist dictator of Italy.

Bannon told writer Nicholas Farrell that he, to quote the author, “adores” the dictator — to the point where Farrell speculates that the reason Bannon granted him an interview was that he’d read Farrell’s biography on Mussolini.

“He was clearly loved by women.  He was a guy’s guy,” Bannon said.  “He has all that virility.  He also had amazing fashion sense, right, that whole thing with the uniforms.  I’m fascinated by Mussolini.”
Is Bannon trolling Farrell in that interview?  To some extent, I suspect he is.

But I think that to some extent he is also telling the truth, even though Bannon must know that Benito Mussolini was a disastrous leader for Italy.
- 2:07 PM, 16 March 2018   [link]

Barack Obama, Producer?  In 2014, I noted that Barack Obama is a fine actor.
All that is true, but I think [Victor Davis] Hanson fails to give Obama's acting ability the credit that it deserves.   Obama was selling arguments [in 2008] that were, often, internally inconsistent, and, more often than not, inconsistent with Obama's political record, and personal history.

Example:   A man who truly wanted to bring people together would never have spent years belonging to Reverend Wright's church.
Now Obama is planning to become a producer, too.
Former President Barack Obama is in advanced negotiations with Netflix to produce a series of high-profile shows that will provide him a global platform after his departure from the White House, according to people familiar with the discussions.

Under terms of a proposed deal, which is not yet final, Netflix would pay Mr. Obama and his wife, Michelle, for exclusive content that would be available only on the streaming service, which has nearly 118 million subscribers around the world.   The number of episodes and the formats for the shows have not been decided.

Mr. Obama does not intend to use his Netflix shows to directly respond to President Trump or conservative critics, according to people familiar with discussions about the programming.   They said the Obamas had talked about producing shows that highlight inspirational stories.
Inspirational stories that just happen to make leftist arguments?

I don't think I am too cynical in coming to that conclusion.  You shouldn't, for example, expect any stories about heroic ICE agents saving the lives of illegal immigrants — as the agents sometimes do.

It is unfortunate, I think, that Obama didn't skip the presidency detour and take his acting talent directly to Hollywood.
- 1:24 PM, 16 March 2018   [link]

Here's A Stray Thought:  I wouldn't be surprised to learn that the Chinese regime has sequenced Donald Trump's DNA.

They study us intensively, even obsessively — and you can learn something about how a man will behave by looking at his DNA.

I have of course no evidence for this, which is why I called it just a stray thought.

(It would have been easy enough to get a sample from one of Trump's dishes at one of those Beijing banquets.

Could we be doing something similar?  We certainly have the technical capability, but I doubt whether we are doing it, now.)
- 10:54 AM, 16 March 2018   [link]

This Week's Collection Of Cartoons from Politico.

My favorites:  Matt Davies's local elections and his hairdos, and Ann Telnaes's application form (brutal, but both clever and funny).

I also like this Michael Ramirez tribute to Elizabeth Warren's ancestry.  It didn't make this week's collection.
- 10:30 AM, 16 March 2018   [link]

"Some Short History Reading Lists"  Joshua Sharf helps out a friend.
We were over at a friend’s house for lunch this Shabbat.  Knowing that 1) I have a lot of history books, and 2) I tend to read them, he was kind enough to ask me for some reading lists about the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, and the Cold War.  “I haven’t had much luck with fiction, so I’m trying to round out my history.”
And perhaps helps out other people who would like to know more about those three great wars.

I've read about half of the books in his lists, and can recommend all of those I've read, so I think the others are probably high quality, too.
- 3:57 PM, 15 March 2018   [link]

It's Official; Angela Merkel was sworn in for a fourth term.
Angela Merkel has been sworn in for a fourth term as German chancellor, after months of political wrangling that left her weakened.

Germany's parliament earlier approved her re-election by 364 votes to 315.
. . .
But analysts said the vote was a humbling start as only 364 MPs backed her appointment, when her conservative bloc and the SPDs have 399.
A majority in the new Bundestag is 355.
- 3:03 PM, 15 March 2018   [link]

#TheyToo:  A British newspaper has revealed another Rotherham scandal, this time in Telford.
Up to 1,000 children could have suffered in Britain’s worst known abuse scandal - where sex gangs targeted girls as young as 11.

The rape hell of vulnerable young girls in one town - Telford - went on for a shocking 40 years, the Sunday Mirror can reveal.

As many as 1,000 children could have suffered at the merciless hands of perverts and torturers in Telford since the 1980s.

Girls as young as 11 have been lured from their families to be drugged, beaten and raped in an epidemic that, say victims, is still ongoing.

THREE people were murdered and two others died in tragedies linked to the scandal.
As in Rotherham, the victims are mostly white working class girls from broken families, and the perpetrators are mostly "Asian" men.  (Reminder:  By "Asian", British journalists usually mean south Asian, and often specifically Pakistani.)

(In 2014, I wrote two posts on Rotherham, which you can find here and here.   At last 90 percent of what I said then applies to Telford, now.

- 10:51 AM, 15 March 2018   [link]

"Cuteness Counts"  I was going to chuckle at this election analysis.
In light of Democrat candidate Conor Lamb declaring victory in Tuesday night’s special congressional election, some pundits have used it to suggest a liberal anti-Donald Trump wave is under way, but the hosts of Fox & Friends chalked the results up to the “cuteness” vote.
But then I remembered that there might be a little truth in it.

But only a little.
- 9:54 AM, 15 March 2018   [link]

The New Teacher tries to make his students feel at ease.

(Yes, there is a political point, but it is still a funny cartoon.)
- 9:39 AM, 15 March 2018   [link]

It's A Nice Piece Of Genetic Research:  And Carl Zimmer introduces it well.
Thousands of years ago, a special child was born in the Sahara. At the time, this was not a desert; it was a green belt of savannas, woodlands, lakes and rivers.   Bands of hunter-gatherers thrived there, catching fish and spearing hippos.

A genetic mutation had altered the child’s hemoglobin, the molecule in red blood cells that ferries oxygen through the body.  It was not harmful; there are two copies of every gene, and the child’s other hemoglobin gene was normal. The child survived, had a family and passed down the mutation to future generations.

As the greenery turned to desert, the descendants of the hunter-gatherers became cattle-herders and farmers, and moved to other parts of Africa.  The mutation endured over generations, and for good reason.  People who carried one mutated gene were protected against one of the biggest threats to humans in the region: malaria.
Americans tend to forget just how terrible malaria is, since we solved our own malaria problem so long ago.  But these numbers should remind us.
The disease is widespread in the tropical and subtropical regions that exist in a broad band around the equator.[1]  This includes much of Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, and Latin America.[2]  In 2016, there were 216 million cases of malaria worldwide resulting in an estimated 731,000 deaths.[3][4]  Approximately 90% of both cases and deaths occurred in Africa.[7]  Rates of disease have decreased from 2000 to 2015 by 37%,[7] but increased from 2014 during which there were 198 million cases.[8]  Malaria is commonly associated with poverty and has a major negative effect on economic development.[9][10]  In Africa, it is estimated to result in losses of US$12 billion a year due to increased healthcare costs, lost ability to work, and negative effects on tourism.[11]
Could the findings in that genetic research help us fight malaria?  Possibly, since they might give us a better understanding of how natural defenses against malaria work.

(Sickle-cell disease)
- 4:05 PM, 14 March 2018   [link]

1 Of 118:  Those numbers do draw your attention, even if they come from the plaintiffs.
Female Microsoft employees in U.S. technical roles filed 118 complaints of gender discrimination with the company between 2010 and 2016, according to court documents.  Microsoft’s internal investigation unit concluded just one of those complaints was “founded,” according to the documents filed by plaintiffs in an ongoing suit against the company.
If you read the article, you'll know as much about the lawsuit as I do — which isn't enough to offer an opinion.

But those numbers are striking.
- 3:15 PM, 14 March 2018   [link]

Democrat Conor Lamb Has Won The 18th District Special Election:  Apparently.

His margin should be enough to hold up as provisional ballots are counted, and during a possible recount, unless there was a serious mistake during the counting.
With the last batch of absentee ballots counted, Lamb, a 33-year-old former prosecutor and first-time candidate, saw his edge shrink ever so slightly, to 627 votes out of more than 224,000 cast, according to unofficial results.

The four counties in the Pittsburgh area district have seven days to count the unknown number of provisional ballots.
In general, I expect provisional ballots to favor Democratic candidates, since Democrats have more support from people with little education (and more support from people with advanced degrees).

Lamb is a good fit for the district.  Democratic candidates like him were fairly common in such districts, before Nancy Pelosi and Barack Obama became the leaders of the Democratic Party.

What does it mean for the November House of Representatives election?   Harry Enten's analysis seems about right to me.
I collected data on each president's approval rating at this point before each midterm election in Gallup surveys since 1946.  Trump's 39% approval rating at this point projects that the Republicans will lose the House popular vote by 10 points.  (There's a fairly wide margin of error in this estimate given that we are still have a lot time before the midterm.)

If the 10-point estimate is right on, Republicans will probably have a net loss of between 30 and 40 seats.  That is far more than the net 23 seats they need to lose (if Lamb wins) for them to lose the House.
British bettors agree, giving, as I write, Democrats a 64 percent chance of winning the House.

In some ways these likely Republican losses should surprise us; the economy is doing well, the United States has had successes against ISIS, and some Republican policies are popular with majorities.

If we had a normal Republican as president, I would expect that combination would result in an approval rating of about 55 percent.

But we don't have a normal Republican, we have Donald Trump, and he is dragging the party down, with his divisive leadership, and his continuing personal scandals.

Character counts.

(Conor Lamb)
- 10:43 AM, 14 March 2018   [link]

It's Pi Day:  You can find some suggestions for ways to celebrate, here.
- 8:57 AM, 14 March 2018   [link]

"Have Killings Among Teens Increased?"  No, in fact they have declined substantially since a peak about 1995 or 1996.

If you want to explore reasons for the decline, and the earlier increase, this would be a good place to start.

(One thing to remember when comparing murder rates over decades:  We are much better at saving the lives of badly wounded crime victims now than we once were.)
- 6:03 PM, 13 March 2018   [link]

It Isn't A New Idea, And There Has Been Just One Cure from this particular therapy so far, but I think we can still call this result promising.
An anti-bacterial virus found in a Connecticut lake successfully treated an 80-year-old doctor with a life-threatening antibiotic-resistant infection in his heart, a Yale team of scientists and doctors reported March 8 in the journal Evolution, Medicine, and Public Health.

The case study suggests that the viruses, called bacteriophages, could be an effective treatment against many drug-resistant infections, said the researchers.
Although you wouldn't know it from the article, bacteriophages have been used to fight diseases for decades.
They have been used for over 90 years as an alternative to antibiotics in the former Soviet Union and Central Europe, as well as in France.[5]  They are seen as a possible therapy against multi-drug-resistant strains of many bacteria (see phage therapy).[6]
But we here in the United States paid little attention to them, mistakenly I think.

(Fun fact:  Many bacteriophages look like lunar landers.)
- 3:41 PM, 13 March 2018   [link]

Was Putin The Reason Rex Tillerson Was Hired — And Fired?  When Donald Trump chose Rex Tillerson to be secretary of state, I thought it was an odd choice, since Tillerson, though capable, had little governmental experience.

But even then I wondered whether this part of Tillersonn's biography was what attracted Trump.
In 2014, Tillerson, who had made business deals on behalf of Exxon with President Vladimir Putin of Russia, opposed the sanctions against Russia.[4]  He has previously been the director of the joint United States-Russia oil company Exxon Neftegas.[5][6]

In 2013, Tillerson was awarded the Order of Friendship by Vladimir Putin for his contribution to developing cooperation in the energy sector.[43][44][45]
(There's much more in that Wikipedia biography.)

If Trump was looking for a man who could make deals with Putin, Tillerson might look like an obvious choice.

Now, some people are wondering whether Tillerson's backing of Theresa May against Russia might explain why Tillerson was fired, now.

For example:
But perhaps Rex Tillerson’s aggressive response to Russia’s attempted assassination of Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia was the last straw for our Putin-loving President.
The specific timing of the move—following the secretary of state’s split from the president to condemn a Russian attack in the U.K.—raises questions about its motive.
That explanation for the timing is, at the very least, plausible.
- 2:42 PM, 13 March 2018   [link]

We Probably Won't Get An Official Explanation For This Firing Any Time Soon:  But we deserve one.
President Donald Trump’s personal assistant, John McEntee, was escorted out of the White House on Monday, two senior administration officials said.  The cause of the firing was an unspecified security issue, said a third White House official with knowledge of the situation.
CNN has a rumor.

Obviously, I can't add anything to that rumor, but I can make this general point:   Personal assistants are almost ideal spies, since they have wide access to secrets and low profiles.
- 10:15 AM, 13 March 2018   [link]

No Class, No Courage:  The way Rex Tillerson was fired reminds us — not that most of us needed a reminder — that Donald Trump has no class.  It also should remind us that, for all his boasting, he is often afraid to fire men in person, something any executive should be able to do.

As I said in January, I think Trump's self-hugs tell us something about the man.

Trump's original choice of Tillerson also tells something about Trump.  To be effective, a president and a secretary of state should be a team, with a common goals and an agreed-upon strategy.

Trump apparently never took the time to find out what Tillerson thought should be our global strategy.

As it turns out, they weren't even in the same book, much less on the same page.

(There are some parallels to the Obama-Clinton relationship.  Like Obama, Trump wants to be his own secretary of state, but needs someone in the position to travel around the world doing ceremonial duties.)
- 9:45 AM, 13 March 2018   [link]

This Parent-Teacher Conference is . . . different.
- 8:48 AM, 13 March 2018   [link]

Prime Minister Theresa May Was Admirably Clear In Her Speech On The Findings of Her Chemical Warfare Experts:  The attack on Sergei and Yulia Skirpal used a Russian "nerve agent".
Former spy Sergei Skirpal and his daughter were poisoned by a military-grade nerve agent of a type developed by Russia, Theresa May has told MPs.

The PM said the government concluded it was "highly likely" Russia was responsible for the Salisbury attack.

Russia's ambassador has been asked to explain whether it was "direct action" by the state or due to it "losing control" of its nerve agent stock.
When the Russians assassinated Alexander Litvinenko with polonium in 2006, I speculated they had used such an unusual poison for the terror effect.

Now I think that in that assassination, and this attack, Putin and company chose poisons they knew would be traced to Russia.

He wants any defectors, any potential defectors — and us in the West — to know just how long his reach is.

(Novichok agents )
- 7:31 PM, 12 March 2018   [link]

It's An Obvious Cartoon — but I am still glad that Michael Ramirez drew it.
- 3:02 PM, 12 March 2018   [link]

"Everything You Need To Know About The Pennsylvania 18th Special Election"  Everything?  Not if you are an election junkie, since there is always more data that we would like to see.  (For instance, private polls.)

But way more than enough, for normal people.
March came in like a lion; will it go out with a Lamb?  Voters in Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District will decide that on Tuesday as they vote in the first of many federal elections in 2018. Like in previous races for Georgia’s 6th Congressional District and Alabama’s U.S. Senate seat, the party that wins the Pennsylvania special election will be said to have the momentum heading into the pivotal midterm elections later this year.  In our view, that’s a bit overblown — in reality, it’s the margin of victory that tells us what to expect in midterm results, and Democrat Conor Lamb is likely to overperform in Pennsylvania no matter who wins.  We will still be watching that margin closely, though, and a decisive victory by Republican Rick Saccone could be a sign that that something in the political environment has changed.
In other words, for Nathaniel Rakich, it isn't who wins or loses, it's the point spread.

I understand his argument (though I don't completely agree with it) so I will give you some of the numbers that partisans will be using as yardsticks:  In the last contested general election in the district, 2012, Republican Tim Murphy won 64 to 36 percent.  Mitt Romney won the district by 17 points in 2012, Trump by almost 20 points in 2016.  Cook rates the 18th district as having an 11 percent Republican edge.  Polls show a very close race.  And Democrats have the edge in registration, 46 to 41 percent.

As you can see, for almost any plausible outcome, you can show a win over point spread for either party, just by picking the appropriate yardstick.

Which would I pick?  Cook's is closest.  It's a strong Trump district, but you expect the out party to do better in special elections.  So, if Lamb loses by less than 5 or 10 percent, Democrats will have reason for hope this fall.

The election has not drawn much attention from British bettors.  They currently give Saccone a 60-40 percent edge.
- 10:11 AM, 12 March 2018   [link]

Anyone Who Has Sat Through A Too-Long Presentation will appreciate the latest "Pepper . . . and Salt" cartoon.
- 7:53 AM, 12 March 2018   [link]

Excellent.  Now We Can Have The Mud-Wrestling Contest:  That was my admittedly frivolous reaction to President Trump's announcement that he was willing to meet with the North Korean dictator.

But it may not be too far off the mark.

I can't think of any serious agreement that could result from such a meeting, but we might see an entertaining show.

(The problem is simple, and, by now, obvious:  The North Koreans might be willing to promise better behaviour in return for, for example, the relaxation of sanctions.  But there is no reason to expect them to keep such promises.

So why should the United States sign an agreement we have every reason to expect will be broken?

Nor would a real agreement look sensible from the North Korean side.  Kim and company probably believe that nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles are a necessary guarantee against America overthrowing their regime, as we have others in recent decades.

It would be wonderful if this pessimistic assessment is proven wrong by events, but I wouldn't suggest that anyone hold their breath waiting for that to happen)
- 8:05 PM, 11 March 2018   [link]

Anthony Scaramucci Has A Few Faults — but he doesn't lack a sense of humor.
- 7:17 PM, 11 March 2018   [link]

"What’s The Deal With Stormy Daniels?"  If you are looking for answers to that question, Jack Shafer has enough answers to satisfy almost everyone.

For instance:
For those who put morality first, the Daniels story is probably about the adulterous, lying ways of politicians—and about the hypocrisy of Trump voters.  As Kirsten Powers put it last night on CNN, the people who voted for Donald Trump do care when Democrats tomcat around but don’t care when Republicans do it. And vice versa.

With a nod to Watergate, maybe the real story is about Trump’s alleged cover-up.  That is, we shouldn’t care so much about what he did as about the measures he took—including lying—to conceal it.
If those don't satisfy you, Shafer has others.
- 1:31 PM, 9 March 2018   [link]

Amazon Has An Explanation for that laugh.

An explanation I believe is compatible with my speculation.
- 12:22 PM, 9 March 2018   [link]

This Week's Collection Of Cartoons from Politico.

My favorites:  Michael Ramirez's mayor of Oakland, Matt Davies's driver, Signe Wilkinson's MeToo, and Ben Garrison's movie theater (because it is so funny, unintentionally).

I also like this Andy Marlette cartoon, which did not make the collection.
- 8:43 AM, 9 March 2018   [link]