August 2017, Part 1

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Kasich Rising:  It isn't hard to figure out why this poll was taken.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich leads President Trump in a hypothetical New Hampshire Republican presidential primary matchup, according to a new poll.

An American Research Group poll found that if the New Hampshire Republican presidential primary were held today, Kasich would get 52 percent support, compared to Trump, who would receive just 40 percent.

Another 8 percent were undecided.
I am mildly surprised by the result, this early.

Bettors have noticed, though his 2.1 percent (as I write) would not make him a prohibitive favorite.

(In 2016, Trump won the New Hampshire primary with 35.34 percent of the vote.  Kasich was second with 15.81 percent.  Had there been a runoff, Kasich might have won, in my opinion.)
- 2:36 PM, 8 August 2017   [link]

The Anti-ISIS Coalition Is Making Big Gains Against The Terrorist Organization:  Thanks in part to changes in tactics by the Trump administration.
JUDY WOODRUFF:  Why has this progress sped up?  Why has this happened this way in the last six months?

BRETT MCGURK:  Well, we have a couple of important changes.

When President Trump came into office, about three really key changes.   Number one and probably most importantly was the decision to delegate tactical decision-making authority to the commanders in the field, and that has made a key difference.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  So, this is part of a new initiative under President Trump?  It’s not part of a plan that was handed over by the Obama administration?

BRETT MCGURK:  Well, the rapid turn in decision-making is something that’s new and it’s actually causing us to act with great efficiency, and seizing some key opportunities.

It makes it different if decisions can be made immediately to seize those types of opportunities as they emerge.
(Brett McGurk is the "special presidential envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIS".  He was appointed to that position by President Obama.)

This is good news, for sure.

(If you are at all like me, you were startled to see this story on PBS, and the credit, deserved as far as I can tell, given to the Trump administration.

The change in tactics will remind some older readers of Nixon's change in strategy when he replaced Johnson.)
- 8:04 AM, 8 August 2017   [link]

Here's A Wild Idea For Venezuela:  The United States should offer food and medicine, to be distributed by the Red Cross, or perhaps the Organization of American States.  As part of the offer, we should promise safe passage to Cuba for President Nicolás Maduro, and a few of his top officials.

We should make the offer secretly and, if Maduro doesn't reveal it, let it leak out.

Here's my thinking:  First, it could be a good solution for Venezuela.  The replacement of the Chavista regime by a provisional government that would hold power long enough for elections, might prevent much bloodshed.  It wouldn't be an entirely just solution, since some of the top criminals would escape the punishment they deserve.  But sometimes that's the best you can do in a hostage situation, which is what we have in Venezuela.

Second, the offer, if rejected, as I expect it would be, would still tend to undermine the regime.  The officers in the armed forces and the police officials who are keeping Maduro in power will begin to wonder whether we know a bloody coup is coming, and will begin to think of saving their own skins by running away, or by turning against the regime, while they can still join the winning side.

I don't think this offer is likely to succeed, but it costs us nothing to make it, and so is worth a try.
- 7:00 AM, 8 August 2017   [link]

This New Yorker Cartoon Is Funny and, I would say, sweet.
- 6:15 AM, 8 August 2017   [link]

The FDA And Drug Shortages:  In 2014 I wrote a puzzled post on the shortage of medical nitroglycerin.

As it turns out, I had forgotten my own 2010 post, which, citing authorities, blamed persistent drug shortages on the FDA.
So the editorial writers at the Times think that the FDA could solve this problem; in contrast, [Alex] Tabarrok believes that the FDA helped cause it.
And my follow-up post that suggests that the Obama administration may have made the shortages worse.

That is what I guessed in 2014, but I had forgotten my earlier posts, with the evidence on the general problem.

(The Alex Tabarrok post is still there.

For similar reasons, I have suspected for many years that we would have more vaccine manufacturers were it not for price controls, and regulations.)
- 5:53 PM, 7 August 2017   [link]

We're In The "Silly Season" Now:  Some would say we've been in a silly season for quite some time, but now it is more or less official, for the United States.
In the United Kingdom and in some other places, the silly season is the period lasting for a few summer months typified by the emergence of frivolous news stories in the media.  It is known in many languages as the cucumber time. The term was coined in an 1861 Saturday Review article,[1] and was listed in the second edition of Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable (1894) and remains in use at the start of the 21st century.  The fifteenth edition of Brewer's expands on the second, defining the silly season as "the part of the year when Parliament and the Law Courts are not sitting (about August and September)".

In North America the period is referred to prosaically as the slow news season, or with the phrase dog days of summer.  In Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa, the silly season has come to refer to the Christmas/New Year festive period (which occurs during the summer season in the Southern Hemisphere) on account of the higher than usual number of social engagements where the consumption of alcohol is typical
In the United States, I would say the silly season is shorter than in the United Kingdom, and ends on Labor Day.   At one time, it was common for politicians to assume that most voters weren't paying much attention until then, even in election years.  (That would explain, for instance, the rather low turnout in Seattle's recent mayoralty primary.)

Why cucumber?  I haven't a clue.

(The C. M. Kornbluth story can be found in a number of collections including his Marching Morons.)
- 10:12 AM, 7 August 2017   [link]

Some Things Should be private.
- 9:24 AM, 7 August 2017   [link]

Michael Gerson And Dana Milbank Don't Agree On Much:  But they do agree, in one important way, on the president.

First, Gerson.
There are many problems with this mode of presidential communication, but mainly its supreme self-regard.  The deal, in his presentation, was not about the economy or the country.  It was about him.  It was about the absurd concessions he was forced to make, the absurd opposition he was forced to endure, the universally insufficient deference to his wisdom.
Second, Milbank.
He bestowed superlatives on his accomplishments:
. . .
More!  Most!  Biggest!  And when he wasn't praising his accomplishments, he was praising himself:  "One thing I hope people have seen during this session, I am persistent.  I am persistent.  You know, if I believe in something strongly, I stay on it."
If he does say so himself.

Another attack on Trump?

Nope.  That's a December 2010 post, edited lightly to remove the references to President Obama.

When I read that old post, I was struck by how similar the criticisms are to what the columnists might say today — about Trump.

They were right then, and they would be right now.
- 12:56 PM, 6 August 2017   [link]

Old Obama Joke:  But I laughed again when I found it in the archives.
Obama walks into a bar with a parrot on his shoulder.  Bartender says, "Does he talk?"

Parrot says, "Not without a Teleprompter."
Recycled from December 2010.  (I'm not sure where I got it, since I forgot to put in the link.)
- 7:42 AM, 6 August 2017   [link]

This Week's Collections Of Political Cartoons from Politico and RealClearPolitics.

My favorites:  In Politico, Jeff Danziger's falling circulation and Michael Ramirez's "CHE-At"; in RealClearPolitics, Andy Marlette's General Kelly, Andy Marlette's spider (because it is so weird), Clay Bennett's Scaramucci, and Mike Lukovich's exchange.
- 3:35 PM, 5 August 2017   [link]

The "Strong" Bolivar Is Getting Even Weaker:  And at a faster rate.
Venezuela's money, the bolivar, is sinking faster and faster under an intensifying political and economic crisis that has left citizens destitute and increasingly desperate.

Its depreciation accelerated this week, after a disputed vote electing an all-powerful "Constituent Assembly" filled with allies of President Nicolas Maduro, which the opposition and dozens of countries have called illegitimate.

On Thursday alone, the bolivar slumped nearly 15 percent on the black market, to be worth 17,000 to one US dollar.

In a year, the currency has lost 94 percent.
In 2008, Venezuela replaced the bolivar with the "bolívar fuerte", or "strong" bolivar.  Perhaps they should replace that with a "super strong" bolivar.

(The Wikipedia article names two sites where you can see black market exchange rates, if you want to see what the currency is worth today.)
- 7:34 AM, 4 August 2017   [link]

Work Load Too Heavy?  Here's a solution some of you can use.
- 6:21 AM, 4 August 2017   [link]

More On "SMOKEZILLA"  The air quality in Seattle is now worse than that in Beijing.

The air in parts of central Washington state is even worse, so much worse that authorities are handing out free face masks.

You can see "SMOKEZILLA" in real time by clicking on the Mt. St. Helens or Mt. Rainier web cams, even the one at Muir, which is at about 10,000 feet.

As you probably have guessed, even if you don't live in this area, we are getting some red, red sunrises and sunsets.  They aren't especially beautiful, as sunrises and sunsets go, but they are impressive.

So far, the smoke hasn't bothered me much, for which I am grateful.
- 1:09 PM, 3 August 2017   [link]

"SMOKEZILLA Versus The Heat Wave"  Cliff Mass explains why the weather in this region is so unpleasant.
Today was one of the smokiest days ever in western Washington as the surge of smoke from the fires in British Columbia continued to push southward.  The dense smoke, a.k.a. SMOKEZILLA, was thick enough to appreciably reduce the amount of solar radiation reaching the surface and resulted in cooler temperatures than forecast.  Seattle only hit 91F and Portland topped out at 103F, both locations 3-5F cooler than expected.
There's much more in the post, including pictures of SMOKEZILLA.

Naturally, I blame Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for failing to get those fires under control.

All right, to be serious, I don't know whether Trudeau could have done more, though I suspect he might have.  But the "dreamboat" has received so much undeserved credit from reporters that I don't mind giving him a little blame, whether or not he deserves it.
- 10:36 AM, 3 August 2017   [link]

Donald Trump, Loser:  According to the Russians, anyway.
While Putin has been silent since Trump signed the sanctions law, which strengthens punitive measures imposed over Russia’s intervention in Ukraine and its election interference, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev on Wednesday criticized the sanctions and belittled the U.S. president.

“The Trump administration has shown its total weakness by handing over executive power to Congress in the most humiliating way,” Medvedev said in messages posted on Facebook and Twitter.  “The US establishment fully outwitted Trump.”

He called the sanctions “a declaration of a full-fledged economic war on Russia.”
If other accounts are correct, Medvedev went even further, calling Trump "impotent" — that has to hurt — and predicting that Trump will be "liquidated".

Why are Vladimir Putin and company playing this mind game?  Why are they insulting Trump so personally?  Probably in hopes of somehow getting Trump to lift the sanctions, or at least not enforce them vigorously.

And, of course, to further divide the United States, as usual.
- 9:19 AM, 3 August 2017   [link]

Millennials Discover a cool new technology.

(This explains ads I've been seeing for a device that lets you watch TV — for free!)
- 8:40 AM, 3 August 2017   [link]

Last Night Was Ladies Night In Seattle:  They took the top four places in the partial count of the mayoral primary.
The first day's preliminary count after the August 1 primary was 88,950 ballots, 19.18% of the 463,660 ballots sent to registered voters.[95]  The leaders in this initial count were Jenny Durkan with 27,579 votes or 31.6% of the ballots counted so far, Cary Moon with 13,583 or 15.56%, and Nikkita Oliver with 12,126 or 13.9%.  Jessyn Farrell had 10,308 votes (11.81%), Bob Hasegawa 7,526 (8.62%), and Mike McGinn 6,247 (7.16%).  The remaining 15 candidates, and write-ins, totaled 9,899 votes, or 11.3%.[95]  The Seattle Times, KUOW radio, and other local media predicted, after the initial count of about half what King County said was the expected turnout, that Seattle's next mayor would be a woman for the first time since Bertha Knight Landes was elected 91 years ago, in 1926.[96]  They said Durkan appeared certain to have her name on the general election ballot, while Moon and Oliver, and perhaps Farrell, were in a toss up to make it through the primary.[96]
(It's a "top-two" primary.  Votes must be postmarked by election day, or put in a "drop box" before 8 in the evening on election day to be counted, so the county hadn't received all of the votes when the first count was made.)

Unless I am missing something — which is certainly possible, since I don't pay close attention to Seattle politics — Jenny Durkan has to be rated the solid favorite.  It probably will not surprise you to learn that she is a "two-fer" (at least).

(You may think that Seattle is so Democratic that all 21 of the candidates were Democrats.  Not so.  There were two Republicans, one Libertarian, one "Green Democrat", one nonpartisan, one Socialist Worker, one centrist, one member of the Peoples Party, one independent, one musician, and one person who gave no affiliation.

Some will wonder whether Nikkita Oliver could be named after a certain Soviet leader.  That's possible; she is on the far left.)
- 2:01 PM, 2 August 2017   [link]

Venezuelan Vote Fraud:  According to someone in a good position to know.
Turnout numbers for Sunday's controversial vote in Venezuela have been "tampered with", the company that provided the voting system alleges.

Venezuela's electoral authorities said more than eight million people voted in the elections for a new constituent assembly.

But the CEO of Smartmatic, Antonio Mugica, said the actual turnout differed by at least one million.
In its early years, the Chavista regime was able to win elections more or less honestly, but not recently.
- 10:13 AM, 2 August 2017   [link]

Paul Krugman Tells A Great Joke:  And makes a sharp criticism of former president Barack Obama.
Democrats aren’t above cutting a few intellectual corners in pursuit of electoral advantage.  But the Obama administration was, when all is said and done, remarkably clearheaded and honest about its policies.  In particular, it was always clear what the A.C.A. was supposed to do and how it was supposed to do it — and it has, for the most part, worked as advertised.
Some might interpret that paragraph as more evidence that Krugman is a prisoner of his partisanship, but it is kinder, I think, to assume that he is deliberately joking.

If Krugman is serious, he would benefit by reading this Glenn Kessler column, "Obama’s biggest whoppers".

(Others believe Krugman is serious.
Krugman's columns have drawn criticism as well as praise.  A 2003 article in The Economist[114] questioned Krugman's "growing tendency to attribute all the world's ills to George Bush," citing critics who felt that "his relentless partisanship is getting in the way of his argument" and claiming errors of economic and political reasoning in his columns.[81]  Daniel Okrent, a former The New York Times ombudsman, in his farewell column, criticized Krugman for what he said was "the disturbing habit of shaping, slicing and selectively citing numbers in a fashion that pleases his acolytes but leaves him open to substantive assaults."[115][116]
(links omitted.)

And they could be right.)
- 7:24 AM, 2 August 2017   [link]

More Reason to worry?   Probably.
- 6:20 AM, 2 August 2017   [link]

Mighty Mushrooms:  A mushroom spore is most likely to grow into a new mushroom if its parent can expel it some distance into the air.   Which requires the mushroom to accelerate spores at "thousands of times the force of gravity".

Kenneth Chang explains how they do that.
The energy for propelling the spores turns out to come from the surface tension of water — the forces that cause a drop of water to roll up into a bead on a water-repellent surface.
The trick that mushrooms use probably doesn't have any military applications, but it is fun to know about anyway.

And it might have civilian applications in, for instance, ink-jet printers
- 3:29 PM, 1 August 2017   [link]

Another Obama Scandal:  Uncovered in a lawsuit.
In August 2012, the federal government abruptly changed the terms of the bailout provided to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the mortgage finance giants that had been devastated by the financial crisis.  Instead of continuing to receive payments on the taxpayer assistance, Treasury officials decided to begin seizing all the profits both companies generated every quarter.

It was an unusual move, given that the companies still had public shareholders.   But it was necessary, the Treasury said, to protect taxpayers from likely future losses in their operations.  Justice Department lawyers have reiterated this view in court, saying that the bailout terms were modified because the companies were in a death spiral.

But newly unsealed documents show that as early as December 2011, high-level Treasury officials knew that Fannie and Freddie would soon become profitable again.  The materials also show that government officials involved in the decision to divert the profits knew the change would most likely generate more money for Treasury than the original rescue terms, which required the companies to pay taxpayers 10 percent annually on the bailout assistance they had received.
(Links omitted.)

What is striking about this deception is the boldness, since those public shareholders were bound to suspect, and nearly certain to sue — as they did.  It may be that boldness that led Scott Johnson to remind us of Michael Barone's famous "gangster government" line.

(Gretchen Morgenson owns the Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac story.  Here's one of my posts on the book she wrote with Joshua Rosner.)
- 1:47 PM, 1 August 2017   [link]

The New Yorker Has More Scaramucci:  Not that we need more.
On CNN’s New Day, [Ryan] Lizza said there were recordings of the call and — get this — the magazine is apparently sitting on even more stuff which the two men agreed would be officially “off the record.”
I have seen reports — which may even be true — that Donald Trump liked the call, but didn't like all the attention Scaramucci was getting.

Wouldn't it be funny if the off-the-record parts were not obscene, not even vulgar?

(Usage note:  The Scaramucci call was vulgar and obscene, but I wouldn't call it "profane", because I prefer to reserve that for religious words.  I don't recall any in the Lizza article, but I am not planning to wade through that sewer again, to check.)
- 10:44 AM, 1 August 2017   [link]

An Older Child Explains Some Hard Facts about school to a younger child.
- 9:56 AM, 1 August 2017   [link]