December 2017, Part 1

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

These Three Questions Aren't Illegal:  (As far as I know.)

But I haven't seen any journalists asking them:
  1. Could better federal and state policies have made California's wild fires this year less devastating?
  2. Are any elected officials partly to blame for the size of the fires?
  3. Has the Democratic governor, Jerry Brown, responded effectively to the fires?
Though I have my suspicions, I don't know the answers to any of those questions — but I do wish some of our journalists would ask them.

(In particular, I suspect that adherents to the Green religion may have encouraged Democratic officials to set rules for forest management that make massive fires more likely.

Jerry Brown)
- 2:48 PM, 8 December 2017   [link]

Chris Matthews Just Told an excellent joke.
MSNBC "Hardball" host Chris Matthews said Thursday night that "the worst you can say about Democrats is that they're too pure" in light of recent resignation announcements made by Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) and Sen. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) amid sexual harassment allegations.
(Yes, I know Conyers was a congressman, not a senator — and so does The Hill.  They just slipped, as we all do from time to time.)

It is possible that Matthews did not intend that as a joke — but an unintended joke can still be funny.

(Chris Matthews)
- 1:12 PM, 8 December 2017   [link]

What Do British Bettors Think, Now?  That Roy Moore is likely to win the Alabama Senate race (76.2%), and that Donald Trump may be forced out early (51.6%).

The bettors give him just a 27.8 percent chance of winning the 2020 election.

As usual, I remind you that the odds are updated every 5 minutes, and so may be different by the time you click on that link.

(I think the bettors over-estimate the chance (31.0%) that Trump will be forced out in 2018, but have no strong opinions on any of the other odds.)
- 12:42 PM, 8 December 2017   [link]

Worth Reading:  Bella DePaulo's op-ed:
I spent the first two decades of my career as a social scientist studying liars and their lies.  I thought I had developed a sense of what to expect from them.  Then along came President Trump.  His lies are both more frequent and more malicious than ordinary people’s.
Here's an unhappy thought:  Some, let me repeat, some, Trumpistas love Trump's malicious falsehoods — as long as they are directed against people the Trumpistas dislike, or even hate.
- 11:09 AM, 8 December 2017   [link]

This Twist On An Old Saying made me laugh out loud.

And then learn a little more about this problem in cognitive bias.

- 10:03 AM, 8 December 2017   [link]

Another Pawn Sacrificed?  Yesterday, I argued that Nancy Pelosi's abandonment of John Conyers is most likely part of preparation for an attack on Donald Trump.

And I think the resignation of Democratic Senator Al Franken can be seen as part of the same preparation — which is why Newt Gingrich and Laura Ingraham were defending Franken.
On Wednesday night, Fox News made a rather shocking defense of Sen. Al Franken (D-MN). In her opening monologue, Laura Ingraham cautioned her viewers before they joined the pile-on with dozens of Senate Democrats who have called on Franken to resign because it is all a “political calculation” in order to take down President Trump in the long run.
That the nation would be better off if both Franken and Trump were out of office is probably not an idea that has occurred to Ingraham.
- 4:16 PM, 7 December 2017   [link]

Israel Drives Much Of The World Nutty:  It is constantly held to much higher standards than other nations — and receives attention all out of proportion to its actual importance.

So I was not surprised by the reaction to Donald Trump's announcement that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, and that the United States would begin acting on that fact — though not in a way that would hinder any possible peace agreement.

Incidentally this has been American policy for many years, and successive presidents have had to waive acting on it, every six months, as Trump did in June.

Right now, his statement of the obvious is the biggest story at the BBC, though even they don't seem to be able to explain why it is more important than, for instance, the ongoing war in central Africa, or the Rohingya refugee crisis.

The BBC can't plead temporary insanity because they have been nutty about Israel for so many years.  In 2004, for instance, they commissioned a report examining "allegations of anti-Israel bias" — and then fought expensive legal battles in order to keep the report secret.

I think it fair to conclude that the report is not entirely complimentary.

(For the record:  I would not have issued that Trump statement.  Sometimes when you are surrounded by nutty people, it is best not to provoke them, unless you have something to gain from that provocation.

This is not because I think his statement will do anything to hinder the nonexistent peace "process", sacred to diplomats and journalists all over the world.  It is obvious, or at least it should be obvious, that no peace agreement can be negotiated while the Palestinians are split into two warring factions, the PLO and Hamas.

There is currently no one for the Israelis to negotiate with, and I see no reason to think that will change, any time soon.)
- 3:41 PM, 7 December 2017   [link]

Worth Reading:  Andrew McCarthy's article, "On Strzok, Let’s Wait for the Evidence".
The fact that an FBI agent involved in the Clinton emails investigation was reportedly a partisan Democrat is not in itself damning.

I’m taking a “wait and see” attitude on FBI agent Peter Strzok, who is now enmeshed in a political storm involving both the Clinton and the Trump investigations.  You know why?  Well . . . it’s because I can’t stand the Clintons.
But McCarthy nonetheless failed to prosecute them when he had the chance.

I'm not a fan of the Clintons — or the Trumps — but I believe I could be a fair juror were I on a jury that was deciding whether the evidence of their guilt met the high standards our laws require.  And I think most of you could, too, regardless of your views on either family.

(There is a practical political advantage to having partisans on the other side making such decisions.  When McCarthy decided not to prosecute, no one assumed he had done so because he was a Clinton crony.

His decision was more credible because of his political views.)
- 9:49 AM, 7 December 2017   [link]

76 Years After Pearl Harbor:  This year, as I have before, I will recycle three of my four posts from 2011: the complete failure of the first phase of the Japanese attack, why we were surprised, and Roosevelt's "day of infamy" speech.

(I particularly recommend the surprise post, since I think it has relevance today.)

This year, as usual, Bing has an appropriate picture; this year, as usual, Google is ignoring the anniversary.  (Google did commemorate it — barely — last year.)
- 8:59 AM, 7 December 2017   [link]

Did Nancy Pelosi Sacrifice A Pawn To Clear The Way For An Attack On The King?  Specifically, did Minority Leader Pelosi abandon Congressman (and "icon") John Conyers in order to clear the way for an attack on Trump?

I think so, though I will admit, immediately, that I have no direct evidence to support that tentative conclusion.

In the past, Pelosi has been remarkably forgiving, shall we say, of past misdeeds by her supporters in the House.  (You can see two of the many examples here and here.)

It is possible she has changed her heart, at least on sexual harassment, but I think it more likely that she believes she may again be Speaker, after the 2018 election, and so in a position to preside over an impeachment inquiry and, possibly, vote.

Which would be harder to do if Conyers were still in the House.

(John Conyers)
- 3:14 PM, 6 December 2017   [link]

Now, That is an impressive Rolodex.

I assume a series of executive secretaries did much of the work, but it is still impressive.

- 2:23 PM, 6 December 2017   [link]

Sometimes Last Names do give us a hint.
A prominent Kentucky disability attorney at the center of a more than $500 million Social Security fraud case, who became the subject of a massive manhunt after he vanished months ago, has been captured in Honduras, officials announced Monday. Eric Conn was captured by a SWAT team as he came out of a restaurant in the coastal city of La Ceiba, the Honduras public magistrate’s office said in a news release.  The office added that the arrest was “the product of arduous intelligence, surveillance and tailing by the agents.”
. . .
Conn, who started his law practice in a trailer in 1993, had portrayed himself as “Mr. Social Security.”  He fueled that persona with outlandish TV commercials and small-scale replicas of the Statue of Liberty and the Lincoln Memorial at his office in eastern Kentucky.

His empire crumbled when investigators discovered he had been bribing a doctor and judge to approve disability claims based on fake medical evidence.
It will take some time to sort out the mess this Conn man caused.
- 4:07 PM, 5 December 2017   [link]

Those Poor Bears Won't Be Able To Hear Much, After Those Operations:  That was my admittedly flippant reaction to headlines like this one:  "Trump Slashes Size of Bears Ears . . . ".

To be serious for a moment:  As soon as I learned about the Antiquities Act, I thought it should be repealed.
This law gives the President of the United States the authority to, by presidential proclamation, create national monuments from federal lands to protect significant natural, cultural, or scientific features.  The Act has been used more than a hundred times since its passage.  Its use occasionally creates significant controversy.
It gives too much power to presidents, power that — in my opinion — has been abused by all three of our most recent Democratic presidents, Carter, Clinton, and Obama.
- 8:17 AM, 5 December 2017   [link]

It's Funny because it's almost true.

The strips following that one aren't bad, either.
- 7:47 AM, 5 December 2017   [link]

"I’ve Got A Crook Running My Campaign"  If this excerpt from the Corey Lewandowski and David Bossie book is correct, Donald Trump did eventually figure out that Paul Manafort had ethical and legal problems.

Thanks to — some will find this ironic — an article in the New York Times.

But it took Trump until August 2016 to figure that out and, even then, he needed help from Steve Bannon (who didn't seem bothered by Manafort's character, just the political costs to the campaign).

In April, using a simple search that took just a few minutes, I had concluded that Manafort was a crook.  (This was not a great feat on my part; anyone with access to the Internet could have learned the same facts, without much effort.)

Warning:  Lewandowski is one of those people who think frequent use of obscenities makes them sound more passionate, or authentic, or something.  (Usually that's just mildly annoying; sometimes it's (unintentionally) quite funny.)

Caveat:  Lewandowski is a Trumpista still, so I would be careful about believing any positive thing he says about Trump.

(Here's the Nat Hentoff indictment of Manafort, again.

Hentoff got this exactly right, in my opinion:
This is a mantra frequently recited by Trump supporters who seem oblivious to his serial business failures and habitually fraudulent business practices.  They confuse Trump's branding success, which can be attributed to his impressive marketing skills, with business management skills.
During the 2016 campaign, I was surprised, again and again, by just how poor a manager Trump is.)
- 10:37 AM, 4 December 2017   [link]

This Cartoon Is A little Late, but I think you'll like it, anyway.

(Yes, those are real holidays.)
- 8:59 AM, 4 December 2017   [link]

This "Quick And Dirty Analysis" Of The Mike Flynn Plea Agreement: seems reasonable to me.
The news that former national security adviser Michael Flynn has reached a cooperation and plea deal with Special Counsel Robert Mueller could not come as less of a surprise.  Reports of Flynn’s bizarre behavior across a wide spectrum of areas began trickling out even before his tenure as national security adviser ended after only 24 days.  These behaviors raised a raft of substantial criminal law questions that have been a matter of open speculation and reporting for months.  His problems include, among other things, an alleged kidnapping plot, a plan to build nuclear power plants all over the Middle East, alleged violations of the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) involving at least two different countries, and apparent false statements to the FBI.  In light of the scope and range of the activity that reputable news organizations have attributed to Flynn, it is no surprise that he has agreed to cooperate with Mueller in exchange for leniency.

The surprising thing about the plea agreement and the stipulated facts underlying it is how narrow they are.
But I am no lawyer, much less one specializing in this area of the law, so you shouldn't put much weight on my opinion.  (And if you want to see different analyses, you shouldn't have much trouble finding them.)

(In February, David Ignatius wrote a sympathetic column on Flynn's fall.  Here's my post on the column.  If the link there to the column doesn't work, this one should.)
- 4:53 PM, 3 December 2017   [link]

Too Funny Not To Share:  This picture of Congressman Blake Farenthold.

(Blake Farenthold)
- 3:20 PM, 3 December 2017   [link]

This Week's Collection Of Political Cartoons from Politico.

My favorites:  Bill Bramhall's crib, Matt Davies' Monopoly character, and Rob Rogers' Santa.

Though not in the collection, this Andy Marlette cartoon is brutal, but funny.
- 8:03 AM, 3 December 2017   [link]

"Have We Been Lied To About The Kate Steinle Case?"  That's a good question to ask, after the acquittal on all but one minor charge.
The illegal immigrant who killed Kate Steinle in 2015 was found not guilty of her murder by a San Francisco jury today.   Outrageous, right?

Before the killing, Garcia Zarate had been released from a San Francisco jail despite a standing federal deportation order.  He had been deported five times before.  This made him a very effective villain for Trump’s border security campaign messages — proof that sanctuary city policies kill! — and it’s natural to be sympathetic about Steinle, who died in her father’s arms at the far too young age of 32.

The trouble with a politically-charged case like this is that there are many who seek to benefit from twisting, if not outright lying, about what really happened.   And the facts here are far more complicated than any campaign slogans would lead you to believe.
For one thing, Steinle was killed by a bullet that "ricocheted up to hit her".

I never wrote about this case for two reasons:  First, it was not clear what had actually happened.  No one, for instance, supplied a plausible motive for the shooting.

Second, although it is tempting to draw general conclusions from a dramatic case, it is almost always a mistake, logically.  Sad as it is, this death doesn't tell us much about what our immigration policies should be.

(For the record:  I would use "Told Falsehoods" in that headline, rather than "Lied To".  And I think it likely that we have been told falsehoods about the case, by Donald Trump, and others.)
- 3:02 PM, 1 December 2017   [link]

Worth Reading:  Anemona Hartocollis's article: "He Took On the Voting Rights Act and Won.  Now He’s Taking On Harvard."
Mr. [Edward] Blum is not a lawyer.  But he is a one-man legal factory with a growing record of finding plaintiffs who match his causes, winning big victories and trying above all to erase racial preferences from American life.

Mr. Blum, 65, has orchestrated more than two dozen lawsuits challenging affirmative action practices and voting rights laws across the country.  He is behind two of the biggest such cases to reach the Supreme Court: one attacking consideration of race in admissions at the University of Texas, which he lost; the other contesting parts of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, widely considered one of this country’s most important pieces of civil rights legislation, which he won.

Now, in his most high-profile cause of the moment, he has asserted that Harvard University’s affirmative action policies amount to an illegal quota system that denies high-achieving Asian-American students admission in numbers commensurate with their qualifications.  He has already forced Harvard to turn over, under court seal, years of highly sensitive data about demographics, test scores and even some personal essays, and he now has a powerful ally in the Justice Department, which is looking into a similar complaint.
That kind of discrimination is common — and, in my opinion, violates the spirit and plain language of our civil rights laws.

(Hartocollis is almost always worth reading.  Here's her New York Times page, with links to her recent articles.)
- 7:53 AM, 1 December 2017   [link]

It's Not A Great Cartoon, but I like the astronomical reference.
- 7:16 AM, 1 December 2017   [link]