February 2017, Part 2

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Scientists Have Discovered Another Trick of an ancient enemy.
Why are mosquitoes drawn to people infected with malaria?  Swedish researchers say they've identified a substance pumped out by malaria parasites that triggers a distinctive smell in their victims, noticeable only to mosquitoes.
We may be able to synthesize the odor and use it against mosquitoes.

(Here's the usual Wikipedia article.)
- 3:54 PM, 16 February 2017   [link]

Has ObamaCare Been A Success?  Not by the most basic measurement:
In 2015, life expectancy at birth was 78.8 years for the total U.S. population—a decrease of 0.1 year from 78.9 years in 2014 (Figure 1). For males, life expectancy changed from 76.5 years in 2014 to 76.3 years in 2015—a decrease of 0.2 years, and for females, life expectancy decreased 0.1 year from 81.3 years in 2014 to 81.2 years in 2015.
(Infant mortality, another general measure of health, increased "from 582.1 infant deaths per 100,000 live births in 2014 to 589.5 in 2015, but this change was not statistically significant".)

The last time life expectancy declined in the United States was in 1993.

We were told that ObamaCare would improve our health, which implied that it would increase life expectancy.  Instead life expectancy declined in 2015, the latest year for which we have complete numbers, and had been rising very slowly in the four years before 2015.

Faced with this decline, we can draw three broad types of conclusions:
  1. ObamaCare caused the decline.
  2. ObamaCare had no effect on life expectancy.
  3. ObamaCare kept the decline from being even worse.
Now, here's what troubles me:  I could construct plausible sounding arguments for each of the three and, with some searching of news sites, find examples to illustrate each of the three.

I'm not going to do that because I don't think it would be honest, but I did want to warn you that others may be less scrupulous, or have spent less time looking at health statistics, so you are likely to see those types of arguments, especially the first and the third, as the nation debates ObamaCare, again.

(If forced to choose one of the three, I would say that the second seems most likely to me.)
- 3:29 PM, 16 February 2017   [link]

7, 10, 11, 14, 18, . . . .  Those were some of the speeds I saw in Seattle-area traffic reports during yesterday's commutes.  Yesterday was worse than normal because of the heavy rain here, but not that much worse.

For example, the stylist who cuts my hair about once a month tells me that her commute takes about 45 minutes in the mornings, and about an hour in the evenings.  (The distance is about 20 miles, and most of it is not over one of the one of the most heavily traveled roads.)

If you are wondering why the people in this area put up with the congestion, it's because a majority of them believe that — if we spend enough money on mass transit, especially trains — other people will get off the roads.

That this strategy has failed for decades, that traffic problems get worse every year, has not shaken their faith, or caused them to reject the leaders who have been pushing it.

One of the reasons for the constancy is that so many who disagree with the strategy have left the area, and been replaced by newcomers who have come from areas where traffic is even worse.
- 9:06 AM, 16 February 2017   [link]

Good Secretaries Anticipate their boss's needs.
- 7:02 AM, 16 February 2017   [link]

My Prediction Was Correct — But Too Timid:  On 13 January I said:
Presidents generally begin the transition with a "honeymoon" period, with higher popularity than they had at the end of the campaign.   That was true, to some extent, even for Trump, but it looks as if this man — who craves public applause — will be getting less and less of it, from the general public.

Which leads me to this prediction:   Within the first six months of his presidency, Trump will start doing campaign events, again.   (As you probably know, he did several of them after the election.)
He's planning one for this weekend.
President Donald Trump is returning to the trail.

The president will hold a rally Saturday afternoon at a hangar in Melbourne, Florida.  It will be his first campaign-style rally since his so-called thank-you tour during the transition period to states he won in November.
So I should have said six weeks, not months
- 7:59 PM, 15 February 2017   [link]

Kim Jong-nam's Assassination:  This BBC story has the essential facts, including — the British are good at such things — a genealogy chart for the Communist monarchy.
Kim Jong-nam was attacked on Monday morning while waiting at the budget terminal of Kuala Lumpur International Airport for a 10:00 flight to Macau, Malaysian newspaper reports say, quoting police.

Exactly how the attack unfolded is still unclear.  Officials and witnesses have variously said he was splashed with a chemical or had a cloth placed over his face.  Earlier reports spoke of a "spray" being used or a needle.

He died on the way to hospital.
That "LOL" T-shirt is a weird touch, but, thinking about it, I can see why it might make the target less suspicious.
- 7:04 PM, 15 February 2017   [link]

Interesting:  This David Ignatius column on Mike Flynn.

Ignatius says that Flynn was a brilliant warrior in Iraq and afterward — but had the wrong talents to head the Defense Intelligence Agency.
The DIA, a messy agency of nearly 20,000, mostly civilians, was famously the underachiever in the intelligence community.  Flynn tried to fix everything at once.  He had an ambitious but unrealistic plan for fusing the agency into mission centers.  His superiors said no; Flynn went ahead anyway.   Employees complained of shouting matches, bad leadership and a demoralized agency.
What Ignatius says seems plausible enough, though he doesn't quite explain why Flynn became infatuated with Russia.
- 4:02 PM, 15 February 2017   [link]

Neither Republican Is A Heavy Favorite In The Next Presidential Election:  The French Republican (or, if you prefer, Républicain), François Fillon, is now given just an 18 percent chance of winning this year's French presidential election, down from 69 percent last November.

What happened to Fillon?  He has been accused of hiring his wife for government jobs — which is legal as long as she actually did the work — which she may not have.

The current leader among the bettors, Emmanuel Macron, has two things going for him:  He is not François Fillon — and he is not Marine Le Pen.

The American Republican, Donald Trump, is, as I write, given just a 35 percent chance of winning in 2020, though I must note that the betting market is currently thinly traded.  (You may find it interesting to see who else is attracting bettors.)

(Here's the Wikipedia article on Le Canard enchaîné, with the usual caveats.)
- 12:50 PM, 15 February 2017   [link]

Too Weird Not To Share:  Alex Jones on demons from your TV.

I've thought for a long time that we Americans watch too much TV, but this is one hazard I hadn't even considered.
- 9:14 AM, 15 February 2017   [link]

First Car, First Love:  That can be true for cities, as well as individuals.
Detroit has its Mustang.  Munich has its Bimmer.  Bielsko-Biala will always have the Maluch.

The Maluch, or little one, is officially the Fiat 126p hatchback.  Drab and cramped, it lacks either girth or pretension.  But it has a perversely special place in Polish hearts.

“The Maluch was the beginning of an automotive revolution in Poland,” said Jacek Krywult, the mayor of Bielsko-Biala, Poland.
It doesn't seem perverse at all, to me.

(Here's Bielsko-Biala, and here are pictures of the Maluch.)
- 8:41 AM, 15 February 2017   [link]

Kirkland Buoy:  I don't think I've posted any pictures from my Panasonic FZ200, which is a shame, because it's a very nice ultra-zoom.   Here's a very simple picture of a buoy protecting a swimming and wading area in Kirkland.

kirkland buoy, 2016

You are free to use the buoy for a political metaphor or two if you like, but I won't do so, at least not tonight.

(I believe the camera is out of production, although Amazon still has a few for sale.  The replacement model is similar, but can take 4K video, as well.)
- 7:39 PM, 14 February 2017   [link]

Valentine Poll Results:  Ariel Edwards-Levy and Grace Sparks collected a bunch.

You are almost sure to find one or two you like — and one or two that you don't.  Here's my favorite:
2002, Fox News:  “Which couple do you think will have a happier Valentine’s Day―George and Laura Bush or Bill and Hillary Clinton?”   (73% George and Laura Bush, 12% Bill and Hillary Clinton, 10% not sure.  5% volunteered that both couples would be equally happy.)
It's my favorite because it shows that many Democrats were able to recognize reality, and overcome their partisanship.

(For the record:  I'd choose George and Laura over Barack and Michelle, too, but consider that a much closer call.)
- 4:12 PM, 14 February 2017   [link]

Out Like Flynn:  Yesterday, I said that I didn't have a strong opinion on whether Mike Flynn should be in serious trouble; today, now that he has resigned, I am uncertain whether he should have resigned.

Eli Lake, who knows more about intelligence operations than the average journalist, is also uncertain.
It's not even clear that Flynn lied.  He says in his resignation letter that he did not deliberately leave out elements of his conversations with Ambassador Sergey Kislyak when he recounted them to Vice President Mike Pence.  The New York Times and Washington Post reported that the transcript of the phone call reviewed over the weekend by the White House could be read different ways.  One White House official with knowledge of the conversations told me that the Russian ambassador raised the sanctions to Flynn and that Flynn responded that the Trump team would be taking office in a few weeks and would review Russia policy and sanctions.  That's neither illegal nor improper.

What's more, the Washington Post reported Monday night that last month Sally Yates, then the acting attorney general, had informed the White House that Flynn discussed sanctions with Kislyak and that he could be susceptible to blackmail because he misled Pence about it.  If it was the lie to Pence that sunk Flynn, why was he not fired at the end of January?
You'll probably want to read the rest of the column for Lake's speculations on what really happened.

I'll just add this thought:  Some news accounts have said there were phone calls between Flynn and Russian officials.  If so, he may have said things in the other calls he shouldn't have.

That phone call, or those phone calls, would be less important, were it not for incidents like this one:
Flynn himself traveled in 2015 to Russia to attend a conference put on by the country's propaganda network, RT.  He has acknowledged he was paid through his speaker's bureau for his appearance.  That doesn't look good, but it's also not illegal in and of itself.  All of this is to say there are many unanswered questions about Trump's and his administration's ties to Russia.
I don't think I am the only person who would prefer that there were fewer such "unanswered questions".

(Here's the Wikipedia article on RT, with way more than the usual caveats.  In the last year or so, I have noticed many more links to their articles, links put up by Trump supporters and, perhaps, Putin's operatives.)
- 1:43 PM, 14 February 2017   [link]

Happy Valentine's Day!  With the usual exceptions.
- 12:28 PM, 14 February 2017   [link]

This Quote is too good not to share.
The Trouble with quotes on the internet is that it's difficult to determine whether or not they are genuine - Abraham Lincoln
(Yes, it is, but I do what I can — most of the time.)
- 10:21 AM, 14 February 2017   [link]

The Olympic Mountains Are Looking Lovely Today:  As you can see in these views from Poulsbo.

If the weather forecasters are right, they should be lovely for at least part of tomorrow, too.

(Fun fact:  Much of the Olympics are uplifted oceanic crust.  On hikes along some of the ridges you can see blobby "pillow lava", the kind that forms when lava oozes out into the ocean.

Here's Poulsbo.)
- 3:46 PM, 13 February 2017   [link]

Most American Presidents Speak Often Of Freedom, Democracy, And Other Such Good Things:  For example, here's another selection from Lincoln's first inaugural.
Plainly the central idea of secession is the essence of anarchy.  A majority held in restraint by constitutional checks and limitations, and always changing easily with deliberate changes of popular opinions and sentiments, is the only true sovereign of a free people.  Whoever rejects it does of necessity fly to anarchy or to despotism.  Unanimity is impossible.  The rule of a minority, as a permanent arrangement, is wholly inadmissible; so that, rejecting the majority principle, anarchy or despotism in some form is all that is left.
I said "most", but, if this study is correct, we can be more precise.
Consider, for instance, these commonly used inaugural words: “freedom,” “liberty,” “rights” and “public.”  In the nation’s first 57 inaugural addresses, each of these four words occurs, on average, once in every 72 words.  This is to be expected, as our founding documents make clear that liberty, justice, public welfare, and human rights are the notions that constitute the U.S. political system.

Trump’s inaugural usage of these words was quite different, using freedom-related words (e.g. “freedom,” “freedoms,” “liberty”) only once.  The president also used “public” only once, and did not make any reference to democratic rights.

His inaugural address was consistent with his previous political speech.
So, if the study is correct — and I believe it is, because counting words is simple — we can say that, unlike all previous presidents, Trump does not speak often of freedom, democracy, and other such good things.

That doesn't, by itself, prove that they aren't important to him, but it does make you wonder how important they are to Trump.
- 1:04 PM, 13 February 2017   [link]

Out Like Flynn?  Perhaps we will soon see that headline, considering the trouble Mike Flynn, Trump's National Security Adviser, is in.

(I don't have a strong opinion on whether he should be in that much trouble, but I couldn't resist the word play.)
- 10:09 AM, 13 February 2017   [link]

Honest Salesman, Dishonest Product?  This cartoon is more interesting than funny.

But I wouldn't spend too much time trying to make sense of it, if I were you.
- 9:50 AM, 13 February 2017   [link]

On This Lincoln's Birthday, the final paragraph of his first inaugural seems appropriate.
I am loath to close.  We are not enemies, but friends.  We must not be enemies.  Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection.  The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.
- 8:09 PM, 12 February 2017   [link]

Sycophants, Bootlickers, Or . . .  Narcissists in power attract sycophants the way rotting food attracts flies.  So we shouldn't be surprised that first President Obama, and now President Trump, have attracted sycophants.

However, because of their different styles, sycophant doesn't seem as appropriate for Trump's followers as it does for Obama's.  We need something more down to earth.

After some consideration of alternatives, I suggest, tentatively, that we use "bootlicker" for a Trump sycophant.

Because it is an easy to understand metaphor, it lets us write sentences like this one: "Talk show host 'X' would look better without that Trump boot polish on his face."

And, no, I'm not ready to substitute a name for 'X' — yet — but I am starting to think about some candidates.
- 2:16 PM, 12 February 2017   [link]

In Those Punch Archives, You Can Find Many Famous Cartoons:  For example, "The Curate's Egg".

The Curate's Egg

Bishop: "I'm afraid you've got a bad egg, Mr Jones"; Curate: "Oh, no, my Lord, I assure you that parts of it are excellent!"
The original title is "True Humility".

Although that title gives us a strong hint at George du Maurier's intention, over the years people have drawn different meanings from the cartoon.
- 1:24 PM, 12 February 2017   [link]

Will Trump's Political Career Damage Trump Brands?  When Donald Trump began his run for the presidency this time, I wondered what effect it would have on his brands.  You could argue that it would help them, because of all the publicity, or that it would hurt them, because he was offending so many people, some of them potential customers.

So far, it seems more likely to hurt Trump brands than help them, because the brands are marketed mostly to upscale urbanites, the very people most likely to be offended by his behavior.

There is data from Nordstrom that supports that conclusion.
Ivanka Trump's fashion brand faced declining sales at Nordstrom in the last fiscal year, the Wall Street Journal reported Saturday, citing internal store data.

The brand's sales dropped 32 percent overall for the year, the report said.

The first daughter's merchandise sales at Nordstrom fell more than 70 percent during the second, third and fourth weeks of October, during the heat of the brutal presidential race, compared to the same time last year.
On the other hand, individuals — and nations — wanting to curry favor with the Trump White House may make a point of patronizing Trump brands, especially if they don't mind being accused of bribery.

I would guess that what you might call the "Nordstrom effect" will be more important and that, net, Trump brands will suffer from his political career.
- 4:56 PM, 11 February 2017   [link]

Yesterday's New Yorker Cartoon Is Nasty — and moderately funny.

The "War Room" cartoon in this Politico collection makes a similar point, but does it better, in my opinion.
- 4:06 PM, 11 February 2017   [link]

"Can't Anybody Here Play This Game?"  After watching the Trump administration botch the design of the temporary ban on visitors from seven mostly Muslim nations, watching the administration lawyers botch its defense twice, watching Judge Robart botch his decision, and then watching a 3-judge panel botch theirs, Casey Stengel's famous quote seems appropriate.

Charles Krauthammer doesn't quote Stengel, but he might agree with the sentiment.
Stupid but legal.  Such is the Trump administration’s travel ban for people from seven Muslim countries.  Of course, as with almost everything in American life, what should be a policy or even a moral issue becomes a legal one.   The judicial challenge should have been given short shrift, since the presidential grant of authority to exclude the entry of aliens is extremely wide and statutorily clear.   The judge who issued the temporary restraining order never even made a case for its illegality.
Benjamin Wittes is not quite as harsh on the judges, but he makes up for that with this conclusion to his post.
But it’s worth emphasizing that the grounds on which this order was fought are not the grounds on which the merits fight will happen.  Eventually, the court has to confront the clash between a broad delegation of power to the President—a delegation which gives him a lot of authority to do a lot of not-nice stuff to refugees and visa holders—in a context in which judges normally defer to the president, and the incompetent malevolence with which this order was promulgated.
Guess who liked that post?

President Trump, who, we can assume, did not read that last sentence.

(Some may think we should give credit to Washington state attorney general Bob Ferguson who, after all, has two court victories in this fight,  But those victories were not earned against tough opponents.

On the other hand, I have no doubt that the victories will help him in his next run for office, probably for Washington state governor in 2020.)
- 7:30 PM, 10 February 2017   [link]

50, 38, And 38.92 Versus 47, 36, and 24.24:  Those are corporate tax rates in the United States, and in our principal competitors in the rest of the OECD.

In the 1986 Tax Reform Act, the United States reduced maximum corporate tax rates from 50 percent to 38 percent.  There was some tinkering with the rate during the Clinton administration, but no large changes.

As if in response, the other OECD nations gradually lowered their corporate tax rates from an average of 47 percent to 36 percent in the mid-1990s.  But, unlike the United States, they continued lowering their rates, and have now reached 24.24 percent.

Almost certainly, that gives some foreign companies a large advantage over their US competitors.

For some time, I have been thinking that, whether we like it or not, our corporate tax rates should often be determined by our competitors' rates.

(Source:  A graph in Wednesday's Wall Street Journal.  You should be able to find it in almost any library, and may be able to reach it by using a search to penetrate their pay wall, though that is getting harder to do.  The numbers may be off by a percent, because the graph is small and my eyes are not as sharp as they once were.)
- 3:09 PM, 10 February 2017   [link]

A Punch Archive:  Usually I have one funny story, joke, or cartoon for you; today I have thousands.

It occurred to me that cartoons from Punch might be available, even though the British magazine is no longer in existence, and so I did a simple search — and found this archive.

(The Wikipedia article lists other collections, if that's not enough for you.)
- 10:16 AM, 10 February 2017   [link]

What Are Republicans Doing In Congress?  Among other things, using the Congressional Review Act to eliminate many Obama regulations.
Last week, Congress voted to strike down three Obama-era regulations, including environmental and gun control regulations, and they'll use the CRA in more votes this week on education and labor rules.

But there are more executive regulations passed in the waning days of the Obama administration that Republicans could target — and ones that may be even more important.

There are two big appeals to using CRA review on prior regulatory implementation:  They cannot be filibustered, and if CRA is used to overrule a regulation, the regulation can't be re-implemented again.  This is enormously important for a GOP that may want to handcuff future administrations from over-reliance on executive authority.
According to Nicole Neily, Congress can go all the way back to June of last year; according to Kimberly Strassel, Congress can go back to the beginning of the Obama administration — if the agency making the regulation did not file a proper and timely report.  Neily's view seems more plausible, to me.

(These Congressional actions seem far more likely to have good results than Trump's two-for-one executive order, for reasons explained in this opinion piece.)
- 4:13 PM, 9 February 2017   [link]

We Are Winning The Fight Against Cholera:  Thanks, in part, to research done in Bangladesh.
Now, thanks largely to efforts that began in cholera’s birthplace, a way to finally conquer the long-dreaded plague is in sight.

A treatment protocol so effective that it saves 99.9 percent of all victims was pioneered here.  The World Health Organization estimates that it has saved about 50 million lives in the past four decades.

Just as important, after 35 years of work, researchers in Bangladesh and elsewhere have developed an effective cholera vaccine.  It has been accepted by the W.H.O. and stockpiled for epidemics like the one that struck Haiti in 2010.  Soon, there may be enough to begin routine vaccination in countries where the disease has a permanent foothold.
If you read the whole thing, you'll learn that, as well as doing research, ICDDR,B saves "hundreds of lives a day".

Americans can be proud that we founded this institution, way back in 1960.

(Younger readers may not know that Bangladesh was once considered so hopeless that a few serious thinkers proposed abandoning the country, as you would a hopelessly wounded soldier on the battlefield.)
- 1:36 PM, 9 February 2017   [link]

If Donald Trump Were Mayor Of A Small City, this whole story would be almost entirely funny.  As it is, it's both annoying and funny.

It was silly of Donald Trump to make this complaint:
My daughter Ivanka has been treated so unfairly by @Nordstrom.  She is a great person — always pushing me to do the right thing!  Terrible!
And silly of the Washington Post to do a formal fact check on his claim.

All of those involved have more important things to do.

(I don't know whether Ivanka is still importing items from China, but I am reasonably sure her company has solved that safety problem.)
- 12:58 PM, 9 February 2017   [link]

After Years In The Game, Even Hardened Criminals may start thinking about retirement.
- 10:40 AM, 9 February 2017   [link]