January 2016, Part 1

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

The Mystery Of The Missing Missile:  The Wall Street Journal uses more than 1500 words to tell us that US authorities don't know how this happened.
An inert U.S. Hellfire missile sent to Europe for training purposes was wrongly shipped from there to Cuba in 2014, said people familiar with the matter, a loss of sensitive military technology that ranks among the worst-known incidents of its kind.
But we have asked Cuba to return the missile.

For those who don't want to read the whole article, or even evade the pay wall:  The missile was shipped from Lockheed, by commercial carriers to Spain, where is was used in an exercise.  The expended missile was supposed to be shipped, again by commercial carriers, back to the United States.  Somewhere it was diverted, accidentally or on purpose, to Cuba.

What the reporters, Devlin Barrett and Gordon Lubold, never explain is why we are using commercial carriers in foreign countries to move secret military equipment.  I'm not opposed to all out sourcing, even for military tasks, but it does seem to me that it would be better to use Army trucks, Navy ships, and Air Force planes to move this kind of equipment, through foreign countries.

(Here's the usual Wikipedia article on the Hellfire.)
- 2:25 PM, 8 January 2016   [link]

Michael Anton Says That North Korean Explosion was no H-Bomb.

In fact, it was a poor copy of the first plutonium bomb.
There are so many reasons to be skeptical. But look at it this way.  This was their fourth test.  We know that the design they are using is spherical plutonium implosion.  They got it from Pakistan, who got it from China, who got it from the Soviets, who stole it from the U.S. via Klaus Fuchs and the Rosenbergs.  Basically, copies of Fat Man all.

Fat Man (and Trinity, which was Fat Man without an aerodynamic casing) each yielded about the same (Trinity 20 kT, Fat Man 21).
. . .
In four tests, North Korea has never cracked 10 kT and are probably well below that. I read all the government and agency estimates of this latest test and the lowest I saw was 4.8 (South Korean government) and the highest was 6.7 (CTBTO). That is not great for that sort of bomb.
(CTBTO = Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization.)

But the people of North Korea don't know those facts.

(Here's the Wikipedia article on "Fat Man".)
- 11:02 AM, 8 January 2016   [link]

Donald Trump Has Come Out In Favor of stealing coats.
Republican front-runner Donald Trump directed security to kick out Bernie Sanders supporters from his Vermont rally and to confiscate their coats.

"Throw them out into the cold," Trump ordered security, as protesters shouted "Bernie! Bernie!" during his rally Thursday night in Burlington, Vt.

"Don't give them their coats," Trump added. "No coats! Confiscate their coats."
Trump did promise to return the coats in a couple of weeks, so I suppose we could say temporarily stealing coats.

(According to Trump, it was about 10 below zero outside.  You can get hypothermia pretty fast at that temperature, especially if there is a little breeze.)
- 9:20 AM, 8 January 2016   [link]

Jeremy Corbyn's New Shadow Defence Secretary:  Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn has "re-shuffled" his "Shadow Cabinet", as everyone who follows British politics expected him to do.

One of his new choices, the person who would have a position roughly equivalent to our Secretary of Defense, should Corbyn come to power, will surprise most Americans.

Did Corbyn choose a retired admiral or general?
Did he choose a man with military experience who had gone on to a career as an executive in a large company?
Did he choose an academic expert on military affairs?
Did he choose a member of parliament who had been following military affairs for years?
Did he choose a member of parliament who had voted loyally with Labour on military questions?
Did he choose someone with strong sympathy for Labour's working class supporters?
Did he choose someone who had strong ties to organizations that support their military?

No, no, no, no, no, no, and no.

He chose a leftist lawyer with almost* no military experience, Emily Thornberry.  (You can, in some social situations, call her "Lady Nugee".)
Thornberry's main interests since becoming an MP have been in health, housing, the environment, and equality.   She has also spoken on the need for more affordable housing, particularly in Islington. In 2006,  Thornberry introduced the Housing Association Bill - a Private Member's Bill which sought to improve the control of housing association residents over their landlords.[12]  Many of the ideas from this bill were taken up by the Cave Review.[13] On environmental matters, Thornberry has worked with Friends of the Earth and World Wide Fund for Nature to campaign for a Climate Change Bill and a Marine Bill.  In 2006, Thornberry won the politics Award for Environment Champion of the Year after being nominated by WWF.[14]

In 2008, she helped to organise the votes of MPs in the Human Fertilisation & Embryology Bill. In the Commons, she spoke to defend the right of lesbian mothers to access IVF treatment,[15] and was criticised by other MPs including Conservative MP Sir Patrick Cormack and DUP member Iris Robinson.  Following her intervention, she was nominated for Stonewall Politician of the Year 2008.[16]
. . .
Though normally voting with the Whip, Thornberry voted against the Labour Government on national security matters, regarding the detention of terror suspects without charge for 90 days in the Terrorism Act 2006, on the same matter for 42 days in the Counter-Terrorism Bill 2008, and against the renewal of Trident.
Whatever one may think about her support for IVF treatments for lesbians, paid for by British taxpayers, few will argue that gives her the kind of experiences needed to run, for instance, the Royal Navy.

If her name seems vaguely familiar to readers of this site, it may be because she was forced to resign from an earlier Shadow Cabinet for appearing to insult working class voters, specifically working men who own white vans.

She has received support from a "dodgy" law firm that has been suing British soldiers.
Ms Thornberry, who like Mr Corbyn and Mr Livingstone supports unilateral disarmament, is facing questions over £48,000 in donations she received from Leigh Day, a human rights law firm facing a tribunal over allegations it represented Iraqis making false claims about British troops.
. . .
Yesterday it emerged Leigh Day's solicitors could be struck off over alleged dodgy practices relating to the Al-Sweady inquiry.  A tribunal will examine evidence that they shredded a key document which appeared to show their Iraqi clients were armed insurgents, not innocent farmers.

The inquiry ultimately concluded that the allegations of murder were 'wholly without foundation'.
It is unlikely that the connection to Leigh Day will make her popular with Britain's military, or with those who support them.

But she does appear to have supporters in the BBC.

If I were writing a heavy-handed satire on Corbyn's choices for a Shadow Cabinet, I think I would have had difficulty coming up with her, or someone like her, for that position.  It's not that I couldn't imagine it, it's that the choice is too implausible even for satire.

(*Almost because she has, as a barrister, conducted courts martial.)
- 4:46 PM, 7 January 2016   [link]

Does Bernie Still have More Support Than Donald?  On 13 December, I said that probably Sanders had more popular support than Trump.

I just re-did the simple calculation, and came to the same conclusion.  (If you want to check my arithmetic — and I would appreciate it if someone did — you can find the three sets of numbers you need, here, here, and here.)

I should repeat this caution from that December post:
Any Trump supporter will immediately note that he is in first, and running against way more candidates, which is true enough; any Sanders supporter will tell you that he has received a small fraction of the coverage that Trump has, which is also true enough.
And I should repeat that I am saying, probably.
- 9: AM, 7 January 2016   [link]

Yesterday's New Yorker Cartoon is more likely to amuse men, than women.

(For the record:  I should add that a few men deliberately do household chores poorly, and that a few mothers are bothered when their husbands take too large a share of child care.  Most couples seem to be able to work these things out amicably, but there is enough truth in that cartoon to make me chuckle.)
- 9:06 AM, 7 January 2016   [link]

William Broad Explains Why Experts don't think the North Koreans tested an H-bomb.
Kenneth W. Ford, an American physicist who worked on the nation’s first hydrogen bomb and last year published an H-bomb memoir, called the North Korean claim highly suspect.  “How could a thermonuclear blast trigger such a weak seismic signal?” he said. “I agree with the suspicion that it was not a true H-bomb.”
. . .
South Korean experts put the blast’s energy as equivalent to six kilotons of high explosives.  In contrast, the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima was nearly three times as powerful, with a force of about 15 kilotons.
H-bomb explosions are, typically, about a thousand times larger than A-bomb explosions, and so are often measured in megatons, rather than kilotons.  (The largest ever was the Soviet Union's 1961 Tsar Bomba, at 50 megatons.)

Broad then explains that experts do worry that the North Koreans might have tested a "boosted" atomic bomb.
Many nuclear experts, including Dr. Kim, Dr. Ford and Mr. Albright, suggested that the North Korean test might have involved putting a tiny amount of tritium, or heavy hydrogen, into the core of an atom bomb.  Such a technique is known as boosting.
The tritium provides a flood of neutrons that increases the fission reaction.  (There is a small amount of fusion, too, but most of the energy of the explosion comes from the fission.)

This could allow the North Koreans to reduce the size of their warheads, making it easier to fit them into rockets.
The primary benefit of boosting is further miniaturization of nuclear weapons as it reduces the minimum inertial confinement time required for a supercritical nuclear explosion by providing a sudden influx of fast neutrons before the critical mass would blow itself apart.  This would eliminate the need for an aluminum pusher and uranium tamper and the explosives needed to push them and the fissile material into a supercritical state.
But that is, so far, just a possibility.  (If even a little of the explosion leaked into the atmosphere, our scientists may be able to tell whether it was a boosted shot.)

As you may know, the North Koreans already have rockets that can, barely, reach the West Coast of the United, States.

(Broad has been writing about nuclear issues for decades.  From what I can tell, he is reasonably accurate on the science.)
- 8:04 AM, 7 January 2016   [link]

Here's A Basic time line on nuclear proliferation.

And here's my discussion of Bill Clinton's failure in negotiating with North Korea.  (He had help from Jimmy Carter, something I didn't mention in that post.)
- 1:55 PM, 6 January 2016   [link]

Karl Rove Is Protecting our border.
Karl Rove's quail hunting trip to the Texas-Mexico border over the Christmas holiday took an unexpected turn when he ran into two men hiding in the brush.
The men were illegals, perhaps even "pros".

Rove and his friends held one, and helped the Border Patrol capture the other.

I suspect that if I looked around — something I don't plan to do — I could find some on the left who are sure this shows that Rove is mean to Hispanics — and some on the right who suspect this was staged.

I'll just note that Rove and company appear to have rescued one of the men, who was running short on water.  And then turned both over to the authorities, as they should have.

(It is odd that Rove, a competent, conservative political technician, became such a hate figure for many on the left, and bizarre that he became such a hate figure for some on the right.  I suspect that I would need to know more about abnormal psychology than I do to explain how he became such a target for both the left and the right.)
- 1:24 PM, 6 January 2016   [link]

Did North Korea Detonate A Hydrogen Bomb?   Probably not.
North Korea’s claim to have joined an elite group of countries capable of detonating a hydrogen bomb was met with skepticism from weapons experts as Pyongyang heaped more pressure on the United Nations and tested the patience of its biggest ally, China.

Analysts said the blast, which occurred at 10 a.m. local time and triggered a magnitude 5.1 earthquake, was unlikely to have been a hydrogen device and cited evidence including the yield and seismic wave they said were similar to earlier North Korean atomic bomb tests.  It drew condemnation from nations including South Korea, Russia, and the U.S., while Japan and NATO called it a violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions.
So, why did they do that test, and why did they make that claim?

If you read the rest of the article, you can find speculative answers to both questions, answers that may even be correct.

(It isn't clear to me just how much the Chinese know about their junior partner, whether, for instance, they knew about this test in advance.  The Chinese appear to value the trouble the North Koreans cause from time to time — within limits — so I am not surprised when Beijing does little, publicly, to rein in Pyongyang.)
- 9:43 AM, 6 January 2016   [link]

Gun Deaths Have Been Declining In The United States For Decades; The Risk Of Nuclear War Has Been Increasing In Recent Years:  Therefore, President Obama has decided to spend much of his last year in office working on reducing the risks from guns, rather than the risks from nukes.

There are times I wonder about the man's priorities.

His decision has caused investors to expect a spike in gun sales.
Despite a massive plunge in stock markets across the globe, shares of gun companies shot sky-high Monday, as investors presumed firearm sales would rocket ahead of President Obama's expected executive actions on gun control.

Shares of Smith & Wesson Holding Corp., which makes an array of pistols and revolvers, rose nearly 6% Monday, closing at $23.38.

Shares of Sturm, Ruger & Co., which makes several models of semi-automatic and single-shot rifles and shotguns, rose 2.7% to close at $61.39.
The investors are probably right, since Obama has triggered surges in gun sales, before.

But that is not something he, or his supporters on this issue, discuss.  Because they don't know about the surges?  Because, as they see it, their intentions are good, and that's enough?  Some mix of those two, I suppose, but I would like to see some brave reporter ask Obama about his status as the champion gun salesman, some time.

(It occurs to me that the stock prices of gun companies like Smith & Wesson might be a decent election indication; if they start going down, it may be because investors expect a Republican to be elected president.)
- 12:47 PM, 5 January 2016   [link]

The Borders Are Going Back Up All Over Europe:  In response to the flood of migrants.  Here are examples from Sweden and Denmark.
The Swedish government has re-introduced identity checks and erected its own 'Berlin Wall' with Denmark in a desperate bid to ease refugee influx.

The checks, which will go into effect from midnight (2300GMT) on the Danish side of the Oresund bridge-and-tunnel link, will cause several delays and long queues for all people travelling via train, bus and ferry.
. . .
Sweden's decision caused a strong reaction by Denmark, which announced the introduction of random control at the German border.

Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen, who has sought to limit arrivals of migrants on Danish territory, said the controls will initially be in place for 10 days, after which they may be extended.
Denmark, unlike Sweden, has not been welcoming massive numbers of migrants; instead, the Danish government has been, in effect, passing them on to its northern neighbor.

This New York Times article, "Nordic Countries, Overwhelmed by Migrants, Retreat From Generous Traditions", covers the same subject, but in a more comprehensive way:
The abrupt change in the Nordic nations is one of the most striking consequences of the surge into Europe of asylum seekers from Syria, Afghanistan, Africa and elsewhere this year.   Sweden announced on Wednesday that it would temporarily reintroduce border controls, a move intended to bring order to the process of arrivals, officials said.  Sweden has proportionally borne the biggest burden of the migration crisis and has been calling on its European partners for help.

The welcome mat will not be quite the same, either.  Sweden decided last month to offer only three-year residence permits to many new asylum seekers rather than permanent status.  The change was part of agreement the government had to make to get the votes it needed on a new budget.
(Emphasis added.)

Norway, Denmark, and Finland are imposing their own restrictions.  All four countries have cut benefits to migrants.

The Nordic countries are imitating each other because:
As the Nordic countries cut back, each has been carefully watching the others, mindful of setting standards in line with its neighbors so as not to end up as a more attractive destination.
It is likely, I believe, that we will see a race between governments, all over Europe, to impose more controls against the flood of migrants.  Each country will try to build its own levee, and will want to make it at least as high as its neighbors' levees.

(Terminology again:  I am using the neutral word, "migrants".  Many migrants are, or will claim to be, "asylum seekers", people who are fleeing persecution.  If their claims are accepted, they become "refugees", with legal rights in many countries.

You won't have to look far to find examples of journalists confusing the three categories.)
- 3:36 PM, 4 January 2016   [link]

Worth Buying:  Today's Wall Street Journal, for Mary Anastasia O'Grady's lucid explanation of the power struggle between Chavistas and reformers in Venezuela.

And, of course, for the long (2,498 words) article on Donald Trump's business practices and bankruptcies.

(You can bypass their pay wall with a Google search, but those two really are each worth the cost of today's newspaper.  And, if you are broke, you can read it in almost any library.)
- 9:58 AM, 4 January 2016   [link]

Not Of Any Great International Or National Importance, but too funny not to pass on:
Two prostitutes were forced to run through a hotel naked as they tried to catch gunmen who robbed them while they stripped off.

The pair were at the Atlanta Marriott Buckhead Hotel and Conference Center in Georgia on Saturday, thinking they were being paid a visit by a perspective client.
Did the gunmen think the, uh, ladies wouldn't report the crime?  Did the ladies realize that chasing men with guns is not generally a good idea, when you are, rather obviously, unarmed?  Possibly, and probably not.

(There are no pictures of the chase with the article, which will relieve some, and disappoint others.)
- 8:20 PM, 3 January 2016   [link]

Two Letters On ISIS And The War Powers Resolution:  A week ago, the New York Times called for Congress to pass a resolution authorizing the war against ISIS.  Yesterday, the newspaper printed two letters disagreeing with that editorial, for different reasons.

First, was a letter from Frank Cummings, who had served as aide to Senator Jacob Javits when the resolution was drawn up.  Cummings began:
Your Dec. 27 editorial “Congress and the War Against ISIS” presents the burdens backward.  The War Powers Resolution tells the president not to make war without specific congressional authority.  The burden is not on Congress to give him authority; rather, the restriction is on the president not to make war without getting such authority.
In other words, according to Cummings the war President Obama is conducting against ISIS is illegal.

That was followed by a letter from James Franklin Jeffrey, a former ambassador to Iraq, who explained why Congress had not even voted on the draft resolution that the Obama administration had presented to Congress:
As a witness before the House Foreign Affairs Committee the day after the administration submitted its draft authorization on Feb. 11, 2015, I saw members from both parties express serious problems with it, including its explicit exclusion of “enduring offensive ground combat operations,” an exclusion also highlighted in the draft’s introduction and cover letter.

It is one thing for the president not to use an important, perhaps decisive, component of military force.  It is quite another to expect Congress to formalize such tying of military hands for both him and his successor.   (The draft proposed a three-year duration.)
Although Jeffrey is too polite to say so — he was an ambassador, after all — it is likely that he, and others at that hearing, decided that the Obama administration was trying to lock his successor into following Obama's policies, especially if the successor is a Republican.

Those limitations strike me as silly — and typical of Obama.

(There has been a debate about the constitutionality of the War Powers Resolution, ever since it was enacted; presidents generally think it is unconstitutional and congressmen generally disagree — but refuse to enforce it, by cutting off money for troops in the filed.)

I don't know enough about that part of constitutional law to have an opinion on the subject, but, if the Resolution is constitutional, then President Obama was breaking the law when he intervened in Libya.)
- 7:55 PM, 3 January 2016   [link]

Sometimes, It's Our Duty To Restate the obvious:  "No, Jesus Was Not a Palestinian".

It shouldn't, but it still surprises me from time to time, what kinds of lies will be believed in parts of the Middle East.

Even, from time to time, lies that contradict each other.  For instance, you can find some who believe both that the 9/11 attack was a hoax, that it didn't really occur — and that the attack was perpetrated by the Israeli Mossad.  If there is a way to reason with such people, I haven't discovered it.

It is natural to believe what we want to believe, but one would like to see everyone, but especially people in the Middle East, fight harder against that natural tendency.
- 7:11 PM, 3 January 2016   [link]

President Erdogam Mentions Hitler:  And may have made a Kinsley gaffe.
ISTANBUL — Turkey issued a statement on Friday saying that comments by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan — in which he cited Hitler in response to a question about whether a strong presidency was possible in Turkey — had been misinterpreted.

Mr. Erdogan, who is pushing to imbue the largely ceremonial presidency with sweeping executive powers, told reporters late Thursday that “there are already examples in the world.”

“You can see it when you look at Hitler’s Germany,” he said.

Mr. Erdogan did not elaborate, but his comparison to Hitler drew immediate criticism because of what many view as his increasing authoritarianism.  His comment also raised the issue of how the leader of one of the world’s most influential countries, an American ally and member of NATO, would mention Hitler in the context of his own tenure.
He may have, in other words, said what he thinks, but did not intend to say.

That seems more likely to me when I recall his famous bus comment:
In a recent interview, Jordan’s King Abdullah recounted telling details of a conversation: “Erdogan once said that democracy, for him, is a bus ride … 'once I get to my stop, I’m getting off’ ”.  The destination is a soft authoritarian one-party state, clothed in democratic garb but shorn of the rights and habits that go with genuine democracy.
(I'd say Islamic authoritarian, not just authoritarian.)

Because, as you probably know, Hitler came to power through democratic elections — and then got off the democratic bus.

(Professor Tures thinks we ought to react to this statement, and Erdogan's other actions, strongly, very strongly.   I don't, but I don't think we should view him as a trustworthy friend, either.

The Wikipedia contributors see Erdogan as competent, but they don't like him, even a little bit.)
- 3:15 PM, 2 January 2016   [link]

Mistakes, They've Made A Few:  Robert Rector has a little list of prominent news corrections during 2015.

Three samples:
“Last week’s column mistakenly misidentified a source. The European Commission president is Romano Prodi, not Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”--- The Prague Post.
. . . .
Correction: An earlier version of this article misidentified the number of years E.B. White wrote for The New Yorker.   It was five decades, not centuries.” ---The New York Times
. . .
“A Bloody Mary recipe…called for 12 ounces of vodka and 36 ounces of tomato juice.  The recipe as printed incorrectly reversed the amounts, calling for 36 ounces of vodka and 12 ounces of tomato juice.” --- Wall Street Journal.
(By way of Steven Hayward.)

The list was compiled before the end of the year, so this correction wasn't included:
An article on Thursday about lobbying efforts by California farmers to get more irrigation water referred incorrectly in some editions to the location where the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers meet. It is east of San Francisco, not west.
I tried visualizing those rivers meeting out in the Pacific Ocean, without success.

(Even more interesting, at least to me, are the mistakes that don't get corrected, for instance this one by Paul Krugman. who did not realize how close Australia is to New Guinea and Indonesia.

I didn't bother to send the New York Times a letter or a correction because they have an unofficial policy of allowing their leftist opinion writers to have their own facts.)
- 8:05 AM, 2 January 2016   [link]

Happy New Year!

- 6:41 AM, i January 2016   [link]