January 2017, Part 2

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Fans Of Narnia Will Understand this xkcd cartoon.

But I won't guarantee they'll like it.
- 6:19 PM, 16 January 2017   [link]

In 2015, Instead Of My Usual MLK Day Post, I put up this discouraged post.   In 2016, even more discouraged, I put up no post at all on the day.

(A majority of Americans — 52 percent — say race relations have gotten worse under Obama.)

During Barack Obama's presidency, I have become less and less hopeful about the official trends in race relations in this country.  I had hoped, mistakenly I see now, that, with his background, he would build bridges between the races.

Instead, he and his administration have chosen to emphasize racial grievances, especially those grievances that divide urban blacks from the police.

This has been bad for everyone, but especially urban blacks.

(I see some hope, as I have for many years, in the improvements in race relations I see outside the the official sphere.  The most obvious example is the increase in marriages across racial lines, and the resulting increase in people of mixed race, who have strong personal reasons to get along with more than one race.  But there are many other examples, as I am sure you know.)
- 5:39 PM, 16 January 2017   [link]

France Has A Catholic Vote:  Who knew?

For those who haven't been following French politics for fifty years, that question may seem a little odd.  After all, France has been nominally Catholic for more than 1500 years and, even now, somewhere between 55 and 60 percent of the French consider themselves Catholic.

But it is also true that, for more than a century, French governments have adhered to a policy of laïcité.
. .. . a French concept of secularism.

It encourages the absence of religious involvement in government affairs, especially the prohibition of religious influence in the determination of state policies; it is also the absence of government involvement in religious affairs, especially the prohibition of government influence in the determination of religion.[1][2]
(In 2005, I argued that many Democrats would like to see the United States follow a similar policy.)

So strong was this feeling, especially on the left, that the two should be separated that once, when François Mitterrand was photographed in front of a historic church, the cross on the church was carefully airbrushed out of the photograph.

You don't have to be a political genius to recognize that a leader might see all that latent support for Catholicism in France, and appeal to it.

And one has: François Fillon, now the nominee of the Republican Party, and the favorite to win this year's presidential election.

You can find a description of how Fillon has been appealing to French Catholics in this Wall Street Journal article.

Two issues appear to have energized them, the rise of radical Islam and — gay marriage.

One important detail:  Fillon has been arguing that the French government should do more to protect Middle East Christians.  That's not an argument that would appeal to many Democratic leaders, in this country.  Or many journalists, almost anywhere.

(Here's an earlier post on Fillon, where I said I was trying to make sense of him.  I'm still working on that problem, though the Journal article did help.)
- 8:04 PM, 14 January 2017   [link]

- 7:54 AM, 15 January 2017   [link]

How To Think About The Trump "Russian Dossier"   We now know a fair amount about why the dossier was written.  It began as Republican opposition research on Trump, and then, after Trump won the nomination, became Democratic opposition research.

We know who put it together (and probably did much of the research), a former MI6 agent, Christopher Steele.  He has, according to a number of sources, including the FBI and Andrew Mount, a former British ambassador to Russia, a good reputation.

After the dossier was written, it was distributed to many news organizations.


I think the answer is obvious:  Steele, and his employer(s), hoped that the news organizations would use the dossier for leads to big stories.

As far as I know, no such big stories have emerged — yet.

Nor have any news organizations announced that they investigated one of the important charges and found it false — yet.  (There does seem to have been a mistake in an identification, but that's not what I would call an important charge.)

From which I conclude that news organizations have found it difficult to confirm, or deny, any of the charges.

That is, to say the least, unsatisfactory.

But it is where we are likely to be for months, possibly years.

(For further reading, I recommend this Washington Post article on Trump's dealings with Russia over the years and, with way more than the usual caveats, the . Wikipedia article on the dossier.)
- 2:04 PM, 14 January 2017   [link]

What Does The Public Think Of Donald Trump, So Far?  According to Gallup, not much.
In Gallup polling conducted two weeks before Inauguration Day, President-elect Donald Trump continues to garner historically low approval for his transition performance, with 51% of Americans disapproving of how he is handling the presidential transition and 44% approving.   Last month, the public was split on this question, with 48% approving and 48% disapproving.

Trump's 48% transition approval rating in December was already the lowest for any presidential transition Gallup has measured, starting with Bill Clinton's in 1992-1993.   Trump's current rating only further separates him from his predecessors -- particularly Barack Obama, who earned 83% approval for his handling of the transition process in January 2009, up from 75% in mid-December 2008.
Other pollsters have similar findings.

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.)
- 9:48 AM, 13 January 2017   [link]

Obama Fans Won't Like this Michael Ramirez cartoon.

I think it is a little over the top — as many of the best political cartoons are.
- 8:53 AM, 13 January 2017   [link]

Worth Watching:  (With some qualifications.)

Nova's "The Nuclear Option".
Five years after the earthquake and tsunami that triggered the unprecedented trio of meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, scientists and engineers are struggling to control an ongoing crisis.  What’s next for Fukushima?   What’s next for Japan?  And what’s next for a world that seems determined to jettison one of our most important carbon-free sources of energy?
For years, I have been arguing that, if you think global warming is a serious threat — and can do arithmetic — you should favor the expansion of nuclear power.  In the program, Nova gives a reasonably fair hearing to some of the prominent scientists who agree with that position, and describes some of the recent advances in nuclear safety.

(I said with some qualifications.  A full discussion of them would require me watching the program at least one more time, and a longish review.  I don't have time for either now, so I'll just give you the most important:  Greens commonly believe that there are safe "natural" sources of energy, sources that have no environmental consequences.  In fact, there are risks from every method of producing electricity, and environmental costs from every method.

Nova should have said that, explicitly, and should have given us some comparisons.)
- 3:36 PM, 12 January 2017   [link]

Dog Lovers May See A Warning in this cartoon.
- 6:33 AM, 12 January 2017   [link]

Jared Kushner Is Donald Trump's Son-In-Law, And Has Been Chosen By Trump To Be A Top White House Advisor:  To get through the nomination process, Kushner hired a lawyer, Jamie Gorelick.
Kushner’s attorney, WilmerHale partner Jamie Gorelick, said in an interview Monday that Kushner is prepared to resign from his business and divest substantial assets, including foreign investments, before taking a White House position. But Gorelick, who served as deputy attorney general under President Bill Clinton, said she is confident that the anti-nepotism statute does not cover Trump's appointment of Kushner, though she acknowledged that some lawyers take the opposite view.
Yes, that Jamie Gorelick, who has been nicknamed the "mistress of disaster".  (The Wikipedia article does not mention her nickname, but you can see how widespread it has become with a simple search on the phrase.)

This news has filled people on the left and the right with consternation.

It doesn't seem surprising to me, though.  After all, Kushner is a "lifelong Democrat", so it is natural for him to choose a Democratic lawyer with experience in ethical questions — she did work for Bill Clinton — to represent him.

(Incidentally, Kushner's father has led an interesting, if not always legal, life.)
- 8:30 PM, 11 January 2017   [link]

Japan's Demographic Problem:  In a single graph.

Japan' demographic problem

The article has numbers, too:
Since 2010, Japan has experienced net population loss due to falling birth rates and almost no immigration, despite having one of the highest life expectancies in the world at 81.25 years of age as of 2006.[5]  Using the annual estimate for October of each year, the population peaked in 2008 at 128,083,960 and had fallen 285,256 by October 2011.[6]   Japan's population density was 336 people per square kilometer.

Based on 2012 data from the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research, Japan's population will keep declining by about one million people every year in the coming decades, which will leave Japan with a population of 42 million in 2110.[7]
This is important, not just for Japan, but for the United States and for, I believe, every modern, urban civilization.

What we see in that graph is what will happen, without immigration, in every developed nation, if present trends of increasing urbanization continue.

Other than, possibly, Salt Lake City, I don't know of any large city in the developed world where the total fertility rate is above the break-even point, about 2.1 children per woman.

I have come to believe that living in modern cities inhibits couples from having children.

(I have also come to believe that sheer density — so beloved by city planners — is one of the most important reasons couples living in cities are reluctant to have children.  I don't think it's an accident that America's baby boom came at a time when families were leaving our large cities for the suburbs,)
- 2:02 PM, 11 January 2017   [link]

As I Am Sure Almost All Of You Know By Now, this is the big story in the last 24 hours.
This afternoon, CNN reported that President Barack Obama and President-Elect Donald Trump had been briefed by the intelligence community on the existence of a cache of memos alleging communication between the Trump campaign and Russian officials and the possession by the Russian government of highly compromising material against Trump.  The memos were compiled by a former British intelligence officer on behalf of anti-Trump Republicans and, later, Democrats working against Trump in the general election.  According to CNN, the intelligence officer’s previous work is credible, but the veracity of the specific allegations set forth in the document have not yet been confirmed.
In the rest of the post, Benjamin Wittes, Susan Hennessey, and Quinta Jurecic urge people to "take a deep breath" and wait to see what evidence there is for the claims.

I think it would also be sensible to treat the separate claims separately, since it is possible, perhaps even likely, that a few of them are true, a few of them are partly true, and most of them are products of someone's imagination.  (In the latter case, it would be interesting to know who thought them up, and why,)
- 12:16 PM, 11 January 2017   [link]

This Song Goes Out to President Obama and President-elect Trump.

(Some will want to change the lyrics for Trump, substituting "tweet" for "talk".)
- 10:07 AM, 11 January 2017   [link]

Most Teachers Will Like yesterday's New Yorker cartoon.

Most, but not all.
- 9:56 AM, 11 January 2017   [link]

Americans Give President Obama A Good Grade, Overall:  And fail him on 14 of 19 subjects.
Asked about the state of the nation over the past eight years, Americans say the U.S. gained ground in four of 19 policy domains, and they say it lost ground on 14 and held steady on one.  More Americans see progress than decline on the situation for gays and lesbians, energy, climate change and the economy.  They see the biggest setbacks on the federal debt, crime, the gap between the rich and the poor, and race relations.  They are divided on whether the nation has made progress or lost ground on healthcare.
He would have only one passing grade, on progress for gays, if you included the "no progress" answers against him.

This reminds me of a 2013 Ruth Marcus column.   Marcus awarded Obama a passing grade for his first term — and then described all the ways he had failed, without mentioning any Obama successes.
- 4:25 PM, 10 January 2017   [link]

Relatively Speaking, Garry Gilliam Is Right:   In today's Seattle Times the Seahawks offensive tackle is quoted as saying:  "Well, I'm not 6-8, 340 pounds.  And I'm not some bruiser."

Gilliam is listed at a mere 6-5, 315 pounds, which, in fact, does not make him a "bruiser" — among NFL linemen.

But it was still pretty funny to see a man that big telling us he didn't feel big.
- 1:59 PM, 10 January 2017   [link]

The Added Burden Of Being "First"  It is unfair, but the first person in some field is often taken to represent all those who might follow him, or her.  If he, or she, succeeds, it will make it easier for those like him, or her, to follow.

Jackie Robinson was chosen to integrate major league baseball because the owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers was nearly certain that Robinson would succeed, and make it easier for other African American players to follow him.

Theresa May almost certainly found it easier to become prime minister of Britain because Margaret Thatcher was widely considered to be a success, for most of her time in office.

Now consider this question:  Before our last presidential campaign, did you hear any great demand that, for instance, Deval Patrick or Cory Booker run for president?

I certainly didn't, not even within the Democratic Party.

It is unfair, but Barack Obama's failures have probably made it harder for African American politicians to win higher offices.
- 10:37 AM, 10 January 2017   [link]

180,000 And 50 Percent!?!  Yesterday's Wall Street Journal carried Tony Abbott's review, "Clash of the Titans", of Michael Auslin's book, The End of the Asian Century: War, Stagnation, and the Risks to the World’s Most Dynamic Region.

Two numbers in that review astonished me.  Here they are, in context:
Yes, the country has more than 270 billionaires, but it has scarcely reached middle-income status.  Its economy is still dominated by massively indebted and usually inefficient state-owned enterprises that engage in wholesale theft of intellectual property.  The speed with which the country has modernized is astonishing, yet such progress has resulted in the world’s worst pollution: “the darkness of Chinese cities at noon, thousands of dead pig carcasses floating down major rivers, and towering garbage heaps reveal the almost inconceivable environmental harm,” writes Mr. Auslin.  There are, on average, 180,000 reported demonstrations against the regime every year.  And the fact that nearly 50% of the country’s wealthier citizens say they plan to move overseas within five years is hardly a good sign.  The more challenges China faces, the more tempted an insecure government might be to engage in brinkmanship abroad to prop up its position at home.
(Emphasis added.)

As I am sure you know, there is somewhat more risk for demonstrators in China than in the United States.

And, though I have written about wealthy Chinese leaving China from time to time (for instance, here), I was still astonished by how many want to leave, and how soon they want to leave.  As I have before, I'll ask this question:  What do they know that we don't?

(How good are those numbers?  You'd have to read Auslin's book to find out.  Both might be underestimates, since there are probably demonstrations that receive no notice in the press, and wealthy Chinese might be reluctant to admit they wanted to leave their homes.)
- 8:59 AM, 10 January 2017   [link]

Yesterday's New Yorker Cartoon is political, but not bitter.  (I almost added, "for a change".)

(It reminded me of the backgrounds of John Kasich and Marco Rubio.)
- 8:05 AM, 10 January 2017   [link]

Some Good News on sickle cell disease.
Creating hospital teams devoted to treating pregnant women who have sickle cell disease reduced death rates for those women by almost 90 percent, a study at a major hospital in Ghana showed.

Sickle cell disease is common in West Africa, and among black people in the Americas whose ancestors came from West Africa. It is caused by a genetic mutation that if inherited from only one parent protects against malaria, but if inherited from both parents can be lethal. Red blood cells can collapse into curved “sickle” shapes and clump together to jam capillaries, sometimes causing excruciating pain, shortness of breath and death.
Specifically, the treatment teams reduced maternal mortality to "1.1 percent from 9.7 percent".

(Here's a review of sickle cell disease, if you need one.  A few people have been cured of the disease with bone marrow transplants.)
- 4:14 PM, 9 January 2017   [link]

What Do The Official Numbers Tell Us About Hate Crimes?  Robert Cherry has some answers in his article, "What FBI Stats Tell Us About Hate Crimes".
The announcement by Loretta Lynch that anti-Muslim hate crimes increased by 67 percent in 2015 has renewed claims that Islamophobia is widespread and that right-wing publications such as Breitbart are responsible for inciting white racists to commit these acts.  A closer look at FBI statistics, however, indicates that both of these claims are highly questionable.

The report does show an increase in hate crimes against Muslims from 154 in 2014 to 257 in 2015.  It is important, however, to examine how these data compare to hate crimes against other groups.  Pew estimates that the Muslim population in the United States is 3.3 million; this indicates that anti-Muslim hate crimes increased from 46.7 to 77.9 per million Muslims.  Table 1 shows how this per capita measure compares to hate crimes against other groups, based on population estimates of 5.7 million Jews, 46.5 million black people, and 6 million gay men.  It also includes the 2002–2008 rates for comparison purposes.
Briefly, other groups, notably Jews and gay men, are more likely to be targets of hate crimes than Muslims.

(There is one large caveat to add to his analysis.  Not all hate crimes are reported, and no doubt there are some false reports in those statistics.  Worse yet, we can not assume that the reporting rates are the same for the different groups, so we should be cautious about comparing them.

That said, I think his general conclusions are probably correct.

And it is worth noting that, in the United States, all of the hate crimes together against Muslims are not comparable to, for instance, the San Bernardino terrorist attack.)
- 9:56 AM, 9 January 2017   [link]

"Talking To In-laws Can Be Hard.  In Some Languages, It’s Impossible."  The restrictions, and the workarounds, are fascinating.
In-laws may be universally intimidating, but in some cultures, the deference paid them rises to a whole new level, at least linguistically.

A geographically widespread practice known as avoidance speech, or “mother-in-law languages,” imposes strict rules on how one speaks — or doesn’t — to the parents of a spouse, with daughters-in-law typically bearing the brunt of such limits.

In parts of Africa, Australia and India, some societies restrict the words a person can say after marriage.  Some cultures have even barred all direct communication with parents-in-law.
For fun, try translating some of those restrictions into English.
- 8:46 AM, 9 January 2017   [link]