July 2018, Part 4

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Thinking In Layers About The American Presidency:  Choosing the right layer to analyze is often the most important step.

An example from way back in the Cold War:

Convoys to West Berlin had to pass through Soviet checkpoints.  At one of those checkpoints, they began to have trouble.  Western officials began to wonder if this were a ratcheting up of tensions by the Soviet dictator, and if so, why.  (An alternate explanation would have been that the Soviet military bureaucracy was upping tensions, perhaps in order to get more money.)

Fortunately, we were tapping their phones at the time, so we were able to discover the actual cause of the difficulties:  The commander at that checkpoint was unhappy because his superior officer was having an affair with the man's wife.  Unable to do anything about that, he was taking our his ire on the Western convoys.

In that example, the right layer was an individual, as it often is.  But the right layer can be a clique, a faction, a department, a bureaucracy, or even a nation as a whole.  For example, the FBI and the New York City Police Department have overlapping responsibilities for preventing terrorist attacks in New York City.   Anyone familiar with bureaucracies would expect the two to quarrel from time to time over which organization should do what — regardless of who was president, mayor, or head of each bureaucracy.

During World War II, the American Navy once shared some sensitive intelligence with some British officials.  Later, in a meeting where some representatives of the American Army were present, the British discussed this intelligence.  After the meeting the Navy complained bitterly to the British, noting that they had agreed to share the intelligence with the British — but not with the American Army.

Now to apply this kind of thinking to the Trump presidency.

I think we can understand at least 80 percent, perhaps as much as 90 percent, of what is happening in the Trump presidency if we think in terms of just three layers.

First, there is the permanent presidency, the White House staff, and all the competing executive bureaucracies. from Social Security to the Defense Department.  (You can explain much of what these bureaucracies do simply by assuming they want to continue what they have been doing, with, of course, a little more money each year.)

There is a small, but rather neat, example of bureaucratic behavior from a White House stenographer.
A White House stenographer says she resigned over the Trump administration's lack of respect for her office after President Trump reduced the roles of the White House position.

Beck Dorey-Stein, who worked as a stenographer for the White House during the second half of the Obama administration, told CNN's New Day on Wednesday that Trump's refusal to allow stenographers in the room for meetings and interviews with some journalists crossed a line.
Ordinarily, the stenographers stay on from one president to the next, with no problems.

Second, there is what I call the Republican presidency, all the Republican appointees who are now, theoretically, running their departments.  You can explain most of what they do simply by looking at what Republicans have been advocating over the past 25 years or so.  Any Republican head of the EPA would have reversed Obama-era regulations — though it would have been difficult to find another who would have flamed out as spectacularly as Scott Pruitt did.   Almost any Republican cabinet member would be more friendly to business — other than Hollywood and the rest of the entertainment business — than those in Obama's cabinet.

And so on.

Finally, there is the Trump presidency, which, as far as I can tell, is actually a fairly small group, even if you include outsiders such as Sean Hannity, as you probably should.

What makes this presidency unusual is that the Republican layer and the Trump layer are so often in conflict.  (You expect the top two layers to conflict with the permanent presidency, or, to be more precise, different parts depending on the party.)
- 8:30 PM, 31 July 2018   [link]

"Why A Democratic Wave Looks Likely"  Because, says Jay Cost, Donald Trump refuses to act the way most Americans expect presidents to act.

As I recall, during the 2016 campaign, Trump claimed that he could act presidential.  But he would get much less attention if he did, and so we shouldn't expect him to do so very often (even assuming he can).
- 11:38 AM, 31 July 2018   [link]

North Korea Is Behaving As Almost Everyone Expected:  They are building ballistic missiles.
U.S. spy agencies are seeing signs that North Korea is constructing new missiles at a factory that produced the country’s first intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching the United States, according to officials familiar with the intelligence.

The reports about new missile construction come after recent revelations about a suspected uranium-enrichment facility, called Kangson, that North Korea is operating in secret.  Secretary of State Mike Pompeo acknowledged during Senate testimony last week that North Korean factories “continue to produce fissile material” used in making nuclear weapons.  He declined to say whether Pyongyang is building new missiles.
And probably enriching uranium for bombs.

No one would be surprised by any of these reports — if they have been following North Korea's behavior in recent decades.
- 10:19 AM, 31 July 2018   [link]

Every Job has its disadvantages.
- 9:45 AM, 31 July 2018   [link]

Historian Martin Kramer Catches The NYT in a front-page mistake.

What the Times printed seems implausible even to a non-expert like me; it's the kind of claim that requires serious checking, which it didn't get.

(Martin Kramer and David Ben-Gurion)
- 2:06 PM, 30 July 2018   [link]

Here's An Oddity From Pakistan:  As is usual in elections in that country, there were accusations of "vote rigging" in last week's election.

Strangely, the accusations came, mostly, from the ruling party — which lost the election.

That's not unprecedented, but it is unusual.

(Are the accusations true?  To some extent, I am sure, just as I am sure that there is always some vote fraud in American elections.

I am not a student of elections in Pakistan, but, given the size of the swings, it seems unlikely that any vote rigging determined the outcome.

Pakistani general election, 2018)
- 1:33 PM, 30 July 2018   [link]

The Tourism Exception:  We should reduce our use of fossil fuels say many news organizations.  For example, if there is a single skeptic on the subject at PBS, I haven't seen him.

But these same news organizations promote fossil-fuel-guzzling tourism.  They print articles and broadcast stories that urge readers and viewers to burn more fossil fuels visiting the tourist traps of the world.

If anyone at, again for example PBS, sees a contradiction in this fear of global warming and this promotion of tourism, I've missed him.
- 10:52 AM, 30 July 2018   [link]

This Cartoon Took Me A Few Seconds To Understand:   Which is one of the reasons I like it.
- 9:37 AM, 30 July 2018   [link]

Too Funny not to share.

(Is the stunt fair?  Yes, in my opinion, but not by a large margin.)
- 8:49 PM, 29 July 2018   [link]

"Is America’s Birth Rate About To Start Booming?"  Probably not, but Michael Barone's discussion of how we got here is worth reading, anyway.
Sometimes a society’s values change sharply with almost no one noticing.  In 1968, according to a Gallup survey, 70 percent of American adults said that a family of three or more children was “ideal” — about the same number as Gallup surveys starting in 1938.  That number helps explain the explosive baby boom after Americans were no longer constrained by depression and world war.

Those values and numbers didn’t last.  By 1978, Gallup reported that only 39 percent considered three or more children “ideal.”  The numbers have hovered around there ever since, spiking to just 41 percent in the late-1990s tech boom.
For some years, I have thought that part of the explanation for that shift is a decline in our national morale.  We have much less faith in ourselves than we did fifty years ago.

Finding solid evidence for — or against — that notion would not be easy, but I do think it is possible.
- 8:09 PM, 29 July 2018   [link]

Yes, But Polling Wasn't Very Scientific back in Lincoln's time.
President Donald Trump claims he has higher poll numbers than Republican Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan, although it´s unclear what poll and what numbers he´s referring to.
Does Trump know that scientific polling didn't begin until the 1930s?  Would he care if he did know?

(It's funny, but it is also more than a little pathetic.  And it makes me sad to see the comments after the post, which remind me of statements I've seen from cult members.)
- 10:23 AM, 29 July 2018   [link]

The Current "Pepper . . . Salt" made me laugh out loud.
- 2:34 PM, 28 July 2018   [link]

The Fight Over Anti-Semitism In Britain's Labour Party:  It hasn't gotten much coverage from the BBC — and almost none from American news organizations — but it is serious.

This incident shows just how nasty the fight has become:
In July 2018, [Labour MP Margaret] Hodge approached Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn behind the Speaker's Chair after the day's Parliament sitting, calling him "an antisemite & a racist", following Labour's decision to reject the IHRA's definition of antisemitism in favour of their own definition.[63]  After the incident, a spokesman for Corbyn said that Hodge would face 'action' over her comments.   Hodge said that she did not regret calling Corbyn an antisemite, although she denied swearing in the incident.[64]
And it concerns us, too, if this post by Mike Smithson is reasonably accurate.  (And, as far as I know, it is.)
His party’s MPs are seeking to take a different stance on the definition from the leadership and this is set to come to a head in September.
What makes this so problematical for LAB is that fighting anything linked to Israel goes to the very heart of Corbyn’s politics over many decades because it is seen as a creation of the hated United States.
So while there are human rights abuses in many parts of the world the one that disproportionately gets singled out is Israel and many on the left want the freedom to attack it.
That isn't as clear as it ought to be, but I think you can get the gist.

That Jeremy Corbyn hates Israel and the United States is, I think, obvious.

That he has, at the very least, tolerated anti-Semites is also obvious — but neither are subjects that the BBC likes to cover.

(As I have said before, the omission of stories on many sensitive subjects is the most important form of political bias at our major news organizations.)
- 4:36 PM, 27 July 2018   [link]

Arson?  That's what Greek authorities say they suspect.
Greece said on Thursday it suspected arson was behind a devastating forest fire which killed at least 83 people and turned the small town of Mati east of Athens into a wasteland of death and destruction.

In one of the worst Greek disasters in living memory, Monday night’s blaze trapped dozens of people in their cars trying to flee a barreling wall of flames.

“We have serious indications and significant signs suggesting the criminal actions of arson,” Civil Protection Minister Nikos Toskas told a news conference.  He said police had testimonies to that effect, but did not elaborate.
Two thoughts:

If it does turn out to be arson, that might explain why the fire was so deadly.

Second, again if it was arson, it might be a terrorist attack.  There has been terrorist chatter about using fires in their attacks and, of course, Hamas has been trying to set fires in Israel for months.

- 1:48 PM, 27 July 2018   [link]

This Week's Collection Of Cartoons from Politico.

My favorites:  Michael Ramirez's Kimmee (partly because of the reference to that wonderfully silly song), Dwane Powell's Alaska, and Mike Lester's hyperbole.
- 1:24 PM, 27 July 2018   [link]

Snail Metamorphosis:  This snail gives up eating.
Once the snail reaches a certain body length, its digestive system stops growing.  Its teeth, stomach and intestine make way for an expanding esophageal gland.  The organ gets so big, it takes up most of the snail’s body, and basically becomes a new organ.  Bacteria colonize it, and the snail, which grazed for food when it was smaller, no longer needs to eat.  Instead it just sits there getting bigger, surviving on energy the bacteria produces inside the snail’s cells.
Despite its name, Gigantopelta chessoia, the snail is not all that big, even as an adult:  "The width of the shell is from 4.21–45.7 mm."

I would guess that this unusual metamorphosis has something to do with the snails habitat, hydrothermal vents — but I don't have any idea how the two might be connected.
- 4:21 PM, 26 July 2018   [link]

Did Jean-Claude Juncker Just Insult President Trump?   It sure looks that way.
Mr. Juncker grabbed the opportunity to argue that both sides need to refrain from further punitive tariffs or they would foolishly harm themselves.

“If you want to be stupid,” he told Mr. Trump, “I can be stupid, as well.”
After saying that Trump had been behaving stupidly, Juncker gave a deliberately simplistic presentation.

(The European Union President does not have as clean a record as a man in that postion should have.)
- 2:13 PM, 26 July 2018   [link]

Sometimes, It's What Doesn't Happen That's Significant:   For example, the silence on the Uighurs.
As the Chinese authorities continue a brutal crackdown in Xinjiang, the northwest region of China that’s home to the Uighur, Islam has been one of the main targets.  Major mosques in the major cities of Kashgar and Urumqi now stand empty.  Prisoners in the camps are told to renounce God and embrace the Chinese Communist Party.  Prayers, religious education, and the Ramadan fast are increasingly restricted or banned.  Even in the rest of China, Arabic text is being stripped from public buildings, and Islamophobia is being tacitly encouraged by party authorities.

But amid this state-backed campaign against their religious brethren, Muslim leaders and communities around the world stand silent.  While the fate of the Palestinians stirs rage and resistance throughout the Islamic world, and millions stood up to condemn the persecution of the Rohingya, there’s been hardly a sound on behalf of the Uighur.  No Muslim nation’s head of state has made a public statement in support of the Uighurs this decade.  Politicians and many religious leaders who claim to speak for the faith are silent in the face of China’s political and economic power.
(Links omitted.)

I wouldn't be surprised to learn that predominantly Buddhist countries have had little to say about the persecution of Buddhists in Tibet, for generally similar reasons.

For that matter, it has been years since I have seen a "Free Tibet" bumper sticker in this area.

(Some will be reminded of the famous lines in "Silver Blaze".

Uighurs and Tibetans)
- 10:51 AM, 26 July 2018   [link]

Too Funny Not to share.

That's the White House headed by . . . Donald J. Trump.

(It bothers me, a little, that Sarah Sanders may not realize that's funny, considering the source.)
- 10:03 AM, 26 July 2018   [link]

This New Yorker Cartoon made me chuckle.
- 9:44 AM, 26 July 2018   [link]

"Radar Probe Reveals Huge Reservoir Of Liquid Water Under Mars’ Surface"  Though it isn't water you would want to drink.
Using radar to probe the polar ice caps of Mars, scientists have detected an underground reservoir of liquid that may be saltwater and that extends for about 20 kilometers in length.  The results, published July 25 in Science, provide some resolution to a decades-long debate over whether a sizable body of liquid water is present on Mars.

“Water is considered one of the fundamental requirements for life.  This is the first stable body of liquid water ever found on Mars, and it could be considered a potential habitat,” explained Roberto Orosei, a lead scientist at the Institute of Radioastronomy in Italy who analyzed the data.
Even if it were easier to get to.

I have long thought that there is microbial life on Mars.  When I look at what extremophiles can do here on Earth, I assume they could do similar things on Mars.  And we should remember that any bacteria there would, most likely, have had billions of years to adapt to changing conditions.
- 7:34 PM, 25 July 2018   [link]

The Seattle Streetcar Problem Just Got Worse:  Probably.

Here's the latest.
The new streetcars that Seattle ordered to expand the downtown streetcar system are heavier and longer than the ones the city now operates, and it’s unclear if they’ll work on the current track and fit in the maintenance barn, Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office said Tuesday.

The Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) ordered 10 new streetcars in the fall, at a cost of $52 million, as it planned to link the two existing streetcar lines with a new line along First Avenue through downtown.

But Durkan halted that work in March and ordered an independent review of the project’s finances, after a Seattle Times report said costs to operate the new system could be 50 percent higher than SDOT had publicly stated.
(Links omitted.)

The streetcars have never made sense.  Buses have all the advantages, including being safer for bicyclists and pedestrians.  But so far mere facts have not won the debate.

(As far as I can tell, Mayor Durkan wants to halt the expansion, which makes this Fox headline unintentionally funny.  She is trying to fix, or at least alleviate, a problem she didn't create.)
- 2:36 PM, 25 July 2018   [link]

Aren't You Glad Our Public Discussions Are Focused On Important Issues?  Like this one, for instance.

We don't have to waste time on trivial issues like our declining life expectancy, next year's trillion dollar federal deficit, the West's demographic problem, China's challenge, or the best strategy against Islamic terror.

All right, I won't do that often, but from time to time I intend to protest the way unimportant but sensational stories are preventing us from thinking together about truly important matters.

And I blame our two recent narcissists-in-chief, Obama and Trump, for making an already bad situation worse.
- 12:29 PM, 25 July 2018   [link]

It's Not Profound, but this Andy Marlette cartoon made me laugh out loud.
- 11:12 AM, 25 July 2018   [link]