March 2018, Part 1

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Worth Reading:  This powerful Chicago Tribune editorial, "Danny Davis blows a chance to denounce Farrakhan's hateful words".
Louis Farrakhan, hate-spewing leader of the Nation of Islam, gave a speech in Chicago recently in which he attacked “powerful Jews” and portrayed himself as an enemy of white people.

“White folks are going down.  And Satan is going down.  And Farrakhan, by God’s grace, has pulled the cover off of that Satanic Jew,” he told a large audience gathered at Wintrust Arena for the Nation’s Saviours’ Day event on Feb. 25.   Farrakhan included other anti-Semitic remarks in his speech, the same type of bilge he’s preached for years.  A 2015 report by the Anti-Defamation League chronicled Farrakhan’s long history of repellent views.

Farrakhan is the ill-informed leader of a large organization.  It’s important that his comments be condemned by other influential voices in the community, such as a member of Chicago’s congressional delegation.  But when The Daily Caller, a conservative publication, asked Rep. Danny Davis, D-Chicago, the congressman laughed off his close relationship with Farrakhan, saying he had no problem with him and wasn’t concerned by Farrakhan’s anti-Semitism.
There are at least six other Democratic congressmen: Maxine Waters, Barbara Lee, Andre Carson, Keith Ellison, Gregory Meeks, and Al Green, who, like Davis, see little wrong with Farrakhan's racism and anti-Semitism.

Their connections to him have drawn little attention from "mainstream" journalists, and do not seem to have hurt the congressmen with most of their leftist colleagues.

Barack Obama should speak out against Farrakhan — but won't.

(For the record:  If you read the entire editorial, you'll learn that Congressman Davis did denounce anti-Semitism later, but that he did so without criticizing Farrakhan.

Danny K. Davis and Louis Farrakhan.)
- 2:04 PM, 8 March 2018   [link]

A Programmer's Revenge?  That might be the explanation for this laughter.
Are we seeing a robot uprising?  Amazon admits some devices that use Alexa, the virtual assistant, are letting out spontaneous laughter.
A programmer, unhappy with Amazon, might have left behind a little joke on the company, when he left.

(It is not a secret that not everyone who works at Amazon is happy with the company.)
- 10:40 AM, 8 March 2018   [link]

Glenn Hubbard Has The Right Reaction To Trump's Tariff Proposals:  In a succinct interview on NPR this morning Hubbard said that we do have trade problems, especially with China — but that Trump is taking the wrong actions to deal with those problems.

By now, you shouldn't be surprised by that combination.

(Glenn Hubbard)
- 9:26 AM, 8 March 2018   [link]

Here's A New Twist on an old line.
- 7:26 AM, 8 March 2018   [link]

I Shouldn't Have Had This Reaction, but I have to admit that this example of old-fashioned corruption actually cheered me up.
A convicted money launderer employed by Democratic Rep. Alcee Hastings (Fla.) in one of his Florida district offices received a pay increase for "part-time" work last year, new salary data filings show.

Additionally, Hastings's longtime girlfriend Patricia Williams appears to have received a promotion, though she did not get a raise since she is already receiving the maximum salary that is allowed to be paid to congressional staffers.
No foreign powers appear to be involved, and the amount of money is trivial compared to the federal budget.

But his district still should find a better representative — which would not be difficult.

(Alcee Hastings)
- 2:05 PM, 7 March 2018   [link]

"The Long, Terrifying History Of Russian Dissidents Being Poisoned Abroad"  And more than a few in Russia, too.
The New York Times said:  “No other major power employs murder as systematically and ruthlessly as Russia does against those seen as betraying its interests abroad.  Killings outside Russia were even given legal sanction by the nation’s Parliament in 2006.”

These attacks happen in Russia and abroad.  Poison was slipped into the tea of journalist Anna Politkovskaya on a flight to the Caucasus.  She survived, but was later gunned down in Moscow.  Politkovskaya was a fierce critic of Putin and a celebrated correspondent of the Chechen conflict.

But Russian emigres in Britain seem particularly vulnerable.  Russia is suspected of having organized the killings of at least 14 other people on British soil over the past two decades, according to an extensive BuzzFeed investigation. That is thanks in part to geography: London is a hub for the Russian diaspora.
So it is understandable that informed people suspect Russia may have struck at Sergei Skripal, and his daughter.

Many abroad — and a few here in the United States — actually admire Putin and his predecessors for these tough tactics.

(The British police are now saying that a "nerve agent" was used against the Skripals, which makes it even more likely that the attack originated in Russia.)
- 1:43 PM, 7 March 2018   [link]

Bitter, But Funny:  Michael Ramirez's suggestion for a new Oscar.
- 8:48 AM, 7 March 2018   [link]

"Pepper . . . And Salt" Has A High Tech Solution to a common problem.
- 8:22 AM, 7 March 2018   [link]

Worth Reading:  David Wise's op-ed, "America’s Other Espionage Challenge: China".
With all the focus on Russian meddling in the 2016 election, the damage done by China’s vigorous and continuing espionage against the United States has taken a back seat.

The preoccupation with Russia, in fact, has obscured the significant inroads made by Chinese intelligence and cyberspies.  In some cases, China has proved more skillful than Russia in infiltrating American intelligence.
I am in that group that believes that China is our most serious long-term strategic threat — by far.

And that part of that threat is the great advantage the Chinese have gained in the ongoing intelligence war between our two nations.

To some extent, their advantage is inevitable; democracies, with their openness and protections for citizens, will always be at a disadvantage against dictatorships.

But I think we can do better than we have been — if we can find leaders who are willing and able to "think slow" and long term about this strategic problem.

We did that during the Cold War, so I believe we can do it again, though I will admit that I don't see many such leaders in office, right now.

(David Wise and his latest book, Tiger Trap)
- 7:45 PM, 6 March 2018   [link]

Did Vladimir Putin Order Another Former Spy Assassinated?  That's what almost everyone suspects.
A Russian colonel who spied for MI6 is critically ill in a British hospital amid fears of a poison plot.

Sergei Skripal, 66, who had recently told police he feared for his life, was rushed to hospital after collapsing on a bench outside a shopping centre in Salisbury on Sunday.

He was found with a 33-year-old woman, who is also fighting for her life. She is thought to be a family member.  Health chiefs said the pair had been exposed to an 'unknown substance'.
. . .
It was suggested last night that Vladimir Putin would never have forgiven Mr Skripal following his treason conviction.  The Russian president once said:  'Traitors always end in a bad way.  Usually from a drinking habit, or from drugs, right in the street.'
(You can find many more details in this follow-up article, including this:  Others in the area had symptoms from the "substance", too.)

One reason so many suspect a Russian attack is the 2006 assassination of Alexander Litvinenko.

The timing of this attack may have been determined by the Russian election.
Alex Goldfarb, a friend of Litvinenko who helped him escape Russia in 2000, said the Skripal case was suggestive of a Russian plot.

“What’s interesting now is that this happens just before Russia’s presidential election,” he said.  “Putin awarded [one of the assassins, Andrey] Lugovoi a state honour and made him a national hero.  He apparently sees positive electoral gain from this kind of activity.
Sadly, about the only thing surprising about this incident is that Skripal and his daughter may survive the attack.
- 10:31 AM, 6 March 2018   [link]

You May Have To Be My Age, or close to it, to really appreciate this cartoon.
- 9:05 AM, 6 March 2018   [link]

Too Weird not to pass on.

(Maybe Sam Nunberg is cracking up on live TV.  But I have no rational explanation for his antics, not even a speculative one.)
- 3:44 PM, 5 March 2018   [link]

The Steele "Dossier" Is Baaaack!  In the form of a long Jane Mayer article, an article too long to summarize in any brief way.

But I do think it fair to describe it as a defense of Christopher Steele, and his "dossier".

Important point:  The "dossier" is best understood as a collection of raw intelligence reports.  The memos were intended as material for others to verify, if possible, and analyze, not as a report for the public to read.  Western intelligence agencies appear to believe that at least some parts of it are true.

Not having the sources those agencies have, I continue to be agnostic about its accuracy.

You can find two of the many reactions to it here and here.

(Christopher Steele)
- 1:24 PM, 5 March 2018   [link]

Angela Merkel Will Be Germany's Chancellor, Again:  The Social Democrats voted to accept the coalition agreement.
Angela Merkel has secured her fourth term in power after Germany’s Social Democratic party (SPD) agreed to form another “grand coalition” government with the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU).
. . .
A majority of 66.02% of 463,723 eligible SPD members voted in favour of renewing the constellation that has governed Germany for the last four years – a more decisive outcome than a narrow vote among delegates in January had indicated, but also a diminished achievement compared with the 76% who had endorsed a grand coalition four years ago.
(Links omitted.)

A year ago, journalists were saying that Angela Merkel had become the leader of the West; now they are saying she survived, barely.

At the price, some will add, of giving up much of her party's platform in that 177-page agreement she signed with the SPD.

It is not at all clear what she can accomplish in the next four years, or even whether she can survive that long — though she is, as we have just seen, a survivor.

Nor, sadly, is there any obvious alternative to Merkel in the CDU/CSU, or outside it.

(Angela Merkel and the German Federal Election, 2017

Earlier posts on the election here, here, here, here, here, and here.)
- 11:09 AM, 5 March 2018   [link]

If You Have Lived In A Cramped City Apartment, You'll appreciate this cartoon.
- 10:02 AM, 5 March 2018   [link]

Researchers Think They Have An Explanation For The Cuban Sonic Attacks:  Too-close ultrasonic eavesdropping devices.
A report released Thursday by the University of Michigan argues the sounds were not the product of a deliberate attack.  Rather, the sounds could have been the result of audio interference between a pair of ultrasonic eavesdropping devices that got too close to each other.
. . .
The researchers got their answer when they placed two ultrasonic eavesdropping devices close to one another.  The result: a distorted audio frequency that matched the frequency recorded on the scene of the incident in Havana.
Actually, it still could be malicious, depending on how well the Cubans understand their own equipment.  I could easily imagine some agent thinking that possible injury to Americans would be a nice bonus.

But accidents do happen in intelligence work, as well as everywhere else.

(I'm hoping a friend who is expert in acoustics can give me some thoughts on the plausibility of this explanation.)
- 8:43 PM, 4 March 2018   [link]

For A Review Of The Classic Arguments For Free Trade — And Against Tariffs — read this Greg Mankiw column.

(I should add that, though I agree with his argument, I think economists (and libertarians) often take it further than I would.

There are other things we should value besides economic efficiency, something economists sometimes forget.

And I am not sure Mankiw and company have good answers for the kinds of competition we have been getting from China.  For example, we have needed, for some time, some way to counter massive Chinese thefts of our intellectual property, thefts I have seen valued at more than $1 trillion.  I can't say I have thought of an effective counter, but I do recognize that we need one.)
- 5:48 PM, 4 March 2018   [link]

This Is Taking Company Loyalty Further than most of us would.
- 4:45 PM, 4 March 2018   [link]

Fox Put Out A Bogus Story On Wall Prototypes:  Which has now been gently refuted by actual SEALs.
Now, the Navy SEALs themselves have responded to [Katie] Pavlich’s comments regarding the tenacity of the border wall prototypes.

Guess what?  They never even tried to breach the prototypes.

A U.S. Naval Special Warfare Command spokesman in Coronado told The San Diego Union-Tribune that no Navy SEALs were involved in the testing of wall prototypes.
I saw that Pavlich story, and was immediately skeptical, for the reasons I mentioned here.  Sadly, many Trumpistas appear to have believed it.
- 10:13 AM, 2 March 2018   [link]

This Week's Collection Of Cartoons from Politico.

My favorites:  Kal's parade, Michael Ramirez's gerrymandering, and Lisa Benson's bus.

I also like this Andy Marlette cartoon, which did not make the collection.
- 9:21 AM, 2 March 2018   [link]

Has Trump Been "Much Tougher" On Russia Than Obama?  No, says Glenn Kessler.
One often has a sense that Trump operates independently of the vast government he oversees.  The administration certainly has taken steps that represent a toughening of the Obama administration’s policies, such as the supply of lethal weapons to Ukraine.  But Trump himself has continued with rhetoric and tone that suggests he still wants to be Putin’s friend.  He cannot bring himself to fault Russia for its actions, instead accusing Obama of not doing enough to thwart Russia.

It certainly took Obama many years to become a Russia skeptic.  But when it comes to being tough on Russia for its election activities, Trump falls short of the actions taken by Obama, especially when he frames it as:  “I have been much tougher.”  We wavered between Two and Three Pinocchios, but Trump’s use of the personal pronoun tips us to Three.
Kessler wouldn't give either man high marks on Russia, and reminds us of this 2012 exchange, which should embarrass Barack Obama, but probably doesn't.
During the 2012 campaign, Obama famously knocked GOP nominee Mitt Romney for calling Russia the “No. 1 geopolitical foe” of the United States. In a zinger that now looks foolish in retrospect, Obama chided Romney during the third presidential debate: “The 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back because the Cold War’s been over for 20 years.”
Some "mainstream" reporter should ask Obama whether Romney was right — but don't hold your breath waiting for that to happen.
- 3:55 PM, 1 March 2018   [link]

Putin's Provocative Speech:  It was almost two hours long, so you shouldn't be surprised that I didn't look for a short summary.  This long BBC article probably covers most of the important points.
Russia has developed a new array of nuclear weapons that are invincible, according to President Vladimir Putin.

Mr Putin made the claims as he laid out his key policies for a fourth presidential term, ahead of an election he is expected to win in 17 days' time.

The weapons he boasted of included a cruise missile that he said could "reach anywhere in the world".
Americans will want to read this Washington Post article, too, for details like this one.
Putin cast the Russian weapons development as a response to what he described as Washington’s refusal to work with Moscow on arms control.  Russian officials were angry about Pentagon plans announced last month to introduce two new types of nuclear weapons — plans that the Trump administration said were a response to the threat from Russia.

“I will tell those who have been trying to fuel [an] arms race for 15 years and deter Russia’s development using illegal sanctions:  Attempts to deter Russia have failed,” Putin said, harking back to the George W. Bush administration’s withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2002.   “Russia’s growing military might is a reliable guarantee of peace on Earth, because this can continue to help maintain strategic balance and the global balance of forces.”
Russia signed nuclear weapons reduction treaties with both the Bush and Obama administrations, but those don't appear to have satisfied Putin.

For decades, American presidents have faced this dilemma:  If we develop anti-missile systems capable of defeating Iranian and North Korean missiles, some in Russia will see it as a threat to them.

I don't see any way to escape from that dilemma, at least not while Putin is the Russian leader.
- 10:55 AM, 1 March 2018   [link]

And Another One Bites The Dust:  Maybe that's too flippant, but that is how I am beginning to feel about all these departures from the Trump White House.
[Hope] Hicks, one of the diminishing group of “originals” who’s been with him from the very beginning, isn’t just the fifth White House communications director to go in the last year—compare that to five communications directors in all eight years of Barack Obama’s White House—she’s the latest in a long and never-ending race of people elbowing each other in the face as they head to the door.  Hicks’s announcement on Wednesday didn’t even make her the only high-profile aide to leave this week.  Josh Raffel, who’d expanded his portfolio from battling for Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump in the press to a wider strategic role in a strapped West Wing, made known he was leaving on Tuesday.
I'll try to be more serious after the next resignation, but won't make any promises.

Here's an obvious and serious point:  Competent leaders seldom have this kind of turnover in their staffs.

(If you are wondering what "white lies" Hicks told for Trump, here's possible answer.)
- 10:00 AM, 1 March 2018   [link]

Fans At Seattle's Emerald City Comicon would like this cartoon.

(Emerald City Comicon)
- 9:27 AM, 1 March 2018   [link]