May 2017, Part 3

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Five Flags Over Kirkland:  A business in this Seattle suburb uses these five flags to advertise its location.

Five flags over Kirkland

The first is the American flag, the second the Canadian flag, the fourth the British flag, and the fifth the Swedish flag.

If you haven't guessed what nation is represented by the third flag, here's a hint.

At one time, during the Korean War for instance, that flag would have drawn protests; now, Sotheby's thinks it is a good advertisement for their local store.

They are probably right, but I still find it a little disconcerting because it reminds me of all those tens of millions who died because of the actions taken by people following that flag..
- 7:42 PM, 24 May 2017   [link]

Worth Reading:  This New York Times article, "Killing C.I.A. Informants, China Crippled U.S. Spying Operations".
The Chinese government systematically dismantled C.I.A. spying operations in the country starting in 2010, killing or imprisoning more than a dozen sources over two years and crippling intelligence gathering there for years afterward.

Current and former American officials described the intelligence breach as one of the worst in decades.  It set off a scramble in Washington’s intelligence and law enforcement agencies to contain the fallout, but investigators were bitterly divided over the cause.  Some were convinced that a mole within the C.I.A. had betrayed the United States.  Others believed that the Chinese had hacked the covert system the C.I.A. used to communicate with its foreign sources.   Years later, that debate remains unresolved.

But there was no disagreement about the damage.  From the final weeks of 2010 through the end of 2012, according to former American officials, the Chinese killed at least a dozen of the C.I.A.’s sources.  According to three of the officials, one was shot in front of his colleagues in the courtyard of a government building — a message to others who might have been working for the C.I.A.
We suffered a major defeat years ago, and we still don't know why.

Those who have followed the intelligence war between China and the United States in recent decades know that we have suffered a series of severe public defeats.   (I would like to think that we have some private victories, too, but couldn't tell you about any if I did know of them.)

When I read this article, the following question came to mind:  Why did the intelligence community decide to tell us about this defeat, now?  Let me re-phrase the question to emphasize the important part:  Why did the intelligence community decide to tell us about this defeat, NOW?

(Ordinarily, such revelations would be published formally fifty or more years after the defeat, not five years.)

It is possible to think of spooky spy reasons for these disclosures.  For instance, perhaps we have other, better networks in China, and we want to lull them into complacency.

But those seem less likely to me than this speculation:  The meeting between President Xi Jinping and President Donald Trump went very well, according to Trump, so well that I joked, privately, that it was kind of Xi to let Trump keep his pants and shoes.  If the intelligence community shared my sour view of the meeting, they might have decided that it was time to remind Trump — and the public — that China is not always our friend.
- 1:22 PM, 24 May 2017   [link]

Britain's Home Secretary Isn't Happy with the American intelligence services.
Amber Rudd vented her frustration today over US leaks about details of the Manchester terror attacks.

The Home Secretary delivered a rare public rebuke to the American authorities by admitting she was 'irritated' by the way 'operational' information had been disclosed.

She said she had made 'very clear' to the US that such leaks 'cannot happen again'.

But the Cabinet minister's warning seems to have fallen on deaf ears - as both US and French officials have been revealing more details about the case.
She has a right to be unhappy, even publicly unhappy.  The revelations probably didn't spoil any police operations in Britain, but they might have.

(There's a significant error in the article; France is not a member of Five Eyes.)
- 12:24 PM, 24 May 2017   [link]

"Everything We Know About Salman Abedi, The Manchester Suicide Bomber"  The Telegraph story doesn't have everything, of course, but it does have a lot.
The Manchester Arena suicide bomber had made trips to Libya as intelligence agencies combed his connections with al-Qaeda and Islamic State in his parents’ homeland.

Salman Abedi, 22, who was reportedly known to the security services, is thought to have returned from Libya as recently as this week.
. . .
Abedi born in Manchester and grew up in tight-knit Libyan community that was known for its strong opposition to Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s regime.

He had become radicalised recently - it is not entirely clear when - and had worshipped at a local mosque that has, in the past, been accused of fundraising for jihadists.
I haven't seen any statistics on it, but I believe European terrorists come, disproportionately, from second generation immigrants, from men who do not fit in their family's society, or the societies where they now live.

The article doesn't mention it, but I imagine the police are investigating who has been supporting him, and who paid for his foreign travel.  (His family doesn't appear to be wealthy — his father works as a security guard — and Abedi does not appear to have had full-time employment, at least not recently.)
- 9:01 AM, 24 May 2017   [link]

I Could Use this cartoon to make a political point — but I won't.

(Yesterday's New Yorker cartoons aren't bad.)
- 8:12 AM, 24 May 2017   [link]

By Now, We Should Have Learned to expect "false flag" claims after a terrorist attack.
A slew of Twitter users claimed that the deadly atrocity, which killed at least 22 people, could be a 'false flag'.

They included former X-factor star Steve Brookstein, who insisted there were 'dark forces' at work and suggested the 'military industrial complex' could be to blame.

Others said the 'timing' of the attack at the Manchester Arena was 'too convenient' and that the Conservatives had 'something to do' with it.
(Links omitted.)

If you look at the comments, especially the "worst rated", you'll find that there are people who agree with those claims.
- 3:42 PM, 23 May 2017   [link]

"Manchester Attack: What We Know So Far"  The BBC summary.

My sympathies to all those who have lost friends and family members.
- 7:43 AM, 23 May 2017   [link]

Are Cuban Agents Keeping the Venezuelan Regime In Power?  That's what Mary Anastasia O'Grady implies in her latest column.
Venezuelan strongman Nicolás Maduro is responding to mass demonstrations by selectively killing civilians.  If, as a result, some branch of the military breaks with the regime, the country will descend into civil war.  But until then it’s a one-sided slaughter.

It’s also a Cuban proxy war.  More than a dozen high-ranking Cuban officers are said to be in Venezuela, along with thousands of Cuban intelligence agents.  Their job is to keep Venezuelan army officers under constant surveillance to prevent the feared military uprising to restore democracy.
There's more in the column about how the regime is increasingly using violence, but not more on the part the Cubans are playing in propping up the regime.  Moreover, "are said to be" is both weak and vague, the kind of thing you say when you don't have solid evidence.

(Or can't share that evidence.  It is possible that O'Grady has evidence from the CIA, the NSA, or some other intelligence organization that she was given on the condition that she say nothing about the source.)

Despite that lack of checkable evidence, I think it likely that O'Grady is right.  So far the police and the military have shown few signs of defections.  Given how incompetent the regime is in every other part of government, it makes sense to assume that competent Cubans are keeping the Venezuelan forces of repression intact.

For now.
- 4:04 PM, 22 May 2017   [link]

For Some, This Little Study Will Support their opinions on journalists.
Journalists' brains show a lower-than-average level of executive functioning, according to a new study, which means they have a below-average ability to regulate their emotions, suppress biases, solve complex problems, switch between tasks, and show creative and flexible thinking.

The study, led by Tara Swart, a neuroscientist and leadership coach, analysed 40 journalists from newspapers, magazines, broadcast, and online platforms over seven months.  The participants took part in tests related to their lifestyle, health, and behaviour.
But if you read the whole article, you'll learn that journalists have some good qualities, and that Swart thinks they could think better if they took better care of themselves.

(Swart did not ask them about marijuana use, which is illegal in Britain.  I've been wondering for years whether that might explain some of the journalistic oddities we see on this side of the Atlantic.)
- 7:09 AM, 22 May 2017   [link]

You Don't Have To Be A Farm Boy to appreciate this cartoon — but it helps.
- 6:21 AM, 22 May 2017   [link]

Science Fiction Jokes:  Science fiction writers and readers are, together, something like a large club, so it is not surprising that the writers sometimes include jokes that you need to be a member of that club to understand.

For example, in the third book of Charles Sheffield's "Heritage Universe", a Cecropian says:.
To quote an old Cecropian proverb:  Any sufficiently antique technology is indistinguishable from magic.
Most science fiction readers will recognize that as a play on Arthur C. Clarke's third law, and will smile at the reference.

(The proverb also can lead you to do some serious thinking, but that's for another time — possibly.)
- 3:35 PM, 21 May 2017   [link]

For Sale, Moon Dust, Cheap:  Some people know how to spot a bargain.
When Nancy Lee Carlson discovered an online auction two years ago for moon dust, she couldn’t believe her luck.  A geology buff, she spent childhood summers scouring for rocks along Michigan’s Lake Superior, but wasn’t a serious collector. She figured the dust was genuine because it was being auctioned on behalf of the U.S. Marshals Service.

“Ooh boy, that’s something I’d love to have,” she recalls thinking, remembering the astronauts and spacewalks she watched growing up.  The 62-year-old hadn’t bid on anything as high as...
. . . $995, which is an incredible bargain.  She'll be auctioning it, soon, through Sotheby's, and is hoping to get "at least $2 million" for it.

You'll have to find the whole article for the details on how it happened to end up in an official auction, but I can give you this short explanation:  Government employees are not always as careful with public property as they ought to be.

(Confession:  Had I, by some odd chance, seen that dust for sale, I would have recognized its great value, applied the "If it sounds too good to be true, . . . ." rule, and moved on.)
- 2:51 PM, 21 May 2017   [link]

This Week's Collections Of Political Cartoons from Politico and RealClearPolitics (link fixed).

My favorites:  In Politico, Michael Ramirez's "Obstruction"; in RealClearPolitics, another Ramirez cartoon, "Occupy Wall Street".
- 4:11 PM, 20 May 2017   [link]

Palestine, South Sudan, Or Iran?  With the end of the Cold War, American presidents gained some freedom in foreign policy; to a much larger extent they could choose which parts of the world, which problems, to focus on.

Bill Clinton chose Palestine, chose to spend much of his efforts on trying to bring about peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians.  Clinton failed; he was unable to get Yasser Arafat to agree to peace with Israel.

On leaving office, he advised his successor, George W. Bush, not to repeat his mistake, not to spend much time trying to get the Palestinian leadership to do something they were clearly unwilling to do.  (And perhaps unable; it is not clear to me that the leadership could persuade Palestinians to accept a peace with Israel.)

Bush took his advice and instead spent his time and efforts on establishing the wildly successful PEPFAR, and on ending the latest Sudanese civil war by getting Sudan to agree to independence for South Sudan.

The new nation has not been a great success; ancient rivalries between the two largest tribes, the Dinka and the Nuer, have resulted in an exceptionally nasty civil war.
Up to 300,000 people are estimated to have been killed in the war, including notable atrocities such as the 2014 Bentiu massacre.[50][51]  Although both men have supporters from across South Sudan's ethnic divides, subsequent fighting has been communal, with rebels targeting members of Kiir's Dinka ethnic group and government soldiers attacking Nuers.[52]  About 3 million people have been displaced in a country of 12 million, with about 2 million internally displaced and about 1 million having fled to neighboring countries, especially Kenya, Sudan, and Uganda.[53]
Suppose the Obama administration, instead of concentrating their efforts on reaching a nuclear agreement with Iran, had tried, instead, to stabilize South Sudan, perhaps sending a special envoy (Colin Powell?) at the first signs of trouble.  Could we have prevented the civil war?  Probably not, but the chances were better there than in Palestine or Iran.

(There are ways we could make peace more likely between the Israelis and the Palestinians, but almost all the ones I have thought of would almost certainly be sabotaged by our friends in the European Union.)
- 3:08 PM, 19 May 2017   [link]

Are We Paying Too Much Attention To Donald Trump?  Well, CNN certainly is.

And I don't think I am telling you anything new when I say that the negative tone of CNN's coverage probably helps him with his strongest supporters.

That said, it is also true — though you may not want to tell this to Trumpistas — that Trump deserves a large amount of negative coverage.

But it is also true that Trump is getting more coverage than he should, that we are paying so much attention to his small boy antics that we are missing more important stories, such as the collapse of South Sudan.

Moreover, by now it should be clear to nearly everyone that he is having far less impact on policies than he promised, and far less than his opponents feared.

So we have to look elsewhere if we want to understand policy changes, and strategic shifts.

(When I say we I am definitely including myself.  I will try to do better, to look harder for the important stories that are getting too little attention.)
- 11:30 AM, 19 May 2017   [link]

A Bibliography With Bite:  Bibliographies can be simple lists of sources, they can be extensively annotated guides to the literature, or they can be something in between.

But Rebecca West's, in Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, is the only one I have seen which is most interesting for what it leaves out:
Hence there are a number of books I have consulted which I have omitted from my bibliography because I could not conscientiously mention them without comment so adverse as to be libellous.  Under this head falls the work of a writer universally recognized as an authority on the Balkans.
She continues, giving enough details so that knowledgeable people could guess who she was describing.

But not enough, I assume, so that she could be sued.
- 7:36 AM, 19 May 2017   [link]

Two Cartoons About Combat In Business:  One more for women.

And another more for men.
- 7:06 AM, 19 May 2017   [link]

According To Wikipedia, There are, currently, 17 candidates to be the next Seattle mayor.

That means that — in principle — a candidate could come in first in the top-two primary with a little bit less than 6 percent of the vote.

And there might be more candidates, since tomorrow is the last day for candidates to register.

(For fun, you might try to figure out the minimum number of votes a candidate could get, and still come in second.  Some places that use top-two primaries skip the run-off if one candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote, but I don't think that is true for Seattle.)
- 3:37 PM, 18 May 2017   [link]

Andrew McCarthy Reminds Us that Obama did it, too.

For example:
On April 10, 2016, President Obama publicly stated that Hillary Clinton had shown “carelessness” in using a private e-mail server to handle classified information, but he insisted that she had not intended to endanger national security (which is not an element of the relevant criminal statute).  The president acknowledged that classified information had been transmitted via Secretary Clinton’s server, but he suggested that, in the greater scheme of things, its importance had been vastly overstated.
In other words, President Obama did openly what President Trump did privately.   McCarthy has more examples, if you need them.

Just so there is no misunderstanding, I will say that I think both Obama and Trump were wrong — and that, as far as this non-lawyer can tell, neither broke any laws.

(It would be pleasant if some of our "mainstream" journalists mentioned these Obama precedents, but I doubt that any of you are expecting that to happen.  I'm certainly not.)
- 2:59 PM, 18 May 2017   [link]

Donald Trump's Joke Is As Good As Putin's:  Two weeks ago, Vladimir Putin said something so absurd that it is best understood as a joke.

At the Coast Guard Academy graduation, Donald Trump matched him.
Trump turned a Coast Guard guardian ceremony into a media-bashing exercise on Wednesday as he returned fire on news outlets accusing him of sharing classified information with Russia and interfering in an FBI investigation.

He protested: 'No politician in history, and I say this with great surety, has been treated worse or more unfairly."
I might give Putin a small edge in his delivery, but Trump did tell his well — and that is a tricky type of joke to tell well, since you have to say something almost everyone will know is absurd, with a straight face.

(Trump did err, I think, by telling a variant of the joke so soon after he had told the first joke.)
- 10:47 AM, 18 May 2017   [link]

Worth Reading:  Jonathan Turley's opinion piece, "The Comey memo offers no proof for impeachment of Trump".
With the scandal du jour of the Comey memo, President Donald Trump’s trip to Saudi Arabia looks less like a diplomatic flight as fleeing the jurisdiction.  For the first time, the Comey memo pushes the litany of controversies surrounding Trump into the scope of the United States criminal code.

However, if this is food for obstruction of justice, it is still an awfully thin soup.  Some commentators seem to be alleging criminal conduct in office or calling for impeachment before Trump completed the words of his inaugural oath of office.  Not surprising, within minutes of the New York Times report, the response was a chorus of breathless “gotcha” announcements.  But this memo is neither the Pentagon Papers nor the Watergate tapes.   Indeed, it raises as many questions for Comey as it does Trump in terms of the alleged underlying conduct.
Turley, who is not a fan of Donald Trump, then goes through what the relevant law says.  His piece should calm things down, somewhat, for the time being, but probably won't.

(Yes, that second sentence needs re-writing, but we can figure out what he means, even though he mis-uses litany, as so many do.).
- 7:27 PM, 17 May 2017   [link]

"Seattle Times Climate Change Article is Dead Wrong"  Cliff Mass destroys a front page Seattle Times story.
The big front page story in the Seattle Times today, both online and in print, is about how climate change has caused the death of a 72-year old pine tree in the University of Washington arboretum.   Unfortunately, the underlying premise of the story is false, representing another unfortunate example of exaggerating the impacts of global warming.
(Link omitted.)

Skim over his discussion of the article if you like, but don't miss the last part where he describes some of the abuse he has received, and explains why he spends "More Time Dealing with Exaggerators Rather Than Skeptics".
- 8:44 AM, 17 May 2017   [link]

Yesterday's New Yorker Cartoon is acceptable.
- 8:10 AM, 17 May 2017   [link]