May 2018, Part 2

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Venezuela Has Been Subsidizing Cuba:  No surprise there, but one of the ways surprised me.
Venezuela’s state-run oil firm PDVSA has bought nearly $440 million worth of foreign crude and shipped it directly to Cuba on friendly credit terms - and often at a loss, according to internal company documents reviewed by Reuters.

The shipments are the first documented instances of the OPEC nation buying crude to supply regional allies instead of selling them oil from its own vast reserves.

Venezuela made the discounted deliveries, which have not been previously reported, despite its dire need for foreign currency to bolster its collapsing economy and to import food and medicine amid widespread shortages.
Cuba gets cheaper oil; Venezuelans go without food and medicines.

As I have mentioned before, I think it likely that Cubans are running Venezuela's security services.
- 2:28 PM, 16 May 2018   [link]

Trump's Strange ZTE Tweets:  First the background.
The Commerce Department on Monday barred U.S. companies from exporting to Chinese telecom equipment maker ZTE for seven years, saying the company had violated a previous settlement of criminal and civil charges for making illegal shipments to Iran and North Korea.

Under the terms of the 2017 settlement, ZTE agreed to pay the United States $1.19 billion in fines and punish the employees involved in breaching U.S. sanctions by shipping telecommunications equipment to Iran and making 283 shipments of microprocessors, routers and servers to North Korea.
That was a month ago.  And the Defense Department has banned ZTE equipment from US bases, citing security risks.

So what explains these tweets, and this apparent change in policy?
President Xi of China, and I, are working together to give massive Chinese phone company, ZTE, a way to get back into business, fast.  Too many jobs in China lost.  Commerce Department has been instructed to get it done!   — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 13, 2018

ZTE, the large Chinese phone company, buys a big percentage of individual parts from U.S. companies.  This is also reflective of the larger trade deal we are negotiating with China and my personal relationship with President Xi.   — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 14, 2018
Daniel Drezner believes that Trump's desire for a "deal, any deal" explains this strange reversal of US policy.

Journalist Heather Long is just baffled.

And me?  I see this as more evidence that Trump is no match for Xi.

- 10:42 AM, 16 May 2018   [link]

More Evidence that our grade schools are failing to teach basic biology.
- 7:44 AM, 16 May 2018   [link]

Cats Won't Understand this "Pepper . . . and Salt" cartoon.
- 6:36 AM, 16 May 2018   [link]

The AP Put The Wrong Picture on this story.
The U.S. clothing retailer Gap apologized Tuesday for selling T-shirts with a map of China that didn’t include self-ruled Taiwan, the latest example of corporate kowtowing to Beijing.

“Upon the realization that one of our T-shirts sold in some overseas markets mistakenly failed to reflect the correct map of China, we urgently launched an internal investigation across the group and have decided to immediately pull back this T-shirt from all the concerned global markets,” the company said in a statement, adding that the shirts had already been pulled from Chinese shelves and destroyed.
They should have illustrated it with a picture of the Gap president doing a kowtow to "Emperor" Xi Jinping.

(Gap is probably not the best place to get that "Free Tibet" T-shirt you have always wanted.)
- 3:43 PM, 15 May 2018   [link]

Worth Reading:  Ed Morrissey's long post, "Daycare for terrorists?"
John Hinderaker calls it “the worst scandal in Minnesota history,” and one can only hope he’s right.  The local Fox affiliate spent five months tracking the flow of cash going out in carry-on baggage through Minneapolis-St. Paul airport, and more importantly, where it originates.  That turns out to be in large part from government day-care payments that end up being for non-existent enrollees
If you have been paying even a little attention to Somalia, it won't surprise you to learn that investigators suspect much of the money is going to the terrorist organization al Shabaab.

I wonder if something similar is happening here in the Seattle area, where there is also a significant Somali population?
- 3:00 PM, 15 May 2018   [link]

Yesterday, I Forgot To Mention that Michael Oren's Ally now includes "a new afterword about the Iran nuclear agreement, the 2016 presidential race, and the future of the U.S.-Israel alliance".

(Michael Oren)
- 2:19 PM, 15 May 2018   [link]

In 1994, Bill Clinton Signed A Non-Proliferation Agreement With North Korea:  The networks loved it.

For example:
At the time, CBS’s Dan Rather declared the deal “could end the long-running crisis with North Korea over nuclear weapons” as well as perhaps “open the way for normal relations between the U.S. and one of the world’s last old-line, hard-line Communist states.”
The networks were not bothered by the weak inspections parts of the agreement, though many critics were, even at that time.

How did the Clinton agreement with North Korea work out?

Poorly, from our point of view.
In 1994, North Korea pledged, under the "Agreed Framework" with the United States, to freeze its plutonium programs and dismantle all its nuclear weapons programs in return for several kinds of assistance, including construction of two modern nuclear power plants powered by light-water reactors.

By 2002, the United States believed that North Korea was pursuing both uranium enrichment technology and plutonium reprocessing technologies in defiance of the Agreed Framework.  North Korea reportedly told American diplomats in private that they were in possession of nuclear weapons, citing American failures to uphold their own end of the "Agreed Framework" as a motivating force.  North Korea later "clarified" that it did not possess weapons yet, but that it had "a right" to possess them, despite the Agreed Framework.  In late 2002 and early 2003, North Korea began to take steps to eject International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors while re-routing spent fuel rods for plutonium reprocessing for weapons purposes.  As late as the end of 2003, North Korea claimed that it would freeze its nuclear program in exchange for additional American concessions, but a final agreement was not reached.  North Korea withdrew from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 2003.

On October 9, 2006, North Korea demonstrated its nuclear capabilities with its first underground nuclear test, detonating a plutonium based device[39] and the estimated yield was 0.2–1 kiloton.[8]  The test was conducted at P'unggye-yok, and U.S. intelligence officials later announced that analysis of radioactive debris in air samples collected a few days after the test confirmed that the blast had taken place.[39]  The United Nations Security Council condemned the test in Resolution 1874.
Quite well, from the North Korean point of view.  They received large amounts of aid, including hundreds of millions of dollars worth of food aid, but did not slow down their efforts to build nuclear weapons in any significant way.

In the United States, Bill Clinton has received almost no criticism for signing this agreement, but George W. Bush has received considerable criticism for recognizing that the North Koreans were breaking it.

(Here's a description of the Agreed Framework, for those interested in the details.  The usual caveats apply.)

Recycled from July 2015.   (I haven't checked the links or the quotations.)

This piece of history should help everyone understand why so many of us are skeptical about any agreement with North Korea.
- 9:01 AM, 15 May 2018   [link]

Here's a helpful waiter.

Maybe too helpful.
- 8:41 AM, 15 May 2018   [link]

Think The Coverage Of Israel Is Excessive?  Israeli ambassador Michael Oren agrees with you, and has some solid evidence on that question.

For example:
Something obviously changed.

That something, according to former Associated Press reporter Matti Friedman, is the grossly disproportionate number of journalists assigned to cover Israel—more, Friedman writes, than "AP had in China, Russia, or in India, or in all the 50 sub-Saharan African countries combined."  (from chapter "Hatchet Jobs")
Unfortunately, the Associated Press is typical in that excess, and better than most news organizations in avoiding the worst kinds of bias against Israel.

But probably not much better than, for instance the BBC, in telling us about the faults of those attacking Israel.  They won't often tell you, for instance, that Gaza is run by a terrorist organization, Hamas, and that one of the most popular books there is Hitler's Mein Kampf.
- 3:29 PM, 14 May 2018   [link]

A Town In Northern Japan Celebrates Mothers Day . . . by holding women-only sumo contests.

It's not a connection that had occurred to me.
- 8:13 AM, 14 May 2018   [link]

Little League Parents should be prepared for this possibility.
- 7:49 AM, 14 May 2018   [link]

Happy Mother's Day!    I first started using mother ducks on this holiday in 2003.  The next year I snapped this picture, and it is still one of my favorites in the series, for the story it tells.

This year, like last year, the year before, and the year before that, for whatever reason, I have seen mother ducks on Lake Washington only when I am not carrying a camera.  Maybe they have decided they deserve modeling fees for posing, or at least a few scraps of bread.
- 5:45 PM, 13 May 2018   [link]

Literary Classics:  With pulp covers.

Some look familiar.
- 1:24 PM, 12 May 2018   [link]

The Current "Pepper . . . And Salt" made me smile.
- 1:13 PM, 12 May 2018   [link]

If You Don't Watch The BBC Regularly, you nay gave missed this funny story.
Bike-sharing businesses have taken China by storm.  But the trend has brought a problem - huge piles of abandoned bicycles.
Many of them new, or almost new.

(Decades ago, young Chinese women would ask suitors to promise them "the three things that go round":  a watch, a sewing machine, and — a bicycle.

Sadly, Simon Leys, from whom I learned that, and much else, is no longer with us.)
- 10:12 AM, 11 May 2018   [link]

This Week's Collection Of Cartoons from Politico.

Two favorites:  Both by Michael Ramirez, Haspel and Stormier.

And for Mother's Day, a sweet cartoon from Andy Marlette.
- 9:35 AM, 11 May 2018   [link]

If You Fear Global Warming — And Can Do Arithmetic — You'll Favor Nuclear Power:  I have been saying that for years now, so it's a pleasure to see that argument in this prestigious place.
Nuclear power is responsible for around 20 percent of U.S. electricity generation and more than 50 percent of its zero-emission generation.  However, these large sources of zero-emission power are being prematurely retired with respect to their operating licenses because of low wholesale electricity prices resulting from low natural gas prices, excess power generation capacity, declining renewable energy costs, and low growth in electricity demand.  Unfortunately, nuclear generation is largely being replaced by fossil fuel-fired electricity, sending U.S. emissions in the wrong direction.  With a finite amount of carbon dioxide that we can emit before we reach 450 ppm and increase the likelihood of serious climate impacts, we cannot afford such backsliding.
I am less worried about global warming than the author, Doug Vine, but I do think it would be prudent to expand nuclear power, rather than let it contract.

(Center for Climate and Energy Solutions)
- 3:55 PM, 10 May 2018   [link]

Do You Have Any Doubt That Trump's Fixer/Lawyer Michael Cohen Is A Swamp Creature?  If so, read this and then this.

And then ask yourself why the smart people running those companies thought those payments were a good idea.

I am still amazed that so many took Trump's promises to "drain the swamp" seriously, when it was so obvious that he was surrounded by swamp creatures.

(Which swamp creature is Cohen?  I'm not sure.  It took me more than a year to realize that Trump is a bullfrog, so it may take me some time to identify Cohen, too.)
- 3:16 PM, 10 May 2018   [link]

Here's A Cheery Thought:  A recent review of research found that:
People who work out even once a week or for as little as ten minutes a day tend to be more cheerful than those who never exercise.
As Gretchen Reynolds says in the New York Times article, this is not new, but the review is comprehensive, combining studies of more than 500,000 subjects.

The reviewers found that more exercise produced better results, but that the type of exercise didn't matter.

(More articles by Reynolds.

Fun fact:  The review was published in March, in The Journal of Happiness Studies.)
- 9:42 AM, 10 May 2018   [link]

The Current "Pepper . . . And Salt" made me laugh out loud.
- 8:50 AM, 10 May 2018   [link]