October 2017, Part 2

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

The Jones Act Waiver for Puerto Rico didn't last long.
The White House has let a 10-day shipping waiver expire for Puerto Rico, meaning foreign ships can no longer bring aid to the hurricane-ravaged island from U.S. ports.

A spokesperson for the Department of Homeland Security confirmed on Monday that the Jones Act waiver, which expired on Sunday, will not be extended.
So the waiver lasted from 29 September through 8 October.

Whatever the original intentions, the Jones Act has become a classic piece of special interest legislation, benefiting a few at the expense of many.  The biggest losers are probably ordinary people in Puerto Rico and Hawaii.

Senators John McCain and Mike Lee have introduced legislation to abolish the Act, which is a good idea (though I can't help noticing that neither comes from a state with a big shipping industry).

(Jones Act)
- 4:30 PM, 16 October 2017   [link]

Peggy's Puzzling Pronouncement:  Peggy Noonan fascinates me; she often writes columns that combine obvious blunders with real insights, insights that often make her columns worth reading, in spite of the blunders.

In last weekend's Wall Street Journal, she managed to combine an insight with a blunder — in a single paragraph.
In early March I met with a dozen Republican U.S. senators for coffee as part of a series in which they invite writers, columnists and historians to share what’s on their mind.  The consuming topic was the new president.  I wrote some notes on the train down, seized by what I felt was the central challenge Republicans on Capitol Hill were facing.  The meeting was off the record, but I think I can share what I said.  I said the terrible irony of the 2016 campaign was that Donald Trump was the only one of the 17 GOP primary candidates who could have gone on to win the presidency.  Only he had the uniqueness, the outside-the-boxness to win.  At the same time, Mr. Trump was the only one of the 17 who would not be able to govern, for reasons of temperament, political inexperience, and essential nature.  It just wouldn't work.
That the other candidates would be better presidents (though several of them have their own problems) should be obvious by now to everyone except willfully-blind Trumpistas, and, of course, Trump himself.

That isn't a deep insight, but it is an insight.

But Noonan preceded that with an incredible blunder.  I know of no reason to think that most of the other Republican candidates would not have defeated Hillary Clinton.  That's what the polls showed at the time, and, even better, that's what the election results showed in state after state, with Trump running behind the Republican candidates just below him on the tickets.

(Peggy Noonan)
- 8:17 AM, 16 October 2017   [link]

Here's A Republican Who Believes In Reaching Out:   Way out.
- 7:13 AM, 16 October 2017   [link]

Walmart Is Coming Through For Puerto Rico:  The company is helping meet one of the biggest needs, bottled water.
The sight of water delivery trucks outside stores is prompting long lines to form.  Crushes of customers snatch up new shipments even before store employees can restock empty shelves.  Of 10 stores in San Juan that were visited on Tuesday and Wednesday, only one had bottled water: a Walmart store where two brawny men were loading cases of water directly off a shipping pallet into the shopping carts of people who had lined up in the back of the store.  Signs posted on the walls declared a limit of one case per group.

Phillip Keene, director of corporate communications for Walmart, said that during the storm, the company had safeguarded pallets of water on cargo ships that were sent out to sea and away from Maria’s path.  Since then, the company has been delivering about six million bottles of water a week to Puerto Rico from the continental United States, and it is making plans to double the supply as soon as possible.  Mr. Keene added that before the storm, Walmart stores in Puerto Rico generally sold about 300,000 cases of water a week, almost all of it bottled from sources on the island.
Good for Walmart, both for the water, and the intelligent planning.
- 3:02 PM, 15 October 2017   [link]

Hilarious:  Today is the first day of National Character Counts Week.

As proclaimed by Donald J. Trump .

Sadly, I think many Trumpistas will not get that joke.  Which is too bad, because it is a pretty good joke, just as it was when Bill Clinton was making those proclamations.

(I understand the feelings of those who take this seriously, but I wish they, too, would appreciate the absurdity.)
- 2:34 PM, 15 October 2017   [link]

Sexual Harrassment Was Allowed By Weinstein's Contract?!?  That's the claim — and I haven't seen it disputed, yet..
The Weinstein Company's 2015 employment contract with the disgraced Harvey Weinstein says if he gets sued for sexual harassment or any other "misconduct" that results in a settlement or judgment against the company, all Weinstein has to do is pay what the company's out, along with a fine, and he's in the clear.  The document also includes language suggesting that the manner of Weinstein's firing last week was a breach of contract.
I am not surprised that a man who makes a lot of money for a company has his bad personal behavior tolerated, and even enabled — but I am surprised that they put it in writing.
- 10:45 AM, 13 October 2017   [link]

The Economy Is Doing Well, Most Voters Believe:  But Donald Trump's approval ratings aren't as high as one would expect, in good times.
President Trump continues to be the least popular president this far into his presidency.  With a net approval rating1 of -18 percentage points, Trump easily outpaces former President Gerald Ford, who previously held the record low (-9 points).  But here’s what makes Trump’s poor rating extra unusual:  People think the economy is in pretty good shape.

net job approval rating on the economy specifically — pollsters typically ask whether a respondent approves of “how Trump is handling the economy” — tends to be significantly higher than his overall rating.  In the latest Quinnipiac University survey, for example, Trump sports an -18 percentage point net approval rating overall and a +2 point rating on the economy.

That’s a huuuuuuge split.
If he were like previous presidents, and the economy were doing this well, he would have a net approval rating of about +12.

This does not imply, let me add immediately, that Trump is a sure loser, if he runs for re-election in 2020.  The Democratic bench was so depleted in the Clinton and Obama years, and the party has moved so far to the left, that the Democrats may nominate another candidate Trump can defeat.

(There are two big questions about the 2020 election, assuming Trump runs:  Will he face a serious primary challenge from, for instance, John Kasich?  Will a self-financed independent candidate run?  Despite those difficulties, the British bettors already have some ideas about who will win.)
- 10:18 AM, 13 October 2017   [link]

This Week's Collection Of Political Cartoons from RealClearPolitics.

My favorites:  John Deering's Weinstein, Michael Ramirez's Tillerson, Mike Luckovich's parade, and Steve Breen's Boy Scout handbook.
- 8:47 AM, 13 October 2017   [link]

The US Embassy In Havana Has Recordings, After All:  But it is still unknown whether the sounds had anything to do with staffers' medical problems.
It sounds sort of like a mass of crickets.  A high-pitched whine, but from what?  It seems to undulate, even writhe.  Listen closely: There are multiple, distinct tones that sound to some like they’re colliding in a nails-on-the-chalkboard effect.

The Associated Press has obtained a recording of what some U.S. Embassy workers heard in Havana in a series of unnerving incidents later deemed to be deliberate attacks.  The recording, released Thursday by the AP, is the first disseminated publicly of the many taken in Cuba of mysterious sounds that led investigators initially to suspect a sonic weapon.

The recordings themselves are not believed to be dangerous to those who listen.  Sound experts and physicians say they know of no sound that can cause physical damage when played for short durations at normal levels through standard equipment like a cellphone or computer.
Now, this makes more sense than the original reports, which did not describe the sound, or mention any recordings.

(It is likely, I think, that the Carl Zimmer article inspired this release.  Perhaps he will now follow up his original article by going back to the experts he questioned.)
- 2:37 PM, 12 October 2017   [link]

Is Robert Heinlein Inspiring Our Tech Billionaires?   Are men like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos modeling themselves after Heinlein's D. D. Harriman?
"The Man Who Sold the Moon" is a science fiction novella by American author Robert A. Heinlein, written in 1949 and published in 1951.  A part of his Future History and prequel to "Requiem", it covers events around a fictional first Moon landing in 1978 and the schemes of Delos D. Harriman, a businessman who is determined to personally reach and control the Moon.
(Links omitted.)

There's direct evidence for that connection, for both Musk and Bezos.

And probably some others.

So, if you want to know what these tech billionaires will be up to next, you might want to read Heinlein's novella.  (It's a great read.  I can almost guarantee that you will enjoy it, though it is dated.)
- 10:23 AM, 12 October 2017   [link]

Venezuela's Economic Numbers Will Be Even Worse next year, predicts the International Monetary Fund.
An intensifying political crisis that’s spiraled since 2014 has weighed heavily on economic activity. Gross domestic product is expected to contract 6 percent next year, after shrinking an estimated 12 percent in 2017, the IMF said in its latest World Economic Outlook report published Tuesday.

While Venezuela’s central bank stopped publishing inflation data in December 2015, the IMF argues the country’s consumer prices are estimated to leap 2,349.3 percent in 2018, the highest in their estimates, followed by the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s 44 percent.  As oil production declines and uncertainty increases, unemployment is forecast to increase to about 30 percent in 2018, also the highest and followed by South Africa’s 28 percent and Greece’s 21 percent.
Many working age Venezuelans have fled the country, which makes that predicted unemployment rate even more depressing.

(Why the silly accuracy (2,349.3 percent) on the predicted inflation?  I suspect that's a mild protest from the economist who was called on to do something impossible, make a reasonable estimate of the rate.)
- 8:18 AM, 12 October 2017   [link]

Some Customers Can Be Difficult to please.
- 6:55 AM, 12 October 2017   [link]

Here's My Own, Idiosyncratic Solution To The NFL Kneeling Nonsense:  Last season, I noticed that NFL players aren't very good at the flag ceremony — and, it may be my imagination, but the Patriots seemed one of the worst teams, which struck me as ironic.

So, rather than ask them to do something many of them don't want to do, and aren't very good at, why not just leave them in the locker rooms until the kickoff?

If the people arranging these spectacles need a group to stand for the flag ceremony, they should bring in a group from, for instance, the Cub Scouts or Camp Fire Girls, who will do a much better job at the ceremony — and be cuter, as well.

(Yes, I know, the Camp Fire organization is now co-ed, but most members are still girls.

An alternative, and even wilder, solution would be to award a point to the team that does the best at the flag ceremony, with ties allowed.  Coaches like Bill Belichik would, I have no doubt, soon produce some superb "plays", with that incentive.)
- 4:11 PM, 11 October 2017   [link]

If You Want To Wallow In The Weinstein Scandal, you'll want to read Lee Smith's article, "Why the Harvey Weinstein Story Is Worse Than You Think".

Key point:  Apparently, Weinstein was at least as interested in humiliating people, men and women alike, as in getting sex from young women.

(David French makes similar arguments in this article.)
- 2:27 PM, 11 October 2017   [link]

Here's A Sour Observation:  I was thinking about how our TV stations fail to bring us the news, and realized that I could not recall seeing a single useful story on government budgets — at the local, state, or federal level.

Not one.

I am not saying that I have never seen such a story on TV, just that they are so rare that I can not recall any.

That is as true, by the way, of news programs from the "quality" networks, PBS and BBC, as it is of news programs from the local stations.

It is not that they never do stories on government budgets — they do.

But the stories almost always lack essential facts, such as the proposed totals, and how those totals compare to previous budgets.  When they do discuss numbers, they often get them wrong.  One common mistake is to describe an increase smaller than what some interest group wants as a "cut".

Nor do the news programs show simple visual aids, such as the bar charts used in almost every serious discussion of budgets.  (When the Washington state Department of Transportation started supplying the local stations with bar charts showing expected traffic levels on holiday weekends, the stations at first didn't know how to show them.  One station printed it out, and had someone hold the printout up for the TV cameras.  Another showed a small picture of the bar chart, with the news reader taking up most of the screen — and then didn't give viewers a link so they could study the chart on their own.)

If you know even a little about the history of the growth of democracy in the Western world, you will realize just how serious this failure is.  Parliaments gained power at the expense of monarchs by controlling parts and finally all of nations' budgets.

And those public budgets have been central to our democracies ever since.

If voters are to make informed decisions on elected officials, they need information on budgets, information they are not getting from our TV news programs.
- 9:22 AM, 11 October 2017   [link]

Today's "Pepper . . . And Salt" Cartoon made me smile.
- 7:17 AM, 11 October 2017   [link]

Good News In The Fight Against ISIS In Syria And Iraq:  Their fighters are beginning to surrender "en masse".
DIBIS, Iraq — The prisoners were taken to a waiting room in groups of four, and were told to stand facing the concrete wall, their noses almost touching it, their hands bound behind their backs.

More than a thousand prisoners determined to be Islamic State fighters passed through that room last week after they fled their crumbling Iraqi stronghold of Hawija.   Instead of the martyrdom they had boasted was their only acceptable fate, they had voluntarily ended up here in the interrogation center of the Kurdish authorities in northern Iraq.
. . .
Many of the fighters claimed to have been just cooks or clerks.  So many said they had been members of the Islamic State for only a month or two that interrogators suspected they had been coached to say that.  Gone was the contempt for the world’s opinion, spewed out in one violent video after another — many of them made in Hawija, where grisly killings, especially of Kurdish prisoners, were the norm during their three-year reign over that Sunni Arab city in northern Iraq.

Most of the prisoners, though, claimed to have never seen a beheading, or even heard of such a thing.
So many claimed to be cooks that people joked that ISIS must be the best fed army in the world.

Here, to me, is the most interesting part:  These fighters claim they were ordered to surrender by their commander.
- 9:50 PM, 10 October 2017   [link]

Poor Glenn Kessler:  This can't be a fun job.
The Fact Checker has completed two-thirds of our year-long project analyzing, categorizing and tracking every false or misleading claim by Trump, as well as his flip-flops.  As of our latest update Oct. 10, 2017, or his 264th day in office, the president has made 1,318 claims over 263 days.  He has averaged five claims a day, even picking up pace since the six-month mark. (Our full interactive graphic can be found here.)

When you track Trump’s claims so closely, it can often feel like deja vu.  Trump has a tendency to repeat himself, and that includes his false or misleading claims.  (For an overview of his most frequently repeated claims, see our update from August when Trump surpassed the 1,000-claim mark.)
Apparently they are limiting the project to one year, which is good news for those who fear for Kessler's mental health.

(Here's a fact check of my own:  Despite his continuing claims, there is no evidence that Trump is a "genius", or even exceptionally bright.)
- 8:17 PM, 10 October 2017   [link]

Here's A Feel-Good Story from World War II.
Günter Gräwe spent three years as a German prisoner of war in Western Washington, a World War II incarceration he recalls not with rancor but gratitude for the chance to “live and learn in America.”

Gräwe always thought about returning to the state to say thank you.

Last week, the rail-thin veteran, now 91, did just that during a brief visit to this base, where guard towers and barbed-wire fences are long gone but some of the two-story wooden barracks that once housed German prisoners still stand.

He declared his capture by the Americans at the age of 18 “his luckiest day,” and reminisced about camp life that included English, French and Spanish classes organized by other POWs and a commissary stocked with chocolate, ice cream and Coca-Cola.

“I never had anything to complain about,” Gräwe said. “No guard called us nasty names.  I had a better life as a prisoner than my mother and sister back home in Germany.”
Lincoln had something appropriate to say about the way Gräwe was treated.
- 3:14 PM, 10 October 2017   [link]

Those "Sonic" Attacks On Our Diplomats in Cuba?   Carl Zimmer asked a number of experts about those reported attacks, and concludes that they probably didn't happen.
For all of these reasons, experts said, ultrasound weapons should not top the list of possible explanations for the hearing loss and headaches and other symptoms said to have been observed in diplomats.

“I believe those people got something that hurt them,” said Dr. [Jun] Qin. “But it could be something in the environment.”  The possibilities include toxins, or bacterial or viral infections, that can damage hearing.

Dr. [Timothy] Leighton said contagious anxiety or another psychogenic contributor couldn’t be ruled out.  “If you make people anxious that they’re under attack from an ultrasonic weapon, those are the symptoms you’ll get,” he said.
. . .
If a mysterious high-tech ultrasound weapon were used, it ought to have been easy to get the evidence while the attack was underway, Dr. [Steven] Garrett said.  Cellphone microphones are often sensitive to ultrasonic sound, he noted, and commonly available iPhone apps could have revealed it.
The lack of any reported recordings bothered me from the beginning.

So there may have been attacks on our diplomats in Havana, but, if so, the attacks probably did not use a "sonic" weapon.

(Here's Carl Zimmer's explanation of how he came to write this article.)
- 2:09 PM, 10 October 2017   [link]

Here's The Best Tribute to Columbus that I saw, yesterday.
- 8:54 AM, 10 October 2017   [link]

According To Richard Thaler, this is the best example of the kind of thinking that won him a Nobel Prize.
If you want to understand why the University of Chicago's Richard Thaler won the Nobel Prize in economics this year, look no further than the urinal fly.

In the early 1990s, the story goes, the cleaning manager at Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport was trying to reduce “spillage” around urinals.  He settled on etching small, photorealistic images of flies on the urinals, right near the drain.  The idea was to give people something to aim at.
That "nudge" saves money on cleaning costs — and probably gives some pleasure to the men and boys who use the urinals.
- 6:30 PM, 9 October 2017   [link]

If Theresa May Is Ousted As Prime Minister, headline writers will miss her.

(I have to confess that one of the reasons I preferred Luther Strange in the Alabama Senate race is that his name offers more possibilities than that of his Republican opponent, Roy Moore.  There is, for instance, a classic lawyer's joke . . . )
- 9:49 AM, 9 October 2017   [link]