September 2017, Part 1

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Power And Virtue In American College Football Teams:  Last weekend, the Wall Street Journal published their annual "Grid of Shame", where they rank major college football teams on their predicted power — and their virtue.
College football is often as much about scandal as what happens on the scoreboard, which means that every program must be judged on two separate and sometimes conflicting criteria:  How good are they?  And how ashamed should fans be about rooting for them?
They show their results in a simple scatter plot, where the horizontal axis is how powerful a team is predicted to be this year, and the vertical axis is how scandal free a team has been in recent years.

The best place to be is in the upper right corner of the plot; teams there should do well this year — without embarrassing their fans.  There are three teams there, Clemson, and two UWs, Wisconsin and Washington.

But here is what struck me most about that plot:  There doesn't seem to be any pattern to it; virtue is neither rewarded nor punished.  Some scandal-plagued teams are predicted to do very well on the field, others terribly.  And the same is true of the more virtuous teams.

Speculation:  What may be happening is that NCAA sanctions on the average balance the gains a team might get from recruiting violations, or accepting players who are likely to misbehave.

(They describe their methodology in a footnote.  What they say about their scandal measurement seems reasonable, but they don't give enough details so I could replicate it.)
- 4:19 PM, 8 September 2017   [link]

Have Three Presidents Been Wrong In Their Assumptions About North Korea?  That's what Max Fisher says.
After each North Korean provocation, a soothing mantra echoes through the halls of government and think tanks in the United States.

China, it is frequently said, could solve this seemingly unsolvable problem, finally reining in North Korea, if Beijing were just properly motivated.

But this oft-repeated line contains three assumptions, none of which has held up well in recent years.

It assumes that outside pressure could persuade North Korea to curtail or abandon its weapons programs.  That China has the means to bring about such pressure.  And that Beijing will do so once it is properly cajoled or coerced.

Each assumption has been tested repeatedly in recent years and, time and again, has collapsed.  Yet three consecutive presidents — George W. Bush, Barack Obama and now Donald J. Trump — have invested their hopes and their strategies in China coming to the rescue.
(Links omitted.)

Is Fisher right?

I'm still thinking about that question, but I fear he may be.  And I can give you one little scrap of evidence:  You probably know that North Korea has counterfeited US currency.  Well, I learned some months ago that they have also counterfeited Chinese currency.
- 10:23 AM, 8 September 2017   [link]

Is This Trump Story True?  Unfortunately, it may be.
- 9:51 AM, 8 September 2017   [link]

Socially Responsible Tequila?!  In my youth, if you drank tequila, it was because you wanted to be socially irresponsible for a while.

So I was startled when I learned that activists were trying to make tequila socially responsible.

You can probably guess what activists are calling for, just from this deception of blue agave.
The tequila agave is native to the states of Jalisco, Colima, Nayarit and Aguascalientes in Mexico.  The plant favors altitudes of more than 1,500 metres (5,000 ft) and grows in rich and sandy soils.  Blue agave plants grow into large succulents, with spiky fleshy leaves, that can reach over 2 metres (7 ft) in height.  Blue agaves sprout a stalk (quiote) when about five years old that can grow an additional 5 metres (16 ft); they are topped with yellow flowers.[2][3]  The stalk is cut off from commercial plants so the plant will put more energy into the heart.[4]

The flowers are pollinated by a native bat (Leptonycteris nivalis) and produce several thousand seeds per plant.  The plant then dies.  The shoots on commercial plants are removed when about a year old to allow the heart to grow larger.  The plants are then reproduced by planting these shoots; this has led to a considerable loss of genetic diversity in cultivated blue agave.
And you would be right.  Activists want you to drink "bat friendly" tequila, produced from plants that have not had their flower shoots cut off.

If I drank tequila, I would probably look for the bat friendly kind, assuming it didn't cost much more.

(Unfortunately for the bat, it is not what most people would call a "charismatic megafauna".)
- 7:26 AM, 8 September 2017   [link]

Worth Reading:  Nicholas Kristof's attack on Google.
Sex traffickers in America have the police and prosecutors pursuing them, but they do have one crucial (if secret) ally:  Google.

Google’s motto has long been “Don’t be evil,” and I admire lots about the company.  But organizations it funds have for years been quietly helping, the odious website where most American victims of human trafficking are sold, to battle lawsuits from children sold there for sex.

Now Google is using its enormous lobbying power in Washington to try to kill bipartisan legislation that would crack down on websites that promote sex trafficking.
It will be interesting to see Google's defense.  (I assume that, at the very least, they will send a letter to the editor, soon.)
- 3:19 PM, 7 September 2017   [link]

Why Does The Southern Poverty Law Center Have Tens Of Millions In Offshore Accounts?  Tom Maguire has his suspicions.
So why does the SPLC have so much of its endowment in offshore accounts, unlike other major charities?  My two cents - the people who used civil suits to bankrupt the KKK (giving lawfare a good name!) don't want to be on the receiving end of that treatment as their "hate lists" become increasingly politicized, ludicrous and dangerous.  [Yes, lawsuits like this.]

Or maybe they're not worried about, for example, the Family Research Council, which was targeted by a shooter after appearing on an SPLC hate map.  Maybe they just want protection from donors who might wonder where all their money is going.
Suspicions that seem seem reasonable enough to me.

(The Family Research Council and the SPLC.)
- 2:28 PM, 7 September 2017   [link]

Thwarting Dreams:  Yesterday, the Seattle Times published two letters in support of the "DREAMERS".  The first one ended with this sentence:
Why would anyone want to kill anyone's dreams, hopes, and opportunities?
(No link or name, because I think it was mean of the Times to publish that letter.)

The Navy Seals put an end to Osama bin Laden's "dreams, hopes, and opportunities".  I think most of us would agree that was the right thing to do, and almost all of us can think of similar examples, without much effort.

What about less extreme — and more numerous — examples?  I haven't seen polling data on this question recently, but I wouldn't be surprised to learn that more than 400 million people in China, India, and Africa have "dreams" of coming to the United States.

Our consulate officials would be doing 399 million of them a favor by telling them to get different dreams.

You are unlikely, I fear, to see such obvious arguments coming from many of our "mainstream" journalists — and I think it nearly certain that you will see more examples like that sentence from the letter writer.
- 1:57 PM, 7 September 2017   [link]

Iowa And Nebraska Do Look Alike:  So, perhaps we shouldn't be surprised to see Joseph Wulfsohn get them confused.
Numerous Republicans on Capitol Hill criticized Trump’s decision, most notably Iowa Senator Ben Sasse who said that the “Pelosi-Schumer-Trump Deal is bad.”  Now only did Republicans oppose the short-term debt ceiling increase, they’re upset that they got nothing in return.  But something tells me that Trump doesn’t really care what they think.
Wulfsohn appears to be defending Trump's deal with Pelosi and Schumer, though almost everyone else thinks Trump got taken.

(So far, Ben Sasse has been an impressive senator.)
- 9:36 AM, 7 September 2017   [link]

Police Sometimes See Crime when it isn't there.
- 9:03 AM, 7 September 2017   [link]

Trump Is Continuing Obama's DACA Policy:  Yes, I know, that isn't what President Donald Trump, or Attorney General Jeff Sessions said — but that is what they are doing.

The parallels between the two presidents are striking.

President Obama expressed doubts about the legality of an executive order before doing it; President Trump has done the same.  President Obama described his executive order as a temporary action until Congress could act on the problem; Trump has done the same thing.  Obama set no time limit on the order; Trump set one, but then said he might not stick to his own deadline.

Both passed the problem off to Congress, instead of crafting a solution and trying to sell it to voters.

What they do is more important than what they say — though you wouldn't know that from most of the news stories.
- 7:44 PM, 6 September 2017   [link]

When Obama Helped Sabotage Immigration Reform:  In 2007, there was a serious, bipartisan effort at immigration reform.
The Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2007 (full name: Secure Borders, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Reform Act of 2007 (S. 1348)) was a bill discussed in the 110th United States Congress that would have provided legal status and a path to citizenship for the approximately 12 million undocumented immigrants residing in the United States.  The bill was portrayed as a compromise between providing a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and increased border enforcement: it included funding for 300 miles (480 km) of vehicle barriers, 105 camera and radar towers, and 20,000 more Border Patrol agents, while simultaneously restructuring visa criteria around high-skilled workers.  The bill also received heated criticism from both sides of the immigration debate.  The bill was introduced in the United States Senate on May 9, 2007, but was never voted on, though a series of votes on amendments and cloture took place.  The last vote on cloture, on June 7, 2007, 11:59 AM, failed 34-61 effectively ending the bill's chances.
(Links omitted.)

In 2008, the John McCain campaign accused candidate Barack Obama of sabotaging the bill with "poison pill" amendments.  Even the Washington Post admits that there is some justice in McCain's charges.

Was Obama playing politics with immigration reform?  McCain thought so, and I think he was right.

(For the record:  It isn't clear that Obama killed the bill; it might well have failed even if he had worked with McCain.  But Obama wasn't helpful.)
- 8:47 AM, 6 September 2017   [link]

Putin's Recent Remarks Should inspire cartoonists.
Russian President Vladimir Putin refrained from criticizing U.S. President Donald Trump at a news conference in China on Tuesday, but said a decision to shutter Russian diplomatic outposts in the U.S. was poorly handled.

Speaking at a news conference during a summit in China on Tuesday, Putin dismissed as "naive" a question about whether he was disappointed in Trump.

In comments carried by Russian news agencies, Putin said Trump is "not my bride, and I'm not his groom."
I'm thinking of something along these lines, except that the couple would be separated, not together.
- 6:59 AM, 6 September 2017   [link]

It's Easy To See Why A Cartoonist Would Like this donation.
- 6:16 AM, 6 September 2017   [link]

You'll Almost Certainly Like This Feel-Good Story, even if you aren't a golfer.
When junior golfer Pratima Sherpa lists the Royal Nepal Golf Club as her home course, she is being literal.

The 17-year-old has lived her entire life in a maintenance shed between the third green and fourth tee.

When she talks about the pleasure of smacking drives with a wood, she is being serious.

Her first set of clubs was whittled from branches that fell from the trees lining the course.
She hasn't been in the United States long, but she already has one win and two top finishes in six junior tournaments.

(I hope a golfing friend can tell me what the rules say about leopard hazards.)
- 5:44 PM, 5 September 2017   [link]

Some Thoughts About The Bellevue Prostitution Sting:  Unless you live in this area, you probably haven't heard the story.
Two major police operations over the past two years shut down nearly 20 residential brothels in Bellevue — the first involving prostituted women from South Korea, and the second targeting an organized-crime ring that trafficked Chinese nationals into the local sex trade.

Hoping to take advantage of at least a temporary void in the market, Bellevue police and the King County Sheriff’s Office opened their own brothel last weekend, setting up a sting in a condominium a couple of blocks north of Bellevue’s downtown.

Over the course of seven days, dozens of unsuspecting sex buyers answered online ads posted by undercover detectives, then exchanged often-explicit text messages describing the sex acts they expected to buy.  They were arrested after showing up at the condo and agreeing to exchange money for sex.
(Here's a description of Bellevue, if you need one.)

The most obvious point first:  The prostitutes in those brothels are rarely legal immigrants.

Their customers, according to a lawyer for some of them I saw on KIRO TV, are often immigrant tech workers, often holders, I assume, of H1-B visas.

So there was diversity on both sides of those transactions.

In the past, as far as I can tell, most female prostitution in this area was found in parts of Seattle, and in an area south of Seattle, near the SeaTac airport.  But Seattle's Eastside suburbs have become more diverse, too.

(To say it was tolerated in those areas is probably too strong; more likely, Seattle officials just didn't make arresting prostitutes a high priority.  And there is some reason to believe that male prostitution got almost no attention at all.)

Finally, I can not recall a similar operation in Seattle, though I have seen ads for prostitutes in our local alternative newspapers for many years.

(For contrast, here's a 2003 post.

Full disclosure:  I have seen stories on several similar brothels here in Kirkland, which is not surprising since Kirkland is just north of Bellevue.)
- 3:50 PM, 5 September 2017   [link]

UW Atmospheric Scientist Cliff Mass sees "something new".
The updated forecast for Seattle:  ash flurries today with low visibility and cooling smoke shade.

I have been forecasting around here for a long time and have never seen a situation like this, with ash falling around western Washington and a smoke cloud so dense one would think it is low stratus deck.  No sun was visible this morning.

I am mean this is something new.
Most (all?) of the ash is coming from forest fires in the Cascades, some quite large.  One (Jolly Mountain) has been burning since it was started by a lightning strike on 11 August.

This hasn't been a good day to run a marathon, or even take a long walk
- 2:56 PM, 5 September 2017   [link]

The Joke Would Be Better If Maduro Were Speaking:   But it is still a pretty good joke.
Venezuelan dictator Nicolas Maduro had been scheduled to appear in Geneva next week to give a speech to the U.N. Human Rights Council.  The hilarious nature of that statement alone is enough to keep a late night comic supplied with material for a week, but Venezuela for some reason retains a seat on the 47 nation body and I suppose it was his turn.  But the Council cleared up the confusion and said that the Venezuelan delegation would be sending someone to take his place.
Did Maduro realize that he would be laughed at if he made the speech?   Possibly.

Or he may be worried about leaving his country, as dictators often are.

(Wondering what other countries are on the Council?  Here's a list.)
- 8:50 AM, 5 September 2017   [link]

This Ploy Is Unlikely to succeed.
- 7:13 AM, 5 September 2017   [link]

More Days Of Heat And Smoke in the Northwest.

Although now the smoke is coming from Washington, Idaho, Montana, and Oregon, rather than Canada.  We are supposed to get some relief here on Wednesday, and have clearer air, and be back to normal temperatures, by Thursday.
- 8:33 PM, 4 September 2017   [link]

Andrew McCarthy Has Answered Half Of My Question About Obama And Hillary Clinton's Email Server:  Last year, I asked this question, at least twice:   "What Did President Obama Know About Clinton's Email Server, And When Did He Know It?"

Here's the answer to half of my question, the more important half.
As we also now know – but as Obama knew at the time – the president himself had communicated with Clinton over her non-secure, private communications system, using an alias.   The Obama administration refused to disclose these several e-mail exchanges because they undoubtedly involve classified conversations between the president and his secretary of state.  It would not have been possible to prosecute Mrs. Clinton for mishandling classified information without its being clear that President Obama had engaged in the same conduct.  The administration was never, ever going to allow that to happen.
(Emphasis added.)

That's far worse than I suspected at the time.

In my opinion, the use of an alias makes it clear that Obama was Clinton's co-conspirator in this scandal.

We still don't know when Obama learned about the server, but it is now possible that he knew about it in advance — and foolishly didn't stop it.

(I think the reason I didn't see this possibility last year is that the private server seemed so foolish, and so certain to become public, that I had a hard time thinking that Clinton, let alone Obama, would not have recognized that they were building a trap for themselves.

Would Clinton be president now, if she had avoided that trap?  It's likely.)
- 8:15 PM, 4 September 2017   [link]

President Trump Is Botching Diplomacy With South Korea:  Private, and public, according to this Washington Post article.

The public part is the easiest to see, naturally.
“They think they’re dealing with an unreasonable partner and complaining about it isn’t going to help — in fact, it might make it worse,” said David Straub, a former State Department official who dealt with both Koreas and recently published a book about anti-Americanism in South Korea.

“Opinion polls show South Koreans have one of the lowest rates of regard for Trump in the world and they don’t consider him to be a reasonable person,” Straub said.  “In fact, they worry he’s kind of nuts, but they still want the alliance.”
That isn't encouraging.

(Do Trumpistas fault Trump for his diplomatic blunders?  Not that I have seen.)
- 3:32 PM, 4 September 2017   [link]

Did North Korea Test An H-Bomb?  That's what they say, but the regime has been know to tell a fib from time to time.

The BBC is appropriately tentative.
This magnitude roughly corresponds to the lower end of predicted yields of a thermonuclear weapon - basically the second generation of nuclear weapon, which works in two stages by having one bomb set off another bomb to generate a larger explosion

It is not yet clear exactly what nuclear weapon design was tested, but based on the seismic signature, the yield of this test definitely is an order of magnitude higher than the yields of the previous tests.
So, probably.

If there was a leak, and there may have been since there appears to have been a tunnel collapse, Western intelligence should be able to find definitive evidence from air samples — evidence they may even share with us.

(Here's the Wikipedia article on H-bombs, which are now almost all "fission-fusion-fission" devices.
- 12:47 PM, 4 September 2017   [link]

Worth Reading:  (If you are fascinated by changes in public opinion.)

Harry Enten's "weekly polling roundup".

This is the first column in what he promises will be a weekly series.  The column doesn't have an official name yet.

Here's a sample:
Betting on a full termFox News asked voters if Trump will make it through the end of his term.  Most (58 percent) thought he would.  The mere fact that the question was even asked (and similar ones have been asked about Trump before) is astounding.  I went back into the Roper Center archives and found only two other instances of a question like this during a president’s first term.  One was during Dwight Eisenhower’s tenure, after he suffered a heart attack in 1955.   The other was after Jimmy Carter’s “malaise speech” in 1979.
(As I have mentioned before, British bettors have been interested, perhaps too interested, in this question since Trump took office.)

If you read the entire column, you are likely to come to the same tentative conclusion that I have:  Republicans are at risk of serious losses in next year's elections.   They may, for instance, lose Jeff Flake's Arizona Senate seat.

(What I think is most likely in Arizona is what happened to Richard Lugar in 2012.  He lost a primary challenge to Richard Mourdock, who in turn lost the general election to Democrat Joe Donnelly.)
- 8:03 AM, 4 September 2017   [link]

"Prickly City" Celebrates Labor Day:  In its own way.
- 7:14 AM, 4 September 2017   [link]

Worth Reading:  Bret Stephens' column, "Hurricanes, Climate and the Capitalist Offset".
Texans will find few consolations in the wake of a hurricane as terrifying as Harvey.   But here, at least, is one:  A biblical storm has hit them, and the death toll — 38 as of this writing — is mercifully low, given its intensity.

This is not how it plays out in much of the world.  In 1998, Hurricane Mitch ripped through Central America and killed anywhere between 11,000 and 19,000 people, mostly in Honduras and Nicaragua.  Nearly a decade later Cyclone Nargis slammed into Myanmar and a staggering 138,000 people perished.
There's much more, and Stephens could have made the same general argument for earthquakes, as he did for hurricanes.

(Quibble:  Although Stephens is probably right that a brick house is safer than a wooden house in a hurricane, it may be less safe than a well-designed wooden house in an earthquake, since the wooden house may not be as brittle.)
- 7:51 PM, 3 September 2017   [link]

The Election Of Donald Trump Has Been Good For The New York Times:  They have had big gains in digital subscriptions and ad revenue.
President Donald Trump repeatedly claims The New York Times is failing — but a new earnings report suggests the exact opposite.

On Thursday, The Times revealed its financials for the second quarter of 2017, showing that increasing digital growth brought in $407 million in revenue.  That figure beat Wall Street predictions.

The Times' business reporter Sydney Ember reported that the news giant had "its strongest quarters in recent years, as rising digital advertising revenue and new online subscriptions offset continued declines in print advertising."
Their stock price is up.
Shares are up almost four percent in trading Thursday to their highest levels since April 2008.  Since the election, the stock has jumped more than 70 percent on the back of an increase in digital subscribers as well as higher digital advertising revenue.
This reminds me of the way Bill Clinton's 1992 election was good for talk show host Rush Limbaugh, and the way Barack Obama's 2008 election was good for gun sales.

(Would the newspaper benefit — financially — even more if Trump were re-elected in 2020?  Probably.)
- 4:11 PM, 3 September 2017   [link]

Here's A Variation on an old theological question.

(And here's more on the question, if you are curious.)
- 11:03 AM, 3 September 2017   [link]

If You Know A Little Greek History, you'll appreciate this cartoon.

(If you are puzzled, you can find an explanation here.)
- 8:45 AM, 2 September 2017   [link]

This Week's Collections Of Political Cartoons from Politico and RealClearPolitics.

My favorites:  In Politico, Mike Lester's drinkers; in RealClearPolitics, Mike Luckovich's tigers and Nick Anderson's "visual reminder".

- 10:11 AM, 1 September 2017   [link]