November 2016, Part 3

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Happy Thanksgiving!   (Though Audubon's turkey may not share the sentiment.)

Audubon's turkey

(Yes, I am fond of that painting — and wild turkeys.)
- 4:04 PM, 24 November 2015   [link]

Confused About Donald Trump And The Emolument Clause?  Then read this post.
Mr. Trump has business holdings around the world, and his enterprises inevitably deal with foreign governments and entities that are arms of foreign governments.   Given that the presidency is clearly an “Office of Trust or Profit,” will those business dealings be a problem if they continue, assuming that Congress doesn’t give its okay?  (Congress has given consent in some cases, such as for presents of trivial value, when influence peddling doesn’t seem to be involved.)

The answer is again an unequivocal Who knows?
If you are like me, you will still be confused, but at a higher level.

(I see no practical way for Trump to avoid attempts to bribe him, and no practical way for him to avoid serious conflicts of interest.  He appears to have just begun to think about this problem, which is far too late to deal with it, in any reasonable way.)
- 9:33 AM, 23 November 2016   [link]

Congratulations To Chaunté Lowe, who just won a bronze medal in the 2008 Olympics.
Sitting at home last week, Ms. Lowe received a curious Facebook message from a German athlete against whom she competed in 2008: “Congratulations, bronze medalist,” it read.

After three women who finished ahead of Ms. Lowe were disqualified for doping — Anna Chicherova and Yelena Slesarenko of Russia, and Vita Palamar of Ukraine — she moved up to third place, newly successful in a jump she took when her 9-year-old daughter was an infant.
Other athletes will be getting medals they earned years ago.

(If you look at the graphic accompanying the article you may conclude that both the United States and Russia have excellent chemists.)
- 7:28 AM, 23 November 2016   [link]

Dog Lovers may like yesterday afternoon's New Yorker cartoon.

Fans of Westerns may like today's New Yorker calendar cartoon.
- 6:50 AM, 23 November 2016   [link]

Worth Reading:  John Ziegler's opinion piece, "Here’s Why Conservatives Should (But Won’t) Be Freaked out about the Trump University Settlement".
On Friday, the president-elect of the United States of America, settled a fraud case involving an apparently fake university which bore his name, for $25 million.   In a remotely sane media era, this would be a hugely scandalous story which would be intensely discussed for days, if not weeks, with multiple implications.  In our currently completely broken public discourse this development held our attention for about two hours, until some actors decided to lecture the vice president-elect at a play and a TV comedy show provoked the president-elect into a Twitter war with another actor.

Damn, I hate what has become of us.
Donald Trump said he'd never settle — and settled as soon as it was in his interest to do so.

(In one of the cases he has settled, there was a fascinating condition:
Trump and his partners paid off unhappy investors in a failed condominium/hotel.  As part of the settlement, the investors agreed to stop cooperating with a prosecutor, forcing him to drop the case.
You don't have to be paranoid to wonder what would have happened to Trump, without that condition.)
- 3:18 PM, 22 November 2016   [link]

Yesterday Afternoon, NHK World Went Into Disaster Mode:  The Japanese network stopped its usual programs and began broadcasting in Japanese (with a simultaneous English translation).

They were, of course, trying to warn their citizens about a possible tsunami, and there was one, a little one.
A powerful earthquake rocked northern Japan early on Tuesday, briefly disrupting cooling functions at a nuclear plant and generating a small tsunami that hit the same Fukushima region devastated by a 2011 quake, tsunami and nuclear disaster.

The magnitude 7.4 earthquake, which was felt in Tokyo, sent thousands of residents fleeing for higher ground as dawn broke along the northeastern coast.

There were no reports of deaths or serious injuries hours after the quake hit at 5:59 a.m.  (2059 GMT Monday).  It was centered off the coast of Fukushima prefecture at a depth of about 10 kilometers (6 miles), the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) said.

A wave of up to 1.4 meters (4.5 ft) high was recorded at Sendai, about 70 km (45 miles) north of Fukushima, with smaller waves hitting ports elsewhere along the coast, public broadcaster NHK said.
Over and over, NHK World told viewers to move to higher ground, or at least higher in buildings.  That was sensible advice, though it turned out to be unnecessary for almost everyone who heard it.

Though not as often, the network also regularly assured viewers that nuclear materials were safe.

All that was interesting to watch and, as far as I can tell, reasonably effective.

(Credit where due:  Yesterday evening, I heard a BBC reporter say — correctly — that the 2011 earthquake was "orders of magnitude" worse than yesterday's.  Perhaps I am making too much of this, but that's the first time I can recall hearing "orders of magnitude" used correctly on a general news program.)
- 10:25 AM, 22 November 2016   [link]

Fans Of "Lawfare" Will Like this cartoon.

(If you want something more serious on the subject, you might start here or here.)
- 9:11 AM, 22 November 2016   [link]

The Venezuelan Government Maintains Three Official Exchange Rates Between The Bolivar And the Dollar:  But, even together, they aren't nearly as important as this unofficial exchange rate.
HOOVER, Ala.—Public Enemy No. 1 of Venezuela’s revolutionary government is Gustavo Díaz, a Home Depot Inc. employee in central Alabama.

On his lunch breaks from the hardware section, Mr. Díaz, 60 years old, does more than anyone else to set the price of everything from rice to aspirin to cars in his native Venezuela, influencing the inflation rate and swaying millions of dollars of daily currency transactions.

How?  He is president of one of Venezuela’s most popular and insurgent websites,, which provides a benchmark exchange rate used by his compatriots to buy and sell black-market dollars.  That allows them to bypass some of the world’s most rigid currency controls.
(Links omitted.)

One of the official exchange rates is 10 Bolivars to a dollar; the black market rate is now about 2000 Bolivars to a dollar.

(As I mentioned earlier this month, the Venezuelan government has not done what most countries with high inflation do: printed larger denomination bills.  The largest is still the 100 Bolivar note, which is worth about a nickel.)
- 7:33 AM, 21 November 2016   [link]

Today, The Republicans Are Holding Their Presidential Primary:  Or, if you spell the name of the party the way the French do, Les Républicains are.

Here's a brief (and, as far as I know, accurate) description of the primary from the BBC.
People in France are taking part in a US-style primary to choose a centre-right candidate who will run in next year's presidential election.

Seven candidates are competing to represent the Republican Party.

The forerunners include ex-President Nicolas Sarkozy and ex-Prime Ministers Alain Juppe and Francois Fillon.
. . .
The centre-right primary will be held in two rounds.  The top two candidates in Sunday's vote will face each other in a second ballot a week later
The winner of that second round is very likely to be elected president of France, next year.

Turnout is reported to be high.

It is what Americans call an "open" primary, so it is attracting some leftist voters.

The polls may be wrong.

Americans (and Chinese) will be interested in what Nicolas Sarkozy has been saying.
Should Trump stick to his electoral promise of exiting the U.S. from the Paris Accord to curb carbon emissions, Europe should set up a carbon tax for U.S. products, Sarkozy also said.

The former French president also called for an anti-dumping tax in Europe.  "I believe in trade but I want that, in this world, Europe rearms and defends itself."
The first is directed at us, the second at the Chinese.

(As far as I know, neither the Socialist Party nor the National Front will be holding primaries.)
- 9:12 AM, 20 November 2016   [link]

Some Jobs Are like this.
- 7:41 AM, 20 November 2016   [link]

An Early "Success" For The Bernie Sanders/Donald Trump Economic Policies:  When I first read about the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership, I immediately realized that it was more a political agreement than an economic agreement.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) or Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) is a trade agreement among twelve of the Pacific Rim countries—notably not including China.  The finalized proposal was signed on 4 February 2016 in Auckland, New Zealand, concluding seven years of negotiations.
Emphasis added to show which country the agreement was directed against.

Now that the agreement has fallen through, thanks in part to the opposition of Sanders and Trump, other nations are going to look elsewhere for partners.

For example, Malaysia:
Malaysia said on Tuesday it would focus efforts on wrapping up a multi-nation trade pact led by China, as the Southeast Asian country braces for the possible collapse of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), spearheaded by the United States.
What one might call the Sanders/Trump "Bad Neighbor" policies have consequences, and we are likely to see many more nations move away from the United States in the months and years to come.

(Sanders gets first billing because he has been attacking free trade agreements far longer than Trump has.

I make no judgement on the economic costs and benefits of the TPP, not having studied it.  Economists mostly seem to like it.

Franklin D. Roosevelt's Good Neighbor policy benefited the United States, especially during World War II.)
- 4:04 PM, 19 November 2016   [link]

Indomitable Lionesses:  That is a great name for a woman's team.

They lived up to their name in their latest victory.
Hosts Cameroon opened the 2016 women's Africa Cup of Nations with a 2-0 victory over Egypt in front of a home crowd which included Cameroon's President Paul Biya and national football legend Samuel Eto'o.

Goals from Aboudi Onguene and captain Manie Chrisitine gave the Indomitable Lionesses a winning start to their campaign.
Names for women's teams are often awkward in the United States, since they are commonly derived from names that work for men, but not women.  Not many young women want to be called "Lady Bulldogs", for example.  So, it's fun to see a woman's team name that works so beautifully.

(French and English are the two official languages of Cameroon, so the team can also be called "Les Lionnes Indomptables".)
- 9:48 AM, 19 November 2016   [link]

The Narwhals' Remarkable Sonar:  About all I had known about these little whales was that the males had a long horn.  And even that was a little wrong, because it isn't a horn, it's a very specialized tooth.

Then, on Tuesday, I ran across a brief article in the New York Times about their sonar abilities that piqued my curiosity.

A quick search turned up this article, with more details, and a link to the orginal research paper.

"You don't see open water for miles and miles and suddenly there's a small crack, and you'll see narwhals in it," Dr. Kristin Laidre, an ecologist at the University of Washington, told the New York Times.  "I've always wondered how do these animals navigate under that, and how do they find these small openings to breathe?"

To find out, Laidre and her research team placed microphones under the water around ice packs in Baffin Bay.  That's off the southern coast of Greenland, and happens to be where 80 percent of the world's narwhals spend their winter.   Laidre and her team then listened for the telltale sound of echolocating clicks.  They discovered that not only do narwhals produce them at a rate of up to 1,000 clicks per second, and receive the echos back on pads in their lower jaws, they can also direct them with incredible accuracy, like the narrow beam of an adjustable flashlight.

"The data collected in a most challenging environment show that the narwhal emits echolocation clicks with the most directional beam of all echolocators," Jens Koblitz, one of the researchers and study authors, said in a press release.
(Links omitted.)

There's much more in the article, enough to justify this conclusion:  "just because an animal seems mythologically amazing, that doesn't mean it isn't."

These findings lead me to wonder how the narwhals process all that sonar data.  You might be able to get started on that diffiuclt research problem by instrumenting captive narwhals, and running experiments, but I don't see any way to do it with animals in the wild.
- 3:50 PM, 18 November 2016   [link]

Donald Trump Now Has More Popular Votes Than Mitt Romney Did In 2012:  Contrary to what I predicted on 10 November.

Romney received 60,934,407 votes; Trump is now at 61,578,949 votes.

However, Trump's percentage of the vote is now lower than Romney's, 46.69 percent to 47.15 percent.  And Clinton's popular vote lead is now up to 1,402,359 votes, or 1.06 percent.

(I'm using the numbers from Dave Leip's atlas, here and here.)
- 10:54 AM, 18 November 2016   [link]

Arkan Cetin's Motive:  Last month, when Cetin murdered five strangers in the Cascade Mall, I wondered whether it could be an act of terrorism, whether he might have been motivated by ISIS, or some similar group.

The Associated Press has obtained a police report and, assuming their article is a reasonable summary, the answer is possibly, in part.
The young man accused of fatally shooting five people at a Washington state mall had a history of violence against his family and girlfriend, who told police he had links with “bad people in Turkey,” according to documents obtained by The Associated Press.

The reports reveal suspect Arcan Cetin had an interest in beheadings by the Islamic State militant group and followed their activities in the news.

An hour before the Sept. 23 shooting in Macy’s in Burlington, Washington, the reports say he bought a ticket to the film “Snowden” at the mall’s theater.

He went into the theater and propped an outside door open with his cellphone, suggesting he may have planned a repeat of the Aurora, Colorado, mass shooting by James Holmes.
Or, as the story suggests, he may have been inspired by James Holmes.

For now, I am inclined to think that any links to ISIS are less important than an underlying mental illness that predisposed him to violence.

One visual clue:  As you can see in the surveillance photograph, he does not have a beard, as any adult male adherent to ISIS would.

But there is much that we still don't know about him, as I said last month.

(The mall where the shooting took place is often described as being in the Seattle area, and sometimes even as being in Seattle.  Actually, the town where the mall is located, Burlington, is too far away from Seattle even to be considered an exurb.)
- 10:12 AM, 18 November 2016   [link]

Both Wednesday New Yorker Cartoons are worth a look, even though they are political.
- 6:29 AM, 18 November 2016   [link]

Chuck Schumer Endorses Keith Ellison?!?  Political observers usually assume major parties want to win.  After all, they wouldn't be major parties if they didn't usually try to win.

There are exceptions, of course, especially when you let party activists run things.  That explains, for instance, the strange choice of Jeremy Corbyn to lead the Labour Party in Great Britain.

But what explains this?
Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), who is expected to be the incoming Senate minority leader, has thrown his support behind Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) to be the next chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

The backing provides a major boost to the expected candidacy of Ellison, who has the support of several liberal lawmakers, including Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and an array of progressive advocacy groups.
Senator Schumer is a practical politician — if anything, too practical — and he must know that Ellison is a poor fit for that position.

If you were drawing up a list of desirable qualities for the next DNC chairman, it might look something like this:
  1. Able to work full time
  2. A technician, not a spokesman*
  3. Respected by almost everyone in the party
  4. Able to appeal to Catholics and evangelicals
  5. Able to appeal to the white working class
  6. Able to appeal to rural voters
  7. Able to appeal to Jewish donors, who are so important to the Democratic Party
Ellison already has one full time job, congressman, and he wouldn't meet any of the other criteria, either.

So why is Schumer, of all people, endorsing him?  I can think of two opposite answers, both cynical.  Schumer knows Ellison is going to lose, and is trying to curry favor with the left in his party.  Or, Schumer knows Ellison is going to win, and is trying to curry favor with Ellison, perhaps in order to limit the damage Ellison will do as chairman.

It's an obvious point, but I'll make it anyway:  Republican leaders would, mostly, be delighted if the Democrats choose Ellison.

(*Activists and journalists often want a spokesman, rather than a technician, but I think — for that position — a technician is almost always a better choice.

For a contrasting point of view, you may want to look at this article from Slate.)
- 4:02 PM, 17 November 2016   [link]

Republicans Gained Three Governorships:  Two of them were no surprises; Missouri has been trending Republican, and New Hampshire is a swing state where the Sununu family is popular.

The third was a mild surprise to me, though it shouldn't have been.  Republican Phil Scott won Vermont rather easily, 52.95 percent to 44.25 percent.

It shouldn't have been a surprise to me, because the adopted home state of Bernie Sanders, though it votes Democratic (and socialist) for national offices, often gives the governor's office to a Republican.

But, even if I had remembered that, I still would have been surprised to see the Republican candidate win by a bigger margin in Vermont, than in Missouri and New Hampshire.

(The North Carolina governor's race is still undecided, and may be for some time, since there are charges of both extensive vote fraud and voter suppression.

Those search links will decay in time, but I like the way Bing presents the results, rather than just links.  It's handy for quick answers around election times.)
- 9:19 AM, 17 November 2016   [link]

Here's A Do-It-Yourself Joke:  Or, perhaps I should say, adapt-it-yourself, since I am about to tell you how to adapt an old joke.

The original goes something like this:  A man belonging to to an ethnic group famous for using their hands when talking — for example, Italians or Jews — is taken captive.

When he is released, he is asked how he had been treated.  He says:  "It was horrible.  They tied my hands, so I couldn't talk."

We now have on the scene a politician who uses his hands when talking, a lot.  To adapt the joke, you just have to invent a captivity story, perhaps starting, for example, like this:  "When he was in military school, he was kidnapped . . . "  (You may want to preface that with a reminder about all those hand gestures.)

And the rest of the joke will follow easily enough.

(The original works best, as I am sure you know, if you belong to the ethnic group.  Some men in those groups could even make it a first-person joke, which would be best of all.)
- 7:44 AM, 17 November 2016   [link]