Monday, September 18, 2017


That was some weird shit.

- George W. Bush's reaction to Trump's inaugural address,
as quoted by Hillary Clinton

This week's featured post is "Single Payer Joins the Debate".

This week everybody was talking about North Korea

Last week, a commenter took me to task for ignoring the North Korea situation. And then this week even more stuff happened: Last Monday, the UN Security Council approved new sanctions against North Korea. Friday, North Korea flew another missile over Japan. U.S. rhetoric remained at a high level, with National Security Advisor H. R. McMaster insisting that "There is a military option." And yesterday, UN Ambassador Nicki Haley warned: "If North Korea keeps on with this reckless behavior, if the United States has to defend itself or defend its allies in any way, North Korea will be destroyed."

That all sounds very urgent, but I continue to be unmoved by all the apparent drama. I think all the major players already knows how this comes out: Kim Jong-Un will keep his bombs and missiles, and will be restrained only by mutually assured destruction, as all of our other nuclear-armed enemies and rivals have been. That sounds like a defeat for the U.S., so of course nobody wants to admit it. But try to come up with some other outcome.

  • Kim isn't going to give up his nukes, because without them he could be overthrown by a U.S. invasion, as Saddam Hussein was. He sees this as a survival issue, so nobody -- not China or anybody else -- is going to change his mind.
  • This is a regime that watched half a million (or more) of its citizens die in the famines of 1994-1998, so no economic sanctions the rest of the world could stand to impose are going to make it do something it doesn't want to do. (And Russia is going to undercut those sanctions anyway.)
  • We could undoubtedly take down the Korean regime in a preemptive strike, but not before it leveled Seoul with conventional artillery, or nuked both Seoul and Tokyo. If we start a war that results in tens of millions of our allies' citizens dying, we'll be a pariah nation. No one will ever ally with us again.
  • The only military strike that could avoid that outcome would be an all-out nuclear annihilation that happened too fast for any response. In other words, we'd mass-murder 25 million people, with God knows what environmental consequences for South Korea, Japan, and China. Again, we're a pariah nation and all our leaders are war criminals.

You could imagine some magnificently planned limited strike that took out only (and all of) North Korea's nuclear facilities, or only (and all of) its missiles, leaving Kim with no reprisal options other than raining conventional hell down on Seoul. And you could imagine that he'd decide not to do that, for fear of what our next response would be. But seriously, is anybody going to roll those dice?

So yeah, there's a military option: If Kim starts using his nukes without provocation -- which I don't think he'll do; he's a survivalist, not a madman -- we'll have to overthrow him militarily and accept the consequences. But in any other circumstance, we'll just have to learn to live with another nuclear-armed enemy.

In short, I see all the rhetoric and sanctions and threats as a bunch of sound and fury that signifies nothing. North Korea will eventually have nuclear missiles capable of reaching the U.S., just as Russia and China already do. I'm not happy about that, but jumping around and yelling about it isn't going to make any difference.

and single-payer health care

I covered Senator Sanders' latest Medicare-for-All bill in the featured post.

and the Equifax breach

A company you may have never heard of announced it let hackers steal information about 143 million people.

What makes this loss of personal data different from a lot of the others we've seen is that none of us ever decided to trust Equifax. It's not like we took a job there or shopped with them or typed our information into their web site. Most people probably didn't even know what Equifax was until they heard that it had let their personal information get stolen.

The big three credit-reporting companies (Equifax, Experian, and Transunion) are to personal credit what the big three bond-rating companies (Moody's, Standard & Poor's, and Fitch) are to corporate credit: private companies that have become gatekeepers. You can't live anything like a normal life in America without generating a file in all three.

Adding insult to injury, three high Equifax executives sold shares of company stock before the breach was announced, saving themselves hundreds of thousands in losses. I'm not a lawyer, but that looks kind of suspicious. (If I were them, I'd claim that somebody hacked my brokerage account and made the trades. Who could have suspected that "password" wasn't a good password?)

While reading security wonks, I occasionally run into the Pudd'nhead Wilson Principle:

Put your eggs in the one basket, and -- WATCH THAT BASKET.

The Verge argues:

Thursday’s breach should wake us up to how fundamentally broken this system is, and how urgently we need to replace it. Breaches aren’t simply security failures; they’re the inevitable result of a broken identity system. It’s time to rip it up and start again.

Consumer Reports has a article about how to protect yourself against identity theft by criminals using the stolen data. (Lucky me: I got a free credit-tracking service back when the federal government let criminals steal my information.) Sadly, most of the things you can do are examples of the you-don't-have-to-swim-faster-than-the-shark principle: You don't need to make yourself bulletproof, you just need to present criminals with a stiffer challenge than most other people do.

and Hillary Clinton

She came back in to the public eye this week with a new book and a string of high-profile interviews. And no, she's not running for anything; that part of her life is over.

I haven't read her book yet. I probably should; I read her other books as research when her campaign was starting, and I was surprised to find that I liked her authorial voice. And people I respect (like James Fallows and Rachel Maddow) say it's not like the usual politician's memoir. But I'm not sure I have it in me to relive 2016 yet.

Still, Fallows relates one line that makes me interested: Hillary's account of George W. Bush's response to Trump's inaugural speech: "That was some weird shit." I can imagine that Hillary has heard a lot of similarly interesting comments that have never made it into the public record.

One really tiresome way to rehash the 2016 election is to have this argument: "No, your explanation of Trump's win is wrong; my explanation is the correct one." In an election as close as 2016, all kinds of things were decisive factors; if they'd been different, Clinton would be president.

So yes, Clinton's loss was due to bad strategy, Comey, Russia, misogyny, overconfidence, Jill Stein, fake news, racist backlash against Obama, lack of personal warmth, decades of slanders, false equivalence in the media, and a long list of other things. Nobody who makes any of those arguments is wrong. When a straw breaks the camel's back, every single straw is decisive.

and you also might be interested in ...

Congress has one last chance to repeal ObamaCare before its reconciliation authority ends on September 30.

Tuesday, the Supreme Court "blocked two lower court rulings that invalidated parts of Texas' [legislature and congressional district] maps where lawmakers were found to have discriminated against voters of color." So the racially gerrymandered maps will help Republicans hang onto their House majority in 2018.

The ruling was 5-4, so this decision is a partisan dividend that Republicans get for blocking President Obama from appointing Merrick Garland (or anybody) to the seat now held by Neil Gorsuch. Charles Pierce:

The new Gorsuch majority performed the way that the Gorsuch majority was designed to behave as soon as it was determined by Mitch McConnell that the Garland majority was something up with which he would not put.

Another institution that is behaving as it was designed to behave is Trump's Presidential Commission on Election Integrity: Vice Chairman Kris Kobach is using it as a platform to spread lies about voter fraud. He wrote a column at Breitbart claiming that New Hampshire's 2016 election was contaminated by as many as 5313 fraudulent votes. Since both Hillary Clinton and Maggie Hassan won by less than that, Kobach concludes:

Facts have come to light that indicate that a pivotal, close election was likely changed through voter fraud on November 8, 2016: New Hampshire’s U.S. Senate Seat, and perhaps also New Hampshire’s four Electoral College votes in the presidential election.

What he actually found is that 5313 people took advantage of same-day registration while using an out-of-state ID (like a driver's license), and had not gotten a New Hampshire driver's license or registered a car in the state in the next ten months.

PolitiFact explains why this is not proof of anything. What Kobach seems to have found are out-of-state college students who spend enough time in New Hampshire to vote here legally. Forty years ago, that would have been me: I voted at my college address in Michigan, while keeping my Illinois driver's license. Eventually my parents gave me their old car, but it stayed registered in their names.

Like so many voter-fraud claims, this could be nailed down if anybody decided to invest the effort, but they never do. (One case were investigators took the fraud claims seriously -- and watched them evaporate -- was the basis for my post "The Myth of the Zombie Voter".)  Kobach has a list of names. He knows who these 5313 people are. If they've committed fraud, why not press charges? In fact he will never track them down and never press charges, because the point was to create a headline out of nothing. Being laughed out of court -- as he would be -- doesn't serve his purposes. The only fraud here is Kobach himself.

Supposedly, Trump is negotiating a DACA deal with Pelosi and Schumer. I'll believe it when I see it.

Just what we need: another hurricane. Maria is up to Category 3 and apparently headed for Puerto Rico.

Trump is still trying to make Susan Rice the villain of his version of the Russia story, the one where Obama officials manufactured something out of nothing to start a witch hunt against him. But it's still not working.

The latest in Trump's Herculean attempt to drain flood the swamp: The Office of Government Ethics has approved lobbyists making anonymous donations to legal defense funds for White House staffers. Because of course no lobbyists would be crass enough to wink and nod to White House staff in ways that pierced their anonymity. And staffers wouldn't be grateful or anything, or see the contributions as favors that should be answered with more favors.

I was surprised how even-handed this WaPo article on Antifa was.

Gretchen Kelly explains something she suspects men don't know. (I think she's right.) Namely, just how pervasive various forms of harassment are.

and let's close with something far out

The Cassini spacecraft died a hero's death Friday. Years past the originally scheduled end of its mission to explore Saturn, Cassini used its last bit of fuel to plunge into Saturn's atmosphere, burning itself up to insure that no Earth microbes contaminated Saturn's moons, which (thanks to Cassini's discoveries) we now think might have life.

All kinds of sites posted their favorite Cassini photos; the most complete collection is (of course) NASA's. Here is what Saturn looks like when the Sun is behind it. You can see the translucence of the rings, and even an outermost ring we usually don't notice.

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