Archive:

April 2004, Part 2

Jim Miller on Politics




Pseudo-Random Thoughts



More On New Jersey's Swing To Bush:  Yesterday, in this post, I mentioned a poll showing a 4 point Bush lead in New Jersey, a state that he lost by 16 points in 2000.  That big a swing may seem implausible given the close national polls and New Jersey's big margins for Gore in 2000 and Clinton in 1996.  It is less surprising if you look at voter registration and earlier presidential elections.  First, the voter registration, with New Jersey's neighboring state, New York, thrown in for comparison.

Registration by Party in New Jersey and New York

stateDemocratRepublicanindependent
New Jersey1,170,475900,9692,584,408
(25.1%)(19.4%)(55.5%)
New York5,255,2513,132,1612,858,680
(47.7%)(26.9%)(25.4%)


As you can see, the two parties are close to even in New Jersey, especially if you allow for the fact that Republicans are more likely to vote than Democrats.  If the issues and candidates were exactly even, this is a state that the Democrats should win by roughly 52-48.  And there is one issue that often more than makes up for that small margin, corruption.  For a variety of reasons, the Democratic party in New Jersey has far more scandals than the Republican party.

The very high proportion of independents means that there should be bigger swings from one election to another, that the results in New Jersey will change more than in the nation as a whole, where independents make up about a third of the electorate.

That's just what we find when we examine recent presidential elections in New Jersey.   In 1996 and 2000, the Democratic candidates ran better in New Jersey than they did nationally, but in the four previous elections, 1980, 1984, 1988, and 1992, the Republican candidates ran better in New Jersey than nationally.  In all of those elections except 2000, New Jersey voted for the winner.  In all of those elections except 1992 and 2000, New Jersey gave the winner a bigger margin than the nation did.  (As I said in my previous post, I attribute New Jersey's resistance to Clinton in 1992 to dislike of southerners and preference for incumbents.)

So I don't think the recent New Jersey poll is a fluke.  I think it shows that George W. Bush is winning the votes of the independents, even in the Northeast.  (Fans of New York Times columnist Paul Krugman will be amused by the thought that Krugman's state may go for Bush.)

(There is a technical point that makes the poll result even better news for Bush.  It is a poll of registered voters, not likely voters.  Generally polls of registered voters understate Republican strength.)
- 7:59 AM, 16 April 2004   [link]


An Earlier Commission has some advice for the 9/11 Commission:   Shut Up!  Or, to give the full title of the New York Times op-ed, "From One Commission to Another: Shut Up", which I think is fine advice.  If the 9/11 Commission wants to do their job, something for which there is no evidence to date, they should send the TV cameras and audience away and work quietly, just as the earlier commission did.  No TV coverage and no interviews until they are done.

As I have said before, I was opposed to the 9/11 Commission from the beginning.  It has been worse than I expected because of showboating from Richard Clarke and some members.  Without TV, the Commission would have done much less damage.  Not that banning TV would have made the Commission useful; the blatant partisanship of Jamie Gorelick and Richard Ben-Veniste would have ruined the work, even without TV.  We would have had the same destructive leaks to friendly journalists from the staff and the Democratic members.  It would still have been a farce, but a smaller one.
- 5:54 AM, 16 April 2004   [link]


Uganda and Thailand have figured it out.
Partner reduction seems to have been pivotal to success in two countries heralded for reversing their HIV epidemics, Thailand and Uganda.  Thailand's "100% condom" approach in brothels is widely credited with reversing its more concentrated epidemic.  However, this intervention was also followed by a striking reduction (about a twofold decline between 1990 and 1993) in the proportion of men who reported engaging in commercial and other casual sex.

In Uganda, where the estimated prevalence of HIV in adults has fallen from about 15% to 5% during the past decade,7 each component of the ABC approach probably had an important role.  However, the least recognised element, partner reduction, was perhaps the key.
Is this from John Ashcroft?  No, from an article in the British Medical Journal by six "experts in HIV prevention with long experience in the developing world".

New York City hasn't.
In 1998, syphilis rates were so low the Centers for Disease Control announced a plan to completely eliminate the disease.
. . .
But just six years after the bold elimination plan, syphilis is back.  Nationally, cases in gay men shot up more than 15 percent in 2001.  In New York City, the number of people with symptoms of syphilis has gone up even further, increasing a total of more than 500 percent between 1998 and 2003, from 82 to 531 people, according to preliminary health department data.  As of last week, there were an additional 953 people infected with syphilis but without apparent symptoms, according to the health department. Many more cases of syphilis likely go unreported.
Uganda and Thailand have used an "ABC" approach, trying to change behavior rather than just prevent transmission.  They have been succeeding while "sophisticated" New York has been failing.  Syphilis sores, as you probably know, can transmit the AIDS virus as well as syphilis, so the increase in syphilis will probably result in a later increase in AIDS.   (Here's a quick review on the "ABC" approach, if you need one.  Abstinence or delay of sexual activity, Be faithful, or at least reduce the number of partners, and use Condoms, especially for high risk sex.)

(Articles via the "Medpundit" and the Judd Brothers.)
- 10:54 AM, 15 April 2004   [link]


Washington Post Smear:  This Richard Cohen column begins with a fake and meanders through an error-filled critique of President Bush's foreign policy, all in order to get in a smear at the end of this paragraph, like a scorpion's sting.
Some people might consider this religious drivel and others might find it stirring, but whatever it is, it cannot be the basis for foreign policy, not to mention a war.  Yet it explains, as nothing else can, just why Bush is so adamantly steadfast about Iraq and why he simply asserts what is not proved or just plain untrue -- the purported connection between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda, for instance, or why Hussein was such a threat, when we have it on the word of David Kay and countless weapons inspectors that he manifestly was not.  Bush talks as if only an atheist would demand proof when faith alone more than suffices.  He is America's own ayatollah.
This is a smear not only of President Bush, but of anyone whose faith informs their political decisions.  President Bush should receive an apology for this — and so should Senator Lieberman, along with many others.

Note that Cohen does not even make the usual disclaimer that, of course, he is not saying that Bush is just like the Ayatollah Khomeini, the man most Americans think of when they hear "Ayatollah".

Let me point out two things that should be obvious, even to a Washington Post columnist.   First, religious faith has affected the decisions of many other presidents from Washington on, certainly including our greatest, Abraham Lincoln, and including such Democrats as Franklin D. Roosevelt and Jimmy Carter.  Second, Bush's decisions on Iraq have been supported by many in his administration who do not share his faith, and may have no faith at all.   To claim that Bush's decisions can only have a religious explanation is to ignore all these people, some of unquestioned competence.

I am going to send a protest to the ombudsman at the Washington Post, and I can already predict his response.  If he takes up the subject — and he may prefer to dodge it, since he shares many ideological views with Cohen — he will say something weak about this smear and the anti-religious bigotry it reveals.  All this, note, at one of America's three most important newspapers.

(The fake and the mistakes?  Cohen begins with a paragraph on Gorelick's wall and then immediately shifts to his attack on Bush.  It is as if he remembers for a moment that he is supposed to be a journalist and not a partisan hack, but then the idea slips from his mind.  There are many mistakes in the column; let me mention two.  Cohen claims that Bush said that Hussein was a threat (leaving out the usual "immediate" error, but implying it), and that David Kay disproved that.   Both are wrong.  Bush was careful to say that Hussein was a gathering threat, and David Kay found much evidence, in a few months, of weapons programs, which are actually more of a problem, long term, than stockpiles.  Informed persons can find other errors in the column without much effort.)
- 9:20 AM, 15 April 2004
And another point:  What if the White House press secretary were to reply to this column by saying that is just what he has learned to expect from "Rabbi" Cohen?   The outrage in the media would not end until the man had been drawn and quartered.  Why is this smear by Cohen different?
- 9:49 AM, 15 April 2004   [link]


Bush Gains In The Northeast:  My current prediction is that President Bush will win 59 percent of the two party vote in November — assuming, as I have said, that the economy continues to grow and there are no great foreign surprises.  If he does, he will do better in the Northeast than he did in 2000, when he won only the small state of New Hampshire and that with just 48 percent of the vote.  Although it is possible, mathematically, for all Bush gains to come outside the Northeast, it is not plausible, given the national character of this election contest.

The latest state polls from the Northeast show Bush gains compared to 2000, with two exceptions.  The exceptions are Connecticut and West Virginia, but the latest polls in those states were taken late in March, before the Bush ads would have had their full effect.  (I don't know if there have even been any Bush ads in Connecticut.)  In every other Northeast state for which there is a poll (Massachusetts(!), Maryland, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania), Bush is doing better now than in 2000.  In fact, the latest polls in Pennsylvania and New Jersey show him leading by 6 and 4 percent, respectively.  He lost Pennsylvania by 4 points and New Jersey by 16 in 2000.

The gains are not a surprise to me.  Bush is benefiting from the credit he gets as an incumbent.  I have long thought that Northeast voters were less inclined to take chances than voters in the rest of the nation, especially the West.  And Bush is benefitting, I believe, from the declining importance of his southern background.  Prejudice against southerners is common in the rest of the United States, but may be especially strong in the Northeast.  Now that he has been president for more than three years, Northeasterners are less likely to see him as a southerner and more as simply an American.  (Clinton, another southerner, benefited from a similar shift between 1992 and 1996, for similar reasons.)

The problems this shift causes for the Kerry campaign may be fatal.  Kerry can, with difficulty, win without carrying a single state in the South.  It is almost impossible to think of a plausible scenario in which he loses Delaware, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia, and still wins nationally.  This may explain why Kerry has been campaigning in the Northeast during this last week.

(Technical point: State polls are, in general, less accurate than the best national polls from Gallup.  They often use smaller samples and are done by less professional polling firms.   Some use registered voters, rather than likely voters.  Despite these problems, I think that we can use them collectively to spot patterns like the one discussed above.)
- 7:46 AM, 15 April 2004   [link]


Ashcroft Aces Gorelick:  Yesterday, in his opening statement, Attorney General Ashcroft destroyed the credibility of Democratic Commission member Jamie Gorelick.  
My second point today goes to the heart of this Commission's duty to uncover the fact: The single greatest structural cause for September 11 was the wall that segregated criminal investigators and intelligence agents.  Government erected this wall.  Government buttressed this wall.   And before September 11, government was blinded by this wall.

In 1995, the Justice Department embraced flawed legal reasoning, imposing a series of restrictions on the FBI that went beyond what the law required.  The 1995 Guidelines and the procedures developed around them imposed draconian barriers to communications between the law enforcement and intelligence communities.  The wall "effectively excluded" prosecutors from intelligence investigations.  The wall left intelligence agents afraid to talk with criminal prosecutors or agents.  In 1995, the Justice Department designed a system destined to fail.
. . .
The basic architecture for the wall in the 1995 Guidelines was contained in a classified memorandum entitled "Instructions on Separation of Certain Foreign Counterintelligence and Criminal Investigations."  The memorandum ordered FBI Director Louis Freeh and others, quote: "We believe that it is prudent to establish a set of instructions that will more clearly separate the counterintelligence investigation from the more limited, but continued, criminal investigations.   These procedures, which go beyond what is legally required, will prevent any risk of creating an unwarranted appearance that FISA is being used to avoid procedural safeguards which would apply in a criminal investigation."
. . .
Although you understand the debilitating impact of the wall, I cannot imagine that the Commission knew about this memorandum, so I have declassified it for you and the public to review.   Full disclosure compels me to inform you that its author is a member of this Commission.
Specifically, Jamie Gorelick, though Ashcroft never named her.

There are, as I understand it, some valid legal reasons for such a wall, though most now agree those legal reasons are not compelling.  There is every practical reason against it.  Terrorist organizations often rely on crime for some of their funds, so the arrest of a suspected terrorist for a crime may give us a chance to stop a terrorist act.  Conversely, the detection of crimes by intelligence agencies may give the law enforcement a chance to follow a terrorist or tap their phones and learn more about a conspiracy.  Criminal defense lawyers may not like this, but they are, by definition, on the other side.

After Ashcroft's declaration and the release of her memo, Gorelick is trapped.  She can resign, as some are already urging and discredit the Commission's work to date, or she can stay on the Commission and discredit it permanently.  She is now, to recycle a phrase from the 1960s, part of the problem, not part of the solution.

And, although this has drawn less attention, the Commission staff has been discredited, as well.  As Ashcroft pointed out, the Commmission had not heard of this memo.  Because, although he doesn't say so, the staff did not dig up this memo for them.  Why not, considering the problems that the wall caused, which have drawn much discussion?   Incompetence or partisanship are the two obvious explanations; both could be true.

I am not surprised by this brilliant Ashcroft performance.  About all that most in the national media know about Ashcroft is that he belongs to a church, the Assembly of God, that they find both repellent and amusing.  But Ashcroft has had a brilliant career.  He earned a law degree from the University of Chicago, a top law school.  He was elected to state wide offices in Missouri four times (attorney general twice, governor, and senator), losing in 2000 only when his opponent died just before the election.  He has been a hard working and imaginative public servant.

Most of the press missed the Ashcroft victory, with the notable exception of the New York Times.   As reporter David Rosenbaum noted, Gorelick had nothing to say.
On Tuesday, Ms. Gorelick did not flinch at Mr. Ashcroft's opening statement.  She simply looked up from her notes and stared at him.
Implying, of course, that she should have flinched.  The worst story I saw was from Reuters, whose reporter, Alan Eisner, did not even mention Gorelick.

(For information on Gorelick's other conflict of interest, follow the links in this Instapundit post.  For more on the failure of journalists to get this big story, see this "Captain Ed" post.)
- 1:37 PM, 14 April 2004   [link]


Almost All Intelligence Is False, not excluding the intelligence from inside your own government.   The now famous August 6, 2001 memo to President Bush had one reassuring statement.  The FBI had "70 full field investigations" investigating terrorists under way.  That, too, turns out to be false, or at least exaggerated.
That contention, made in a presidential daily briefing declassified over the weekend, apparently referred to each individual and fund-raising entity under scrutiny as a different investigation, according to Thomas Pickard, a former acting director of the FBI.
So, if they were investigating 5 people the FBI thought were in a terrorist organization, that would count as 5 separate investigations.

The deceptive language, claims the man who headed the FBI at the time of the memo, came from the CIA.
But [Thomas] Pickard noted that the FBI did not sign off on the language used by the CIA analyst in writing the briefing.

"I would find it a mischaracterization to say that anyone in the FBI said 'We've got them covered,' " he said.  "We only knew what we knew.  The intelligence had led us to those 70 individuals, and we worked on them as best we could."
I suppose the date on the PDB was correct, but am beginning to wonder about that, too.
- 11:11 AM, 14 April 2004   [link]


Yasser Arafat, Nobel Peace Prize winner and terrorist chief.
The United States has determined that Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat approved an attack on a U.S. embassy convoy in which three Americans were killed in 2003.

U.S. diplomatic sources said a U.S. investigation into the bombing of the embassy convoy in the Gaza Strip in October 2003 pointed to a clear role by Arafat.  The sources said Arafat granted approval to a plan to strike U.S. interests in PA areas.
Arafat, the article says, wanted to send the United States a message.

I am not familiar with this news service, so I can't even estimate the chances that this story is true.  UPI trusts them enough to copy the story, giving MENL credit, which says something, I suppose.  There is nothing implausible about it; Arafat has been implicated in the killings of Americans before, including two diplomats in the Sudan in 1973.  (Palestinian terrorists had seized them as hostages and demanded the release of Bobby Kennedy's killer, Sirhan Sirhan.   There is said to be a tape recording of Arafat ordering the diplomats killed after Nixon refused to release Sirhan.  You can find out more about Arafat's crimes against Americans here, here, here, and here.)

Let's suppose that the story is true.  Two questions will occur to almost everyone.  Why would Arafat approve these murders, and why are American diplomats leaking this story to the press?   The answer to the first seems obvious; this is how Arafat has always operated, and getting a a Peace Prize from a foolish Norwegian committee hasn't changed that.

The second question has a less obvious answer.  A leak like this would have to be authorized by a high official, almost certainly Colin Powell, and perhaps President Bush.   They authorized the leak to tell Arafat that we know what he did.  So he has sent us a message, and we have sent him one.  And by making it public, we have also told our European friends, or at least our allies, why we won't be negotiating with Arafat any time soon.   Should we do more about this killer?  Secretly, yes, and in time publicly.

Finally, it is worth mentioning what the Americans in the convoy were doing.  They were traveling into Gaza to interview Palestinians for scholarships to American schools.  That's what the murders stopped.
- 8:26 AM, 14 April 2004   [link]


One Of My Kirkland Neighbors had an unusual hobby.
Federal authorities have arrested a 37-year-old Kirkland man they say made ricin in his apartment from mail-order castor seeds.

Robert M. Alberg was charged in federal court on Friday with knowingly possessing a biological agent or toxin and was booked into the federal detention center in SeaTac pending indictment, U.S. Attorney's spokesman Lawrence Lincoln said yesterday.
He appears to be an individual crackpot, not a terrorist.
In a written statement, Alberg's father, Tom Alberg, said his son has "waged a life-long struggle" with various "medical and psychological conditions."

"Over the past year his condition has changed, increasing his isolation," says the statement, released through a public-relations firm hired by the family.  "The Alberg family is cooperating fully with authorities and is grateful for the opportunity for Robert to surrender himself voluntarily at their request."
Exactly what those conditions are I am not sure, but they include autism.

I found two lessons in this story.  First, the internet has made information available to everyone, including criminals from pedophiles to ricin manufacturers.  I am almost certain that Alberg found his recipe for making ricin on the net.  I see no way to put that genie back in the bottle; there will always be a few technically sophisticated people who, for all sorts of reasons, will post recipes for ricin and other ways of killing people on the net where people like Alberg can find them.

Second, the growing wealth in our nation facilitates crime, as well as everything else.   Political scientist James Q. Wilson has observed that, fifty years ago, crime was more limited because criminals, like everyone else, had fewer resources.  Gangs used "zip guns" because they couldn't afford real weapons and preyed mostly on those in their own neighborhoods, because they couldn't afford cars.  (Never heard of a "zip gun"?  They are hand made guns, often using a piece of pipe, that shoot a single bullet, usually a .22.)  Alberg does not appear to have had a job and must have been supported by his wealthy father, the managing partner of a venture capital firm, or possibly by the taxpayers.  Without that support, he would not have been able to stay in his apartment researching and making ricin.

(I don't know whether I ever met Alberg.  His picture doesn't look familiar, but I am not very good at remembering faces.  I did have one very strange encounter a few years ago.  While walking along the street, a man came running up behind me and banged into me.   I wasn't hurt, but was quite annoyed when he did not stop and apologize.  Would such behavior be typical of autistics?  I don't know enough about the condition to say.)
- 7:17 AM, 14 April 2004   [link]


Super Model, Super Republican:  Carmen Kass is making a temporary career change.
Supermodel Carmen Kass will take a temporary stroll off the catwalk and onto the political stage after the native Estonian was tapped to run for the European Parliament.

The 25-year-old joined the ruling Res Publica party two months ago to get a spot on the pro-business party's ticket.  Res Publica — which means "Republican" in Latin — formally put her on its list of 12 candidates at a party meeting Saturday.
The article doesn't say much about her political views, but she appears to be hard working, patriotic, and friendly to business.  Sounds like a Republican to me.

If, like me, you have never heard of Carmen Kass, you may want to see a picture or two, before she puts on her business suit for the parliament.  Here's one of her in a very Republican coat and a set of pictures showing her in various outfits.
- 11:13 AM, 13 April 2004   [link]


What Is John Kerry's Policy On Iraq?  "Ahmed" thinks that Kerry will withdraw and let Baathists like himself retake power.  Here's Kerry's own explanation of his policy.  After reading it, I am fairly sure that "Ahmed" is wrong, but am not at all sure what Kerry would do.  He wants more troops, but not American troops, unless necessary.

He doesn't even give a hint at how he would persuade other nations to commit troops.  Most would want something in return, but he does not say what he might offer them.  Many of the nations that might supply troops — the Turks, for example — would cause problems inside Iraq.  You may recall that Turkish troops have already been rejected the Iraqi Council.   I suspect the Shiites on the Council would object to troops from any predominately Sunni Muslim country.

Kerry says he wants the UN to be more involved, but does not explain why he thinks it will succeed when it has failed in so many other places from Rwanda to Iraq.  He wants NATO to be involved, but admits that major powers would not agree.  These ideas are not serious proposals, but wishful thinking.

If John Kerry has a plan for Iraq that differs in any essential way from current Bush policy, he has kept it a secret, at least from me.  You can read Kerry's column, or you can look at this Eric Devericks cartoon, which will tell you just as much.
- 9:00 AM, 13 April 2004   [link]


John Kerry gets another foreign endorsement, though not from a leader.
In the other house on Monday, Ahmed is more eloquent on how the fighting can end and peace can come to Iraq.

"God willing Bush will fall down by the hands of Fallujah," he says, combining military and political rhetoric.  "If John Kerry wins the election and withdraws the Americans troops from Iraq, and maybe just leaves a few in bases, then we will not fight. But Bush we will always fight."
Who is this "Ahmed"?  He's a member of the "Army of Mohammed, which formed from a combination of former Baath Party members and military officials", in other words, from supporters of Saddam.

John Kerry may want to reject this endorsement.  (Via Jim Bowen.)
- 8:32 AM, 13 April 2004   [link]


Kudos To Seattle Times Reporter Mike Carter for pointing out factual errors in Richard Clarke's book.
As former White House counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke tells it in his book "Against All Enemies," an international alert to be on the lookout for terrorists played a role in [Ahmed] Ressam's capture at a Port Angeles ferry terminal in December 1999, his car loaded with bomb-making material.

But national-security adviser Condoleezza Rice, in her testimony before the Sept. 11 commission last week, discounted Clarke's version and credited a savvy U.S. customs agent, Diana Dean.

Dean stopped Ressam because "she sniffed something about Ressam.  They saw that something was wrong" — not because of some security alert, Rice testified.
. . .
According to a former customs agent who was involved, Clarke's version, laid out in one chapter of his book, wrongly implies they were on "heightened alert" and somehow looking for terrorists.

"No," was the terse reply of Michael Chapman, one of the customs agents who arrested Ressam, when asked if he was aware of a security alert.
I noticed this error as soon as I heard Clarke's claim, since I recall the confusion after the Ressam's arrest, which was extensively covered in this area.  I think the mistake shows something about how Clarke thinks.  He issued a directive (or now thinks he did), there was an arrest, and Clarke concludes that he caused the arrest.  Apparently, he never checked to find out what actually happened.

That's the most revealing error, but not the only one; Carter lists four more, all concerning the Ressam arrest.  This many errors on one arrest should lead us to distrust the rest of Clarke's book and to give more credence to those who contradict his accounts of events for which there is no written record.

(Carter's piece ends with a strange defense of Clarke from Stephen Hess of the liberal Brookings Institution.  Hess says errors in memoirs aren't important unless they affect the "broader point", and that he doesn't think "anybody has accused Dick Clarke of being sloppy".  I have, Mr. Hess, I have.  And there is something disconcerting about a scholar saying that errors in an important book don't matter.

Stefan Sharkansky has more on the article here.)
- 7:30 AM, 13 April 2004
More:  Here's another person, Frank Duggan, who found errors in Clarke's book.
As pro bono representative for nearly 15 years of numerous families of the doomed Pan Am flight (he's busy today negotiating a settlement for the families as tied to the lifting of economic sanctions against Libya), Mr. Duggan says he considers Mr. Clarke's recollection of terrorism-related events — then and now — "self-serving, immodest and wrong."
Sounds about right to me.
- 11:57 AM, 13 April 2004   [link]


Muslims And Crime In France:  From time to time, I have discussed the high correlation between being Muslim and being a criminal in Western countries.  In every country for which I have seen data, Muslims are more likely to be criminals than non-Muslims, sometimes astonishingly more likely.  In Norway, for example, Muslims, who are about 1 percent of the population, commit about 65 percent of the rapes.   Reasons for this correlation may be different in different countries.  Four months ago, in this post, I speculated that, in Britain, Muslims were more likely to become criminals, but, in the United States, criminals were more likely to become Muslims.

Now, I learn from a French criminologist that, in France, criminals often become Muslims.
French prisoners are often overwhelmingly Muslim, with many inmates converting to Islam while behind bars, an expert told a French newspaper Monday.

Muslims often account for over half the population of many French prisons, while penitentiaries close to rough suburbs could have up to 80 percent Muslim inmates, Fahrad Khosrokhavar, a French author and academic, was quoted as saying in Le Figaro newspaper Monday
(My 2003 Britannica Almanac estimates that 7.1 percent of the French population is Muslim.)

The French pattern has an eerie similarity to that in the United States.
- 3:56 PM, 12 April 2004   [link]


Worth Reading:  Even though much of it is wrong, and something significant is omitted.  This New York Times Magazine article makes the case for that much maligned chemical, DDT.  It is by far the best way to control malaria, especially in poor countries.
As malaria surges once again in Africa, victories are few.  But South Africa is beating the disease with a simple remedy: spraying the inside walls of houses in affected regions once a year.   Several insecticides can be used, but South Africa has chosen the most effective one.  It lasts twice as long as the alternatives.  It repels mosquitoes in addition to killing them, which delays the onset of pesticide-resistance.  It costs a quarter as much as the next cheapest insecticide.  It is DDT.
Since we have eliminated malaria in most of the West, we may not be aware of its toll in Africa.
Independent malariologists believe it kills two million people a year, mainly children under 5 and 90 percent of them in Africa.  Until it was overtaken by AIDS in 1999, it was Africa's leading killer.  One in 20 African children dies of malaria, and many of those who survive are brain-damaged.  Each year, 300 to 500 million people worldwide get malaria.  During the rainy season in some parts of Africa, entire villages of people lie in bed, shivering with fever, too weak to stand or eat.  Many spend a good part of the year incapacitated, which cripples African economies.  A commission of the World Health Organization found that malaria alone shrinks the economy in countries where it is most endemic by 20 percent over 15 years.  There is currently no vaccine.  While travelers to malarial regions can take prophylactic medicines, these drugs are too toxic for long-term use for residents.
African nations, and others afflicted by malaria, have a hard time using DDT, because of the superstitious opposition by Western Greens.  Some countries have even had to give up its use to gain favorable trade treaties.  Zimbabwean tobacco was blocked from European countries because of traces of DDT.  (Those who understand the risks might think that DDT should be banned if it had traces of tobacco, rather than the other way around.)

I said that much of the article was wrong.  Tina Rosenberg, an editorial writer for the New York Times, refutes some of the more extreme environmentalist claims against DDT, but passes on others that are almost equally dubious.  For the facts on DDT, see this heavily referenced FAQ from the Junkscience site.  You have probably read, for example, that DDT threatened bald eagles, but you probably have not read this:
After 15 years of heavy and widespread usage of DDT, Audubon Society ornithologists counted 25 percent more eagles per observer in 1960 than during the pre-DDT 1941 bird census.
And the numbers of bald eagles continued to rise between 1960 and 1972, when DDT was banned.

I also said that the article omitted something significant.  What Rosenberg omitted was that some environmentalists favor banning DDT because they want to cut population growth in third world countries.  A few have even been incautious enough to say so.   For them, overpopulation is the great evil and anything, even millions of children dying of malaria, is acceptable to fight it.  Many others, I suspect, hold this view, but are not willing to say so openly.
- 2:04 PM, 12 April 2004   [link]


Need Some Chuckles?  Here are two columns, from professional journalists, that should amuse any informed person with taste.

First, from Jimmy Breslin, who has been around forever, this column, with the following statements.
There are two billion Muslims in the world.
. . .
There are no fat Muslims.

Two billion Muslims with no waists.
. . .
There are over 500,000 Muslims in the New York area and they give much to a city that lives by diversity.  There is one problem with them, and with Muslims everywhere.  They think that their faith is just as good as any of ours.
I did not make any of that up.  There are, of course, about 1 billion Muslims in the world, many of them fat.  I doubt that there are 500,000 Muslims in the New York area.   However many of them there are, some are undoubtedly supporters of terrorism, which I would consider a problem, even if Breslin does not.  A great many Muslims do not think that "their faith is just as good as", but better than others, in fact, the only true faith.

What's the purpose of this nonsense?  Breslin uses it as a basis for an attack on — no suprise here — Catholics, who, unlike the New York Muslims, have, in Breslin's view, many problems.

Second, from Heather Mallick, whose stale ideas suggest that she has been around almost forever, this column, arguing that American broadcasters are not crude enough.  Cable broadcasters in the United States can broadcast almost anything not libelous (and much that is if the target is a public figure).  Broadcasters who use the public airwaves are required to adhere to minimal standards, very similar to those at Ms. Mallick's own newspaper.  There is a bill in Congress that would ban certain obscenities on the public airwaves, including "four more words that The Globe won't let me print either".  And her objection to all this?  It will destroy American comedy, she says.  If, let me remind you, those words can be used in nightclubs and on cable TV, but not on TV and radio broadcasts.

Those of us who thought that Jack Benny, for instance, was pretty good without those words must be mistaken.  And, one must conclude that Marx Brothers movies such as "Duck Soup" and "A Night at the Opera" would have been successful comedies had they only been as crude as Ms. Mallick herself.

(Some might think that a Canadian columnist worried about free speech could find bigger targets in her own country, notably the recent efforts there to criminalize parts of the Bible, but I'll leave that up to Canadians.  If they want to live in what the general counsel of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association called a "pleasantly authoritarian country", that's their business, not mine.)

Finally, for those impressed by these two columns, with their high levels of accuracy and good taste, let me remind you.  Breslin and Mallick are professional journalists, with great experience.  Don't try this at home or in a high school class.
- 10:49 AM, 12 April 2004   [link]


John Kerry's First Purple Heart:  In this post, I mentioned that not everyone thinks that Kerry's own narrative of his Vietnam service is accurate, that there is a competing, much less favorable, narrative.  One part of that narrative is the claim that Kerry did not deserve his first Purple Heart.   During a patrol, Kerry picked a tiny piece of shrapnel in his arm, from an American weapon.   It was not a serious wound, nor was it from enemy fire.
But Kerry met with his immediate superior officer, Lt.Cmdr. Grant Hibbard, the next morning and requested a Purple Heart for his wound.  Hibbard recalls that Kerry had a "minor scratch" on his arm and was holding in his hand what appeared to be a fragment of a U.S. M-79 grenade, the shrapnel that had caused the wound.  "They didn't receive enemy fire," Hibbard tells Insight.   Since this was an essential requirement for the award, the commander rejected Kerry's request.   Hibbard does not remember that Kerry received medical attention of any kind and confirms that no one else on the mission suffered any injuries.
Kerry appealed and got the award later, apparently through a bureaucratic slip-up.

Why does this matter now?  For what it may show us about Kerry's motivations in Vietnam — and his character.  In this competing narrative, Kerry becomes, not a patriot doing his duty, but an ambitious young politician cynically checking off another item for his resume.  That he used this Purple Heart, along with two others from minor injuries, to get out of Vietnam early (and advised another officer to do the same) supports the idea that this competing narrative is more correct than Kerry's version.  That Kerry has refused to release his military records should raise suspicions in our partisan press, but is unlikely to do so, at least during the election season.
- 9:38 AM, 12 April 2004   [link]


9/11 Commission Member Jamie Gorelick should be in the witness chair, not on the Commission, say some Republicans, anonymously.  Former FBI director, Louis Freeh, while defending his own organization, suggests an interesting line of questions for Gorelick.
Protecting our homeland from attacks by foreign terrorists had long been the FBI's priority.   Back in September 1994, I recommended to Deputy Attorney General Jamie Gorelick that the DoJ strengthen investigative powers against suspected "undesirable aliens," accelerating deportation appeal proceedings and limiting U.S. participation in a visa waiver pilot program under which 9.5 million foreigners entered the U.S. in 1994.  I also recommended that we include provisions for the detention and removal of undesirable aliens, under a special, closed-court procedure.  I also criticized alien deportation appeal procedures which often took years to conclude.  Finally, I recommended legislation to provide the FBI with roving wiretap authority to investigate terrorist activities in the U.S.  President Clinton requested that authority in 1996.
Questions such as:  Did you approve these all recommendations?  Any of them?  If they had all been approved, could we have stopped the 9/11 attacks?  Some of those recommendations, I must say, would have made it much harder for the 9/11 hijackers.

After 9/11, President Bush blamed a generation of failures, not his Democratic predecessor, Bill Clinton.  I thought that was both true, though Clinton's failures may have been the worst of the previous administrations, and the right thing to say to unite the nation.  Now, some Democrats, shamelessly, are trying to put all the blame on the president who failed the least, George W. Bush.  Their cynicism and indifference to the national interest are disgusting.

(Please note that I said "some".  I have no quarrel with what Lee Hamilton has done on the Commission, and I think that former Senator Bob Kerrey's performance, though weird at times, not entirely bad.  The same is true of Congressional Democrats; one can find some who have performed well, though they seldom get the press that buffoons like Kennedy and Byrd do.)
- 8:38 AM, 12 April 2004   [link]


After All The Fuss over the August 6th 2001 Presidential Daily Briefing, I was surprised to see the actual contents.  The memo illustrates Clausewitz's point, which I discussed in this post, that most intelligence is false.   Much of the intelligence in the memo has already proved to be false, just as Clausewitz, and every other expert on intelligence, would expect.

The author(s) of the brief memo mention a number of possibilities, none of which occurred.   Al Qaeda is checking out federal buildings and is trying to bring explosives into the United States.  A plausible guess is that they will try to duplicate Timothy McVeigh's attack, which some think had foreign help from Muslim extremists.  As you may have noticed, that didn't happen.

There is a mention of hijackings, but when you read the two paragraphs, you see that the author(s) is predicting hostage taking to free a prisoner, not suicide attacks.
We have not been able to corroborate some of the more sensational threat reporting, such as that from a xxxxxxxxxx service in 1998 saying that Bin Ladin wanted to hijack a US aircraft to gain the release of "Blind Shaykh" 'Umar 'Abd al-Rahman and other US-held extremists.

Nevertheless, FBI information since that time indicates patterns of suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings or other types of attacks, including recent surveillance of federal buildings in New York.
There's nothing implausible about the idea that they might try to take hostages to free their people, since that has happened many times in the last few decades.  But it is not what happened on 9/11.  And note, too, that the sensational threat is uncorroborated.

You can, like Richard Ben-Veniste, make much of this memo.  But if you do, you will have to ignore the text of the memo, centuries of experience with raw intelligence, and what actually happened on 9/11.
- 5:17 PM, 11 April 2004
More:  John Podohoretz did warn of suicide attacks, in a column published on August 14, 2001.  His column was closer in that respect to predicting what actually happened than the PDB, but still missed badly, as he admits.
- 8:52 AM, 12 April 2004   [link]


Not Every Group Celebrates Easter Peacefully as you can see in this BBC account.
Seven people have been wounded in a shooting at an Easter church service on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi.
. . .
Police said two gunmen burst into the church on Saturday night and sprayed the congregation with automatic weapons fire before escaping.

Hospital staff said on Sunday none of the injured, who included a four-year-old girl, were in imminent danger.
The BBC, trying not to blame anyone in particular, says that people have died "conflicts between Christians and Muslims" and that the area has "an unenviable reputation for inter-religious violence".  If the BBC has its way, you won't even begin to suspect that the attacks nearly all come from Muslims and that nearly all the dead are Christians.  Some facts are just too politically incorrect to mention in these BBC stories — even on Easter.
- 4:35 PM, 11 April 2004   [link]


Religious Holidays, like patriotic holidays, cause problems for most newspapers, in both cases because most journalists are uncomfortable about what is being celebrated.  This Easter was no exception; the New York Times, which sets the standard for so many journalists, had no Easter story of its own, instead picking up this standard AP story.   While searching the site on "Easter", I found another much longer story written by a Times reporter on one India Hicks, who is living with her boyfriend and their children in the Bahamas.  What does Easter have to do with the story?  Not much, except that they had invited too many people for the Easter holiday.

The Washington Post played it cute, with a story on church hats and another on Christian themes in recent movies.  (I do like some of the hats, but suspect the movie story is seriously flawed.)  The Seattle Times deserves credit running for this straightforward story on prayer.   They also ran a story on egg rolls, which is fine since Easter is also a secular holiday for many people.  The Seattle PI has only opinion pages today and did not carry an editorial or op-ed on Easter.

The best coverage of Easter was in the moderate French newspaper, Le Figaro.  They have an interview with Dennis Tillinac, who argues that, without Christianity, Europe will lose its identity, an article on Easter baptisms (of converts, some of them previously Muslim), and a story on a Muslim convert, baptized six years ago.  I would guess from his origin, that he is a Berber.  I have read elsewhere that Berbers in Algeria were beginning to explore Christianity in reaction to the Muslim violence in that nation.

Why is Le Figaro comfortable with Easter when so many other newspapers are not?  I don't know, but I have noticed that their coverage of Christian stories was far better than that in most newspapers.

Finally, for those who would like to read the Easter story nearly all the newspapers would rather not mention, see this post by Reverend Sensing.
- 11:09 AM, 11 April 2004   [link]


Happy Easter to all my Christian friends and family.  Though fuzzy, this sunrise picture, taken some months ago, seems an appropriate symbol for the holiday.



(And Happy Passover to my Jewish friends.  If I heard the news story correctly, this is also a New Year for at least some Buddhists, so Happy New Year to them.)
- 7:16 AM, 11 April 2004   [link]


Middle East Markets Aren't Panicking:  Today's New York Times has a chart of the gains in Middle East stock markets since the fall of Baghdad.  It is not available on line, unless I missed something, so I will just give rough numbers, estimated from the chart.  Roughly, Lebanon is up 8 percent, Bahrain is up 27 percent, United Arab Emirates is up 33 percent, Israel is up 45 percent, Jordan is up 51 percent, Kuwait is up 60 percent, Saudi Arabia is up 80 percent, and Egypt is up 110 percent.  Getting rid of Saddam encouraged investors in the region, it's fair to say.  (By way of comparison, the Dow is up 28 percent and the NASDAQ up 52 percent in the same time period.)

Note that Lebanon, which still has little prospect of escaping from the control of Syria, had the worst performance in the group.

Did the recent attacks in Iraq change the markets?  I found two of the markets at Yahoo; Israel's investors, a tough minded bunch, ignored the news from Iraq.   Egypt's investors had a brief panic, something one might expect given the rise over the last year, even without bad news from Iraq.  On April 8th, the most recent trading day, the index rose 8.2 percent, erasing all the loss and more.
- 4:21 PM, 10 April 2004   [link]


Don't Panic:  Two days ago, I heard a Fox News reporter speaking from Iraq with panic in his voice.  There is nothing in recent events to justify panic, and history shows us that we should be especially skeptical of the first press reports in a war.   There have been some ambushes of American troops, but excluding those, the militia and the foreign fighters have shown no ability to stand up to American Marines and soldiers, or even troops from Poland and Spain.

Many journalists described these rag-tag militia attacks as another "Tet offensive", which is laughable to anyone who knows about the actual Tet offensive in the Vietnam War, where tens of thousands of Viet Cong and North Vietnamese regulars fought South Vietnamese and American forces.  But there is a lesson in the Tet offensive, a lesson missed by most journalists then and since.  The attack was a "unmitigated military disaster" not for us, but for the Communists.
After the first few hours of panic, the South Vietnamese troops reacted fiercely.  They did the bulk of the fighting and took some 6,000 casualties.  Vietcong units not only did not reach a single one of their objectives -- except when they arrived by taxi at the U.S. Embassy in Saigon, blew their way through the wall into the compound and guns blazing made it into the lobby before they were wiped out by U.S. Marines -- but they lost some 50,000 killed and at least that many wounded.  Giap had thrown some 70,000 troops into a strategic gamble that was also designed to overwhelm 13 of the 16 provincial capitals and trigger a popular uprising.  But Tet was an unmitigated military disaster for Hanoi and its Vietcong troops in South Vietnam.
. . .
Many Vietnamese civilians who were fence sitters or leaning toward the Vietcong, especially in the region around Hue City, joined government ranks after they witnessed Vietcong atrocities.   Several mass graves were found with some 4,000 unarmed civil servants and other civilians, stabbed or with skulls smashed by clubs.  The number of communist defectors, known as "chieu hoi," increased fourfold.  And the "popular uprising" anticipated by Giap, failed to materialize.   The Tet offensive also neutralized much of the clandestine communist infrastructure.
The Viet Cong guerrillas in South Vietnam never recovered from Tet.  Our opposition afterwards came almost entirely from the North Vietnamese regulars.

Why aren't these facts better known?  Because American journalists, notably Walter Cronkite, panicked during the first attacks and never looked at conflicting information afterwards.
As the late veteran war reporter Peter Braestrup documented in "Big Story" -- a massive, two-volume study of how Tet was covered by American reporters -- the Vietcong offensive was depicted as a military disaster for the United States.  By the time the facts emerged a week or two later from RAND Corp. interrogations of prisoners and defectors, the damage had been done.   Conventional media wisdom had been set in concrete.  Public opinion perceptions in the United States changed accordingly.

RAND made copies of these POW interrogations available.  But few reporters seemed interested.  In fact, the room where they were on display was almost always empty.
Those who have tried to get journalists to correct even obvious factual errors will not be surprised by this.  Once most reporters have an idea in their head, it is extremely hard to get it out.

After the Tet offensive, the North Vietnamese changed to a different strategy, as North Vietnamese General Vo Nguyen Giap admitted later.
Even Giap admitted in his memoirs that news media reporting of the war and the anti-war demonstrations that ensued in America surprised him.  Instead of negotiating what he called a conditional surrender, Giap said they would now go the limit because America's resolve was weakening and the possibility of complete victory was within Hanoi's grasp.
Thanks in part to Walter Cronkite and company.  (I am old enough so that I remember Cronkite and have to say that I can't recall sharing the general reverence for him.  He had a pleasant voice and manner, but seemed remarkably ignorant, even for a network anchor.   Nothing I have seen since has changed that opinion.)  The true lesson of Tet is that you should not panic and you should ignore the press when they do.  Don't expect to see that argument in many news stories in the next few weeks or months.
- 9:10 AM, 10 April 2004   [link]


9/11 Commission Summary:  The best I've seen is this April 8th Michael Ramirez cartoon.   Those familiar with the movie "Gigli" will be pleased to know that it could have been prevented, too.
- 7:39 AM, 10 April 2004   [link]


Car Thieves Usually Deserve jail, but I might make an exception for Colin Sadd.
Sadd dressed in a suit and tie and posed as a customer at showrooms where he impressed salesmen with his encyclopaedic knowledge of marques and specifications.

He then requested test drives before snatching keys and driving off in a range of mainly new cars which he would cherish as though they were his own.

After several hours of driving around he would wash and polish the vehicles, thoroughly clean the interior, and leave them to be returned undamaged to their owners.
He stole and cleaned so many cars that, even in Washington state, he would get jail time.   It seems a shame that he couldn't have gotten a job with an auto detailer so he wouldn't have had to steal the cars to clean them.
- 8:14 AM, 9 April 2004   [link]


Last Week, I argued that the television coverage of the ambush of the four American contractors in Falluja showed that reporters for Reuters and Agence France-Press may have had advance knowledge of the attacks.  This New York Times story describing their employer's investigation strengthens my suspicions.
But now it appears that the four private security contractors killed, burned and mutilated in Falluja last week were in fact lured into a carefully planned ambush by men they believed to be friendly members of the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps, according to Patrick Toohey, a senior executive at the security firm, Blackwater USA.

The Iraqi men, Mr. Toohey said, promised the Blackwater-led convoy safe and swift passage through the dangerous city, but instead, a few kilometers later, they suddenly blocked off the road, preventing any escape from waiting gunmen.
And, shortly afterwards, the waiting cameramen from AFP and Reuters.  Who have no objections to being accessories to murder, after the fact.
- 7:54 AM, 9 April 2004   [link]


Yesterday I argued that the 9/11 Commission has hurt our security by exposing some of our intelligence to our enemies.  So what happened immediately after I wrote that?  Richard Ben-Veniste demanded that another classified document be released, the August 6, 2001 Presidential Daily Briefing.   Since I have no idea what was in that briefing (and couldn't tell you about it if I did), I don't know whether revealing this will harm our security.  But it was clear that Ben-Veniste did not care whether revealing it harmed our security, only whether it harmed President Bush.
- 7:29 AM, 9 April 2004   [link]