August 2004, Part 2
Jim Miller on Politics
Another Election Prediction: This one from researchers at Burke's Peerage.
After months of research into Kerry's ancestry, Burke's Peerage, experts on British aristocracy, reported Monday that the Vietnam war veteran is related to all the royal houses of Europe and can claim kinship with Czar Ivan "The Terrible," a previous Emperor of Byzantium and the Shahs of Persia.Before you laugh, I should mention that they did predict George W. Bush's victory in 2000.
I love these offbeat election predictions, and will try to bring you more before November. And I must admit that Kerry's kinship with Ivan the Terrible is new to me.
(There is one trifling flaw in Burke's methodology that I must mention, though I have to be bit indelicate. Let me see, how to put it? Perhaps like this: Official fathers are not always the real fathers, for reasons I need not go into further. When you follow as many lines as Burke's did for this research, you can be certain that a few of them are not what they appear to be.)
- 4:29 PM, 16 August 2004 [link]
Our Cynical Universities: Does this sound familiar?
A senior government education adviser has accused universities of deliberately admitting students who are likely to fail their courses in a "cynical" attempt to fill up places.It sounds familiar to me, even though Professor Schwarz is attacking British rather than American universities. The sad fact is that most of our colleges and universities, just like many in Britain, admit students they know are not suited for college work. Most unqualified students waste a year or two of their lives and acquire some debts, but not much else from the experience. Taxpayers, the students, and their parents subsidize the faculty and staff at these institutions, but get little or nothing in return.
The numbers show the problem.
The numbers attending university have risen sharply since the 1980s. Twenty years ago, just one young person in eight entered higher education. Today the figure is more than one in three.The median IQ in Britain, as in the United States, is about 100. In general, anyone with an IQ below 100 will struggle in college courses, unless the courses are dumbed down. Of those with IQs above 100, many are unsuited for college for other reasons. They may not like sitting in classrooms, being dependent for years, or postponing what they consider more important things in life, work and marriage. My guess would be that only one in four of American 18-year-olds are suited for traditional college work, but we send even more than the British do.
There are courses of study, usually found in community colleges and junior colleges, that are more work training for real jobs and less traditional courses of college study. These can make sense for both students and taxpayers. A good test for the student (or parent) looking at such courses is to ask what their placement rate is. If they are giving real training for real jobs, they will be able to tell you that number. Some university departments keep track of that number and they, too, can be good places for students who are looking for job training.
(In some fields, the placement rate is so close to zero that the universities should stop training people entirely. That was true decades ago in English, for example. Universities have continued to run graduate courses and produce English PhDs anyway, since English departments like having assistants to grade papers, and find teaching graduate seminars more fun than teaching remedial writing.)
It is not hard to see which groups benefit from the floods of unqualified students. Faculty, staff, and administrators all have jobs that they would not otherwise. And that explains why this subject is unlikely to even be discussed at our educational institutions. There are a number of bloggers I read who teach in American and British universities. I can't recall any of them even mentioning the subject. (Or even saying much about teaching, for that matter.)
Let me end with an important qualification. I have no objection to those who may not meet formal requirements for college trying anyway — as long as they are warned about the odds and taxpayers do not subsidize them. A few will succeed, and that's fine. And I should add that I have personally known some people who did not do well on the SATs and similar tests, but did fine college work anyway.
- 2:27 PM, 16 August 2004 [link]
My Favorite Micro Nation, Niue, does not have a team at the Olympics, but does have competitors at a more traditional sport, outrigger canoe racing.
HILO, HawaiiI think I would rather watch these outrigger canoe races than some of the Olympics events. Watching swimmers go back and forth in a pool bores me, and the same is true of some other competitions. (I am sure that those who know more about these sports than I do find them interesting.)
(Despite those self indulgent leading paragraphs, Guy Trebay does get around, eventually, to giving you a few facts about the Vaa championships. You can find more at the official International Va'a Federation site.)
- 8:49 AM, 16 August 2004 [link]
Why Is New Jersey So Corrupt? That's a question many may wonder about after reading the reports on the McGreevey scandals. John Fund has some answers.
But the bigger story here isn't about Mr. McGreevey. It's about how the elites of a major state, one with the nation's second-highest per capita income and one of its most educated and skilled work forces, have allowed it to be so poorly governed by both parties over a span of decades.Governor McGreevey made the corruption problem worse, after promising a clean administration. His record will remind many of former California governor Gray Davis. Both combined reckless spending increases with reckless fund raising. The 2004 Almanac of American Politics has a detail that shows just how reckless Davis and the California legislature were.
California has a progressive income tax, and in 2000, 25% of general fund revenue came from the capital gains tax — Silicon valley money recycled to Sacramento.McGreevey and the New Jersey legislature have not had the same brief gusher of money, but they have been almost equally irresponsible in their spending increases.
Though New Jersey has competitive parties, many areas in New Jersey do not. One party rule makes corruption far more likely, as centuries of experience show. The Republican machines in New Jersey may not be as bad, on the whole, as the Democratic machines, but they are part of the problem. They prefer self protection to clean up, as machines almost always do.
New York Times columnist Paul Krugman is part of the problem. He is a long time resident of New Jersey but, judging by his columns, is completely indifferent to the massive corruption there — as long as it is committed by Democrats.
Younger readers may be surprised to learn this, but in the past, academics often took the lead in fights against corruption. New Jersey's most famous governor, Woodrow Wilson, was elected to that office when he was Princeton's president. His record of reform while New Jersey governor made him a leading contender for the Democratic nomination in 1912 and then, with the help of the Republican split, president. Though the most famous, Wilson is only one of many academics who worked for reform in their states and localities. But that tradition has faded as the universities have drifted farther and farther to the left. Most academics now are like Paul Krugman, preferring emotionally satisfying rants against George W. Bush to the hard work of cleaning up their states and localities.
(Fund also provides some support for an argument that I made earlier.
Steve Adubato, a former Democratic state legislator and current host of a PBS public-affairs show, told Fox News's John Gibson that journalists did not pursue the Cipel story aggressively enough because "we were afraid of being accused of being homophobes and we were wrong for doing that."As with the similar Mikulski scandal, journalists did not aggressively pursue evidence of corruption because they feared being politically incorrect.)
- 7:51 AM, 16 August 2004 [link]
Kudos To The Kansas City Star for covering the SwiftVets story. How they came to do the story, as explained by reader's representative Yvette Walker, is fascinating.
Last week, readers called and wrote in, saying The Star hasn't covered critics' assertions that:By credible sources, she means the wire services the newspaper generally uses, the Associated Press, Knight Ridder, the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, and the Washington Post. Or, to put it another way, beltway journalists were refusing to cover the story, so the Star decided to do it themselves. (For contrast, you may want to read this New England Republican post describing how beltway reporters covered the allegations about Bush's National Guard service.)
Readers in this area could see the story in the Sunday Seattle Times, along with another story providing background. They put the two stories together on page 5, which is the second page of their national section, so the Seattle Times can't be accused of burying the stories.
(More: Edward Morrisey argues that the Star article missed many details. That's not surprising considering how long the single reporter, Scott Canon, had to work on the article.
Thanks to a commenter on Tim Blair's site for pointing out the Yvette Walker piece.)
- 4:37 PM, 15 August 2004 [link]
Worth Reading: Christopher Hitchens reviews John Kerry. (All right, technically, he reviews several books on Kerry, but his real subject is the man, not the books.) Hitchens begins with a common question, and provides his own answer, with which I would (mostly) agree.
To begin with a small question that I trust is not a trivial or a petty one: how often have you met a self-described Kerry supporter? During the truncated and front-loaded Democratic primaries, it was relatively easy to encounter Dean enthusiasts, Gephardt union activists, Clark fans, Edwards converts, Kucinich militants and even dedicated Sharptonians. (My circle wasn't wide enough to encompass any Braun campaigners.) But a person who got up every morning and counted the day wasted if he or she hadn't made a Kerry convert? I've asked this question on radio and on television, and on campus and in the other places where people sing, and I've heard only a slight shuffling of Democratic feet.(On the very last point, I would disagree, moderately. I think Kerry's foreign policy stands in the Senate have been relatively consistent — and nearly always wrong. As Howard Dean (!) pointed out, Kerry was wrong on the first Gulf War, a far easier decision than the second, and it is not hard to find other errors all through his career. His explanations of them, during this election year, have not had the same consistency as the stands.)
I agree with Hitchens when he argues that two-sided politicians such as Kerry have their uses, and agree with Hitchens even more when he concludes that Kerry is not suited to be a war time president. That may be ironic, considering Kerry's endless talk about his service in Vietnam, but it is true.
- 3:16 PM, 15 August 2004 [link]
Why Don't You Cook Your Results? That's essentially what New York Times economics reporter Deborah Solomon asks Ray Fair in this snarky interview. (As you probably know, Ray Fair is a Yale economist with an election equation that predicts an easy victory for George W. Bush this November.)
Are you a Republican?Fair's answer is correct. As a social scientist, he should try to explain behavior, not influence it. Not all social scientists follow that rule, though most at least give it lip service. The rule has an exact parallel in journalism: Should journalists who support Kerry (Solomon, for example) bias their stories or should they tell them straight? Solomon's answer to that seems apparent — which is why no reader, regardless of their political views, should trust her articles.
- 2:36 PM, 15 August 2004 [link]
You May Not Like Those Political Ads, but you should respect them because they are a better source of information than TV news.
In another era, a logical starting point would have been the news.Showing good sense, I think, since the networks and the major newspapers deluge us with "horse race" coverage and skimp on character and policy, while the ads do the opposite.
This is not new. The first study I saw with this finding was done on the 1972 presidential election. One particularly effective ad was done for the Nixon campaign. The ad began by stating that McGovern planned to cut one third of our military (which was generally correct), and then showed a hand sweeping toy soldiers, airplanes, tanks, and warships off a table. A surprisingly large number of voters remembered that ad and said that it had affected their thinking about the election.
Though it is not new, ads are gaining on news as sources of data for voters — assuming Kay McFadden is describing the research correctly. This is, in my opinion, a good trend. Elected officials, who are responsible to voters, will be more able to set our political agenda now. And journalists, who are responsible only to their editors (and barely that), will be less able to set it. I expect few journalists to agree with me that the trend is good, for reasons I explained here.
- 2:50 PM, 13 August 2004 [link]
As I Predicted, the SwiftVet charges are beginning to leak out to the public, despite the lack of coverage by networks and most major newspapers. This GOP Poll has some interesting numbers showing the effects in battleground states.
Nearly 6 in 10 likely voters claim that they recently saw, read or heard something about the TV ad "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth" released and began airing in several key battleground states questioning the truthfulness of Senator Kerry's Vietnam War record. Among those who claimed to have seen, read, or heard something about the ad, a majority overall and among undecided voters said it would not impact their vote either way. However to the extent it did impact voting intentions, It was a negative for Sen. Kerry by as much as nearly a 3 to 1 margin.(That paragraph could use a little polish, couldn't it? And I could find nothing in the press release numbers to justify the last sentence. Presumably it rests on other, unreleased data.)
Of those who knew about the ad, half (50.8 percent) said it would make no difference in their voting intentions, one fifth (19.4 percent) said it would make them more likely to vote for Kerry, and one fourth (27.1 percent) said that it would make them less likely to vote for Kerry.
What coverage there has been of the ad on the network news programs has been almost entirely negative, as you can see in these examples from Media Research. I think it fair to say that, so far, the networks are losing this battle.
- 1:53 PM, 13 August 2004 [link]
Well, Well, Well: I thought that I had a good picture of Governor Jim McGreevey's problems. At the very least, the New Jersey governor had been careless in choosing his fund raisers; more likely, he had tolerated illegal fund raising; possibly he had engaged in it, All in all, a very ordinary story of corruption. So I was not expecting this bizarre announcement.
Gov. James E. McGreevey of New Jersey disclosed on Thursday that he was gay and had had an affair with another man, and announced that he would resign on Nov. 15, more than a year before his term would have expired.Now I have an excuse for not knowing about this affair, pun intended. I am not a reporter in the area, not even a resident of New Jersey. But do journalists at the New Jersey newspapers (or those in Philadelphia and New York) have the same excuse for missing this story? Editor and Publisher says they had been chasing the story for years.
New Jersey newspapers have been chasing rumors and speculation for years that Gov. James McGreevey, who announced his resignation Thursday, had a special relationship with a top aide, but never had enough information to nail down the facts, editors and reporters said Thursday afternoon.So why didn't they catch the story if they were chasing it? It is not as if the evidence was hidden. Take a look at Cipel's job history, compiled from public sources, with this summary for all his jobs; "He seemed to simply travel and be on permanent vacation." A reporter who wanted to put this together could have.
Why didn't some New Jersey reporter connect the dots? Part of the reason is a common confusion, the idea that sexual matters are, by their nature, "private". If the public is paying for them, they are not private, and they do not deserve the shield of privacy that we might give them otherwise.
There is a second confusion that can be seen in an analogous story from Maryland. During the 1980s, while a member of the House of Representatives, Senator Barbara Mikulski became involved with an Australian feminist and gave her a job. (There was something illegal about the job. I don't recall exactly what, but I believe that Mikulski had to pay a fine to settle the matter.) The woman caused so many problems that, according to one news account I read, half of Mikulski's staff resigned. Yet this never became a public issue, though Linda Chavez hinted about it in the 1986 senatorial campaign. (And Mikulski tried to allay doubts in the same campaign, by ostentatious admiration for muscular guys and similar stunts.)
Why didn't it become an issue? Because the news media hid the story, almost completely. I found out about it almost by accident, when I read an account of the 1986 campaign in Maryland. Deep inside the article was a brief account of the affair, put there only because the rest of the story made no sense otherwise. The reporter thought that the affair should not matter, but understood that it did — at least to some unenlightened voters.
We have not given up the double standard. We still hold men and women to different standards, even in "enlightened" newsrooms. But journalists now have a third standard for homosexuals, or to be more exact, almost no standard for them. Journalists who might be unhappy to see a heterosexual politician put a lover on the payroll are amused and tolerant when a homosexual politician does the same. They will be reluctant to cover the first story — if they agree with the politician — but they will be unwilling to cover the second story. That is why Mikulski's affair drew so little attention, and why reporters did not make McGreevey's affair public.
These affairs should matter, regardless of the sexual orientation of those involved. Whenever a public official exchanges a public job for a private consideration, it should matter, even if the consideration is sex or silence. (Monica Lewinsky's job at the Pentagon was arranged by the Clinton administration in return for her silence. I always thought that exchange was the most objectionable aspect of the affair — from a taxpayer's point of view.)
Finally, the job that Governor McGreevey gave Golan Cipel shows why some of us wonder just how serious the Democrats are about fighting terrorism. This was not a job as a typist, or a doorman, or some other position where his non-performance would not have mattered much. Cipel was, for a time, a special assistant to the governor on Homeland Security, even though he is not an American citizen and had, according to this New York Times article, "minimal" knowledge of intelligence and terrorism.
- 10:17 AM, 13 August 2004
More: Golan Cipel is denying that he was ever Governor McGreevey's lover. In fact, he is denying that he is gay. This poses a difficult question: Who to believe, McGreevey or Cipel? McGreevey's version seems more plausible, but we know he is a liar. Cipel's version seems less plausible, but he is not a proven liar, at least as far as I know. One of his lawyers even claims they have witnesses who will support Cipel.
The story may get still more bizarre, but, offhand, I can't see how.
- 4:54 PM, 15 August 2004 [link]
"Intern Camps"? No one has dubbed George W. Bush the "Great Communicator", and no one is likely to. Though he is not as bad an informal speaker as the Bush haters say, he does stumble more than some slicker politicians.
There is one curious aspect to his stumbles. Every once in a while he says something in a stumble so brilliant that it is hard not to think he did not intend it. For instance, when he coined "misunderestimate", he came up with the perfect word to describe the mistake made by many of his opponents. And when speaking to the Unity Conference he came up with another brilliant stumble. Here's the exchange, with the stumble in bold.
Q A little addition. (Laughter.) Good morning, Mr. President. I'm Julie Chen, with CBS News, and the Asian American Journalist Association. (Applause.)To appreciate the brilliance, ask yourself this question: Which recent president would have thought that we do need "intern camps"? By shortening the word, Bush shifted the subject from the feared persecution of minorities to a joke about the misdeeds of his predecessor. The journalists there apparently missed the shift and the joke, since they applauded rather than laughed.
I am almost sure that the shortening was accidental, and that Bush did not intend the joke. But maybe I am misunderestimating him, as so many have.
(Transcript via Michelle Malkin, who also missed the joke.)
- 6:18 AM, 13 August 2004 [link]
Just For Fun, here's an article on an AOL poll. America Online is conducting a continuous poll, allowing its members to vote once each month and tallying the results by state.
The unscientific survey, whose results change in real time as more people vote, reveals with more than 34,000 participants, Bush takes a whopping 58 percent of the popular vote compared to 40 percent for Sen. John Kerry and 2 percent for Ralph Nader.Does this mean anything? Not much, but it is amusing to see that Kerry is losing Massachusetts, even in an unscientific poll. It is probably accidental that the poll comes up with almost the same result as Professor Fair does. Still, checking some of the individual states this morning mostly showed results that had the right relationship to the overall result. Washington, for example, gave Bush a smaller margin than the country as a whole. Nearly every political observer expects Kerry to do better here, whether he wins the state or not.
- 9:24 AM, 12 August 2004 [link]
Another Embarrassing Mistake By The New York Times: "Hindrocket" of Power Line spots another one at our newspaper of record. Here's the correction.
An article in Business Day on Monday about the number of new low-income jobs compared with high-income jobs misstated figures from an analysis of Labor Department payroll data conducted by Economy.com, an economic research firm. Since January, industries ranked in the bottom fifth in terms of median wages have generated 177,000 jobs, not 477,000. Industries in the top fifth generated 135,000 jobs, not zero.Which pretty much destroys the argument made in the article, which is titled "It's Not Just the Jobs Lost, but the Pay in the New Ones", and includes statements like this one.
But a growing number of analysts say the evidence increasingly suggests that the current recovery has indeed been tilted toward lower-paying jobs.A moment's thought should have told the reporter, Edmund L. Andrews, that his numbers were fishy. Given all the connections in our economy between industries, is it plausible that industries in the bottom fifth for wages generated almost half a million jobs while those in the top fifth generated zero?
(Technical point: Comparing new jobs between industries is not the best way to gather data on pay, for several reasons. Pay varies greatly, even within individual plants, so a plant in a low wage industry could have been hiring computer specialists and a plant in a high wage industry could have been hiring janitors. Comparing new jobs neglects promotions and pay raises. If, for example, McDonald's promotes a counter worker to a shift supervisor, they will probably hire an entry level person for the old job. Studying only new jobs misses the promotion and pay increase, although as far as overall pay goes it would be the same as if McDonald's had hired a shift supervisor directly. To be fair, I should add that I have not looked at the study from Economy.com, which may correct for some of these problems.)
The original article was on the first page of the business section; the correction got just a paragraph in "Corrections".
- 7:58 AM, 12 August 2004 [link]
This Story begins with such a strange lead that I just had to pass it on.
The government of Spain has warned that it will veto a proposed trade agreement between Canada and the European Union unless the Ontario government allows a Spanish company to raise tolls on the province's Highway 407.Here's a partial explanation.
The 108-kilometre electronic-toll road, stretching across the Greater Toronto Area, was sold by the previous Conservative Ontario government to a consortium dominated by Grupo Ferrovial SA, a Spanish industrial, engineering and financial conglomerate, along with Canadian-based SNC-Lavalin and the Australian Macquarie Infrastructure Group.Although both the national and the Ontario governments are now controlled by the Liberal party, the two will not always see eye to eye, and their leaders are not close, as I understand it. There's an interesting irony here; the Spanish government intervening to help a giant Spanish business is socialist.
I have no opinion on the rights and wrongs in the case, but I am glad that no American company is involved. We need Canadian cooperation in the war on terror. The fewer trade irritants between us, the better.
- 6:45 AM, 12 August 2004 [link]
Do We Need More Firefighters? Gregg Easterbrook says no.
Though firefighters have numerous duties, their chief task is to fight building fires--and building fires are in a long-term cycle of decline. In 2002, the most recent year for which statistics are available, there were 48 percent fewer building fires in the United States than in 1977, though there were substantially more buildings. From 1977 to 2002, civilian deaths in fires declined 46 percent and deaths of firefighters declined 38 percent. The trends of fewer fires, fewer civilian deaths, and fewer firefighter deaths hold for almost every year of the past quarter-century except 2001, the year of September 11. Stricter building codes, the proliferation of smoke detectors, and the fact that most new commercial structures and many new homes have built-in sprinkler systems has led to a big drop in the incidence and severity of building fires.So why are some pushing for big increases in firefighters? The usual bureaucratic desire for expansion, and the usual union desire for more members, backed by some dubious studies.
Kerry's motives in pushing for more firefighters are clear enough. Kerry is copying Clinton's successful 1992 promise to put 100,000 more cops on the street. That may not have been a good way to fight crime, despite what Easterbrook says, but it was brilliant politically. It gave the Clinton campaign a clear example to convince moderate voters that he was tough on crime and would do something specific about it.
(Easterbrook supported Gore in 2000, and, as far as I know, is supporting Kerry this year.)
- 5:41 AM, 12 August 2004 [link]
Score One For The SwiftVets: In the conflict between John Kerry and the SwiftVets, first blood goes to the SwiftVets.
But today, on Fox News' "Fox and Friends," Kerry Campaign Advisor Jeh Johnson had this to say to the show's co-host Brian Kilmeade:(Looks like there may be a typo or two in that article.)JOHNSON: John Kerry has said on the record that he had a mistaken recollection earlier. He talked about a combat situation on Christmas Eve 1968 which at one point he said occurred in Cambodia. He has since corrected the recorded to say it was some place on a river near Cambodia and he is certain that at some point subsequent to that he was in Cambodia. My understanding is that he is not certain about that date.
Here's James Lileks' take, with a devastating analogy.
It has to do with Christmas in Cambodia — the only aspect of the SwiftVets story I care to comment on, for reasons I think I stated before. If Kerry's story is a lie, it's significant, but not because we have a gotcha moment — gee, a politician reworked the truth to his advantage, big surprise. This is much larger than that. This is like Bush insisting that he flew an intercept mission with the Texas Air National Guard to repel Soviet bombers based in Cuba, and later stating that this event was "seared in his memory — seared" because it taught him the necessity of standing up against evil governments, such as the ones we face today. In other words, it would not only be a lie, but one that eroded the political persona he was relying upon in the election.So far, I don't think the attack by the Swiftvets has done much damage to Kerry. But if they keep finding errors and forcing his campaign to admit them, they will. And there are some genuinely weird aspects to the stories that he has been telling over the years. It's hard not to think that, as some have suggested, some of the stories, or at least details in the stories, came from movies.
(For more, see Ed Morrisey's site or this link-filled Instapundit post.)
- 4:33 PM, 11 August 2004 [link]
Honesty From The DNC: Our party organizations, Republican as well as Democratic, are not always unbiased when they present their arguments. So I was pleased today when I saw honesty in advertising from the Democratic National Committee. On Wednesdays at lunch time, I usually visit Kirkland's small farmer's market. In past weeks, I have encountered young Democratic activists, trying to register voters. (They almost always approach people saying, "Would you like to help defeat Bush", not something positive, by the way.)
For the first time today, they had on identifying T-shirts. And the color? A bright, bright red. Since I have been arguing for years that the appropriate color for the Democrats was red (or perhaps pink), I am pleased to see the DNC following my advice. And I commend their honesty.
- 1:24 PM, 11 August 2004 [link]
Real Voting Problems: It is fun to discuss the possibility of a tie in the electoral college, the problems with electronic voting machines, and similar subjects, but those are not what worry federal election officials. Instead, they worry about something less dramatic; we have too few poll workers, and many of them are elderly.
The biggest threat to November's presidential election is not balky voting machines or a terrorist attack, but the potential for confusion and mistakes by the nation's aging corps of 1.5 million precinct poll workers, federal election officials say.I have seen this in my own precinct in the last few elections. Most of the poll workers are elderly. All of them seemed up to the job, but I could imagine them having problems with the new procedures — if they did not get additional training before the elections this fall.
One troubling point: I have never been asked for identification when I voted in this area. I have no reason to believe that vote fraud is common here, but I do wish the defenses against it were stronger.
- 9:26 AM, 11 August 2004
Correction: After receiving a thoughtful email, I realized that I did not care for the tone of my post or the tone of the USA Today article. Both, I think, were a little unfair to elderly poll workers. Let me see if I can get it right this time.
There are three kinds of problems I can see coming from the age of our poll workers. The first, which is entirely the fault of other people, is that they are not being replaced by younger volunteers. We are short of poll workers because the young and the middle aged are not doing their fair share. The sense of civic duty that motivates most poll workers appears to be weaker in those under, say, 60.
The second problem is that our poll workers are not all trained in some of the new technology and new rules. (This varies greatly by jurisdiction.) This problem applies regardless of age. It may be that older workers will find it a little more work, on the average, to learn the new equipment and procedures. (I have enough gray in my own hair so I can say that.) Old dogs can learn new tricks, though not always as easily as young dogs, and they should be given every chance to do so.
The third problem is the sensitive one. At any age, there are some people who are not qualified to be poll workers. It is a sad fact of life that the proportion who are unqualified increases after 60. Among the 1.5 million poll workers, average age 72, we can be certain that there are some who can no longer do the job as well as they should. Some, for example, may no longer have the eyesight that they need to examine signatures and ballots. Others, and I must be blunt here, may be in the early stages of Alzheimer's or similar diseases.
The three problems require different solutions. To solve the shortage of volunteers, we need bipartisan encouragement from civic leaders.
To ensure that the poll workers are able to handle new equipment, we need training, practice, and better administration generally.
The contrasting examples of Florida and Washington in the 2000 election show how much difference good administration can make. Washington state uses exactly the same mix of technology that Florida does, punch cards, optical ballots, and in some smaller counties, paper ballots. There was a very close election here (the Gorton-Cantwell senate contest) just as there was in Florida. There were few problems during the election, and the recount went smoothly.
A closer look at Florida strengthens that argument. Florida does not really have a single election system; instead it has separate ones for each county. Many, perhaps most, counties in Florida conducted the 2000 election and the recounts smoothly. (Those that didn't were mostly controlled by Democrats, if I may make a partisan point.) It was not bad technology that caused the problems; it was poor administration.
To make sure that poll workers are able to do their jobs, we should test them regularly.
Because we are going to ask more of them, at least in the short term, we should give them more of a reward. More money would help, but they also need more recognition. In my own small way, I started giving them a bit of recognition a few elections ago. After I vote, I thank the poll workers.
- 1:56 PM, 12 August 2004 [link]
Electoral College Ties: A tie in the electoral college is possible, and we came within two votes of that happening in 2000. Law Professor Robert Bennett considers the problem, and comes up with a solution.
Can we head off the possibility of a tie? The answer is yes - but the only way to do so short of a constitutional amendment is to add an odd number of seats to the House. If the size of the House were increased by one, for instance, there would be 539 members of the college, and much less chance of a tie.Unfortunately, as some of you have already realized, his solution creates another problem, the possibility of a tie in the House of Representatives. There are now 435 House seats; adding (or subtracting) an odd number would leave an even number and the possibility of a tie in the House.
Why do we now have this problem now? Because of the 23rd amendment, ratified in 1961, giving electoral votes to the District of Columbia. With the current DC population, that's just 3 votes, so the arithmetic for the total votes in the electoral college is as follows: 435 + 100 + 3 = 538. Changing any of the three has problems. Perhaps the best solution would be to eliminate the District of Columbia, dividing it up between the neighboring states, something desirable for other reasons. (A surge in population in DC, so that the district was entitled to 4 electoral votes would also solve the problem, but that seems unlikely.)
(Could Professor Bennett be motivated by the fact that Republicans would almost certainly win if a tied electoral college went to the House of Representatives? Maybe.)
- 8:57 AM, 11 August 2004
Correction: A sharp reader (Do I have any other kind?) checked the fine print in the 23rd amendment, which I had skipped.
A number of electors of President and Vice President equal to the whole number of Senators and Representatives in Congress to which the District would be entitled if it were a state, but in no event more than the least populous state; . . .So, not only would the DC population have to increase for its electoral votes to go from 3 to 4, but so would the population of every state that has only a single representative, Wyoming, Alaska, et cetera.
Statehood for the District would also solve this problem, as I should have mentioned before.
- 10:47 AM, 11 August 2004 [link]
Our Porous Northern Border: Seattle PI columnist Joel Connelly does some reporting and highlights the obvious: Anyone with a few resources who wants to get into the United States illegally, can. Including terrorists.
ROSS LAKE -- The remote East Bank Trail, which snakes south from a campground at the U.S.-Canada border, would seem about the last place on Earth you'd expect to run into a 23-year-old aspiring Palestinian terrorist.Mezer was finally nailed by the police in New York, along with pipe bombs intended for the New York subway system.
I hiked along that border, though a little farther east, a few years ago, and can tell you that anyone who wants to cross the border illegally in the wilder areas can — with almost no risk of detection.
Why is the northern border so open? Connelly, a fervent supporter of the Clintons, gives us a hint.
During the 1990s, the U.S.-Canadian border was stripped of agents, even as Interstate 5 became a two-way drug corridor and rings charged as much as $20,000 to smuggle Asian illegals into the United States.That 16 hours sounds like a bad joke, but Connelly is correct. The northern border was stripped of agents because the southern border had even greater problems, or at least more flagrant problems.
Border security deteriorated under a president Connelly does not name; it has improved under another president, whom Connelly also does not name.
"We have triple the number of people now, and it's a lot better," said [assistant chief patrol agent Joseph] Giuliano. "But that presupposes we had adequate staff. In fact, we were grossly understaffed. In years gone by, we did not have resources on the ground to know what we were facing. We're just getting a handle on that now."How many people should we have protecting our northern border? That's a difficult strategic question. Frederick the Great of Prussia famously warned his generals that he who defends everywhere, defends nowhere. Trying to stop every possible crossing would use so many resources that we would be short in other areas. My feeling — and this is a problem that requires formal studies, probably with simulations, not feelings — is that we should have more people patrolling our borders.
(Connelly uses a common journalist's trick in the column. He does not connect Clinton with the deterioration, or Bush with the improvement. You see this trick all the time. The poor payroll figures for last month were tied directly to President Bush. If they are good next month, he will be given little credit.
Those who know Connelly only through his writing may be surprised to learn that he claims to be a moderate. After Connelly claimed he was a moderate on the Michael Medved talk show, Medved starting using the phrase, "Liberal Denial Syndrome", to describe such denials of the obvious. For what it is worth, I see Connelly more as a bristly partisan than a liberal ideologue, though he has supported nearly every liberal candidate in Washington state for decades.)
- 8:18 AM, 11 August 2004 [link]
Iraq Improves - NYT: Nearly all of the statistics in the New York Times quarterly chart on the state of Iraq show improvement, though the tone of the op-ed accompanying the chart is rather negative.
Several weeks into this new phase in Iraq, how well can we say the American-led occupation went, and how are things going now? While we know that the situation is not going to change overnight, our measures do not show much improvement in the quality of life for Iraqis since our last report on this page in May. Though the unemployment rate appears to be dropping and electricity production is rising, the economy is still not much better than it was under Saddam Hussein.If you look at the chart with a little bit of perspective, that text may remind you of Groucho's famous line, "Who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?" I believe the chart more than the authors.
First the good news. There were fewer troop fatalities for us and our coalition partners than in the previous quarter. There were fewer foreigners kidnapped, fewer foreigners killed, fewer Iraqi non-combatant fatalities, more Iraqi police officers trained, and more of the new Iraqi army trained. Estimated unemployment is down, oil exports are up, cooking oil is more available, electricity production is much higher, telephone service is 45 percent above pre-war levels, 500 more schools have been repaired, another billion dollars of US aid has been disbursed, 48 more health clinics have been renovated, and 1,000 more small loans have been disbursed.
Several statistics stayed constant. The coalition estimates that there are still 500 foreign fighters in Iraq, oil production is almost constant, and the number of judges vetted stayed constant (probably because of the regime changeover).
One statistic changed drastically for the worse; the coalition now estimates that there are 20,000 insurgents, up from 5,000. Or did it? That statistic is based on the scantiest of evidence and is inconsistent with the other trends. If there are four times as many insurgents as there were three months ago, then why are our combat deaths, and the deaths of the Iraqi non-combatants, down? More likely, we had no good estimate three months ago and probably don't have one now.
Those of you familiar with the New York Times editorials and their "bad children" columnists, Dowd, Krugman, and Herbert, will wonder whether the editorial writers or those columnists read these quarterly updates. So do I.
- 12:56 PM, 10 August 2004
More: The quality of the statistics in this summary vary greatly, as I hinted in the post. I am struck by the fact that two likely to be the most accurate (power production and telephone service) show big gains, while the most speculative, the number of insurgents, is the worst.
- 7:23 AM, 12 August 2004 [link]
Why Did John Kerry Bring Up Vietnam? As the charges from the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth begin to seep into the "mainstream" media, I return to the question I first raised months ago. As Bill Clinton's election and re-election showed, the American public is more than willing to move on from Vietnam. There was always the danger that opponents would attack Kerry's record in Vietnam, and there was the certainty that Vietnam veterans would attack his record as an anti-war protester. So it looked like the wrong issue for Kerry to raise, and certainly the wrong one to make the center of his campaign.
Part of the answer is obvious. He used his four months in Vietnam, first in the primaries, and now in the general election, to protect himself against charges of weakness on national security. After all, no one would call his Senate record hawkish, so he couldn't use that. But another part comes, I think, from the explanation I gave yesterday for his defensive election strategy; it worked for him in the past. More than once, Kerry used his Vietnam record (and his crewmates) to help win an election in Massachusetts. And many observers thought the issue and the crewmates made the difference in his come from behind victory in Iowa.
Will it keep it working? The anger on the left over any discussion of the subject (other than by Kerry) shows their fears. Those fears may be exaggerated; Kerry would not be the first veteran to make more of his service than the facts support, but I don't think they can be discounted entirely. It is quite possible, for example, that most Kerry events from now on will draw Vietnam veterans protesting against him. If that happens, the networks will try to ignore them, but will not succeed completely.
- 9:42 AM, 10 August 2004 [link]
Stonehenge has survived for 5,000 years.
But it is now threatened by badgers.
Determined digging by badgers living near Stonehenge, a 5000-year-old circle of megaliths, is damaging ancient archaeological artefacts and human remains.So why not trap the badgers? Or "cull" them in some other way, as the article gingerly puts it? Because badgers are considered endangered in Britain, and have been protected by law there since 1992. So the authorities are trying to control them without using deadly force.
This is a small story (unless you are an archaeologist who wants to study Stonehenge), but it contains some general lessons on the environment. Choosing to preserve one thing will often threaten another. Preservation often requires active management, not just leaving alone. For that reason, it is, in a sense, unnatural. The natural world, like Stonehenge, is always changing. In the long run, we can not stop changes; we can only try to manage them.
There's an example that may make those points clearer. The Eastern bluebird competes with the English sparrow for nesting sites, and usually loses in that competition. The natural result would be for the sparrow to displace it, perhaps entirely, over time. But birders have chosen to intervene and help the beautiful bluebird against its homely competitor. Some provide nestboxes with holes that the bluebird can enter but the sparrow can not. Others go farther and destroy sparrow nests where they compete with bluebirds. You might, like me, approve of these efforts to help the bluebird, or other attempts at preservation, but you should not fool yourself into thinking they are "natural".
(Are badgers actually in need of protection in Britain? I have no idea. I can say that "endangered" animals or plants are sometimes used to block projects in the United Sates. I have long thought that the "Northern spotted owl was used in just this way. It is not a separate species, as all agree, but part of a large population of spotted owls that stretches from Canada to Mexico, varying gradually through its range, as birds often do. The variation is so small that my Peterson Field Guide to Western Birds (third edition) does not even mention it.)
- 8:42 AM, 10 August 2004 [link]
Ever Wonder About Lizzie Borden? Florence King explains the woman who gave her mother and father 40 and 41 whacks, respectively, if one believes the old rhyme. Here's the National Review introduction to a classic article.
Twelve years ago this month National Review published what would become one of its most hosannaed articles — "A Wasp Looks at Lizzie Borden," by none other than America's most revered curmudgeons, Florence King. The multi-whacking ax murders of Andrew and Abby Borden, wrote Miss King, provided a perfect case study of Anglo-Saxon America. And the wonderful prose is the perfect case study of excellent writing. You absolutely must read this Tour de Force de Flo.The only thing left partly unexplained is why the jury acquitted Lizzie. I think King is still too much of a southern lady to be blunt, because she seems to think that the all male jury acquitted Lizzie because they didn't understand women, especially women as formidable as Lizzie Borden. If King had been on the jury, there would have been a different result, I'm sure.
(The tendency of jurors to be easier on defendants of the opposite sex continues, at least for some crimes. Male jurors, for example, are tougher on men accused of rape than women jurors are.)
- 4:06 PM, 9 August 2004 [link]
Our Arrogant Journalists: There is a belief that pops up, again and again, in surveys of journalists. They believe that they ought to set the agenda for our politics, but feel they don't. Whenever I see that belief, I grit my teeth and wonder why they think a few unelected journalists, barely responsible to their editors, should get to set the agenda for all the rest of us. It is not that they are especially well-educated, or even, considering their profession, especially well-informed.
There's a simple explanation for this in one of the better studies of journalists, The Media Elite. Throughout the study, the authors compared journalists to businessmen and found large differences in attitudes and beliefs.
The journalists scored higher on the need for power, fear of power, and narcissism, while businessmen scored higher on the need for achievement and the capacity for intimacy.(It is not relevant to this post, but businessmen would appear to be better marriage prospects than journalists.)
Having a need for power, but not in office, journalists feel that they ought to at least be able to decide what is on the agenda, which subjects can be discussed and, just as important, which subjects can not be discussed. That they have done nothing to earn this power seems not to occur to them.
I heard a typical example of this attitude this morning while listening to the talk show host substituting for Dave Ross* on KIRO 710. The station site does not identify him but he gave his name as Charles Jaco, and I am fairly sure this is the man. (If he is, you can learn why he might be available as a substitute host, here.)
A caller said, accusingly, that Bush and Kerry were the best that the media would allow as candidates. Jaco replied, more or less, "Would that it were so." And then went on to say that the media unfortunately did not have that power — though it was clear that he thought they should.
(How much power do the media actually have? It is hard to say, without specifying a particular situation. Journalists have more power than they will admit openly, and more than they ought to have, in a democratic society. They do act as gatekeepers, preventing both good ideas and good people from being considered.)
I have heard sentiments from journalists like those Jaco expressed many times; I have never heard a journalist worry about the power that these unelected, unrepresentative, and (almost completely) irresponsible people have. Never.
(*If you are not from this area, you may need to be told why Dave Ross needs a substitute. After many years as a liberal talk show host, he is running for Congress in the 8th district. Much to my amusement (in some moods) or disgust (in other moods), Ross, who has been a strong advocate of "campaign finance reform" for years and years, stayed at his job — after he had announced for Congress. In effect, KIRO gave him three hours a day, for weeks, to run political commercials, something literally worth millions of dollars — and paid him for those commercials.
Would Ross have objected if a Republican pulled the same stunt? The answer to that will be clear to anyone who has listened to Ross for long.)
- 2:17 PM, 9 August 2004 [link]
Massachusetts John Kerry: Politicians, like everyone else, tend to continue doing what has worked for them in the past. Politicians who step on to the national stage tend to continue using the tactics that worked in their home states. Often those tactics fail in the new arena. Bill Clinton often seemed confused on how to deal with the Republicans during his first two years as president, since he had no experience with a legislature in which both parties were important. (I don't recall the exact numbers, but I think the Republicans controlled about one fourth of the seats in the Arkansas legislature while Clinton was governor.) George Bush thought that he could reach out to the leadership of the Democratic party in Congress just as he had reached out to the Democratic leaders in the Texas legislature. (He would have done better to reach out to Democratic moderates and conservatives — and to Republican moderates.)
In this post, I wondered about John Kerry's curious strategy, of simply avoiding errors and waiting for an inevitable win. The explanation may lie in his experience in Massachusetts. The state is so heavily Democratic that a Democratic candidate can win simply by avoiding issues that might interest the voters. The 2004 Almanac of American Politics gives the party registration as 1,442,897 Democratic and just 530,512 Republican. (There are 1,999,242 independents.) The state senate has a 34-6 Democratic majority and the state house has a 136-23 Democratic majority.
Though the Democrats have large majorities, the state is not as liberal on cultural issues as many think. Majorities of the Democrats in the legislature there oppose gay marriage and a significant part of them oppose abortion. From what I can tell, those positions are not held just out of political expedience.
So the strategy that will work for most Democratic candidates in Massachusetts, most of the time is this: Emphasize party, and downplay issues, especially social issues like gay marriage and abortion. Is that a reasonable summary of Kerry's current strategy? I think so.
The even party balance in the rest of the nation is the largest reason that I am dubious about Kerry's strategy, but not the only one. The media in Massachusetts is dominated by the left even more than in most of the nation. Though Howie Carr of the Boston Herald may have opposed Kerry, nearly every other media figure supported Kerry — even though, it seems clear, many despised the man personally. Kerry is used to starting with both a big party advantage and coverage that did not exactly dig for faults in his record or promises. He won't have the first, and, thanks to talk radio and the internet, he won't have the second, either.
- 9:54 AM, 9 August 2004 [link]
Anti-Semitism And The Left: University of Washington professor Edward Alexander makes a necessary point: Anti-Semitism is now mostly found on the left, the reverse of a centuries old pattern. His first example is Al Sharpton, Democratic candidate for president and honored speaker at the Democratic convention.
One of the most prominent figures at John Kerry's nominating convention was the Rev. Al Sharpton, who seemed almost as fixed a presence at Kerry's side the night of his acceptance speech as were the nominee's wife and vice presidential candidate John Edwards.Imagine, if you can, how Democrats and the press would treat a white Republican with Sharpton's history. (If you are not familiar with Sharpton's misdeeds, here's a post with some samples.)
Alexander argues that the Democratic leadership (and, I would add, the press) tolerates anti-Semitism because Sharpton, and his other examples, are black. There is a word often used to describe those who think blacks should be held to lower standards than whites and Asians — racist.
There is one disturbing aspect to Sharpton's career that Alexander does not mention. It has long been clear, I think, that Sharpton, like most other demagogues, does not believe all of his own spiel. He has incited violence because that gains him popularity among a segment of the black population, not because he believes all his charges.
Some of the black anti-Semitism he appeals to may be spread by radical professors. Among whites, anti-Semitism decreases with education; among blacks it increases.
(Nearly all contributions by local college professors published in the two Seattle newspapers seem intended to discredit the professors and their institutions. Professor Alexander is a pleasant exception to that rule, although I do wonder whether he would be hired now, given the (informal) political tests on hiring in so many university departments.)
- 7:23 AM, 9 August 2004 [link]
Worth reading: Heather MacDonald's op-ed on how "privacy advocates" killed a passenger screening program that could have detected nine of the nineteen 9/11 hijackers.
The Department of Homeland Security has already shown itself a weakling in bureaucratic turf battles; its capitulation to the "privocrats" means it is all but toothless. It was just such a cave-in by the Clinton administration that eased the way for the 9/11 attacks. Under pressure from the Arab and rights lobbies, the Clintonites agreed in 1997 that passengers flagged as suspicious by the then-existing flight screening system would not be interviewed. Allowing security personnel to interview suspicious flyers, it was argued, would amount to racial and ethnic profiling. On 9/11, the predecessor to Capps II identified nine of the 19 hijackers as potentially dangerous, including all five terrorists aboard American Airlines Flight 77. But pursuant to the rights-dictated rules, the only consequence of that identification was that the hijackers' checked luggage was screened for hidden explosives. Had the killers themselves been interviewed, there is a significant chance that their plot would've been uncovered.(Capps = "Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System".)
It has been almost impossible, because of the wild charges made by those on the left, to have a sensible discussion of the problem of airplane security. I have long been impressed by the fact that the Israelis rely on screening passengers and then questioning a few of them intensively, exactly the measures that people like Hasbrouck want to stop.
- 6:10 AM, 9 August 2004 [link]