August 2004, Part 3
Jim Miller on Politics
More On The Venezuelan Referendum: Jimmy Carter, last seen with that apostle of truth, Michael Moore, says that Hugo Chávez won fair and square.
During the voting day, opposition leaders claimed to have exit-poll data showing the government losing by 20 percentage points, and this erroneous information was distributed widely. Results from each of the 20,000 machines were certified by poll workers and party observers and transmitted to central election headquarters in Caracas. As in all previous elections, paper ballots were retained under military guard. As predicted by most opinion polls and confirmed by our quick count, Mr. Chávez prevailed by a 59% to 41% margin.There you go again, Mr. Carter. The opposition did not just claim that they had exit poll data, they had it, from a firm that had polled for Bill Clinton. (The firm is defending its poll and hinting darkly that the election must have been rigged.)
Two Canadian observers, Ken Frankel and John Graham, say that Hugo Chávez won, but not fair and square.
Did the vote fairly represent the will of the people as endorsed by former U.S. president Jimmy Carter the following day? The answer is an annoying "yes and no."Thousands lost jobs. That might discourage some others from voting wrong, I would think. (Bonus points to Frankel and Graham for knowing who Herbert Matthews was and why he is still important.)
Carroll Andrew Morse has looked at some of the data and thinks the question of fraud is open.
At the time of this writing, the leadership of the opposition to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, the Coordinadora Democratica (CD), has not officially accepted Chavez's 58% - 42% victory in the August 15 recall referendum. On Friday afternoon, CD leaders presented evidence to Organization of American States (OAS) and Carter Center election observers alleging electronic tampering with the balloting. Chavez's government, unsurprisingly, dismisses this charge and demands that the opposition accept its defeat. The OAS and Carter Center, having observed a government audit of the election results, report no evidence of fraud.Morse suggests, reasonably, that the opposition be allowed to audit, or at least observe the audits of the areas where they found suspicious voting.
Carlos Alberto Montaner predicted defeat for Chávez and admits he was wrong.
I began this article conceding that I had erred by believing the electoral predictions in Venezuela. How did I err? I erred by believing that, faced with a huge defeat, Chávez would have to submit to the will of the people. Chávez was not counting on the people for his victory. A handful of crooked computer programmers would suffice. I should have realized this sooner. My regrets.Montaner made some of the same checks on the exit polls that I would have, and concludes that they were correct. He does not answer one charge, the claim that the firm's poll workers were chosen by the opposition. (I don't whether the charge is true, or even partly true, but it could explain why the exit poll was so far from the official result.)
Finally, Wired magazine has a survey of the charges and the evidence so far. There's enough, I would say, to merit further investigation — even though the New York Times and President Carter disagree.
Two American observers found the same faults with the process as Frankel and Graham did, and more.
Two American election observers, Curtis Reed and Steve Henley, a Democratic candidate running for supervisor of elections in Hillsborough County, Florida, were invited to Venezuela by the opposition parties and sent a letter to Capitol Hill describing what they saw.What do I think? I like Morse's suggestion for audits supervised by the opposition. And I think more attention should be paid to the problems described by Frankel, Graham, Reed, and Henley.
(An attentive emailer tells me that the Venezuela controversy has drawn little or no attention at Slashdot, which often has posts on the threats to democracy from electronic voting machines. Depends on who might be doing the cheating, I suppose.)
- 3:12 PM, 24 August 2004 [link]
Really, I'm not making this up.
A New Zealand man jailed for murdering a teenage girl has been awarded $NZ 1,200 compensation for his hurt feelings over a letter written about him, a tribunal said today.I haven't seen the letter, either. If my feelings were hurt, would I deserve compensation?
- 1:45 PM, 24 August 2004 [link]
Email Problems: Most are my fault. I got behind when a hard disk failed and have yet to catch up. The most recent are not. Today my provider, Seanet, has had its own hardware failure, and is predicting that mail will be blocked until 1 PM. So, if you sent me anything urgent in the last 24 hours, I haven't received it, and will not until sometime this afternoon, assuming all goes as planned.
- 9:56 AM, 24 August 2004 [link]
Official Military Reports And Other Dubious Sources: One would like to settle debates such as the one over John Kerry's Vietnam tales or the one over George H. W. Bush's attack on Chichi Jima with official military records. Unfortunately, even if the records exist, they may not always be reliable. To show why that is so, I will begin with a famous commander, support the idea with a quip, and add evidence from a famous military historian.
Napoleon's official reports of his battles and campaigns are often as much propaganda as accurate accounts of what happened. He used them to spread myths about how far ahead he saw in battles, and to conceal his mistakes. Even now, historians have to struggle to determine what actually happened in many of his battles — because Napoleon's reports are biased and sometimes false.
Napoleon was not the only officer to embellish and distort his reports. Hermann Balck, a Panzer general in World War II, once quipped cynically that he hated it when a subordinate was transferred away from him, because, over time, he was able to learn how much each of his subordinate lied in his reports. All of them lied, thought Balck, but it was important to know how much each did, so that he could get closer to the true picture.
Samuel Eliot Morison, author of the History of United States Naval Operations in World War II, didn't put it that cynically when he described some German records he analyzed after the war, but he made the same point about the biases. In the first volume of his history, The Battle of the Atlantic, 1939-1943, he used German records to verify British and American sources. He has this to say about one set of primary sources.
German submarine logs are not uniformly reliable. Most of those consulted appear to have been written up after return to base from rough notes, memory and guesswork, and from knowledge received ashore; bluff and bravado characterize many. (p. xvii)(Morison does say that a headquarters document, the "War Diary of the German Submarine Command" is "on the whole a realistic and reliable source".)
In sum, official military reports will contain the mistakes common to all eye witness reports, especially those from people under stress. They will also contain propaganda, lies, guesswork, bluff, and bravado.
(The Chicago Sun Times does not share my skepticism about military reports and is calling for Kerry to release all of his. Strangely, they also say that Bush should release all of his, though, as I understand it, Bush has authorized their release, though not all may have been found.
In the same editorial, they make an interesting point about an editor at a competing newspaper.
But when a man's honor is being besmirched, as John Kerry's has been, you would expect his former buddies to leap to his aid. There is something disquieting in the silence of Chicago Tribune editor William B. Rood, who says he knew of facts supporting the beleaguered Democratic candidate and his account of events, but said nothing and did nothing until the campaign came looking for him and asked for his support. Only then did he come forward with his story.Yes, it does make one wonder. Especially since, as I just mentioned, John O'Neill of the SwiftVets has been willing to answer questions, in public, on the record.)
- 9:37 AM, 24 August 2004 [link]
Weird: John Kerry is doing his first interview since attacking the SwiftVets. On a comedy show.
When John Kerry decided it was time to do his first national TV interview since the Swift boaters for Bush launched their attack on the senator's Vietnam War record, he did not choose CBS's "60 Minutes," ABC's "Nightline" or "NBC Nightly News."(Note, by the way, the dishonest "Swift boaters for Bush" I'll complain to the Post ombudsman about that. Almost certainly, he will ignore the complaint.)
This reminds me of Kerry's weird attempt to deflect Russert's question about his 1971 war crimes charges with a joke about his hair.
Why did Kerry pick Comedy Central for this? Because the host, Jon Stewart, is a Democratic partisan who does not claim to be a journalist. A journalist would have to ask Kerry something about the substance of the charges, if he wanted to remain respectable. Stewart won't.
The executive producer of the show makes it clear that Kerry will not face tough questioning.
"All of us [on 'The Daily Show'] are just blown away by the turn the campaign has taken," Karlin said. "We cannot believe that this is what is being talked about at this juncture. It's so astounding to us. We are trying to work through our amazement and to conduct a meaningful conversation absent of incredulity, because [the interview] is not going to go anywhere if you just say, 'What the [expletive] is going on?'"That isn't how I recall the 2000 campaign, where many journalists hounded Bush on just those questions, while giving Gore a pass on his marijuana use.
I have been inclined to think that the truth about what Kerry did in Vietnam was somewhere between his version and the SwiftVets' version. But when he chooses a supportive commedian as an interviewer to answer their charges, I get more suspicious about his version. In contrast, John O'Neill, the lead spokesman for the SwiftVets, has been willing to speak, on the record, to every journalist who has asked him for time.
(As always, I should add that I do not think Kerry's time in Vietnam, whether as honorable as he claims or as dubious as the SwiftVets say, should be a big factor in judging his fitness for the presidency. If the issue continues to be prominent, I suppose I will have to write a standard disclaimer expanding this point.)
- 7:40 AM, 24 August 2004
Follow Up: Via the Instapundit, I learned that Stewart did ask Kerry whether he had been in Cambodia, that Kerry did not answer the question, and that Kerry has been avoiding the press, perhaps because they might, I say might, press him on that question and others, unlike Stewart.
- 8:17 AM, 25 August 2004 [link]
Chester Mierzejewski: If that name is familiar, then you are better on political trivia than most. Who is he? A World War II gunner and a minor figure in the 1988 and 1992 elections. Here's the story, taken from Robert B. Stinnett's book, George Bush: His World War II Years.
For 44 years, George Bush's attack on the Mt.Yoake radio complex and subsequent shootdown was considered to on of many heroic but tragic events in the Pacific theater. For this heroism in action, he was decorated with the Distinguished Flying Cross, and award presented in the name of the President of the United States.Mierzejewski said that Bush could have tried for a splash landing, which would have given his two crewmen a better chance to escape than bailing out did. (Two parachutes were seen leaving the plane, but only Bush's opened.)
There were five surviving eye witnesses besides Mierzejewski; four disagree with his account, and one did not reply to Stinnett's request for interviews. Stinnett says that all the official records support Bush's version. (Bush himself seems to have told the story differently over the years, something that does not surprise me, given the time that had passed.) Almost certainly, Mierzejewski saw the incident wrong under wartime pressure, remembered it wrong years afterward, or both.
There's an obvious cautionary lesson here for Kerry's supporters and for the SwiftVets. In action, men see different things, and afterwards their memories drift away from what actually happened. If I were to guess, I would say that the SwiftVets may have more truth on their side than Kerry's supporters do, but I am certain that we will never resolve some of the disputes.
And there's another general lesson. Some Democrats used Mierzejewski to try to discredit Bush's service in World War II in both 1988 and 1992. (Sidney Blumenthal was the main hitman in 1992, but he was just picking up an attack from the previous election.)
In the 1992 election, other attacks were more important. For example, Democrats spread a rumor that George H. W. Bush had been unfaithful to Barbara. (Hillary Clinton made sure the attack got in the the newspapers, an act both nasty and, considering her husband's activities, pitiful.)
Democratic attacks didn't end with Bush's retirement. In 1996, cartoonist Gary Trudeau drew an incredibly nasty cartoon, mocking Bob Dole's World War II wounds. If Newsmax is correct, no one in the media other than Sam Donaldson thought the Trudeau cartoon out of bounds. Nor was that the only attack. The Nation magazine ran a piece by one Robert B. Ellis, attacking Dole's entire combat record.
Democrats who argue that criticism of John Kerry's Vietnam record is out of bounds are a little late in making that argument.
- 2:13 PM, 23 August 2004
Corrections And Amplifications: I have re-written the post above to correct some minor mistakes and to remove an ambiguity. There were six surviving eye witnesses when Stinnet began his book, not four as I originally wrote. Four supported Bush, Mierzejewski did not, and a sixth did not answer Stinnett's letters. Mierzejewski's attack was an issue in both 1988 and 1992, not just the first election, as I implied. It was in 1992 that Sidney Blumenthal made his attack, which you can read about here.
- 8:17 AM, 24 August 2004 [link]
Well, That's OK Then: This Washington Post correction has an interesting bottom line.
An Aug. 22 article incorrectly stated the cost of Sen. John F. Kerry's health care plan without an estimated $300 billion in proposed savings. The cost would be nearly $1 trillion.Instead of $1.3 trillion, presumably. Most likely that's over ten years, in either case. Maybe I missed it, but I don't recall seeing the $1 trillion in Kerry's ads. There are many things wrong with our health care system, but too little spending is not one of them.
- 12:44 PM, 23 August 2004 [link]
Worth A Look: This beautiful composite map of the earth at night. The map has been around for years, though the Slashdot crowd, where I found it, didn't recognize it. Map stores often have copies of it for sale, or you can get your own picture file here.
Is there a political point to the map? Yes, many. The lights show energy use and literally highlight the differences between nations and areas within nations. For example, the DMZ separating prosperous and democratic South Korea from poverty stricken communist North Korea shows up starkly. You can see similar differences comparing the Carribean islands of Puerto Rico and Cuba.
And you can find history in the map, too. For example, if you zoom in on the American Midwest, you will see the lines of towns following the major rail routes.
- 10:53 AM, 23 August 2004 [link]
Whom The Gods Would Destroy, they first make mad. If there is any truth to that old, old saying, then many Kerry supporters are in danger of destruction. For an example, consider the encounter between Michelle Malkin and Chris Matthews on Hardball. Malkin is, of course, a partisan, but her account is supported by the transcript, And her conclusions will seem fair to anyone who has heard even part of the interchanges.
I am used to playing hardball. I expect it. I am used to ad hominem attacks. I get more in a day than most of these wussies have received in their lifetimes. But what happened last night was pure slimeball and the unfair, unbalanced, and unhinged purveyors of journalism, or whatever it is they call what they do at MSNBC, should be ashamed.Why would they be driven mad by the SwiftVet's charges? Because many of them thought — against the evidence, I would say — that the election was as good as won for Kerry. Now they see power slipping away from them again, and they can't stand it.
(So will the "Democrat Party waterboys in the media" be destroyed? Not literally, of course, but what is left of their credibility is disappearing fast.
I think Malkin went too far when she used the phrase, "self-inflicted", to describe Kerry's wounds in Vietnam. Though it includes accidents in combat, many would take it to mean something far worse, and conclude that Kerry had shot himself intentionally, or done something similar. It would be better if she had said that the SwiftVets think that Kerry's wounds were the result of accidents, not enemy fire,)
- 9:00 AM, 23 August 2004 [link]
Two Of The Three Narratives concerning Kerry and Vietnam are now known to much of the public, and I think it almost certain that the third will be known soon, as well. (In March, in this post, I described the three narratives, Kerry's own in which he was a hero in Vietnam, the competing story in which he was a publicity seeking hotdog, and the story of his time as a far left anti-Vietnam activist.) The SwiftVets have succeeded in getting the second out, as polls are beginning to show, and are now working on the third.
I don't claim to be prescient. That the two other narratives were likely to come out seemed about as obvious as that opponents would say something about Clinton's womanizing in 1992. But Clinton's team was prepared for "bimbo eruptions" and Kerry's team was not prepared for veteran eruptions. Why not? I am not sure. Part of the reason, surely, is that Clinton is a far slicker politician than Kerry, better able to see how opponents might attack him. Part of it, I think, is that Clinton, on some level, did see his womanizing as wrong, but Kerry does not see anything he did, either in Vietnam, or afterwards, as wrong. That would explain why Kerry has never apologized for his extreme statements in 1971, as Bob Dole is now calling on him to do.
Dole told CNN's "Late Edition" that he warned Kerry months ago about going "too far" and that the Democrat may have himself to blame for the current situation, in which polls show him losing support among veterans.So Kerry was warned, but ignored the warning.
Critics of Bush often claim that he is rigid, unwilling to change his views with new information. On Vietnam, that would appear to apply more to Kerry. He seems stuck in 1971, unwilling to soften his views, even when it would benefit him politically. (I was struck by the way Kerry dodged a chance to soften his stand when Tim Russert replayed part of his 1971 Senate testimony on Meet the Press. It would have been so easy for Kerry to say that he had gone too far and that he would not say that now. But he wouldn't, conceding only that his language may have been too harsh.) That rigidity on Vietnam is not encouraging, It makes me wonder what other false ideas are stuck, permanently, in Kerry's head.
(Kerry is hardly the only Democratic politician of his era to have this problem. But most others seem to understand that making Vietnam the center of their campaigns is unwise.
The Instapundit suggested a different strategy for Kerry here. Whatever you think of the merits of the strategy, it seems certain that Kerry could have avoided many political problems if he had followed it.)
- 7:47 AM, 23 August 2004 [link]
Three Election Problems: In Palm Beach county, they are having problems with ballot design, again. Or at least so the critics charge.
Palm Beach County is the only county in South Florida where absentee voters are asked to connect the arrow next to a candidate's name instead of filling in a bubble. Miami-Dade, Broward, Martin and St. Lucie counties all ask voters to bubble in.Could better graphics design improve ballots? In many cases, including recent ballots in this area.
Electronic voting machines are difficult for some election workers to program.
ESPAÑOLA, N.M. -- Four years ago, about 2,300 voters traveled the winding roads through this remote county to cast their ballots before Election Day on state-of-the-art, push-button electronic voting machines. For 678 of them, their votes were never recorded.Many areas are switching to these machines in search of a technical fix for management and ballot design problems. I think they are making a mistake.
(Which technology do you prefer? For now, optical ballots, with readers at the polling places so voters can check their votes. But I will have to check some of the academic studies for more data. There is no fool proof voting technology. And there never will be.)
Finally, and by far the most important, some voters are preparing to vote twice.
Some 46,000 New Yorkers are registered to vote in both the city and Florida, a shocking finding that exposes both states to potential abuses that could alter the outcome of elections, a Daily News investigation shows.As far as I could tell from the reports after the 2000 election, Democrats gained more from these illegal Florida votes than Republicans did. (The difference in registration doesn't tell the whole story, since people with homes in the Midwest also register in Florida, and they are more likely to be Republicans.)
One more reason to worry about fraud this November.
- 6:32 PM, 22 August 2004 [link]
B-b-bring on g-global w-warming, says Rex Murphy, writing from Canada, which has had a cold summer.
With all due respect to those furrowed brows that have worried the world into the Kyoto Protocol, I do not think that sufficient attention has been given to the question of whether many people might be looking forward to what those same brows have been urging us to dread.That some areas would benefit from a modest amount of global warming is well known to serious climatologists. For some reason, that point doesn't make it into many newspaper articles on the subject. And I have yet to see a serious attempt to estimate possible benefits of global warming, at least in a "mainstream" newspaper.
(Here's my standard disclaimer on global warming for those who have not seen it.)
- 3:22 PM, 22 August 2004 [link]
Our Careless Journalists: Wishful thinking, or just sloppiness?
Remember all the spin and counter-spin about how much bounce in the polls, if any, Kerry would get from the Democratic National Convention?Paul Farhi's claim that Kerry had cut into Bush's lead here in Washington state caught my eye, and so I checked the poll results at Real Clear Politics. President Bush has never had a lead in Washington state this year, not even in polls run by Republican polling firms, so Kerry could not have "cut into his lead".
This made me wonder about the other claims in the article. On Florida, Farhi appears to be correct — though the very latest poll puts Kerry's margin at just 1 percent. Kerry has not improved his position in Michigan, where his leads in the two latest polls (3 percent and 4 percent) are lower that most of his leads this year. Nor has he improved his position in Minnesota, where his leads (2 percent and 3 percent) in the two latest polls are also lower than most of his leads this year. Nor has he improved his position in Pennsylvania; in July his lead there averaged 6 percent, in August, 5 percent. The one August poll taken in New Hampshire gives Kerry a lead of 7 percent, just a tad higher than the average of the polls taken there in July, 5.7 percent. Kerry did regain (not gain) a lead in West Virginia during July — assuming you trust Zogby — but there are no polls from August to showing that he kept the lead. Arizona is harder to judge, because the polls there vary so widely, and there is no August poll. If we compare the results from the same firms, for example, SUSA's 3/17 and 7/12 results, we don't see any significant gains for Kerry, with one exception, the KAET poll, which I have never heard of.
Farhi is right to say that Colorado and Tennessee look more competitive, but he omits the most recent result from a state too small to mention, apparently, California, where Kerry's lead is just 3 percent in the latest poll.
Let's summarize. Farhi is right on Florida, Colorado, and Tennessee. He is wrong on Washington, Michigan, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania. He is probably wrong on New Hampshire, West Virginia, and Arizona. And he said nothing about California. If reporters can't get simple things like poll results right, why we should we trust them on more complex matters?
(I can't prove it, but I think both wishful thinking and sloppiness explain all these mistakes.)
- 11:48 AM, 22 August 2004
Update: Gallup now puts Bush ahead in Florida among likely voters, by 48 percent to 46 percent.
- 6:40 AM, 24 August 2004 [link]
If There Is A Tie In The Electoral College this November, what would happen? Bush would win, almost certainly. Here's why.
According to the Constitution, if no candidate receives a majority of electoral votes, the House of Representatives is supposed to immediately choose a president from among the top three candidates. The vote is done by delegation; so, for example, Ohio's 20 House members would cast a single vote for president. Since Republicans have a majority in the Ohio delegation, it is probably safe to assume that the state would vote to reelect Bush.If Bush lost the popular vote and tied in the electoral college, there would be great pressure on Republicans in the House to deny him a win, but I don't think it would succeed.
Just to confuse matters further, the Senate chooses the vice president, so were the Democrats to win control of the Senate, John Edwards might oust Dick Cheney.
(The authors, two political scientists, give a rough estimate for the chance of a tie in the electoral college, 1.5 percent. I have not checked their reasoning, but the number does not seem implausible.
And they mention an interesting bit of history. The writers of the Constitution expected George Washington to be the first president. After that, most expected the House of Representatives to choose the president in nearly all cases. They expected, to put it in modern terms, that the electoral college would nominate candidates, and that the House would choose from those nominated. That's happened only once, in 1824, when the House had to select from Adams, Jackson, and Clay.  (In 1800, the House also had to decide, because of a flaw, corrected in the 12th amendment, that allowed the presidential and vice presidential candidates, Jefferson and Burr, to tie.))
- 10:11 AM, 22 August 2004 [link]
Our Tinfoil Hat New York Times: Like many other bloggers, I was both amused and offended by the New York Times attack on the Swiftboat Veterans for Truth. But I was just amused by the elaborate diagram of connections that they used to illustrate the article, a diagram that showed, to no one's surprise, that backers of an ad that attacks Kerry are mostly Republicans. Readers were supposed to infer that the group was just a front for Republicans, and Texas Republicans at that.
This inspired me to do my own diagram, which shows, with equal validity, that the New York Times is just a front for Bill Clinton. (I just drew one connection; anyone who wants to take the time can add many others starting with the editorial board.)
The difference between me and the Times is that I know that my diagram is mostly a joke, but they don't realize that theirs is. (Mine isn't entirely a joke. I do think that Gail Collins has made the editorial board more partisan. For all his many faults, her predecessor, Howell Raines, was more principled and less tied to a single party than she is.)
- 11:08 AM, 21 August 2004 [link]
Long Distance Teleportation: Of quantum states.
Researchers from the University of Vienna and the Austrian Academy of Science used an 800m-long optical fibre fed through a public sewer system tunnel to connect labs on opposite sides of the River Danube.Researchers have done this for shorter distances in labs before, but not in these "real world" conditions.
When I read about these experiments, or other accounts of the spooky world of quantum mechanics, I am always left partly baffled. I suspect English (and every other language) is as unsuited for quantum mechanics as the Pirahã's "one, two, many" is for arithmetic.
(Wondering about "Alice" and "Bob"? These names are often used to denote senders and receivers in encryption. A quantum computer would be able to solve encryption problems that are beyond conventional computers, so Alice and Bob are natural choices for the names, even in Vienna.)
- 8:39 AM, 21 August 2004 [link]
One, Two, Many? You have probably heard about primitive tribes who had only those words for numbers. A new study on a tribe in the Amazon, that has those limitations, has revived an old debate.
Psychologists, anthropologists and linguists have long wondered whether animals, young children or certain cultures can conceptualize numbers without the language to describe them.Score one for Whorf, I would say.
- 10:45 AM, 20 August 2004 [link]
Hate Crime? Not in this case.
EVERETT — Police say the owner of a Middle Eastern grocery damaged by arson last month set fire to the store and tried to make it look like a hate crime in an attempt to collect from his insurance.Akram asked for support from the Seattle branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, and got it. No word on whether CAIR will apologize if Akram is found guilty.
(Curiously, the Seattle PI version of this story is so truncated that it even leaves out Akram's name. You get the feeling that an editor at the PI really, really didn't want to run the story.
There was an arson attack on a mosque in this area shortly after 9/11. It did no significant damage. After it occurred, the mosque neighbors set up a watch. As I recall, the man who attempted to set the fire was arrested soon afterwards.)
- 9:35 AM, 20 August 2004 [link]
Kerry Versus Kerry: William Kristol draws attention to a significant shift in Kerry's position on American troop deployments.
On Monday, during a speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars, President Bush announced that he intends to modify the configuration of American forces in both South Korea and Europe. On Wednesday, Sen. Kerry, speaking before the same audience, sharply criticized the president's decision.And what is Kerry's real position, that we should withdraw troops from Europe, and possibly Korea, or that we should not? I honestly don't know. I think it fair to say that the first position is more consistent with others he has taken during his political career, beginning with his desire to remove American troops from Vietnam.
What to make of this shift? Kristol thinks Kerry is being an opportunist. But, if so, he is a terribly clumsy opportunist, since he could have found ways to sound strong at the VFW convention without contradicting what he had said just weeks before. I won't deny that Kerry, like most politicians, is an opportunist at times, but I think the explanation for this shift may lie elsewhere. The 2004 Almanac of American Politics noted that Kerry "has been known to speak in private with contempt not only of George W. Bush, but also of Bill Clinton". I think that contempt for Bush may have led Kerry to make his attack at the VFW convention, and to forget that he had speculated about similar troop withdrawals just weeks before. Deciding that an idea is bad because some idiot favors it is a common mistake, one I have made myself.
If contempt for Bush is what led Kerry to make this blunder, we should worry. Strategic decisions should not be made out of personal pique.
(Kerry's first position is the correct one, in my opinion. For more than ten years, I have favored the withdrawal of nearly all our troops from Germany. I'll have more to say about this in a later post.)
- 9:05 AM, 20 August 2004 [link]
Violence And Fraud In The Venezuela Referendum: Thor Halvorssen is, despite what you might think from his name, a Venezuelan citizen. He was "mysteriously erased from the voter rolls" and preventing from voting in the referendum. While he was protesting that, celebrating Chávez supporters shot protestors, including his mother, and mauled his grandparents.
A 61-year-old grandmother was shot in the back as she ran for cover. The bullet ripped through her aorta, kidney and stomach. She later bled to death in the emergency room. An opposition congressman was shot in the shoulder and remains in critical care. Eight others suffered severe gunshot wounds. Hilda Mendoza Denham, a British subject visiting Caracas for her mother's 80th birthday, was shot at close range with hollow-point bullets from a high-caliber pistol. She now lies sedated in a hospital bed after a long and complicated operation. She is my mother.Halvorssen recounts the Chávez's efforts to rig the election.
The recall referendum process has been obstructed and delayed at every turn. Dozens of independent polls predicted defeat for Col. Chávez , who did everything--including granting citizenship to half a million illegal aliens in a crude vote-buying scheme and "migrating" existing voters away from their local election office--to fix the results in his favor. One opposition leader was moved to a voting center in a city seven hours away. Another man, Miguel Romero, had for years voted in his neighborhood school in a Caracas suburb. But this time the Electoral Council computer indicated that he was to vote at the Venezuelan Embassy in Stockholm. Thousands of others, like me, were wiped from the voting rolls. Ironically, in the runup to the vote, the embassy in Stockholm, like Venezuelan diplomatic posts around the world, inexplicably ran out of passports. Many Venezuelan expatriates were thus prevented from returning to their country to vote.The company which made the electronic voting machines used in Venezuela has an interesting background.
Many in the opposition are baffled by the inverse relationship between the projected numbers and those reported by the Chávez regime. One possible clue to this remarkable phenomenon lies with the companies hired to supply the voting machines and the software. Smartmatic Corp., a Florida company that has never before supplied election machinery, is owned by two Venezuelans. The software came from Bizta Software, owned by the same two people. The Miami Herald recently revealed that the Chávez regime spent $200,000 last year to purchase 28% of Bizta and put a government official and longtime Chávez ally on the board. After the story broke, Bizta bought back the government-held shares and the official resigned from the board. But not until after the two companies were granted a significant part of the $91 million contract for the referendum. Executives at both Smartmatic and Bizta have denied any political allegiance to the Chávez regime and have issued public statements saying the contract was awarded purely on the merits.Chávez tried to rig an election in many ways, as nearly everyone admits. Is it unreasonable to suspect that he may have cheated in the vote count?
(Fans of the New York Times, such as myself, will be struck by the differing standards the newspaper has for elections in the United States and in Venezuela. The Times has been telling us for months about the dangers of electronic election machines in the United States. Yesterday, the same editorialists who find them unsatisfactory here demanded that we accept the result in Venezuela — which was recorded on electronic voting machines.)
- 10:02 AM, 19 August 2004 [link]
Those Strange July Job Numbers, Again: When the report came out that the nation had added just 32,000 payroll jobs in July, I expressed my skepticism about their accuracy here. Now, this very positive report for the state of Washington makes me even more skeptical about the July payroll survey.
Despite sluggish job growth nationally, Washington rebounded in July, adding 11,600 positions and renewing optimism that the economy is recovering.Washington state has roughly 1/50 of the population of the United States. How plausible is it that the state would have 1/3 of the nation's job gains? Especially considering that one of its biggest employers, Boeing, was not expanding its payroll last month. (Boeing plans to add 3,000 jobs during this next year.) This discrepancy makes me doubt both the national job figures and the state job figures.
Which is correct? I can't say, but the Washington figures do not seem to have been "corrected" in the same way that the national job figures were. If I had to guess, I would say that both are wrong, but that the national job figures are more wrong.
(Even though Boeing has not started hiring, there were 1,200 more manufacturing jobs in the state last month.)
- 8:33 AM, 19 August 2004
More: Numbers showing July jobs gains in Wisconsin also seem inconsistent with the national numbers.
The Wisconsin job scene continued to improve last month as factory employment grew again and the unemployment rate dropped below 5% for only the second time in nearly three years, the state Department of Workforce Development reported Thursday.According to the article, Wisconsin added 5,600 manufacturing jobs last month. Fewer than 1 in 5 jobs are in manufacturing, nationally. Job gains in manufacturing are nearly always accompanied by job gains in services (but not the other way around). It is possible that Wisconsin gained 5,600 manufacturing jobs while the nation as a whole gained only 32,000 payroll jobs, but it is highly unlikely.
- 10:20 AM, 20 August 2004 [link]
The Beer Bear: I can't find a political point to this story, but it is funny.
BAKER LAKE, Wash. Aug. 17, 2004 — Rain-eeeeer .... Bear? When state Fish and Wildlife agents recently found a black bear passed out on the lawn of Baker Lake Resort, there were some clues scattered nearby dozens of empty cans of Rainier Beer.Rainier is a local brand, but Busch is not.
(For those not from this area, the "Rain-eeeeer" may need an explanation. Some years ago, the Rainier company ran ads showing a motorcycle passing and then heading toward Mt. Rainier with a strange voice saying "Rain-eeeeer Beeeeer". They exaggerated the Doppler shifts in frequency, which made it sound even stranger. The ads were hard to forget, but I don't know whether they sold any beer.)
- 6:57 AM, 19 August 2004 [link]
The Shifting Party Balance: In my original prediction for the November presidential election, I said that the two parties have "roughly equal numbers of identifiers", that there were about the same number of Republicans as Democrats. Because Republicans are more likely to vote than Democrats, this gave Bush a small advantage from the start.
I now believe that enough voters have shifted away from the Republican party so that the Democrats now have a slight edge. Probably. I say probably, because the shift is small enough so that I can not be absolutely certain. Here are some numbers from the latest Pew poll.
The Democratic Party has achieved a small gain in party affiliation and holds a 33%-29% edge over the GOP in Pew surveys conducted in 2004. This represents a modest shift from the two year period following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, when the Republican Party had drawn virtually even with the Democrats.The Pew researchers do not give a reason for the shift to the Democrats, but I think I may have one. This year has brought much good economic news, but the voters now have a much less positive picture of the economy than they had at the beginning of the year. Gallup was not analyzing that paradox, but measuring the changes in attitudes in three groups of states: red (Republican), blue (Democratic), and purple (swing). Here's what Gallup found.
Recent Gallup Poll data show substantial differences in the way Americans in core Democratic states and those in core Republican states rate the nation's economy. Residents of Republican states express a greater amount of optimism about the economy, while those living in Democratic states show much more pessimism. Americans living in the highly important showdown states -- those that narrowly went for President George W. Bush or former Vice President Al Gore in the 2000 election -- rate the economy somewhere in the middle.Gallup does not discuss the shift toward a less positive view of the economy in the three groups of states, but they do supply the data for a series of polls beginning with one taken January 2-5 and ending with one taken Jul 30-Aug 1. They have a question on the state of the economy (excellent, good, fair, or poor) and one on the direction of the economy (better or worse). The trend is the same for both questions. I'll use the second, because it is simpler.
Percent Saying Economy Is Getting Better, by Poll Date
In the last seven months, optimism about the economy has decreased, even as the economy has improved. Why? I think the main reason is the Democratic nomination campaign; the numbers saying the economy was improving dropped sharply in the first three months in all three groups of states. Since then, the numbers saying the economy was getting better increased markedly in the Republican states, slightly in the swing states, and not at all in the Democratic states. This pattern makes sense if we assume that Democratic voters are more likely to accept arguments from Democratic leaders, and that Republican voters more likely to accept arguments from Republican leaders.
Some voters, I am speculating, moved away from the Republican party during this period, because they lost faith in the direction of the economy. This, I think, is the main reason that the Democrats now have a small edge in identifiers.
Will this edge last until the election? I am not sure about that. One could argue that the fact of the improving economy will become evident in the next few months, even to Democratic voters, but that is not certain. And Republicans would be unwise to count on help from the "mainstream" media in getting the facts out. If I were Karl Rove, I would be advising Bush to run commercials boasting about job growth and the other good economic numbers.
If the Democratic edge continues or increases, then I will have to revise my election prediction, of course.
(Two technical points: First, Pew puts the current Democratic edge at 33 to 29 percent. If you see national polls with much bigger margins for the Democrats — as you sometime do — you should be very skeptical about all the results from that poll.
Second, another way to measure the national party balance is to look at the "generic" vote for Congress, the percent who say they will vote for the Republican or Democratic candidate for Congress. Here's a whole set of results for that question from different polling organizations. Gallup's numbers would lead me to think that the balance between the two parties is even; some of the other polling organizations give such large margins to the Democrats as to call into question all of their other results. I am certain, for example, that the Los Angeles Times poll, which gives the Democrats a 54-35 edge, undersamples Republicans by a very large amount. You probably remember how badly off they were on the Gray Davis recall; it looks to me as though they have not corrected their sampling errors.)
- 2:48 PM, 18 August 2004 [link]
Enrique ter Horst, a Venezuelan lawyer, and former assistant secretary general of the United Nations, says that evidence of fraud in the Venezuelan referendum on President Hugo Chávez is growing.
The perception that a massive electronic fraud led to President Hugo Chávez's mandate not being cut short in the recall referendum on Sunday is rapidly gaining ground in Venezuela. All exit polls carried out on the day had given the opposition an advantage of between 12 percent and 19 percent. But preliminary results announced by the government-controlled National Electoral Council at 3:30 a.m. gave Chávez 58.2 percent of the vote, against 41.7 percent for the opposition.And ter Horst has more evidence of fraud. If these stories are true, then Jimmy Carter and other international observers were much too quick to conclude that the results were fair.
Here's what today's New York Times editorial says about the referendum on President Chávez.
It is time for President Hugo Chávez's opponents to stop pretending that they speak for most Venezuelans. They do not, as the failure of a recall referendum, promoted by the opposition, decisively demonstrated on Sunday.Now Enrique ter Horst may be biased. I know nothing about his background, other than what I have given you, or his views. But it seems likely that he knows a little more about Venezuela than the New York Times editorial board.
Finally, a wonderful bit of irony: The ter Horst piece was published in the International Herald Tribune — a subsidiary of the New York Times.
(One interesting technical question: How good are the exit polls in Venezuela? If they are any good, then the evidence for fraud, and enough fraud to tip the result, is conclusive. I expected the exit polls to underestimate the opposition to Chávez, for somewhat the same reasons polls underestimated the opposition to the Sandinistas before their defeat.)
- 10:38 AM, 18 August 2004
More; The Washington Post has a more sensible editorial on the dispute, recognizing that not all the facts are in. The Guardian attacks one of the exit polls because it was conducted by a US firm with connections to the opposition. (Ter Horst said there were exit polls, plural. I still have not seen any information on the others.)
- 9:25 AM, 19 August 2004 [link]
A Good Place To Start the evaluation of John Kerry, post Vietnam, is with the famous debate on the Dick Cavett show, his first clash with the leader of the SwiftVets, John O'Neill. Jonathan Gewirtz has seen it, and has these thoughts.
I was struck by the substantive differences between Kerry and O'Neill's worldviews, and by the extent to which their respective arguments have held up since. O'Neill cautioned that precipitate withdrawal of American forces and support from South Vietnam could lead to a bloodbath -- a suggestion that Kerry scoffed at. The passage of time reveals that O'Neill was prescient and Kerry was naive.I think that one of the best ways to evaluate a politician is to examine his past predictions. Those predictions come out of his worldview, which changes slowly, if at all. Very simply, if he was wrong in his predictions, he almost certainly has a badly flawed world view.
Read the whole post. (And if you happen to know where I can find a transcript of the debate, let me know.)
- 8:49 AM, 18 August 2004 [link]
Why The Kerry Campaign Wants To Suppress The SwiftVets Ad: Because it is effective.
Vietnam veterans opposing John Kerry have scored a hit with a tough TV ad that claims he lied about his war record — it makes swing voters think twice about backing Kerry, an independent study has found.Professor Chris Borrick of Muhlenberg College, who headed the study, is also studying the MoveOn ad that replies to the SwiftVets. So far that ad does not seem to be effective. (Professor Borrick leans Democratic, by the way.)
I should add that, as far as I am concerned, Kerry's Vietnam record, whether it is as good as he claims, or as bad as the SwiftVets say, will only a small part of my evaluation of his fitness to be president. I am far more interested in what Senator Kerry did, in almost 20 years, than in what Lieutenant Kerry did, in just over four months.
- 7:56 AM, 18 August 2004 [link]
Global Cooling This Year: No, really. Here's the story.
For Canadians who have spent the summer asking where summer has gone, new satellite observations show we're not alone.And neither a warm year nor a cool year should be considered proof that the climate is changing — by itself.
The summer in this area has been warmer and drier than average, which some have taken as evidence for global warming, not noticing the different weather in much of Canada, or elsewhere.
(Here's my standard disclaimer on global warming.)
- 7:35 AM, 18 August 2004 [link]
Gulfstream Liberals: They used to be "limousine liberals", now they are Gulfstream liberals, after the fancy private jet.
When the leftist film maker Michael Moore used his publisher's plane on a recent book tour, for example, critics lambasted him for enjoying the corporate high life. The Hollywood activist Laurie David, the wife of Larry David of "Curb Your Enthusiasm," was labeled a "Gulfstream liberal" in an article in the latest issue of The Atlantic Monthly for condemning S.U.V. owners while flying around in private planes.And there are many others who preach environmentalism and restraint while using Gulfstream jets. David Horowitz has it about right.
David Horowitz, a conservative purveyor of the hypocrisy accusations, says that the attitude is "everyone should ride bicycles, but we'll take the jets."Or public transit, as well as bicycles. The enthusiasm for light rail in this area, and elsewhere, almost all comes from those who expect others to ride it, leaving the highways free for more important people — including themselves.
(Correction: The author, Damien Cave, begins by getting the appeal of the Volvo wrong. Those who admired the brand did not, as he claims, like it because it reminded "the average Joe of a cultural and economic divide that cannot be crossed", but because it allowed them to display how sensible and practical they were. Volvos, unlike Gulfstream jets, are well within the means of middle class Americans. Those who owned one were not saying to the average person that they are richer, but that they are better. That may change if Volvo continues to advertise performance.)
- 9:50 AM, 17 August 2004 [link]
There Are Two Stories Here, both interesting, though for different reasons. Ronald Kessler, author of a book on George Bush, A Matter of Character wrote an op-ed for USA Today which was accepted by one editor, John Siniff, and then rejected by a higher editor, Brian Gallagher, Kessler believes that Gallagher blocked the op-ed because it contradicted Bush caricatures.
Still hoping he could run the piece, Siniff therefore asked me to speak to Mr. Gallagher directly. When I did so, Gallagher said he did not think the op-ed made a persuasive case that the caricatures of George Bush as a dimwit were wrong. In supporting that claim, he said a favorable quote about how Bush conducted his own research into why kids can't read from Alexander "Sandy" Kress was suspect because Kress was pro-Bush. As it happens, Kress is a former chair of the Dallas County Democratic party. But Mr. Gallagher's clear implication was that anyone who has a favorable opinion of Bush is not credible."Just as interesting as the apparent failure of the USA Today editor to even consider an alternative to the caricature of Bush is what Bush did after he researched reading methods. He put them into effect in Texas and then pushed for similar reforms nationally.
When Bush became president, he tried to do the same thing nationally through the No Child Left Behind Act. Under the law, local school systems receive federal money for reading programs if they adopt teaching methods that have been scientifically proven to work. Based on NIH-supported research on more than 44,000 students, that method is phonics.Let's summarize. Bush identified a problem, did the research for a solution, adopted one that scientific research showed would succeed, pushed it through in Texas, and is working to do the same nationally. As it happens, black and Hispanic kids are more likely to have reading problems than white kids. Some of the data from Texas shows that minority kids got more benefit from the reforms in Texas than white kids. I can see why an editor who wanted to cling to a caricature of Bush would not like to publish those facts.
- 7:29 AM, 17 August 2004 [link]