Archive:

August 2005, Part 1

Jim Miller on Politics




Pseudo-Random Thoughts



How Many Mistakes Can You Spot?  An Ann Althouse post drew my attention to this letter from Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.
To the Editor:

"Nomination for Supreme Court Stirs Debate on Influence of Federalist Society" (news article, Aug. 1) does not go into the shocking ignorance of American history displayed by the Federalist Society's members.

The Federalist Party, the party of Washington, Adams and Hamilton, stood for a strong central government.  The Federalist Society stands for negative government and states' rights.  If its members were honest, they would call themselves, in the terms of the 1790's, the Anti-Federalist Society.

Arthur Schlesinger Jr.

New York, Aug. 1, 2005
The mistakes I found, in order:  (1) Washington was never a member of the Federalist party, or any other party.  (2) While John Adams, the only Federalist president, was in office, the party did favor a strong central government.  After Thomas Jefferson defeated Adams in 1800, the Federalists moved, as losing parties often do, toward strong support of states' rights.  (3 and 4) The Federalist Society does not take positions on issues, as they explain on their web site.  (For a brief explanation of their principles and activities, see their response to a misleading New York Times article.)  (5) Since the Federalist Society strongly favors the Constitution, it is absurd to identify them with the opponents of the Constitution, the Anti-Federalists.

Let me know if you spot any other mistakes.
- 5:11 PM, 8 August 2005   [link]


Did President Bush Say Schools Should Teach Intelligent Design?  No.   As politicians often do, he evaded a question he did not want to answer.  Since you may have heard differently, let's take a close look at the transcript.   I've added my own comments, in brackets, to give you translations of what the reporter and Bush mean.
Q I wanted to ask you about the -- what seems to be a growing debate over evolution versus intelligent design. What are your personal views on that, and do you think both should be taught in public schools?

THE PRESIDENT: I think -- as I said, harking back to my days as my governor -- both you and Herman are doing a fine job of dragging me back to the past. (Laughter.) [I don't want to answer this question.] Then, I said that, first of all, that decision should be made to local school districts, but I felt like both sides ought to be properly taught. [It's not my department.   And I am going to evade you by saying that they should be "properly taught", which means nothing.]

Q Both sides should be properly taught? [Let me try to pin him down.]

THE PRESIDENT: Yes, people -- so people can understand what the debate is about. [I'll dodge the question again.]

Q So the answer accepts the validity of intelligent design as an alternative to evolution?   [Let me really try to pin him down.]

THE PRESIDENT: I think that part of education is to expose people to different schools of thought, and I'm not suggesting -- you're asking me whether or not people ought to be exposed to different ideas, and the answer is yes. [I'll slip away by redefining the question.]

Q So we've got to give these groups -- [One more try at pinning him down.]

THE PRESIDENT: Very interesting question, Hutch. (Laughter.)  [I am not going to answer the question so you can just give up now.]
Bush had four chances in that exchange to say directly that intelligent design should be taught in public schools, and evaded the question four times.

As it happens, this evasion is not new with Bush — or with his opponent last fall, John Kerry.  Thanks to this post at the Judd Brothers, I found their replies to a question posed by Science magazine:
Science: Should "intelligent design" or other scientific critiques of evolutionary theory be taught in public schools?

BUSH: The federal government has no control over local curricula, and it is not the federal government's role to tell states and local boards of education what they should teach in the classroom.  Of course, scientific critiques of any theory should be a normal part of the science curriculum.

KERRY: I believe that ideology should not trump science in the context of educating our children.  Still, public school curriculum is a matter subject to local control.  Communities must decide which sound, scientific theories are appropriate for the classroom.
Note that both men evade the question, and evade it in almost exactly the same way.

So why do so many people think that Bush took a stand on the question when he actually evaded it?   I suppose because many people fit the facts to their preconceptions, rather than testing their preconceptions against the facts.  People believe that Bush is religious (as do I) and that he is not evasive (and he may be less evasive than most politicians).  So they ignore the evasion in the answers he gave last week and last fall and conclude that he favors teaching intelligent design, though he did not say so.  I suspect that if you ascribed the same exchange to John Kerry, whom most do not think religious, and who has a reputation for evasion, most people would realize that he had not answered the question — deliberately.

There is, by the way, no secret about why Kerry and Bush chose to evade the question.  Elites, especially in the news media, nearly all believe in evolution, but most Americans do not.  If a politician doesn't want trouble with either group, he will evade questions on evolution.

(If you need to brush up on intelligent design, here's the Wikipedia entry on the topic.

And for those interested in Bush's views on science policy questions generally, I would recommend reading the entire piece from Science.  I can almost guarantee that you will be surprised by some of the answers.)
- 4:15 PM, 8 August 2005
As If To Illustrate  my argument about preconceptions, along comes this column by a journalist who describes herself as "mad liberal".  If you read it — and you needn't — you'll see how completely her preconceptions exclude any thought about what Bush actually said.  And, somehow I doubt that she knows that Kerry took exactly the same evasive non-position as Bush has.  
- 8:21 AM, 9 August 2005   [link]


What's Love Got To Do With It?  When I saw this story about two people who want to marry, but not for love, I immediately composed a post in my head with that title, but didn't get around to writing it up.  But Kate McMillan, who had the same thoughts, did and even used the title I was planning to use.

Her version is better than the one I had planned, perhaps because she is Canadian, and it is a Canadian story.

(It is perhaps worth mentioning that, in most societies, marrying for reasons other than love is still considered sensible, as it was through much of our history.)
- 12:37 PM, 8 August 2005   [link]


Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid was an amateur boxer and a part time policeman, and has faced a series of tough contests in Nevada.  (In 1998, for instance, his margin in the Senate race was just 428 votes.)  But he may be up against his toughest opponent yet, a desert bighorn sheep police officers have nicknamed "Horndog".
Both were born in the same state. Both have loyal constituencies and perks that come with their leadership positions.

But politics and economics have conspired to put Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and his neighbor, a desert bighorn sheep nicknamed Horndog, on a collision course.

The senator is pushing a $234 million Las Vegas-area project, the Hoover Dam Bypass, which includes a four-lane bridge and connector roads that will allow traffic to go around the dam.
. . .
But that expansion threatens Horndog, the alpha ram of a herd of about 55 desert bighorn sheep in the Eldorado Mountains above Hoover Dam, who have to cross U.S. Highway 93 to get to a park they favor in Boulder City.
If Horndog defeats Reid, will some on the left conclude that the ram is a Republican?  I can't rule that out completely.
- 9:32 AM, 8 August 2005   [link]


Where Are The War Heroes?  That's the question posed by Damien Cave in this thoughtful, but disappointing, New York Times article.
One soldier fought off scores of elite Iraqi troops in a fierce defense of his outnumbered Army unit, saving dozens of American lives before he himself was killed. Another soldier helped lead a team that killed 27 insurgents who had ambushed her convoy.  And then there was the marine who, after being shot, managed to tuck an enemy grenade under his stomach to save the men in his unit, dying in the process.

Their names are Sgt. First Class Paul R. Smith, Sgt. Leigh Ann Hester and Sgt. Rafael Peralta.   If you have never heard of them, even in a week when more than 20 marines were killed in Iraq by insurgents, that might be because the military, the White House and the culture at large have not publicized their actions with the zeal that was lavished on the heroes of World War I and World War II.
He's right to say that we are not giving our heroes the recognition that we once did.  But he is not being at all heroic when he ascribes this to "the military, the White House and the culture at large".  What he means by that last mushy phrase, "the culture at large" is the "mainstream" media and Hollywood.  Most in the "mainstream" media oppose the war (and President Bush) and so they are unwilling to honor our war heroes.  And the same is true for Hollywood.  It really is that simple.  Cave must know, for instance, that his editors at the New York Times have no desire at all to run stories on our heroes.  Stories on villains (and there have been a few) and victims, yes, heroes, no.

But others are filling in for the New York Times, such as Chuck Simmins, who has an American heroes web site.   He has, coincidentally, just started a series on our heroes at his main site, where you can read about Sgt. John E. Place, Capt. Kellie McCoy, Sgt. Willie L. Copeland III, Staff Sgt. Serena Maren Di Virgilio, Lance Cpl. Thomas Adametz, and Hospitalman Luis E. Fonseca Jr..

We can honor them, even if the New York Times and Hollywood won't.

(Why haven't the White House and the military said more about our heroes?  I suppose that one reason is that they do want to emphasize the team, just as Cave says.  But I think another reason is that they simply don't trust the "mainstream" media to treat our heroes with respect.)
- 9:15 AM, 8 August 2005   [link]


Judge Posner Gets It Wrong:  From everything I read about him, Judge Richard Posner is as smart as a whip, and, as the New York Times reminded us last week, remarkably prolific.
How does Richard A. Posner do it?  A federal appeals court judge, a senior lecturer at the University of Chicago Law School, an editor of The American Law and Economics Review and a blogger, he is the author of 38 books, more than 300 articles and book reviews (including one, in these pages last year, of the 9/11 Commission Report), and almost 2,200 published judicial opinions
Maybe the second characteristic explains this Posner essay, which was the lead piece in last week's book review section.  He's churning them out so fast that his quality control has disappeared.

Posner notes that conservatives attack the media for being too liberal, and liberals attack the media for being too sensational and for having lost quality by trying to respond to Fox and others on the right.
Strip these critiques of their indignation, treat them as descriptions rather than as denunciations, and one sees that they are consistent with one another and basically correct.  The mainstream media are predominantly liberal - in fact, more liberal than they used to be.  But not because the politics of journalists have changed.  Rather, because the rise of new media, itself mainly an economic rather than a political phenomenon, has caused polarization, pushing the already liberal media farther left.
Posner tries, in other words, to explain the behavior of our media with a simple spatial model.  Fox took market share on the right; the other networks responded by moving to the left.  There are a number of problems with this analysis.  To begin with, spatial models often predict convergence, not divergence, especially if there are just two competitors.  That explains why, for example, that you will often see two gas stations across from each other and why, in two party systems, the parties often make similar promises.  (It is, to say the least, beyond the scope of this post to explain when you can predict convergence in spatial models.  And, in any case, I have forgotten much of what I once knew about the subject.)

More important, Posner is simply wrong to think that the politics of journalists have not changed; there are good studies available — even to busy judges — that show that journalists have, in fact, gotten more liberal in the last two decades.  Much of the change has come from the replacement of older journalists by those who came into the field during the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal.  (This explains, if you have been wondering, why so many newspapers still do long stories on Richard Nixon.)

And, though Posner uses a simple spatial model, he does not think through the implications of the model.  If ABC, CBS, and NBC can gain (relatively) by moving away from Fox, then they should have been able to gain, before the rise of Fox, by moving away from each other.  So why didn't they?

Actually they did years ago.  Or rather one of them, ABC, did, starting in 1969, as I learned from an Edward Jay Epstein essay, "Broadcast Journalism: The Ratings Game", which you can find in his book, Between Fact and Fiction: The Problem of Journalism.   (Admittedly the book itself may be hard to find.  That's sad because it is the best book on journalism that I have read.)

At that time, ABC trailed the other two networks badly.  And its main evening news program was so unattractive that many of the affiliates did not even carry it.  (Not all of the problems were ABC's fault; I learned from Epstein that the biggest determinant of the network share for a particular station is the share that station has of the local news — and that is largely determined by the popularity of the local weatherman.)  ABC changed that by bringing in a new anchor, Harry Reasoner, by simplifying and brightening their presentation of news stories — and by differentiating their news programs from those of CBS and NBC.  ABC promised their affiliates better balance and tried quite hard to deliver it.

Sometimes the changes were surprisingly subtle.  For example, Epstein says that just by putting a Nixon administration spokesman first, ABC often changed the tone of a program, as they did in a story on the OEO.
For example, whereas NBC and CBS newscasts on the dismantling of the Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO) began with reports about poverty workers who would lose their jobs because of the planned cuts by the Nixon administration, the ABC News on February 16, 1973, began with an interview with Howard Phillips, the OEO director, who defended the plans to eliminate the office,
All in all, the move to the center was a great success, and ABC's audience for its evening news program rose from less than 4 million homes in 1969 to 7.4 million homes in 1973.

Given that success, why didn't ABC continue to differentiate itself, and why didn't the other networks imitate ABC?  I think they might have, had not Watergate come along.  The success of journalists in throwing out a president they despised allowed them to forget the justified criticisms that the Nixon administration had been making of their product.  In time, as you know, even ABC drifted back toward the other networks — and all three continued to lose audience shares.

Watergate also made journalists indifferent to the views of the public.  You can see that indifference in a paragraph from this column by the executive editor of the Seattle Times, Michael Fancher.
Also last week, John Carroll, one of the most admired editors in the country, announced he is leaving the top job at the Los Angeles Times. The newspaper won an amazing 13 Pulitzers during his five years there.
Admired by whom?  Not the readers, who left the paper in droves while Carroll was editor.   Not well-informed bloggers from Mickey Kaus to "Patterico", who savaged the newspaper for its errors and bias.  But readers' opinions, no matter how well informed, don't seem to matter to Fancher.   Not surprisingly, Fancher's opinions matter less and less to the readers in this area.

That Carroll, Fancher, and the executives who now run ABC, CBS, and NBC, are hurting their news organizations seems obvious to me.  Contrary to what Posner says, they are not responding to competition, but failing to respond to it — and suffering the usual consequences.

(There are parallels to this behavior in Hollywood, as I mentioned in this post.  The studios, like the big networks and many newspapers, are giving up money, rather than give up their ideological prejudices.

Jack Shafer, who knows a little more about the news business than Judge Posner, has many more criticisms to make of Posner's piece.   It is curious that editors at the New York Times didn't notice some of the same points.)
- 7:16 PM, 7 August 2005   [link]


Welfare Cheats:  And would be suicide bombers.
Police are investigating allegations that the four suspected July 21 bombers collected more than £500,000 in benefits payments in Britain.
(That's roughly 900,000 dollars, which should pay for a fair amount of terrorism.)

We've seen this connection before, and we should understand that it makes sense — for the terrorists.  Holding a job can take too much of your time, if you are a terrorist, so welfare, legal or illegal, often looks like a better alternative while you are preparing to kill the people who are supporting you.  And, of course, as we keep learning, those on welfare are vulnerable to extremist ideologies of all kinds.
- 11:19 AM, 7 August 2005   [link]


Worth A Look:  If you like the Blue Angels, who are in town for Seafair.  The Seattle Times has some spectacular pictures, which you can see here.  The first, showing two of the jets over downtown Seattle, is my favorite.

(For reasons that escape me, the Oracle biplane was flying with the Angels that day and you can see it in some of the shots.)
- 1:58 PM, 6 August 2005   [link]


Promises, Promises:  Remember all the leftists who were promising to move to Canada if Bush won?  Apparently, they didn't keep their promises.
In the days after President Bush won a second term, the number of U.S. citizens visiting Canada's main immigration Web site shot up sixfold, prompting speculation that unhappy Democrats would flock north.

But official statistics show the number of Americans actually applying to live permanently in Canada fell in the six months after the election.
. . .
Data from the main Canadian processing center in Buffalo, NY shows that in the six months up to the U.S. election there were 16,266 applications from people seeking to live in Canada, a figure that fell to 14,666 for the half year after the vote.
I suppose that it is possible that some leftists did move — but more moderates and conservatives decided not to move after Bush won.
- 8:05 AM, 5 August 2005   [link]


Tip Of The Iceberg?  Two days ago, the American Center for Voting Rights, an organization I am unfamiliar with, released a report titled Vote Fraud, Intimidation, & Suppression in the 2004 Presidential Election.  These two paragraphs from the report will give you an idea of the contents — and why some immediately tried to reject the report as a partisan Republican attack.
ACVR Legislative Fund found that thousands of Americans were disenfranchised by illegal votes cast on Election Day 2004.  For every illegal vote cast and counted on Election Day, a legitimate voter is disenfranchised.  This report documents a coordinated effort by members of some organizations to rig the election system through voter registration fraud, the first step in any vote fraud scheme that corrupts the election process by burying local officials in fraudulent and suspicious registration forms.

ACVR Legislative Fund further found that, despite their heated rhetoric, paid Democrat operatives were far more involved in voter intimidation and suppression activities than were their Republican counterparts during the 2004 presidential election.  Whether it was slashing tires on GOP get-out-the-vote vans in Milwaukee or court orders stopping the DNC from intimidating Republican volunteers in Florida, the evidence presented in this report shows that paid Democrat operatives were responsible for using the same tactics in 2004 that they routinely accuse Republicans of engaging in.
If you have been reading this site for some time you will not be surprised by either of those paragraphs.  I have been unsystematically looking at the same evidence that they did, mostly newspaper articles on vote fraud around the country, and have come to much the same conclusions.

But now I want to add a point that you will not find in the report.  Vote fraud is a crime, and the level of crime is notoriously hard to measure, as any criminologist can tell you.  (The best estimates, in this country, are probably for murder and car theft, for reasons that should be apparent, but even for those two the official statistics understate the actual levels.)   We learn about most crimes from the reports of victims.  But the victims of vote fraud, the honest voters who had their votes cancelled by fraudulent votes, rarely realize that they are victims.  So, it seems likely that most cases of vote fraud are never recognized, much less reported.

That conclusion gets support from the kind of people who are caught committing vote fraud.   Those who are caught usually have made stupid mistakes, like registering people who have died recently.  From that I conclude, not that the cheaters are stupid, but that we usually catch only the stupid cheaters — and miss most of those who take even rudimentary precautions.

If my reasoning is correct, then the pages of vote fraud examples that the ACVR included in their report just show us the tip of the iceberg.  There were many more cheaters, but they were smarter and luckier than those who were detected.  That's not a pleasant conclusion, but that's how I read the evidence.

(As I mentioned at the start, there was an immediate controversy over the partisanship of the ACVR.  I don't see the point of such arguments.  The report would not necessarily be wrong if it were written entirely by Republicans, as Joe Gandelman seemed to fear, nor would it necessarily be right, if some of those contributing to it were Democrats, as Ed Morrisey countered.  The report should be judged on the evidence presented, and the logic of its arguments, not whether the authors, or those who pay for the organization, put a D or an R after their names.

For what it is worth, the report is, as I said, based almost entirely on newspaper articles — which are, as we all know, mostly written by Democrats.  I haven't been a Democrat for a long time, but I don't think the party of the reporters writing these stories invalidates their reporting.)
- 3:23 PM, 4 August 2005   [link]


Lileks Has A Little Fun  with John Bolton's first day at the UN.

Turning serious for a moment, I'll just add that it is the supporters of the UN who should want a tough minded reformer like John Bolton as US ambassador.  Those who oppose the organization, or who just think we should ignore it, don't much care if the UN continues to be corrupt and ineffective, as long as we don't give them much money.
- 7:30 AM, 4 August 2005   [link]


Worth Reading:  Byron York's obituary for America Coming Together, which tried so hard to tip the election to Kerry last year and failed.   They didn't fail because they lacked resources or effort.
A few days after the 2004 election, America Coming Together, the giant pro-Democratic voter turnout group that had raised about $200 million from George Soros, Peter Lewis, and a variety of Hollywood moguls, released a list of its accomplishments.  Obviously, ACT, as big as it was, had not put John Kerry over the top, but the group had "held conversations at 4.6 million doorsteps about the truth about the Iraq war, about the state of our healthcare system, about the economy."  It had registered half-a-million new voters.  In the last days of the campaign it had made 23 million phone calls, sent out 16 million pieces of mail, and delivered 11 million fliers.  And on top of it all, it had "launched the largest get-out-the-vote effort the Democratic Party has ever seen," turning out "unprecedented levels of voters in the battleground states."
They failed because there just aren't enough Democratic voters, anymore.
Despite all the hype and all the press releases, the effort really wasn't about converting new voters to the Democratic party. Rather, it was about squeezing just a little more juice out of a lemon that had been nearly squeezed dry in the past.  Steve Rosenthal's well-regarded successes in previous elections had not involved attracting large numbers of new people to the cause.  They involved getting union voters to turn out in ever-greater percentages, even as the percentage of union households in the electorate shrank.  The problem was, you could do that for only so long.  At some point, every union member or union household member of voting age could turn out and it still wouldn't be enough to elect a Democratic candidate.  For that, you had to expand your appeal, and that was something ACT failed to do.  Malcolm, Rosenthal, and Ickes discovered that you could call it America Coming Together, but saying so didn't make it true.
And they failed because this time the Republicans matched their organizational efforts, mostly using volunteers.

(This article is a follow-up to York's book, The Vast Left Wing Conspiracy, which I would recommend to anyone interested in the 2004 election.)
- 3:03 PM, 3 August 2005   [link]


Here's the op-ed I mentioned.   (Or as the Seattle PI calls it, the guest column.)  It's a critique of an official report on the election problems in King County in our last election.  Here are what I consider the two key points:
In short, hundreds of illegal votes were counted in King County in the last election (perhaps thousands, given what we now know about the county's lax controls on fraud and sloppy procedures).
. . .
In short, people in the elections office violated the spirit and the letter of our election laws.
You wouldn't know either of those from reading the official report.

Stefan Sharkansky was asked to do this by the PI's editorial page editor, Mark Trahant.  Stefan didn't have time to do the whole thing, so I was asked to fill in and agreed after Stefan promised to help me.  Most of the words are mine; most of the work is his.

The column illustrates something I have said about Mark Trahant before: He is far more open to publishing dissenting views than most editors.

(For a different view on the report, see this Seattle Times editorial.   It may be immodest for me to say so, but I think Stefan and I did a better job.

You can get the main report here and a supporting technical report here)
- 2:18 PM, 3 August 2005   [link]


Uh Oh:  Our intelligence agencies say we don't have to worry about an Iranian nuclear weapon for ten years.
A major U.S. intelligence review has projected that Iran is about a decade away from manufacturing the key ingredient for a nuclear weapon, roughly doubling the previous estimate of five years, according to government sources with firsthand knowledge of the new analysis.
Here's how I decode that: Someone at the CIA has told a friendly reporter that the CIA (perhaps with the concurrence of other intelligence agencies) has said that we need not worry about an Iranian weapon immediately — despite what the president and vice president may have told you.

I have three reactions to this:  First, you may noticed that leftists (and some journalists) are full of rage against Karl Rove because he supposedly leaked classified information about a former CIA field agent.  But I doubt very much that any of those people will find the least thing wrong with this leak of classified information, which could be far more damaging.

Second, given the CIA's spotty record of accuracy I am more than a little inclined to think that this estimate is too optimistic.  You could have done pretty well in the last few decades, betting against the CIA estimates.

Third, given the open war against President Bush last year by a faction within the CIA, we must suspect that this estimate is another strike in that war.  We must suspect, in other words, that this is more an attack on the administration than a real intelligence estimate.  I hope that's not true, but last year's outrageous campaign means that we must suspect the motives behind anything the CIA produces or shares in producing.
- 9:27 AM, 2 August 2005
More: Here's a post from Rick Moran, who is much better informed on this subject than I am, and has the same suspicions.
The leaking of classified information is, after all, a felony.  That doesn't seem to stop some employees at the CIA from assuming the job of policy makers by leaking information that buttresses their opinion that Iran is not an immediate threat to the United States and that the Administration is once again lying about a potential adversary's intentions.

The problem is that, as the article points out, only selected portions of the NIE were relayed to the reporter.  Is it an accident that those portions that were leaked are at odds with the Administration's oft-stated claims that Iran, if left to its own devices, would be nuclear capable in a matter of a year or two?
Moran goes on to explain why the NIE time estimate might be wrong.

Oh, and don't hold your breath waiting for mobs of reporters demanding that Bush find the leaker and fire him or her.
- 9:59 AM, 3 August 2005
Still More:  Roger Simon spots something in the Post article I missed.  The Post attributes some of the information to a "U. S. source".
A U. S. source!?  They actually printed that with a straight face.  (I assume they did anyway.)  What, pray tell, is a "U. S. source"?  I guess they mean someone in the government, but it could just as well be your Aunt Fanny in Nome, Alaska.
I suppose a U. S. source could be a contractor — assuming any are allowed to work on National Intelligence Estimates.  But it is still an amazing attribution.
- 7:47 AM, 4 August 2005   [link]


Out & Proud:  As far as I can recall, I have never watched a single HBO program, so I have no idea whether this quip is fair.
Well, I guess it had to happen sooner or later. One HBO show had to have an out & proud Republican.
But it is funny.

(By way of this Ann Althouse post.   And, no, my neck is not especially red, and I do try not to act like a pig.)
- 7:19 AM, 2 August 2005   [link]


More Soon:  I have been working on an op-ed for a local paper during the last few days, which is why you haven't seen many posts here. The op-ed will be finished today, maybe late today, and I will soon be back to posting at the usual rate.
- 12:25 PM, 1 August 2005   [link]