Archive:

August 2007, Part 4

Jim Miller on Politics




Pseudo-Random Thoughts



FDR And Wiretapping:  Franklin Delano Roosevelt was in favor of wiretapping.  For years, FDR tolerated, even encouraged, wiretapping by the FBI, under J. Edgar Hoover, at least when directed against people FDR and Hoover saw as threats to the United States.  As war drew near, FDR showed how strong his support for wiretapping was.  In May, 1940, a new attorney general, Robert H. Jackson, had forbidden wiretapping by the federal government because it violated the 1934 Communications Act.   Before Jackson's decision, Hoover had justified his wiretapping by arguing that the act did not forbid wiretapping, just disclosing the information from wiretaps, but Jackson did not accept Hoover's argument.  (I am no lawyer but my brief reading of the pertinent section, 605, makes me think that Jackson was correct.)

Hoover, a master of bureaucratic infighting, let FDR know, indirectly, that this Jackson decision was interfering with his ability to track Nazi spies.  Here's how Joseph Persico describes what happened next, in Roosevelt's Secret War.
FDR's answer was instantaneous:  "Tell Bob Jackson to send for J. Edgar Hoover and order him to do it and a written memorandum will follow."  The memorandum went out the next day.  Roosevelt's reasoning revealed a supple legal mind.  "I have agreed with the broad purpose of the Supreme Court decision relating to wiretapping in investigations," FDR declared, "wiretapping should not be carried out for the excellent reason that it is almost always bound to lead to abuse of civil rights.  However, I am convinced that the Supreme Court never intended any dictum in the particular case which it decide to apply to grave matters involving the defense of the nation.  It is, of course, well known that certain other nations have been engaged in the organization of so-called 'fifth columns' in other countries and in preparation for sabotage, as well as in actual sabotage . . . . You are, therefore authorized and directed in such cases as you may approve, after investigation of the need in each case, to authorize the necessary investigating agents that they are at liberty to secure information by listening devices direct to the conversations or other communications of persons suspected of subversive activities against the government of the United States, including suspected spies."  In short, never mind Congress, the Supreme Court, or the attorney general's qualms.  The nation was imperiled. (pp. 35-36)
Civil libertarians have always worried that this kind of broad, unsupervised grant of authority to spy would lead to abuses.  Roosevelt's actions before and, even more, after, the memorandum showed just how justified their worries are.  Before that memorandum, Roosevelt had done nothing to stop Hoover's spying; afterward, he encouraged Hoover to go even farther and began to use him for partisan and even personal spying.  Hoover almost always complied with Roosevelt's requests.  He agreed, for example, to "go over" those who telegrammed Roosevelt protesting an interventionist speech, including senators Burton Wheeler and Gerald Nye.  He retrieved copies of a Republican press release that would have embarrassed Roosevelt's vice president, Henry Wallace.  (The release never went out, perhaps because the Republican candidate, Wendell Wilkie, didn't think it right, perhaps because Roosevelt's people — acting on his orders — threatened to blackmail Wilkie with stories about his mistress.)

But the history of the time also shows that we needed some surveillance, needed some wiretapping.   There were Nazi spies in the United States; one had stolen the top secret Norden bombsight.  There were also Nazi agents of influence, men who were trying to affect our politics, to lessen our aid to Britain and to keep us out of the war.  For example, the German chargé d'affaires, Hans Thomsen, enlisted George Viereck to help him spread isolationist propaganda.  Among other things, the team was able to get sympathetic congressmen, notably Senator Gerald P. Nye, to make isolationist speeches, put them in the Congressional Record, and then distribute them — under the Congressional frank, so that the American taxpayer paid for distribution.

Nor is it easy, as that last example shows, to decide exactly where to draw the line on wiretapping.   Surely the the United States government has a duty to try to detect foreign efforts to influence our politics.  Most reasonable people would have no problem in letting the FBI wiretap Thomsen, but what about Viereck, or even Nye?  Most of us would want those wiretaps to be subject to some controls, but precisely what they should be is not obvious, at least to me.  (Nor, since people are fallible, can we be certain that even the best possible rules would always be followed.)

I see three principal lessons in this story of wiretapping before World War II.  The first is an ancient one, but one many tried to ignore during the years before World War II, and some try to ignore even now:  We have real enemies, and we must prepare against them by doing unpleasant things, including spying on them, and sometimes their American sympathizers.  That spying will have to include, in this time of electronic communications, wiretapping in its broadest sense.

Second, the civil libertarians are right to worry about abuses by our spies.  But few of them seem to understand that blanket prohibitions, or too severe restrictions, may backfire and encourage worried presidents and ambitious bureaucrats to ignore the laws entirely, as Roosevelt and Hoover did.   Civil libertarians are right to worry about abuses, but almost always wrong when they establish blanket prohibitions against wiretapping, or in other ways ignore the need to protect the nation against enemies.

Third, a Democratic president used spies in ways that would horrify most modern Democrats.  And not just any Democratic president, either, but one of their great heroes, Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  And that, I think, helps explain why so many Democrats are paranoid about allowing President Bush to wiretap our enemies; they fear that Bush will abuse his power, using it against political and personal enemies.  They fear, in short, that Bush will do what FDR did.

(Note: This is the first in a series of posts on wiretapping and Democratic presidents.  Future posts will cover JFK and LBJ, and, possibly, Truman, Carter, and Clinton.  Whether I do the last three will mostly depend on whether I can easily find the material I need.

"Wiretapping" is used very broadly in this post (and in future posts on this subject).  I don't mean just connecting wires to a phone line, but all kinds of electronic surveillance of private communications.  This is an imperfect solution, but better, I think, than either a long list of spying methods or a bureaucratic definition of my own.  And there is some precedent for this usage; I have seen many stories on "wiretapping" where it was clear that no wires were involved.)
- 2:44 PM, 31 August 2007
Clarification:  I have rewritten the post, especially the first paragraph, to make the history clearer.
- 8:28 AM, 4 September 2007   [link]


Should We Abandon New Orleans?  Libertarian Steve Chapman says yes, and cites this precedent.
Historian Douglas Brinkley, writing in The Washington Post, fears the Bush administration is trying to do to New Orleans what was done to Galveston, Texas, after a terrible 1900 hurricane.  "Galveston, which had been a thriving port, was essentially abandoned for Houston, transforming that then-sleepy backwater into the financial center for the entire Gulf South," he says.  "Galveston devolved into a smallish port-tourist center, one easy to evacuate when hurricanes rear their ugly heads."

Looking back, that actually sounds like a brilliant choice.  If they were given the means to start over wherever they choose, a lot of people displaced by Katrina would embrace it.
My own view is that parts of New Orleans are worth protecting, notably the port and the tourist area, but that most of it is not.  Letting individuals decide, as Chapman suggests, would probably lead to a smaller, but much safer and far healthier, New Orleans.

(Here's some background on New Orleans, from two years ago.)
- 12:31 PM, 31 August 2007   [link]


Over Regulation?  A University of Washington professor just pled guilty to a horrendous crime.
A respected University of Washington pharmacology professor became a felon Wednesday when he acknowledged dumping a flammable substance down a laboratory sink and then trying to conceal his actions.

Daniel Storm, 62, pleaded guilty in federal court to violating the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act by flushing about four liters of the solvent ethyl ether.  He faces a maximum five years in prison and a $250,000 fine when sentenced June 18, although prosecutors have recommended probation under the terms of a plea agreement.
. . .
The plea agreement states that in June 2006, UW health and safety inspectors found three metal and two glass containers of ether in Storm's lab which, because of the age of the substance, required disposal.

But Storm balked at the estimated $15,000 cost, which would have come out of a lab operations fund.   So later that month he took an ax to some of the containers and flushed the contents down the sink, according to the agreement.  He kept one container intact.
It was the $15,000 that caught my attention and made me wonder just how hazardous ethyl ether is.  From what I can gather from this reference and this reference, the answer is not very.   Like gasoline, it is exceptionally flamable, but you could probably dispose of it safely by just letting it evaporate in the sunlight.

A pharmacology professor, who has been handling dangerous chemicals for decades, could have disposed of the cans safely (though not by using an ax to open the containers), but he is not allowed to, legally.  In fact, judging by the story, no one at the University of Washington is allowed to do such routine work.  That meant hiring one of the few companies who are allowed to dispose of this not very dangerous substance — which meant a very high cost for the job.

(More here from chemist Derek Lowe and some well-informed commenters.).
- 7:13 AM, 31 August 2007   [link]


The BBC Is More Rational Than The New York Times Editorial Board:  At least on the subject of Abu Ghraib.  Here's the BBC report on the acquittal of an officer there.
The acquittal of a US army colonel on charges relating to the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib means no officers have been found criminally guilty.

The episode stained the reputation of the US military and may well have acted as a recruiting agent for insurgents.

The officer, Lt-Col Steven Jordan, was found not guilty by a military jury of failing to train and supervise the soldiers under his authority at Abu Ghraib.

Instead he was convicted of breaking an order not to discuss the case.  He was reprimanded.

The lack of convictions among the senior ranks leaves doubt as to whether the abuse was part of a wider policy of condoning or even encouraging the breaking of prisoners' morale in advance of interrogation.
Paul Reynolds then describes the evidence on both sides of the argument.  I am not sure he would agree, but the evidence he presents leads me to think it quite unlikely that those convicted were acting on orders from on high.

In contrast, the New York Times produced this foaming-at-the mouth editorial which asserts — without any evidence — that it was all Bush's fault.
We would have been hard pressed to think of a more sadly suitable coda to the Bush administration's mishandling of the Abu Ghraib nightmare than Tuesday's verdict in the court-martial of the only officer to be tried for the abuse, sexual assault and torture of prisoners that occurred there in 2003.

The verdict was a remix of the denial of reality and avoidance of accountability that the government has used all along to avoid the bitter truth behind Abu Ghraib: The abuses grew out of President Bush's decision to ignore the Geneva Conventions and American law in handling prisoners after Sept. 11, 2001.
. . .
President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other top officials have long claimed that the abuses at Abu Ghraib were the disconnected acts of a small number of sociopaths.  It's clear that is not true.
Clear if you suffer from Bush Derangement Syndrome, but not otherwise.
- 3:29 PM, 30 August 2007   [link]


George Will Has A Little Fun — at the expense of French intellectuals.

But the point he is making is serious.  France has been so bad at creating jobs in the last two decades that many of its young people have gone abroad to seek work.  So many, that France is now the fifth leading nation in receiving remittances, payments sent back by emigrants.  France receives less than just four other nations, China, India, Mexico, and (just barely) the Philippines.

(Incidentally, if you look at the graph accompanying the article on remittances, you will notice something odd:  The total amount of money received by nations (262.5 billion) is far larger than the total amount sent out of nations (178.7 billion).  Since those two amounts should be equal, we can be fairly certain that both numbers are wrong, and we can be absolutely certain that the precision implied by those four-place numbers is bogus.

Most likely, both numbers are too low, especially the second.)
- 2:16 PM, 30 August 2007   [link]


Everyone Knew They Were Breaking Campaign Finance Laws:  Now, it's official.
An independent political group allied with Democrats and heavily bankrolled by billionaire George Soros has agreed to pay $775,000 to the Federal Election commission for violating campaign laws during the 2004 presidential campaign.

The civil penalty, announced Wednesday, is the third largest fine ever levied by the FEC.

The group, America Coming Together, was an influential player in the 2004 election cycle, spending millions of dollars to mobilize voters in support of Democrats in key states.

The FEC found that ACT inappropriately used money raised outside federal election limits to help federal candidates.
Or, not to be so polite, massively and openly violated the laws governing 527 organizations, which are prohibited from campaigning directly for presidential candidates.

Byron York, who wrote a fine book about the efforts of ACT and similar organizations, The Vast Left Wing Conspiracy, has more, much more.
As ACT's bank account grew and grew, experts in campaign finance noticed something curious going on in the group's accounting.  It had to do with the way ACT spent its money and the explanation it made for those expenditures in filings with the Federal Election Commission.  At issue were complex rules covering the arcana of campaign finance and the precise legal meanings of terms like "hard money," "soft money," "federal accounts," "nonfederal accounts," and "allocation."  The issues were difficult to understand — that's why they went mostly unreported in the press — but the evidence suggested that ACT had simply decided to ignore the rules that were supposed to govern its activities.
Not just rules, laws.  For instance — and remember that 527 organizations are not supposed to support or oppose individual presidential candidates — ACT sent out some blatantly illegal letters, including these two:
One accused George W. Bush and the Republican Party of "work[ing] hard to undermine a woman's right to choose," of displaying "reckless disregard for the environment," and of "making a shambles of our economy."  The letter continued, "But wishing won't make Bush, Cheney, Ashcroft, DeLay and their extremist agenda go away.  Wishing won't elect John Kerry.  People-to-people organizing will — and organizing is what ACT is all about.  Another fund-raising letter pledged that ACT would fill in "where the Kerry campaign and the Democratic Party simply don't have the resources to operate."  And yet another appeal said that "when Election Day is over, we will have helped John Kerry defeat George W. Bush and elected progressive candidates across the nation."
One last ironic point:  Earlier, George Soros had been a big backer of — campaign finance "reform".
- 12:16 PM, 30 August 2007   [link]


Worth Study:  Karl summarizes what's wrong with the "mainstream" media's coverage of the Iraq War.  Their failures are no secret, even from ordinary voters.
Today, most Americans believe the establishment media is often inaccurate and more are confident that the US military is providing an accurate picture of Iraq than are confident of the establishment media.
And most Americans are right in both beliefs.

What is extraordinary is that almost no one in the "mainstream" media (or as he calls them, the establishment media) believes that they need to change their ways, in spite of this distrust, and in spite of failure after failure.
- 6:20 AM, 30 August 2007   [link]


Want To Read About A Real Scandal?  Then read this New York Times article on the continuing investigation into New Jersey's junior senator, Robert Menendez.
A federal investigation of Senator Robert Menendez over potential conflicts of interests with recipients of government financing has shifted focus to the lobbying work of his former chief of staff and confidante, according to lawyers and others familiar with the case.

A grand jury in Newark has subpoenaed hundreds of pages of financial documents from Jersey City Medical Center, which received a variety of public financing when Kay LiCausi, who was an aide to Mr. Menendez while he was in the House of Representatives, lobbied for the hospital.  Last week, the grand jury heard testimony from Jonathan Metsch, a former Menendez fund-raiser who was president and chief executive of the hospital when it hired Ms. LiCausi, The Star-Ledger of Newark reported on Sunday.
Confidante is not the word most of us would use to describe LiCausi.
Mr. Menendez's relationship with Ms. LiCausi, who worked in his Congressional office from 1998 to 2002, has been the subject of sustained criticism.  Neither has commented on reports that they were romantically involved.
This scandal appears to have both actual sex and corruption, but it hasn't drawn much attention from reporters.

(For a record of payments from Menendez to LiCausi, see this detailed post.  I haven't checked the numbers myself, but they look plausible.

And if that scandal isn't enough, try this one.  The current governor of New Jersey, Jon Corzine, gave lavish gifts to a girlfriend (now an ex-girlfriend) — who is also president of a public employees union, a union Corzine has to negotiate with from time to time.   Again a case of sex and corruption, though it is hard to figure out who was corrupting who.

Did I mention that both Menendez and Corzine are Democrats?  I should have.)
- 6:02 PM, 29 August 2007   [link]


What Does New Orleans Need Most?  Nicole Gelinas knows.  It's law and order.
In fact, since Katrina, New Orleans's murder rate has been higher than that of any First World city.   Depending on fluctuating estimates of the city's returning population, it's perhaps 40% higher than before Katrina and twice as high as the rate in other dangerous cities like Detroit, Newark and Washington.   Families trying to make a home in this environment live in fear, even while many have taken to rebuilding their homes with their bare hands.
. . .
For generations now--and this is the city's deepest problem--New Orleans has hobbled along without a real law-and-order presence.  Criminals graduate from petty crimes to burglary to drug-dealing to carrying illegal weapons to gang robberies to murder, and face few consequences at any stage.  The police, and especially the prosecutors, are ineffectual.  Since Katrina, things have gotten much worse, in part because criminals, finding life difficult in cities that enforce the law, have returned to the Big Easy in numbers disproportionate to those of law-abiding citizens.  Mayor Ray Nagin doesn't try to fix things, perhaps because, as he often says, he believes crime is a social problem, rooted in a lack of opportunity for poor youth.
Whatever may have been true in the past, Mayor Nagin's belief is now bizarre.  There are enormous opportunities in New Orleans, even for those without skills, which is why Hispanic immigrants, legal and illegal, have flocked to the city since Katrina.
- 1:56 PM, 29 August 2007
More:  Fair and reasonable property taxes wouldn't hurt, either.
-1:40 PM, 30 August 2007   [link]


Fine Allied Victory In Afghanistan:  Here's the best account I found, in a brief search.
The battle erupted after a convoy of Afghan and U.S. coalition forces came under attack in Shah Wali Kot district in Kandahar province, it said in a statement.

U.S.-led close air support attacked insurgent positions in the battle, it added.

"Afghan National Security Forces, advised by coalition forces, engaged and eliminated more than 100 insurgent fighters," the U.S. military said of the Tuesday fighting in the north of Kandahar province.

There were no civilian casualties but one Afghan security force member was killed and three foreign troops and three Afghan soldiers were wounded, it added.
100 to 1.  In spite of the fact that the Taliban chose the time and place for the battle; as the AP story says, the joint force was "ambushed".

That's the kind of victory that would impress anyone who knows even a little military history.   But it does not impress our "mainstream" journalists.  The New York Times and the Washington Post treated it as a routine story.  The Seattle Times does not appear to have the story at all, and the Seattle PI mentioned it only in a summary article..

By way, naturally, of a conservative blogger, Ed Morrissey.

(Why did the New York Times choose to use the Reuters story, rather than the story from the Associated Press?  Possibly because it includes some skeptical bits, such as this one:
There was no independent verification of the reported deaths of the insurgents.

Taliban spokesman often accuse Western troops of exaggerating insurgent casualties, while Western forces accuse the Taliban of exaggerating the number of casualties on the U.S., NATO and Afghan government side.
Notice the implied slur?  Reuters is suggesting that the Taliban and NATO are equally dubious sources.)
- 9:11 AM, 29 August 2007   [link]


Reactions To Senator Larry Craig's Arrest:  You can find all you want throughout the blogosphere.  The best I have seen comes from James Taranto, who recounts the facts as far as they are known, and then makes a more general argument.
The liberal view of homosexuality is based on two claims: an empirical one and a moral one.  The empirical claim is that sexual orientation is inborn, a trait over which one has no control.  The moral claim is that homosexuality is no better or worse than heterosexuality; that a gay relationship, like a traditional marriage, can be an expression of true love and a source of deep fulfillment.   Out of these claims flows the conclusion that opposition to gay rights is akin to racism: an unwarranted prejudice against people for a trait over which they have no control.

For the sake of argument, suppose this liberal view is true.  What does it imply about the closeted homosexual who takes antigay positions?  To our mind, the implication is that he is a deeply tragic figure, an abject victim of society's prejudices, which he has internalized and turned against himself.   "Outing" him seems an act of gratuitous cruelty, not to mention hypocrisy if one also claims to believe in the right to privacy.
Which leftists rarely do when the person claiming the right to privacy is a conservative Republican.

Taranto has what seems to me to be the right reaction.  Despite what most leftist bloggers have written, and what some conservative talk show hosts have said, it is possible that Craig is innocent of anything more than awkward behavior, unlikely, perhaps, but possible.

And what Taranto wrote about the hypocrisy of those on the left on this incident, and similar incidents, is absolutely correct.  Leftists who celebrated Congressman Gerry Studds, who did have sex with at least one congressional intern, attacked Mark Foley, who did not, as far as we know.   (I have been unable to find documentation for this, but I am nearly certain that Studds approached at least one intern who was younger than the age of consent, which would be a crime.  Studds was never prosecuted for that.)
- 12:58 PM, 28 August 2007
More:  Law Professor Dale Carpenter asks this question:  Did Senator Craig actually commit a crime?  And concludes, probably not.  (Carpenter, if you are wondering about his views on these issues, is a vociferous advocate for gay marriage, so vociferous that I usually do not finish his posts on the subject.)
- 2:12 PM, 29 August 2007   [link]


There's An Important Terrorism Trial In San Francisco:  Even though it may not have made the front page of your newspaper.  "Zombietime" has the story, so far.
What's it all about? In one sentence, it comes down to this:

Does the United States Government have the right to conduct secret surveillance of terrorism suspects on American soil?

But the case has become rather more complicated than that.  Before we get to the action of August 15, here's the gist of the case in a few short paragraphs, cutting through everyone's double-talk on both sides, and granting everyone's allegations to be true:

A Saudi charity [Al Haramain] known to finance terrorist activities opened a branch in Oregon.  The US government tapped the phones of the Oregon branch and heard evidence that they were helping to finance terrorist activities as well.  With this info in hand, the government designated the Oregon branch as terrorists, and froze their assets.  The Oregon branch, unaware that they had been sureveilled and that the government had solid evidence against them, challenged this, and during legal proceedings, a government employee accidentally gave logs of the tapped phone conversations to the charity's lawyers.

At that point, the case changed gears: the charity hooked up with liberal lawyers to challenge the very legality of the surveillance, and by extension the legality of all secret surveillance.  The decision was made to make the trial into a test case designed to weaken and embarrass the Bush administration.   The government sought to circumvent this strategy by suppressing the evidence of the leaked document on grounds that its exposure would endanger national security.  The governement requested back and eventually obtained all U.S. copies of the surveillance logs -- but not before an unknown number of copies made their way overseas, presumably into hostile hands.  Aside from revealing the fact that the charity was surveilled, it is not clear what "operational details" the leaked document reveals.   The government refuses to admit to the wiretapping or to say whether or not a warrant was obtained.

The entire case, as it is now being litigated, hinges on the question: do the plaintiffs even have the legal right to sue the government?  In order to prove they have "standing," they must prove they were surveilled; and so must refer to the only evidence which proves this, the mysterious document.   The government claims the document is Top Secret, and thus not admissable evidence.  It is this question that was being argued before the Ninth Circuit Court on August 15.
Setting aside the legal complexities for a moment — which I am happy to do — let us note the most significant point in the story so far:  There is no doubt that Al Haramain was financing terrorism all over the world, including terrorism against American targets.  And probably still is financing terrorism all over the world, though the "charity" has been banned in many countries, including the United States.  That doesn't mean they are gone from the United States; according to this article Al Haramain had a sophisticated program for recruiting terrorists from American prisons.  We can be nearly certain that they have left some cells behind.

There is also no doubt that (some) legal leftists are delighted to help this terrorist organization, just as some were delighted to help the communists for many years.

My own view on these matters is simple.  If our laws do not permit us to watch those who want to murder us, then we should change our laws so that we can watch them.  So I am not much interested in the legal details, though I am concerned about the outcome of this trial, and other trials where terrorists are trying to turn our legal system against us.

You'll want to at least skim the piece, despite its length.  I was particularly struck by the bias shown by the judges and the reporters covering the case.  Neither group even wants to hear the government's side of the case.

(Zombietime has a large collection of documents on the case, including an article by the lead defense attorney, Jon Eisenberg.  If you glance at the article, you will see that Eisenberg believes the discredited former ambassador, Joseph Wilson.)
- 10:39 AM, 28 August 2007   [link]


They Get Letters From Venezuelans:  But they don't publish them.  In the comments following this thoughtful post on the New York Times' coverage of Venezuela (bad for many years, but improving), there is an anguished comment from "exilada".  Here's the first half:
When I came to the US in 2000 I stared reading the NYT again as I religiously did in the 70's when I was a "Mariscal de Ayacucho becario".  I immediately noticed that the articles about Venezuela published under a name: Juan Forero, favored Chavez a lot.  I thought this guy didn't know much about Venezuela although his name was sort of Spanish.  By 2001, I convinced my husband whose English was a lot better than mine to write letters to the editor of the NYT, every time an article was published given our point of view as Venezuelan citizens.  They never published our letters.  I do not know if we were naive at the time or if it was our past love for the NYT that didn't allow us to see reality.   As articles and time went by I stared becoming suspicious and I researched the topic, I went to the libraries and read everything that was published by the NYT about Venezuela ever since Chavez came into the radar, especially after his election in December 1998.  Then I saw the light: there was an agenda, the NYT had an agenda.  I knew that no letter to the editor from a Venezuelan citizen with an opinion against Chavez would ever be published by the NYT.
This illustrates, vividly, the complaint I have been making for years about the letters policy at the New York Times; their letters editor, Thomas Feyer, acts more as a censor than as a traditional letters editor.  Letters from Venezuelan citizens on Venezuelan articles would interest many readers, but Feyer prefers that we not hear their side of the story.

(Exilada may be slightly wrong about the motive; Feyer may be protecting a New York Times reporter, rather than Hugo Chávez.  That's Feyer's general pattern; he is extraordinarily unwilling to print letters critical of those who get their paychecks from the same company that pays him.

Here's the fairly sympathetic Wikipedia article on Hugo Chávez.  I have thought for years that his attempted military coup in 1992 told us all we need to know about the man's commitment to democratic values.

There is one fascinating and unexplained detail in the article: Wikipedia claims that his first electoral victory was financed in large part by illegal contributions from foreign banks.  The article does not explain why the banks did this (assuming they did), nor how Chávez got away with this subversion of a democratic election.

To their credit, the New York Times now seems to have grasped the fact that Chávez is not a good guy; for an example of their new attitude, see this editorial.  Better late than never, though they do seem to make a habit of this kind of mistake.)
- 7:06 AM, 28 August 2007   [link]


Worth Reading:  Robert Rector on America's poor.  Examples:
80 percent of poor households have air conditioning.  By contrast, in 1970, only 36 percent of the entire U.S. population enjoyed air conditioning.
. . .
The typical poor American has more living space than the average individual living in Paris, London, Vienna, Athens, and other cities throughout Europe.  (These comparisons are to the average citizens in foreign countries, not to those classified as poor.)
. . .
Nearly two thirds of poor children reside in single-parent homes; each year, an additional 1.5 million children are born out of wedlock.  If poor mothers married the fathers of their children, nearly three quarters of the nation's impoverished youth would immediately be lifted out of poverty.
We err if we think that the problems of America's poor are the same now as they were during the Great Depression, or even the 1950s.
- 5:16 PM, 27 August 2007   [link]


Thomas Friedman Is Too Modest:  The New York Times columnist argues that the Bush administration has been ineffectual in the $propaganda war against Al Qaeda.
One thing that has always baffled me about the Bush team's war effort in Iraq and against Al Qaeda is this:  How could an administration that is so good at Swift-boating its political opponents at home be so inept at Swift-boating its geopolitical opponents abroad?
. . .
Dive into a conversation about America in the Arab world today, or even in Europe and Africa, and it won't take 30 seconds before the words "Abu Ghraib" and "Guantánamo Bay" are thrown at you.  Yes, both are shameful, but Abu Ghraib was a day at the beach compared to what Al Qaeda and its Sunni jihadist supporters have been doing in Iraq, yet none of their acts have become one-punch global insults like Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo.
And which newspaper is most reponsible for making Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo insults?  Why the one that Friedman works for, the good, grey, hopelessly-biased New York Times.  How can Friedman not know this?  (Perhaps he should look at these examples from Timeswatch.)

(Friedman is, of course, wrong to credit (or blame) Bush for "Swift-boating" John Kerry.  The Swift Boat Veterans for Truth did receive financial support from Republicans, but there is no evidence that they were controlled or even inspired by the Bush administration.  Their leader, John O'Neill, is a political independent who has quarreled with Kerry for decades.

You can find my own views on the Swiftvets controversy in a number of posts, notably here.)
- 3:03 PM, 27 August 2007   [link]


Karl Rove, Political Tactician:  When Karl Rove resigned, many on the left (and in the "mainstream" media) celebrated, charging that he had been divisive, that he had been the author of many dirty tricks, and that his great strategy to make Republicans the majority party had failed.  On the first charge, they were wrong; Rove and Bush actually started by trying hard to work with Democrats in Congress, and the divisiveness we all see comes more from the left side of the aisle than the right.  On the second charge, that Rove has run dirty campaigns, I would say that, like every other political operative, he is no saint, but he is not guilty of most of the charges.  I do not know of a single dirty ploy he used in the 2000, 2002, 2004, or 2006 campaigns, not one single thing that went beyond the usual bounds of our national campaigns.

On the third charge, that Rove failed to create a permanent Republican majority, those on the left are partly right.  We don't know what the long term effects his policies will have, but it is obvious that the 2006 election was a serious — though not necessarily permanent — setback.

But then I never took his idea that he could duplicate the gains that the Republicans made a century ago, as he hoped, seriously.  Those gains were mostly due, first, to a recession that had begun under a Democratic president and, second, to the Democrats erring by running William Jennings Bryan three times, in 1896, 1900, and 1908.  That was as if modern Democrats had nominated George McGovern in 1972 — and again in 1976 and 1984.  Republicans would have been delighted if McGovern had been nominated three times, just as they were delighted when Bryan was nominated three times.  The opposing party can, by its errors, make an operative look like a genius.

Where Rove was successful was as a political tactician; for an appreciation of his abilities along those lines, see this Michael Barone column.
I think there's a strong argument that the Bush 2000 platform was well adapted to the nation's needs and that most of it has been put successfully into effect.  The education accountability act was a constructive and bipartisan federal push for reforms already proved in some states.  The tax cuts, especially those of 2003, usefully stimulated an economy weakened by the bursting of the tech bubble and the 9/11 attacks.  The Medicare prescription drug bill headed the nation's healthcare systems toward markets and away from government control.  Social Security reform was defeated by obdurate Democrats (and not helped by reluctant Republicans).  But who can deny that it addressed a long-term problem that must sooner or later require changes in policy?

Rove's political strategy defeated the in party in 2000 at a time of apparent peace and prosperity (and helped Republicans face the strongest push for a Democratic Congress between 1994 and 2006), made unusual off-year gains for Republicans in 2002, and, through microtargeting and unprecedented volunteer involvement, produced a solid victory in 2004.
Note, by the way, the connection that Barone makes between policy and electoral success; as Barone explains at more length in the column, it is not enough to win; a successful politician must win with issues on which he (or she) can deliver.  (One of the reasons that the congressional Democrats are now in trouble with the voters is that they promised an easy and pain-free exit from Iraq, something sensible people know is impossible.)  Bush and Rove managed to find policies that would appeal to most voters, were mostly achievable — and were good for the country, which is the most important thing.  That combination is harder to achieve than most think.

(For more on the positive side of Rove, see this piece by a former colleague, Michael Gerson.

If you want to know more about William Jennings Bryan, you might start by reading his famous "cross of gold" speech.)
- 9:11 AM, 27 August 2007   [link]


Jobs Young Americans Won't Do?  In my last two visits to Mt. Rainier, and my visit to Lassen Peak, I was surprised to see foreign workers at the concessions.  I noticed several young Asian (Japanese?) women at both Sunrise and Paradise on Mt. Rainier, and spoke to a young man from Slovakia at Lassen.  (He seemed pleased that I had heard of his university.)

At one time, summer jobs at our national parks were prized by American college students, not so much for the money as for the locations.  I would have been delighted to serve hamburgers at Rainier on summer vacations when I was in college, but assumed that such jobs required connections that I did not have.  (Thirty years ago, the waitresses at Paradise Inn on Mt. Rainier during the summer were almost all students from Washington state colleges and universities.  I know that because I remember noting with amusement the college names on their badges, added, I supposed, to increase the tips — at least from alumni.)  Apparently, American college students now have different preferences when it comes to summer jobs.

(And it may be that our national parks, at least in the West, are affected by the very low unemployment rates in much of the mountain West.)
- 6:45 PM, 26 August 2007   [link]


"Better Than Analysts Had Expected"  Good news on the economy.
New-home sales turned up and factory orders soared in July, suggesting the economy was on stable footing before a credit crunch took a turn for the worse.

The Commerce Department reported Friday that sales of new homes rose 2.8 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 870,000 units. The increase came after a 4 percent drop in June.

Another report from the department showed that orders placed with factories for big-ticket goods jumped 5.9 percent in July, the most in 10 months.

The latest batch of economic news was better than analysts had expected.  They were forecasting home sales to fall and calling for a much smaller, 1 percent gain in factory orders.
Maybe it is just my imagination, but I have the impression that we have seen a great many such reports in the last five years, a great many reports in which journalists are surprised because the economy is doing better than expected — even though the president is a Republican.
- 4:31 PM, 26 August 2007   [link]