Archive:

August 2010, Part 3

Jim Miller on Politics




Pseudo-Random Thoughts



360 Degrees Of Mt. St Helens:  Two summit views (2003 and 2006), a base view, and a comparison of the summit views, all here.

Don't be surprised if your browser goes into full-screen mode; that's what it is supposed to do with these pictures.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 4:24 PM, 24 August 2010   [link]


Now, The Odds Favor A Labor Defeat In Australia:  (For the moment, anyway.)  You can bet here or here. And you can find an explanation for the shift here.
The coalition's chances of forming a minority government have taken a dramatic change for the better following counting of votes in two key seats late today.

Analysts have given the crucial Tasmanian seat of Denison to the independent Andrew Wilkie after he drew 1375 votes ahead of Labor's Jonathan Jackson.

If Mr Wilkie wins the seat it will push the number of independents in the new parliament to four, adding confusion to an already complex situation.

Neither the coalition nor Labor will reach the 76 lower house seats needed to govern in their own right.

Instead, both will have to negotiate support for a minority government with a crossbench that could include six MPs.

The coalition is in the box seat with 72 seats so far, to Labor's 71.

Labor's chances in Hasluck (WA) have been dealt a blow with the first batch of postal votes breaking the way of the Liberals' Ken Wyatt.

Mr Wyatt has extended his lead over sitting MP Sharryn Jackson to 533 votes, giving the coalition hope it will finish poll counting with 73 seats.
In the past, mailed ballots in United States were heavily Republican; something similar seems to be true in today's Australia.

By way, naturally, of Tim Blair

(Most of the independents come from constituencies that are heavily anti-Labor.)
- 10:31 AM, 24 August 2010   [link]


Maine Versus New Hampshire:  The American states provide a number of natural policy experiments that let us judge — if we are open-minded — what works and what doesn't work.

One such natural experiment can be found in two neighboring New England states that pursued different paths after World War II.  Amity Shlaes, relying on a study by J. Scott Moody, describes the result.
At the end of World War II, Maine boasted a bigger economy and a bigger population than New Hampshire.  In some other respects the two states were similar.  They were both in New England, and both were struggling with the death of old industries such as textiles.  In 1946, per capita income was $9,610 and $9,768 for Maine and New Hampshire, respectively.
. . .
Overall today, Maine residents shoulder a heavier tax burden than do those of New Hampshire.   State and local taxes take 12.6 percent of personal income in Maine, the sixth-highest share among states.  In New Hampshire state and local taxes take 8.7 percent, putting New Hampshire at 49th for tax burden.

The result?  Decade in, decade out, New Hampshire's economy grew faster than Maine's, so that the Granite State surpassed the Pine Tree State in 1984 and today boasts an output that is 20 percent bigger.  Maine's recessions and double dips were worse than New Hampshire's.  Eventually New Hampshire also won the population contest, passing Maine, in part thanks to migration.  Last month, joblessness was 8.1 percent in Maine, better than Ohio but still bad, and 5.8 percent in New Hampshire.

What about that family pocketbook that the White House highlights?  Bureau of Economic Analysis data show average per capita income for Maine in 2009 was $36,745, a bit more than Ohio.  In New Hampshire that number was $42,831, eighth highest in the nation.
If you want lower unemployment and higher incomes in your state, you should imitate New Hampshire — and learn from Maine's mistakes.

(In the late 1970s, I read a comparison of New Hampshire with neighboring Vermont.  The Green Mountain State had had higher taxes than New Hampshire for many decades.  But they didn't seem to have gotten better services in return.  SAT scores were a little higher in New Hampshire, the state's roads were about as good, welfare payments were a little higher (though a little harder to get), and so on, and so on.  Vermont taxpayers were paying more (and still are, last I looked) but weren't getting more in return.)
- 9:40 AM, 24 August 2010   [link]


Congratulations To Seattle:  The city across Lake Washington to my west is tied with San Francisco for the 9th highest combined sales tax rate in the United States, beating out 98 other large cities.  Many in Seattle worked hard for this, and they have a right to be proud of their success.  (Though they may be a little embarrassed to be beaten for the top spot by two Alabama cities, Birmingham and Montgomery.)

No doubt, given Seattle's favorable demographics — high levels of education and income and few children and elderly poor — the city has bought superb services with this high tax rate.   I am sure that Seattle's schools are the envy of the whole state, that the streets are in superb condition, that the basic infrastructure has not been neglected, that any homeless problems have solved, that street gangs are nonexistent, that congestion is at most a minor problem, and that the libraries have extended their hours and services.  With that amount of revenue, how could it be otherwise?

Majorities in Seattle have been so proud of this accomplishment that they have shared it with the rest of us living in King County, so that our sales taxes are also quite high.  (Oddly enough, the county is threatening to cut services, in spite of this flood of revenue.  Or continue to cut services, I should say, since the county has given up a number of services in recent years.)

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(Washington state, including Seattle, exempts food and drugs from the sales tax.  You can find details on the tax rules in an annoying video here, or in this Wikipedia article (with the usual Wikipedia caveats).

By way of the TaxProf.)


Obama's Lucky Charms:  He carries more of them with him than I would have guessed.
Amongst the things that Barack Obama carries for good luck are a bracelet belonging to a soldier deployed in Iraq, a gambler's lucky chit, a tiny monkey god and a tiny Madonna and child.
And there are a couple more in the picture that I can't identify.

What does this all mean?  Beats me, though it does add some support to the idea that Obama may be, at heart, a Unitarian, since Unitarians are famous for what one might call an eclectic approach to religious beliefs.

(By way of commenter "threadkiller".)
- 4:09 PM, 23 August 2010   [link]


23,000 Jobs:  That's the Obama administration's estimate on how many have been lost because of their moratorium on deep water drilling.
Senior Obama administration officials concluded the federal moratorium on deepwater oil drilling would cost roughly 23,000 jobs, but went ahead with the ban because they didn't trust the industry's safety equipment and the government's own inspection process, according to previously undisclosed documents.

Critics of the moratorium, including Gulf Coast political figures and oil-industry leaders, have said it is crippling the region's economy, and some have called on the administration to make public its economic analysis.  A federal judge who in June threw out an earlier six-month moratorium faulted the administration for playing down the economic effects.
Maybe these workers would get more sympathy from the Obama administration if they joined public service unions.

(There were more jobs lost in Utah when Interior Secretary Ken Salazar canceled 77 drilling leases, but but I haven't seen an estimate on how many.)
- 3:42 PM, 23 August 2010   [link]


Worth Reading:  George Will on those endless lectures to Israel.  Here are his beginning and ending paragraphs:
In the intifada that began in 2000, Palestinian terrorism killed more than 1,000 Israelis.  As a portion of U.S. population, that would be 42,000, approaching the toll of America's eight years in Vietnam.   During the onslaught, which began 10 Septembers ago, Israeli parents sending two children to a school would put them on separate buses to decrease the chance that neither would return for dinner.  Surely most Americans can imagine, even if their tone-deaf leaders cannot, how grating it is when those leaders lecture Israel on the need to take "risks for peace."
. . .
In the 62 years since this homeland was founded on one-sixth of 1 percent of the land of what is carelessly and inaccurately called "the Arab world," Israelis have never known an hour of real peace.  Patronizing American lectures on the reality of risks and the desirableness of peace, which once were merely fatuous, are now obscene.
That American lectures to Israel are (usually) not quite as obscene as those from Europe is no excuse.   We should be leading them out of the muck and mud, not joining them in it.
- 3:24 PM, 23 August 2010   [link]


Time To Call The Governor-General?  Not yet, but Australia's governor-general, Quentin Bryce, (who is a lady, despite being named Quentin) may soon get to pick Australia's prime minister.  Some worry that Bryce might be just a little biased.
The governor general is the mother-in-law of Bill Shorten, the parliamentary secretary of the Labor Party, Australian Associated Press reported.  Shorten was a powerbroker, instrumental in the June replacement of former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd with [Julia] Gillard, the news agency said.
On the other hand, Shorten may not get along well with his mother-in-law.

Bloomberg describes possible scenarios in the rest of the article.  (I'm not sure that Bloomberg has them right, since the reporter who wrote the story doesn't seem to realize that they are still counting ballots in Australia, and that there are four races "too close to call".)  MSNBC has another set of scenarios in this article.  (I don't know whether they're right, either.)

Neither news organization mentions this quirk:  The majority party in Australia chooses the Speaker.  But then the Speaker does not vote, except in ties.  So a party with just 75 votes would lose its majority, as soon as it elected the Speaker.
- 1:04 PM, 23 August 2010   [link]


The Risks Of Cousin Marriages:  Have been known since the middle of the 19th century, though that knowledge does not seem to have reached some populations.
More than 700 children are born with genetic diseases every year as a result of cousin marriages, an investigation has found.

The problem is worst among children born in Britain's Pakistani community, where more than half of marriages are between first cousins, and children are 10 times more likely than the general population to suffer genetic disorders.

The medical risks of first cousin marriages include higher rates of infant mortality, birth defects, learning difficulties, blindness, hearing problems and metabolic disorders.
(Emphasis added.)

The problem is more severe in that community because they have had so many cousin marriages in the past, and so Pakistani cousins are likely to share more genes than, say, American cousins.

Many of these cousin marriages are arranged marriages, often arranged to enable a Pakistani cousin to emigrate to Britain.

By way of Small Dead Animals.

(For background, you may want to read this Wikipedia article.)
- 8:41 AM, 23 August 2010   [link]


How Are The Sanctions Against Iran Working?   Badly, according to the Iranians.
Trade between Iran and the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council has soared despite a newly imposed round of international economic sanctions on Iran, the semi-official Iranian news broadcaster Press TV has claimed.

A Press TV report claimed that while Iranian imports from the U.S. and the U.K. have suffered under the new sanctions regime, exports to both countries rose by 76 percent and 61 percent, respectively, over the last four months.  Trade with China, by many account's Iran's most important trading partner, saw a 50 percent rise in exports and a 40 percent rise in imports, the news agency found.
The Iranians could be lying, but this surge seems plausible, since China and Russia both oppose real sanctions.  (China and Russia hope to cause trouble for us and our allies.  That's disgusting, but understandable, in the short run.  It's really idiotic in the long run, since both nations have large Islamic minorities, who will be even more likely to look for support to Iran after the Iranians get the bomb.)

There was never any reason to expect sanctions to work, given the opposition of the Russia and China.   That should be obvious, but I fear that many in the Obama administration, probably including Obama, haven't figured that out.
- 7:32 AM, 23 August 2010   [link]


The New York Times Really, Really Wants To See Tom DeLay Go To Prison:  Whether or not he committed any crimes.
Mr. DeLay, the Texas Republican who had been the House majority leader, crowed that he had been "found innocent."  But many of Mr. DeLay's actions remain legal only because lawmakers have chosen not to criminalize them.  Mr. DeLay's wife and daughter, for example, were paid more than $500,000 by his political action and campaign committees for "strategic guidance" and event-planning.  Others in Congress, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, have put family members on the payroll.
If putting family members on the payroll becomes an indictable offense, the New York Times will soon be short a publisher.

Since we are discussing crimes, this is a good time to add this reminder:  I hope that someone in the Justice Department takes another look at the instances in which our newspaper of record has published our secrets in war time.  I am not a lawyer, but I think there is good reason to believe that editors and reporters there have broken our laws, more than once.  And, though this may not matter to the Times, endangered the lives of Americans and our allies.

(John Hinderaker suspects that the Times would like to see all Republicans in prison.)
- 6:47 AM, 23 August 2010   [link]


Timeouts For Members Of The Australian Parliament:  While trying to figure out what would happen if the Australian House of Representatives was split 75-75, I ran across this bit.
Australian parliaments are notoriously rowdy, and the Speaker frequently exercises the disciplinary powers available under Standing Orders.  The Speaker may summarily order a Member to excuse him or herself from the House for one hour.  For more serious offences, the Speaker may "name" a Member: he says "I name the Honourable Member for X," following the House's convention that Members are always referred to by their electorate.  The House then votes on a motion to suspend the Member for 24 hours.
Which will sound all too familiar to young mothers, I suspect.
- 7:42 PM, 22 August 2010   [link]


First Look At R In A Nutshell:  As I mentioned earlier, last week I picked up a new book on the statistical language, R.  So far, I am quite pleased with Joseph Adler's R in a Nutshell, though I have not used it enough in making graphs to make a final judgment about the book.

(If you are not interested in statistics and graph construction, you can stop here, though you might want to know that I use R for almost all the graphs I have constructed for this site.)

It is a better book for my purposes than the one I have been using, Peter Dalgaard's Introductory Statistics with R.  Mostly, I suppose, because I am more interested in using the language than in learning statistics.  But it is also true that Adler covers some topics in the language that Dalgaard doesn't, in particular the "trellis" graphics routines.

You don't need the trellis routines for most graphs, but they are terribly handy when you do.  They are particularly useful when you need to make a set of related graphs, like this one.   And sometimes that really is the best way to present information, though I wouldn't have used them in that form to present that data.  (Instead, I would have done a set of four stacked plots, so that you could compare them vertically.)

Neither book has all the practical details a user might want.  I had to do some searching on line to find out how to add minor tic marks to graphs.  And neither book has much to say about some of the practical details on how to improve the quality of your graphs.  To be fair, that may depend so much on your hardware that it not be possible to cover even the important details.  (Incidentally, I generate much better graphs than I display, because I have to convert them from PDF to .png files before I use them on the site.  I'll probably start linking to the PDF versions for those who want a better look, especially for the more detailed graphs.)

Adler's book has another advantage over Dalgaard's; he gives web sources for his data, and, in some cases, tells you how to retrieve it, and even how to reduce some large data sets to usable sizes.  Few readers will find all of his sources useful; almost every reader will find some sources they want to experiment with themselves, whether it is birth weight, or baseball statistics.

Amazon won't give you much of a discount on the book; Borders won't give you any.  But, if you have a Borders card and have signed up for Borders' promotions, you can wait until they send you a discount coupon, as they do regularly.  (Usually, 30 percent off, but sometimes 40 percent.)  Which is what I did.
- 7:02 PM, 22 August 2010   [link]


Suppose They Gave An Election, Everyone Came, And Nothing Was Decided:   That's the odd situation that Australia finds itself in, after Saturday's election.  Voting is compulsory in Australia — if you don't vote, you have to give an excuse or pay a small fine — so almost everyone voted.   (Typically, about 95 percent do.)  That's the easy part to explain.

Now for the hard part.  Nothing was decided because they are still counting the votes.  Australia uses paper ballots and preference voting, so the count is naturally slow.  The Australian House of Representatives, which has most of the power, has 150 members, so a majority is 76.  The Australian Labor party is projected to win 72, and the Liberal/Country party coalition is projected to win 73.  One Green was elected, and the rest of the seats will be held by independents, who are truly independent, as far as this complete outsider can tell.

As of now, Australian news organizations are projecting that it will take up to ten days to count the ballots, and (I assume) make any necessary deal, before we will know who actually won.

I'll be following it at Tim Blair's site.

(Isn't having an even number in the House an elementary mistake?   Probably, though they may have some way to resolve ties.)
- 3:52 PM, 22 August 2010   [link]


39, 38, 37, 36, . . .  As you probably recall, the Republicans need to gain 39 seats, net, to take control of the House of Representatives.  Analyst Charlie Cook is now predicting that they will win between 35 and 45.  (He has also said, flatly, that they will take control, leaving me a little bit confused, but let's ignore that for the moment.)

Okay, it's Speaker Boehner if the Republicans gain 39 or more seats.  (Practically speaking the Republicans will really, really want to have a few extras to take care of possible deaths and retirements, but let's ignore that for the moment.)  If they gain fewer than 39, is it Speaker Pelosi again?

Not necessarily, because there are still a few moderate, and even conservative, Democrats left in the House, who would really, really rather not vote for Pelosi in those circumstances.  For instance, Walt Minnick, who represents Idaho 1st, a district that voted for John McCain 62-36.  For instance, Gene Taylor, who represents Mississippi 4th, a district that voted for McCain 67-32.  Assuming they both win re-election — Taylor has a better chance than Minnick — both would be smart, assuming they want to stay in the House, not to vote for Pelosi — who is not popular in their districts.  To put it mildly.

How many such Democrats there are is hard to say; how many there will be in the House after the November election is even harder.  But it is nearly certain that, if the Republicans just missing winning an absolute majority, that there will be enough such Democrats to tip the balance.

What will they do?  Anything they want, because, if they stick together, they are just as powerful as the two parties.  If they want to demand a different candidate from the Democratic caucus, they can.  If they want to switch parties, and make Boehner Speaker, they can.

We had an example of the possibilities after the 1998 election.  Newt Gingrich had stepped down, and Bob Livingston of Louisiana was the choice of the Republican caucus to succeed him as speaker.  But, as the vote to organize the House approached, we learned that Livingston had not always had a perfect personal life.  Some Republicans threatened to withhold their votes, which could have denied him the majority.
At the heart of his decision was both political calculation and personal concern, according to associates and aides.  Even before his official election as speaker by the incoming House, Livingston's support among Republicans had begun to erode because of outrage among a handful of social conservatives and moderates over his sexual revelations.

Reps. Donald Manzullo (R-Ill.) and Steve Largent (R-Okla.), both committed religious conservatives, were among the most outspoken critics, while a few prominent moderates said privately that they were upset because Livingston hadn't disclosed the affairs before he was picked to succeed outgoing Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.).  With Republicans holding a majority edge over the Democrats of only six seats in the incoming House, Livingston would have lived in constant fear of losing a handful of defectors.
So he withdrew from the race, and resigned from Congress.  He says he did so for personal reasons, to protect his marriage.  But the possibility that he might not have won the vote for Speaker must have made that decision easier to make.

(Incidentally, Livingston had been a good chairman of the Appropriations Committee, good enough so that I'll have more to say about his service there, in a later post.

Those of a theoretical turn of mind may want to look at this article on the power index, which gives us a way to measure voting power in such situations.)
- 3:35 PM, 20 August 2010   [link]


Good News For The Economy:  Though CNN reporter Julianne Pepitone doesn't seem to realize that.
"This really is a historically bad week for the oil market," said Phil Flynn, a senior market analyst with PFG Best.

Prices had briefly broken the $80 mark earlier this month, but they began falling last week and fell further this week.  Prices settled at $73.46 a barrel Friday.  Earlier in the week, the Energy Information Administration said supplies rose to 1.13 billion barrels last week.
One more time:  Low oil prices stimulate the economy; the less we have to spend for energy, including oil, the more we have to spend on other things.  And everyone should know by now that much of the money spent on oil goes to other countries.
- 2:03 PM, 20 August 2010   [link]


Arithmetic Versus Locavores:  "Liberal curmudgeon" Stephen Budiansky uses the first to demolish the second.  Here's his summary:
The best way to make the most of these truly precious resources of land, favorable climates and human labor is to grow lettuce, oranges, wheat, peppers, bananas, whatever, in the places where they grow best and with the most efficient technologies — and then pay the relatively tiny energy cost to get them to market, as we do with every other commodity in the economy.  Sometimes that means growing vegetables in your backyard. Sometimes that means buying vegetables grown in California or Costa Rica.

Eating locally grown produce is a fine thing in many ways.  But it is not an end in itself, nor is it a virtue in itself.  The relative pittance of our energy budget that we spend on modern farming is one of the wisest energy investments we can make, when we honestly look at what it returns to our land, our economy, our environment and our well-being.
Freight transportation, especially rail transportation, is astonishingly energy efficient in the United States — and has been getting more so.

(Is the rest of Budiansky's web site as good as this op-ed?  Not at first glance, though I will be looking at it from time to time, now that I have read this piece.  I like it when anyone thinks with numbers, and I like it even more when I find that thinking in unexpected places.)
- 12:43 PM, 20 August 2010   [link]


"The Cynical Brilliance of Imam Rauf"  Victor Davis Hanson says what needs to be said.
Almost everything about the proposed Ground Zero mosque was cynically brilliant.

Start with the notion of a "Cordoba Initiative."  In the elite modern Western mind, Cordoba has been transmogrified into a mythical Lala Land of interfaith tolerance.  To invoke the city is to prove one's ecumenical credentials.  Just ask our president, who, in his June 2009 Cairo speech, fantastically claimed that the Muslim city taught us tolerance while Christians were launching the Inquisition (1478) — quite a feat two and a half centuries after most of the Muslims of Cordoba had fled, converted, or been cleansed during the city's fall (1236) to the Christian forces of the Reconquista.  But no matter, we got the president's drift about who was supposedly tolerant and who was not.

In truth, apart from a brief cultural renaissance, Cordoba, during its five centuries of Islamic rule, was not especially tolerant of nonbelievers.  And, like most medieval cities, it was plagued by coups, assassinations, and right-wing clerical intolerance; it was a place where books were both burned and written.  But that is not the point of citing Cordoba.  Surely Feisal Abdul Rauf knows all that and more: Cordoba is as much a mythical construct of a long-ago multicultural paradise so dear to elite liberals as it is a fantasy rallying cry to Islamists to reclaim the lost Al-Andalus.

So Cordoba is a two-birds-with-one-stone evocation: in the liberal West proof of one's ecumenical bona fides; in the Middle East proof of one's Islamist bona fides.  It would be easy to find a city emblematic of interfaith outreach other than the Andalusian Cordoba — from Jerusalem to Ann Arbor — but then the irony would be lost.
Please read the whole thing.

And please, though I warn you again that it may not be pleasant, read Christopher Caldwell's Reflections on the Revolution in Europe, where you will learn how the Europeans are struggling with a host of similar issues.

(Related:  Patterico demolishes the "accepted wisdom" on the ground zero mosque.  Note, for instance, that Imam Rauf chose that site specifically because it was so near to ground zero.)
- 12:20 PM, 20 August 2010   [link]


As Washington Goes, So Goes The Nation?  Sean Trende shows that Washington's blanket primary is a good predictor of general election results here, and may be a good predictor of national results.

Maine opted to conform to the national Election Day after the 1958 elections, so we don't have general election returns to pore over before November anymore.  There is, however, a close cousin.   Washington State employed a "blanket primary" from 1935 through 2002, and again starting in 2008, which allows all candidates to run on the same ballot.  Voters, regardless of party affiliation, can choose any candidate, and the top two candidates advance to the general election.

And, it turns out, these primary elections end up looking an awful lot like the November elections.  I gathered the results for congressional and senate primaries in recent years where Washington used the blanket primary system (1992-2002 and 2008).  This gave me a nice dataset of 65 elections. I looked at the total Democratic vote cast in the primaries, and compared it to the total Democratic vote in the general election.
. . .
This also tells us something about the general playing field for November, and it isn't good news for the Democrats.  Even perpetually vulnerable Republicans like Reichert look like they will have a good November.  In the swing 3rd District, it looks like the Democrats will lose.  In the Senate race, as well as in the 2nd and 9th districts, Democrats would be favored to win handily under normal circumstances, but may have close shaves and may even lose.  And their incumbents in safe districts will almost certainly see reduced margins.  If this pattern is repeated nationally, Democrats are in for a very rough election night.

I haven't duplicated his study, though I may if I can get access to the data.  (Or if someone else wants to do the tedious work of compiling the election results for me.)  But his findings are consistent with what I have seen in most elections here.

Those unfamiliar with Washington state politics may need to know just how Democratic Washington has been in recent presidential elections.  Obama won it in 2008, 58-40 and Kerry won it in 2004, 53-46.  In my opinion, those results overstate Democratic strength in Washington state; the state does lean Democratic but Republicans still win many statewide elections.  (And are the favorites to win the governorship in 2012.)  Even so, there is no doubt that Washington is now more Democratic than the nation as a whole.

Currently Democrats hold both Senate seats, and 6 of 9 House seats.  Right now, I think the odds are even that Republicans will take one Senate seat, even that they will take one House seat (2nd), and better than even that they will win another (3rd).  If all that happens — a big if, granted — the state's congressional delegation will go from 8-3 Democratic to 6-5 Republican.   (The wave building is so big that I do not exclude the possibility that the Republicans will take two other House seats, the 1st and the 9th.)

If Republicans do that well here, they will, almost certainly, do even better nationally.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 2:13 PM, 19 August 2010   [link]


Good News From Saudi Arabia:  You can show more on TV in the kingdom than I would have guessed.
A role reversal comedy shown on Saudi television in which a woman marries four husbands has hit the very nerve it satirised - male pride and double standards.
Apparently they are opening up a little bit.  (And take a look at the last two paragraphs for another surprising show.)

Would one of our networks be willing to do a similar show?  Probably not.
- 11:00 AM, 19 August 2010   [link]


Terrorists In Chicago?  Not who you might think.
Yes, Rod Blagojevich had his federally recorded tantrums about the opinion pages of this newspaper.   But for all his sworn spluttering, the then-governor stopped short of exposing what the Illinois Federation of Teachers and Illinois Education Association now reveal: that the Tribune allows itself "to be used as a tool of terror."  How?  By printing "a blatant attempt to frighten and intimidate innocent people."  The diabolical plot?  "An unconscionable use of a newspaper to force a surrender by those who continue to work hard and well for the people of Illinois."
Specifically, the Tribune printed a Dennis Byrne column that passed on a legal opinion that the state of Illinois is not necessarily obligated to pay teachers' pensions.  That may be unpleasant news, since the state is rapidly running out of money to pay those pensions, but most of us would not consider it terrorism.

(Expect to see many more of these battles, since almost every (every?) state has underfunded its pension plans.)
- 10:42 AM, 19 August 2010   [link]


Please Save Obama, George W. Bush:  That's what a slew of leftists are now saying.
There's a new argument emerging among supporters of the Ground Zero mosque. Distressed by President Obama's waffling on the issue, they're calling on former President George W. Bush to announce his support for the project, because in this case Bush understands better than Obama the connection between the war on terror and the larger question of America's relationship with Islam. It's an extraordinary change of position for commentators who long argued that Bush had done grievous harm to America's image in the Muslim world and that Obama represented a fresh start for the United States. Nevertheless, they are now seeing a different side of the former president.
Here, for instance, is Maureen Dowd.
The war against the terrorists is not a war against Islam.  In fact, you can't have an effective war against the terrorists if it is a war on Islam.

George W. Bush understood this.  And it is odd to see Barack Obama less clear about this matter than his predecessor.  It's time for W. to weigh in.
Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat makes a similar comparison.
As for Obama, who didn't mention the controversy during his Seattle visit, [Muslim Amadou] Toure says he "had it right the first time" — when he spoke out forcefully in favor of the Islamic center.

"He shouldn't have backed down," Toure says.  "The Democrats should be more like George Bush.  Whatever you think of him, at least he stuck to what he believed."

Ah, George Bush.  He's the one who visited a mosque in Washington, D.C., only six days after the worst assault on us we've ever seen, and said this: "The face of terror is not the true faith of Islam. That's not what Islam is all about.  Islam is peace.  These terrorists don't represent peace.  They represent evil and war."
Thankfully, Westneat does not call on Bush to speak out now.

It is amusing, and more than a little disgusting, to see leftists asking George W. Bush to bail out Barack Obama.  Obama has, while adopting many Bush policies on terrorism, criticized Bush endlessly, often unfairly.  Bush has been more than gracious toward his successor; Obama has repaid him with sneer after sneer.

What this strange new respect shows, I suppose, is that these leftist critics did not believe much of what they were saying about President Bush.  Or, if they believed it at the time, they now realize they were wrong.

(Incidentally, Bush was right to claim that "Islam is peace", even though that's an inaccurate description of one of the world's most warlike religions.  Presidents, as chief diplomats, often have to say things that aren't true, for diplomatic reasons.)
- 8:33 AM, 19 August 2010   [link]


President Obama, the uniter.
President Obama's fundraising mission in Los Angeles on Monday evening may have been a whirlwind trip for him, but it was a tedious slog for the thousands who found themselves in gridlock from the Westside to downtown.

A Brentwood resident's two-mile jaunt took 45 minutes.  An Echo Park couple who left home at 5:30 p.m. found their usual 20-minute drive west to Olympic and Rimpau boulevards took a whopping hour and 15 minutes.  An attorney left his Miracle Mile-area office at 5:45 p.m. and sat unmoving in traffic for 45 minutes.

No matter their politics, Los Angeles residents found themselves united.  "It was a beautiful thing," said Brentwood resident Myles Berkowitz, commiserating with his neighbors on Montana Avenue.   "Young, old, black, white — everyone was pissed off."
Well, that's one way to bring people together.
- 3:34 PM, 18 August 2010   [link]


Even In Martha's Vineyard?  The shift in public opinion toward Bush isn't surprising, but that it is showing up even there is.
- 12:33 PM, 18 August 2010   [link]


"Geography Is Hard", Says Anthony Watts:  And provides a hilarious example to illustrate his point.

(Just for fun, I looked at the Wikipedia article on Greenland for a better illustration.  I found one in less than a minute.)
- 10:50 AM, 18 August 2010   [link]


The Bell Story Just Keeps Getting Worse:  Now we learn that city employees and officials, all very well paid, got loans from the city.
The city of Bell gave nearly $900,000 in loans to former City Administrator Robert Rizzo, city employees and at least two council members in the last several years, according to records reviewed by The Times.

The documents show that Bell's former assistant city manager, Angela Spaccia, received two loans of at least $100,000 each and that council members Oscar Hernandez and Luis Artiga received $20,000 loans.  Rizzo, whose huge salary sparked a scandal that forced him and other city officials to step down, received two loans for $80,000 each, city officials said.
Amazing, simply amazing.

You have to wonder why Rizzo needed, or even wanted, those loans.  He might have wanted them for real estate investments, I suppose.  But almost every other explanation I can think of involves illegal (drug use) or dubious (high stakes gambling) activities.

The Bell council members are all Democrats, of course, though you may not have seen that in your local paper.
- 9:10 AM, 18 August 2010   [link]


Moderate Gains:  That's what I expect for Washington state Republicans this November, after a quick look at the partial returns from our top-two primary.  Republicans will make gains, but a landslide like that in 1994, when Republicans swept the state, looks unlikely.  (Unlikely but not impossible, since we could see even more bad economic news, and Barack and Michelle Obama may continue their efforts in support of the Republican party.)

(Washington state counts mailed ballots, as long as they are postmarked no later than election day, so the county offices haven't even received all of the ballots yet, much less counted all of them.  As I write, the Secretary of State says they have counted 954,570 ballots, and have 242,055 ballots "on hand to be processed".)

Caveat:  Since these are partial returns, any analysis must necessarily be tentative.

As of now, I would judge that Dino Rossi has a 50 percent chance to defeat three-term incumbent Senator Patty Murray.  She has been running a vigorous campaign for weeks, with many ads on TV, but received only 46 percent of the vote.  (Remarkably, one of our local talking heads, Lori Matsukawa, told us last last night that Murray had had a good day.  I don't think even Patty "no rocket scientist" Murray believes that.)

Republicans are likely to pick up one House seat, and could pick up as many as four.  As of now, I would say that Republican Jaime Herrera is the favorite in the 3rd district, currently held by Democrat Brian Baird, that Republican John Koster has an even chance to defeat incumbent Rick Larsen in the 2nd district, and that Republicans James Watkins and Dick Muri have outside chances of defeating incumbents in the 1st and 9th districts, respectively.  (The last is a bit of a surprise to me.  The incumbent, Adam Smith, has held the 9th district since the 1996 election and seems like a good fit for the district, but received only 52 percent of the total vote yesterday.)  8th district Republican Dave Reichert, whom the Democrats have tried hard to defeat in every election, is probably safe, unless he commits more blunders in this campaign.

Republicans are almost certain to make gains in the state legislature, but are unlikely to take control of either house.  Many of the races look close enough so that they could be won by the side with the better get-out-the-vote effort, or the better door-to-door campaign.

How the independents split will, as usual, determine most close races.  Nationally, they have been shifting toward the Republicans, not so much because they are attracted to the Republicans, but because they are repelled by Obama, Pelosi, Reid, and company.  Whether that shift will help Republican candidates in Washington state legislative races is hard to say, without polling data.  In 2006 and 2008, I would have urged many local Republicans to make the race over local issues; this year, some might gain by nationalizing their races.

(Partisans often hate being told that independents will determine who wins.  I can understand that emotion, but think denying that fact, as some partisans do, is as silly as denying that rain is wet, or that the sky is blue.)

Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 8:12 AM, 18 August 2010   [link]


Does This Man Sound Like A Good Leader?  Especially at a high level?
As a boy, [he] was much influenced by his father's upright and inflexible character.  It made him single-minded and uncompromising, and he was not known for his geniality.  He had the greatest contempt for civilians and said they should be told nothing until the war was over, and then only who had won.  His weaknesses, according to a US Naval Academy professor were "other men's wives, alcohol, and intolerance", and one of his daughters said of him:  "He is the most even-tempered man in the Navy.  He is always in a rage."
Doesn't sound too promising, does he?  In fact, you may be wondering how he made it out of kindergarten, considering that he did not play well with others.

But this man, Admiral Ernest J. King, though still controversial, is considered, by many, to have been an organizational genius, and a great strategic thinker, who contributed much to our victory in World War II.

Example:  The successful Guadalcanal campaign was his idea.  It shows me that he had a nice understanding of what we could do then, and (probably) how the Japanese could react to our minor offensive.

There's another lesson for us, too.  Roosevelt, who undoubtedly knew King's weaknesses, as well as his strengths, chose him for a top position, showing FDR's willingness to work with a man who was certain to cause problems that Roosevelt would have to resolve.  (Particularly with our British allies, whom King disliked intensely.)  But Roosevelt recognized King's talents, and was willing to pay the price using those talents required.  (Roosevelt may even have enjoyed cleaning up after King, as many natural politicians would.)

Many of our presidents would have been able to make the same kind of calculation that Roosevelt did, and put up with an exceedingly unpleasant man, whose talents the nation needed.  But I am not sure that our current president, who does have some political skills, could, or would if he could.

(I took that description of King from The Oxford Guide to World War II, which Amazon is almost giving away.  It's a fine one-volume reference.)
- 7:04 PM, 17 August 2010   [link]


12 Percent Generic Vote Gap?  That's what Rasmussen found in their latest survey.
Republican candidates have jumped out to a record-setting 12-point lead over Democrats on the Generic Congressional Ballot for the week ending Sunday, August 15, 2010.  This is the biggest lead the GOP has held in over a decade of Rasmussen Reports surveying.
A glance at this graph shows that the biggest post-World War II popular vote win for the Republicans was in 1946, when they won about 55 percent of the vote.  If the Republicans were actually to win the popular House vote by 12 percent this year, it would be their best showing in the modern era.  (Which starts, for me, with the 1932 election.)

Polling results this unprecedented should be treated with caution, since every pollster will have a few outliers from time to time, just by chance.  But, as of now, I would have no trouble believing that the gap is actually 7 or 8 points.  Or, to put it another way, that it is about as large as Obama's margin over McCain in 2008.
- 3:47 PM, 17 August 2010   [link]


Exposed Signatures On Mailed Ballots:  I just voted in Washington state's primary and, as usual, the King County elections office found a way to annoy me.

King County's mail-in ballot envelopes no longer have flaps that cover voters' signatures, but officials say that won't compromise voters' privacy.

Next Tuesday's primary is the first countywide vote-by-mail election in which voters are putting their ballots in return envelopes with their names, addresses and signatures visible on the outside.

Which exposes the signatures to identity thieves.  And just to make it even easier for identity thieves, there is an optional line where you can enter your phone number.

Many of the places people put outgoing mail are not secure, but that fact does not seem to have reached our elections office.  (As most of you have already figured out, you should not put most mail in such places, however convenient they may be.)

What makes this especially infuriating is that King County, like most other places that use mailed ballots, uses a two-envelope system; the ballot is placed inside a security envelope, which is then placed inside a mailing envelope.  The name, address, and signature should be on the security envelope, not the mailing envelope.  (This might have required a small change in the state's election laws, but they could have done that when they dropped the requirement for a privacy flap.)

Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 12:33 PM, 17 August 2010   [link]


Nancy Pelosi Is The Most Partisan Speaker In My Life Time:  House Republicans may agree with that conclusion; they certainly see her as excessively partisan.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) is the most partisan Democrat in the House, while her deputy, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), is one of the most bipartisan lawmakers in the lower chamber, according to a survey conducted by The Hill.
. . .
Over the last couple of months, The Hill asked more than 100 House lawmakers to name the hardest and easiest members to work with. Democrats were asked about Republicans and Republicans were asked about Democrats.  Questions about the least bipartisan members were posed on a not-for-attribution basis so that lawmakers could discuss their views frankly.
. . .
Asked to describe the qualities that define a partisan, one member said, "The ones who are extreme ideologues, who are not open at all and have a narrow view of how Congress should work."

Many Republicans criticized Pelosi's style of running the House, contrasting the Speaker with President Obama, who has attracted praise from GOP officials for his inclusiveness.

"The Speaker doesn't meet with Republicans," a Republican lawmaker said.
So far, Pelosi's hyper-partisanship has not hurt the Democrats — but it has hurt the country.   We had a good opportunity to reform social security after the 2004 election — and Pelosi, along with other Democrats in the Congress, blocked it.  Similarly, we might have reined in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac if Pelosi had been willing to put the country's interests ahead of short-term partisan gains.

I doubt that Pelosi understood either issue, but there are House Democrats who did.

(This hyper-partisanship is quite common among machine politicians.  As I wrote way back in 2002, that's the best way to understand Pelosi.  Oddly enough, this hyper-partisanship is often coupled with a willingness to make deals with the other party, when that party controls a state or national budget.)
- 10:27 AM, 17 August 2010   [link]


As American As Apple Pie:  And attacks on politicians.
U.S. Sen. Carl Levin got an apple pie — no whipped cream or ice cream on top either — in the face this morning during a question-and-answer session for the Mecosta County Democrats at a Big Rapids deli after being criticized by a young man for his stance on foreign policy and defense of Israel.

Witnesses at Pepper's Café and Deli said as the Detroit Democrat who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee asked the audience to let the man have his say, a young woman circled behind him and squashed a pie into the 76-year-old Levin's face.
. . .
Big Rapids police said the woman, 22-year-old Ahlam Mohsen of Coldwater was arrested not far from the deli and charged with assault and disorderly conduct.  It was not immediately clear this afternoon if she was still being held.
Most of the news reports I've seen describe her as "anti-war".  Actually, she is better described as "anti-Israel".  She doesn't oppose Hamas attacks on Israel; she opposes Israel's responses to those attacks.

The incident by itself doesn't mean much (though Levin may need better security), but it does suggest that those who back Palestinian terrorism are beginning to recognize that, whatever Obama may say, American policy toward Israel is unlikely to change very much in the near future.

(If this is the same woman — and I have no idea how common her name is — she was deported from Israel last year.

We shouldn't be too blasé about this incident.  When pie attacks have no effect, a few attackers may decide that something more deadly is in order, as Sirhan Sirhan did, years ago.)
- 9:38 AM, 17 August 2010   [link]