December 2006, Part 2
Jim Miller on Politics
The Power Came Back On early this morning in my part of Kirkland. The power was off here for a little less than a day and a half, which was inconvenient, but no more than that, at least for me. (I haven't checked, but I don't think I even lost any food in my refrigerator.)
For some, of course, the power outage was much more serious. A woman working for a chain of dialysis centers came on one of the local radio stations (KOMO?) to tell us which centers were closed, and which open, and to tell their clients to contact them for advice. The centers were calling their clients, but some had the kind of phones that require power to work and couldn't be reached.
As usual in these emergencies, I found that outdoors equipment often works nicely as emergency equipment. The synthetic underwear that I use when cross country skiing kept me warm as the apartment cooled. The Mountain Green 30 LED camp lantern that I bought last summer from REI is bright enough to light a whole room, bright enough so that I can read easily with it. (REI sells other lanterns, but most of them would need spare batteries, if you were using them for a two or three day emergency. If the power had stayed out for another day or two, I would have gotten out my Coleman backpacking stove to do some simple cooking. And, of course, if it had gotten even colder in my apartment, I could have slept in my down sleeping bag.
And blogging? For that, I wasn't entirely prepared. The phone worked, so I could use my laptop to get on to the internet. But I do my blogging using Linux, and the laptop has a "winmodem", that is, a modem that requires Windows to run. Many of them now have Linux drivers, but I hadn't even looked for one before the power outage. And I hadn't worked out the procedures for posting from Windows. (Not that they are very complicated. Because of the way I build this site, I just need a text editor and an FTP program. But I didn't think of that until the battery was almost gone on the laptop.)
- 5:53 AM, 16 December 2006
*Safety Note: I would, of course, take the stove outside when I used it, because of the danger from carbon monoxide. I assumed that was obvious when I wrote the post, but I should not have because as news reports show, some people don't know about that danger. My little stove is not nearly as dangerous as charcoal grills, but Coleman does say that you should not use it indoors.
- 4:28 AM, 18 December 2006 [link]
Did The Stories On Senator Johnson's Illness Strike You As Just A Little Ghoulish? Stories such as this one from ABC.
Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson was in critical condition recovering from emergency brain surgery Thursday, creating political drama over whether his illness could cost Democrats newly won control of the Senate.The reporter, Mary Clare Jalonick, raised the political issues in that lead sentence — before she even tells us why the senator needed brain surgery. As far as I can tell, most of the "mainstream" media reported the story in much the same way. They rushed to tell us about the possible political consequences and ignored this seriously ill man.
For now, I will just wish Senator Johnson a complete and early recovery, and leave any political discussions for later.
- 1:01 PM, 14 December 2006 [link]
A Hard Wind Is Going To Blow: Or so the Weather Service warns us.
HIGH WIND WARNING IN EFFECT FROM 2 PM THIS AFTERNOON TO 10 AM PST FRIDAY...So I am going to run out now to do some chores, and to make some preparations. I'll be back, and blogging, before the wind hits, and will continue — as long as I have power. (Or can get a WiFi connection with my laptop.)
By the way, football fans who enjoy games played in extreme weather may want to watch the Seahawks play the 49ers tonight. The game is at 5 PM, PST, perfectly timed to completely snarl traffic in Seattle.
- 8:04 AM, 14 December 2006 [link]
Cramming Everyone, or nearly everyone, into cities, as so many of our planners want to do, makes us more vulnerable to terrorists, for reasons that should be obvious. It also makes us more vulnerable to pandemics.
Government health officials tried to build their case for school closings and similar steps during a flu pandemic by showcasing new research Monday that suggests such measures seemed to work during the deadly Spanish flu of 1918.Even a little sprawl makes it far easier to achieve that social distancing.
There are dangers to sprawl, notably from additional automobile travel, but I think we can reduce those if we make it easier for people to live near where they work. And I think the best way to do that is not to cram everyone into apartments in cities, but to continue to move jobs out of the larger cities and nearer to where most people want to live.
(How bad was the 1918 epidemic? Estimates vary wildly, but it certainly killed more people that World War I.)
- 7:44 AM, 14 December 2006 [link]
Tim Blair has had great fun over the years catching journalists who believed in the plastic turkey, the story that President Bush, when he visited the troops in Iraq on Thanksgiving, 2003, had carried a plastic turkey into the dining room. (It was actually a "display" turkey, a real turkey, but one cooked to be a centerpiece rather than served to the line. I assume it was eaten later, perhaps by the cooks.)
The facts have been available since the beginning on this story, but it keeps catching journalists. It's a trivial story, but it shows, I think, that many journalists are so fixed in their negative views of President Bush that they can't get the facts right on even something this simple.
Blair just caught another one, Mike Hudson of the Niagara Falls Reporter. Hudson's reaction, after being caught, was vigorous.
Tim...I don't know how they do things in the land down under, but I'm an American, and if I want to make fun of an American president I'll do so without any interference from some wallaby eating sheepherder. Now go back and play with your didgeridoo before I have to come over there and smack you upside the head.Vigorous enough to convince any open-minded person that they should not believe anything Hudson writes, without independent confirmation.
Hudson's reaction was extreme, but his unwillingness to correct an error, even a trivial error, is, alas, typical — at least in my experience.
- 7:14 AM, 14 December 2006 [link]
One Dictator Gets convicted.
Ethiopia's brutal Marxist dictator, known as the African Pol Pot, became the first fallen leader to be found guilty yesterday of genocide in his own country after a 12-year trial.Starvation that killed, according to this Wikipedia biography, 1.5 million people. That's about as many as Pol Pot killed, though proportionately fewer, since Ethiopia has far more people than Cambodia (about 56 million versus about 13 million).
Mengistu was supported by the Soviet Union and received, again according to the Wikipedia biography, no less than 18 billion dollars worth of military aid from the Soviets. Think what he could have done for Ethiopia with that amount of aid, if he had been a decent man.
Sadly, Mengistu will probably not face the hangman or the firing squad, since he was given a refuge by another brutal dictator, President Mugabe of Zimbabwe.
(The famine he helped cause reminds me of an old joke:
What would happen if the communists took control of the Sahara Desert? There would soon be a shortage of sand.A joke based on much grim experience.)
- 2:38 PM, 13 December 2006 [link]
Globalization and the muskrat trade.
A soaring global demand for wild fur, particularly in China, has Minnesota trappers like Monroe and Olson returning to the state's centuries-old practice of trapping furbearing animals. For their 50 muskrat pelts, they can get prices that haven't been seen in Minnesota for decades.Wild furs have been sold globally almost forever, but I am surprised to learn that we are selling them to Russia, and that we can sell muskrat fur to anyone.
This trade, at least the muskrat part, must require cheap shipping, considering what trappers get for each pelt.
- 2:06 PM, 13 December 2006 [link]
NYT Blames The Clinton Administration: No, really, though the editorial writer doesn't emphasize that part. The Clinton administration helped, it turns out, the evil oil industry.
The problems are twofold. The first is a loophole in leases signed by the Clinton administration in 1998 and 1999 to encourage deep-water exploration at a time when oil and gas prices were relatively low. The leases gave companies a break on royalty payments, but did not include a standard escape clause that would have restored full royalties when prices went up. The loophole has already cost the taxpayers $1.5 billion and, if not corrected, could cost $10 billion more over the course of the leases.(The other problem is, as the Times sees it, lax enforcement.)
The New York Times does not explain why the leases did not include that "standard escape clause". Assuming the editorial has the facts right — which I do with some trepidation — then I can see two possible explanations, incompetence and — corruption. The first seems much more likely, but the the second can not be rejected. Interior has been infamous for corruption through most of its history, and the Clinton administration was not what most would call squeaky clean.
(Who was running Interior when the leases were signed? Former Arizona governor Bruce Babbitt. In fact, he ran the department for the entire eight years of the Clinton presidency.)
- 1:35 PM, 12 December 2006 [link]
Choosing The Committee Leaders: Democrats and Republicans do it differently in the House of Representatives. First, the bottom line:
House Democrats' choices for committee chairmen in the 110th Congress are in almost every case the most senior Democrats on the committee, while 12 of the 21 Republicans chosen to be ranking minority members have less seniority than at least one other Republican on the committee.The differences are explained, partly, by the different party rules. The Democrats elect their chairmen (or ranking minority members); the Republicans choose theirs with a steering committee whose recommendations are ratified by their conference.
So why do the Democrats rely so much more on seniority than the Republicans? Barone doesn't really explain that, though he does mention one Republican rule that encourages less reliance on seniority.
In addition, House Republicans set a six-year term limit on chairmanships (though they waived that for outgoing Rules Chairman David Dreier). That means there are frequent fights for chairmanships or, this year, ranking minority member positions, and many members striving to please the leadership.But that doesn't explain why the Republicans have that rule.
I think that there are two main reasons why the Democrats rely so much more on seniority than the Republicans. More of the Democrats are professional politicians from safe seats who can afford to wait for their turn. And the Democrats are more diverse than the Republicans. By using seniority so heavily they can avoid many fights between groups in their coalition, for example, fights between blacks and Hispanics.
Why does all this matter? Because most of the work of Congress is done in committees — especially in the House. And as leaders of those committees, the Democrats have just chosen a group, which may be able, as Barone claims, and is certainly experienced, but is also old, by almost any standard.
So, although the new Democratic committee chairmen of the 110th Congress will be a pretty old bunch, notably older and more senior than their counterparts — the ranking minority members — they are also in I think every case highly able people fully in command of their very considerable faculties. Certainly that's true of John Dingell of Energy and Commerce (80, first elected in December 1955), Charles Rangel of Ways and Means (76, first elected in 1970), David Obey of Appropriations (68, first elected in April 1969), Henry Waxman of Government Oversight (67, first elected 1974), John Conyers of Judiciary (77, first elected in 1964), Ike Skelton of Armed Services (75 later this month, first elected in 1976), George Miller of Education and the Workforce (61, first elected in 1974), Barney Frank of Financial Services (66, first elected in 1980), Tom Lantos of International Relations (78, first elected in 1980), Louise Slaughter of Rules (77, first elected in 1986), and James Oberstar of Transportation and Infrastructure (72, first elected in 1974). Average age: 72. Average seniority: 33 years.In almost any other field, almost all of them would be retired by now.
I am old enough so that I can get away with saying that it would be a mistake to expect many new ideas or even fresh approaches from these chairmen.
- 12:48 PM, 12 December 2006 [link]
Bugging Princess Di? Mickey Kaus gives what we know for certain.
The Brit papers are breaking the story that the Clinton-administration "secret service"** secretly bugged Princess Diana "over her relationship with a US billionaire" Ted Forstmann.And then speculates wildly — but not necessarily wrongly!
Byron York begins cautiously.
The first thing to remember in trying to evaluate reports that U.S. intelligence services wiretapped Princess Diana is that British press accounts can be notoriously unreliable. We'll know more about the story on Thursday morning, when results of the Lord Stevens inquiry into Diana's death are released to the public. But if the reports out now are accurate, the Diana case could raise questions for veterans of the Clinton administration similar to those facing the Bush administration today.And then indulges in some speculation of his own.
I'll wait till Thursday, or perhaps longer, but I will note this point: The British papers are saying that the US "secret service" acted on its own, but the two countries have many times cooperated in spying on each other's nationals. It is by no means impossible that we did a favor for the British government in this case, just as they have done favors for us.
(And just to complicate matters, I heard a report that her driver on the night she died was drunk — and was working for French intelligence.)
- 8:04 AM, 12 December 2006 [link]
Not Ready For Prime Time? The Socialist candidate for the presidency of France, Ségolène Royal, went on a trip to the Middle East to demonstrate her diplomatic skills and knowledge — and stumbled.
The Middle East can be a dangerous place for the diplomatic debutante.But the number and size of her blunders were not inevitable. For example:
Yet her bravado could not disguise her gaffes early in the visit when she met with Lebanese parliamentary deputies, among them Ali Ammar, a member of the pro-Syrian, Iranian-backed Hezbollah.She tried to salvage things by complaining (perhaps truthfully) of translation problems.
Elaine Sciolino believes that Royal shifted sharply toward Israel during her trip. By the end of the trip, Royal was taking some positions to the right of President Bush, something not done every day by French socialists.
If Sciolino is right, that's an interesting shift, because, though Royal may be a diplomatic debutante, she's a very successful French politician, with a gift for appealing to the average French voter.
(You can find more on Royal in this intriguing Wikipedia biography and this Economist article. And those who are truly dedicated researchers may want to look at this photograph, which caused a minor scandal in France.)
- 4:46 PM, 11 December 2006 [link]
Gadgets For The Disabled: There is so much good news around, though it rarely makes the front pages. For instance, last Thursday the New York Times ran this article describing a bunch of new gadgets that make the life easier, or just more fun, for the disabled.
The most impressive may be the Sendero Group'sGPS device.
The most difficult aspect of blindness for Mike May is getting around without someone to guide him. "Picture taking all the street signs down," he says. "That's the challenge for the blind."But all of the gadgets David Joachim describes sound as though they will make life easier, or at least more fun, for some people.
- 3:38 PM, 11 December 2006 [link]
Remember David Duke? I know, I know, it would be tempting to forget that racist con man. But we shouldn't, because he is consorting with our enemies.
Holocaust deniers and skeptics from around the world gathered at a government-sponsored conference here today to discuss their theories about whether six million Jews were indeed killed by the Nazis during World War II and whether gas chambers existed.His hosts are some of the folks that James Baker thinks we should talk to.
(You can read more on Duke and the conference here and here. You can find Duke's Wikipedia biography here. And you can find the Reuters story on the conference here. It includes this description of Duke:
Among the participants was U.S. academic David Duke, a former Louisiana Republican Representative. He praised Iran for hosting the event.Be interesting to see whether anyone at Reuters realizes that description needs a little work, and that their correspondent, Parisa Hafezi, might not be as objective as one might like.)
- 3:02 PM, 11 December 2006
More: Bryan Preston has more on Parisa Hafezi, who is even worse than I suspected.
- 8:15 AM, 13 December 2006 [link]
Words And Numbers, Democrats And Republicans: I have been studying the differences between Democrats and Republicans for decades, and I thought I knew all the important ones (Republicans are better off than Democrats, more educated on the average, more likely to be married, and so on, and so on). I am not even surprised by some of the less important differences. (Though I do wish my Democratic friends would watch less television and get more exercise — for their own good.)
But I was surprised in 2004 when I saw a column by the New York Times token conservative, David Brooks. What Brooks showed is that those who make a living with words (English professors, journalists, et cetera) were more likely to contribute to the Democrats, while those who make a living with numbers (accountants, engineers, et cetera) were more likely to contribute to the Republicans. In short, the words guys tend to be Democrats, while the numbers guys tend to be Republicans.
This surprised me, but it should not have since it explains many of the differences between the parties. Consider, for example, the strong support that Democrats gave John Edwards in 2004. As I noted when Edwards declared his candidacy, the North Carolina senator had no executive experience, and no achievements as a senator. He is, in short, completely unqualified to be president. But he did well in the 2004 primaries, and is still taken seriously as a candidate by most journalists. (For a hilarious example, see this post on a Richard Cohen column. The Washington Post columnist is, as he admits (boasts?), not very good with numbers — and he was completely snowed by sweet talkin' John Edwards. Columnist Jim Pinkerton, who worked for Reagan and Bush 41, looked at some numbers and found a different John Edwards.)
Or consider the swell of support for Barack Obama (or, as Tom Maguire likes to call him, Barack Hussein Il Jong Obama). His resumé is not completely empty of political achievements, like John Edwards' resumé, but it is fair to say that Obama has not accomplished much in his short political career. But he is, or so I read, another sweet talkin' guy.
Neither man would be taken seriously by Republican voters. There are too many numbers guys in the party.
It is not hard to think of other differences that can be explained by this split between words guys and numbers guys. For instance, when Democrats discuss education, they talk mostly about intentions and judge their candidates on how beautifully they express those intentions. Republicans are more likely to talk about achievements (or, sadly, the lack of them), something that can be measured.
I won't add more examples, but most of you can probably think of other differences between the two parties that can be explained by this split between the numbers guys and the words guys.
Which way of thinking about public policy is better, numbers or words? Almost always it's numbers. And that's one reason that Republicans are generally better on policy than Democrats.
Cross posted at Sound Politics.(As a few of you may already have guessed, I was prompted to write this post by Eric Earling's take on the differences between the two parties. I'm not disagreeing with Earling, just giving another way to look at the question.)
- 11:11 AM, 11 December 2006 [link]
The James Baker "Realists" Are Unrealistic: Who says so? The editorialists at the Washington Post.
The Iraq Study Group's recommendations for shifting U.S. military tactics in the war are specific, focused and aimed at incremental improvement over the next few months; they are also close to what the Pentagon and Iraqi government already were hoping to achieve. By contrast, the group's diplomatic strategy is sweeping -- and untethered to reality. The Bush administration could and should adopt some version of the military plan, though it would be right to ignore the unrealistic timetable attached to it. But to embrace the group's proposed "New Diplomatic Offensive" would be to suppose a Middle East very different from what's on the ground.In other words, the ISG's recommendations are realistic where they propose following the current plans, and unrealistic where they call for large changes.
I have such a low opinion of the ISG's work that I haven't even looked at their report, but I suppose that I should. Eliot Cohen has, and summarizes their work thusly: "A fatuous process yields, necessarily, fatuous results." (I would not say "necessarily", but a fatuous process is certainly likely to produce fatuous results.)
- 6:31 AM, 11 December 2006 [link]
Worth Reading: Paul Greenberg looks for advice on the Iraq war, and finds some from Churchill.
Of all the policy choices in Iraq being laid out, is there no sure guide? When in doubt — and who except the hopelessly cocksure wouldn't entertain some doubts where this war is concerned? — it might help to consult Churchill, who tasted little but defeat after defeat in the Second World War till somehow they all turned into victory.We should use honor as a guide because — in the long run — it often proves to be the most practical guide, at least for a great nation like the United States.
- 6:05 AM, 11 December 2006 [link]
Congratulations To Congressman William Jefferson: Who just won re-election in a runoff, in spite of some teensy little legal problems.
Brushing past months of unflattering headlines about a federal corruption investigation, Representative William J. Jefferson was elected to a ninth term on Saturday, with a decisive runoff victory that again emphasized this city's sharp racial divisions.Decisive, but in a low turnout election. When I checked the unofficial results this morning, I found that Jefferson had beaten his opponent, state representative Karen Carter, by 35,121 to 26,965. That's not a lot of votes, even allowing for the depopulation of New Orleans.
How bad are Jefferson's legal problems? You can find a description in this Wikipedia biography. Two of his aides have already pled guilty.
And there is this telling point: Nancy Pelosi had promised, according to some news reports, to make Alcee Hastings chairman of the House intelligence committee. She worked to make unindicted Abscam co-conspirator Jack Murtha majority leader. But she was unwilling to tolerate keeping Jefferson on the Ways and Means committee. (That may have been political prudence, rather than principle, since the charges against Jefferson are easier for voters to understand than the charges against Hastings or the charges against Murtha. And she did take her stand against Jefferson before the election.)
Most likely, Congressman Jefferson will be spending a lot of time in a court room in the next year or so, and not much time being a congressman.
(If a candidate does not win a majority in the general election, Louisiana pits the top two against each other in a runoff, regardless of party. Sometimes, as in this runoff, the candidates will both be Democrats.)
- 9:37 AM, 10 December 2006
More: The Washington Post describes some of the problems that this win will cause New Orleans. The reporters say nothing about the problem that the win will cause Nancy Pelosi. Her problem is easy to understand; she would not have a majority in the House without the votes of William Jefferson and other ethically challenged Democratic congressmen. There is, I think, no way she can satisfy them and keep her promise to clean the House.
The Post story also notes one curious fact: Though the voting was mostly along racial lines, with whites supporting Carter and blacks supporting Jefferson, the congressman did quite well in suburban Jefferson Parish, which is almost 70 percent white. In fact, almost his entire margin came from Jefferson Parish.
- 8:32 AM, 11 December 2006
As Predicted, Jefferson's re-election is already causing problems for Pelosi.
The Congressional Black Caucus is planning to press Democratic leaders to reinstate Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.) to the Ways and Means Committee, raising the thorny question of how leaders will handle the fate of Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-W.Va.), who has also come under ethical scrutiny.Mollohan was removed, temporarily, from the House Ethics committee, after questions were raised about his ethics. Ironically, he is being investigated by the FBI, and the Appropriations subcommittee he would head has jurisdiction over the FBI's budget. Picky folks might think that creates a potential conflict of interest. (You can find more about Mollohan's problems here and here.)
- 8:28 AM, 12 December 2006 [link]
Are The "Mainstream" Media Reporting Bush's Speeches Correctly? Not according to a book by assistant professor of communication Jim A. Kuypers.
Convincingly and without resorting to partisan politics, Kuypers strongly illustrates in eight chapters "how the press failed America in its coverage on the War on Terror." In each comparison, Kuypers "detected massive bias on the part of the press." In fact, Kuypers calls the mainstream news media an "anti-democratic institution" in the conclusion.If Kuypers is right — and I haven't seen his book, so I can't say for sure — then the "mainstream" media's coverage of these speeches was not only biased, but incredibly incompetent. I don't see anything implausible about his argument; I have been ignoring "mainstream" accounts of presidential speeches for decades now, preferring to read the speeches without the filter.
Guess I will have to see if I can borrow a copy of the book through my local library.
(Here's the Amazon link And here's a link to Professor Kuypers himself.) .
- 1:27 PM, 9 December 2006 [link]
Tom Maguire Spots an interesting difference between a Washington Post story and a New York Times story. Both described the House Ethics Committee report on the Mark Foley scandal, but the Times left this part out.
Democratic Caucus communications director Matt Miller saw the e-mails as inappropriate, but rather than taking them to authorities, he shopped them to the press, first to the Miami Herald and the St. Petersburg Times that November, then to the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call. He also gave the e-mails to the communications director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, a point apparently validating Republican charges that senior Democrats were behind the revelation of Foley's conduct.In other words, a whole set of Democrats were more interested in making political points than in protecting the pages. Not that Foley was much of a threat, but they still should have done the right thing and gone to the House leadership before they went to the press.
One more reason to think that the New York Times is not much interested in covering Democratic scandals.
- 12:49 PM, 9 December 2006 [link]