January 2004, Part 1
Jim Miller on Politics
News Aggregators: I've made a few changes to the left, including adding a new category at the top. If you can think of a better term for this kind of site, let me know, since I don't really care for "news aggregator".
- 1:25 PM, 8 January 2004 [link]
Yesterday, I Received a polite reminder by email that parts of this site needed some clean up—a view I have had for about a year now. To make time for that, I have postponed some longer pieces, as you can see on the right. The improvements will come piecemeal, but you should see the first by this weekend.
The mystery piece coming this Friday should be of interest to almost everyone who reads blogs, but I would rather not say anything more about it until it is up.
- 7:53 AM, 8 January 2004 [link]
San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown was the most powerful California Democrat over the last three decades. A brilliant political operative, he was speaker of the California Assembly for 15 years and then mayor of San Francisco for 8 years. To hold those two positions, he had to have wide support within the Democratic party. He kept that wide support in spite of what everyone informed person knew for years, that he was a corrupt politician. This Washington Post story gently hints at his sleazy record.
To supporters, Brown was the mayor who finally got things done in a city with so many competing interest groups that at times it seems ungovernable. But to critics, Brown was a modern Boss Tweed, specializing in cronyism, patronage deals and rampant development that came at the expense of neighborhoods and ordinary citizens.The reporter omits what he did in at least one term to remain as speaker. When his opponents had accumulated a majority against him in the Assembly by elections, he bought the votes of several dim-witted Republicans to keep his position. (They were recalled by enraged voters.)
His corruption finally led the voters of San Francisco to throw out many of his supporters off San Francisco's Board of Supervisors. But, Brown himself never lost an election and is retiring only because of term limits.
His long and successful career shows that voters in some districts will accept corruption in officials, perhaps excusing it with the "everyone does it" defense. It also shows that something is very rotten in the Democratic party of our largest state, that they could make this man, whose corruption was known to all, their leader for so long. That tolerance of corruption by most Democratic leaders is a large reason that California, for all its wealth and advantages, has such serious problems.
- 7:43 AM, 8 January 2004 [link]
Congratulations To Saddam Hussein: Saddam Hussein Ali, that is, who just graduated from the school the US is running for Iraqi Civil Defense Corps. Other Saddam Husseins will be joining us too, I expect, given how common the name is in Iraq.
- 5:02 AM, 8 January 2004 [link]
Outsourcing: "Instapundit" Glenn Reynolds has been arguing for some time that the outsourcing of American jobs would become a big issue in American politics soon. There's an interesting bit of evidence for that view from the Monty comic strip. Starting this last Monday, the strip has been drawn as if it had been outsourced. It is not as well drawn as before, and the jokes are funny only because, by American standards, they are so lame. It isn't hard to see what point Jim Meddick is trying to make about outsourcing. Shipping jobs overseas leads to lower quality. Be interesting to see whether he follows that with strips showing how American workers are hurt by the practice.
If you haven't seen Monty before, I should add that the strip rarely makes political points. In fact, I can not recall a previous instance.
- 1:20 PM, 7 January 2004 [link]
Worth Reading: Official statistics show that the United States added more than 2 million jobs between November 2002 and November 2003. Official statistics show that the United States lost 235,000 jobs in the same period. Which statement is true? Both, as you can see in this Bruce Bartlett column. There are two broad government estimates of employment, a household survey and a payroll survey; the first has been showing far higher levels of employment than the second.
For some time, there has been a growing divergence between the two labor surveys. The household survey has shown strong employment growth—an increase of more than 2 million jobs between Nov. 2002 and Nov. 2003 (including a statistical adjustment last January). In the latest month it showed 138,603,000 jobs in the U.S. But the payroll survey has shown anemic job growth over the same period. Indeed, between Nov. 2002 and Nov. 2003 it shows a net decline of 235,000 jobs. According to the payroll survey, there are only 130,174,000 jobs—far fewer than shown in the household survey.A difference of 8.5 million jobs is far too large to be explained by the known differences between the measures. I glanced at the Bureau of Labor Statistics paper that Bartlett points to. The BLS experts seem genuinely puzzled by the increasing differences between the two surveys. Just a decade ago, they were able to adjust the estimates for their known differences to bring them much closer. Now they can't. As far as I can tell, we really don't know which survey is closer to the truth.
There is a larger point worth comment. Many would like the government to "manage" the economy, to steer it as a pilot steers a ship. But if the pilot does not know where he is, he can not steer accurately. The same is true of the government; our statistics, especially those available when decisions have to be made, give only a hazy picture of the economy. For example, only recently did we learn that the economy actually shrank during one quarter of 2000. Knowing that then could have made a difference in both our economic policies and our politics.
- 10:57 AM, 7 January 2004 [link]
Bush Leads Dean: Three days ago, I argued that, as of now, Bush would defeat Dean by about a 58-42 margin. It may be luck, but the latest Gallup poll gives Bush a 59-37 lead over Dean, very close to my estimate.
One Bush advantage, I argued, is his greater likeability. The Gallup poll supports that argument.
Most of the Democratic contenders aren't viewed favorably, at least not yet. Bush is viewed favorably by nearly 2-to-1, 65% to 35%. But Dean has a net negative rating, with 28% viewing him favorably, 39% unfavorably. Of the Democrats, only retired Army general Wesley Clark has a net favorable rating of more than one point. His rating was 37% favorable, 26% unfavorable.Now one might argue that when Dean gets a chance to make his case, he will be able to reverse those numbers, but this analysis of New Hampshire, where Dean is well known, is not encouraging.
Howard Dean accomplished some amazing things last year for which he deserves tremendous credit, but they have come at a cost. While the former Vermont governor is turning Democrats on, he is turning off swing independents.(The analysis comes from an opponent of Dean, Mark Mellman, who is supporting Kerry, but I don't see any errors in his basic argument.)
Dean's more knowledgeable supporters understand that he must reach out to independents. According to this story, his economic advisers are pressuring him to reverse himself and promise middle class tax cuts. (One interesting detail: His economic advisers are pushing for middle class tax cuts strongly—but for political reasons. It is not clear whether they think a middle class tax cut is good economic policy.) So far Dean has yet to reverse himself, in spite of pressure from his advisers. This may show integrity, but if he does reverse himself, the later he does it, the less believable will be the promise.
- 8:49 AM, 7 January 2004 [link]
Kudos To Robert Jamieson Of The Seattle PI for his critique of what I call "McDermottism" and for his follow up column. Jamieson, though he errs in thinking that McDermott knew what he was talking about before the war, realizes that the Seattle Congressman was irresponsible when he speculated that the Bush administration timed the capture of Saddam for political purposes, This is as wrong as Joe McCarthy's reckless charges a half century ago, and for the same reason.
The reaction to Jamieson's original column—from the left—was interesting to say the least.
They like to curse, using choice epithets when a messenger puts out a political message that hits too close to home.(Jamieson is African-American, if you are wondering what the epithet was.)
I am even willing to give Jamieson some slack for believing some of McDermott's earlier mis-statements. The coverage of Iraq before the war in the PI adhered closely to McDermott's line. Parts of it were so wrong that I have been thinking of doing an extensive study of their errors in that period. It must be difficult for a journalist to contradict his own newspaper.
- 4:12 PM, 6 January 2004 [link]
The "XC" In My Email Address Stands For Cross Country: This morning the Seattle area had one of its rare significant snowfalls. As usual, what some places would consider a modest amount of snow almost shut this area down, since most people here are unprepared for snow, something you can see in large ways and small. The largest is that many area residents simply have no experience driving in snow. There are enough of them to be a hazard even for drivers who do have that experience. And you can see the unpreparedness in many small ways, too. This morning, I was amused to see that none of the roving TV reporters had the right headgear. One man came on with a skin tight cap, a woman had a parka hood that fell down so that it almost covered her eyes, and so on. Considering how important appearance in TV, it was more than a bit amusing.
For me, it was a chance to ski downtown Kirkland on a pair of old cross country skis. The sight was unusual enough so that several people took pictures and one man asked me to ski for a video he was doing of Kirkland in the winter. (I obliged.) No one would ever mistake me for a male model, so it was the novelty of the skis that was the attraction. I am hoping the snow will last long enough so that I can do it again tomorrow, which may mean a delay in posting.
- 3:48 PM, 6 January 2004 [link]
Yesterday, My Internet Server, Seanet, began having problems that made it difficult to log in, and impossible to put up new posts or send email. According to their site, the problems are due to a denial of service attack and should be fixed this morning. That's why this post may not appear until some hours after the time in the tag below.
- 6:45 AM, 6 January 2004 [link]
From The Ouija Board? It is not often that one sees a column supposedly written by a man most experts think is dead, Osama bin Laden. Perhaps the Guardian editors used a Ouija board to communicate with bin Laden; at one time that was a popular method to reach the spirit world, and I am sure there are still a few around. If that was the method, it is unfortunate that the Guardian did not ask some of questions many have wondered about since the overthrow of the Taliban and bin Laden's likely death. For example, is he dallying with 72 virgins, or is he toasting over a slow fire?
Whether he is is living or dead, the method that the Guardian used to communicate with the mass murderer is of more interest than his latest message. They claim they got it from the BBC, which got it from al Jazeera, both sources that do not inspire trust. I am sorry to say that we can not simply accept their word on this matter.
I am not an expert on bin Laden's statements, but this column does not remind me of those that came from him when we knew he was alive. (It does have striking similarities to the ideas of another well known anti-American figure, which I will discuss in a later post.) This statement, like the lack of dated video tapes since the overthrow of the Taliban, provides more evidence that bin Laden is still dead.
Assuming that I am correct in thinking that bin Laden is dead, it also shows a weakness in al Qaeda. Though their leader has been dead for about two years, they have been unable to find a new spokesman to replace him. If they had an effective new leader, they could easily proclaim that bin Laden was martyred in the war against the crusaders, or even that he had died a natural death. Instead, they continue to pretend he is alive, showing that they have found no one to replace him, for which we may be thankful.
Many will wonder whether the Guardian's latest columnist will write regularly for them, or whether this is part of a series from dead mass murders. Next week, we might see Hitler on Israel, after that, Stalin on the problems of capitalism, and then for a change, a column by Ted Bundy on practical methods of population control. I saw no word from the Guardian on their future plans, but we should not underestimate a newspaper that publishes both columnist George Monbiot and cartoonist Steve Bell.
- 5:47 AM, 6 January 2004 [link]
Bush Supporters Are Stupid: So Says Neal Starkman, writing in the Seattle PI. That's the only way, he concludes, that Bush's popularity can be explained.
It's the "Stupid factor," the S factor: Some people -- sometimes through no fault of their own -- are just not very bright.There are people like this; last year, in this post, I gave a similar, though less nasty, description of Washington's senior senator—Democrat Patty Murray. (Contrary to what Starkman would predict, she is not a Bush supporter.) But the evidence does not show that Bush supporters are more likely to fit this description than others.
I don't know of any direct measures of intelligence for Bush supporters and opponents, but there is an indirect one. In the 2000 election, as in every other election for which we have polling data, those who voted for the Republican candidate were more educated, on the average, than those who voted for the Democratic candidate. Gore drew his strongest support from people without a high school education, Bush from people who are college graduates. Since education is correlated with intelligence, one would expect Bush supporters to be slightly more intelligent, on the average, than Bush opponents.
(It is true that at the very highest levels of education, college professors and the like, Democrats again have the edge in support, just as they do among felons and journalists. Political scientists sometimes describe the relationship between education and party in the United States as a "J curve", since support for Democrats looks a bit like a J when graphed against education.)
Since Starkman has raised the question of intelligence, we have to ask the obvious question: Why did the PI think that publishing this article was an intelligent thing to do? Since the foundation of Starkman's argument is faulty, his piece contributes nothing to the national debate, unless you consider name calling a contribution. All it does is insult Bush supporters, with a false charge of stupidity. The Seattle PI's circulation is weak in just those areas with the most Bush supporters, the wealthier suburbs of Seattle. This Starkman piece will not make it easier to sell or renew subscriptions there.
But that is just the practical question. There is also the moral question. Starkman slandered Bush supporters with his false charge that they are stupid. Since it is against a group rather than an individual, it may not meet legal tests for slander, but it certainly fits our ordinary definitions. Does the Seattle PI editorial board now think publishing slander is acceptable? Apparently.
- 2:28 PM, 5 January 2004 [link]
Worth Reading: This analysis from Moscow that concludes that American methods work.
It [the Cold War] was a time of frustrating tug-of-war conflicts in which clear and decisive victories were unachievable despite all the carnage. The 2003 campaign in Iraq, on the contrary, was a breath of fresh air for military history buffs -- almost like a return to Napoleonic times with the addition of modern military gear. This was a war that indeed achieved its goal of total enemy defeat and conquest.I don't know anything about either the author or the Moscow Times, but I think that he has noticed the obvious: The US is succeeding in the war on terror and in Iraq. And it is fascinating to read that the French military shares this conclusion.
- 8:30 AM, 5 January 2004 [link]
Cowboy Scientists: Scientists at the University of Wyoming are the worldwide leaders in research on spider silk. Spider silk, because it is so strong, has many potential applications, if it can be produced cheaply.
Made of fibers that are 10 to 100 times smaller in diameter than a human hair, put together in a cloth-like material, spider silk is tougher and weighs three times less than Kevlar—a plastic fiber that is used in bulletproof vests.The scientists have already developed a way to get it from goat's milk and are now trying to implant the genes in alfalfa to bring costs down.
The University of Wyoming seems shy about their cowboy mascot, which does not appear on the University's main site, but you can see it at their Cowboy Joe booster club site.
(And, no, I have no idea why a newspaper in Laramie, Wyoming is named the Boomerang.)
- 7:53 AM, 5 January 2004 [link]
Job Is Howard Dean's Favorite New Testament Book: As you can see in this Safire column, Dean preceded his error with an interesting claim.
As he heads into what H. L. Mencken called the "Bible Belt," the candidate moved to plug an apparent hole in his résumé about an interest in religion. After hearing Dean's observation beginning "If you know much about the Bible—which I do," a reporter asked about his favorite New Testament book. Dean named Job, adding, "But I don't like the way it ends . . . in some of the books of the New Testament, the ending of the Book of Job is different . . . there's one book where there's a more optimistic ending, which we believe was tacked on later."I wouldn't claim to know "much about the Bible", but I do know that the book of Job is in the Old Testament. Dean corrected himself an hour later, long enough for staffer to have clued him in, I suspect. And another staffer later retracted Dean's claim to be an expert on the Bible.
Safire has more discussion of Job and Dean's ideas, but I was most interested in the crudity of Dean's pandering. You can find more examples of that crudity in this New York Times article. Appeals that use religion are not new, of course. Some politicians, Joe Lieberman and George Bush, for example, seem to use them sincerely. Others, John Kennedy and Richard Nixon, for example, seem to have pretended to religious beliefs they did not have. What I find unusual about Dean's efforts is their clumsiness. He really seems to think that religion is no more important to most people than bike paths, and so he is as careless when he speaks about religion as he is when he speaks about other subjects.
- 5:47 AM, 5 January 2004 [link]
Election Predictions: I don't care much for the statistical models, for the reasons given here, After all, the models all predicted that Al Gore would win easily in 2000. The bookies have a better record and, right now, are giving George Bush a better than 70 percent chance of winning in November 2004.
I don't know how the betters and bookies arrived at these odds, but I know how I would predict the election, right now. I start with the partisan balance. For the first time in my lifetime, the two parties have about the same number of partisans. The Republicans have gained some identifiers and the Democrats have lost many. This does not mean that, if the issues and candidates were equal, each party would have am equal chance to win, because the Republicans are more likely to vote. (Not in every election, but in most and almost certainly in this one.) So, with equal candidates and issues, a Republican would win the popular vote by a small margin, perhaps 51-49. (I'm skipping the third parties and using round numbers for simplicity.)
But everything is not equal, because Bush will be running as an incumbent. That's worth a few percentage points, so if the issues and the candidates were equal, Bush would win by about 53-47.
Some issues will hurt Bush, the environment, for example. Others will help him, his success in Afghanistan, for example. On the whole, foreign policy will help Bush against any Democrat. If there is no great foreign crisis, then economic issues will be most important for the voters, as they almost always are. Currently, nearly all economists are predicting strong growth next year, with solid improvement in the job market. If the economists are correct, then Bush will win easily, by 56-44, or even more, depending on the strength of the recovery.
Finally, there is the question of the candidates. Bush drives many Democrats nuts, personally as well as for his stands on issues. Most voters, however, like him as a man, whether they agree with him or not. His personal qualities would give him an edge against any of the likely Democratic candidates, but perhaps the biggest advantage against the current frontrunner, Howard Dean. Dean's angry partisanship may energize committed Democrats, but it will offend most independents. If he is the candidate, I would expect Bush to win by 58-42.
A win that large would probably mean gains for the Republicans in the Senate and the House. The large number of Southern Democratic senators who are retiring make gains in the Senate especially likely. There are so few competitive districts that large Republican gains in the House are unlikely, especially after the gains in 2002, but they would most likely pick up a few seats. Much can change in the next ten months, but as of now, it looks like a big victory for Bush and gains for the Republicans in Congress.
- 7:01 PM, 4 January 2004 [link]
So Far, So Good: The Spirit has landed successfully on Mars and is sending back pictures. It has landed exactly where NASA had planned, and is sitting upright in the best position to release the rover. (The landing site, if you are wondering, is thought to be an ancient lake bed.) Here's more background on Mars exploration, and here's a site promising frequent updates on the rover.
And, here's an amusing detail. Since the days on Mars are about a forty minutes longer than ours, the ground crew will be using special watches that keep Mars time.
I happened to hear the news on a BBC broadcast where they interviewed people connected with the European space program. Like Sir Martin Rees, they seemed more interested in the "rivalry" between the US and Europe than the achievement itself.
- 6:36 AM, 4 January 2004
More: Here's an article on the extensive efforts of the ground team to keep Martian time. The watches are just one small part of it.
- 6:04 AM, 5 January 2004 [link]
Remember "Unilateral"? Those who opposed the liberation of Iraq kept arguing that US policy was "unilateral" even as the coalition grew to include more than 30 countries. I thought laughter at this abuse of the plain meaning of the word had finally driven it from use, except among the fringies. But, I was wrong, because here it is again in this New York Times editorial.
These are difficult times for the United Nations. The Bush administration's taste for unilateral action and its doctrine of preventive war pose a profound challenge to the U.N.'s founding principle of collective security and threaten the organization's continued relevance. Since the day the administration took office, it has been chipping away at the multinational diplomatic system that America did so much to build in the past two generations. It has walked away from the Kyoto Protocol on global warming, waged war against the International Criminal Court and disparaged international arms control agencies and weapons inspectors.And in all of those actions, the Bush administration has been joined by many other nations. Almost no nation has met the requirements of the Kyoto protocol, and a number, including Russia and Australia, have been honest enough to admit that the protocol has failed. (As you probably know, had the Bush administration gone ahead with Kyoto, it would have been defying a 95-0 advisory vote against Kyoto in the Senate.) It is incorrect to say that the US has "waged war" against the ICC; instead we have sought to protect our citizens against foreign prosecutions. To do otherwise would be unconstitutional. International arms control agencies and weapons inspectors have failed in so many instances that they deserve disparaging.
Surely the editorial writers at the New York Times own at least one dictionary. Maybe they should open it from time to time.
- 10:28 AM, 3 January 2004
More: Mark Steyn compares the successes of Bush's "unilateral" (or as Steyn more accurately calls it "coalition of the willing") approach to the failures of the "international community" approach backed by the New York Times. One of the greatest failures, which Steyn does not mention, was in Rwanda, where the UN failed to prevent genocide, as it could easily have done. One might think that the death of 800,000 innocents would get the attention of the Times, but it has not.
- 6:47 AM, 4 January 2004 [link]
Some Europeans See The US As A Power that must be checked, and interpret everything in terms of a competition between the United States and Europe. Judging from this column, Royal Astronomer Sir Martin Rees is one of them.
In most other technical and economic spheres, Europe can aspire to parity with the United States, if it co-ordinates its effort properly. But the European Space Agency (ESA), though cost-effective and successful, cannot match the scale and range of NASA's activities. Per head of population, we spend only a fraction of what is committed to space research in America.There are several strange things about his argument. First, the European Space Agency can match NASA easily, if the European nations agree to do so. Second, he omits any mention of the space programs of other spacefaring nations, such as Russia, Japan, and China. Rivalry between Europe and the United States is the essential matter; other rivalries do not even exist for him. Third, in scientific programs—as Sir Martin must know—there is a high degree of cooperation between Europe and the United States. We coordinate our programs so that there is less overlap, we routinely share data and equipment, and we often engage in joint programs.
The Beagle II, which sadly has yet to call home, is an example of this cooperation. The British lander was intended to use the American Mars orbiter, Odyssey, for its first communication link, and American scientists have used our equipment to try to help locate it. There is competition at times between American and European scientists in space, naturally, but cooperation is far more common.
I will cheer if the Beagle II is able to establish contact with Earth after all, and complete its mission. I have the feeling that Sir Martin will not cheer any success of the American rover, Spirit, which will attempt to land on Mars early tomorrow morning.
- 7:49 AM, 3 January 2004 [link]
The Right Of Self Defense is so natural that we grant it even to animals, as the ironic French couplet reminds us:
Cet animal est très méchant,More and more, however, especially in large cities, authorities do not wish the citizens to exercise the right of self defense, especially with guns or other weapons. In Britain, a farmer named Tony Martin, long a target of break-ins, shot and killed an intruder. Martin was sent to jail for years, as a lesson to anyone else who might try to defend themselves or their property.
Many British citizens have not accepted the idea that they should be sheep. Martin, not the most likeable man in the world, drew strong support, especially from those who live in rural areas. Now, much to the dismay of the authorities, a call-in poll gave a voice to those who think they still have the right to defend themselves, their families, and their property.
It was trailed as a "unique chance to rewrite the law of the land". Listeners to BBC Radio 4's Today programme were asked to suggest a piece of legislation to improve life in Britain, with the promise that an MP would then attempt to get it onto the statute books.(If Pound's line about "bastards" sounds familiar, that's because it has been said before, most notably by Mo Udall when he withdrew from the presidential race. Udall was being funny, but I don't think the same is true of Pound.)
There is a balance that should be maintained between legitimate self defense and reckless attacks on trespassers, who may be inadvertent. Some states, Colorado, for example, may have gone too far in the other direction, allowing home owners to shoot people who are no real menace. The standards worked out over time in our body of common law, though they rely on vague "reasonable man" concepts seem about right to me. If the accounts I have read of Martin's encounter with the burglar are correct, then he was right to fear that he might be injured or killed and right to use force when he did.
- 8:45 AM, 2 January 2004 [link]
Not All Dean Supporters Believe In The 1st Amendment: At the end of this article describing Dean's attempts to woo Southern voters was a set of comments from those shaking hands with him after his speech. I found the third one especially interesting:
Dean gives good rope-line. He gets good rope-line, too.From what I can tell, most efforts to suppress speech in the United States now come from the left. That is certainly true in our universities, and seems to be true of local governments, as well. I haven't made a formal study of them, but I see far more letters to newspapers urging that someone else be silenced from people on the left than from people on the right. Dean's supporter, who wants to ban a news organization he disagrees with, is just one more example of this lack of support for free speech on the left. And, assuming the reporter did not omit something here, note that neither Dean nor anyone else felt the need to take a stand in favor of the 1st Amendment.
- 7:27 AM, 2 January 2004 [link]
Happy New Year!
- 3:46 PM, 1 January 2004 [link]