Archive:

January 2005, Part 3

Jim Miller on Politics




Pseudo-Random Thoughts



Worth Reading:  Peter Brookes' discussion of the upcoming Iraq election.
A just-released poll by the National Endowment for Democracy's highly-respected International Republican Institute (IRI) suggests that Sunday's Iraqi elections will be much more successful than the nattering nabobs of negativity predict.

IRI conducted the poll Dec. 26 to Jan. 7 in 16 (of 18) Iraqi provinces.  It shows that "anticipated participation numbers among Iraqis remain consistent [with previous polls], with over 80 percent stating that they are very likely or somewhat likely to vote on Jan. 30."

Contrast that 80 percent turnout with our own 60 percent turnout last November — America's highest since 1968.

There's more: The survey also indicates that more than half of all Iraqis living in the troubled Sunni areas — and nearly half of the Sunnis, themselves — are "likely" or "somewhat likely" to vote.
And that's with terrorists threatening to kill them if they vote.

There's much more in the article, so be sure to read the whole thing.
- 4:07 PM, 24 January 2005   [link]


Controlling The Agenda:  If you have ever studied Robert's Rules of Order, you know how important controlling the agenda is.  The United States House of Representatives has a Rules Committee for the sole purpose of setting the agenda, and many would agree that Rules is the most powerful committee in the entire House, even more powerful than Appropriations or the tax committee, Ways and Means.

Because they reach millions all across the nation, the big three television networks, ABC, CBS, and NBC, long had the power to put political items on the national agenda.  They did not entirely control the agenda, because political leaders, especially presidents, could also put items on the agenda, but they had great power to shape it.

By 1969, the three networks were in full opposition to President Nixon and his policies in Vietnam.  Nixon's vice president, Spiro Agnew, was a cheap crook, but had a good speechwriter in William Safire and an effective speechwriter in Pat Buchanan.  Together the three wrote and delivered a series of speeches attacking the networks, speeches with some vivid (and to my taste, overdone) phrases like "nattering nabobs of negativism" and "effete snobs".   The phrases attracted too much attention, because they detracted from a central part of the argument, Agnew's criticism of how news decisions were made.
Now how is this network news determined?  A small group of men, numbering perhaps no more than a dozen anchormen, commentators and executives producers, settle upon the 20 minutes or so of film and commentary that's to reach the public.... They decide what 40 to 50 million Americans will learn of the day's events in the nation and in the world.

We cannot measure this power and influence by the traditional democratic standards, for these men can create national issues overnight....
That description was true then, and it is still true for the major networks.  Times have changed in one way; the big three have some competition from Fox, and their market share has fallen greatly.  In other ways, American journalists have become even more uniform; there are fewer newspapers run by idiosyncratic proprietors, and those that remain are less individual than they once were.  Seattle provides an example; the Seattle Times is still (barely) owned by a family, but the newspaper takes nearly all its national and international news from a few very similar sources.

But times have changed greatly in another way.  The rise of talk radio has given a voice to populist conservatives.  The Seattle Times may slavishly follow the lead of the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times, but listeners here can find opposing opinions on KVI, KTTH, and KKOL (and probably others).  The hosts at such stations, for all their faults, have done much to open up the national agenda to those outside the national networks and major newspapers.   The anti-discrimination initiative, I-200, passed in Washington state with the support of most talk shows — and in spite of the near unanimous opposition of the state's newspapers and television stations.

But talk radio has had a great weakness, too.  Few of the talk shows have the resources to do much of their own reporting.  Nor do their formats lend themselves to long expositions of complex matters.  A talk show that did a long explanation of budget changes would lose many of its listeners.  And there are some things that can not be broadcast at all; you can show very simple maps, charts, and tables on TV, but they are nearly impossible to describe on radio, even for the most talented hosts.  And there are some subjects for which those aids are necessary.

Political blogs are beginning to fill those gaps for the talk shows.  The bloggers can do their own investigations and record events just like reporters from newspapers and television stations.   A few days ago, for example, Classical Values had a video of a remarkably nasty anti-Israel demonstration in Berkeley.  I have done a little bit of reporting myself, and hope to do more, especially on events that I expect the local media to get wrong.  The political blogs also can supply expertise that few talk show hosts and few conventional reporters have.   I would guess that not a single reporter at Seattle's newspapers or television stations has the expertise to do the analysis of returns that Stefan Sharkansky has been doing at Sound Politics.   And you can find many similar examples; the milblogs (military blogs), for example, often have more accurate descriptions of events in Iraq than the "mainstream" media.  And if I may toot my own horn briefly, I think I can say that I have more knowledge about American voting patterns than most of the local journalists.  And the blogs can post maps, charts, tables, spreadsheets, and even equations on their sites, putting crucial evidence within reach of the listeners to the talk shows.

Smart talk show hosts are beginning to understand how the blogs can help them.  They are getting ideas from the blogs and then referring their listeners back to those same blogs for an examination of the evidence.  There is, in sum, a growing symbiosis between blogs and talk shows.  Both benefit from this cooperation so clearly that I expect it to expand further.

That symbiosis, and the growing influence of the blogs and the talk shows, is good for the country, I think.  Far more people can put items on political agendas than once could.   Dan Rather can still choose his stories, but a few bloggers can find the holes in them, and with the help of talk radio, get their message out, too.

Naturally, most in the "mainstream" media are not pleased with this loss of control over the agenda.  One way to read this column by Seattle PI columnist Joel Connelly, is to see it as a demand that conservative talk shows follow his agenda, rather than their own agendas.   Yet I think Connelly would not be pleased if the talk show hosts were to demand that he write columns on the subjects they consider important.  And though I have often requested that journalists cover the stories I think are important, I have never thought I could demand that they do so.

In the long run, I think Connelly, and similar journalists, can learn to benefit from the blogs, just as the talk show hosts have.  They'll have less power, but way more sources.  If being a journalist is more important to them than being a power broker, they will be happy with the change.
- 3:42 PM, 24 January 2005   [link]


The Medpundit Spots a remarkable New York Times article, with a strange message.
Dr. [Tara] O'Toole recently helped organize a bioterror exercise, called Atlantic Storm, in which terrorists attack with smallpox in the United States and four foreign countries, killing more than 87,000 people.  Such a potential toll puts the risk of laboratory accidents in a different perspective.

But is that situation realistic, when nothing remotely approaching such an attack has ever occurred?
That last line captures the essence of the article.  The reporter, Scott Shane, clearly feels that we may have more to fear from laboratories studying how to prevent terrorist attacks with biological weapons than we do from terrorists using biological weapons.

The Medpundit's judgement on that line is hard to beat.
Amazing that a newspaper in the same city where the Twin Towers once stood could print that last line.
But I can fill in some details.  Nothing remotely?  What about the anthrax attacks, which killed a Bronx woman, most likely because a letter she received was contaminated by contact with one of the anthrax laden letters?

Or what about the World War II Japanese attacks on Chinese civilians, mentioned in this book?
None of the biological arms developed by the United States were used on the battlefield during the war, and afterward the effort slowed down markedly and shrank in size.  But it endured.  One reason was that the Americans obtained thousands of records from Japan documenting the Imperial Army's germ-warfare program during World War II.  Japan had killed thousands of Chinese in widespread attacks with anthrax, typhoid, and plague on Manchurian towns and cities, Western scholars say.
(The authors of the book work for a newspaper Mr. Shane may be familiar with.)

Or what about the traditional story of how the Black Death reached Europe, from Philip Ziegler's account?   Muslim Tartars besieged a party of Genoese in their fortified town (then Caffa, now Feodosia) on the Black Sea.
Their plans were disastrously disturbed by the plague which was soon taking a heavy toll of the besiegers.  'Fatigued, stupefied and amazed', they decided to call off the operation.   First, however, they felt it only fair that the Christians should be given a taste of the agony which the investing force had been suffering.  They used their giant catapults to lob over the walls the corpses of the victims in the hope that this would spread the disease within the city. . . . But few places are so vulnerable to disease as a besieged city and it was not long before the plague was as active within the city as without.  Such inhabitants as did not rapidly succumb realised that, even if they survived the plague, they would be far too few to resist a fresh Tartar onslaught.  They took to their galleys and fled from the Black sea towards the Mediterranean.  With them travelled the plague.
Within a few years, one third of the population of Europe had died, by most estimates.   (Ziegler says that the disease may have spread to Europe by other paths, too, I should add.)   Biological warfare is thousands of years old, though I know of no other attack that had quite this success.  That Shane thinks that "nothing remotely approaching such an attack has ever occurred" shows a remarkable ignorance of history.
- 1:20 PM, 24 January 2005
More:  Here's an article arguing that the risks of biowarfare have increased since the fall of the Soviet Union.
- 7:45 AM, 26 January 2005   [link]


Polygamy In Tennessee:  The AP classified this story as "strange news".
State Sen. John Ford testified in a juvenile court hearing that he keeps two homes, living with two different women whose children he fathered.

Ford's testimony was part of his defense in a child support case.  The Memphis Democrat heads a Senate committee that guides the state's child welfare policies, and for the past year he's tried to make use of a law he authored that keeps court-ordered support lower when a father is financially responsible for other children.
. . .
Ford is battling a suit by a third woman, Dana Smith, who is trying to increase his court-ordered support of a 10-year-old girl he fathered.  Smith, a former employee under Ford when he was General Sessions Clerk, won a 1996 sexual harassment verdict against him.
But I don't think it is strange at all.  The most common marriage pattern historically and across cultures is monogamy for most, and polygamy for a few powerful men.  And, though American laws forbid polygamy, that's the same pattern one can find here — if you look in the right neighborhoods.

That worldwide acceptance of polygamy for powerful men is one reason I believe that, if gay marriage becomes law in many states, we will immediately have a significant movement for the legal recognition of polygamy.  And very similar arguments will be made in its favor.   For instance, who would want to deny legitimacy to Senator Ford's children from his extra "marriages"?  Or death benefits to his second "wife" should he pass on?
- 7:07 AM, 24 January 2005
More:  Colby Cosh, who has been making this same argument for some time, has an overview of the "strange non-debate now going on in Canada" on the subject.
- 2:10 PM, 24 January 2005   [link]


Picasa 2:  Google has released a free photo album program, Picasa 2, and my first impressions of it are quite good.  The program wouldn't suit professional photographers, but would be a good choice for beginners and some intermediate photographers*.

I learned about Picasa from this New York Times article, which is a good introduction to the program.  I should say that I did not have as much success as Pogue with the "I'm Feeling Lucky" button, though it helped with some pictures.  On the other hand, the Backlight button and slider, which he doesn't mention, made dramatic improvements to several of my flash pictures.

Picasa 2 begins by searching your hard drive for photos and cataloging them.  I was delighted by this because my photos are, shall we say, not quite as organized as they should be.  In a few minutes, Picasa solved that problem.  (And made it quite easy to toss out a lot of duplicate photos I had accumulated.)

At the end of the article, Pogue says that the program will provide tough competition for Adobe.
No, the company that should really be sweating right about now is Adobe, whose Photoshop Elements 3.0 (for Mac and Windows) is only a few months old.  It, too, is a terrific piece of software, but it's much bigger, more powerful and more complex; in addition to all the iPhoto-Picasa-type features, it can do things like keep track of offline photos (those on your CD's, not on the computer), superimpose text on your photos, stitch together pictures into a panorama, and so on.
I would agree that Picasa will be tough competition, given its price, but not for substantial photo editing programs such as Photoshop Elements.  Instead it will compete with other album programs, such as Adobe Photoshop Album, Paint Shop Photo Album, ACDsee, and perhaps with the simpler editing programs.

Although slick and easy to use, Picasa simply doesn't have the editing tools to compete with Photoshop Elements or Paintshop Pro, much less Photoshop itself.  For instance, I nearly always resize pictures before I post them on this site — but I couldn't find a way to do that with Picasa.  And the program doesn't give you the control over printing that I like — in spite of all the paper and ink I waste experimenting.

You can get a tour of the program here before you download it.  (And, if the commenters at Amazon are correct, you can download trial copies of the album programs from Adobe and Paintshop before buying them.)

(*Into which group I would place myself.  I have owned and used 35 mm SLRs for years.   In 2003 I bought a Nikon Coolpix 2000 digital camera and last December I bought an Olympus C-765.  For the last 5 or 6 years, I have experimented with photo editing programs, especially Paintshop Pro (version 7), but certainly wouldn't consider myself expert with them.)
- 5:08 PM, 23 January 2005   [link]


Did Illegal Votes From Felons Provide Gregoire's 129 Vote Margin?   That's what I have thought ever since the manual recount in our governor's race.  As Stefan Sharkansky noted in this post, the Seattle Times has done a partial search of the records in just two counties, King and Pierce, and found that dozens of felons voted.

Let me emphasize just how partial; the two counties are the largest in Washington state, but have less than half the state's population between them.  (Though they may have more than half of the felons.)  The search relied on exact matches of names, something that will miss felons who change their names even slightly.  The searches in the two counties went back only to, at most, 1997 and did not include 2004 court cases.  The searches would not detect felons who had committed felonies in other states, and then moved to Washington.  (Those felons can vote here only if their rights have been restored in the state in which the felony was committed.)

Given the number of illegal votes that this partial search found, I think the guesstimate in this post looks quite reasonable.  I still don't think Gregoire gained 1,000 votes, net, from felons voting illegally, but I am nearly certain that she gained more than 129 votes, net, that way.

Kudos to the Seattle Times for joining, however late, this search.  And if they would like more suggestions for news stories on illegal votes, they might want to look here.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 11:22 AM, 23 January 2005   [link]


How Many People Does Tom Friedman Talk To In Europe?  If you were to take this lead paragraph literally, you would conclude that no one in Europe backs George W. Bush.
Watching George Bush's second inaugural from a bistro in Paris is like watching the Red Sox win the World Series from a sports bar in New York City.  Odds are that someone around you is celebrating — I mean, someone, somewhere in Europe must be happy about this — but it's not obvious.
As it happens, the BBC, a news organization not swarming with journalists who wish Bush well, commissioned a poll of 21 nations that allows us to answer my question.  The pollster, Global Scan, asked samples in the 21 nations whether Bush's re-election was positive or negative for peace in the world.  Of the European countries polled, France gave Bush the lowest support, only 13 percent saying that Bush's re-election was positive, 75 percent saying negative, and 12 percent not giving an opinion.

Now, if Friedman had picked French citizens randomly, how many would he had to speak to before the odds* favored finding one who was happy about Bush's re-election?  (Assuming, of course, that Bush bringing peace would make them happy.)  Five.  But that just barely puts the odds past even.  If Friedman spoke to ten citizens at random, the odds would be 3-1 that at least one of them would be happy about Bush's re-election.  And, if he spoke to twenty citizens, the chances are almost 95 percent that one of them would be happy.  The bistros that Tom Friedman goes to must not have many patrons.

And France is, of the European nations polled by Global Scan, the most hostile to Bush.  Contrary to Friedman's claims, it is not hard to find friends of Bush in Europe.  They are in the minority, but, glancing at the results from other European nations in the poll, I would say that it is not unreasonable to guess that somewhere between 75 and 125 million Europeans celebrated Bush's re-election.  (The population of the European Union, which does not include all of Europe, is more than 450 million.)  I think Tom Friedman could have found a happy European if he had looked.

(*You don't need to be a math whiz to follow my calculations.  The probability that one French citizen is unhappy is .87, so the chance that two French citizens are both unhappy is just (.87)2, and so on for greater numbers of citizens.  If we talk to n French citizens, the chance that one or more will be happy with Bush is just 1 - (.87)n.  When n = 5, the value is .5016, just over 50 percent.)
- 6:58 AM, 23 January 2005   [link]


Many Are Linking to Arthur Chrenkoff's statistical summary of the news on Iraq, and for good reason.  When there are 1,992 stories on suicide bombings to just 16 stories on security successes, I think we can conclude that journalists are not emphasizing the positive.

Read the whole thing.  And you'll also want to read the impassioned essay by Lieutenant Colonel Tim Ryan that Chrenkoff links to at the end of his own essay.  Here's a significant detail.
There is a transparent reason why the majority of car bombings and other major events take place before noon Baghdad-time; any later and the event would miss the start of the morning news cycle on the U.S. east coast.  These terrorists aren't stupid; they know just what to do to scare the masses and when to do it.  An important key to their plan is manipulation of the news media.
Who are all too willing to be manipulated by the terrorists.

Lieutenant Colonel Ryan's critique of the coverage is not the first from a soldier or Marine in Iraq.  Newspaper editors and television producers should know that most of those serving in Iraq think that their stories are terribly one-sided.  But I know of no instances in which a "mainstream" news organization has even responded to these criticisms from those who are actually there, fighting the battles.
- 6:47 AM, 21 January 2005   [link]


Racism On The Left:  I am slow to accuse anyone of racism, because the charge can be so devastating.  But it is no secret that racism exists on the left, as well as the right.  In fact, I am beginning to think that there is more of it on the left.   Those on the left are certainly more hospitable to black racists, and their support for racial preferences naturally raises suspicions that they believe some groups can't win in fair competitions.

Recently, many wondered whether Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid's attack on Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas might not be motivated by racism, perhaps subconscious, but racism nonetheless.  I won't say that they have found proof of Reid's racism, but I do think that Reid has some explaining to do.

Yesterday, I heard a similar example.  A leftist talk show host, Allan Prell, was sneering at Condoleezza Rice, and the sneering began to sound familiar.  That kind of denigration directed toward people with better tans than mine was common when I was young, especially in the South.

Please understand that I am not saying that Prell's sneers were motivated by racism, even subconsciously.  I don't know him well enough to come to that conclusion (and don't want to know him that well).  But I can say that his sneers and condescension certainly sounded familiar to one who remembers the bad old days when open racism was more common.

Condoleezza Rice is a fine pianist, earned a PhD at an early age, served on the first President Bush's staff, was provost at Stanford, and has been National Security Advisor to our current president.  What has Allan Prell done?  As far as I can tell, he has been a talk show host — and has yet to learn how to comb his hair.  If I were him, I wouldn't sneer at Dr. Rice.

One thing that makes me think that Prell may have been motivated by racism is that I did not hear him make a single criticism of Rice's principal attacker, Senator Barbara Boxer.  Yet Boxer, in a performance that makes Washington's senior senator, Patty "not a rocket scientist" Murray, look positively brilliant, got her facts wrong more than once.   And not on small matters, either.

(Those in this area may wonder whether Prell is worth listening to.  So far, I would say that he is similar to Dave Ross, with even fewer intellectual scruples and a much less pleasant voice.   Today, speaking to Ross, Prell said that he wanted President Bush to fail.  He realized that would be worse for the United States, but seemed unable to decide which he preferred, Bush's failure and damage to the United States, or Bush's success and gains for the United States.  I don't think that's a difficult choice.  I didn't care for Bill Clinton, but I did want him to succeed while he was president.

Why does Prell want Bush to fail?  He didn't explain, though he said he had a myriad of reasons for disliking Bush, an answer that left me unenlightened about his reasons for disliking Bush, but suspecting that Prell does not know the meaning of myriad.

If you want to judge how well Rice did yourself, here's the transcript of the second day's hearings.)
- 3:25 PM, 20 January 2005   [link]


What Kind Of People Become Journalists?  Colby Cosh has his suspicions.
I bring this up because becoming a political writer has had the perverse effect of radicalizing me, emotionally, about class matters. I followed what now seems like a pretty singular path into this job; the enormous majority of my colleagues, on all points of the political spectrum, seem to have backgrounds that can safely be described as affluent.  There are exceptions, but very few.   And while I wouldn't quite say as a rule that the most strident protectors of the working class were raised the furthest from it--well, golly, it sometimes seems that way.  I don't know if I can describe, as someone who once lived in a trailer park, how it makes me feel to hear Naomi Klein (parents: doctor, filmmaker) or Avi Lewis (no genealogical comment necessary) or Linda McQuaig (parents were, as I recall, some sort of doctorate-wielding consultants) mash the W word and the C word together in that self-satisfied way of theirs.
It would be easy to think of American equivalents for his Canadian examples.  American journalists may be less likely than Canadian journalists to proclaim their allegiance to the working class, but they do identify, ostentatiously, with other politically correct groups.

Robert Lichter has the numbers to support Cosh's suspicions.
Yet we found few Horatio Alger stories in the newsrooms.  On the contrary, many among the media elite enjoyed socially privileged upbringings.  Most were raised in upper-middle-class homes. . . . That leaves only one in five whose father was employed in a low-status job. (p. 22)
So, if many journalists sound like snobs, that may be because they were raised to be snobs.   And it is worth adding that Lichter and company did their study more than two decades ago.  I would expect even fewer journalists to come from working class backgrounds now.

So, if like Cosh you feel that journalists may be out of touch with ordinary citizens, that may because journalists are — and have been all their lives.

I don't share Cosh's class sensitivity, but I have I do have a similar sensitivity.  Those who become journalists are overwhelmingly from well off families.  They are even more overwhelmingly from urban areas.  And it shows when they cover rural areas; their stories typically — and I do not say typically without considerable thought — combine ignorance and condescension.

If jobs in journalism were earned more by talent and less by class background, we would have better newspapers and television news programs.  Cosh himself is an example.  He's a fine journalist, who would improve almost any newspaper, but he has had to struggle in his career.   (His libertarian and conservative views may have been another handicap, especially in Canada.)
- 2:04 PM, 20 January 2005
More:  David von Drehle's much discussed essay on his trip through the Great Plains in search of Bush voters illustrates my point, and perhaps Cosh's.  Von Drehle has to tell his readers back in Washington, D. C. that there are some people who do not want to live in cities.  One would think the growth of the suburbs would have already tipped them off.  Many of our central cities have declined absolutely in population in the last half century, and all have declined relatively.
- 7:51 AM, 21 January 2005   [link]


Following My Usual Procedure, I didn't watch or even listen to President Bush's inaugural speech, but I will have something to say about it in the next week.   Not sure just when, since I am having my dentist put in a new bridge tomorrow, and I am not sure how I'll feel after that.

While you are waiting, you may want to watch Jib-Jab's latest, celebrating the second inaugural.   There's something there to offend (and amuse) almost everyone.

(For those who missed earlier explanations: I usually do not watch politicians' speeches, preferring to study the texts later.  When I do watch, I don't watch for the content, but to assess how effective the speeches are politically.  I began reading rather than watching politicians' speeches during the Nixon administration, and have never regretted it.)
- 1:00 PM, 20 January 2005   [link]


Inauguration Potpourri:  Simon Tisdall of the Guardian writes a typically snarky background piece, but begins with this interesting comparison.
British prime ministers are often defenestrated but never inaugurated.  After a nod from the Queen, a newly elected leader simply turns up in Downing Street as his predecessor scrambles out the back door.

Republican France handles matters more regally.  Once confirmed by the constitutional court, a new president assumes office at a solemn Elysée Palace ceremony to which the voters are not invited.
(To my knowledge, no British prime minister has ever actually been thrown out of a window.)   The American president is head of state, like the British monarch, as well as head of the government, so it is no surprise that our inauguration ceremonies have some similarities to coronations.  It is curious that the French ceremony is not public.

Gerard Baker, writing in the Times of London, is not quite as snarky in his background piece, but does include, at the very end, some gossip about how JFK celebrated his inauguration that the delicate may wish to skip.

The Washington Post has a quiz on past inaugurations.  (I got more than half of the questions right, so it isn't too difficult.)

Ann Coulter goes back to describe the 1992 Clinton inauguration and notes, in her usual mild way, that many who now criticize this year's party celebrated then.  (My own feelings are closer to those expressed by Kathleen Parker in this column; not as bad as Clinton is not an argument that has ever had much weight with me.)

Finally, ABC News thought that one way to celebrate the inauguration would be to pair it with a military funeral.  There are reasons so many of us think that the "mainstream" media is biased, and sometimes disgustingly so.
- 7:08 AM, 20 January 2005   [link]


Weirdest Election Law Yet?  Bloggers are accumulating evidence of vote fraud, and perhaps organized vote fraud, in Wisconsin.  One detail in the story amazes me, the Wisconsin law that makes fraud easy.   In Wisconsin, you can register at the polls on election day (a bad idea).  And when do they check the registration?  Here's the answer:
If you think the Motor-Voter law invites fraud; Same Day Registration makes motor voter look positively punitive.  All you need do is bring ID on election day proving you live in that precinct and you can vote.  And in the late 80's when I voted -- a recent utility bill would do.

It's only after your vote is counted verification begins, with a follow-up mailing to verify you do live at the address and that the address is valid.  Well, as of today, and in Milwaukee alone, 10,000 votes cannot be verified.
Here's the sequence.  (1) Register.  (2) Vote.  (3) Weeks later, have your registration verified.  I am not making this up.

This law is as big an invitation to fraud as leaving a cash register open and unwatched.  And the evidence is accumulating that thousands accepted that invitation, perhaps enough to tip the state to Kerry.  I'll have more to say about this story soon.
- 9:14 AM, 19 January 2005   [link]


An Open Letter To The New York Times:  One month ago, the New York Times urged Washington state to "count every vote" in our governor's race, repeating the slogan so popular among Democratic activists and editorial writers.

We now know, thanks to investigations by the Republican party, the BIAW, a building trades association, and individual bloggers, particularly Stefan Sharkansky of Sound Politics, that some counties in Washington state followed the Times' advice.  For example, King County, which includes the Democratic stronghold of Seattle, counted votes from dead people, from felons, and from hundreds of provisional voters without checking.  All in all, King County counted nearly 2,000 more votes than voters.

King County did not quite count every vote.  They did not count 22 ballots found in voting machines after the election, and they did not count some military ballots that soldiers and Marines in Iraq received after the election.  But they came close.

And so how do Washington's voters feel about this effort to "count every vote?"  Polls show that a large majority of the state's voters do not consider Christine Gregoire's victory legitimate and want a re-vote.  This mess provides more evidence that the correct slogan is not "count every vote," but "count every legitimate vote — once."

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(Here's my earlier post on the editorial.)
- 5:45 AM, 19 January 2005   [link]


Suspending County Election Boards:  There are election boards — St. Louis comes to mind — that have been associated with so much fraud that no honest person should trust them.  There are other election boards — Broward county in Florida comes to mind — that are so incompetent that no one should trust their results.   (Some in this area are beginning to think that King County belongs with Broward, if not with St. Louis.)  Usually these election boards are headed by elected officials or appointed directly by elected officials.

Now one could say that these counties get what they deserve.  If their voters aren't willing to choose officials who will provide honest, well-managed elections, that's their fault, and they should suffer the consequences.  The problem with that argument is that the results in these counties affect their states, and the rights of voters outside these counties, who never have a chance to throw the rascals out.  In Washington state, the continued failures of King County have cast doubt on many recent close elections.  But the roughly two-thirds of the state's voters who live outside King County never have a chance to remove county executive Ron Sims from office.

What to do about this?  I think that secretaries of state should have the power to ask for court orders to suspend county election boards that fail in their duties.  If, for example, the King County elections office is unable to do something as basic as balancing voters and votes, then the rest of Washington should have the power to replace them with an organization that can.  (I would suggest hiring a private accounting firm to do the work.)  If Ron Sims and company are unwilling or unable to fix the problems here, then the rest of the state should have the power to do so.  There are at least a few states that have a similar process for local school systems, so the idea is not unprecedented.

Many in the Republican party have been critical of Washington's secretary of state, Sam Reed.   I am not pleased by everything he has done, or failed to do, myself.  But we should recognize that he has little direct control over the King County elections office, or those in other counties with dubious election results.  I'd like to give him a little more power — so we can hold him much more responsible.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 9:05 AM, 18 January 2005
More:  Florida does have a procedure for removing failing election officers, and Governor Jeb Bush has used it to remove one of the worst,
A hearing officer Tuesday recommended that the state Senate uphold Gov. Jeb Bush's decision to remove former Broward County Elections Supervisor Miriam Oliphant.
. . .
Bush suspended Oliphant without pay in November 2003 for alleged neglect of duty, incompetence and misfeasance stemming from the 2002 primary election.
That Oliphant. a Democrat, fouled up a primary election must have made it easier for Bush to remove her.  And I must say I like the fact that she lost her pay, too.
- 5:15 AM, 19 January 2005   [link]


Which Is More Dangerous, Chicago Or Iraq?  Blogger Bruce Thompson looks at the numbers and finds the murder rates about equal.
Here is some unrefuted reporting from the New York Times which shows that Iraq had 202 murders in 14 days or 14.4 per day!  Iraqi population estimates vary, but for comparison purposes Chicago (at 450 confirmed murders in 366 days with a population of 2.8 million) had .439 murders per million per day.  The two would be equal if Iraq's population was 32,858,867 people!  Population estimates vary but about 25 million people live in Iraq.  Therefore, the streets of Iraq are about as safe as the streets of Chicago though in both places there are some tough neighborhoods and you might not wish to be a member of particular organizations!  The Iraqi trend is going down faster than Chicago's.
Which probably explains why "mainstream" news coverage is switching from Iraq to Chicago and similar cities.  What's that?  You tell me that it isn't switching?  What a surprise.

As they say, read the whole thing.
- 6:52 AM, 18 January 2005   [link]


Non-Citizens Voting In Hawaii:  Hawaii has had Democratic governors since 1962, and near one party control of its legislature for most of that time.   As one would expect when one party is unchallenged for so long, the Democrats became corrupt and arrogant, and began to cut corners to hang on to power.

In 1998, the Republican mayor of Maui, Linda Lingle*, ran for governor and came very close to winning.  In 2002, she won and is now trying to institute reforms there.   John Fund's chapter on Hawaii, "Tropical Tammany", in his book, Stealing Elections, persuades me that Lingle may have won in 1998, too.

There were many, many irregularities in the 1998 election, among them reports of vote buying, spikes in absentee ballots in a few areas, dead people voting, electioneering at the polls, ballot boxes disappearing, abuses in elderly care homes, and failures in election software**.   One that will be of interest to those following Washington's race for governor was the number of non-citizens who voted — most of them, as far as one can tell, for Lingle's opponent, Benjamin Cayetano.

In Districts 29, 30 and 31, impoverished areas of Oahu where many noncitizens reside, there was an unusual voting pattern.  In one of the districts, around a thousand people voted by absentee ballot on the same day, and returned their ballots by mail in unison two weeks later.  Many of these people lived in a six-block area, with some houses housing up to ten residents with five different family names.

This drew the attention of the Voting Integrity Project, which launched a serious investigation of the area and the general question of non-citizens voting.

VIP investigators also uncovered a number of confirmed noncitizens and suspected noncitizens who voted in [Romy] Cachola's district.  That led them to encourage the Honolulu city clerk, Genny Wong, to figure out a way to determine if more noncitizens were voting throughout the state.  The federal Immigration and Naturalization Service, run by the Clinton administration, refused to help in the assessment.  But that did not deter Wong and her staff, who independently cross-referenced names on the state's registered voter rolls with the citizenship records in the state's identification database, and determined that 543 registered voters on Oahu may have been or still are improperly or illegally registered to vote.

Wong sent out letters to those suspected 543 alien registered voters asking for proof of citizenship.  More than a hundred people responded shortly after Wong's inquiry, with about half providing proof and the other half asking that their names be removed from the voter registration rolls.

This was the city's first extensive attempt to find out who may be illegally registered in Hawaii, and it is important to note that the city checked only those who had state identifications (not driver's licenses), a small part of the population in Hawaii.  City officials said that a small number of neighbor islanders who held who held state identifications also were listed as noncitizens and would be issued letters.

Let's summarize: VIP and Genny Wong checked a small fraction of Hawaii's voters and found a significant number of non-citizens who admitted that they were on the rolls illegally.  No one should be surprised if many of those in the 543 who did not reply to Wong's letter were also non-citizens.

Let's suppose that Wong checked 10 percent of Hawaii's voters, which seems high to me, and that just half of the 543 were non-citizens, which seems low to me.  With those very conservative assumptions, we still would estimate that nearly 3,000 non-citizens were on the rolls in Hawaii.  We don't know how many voted, although the strange patterns in Cachola's district, and elsewhere, suggest many may have.  (A few may have voted in return for cash; Cachola had a very interesting pattern of expenditures in the election, with many unexplained small cash payments to individuals.)

Now let's try to extrapolate those numbers to Washington.  Let me say immediately that I understand that I am now asking you to take a jump in the argument.  I am doing that because I want to show that it is plausible that illegal votes from non-citizens provided Christine Gregoire's 129 vote margin, not that it happened, but that it is reasonable to believe that it may have.  It is a question, in other words, that deserves investigation.

About 7 percent of Hawaii's roughly 1.2 million residents are non-citizens.  About 6 percent of Washington's roughly 6 million residents are non-citizens, so Washington has more than 4 times as many non-citizens.  If, in our last election, nearly 12,000 citizens were on the voting rolls here and just 1 in 10 voted, then 1,200 voted.  Most non-citizens in Washington state are Hispanics who tend to vote Democratic by about 2 to 1, at least those Hispanics who have not been in United States for long.  Most other immigrant groups have similar voting patterns.  This set of very conservative assumptions leads me to conclude that almost certainly Christine Gregoire gained a minimum of 400 votes, net, from non-citizens.  So I do believe this question deserves investigation.

Unfortunately, the Hawaii case also shows why the question of how many non-citizens voted here will probably not be investigated.  Jon Yoshimura, then head of the the Honolulu city council, said that there was no great reason to prosecute non-citizens who had voted.  The local media carried many accounts defending voting by non-citizens, including one from state representative Dennis Arakaki, who argued that Hawaii's non-citizens are often more interested in voting than its citizens.  As far as I can tell, none of the major news organizations in Hawaii made any significant attempt to follow up on what VIP and Genny Wong had learned.

Were there even any prosecutions?  Fund does not mention any.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(*Those who think our system is closed to talent may want to look at Lingle's career.  If I were picking the candidate most likely to win the governorship of Hawaii, I don't think it would occur to me to look for a Jewish Republican divorcee from Saint Louis.  Lingle is all of those things and won anyway.

**The firm that had problems with its election software was ES&S, the same one that was associated with some odd results here in our last election.)
- 4:11 PM, 17 January 2005   [link]


"Reserved, Quiet, Thoughtful, and Dignified":  That's how former Attorney General Ramsey Clark describes his latest client, Saddam Hussein.
One of America's most renowned human rights lawyers has astonished even close friends and supporters by taking on Saddam Hussein as a client and describing the former Iraqi dictator as "reserved, quiet, thoughtful and dignified".

While most of the world regards Saddam as a brutal dictator who gassed entire villages, launched wars t hat cost millions of lives and murdered thousands of political opponents, Ramsey Clark, a former US Attorney General, said he had been unfairly "demonised" by his captors.
With another lawyer, we might think that this was a show to get the best deal for his client; with Ramsey Clark, we must assume that he means it.  If, in the last few decades, Clark has met an enemy of the United States he didn't like, I missed it.
- 12:32 PM, 17 January 2005   [link]


Frank Rich's Fantasy Land:  New York Times columnist Frank Rich has decades of experience as a journalist.  He works for the most prestigious newspaper in the world.  His work is read by experienced editors.  But he can still write, and the New York Times publish, this sort of fantasy.

I do not mean to minimize the CBS News debacle and other recent journalistic outrages at The New York Times and elsewhere.  But the Jan. 7 edition of CNN's signature show [Crossfire] can stand as an exceptionally ripe paradigm of what is happening to the free flow of information in a country in which a timid news media, the fierce (and often covert) Bush administration propaganda machine, lax and sometimes corrupt journalistic practices, and a celebrity culture all combine to keep the public at many more than six degrees of separation from anything that might resemble the truth.

(All this, if you are wondering, leads into a long attack on Armstrong Williams, for taking money, which he shouldn't have, and the Bush administration for trying to make its case on a number of subjects, which they should do.)

Rich is claiming that the United States has a "timid news media" (excluding himself presumably) that is afraid to criticize Bush.  In this area, both Seattle newspapers attacked Bush fiercely all through the election campaign.  The Seattle Times ran story after story on the minor scandal of Abu Ghraib.  They ran a front page picture of the coffins of servicemen returning from Iraq, and made much of that.  (It was terrible picture, and it got the woman who took it fired, since she was breaking Pentagon policy.)

The Seattle PI runs, every Saturday, a cartoon by Ted Rall, who routinely depicts President Bush as a fascist (and appears to actually believe that charge).  The same newspaper regularly runs pieces by Robert Fisk, a man perfectly willing to criticize President Bush from the point of view of Osama bin Laden or Saddam Hussein.  And I could add many, many more examples.

Some will not be satisfied by examples; for them, Charles Krauthammer has some numbers.

The Project for Excellence in Journalism did a careful study of mainstream media stories in September and October.  The numbers are stunning.

To take one example, Oct. 1-14, 2004: Percent of stories about Bush that are negative -- 59 percent.  Percent of stories about Kerry that are negative -- 25 percent.  Stories favorable to Bush?  14 percent.  Favorable to Kerry?  34 percent.

What would the "mainstream" media do if they were not "timid"?

Fantasy has its place, but that place should not include the news pages of the New York Times.

Cross posted at Oh, That Liberal Media.

(Those know anything about composition will have noticed that Rich's paragraph is a terrible example of writing, as well as dishonest.  There are times when saying the opposite of what you mean ("I do not mean to minimize") is clever writing; here it is so blatantly false as to offend the reader.

The second sentence has so many faults that a high school English teacher would be tempted to just cross it out and write "try again".  I am not as burdened as most of those who teach composition, so I will mention a few of those faults.  Crossfire is not CNN's signature show — if indeed there is such a thing.  It is, or was, an opinion show on an all news network.  Editions don't stand as "exceptionally ripe paradigms".   (Paradigm was so abused after it became popular in philosophy of science that a careful writer will almost always avoid using it.)  What Rich means by that long phrase is just "shows", and he should say so, unless he is being paid by the word, and has a starving family to support.

After that, Rich strings together a series of tired clichés and ends the sentence with this: "many more than six degrees of separation from anything that might resemble the truth".  If Rich understood the network ideas behind six degrees of separation, he would realize that it is nearly impossible for any person to be many degrees away from another person who knows the truth.  Even Rich himself is only a few connections away from the truth.  And you can see, with just a little thought, that the final phrase is silly; we want the truth, not something that might resemble it.

Frank Rich is an experienced, and probably very well paid, journalist.  So why can't he write?)
- 7:37 AM, 17 January 2005   [link]


Christian Family Murdered In New Jersey:  Most likely because they criticized Muslims.
The father of a murdered New Jersey family was threatened for making anti-Muslim remarks online — and the gruesome quadruple slaying may have been the hateful retaliation, sources told The Post yesterday.

Hossam Armanious, 47, who along with his wife and two daughters was found stabbed to death in his Jersey City home early Friday, would regularly debate religion in a Middle Eastern chat room, one source said.
. . .
The married father of two had recently been threatened by Muslim members of the Web site, said a fellow Copt and store clerk who uses the chat room.

"You'd better stop this bull---- or we are going to track you down like a chicken and kill you," was the threat, said the clerk, who was online at the time and saw the exchange.
. . .
Both the deacon and uncle poured cold water on the theory that the family were the victims of a robbery gone wrong.

"This is not a robbery, Ayed [Fred Ayed, the deacon at St. George and St. Shenouda Church] said. "We found all of the jewelry in the house. They didn't take anything."
And there are other details, even in this brief story, that support the theory that these New Jersey Christians were brutally murdered because they spoke ill of Muslims.

(By way of Greg Piper, who links to some thoughtful comments by Steve Barnett.   All three of us are struck by the fact that the "mainstream" media suppressed the likely religious motive in these murders.)
- 6:09 AM, 17 January 2005   [link]