January 2007, Part 2
Jim Miller on Politics
Public Opinion, The Mainstream Media, Foreign Policy, And Iraq: On some issues, the "mainstream" media have been unable to shift the majority of the public toward their views. That's true, for example, of what is now usually called "affirmative action". Most initiatives ending racial preferences pass easily, even though they are opposed by very large majorities of journalists. Similarly, when crime is high, voters will generally support tough on crime candidates, even while newpapers and TV stations are telling them to worry about "root causes".
But on other issues, "mainstream" journalists have, in my opinion, more power. In general, I would say that journalists have more power to shape public opinion when the issues do not touch voters directly, something true of most foreign policy issues. We can test some of what journalists tell us against our own experiences, but that is hard to do when the events they describe are far away. Even now, when jet travel is commonplace, few of us would want to get on a plane, fly to Iraq, and test whether CBS, the BBC, and all the rest are telling us the truth. In contrast, crime often comes to us, or to someone we know.
In the run up to the Iraq war, many in "mainstream" media helped build support for a tougher policy toward Iraq. And polls showed a considerable shift toward a tougher policy during this period. (Some of that shift, I think, was also caused by President Bush's leadership on the issue.)
Almost immediately after the successful overthrow of Saddam's regime, the "mainstream" media shifted sharply against the war. Last November, I linked to this James Q. Wilson op-ed, which describes just how sharply:
Between Jan. 1 and Sept. 30, 2005, nearly 1,400 stories appeared on the ABC, CBS and NBC evening news. More than half focused on the costs and problems of the war, four times as many as those that discussed the successes. About 40% of the stories reported terrorist attacks; scarcely any reported the triumphs of American soldiers and Marines. The few positive stories about progress in Iraq were just a small fraction of all the broadcasts.That media shift explains, I think, much of the decline in the support for the war.
But not all, because presidents also can shift public opinion, and so we have to ask why President Bush could, just a few years ago, shift public opinion, but no longer can. Why, in other words, has he been unable to counterbalance the negative coverage of the war in the last year or so?
One reason, of course, is that the president has a much smaller presence than "mainstream" journalists; he can claim the attention of the public from time to time, but, unlike Katie Couric, he is not on TV every week night, and unlike the editorial board of the New York Times, he does not publish an editorial every day. Though he can get more attention for an individual speech or decision than they do for a broadcast or an editorial, they can wear his support down, over time.
And the Democrats (with the help of the "mainstream" media) pursued an effective, long-term strategy against President Bush. Wherever they could, they worked to undermine his credibility, That explains why, for instance, they have attacked him endlessly for coming to the same conclusions on Iraq's WMDs that Clinton had. That's why they created the Wilson-Plame "scandal". That's why they attacked the administration's competence on the response to Katrina. That's why they inflated the Mark Foley scandal to absurd proportions. And so on.
It is hard to remember now, but Bush had a reputation with most of the public, during the 2000 campaign, and during his first two years in office as a truth teller and a straight shooter. (I think that view is largely correct, if you are wondering.) But the endless attacks on Bush's credibility from the Democrats and their allies in the "mainstream" media have shifted public perceptions, and most voters no longer give him the benefit of the doubt. So, when he speaks now on Iraq, he speaks to an audience that, for the most part, no longer listens to what he says.
As I said, the strategy has been effective, but as a nation we may pay a terrible price for this deliberate undermining of our commander in chief during a time of war. I have said it before, and I will say it again: We can learn from history and what the terrorists say — or we can learn from what the terrorists do. The tuition for the second set of lessons may be more than we want to pay.
"Mainstream" journalists do not (with very exceptions) want more terrorist attacks to happen. But they have been so consumed by partisanship and so besotted by the false lessons of the Vietnam War, that they have made terrorist attacks more likely, here and in Iraq.
(There was an interesting detail in a poll of Louisiana voters on Katrina. They blamed their state and local officials far more than they blamed President Bush. That supports my general argument that "mainstream" journalists find it hard to move opinion when voters are in direct contact with events.)
- 2:37 PM, 16 January 2007 [link]
Pearl Harbor And Wiretapping: After recommending Roberta Wohlstetter's Pearl Harbor: Warning and Decision, I took my own advice and re-read parts of it. She begins the book by reviewing what those in Hawaii knew about the Japanese threat. In her discussion of what the principal intelligence officers knew, I found this:
It is interesting to observe that of these six officers only [Lieutenant Commander Edwin T.] Layton has left any recorded complaint about receiving inadequate information or being inadequately staffed. Even in [Lieutenant Commander Joseph J.] Rochefort's unit, evidently no shortage was felt of trained cryptanalysts and linguists for the job assigned. The major obstacles to efficient work were the American laws that forbade censorship or wiretapping or supervision of Japanese communications to the homeland, or locally within Hawaii. The Navy and the FBI had thrown such legal scruples to the winds, but G-2 [Army] kept to the letter of the law.It would be going too far to say that we would have been prepared for the attack if our laws against wiretapping had been less stringent, or if the Navy and the FBI had been even less scrupulous about following the law. But it would not be going too far to say that our chances of being prepared for the attack would have better.
Two examples show what we did learn from illegal wiretaps — and suggest what we might have learned, had we done more.
Just days before the attack, the FBI intercepted a phone call from a cook inside the Japanese consulate in Honolulu, "reporting in great excitement that they were burning all major documents". That is generally only when war is imminent. (The Navy was also listening to phone calls from the consulate, but for some reason, stopped on December 2, just five days before the attack.)
Even more striking is the strange case of the Mori phone call, which may have been a false alarm, but certainly heightened worries. (This account by Gordon Prange concludes that the call was in code; this account by David Kahn leaves the matter open, though it leans toward the conclusion that the call was innocent.) One thing is certain; if we had been wiretapping Mori's calls to and from Japan for months, rather than just a few days, we would have been better able to judge that call.
Now then, the obvious question: Did we have the right balance between security and privacy in 1941? Were the lawmakers who wrote the 1934 law forbidding wiretaps correct, or were the Navy officers and FBI agents who broke the law correct? Given the surprise that the Japanese achieved, most Americans then would have said that those who broke the law were right, that the law never should have been written so as to stop us from spying on our enemies. As we look for the right balance between security and privacy now, we may be able to learn from their experience.
(What Layton complained about, if you are wondering, was not getting intelligence information from decoded Japanese diplomatic messages.
Prange says that the attorney general authorized the Mori wiretap — but that doesn't necessarily mean that it was legal. Kahn's description of the Federal Communications Act of 1934 says there was a prohibition on "the interception of messages between foreign countries and the United States and territories" — and does not mention any exceptions.)
- 11:05 AM, 16 January 2007 [link]
They Keep Getting Kyoto Wrong: Glenn Reynolds catches the Associated Press making the kind of mistake on the Kyoto agreement often made by leftists.
Read the whole thing, and note: The United States was never bound by Kyoto, and it was not "rejected" by the Bush Administration. Once again, a webpage by unpaid amateurs is more accurate and nuanced than an effort by the Associated Press.And the kind of mistake made, more than once, by other "mainstream" journalists. The BBC's Gavin Hewitt made a similar mistake in November 2005. He claimed that President Bush had refused to ratify the Kyoto treaty. NPR made a similar mistake in November, 2006. They said that the United States had not signed the Kyoto treaty. Most likely, a thorough search would turn up dozens of similar examples.
When "mainstream" journalists can't get the basic facts right on such an important treaty, they give us reason to doubt almost everything they write or say.
(If you are wondering why the US Senate rejected Kyoto (before Bush became president), see this post on Chinese coal. And there is still more background here. You may be surprised to learn how little difference the Kyoto agreement would make in the planet's temperature.
Why do "mainstream" journalists keep getting this wrong? Here's my guess: They believe that the Kyoto agreement would be good for the environment, and they think that George W. Bush is an enemy of the environment. (They are wrong about both.) They know that the United States has not agreed to the Kyoto treaty, though they are vague on the details. And so they put these things together — without bothering to check the facts — and conclude that, somehow, Bush is responsible for the US failure to ratify Kyoto.)
- 5:16 AM, 16 January 2007
Clarification: I added two sentences so that you can get the gist of the mistakes without following the links.
- 7:12 AM, 16 January 2007 [link]
Today Is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day: And it is tempting to use the day to make contemporary points, or to try to make some balanced assessment of his career. But this year I decided to put that all aside and just look at his words.
His most famous speech, which he gave many times, in different versions, became famous when he delivered it to the 1963 March on Washington. It is named for a phrase that he used again and again, "I have a Dream". Contrarian that I am, I think his earlier letter from a Birmingham jail is more impressive. And his speech to the First Montgomery Improvement Association helps me understand why he was able to move so many.
But King's words that move me most are in his last formal speech, when he was supporting the Memphis sanitation workers. The speech meanders, but much of it is taken up with King's thoughts on his own mortality. It ends with these words:
Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!He was assassinated the next day. And we lost a great man.
(If you need a review on his life, here's the Wikipedia biography.
Through Orrin Judd, I found this useful site, which has 100 famous American speeches. They aren't the 100 I would choose, but I like most on the list. And all come in mp3 files, as well as text files, so you can listen to them as well as read them.)
- 5:12 PM, 15 January 2007 [link]
More Good News about the economy.
Economists are hastily upgrading their forecasts for the US economy after a series of surprisingly strong reports suggesting the so-called "soft landing" may be over and growth is accelerating.Would President Bush get some credit for this if he were a Democrat? (He isn't even mentioned in the article, if you are wondering.)
- 9:26 AM, 15 January 2007 [link]
Corrections And John Reith Of The BBC: In November, I summarized my experiences with getting "mainstream" journalists to make corrections.
Let me start with an obvious qualification: Most journalists are willing to make trivial corrections; almost all of them will, for example, correct the spelling of a name if you tell them about their error.About a week ago, I had an exchange with John Reith, who works for the BBC, which illustrates my conclusion. (Look near the end of the comments to find the exchange.) The BBC's Washington, DC correspondent, Matt Frei had said that the Americans "never" forgave President Ford for pardoning Nixon. The good people at the Biased BBC site thought this a bit much and said so. Reith came in to defend the BBC, as he often does. And then I wrote a comment saying that problem was the word, "never". A little bit of thought will show you that Frei would have needed current poll information to come to that conclusion — and he didn't have any.
Reith replied to my comment as follows:
Oh well, so it's a case of never say never again.Here's how I interpret his comment: Frei was wrong to say "never", but it is a "touch pedantic" to ask Frei to be accurate in his conclusions. And besides, other journalists are sloppy, too. (A point with which I agree entirely.)
So, if I understand him correctly, Reith agrees with me that "never" is, almost certainly, inaccurate. But he sees no reason for Matt Frei and the BBC to correct the record. As I said in November, most journalists are unwilling to correct errors, when the corrections come from outsiders.
This is not a large issue, but I do think Reith's attitudes are revealing, especially since he works for the BBC.
(It is interesting to speculate on what may have led Frei to make this error. I would not be surprised to learn that most American and British journalists "never" forgave Ford for pardoning Nixon, though I haven't seen any polls on that, either. (In fact, I wouldn't be surprised to learn that most American and British journalists never forgave Ford for what he did before he pardoned Nixon.) Frei may be speaking for his colleagues, and thinking, as it is so easy to do, that he is speaking for the majority.
A pollster would run into some interesting technical problems in trying to find out whether Americans had forgiven Ford by his death. The pardon was so long ago (1974) that many Americans would not know, in any detail, what had happened. In such circumstances, the pollster could either explain at length, or disqualify many respondents. Neither is entirely satisfactory.
For more on corrections, see my comments on a column by the Washington Post's ombudsman, Deborah Howell. She thinks journalists "are often thin-skinned and resist corrections".)
- 7:51 AM, 14 January 2007 [link]
We Have lost Roberta Wohlstetter.
Roberta Wohlstetter, a military and foreign policy analyst whose work on the intelligence failures before the attack on Pearl Harbor was cited by the 9/11 commission, died on Saturday in Manhattan. She was 94.And a very great loss that is. I (and many others) learned much from her most important book, Pearl Harbor: Warning and Decision. On the cover is a quotation from Samuel Eliot Morison: "The best book by far on the question of why we were surprised at Pearl Harbor." It is also the best book that I have read on military intelligence, in general. My copy must be about thirty years old; it is one of the few books I own that I go back to almost every year.
The New York Times mentions her husband, Albert Wohlstetter, but says less about him than I would. Here's his Wikipedia biography, if you want to know more.
- 3:54 PM, 13 January 2007 [link]
Two Crater Lake Panoramas: Both made up of a number of separate pictures stitched together, five or six in the first panorama and three in the second.
You will want to use a tripod unless you have remarkably steady hands. Most current tripods have two levels in them, a circle level for getting the base right, and a little line level for checking the angle of the shot. Both are useful in making panoramas. (And if you want to get really fancy, you can get a special panorama head for your tripod, which compensates for the change in perspective as you swing the camera around.)
I use the automatic stitch software that came with my Olympus camera. It usually does a good job, though it failed on one try today, which may have been the fault of my pictures, not the software. There are many alternative stitch program; a quick search turned up this one and this list.
You can find the earlier posts from my 2006 disaster area tour here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.
You can find the last post from the 2005 disaster area tour, with links to all the other 2005 disaster tour posts, here.
- 10:57 AM, 12 January 2007
More: I've made the pictures clickable, with links to the full versions. But before you click, you should know that the pictures will not fit on any standard screen; the first is 10,918 pixels wide and the second is 4,556 pixels wide. And they are large enough (1.3 megabytes and 600 kilobytes) so that they will load slowly if you have a dial-up connection. But there they are if you would like to see the full versions, or even print them.
- 2:49 PM, 12 January 2007
Partial Correction: The browser that I used to test the picture display, SeaMonkey, showed them full size, with scroll bars. The other browsers that I have tried fit the pictures to my screen. If you want to see them full size, you may have to save them and look at them in a graphics program.
- 3:23 PM, 12 January 2007
Follow Up: Last night, I took another look at the set of photos that the Olympus software would not combine into a panorama. I found that I had moved the camera just a few degrees too far between the fourth and fifth pictures in the sequence. Naturally, the software could not bridge that gap.
By the way, there are enough pixels in the first panorama to make a wide print, two to three feet or more. I haven't tried that yet, because I don't have paper that big, though I plan to get some.
- 6:01 AM, 16 January 2007 [link]
Coincidence? House Republicans are a suspicious lot.
House Republicans yesterday declared "something fishy" about the major tuna company in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's San Francisco district being exempted from the minimum-wage increase that Democrats approved this week.It may be a coincidence, but like the House Republicans, I think this looks fishy. (Couldn't resist that pun.)
And it would not be the first time that allies of Pelosi have benefitted, economically, from her legislative work. For that matter, her immediate family, her husband and her children, have often seemed to benefit from their connections to her. And not just by knowing the right people, but by government decisions in their favor.
- 10:16 AM, 12 January 2007 [link]
Sometimes Congressional Investigations Settle Questions: And I think the investigation by the House oversight committee settled some questions about Sandy Berger's document theft. As I'm sure you recall, the former national security advisor has pled guilty to removing and destroying classified documents from the Clinton administration, documents that he was reviewing for the 9/11 Commission.
From the beginning, defenders of Berger insisted that no harm had come from his actions, and some, including some on the right, were inclined to believe them. But the report from the committee headed by Republican Tom Davis makes it nearly certain that the worst explanation of Berger's actions, that he had destroyed documents that would embarrass Bill Clinton, is the most likely.
Here's how Bob Tyrell explains his own shift toward the more sinister explanation.
Yet there was a debate among us Clinton sleuths that now has been settled. After Berger pleaded guilty, many of us accepted his explanation, namely, that he was simply too lazy to read through all the material in the uncomfortable quarters made available to him at the Archives. He wanted to read them at home in the presence of loved ones, the family cat, and with Fleetwood Mac on the sound system. He had grimmer critics with a darker reading. They believed that in the aftermath of Sept. 11, historians were going to be more exacting in their readings of the Clinton record on terror and if White House documents showed laxity, the historians would report it. Thus these Clinton sleuths argued that Berger was making off with embarrassing documents to destroy or perhaps to revise.That's the most likely explanation, but not one we can be absolutely certain is correct. But if you read the entire report, as I did, you will almost certainly be persuaded that a sinister explanation of Berger's actions is the most likely. Again and again, Berger deliberately deceived the archivists who were charged with protecting the files.
You will also learn that the investigation of Berger's misdeeds was mishandled. For instance, after authorities learned that Berger had probably stolen documents, they did not get a search warrant and do a surprise search of his home — they talked to him about the problem, giving him time to destroy evidence.
The principal reason that there was doubt about what Berger had done is that the former head of the Justice Department's Public Integrity section, Noel Hillman, made public statements that were, as report puts it, "incomplete and misleading". And the report suggests that Hillman was deliberately misleading. For example, it seems certain that Hillman knew that Berger had access to original documents in his first two visits to the archives — but Hillman did not say that to the public, or to the 9/11 Commission. (Hillman, now a district judge, refused to speak to the committee.)
And the Justice Department kept trying to cover for Berger at his trial, They recommended that he be fined $10,000. The judge in the case, Deborah A. Robinson, took a more severe view of his actions. She fined him $50,000, sentenced him to two years of probation and 100 hours of community service, and revoked his security clearance for three years.
The committee investigation settled some questions. We can be almost certain that Sandy Berger destroyed documents that might have embarrassed Bill Clinton. And we can be almost certain that supporters of Clinton inside the Justice Department tried to cover up the extent of his misdeeds. But we do not know what he destroyed, and we probably never will.
So, is Sandy Berger completely disgraced, as he should be? Well, no. When I searched for stories on Berger at the Washington Post, I found this one, which describes Senator Joe Biden's plans to attack the Bush administration, and mentions, without comment, that Sandy Berger will one of the witnesses before his committee.
(You can find my earlier posts on Berger here, here, here, here, and here. If you read the entire sequence, you'll see that I, along with many others, was taken in by Noel Hillman.)
- 1:32 PM, 11 January 2007
More: The Wall Street Journal describes some of Berger's more suspicious actions, and comes to the same conclusions I did: Berger almost certainly destroyed some documents, but we will never know for certain.
- 6:26 AM, 14 January 2007 [link]
Last Night, following my usual practice, I did not watch President Bush's speech. (I will read it later today or tomorrow.) Instead, I re-read a chapter in Max Boot's The Savage Wars of Peace on the Philippine Insurrection. Near the end of that chapter I found these statistics:
Pacifying the Philippines had proved to be much more difficult than virtually anyone had predicted. Between 1898 and 1902, a total of 126,468 American soldiers served there (though never more than 69,000 at one time) and fought in 2,811 engagements. By July 4, 1902, the U.S. had lost 4,234 dead and suffered 2,818 wounded. By comparison, only 379 Americans were lost in combat in the Spanish-American War. By their own count U.S. forces killed 16,000 Filipinos in battle. As many as 200,000 civilians also died, victims of disease and famine and the cruelties of both sides. Yet in the end the U.S. did triumph. Decisively.(Though the separate Moro Rebellion went on for years afterwards. Some might even argue that it never really ended.)
The population of the United States was about 76 million in 1900, so the proportional deaths for us now would be almost 17,000. The military operations in the Philippines were opposed by many Democrats and many writers (notably Mark Twain). So the opposition to that war looked in many ways similar to the opposition to the war in Iraq. And the opposition made similar arguments then, for example accusing American soldiers, sometimes rightly, of committing atrocities.
Now here's the strange part: Despite those losses, the war did not hurt the governing Republicans greatly. In fact, it may even have helped them, politically. Theodore Roosevelt, a vigorous proponent of seizing the Philippines, won a landslide victory in 1904 and brought in large Republican majorities in both the House (251-135) and the Senate (58-32). William Howard Taft, who had been a popular governor of the Philippines, was elected easily in 1908.
Whatever one may say about the justice of our cause in the Philippines — and I have mixed feelings about that — it is clear that American voters then had very different views about American casualties than American voters do now. And I can not conclude that they were necessarily wrong and we right.
(The low number of wounded may seem puzzling. The explanation is simple. Many of the American deaths were from disease. (As I recall, World War II was the first major war in which we lost more to the enemy than to disease.) But a soldier who dies of malaria is just as dead as a soldier who dies from an enemy bullet.
Some of the differences between voters then and now can be explained by the different composition of the electorates. Voters in in the early 1900s were all men, were younger, and less likely to be black or Hispanic. All of those differences would make them more willing to support wars.)
- 7:22 AM, 11 January 2007 [link]
But Is It Good For Low Income Workers? One of the inevitable results of the Democratic victory last November will be an increase in the national minimum wage. But is this a good idea? In particular, is it good for low income workers?
Stephen Pearlstein, who writes on business for the Washington Post, is sure that it is.
Real Democrats know that raising the minimum wage is the right thing to do -- economically, politically, morally.(Pearlstein does not seem to be interested in what "real Republicans" might know. But he should be, as a simple practical matter, since the bill must pass the Senate, where the Republicans can block it easily. And it might be vetoed by President Bush, who probably has enough support to uphold a veto.)
John Stossel (and, I believe most economists) has the opposite view.
A small percentage of people do get stuck in minimum-wage jobs for a longer time. Since wages tend to rise with productivity, these are people whose productivity does not improve. A higher minimum wage will cost some of them their jobs. How does that help them?And, according to George Will, who cites an unnamed economic study, higher minimum wage laws encourage school dropouts.
Raising the minimum wage predictably makes work more attractive relative to school for some teenagers and raises the dropout rate. Two scholars report that in states that allow people to leave school before 18, a 10 percent increase in the state minimum wage caused teenage school enrollment to drop 2 percent.I think Stossel and Will have the better of this argument. The three agree that some low income workers will lose (or not get) jobs if the minimum wage is raised, though Pearlstein doesn't exactly stress that point. And they agree that other low income workers will earn a little more. I can not see why Pearlstein sees this result, some losing jobs and some getting small raises, as a "no-brainer" economically and morally. (It is a no-brainer politically, since it is quite popular with the voters.) Even if "real Democrats know" this. (As a Republican, I am inclined to think that Democrats, real and unreal, know all sorts of things that aren't true.)
It is also a fact that minimum wage earners tend to serve low income consumers more than higher wage earners. Raising the minimum wage will, thus, increase the cost of living, especially for those who are already struggling to make ends meet. Again, I can not see why this result is a no-brainer.
So an increase in the minimum wage will probably increase unemployment among unskilled workers, add to inflation (especially on goods purchased by low income families), and increase school dropouts. But it will help the Democrats politically. And it is hard not to conclude that the last is what really matters to Steven Pearlstein.
I don't want to exaggerate the effect of the coming increase in the national minimum wage. It will have little effect on the economy or unemployment, since so few people now earn the minimum wage. But it will affect some, and if you happen to know a young person who has trouble finding their first job in the future, tell them to complain to Speaker Pelosi, Majority Leader Reid, and Steven Pearlstein.
- 2:44 PM, 10 January 2007 [link]
Compact Fluorescents Are An Even Better Deal: At least if you get your electricity, as I do, from Puget Sound Energy.
I was out preparing for the latest wind storm and decided to pick up a few more compact fluorescent bulbs. (It seems odd to call them bulbs, but I can't think of a better word or phrase.) At the nearest Home Depot, I found coupons from, not the bulb manufacturer, but from Puget Sound Energy, giving me two dollars off for standard bulbs, and three dollars off for three-way, flood, and dimmer-controlled bulbs. According to their web site, some of the PSE bulb coupons go as high as six dollars per bulb, though I didn't see any larger than three.
If you aren't served by PSE, you may want to check your own electric utility, since I suspect many have similar programs. (And if you run a small business or own your own home, you may want to look at the the other energy saving rebates offered by PSE and, most likely, other electric utilities.)
- 4:19 PM, 9 January 2007 [link]