June 2008, Part 2
Jim Miller on Politics
Kritocracy: After the Boumediene decision, it's a word we may need to use more often.
A Kritocracy is a government ruled by judges.Boumediene was the third decision in a series. After the first decision, the Bush administration tried to satisfy the court by changing procedures. After the second decision, the administration worked with Congress to change the laws, trying to satisfy the court. In Boumediene, the Supreme Court, or rather five members of the court, overruled both elected branches. (And literally centuries of precedent.)
(The word is sometimes spelled "krytocracy". I don't know any Greek, so I can't say which form is correct, or even whether there is a consensus on the question.)
- 1:38 PM, 16 June 2008
More: Here's a list of 169 different forms of government from acracy (rule of none) to xenocracy (rule by foreigners). One of the forms on the list, dulocracy (rule by slaves), may seem a contradiction in terms — but not to those who know about the Janissaries or the Mamelukes.
Fun fact: Years ago, you would often see signs along Washington state roads advocating technocracy. As I understand it, most of those who supported that movement were, no surprise, technocrats themselves.
- 4:33 PM, 17 June 2008 [link]
Grand Ayatollah Sistani Agrees With Reverend Wright: In April, Reverend Wright said that Barack Obama "says what he has to say as a politician".
Through a representative, the Grand Ayatollah said pretty much the same thing, though without naming names:
A representative of top Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani on Friday called Iraqi officials to show patience during the U.S.-Iraq long-term deal negotiations, terming pledges of withdrawing foreign troops from Iraq as transitory and elections-oriented. "The pledges to withdraw from Iraq given by (officials) from occupation forces countries are only for elections sake", Ahmed al-Safi, a representative of Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, said at Friday prayer speech in Karbala. The cleric noted "the reality of their pledges is that they desire their troops to stay in (Iraq)".And who is the most prominent politician to make those promises? Barack Obama, of course.
On this point, I am not sure that Sistani is correct. Obama may have trapped himself by his many promises on Iraq, in all their conflicting variety. (Though one of Obama's advisers (or former advisers), Samatha Powers, thought Obama would break his promises on Iraq.) But Sistani does show an appropriate level of skepticism about the promises politicians make to get elected.
- 12:41 PM, 16 June 2008 [link]
North Dakota Senator Kent Conrad Is Special: Suppose that you are a senator and want to be treated like anyone else, not given any special favors. Suppose, to be specific, you want to borrow money for a vacation home. Do you call up the president of a very large mortgage firm and ask him for help with a loan? No, because that's an obvious way of asking for special treatment, without doing anything blatantly illegal.
But that's exactly what Conrad did.
Take Senator Kent Conrad, the North Dakota Democrat whose office issued a Friday statement saying that "I never met Angelo Mozilo." What he did not say then but admitted under later questioning by a Journal reporter is that, although he may not have had a face-to-face meeting with the Countrywide CEO, Mr. Conrad had called Mr. Mozilo and asked for a loan. The result was a discounted loan on his million-dollar beach house and a separate commercial loan of a type that residential lender Countrywide did not even offer to other customers, regardless of the rate.Of course not. If anyone told him he was getting preferential treatment, that might spoil the deal. Why, I'll bet they didn't even wink at him. But Conrad knows why he got the deal; he asked for it.
This deal might not be important in itself — other than to North Dakota voters — but Countrywide provided these special loans to others.
Senators Christopher Dodd, Democrat from Connecticut and chairman of the Banking Committee, and Kent Conrad, Democrat from North Dakota, chairman of the Budget Committee and a member of the Finance Committee, refinanced properties through Countrywide's "V.I.P." program in 2003 and 2004, according to company documents and emails and a former employee familiar with the loans.What did Countrywide get, or expect to get, in return for these loans? We don't know, but someone ought to find out. (The Wall Street Journal has suspicions, and mentions some of them in the editorial.)
- 10:12 AM, 16 June 2008 [link]
Saudi Arabia Will Increase Oil Production: Here's the story.
Saudi Arabia, the world's biggest oil exporter, is planning to increase its output next month by about a half-million barrels a day, according to analysts and oil traders who have been briefed by Saudi officials.The Saudis aren't doing it for us, as the article goes on to explain.
This settles one of the questions I discussed in this confused post on oil prices. (Deliberately confused, because I wanted to reflect the disagreement among experts, or perhaps "experts".) Despite what some experts have said, the Saudis can increase oil output quickly, and are doing so.
(I found a useful source of numbers on oil production, which I'll share later today — with some caveats.)
- 6:47 AM, 16 June 2008 [link]
Happy Father's Day! To all those who celebrate it today.
Historians Say McCain has little chance to win.
One week into the general election, the polls show a dead heat. But many presidential scholars doubt that John McCain stands much of a chance, if any.Voters don't agree.
Voters are closely divided between Barack Obama and John McCain in Gallup Poll Daily tracking conducted June 12-14, with 44% of national registered voters favoring Obama for president and 42% backing McCain.Typically, samples of "registered voters" overestimate the Democratic vote by a point or two.
There's a surprising finding in this latest Gallup survey: The number of undecided and those planning to vote for neither candidate has risen sharply in the last few weeks. Since Obama has lost ground to McCain during that time, I suspect that some voters are having second thoughts about Obama — as well they should.
(If only historians voted, then McCain would have no chance.)
- 8:03 PM, 15 June 2008 [link]
Happy Father's Day! To all those who celebrate it today.
Debbie Schlussel has a touching tribute to her father here.
Juan Williams tells all of us why fathers are important. (That's something we Americans once understood. In World War II, fathers were exempt from the draft until October, 1943, because Americans believed fathers were essential to their families. That exemption was dropped only when the nation ran out of single men and unmarried men without children. And as the nation began to demobilize at the end of the war, fathers were given earlier discharges than men who were not fathers.)
- 1:26 PM, 15 June 2008 [link]
More On The Increase In Life Expectancy: Here's a chart showing the gains for four groups from 1975 to 2006.
(The chart comes from a report from the Center for Disease Control. You can download the report here.)
When you glance at that chart, you will, if you are like me, first see steady progress for the last thirty years, with life expectancies rising at constant rates in a very encouraging way. And then, again if you are like me, you will notice the great exception; for about ten years, the life expectancies for blacks, especially black men, did not rise.
The reason for that exception is no secret; high crime rates in many black communities affected almost everything, including life expectancies. Or, to put it more directly, the surge in murders that began in the 1960s shortened the lives of many blacks, especially many black men. And the decline in murders — caused, in my view, by tougher anti-crime legislation and policies — is now letting black life expectancies rise rapidly.
That is good news, though we can see that we have much farther to go.
(Incidentally, Asian women have the longest life expectancies in the United States.)
- 3:29 PM, 13 June 2008 [link]
The Boumediene Decision Will Result In American Deaths: That, of course, is what Justice Scalia said in his dissent.
But that's also what one of the terrorist lawyers, Harry Schneider of Perkins Coie, conceded this morning on KUOW's Weekday program. Some of the terrorists will have to be released. Some of those released terrorists will return to their trade. It isn't complicated.
It was not clear, at least to me, how much Schneider and KUOW's Gang of Four regret that likely result, how much they care about the American deaths that will result from this decision. It was not even clear whether they regret the almost certain deaths of moderate Muslims that will result from the decision. It is often forgotten, especially by KUOW's Gang of Four, that the principal victims of extremist Muslims are moderate Muslims. Who will be attacked for such sins as daring to educate girls.
Undoubtedly, Schneider sees some benefits coming from Boumediene, something that will make the bloodshed worth while. But he did not explain those benefits, at least while I was listening to him. (And I did not have time this morning to listen to the whole program.) Perhaps, like KUOW's Gang of Four, he sees his arguments as so obvious that he does not need to show his work, does not need to explain how he came to his conclusions.
For his efforts to help our terrorist enemies, Schneider deserves some of the same Elizabethan insults that I suggested for Justice Kennedy. But I think Schneider can be useful. As he admitted on the program, some of the terrorists have no place to go. He should offer to put them up at his home for the duration of the war.
Cross posted at Sound Politics.(Odd fact: Schneider claimed that he had been a student of Scalia's in law school. If so, I would have to say that Scalia failed, as every teacher does, with some incorrigible students.)
- 12:48 PM, 13 June 2008 [link]
Gains In Education Since The Passage Of The NCLB: When the No Child Left Behind Act was passed in May, 2001, it was seen as a bipartisan triumph, with gains for both parties. Republicans got accountability; Democrats got more money. And the act required states to make stronger efforts to help black and Hispanic kids.
Has it succeeded? Here are the basic statistics. In 2007, fourth graders are doing a little better in reading and much better in arithmetic. Eight graders are doing a little worse in reading and better in arithmetic. Graduation rates were almost two points higher in 2004 (probably the latest year available) than they were when President Bush took office.
Judging just by those simple statistics, one would have to say that the act has been a success. Except — that we do not know whether the act caused those gains, or even part of those gains. I am inclined to think that the act did help some, simply because it often helps when you start measuring performance, and almost always helps when you connect rewards and punishments to those measurements.
But I will admit that the question is not settled. And may not be soon, given the difficulty of measuring the effects of the act.
And, though I am a supporter of the act, I am painfully aware that improving education is much easier from the bottom than from the top. A student, or a student's parents, can almost always increase what the student learns, often by very large amounts. (This example from South Korea shows just how far some parents will go — literally — to help their children learn.) A president finds it much harder to improve the schools, because he does not control them directly. Essentially, a president can bribe and nag. And the bribes available from the federal government are not a very large part of our education budgets.
Despite those very substantial caveats, I think that, years from now, the act will be seen as a modest success — but perhaps the best that could have been done in 2001, when Democrats controlled the Senate. And it is fair to say that President Bush was far more ambitious in his efforts to improve the nation's schools than President Clinton — who had no measurable effect on them.
(There's a discussion of the effects of the act in this New York Times article, which I find interesting in a perverse way. The critics dismiss the gains since the act was passed, without providing alternate explanations for them. And the reporter does not seem to find this strange.)
- 10:07 AM, 13 June 2008 [link]
Essential Reading: This Wall Street Journal editorial on the Boumediene decision. Some highlights:
Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy isn't known for his judicial modesty. But for sheer willfulness, yesterday's 5-4 majority opinion in Boumediene v. Bush may earn him a historic place among the likes of Harry Blackmun. In a stroke, he and four other unelected Justices have declared their war-making supremacy over both Congress and the White House.In short, Kennedy and the four justices who agreed with his opinion — Stephen G. Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, David H. Souter and John Paul Stevens — ignored the constitution, centuries of precedent, the decisions of the executive and legislative branches, and common sense. But they made the New York Times happy, along with everyone else who thinks that we should be really, really nice to those who want to kill us.
- 7:14 AM, 13 June 2008 [link]
Elizabethan Insults For Justice Kennedy: My first reaction to yesterday's 5-4 Supreme Court decision giving habeus corpus rights to terrorists was unprintable. So was my second. And my third.
As I looked for adjectives that I could use — and still keep this site family friendly — I realized that modern English does not have the words I need. "Arrogant" and "idiotic" are both appropriate adjectives for the Boumediene v. Bush decision, but they do not have the force that I wanted. And then I remembered that the Elizbethans were far better at insults than we are. That's not an original observation. In fact, with a just a little searching you can find lists of Elizbethan insults, and even automatic insult generators such as this one or this one. So, perhaps Justice Kennedy is a "knavish, lean-witted ratsbane" or a "bootless, white-livered whey-face". Neither is perfect, but both are more fun than "arrogant idiot". I'll keep experimenting to see if I can find one that's exactly right. (And if you can find better Elizabethan insults for this decision and this man, let me know.)
- 6:13 AM, 13 June 2008 [link]
Entertaining: Jim Hoagland's column on how quickly Obama dropped another person from his campaign. Here's how he begins:
Say this for Sen. Barack Obama: He is a lot quicker in these post-Jeremiah Wright days to walk away from controversy caused him by others. By the time he finished distancing himself from Jim Johnson, his former vice presidential vetter, Johnson must have felt like he was on Mars.And there's more.
But there is also a serious point to consider. Jim Johnson has done very well over the years from his political connections — and the public has sometimes suffered from his actions. What was it about Johnson that made Obama think he would be the best person to head his vice presidential selection team? Johnson may not be as sleazy as Tony Rezko, Obama's longtime friend and supporter, but he has probably done far more harm to the public. Did Obama not know that, or did he not care?
- 1:05 PM, 12 June 2008 [link]
Obama Thinks Higher Gas Prices Are Desirable: But they should have come with a "gradual adjustment". That's the conclusion that I (and others) have drawn from this video. He deserves credit for his relative candor. Unlike, for example, Washington state's junior senator, Maria Cantwell, he doesn't deny being for higher gas prices. (Unfortunately, the interviewer did not ask Obama how high gas prices in the United States should be, how far that "gradual adjustment" should go. But I suspect that he would like to see them as high as they are in Europe.)
But he deserves a much bigger debit for his claim that the Bush administration has no energy policy. In fact, the Bush administration has had a consistent energy policy; the administration has worked, not always successfully, to expand supply, to provide more energy for Americans. In contrast, Obama thinks we should use less, though he is willing to let us adjust to that gradually.
- 12:46 PM, 12 June 2008 [link]
What Has Barack Obama Accomplished In The US Senate? Not much. But he has had time for other things.
Every presidential candidate can use a sexy blond movie star to liven up his or her campaign, appear at big money events and rally the entertainment community. Sen. Barack Obama's go-to Hollywood hottie is Scarlett Johansson, a starlet who trades frequent e-mails with the presumptive Democratic nominee, campaigns tirelessly on his behalf, hosts lucrative fundraisers and even appeared in that "Yes We Can" viral video that got 10 million views in its first week online.That does help explain why he hasn't had time, for instance, to call a single meeting of the sub-committee he chairs. He's spending his time talking to, and emailing, Scarlett Johansson.
She says she doesn't understand why Obama does this, but I think almost any guy can figure it out. If not, the pictures here should help.
(Does Michelle Obama know about this relationship? Does she approve?)
- 6:26 AM, 12 June 2008 [link]
Those Canadian Human Rights Commissions: The best descriptions I've seen of those kangaroo courts have been written by Canadian Kathy Shaidle, who blogs at five feet of fury. A sample from her April 11th Pajamas Media piece:
Set up in the 1970s to tackle housing and employment discrimination, the only "speech" crimes the HRCs originally investigated were those proverbial "No Irish Need Apply" signs.As far as I can tell, that 100 percent rate doesn't embarrass them — but it does embarrass me, and should embarrass any friend of liberty.
You can read more from Shaidle on one of these commmissions, the one that is prosecuting Mark Steyn, here and here.
And since Shaidle is under attack by the same people who are attacking Steyn, you might want to contribute to her defense fund, which you can do through her site.
(Note: Shaidle is, shall we say, vigorous and direct, in her blog writing. She would not say bovine excrement when she meant, well, you know what I mean. So you may not want to share her posts with younger sprogs.)
- 2:31 PM, 11 June 2008 [link]
Another Reason To Blame President Bush: We are living longer.
U.S. life expectancy has hit a new record: 78.1 years for babies born in 2006, says the CDC.That's a gain of about four months in a single year. (It does look as though some part of that gain came from good luck on flu, which you can't expect every year.)
There are two surprises — at least to me — in the ranking of states and territories. The highest life expectancy is found in . . . . Guam. Hawaii is second, which is not a surprise, but the Virgin Islands are third, which is, again, a surprise.
- 12:37 PM, 11 June 2008 [link]
Maybe It Sounds Better in French. Most Americans would prefer not to have a first lady who compares her husband to heroin, but the French are happier with Carli than with her husband, President Sarkozy.
- 12:15 PM, 11 June 2008 [link]
Another Broken Obama Promise: This one to his wife.
Senator Barack Obama told reporters in St. Louis today that he has fallen off the wagon and smoked cigarettes in the last few months.And, yes, he did promise her he would quit. (No word yet on whether she expects him to leave the presidential race.)
- 6:23 AM, 11 June 2008 [link]
Sometimes The Comments Are The Interesting Part: As in this Times of London article on an interview with President Bush. (There are errors in the article, notably the claim that Bush refused to "ratify" the Kyoto agreement.) There are many of the hostile comments one would expect from news coverage, but there are also comments like these:
George Bush is a very harismatic person and as the president of the world power was a right person on a right place. I wish to America another great leader, whose policy will bring this country stabilisation.I don't mean to suggest, by posting these comments, that President Bush has overwhelming support outside the United States, or even majority support in most countries. But it would be a mistake to imply that he has no support, or that majorities have completely settled on their opinions of him, here or elsewhere.
(Thanks to Patrycja for her kind wishes. And I hope that Scotty of Melbourne does not mean what he wrote, literally, but that Bush is the latest great president.)
- 5:24 AM, 11 June 2008 [link]
Obama's Birth Certificate? Jim Geraghty says that Obama won't release it.
Having done some Obama-rumor debunking that got praise from Daily Kos (a sign of the apocalypse, no doubt), perhaps the Obama campaign could return the favor and help debunk a bunch of others with a simple step: Could they release a copy of his birth certificate?And then speculates on why he won't.
There may be nothing surprising in the birth certificate, but any time a presidential candidate refuses to release records, people will wonder what's in those records. For instance, many are still wondering why Bill Clinton never released his medical records. (And if John F. Kennedy had released his, he might not have been elected president.) You'd think that Obam would want to release it, in order to kill rumors — assuming there is nothing to those rumors.
- 7:33 AM, 10 June 2008
More: Will reporters press Obama on this issue? Probably not, though a blog at the New York Times does mention the Geraghty piece (and steals almost all of it). But the Times has investigated whether John McCain's birth in the Canal Zone disqualifies him from being president.
- 9:01 AM, 11 June 2008
Update: The Obama campaign has now released his birth certificate, or to be precise, his certification of birth. Nothing surprising in it, which leaves me puzzled as to why they didn't release it earlier. One last oddity: Obama's campaign (apparently) released it through Daily Kos, which is not the site I would choose if I were trying to claim I was bipartisan.
- 2:07 PM, 13 June 2008 [link]
Aviators And The Press In Vietnam: When I wrote about John McCain's extraordinary courage as an aviator in Vietnam, I quoted from Tom Wolfe's "The Truest Sport: Jousting With Sam and Charlie". (Which you can find in his collection, Mauve Gloves & Madmen, Clutter & Vine.) But there's much more in that story, and some of it has direct lessons for us now.
After describing how risky these operations were, Wolfe explains that they were made more risky by the many limits put on the operations by the Johnson administration, which was trying to "look good in the eyes of the world". Without success:
If the United States was seriously trying to win the battle of world opinion—well, then, here you had a real bush league operation. The North Vietnamese were the uncontested aces, once you got into this arena. One of the most galling things a pilot had to endure in Vietnam was seeing the North Vietnamese pull propaganda coup after propaganda coup, often with the help, unwitting or otherwise, of Americans. There was not merely a sense of humiliation about it. The North Vietnamese talent in this direction often had direct strategic results. (pp. 42-43)Wolfe gives this example: A series of American operations had knocked out a North Vietnamese transportation center in the Iron Triangle. And immediately afterward, Harrison Salisbury of the New York Times showed up in the area to write about how terrible the bombing was.
Shortly after that, similar strikes were stopped, presumably on orders from the Pentagon.
(When Nixon came into office, he was less responsive to the press. Military historians generally agree that the bombing campaigns that he ordered (and the mining of the Haiphong harbors) were much more effective than the previous campaigns. Partly, of course, because by then the US had new precision weapons.)
- 12:52 PM, 9 June 2008 [link]
Unbelievable: Well, not quite unbelievable, coming from Mark Morford. But it does read like a satire on Obama supporters.
Here's where it gets gooey. Many spiritually advanced people I know (not coweringly religious, mind you, but deeply spiritual) identify Obama as a Lightworker, that rare kind of attuned being who has the ability to lead us not merely to new foreign policies or health care plans or whatnot, but who can actually help usher in a new way of being on the planet, of relating and connecting and engaging with this bizarre earthly experiment. These kinds of people actually help us evolve. They are philosophers and peacemakers of a very high order, and they speak not just to reason or emotion, but to the soul.If you have never read Morford before, I'll just add that he usually writes hate-filled pieces attacking George W. Bush and conservatives. (And there are some of those attacks in this column, too.)
I have no idea how Morford explains, for instance, Obama's long association with Tony Rezko and Reverend Jeremiah Wright, or whether he has even tried to explain such inconvenient facts. Probably not.
(Morford does not understand the theory of evolution. Before modern genetic engineering, the only way someone else could help us "evolve" was by increasing our mutation rate. Most mutations are harmful, even deadly, but those get eliminated and the few good ones kept. Even now, there are sharp limits to what the genetic engineers can do, and it would be a stretch to say they could help us "evolve". They can, in some cases, help us eliminate known bad traits, but not, as yet, create previously unknown good traits.
Probably, Morford is just botching a metaphor when he says "evolve", just being careless with the word. But it's an interesting mistake.)
- 8:43 AM, 9 June 2008
More: Jack Kelly adds more examples of almost unbelievable statements from Obama supporters, some of them journalists.
- 6:05 AM, 11 June 2008 [link]