Archive:

May 2007, Part 2

Jim Miller on Politics




Pseudo-Random Thoughts



Worth Reading:  Kathleen Parker tells the story of a successful lawsuit, and a school that has just been given an expensive lesson.
In a new twist in American race relations, a federal court has ruled that a white teacher in a predominantly African-American school was subjected to a racially hostile workplace.

The case concerned Elizabeth Kandrac, who was routinely verbally abused by black students at Brentwood Middle School in North Charleston.  Their slurs make shock jock Don Imus look like a church deacon.

Nevertheless, despite frequent complaints, school officials did nothing to intervene on Kandrac's behalf, arguing that the racially charged profanity was simply part of the students' culture.  If Kandrac couldn't handle cursing, school officials told her, she was in the wrong school.
. . .
Other white teachers and students corroborated Kandrac's account, including a male war veteran who testified he would rather return to Vietnam than to Brentwood.
(I started to say that the school had "learned" an expensive lesson, but realized that, judging by their conduct in this case, the school probably hadn't learned anything.)

Parker says that the real losers are the "children deprived of an education by the actions of a tyrannical few".  I would say those children are the biggest losers, but that nearly everyone at Brentwood suffers when the administration tolerates racism and disorder.

I would give very high odds that the test scores at Brentwood are terrible, that the children attending the school learn little while there.  And I would not be surprised to learn that many of them are victims of crime, at or near the school.

It is no secret that experienced teachers generally avoid schools like Brentwood.  Some have suggested paying experienced teachers bonuses for "combat duty" in those schools.  A more practical — and more successful — approach would be to give teachers support when they deal with discipline problems.  Most experienced teachers will tell you that what they want from their principals is, above all, backing in these tough situations.

(By the way, it is a racist slur against blacks to argue that this kind of behavior is an inherent part of black culture, however common it may be in some areas.)
- 2:49 PM, 16 May 2007   [link]


Why Us?  That's the question I ask whenever I read one of Nicholas Kristof's columns urging that we Americans do something about Darfur.  For example, last Thursday, the New York Times columnist began with $this paragraph.
Finally, we're beginning to understand what it would take to galvanize President Bush, other leaders and the American public to respond to the genocide in Sudan: a suffering puppy with big eyes and floppy ears.
Similarly, in last Monday's $column, Kristof included these paragraphs in his touching story about a refugee from Darfur, journalist Daoud Hari.
He plans to study and is also determined to speak out about Darfur and tell Americans what is happening to his people.

Mr. Hari's presence in the U.S. underscores a profound difference between Darfur and past genocides: In the past, we could always claim that we didn't fully appreciate what was going on until too late.
Note that in both columns Kristof assumes that this is America's problem, which is why the "American public", not the world as whole, must respond.

But he never explains why it's America's problem.  And it is not hard to see that other nations have far more responsibility to intervene than we do.

Which nation should respond?  That depends on your criteria.  If we were to choose a nation to respond on the basis of moral culpability, we would have to choose Sudan itself.  If all of the Sudanese despised these atrocities, they would find some way to stop them, if only by overthrowing the government.  If we were to choose a nation on military grounds, we might choose Egypt, Sudan's northern neighbor, which has far stronger military forces than Sudan.  If we were to choose a nation on economic grounds, we might choose Saudi Arabia.  If we were to choose a nation based on its financial interests in Sudan, we might choose China, which has large investments there.  If we were to choose a nation from the nations that did little to fight tyranny in the 20th century, we might choose Sweden.  And so on.

But almost no sensible criteria would put the United States at the head of the list of nations to respond to the crisis in Darfur.  We have no significant strategic interests there, and we already engaged in two other significant conflicts.

From what I can tell, Kristof is sincere in his arguments — but I have my doubts about many others making the same arguments.  Many, I fear, see Darfur as another way to attack President Bush, and do not care much beyond that.

(To my knowledge, Kristof has never even outlined what kind of intervention he wants us to make.   Most observers seem to think that only a significant military intervention would change the facts on the ground though there are a few oddballs, including myself, who think that mercenaries could turn the tide.

Kristof is wrong in his last claim; as Samantha Power's book on genocide makes clear, the Clinton administration knew all about the genocide in Rwanda, while it was going on, and did nothing.  Richard Clarke was the man who did the most to keep the knowledge of the Rwandan genocide from the public.  As far as I can tell, those actions have never hurt him at the New York Times, or at other leftist news organizations.)

You can find a similar argument in this post.)
- 9:28 AM, 16 May 2007
More:  Today the New York Times published this letter pointing out some of the problems that intervening in Darfur would bring.  (I might not have mentioned the letter except that it is so rare for the Times to publish a letter even mildly critical of one of their leftist columnists.)
- 3:09 PM, 16 May 2007   [link]


What Do Young Swedes Know About Communism?  Not much.  And most of what they know is wrong.
A poll carried out by Demoskop on behalf of the Organization for Information on Communism (Föreningen för upplysning om kommunismen — UOK) found that 90 percent of Swedes between the ages of 15 and 20 had never heard of the Gulag.  This can be contrasted with the 95 percent who knew of Auschwitz.
. . .
Of the 1004 young Swedes involved in the nationwide poll, 43 percent believed that communist regimes had claimed less than one million lives.  A fifth of those surveyed put the death toll at under ten thousand.  The actual figure is estimated at around 100 million.

The poll also found that 40 percent of young Swedes believed that communism contributed to increased prosperity in the world; 22 percent considered communism a democratic form of government; 82 percent did not regard Belarus as a dictatorship.
The founder of UOK, Ander Hjemdahl, thinks that one of the reasons that young Swedes are so misinformed about communism is that a "large majority of Swedish journalists are left-wingers, many of them quite far left".

Be interesting to see similar polls for other nations, including the United States.
- 7:46 AM, 16 May 2007   [link]


Bookworm Bush:  No, really.  In fact, he may read even more books than I do.
Two of Washington's best-informed men confirmed it so it must be true.  President Bush and his consigliere Karl Rove bet on who had read the most books in a year.  Mike McConnell, the director of national intelligence, told friends Rove won with 117 books and Bush was a close second with 104 books.

Unhappy over his loss to his close confidant, Bush asked for a recount -- in words.  And the president won by 1.7 percent.  The story is not apocryphal.  In fact, none other than McConnell's predecessor as the nation's top spymaster, John Negroponte, now deputy secretary of state, confirmed it.  The president, he explained, reads two to three books a week and does not watch television.  Most of them are history and biographies of famous statesmen (and three stateswomen who took their countries to war, namely Britain's Margaret Thatcher, Israel's Golda Meir and India's Indira Gandhi).
And all that reading has made president Bush knowledgeable, says author Tom Wolfe.
"Bush is portrayed as a moron.  I've only conversed with him a couple of times — not for very long — but I found he was more literate on literature than the editor of the New York Review of Books, Bob Silvers.  I've talked to both of them, and he makes Bob Silvers look like a slug."
Maybe Bush can take over from Silvers when he leaves office.

And we shouldn't forget that George W. Bush married a librarian.

(More evidence, not that any is needed, that you can get a lot done if you don't watch television.)
- 1:55 PM, 15 May 2007   [link]


How Much Do You Pay in Taxes On Gasoline?  That depends on where you live, as this map from the American Petroleum Institute shows.

API gas tax map

Note, by the way, that I wrote taxes on gasoline, not gasoline taxes.  That's because some states impose sales taxes on gasoline, as well as the more common gasoline taxes.
- 1:27 PM, 15 May 2007   [link]


Worth Reading:  Christopher Hitchens tells us what has happened to his old neighborhood in London, Finsbury Park.
They say that the past is another country, but let me tell you that it's much more unsettling to find that the present has become another country, too.  In my lost youth I lived in Finsbury Park, a shabby area of North London, roughly between the old Arsenal football ground and the Seven Sisters Road.  It was a working-class neighborhood, with a good number of Irish and Cypriot immigrants.  Your food choices were the inevitable fish-and-chips, plus the curry joint, plus a strong pitch from the Greek and Turkish kebab sellers.  There was never much "bother," as the British say, in Finsbury Park.  Greeks and Turks might be fighting in Cyprus, but they never lifted a hand to one another in London.  Many of the Irish had republican allegiances, but they didn't take that out on the local Protestants.  And, even though both Cyprus and Ireland had all the grievances of partitioned former British colonies, it would have seemed inconceivable—unimaginable—that any of their sons would put a bomb on the bus their neighbors used.

Returning to the old place after a long absence, I found that it was the scent of Algeria that now predominated along the main thoroughfare of Blackstock Road.  This had had a good effect on the quality of the coffee and the spiciness of the grocery stores.  But it felt odd, under the gray skies of London, to see women wearing the veil, and even swathed in the chador or the all-enveloping burka.  Many of these Algerians, Bangladeshis, and others are also refugees from conflict in their own country.  Indeed, they have often been the losers in battles against Middle Eastern and Asian regimes which they regard as insufficiently Islamic.  Quite unlike the Irish and the Cypriots, they bring these far-off quarrels along with them.  And they also bring a religion which is not ashamed to speak of conquest and violence.
And don't miss his grim concluding paragraph.
- 9:05 AM, 15 May 2007   [link]


Regulation And Nuclear Energy:  If global warming is a serious problem, net, or if we just want to clean up our air, then we should be switching to nuclear energy.  That is harder to do than it should be because of all the regulatory obstacles.  Just how bad those obstacles are can be seen in this New York Times article.
The Tennessee Valley Authority plans to reopen its Browns Ferry 1 nuclear reactor this month — 22 years after it was shut for safety reasons and 5 years after extensive renovations began.

The move reflects the increased interest in nuclear power as an energy source, but the government agency's willingness to spend $1.8 billion on the overhaul — almost as much as a new plant is supposed to cost — also shows just how hard companies think it will be to build a new plant.
. . .
Compared with starting fresh, fixing up an old plant is a simpler task from a regulatory point of view, said James R. Curtiss, a former member of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and now a lawyer at Winston & Strawn, which specializes in the nuclear field.

"You've got many of the key regulatory decisions behind you," he said. Using an old license avoids the need for what is likely to be a drawn-out and contentious public hearing.
So they are refurbishing an old plant, rather than building a new one, to avoid a part of that enormous regulatory burden.  The cost for a brand new plant would be about the same as the cost for refurbishing this one, according to the article, so they are not doing this to save money.

(The article says that the fire at Brown's Ferry is "still regarded as the second most serious commercial nuclear accident" in the United States.   And how many people died or were seriously injured in that accident?  Zero and zero.)
- 8:40 AM, 15 May 2007   [link]


Congressional Ratings:  Last year, in November, just before the Republicans lost control of Congress, the institution had a job approval rating of just 29 percent.   The job approval rating jumped up in January, after the Democrats took control, but is now back down to — 29 percent.
According to the May 10-13, 2007, Gallup Poll, 29% of Americans approve and 64% disapprove of the way Congress is handling its job.  Congressional approval is down 4 percentage points since last month, and is 3 points lower than the 32% average measured during the first five months of the year.  The high point for the congressional approval rating so far this year was the 37% approval measured in February.
The Gallup press release tries to minimize this decline, but they err in doing so.  Particularly worrisome for any Democratic strategist should be these numbers for independents:
Even though Democrats now control both houses of Congress, the poll shows that only 37% of Democrats approve of the job Congress is doing right now.  These marks are, however, significantly better than those given to Congress by independents (24%) and Republicans (25%).  Democrats have been more likely than Republicans to approve of Congress this year, whereas Republicans expressed a higher level of approval prior to the change of power experienced after the midterm congressional elections in November 2006.
The Democratic victory in 2006 was made possible in large part because independents shifted toward the Democrats.  That the independents are already disenchanted with the congressional Democrats shows that the shift may have been temporary.  Although Gallup doesn't explain that shift, I would guess that it has been caused by the Democrats endless partisan sniping at President Bush.  True independents, and even some leaners, want the parties to work together, and are offended by the kinds of partisan attacks that often please party bases.

(Technical point: Congressional approval ratings are almost always lower than presidential approval ratings, partly because so many congressmen run for congress by — running against congress.

Incidentally, the slight rise in congressional ratings during the campaign last year provides indirect support for my argument that Republicans generally gain during campaigns, as voters hear arguments that they do not get from the "mainstream" media.)
- 8:09 AM, 15 May 2007   [link]


Why Did Congressman Inslee Vote To Make Nancy Pelosi Speaker?  Last year, I wrote an open letter to my own congressman, Jay Inslee, asking him why he thought that Nancy Pelosi was a suitable choice to be speaker of the House of Representatives, and second in line to be president.   After three weeks, I received a non-reply.  Inslee (or some staffer, most likely) gave me a laundry list of what he thought were his achievements, but did not answer my question.  (It may have been pure coincidence, but I finally received my reply after noting that I had waited three weeks in this post.)

After watching Speaker Pelosi's performance in office, my question is more relevant than ever, so I am mailing this follow-up letter to Inslee:

	Dear Congressman Inslee:

	A year ago, I sent you an email asking why you thought Nancy Pelosi 
	would be a good choice to be speaker of the House of Representatives.  
	Three weeks later, I received a reply which listed what you consider 
	your own accomplishments -- but did not answer my question.

	After watching Pelosi's performance in office, my question seems more 
	important than ever.

	Let's review some of the more important Pelosi actions over the last 
	year.  According to newspaper accounts, she promised the chairmanship 
	of the intelligence committee to Alcee Hastings, who was convicted of 
	a number of crimes by a congress controlled by the Democrats.  Pelosi 
	worked to make unindicted Abscam co-conspirator John Murtha majority 
	leader.  Pelosi accepted John Conyers as chairman of the judiciary 
	committee, just weeks after he had be been reproved by the House 
	ethics committee for abusing his staff and, apparently, breaking a 
	number of laws.

	Even worse than this acceptance of corruption at the highest level have  
	been her foreign policy mistakes.  She traveled to Damascus to kiss 
	the hand of the Syrian dictator, who is even now giving support to 
	those trying to kill American troops and murder innocent Iraqis.  (And 
	doing what he can to stifle democracy in Lebanon, something that ought 
	to bother members of the Democratic party.)  But she gave the 
	back of her hand to Colombian President Uribe, a friend of the 
	United States.

	Worst of all have been her efforts to force an American defeat in 
	Iraq.  And it is impossible for any reasonable person to conclude that 
	that is not her goal.  An American defeat in Iraq may please the 
	extremists of MoveOn, and similar organizations, but it would be a 
	disaster for this country, Iraq, and the world.  I can understand 
	why Al Qaeda wants us to fail in Iraq; I can not understand why so 
	many Democrats, including Pelosi, share that goal.

	Let me rephrase my question from last year:  Why did you vote to 
	make Nancy Pelosi speaker?   
	
	And if you continue to support her, I will have to conclude that you 
	find her tolerance of corruption acceptable, that you agree that we 
	should kiss up to anti-American dictators and disdain elected leaders 
	who want our friendship, and that you share her goal of an American 
	defeat in Iraq.

					Sincerely, 

					James R. Miller

	PS - To be fair to you, I should add that I have posted this letter 
	both at my own site, Jim Miller on Politics, and at Sound Politics, and 
	that I may post part or all of any reply that you make in the same places.

	I should also add that I intend to encourage other voters, and even 
	local journalists, to ask you this same question until we get an answer.
	
Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 4:07 PM, 14 May 2007   [link]


Are The Past CO2 Numbers Wrong?  Maybe.  That's what Tim Ball and Tom Harris, the authors of this piece, say.  And they have some support for that argument, for example:
In a new scientific paper in the journal Energy and Environment, German researcher Ernst-Georg Beck, shows that the pre-industrial level is some 50 ppm higher than the level used by computer models that produce all future climate predictions.  Completely at odds with the smoothly increasing levels found in the ice core records, Beck concludes, "Since 1812, the CO2 concentration in northern hemispheric air has fluctuated, exhibiting three high level maxima around 1825, 1857 and 1942, the latter showing more than 400 ppm."
(The current level of CO2 is about 385 parts per million.  The usual level given for the 19th century, before we started burning all those fossil fuels, is 280 parts per million.  Those who have built climate models have assumed that level was stable.  If Beck is right, both the level and the assumption of stability are wrong.)

If Ball and Harris are right, then the climate models that Al Gore has been using to frighten people need more than a few minor adjustments.

(The piece was a published in a newspaper and is infuriatingly incomplete.  They show a graph with the claim that many early higher measures of CO2 were excluded from the standard estimates, but they don't cite a source.  There may have been legitimate reasons for excluding some past CO2 measurements, but without knowing more, it is hard to judge.

As always,when I discuss global warming, I urge you to read my disclaimer.)
- 2:53 PM, 14 May 2007   [link]


It Couldn't Be Because She Is A Shallow, Partisan Leftist:  The New York Times presents the bad news in the graphic that accompanies this article.  Since Katie Couric took over as anchor at CBS, the network has lost watchers, absolutely, and relative to both ABC and NBC.

The reporter, Bill Carter, passes on suspicions that Couric has done poorly because of her sex.
Ms. Couric's defenders ask whether a man taking the CBS job would have had his looks, hair, and clothes commented on in the same way as Ms. Couric's.  Or if a single male anchor's social life would be almost daily fodder for the tabloids.

"Maybe we underestimate the huge shift this represented," Mr. McManus said.  "It was almost a watershed event to have a woman in that chair."  He added, "There is a percentage of people out there that probably prefers not to get their news from a woman."
But Carter never even mentions the possibility that Couric may be too partisan and too openly left to appeal to many TV watchers.  (For an example of her partisanship, see this post.)

Most of all, Couric is too shallow for the anchor job.  Everything else being equal, this guy would rather get the news from a woman than a man.  But I would much rather get the news from someone who is serious, intelligent, and well-informed — and Couric misses on all three.
- 2:02 PM, 14 May 2007   [link]


The Education Of John Edwards:  The former senator and presidential candidate had a good explanation for his position at the hedge fund company Fortress Investment Group.  He was there, he explained, as part of his education.
He said he considered going to an investment firm such as Goldman Sachs, but Fortress was the most natural fit.  Presented with the suggestion that he could have taken a university class instead, he said, "That's true."

"It was primarily to learn, but making money was a good thing, too," the 2004 vice presidential nominee said in an hourlong interview with AP reporters and editors.
Some might suspect that Edwards is a slow learner.
The hedge fund that employed John Edwards markedly expanded its subprime lending business while he worked there, becoming a major player in the high-risk mortgage sector Edwards has pilloried in his presidential campaign.

Edwards said yesterday that he was unaware of the push by the firm, Fortress Investment Group, into subprime lending and that he wishes he had asked more questions before taking the job.
Of course he does.  And we will know he is serious about that claim when he donates the money he earned at the hedge fund to charity.

(Tom Maguire has some amusing things to say about this part of Edwards' career here.
Left unreported by the AP — John Edwards built his 28,000 square foot home to learn about homelessness in America, and he got a $400 haircut to learn about the emerging baby-boomer crisis of male pattern baldness.
And here.
Jiminy — Edwards voted for war in 2002 on the basis of faulty intelligence, took a job in 2005 on the basis of faulty intelligence — when does he start with the tough follow-up questioning?
When he starts losing money?

Edwards has a history of combining claims to represent the poor and minorities with a cold-blooded pursuit of the cash.  Here's an earlier example, still worth reading for the easy way Edwards conned an experienced journalist, Richard Cohen.  (As far as I know, Cohen has still not caught on.)

There is, I should add, nothing inherently wrong with subprime lending.  A person with poor credit will naturally have to borrow at higher rates.  And there are times when taking on such a loan is the correct financial decision, for example when a laborer needs a car to get to his job.)
- 10:14 AM, 14 May 2007   [link]


What Does Obama Drive?  Presidential candidate Barack Obama was in Detroit last week, lecturing American automakers on their responsibility to build more fuel efficient cars.  But if they follow his advice, they may lose one of their better known customers.
The Democratic presidential contender was in Detroit on Monday, oozing charisma and environmental awareness as he chided local automakers for building too many big vehicles and not enough fuel-efficient hybrids.

So his choice to drive a V8 Hemi-powered Chrysler 300C emits a whiff of hypocrisy along with its exhaust fumes.  Obama's choice proves once again that fuel economy is seldom the No. 1 factor when Americans buy cars.  The 340-horsepower 300C has plenty of room for the lanky senator, his wife, Michelle, and their two daughters.  It gets 25 miles per gallon on the highway, good for a big sedan, but far short of hybrids and compact cars.
Exactly the kind of car he said they should stop building.

(You may recall that the junior senator from Illinois has said that he and his family are "working on" changing the lights in his home to compact fluorescents.  Perhaps they also are "working on" purchasing a more efficient car.

Incidentally, I can help but wonder whether Obama was tempted to buy the Chrysler by those famous (infamous?) "hemi" ads.  I found the ads mildly funny at times, but they made me slightly less likely to buy a car or pickup with a hemi engine.)
- 9:16 AM, 14 May 2007   [link]


When Does Motherhood Begin?  Sooner than you might think, judging by the souvenirs some mothers save.
If I ever manage to assemble a baby book about my son, here are some of the things I'll put in it: the tiny onesie I bought when I was just a few weeks pregnant, and the first ghostly ultrasound print my husband and I received.  (We named it "Reclining Nude.")

I would also include the pregnancy test stick I have still got stashed in a bag more than five years after it turned up positive.  The stick has never made it farther than the bathroom cabinet, but it remains, in all its unsanitary glory, a powerful reminder of the first moments of joy I felt as a mother-to-be.
And she is not the only mother who has saved these little test sticks.

(Does this essay imply that human life begins at conception?  No, because the essay was published in the New York Times, and that idea, though held widely, is not allowed in our newspaper of record.)
- 5:18 PM, 13 May 2007   [link]


Happy Mother's Day!  To all the mothers out there.

Mother's Day flowers

And, especially happy Mother's Day to new mother (and congresswoman) Cathy McMorris Rodgers.

Four weeks earlier than anticipated, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) and husband Brian Rodgers welcomed the arrival of their son, Cole McMorris Rodgers.

He was born on Sunday at 3:14 a.m. at Bethesda Naval Hospital.

Brian and I are overjoyed, said McMorris Rodgers in a statement.  Although he arrived early, both the baby and I are doing well and recovering at the hospital.  We look forward to soon being able to bring our son home."

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(Long time readers may be expecting a mother duck on Mother's Day.  But this year I haven't spotted any along the Kirkland waterfront.  Here's my favorite from previous Mother's Days.  You can see a somewhat larger mother with her new baby here.  If you want a picture to save for your personal use, try this site — though I don't know how long the link will last.)
- 2:20 PM, 13 May 2007   [link]


Can Democratic Politicians be Blamed When Things Go Wrong?  By the "mainstream" media, that is.  I ask that question because my post on Governor Sebelius reminded me of the little windstorm that hit this area last December, killing 15 people and knocking out much of the area for days.  Articles in our local newspapers agreed that government had responded inadequately, but cast no blame on any elected official.

For example, here's a Seattle Times article from last month on a United Way report on the storm in King County.  The reporter, Marsha King, agrees that things went wrong in the response to the storm — but blames no one in particular.

Here's a typical paragraph:

Regulation and oversight of emergency preparedness in long-term-care facilities have been inadequate to meet residents' basic needs in a disaster.  Many people in facilities inadequately equipped with backup power suffered.  Some had fragile medical conditions that depended on electricity to power oxygen machines and wheelchairs.

And whose fault was that?  No one, at least no elected official, if we go by the article.   In fact, King does not even name an elected official in the article.

Which elected officials should be blamed for these problems?  The top elected officials in this area are Washington state Governor Chris Gregoire and King County Executive Ron Sims.  Other officials deserve some share of the blame, too, but those two are the ones we should start with.

What did Sims and Gregoire do during the storm?  To find out the answer to that question I read the United Way report mentioned in the article and a similar report covering the whole state produced by the Washington State Military Department, which reports to Governor Gregoire.  After reading through both reports, I can answer the question of what Sims and Gregoire did during the storm.  The short answer is not much.  There isn't a long answer.  Each issued an emergency proclamation, and Gregoire activated some units of the National Guard to provide generators for some emergency shelters.  That's it.

Did any "mainstream" journalists blame the executive and the governor for their failures to act?   If so, I missed it.  I didn't even see any of our local journalists ask Sims or Gregoire about their performance during the storm.  (One would like to think that all journalists are curious, inquiring folks, but I have found, to my great disappointment, that not all of them are.)

There is one thing I have left out of this post to this point, which just might be relevant, though I hate to suggest that our local journalists could be so unprofessional.  Sims and Gregoire are both Democrats.  You don't think that explains why they haven't been held to account for their failures last December?  Do you?

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(Gregoire gets a little more credit than Sims, since she did a little more and since she did ask for a report on what went wrong.)
- 2:19 PM, 11 May 2007   [link]


Did Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius Tell A Fib?  She began by saying this:
With President Bush set to travel to now-razed Greensburg, Kan., on Wednesday to view the destruction wrought by Friday's 205 mph twister, Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius said she planned to talk with him about her contention that National Guard deployments to Iraq hampered the disaster response.

"I don't think there is any question if you are missing trucks, Humvees and helicopters that the response is going to be slower," she said Monday.  "The real victims here will be the residents of Greensburg, because the recovery will be at a slower pace."
But then backed down as the facts came out.
[White House press secretary Tony] Snow recounted a phone conversation on Tuesday between Sebelius and Bush's White House-based homeland security adviser, Fran Townsend, in which the governor said she was pleased with the federal performance on the tornado and had everything she needed.

About the same time, Sebelius was doing her own backpedal from across the country.

Her spokeswoman, Nicole Corcoran, said the governor didn't mean to imply that the state was ill-equipped to deal with this storm. Sebelius' comments about National Guard equipment were, instead, meant as a warning about the state's inability to handle additional disasters, such as another tornado or severe flooding, she said.
Two talk show hosts charged that Sebelius lied, and that she was just following orders from Democratic chairman Howard Dean, and other Democratic leaders.
It seems that, on Sunday, a few hours after Kansas Governor, Kathleen Sebelius, made her remarks about Bush sending all their National Guard Members and Resources to Iraq, she made a call to [Kansas Senator Sam] Brownback

Sebelius, was calling to apologize to the Senator for making the Political statements that she did.  She explained that she did not believe them and that they actually had too many National Guardsmen show up.

Governor Sebelius explained "Sam, you know how political everything is right now and we're not allowed to let an opportunity like this just pass."  She continued "I made sure not to blame you or Pat (Senator Roberts?) or anybody outside the White House. With his (Bush's) numbers, you can't really blame me for usin' that."

Then Sebelius explained the path to her comments.  After Brownback told her that he was very disappointed in her, She pleaded "You know me Sam, I wouldn't have said it if I didn't have to." She declared "Howard (Dean) called me around 5 o'clock (in the morning) and told me not to ask The White House for any help or make any statements until I heard back.  Dick (Durban?) called me an hour or 2 later and that's when he told me we needed to use this 'n' said to talk about the Guard all bein' at war."

She then explained the thinking; "Speaker and Harry got so much heat on them from both sides over this damn war, 'n' they need to get the press on somethin' else.  I didn't think it was right to use it like this either, but I didn't see's I had much choice in this climate, Sam."
The Democratic National Committee has sent out a flat denial that the conversation between Dean and Sebelius took place as described, accompanying their letter with a "cease and desist" order.   (Almost as if they wanted to suppress dissent.)

So did the conversation take place?  Hard to say for now.  The part that I have quoted above reads like the transcript of a tape to me.  It would have to come, directly or indirectly, from someone on Brownback's staff.  (Unless, of course, someone illegally taped the call.)  A quick search found no denial from Brownback that the call had taken place.   Without that denial, or a retreat by the talk show hosts (whom I am not familiar with), or comprehensive phone records, we can not be sure what happened.

But we can say this:  She did not respond as well as she should have to the Greensburg tornado, and then claimed that the Kansas National Guard was handicapped in its response because of the war in Iraq.  She now admits that statement was false.

It is disgusting to see a politician try to exploit a natural disaster this way.  And Governor Sebelius did try to exploit the disaster at first.  We just don't know whether she did it on her own, or at the prompting of Howard Dean.  (By the way, it is possible that the phone call to Brownback is real, but that she is fibbing in it about the call from Dean.  I suppose that even mentioning that possibility shows just how little I trust this particular governor.)
- 9:11 AM, 11 May 2007
Update:  Senator Brownback's office has now said the conversation didn't happen.  On the other hand, the site for the two talk show hosts has not put up a retraction.  Verdict for now:  Most likely the conversation didn't happen.  Mostly likely.

But there is one odd thing about the reported phone call.  It doesn't read like a conversation; instead it reads like a recorded message.  (Even though it includes, indirectly, one Brownback comment.)  So, it is just possible that Sebelius did say those things — but not in a conversation with Brownback.  Unlikely, but possible.  (The Clinton years made most of us, certainly including me, a little more suspicious about the exact words spoken by politicians when they are making denials.)
- 4:57 PM, 13 May 2007   [link]


Typical Starbucks customer?
Panbanisha wants coffee — a tall decaf Starbucks caramel macchiato, to be exact.  Midway through a demonstration of her extensive vocabulary, obligingly pointing to the correct symbols on a complex board for "yogurt," "egg," and "hurt," she switches gears and points to the symbols for "candy" and "coffee" — her term for a caramel macchiato.

"You want coffee, Panbanisha?" asks William Fields, a senior researcher at Des Moines's Great Ape Trust — a question that Panbanisha responds to with an enthusiastic series of loud shrieks.   A few more exchanges, and she's made sure he knows to get enough for the other six apes, to get "marshmallow" — her word for the foam on top — and to get the drinks now!
Probably not.  After all, the average bonobo (or pigmy chimpanzee, as they are sometimes known) doesn't have a high enough income to support a Starbucks habit.  But it is interesting to see what kind of drinks she and the other chimpanzees like.

(My own opinion on Starbucks is mixed.  I think that Starbucks serves, at best, mediocre coffee, but I also think they are brilliant in the way they provide a social setting for people.   And the latter is often far more important to us)
- 7:40 AM, 11 May 2007   [link]


The New French First Lady, Cécilia Sarkozy, has some, well, let's say, entertaining views.
Cecilia Sarkozy, whose husband Nicolas was elected Sunday as France's new president, is a fiercely independent former model and PR executive unlikely to fit easily into the discreet role of first lady.

"I don't see myself as a first lady.  It bores me.  I prefer going round in combat trousers and cowboy boots.  I don't fit the mould," the elegant 49-year-old brunette has said.
But she might get along well with the Bushes.

(Naturally, I made a casual search for a picture of her in combat trousers and cowboy boots, but had no luck finding one.)
- 3:50 PM, 10 May 2007   [link]


What Do Journalists Really Think?  I suppose that varies with the journalist.  But at least a few of them must share the opinions of Jim Boyd, who just accepted a buyout from the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
McClatchy didn't approve of the Star Tribune's outspoken editorials, he said, mainly because they "hated any kind of nail sticking up" and felt the editorials were harming the company financially.  So they instituted what editorial page staffers jokingly call the "codpiece" — the "conservative of the day."

"They ordained that we would have a conservative of the day.  I've got to tell you, you run out of good ones real quick," he said. "You've got Steve Chapman, whom I really like, who's a libertarian and a good guy.  So you didn't mind running him, but you kind of held your nose when you ran Mona Charon [sic] or Debra Saunders.  I mean, good grief.  Jonah Goldberg?  Finally, we were able to get rid of that bugger."
Reading that makes me think that Boyd is closed-minded, bigoted, and crude, which is not how most journalists like to present themselves.  But I suspect more than a few are like Boyd; after all he did work in the profession for decades without much criticism from his peers.

(Just for the record, Mona Charen and Jonah Goldberg are fine columnists, and Debra Saunders is one of the best in the country.

More here and here from bloggers who have tangled with Boyd.

Incidentally, one of the things that puzzles me about leftists is their willingness to use crude terms that disparage homosexuals to attack their opponents.  It is almost as if they missed one of those PC lectures given as part of sensitivity training in most large organizations.  For the record, last I looked Jonah Goldberg was happily married.)
- 3:25 PM, 10 May 2007   [link]


The Three British Elections:  In my first post on the recent British elections, I was unclear about a central point:   Scotland and Wales were each electing members of their parliaments, while the English were electing local councils in most of England.  (Though not in London, for some reason.)

You may, especially if you are not from Britain, wonder about these three elections and whether the English also get to elect their own parliament.  The short answer is that they don't and the reason for this odd situation is best explained by electoral politics in Scotland.  Labour had been dominant in Scotland for decades but was being challenged by the Scottish National Party.  To head them off, Labour promised to establish a Scottish parliament, and after Tony Blair's landslide victory in 1997, was able to do so.  (Wales got its parliament as part of the deal, but the issue was not nearly as important there as it was in Scotland.)

There is no exact translation of this to American terms, but it is roughly as though a few small states could elect their own legislatures, while the other states could only elect city and county councils.

Not surprisingly, this does not please everyone in Britain.  The strongest objection is named after a famous question in parliament, the "West Lothian question", a question asked by Tam Dalyell, a Labour MP representing the Scottish constituency of West Lothian:
For how long will English constituencies and English Honourable members tolerate... at least 119 Honourable Members from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland exercising an important, and probably often decisive, effect on British politics while they themselves have no say in the same matters in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland?
There are, as the Wikipedia article says, two parts to the question:
  • How can it be right that MPs elected to Westminster from Scottish constituencies have no ability to affect the issues of their constituents which have been devolved to the Scottish Parliament, and
  • If power over Scottish affairs is devolved to a Scottish Parliament, how can it be right that MPs representing Scottish constituencies in the Parliament of the United Kingdom will have the power to vote on issues affecting England (including those that don't affect Scotland), but English MPs will not have the power to vote on Scottish issues?
No one had a good answer to the question at the time, and no one has found an entirely satisfactory answer since.  (You can see some possible answers here.)  As Tony Blair gets his grades from history, I suspect that he will get a low one for having left Britain with this question.
- 8:55 AM, 10 May 2007   [link]


Here's A Nation that's doing well.
The US economy has remained the world's most competitive, despite the country's soaring trade deficit, a study says.

The world's biggest economy topped the rankings of 55 nations compiled in the Swiss-based IMD World Competitiveness Yearbook 2007.
For some reason, the BBC doesn't tell us the name of the leader of this nation.  But we can guess who it might be.

(There's more good news here about one of the deficits that have worried planners; the US budget deficit may fall to a mere $150 billion this fiscal year.  And no, I am not joking when I say "mere".  By recent standards, this deficit would be low, and as a proportion of our GDP, much lower than the deficits of most of our competitors.)
- 7:56 AM, 10 May 2007   [link]


Who Supported Sarkozy?  Polling firm Ipsos did do a poll on election day, as I hoped, though they do not appear to have asked nearly the range of questions that American exit polls would in our national elections.  (To be fair, unless French voters are very different from American voters, it would be hard to get that much information over the phone.  American exit polls are done in person for just that reason — which increases the cost considerably.)  But they did ask enough questions to tell us something about the support for Sarkozy.
In the most surprising development, 52 percent of female voters cast their ballots for Mr. Sarkozy, compared with 48 percent for Ms. Royal.

Mr. Sarkozy captured the vote of people 60 years and older; Ms. Royal fared well with very young voters — the 18 to 24 year old age group, where she won 58 percent of the vote.  But Mr. Sarkozy gained the upper hand in the next age group, those 25 to 34, where he received 57 percent of the vote.

Artisans and shopkeepers also chose Mr. Sarkozy with 82 percent of the vote.  Farmers, who traditionally vote on the right, gave him 67 percent.  Ms. Royal did better among blue-collar workers, with 54 percent of the vote.  The data was taken from a poll carried out by phone on Sunday on a sample of 3,609 people, representative of French registered voters.
From other sources, I learned that Sarkozy's vote rose with the age of the voter, and that he did better in industrial regions than conservatives had in recent elections.  Royal won majorities of the votes of the unemployed and of government workers.

I have found more at the Ipsos site in France.  Since the material is in French it will take me a little while to puzzle it out, but I hope to have another post for you on the subject in the next week or so.

In my search for polling information, I found a fascinating piece with some data on the Jewish vote.
The Jewish community's respect for Sarkozy was demonstrated by absentee voting results from French Jews living in Israel.  Sarkozy received 5,655 of the votes cast at the French Embassy in Tel Aviv — more than 90 percent — compared to just 580 for Royal.

That's even greater support than the 87 percent Sarkozy received in his hometown of Neuilly-sur-Seine, where he has served as mayor.  The Tel Aviv figures reportedly top those voting for Sarkozy in any other French voting bureau around the world.
We should not conclude from those returns that Sarkozy captured 90 percent of the Jewish vote, since we would expect voters in Israel to be different in many ways from those in France.  But I think that it is almost certain that he won the Jewish vote by a large majority in France.

That is more surprising than it may seem at first glance.  Jews in France, as in most (all?) Western nations, have traditionally given strong support to leftist parties and causes.  So, if Sarkozy carried the Jewish vote — and I think it almost certain that he did — that would be a big change from past voting patterns.

(The Jewish vote in France is not large; my Britannica almanac says that about 1.0 percent of the French population is Jewish.)
- 5:06 PM, 9 May 2007   [link]


Do You Know More Than The Average CIA Agent?  You may, if you read this site regularly.  I was listening earlier this afternoon to the Michael Medved show when I heard author Richard Miniter tell about a recent incident that shows just how ignorant some of those working at Langley must be.  He was at a presentation where a researcher was making the argument that I made in this post, that insurgencies usually lose.

A CIA representative in the audience came up after the presentation and thanked the researcher, saying that he had never known that.  Amazing!

And if that CIA representative is at all typical, then we have still another reason to worry about our most prominent spy agency.
- 2:14 PM, 9 May 2007   [link]


What Can We Do About The Independent Jihad Syndrome?  Daniel Pipes labeled the cases in which a Muslim, previously peaceful and law abiding, attacks innocents, the "sudden jihad syndrome".  For example, there was the attack in North Carolina on March 3rd, 2006.
That was when a just-graduated student named Mohammed Reza Taheri-azar, 22, and an Iranian immigrant, drove a sport utility vehicle into a crowded pedestrian zone.  He struck nine people but, fortunately, none were severely injured.

Until his would-be murderous rampage, Mr. Taheri-azar, a philosophy and psychology major, had a seemingly normal existence and promising future.
. . .
In fact, no one who knew him said a bad word about him, which is important, for it signals that he is not some low-life, not homicidal, not psychotic, but a conscientious student and amiable person.
What made Taheri-azar act was, as he said after the attack, his radical Muslim beliefs.

There have been similar incidents elsewhere, enough so that some have started to list them, as you can see here and here.

But these cases are, I fear, only part of a larger problem I call the "independent jihad syndrome".   The terrorist group just arrested for plotting to attack Fort Dix provides an example of this larger problem.  As far as we know — and this could change as we learn more — those arrested had no connection to overseas groups, or even to any terrorist groups based in the United States.  But they did not act suddenly; they had been plotting their attack for more than a year.  The attack, if it had come, would not have been sudden, but would have been independent of Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups.

These "independent" terrorists complicate our strategy in fighting terrorism.  We can not use their overseas contacts to spot them because they often have none.  We can not destroy their overseas bases for the same reason.  We can not cripple their organizations by taking out top leaders.   And so on.

Although they may not have the resources to make a grandiose attack like that on 9/11, these independent jihadis can cause us serious problems, here and abroad.

How can we fight back against them?  As always in this fight against terrorism, intelligence is the key.  You have heard, I am sure, that the Fort Dix group was caught because of a tip from an alert video store clerk.  And that is, unfortunately, the kind of intelligence that will be most important in the fight against these independent jihadis.  Unfortunately, because the government can do little to gather such tips, other than to encourage individuals to be alert.

But we can do other things to fight back against these independent jihadis; Daniel Pipes says that we should profile Muslims — and that we are doing so, while claiming that we are not.  He is right in both his prescription and his claim.  I have no doubt, for instance, that many immigration officials are taking a much tougher look at Muslim immigrants than they did before 9/11.  We should also look for ways to identify Muslims who have gotten American citizenship or a green card illegitimately.  I have no doubt that thousands have, to put it politely, fibbed to immigration officials and have no allegiance to the United States, despite taking that oath.   We need to think about ways to revoke their citizenship and send them back where they came from.

And there are many more small things that we can do — and will have to do in time, whether we like it or not.  I only hope that we will have the wisdom to do those things before we suffer another attack on the scale of 9/11 — but I fear we will not.

(A word on the terminology: Almost all "sudden" jihad syndrome attacks would also be "independent" jihad syndrome attacks, but the reverse is not true.)
- 1:46 PM, 9 May 2007   [link]


Violence And The Left:  Joshua Trevino makes a significant point about the violence in France (and elsewhere), and asks two important questions.
As predicted, or more accurately, threatened by Ségolène Royal, there is violence in the wake of Nicolas Sarkozy's victory in the French presidential election.  The riot and mayhem in the streets of Paris recalls past acts of destruction and outrage at the hands of losing partisans: from the 1996 brawls in Washington, DC, by Dole supporters; to the destructive spree of angry Tories in the City of London in 1997; to the recent smashing of shop-windows by Republicans on 8 November 2006; and yes, to the violence visited upon the hapless City of Light by RPR youth in the aftermath of Mitterand's 1988 victory in France.  The present wreckage on French streets — see an excellent series of photos here — is therefore of a piece with long-established Western tradition.

Except it's not, of course: the above-mentioned events are all fictitious, with the exception of the very real anti-Sarkozy violence.  This is a curious thing, but notable: in the liberal West, at least, it is the left that has a near-monopoly on mob violence and public disorder today.  We saw it emerge in the protests of the 1990s, and it has moved into more explicitly political spheres since.   It is curious on two counts: first, because of the stereotype of left-wing activists is not a particularly violent one; second, because no political stripe not involving Quakers has any monopoly on violence in history.  So why just the left, and why now?
Trevino (who is, I believe, much younger than I am) is wrong on the timing.  The surge in violence by the left came in the 1960s, both in Europe and in the United States.  (And, of course, the 1930s were plagued by violence from both the left and the right.)  But it is true that we are seeing more violence from the left now than we did even a few years ago, and it is also true that we see very little political violence from the right, either in the United States or in Europe.

But he is broadly right in this conclusion:
Democracy fails when its results are only sanctioned in the event of victory.  In their anger, violence and loathing, the despondent leftists of America then [2000], and France now, are not merely rejecting a particular election — they are abandoning the very idea that sustains their republic.
If you believe in democracy, you must accept electoral defeats — peacefully.  That radical Muslims do not accept democratic defeats is no surprise; that so many Western leftists show by their actions that they do not accept their defeats either is disappointing, but no longer much of a surprise.

(One reason for this difference between left and right is their different views of government; activists on the left generally see control of government as essential for achieving their goals, while those on the right are more likely to believe they can get what they want in other ways.  The loss of control over the government thus hits leftists much harder than conservatives.

For much more on the anti-democratic violence in France, see ¡No-Pasarán!.)
- 7:26 AM, 9 May 2007   [link]