Archive:

May 2007, Part 4

Jim Miller on Politics




Pseudo-Random Thoughts



Worth Reading:  Norman Dennis's speech to the Mankind Conference in London.  What I found most striking was his description of the surge in crime in Britain during the 20th century.  For example:
In the period between 1857 and 1906 the population of England and Wales rose by about 15 million, from 19 million to 34 million.  The total number of offences against the person rose by only 228 cases, so that by 1906 there were 2,546 offences against the person.
. . .
Between 1906 and 1991 population of England and Wales rose by about roughly the same figure, 17 million, from 34 million to 51 million.  But the total number of offences against the person did not rise by roughly 228.   It rose by 187,500, with a very marked shift upward from 1955, so that by 1991 there were 190,000 offences against the person.  For every one offence in 1906, there were 75 in 1991.  Engels's startled response in 1844 to the reports of, by the standards of today, mainly trivial violent and other crimes — including domestic violence — in Bury, Bolton, Oldham, Stockport, Warrington, and London itself, is surely sufficient proof that the increase is not a statistical freak caused by people becoming more intolerant of violence since Engels' time.  In the single year, 1990-1991, the rise in offences against the person was 35 times the total figure in 1906.
And he has many more numbers, and a whole set of interesting arguments on what changed in Britain.

(The 20th century rise in crime in Britain was paralleled by a similar rise in the United States.  And both rises came, as far as we can tell from historical statistics, after three centuries during which crime fell in both countries.  The crime rise in Britain was somewhat later than in the United States.  So far, Britain has not seen crime decline as it did in the United States during the last two decades of the 20th century.)
- 4:28 PM, 31 May 2007   [link]


More Reasons To Dislike John Kerry:  And to be glad that he never became president, in this story describing his search for a running mate.
The obvious vice-presidential choice, we agreed, was John Edwards; in the primaries, he'd emerged as a first-rate campaigner—and I told [Kerry advisor] Jim [Johnson] that despite thiness on substance, I thought, as I been in 2000, that he could handle Cheney in a debate; We couldn't afford to repeat the Lieberman mistake.
And if you read the whole thing, you will find no mention of any other thoughts about Edwards' fitness to be president, only a discussion of how he might, or might not, help the ticket.

And another reason to dislike John McCain.
One option, the one that would have sealed the election, was off the table.  John McCain's political strategist John Weaver had talked earlier with Cahill and said he needed to see Kerry about McCain.  According to Kerry, when he met with Weaver and Cahill, Weaver said McCain was serious about the possibility of teaming up with him.  Kerry had then sounded out McCain, who rejected the idea.
The very nicest explanation for this flirtation is that Weaver was acting without the McCain's permission — which makes us wonder how well McCain runs his staff.

(One of the strangest things about the 2004 campaign was Kerry's continuing flirtation with John McCain; for example, he put McCain on his short list to be Secretary of Defense.  At worst, Kerry was being completely cynical; at best, he was showing an adolescent admiration for a real hero.  In the latter case, we have to wonder about Kerry's psychological fitness to be president, wonder whether he was grown up enough for the job.

There aren't enough cases for me to be certain, but I am inclined to think that outsider presidential candidates choose better running mates than Washington insiders do.  Reagan's choice was better than George H. W. Bush's, and Clinton's choice was better than Kerry's.  And I could add to those examples.)
- 3:32 PM, 31 May 2007   [link]


How Stuff Works:  In this case how those Kassam rockets being fired at Israel are built.
The Palestinian Kassam rocket is just the opposite [of our space shuttles].  It is small, simple and cheap.  The idea is to create an easily manufactured, inexpensive terror weapon that one or two people can launch from almost anywhere.

How can Palestinians manufacture rockets in their basements?  The key is to think small and to use everyday items wherever possible.  Therefore, a Kassam rocket starts with a simple iron tube.  In other words, you start with a piece of pipe.  In a Kassam rocket, the pipe is usually about 6 feet long and 6 or 7 inches in diameter.  At one end of the piece of pipe you weld on four simple fins made of sheet metal.  The sheet metal can come from anywhere — an old car fender will do.
And the rest is almost as simple.  The only part with any difficulty at all is finding TNT for the warhead, but TNT is not rare in the Middle East.

And when you are done, you have a rocket that is almost completely useless against military targets, but pretty good as a "tool of terror" aimed at civilians.
- 2:46 PM, 31 May 2007   [link]


Can't Anyone Here Do A Simple Analysis?  Robert Spencer makes a common mistake.
Some of the results of the Pew Research Center poll of Muslims in America were startling: twenty-six percent of Muslims between the ages of eighteen and twenty-nine affirmed that there could be justification in some (unspecified) circumstances for suicide bombing, and five percent of all the Muslims surveyed said that they had a favorable view of Al-Qaeda.  Given the Pew Center's estimate of 2.35 million Muslims in America, and the total of thirteen percent that avowed a belief that suicide bombings could ever be justified, that's over 300,000 supporters of suicide attacks.  And 117,500 supporters of Al-Qaeda.
What's wrong with his numbers?  You can see the answer to that if you think about babies in strollers.   Even if those strollers are being pushed by Muslim mothers who support suicide attacks, the babies do not support those attacks.  (Or oppose them.)  And the same argument holds for very young children, and some other groups, such as those with very low IQs.

At a guess, those groups might make up about one third of the total Muslim population.  That doesn't mean that we should not worry about supporters of terror in the other two thirds, just that we should get our numbers right.

(Despite this mistake, I still consider his best known book, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades), a useful corrective.)
- 8:20 AM, 31 May 2007   [link]


And An Innovative Metallurgist*, Too:  Here's what Jim Dwyer of the New York Times had to say about the departure of $Rosie O'Donnell.
The first day of the post-Rosie O'Donnell era on "The Vew" television show has come and gone, and by any fair accounting, an often useful provocateur has left the building.

In her final months on the air, she mostly dropped her public torment of an attention-starved, orange-haired real estate developer.  Instead, she opened debates with others about terrorism, peace, and citizenship.
And was wrong, if news accounts are accurate, on all three.

Dwyer admits in the column that O'Donnell was pushing at least one conspiracy theory, though he does not mention her slanders of American forces.  But it does not matter to him that she was wrong, nutty, and rude on the show; she was still a "useful provocateur".

(*An innovative metallurgist, for her discovery that the collapse of the World Trade Center Tower No. 7 was the "first time in history that fire has ever melted steel".)
- 3:34 PM, 30 May 2007   [link]


Do You Believe Lou Dobbs?  You shouldn't.   Here's what Dobbs has claimed, more than once.
"The invasion of illegal aliens is threatening the health of many Americans," Mr. Dobbs said on his April 14, 2005, program.  From there, he introduced his original report that mentioned leprosy, the flesh-destroying disease — technically known as Hansen's disease — that has inspired fear for centuries.

According to a woman CNN identified as a medical lawyer named Dr. Madeleine Cosman, leprosy was on the march.   As Ms. Romans, the CNN correspondent, relayed: "There were about 900 cases of leprosy for 40 years.  There have been 7,000 in the past three years."
And here are the facts from David Leonhardt:
To sort through all this, I called James L. Krahenbuhl, the director of the National Hansen's Disease Program, an arm of the federal government.   Leprosy in the United States is indeed largely a disease of immigrants who have come from Asia and Latin America.   And the official leprosy statistics do show about 7,000 diagnosed cases — but that's over the last 30 years, not the last three.

The peak year was 1983, when there were 456 cases.  After that, reported cases dropped steadily, falling to just 76 in 2000. Last year, there were 137.

"It is not a public health problem — that's the bottom line," Mr. Krahenbuhl told me.  "You've got a country of 300 million people.  This is not something for the public to get alarmed about."  Much about the disease remains unknown, but researchers think people get it through prolonged close contact with someone who already has it.
And it is not just on leprosy that Dobbs has repeatedly made false statements.  Leonhardt mentions his persistent exaggeration of illegal immigrant crime rates.  I don't pay much attention to Dobbs, but I have noticed that he is consistently wrong on the decline of American manufacturing, too.

Dobbs' indifference to truth poses an interesting dilemma for his employer, CNN, because he is very popular.   So popular, in fact, that he has just been hired as a commentator by CBS.  (Which either knows about these controversies and doesn't care, or doesn't know what they should know about their new employee.)

Dobbs' indifference to the truth should especially annoy those who want to see tighter restrictions on immigration, as I do.  It is a fact that increasing immigration (and increasing travel) do increase our health risks.   But when someone makes that argument dishonestly, as Dobbs does, then he tends to discredit those who are making the honest version of the argument.  That may be unfair, but it is a fact, politically.

(This is fine work by Leonhardt.  Any chance that he will do similar exposes on some of the "bad children", as I like call them, at the New York Times?  That would be asking too much, I suppose, but he has taken different positions on some issues than some of the consistent offenders at the newspaper.)
- 1:38 PM, 30 May 2007
More:  Here's Lou Dobbs' reply and here's Daniel Drezner's reply to the reply.  (And if you have heard the scare stories about the Security and Prosperity Partnership from Lou Dobbs, or others, you may want to look at these facts.)
- 8:40 AM, 31 May 2007   [link]


Gadgets For The World's Poor:  It is easy to forget, living in the United States, that our poor are almost all richer than the average person in the world.  An income of $17,000 a year, which is average for our poorest families, would put them in the top 20 percent in many countries, and in the top 5 percent in some.

Many Americans are trying to help the world's poor, as well as our own, and a few are doing so in a classically American way;  They are trying to design gadgets that will help those who earn less than two dollars a day.
"A billion customers in the world," Dr. Paul Polak told a crowd of inventors recently, "are waiting for a $2 pair of eyeglasses, a $10 solar lantern and a $100 house."

The world's cleverest designers, said Dr. Polak, a former psychiatrist who now runs an organization helping poor farmers become entrepreneurs, cater to the globe's richest 10 percent, creating items like wine labels, couture and Maseratis.

"We need a revolution to reverse that silly ratio," he said.

To that end, the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, which is housed in Andrew Carnegie's 64-room mansion on Fifth Avenue and offers a $250 red chrome piggy bank in its gift shop, is honoring inventors dedicated to "the other 90 percent," particularly the billions of people living on less than $2 a day.
Inventors such as Martin Fisher, whose Kickstart organization sells human-powered water pumps to poor farmers, very poor farmers.

Though some have forgotten this point, it was just these kinds of cheap gadgets that started the United States on our road to prosperity.
- 8:07 AM, 30 May 2007   [link]


Worth Reading:  Steven Malanga says that the immigration compromise bill would improve matters by shifting toward choosing immigrants for their skills, rather than their connections.
The compromise immigration legislation that the Bush administration and Senate have hammered out represents an historic shift in emphasis that could transform immigration in the U.S. by moving us to a skills-based entry system.  Such a change could make immigration a bigger benefit for our economy while also ameliorating some problems with the rest of the legislation, specifically its plan to grant amnesty to many of those already here illegally.  But the devil will be in the details that not only the Senate, but also the House of Representatives, still have to work out and agree to.

America's legal immigration system is largely based on family relations, which means that you can get into this country based on whom you know, rather than what you know.  About two-thirds of legal immigrants come here because they have some relative who has already been granted legal status.  Although our immigration system also grants visas to some based on their skills, such visas tend to be limited to high-tech sectors and make up a small part of our overall legal immigration.
In other words, we would be admitting immigrants for our reasons, rather than for theirs.  Assuming those devilish details can be worked out correctly.

This would definitely be a step in the right direction, though I would also like to shift toward admitting immigrants who share our values, though that would be, admittedly, harder to implement.

(The German experience, discussed here, gives us another reason not to automatically reunify families, even husbands and wives.)
- 5:31 PM, 29 May 2007   [link]


Bipartisan Success:  First the good news:
According to a Congressional Budget Office (CBO) study released this month, the bottom fifth of families with children, whose average income in 2005 was $16,800, enjoyed a larger percentage increase in income from 1991 to 2005 than all other groups except the top fifth.  Despite the recession of 2001, the bottom fifth had a 35 percent increase in income (adjusted for inflation), compared with around 20 percent for the second, third and fourth fifths.  (The top fifth had about a 50 percent increase.)

Even more impressive, the CBO found that households in the bottom fifth increased their incomes so much because they worked longer and earned more money in 2005 than in 1991 -- not because they received higher welfare payments.   In fact, their earnings increased more in percentage terms than incomes of any of the other groups: The bottom fifth increased its earnings by 80 percent, compared with around 50 percent for the highest-income group and around 20 percent for each of the other three groups.
Who deserves credit, besides the poor themselves?  Republicans:
My rendition of the CBO findings to this point should make Republicans happy: Low-income families with children increased their work effort, many of them in response to the 1996 welfare reform law that was designed to produce exactly this effect.  These families not only increased their earnings but also slashed their dependency on cash welfare.  In 1991, more than 30 percent of their income was from cash welfare payments; by 2005, it was 4 percent.  Earnings up, welfare down -- that's the definition of reducing welfare dependency in America.
And Democrats:
But now consider that the next-biggest increase in income for the bottom group was from the earned-income tax credit (EITC), a program that, in effect, supplements the wages of parents with low incomes.  In addition, most of the children in these families had Medicaid coverage and received free school lunches and other traditional social benefits.  In other words, this success story is one of greater efforts to work more and earn more backed by government benefits to improve living standards and, as President Bill Clinton used to say, "make work pay."
The author of this op-ed, Ron Haskins, wants us to do more of the same, more work requirements for receiving benefits, another increase in the Earned Income Tax Credit, and more help for these families, especially child care and health care.  I would not reject any of his proposals at first glance, though I would caution that we may have reached the point of diminishing returns on the EITC.

(Haskins does not mention it, but the EITC was expanded significantly under both President Reagan and President George H. W. Bush, something I discussed here.  And President George W. Bush's new 10 percent lowest bracket would have helped some in the lowest fifth.  Finally, though only economists inside the Bush administration seem to understand this, his proposal to subsidize individual retirement accounts for low income workers would have been either another tax cut, or a very significant benefit, depending on how the accounting was done.  In either case, it would have increased their long term incomes very substantially.)
- 4:07 PM, 29 May 2007   [link]


What's The Iraq War All About?  The print edition of today's New York Times has a front page photo that shows, vividly, what the basic issue is in this war.  Here's the caption:
An Iraqi boy hid behind a U.S. soldier yesterday as gunshots rang out after a car bombing in central Baghdad that killed 24 people.
There is a small mistake in the caption; there are actually two boys trying to get protection from the American soldier, although only one can be seen clearly.

And that picture shows, all too clearly, what this conflict is about.  Our terrorist enemies are trying to kill these boys, and many other Iraqi civilians — and we are trying to protect those civilians.  That is simple enough so that two Iraqi boys can understand it; it should be simple enough so that even editors at the New York Times can understand it.  (Which may be why the picture does not appear on their web site; perhaps someone at the New York Times figured out the picture's message.)

(The photo does not seem to be on the web edition of the New York Times, or I would have linked to it.  But, if you look quickly, you can find an earlier picture in the sequence here.  That picture, ID 07052805289, is, as I write, near the end of a set of AP "Photos of the Day".)
- 1:58 PM, 29 May 2007
More:  Here's a touching example of an American Marine protecting an Iraqi child.
- 1:22 PM, 4 June 2007   [link]


Wrong On Kyoto Again:  (I almost said as usual, but I am not absolutely sure that the "mainstream" media, at least here in the United States, gets the Kyoto facts wrong more often than not.  I am almost certain that their counterparts outside the United States routinely get the facts wrong.)

This time, "Captain Ed" catches the AP in the most common mistake.
Once again, the AP has failed to report the history of this treaty correctly.  While Bush does not support the Kyoto approach, he had nothing to do with rejecting the pact.  The Senate rejected it in 1997, almost four years before Bush took office.  When Al Gore pushed Bill Clinton to sign the treaty, the Senate reacted by passing a resolution informing Clinton that Kyoto would not get ratified.
A resolution that passed 95-0.

After the rejection of Kyoto by the Senate, President Clinton tried to renegotiate the treaty and was blocked by — the French, who preferred to have an issue rather than an agreement.

The Senate was correct; as the years since the agreement was signed have made clear, the agreement is unworkable without the adherence of China (and India).

(You can find more examples of journalists getting Kyoto wrong here and here.)
- 9:56 AM, 29 May 2007   [link]


Living Heroes:  Peter Collier wrote the text for a book on our living Medal of Honor winners.  Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal published his op-ed, which sketches a few of those heroes.   For example:
What they did in battle was extraordinary.  Jose Lopez, a diminutive Mexican-American from the barrio of San Antonio, was in the Ardennes forest when the Germans began the counteroffensive that became the Battle of the Bulge.  As 10 enemy soldiers approached his position, he grabbed a machine gun and opened fire, killing them all.  He killed two dozen more who rushed him.  Knocked down by the concussion of German shells, he picked himself up, packed his weapon on his back and ran toward a group of Americans about to be surrounded.  He began firing and didn't stop until all his ammunition and all that he could scrounge from other guns was gone.  By then he had killed over 100 of the enemy and bought his comrades time to establish a defensive line.
Collier's conclusion deserves serious study — especially by those on the left.
We impoverish ourselves by shunting these heroes and their experiences to the back pages of our national consciousness.  Their stories are not just boys' adventure tales writ large.  They are a kind of moral instruction.  They remind of something we've heard many times before but is worth repeating on a wartime Memorial Day when we're uncertain about what we celebrate.  We're the land of the free for one reason only: We're also the home of the brave.
(My apologies for not posting this on Memorial Day.  I was a little under the weather this weekend.)
- 7:08 AM, 29 May 2007   [link]


Worth Reading:  The immigration problem in Germany is, Christopher Caldwell tells us, mostly a marriage problem.
Marriage is not just an aspect of the immigration problem in Germany; to a growing extent, it is the immigration problem.  Starting in the 1960s, millions of Turkish "guest workers" were imported to provide manpower for the German economic boom.  The guest-worker program was ended in 1973, the year of the first oil crisis, but large-scale immigration from Turkey has scarcely abated since.  For years, political asylum was relatively easy for Turks to obtain, owing to political assassinations, military coups and the violent Kurdish nationalist movement in eastern Anatolia.  But since the Balkan wars of the 1990s, Germany, like most European countries, has steadily tightened its criteria for political asylum.

This leaves open only one avenue for non-European men and women who want to enter Germany legally: marriage to someone with legal residency in the country.  Fortunately for would-be immigrants, young ethnic Turks in Germany have a strong tendency to marry people from the home country.  Exact statistics are hard to come by, but it is possible that as many as 50 percent of Turks (a word that in common parlance often includes even those with German citizenship) seek their spouses abroad, according to Schäuble, the interior minister.  For most of the past decade, according to the ministry, between 21,000 and 27,000 people a year have successfully applied at German consulates in Turkey to form families in Germany.  (Just under two-thirds of the newcomers are women.)  That means roughly half a million spouses since the mid-1980s, which in turn means hundreds of thousands of new families in which the children's first language is as likely to be Turkish as German.
There are lessons for the US, and for other Western nations, in this German experience.
- 7:18 PM, 27 May 2007   [link]


Raging Moderate?  It doesn't take much deviation from a hard left line to get called a moderate by our "mainstream" media.  There's an example showing just how easy in this Seattle Times profile of Congressman Adam Smith, which is headlined: "Can a raging moderate make any difference?"

His voting record is mixed. He supports "fair trade" over "free trade" — aligning him with unions that blame recent trade agreements for sending jobs overseas.
. . .
[Jim] McDermott, Seattle's longtime liberal congressman, says he and Smith actually have a lot in common.   For instance, Smith has introduced a bill for three years running to stem global poverty — one of McDermott's key issues.

"Adam wants to cultivate an image of not being as far in front on some things as me, but we agree on more than you probably realize," McDermott said.

Still, the National Journal rates Smith's votes as 70 percent liberal, compared with McDermott's 94 percent.

Congressman McDermott is not a liberal, but a leftist and a hard leftist, at that.  Congressman Smith is not a "moderate", but a leftist, though a moderate leftist.  In 2003 for example, Smith received a score of 90 from the leftist Americans for Democratic Action, a 17 from the National Taxpayers Union, and a score of 17 from the American Conservative Union.  Those scores do put him to the right of McDermott (and probably most reporters), but they do not make him a moderate.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(Smith made an interesting mistake in a speech quoted in the article; he confused tactical retreats with surrender.  Smith noted, correctly, that George Washington often retreated during his military career, but seemed to think that shows us something about the war in Iraq, where the Democrats are advocating, not a tactical retreat, but a surrender to our terrorist enemies.  These are not difficult military concepts to separate, but there is nothing in the article to show that the reporter, Alicia Mundy, realizes how badly Smith blundered in his argument.

Nor did she ask him about one of his most interesting votes.  In the 208th Congress, Smith voted against vouchers for Washington D.C. schoolchildren.  He voted, in other words, to keep mostly poor, black kids trapped in one of the worst school systems in the country.  That's not the vote of a "moderate", raging or otherwise; that's the vote of a union lackey.)
- 5:00 PM, 27 May 2007   [link]


The Line Is Funny:  But not for the reason that Canadian "environmental guru" David Suzuki thinks.
Environmental guru David Suzuki toured the country drawing big crowds with a science and music production pitching the idea that climate change is the cause of the 21st century.  And he drew big laughs with such lines as: "George H. Bush was the worst environmental president in history -- until his son came along."
As far as I can tell, the author of this guest column, Les Leyne of the Victoria Times Colonist, doesn't understand why it is funny, either.

(If, like Suzuki and Leyne, you don't get the joke, just wait a bit.  My long delayed "Green Republicans" post will explain it all.  Judging by his reputation in Canada, the facts in that post will matter not at all to Suzuki.  They may matter to Leyne, but I haven't seen enough of his work to have an opinion on that question.

By the way, though he doesn't mention it in this column, Leyne must know that serious students of climate change generally agree that Canada would gain from a world that was a degree or two warmer.

My apologies for the long delay on the Green Republicans post.  I want to use it as the inaugural post for my new site, and it is taking way longer to construct the new site than I had expected.)
- 4:17 PM, 27 May 2007   [link]


Did Valerie Plame Lie?  While under oath? Probably.
Taken in sum, the evidence in [Senator Kit] Bond's additional views seems to definitively lay to rest the question of who suggested Joseph Wilson for the trip to Niger.  But it doesn't lay to rest questions about Valerie Plame Wilson's varying accounts of the matter.  "Mrs. Wilson told the CIA inspector general that she suggested her husband for the trip, she told our committee staff that she could not remember whether she did or her boss did, and told the House committee, emphatically, that she did not suggest him," Bond writes.
If she were a Bush supporter, would this mean that she had committed perjury?  I am not a lawyer, but I think so.  As she and her husband, Joseph Wilson, are Bush opponents, the chances that she will be charged, or even investigated, for these discrepancies are minute.

(As those who have followed this case would expect, you can find much more on this from Tom Maguire.)
- 3:28 PM, 26 May 2007   [link]