Archive:

November 2009, Part 1

Jim Miller on Politics




Pseudo-Random Thoughts



"On The Internet, Nobody Knows You're A Dog"  Or an innocent child, or a grandparent with old-fashioned standards.  (If you somehow missed that famous cartoon, you can see it here.)

Most people see the cartoon and think that it shows how anonymous individuals can post something on the Internet, and not be judged by their background — or even their species.

But there is another way to interpret the cartoon that makes just as much sense.

People — or even, in principle, a very smart dog — can read (or see) material on the Internet that they might not be able to read or see elsewhere.

It is easy to forget that, as Natalie Solent found out one day.  She was writing a post and her youngest wandered by.

Yesterday Sprog Minor started reading this blog over my shoulder.  I had to click the minimise button fast because the last two posts had bad words in them.  Sternly, determinedly, joyously, I made a resolution to clean up this blog!

Solent did not want her own child to read posts with bad words in them.  But she had forgotten that by putting up posts she was making them available to children everywhere.  (And even, in principle, very smart dogs.)  We almost always write our posts and comments in private, but when we put them on the Internet, we make them wholly public.  Our private experience of writing them makes us forget just how public we actually are.

Since our posts and comments are wholly public, we should follow commonly accepted standards for public discourse when we write them.  Most people — most sane people, anyway — do not shout obscenities in a public square, so we should eliminate obscenities, in all except a few cases, from our posts and comments.  Similar, though weaker, arguments tell us that we should avoid scatological words in most circumstances.

How do we know what standards to use?  By bringing in the audience that we often forget is there.  Here's my rule of thumb:  If you wouldn't say it in front of your ten-year-old niece, or your seventy-year-old grandmother, then don't write it in a post or comment.  Those two may not read what you write — but others just like them will.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 7:35 AM, 8 November 2009   [link]


George W. Bush Visits The Fort Hood Families:  Quietly.

They look happy to see him.
- 6:02 AM, 8 November 2009
Correction:  The photograph in the post is, as you may have guessed, from an earlier Bush visit to the troops, not from his latest visit.  (As far as I know, there are no official pictures of the latest visit.
- 1:03 PM, 9 November 2009   [link]


King County Ballot Drop Boxes Are Insecure:  You only have to look at one to understand that.

Ballot drop box

Last year, after seeing that box, I warned that they could be attacked.   (Some were skeptical about my warning.)

Now, one has been vandalized.

As the counting winds down in the Seattle mayoral race, controversy may heat up as officials deal with a vandalized ballot box and 5,700 ballots with signatures that don't match those on file.
. . .
The vandalized ballot lockbox could pose a more intractable problem.

The box, like all the others, was closed by election officials at 8 p.m. on Election Day.   But this box was vandalized.  Someone tore off the metal seals, which would allow late, illegal ballots to be dropped in.

(Removing the seal might also allow ballots to be removed.  You would have to know more than I do about their internals to be sure.  But it would be easy to destroy all the ballots inside one of these boxes, after that seal is removed.  And that lock on the side does not look formidable.)

The ballots in the vandalized box could matter in this election because the race for Seattle mayor is so close.  Probably, most of the 860 ballots in the box are legal.  But there is no easy way to tell which of those ballots, if any, are illegal.

King County election officials did not expect this attack.

Megan Copperfield of King County Elections said the lockbox was broken into sometime Tuesday night.  But there are no surveillance cameras that show exactly when orhow it happened.

"There are twenty two cameras around election headquarters.  No one thought drop boxes would be a target.  They were out of camera range," Copperfield said.

No one?

I'll repeat what I said a year ago:  Such drop boxes should be used only in secure locations.  And I will add that the boxes should be watched by an election official, whenever they are accessible to the public.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 7:07 AM, 7 November 2009   [link]


It's Time To Call Your Congressman:  It isn't too late to urge them to vote against the 2000-page monstrosity that Speaker Pelosi is calling health insurance reform.   The Democratic leadership is trying to rush the vote, but has not twisted enough arms to have 218 votes for the bill, even with all the Democrats in the House.

Majority Leader Steny Hoyer still expects the House to approve its sweeping health care bill Saturday, but conceded the vote could slip until Sunday or even early next week.

Hoyer acknowledged House leaders were still shy of the 218 votes needed, amid flare-ups among anti-abortion Democrats and immigration advocates.  Hoyer also warned of Republican delaying tactics that he said could push off plans to vote Saturday evening.

You don't have to analyze the bill to know that it is not something most Americans want; you just have to note that the Democratic leaders are trying to rush this through — even though the "benefits" from the bill mostly won't start until 2013.

They are rushing the vote on the bill because they fear even more of us will catch on.

Pelosi and company are twisting arms; we should make an effort to untwist some of those arms.  Polite calls are generally the most effective.  In mine, I intend to emphasize the unseemly rush to a vote.

If you don't have their phone number handy, you can find it here.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 1:10 PM, 6 November 2009   [link]


Change, But Less Hope:  There is almost no good news in the latest unemployment numbers.
The United States economy shed 190,000 jobs in October, and the unemployment rate reached a 26-year high of 10.2 percent, up from 9.8 percent in September, the Department of Labor said Friday in its monthly economic appraisal.

While the pace of job losses has slowed significantly since the peak of the recession last winter, the unemployment rate, which measures the number of people actively seeking work, continues to climb, and economists do not foresee relief until well into next year.
The increase in unemployment was worse than "expected".  (Remember all the economic stories from the George W. Bush administration, when the results were, so often, "better than expected"?)

Even the one bit of good news, the 34,000 increase in temporary employment last month, is mixed.   It is true that temporary employment tends to lead permanent employment, that firms first hire people for temporary jobs, and then for permanent jobs.  But it is also true that firms hire temporary employees, rather than permanent employees, when they are worried about the future.

And the reckless Democratic majorities in Congress would give almost any employer much to worry about.
- 7:42 AM, 6 November 2009   [link]


Info On Fort Hood Shootings:  Hot Air has a long, much-updated thread.
- 4:13 PM, 5 November 2009
Many more links from Ed Driscoll and Orbusmax.  Driscoll adds commentary.

(Bloggers have an advantage in covering events like this one, because they can compile stories from all over, giving you access to far more information than you can get from any single news organization.)
- 5:41 AM, 6 November 2009   [link]


It May Not Be Easy Being Green:  But it can be immensely profitable, if you are Al Gore.  Michael Ramirez summarizes with this cartoon.

The New York Times gives us some details about Gore's profits with this article.
Silver Spring Networks is a foot soldier in the global green energy revolution Mr. Gore hopes to lead.  Few people have been as vocal about the urgency of global warming and the need to reinvent the way the world produces and consumes energy.  And few have put as much money behind their advocacy as Mr. Gore and are as well positioned to profit from this green transformation, if and when it comes.

Critics, mostly on the political right and among global warming skeptics, say Mr. Gore is poised to become the world's first "carbon billionaire," profiteering from government policies he supports that would direct billions of dollars to the business ventures he has invested in.
Gore may not be doing good, but he is doing very well.

I may be cynical, but I would find it easier to believe Gore if he ever made a serious effort to cut back on his own fossil fuel use.

(Come to think of it, Kermit the Frog has been pretty profitable over the years, too.)
- 9:46 AM, 5 November 2009   [link]


46 Percent To Go:  Gallup finds that most, but not all, Americans have figured out that Obama is on the left.
A majority of Americans now see President Barack Obama as governing from the left.  Specifically, 54% say his policies as president have been mostly liberal while 34% call them mostly moderate.   This contrasts with public expectations right after Obama's election a year ago, when as many expected him to be moderate as to be liberal.
We won't get to 100 percent on this question — after all, 7 percent still think that his policies are mostly conservative — but we can expect that 54 percent to grow, in spite of the efforts of our "mainstream" journalists.  (Incidentally, many "mainstream" journalists are being honest when they say that Obama is a moderate, and that mainstream Republicans are extremists.  They are measuring from their own positions.)

If 54 percent had seen Obama's policies as liberal last November, would he have won?  Good question, though nothing in the Gallup release gives us an answer.  But I will say that if 80 percent had seen him as a liberal — as he is — he would have lost.

(There's more bad news for Obama in the rest of the release.  For instance, moderate Democrats are no longer nearly unanimous in their support for him.)
- 9:13 AM, 5 November 2009   [link]


More Funny Stimulus job numbers.
President Barack Obama's economic recovery program saved 935 jobs at the Southwest Georgia Community Action Council, an impressive success story for the stimulus plan.  Trouble is, only 508 people work there.
. . .
About two-thirds of the 14,506 jobs claimed to be saved under one federal office, the Administration for Children and Families at Health and Human Services, actually weren't saved at all, according to a review of the latest data by The Associated Press.  Instead, that figure includes more than 9,300 existing employees in hundreds of local agencies who received pay raises and benefits and whose jobs weren't saved.
And funny arguments.
But officials defended the practice of counting raises as saved jobs.

"If I give you a raise, it is going to save a portion of your job," HHS spokesman Luis Rosero said.
But I have the feeling that Rosero doesn't know that argument is funny.
- 7:52 AM, 5 November 2009   [link]


A "Knight On A Shining Bicycle"  And, in his spare time, mayor of London.  That's Boris Johnson, who went out of his way to help a constituent.
Franny Armstrong, a documentary film-maker and climate change activist, was walking home in Camden, North London on Monday night when she was surrounded by a group of hoodie-wearing young girls.

Miss Armstrong was pushed against a car by the girls, one of whom had an iron bar.  The victim called out for help to a passing cyclist, who turned out to be the Mayor.

He stopped and chased the girls down the street, calling them "oiks", according to Miss Armstrong, who praised the Mayor's intervention.
He didn't get her vote last time, but he may next time, if he runs for re-election.

("Oiks" are pretty much what you guessed they are, except that they are usually guys.)
- 6:00 PM, 4 November 2009   [link]


Last Night, I Was Too Intrigued By The Election Returns to watch very much of the first episode of the new Obama allegory.  But I saw enough of it so that I plan to watch the next episode.  Even if it isn't exactly hard science fiction.

Don't see the Obama allegory?  Here's an explanation.
Imagine this.  At a time of political turmoil, a charismatic, telegenic new leader arrives virtually out of nowhere.  He offers a message of hope and reconciliation based on compromise and promises to marshal technology for a better future that will include universal health care.

The news media swoons in admiration -- one simpering anchorman even shouts at a reporter who asks a tough question: "Why don't you show some respect?!"  The public is likewise smitten, except for a few nut cases who circulate batty rumors on the Internet about the leader's origins and intentions.  The leader, undismayed, offers assurances that are soothing, if also just a tiny bit condescending:  "Embracing change is never easy."

So, does that sound like anyone you know?
Other reviewers have come to the same same conclusion.  Naturally, Obama fans are unhappy.

So far, I haven't seen anyone explain how this program got by the ABC management.  Maybe they didn't see the allegory.
- 3:55 PM, 4 November 2009
For the record:  Jeffrey Jena, who knows the creator, Scott Peters, thinks Peters didn't intend "V" to be an anti-Obama allegory.
The script was not written as a roman a clef or allegory for the Obama administration.  The script was written by Mr. Peters during the Bush administration and started before Mr. Obama clinched the nomination.  The author, Mr. Peters, is not some evil sleeper right-winger/Obama hater.   Mr. Peters, besides being a talented writer and director is a gay man, legally married in California, very liberal politically and a dedicated supporter of the President's campaign.  If he's a mole for some right-wing conspiracy he may be the most committed spy ever.  Mr. Peters, who was born in Canada, recently became an American citizen; a process he tried to expedite so he could vote for Mr. Obama, a deadline he missed by two days.
All right, I'll accept that Peters didn't intend the "V" to be an anti-Obama allegory.  But that doesn't necessarily mean that the series isn't a good allegory.  Peters wouldn't be the first writer to create a story with a meaning he didn't intend.
- 1:50 PM, 6 November 2009   [link]


Gallup Warns The Democrats:  Jeffrey Jones summarizes polling data since World War II, connects the findings to the results of off-year elections, and ends with this summary for next year:
Since 2006, not much has changed for the better in terms of Americans' satisfaction with the way things are going in the country, perceptions of the economy, or approval of the job Congress is doing.   What has changed is that Democrats are now in control of both houses of Congress and the presidency after voter dissatisfaction led to steep Republican losses in 2006 and 2008.  If national conditions do not improve considerably between now and next November, Democrats appear vulnerable to suffering heavy seat losses of their own.  Two factors that are likely to be crucial in determining voter preferences for Congress in 2010 will be President Obama's job approval rating, and whether Democrats' advantage in party support continues to shrink.
That's just about how I would summarize it, too, though I would add this point:  Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Reid do not appear to understand what they may be facing next year.   And neither leader appears to have the skills to adapt to this new, less favorable political environment.
- 1:07 PM, 4 November 2009   [link]


Nine Jobs Saved For Just $889.60 In Federal Stimulus Money?  Sounds like an efficient use of taxpayer money, doesn't it?

Unfortunately, the numbers come from a confused shoe store owner and his daughter, who couldn't figure out how to fill out federal forms.
Moore's store in Campbellsville, Ky., filed one of 156,614 reports from recipients of stimulus dollars designed to show how money from the $787 billion program is being spent, and how many jobs the funds have created or saved.

Moore's slice of the stimulus came in an $889.60 order from the Army Corps of Engineers for nine pairs of work boots for a stimulus project.

[Buddy] Moore says he's been supplying the Corps with boots for at least two decades.  This year, because he provided safety shoes for work funded by the stimulus package, he said he got a call from the Corps telling him he had to fill out a report for Recovery.gov detailing how he'd used the $889.60, and how many jobs it had helped him to create or save.  He later got another call, asking him if he'd finished the report.

"The paperwork was unreal," said Moore, who added that he tried to figure out how to file the forms online, then gave up and asked his daughter to help.

Paula Moore-Kirby, 42 years old, had less trouble with the Web site, but couldn't work out how to answer the question about how many jobs her father had created or saved.  She couldn't leave it blank, either, she said.
So she guessed at nine, because there were nine pairs of boots in the order.

The story is funny — if you aren't Moore or Moore-Kirby.  And it does tell us something about just how good those numbers on the stimulus jobs are.  (The Journal has a more general article on the subject here.)
- 11:08 AM, 4 November 2009   [link]


That's The Price Tag, Not The Actual Cost:  This Associated Press story gives the official estimates for the Pelosi insurance "reform" plan.
The health care bill headed for a vote in the House this week costs $1.2 trillion or more over a decade, according to numerous Democratic officials and figures contained in an analysis by congressional budget experts, far higher than the $900 billion cited by President Barack Obama as a price tag for his reform plan.

While the Congressional Budget Office has put the cost of expanding coverage in the legislation at roughly $1 trillion, Democrats added billions more on higher spending for public health, a reinsurance program to hold down retiree health costs, payments for preventive services and more.
No one should expect that the bills, if passed, will cost a mere 1.2 trillion.  We know that because the Democrats have every incentive to underestimate the actual costs, and to impose conditions on the CBO estimates that make those underestimates, too.

We also know that, because past estimates on these expansions have been, with one exception, low, usually wildly low.

If they are promising that their packages will cost 1.2 trillion, we should should expect them to cost hundreds of billions more.  Unless, of course, some future Congress imposes drastic controls on the services available to those covered by Medicare, Medicaid, and these new programs.
- 10:04 AM, 4 November 2009   [link]


Comeback For Republican Moderates In The Northeast?  That's what the Boston Globe sees, and they are not known for being friendly to Republicans, even moderate Republicans.
New England's moderate Republicans, shoved out of power by two Democratic waves of anti-George W. Bush fervor, are scrambling to make a 2010 comeback, making early bids for congressional seats that GOP leaders say are critical to taking back majorities in the House and Senate.

In next year's midterm elections, former representative Charlie Bass is exploring a run for his old New Hampshire seat, while his fellow Republican, former attorney general Kelly Ayotte, who was reappointed by a Democratic governor, is expected to draw bipartisan support for a Senate run, should she win the GOP primary in New Hampshire.

Rob Simmons, a former moderate Republican US representative from Connecticut, is seeking the nomination to challenge embattled Senator Chris Dodd, a Democrat.

In other Northeast states, too, Republicans see opportunities: Representative Mike Castle, a Republican, is running for the Delaware Senate seat once held by Vice President Joe Biden, and moderates are lining up for runs in upstate New York and Pennsylvania.
This should not surprise anyone.  After the big Democratic wins in 2006, and 2008, it is only natural that the Republicans would bounce back, at least a little.  And more than a little now that they do not have to carry George W. Bush with them.  The Obama-Pelosi-Reid Democrats have handed these moderate Republicans their best issue — reckless spending — which gives us even more reason to expect them to make gains next year.

(Note to conservatives:  If you care about the country, you will prefer to have moderate Republicans replace leftist Democrats — in districts and states where a conservative Republican can not win.  It is far better to have someone who votes with you 60 or 70 percent of the time than someone who votes with you only 10 percent of the time.)
- 9:38 AM, 4 November 2009   [link]


Latest Generic Congressional Vote From Rasmussen:  Not much change, net, from last month.

Trends in generic Congressional vote, 5 October 2008 - 1 November 2009

(Note that I am using the traditional — and logical — colors for the two parties, rather than the colors inflicted on us by the "mainstream" media.)

The Republican lead comes from independents.
The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey shows that 42% would vote for their district's Republican congressional candidate while 38% would opt for his or her Democratic opponent.

Voters not affiliated with either party continue to heavily favor Republicans, 39% to 23%.
Here's the latest Rasmussen data, if you would like to look at it in detail.

(Caveat:  As I mentioned in the original post, some pollsters do not care for Rasmussen's methods.  You should know that he samples likely voters and weights his samples by party.  Other pollsters often sample voters, or even adults, and are less likely to weight their samples as Rasmussen does.  Those differences explain, at least partly, why Rasmussen's polls are almost always more favorable to Republicans than other polls.

Here are the graphs for May, June, July, August, September, and October for comparison.  Soon, I'll probably do a graph showing more than a year at a time, for those who would like a look at the bigger picture.)
- 9:12 AM, 4 November 2009   [link]


Robo-Polls Win In New Jersey:  Last Friday, Mark Blumenthal mentioned this pattern:
And finally, there is the intriguing pattern noted earlier this week by PPP's Tom Jensen and explored last night by Nate Silver.  Christie has done consistently better on telephone polls conducted using an automated, recorded voice than on those using live interviewers.  Using the filter tool on our chart, as of this writing, Christie runs roughly three points ahead of Corzine on the automated polls, but Corzine runs a little less than three points ahead on live interviewer polls.  The chart below, which Charles Franklin kindly prepared this afternoon, shows that the difference has been consistent throughout the race (his margins are likely different than on our interactive chart due to his use of slightly different smoothing levels).
(Emphasis added.)

Here's the result.  With 99 percent of the ballots counted, Christie has 48.8 percent of the vote, Corzine, 44.6 percent.

It is because I have come to trust robo-polls over polls done with live interviewers that I predicted that Christie would win by 4 points.   (I also thought there was a slight trend toward Christie at the end of the campaign, which is why I made it 4 percent, rather than 3)
- 7:56 AM, 4 November 2009   [link]


For A Quick Election Summary, read this BBC article.
Republicans have scored victories in two key US elections for governor, a year after Barack Obama was voted in as president.

In Virginia, Republican candidate Bob McDonnell won by a comfortable margin, while another, Chris Christie, ousted the Democrat governor in New Jersey.

In New York, independent Mayor Michael Bloomberg narrowly won a third term over Democrat challenger Bill Thompson.

But Democrats won a traditionally Republican House seat in New York.
(Incidentally, Obama won New York 23 in 2008, though not by a large margin.)

For a chuckle, look at what the Los Angeles Times chose for their top stories.  You'd think they don't like stories of Democratic defeats, or something.
- 5:30 AM, 4 November 2009   [link]


So Far, So Good:  The Republicans swept in Virginia, and, as I write, Christie is leading Corzine 49.3-44.1.  I glanced over the map, but could not find evidence that Democratic areas had more votes to report than Republican areas.  On the other hand, I know only a little about New Jersey political geography, so I could be wrong.

And, on my third hand, I have to mention that, as turnout went from 36 to 44 percent, Corzine gained substantially on Christie.

If Christie still has this kind of lead with 60 percent reporting, then it is hard to imagine a pattern of returns that would give Corzine a victory.
- 6:30 PM, 3 November 2009
Update 1:  Cristie is now leading 50.1-43.8, with 60 percent of the precincts reporting.
- 6:50 PM, 3 November 2009
Update 2:  The Associated Press has just called New Jersey for Christie.
- 7:18 PM, 3 November 2009
Update 3:  Conservative Doug Hoffman was trailing by 7 points in early returns in New York 23, but has now cut Democrat Bill Owens' lead to 49.3-45.5.  I know nothing about the political geography of the district, so I haven't attempted to make sense of the returns by county.
- 7:44 PM, 3 November2009   [link]


Bruce Ramsey Misses Election Day:  Now, he says, we just have Ballot-Counting Day.

To me, it was important to go to vote.  There was ritual to it, and personal contact.   Always there was a row of poll workers.

Mine was a lady well past retirement age.  I don't remember her name; I remember her hair.   It was bright orange.  The orange-haired lady knew me by name.  I never knew my precinct, but she did.

I always left the polling station with a good feeling, partly because of her.  I had shown up, done my duty, and had been recognized.

That was Election Day.  This isn't.  Today is merely Ballot-Counting Day, and it's a sad imitation of the real thing.

(For those not familiar with Washington election procedures:  The state has almost entirely eliminated voting in person, despite the losses that Ramsey describes, and despite the risks from absentee ballots.)

Four or five years ago, I began thanking the election workers each election, after I had voted.  Two years ago, I did this post, in their honor.   Today, I miss seeing those election workers, especially the white-haired lady who presided over my precinct.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 3:11 PM, 3 November 2009   [link]


If You Really Want To Be Insulted, You Can Find A Way To Be Insulted:   Take, for instance, the Scottish politicians who say they are insulted because Germans think Scots are thrifty.
Thriftiness is a widely-admired virtue in Germany, but Germans think the Scots are the true champions of thrift.  Stores and bargain-hunting Web sites often advertise 'Scottish prices', upsetting Scottish politicians, who say the practice should stop.

In a letter to Germany's ZAW advertising association, Angus Robertson, head of the Scottish National Party's parliamentary delegation, said the practice of referring to the Scottish people when advertising cheap prices bordered on racism.
Most Scots, I suspect, would agree with me that being called thrifty is a compliment.

(There's no reason to tell Robertson that American advertisers sometimes use the same tactic.)
- 8:05 AM, 3 November 2009   [link]


Disillusioned Independents:  Jeff Zeleny — who would not be my first choice to do a tough story on Obama — goes out to Iowa and finds what I have been seeing in the polls.  Independents are, more and more, disillusioned with Obama.
One year after winning the election, Mr. Obama has seen his pledge to transcend partisanship in Washington give way to the hardened realities of office.  A campaign for the history books, filled with a sky-high sense of possibility for Mr. Obama not just among legions of loyal Democrats but also among converts from outside the party, has descended to an unfamiliar plateau for a president whose political rise was as rapid as it was charmed.

Interviews with voters across Iowa offer a window into how the president's standing has leveled off, especially among the independents and Republicans who contributed not just to his margin of victory in the caucuses here but also to the optimism among his supporters that his election would be a break from standard-issue politics.
(His standing has not "leveled off"; it's declined, and sharply.)

Zeleny softens the story as much as he can, but he is an honest enough reporter so that the growing voter disillusion comes through, anyway.  Perhaps not as strongly as it should, but it does come through.

Political tacticians will wonder why the Obama administration has, so far, paid so little attention to independents, to the swing voters who gave him his win.  I think the adminstration is neglecting independents because they learned the wrong lessons from their experience in Chicago politics.

In Chicago, a Democratic candidate will win if he keeps the Democrats together.  Democratic candidates don't need independents, and they don't need Republicans, except as foils.  Barack Obama, Rahm Emanuel, and David Axelrod all learned their politics in a one-party town.  They will soon learn, probably starting today, that those lessons don't work well in much of the United States.

(How does Zeleny know that Obama's support has "leveled off" to a "plateau"?  Zeleny doesn't know that, and can't know that, because these next months may see further declines in Obama's support.  But Zeleny hopes that the declines have stopped for now, and puts that hopeful prediction into what should be a straight news story.

For the record:  I expect that Obama's support will continue to decline, but at a slower rate, since part of the decline will have to occur among Democrats, and Democratic-leaning independents.)
- 7:48 AM, 3 November 2009   [link]


Meanwhile, Barack Obama Is Urging President Karzai to fight corruption.
His comments at a morning news conference followed an admonition from President Obama on Monday that he must take on what American officials have said he avoided during his first term: rampant corruption and the drug trade, which have fueled the resurgence of the Taliban.
Perhaps President Obama can send one of his expert corruption fighters — Valerie Jarrett comes to mind — to show Karzai how to fight corruption the Chicago way.

(I've heard you can still find illegal drugs in parts of Chicago, in spite of Obama's best efforts, so perhaps we shouldn't expect immediate results on that front in Afghanistan.)
- 5:51 AM, 3 November 2009   [link]


Presidents Usually Make A Neighborhood Go Downhill:  So this shouldn't make anyone suspicious.
The Chicago Sun-Times reports that property taxes in Chicago have increased an average of 9.6% this year. The property taxes on President Obama's home at 5046 South Greenwood Avenue increased 1.0%.
Especially since other prominent politicians also received lower than average tax increases.

It's not as if Chicago has any history of political favoritism in such matters.
- 5:26 AM, 3 November 2009   [link]


Hard Science Fiction And Virgin Planet:  Let's set the scene:   Davis Bertram, a healthy young man, lands on a planet and finds that it is populated entirely by women, some of them extremely attractive.

Different science fiction writers would go in different directions after that start.  (And since this site is intended to be family-friendly, I won't even mention some of those directions.)  But if you are Poul Anderson, and devoted to hard science fiction, you write an adventure story and, with one exception, make everything in it fit the science known in 1959.   (The exception, a common one in hard science fiction, is faster-than-light travel.)

Then, not entirely satisfied that you have made everything clear, you add a seven page author's note, explaining things you didn't cover satisfactorily in the story.  You explain, for instance, that the women can reproduce through induced parthenognesis.  You describe, in detail, the stellar system that contains the planet, Atlantis.  And so on.

Is there any, well, romance, in the story?  Yes, but it is secondary to the main story, and to the descriptions of the societies that have developed on this world in the three hundred some years since the planet was settled.

Some might find that disappointing, but devotees of hard science fiction will admire the way that Poul Anderson sticks as closely as he can to what was known scientifically, and still keeps the story lively.  Not everyone will like that particular game, but those who do will like almost everything Poul Anderson wrote.

(How good is Virgin Planet?  It's not a great story, but it's a good story.  If you have read many of Anderson's stories, that won't surprise you, since his minimum level is so high.   I have never read a story of his that I didn't at least like, something I can't say about the works of Robert Heinlein and Isaac Asimov.)
- 7:18 PM, 2 November 2009   [link]


Prediction Problems (Updated):  In this post, I promised I would make my own election predictions — and I will, with one exception.  I am putting my predictions in a separate post because I am unable to make one prediction, and I thought I should explain why.

First, the predictions:  Tomorrow, the Republicans will come close to a sweep.   McDonnell will win in Virginia by 13 points, and the Republicans will make gains in the Virginia legislature.

Christie will win in New Jersey by 4 points.  (It won't be close enough so that the usual, or even more than usual, election fraud can affect the results.)

Mayor Bloomberg, Republican turned independent, will defeat the Democrat in New York city by 10 points.

Conservative/Republican Doug Hoffman will win in New York's 23rd by 7 points.

Democrat John Garamendi will win in California's 10th by 6 points.

Before I come to the prediction where I punt, let mention some well-known facts about election polls:  The bigger the random sample the better.  Polls are more accurate in partisan races.  Off-year races are harder to poll, because turnout can be so variable — and can vary in one-sided ways.  Interviewers can affect the results; even without meaning to be partisan, an interviewer can subtly influence the answers.  (George Gallup, who founded the polling organization that still has his name, used to joke that he had two interviewers who had that effect.  One, a Democrat, consistently got more Democratic responses than the average interviewer.  The other, a Republican, consistently did the opposite.)  Some universities run professional polls; other universities run polls that embarrass amateurs.

The county executive race pits Susan Hutchison against Dow Constantine.  Although the race is formally non-partisan, many (most?) voters know that Hutchison is a Republican and Constantine a Democrat.  (For those unfamiliar with our politics, King county is heavily Democratic, and has become more so in the last decade.)

There have been two recent polls on the race.  Survey USA, polling on 13 October, gave Hutchison a narrow lead.

In an election for King county Executive today, 10/13/09, the day before ballots are available to voters, Susan Hutchison has a slight advantage over Dow Constantine, according to this latest exclusive KING-TV poll conducted by SurveyUSA.  Hutchison, a former local TV news anchor, has polled at 47% in each of SurveyUSA's three identical tracking polls over the past 5 weeks.  Constantine, who chairs the King county Council, has polled at 44%, 44% and today 42%. The contest is fiercely fought.  Both candidates are well positioned.

The second poll, done by a research institute at the University of Washington, the Washington Institute for the Study of Ethnicity, Race & Sexuality (WISER), with phone interviews from 14 to 26 October, gave Constantine a big lead.

The Washington Poll's figures in the county exec's race run counter to findings by two SurveyUSA polls for KING5 news.

The Washington Poll has Constantine at 47 percent, Hutchison with 34 percent with a big 19 percent undecided.

When faced with two such divergent results, I do two things; I look at the polls' records, especially in recent elections, and I look for internal problems in the results.  As it happens, both organizations polled during the primary here, and both organizations had lousy results.  For instance, neither was close on the results of Seattle's mayoralty primary.

I can find problems with both polls.  Survey USA polled only 523 likely voters, and did so more than two weeks before the election.  (They chose that date because it was just before we received our mail ballots.)  That's a small sample, and the date is early enough so that they might have missed late shifts.  And there have been many attacks on Hutchison during these last two weeks.  Even I have seen some of them, and I don't watch much television.

There are more problems in the Washington Poll.  They polled only 724 registered voters, statewide.  Ordinarily, this would give them too small a sample for King county, which has less than 30 percent of the state's population, but they "oversampled" King county, though they don't say by how much.  If King county was half of their sample, then they would be basing their results on just 362 registered voters.  But in this off-year election, I would not expect turnout to be much higher than 50 percent, so their real sample size would be about 200, or even fewer.

And then there is the possibility of interviewer effects.  Interviewers hired by the Washington Institute for the Study of Ethnicity, Race & Sexuality might not be absolutely unbiased, might hint at the answers they want, when conducting interviews.  And that's an especially big worry in an election where gay rights is on the ballot (Referendum 71).

So, no prediction on the Hutchison-Constantine race, because I just don't have good enough data to work with.  (If you twisted my arm, I would say that I think that SurveyUSA will probably be closer than the Washington Poll, but I'm sure you are too nice to twist my arm, just to make me give an answer based on dubious polls.)

But I will make this very safe prediction:  At least one of these two survey organizations is going to be very embarrassed by the results of this contest.  I hope, for the sake of this county, that it is the Washington Poll.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 2:56 PM, 2 November 2009
Update: A late Survey USA poll coming out just after I put up this post had results that were close to the results in the Washington Poll.  Survey USA now gives Constantine a 10 point lead, 53-43.  The poll also found that 43 percent (!) of the voters decided who to vote for in the "past couple of weeks" or even in the "past couple of days".  So, it is possible that all three polls I have discussed are close to the truth, and that there was a large shift toward Constantine in the last two weeks of the campaign.

Given Constantine's reactionary* record, and views, I hope that didn't happen, that the earlier Survey USA polls were more accurate.  But I do want to say, before the polls close, that the two polling organizations may have done better polls than I thought when I wrote this post yesterday afternoon.

(*In general, most American "progressives" are now more accurately described as reactionaries.   Typically, they favor 19th century modes of transportation, and 19th century ideas about treating the races differently.  Most want to introduce social welfare measures that would tie citizens closer to the state, just as Bismark did in 19th century Germany.  Often, they have an exaggerated respect for authority figures, and an indifference to individual economic freedom, thinking that ordinary people are not very good at looking after their own interests.)
- 1:22 PM, 3 November 2009   [link]


Good News On Iraq Is No News?  The latest Brookings op chart on Iraq contains all good news.  In the last four years, electricity production has risen from 4000 megawatts to 6500 megawatts and oil production has risen from 2.15 million barrels of oil per day to 2.5 million barrels.  Best of all, US troop deaths, Iraqi troop deaths, and Iraqi civilian deaths have all fallen drastically.

One of our political leaders probably deserves some credit for those gains, but the Brookings scholars don't give us even a hint of who that leader might be.  (Perhaps they don't want to disturb the people at the New York Times.)

Perhaps because Brookings doesn't want us to get all happy over those gains, they included the measures for Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well.  And for both those countries, the news is mixed. Both show economic progress, though Pakistan's may have stalled in the last two years; both show increased terrorist attacks.

There is one set of numbers that surprised me.  The Obama campaign accused the Bush administration of neglecting Afghanistan for Iraq.  But the number of foreign troops in Afghanistan grew from 26,000 in August, 2005 to 60,000 in August, 2007 and then to 102,000 in August of this year.

(Here's the brief op-ed that goes with the chart.)
- 11:06 AM, 2 November 2009   [link]


Remember Reverend Jeremiah Wright?  He's still talking (preaching doesn't seem like quite the right word), and he is still controversial.
A new video of Jeremiah Wright has surfaced, showing Barack Obama's pastor of 20 years praising Marxism and discussing his ties to communists in El Salvador and Nicaragua and the Libyan government.   Equally important, Wright is being introduced in the video by Robert W. McChesney, co-founder of Free Press, an organization which has come under scrutiny for its links to the Obama Administration and dedication to the transformation and control of the private media in the U.S.

In an article in the socialist Monthly Review, "Journalism, Democracy, and Class Struggle," McChesney declared, "Our job is to make media reform part of our broader struggle for democracy, social justice, and, dare we say it, socialism."

In the video, which captures Wright's appearance at a September 17, 2009, anniversary celebration of Monthly Review, Wright said that while the "corporate media" provide a "binary lens" of the world, in such terms as "communist versus Christian," Monthly Review offers what it calls "no-nonsense Marxism."
Wouldn't it be fun to know more about what Jeremiah Wright told Barack Obama, and his family, during the two decades they attended Trinity?

(McChesney is a professor at the University of Illinois, so Illinois taxpayers have been subsidizing his Marxist crusade for years.)
- 9:28 AM, 2 November 2009   [link]


Worst Bill Since The New Deal?  The Wall Street Journal is unimpressed by Pelosi's monster health insurance bill.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi has reportedly told fellow Democrats that she's prepared to lose seats in 2010 if that's what it takes to pass ObamaCare, and little wonder.  The health bill she unwrapped last Thursday, which President Obama hailed as a "critical milestone," may well be the worst piece of post-New Deal legislation ever introduced.

In a rational political world, this 1,990-page runaway train would have been derailed months ago.   With spending and debt already at record peacetime levels, the bill creates a new and probably unrepealable middle-class entitlement that is designed to expand over time.  Taxes will need to rise precipitously, even as ObamaCare so dramatically expands government control of health care that eventually all medicine will be rationed via politics.
There's much more in the critique, though that should be enough.

Like other supporters of this takeover, including New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, Pelosi supports this, not because it will save money, or make us healthier, but because she believes that a good government must provide medical services for all of its people.  Even if that means putting people in jail who do not want to buy health insurance.
All of this is intentional, even if it isn't explicitly acknowledged.  The overriding liberal ambition is to finish the work began decades ago as the Great Society of converting health care into a government responsibility.  Mr. Obama's own Medicare actuaries estimate that the federal share of U.S. health dollars will quickly climb beyond 60% from 46% today.  One reason Mrs. Pelosi has fought so ferociously against her own Blue Dog colleagues to include at least a scaled-back "public option" entitlement program is so that the architecture is in place for future Congresses to expand this share even further.
(It is possible, but unlikely, that Pelosi believes her own arguments about cost control.  She's not brilliant, but I don't think she is that dumb.)
- 9:09 AM, 2 November 2009   [link]


Could America Go Broke?  Robert Samuelson thinks what was preposterous a year ago is now possible.  Unlikely, but possible.
The idea that the government of a major advanced country would default on its debt -- that is, tell lenders that it won't repay them all they're owed -- was, until recently, a preposterous proposition.  Argentina and Russia have stiffed their creditors, but surely the likes of the United States, Japan or Britain wouldn't.  Well, it's still a very, very long shot, but it's no longer entirely unimaginable.  Governments of rich countries are borrowing so much that it's conceivable that one day the twin assumptions underlying their burgeoning debt (that lenders will continue to lend and that governments will continue to pay) might collapse.
In the United States, it is no longer preposterous because the Democratic Congress and the Obama administration show no signs of reining in their spending spree, or even of imposing the taxes necessary to pay for it.  That, more than anything else, is the inspiration for the "tea party" movement, though that point seems to have escaped nearly all of our "mainstream" journalists.
- 6:08 AM, 2 November 2009
George Stephanopoulos doesn't get it, but Mike Flynn does.  This morning I caught Stephanopoulos opining on the race in New York 23.  Stephanopoulos said that Republicans objected to (former Republican candidate) Dede Scozzafava's views on abortion and gay marriage.  No doubt some do, but far more object to her support for Obama's economic "stimulus" package.  Flynn corrects him — in advance:
To Big Media, conservatism comes in only one flavor, social conservatism, namely anti-abortion and anti-gay marriage and a smattering of other issues that would fall flat over canapés and seltzer (liberals don't seem to drink anymore).  That Dede was pro-choice and pro-gay marriage fits the narrative perfectly for the media.  End of story.

But, the media, and political leaders would be wise to dig a bit deeper into the story.  Yes, Dede was pro-choice and pro-gay marriage, but she was also pro-government spending, pro-taxes and pro-Big Labor, to name just a few other issues.  When a Republican candidate regularly seeks out the endorsement of ACORN and wins the endorsement of DailyKos, it isn't much of a stretch to imagine that large segments of the party might have some misgivings about supporting the candidate.   (And they would be right, since she has now endorsed the Democrat in the race.)
There's more in the piece, and it's all worth reading.
- 8:29 AM, 2 October 2009   [link]


Daylight Savings Time?  Maybe it is because I grew up on a farm, but I have never been able to understand the arguments for Daylight Savings Time.

We know it imposes some small costs on everyone at the the switch times, in spring and fall, if only to reset some clocks.  It isn't a big loss for an individual, but a few minutes multiplied by hundreds of millions, twice a year, adds up.

W It also imposes some costs on a few programmers, who have to write software to correct computers' clock times.  (Mostly, this is a simple task, but it does add suprising complexity in a few situations.)

More importantly, there is some evidence that the "spring forward" causes a one-day spike in traffic accidents.  (And probably other kinds of mishaps as sleep-deprived people try to go through their daily routines.)
When clocks are set back an hour in the spring, accidents go up according to a 1998 study of the effect of daylight savings time.  Sleep deprivation is considered the most likely cause of a 17 percent increase in accidents on the Monday following the time change.  The study also found no significant reduction in accidents in the fall when clocks are set back an hour.

Just because a person has the opportunity to sleep for an addition hour does not mean that people actually will go to sleep on time," the study suggests.  "Many may spend that extra hour socializing or watching television."

The study used data from NHTSA's Fatal Accident Reporting System from 1986 to 1995.  The same researcher had concluded in 1996 that sleep deprivation led to a 6.6 percent increase in non-vehicle deaths after the spring change, with an insignificant 1.5 percent decrease following the fall clock change.
The twice-a-year switch is convenient for some, and inconvenient for others.
The practice is controversial.[1] Adding daylight to afternoons benefits retailing, sports, and other activities that exploit sunlight after working hours,[3] but causes problems for farming, evening entertainment and other occupations tied to the sun.
At best, the evidence is mixed that it saves energy.

In sum, we know that there are some losses from Daylight Savings Time, including a brief spike in deaths.  We don't know whether the gains to those who prefer it — retailers, afternoon athletes, et cetera — make up for the losses to those who don't.

(And, of course, in many cases, those who think they gain from Daylight Savings Time can get the same gains by adjusting their own schedules, without imposing them on the rest of us.)
- 2:09 PM, 1 November 2009   [link]