October 2010, Part 3
Jim Miller on Politics
Women Sumo Wrestlers? This must be an important story, since it was on the front page of the Wednesday New York Times.
For years, promoters of sumo wrestling have been pushing for the sport's inclusion in the Olympic Games. To get there, the International Sumo Federation has thrown its weight behind a form of the game that would offend purists and surprise most everyone else: women's sumo.And they have pictures to prove it.
But so far the federation doesn't plan to bring back one 18th century Japanese variant: coed sumo wrestling, with topless women wrestling blind men.
- 2:20 PM, 22 October 2010 [link]
The 1994 House Election In Washington State: When both Pew and Gallup polls find double-digit leads for Republicans in the generic ballot for the House of Representatives, those who are trying to guess what might happen in this year's election will turn to more and more extreme examples of earlier elections. Naturally, the 1994 election is the favorite (though some have started looking at 1946, or even earlier). It was most extreme, in terms of Republican gains, right here in Washington state.
This Wikipedia article has a good summary of the returns. I'll be using it all through the post. (Scroll down for the Washington state returns.)
Here's one result that startled me: The Republican win in Washington state was so big that Seattle's "congressman-for-life" Jim McDermott got a lower percentage of the vote than 8th district Republican Jennifer Dunn (75.1 versus 76.1).
The 1994 win was so big here in Washington state that the Republicans defeated five of seven incumbents, Maria Cantwell, Jolene Unsoeld, Jay Inslee, Tom Foley, and Mike Kreidler. (And won the open seat in the 2nd district.) Three of those incumbents had been first elected in 1992, but Unsoeld had held her district since 1988, and Speaker Foley had held his district since 1964.
It was a big win, or set of wins, but all of the Republican House gains came in close elections, ranging from 54.7-45.3 in the open 2nd district to 50.9-49.1 in Foley's 5th district. In wave elections, the winning party usually wins most of the close elections. (See 1980 and 2006 for examples.)
(One reason for the big gains in Washington is that the districts here are set by a nonpartisan board, rather than gerrymandered by a partisan legislature. As a result, we have more swing districts, proportionately, than most states. Iowa, which uses a similar system, would also have had big Republican gains in 1994 — if the Democrats had held more than one House seat there.)
What lessons would I draw from those 1994 election results? First, I do not expect similar gains, if only because Republicans now hold both eastern Washington districts. And, though we don't have party registration here, there is reason to think that two or three districts held by Democrats have become more Democratic.
Second, almost any incumbent can lose in a wave election, even a popular, long-serving incumbent like Tom Foley. (It is true that his district leaned Republican, but it is also true that it had leaned Republican when he won it in 1964 and every election year since then.)
Third, first or second term incumbents are the most endangered. Which means that it will be harder for Republicans to make gains here this year, except in the 3rd district, which is open. But in the rest of the nation, there are many Democratic congressmen who would be wise to start updating their resumés.
As of now, I don't think this year will be anything like 1994 in Washington state (though a Republican gain of as many as four seats is possible). But I do think that we will see equally large surprises in the rest of the nation.Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 12:58 PM, 22 October 2010 [link]
Pew Research Goes Gallup: In their latest poll, Pew Research found almost as big as a generic vote lead as Gallup has in their most recent poll.
Consequently, a considerably greater percentage of Republicans than Democrats still fall into the likely voter category. Moreover, the new survey shows that Democrats have lost ground among all voters: Currently, 46% of registered voters favor the Republican candidate in their district or lean Republican, while 42% favor the Democratic candidate or lean Democratic. In early September, 44% backed the Republican while 47% supported the Democratic candidate.Gallup's latest "higher" turnout model gives Republicans an 11 point lead. (Their "40%" turnout model gives Republicans a 17 point lead, but almost no one believes that result. On the other hand, 40 percent turnout is about what we have had, nationally, in every recent off-year election.)
For perspective, Republicans won the House popular vote in 1994 by 7 points. If Republicans really do win the House vote by 10 or 11 points, then they would win more seats than they did in 1994, and would have a good chance of winning the Senate.
Too good to be true? Maybe. I am definitely going to have to look hard at the details of these recent generic polls.
(More generic results here.)
- 8:39 AM, 22 October 2010 [link]
Everyone Will Be Shocked, Shocked to learn that Barney Frank is taking contributions from bank executives.
U.S. Rep. Barney Frank, in an intensifying clash with GOP upstart Sean Bielat, has pledged not to take campaign cash from lenders that got federal bailouts — yet has raked in more than $40,000 from bank execs and special interests connected to the staggering government loans, a Herald review found.Well, maybe not everyone.
(For the record: I have no objections to Frank accepting contributions from bank executives, in principle. But he should keep his promises, and I would be much happier if he were getting the contributions from executives at banks that made money the old-fashioned way, by making prudent loans to responsible borrowers.
The Boston Globe (!) actually ran this column criticizing Barney Frank for being "obnoxious". Brian McGrory, who is not a Republican or conservative, ends his argument with this summary:
There's a larger point to all of this. For the last three decades, the political establishments in Boston and Washington have excused Frank's consistently obnoxious behavior as Barney being Barney. Maybe they've done it because he was unique as an openly gay congressman. Maybe it was out of deference for the way he unapologetically and effectively carried the flag for the most liberal of causes. Maybe it was out of fear that he'd train his quick wit and substantial intellect against anyone who happened in his path.The "political establishment in Boston definitely includes the Globe, so McGrory is criticizing his own newspaper in those paragraphs.
Jeff Jacoby, who is a fine journalist (and the Globe's token conservative), has a fair discussion of just how much Barney Frank can be blamed for the collapse of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Frank deserves some blame — but so do many others.)
- 7:59 AM, 22 October 2010 [link]
Nicholas Kristof Versus Afghanistan Reality: Here's how Kristof begins today's column.
A visitor to Afghanistan who ventures outside the American security bubble sees pretty quickly that President Obama's decision to triple the number of troops in Afghanistan has resulted, with some exceptions, mostly in more dead Americans and Afghans alike.And here's a parallel from the summer of 1944:
A visitor to France who ventures outside the American security bubble sees pretty quickly that President Roosevelt's decision to triple the number of troops in Europe has resulted, with some exceptions, mostly in more dead Americans and Germans alike.(And, I could have added, more dead Frenchmen, many of them innocents who were in the wrong places at the wrong times.)
Those who have read even a little Civil War history would have no trouble constructing a similar parallel using that war.
More troops in contact with an enemy will, almost always, result in more losses for both sides. Whether that is a necessary evil depends on the enemy and the strategic situation. That Kristof does not know this is amazing — even for a New York Times columnist.
(Kristof favors schools instead of security. He must know, since these stories sometimes make the Times, that the Taliban often attacks schools, especially schools for girls.)
- 1:03 PM, 21 October 2010 [link]
John McCain Gives Up Senatorial Courtesy In A Good Cause: Replacing Barbara Boxer with a senator who isn't reflexively anti-military.
Ms. Fiorina "will never wave the white flag of surrender the way that Barbara Boxer has tried to do every single time we have been in a conflict," Mr. McCain told an audience at the Veterans Museum in San Diego. "Barbara Boxer is the most bitterly partisan, the most anti-defense Senator in the U.S. Senate today. I know that because I have had the unpleasant experience of having to serve with her."
- 10:43 AM, 21 October 2010 [link]
Jay Cost Summarizes the fight for control of the Senate.
Put another way, the Republicans need to pick up 10 of these 19 Democratic seats for an outright majority in the upper chamber. The 10th most Republican state is Washington, which has not voted for a Republican presidential candidate since 1984. By my count, the Republican path to a Senate majority goes through at least four states the party has not won on a presidential level since the 1980s. Meanwhile, there are 19 Senate Democrats from states that George W. Bush won in 2004 that are not up for reelection this year.It will take a very big Republican wave to go that far up the hill. We might see a wave that big — I certainly hope so — but I do not — now — expect it.
- 7:46 AM, 21 October 2010 [link]
Hells Angels Versus Mongols: In Germany. With some twists.
Members of a notorious Kurdish clan in Bremen have founded a new chapter of the Mongols motorcycle club and are challenging the Hells Angels in the city. The police fear a new biker war may be just around the corner.A Kurdish (Muslim?) motorcycle gang — with almost no motorcycles. In Germany. That is a little different — and wonderfully multicultural.
Motorcycle gangs are one American export we should apologize for.
(More about the Mongols here.)
- 7:24 AM, 21 October 2010 [link]
Rasmussen Asks A Question on political correctness.
It may not be politically correct to say it, but most Americans think the country's gotten too PC and see that as a problem.NPR provides an example of the problem.
[Juan] Williams appeared on "The O'Reilly Factor," Monday and host Bill O'Reilly asked him to comment on the idea that the nation was facing a dilemma with Muslims.NPR fired Williams for saying that.
NPR would never consider hiring me, so I can point out the obvious, without fear of retaliation: Most Americans feel exactly the same way that Juan Williams does — with good reason. That NPR can't accept one of its senior news analysts saying the obvious is one more good argument for closing down NPR.
(Much more here, including the subsidies (bribes?) George Soros has recently given to NPR, and the web sites that urged that Williams be fired.)
- 6:23 AM, 21 October 2010
More: As I write, 19 of the top 20 recommended comments after the NPR article disagree with NPR.
- 10:23 AM, 21 October 2010 [link]
Thinking About Pork Barrel Spending: Sometimes, it is helpful to begin by thinking about a problem abstractly, and that's what I will try to do here with the problem of pork barrel spending.
By pork barrel spending, I mean government spending on programs and projects that cost more than they are worth. In the past, they were usually transportation projects, like Alaska's famous (or infamous) bridge to nowhere. (Which is not the only bridge with that nickname.) In this area, the biggest example is Sound Transit's light rail system, which is so costly per mile that it should not be extended — and probably should just be closed.
Though transportation projects are the best-known kind of pork, they are not the only kind. You can find pork everywhere from preschools to physicists' laboratories, in everything from butter subsidies to unnecessary military bases and weapons. In fact, non-transportation pork projects and programs are often worse for the taxpayers than transportation projects, because their benefits are harder to quantify.
In general, pork tends to be concentrated in the states and districts of high-ranking congressmen and senators, especially members of the appropriations committees. The lower ranking the member, the less likely they are to get pork. Of course, minority party members are less likely to get pork for their districts than those in the majority, though, even now, bipartisan raiding of the taxpayer for pork is distressingly common.
Net, pork transfers money from a majority of districts and states to a minority of states and districts. A few states and districts fortunate enough to be represented by a high seniority senator or representative will get more; most states and districts will pay for the pork those few enjoy.
Net, because the benefits are less than the costs, this redistribution makes the nation as a whole worse off.
Can this redistribution be justified on other grounds? Perhaps. But there is little evidence to show that money is redistributed from richer districts and states to poorer districts and states, and no reason to expect, in general, that it is redistributed from the rich to the poor. Washington state is represented by a senator, Patty Murray, who has eagerly grabbed every pork barrel project and program she could. Washington state also has a significantly higher median income than the national average. It is nearly certain that most of the programs and projects that Murray has won for the state do not go directly to the poor, but to people with above-average incomes, simply because those people are more likely to understand how to influence politicians. And have enough money to hire lobbyists, some of whom come to their lobbying jobs directly from working on Murray's staff.
So it is difficult to conclude that pork redistribution is just, even if you favor some redistribution from the rich to the poor.
Some would agree with my argument all the way to that point and then say that the political system is unjust, and that, to avoid being cheated, we should hire a politician who makes sure that we get our "fair share" (or maybe a little more) in an inherently unfair system. Though I don't agree with that argument I can understand it. But I will add that it is harder to take when it comes from someone living in a state or district that is comparatively well off. It is worrisome to see poor folks scramble for pork; it is downright embarrassing to see the well off do the same.
So far, I have been tacitly assuming that the pork barrel projects and programs are bad for the nation, but good for the state or district. But that isn't necessarily true.
The late John Murtha provides a example, as he so often did. Congressman Murtha believed, sincerely as far as I can tell, that he could best help his 12th Pennsylvania district by moving as much military pork there as possible. And there were (and probably still are) hundreds of jobs in the district that would not be there if Congressman Murtha had not been chairman of the Defense Appropriations subcommittee. But those jobs did not bring prosperity to the district, and will probably vanish over time, now that they have lost their powerful sponsor. They were hothouse plants, destined to die once the hothouse was removed.
In some instances, pork programs and projects have proved to be actively harmful to a district or state; that was certainly true of many of the high-rise public housing projects built in the 1950s and 1960s. That shouldn't surprise us; the politicians who sponsored them seldom understood the housing market — or the needs of the poor people they wanted to keep in those projects.
Suppose that a wise representative or senator, one smart enough to be a rocket scientist, managed to avoid all these pitfalls and sponsor only programs and projects that benefited their state or district. Would those programs and projects be a net benefit to the district or state? Not necessarily. As I discussed at greater length here, a recent study found that pork tends to "crowd out" private investment, making the state or district no better off than it would have been without the pork. (And everyone else in the nation worse off because they had to pay for the pork.)
In sum, pork barrel projects and programs make the nation worse off because they are inherently wasteful. They usually transfer money unjustly from the many to the few, often to the well-off few. And they often have bad effects even on the recipients.
Washington state's senior senator, Patty Murray, believes that her pursuit of pork is one of the strongest reasons to re-elect her. I believe that it is one of the strongest reasons to reject her in favor of a smart and honest conservative, Dino Rossi.
Cross posted at Sound Politics.
(Some people confuse earmarks with pork barrel spending. Many earmarks are pork, are worth less than what they cost, but not all.In general, we should be skeptical about all earmarks, because they do not go through the ordinary appropriation process, but we should also recognize that some of them are worth what they cost, and that a few of them are even worth bypassing the regular appropriations process.)
- 3:52 PM, 20 October 2010 [link]
Meanwhile, Back In Barack Obama's Illinois (4): The stimulus money spent on weatherization is being wasted — and worse.
Projects to weatherize homes are a key part of the Obama administration's fusion of stimulus spending and the green agenda. But a new report by the Department of Energy has found serious problems in stimulus-funded weatherization work -- problems so severe that they have resulted in homes that are not only not more energy efficient but are actually dangerous for people to live in.(Emphasis added.)
There are eerie similarities in this weatherization program to former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd's insulation program.
But public support for Mr. Rudd began to fall apart in February 2010, when some of the programs in his economic stimulus package were dogged by claims of mismanagement and corruption, notably a botched home insulation program that resulted in more than 100 house fires and four deaths. The program, which promised to increase job opportunities by offering government-financed insulation, was rushed and poorly administered, leading to the establishment of fly-by-night businesses lacking the technical expertise to handle the installations safely.(That failure was one of the reasons that Rudd lost a leadership fight to Julia Gillard. There isn't an exact American equivalent, since we don't have a parliamentary system, but if there were, it would be Hillary Clinton forcing Barack Obama to yield the presidency to her.)
I knew about that Australian failure, but the Obama administration apparently didn't.
I just hope that no one in the Chicago area loses their lives because of these botched installations. (The program is likely to have similar problems in other areas, but I would expect them to be worse in those states — definitely including Barack Obama's Illinois — with serious corruption problems.)
(Kudos to Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa, for his efforts to monitor this program.
Earlier posts in this series here, here, and here.)
- 9:55 AM, 20 October 2010 [link]
Good News For Dino Rossi: President Obama is coming out to campaign for his opponent, Patty Murray.
I had thought of writing Obama and asking him to come out and campaign for her, but I decided that would be too obvious. It's too bad that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Speaker Nancy Pelosi are too busy to campaign for her. Their visits would make a Rossi victory almost certain.
If you are wondering why I was hoping that Obama would come out to campaign for Murray, read Steve Lombardo's analysis. Lombardo is a partisan, and may be exaggerating a bit, but he is fundamentally right; Obama is a liability for Democratic candidates this year. Even in a state like Washington, which leans Democratic.Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 8:20 AM, 20 October 2010 [link]
That Would Have Been an amazing bridge — if it had actually been built with just 30 cubic yards of concrete.
- 6:48 AM, 20 October 2010 [link]
If You Are A Fan Of The Original Adventure Games: And you don't much like Barack Obama, then you'll probably like Iowahawk's "Beltway Adventure".
(If you aren't sure what Adventure games are all about, you can find an explanation here.)
- 8:47 AM, 19 October 2010 [link]
Worth Reading (And Watching): John Fund on the Obama campaign's refusal to disclose the names of donors — and the likelihood that some of those donors were foreign. (There are some additional details in the brief video accompanying the article that make it worth watching, despite the distracting background they use.)
During 2008, the Obama campaign didn't show any interest in going beyond the letter of the law in disclosing its donors to the general public. Despite public pleas from campaign-finance reform groups such as Common Cause and Democracy 21, Team Obama refused to follow Senator John McCain's lead and release names of donors who gave less than $200, even though such donors supplied about half of the $800 million the Obama campaign raised.
- 5:05 PM, 18 October 2010 [link]
As A Myth, Or As A Buster? That was my question when I saw this headline.
(Yes, that was unfair. Maybe I have been reading too many Maureen Dowd columns recently.)
- 2:30 PM, 18 October 2010 [link]
Three Stories About Goats: (Because even a political junkie like me needs a break from time to time.)
You've probably heard this sad story.
A 63-year-old hiker died after he was gored by a mountain goat in Olympic National Park, witnesses say.(I've hiked in that park, and have never had a mountain goat come anywhere close to me — as far as I know. This might be the breeding season, which would make the males more territorial.)
You probably haven't heard this even sadder story.
Ten people were killed during a goat sacrificing ceremony northern India Sunday when arguments broke out over whose goat would be sacrificed first.Not sure why the order mattered to them. But many small things can matter when a people are drunk, as many of these people were.
Finally, you'll probably like this picture from Italy.
- 1:45 PM, 18 October 2010 [link]
Not After January, 2011: Unless almost all the experts are wrong.
I have been planning to write a longish post critiquing the Seattle Times endorsements, which are (mostly) wrong in an interesting way. But today's endorsement of 1st district congressman Jay Inslee has one sentence in it so funny, that it deserves a post all by itself.
Here's the sentence, in context.
Inslee has shown his concern for the deficit by voting with our free-spending Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, 99 percent of the time. The National Taxpayer's Union, which is concerned about the deficit, gave him ratings of 8 and 22 for 2007 and 2008, respectively. For 2009, they gave him a rating of 5, and a grade of "F".
But that isn't the funniest thing about that last line. Unless almost all the experts are wrong, Democrats will be the minority party in the House when the new Congress meets next January. Members of the Democratic minority in the House will, with a few exceptions, not be "positioned" to do much about anything. The party that controls the House rarely treats the minority well, and, after Pelosi's partisan reign, Republicans are in no mood to make an exception to that rule.
Inslee, should he survive this election, and continue to misrepresent the 1st district, will not be one of those exceptions, since most Republicans don't respect him — with good reason — and Inslee will be running for governor almost full time. (The Seattle Times editorial board may be the only political observers in the state who don't know that.)Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 1:00 PM, 18 October 2010 [link]
New Jersey Democrats Are Paying People To Vote: All right, technically they are paying people to get out the vote. Technically. But everyone knows that this "walking around" money sometimes goes to the voters directly.
(Walking around money is legal in New Jersey, though often abused.
In my own neighborhood, political signs change frequently. I am not sure how often that happens because one side steals the other side's signs, and how often it happens for more benign reasons, like mowing and wind damage.)
- 10:18 AM, 18 October 2010 [link]
Where Is Drudge Getting Those Obama Pictures? If you have been to Drudge today, you have probably been struck by the Obama pictures Drudge is using, pictures that make Obama look almost demonic.
As far as I can tell from file names, those pictures come from the Associated Press, by way of Yahoo. (If I am wrong about that, please correct me.)
I don't draw any big conclusions from this; if you take enough pictures of any politician, you'll find some that make him look strange. But I will say that I haven't seen any like this set before. And if they do come from the Associated Press, that tells us that photo editors at almost all of our newspapers have been choosing not to show us some of the most interesting pictures of Obama.
- 9:23 AM, 18 October 2010
Yes, those are AP photos.
- 10:07 AM, 18 October2010
In contrast, the New York Times chose a flattering picture to illustrate its story on Obama campaigning.
- 11:54 AM, 19 October 2010 [link]
Maureen Dowd Versus Maureen Dowd: In 2002, Maureen Dowd looked at "alpha girls" (AKA "mean girls") and decided that we needed more of them in high places.
But here is what puzzles me: If schools are overrun with alpha girls, why isn't America run by alpha women? Besides Oprah, it's hard to even think of alpha women who are still soaring.Now, Dowd seems to have changed her mind, and decided we don't need all those alpha girls in high places after all.
We are in the era of Republican Mean Girls, grown-up versions of those teenage tormentors who would steal your boyfriend, spray-paint your locker and, just for good measure, spread rumors that you were pregnant.(Carly Fiorina made both columns; in 2002, Dowd regretted that Fiorina seemed to be losing power; now Dowd worries that Fiorina may be winning power.)
For the record: Though I don't know any of the women on her list personally, none of them strike me as especially "mean". For instance, Meg Whitman hired a servant, treated and paid her well enough to keep her for years, and then let her go when Whitman found out that the servant was not in the United States legally. That doesn't sound like "mistreating the help" to me. Dana Perino, who has met many of them, says that she likes most of the women she's met — in both parties.
Dowd's column would be just another example of the double standards that so many of our "mainstream" journalists bring to their writing on politics, except for this: Dowd chose to attack these women personally, rather than criticize their positions. There's nothing new about substituting personal attacks for policy debates, but I do think we are seeing more of these attacks from the left this year, especially when the person being attacked is a conservative woman. (Naturally, some conservatives have replied in kind, attacking Dowd, rather than her ideas, which is illogical, though, I will admit, sometimes fun.)
Would we be seeing this many personal attacks from the left if the polls looked better for Democratic candidates? Probably not.
(I had to think a bit before I could identify all the women in her list, but here's who I think she means: Jan Brewer, Meg Whitman, Carly Fiorina, Sharron Angle, Linda McMahon, Michele Bachmann, Sarah Palin, and Christine O'Donnell.
After that 2002 column, I wrote a piece arguing that Dowd seemed to be an "alpha girl" herself.)
- 8:51 AM, 18 October 2010 [link]
Inslee Will Debate Watkins, After All: But at a place and time that Inslee chose to minimize voter attention and press coverage.
When: Monday, October 18, 7 PM. (Doors open at 6.)
You have to know a little bit about this area to understand just how sneaky my congressman is being in agreeing to this one debate, when and where he did.
Although the 1st district congressman lives on Bainbridge Island, most of his constituents don't. (The district has a population of more than 700,000; about 20,000 of them live on Bainbridge.) And, for almost all of his constituents, attending this debate would require taking a half day or more off, or taking a ferry ride during rush hour.
And it probably isn't coincidental that this day — which Inslee chose — is the same day that Bill Clinton is visiting the state.
It's almost as if Inslee doesn't want the voters to compare him to his challenger, James Watkins.Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 5:07 PM, 17 October 2010 [link]
Men Are Back In Fashion: Even as fashion models, according to the New York Times. They are displacing boys, or men who look like boys:
On catwalks and in advertising campaigns the prevalent male image has long been that of skinny skate-rat, a juvenile with pipe-cleaner proportions. Designers as unalike as Raf Simons and Miuccia Prada developed so pronounced an appetite for the jailbait type that at some model castings in Milan and Paris the new faces often showed up chaperoned by Mom.Those models sound like a strange way to sell clothes to men, but perhaps that wasn't their goal.
(It shows how little attention I pay to such things that, not only did I miss this shift back to men, I missed the earlier trend. I did notice when so many women models looked as if they were strung-out drug addicts, which shows, I suppose, that I pay more attention to women than men.)
- 4:27 PM, 17 October 2010 [link]