September 2010, Part 3
Jim Miller on Politics
Here's A Record To Run On: The ruling party in this nation has a long list of achievements.
The economy is in its second year of recession, inflation is running at 30% and violent crime claims almost 20,000 lives a year. Public services are in tatters and the government has been hit by a series of scandals, including the loss of at least 130,000 tonnes of imported food, left to rot in containers. This year began with daily power cuts caused by a combination of drought and mismanagement.But since the country is Venezuela, the ruling party is still likely to win a majority in the nation's legislature in the upcoming election, according to most observers. The Economist article gives some explanations for what may seem paradoxical; I hope to have others for you before the election this Sunday.
- 4:02 PM, 24 September 2010 [link]
The Murray-Rossi Race Is Close: Very close.
In the latest SurveyUSA poll, Murray leads Rossi by just 2 percent,
There is a simple, and probably correct, explanation for Murray's gains; we have seen a barrage of ads from her campaign, some touting her ability to bring home the pork and others, more recently, attacking Rossi, often dishonestly. (Does Patty "no rocket scientist" Murray know her ads are dishonest? Hard to say. But some of her handlers certainly do.)
Rossi is beginning to reply, effectively in my opinion. And there is a glimmer of hope in even this poll: Independents are backing him 54-41. Note that the two draw almost equally strong support from their partisans, with Republicans giving Rossi 91 percent of their vote and Democrats giving Murray 89 percent of their vote.
Not surprisingly, Murray leads by a large margin among women and Rossi leads by an almost equally large margin among men. If I were advising the Rossi campaign, I would suggest using more pictures of Rossi with his family in order to reduce Murray's advantage with women. And he should continue talking about running because he wants a better world for that family.
Independent analysts also see this race as extremely close. Three of the four that Google uses for that map rate the race as a "tossup". The fourth, the Rothenberg Report, rates the race as a "Toss-up/tilt Democrat". (Google chose to classify that as "lean Dem").
Washington state gave John Kerry 53 percent of the vote in 2004 and Barack Obama 58 percent of the vote in 2008. Patty Murray, for all her faults, is a good campaigner with a big war chest, and has the almost unanimous support of our news organizations. She has had more than two decades of favorable news coverage, sometimes laughably favorable. (In her last run, our local journalists almost all agreed that it was unfair for her opponent to run commercials quoting her famous Osama "day care" statement, in context. Really.) That Dino Rossi is now this close shows just how strong the Republican tide is nationally, and how good a candidate Rossi is.
Cross posted at Sound Politics.
(Technical point: I am a little unhappy with the very small number of undecideds in that poll, even allowing for the fact that Murray and Rossi are very well known here. SurveyUSA may be pushing their respondents too hard to choose a side, for my tastes.Here's an error to avoid, if you are looking at SurveyUSA polls of Washington state. Hannan assumes that "Metro Seattle" means King County; in fact, as SurveyUSA says quite clearly, Metro Seattle includes "Snohomish, Pierce and King counties". The other two counties are less reactionary than King, since they don't include Seattle.)
- 9:30 AM, 24 September 2010 [link]
Kudos To Chris Kennedy: For blocking emeritus status for unrepentant terrorist Bill Ayers.
When retiring University of Illinois at Chicago professor Bill Ayers co-wrote a book in 1973, it was dedicated in part to Sirhan Sirhan, the assassin of Robert F. Kennedy.Sometimes the Kennedy family's habit of holding grudges serves a useful public purpose.
- 6:59 AM, 24 September 2010 [link]
Orwell's Big Mistake On India: George Orwell, as brilliant and honest as he was, made more than a few mistakes in his writing career. One of them, which I just ran across in this collection, is instructive.
In a 1943 review of Subject India by Henry Brailsford, Orwell begins a long paragraph with: "Brailsford is justifiably bleak about the future." Orwell then lists a long series of difficulties before overestimating one, and dismissing another.
Brailsford gives a good account of the current situation, in which he struggles very hard not to be engulfed by the prevailing left-wing orthodoxy. He writes judiciously about the tortuous character of Gandhi; comes nearer being fair to Cripps than most English commentators have been — Cripps, indeed has been the whipping boy of the left, both British and Indian — and rightly emphasizes the importance of the Indian princes, who are often forgotten and who present a much more serious difficulty than the faked-up quarrel between Hindus and Moslems. (p. 487)(Cripps = Sir Stafford Cripps.)
It's that last bit about the "faked-up quarrel" that interests me. As you almost certainly know, that quarrel has cost many lives since Orwell wrote, perhaps 500,000 during the original partition of British India into India and Pakistan, and thousands more in the three major wars, and some minor conflicts since.
Now, why did Orwell see the princes as difficult problems, while missing completely the religious conflict that has divided the sub-continent ever since? My guess is that he missed it because he was not, himself, a religious person, and so did not understand how important religion was to the peoples of India and Pakistan.
You see the same kind of error almost daily from our journalists most of whom, like Orwell, have no religion, and so find it hard to see religion as important to anyone. They may miss it entirely, or interpret a religious conflict as ideological, left versus right. In the United States, we often see journalists trying desperately to make Muslims into the latest victim class in a civil rights struggle, something the journalists understand emotionally, unlike religion. (For similar reasons, most journalists miss much of the religious aspects of the civil rights struggle.)
(Britain ruled about one third of India indirectly, through Indian princes. Most chose to join the new India peacefully.)
- 8:20 PM, 23 September 2010 [link]
Profile In Cowardice: Yesterday, I learned that my congressman, Jay Inslee, is refusing to debate his opponent, James Watkins.
It isn't hard to understand Inslee's thinking ; he received almost 56 percent of the vote in the August all-party primary, his opponent was not well known in the district at the beginning of the campaign, and, most important, Inslee is planning to run for governor in 2012. (I've been seeing little "Inslee for Washington" ads on the net for months now.) Inslee no doubt thinks that he has nothing to gain from debates, and much to lose, especially if he runs for governor.
It isn't hard to understand, but it is still contemptible. Inslee fears he could lose if he were to allow 1st district voters to compare the two candidates and their platforms. And he is right to be afraid, since Watkins is an impressive candidate, and Inslee has few accomplishments to boast about, and most of those are distinctly unpopular this year.
Inslee is cheating the voters out of a real campaign. Even those who favor Inslee should object to his cowardice, especially if they are considering backing him for governor. If he is afraid to face Watkins in a few debates, how can he possibly have the courage to be a congressman, much less our governor?
In 1955, John F. Kennedy received the Pulitzer Prize for Profiles in Courage, which describes how eight elected officials showed courage in difficult circumstances, each man putting the interests of the nation ahead of his temporary political advantage. This year, in the 1st district, we have an example of the opposite, a candidate who is afraid to give up even a small political advantage.
We have, in short, a profile in cowardice: Jay Inslee.
(Inslee is a professional politician who was trained as a lawyer. So he is not hiding from Watkins because he knows nothing about the issues, or has no experience in public speaking.)
Cross posted at Sound Politics.(If you mention Profiles in Courage, some will immediately want to know whether John F. Kennedy actually wrote it. No, he didn't, though you could say he supervised its production.)
- 3:35 PM, 23 September 2010 [link]
Did Harry Reid Want To Lose? Here's the standard story.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid hoped the defense policy bill would help make a final pre-election argument for Democrats while energizing the base on gay rights and immigration.(I'm not aware that Reid had struggled much to "cut deals" with the GOP, but I may have missed an example or two.)
Baseball Crank makes a good argument for the opposing view, that Harry Reid intended to lose, that the vote was simply an attempt to fire up two groups in the Democratic base.
To his four arguments, I will add just one: The leaders in the Senate and House control the schedule, and almost always have accurate vote counts on important votes. If they know they are going to lose — and they really want to win — they will almost always wait until they have won the additional votes they need, before scheduling a vote.
- 2:36 PM, 23 September 2010 [link]
Now That's A Big Billboard: With a very big mistake. (I had heard the story a day or two ago, but I hadn't realized just how large that billboard is.)
This mistake will provide an interesting test of the theory that all publicity is good publicity. Will the PR firm gain or lose business because of this?
(So far, I have seen no answer to two obvious questions: Why did the school hire a PR firm, and why did both think that a billboard pointing to a web site was the best way to make their arguments?)
- 12:57 PM, 23 September 2010 [link]
Maybe We've Become More European: In the post just below, I noted that job growth has been slow after our last three recessions. That slow job growth would be all too familiar in Europe.
So Europe is not uncompetitive. It is just not very good at creating jobs. Unemployment is high by developed world standards: the eurozone average of 10 per cent is higher than the UK, Canada, Australia, Japan, and even a little higher than the US. It has also been persistent. For example, between 1995 and 2005 the average level of unemployment in France was 10.6 per cent.It is easy to find parallels in our own recent experience. Efforts to protect "insiders" — members of the United Auto Workers, for example — will often make it less likely that "outsiders" — the sons, nephews, and grandsons of those members, for example — will be hired for any job.
McRae goes on to say that this is not the whole answer, and I am sure he is right about that. But I do believe that "well-intentioned" legislation may be the most important reason that the United States has found it harder, in the last two decades, to create jobs after recessions.
(Sadly, I see no reason to think that Obama, or anyone close to him, understands this.)
- 7:38 AM, 23 September 2010 [link]
Four Fast Job Recoveries, Three Slow Job Recoveries: The graphic accompanying this New York Times article shows the job growth after the official ends of seven post-World War II recessions. Four of them had fast job growth: 1969-1970, 1973-1975, 1980, 1981-1982. Three of them had slow job growth: 1990-1991, 2001, 2007-2009.
You'll notice, immediately, that the first four had fast growth, and the last three had slow growth. The latest has been particularly grim.
The downturn officially ended, and the recovery officially began, in June 2009, according to an announcement Monday by the official arbiter of economic turning points. Since that point, total output — the amount of goods and services produced by the United States — has increased, as have many other measures of economic activity.I don't know why the job growth has been so slow after the last three recessions, though I can think of many possible reasons.
But I do know that many economists expected faster job growth after this last one — because the job losses had been so much larger than in 1990 and 2001.
Nor is the worst necessarily over.
While economists generally say such a double-dip recession seems unlikely, new monthly estimates of gross domestic product, released by two committee members, show that output shrank in May and June, the most recent months for which data are available. Output and other factors would have to shrink for a longer period of time before another contraction might be declared.To be specific, the GDP estimate for June was almost identical to the GDP estimate for January, suggesting that the economy has stalled in the first half of this year. (Maybe someone should figure out to take it out of neutral and put it in first.)
- 7:32 AM, 22 September 2010 [link]
Combat Meals In Afghanistan: With 50 (!) nations having troops there, there's quite a variety. And there may be some truth in a common stereotype; maybe the French do eat better than we do, even in combat.
Early in the war in Afghanistan, among the international troops who mingle at Bagram Air Base, a single French combat ration (cassoulet, perhaps, with deer pâté and nougat) could be traded for at least five American Meals Ready to Eat, better known as M.R.E.'s.Though Ashley Gilbertson goes on to say that the French troops are now looking forward to trying our food from time to time, because it's "fun".
You can look inside packets from fourteen different countries here.
- 5:59 PM, 21 September 2010 [link]
Senator Lugar Passes Freedom To Farm: After the 1994 Republican takeover of Congress, Indiana Senator Richard Lugar was able to do what he had wanted to do for years: reduce farm subsidies and farm regulations.
Again I'll use the 1998 Almanac of American Politics to tell the story.
Lugar's success was less permanent that most of us would like; some of the provisions of the 1996 bill were reversed in 2002 and 2007. (Bush vetoed the 2007 bill, but his veto was over-ridden by the Pelosi-Reid Congress.)
Nonetheless, anyone who is familiar with the difficulty of changing agriculture policy will be impressed by what Senator Lugar has been able to achieve. And anyone who expects these gains to stay permanent, without a struggle, should review the history of the mohair subsidy, here and here.
In fact, I would say that Lugar's achievement is even more impressive than Livingston's budget cuts, which I described in the first post in this series. But then I have the advantage of watching Congress struggle with these issues for more than fifty years.
I see several lessons in Lugar's partial 1996 victory. First, it came after a long struggle and many small steps. Second, although it was a bipartisan victory, it came only after Lugar received Republican reinforcements. Third, Lugar would probably not have succeeded if he had not been completely familiar with the issues, and exceptionally smart and hard working. (And it didn't hurt that he is a farmer, himself.)
Fourth, and most important perhaps, is that these fights almost always occur on the margins, and are almost never final. We make progress, or regress, mostly step by step, and the losers almost always come back for more tries at moving the boundaries. If Lugar is able to win another similar battle in 2011, we should expect that those he defeated will come back for more subsidies and regulations in later years. (Political tacticians should, even now, be thinking hard about ways to make gains permanent. In farm policy, that would mean, for instance, finding popular ways to de-regulate, so that those who favor regulation would have little support among farmers.)
Cross posted at Sound Politics.(Are there Republicans in Congress now who have programs they want to eliminate? Yes, there are; in fact, there's even a sunset caucus, which has a list of programs they would like to eliminate, including that mohair subsidy.)
- 1:29 PM, 21 September 2010 [link]
Another Poll Of Leading Economists: With the same result as the recent Wall Street Journal poll
With income tax rates set to go up on Dec. 31, Congress is hotly debating what to do next. But most economists agree: Keep them where they are.There's some overlap between the two groups of economists interviewed, so these are not completely independent results, but they probably are representative of the thinking of the most business economists.
- 9:42 AM, 21 September 2010 [link]
Lady Gaga, Military Expert: This morning, I was listening to local talk show host Bryan Suits when he made a prediction about the lead story on our local TV stations this morning. Suits thought it would be the apparent suicide of Denver Broncos wide receiver Kenny McKinley, rather than the loss of 9 soldiers in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan.
That seemed unlikely to me, since McKinley was not a celebrity, so at 6 AM I turned on our local Fox affiliate, Q13, to watch. Their lead story was — the objections of one Lady Gaga to the Clinton-era "don't ask, don't tell" policy on gays in the military.
Nothing in her Wikipedia article suggests that she knows anything about the military, or that she cares much about our troops. In fact, I will go farther and say that I think it likely that almost any private at Fort Lewis would know more about this subject than she does. Nonetheless, there she was, leading off the news.
Which, as we all know, would not have happened, if she had been on the opposite side of the issue.
(I'm not sure whether the people who run Q13 realize that most of us do not think of Lady Gaga as a military expert.)
- 8:57 AM, 21 September 2010 [link]
What's Obama's Policy Toward Iran? No one really knows.
If this is a new American Moment, the administration's approach to Iran appears to be providing its friends with at least as much uncertainty as motivation and resolve.Including, perhaps, Obama? The simplest explanation for this confusion is that Obama himself has not chosen a policy, that instead he is dithering, hoping something changes for the better before he is forced, by events, to make a decision. The simplest explanations aren't always correct, but they are usually the first ones you should test against the facts.
In his search for Obama's policy toward Iran, Vinocur ran into at least one cynic.
I asked George Perkovich, vice president for studies and director for nuclear policy at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, how real or effective the seemingly combative diction [from others in the Obama administration] sounded to him.John Vinocur and George Perkovich are not people one would expect to be reflexively hostile to Barack Obama.
By way of Erik Svane.
(For the record: If there is an obvious American strategy toward Iran, I don't see it. As far as I can tell, we have only bad choices, and very bad choices, available to us.)
- 7:15 AM, 21 September 2010 [link]
Gypsies, Tramps, And People "Decoupled From Standard Western Ideas About Property Rights" Laban Tall catches the Guardian trying to be politically correct, while still admitting that some gypsies are thieves.
Right across Europe, including in Britain, casual anti-Gypsy remarks are simply not taboo in the way that slights on other ethnicities mostly are today. Some of this, it is true, can be explained by distinctive facets of Roma culture, which do not fit comfortably within contemporary capitalist societies. Rolling caravans do not lend themselves to rooted integration, and especially when they are decoupled from standard western ideas about property rights.(I don't think even Cher could make a good song out of that "decoupled" phrase.)
- 6:18 PM, 20 September 2010 [link]
Worth Reading: Jonathan Last's summary article on the decline in fertility, in the US and in other industrialized countries.
Like China today, 30 years ago Japan was supposedly on the verge of eclipsing America economically. But like China, Japan was also in dire demographic straits. In 1950, the average Japanese woman had 2.75 children during her lifetime. That number dropped to 2.08 by 1960. By 1995, it had fallen to 1.49. In 2010, the Japanese fertility rate is 1.2.The article is (mostly) about how the US could avoid the catastrophe now facing Japan, but Last draws on experience from all over the world.
(That Japanese decline helps explain why they are working so hard to develop robots — including robots that can care for the elderly.)
- 3:53 PM, 20 September 2010 [link]
Especially In Modesty: Right, President Carter?
- 2:53 PM, 20 September 2010
Update: Carter has issued a "clarification".
- 4:29 PM, 20 September 2010 [link]
Fake Tea Party Candidate Suzan DelBene: DelBene is running against a Republican House incumbent, Dave Reichert. The 8th district is now a swing district. It's never been held by a Democrat, but Gore carried it in 2000 (49-47), Kerry carried in 2004 (51-48), and Obama carried it in 2008 (57-42). Cook rates it as leaning Democrat (+3 D) So she has a chance to win the district, though I would say that this year the odds are against her.
In the last two weeks, I've been seeing this DelBene commercial on our local TV stations. It begins by showing Congressman Reichert on the House floor. Here's my rough transcript:
If you, like nearly everyone in the Tea Party movement, are worried about our massive Obama-Pelosi-Reid deficits, then you'll probably find that commercial appealing. She's says she's against business as usual, earmarks, and deficits. She'll even give up her own pay until the budget is balanced, perhaps because she is independently wealthy, perhaps because she hopes to be in Congress a long, long time.
But the commercial did leave me wondering just how she intends to balance the budget. (And whether she has told our senior senator, Patty Murray, that she will have to give up earmarks, or the Democratic congressman from the nearby 6th district, Norm Dicks, that he was going to have to give up some of that military pork.)
So I looked at her campaign site and found her economic plan. Although it's ten pages long, it has no bottom line. She favors R&D tax breaks for businesses and more spending on inefficient "Green" jobs. She favors patent reform, which is probably a good idea, in principle. She favors spending more money on our inefficient education system. She favors tax breaks for small business. She's a "strong supporter of the Obama Administration's National Export Initiative", but says nothing about the three unratified free trade pacts with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea. She wants to spend more money on infrastructure, including that classic boondoggle, high speed rail. She wants to go back to Depression era financial regulations, but says nothing about the problems with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. She is in favor of vastly expanded regulation of our financial industries — and does not seem to understand that the consumer often ends up paying for those regulations.
So, all together she's in favor of more tax cuts, more spending, much of it on dubious projects, and more regulation — and she favors a return to "fiscal responsibility".
She does not explain how more tax cuts and more spending would lead us to fiscal responsibility.
Nor does she mention, even once, in that entire document, entitlements.
Her economic "plan" appears to have come from a different candidate than the one who approved that commercial.
So which do we believe, that entertaining commercial, or that dismaying economic "plan"?
I'm inclined to believe that the "plan" gives us a more accurate picture of her thinking. But I don't really know, since I can't see into her mind. But I know how I would bet, and I know how I would vote, were I in the 8th district.
Cross posted at Sound Politics.(Incidentally, this little post should give our local reporters some interesting questions to ask Ms. DelBene — assuming, for the sake of argument, that they would like to commit journalism.)
- 2:15 PM, 20 September 2010 [link]
Photoshop Failures: Entertaining, and maybe even instructive.
- 11:02 AM, 20 September 2010 [link]
Some Muslims just don't want girls (or anyone else) to have fun.
Unidentified gunmen set fire Sunday to the Crazy Water Park, one of the Gaza Strip's most popular entertainment sites.Although the Hamas thugs who are running Gaza condemned this attack, they had been persecuting the park for some time, mostly because it sometimes let men and women mix. Most likely, Hamas ordered the destruction of the park.
(We are often told how horrific the conditions in Gaza are — and then we read about up-scale malls in Gaza, see pictures of thriving markets, and learn about this amusement park. Note that it was "one of the most popular", which implies that there are many other entertainment sites in Gaza.)
- 8:32 AM, 20 September 2010 [link]
Clint Didier, Palin Pick And Spoiler: Washington state voters mostly know this story, but it hasn't received much coverage outside the state, so I thought I should tell the rest of you about it.
Didier is a former NFL player who retired to farm in eastern Washington. He hadn't done much in politics until this year when he decided to run for the Senate. He came in third in the all-party primary, winning 12.8 percent of the vote. He won that many votes, it is fair to say, largely because of the endorsement of former Alaska governor Sarah Palin.
During the campaign, Didier promised to support, and even to work for, the Republican nominee. (When he made the promise it was obvious, from the polls, that the nominee would be moderate conservative, and former gubernatorial candidate, Dino Rossi.)
After the primary, Didier demanded that Rossi agree to support three of his planks in return for his support. Rossi ignored him, and Didier now refuses to support Rossi (though he does say that he wants Democrat Patty Murray to lose).
As it happens, I don't have any fixed rule about primary losers being required to support primary winners. Nor do I think that primary losers must, always, avoid running in the general election, either as a write-in, or as the candidate of another party. It all depends on what is best for the nation. I had no trouble supporting Joe Lieberman's run as an independent in 2006, after he lost the Democratic primary, and I can think of circumstances in which I would support a Republican who had lost a Republican primary.
That said, I think that candidates should keep their promises. Since Didier promised to support the Republican nominee, knowing that it would almost certainly be Rossi, he should keep that promise. And if he really wants to see a smaller government, he should work hard to defeat Patty Murray — which means electing Dino Rossi.
So far, I haven't seen any public statements from Sarah Palin, urging Didier to do the right thing. Her original endorsement of Didier and her silence since the primary trouble me. They lead me to wonder about her judgement, and about her willingness to live by the same rules she asks others to live by.
(We learned during the campaign that Didier, an opponent of big government handouts, had received hundreds of thousands of dollars in farm subsidies. Like Ron Paul, who condemns earmarks while getting them for his district, Didier did not see much conflict between his views and his actions — until the election, anyway. Seattle Times editorial writer Bruce Ramsey, another Ron Paul supporter, made a partial defense of Didier's actions, claiming that we all take government goodies when we can.
That's not true. For example, many people who are eligible for food stamps and Medicaid never even apply for them, and there are many farmers who do not accept large amounts of government aid, even when they are eligible.
What is certain is that, had Didier been nominated, that issue alone would have killed him in the general election.)
- 8:12 AM, 20 September 2010 [link]
Sweden Democrats Win, Social Democrats Lose: Since 1932, the Swedish Social Democratic Party has been one of the most successful political parties in the world. They held power in Sweden from September 1932 to October 1976, with just one three-month interruption in 1936. After 1976, their hold on power weakened, but they still won majorities more often than not.
More important, they were successful, year after year, in imposing their ideas and policies on Sweden. Modern Sweden is largely their creation, and their success was a model for many other social democratic parties.
Yesterday, a Red-Green coalition (Social Democrats, Left, and Greens) led by the Social Democrats won just 43.7 percent of the vote, and just 157 seats in the 349-member Swedish parliament.
You might think that defeat meant a smashing victory for the governing center-right coalition (Moderates, Center, Liberals, and Christian Democrats). But, in fact, they lost their narrow 178-seat majority, winning just 172 seats.
The winners were the Sweden Democrats, who, for the first time, won seats in parliament. Like most countries with proportional representation, Sweden requires parties to win a minimum share of the votes to win any seats at all. In the 2006 election, the Sweden Democrats won 2.9 percent, which was below the 4 percent threshold. This time, they won 5.7 percent of the vote, and 20 seats in the Swedish parliament.
Currently, the Sweden Democrats are considered unacceptable coalition partners by all the other parties, so it is not clear who will form the government. The Moderate Prime Minister, Fredrik Reinfeldt, is trying to bring the Greens into his coalition, so far without success. He might also form a minority government.
This Swedish election tells us, again, that the issue of Muslim immigrants (and their descendants) is not going away, that it will be an issue in every European country with a significant Muslim population.
(The Swedes may just be catching up to their neighbors in Denmark, where anti-Muslim-immigrant parties have already forced important changes in immigration laws.)
- 6:07 AM, 20 September 2010
Minor correction: I should have been more tentative in describing the results, since the Swedes are still counting the ballots, and there are enough close races so that it is possible that the center-right coalition will keep its majority. Most (all?) of the ballots still to be counted are "advance and overseas ballots". The approximately 100,000 ballots not counted on election night are not quite 2 percent of the total vote.
My main conclusions, that the Sweden Democrats won and the Social Democrats lost, will still hold, even if the uncounted ballots are distributed very differently than the counted ballots.
- 6:41 AM, 22 September 2010 [link]
Will Elections Put A Brake On Hugo Chavez? Next Sunday, Venezuelans will choose a new parliament, and there is a good chance that it will put some limits on the Venezuelan leader. (In the last parliamentary election, in 2005, the opposition parties boycotted the election at the last minute, giving Chavez complete control of the government.)
No one seems to know how well the opposition parties, who are terribly disunited, will do in the election. There are polls, but they are inconsistent and of unknown quality. (And there is the usual problem in countries where the government controls so much; you can't know whether respondents are being honest when the pollster talks to them.)
One well-informed Venezuelan observer gives us two predictions, that the opposition will win 69 of 165 seats — and that the opposition will win 87 seats. (Consider the second number a "best case" analysis.)
Another well-informed observer refuses to make a prediction, saying that the race is still "wide open". (He thoughtfully provides a tool so that you can make your own seat prediction, if you happen to know the popular vote.)
A third well-informed observer makes a hesitant prediction that the opposition will win fifty percent of the vote, and provides a useful description of four possible scenarios. Even the worst of the four, the opposition winning just one-third of the seats, would give them considerable power to block Chavez.
Of course, if Venezuelans were judging Chavez on his accomplishments, his party would be lucky to win ten percent of the seats.
(For reasons that someone who knows more Venezuelan history than I do can probably explain, the president of Venezuela is currently elected for a six year term, and the members of parliament for five year terms.
Here's the Wikipedia article on the 2010 elections. It looks reasonably fair to me, but I am no expert on Venezuelan politics, so you should treat it with some caution. One minor, but annoying, point: The article says that there are 167 seats at stake. Quick searches found both numbers in several different sources, so I can't tell you which one is correct.)
- 7:51 PM, 19 September 2010 [link]
You Don't Have To Be Crazy To Start A New Business: But it helps.
But this thought exercise hints at a truth: a thin line separates the temperament of a promising entrepreneur from a person who could use, as they say in psychiatry, a little help. Academics and hiring consultants say that many successful entrepreneurs have qualities and quirks that, if poured into their psyches in greater ratios, would qualify as full-on mental illness.And you just might start the next great tech company — if you happen to have the right skills, since being a little bit crazy is not enough by itself.
Venture capitalists, who have more reason than most of us to look for people who can start new businesses, have begun to look for hypomanics — who have the right extras. (And who are not "too arrogant and obnoxious", I am pleased to see.)
(Here's the Wikipedia article on hypomania, with the usual caveats.)
- 5:56 PM, 19 September 2010 [link]
Wednesday's New Yorker Cartoon Seems Timely: The cartoon, from my daily calendar, shows a castle surrounded by an angry crowd.
On top of the castle wall, the king has turned to two advisors and is saying, "I know—what if I promise them change?"
(The cartoon was drawn by David Sipress.)
- 12:53 PM, 17 September 2010 [link]
Worth Reading: Gwen Ifill's review of David Remnick's biography of Obama. Ifill praises Remnick, confesses her own error, and then suggests that Remnick should have gone further.
Remnick efficiently strips some of the gloss off the version Obama offered in his best-selling 1995 memoir "Dreams From My Father," charitably and accurately describing that effort as "a mixture of verifiable fact, recollection, recreation, invention and artful shaping." Obama, Remnick points out, ended each section with climactic, somewhat overwrought descriptions of himself in tears -- as he sees his father in a dream, discovers his spiritual roots in church, visits his father's grave. I totally bought all of this the first time I read "Dreams." I don't know that I would today -- in part because I am a professional skeptic when it comes to the people I cover, and in part because it's difficult to conceive of cool cucumber Obama being that overcome by emotion.Ifill also suggests that Obama does not have the strongest work ethic.
Lacking power, Obama is shown to be the ultimate pragmatist. If he can't be in control, he is ready to move on. Remnick mentions frequently how easily Obama can get bored. He was bored at Occidental, the first college he attended; bored at the University of Chicago, where as a teacher he focused on writing his first book; bored in the Illinois Senate; and even bored in the U.S. Senate, where he was more interested in writing his second book.(Actually, the word most critics use is narcissistic, not "self-absorbed".)
Ifill even concedes that the press may have given Obama an "easy ride". That's a small step for journalism, but a big step for Ifill.
- 12:34 PM, 17 September 2010 [link]
Is There A Republican Party Establishment? Not by the original meaning of the word, which emphasized the importance of informal social ties in order to explain events. (One can find parts of the United States in which there are Republican party "establishments", but these rarely go beyond a single county in their influence.)
If there were a Republican party establishment, then they would be able to choose candidates almost regardless of what rank-and-file supporters want. Instead, in most places, the candidates are chosen in primaries where anyone can, and sometimes does, run. (Utah is an exception, as Senator Bennett could tell you.) The process is far more open in the United States than in most other nations, where the party organizations are typically far stronger.
John McCain became the Republican nominee in 2008 not because he was backed by some "establishment", but because he won crucial primaries, starting with New Hampshire. Similarly, George W. Bush would not have become president in 2000 had he not won the South Carolina primary.
Republican politicians win nominations, not because they are chosen by some inside group, but because they win the support of the voters, or, for party positions, the support of their colleagues. Gerald Ford's career gives us examples of both. He became a congressman by defeating a Republican incumbent in a primary, and then winning a general election. Later, he became the House Minority Leader by defeating a Republican incumbent. (And his colleagues chose him over Charles Hallek in part because they thought he would be more appealing to voters.)
Ford's career is far more typical than those who rage about the party "establishment" would have you believe.
If we want to understand what is now happening in the Republican party, we would be better off discussing it as a conflict between pragmatists and purists, between those who think that half a loaf is better than none, and those who will only settle for a whole loaf. We would do even better if we saw this argument as taking place along a continuum, with every elected official mixing purism and pragmatism, in different amounts. The argument is over the best mix, not whether leaders should have both.
To extend the metaphor, there are a few who would take a crumb, and a few who would reject anything less than a loaf with just one small slice missing. The successful Republican leaders find a mix of the two that allows them to satisfy purists — and still win elections. Ronald Reagan was one of the best at this. He often took actions that purists opposed, but still managed to keep their support.
This isn't as dramatic as raging about some party "establishment", but it's a much more accurate way to describe our political world.
(Suppose you prefer to go beyond the original meaning of the word and use it in a broader way. Then you would find that many of those who condemn the "establishment" are actually part of it. For example, it is extraordinarily funny to hear talk show host Rush Limbaugh, who grew up in a prominent Republican family and who has enormous influence on the party even though he has never won public office, attack the party establishment, some of whom attended his latest wedding.
Limbaugh's complaints about the "establishment" are often unintentionally hilarious, for example when he attacks "country club" Republicans — and then tells you, minutes later, about his plan to fly, in his private plane, to some country club for a little golf.)
- 9:46 AM, 17 September 2010 [link]
Hosni Mubarak Gets Some Help from Egypt's semi-official newspaper, Al-Ahram — and from Photoshop. (He also gets some help from hair dye, I would guess, considering that he is 82.)
Fortunately, no American news organizations give similar help to any of our politicians. (Well, OK, maybe it happens occasionally.)
- 7:12 AM, 17 September 2010 [link]