April 2005, Part 3

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Seattle Gets All Kinds Of Tourists, some larger than others.
Two gray whales visited downtown Seattle yesterday, swimming as close as 50 yards from the waterfront piers along Elliott Bay.

One of the whales cruised past the Seattle Aquarium, catching visitors' attention with a trail of bubbles and then a brief glimpse of its back breaking the surface.
. . .
The West Coast grays are northbound now on their annual migration between winter breeding grounds off Mexico and summer feeding grounds off Alaska.

Scientists think that because of population growth, more gray whales are venturing to inland waters such as Puget Sound to feed.  Grays are bottom feeders that churn up the ocean floor and use baleen — bony plates in their mouths — to strain out the tiny sea creatures they feed on.
The AP article doesn't mention it, but this population growth shows the success of our conservation policies, a success so great that this population of gray whales has been removed from the endangered species list.   Would the AP include criticism of those policies if the trend were in the other direction?  I am sure they would.
- 7:28 AM, 23 April 2005   [link]

Compassionate Conservatives, Cruel Leftists:  There are some in each category (and there are some in the opposite categories).

Yesterday, a helicopter was shot down in Iraq killing eleven civilians, six of them Americans working for the Blackwater company.  The terrorists who (apparently) shot down the helicopter have released a video showing the cold blooded murder of a injured and helpless man, who has been identified as the Bulgarian pilot of the helicopter.

That sad event brought out some sympathy from some on the left, and it also brought out reactions from cruel leftists like this one.
They are mercenaries.  They are being paid big money to take the risk of going to a war zone and getting shot at.  Our soldiers are also going to a war zone and being shot at, but they aren't getting paid anything near what these men made.

I'm not callous about their deaths, I don't *want" anybody to die, and certainly nobody deserves to die for wanting to make a living.  But I am sympathetic to the feelings Markos had at the reaction to the previous "civilian" death's [sic] in Iraq.
And what feelings did Markos have?  They became infamous last year, so he has tried to hide them, but Charles Johnson of Little Green Footballs tracked them down.
Let the people see what war is like.  This isn't an Xbox game.  There are real repercussions to Bush's folly.

That said, I feel nothing over the death of merceneries [sic].  They aren't in Iraq because of orders, or because they are there trying to help the people make Iraq a better place.   They are there to wage war for profit.  Screw them.

by kos on Thu Apr 1st, 2004 at 12:08:56 PDT
I don't know about you, but I would say that someone who is "sympathetic"to those feelings is, in fact, callous.

You can find similar sentiments from some — though not all — posters at the Democratic Underground.

(Thanks to Charles Johnson who is willing to take on the distasteful task of tracking this stuff.)
- 6:16 PM, 22 April 2005   [link]

Marina Park in Kirkland, stitched together from five separate photographs, using the Olympus C-765 panorama feature to take the pictures, and the Olympus Camedia software to stitch the five together.

You'll mostly have to take my word that the four joins are not obvious.  To make the panorama small enough enough to fit on this web site, I reduced it from 2.5 megabytes to 12 kilobytes, losing a detail or two in the process.

(I used my Vanguard MP-15 monopod, which arrived yesterday, to steady the camera.  I'll need more practice with it, but I think it will be a good enough substitute for a tripod in most situations.  It is not, I must admit, well suited for panoramas, but it is small enough (about 2 feet, folded) and light enough (about 2 pounds) so that I will take it along more often than I would a tripod.

This was my second attempt at taking panoramas.  On my first try, I made the amateur mistake of using the camera's automatic white balance.  That spoiled some of the joins, since the shades in the sky portions didn't match.)
- 2:30 PM, 22 April 2005   [link]

Some Clinton Scandals Should Remain Buried:  Or at least so Senators John Kerry (D) and Byron Dorgan (D) seem to think.
Senate Democrats are quietly trying to kill a 10-year legal probe that implicates several senior Clinton administration appointees for obstruction of justice, the Daily News has learned.

The Democrats, saying that the $21 million investigation by Independent Counsel David Barrett should have ended long ago, succeeded in attaching an amendment to a spending bill Tuesday to cut off his funding by June 1.

But two sources close to the investigation said that if the legislation becomes law, it will thwart Barrett from making public a final report that names senior officials in the Clinton Justice Department and Internal Revenue Service who allegedly buried a tax fraud case involving former cabinet member Henry Cisneros.
. . .
Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), who introduced the amendment with Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), said last week that the disgraced HUD secretary paid a $10,000 fine in 1999 for lying to the FBI and that then-President Bill Clinton pardoned Cisneros, so the probe "should have ended years ago."
I would agree, except for this part of the investigation:
The report will allege that Justice Department officials snuffed out a tax case against Cisneros and that the IRS sometimes audited Clinton critics without good cause.
During the Clinton years, many Republicans charged that the IRS was being used against Clinton critics.  I thought at the time that there was enough evidence to warrant an investigation — and I still think so.
- 9:41 AM, 22 April 2005   [link]

Mailed Ballots Are more likely to be fraudulent than those cast in person because the main check on them, sometimes the only check, is a signature comparison.   And when there are hundreds of thousands of signatures, some will be improperly rejected and some (many more, I suspect) will be improperly accepted.  That's not a new argument for me, but I was surprised to hear, yesterday, a local lefty talk show host, Allan Prell, make essentially the same point that I have been making for years:  The clerks comparing signatures on absentee ballots to signatures on file are going to make mistakes.

I might not mention this except that Prell immediately followed that observation with this conclusion: "Republicans have destroyed the people's faith in the election process."  Prell did not explain his reasoning for that jump, but then he does not often explain his reasoning when he attacks Republicans.

Should voters have faith in an election process which relies on these fallible signature checks?   I think not.  Or, to be more precise, I think that voters should be more skeptical about close elections when many ballots were mailed, rather than cast in person.  I don't know whether Prell agrees with me on that point.  Perhaps he just thinks that Republicans should not be allowed to criticize weaknesses in the election process.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 9:11 AM, 22 April 2005   [link]

Why Do People Used Mailed Ballots To Commit Vote Fraud?  Because it so easy to get way with it, here in the United States — and in Britain.
Postal voting fraud will get worse as offenders realise how easy it is to get away with it, a senior police officer has warned.

Chief Supt Dave Murray, of Thames Valley Police, said fraudsters would develop "a feeling of untouchability" because the law made it so hard for them to be successfully prosecuted.
. . .
Thames Valley Police began an inquiry after the Liberal Democrats complained about the results in one ward where three Labour councillors were elected.  They looked at 46 applications for postal votes and discovered that only two were authentic.

Of the other 44 voters, 38 did not receive the forms because they were living somewhere else and the other six said that, although their address was correct, part or all of their application for a postal vote was forged.

The police concluded that at least six per cent of postal votes cast in the Redlands ward were bogus.
As I have said before, all these examples from Britain seem sadly familiar.  Those who commit vote fraud in this country usually use mailed ballots, because that is the safest method for them.  And the introduction of postal ballots in Britain appears to have led to an explosion of vote fraud there, for the same reason.

(In spite of all this experience, Washington state is moving toward greater use of mailed ballots.   One would almost think that some in the majority party want vote fraud to increase.)
- 8:22 AM, 22 April 2005   [link]

Yesterday Was Sunny, so I took off just before lunch for some cross country skiing on Mt. Rainier.  As it turned out, I should have left earlier because the clouds were moving in just as I arrived.

(The picture was taken from an altitude of about 5,500 feet.  Rainier is a more than 14,000 feet high, so the distance from top to bottom in the picture is more than 8,000 feet.)

And not only did I get there late, but I have to admit that the snow was lousy by the time I arrived.  It was even a little too wet for snowball fights.  But the trip down gave me beautiful views of the mountain and the trip back interesting views.  By 6:00 PM, Rainier was entirely shaded by clouds, though the lowlands were still mostly sunny.  It was strange to see that enormous ghostly mound to the east, as I started back to Kirkland.
- 8:14 AM, 21 April 2005   [link]

Religious Tests For Pharmacists?  Should traditional Catholics be allowed to be pharmacists?  Put that way, few in the United States would say no.  But excluding traditional Catholics from jobs as pharmacists would be the practical effect of an order from Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich.
. . . Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich ordered pharmacies to fill prescriptions for women wanting the new "morning after" pill, even if it meant putting aside their employees' personal views.
. . .
In Illinois, Governor Blagojevich enacted his emergency rule after hearing of two women who said a pharmacist had refused to fill their morning-after pill prescriptions at a drugstore downtown this year.  Penalties against a pharmacy can range from a fine to revocation of its license to dispense drugs.

Since April 1, officials at the governor's office say, two more people have filed complaints to an emergency hot line about similar situations.  On Monday, Governor Blagojevich submitted paperwork to try to make his emergency rule permanent.
Since the morning-after pill can cause abortions, Catholic pharmacists who follow the teaching of John Paul II or Benedict XVI would not be able to dispense it in good conscience.  If they defy Blagojevich, they might lose their license.  If they accept his order, they would have to go against one of the most important teachings of their church.

The United States has faced similar conflicts between religious beliefs and law and has usually managed to resolve them with compromises  For instance, the United States, even during World War II, allowed members of peace churches and others with similar religious beliefs to serve in non-combat positions or even do alternate service.  (Not all nations follow similar policies; Switzerland, I learned from John McPhee's wonderful book, La Place de la Concorde Suisse, for years put conscientious objectors in jail.  And may still do so, as far as I know.)

I think a similar compromise is possible for pharmacists, and many politicians, including one who may surprise you, are proposing them.
Senator John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts, and Senator Rick Santorum, Republican of Pennsylvania, have introduced the Workplace Religious Freedom Act, which would allow a pharmacist to refuse to dispense certain drugs as long as another pharmacist on duty would.
Kerry and Santorum are opposed by others in Congress, who want to force pharmacists to fill all legal prescriptions, which would, as I said, have the practical effect of excluding traditional Catholics, and those who share their beliefs on abortion, from positions as pharmacists.  Can this be what Governor Blagojevich, Senator Barbara Boxer, Senator Frank R. Lautenberg, Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney of New York, and Congress Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, and Congressman Christopher Shays intend?  (As you probably know, all are Democrats, except Shays.)  Is abortion so important to them that they would exclude all those who disagree with them from jobs as pharmacists?  It would seem so.

Some may even wonder whether these proposals are motivated in part by hostility to the Catholic church, the kind of hostility common in Europe but less so here in the United States.

(Those who watch for media bias will be amused by the Times' use of the bland "personal views" to describe a man or woman's deepest religious beliefs.

"Wonder how to pronounce Blagojevich?  So did I, not having grown up in a community where Slavic names where common.  I found the answer in this useful AP pronunciation guide.  It's "blah-GOY'-uh-vich".)
- 10:23 AM, 20 April 2005   [link]

Not Being Catholic, and not knowing much about Joseph Ratzinger, I don't have anything to add to the news reports on the election of Benedict XVI.  (One of the great advantages this site has over traditional news organizations is that I don't have to write on subjects I know little or nothing about.)

Tim Blair has a round up of reactions to the choice, some, I fear, written by people who know as little as I do about the subject.  The "Anchoress", who holds traditional religious views, gives her thoughts here.   (And the techies at Slashdot completely ignored the election of a leader for roughly 1 billion people — wisely, I think.)

Anne Applebaum, who says she is neither Catholic nor religious, discussed the political reaction to the choice, arguing that Benedict XVI's most difficult task will be confronting the widespread "Christophobia" in Europe.
After the dust has settled -- after the processions are over and the Masses have been said, after the new pope has accustomed himself to new apartments, new tasks, new vestments -- Benedict XVI will face an extraordinary list of problems, ranging from the bioethical to the geopolitical.  But for this German pope, among his toughest tasks by far will be the battle for acceptance on the continent of his birth.
. . .
Although there is plenty of religious apathy in Europe, it is far less powerful than the antipathy directed not just at the Catholic Church in Europe but at religion in general.  It's not that Europeans think the church is out of touch or backward, but that they -- or rather an influential group of intellectuals and politicians -- heartily despise everything about it.
Which seems just a bit intolerant to me.

That intolerance and even hatred has a long history in Europe, as I noted in my post on the French Radical Socialist Party, which was united by its hatred for the Catholic church, and not much else.  Similar hatreds helped cause the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s.  That they persist in a Europe that has largely abandoned religious belief seems odd to me, almost like finding people determined to prevent the return to power of the heirs of Napoleon.  That similar intolerance seems to be growing here in the United States seems, not just odd, but positively bizarre.
- 6:53 AM, 20 April 2005   [link]

What If They Had A Black Studies Program and nobody came?
Minnesota's black-studies program, founded in 1969, is one of the oldest in the country.  But it is facing an identity crisis, and it is not alone.  Black-studies programs at many public universities are having trouble attracting students and are suffering from budget cuts that have whittled down their faculty ranks.
In this post, I argued that colleges and universities that were too far to the left, too politicized, would suffer as students avoided them and as legislators found ways not to fund them.  I should have added that, within the universities, the most politicized departments and programs would suffer as students try to get value for their time and their parent's money.  It is good to see that happening with black studies programs.

(And it is both sad and amusing to see that they are still "thriving" at "elite private universities -- like Cornell, Duke, Harvard and Princeton Universities".  Sad, because some students at those schools will waste parts of their lives, amusing because it is so easy to see why such schools have the programs, not for their academic achievements (though they may have a few), but to demonstrate the schools' commitment to leftist causes.)
- 7:26 AM, 19 April 2005   [link]

Cricket Is A Mystery To Me, but I think I am becoming a fan.
Indians gave Gen Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's president, a rousing reception at a New Delhi cricket match yesterday in a show of support for detente between the two nations.

Gen Musharraf, an ardent cricket fan, watched two hours of a one-day international with his Indian counterpart, Dr Manmohan Singh, before talks aimed at improving relations between the old enemies.
Considering the wars the two nations have fought and how close they seemed to nuclear war just a short time ago, this is great news.  And both nations are taking more steps toward peace, as you can see from the rest of the article.

(Sadly, we can expect that Islamic extremists (and perhaps Hindu extremists, as well) will try to reverse this progress with acts of terror.)
- 5:27 PM, 18 April 2005   [link]

Sprog Friendly:  Or at least not "sprog offensive".   I try to keep this site suitable for sprogs, which is why I usually avoid some well known English words and generally try to treat delicate subjects delicately.  (And why I probably will not add comments to this site, at least not without some stringent controls.)

I don't do that just to be sprog friendly, though that is an important motive.  Partly it is a matter of trying to keep the political debate civil.  Some words have been known as "fighting words" for centuries.  By avoiding them, I want to convey my belief that political parties in the United States are competing with each other, not warring on each other.  (And the same is true of most parties in most democracies.)  I also, I must confess, tend to think that those who resort to the words still banned on broadcast television are half way to conceding that they do not have a sound argument, just as I think that those who resort to personal insults are half way to admitting that they are losing the debate.

(Should you need an explanation of "sprog friendly", see this Natalie Solent post).
- 3:26 PM, 18 April 2005   [link]

Worth Reading:  David Brooks' description of two trends among the young.
The fact is, sex is more explicit everywhere - on "Desperate Housewives," on booty-quaking music videos, on the Internet - except in real life.  As the entertainment media have become more sex-saturated, American teenagers have become more sexually abstemious.

Teenage pregnancy rates have declined by about a third over the past 15 years.  Teenage birth and abortion rates have dropped just as much.

Young people are waiting longer to have sex.  The percentage of 15-year-olds who have had sex has dropped significantly.  Among 13-year-olds, the percentage has dropped even more.
I'll add just one thought: Over the years, I have had many discussions (mostly with single men) in which I mentioned these changes and had the person I was talking to refuse to believe me.   It is true that it is hard to study these questions and that people will often lie (in both directions) about their sexual activities.  Nonetheless, researchers have found ways to ask these questions that get closer to the truth.  I wouldn't bet that the numbers that Brooks cites in his column are exact to a single percent, but I am certain that the trends he mentions in the last two paragraphs are real.  (And I am also certain that I will never convince some people of that.)
- 1:51 PM, 18 April 2005   [link]

Are The Scandinavians Rich?  If you look at their incomes, yes, but not, says Bruce Bawer, if you look at what they can buy.
The received wisdom about economic life in the Nordic countries is easily summed up: people here are incomparably affluent, with all their needs met by an efficient welfare state.  They believe it themselves.  Yet the reality - as this Oslo-dwelling American can attest, and as some recent studies confirm - is not quite what it appears.
. . .
All this was illuminated last year in a study by a Swedish research organization, Timbro, which compared the gross domestic products of the 15 European Union members (before the 2004 expansion) with those of the 50 American states and the District of Columbia.  (Norway, not being a member of the union, was not included.)

After adjusting the figures for the different purchasing powers of the dollar and euro, the only European country whose economic output per person was greater than the United States average was the tiny tax haven of Luxembourg, which ranked third, just behind Delaware and slightly ahead of Connecticut.

The next European country on the list was Ireland, down at 41st place out of 66; Sweden was 14th from the bottom (after Alabama), followed by Oklahoma, and then Britain, France, Finland, Germany and Italy.  The bottom three spots on the list went to Spain, Portugal and Greece.

Alternatively, the study found, if the E.U. was treated as a single American state, it would rank fifth from the bottom, topping only Arkansas, Montana, West Virginia and Mississippi.  In short, while Scandinavians are constantly told how much better they have it than Americans, Timbro's statistics suggest otherwise.
(Of course by world standards, nearly all Americans and Europeans are very well off.)

There is a simple lesson here that applies widely (including, for instance, to the laid off Boeing workers discussed in the post below).  You can make people better off by raising their incomes; you can also make them better off by lowering the prices that they have to pay for goods.   Conversely, you can make them worse off by lowering their incomes or raising the prices they have to pay.  In this area, for example, the price competition from WalMart has helped the poor and working class; the surge in house prices — assuming it is not reversed — will hurt them.  I would not even mention this, if it were not for the fact that it is so often forgotten by politicians, especially those on the left.
- 10:33 AM, 18 April 2005   [link]

Democratic Party Priorities?  For some time, I have been arguing that the Democratic party has been drifting away from its working class base.   Yesterday's Seattle Times provided more evidence for that argument.

The lead story describes the loss of Boeing jobs and the consequences for those laid off.

In the past six years, this state lost about 100,000 manufacturing jobs, half of them in aerospace.   Since their jobs at Boeing disappeared, longtime factory workers have searched for new ways to support their middle-class lifestyles.

Often without success, as you can see in the sketches here, here, here, and here.   And for those who want some numbers, you can find them in this article.

The loss of Boeing jobs has been going on for years; the drought that has hit the state is new, but it will be almost as devastating in its effects.

Months of below-average precipitation left the Pacific Northwest's mountains largely bare of snow and reduced stream flows to a trickle.  Water managers across the region are calling this the worst drought since 1977, and perhaps the worst ever if spring and summer rains don't arrive in the region's agricultural country.
. . .
In Oregon and Washington, farmers cut back significantly on planting several crops, including wheat and hay.  The planting decisions likely will lead to a drop in farm income this year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
. . .
Farm groups contend farmers in the Yakima Valley region could see losses of up to $1 billion.

That's probably too high, because short supplies can lead to higher prices, at least in crops where Washington produces a large share of the national supply, like apples.  However, higher prices won't help the farm workers and those who work in canneries and warehouses much, since their incomes depend more on volume.

So what is Governor Christine Gregoire's main economic program?  Programs to help these laid off Boeing workers, who have supported the Democratic party for so long?  Programs to help the agricultural areas in the dry eastern half of the state, in hope of challenging the near monopoly the Republicans have there?  No.  Her "main economic-development project" is a billion dollar subsidy for biomedical research.

It was a big victory for Gregoire, who has made biotech a signature issue of her first legislative session.  She says the state can become a world leader in health and farm research, finding cures to health problems of its citizens and creating 20,000 or more new high-paying jobs.

"The governor is very pleased," spokesman Steve Pierce said.  "This has been one of her priorities from Day One in terms of what it can do as an engine for economic development."

I don't know enough about this proposal to have an opinion on its value to the state.  But I am struck by the fact that it begins by shoveling money to those who are well off already.   And I am even more struck by the fact that the Democratic governor's "main economic-development project" will do almost nothing, at least in the short run, for laid off union workers in industrial suburbs like Kent, or for farmers and farm workers in places like the Yakima valley.   For many in the Democratic party, those places, and the people who live in them, might as well be invisible.

(Why biomedical research?  In part because some of its possibilities frighten those with traditional religious views.  The program may not produce many jobs, but it has already raised concerns among those who care about the sanctity of life.)

Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 6:51 AM, 18 April 2005   [link]

Earlier Today, I was out supporting the Seattle Public Library — and finding a bargain book or two for myself at their annual Friends of the Library sale.

All right, more than a book or two, though I had planned to limit myself to no more than two.   But once I was there I found seven books I wanted, Richard Hofstadter's The American Political Tradition, Flannery O'Connor's Complete Stories, Natan Sharansky's Fear No Evil, Daniel Boorstin's The Americans: The Democratic Experience, and three hardback science fiction books.

For the seven books, I paid just $3.90, which is about a dollar more than I spent on the gas driving to and from the sale.  (If I had gone yesterday, I would have had a bigger selection, but would have had to pay twice as much for each book.)  I have never understood why more people don't go to these sales, considering the bargains to be found.

(I took some pleasure, though perhaps I shouldn't have, in seeing at least a dozen copies of Richard Clarke's Against All Enemies for sale.  I think it fair to conclude that this will not be a book with lasting impact, especially when you remember that the book sale was held in Bush-hating Seattle.)
- 4:20 PM, 17 April 2005   [link]