August 2008, Part 1
Jim Miller on Politics
"Talk To An Operator": Yesterday, I was supposed to receive a package from Lands' End, delivered by UPS. When I tracked the package late in the afternoon, I learned that it had been delivered. (This neighborhood is safe enough so that packages are often just dropped off at front doors.) Except that it hadn't. For the third time in the last seven or eight years, UPS had taken one of my packages to the wrong place. (The first time it was delivered to a neighbor, and I was able to retrieve it. The second time, the package required a signature, so I did get it eventually. This time, I am pretty sure that the package is just lost.)
Things like this will happen, though I wish they happened less often. What changed this from a minor annoyance into a major aggravation was how hard UPS makes it to tell them that they have made a mistake. They do have a local number. No one answers it. If you call their national 800 number, you get an automated voice recognition system, which does not tell you that you can, if you are patient, talk to an operator.
Here's how you do that, as I figured out today. After they list the choices, you say: "Talk to an operator." You will still have to go through one of the menu choices and say "talk to an operator" again, but you can get through to an actual person if you persist.
What I can't figure out is why UPS thinks this is a good way to do business. If I could have spoken to the local office yesterday afternoon (without driving over to see them), I probably could have solved the problem in a minute or two, The driver might even have been able to able to retrieve the package from wherever he left it. As it is, they have made me wait another week or so for the replacement package, and made me determined to avoid dealing with UPS, whenever possible.
I can understand why they might want to route all complaints through a national office. But I can't understand why they make it so hard to talk to a person at that office, actually hiding the option, and why that office can not then forward my complaint to the local office.
- 3:00 PM, 8 August 2008
Update: Two readers, living in quite different parts of the United States, wrote me describing similar problems with their UPS deliveries. One suggested that the union contract might be part of the problem, that the Teamsters might make it hard to fire a driver, even if the driver was making too many delivery mistakes. That seems plausible to me, since unions often protect workers, even some workers who do not deserve to be protected.
- 2:22 PM, 11 August 2008 [link]
Bye-Bye, John Edwards: I have never been a fan of the trial lawyer and one-term senator. But even I didn't think he was this sleazy.
John Edwards repeatedly lied during his Presidential campaign about an extramarital affair with a novice filmmaker, the former Senator admitted to ABC News today.And I doubt that he is telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, even now. So does Mickey Kaus.
Apparently, Edwards still wants to speak at the Democratic convention. I think they ought to let him — or take Bill Clinton off the program, too.
- 2:29 PM, 8 August 2008 [link]
American Olympians make a political statement.
Sudanese refugee Lopez Lomong was chosen by his U.S. Olympic teammates Wednesday to be the American delegation's flag-bearer at Friday's Opening Ceremonies, a move that will cast an additional spotlight on the controversy over humanitarian abuses in Sudan's embattled Darfur region as the Beijing Games begin.Good for them. And good luck to Lomong in the games.
(Lomong is from the southern part of Sudan, which was oppressed in the same cruel way that Darfur is now. That conflict was — mostly — settled by a peace agreement brokered by the United States. I am inclined to give Colin Powell and George Bush most of the credit for that great achievement, Powell for negotiating it, and Bush for giving Powell the support he needed.
The people of the southern Sudan are mostly pagan, though there is a significant Christian minority. The people of Darfur are mostly Muslim, but are not Arabs, which makes them fair game, in the eyes of the rulers of Sudan.)
- 8:30 AM, 8 August 2008 [link]
Best Obama joke so far.
- 6:24 AM, 7 August 2008 [link]
Trouble Signs Or Hopeful Signs? Time magazine headlines their latest poll story: "Poll: Trouble Signs in Obama's Lead". But whether these signs are troubling or hopeful depends on your point of view. If you are a McCain backer, they are hopeful signs. So it is fair to conclude that whoever wrote the headline is not going to vote for the senior senator from Arizona.
(Here are some of the hopeful signs, if you are wondering.
But on specific issues, Obama is treading water or sinking a bit. On the number one issue of the campaign right now, the economy, Obama leads McCain 43%-39%, compared to 44%-37% reported by TIME's poll in June. Despite his highly touted tour of Europe, the Middle East and Afghanistan last month, Obama may be in something of a late summer slump. The poll shows that voters have increased their faith in McCain's ability to manage the Iraq war, favoring him over Obama by a margin of 51%-36%, a five point jump since June. And voters boosted their belief that McCain would do a better job in managing the war on terror than they did in June, favoring the Arizona Senator over his colleague from Illinois by a 56%-29% margin, up from 53%-33% in June.Time may be wrong about that "Despite". Many voters think that politicians pay too much attention to to foreigners, and too little attention to ordinary Americans. Obama's trip abroad may have raised suspicions that he is just another guy who would rather hang out with fancy foreigners, instead of working on ways to help the little guy here in America.)
- 5:25 AM, 7 August 2008 [link]
Nixon's Secret Plan: It's one of those stories that just will not die, even though it was discredited long ago. It popped up again recently here and here.
Bret Stephens made an excellent point in today's Wall Street Journal, comparing Senator Obama's deliberate equivocations on Iraq with Richard Nixon's notorious "secret plan to end the war" when he won the presidency in 1968, at the height of the Vietnam era.You can find many more examples, without much effort, though most of the examples come from people who are less well informed than Bret Stephens and Michael Medved.
The story may be notorious, but it isn't true. It is what I like to call a common mistake, something that is widely believed, but false. In his political dictionary, William Safire explains how the story began. (I'm using the 1993 edition, which is titled Safire's New Political Dictionary, even though it is older than the current version.)
The phrase [secret plan], variously considered artful or sinister, dates back to 1968 and Nixon's first successful Presidential campaign. That spring the candidate promised in a speech about Vietnam to "end the war and win the peace in the Pacific." Governor George Romney's supporters raised Nixon's words to the level of a "plan," and the governor repeatedly asked throughout the New Hampshire campaign, "Where is your secret plan?" Romney may have taken the phrase, not in quotation marks, from coverage by United Press International reporter Milt Benjamin.)I believe that Lewis was honest enough to print a correction.
So the phrase came, not from Nixon, but from a political opponent.
(Although it is outside the scope of this post, I would like to add that I believe that Nixon did have a secret plan, even though he didn't say so. From the very beginning of his administration, he and Kissinger worked to play the Soviets and the Chinese against each other, with some success. That made it easier for him to Vietnamize the war, to substitute Vietnamese soldiers for American soldiers. And he might even have succeeded in saving South Vietnam from a communist takeover, had he not been toppled by the Watergate scandal.)
- 8:38 PM, 6 August 2008 [link]
Worth Reading: The Europeans are being forced, by demography, to reform their state pension systems.
Italy gradually raised the retirement age to 59. France increased the tenure requirement for government workers to receive full pension benefits to 40 years of service. Germany curtailed annual government pension increases and raised the retirement age by two years, to 67.There's more in the article including one hopeful note. Many countries are reforming their systems to include private accounts, an idea that may sound vaguely familiar to Americans.
- 6:30 PM, 6 August 2008 [link]
More Numbers On Gore's Proposal: Which Barack Obama has adopted, in part. This time from the Wall Street Journal.
A trillion here, a trillion there, pretty soon you're talking real money. (Sorry, couldn't resist borrowing that line from Senator Dirksen.)
Gore wants to replace all of our fossil fuel power plants with renewable energy facilities in just ten years. You may recall that the Seattle PI thinks that's nifty idea, while I am not sure that it is even possible. Obama is a little less grandiose in his proposals, perhaps because he is running for office rather than trying to be a saint and a stock promoter, like Al Gore.
The Journal's editorial does not give an estimate of the benefits from Obama's plan, unfortunately. It is difficult to believe that they would be greater than the costs.
Cross posted at Sound Politics.(Here's an earlier post, with more numbers. The Journal editorial mentions the need for energy storage facilities to supplement solar and wind power. Most such facilities would add greatly to the cost of power from solar and wind. But it is worth mentioning that there is one form of solar thermal power that may not need extensive storage facilities, using molten salts to store heat. The Wikipedia article gives a number for the efficiency of those systems which seems implausible, and their source did not give enough details for me to evaluate their number. But, knowing how efficient vacuum bottles can be, I am not ready to reject that number automatically.)
- 4:03 PM, 6 August 2008 [link]
Congratulations To Henry And Mildred: Not every male becomes a father at 111.
(The Associated Press is wrong, of course, to describe tuatara as "living remnants of the dinosaurs". In fact, they are more closely related to lizards and snakes, and are best described as very primitive reptiles. For more information, and many pictures of tuatara, see this site.)
- 2:11 PM, 6 August 2008 [link]
Good Advice: From a man who has not always followed that advice.
(Will the late night comics have fun with this latest from Bill Clinton? I don't think they will be able to resist.)
- 1:37 PM, 6 August 2008 [link]
Save The Planet: But first save endangered Democrats.
California Democrat Nancy Pelosi may be trying to save the planet — but the rank and file in her party increasingly are just trying to save their political hides when it comes to gas prices as Republicans apply more and more rhetorical muscle.Some think Pelosi is being cynical, but I wouldn't agree with that judgment. As a practical matter — assuming that Pelosi believes what she says she believes — she has to work to keep the Democratic majority in the House and put Obama in the White House. To keep that majority may require compromises by some vulnerable members, and Pelosi, like every other Speaker who wanted to keep a majority, is willing to make some.
The endangered Democrats who are now, for instance, backing offshore drilling, are a different matter. By now, they should know that, if Pelosi keeps control of the House and Obama is elected, then there will be no offshore drilling, no significant effort to expand domestic production. And gasoline prices will continue to go up.
We could trust their promises to increase domestic supplies only if they promise not to vote to re-elect Pelosi (or someone who shares her views). Otherwise, we can assume those Democratic candidates are lying to the voters, to themselves, or to both.
- 9:48 AM, 6 August 2008
Minority Leader Boehner is doing the right thing.
House Republican Leader John Boehner (R-OH) today issued the following statement in response to an article in today's Politico that suggests Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has secretly signaled to rank-and-file House Democratic lawmakers that they should feel free to portray themselves publicly as pro-drilling if it helps them politically:Unfortunately, not every voter knows what discharge petitions are, or why they are needed in this case. But almost every voter can grasp the fact that Pelosi will not allow a vote on this issue.
(By way of Allahpundit, who, in my opinion, does not understand Speaker Pelosi. As I have been saying for years, she is best understood as a machine politician. That means that she doesn't care what the voters think, doesn't care that offshore drilling is supported by a solid majority of American voters — except to the extent that it might affect the Democrat's control of the House.)
- 11:13 AM, 7 August 2008 [link]
Only One Liberal White House Reporter? That's what Helen Thomas believes.
At a screening of a forthcoming HBO documentary honoring liberal journalist Helen Thomas in Washington, Thomas was asked whether most White House reporters are liberal. "Hell, no!" she thundered. "I'm dying to find another liberal to open their mouths [sic]. Where are they?"She's serious.
With those reporting skills, she would have trouble finding Frenchmen in Paris. Or at least Frenchmen who would admit to being French.
- 6:50 AM, 6 August 2008 [link]
Who Has The Better Energy Plan, Obama Or Hilton? Paris Hilton does not give us many details on her plan, but there are enough so that we can see that it is better balanced than Obama's plan. (And probably more realistic.)
"Barack wants to focus on new technology to cut foreign oil dependency and McCain wants off-shore drilling," she observes. "Well, why don't we do a hybrid of both candidates' ideas?"Actually McCain wants both, too. And McCain understands that, if we are to switch to more use of plug-in hybrids (something I favor), we will need nuclear power plants to supply the extra electricity.
(Would Hilton be a better president than Obama? Both are great at self promotion. Neither has many political accomplishments. Hilton is now too young to be president, but when she reaches Obama's age she may be at least as qualified as he is.)
- 6:16 AM, 6 August 2008 [link]
Popocatépetl is looking lovely this morning.
- 8:43 AM, 5 August 2008 [link]
Mickey Kaus Explains, patiently, why the "mainstream" media should cover the Edwards scandal. Kaus owns this story, but he gets support from Emily Bazelon and Glenn Reynolds.
An example may make the argument clearer. In 1992, many journalists, including Joe Klein, knew about Bill Clinton's wandering ways. But they chose — deliberately — not to tell the voters what they knew. (And in one or two cases, journalists actively helped conceal Clinton's behavior.) Klein later tried to make up for his failure to tell readers the whole truth about Clinton by publishing a thinly disguised novel, Primary Colors, which everyone understood was about Clinton. But Klein did not put his own name on it, instead writing as "Anonymous". By doing this, Klein was trying to have it both ways, to tell the truth about Clinton's behavior without taking any responsibility for what he wrote. (Several literary detectives identified Klein as the author, but for some time he denied having written the book.)
I have never trusted anything Klein has written since then — and you shouldn't either. The "mainstream" journalists who are choosing not to investigate the Edwards scandal, or to hold back what they know, are telling us that we can not trust them to tell the whole truth, when it might damage a politician they support.
(Dan Collins adds an ironic point: Recently, Edwards accepted a "Father of the Year" award. The timing was perfect.)
- 8:00 AM, 5 August 2008 [link]
Skinny Means Black?! That's the argument Timothy Noah makes. (And he was even paid for making it.)
Noah's argument reminds me of these two lines from Tom Lehrer's "Smut":
When correctly viewed,For Noah, when correctly viewed, everything is race. At least everything critical of Barack "Arugula" Obama.
I've gone past wondering about the bias in the coverage of this campaign and begun to wonder whether journalists realize how readers react to this kind of piece. Does Noah realize that most people will find his argument hilarious, and will wonder about the man who made it? Apparently not, even though he was told it was "ridiculous".
(Noah was responding to this humorous piece, which argued that Obama couldn't be elected because he was too skinny for a nation of overweight people. I didn't find it as funny as some might because, for most of my life I was even skinnier than the junior senator from Illinois. And because I have known a lot of basketball players, and most of them, white or black, are as skinny as Obama is.)
- 6:25 AM, 5 August 2008 [link]
What Has Obama Accomplished? (If anything.) Those who read Sound Politics regularly know that I have been trying to get his local supporters to answer that question since last December. With no luck so far.
But I am not giving up. Starting this week, I am going to write local supporters of the junior senator from Illinois and ask them directly to describe his accomplishments for us. Where they do that does not matter much to me. They can send me an email, in which case I will format it into a post, write a post of their own on another site, or write a column for a newspaper or web site. Any place that is linkable is fine.
The first person I am going to ask will be, naturally, Congressman Adam Smith, an early supporter of Obama. Next week, I will ask Obama delegate (and journalist) Knute Berger. The week after that I plan to ask Obama girl (and Seattle Times editorial writer) Lynne Varner, who tells us that Obama is a "pragmatic and deep long-range thinker". After those three I am not sure who should be next, although there are many possibilities. (If you have any suggestions, please share them.)
To encourage Obama supporters to tell us what he has accomplished (if anything), I am going to provide some links to two posts that have answered that question, posts from two people who will not be voting for the junior senator from Illinois. Karl Goldstein researched Obama's public record and came away unimpressed.
Tom Maguire admired the Goldstein post and decided to fill in one area that Goldstein had missed, Obama's work with unrepentant terrorist William Ayers on reforming Chicago public schools. The two men managed to spend $50 million on that project, without accomplishing anything. (If you need still more facts on Obama's "accomplishments", you can find some in this post.)
If Obama supporters don't agree with those conclusions, then they should take the time to look at Obama's record and tell us what he has accomplished — as I have been asking them to do since last December. If the "Accomplishments" section of Obama's résumé has something significant in it, tell us what it is, tell us what Obama has done that qualifies him to be president. Which some people consider a tough job. Even for those who read well from a TelePrompTer.
Cross posted at Sound Politics.(Note to Congressman Smith: The word is "digital", not "digitial". And it is good to see you reaching back to honor President Truman, who would be completely out of place in today's "Defeat Now!" Democratic party.)
- 6:21 PM, 4 August 2008 [link]
Stories On Nuclear Power Aren't All Wrong: But many of them are, as the correction at the beginning of this Washington Post story illustrates.
CORRECTION TO THIS ARTICLEWell, the Post did correct it. But the newspaper might consider retraining the reporters (or editor) who added that adjective, or even finding different work for them to do.
Incidentally, this should remind us all of just how safe nuclear power has been in the United States. The worst accident caused no deaths or serious injuries. (The storage of nuclear wastes is even safer than power generation. As far as I can tell, there have been no deaths from the storage of nuclear wastes from commercial reactors, which we have been doing for more than fifty years now. But people, some of them serious, will still tell you how dangerous nuclear waste is.)
(By way of James Taranto.)
- 2:09 PM, 4 August 2008 [link]
Sunny Side Down? When I left my home in eastern Washington state, I quickly learned that many people think that the whole state is wet. When people learned I was from Washington, as often as not they immediately said something about the constant rain. In fact, east of the Cascades, it is dry, and gets far more sunshine than the west side of the mountains. So one would expect the rate of melanoma to be much higher on the east side, where people get all that sunshine.
In fact, the counties east of the Cascades, where they get all that sun, have fewer cases of melanoma.
Most people in Washington don't realize the state has the fifth-highest rate of melanoma, a deadly skin cancer, [EPA outreach and education specialist Luke] Hall-Jordan said. (Vermont has the highest.) And Washington has the seventh-highest for death from melanoma. (No. 1: Rhode Island.)A map, which does not seem to be available on line, shows the relationship even more clearly. In general, the more sunshine a county gets, the lower its rate of melanoma. The county with the second highest rate of melanoma, Jefferson, is one of the rainiest places in the contiguous United States. (The county includes a large portion of the Olympic National Park, which has a temperate rain forest.) Most of the counties with low rates are sunny places east of the Cascades. The differences within the state are quite large, ranging from Island county's 88.3 cases per 100,000 (age adjusted) to Franklin's 14.8.
(Looking at the map, I would say that the lowest rates of melanoma are in the counties with the most sunshine, and the most people who work outside for a living, farmers, loggers, commercial fishermen, et cetera. Which is certainly not what I would have expected.)
There is a general lesson in this example. However plausible a theory may seem, it still must be tested against data. And sometimes those tests will surprise us.
(I may be prosecuted for revealing state secrets, but the Seattle area does not get more total rainfall than much of the Northeast. It does rain more often here, but we seldom get torrential downpours. Winters can be be miserable for weeks, with fog and rain day after day, but summers — which may not start until July — are usually dry and often spectacularly beautiful.
Some of the oddities in the data may be caused by small populations in some of Washington's rural counties. That doesn't affect the general argument, but does imply that we should be slow to make inferences about some of the smaller counties.
There are some interesting international patterns in melanoma in this chart. The worst places, by far, for melanoma are Australia and New Zealand — and they have about the same rate as Washington state does.)
- 1:29 PM, 4 August 2008 [link]
"Annoy The Media/Re-Elect Bush": Remember that bumper sticker from the 1992 campaign? It's one of my all time favorites. (And I had a chance to get one, but hesitated, and when I went back a week later, they were all gone.) For this election, we need something stronger, perhaps something like "Infuriate the Media/Reject Obama". (If you have a better suggestion, let me know.)
(Ponnuru is correct to say that complaining about the media is a sign of a losing campaign. But that doesn't mean that others, outside the campaign, can't have a little fun.
To give credit where credit is due: In 1993, responding to the criticism of their coverage, ABC did a special which more or less admitted that they had been biased in their coverage. I doubt very much that any of our networks would have the honesty to do a similar project today. And I think many critical viewers have given up on most of the networks.)
- 7:01 AM, 4 August 2008 [link]
Why Are Both McCain And Obama Promising Us Tax Cuts? Because they think that's what we want, says Debra Saunders:
Every year, Washington spends more than it takes in. The federal deficit is expected to hit $482 billion next year. So why are both presidential candidates promising voters bigger government and more tax cuts? They must figure that if they don't, they lose.Because those proposals win more votes than they lose, or so the candidates think. Which says something sad about the candidates, the voters, or both. (I'm inclined to say both.)
For the record, I don't think either candidate's numbers make any sense — but then I almost never do.
Even so, McCain is far better on fiscal issues than Obama. He has a record, a good record, of fighting wasteful spending. In contrast, Obama has never even constructed a budget, much less tried to balance one. And he shows no sign of wanting to do so, even in the long run.
(Most economists do not worry much about short term deficits in the federal budget. But they do worry about long term problems, especially the ever-rising costs for entitlement programs like Medicare and Medicaid.
The $250,000 threshold amuses me. For some reason, congressmen almost always identify the rich as . . . . . . those people who earn just a little bit more than congressmen. Sheer coincidence, no doubt.)
- 6:18 AM, 4 August 2008 [link]
Finally, An Explanation For The 2001 Anthrax Mailings? Maybe.
A top U.S. biodefense researcher apparently committed suicide just as the Justice Department was about to file criminal charges against him in the anthrax mailings that traumatized the nation in the weeks following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, according to a published report.There's nothing in the AP story that would explain his motive. (Pure speculation: Sometimes a person who fears a great danger — as a biodefense researcher might — will think that the only way he can draw sufficient attention to the danger is with a "demonstration".)
Could Ivins have been caught sooner (assuming he is guilty) if the FBI had not spent so much time chasing the wrong suspect? Almost certainly.
The Times said federal investigators moved away from Hatfill and concluded Ivins was the culprit after FBI Director Robert Mueller changed leadership of the investigation in 2006. The new investigators instructed agents to re-examine leads and reconsider potential suspects.(I haven't seen an apology to Steven Hatfill from the New York Times. But he deserves one.)
- 7:48 AM, 1 August 2008
And Maybe Not: Richard Spertzel, who knows a little about bio-weapons, thinks the case is not conclusive.
The FBI has not officially released information on why it focused on Ivins, and whether he was about to be charged or arrested. And when the FBI does release this information, we should all remember that the case needs to be firmly based on solid information that would conclusively prove that a lone scientist could make such a sophisticated product.We don't have a formal statement from the FBI, but the New York Times says that the agency is convinced that the anthrax came from Ivins' lab, in fact, from a single flask. Unfortunately, at least ten people had regular access to that flask, and many more may have had access to it at one time or another. (I have no idea whether they actually can identify the strain that precisely; Spertzel seems to think that they can't.)
- 12:49 PM, 5 August 2008
More: Ace has a long post giving a summary of the evidence released yesterday. Included in the post is this interesting, but probably irrelevant, fact: Bruce Ivins was Democrat.
- 10:10 AM, 7 August 2008 [link]
Political Correctness is expensive, suggests economist Gregory Mankiw. (Though there is an alternative explanation that the politically incorrect will like: If you are good enough with numbers to succeed in the tougher majors, then you are less likely to believe silly arguments.)
- 7:18 AM, 1 August 2008 [link]