August 2008, Part 3

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Negative Equity And Democratic Votes:  When I glanced at the graphic accompanying this article, the pattern seemed familiar.  Take a look at the map yourself, and see if you see the same pattern in that map that I did.  (The map is on the left side of the article, and is labeled "Worth Less".)  If you are puzzled, perhaps because you haven't been studying US vote patterns for more than forty years, take a look at this map for some hints.

In general — please note that I said, in general — the areas that have the highest levels of negative equity are the areas that vote Democratic, that elect Democrats to state legislatures and city councils.

There are exceptions.  The heavily black areas along the Mississippi river and the Hispanic areas along the southern border vote Democratic, but do not have problems with declining equity (or even equity, some might quip).  But on the whole the declining equity map is also a map of Democratic strongholds, Los Angeles and other urban areas on the West coast, the Twin Cities, Chicago, Detroit, New York, and so on.

Allowing for those exceptions, the negative equity map looks like a map of Obama's supporters, except for southern blacks.

Why might this be so?  Here's my speculation, and it is no more than speculation, but it is consistent with a number of academic studies.  Democrats, especially culturally left Democrats (latte-sipping, arugula-nibbling Democrats, as opposed to beer-drinking, hot-dog-eating Democrats), regulate housing markets, causing shortages.  These shortages cause prices for homes and condominiums to rise rapidly.  Once prices have been rising rapidly for several years, many begin to believe that they will always rise, and soon you have a bubble, with speculators trying to make quick profits, and home buyers trying to beat price increases.  Eventually, the bubble pops, the prices drop, and the foreclosures start.

If you have a better explanation for the relationship, let me know.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(Unfortunately for my thesis, the county that they chose to illustrate the negative equity problem, California's Merced, gave more than 56 percent of its vote to George W. Bush in 2004.  But the housing bubble seems to have been mostly created by people from outside the county, and the land rules in Merced, as in the rest of California, are mostly set by the legislature, which has been run by Democrats for years.)
- 2:18 PM, 24 August 2008   [link]

Opening Gaffes:  Obama and Biden's first joint appearance did not go well.
When introducing his running mate, Obama said, "So let me introduce to you the next president - the next vice president of the US of America, Joe Biden."

And then when it was Biden's turn to speak, the Delaware senator called the presumptive Democratic nominee "Barack America" instead of Barack Obama.
This campaign promises to be entertaining — as long as we don't dwell on the possibility that the two men may win this November.

(Peter Wehner, who has written a speech or two himself, was not impressed by Biden's speech.  Among other thing, he notes that Biden does not seem to know the difference between literally and figuratively.  That's not an uncommon mistake — among the partially educated.)
- 9:25 AM, 24 August 2008
More:  Biden misused "literally" eight times.
- 6:33 PM, 24 August 2008   [link]

Most People In Washington Think Senator Biden Is A Decent Man:  But not Clarence Thomas.
- 12:15 PM, 23 August 2008   [link]

Every Mission Completed?  Remember when President Bush landed on the Abraham Lincoln, where he was welcomed with a sign that said "Mission Accomplished"?  According to the White House, the slogan came from the crew of the carrier and referred to its mission, which had been accomplished.  In his speech, Bush did not say that the mission had been accomplished, though he did say — correctly — that major combat operations were over.

The left and the "mainstream" media have never forgiven Bush for that banner.  But here's what Barack Obama just told the VFW.
Sen. Barack Obama, edging away from a long-held position, tacitly acknowledged the success of the Iraq troop-surge strategy during an appearance Tuesday before the country's largest organization of combat veterans.

"Let's be clear, our troops have completed every mission they've been given," Mr. Obama said at the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in Orlando, Fla., where the likely Democratic presidential nominee courted military voters who are expected to play a pivotal role in several swing states. "They have created the space for political reconciliation."
Which goes much farther than the sign, too much farther, as anyone who has followed the news from Iraq and Afghanistan can tell you.  Many missions have been "completed", but some have not, and some will not be completed for years, even if the most optimistic predictions are correct.

That's not the fault of our magnificent military; that's simply the nature of this kind of irregular war.

(Will any "mainstream" journalists follow up on that remarkable claim?  Probably not.

Here's the Wikipedia account of the controversy, with the usual caveats.)
- 1:56 PM, 22 August 2008   [link]

More Jury Duty:  For at least a couple of hours, though, since they have two trials scheduled, I have to assume that my chances of being picked for a jury today are higher than they were on Monday.  (One puzzle:  The trial scheduled for Monday was, at least, postponed for a day.   Since all of us are to report today, I am guessing that the trial was called off Tuesday morning.  If that is correct, it means that, of the six trials scheduled for this week, three have already been called off.)
- 8:08 AM, 21 August 2008
Update:  Actually, more like an hour.  I showed up about ten minutes early, went through the security check, and was told to wait on a bench next to the entrance, along with about ten other prospective jurors.  After a bit, we were told that they had enough jurors and we could go home.  I get the feeling that, had I come fifteen minutes early, I would have had to stay.
- 10:12 AM, 21 August 2008
Friday Update:  My number wasn't called today, either, which is just as well, since I have been a little under the weather for the last twenty-four hours.
- 10:00 AM, 22 August 2008   [link]

Worth Reading:  This interview with scientist Nina Fedoroff.  Here's my favorite exchange:
Q. Why do you think there is such fierce opposition to genetically modified foods?

This is an unintended consequence of our success.  We've gotten so good at growing food that we've gone, in a few generations, from nearly half of Americans living on farms to 2 percent.  We no longer think about how the wonderful things in the grocery store got there, and we'd like to go back to what we think is a more natural way.

But I'm afraid we can't, in part, because there are just too many of us in this world.  If everybody switched to organic farming, we couldn't support the earth's current population — maybe half.
As she says earlier in the interview, almost all our foods are genetically modified, even those we think of as "natural".  This evening, for example, I am going to have some genetically modified teosinte, specifically, corn on the cob.

(We might be able to do better than half if we switched to an almost entirely vegetarian diet.

More on Federoff here.)
- 7:17 AM, 21 August 2008   [link]

Presidential Physics Quiz:  You can take it here.

Warning:  There are, as I write, 100 comments with answers to the four questions.  So, if you want to try to answer them by yourself (with the help of calculators and Google), don't scroll down past the fourth question.
- 6:08 AM, 21 August 2008
Answers here.
- 3:29 PM, 22 August 2008   [link]

Teleprompters At Town Halls?  It is no secret that "town hall" events are often less spontaneous than they appear, but this is still a surprise.
According to several Democrat political consultants presumptive Democrat presidential nominee Barack Obama spent part of his Hawaiian vacation working on weaning himself from a heavy dependence on teleprompters.  Even in what are staged as "town hall" events for Obama, remarks are scripted or formatted into bullet points that scroll on teleprompter screens.  Obama has had several embarrassing events where the teleprompter either malfunctioned or the screens were not fully visible.

"He just locks down and can't get the words out," says one political consultant.  "For such a fine speaker, it's really quite remarkable that he's had issues."
That would help explain some odd lapses during his campaign.
- 5:51 AM, 21 August 2008   [link]

This Is hard to believe.
And all Andrew Sullivan and a significant number of new media members on the Left care about is whether or not a North Vietnamese prison guard drew a cross in the sand with a stick some 40 years ago?
That isn't all they care about, but that they do care about this incident (at first described as plagiarism from Solzhenitsyn) is simply amazing.

(I have been, I think, reasonably consistent on these questions.  In 2004, I said that it did not matter much whether John Kerry was telling the complete truth about his Vietnam experiences — but that what he did after he came back did matter.)
- 3:49 PM, 20 August 2008   [link]

Barack Obama, Machine Politician:  In my first post on Nancy Pelosi, I labeled her a "machine politician", partly because of her background, and partly because of her career.  What she has done as speaker since then supports my conclusion that she practices politics as Tammany Hall did, and as Mayor Daley, and his supporters, still do.

Now, David Freddoso makes a similar argument about Barack Obama.
The most dramatic examples of Mr. Obama's commitment to old-style politics are his repeated endorsements of Chicago's machine politicians, which came in opposition to what people of all ideological stripes viewed as the common good.

In the 2006 election, reformers from both parties attempted to end the corruption in Chicago's Cook County government.  They probably would have succeeded, too, had Mr. Obama taken their side.  Liberals and conservatives came together and nearly ousted Cook County Board President John Stroger, the machine boss whom court papers credibly accuse of illegally using the county payroll to maintain his own standing army of political cronies, contributors and campaigners.
And, just in case you think Obama has changed, let me note that his supporters intend to use that favorite tool of election corruption, "street money".
Rest assured, Philadelphia.  Come Election Day, there will be street money.

According to U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, the local Democratic Party chairman, Sen. Barack Obama's general-election presidential campaign in Philadelphia will be run different from his primary operation, which relied more on volunteers than on Democratic ward leaders and did not provide street money on Election Day.
These handouts of cash are not always bribes — but they often are.  And the handouts never have the controls that would keep them from being bribes.

(The article implies that Obama has approved of the "street money" in Philadelphia.  He may not have, but to the best of my knowledge, he hasn't asked his supporters not to pass it out it, either.)
- 2:30 PM, 20 August 2008   [link]

Zogby Has McCain Leading By 5 Points:  Here's the first paragraph of the press release.
As Russian tanks rolled into the Republic of Georgia and the presidential candidates met over the weekend in the first joint issues forum of the fall campaign, the latest polling includes drama almost as compelling - Republican John McCain has taken a five-point lead over Democrat Barack Obama in the race for President, the latest Reuters/Zogby telephone survey shows.

McCain leads Obama by a 46% to 41% margin.
But you should know that many pollsters do not trust Zogby's results.
Zogby has long been known for refusing to use sound methods in designing his samples.  The use of only listed telephone numbers, and the self-selected samples of voters in his online surveys, are the two most salient problems.  Still, his last pre-election polls often come close to the actual election results, and many news media outlets regularly publish his results.
Most poll experts would find that first criticism — that Zogby does not use sound methods for his samples — devastating.

There is good reason to think that McCain has gained on Obama, but I wouldn't put too much faith in this latest Zogby poll.

(More on possible Zogby poll problems in the comments.)
- 1:55 PM, 20 August 2008   [link]

Howard Fineman Thinks Obama will choose Joe Biden for his running mate.
I've recently spoken with two of the finalists for the role of Barack Obama's running-mate, and to two other sources who are close to the process.

My bottom line is this: Barring a big surprise or last-minute change of heart, the choice is likely to be Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee.
Seems plausible.  Biden would add experience but would not outshine Obama.  And he's a good campaigner and more moderate than Obama.

Some Republicans would be delighted by the choice, because Biden has said many things over the years, some of which might appear in a campaign commercial, a Republican campaign commercial.

(My opinion:  Biden is a decent man, but a lightweight, with few accomplishments even though he has been a senator since 1973.  There is nothing in his biography to suggest that he would be a good executive.

There are so few examples that I hesitate to call this a general rule, but I think career politicians tend to select weaker running mates than outsiders do.  If I am right in that, then that is another reason to think that Obama might choose Biden, or someone like him.)
- 8:56 AM, 20 August 2008   [link]

What's Obama Hiding?  When a candidate refuses to release some of his records, nearly everyone will suspect that he is hiding something.  For instance, when Bill Clinton refused to release his medical records, most people assumed that there was something embarrassing in those records.   (And it isn't hard to think of possibilities.)  Similarly, many wondered what John Kerry was hiding when he refused, during the 2004 campaign, to release his military records.  And, to be fair, many people wondered about George W. Bush's drug use as a young man, when he refused to answer questions on the subject during the 2000 campaign.

But Obama has set some kind of record (pun intended) in refusing to release his records, or telling us that the dog ate them, or whatever.  Here's a partial list.
Just to review, the public cannot get access to paperwork related grants distributed by then-state-legislator Obama (records from 1997 to 2000 aren't available); his state legislative office records (which he says may have been thrown out); he refuses to release a specific list of law clients, instead giving a list of all of his firm's clients, numbering several hundred each year; he won't release his application to the state bar (where critics wonder if he lied in responding to questions about parking tickets and past drug use); he's never released any legal or billing records to verify that he only did a few hours of work for a nonprofit tied to convicted donor Rezko; and he's never released any medical records, just a one-page letter from his doctor.
And there's more — or, perhaps I should say, there's less.  He has never released his college or law school transcripts, and claims to have lost the senior thesis he wrote at Columbia.

Now, the University of Illinois is blocking access to another set of papers that may shed light on Obama's career.  Stanley Kurtz, who tried to get access to the papers, is suspicious, rightly so, in my opinion.

(The papers may show something about Obama's relationship to unrepentant terrorist William Ayers, show that he is more to Obama than just a man who lives in his neighborhood.)
- 1:31 PM, 19 August 2008   [link]

Congratulations To "Mainstream" Journalists:  Most Americans don't trust them, and that is especially true for Republicans.
"Over the last 10 years," the just-released biennial news consumption survey from the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press determined, "virtually every news organization or program has seen its credibility marks decline" and "Democrats continue to give most news organizations much higher credibility ratings than do Republicans."
I'll have to look at the whole report, but I was struck by a couple of details in a table titled "Partisanship and Credibility".  Almost no one trusts Newsweek, and Republicans really distrust the BBC and the New York Times.
- 10:56 AM, 19 August 2008   [link]

Perspective:  Unhappy with the our choices this November?  Think our nation is on the wrong track?  Then you might want to get some perspective from Equatorial Guinea.
What's the worst place in the world?  If one were to judge strictly by media hype, Zimbabwe, Somalia, and Sudan would seem to be the prime contenders.  Some pieces of terra firma, however, are so Godforsaken and blood-soaked that they are ignored by the media lest they be allowed to trouble the Western world's already guilt-ridden conscience.  This is why you never read anything about Equatorial Guinea, a country of such Dantesque absurdity as to scarcely be believed.
And even now, it is getting attention mostly because of an coup plot, one that may have been copied from a novel.

(North Korea is another contender for the worst place in the world.)
- 8:38 AM, 19 August 2008   [link]

Doesn't Know Much About Abortion Trends:  Barack Obama said this in his appearance at Saddleback.
The fact is that although we have had a president who is opposed to abortion over the last eight years, abortions have not gone down and that is something we have to address.
In fact, Guttmacher's most recent published figures show 106,800 fewer abortions in George Bush's fifth year than in Bill Clinton's last year in office.  That represents an 8 percent decline in the number of abortions and an even larger decline — 9 percent — in the rate of abortions per 1,000 women aged 15 through 44.
(They use the fifth Bush year, because that is the latest year for which they have data.)

Obama should know this because there has been long term decline in the rate of abortions in the United States, starting in about 1980.  And there has a been a long term decline in the total number of abortions, starting about 1990.  (For the numbers, see this report from the Guttmacher Institute, especially Table 1.)

You would think that a politician who was as interested in abortion as Obama has been over the years would know these basic facts.  But he may have been taken in by a bogus study that fooled Hillary Clinton and Howard Dean.  (Incidentally, it wasn't hard to see that the study was flawed, but some Democratic politicians found it so useful that they didn't bother to look at it carefully.  Or perhaps they are just not very good with statistics.)

Given how long this trend has continued, it would be a mistake to attribute it to any particular president, though it is true that the decline was slightly faster in Bush's first five years than in Clintons' last five.

(The FactCheck piece mentions two other mistakes by the candidates.  Obama claimed, falsely, to have worked with McCain on ethics reform  McCain misstated his own tax plan, exaggerating the benefits for families.)
- 7:54 AM, 19 August 2008   [link]

Obama Puts Down Clarence Thomas:  During their appearance at Saddleback Community Church, Rick Warren asked Obama and McCain which Supreme Court justices they would not have named to the court.  Here's all, or almost all, of Obama's answer:
That's a good one.  That's a good one.  I would not have nominated Clarence Thomas. [ applause ]  I don't think that he - I don't think that he was as strong enough jurist or legal thinker at the time for that elevation, setting aside the fact that I profoundly disagree with his interpretations of a lot of the Constitution.  I would not nominate Justice Scalia, although I don't think there's any doubt about his intellectual brilliance, because he and I just disagree.  He taught at the University of Chicago, as did I in the law school.
(Almost all, because some think that Obama started to say that Thomas did not have enough experience to be on the court.   Others, including me, aren't completely sure.  You can watch and listen to video here, and form your own opinion.  If he did start to say experience, he would have wanted to choke it off, because, as the Wall Street Journal points out, Thomas had far more experience when he was named to the court than Obama does now.)

But it is the second part of the answer that I find most interesting.  Obama says that Scalia is smart enough to be a justice, implying, strongly, that Thomas isn't.

As is as often the case with race, a hypothetical comparison is illuminating.  Suppose that a George H. W. Bush had been asked, in the 1988 campaign, the same question and had said the same things about Thurgood Marshall as Obama did about Thomas.  And then went on to name another leftist justice, giving him credit for intellectual ability, as Obama did Scalia.  Is there any doubt that many on the left would have seen Bush's reply as evidence of racism?

Is it possible that Obama is showing racism in that answer?  It's possible; racism, even racism directed toward blacks, is not unknown among blacks or people of mixed race like Obama.  But I think it more likely that Obama is showing, not racism, but snobbery, the snobbery of a glib man toward a man who is not as facile with words.  And, of course, it could be a little of both.

(In contrast, McCain named the four justices who are farthest to the left, without saying anything about any of them personally.)
- 2:16 PM, 18 August 2008   [link]

Luck Of The Draw:  Sent me home from jury duty this morning.  More than forty potential jurors showed up this morning; twenty-six numbers were drawn and mine wasn't one of them.  There is just one trial scheduled for today, and juries in this court usually (always?) have just six members, with no alternates.  So there were twenty extras for that trial alone.

While waiting for the numbers to be drawn, we got to watch the usual video.  After my previous experiences, I was amused to hear the video claim that the attorneys and court officers did not want to waste our time.  (Advice for those who don't find that funny:  Bring reading material, or knitting, or something else to pass the time, if you are called for jury duty.)  All in all, just coming in and waiting for the numbers to be drawn took more than two hours of each potential juror's time.  On the other hand, I think each juror gets paid for a full day, just for showing up.

One oddity:  The summons from the Kirkland court does not mention pay, and the jury supervisor did not mention it this morning.  They may be embarrassed to mention it, since the pay was just thirteen dollars a day, last year.

We were told that there will be no trial tomorrow, and that there may not be one on Wednesday.   For this court, that means I have to check either their phone line, or their web site Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday evenings to see if I have to come in the next day.  (The phone line is updated as information comes in; the web site just once a day.)

Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 10:44 AM, 18 August 2008

Update:  The court web site now has this message:

Tuesday August 19; 1 trial scheduled-- these jurors to call the juror information line at 425-587-3181 at 9am for instructions on Tuesdays Trial.  Please note if the trial proceeds you will have 30 minutes to appear at the court.  Thank you.


Since those are the jurors who were called this morning, and the trial tomorrow had been canceled, it sounds as though today's trial was postponed one day, while the two sides wrangled.  And that they are still wrangling, so that the jurors will not know whether they should appear until it is actually time for the trial to begin.  (If those conclusions are wrong, please let me know right away.)

Fortunately, the attorneys and court officers do not want to waste the time of the jurors.
- 5:41 PM, 18 August 2008   [link]

How Much Is China Spending On The Olympics?  Critics say, too much.
For all its export might, China is still a poor, largely agrarian country with perhaps 700m farmers and 150m migrant workers.  The size of its economy is huge but, measured by wealth per head, it ranks 109th in the world, comparable with Swaziland or Morocco.

It faces an acute crisis as its people live longer but fewer are born; the old lack pensions and healthcare must be paid for.  Half the population does not have clean drinking water and 16 cities are among the most polluted on earth.

So why, asked the mainland Chinese writers in a Hong Kong magazine named Kaifang (Opening Up), did China blow more than £20 billion on the Games?

They calculate that the total costs may exceed £30 billion, more than the Chinese government will spend this year on education or public health or relief for the Sichuan earthquake.  These are questions that would make any ruler nervous.
I haven't the faintest idea whether those estimates are even close to correct, but I do think that a nation should at least provide clean water for its citizens before hosting the Olympics.

You would not learn these things from NBC, judging by the coverage I have seen.  I watched much of the women's marathon, hoping that something interesting would happen.  (Nothing did, although I did enjoy seeing the winner blowing kisses to the crowd.)  The route took the runners past Tiananmen Square, as the announcers said several times — without mentioning the square's bloody history.  And the announcers described a giant picture of Mao along the route — without mentioning that he was the greatest mass murderer of all time.  (One would think sports announcers would be interested in anyone who breaks a record.)

(Minor correction:  The article says that China has 700 million farmers; probably they mean to say that China has 700 million people living on farms.)
- 7:16 AM, 18 August 2008   [link]

Warren Olney Thinks Rick Warren Is A Fundamentalist:  Last Friday, I was listening to the first few minutes of NPR's "To The Point".  The host, Warren Olney, seemed not to know who Rick Warren was, and why he was hosting a presidential debate.  As if to prove that Olney did not know what he was talking about, he called Warren a "fundamentalist".

Olney's term is interesting for two reasons.  First, it is wrong,  "Fundamentalist" has a relatively precise theological meaning, and a few minutes with a search engine will show you that Pastor Warren is not a "fundamentalist".  Instead, he is best described as an "evangelical".   Some fundamentalists are evangelicals; most evangelicals are not fundamentalists.

Second, the term has become something of an insult.  Here's how Associated Press Stylebook explains it.
In recent years, however, fundamentalist has to a large extent taken on pejorative connotations except when applied to groups that stress strict, literal interpretations of Scripture and separation from other Christians.

In general, do not use fundamentalist unless a group applies the word to itself.
(I'm using the 2002 edition, but I doubt that they have changed their advice on the term since then.)

So Olney got the facts wrong, and used a term the Associated Press advises against, in most cases.   More evidence of ignorance and bias at NPR?  Probably.

(More on Rick Warren here, here, and here.  He's an interesting man; Olney should take some time to learn more about him.)
- 3:44 PM, 17 August 2008   [link]

Looking For A Car With Good Gas Mileage?  You may want to consider a Corvette.
For barely $50,000, 'Vette buyers get a Ferrari-fighter than hits 60 m.p.h. in just over four seconds and tops out at a cool 190 m.p.h.  Yet burbling along with the manual transmission in sixth gear, the lightweight 'Vette can cover 26 miles on a gallon of gas.
Which isn't bad, though I don't think mileage is the main reason why people buy Corvettes.
- 1:48 PM, 17 August 2008   [link]

More Obama Discrepancies:  For example:
Take Obama's first general election ad.  We are told that Obama "passed laws" that "extended healthcare for wounded troops who'd been neglected," with a citation at the bottom to only one Senate bill: The 2008 Defense Authorization Bill, which passed the Senate by a 91-3 vote.  Six Senators did not vote-including Obama.  Nor is there evidence that he contributed to its passage in any material way.  So, his claim to have "passed laws" amounts to citing a bill that was largely unopposed, that he didn't vote for, and whose passage he didn't impact.
We can take that one step farther and note that a single senator never passes laws.  A senator can write a law, support it in committee, and vote for it on the floor, but he can not, by himself, pass a law.

The Jerusalem Post bloggers have more examples, and this general conclusion:
Would someone with Obama's stellar list of job titles resort to making stuff up?  He seems to think he has to.  In spite of the many impressive positions he's held, he's done almost nothing with them.  If he wants to claim specific, relevant accomplishments, his only resort is to stretching the truth.
But those stretchers pose a serious risk.  Eventually, voters are likely to notice the pattern, notice that Obama again and again makes claims about what he has done, or what has happened to him, that are at best, exaggerations.

(Have any "mainstream" American reporters noticed this pattern in Obama's behavior, noticed that he consistently inflates his résumé?  Not as far as I know.  Of course a few may have noticed, but have chosen not to say anything.)
- 1:28 PM, 17 August 2008   [link]