December 2007, Part 1

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Burney Falls:  The day after getting a little exposure to culture at Mount Shasta, I headed north of Lassen to see Burney Falls in the McArthur-Burney Falls state park.

Burney Falls, 2007

The falls is beautiful, though I wouldn't say it was one of the eight wonders of the world, as Teddy Roosevelt did.  And it is strange.  As you can see in the picture, the water flows over the top — and out of several layers in the middle.  Here's a brief explanation:
The park's landscape was created by volcanic activity as well as erosion from weather and streams.   This volcanic region is surrounded by mountain peaks and is covered by black volcanic rock, or basalt.  Created over a million years ago, the layered, porous basalt retains rainwater and snow melt, which forms a large underground reservoir.

Within the park, the water emerges as springs at and above Burney Falls, where it flows at 100 million gallons every day.
In other words, what you see in that picture is a combination of waterfall and springs.

(The falls is a frustrating subject for a photographer.  I shot the picture at just before one o'clock on August 10th.  The light was a bit flat, as it usually is in the middle of the day.   But I am fairly sure that shooting early in the morning, or late in the day, would mean that sunlight would not hit much of the falls, which might be even worse than having flat light.  Maybe the best approach would be to use a really big flash.

You can find the previous 2007 disaster area tour posts here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

You can find the last posts, with links to earlier posts, for the 2006 and 2005 tours here and here.)
- 1:22 PM, 7 December 2007   [link]

This Should Please Al Gore And Company:  But I doubt that it will.
The United States reduced greenhouse gas emissions in 2006 after four years of increases, the government said Wednesday ahead of a key United Nations meeting next week on climate change.

The Department of Energy (DoE) said greenhouse gas emissions in the world's biggest polluter fell by 1.5 percent in 2006, the first decline since 2001.
In 2001, a recession caused the decline, but this time the decline came in a time of growing prosperity.  In fact, if greenhouse gases had grown only as fast as the economy, there would have been a 2.9 percent increase, instead of a decrease.  Warmer weather in 2006 helped, which some may find ironic.
- 9:23 AM, 7 December 2007   [link]

Is The Weaker Dollar A Bad Thing?  That depends.  As this Investor's Business Daily editorial explains, a weaker dollar has advantages for many Americans.
The weak dollar already has led to a powerful surge in industrial activity across America's heartland.   In fact, if the U.S. avoids falling into a recession in 2008, we may have the much-maligned dollar to thank.

Recent revisions to third-quarter GDP data showed growth of 4.9% vs. an initial estimate of 3.9%.   The reason was an 18.9% annualized jump in net exports, which boosted GDP by a full 1.4 percentage points.  That more than offset the decline in housing.

Fueled by the weaker dollar, exports were much stronger than expected.  Goods exports alone increased a whopping 25% — while imports rose just 4.3%.
If you are an English professor, hoping to vacation in Britain, then the weaker dollar will crimp your plans.  If you are a Boeing worker, then the weaker dollar may make your job safe for years.

In fact, the weaker dollar is giving Boeing such an advantage over Airbus that the Europeans see it as a crisis.

Oddly, some of the same people who complain (incorrectly) that we don't manufacture much anymore are now complaining about the weaker dollar — which is doing wonders for our manufactured exports.

You may want to read the whole editorial; you certainly should look at the chart at the bottom, which shows how the dollar has changed versus a basket of currencies since 1990.  The dollar is now about as strong as it was ten years ago, and much stronger than it was in 1990.

By way of Engram, who expands the argument made in the editorial.
- 10:57 AM, 6 December 2007   [link]

The BBC Funded Accused Islamic Terrorists:  To get some scenes for a program.
The BBC funded a paintballing trip for men later accused of Islamic terrorism and failed to pass on information about the 21/7 bombers to police, a court was told yesterday.

Mohammed Hamid, who is charged with overseeing a two-year radicalisation programme to prepare London-based Muslim youths for jihad, was described as a "cockney comic" by a BBC producer.

The BBC paid for Mr Hamid and fellow defendants Muhammad al-Figari and Mousa Brown to go on a paintballing trip at the Delta Force centre in Tonbridge, Kent, in February 2005.  The men, accused of terrorism training, were filmed for a BBC programme called Don't Panic, I'm Islamic, screened in June 2005.
As almost everyone knows by now, paintballing is often used for military training by all sorts of extremist groups.  (Of course, most paintballers are just out there having fun, but we have to recognize that a few are training.)

Worse yet, the BBC concealed what they learned later from the police.
Nasreen Suleaman, a researcher on the programme, told the court that Mr Hamid, 50, contacted her after the July 2005 attack and told her of his association with the bombers.  But she said that she felt no obligation to contact the police with this information.  Ms Suleaman said that she informed senior BBC managers but was not told to contact the police.
As you would expect, the Biased BBC commenters have much to say, none of it complimentary.  (Americans reading the comments may need to know that John Reith was the first head of the BBC.  A BBC employee, who uses "John Reith" as a pseudonym, often defends the BBC at the site.)

Charles Johnson has provided a link to Don't Panic, I'm Islamic.  I suppose I will have to watch it.

(The Daily Mail also has the story, and provides a somewhat different set of details.)
- 7:40 AM, 6 December 2007   [link]

Unless You Are Mike Huckabee:  When I wrote the post just below, I assumed that nearly everyone interested in American politics had heard about the changed National Intelligence Estimate on Iran's nuclear program.  But the former governor of Arkansas hadn't.
My colleague David Paul Kuhn attended an on-the-record dinner with Mike Huckabee and a group of reporters tonight in Des Moines.

The transcript speaks for itself:

Kuhn: I don't know to what extent you have been briefed or been able to take a look at the NIE report that came out yesterday ...

Huckabee: I'm sorry?

Kuhn: The NIE report, the National Intelligence Estimate on Iran.  Have you been briefed or been able to take a look at it —

Huckabee: No.

Kuhn: Have you heard of the finding?

Huckabee: No.
At least not as of Tuesday evening.

Note that this conversation occurred at dinner, so Huckabee had had more than 24 hours to learn about the story, which was probably in every major newspaper.  And, I assume, maybe incorrectly, that he has at least one aide who is supposed to keep up with the news and brief him on such things.

I don't have an explanation for this, so I won't give one.  But I would like to hear where Huckabee usually get his information.
- 6:28 AM, 6 December 2007   [link]

Some Preliminary Thoughts On That NIE Estimate:  By now, I am sure you have heard about the latest National Intelligence Estimate on Iranian nuclear programs.   There is an intense debate about the conclusions in the estimate, and about the people making the estimate.  As of now, I don't have an opinion on the estimate because, as Herb Meyer points out, we have the conclusions from the estimate, but not the evidence.   (And, of course, it would be completely illegal for most of us to have much of the evidence.)

And because, as I have said before, I agree with Clausewitz's famous judgment about intelligence:
If we consider the actual basis of this information [i.e., intelligence], how unreliable and transient it is, we soon realize that war is a flimsy structure that can easily collapse and bury us in its ruins. . . .  Many intelligence reports in war are contradictory; even more are false, and most are uncertain.  This is true of all intelligence but even more so in the heat of battle, where such reports tend to contradict and cancel each other out.  In short, most intelligence is false, and the effect of fear is to multiply lies and inaccuracies.
Clausewitz is arguing that what most would now call "tactical" intelligence is even worse than what most would now call "strategic" intelligence.  But he wrote before the rise of totalitarian states, which are often adept at hiding strategic intelligence.  We were often wrong — both ways — in our estimates of Soviet weapons during the Cold War, and that wasn't for lack of trying.

The blunt fact is that our enemies will try to deceive us and will often succeed, especially if they are closed societies.  Or closed terrorist organizations.

How badly can one side fool another?  There's a famous example from World War II, the British Double Cross System.
By early 1941, [John Cecil] Masterman expressed the opinion that as a consequence of Double Cross's efficacy, "we [MI5] actively ran and controlled the German espionage system in this country (United Kingdom)."  This was confirmed after the end of the war.
The Germans did get some real intelligence from their agents in Britain — but only because the British chose some to send them, in order to keep the Germans fooled.

Anyone familiar with this example (and many similar examples) will take this latest NIE with at least a grain of salt.  It may be correct, but we should remember that many similar estimates have been wrong.

(Here's the Wikipedia biography, in case you want to brush up on your knowledge of Carl von Clausewitz.)
- 2:18 PM, 5 December 2007   [link]

Are American Cars Cheaper To Run?  In 2004, when I was looking for a new car, I complained that one of the best sources of information, Consumer Reports, was biased, in several ways.

The current issue of Consumer Reports (December) has a fascinating letter which supports that argument.
I am a fleet consultant.  I run cost-per-mile life-cycle graphs on all cars based on actual operational costs and manufacturer-recommended maintenance.  Our top scores all go to American cars, which have the lowest cost per mile over five years and 100,000 miles.

Jay Golden
Omaha, NE

While it's logical for fleets to put a high priority on cost per mile, we feel average consumers want a good, highly rated car to drive and want to keep the hassle of service visits to a minimum.  The article's list of Good Bets are models that have performed well in our tests and have consistently shown better-than-average reliability in our Annual Car Reliability Surveys.
I can't say whether Golden's argument is correct, without seeing his data.  (A quick search on his name and "fleet consultant" turned up nothing.)  But it is interesting that Consumer Reports does not disagree with him, but says that consumers want other things than lowest cost per mile.   (And they may be right about that, at least for most consumers.)  But it would be interesting to know which cars really are the cheapest to run — assuming they all get manufacturer-recommended maintenance.

For what it is worth, the taxis in this area are almost all Ford Crown Victorias, so the local taxi companies must have come to the same conclusion that Golden has.

(I have had no problems with my 2004 Focus, though I haven't used it heavily, driving less than 20,000 miles in more than three years.

Consumer Reports does not seem to understand that all its surveys, not just those on cars, have a systematic problem; the respondents are self selected, which often biases the results, as any good survey researcher can tell you.)
- 11:52 AM, 5 December 2007   [link]

Chuckles From Down Under:  The new Labor government in Australia has started out very well — if you think that a government ought to entertain the citizens.

By way of Tim Blair, I learned that the new Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, had said that he would immediately ratify the Kyoto protocol — and that he would monitor oil companies in order to keep fuel prices down.  Rudd topped that with this decision.
Australia's environment minister may be the only politician on earth charged with such responsibility who is banned (by his own party!) from talking about climate change:
I gather that the minister, Peter Garrett, is something of a flake.  But he still will have things to do; he is the "Minister for the Environment and the Arts".  Now that's a novel combination.

(Labor or Labour?  I wondered whether the Australian party uses the American or British spelling, and so I checked the Wikipedia article.  Turns out that they began with "Labour" but in 1912 changed to "Labor" to be more modern.  But Australia didn't change and so the accepted spelling there is still "labour".  In other words, the Australian Labor Party misspells its own name.)
- 8:45 AM, 5 December 2007   [link]

Some Stories I Would Just As Soon Skip:  Such as this one.

A member of U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell's staff has been charged in federal court after a sting operation in which he allegedly solicited sex from what he thought was a 13-year-old boy.

James Michael McHaney, 28, was charged Saturday in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., with using a computer to arrange a sexual encounter with an informant posing as a boy, according to court records.

Cantwell fired him immediately, but has not said whether he was using an office computer.  The on-line conversation occurred during lunch hour, so it is likely that he was.

And I would have skipped this one if I hadn't seen how the Seattle PI treated it.  Their on-line story, which you can find here, is not the same as the story in the print edition.  The print edition story has just four paragraphs instead of the nine in the on-line version.  The PI hid the story, as best they could, at the bottom of page B2.  And they gave it this headline: "Cantwell aide fired, held on sex charge".  You'll notice that headline reverses the order of events.  But it puts Cantwell's reaction first, which must be what the headline writer intended.

Would the Seattle PI have treated this story the same way if McHaney worked for a Republican senator?  Almost certainly not.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(Those in other areas may be interested in this detail from the Seattle Times story: Before joining Cantwell's staff in 2006, McHaney worked on the John Kerry presidential campaign, and before that he worked for Congressman Richard Gephardt, the former House Minority Leader.

The print edition has an error, giving Ohio as Gephardt's home state.  Actually he represented a Missouri district in the St Louis area, for many years.  The on-line story has been corrected, stealthily, I suspect.)
- 6:15 PM, 4 December 2007   [link]

Here's A Sad Story:  And it is a sad story.  But mixed in with the sad story is some interesting information on voting by non-citizens.  First, the sad story.
Beth Keathley was so close to becoming a permanent U.S. resident that she could already feel its benefits showering over her: a Social Security number, a cheery new house in central Illinois, an official state identification card.  Citizenship would not be far behind.

On the day the Filipino immigrant took part in her first U.S. election last year, she proudly sported an "I voted" lapel pin on her uniform when she showed up for her cleaning shift at a hospital.

But Keathley, who has lived in the U.S. on a marriage visa since 2003, was not a citizen when she voted.  When she told an immigration officer about it, she was charged with breaking the law.   She lost her job.

It could derail her citizenship, and unless a judge rules in her favor, she could eventually be deported -- uprooting a family that includes her 9-month-old daughter, Sheina.
And, let me repeat, I do think this is a sad story.  Keathley, who does not sound especially sophisticated, appears to be a victim of the "Motor Voter" law, which encouraged her to register.   (The form does say that you must be a citizen, but it is not hard to believe that a cleaning woman from the Philippines would not understand what she was signing.)

Now, for the information:
Keathley's alleged crime -- one that trips up hundreds of immigrants each year -- took place at the secretary of state's facility in Bloomington, where a clerk invited her to register to vote as part of the "motor voter" program.
. . .
There are no records kept to accurately reflect the size of the problem.  But immigration attorneys around the country have seen a steady increase in recent years of deportation cases and declined citizenship due to illegal voting, said Carlina Tapia-Ruano, a Chicago attorney who is the immediate past president of the Washington-based American Immigration Lawyers Association.
. . .
Under a federal anti-discrimination law, state workers aren't allowed to confirm an applicant's citizenship before processing a voter registration form, said Beth Kaufman, spokeswoman for the secretary of state's office.
. . .
Some immigrants, confused, leave the question unanswered and still receive voter registration cards, Tapia-Ruano said.

Others knowingly engage in voter fraud, in some cases participating in multiple elections, said Marilu Cabrera, a Chicago spokeswoman for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Let's assume for the moment that all the information in those five paragraphs is correct.  Then we can conclude that "hundreds" of immigrants are caught illegally voting each year and that there has been a "steady increase" in that number in recent years.  Since it is so easy to avoid detection for voting illegally, we must conclude that many more immigrants vote than are caught.  In fact, I would go a little farther and say that I suspect that many of those who are caught are like Keathley; they don't understand that what they are doing is illegal.  But most non-citizens are more sophisticated than Keathley, and would take elementary precautions if they voted illegally, such as not announcing publicly that they had voted.

Finally, if we believe Tapia-Ruano, clerks improperly register a significant number of immigrants who do not even claim to be citizens.  Which must encourage at least a few of them to vote.

If one in ten immigrants who vote illegally is caught, then, accepting those estimates, we know that thousands of non-citizens vote.  If one in a hundred is caught, then we know that tens of thousands of non-citizens vote.  One in a hundred seems more likely to me, given how easy it is to avoid detection in most large cities.  In fact, one in a hundred seems, if anything, low.

But there's more.  Though the article doesn't make this clear, Tapia-Ruano seems to be talking about legal immigrants who want to become citizens.  But there are many legal residents who do not intend to become US citizens.  And there are millions of illegal immigrants.  For these two groups, the risks of breaking the law by voting, even though they are non-citizens, are far lower than the risks are for those who hope to become citizens.  If, for example, you are a student who does not intend to stay in the United States for long, then voting may seem almost risk free.  You would expect to finish your studies before you were caught and sent home.

What if you are an illegal immigrant?  That, it seems to me, is more complicated, and I would guess that different illegal immigrants would make different calculations.  Some would decide that they should avoid the American legal system as much as possible, in order to reduce the chance of being deported.  Others would think that they could decrease their chances of being detected by a more complete pose as a citizen — which would mean voting.  (And as a purely practical matter, I think some in each group would be correct in their calculations.)

How much difference do these non-citizen voters make?  No one knows, but I can make a rough, back-of-the-envelope, guess.  About 11 percent of the approximately 300 million US residents are foreign born.  Many in that 11 percent have become citizens; many more have not.  Let's say that about twenty million are non-citizens, and that about half of those are old enough to vote.  (It's probably more than half, but this is a rough estimate.)  Then there are about 10 million non-citizen adults in the US.  If one in a hundred votes illegally, then there are about 100,000 votes by non-citizens in a typical election.  If one in ten votes, then there are about 1,000,000 votes by non-citizens in a typical election.  If I had to guess, I would say that the true number is probably closer to the first number than the second.  But I don't know, and I am fairly certain that no one else does, either.

(There are two reasons I think that Keathley did not understand that she was voting illegally; she told her co-workers — and she told an immigration official.  If she had said nothing, she almost certainly never would have been detected.)
- 1:40 PM, 4 December 2007   [link]

John Allen Paulos Wants To Know Whether The Presidential Candidates Can Think With Numbers:  (Though he doesn't phrase it that way.)  And so he suggests that they take a little test and gives us some examples of questions that might be on that test.  Here's the first.
1. Scaling.  Imagine a small state or city with, let's say, a million people and an imaginative and efficient health care program.  The program is not necessarily going to work in a vast country with a population that is 300 times as large.  Similarly a flourishing small company that expands rapidly often becomes an unwieldy large one.  Problems and surprises arise as we move from the small to the large since social phenomena generally do not scale upward in a regular or proportional manner.

A simple, yet abstract problem of this type?  How about the following (answers on page 4): A model car, an exact replica of a real one in scale, weight, material, et cetera, is 6 inches (1/2 foot) long, and the real car is 15 feet long, 30 times as long.  If the the circumference of a wheel on the model is 3 inches, what is the circumference of a wheel on the real car?  If the hood of the model car has an area of 4 square inches, what is the area of the real car's hood?  If the model car weighs 4 pounds, what does the real car weigh?
I like this idea, though I don't think it will ever happen.

But we can guess which political figures would do well on this test, from their backgrounds.  President Bush would, since he earned an MBA from Harvard.  Rudy Giuliani probably would, considering how he governed in New York.  In particular, I am thinking of his skill with budgets, and the intelligent system the police developed to measure and control crime.  To be a carrier pilot, Senator McCain would have to have some skill with numbers.

Best of all on such tests, in my opinion, would be Mitt Romney.  He not only earned an MBA from Harvard at about the same time Bush did, but he was star student.  And his executive successes since then show that he must very, very good at thinking with numbers.

And the three leading Democratic candidates, Clinton, Edwards, and Obama?  All are lawyers; none have any significant education in thinking with numbers, or any real executive experience.  They may be able to think with numbers, but we really can't tell whether they can, from their backgrounds.

(For the record, I didn't do the test, though the problems don't look especially difficult.

Don't read the comments, unless you are willing to be depressed.)
- 10:46 AM, 4 December 2007   [link]

Hillary Clinton's Campaign Is Supposed To Be Run By Pros:  So, why did they do this?
Apparently in answer to Barack Obama's sarcastic digs at Hillary Clinton for her well-known long-standing desire to become president, Sen. Clinton's campaign put out a press release noting that Sen. Obama ` wrote 'essays' in kindergarten and third grade saying he wanted to become president.
What's next, hints that Obama was slow to be toilet trained?

What makes this especially strange is that there is much material in Obama's adult life that lends itself to political attack, for example, his ties to Tony Rezko and the Daley machine.

One wonders whether this mistake was made by Clinton herself.  She does have a tendency to make political gaffes, such as this one.   (I can't help wishing that Bill Clinton had said that, just for the joy it would give to late night comics.)
- 5:39 AM, 4 December 2007
More:  Michael Ramirez had the same thought I did, and illustrated it with this cartoon.

I probably should have noted earlier that Hillary's team is claiming this was a joke.  Perhaps it was.  But she doesn't strike me as a woman with a great sense of humor.
- 2:06 PM, 10 December 2007   [link]

More Good Box Wines:  The December issue of Consumer Reports has an article on great values in wines.  They rate 21 merlots, 2 proseccos, 22 Rieslings, and 26 sauvignon blancs.

They recommend two box merlots.  They give the Delicato Bota Box 2005 merlot a "very good" rating and the Black Box 2004 merlot a "good" rating.  Though I am no wine expert, I've tried the Black Box merlot and can say that I like it very much.

You can find other recommendations for box wines here.

(And their other recommendations?  It would be unfair to give them all, but I can say this much.   They gave an excellent rating to just one merlot, Columbia Crest's 2004 Grand Estates.  They say that Yellow Tail wines are usually good values, which is my experience, too.  And their top sauvignon blancs are all from New Zealand.  The top rated is a 2006 Mud House, which, I must say, does not have an appetizing name.)
- 4:59 PM, 3 December 2007
Update:  I have now tasted the Delicato merlot and can say that I like it very much.  And I can't complain about the price, about 18 dollars for a three liter box.  I'd have to do a side by side comparison to the Black Box merlot to decide which I liked best — if I did prefer one to the other.
- 1:53 PM, 10 December2007   [link]

McDermott Will Have To Pay:  It's a gloomy day here in the Seattle area, but a ray of sunshine came from the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court refused today to take up an appeal by Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) of a lower court ruling ordering him to pay a fine and attorneys' fees in a years-long legal battle with now House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), finally bringing an end to the case.

The Associated Press is reporting that the Supreme Court has declined to hear McDermott's appeal, leaving the Washington Democrat with no more legal options in the case. He must now pay $60,000 in damages to Boehner, plus hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal bills.

The case centered around an illegally taped Dec. 1996 phone calls between House Republican leaders, including Boehner, to plot strategy in response to an ethics case against then Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.).  The illegal tape eventually made its way to McDermott, who was ranking member of the House ethics committee.  McDermott leaked it to the press, including The New York Times.  Boehner then sued McDermott, alleging that McDermott's action harmed him personally.  McDermott argued that he was protected under the First Amendment, since Republican leaders had promised not to take any concerted action in response to the Gingrich investigation by the ethics committee, and he was supported by a number of prominent news organizations.  The Florida couple that made the tape eventually pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge.

Boehner offered to settle for an apology and an admission of guilt.  McDermott was willing to apologize, but not admit guilt.  (I leave it to psychiatrists to explain why he would be willing to apologize but not admit guilt.)

I happened to read the New York Times article and remember, vividly, thinking that it was bizarre.  The reporter, Adam Clymer — yes, that Adam Clymer — seemed certain that Gingrich and company had done something wrong, but the excerpts they published were innocuous.  I am not the only one to come to that conclusion; so did Michael Barone.  In the 2000 edition of the authoritative Almanac of American Politics, he (or his co-author, Grant Ujifusa) wrote:

Amidst all this, on January 10 [1997], The New York Times printed an excerpt of a tape made by Florida Democratic activists John and Alice Martin of a December 1996 phone conversation between Gingrich and Republican leaders and advisers.  It was presented as evidence that Gingrich was violating an agreement not to orchestrate a response to the committee's action [proposing a reprimand for Gingrich], but much of it was taken up by discussions of how to comply with the agreement.

During the conversation, Majority Leader Dick Armey predicted that the Democrats would attack the committee's decision, and that reporters would ask the Republican leaders for their reaction — which would give them a chance to get the Gingrich side of the story out.  Somehow in the minds of the Martins, McDermott, and Clymer, this innocuous (and correct) prediction became a Republican plan.  Partisanship warps many minds, and the Martins, McDermott, and Clymer, have given us a striking example of just how badly it can distort our thinking.

This is not the only ethical lapse by Congressman McDermott.  He accepted thousands of dollars from Shakir al-Khafaji, an agent of Saddam Hussein's.   Though he later returned the money, McDermott showed, at the very least, poor judgment.  In 2004, McDermott accepted an award from the Seattle branch of CAIR, an organization that Democratic senators Charles Schumer and Dick Durbin have accused — correctly — of having terrorist ties.  (To the best of my knowledge, McDermott has not returned the award.)

In general, I try to avoid taking pleasure in the defeats of political opponents.  But I will make an exception in this case, since McDermott could have avoided all his problems either by following the law or, later, by doing the right thing and accepting his guilt.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(It would be interesting to know whether McDermott has attacked the Bush administration for domestic wiretapping.  I wouldn't be surprised if he has.)
- 4:08 PM, 3 December 2007   [link]

CBS Is Looking For An Environmental Reporter:  And their requirements are interesting.
So you would think such a job would require a science background or years of covering environmental news?  Not exactly.

"You are wicked smart, funny, irreverent and hip, oozing enthusiasm and creative energy," the ad reads.  "This position requires strong people, reporting, story telling and writing skills.   Managing tight deadlines should be second nature.  Knowledge of the enviro beat is a big plus, but not a requirement."
So, the successful candidate must be "funny, irreverent and hip", but need not know the difference between, for example, carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide.

That was so hard to believe that I had to follow the link to make sure the ad was real.  It's there, and it doesn't seem to be a satire, at least not intentionally.

By way of Newsbusters.

(Incidentally, I doubt very much that CBS would hire someone who is irreverent toward the environmental religion, though such a person could do some very interesting stories.)
- 12:49 PM, 3 December 2007   [link]

Chávez Loses, 51-49:  Here's the New York Times story.
Voters in this country narrowly defeated a proposed overhaul to the constitution in a contentious referendum over granting President Hugo Chávez sweeping new powers, the Election Commission announced early Monday.

It was the first major electoral defeat in the nine years of his presidency.  Voters rejected the 69 proposed amendments 51 to 49 percent.
Turnout was just 56 percent, which is terribly low for a change of this magnitude.  The reporter, Simon Romero, speculates that some voters who ordinarily support Chávez chose not to vote, because they oppposed the measures, but feared retaliation.

Why did Chávez do better than polls suggested he would?  I can only speculate.  The polls in Venezuela may be systematically wrong, for all sorts of reasons.  Chávez may have a far better organization than his opponents and got more of his supporters to the polls.  (In the past, some American political machines would have been able to shift the vote by those percentages, especially in low turnout elections.)  Opponents may have been less motivated than supporters.  And, of course, there may have been fraud by Chávez, just not enough fraud to win, though I should add that I have seen no evidence of massive fraud in any of the news stories I have read.

Reactions to the vote from Daniel in Venezuela here, and from Quico of Caracas Chronicles here.

(There were actually two separate votes, with slightly different results.  I haven't seen an explanation of what each vote covered.)
- 6:27 AM, 3 December 2007
More:  The two votes were on packages proposed by Chávez (Package A) and the National Assembly (Package B).  For what it is worth, the Chávez package did slightly better than the National Assembly package.  All members of the Venezuelan National Assembly currently belong to Chávez's Fifth Republic Movement, or to parties allied with Chávez.  The last election was in 2005 and was marked by very low turnout, just 25 percent, in part, I assume, because of a boycott.
- 10:43 AM, 10 December 2007   [link]

Venezuela Has Voted:  But we don't yet know who won officially, or whether we can trust the official results.

First, a review, from the Wall Street Journal, on what's at stake.
Political coups don't always wear khaki.  Sometimes they take the form of populist politicians who use "democracy" to consolidate their power.  That's the case in Venezuela, where President Hugo Chávez is promoting a national referendum today that would give him vast new authority.
. . .
A "yes" vote will give the executive control over central bank reserves.  To promote his "productive economic model," Mr. Chávez is also modifying private property rights.  The new standard of ownership will be "mixed properties held between the State, the private sector and the communal power, so as to create the best conditions for the collective and cooperative construction of a Socialist Economy."
. . .
Moving right along, the reforms would give Mr. Chávez the right to be re-elected indefinitely, and he will be able to name multiple vice-presidents to govern with the communal councils.  The President will gain new powers to suspend due process during emergencies, and the legislature will lose its role in determining how long those emergencies last.  To make all this go down with voters, Mr. Chávez has included in the referendum a 36-hour work week, a reduction in the voting age to 16, and more generous welfare benefits.
I think it is fair to say that Chávez is not a believer in limited government, at least not for himself.

Those emergency powers are probably enough, by themselves, to make Chávez a dictator, if he wants to be.  And he doesn't seem to be a man who is fond of opposition.

Most of the polls showed an edge for the anti-Chávez forces.  On the other hand, leaked exit polls have given the edge to both sides.  I don't know enough about polling in Venezuela to judge their polls.  I do recall that polls showed a victory for the Sandinistas in Nicaragua in 1990 — but they lost to a coalition headed by Violeta Chamorro.  Some news sources are reporting heavy turnout, which is probably good news for the opponents.

Daniel in Venezuela has a grim forecast; regardless of which side wins, he believes it will be bad for Venezuela.  I am a little more hopeful, but that may be because I know far less about his country than he does.
- 4:48 PM, 2 December 2007
Update:  As of 21:59 his time Daniel is hopeful:
Still nothing official.  But my SMS box is full of junk.  Meanwhile the NO headquarters are loudly implying their victory.  It does seem that the NO won but the CNE and the government are figuring out how to present it.  One thing is certain: if the SI had won convincingly, AND honestly, we would already know.  One thing we can thus advance in all certitude: if the SI won, it is by the narrowest of margins.

The delay of the CNE is simply scandalous at this point!
(I think they are one hour ahead of America's Eastern Time Zone, so that update was posted about an hour ago.)

I assume CNE is their election bureaucracy.  And it makes sense to me that they would delay results if NO was winning.
- 6:57 PM, 2 December 2007   [link]

Mayor Nickels Talks To Seattle Kids:  And sounds like the Grinch.

A grim Christmas message for kids from the mayor of Seattle.  Greg Nickels told small children he's launching "Operation Save Santa" to protect the big guy from global warming.  At a Christmas tree lighting, Nickels warned the kids they had to use energy efficient light bulbs, or climate change could melt the North Pole --- and drown Santa, his elves and all his reindeer.

(Actually, it was a "holiday tree" lighting.  This is Seattle, after all.)

He may have scared Seattle kids, but he amused an Australian.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(Those not familiar with Seattle may need to know that the city's efforts to drive out children have been so successful that the mayor may be unused to speaking to children.)
- 1:18 PM, 2 December 2007   [link]

Stuffed Animals And Blasphemy:  By now, I am sure you have heard the sad story of Gillian Gibbons, the British teacher who was jailed by the Sudan for accepting the name her students gave a teddy bear — Mohammed.  And, though we can doubt that everyone in Sudan supported this prosecution, we have to recognize that thousands came out to complain that the sentence was too light, and to say that she should be executed.

The whole story was so absurd that I was tempted to make a small protest.  Briefly, I considered buying a small stuffed pig and and naming it M . . . .  But I decided not to get down to the level of the protesters.
- 12:51 PM, 2 December 2007   [link]

Target Apologizes:  As you may remember, in 2004, the retail chain banned Salvation Army bell ringers from in front of their stores.  Target said that they were just enforcing an existing policy, but they drew a lot of bad publicity for their decision.

Today, in the Seattle Times (and, I suspect, in many other newspapers), Target is running a four page ad, urging charity, and plugging the Salvation Army.  The first page shows a young woman with a halo and a gift in her hand under this title: "Be an Angel".  The second page describes two gifts you can buy at Target, an angel ornament and a religious CD, that will benefit the Salvation Army.  The third page has three similar gifts that help support St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.  And the fourth page tells us more about the help Target gives to St. Jude and to the Salvation Army.  Target "proudly supports the Salvation Army" and "has an ongoing partnership with The Salvation Army".

So, I don't think Target is going to allow the bell ringers to come back, but they are doing something to make up for them.  And they really, really want us to know that.

(Here's what Target says about the relationship on their web site.)
- 12:06 PM, 2 December 2007   [link]

Oops!  Something's missing from a school calendar.
In a December newsletter to the families of elementary school students, Spokane Public Schools' list of "important dates" didn't include Christmas.

Hanukkah, Human Rights Day, winter break, the Islamic holy day Eid al-Adha, first day of winter and Kwanzaa all made the list. But no Christmas.

"It was absolutely an error of omission," district spokeswoman Terren Roloff said.  "In our efforts to be inclusive, we missed the obvious."
The kids will probably be able to figure out when Christmas is, even without the list.
- 12:42 PM, 1 December 2007   [link]