December 2007, Part 2

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Lieberman to endorse McCain.
Sen. Joseph Lieberman (Conn.), the 2000 Democratic vice-presidential nominee who currently lists his party affiliation as "Independent Democrat," will break party ranks today to endorse Sen. John McCain's presidential bid, according to sources close to the Arizona Republican  The announcement will be made Monday in New Hampshire where Lieberman's moderate credentials may well help convince influential independent voters to support McCain.
(Independents can vote in either party primary in New Hampshire.  In the past, more New Hampshire voters registered as independents than as Republicans or Democrats.  I haven't seen current numbers, but would not expect that to change.)

McCain can probably thank the anti-war left in the Democratic party for this.  They did their best to drive Lieberman out of the party and the Senate.  They didn't quite succeed, but they came close enough so that Lieberman may think that he doesn't owe his party much in the way of loyalty.
- 3:18 PM, 16 December 2007   [link]

Seccession In Bolivia?  Not quite, but part of that nation wants more autonomy.
Tens of thousands of antigovernment demonstrators flooded the streets of this city and three other provincial capitals on Saturday as four of Bolivias wealthiest provinces celebrated efforts to seek greater autonomy from the central government.

Backers of President Evo Morales marched Saturday in support of a new charter that would expand indigenous rights.

The protests here in Bolivia's most prosperous city, though they were a direct affront to President Evo Morales, had a festive spirit, as people waved green-and-white flags marked, "Now We Are Autonomous."  Many sipped beer or ate ice pops; hundreds danced in a park in the city's center.

"We don't want Bolivia to disintegrate," said Zenon Mita, 46, who runs a construction business here.  "We just want Evo to recognize that we have our own priorities."
Morales, an ally of Hugo Chávez, may have made the same mistake Chávez did, trying for too much power in a referendum.  (The legislature, controlled by supporters of Morales, has passed a new constitution.  Before it goes into effect, it must be ratifed by a vote of the people.)

There have already been some violent conflicts between the two sides in Bolivia and the violence may get worse, unless Morales backs down.

(One of the disputed issues is Morales' desire to put quotas in the constitution.  Quotas have led to violent conflicts in many nations.  I hope that isn't one of the reasons Morales is backing them.)
- 2:49 PM, 16 December 2007   [link]

Can You Trust Our Spies In Iran?  (Assuming we have any.)   Joseph Weisberg, who has some experience in these matters, says probably not.
The new National Intelligence Estimate on Iran appears to rely heavily on notes from a discussion between Iranian military officials involved in that country's nuclear weapons development program.  What if, instead of such easily manipulated documentary evidence, the CIA's National Clandestine Service had been able to recruit a spy at the highest reaches of the Iranian government, someone who could just tell us what the country's nuclear capabilities and plans were?

It wouldn't have made any difference.
Why not?  Because experience shows that our spies are often working for the other side.   Weisberg has examples from the recent past:
Intelligence from almost all CIA assets is unreliable for the simple reason that so many of them are double agents, meaning that the CIA recruited them but that they are being controlled by their own countries' intelligence services.  When I worked at CIA headquarters in the early 1990s, I once suggested to a friend who worked in counterintelligence that up to a third of all CIA agents could be doubles.  He said the number was probably much higher.

Concrete proof is always scarce in these matters, but from the late 1970s to the late 1980s, most and very likely all Cuban agents on the CIA payroll were doubles.  So were a majority of East German agents during the Cold War.
Weisberg thinks there is no solution to this problem, that we generally can not recruit the few who actually know the secrets of an enemy country or hostile terrorist organization.  I think he is right.

And that means, as I argued in this post, that we must understand that our enemies will try to deceive us — and that they will often succeed.

(One ironic point about his examples.  Many of those double agents were taking money from us, so we were paying them to lie to us.)
- 9:51 AM, 15 December 2007   [link]

Two More Views Of Mt. Shasta:  From near Dunsmuir, on the west side of the mountain.

Mt. Shasta from Dunsmuir, 2007

And from Route 89, south of the mountain.

Mt. Shasta from Route 89, 2007

You can see the cloud created by the mountain in both pictures, though it is more obvious in the second.

You may be wondering why I didn't get closer to the mountain on this visit, though I circled about two-thirds of the way around it.  It is not because I fear the Lemurians, the Yaktavians, the flying saucer people, or any of the other inhabitants that some believe live in Mt. Shasta.  Rather, it is because California does not make it easy to get close to the mountain.  You can drive up to a ski park on the Everitt Memorial Highway, but you can not see the summit or Shastina from the park.  You could visit the east side of the mountain on Military Pass Road, but Stephen Harris says that your car should be able to "negotiate a rutted dirt byway" — which did not make the trip sound fun.  Maybe next year I will drive up to the ski park and then hike up a few thousand feet for better views.

(You can find the previous 2007 disaster area tour posts here, 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.)
- 3:54 PM, 14 December 2007   [link]

This Morning I Saw Something Extraordinary On A Local TV Station:   Q13, the local Fox affiliate, ran a positive story on the war on terror.  It is the first positive story I can recall seeing in months on a local news program, though I have once or twice seen reports that violence was down in Iraq.  I don't watch a lot of local news, enough to get the weather forecast, and sometimes sports highlights, but I do watch almost every day, and I can tell you that I was startled to see this story.  (I don't watch the national news programs at all.)

Best of all, the story is part of a series; the station is running photographs from an independent photographer, John Simpson.  You can find the series here.   The photographs, at least the ones I have seen, do not tell a coherent story, but they do give you a feeling for what our troops are doing and seeing.  I especially liked the photograph of an American soldier and an Iraqi soldier, who had traded cigarettes, and were sitting together, smoking.

I'm not sure who John Simpson is, perhaps this history professor.   Judging by his looks and his work, I would not be surprised to learn that he had an Army career.  I would love to know more about him, and would love to have a chance to publicize his work.

I have been choosing a local news program more or less at random.  But no more.  Q13 will be my first choice from now on.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 2:17 PM, 14 December 2007   [link]

A Solid Victory In Afghanistan:  Coalition forces drove the Taliban out of Musa Qala, the only significant town they controlled.
The battle to retake the Taliban's only urban base of Musa Qala in southern Afghanistan has been completed, Nato announced today.

The declaration came 24 hours after the Afghan defence ministry said Nato and Afghan forces had "completely captured" the town in Helmand province.

Afghan soldiers, backed by British, US and Estonian forces, were reported to have moved into the centre of Musa Qala this morning with little resistance.  Taliban commanders withdrew their forces after heavy bombardment.
The forces were welcomed as liberators.

(Musa Qala is a town (and district) in the southern province of Helmand.)
- 1:39 PM, 14 December 2007   [link]

How Hard Is Polling For The Iowa Caucuses?  Very.  Mark Blumenthal gives us some idea just how hard in this detailed post discussing the methodologies used by the different polling firms.  Here's a sample:
After choosing a sampling method, the pollster must decide how to select likely caucus goers from their sample.  That task is not easy.  The historical high for turnout in the Iowa Caucuses was 5.5% of adults for the Democrats in 2004 and 5.3% of adults for the Republicans in 1988.  That means, in theory at least, that a pollster starting with an RDD sample would need to screen out nine out of ten otherwise willing adults in order to interview a combined population of Democratic and Republican caucus goers strictly comparable in size to past caucus turnouts.  This daunting task is one big reason why polling for the Iowa caucuses is so challenging and why pollsters differ so much in their sampling methods.
Predicting who will vote is consistently one of the most difficult problems pollsters face in general elections.  But it is harder to make those predictions in primary elections, and far harder in caucuses.

A pollster could draw a good sample of Iowa citizens, but unless he can figure out which people in his sample will go out to a meeting on a Thursday night in Iowa, he won't be able to make an accurate prediction.  Just to complicate matters, bad weather on January 3rd might depress turnout and affect the results.  Even assuming a pollster had a good sample and a good model for turnout — and I am not sure that any do — a change in weather might change the result.

Just to complicate things further, the electorates are so small that it is possible for a good organization to make a bigger difference in the result than it would in a general election, or even a primary.

There are good reasons to be skeptical about those Iowa polls, enough good reasons so that I haven't paid much attention to them, though I suppose that I will, just before the caucuses.

(RDD = "random digit dial", if you were wondering.)
- 12:41 PM, 14 December 2007   [link]

Campaign Contributions?  From Venezuela to an Argentine politician?
A Miami man who brought $800,000 in a suitcase into Argentina was trying to deliver a campaign contribution from the Venezuelan government to the Argentine presidential candidate Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, American prosecutors said Wednesday.

Assistant United States Attorney Thomas J. Mulvihill said in court Wednesday that conversations recorded by the F.B.I. indicate that Mrs. Kirchner, who won the election and was sworn in on Monday here as Argentina's president, was the intended recipient of the money, said Alicia Valle, special counsel to the U.S. Attorney in Miami.
That much cash does tend to make one suspicious.  And, judging by the man's travel patterns — twelve trips to Argentina in the last year — he may have brought much more, all together.

The Argentine president is denying the charges, to no one's surprise.
- 3:25 PM, 13 December 2007   [link]

Just In Case You Missed It:  The robot protest.
A University of Iowa professor dressed as a robot interrupted Bill Clinton at a campaign stop here late Monday, screaming for an apology before security escorted him from the building.

The professor, Kembrew McLeod, stood on a chair and screamed several statements, including: "Robots of the world want you to apologize."

The audience erupted into loud boos.

McLeod, before security officers could reach him, tossed hundreds of cards into the audience of about 400 people in protest of statements the former president made in 1992 of Sister Souljah, a member of the musical group Public Enemy.
(I have no idea what, if anything, Sister Souljah has to do with robots.)

If you live in Iowa, those are your tax dollars at work.  (And probably your tax dollars at work, if you live anywhere in the United States, since the federal government subsidizes higher education in so many ways.)  I must admit that Professor McLeod sound entertaining, which is something.

(Here's the professor's web site, and here's his Wikipedia entry.)
- 3:02 PM, 13 December 2007   [link]

Worth Reading:  Henry Kissinger on the latest NIE on Iran's nuclear programs.  Two samples:
The extraordinary spectacle of the president's national security adviser obliged to defend the president's Iran policy against a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) raises two core issues:  How are we now to judge the nuclear threat posed by Iran?  How are we to judge the intelligence community's relationship with the White House and the rest of the government?

The "Key Judgments" released by the intelligence community last week begin with a dramatic assertion:   "We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program."   This sentence was widely interpreted as a challenge to the Bush administration policy of mobilizing international pressure against alleged Iranian nuclear programs.  It was, in fact, qualified by a footnote whose complex phraseology obfuscated that the suspension really applied to only one aspect of the Iranian nuclear weapons program (and not even the most significant one): the construction of warheads.  That qualification was not restated in the rest of the document, which continued to refer to the "halt of the weapons program" repeatedly and without qualification.
. . .
In short, if my analysis is correct, we could be witnessing not a halt of the Iranian weapons program -- as the NIE asserts -- but a subtle, ultimately more dangerous, version of it that will phase in the warhead when fissile material production has matured.

The NIE does not so much reject this theory; it does not even examine it.
But our intelligence analysts should examine it.  Even if that examination helps President Bush politically.
- 1:49 PM, 13 December 2007   [link]

Moving Up, Moving Down:  Gallup has the news.
A new Gallup Poll, conducted Dec. 6-9, finds 37% of Americans approving of the job George W. Bush is doing as president, an improvement from his recent scores in the low 30s.  Meanwhile, 22% of Americans approve of Congress, essentially unchanged from last month.  Both Bush's and Congress' ratings remain low by historical standards.

In early November, 31% of Americans approved of Bush as president -- just two points off his term-low rating of 29%.  Since then, his rating has improved on each Gallup Poll, and although none of these individual changes have been statistically significant, the long-term increase from 31% in early November to 37% in the new poll is.
. . .
At the time of last year's midterm elections, when voters transferred partisan control of Congress from the Republicans to the Democrats, 26% of Americans approved of Congress. After a brief "honeymoon period" at the beginning of the year, and nearly a year after the Democrats took control, Americans' views of Congress are no more positive (and are actually a bit more negative) than at the tail end of Republican rule.
Gallup isn't sure why Bush has gained.
The poll does not provide specific insights into what might be behind improved perceptions of Bush.   One possibility is that Bush's role in jump-starting Middle East peace talks late last month cast him in a more positive light.  Another is the recent series of encouraging reports on the situation in Iraq.
The latter seems far more likely than the former.

There's more data at the Pollster.  (Originally the site was named the "Mystery Pollster".)  They show a small rise in Bush's approval rating, and note that the Gallup poll is more positive than most recent polls.  And they say this about the pattern in Bush's approval ratings.
His presidency has been characterized by a long decline from the post 9/11 highs, interrupted by generally short rallies and spikes due to the start of the Iraq war and the capture of Saddam Hussein.  The most important exception has been the long rise in approval starting in March 2004 and continuing through the election in November of that year.
In other words, Bush's ratings decline — except when he is campaigning.  There is a simple way to explain that pattern:  The "mainstream" media continually attack Bush, with some effect.   And they often compare him, not with his Democratic rivals, but against a perfect standard.

During the campaign, voters get to hear his side on some questions, and get a chance to think about that fundamental question: "compared to what".  The new information and the comparison gives some voters reason to think better of Bush.  That is, as I said, a simple explanation for this pattern.   But I believe that it is broadly correct.

This also helps explain the recent trends; voters are being forced to think about the "compared to what" question, and some of them are deciding that they like Bush better than a Democratic Congress.

(Could the Bush political team have done a better job of keeping his ratings high?  Or at least higher?  Probably, even though he has faced persistent hostility from the "mainstream" media.   The team could have borrowed some of the techniques that Clinton used so successful after the 1994 election.  I think Bush didn't do it because he just doesn't care about popularity.

Incidentally, I think that's one of the reasons that so many in our "mainstream" media despise Bush; he just doesn't care whether they like him.)
- 11:14 AM, 13 December 2007   [link]

Congressman McGrinch:  The Seattle PI (to its credit) gives him that label.

Maybe you could call him Congressman McGrinch.

Rep. Jim McDermott supported House resolutions this fall to recognize the Islamic holiday of Ramadan and the festival of Diwali, celebrated by Hindus, Sikhs and Jains.

But the Washington Democrat drew the line at Christmas.

McDermott voted Tuesday against a resolution to recognize the importance of Christmas and the Christian faith.

The resolution, sponsored by Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, passed 372-9. Democrats cast all the nay votes.

The nine who cast "no" votes are all on the extreme left.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(More here.

In his official biography, McDermott says that he "attends St. Mark's Episcopal Cathedral in Seattle".)
- 6:43 AM, 13 December 2007   [link]

Another Win For President Bush:  And another defeat for the Democratic leadership in Congress.
Senate and House Democrats backed down Wednesday from a spending showdown with President Bush.

The Democrats' capitulation Wednesday on the total domestic spending level is the latest instance of Bush prevailing on a major policy showdown.  Bush and his Senate Republican allies have repeatedly beat back efforts by Democrats to place restrictions on funding for the war in Iraq as well as Democratic attempts to expand funding of children's health insurance by $35 billion.
But Speaker Pelosi has some consolations.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has spent $16,000 on flowers since taking office, one reason why she spent 63 percent more in her high-profile inaugural year than her low-key predecessor did last year.

Pelosi (D-Calif.) spent a little more than $3 million in the first nine months of 2007, records show, compared to the $1.8 million Rep. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) spent during the same period in 2006.
Congressional Republicans typically spend a little less on their offices than their Democratic counterparts, but I can't recall seeing a gap this big before.  The article gives Pelosi's excuses for this surge in spending.  But if you look at where she spent the extra money, you'll see that you can sum it up with one word: campaigning.
- 6:09 AM, 13 December 2007   [link]

Wondering About Huckabee?  Paul Greenberg has a balanced assessment.  Some samples:
The Huck is not just a highly effective preacher but populist; he has a knack for reducing complex issues to simple terms, which has made him a fast-rising presidential candidate.  How that talent would serve him as president is something else.  To mention a couple of his not-so-small problems: His experience in foreign policy is a vacuum, his single speech about it vacuous.  And his recent drift toward protectionism is more a tribute to his populist and political instincts than to his knowledge of economics.  He has a feel for where the crowd is heading this election year, and seems all too eager to get ahead of it.  That may be how to win elections, but is it a good way to govern?
. . .
But his best moment came when Gov. Huckabee personally welcomed the Little Rock Nine to Central High School 40 years after they'd been denied entrance by Orval Faubus, noting that throughout the years of debate and division and historical revision since, "we in Arkansas have wandered around in ambiguity, all kinds of explanations and justifications.  And I think today we come to say once and for all what happened here 40 years ago was simply wrong.  It was simply evil, and we renounce it."
. . .
The Huck doubtless has his failings as a policymaker.  For example, he's got a weakness for zany, untested schemes like the national sales tax he's now supporting as a substitute for the income tax.   Then there's the draconian approach he's started to flirt with when it comes to illegal immigration.   He must know that, however popular such an approach may be among Republican voters in the presidential primaries, it isn't just unenforceable but belies every humane, realistic, Christian thing he's long said about this vexing problem.  Presidential politics can be bad for the character.
My own view?  I am still learning about Huckabee, but I am inclined to think that he knows too little about foreign policy to be president.
- 6:09 AM, 12 December 2007   [link]

Don't Like Any Of The Presidential Candidates?  Don't worry.  As Christopher Beam argues, none of them may be electable.
The question of electability—a candidate's chances of success in the general election—has been raised about every candidate in the race.  So, is anyone electable?  The answer is no.
And then he explains why for each candidate.

More seriously, have Americans ever liked their choices in a presidential election?  Off hand I can think of one time when most voters liked the choices, in 1952, when Dwight Eisenhower defeated Adlai Stevenson.  Voters showed that they liked both candidates by coming out to vote in enormous numbers.  The total vote rose from almost 49 million in 1948 to almost 62 million in 1952.  Polls during the election showed that many voters thought well of both candidates.

And there are probably other examples, though not recently.
- 5:25 AM, 12 December 2007   [link]

Treacle?  Just finished putting an order in at Amazon, some books for me, some presents for my family.  According to Amazon, others with my buying patterns also bought the 2002 Almanac of American Politics (that's right since I have bought most of those almanacs in recent years) — and a six pack of Heinz Treacle Pudding.

For the record, if it were not for Alice in Wonderland, I would have no idea what treacle is; as it is, I am vaguely aware that it is British and sweet.  (My dictionary says that it is a British term for molasses.)

Anyway, I am trying to visualize the person who would buy both the Almanac and treacle.  Though that person (or possibly people) has buying patterns like mine, I must admit that I can't quite picture them.
- 3:09 PM, 11 December 2007   [link]

Good News:  And President Bush may deserve some credit.  At least that's what Michael Barone thinks.
The world looks safer, friendlier, more hopeful than it did as we approached Christmastime last year.

Then, we were on the defensive, perhaps on the verge of defeat, in Iraq.  The Europeans' attempts to persuade Iran to renounce nuclear weapons seemed to have failed.  Hugo Chavez was using his near-dictatorial powers and the oil wealth of Venezuela to secure the election of opponents of the American "empire" in Latin America.

Today, things look different.  And they suggest, to me at least, that the policies of the Bush administration, pilloried as bankrupt by the Democrats after their victory in congressional elections in November, have served American interests better than most Americans then thought.
The "surge" in Iraq may be the most obvious example of these improvements, but it isn't the only one.
- 9:48 AM, 11 December 2007   [link]

Troubling:  This story from Britain.
British spy chiefs have grave doubts that Iran has mothballed its nuclear weapons programme, as a US intelligence report claimed last week, and believe the CIA has been hoodwinked by Teheran.

The timing of the CIA report has also provoked fury in the British Government, where officials believe it has undermined efforts to impose tough new sanctions on Iran and made an Israeli attack on its nuclear facilities more likely.
. . .
A US intelligence source has revealed that some American spies share the concerns of the British and the Israelis.  "Many middle- ranking CIA veterans believe Iran is still committed to producing nuclear weapons and are concerned that the agency lost a number of its best sources in Iran in 2004," the official said.
No named sources, which makes the story hard to evaluate — but then that's true of most such stories.
- 12:40 PM, 10 December 2007   [link]

Forever Young:  New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd.

(I sometimes think that Ms. Dowd liked being 14 (or some age close to 14) so much that she decided to stop at that age.  She's not the first to do that, though most people pick somewhat later ages, for instance, 29.)
- 12:24 PM, 10 December 2007   [link]

Another Theory About That Venezuelan Referendum:  From former Mexican foreign minister Jorge Castañeda.
Most of Latin America's leaders breathed a sigh of relief earlier this week, after Venezuelan voters rejected President Hugo Chávez's constitutional amendment referendum.  In private they were undoubtedly relieved that Chávez lost, and in public they expressed delight that he accepted defeat and did not steal the election.  But by midweek enough information had emerged to conclude that Chávez did, in fact, try to overturn the results.  As reported in El Nacional, and confirmed to me by an intelligence source, the Venezuelan military high command virtually threatened him with a coup d'état if he insisted on doing so.  Finally, after a late-night phone call from Raúl Isaías Baduel, a budding opposition leader and former Chávez comrade in arms, the president conceded—but with one condition: he demanded his margin of defeat be reduced to a bare minimum in official tallies, so he could save face and appear as a magnanimous democrat in the eyes of the world.
I have no idea whether this theory is true, but it would explain two things that need explaining.  The polls predicted a much bigger defeat, and the National Electoral Council was very slow in reporting the results.  Of course both could have other, more innocent, explanations.

(Here's a Wikipedia biography of Jorge Castañeda.)
- 11:06 AM, 10 December 2007   [link]

Chumby?  This gadget doesn't sound practical, but it does sound fun.  If, of course, you are a bit of a computer geek.
The simplest way to describe the $180 Chumby is as an Internet-enabled alarm clock.  It is a Linux-powered, Wi-Fi-connected computer with a touch screen in a palm-size bean bag that is intended to replace your alarm clock.

You connect the Chumby to your home's wireless network and then select software widgets from the company's Web site and organize them into channels that cycle endlessly on your Chumby's 3.5-inch color L.C.D. screen.
Since it runs Linux, you can, in principle, rewrite the software if you don't like the way it works.

Not quite sure whether I agree with the idea of connecting every home electric appliance to the internet.

(Here's the company's site, and here's a brief review.)
- 3:38 PM, 9 December 2007   [link]

Speculation On The Nomination Races:  There's no shortage of stories on the Democratic and Republican nomination races, so I haven't felt the need to add my contribution.  (And, I am slow to do so for theoretical reasons, as I will explain in a later post.)  But if you want to look at some well-informed speculation, I would suggest this column by moderate liberal Mort Kondracke, and this column and this post by moderate conservative Michael Barone.
- 1:37 PM, 9 December 2007   [link]