January 2006, Part 4

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Compared To What?  Tonight, in the State of the Union message, President Bush will almost certainly give us an optimistic report on the state of the economy.  Democrats will, almost certainly, give us a pessimistic report on the state of the economy.  And, in truth, though I would say that our economy is generally doing well, I would agree that the picture is mixed.

But how are we doing compared to other countries, especially the advanced industrial countries most like the United States?  Every issue the Economist magazine gives us a set of economic indicators that lets us make that comparison.  (At least roughly.*)   Since the latest issue I have is January 14-20, that's the one I'll use.

In that issue, the magazine gives statistics for fifteen nations, the United States and Australia, Austria, Belgium, Britain, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland.  In GDP growth last year, the United States (3.6%) was second only to Denmark (4.8%).  In predicted GDP growth for this year, the United States leads all fourteen other nations.  In industrial production growth, the United States (2.8%) is fifth, trailing Germany (4.7%), Denmark (4.6%), Japan (3.3%), and Austria (3.0%).  In retail sales growth, the United States (4.4%) is second only to Switzerland (9.0%).  In unemployment rate, the United States (4.9%) is tied with Britain for third, trailing Switzerland (3.8%) and Japan (4.6%).  In wage growth, the United States (3.1%) is fourth, trailing Australia (6.1%), Britain (3.6%), and France (3.2%).

In one area, inflation, the United States has the worst number.  Our prices rose at a faster rate (3.5%) than any of the other nations last year, though Spain was close at 3.4%.  But even that is not as bad as it looks, because our prices, though rising more quickly, are still lower than the prices in most other industrialized countries, as anyone who has traveled to Europe or Japan can tell you.

The Economist also gives statistics for the entire Euro area.  And there the comparisons are almost all in our favor.  We lead the Euro area in GDP growth, in predicted GDP growth, in industrial production growth, in retail sales growth, in unemployment rate, and in wage growth.  They lead us only in the rate of inflation; theirs was 2.2% last year, while ours was 3.5%.

The difference in unemployment rates is especially striking, 4.9% versus 8.3%.  A rate as high as 8.3% means considerable hardship, especially for younger workers.

We are often urged by those on the left to imitate the policies followed by European countries.  Judging by the latest numbers, that would be a mistake.   President Bush could make that point tonight, but probably won't, since it wouldn't be diplomatic to call attention to their (comparative) failure.

Oh, and one last amusing point:  The cover story of this issue is titled "Danger Time for America".  In spite of the predictions of their own panel of economists, the magazine fears (hopes?) that the United States may be in for a bad time.

(*I say roughly because the statistics are not gathered in exactly the same ways in the different nations.  There are ways to adjust them to make them more comparable.  If that were done, it would not affect my central point, to the best of my knowledge.

The magazine does not regularly present the comparative statistics on productivity growth, which tells us how well off our children will be.  The United States has been doing very well in recent years in productivity growth, both absolutely, and compared to most European countries.)
- 2:34 PM, 31 January 2006   [link]

The Russians May Need this reminder.
When Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's novel The First Circle was first published in the West in 1968, it helped to expose the brutality of the Soviet gulag system.

Twenty-two years later, its release in the Soviet Union pre-empted the fall of communism.

Now, more than half a century after he wrote it, the first Russian film of the novel has hit television screens, giving the Nobel prizewinner a new lease of life at the age of 87.
Certainly many American journalists do, judging by the way they have used "Gulag" to criticize President Bush for locking up terrorists.  I have read all of Solzhenitsyn's Gulag Archipelago, some parts of it many times.  When I see "Gulag" used to refer to prisons for men who would happily go back to killing innocents, were they given the opportunity, I am disturbed and outraged.   And I think Solzhenitsyn would be, too.

Using "Gulag" that way is not something confined, as it should be, to the lunatic fringes.  I have seen it in once respectable newspapers such as the Seattle Times.  And the writers who used "Gulag" that way were not being ironic.

I can not tell whether the journalists who make such comparisons are ignorant, or simply do not care whether there is any truth in the insults they direct at President Bush and our military.  And I am not sure which of those two is worse.
- 7:14 AM, 31 January 2006   [link]

Buy Danish:  That's a campaign I would support even if I didn't have a Danish grandmother.  As I mentioned in this post, a Danish newspaper is under attack by Muslims for publishing cartoons showing Mohammed.  And not just the newspaper.
From the burning of its flag to a boycott of its brands of butter and cookies, Denmark is feeling Islamic outrage over newspaper cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.

Angered by the drawings, masked Palestinian gunmen briefly took over a European Union office in Gaza on Monday. Islamists in Bahrain urged street demonstrations, while Syria called for the offenders to be punished.  A Saudi company paid thousands of dollars for an ad thanking a business that snubbed Danish products.
As for myself, I am going to look for some Danish cheese today.

And I can't help mentioning this sad contrast.  For years Muslims have been dying in Darfur by the tens of thousands, at the hands of other Muslims.  So far as I can tell, almost no one in the Muslim world cares about those deaths.  But they do care, or pretend to care, about these mostly innocuous cartoons.

(There's much more, including the cartoons in this Michelle Malkin post.   And if you are looking for ways to support the Danes, Judith Klinghoffer has a long list of products and places.)
- 4:44 AM, 31 January 2006   [link]

Politicians Do Sometimes Get Away With Fibs:  My favorite example is, no, not Bill Clinton, but Jimmy Carter.  In 1976, I happened to see him give his stock speech just before the Iowa caucuses.  He told us that he had been a peanut farmer and a nuclear physicist, and that he would never lie to us.   I was so astonished by these claims that I was unable to come up with coherent question to challenge him.

Why was I astonished by this?  Three reasons.  First, though he and his father had raised some peanuts, their principal source of income had, for many years, been their warehouse.  But "warehouseman" doesn't sound as good to voters as "farmer", especially in Iowa.  Most farmers — and I grew up on a farm, so I know something about this — would not call a warehouseman a farmer, even if he did a little farming on the side.

Second, I knew (or thought I knew) that he was, at most, qualified to call himself an engineer, not a physicist.  When we say physicist, most of us mean a person with a PhD in the subject, but Carter never earned a degree after his BS from the Naval Academy.  At that time I thought that Carter's training in the Navy's nuclear program might be roughly equivalent to that of a nuclear engineer, but today I learned that even that claim is a bit of a stretch.
In November 1952, he began a three month temporary duty assignment at the Naval Reactor branch.  He started nuclear power school (a six month course of study that leads to operator training) in March, 1953.  In July 1953, his father passed away and he resigned his commission to run the family peanut farm.  He was discharged from active duty on 9 October, 1953.  According to an old friend of mine who served as Rickover's personnel officer at Naval Reactors, LT Carter did not complete nuclear power school because of the need to take care of business at home.
Even if he had, six months of training would not have made him a "nuclear engineer", much less a nuclear physicist.

And the third reason follows from the first two.  Having just stretched the truth twice (to put it kindly), Carter then promised that he would never lie to us.  As I said, I found that so astonishing that I was unable to challenge him — though I have wished ever since that I had.

(One can make what I consider an irrefutable argument that the President should lie sometimes, if only to protect national security.)
- 9:57 AM, 30 January 2006   [link]

Wonder Why he thought he wouldn't get caught?
The staff of U.S. Rep Marty Meehan wiped out references to his broken term-limits pledge as well as information about his huge campaign war chest in an independent biography of the Lowell Democrat on a Web site that bills itself as the "world's largest encyclopedia," The [Lowell] Sun has learned.
Well, he is a Massachusetts Democrat.  And he isn't the only member of Congress whose staff has been editing his Wikipedia entry.

(Civics teacher Betsy Newmark says this kind of editing is why she tells her students that they should not rely solely on Wikipedia.  I don't disagree, but Dean Esmay's comment to her post, that readers should be wary of any source, is closer to my own view.)
- 8:19 AM, 30 January 2006   [link]

Rire Étouffé:  Or, as we would say in English, chuckle.
French President Jacques Chirac took a call from Canada's newly elected leader only to find he had been fooled by a pair of radio pranksters known as the "Masked Avengers" in Canada's French-speaking city of Montreal.
On air, of course.

(Literally, "rire étouffé" means "stifled laugh", which has different connotations than "chuckle" does.  The French phrase implies that you want to laugh aloud, but can not; the English word implies that you are only mildly amused.

The article has one nugget that should not be missed; when the pranksters complained about the French newspapers stories on Harper, Chirac said that French newspapers, like Canadian newspapers, can not be stopped from printing rubbish.)
- 4:50 AM, 29 January 2006   [link]

Two Google Contests:  Marty Mazur thinks that Google needs a new slogan, to replace their outdated "Do no evil."

For similar reasons, Michelle Malkin thinks that Google needs a new logo, to reflect their new policies.

I don't think that the executives at Google will rush to join either contest — but you can.
- 8:04 AM, 27 January 2006   [link]

It Would Be Interesting to know whether this story is true.
The man who served as the no. 2 official in Saddam Hussein's air force says Iraq moved weapons of mass destruction into Syria before the war by loading the weapons into civilian aircraft in which the passenger seats were removed.

The Iraqi general, Georges Sada, makes the charges in a new book, "Saddam's Secrets," released this week. He detailed the transfers in an interview yesterday with The New York Sun.
As Ira Stoll notes, that's the same claim made by Israel's top general during Operation Iraqi Freedom, Moshe Yaalon, which he wrote about earlier and which I discussed here.  There is, as I said then, nothing implausible about this claim.

At least it would be interesting to me.  But I doubt that a single reporter in any "mainstream" news organization shares my interest.
- 5:23 PM, 26 January 2006
Rick Moran has much more in this post; Doug Hanson has more in this post; and Mark in Mexico has more on General Sada in this post.  For an opposing view, which did not impress me, see this post.

I found the last post by searching news sources with Google.  In that search, I did not find a single mention of General Sada's story at any "mainstream" news site.  Not one.  But Sada is scheduled to meet with members of the Senate Armed Services Committee next week.  It will be interesting to see whether the "mainstream" news organizations ignore that, too.

One last summary point:  There were two American officials in charge of the Iraq Survey Group.  One, David Kay, told the Telegraph that some part of WMDs went to Syria.  The other, Charles Duelfer, said they may have.  So the two men who should know the most about this question would agree, at the very least, that the question is interesting.  And Kay thinks he already knows the answer.
- 7:37 AM, 27 January 2006   [link]

The Palestinian Election was won, Tim Blair says, not in the Bible Belt, but in the "suicide belt".
- 4:20 PM, 26 January 2006   [link]

Where Did The Conservatives Gain In Canada?  Short answer:  Almost everywhere.  The pair of maps below, which I found in this Wikipedia article, shows the pattern of the Conservative victories.  The first map shows the number of seats each party won in the three territories and the ten provinces

The second map shows the victories by riding (or, as Americans would say, by district.)

Note that both maps use more sophisticated color coding than the average newspaper would.  The mapmaker used shades to show the strength of the wins for each party so that, for example, the Conservatives had their biggest margins in the deepest blue areas.  (I used much the same trick here.)

Let's take the gains by tier.  There were almost no changes in the three territories that make up much of northern Canada, Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Nunavut, though I believe that the NDP did pick up one seat from the Liberals there.

Going from west to east in the provinces that make up the southern tier, the Conservatives gained votes but lost five seats in British Columbia.  They picked up the one remaining Liberal seat in Alberta.  They gained seats in both prairie provinces, Manitoba and Saskatchewan.  They gained seats in Ontario, which has one third of Canada's population.  They went from zero to ten seats in Quebec.  They gained seats in the Atlantic provinces, though fewer than they had hoped.  (One problem in those provinces may have been Steven Harper's earlier criticism of the provinces' willingness to be subsidized by the rest of Canada.  He was probably right, but it may not have been the tactful thing to say.)

In only one area were the Conservatives shut out completely.  They won no seats at all in Canada's three largest metropolitan cities, Toronto (4.7 million), Montreal (3.4 million), and Vancouver (2 million).  Though they did, as blogger Mark Collins points out, do quite well in other Canadian cities.

Why were these three cities so resistant to the Conservatives?  Collins believes that the heavy concentration of immigrants in those cities is at least part of the answer.   Canada has a significantly higher percentage of foreign born residents than the United States, about 17 percent compared to about 10 percent.  In both countries, immigrants tend to concentrate in the larger cities.

That seems plausible to me.  And I also think it likely that Canada's urban residents are, like America's, are more likely to favor left positions on social issue, such as gay marriage and abortion.

Still, despite their problems in those three cities, it is a fact that the Conservatives are now at least as much of a national party as the Liberals.  Having two national parties is, I believe, good for Canada.  And that should please every American.

(More: Warren Kinsella, who did not support the Conservatives, believes that they won the votes of the hockey Moms and Dads.   Conservative Monte Solberg has some fun with the fact that his party did not win seats in the three largest Canadian cities.

I was unable to find an election map in the first two days after the election.  I had expected that the CBC and prestigious Canadian newspapers such as the Globe and Mail would run the same kind of election maps produced by major American (and British) news organizations, but for some reason they chose not to do so.  The Globe and Mail did have this interactive graphic, but I can't say I found it particularly helpful.  The Wikipedia article I linked to not only has these maps (which look better at higher resolutions than I have room for) but also has more facts, better presented, than any of the Canadian news sites I looked at.  The amateurs beat the professionals, and by a large margin.)
- 3:31 PM, 26 January 2006   [link]

Worth Reading:  Brian Anderson's discussion of the latest threats to freedom of speech.   This an issue I take personally, because this very web site could be subject to onerous regulations and even fines, under the rules that are being developed.

You should read the whole thing.  Here are some excerpts to show you why:
The rise of alternative media--political talk radio in the 1980s, cable news in the '90s, and the blogosphere in the new millennium--has broken the liberal monopoly over news and opinion outlets.  The left understands acutely the implications of this revolution, blaming much of the Democratic Party's current electoral trouble on the influence of the new media's vigorous conservative voices.  Instead of fighting back with ideas, however, today's liberals quietly, relentlessly and illiberally are working to smother this flourishing universe of political discourse under a tangle of campaign-finance and media regulations.  Their campaign represents the most sustained attack on free political speech in the United States since the 1798 Alien and Sedition Acts.
. . .
The irony of campaign-finance reform is that the "corruption" it targets seems not to exist in any widespread sense.  Studies galore have found little or no significant influence of campaign contributions on legislators' votes.  Ideological commitments, party positions and constituents' wishes are what motivate the typical politician's actions in office.
. . .
Campaign-finance reform has a squeaky-clean image, but the dirty truth is that this speech-throttling legislation is partly the result of a hoax perpetrated by a handful of liberal foundations, led by the venerable Pew Charitable Trusts.
. . .
Campaign-finance reform now has the blogosphere in its crosshairs.  When the Federal Election Commission wrote specific rules in 2002 to implement McCain-Feingold, it voted 4-2 to exempt the Web.  After all, observed the majority of three Republicans and one Democrat (the agency divides its seats evenly between the two parties), Congress didn't list the Internet among the "public communications"--everything from television to roadside billboards--that the FEC should regulate.
. . .
But when the chief House architects of campaign-finance reform, joined by Sens. McCain and Russ Feingold, sued--claiming that the Internet was one big "loophole" that allowed big money to keep on corrupting--a federal judge agreed, ordering the FEC to clamp down on Web politics.
This modest site costs a few hundred dollars a year, but still might be subject to those regulations.  My idea of "big money" differs from theirs.

Finally, I should add that an organization I often disagree with, the ACLU, has been excellent on this issue.  Like me, they believe that "Congress shall make no law" means that Congress shall make no law.  And though I often disagree with those on the left side of the blogosphere, I must say that most of lefty bloggers oppose the regulation of blogs.
- 3:12 PM, 25 January 2006   [link]

Conservative Leader Elected In Portugal:  Are we seeing some king of trend here, after wins by conservatives in Germany, Canada, and Portugal.  Not particularly, in my opinion.  In all three countries, the predominant issues were local, and Portugal was not an exception.
Aníbal Cavaco Silva, a center-right candidate, won the election for president in Portugal on Sunday.  His victory was a blow to the governing Socialist Party, which had been under pressure because of a stagnant economy.
But there is a common theme in the German and Canadian elections (and, possibly, in the Portuguese election).  Anti-Americanism can win an election or two for a politician, but in most countries, the tactic can not be used indefinitely.  Voters, whatever their feelings about the United States, eventually will insist on better performance from their governments.

(And, of course, we should not forget that most recent elections in Latin America have gone in the opposite direction, again, I think, for mostly local reasons.)
- 9:40 AM, 25 January 2006   [link]

In Most Places, that nickname would be a handicap.
The candidate's name is Jamal Abu Roub, but everyone here calls him Hitler because, well, that is the name he has answered to quite comfortably since he was a teenager.

Roub, 40, is a leader of the militant Al Aksa Martyrs Brigades in this turbulent corner of the West Bank and has spent the past five years leading his ragtag band of gunmen in frequent clashes with the Israeli military. Roub's deeds include hauling a Palestinian suspected of collaborating with Israel and of molesting his own daughters into a town square, where the man was shot to death.

Now Roub is a candidate for the Palestinian Parliament and is virtually assured of winning a seat in elections Wednesday.  He is wanted by Israel, and therefore does not appear at rallies, yet this seems only to have bolstered his reputation.
But in the area controlled by the Palestinian authority, the nickname is an advantage.

And that will not surprise anyone familiar with the strong ties between (some) Muslims and Hitler.  Consider, for instance, the career of the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, who visited Hitler during World War II, and supported the German dictator in many ways, including helping him recruit Muslims for the SS.  That Palestinians — and many other Muslims — have never repudiated Hitler is one of the strongest reasons to believe that true peace between Israel and the Palestinians will not be possible in this generation.

(You can read more about those connections here.)
- 8:39 AM, 25 January 2006
"Hitler" won by a landslide.
- 6:48 AM, 29 January 2006   [link]

Be Just A Little Bit Evil:  If there is big money in it.  As you may have heard, Google has accepted Chinese censorship.
Online search engine leader Google Inc. has agreed to censor its results in China, adhering to the country's free-speech restrictions in return for better access in the Internet's fastest growing market.

The Mountain View, Calif.-based company planned to roll out a new version of its search engine bearing China's Web suffix ".cn," on Wednesday.  A Chinese-language version of Google's search engine has previously been available through the company's dot-com address in the United States.
As you may also have heard, Google is fighting US government efforts to track down child pornographers, though news articles, such as this one, don't always explain that clearly.

There is, I think, a common motive behind both decisions.  Helping child pornographers probably gains some income for Google, and so does helping the Chinese dictatorship.

That's why I suggest they change their motto from "Don't be evil" to the one I suggested above.

(You can find more on Google's decision to help the Chinese government here, here, here, here, and here.)
- 6:56 AM, 25 January 2006
Debra Saunders makes a similar argument in this column.  She begins with a famous saying from our best known longshoreman-philosopher
Google gives life to the Eric Hoffer observation, "People who bite the hand that feeds them usually lick the boot that kicks them."
And continues with good discussions of Google's refusal to help the Bush administration find child pornographers, and their willingness to help the Chinese dictatorship.
- 7:00 AM, 26 January 2006   [link]