January 2008, Part 1

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

And Now, Off To Britain:  For ten days, counting travel time.  I do plan to blog while I am there, though there may not be any posts for the first few days.

If you have any suggestions for politically incorrect places to see in and around London, please let me know by email.

(And when I get back, I'll get caught up on my email.  Really.)
- 6:31 AM, 6 January 2008   [link]

Well, Now We Know Who Won't Be Elected President In November:  Huckabee and Obama.  I'm joking, but only partly.  In general, the winners of the Iowa caucuses do not become president*.   Often, they don't even win their party's nomination.  Winners in New Hampshire are far more likely to win in November.  And that isn't surprising because the New Hampshire primaries usually have a more representative set of voters than the Iowa caucuses.  (There's a interesting discussion of just how different Iowa Republicans are from Republicans nationally here.   And one would expect the Republicans who went to the Iowa caucuses to be even more different from Republicans nationally.)

As I write, I see that the bettors at InTrade are saying that Huckabee is unlikely to win the Republican nomination (17 percent chance), and that Clinton is a slight favorite over Obama (54 percent to 43 percent).  Those numbers look about right to me, though I might give John Edwards a bigger chance.

And there is still time for more surprises.  In 2000, there was a surge to John McCain in New Hampshire, with many independents voting in the Republican primary.  If independents in New Hampshire disproportionately vote in one of the two primaries, they could produce a surprise again.  (Independents are about 44 percent of the electorate in New Hampshire, Republicans about 30 percent, and Democrats about 26 percent.  Independents are less likely to vote in party primaries, but there are more of them.)

And despite the compression of the schedule this year, there is still time for long distance runners (though perhaps not marathoners) to come from behind.  Mitt Romney has enough money to campaign as long as he wants to.  John McCain, Fred Thompson, and Mike Huckabee can probably continue for a number of rounds, even if they lose the next two primaries.

(*Except, of course, for incumbents)
- 9:40 PM, 4 January 2008   [link]

Even Strategic Voters Are Finding It Hard To Decide:  For example, David Fleck.
But on the Democratic side, there is one outcome that I really don't want; I really don't want Edwards to win, or even come in second, if possible.  And the race is looking very tight.  If I woke up Friday morning and the blowdried pseudopopulist comes in better than third, I will hang my head in shame knowing that I didn't do my little electoral bit to stave it off.  So, despite the drawn-out idiocy of the Democratic caucus process, I think that I may have to go, after all, just to try to prevent that outcome.
But to defeat Edwards, he thinks he has to support either Clinton or Obama.  And the polls make it hard to decide which one to support — even if all you want to do is make Edwards come in third.

It's even more complicated than it appears, since the correct strategy at one gathering would not necessarily be the correct strategy at another.  For instance, in academic areas, Kucinich might have enough support to be a viable candidate, so in those places, he might be the best person to support, again, assuming that your goal is to keep Edwards from coming in first or second.  And it gets even more complicated if there are more than three or four factions with significant support.

(For now you may not want to follow Fleck's link to the Democratic rules, since they have been defaced by some crude pornography, as I write.  You can find a description without the overlay here.  The Republicans just take a straw vote, as I understand it.)
- 3:47 PM, 3 January 2008   [link]

Maybe They Don't Have Any Significant Accomplishments:  In December, I made this offer at Sound Politics to supporters of the three leading Democratic candidates.

If you are a local supporter of any of the three leading Democratic candidates, Clinton, Edwards, or Obama, I'll give you a chance to put up your argument here.  There are three conditions:  First, your argument should be limited to what they have accomplished, especially as elected officials.  I do not care whether they look good in a swimming suit (or bad in a pants suit), or whether they have had interesting lives, or whether they can talk really pretty.  I want to know what, if anything, they have done.  Second, each entry should be no more than a thousand words long.  Third, you should email it to me no later than the end of the year, so that I can post it before the Iowa caucus on January 3rd.

In effect, I offered supporters of the three candidates a chance to put up a free ad for their candidate at one of the most widely read political blogs in the Northwest.

There were no takers.

Let me repeat.  There were no takers.  Not a single supporter of any of the three leading Democratic candidates was willing to tell us what their candidate had accomplished.

To fully appreciate this, imagine your reaction if you received a résumé with a blank space after "Accomplishments".  Would you be inclined to give that applicant a job that requires great experience?  I wouldn't.

This is even stranger considering that the three candidates belong to the more activist party, the party that wants the government to do something about almost everything.  And that the three candidates are promising to do all kinds of things — even though none of them has accomplished much as an elected official.  However, Democratic voters mostly seem satisfied with their top three choices.  I guess some people are just easy to please.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(Is it even possible to write a decent statement of accomplishments for Clinton, Edwards, and Obama?   I could write honest, but weak, statements for Clinton and Obama, though writing one for Clinton would be tricky.  I could write deceptive, but somewhat stronger, statements, for those two.   But for Edwards?  I can't even imagine how to write a statement about his accomplishments as an elected official.  But he is still one of the three leading Democratic candidates.

Incidentally, I think the three have protected each other on the issue of accomplishments.  Since all three are weak, none of the three wants to call attention to the weakness of the other two.  Some of the minor Democratic candidates have discussed this, but our frivolous "mainstream" reporters have not given them much coverage.)
- 4:56 AM, 3 January 2008   [link]

Quick US Passports:  They are possible, though you have to do a little extra work.  Ordinarily, as I understand it, you have to wait four to six weeks to get a new passport, or to renew an old one.  But you can get a passport in just one day — if you live in the right place.

You need some proof that you are leaving soon; a simple itinerary from a travel agent was enough in my case.  (And they hinted that even less would be acceptable in some cases.)

Besides that, you need proof of citizenship, a current ID, two copies of a passport photo, and an "appointment" at a passport office, such as the one in Seattle.  You can make the "appointment" through a cumbersome touch tone menu at 1-877-487-2778.

I call it an "appointment", rather than an appointment, because once you have made it, you do not have a reserved time with an official.  Instead, you fill out a form, wait in line, have everything checked by a clerk, and then wait for your number to be called.  For instance, this morning I had an "appointment" for 8:30, but did not actually speak to someone who could approve my application until after 9:00.  The approval went quickly, but then I had to wait until 2 in the afternoon before I could actually pick up the passport.  Why that long a wait?  I have no idea.  It may be something as simple as having just one person who operates the machine that actually prints the passport.  And I would guess that they have to do some on line check for criminal records and so forth, but that shouldn't take too long, for most applications.

The requirement of an itinerary, or tickets, or a letter from your employer, is, I think, intended to discourage people who are not in a hurry from using this service.  And, of course, you pay extra for the quick service.

The people at the passport office were pleasant, helpful, and appeared to know the rules well, at least for the cases that I saw while I was waiting.  They were sympathetic, for instance, to a young woman who had missed her flight to Peru because she had damaged her passport by running it through a washer some five years ago.  They explained to her what she had to do to get a replacement; for example, one thing she had to do was re-schedule her flight.   (Apparently, they had heard similar stories about damaged passports before, so you may want to check the condition of your passport days before you leave on a trip.)

The system, I think, could be improved.  Though it is possible to get a passport in a day, I could find nothing on line from the State Department that said that they could do it that quickly.   (There are many private firms that promise you passports in a day, but I didn't know whether to believe their ads.  And I was sure that using one costs a lot of extra money.  Incidentally, while I was there, I saw a young woman who worked for one of those firms come in and pick up a passport.)

Perhaps they prefer to under promise, even though they can do most of them in a day.  Or maybe I was just lucky, going by this gloomy report.

By now, you have probably guessed that I will be taking an unexpected foreign trip, and you would be right.  I plan to continue blogging during most of the trip.  More later, when my plans are firmer.
- 5:50 PM, 2 January 2008   [link]

Give Hate A Chance:  That, according to Rich Lowry, is John Edwards' message to Iowans.  At least hate for big corporations.  Two samples:
John Edwards is angry, and he wants people to know it.  Republicans complain of Democratic class warfare all the time.  It's usually an overwrought charge.  But Edwards is the real thing.   His message is resentful, confrontational and paranoid, verging on the openly hateful.  And Iowa audiences are loving it.
. . .
It is rare indeed to hear a politician brag about his fistfights as a child as Edwards does to establish his credentials for the "epic fight" ahead.  Persuasion and negotiations are anathema to him and he explicitly forswears them:  "People say to me, as president of the United States I want you to sit at a table and negotiate with these people.  Never."  He's willing to talk to Iran, but not to Pfizer.  One is only a terrorist-sponsoring enemy of the United States, after all, and the other is a drug company.
(I suspect that Edwards does not say that he hates big media companies.)

Does Edwards believe his own message?  Some of it, I suspect, though he didn't talk like this when he was running for the Senate.  And it is absolutely bizarre to see this and to compare it to his investments while he was a senator, and to his work for a hedge fund.  But a really great salesman often believes his own pitch — even though it is inconsistent with his actions.

(Incidentally, Richard Neustadt argued, in his classic book, Presidential Power, that the power of a president is, essentially, the power to persuade.  Most political scientists agreed with Neustadt when the book was published, and I wouldn't be surprised to learn that most still do.  Presidents, at least in domestic policy, are surprisingly weak in formal powers, at least compared to most other democratic leaders.)
- 6:34 AM, 2 January 2008   [link]

Long, But Worth Reading:  Or at least worth skimming.  "Patterico" does his annual review of mistakes and bias at the Los Angeles Times, or as he calls it, the Los Angeles Dog Trainer.  Here's a sample:
The flip side of pro-Democrat bias is anti-Republican bias, and once again, the editors did not disappoint.  The paper deliberately implied that Dick Cheney had leaked Valerie Plame's identity — saving for the back pages the fact that there was no evidence of this.  And the paper blatantly misstated the sixteen words from President Bush's January 2003 State of the Union address.  I called them on it, providing clear proof of their error — but they refused to issue a correction.

The editors' bias was evident in whom they relied on as experts.  Who better to go to for a quote than Larry Johnson?  He's the guy who once made the charming comment that Karl Rove's mother had killed herself because she hated Rove so much.
I sometimes think that journalists have gotten those sixteen words wrong more often than they have gotten them right, in spite of correction after correction in major newspapers.

The people who run the the Los Angeles Times could learn a lot from these reviews — but I doubt that they will.
- 4:54 PM, 1 January 2008   [link]

Chuckle:  John Tierney makes some predictions.
I'd like to wish you a happy New Year, but I'm afraid I have a different sort of prediction.

You're in for very bad weather.  In 2008, your television will bring you image after frightening image of natural havoc linked to global warming.  You will be told that such bizarre weather must be a sign of dangerous climate change — and that these images are a mere preview of what's in store unless we act quickly to cool the planet.

Unfortunately, I can't be more specific.  I don't know if disaster will come by flood or drought, hurricane or blizzard, fire or ice.  Nor do I have any idea how much the planet will warm this year or what that means for your local forecast.  Long-term climate models cannot explain short-term weather.
And gently criticizes his fellow journalists for their sensationalism.
- 11:56 AM, 1 January 2008   [link]

You Just Can't Trust Some Animals:  For instance, pterodactyls.

(I fear that local reporters will not follow up on this story, but I will do search or two this week, just in case they do.)
- 6:24 AM, 1 January 2008   [link]