July 2010, Part 4

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves:  Aren't welcome in France.
In the wake of a spate of violent incidents, the French president has announced his intention to attack "the problem of the behaviour of certain elements in the Rom and itinerant community," recommending that foreign troublemakers be deported to their country of origin — a controversial policy in both France and Romania, which highlights the European dimension of this issue.
Or in Germany.
"At home in Germany", headlines Der Freitag, with a photo of one of the 12,000 Roma and Ashkali that Berlin intends to deport to Kosovo in the coming years.  The Berlin weekly concludes that the deal, which "Kosovo accepted under pressure" last April, constitutes "a catastrophe for the families", who for the most part arrived in Germany in the early 90's.  The paper declares that it is a "disgrace for Germany" to pursue an agreement that qualifies Kosovo, a country shaken by ethnic tensions and incapable of protecting those who return, as "safe".  The majority of the nearly 6,000 children and adolescents affected have grown up in Germany, speak neither Serbian nor Albanian and will probably be unable to continue their studies.
(British citizens don't seem fond of gypsies, either, but, as far as I know, the British government hasn't attempted to deport them en masse.)

The German policy does seem more than a little cruel, though I don't know whether they have any better alternatives.

Imagine the reaction in the European press if George W. Bush had done something similar.

(As most of you have already guessed, I borrowed the title from Cher.)
- 10:24 AM, 31 July 2010   [link]

Yankees Versus Pitchers Making Their Major League Debuts:  It's probably just a statistical fluke.
Using a starting point of the 2000 season, the Yankees have, in recent history, struggled the 11 times they have faced first-time starters.  The opposing starters average six innings a start with a 2.32 earned run average, and the Yankees' record in those games is 3-8 with an average 2.73 runs scored.
That's by far the worst for any major league team against first-time starters.

It's probably, as Sean Forman says, just a fluke — but if I were managing against the Yankees, I think I would bring up that hot young minor league pitcher just in time to make his first major league start against the Yankees.

(If you know enough about baseball to construct a theory to explain this fluke, pass it on, although I will say again that I don't think that there is anything to be explained.)
- 9:53 AM, 31 July 2010   [link]

Lawyers And Speeding Tickets:  Lawyers specialize, as everyone knows.  But, until I read this post, I had not known that some lawyers specialize in speeding tickets.  And that, if you want to contest a speeding ticket, you would be wise to hire one of those lawyers.

(I knew, of course, that some lawyers specialize in representing drunk drivers — and have never been able to understand why a lawyer would want to do that, in most jurisdictions.)
- 1:44 PM, 30 July 2010   [link]

Congressman Inslee And Speaker Pelosi Have A Friendly Chat:  When I learned that 1st district Congressman Jay Inslee had voted with Speaker Nancy Pelosi 99 percent of the time, I was reminded of an old joke.

So I adapted the joke:

Congressman Inslee is on the phone talking to Speaker Pelosi.  We can hear his side of the conversation, which goes like this:

"Yes, Madame Speaker."

"Of course, Madame Speaker."

"Certainly, Madame Speaker."

"Yes, Madame Speaker."

And finally, "No, Madame Speaker."

A curious reporter — and there are a few — can't resist after overhearing this, and so he approaches Congressman Inslee and says:  "Excuse me congressman, I couldn't help overhearing you talking to Speaker Pelosi.  Do you mind if I ask you a question?"

"No, go ahead," says Inslee.

The reporter asks, "Would you mind telling us what Speaker Pelosi asked you in that last question?"

"Not at all," replies Inslee.  "She asked me if there was anything on which I disagreed with her."

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(If you live elsewhere, feel free to adapt this joke.  For example, Pennsylvanians can use it for Senate candidate Joe Sestak, just by changing the name, and the 99 to 98.

If you want to check your own congressman or senator, you can do so at OpenCongress.)
- 1:15 PM, 30 July 2010   [link]

Gary Wills Talks To President Obama:  And concludes, later, that Obama is a poor listener.
It is time for me to break a silence I have observed for over a year, against my better judgment.   On June 30, 2009, I and eight other historians were invited to a dinner with President Obama and three of his staffers, to discuss what history could teach him about conducting the presidency.  I was asked shortly after by several news media what went on there, and I replied that it was off the record. I have argued elsewhere that the imposition of secrecy to insure that the president gets "candid advice" is a cover for something else—making sure that what is said about the people's business does not reach the people.  But I went along this time, since the president said that he wanted this dinner to be a continuing thing, and I thought that revealing its first contents would jeopardize the continuation of a project that might be a source of information for him.
. . .
I will let others say what they want (some already have).  But I will now reveal what I contributed that night.  I told him that Richard Nixon had advised Ronald Reagan not to make too many public statements himself—let others speak on a daily basis, and save his appearances for big issues.  Obama replied that he would speak less often in the future, but at the moment no one else in his administration could command the attention that he did.
Obama didn't take his advice on speaking less often.
That was more than a year ago, and the pace of Obama's frequent public statements has not let up.  In January of this year, when Obama marked his first year in office, CBS's Mark Knoller, who serves as the unofficial media record-keeper at the White House, noted that Obama made 411 speeches, comments and remarks in the first year; held 42 question-and-answer sessions with reporters, gave 158 interviews, and held 23 town-hall meetings.
And far more important to a leftist historian like Gary Wills, Obama ignored the historians' advice not to get too involved in Afghanistan.

As I have argued before, a president's ability to listen is more important that his ability to talk  (Though far harder for the average voter to assess.)  Wills may be wrong in thinking that Obama didn't listen to the advice from the historians; Obama may just have disagreed with them.  (For the record, I think Obama is more right than Wills and company on most of the things they discussed.)  But this is consistent with other reports of Obama's unwillingness or inability to listen, reports that worry me, and should worry every citizen.
- 8:39 AM, 30 July 2010   [link]

You Know, This Might Explain some of the stranger features of California politics.
Almost 5 million California adults say they could use help with a mental or emotional problem, according to a survey released Wednesday by researchers at UCLA.
(As a native Washingtonian, I am required to make snarky comments about California from time to time.)
- 3:57 PM, 29 July 2010   [link]

WikiLeaks Offered Afghan Secret Documents To The White House?  And the offer was ignored?

If the White House missed a chance to vet the documents, and to remove some of the names, they blundered badly, and people, mostly Afghans, will die because of that blunder.

That said, I do want to know more details about this offer before coming to a final judgment.
- 9:28 AM, 29 July 2010   [link]

The Paul Krugman Stimulus Package:  New York Times columnist Paul Krugman continues to insist that the main thing wrong with the Obama-Pelosi-Reid stimulus package is that it was too small.  (If Professor Krugman has discussed the inefficiency of much of the spending in the OPR package, I've missed that.)

But Krugman has not, perhaps out of modesty, told us what he is doing, personally, to stimulate the economy.  He is a wealthy man — unless he somehow managed to squander the money he received for talks to Enron and other such businesses.  He has tenure, and so has about as secure an income as one can have these days.  He and his wife have no children.

In short, Professor Krugman appears to be in a better position to stimulate the economy than 99 percent of his fellow citizens.

Assuming he hasn't already acted — and he is such a modest fellow that I can't be sure whether he has, and hasn't told us about it — I have a few suggestions for him.

The American auto companies would appreciate his business.  This model looks ideal for car pooling.  Buying it would stimulate the Michigan economy, and would provide Professor Krugman with many opportunities for conversation with his colleagues.

Nevada has very high unemployment.  Professor Krugman and his wife can stimulate the economy there by taking a vacation in one of America's favorite destination cities, where they will have many opportunities to review probability theory.

The construction industry has been hard hit in this recession.  I wouldn't be surprised to learn that his wife can think of a few minor improvements she would like in their house.  Not being familiar with that area, I can't recommend any contractors, but Krugman might want to ask "Tigerhawk" or Fausta for some suggestions.

All of these suggestions require Krugman to join what Glenn Reynolds has called the "retail support brigade".  (Assuming, again, that he hasn't joined already.)  And if Krugman doesn't care for my suggestions, he should check Reynolds' site frequently, for others.

Finally, Krugman might want to donate money to charities.  I know that he doesn't share their religious beliefs, but in view of their many good works, he might want to give a substantial donation to the Salvation Army.  Since the people they help are almost all poor, his gift would be just the kind of redistribution he has told us that he favors.

As Krugman says, we need more spending.  I hope that he is already doing his part, but, if not, I hope he will find my modest suggestions useful.
- 8:15 AM, 29 July 2010   [link]

Is The Castro Regime Selling Dissidents?   Probably, though the payments may be less direct than those that East Germany used to extort from West Germany.

By way of ¡No-Pasarán!.
- 7:16 AM, 29 July 2010   [link]

Politics, Philadelphia Style:  Intimidation and even violence occur at many (most?) elections, and corruption is pervasive in some neighborhoods.
National Review Online has been hosting a lively debate on the meaning of the New Black Panthers Party voter-intimidation case in Philadelphia, and it has been a hoot.  What's been missing, I think, is a sense of the context in which this drama has unfolded: the nearly unique electoral culture of the City of Brotherly Love, where polling places have been located in bars, vacant buildings, and the offices of Democratic politicians (state senator Vince Fumo, currently serving time in federal prison on a 137-count corruption conviction, had one in his office), where gushers of loosely distributed "walking-around money" fuel voter turnout, and where campaigning for the wrong candidate can get you beaten with a two-by-four or slashed across the face.
Nearly all of the intimidation, violence, and corruption come from Democratic officials, or from unions supporting Democratic candidates.
- 12:59 PM, 28 July 2010   [link]

What Do Current House Polls Show?  Republicans winning Democratic seats.  
In most cycles, it's really rare to see a challenger leading an incumbent congressman; we've seen eight in six weeks, and over a diverse range of districts.  (Two of the above polls are for currently Democrat-held open seat races, Griffin and Meehan.)

I can hear the objections:   "Most of these polls were commissioned by Republican campaigns!"  Fine.  Take as many grains of salt as you deem necessary.  But note that Democrats are doing their own polls and refuse to release the results:
On Monday, Jim Geraghty added two more to that list, in New Mexico and Illinois.
- 12:28 PM, 28 July 2010   [link]

Blatant Discrimination In Auto Dealer Closings:  I have been studying the report of the inspector general on the auto company bailout, and have learned much.  (And hope to have a post for you on some of the general findings soon.)

But there was one little bit in the report that stuck out and that deserves a post of its own.  The Obama operatives wanted GM and Chrysler to reduce their dealer networks, for reasons I'll discuss later.   The two car companies presented plans for those reductions, and the Obama team rejected them, calling for deeper cuts.  In its second try, GM used a number of criteria to determine which dealerships should be cut, but was not entirely consistent in using those criteria.

In particular, GM kept some dealerships, because:
GM officials attributed these inconsistencies primarily to a desire to maintain coverage in certain rural areas where they have a competitive advantage over import auto companies that are not typically located in rural areas, although ultimately close to half of all of the GM dealerships identified for termination were in rural areas.  Other dealerships were retained because they were recently appointed, were key wholesale parts dealers, or were minority- or woman-owned dealerships. (p. 18)
(Emphasis added.)

In short, GM discriminated in favor of minority- or woman-owned dealerships, or, if you prefer, discriminated against dealerships owned by white males.

As far as I can tell from the report, the Obama team saw nothing wrong with this open discrimination.

(The report does not mention similar discrimination by Chrysler.  The company may not have had many minority- or woman-owned dealerships.

I have seen reports of political favoritism in Chrysler's choices, but have not seen enough data to know what to make of those reports.)
- 9:08 AM, 28 July 2010   [link]

What Questions Will The Loose Women* Ask Barack Obama?  He's about to tape the show, and many are wondering what tough questions they will ask him.  Some are even helping out with suggestions and predictions.

I haven't watched the show often enough to make predictions, though, judging by his last appearance on "The View", I would not be surprised to see a show that embarrasses every thinking person in the United States.

(*I used the name of the British version of the show in the title because it seems more descriptive than the bland "The View".  Except, of course, for Elizabeth Hasselbeck.

Oddly enough, Obama is giving up a chance to talk live to the 100th anniversary of the Boy Scouts, which strikes me as just a little crazy, politically.)
- 8:24 AM, 28 July 2010
Not as bad as I expected, but pretty bad.  Bad enough, I would say, so that ABC should report this as an in-kind contribution to the Obama campaign.
- 12:58 PM, 29 July 2010
Alessandra Stanley of the New York Times agrees with me that this was a campaign appearance.
"We shouldn't be campaigning all the time," President Obama said on "The View," during an interview that looked and sounded a lot like a campaign appearance.
. . .
By smiling and joking alongside the likes of Whoopi Goldberg and Ms. Walters, by listing his accomplishments without contradiction or interruption, Mr. Obama got a chance to remind viewers who voted for him why they did so in the first place.  A lot of goodwill can be reaped with an appearance on "The View" or ESPN or even "WWE Raw."  (In 2008 Mr. Obama and two other presidential candidates provided taped greetings to fans of that wrestling show.)
Nothing wrong with Obama doing these long advertisements — as long as his campaign pays for them.
- 3:51 PM, 30 July2010   [link]

Running Against George W. Bush:  In Venezuela.
Hearing chavistas rant recently, it's easy to see what their strategy is going to be ahead of September's parliamentary elections: talk incessantly about the unemployed.  Not the unemployed in general, mind you. . . just two of them: George W. Bush and (the by-then-to-be-unemployed) Alvaro Uribe.

Chávez or Uribe-Bush? That, in the chavista playbook, is the issue. . .

It's clear now that, from a framing point of view, Uribe's decision to go all Last-of-the-Mohicans on us has been a godsend to chavismo.  In speech after speech, chavistas have made it clear: the framing, from here on out, is "la patria versus el imperio."

And who can blame them?  What else could they run on?  Are they going to run on, y'know, their achievements?  On the improved safety on the streets?  The thriving misiones?   The great strides they're making against inflation and shortages?  Right.
Somehow that strategy seems vaguely familiar, although I usually associate it with elections this November, rather than this September.
- 7:39 AM, 28 July 2010   [link]

Senator Kerry Hopes To Run For Re-Election In 2014:  We know that because, after all that bad publicity, he has promised to pay the Massachusetts tax on the yacht his wife bought him.

(Kerry could lose to a Republican challenger in 2014, though, as of now, he would have to be considered the favorite.)
- 6:01 AM, 28 July 2010   [link]

Lessons From Venona:  During the 1940s, the US Army began to record secret Soviet messages, and, eventually, to decrypt them, partially.  This super-secret project was known by many code names, but is now universally called Venona.

In principle, the US should not have been able to decrypt the messages because the Soviets used a perfect system, one-time pads, to encode their messages.  But, sometime during World War II, they made an error, perhaps because of the increase in messages, perhaps because of the wartime rush, and re-used some of their pads.

These duplications made them subject to attack, because if you know the clear text of one message — and we knew many of them, through a variety of means, you can decode others, or parts of others, that happen to use the same sheet from the pad.  Simple in principle, fiendishly slow and difficult in practice, especially before computers were widely available.

We (and the British) did not succeed in decoding most of the KGB and GRU (Soviet military) messages, but we did succeed in decoding enough of them to identify many spies, including Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, Alger Hiss, Harry Dexter White, and Donald Maclean.  Often these identifications were made through a slow step-by-step process; information from one decoded message would narrow the suspects down to a couple of hundred, another message would reduce the list to a dozen, and then a third would narrow it down to one or two.

When Venona decrypts identified a spy, the authorities in both the US and Britain were often unsure what to do next.  They did not want to reveal the existence of the Venona publicly, and much of the information would have been hard to use in any American or British court.  (The Soviets knew about the project quite early, through Kim Philby, and possibly others, but we didn't know they knew, at first.)

Maclean's case shows the difficulties.  After Venona decrypts had identified him, the British, recognizing that they did not have enough other evidence to convict him, stopped sending him secret memos, searched his home secretly, and put him under surveillance, but did not arrest him.  He understood quickly what must have happened, and soon, with Guy Burgess, escaped to Moscow.

Some of those identified in the decrypts were never charged with spying, and a few were never charged with anything, because of these legal difficulties.  We knew what they had done, but we couldn't prove it in open court.

And some of the cases are still ambiguous, with authorities disputing what some partial decrypts tell us.  We can't tie all the code names, with certainty, to particular individuals, nor can we be certain sure whether someone identified in some of the messages was a Soviet spy, or just an informal source of information.

This uncertainty is typical of intelligence operations, of every kind.  Often, intelligence analysts will come up with sets of partial answers, answers that may be so incomplete that the correct response is not obvious.

That uncertainty is often infuriating, and usually inescapable.

(Here's the NSA Venona site, with much additional information.).
- 9:44 PM, 27 July 2010   [link]

European Versus American Rail Systems:  American fans of European rail systems will often tell you how wonderful they are, compared to our own.   (For example.)  When they make these comparisons, they are almost always discussing passenger rail, rather than freight.

And they often leave out the minor financial problems that many European passenger rail systems have.
The precarious nature of euro zone finances has made it increasingly difficult for state rail companies to raise capital throughout Europe. Standard & Poor's recently downgraded the debt of the French and Portuguese national rail operators, and earlier this month Moody's placed the Spanish train operator on review for a possible downgrade.
. . .
In the latest annual figures available, Hellenic Railways reported a loss of more than $1 billion in 2008, on sales of about $253 million.  Of course, shaky finances are not uncommon among rail operators in Europe.  Many are poor cash generators.  Their prices are kept low as a matter of social policy, forcing the companies to become heavy state-backed borrowers to finance upkeep and expansion.
The Greek system is particularly bad, partly because it was used to disguise the extent of Greece's debts, partly because it often runs empty trains in some areas.

What those American fans of European rail systems will almost never tell you is that the American freight rail system is the best in the world.
Amtrak's passenger services are sparse compared with Europe's.  But America's freight railways are one of the unsung transport successes of the past 30 years.  They are universally recognised in the industry as the best in the world.

Their good run started with deregulation at the end of Jimmy Carter's administration.  Two years after the liberalisation of aviation gave rise to budget carriers and cheap fares, the freeing of rail freight, under the Staggers Rail Act of 1980, started a wave of consolidation and improvement.  Staggers gave railways freedom to charge market rates, enter confidential contracts with shippers and run trains as they liked.  They could close passenger and branch lines, as long as they preserved access for Amtrak services.  They were allowed to sell lossmaking lines to new short-haul railroads.  Regulation of freight rates by the Interstate Commerce Commission was removed for most cargoes, provided they could go by road.
. . .
Giving the railroads the freedom to run their business as they saw fit led to dramatic improvements.  The first result was a sharp rise in traffic and productivity and fall in freight costs.  Since 1981 productivity has risen by 172%, after years of stagnation.  Adjusted for inflation, rates are down by 55% since 1981 (see chart 1).  Rail's share of the freight market, measured in ton-miles, has risen steadily to 43%—about the highest in any rich country.
Unfortunately, we may give up some of that efficiency because proponents of fast passenger trains may force the railroads to spend billions on improvements that freight rail does not need.  If that happens, you won't see that change directly unless you are a shipper, but you will see slightly higher prices for almost everything you buy.  (However, Joe Biden, who rides AmTrak regularly, may be able to make his commutes more quickly, so a few people will come out ahead.)

(For the record:  In the past, I have enjoyed rail travel, on both the high speed trains in Europe, and the older trains here in the United States.  It is an exceptionally civilized way to travel.   But I can't quite bring myself to think that, because I enjoy rail travel, others should subsidize my rail trips.)
- 3:35 AM, 27 July 2010   [link]

The Best And The Brightest?  Neal Gabler, still stuck in the Vietnam era, recycles Halberstam's title in order to criticize the Obama administration.
When author David Halberstam wrote his account of what got this nation into Vietnam, he didn't find that the architects of the war were obtuse or illogical or commie-obsessed or infatuated with American might.  Instead, in Halberstam's now iconic term that became the title of his best-selling book, they were "the best and the brightest'' — a superior governing class that was the product of America's best families, its most prestigious prep schools and universities, and most august law firms and investment banks.  The irony is that these geniuses turned out to be so dangerously wrong that the very term "best and the brightest'' became a sarcastic euphemism for a hubris that leads to disaster.

One might have thought, then, that the "best and the brightest'' would have been eternally discredited like the war they promulgated.  But Barack Obama has such a strange, almost reverential faith in the very sorts of folks Halberstam flayed that the president threatens to lead his administration and the country down the same hubristic path.
Gabler has a few examples to support his argument — economic advisor Larry Summers, budget director Peter Orszag, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, Deputy Secretary of Defense William J. Lynn 3d, and Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg.  (He omits Energy Secretary Steven Chu, who is bright, but may not belong to all the best clubs.)  But only a few.

And when you take a look at President Obama, Vice President Biden, the Cabinet, and his closest advisors, you lose any fear you might have that Obama has chosen the "best and the brightest" for his administration.

Let me review some well-known facts about Obama and Biden:  Neither was an academic star, and neither shows any sign of having read widely.  Biden accomplished little in the Senate, considering how long he was there (since 1973).  Obama accomplished little as a community organizer, lawyer, law professor, and state senator.  He accomplished almost nothing as a US Senator, and often appeared bored by the job.

The Cabinet is filled with mediocrities who fill political slots, from Hillary Clinton to Janet Napolitano.   Even so, most of them have more accomplishments than Obama does.  (Chu is undoubtedly a fine scientist, but is out of place as Energy Secretary.)  Example:  Gary Locke was, at best, a mediocre governor of Washington state, more interested in being governor than actually doing anything.  (Though he was definitely better than his successor, Christine Gregoire, who has been doing her best to bankrupt the state.)  The Commerce Secretary, traditionally, works hard to open up markets for American goods; offhand, I can't think of anything Locke has done along those lines.  He hasn't even been able to get Obama to push through two trade treaties with Columbia and South Korea, negotiated by the Bush administration.

Obama's top policy advisors, Rahm Emanuel, David Axelrod, Valerie Jarrett, don't even rise to the level of mediocrity.  (Though Emanuel and Axelrod are pretty good political advisors.   There are bright people in this administration, for example, economists Larry Summers and Christine Romer.  But, judging by his policies, there is no reason to think that Obama and his advisors listen to them.

(Were the people in the Kennedy administration really the "best and the brightest"?  Some, for instance Robert Strange McNamara, were certainly bright, though not as bright as they may have thought they were.  But Kennedy himself was not exceptionally smart, nor were many others in his administration.)
- 2:33 AM, 27 July 2010   [link]

Revenge For Those Gift DVDs?  Telegraph columnist Simon Heffer suspects that David Cameron's gift to Barack Obama might have been revenge.
When I saw the piece of "art" by a "graffiti artist" that Dave gave Barack Obama I thought it the most exemplary revenge for the insult dealt to the last prime minister when he came here.  Gordon Brown was, you may recall, given a box of low-rent Hollywood films incompatible with British DVD players.

This "art" seemed to be paying Mr Obama back in his own coin.

However, I hear that the "artist", Ben Eine, is regarded as "cutting edge" by the Camerons, so the gift was meant as a compliment.
When I looked at the "Twenty First Century City", which you can see here, I couldn't decide whether it was intended as revenge, or as a compliment.  The artist is said to be a favorite of the Prime Minister Cameron's wife, Samantha, but spouses don't always have the same tastes.  The painting is, broadly, similar to some the Obamas have chosen for themselves.

At the end, I was left with this weird speculation:  Prime Minister Cameron may have meant the painting as revenge — even while he knew that the Obamas would not take it that way.   Revenge, but secret revenge.

(Obama gave Cameron Ed Ruscha's "Column With Speed Lines", a painting that bored me after about two seconds, but at least isn't as cheap as those DVDs.)
- 1:27 PM, 27 July 2010   [link]

Jay Cost Critiques Gallup's state-by-state party ID findings.
This map does not correspond with the national presidential map terribly well, in that it underestimates Republican electoral strength.
I agree entirely with his analysis; changes in party ID do lag, sometimes for decades, voting decisions.   A voter in the South may still think of himself as a Democrat, even though he has voted for the last five Republican candidates for president.

But I don't think that invalidates the argument that I made yesterday, that the Republicans are gaining all across the country.  It does mean that we should be cautious about making predictions based only on party ID, especially in states where party ID does not match recent voting patterns.

For instance, as George W. Bush showed in 2000, West Virginia may be a Democratic-leaning state in local and state elections, but, if anything, it is a Republican-leaning state in presidential voting.  (Bush won the state by 6 points in 2000, and by 13 points in 2004.  McCain won it by 13 points in 2008.  But the Democrats hold large majorities in the West Virginia Senate (28-6) and the West Virginia House of Delegates (71-29).

(A Republican candidate for Congress in West Virginia will want to nationalize the election; a Democratic candidate will want to localize it, because of those patterns.)
- 7:38 AM, 27 July 2010   [link]

The Denver Post Is Disappointed In Barack Obama:  The newspaper doesn't take back their 2008 endorsement, but they do admit that he isn't doing well, especially in foreign policy.
We endorsed Obama in 2008, believing his plans for the fragile economy and frozen financial markets were superior to John McCain's erratic ideas.  But we also hoped he would restore the nation's reputation with the rest of the world.  But instead of being vilified, as we were under Bush, the United States is now suddenly bordering on being irrelevant.

Relations with China and Russia have been deteriorating.

China wags its finger at us over our spendthrift ways, and who can blame them for worrying about whether we can ever afford to pay them back?

North Korea sinks a South Korean boat, and the U.S. provides no leadership.  Instead, the Obama administration issues what amounts to a tersely worded press release.

Relations with the government we prop up in Afghanistan are, at best, strained.

No U.S. president since Carter has been as crossways with Israel, our one solid Middle East ally.
It would be easy to add to that list; the editorial writer could, for instance, have mentioned the way Obama insulted British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

The Post isn't quite ready to ask the competence question, but the newspaper is clearly moving in that direction.
- 7:02 AM, 27 July 2010   [link]

"Greener Than Thou"  Today's New Yorker calendar cartoon uses that for a punch line, for which we may be grateful.

(If you can't immediately visualize a cartoon to fit that punch line, here it is:  Two couples are shown.  The couple in the foreground is getting into their car and waving goodbye.  The woman in the foreground, having gotten far enough away from the other couple so that she can speak privately, is saying, "I hated how they acted so much 'greener than thou'.")

We may be grateful for the cartoon because it shows that the cartoonist understands that, for many people, Green is a religion, and like many religions, Green attracts some who want to pose as holier than thou.   And we can be even more grateful that most people, at least in the United States, will get that cartoon, immediately.

(The cartoonist is, if I am reading his scrawled signature correctly, William Hamilton.)
- 2:19 PM, 26 July 2010   [link]

Republican Revival:  In 2008, you could have made a good argument that the Republican party was in serious trouble, just by looking at Gallup's party ID, by state.   Since then, thanks mostly, in my opinion, to President Obama, Speaker Pelosi, and Majority Leader Reid, the Republicans have gained in every state, except Mississippi.  (In both 2008 and 2010, Democrats had a 1 point edge in Mississippi.)

That doesn't mean that the Republicans are now the majority party, but that they can be competitive in almost every state, with the right candidates and the right issues.  Here's Gallup's somewhat confusing summary.

Solidly Democratic states tend to cluster in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, with a few exceptions in the far West (California, Hawaii, and Oregon), one in the Midwest (Illinois), and one in the Southwest (New Mexico).   Solidly Republican states are all West of the Mississippi, including Alaska and states in the Mountain West (Utah, Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana) and the Midwest (Nebraska and Kansas).

The most politically competitive states in the Union, all of which have Democratic-Republican gaps of less than one point, are Colorado, Mississippi, Missouri, and Virginia.

There are 10 fewer states in the solid Democratic category thus far in 2010 than there were in 2009, and one fewer state in the leaning Democratic category.  At the same time, there are three more solid Republican states, and four more in the leaning Republican category.  Sixteen states can be classified as competitive, four more than last year.

I should add that, since 2008, Republicans have won statewide elections in two "solidly Democratic" states, New Jersey and Massachusetts, and have good chances in others this year, including California and Illinois.

Three examples, chosen not entirely at random:  In 2008, Democrats had a 16 point edge in Pennsylvania; in polling this year, that edge had fallen to 7 percent.  Similarly, in 2008, the Democrats had a 17 point edge in Washington state; in polling this year, that edge had fallen to 7 percent.  In 2008, Democrats had a 13 point edge in New Hampshire; this year, Republicans have a 6 point edge.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(Regular readers may recall that I predicted these Republican gains, in September, 2008.)
- 12:18 PM, 26 July 2010   [link]

Bob Schieffer Calls For Better Fact Checking:  And gets some facts wrong.  Easily-checked facts.

Will CBS and Schieffer issue a correction?  Don't count on it.
- 9:18 AM, 26 July 2010   [link]

Should Muslims Have Different Laws Than Non-Muslims?  A New Jersey trial court said yes, in a domestic violence case, but was reversed on appeal.
Defendant's conduct in engaging in nonconsensual sexual intercourse was unquestionably knowing, regardless of his view that his religion permitted him to act as he did.

As the judge recognized, the case thus presents a conflict between the criminal law and religious precepts.  In resolving this conflict, the judge determined to except defendant from the operation of the State's statutes as the result of his religious beliefs.  In doing so, the judge was mistaken.
So mistaken, in my opinion, that the judge should be removed from the bench.

More on the case from TigerHawk and Eugene Volokh.
- 7:58 AM, 26 July 2010   [link]

President O'Carter?  Chris Matthews makes a Freudian slip.

(Maybe Matthews is pining for the good old days.  As I said in June, we will be incredibly lucky if Obama does no more damage than Jimmy Carter did.)
- 7:00 AM, 26 July 2010   [link]

Sometimes, The Bias At The New York Times Is So Blatant, It's Funny:   For instance, in the picture of Chief Justice John Roberts the Times created to go with this article.   What a grim-looking man they show us!  Since that's an uncharacteristic look for him, the picture doesn't tell us anything about him, but does tell us something about our newspaper of record.

(Are they right when they say that the court is the most "conservative" it has been in decades?  Perhaps, I haven't studied the article yet.  But I suspect that, after I do, I will conclude that it would be more accurate to say that the court is the most "moderate" it has been in decades.)

If you glance through these pictures from Bing and Google, you'll see that Chief Justice Robers has a characteristic look, that he smiles often, but with his mouth closed, so that he looks serious even while smiling.  (Not a bad look for a chief justice, I would say.)
- 6:42 PM, 25 July 2010   [link]

Howard Dean Takes On Fox — And Loses:  This morning, the former governor, presidential candidate, and Democratic party chairman was on Fox News Sunday, all prepared to charge Fox with racism.

Unfortunately for Dean, he hadn't bothered to learn the facts.
DEAN: Let's just be blunt about this.  I don't think Newt Gingrich is a racist, and you're certainly not a racist, but I think Fox News did something that was absolutely racist.

They took a -- they had an obligation to find out what was really in the clip.  They had -- they had been pushing a theme of black racism with this phony Black Panther crap and this business and Sotomayor and all this other stuff.  You -- I think you've got to be very -- I think the -- look the Tea Party called out their racist fringe, and I think the Republican Party's got to stop appealing to its racist fringe.  And Fox News is what did that.

You put that on.

WALLACE: Wait, wait, wait, wait --

DEAN: Yes, I think the Obama people . . .

WALLACE: Governor?  Governor?  I know facts are inconvenient . . .

DEAN: Yes.  Yep.

WALLACE: I know facts are inconvenient things, but let's try to deal with the facts.  The fact is that the Obama administration fired or forced Shirley Sherrod to quit before her name had ever been mentioned on Fox News Channel.  Did you know that, sir?

DEAN: I did -- what I do know is that video came out . . .

WALLACE: Did you -- did you know that, that her name -- did you know that her -- that she was fired before her name was ever mentioned on the Fox News Channel?

DEAN: What about the video?  Where did that play?  What about the incomplete video from a . . .

WALLACE: The video had never played . . .

DEAN: . . . from a right-wing . . .

WALLACE: The video had never played on the Fox News Channel before the White House fired her.  It was on Andrew Breitbart,  We're not responsible for them.  I agree with you it was out of context.
At that point, Dean should concede that he was wrong, and apologize for accusing Fox of racism in their coverage of the Sherrod firing.  But he doesn't give up easily.
WALLACE: Let me ask my question and then you can answer.  Why do you think the Obama White House, administration, fired her before her name ever appeared on Fox News?

DEAN: Did you play -- did Fox News play the clip that turned out to be inaccurate?

DEAN: Right. I don't think it matters whether it was before or after. The question is you played it.  You didn't do your job -- or not you personally, of course, but the people who chose to play the clip.
(As every person who has followed this story knows, the video was not "inaccurate", but incomplete.)

At this point, Monty Python fans may think that Dean is showing more than a little resemblance to the Black Knight.

In fact, Fox News behaved well on this story, unlike the Obama administration.
But for all the chatter -- some of it from Sherrod herself -- that she was done in by Fox News, the network didn't touch the story until her forced resignation was made public Monday evening, with the exception of brief comments by O'Reilly.  After a news meeting Monday afternoon, an e-mail directive was sent to the news staff in which Fox Senior Vice President Michael Clemente said: "Let's take our time and get the facts straight on this story.   Can we get confirmation and comments from Sherrod before going on-air.  Let's make sure we do this right."
As amusing as Dean's encounter with the facts was, there is a more serious point that needs to be made about it.  Dean came on the program accusing Fox News of racism, of not bothering to take the time to get the facts right.  What he revealed in that encounter is that he had not taken the time to get the facts right himself, that he wouldn't give up his vile charge, even after he had been shown to be wrong, and that he is not enough of a man to admit that he was wrong, and apologize.

(It would be great if a few people on the left would criticize Dean for his disgraceful performance — but I won't hold my breath waiting for that to happen.)
- 4:59 PM, 25 July 2010   [link]