June 2003, Part 4

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Worth Reading:  James Taranto's column comparing the MoveOn activists to Democratic voters.  The activists are much farther to the left, especially on foreign policy, and they are almost all white, in a party whose black voters make up at least a fifth of its supporters.  The Internet, which makes organizations like MoveOn possible, may well end up hurting the Democratic party, Taranto thinks.
- 11:26 AM, 30 June 2003   [link]

Strom Thurmond Was a Liberal:  For his time and place, that is.  He first came to prominence in national politics in 1946, when he won the governor's race in South Carolina with what V. O. Key's classic, Southern Politics, calls a "generally progressive platform".  He backed New Deal measures like rent control, a state minimum wage, and workmen's compensation.  (The state's Realtor's Association actually called him a Communist for backing rent control.)  And what about race?  There too, for his time and place, he was a liberal.  He opposed the poll tax, which had been used to block voting by blacks.  He favored anti-lynching laws, and, as governor, vigorously prosecuted the one lynching that occurred while he was in office.   He opposed the Klu Klux Klan, at a time, by the way, when Democratic senator Robert Byrd was a member.  He supported improvements in the segregated black schools of South Carolina.   And he avoided the attacks on blacks so common among Southern politicians at the time.   As Key notes:
Even Negro leaders were favorably disposed to Thurmond because he did not indulge in the usual type of Negro-baiting.
Later in his political career, as a United States senator, he was one of the first Southerners to hire a black aide and to propose a black judge for office.  Even his enemies conceded that his superb constituent services worked hard for the black citizens of South Carolina, as well as the white.  He voted to make Martin Luther King's Day a national holiday and to extend the voting rights act.

In between, of course, he ran against Truman as the Dixiecrat candidate in 1948, vigorously opposed almost all the early civil rights legislation, and even set the record for filibusters in a speech that lasted more than 24 hours.  Now then, what are we to make of his two reversals on civil rights issues?  Does the middle of his career represent his real views, or do the early and late portions?  Not being able to look into his heart, I can't say, though I do think that the early views seem more authentic to me, since there were real political risks to holding them.  And, of course, in a career that long, we can not dismiss the possibility that he changed his mind on racial matters.

For more on Thurmond, see this delicious Florence King book review, which has the best bits of gossip from his long and colorful life, or this pedestrian obituary from the New York Times.  
- 11:19 AM, 30 June 2003   [link]

Blair's Battle With the BBC:  Conservatives in Britain complain continuously about the bias at the BBC.  Now, the BBC is also in a full scale battle with Tony Blair's Labour government, with each charging the other with lies.  As often happens in this kind of battle, the open fight is over a relatively small matter, whether Blair's communications chief, Alastair Campbell, "sexed up" a report on Iraq's chemical and biological weapons, as charged by a BBC correspondent, Andrew Gilligan.  Gilligan based his story on a single, anonymous source in British intelligence.  (Americans may not be aware that the intelligence services in Britain have a long, and not always admirable, history of interfering with governments, especially Labour governments.)   The larger quarrel is over the BBC's coverage of the liberation of Iraq, which the Blair government, like the British sailors in the Gulf, found systematically unfair.  The sailors solved their problem by switching to another channel, but Blair's government must try to influence the BBC, at least in the short run.

As this account shows, that will not be easy.
A senior BBC source told The Times: "Greg is not only Director-General.  He is the Editor-in-Chief.  You have to defend your journalists.  He has examined the story and he is standing by it.  We are not backing down."
Whether they are right or, as in this case, wrong.  I find it remarkable that the rejection of the BBC by the sailors, spontaneous as far as I could tell, has had no effect on the corporation.  The New York Times isn't the only news organization that is too closed and too arrogant for its own good.
- 7:51 AM, 30 June 2003
Update:  The British army has now joined the attack on the BBC for its biased coverage of the war in Iraq.  The army is particularly unhappy about a documentary series that, says an anonymous army spokesman:
This documentary series is getting more and more negative and seems to imply that everything that we do is for propaganda purposes.  The BBC are determined to paint the war in a negative light.
- 6:39AM, 1 July 2003     [link]

Compare These Two Articles  on state budget problems, and you'll see why respect is growing for USA Today, and decreasing for the New York Times.   Here's the lead from USA Today:
The financial problems racking many state governments this year have less to do with the weak national economy than with the ability of governors and legislators to manage money wisely.
And from the Times:
With 46 states facing the end of their fiscal years on Monday, 9, an unusually high number, remain locked in disputes over their budgets.  This worsening fiscal crisis comes after a spring in which states have made record tax increases and spending cuts, and nearly wiped out their rainy day reserves, a nationwide survey released today reports.
USA Today has the facts:
But one thing has remained constant throughout the crisis: State spending keeps growing.

It went up 6.3% for the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2002, and it's on track to rise about 5% in the 12 months that end June 30.  The number of people on Medicaid, which pays for health care and nursing homes for the poor, remains at a near-record 40 million.  That number is up 30% since 1998, the result of efforts to sign up people who qualify.  And despite anecdotal reports of layoffs—Oregon furloughed 130 state troopers, for example—state governments have added 74,000 workers (an increase of 1.5%) in the past two years while the private sector has registered a net loss of 2.6 million jobs (a decline of 2.4%).
The New York Times has the emotions:
"Unfortunately, the news is pretty bad, and I think it's going to get a little worse," said Ray Scheppach, executive director of the governors' group, who last year described the states' budget outlook as the bleakest since World War II and today extended that to the War of 1812. "It's clearly the worst since we've been keeping statistics."
Worse than in the Great Depression of the 1930s?  And USA Today has the bottom line, which doesn't appear in the Times article:
Last year, state and local spending reached 13% of gross domestic product, the highest since record-keeping began in 1929.
And almost certainly the highest ever, even though, according to the New York Times, there have been "record" spending cuts.
- 7:09 AM, 30 June 2003   [link]

Radical Wahhabi Muslims  have infiltrated our prisons, and, it would appear, our armed services, as well.
Some Defense Department chaplain services have been directing military personnel to a Web site that promotes material from radical Muslim jihadists, including two Saudis who have been identified as Osama bin Laden's spiritual advisers.

The chaplains' service Web sites for the Navy and the Air Force refer sailors and airmen interested in learning more about Islam to, a Web site that provides links to the lectures of fundamentalist clerics, some of whom advocate jihad against the United States and Israel.
Doesn't sound like all of the Muslim chaplains "support the free exercise of religion in the pluralistic military environment", as they are required to do by Defense Department regulations.
- 4:51 PM, 29 June 2003   [link]

Sandra of Tammany Hall:  Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor may not realize this, but she has much in common with a Tammany Hall leader of a century ago.  As a political machine, Tammany was faced with the same problem that the University of Michigan faces; if the same criteria are used to judge all the applicants, then the right people (Tammany supporters in one case, students adding diversity in the other) will not be selected for city jobs, or admission to the university.  For Tammany the legal obstacle was New York state's constitution; for the University of Michigan, it is the 14th amendment to the United States constitution and many civil rights laws.

Tammany's solution, described in this classic essay, "The Curse of Civil Service Reform", was direct.  They would ignore the constitution.  As one of their leaders, Tim Campbell, put it, "What's the constitution among friends?"  Justice O'Connor takes the same view; if "diversity" is valued among her friends, then the constitution and the civil rights laws can be ignored.  Spoilsports like Boston University professor Peter Wood may protest that diversity is not in the constitution, but that just shows he isn't lucky enough to be among her friends.  And when George Will wonders whether lap dancing must logically be included in the new constitutional rights, he is looking for textual logic where he should be looking for self interest.  It must be nice to be able to do so much for one's friends.
- 4:22 PM, 29 June 2003   [link]

Good Posts:  
  • Bill Hobbs digs up the facts on executive orders.  (He was inspired by Dick Gephardt's recent promise to over rule Supreme Court decisions with executive orders, in order to preserve racial preferences.)   The content and constitutionality are what's important, not the sheer numbers.

  • Charles Johnson, of Little Green Footballs, publicizes Israel's recent decision to break with the BBC, over that news organization's blatant bias.  Perhaps the United States should consider similar steps, for similar reasons.

  • Orrin Judd reviews the history of incumbent success at reelection.  In recent history, incumbent presidents win second terms, usually by solid margins, unless something goes very wrong.

  • Fredrik Norman describes his amusing interview with a left leaning Norwegian reporter, who can not quite grasp why anyone would think there was a reason to support the United States.  It would be even funnier, if the reporter's bigotry toward the United States were not so common.

  • Damian Penny reminds us of another great group of Middle East refugees, Jews who were forced out of Arab countries after the founding of Israel in 1948.  One estimate is that 850,000 Jews left Arab countries and that they lost more than a billion dollars worth of assets.

  • Rand Simberg used Google to find that news accounts on the late Lester Maddox, the racist governor of Georgia, seldom mention his party—the Democrats.

  • Geitner Simmons examines our tariff policy and finds patterns that are impossible to defend.  We tax inexpensive goods from, for example, the poor country of Bangladesh far more than we tax luxury goods from, for example, the wealthy country of France.   This hurts the poor in both the United States and Bangladesh.
- 7:10 AM, 29 June 2003   [link]

The Seattle Times Editorial Writers  could learn something about the Bush administration's statements on Saddam from this column by Byron York.   As York patiently explains, the most important argument that the administration made, Colin Powell's February 5 speech to the UN, was cautious in its claims.  Here, for example, is what Powell said about the much disputed aluminum tubes:
Saddam Hussein is determined to get his hands on a nuclear bomb.  He is so determined that he has made repeated covert attempts to acquire high-specification aluminum tubes from 11 different countries, even after inspections resumed.

These tubes are controlled by the Nuclear Suppliers Group precisely because they can be used as centrifuges for enriching uranium.  By now, just about everyone has heard of these tubes, and we all know that there are differences of opinion.  There is controversy about what these tubes are for.

Most U.S. experts think they are intended to serve as rotors in centrifuges used to enrich uranium.  Other experts, and the Iraqis themselves, argue that they are really to produce the rocket bodies for a conventional weapon, a multiple rocket launcher.

Let me tell you what is not controversial about these tubes.  First, all the experts who have analyzed the tubes in our possession agree that they can be adapted for centrifuge use.  Second, Iraq had no business buying them for any purpose.  They are banned for Iraq.

I am no expert on centrifuge tubes, but just as an old Army trooper, I can tell you a couple of things: First, it strikes me as quite odd that these tubes are manufactured to a tolerance that far exceeds U.S. requirements for comparable rockets.  Maybe Iraqis just manufacture their conventional weapons to a higher standard than we do, but I don't think so.

Second, we actually have examined tubes from several different batches that were seized clandestinely before they reached Baghdad.  What we notice in these different batches is a progression to higher and higher levels of specification, including, in the latest batch, an anodized coating on extremely smooth inner and outer surfaces.  Why would they continue refining the specifications, go to all that trouble for something that, if it was a rocket, would soon be blown into shrapnel when it went off?
And they could learn even more from this column by Richard Spertzel, who headed the UN search for Saddam's biological weapons from 1994 to 1999.
Let there be no doubt, Iraq retained an active biological-weapons program.  Unscom had adequate evidence of such.  In 1998, presented with the evidence, the leading biological-weapons experts from the U.S., U.K., Russia, France, Sweden, Australia, Germany, Switzerland, Australia, Ukraine, Romania and Canada all agreed with the Unscom findings and observations.  Incredibly, U.S. and British politicians with little or no knowledge of biological weapons and biological warfare are choosing to believe otherwise.
And, as well as those politicians, many journalists, including the editorial writers at the Seattle Times, are choosing to believe otherwise.  Incredibly is the right adverb.
- 9:02 AM, 27 June 2003   [link]

Did You Know That "Recession Rages"?  Neither did I until I read this curious column by Nicole Brodeur on, of all things, an ABBA concert.  (I don't know whether she has passed on this information to Fed chairman Greenspan, who seems to have a different view of the economy, though less informed, I am sure, than Ms. Brodeur's.)  The most common definition of a recession is a period of negative growth lasting more than one quarter.   By that definition, the United States has been out of a recession since the 4th quarter of 2001.

Ordinarily, I don't spend much time picking on lightweights like Brodeur.  I make an exception for this column because she is a serial statistical offender, because the Seattle Times would not tolerate the same airy indifference to facts by the Bush administration, and because there is something revealing in her reaction to the ABBA concert.  Just a few weeks ago, she wrote this column repeating the old and discredited claim that women do not receive equal pay for equal work.   The fact is that, for some time, men and women with equal qualifications have been paid about the same.  (Single women without children, interestingly enough, tend to be paid a little more than their male counterparts.)  Just last Sunday, the Times ran this boilerplate editorial claiming that the Bush administration had not told the truth about Saddam's weapons, which is, to say the least, disputable.  Neither the newspaper nor Ms. Brodeur is likely to correct her statistical errors.

Finally, to the ABBA concert.  Brodeur likes their music, but is embarrassed to admit it, because the group is not fashionable in her circle.  As writers like Tom Wolfe and V. S. Naipaul have observed, many on the left adhere to their ideas, not because they have thought about them, but because they are fashionable.  It is a mistake to underestimate the power of fashion, as any teenage girl can tell you.  It is sad that so many journalists, like Brodeur, are unable to escape from its power and enjoy an ABBA concert without guilt, or get the facts straight on the economy and the war with Saddam.
- 8:19 AM, 27 June 2003   [link]

Opponents of President Bush have begun to complain, vociferously, that the allies have not, in a few weeks, found all the missing biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons programs.  So how do they react when NBC publishes a report with three sets of evidence about those programs?  With indifference.  
Three U.S. officials told NBC's Andrea Mitchell that an Iraqi scientist who was part of what Saddam called his "nuclear mujahadeen" had led intelligence officials to a barrel in the back yard of his home in Baghdad, where they found plans for a gas centrifuge and components of a uranium enrichment system. . . .

Sources told NBC News' Jim Miklaszewski that within just the past week, U.S. investigators had found two shipping containers filled with millions of much more recent documents relating to chemical and biological weapons.

One of the documents, from 2001, was titled "Document burial and U.N. activities in Iraq," the sources said.  It gave detailed instructions on how to hide materials and deceive U.N. weapons inspectors, the sources said. . . .

The sources said U.S. troops also discovered about 300 sacks of castor beans, which are used to make the deadly biological agent ricin, hidden in a warehouse in the town of al-Aziziyah, 50 miles southeast of Baghdad, the capital.  The castor beans were inaccurately labeled as fertilizer.
As far as I can tell, the Guardian did not carry this story at all.  The New York Times dismissed it with this brief story from the Reuters "news service".  Reuters (or the Times) left out nearly all of the evidence, mentioning only the nuclear find.  The Times of London did not carry the story at all, as far as I could tell, though they did carry this non-story expressing doubts about the intelligence on the weapons before the war.  In contrast, the Washington Post, which did support the liberation of Iraq, has this straightforward account of the nuclear find.  Do the Guardian, the New York Times, or other opponents of President Bush really want Saddam's weapons found?  Apparently not.
- 2:59 PM, 26 June 2003
Update:  Today, the Guardian did run a brief article on the centrifuges.  On the other hand, as Canadian blogger Damian Penny notes in this brief post, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation does not even mention the story on its web site.
- 8:35 AM, 27 June 2003   [link]

The New York Times Can Dish It Out, but it can't take it.   One of the most annoying things about the New York Times, in recent years, is that it allows its writers to make crude attacks on other people, but will not print letters with the same level of abuse in reply.  For example, for years the Times has accused "special interests" of blocking campaign finance reform.  Only once have I seen a letter noting the obvious, that the Times has an special interest in limiting the free speech rights of others, so as to be more powerful.  That letter was from Tom DeLay, now House Majority Leader.  Similarly, Paul Krugman devotes most of his columns to claims that the Bush administration is lying, but I have never seen a letter criticizing Krugman for his own carelessness with the truth.

Maureen Dowd has been the biggest single beneficiary of this double standard, in my opinion.  Whoever selects the letters to be published rarely picks one that has even the smallest criticism of her columns.  Even when she writes a column that combines a mistake with a slur, like her infamous charge that the Bush administration wanted to "spike" the water with arsenic, the Times is unlikely to publish a letter criticizing her.  Yesterday, she attacked Clarence Thomas, in a truly disgusting column on his dissent in the Michigan racial preferences case.  She literally accuses him of insanity, caused by the special treatment he has received over the years.
The dissent is a clinical study of a man who has been driven barking mad by the beneficial treatment he has received.

It's poignant, really. It makes him crazy that people think he is where he is because of his race, but he is where he is because of his race.

Other justices rely on clerks and legal footnotes to help with their opinions; Justice Thomas relies on his id, turning an opinion on race into a therapeutic outburst.
How many letters did the Times publish today, replying to this set of smears?  None.   Are they likely to publish any letters in reply saying, for example, that Maureen Dowd has been driven "barking mad" by her failure to form a stable relationship with a man?  Not a chance.

(James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal speculated yesterday that one reason for Dowd's column might be racism.   I'm not sure how serious he is about that charge, but I do think that one explanation for some of Dowd's arguments is the frustrated sexism of an aging feminist, who has been unable to form a lasting relationship with a man.  Many will find her latest column a powerful argument that both racism and sexism motivate her.)
- 2:24 PM, 26 June 2003   [link]

Does "Affirmative Action" Help Blacks?  For years, I thought that the strongest argument against our welfare system was not what it cost, but the damage it did to the recipients.  I now think that a parallel argument can be made about what is called "affirmative action" by those who favor lower standards for black applicants to universities, and "racial preferences" by those who oppose them.   (Preferences in contracting is a separate question.  Nearly all of them go to wealthy people, mostly white women.)  Lower standards for the admission of black students do not, in general, help either those admitted under the lower standards, or blacks as a whole.  As many have observed, the lower standards produce a mismatch between blacks and the institutions, directly contributing to the low black graduation rate.  A black student who might have succeeded in a less selective school will find himself far behind, and is likely to drop out.  Even those who finish are likely to be able to do so only by choosing weak majors of no use in the real world.  While they are struggling, and often failing, they provide visual evidence of how progressive the institution is, pleasing the mostly white leftists who run nearly all our universities.  This is not a fair exchange.

Most blacks understand this, although you would not know this from the parade of "civil rights" leaders you see on television.  John McWhorter reviews the evidence in this column, and shows that most blacks want to be treated equally, rather than be held to lower standards.
Meanwhile, in poll after poll, black Americans overwhelmingly disapprove of racial preferences.  Typical was a poll by the Washington Post that showed 86 percent of blacks opposed.  In Black Pride and Black Prejudice, Paul Sniderman and Thomas Piazza report that 90 percent of 756 blacks rejected admitting a black student over a white student when their difference in SAT scores is 25 points.  In the Friends Central newspaper issue, a black teacher writes: "I would like to receive praise and awards and not have others consider them to be hand-outs." He sees this as an aspect of racism in his life.
And McWhorter thinks that the lower standards discourage academic achievement even by middle class and upper class black students.
The answer is a culture-internal tendency, largely tacit but powerful, to associate scholarly endeavor with being "white."  This affects black students' performance regardless of class, as countless journalistic reports have demonstrated and UC-Berkeley professor of anthropology John Ogbu's book-length study of the problem now confirms.  If we wish to undo that tendency, lowering standards for all black people regardless of life circumstances will only nurture it.
Racial preferences are bad for blacks, however much they may please privileged academics.
- 9:15 AM, 26 June 2003   [link]

In his article, Timothy Noah referred to a New York Times article by David Rosenbaum, which slyly implied that Bush was ignorant or a moron, rather than just saying it outright like Slate.  In this post, Stefan Sharkansky neatly demolishes Rosenbaum's argument on the WMDs, showing that Rosenbaum is quoting Bush selectively, and misrepresenting what Bush actually said.   One would think Rosenbaum might have noticed the unfavorable attention Maureen Dowd received for her selective quotations.
- 8:22 AM, 26 June 2003   [link]