June 2005, Part 3

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

What Did We Learn About Distributed Vote Fraud In The Last Election?   Last November, I coined that phrase to describe what I believe is a growing problem in the United States.  By "distributed vote fraud", I mean vote fraud committed not by a candidate or by party officials (which I would call "centralized vote fraud"), but by individuals and small groups, acting independently.  (Here's an example from Ohio if you would like to see something more concrete than my abstract definition.)  It is not a new problem; I can think of examples from the 19th century, and I am sure election historians could cite examples from long before then.

But I do think it is an increasing problem, and that it is increasing because of deliberate actions by legislators and election officials.  As I said in this post. some legislators have chosen to "facilitate" vote fraud, to make it easier.  (For a recent example of how they might do this, see this fine analysis of Washington state's laws by Stefan Sharkansky.)  There are many ways legislators might do this, and they have used most of them.  Think of our protections as a dike holding out a potential flood of fraudulent votes.  A hole any place in the dike will allow them in.  In Wisconsin, a bizarre system of same day registration is a big hole in their dike.  In New Mexico, lax laws on provisional votes opened a hole in their dike, as I discussed here.)  In New York, there seems to be little effort to purge voters who are also registered in Florida.   And you can find many other examples from other states.  Different holes in different dikes, but the same result.

What the last election also showed — and this is something I paid too little attention to in the past — is that election officials can facilitate vote fraud, by ignoring election laws, or by setting up procedures that make vote fraud easy.  Even very low level election officials can facilitate vote fraud.  Need an example?  Washington state uses mailed ballots extensively.  The main check on them is a signature match, done by a low level clerk.  Now let's assume — and I ask my Democratic friends to go along with the assumption just to see how this might work — that a clerk in heavily Democratic King county decides to pass bad signatures rather than reject them, at least if they come from voters in the even more heavily Democratic Seattle.  That would give the Democrats a small advantage.  I don't know how many clerks check the signatures, but I find it easy to believe that a single clerk in King County doing this could have given the Democrats more than 130 votes in the last election, net, to pick a number not entirely at random.  (Let me add immediately that I have no evidence that happened; I am just saying it is possible).

The last election also provided some evidence, though not nearly as much as I would like, on the size of the problem.  Washington state, because of the dispute over the governor's election, provided the most data, I would say, though Wisconsin may beat it once the investigations there are finished.

Let me start with illegal votes by felons, since that is where we have the best data.  Officially, there were 1,678 illegal votes cast in last November's election, nearly all of them by felons.  Those illegal votes were discovered in searches made by bloggers, the two political parties, and independent groups.  The Republicans provided one list of felon voters in the trial; the Democrats provided a second, shorter list.   From what I could determine, the Republican list was more accurate than the Democratic list, though the judge accepted both.  Even together, however, the two lists underestimate the number of felons who voted in the election significantly.  All of the searches were time limited; they looked for felonies in some years but not all.  The name matching procedures used by the searchers would not catch felons who changed their names.  And, since the searchers used only Washington state criminal records, the searches would not detect felons who committed felonies elsewhere and then moved here.  (Washington law makes them ineligible to vote if they are ineligible in the state where they committed the felony.)  Putting all these together, I would say that at least 2,000 felons voted illegally in Washington in last November's election and possibly as many as 3,000.   (As every serious student of elections knows, they almost certainly gave more votes to Gregoire than to Rossi, enough more, I am convinced, to give her the election all by themselves.)

Next we have partial data on rejected votes, which I discussed in this post.
Now the numbers.  The table [from the December 19th Seattle Times] shows, for 22 of Washington's 39 counties, the total number of rejected ballots, and, of those, the number rejected for mismatched signatures.  The Seattle Times uses the table to make an important point about the varying rejection rates in Washington's counties, but we can also use it to check my estimate on fraudulent votes.  In those 22 counties, which hold most of Washington's population, 2828 votes were rejected for mismatched signatures.  Since about 3 million people voted in November, that means that 1 in a 1000 Washington state voters had their vote rejected for this single reason.  Most of the counties make an effort to contact voters when there is a signature mismatch, and to correct it, if possible, though the efforts vary with the county.  Given that, I think it fair to conclude that nearly all of those 2828 votes are in fact fraudulent.

But that wasn't the only reason that votes were rejected.  Those same 22 counties rejected 19,577 ballots totally.  Not all of the ballots were rejected because of fraud.  Some, for instance, were rejected because a voter did not sign their ballot, which is absent-mindedness, not fraud.  But many of them must have been fraudulent votes, cast by, for example, people who were not registered.  So we can say that the election officials detected somewhere between 2828 and 19,577 fraudulent ballots, just in those 22 counties.
And, as I go on to say, we can be certain that election officials did not detect all the illegal votes, perhaps not even most of them.  As far as I can tell, no one, not even election officials with decades of experience, has any idea of how many illegal votes got past the clerks in these 22 counties, or in Washington as a whole.  Given the number of signature mismatches, and the much large number of rejected votes, I think that at least 1,000, and possibly as many as 10,000, illegal mailed votes got past the clerks.

Finally, in estimating how many fraudulent votes were cast, we come to votes by non-citizens.  In principle, they are illegal in Washington, as they are in every other state.  In practice, they are legal in Washington state.  There is simply no check on citizenship made anywhere in the registration and voting process.  A few non-citizen voters were detected by Stefan Sharkansky, but no one else made any significant effort to look for them.  (This is one area where newspapers would have a big edge over bloggers, but the state's larger newspapers have refused to make even token investigations.)

I know of just two significant investigations of votes by non-citizens, one in Southern California and one in Hawaii.  Both found a significant number of illegal votes, and I think the same would be true in Washington.  But I will admit that I can only guess at the numbers.  Washington's population is about 6 million.   Of those, about 6 percent are non-citizens.  If we assume, conservatively, that half of them are of legal age and that 1 percent of those registered and voted, then 1,800 non-citizens voted.   If 10 percent did, then 18,000 non-citizens voted.  I suspect the true number is somewhere between those two numbers, given the numbers found in Southern California and Hawaii.

Outside Washington state, the biggest development was the outsourcing of registration efforts from the Democratic party to leftist groups such as ACORN, ACT, and MoveOn.  In my opinion, these groups are more likely than either party to create fraudulent registrations, especially if the field workers are paid per registration, as some were.  (Here's an example of that problem from Ohio.)  Since these groups are not officially part of the Democratic party, the party does not suffer when they are caught creating fraudulent registrations, as they often were, before the election.

Our lax election laws, our even laxer election procedures in some counties, that outsourcing, and the growth in our population of non-citizens, both legal and illegal, is what leads me to conclude that distributed vote fraud is a growing problem in the United States.  And I fear that there is a growing acceptance of vote fraud, especially among journalists and leftwing activists, two groups that are harder and harder to tell apart.

(Distributed vote fraud would matter less if it were committed equally by adherents to the two parties.  I don't believe that it is, as I explained at length in this post.
When vote fraud is detected, those caught are nearly always Democrats.  Either Democrats are much less skillful at fraud, which seems implausible to me, or they commit far more of it, just as the experts say.
I am convinced that Democrats benefit from distributed vote fraud, and one of the reasons I am convinced is that Democratic leaders are so resistant to even the most basic checks on fraud, such as requiring photo identification at the polls.

As always when I discuss distributed vote fraud, I urge you to read my disclaimer, if you have not already done so.)
- 5:34 PM, 24 June 2005   [link]

France May Disenfranchise Two Hardened Criminals:  At least that's the impression I got from reading this article, which says the prosecution is requesting prison time and "suspension de droits civiques".

A quick search on the phrase "droits civiques" found this. I know little about the French legal system, but it seems clear enough from the discussion that France sometimes does disenfranchise criminals.  (Unlike Vermont and Maine.)

What crimes did these two hardened criminals commit?  They appear to have told a fib or two.   And the nature of their fibs?  Since I try to keep this site sprog friendly, I won't go into that, but the criminals' professional names are "Fanny" and "Patricia", which should suggest some possibilities to you.
- 6:08 AM, 24 June 2005   [link]

Tape Delay Weirdness:  Last night, while watching the final game between San Antonio and Detroit, I got irked enough by the TV announcers* to mute them and turn on the ESPN radio.  The TV broadcast was delayed about five seconds; the radio broadcast was not.  It's an interesting, if disorienting, way to watch a game, as the play-by-play announcer tells you what is about to happen, not what just happened.

(*What irked me?  Mostly Hubie Brown's bias.  He kept telling us about all the wonderful things the Detroit players were doing.  Since the score was tied or close to tied most of the game, it seemed to me that some of the San Antonio players must have been doing something right too.  And I prefer basketball without the muggings.  It was easy to see that Detroit was stopping San Antonio drives with fouls, many of them not called, but Brown had nothing to say about that.  Some like that kind of basketball, but I am not among them. And Bill Walton was a great center, one of the greatest in his few peak years, but he is more annoying than informative as a commentator.

I suppose that, in this digital world, that the delays are no longer done with tapes, but I don't know for sure.

Finally, this year the French did not give too much credit to Tony Parker, as they did two years ago.)
- 5:20 AM, 24 June 2005   [link]

Should Jalil Abdul Muntaqim Vote?  He thinks so, even though he committed what most would consider a serious crime.
He was convicted 30 years ago in the 1971 ambush slaying of two New York City police officers.
. . .
Muntaqim was known as Anthony Bottom in 1971 when he and two other members of the Black Liberation Army set up an ambush in Harlem of officers Joseph Piagentini, an Italian American, and Waverly Jones Sr., an African-American.
(Whether Mr. Muntaqim considers it a serious crime, or even a crime, is not clear from the article, which is almost entirely devoted to arguing that he should vote — from prison, as he could do if he had been convicted in Maine or Vermont.)

I have no trouble concluding that, since officers Piagentini and Jones can no longer vote, Muntaqim should not be allowed to vote, either.  (For more of my thinking on votes for felons, see this disclaimer.)

(Since this article appears to have been copied from material provided by leftist advocacy groups, without any checking, I would be skeptical about most of the statistical claims in it.)
- 10:24 AM, 23 June 2005
More:  An emailer sent me this:
You said:  Since this article appears to have been copied from material provided by leftist advocacy groups, without any checking, I would be skeptical about most of the statistical claims in it.  BINGO.

Here's some of the official stats (from

Newsday:  "Nearly 4.7 million people are in jail or prison on felony convictions."
US DOJ: "On June 30,2004, 2,131,180 prisoners were held in Federal or State prisons or in local jails."
Me: The DOJ statistic is for prisoners, not just felons, so would I assume felony prisoners are a subset of the total.
Where did the 4.7 million figure come from?  I'm not sure, but it may be someone's estimate of the total number who can not vote because they are in jail, in prison, on parole, or on probation.   Remember that state laws vary widely, so it would be less than the total of those "under correctional supervision", currently about seven million.
- 7:02 AM, 24 June 2005   [link]

Worth Reading:  This Washington Post editorial chastising the Democrats for their partisanship on social security.
The Democrats are positively giddy over their success in foiling President Bush's Social Security plan.  As a political matter, perhaps they have reason to cheer: Polls show Americans dubious about his proposed changes, and the president appears suddenly open to solutions that do not include his signature personal accounts.  Yesterday he blessed a plan by Sen. Robert F. Bennett (R-Utah) to introduce a Social Security bill that tackles solvency and does not offer personal accounts.  (He'll do that in a separate measure.)  But after the confetti settles, Democrats need to ask themselves: Now what?  Having beaten back private accounts, as it appears they have, is it enough to keep sticking their fingers in their ears while saying "no"?
. . .
But there is also the little matter of what's right for the country.  Failing to act now will make the problem harder to fix down the road; cuts or tax increases will have to be steeper the longer the problem goes unaddressed.  Yes, Medicare is a bigger, thornier problem, but that's a reason to get Social Security done, not to ignore the issue and let it fester.

Democratic lawmakers keep insisting that they take the Social Security problem seriously and want to deal with it.  This seems a good time to start.
If, that is, you want to do the responsible thing.  If, however, you want to continue to milk this for short term political gains, it is a lousy time to start.  And I am not sure just how effective the Democratic strategy is, even politically, in the long run.
- 9:59 AM, 23 June 2005   [link]

Five Science Bits:  The same Science Times that had the article on the genetic connection to ideology had five other science articles I found of interest.   In no particular order, they are:
  • Jellyfish deserve more respect.

  • If you are running for office, you don't want to have a baby face.

  • Some bacteria don't need sunlight for photosynthesis.

  • Some people produce chemicals that protect them from mosquitoes.

  • DNA gets most of the press; RNA* does most of the hard work in cells.  
(*Need a review on DNA and RNA?  Very roughly, DNA stores genetic information and RNA moves the information to where it can be used to construct proteins.  As I understand it, DNA is used to store information because it is more stable than RNA.  There are some viruses, including the viruses that cause AIDS, that use RNA instead of DNA to store their genetic code.   That makes them harder to fight because they can mutate more quickly.)
- 7:35 AM, 23 June 2005   [link]

Is Your Ideology In Your Genes?  Partly, according to a new study.
But on the basis of a new study, a team of political scientists is arguing that people's gut-level reaction to issues like the death penalty, taxes and abortion is strongly influenced by genetic inheritance.  The new research builds on a series of studies that indicate that people's general approach to social issues - more conservative or more progressive - is influenced by genes.
Nothing about this study seems implausible to me.  That personality traits are partly inherited has been know for many years; that ideology might correlate with some of those traits seems obvious.

The researchers studied sets of twins, if you are wondering how they made their estimates.   And I should mention that, for many years, more Americans have called themselves conservatives than liberals.
- 1:29 PM, 22 June 2005   [link]

Captain Ed Goes Too Far:  In this post, Captain Ed criticizes an AP column which named Hillary Clinton and John McCain as the frontrunners for their parties' nominations in 2008.
Fournier and Link must have discovered comedy.  John McCain might have trouble getting re-elected in Arizona, thanks to his George Soros backing through the Reform Institute and other unusual funding links through that non-profit and his sponsorship of the BCRA.  McCain's early defection on the filibuster has guaranteed that the party will never support his candidacy, as well as the "maverick" monicker that every two-bit journalist uses to describe him.
There are two claims here, that John McCain "might have trouble getting re-elected in Arizona" and that he is unlikely to win the Republican nomination in 2008.  The second I would agree with; the first is silly.  Take a look at these ratings of the senators from Survey USA.  John McCain is the tenth most popular senator overall and the third most popular Republican after the two senators from Maine, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe.  (Who share many of his positions, as Captain Ed undoubtedly knows.)  And the election results in Arizona confirm what the poll shows; McCain has won all his races for Senate easily.  His closest was his first in 1992; he received 56 percent of the vote in a three-way race, running against a Democrat and a former Republican governor, Evan Mecham, running as an independent.

It is true that McCain is unpopular with many Republican activists; it is also true that he is widely popular with the voters, and not just in Arizona.

(Could McCain win the Republican nomination?  It isn't impossible, especially if the conservative vote is split in the early rounds, as it most likely will be.  As I write this post, the betters at Intrade give McCain about a 17 percent chance to win the nomination.  That's higher than I would estimate, but it does show you that some betters think that a McCain nomination is possible — and are backing that opinion with their money.

Much would depend on the world situation; if our apparent danger has increased by 2008, then voters might be more attracted to a bold warrior like John McCain.  If there is less apparent danger, then voters would choose more on the basis of domestic issues, where McCain would not do as well.)
- 11:37 AM, 22 June 2005   [link]

Mayor Daley Speaks, Senator Durbin Apologizes:  And I do think we can infer cause and effect.  Here's the Daley statement.
Mayor Daley says it's time for Senator Dick Durbin to apologize for comparing U.S. soldiers to Nazis and the Guantanamo Bay prison to a Soviet gulag.

Durbin's fighting words were meant for republicans, but now he's feeling the heat from a fellow democrat whose support he can't do without.

"If you really believe those men and women in Guantanamo Bay are Nazis, then you'd better rethink what America's all about," Mayor Daley said.

Daley's reaction was harsh, but with a son in the Army and potentially heading to war, maybe not such a surprise.
Durbin ignored hundreds of thousands of emails criticizing his smears, criticism from the Anti-Defamation League, a request for an apology from Senator John McCain, but he couldn't ignore the most powerful Democrat in Illinois.

But he could issue a fake apology, rather than a real one, and that's just what he did, as many have noted.  Here's the key phrase.
Choking up, he said: "Some may believe that my remarks crossed the line.  To them, I extend my heartfelt apologies."
Note that he doesn't say he was wrong, but that he is sorry if he hurt anyone's feelings.

(Hugh Hewitt has an interview with a soldier who actually worked at Guantánamo.  He denies ever seeing any kind of abuse and adds this incident.
Hugh: Any violence, in terms of physical brutality of the prisoners you observed?

Pete: Absolutely not. In fact, my men and I spent nine hours on a runway waiting to try and get a detainee to go back home who had refused to do so because he wanted to stay at Guantanamo because he was being treated so well.
The New York Times minimizes and distorts the story of the Durbin non-apology.  The reporter, Sheryl Stolberg, describes the controversy as an entirely partisan fight and omits the criticism from Mayor Daley, the Anti-Defamation League, and journalists in Illinois.  One would almost think that she (and the New York Times) didn't want Durbin to apologize.

Finally, I have a speculation about the FBI report that Durbin used for his original speech that may be worth pursuing.  The captured terrorist had torn out his own hair and had urinated and defecated on himself, or so the FBI report said.  Could he have been following Al Qaeda Rule 18, which requires them to claim torture, and staged that scene?  That certainly seems plausible to me.  If that's what happened, then the FBI and Senator Durbin were suckered by one of our enemies.)
- 6:46 AM, 22 June 2005   [link]

Great Story:  And it may even be true.
ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) -- A 12-year-old girl who was abducted and beaten by men trying to force her into a marriage was found being guarded by three lions who apparently had chased off her captors, a policeman said Tuesday.
But don't let my skepticism ruin your enjoyment of the story.

The AP has some background at the end that deserves some thought.
Kidnapping young girls has long been part of the marriage custom in Ethiopia.  The United Nations estimates that more than 70 percent of marriages in Ethiopia are by abduction, practiced in rural areas where most of the country's 71 million people live.
Ethiopia is not the only place with such customs, though I don't know just how common they are, world wide.
- 5:55 AM, 22 June 2005
More:  Experts on lions are skeptical, too, and offer an alternate explanation of the lions' behavior.
Colonel Lemma Legesse, a professional big game hunter with experience in Bita Genet, said the lions, having chased off the larger humans, were likely getting ready to devour the helpless girl like other prey when they were interrupted by intruders.

"They were probably preparing to eat her but were intercepted by the police and the others," he said, noting that lion attacks on humans and farm animals have become increasingly frequent in the region.
Most likely the Colonel is right, though his theory isn't nearly as much fun as the original.
- 6:54 AM, 23 June 2005   [link]

Cut Your Losses, Kid:  Sometimes making a fuss, even when you feel deeply wronged, is a big mistake.
An 11-year-old Queens, N.Y., student and her family are demanding that 200 yearbooks be recalled because they are unhappy with the sixth-grader's unattractive photo.
If she hadn't made a fuss, a few hundred people would have seen the picture; now hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, have.  (The picture doesn't look that much worse than many other yearbook photos, at least to me.)

And you have to have some sympathy for the school administrators who have to deal with this family.
- 3:12 PM, 21 June 2005   [link]

Iowa Governor Vilsack Restored Voting Rights To Felons:  Why?   Veteran Des Moines Register columnist David Yepsen has the answers.
  • It's an attempt to increase the number of Democratic voters in the state, thereby tipping close elections in 2006 and 2008.

  • It's designed to make him look good with minority-rights organizations.  Those groups were offended when he signed an English-only bill before his 2002 re-election campaign.  He'll need their support when he runs for president or seeks some other role on the national Democratic stage.
It is refreshing to read this straightforward analysis after all the nonsense I heard in Washington state during the fight over the governor's race.  Of course felons are more likely to vote for Democrats than Republicans, as all the evidence shows.

(Did Washington's Democratic chairman, Paul Berendt, believe his own argument, that felons were mostly men, hence mostly Republicans?  I heard him make that argument several times, but could never tell for sure whether he actually believed it.  At best, I would say he didn't know whether it was true.)

Why are felons more likely to support the Democratic party?  Yepsen is straightforward on that point, too.
It's easily more than 50,000 people.  Of them, a disproportionate number are from minority and lower-income groups.  That means they are demographically more likely to vote Democratic than Republican.  (Which is why left-of-center groups are praising Vilsack and why you can look for Democrats to soon begin felon voter-registration drives.)
Which is pretty much what I have been saying, and pretty much what any honest student of American voting patterns would say.

(Which party does Yepsen belong to?  I'm not entirely sure, even after reading several of his columns, which I did while I was preparing this post.  At a guess, I would say he is a moderate Democrat, although his newspaper's editorial pages are on the far left.

I mention this subject often enough so that I thought I should add this disclaimer, which sketches my ideas on voting by felons, when we should allow it and when we should not.)
- 11:19 PM, 20 June 2005   [link]

Great Blue Heron:  When I went for my bicycle ride this morning, I took my little Olympus digital camera along, hoping that one of the herons would be close enough to the old bridge when I rode through for a picture.  Sure enough, one was.

And it looked only mildly annoyed at my picture taking, probably because so many photographers come there to photograph the herons. I often see photographers in that area with really big lenses, the kind that look like telescopes.  And the herons seem to be their favorite target, so the birds have gotten used to us by now.

Political point?  A small one.  The blue herons show how far we have come in cleaning up the water in this area.  From what I read in the newspapers, the biggest threat to the blue herons here is another endangered bird, the bald eagle, which is fond of heron chicks.

(The picture was taken from the old bridge in the Juanita wetlands, where you can find all sorts of interesting wildlife — in the middle of the Seattle metropolitan area.)
- 1:54 PM, 20 June 2005   [link]

What Kind Of Person thinks the Doonesbury comic strip is still funny?
"The Long Road Home," given its absence of any explicit ideological line, reminded me why "Doonesbury" has managed to endure so long and to be so fine so much of the time.  Trudeau is a great comic writer whose devotion to politics and capacity for moral outrage are apparently undiminished after 37 years, but he is a great comic writer first, with the intellectual honesty that implies.
Someone who works for National Public Radio, of course.

Younger readers may need to know that Doonesbury was often funny, years ago.  Check out some of the older collections if you don't believe me.  And I will concede that, even now, Doonesbury is occasionally funny, though never when the subject is political.

If Kurt Anderson weren't from NPR, I would suspect that he was joking when he credited Garry Trudeau with the "capacity for moral outrage" and "intellectual honesty".  Trudeau favored the Communist victories in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia.  Nothing that we have learned since, not even the genocide in Cambodia, has made him rethink his position on the war.  There are phrases that describe Trudeau's failure to reconsider his position, but the "capacity for moral outrage" and "intellectual honesty" are not among them.
- 7:15 AM, 20 June 2005   [link]

What A Game!  What a finish!
After all the routs and all the ruckus, after all the drama had been sucked away, taking the ratings along with it, the N.B.A. finals at last returned to a happy state of tension late Sunday night.
. . .
Robert Horry, who has filled trophy cases, jewelry boxes and highlight films with his clutch shooting, delivered the winning 3-pointer with 5.8 seconds left in overtime, giving the Spurs a 96-95 victory and a 3-2 edge in the series.
Given Horry's record of making these game winning shots, and his performance in the fourth quarter and overtime, it is amazing that he was left open on the winning shot.  And Tim Duncan's performance throughout the series has also been amazing — considering that he has been playing on two sprained ankles.  (Those injuries probably explain why Duncan missed so many foul shots at the end of the game.)

(Yesterday evening, I decided to watch just a little of the game, thinking that it would not be close.  More than three hours later, I got to see that great finish.  And didn't get to finish a couple of posts I had intended for yesterday.)
- 5:58 AM, 20 June 2005   [link]

Those Puzzling Alpine Glaciers:  When a glacier anywhere in the world recedes, some take that as more evidence for human caused global warming.  Such inferences may be mistaken, given the changes in the Alpine glaciers in the last ten thousand years.
The Alpine glaciers are shrinking, that much we know. But new research suggests that in the time of the Roman Empire, they were smaller than today.  And 7,000 years ago they probably weren't around at all.
. . .
The glaciers, according to the new hypothesis, have shrunk down to almost nothing at least ten times since the last ice age 10,000 years ago.  "At the time of the Roman Empire, for example, the glacier tongue was about 300 meters higher than today," says [Ulrich] Joerin.  Indeed, Hannibal probably never saw a single big chunk of ice when he was crossing the Alps with his army.
Not every scientist agrees with Joerin, to put it mildly, but he does seem to have some powerful evidence for his argument from tree rings.

(As always, when I mention global warming, I suggest you read my disclaimer, if you haven't already.)
- 1:43 PM, 19 June 2005   [link]

Pavel Litvinov Knows Something About The Gulag:  Pavel Litvinov just learned something about Amnesty International.
Several days ago I received a telephone call from an old friend who is a longtime Amnesty International staffer.  He asked me whether I, as a former Soviet "prisoner of conscience" adopted by Amnesty, would support the statement by Amnesty's executive director, Irene Khan, that the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba is the "gulag of our time."

"Don't you think that there's an enormous difference?" I asked him.

"Sure," he said, "but after all, it attracts attention to the problem of Guantanamo detainees."
Which is true enough, but so might any other enormous lie.  But is there any point to an Amnesty International that lies on this scale?  I can't see one.

Litvinov, who was aided by Amnesty International when he was in the gulag, the real gulag, hopes that the organization can be saved.  The organization certainly can't be saved with its current leadership, which is more concerned with attracting attention than telling the truth.
- 11:55 AM, 19 June 2005   [link]

UW Professor Donald Hellmann met with representatives of the North Korean regime.
A University of Washington professor has done what U.S. political leaders have failed to do for more than a year: hold talks in North Korea aimed at averting a nuclear crisis.

While official negotiations have been stalled since last June, veteran East Asia professor Donald Hellmann visited North Korea for three days last week to conduct what he called the first international academic conference ever held there.

Hellmann said he was moved to help organize the conference out of frustration over the stalemate between the United States and North Korea over North Korea's nuclear ambitions.
Professor Hellmann met, in other words, with representatives of one the cruelest tyrannies on earth, because he disagrees with the policies of the democratically elected leader of the United States, President Bush.  (Curiously, Seattle Times reporter Kristi Heim says nothing in the article about the nature of the North Korean regime, or its many crimes.  Nor does she say anything about the propriety of an unelected professor trying to negotiate with an enemy power, come to think of it.)

President Bush met with a North Korean defector, .
At the end of a private Oval Office meeting this week, President Bush asked a North Korean defector to autograph his book recounting a decade in a North Korean prison camp.

"If Kim Jong Il knew I met you," Bush then asked, referring to the North Korean leader, "don't you think he'd hate this?"

"The people in the concentration camps will applaud," the defector, Kang Chol Hwan, responded, according to two people in the room.
Hellman's trip may have been improper, but does he have the right strategy?  Is it better to negotiate with Kim Jong Il or to try to undermine him by working with his victims, as President Bush seems to think?  As a matter of values, I hope most of us would agree that our sympathies are with Kang and the other victims of the North Korean regime, not Kim.  (Although one can't be certain about that, especially for leftist academics and writers, who often have an embarrassing affinity for tyrants, especially tyrants on the left.)

But is it in the best interests of the United States to follow Hellman's appeasement strategy, or Bush's confrontation strategy?  There is no general answer to that question.  After World War II, appeasement was almost universally condemned; after the Vietnam war, appeasement (though not by that name) was almost universally applauded by those on the left.  Both reactions went too far.  There are times when it is in our best interests to buy off a tyrant, and times when appeasement is a mistake.  I thought that President H. W. Bush was right to try to buy off the North Korean regime in the first of these crises, was skeptical about President Clinton's attempt to do the same, and now think that recent history has shown that agreements with Kim may not be in our best interests.  (We might have done far better in the Clinton round if former President Jimmy Carter had stayed out of the matter.)

I have come to that view for two reasons.  First, there is nothing in Kim's history to make me believe that he can be trusted to keep his agreements.  Second, there is no reason to think that our intelligence can reliably detect North Korean cheating.  Any agreement would give the North Koreans aid in return for promises, promises that we have no certain way to check.   (The Chinese regime might have both the leverage and the intelligence to make and enforce an agreement with North Korea, which is why any talks should include them.)

And there is one more reason I think Bush may be right and Hellmann wrong.  In the article, Hellmann makes this prediction:
Requiring North Korea to give up nuclear weapons before the U.S. agrees to talk "makes it improbable that they will ever talk," Hellmann said.
That misrepresents Bush's position, of course, but it also provides a prediction we can check.   Professor Hellmann says that we must appease the North Koreans to get them to the bargaining table; President Bush disagrees.  Here's an article from today's New York Times, which begins with these paragraphs:
North Korea's leader, Kim Jong Il, said Friday that his nation was ready to resume negotiations over its nuclear arms program as early as next month, provided the United States treated it with respect, the South Korean government said.

Mr. Kim also said that if the nuclear crisis were resolved, North Korea would be ready to rejoin the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and allow international nuclear inspectors inside the country, said Chung Dong Young, South Korea's minister of unification, who met with Mr. Kim.
Unless I misunderstood him completely, that is not what Professor Hellmann just predicted would happen.

(If Ms. Heim were interested in learning about the North Korean regime, she might begin with Kang's book, The Aquariums of Pyongyang, subtitled "Ten Years in a North Korean Gulag".

It may be unfair, but this column by Professor Hellmann, which I found while searching for more information on him, deepened my doubts about his judgment.  I worry about any professor of international relations who thinks that Barbara Tuchman's The March of Folly is a brilliant book.  She wrote three fine popular histories, The Zimmerman Telegram, The Guns of August, and The Proud Tower, early in her career, but her later works, including The March of Folly aren't nearly as good as those three.)
- 2:49 PM, 17 June 2005   [link]

What A Woman!  What a soldier!
For the first time since World War II, a woman soldier was awarded the Silver Star Medal today in Iraq.

Sgt. Leigh Ann Hester of the 617th Military Police Company, a National Guard unit out of Richmond, Ky., received the Silver Star, along with two other members of her unit, Staff Sgt. Timothy Nein and Spc. Jason Mike, for their actions during an enemy ambush on their convoy. & Other members of the unit also received awards.

Hester's squad was shadowing a supply convoy March 20 when anti-Iraqi fighters ambushed the convoy.   The squad moved to the side of the road, flanking the insurgents and cutting off their escape route.   Hester led her team through the "kill zone" and into a flanking position, where she assaulted a trench line with grenades and M203 grenade-launcher rounds.  She and Nein, her squad leader, then cleared two trenches, at which time she killed three insurgents with her rifle.
Read the whole thing.  If you are at all like me, you will be humbled by the bravery and skill of the men and women who are fighting for us.
- 4:18 PM, 17 June 2005   [link]

Outrage Of The Year:  It comes, oddly enough, from Tom Friedman of the New York Times.
Liberals don't want to talk about Iraq because, with a few exceptions, they thought the war was wrong and deep down don't want the Bush team to succeed.
In other words, liberals (I would say leftists) want America to lose in Iraq because they "don't want the Bush team to succeed".  I didn't say that; Tom Friedman of the New York Times said that.   And since he works for the New York Times, he must know a few liberals.

Let's fill that statement out a little bit.  Liberals want Bush to fail in Iraq, which means America would lose.  And who would win?  It is hard to say, but probably Saddam's heirs, the Baathists, or possibly the fanatic Islamists.  Who would lose besides us?  The much persecuted Kurds and the almost equally persecuted marsh Arabs, all those who want to bring democracy to the Middle East, and our friend and ally Tony Blair.  And that's just for a start.   It is easy to think of others who would probably lose if liberals get what Tom Friedman says they want: the women of Kuwait, who just won the right to vote, the majority of the people of Lebanon, who want independence from Syria, and all those who want peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

Is what Friedman says about liberals fair?  Not in all cases.  I personally know liberals who put their country and progress in the Middle East ahead of their feelings against Bush.  But if you look at these letters on the column, you will see more than a little evidence for Friedman's claim.  (As well as one letter from a decent liberal opposing it.)

But that many liberals, perhaps most, want Bush to fail is indisputable.  For evidence, just consider what the second ranking Democrat in the Senate, Richard Durbin of Illinois, has been saying about our efforts.  As you almost certainly know, Durbin compared our efforts to interrogate captured terrorists at Gauntánamo to the Nazis and to the genocidal Communist ruler of Cambodia, Pol Pot.

Will Durbin's statements help us or hurt us in the war effort?  Hurt us, obviously, because they will be used as propaganda, endlessly, by our enemies.  Senator Durbin is aiding Baathists, who are often rightly compared to the fascist movements of Europe and aiding fanatical Islamic terrorists, who many call Islamofascists.  As a shrewd politician, Durbin must know this, must know that he is making the task of our soldiers more difficult and dangerous.

And how many Democratic senators have criticized their whip?  I don't know of any yet.  I don't doubt that many disagree with Durbin (and many others think he is being counterproductive), but they are not speaking out.  They are allowing this terrible slander against our country — by one of their leaders — to go unchallenged.

(You can find much more about Durbin's statement and the reactions at Michelle Malkin's site, here, here, and here.

Tom Maguire and Ed Morrisey have both noted that Durbin has been uninterested in recent prison scandals in the Democratic stronghold of Cook County, scandals that make Guantánamo look like Club Med.   You can find their posts here and here.  Durbin is not, by the way, from Cook County, but from East St. Louis, a place that makes Chicago look honest.  Seriously.)
- 3:52 PM, 17 June 2005   [link]

The Wall Street Journal Is Leftist:  At least on the news side.   Who says so?  Well, I've said so for years.  And Howard Kurtz, who writes on the media for the Washington Post, agrees with me.

During my six years as a reporter in the Wall Street Journal's Washington bureau, my opinions were nearly always in opposition to the line laid down by the Journal's conservative editorial page, and the same held for most of the other reporters I knew, too.

What to make of the fact that our most important business newspaper has mostly leftist reporters?   It adds, as I have said, an interesting tension to that newspaper.  But it also shows how hard it is for a newspaper, any newspaper, to recruit reporters who will cover politics in a balanced way.

Cross posted at Oh, That Liberal Media
- 7:26 AM, 17 June 2005   [link]

Inevitable European Decline?  Most Europeans are quite fond of their social welfare states.  But those states don't seem to be sustainable in the long run, for one big reason.
It's hard to be a great power if your population is shriveling.  Europe's birthrates have dropped well below the replacement rate of 2.1 children for each woman of childbearing age.  For Western Europe as a whole, the rate is 1.5. It's 1.4 in Germany and 1.3 in Italy.  In a century -- if these rates continue -- there won't be many Germans in Germany or Italians in Italy. Even assuming some increase in birthrates and continued immigration, Western Europe's population grows dramatically grayer, projects the U.S. Census Bureau.  Now about one-sixth of the population is 65 and older.  By 2030 that would be one-fourth, and by 2050 almost one-third.

No one knows how well modern economies will perform with so many elderly people, heavily dependent on government benefits (read: higher taxes).  But Europe's economy is already faltering.  In the 1970s annual growth for the 12 countries now using the euro averaged almost 3 percent; from 2001 to 2004 the annual average was 1.2 percent.  In 1974 those countries had unemployment of 2.4 percent; in 2004 the rate was 8.9 percent.
The low birth rates will destroy Europe, without massive immigration.   But where would those immigrants come from?  The most likely source is Muslims from North Africa and the Middle East, but voters in most European countries (though not necessarily the political elites) have already figured out what's wrong with that solution.

What makes this trap even worse is that, as Samuelson explains, there is some reason to think that those high retirement benefits and high taxes discourage births.
Indeed, some scholarly research suggests that high old-age benefits partly explain low birthrates.   With the state paying for old age, who needs children as caregivers?  High taxes may also deter young couples from assuming the added costs of children.
If tax supported retirement discourages people from having children, then in principle you can reverse that by cutting promised retirement benefits for people in their child bearing years.  Or, you could tie retirement benefits to child bearing.  A couple who raised children would be eligible for greater retirement benefits than a couple that did not.  I don't know of any country that has tried that, though I did see a Japanese legislator propose it a year or so ago.

Even those kinds of changes may not be enough to reverse Europe's declining population.  In the United States, you find high birth rates in groups with traditional religious beliefs and low birth rates in groups without those beliefs.  Governments can, in principle, tinker with retirement benefits and taxes to encourage births.  But what if European governments need to encourage faith, to encourage a return to the religious beliefs common in Europe a century ago, in order to reverse the population decline?  It is hard to see how governments could do that, at least in the modern world.

And, if faith is required for a stable population, I suspect there are many in Europe, especially in the media, who would think the price too high.
- 6:25 AM, 17 June 2005   [link]